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Liberty Bowl Betting: West Virginia vs. Texas A&M Odds, Analysis, Pick

West Virginia, back in a bowl after missing out last season, is just 5-6 straight up and 3-8 against the spread over its last 11 bowl appearances. Texas A&M, playing in a bowl for the sixth consecutive season, is 3-0 SU and 2-1 ATS over its last three bowls.

The 7-5 Aggies take on the team that replaced them in the Big 12, the 7-5 Mountaineers, in the 56th edition of the Liberty Bowl Monday, December 29 in Memphis, Tennessee.

 

Liberty Bowl point spread: The Mountaineers opened as 3.5-point favorites; the total was 66.5. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 34.6-34.5 Aggies

 

Why the Mountaineers can cover the spread

The Mountaineers lost five games this season, but they gave Alabama a good battle and easily covered as three-touchdown underdogs. They also lost on a field goal at the buzzer to TCU and by a touchdown to a pretty good Kansas State team.

West Virginia also handed Baylor its only defeat of the season, a 41-27 upset in Morgantown in October—and the Bears had a good case to make the College Football Playoff. So the Mountaineers managed to pay out this season against some of the top teams in the entire country.

 

Why the Aggies can cover the spread

The Aggies bolted out of the gate this season, winning their first five games and putting up some huge offensive numbers in the process. They then lost their way a bit, suffering three straight defeats. Texas A&M then won two straight, including an upset at Auburn as a 23-point underdog, and while the Aggies lost their last two games, the first came by seven points against eventual SEC East champion Missouri, and the second came by six points against LSU.

Texas A&M ranks 33rd in the country in both total offense and scoring (34 points per game), and freshman quarterback Kyle Allen, who took over the starting spot from Kenny Hill, compiled an 8-3 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions in his last three games.

 

Smart Pick

West Virginia holds edges on both offense and defense, and even though starting quarterback Clint Trickett may not play as he recovers from a concussion, backup Skyler Howard showed what he's capable of when he threw for 285 yards and three touchdowns, without an interception, in the regular-season finale against Iowa State. So the smart choice here is with the Mountaineers.

 

Trends

  • West Virginia is 4-2 against the spread in its last six games.
  • Texas A&M is 2-5 straight up in its last seven games.

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark. Follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Bowl Betting: Texas Longhorns vs. Arkansas Razorbacks Odds, Analysis

Arkansas may have needed a late rally this season just to become bowl eligible, but the Razorbacks were one of the best teams in college football to wager on, going 9-3 against the spread. Meanwhile Texas, despite some struggles this season, also managed to post a winning ATS record of 7-5.

Former Southwest Conference rivals renew acquaintances when the 6-6 Hogs and 6-6 'Horns hook up in the Texas Bowl Monday, December 29 in Houston.

 

Texas Bowl point spread: Razorbacks opened as five-point favorites; the total was 45.5. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 33.6-22.1 Razorbacks

 

Why the Longhorns can cover the spread

The Longhorns looked like they might miss a bowl in coach Charlie Strong's first season, sitting at 3-5 heading into November, but they won three of their last four games—going 3-1 ATS—to become bowl eligible.

First, Texas broke open a close game and beat Texas Tech 34-13, then it ran for 227 yards in a 33-16 victory over West Virginia, and finally it put up 430 yards of offense in a 28-7 win over Oklahoma State.

So maybe Coach Strong's systems are sinking in. The Longhorns rank 104th in total offense but 28th in total defense, and they held four of their last five opponents to 23 points or less.

 

Why the Razorbacks can cover the spread

The Hogs opened this season 3-1, with the only loss coming in a game that was tied at halftime against Auburn. Arkansas then lost three games in a row but covered as a nine-point underdog against both Texas A&M and eventual SEC champion Alabama.

The Hogs also later covered as 10-point dogs at then-unbeaten Mississippi State and then snapped their 17-game SEC losing streak with a 17-0 shutout of LSU. Arkansas followed that up with a 30-0 shutout of Ole Miss, before giving up a late lead and losing at Missouri 21-14 in the season finale.

On the season the Hogs rank 28th in the country in rushing at 220 yards per game and 22nd against the run, holding foes to 124 yards per game.

 

Smart Pick

Both teams, going through rebuilding projects, improved as the season progressed, but Arkansas is a little ahead of schedule compared to Texas. The Hogs run the ball better than the 'Horns and play better defense. So the smart choice in this spot is with Arkansas, minus the points.

 

Trends

  • The total has gone under in four of Texas' last five games.
  • Arkansas is 9-2 against the spread in its last 11 games.

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark. Follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

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Music City Bowl Betting: Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. LSU Tigers Odds, Pick

Perennial bowl participant Notre Dame is playing in a bowl again this season, but bettors might be wise to be wary of the Irish, who are just 3-11 both straight up and against the spread in their last 14 bowl appearances. Notre Dame will try to put those trends in reverse when it meets up with LSU in the 17th edition of the Music City Bowl on Tuesday, December 30 at LP Field in Nashville.

 

Music City Bowl point spread: Tigers opened as 7.5-point favorites; the total was 52 (line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 34.9-28.0 Tigers

 

Why the Fighting Irish can cover the spread

The Irish started 6-0 this season with a win over Stanford, but then they lost that game at Florida State on an iffy offensive pass-interference call in the final seconds. Notre Dame lost its last four contests, but it basically gifted a game to Arizona State then lost by a field goal to both Northwestern and Louisville.

And it basically botched that game against the Wildcats too. Eliminate a few turnovers, and the Irish might be 9-3. Finally, with the cover as a nine-point dog against the Seminoles, Notre Dame is now 5-1 ATS the last six times it has been lined as a dog of six points or more.

 

Why the Tigers can cover the spread

The Bayou Bengals disappointed this season, coming up short in their quest for an SEC title, but still went 8-4 ATS. Louisiana State suffered four losses this year—to Mississippi State, Auburn, Alabama (in overtime) and Arkansas, four teams that are a combined 36-13 and all headed to bowls.

