2015 CFB National Championship Preview

January 11, 2015

In reality Christmas was a few weeks ago, but for college football fans January 12 will feel a lot like Christmas Day.

The time to play the national championship game for the first ever College Football Playoff has arrived. Never before have two teams earned the right on the field to play for a national title. It’s groundbreaking, it’s exciting, and most of all, it’s about damn time.

Many readers of this blog are especially excited because the Ohio State Buckeyes are participating. I’m in that camp as well, because I’m proud to call myself an alumnus of the school.

Yes, it’s just a game like the thousands before it. But it’s also the culmination of a season that means so much for the progression of the sport. Hopefully the final game of the 2014-2015 season is closed appropriately with a hard fought contest.

Let’s take a look at the preview for this game.

College Football Playoff National Championship Game

#4 Ohio State vs. #2 Oregon (Monday, 8:30 PM ET – ESPN)

For both of these teams, the semifinal games were a story of surprise. Surprise that Oregon was able to so easily dispatch of the previously undefeated Florida State Seminoles. Surprise that Ohio State, once a ten point underdog to the first seeded Alabama Crimson Tide, overcame a 21-6 first quarter deficit to storm back and beat the SEC’s best 42-35. But in this game, it’s unlikely that we’ll see as many surprises. The two teams have had too much time to prepare for each other, likely scouting potential championship opponents as soon as the playoff bracket was set in early December.

The Ducks come into this game as a seven and a half point favorite, but this one is difficult to predict. Best of luck to anyone willing to put any sizable sum of money on that spread.

Oregon Will Win If: It’s up-tempo pace proves to be too much for the Buckeyes. Speed isn’t what separates these two teams. Ohio State is just as fast as Oregon’s athletes, but the unknown is whether Urban Meyer’s squad is conditioned enough to maintain that speed after four or five no huddle plays from the Ducks. It’s difficult to make a prediction on this, simply because Ohio State hasn’t faced a team quite like Oregon all season. Wide receiver Darren Carrington being out for the game could be an obstacle for the Ducks, but it isn’t a deal breaker. The Ducks recruit similar athletes to back up the starters, so someone will step up in Carrington’s absence on the offensive end.

Ohio State Will Win If: The wide receivers win the battle against Oregon’s secondary. The tale of Cardale Jones has been intriguing, but what has been somewhat overlooked is just how much his receivers are doing to make him look good. Between Devin Smith, Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall, the Buckeyes have three receivers that are every bit as physical and just as athletically inclined as any defensive back they will see in college football. The absence of All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu didn’t hurt Oregon against the Seminoles, but a lot of that had to do with the offense putting up 59 points. Assuming that Ohio State is tougher defensively, the Ducks will need to step up on that side of the ball as well.

Oregon’s X-factor: The offensive line. In Oregon’s only loss this season, the line was terrible. Even Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota can’t do much when he’s constantly being pressured in the pocket. And since the Buckeyes led the Big Ten in sacks this season and got to Blake Sims three times in the Sugar Bowl, the Ducks have a tough task ahead of them. If Oregon can hold the Buckeyes to under three sacks, Mariota is talented enough to buy himself time on many of the blitzes that will come his way. Expect Ohio State to come after Mariota early to see how the Oregon line responds.

Ohio State’s X-factor: The linebackers. For a couple of seasons, it appeared as though this unit was what was holding Ohio State’s defense back from being one of the best in the Big Ten. But guys have stepped up from redshirt freshman Darron Lee to senior Curtis Grant and stabilized the middle of this defense. This corps will be the most important factor in containing Marcus Mariota because of his ability to run the football and his great accuracy rolling out of the pocket. The Buckeyes will have to play smart, yet aggressive in order to keep the Ducks from converting on third down passing situations.

The Buckeyes have not fared well in the past couple of national title game appearances, but this team does not have the same philosophy or caliber of athletes as those years. This Ohio State team may be the underdog, but the speed is there to hang with Oregon and the goal will be to score as many touchdowns as possible, clock management aside. Oregon looked awfully good in the Rose Bowl and there isn’t any reason why it can’t argue that there isn’t a better team in the country at this point. But Ohio State is dangerous on both sides of the ball. Cardale Jones has athletes to throw to and the defense will be hungry to get to Mariota often. Over the past week I have thought a lot about this game and decided that even my head can get on board with picking Ohio State to win this game. My heart, of course, was already there. I have the Buckeyes for 21 points in Bowl Mania.

This should be a great game and I hope that football fans across the country enjoy it as much as I will.

My Pick: 38-34 Ohio State

It has been another great season of college football. I want to thank everyone who volunteered to participate in the head-to-head prediction game during the regular season, as well as anyone who was a part of the Von Hugendong Bowl Mania group. I love college football, but it makes it that much more fun when you know that other people are interested right along with you. Additionally, your interest is what keeps me passionate about writing on this blog. I hope that you’ll continue to check on the site in the offseason, as I cover college basketball and Major League Baseball fairly regularly as well.

– K. Becks

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