The Ohio State Buckeyes have heard all the reasons why they won’t beat the Oregon Ducks in the College Football Playoff final: Heisman-winner Marcus Mariota is too good and the Ducks have too many weapons. Sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones is a two-game wonder. The Ducks defense is actually underrated and the Buckeyes played through a weaker Big Ten this season.
The list could go on and on, and despite smashing Wisconsin 59-0 and following up that performance with a 42-35 upset over No. 1 Alabama, the Buckeyes are seven-point underdogs in the first ever CFP title game.
But like most arguments, several holes can be poked in Oregon’s case for the first national title in program history. Some may suggest that it would be an "upset" if Ohio State defeats Oregon, but the matchup might be more even than people think.
Here are four reasons the Buckeyes could prevail Monday night at AT&T Stadium.
Go Ahead And Tell Urban Meyer He's Going To Lose
In the now debunked BCS era, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer took three different schools to one of the four major bowls and he’s only lost once. What he accomplished at Florida is quite impressive when you consider the program has done little since he left. This season he’s already thwarted old SEC foe Alabama, and can join very rare company as a coach who guided two different programs to a national championship.
Oregon’s Mark Helfrich has done an excellent job since taking over for Chip Kelly, but he’s coached one team, the Ducks, in two bowl games compared to 10 total appearances and eight victories for Meyer. An argument can be made that Meyer is the best head coach in college football. He is likely to put out all the stops in the National Championship.
Ask Nick Saban Which Team Is Better
Saban rolled out the No. 6-ranked defense in the country, one that is likely to send multiple players to the NFL over the next few years, and even they couldn’t contain the Buckeyes.
At no point was Ohio State’s offense truly in danger of falling behind. Thanks to running back Ezekiel Elliott’s 230 rushing yards and two touchdowns, Jones was able to focus on working the clock and helped convert 10 of Ohio State's 18 third-down attempts to keep Alabama off the field.
Even before the loss, Saban knew just how lethal Ohio State could be. He called Meyer’s squad the toughest “SEC team" his Tide would face all season. Clearly he was right.
The Crimson Tide were nine-point favorites, and the Buckeyes won by seven. The Ducks, by the way, were seven point favorites, but the odds have dropped to six.
Cardale Jones Is Better Than You Think
It took two season-ending injuries for Jones to move up the Buckeyes depth chart and get his first starts at the college level, but he’s more than making up for lost time. He has silenced the doubters who thought Ohio State was only successful because of Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett.
In two games, Jones has racked up 618 passing yards and six touchdowns, and at his size (6'5 and 250 pounds), he’s one of the toughest quarterbacks in college to bring down. Gaining 258 rushing yards this season, Jones hasn’t even displayed his full range of skills. In high school, he rushed for 14 career touchdowns, complementing his 40 passing scores.
The matchup against the Ducks' secondary also isn’t nearly as daunting as Wisconsin or Alabama’s. Oregon was sixth in the Pac-12 allowing 265.9 yards and 20 touchdowns this season, and that was when senior All-American defensive back Ifo Ekpre-Olomu was healthy. Instead, the Ducks will try to stop Jones and top targets Michael Thomas and Devin Smith without the injured Ekpre-Olomu. Jones might have a lot of fun on Monday night.
This is what Saban said about Jones: "The one thing that the new quarterback does is he has a tremendous arm. And they have some very talented receivers. And those things became very apparent in the last two games because of the quarterback."
Defense, Defense, Defense
Ohio State has only allowed three opponents to score more than 28 points this season, and one of those games was in their second week. The Buckeyes finished the season No. 26 in the nation in points allowed (22.1), but the defense has had some impressive performances that are more telling. One that stands out was Wisconsin star rusher Melvin Gordon managing just 76 yards against the Buckeyes after 10 consecutive games of 122 yards or more.
The Buckeyes have a number of defensive stars that can rattle Mariota for four quarters. For one, there’s Big Ten sack leader and sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa, whose 13.5 sacks were three better than anyone else in the conference. And Bosa’s 20 tackles for a loss were seven better than the next guy.
Toss in senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett and sophomore linebacker Darron Lee, and the Buckeyes may have the right blend of power and speed up front to keep Mariota in the pocket. Cornerback Doran Grant will be playing his final game for the Buckeyes, and he is capable of giving Mariota fits with his coverage.
Remember, Mariota can certainly sling it, but when under pressure and when his ability to make plays with his feet is limited, he can be beaten. In his three losses the last two seasons, Mariota’s rushed for only 37 total yards, and coughed up four turnovers, two fumbles and two interceptions.
Ohio State had three interceptions against Alabama, and it wouldn't be shocking if they force Mariota into some bad throws.