College Football Playoff Preview


After years of fans calling for the College Football Playoff, the inaugural event is finally here and features two great match-ups between four traditional powerhouses.

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The Sugar Bowl Semi-Final: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State

Alabama and Ohio State head to New Orleans fresh off of huge wins in their respective conference championship games, with Ohio State blowing out Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten Championship, and Alabama eventually blowing out Missouri 42-13.

Both of these teams followed almost identical paths to get to the playoff. Alabama took an early season loss at the hands of Ole Miss in Oxford on October 4th, and Ohio State absorbed an early season loss from Virginia Tech at home on September 6th.

Both teams were led by first-year starters in Blake Sims (3250 yards passing, 26 TDs, and 7 INTs), and J.T. Barrett (2834 yards passing, 938 yards rushing, 34 TDs and 10 INTs), who was a potential Heisman finalist, before suffering a season-ending injury. Ohio State is now led by their third-string quarterback, Cordale Jones, who played exceptionally well in the only game we’ve seen him this season (12/17 passing, 257 yards passing, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) December 6th vs. the Badgers.

Both of these teams have also been dealt their fair share of injuries this season. Alabama lost one third of their rushing attack when Kenyan Drake went down with a season-ending broken leg in Alabama’s 23-17 loss at Ole Miss. Ohio State has experienced possibly two of the worst injury scenarios that any head coach could ever encounter, losing their first-string QB Braxton Miller to a season-ending shoulder injury, and losing their second-string QB JT Barrett to a leg injury vs. Michigan late in the season.

So where does one draw the line between these two clubs? The first place you have to look is their strengths of schedule: Alabama holds the fourth-toughest schedule, while Ohio State has the 50th-toughest schedule. This is, of course, because Alabama plays in the almighty SEC and Ohio State plays in the lowly Big Ten, right? Wrong.

The difference is their overall schedules; had Ohio State scheduled a stronger non-conference schedule these two teams might have more similar strength of schedules.  Instead Ohio State took on the likes of Navy (Okay, they finished 8-5), Virginia Tech (traditionally a solid team that finished 7-6 but dealt OSU their only loss), Kent State (what? They finished 2-9), and Cincinnati (Okay, backyard brawl, cool. They finished 9-4). Alabama took the high road in its non-conference schedule, but it doesn’t matter because the Tide played five teams that were ranked at the time they played anyway, compared to the three Ohio State played.

Everyone thinks Ohio State is sure to come into New Orleans and get blown off the field by a stronger, faster, more powerful SEC opponent in Alabama, and rightfully so. The last two times Ohio State played an SEC opponent in a major bowl game, they lost, in 2006 41-14 to Florida and again in 2007, 38-24 to LSU. Ohio State has a great shot if it can run the ball on first and second down to open up throwing lanes for its young quarterback, but with the skill of Landon Collins and that Alabama secondary, I doubt OSU will be able to throw.

Alabama is playing in a very familiar stadium, and will rattle Ohio State’s young quarterback early and often. I’ve got Alabama taking care of business January 1st vs. Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes on their way to Jerry’s World in Arlington, Texas.

Alabama- 28 Ohio State- 17

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The Rose Bowl Semi-Final: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State

Here it is. Florida State’s chance to prove the entire nation wrong. 2013 Heisman Winner Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles head to Pasadena, California to take on 2014 Heisman Winner Marcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks in the Rose Bowl.

The Seminoles are the lone undefeated team in college football and are fresh off their third-straight ACC Championship. The Ducks have one loss and are coming off a PAC-12 Championship Game victory over Arizona. Obviously there are plenty of storylines to cover here (Heisman vs. Heisman, can FSU play a full game, can Mariota make plays against FSU’s defense) but there is one I want to cover first, and that is Mark Helfrich vs. Jimbo Fisher.

It’s hard to call either of these men anything other than excellent head coaches. Jimbo Fisher took over for one of the greatest head coaches of all time, Bobby Bowden, and Mark Helfrich took over for one of the best offensive minds/head coaches in recent memory, Chip Kelly.

Each coach boasts tremendous respect for the other’s team, also. Helfrich was very open on FSU’s 29-game win streak: “when you get to 29, that’s just extremely, extremely impressive.” Coach Fisher was also complimentary toward the Ducks and Mariota: “he’s a tremendous football player, and he can affect you in so many ways.”

This stage is nothing new or surprising for either of these men, as both are used to and expect to be in this situation. Fisher is 58-10 (.853) at Florida State and Helfrich is 23-3 (.884) at Oregon.

Fisher has his coaches expecting it, too. Wide-receiver coach Lawrence Dawsey had this to say about their bowl preparation: “it’s another game, we don’t look at it as being bigger than any other game, the main game is the next game.”

Defensive-end Mario Edwards Jr. had a similar approach on being in the Rose Bowl and playing so far away from home: “it’s just something we’ve been used to, this isn’t our first time out here, we’re used to going to different time zones.” The ‘Noles are indeed used to playing in Pasadena after winning the BCS National Championship there just a year ago.

Throughout this entire year, many fans have wondered if the ‘Noles slow starts were directly related to lack of motivation, and I used to think the same thing. After Florida State fell down to the No. 4 spot in the second-to-last playoff bracket, I thought for sure that would fire up the ‘Noles against Georgia Tech, and I think it did to a degree, as Jameis Winston played his purest game all season.

But Jameis Winston definitely made it clear that the ‘Noles aren’t lacking motivation, or confidence, when he said yesterday, “we don’t fear nobody, Richard Sherman (the best cornerback in the NFL) could get out there and line up against us and we wouldn’t throw away from him either.”

Now for the questions everyone is asking: Will Florida State finally lose? Will the ‘Noles finally start out fast? Can Florida State put together a complete game and play up to its potential? Fisher made it clear in his post-practice interview on the 28th that they always want to start fast and gain a lead, but that it’s not always possible. Against this Oregon defense that is now lacking their All-American corner, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, it seems possible. He had 63 tackles, two interceptions, and six pass break-ups this season. His injury is one that nobody ever wants to see happen, especially to such a great player, but you can bet the ‘Noles will take advantage of a redshirt freshmen starting in his spot.

The statistical comparisons between 2013 Jameis Winston and 2014 Marcus Mariota are almost identical, but this year has been quite lopsided in Mariota’s favor. Mariota has thrown for 3,783 yards, and rushed for 669 yards with 52 total TDs and only 2 INTs. Winston has thrown for 3559 yards with 24 TDs and 17 INTs, yet some experts still say that would pick Winston over Mariota. Why? The clutch factor.

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Jameis Winston has had to lead the ‘Noles to five wins this season by six points or less, including two that came in the closing minutes of play. Mariota hasn’t done that once this year, and even had a chance to tie the game up 31-31 against Arizona earlier this season but fumbled with two minutes left.

Personally, I think Mariota is a great player who can throw the ball on the run better than any quarterback in College Football. But the fact that Jameis Winston has not lost a game ever at Florida State makes it hard for me to pick against him and the ‘Noles. Oh, and Fisher is 4-0 in bowl games as the head coach of the Seminoles. This is going to be a fun one. I’ve got the Seminoles in yet another nail-biting, heart-stopping, hair-losing fiasco.

Florida State- 45 Oregon- 41