No. 2 Oregon Ducks try to avoid distractions while putting final touches on … – OregonLive.com
LOS ANGELES — With media obligations and trips to Disneyland, comedy clubs and steakhouses behind them, Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher left a downtown hotel’s ballroom Wednesday morning finally free to put the final preparations together ahead of Thursday’s 2 p.m. kickoff at the Rose Bowl.
The matchup of the second-ranked Ducks (12-1) and third-ranked and reigning national champion Seminoles (13-0) is the first of two semifinals tomorrow in the first College Football Playoff. Following their finish, at 5 p.m. PT, Ohio State and Alabama play in New Orleans. The winners will play for a national championship Jan. 12 near Dallas.
The Ducks famously claim that they approach every game as if it is the NFL’s Super Bowl, but they are approaching a bowl that truly deserves such hype. It will pit Heisman Trophy winners — Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Jameis Winston of Florida State — together for just the third time in college football history, among several high-profile matchups.
That means for as much as Oregon will sequester its players in the hours before kickoff, Helfrich acknowledged that this will be the biggest test yet of his team’s focus.
“It’s different, the game is different,” Helfrich said. “… It’s really being able to sustain your focus on yourselves and not the guys that are going to look really good in the garnet and gold. That’s going to be a great looking team, and I think a lot of teams are mesmerized by that and fall back into that, some of their comebacks, after giving them a great test early and not being able to sustain that.
“The TV time outs are different. The atmosphere, again, will be outstanding, but we can’t get caught up in that. We’ll try to kind of take care of that today when we visit the stadium and take some pictures, be ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ a little bit, and then just dial it in.”
Both teams have familiarity playing at the Rose Bowl under heavy pressure.
On Oct. 11, the Ducks already had one loss and couldn’t suffer another if their playoff hopes wanted to stay alive. With a victory against UCLA that day, so began their eight-game winning streak that led them back to Pasadena. They also won the 2012 Rose Bowl against Wisconsin. The Seminoles, meanwhile, are back in town a second consecutive season after beating Auburn for last season’s national championship.
“Any time you go somewhere, at least you’ve been there, and you’ve had success,” Fisher said Wednesday morning. “I think it brings back memories and puts you in a good mindset.”
Fisher said FSU star sophomore defensive back Jalen Ramsey will be ready to play after resting with “a little bug” this week. His presence on the field will be critical for FSU’s chances of stopping Oregon’s offense, which is expected to add injured running back Thomas Tyner and All-American center Hroniss Grasu back into a lineup whose 46.3 points per game is third-most nationally.
Its spark is undoubtedly Mariota, the quarterback whose 53 touchdowns this season are a Pac-12 single-season record and helped earn him player-of-the-year awards from the Heisman, Maxwell and Walter Camp awards.
“Marcus is tremendous, one of the best college football players ever,” Fisher said. “The guy’s tremendous. They have a great offensive line. They’re very dynamic in the backfield. They have great speed outside.”
Mariota’s attack has been so prolific — UO averages 546.2 yards per game, third-best nationally — that his team has cruised along with ease during its winning streak, beating foes by an average of more than three touchdowns. Rare is the game in which Oregon has felt pressure in the fourth quarter, much less the second half during its dominating streak.
Their opponent, on the contrary, has spent 2014 teaching a master class in how to be oblivious to pressure. Amid high-profile controversies involving Winston and deep first-half deficits to North Carolina State (24-7), Louisville (21-0) and Miami (23-7), the Seminoles charged on and find themselves in Southern California for a second consecutive year.
The Seminoles have not lost since November 2012. During their 29-game win streak, they have scored 96 more touchdowns than opponents and held opposing quarterbacks to a measly 52.5 completion percentage. But they have also drawn national scorn for numerous off-field headlines.
Yet any hits to their public perception and playing style have been merely flesh wounds.
“We’ve won 14 in a row at home, we’ve won 18 in a row away from home,” Fisher said. “So what they’ve been able to accomplish is tremendous.
“… Like you say, everything in life isn’t fair. What I mean by that is what you think is right, it doesn’t matter. You have to keep doing what’s right. It tests your core beliefs of how you go about your business that you do things right. Whatever people say, if you continually do them right, people will see that you’re a class act.”
And whoever does their job right Thursday will be seen as a heavyweight to win a national championship.
All that’s left now is to kick off.
“We’ve had a great couple weeks of preparation,” Helfrich said. “Now we’ve just got to go play.”
— Andrew Greif | @andrewgreif