It's almost here. Just one day remains before the end to the inaugural College Football Playoff, and the stage is set for a monumental clash between Oregon and Ohio State.
Both programs come in after massive wins over two other outstanding programs. Following a blowout win for the Ducks over Florida State, the Buckeyes shocked the world with a victory over No. 1-seeded Alabama.
In just his third start for the Buckeyes, Cardale Jones has a chance to already win a national title. On the other side, Marcus Mariota is looking to close out a phenomenal season in Oregon. Prior to the showdown, here's a look at the full game information and a prediction for the national championship.
Where: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas
When: Monday, Jan. 12 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
For the second straight game, the Ducks will be without one of their most critical players. Prior to the Rose Bowl, Oregon lost Ifo Ekpre-Olomu to a season-ending injury. Heading into the national championship, freshman receiver Darren Carrington has been ruled ineligible.
Of course, that comes after two breakout games for Carrington—the Pac-12 championship and the Rose Bowl. The 6'2" receiver had a combined 291 yards and three touchdowns during that span.
Mariota may be without one of his best young receivers, but he didn't seem extremely bothered by the loss, via Joe Schad of ESPN:
The junior quarterback has been unflappable all season, accounting for 56 total touchdowns to just six turnovers. While Carrington won't be on the field for the Ducks, Mariota can still target leading receiver Byron Marshall and tight end Evan Baylis, who had 73 yards against the Seminoles.
Needless to say, Mariota can spread the ball around regardless of his receiving corps. Ducks offensive coordinator Scott Frost spoke about the Heisman winner, via Bill Landis of Cleveland.com:
"Marcus has an unbelievable mind," Frost said. "I think that's his best attribute. Despite being able to do everything he can do physically, he can process things so fast. Sometimes he makes me feel inadequate because of how fast he can process through things."
In order for Mariota to bring back the crystal ball to Oregon, a lot of pressure will also be on the other side of the ball. The Ducks defense will be tasked with stopping the likes of Jones, Devin Smith and Ezekiel Elliott.
Jones and Smith have hooked up for four touchdowns in the last two games, but Elliott has been one of the most electric players in the country. Between the Big Ten Championship Game and the Sugar Bowl, Elliott compiled 463 total yards and four touchdowns.
Oregon linebacker Tony Washington spoke about how difficult the matchup will be for the Ducks, via Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:
Elliott will likely get going against an Oregon defense that allowed 170 rushing yards to Alabama. However, his production, along with that of Jones and Smith, simply won't be enough to keep up with the Ducks on Monday night.
Mariota will complete a ridiculous season with a crystal ball hoisted in the air before likely riding off into the sunset.
Prediction: Oregon 48, Ohio State 42
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The Miami Hurricanes recently made the switch from Nike to Adidas, and former Hurricanes star Warren Sapp isn't a fan of the move.
Adidas apparently sent Sapp a pair of the wild cleats that it designed to help market its new team. Those cleats are no longer wearable.
Sapp posted the photo above with the following caption: "No Thanks #BrandJordan."
If Sapp goes to any Miami games in the future, don't expect him to be wearing Adidas.
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Amari Cooper isn't the most physically imposing receiver, but he is widely considered to be among the top prospects in the 2015 NFL draft.
In an era where 6'4", 230-pound receivers dominate the game, how does a player such as Cooper elevate his stock to such an elite level?
While Cooper's size and speed certainly present some minor limitations, we only have to go back one year to find a prospect who found immediate success with similar traits.
Odell Beckham Jr. burst onto the scene as arguably the most dominant rookie, regardless of position, in the 2014 season. Despite others such as Mike Evans possessing elite size and strength and guys like Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks possessing the ability to win with pure speed, Beckham trumped them all with elite fundamentals.
Cooper's best traits compare favorably to Beckham, and it's these tools that have him in the conversation to be a top-five pick in April's draft.
The following three traits are what allow Cooper to win with modest physical tools and why he could have an immediate impact at the next level, much like Beckham.
Footwork off the line of scrimmage
Stronger receivers can beat press coverage—or simply deter defensive backs from playing press—with their physical strength. Cooper doesn't have the build to consistently fight off the press, but he makes up for it with his footwork.
Cooper is a master at creating separation by setting up the defensive back with his footwork off the line of scrimmage.
