NCAA Football

A Blast from the Past: Barry and the Badgers Face Auburn in the Capital One Bowl

The date was January 2, 2006. It was a Monday. The 9-3 Wisconsin Badgers were taking on the 9-2 Auburn Tigers at the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Florida.

This game would also be the last game Barry Alvarez would ever lead the Badgers into battle as head coach. Or so he thought.

I was there, among the 57,221 fans in attendance at the Florida Citrus Bowl.

Up until that point, Alvarez and the Badgers were 7-3 in bowl games, which included three wins in the Rose Bowl. The only losses Alvarez and the Badgers had suffered were at the hands of SEC teams.

They had lost twice to Georgia in the Outback Bowl and once to these same Tigers at the Music City Bowl three years earlier.

Overall, Alvarez had changed the football culture in Madison, Wisconsin, helping make the program one of the better ones in the country.

Before Alvarez arrived in Madison, the team had gone 6-27 under head coach Don Morton from 1987 to 1989.

The attendance at the games at Camp Randall Stadium had been dwindling as well. In fact, the last home game played under Morton in 1989 against Michigan State drew only 29,776 fans.

Kevin Cosgrove was on the inaugural coaching staff put together by Alvarez. In fact, Cosgrove was with Alvarez longer (1990 to 2003) than any other assistant coach who ever coached under him at Wisconsin.

I had a chance a while back to chat with Cosgrove, who is now the defensive coordinator at New Mexico, about what it was like when Barry took over in 1990.

“As with everything Barry always did, he had a plan,” said Cosgrove. “When he got that job, he pretty much knew who he was going to hire. Barry put together a strong staff, and then the first couple of years he fine-tuned it and turned it into a great staff.”

Cosgrove also talked about the attendance issues.

“Attendance was down. Interest in the Badgers was nil,” Cosgrove said. “I think the Badgers averaged 30,000 fans per game the year before we got there. But we gradually pumped it up until it became sellout after sellout."

Alvarez and his staff certainly turned around the football program. In just his fourth year at Wisconsin, the Badgers went 10-1-1, shared the Big Ten title and won the Rose Bowl.

Overall, Alvarez and his Badgers were 118-73-4 in his time as head coach. Included in that were three Big Ten titles and three victories at the Rose Bowl.

That tenure was supposed to end on that early January day in 2006.

Barry had the Badgers ready to play as they dominated the game versus the Tigers. The Badgers led 17-0 at halftime.

The Badgers were led by running back Brian Calhoun, who rushed for 213 yards in the game. Quarterback John Stocco also threw for 310 yards against the seventh-ranked Tigers.

When it was all said and done, the Badgers won 24-10. The score made the game appear closer than it really was. Wisconsin had 548 total yards while holding Auburn to just 236 total yards.

After the game, Alvarez was quite pleased, as one would imagine. He was most happy about the legacy he had created at Wisconsin.

"The main thing I'm most proud of is that we brought pride back to our fans for our football program," Alvarez said.

That day was supposed to be the last time Alvarez was going to be the head coach of the Badgers. He had turned over the reins to Bret Bielema after the game in order to concentrate on his job as athletic director at Wisconsin.

Bielema went 68-24 in his seven years at Wisconsin and also won three Big Ten titles. He shocked everyone shortly after the Badgers had thumped Nebraska 70-31 in the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game by taking the head coaching job at Arkansas.

This was before the Badgers were about to play in their third straight Rose Bowl versus Stanford. The seniors on the team asked Alvarez to coach the team, and he obliged.

The result? The Badgers played hard but lost 20-14 to a good Cardinal team.

After Bielema left, Alvarez hired Gary Andersen to be his replacement. Andersen went 19-7 as head coach of the Badgers, which included winning the Big Ten West Division title this year before getting whipped 59-0 by Ohio State in the 2014 Big Ten Championship Game.

Now two years later, it's like deja vu. Why? Andersen also decided to leave shortly after the game to become the head coach at Oregon State.

Even though Alvarez has secured Andersen's replacement by hiring Paul Chryst to become the new head coach, Alvarez will once again lead the Badgers as interim head coach in the 2015 Outback Bowl against the same team he coached against in the 2006 Capital One Bowl, the Auburn Tigers.

The game will be the 10th bowl game the Badgers have played in Florida and the fifth they have played in Tampa. Overall, the Badgers are 4-5 in the nine previous bowl games they have played in Florida and 1-3 in the Hall of Fame/Outback Bowl in Tampa.

I've been to many of the bowl games that the Badgers have played at Florida and was at the first bowl game they played in the Sunshine State at Tampa Stadium, when it was called the Hall of Fame Bowl. The Badgers played the Duke Blue Devils in that 1995 contest.

Because of my friendship with Cosgrove (we were buddies in college), I was able to see the Badgers work out at Tampa Stadium in practice a day before the game.

A couple of friends and I also sat next to the coaches' wives as Wisconsin beat Duke 34-20.

That was the first game in which Cosgrove was the defensive coordinator for the Badgers. He replaced Dan McCarney, who left to become head coach at Iowa State.

Cosgrove stayed on as defensive coordinator until 2003. He was a part of the 1998 and 1999 Wisconsin teams that won back-to-back Big Ten titles and the Rose Bowl.

In 1998, the Badgers were ranked fourth in the nation in total defense and first in scoring defense. In 1999, they were ranked 15th in the country in total defense and fifth in scoring defense.

After the game, my fondest memory was being at the team hotel (Westin Tampa Harbour Island) and smoking a victory cigar with a number of the coaches (including Alvarez and Cosgrove) overlooking the Hillsborough River from the balcony.

I'll be going to the 2015 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium with my son Andrew to watch Alvarez and the Badgers once again. If the outcome is anything like the game I saw in Orlando nine years ago when Alvarez and Wisconsin faced Auburn, Badger Nation will be quite happy.

The game also gives Alvarez a chance to leave the field as a winner in his last game as head coach. He thought he did that in 2006 when the Badgers beat Auburn in the Capital One Bowl. But that changed when he coached the Badgers in the 2013 Rose Bowl when Wisconsin lost to Stanford.

Now he gets a second chance to leave the field as a winner as interim head coach. I like his chances. And I'll be there to witness it.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Game Schedule 2014-15: Best Matchups Before the New Year

Everyone is waiting on the College Football Playoffs to begin, but fans shouldn't sleep on the rest of the bowl season. There are a good number of games still to be played. A few of them could be epic and feature big-time NFL prospects.

Here's a look at the remainder of the bowl schedule and just below the table is a closer look at three games you shouldn't miss.

Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman
Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech Annapolis, Md.
Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium Dec. 27
1 p.m. ESPN Hyundai Sun Bowl
No. 15 Arizona State vs. Duke El Paso, Texas
Sun Bowl Dec. 27
2 p.m. CBS Duck Commander Independence Bowl
Miami vs. South Carolina Shreveport, La.
Independence Stadium Dec. 27
3:30 p.m. ABC New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Boston College vs. Penn State Bronx, N.Y.
Yankee Stadium Dec. 27
4:30 p.m. ESPN National University Holiday Bowl
Nebraska vs. No. 24 USC San Diego
Qualcomm Stadium Dec. 27
8 p.m. ESPN AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Texas A&M vs. West Virginia Memphis, Tenn.
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium Dec. 29
2 p.m. ESPN Russell Athletic Bowl
Oklahoma vs. No. 17 Clemson Orlando, Fla.
Florida Citrus Bowl Dec. 29
5:30 p.m. ESPN AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl
Arkansas vs. Texas Houston
NRG Stadium Dec. 29
9 p.m. ESPN Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Notre Dame vs. No. 23 LSU Nashville, Tenn.
LP Field Dec. 30
3 p.m. ESPN Belk Bowl
No. 13 Georgia vs. No. 21 Louisville Charlotte, N.C.
Bank of America Stadium Dec. 30
6:30 p.m. ESPN Foster Farms Bowl
Maryland vs. Stanford Santa Clara, Calif.
Levi's Stadium Dec. 30
10 p.m. ESPN Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
No. 9 Ole Miss vs. No. 6 TCU Atlanta
Georgia Dome Dec. 31
12:30 p.m. ESPN VIZIO Fiesta Bowl
No. 20 Boise State vs. No. 10 Arizona Glendale, Ariz.
University of Phoenix Stadium Dec. 31
4 p.m. ESPN Capital One Orange Bowl
No. 7 Mississippi State vs. No. 12 Georgia Tech Miami Gardens, Fla.
Sun Life Stadium Dec. 31
8 p.m. ESPN Outback Bowl
No. 19 Auburn vs. No. 18 Wisconsin Tampa, Fla.
Raymond James Stadium Jan. 1
Noon ESPN2 Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
No. 8 Michigan State vs. No. 5 Baylor Arlington, Texas
AT&T Stadium Jan. 1
12:30 p.m. ESPN Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl
No. 16 Missouri vs. No. 25 Minnesota Orlando, Fla.
Florida Citrus Bowl Jan. 1
1 p.m. ABC Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual
College Football Playoff Semifinal

