History will be made Monday night in Arlington, Texas when the first College Football Playoff crowns its national champion. Pac-12 champion Oregon and Big Ten champion Ohio State will play for the ultimate bragging rights, with the Ducks looking for their first national title and the Buckeyes working for their eighth. With a Heisman Trophy quarterback on one side and a national championship coach on the other sideline, this figures to be quite a match-up, and I for one cannot wait for it to kick off.
My prediction for tonight’s game is hardly a secret since I went on record with it last week on a couple of radio interviews and right on my own podcast when discussing the game with Andy Coppens of Talking 10, and also sharing it on CBS Local outlets. But, so the record may continue to show it, I am predicting an Ohio State victory in what I expect to be an entertaining and back-and-forth sort of contest.
Why am I picking the Buckeyes? It has become a bit cliché over time, but defense wins championships. If I have to count on one defense to come up and make a big play, I believe it will be the Ohio State defense that gets the job done. I certainly do not anticipate Ohio State’s defense being able to force Marcus Mariota to make a number of mistakes, but I do feel they can put him under pressure for much of the night and keep him from making a big play when really needed. For Ohio State, that starts up front with the defensive line.
Oregon should be able to move the football against Ohio State, and should do so for much of the evening. What I will be looking to see is if Oregon can keep things moving once Ohio State gets a chance to adjust to the game, which seems to have been something the Buckeyes are capable of doing. Just ask Alabama.
I will note Oregon seems to have an advantage at quarterback. Few will argue Mariota is a much more accomplished quarterback than his Buckeye counterpart, Cardale Jones. Jones is making just his third career start for Ohio State, but he will do so with the poise of a three-year starter if the past two games are any indication. Tom Herman and Meyer have done well in preparing Jones for the task of finishing the job for Ohio State’s offense, and they have not been afraid to let him air it out. With his arm, I do not blame them. Will they hold back at times in an effort to prevent Jones from making a critical mistake? I would anticipate that happens at some points early on in the game, but with a championship on the line there may be a time when you just have to trust the quarterback and roll the dice. Jones has the skills to be able to make some things happen, and the coaching will have him prepared for that if and when needed. Will he make a mistake? Yeah, probably, but Ohio State can survive it.
The fascinating part of this game that I am really looking forward to is the showcase of young running backs. Royce Freeman of Oregon (freshman) and Ezekial Elliot of Ohio State (sophomore) look like two of the best young running backs in the nation, and they play a key role tonight. I like Elliot’s chances to break off some good runs against Oregon in key moments. Not necessary 80-yard dashes to flip the field and momentum, but good, hard-earned six and seven yard gains to keep drives moving.
In the end, I think both teams go at each other from start to finish, but I think Ohio State has the slight edge in the fourth quarter, and I think they close it out.
Ohio State 37, Oregon 33