Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Cram Session: 2015 College Football Playoff Semi-Finals

College Football Playoff Semi-Final

Rose Bowl

#2 Oregon (12-1) vs. #3 Florida State (13-0) in Pasadena, CA

The last two Heisman trophy winners face off as Jameis Winston and Florida State take on Marcus Mariota and the Ducks. The Seminoles have been squeaking by all season and many believe that having to play Oregon will be what finally exposes the Seminoles as fluke frauds.

Mariota has been absurdly good this season. He has thrown 38 TDs versus just 2 INTs. He had at least 2 touchdown passes in every start and hasn't thrown a pick since November 1 against Stanford. He is a large reason the Ducks offense is 3rd in the country in scoring, at 46 points per game. The Ducks were held under 30 points just once this season, and that was their lone loss of the season to Arizona. Mariota has two dangerous receivers in Byron Marshall and Devon Allen. Allen is just a freshman but led the Ducks in receiving touchdowns with 7. Most of those touchdowns were accumulated early on in the season, as Allen went 7 straight games without a touchdown before the Pac-12 Championship game against Arizona. The junior Marshall led the Ducks in catches with 61, but Mariota does a nice job of spreading the ball around so the defense can't key on just one person. Other contributing receivers include Dwayne Stanford, Pharaoh Brown, Charles Nelson and Keanon Lowe. Mariota also has an excellent backfield at his disposal, with freshman Royce Freeman and Mariota himself. Freeman led the Ducks with 16 touchdowns and almost 1,300 yards rushing this season. Mariota scored 14 rushing touchdowns himself, and has a rushing touchdown in his past 5 games.

The Seminoles offense wasn't near as potent as it was last season but they still have plenty of weapons. Winston was up and down all season, and it made zero sense that he received Heisman votes while throwing 17 interceptions. However, he is coming off his best performance of the season, in the ACC Championship game against Georgia Tech. He avoided turnovers in that game, threw three touchdowns and passed for 309 yards. Winston has to play similarly against Oregon to give Florida State a chance in this game. If he is turning the ball over like crazy, the Ducks offense will take advantage and will do it to a level that the Seminoles won't be able to come back from. Freshman Dalvin Cook has emerged as the Seminoles lead back, leapfrogging senior Karlos Williams. Williams missed the ACC Championship but will play in this game. Cook and Williams give the Seminoles a pretty formidable one-two punch in the backfield. Jimbo Fisher should be looking to pound the ball often with those two, and test the Oregon defensive front. While Oregon has about 5 or 6 receivers that can burn a team, Florida State's receiving corps is mostly about Rashad Greene. Greene has 93 catches this season and over 1,300 yards receiving. Oregon's secondary will be all over him, which could open up opportunities for TE Nick O'Leary and receivers Travis Rudolph and Jesus Wilson.

The Ducks have a more balanced offensive attack then Florida State and also a better defense. The Seminoles will have to pull a 2013 performance out of their you know what's if they want to continue their 29-game winning streak. The Seminoles have shown amazing resiliency this season but you can't win forever and they appear overmatched against the Ducks.

Prediction: Oregon 34, Florida State 24

College Football Playoff Semi-Final

Sugar Bowl

#1 Alabama (12-1) vs. #4 Ohio State (12-1) in New Orleans, LA

This game is almost more about Ohio State attempting to validate their presence in this game over Baylor. To me, you lose at home to a terrible Virginia Tech team and you have no business playing for a national title. However, I think the committee bought into the brand that is Ohio State, which is a much stronger brand than Baylor and that is why the Buckeyes are in New Orleans.

Ohio State was able to crush Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship, 59-0, despite starting their third string quarterback Cardale Jones. Jones will get the start in this game, but the skill level between Wisconsin and Alabama figures to throw him for a bit of a loop. Jones was excellent against Wisconsin but there is a reason he started off this season third on the quarterback depth chart. The Badgers may have taken Jones lightly, but Nick Saban and the Tide have had a month to prepare for Jones. If the Buckeyes are going to keep this game interesting, it will be on the back of running back Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott averages 6.5 yards per carry and has rushed for over 1,400 yards this season. He shredded the Badgers for 220 yards on the ground and took a ton of pressure off Jones in the process. It sounds like hyperbole but the Buckeyes chances of winning this game almost single-handedly rest on how well Elliott plays. The Buckeyes passing game is one that is more about finding its spots and then hitting a big play. While the Buckeyes offense mostly revolves around their rushing attack, they do have receivers capable of gaining huge chunks of yards. Ohio State's leading receivers are Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Devin Smith. Thomas averages 16 yards per catch and had 8 touchdowns this season, while Smith averages an absurd 27 yards per catch and has 11 touchdowns. The Buckeyes offense has relied on the big play all season long, so it will be interesting to see how well the Bama defense stops the big play. The Tide defense was strong all season aside from a poor performance against Auburn.

Crimson Tide senior quarterback Blake Sims has really come into his own this year. He had to battle for the job at the beginning of the year, but now the offense is clearly his. He was struggling mightily against Auburn as Alabama's season hang in the balance, but Saban stuck with him and Sims rewarded him for his faith by playing a flawless second half. Sims has a 65% completion percentage this season and just had his strongest performance of the season in the SEC Championship against Missouri, where he was 23 of 27 for 262 yards and 2 touchdowns. Against a Buckeyes defense that is decent but not exceptional, Sims has the chance to pick apart the Buckeyes secondary, throwing to the best receiver in the country, Amari Cooper. Cooper is like watching a man amongst boys when he plays. He has 115 catches on the season and 25 in his past two games. Urban Meyer and Buckeyes will throw different coverages and looks at Sims to try to mess up his and Cooper's rhythm. The only team that has managed to slow down Cooper this season was Arkansas, so chances are no matter what Ohio State does, Cooper will get his. The Buckeyes should focus mostly on trying to take out the Bama rushing attack. T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry are a potent one-two rushing attack. They get about an equal amount of touches and both averaged over 5 yards per carry and ran for 10 touchdowns.

There is no denying that the Buckeyes offense has been spectacular this season. But asking a third string quarterback to beat a Bama defense that has had a month to prepare for him seems like too tall of an order. I think it will become apparent quickly that Jones is outmatched and this game will turn ugly pretty fast.

Prediction: Alabama 38, Ohio State 13

Overall: 104-32

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