NCAA Football

Bowl Games Schedule 2014-15: Dates and TV Info for Every Contest

It's bowl season—not just holiday cheer—that makes this the most wonderful time of the year.

Maybe that doesn't apply to all of us, but the mystique and magnificence of the postseason in college football can't be overstated. A plethora of bowl games means high-quality action is on national television all throughout the season, and the matchups only get better as 2015 approaches.

Throw in the added wrinkle of the brand-new College Football Playoff, and anticipation for this bowl season should be the highest yet. Not only are four of college football's biggest brand names in the playoff, but some of those who narrowly missed out will battle in exciting New Year's Six contests.

Although the season won't be in the books until Jan. 12 at the national title game, we're just a few days away from the action beginning. Let's take a look at the entire 2014-15 bowl schedule.

 

Best Bowl Games on Tap

Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Ohio State

Head coaches Nick Saban and Urban Meyer are used to facing off in games practically pegged as national semifinals. Only this time, it's official.

Top-ranked Alabama will face No. 4 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, with the victor advancing to the national championship game. It's a new wrinkle to an old coaching rivalry that began with the Crimson Tide's battles against Meyer's Florida squad in SEC Championship Games of years past.

They don't hail from the same conference this time around, but the Buckeyes resemble an SEC foe—physical, hard-nosed defense with a wealth of skill players on offense.

Defensive end Joey Bosa and linebacker Joshua Perry headline a hard-hitting defense, while rusher Ezekiel Elliott (1,402 yards) and receivers Devin Smith and Jalin Marshall rack up the points on offense.

Team speed is one thing that stood out to Saban in watching Ohio State, per Patrick Maks of ElevenWarriors.com:

Of course, the Crimson Tide are used to speedy opponents from playing in the SEC but have struggled against that team trait as well. Auburn racked up more than 600 yards of offense, and Alabama struggled to contain the strong passing attacks of West Virginia and Ole Miss this season.

That will put the onus on Cardale Jones to step up. The Ohio State quarterback dazzled in his first start against Wisconsin but will face the beast that is the Alabama defense.

Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will play to their advantage, which is attacking the backfield and forcing Jones to make big plays with his arm.

Jones will have to do what Marshall did and then some in this one, taking the top off the Alabama defense early and often. That's what it will take to outscore an offense with Blake Sims, Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon sure to rack up the points against a susceptible Buckeyes defense.

 

Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Florida State

The CFP committee just so happened to make the holiday season simple for NFL scouts and personnel scouring the games for potential franchise quarterbacks.

The last two Heisman Trophy winners and the top two quarterbacks on Bleacher Report's Matt Miller's draft board—Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota—will go at it with everything on the line.

There's no denying the greatness both Mariota and Winston have shown for their respective teams throughout the last two seasons. ESPN Stats & Info showed how similar their Heisman campaigns were:

But when these two Heisman victors trot onto the field at the Rose Bowl, it will be solely about surviving and advancing. One team has shown a mastery of doing just that—for more than just 2014.

Florida State takes an incredible 29-game winning streak into Pasadena, but one that has been tested over and over. Seven of the Seminoles' games this season have been decided by six or fewer points, including lethargic wins over Florida and Boston College late in the year.

Despite one loss to Arizona, the Ducks have been the exact opposite, absolutely dismantling every team they've faced since that defeat. Mariota's offense has hung 42 or more points on its last eight opponents, including a revenge victory over the Wildcats.

Anything can happen in a game with this much preparation time and this much on the line, but it should be expected to go one of two ways.

Oregon will either put on another offensive display and blow out Florida State or the Seminoles will find a way to stick around and win it the only way they know how.

 

Belk Bowl: Louisville vs. Georgia

If you're looking for a marquee bowl matchup taking place before the madness of New Year's Eve, look no further than the Belk Bowl on Dec. 30 between No. 13 Georgia and No. 21 Louisville.

The Bulldogs had much higher sights for the season than finishing in Charlotte, North Carolina two days before the New Year, but they lost an outside shot at the CFP with a midseason loss to Florida.

They overcame the loss—and return, and subsequent loss—of Todd Gurley and notched a big win over Auburn in November, but it was negated by a season-ending loss to Georgia Tech.

While Georgia's morale has been shot in the leg every time it gets sky-high, Louisville has remained dangerous in Bobby Petrino's first season back with the Cardinals. After coming oh so close to an upset of Florida State, Louisville closed the season hanging 31 or more on Boston College, Notre Dame and Kentucky—all wins.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt has come off impressed by Louisville, per the school's official athletics Twitter:

If there's a game on the bowl slate that the SEC should be expected to lose, this may be it.

