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College Football Playoff National Championship Prediction

Marcus Mariota
The inaugural season of the College Football Playoff era has been filled with upsets, exciting finishes and a fair share of controversy. Now, the 2014-2015 season will all culminate this Monday in a matchup of two teams with something left to prove. Oregon has been among the best programs in the sport the last five to ten years but has yet to claim the elusive national title (lost to Cam Newton and Auburn in 2011). On the other side, Ohio State will try to prove the Big Ten is still a conference to be reckoned with and that they truly did deserve a Playoff berth, if beating Alabama did not already prove it to the entire nation.

Oregon, as usual, will bring their high-flying offense to the table, and one that has speed all over the place. The return of stud sophomore back Thomas Tyner now means the Ducks have three legitimately fantastic backs, including Tyner, true freshman Royce Freeman and the veteran of the trio, Byron Marshall. The offensive line, which struggled with injuries throughout the year is now at their healthiest, and it will pave a way for the Ducks' backs. Hroniss Grasu, a steady veteran at center, is finally healthy and Oregon will lean on the senior for leadership and his calming demeanor on this huge stage. At quarterback, Marcus Mariota has been the perfect example of why staying another year in college can be a very good thing. Despite first round projections, Mariota had unfinished business and decided to stay in Eugene another year. He has responded with 3,783 passing yards, 38 touchdowns and a Heisman trophy, and will hope to add a national title to his resume. Mariota's success has been completely different from other recent quarterbacks who have stayed in school an extra season. Matt Barkley at USC, Jake Locker at Washington and Tajh Boyd at Clemson all struggled in their senior seasons and fell down draft boards significantly (Boyd didn't even get drafted). While those quarterbacks struggled, Mariota has seemingly improved in his redshirt junior season. The native Hawaiian has showcased an amazing deep ball, a much better feel for the game and the ability to make big plays in crunch time, something he struggled with his first two years for the Ducks. Having the Heisman winner and a multitude of options at back will certainly fuel Oregon's offense, but they are without a couple key components at receiver. Electric playmaker Devon Allen, who is also a track star at Oregon, is out for the game after injuring his knee in the first play of the Rose Bowl against Florida State. Then, Darren Carrington, who ripped apart that Seminoles' defense in the Rose Bowl, was suspended for the title game. Add to that the longtime absence of explosive Bralon Addison, who tore his ACL during the spring (there was hope he might be able to return for this game) and the Ducks' receiving corps has been decimated. Still, Keanon Lowe is a dangerous weapon through the air, nearly all of Oregon's dynamic backs can catch, and tight end Evan Baylis, who is filling in for another injured Duck, had a strong showing against FSU. Plus, when you have a Heisman winner at quarterback who can do damage with his legs and his arm, you don't need a ton of help from your receivers.

Ohio State has proven time and time again they can also put up points in bunches, even with a third-
Jalin Marshall
stringer at quarterback. Redshirt freshman Cardale Jones, filling in for J.T. Barrett, who filled in for Braxton Miller, has been great in two starts. Despite playing in two huge games, the Big Ten Championship Game and Sugar Bowl, Jones has not let the pressure overwhelm him and he has played extremely well. While still mistake prone, Jones is a big, powerful thrower who has the arm strength to beat defenders over the top and the accuracy to fit the ball into tight windows on short or intermediate throws. Jones is also a dangerous dual threat, and the Oregon defense will have to be disciplined and smart in containing him. At running back, the Buckeyes on sophomore Ezekiel Elliott, who has filled in wonderfully for the graduated Carlos Hyde this season. Elliott has ran for 1,402 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Elliott's speed and shiftiness helped carry him to a 85-yard touchdown against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, which propelled OSU to the victory. The Ducks will have their hands full containing home run threat Devin Smith, a senior who has had a huge second half for Ohio State this season. Smith is an absolute speedster and has nice size, allowing him to make unbelievably tough catches on deep balls. Jones will almost certainly look for the senior deep a couple times early against a Ducks' secondary that is also banged up. Along with Smith, reliable Evan Spencer will almost certainly give Oregon problems as well, along with Jalin Marshall. A redshirt freshman, Marshall might be the most versatile athlete on the field in a game full of absolute studs on both sides of the ball. The receiver can not just do damage as a weapon in the passing game, he can carry the ball, throw the ball (on the depth chart, he is Jones' backup right now) and is an absolute load to handle on special teams. While the Ohio State offensive line did not get much credit this year, it has been superb ever since a disastrous showing earlier in the year against Virginia Tech.