No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State Pasadena, Calif.
Rose Bowl Jan. 1
5 p.m. ESPN Allstate Sugar Bowl
College Football Playoff Semifinal

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State New Orleans
Mercedes-Benz Superdome Jan. 1
8:30 p.m. ESPN Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
Houston vs. Pittsburgh Fort Worth, Texas
Amon G. Carter Stadium Jan. 2
Noon ESPN TaxSlayer Bowl
Iowa vs. Tennessee Jacksonville, Fla.
EverBank Field Jan. 2
3:20 p.m. ESPN Valero Alamo Bowl
No. 11 Kansas State vs. No. 14 UCLA San Antonio
Alamodome Jan. 2
6:45 p.m. ESPN TicketCity Cactus Bowl
Washington vs. Oklahoma State Tempe, Ariz.
Sun Devil Stadium Jan. 2
10:15 p.m. ESPN Birmingham Bowl
East Carolina vs. Florida Birmingham, Ala.
Legion Field Jan. 3
Noon ESPN GoDaddy Bowl
Toledo vs. Arkansas State Mobile, Ala.
Ladd-Peebles Stadium Jan. 4
9 p.m. ESPN College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T
TBD vs. TBD Arlington, Texas
AT&T Stadium Jan. 12
8:30 p.m. ESPN

 

Holiday Bowl: Nebraska vs. USC

If watching the Nebraska Cornhuskers' Ameer Abdullah and the USC Trojans' Leonard Williams in what could be their last college game isn't enough, seeing an old school Big Ten vs. Pac-12 battle in a bowl game should get college football fans excited.

There was a time during the mid-to-late portion of the season that both the Cornhuskers and Trojans had thoughts of winning their respective conferences, but things didn't exactly work out.

As it stands, this matchup features one of the most explosive running backs in the country in Abdullah. He's a threat to take the ball to the end zone whenever he touches it. Per Sean Callahan of HuskerOnline.com, Abdullah is headed to the Senior Bowl.

He's clearly flipping the switch to become a pro. Seeing how much success he can have against the Williams-led Trojan front will be interesting.

By the time the NFL combine has concluded in 2015, both men could be set to hear their names called in the first round of the NFL draft. Catch them on the college gridiron while you still can.

  

Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl: Ole Miss vs. TCU

It turned out to be a disappointing season for the Ole Miss Rebels. After flirting with obtaining a spot in the College Football Playoff, the team came crashing back down to Earth by losing three of its last five games.

Now the Bo-Wallace-led Rebels will battle a TCU Horned Frogs team that is eager to prove it should have been included in the CFP.

A one-loss season and strong finish wasn't enough to convince the committee to tab TCU in college football's final four. Expect quarterback Trevone Boykin and Co. to play with a chip on their shoulders.

Per Hugh Kellenberger of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Boykin could be a problem for the Ole Miss defense.

Can he light a fire under his 2015 Heisman hype or even spark talk that he'll skip his senior season? 

 

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Notre Dame vs. LSU

The last time the Notre Dame Fighting Irish played an SEC school things didn't turn out well for the Golden Domers. The Alabama Crimson Tide crushed the Irish in the national championship in 2013, and the LSU Tigers are hoping to deliver a similar beatdown at the Music City Bowl.

Senior quarterback Everett Golson has had a decent season for Notre Dame, despite the fact that the team has lost four in a row, and five of its last six. 

Golson will likely be facing the best defense he's seen since he was befuddled by that 'Bama defense almost two years ago. Can Notre Dame finish strong and create some momentum heading into the final recruiting stretch, or will LSU continue the SEC's dominance over the country's most-famed independent school?

You'll have to watch to find out.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff Championship 2015: Semifinals Odds and Predictions

The ever-evolving complexities of the two College Football Playoff semifinals encounters can be difficult to track. 

Injuries, deeper analysis and more leads to an updated look at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl as each day passes. The lengthy wait gives each team plenty of prep time, allows fans time to celebrate the holiday and, most importantly, builds hype.

At this point, a showdown between Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota does not need a pitch. Neither does Ohio State versus Alabama, otherwise known as Big Ten versus SEC or Urban Meyer versus Nick Saban.

How Las Vegas feels right now about both matchups is a sound gauge as to how the latest happenings affects the eventual income. With that in mind, the details rest below.

 

2015 College Football Playoff Schedule

Odds courtesy of Odds Shark and accurate as of 3 p.m. ET on Dec. 26.

 

Predictions

Oregon's Defense Will Stand Tall

As it should, a third-ranked offense led by one of the most dominant Heisman winners in history overshadows a rather sound defense.

Of course, this refers to Mariota, who threw for 3,783 yards and 38 scores on the year while leading a unit that averages 46.3 points. It is a given that the Ducks will post points on the Seminoles, but what may decide the game outright is the Oregon defense.

The unit quietly ranks 29th nationally with an average of just 22.5 points surrendered per game. Considering the Ducks usually force teams into an air-based approach in an effort to keep up, this number is not very bad.

There are negatives, though. The loss of top corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu to injury hurts things. Even when he was healthy, the team did not rank all that well against the pass.

Those things accounted for, Tyson Alger of The Oregonian has a point when he suggests that the numbers may be a tad inflated:

Eight quarterbacks in the Pac-12 threw for more than 3,000 yards and four tossed more than 30 touchdowns. The Ducks faced this onslaught of aerial attacks with marginal success. Oregon ranked sixth in the Pac-12 with 259.5 yards allowed per game, a number that came out 103rd nationally. That is skewed a bit, though, due to the conference and the fact that many teams fell behind Oregon early and had to pass to catch up.

It helps that defensive backs Dior Mathis and Troy Hill were already noteworthy contributors worthy of a bigger role.

Further helping things is the erratic play of Winston this year. Last year's Heisman winner has come up in the clutch this season, but 17 turnovers only further serves to exploit a defense that struggles with consistency issues of its own.

The Seminoles have not won by more than five points in each of their last four games, with the level of opposition ranking from Miami (Fla.) to Boston College. That simply will not do against an Oregon team that gets ahead and stays ahead.

Panic surrounds the Ducks based on injury and reputation, but an ability to capitalize on seemingly inevitable Winston mistakes means Mariota and the Ducks will cruise.

Prediction: Oregon 35, Florida State 24

 

Alabama Wins Ground War

It is fun to talk about the passing attacks the Buckeyes and Crimson Tide bring to the CFP. 

Alabama shed the run-first stereotype this year with an offense that averages 37.1 points per game behind the arm of senior Blake Sims. A castoff most figured would not even win the starting gig, Sims threw for 3,250 yards and 26 scores on the year.

Speaking of names most thought they would not see, Ohio State sophomore Cardale Jones is the latest Meyer quarterback to excel. He got the start in the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin and threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns.

Yet this matchup in particular may morph into a ground-based affair.

Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for 1,402 yards and 12 scores, leads Ohio State. Other than being one of the most productive backs in the nation, he also acts as a leader with so many injuries claiming players under center. 

"I think it's the closeness of our family," Elliott said of the team's ability to overcome issues, per ESPN.com's Austin Ward. "We're truly a family, we've been through so much together, and I mean, it's going to take a lot to tear us apart."

Alabama has a pair of elite rushers in T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry who are more than capable of placing the offense on their shoulders when necessary:

When it gets down to it, both offenses will look to rush the ball in order to keep the opposing aerial attack grounded.

That approach favors the Crimson Tide. Ohio State's second-leading rusher is injured quarterback J.T. Barrett, which means a semblance of offensive versatility will be thrown upon Jones.

By comparison, Alabama has a number of talented backs who can wear down the Buckeyes. The same Ohio State defense that allowed 218 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground to Minnesota will have few answers to what Yeldon and Co. bring to New Orleans. 

Prediction: Alabama 38, Ohio State 30

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff 2014-15: Odds and Predictions for Each Semifinal Game

The first ever College Football Playoff hasn't stopped fans from arguing, but the two semifinal games will certainly be entertaining.

In the Rose Bowl, we have a matchup between the two most recent Heisman Trophy winners and possibly two of the top picks in the 2015 NFL draft. This will be followed by a Sugar Bowl battle between two of the most successful coaches in the sport.

