The 15th Game

The First Playoff Championship


mfpIn 1939, 76 years ago, two teams met to compete for the first championship of its kind; the NCAA Men’s Basketball championships.   Those two teams were Oregon and Ohio State, the same two teams who will compete to win the first Playoff Championship. 

Ohio State has seven claimed titles dating back to 1942, with the most recent being in 2002.  And, in a bit of irony, the last time Ohio State played for a championship, they lost to a Florida team coached by Urban Myer.  This would be the first football National Championship for Oregon, however.   While the Buckeyes definitely have the edge in claimed titles, how are they going to stack up on the field tonight?

(As always, all stats are against Power Five opponents only)


Here is a stat that should define this category.  

Marcus Mariota’s passing TD this season: 40

Cardale Jones pass completions this season: 40

That is not a typo.   I checked it twice.  In that span of completions Cardale Jones has racked up an 83% TD to turnover ratio, however, throwing 6 TDs and only one pick, in route to putting together a nice 153.4 QB rating.   Mariota, on the other hand. Has a 93% ratio, tossing 40 TDs with only 3 interceptions, earning an outstanding 184.4 rating this season.   Mariota won the Heisman.   Jones started the season as the third string quarterback.   While Ohio State is pretty happy with how Jones is playing, he is no Mariota.

The top four teams in scoring look like this; #1 Oregon, #2 TCU, #3 Baylor, and #4 Ohio State.    In twelve games against Power Five opponents Oregon has scored 551 points with 72 TDs.   In eleven games Ohio State has scored 480 points with 65 TDs.   Neither is a slouch in this department so the scoring should be through the roof tonight. 

What I find a bit surprising is that Oregon and Ohio State are not in the top ten in passing offenses.  Oregon is just outside at #11 with 306.8 yards per game on average.   However they run the ball better than most give them credit.  Averaging 235.83 yards on the ground per game, they get 5.28 yards per rushing attempt and have made the end zone 33 times.    What is even more impressive is that Oregon has only turned the ball over 9 times all season, or 0.75 per game.  

Ohio State is not as proficient as Oregon, but a lot of that could be due to playing their third quarterback this year.  Their strength is running behind big guys with a 255.73 yard per game and 5.97 yards per play average with 30 TDs scored on the ground.   This has been good enough for them to win in the Big Ten, but they haven’t had to air it out much, averaging just 233.2 yards per game through the air.  While they collected 29 touchdowns, they also tripled Oregon’s interception total, granted, with multiple quarterbacks.    Overall Ohio State has turned it over more than double Oregon’s rate, with 1.7 TO per game. 

The Buckeyes took it to a miserable Alabama defense, but remember Oregon beat down the defending champs.   The one offensive aspect that Ohio State needs to use to its advantage is time of possession.   They average around four more minutes per game than Oregon and they have to do that to keep Oregon off the field.   That being said, there is no one in the nation better than Oregon at scoring per minute.   If this becomes a shootout, Ohio State is going to have a difficult time trading TDs all game since it takes them longer to score.





As funny as it may sound, with two high scoring playoff games, but defense really turned the tide for both Oregon and Ohio State.   Jamis Winston, a Heisman winning quarterback on the defending national championship team, was basically playing with an offensive lineman in his lap all game.   The Duck’s defensive line created a ton of pressure and pushed turnovers…a lot of them.   Florida State had seven fumbles, four of which were recovered by the Ducks.   Seven.   That’s some busy hands.   By the same token, Ohio State’s secondary cooled down Alabama’s passing game and had three interceptions to boot.   Those extra possessions help immensely.  

As far as the season goes, both teams are nearly identical in terms of scoring defense, giving up 22 points per game.   On the ground Ohio State yields less yards (136.45 to Oregon’s 154.83), but gives up more touch downs, 22 to Oregon’s 16.   And that is with Oregon playing one more Power Five game than the Buckeyes.  Oregon’s pass defense is nearly 70 yards worse than Ohio State’s, but here’s the kicker; Oregon has given up 18 TDs and captured 11 interceptions.   Ohio State has given up 11 touch downs and nabbed 21 interceptions.

