College Football Playoff Championship in Arlington, Texas
Time: Monday, January 12 at 8:30 pm ET
#2 Oregon Ducks (13-1) vs. #4 Ohio State Buckeyes (13-1)
Well here it is: the first Playoff championship. These teams eliminated the #1 seed and the undefeated defending national champ.
Vegas line/spread: Oregon by 6 (over/under 74)
Oregon opened a touchdown favorite, and considering the scores in the semi-final contests (78 total points average between the two games), a high-scoring affair is expected by the oddsmakers. Over the last week the line has tightened and now the Ducks are a 6 point favorite on game day.
|Game-comparisons||win %||vs. -7 Spread
The game-comparison system uses the Strength power rating to compare the teams' game ratings by pairs, resulting in 196 mock contests (14 games each, cross-compared). Here, the Ducks win the majority (111 of the 196) but the Buckeyes are certainly a live underdog. When the early line is figured in the Buckeyes beat it most of the time.
Following the semi-final games Oregon ranked #2 in the Strength power rating and Ohio State #5.
Strength power rating: #2 Oregon 41, #5 Ohio State 38
Median power rating: Oregon 41-39 Offense-limited power rating: Oregon 41-37
Adjusted scoring rankings
Oregon Offense vs. Ohio State Defense: #1 vs. #25
Ohio State Offense vs. Oregon Defense: #4 vs. #15
The Ducks are just over a 3 point favorite according to Strength. Using their Median game values it tightens a bit (under 2 points) and when big offensive outbursts are limited, Oregon's margin grows to four.
Oregon's opponent-adjusted scoring offense and defense are both better than Ohio State's; the Ducks have the #1 scoring offense, while Ohio State is close behind at #4. On defense both are in the top 25 but not to the level of their opponent's offense. The difference is a bit larger when Oregon's O is facing the Buckeye D.
Yardage analysis: #4 Ohio State 42, #8 Oregon 38
using yards per point: Oregon 35, Ohio State 31
Adjusted Yardage rankings:
Oregon total Offense vs. Ohio State total Defense: #2 vs. #18
Ohio State total Offense vs. Oregon total Defense: #5 vs. #45
By yardage the estimate is nearly flipped. Ohio State is slightly better in total adjusted yardage differential and based on this they're expected to surpass 500 total yards while limiting Oregon to just under 500; converted to a score estimate this means a 4 point win for the Buckeyes. Ohio State's advantage is wholly on defense, where Oregon gives up a lot of yards (#45 adjusted); both rank in the top 5 in total offense, just as both rank in the top 5 in scoring offense.
Using a custom yardage-to-points conversion for each team—taking into account how well they turn yards into points, and prevent opponents from doing the same—Oregon becomes the winner, also by four points. This is because, while both teams have bend-but-don't-break defense, Oregon's is particularly good at limiting scoring despite giving up yardage, mainly due to forcing a lot of turnovers. In other words, it won't be anything unexpected if Ohio State outgains Oregon from scrimmage but is behind on the scoreboard.
Special teams adjustments to yards/point estimate: Oregon 35, Ohio State 31
In total, these teams are nearly of identical quality on special teams according to ESPN's FPI efficiencies breakdown, ranking 33rd and 34th. So the yards-per-point estimate is unmoved when accounting for non-scrimmage play.
When Oregon has the ball
|Oregon rushing offense: #14
||Ohio State rushing defense: #12
Royce Freeman is this year's feature back with 1,343 yards and 18 touchdowns, while QB Marcus Mariota has 731 net yards and 15 touchdowns. Thomas Tyner has 511 yards and was the leader against FSU with 124.
Ohio State is 35th in raw rushing defense but their Big Ten schedule was full of great rushing teams and the Buckeyes limited them well (example: Wisconsin, not to mention Alabama); when corrected for schedule they have a nearly top ten rushing defense and are up to the task of defending Oregon's ground game. Still, the Ducks should have around 200 yards.
|Oregon passing offense: #16||Ohio State passing defense: #38 per att: #11|
In the FSU game preview we lauded Hesiman winner Marcus Mariota for his 38:2 ratio. He actually threw a pick against the Seminoles but added a few TDs and now has a 40:3 ratio to go with his 69% completion rate and 4,121 yards. He was 26 of 36 against Florida State for 338 yards. Four Seminoles top 500 receiving yards: Byron Marshall (834), Darren Carrington (704), Devon Allen (684), and Dwayne Standford (578) so there's a lot of targets available. Carrington was the star against FSU with 165 yards while Allen was hurt on the opening kickoff and missed the rest of the game; however, Carrington failed a drug test and won't play against the Buckeyes.
Ohio State's pass defense is #16 in raw figures but, as good as the Big Ten is on the ground the member teams are generally deficient through the air; adjusted, the Buckeyes are #38. The Ducks should have around 280 passing yards, though OSU's per-attempt figures suggest it will take some work to get there.