On top of the spirits being high for one team and low for another, Georgia has struggled mightily on the ground, which should continue against Louisville.

The Bulldogs allowed 399 or more rushing yards in each of their last two defeats, and Louisville's passing prowess will keep space open for Michael Dyer and Brandon Radcliff to make their impact on the ground.

Plus, Louisville will be somewhat ready for the SEC foe after finishing its season with a win over Kentucky. Facing an ACC opponent won't be high on Georgia's to-do list after Georgia Tech stunned the Bulldogs in Week 15.

If both teams play up to scratch, the Belk Bowl should be one of the most exciting matchups of the bowl season.

 

Bowl schedule and TV information courtesy of ESPN.com.

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Can Florida 'Catch Lightning in a Bottle' and Enter CFP Picture in 2015?

With new head coach Jim McElwain in place, the Florida Gators have every intention of getting back into the national title picture. A solid running game coupled with a stout defense could make Florida a dark horse in the SEC East.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer debate Florida's ceiling for 2015.

How many wins will the Gators have in 2015?

Check out the video and let us know!  

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Georgia Football: Early Look at Bulldogs 2015 Roster

The 2014 season isn't even over yet, but the Georgia Bulldogs have already received good news regarding their 2015 campaign.

On Friday, the university announced that offensive lineman Kolton Houston has been granted a sixth year of eligibility and would be able to play again for the Bulldogs next year.  

Then on Saturday, Georgia head coach Mark Richt announced that star outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell and offensive tackle John Theus would return for another season rather than enter the NFL draft, per Marc Weiszer.  Weiszer also cited a source close to the program in saying that Jordan Jenkins (another stud linebacker) would "most likely" return.

With so many stars returning and yet another stellar recruiting class coming in—Georgia's current 2015 commitments trail only Alabama and Florida State, according to 247Sports—this team could be one of the most talented in recent memory.

Here's an early look at the 2015 roster.

 

Offense

The return of Houston and Theus means Georgia's offensive line will return four starters who started every game in 2014, but replacing center David Andrews will be no easy feat.  Andrews has started the last 39 games for Georgia and on Saturday was named the team's MVP and overall permanent captain.  Additionally, a lack of depth at the tackle positions is a bit concerning, as the projection above has two incoming commitments as the top backups at the tackle positions.

In the passing game, Georgia fans will get to see the man they clamored for at quarterback earlier this year, Brice Ramsey.  Ramsey has been heralded since his high school days, when he was the nation's third-best pro-style quarterback prospect, according to 247Sports.  He's shown flashes as a backup this season, completing 20 of 30 attempts for 282 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

And Ramsey will have some familiar targets running routes.  Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley should be even more healthy following 2013 knee injuries and will be able to stretch the field.  Meanwhile, speedsters Reggie Davis and Isaiah McKenzie will be utilized in space early and often.  And if Terry Godwin stays at receiver, the 5-star athlete could play immediately.

With Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Keith Marshall and Brendan Douglas all back, the running game will once again be in capable hands.  Todd Gurley will be missed, but he was missed for most of the 2014 campaign, and the ground attack remained strong.  These four backs have combined for 3,918 career yards of offense and 36 touchdowns.

 

Defense

Quite fortuitously, Georgia's pass rush should remain strong.  Sterling Bailey had a fine campaign in 2014 and if Lorenzo Carter can build on his phenomenal performance as a freshman, opposing offensive lines will have their hands full with an outside pass rush—particularly with Floyd and Jenkins back.

Their jobs will be a bit easier if Trent Thompson, a 5-star defensive tackle and the nation's second-best prospect according to the 247Sports Composite, lives up to the hype early on.

The front seven as a whole looks strong and chock-full of familiar faces, but depth at inside linebacker will be a concern.  Tim Kimbrough and Reggie Carter played well in 2014, combining for 60 tackles, but who plays after them?  Ryne Rankin has played well on special teams, but can he be an every-down linebacker if needed?  One possible candidate to help out is Shaun McGee, who may struggle to break into the rotation on the outside.

Meanwhile, the secondary returns a lot for the first time in years.  Damian Swann, a four-year contributor, will be gone, but three other starters return, and the surrounding depth (highlighted by the likes of Tramel Terry, a healthy Shattle Fenteng and incoming freshman Rashad Roundtree) is encouraging.

