After claiming a 39-point victory in the Rose Bowl, the No. 3 Oregon Ducks are favored by a touchdown over the Ohio State Buckeyes for Jan. 12’s national championship. Led by Heisman-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota’s 338 passing yards and three total touchdowns, along with a defense that forced five turnovers, the Ducks beat Florida State 59-20 in the College Football Playoff semifinals and Las Vegas bookmakers have pegged them as favorites to win the first national title in school history.
Under second-year head coach Mark Helfrich, the Ducks are in contention for the national title for the first time since 2010, when the faced and lost to Auburn 22-19 for the now debunked BCS championship.
The Buckeyes are coming off an equally impressive victory, outgunning the nine-point favorite and top ranked Alabama Crimson Tide 42-35, highlighted by sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott’s fourth-quarter, 85-yard touchdown scamper that clinched the win.
What made Ohio State’s performance even more impressive was the play of sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones, who totaled 243 yards passing and one touchdown with another 43 yards on the ground against the Tide’s sixth ranked offense in the just second start of his college career.
One of the most decorated and accomplished programs in college football history, the Buckeyes are seeking their first outright national title since 2002’s perfect 14-0 run. Ohio State upset Miami 31-24 that year, but has lost their last two appearances in the national title game to LSU in 2007 and Florida in 2006.
Comparing each side’s statistics on the year, they appear to be evenly matched. The Ducks were second in the nation with 47.2 points per game, with Mariota tossing 40 touchdowns and rushing for another 15. Freshman running back Royce Freeman also gained 1,343 yards and 18 touchdowns, and Oregon’s defense was second in the Pac-12 allowing 22.5 points per game.
Ohio State can match the Ducks firepower with the nation’s No.5-ranked offense racking up 45 points per game and its defense also held opponents to 22.1 points per game. After Jones, the Buckeyes also have Elliott and his 1,632 yards and 14 touchdowns, along with speedy receivers Devin Smith and Michael Thomas. The duo combined for 21 receiving touchdowns in the regular season, and each scored one against Alabama’s vaunted defense.
Helfrich has certainly enjoyed rousing success since taking over for Chip Kelly in 2013, posting a 24-3 overall record with two bowl victories, but he could be overmatched against Ohio State’s Urban Meyer.
Meyer took over a Buckeyes program that was crippled by NCAA sanctions and a postseason ban in 2012, and he’s posted a 37-3 record with a Big Ten title this season. Meyer also has significant experience on the national stage, securing two national titles in a three-year span with his former team, Florida.
Date: Monday, Jan. 12
Time: 8:30 P.M. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Betting Odds: Oregon -7
Over/Under: 75 points
Prediction: Ohio State over Oregon,37-33