The Tigers also ended the regular season on a good note, winning at Texas A&M 23-17, outgaining the Aggies 491-228. LSU ranks 29th in the country in rushing at 220 yards per game, eighth in total defense and 38th against the run, holding foes to 144 yards per game.

It also allowed just 64 points total over its last five contests and held the high-powered Tide, who averaged 37 points per game, to just one offensive touchdown through regulation.

 

Smart Pick

Notre Dame faded hard at the end of this season, losing four games in a row SU, five in a row ATS. Quarterback Everett Golson seemed to regress as the season progressed, and the Irish got outrushed each of their last five games by an average of more than 100 yards per game.

LSU, meanwhile, has outrushed five of its last six foes, as freshman running back Leonard Fournette began to find his footing. The team most likely to win this game and cover this spread is likely the team that wins the ground battle, and that team is most likely to be the Tigers.

 

Trends

  • Notre Dame is 15-8 SU in its last 23 games.
  • The total has gone under in five of LSU's last five games.

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark—follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line-move updates.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Russell Athletic Bowl Betting: Clemson vs. Oklahoma Odds, Analysis, Pick

The Clemson Tigers have gone into their last two bowls as underdogs on the betting lines and won both games outright, including that upset of Ohio State in the Orange Bowl last year. The 9-3 Tigers will be bowl dogs again when they hit the field at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando to challenge 8-4 Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl Monday, December 29.

 

Russell Athletic Bowl point spread: This game opened as a pick 'em; the total was off the board. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 38.9-37.3 Sooners

 

Why the Tigers can cover the spread

The Tigers started 1-2 this season, including that overtime loss at eventual ACC champion Florida State but then won six games in a row. Clemson then lost at eventual Coastal Division champion Georgia Tech but won its last two games, including a 35-17 victory over South Carolina in the Palmetto Bowl that snapped a five-game losing streak in that rivalry.

For the season, the Tigers only rank 62nd in total offense and 80th in rushing but No. 1 in total defense, limiting opponents to just 260 yards per game, and seventh against the run, giving up just 98 yards per game on the ground. They also held seven foes to 17 points or less.

 

Why the Sooners can cover the spread

The Sooners started 4-0 this year, then went 4-4 over their last eight games to finish at 8-4. But they could have easily gone 10-2 or 11-1. Oklahoma gave up two defensive touchdowns in a 37-33 loss to TCU; allowed another defensive score and missed seven points on kicks in a 31-30 loss to Kansas State; and gave up a 92-yard punt return with less than a minute to go that forced overtime in the Bedlam game against Oklahoma State and lost by a field goal.

On the season, the Sooners rank ninth in the country in rushing at 269 yards per game and 10th against the run, holding foes to 110 yards per game, and numbers like that are usually conducive to winning games and covering spreads.

 

Smart pick

Clemson will be without quarterback Deshaun Watson, who accounted for 19 touchdowns this season, before going down with a knee injury. The Tigers went 6-2 straight up this season in games in which backup quarterback Cole Stoudt took the majority of the snaps but just 2-6 against the spread, as the offense struggled without Watson.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma might be without record-setting running back Samaje Perine, but it looks like Trevor Knight will return at quarterback. The Sooners hold the edge on offense, while Clemson holds the edge on defense, and usually the better defense is the better bet. But not in this case; the smart money here resides with Oklahoma.

 

Trends

  • Clemson is 1-6 ATS in its last seven games
  • The total has gone over in seven of Oklahoma's last nine games

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark. Follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5-Year-Old Sends UAB His $1 Allowance in Hopes of Keeping Football Program Alive

The UAB football program was shut down earlier this month, which upset many people throughout the country. One five-year-old boy in Ohio was particularly upset and wanted to do whatever he could to try to help keep the program alive.

UAB shut down its football program due to budget problems. When five-year-old Bennett Williams heard about what happened, he wanted to send his allowance (one dollar) to try to help out.

A few days after Bennett's father, Brad, posted the picture of the letter and the dollar on Twitter, the Blazers responded by hooking up the young boy with some free swag.

Here's what Brad told AL.com's Kevin Scarbinsky his son received from the Blazers:

Bennett got a care package with an official game ball, two shirts, a hat, bumper sticker, some tattoos, buttons, and a signed picture of the mascot, BLAZE. The best thing he got was a letter written to him from the contact in the athletic department. It thanked Bennett and said he made some people happy down there.

Brad also said that he received a follow-up email that said his son would be receiving a note from UAB's interim athletic director and perhaps another "surprise."

Obviously Bennett understood that it was going to take more than his allowance to save the program. However, he wanted to do his part in donating to the cause.

Bennett's dollar won't be able to save the football program, but it does create a fantastic story.

[Twitter, h/t Fox Sports]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Paul Chryst to Wisconsin: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

The Wisconsin Badgers have already landed their next head football coach, agreeing to terms with Pittsburgh's Paul Chryst to take over his hometown team in Madison.

The Wisconsin football Twitter account broke the news:

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez commented on the news via the Big Ten Network:

Jeff Potrykus of jsoline.com reports on the contract details:

Potrykus also reports the deal is for five years. 

Chryst's predecessor, Gary Andersen, staged a sudden, shocking departure to coach Oregon State not long after the Badgers lost the Big Ten title game 59-0 to Ohio State.

A source told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Jeff Potrykus on Dec. 11 that Alvarez promptly went after Chryst to fill the Badgers' coaching vacancy.

"I thought this would be the scenario from Day 1," said the source. "[Chryst] will put together a good staff."

ESPN's Phil Savage praised Alvarez for his swift hiring of Chryst, who was born in Madison and played quarterback at Wisconsin in college:

In an interesting coaching-carousel phenomenon, Chryst served as offensive coordinator in two stints at Oregon State. His last stop preceded a role as Wisconsin's play-caller on offense from 2005 to 2011.