These battles are going to be exciting but still the most important thing is winning. The teams that can get through these games will battle for the national championship on Jan. 12. 

With so much at stake in each game, you want to make sure you don't miss a second of the action. Here is a look at each battle with predictions for the two semifinal matchups. 

 

Rose Bowl

Who: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State

When: Thursday, Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET

Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.

TV: ESPN

Odds (via Odds Shark)

  • Spread: Oregon -9
  • Over/Under: 71.5

 

There has been a lot of criticism about Florida State over the course of the season. The squad had a lot of close calls against inferior opponents and it became a question whether it would be able to earn a spot in the playoffs.

Of course, this is forgetting the fact that the Seminoles are the defending national champions, undefeated and have a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback leading the way.

Head coach Jimbo Fisher also explained that the team has prepared itself for a fast-paced opponent like Oregon:

It's extremely important. But we see that [no-huddle teams] a lot. Now they do it extremely well. ... I thought (our conditioning) was a key last year when we played Auburn. That was the thing - everybody thought we would fade at the end, that's when we got stronger. I feel very good about where we're at, and our conditioning's going very well.

No matter what happens, you can be certain Florida State is going to put up a serious fight.

Still, Oregon might remain too difficult to stop. Marcus Mariota not only won this year's Heisman, but he did it in dominant fashion:

The Ducks have been lights out offensively since the early-season loss to Arizona. They have eight wins in a row, scoring at least 40 points in each. With Mariota making plays with his arm and his legs, along with playmakers Royce Freeman, Byron Marshall and more, the squad will be able to score again.

Florida State will be able to keep up for a while, but Oregon will come through in a high-scoring battle.

Prediction: Oregon 45, Florida State 38

 

Sugar Bowl

Who: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State

When: Thursday, Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans

TV: ESPN

Odds (via Odds Shark)

  • Spread: Alabama -9
  • Over/Under: 58.5

 

Alabama has been successful for a long time but rarely has the offense been interesting. The squad used to grind teams out with the run game and barely scrape onto victories.

Things have changed with Lane Kiffin in charge of the offense.

Receiver Amari Cooper, who leads the nation with 115 receptions, expected this change coming into the year, via Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News:

Even Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has noticed a difference this season:

The Crimson Tide ranks 17th in the nation with 37.1 points per game to go with a defense that ranks fourth in college football.

Ohio State's quality defensive line will be able to slow down the rushing attack of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, but Blake Sims and the passing game will make sure the points still come.

On the other side of the ball, the Buckeyes will struggle with third-string quarterback Cardale Jones making only his second career start. He played well against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, but he didn't have to do too much as Ezekiel Elliott had a huge performance.

With the running game likely limited, Jones will have to do too much and you can expect some struggles in a losing effort.

Prediction: Alabama 27, Ohio State 14

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Fiesta Bowl 2014: Viewing Info, Odds and Predictions for Boise State vs. Arizona

If football fans find themselves uninterested in the four teams participating in the inaugural College Football Playoff, they have only the bowl games to save them from winter drudgery. 

The four-team playoff might have marginalized some of the top bowl games in the minds of some, but if you're a fan who is unconcerned with the wider implications of the new postseason structure and its effect on the bowl season, the 2014 Fiesta Bowl is for you.

No. 20 Boise State will take on No. 10 Arizona at the University of Phoenix Stadium on Dec. 31 in what should be an entertaining, high-scoring affair featuring two of the most well-balanced attacks in the nation.

The Broncos (11-2, 7-1 MWC) are forever etched in Fiesta Bowl lore courtesy of their thrilling trickery in an overtime win over Oklahoma in 2007. They also defeated TCU 17-10 in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl. Offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin noted his squad is happy to be back in this competition after a trying 2013 campaign.

"Any time you get a chance to play in a game like this, especially for us with experience being here, all you want to do is get back," Harsin said, via AZCentral.com's Jeff Metcalfe.

The Wildcats (10-3, 7-2 Pac-12), the only team to beat mighty Oregon this season, represent the Pac-12 in this contest. Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez has redeemed himself in the desert and built a competitive program after a disappointing three-year stint at Michigan from 2008-2010. He will be looking to end the season on a high note after a 51-13 loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship.

The Fiesta Bowl will get off to an afternoon start this year, but the matchup should be worthy of prime-time viewing. Both squads feature efficient, high-scoring offenses chock-full of athletic skill players. This isn't the game for fans of defensive slugfests. 

Here is a look at the viewing information and odds for the 2014 Fiesta Bowl, followed by a preview and prediction for the outcome.


Fiesta Bowl 2014: Viewing Info, Odds

Date: Dec. 31

Time (ET): 4 p.m.

Matchup (spread): Boise State vs. Arizona (-3.5)

Moneyline: Arizona -105, Boise State -115

Location: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Note: Odds courtesy of Odds Shark and updated as of Dec. 27 at 4 a.m. ET.



Preview and Prediction

The Wildcats and Broncos game promises points thanks to the constellation of stars on the offenses of both teams. Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon had a wonderful season as a redshirt freshman, passing for 3,458 yards, 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

He didn't put up too many rushing yards this season, but Solomon is very adept at moving around the pocket and throwing on the run with accuracy. He also did a fine job of spreading the ball around, with seven different Wildcats tallying at least 23 receptions this season.

Running back Nick Wilson enjoyed a fine season, rushing for 15 touchdowns on 5.9 yards per carry. Those are fine numbers to be sure, but they pale in comparison to the ones put up by Broncos running back Jay Ajayi.

The fleet-footed junior carried the ball 325 times this year for nearly 1,700 yards and a staggering 25 touchdowns. Rodriguez compared Ajayi favorably to former Wildcat and current Chicago Bears tailback Ka'Deem Carey, according to Daniel Berk of the Arizona Daily Star:

 

 

 

 

He certainly made life simple for quarterback Grant Hedrick, who threw 22 touchdowns against 13 interceptions while putting up 563 yards of his own on the ground.

Zona's leaky run defense should be cause for concern in this game, as the Broncos will be able to take up time on the clock and string together long drives.

Now, Boise State didn't face nearly the same level of competition that Arizona did during this season. The Broncos faced just one top-25 team this season, a then-No. 18 Ole Miss squad that handily defeated the Mountain West representatives 35-13 way back on Aug. 28.

That being said, Ole Miss had perhaps the best defense in the country, ranking first in the nation in scoring defense and 13th in yards against. Ajayi still managed a respectable 4.3 yards per carry.

The Wildcats defense is nowhere near as potent as the Rebels, which should allow Hedrick, Ajayi and company to put up numbers in line with their regular-season totals. 

One player the Broncos will have to game-plan heavily for is linebacker Scooby Wright III, a high-energy wrecking ball with a penchant for busting into the opponents' backfield with regularity.

Wright, a unanimous All-American and winner of the 2014 Bednarik, Lombardi and Nagurski awards racked up 27 tackles for loss, 14 sacks and six forced fumbles this season, per CFBStats.com. ESPN's Benjamin Allbright stated he would have given Wright his Heisman vote over Marcus Mariota:

The Broncos can't afford to give Arizona extra possessions in this one, and Wright is the player with the best chance of changing the tide of the game with one teeth-rattling hit that jars the ball loose.

Hedrick will need to be at his sharpest, as Solomon proved he doesn't make too many costly errors in big games and the Wildcats as a team turned the ball over just 16 times this season.

If Boise State can manage to hold onto the ball and drive down the field, they should be able to finish off drives with relative ease. The Broncos scored 48 touchdowns and 13 field goals in 68 trips to the red zone this season, per CFBStats.com. Arizona allowed opponents to score touchdowns on 60 percent of their red-zone sojourns.

The Wildcats have faced much tougher competition this season and should be raring to go for this game. Not every bowl contest in college football carries weight for the teams involved, but the Wildcats managed to win the Pac-12 South despite losses to USC and UCLA and will be out to prove that their demolition at the mercy of the Ducks was an aberration.

Look for this to be a high-scoring, back-and-forth contest throughout, with the Wildcats edging out the Broncos in the final minutes of the game via a statement drive engineered by Solomon.

Prediction: Arizona 42-38 Boise State

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Orange Bowl 2014: Predictions and TV Info for Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech

Dak Prescott and Mississippi State had bigger plans than the Orange Bowl, but they would be wise not to overlook the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on New Year's Eve.

The Yellow Jackets gave the defending champion Florida State Seminoles all they could handle in the ACC Championship Game, and finished the season ranked 12th in the nation. If Dak and the Bulldogs aren't careful, they could get stung by the Yellow Jackets.

