COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF CHAMPIONSHIP GAME STORYLINES
1. Fourth-seeded Ohio State and second-seeded Oregon earned the honors of playing in the first College Football Playoff title game when the schools square off at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 12. The Buckeyes barely squeezed into the four-team playoff system with a strong season-ending push and produced an epic 42-35 victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The Ducks have been on a season-long scoring frenzy and took their dominance to another level with a powerful 59-20 rout of defending champion Florida State in the Rose Bowl.
2. Oregon has the star attraction with quarterback Marcus Mariota, the landslide winner of the 2014 Heisman Trophy voting who passed for 4,111 yards and 40 touchdowns and rushed for 731 yards and 15 scores. While Mariota is expected to be one of the first picks in the NFL Draft if he declares, Ohio State will again be counting on third-stringer Cardale Jones after losing Braxton Miller (shoulder) and J.T. Barrett (ankle) to season-ending injuries. Jones has thrown six touchdown passes and been intercepted once in 69 attempts, and engineered back-to-back wins over Wisconsin (59-0) and Alabama.
3. Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer is chasing his third national title – his first two were at Florida – with a squad that was all but ruled out when it lost to Virginia Tech in early September. Instead, the Buckeyes possess the nation’s longest winning streak (12) and is trying to match the school record of 14 victories. Oregon has already set a school record for victories and is playing in its second national championship game – the first being when Cam Newton-led Auburn pulled out a 22-19 win over the Ducks following the 2010 season.
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Oregon –6.5
ABOUT OHIO STATE (13-1, 8-0 Big Ten): Running back Ezekiel Elliott rushed for a Sugar Bowl-record 230 yards – including a dynamic 85-yard scoring run – and his 1,632 rushing yards rank fourth in Buckeyes’ history behind Eddie George (1,927 in 1995), Keith Byars (1,764, 1984) and Archie Griffin (1,695, 1974). Big play receiver Devin Smith caught his 30th career touchdown pass in the Sugar Bowl – a 47-yard catch – and is averaging 27.7 yards per reception this season while scoring 12 TDs on 32 catches. The defensive standouts include weak-side linebacker Joshua Perry (team-leading 118 tackles), safety Vonn Bell (86 tackles, team-best six interceptions), defensive end Joey Bosa (team-high 13.5 sacks), strong-side linebacker Darron Lee (7.5 sacks) and cornerback Doran Grant (five interceptions).
ABOUT OREGON (13-1, 8-1 Pac-12): Mariota guided the attack to Rose Bowl records for points and yardage (639) while accounting for three scores (two passing, one rushing), passing for 338 and rushing for 62 more. The Ducks have two fine backfield options in Royce Freeman (1,343 yards, 18 touchdowns) and Thomas Tyner (511 yards, five touchdowns) while receiver Darren Carrington (37 catches, 704 yards) has been suspended for this game due to reportedly failing a drug test after having seven receptions for 165 yards and two touchdowns in the Rose Bowl. Defensively, free safety Erick Dargan leads the team with 90 tackles and seven interceptions and had one pick and one forced fumble in the Rose Bowl while outside linebacker Tony Washington (six sacks) was part of one of the memorable plays in the Rose Bowl when Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston lost a fumble and Washington returned it 58 yards for a touchdown.
PREDICTION: Oregon 40, Ohio State 34