It therefore comes as no surprise that Chryst emerged as the clear front-runner for the Badgers' coaching position based on his long-running ties to the city, school and program.

Chryst, 49, managed a meager 19-19 record as he attempted to rebuild at Pitt over the past three years. However, he will experience a significant talent upgrade by taking over at Wisconsin, diving into a perennial Top 25 program with the chance for greater success far sooner.

A recent history of strong ball-carriers, big offensive linemen and strong defenses suits the Badgers in conference play. Despite losing an extremely talented running back in Melvin Gordon to the 2015 NFL draft, Wisconsin should be in contention for another Big Ten title with Chryst at the helm.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Wisconsin Should Expect 'Great Things' from New Head Coach Paul Chryst

It is finally official, former Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst is the new Wisconsin Badgers head coach, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com).

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer break down Chryst at Wisconsin and what it will mean for the Badgers.

Is this the right move for Wisconsin?

Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Can New Wave of Coaches Bring Big Ten's Beleaguered Blue Bloods into the Future?

Identity isn't just about self but also about time and place. You want to stay true to who you are but also need to keep up when the world changes.

That's what's making things so hard on the Big Ten, as it has a rare opportunity right now to refresh its image, to shed the perception that it's a relic. It is no coincidence that three of the top coaching jobs to open at the end of the season have been at traditional Midwestern powers, known for their old-fashioned, smashmouth styles: Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

The trick now is in bringing college football's beleaguered blue bloods into the future.

On Wednesday, Wisconsin named Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst as its new coach. Chryst grew up in Madison, played quarterback for the Badgers and was their offensive coordinator. His dad was a former Wisconsin player, too. So the hire keeps things in the family, which isn't automatically a good thing if a program needs to change its style to modernize.

Chryst figures to add some pro-set formations into Wisconsin's typical pounding game. But two coaches have now quit Wisconsin in the past three years. The job opened this time when Gary Andersen left following a 10-win season, opting for Oregon State and the Pac-12's brand of football. Previously, it was Bret Bielema fleeing to Arkansas and the SEC.

Nebraska, which fired Bo Pelini after winning nine games this year and 67 in his seven seasons, doesn't seem to realize these aren't the days when it can regularly win national titles anymore. It hired Oregon State's Mike Riley, who is a nice guy—Pelini rubbed fans the wrong way—and a good coach but doesn't have the star power. It's going to be a tough sell for him to get top recruits to come to Lincoln, Nebraska.

That leaves Michigan out in the cold, and it seems to be trying to get that star-power coach. But that isn't going well.

"I want to get rid of the name 'Michigan Man,'" Michigan interim athletic director Jim Hackett told reporters when asked about who he might hire.

And that was the best thing anyone has said. The term has come to mean a style centered on toughness at Michigan, which just fired Brady Hoke, the ultimate Michigan Man.

The title itself draws up images of long ago. The Big Ten has been playing in black and white, and Michigan still has a cold reality to face. So many of the top names in coaching have been linked to the search, and they all apparently have said no. Jim Harbaugh might change his mind, though, after Michigan's latest massive offer, per NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport, that would make him the highest-paid coach in college football.

While college fans trade on emotion and tradition, it has been 17 years since Michigan won a Rose Bowl. High school kids don't know Michigan as a destination-place anymore, and it can't just live on its name.

Everyone gets exposure on TV now. Everyone has big TV money to pay coaches, build stadiums. The rest of the nation has moved to the modern, hurry-up, spread-in-the-sun offenses, like in the Pac-12, Texas and big parts of the SEC. And speedy kids don't want to go plod in Michigan in the cold.

So there is no reason for, say, Patterson to leave TCU for Michigan.

Said again: There is no reason for a coach to leave TCU for Michigan. Ohio State is still a national program, Michigan State borderline. But Nebraska and Wisconsin aren't national top-tier destinations anymore either. In fact, they have dropped even more than Michigan has.

And it is no guarantee the right coaching hires could bring Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska back to that level, change the conference's dinosaur image. The answer might not just be in the coach. It might take commitment at higher levels.

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, the former longtime coach, might be part of the problem, hovering over the program and insisting that coaches follow what he did.

At Michigan, they gave up on Rich Rodriguez's attempt to modernize the system roughly 10 minutes after he started. He now is turning Arizona into a Pac-12 power, while Michigan got progressively worse under Michigan Man Hoke.

Big change isn't easy.

The Big Ten—other than Ohio State—simply isn't going to appeal to, say, the top quarterback prospect out of Florida. Look at Wisconsin: Can it really expect to suddenly start playing like, say, Baylor and to get the athletes who can keep up that kind of speed?

Wisconsin, like Nebraska, still stocks its teams with beefy Midwestern kids who can block. Both teams had great tailbacks this year. Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah was considered a Heisman Trophy candidate most of the season, while Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon was one of three finalists.

If Wisconsin isn't going to be able to spread out and keep up with, say, Arizona, then maybe it could make a pitch to every top high school running back in the country: Come here and you'll get a lot of carries behind a big line and will be ready for the NFL when you're done.

That is Wisconsin's identity. Nebraska's, too. It's what makes them teams that won 10 and nine games this year, respectively. Attempting to change that is difficult and risky.

But for many Midwestern teams, even their bases are starting to wobble.

"I mean, just take a look at Pennsylvania, the great high school teams that used to be in that area," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly told me earlier this season. "Now, because of the steel town, the exodus of so many jobs in that area, that high school football is not what it once was. I think that's happened in a lot of these industrial cities throughout the Midwest as well."

Typically, when a once powerful team starts to drop off, fans scream that it's because the team has strayed too far from its roots. With the Big Ten blue bloods, those roots are actually tying them down.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report. He also writes for The New York Times and was formerly a scribe for FoxSports.com and the Chicago Sun-Times. Follow him on Twitter @gregcouch.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Predicting MVPs for Every 2014-15 College Football Bowl Game

Picking who will win each bowl game is one thing, but predicting who will be responsible for those wins is a guess of a different color.

