2014 College Football Playoff, Semifinals Preview

This is it. Long discussed all season long – and in hypotheticals for decades before – the first ever College Football Playoff has arrived. Two games played on New Year’s Day, and we’ve got everything you need to know.

2015 Rose Bowl logo

Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual – Semifinal
No. 2 Oregon Ducks (12-1, 9-1 in Pac-12) vs. No. 3 Florida State Seminoles (13-0, 8-0 in ACC).
Thursday, January 1 – New Year’s Day at 5 PM ET/2 PM PT
Rose Bowl (Pasadena, CA).
TV: ESPN (Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Heather Cox, and Tom Rinaldi).
Radio: ESPN Radio (Sean McDonough, Chris Spielman, and Todd McShay).
Current line, as of Wednesday Evening: Oregon by 8, with an over/under of 71.5

Series History: This will be the first ever game between Oregon and Florida State.

Coaching Comparison:

41-year old Mark Helfrich is in his second season as Oregon head coach with a record of 23-3 (.885). After serving as Chip Kelly’s offensive coordinator from 2009-12, Helfrich took over as head coach in 2013 and his 23 wins in 26 games are the second most in conference history.

Last year I used this photo of Jimbo Fisher, back in his days at Division III Samford University. It's kind of nifty, so here it is again.

Last year I used this photo of Jimbo Fisher, back in his days at Division III Samford University. It’s kind of nifty, so here it is again.

49-year old Jimbo Fisher is in his fifth season as the Seminoles head coach with a record of 58-10 (.853). The Seminoles have won a bowl game in each season under Coach Fisher and have won the ACC in each of the last three seasons.

Edge: I gotta go with the reigning national champion over the coach who is only in his second season. Florida State.

How They Got Here:

Oregon finished last season with a record of 11-2 after defeating Texas 30-7 in the Alamo Bowl and began the season as the No. 3 team in the AP Poll. They won the game everyone had highlighted on their schedule – a 46-27 win over No. 7 Michigan State in Eugene – and though they fell to Arizona by a score on Oct. 2, national consensus was still that Oregon was one of the best teams in the country. They did nothing to shake that belief the rest of the season as three of their eight remaining conference wins came against Top 25 teams, and now return to a BCS/New Year’s Six bowl game for the fifth time in six years.

Arguably one of the biggest wins of the year for Florida State didn't even feature Jameis Winston as he was suspended for the Seminoles 23-17 victory over Clemson. He's pictured here with that quarterback that night, Sean Maguire. Photo credit to Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

Arguably one of the biggest wins of the year for Florida State didn’t even feature Jameis Winston as he was suspended for the Seminoles 23-17 victory over Clemson. He’s pictured here with that quarterback that night, Sean Maguire. Photo credit to Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

It may not have been pretty, and it may have seemed improbable, but the Florida State Seminoles finished 2014 without any losses — again. You can’t nitpick their non-conference schedule as they faced Oklahoma State and Florida, and yes they did keep it interesting (7 of their 13 wins came by seven points or less), but they won every single game they played including four against ranked opponents.

Offensive Comparison

On December 13, Marcus Mariota became the first Oregon Ducks player to win the Heisman Trophy. Photo courtesy of the Heisman Trust.

On December 13, Marcus Mariota became the first Oregon Ducks player to win the Heisman Trophy. Photo courtesy of the Heisman Trust.

If you want to have a great offense, it doesn’t hurt to have the Heisman Trophy winner. Marcus Mariota‘s statistics are very impressive — 3,783 passing yards (8th in FBS), 68.3 completion percentage (5th in FBS), 38 passing touchdowns (4th in FBS), to go with 669 rushing yards and 14 rushing TDs (17th in FBS). Mariota is joined in the backfield by Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year Royce Freeman who ranked in the Top 25 in rushing TDs (16) and rushing yards (1,299). Marcus Mariota threw the ball to anyone and everyone this year. Seven different Oregon players had more than 250 receiving yards, six different receivers had at least 25 total receptions, and five different receivers had at least five touchdowns. Jake Fisher, a 6’6″ 300 lbs senior who was selected to the All-Pac 12 first team, is up front for Oregon and is No. 8 among offensive tackles according to Mel Kiper Jr. All of this talent resulted in Oregon ranking 3rd in the country in both yards per game (546.2) and points per game (46.3).

