Way back in the spring, some folks who called themselves college football purists – in actuality, BCS lovers – predicted the beginning of the end for the game. They predicted that the college football playoff would put an end to this notion that every week mattered and that the regular season would be rendered meaningless. They predicted total chaos for the playoff committee, assigned the task of coming up with four teams to play a pair of semifinal games and a national championship game.
Well, here we are waiting for tonight’s national championship game and none of their predictions have come true. If anything, the addition of the playoff has made the college football season all the more interesting. Under the old system, we would have had a national championship matchup between Alabama and Florida State, Alabama because it won the SEC title and Florida State because it won the national championship last year and was on a 29-game winning streak.
Oregon would have been left out because of a loss to then unranked Arizona in the fifth week of the season and Ohio State out because of a loss to Virginia Tech in week two. In the BCS system, their chances of making the national championship game would have been seriously diminished with those losses but with the addition of two teams into the championship picture with the playoff, Oregon was able to play its way back into the picture and Ohio State got there with 10 straight wins in the regular season and a blowout win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.
That Oregon and Ohio State are playing in tonight’s championship game tells us the regular season was definitely not rendered meaningless. Both Oregon and Ohio State used what was left of their regular seasons after absorbing their losses to gather the momentum that allowed them to elbow their way into the playoff.
Consider these things: (1) If Mississippi State had beaten Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, the Bulldogs would have been in the final four, which means Ohio State wouldn’t have made it. (2) TCU was ranked third in the next to last College Football Playoff Poll, but dipped to #6 in the last one. The Horned Frogs showed in the Peach Bowl that they belonged. They might have been better than either Alabama or Florida State.
You have five power conferences and four of them got a team in the playoff and the one that didn’t could state a case for the two teams (Baylor and TCU), which shared the Big 12 Conference championship.
The new system isn’t perfect and there is every good chance that it will be tweaked to expand to eight teams within the next two or three years, but it’s certainly a lot better than the BCS.
One last thought: Had there been a final four in 2012, Florida would have been one of the teams in the playoff. Here we are a little more than two years later and the Gators have a brand new coach.
1. Let’s start with the coach. There isn’t a coach in the country, who, when given time to prepare, can get a team ready to play as well as Urban Meyer, who has two national championships at Florida under his belt. He had nearly a month to prep for Alabama and then torched the mighty Crimson Tide for 537 total yards and 42 points. He’s had the equivalent of two practice weeks to prep for Oregon. As a head coach, Urban is 141-26 and he’s 37-3 at Ohio State. Love him or hate him, he’s the best in the business.
2. The Buckeyes have a defensive front four that is quite reminiscent of the Florida front four that destroyed Ohio State in the 2006 BCS national championship game. They have speed on the outside and have a superstar DE in Joey Bosa and they have a power guy with quickness on the inside in Michael Bennett who can collapse a pocket from the inside. As well as he runs the ball, Marcus Mariota has been sacked 29 times and he hasn’t seen a pass rush as ferocious as the one he’s going to see Monday night.
3. Cardale Jones might be the Buckeyes’ third string quarterback but if you’ve watched him pick Wisconsin and Alabama apart then you know he’s got a cannon of an arm and can make all the throws. If he had played in the SEC, he would have been no worse than the second best quarterback in the league. At Ohio State, he began the year as the third teamer and didn’t see the field until the Heisman candidate second teamer went down with an injury in game 12. The Buckeyes are going to run the ball but with Jones, they can use the outside speed of Devin Smith and Michael Thomas to run deeper routes and vertically stretch the defense, which only opens up more running lanes.
1. Speed, speed and more speed. Ohio State is a very fast team, but the Buckeyes haven’t played anyone faster than Oregon nor have they played anyone that runs tempo better. While Ohio State sees speed and tempo every day in practice because the Buckeyes run a system very similar to the one run by Oregon, there is no way they can simulate what Oregon does on a practice field. And, while Oregon gives up some size up front defensively, the Ducks have so many athletic freaks with great speed who can close fast on the football that big plays against them are hard to come by.
2. There is a reason Marcus Mariota won the Heisman Trophy. He makes all the throws with pinpoint accuracy and because he’s so mobile, he can buy time with his feet until a receiver breaks open in the clear. No matter how good an opponent’s secondary is, there is only so long they can cover good receivers and Oregon has outstanding receivers with great speed. If the Buckeyes can’t get in Mariota’s face and keep him contained in the pocket, he can make life living hell for their defense.
3. Because their offense is so balanced – 42 rushing touchdowns, 42 passing touchdowns and they rarely turn the ball over, the Ducks are the most difficult team in all of college football to defend. They can beat you on the inside with power (Royce Freeman is 230 pounds of muscle yet he has sprinter’s speed) and on the outside with Mariota and speed backs like Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall. Even though home run threat receiver Darren Carrington is suspended for the game, the Ducks have eight other receivers who caught between 10 and 66 passes and all of them can run.
Mariota has thrown for 4,121 yards and 40 touchdowns while throwing only two interceptions. He averages 10.1 yards per attempt. He’s also run the ball for 731 yards (5.85 per carry) and 14 touchdowns.
Freeman has run for 1,343 yards (5.55 per carry) and 18 touchdowns, has caught 16 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown and has thrown for one touchdown.
Slot receiver Byron Marshall has run for 383 yards (7.51 per carry) and one touchdown and caught 66 passes for 834 yards and five TDs.
