Four Downs

1. The X factor: Typically a team’s fortunes rise and fall with its quarterback. That’s true for Oregon and Heisman Trophy-winning QB Marcus Mariota, and it’s true for Ohio State and third-stringer Cardale Jones — to a point. But Ohio State’s success may hinge on playing keep-away from Oregon’s quick-strike offense, and that means getting another great game from tailback Ezekiel Elliott. He rushed for 220 yards in the Big Ten title game and 230 yards in the Sugar Bowl. A third straight 200-yard game is asking a lot, but if he can manage it, the Buckeyes may have their eighth national title.

2. Urban legend: After winning a pair of national titles at Florida, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer can join Nick Saban (LSU and Alabama) as the only coaches to win national titles at two schools. But Meyer’s magic goes beyond that this season. Getting the Buckeyes to the Big Ten championship, much less the brink of a national title, with a third-string quarterback is the kind of far-fetched achievement that would have seemed completely unrealistic as a movie plot. Yet here the Buckeyes are, thanks to their intense and urbane head coach. Nobody does it better.

3. Faster, higher, stronger: The Ducks run a play every 21.7 seconds on average, a pace that can make opposing defenses melt down. Throw in their misdirection and zone reads, and slowing them down can be exceedingly difficult — if not impossible. Balance leads to efficiency. Oregon is one of just two teams (Marshall is the other) to rank in the top 20 nationally in rushing and passing. That leads to an offense ranked No. 2 nationally at 47.2 points per game. With WR Darren Carrington suspended, stopping the Ducks’ short but potent passes may be the way to quell the Quack Attack.

4. More is better? Major college football will crown a historic champion Monday, but the bigger picture is the push to expand the College Football Playoff to eight teams. CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock’s stock response is “See Exhibit A: the 12-year contract,” but deals are made to be broken. Expansion, though, is fraught with logistical issues. More bowl games or on-campus sites? Start New Year’s Day or before Christmas? Keep the conference title games or abolish them? It seems incredible that the game’s power conferences could create a playoff that automatically leaves at least one of them out, but this format could have staying power.

Predictions

Scott Rabalais: Oregon 46, Ohio State 33

I have a lot of faith in Ohio State’s faith in itself after routing Wisconsin and upsetting Alabama powered by third-string quarterback Cardale Jones. The problem is, Oregon’s offense is so good, if the Buckeyes slip up for just a possession or two, they could find themselves facing an insurmountable deficit. Oregon beat Ohio State 46-33 in the first NCAA basketball title game in 1939. Sounds like a good score again.

Ross Dellenger: Oregon 44, Ohio State 35

Ohio State’s magical run is the feel-good story of the year, but Oregon’s high-flying, up-tempo offense is ready to finally claim a national championship. It’s Oregon’s time. The Ducks and Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota do enough to leave Ohio State’s storybook year ending with a sad chapter.

Ted Lewis: Ohio State 31, Oregon 27

The temptation is to go with the Ducks simply because Marcus Mariota is a sublime college quarterback. But I just can’t get over how the Buckeyes did everything it took to beat Alabama. There’s no reason to think it won’t happen again.