NCAA College Football Playoff semifinals recap.

College football fans, the end is near.

In just a few days, the first ever college football playoff championship game will take place, right in my hometown. But before dissecting that game, let’s take a look back at the semifinal matchups that, in their own way, shocked the college football world.

 

(2) Oregon Ducks vs. (3) Florida State Seminoles.

Prediction: Ducks 45, Seminoles 34.  Final score: Ducks 59, Seminoles 20.

Ducks stroll past defending champion Seminoles in Heisman matchup, end Winston’s college career.

The first game of the playoff was expected to be a fun, high-scoring bonanza between the last two Heisman Trophy winners, both quarterbacks: Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and FSU star Jameis Winston. Many experts picked the Ducks to win by a pair of scores. For the majority, of the game, that’s exactly how things were going.

The Seminoles got on the board first, scoring on a Roberto Aguayo 28-yard field goal less than six minutes into the game. Then, the Ducks decided to start showing up. Running back Royce Freeman scored from a yard out on the Ducks’ next possession, and a trick play resulted in a successful two-point conversion for Oregon. It was the final score of the opening quarter, and the Ducks took an 8-3 lead into the second.

In the second quarter, both teams registered double-digit play drives that took up nearly five minutes each, giving the Ducks an 11-6 lead. but with 2:18 remaining in the half, sophomore Ducks running back Thomas Tyner scored from a yard out, extending his team’s lead to 18-6.

Things finally started to go Florida State’s way in the half’s final minutes, when Winston led his team 71 yards down the field in a little over one-hundred seconds, cumulated by a 10-yard touchdown run by Karlos Williams. Just a few plays later, Marcus Mariota’s pass was intercepted by sophomore Seminoles defensive back Nate Andrews around midfield, and a few plays later, Aguayo got the opportunity to attempt a 54-yard field goal. Unfortunately for Florida State, the 2013 Groza winner’s kick barely missed, and things only got worse for the defending champs in the third.

In that third quarter, nearly everything went wrong for the Seminoles. The turned the ball over four times, starting with the second half’s opening drive. Jameis Winston led his team into Oregon territory, but on the drive’s fifth play, freshman running back Dalvin Cook fumbled after a ten yard gain, and Oregon recovered. Just a minute and a half later, Royce Freeman scored his second touchdown, extending the Ducks’ lead to 25-13.

After the Seminoles answered with a touchdown, Mariota threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Darren Carrington, and two plays after another Dalvin Cook fumble, Mariota threw a 30-yard touchdown to Carrington. All of a sudden, the Oregon lead was 39-20, and the worst was yet to come.

In one of the most embarrassing plays in college football history, Jameis WInston took the snap, evaded tacklers, attempted a pass, but it turned into a backwards fumble. The ball was picked up by defensive lineman Tony Washington, who returned the ball 58 yards for another Ducks touchdown. Two plays later, Winston threw an interception, and Oregon entered the final frame with a 45-20 lead.

Just 64 seconds into the final frame, Marcus Mariota ran 23 yards into the end zone for a touchdown, and a few minutes later, Tyner ran in for the final score of the game. The Ducks won 59-20, in a shocking blowout.

Statistically, both teams had their moments. The Ducks racked up 639 yards of offense (338 passing, 301 rushing), while Florida State managed 528 yards (348 passing, 180 rushing). Heisman winner Marcus Mariota finished the game with 338 yards passing, 62 yards rushing, and three total touchdowns, with one interception. The team’s leading rusher was Tyner, who ran 13 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns. The team’s leading rusher for the year, Royce Freeman chipped in 44 yards on 12 carries for two touchdowns, as well as a pair of catches for 19 yards. The team’s leading receiver was Carrington, who caught seven passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns.

As for Florida State, 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston finished the game with 348 passing yards, one touchdown, and three turnovers. While four receivers caught five or more passes for the game, the team’s top two receivers did not play well. Top receiver Rashad Greene, who had entered the game with 93 catches for 1,308 yards and seven touchdowns, leading the team in each category, finished with six receptions for 59 yards. Meanwhile, tight end Nick O’Leary mustered up just one catch for four yards.

All year long, Florida State was teetering on the edge. They trailed in seven of their games, and should have lost on multiple occasions. They would’ve lost to Clemson early in the year if the Tigers weren’t perennial choke artists, and trailed by several scores at Louisville, Miami and barely edged out Oklahoma State, Notre Dame, Boston College, Florida and Georgia Tech. If there was any way for this daredevil team’s season to end, this was the perfect note.

 

(1) Alabama vs. (4) Ohio State

Prediction: Alabama 45, Ohio State 28. Result: Alabama 35, Ohio State 42.

Buckeyes stun Tide, prove  they’re worthy of playoff spot.

