Perhaps what will be most pleasurable about tonight’s college football national championship game at Jerry World is that it will be SEC-free.
The announcers won’t be droning about the SEC’s domination, how it’s college football’s gold standard and everybody else is just a bit player.
No endless Alabama talk. Nothing about Auburn or Florida or Georgia or one Mississippi, two Mississippi. Any mention of Nick Saban should be forbidden. Maybe the only talk will be how the SEC heavyweights turned to lightweights during the just-completed bowl season — especially the vaunted SEC West, which was a desultory 2-5.
No, tonight’s focus should be on the deserving Oregon Ducks and Ohio State Buckeyes, who battled their way into a game that may be viewed by more people than any sporting event in television history. We finally have a semblance of a college football playoff system — I still think eight teams would be more appropriate — but at least there shouldn’t be controversy, except maybe from those Horned Frog fans from TCU.
When the Final Four field was determined, Ohio State was thought to be the square peg in the round hole. Everyone knew that Alabama and Oregon should be included, while it was hard to overlook undefeated and defending national champion Florida State, despite its high-wire trapeze act throughout the season. The real question about the Seminoles was if quarterback Jameis Winston could stay out of trouble long enough to play.
But Ohio State, operating behind its third starting quarterback, proved to be more than worthy. After absorbing an early 21-6 body blow from Alabama, the Buckeyes dominated the rest of the game to send the Crimson Tide home, much to the delight of fans except those associated with the SEC. After all, nobody roots for Goliath.
Oregon is now college football’s hip-hop program, bursting on to the national scene a couple of years ago after decades of toiling in late-night West Coast obscurity. The biggest question before the Ducks play is what combination of colors will they wear as they are backed by NIKE owner Phil Knight, who has outfitted his favorite team in an array of blinding, eye-shielding colors. Tonight, however, they are going to temper it down as they’ll be in a little white-and-gray number, much to the disgust of Vera Wang.
Make no mistake. The glitzy uniforms make a difference to a prospective recruit, who can’t wait to put on those space-ship uniforms.
But the Ducks also have some substance to go along with their style. They are led by Heisman winner Marcus Mariota and an array of sprinter-fast backs and receivers. They play at warped speed, barely giving the defense a chance to catch its breath. The Oregon defense is mediocre, but it doesn’t have to be dominating when its offense can score the way it can. Problem is, Oregon scores so fast that sometimes its own defense is panting.
Normally in a matchup like this, I tend to go with the underdog. Ohio State earned my respect by beating the supposedly invincible Crimson Tide. The Buckeyes have more pedigree than Oregon, having won five national titles while the Ducks are seeking their first.
But I’m a big believer in star power and I suspect Mariota will rise to the occasion and lead the Ducks to the win. I’ll be severely disappointed if this game isn’t played in the high 30s or even low 40s.
Oregon 45, Ohio State 42