When: Monday, Jan. 12, 8:30PM EST
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Ohio State owns seven national titles (1942, 1954, 1957, 1961, 1968, 1970 and 2002), Oregon has never won a national championship in football.
Oregon and Ohio State have met eight times in history, the Buckeyes winning on every occasion. The series dates back to 1958 and includes two postseason meetings: The 1958 and 2010 Rose Bowls.
The Buckeyes have outscored the Ducks 190-69 all-time, the narrowest margin of victory coming in a 10-7 decision in the 1958 Rose Bowl.
This is only the second time in history the two teams have met as ranked foes, the other being when then No. 8 Ohio State beat No. 7 Oregon in the 2010 Rose Bowl.
This is Oregon’s Mark Helfrich’s second year as a college head coach, he’s 3-1 all-time vs. Top 10 opponents.
Ohio State’s Urban Meyer is in his 13th season as a college head coach, he’s 14-5 all-time vs. the Top 10. He’s won two previous national championships, 2006 and 2008 at Florida.
Not only have these two never met as head coaches, they’ve never squared off on opposing staffs at any point in their coaching careers.
How They Got Here
Oregon’s 13-1 record includes seven wins over teams that went on to bowl eligibility, five over losing FBS teams and one vs. a 2-10 program from the FCS. The Ducks went 3-0 in regular-season, non-conference play, beating FCS South Dakota, Michigan State (Big Ten) and Wyoming (Mountain West).
Oregon’s only loss came to 10-4 Arizona. Overall, they beat teams that finished the season 90-76 (54%), five of which were ranked in the final CFB Playoff rankings.
Ohio State’s 13-1 record includes 10 wins over teams that went on to bowl eligibility and three losing FBS teams. The Buckeyes went 3-1 in non-conference play, beating Navy (Independent), Kent State (MAC) and Cincinnati (American Athletic) and losing to Virginia Tech (ACC).
Ohio State’s only loss was to the 7-6 Hokies. Overall, they beat teams that finished 98-69 (60%), four of which finished the year ranked in the CFB Playoff rankings.
Though there are a ton of ways to approach how Oregon and Ohio State matchup, following are six of the biggest strength vs. weakness matchups between the two. Each presents an opportunity for one team to expose a weakness of the other, simply by doing something they’ve done well all year.
Forced Fumbles: Only one team has forced more fumbles than Oregon (20), it’s the backbone of its No. 10 ranking in takeaways. This sets up well vs. an Ohio State offense that ranks No. 82 in fumbles lost with 11, including multiple drops vs. Kent State, Michigan State and Minnesota.
Remember, the Ducks forced four fumbles in the win over Florida State in the semi-final, winning the game 59-20 despite giving up 528 yards of offense to the Noles.
Big Plays: Only one team has recorded more plays of 10-plus (276) and 20-plus (101) yards this season than Oregon has, Marshall with 278 and 111. It’s also been a balanced attack, the Ducks rank No. 7 in the FBS in long rushing plays and No. 7 in long passing plays.
This is presents a challenge for an Ohio State defense that ranks No. 71 in opponent’s long scrimmage plays, No. 67 in opponent’s long rushing plays and No. 74 in opponent’s long passing plays. Though this isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, even one or two big plays in a tight game could make the difference.
Against Alabama, the Buckeyes gave up plays of 18, 21, 51 and 52 yards in the second half alone, keeping the game closer than it would have been otherwise. The Ducks scored plays of 18, 21, 23, 30 (twice), 34, 35, and 56 yards in the second half vs. Florida State, four for touchdowns.
Red Zone Touchdowns: Only two teams in the FBS have allowed more touchdowns in the red zone than the Buckeyes have, North Texas and Texas Tech. Included in the 73.2% season average are 100% success rates by Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, Maryland, Michigan and Alabama, who combined to score touchdowns 16-of-16 times inside of Ohio State’s 20-yard line.
Oregon ranks No. 32 in red zone touchdowns, again, not all-world, but definitely worth mentioning. The Ducks have scored six points on 67.1% of their red-zone visits and went 3-of-4 vs. Florida State.
Advantage Ohio State
Big Rushing Plays: This is the most significant statistical mismatch between the two teams: Ohio State ranks No. 4 in the FBS in long rushing plays vs. Oregon’s No. 94 rank in opponent’s long rushing plays.
