Oregon Isn't a Lock to Beat Ohio State in National Championship Game – Bleacher Report
Legendary Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp once said, “That’s why we play the game to see who wins.”
The Oregon Ducks, fresh off a 59-20 pounding of defending national champions Florida State in the Rose Bowl, are the prohibitive favorites heading into the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship against the Ohio State Buckeyes.
According to Odds Shark, the Ducks are 6.5-point favorites over the Buckeyes. Moreover, ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) gives the Ducks a 62.8 percent chance of claiming their first national championship.
There’s no denying the fact that Oregon is and should be the favorite heading into this clash. That being said, the Ducks are by no means a lock to win the title. In fact, once you dive into the statistics a bit, you find that these two teams are eerily similar.
Offensively, the Ducks have the advantage, though it’s not as pronounced as one may think. Oregon’s offense, led by Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, leads the nation in offensive efficiency, points per drive and touchdown percentage. The Ducks are also No. 2 in points per game, No. 3 in total yards and No. 2 in yards per play. Needless to say, the Ducks can score at will, and stopping them is a herculean task.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes offense will be led by third-string quarterback Cardale Jones. Jones, a 6’5”, 250-pound sophomore, has thrown for an average of 250 yards per game in his two starts and has thrown four touchdowns and one interception in those games. In his first two starts of the year, against Wisconsin and Alabama, Jones has looked like anything but a third-stringer.
On the season, Ohio State ranks No. 5 in points per game, No. 9 in yards per game and No. 6 in yards per play. It features the No. 10 rushing offense in the country, led by sophomore sensation Ezekiel Elliott, and has been successful through the air regardless of who has been taking the snaps.
Defensively, the Buckeyes look to have the advantage; however, Oregon’s defense has been on a roll over its last six games.
Ohio State’s defense is ranked No. 17 in yards per game, No. 16 in pass defense, No. 34 in rushing defense and No. 18 in yards per play allowed. While those rankings far outdistance the Ducks, the Buckeyes defense has been trending a bit downward in terms of points per game allowed.
Over the past six games, Ohio State has allowed an average of 25.2 points per game, a statistic that includes the 59-0 trouncing of Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship.
Excluding that game, the Buckeyes allowed 30.2 points per game to those other five opponents (Michigan State, Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan and Alabama). Comparatively, the Buckeyes allowed a paltry 19.9 points per game over their first eight games of the season.
The Ducks, on the other hand, have gotten much stronger defensively down the stretch. Oregon struggled mightily defensively earlier in the season and had allowed 25.9 points per game over its first eight games. However, over the past six games the Ducks have limited opponents to 17.5 points per game.
The two defenses also compare favorably when you compare turnovers gained. The Ducks rank No. 10 in the country in turnovers created with 30, while the Buckeyes rank No. 6 with 32 turnovers. Ohio State outpaces the Ducks in interceptions (24 to 12), but the Ducks have forced and recovered 18 fumbles to Ohio State’s eight.
In five games against ranked opponents this season, the Ducks have forced a total of 15 turnovers and have only committed three, which is one of the reasons why they lead the nation in turnover margin this season.
In four games against ranked opponents, Ohio State has created nine turnovers—seven of which have come in the past two games—and has committed eight turnovers. The Buckeyes rank No. 17 in the nation in turnover margin this year.
So which team possesses the better defense? The Buckeyes seem the tougher group on paper, but there’s something to be said for getting hot at the right time. Oregon’s defense may be the hottest in the country right now, and the group seems to have a nose for the football.
We could compare statistics all day and find slight differences between the two teams; however, in big games such as this sometimes the statistics can be overvalued.
Coaching, intangibles and preparation could decide this game. Or, it may be an individual performance that carries either the Ducks or Buckeyes to the top of the mountain.
While Mark Helfrich has had an incredibly successful two-year run as the head coach of the Ducks, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer may be one win away from cracking college football’s head coaching Mount Rushmore.
Meyer, who is in his third year as Ohio State’s head coach, has a career 141-26 record and won two national titles as coach of the Florida Gators. At Ohio State, Meyer is 37-3 and has yet to lose a Big Ten game.
While Helfrich is criminally underrated and underpaid and sports a 24-3 career record, he’s doesn’t have the big-game experience that Meyer has. Meyer is a head-coaching savant. If there’s a single reason why the Ducks aren’t a lock to win the title, it’s due to the fact that Meyer will be on the opposing sideline.
Of course, it’s the players on the field who will ultimately decide the outcome. If there’s one player who could win the national championship by himself, it’s the Oregon quarterback.
Marcus Mariota has had one of the finest collegiate seasons in history and is 60 minutes away from a perfect career.
He’s already claimed a Pac-12 title, a Rose Bowl victory and the first Heisman Trophy in school history this season. All that’s left is a national title. He’s the most consistent player in college football, has thrown a touchdown in every game of his college career and is the first FBS player to ever throw for 40 touchdowns in a season and run for 15 more.
If there’s one player on the field who has a chance to put up a Vince Young-type championship game performance, it’s Mariota.
With Mariota at the helm, the Ducks are in a better position that they’ve ever been to claim a national title and finally be considered one of college football’s “blue blood” programs.
As Bleacher Report’s Greg Couch explained after the Rose Bowl, the national championship is Oregon’s to lose:
Oregon football isn’t a gimmick anymore. Until now, the Ducks were some far-out team from a far-out part of the country doing crazy things in uniforms that were, well, far out there. There was still no final proof, really, that this could work against the nation’s blue bloods or against real football at the highest level.
Well, that’s gone now. Oregon clobbered defending national champ Florida State 59-20 Thursday in the Rose Bowl to advance to the national championship game against Ohio State. And afterward, several Ducks players and some Oregon celebs were saying that they still aren’t sure people will believe.
But forget that. Oregon is going to win the national championship. This beatdown was just too meaningful, too reshaping.
This won’t be the first time Oregon and Ohio State will have met with a national championship on the line. The two schools met in the inaugural NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in 1939. The Ducks won 46-33.
Now, in the inaugural College Football Playoff, the Ducks and Buckeyes will meet again for a national championship. Perhaps it was predestined. Perhaps the Ducks are bound to win.
The Ducks may be the heavy favorites; they may have destiny on their side. But by no means are they a “lock” to win their first national title.
The Buckeyes are too talented and well-coached to be overlooked. This is Oregon’s time, but nothing in sports is ever simply handed over on a silver platter.
LeBron James, who will be rooting for the Buckeyes on Jan. 12, likes to use the phrase “earned, not given.”
The Ducks have earned their spot in the national championship game. They’ve earned their reputation as one of the best programs in the country. They’ve earned the right to be considered the favorites. But now is not the time to just hand them the trophy.
This national championship will be earned on the field. Nothing is a lock. Nothing is a given.
Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise stated. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.
Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.