The No.2 Oregon Ducks (12-1, 8-1 Pac-12) are set to take on No.3 Florida State Seminoles (13-0, 8-0 ACC) in the first ever College Football Playoff game. When the two teams meet in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, the contest will not only have national championship implications, but it could also have a significant impact on the 2015 NFL Draft.
The game features the nation’s top two quarterbacks, who both have a chance to be starting in the pros next year. Marcus Mariota won this year’s Heisman Trophy, leading the Ducks for a third straight year with at least 11 wins. Jameis Winston didn’t finish in the top 5 for the award this season, but he was the 2013 winner, doing so as a redshirt freshman.
Mariota was clearly the best quarterback of the 2014 college football season. He led the nation with a 186.3 passer rating, throwing 38 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. Only seven quarterbacks threw for more than Mariota’s 3,783 yards, and he added 669 rushing yards and 14 scores on the ground.
Winston’s 2014 numbers weren’t nearly as impressive, throwing for 3,559 yards, 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. His stats were a far cry from the 40 touchdown passes and 10 picks that he posted a season ago, but the most important statistic remained the same. In two years as the Seminoles’ starter, Winston has yet to lose a game.
Florida State had several close calls in their undefeated season. Two weeks after a six-point win over unranked Oklahoma State, the Seminoles needed overtime to beat then-No.22 Clemson, as a suspended Winston watched his team from the sidelines. A controversial offensive pass interference call helped Florida State escape a potential loss to Notre Dame, and they came back from a 21-0 deficit to beat Louisville in their next game. Winston and Co. closed out the season with three straight wins by five points or less.
No one has topped Winston and the Seminoles, but the team hasn’t lived up to expectations this season, to a certain extent. Florida State ended 2014 with a 3-10 record against the spread, accounting for the second-worst record against the spread in the entire country.
Even though they suffered an early-season loss, Oregon is ranked ahead of Florida State because of their difficult schedule. The Ducks have a few marquee wins this season, beating Michigan State by 19 points, as well as picking up road victories over ranked UCLA and Utah teams. In the Pac-12 Championship Game, Oregon avenged their Oct. 2 loss and defeated then-No.7 Arizona, 51-13.
Oregon is a heavy favorite to defeat unbeaten Florida State. The Ducks have proven that if they win, they are likely to do so in blowout fashion. All but one of their victories have come by at least 12 points, and they beat 10 teams by at least 18 points.
Their loss in the Pac-12 title game notwithstanding, Arizona proved to be the only team that could slow down Oregon’s offense, holding the Ducks to 24 points in their only loss. Mariota totaled just two touchdowns, something he did in just one other game, and he ran for just one yard on nine attempts. In every other game, Oregon has scored at least 42 points, and their 46.3 points per game average is good enough for third in the nation.
Florida State wasn’t dominant on either side of the ball in 2014, ranking 29th in points per game (34.8) and 30th in scoring defense (23.0). The Seminoles have won shootouts, putting up 42 points or more on three occasions, as well as low-scoring affairs, scoring less than 25 points in three of their victories. Thursday’s over/under is 71.5 points, the highest total on the remaining bowl schedule.
Allowing 22.5 points per game, Oregon ranks one spot ahead of Florida State in scoring defense. The Ducks have the only First-Team AP All-American defender on the field, in cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Florida State safety Jalen Ramsey was elected to the second team.
Prediction: Oregon over Florida State, 41-38