Jesse: And so, as they say, here we go again. Ted, it's been far too long since we have had the joy of doing a Ted and Jesse's Excellent Email Adventure, and I'd be lying if I didn't say I sort of missed it. I mean, obviously it's because we have such amazing points of view, and we don't trail off into the ether ever...
What was I saying? Oh right, here we go again. The time is perfect for such a momentous occasion as well because your Ohio State Buckeyes are playing for a fancy gold trophy that may or may not be a little bit phallic (the answer is definitely may by the way). Anyhow, instead of my boring previews that were destined to just be all, "Oh and then Cardale's like 'Hey fool, I'm big and I run fast', we're treating the Off Tackle Empire to a little bit of Jesse and Ted's stream of consciousness today. Which means, let's just get right to it. I'm literally still trying to figure out how this game will be won. Part of me thinks that's because I want to root for the Ducks - because in an alternate universe I chose teams more wisely as a child - and part of me thinks it's because these two teams mimic each other more than a person could imagine. That said, as an OSU fan, describe the fear you have when you watch the second half of the Oregon-FSU game. I mean, blood and spiders, right?
Ted: Yeah, glad to get back on the horse, as it were. It HAS been far too long, hasn't it?
And that trophy, a little phallic? John Holmes was a little phallic compared to that...thing...that gives the Land Grant Trophy (obligatory PEW PEW LAZERZ) a run for it's ugliness.
But I digress.
Anyway, you were saying...fear? It wasn't so much fear, as it was a combination of being equally parts impressed with Oregon and LOLOLOLOL at Jameis and Florida State. Winston got rightly ripped for saying afterwards that it was anyone's game and FSU beat themselves, but I understand his point. Oregon beat them, let's make no mistake about that, but when you turn the ball over four or five straight times, or whatever it was, you're not going to win football games against teams that good. The thing that impressed me was how opportunistic Oregon's defense is, but I gotta say...when they weren't turning the ball over the Seminoles moved the ball almost at will. And when I look at the matchups on both sides of the ball, I like how the Buckeyes line up on both sides of the ball, especially on both lines. So fear? No, but there's definitely a very, very healthy respect.
The one thing Ohio State HAS to do is limit/eliminate turnovers. They simply cannot do that against Oregon and expect to win. When the Ducks get a turnover, you can sort of see them change, and go from 5th gear into holy crap gear. And when they start moving with that kind of purpose and confidence, they're unstoppable, as FSU found out first hand. When OSU went down 21-6 to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, I thought they weren't quite out of it, because two of those scores were from turnovers and a short field, and Blake Sims hadn't been that impressive. But yeah, they needed that 28-0 run. I'm not sure that would've been possible against Oregon, though. Why, you ask?
Beacause Marcus Mariota isn't Blake Sims, and if Ohio State puts themselves in that kind of a position against Oregon, it could really spiral out of control.
But overall, I agree with you that these two teams mimic each other in a lot of respects. Both offenses are high scoring, but I do like OSU's defense over Oregon's defense. But like I mentioned, Oregon's bend but don't break defense works because they force turnovers, and the Buckeyes have been known to turn the ball over this year. OSU is +10 in turnover margin, but they've thrown 11 interceptions and lost 11 fumbles, where Oregon has only turned the ball over 10 times--combined--all year. So if OSU does cough it up, it seems like the defense would be hard pressed to get the ball back, like they did against Alabama.
That said, in all of this, to me the wildcard is the quarterback battle. Heisman trophy winner and all around good guy Marcus Mariota against Cardale Jones, who before his reclamation project and this two game run was known for an infamous 'we didn't come here to play school' tweet. Mariota has the resume, yet Jones has come out of nowhere and directed an OSU offense that's put up over 1,000 yards of offense and 101 points in two games against two of the best defenses in college football. If Jones hasn't folded under the pressure of a conference championship game against Wisconsin, and showdown against the daddy rabbit of the SEC in Alabama, I don't see him folding in this game. And Mariota gonna Mariota, and that's why he's going to be a top 5 pick in the NFL Draft come April.
Is that the 'X' factor for you in this game? Or do you see it elsewhere, like in the trenches, or with other skill players?
