Thursday, January 1, 2015

Good Luck Ducks: Playoff Time


Oregon faces the undefeated defending champions in the first ever playoff game at college football's highest level.

College football's most lasting tradition might be unfairness. Every school that has gotten close to the ultimate goal of unquestioned number oneness over the years has at some point been subject to getting screwed by some set of rules that were in play to determine who is the best in the land. Every other high profile sport has a system that sort of sometimes makes sense, in that many teams that be considered qualified get an opportunity to narrow things down on the playing field until a final battle is held to crown a champion once and for all. College football has rarely done that.

Polls often disagreed with each other. Opponents rarely intersected. People who decided things went to bed without seeing a glimpse of games in other time zones. Teams were punished for the past misdeeds of players who are no longer enrolled in their program. At some point, when bowl affiliations made it more of an exception than the norm that the top two ranked teams would play each other at the end of the year, a system (the BCS) was developed that just further gummed up the works. As a result, in 2002 the Ducks played a punchless Colorado team that had crushed Nebraska as a consolation prize, while champion Miami crushed that same Nebraska team again in the so-called title game. For the decade-plus that it existed, tweaks were made to the BCS formula every year that reacted to the events of the previous season, until a 4-team playoff system was implemented to replace it.

The current system is still laughable when compared to other high profile sports, but it remains the one that the teams we root for are confined to playing within. In the inaugural year of the College Football Playoff (CFP), Oregon has found itself a key player, the #2 seed hosting last year's (BCS) defending champion (#3) Florida State. A win today in the Rose Bowl places Oregon in an unprecedented 15th contest this season, a title game with the winner of the Sugar Bowl (Alabama vs. Ohio State). But before we get ahead of ourselves here, we have a game to play.

And what a game it will be! Heisman Trophy winner (huzzah!) Marcus Mariota faces last year's Heisman winner Jameis Winston today. Winston has never lost a college game. His team has been disrespected all season because they have played poorly in many close games against many flimsy opponents, but the record speaks for itself. It's almost mind-boggling that a defending champion with no losses at this point in the year could actually be ranked #3, but that's how unimpressive FSU has been.

Oregon suffered a serious blow, arguably the biggest that they could suffer short of losing Mariota, when Ifo Ekpre-Olomu tore his ACL in the weeks between games. The senior consensus All-American was the anchor of the Ducks defense, and had earned so much respect that he essentially was never thrown at, leaving his contributions this season more of a team-wide thing than something you'd find in a stat column. The rest of the team looks to be a bit healthier than we last left them, at least.

It should be a tough fight. The Seminoles have tip-toed their way out of many jams this season to keep their record spotless, but they certainly haven't faced anyone like Oregon yet. With a truckload of awards and a chance to go down as the most celebrated athlete in Oregon's history, Marcus Mariota should be ready to put the team on his back and find a way to the title game.

Links:
  • This is an astounding recap, Taiwanese animation style, of Joe Walker's bizarre fumble return against Utah earlier this season that I somehow missed. It gets a little NSFW, briefly, I guess?
  • Sour grapes from a hilariously uninformed Florida sportswriter. What Mike Bianchi is missing is that the two playoff sites were predetermined before the season started, and the top seed (Alabama) was given the choice of which site to play at. If Oregon had snagged the top seed, they would have almost certainly selected the Rose Bowl instead of the Sugar Bowl.
  • Here is The Duck hanging out in a fog for some reason.

Given a second crack at the Wildcats, Oregon dominated Arizona 51-13 in the Pac-12 Championship game to cement their spot in the first College Football Playoff.

Game time is 2:00 PST with national TV coverage on ESPN. Go Ducks!

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