One of Cooper's go-to moves against press coverage is to force the defensive back to turn his hips in the opposite direction of the angle Cooper intends to take with his route. For example, if Cooper wants to get an advantage on the defensive back's inside shoulder, he'll use a quick stutter step off the snap to the outside, forcing the defensive back to slightly turn his hips in anticipation of Cooper running along the sideline.
At the moment Cooper sees the defensive back's hips turn, he'll step into his inside shoulder, giving him a half-step head start on running in inside route such as a post or an in-route.
In addition to creating instant separation, this technique allows Cooper to throw the defensive back slightly off balance, limiting his ability to jam Cooper at the line of scrimmage.
Winning within the stem of the route
Cooper lacks the speed to simply run away from defensive backs, so he needs to create separation with his route. Typically separation is created in the breaks of the route, but the elite receivers are able to set up defensive backs with subtle fakes within the stem of their route as well.
These subtle fakes go unnoticed most of the time, but when focusing on Cooper's routes, it's easy to see his attempt to set up defensive backs with subtle head fakes, slight movements in his hips and by varying his acceleration.
All of these maneuvers keep defensive backs guessing and keep them off balance. Once Cooper sees a defensive back take a minor misstep, he is able to accelerate through the remainder of his route to create an extra gap in his separation.
Adjusting to the ball
Players such as Kelvin Benjamin can win the battle for 50-50 balls with inconsistent technique simply due to their size advantage over defensive backs. Cooper and Beckham don't have that luxury.
To make up for the lack of a size advantage, Cooper needs to demonstrate perfect timing in order to win the battle for contested catches.
Cooper doesn't quite have Beckham's reputation for acrobatic catches, but he does an excellent job reading the ball in the air and putting himself in position to make a play.
On this particular play against Auburn (pictured below), Cooper is locked in tight coverage, but he does two things exceptionally well to ensure that he is the only one with an opportunity to catch the pass.
Cooper stays on the inside of the ball, even as it's in the air, knowing that he'll have to adjust toward the sideline to make the play. This late adjustment ensures that he keeps the defender off the ball, giving only himself a shot and coming down with the pass.
He also times his leap perfectly, attacking the ball at his high point rather than allowing it to come into his chest, giving the defender an opportunity to make a play.
All of these traits allow Cooper to overcome fairly modest physical tools and elevate his game to an elite level. Many young receivers with Cooper's physical profile fall to the second round or later because these traits need to be developed at the next level.
Cooper, however, will enter the league with incredibly polished fundamentals and should be able to excel immediately in a similar role to the one Beckham found in New York.
Ryan McCrystal is an NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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The Texas A&M football team finished the 2014 season with an 8-5 record and are ready to make a serious run at an SEC title in 2015. There are a number of players on the team who are poised to breakout next season.
The Aggies were young this year, with 29 freshmen or sophomores listed on the depth chart. As that youth matures, A&M will develop into a championship-caliber football team.
With the addition of defensive coordinator John Chavis to the coaching staff, the Aggies should be able to field a competent defense in 2015. A lot of the youth on defense should develop into All-SEC and All-American players.
Multiple Aggies started a few games and received live experience this season but did not necessarily put up big numbers. These players showed flashes of potential but did not put up the stats necessary to elicit national attention.
Everyone knows who Myles Garrett is because he shattered the SEC record for sacks by a freshman. There are other Aggies poised to have a similar breakout year in 2015, and this is a look at five of them.
To understand how Oregon found its edge, look no further than the two best-dressed men in the room with more than 50 years of experience between them.
Surrounded by intoxicating colors and a Jetsons-esque, $68 million football operations building, the most fashionable personalities in the nation’s most fashionable football program aren’t the ones you’d find on a billboard.
It’s not the Heisman-winning, box score-destroying, create-a-player at quarterback, although Marcus Mariota models neon well. It’s not one of the nation’s brightest head coaches, either; on the sideline, a Nike golf shirt and hat satisfy Mark Helfrich’s modest wardrobe demands.
No, the two most stylish men in Eugene were around long before Nike infused a stagnant football pushover with flash and cash. Defensive coordinator Don Pellum and running backs coach Gary Campbell were at their posts well before labels like “soft” were unfairly attached to the next great football power.
If only someone would have cared enough to call them soft back when they started.
Over the course of decades, Pellum and Campbell have perfected the three-piece suit and Windsor knots, all in Eugene. In that time, they've watched Oregon undergo a rapid evolution, playing a significant role in its growth.
“We’ve come from the bottom with a chance to be at the very top,” Campbell said. “I was here when five or six wins was good. Six wins in 1989 got us into a bowl game. Winning a conference championship was farfetched. Now we’re playing for a national championship. It’s night and day.”