Jesse: First off, let me just say that I probably did the writer hyperbole thing with scared, but you can forgive me a little it. I've spent the last few years worrying whether or not Nebraska is going to be on the ugly end of a beatdown. All that in mind, you bring up some excellent points regarding Oregon's defense. Despite their better play as of late, it does seem like they still allow an enormous amount of yards, and sooner or later bend-don't-break, breaks. Will the Buckeyes be the team to do that consistently? They better because I still think Oregon is going to score and score often.
All of that said, let's dive into this 'x-factor' thing a little deeper. For me, this is generally defined as a non-major entity outperforming or outshining its normal expected outcome. For example, in the B1G CCG, Cardale Jones was the x-factor. We knew nothing about what he might do, and then he did the damn thing and not so long after Ohio State was scoring at will. Three games later? I'm not so sure we haven't come to expect that out of him. Same goes for guys like Ezekiel Elliott and Devin Smith. I think we know more or less what to expect from the major weapons on the Buckeyes side of the ball. Conversely, I think we probably know what Marcus Mariota and his merry band of world beaters can do as well. Royce Freeman terrifies me because of his speed. Byron Marshall is everywhere in games. I'm sure the other twenty receivers at Oregon probably can break a TD at all times. But again, those guys don't seem like x-factors to me because I think we expect them to perform at a high level.
For me, this game will be won and lost not along the lines - although that is important - it will be won by which secondary deals with a side-to-side attack better. If you go back and watch the FSU-Oregon Rose Bowl matchup, the thing that stands out to you is how insanely hard it is to keep up with Oregon's offense in each area of the field. WRs are running free, RBs have lanes, and then there's Mariota. Even with as dominant a D-Line as OSU has had at times, I foresee the Ducks leaking past that group into a LB corp that can be sketchy at times. While the edge defense has certainly been shored up quite a bit, I can't believe for a moment that Oregon isn't the best set of athletes the Buckeyes have seen this year. Sure tackles, good reads, and adjustments at the line will be crucial throughout the entire evening. One mistake costs you a TD. It's really that simple.
On the other side, I think that Oregon has a similar problem. Sure, you can bring some pressure with the line, and maybe you stack the box, but the inside/outside run game coupled with Cardale "ALL I DO IS THROW BOMBS" Jones tossing TDs all day will make life hell for DBs and LBs. It will take an inspired job by the defensive backfield for Oregon, and I'm not sure they can do it, especially without Ife Ekpre-Olumo who will be sorely missed - even moreso than he was against the Seminoles.
So TL;DR? The LBs are the key. Am I completely off? Have I not watched enough football to know I've made an obvious mistake here? Let me have it, Ted. Oh, and while you're at it, tell me how you feel about the Offensive Coordinator battle. Are these two guys the best playcallers in America right now?
Ted: No, you're on to something, but that's not the #1 priority. I think no turnovers and how well Ohio State's defensive line can pressure/contain Mariota is still a slightly bigger deal, but yeah, linebacker play is gonna be huge. And not just linebackers, but linebacker--Darron Lee. He's really become the focal player in QB containment on Ohio State's defense, and how he shadows Mariota will go a long way in determining whether or not Ohio State can slow Oregon's offense down enough to win the game. With the stunning news of Darren Carrington's suspension because of a drug test, coupled with Devon Allen already being out with a knee injury, the job for Ohio State's secondary got easier. That's 78 catches and 1,400 yards of offense that won't play, and that can't be overstated.
Still, Oregon has Marcus Mariota, and Oregon still has fast receivers that can catch and run. If Ohio State gets their hands on Mariota, they have to bring him down, have to. When he gets the ball into their receivers, they have to limit yards after catch and tackle. They did a good job of limiting Amari Cooper in the Sugar Bowl, and with Carrington and Allen out I like their chances a lot more at being able to do that against Oregon than I did a few hours ago.
