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College football fans rejoice!
Just one day after the NFL’s final four was decided, college football is set for the first ever playoff championship in FBS history. A game which would have featured the Alabama Crimson Tide and Florida State Seminoles during the BCS era, the first playoff has pitted two other teams due to actual performance. The Oregon Ducks, led by Heisman Trophy Winner Marcus Mariota, destroyed the Seminoles 59-20 in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. Later that day, the Buckeyes, whom many felt should not have even made the playoff, stunned the Crimson Tide in a 42-35 thriller.
As a result, the championship matchup is one very few had expected to go down just a few weeks ago, much less prior to the season’s start. However, this moment has been a long time coming for both teams, who have both been close to glory, been extremely successful over the past decade plus, and have reached the promised land again.
While Oregon has been a college football powerhouse over the past several years, the high octane squad often floundered when it mattered most. In 2007, one of the most chaotic and fun seasons in college football history, Heisman candidate Dennis Dixon got hurt for the season in a 34-24 loss at Arizona, lost the final three games of the season, and wound up in the Sun Bowl. They lost at least two games in the 2008 and 2009 seasons, and at teh end of the 2009 season, the last time they faced Ohio State, they lost the Rose Bowl to the Buckeyes 26-17.
In 2010, the Ducks finally made it to the championship game. They struggled to a 15-13 win at California, but scored at least 37 points in every other game. They won every other game by double digits, and were lead by running back LaMichael James (1,731 yards, 21 touchdowns), dual threat quarterback Darron Thomas (2,881 passing yards, 486 rushing yards, 35 total touchdowns). But in the 2010 championship game, they lost a 22-19 heartbreaker to Cam Newton’s Auburn Tigers. The game was expected to be a high-scoring bonanza, yet it turned out to be anything but. The game ended with a final-second field goal, after a controversial run from Michael Dyer.
The following two years, the Ducks lost one heartbreaker each season, first a 38-35 loss to the USC Trojans in Oregon, and a 17-14 home loss to Stanford in 2012. In 2011, they also lost to LSU by 13, but they still made it to a big bowl game. Those games kept them from making the championship in each season, and while they won BCS bowls each year, they were not able to play in the championship. Last year, they lost twice, first at Stanford by six, then by 26 at Arizona. As a result, they had to settle for the Alamo Bowl.
Background: Ohio State.
Meanwhile, Ohio State has been one of the most successful college football programs in college football history. I’ll go over that if they win the game, but for now, let’s just look at the past decade plus, starting with their last title.
In 2002, moreso than most championship squads. After winning their first three games with relative ease, they barely survived at Cincinnati. They needed an endzone interception to escape 23-19, and after winning three of their next four by double digits, barely fought past a 4-5 Purdue squad by a score of 10-6, and then needed overtime to beat a 4-6 Illinois squad 23-16. After winning 14-9 over Michigan, they faced of against a Miami Hurricanes squad that had walked past most of its teams, and was expected to dominate. However, they won the game in double overtime by a score of 31-24, and ended the Hurricanes’ dynasty.
Since then, the Buckeyes have been successful, but, like Oregon have constantly fallen short or have been riddled with scandal. In 2003, they lost at ranked Wisconsin and the season finale to #5 Michigan by a combined score of 52-31. They won the Fiesta Bowl over Kansas State that year, but the disappointment of failing to repeat was strong.
After a subpar 2004 season, the team had major expectations in 2005. However, they lost a classic game to the eventual champion Texas Longhorns in Week 2, and a 17-10 slugfest at Penn State, against one of the best college football defenses in recent memory. They won the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame that season, and did even better in the following two seasons.
In 2006 and 2007, the Buckeyes made it to the BCS Championship game. Quarterback Troy Smith anchored an incredible offense, but the team was shockingly blown out in 2006’s championship game against, of all people. current Buckeye coach, then Florida Gator coach Urban Meyer, by a score of 41-7.
In 2007, after several top-ranked teams floundered in the season’s final weeks, the Buckeyes wound up facing two-loss LSU. They had lost to a 7-3 Illinois squad by a score of 28-21, but still made it to the title game. In the game, they took a 10-0 lead, but allowed the next 31 points. In the end, they lost 38-24, and were labeled as a team that would always fall short.
They surprised many by making it to the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, but lost 24-21 against the Texas Longhorns. In 2009, they beat Oregon in the Rose Bowl, and went 11-1 in the 2010 regular season. Then they were smacked down by the NCAA in one of the most ridiculous scandals in college football history.
The scandal, in which some of Ohio State’s best players allegedly sold memorabilia in exchange for tattoos. The players were suspended for at least part of the 2011 season, but were allowed to play in the 2010 Sugar Bowl, which they won.
Terrell Pryor, then the quarterback of Ohio State, left for the NFL draft to help his team avoid major punishment. It did not help, however, because the team went 6-6 the following year. Before the season ended, and soon after former Utah and Florida Gators coach Urban Meyer was hired to replace Jim Tressel as head coach, the NCAA laid down the hammer. Ohio State was punished with a reduction of scholarships and three years of probation, and most notably, a one-year bowl ban.