It's the last chance to shine for college football's best, as bowl season is only days away. From Dec. 20 through Jan. 4 we'll have 38 games in all corners of the country (and on some islands off both coasts) pitting teams hoping for one final victory to cap the 2014 season.

Football is a team game, but there's going to be that one player in each contest who rises above all others to make the biggest impact. Who will those MVPs be? Check out our predictions, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

Begin Slideshow

Meet Paul Chryst, the Wisconsin Badgers' New Head Coach

Wisconsin's unexpected football vacancy was among the most shocking stories of the college football coaching carousel, but how the Badgers filled that opening was far less surprising.

The school quickly hired one of its own, officially introducing Paul Chryst as head coach Wednesday.

The former Wisconsin player and assistant comes to Madison after spending three seasons in charge of Pittsburgh, where he went 19-19 but led the Panthers to a bowl game each year. He replaces Gary Andersen, who left Dec. 11 to take the Oregon State job.

Here are some more things you should know about the new man in charge at Camp Randall Stadium.

 

He's as Wisconsin as It Comes

The 49-year-old Chryst has roots in Madison that not only date back to his birth but also include his playing and coaching career.

Chryst lived not far from the Wisconsin campus for 13 years before moving away when his father, George, became coach of Division III Wisconsin-Platteville. He returned to Madison to play for the Badgers, seeing time at quarterback, tight end and as a kick returner from 1986-88.

He then returned in 2002 for the first of two stints on Wisconsin's coaching staff. The second, from 2005-2011, was as the Badgers' offensive coordinator under both Barry Alvarez and Bret Bielema—a gig that helped him land the Pittsburgh job.

 

Stability After Turmoil

Chryst's three years at Pittsburgh weren't particularly flashy—he went 6-6 in the regular season each time—but after the chaos the program experienced from late 2010 until his arrival in December 2011, his tenure was far better than expected.

He was technically the sixth coach (including interim ones) for the Panthers in just over a year when hired, coming in when Todd Graham left after less than one season to go to Arizona State. Graham came to the school in January 2011, days after interim coach Phil Bennett led Pitt to a bowl victory, but then bolted in December 2011, leaving assistant Keith Patterson as interim coach in the Panthers' bowl game.

Dave Wannstedt coached Pitt from 2005-2010, resigning in December 2010 and handing the team over to Bennett in the interim. The school hired Miami (Ohio) coach Mike Haywood as Wannstedt's replacement but fired him just weeks later after he was arrested on domestic-violence charges on New Year's Eve.

Chryst's time at Pitt involved overseeing the program's move from the Big East to the ACC, where his team finished sixth in the Coastal Division in 2013 but tied for third this year. The Panthers won their final two games this season to become bowl-eligible and earn a berth in the Armed Forces Bowl against Houston on Jan. 2.

"He's changing the program around for the best, and I'm with Paul Chryst 100 percent," former Panthers star Aaron Donald, now a rookie with the St. Louis Rams, told Pittsburgh radio's Starkey and Mueller Show on Nov. 27.

 

A Circuitous Coaching Journey

Chryst is in his 26th season of a coaching career that has taken him all across the country (and out of it) for various jobs at the college and professional level.

He's worked at six colleges, including schools at the FCS and Division III level, while also holding positions with two teams in the Canadian Football League and one from the World League of American Football (which became NFL Europe). He also spent three seasons in the NFL, coaching tight ends for the San Diego Chargers from 1999-2001.

 

 

Ties to the Carousel Chaos

The coaching carousel can sometimes resemble a college football version of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," and Chryst's role in the craziness fits in perfectly with this notion. He has ended up at Wisconsin because previous coach Andersen went to Oregon State, which had an opening after Mike Riley went to Nebraska.

Chryst and Riley have a longstanding coaching relationship dating back to the early 1990s, when Riley was head coach of the short-lived San Antonio Riders of the WLAF and Chryst was his running backs and tight ends coach. When Riley landed the Oregon State job in 1997, he brought along Chryst as his offensive coordinator, and he also had Chryst join his staff with the NFL's San Diego Chargers as tight ends coach from 1999-2001.

Riley went back to OSU in 2003, and Chryst was again on staff as the Beavers' offensive coordinator for those first two seasons.

The relationship will come full circle on Oct. 10, 2015, when Wisconsin visits Nebraska.

 

Award-Winner Mentor

Chryst's long and winding coaching career has enabled him to work with and develop a lot of star players.

At Oregon State, he coached the school's career rushing leader, Ken Simonton, during his freshman season in 1998. Then in 2003-04, he pulled the strings on a Beavers offense led by eventual NFL veterans Derek Anderson at quarterback and Steven Jackson at running back. 

The list of Wisconsin offensive standouts he coached is endless, but among the most notable were running backs Montee Ball and John Clay, tight end Lance Kendricks, offensive tackle Joe Thomas and quarterback Russell Wilson.

And in his short time at Pittsburgh, Chryst's standouts have included defensive tackle Aaron Donald (who won both the Bednarik and Nagurski awards in 2013), sophomore wide receiver Tyler Boyd and sophomore running back James Conner, who broke Tony Dorsett's single-season school rushing record this year. 

 

A Sports Family

The Chryst family has football in its bloodline, starting with Paul's father, George. George Chryst won 79 games in 14 seasons at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville from 1979-1992, a period that also included 10 years as the school's athletic director (during which time he hired a basketball coach, Bo Ryan, who would go on to lead Wisconsin to the Final Four this past season).

Chryst's brother, George "Geep" Chryst, played linebacker for three seasons at Princeton and has been a coach since the late 1980s. He's in his fourth season as quarterbacks coach for the San Francisco 49ers. And Geep Chryst's son, Keller Chryst, was a 4-star quarterback recruit who is redshirted this season at Stanford.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Head Coach Search: Latest Buzz on Jim Harbaugh and More

Brady Hoke had a disastrous tenure as head coach of the Michigan Wolverines, and now the historic football program is in the market for a successor to take the team into a new, superior era.

