While fans continue to indulge in chest thumping and celebrating Ohio State's amazing accomplishments of this season, it isn't over yet. The Buckeyes still has one more game left, and it's time for a first, preliminary look at what the Oregon Ducks bring to the table.
How did Oregon get here?
You're probably familiar with Oregon's most recent work, a turnover-fueled demolishing of Florida State in the Rose Bowl that promptly launched them to near America's Team status. That wasn't the first time Oregon took apart an excellent team, though.
The Ducks sit at a 13-1 record, with their only blemish a 31-24 home loss to the eventual Pac-12 South champion Arizona Wildcats. Oregon would avenge that defeat in the conference championship game con gusto (51-13), and also crushed UCLA (on the road), Utah (on the road), and a good Michigan State team. Outside of a trip to Pullman, and for spasms against Utah and Cal, the Ducks have mostly dominated a strong conference schedule. They're not here by accident.
What is Oregon like on offense?
Beautiful and terrifying. I know this is a trope that has been beaten to death, but it really does feel like an accurate way to describe the Ducks. Oregon's offense is how you wish you were when you play NCAA '14 on Xbox. They'll go for two after their first touchdown of the game. They run a devastating and exciting option rushing attack, paced by a deadly accurate QB. They're fast. And let's face it, they're fun as hell.
The point man for the Oregon offense, as you're all well aware, is Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. His statline for the season reads like a typo. 4,121 yards, 40 touchdowns, and only three interceptions (and heading into the playoff, he only had two).
Mariota also rushed for 15 touchdowns and 731 yards on a cool 5.8 yards per carry. He's big, he's fast, but he's a complete passer, capable of making the right read at the right time, and doesn't force throws, even under presser. There's a reason he's in contention for the number one pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. He might not have the absolute biggest cannon of an arm, but he doesn't need one to be successful in this offense, and he can make every throw he needs to for the Ducks to score, and score often.
Mariota isn't the only story of course. Oregon's freshman running back, Royce Freeman, is a terrifying counterpoint to Mariota in the running game. He's barreled ahead for 1,343 yards and 18 touchdowns, and is strong enough to crumble any stupid misconceptions you may still have about Oregon being a "finesse" team.
Freeman isn't especially explosive, but he's very efficient. Thomas Tyner, after being a little bit of a non-factor at times during the season, was excellent against Florida State, going for 124 on 13 carries. There are a lot of weapons in this backfield, and a rush defense effort like say, the Indiana game, will lead to the Buckeyes getting gashed.
The Ducks may not have a "name" at WR like Amari Cooper or Kevin White, but they do have a lot of depth. Seven Ducks have caught at least 20 passes this season, and four have at least 500 yards. It's a young (and somewhat small) group, led by Byron Marshall and Darren Carrington, but not one to be taken lightly.
If there is a flaw with this group, it might be along the offensive line, which had struggled with depth issues this season and has occasionally failed to get a strong enough push to get the run game going, but that's quibbling for a team that's been outstanding this year. Ohio State will have to really win the battle along the line of scrimmage if they want to give themselves a chance.
How is Oregon on defense?
This unit graded out pretty well if we consult advanced statistics. The Ducks were ranked 12th in S&P+ prior to their game against Florida State, with relatively high marks in everything except their S&P+ in passing downs (64th), which could bode well for a quarterback that happens to have a howitzer for an arm and likes to attack defenses vertically like, say, Cardale Jones. Oregon's All-American cornerback, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, will also not be playing due to injury, making a scary secondary a teensy bit less scary.
The Ducks are opportunistic, leading the country in turnover margin, which should be a terrifying prospect to an Ohio State team that has shown a recent tendency to be a bit cavalier with the football. Prior to Florida State, the Ducks were 3rd in the country in fumbles recovered, and while they may give up some yards, they can swarm to the ball. Oregon's front seven isn't quite as big, and on paper, not as talented, as Alabama's, (42nd in S&P rush defense) so Ohio State should be able to run the ball a bit, but they have plenty of examples of shutting down powerful rushing attacks, like the Utah and second Arizona games.
Oregon is also dead last in the country in defensive touchdowns. So this unit probably won't score, if that matters.
What about special teams? Anything else of note on Oregon?
Oregon is one of the most penalized teams in the country, which could play a role in a close game. They're a top 20 team in total punt return defense, a top 15 team in total punt return yardage, an average punting team, and a top 30 kickoff return squad. It's overall, a good special teams unit, although one that's not as good as the team Ohio State just knocked off.
Can Ohio State beat Oregon?
The Buckeyes just beat the number one team in the country, so sure, they have a chance. They should be able to move the ball on Oregon with a steady diet of Ezekiel Elliot and company, and if they can keep themselves from turning the ball over, they'll have a shot against anybody. Oregon looks to be about a touchdown favorite, and that's totally fair, and if the Buckeyes aren't careful, they could get shredded by this offense.
Either way, it's going to be an awesome football game to watch. We'll get more into the nitty gritty details later on this week.