College Football National Championship, Oregon vs. Ohio State — Everything You Need to Know
Oregon and Ohio State meet up on Monday night in the first-ever college football playoff championship. Here is what to watch for in this heavyweight title matchup.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 4 Ohio State
Monday, January 12. 8:30 p.m. EST. (ESPN)
HOW THEY GOT HERE
Second-ranked Oregon avenged its only loss of the season by crushing Arizona in the Pac-12 title game, and then kept rolling with a 59-20 rout of defending-champion Florida State in the Rose Bowl. Ohio State claimed the Big Ten title with a 59-0 blowout of Wisconsin in the conference championship. The No. 4 Buckeyes, playing with a third-string quarterback, then pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the year, knocking off top-ranked Alabama, 42-35, in the Sugar Bowl.
WHEN OREGON HAS THE BALL
All eyes will be on Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota when the high-powered Oregon offense takes the field. The Heisman winner ranks fifth nationally in total offense and has put up at least 335 total yards in each of his last eight games, leading the Ducks to 47.2 points per game (second-highest in the country). But Oregon is much more than an up-tempo passing team. Running back Royce Freeman rushed for 1,343 yards and 18 scores on the season. Add in Mariota's ability to make plays with his legs and you have a potent one-two offense that ranks 11th nationally in passing and 18th in rushing.
You can't stop Oregon's offense, but the Buckeyes defense may be able to slow it down. Ohio State held eight of its 14 opponents this year to 125 or fewer rushing yards, including just 71 for Wisconsin and Heisman runner-up Melvin Gordon in the conference title game. So look for the Buckeyes to try to take away the running game and make Mariota one-dimensional. Ohio State ranks sixth nationally in turnovers and will likely need a few takeaways to get the Ducks' offense off the field.
WHEN OHIO STATE HAS THE BALL
All eyes will once again be on Cardale Jones, Ohio State's third-string quarterback pushed into action after season-ending injuries to Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett. This will only be Jones' third career start. But the backup has done a solid job managing the Buckeyes' offense, throwing for 500 yards and four touchdowns with just one interception in his two previous games. However, Ohio State's running game remains the team's core strength, and running back Ezekiel Elliott is getting hot at just the right time. The sophomore (1,632 yards this season) rushed for 450 yards and four touchdowns in his last two games.
Elliott's success on the ground will be vital for Ohio State to avoid falling behind early and putting too much pressure on their inexperienced quarterback. Elliott could have another big game against an Oregon defense that gives up an average of 156.1 rushing yards per game (51st nationally). However, the Ducks lead the nation in turnover margin, and this game could get out of hand early if the Buckeyes hand Mariota a short field.
While Ohio State's quarterback injuries are well documented, they won't be the only team coming into this game short-handed. Oregon's All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu will be out after tearing a knee ligament in Rose Bowl practice. Top receiver Devon Allen is also expected to miss the game after suffering a knee injury in the win over Florida State.
The scoreboard operator could get quite a workout. Oregon ranks second nationally in scoring (47.2 points per game) and the Buckeyes aren't far behind at 45 ppg (5th nationally). Cardale Jones has a big arm, so look for Ohio State to try to establish the run to set up the deep ball off of play action. When Oregon has the ball, look for the Ducks to pick up the pace and try to wear down the larger, more physical Buckeye defense. Both teams are among the nation's leaders in forcing turnovers, which means ball protection could make a crucial difference.
In 1939, Oregon beat Ohio State, 46-33, in the first college basketball playoff championship. 75 years later, these two offenses could top that basketball score in the first-ever College Football Playoff championship.