December 22, 2014
SAN FRANCISCO–It’s bowl season once again in college football—the fields have been prepared, with trophies waiting to be engraved, and teams ready to duke it out to determine the better football program and conference. This season, though, things are a little bit different, and by “things”, I’m not talking about the new Popeye’s Bahamas Bowl, I’m talking about this year’s college football playoff. Instead of having two teams compete for college football’s highest honor like the previous 15 or so years, four teams will get to stake their claim for a title—a refreshing and less-controversial approach than the system of previous years. The BCS ranking system has also been replaced with a selection committee of 14 members, who select the top 25 teams in college football, and more importantly, the four playoff teams.
But, of course, like every season in the past, there was some controversy. With no computers implemented in the selection process this season, there was more room for bias and unfairness than the last decade. In the old system, despite cries from fans of teams barely left out of the title game (I’m looking at you, Oklahoma State and USC) , it was wholly agreed upon that the BCS system got the two teams right most of the time. Also, with such a small number of selectors (14) in the playoff system, one voter’s views could sway the rankings more than ever. That’s all a topic for a different time, let’s just take a look at upcoming matchups.
#2 Oregon (12-1) vs #3 Florida State (13-0)
This matchup features a battle of two Heisman winning quarterbacks—Marcus Mariota of the Oregon Ducks and Jameis Winston for Florida State. Good vs evil. Hero vs villain, whatever you want to call them. This will mark just the third time in college football history that this has occurred, the previous two occasions being Matt Leinart (USC) vs Jason White (Oklahoma) in 2005, and Tim Tebow (Florida) vs Sam Bradford (Oklahoma) in 2009, both games with national title implications on the line.
Whenever there’s a battle between two great quarterbacks, you’ve also got to look at the pass defense. According to philsteele.com, Florida State only ranks 71 in pass efficiency defense, not a good sign for them. Oregon ranks 30th, which is pretty good, and does not bode well for Florida State. When facing Louisville and Florida (5th and 17th in pass efficiency defense ranking, respectively), Winston is a combined 37/72 passing, with 5 TDs to 7 INTs. Mariota is hot right now, vs his two toughest opponents, Stanford (#1 in pass defense!) and Michigan State (#11), he’s had Heisman moments in both games and elevated his game as it went on. Down 27-18 to Michigan State, he went 6-8 passing with 2 TDs, including a 40-yard run with around 5:00 to go, to ice the clock. Mariota has been doing this all season, evident by his 241.4 Quarterback Rating in the 4th quarter of games (to put that into perspective, the NCAA leader in total game QBR has a 186.3, who to no surprise, is Marcus Mariota).
In the other positions, both teams are just about even. Both have uber-talented freshman running backs, good wide receiver corps, and solid defenses. If it comes down to a kick, however, give me Florida State any day—Aguayo is money. I really like this Florida State team and their ability to win games, but Mariota is too good for this game to give Florida State a chance to come back.
FINAL PREDICTION: Oregon 33 Florida State 17
#1 Alabama (12-1) vs #4 Ohio State (12-1)
Alabama saunters into this game with four AP All-Americans (2nd most in the country), including Biletnikoff Award winning WR Amari Cooper. The Crimson Tide have won eight straight games, five of which came against top 25 teams. Their most recent victory is a 42-13 drubbing of #16 Missouri in the SEC title game, securing a spot in the playoff. Ohio State, on the other hand, has won 11 straight, but is heavily scrutinized for their strength of schedule, or rather, lack thereof. Still, there’s no denying the Buckeye’s prowess as they rank 4th in the nation in points per game and have a super running back in Ezekiel Elliot (1,610 yards from scrimmage this season).
The key matchup to watch in this game is Ohio State’s 3rd string quarterback, Cardale Jones, against the Tide’s defense, who rank 4th in the nation in points allowed per game. The Buckeyes have been going down the quarterback list since last offseason, starting with Heisman-contending Braxton Miller’s season ending shoulder injury during a preseason practice. Backup J.T. Barrett picked up where Miller left off, finishing 5th in the Heisman vote, but was lost late in the game against Michigan. Now it’s up to Jones to try and keep the win streak going. He performed admirably in the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin, but Alabama’s defense is a much different animal—opponents are completing just 54.5% of passes against them. Still, quarterbacks like Nick Marshall (Auburn) and Clint Trickett (West Virginia) have shown that when the opposing QB gets into a rhythm and is completing passes, whether it be for short or long gains, Alabama can’t stop them. If Jones can find his own rhythm, completing passes and handing the ball off to Elliott 50% of the time, Ohio State can make life for Alabama miserable.
The other key matchup in this game is Alabama’s run game vs Joey Bosa and the Ohio State D-line. No backfield this season has been able to escape Bosa’s wrath, the 2014 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Both are about even, Alabama 30th in the nation in rush yards/attempt, Ohio State ranking defensively at 38th. The Tide’s two main RBs, TJ Yeldon and Derrick Henry, aren’t burners but are a lock to give you at least 3 yards on every play. It’ll be interesting to see how they do after the Buckeyes held Melvin Gordon to just 76 yards on 26 carries. Their most dangerous asset, however, is the running ability of QB Blake Sims, something the Tide hasn’t had in a while. If he can avoid Bosa, Alabama will most likely run the ball as efficiently as they have been all year long. Alabama’s pass game is one thing with Amari Cooper, but if the Buckeyes can’t stop the run, they have no chance.
FINAL PREDICTION: Alabama 28 Ohio State 17