DALLAS – One team is playing to make history. The other is playing to do that and maybe also to escape history.
Whoever wins tonight’s College Football Playoff national championship game between Ohio State and Oregon will go down in history as the first team to win a national title under that new format.
“This is a great match-up. It’s college football history,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said on Sunday. “Our players can say they played for the first College Football Playoff national title.”
Ohio State (13-1) won a BCS national championship in 2002 and has several poll championships. Meyer won BCS titles at Florida in 2006 and 2008.
But Oregon (13-1) is looking for its first football national championship.
Since 1995, Oregon has had 10 seasons of 10 or more wins under three different head coaches.
The Ducks have been known for their flashy offense and their equally ostentatious uniforms. But they’ve never won the big one.
Oregon has a chance to increase its already formidable webbed footprint as a national power. And second-year coach Mark Helfrich can do something his predecessor, Oregon legend Chip Kelly, couldn’t do while going 46-7 from 2009-2012.
Kelly got the Ducks to the BCS championship game once, in 2010, but Auburn prevailed 22-19 on a last-minute chip shot field goal.
Helfrich has faced the classic dilemma of following a legend. If Oregon wins, he’s doing it with Kelly’s players. If Oregon loses, it’s because he’s not doing it the way Kelly would have done it.
During press conferences this week, he has answered a string of questions about Kelly and more than a few about Meyer.
A win over Ohio State tonight (8:30 p.m., ESPN) would provide some validation for Oregon and Helfrich.
Meyer talked Sunday about how he wanted Ohio State to take its best shot tonight.
“We talk quite often about how when you have the opportunity to step into the batter’s box you get one swing,” he said. “You step into a prize fight, you get one swing and the great champions don’t miss.
“That’s the mentality we’ve preached for many years, forever, really. That’s the way we train you.”
Oregon is a team known for taking advantage of opportunities in a hurry. The Ducks have had 41 touchdown drives that have taken two minutes or less.
Meyer said he expects Ohio State’s defense to be ready for that, at least in part because it practices against a fast, up-tempo offense of its own. And this team has showed it can respond to adversity.
“You are going to hit storms. There are things that are going to happen that range from bad to awful. If you can hit the storm and come out the other end stronger, that’s called a real team and how many of them are there out there?” he said.
“Some people might call it the luck of the draw. I think it’s leadership and training. We certainly had that this year. This team has taught me so much about how to respond to adversity.”
Ohio State is on a roll coming into the game after a 42-35 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and a 59-0 blowout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.
Oregon has also been dominant at the same stage of the season, winning 51-13 over Arizona in the Pac-12 championship game and routing Florida State 59-20 in the Rose Bowl.
Ohio State has gotten there with its third-string quarterback Cardale Jones after he was forced into action by injuries to Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett. Oregon has the QB it expected to have all along, Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota (4,121 yards, 40 TDs, 3 interceptions).
Oregon ranks second nationally in scoring (47.2 points a game) and third in total offense (552.9 yards a game). Ohio State is fifth in scoring (45.0) and ninth in total offense (509.7).
If it is a high-scoring or low-scoring game, whether the offenses or defenses have their way, whoever wins, the result will be historic.