Scoring: 47.2 per game
Scoring defense: 22.3
Rushing offense: 241.86 per game, 5.54 per carry, 42 touchdowns
Rushing defense: 156.07 per game, 4.15 per carry, 17 touchdowns
Passing offense: 311.0 per game, 10.0 per attempt, 42 touchdowns
Passing defense: 265.9 per game, 6.7 per attempt, 20 touchdowns
Total offense: 552.9 yards per game, 7.39 per play, 84 touchdowns
Total defense: 421.9 per game, 5.45 per play, 37 touchdowns
Sacks for: 36
Sacks against: 29
Turnovers: 10 (7 fumbles, 3 interceptions)
Turnovers forced: 30 (18 fumbles, 12 interceptions)
For Ohio State:
In his two games as a starter, Jones is 30-52 passing (9.6 per attempt) for 500 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He has run the ball 25 times for 52 yards. For the season, he is 40-69 (9.0 per attempt), 618 yards, six TDs and one interception and he has run the ball 51 times for 258 yards (5.06 per carry).
Ezekiel Elliot has run for 1,632 yards (5.84 per carry) and 14 touchdowns and caught 27 passes for 221 yards.
Devin Smith has caught 32 passes for 886 yards (27.69 per catch) and 12 touchdowns.
Scoring defense: 22.1
Rushing offense: 262.21 per game, 5.84 per carry, 36 touchdowns
Rushing defense: 142 per game, 3.94 per carry, 24 touchdowns
Passing offense: 247.5 per game, 9.0 per attempt, 41 touchdowns
Passing defense: 191.6 per game, 5.9 per attempt, 15 touchdowns
Total offense: 509.7 per game, 7.03 per play, 77 touchdowns
Total defense: 333.6 per game, 4.86 per play, 39 touchdowns
Sacks for: 43
Sacks against: 27
Turnovers: 22 (11 fumbles, 11 interceptions)
Turnovers forced: 32 (8 fumbles, 24 interceptions)
Ohio State over Oregon: The difference will be Meyer, who has been there and done that before. He knows what it takes to win a game of this magnitude and it will show in the way the Buckeyes weather the storms because Oregon is really, really good.
Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones loves his nickname “12 Gauge” (he’s got an arm that fires the ball like a gun and he’s #12). And, so do the folks in the media. On Sirius XM’s College Sports Nation Sunday, host Jack Arute, after hearing a Jones interview said the nickname is appropriate for a guy who’s going to go Duck hunting Monday night.
Former Gator defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, now the DC for the Seattle Seahawks, is a finalist for the Atlanta Falcons head coaching job along with Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles … Florida special teams coordinator Coleman Hutzler will coach special teams and linebackers for Steve Addazio at Boston College … Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has taken the same position on Pat Narduzzi’s new staff at Pitt … UCF offensive coordinator Charlie Taafe is retiring. Offensive line coach Brent Key takes over as the coordinator and will serve as assistant head coach … Former South Florida defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnehan will take over as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at UCF … Former Gator linebacker Bam Hardmon, who was coaching defensive line at Idaho, will coach the DL at Troy for new coach Neal Brown … Georgia is paying new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer $1 million per year … Georgia’s new offensive line coach is Rob Sale, who was the OL/co-offensive coordinator at McNeese State. Last year’s OL coach went to Colorado State as the offensive coordinator … Former ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley is the new offensive coordinator at Oklahoma.
Just a couple of weeks ago when the Gators were 7-6 and couldn’t seem to buy a free throw, everybody was writing this off as a lost season. Funny what a couple of conference games with a focused team can do to change perceptions. After blowout wins against a very good South Carolina team that beat then #9 Iowa State (which had beaten Arkansas) and a Mississippi State team that knocked off Florida State (which beat the Gators), suddenly the Gators are looking like a team that might be getting their collective acts together. So what changed? Why are the Gators suddenly better now than they were two weeks ago? It probably has to do with two things: (1) Donovan sent a message to the team when he suspended Jon Horford and Zach Hodskins for conduct detrimental to the team as well as bringing Michael Frazier II off the bench; and (2) Eli Carter is starting to feel like the Eli Carter that used to regularly light up Big East defenses when he was at Rutgers. Through 15 games the Gators still haven’t given up a 50% shooting night to their opponents so the defense is sound. They’re not a great offensive team but if they can get to the high 60s and low 70s they can beat most of the teams on their schedule.
Two other reasons to not give up on the Gators: (1) Kentucky needed overtime to beat Ole Miss and then double overtime to beat Texas A&M; and (2) Duke got hosed by North Carolina State. Most people agree these are the most talented teams in the country but they’re struggling against good but not great competition.
Kentucky has the tallest team on the planet and a world record number of McDonald’s All-Americans, but they’ve got issues on the perimeter where the Harrison Twins are still self-absorbed and other than Tyler Ulis everyone is susceptible to quick guards who can penetrate. For all their size teams that will challenge the Kentucky bigs will open up the outside. As for Duke, Coach K has one willing defender in Justise Winslow. Other than that, the Dookies don’t play much defense and whoever Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones are guarding can get any shot they want any time. If Duke has an off night shooting the ball, there is trouble.
Who do you like in tonight’s national championship game and why?
While watching a video of the 2010 Crossroads Guitar Festival in Chicago I came across this outstanding version of the Don Nix blues classic “Going Down” performed by Joe Banamassa, Pino Daniele and Robert Randolph and the Family Band. I could listen to these guys play music all night long.