NEPD Staff Writer CJ Sousa
Oregon. Ohio State. Truly pioneers of the collegiate national championship. As the world was approaching a devastating second World War, Oregon and Ohio State were set to make a different kind of history. The two schools met in the 1939 National Championship game in the first ever NCAA men’s basketball tournament (NABC at the time). In front of a crowd of just over 15,000 people, Oregon prevailed over the Buckeyes 46-33.
Now, will a basketball game played 75 years ago impact what happens in Jerry World Monday night? Probably not. Nonetheless it is extremely ironic as the same two schools will meet in the first ever National Championship game in the playoff era. After much controversy, particularly over Ohio State’s blowout loss to an average Virginia Tech team at the horseshoe, there is little doubt that 4 seed Ohio State deserves their place in the playoff. Urban Meyer’s bunch racked up over 500 yards on the favored Crimson Tide and controlled the football game against a much more experienced team. 2016 draft prospect Ezekiel Elliott ran wild on the Tide, rushing for a career high 230 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Oregon has had a different road to Dallas. There hasn’t been much doubt about the Ducks all year long, even after their home loss to Arizona earlier in the year. Marcus Mariota has had one of the best seasons a collegiate quarterback has ever had, adding some hardware to his showcase in the process. The Ducks ended Florida State’s 29 game win streak at the Rose Bowl in impressive fashion, 59 – 20.
The stage is set. Let’s dive into everything you need to know for what could be one of the most exciting national championship games to date.
Quarterbacks – advantage Oregon
An excellent match up to watch. I can’t decide which is more impressive: Marcus Mariota’s Heisman winning season, or that Ohio State’s third string quarterback Cardale Jones is a worthy counterpart. Mariota has a bundle of more experience, which should help in a championship game over Jones who will be making just his third career start. Mariota, still far from a lock for the number 1 pick, will be looking to cement his draft stock. I’m looking specifically for his accuracy on anticipation throws as well as his overall pocket composure under seize. Ohio State boasts one of the best defensive fronts in college football averaging over 3 sacks per game.
As for Jones, he is a big arm, confident quarterback who will look for and ultimately take his shots deep down the field. If he can connect on a few bombs away passes as he has vs Wisconsin and Alabama, Ohio State will be able to keep pace with the Ducks’ offensive attack.
Running Backs – wash
As far as I’m concerned running back play is about even in this match up. Both schools will rely on young explosive runners to carry the load. Oregon freshmen Royce Freeman has arguably been the best freshmen back in America this year (Nick Chubb, Leonard Fournette, Jalen Hurd) tallying 1,343 yards and 18 touchdowns. Freeman, a former 5 star recruit, looks the part of a big physical back but has smaller agile attributes as well. Freeman runs a legitimate 4.5 with exceptional vision and footwork through the hole. Sophomore Thomas Tyner, a former five star recruit, is back and healthy and should be in the fold as well.
Freeman’s counterpart, previously mentioned sophomore Ezekiel Elliott has been no slouch in his own right rushing for 1,632 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. In his last two games alone (Big 10 title, Sugar Bowl) Elliott has run for 450 yards (11.3 ypc) and 4 touchdowns. Both players are big parts of their offense, and figures to play big roles in the game.
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends – advantage Ohio State
I’ve been a fan of Ohio State wide receiver Devin Smith for some time now, but it isn’t until just recently that Smith has launched himself onto the national stage. One of the best deep threats in college football, Smith is averaging 37.3 yards per catch over his last two games scoring 4 touchdowns. Sophomore Michael Thomas, a kid with real NFL potential, led the Bucks last week with 7 catches for 66 yards and a touchdown vs ‘Bama. These receivers are flourishing over Cardale Jones more pass heavy style. Tight end Jeff Heuerman has had a quiet injury riddled season, but is expected to play and may contribute Monday night.
Oregon will be without their star freshmen Devon Allen, who is injured with a knee injury. Freshmen Darren Carrington has really turned it on lately, as he caught 7 passes for 165 yards and 2 touchdowns in Allen’s absence last week. [Update: Darren Carrington did not travel with the team due to a failed drug test and will not play, as announced Friday night according to multiple media reports]. Sophomore Dwayne Stanford (6’5 200lbs), junior Byron Marshall and senior Keanon Lowe all figure to be in the Ducks’ plans. Sophomore tight end Evan Baylis figures to be apart of the game plan as well. After a quiet season, Baylis caught 6 passes for 73 yards against Florida State.
Offensive Line – advantage Oregon
Make no bones about it, Oregon has the better group of ‘Big Uglies. Hroniss Grasu is my #2 ranked center at the moment, and is the key cog among the interior for the Ducks. He is one of the most athletic centers I’ve studied in recent years, but he will be put to the test against an immensely talented Ohio State front. By now you may know the Jake Fisher story, as he was forced to move to left tackle this year and has done a nice job patching things up for the Ducks. I think Fisher projects better as a right tackle in the NFL, but the big time experience at the blind side can’t hurt. Guard Hamani Stevens will also be in the spotlight trying to contain the likes of Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett.