 

Special Teams

Placekicker Marshall Morgan will return as a senior.  He's converted 42 of 55 career field goals and should prove a steady leg on kickoffs and extra points as well.

Additionally, Collin Barber and his career 41.5-yard punting average will return.

With Isaiah McKenzie and Reggie Davis back to return kicks, special teams play should continue to take steps forward in 2015.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand, all stats courtesy of sports-reference.com and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

As Florida State prepares for the inaugural College Football Playoff, Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles are reaping the benefits of a second consecutive undefeated regular season on the recruiting trail.

Last week, the 'Noles offered a pair of prep teammates from Flanagan High School in Hollywood, Florida, who have ties to the program.

The 'Noles tendered 2016 4-star safety Devin Bush Jr. and 2017 4-star corner Stanford Samuels III.

Bush’s father, Devin Bush Sr., was a standout defensive back on the Seminoles' 1993 national title team. After a lengthy career in the NFL, he began coaching and is currently the head coach at Flanagan High School.

Meanwhile, Samuels is the son of the Stanford Samuels Jr., who starred as a corner for the 'Noles from 2000 to 2003.

The younger Bush, who can also play outside linebacker, has offers from Florida, Georgia, Louisville, Miami and South Carolina, among others.

Samuels, who checks in as the No. 3 corner and the No. 25 player overall in the class of 2017, sports an offer list that includes Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee and UCLA, among others.

While both prospects project as national-level recruits, the 'Noles figure to have the inside track with both legacy recruits.

 

Alabama offers Biggie

Iman Marshall is one of the most sought-after recruits heading down the stretch toward national signing day.

A potential wrench in his recruitment came when he earned an offer from Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide last week.

The nation's top corner has Florida State, LSU, Notre Dame and USC among his group of favorites.

While the Tide are late to the race for Marshall, it will be interesting to monitor whether they can become a serious contender for the elite cover man nicknamed "Biggie."

 

Nation’s Top 2016 CB Nets Pair of SEC Offers

While Biggie Marshall is nearing the end of his recruiting process, Saivion Smith—the nation’s top corner in 2016—is still in the early stages of his recruitment.

Last week, South Carolina and Auburn joined the race for the 5-star Sunshine State standout.

The 6'2" 175-pounder has more than 20 offers from the likes of Clemson, Georgia, Florida, Florida State and Miami, among others.

Smith visited Clemson, Florida State and UCF for games during the 2014 season.

 

2017 RB Nets Trio of Offers

One of the most explosive athletes in the 2017 cycle is 4-star Maryland running back Anthony McFarland.

The 5'9" 181-pounder picked up offers from Penn State, Rutgers and Georgia last week.

McFarland, who is the nation's No. 2 running back and the No. 28 player overall in the 2017 class, has already fielded offers from Clemson, Florida State, Michigan State and Ohio State, among others.

It's early, but McFarland has already separated himself as one of the elite playmakers in the 2017 class.

 

Best of the Rest

  • According to Scout.com's Corey Bender, 2016 defensive tackle Bo Peek earned an offer from Georgia Tech.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

 

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College Football Bowl Picks 2014: Predictions for Every Postseason Game

Even casual fans know about the marquee College Football Playoff matchups at this point.

After all, when the selection committee matched up Florida State against Oregon in the Rose Bowl and Alabama against Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, it guaranteed a New Year’s Day of incredible football.

However, a full slate of bowl games is sure to entertain college football loyalists throughout the holiday season. Here is a look at the entire schedule and predictions for every postseason contest.

 

Under-the-Radar Bowl to Watch: Marshall vs. Northern Illinois in Boca Raton Bowl

Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com ranked the Boca Raton Bowl between Marshall and Northern Illinois as one of the best 15 bowl games on the entire slate:

Set aside your Power 5 arrogance and hear me out. The Thundering Herd and Huskies were two of the best teams from the Group of 5 conferences this season. Marshall went 12-1 and its only loss was 67-66 in overtime to Western Kentucky. Northern Illinois went 11-2, falling to Arkansas and Central Michigan. Seeing Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato in action is enough of a reason to watch.

Don’t scoff at the matchup between the Conference USA’s Marshall and the MAC’s Northern Illinois. Besides the "New Year's Six" bowls, it is the only game on the bowl schedule that features two conference champions, and it should see plenty of points.