The offensive coordinators, and the coaching staffs in particular, are an area where I really like OSU here. I mean absolutely no disrespect to Mark Helfrich,Scott Frost, and Don Pellum, but Urban Meyer and and Tom Herman are running this offense on a completely different level. Everyone is drooling over Oregon's offense, but what Herman and Meyer have done is pretty incredible when you really stop and think about it. Less than two weeks before the season starts, Braxton Miller goes down. No worries, just replace one Heisman finalist with another. When J.T. Barrett goes down in the Michigan game, no biggie. Replace him with a guy that leads an offense at an insane level against Wisconsin and Alabama in the teams two biggest games since Meyer became coach. Yeah, they recruit well and all that. Still, you need to develop that talent and put the players in a position to make plays and win the game. Name one other team in the country that could suffer the loss of their top two quarterbacks and still end up in the National Championship game.
And if you had to pick one coach to win one college football game, would you pick Helfrich, or Meyer? So yeah, it's going to be a good game, but Oregon has two big parts of their offense missing, and this all of a sudden battle of attrition seems to be tilting OSU's way, ever so slightly. Which is just stupid crazy when you think about the QB issues OSU has had to deal with this season.
I still can't get away from the play in the trenches, though, especially the Ohio State defensive line against Oregon's offensive line. Them getting pressure on Mariota is essential, and doing it without a lot of blitzing. If they do that, it makes the secondaries job that much easier, and if they don't, a hard job in the secondary might become impossible. Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett, and Steve Miller are going to set the tone for the defense, and I think we'll know pretty fast if they'll have the advantage. The defensive line for Ohio State will set the tone for the game for them, in my opinion, and how they play determines, in a large part, whether they win or not.
But what's going to be your early 'tell' for Oregon? I mean, what are you going to be looking at early on to jump out, and what will that portend for you either way?
Jesse: Finishing is what stands out to me. In both the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl, the biggest weakness Oregon and Ohio State both showed early was an inability to finish. In fact, until Ezekiel Elliott finally punched it in for the Buckeye's first TD - keeping the FG team on the sideline - it was looking like Alabama was going to pull off an Oregon, bend all you want without breaking. In the Oregon-FSU game, there were some missed opportunities in that first half that not only kept the Seminoles in the game, but made it possible for FSU to almost take a lead going into the half. It was a weird, "Hey look, the tide is changing," type of feel and even the most staunch Ducks fan had to feel a little uneasy by the situation.
The final scores for each game indicated that both teams finally learned how to finish, but I keep coming back to this point because if this game becomes a track meet, trading FGs for TDs at any point in time could spell disaster. I have watched a decent amount of each team this season, and something I appreciate about both Hellfrich and Meyer is that they understand you go for the kill when you can. Turn the ball over on downs? Turn the ball over in general? They'll get going in a hurry and before you know it, the second half of the Rose Bowl is happening and your team starts panicking and OMG WINSTON JUST FELL DOWN AND GAVE THE BALL TO OREGON AS SURRENDER!
Now, I don't believe either team's offense will panic after every mistake, but for as good as each is, they have their foibles. The injuries and suspension to Oregon will be an interesting storyline to monitor, but even at skill positions like WR and Hybrid Offensive Threat, they sort of plug and play. Ohio State can and will turn the ball over as well. For all of the talk about the offensive powerhouse that each team is, they can make mistakes and those little things can turn a game from a tightly contested affair into an insane blowout that doesn't make a lot of sense. Again, in summation, my early tell will be who is finishing. Get a TD on the first drive? Good things are coming. Settle for a few FGs -or- heaven forbid, punt? Not good for anyone. Each team expects to score on every possession and I think the team that doesn't follow through on that promise loses badly.
With that in mind, give me your thoughts as an OSU fan on schedules. The Big Ten has acquitted itself quite nicely over the past couple of months, but we're sort of kidding ourselves if we continue to overlook the Pac 12. They've sort of killed it in bowl season, and that ignores what was a solid year in the non-con. Are either of these teams more prepared? Can we glean anything from what each team's conference brethren has brought to the table? Is it possible the Pac 12 was the best conference in the land this year?
Ted: I think both teams have been battle tested. The death of the B1G has been greatly exaggerated, it seems, and yeah, you can make a strong argument that the Pac-12 was the strongest conference in college football this year. But let's assume for a second that most people thought Oregon and OSU played a joke of a schedule, which nether did. By winning a conference championship game and rolling FSU and Alabama like both teams did, the weak schedule argument went out the door.
