Dallas–When the creation of the College Football Playoff was announced, there was little doubt the first championship game would be here. Where else could it be but the biggest, shiniest, all-the-bells-and-whistles home of the Dallas Cowboys? There was no way that Jerry Jones, the Cowboys’ colorful/rich owner, was going to let it be held anywhere else.
In case you’re wondering, the next two CFP national championship games will be in Glendale, Ariz. (Jan. 11, 2016) and Tampa (Jan. 9, 2017). At least two more sites will be announced soon and Atlanta, which will have a new stadium by then, will bid for 2018.
And this much we can say about the new four-team playoff: Fans who have been clamoring that they want to see the championship decided in the field and not in the polls finally got their wish. Under the old BCS system Alabama and Florida State would have been playing for the championship Monday night. Ohio State (13-1) and Oregon (13-1) earned their way into the game by beating those two teams. What could be fairer than that?
Don’t say eight. Just don’t. We are nowhere near that conversation.
I’ll take a look at the key match ups of this game on Monday morning. Until then, here are three tidbits each on Oregon and Ohio State to keep in mind as you make your final pick:
1) Turnover margin: I think it’s the most important stat in football because turnovers change the game more quickly that anything else. A team that is plus double-digits in turnovers (lost vs. gained) is usually pretty good. Oregon is a whopping plus-20 in turnovers (30 forced, only 10 lost).
2) Oregon’s tempo: We all know the Ducks like to move fast. How fast? They have 84 drives this season that resulted in touchdowns. Fifty-one of those drives lasted 2:15 or less. The opposing defense can’t catch its breath and the opposing offense thinks it has to score on every possession. That’s pressure.
3) How talented is Oregon? I’ll break down QB Marcus Mariota on Monday but consider this: In 2014 sophomore Byron Marshall ran for 1,038 yards. But then Royce Freeman arrived and he became the first freshman in Oregon history to rush for over a 1,000 yards (1,343). Oregon moved Marshall to wide receiver where he caught 66 passes this season.
1) Ezekiel Elliott: When quarterback J.T. Barrett got hurt and could not play in the Big Ten championship Elliott, the sophomore running back, was told he would have to pick up the slack. He ran for 220 yards against Wisconsin and then another 230 against Alabama. With all of the great backs who have played at Ohio State (Archie Griffin and Eddie George come quickly to mind), Elliott is the first to post back-to-back games of over 200 yards.
2) The Heisman finalists: There were three this season and after Monday night’s game Ohio State will have faced them all. The Buckeyes held Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, the nation’s leading rusher, to under 100 yards. They held Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, who had torched everybody all season, to 71 yards on nine catches. Now Ohio State’s defense faces the Heisman winner in Mariota.
3) Urban Meyer: I’ll have more on the Ohio State coach on Monday but munch on these numbers until then. Not only is Meyer 37-3 as Ohio State’s head coach, the Buckeyes are 5-0 as an underdog since he came to Columbus. In Meyer’s career (141-26 overall), his teams are 39-3 with more than one week to prepare.
Does that mean I’m picking an upset? We’ll discuss it again on Monday.