Heisman Trophy winner, you say? Florida State also has one of those — you may have heard of him. Marred by controversy, negative headlines, and a sexual assault investigation, Jameis Winston‘s sophomore season was not as great as his freshman year. Winston saw decreases in completion percentage (66.9% to 65.4%), passing yards (4,057 to 3,559), yards per pass attempt (10.6 to 8.4), touchdowns (40 to 24), and an increase in interceptions (10 to 17). His top two targets in the passing game were Rashad Greene – whose 1,306 receiving yards ranked 9th in FBS – and AP All-American first team selection Nick O’Leary who finished with more than 550 yards and six receiving touchdowns for the second consecutive year. O’Leary is widely regarded as one of the best tight ends in the nation and he’s joined up front by 6’4″ 330 lbs senior guard Tre’ Jackson (AP All-America second team selection), 6’6″ 325 lbs senior guard Josue Matias (No. 2 offensive guard according to Mel Kiper Jr.), and 6’6″ 308 lbs senior center Cameron Erving (AP All-America first team selection). Though they still possess the aforementioned offensive line talent, this is not the offense of 2013.

Points/game FBS Rank Total yards/game FBS Rank Rushing yards/game FBS Rank
2013 51.6 2nd 519.1 6th 203.1 28th
2014 34.8 26th 434.7 40th 134.8 101st

Edge: If FSU isn’t the FSU of 2013, maybe Oregon is. Which is to say that with Marcus Mariota, Royce Freeman, and their talented receiving corps, there aren’t many teams that can match up offensively — let alone Florida State. Oregon.

Defensive comparison

Neither team is among the best in the nation defensively as both teams rank in outside the Top 25 in points allowed per game (Oregon – 22.5 points ranks 29th in FBS, FSU – 23.0 points ranks 30th in FBS) and neither team is adept at limiting total offensive production as Oregon is allowing 413.8 yards per game (82nd in FBS) while Florida State is allowing 378.3 yards per game (50th in FBS). Both teams do possess some talent on D, however. Though Oregon will be without AP All-American first team selection Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, they do feature three players selected to the All-Pac 12 second team including senior DB Erick Dargan who had six interceptions this season. Just like Oregon, Florida State has a talented group of players in the secondary, led by sophomore safety Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey, an AP All-America first team selection, is joined by junior P.J. Williams (AP All-America second team selection), and junior Ronald Darby (All-ACC third team selection).

Edge: Oregon’s defense will always be overshadowed by their offense no matter how much talent and physicality they play with. But FSU not only has talent at secondary as mentioned above, they also have two All-ACC first team selections on the defensive line. Florida State.

Don't forget about Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo, one of the best in the nation. Photo credit to Craig Medlin.

Don’t forget about Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo, one of the best in the nation. Photo credit to Craig Medlin.

Dylan’s Pick: I’d be remiss to not mention Roberto Aguayo, the Florida State kicker who followed up his Lou Groza Award winning freshman campaign with another solid season (92.6% field goal percentage, 3rd in FBS). That said, I see in Oregon a team with a phenomenal offense and an underrated defense (though they are missing their best player for this game). I see in Florida State a team that is not as good as they were when they won the national championship a season ago — but they still haven’t lost, and they played a ridiculously difficult schedule. I’m not ready to pick against them. Florida State, 38-34.

Allstate Sugar Bowl logo

Allstate Sugar Bowl – Semifinal
No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1, 7-1 in SEC) vs. No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes (12-1, 8-0 in Big Ten).
Thursday, January 1 – New Year’s Day at 8:30 PM ET/5:30 PM PT
Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans, LA).
TV: ESPN (Brad Nessler, Todd Blackledge, and Holly Rowe).
Radio: ESPN Radio (Bill Rosinski, David Norrie, and Joe Schad).
Current line, as of Wednesday Evening: Alabama by 9, with an over/under of 58.5.

Series History: Alabama has won all three of the previous meetings in the series, including two bowl games (1978 Sugar Bowl, 1995 Citrus Bowl).

Coaching comparison:

Nick Saban and Urban Meyer will rekindle an old rivalry from their days when Meyer was in charge of the Florida Gators. Photo courtesy of the AP.

Nick Saban and Urban Meyer will rekindle an old rivalry from their days when Meyer was in charge of the Florida Gators. Photo courtesy of the AP.

63-year old Nick Saban is in his eighth season as Alabama head coach with a record of 86-16 (.843). The two-time AP National Coach of the Year (2003, 2008), Saban has four national championships to his credit including three in four years between 2009 and 2012. Nick Saban enters his 16th bowl game as head coach with a record of 8-7 including a 45-31 defeat at the hands of the Oklahoma Sooners in last year’s Sugar Bowl.

