Two of college football’s fastest and most athletic teams square off in Pasadena as the inaugural College Football Playoff begins with the Pac-12 champion #2 Oregon Ducks and the ACC champion #3 and defending national champion Florida State Seminoles, New Year’s Day in the Rose Bowl Game, presented by Northwestern Mutual.
#2 Oregon Ducks (12-1, 9-1 Pac-12): #3 Florida State Seminoles (13-0, 9-0 ACC):
South Dakota W62-13 vs. Oklahoma State W37-31
Michigan State W46-27 Citadel W37-12
Wyoming W48-14 Clemson W23-17 (OT)
at Washington State W38-31 at N.C. State W56-41
Arizona L24-31 Wake Forest W43-3
at UCLA W42-30 at Syracuse W38-20
Washington W45-20 Notre Dame W31-27
at California W59-41 at Louisville W42-31
Stanford W45-16 Virginia W34-20
at Utah W51-27 at Miami W30-26
Colorado W44-10 Boston College W20-17
at Oregon State W47-19 Florida W24-19
vs. Arizona W51-13 vs. Georgia Tech W37-35
Pass Offense: 11th of 128 Pass Offense: 14th of 128
Rush Offense: 22nd Rush Offense: 96th
Total Offense: 3rd Total Offense: 42nd
Pass Defense: 96th Pass Defense: 50th
Rush Defense: 51st Rush Defense: 60th
Total Defense: 82nd Total Defense: 50th
Oregon had one slip-up. Injuries played a large part, and since then it has been lights out for their opponents, steamrolling them. The defense, while statistically unspectacular on the whole, has improved mightily down the stretch.
The constant in the Ducks’ attack has been 2014 Heisman Trophy winner QB Marcus Mariota. Mariota passed for 38 touchdowns, rushed for 14 more, even caught one, while only throwing two interceptions and turning the ball over a total of five times. Mariota was an equal opportunity passer as six receivers caught at least 25 passes and five caught five touchdown passes or more. Royce Freeman led the rushing numbers with 1,299 yards and 16 touchdowns.
While Oregon has had few close games, Florida State has had several of them. Their constant high-wire acts drew the ire of casual fans and caused a gradual drop in the polls all season, despite being the only team to win them all. In fact, FSU has won 29 in a row, but their off-the-field hijinks have detracted from their on-the-field greatness. This is still a great team. The defense has slipped since last season, and 2013 Heisman Trophy winner QB Jameis Winston has not taken good care of the ball at long stretches. But when the game is on the line, there has been no one better in the college game in recent memory, than Winston.
Winston has thrown 17 interceptions this season, often getting the ‘Noles into a hole. The running of freshman Dalvin Cook has been instrumental in getting them out. Only the featured back (the second half of the season following off-field issues and injury for starter Karlos Williams), Cook ran for 905 yards, 5.8 per carry, with eight touchdowns. When Winston needs a big play through the air, it is Rashad Greene he looks to, with 93 catches for 1,306 yards and seven touchdowns. Tight end Nick O’Leary, golfing great Jack Nicklaus’ grandson, caught 47 and is the possession receiver.
Oregon is the favorite and passes the eye test better than FSU, but one cannot say too much about FSU winning them all. If the game is tight, how will Oregon react? An X-factor could be FSU’s amazing kicker Roberto Aguayo, who has virtually unlimited range and has missed two kicks in two years. When all appears equal though, go with the best player, and Mariota has been spectacular. My pick is Oregon 41, Florida State 38.