Pasadena, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - Two of the preseason favorites to play in the first-ever College Football Playoff found their way to postseason Nirvana, as the second-ranked Florida State Seminoles and third-ranked Oregon Ducks will square off in the 2015 Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.
A spot opposite either Ohio State or Alabama in the College Football Championship Game on Jan. 12 awaits the winner of this highly anticipated matchup.
Jimbo Fisher's Seminoles are the defending national champions and all they have done is win 29 straight games since 2012. Florida State ran the table in 2013 en route to the national title and is in prime position to make it two years in a row, after going 13-0 in 2014, with yet another ACC crown under its belt.
The team's success over the last two years has fortified Fisher's status as one of the nation's premier coaches. He was recently rewarded for his efforts with an eight-year contract extension through 2022.
"Florida State is a very special place," Fisher said. "I appreciate the support of the administration in accomplishing some great things. ... I look forward to continuing to build on what we are establishing."
Florida State is 27-14-2 all-time in the postseason, and has won six straight bowl games, including last year's thrilling 34-31 win over Auburn in the BCS Championship Game.
Mark Helfrich's Ducks have just one blemish on the season and that came early on against a tough Arizona squad, 31-24 on Oct. 2. Since then, the team has reeled off eight straight victories, including exacting sweet revenge on those Wildcats, routing Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game (51-13) to solidify its spot in the four-team playoff.
Oregon is 12-15 all-time in bowl games and has won three straight postseason bouts, including last year's 30-7 drubbing of Texas in the Alamo Bowl. This marks OU's seventh appearance in the Rose Bowl, with the team sporting a mere 2-4 record in the event all-time.
This is the first time these two teams have met on the football field.
Winning pretty is not a prerequisite to playing for a national championship these days and that's a good thing, because FSU has not done a lot of that in 2014. Still, the team's offensive success, especially in crucial times, has driven it to its current standing and last year's Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston has been the main reason why.
Despite a ton of off-the-field distractions that may haunt Winston into his NFL career, there have been very few on-the-field issues, as the redshirt sophomore has produced, especially in crunch time. Winston has completed an efficient 65.4 percent of his passes in 2014, for 3,559 yards and 24 TDs. While his 17 interceptions have seemed problematic, he has come up big at the right time and kept FSU's win streak alive.
It certainly helps to have a pair or receiving outlets like WR Rashad Greene and TE Nick O'Leary to count on. Greene, FSU's all-time leading receiver, had another hugely productive year, hauling in 93 balls, for 1,306 yards and seven TDs. O'Leary, a First-Team All-American, took home the Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end after catching 47 balls, for 614 yards and six scores.
Karlos Williams was supposed to have a monster year for FSU on the ground, but instead posted modest numbers with 609 yards and 10 TDs on 4.4 yards per carry. What it did do however, is allow freshman Dalvin Cook to get on the field. The 6-0, 200-pound youngster averaged nearly six yards per carry and finished with a team-high 905 yards, with eight TDs.
Of course, the offensive success is made possible by one of the nation's premier offensive lines, anchored by First-Team All-American guard Tre' Jackson.
Special teams has played an important role as well, headlined by First-Team All-American place kicker Roberto Aguayo.
FSU's defense has taken a step back from last year's fearsome group, with the team allowing 378.3 yards per game on 5.3 yards per play. The 'Noles were able to force timely turnovers with 24 on the season, but there was really no dominant upfield rusher to speak of, as Florida State finished with just 17 sacks in 12 games.
Still, there are playmakers at each level of the defense, starting with linebackers Reggie Northrup and Terrance Smith. Northrup led the team in total tackles with 113 stops, while adding one INT, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Smith was second on the team with 85 stops and two forced fumbles.
The secondary is highlighted by NFL-caliber cover corner P.J. Williams (60 tackles, 1 INT), while up front, the pressure comes from Mario Edwards Jr. (44 tackles, 11 TFL, 3 sacks) and Eddie Goldman (35 tackles, 8 TFL, 4 sacks).
The Seminoles will need to be focused defensively for a full 60 minutes, as Helfrich is sure to cut star quarterback Marcus Mariota loose. The junior signal caller ran away with the Heisman Trophy this season, capping off the most celebrated individual season in Oregon history. He was OU's first-ever Heisman winner and took home three other national player of the year honors, along with two QB awards
Mariota completed nearly 70 percent of his passes in 2014 (.683), for 3,783 yards and 38 touchdowns. Of his 372 throws this season, only two were intercepted. He also found time to finish second on the team in rushing with 669 yards and an additional 14 scores.
While Mariota was the face of the offense, there were plenty of other strong seasons by the Ducks. Tailback Royce Freeman rumbled for 1,299 yards and 16 touchdowns, leading a ground game that churned out 237.3 yards per game.
In the passing game, Mariota's favorite targets have been Byron Marshall (621 receptions, 814 yards, 5 TDs) and Devon Allen (41 receptions, 684 yards, 7 TDs), although Dwayne Stanford (37 rec, 557 yds, 6 TDs) and Pharoah Brown (25 rec, 420 yds, 6 TDs) had great success as well.
The Ducks weren't the best defense around this season, giving up 413.8 yards per game, but a lot of that yardage came in garbage time with the outcome having already been determined most weeks. With 34 sacks and 24 takeaways, Oregon was still a dangerous unit with big-play ability.
Some of that playmaking status has been lost with the recent knee injury suffered by star cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, but others can step up and fill the void in the postseason.
Erick Dargen comes to mind, as the senior defensive back proved to be a ball- hawk this season with a team-best 82 tackles, six interceptions and one forced fumble. Other Oregon defenders of note include senior linebacker Tony Washington (49 tackles, 10 TFL, 5 sacks) and junior linebacker Christian French (22 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks).
Helfrich is certainly impressed with what Florida State has been able to accomplish over the last two years.
"It just doesn't happen," Helfrich said. "It's so difficult to have everyone focused for seven days in a row. When you get to 29 weeks, that's extremely, extremely impressive."