The biggest advantage Ohio State has on offense is in their passing game. The Buckeyes’ top tandem eased the transition for two new quarterbacks during the course of this championship run, and either one would likely be one of Oregon’s top receivers. The Ducks have a skilled but young group of pass-catchers that has been decimated by injuries this season yet continues to grow as a unit thanks to Mariota’s astute leadership.
Before the season even began, Oregon lost Bralon Addison — the junior receiver that was expected to be Mariota’s key target this season — to injured knee ligaments suffered during spring practices. Before the Rose Bowl, they lost Devon Allen, the hurdler that led the team in receiving touchdowns in 2014. Yet they still managed to gain over 300 yards in nine of Oregon’s 14 games to date this season. Byron Marshall made his transformation from the backfield to the slot, leading the team with 66 receptions and 834 yards in a seamless transition. Darren Carrington — who opened eyes with a seven-catch, 165-yard, two-score day at the Rose Bowl — also has over 700 yards for the season after heating up at the end of the season. (NOTE: Carrington has been suspended for the championship game after testing positive for marijuana.) Dwayne Stanford, Keanon Lowe, and Charles Nelson have provided additional targets, and tight end Evan Baylis has stepped up after the injury to starter Pharaoh Brown.
What Oregon doesn’t have is a deep threat as dangerous as Ohio State’s Devin Smith. The senior led the nation with over 27 yards per reception, finishing with 32 catches for 886 yards and 12 touchdowns. Against Alabama, Smith was held to just two catches — but one went for 40 yards, the other was a 47-yard touchdown snag, and the Buckeye finished with more receiving yards than Heisman finalist Amari Cooper despite his limited impact. Michael Thomas was the perfect possession receiver for OSU’s quarterbacks, catching 50 balls for 746 yards and nine scores. Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson, nominally tailbacks, also caught at least 300 yards worth of passes during the season, while senior receiver Evan Spencer was another veteran outlet for Barrett and Jones.
ADVANTAGE: Ohio State