“You don’t have enough time,” Pellum added when asked about the differences in the program, laughing at the prospect of finding an appropriate starting point.
The very notion that Oregon could have competed for a national championship would have been greeted with laughter not long ago. Now, after climbing past these barriers and into the national spotlight, the Ducks are combating a new batch of football stigmas with tangible results.
“Wins and losses,” Helfrich said. “I don’t care how many yards of offense we have. I don’t care how many yards we give up on defense.”
You don’t have to look hard to figure out how Oregon became a football brute. But you do have to go back more than just a few years to understand how it all came together.
Rebuilding a Running Game (Again): Meshing New Talent with a Proven Philosophy
The notion that Oregon suddenly developed a tough attitude on offense is false. When asked about freshman running back Royce Freeman—a 229-pound physical rarity and one of the nation’s elite runners—63-year-old Campbell responded without hesitation.
“Jonathan Stewart,” Campbell said when comparing Freeman to the plethora of other backs he has coached. “He’s the only other guy, and they’re pretty close. When I saw Jonathan, I thought, ‘Wow, what a physical specimen.’ I thought the same thing when I first saw Royce.”
Stewart was one of 15 1,000-yard backs that Campbell has produced as running backs coach. In his 32 years with the program—the longest tenure of any coach nationwide—Campbell has watched 17 1,000-yard backs cycle through the program. He's coached 15 of the 17.
Freeman, the latest of those 17, might be the most talented yet.
“I knew from the beginning that Royce was going to be an outstanding player,” Campbell said. “We started making plans in the spring knowing that we were not going to redshirt him. We knew he was going to play a big role in our offense.”
His arrival is precisely why the team moved Byron Marshall—a 1,000-yard rusher one year ago—to more of a wide receiver role this season. Marshall has caught 66 passes for 834 yards and five touchdowns this year. More importantly, he’s added a new dynamic to an offense constantly seeking out an edge.
Freeman did the same, and not just from a statistical standpoint. His 1,343 rushing yards and 20 total touchdowns—including one passing touchdown—have complemented the work of Oregon's Heisman quarterback. But it’s his style that has truly altered the perception of that side of the ball.
“Not being tackled,” Freeman told Bleacher Report in October. “That’s what I’m working on.”
As the season has progressed, Freeman's role increased. "Not being tackled" became a theme. With more carries came more production.
Against Florida State in the Rose Bowl, however, it was Thomas Tyner—another big back at 215 pounds—doing the majority of the heavy lifting. Tyner led the charge with 13 carries for 124 yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s always a joy to be surrounded by a lot of talent,” Campbell said. “We started the season with three quality running backs that could all be 1,000-yard rushers in any program. That’s a joy. You can push guys in there and you’re not going to downgrade the quality. There are not a lot of places that can say they can do that.”
Strangely enough, Oregon’s rushing output—at least from a production standpoint—is the lowest it’s been in six years. Total yards were down, as were the average yards per carry. The numbers, however, don't paint an accurate picture.
While the running was slightly less explosive from a big-play standpoint, the Ducks gladly sacrificed those gains for a more powerful style. They got bigger, tougher and still managed to average 5.5 yards per carry.
In losing something, Oregon found precisely what it needed.
A New, Familiar Voice For the Defense
When Nick Aliotti retired as defensive coordinator last season—giving up a position he held for 17 years—Don Pellum’s cell phone rang.
Having worked with every level of the defense for 23 years with Oregon, it made sense that the 52-year-old would get the call. That didn’t make the moment any less significant for the longtime assistant finally given his chance.
“I bet I sat in my chair for two hours," Pellum said. "I didn’t call anybody; I just sat there. And then all of the sudden, the voice in my head told me it was time to go to work.”
There was work to be done, but not as much as perception would lead you to believe. Contrary to popular opinion, the Ducks defense wasn’t broken.
There were holes to fill and adjustments to be made, especially in a secondary rife with new faces. Perhaps more daunting was making the defense his own while also keeping Aliotti’s great foundation intact.
“We needed to be a bit more accountable, smarter and enjoy it more,” Pellum said. “We focused on those three things and we really challenged them. The kids were awesome; they responded.”
Much like the running game, this past season was not the best the Oregon defense has played, at least statistically. In fact, over the past four seasons—zeroing in on sheer numbers alone—you could argue that the best statistical year (2013) was actually Oregon's worst year overall, since it was the only year that the Ducks failed to earn a bid to a BCS Bowl or College Football Playoff game.
