Positional breakdown: Where do Ohio State, Oregon have an advantage?

Ohio State and Oregon look evenly matched heading into the national championship game. Zac Ellis breaks down the squads position-by-position to determine where each team has its advantages.
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Urban Meyer’s biggest challenge this week is determining how to stop Marcus Mariota, and Ohio State's coach understands the tremendous obstacle he faces. “He should have been the Heisman Trophy winner,” Meyer told reporters recently. “I'm glad he got it. For a lot of reasons, I'm glad he got it. I just love who he is.”

Mariota will be the biggest star on display when Oregon meets Ohio State. He gives the Ducks a decided edge at quarterback as they vie for their first national title. But which team gets the edge at other spots on the depth chart? SI.com offers a position-by-position breakdown of Monday’s tilt in Dallas.



One quarterback is starting the third game of his career. The other has a Heisman Trophy and 35 wins over three seasons. Mariota has been the best player in the country this year, throwing for 40 touchdowns and only three interceptions during Oregon’s run to the title game. Cardale Jones is no Heisman winner, but he has done a remarkable job for Ohio State after stepping in for the injured J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller. Still, the sample size remains too small to predict Jones’ title-game performance. Mariota is easily the best quarterback on the field.

Advantage: Oregon

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Running back

Royce Freeman, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner form a particularly effective three-headed monster in Oregon’s backfield. The trio has rushed for 2,237 yards (5.8 average) with 24 touchdowns, and Tyner reeled off 124 yards with two scores against Florida State in the Rose Bowl. Meanwhile, Ohio State has enjoyed the emergence of Ezekiel Elliott, who has 450 yards and four touchdowns over the last two games. Elliott is on a roll, but the Ducks’ committee has the edge.

Advantage: Oregon

Wide receiver

Oregon will be without injured wideout Devon Allen, its third-leading receiver (694 yards, seven touchdowns), and Darren Carrington, who will sit after failing a drug test. The Ducks need Marshall, who caught just five passes for 20 yards against Florida State, to step up after leading the team with 66 catches and 834 yards this year. Conversely, the Buckeyes boast the matchup’s primary big-play threat in Devin Smith. His 30 career touchdown catches rank second in program history, and Ohio State hasn't lost any of the 22 games in which he has a touchdown reception. Smith pairs nicely with Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall.

Advantage: Ohio State

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​Offensive line

The Ducks’ offensive line struggled with injuries for much of the year, but center Hroniss Grasu and left tackle Jake Fisher are healthy and have improved the unit. Oregon’s line didn’t surrender a sack against Florida State, and paved the way for 301 rushing yards. Ohio State, meanwhile, had to replace four starters from last year’s offensive line. That group, led by junior tackle Taylor Decker, eventually jelled to spearhead a rushing attack that ranks ninth nationally (262.2 yards per game). Both lines have struggled at moments, but have come together at the right time.

Advantage: Push



Defensive line

Ohio State’s defensive line features two All-America selections in Michael Bennett and Joey Bosa, a duo that forced three fumbles in the Big Ten title game. Bosa, who led the league in sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (20), is the Buckeyes’ first unanimous All-America honoree since linebacker James Laurinaitis in 2007. DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Oregon’s line did a great job pressuring Jameis Winston in the Rose Bowl, but Ohio State’s unit has the upper hand.

Advantage: Ohio State

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Ducks redshirt senior Tony Washington was named Rose Bowl Defensive MVP after sacking Winston once and returning a fumble for a score. Fellow linebacker Rodney Hardrick has started 27 straight games for Oregon. The Buckeyes can match that talent, however, with Joshua Perry, Curtis Grant and Darron Lee, a trio that started all but one game together in 2014.

Advantage: Push

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Vonn Bell, Doran Grant and Tyvis Powell account for 15 of Ohio State’s 24 team interceptions, a total that ranks fourth nationally and second in program history. Oregon has only 12 picks in 2014, and wasn’t able to prevent Winston from going 29-of-45 for 348 yards in the Rose Bowl. The unit will also miss star cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who suffered a right knee injury in December. Mariota will test the back of the Buckeyes’ defense, but it has the talent to make things difficult.

Advantage: Ohio State

Special teams

Matt Wogan and Aidan Schneider make Oregon the better field goal kicking squad, as the duo hit on 16 of 19 attempts this season (84.2 percent, 11th nationally). The pair could be critical if the Ducks stall in the red zone. But don’t underestimate the importance of field position, where Ohio State gets the nod. Cameron Johnston averages 45.3 yards per punt -- second in the Big Ten -- and helped the Buckeyes finish as the league’s best team in starting field position. Factor in explosive return man Marshall, who ranks 10th in the FBS in punt return average (12.0 yards), and the Buckeyes could change the game.

Advantage: Ohio State

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The verdict

Oregon boasts the advantage on offense with a veteran in Mariota, a stable of dangerous running backs and an offensive line that is finally healthy. Meanwhile, Ohio State’s defense looks superior with Bosa and the rest of the front seven ahead of a ball-hawking secondary. The Buckeyes get the overall edge with the addition of special teams. But Oregon’s defense, which forced five turnovers against Florida State, will face Jones in only his third start. That’s why execution will ultimately determine a matchup that I'd say favors Ohio State on paper.