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9:23AM

Newsday (N.Y.): Oregon crushes Florida State in Rose Bowl to reach College Football Playoff final

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

PASADENA, Calif. — The oddsmakers knew Oregon, even if most of the eastern United States did not.

The Ducks, the aptly named Quack Attack, were a 9 1/2-point favorite over Florida State, a team that hadn't lost a game in two-plus seasons. Some people wondered how that could be. They found out the first day of 2015.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2015 Newsday. All rights reserved.

9:37AM

Newsday (N.Y.): Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota square off in national semifinal

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

PASADENA, Calif. — One team, Oregon, is second in the nation in the playoff rankings. The other, Florida State, is third and undefeated. Each has a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. What else do we need to know?

Other than who will win Thursday's College Football Playoff semifinal, of course.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2015 Newsday. All rights reserved.

8:24AM

Great night for Mariota and Oregon, not the Pac-12

By Art Spander

SANTA CLARA — The game didn’t hurt Marcus Mariota’s chance for the Heisman Trophy. “If this guy’s not what the Heisman’s about...” said Mariota’s coach, Mark Helfrich.

The comment went unfinished, but Mariota’s quest for the Heisman surely will not be.

Nor did the game hurt the University of Oregon, arguably the second-best team in the land and surely destined for one of the four positions in the college football playoffs. The Ducks embarrassed Arizona, 51-13, Friday night at Levi’s Stadium in the Pac-12 championship game.

“Wasn’t a good night,” said the Arizona head man, Rich Rodriguez. He was talking about his team, which had beaten the Ducks two in a row, 41-24 earlier this season at Eugene, Oregon’s place, and 42-16 last season.

He also could have been talking about the conference’s reputation.

Arizona took a hit, a big one. In what was supposed to be a competitive game, Arizona was disgracefully non-competitive. At halftime, the Wildcats had minus-9 yards rushing, only 25 yards total offense. At halftime, the Wildcats trailed 23-0.

At halftime, the game was over.

“You know,” said Rodriguez, “this play didn’t work, that play didn’t work.”

But for Mariota, the redshirt junior quarterback, after a slow start almost everything worked. By the time he was taken from the game in the fourth quarter, Mariota had rushed for 33 yards and three touchdowns and passed for 303 yards and two more touchdowns.

By that point, Mariota had all but made certain he would earn the Heisman.

“I wouldn’t be in this position,” said Mariota, “if it weren’t for the other players. It’s an 11-man game.”

But of those 11, Mariota, with 39 touchdown passes and only two interceptions this season, is one of a kind. The Ducks are 12-1, that only defeat to Arizona, and headed for one of two postseason semifinals, probably at the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. But that is a few weeks in the future.

On Friday night as the rain fell and stopped and fell, on turf at the San Francisco 49ers' new $1.3 billion stadium that despite having been replaced five times was slippery, Mario worked his magic.

And worked over an Arizona team that was as bewildered as it was battered, giving up 640 yards while acquiring only 224.

“I think Oregon is a very, very good football team,” said Rodriguez. “The winner of our league each year is going to be, I think, a contender to be one of the best in the country. Oregon’s the best in our league this year, and I think they have a chance to prove they’re the best in the country.”

That’s because, in addition to the offense driven by Mariota, they also have a defense. Or is that statement unneeded when the opponent has only 25 yards in the first half?

“The defense did a tremendous job,” confirmed Helfrich. “They stopped a higher power offense.” An offense that gained 495 yards against Oregon in October. An offense that Friday night could hold on to the ball just over 21 minutes of the game’s 60.

Helfrich was apologetic about his own offense early on. The Ducks took the opening drive to the Arizona 16 and finished with just a field goal. After Oregon recovered an Arizona fumble on the kickoff, the Ducks went to the Arizona five and finished with another field goal. Next, they were stopped on downs at the Arizona 25.

“Offensively,” said Helfrich, “we were a bit tight. A bunch of guys were trying to make it 42-0 on two plays, and that’s very difficult. Whether it was jumping offsides or making mistakes, we were inches away from a bunch of points.”

Those points would come, and in the fashion of Oregon’s high-speed tactics that wear down the defense, they came quickly. What didn’t come was the big crowd Pac-12 officials wanted in the first of the four conference championship games not held at one of the opponents’ stadiums. Announced attendance at the 68,000-seat stadium was 45,618, and it seemed closer to 35,000.

Mariota seems closer to the No. 1 individual prize in undergraduate football, the Heisman.

“We had a lot of motivation going into this game,” said Mariota. Two months ago, against the Wildcats, he caught a touchdown pass and threw TD passes of his own, but the Ducks were defeated.

“We didn’t try to put too much emphasis (on this game), because that’s going to be a distraction. We just wanted to go out there and play the best we could. The last couple of years we haven’t been able to put that out there against them. Tonight was just a great example of us playing a complete game.”