The Ducks still forced turnovers in mass amount, a Eugene staple. They finished in the top two in turnover margin for the second time in three years, forcing 30 turnovers and coughing the ball up only 10 times.
Even with the uptick in points and yardage allowed, watching this unit operate week-to-week told a different story. It told you it had turned the corner. The defensive line has become a strength, rather than a liability. And the other places Pellum touched in his time at the school seemed to thrive as the season progressed.
Such progress was evident against Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game and Florida State in the Rose Bowl. In both instances, the defense ultimately sparked a blowout. It may never get confused with Stanford's, but it doesn't have to be. It doesn't want to be.
“I don’t think this is the most talented defense we’ve had," Pellum said. "We’ve had a few teams that we’re really talented. But this unit is the most cohesive and probably the hardest working of all the teams we’ve ever had.”
And, as the head coach so aptly stated, wins and losses are what matter.
The Death of a Wearisome Stigma
Please, by all means, continue to call Oregon "soft."
The Oregon coaches would prefer that you did. Don’t mind the fact that they conquered their Stanford demons in 2014 with a 45-16 victory and just throttled the defending national champions with everything on the line. Go ahead…by all means.
“Let ‘em talk,” Campbell said. “I like to hear them say that. It gets our players fired up and all we can do is go out and show them what we can do on game day.”
Somewhere along the way, Oregon—despite winning at a rate only few in the history of the sport have ever matched and beating quality opponents with great regularity—was deemed unworthy.
It was the style. It was the uniforms. It was the tempo. It was the occasional loss. It was the fact that an exclusive club rarely welcomes new faces with open arms.
“I’ve heard people say that, but I don’t know where that comes from,” Campbell said on being labeled soft. “I remember the first year with all the talk about Stanford. Then they came in here and we pushed them around pretty good. I think that talk slowed down for a while.”
When Oregon lost to Arizona back in early October, the talks resurfaced. Right on cue, it allowed those waiting and wanting to doubt the program an opening.
Over the next few months, these labels were shed once more. Oregon, behind its Heisman-winning quarterback, showcased a team deep in so many other places. The offensive line got healthy, the defensive line supercharged and the team around Mariota complemented his miraculous individual performances.
These developments culminated in a blowout Rose Bowl victory, a game that was won with five Florida State turnovers and a rushing average of nearly seven yards per carry for the Ducks.
“Until an individual or team does something to change it, perception is reality,” Pellum said. “For us or any other team that finds themselves in a situation where there’s a perception about them, it can take on its own life. You have to change the perception.
"Until you do something to change it, you just have to live with it.”
Oregon has done something about it.
The notion that the team doesn’t belong is long dead. So are the days when six wins would warrant a parade for a dormant football program. It’s why Campbell and Pellum—the team's suited fixtures—will happily embrace all new stigmas that have come with the success.
Oregon didn’t suddenly acquire added toughness; that was a lazy way to evaluate a handful of missteps in the first place. This movement didn’t take one year or even five years, either. It has been decades in the making.
To reach this new threshold, Oregon had to take a step back. It had to sacrifice some of the monumental numbers that put it on the map. In a way, it had to go back to its roots—roots only a handful within Eugene walls can remember.
To culminate this dramatic rise, Campbell and Pellum will don their finest formal wear in Dallas, just like always. There’s no need to dress up for a moment of this magnitude; not when you’ve been dressing up all along.
“It’ll be more business than flashy,” Pellum said when asked about what his championship outfit will entail. “This is a business trip.”
Adam Kramer is the lead national college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All stats via CFBstats.com.
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Las Vegas oddsmakers continue to trumpet the Oregon Ducks over the Ohio State Buckeyes in the debut College Football Playoff National Championship.
They also said Alabama would take down Ohio State. Oh, and that Florida State would only lose to Oregon by about nine points.
See, the dying embers of the collegiate season is ripe for exploitation by savvy bettors. The excruciating wait for the game itself produces plenty of hesitation and second-guessing, but ample time to iron out a decision.
For those procrastinators, now is the time to catch up on the pertinent details and go head-to-head with the house one more time.
College Football Playoff National Championship Odds and Schedule
Breaking Down the Odds
The knee-jerk reaction to roll with Oregon by a touchdown is understandable.