San Francisco 49ers coach and former Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh has been a buzzed-about big name and will continue to be now that the 49ers are out of the NFL playoff race.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports Wednesday that Michigan isn't relenting in courting Harbaugh, even though he turned down the Wolverines' first pass:

ESPN's Adam Schefter notes another detail:

Multiple NFL and Michigan sources had said for weeks that 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh was not expected to wind up at Michigan, but in recent days at least one person familiar with his thinking said he was at least "considering it."

Dan Duggan of NJ.com weighed in on Harbaugh's reported mega-offer from Michigan:

Another potential alumni for the Wolverines job is LSU coach Les Miles, though he's denied interest and indicated he's not a real candidate as recently as Monday.

"I enjoy the players, these guys I'm capable of coaching," said Miles, per NOLA.com's Jim Kleinpeter. "There's a tradition and a culture here we've kind of established. The young men that come in here really enjoy stepping into this room and being a part of that culture."

Miles seems to be more of a pipe dream, as he's built an exceptional program in Baton Rouge and has superior competition and talent in the SEC.

One positive for whoever succeeds Hoke is that even a marginal improvement made in the first couple of years should keep the new coach in the fans' good graces.

Harbaugh is just the type of coach to turn Michigan around quickly. He built Stanford into a national contender from the bottom up and took the 49ers to three NFC Championship Games in as many years to start his NFL head coaching career.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson Football: Ranking 10 Best Tigers from 2014 Regular Season

The Clemson Tigers pulled off another solid campaign, going 9-3 in the regular season. Another 10-win season would be an accomplishment for Dabo Swinney and his staff, considering the talent from last season they had to replace on offense.

The Tigers had many young guys step up on offense, and the defense continued to be led by a slate of seniors. Regardless of experience, all of these players helped contribute to the nine-win season.

Here are the top 10 Tigers for the 2014 regular season.

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2015 College Football Recruits Who Have Had Amazing Senior Seasons

Star ratings are nice, but they don't mean a thing once action is underway on the field. The pressure of living up to recruiting hype weighed heavy for some top prospects this season, while others validated accolades and elevated expectations.

Most members of the 2015 class have wrapped up their high school careers, though, some state titles still hang in the balance. Here's a look at several recruits who starred throughout the fall during a final audition before college.

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Why the Pac-12 Will Dominate 2014-15 Bowl Season

The Pac-12 has four fewer bowl teams than the SEC, three fewer than the ACC and two fewer than the Big Ten, but bowl season has more to do with quality than quantity.

Even with just eight qualified teams, the Pac-12 has the best chance of any conference to dominate the season's final month.

This is true despite a regular season in which the league failed to meet expectations. It played well—very well—but didn't make the quantum leap some predicted. Ted Robinson of Bleacher Report was one of many experts who thought the Pac-12 would challenge and/or eclipse the SEC and turn into the alpha conference.

It didn't.

Reigning conference champion Stanford took a big step back and finished 7-5. Preseason darling UCLA looked uninspired en route to 9-3. Chris Petersen struggled to get his offense off the ground at Washington, Steve Sarkisian lost some winnable games (shocker!) at USC, and Washington State and Oregon State fell off cliffs despite returning senior quarterbacks from bowl teams.

But the season ain't over 'til it's over. There are still eight or nine Pac-12 games left to play. The schedule shapes up well, and one has to think the league that gave us #Pac12AfterDark understands how to save its best for last.

The Pac-12 is ready for its closeup.

Only this time…it really means it.

According to the F/+ ratings at Football Outsiders, the Pac-12 has the better team in six of its eight bowl matchups. And the only two teams rated worse than their opponents—Arizona (vs. Boise State) and Utah (vs. Colorado State)—are very slight F/+ underdogs.

Here is how the full F/+ matchups break down:

The Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC all have the lower F/+ rating in the majority of their bowl games, which cripples their case to be the best conference this postseason. But compare the table above with the corresponding breakdown from the SEC:

The SEC has 33 percent more bowl teams (12) and a higher percentage of F/+ favorites (83.3) than the Pac-12, but Texas A&M and South Carolina weigh the conference down.

The Gamecocks (vs. Miami) are the second-biggest F/+ underdog from a power conference, trailing only Texas (vs. Arkansas). The Aggies (vs. West Virginia) are close behind at No. 6. Both stand an appreciably higher chance of losing than any team from the Pac-12.

Utah also plays a Colorado State team that just lost its head coach, Jim McElwain, to Florida. Interim head coaches do not always signal bowl failure, but it's a variable F/+ does not account for. There's a chance it swings the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl in Utah's favor.

Small Pac-12 favorites such as UCLA and USC have factors working for them, too. The F/+ margin between them and their opponents is small for a reason, but both teams match up well.

UCLA ranks No. 26 in offensive success rate but struggles with explosive plays. Kansas State ranks No. 103 in defensive success rate and excels against explosive plays. The Bruins can beat KSU in chunks, where their strength aligns with its weakness.

USC averaged 4.39 yards per carry in wins and 2.70 yards per carry in losses. Nebraska gave up 862 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns over a two-week stretch (!!!) against Wisconsin and Minnesota. Trojans running back Javorius "Buck" Allen should find plenty of room to run, which typically means USC is going to win.

But in truth, those games might all be window-dressing. The real flag-bearer for the Pac-12 will be its conference champion, Oregon, the No. 2 seed in the College Football Playoff. The Ducks will "host" Florida State on the West Coast (Pasadena, Calif.) and match up well with the undefeated Seminoles

Their offense ranks No. 3 in run efficiency and No. 5 in pass efficiency, per the S&P+ ratings at Football Outsiders. Florida State ranks outside the top 50 in both categories. And the place where Oregon's offense has been the most vulnerable—giving up sacks—is the same place where Florida State's has been the most anemic.

