DALLAS — Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer has been here before. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich has too, but not as the man in charge, and with less success.
As the two coaches get their teams ready to face off in the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship, they’ll be looking to leave a mark in the history books for their respective schools. No. 4 OSU (13-1, 8-0) is looking for its eighth national title, while the No. 2 Ducks (13-1, 8-1) are hoping to pick up their first championship in school history.
With the matchup just over the horizon, The Lantern sports editors picked five keys to the game that pits the historic powerhouse Buckeyes against the new-age and fast-paced Ducks.
1. Can the Buckeyes down a third-straight Heisman finalist?
When OSU shellacked Wisconsin, 59-0, in the Big Ten Championship Game, it negated the impact of Heisman runner-up Melvin Gordon.
When the Buckeyes topped No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to seal their trip to the National Championship, they held Heisman finalist Amari Cooper to just 71 yards.
But after dispatching the other two finalists, OSU is set to face the Heisman Trophy winner, Oregon redshirt-junior quarterback Marcus Mariota, with a national title on the line. Mariota earned the trophy by compiling 56 total touchdowns — including one as a receiver — and spearheading a Duck attack that is one of the most dangerous, if not the most dangerous, in the nation.
If OSU can somehow find a way to keep the nation’s top player in check, it’ll be in a prime position to win the game.
2. What will Tom Herman pull out of his sleeve in his last game at OSU?
Win or lose, OSU co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman will be coaching his last game as a Buckeye, as he has accepted the head coaching position at the University of Houston following the national title game.
From what we have seen from Herman, he is not afraid to take chances on the biggest stage (see: wide receiver pass from Evan Spencer in Sugar Bowl) and in his last game as a member of Urban Meyer’s staff, we could see some fireworks.
Herman has also not been shy about opening the playbook up with redshirt-sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones behind center, even though the Cleveland native has only started two games in his college career.
Will Herman play it close to the vest, or open it up? He already has a job locked up, so expect him to empty the playbook for Jones and the OSU offense.
3. Can Ezekiel Elliott continue his run of big games?
Prior to the Big Ten Championship Game, Elliott had never rushed for more than 200 yards in a college game.
After back-to-back games against top-10 defenses, Elliott now has two such games under his belt.
The performances have seemingly taken the pressure off Jones and have catapulted the Buckeyes into a situation not many people thought they would be in: playing for a national title.
If Elliott can come anywhere close to another 200-yard performance, there is a good chance the Buckeyes could pull their third-straight upset.
4. Can the Buckeye defense physically keep up with the Oregon offense?
More than just keeping up with Mariota, the Buckeyes must keep up with the fast-paced attack of the Duck offense.
When OSU defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl more than a week ago, its defense was able to catch its breath between plays because, for most of the game, the Crimson Tide would huddle between plays.
Now, the Buckeyes must prepare for an offense that averages just under three plays per minute of possession, not to mention a Heisman-winning quarterback.
If the Ducks are able to wear the Buckeyes down like they have with most of their opponents this season, OSU will likely be in for a long night.
5. Will any players announce departures after the game?
On Sunday, Meyer confirmed that junior defensive lineman Adolphus Washington and junior offensive lineman Taylor Decker had both expressed their intentions to return to OSU for their senior seasons.
That’s all fine and well, but there’s no guarantee those decisions will stay the same going forward. Throw senior quarterback Braxton Miller into the mix, and there are a few big-name players who could decide to depart OSU before their eligibility is up.
Meyer said he fully expects Miller to return as well, but transfer rumors have been swirling around the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year.
In the other locker room, all eyes will be on Mariota, who is projected as a top pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. If Mariota declares, nobody will be surprised, and it would be hard to blame him — especially because he’s a senior academically.
No matter who wins, it would be a good bet to expect multiple players to declare their intention to either stay or go in the locker room after the game.
The title game between the Buckeyes and the Ducks is set to kick off at 8:30 p.m. EST on Monday in Arlington, Texas, at AT&T Stadium.