Here it is. So long awaited, College Football has finally arrived in the promised land. While the inaugural College Football Playoff has had obvious flaws that need to be addressed, it also delivered a terrific weekend of football and gave us a National Championship Game that would not have been possible with the BCS system. Here’s what to watch for Monday night.
The most important player on a football team is the quarterback. Like it or not, that’s the reality of American Football. Fortunately for fans and the broadcast networks, this game features a couple of studs. What’s left to say about Marcus Mariota? He has been nearly perfect this season, and has all the intangibles NFL coaches look for. The biggest complaint about him? He’s “too nice”. Considering all the other issues college quarterbacks have had coming into the NFL, I don’t think that’s going to knock him down too much. The scary thing is Mariota didn’t play his best against Florida State on New Year’s Day, and Oregon still steamrolled FSU. Although Mariota is the best player on his team, in his conference, and in the nation, Oregon is a complete team with a stifling defense, a powerful offensive line, and a stud running back in Royce Freeman. Ohio State is either the greatest quarterback recruiting school or insanely lucky. Cardale Jones has stepped up admirably from a third string benchwarmer to a potential National Champion. Jones reminds me of Colin Kaepernick in many respects. He has a cannon arm and can throw the football a mile with the flick of the wrist. He is a big Quarterback who can run through tackles and has surprising speed. Not as fast as Kaepernick, who’s long strides carry him past defenders with ease, but faster than you would expect nonetheless. While difficult to take down, Jones has almost no pocket presence and rarely feels pressure coming from the blind side. He takes too many sacks, a major drive killer. Jones has risen to the occasion during each of his two career college starts. He wasn’t asked to do much in a 59-0 steamrolling of Wisconsin, but it was absolutely imperative that he show up against a team ranked No. 1 at the time in a win or go home situation. It was not an easy win over Alabama for the Buckeyes, and Jones wasn’t perfect. But he made enough plays when necessary and has enough teammates around him to make this a very dangerous Buckeyes squad. While Jones and Mariota garner most of the attention, Oregon and Ohio State have several other players who could make a big impact on this game. Royce Freeman and the Oregon offensive line have already been mentioned. Keep an eye on Oregon wide receiver Byron Marshall, Mariota’s favorite target. OSU corner Eli Apple did a nice job on Amari Cooper, limiting him to 71 yards despite two touchdowns, and Cooper was a far tougher test than Marshall will be. However, Oregon’s offensive scheme will look to utilize him in a variety of unusual ways. For Ohio State, running back Ezekiel Elliot has turned heads around the country as he has carried Ohio State in several big games this year. He was the one who put Alabama away with an 85 yard scamper in the 4th quarter. Ohio State has put themselves in this position with their suffocating defense, just as Oregon has worked their way to Dallas through their overpowering offense. Should be a classic in Dallas at JerryWorld (aka AT&T Stadium). 72 hours to kickoff!
Mariota in the tunnel Image: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/18/oregon-ducks-football-uniforms_n_6006274.html
Ohio State pregame: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1334063-the-100-best-traditions-in-college-football