The 'Noles rank No. 115 with 1.31 sacks per game.

Oregon has been on a mission since losing to Arizona, suggestive of Tim Tebow's national-champion Florida team after losing to Ole Miss in 2008. And as if they needed any more focus, the Ducks get the stimulus of facing an opponent on a 29-game win streak.

"[That] will certainly get our guys to sit up straight in the meetings," Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said after seeing the playoff matchups, per Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com.

So would playing Alabama or Ohio State.

With Oregon leading the charge and no teams outclassed by their opponents, the Pac-12 is in great shape to make bowl season its own. 

By conventional numbers, the conference is favored or even money to win all eight of its postseason games, according to Odds Shark.

Calling for a 8-0 finish would be frowned upon statistically. The numbers suggest something closer to 6-2, with Oregon beating Florida State then having a 50-50 shot to win the title game.

But the odds of 6-2 becoming 7-1 or 8-0 before the Ducks head to Arlington, Texas, are well within the realm of plausibility.

No other conference can say that.

Not even the SEC.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeigh35

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Why the Pac-12 Will Dominate 2014-15 Bowl Season

The Pac -12 has four fewer bowl teams than the SEC, three fewer than the ACC and two fewer than the Big Ten, but bowl season has more to do with quality than quantity...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Junior College National Signing Day 2014: Top Recruit Commitments and Reaction

It doesn't command the same attention as its high school counterpart, but the path to a national championship for every college football team starts with junior college national signing day. Wednesday was the first day when all of the country's top JUCO players decided on their future.     

Every year, there are valuable contributors on top college programs who came from junior college programs. There are times when they go on to become high draft picks in the NFL, with Cam Newton being the most notable recent example.     

As coaching staffs have set the stage for 2015, here is a look at the top recruiting commitments from the junior college national signing say and reaction to some of the biggest moves. 

Full list of JUCO prospects, measurables and commitments can be found via 247Sports.

 

Top Stories

Jovon Robinson, RB (Committed to Auburn)

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Robinson is the highest-graded 4-star prospect in this year's class. Auburn was fortunate enough to land his commitment.

He was a part of the Tigers' 2012 recruiting class under former head coach Gene Chizik but was ruled ineligible to play due to an issue with his grades being changed out of high school, per Charles Goldberg of AL.com.

Over two years later, Robinson is back at Auburn and ready to lead the potent rushing attack that has averaged at least 258.5 yards per game in two years under Gus Malzahn. 

Robinson has already made his presence felt in practice, scoring a touchdown, per Brandon Marcello of AL.com:

The nation's top junior college prospect scored a touchdown in a scrimmage on his first day of practice with the Tigers Monday, though he "got robbed" initially, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. A graduate assistant on the defensive staff said the 5-foot-11, 225-pound Robinson stepped out of bounds at the 2-yard line.

Marcello also noted that Robinson "should" compete right away for the starting job next year following the graduation of Cameron Artis-Payne, who ran for 1,482 yards and 11 touchdowns. Running backs coach Tim Horton says in Marcello's piece that the team wants to work him into the mix "slowly."

Malzahn echoed those sentiments at a press conference on Monday as the Tigers prepare for a matchup with Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl, saying, "(Robinson) just got here and just trying to get him slowly acclimated and everything that goes with it," via James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser

Given the way Malzahn's offense works, Auburn can never have too many running backs. The good news is they appear to be loading up on talent at the position, headlined by the return of Robinson. 

 

Marquavius Lewis, DE (Committed to South Carolina)

Steve Spurrier's South Carolina team entered 2014 perceived as a national title contender. The Gamecocks were ranked ninth in The Associated Press Preseason Top 25 poll but fell on hard times due to a defense that allowed 31.2 points per game. 

Marquavius Lewis, the No. 3 JUCO recruit and top-rated strong-side defensive end by 247Sports' composite system, should be able to help Spurrier fix the defense quickly. The South Carolina native is staying close to home so he can play for the Gamecocks, though not without some drama. 

Auburn was making a late push, but Wes Mitchell of GamecocksCentral.com reported Lewis was going to honor his initial commitment to South Carolina:

The 6-foot-4, 271-pound prospect, who is originally from Greenwood HS, has been committed to South Carolina since July, but the Gamecocks had to withstand a late push from Auburn, where he took an official visit in November.

Asked if he had made a final decision between South Carolina and Auburn, Lewis responded: "Yes. I'll be signing with USC today."

Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports reported on Twitter that new Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp did have a chance to speak with Lewis in an effort to get him to flip:

Mitchell offered this tweet about which way Lewis was leaning from the sight of the star defensive end's signing ceremony:

Mitchell also noted that Lewis was a JUCO All-American in 2014 after posting 63 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks. 

Lewis certainly looks the part of an impact edge-rusher at 6'4" and 271 pounds, which is exactly what Spurrier's defense needs. The Gamecocks finished tied for 121st in the nation with one sack per game last season, per TeamRankings.com

No one will confuse Mitchell with Jadeveon Clowney, but the Gamecocks found out the hard way how much they need a pass-rusher to succeed in the SEC. Lewis is a piece of the puzzle to bring South Carolina back to prominence in the conference. 

 

Mississippi Schools Have Big Day

One of the keys to success for any school, especially those in football hotbeds like the south or California, is keeping the best recruits in their home state.

No state illustrated that better on Wednesday than Mississippi, which had four of the top 10 JUCO prospects (D.J. Jones, Tony Bridges, Donald Gray, Martinas Rankin) in 247Sports' composite rankings commit to Mississippi or Mississippi State. 

The Rebels and Bulldogs should be major players in the 2015 recruiting season based on their success in 2014. Ole Miss has seen a gradual progression in three years under Hugh Freeze, winning seven games in his first season, eight in 2013 and nine in 2014 (not including the bowl game). 