And it was a weak argument to begin with, to be honest. Because if conference championship games didn't matter, and how teams perform in them didn't matter, then either Baylor or TCU probably would have taken the fourth playoff spot. But the results as they played out (Baylor beating TCU in the regular season, MSU beating Baylor in the Cotton Bowl, OSU pantsing Sparty, and Wisconsin beating Auburn), and then the results in the semifinal pretty much made any 'weak argument schedule' moot.
Basically, TCU and Baylor can suck it. The playoff committee got it 100% right, and you were done in by not winning the games you should have when you should have, and not having 'one true champion' in your conference. Win the games you should, have your conference establish a conference championship game, and then yeah, we'll talk.
So the two best teams are playing for the championship, and they're going to decide it on the field. Or do you think they should have had eight teams in the field?
Jesse: Oh Ted... What are you doing?!?! Why are you bringing up *hushed tones* eight team fields?
/the Hoards Descend
Okay, sure it's really not that big of a deal if we went to eight. As much as it pains me to admit, the playoffs were much more fun than I anticipated, and for what it's worth, the matchups proved to be very entertaining and now we will see what are arguably the two best teams playing for the title. That, in general, is a pretty big win for the committee, right? On the other hand, I have to also point out that this is still less a playoff and more of a, "Hey, we chose four teams on somewhat arbitrary guidelines and it worked out! WE'RE AWESOME!" The back-patting that the College Football world seems to be giving itself ignores the reality that there very easily could have been an undefeated Big XII team, and we knocked out those two teams based on what was legitimately poor foresight by their commissioner. Dumb? Yeah, dumb.
Anyhow, what was your question? Oh, eight team fields. I'm fine with whatever so long as we all agree that championships are whatever the criteria happens to be that year. It doesn't always make it better, but more games are fun so let's do it. If we go to eight, we need to get on campus games, though. I don't know how Oregon and Ohio State fans feel, but asking me to go to a Conference Championship Game in a different city, then fly to a Semifinal, then fly to a Final (not to mention buy hotels, tickets, food, etc.) is a little crazy. I made a passing reference in one of the potlucks, but C.R.E.A.M. is basically College Football's mantra these days. Cash does indeed rule everything, and ignoring that to feel good about what is legitimately a good matchup seems silly. However, it's also that very reason - the cash thing - that eight teams is totally inevitable.
Okay, so playoffs aside, we've basically decided this whole thing is awesome. Ohio State Buckeyes, Oregon Ducks, and firepower everywhere on the field. I think it's about that time we start coming in for the landing and discuss possible outcomes for the game. Oh, and what's your favorite prop bet for the game?
Ted: I see this game going one of two ways. I think we're either going to have this ridiculously entertaining game that goes back and forth. It'll be high scoring, both defenses will make their mark, but it will still come down to a 'whoever has the ball last wins' kind of game. At the end of it, you'll immediately understand that we just witnessed an all time great game, and years from now we'll be 'wow, just...wow.' Or, the enormity of the moment and the bright lights will be too much for one team, they'll make a few mistakes, and the game becomes a blowout. It's either going to be like a 45-42 game, or a 50-21 type game. I know who I want to win, but honestly, either team is good enough to win this. And either team is good enough to win it in the manner I just predicted. As for prop bets, I think the easy money would be combined TD passes and interceptions by Cardale Jones. The over/under is 2 1/2, and I'm thinking take the over and collect your money at halftime.
Okay Jesse, we're on final, tower's cleared us to land, and you've got the controls. Grease the landing and wrap this up. Thanks for letting me fly the friendly OTE skies with you again.
Jesse: I get to finish up? I like it. I think you're pretty much right on with your predictions. While it's sort of a given that points will be scored, you can't underscore how important it will be for both Oregon and Ohio State to keep up with each other. I mentioned it in the comments this week, but I think it would be crazy of either team to try to slow the game down at all. Putting pressure on your defense doesn't sound like a good idea, but contrary to popular belief, I think these games come down to offense putting pressure on the other team's offense. Affect and pressure the situation. If either team scores on its first two possessions, what does that do to the other team? I think this game will be won by whoever doesn't screw up, and while I love the Buckeyes in this matchup, I also can't deny that Oregon is really good at capitalizing on turnovers. Nonetheless, I feel like I have to commit to a prediction...
Ohio State 45