A high-octane battle featuring the last two Heisman Trophy winners will determine a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff championship game. (Also see our Sugar Bowl preview here.)


No. 2 Oregon (12-1) vs. No. 3 Florida State (13-0)

Thursday, Jan 1. 5:00 PM (ESPN)

How They Got Here

Florida State has won an ACC-record 29 consecutive games and knocked off Georgia Tech to secure its third straight conference championship. Despite that long winning streak, the playoff committee raised concerns about the Seminoles’ close, come-from-behind wins and only ranked them No. 3. Oregon, meanwhile, ran the table after an early season loss to Arizona and then got their revenge, blasting the Wildcats, 51-13, in the Pac-12 championship game.

When Florida State Has the Ball

Florida State certainly hasn’t been the dominant force it was last year, but all they do is win. Jameis Winston’s TD/INT ratio dropped from 40/10 during his Heisman campaign last year to just 24/17 this year (his 17 interceptions are the most among Big 5 conference quarterbacks). But he has certainly been clutch, making big plays down the stretch and leading the Seminoles to several second half comebacks this season. He will need to have another big game as the Seminoles’ running game has been decidedly subpar this season, ranking 104th nationally and rushing for less than 200 yards in all but one game this year.

However, if he can avoid mistakes, Winston should have success against an Oregon defense that has struggled at times this year. The Ducks rank 84th nationally in total defense and 105th against the pass. Unfortunately for Oregon, things got even worse earlier this month when star cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu tore his ACL in practice. While Oregon rotates its secondary players freely and the backups have had plenty of playing time, losing a first-team All-American player will almost certainly cause some drop-off. Look for Winston and receiver Rashad Greene to test that secondary and shoot for big plays over the top.

When Oregon Has the Ball

Getty Images
Getty Images

2014 Heisman winner Marcus Mariota has been a model of excellence down the stretch. Since that early season loss to Arizona, the Oregon quarterback has led the Ducks to eight straight wins while racking up over 2,800 total yards and 34 touchdowns in that stretch. Under his leadership, Oregon’s offense has been hitting on all cylinders with remarkable balance—the Ducks are not in the top ten of either rushing or passing offenses, but are third nationally in both total offense and scoring.

Florida State’s defense hasn’t shut people down like it did last season, but it has still been effective. The Seminoles rank 30th in scoring defense and have held 9 of its 13 opponents to 27 or fewer points. However, they’ve done that against a relatively weak schedule. This will be by far Florida State’s toughest test of the season.


While Florida State’s close wins might have raised eyebrows for the playoff committee, they could serve the Seminoles well as we know they can respond to adversity and won’t panic if they’re in a tight game down the stretch.

This is just the third time in history that two quarterbacks with a Heisman Trophy have faced off against one another. The previous matchups pitted Oklahoma’s Jason White (2003) against Matt Leinart (2004) of USC in the 2005 Orange Bowl and Tim Tebow (2007) of Florida against Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford (2008) in the 2009 BCS Championship.

Oregon’s offense is explosive enough that, if Florida State makes mistakes early, the Ducks could put this game out of reach. But if the Seminoles don’t shoot themselves in the foot and the Oregon defense struggles to get off the field, this could turn into a very exciting shootout.

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