What’s more, the Thundering Herd started the season 11-0 and appeared primed to at least challenge for the automatic "Group of Five" spot in a New Year’s bowl. Yes, a 67-66 heartbreaker against Western Kentucky ended those dreams, but they salvaged their season with a Conference USA Championship Game victory over Louisiana Tech.

Northern Illinois finished the season on a six-game winning streak and is playing the best football it has played all year.

Marshall coach Doc Holliday said the following about the matchup, via Nate Taylor of the Sun Sentinel: "I guarantee you Rod's team is a whole hell of a lot better than any team we could have played in that Power Five conference. That was our goal and we know we have our hands full. The exposure that we're going to get from this game will be second to none in any others we could have played."

On paper, Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato is the offensive star to watch in this game.

He has thrown at least one touchdown pass in an astounding 45 consecutive games, which is an FBS record, and he finished the season with 3,622 passing yards and 37 touchdowns. He also became the first Marshall quarterback to throw for 30 or more touchdowns in three separate seasons.

Receiver Tommy Shuler, who finished with 953 receiving yards and eight touchdown catches, is Cato’s favorite target in the nation's No. 18 passing attack. However, Marshall is also seventh in the country in rushing yards per game and fifth in scoring offense, largely because running back Devon Johnson is the unheralded weapon who keeps the chains moving and gives Marshall some balance.

He finished with 1,636 yards on the ground and 16 touchdowns.

Northern Illinois does not bring the same type of offensive balance to the table, even though receiver Da'Ron Brown led the team with 64 catches for 1,002 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Huskies led the MAC and finished 14th in the country with 252.9 rushing yards per game thanks to the trio of quarterback Drew Hare and running backs Cameron Stingily and Joel Bouagnon.

However, Northern Illinois' passing offense was only 101st in the nation and will be too one-dimensional to consistently counter Marshall's powerful offense.

This game will be close throughout, but the Thundering Herd will take a late lead and force the Huskies to play from behind. That is not where an offense that relies heavily on the run wants to be in a bowl game. 

Prediction: Marshall 41, Northern Illinois 28

 

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College Football Playoff 2014-15: TV Schedule, Key Matchups for Postseason Bouts

Reserve your spot on the couch now before New Year’s Day because college football fans couldn’t ask for better playoff matchups than the doubleheader featuring Florida State against Oregon and Ohio State against Alabama.

College football royalty, Heisman Trophies, All-Americans and championship-level coaches will be on display in the College Football Playoff. 

Even with all that talent, there are bound to be particular matchups that ultimately shape the outcome of the contests. With that in mind, here is a look at the schedule and key matchups to watch for the two playoff showdowns.

 

Rose Bowl

Matchup: Oregon vs. Florida State

Date: Thursday, Jan. 1

Time: 5 p.m. ET

Place: Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California 

TV: ESPN

 

Sugar Bowl

Matchup: Ohio State vs. Alabama

Date: Thursday, Jan. 1

Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

Place: Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana 

Channel: ESPN

 

Key Matchups

Rose Bowl: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu vs. Rashad Greene

Oregon doesn’t have a lot of weaknesses, but pass defense is certainly one of them, at least statistically.

The Ducks were an abysmal 103rd in the country against the pass, which may be a serious problem against Florida State’s No. 14-ranked passing offense. Jameis Winston could have some windows to exploit, and he will look Rashad Greene’s way when they open up.

You would be forgiven if you assumed that Greene was the only wide receiver Winston threw to, although that is partially because of the presence of tight end Nick O’Leary as the third-down security blanket.

Greene tallied 1,306 receiving yards and seven touchdown catches, while the next highest wide receiver for the Seminoles was Travis Rudolph at 459 receiving yards.

The task of containing Greene will fall on cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu’s shoulders. If the future NFL player can negate Greene and take him out of the passing game, it will force Winston to look elsewhere. Remember, Winston threw 17 interceptions this season, and Oregon will try to force more by getting him out of his comfort zone.

The Ducks may struggle against the pass, but they were third in the country in turnover margin. If Ekpre-Olomu can blanket Greene, Winston may force the issue elsewhere and turn it over. Considering how consistently excellent Ekpre-Olomu has been throughout his career, as Ryan Thorburn of The Register-Guard (Eugene) noted, that is a possibility:

 

Sugar Bowl: Alabama Offensive Line vs. Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett

While much of the attention surrounding Ohio State leading to the playoffs revolved around third-string quarterback Cardale Jones, the defensive line may be the strongest unit on the team.