Here's the viewing information needed to catch what could be one of the best bowl games of the season.

 

When: Dec. 31 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida

TV: ESPN

 

Keys to Victory for Bulldogs

Slowing down Georgia Tech's triple-option attack is a task. It begins with taking away one of the various things the offense wants to accomplish. There's sweeps, dives and misdirection plays which can all be damaging.

For Mississippi State, the aspect of the Yellow Jackets offense that could be most problematic are the misdirection runs. These are the plays that could have the Bulldogs' athleticism work against them,

Staying disciplined and in the right lanes is key here. 

Mississippi State should win most of the battles at the line of scrimmage. Thus the dive will need another aspect of the run game to work before it can be successful. It's a similar situation with the sweep play.

Mississippi State is more athletic at most positions, thus running wide may not prove to be fruitful for the Yellow Jackets. Once Mississippi State has limited the run options, it must force sophomore quarterback Justin Thomas to beat them with his arm.

He's only completed 50.9 percent of his passes this season and thrown for 1,594 yards. He isn't accustomed to making big plays through the air. If the Bulldogs can keep Georgia Tech in 3rd-and-long situations, this game could become an easy one for them.

CFB Nation has an interesting Twitter question that could determine the game.

 

Keys to Victory for Yellow Jackets

Georgia Tech's chances of winning this game begin and end with its ability to force turnovers. If the Yellow Jackets can strip the ball and pick off Prescott passes, they can stay in the game and give their run game a chance to control the clock.

The team is 9-1 this season in games where it has forced at least one turnover. Because of how potent the triple-option has been, getting additional possessions has proven to be key for establishing and protecting leads.

 

Prediction

When Georgia Tech came up against Florida State, it faced a leader and athlete under center in Jameis Winston who was capable of avoiding big mistakes and making the proper throws to extend drives.

Prescott is a similar presence for the Bulldogs.

He's smart enough to know that if his team doesn't turn the ball over, the talent advantage will ultimately win out, and the Bulldogs will win the Orange Bowl. Defensively, the Bulldogs are one of the most talented teams in the country. It'll be enough to contain the Yellow Jackets' ground game, and Prescott will do the job as a dual threat to spur Mississippi State to victory.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Games 2014-15: Full Schedule and Predictions for Remaining Slate

So begins the home stretch of the 2014-15 bowl season.

If pre-Christmas bowls are any indication, the stretch toward 2015 will be a classic. Western Kentucky and Central Michigan partook in a shootout for the ages, while Navy and San Diego State put on a gritty classic.

The small sampling suggests things will get wild when teams such as Auburn and Wisconsin collide.

What is perhaps the best time of the sporting year is here, so brush up on the full schedule and some of the biggest matchups to catch.

 

2014-15 College Football Bowl Schedule

 

Breaking Down Noteworthy Matchups

Music City Bowl: Notre Dame vs. LSU

Call it old versus new in the latest iteration of the Music City Bowl.

Les Miles' LSU Tigers sit at 8-4 with just a .500 mark in SEC play. The coach sees no reason to change much of anything, though.

"You won't see much new in this game at all," Miles said, per STATS LLC (via ESPN.com). "What we're doing is we've got young players and we're trying to grow them up and have them do the things they've done in the past here and see if they can do them better, execute well on game day."

Losses to Mississippi State, Auburn, Alabama and Arkansas are nothing to go nuclear over. Sophomore quarterback Anthony Jennings (1,460 yards and 10 touchdowns to seven interceptions) needs more time to develop. Freshman back Leonard Fournette (891 yards, eight scores) may be the best in the nation but more experience would not hurt.

Now contrast that with Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, a team seemingly ready for a change under center.

“I’m open really to anything at this point,” Kelly said, per Keith Arnold of NBCSports.com. “We want to put the best football team, the best offense that we can on the field. Ideally, you’d like to have one, but if we’ve got two, then that’s what we’ll do.”

Kelly will not only give time to Everett Golson against the Tigers but to sophomore Malik Zaire as well. The former has faded down the stretch with 10 interceptions over the course of his last six games.

Zaire is the future for Notre Dame; hence his wealth of playing time against USC in which he went 9-of-20 for 170 yards and a rushing touchdown.

A meet between two former Top 10 teams is sure to be sheer quality. The advantage has to go to the SEC team that ranks better in important areas and does not have a dramatic strategic change to make in order to prep for the future.

Golson and Zaire will struggle plenty against a top-three defense. Pair that with a top-30 LSU rushing attack that can dictate the game, and Miles and the Tigers will have few issues cementing a strong building block for next season.

Prediction: LSU 24, Notre Dame 17

 

Cotton Bowl: Michigan State vs. Baylor

One needs simply to gloss over the names in the Cotton Bowl to know it will be a war of wills. 

The Michigan State Spartans, known for defense, collide with the high-flying Baylor Bears in what may turn out to be a better contest than the College Football Playoff Semifinal games have in store.

NFL Network's Gil Brandt put it best: 

Beneath the surface, though, it is clear that the 10-2 Spartans are not that far behind the 11-1 Bears in the offensive category:

Michigan State does plenty of damage on the defensive side of the ball by allowing less than 20 points per game on average, but the improvement of junior quarterback Connor Cook is noteworthy. The Hinckley, Ohio native completed 58.2 percent of his passes this season for 2,900 yards and 22 touchdowns to six interceptions.

Six times this year the Spartans have scored a minimum of 45 points. The efforts of senior back Jeremy Langford (1,360 yards, 19 scores) are not to go unnoticed, either.

Baylor knows all about scoring, though. Bryce Petty, who totaled 3,305 yards and 26 scores to six picks through the air, leads the nation’s top offense. He has an elite complement of his own in sophomore Shock Linwood, who rushed for 1,226 yards and 16 scores.

Petty understands that the task is perhaps his biggest test of the season, as captured by Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News:

What we got to do offensively is establish a run. They pride themselves on stopping the run, so we got to establish a run and take chances when we get them. They are going to make you earn every inch you get. So those small successes, those first downs, you know plays of 10 yards or more are big. You got to take them any way you can get them. So for us it's just small successes.

Petty has seen defenses that rank in Michigan State's neighborhood this season, though. A 61-58 win over TCU back in October saw him throw for 510 yards and six touchdowns.

That sort of production against the Spartans is no sure thing, but a bowl game close to home against a tough team will see the Bears pull through. In a shootout that may come down to which team has the ball last, the more experienced quarterback figures to put his team at an advantage.

Prediction: Baylor 45, Michigan State 40

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Sun Bowl 2014: Odds, Schedule and Prediction for Arizona State vs. Duke

The 2014 Sun Bowl features a devilish faceoff between Arizona State and Duke. Both teams fared well during the regular season, earning 9-3 records; however, a few tough games took them out of contention in their respective conferences.

The Sun Devils boast a well-balanced offense that ranks 19th in the nation, scoring an average of 37.0 points per game. Although, the team's defense has been rather inconsistent, putting together strong performances against Stanford and Utah but collapsing against UCLA and Arizona.

The Blue Devils have been winning games due to a sturdy defense. Ranked 21st in the nation, Duke is allowing an average of just 20.6 points per contest. Unfortunately, an inconsistent offense led to a couple of late-season losses against Virginia Tech and North Carolina.

Arizona State is coming off a loss against Arizona and will be looking for a bounce-back victory, while Duke won its season finale against Wake Forest and will attempt to ride that momentum to a Sun Bowl title.

 

Viewing Information

When: Saturday, December 27

Where: Sun Bowl in El Paso, TX

Time: 2 p.m. ET

Channel: CBS

Live Stream: CBSSports.com

Betting Info (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 65
  • Spread: Arizona State -7.5

 

Preview and Prediction

Senior quarterback Taylor Kelly will get the start for the Sun Devils Saturday against Duke, marking the last time he will take to the field for Arizona State. Kelly missed three games earlier this season, but he still managed to throw for 1,874 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions on the year.

Kelly should be looking for some redemption in the Sun Bowl, as he was benched during the team's regular-season finale after completing 13 of his 22 passing attempts for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Although, the quarterback didn't get much help from running back D.J. Foster, who averaged just 2.6 yards per carry in that contest.

Foster's had a bit of a roller-coaster season, starting red hot and rushing for more than 140 yards in each of his first three games; however, he eclipsed the century mark just one more time on the year. Still, much of his value comes in the passing game, as he's caught 59 passes for 646 yards and three scores.

