National Championship Pick: Oregon vs. Ohio State

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Updated: January 12, 2015

In a contest that will be played under the big screen inside of “JerryWorld”, the highly anticipated inaugural Championship Game of the College Football Playoffs commences tonight with Ohio State taking on Oregon.

After thumping Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide, the Buckeyes will bring a cast of explosive playmakers to the field led by their 3rd-string quarterback Cardale Jones.  Conversely, Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota directs the Ducks absurdly fast up-tempo offense, an attack that must be seen in real time in order to full appreciate.

Current line:  Oregon -7, over/under 74

Speed city:  Mariota navigates a relentless attack that averages a little over 47 points scored per game.  Though they are occasionally thought of as a passing team, Oregon’s first order of business is to establish the run and get the rest of their offensive playbook firing off of that. Once they get a few first downs and create the pace they want to play at, the Ducks are practically impossible to slow down.  Behind Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett, the Buckeyes must be able to hold their own in the trenches and get off of the field on at least a couple of third downs throughout the game.

Depth concerns:  As interchangeable as some of Oregon’s parts are, they will be playing without two of their best receivers tonight.  Darren Carrington (2nd on the team with 704 receiving yards) is out due to a failed NCCA drug test, while Devon Allen (led the Ducks with 7 touchdown receptions this year) injured his knee on the opening kickoff of the Rose Bowl and won’t be suiting up. Mariota is used to playing pitch and catch to wide open receivers, and it will be interesting to see if the backups Oregon rolls out will be able to generate the same level of separation.

Quick study:  Jones has quickly settled into the role of QB 1, displaying decent scrambling ability to go with a big time arm. He is extremely large for the position (think Cam Newton size), and I can easily see him picking up short yardage first downs by putting his down and bullying his way through Oregon’s defensive line.  Jones will also test the Ducks secondary by throwing it deep to Devin Smith, a speedster outside who leads the FBS with an average of 27.7 yards per catch. Oregon has a fast moving defense, but after seeing the Buckeyes manhandle Alabama’s defensive front, they might be susceptible to a pounding on the interior.

The Urban Factor:  Love him or hate him, you have to admit that Urban Meyer is one heck of a college football coach. Ohio State has won 37 of 40 games with Meyer at the helm – his most recent game action represented a complete undressing of Alabama’s Saban, a victory that his stellar record in bowl games to 8-2.  Defeating Oregon with a third-string (albeit talented) quarterback will only cement his reputation as one of the best ever at steering a program. It will also bring him into the elite company of becoming just the eighth coach ever to win three or more national titles.

Trends:  Oregon has been paying off in a big way, winning and covering in nine straight games.  They have also been money in bowl games, winning/covering in their last four. If Ohio State is involved look for a high scoring affair, as the total has gone ‘over’ in 12 of their last 13 games.

Prediction:  Even without Carrington and Allen the Ducks are still going to score a lot of points – Mariota has shown that he can be missing a variety of weapons and still be deadly.  Can Ohio State win a track meet?  They have certainly shown the capability in both games Jones has lined up under center, scoring a combined 101 points against Wisconsin and Alabama.

In what should be a close game, if I were betting straight up I would give Oregon the edge since they have the more experienced, superior QB (Mariota) running Mark Helfrich’s fast-break offense.  However, given Meyer’s track record and the fact that the roster matchups appear closer on paper than the line designates, the play here is the Buckeyes plus the points.

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