On New Year’s Day, Oregon did what it does to a lot of teams — gives them the illusion of being in the game, then turns on the jets and torches them. Florida State actually went from driving in the third quarter with the potential of taking the lead in the national semifinal, to losing 59-20.
Oregon is known for its speed, but it was shocking how much quicker and more decisive the Ducks looked on defense against the FSU offense. Jameis Winston is a deft pocket passer, but he looked ponderous trying to move away from Oregon’s pressure.
Now the Ducks get a similar, big thrower — but a guy who will tuck it and run in Ohio State’s Cardale Jones. Oregon has opened as a seven-point favorite in Vegas.
Florida State? It turned out to be the imposter in the playoffs that all its close games hinted it would be. The Seminoles kept winning, and indeed, that’s the bottom line, but they kept having close calls against not-so-decorated teams that it skewed the playoff bracket. Yes, they deserved credit for resilience to pull out the victories, but the reality was, the ‘Noles weren’t that good. They won their last four games by a mere 14 combined points, while Oregon was laying at least 42 points on every Pac-12 opponent it played since the early-October upset by Arizona.
Imagine how much better the playoff would have been with TCU, or even Baylor, rather than Florida State. And no, this isn’t intended as 20/20 hindsight or a second-guess of the selection committee, which had to hew to the notion that yes, Florida State was winning games, and yes, it was the ACC champion. But I’d suggest that margin of victory become a more compelling component of the process — the visceral, eyeball-test factor that tells you whether a team is really, really good, or somehow just getting by.
FSU was due a lot of credit for scheduling intent; it had Oklahoma State, Notre Dame and Florida as three non-league opponents, and in many years, that’s a virtual gauntlet that perhaps no other school would have attempted. And that was in stark contrast to the non-league puffery that playoff-hopeful Baylor set up for itself. But the reality, the 2014 hard facts, were that Oklahoma State lapsed into a 6-6 team, Notre Dame was a five-loss outfit that skidded badly late in the season, and Florida also lost five games and fired its coach.
Rudely, Oregon pulled down the curtain on all that. And now it only has one more game to complete a dream season.