Although, if this offense is going to get moving, it must force-feed wide receiver Jaelen Strong. The junior pass-catcher has been phenomenal this season, accumulating four games of more than 100 receiving yards and totaling 75 receptions for 1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns despite missing one contest.

Duke has been very good against the pass this season, ranking 34th in the nation and allowing an average of just 204.0 yards per game through the air. The Blue Devils have also limited opponents to a total of 12 passing touchdowns in 12 games, making this secondary a very formidable opponent for Kelly and Co.

The Blue Devils don't have the most prolific offense in the nation, ranking 81st in passing yards, 46th in rushing yards and 44th in points scored, but senior quarterback Anthony Boone has protected the ball much better this year, lowering his interception total down to seven, compared to tossing 13 in 2013.

While his interception total dropped, so did his completion percentage. He's connecting just 56.9 percent of the time, and he's amassed 2,507 yards and 17 touchdowns. Boone will have his hands full against an Arizona State team that loves to blitz, ranking seventh in the nation with 39 sacks on the season.

Duke's offensive line has been very good against the pass rush this season, allowing just 13 sacks; however, the team will be tested by a defense that loves to dial up exotic blitz packages. Expect Boone to circumvent the pressure with plenty of underneath routes to speedy wide receiver Jamison Crowder.

The Blue Devils have a very strong defense; however, it's difficult to trust in that unit due to its inconsistent play over the back half of the season. Arizona State has plenty of offensive weapons capable of moving the chains and putting just enough points on the board to come away with the win.

Prediction: Arizona State 30, Duke 24

 

All team statistics and rankings courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 26.

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Holiday Bowl 2014: Odds, Schedule and Prediction for Nebraska vs. USC

The 2014 Holiday Bowl should be one of the most exciting non-New Year's Day games of the season, as a prolific USC aerial attack takes on Nebraska's punishing ground game in a potential shootout that shouldn't have trouble captivating the nation.

Nebraska is led into the game by its 17th-ranked rushing attack. The Cornhuskers have been an extremely well-rounded team this season; however, they suffered a disappointing conclusion to their regular season, dropping games to Wisconsin and Minnesota before just barely edging Iowa in the finale. That led to the firing of head coach Bo Pelini.

USC's potent passing game has torched plenty of squads in 2014, capping off the regular season with a decisive 49-14 victory over Notre Dame. Although, the Trojans have been inconsistent this year, collapsing in all phases of the game against Boston College, Arizona State and UCLA. Consistency will be necessary to close out the year with a win over a tough Nebraska team.

So, will the high-flying Pac-12 squad best the ground-and-pound style of the Big Ten representative? As we await the answer to that question, here's a look at the game's viewing information, updated odds and final prediction.

 

Viewing Information

When: Saturday, December 27

Where: Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, CA

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Info (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 62
  • Spread: USC -7

 

Preview and Prediction

Nebraska has been riding senior running back Ameer Abdullah all season long. The talented ball-carrier rushed 237 times for 1,523 yards and 18 touchdowns, averaging 6.4 yards per carry on the year. However, his production dropped off significantly over the season's final four games, as he eclipsed the 100-yard mark once and scored one touchdown in that span.

Abdullah was part of the Heisman discussion early in the season, eclipsing the 200-yard mark three times and scoring 14 rushing touchdowns in a five-game span. Unfortunately, he was set back with a knee injury the following week against Purdue and didn't appear to be back in form until the final game of the season.

The Cornhuskers must get Abudllah going early and often against a very good USC defense that ranks 27th in the nation against the run, allowing an average of 132.5 yards per game. Still, the Trojans have been exposed by a strong running game before, and rest assured Nebraska is closely taking a look at how Boston College managed to rack up 452 rushing yards on USC.

USC's recipe for success will be maintaining a balanced offense that features both quarterback Cody Kessler and running back Javorius Allen.

Kessler has been one of the nation's most prolific signal-callers this season, completing 70.7 percent of his passes for 3,505 yards, 36 touchdowns and four interceptions. He concluded the regular season in a big way, torching Notre Dame for 372 passing yards and six touchdowns.

Much of Kessler's success can be attributed to wide receiver Nelson Agholor. The junior pass-catcher has been putting on a clinic all season long, racking up 97 receptions for 1,223 yards and 11 touchdowns. He finished his season with a bang, eclipsing the 100-yard receiving mark five times in his last six games.

This passing offense will be tested by the Cornhuskers. Nebraska boasts the nation's 26th-ranked pass defense, allowing an average of just 196.3 yards per game. Although, some of that can be due to playing in the run-heavy Big Ten, as Nebraska is also allowing an average of 12.33 yards per completion.

Still, getting Allen going out of the backfield will be necessary to help open up passing lanes for Kessler. Allen is averaging 5.3 yards per carry this season, rushing 250 times for 1,337 yards and nine touchdowns. A dual-threat back, he's also racked up 40 receptions for 442 yards and another score.

Stopping the run isn't a strong suit for the Cornhuskers, as they rank 77th in the nation and allow an average of 176.5 yards per game on the ground and 4.67 yards per carry. If Allen can get off to a hot start, the Trojans offense will be difficult to slow down.

While both of these teams are dynamic in their own right, the upper hand here has to go to USC. The Trojans are the more well-rounded of the two teams, and their versatility will prove to be the difference-maker in the Holiday Bowl.

Prediction: USC 38, Nebraska 28

 

All team statistics and rankings courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 26.

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Independence Bowl 2014: Odds, Schedule, Prediction for Miami vs. South Carolina

The 2014 Independence Bowl features two of the nation's most enigmatic teams in Miami and South Carolina.

The Hurricanes have produced a roller-coaster season, looking great in games against Duke, Cincinnati and Virginia Tech, but struggling in contests against Georgia Tech, Virginia and Pittsburgh. Miami rode a solid running game and defense through most of the season, but it fell apart late, losing its final three contests and finishing with a 6-6 record.

South Carolina earned a preseason top-25 ranking, but that didn't last long after a Week 1 drubbing at the hands of Texas A&M. Still, the Gamecocks managed to produce several good performances this season, highlighted by a 38-35 victory over Georgia. This has been a solid offensive team this year, but it's defense has given up plenty of points en route to a 6-6 standing.

Both of these teams are coming off losses, and each would love to finish their respective disappointing seasons on a high note by winning the Independence Bowl.

 

Viewing Information

When: Saturday, December 27

Where: Independence Stadium in Shreveport, LA

Time: 3:30 p.m. ET

Channel: ABC

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Info (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 61
  • Spread: Miami -3.5

 

Preview and Prediction

If Miami is to come away with a big win against South Carolina, it needs to get running back Duke Johnson going early and often. He's been the team's offensive catalyst this season when given the opportunity.

On the season, Johnson has carried 218 times for 1,520 yards, an average of 7.0 yards per rush, and 10 touchdowns. A viable receiver out of the backfield, he's also reeled in 33 catches for 370 yards and three additional scores.

Consistent production has made Johnson so valuable this year, as he's averaged no less than 4.5 yards per carry in any single contest. Unfortunately, his usage hasn't been as consistent. He rushed just 18 times while quarterback Brad Kaaya attempted 45 passes in a 35-23 loss to Pittsburgh to end the regular season.

Considering South Carolina owns the nation's 107th-ranked run defense, allowing an average of 214.4 rushing yards per game and a total of 28 rushing touchdowns, the Hurricanes would be wise to ensure Johnson gets a very healthy workload.

Gamecocks quarterback Dylan Thompson has been a little erratic this season. He's thrown for 3,280 yards and 24 touchdowns, but he's accompanied those numbers with 11 interceptions. The senior struggles more when asked to pass more often, throwing eight interceptions in the seven games he attempted 37 or more passes.

Making matters worse for Thompson, Miami owns the nation's 10th-ranked pass defense, allowing an average of just 184.1 yards per game through the air. While Miami has been solid against the run as well, ranking 38th in the nation in that category, South Carolina needs to get its ground game going to circumvent a strong secondary.

The Gamecocks have two very talented backs in Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds. Both are averaging at least 5.0 yards per carry this season, and considering the strengths and weaknesses of its upcoming opponent, South Carolina should be aiming to produce more of a run-heavy offense on Saturday.

This one all comes down to the matchups. The way things currently stand, Miami appears more capable of exploiting South Carolina's weaknesses than the other way around. Expect a big day from the Hurricanes backfield, as they take the Independence Bowl.

Prediction: Miami 31, South Carolina 24

 

All team rankings and statistics courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 26.

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Pinstripe Bowl 2014: Full Predictions for Boston College vs. Penn State

There won't be any baseballs on the field at Yankee Stadium on Saturday.