And a great example of a quarterback who has likely earned the Heisman.

8:22AM

Stanford methodically, demonstratively stops the Quack Attack

By Art Spander

STANFORD, Calif. — Wait ‘til next year. That’s what Mark Helfrich implied, if he didn’t say directly. Mark Helfrich, the coach of previously unbeaten Oregon, was talking like this year was in the past, which after Thursday night, after the Ducks were beaten by Stanford in textbook style, rarely getting the ball and never getting the lead, very well may be the situation.

Everyone was so in awe of the Oregon offense, the Quack Attack. Blink and the Ducks have scored. And scored again. Forty points, 50 points against a school called Nichols — Nichols? — and against Washington State, more than 60 points.

The story was out that Stanford players were soft. What would Oregon do against the softies?

Get crushed, that’s what. Get held scoreless for three quarters, a presumed impossibility until a late burst that had the sellout crowd of 51,545 standing and nervous, and still get dominated the way a team must dominate Oregon, with ball control.

Stanford methodically, demonstratively built up a 26-0 lead and then had enough left when Oregon didn’t have enough time left to grab a 26-20 victory that surely knocked the Ducks from the No. 2 place in the rankings and just as surely knocked them out of the BCS Championship game.

“We don’t hold the cards anymore,” said Helfrich of his first loss in his first season as Oregon head coach. The Ducks, as Stanford, which came into the game No. 5 in the rankings, now both are 8-1, but Oregon is 5-1 in the Pac-12, Stanford 6-1.

What Stanford did, insisted Helfrich, is what other opponents tried. The difference was in the talent. “They’ve got a lot of veteran guys on defense,” Helfrich pointed out. “Guys that have graduated.”

Fifth-year seniors. And then, strangely, he added, “That will change a little bit.”

It will change because superb Stanford defenders such as Trent Murphy and Shane Skov, Ed Reynolds and David Parry are seniors. They’ll be gone in another season, as if that matters this season.

What Helfrich was saying in effect was, “Stanford stuffed us because its players are experienced, strong and wise, and it won’t the case in 2014.”

A year ago, up there, at Eugene, Stanford held Oregon to two touchdowns and won, 17-14, in overtime. An aberration, we were told, which would be corrected.

“I feel like this team,” Oregon running back De’Anthony Thomas boasted a couple of days ago, “we should put up 40.” Should, but didn’t. Didn’t even put up 30. Barely put up 20.

One hesitates to put much value in possession time, but that caveat could be ignored Thursday night. Of the 60 minutes of football, Oregon was on offense only 17 minutes 26 seconds.

Stanford had the ball virtually three-quarters of the game, even though Oregon had it most (10:35) of the fourth quarter.

“We didn’t get off to a very good start offensively,” said Helfrich. Because Stanford wouldn’t let them. At the half, Oregon had four first downs – and Stanford 11.

In the first quarter Oregon had a fourth down on the Stanford four but threw an incompletion.  In the second quarter Oregon was at the Stanford 11 and lost a fumble.

“They did a great job keeping us inside,” said Helfrich, “but if we get those touchdowns we’d be in the game.” They didn’t get those touchdowns. Stanford kept them from getting those touchdowns.

Oregon, however, couldn’t keep Stanford from getting touchdowns or field goals. Or yards.

Tyler Gaffney rushed 45 times – a Stanford record – and gained 158 yards. He scored the first TD. Quarterback Kevin Hogan rushed eight times for 57 yards. He scored the second TD – and also completed seven passes of 13 attempted.

“Tyler Gaffney ran the ball tonight the way running backs are supposed to run the ball in this game of football,” said David Shaw, the Stanford coach.

“This is what football is about. You control the line of scrimmage, and you have a chance to win. We talked about it the last week and a half, keeping them balled up, keeping them inside, not letting (quarterback) Marcus Mariota get out. He still got us a couple of times, but they weren’t touchdowns.”

The reference to Stanford football being soft was an offshoot of the incidents with the Miami Dolphins, Richie Incognito saying teammate Jonathan Martin, a former Stanford lineman, wasn’t tough.

“And does Stanford have a problem?’’ Shaw asked rhetorically. “Funny thing is that question usually comes after, boy, your team is tough and physical and plays great on the offensive and defensive line. Tonight you see who we are, a big, physical team that plays extremely hard and plays very well together.”

And had the Oregon coach waiting for next year.

9:53AM

RealClearSports: Playoffs? Nah, Bowl Games Are Just Fine

By Art Spander
For RealClearSports.com


PASADENA, Calif. — Playoffs? Not to sound like Jim Mora, so let’s paraphrase him. In college football, who needs playoffs?

We have bowl games. We have the BCS. We had an overload of overtime. An abundance of suspense. What else do we need?

You think LSU-Alabama will be any better than Oregon-Wisconsin...

Read the full story here.

© RealClearSports 2012