After all, Marcus Mariota owns 40 touchdowns to three interceptions through the air, another 15 on the ground and his offense ranks second in the nation at 47.2 points per game.
Feel free to pour it on—the Ducks sure do. The unit put up 46 on Michigan State's defense, 42 on UCLA, 45 on Stanford, 51 on Utah, 47 on Oregon State, 51 on Arizona in a splotch of revenge and topped it all off with a 59-20 public dissection of Florida State.
Just understand that Ohio State touts a defensive acumen that can hurt the Ducks in a major way. Joey Bosa (14 sacks), Adolphus Washington and others form one of the nation's most feared defensive lines, something Oregon center Hroniss Grasu is quick to point out, according to Paul Myerberg ofUSA Today:
They're the most talented defensive line we've faced all season long. The most talented defense. They've got some young guys in there who can really play. They're just very active. They won't quit on a play. Florida State, they'd stop after one move. These guys, they won't quit on a play.
Grasu's presence alone should be a key part to this game, though, as his return to the lineup means Mariota will play behind the healthiest offensive line the QB has seen all season.
Even so, as much as Mariota likes to get out of the pocket and extend plays or take off, the Ohio State line is not one to toy with in this regard. He will also need to lean on lead back Royce Freeman (1,343 yards, 18 scores) more than usual, both because the interior of the line is back to full strength and because of the absence of top targets.
Not only will the Oregon offense be without tight end Pharaoh Brown and wideout Devon Allen, but freshman Darren Carrington will also miss the game due to suspension, per Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman. Carrington, the star who stepped up against the Seminoles with seven catches for 165 yards and a pair of scores.
Of course, Ohio State has problems of its own and will not just pull away and beat the odds.
Urban Meyer's team will surely lean on sophomore back Ezekiel Elliott once again. Thanks to 450 rushing yards and four touchdowns over the course of his past two outings, Elliott figures to be the recipe by which the Buckeyes keep Mariota off the field, weapons or not.
The reasoning to ride Elliott is more than strategy for a particular opponent, though, as Meyer would ideally like to keep the ball out of Cardale Jones' hands as much as possible.
While impressive that the former third-string quarterback has led the team to a pair of critical wins, his 18-of-35 mark for 243 yards with an interception and touchdown against Alabama shows the sophomore can and will make mistakes.
For the sake of protecting quarterbacks for two very different reasons, an over/under of more than 70 reeks of too much. Both offenses average more than 45 points per game, but Mariota's lack of weapons in the face of an elite defensive front and Ohio State's strategic approach suggest the under is the safest route to take.
Look for Ohio State to stick close, too. While the Buckeyes will not wind up with a claim to fame such as beating the top three Heisman vote-getters, Jones has a booming arm that can hit deep threats, and Elliott will produce enough to at least keep pace.
Bets against Mariota at this point are downright unwise, so outright, the call is easy. Against the spread, try not to doubt Ohio State once again. Look for the Buckeyes to keep up and cover with a late score.
Prediction: Oregon 36, Ohio State 30
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On Monday night, history will be made in college football. The first-ever national champion of the College Football Playoff will be crowned. The Ohio State Buckeyes and Oregon Ducks are looking to earn the distinction of being the first champs of this new era.
After knocking off the Alabama Crimson Tide and Florida State Seminoles, respectively, both teams have proved they deserve to be in their current position.
Like any game, there are key matchups that will likely determine the victor. Let's start with one of the most obvious.
Cardale Jones vs. Marcus Mariota
While the two quarterbacks won't ever be on the field at the same time, this is still going to be a duel of two guys who have taken very different paths to the pinnacle of college football. No matter how different the two men are, they were complimentary to each other during the buildup to the big game. Per Sam Mayes of 107.7 FM in Oklahoma, and Tony Zarrella of Action News in Ohio, Jones and Mariota showed mutual respect.
Mariota is the golden boy, Heisman Trophy winner and favorite to be the first player chosen in the upcoming draft (should he declare).
Jones is a third-string quarterback who has been doubted by most since he took over for the injured J.T. Barrett in the regular-season finale. It took a ton of happenstance for Jones to get the opportunity he has, but as Buckeyes' offensive coordinator Tom Herman said, per Chris Low of ESPN.com, Jones expected to play in big-time games all along.
“Everybody sees him as a two-game starter," Herman said. "But when Cardale came to Ohio State, this is fully what he expected to be. When you expect that, meeting those expectations doesn’t surprise you. This isn’t a shock to him.”