Football will be played in The House That Ruth Built this weekend, as Boston College squares off against Penn State in the 2014 New Era Pinstripe Bowl. The field made the successful transition from baseball to football, as the Nittany Lions' official Twitter account posted:

This year's installment of the Pinstripe Bowl features two teams with two competing strengths. The Eagles run the ball extremely well. The Nittany Lions defend the run extremely well—better than anyone else in the country, in fact.

Will the Eagles be able to muster any offense if Penn State can shut down the run game? You'll have to tune into the game to find out. In the meantime, check out some predictions below.

 

Penn State Will Stifle Ground Game

Penn State was tops in the country against the run, allowing a measly 84.6 yards per game. Despite BC's success on the ground (251.8 yards per game), one would think that it'd lead to an alteration of the game plan heading into play.

Andy Gallik, a senior offensive lineman, told Spencer Fordin of MLB.com that the Eagles will stick to the same strategy that got them here in the first place:

"We're going to run the ball just like we always have. We're going to run it right at them, and we feel like that's how we're most comfortable and most effective. That's going to set up passing situations where Tyler Murphy is going to make a lot of plays for us. It's going to be a really tough game."

BC has run for over 3,000 yards as a team this season. Averaging 5.1 yards per carry and scoring 29 touchdowns, seven different ball-carriers have contributed to the offense's success.

Leading the way is Murphy, a senior who thrives as a dual-threat quarterback. He rushed for 1,079 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 6.4 yards per rush. 

But Jon Hilliman is also a threat, having scored 12 touchdowns in as many games.

Regardless, no team in the country is better prepared to face the Eagles' run game than the Nittany Lions.

They've allowed just 247 rushing yards in their past three contests. That's largely because of three stalwarts on the defense, as Rich Thompson of the Boston Herald writes:

"Mike Hull, the Big Ten linebacker of the year, is the central nervous system of this elite unit. Hull led the Lions with 134 tackles with 10.5 for a loss. [Head coach James] Franklin employs a 4-3 defensive formation and Hull is flanked on the second layer by sophomore Brandon Bell and junior Nyeem Wartman."

The linebackers will prove instrumental to Penn State's success against BC on the ground. While BC's stellar offensive line will work to block off the oncoming defensive linemen, it will be up to the linebackers to find holes and get into the backfield.

Of course, a linebacker also must be left to spy on Murphy, as he'll take off on plays that aren't designed runs. He takes what the defense gives him, and his ability to adapt to pressure is unmatched by most in the nation.

But the linebacking unit of Penn State is a surer bet than BC's run game. A general rule of thumb is that defense wins championships. The Nittany Lions aren't playing for anything too prestigious on Saturday, but their defense will carry them in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Look for them to hold BC far below their season average of 250-plus yards on the ground.

 

Neither Team Will Score Over 21

Penn State's defense isn't the only suffocating unit in this matchup. We'd be remiss to not give BC any recognition.

As the accompanying graphic shows, BC's defense also ranks highly. The Eagles aren't as well-rounded as the Nittany Lions, but the unit is still one of the stronger ones around. That means offense will be at a minimum.

Let's go back to Penn State's defense for a moment. Assuming the team successful stops the run, the only worry is Murphy as a passer. That's something he's just pedestrian at. He completed just 56.9 percent of his passes on the year for 1,526 yards, 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Shutting down the run forces BC to pass, and the Eagles won't be able to win if that's the case. Murphy is a talented athlete, but he's not the type of quarterback you can lean on to win games with his arm.

He isn't capable of making all the passes required of a top-notch quarterback. Keep him in the pocket, and you'll find success as a defense.

On the other side, Christian Hackenberg has been even more unimpressive. He completed only 54.4 percent of his passes for 2,606 yards, eight touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Granted, he spent most of his time scrambling around because his young offensive line had problems preventing pass-rushers from getting into the backfield.

Neither Hackenberg nor Murphy scream "difference-maker" as a quarterback.

Assuming BC holds its own against the run game of Penn State—who only averaged 103.7 yards per game on the ground—this could very well be a game decided by a defensive score.

 

Prediction

All things considered, this is going to be one heck of a game.

There's a place for offensive shootouts, like the one we saw in the 2014 Bahamas Bowl between Western Kentucky and Central Michigan.

But a matchup that pits two defensive powerhouses together will always have a place during bowl season. Penn State and BC are two of the more well-known programs in the country, and they'll put on a show for those in attendance and those at home.

Hackenberg and Murphy are not good passers, but it'll ultimately come down to which quarterback can make the throws necessary to sustain drives and score touchdowns.

Hackenberg's tendency to throw multiple interceptions in a game (something he did five times this season) puts Penn State at a disadvantage. All it takes is one score to win a game, and it's clear that BC's persistence running the ball will eventually open something up in the passing game.

All Murphy needs to do is convert on a few passes here and there.

Prediction: Boston College 17, Penn State 16

 

Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @kennydejohn 

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Military Bowl 2014: Odds, Schedule, Prediction for Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech

Expect to see a big clash of styles when the Cincinnati Bearcats face off against the Virginia Tech Hokies in the 2014 Military Bowl.

Cincinnati enters the contest with a 9-3 record and riding a seven-game winning streak. The Bearcats struggled at times on the defensive side of the ball throughout the season, but their offense carried them through, scoring at least 34 points in six of their last seven games.

Virginia Tech hasn't been able to get much going on the offensive side of the ball this season, but it has been very sound defensively, allowing an average of just 20.4 points per game. While the Hokies just barely made the postseason at 6-6, their crowning achievement in the regular season came in the form of a 35-21 victory over Ohio State.

Will Virginia Tech's defense continue to step up, or will Cincinnati's offense rise to the occasion? Before we receive the answer to that question, here's a look at the game's viewing information, updated odds and final prediction.

 

Viewing Information

When: Saturday, December 27

Where: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, MD

Time: 1 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Info (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 51
  • Spread: Cincinnati -2.5

 

Preview and Prediction

Quarterback Gunner Kiel has been the driving force for the Cincinnati offense this season. He's completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 3,010 yards, 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this year, leading the Bearcats to the nation's 12th-ranked passing attack.

Kiel is surrounded by a deep receiving corps, as Mekale McKay, Shaq Washington and Max Morrison have all accumulated more than 40 receptions this season. The reliable Washington leads the group in catches with 61, while McKay has been more of a big-play threat, leading the team with 690 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.

Cincinnati's passing attack is very potent, but it will be severely challenged on Saturday. The Hokies own the nation's 15th-ranked pass defense, allowing an average of just 186.8 yards per game through the air. One big reason for the team's success against the pass has been a phenomenal pass rush that has accumulated 46 sacks this year, ranking second in the nation.

Although, Cincinnati's offensive line has been very good in pass protection this season, allowing just 16 sacks, so expect a big battle in the trenches in the Military Bowl.

If Virginia Tech is going to generate offense, it must be through the air. The Hokies haven't been able to get anything going on the ground this season, and their best hope remains on the arm of quarterback Michael Brewer.

The junior signal-caller completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 2,598 yards and 17 touchdowns this year; however, he's also tossed 14 interceptions. Although, 10 of those picks were thrown over his first five games, and he showed better ball security over the second half of the season.

Cincinnati has been dreadful against the pass this year, ranking 109th in the nation and allowing 266.3 yards per game, as well as 21 passing touchdowns in just 12 contests. They're coming off a 38-31 victory over Houston after allowing 360 passing yards to Cougars quarterback Greg Ward Jr.

While the Bearcats have been prolific at times on offense this season, going up against a Virginia Tech defense that ranks 16th in yards allowed and 18th in points against won't lead to many points. Meanwhile, Brewer and Co. have the ability to completely take advantage of Cincinnati's porous secondary, gain an early lead and maintain it with solid defensive play.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Cincinnati 24

 

All team statistics and rankings courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 26.

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Sugar Bowl 2015: Individual Matchups to Watch in Alabama vs. Ohio State

Many are expecting Alabama to cruise to victory over Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. However, the outcome of this highly anticipated showdown will come down to a few key battles.

While football is a team sport, each person on the field has to do his job to help win a game. In a tough matchup like this one, a few players have an even bigger role to take on the tough challenges of All-Conference players at just about every position.

These players in particular will have to do their jobs to help their team win in the College Football Playoff.

 

Cam Robinson vs. Joey Bosa

Joey Bosa might just be a sophomore, but he has been one of the most dominant players in college football this season.

Senior Bowl director Phil Savage had great things to say about the Ohio State defensive end:

Meanwhile, Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod noted that most of the country agrees with the player's abilities on the field:

Along with tackles Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington, Ohio State has one of the best defensive lines in the nation. This will be a serious challenge for all of Alabama to try to handle in the Sugar Bowl.