The Buckeyes have 24 interceptions on the year, so if anyone is going to intercept Mariota it's Ohio State; still, considering he now has 3 in 14 games it's unlikely they'll have more than one, if that. Vonn Bell (6) and Doran Grant (5) are the main threats. In terms of pass rush the Buckeyes are also one of the nation's best, with 43 sacks led by Joey Bosa with 13.5, Darron Lee with 7.5, and Michael Bennett with 7. Mariota has been sacked 29 times, so bringing the heat could be a winning strategy for the Buckeyes.
When Ohio State has the ball
|Ohio State rushing offense: #8
||Oregon rushing defense: #51
Ezekiel Elliot (1,632 yards, 14 TDs) is Ohio State's top ground weapon, and he proved that against Alabama with 230 yards against the Tide. The #2 weapon, JT Barrett (938 yards, 11 TDs), is of course out for the year but replacement QB Cardale Jones is already the team's #4 rusher with 258 yards and a 5.1 average; he had 43 vs. Alabama. The Ducks give up a lot of yardage on the ground and the Buckeyes should top 250.
|Ohio State passing offense: #44||Oregon passing defense: #70 per att: #24|
JT Barrett threw for 2,834 yards with 34 touchdowns and 10 picks and finished 5th in voting for the Heisman Trophy. After Barrett's season-ending injury, Cardale Jones is doing a decent job passing for the Buckeye: he is 40 of 69 for the year for 618 yards, 6 TDs, and one interception. Devin Smith (886 yards) and Michael Thomas (746) are the top targets, along with a half-dozen others who are above 100 receiving yards. So while he's not quite as accurate as Barrett, Jones' production is equivalent.
Just as they do on the ground, Oregon's defense gives up a lot of yards though the air and the Buckeyes should have around 250 yards. The Ducks' per-attempt figures are better, though, reflecting the fact that they face a lot of pass-heavy teams (so the per-game figures are inflated). Oregon has just 12 interceptions on the year and so far Jones has protected the ball well.
They do have 36 sacks on the season; Christian French (6.5), Tony Washington (6), and Torrodney Prevot (5) lead the way. Ohio State has allowed 27 sacks, with 23 of those on Barrett and 4 on Cardale Jones, making the big Jones a bit harder to take down of the two when compared to their passing attempts.
Oregon's season (13-1)
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (7)
Wins vs. top 25 teams (5)
Losses (1) to losing teams (0)
- South Dakota 62-13
- #8 Michigan St 46-27
- Wyoming 48-14
- @Washington St 38-31
- #10 Arizona 24-31
- @#14 UCLA 42-30
- Washington 45-20
- @California 59-41
- Stanford 45-16
- @#22 Utah 51-27
- Colorado 44-10
- @Oregon St 47-19
- =#10 Arizona 51-13
- =#3 Florida St 59-20
Oregon has 7 wins over bowl-bound teams, and five of those were Committee top 25 teams, including three in the top ten after their win over #3 FSU—who ranks only #24 in Strength.
Oregon had an early peak with the Michigan State win and it seemed to make them complacent; they struggled at Washington State and then lost to Arizona. Sure, the story is they were missing a few lineman or something, but the truth is they weren't taking those teams seriously.
The loss made them serious, and it's what led to their resurgence: they had no more room for error. After the loss they plowed through their schedule and didn't look back, saving the best for last in a revenge beatdown of the same team that beat them earlier in the season and a dominant 59-20 win over last year's national champs. Along the way they won by an average of 27 points including a key 45-16 drubbing of Stanford, their Achilles' heel before Arizona took over that role this year. As good as that win and the Stanford win were, the FSU win topped both of them. It's an encouraging sign that the Ducks are peaking right at the end of the season with their two best games.
Ohio State's season (13-1)
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (10)
Wins vs. top 25 teams (4)
Losses (1) to losing teams (0)
- @Navy 34-17
- Virginia Tech 21-35
- Kent St 66-0
- Cincinnati 50-28
- @Maryland 52-24
- Rutgers 56-17
- @Penn State 31-24 2ot
- Illinois 55-14
- @#8 Michigan St 49-37
- @#25 Minnesota 31-24
- Indiana 42-27
- Michigan 42-28
- =#18 Wisconsin 59-0
- =#1 Alabama 42-35
Ohio State's Playoff chances took a hit before the season even began, when Braxton Miller was lost for the year. JT Barrett started with a warm up against Navy, but the Buckeyes lost at home to Virginia Tech, a loss that caused them—and the Big Ten—much derision throughout the season as the Hokies proved to be a very average team. But after racking up bloated wins over middling opponents, Ohio State, the word was, had "improved" since that loss. Then came the Penn State double overtime scare...but let's not talk about that, either. Look how bad they just beat Illinois!
The one real test for the Buckeyes came at Michigan State, and they passed with flying colors, almost beating the Spartans as badly as Oregon already had. After Ohio State had handled Minnesota by 7 points (16 fewer than TCU), they'd completed a string of 7 wins over bowl teams. Still, even with all the excuses and cheering from the media, no one was buying Ohio State as a possible Playoff team, especially after limp showings against Indiana and Michigan.
