PASADENA, Calif. -- The sun setting on the San Gabriel mountains served as the perfect backdrop for Thursday's first-ever College Football Playoff semifinal at the Rose Bowl. At least one of the two teams involved certainly proved worthy of the sport's grandest stage, as Oregon advanced to the national championship game with a 59-20 blowout of Florida State.
In just the third-ever meeting between two Heisman Trophy winners in the postseason, Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota was largely outplayed by Florida State signal-caller Jameis Winston during the first half, but saved his best for when the lights were just starting to come on around the stadium. The Ducks star completed 26 passes for 338 yards and two touchdowns while successfully using his legs to escape pressure a number of times to extend plays.
Mariota seemed unsettled early on, tossing his third interception of the season on a poorly thrown ball down the hash marks just before halftime, and he missed several easy throws that could have been turned into scores.
The athletic dual-threat, who had eight carries for 62 yards and a score, showed why he'll present an intriguing evaluation for scouts whenever he decides to declare for the NFL draft. He had issues in the passing game at times, but also showed why he will leave the program as one of the best ever to play college football after capitalizing on a number of Florida State mistakes to turn the contest into a laugher before night fell completely over the Los Angeles area.
As much as Mariota, tailback Thomas Tyner (124 yards, two touchdowns) and the rest of the offense were responsible for the blowout, Oregon's defense really broke open the game in the third quarter. Florida State turned the ball over four times in the third quarter and Oregon turned each one into a touchdown.
The loss ended Florida State's 29-game winning streak, which had been the longest active streak in the country. It also gave Winston his first-ever loss at the collegiate level. Winston finished the game 29-of-45 for 348 yards, a touchdown and an interception while moving to 27-1 as a starter. It was the quarterback's bizarre third-quarter fumble on a fourth-down scramble that was in many ways the final nail in the coffin for the team, with Oregon's Tony Washington scooping the ball up and returning it 58 yards for a score.
That play allowed all 91,322 in attendance to start wondering if Oregon matched up better against Alabama or Ohio State in the national championship game on Jan. 12 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Now, the one program involved in the first-ever College Football Playoff without a national title is just one step away from its dreams and playing as well as any team in the country following the dismantling of the defending champions at the Rose Bowl.