While right tackle Austin Shepherd will see a lot of Bosa, the real challenge will be whether freshman Cam Robinson can live up to the challenge on the left side of the line. The Louisiana native has done a great job of protecting Blake Sims' blind side to this point, but stopping Bosa will be another story.

If he can't contain the All-American, the Crimson Tide will have a tough time moving the football in this one.

 

Devin Smith vs. Landon Collins

Ohio State doesn't always have the most consistent offense, but it can score in a hurry with a big play from out of nowhere. In a lot of cases, Devin Smith is the one coming through with a long touchdown.

Smith finished the Big Ten Championship Game with three scores, each of which going at least 39 yards. Although he only has one game of more than four receptions, he has an incredible eight catches for over 40 yards on the year.

If he is able to break a few of these against Alabama, the Buckeyes will be able to keep up on the scoreboard.

The person capable of stopping this is Crimson Tide safety Landon Collins. While he likely won't be lining up directly opposite Smith, he will need to cover the field to prevent any open opportunities down the field.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller believes he has this ability:

Collins will have a lot of responsibilities in this game, but one of the safety's biggest jobs will be to keep anyone from getting any easy touchdowns.

 

Ezekiel Elliott vs. Reggie Ragland

The pressure is certainly on quarterback Cardale Jones in this game, but the Ohio State offense runs through Ezekiel Elliott. Going into the bowl game, he has 1,402 rushing yards on the year, including 220 in the Big Ten game.

Buckeyes offensive line coach Ed Warinner explained his thoughts on the young running back, via Zac Ellis of Sports Illustrated:

All the ingredients were there. We just had to wait and see what happened. [...] 

He was very talented and explosive, but he was obviously young and, playing wise, inexperienced. We had to see how he would handle those situations -- the week-to-week grind and the physical stress that puts on you.

It will take the entire front seven to help contain Elliott in this game, but Reggie Ragland will be the one expected to do the heavy lifting. The linebacker might not have the same press as past Alabama defenders like C.J. Mosley or Rolando McClain, but he still ranks second on the team with 88 tackles.

Ragland has the ability to cover sideline to sideline, and he has to prove it to slow down the rushing attack and keep the Buckeyes off the scoreboard.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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Rose Bowl 2015: Individual Matchups to Watch in Oregon vs. FSU

 

While dozens of players will help decide the 2015 Rose Bowl, a few key performances will make the real difference in this one.

Florida State and Oregon have taken different paths to the national semifinals, but there is no denying the amount of talent on both sides of the ball. Many of these players will be competing on Sundays in the future with others being stars at the college level.

This game will come down to which big-time players can win their individual battles to help give their team an advantage. Here is a look at the biggest matchups to watch in the Rose Bowl.

 

Hroniss Grasu vs. Eddie Goldman

Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman was injured against Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game, and it almost cost the Seminoles the game. The Yellow Jackets were able to run all day long without a force causing problems in the middle.

The good news is he should be healthy in the Rose Bowl, which is bad news for the Ducks. 

Of course, one person that can take the tackle out of the game is Oregon center Hroniss Grasu. The second-team AP All-American has been a major part of the team's success this season with his ability to control the offensive line and clear space in the middle.

Unfortunately, he has been out since injuring his foot on Nov. 8. The hope is he can return for the upcoming game and help lead the Oregon offense the way he has earlier in the year.

If only one of these two players is healthy, it will give their team a huge advantage in this one. If both are in the game, however, the winner of this will have a big impact on Oregon's rushing attack.

 

Rashad Greene vs. Troy Hill

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu has been one of the top cornerbacks in the nation for Oregon, but he will miss the Rose Bowl after suffering a knee injury in practice.

As a result, Troy Hill will have to step up to be the No. 1 option in the Ducks secondary. While the senior has been overshadowed by his teammate in the past, he still has the ability to shut down an opponent's best player.

Matt Prehm of 247 Sports thinks Hill has this type of talent:

Still, this will not be an easy task against Rashad Greene. The senior has been one of the most productive players in college football over the past two years, and this season ranks eighth in the nation with 1,306 receiving yards.

Greene has become a game-changing player and a reliable option for Jameis Winston whenever Florida State needs a big play.

Hill needs to find a way to slow down Greene and limit the Seminoles' best option in the passing attack.

 

Marcus Mariota vs. Jalen Ramsey

Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota has put together an outstanding career at Oregon and this season has separated himself from the rest of the country. This year, his efficiency has been through the roof with 38 passing touchdowns and just two interceptions.

Besides his physical abilities, Mariota helps himself by doing his research on his opponents. The bad news is he sees a real challenge in Florida State safety Jalen Ramsey, via Natalie Pierre of AL.com:

I mean, Ramsey, if you just watch him on film is one of those types of guys that will single-handedly turn a drive and stop it. He's a great player, he's gonna make his plays; we just gotta continue to be ourselves and try to execute against those guys.

Ramsey is one of the best defensive playmakers in the nation and he always has a way to be near the football. He heads into the bowl season with 75 tackles, including three sacks and 9.5 for loss. He also makes a huge impact in the passing game with two interceptions and 13 passes defended.

Quarterbacks always have to know where he is on the field in order to be successful.

Mariota is arguably the best player in the nation at any position, but even he can end up struggling if he isn't ready for Ramsey.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Denver Nuggets 12/26/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Denver Nuggets looked to bounce back from a recent rough patch on Friday when they took on the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Nuggets had dropped two straight and faced the T-Wolves, who had dropped six straight and 12 of their last 13. 

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Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl 2014: Game Grades, Analysis for NC State vs. UCF

The North Carolina State Wolfpack raced out to an 18-point lead behind a highlight-reel effort from quarterback Jacoby Brissett and hung on to beat Central Florida 34-27 in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl.

The star junior transfer from Florida stole the show for much of the game. Then, a thunder-and-lightning rushing attack from Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes stretched the lead. 

NC State needed every bit of the cushion, too, as UCF quarterback Justin Holman led the pesky Knights back, but an onside kick wasn't recovered late, and the Wolfpack capped their comeback season with an 8-5 record. The Knights fell to 9-4.

 

NC State Game Analysis

Pass Offense

Brissett continued the resurrection of his career to cap off a season that saw him throw 23 touchdowns and just five picks. As he has much of the year, Brissett evaded pressure with his nimble feet, stepped up in the pocket and found various receivers for big gains. He was calm, poised and competitive.

Though he didn't put up massive numbers, he was extremely effective, and he had a near-perfect game other than taking a sack at the end of the first half that cost the Pack points.

 

Run Offense

Following a stagnant first half when it seemed Brissett was the only real ground threat, the Pack found their sea legs after the break. In a dominant third quarter, Thornton and Dayes combined to take UCF out of the game.

The duo wound up rushing for 174 combined yards, and Brissett added more than 30 of his own. Dayes had two scoring runs, and the Pack wound up with 187 rushing yards. The 3.8 average wasn't great, but there were big plays all night.

 

Pass Defense

Justin Holman got his passing yards and (frustratingly) had three touchdown passes to Josh Reese, but the Pack did get an interception from Josh Jones. Also, Holman threw the ball 53 times, but he was nowhere near completing 50 percent of his passes and still didn't get to 300 yards. Yeah, there were some big plays NCSU would like to have back, but it was still a stellar performance.

 

Run Defense

Any time you can hold a rushing offense as good as UCF's to fewer than 100 yards, that's a strong showing. Star runner William Stanback wound up with just 12 carries for 38 yards as the Pack took UCF's running game completely out of the game.

 

Special Teams

As excellent as Niklas Sade was, he gets docked a little for missing the 47-yard field goal that would have iced the game and put it out of reach. Yeah, that's a little tough to dock a kicker for missing one so long, but that was a big one, and he's the best kicker in the history of the school. Wil Baumann averaged 46.5 yards over four punts. All in all, a good night.

 

Coaching

Dave Doeren had a perfect game plan for the first three quarters, and offensive coordinator Matt Canada dialed up some really stellar play calls that worked. But it's frustrating when a coach gets ultra-conservative at the end of the game, and it nearly cost him. Doeren was just trying to hang on at the end. Ultimately, his team did, so it's all good.

 

UCF Game Analysis

Pass Offense

There were times on Friday night when Justin Holman showed flashes of NFL potential.

Then, there were others where he looked like an unseasoned sophomore. Holman is an immense, unpolished talent, and he nearly led his team back. But he had some terrible overthrows, and he also was intercepted once on the night. It really could have been twice.

