By The SI Staff
January 12, 2015

Andy Staples: Oregon

If running back Ezekiel Elliott, who lost a fumble in the Sugar Bowl, can hold on to the ball, the Buckeyes should be able to gain yards on the ground against the Ducks. Florida State backs Dalvin Cook and Karlos Williams averaged 6.8 yards per carry against Oregon. But while the Ducks allowed the Seminoles to run, they turned a tight game into a laugher by stripping Cook twice in the third quarter and converting those fumbles into quick points. Ducks defenders will likely have a difficult time dragging down the 250-pound (his listed weight, which might be a few biscuits low) Cardale Jones, but if DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Tony Washington can beat their linemen as they did against Florida State, they should be able to force the redshirt sophomore into some poor decisions.

The Buckeyes should not expect Marcus Mariota to make the kind of mistakes Alabama's Blake Sims did. The Heisman Trophy winner has thrown only three interceptions all season, and with recently healthy Thomas Tyner (9.5 yards per carry against Florida State) joining Royce Freeman and Mariota in the run game, the emphasis Ohio State’s defense will have to place on the ground should allow Mariota ample opportunities to make plays through the air. Even without the suspended Darren Carrington, the Ducks should have enough targets because their run game tends to scare defenses into allowing receivers to get open.

The score: Oregon 45, Ohio State 41
Game MVP: Oregon QB Marcus Mariota

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Pete Thamel: Ohio State

I picked both Wisconsin and Alabama, so please don't wager your mortgage on this pick. I think Ohio State's defensive front will find a way to slow down Oregon's offense while the Buckeyes' rushing attack, emboldened by its success against Alabama, will control the game on the ground. (Also, Oregon will miss Carrington and injured receiver Devon Allen more than they'll admit.) This won't be a shootout, but rather a taut game that Ohio State grinds out to a narrow victory. 

The score: Ohio State 30, Oregon 27
Game MVP: Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott

Brian Hamilton: Oregon

Before this season, I predicted Oregon would win the national championship. I am sticking with that, despite a very loud alarm sounding in my head. (It sounds vaguely like, This team is on its third quarterback and is playing for a national title. Do you not know destiny when you see it?) Ohio State can win this game given its ability to control clock with Jones and Elliott on the ground. Oregon, however, has been emphatically better than everyone for most of the season. There's something to that, and to a potentially bruised-up Buckeyes squad falling just a step behind on Monday. A step is usually all Oregon needs.

The score: Oregon 34, Ohio State 27
Game MVP: Mariota

• ​​STAPLES: Ohio State used Oregon's model to become contender

Lindsay Schnell: Oregon

I've picked the Ducks in our preseason and midseason Crystal Balls, so of course I'm picking them now. Beat up since spring, Oregon just keeps responding to injuries that would cripple other teams. Ohio State might be able to keep up with the Ducks' pace, but Oregon has the ultimate trump card in Mariota, who will extend plays and find a way to win.

The score: Oregon 45, Ohio State 35
Game MVP: Mariota

Martin Rickman: Oregon

This is the track meet that will make old school football purists shake their fists and complain incessantly that football isn’t football any more. For everyone else it will be a remarkably entertaining game between two teams with elite playmakers all over the field. While I wouldn’t be surprised if Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes cap off their “Why not us?” season with a title, I still believe the Ducks have the best player overall. In games like these, that tends to be the difference. 

The score: Oregon 45, Ohio State 41
Game MVP: Mariota

• ​ELLIS: Breaking down Oregon-Ohio State position-by-position

Zac Ellis: Oregon

This is where the honeymoon ends for Jones. Oregon won’t neutralize Ohio State's Elliott on the ground, but the Ducks will expose Jones' inexperience and force him into mistakes. The combination of short fields and tempo will allow balanced doses of Mariota, Freeman and Tyner to wear down Joey Bosa and company. The Buckeyes will keep it close until the third quarter, when Jones will unravel like Jameis Winston did in the Rose Bowl. Meanwhile, Mariota will ride off into the Texas sunset, Heisman Trophy and national title in tow.

The score: Oregon 45, Ohio State 34
Game MVP: Mariota

Ben Glicksman: Oregon

I was tempted to go with Ohio State, but I’m sticking with Oregon for two reasons. One is Mariota. For as much as the little things come into play on the sport’s biggest stage, he will unquestionably be the best player on the field, and as Meyer said in his press conference Sunday, “one of the finest that’s ever played the game.” The second reason is the Ducks’ opportunistic defense, which has been terrific of late: It has forced 12 turnovers over its last five games. Look for Ohio State to make a few early mistakes and for Oregon to capitalize. As Florida State learned in the Rose Bowl, that’s exactly how the Ducks thrive -- and bury foes.

The score: Oregon 38, Ohio State 27
Game MVP: Mariota

• ​​RICKMAN: Five steps for Ohio State to (try to) stop Mariota

Colin Becht: Ohio State

It's admittedly a small sample size, but Jones has had no trouble carving up two defenses that are better than Oregon's (Alabama and Wisconsin both gave up 4.8 yards per play this season compared to the Ducks' 5.3). Of course, a big reason for that is the emergence of Elliott, who has 450 rushing yards in the past two games. While Mariota will surely move the ball on Ohio State, the Ducks must battle one of the toughest defenses they'll have faced all season. Although the idea of Oregon losing a shootout -- let alone to a third-string quarterback -- may feel strange (it hasn't happened since Mariota became the starter), the Ducks will come up short.

The score: Ohio State 41, Oregon 38
Game MVP: Elliott

Gabriel Baumgaertner: Ohio State

Oh, how it feels terrible to bet against Mariota in what should be the final game of his college career. But it's a fool's errand to discount the Buckeyes, a team coming off two astounding performances and boasting a ferocious defensive line and fearless quarterback. The game should hinge on the play of Oregon's offensive line. While the unit is healthier now than it has been for most of the season, it stares down a line of monsters in Bosa, Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington. Mariota's sleek ability to flush the pocket and open the field should minimize the damage at points, but Oregon won't be able to survive on speed and short pass plays alone. It will face too much pressure. Without their two top receivers (Allen and Carrington), the Ducks need stellar performances from Freeman and the emerging Tyner to keep the aggressive Buckeyes at bay.

It's odd to put faith in a team using a third-string quarterback. Jones is a mammoth presence whose decision-making can be suspect, but whose physicality and big arm will test a questionable Oregon secondary missing its best player (Ifo Ekpre-Olomu). It should be a rollicking good time. 

The score: Ohio State 38, Oregon 34
Game MVP: Ohio State QB Cardale Jones

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