30
Dec

On January 1st, 2015, the site that hosted the first postseason college football game ever played will make history once again.

The No. 2 Oregon Ducks and No. 3 Florida State Seminoles will face off in the 101st Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual in Pasadena, California, which will serve as the first College Football Playoff semifinal ever played.

The historic game will pit two of the most high-profile players in the nation against each other.

Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner, will go up against his Heisman hall predecessor, Florida State’s quarterback Jameis Winston. It’s just the third time in college football history that the two most recent Heisman winners have faced off in the postseason.

Mariota’s Heisman campaign was highlighted by his staggering 186.34 passer rating, which he achieved by throwing for 38 touchdowns with just two interceptions on the season. The Honolulu, Hawai’i native also has 14 touchdowns on the ground and one receiving touchdown, bringing his current season total to 53 — a Pac-12 single-season record. His 4,452 yards of total offense also mark a conference record.

Mariota promised he wouldn’t experience any Heisman hangover in his first game back.

“When I got back to Eugene, just being part of practice again helped me mellow out and unwind a little bit,” Mariota said. “Like I said, the University of Oregon has done a great job with that. I can't thank them enough, really, because they've helped me funnel into my normal routine and feel part of the team again.”

Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher acknowledged how tough it would be to slow down the seemingly unstoppable Heisman winner.

“This guy is so dynamic in how he commands his offense,” Fisher said. You're never going to stop a guy like that. You've got to try to contain and make sure the guys around him don't get all theirs.”

Mariota has spread the ball out this season, with five players catching five or more touchdowns. Freshman Devon Allen has scored a team-high seven on 684 receiving yards, while junior Byron Marshall’s 814 receiving yards are tops on the Ducks squad. Freshman running back Royce Freeman, meanwhile, amassed 1,299 yards on the ground this season, the third-best mark by a freshman this year, and 16 touchdowns.

Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich has guided these players to a 12-1 (8-1 Pac-12) record this season and a Pac-12 championship. The Ducks’ sole loss came in a regular season home game against then-unranked Arizona, which Oregon avenged in the Pac-12 Championship game.

The ACC champion Seminoles, meanwhile, sport a perfect 13-0 (8-0 ACC) and a 29-game win streak. But their season hasn’t been as easy as their record might suggest.

The defending national champions trailed in eight of their 12 games this year. The Noles, though, have manufactured a win each and every time — including a slim two-point victory over Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship game — and have learned to relish their roles as comeback kids.

“We've kind of been the underdog I would say all season because everybody is doubting us and thinking that we're so close in games, that we're not blowing everybody out like last year,” said Florida State defensive end Mario Edwards, Jr. “But if that's what the world wants to put us as — the underdog — then come Jan. 1 we have the opportunity to prove them wrong.”

Though the Rose Bowl is 2,000 miles from the Seminoles’ home turf in Tallahassee, the stadium isn’t unfamiliar to the Seminoles. Last year, Florida State took down Auburn, 34-31, in the BCS National Championship, which took place at the Rose Bowl.

This year, a mix of rookie and veteran players have fostered Florida State’s success. Freshman Dalvin Cook leads the team with 905 rushing yards, while senior wide receiver Rashad Greene boasts 1,306 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Senior tight end Nick O’Leary, the 2014 Mackey Award winner, has hauled in 614 yards and six touchdowns as well.

Despite the litany of talented players, Winston insists it’s the team’s mindset that has caused its success.

“I think it's more of a perseverance, you know, and a will to win,” Winston said. “We got to have mental toughness, too, but if you look in the eyes of these guys and see that they want to win more than anything else and they hate losing, you know this football team.”

The Seminoles’ toughness will be tested against the Ducks this Thursday, January 1st, when the Playoff Semifinal at the Rose Bowl Game kicks off at 5 p.m. ET.

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