By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Mark Helfrich appreciates just how hard it is to win a game.
Helfrich’s Oregon Ducks have lost just three tumes during his two-year tenure as head coach. And they’re 69-19 since he became offensive coordinator in 2009.
So Florida State’s 29-game winning streak has caught his attention.
“It’s just doesn’t happen,” Helfrich said during a Sunday-afternoon teleconference.
“It’s so difficult to have everyone focused for seven days in a row. When you get to 29 weeks, that’s extremely, extremely impressive.”
The Seminoles will have to go through Oregon if their streak is to hit 30.
The College Football Playoff selection committee announced Sunday that the Ducks will meet FSU in a national semifinal played at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.
It’s exactly the type of high-profile matchup that the four-team playoff was created to deliver.
“Oregon is a national, brand-name team,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “They have earned that right. … And Florida State is a national brand name.”
It will be the first ever meeting between the two modern heavyweights.
No one has a better record that FSU’s 39-2 since 2012, but Oregon is one of the few to come close. The Ducks are 35-4 in that span, the fourth-best mark in the nation.
Fittingly, fellow playoff participants Ohio State (36-3) and Alabama (36-4) rank second and third.
“They’re a perennial Top-5 team every year,” Fisher said. “They have great players on offense, defense and special teams.”
There’s plenty to suggest that the first meeting between FSU and Oregon will be well worth the wait.
At the forefront, of course, is the matchup between star QBs Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.
Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, has thrown for 3,559 yards and 24 touchdowns.
And Mariota, named a finalist for the award on Monday, has 3,783 passing yards and an astonishing 52 total TDs (38 passing, 14 rushing) on his ledger.
If Mariota takes home the prize, the Rose Bowl will boast the first meeting of Heisman winners since Florida’s Tim Tebow and Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford squared off in the 2009 BCS National Championship Game.
“You have two of the greatest of all time at their position,” Helfrich said.
“I think it’ll be great,” Fisher said. “That makes for great TV, it makes for great competition and it’s what it’s about. Get the best against the best.”
Oregon’s offense, though, extends beyond just Mariota.
The Ducks have built a reputation as an offensive powerhouse in recent years, and their 2014 numbers live up to the billing.
On the strength of their hurry-up, no-huddle attack, the Ducks rank third nationally in total offense (546.2 yards per game), third in scoring offense (46.3 points per game) and first in passing efficiency.
Oregon has enjoyed a 23.8-point average margin of victory and avenged its one loss, a 31-24 setback to Arizona, with a 51-13 thrashing of the Wildcats in last week’s Pac-12 Championship Game.
Having three weeks to prepare works in FSU’s favor, but Fisher still expects a challenge.
“They’re unbelievably explosive in what they do,” Fisher said. “I don’t know if you can ever practice for the speed. …You can always look at film, but, until you play the real people, it’s difficult.”
The two coaches are both excited to play in the Rose Bowl, albeit for different reasons.
Helfrich, a native of Coos Bay, Ore., said that the Rose Bowl “was it” for college football fans on the west coast.
Fisher, meanwhile, said that he’s embracing another opportunity to compete in the venerable stadium.
Before 2013, FSU had never played in the Rose Bowl. Now the Seminoles are preparing for their second visit in as many years.
“As an East Coast guy, you always say, ‘Boy, I’d love to play in the Rose Bowl,’” Fisher said. “You never thought you’d ever get the opportunity. And now we get back-to-back years.
“Last year was a tremendous experience. Not just because we won, but the hospitality and the whole environment and the history and the tradition of the Rose Bowl.”