College Sports

A preview of the national championship football game between Ohio State and Oregon

Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich (left) and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer are shooting for the national championship trophy tonight.
Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich (left) and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer are shooting for the national championship trophy tonight. the associated press

Offense

Both are terrific. Oregon ranks second nationally in scoring at 47.2 points per game, and Ohio State is fifth at 45.0. The Ducks’ up-tempo attack hasn’t changed under second-year coach Mark Helfrich. They’ve had 84 touchdown drives, and 41 have lasted 2 minutes or fewer. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota, responsible for 56 touchdowns, makes things go. But he’ll be without his top wide receiver during the last two games since Darren Carrington has been suspended.

Buckeyes quarterback Cardale Jones has been terrific in his two starts, and running back Ezekiel Elliott took his game to a new level with 450 yards against Wisconsin and Alabama. Ohio State’s offensive line has been dominant.

▪ Edge: Oregon

Defense

Yes, the Buckeyes are up against a dizzying offense, but Oregon has been stopped by superb defensive teams in the past. Teams that can get push up the middle have succeeded against the Ducks, and that’s where Ohio State and tackle Michael Bennett have to make things uncomfortable for Mariota. Defensive end Joey Bosa forced four fumbles and recovered one, leading to 37 points this season.

The Ducks rank 84th in total defense, allowing 421 yards per game. But they are turnover marvels, ranking second nationally by forcing 30 while losing only 10 (plus-20). Florida State had five turnovers against the Ducks in the Rose Bowl.

▪ Edge: Ohio State

Special teams

Ohio State could get back kick-return specialist Dontre Wilson, who is listed as probable. He’s missed the last four games because of an injury. Punt returner Jalin Marshall is capable of big plays. Kicker Sean Nuernberger is 13 of 20 on field goals, with a long of 49 this season.

Oregon’s Devon Allen is out after he injured his knee on the opening kickoff in the Rose Bowl. Allen is the team’s second-leading receiver and top kick returner. More than most, the Ducks pass up field goals to go for it on fourth and short. Punter Ian Wheeler averaged 39 yards per attempt.

▪ Edge: Ohio State

Coaching/intangibles

Urban Meyer has been there, done that. He’s bidding to become the second coach to win national titles with two schools after taking two at Florida (Nick Saban is the other, at LSU and Alabama). He came up with a superb game plan against Alabama and again gets extra time to prepare.

Under second-year coach Helfrich, who has picked up where Chip Kelly left off, Oregon will try to become college football’s first first-time national champion since Washington in 1991. The Ducks have been knocking on the door for several years, coming up a field-goal short of the national championship in 2010.

▪ Edge: Ohio State

Bottom line

The Buckeyes are the surprise team here. They were outside the playoff committee’s top four until smashing Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and were an underdog to Alabama. They play with supreme confidence and toughness, and if Ohio State can get a couple of early stops, they’ll have a decided mental edge.

But Oregon will have the best player on the field in Mariota, and a game that turns more on offense than defense favors the Ducks.

The pick here is Oregon, 46-34.

OREGON

Aug. 30 South Dakota W 62-13

Sept. 6 Michigan State (7) W 46-27

Sept. 13 Wyoming W 48-14

Sept. 20 at Washington State W 38-31

Oct. 2 Arizona L 31-24

Oct. 11 at UCLA (11) W 42-30

Oct. 18 Washington W 45-20

Oct. 24 vs. California W 59-41

Nov. 1 Stanford W 45-16

Nov. 8 at Utah (20) W 51-27

Nov. 22 Colorado W 44-10

Nov. 29 at Oregon State W 47-19

Dec. 5 vs. Arizona (8) W 51-13

Jan. 1 vs. Florida State (2) W 59-20

OHIO STATE

Aug. 30 vs. Navy W 34-17

Sept. 6 Virginia Tech L 35-21

Sept. 13 Kent State W 66-0

Sept. 27 Cincinnati 50-28

Oct. 4 at Maryland W 52-24

Oct. 18 Rutgers W 56-17

Oct. 25 at Penn State W 31-24 (2ot)

Nov. 1 Illinois W 55-14

Nov. 8 at Michigan State (8) W 49-37

Nov. 15 at Minnesota (25) W 31-24

Nov. 22 Indiana W 42-27

Nov. 29 Michigan W 42-28

Dec. 6 vs. Wisconsin (13) W 59-0

Jan. 1 vs. Alabama (1) W 42-35

  Comments