College Football Playoff Preview: Rose Bowl


TEAMS: Oregon (12-1, 8-1 Pac-12) vs. Florida State (13-0, 8-0 ACC)

TIME: January 1, 5:00 pm EST

LOCATION: Rose Bowl- Pasadena, California


This is going to be a good one. This game is one of the two inaugural college football playoff semifinal matchups. You have one of the most exciting offenses in college football (Oregon) going up against the defending national champions (Florida State) in one of the greatest college football venues in the country (the Rose Bowl). Also, this game has the last two Heisman Trophy winners facing off against each other in Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. Oh yeah, and Florida State’s 29-game winning streak is on the line.

Let’s first take a look at the Pac-12 champion Oregon Ducks on the offensive side of the ball. Marcus Mariota has simply been amazing as he’s quarterbacked the nation’s No. 3 scoring offense (46.3 ppg). The Heisman Trophy winner put up ridiculous stats: 3,783 passing yards, 38 touchdowns and 2(!) interceptions. He also has 669 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. Wait, there’s more: Mariota also caught a 26-yard touchdown pass in a game this year. He’s truly a unique talent and will be a great challenge for a talented yet underachieving Florida State defense.

Mariota is far from alone on offense. True freshman running back Royce Freeman led the Ducks’ rushing attack with 1,299 yards and 16 touchdowns. Sophomore Thomas Tyner (387 rush yards, 3 touchdowns) and junior Byron Marshall (383 rush yards, 1 touchdown) are two more weapons on this Oregon offense that the Florida State defense will have to account for.

In terms of catching the ball, Mariota has a bunch of options (shocker, right?). Marshall is actually the team’s leading receiver with 814 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns. Freshmen wideouts Devon Allen and Darren Carrington have combined for 1,223 rec. yards and 9 touchdowns, and sophomore wide receiver Dwayne Stanford has 557 rec. yards and 6 touchdowns of his own. Junior Pharaoh Brown (420 rec. yards, 6 touchdowns) is one of the best tight ends in the country.

Due to the fact that the Oregon offense usually steals the headlines, the Duck defense is often overlooked. Oregon actually has the No. 2 scoring defense in the Pac-12 (22.5 ppg) and has some big time playmakers on that side of the ball, too.

Senior defensive back Erick Dargan paced the team in both total tackles (82) and interceptions (6). Senior linebacker Derrick Malone Jr. registered 76 total tackles and junior linebacker Joe Walker made 74 stops. Junior defensive lineman DeForest Buckner leads the team with 12.0 tackles for loss while junior linebacker Christian French leads the Ducks in sacks with 6.5.

One big thing to look at is how Oregon compensates for the loss of All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. The senior is one of the premier defensive backs in the nation and won’t be playing in this game due to a knee injury he suffered in practice leading up to the Rose Bowl. Fellow senior Troy Hill (57 total tackles, 16 pass breakups, 1 interception) will likely be elevated to the No. 1 cornerback spot to try and replace Ekpre-Olomu.

Despite being undefeated, the Florida State Seminoles were very vulnerable this year in various areas. One big reason as to why they weren’t as dominant as last year was the play of Jameis Winston. The redshirt sophomore signal caller threw for 3,559 yards, 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 2014. The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner led the Seminoles to the No. 2 offense in the ACC at 34.8 ppg.

Impressive true freshman Dalvin Cook is Florida State’s leading rusher at 905 yards and 8 touchdowns. Senior running back Karlos Williams went for 609 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns, while sophomore Mario Pender added 201 rushing yards and 4 scores.

Senior wide receiver Rashad Greene (93 catches, 1,306 yards, 7 touchdowns) and senior tight end Nick O’Leary (47 catches, 614 yards, 6 touchdowns) are two of the best in the country at their respective positions. True freshman wideout Travis Rudolph (32 catches, 459 yards, 3 touchdowns) has emerged as a deep threat for Winston and this Seminole offense.

After allowing just 12.1 ppg in 14 games last season, Florida State’s defense has allowed 23.0 ppg in 13 games this season, which is good for sixth in the conference. The talent is still there, so maybe the loss of last year’s defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt (who’s now at Georgia) has been more significant than initially expected.

Junior linebacker Reggie Northrup’s 113 total tackles is by far the most on the team. Junior linebacker Terrance Smith is next with 84 and sophomore defensive back Nate Andrews has 83. In the trenches, junior defensive lineman Mario Edwards leads the team with 11.0 tackles for loss and is a freak athlete. Junior defensive tackle Eddie Goldman paces the Seminoles with 4.0 sacks.

Florida State has intercepted 13 balls this season, including 5 players with 2 interceptions each. One of those guys with 2 interceptions is sophomore defensive back Jalen Ramsey, who could be one of the X-factors in this game. The Tennessee native can do a little bit of everything; he has 76 total tackles, 11 pass breakups, 9.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks and 3 forced fumbles to go along with those 2 interceptions.

The loss of Ifo Ekpre-Olomu has the potential to really hurt the Ducks. He would’ve been the guy to cover Rashad Greene and could’ve taken away Jameis Winston’s favorite target. That puts a ton of pressure on Troy Hill. Mariota and Winston are going to put up points for their respective offenses, so this game is going to come down to which defense can make the big play(s). Each team has plenty of playmakers. Now it’s about who can execute and come up big in crunch time.

Prediction: Oregon 34  Florida State 31