Where the Buckeyes have 129 rushing plays of 10-plus yards the Ducks have coughed up 76 such plays.
Looking back to the semi-final games, Ohio State posted rushing plays of 11, 12 (three times), 13, 17, 20, 27 and 54 yards. That was against Alabama’s rush defense, ranked No. 4 in the FBS.
Oregon’s defense coughed up rushing plays of 10 (three times), 17, 19, 20 and 21 yards to a Florida State offense that ranks No. 98 in the nation in rushing yards. These plays were all but obliterated by the Seminoles five turnovers. Throw in that Ohio State ranks No. 10 in rushing offense and this sets up a potentially explosive situation.
Third Down Conversions: If you track the Buckeye’s success this year, the common thread is converting third downs. Ohio State ranks No. 3 in the nation in third down conversions (51.91%), only Auburn and Georgia Tech are better.
The Bucks posted a season-low 25% on third down in the loss to Virginia Tech and had their best outing in the win over Michigan State (71.4%). They went 10-of-18 vs. Alabama (55.56%), not bad against a Tide defense that held its opponents to 37.6% on third down this season.
Even more importantly, Ohio State ranks No. 21 in opponent’s third down attempts (34.98%), a number that was tested against Alabama, No. 6 in the nation on third down (51.26%). How did the Bucks do? How about holding the Tide to 2-of-13 (15.4%) on third down? It was Alabama’s worst performance since LSU held it to 11.1% in the 2012 regular season.
Oregon is No. 83 in opponent’s third down conversions (41.4%), its worst marks of the season came in back-to-back games vs. Arizona (52.9%), a loss, and UCLA (57.9%), a win. On the flip side, the Ducks’ offense is No. 5 on third down (51.6%), posting 60% or better five times this season and going 58.3% in the win over Florida State.
This is likely the one underlying stat that will decide the game. The advantage, at least on paper, goes to Ohio State’s defense.
Sacks: The Bucks’ D has earned a No. 8 rank in sacks this season (43), registering three-plus in 10 of its 14 games. Included are the high-water marks of five sacks apiece in wins over Penn State and Michigan and three vs. an Alabama offensive line that had only given up only 13 coming into the playoff game (No. 18).
This sets up as a big advantage against an Oregon O-line that ranks No. 86 in sacks allowed, coughing up 29 for an average of two per game. That makes Marcus Mariota the twelfth most sacked quarterback in the FBS.
Did You Know?
Oregon ranks No. 119 rank in penalty yards. Only nine teams have been penalized more than the Ducks this season, giving up 72.8 yards per game in penalties. Oregon has suffered 10-plus penalties three times: 10 the narrow 38-31 win over Washington State, 10 in the 34-21 regular-season loss to Arizona and 13 in the 51-13 win over Arizona in the Pac-12 title game.
Ohio State ranks No. 89 rank in field goals. If the game comes down to last-second kick, the Buckeyes will be leaning on freshman kicker Sean Nuernberger (#96), 13-of-20 (65%) on field goal attempts this season, No. 91 in the nation. He went 0-of-2 in the 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech, missing from 27 and 40 yards.
Players to Watch
Royce Freeman (#21): A true-freshman running back, he’s the No. 7 freshman and No. 37 running back overall in the nation in yards per game (95.93), he’s also No. 12 in the FBS in touchdowns (18).
Tony Washington (#91) and Torrodney Prevot (#86): Both linebackers, they lead the team with three forced fumbles apiece, a mark that ties them each for the fourth most in the nation. Washington also has two fumble returns for 79 yards and one score.
Troy Hill (#13): A senior cornerback, he leads the nation in broken-up passes (18) and is No. 2 in passes defended (19). Ironically, Hill hails from Youngstown, Ohio.
Ezekiel Elliott (#15): A sophomore running back, No. 9 in the FBS in total yards (1,632), No. 22 in yards per game (116.57) and No. 23 in touchdowns (24). Elliott rushed for 220 and 230 yards in his last two outings, against Wisconsin and Alabama, averaging 11.25 yards per carry across the two games. Not bad given the Badgers are No. 23 vs. the run and the Crimson Tide are No. 4.
Michael Bennett (#63): A senior defensive tackle, he’s only had seven sacks this season (No. 3 on the team, No. 60 in the FBS), but he’s gotten to the quarterback at least once in his last four games and twice in the win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship.