The biggest game of the year has generated some of the best questions of the year. Here is what we answer in the video …
• Is this Urban Meyer’s best coaching job?
• What are realistic expectations for Jim Harbaugh’s first two years at Michigan?
• Which team should be favored to win the SEC in 2015?
• Can Pat Narduzzi win championships at Pittsburgh?
Keep reading for an all-title game set of questions and answers.
From @RichStankewicz: How much better would the playoff be with eight teams? Would the final two be the same?
I’ve always thought I would like an eight-team bracket better, but I’m really enjoying the four-team format this year. I want to see this for a few years before I start pining for more. But this is a fascinating question. The BCS would have given us an Alabama-Florida State title game, and the four-team playoff changed that. Would an eight-teamer have produced a different final two this season? Let’s break down the matchups. (And let’s assume the quarterfinals would be at campus sites, because even though the College Football Playoff is now allowed to foot the bill for players’ parents’ travel, it wouldn’t be wise to ask fans to travel three times.)
• No. 8 Michigan State at No. 1 Alabama: We’d definitely get flooded with Nick Saban-Mark Dantonio Obi-Wan-Luke (or Palpatine-Vader, if you’re an Auburn or Michigan fan) stories before the game, and the Saban influence on Dantonio’s program -- which used to be Saban’s -- is undeniable. This game would probably prove just how thin the margin between No. 1 and No. 8 is, because it certainly wouldn’t be an easy win for the Crimson Tide. Though the Spartans don’t have all the weapons Ohio State used to exploit Alabama’s defensive deficiencies, Connor Cook would likely have been the best quarterback the Tide would have faced at that point. Meanwhile, Alabama’s plethora of offensive weapons would probably have been able to score on Michigan State the way Baylor’s did in the Cotton Bowl. This one would have been high-scoring and close. Bama likely would have won, but a Spartans win wouldn’t have shocked anyone who watched all season.
• No. 5 Baylor at No. 4 Ohio State: The Bears would have scored some points on the Buckeyes, but just as Michigan State’s pass rushers eventually clamped down on Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty in the Cotton Bowl, Ohio State’s superior rushers would have gotten Petty on the ground enough times to keep the score from getting out of hand. On the other side of the ball, a Cardale Jones-Shawn Oakman collision would have been epic, but Baylor’s defense wouldn't have been able to hold the Buckeyes in check. Ohio State would win, and people who bet the over would be buying the celebratory drinks.
• No. 6 TCU at No. 3 Florida State: Given what we saw on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, this likely would have become the first upset from a seeding perspective, though it may not have been an upset in the eyes of Vegas -- which might have installed the Horned Frogs as favorites. Like Oregon did against Florida State, TCU would have just kept answering offensively. Any turnover by the Seminoles would have dire consequences. TCU would have moved on.
• No. 7 Mississippi State at No. 2 Oregon: The Ducks might’ve had some early trouble with the Bulldogs’ defensive line, but they would eventually wear it down. This one probably would have featured a third-quarter explosion similar to the outburst in Oregon’s Rose Bowl win over Florida State.
• No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 1 Alabama (Sugar Bowl): Welp, we know what happens here.
• No. 6 TCU vs. No. 2 Oregon (Rose Bowl): Oh, man. Just the thought of this potential matchup has me rethinking that “see this for a few years” statement above. This would have been fun for everyone but the defensive coaches. Oregon probably wins because of its big-game experience and Marcus Mariota, but that's no gimme. Given what we saw last week, a TCU-Ohio State final wouldn’t have come as a shock, either.
From @jelsass: If it happens, would Cardale Jones be the most “unlikely” national champion quarterback ever?
The answer is probably yes, but only because Marcus “Rooster” Outzen didn’t lead Florida State to a win in the Fiesta Bowl against Tennessee following the 1998 season. Jones’ journey from Ohio State’s third team in August to the biggest stage in college football is amazing, and SI’s Pete Thamel did a fantastic job going back even farther and explaining how Jones reached this point.
What’s most amazing about Jones is the Buckeyes have gotten even better with him at the helm, even though they have faced some of their most challenging foes. To call him a third-stringer isn’t totally correct. The way Ohio State’s quarterback situation shook out over the past year gave Jones enough of a leg up that he could take over the offense without forcing offensive coordinator Tom Herman to severely truncate the playbook. Jones was the third-teamer at the start of camp, but spent most of spring practice splitting first-team reps with J.T. Barrett because Braxton Miller was out. When Miller went down in August, Jones immediately began taking backup reps. Had Jones truly been the third-teamer when he had to take over the offense against Michigan -- for example, if Miller had been playing all season and he and Barrett went down during the game -- Ohio State would have had to run a bare bones offense for the rest of that game and for the Big Ten title game, and then reinstall much of the playbook prior to the Sugar Bowl. Because Jones had so many quality reps in the spring and because he took advantage of his backup reps during the season, he was prepared to take over when Barrett injured his ankle.
Still, it would be an incredible story if Jones leads the Buckeyes to a national title. In an era when plenty of quarterbacks are ready to transfer if they don’t win the starting job by their second year on campus, his tale is pretty improbable.
From @iyaayas1991: How do you stop Mariota? I think you have to keep him in the pocket and hit him.
You’re correct, Aynov, but that is much easier said than done. Just keeping Mariota in the pocket isn’t the solution. In fact, he wants to stay in the pocket. Unlike many quarterbacks with Mariota’s speed, he’d prefer to run plays within the structure of the offense rather than freelance. The problem is that Mariota’s speed and agility allow him to keep plays alive in the pocket far longer than other quarterbacks. That puts tremendous pressure on defensive backs, who occasionally have to cover for six- to eight-second periods rather than the usual four or five.
So, the trick is to hit him. Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa is athletic enough to reach Mariota. The Buckeyes also ran some nice blitzes against Alabama in which Michael Bennett and/or Adolphus Washington opened lanes -- almost like blockers -- for linebacker Darron Lee to zip in and pressure Blake Sims. The problem with doing that against Oregon is that it might also leave room for a back such as Royce Freeman or Thomas Tyner to slip through a hole opened by a defender pushing aggressively upfield. Mariota has always shown great judgment at the mesh point of the read option, which makes him doubly difficult to defend.
From @aarongernes: What’s a non-traditional college football site you think would be neat to see host the national championship game in the future?
That’s easy. Thomas Robinson Stadium in Nassau, Bahamas. That’s mostly since I’m typing this on a 10-degree day in Columbus, Ohio, and would love to be in the Bahamas. I’d also want to see a title game in a stadium where this took place.