PASADENA, Calif. -- The matchup is set for the first-ever national championship game in the College Football Playoff system, and it isn't what many were predicting when the season began.
Ok, some might have chalked up a Bucks vs. Ducks showdown in the final game, but probably under very different circumstances. But Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller got hurt. Oregon lost its left tackle and top receiver to ACL tears. It was enough to cause mild panic attacks across the Willamette Valley and on the Olentangy.
Yet here we are, one game left for the grand prize. The team with the quarterback versus the team with the quarterbacks (plural). One of the nicest coaches in the game versus one many paint as a villain. And, oh yeah, a ton of future NFL draft picks.
In many ways this is the perfect cumulation of what has been a wild season in college football. We saw chaos, injuries galore and even myths (looking at you SEC West and Big Ten) dispelled somewhat by the time we hit January. We also received the gift that we rarely get, the country's best player (Marcus Mariota) doing well on the big stage and in the final game. More than that, the two men who turned in the best coaching jobs this year -- Urban Meyer and Mark Helfrich -- will each wind up meeting each other in Dallas. It's a fitting ending to one of the best overall years for the sport in a while.
Sure, neither Oregon nor Ohio State was perfect, as each suffered a loss that has grown more puzzling by the week (Oregon lost to Arizona, and Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech) as the squads have grown and gotten better as the season has gone on. Both, however, used their offensive tempo and skill-position players to their advantage to wind up where each ultimately wanted to be. If at times it looked like the opposing defenses were huffing and puffing a bit on New Year's Day, that's because they were. Florida State players, in particular, denied that was the case, but their tired faces told the story of the Rose Bowl and certainly contributed to Oregon's onslaught in the third quarter that turned the game into a rout (with the help of some offensive turnovers, of course).
Traditionalists might dislike the spread principles the Buckeyes and Ducks employ (especially when it comes to translating to the NFL), but it's effective at the college level and allows us to see stars emerge like tailbacks Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State) and Royce Freeman (Oregon). The key to football for decades has been getting athletes in space, and nobody has done it better than the two teams left standing this year.
The Jan. 12 title showdown presents plenty of compelling in-game matchups to keep an eye on. Start up front, where Oregon left tackle Jake Fisher will have his hands full with All-America end Joey Bosa of the Buckeyes. The latter already has some observers dreaming of his NFL potential despite being just a sophomore. He'll have his work cut out for him against an offensive line that shut out -- literally shut out two Seminole defensive starters from the box score -- Florida State's talented front four.
Ohio State's secondary will also have to regroup after facing Alabama stud Amari Cooper in order to deal with the Ducks' speedy group of wideouts and manly tight end Evan Baylis, who proved to be a load in the semifinal for any defense. Mix in a healthy Thomas Tyner at running back to team with Freeman and one can see how we might have a high-scoring shootout on our hands after the Buckeyes allowed 5.8 yards a play to the Crimson Tide.
The Ducks, meanwhile, will have to scheme for yet another explosive attack and hope to contain the best third-string quarterback in America in a resilient and strong Cardale Jones. At times, the Sugar Bowl wasn't pretty for Ohio State's offense, but the Buckeyes have proven that even when they're down, they're not out. Each used a big momentum swing to carry them on to victory and one should not expect anything less when it comes to the 15th and final game of the season.
Few teams have been rolling like these two and it's fitting they'll square off at the home of one of the NFL's most prolific offensive teams -- the Dallas Cowboys -- in 2014. This might not be the title game some wanted, but it certainly wound up as the title game we all deserved after a wild season that culminated in the first-ever College Football Playoff.