Jones was a pleasant surprise for Freeze's recruiting class, as he flipped his commitment from Florida State, per David Johnson of 247Sports:

Bridges gives the Rebels more depth at cornerback, but he also serves another purpose that was pointed out by Austin Miller of the Ole Miss Sports Blog:

B/R National Football Recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue noted that Bridges and Jones helped the team land the top-ranked players at three different positions:

Quarterback Chad Kelly is a significant get for Freeze because Bo Wallace's Mississippi career is over after the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31. 

Mississippi State had been consistently winning seven or eight games under Dan Mullen the last few years, but few would have predicted the Bulldogs would go 10-2 in 2014 and spend five weeks atop the AP Top 25 rankings. 

Gray, the top-ranked wide receiver from Copiah-Lincoln, had an official visit with Mississippi State over the weekend and talked about the experience with Robbie Faulk of 247Sports:

The music playing got the players going throughout practice and that was really fun to watch. I didn’t really see much from the receivers because I got there late Friday and didn’t see Jameon (Lewis) Saturday. Since they want to use me like they used him, I wanted to see him in action.

The biggest thing I got to do with the coaches was just trying to get mentally acclimated with everything. They want effort on and off the field. They mentioned they want to use me in punt return and in the slot, but they want mostly effort.

Jameon Lewis finished the regular season third on the team with 27 receptions and fifth with 317 receiving yards, so Gray will have big shoes to fill next year. The good news is he will have some help, assuming quarterback Dak Prescott returns for his senior season. 

Speaking of Prescott, he's going to get some help as well. Martinas Rankin is a 6'5", 300-pound offensive lineman who could be in the mix for a starting job next season, per Courtney Cronin of The Clarion-Ledger:

The SEC has power all over the country, but it's the ability to keep its own players that makes it the preeminent conference in college football.

That was only confirmed on Wednesday, as eight of the top 10 and 16 of the top 36 JUCO prospects signed with schools in the SEC so far.     

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 

 

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Alabama's Permanent Captains Perfectly Define 2014 Season

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Before the A-Day spring game—some time in late April 2015—four Alabama players will return to campus to literally leave their mark on campus.

Blake Sims, Landon Collins, Amari Cooper and Jalston Fowler were named permanent captains for the 2014 Alabama football team by a player vote and will get a hand and footprint made in cement in front of Denny Chimes—as is tradition for each year's permanent captains.

No matter what happens in the College Football Playoff, those four will be remembered as the leaders of this year’s team that already has defied so many expectations.

In a way, the quartet is a perfect representation of this year’s team and everything it's been through.

Collins and Cooper are two uber-talented, consensus All-Americans—and two three-and-outs about to get a big payday at the next level. While Sims and Fowler are two fifth-year seniors, they are fan favorites who stuck it out and are beloved by their teammates.

It’s the perfect mix of players for a team that has the perfect mix of personalities to make this playoff run possible.

“All four of those guys have had great careers at Alabama,” junior center Ryan Kelly, a candidate for the honor next season, said. “Those guys are always there when we needed them the most. They’re guys that we can count on. I don’t think there’s any greater award than to be a team captain. I’m proud of those guys.”

Captaincy honors are generally reserved for seniors or players who have graduated, so Cooper and Collins are interesting choices in that regard. Still, it’s hard to pretend like either will opt to play for free for another season when their talents will be in such high demand in the NFL next year.

Bleacher Report’s draft expert, Matt Miller, has Cooper and Collins as top-10 picks in his latest mock draft, the only Alabama players in the first-round mock.

Even Cooper himself said, “I have two more years here” during 2013's spring practice when answering a question about complacency after a big freshman year.

But Cooper and Collins are both the stars of the show on both sides of the ball—incredibly gifted playmakers who came through in the clutch.

Collins’ interception against Arkansas is widely considered the play of the year among the team, the play that sparked Alabama’s run through the last half of the season.

Cooper made too many plays to count, winning the Biletnikoff Award and earning himself a trip to New York as a Heisman finalist.

Beyond the talent, head coach Nick Saban has reiterated that this has been his favorite team to coach because of the players.

Here's what he said one week on his radio show (h/t Andrew Gribble of AL.com):

There's a lot of really good players on our team that are really good people and good guys. And this team, regardless of whether we win another game, this is a really fun team to coach because we don't have a lot of energy vampires on this team. I've talked about that before, you spend all your time and energy because you've got four or five guys that won't ever do things the right way. You're always spending your time trying to get them to do it right. The other 95 guys that are doing right, you don't have any time to spend with them over the four or five. We don't really have players like that on our team this year.

It’s easy to see why with players like Sims and Fowler.

Sims’ story is well-known at this point: a career backup who almost didn’t get his chance when Jake Coker transferred in, but ended up winning the job and leading Alabama on this run.

For his efforts, he was named Most Inspiring Player by his teammates. His attitude sets a standard and gives other players something to look up to.

“I think that’s one of the things that carries Blake so far on and off the field is just the presence he has, the positive mindset he brings everyday,” Kelly said. “I think when you’re around people like that it brings you up as a person as well.”

And you won’t find a more likeable guy on the team than Fowler, who overcame a knee injury in 2012 and has become a versatile weapon in Kiffin’s offense as a lead blocker, ball-carrier and receiver.

“Talk about a guy who couldn’t be more positive, just like Blake,” Kelly said of Fowler. “A lot of us come from different backgrounds, and I think what makes him so special is he’s always so open to anyone who comes in. Just a great guy to be around and I call him my dear friend. That vote was, again, voted on by players. I couldn’t be happier for Jalston.”

The four of them have been major contributors to an Alabama football team that still has plenty of goals ahead of it left to accomplish.

They perfectly represent what has made this iteration of Crimson Tide football so successful on the field and likeable off it.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Will Georgia Land Top 5 Recruiting Class in 2015 Without QB Commit?

