Finally! Freed from the shackles of polls determining who will win the College Football Championship, we’ve got us a real live playoff system. And for the inaugural CFB, the Oregon Ducks will square off against the Ohio State Buckeyes. Both teams enter the championship game at 13-1, and maybe more importantly, having just knocked off Florida State and the perennial powerhouse Alabama respectively. With legitimacy riding high, here are 9 things you should watch for while taking in the game.
Ohio State forced three against Alabama, while Oregon picked the pockets of Florida State five times. The Ducks’ strength was against the run, as they stripped the ball off of FSU four times to keep it a decidedly one-sided affair. OSU quarterback Cardale Jones was only responsible for one pick in the game against the Crimson Tide, but he’s only starting his third overall game. In a sport that has never-before seen a playoff game, at the start of Monday’s game, Jones will have more playoff starts than regular season appearances. The question is: will he be the GOAT or the goat?
02. Oregon Running Backs
The one-two punch of Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner deserve the spotlight they’ll get during this game. Freeman has run for 1343 yards and 18 touchdowns this season, including two touchdowns in the Rose Bowl. While Tyner went off on the Seminoles defense with 13 rushes for 124 yards and two touchdowns. What’s more dangerous than a one-two punch? A one-one punch.
03. Ezekiel Elliott
The Ohio State sophomore has beasted over the college football ranks all season with 1632 yards and 14 touchdowns. In the Sugar Bowl Elliott broke the Crimson Tide’s defensive line with an 11.5 rushing yard average, finishing with 230 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns. He’s te stabilizing force for Cardale so you can look for the Buckeyes to go to him early.
04. Championship Game Uniforms
Despite obvious allegiance to their Oregon alma mater, Nike got to outfit both the Ducks and the Buckeyes new uniforms for the game. Ohio State looks pretty traditional with a throwback nod with the black numbers on their shoulders. Not to be outdone, the Ducks get a uniform that doesn’t even feature their team colors. It’s as though it’s the 1990’s and this game is a variant cover for a comic book.
05. Darren Carrington
The Oregon freshman played in only nine games before the Rose Bowl, yet managed seven catches for 165 yards and a touchdown. His young and under-used legs might be a secret weapon for the Ducks if Ohios State is able to limit Marcus Mariota’s receiving options.
06. The Longball to Devin Smith
The Buckeyes have a senior receiver named Devin Smith who finished the year with only 886 yards receiving, but he had a 47-yard reception against Alabama and an 80-yarder during the regular season. And despite the low yardage total, he still managed 12 touchdowns during the 2014 campaign. If they need to open it up, watch for the play call to Smith.
07. Cardale Jones
The third-string(!) quarterback of the Buckeyes started against one of the toughest teams in college football and came out of it with a win. It wasn’t always pretty for Jones, he had an awful start, but once he settled into his groove, he was able to offset the defense’s constant pressure and maintain composure. This isn’t no Ryan Lindley situation, Jones is the feel-good story of the game. We should all get “Be The Third String Quarterback You Want To See in The World” desk calendars from our moms.
8) Marcus Mariota
Just look at that Adonis. Marcus Mariota has already won the Heisman and if there’s one thing college football has taught us, it’s that good-looking white guys usually finish first. Don’t be surprised if Mariota caps off the trifecta with a Championship win and as the top QB pick in next year’s NFL draft. Even with his one pick in the Rose Bowl, Mariota made easy work of his draft-position competition, FSU’s Jameis Winston, who announced earlier this week he would leave school a year early to enter the NFL. Mariota finished the Rose Bowl with 338 yards, two TDs and also rushed eight times for 62 yards and a touchdown. You think he’ll look good in Tampa Bay orange?
09. SEC Fans
For years, fans of the SEC would talk long and hard about conference dominance and yet, low-and-behold, none of their teams made it to the final game of the championship in the first year of the four-team playoff system. They’re a proud bunch, so don’t expect a lot of crow eating, but instead check social media for passive-aggresive comments, multiple allusions to Nike providing benefits to Oregon, and overall grumpiness for a fun in-game distraction. You could make a drinking game out of it, but the game is on a Monday night and you know better.