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The Oregon Ducks (12-1) of the Pac-12 are set to take on the defending college football champion Florida State Seminoles (13-0) of the ACC. The Seminoles take a 29-game winning streak into the Rose Bowl, a streak that started in 2012 when they defeated Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship.
Never before has a matchup featuring two Heisman-winning quarterbacks had stakes this high. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston are the last two Heisman winners, making them the most recognizable players in all of college football.
Both will probably be selected near the top of the 2015 draft, with Mariota being the frontrunner to go No. 1 overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He brings a rare combination of athleticism, poise and size to the quarterback position. He finished the season with 4,452 yards (669 rushing) and a Pac-12 record 52 total touchdowns. He beat opponents throwing the ball downfield, and with his scrambling. He’ll have success doing both against Florida State.
From a statistical standpoint, Winston is coming off a disappointing regular-season. He completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 3,559 yards and 24 touchdowns. By comparisons, he completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 4,057 yards, and 40 touchdowns in 2013. His interception total rose to 17 this season from 10 a year ago.
His ability to closeout games, though, still makes him among the most feared players in college football history. Florida State had seven games this season decided by less than a touchdown, and Winston played a crucial role in six of them. He delivers in the clutch, regardless of the situation. The closer the game, the better he plays.
Both defenses will have a major bearing on which team advances to the national championship, even if they played a supporting role in getting to this point.
Florida State’s defense was among the best in football last season, holding 12 of their 14 opponents to less than 20 points. They repeated that feat just five times this year.
Defensive back Jalen Ramsey is their key player, and he must play his best game of the year if the Seminoles are to slowdown Mariota. As Lamarcus Joyner did last season, Ramsey plays close to the line of scrimmage. He covers the slot, blitzes, and is terrific in run support. Spying Mariota is a big key to containing him, and Ramsey is as good as a candidate as any to fulfill the role.
Nobody ever mistakes Oregon for a defensive-oriented team, but their performance against UCLA is a good blueprint for them to use against the defending champions. Like the Seminoles, the Bruins feature a future first-round talent at quarterback with Brett Hundley. Oregon played him well, holding him to less than 300 yards. His only touchdown against them came in garbage time. Winston isn’t as athletic as Hundley is, but he’s better from the pocket. The Ducks were able to throw Hundley out of synch. Doing so to Winston could be the difference between victory and defeat.
And the Winner is…
Florida State over Oregon was my preseason championship game pick. My belief, at the time, was that Florida State was college football’s most talented team. Last year’s team was the most talented since the 2001 Miami Hurricanes, and I expected them to reload just as the Hurricanes did.
I still feel this way to some extent. From a talent standpoint, they are the best in college football. However, they’ve been playing with fire with each passing game.
When you play with fire, you’re bound to burn yourself.
Oregon 42 Florida State 31