Oregon vs. Florida State in a Battle for the Soul of College Football

Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse more stories
Oregon vs. Florida State in a Battle for the Soul of College Football
AP Images

Last year's Heisman winner vs. this season's (likely) Heisman winner. Longest winning streak in the nation against the hottest team. And also what many fans may choose to view as Good vs. Evil.

That’s what we’ll get with the Oregon-Florida State semifinal in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Oregon certainly comes in with the more sparkling image, and not just because of all those dazzling uniforms the neon Ducks wear.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota is a lock for the Heisman Trophy in the wake of throwing for a record 313 yards in Friday’s Pac-12 Championship Game. He's winning high praise for his smarts, humility and work ethic, leading Oregon coach Mark Helfrich to tell reporters, "If (Mariota) isn’t what the Heisman Trophy is all about, I’m in the wrong profession."

That 51-13 victory over Arizona typifies the difference in perception between these two teams.

It was Oregon’s eighth consecutive victory against a conference opponent, and in all eight, the Ducks have scored at least 42 points while winning by an average margin of 26. It also wiped out the one negative on the Oregon resume, a loss to Arizona back on Oct. 2.

What’s not to like about Oregon? They’ve kept their cartoon-like Duck mascot busy doing pushups on the sideline by scoring a point every 78 seconds this season.   

Counter that with Florida State’s slip-and-slide approach to getting into college football’s first playoff.

Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Jameis Winston and FSU have been dogged by criticisms that the Seminoles do just enough to win.

Even without the 2012 allegation of sexual assault against Jameis Winstonwhich never led to chargesthe Seminoles have absolutely failed to seize the nation’s imagination despite piling up a 29-game winning streak.

There has been a "here we go again" cloud hanging over their wins as they struggle against teams with mediocre records before pulling another escape act.

There’s also a sense that Lady Luck has suited up in Seminole garnet and gold and done just enough to keep their hopes alive for a repeat title.

Who wins between Florida State and Oregon?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Seven Seminoles victories have been by six points or fewer, and hunting for an FSU signature victory is like trying to get a dead man’s autograph.

The Seminoles survived Notre Dame (ahem, 7-5 Notre Dame) thanks to a debatable pass-interference call.

They needed a field goal with three seconds left to best a middling Boston College, in a game where Winston further ruffled perceptions by pushing a referee out of his way to get under center.

They beat Clemson in overtime with Winston sitting out, but that just brought more attention to the profanity-fueled tirade in public that got the quarterback suspended.

And this isn’t the Florida State that a lot of fans got cozy with when Bobby Bowden ran the program. Bowden was the wise-cracking grandfather-type everyone loves, but Jimbo Fisher often comes off as the arrogant neighbor who wants you to know his new car has more horsepower than yours. For many, Bowden was a wizened-but-wise Yoda, and Fisher is just Darth Vader with a southern accent.

But what has Fisher done with all of that horsepower? Not a lot. Even Saturday night’s convincing victory over Georgia Tech for the ACC title ended up being by only a two-point margin.

As all the debating has made clear, these four inaugural playoff spots are sacred to college football fans, and there’s a widespread sense FSU didn’t play as if it was operating on the same value system.

Winston threw four interceptions in the rivalry game against Florida. That’s twice the number of times Mariota has been picked all season.

FSU has overcome three deficits of more than 15 points, but those comebacks haven’t endeared the Seminoles to anyone outside of their home state. Teams that appear to play in cruise control don’t win popularity polls, and that’s how FSU appeared to play while falling way behind to North Carolina State, Louisville and Miami.

But Oregon, as Dan Wetzel pointed out on Yahoo, has staked a claim to being the most dominant team in the nation by taking leads and refusing to relinquish them. Aside from the loss to Arizona, the Ducks have trailed for only 39 minutes and 23 seconds, and they were never behind in the fourth quarter of their 12 victories.

What makes the Ducks even more fearsome as the playoffs approach is they now have a defense their offense can be proud of. The Pac-12 title win was the fourth time in the last five games they've held an opponent to under 20 points.

Florida State has played some stout second-half defense that has kept the Seminoles in range, but with a rushing defense that ranks only 104th in the nation, Mariota might run wild on them.

And that's exactly how many fans would love to see Florida State get bounced out of a playoff appearance they think the Seminoles didn't earn. 


Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.

Follow B/R on Facebook

College Football

Subscribe Now

By signing up for our newsletter, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

Thanks for signing up.