50-year old Urban Meyer is in his third season at the helm of THE Ohio State Buckeyes with a record of 36-3 (.923). His winning percentage is the highest for any Ohio State coach with a minimum of 35 game coached. Meyer was the head coach for two national championship teams during his time in Gainesville – 2006 and 2008 – and holds a 7-2 record in bowl games.

Edge: This will be the fourth matchup all-time between Saban and Meyer, though both coaches have a win over the other in the SEC Championship game. When it comes to picking coaches, it’s hard to take anyone over the head man in Tuscaloosa. Alabama.

How They Got Here

Alabama began the season in a familiar position as the No. 2 team in the country and started off with four wins including victories over West Virginia and the Florida Gators. Their first road game would prove to be a losing effort as they blew a 4th quarter lead to a 13th ranked Mississippi team eager to prove they belong among the best in the country. They shook off their defeat in Oxford quickly, defeating Arkansas 14-13 one week later as they began an eight-game winning streak to finish their regular season. There were plenty of highlights among those eight games, including a 59-0 annihilation of No. 21 Texas A&M, an overtime win in Death Valley, a 25-20 victory over then-No. 1 Mississippi State, a 55-44 win in a shootout edition of the Iron Bowl, and an easy 42-13 win over Missouri in the SEC Championship game.

Ohio State started the year as the No. 5 team in the AP Poll but spirits certainly were not high after the season-ending injury to QB Braxton Miller, a two-time Big Ten first team selection. After a comeback victory against the always-tough Navy Midshipmen in the season opener, the Buckeyes returned home only to get dismantled by an unranked Virginia Tech Hokies squad. The loss seemed particularly awful as the Buckeyes had won their last 15 contests at Ohio Stadium, then the second-longest active home winning streak in FBS. Ohio State bounced back with a vengeance just one week later as they throttled the Kent State Golden Flashes 66-0, and the rest was history. Ohio State wouldn’t lose another game, defeating three ranked opponents including two road games and a 59-0 demolishing of the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten title game.

Offensive Comparison

With his immense talent, Amari Cooper may be in a class all his own in college football.

With his immense talent, Amari Cooper may be in a class all his own in college football.

Alabama entered the preseason with their own uncertainty at quarterback. Who would they go with — 6’5″ 230 lbs junior Jake Coker, the transfer from Florida State, or 6’0″ 208 lbs senior Blake Sims? Sims was selected and asked to lead Alabama’s high-paced offense, led by new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, and boy did he ever. Sims completed 64.8 percent of his passes (22nd in FBS), threw for 26 touchdowns (18th in FBS), 3,250 passing yards (23rd in FBS), and added 321 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Sims was selected to the All-SEC second team, but he had help on offense from a two-headed monster in the running game comprised of 6’2″ 221 lbs junior T.J. Yeldon (932 yards) and 6’3″ 241 lbs sophomore Derrick Henry (895 yards). Yeldon and Henry had 10 rushing touchdowns apiece, but Yeldon will be a game-time decision as he is battling injuries to both a hamstring and an ankle. You can’t consider the Alabama offense without talking about Amari Cooper, the Fred Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation’s most outstanding receiver. Cooper, a 6’1″ 210 lbs WR from Miami, FL, finished second in FBS with 1,656 yards and 4th in FBS with 14 touchdowns and is considered to be the best WR in April’s NFL Draft. All of the Crimson Tide offensive weaponry helped Alabama finish the season ranked 15th in FBS in both points per game (37.1) and total yards per game (490.5).

Braxton Miller? J.T. Barrett? Nope, it'll be Cardale Jones taking snaps for the Ohio State Buckeyes on New Year's Day in New Orleans.

Braxton Miller? J.T. Barrett? Nope, it’ll be Cardale Jones taking snaps for the Ohio State Buckeyes on New Year’s Day in New Orleans.

