Ohio State is looking for its first national title since 2002. Oregon is seeking its first, period.
Pac-12 champion Oregon and Big Ten champion Ohio State will meet in Arlington, Texas, at the home of the Cowboys on Jan. 12 in the first College Football Playoff championship game.
“It’s perfect,” Oregon linebacker Derrick Malone Jr. said. “I need another game. I’m glad I can still be a part of this. If we didn’t have another game I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.”
The Ducks (13-1) and Buckeyes (13-1) last played in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, in 2010. Ohio State won that game 26-17. Now the Rose Bowl comes to Texas, but with so much more at stake.
Cardale Jones, Ezekiel Elliott and fourth-seeded Ohio State rallied, and then held on for a 42-35 victory over No. 1 Alabama at the Sugar Bowl on Thursday night.
Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and Oregon had it much easier. The second-seeded Ducks crushed Florida State 59-20 at the Rose Bowl.
“Oregon won by 40?” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said, startled when he heard about the results during his postgame news conference in New Orleans. “I gotta go. We gotta go get ready for that one.”
The oddsmakers have installed the Ducks as seven-point favorites.
The College Football Playoff, a four-team tournament that replaced the Bowl Championship Series, has provided a jolt to the sport.
The BCS matched the top two teams and didn’t allow much room for error. An early slip often could spell doom for a team’s national title hopes.
In the old system, it would have been very difficult for Ohio State to recover from a September home loss to Virginia Tech. The Buckeyes were a team looking for an identity back then. They had lost star quarterback Braxton Miller to a preseason injury and redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett was still developing.
Ohio State lost by 14 to the Hokies on the same day Oregon beat Michigan State.
Two weeks into the season, the Big Ten was already being counted out for the first playoff.
But a funny thing happened. Ohio State just kept getting better.
Barrett turned into a Heisman contender, but then in the season finale against Michigan, he broke his ankle. In stepped Jones, who helped Ohio State blast Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game to earn the final spot in the playoff.
It was no fluke. The Buckeyes beat Alabama, eliminating the Southeastern Conference from title contention. After winning seven straight national championships in the BCS, it’s now two straight seasons in which the SEC won’t wear the crown.
Oregon’s loss came at home, too, in early October against Arizona.
The Ducks have been a juggernaut since, winning nine straight games, all by double digits and scoring at least 42 points in each. Ohio State can put up some points, too. The Buckeyes haven’t scored less than 31 since losing 35-21 to Virginia Tech.
The Ducks and Buckeyes run similar spread offenses.
“We know Oregon. I’ll probably be able to call Oregon’s plays because we study them and they study us,” Meyer said. “There’s a mutual respect.”
For what it’s worth, Ohio State is 8-0 all-time against Oregon.
And think about this: Alabama and Florida State were Nos. 1 and 2 in the final regular-season Associated Press and USA Today coaches’ polls. There’s a good chance that in the BCS the championship game would have been Tide vs. Seminoles with Oregon and Ohio State playing a traditional Big Ten-Pac-12 Rose Bowl for nothing but pride.
Now they’ll take it to Texas for a championship game with which no one can argue.
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