The first college football playoff championship will feature of matchup between Oregon and “The” Ohio State University. The Buckeyes of Ohio State will be searching for their 5th title in school history. Ohio State is led by Urban Meyer who previously won 2 national titles at the University of Florida. Unlike at Florida with Tim Tebow, Meyer will have to win this one with 3rd string quarterback Cardale Jones. Jones is a sophomore 6’5″ quarterback with only two previous starts under his belt. Jones will have to pull off another amazing performance after defeating Alabama about a week ago.
Oregon is slated to be 6 point favorites for tonight’s game. Head coach Mark Helfrich is the under study of Eagles coach Chip Kelly. Helfrich runs basically the same exact play style as the Ducks did under Kelly. The star for Oregon is the flying Hawaiian Marcus Mariota. The Heisman trophy winner will be looking to add the first national title in school history. The winner of tonight’s game will be crowned the first true champion in college football.
1. Michael Bennett – 6’2″ 280lbs DT
Bennett is regarded as the teams only first round prospect. The defensive line for Ohio State is the heart and soul of the team that also includes underclassmen Joey Bosa. The most impressive asset to Bennett’s game is his initial explosion off the line of scrimmage. If Bennett can find a way into the Oregon backfield it go help the Buckeyes chances of pulling off the upset. Bennett otherwise isn’t the flashiest player but manages to get the job done inside. His ability to hand fight and make defenders miss with double moves should translate to the next level. Bennett compares favorably to Seahawks Michael Bennett (they are not related). Bennett’s versatility to make him very valuable to teams having the ability to play the 3 technique in a 4-3 or 5 technique in a 3-4.
2. Devin Smith – 6’1″ 200lbs WR
Does your favorite team lack speed from the wide receiver position? Is your team in need of a home run threat? Devin Smith is your man to watch then. Smith is a senior and is expected to run in the 4.4 range at the combine. While he only raked in 32 catches this season,10 were for touchdowns showing off his serious wheels. Devin was also the leader in average yards per catch this season (27.69). Smith was even able to burn the Alabama secondary in the Sugar Bowl with 87 yards and a score. The Ohio State wide out is also a valuable special teams player. I would compare Smith the Ravens wide out Jacoby Jones. His play making ability is special but is raw in terms of route running. A middle round selection seems suitable for Smith.
3. Doron Grant – 5’10” 195lbs CB
Grant is the team’s top corner. The senior was able to reel in 5 interceptions this season. Grant possess a great mix of height and speed something NFL evaluators are leaning towards at the corner position. Then again its a copy cat league everyone is looking for that Richard Sherman who is tall and physical. Grant has great range and can close the gap while playing zone coverage. At this point Grant projects to be a middle round corner. His combine will be much more vital to his stock then his performance in this game. Grant was able to keep Alabama’s Amari Cooper in check last week. Can he put on another impressive performance against the Ducks?
Underclassman to Watch: Ezekiel Elliot
EIliot is a sophomore half back who may be teams most explosive player. His last two games Elliot has rushed for over 200 yards and two touchdowns. In the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama Elliot outplayed T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. This feat was not an easy task as Henry will likely be the first running back taken in the 2016 draft. The Buckeyes will need a similar performance in order to secure the W.
1. Marcus Mariota – 6’4″ 220lbs QB
Oregon is led by Marcus Mariota, the newly crowned Heisman Trophy winner. Mariota has little to prove in his college career putting together some ridiculous numbers. A 40-3 touchdown to interception ratio makes him likely bound for Tampa Bay as the number one overall pick this May. The concerning part for me is his pocket presence. Often times Mariota just takes off and run and while that may work in college good luck in the NFL. His accuracy is inconsistent at time but his college scheme puts him in position to thrive regardless. Is Mariota really that good or is it the system around him? That is certainly something Tampa Bay will have to figure out. I compare Marcus Mariota to Andre Ware. Who was Andre Ware you ask? Ware was the first real dual threat quarterback throwing for 46 touchdowns his junior year for the Houston Cougars. He was then selected in the first round by the Lions and was out of the league within 5 years. Even the biggest Mariota supporters can only compare Mariota to a Colin Kaepernick in the pros. Will Mariota ever win a Superbowl? Probably not.
2. Hroniss Grasu – 6’3″ 300lbs C
Grasu is the nation’s top center and an under rated part of the Ducks success. His role in the offense is bigger than one may expect controlling much of the line changes in this high-paced offense. Hroniss is a bit undersized but his durability has held up being a 4 year starter. Grasu will face the tall task of eliminating Michael Bennett’s effectiveness. Grasu’s long arms and quickness make him a great fit for the zone blocking scheme. Zone blocking involves the ability to kick out and block in space. Grasu is comparable to Jeremy Zuttah of the Ravens. Zuttah is also an undersized guy who works wonders in the zone running scheme. Jake Fisher is another lineman to watch also being undersized could sneak into the first round with a great final performance.
3. Troy Hill – 5’11” 175 lbs CB
Mr. Hill will be tasked with blanketing Devin Smith for much of the game. Hill is a senior corner looking to raise his draft stock in a big way. After a series of off the field incident Hill will need a big performance to counter that. Unfortunately for Oregon the team will be missing Ifo Ekpre-Olumo. Ifo is was considered a top 10 lock before tearing his ACL. In a weird way the injury could be good news for Hill as he will be tasked to cover the speedy Smith. Hill is actually a native of Youngstown Ohio so there will be a little in state rivalry on the field today.
Underclassmen to Watch: Royce Freeman
True freshman running back Royce Freeman is Oregon’s most complete half back since Jonathan Stewart. Freeman is a big back at 230 pounds but still has speed to go with his game. For those dynasty fantasy fans out there Freeman could be a factor 2-3 years down the road.
With that being said I expect Oregon to hoist its first national title in school history. I simply can not see Ohio State pulling it out as I almost fainted when they beat Alabama from being so shell-shocked. After losing to Virginia Tech 35-21 earlier in the season I was stunned Ohio State was even included in the playoff. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer will need to coach another fantastic game just as he did the last week for Ohio State to win.