Remember how Ohio State thought their season was over when their star quarterback Braxton Miller went down? Enter J.T. Barrett, a 6’1″ freshman from Wichita Falls who went from being a relative unknown to putting together one of the best seasons for a quarterback in OSU history. Barrett’s 3,772 total yards set a new school record while his 45 total touchdowns established a new high mark in the Big Ten conference. He also set a new school record with 34 passing touchdowns, while running for 938 yards and 11 touchdowns (both Top 10 among Big Ten players). A problem arose for the Buckeyes in their November 29 win over rival Michigan. J.T. Barrett went down with a broken ankle that would end his season. Urban Meyer was forced to call on a 6’5″ 250 lbs sophomore from Cleveland named Cardale Jones. Jones entered the Big Ten Championship game with only 17 career passing attempts, but he certainly appeared unfazed as threw for 257 yards and three TDs on 12-of-17. With one start under his belt, the Buckeyes will look to the Big Ten Championship Game MVP to win them one more. Jones is joined in the backfield by 6’0″ 225 lbs sophomore RB Ezekiel Elliott who amassed 1,402 rushing touchdowns and 12 touchdowns on the ground. Elliott is red hot, averaging 9.0 yards per carry over his last three games, 2nd in FBS, and is the focal point of an Ohio State running game that ranks 10th in FBS with 260.8 yards per game. The Buckeyes receiving corps is led by 6’1″ senior Devin Smith who finished with more than 600 yards and six touchdowns for the third consecutive season and is a Top 10 WR among NFL Draft prospects according to Mel Kiper Jr. Be sure to also keep an eye on 6’5″ 255 lbs tight end Jeff Heuerman, an All-Big Ten second team selection who is seen as one of the best tight end prospects in the upcoming draft. All of this adds up to an offense that ranks in the Top 10 in FBS in both points per game (45.2) and yards per game (507.6).

Edge: What Ohio State has been able to do on offense this year is nothing short of extraordinary as they’ve replaced one of the nation’s best quarterbacks with a freshman, and then replaced him with another QB with next-to-no experience. That said, the Crimson Tide offensive force including Sims, Yeldon, Henry, Cooper, and AP All-American first team selection Arie Kouandjio on the offensive line is just too powerful. Alabama.

Defensive Comparison

The Crimson Tide possess weapons in all three aspects of the defense. Their defensive line includes All-SEC first team selection Jonathan Allen, a 6’3″ 272 lbs DT who finished with 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, as well as 6’4″ 315 lbs DT Jarran Reed who finished with 6.5 tackles for loss and is one of the top NFL Draft prospects among defensive tackles. Alabama’s best linebacker is 6’2″ 254 lbs junior Reggie Ragland, an All-SEC first team selection and the No. 2 inside linebacker according to Mel Kiper Jr. The Crimson Tide secondary features 6’0″ 222 lbs junior safety Landon Collins, an AP All-American first team selection who led Alabama with 91 total tackles and added three interceptions. Collins is widely regarded as the best safety in the country and will more than likely be one of the first safeties off the board in the 2015 NFl Draft.

Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa - and his trademark shrug - is among the most dynamic defensive linemen in college football this season. Photo credit: Marvin Fong, The Plain Dealer.

Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa – and his trademark shrug – is among the most dynamic defensive linemen in college football this season. Photo credit: Marvin Fong, The Plain Dealer.

Ohio State’s strength is up front, led by 6’5″ 278 lbs sophomore lineman Joey Bosa, who finished with 13.5 sacks (5th in FBS) and 20.0 tackles for loss (10th in FBS). Bosa is joined by two of the top defensive line prospects in the NFL Draft — 6’2″ 288 lbs senior Michael Bennett (12.5 TFL and six sacks) and 6’4″ 295 lbs junior Adolphus Washington (nine tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and a forced fumble). Another key defender for the Buckeyes is 5’11” 193 lbs senior CB Doran Grant, an All-Big Ten first team selection who intercepted five passes on the season. Ohio State enters the Sugar Bowl ranked 15th in FBS in both total yards allowed per game (328.0) and passing yards allowed per game (188.2).

Edge: You don’t get this far without talent on both sides of the ball, and while Alabama has plenty of defensive ability, it’s hard to get past Ohio State’s strength of their front four which allows them to play seven players in coverage. Ohio State

Dylan’s Pick: This Ohio State team is no joke and was more than deserving of their spot in the Top 4. But I’m not picking against Nick Saban and one of the best players in the country – Amari Cooper – especially when the opposing offense features a QB making only his second start. Alabama, 35-24.

We’ll be back soon with previews of the remaining non-playoff bowls, and before you know it the national championship game!

– Dylan

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About Dylan Jenkins

I'm a proud Seattlite currently living in Queens, NY. Outside of sports, I enjoy crime dramas - specifically police procedurals - as well as a wide range of music, everything from Top 40 to Iron & Wine, Bob Dylan & Rogue Wave. I am a cat person, which is to say I'm a human who enjoys felines. I have a tremendous sweet tooth that isn't very discerning, and I refuse to observe a number of unwritten social rules.
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