It seems silly to suggest that Jones will suddenly feel the pressure of the moment and crumble. He engineered a win over Alabama in the national semifinal. If he can hold it together against that defense, poise shouldn't be a problem Monday night.
Poise is never an issue for Mariota.
The calm and cool Hawaiian has a chance to cap one of the most successful seasons in college football history. You couldn't write a better or more decorated script.
Dwayne Stanford vs. Eli Apple
Carrington had a huge game against the Seminoles, and he is Oregon's second-leading receiver.
The Ducks can only hope Stanford can step up and be a similar weapon. Waiting for Stanford will likely be Ohio State's top coverage cornerback, Eli Apple. Against Alabama, Apple helped limit star receiver Amari Cooper to nine receptions for 71 yards and two scores.
Considering we're talking about Cooper, that's a modest day's work. If Apple can slow down Stanford, the Oregon offense may be in trouble.
Oregon's Defensive Line vs. Ohio State's Offensive Line
One of the primary reasons the Buckeyes pulled the upset over Alabama was because they were able to run the ball effectively.
Led by Ezekiel Elliott's 230 yards and two touchdowns, the Bucks ran for 281 yards and averaged 6.7 yards per rush. If Oregon can't do any better against Ohio State's ground game, the Ducks will meet the same fate as Alabama.
The battle starts up front. Billy Price, Pat Elflein and Darryl Baldwin will attempt to create daylight for Elliott.
Oregon's Alex Balducci, Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and senior linebacker Tony Washington must be up to the challenge. It should be a great game.
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In a game as big as Monday night's national championship showdown between Ohio State and Oregon, the spotlight is never owned by one single storyline.
The Ducks and Buckeyes both beat some tough odds and overcame a plethora of setbacks to get here. Each team bounced back from early-season losses to play its best football down the stretch of the season. But with legacies to play for, there's nowhere to look but forward for these two teams looking to notch a program-defining win.
As tends to be the case in the days leading up to a championship game, every single potential facet of the game is being analyzed (and overanalyzed) as Monday draws nearer.
Let's go ahead and take a look at what three of those top storylines are below.
Top Storylines for Oregon vs. Ohio State
Out with the Old, In with the New
The simple fact that Ohio State is here is either a testament to its offense's cohesiveness, a showcase of its depth at quarterback or both.
Star quarterback Braxton Miller was sidelined just before the season's start. Freshman J.T. Barrett posted a nearly historic 2014 season in relief of Miller, but he suffered a season-ending injury against Michigan just before the crucial Big Ten title game against Wisconsin.
Enter Cardale Jones.
The sophomore quarterback (once a third-stringer) led the Buckeyes to a 59-0 win over Wisconsin and then an improbable 42-35 victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. He combined for 500 passing yards, four touchdowns and just one interception in the two games.
Jones has stayed prepared despite being buried on the depth chart, and it's paid off.
“Everybody sees him as a two-game starter," Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman told ESPN.com's Chris Low. "But when Cardale came to Ohio State, this is fully what he expected to be. When you expect that, meeting those expectations doesn’t surprise you. This isn’t a shock to him.”
Jones had no trouble executing Ohio State's offense to perfection against two of the nation's top defenses in Wisconsin and Alabama. Against Oregon, he could be in for even more success, as CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd noted the Ducks' defensive ineptitude:
The Ducks have an athletic and underrated front seven that could give Jones and running back Ezekiel Elliott problems, but Jones can remedy that with a few accurate strikes down the field. His deep balls have been money ever since he took the starting position, but they will have to be on point again versus the Ducks.
Oregon's offense prides itself on attacking opponents in a variety of ways, which inevitably puts the balls in the hands of as many as a dozen different playmakers in a single game.
But even an offense with the many wrinkles of Oregon's can't help but be fazed by what has hit the receiver position.
Notable wide receiver Devon Allen is out for the championship after suffering an injury in the Rose Bowl, and the issues got even worse in the days leading up to Monday. As first reported by Aaron Fentress of Comcast Northwest, receiver Darren Carrington failed a NCAA drug test and will miss Monday's game.
Tyson Alger of The Oregonian put the loss of the two Ducks wideouts in perspective:
There's no doubt that the losses will hit the Ducks offense hard. Byron Marshall leads the team in receiving with 66 catches and 834 yards, but Carrington and Allen are second and third in receiving yardage on the team, respectively.