The second semifinal game was expected to be a blowout. In the end, it was anything but. Many people had felt as if Ohio State was lucky to get in, and either TCU or Baylor should have gotten in. The Buckeyes were supposed get hammered, with a third-string quarterback at the helm. Well, that’s why the games have to be played.

The game was close early on, but by the eight-minute mark of the first half, it looked to be over. Ohio State had mustered up two lengthy drives, but had to settle for a  short field goal each time. Meanwhile, Alabama had a rushing touchdown from each of its two powerhouse running backs, and quarterback Blake Sims had already thrown a touchdown to the nation’s top receiver, Amari Cooper. But then, everything started turning around.

On the possession after falling behind 21-6, the Buckeyes went 71 yards down the field, and the drive was capitalized by Ezekiel Elliott’s three-yard scamper into the endzone to cut the deficit to 21-13. Following a three-and-out by Alabama, the Buckyes went 77 yards in 80 seconds, capitalized by a trick play pass from receiver Evan Spencer to Michael Thomas, with 12 seconds remaining in the half. The score was 21-20, and the tide had turned.

The first possession of the second half cumulated with a 47-yard pass from Buckeyes’ quarterback Cardale Jones to deep threat Devin Smith, and the 21-6 deficit had turned into a 27-21 lead. After the teams exchanged punts, Blake Sims threw an interception to Steve Miller, who returned it 41 yards to the end zone, giving his team a 34-21 lead with 3:21 remaining in the third quarter.

In desperate need for a score, the Crimson Tide scored a touchdown on a five-yard run by Sims, making the score 28-34 going into the final quarter. At this point, the game was fully up in the air.

The first three drives of the fourth quarter ended in three-and-outs. But the last of those drives, which saw the Buckeyes punting to their own 23. In other words, the Crimson Tide were on the verge of taking the lead. But what happened on the first play of the drive? Well, Sims threw another interception, this time to Vonn Bell.

The teams exchanged punts again, but with 3:24 remaining, Ezekiel Elliott burst through the defense, running 85 yards for a touchdown, essentially pushing the nail through the Tide’s coffin.They got the conversion, and led 42-28.

But the tide refused to run away, with Sims throwing a 51 yard bomb to DeAndrew White, and capitalizing the drive with his second touchdown pass to Amari Cooper. After a failed onside kick, the defense forced yet another three-and-out, giving the offense one last chance to tie the game up.

In the game’s final drive, the tide went 40 yards, taking the ball to the Ohio State 42-yard line. On the final play, SIms heaved the ball, which, go figure, was intercepted by sophomore safety Tyvis Powell. The unthinkable had happened. Ohio State had won the game.

Statistically, the Buckeyes outdid the Crimson Tide in every aspect. They had more total yards (537-407), passing yards (256-237), rushing yards (281-170), and had two less turnovers. Third-string quarterback Cardale Jones completed just 18 of his 35 passes, and had just as many touchdown as interceptions (one each), and averaged just 2.6 yards per rush (17 for 43). However, he made every play he needed to make and did everything he was asked to. Ezekiel Elliott continued his spectacular season with 230 yards on just 20 carries, scoring on two occasions. So far this season, he has run for 1,632 yards and 14 touchdowns. Devin Smith led all receivers with 87 yards on just two catches, backup running back Jalin Marshall caught five catches for 55 yards, and Michael Thomas had 66 yards.

As for the Crimson Tide, Blake Sims had a very up-and-down game. He threw for 237 yards and two touchdowns, but threw three killer interceptions. One was returned for a touchdown, another was intercepted at the goal line, and the final one ended the game. He also had ten rushes, one for a touchdown, but got just 29 yards.

Alabama’s two powerhouse rushers, TJ Yeldon and Derrick Henry, each were underused. Henry was only given the ball 13 times, but still garnered 95 yards, and scored the game’s first touchdown. Meanwhile, Yeldon only got ten rushes, amassing 47 yards, and a touchdown. Both guys fell just short of 1,000 yards, with Henry finishing his season with 990 rushing yards, and Yeldon garnering 979 for his Junior campaign.

The Tide’s top offensive playmaker, Biletnikoff Award-winning receiver Amari Cooper, finished the game with six catches for 71 yards and two touchdowns. He finished his season with 124 catches for 1,727 yards and 16 scores.

The one thing this game proved was that the Buckeyes were worthy of being in the playoff. But, one thing both games proved were that this system effortlessly blows the BCS out f the water. Had the BCS existed today, the championship game would’ve pitted the last two champions, Alabama and Florida State, against each other. However, one of those teams were throttled, while the other, Alabama, lost to a third-string quarterback. As a result, there’s no SEC or overrated team. Some would say  Oregon fits that bill. However, seeing how they’ve dominated just about every team hey played all year, it’s safe to say they are anything but.

The NCAA Championship game is looking to be a great one on paper. And thanks to the BCS’ departure, fans will be treated to a matchup that can go either way, with no extra fluff involved.

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