For years, the Oregon offense has gotten all the credit for the Ducks being a constant national title contender. It does make sense, the offense has rewritten the rules for "up-tempo" offenses and has had some incredible athletes pass through the past couple seasons. But, the change of fortunes for the Ducks this year has not been the offense getting any better, it has been all defensively. The defense isn't superb statistically, in fact it allows over 400 yards of offense per game. But, somehow it was 27th in scoring defense and causes turnovers at a dizzying rate, something Florida State knows first hand. The front seven has heard all the talk about the defense being "soft" for too long and has been absolute beastly in 2014-2015. Arik Armstead, a 6'8" monster of a defensive end leads the front seven, along with physical DeForest Buckner and Joe Walker, a major help in run support. Hybrid linebacker Tony Washington has always had the talent to be great but has had major ups and major downs in his collegiate career. A dazzling showing in the Rose Bowl that included recovering Jameis Winston's fumble for a touchdown has convinced me he has fulfilled his vast potential.  The big question for the Ducks' defense will be their secondary, which is without All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who injured his knee leading up to the Rose Bowl. Though, the questions were the same against Florida State and led by Troy Hill and a number of other contributors the Ducks' pass defense shut down the Seminoles best receiver (and one of the best in the nation) Rashad Greene. The secondary once more will have to have a great day but it is worrying going up against a team like the Buckeyes, who spread the field so well. FSU doesn't have the deep threats of OSU and if the Buckeyes can hit some deep throws, they will definitely be in great position.

The Ohio State defense had some major question marks entering the year, especially when they allowed over 300 yards of rushing to Navy in the season opener. But, much like the offense improved, the defense took major steps throughout the course of the year and is strong, especially in the front seven. Defensive end Joey Bosa is among the nation's most intimidating linemen and he has had a huge 2014-2015. After recording a solid 7.5 sacks in his freshman campaign, Bosa has exploded for 14 sacks and 20 tackles for loss, which is seventh best in all of the land. Joining him up front is senior Michael Bennett, who clogs running lanes, and junior Adolphus Washington, a very nimble tackle. The loss of Noah Spence, who has been suspended all season long, seemed to hurt the Buckeyes originally, but Steve Miller has come on down the stretch. He made an absolute wonderful play in the Sugar Bowl to pick off Blake Sims and take it to the house, a key turning point in the game. Add to that Joshua Perry, a linebacker who recorded 112 tackles on the season, along with Darron Lee, who had 66 tackles and six sacks, and Ohio State will almost certainly put up a great fight against the Ducks' fantastic rush offense. The Ohio State secondary was a major question mark entering the year but it has solidified itself as a great unit, much like this defense as a whole. Doran Grant and the rest of the secondary, which includes playmakers Vonn Bell and Eli Apple, held Amari Cooper to his lowest output of the year and if they can contain Lowe and Byron Marshall of Oregon, Mariota will have a tough time getting the ball to any receiver.

This going to be the perfect Championship game for fans of the sports. After years of SEC slugfests in the BCS system, the CFB Playoff has pitted two explosive offenses against each other in a game full of storylines. While it seems obvious to pick the team with the Heisman winner and an extremely motivated defense against a team with a third-stringer at quarterback, the Buckeyes have a real chance to win Urban Meyer's third national championship, and first in Columbus. In normal circumstances, Oregon might well be the more talented team between these two. But, the Ducks are banged up in so many key areas, and the absence of Ekpre-Olomu could be a major problem if Smith continues his hot stretch. Plus, the Buckeyes amount of momentum entering this game could easily propel them to a victory. Sure, Oregon has quite a bit of momentum too, following a 39-point beat down of the defending champion, but Ohio State has been absolutely terrifying under Cardale Jones and I think they can continue it. This one is sure to be a high-scoring affair unless turnovers become a problem (but with Mariota, who has just two interceptions all season, that is doubtful) and an exciting one to the very end. I think the magic of the Buckeyes' late postseason run under Jones can continue, especially considering the injuries and suspensions throughout the Ducks' lineup.
Ohio State, 42 Oregon, 38

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