The other side of that argument goes easily into the Duck’s benefit.   Oregon leads the nation against Power Five opponents with 17 forced fumbles.   Ohio State is still in the top ten, however, with 13 forced fumbles. 

This is a tough call, because while Oregon clearly gives up more yards, they also allow less points per yard than Ohio State.   Both teams have some ball hawks working for them as well.   I want to give Ohio State the edge, but it is simply too close.   The margin of error evens it out.   However, whichever one of these defenses figures out how to get the ball more will swing the game drastically the way these two teams can score.



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Special Teams

When it comes to punt returns, both teams are similar, but Oregon has the edge.   In 22 returns, Oregon averaged 13.82 yards per return and scored once.   Ohio State averaged only 9.65 yards per kick on 26 returns, scoring once as well.  

Kickoff returns, which may matter more in this game if the score continues to climb, doesn’t really favor anyone.   In 34 returns, Ohio State averaged 22.18 yards per return, with no scores.   Oregon, on 35 returns, averaged 21 yards per kick, without scoring.  

Perhaps it is an indication of team speed, but when defending punts Oregon puts on the clamps.   They only punted seven times in 12 games, but in those punts they held their opponent to 2.71 yards per punt return, and no scores.   Ohio State, on 10 punts in 11 games, has nearly double the return yards against them at 5.80 per return. 

Like the punting conversation, defending kicks will probably be more pivotal than punts.   When looking at those numbers Ohio State seems to have a slight edge, allowing 17.48 yards per return on 48 kicks.   Oregon gave up 22.32 yards per kick, but they kicked it a Power Five leading 76 times this year, not giving up a touchdown in any of those kicks. 

With both of these being close, let’s look at touch backs and field goals to see if we can break the tie.  For touch backs it seems Ohio State will return a few more, on average, as Oregon only has a 23% touchback ratio per kick.  Ohio State isn’t too much better at 33%, but that could mean one less kick returned per game.   With the kind of speed each team has, any chance you can keep them from breaking one is a benefit. 

The difference in this game may actually lie in Field Goals, if you can believe that.   This season Oregon has hit 84.2% of their field goals, where Ohio State has hit only 53.3% of theirs.   If Oregon’s bend but don’t break defense can hold, they could gain a point advantage.





National Championships:

Urban Myer = 2

Mark Helfrich = 0





Oregon has seven guys in street clothes his game, whereas Ohio State has five.   However, two of those five are Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett.  That leaves little wiggle room, however Oregon would be just as crushed if they lost Mariota tonight.   The big news is Darren Carrington being suspended for the game for the Ducks.   He had 165 yards and two touchdowns against Florida State.   It also means Oregon may not be able to run as many plays if they run out of fresh legs.  Ohio State has won without Miller and Barrett, can Oregon find someone to step in for Carrington?




Schedule/Common Opponent

Oregon plays in the weakest division of the strongest football conference in the nation.  They played 12 Power five teams this year, with a ranking of 33, and their only loss came against 10-4 Arizona.   Ohio State played 11 Power Five opponents, with a 42 ranking, but lost to 7-6 Virginia Tech.    Since Oregon played in the Pac North, which is kind of like playing in the Big Ten, it is a bit of a wash.

Against Michigan State, their one common opponent, Ohio State beat them 49-37, giving up 536 yards of offense, but gaining 568, including 268 on the ground.   However, J.T. Barrett was at the helm passing for 300 yards and three touchdowns.   Oregon beat them 46-27, however they held Michigan State to only three points after half.   Additionally, Mariota was at the helm for the Ducks, putting up numbers equal to Barrett’s.  Unfortunately we didn’t get to see Jones against Sparty.





With all the numbers presented, I think one not discussed will be the key to this game, sixteen.   That is how many seconds, on average, Oregon runs a play.   Sixteen seconds.   They’ve lost their leading receiver, which may slow this down some, but if they can run a play in sixteen seconds tonight Ohio State is going to be hurting.   Look at Oregon’s opponents, generally they are tied or ahead leaning into the half, then fade and make mistakes in the second half.   This is because they are spent.   They cannot substitute as fast and they are running non stop.

Sixteen.   Watch for it.

As for the score, I’m going with the same score from the basketball championship 76 years ago:

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