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CFP Championship 2015: Preview, Prediction for Ohio State vs. Oregon

Published by Bleacher Report on Sun, 04 Jan 2015

The quarterbacks on opposing sidelines couldn't be more different. One is among the greatest signal-callers in college football history. The other will be making his third start.The head coaches on opposing sidelines couldn't be more different. One is among the most decorated of his generation, on the verge of becoming the second head coach in the sport's history to win national titles at two different schools. The other is anonymous on the national stage, believed by some to have merely inherited a title roster from his predecessor.So when the proven Urban Meyer takes unproven quarterback Cardale Jones and the proven Marcus Mariota takes unproven coach Mark Helfrich into next Monday's national championship game, expect all eyes to be fixated on those two relationships.Meyer has proven an unbelievable cultivator of talent under center. Dating back to his run at Utah, where he turned Alex Smith into a No. 1 overall pick, Meyer has coaxed the maximum possible performance of his quarterbacks.Nowhere has that been more evident than this Ohio State team. Heading into the preseason, Meyer seemed to have his best situation since the Tim Tebow era at Florida. Braxton Miller was a returning senior whom many viewed as the Heisman favorite, even over reigning champion Jameis Winston and eventual winner Mariota. Miller, of course, never took a regular-season snap after suffering a shoulder injury during camp.Up next was J.T. Barrett, a redshirt freshman who hadn't yet taken a collegiate snap. At first, he looked it. Ohio State's home loss to Virginia Tech in September looked like a terrible omen and nearly kept it out of the College Football Playoffs. Ten wins later, Barrett was a Heisman candidate in his own right before going down with a season-ending injury against rival Michigan.And, yet again, Meyer reached into the well and pulled a guy who could've started for the Arizona Cardinals this weekend. Jones has been mostly excellent in wins over Wisconsin and Alabama, compiling 500 passing yards with four touchdowns against one interception. While he doesn't bring the burst outside on the ground, the sophomore has been a willing ball-carrier in short-yardage situations, throwing his 6'5", 250-pound frame into defenders to keep the chains moving.Alabama coach Nick Saban even went so far as to insinuate Ohio State is actually better with Jonesa more naturally gifted passertaking snaps than Barrett.The one thing that the new quarterback does is he has a tremendous arm, Saban told reporters. And they have some very talented receivers. And the two things that were very apparent is those things became very apparent in the last two games because of the quarterback."Jones has no doubt been helped immensely by running back Ezekiel Elliott, who chose the perfect time to emerge as a superstar. Elliott rushed for 450 yards and four touchdowns over the last two games, breaking off runs of 80 yards or longer in both contests and making life far easier on Jones. It'll be interesting to see if Elliott can keep his hot streak going against a Ducks front seven that has struggled all season to get penetration against the run.When and if Elliott struggles is when we'll likely get any real questions answered about Jones' acumen.On the other sideline, there are few (if any) questions of what the quarterback can do. Mariota continued one of the single best seasons for a quarterback in college football history Thursday, throwing 338 yards and two touchdowns while adding 62 and a score in Oregon's 59-20 thumping of Florida State. An uncharacteristic interception brought his touchdown-to-interception ratio to 40:3 for the season, but his struggles were minor.The Ducks outscored the Seminoles 41-7 in the second half, the type of performance that makes the current seven-point spread (per Oddsshark) not seem surprising. Monday could be something of a full-circle moment for Mariota, who had been held out of the title picture two straight seasons due to disappointing upsets.As for Helfrich, January could prove to be his national coming-out party. For someone with a combined three losses over his two seasons as a head coach, Helfrich remains nationally anonymous. Many view him as the Barry Switzer to Chip Kelly's Jimmy Johnson, taking over a ready-built program because of the comfort he provides rather than his own skills. May media members and fanscame into 2014 talking of the "pressure" on Helfrich to continue Kelly's legacy.But to those in the locker room, Helfrich has never been a placeholder. Players on both sides of the ball speak about the 41-year-old Medford native in reverential terms, almost to the point you wonder if they're happier with Helfrich than they were under the more controlling Kelly.You know, coach Kelly, I think he was veryI wouldn't say stubborn, but he was always finding ways to manipulate our offense into running the same plays over and over again, Mariota told Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News. "I think coach Helfrich really uses different concepts and allows us to get in different situations.Linebacker Tony Washington saying Helfrich "treats us like men" could also be construed as a subtle jabor at the very least a contrastagainst Kelly, who recently had his own bout with control issues with the Eagles.With a win, Helfrich can do the only thing Kelly didn't at Oregon: give the school its first national championship. Oregon has become a national power not just because of the change Kelly brought to the school but also by the big backing of high-profile donors, most notably Nike's Phil Knight. A Ducks national championship would affirm Helfrich's place among the nation's best coaches and continue to prove the real strength in college football remains in the bank account.At the very least, it should be fun to watch.Score Prediction: Oregon 42, Ohio State 31Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter
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