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Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota square off in national semifinal

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, left, and Oregon

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, left, and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota are seen in this composite image. Credit: AP / John Raoux, AP / Rick Bowmer

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.

To some, this will be the 101st Rose Bowl Game. To others it's the first game of a new championship format that some insist was long overdue.

Others regret the demise of the old system, in which various bowls -- especially the Rose ("the Granddaddy of them all"), the Orange and the Sugar -- had their own importance.

With the elements involved and the two quarterbacks -- Florida State's Jameis Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner, and Oregon's Marcus Mariota, the 2014 winner -- the matchup here is delightfully appealing.

FSU (13-0) is a talented squad. Winston could go No. 1 in this spring's NFL draft and is 26-0 in two seasons as a starter.

Oregon (12-1) averaged 46 points a game. Mariota -- who also could go No. 1 in the draft -- passed for 38 touchdowns and 3,783 yards and ran for 14 touchdowns and 669 yards. "The guy is so dynamic in how he commands the offense," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. "He can beat you in the pocket. He can beat you with his feet."

As can Winston, who has thrown a touchdown pass in a school-record 26 games -- each of his starts -- and is averaging 296 yards per game passing.

"I think the key," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said in full agreement with the hype, "is Jameis and Marcus are the guys that really make things go."

What could decide the game -- the winner advances to the national championship game against Alabama or Ohio State, which meet in the Sugar Bowl Thursday night -- is defense.

"Defensively, Florida State is as fast and physical as any we've seen," Helfrich said. "They're extremely multiple, kind of a combination of a bunch of great defenses we've seen."

A year ago, Florida State was able to hold off Auburn, 34-31, and win the final BCS Championship Game at the Rose Bowl.

"They're athletic," Mariota said when asked about this year's Florida State defense. "They have a bunch of guys that can make plays. They find ways to [get you] to turn the ball over."

FSU had 13 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries.

"They're going to come out and be aggressive,'' Mariota said, "so we have to make sure we understand our game plans."

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