Ohio State’s offensive line has been something of a comeback story this year. Being the primary weakness of the team coming into 2015, the line has struggled most of the year but has made some strides of late. Cardale Jones was for the most part untouched in the Big 10 title game vs Wisconsin as the big bruisers turned in their best performance of the year. They didn’t have the same fate vs Alabama, as the Tide recorded 3 sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Guard Pat Elfein did an admirable job against Alabama moving around the line in game and brought some stability to the front. Offensive tackle Darryl Baldwin is the other name to keep an eye on from a prospect lens.
Defensive Line – advantage Ohio State
The heralded Buckeyes’ front is led by 2016 draft prospect and unanimous All-American defensive end Joey Bosa who has had a dominant 2015 campaign. Along with Bosa, All-American defensive tackle Michael Bennett will be a handful for the Ducks. I think Bennett is going to be a star at the next level, as his overall quickness allows him to be a disruptive force in the middle. When you combine the two All-Americans with the likes of Adolphus Washingston, Steve Miller, and Rashad Frazier this group is a dangerous threat to the Heisman winner, and must play outstanding for the Bucks to win.
Defensively speaking, Oregon’s’ best player is still probably Marcus Mariota. The Ducks’ electric offense puts Oregon’s defense in obvious passing situations allowing for some inflated numbers, especially in the run game, similar to those Colts teams in the mid-2000’s under Peyton Manning. Nonetheless, just like those Colts, there are some real players up front. Defensive end Arik Armstead may have as much pro potential as anybody. At 6’8, 295lbs, with legitimate quickness and footwork for his size, Armstead is a prospect to get excited about even if we haven’t seen the production just yet. Defensive end DeForest Buckner is a great athlete in his own right. He has been the more consistent of the two and will fit nicely into a 3-4 scheme at the next level.
Linebackers – wash
A relatively even group to compare here. The main players to keep an eye on will be Oregon outside backers Tony Washington and Derrick Malone Jr, along with Ohio State inside backer Curtis Grant. Washington, a hybrid backer who probably projects better as an end, has had a nice senior year. He can rush the passer (must improve dis-engage ability) and cover in coverage. Curtis Grant, former #2 ranked high school player in the country behind Jadeveon Clowney, has finally turned it on and has been a solid player for the Bucks recording 10 tackles vs Alabama. Freshmen Darron Lee has filled in for first round pick Ryan Shazier nicely this year and was voted Sugar Bowl defensive MVP. Joshua Perry, Ohio State’s leading tackler, will also play a pivotal role in shutting down the potent Ducks’ attack.
Defensive Backs – advantage Ohio State
Without question, this would be a different conversation if Oregon’s star corner back, and still potential first round pick, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu was healthy and able to play in the game. Without Ekpre-Olomu, Ohio State has the advantage here. One of my favorite players to scout, Ohio State corner back Doran Grant is the star of this unit. Grant helped play a huge part in limiting Amari Cooper’s production in the Sugar Bowl, a crucial part in Ohio State’s victory. I know, I know. The future top 5-10 pick still caught two touchdowns. Consider this, the Sugar Bowl was just the second time this year (14 games) that Cooper didn’t average 10 yards per catch. Grant is rising up my draft board and is certainly worth a look. Safety Vonn Bell, at one time one of the highest recruited players in the country, has been a ball hawk this year and looks to be a solid 2016 draft prospect.
Since Ekpre-Olomu went down,Ducks’ redshirt freshmen Chris Seisay was plunged into the starting lineup starting opposite senior Troy Hill. The duo had a successful performance against the reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston. Safeties Erick Dargan and Reggie Daniels did a nice job vs Florida State, but believe it or not I think Ohio State will pose the bigger challenge. The secondary’s calling card this year has been limiting the big play, which will be very interesting to watch as OSU quarterback Cardale Jones figures to test the back end multiple times.
Prediction: Obviously, football games aren’t won by how many positional unit advantages a team has. However, when breaking it down, it becomes abundantly clear this game isn’t the mismatch some seem to think. These two explosive offenses figure to give us one of the most exciting national championship games to date. Normally offenses struggle, at least at first, in National Championships. However with both teams playing just a week ago, I expect a fast passed game start to finish. It truly is hard to pick against Urban Meyer in big games. His teams’ are always exceptionally prepared and ready for the grand stage. I just think this is Oregon’s year. The Ohio State front 7 is much more talked about, but I think it will be the Oregon defensive front with their athletes that steps up to make a big play at the end. I’m expecting a jam-packed action shootout. I’ll crown the Ducks 41-38.