Ohio State (49--37) and Oregon (46--27) each beat Michigan State this year. Those scores and a long list of stats suggest a close final
SEMINOLES BACKS Dalvin Cook and Karlos Williams averaged 6.8 yards a carry against Oregon, so the 6-foot, 225-pound Elliott should be effective on the ground. (He'll need to make ball protection a high priority, though: The Ducks scored twice in the decisive third quarter after strips of Cook.) Oregon will have a difficult time dragging down the 6'5", 250-pound Jones (his listed weight, which might be a few biscuits low), but if Armstead, Buckner and Washington can beat the Buckeyes' blockers as frequently as they did Florida State's, they can force the QB into costly mistakes. Ohio State, meanwhile, can't expect Mariota, who has thrown only three interceptions all season, to cough up the ball as Sims did. With Tyner (9.5 yards a carry against Florida State) back from a shoulder injury to join Freeman and Mariota, the Ducks' running game will create ample opportunities for the Heisman winner to make plays through the air.
THE PICK: OREGON 45, OHIO STATE 41
THE DUCKS crushed the myth that they're soft with a 59--20 Rose Bowl blowout of a Florida State team loaded with future NFL draft picks. Defensive linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, both juniors, and senior linebacker Tony Washington repeatedly harassed Jameis Winston, and an offensive line again led by senior center Hroniss Grasu—who played for the first time since injuring his lower left leg on Nov. 8—blasted holes for backs Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner, who combined for 168 yards. Oregon's pass defense was supposed to suffer after losing All-America cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu to a right ACL tear, but senior Troy Hill handled star receiver Rashad Greene while freshman Chris Seisay and senior Dior Mathis capably manned the other corner: The Ducks forced five turnovers that led to 34 points. Other than an uncharacteristic interception, Marcus Mariota showed why he dominated the Heisman Trophy voting, throwing for 338 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 62 yards and a score.
THE BUCKEYES also exposed a misconception on Jan. 1—the one about the Big Ten having slower teams than the SEC. Sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott outran Alabama's entire secondary for an 85-yard touchdown that clinched Ohio State's 42--35 win, racking up a Sugar Bowl--record 230 rushing yards on 23 carries. And in only his second career start, sophomore Cardale Jones outplayed second-team All-SEC quarterback Blake Sims. Jones made some decisions that reflected his inexperience, but he passed for 243 yards and a touchdown and ran for 43 more. Ohio State's defense flummoxed Sims all night, sacking him three times and coming up with three picks. The Tide's offensive line struggled against senior tackle Michael Bennett and sophomore end Joey Bosa, who opened gaps that allowed freshman linebacker Darron Lee to rack up seven tackles, including three for a loss.
BY THE NUMBERS
OSU AND OREGON LOOK VERY SIMILAR IN A LOT OF KEY STATS
ROBERT BECK/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
JEFF HAYNES FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (JONES)