The Georgia Bulldogs have a loaded 2015 recruiting class, scooping up some of the very best talent in the land. But, they have not targeted a quarterback. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss the incoming class of Bulldogs and what their impact will be in Athens.

Does Georgia's lack of QB commits hinder their 2015 class?

Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Which 2015 Recruits Are Future 1st-Round Picks?

The 2015 recruiting class is full of studs—impact players with high ceilings and grand aspirations. But are there any future first-round NFL draft picks in the bunch?

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee reveal which 2015 recruit will be cashing major checks as a first-round draft pick in the near future. 

Who will be a sure fire first-rounder from the 2015 class? Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Players Who Must Step Up with Ifo Ekpre-Olomu Injured

The Oregon Ducks have had terrible luck with injuries this season. However, no injury may be more crippling going forward than the one apparently suffered by senior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. 

Ekpre-Olomu, a Jim Thorpe Award finalist and AP first-team All-American, reportedly suffered a serious knee injury during Tuesday’s practice. The concern is that Ekpre-Olomu may have torn his ACL, which would end his year. The news was first reported by Rand Getlin of Yahoo Sports.

If this report is found to be true, it is obviously a devastating blow to the Ducks and may end up affecting Oregon’s national championship aspirations.

The Ducks are only 15 days away from facing the Florida State Seminoles in the Rose Bowl. If Ekpre-Olomu is unable to go, as this report suggests, the Ducks backups will need to step up in a big way.

The loss for Oregon could be enormous, but the Ducks live by the motto “next man up.” Here’s who must step up for the Ducks to have a legitimate shot at knocking off Florida State and reaching the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

 

Chris Seisay 

If you don’t know who Chris Seisay is, you’re going to hear a lot about him over the next two weeks.

Seisay, a 6’1” redshirt freshman from California, was thrust into action as Oregon’s third cornerback this season due to the struggles of senior cornerback Dior Mathis.

Seisay will now likely start as Oregon’s No. 2 cornerback against Florida State, a position he found himself in against Utah when Ekpre-Olomu left that 51-27 victory with a toe injury.

At the time, Ekpre-Olomu told Seisay to play with the confidence of a starter. "I just tell him when you're out there you have to play with confidence because you never know what could happen," Ekpre-Olomu said, according to Andrew Greif of The Oregonian. "He's a play away from being a starter and he knew that coming into the game."

Unfortunately for the Ducks, Ekpre-Olomu’s words now look prophetic.

In a limited role this season, Seisay has registered 20 tackles, three pass breakups, three passes defended and has forced a fumble.

Against Florida State, Seisay will be tasked with guarding a combination of freshman Travis Rudolph and sophomore Jesus Wilson. On the season, Rudolph has caught 32 passes for 459 yards and three touchdowns, while Wilson has 37 receptions for 455 yards and four touchdowns.

Seisay has performed well in a limited role. He’ll need to contain Wilson and Rudolph in an expanded role against the undefeated Seminoles.

As for the unenviable task of guarding Florida State’s top receiver, Rashad Greene, that job will now be given to redshirt senior cornerback Troy Hill.

 

Troy Hill

Hill, a 5’11” cornerback from Ohio, has been playing the best football of his career over the last month of the season. However, he will now be faced with his stiffest test in the most important game of his career.

Greene, FSU’s top receiver, has caught 93 passes for 1,306 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Greene ranks No. 8 nationally in receptions and No. 7 in receiving yards.

Hill was named to the Pac-12’s second-team defense and led the Pac-12 in pass breakups (16) and passes defended (17). Hill also ranked No. 3 in the nation in pass breakups and No. 7 in passes defended.

On the season, Hill has accounted for 57 tackles, three tackles for loss, an interception and a forced fumble.

When asked by Tyler Robinson of FishDuck.com about the challenge of playing Florida State, Hill responded, “You just got to know that you’re coming into a dogfight. If you get up, you know that you can’t let go. They’re going to fight the whole game, and you can’t really expect them to ever be out of it.”

Hill is going to have to play the best game of his career against Greene in the Rose Bowl. There’s little doubt that 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston is going to target Greene early and often, especially now that Ekpre-Olomu isn’t there to scare Winston away.

If Hill is able to play at the level he has for most of the season, the Ducks should still be able to match up with Florida State’s receiving core.

 

Erick Dargan

While senior safety Erick Dargan is not a cornerback nor will he attempt to be one in the Rose Bowl, he has been Oregon’s best defender for most of the season and will be called upon to once again take charge of the Ducks secondary.

Not only is Dargan Oregon’s leading tackler this season with 82, but he also leads the team in interceptions with six—ranked No. 7 in the country and first in the Pac-12. Dargan, who was also named to the Pac-12’s second-team defense, has also registered five pass breakups and 11 passes defended this year.

Florida State’s passing game is ranked No. 14 in the country and is averaging just under 300 yards per game through the air. The Seminoles have two big playmakers in Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary, who has caught 47 passes for 614 yards and six touchdowns in 2014.

Dargan’s most important assignment against Florida State will not be focused on an individual, but rather it will be making sure his leadership is felt throughout the secondary.

Dargan is now the defense’s emotional leader, a role that he has shared with Ekpre-Olomu for most of the season. Now, with the senior cornerback likely out for the season, those duties fall exclusively on Dargan's shoulders.

This news is a huge blow for the Ducks. There’s no way to replace an All-American cornerback just two weeks before the Rose Bowl. While Ekpre-Olomu may not have had his finest season this year, he was still Oregon’s most reliable cornerback and was going to be tasked with covering Florida State’s top wide receiver.

Now, the Ducks must depend on Chris Seisay, Troy Hill and Erick Dargan to fill the void.

Oregon can still beat Florida State in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks offense is still as potent as ever, and as long as Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota is leading the charge the Ducks have a shot.

Still, the road to the national championship just got a lot tougher for the Pac-12 champions.

 

Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise stated. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.

Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.

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