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Ducks, Bucks vie for title


Head coaches Mark Helfrich of Oregon and Urban Meyer of Ohio State eye the National Championship trophy at a press conference on Sunday. Getty Images/Photo by Ronald Martinez

Ducks, Bucks vie for title

When the Oregon Ducks and Ohio State Buckeyes kick off the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship game tonight in Arlington, Texas, the pageantry of bowl season will be long gone.

On New Year’s Day, Oregon (13-1) broke a then-undefeated Florida State team in the Rose Bowl, scoring 41 second-half points to win 59-20. Ohio State (13-1) vindicated itself against those who said it didn’t deserve a playoff berth by beating No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, 42-35. But amid the confetti that evening, the two head coaches, Oregon’s Mark Helfrich and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, stayed dry and Gatorade-free, a reminder that for the first time, there would be one more game.

Despite the uniqueness of this game, each team had an almost normal week of practice on campus before traveling to Texas, where AT&T Stadium and thousands of fans and millions of TV viewers await tonight’s kickoff at 8:30 p.m. EST.

“This is much more of a business trip, this time around,” Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa said Saturday. “Last week we went, we hung out, and had some fun. This week it’s all about business; no going out, no messing around. We’re just preparing.”

Oregon is the favorite by about six points, but the Ducks have never won a national title. Helfrich’s team wins with speed and precision, a non-traditional style that faces perennial doubters of team toughness in big games.

Ohio State, though, needs no proof of toughness. Despite being wracked with injuries, the Buckeyes have succeeded this postseason with the help of third-string quarterback Cardale Jones, a sophomore who, like the rest of the team, takes hits and keeps on going.

On defense, the Buckeyes have the confidence that comes with forcing disciplined powerhouse Alabama into game-deciding turnovers.

“Our No. 1 concern is their quarterback,” Meyer said of Ohio State’s defensive game plan.

That quarterback is Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, who threw for 338 yards and accounted for three touchdowns against Florida State. The soft-spoken junior became known for his statements of faith long before stepping onto the biggest stage short of a Super Bowl—a cable TV-record 28 million-plus viewers watched the Ducks defeat the Seminoles on Jan. 1.

Mariota’s attitude has sometimes earned him doubters. An NFL scout told Sports Illustrated earlier this season that Mariota may be “too nice” to be the leader he needs to be. “Like, if you punched him in the stomach, he might apologize to you,” the unnamed scout said.

Since then Mariota has led his team within grasp of a national championship, an award he wants to win with his team, not for more individual accolades. “I’d trade the Heisman to win this,” he said of the title. “It means a lot more to me than the Heisman, no disrespect.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Andrew Branch Andrew is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD correspondent.

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