The inaugural College Football Playoff gave us a pair of scintillating – if not stunning – semifinals, as Oregon embarrassed Florida State, 59-20, in the Rose Bowl, and Ohio State overpowered Alabama, 42-35, in the Sugar Bowl.
That means we’ve got a pair of spread teams squaring off for the national championship on January 12 in Arlington.
“I think Oregon’s win kind of sets up a scenario where you’ve got an inflection point in the landscape of college football,” CBS Sports college football analyst Spencer Tillman said on After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “You have a true multiple spread team offensively that can vie to win it all, and that hadn’t really been the case at least in the last decade or so. You usually had spread teams that caught everybody’s attention and got us all excited, but when they got to that big stage, they got overpowered – and I don’t think that’s going to be the case this year. Even Ohio State went up-tempo and did some things in their win over Alabama.
“So it was an unbelievably entertaining day,” Tillman continued. “It was a tough day for the SEC and ultimately an exciting day for the Big Ten.
Indeed, Alabama and Auburn both lost on New Year’s Day – to Big Ten teams – joining LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State as SEC-West teams that lost bowl games. The Big Ten, meanwhile, has had an excellent showing, with conference powers Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin all winning.
While Michigan State’s 42-41 win over Baylor was indeed impressive – the Spartans trailed 41-21 entering the fourth quarter – the Buckeyes made the biggest Big Ten statement, knocking off SEC superpower Alabama in SEC country.
“Part of that was just the linebacking corps,” Tillman said. “You had two key linebackers that dropped during the game for Alabama, and they were already hurting at that position coming in. And so, without an ability to stop Ezekiel Elliott or at least slow him down – he was just running crazy – I think the Tide was at a disadvantage.”
Elliott ran 20 times for 230 yards and two touchdowns, including an 85-yard scamper that gave the Buckeyes a 42-28 lead with 3:24 to go.
“I thought the Tide’s defense was underrated going into this contest, but when you lose the type of caliber of linebackers they did in real time in that 60-minute frame, you’re going to be a fraction of what you were before,” Tillman said. “And then (safety) Landon (Collins) was hurt a little bit in the back end. That’s going to be problematic.”
In the end, however, Ohio State was simply the better team. Third-string quarterback Cardale Jones certainly had his scary moments – he started 0-of-5, almost threw a pick-six and was almost tackled in the end zone – but he finished 18-of-35 for 243 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also ran for 43 tough yards, including a 27-yarder straight up the gut.
Ohio State finished with more yards (537 versus 407) than Alabama, had fewer turnovers (two versus) and dominated third down (10-of-18 versus 2-of-13).
“I just think this is a very different Big Ten team – a physical team both defensively and offensively,” Tillman said. “They’ve now recruited some speed that will match some of the SEC-type speed that has differentiated that conference – and Alabama particularly – from other schools. So now the Big Ten looks an awful lot – at least Ohio State does – like some of these SEC teams we’re used to seeing.”