NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – College football history was changed Thursday, within hours of ringing in the New Year.
Two long-awaited semifinal games were on tap. No. 2-seed Oregon and No. 3 seed Florida State met in the Rose Bowl to christen the first four-team playoff format that fans have craved for years.
No. 1 seed Alabama and No. 4 seed Ohio State played the late game, with the winning teams scheduled to meet in a game in Dallas that will crown a national champion.
First, Oregon and Florida State had to determine the other opponent for the Championship Game.
Undefeated Florida State (13-0) came in with a DNA pattern of being able to overcome second half deficits. Nine times this season, the Seminoles trailed in a game and nine times, they came back to win. This time, however, the Seminoles ran out of magic dust.
Florida State not only lost the game, 59-20, it lost its trademark composure that allowed their team to mount insurmountable odds during the regular season.
“We just out-teamed them,’’ second year Oregon Coach Mark Helfrich said modestly. The 40-year old Oregon native followed Chip Kelly as the Ducks’ coach. His team was fine-tuned and clicking on all cylinders.
It turned into and unexpected route when Oregon got its Ducks in a row.
Too many turnovers (5) led to 34 of 59 FSU’s points. Freshman running back Dalvin Cook coughed up the ball twice. The second one led to Oregon’s largest lead in the game at the time, 39-20, in the third quarter. The lead would widen to 59-20 as teams played in the fourth quarter.
Mariota would watch the latter stages of the game from the sideline. He finished with 26 of 36 for 338 yards and two touchdowns. He added 62 yards on eight carries.
It was more than enough to put the Ducks in the championship game and hand Florida State its lone loss of the season and end a 29-game win streak.
The game had the two most recent Heisman Trophy winners in 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston and the 2014 winner in Oregan’s quarterback, Marcus Mariota.
They were considered this season’s two best quarterbacks in college football and were largely responsible their teams squared off in the Rose Bowl.
Even on television you could sense the tension in the air early in the game. No wonder. Every player on both teams was thrust on the biggest stage of their young lives. That scenario created mistakes and several scoring opportunities were wasted.
Speed and power obviously filled both rosters. The Ducks operated offensively with a hurry-up read option style that was orchestrated by Mariota, a quarterback who shrugged off a rare interception and led his team to the championship game.
Florida State countered with Winston, an outstanding athletic quarterback whose past had been sprinkled by a number of off-the-field mistakes. He was found innocent of accused sexual assault after a school investigation failed to prove it had happened.
Despite all that, Winston and the Seminoles had managed to avoid a loss this season.
Mariota is a clean-cut, modest athlete who grew up in Hawaii and had a spotless record off the field.
FSU struck first with a field goal. That was followed by Oregon manufacturing a 73-yard drive resulting in the game’s first touchdown. The Ducks decided to attempt a two-point conversion and was successful as they lined up in an unconventional formation that caught the Seminoles off-guard.
It was 8-3 Oregon when both teams settled in for what failed to be a nail-biting game. Both teams put up another field goal, giving the Ducks a 11-6 lead in the second quarter. With the clock showing less than three minutes, the Ducks were deep in the Seminoles red zone. Sophomore Thomas Tyner crossed the goal line with 2:18 remaining before intermission but Florida State answered with a touchdown with only seconds left before halftime.
That gave the Ducks a 18-13 lead at intermission, but Florida State’s come-from-behind history this season was not to be dismissed. The Seminoles were known for their ability to play catch-up in the second half and they came out to receive the third quarter kickoff.
This time there would be no threat from the Seminoles. The game belonged to Mariota and the Ducks. Thirty-four unanswered points took care of that.
On to Dallas to crown a king of college football.