The ban proved to be crucial, because Ohio State went 12-0 in the 2012 regular season. They struggled on a few occasions down the stretch, but held on to win each game. However, they did not get to play in a BCS bowl game, or any bowl or that matter, much less the championship game.
In 2013, expectations were high for Ohio State. All year long, the offense was dominant. They scored at least 31 points in every regular season game, and surpassed 40 on ten occasions. They scored at least 50 points in five games, and at least 60 on three of them. Quarterbacks Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton played very well for the Buckeyes, and alongside 1,500-yard rusher Carlos Hyde, surpassed the 4,500-yard mark in rushing yards. Devin Smith and current Carolina Panthers receiver served as reliable deep threats, and the team was on a roll.
In the Big Ten Championship, however, the then #2 ranked Buckeyes finally met their match. Against the tenth-ranked Michigan State Spartans, they fell into a 17-0 deficit. They stormed back to take a 24-17 lead in the third quarter, but the Spartans put up the game’s final 117 points, and destroyed any championship hopes the Buckeyes had. They fought hard against the Clemson Tigers in the Orange Bowl, but turned the ball over four times in the game, and lost 40-35 Clemson quarterback put on a show for the ages, throwing for 378 yards, running for 127, and scoring six touchdowns. Star receiver Sammy Watkins caught 16 passes for 227 yards and two scores.
So, each team has been in a similar position over the past few years. They have been hovering around the top of the college football landscape, and tonight, one of them will finally quench their thirst for the vaunted title of champion.
Oregon season recap:
While Oregon may have the Heisman trophy winner, the Buckeyes succeed regardless of who starts at quarterback for them! In 2012 and 2013, Braxton Miller led the squad to a 23-2 record. However, prior to the season’s start, he suffered a shoulder injury that ended his season before it ever began. As a result, highly touted JT Barrett took over.
The Buckeyes escaped with a 34-17 win at Navy to open the season. However, following week against Virginia Tech, Battett was downright horrendous. He completed just nine of 29 passes for one touchdown, and garnered just 70 yards rushing on a whopping 24 rushes. He threw three interceptions, with the last one being returned for a soul-crushing 63-yard touchdown with 46 seconds remaining. The Buckeyes lost the game 35-21, and ignite their fire.
In eight of the remaining ten regular season games, Barrett and the Buckeyes rolled. They needed two overtimes to win at Penn State, and held on to beat an upstart Minnesota squad, with both games ending in a 31-24 score in gavor of the Buckeyes. However, in the other eight games, they exceeded 40 on every occasion. Barrett played like a star in almost every one of those games, finishing the regular season with 2,834 passing yards, 938 rushing yards, and 45 total touchdowns. Without question, he was a Heisman Trophy candidate.
However, Barrett got injured for the remainder of the season in the 42-28 win over Michigan, and the team’s playoff hopes seamed to be dead in the water. But then, the legend of Cardale Jones began. He threw for 257 and three touchdowns in a 59-0 Big Ten Championship rout against Wisconsin. In the playoff semifinal over Alabama, he threw for 243, ran for 43, and scored a touchdown. Whenever the team needed him to make a play, he did.
The team also boasts one of college football’s best running backs in Ezekiel Elliott, who has run for over 1,600 yards and 14 touchdowns on the year, garnering 450 yards in just 40 carries in the past two games. They also have one of the nation’s best deep threats in Devin Smith, garnering 886 receiving yards on just 32 catches. He leads the FBS with over 20 catches of over 40 yards, and has scored 12 touchdowns. Joey Bosa is one of the best defensive players in college football, garnering 14.5 sacks on the year, leading a defense that can show up on occasion.
Oregon season recap:
The season for the Oregon Ducks has been quite special. They scored at least 42 in ten of their 13 games, and while they struggled to succeed in Washington State, and lost the following week to Arizona, they thrived thereafter. They won their last nine games, scoring at least 42 in each game. In their rematch against Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship game, the Ducks extracted a brutal revenge, winning 51-13, before throttling the defending champion Florida State Seminoles 59-20 in the Rose Bowl eleven days ago.
Statistically, quarterback Marcus Mariota is as good as it gets. The Heisman Trophy winner has accounted for 56 touchdowns and has turned it over just six times all year, making him the first player to garner 50 more touchdowns than turnovers. The team also has various receiving threats, and running backs, such as Royce Freeman.
Each team’s semifinal journey: https://shanpsports.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/ncaa-college-football-playoff-semifinals-recap/
Honestly, I can see this game going either way. Both teams have historically floundered under this spotlight, but Ohio State has the battle tested coach, has won titles before, and can grind up the clock. Also, they seem like the team of destiny. However, I cannot shake off the feeling that this might be Oregon’s year. But, seeing how they’ll be without star cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, tight end Pharaoh Brown, and receivers Darren Carrington and Devon Allen. So, my gut says 38-30 Oregon, but my head says 34-28 Ohio State. In the end, anything can happen.