"It will not be a distraction," Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said (via ESPN's Brett McMurphy). "It's a great, great thing to talk about and the only thing that I'll talk about from that standpoint is confirm that it's an NCAA policy that is in play here and he's ineligible for this game, and we'll ride."
The losses will make the impacts of Charles Nelson and Keanon Lowe all the more important. Both are regarded primarily as slot receivers but will inevitably have to make some sort of impact on the outside to help out Marcus Mariota.
The (No) Turnover Battle
It seems like it would go without saying that turnovers will loom large in a game of this magnitude, but it could end up being the deciding factor in Monday's title game.
Turnovers have been a key recipe to success for both teams, especially the Ducks. Oregon leads the FBS in turnover margin entering Monday, with a plus-20 differential for the season.
As of late, though, turnovers have been even more important for both teams.
Ohio State turned it over twice in the first half against Alabama, both of which led directly to Crimson Tide touchdowns. But when the Buckeyes played a turnover-free second half, they were able to pull away all while forcing three interceptions from Blake Sims.
As for Oregon, it forced turnover after turnover in the second half against Florida State to ride to a breezy 59-20 win in the Rose Bowl. After that game, WTVN's Matt McCoy captured Oregon's season-long dominance in the turnover department:
Mariota has been especially careful with the ball this season, having scored 56 total touchdowns to just six interceptions thrown. One of those came in the Rose Bowl, however, and the Buckeyes are peaking when it comes to forcing interceptions from opposing quarterbacks.
If Mariota is able to play a turnover-free game and take care of the ball for Oregon offensively, a few Buckeye mishaps offensively could help put the Ducks over the top.
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The SEC will again be the go-to place for NFL teams looking to load up on new talent, as 11 of the top 30 players in Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller's big board hail from that conference.
But no matter how many SEC players get drafted in the spring, the talent pool just keeps on getting refreshed. All one needs to do is look to the freshman and sophomore classes, which are overflowing with studs who—if eligible—would also be snapped up in the draft.
That's because they're ready to play on Sundays.
Nearly every SEC team has at least one player who looks capable of being in the the NFL right now, based on their play in college and their physical attributes. The fact they've got to stay in school for another year or two just means they'll get better, and we get to watch them on Saturdays for a little longer.
Check out our list of 10 SEC underclassmen who could be playing in the NFL right now.
It's all about the trophy.
Every win in a season is nice, as are personal awards and conference titles. Getting into the College Football Playoff was a huge achievement for four schools this year too. But ultimately, it's all about that trophy.
The National Championship Trophy presented by Dr. Pepper, that is. Oregon and Ohio State are both gunning to hoist that bad boy Monday night. Let's take a look at the piece of hardware they desire, along with making a prediction about which team will earn the honor of lifting the trophy.
The trophy awarded to the winner of this year's national championship is certainly a bit more sleek than the former crystal football that Dr. Pepper presented. It's not particularly light, however, as Brett McMurphy of ESPN tweeted back in July after the trophy was first unveiled:
The College Football Playoff offered more info on the trophy via a press release when it was first shown to the public:
Created by the legendary international design consultancy, Pentagram, the trophy was then commissioned and handcrafted by the master fine art foundry, Polich Tallix, in Rock Tavern, New York. Expert craftsmen at the foundry worked for three months, combining cutting edge technologies with timeless metal casting and finishing techniques to create the trophy.
"Rarely do you have the opportunity to create an identity and shape it into an iconic object that will be embedded with so much pride and meaning," said Pentagram Partner Michael Gericke. "We are honored to be a part of symbolizing the new era for the College Football Playoff and have it literally come to life with this magnificent trophy."
Dr. Pepper is certainly pleased with the work done on the trophy, however, even making it the center of one of its Larry Culpepper commercials that highlights its sponsorship of the College Football Playoff.
Oregon and Ohio State players and coaches will certainly be clamoring to get their hands on this trophy.
Ah, but which school will claim the ultimate prize?
I'm torn on this. Coming into the playoff, my pick to win the title was Oregon, and the Ducks did little to dispel my confidence after they dismantled Florida State to the point that the Seminoles simply quit on the game in the second half. Marcus Mariota is superb, the Oregon defense is better than it is given credit for and the up-tempo offense the team runs is brutal for opposing defenses to deal with.
Ah, but Ohio State seems to have something special going on.
