It’s been a long time coming.
The Bowl Championship Series is out and the College Football Playoff is in.
The game will be just the 3rd time in college football history where 2 Heisman Trophy winners will face each other.
This year’s winner, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, shattered records en route to one of the most prolific seasons for a signal-caller ever.
Seminoles QB Jameis Winston, the 2013 winner, was surrounded by off-the-field controversy, but won all the games on the field for the 2nd-straight season.
The winner advances to the National Championship, to face either Alabama or Ohio State, who play in the second semifinal. The title game is scheduled for Jan. 12, at 8:30 p.m. Eastern from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
No. 2 Oregon (12-1) vs. No. 3 Florida State (13-0), Rose Bowl
Thursday, 5 p.m. Eastern
Rose Bowl Stadium – Pasadena, California
Announcers: Chris Fowler (play-by-play), Kirk Herbstreit (analysis), Heather Cox (sideline), Tom Rinaldi (sideline)
Oregon (-9). Line provided by bovada.lv
Last Year’s Rose Bowl:
Michigan State 24, Stanford 20
Scoring: 46.3 points per game (3rd in FBS)
Total: 546.2 yards per game (3rd)
Passing: 308.9 yards per game (11th)
Rushing: 237.3 yards per game (20th)
There really isn’t much more to say about quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Heisman winner totaled 53 touchdowns (38 passing, 14 rushing and 1 receiving) and threw just 2 interceptions, ranking near or at the top of pretty much every passing category.
Mariota’s accurate (68.3%) with a quick release. And he spreads the ball around very effectively to 4 receivers with at least 539 yards each. As a 3-year starter he has complete understanding of the offense.
Running back Royce Freeman, the Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, played like a senior, gaining 1,299 yards and 16 TDs.
If there is a concern with the Oregon offense it’s they’ve allowed 29 sacks in 13 games.
Scoring: 22.5 points per game (29th in FBS)
Total: 413.8 yards per game (82nd)
Passing: 259.5 yards per game (102nd)
Rushing: 154.2 yards per game (49th)
An already-shaky secondary suffered a blow earlier this month when first-team All-America cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu was lost for the season with a knee injury. Erick Dargan‘s 6 interceptions and 82 tackles lead the defense.
The Ducks are a bend-but-don’t-break defense, ceding the yards, but ranking in the Top 30 in points per game allowed.
Scouting Florida State
Scoring: 34.8 points per game (26th in FBS)
Total: 434.7 yards per game (40th)
Passing: 299.8 yards per game (14th)
Rushing: 134.8 yards per game (101st)
He might make some questionable decisions off the field, but on it, quarterback Jameis Winston does no wrong. Yes, he’s thrown 17 interceptions, but he still hasn’t lost since coming to Tallahassee. The 2013 Heisman winner’s numbers were down a bit this season (27 touchdown passes compared to 40 a year ago), but he gets it done in the close games and where it counts – the W-L column.
Rashad Greene blossomed into a legit No. 1 receiving option and could find extra room in the Ducks’ secondary with Ekpre-Olomu out.
Dalvin Cook and Carlos Williams rushed for a combined 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns, but the running game isn’t FSU’s bread and butter. It’s about Winston making plays when they don’t seem to be there.
Scoring: 23.0 points per game (30th in FBS)
Total: 378.3 yards per game (50th)
Passing: 218.2 yards per game (49th)
Rushing: 160.2 yards per game (56th)
Florida State doesn’t excel in any defensive category other than red zone defense, where it ranks 11th (35 total scores in 48 attempts). As potent as Oregon’s offense is, it doesn’t shine inside the 20. The Ducks have scored 48 TDs in 72 trips (67%).
FSU doesn’t generate much pressure (just 17 sacks all season) and the D has picked off 13 passes.
The ‘Noles, led by linebacker Reggie Northrup‘s 113 tackles (55 solo), doesn’t have the defense they did a season ago, but when you hold your opponents to less points than your offense scores, you’re in good shape.
This game is giving us 2 contrasting offensive styles and 2 different paths taken to the playoffs. With Mariota, Oregon won in blowouts; it had 2 close games (both 7 point margins) and lost 1 of them. Every game Florida State played in seemingly followed the same course; the offense stalls in the first half, turns it on in the 3rd or 4th quarter and pulls out the win.
All season you heard how the Seminoles were going to get knocked off because they didn’t bring “it” every week. “Next weekend, FSU is going down.” It never happened. Part of that’s because Winston and Co. got it together when they needed to. But most of the credit should go to head coach Jimbo Fisher. He’s not just a guy with a headset on, giving halftime interviews to reporters. The man can flat-out coach. He is deft at making adjustments and that is going to be critical in this game.
By 8 p.m. Eastern on Dec. 7, moments after this matchup was set, there was no doubt in my mind Oregon was winning. And that lasted until about 3 days ago. That’s when I realized Florida State is not going to get blown out like Vegas suggests. And if anyone knows how to win close games on the big stage, it’s Winston and Fisher (and let’s not forget ace kicker Roberto Aguayo). Remember last season’s BCS title game? There’s a blueprint for slowing down Mariota. Rich Rodriguez and Arizona has done it twice.
FSU defensive coordinator Charles Kelly will have a plan drawn up to keep Mariota and the Ducks’ high-flying offense from piling up the points, which will allow Winston to keep the ‘Noles in the game. And a close game favors battle-tested Florida State, which would like nothing more than to shut the critics up.
Maybe I’m overthinking it. Maybe I’ve had too much time to watch too many games and scrutinize too many numbers and matchups. Maybe, but I don’t think so.