It's been forecast that Monday's College Football Playoff title game could be the most watched game in college football history. It most certainly will be the most wagered upon game in college football history. The hype and attention the game has received with little to no backlash for overload has been at high NFL playoff-to-Super Bowl levels.
So I think it's pretty safe to say that, regardless of the outcome of tonight's game, the four team College Football Playoff has been a resounding success. And not just a "curiosity" success like, say, the XFL, where we see a dip in interest next season. This is the way it should have been all along. Everyone knew it, it just couldn't happen until the college football powers that be were guaranteed to pocket more money from this playoff than they would in their boondoggle of a bowl system.
And perhaps the greatest indicator that the four team playoff was the right approach? We have a matchup that would not have happened under the old two team BCS format. Under those rules, we likely would've had Alabama and Florida State, both of whom were clearly inferior to Oregon and Ohio State on New Year's Day.
We have the two best teams, as it should be. Now, let's examine some storylines, prop bets, and make a pick.
FOUR STORYLINES TO FOLLOW
1. Urban Meyer going for the double dip With a win tonight, Urban Meyer would join Nick Saban as the only head coaches to win national championships at two different schools (Saban at LSU in 2003, and then multiple titles at Alabama), and the College Football Playoff gave him the chance to beat Saban head-to-head to do it (reason number 361 the playoff is great). Saban would likely still retain the title of the "best head coach of the post-1990 era," but Meyer would be one more title away from making an already fascinating debate even more intense. (By the way, no disrespect to Mark Helfrich, but Meyer's experience twice already in this spot is the one aspect of this game that is being massively ignored, in my opinion.)
2. Marcus Mariota trying to finish strong For years, winning the Heisman Trophy was a ticket to abject failure in the postseason. However, since 1996 and Danny Wuerffel, seven Heisman Trophy winners have led their teams to the national championship. Marcus Mariota will try to become number eight and cap off one of the best careers of the early part of this century. Running the well oiled Duck machine, Mariota has thrown for 10,463 yards, 103 touchdowns passes and just 13 interceptions while winning 35 games in three seasons as Oregon's starter. Equally important for his school's image and his coach's heart condition, he's become the first drama-free Heisman winner since 2011. A win tonight would be an appropriate send off for the likely first overall pick in this spring's NFL Draft. But, one thing to keep in mind...
3. Oregon is a little undermanned at wide receiver The Ducks will be without their most productive wide receiver over the last two games. Darren Carrington is ineligible after failing an NCAA administered drug test, which, short of lifting crab legs from Publix, is just about the dumbest thing you can do this time of year. Carrington is second on the team in yards receiving with 704 and is a huge big play threat, averaging around 19 yards per catch. Again, the hardest part of this suspension is that Carrington had been playing his best ball of late. In the Pac-12 championship game against Arizona and the Rose Bowl against Florida State, Carrington combined for 14 catches for 292 yards and three touchdowns. The loss is compounded by the Rose Bowl knee injury to wide receiver Devon Allen, who is second on the team in catches (41) and touchdown receptions (seven). For his part, Helfrish seems calm about everything, ''We don't have things in our system that it's, hey, we need to throw this guy the ball in this play period,'' Helfrich said. ''That doesn't exist.'' That's a good thing.
4. This Cardale Jones guy! I actually heard Michael Irvin bring up this point on our station before anybody else did, so credit to him, but think about this -- what should Buckeye quarterback Cardale Jones do if Ohio State wins tonight? He's a redshirt sophomore, but presumably incumbent starter J.T. Barrett will be returning next season from the injury he suffered in the Michigan game, which paved the way for Jones to burst upon the scene. In a weak QB crop for the NFL Draft, Jones resume would essentially be three games in which he a) beat Wisconsin 59-0, b) thrashed Alabama and Nick Saban (who had a month to prepare), and c) beat Oregon for the national title. Drop the mic, right? Hell, the NFL has given free agents tens of millions with way less than that to go on. And as my buddy Chris Solis points out, Cam Newton only had 13 games on his resume and he went number one overall. Convenient because that, to me, is the player Jones most resembles physically. He's a raw version of Cam Newton...which has to be worth at least a third round pick (maybe higher in a weak draft) on spec, right? Go pro or come back and compete for your job at Ohio State? Also, Jones comes from a background where his family could use the money, worth noting.
FOUR PROP BETS TO JUMP ON
1. OHIO STATE to score first +140 I can a) see this game being high scoring and b) see either team scoring on their first possession. Both of these coaches are offensive gurus. Whoever gets the ball first will have a script that's been scrubbed for ten days, and it's designed to work without fail. So you're basically betting on a coin toss here. Last I checked, +140 was good odds on a coin toss.
2. Will there be a score in the first 4:30 of the game? YES -115 Again, if Oregon gets the ball first, you win this bet. If Ohio State does, you have a great shot as well.
3. MARCUS MARIOTA Total Rushing Yards UNDER 51.5 If there's one thing that Urban Meyer is going to tell his team, it's make sure Mariota doesn't beat you with big chunk plays using his legs. I think they'll be focused on limiting this. Also, the 800 pound gorilla in the room -- the NCAA counts negative yards on sacks towards rushing totals (stupid, I know). Joey Bosa and company can bring heat.
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4. CARDALE JONES Total Passing Yards OVER 260.5 Shootout. 12 Gauge. Bring it.
PREDICTION At this point in the season, in a game that promises a ton of offense between two good teams with NFL talent everywhere, perception shapes the line as much as anything. The perception of Oregon is "unstoppable machine that will rip your throat out." The perception of Ohio State, which in late November was "Good Big Ten team, but what does that even mean?", is certainly elevated by the win over Alabama. However, they are undervalued still, in my opinion. Other than at quarterback, they matchup talent-wise nearly everywhere else. You could make a case that after Mariota, the next half dozen best NFL prospects play for the Buckeyes. Also, Urban Meyer has been here before. That matters, right? Right. I will take all seven points Vegas is giving right now, and take a taste of the money line, too.
OHIO STATE 42, OREGON 37