The Wisconsin game changed everything, though. The team lost Barrett, but even without him they beat the Badgers 59-0 in what was certainly the single most impressive win of the college football season. The Committee pushed out the pesky small-time TCU program with relish as the Buckeyes claimed the #4 spot. And in the Sugar Bowl Ohio State again proved resilient and beat the #1 seed Crimson Tide. Despite much adversity and some really close calls, the Buckeyes are a win away from achieving a goal that no one would have expected from a team starting its third-string QB.
Clearly the most important injury recently was the one that kept JT Barrett out of the Wisconsin and Alabama games, but at the same time it has made very little difference as Ohio State played two of it's very best offensive games with Cardale Jones at the helm.
Oregon was without corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu against FSU as he is done for the year, but freshman Chris Seisay performed well in his place against the Seminoles. Also backup linebacker Christian French may be suspended for the game. On offense wide receiver Devon Allen (#3 receiver) was hurt early in the FSU game and will probably miss the OSU game, and just days before the game word arrived that #2 receiver Darren Carrington will miss the game due to a failed drug test.
Psychology/Motivation - Some speculative factors that may come into play during the game:
- Oregon's season: +1 win; Ohio State's season: +0 wins
- Oregon's momentum: +1 win; Ohio State's momentum: +1 win
- Oregon won final game: YES; Ohio State won final game: YES
- Oregon glad to be here? YES; Ohio State glad to be here: YES
- Oregon time zones from home: 2; Ohio State time zones from home: 1;
- Oregon coaching situation: unchanged; Ohio State coaching situation: unchanged
A lot of the psychology we normally cover in these reviews is irrelevant here—for example, is there any chance that a team in the national championship is disappointed with their season? Or doesn't want to be here? And with the Playoff format, both teams necessarily have to have won their last game, and in this case both did so in style—Oregon by dominating FSU, and Ohio State just by getting past #1 Alabama.
The site in Arlington is a very neutral site; Oregon is 2,000 miles from home and OSU is 1,000 miles away; Ohio State travels well and more fans will probably make the trip but Oregon also has a large national fanbase. Still, Alabama fans were actually outnumbered in the nearby Sugar Bowl by Buckeye fans, so look for more red in the stands than green and gold. It probably won't be a big factor though.
Both teams are playing their best football lately, Oregon having dispatched Arizona 51-13 and Florida State 59-20, while the Buckeyes demolished Wisconsin 59-0 and topped Alabama 42-35. There's no doubt both are peaking at the right time.
There are a lot of ways to compare these teams based on their seasonal ups and downs. For the full season our Strength power rating makes the Ducks a 3.5 point favorite, but Oregon has been on a roll the last nine games and based on that they look unbeatable, with the 7 point spread looking about right.
If we look just at both teams' great last two games, Ohio State actually looks better by around 4 points. That, of course, is inflated by the outlier Wisconsin game. Look at the teams' last game and Oregon State's win over FSU looks about 17 points better than OSU's Alabama win. But again, that's a small sample, and Ohio State's performance against Alabama beats Oregon's full-season average performance by 5 points.
The yardage breakdowns give some insight as to how Ohio State might win even if they can't replicate their Wisconsin performance. The Buckeye rush defense can slow down Oregon's ground game reasonably well—they proved that against top rushing teams Wisconsin and Alabama—and though their pass defense faces a big challenge, they might slow Mariota, too. They have a lot of interceptions so there is a reasonable chance they can get a rare pick, and their pass rush should give him a lot of trouble. On offense they outclass the Ducks in both rushing and passing and can expect to outgain them overall—they just need to turn those yards into points. They need to score in the red zone and avoid turnovers, two areas where they are average. Oregon is #1 in turnovers gained.
So basically if the ball bounces their way the Buckeyes can hope to win. And even if it doesn't it should be a close game given that they can move the ball, and stop Oregon from moving the ball as much as they normally do—particularly with the Ducks missing 2 of their top 4 receivers. But in the end we expect the game to come down to consistency, something Oregon has a lot of lately and Ohio State doesn't. The Buckeyes have put two great games together back to back, but over the season they've slipped down to average occasionally (Penn State, Indiana). Oregon has been great recently and very consistent over the last three months.
Ohio State wants to win this game but Oregon might want it just a bit more. The Ducks have been on top of the college football world for almost a decade but don't have a national title to show for it. Ohio State has a bunch of titles and won't have that extra edge. And coming back to the consistency angle, we look at the quarterbacks. Marcus Mariota is the epitome of consistency. Cardale Jones has done well the last two games but that's not enough to insure he won't have a few freshman moments that could make a difference.
We still think it will be close due to Ohio State's pressure on Mariota. And if they manage to knock him out of the game a la Alabama vs. Texas in 2009, it could be a very different contest, and probably the only scenario where Ohio State wins by a big margin. Other than that, we see Oregon the probable winner, most likely in a close game, with lower than expected scoring.
Prediction: Oregon 33, Ohio State 31
More previews, odds, and predictions: View the complete 2014-2015 bowl game schedule.