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Mariota keeps Ducks in wild playoff hunt

It’s appropriate Marcus Mariota wears green, because the Oregon quarterback is a money player. He will earn a lot of it in the NFL, where he could start for about 10 teams this weekend.

Obviously, the New York Jets, who also wear green, are one of those teams. The Philadelphia Eagles might not start Mariota right now, but Chip Kelly surely would like to coach him again.

If I had a Heisman Trophy vote, Mariota would get it. He deserves to win it. With one more win, he will deliver the Ducks to the College Football Playoff, which comes with a big payoff.

Mariota is the nation’s most outstanding player, and unless he flops in today’s Pacific-12 Conference title game, that’s not seriously debatable. But ranking the top four teams in the playoff sets the stage for heated debates, and it has made this season more intriguing than ever.

Every game the contenders play means something. Every weekend has featured playoff-type games. We wanted a playoff for several years, and we finally got it. But while Mariota is not quite perfect — he has thrown two interceptions to go with 36 touchdown passes — the playoff system has more flaws.

“It should be eight teams. That has been a no-brainer,” said Nick Bogdanovich, William Hill sports book director. “I’ve said from the beginning eight teams is perfect.

“When they announced this would be a playoff, they acted like they were doing us the biggest favor in the world. But why would they get it right now, when they didn’t get it right for 30 or 40 years? You’ve got five major conferences, so you’re already asking for trouble.”

A deserving team or two will get the cold shoulder when the final four are revealed Sunday. Baylor and Texas Christian could get bounced. Ohio State could come in at No. 5. The Southeastern Conference could get shut out, although that’s a long shot

While four teams are better than two, eight would make the playoff great. As of today, No. 1 Alabama would face No. 4 Florida State, and No. 2 Oregon would draw No. 3 TCU. But the final weekend tends to be wild, and things usually change at the last hour.

The Ducks, 14½-point favorites over Arizona, are the first team in danger today in Santa Clara, Calif. The Wildcats won the first meeting 31-24 as three-touchdown road underdogs on Oct. 2.

Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon, a redshirt freshman from Bishop Gorman High School, leads a ’dog that will show no fear.

“To knock off heavily favored Oregon last year was an accomplishment, and to do so again this year adds validity,” said handicapper Bryan Leonard (Footballwinners.com). “Arizona will come into this game with as much confidence as a two-touchdown underdog can possibly have, while Oregon must be a bit skittish.”

Leonard lines up on the same side with The Gold Sheet handicapper Bruce Marshall.

“There is the obvious difference between these teams, with Mariota playing at a Heisman level versus Solomon in his biggest game,” Marshall said. “The Ducks are 6-0-1 against the spread since their loss to Arizona. Oregon was having offensive line issues in that contest, and it might be again.

“The well-drilled Wildcats’ only losses were by two points to USC and by 10 points at UCLA. All in the Pac-12 would concede that the South Division was much more competitive than the North this season. There seem to be enough valid reasons to shade the underdog with this battle on the grass at a neutral site.”

Florida State, 12-0 straight up and 3-9 ATS, is walking a tighter rope as a 4-point favorite over Georgia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game. The Yellow Jackets have won and covered five consecutive games, three times in the underdog role.

If Tony Robbins feels like giving a motivational speech Saturday, here’s hoping he stops by the Georgia Tech locker room. Jameis Winston, last year’s Heisman winner, is off a four-interception game, and the Seminoles’ luck is overdue to run out.

“It has been obvious since September that these are not the same Seminoles as a year ago,” Marshall said. “Florida State has been hanging on for dear life down the stretch, with narrow wins over Miami, Boston College and Florida to close the regular season. The chance for Georgia Tech to further confuse the new playoff is very real.”

The Gold Sheet forecasts a 27-24 victory for Georgia Tech, and I’ll sign up for that result.

“Florida State gets luckier and luckier. All you had to do was bet against Florida State all year and you have a lot of units in the bank,” Bogdanovich said. “This looks like the same thing to me. You might as well take the points.”

This looks like a weekend for big-game underdogs. Mariota goes into it as the Heisman favorite, and he just needs to survive and advance. Style points are no concern for Oregon, and the same goes for Alabama.

■ CLOSING NUMBERS — After a weak 3-5 week, I take a 52-39 ATS record into the regular-season finale. Here are four plays for today and Saturday (home team in CAPS and other games on neutral fields): Arizona (+14½) over Oregon; Kansas State (+8) over BAYLOR; Georgia Tech (+4) over Florida State; Ohio State (+4) over Wisconsin.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

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