This is a team that beat Michigan State and Minnesota on the road in consecutive weeks in November. The Buckeyes beat Wisconsin 59-0 with a third-string quarterback in Cardale Jones making his first career start. Ezekiel Elliott is arguably the most underrated running back in college football and just torched Alabama. The Buckeyes seem to get better each week, and they have the athletes on defense to keep up with Oregon's spread-option attack.
But you have to stick with your predictions, and I'm sticking with Oregon. For all of the reasons I think Ohio State could pull off another upset, I keep coming back to the ultimate advantage Oregon has in this game—Mariota. The Heisman winner was the best player in college football this season and absolutely torched Florida State.
Mariota's the reason Oregon rarely turns the ball over (it leads the nation in turnover differential). He's the reason it is so good at converting on third downs (fourth in the nation), as he extends plays and can scramble to get the first down himself. He's a huge reason why Oregon has the No. 2 scoring offense in the country this season.
In the end, I think Mariota will be the difference between these teams. But I'm expecting a high-scoring, back-and-forth contest that will be an instant classic and evoke fond memories of the USC vs. Texas national championship thriller in 2006, with Mariota playing the part of Vince Young.
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Monday is a historic day for college football, as the culmination of the first-ever playoffs system will result in the winner of the 2015 College Football National Championship.
The playoff system was largely a success, as it has given us the two best teams in Oregon and Ohio State for the title bout. Both squads have overcome adversity in their journeys to AT&T Stadium. Naturally, the athletes will leave it all on the field.
The story goes far beyond quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Cardale Jones. Sure, one is a Heisman Trophy winner and the other is a third-stringer, but there's so much more to this epic matchup.
Below you'll learn more about the contest, including where and when to catch all the action.
Oregon vs. Ohio State: 2015 National Championship
When: Monday, January 12
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Start Time (ET): 8:30 p.m.
Spread (via Odds Shark): Oregon -5.5
*Injury reports are courtesy of the Sports Network, via USA Today.
While there's more to this matchup than the quarterbacks, we'd be remiss to not mention both Mariota and Jones before moving on to other things.
Mariota, of course, put together one of the most astounding seasons in recent memory, leading the Ducks to a one-loss season. SportsCenter's Twitter account highlighted the finer points of his campaign:
His exploits have led to talk of him being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but that's months in the future. Mariota is focused solely on this upcoming game.
Many in football view the Heisman as the ultimate accolade for college standouts, but Mariota has a different take on it. This is what he told Bryan Fischer of NFL.com:
That speaks to Mariota's commitment to his team and his overall personality, as he is always looking for more. Despite dominating nearly every team he played against this season, Mariota mustn't take the Buckeyes for granted. They were the 26th defense in the nation in terms of points allowed per game, pitching shutouts against Kent State and Wisconsin in the Big 10 title game.
Mariota must be flawless to overcome this defense.
Conversely, Jones has a far easier task ahead of him. The Ducks defense is a far cry from the likes of Wisconsin and Alabama—Ohio State's last two opponents—meaning he can take more risks than he might have against superior units. ESPN's Adam Rittenberg echoes that sentiment:
Jones has a huge arm that will challenge the Ducks secondary, especially with speedy receivers Devin Smith and Jalin Marshall. Their wheels combined with his arm will make for some home-run type plays from Ohio State.
Their key on offense, however, will be running back Ezekiel Elliott. He and J.T. Barrett were a stellar duo as runners this season, but the load has been squarely on Elliot's shoulders since Barrett went down with an injury and yielded the quarterback position to Jones. Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman highlighted how dominant Elliott has been since:
Oregon is ranked 55th in the country against the run, allowing 155.8 yards per game to rushers. Will that spell good fortune for Elliott? He has been successful against stingier units—Alabama, Wisconsin and Michigan State, specifically—so look for him to carry the offense yet again.
Given the wealth of offensive playmakers on both sides, this title fight will be decided by which defense can make the most stops. The game plans for each side are simple. Ohio State must pressure Mariota and force him to make mistakes. Oregon must play disciplined in the secondary to keep up with Smith and Marshall, while also maintaining focus on Elliott in the backfield.
While the plans are simple in theory, they are obviously difficult in execution. Few teams have been able to accomplish these tasks during the season. That said, these are the best two teams in the nation. If top stars are going to struggle, it's going to be now.
This is truly a result that could go either way. Ohio State is perhaps better equipped to win than Oregon because of the Ducks' lack of experience against top-notch defenses, but one would be foolish to dismiss the Ducks' chances because of Mariota.
Tune in on Monday to witness history. It's going to be a heck of a game.
Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @kennydejohn
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