All in all, it was a nice performance in his first bowl start, but it wasn't good enough. He'll be back.

 

Run Offense

This was pretty much a disaster. The NC State defense was stellar all night in the front seven, to the point where UCF coach George O'Leary abandoned the run totally. With the Knights down by 18, he went exclusively to the air, and any hope for balance was lost. They finished with 82 yards and a 2.9 average.

 

Pass Defense

Too many times, there were breakdowns and busts in a secondary that had been among college football's best this year. Brissett bought time with his feet, and the Knights defensive backs didn't stick with plays. On one quick-strike drive in particular that eventually made the score 31-13, UCF was just lost in the backfield. That can't happen against a quarterback as good as Brissett.

 

Run Defense

The strength of UCF's team was very strong in a first half where it took over the game at times in the front seven. But when the Wolfpack charged out of the locker room after halftime, they pummeled the Knights with Thornton and Dayes, and there was no answer. They flat-out won the game on the ground in the third quarter, and they made UCF like it.

 

Special Teams

It was pretty much a flawless game from a special teams standpoint as Shawn Moffitt made both his field goals, and Caleb Houston averaged 42.8 yards per punt. The Wolfpack had just one opportunity to return a kick all night. UCF was stellar here.

 

Coaching

O'Leary is known for being a very good game-day coach, but Doeren had his number tonight. With the game being virtually in UCF's backyard, you'd have expected the Knights to come out fired up, ride the crowd momentum and soar to their third consecutive 10-win season.

Instead, they were flat defensively, and it took them too long to wake up. Like most O'Leary-coached teams, they didn't quit and they were right there in the end, but there were too many lapses for this to be a good grade.

 

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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UCLA Football: Ranking the 5 Best Redshirt Freshmen for the Bruins

The talent on the UCLA football roster is much higher under Jim Mora than it had been before his arrival in Westwood. As a means to building up the said depth on the roster, Mora has been forced (sometimes out of necessity) to play younger players. 

In 2014, this premise continued. Players such as Jaleel Wadood and Kenny Young saw extensive time as true freshmen. 

This piece won't look at the freshmen who've played this year—but rather it will focus on those freshmen who redshirted this past year. 

Five youngsters in particular will be analyzed. Enjoy this piece on the potential future stars of the UCLA football program.

Begin Slideshow

UCLA Football: Ranking the 5 Best Redshirt Freshmen for the Bruins

The talent on the UCLA football roster is much higher under Jim Mora than it had been before his arrival in Westwood. As a means to building up the said depth on the roster, Mora has been forced (sometimes out of necessity) to play younger players...

Begin Slideshow

NC State vs. UCF: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 St. Petersburg Bowl

The North Carolina State Wolfpack cashed in at the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl with a 34-27 win over the University of Central Florida Knights on Friday night.

In the first half, quarterback Jacoby Brissett victimized the Knights with his elusiveness and abilities as a dual threat. Brissett's play and some inaccuracy from his counterpart, Justin Holman, helped to push the Wolfpack to a 17-10 halftime lead. 

Holman was only able to complete 23 of 53 pass attempts. He threw three touchdowns, but he undershot and overthrew receivers on a regular basis.

To Holman's defense, he was under duress the entire night. The Knights' offensive line didn't do a great job protecting him. He was sacked twice and pressured constantly.

After the break, NC State's potent running game led to some separation between the teams, though UCF would battle back late.

 

How It Was Settled

The Wolfpack running backs got involved early, but they did damage through the air before their legs made a mark. On a halfback option, Shadrach Thornton tossed an 18-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Samuels to give NC State the 7-3 lead in the first quarter.

Check out the play in The Score's tweet:

The Knights responded with a strong drive that culminated in Holman's six-yard strike to Josh Reese. The score briefly gave the Knights the lead in the second quarter. Before halftime, the Wolfpack would regain the lead and never relinquish it.

Brissett kept plays alive throughout a beautifully crafted drive. The junior quarterback hit Johnathan Alston for a 37-yard touchdown pass that made the score 14-10 in NC State's favor. For the game, Brissett completed 15 of 26 passes for 262 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions.

Pack Pride has a clip of the play:

Chip Patterson of CBS Sports admired Brissett's performance in the first half:

Niklas Sade would add a field goal to give the Wolfpack the seven-point advantage at intermission. 

After the break, the Wolfpack run game started to chew up the Knights defense. Speedy Matt Dayes was the primary culprit. You won't find many collegiate running backs who hit the hole as quick or as decisively as Dayes.

This electric 24-yard run (via Pack Pride) gave NC State a 14-point edge:

Dayes finished with 78 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.

The Wolfpack would blow the lead up to 34-13, but they ultimately settled for the seven-point win as the Knights added two fourth-quarter scores to make it interesting.

NC State finishes the season at 8-5. Head coach Dave Doeren engineered a huge turnaround from the 2013 season, when the Wolfpack won just three games. With a good number of sophomore contributors like Dayes returning, as well as Brissett, 2015 looks promising for the Wolfpack.

ACC Now provides comments from Doeren, who reflected on the season after the win:

This is a team that could potentially challenge the Florida State Seminoles in the Atlantic Coast Conference. 

UCF drops to 9-4 and wraps up a solid season with a disappointing ending.

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Notre Dame Football: Brian Kelly Updates Quarterbacks, Injuries, Depth Chart

After a three-day holiday break, Notre Dame arrived in Nashville Friday for final preparations for next Tuesday's Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl against No. 24 LSU (3 p.m. ET, ESPN). The Irish held their first of four practices Friday evening leading up to the game, with head coach Brian Kelly addressing the media afterward. 

As it has been for most of Kelly's five seasons at Notre Dame, the quarterback position is the big story. Junior Everett Golson was benched during the regular-season finale against USC, with redshirt freshman Malik Zaire providing a bit of a spark in the second half.

Both will play against the Tigers, but Kelly wasn't quite ready to declare a starter Friday evening.

"I haven't made the decision on who the starter is yet," Kelly said. "Both are getting quality reps. I probably have to make it here in the next 24 hours. They're both going to play, and I'm just going to have to just get a feel for it and the flow of the game."

Having to juggle multiple quarterbacks is nothing new to Kelly.

"I've done it several times over several years," Kelly said "I've gone into playoff games when I was in Division II and had to run option with a guy that couldn't throw it. We can do a lot of things with two quarterbacks. It can be pretty exciting."

Zaire has shown a stronger grasp of the zone-read element of Kelly's offense than Golson has. While Zaire and Golson don't present the stark contrast in styles that Golson and Tommy Rees did, the two are far from mirror images of one another.

"It opens up everything," Kelly said. "Everything is available to you. You're going to see the best from both of them."

The only notable injury updates were regarding senior offensive tackle Christian Lombard and defensive tackle Sheldon Day. While Kelly did not rule out Lombard for the game, his outlook was pessimistic for the chances of the third-year starter playing in his final college game.

"He's been fighting a back injury, and it's flared up," Kelly said. "He's been limited in practice. He's been a warrior for us. He would definitely play if he was physically able to. That's a major question mark for us."

If Lombard can't go, redshirt freshman Mike McGlinchey will make his first career start at right tackle.

The news was much more positive on defensive tackle Sheldon Day. After missing the last two-and-a-half games with an MCL injury, the junior is expected to be close to full speed against LSU.

"Sheldon Day will play," Kelly said. "We'd like him to play every play. We don't think that's realistic. If we can get between 40 and 50 plays, I think we'd be ecstatic."

With first semester grades finalized in the past week, Kelly said that no players were ineligible for the game due to academics. 

Despite being the healthiest of the four position groups on the Irish defense, the two safety spots has been a revolving door this season for Note Dame.

Junior Elijah Shumate and sophomore Max Redfield are the most talented players at the position on the Irish roster, but they have struggled to stay on the field at times this season. Kelly said both will start and raised the bar for their level of play.

"We still need to see more," Kelly said. "We have higher expectations for Elijah, and we have higher expectations for Max. They know it. I've met with them individually. [Defensive coordinator] Brian [VanGorder] has met with them. They know what they need to do."

Notre Dame has faced just one SEC opponent in the last eight seasons—Alabama in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game. Did Kelly call on former assistant Butch Jones, now the head coach at Tennessee, for some advice on LSU?

"No," Kelly said. "We've talked, because the families are close, but more Christmas stuff than football."

Notre Dame returns to the practice field Saturday. LSU will arrive in Nashville Saturday afternoon and practice Sunday and Monday leading up to Tuesday's game.

 

Note: All quotes from Brian Kelly were obtained firsthand.

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