The Buckeyes were seventh in the nation with 40 sacks and tallied at least three sacks in nine different games. The main reason for that dominance was Joey Bosa, who led the Big Ten with 13.5 sacks and finished with 20 tackles for loss. Don’t overlook defensive tackle Michael Bennett’s contributions, though, because his ability to swallow up blockers on the inside freed Bosa up to beat guys on the outside.

Wisconsin right tackle Rob Havenstein discussed the prospect of matching up with Bosa before the Big Ten Championship Game, via Jesse Temple of Fox Sports Wisconsin:

If you're watching it from just the fans' perspective, you're like, 'This is exciting to watch. I'm excited seeing this.' If you're sitting in an offensive tackles' shoes, you're like, 'Oh, gosh. [Bosa] does that real well.' You look at something else, another aspect of the game, he does that real well. This guy's a complete player.

If there is one team in the postseason built to slow Bosa and Bennett down, it is Alabama.

The Crimson Tide allowed a measly 13 sacks all season, which was 11th in the nation, and did not give up three sacks in a single game all year. It is nearly impossible to run a successful offense without protection up front, and the Crimson Tide front provided that in spades.

What’s more, the pass rush from Ohio State will have a direct impact on Amari Cooper’s overall success. The All-American receiver won’t have as much time to beat Doran Grant if Bosa and Bennett can get a successful pass rush, which would give the Buckeyes secondary a fighting chance against Cooper.

Consistent penetration will also give the linebackers an opportunity to make plays against running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. 

It is much easier said than done, but Ohio State needs to pressure the Crimson Tide up front to pull off the upset in the Sugar Bowl.

 

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B/R CFB 250: Top 20 Dual-Threat Quarterbacks

Bleacher Report's CFB 250 is an annual ranking of the best players in college football, regardless of NFL potential. Brian Leigh and Kynon Codrington have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list down to a mere 250 and sorted by position. Today, we present the Top 20 Dual-Threat Quarterbacks.

Dual-threat quarterbacks have been around since the earliest days of football, but they have never been more en vogue.

Quarterbacks who can run as well as pass make quarterbacks who can only do the latter look stunted, like a point guard who can't shoot past the elbow. In an age where being versatile is cherished, dual-threat quarterbacks have gone from novel to the norm.

But there's an art to becoming a true dual-threat quarterback. It is not as simple as taking an athletic player from one position and throwing him behind center. If it were, even more teams would do it.

This is still the most complex position in sports.

The best dual-threat quarterbacks are paradoxes: so good with their legs that the defense has to spy them, but so good with their arm that the defense can't afford to spy them. That is a lot to ask of one player, but when it works, and the opponent gets stuck between Scylla and Charybdis, it's a beautiful thing.

Before we start, please take note that these players were graded as college quarterbacks, not on how they project as NFL QBs.

Targeted skills such as arm strength are important at both levels, but there is a difference between college arm strength and professional arm strength. If a quarterback slings it well enough to hit his marks in the SEC or the Big 12, it doesn't matter that he can't stretch the field against the NFC North. At least not here, it doesn't.

This is all about college performance. 

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Sugar Bowl 2015: Players Who Must Shine in Ohio State vs. Alabama

The inaugural College Football Playoff features two incredible semifinal matchups, but the game fans are most excited for is the battle between the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide and the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes.

While Alabama has showcased the team’s tenacity and ability to win in any way necessary, it is the ability of Ohio State to overcome adversity that will have the program ready for an incredibly tough test in the 2015 Sugar Bowl.

Here are the top players from each team who must step up in the Sugar Bowl.

 

Ohio State Player Who Must Shine: Cardale Jones, QB

There were few fans of the sport who thought the Ohio State Buckeyes would make it to the semifinals after losing both Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett to season-ending injuries, but the program squeezed into the postseason as the No. 4 seed.

Now, Ohio State’s success will be dependent on sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones, who came into the offseason as a third-string player.

When asked about his confidence, Jones told Sean Merriman of the Big Ten Network: “There’s no doubt, I was confident coming into this game. But my teammates and my coaches took my confidence to a whole new level that I’ve never felt before.”

Jones’ first true start came in the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin, and he was solid in his new role. Head coach Urban Meyer kept the game plan simple, and Jones managed to rack up 257 passing yards and three touchdowns without throwing an interception.

There is no doubt that Jones has the natural mobility to get out of trouble, but his ability and desire to make the best plays down the field and not depend on his legs makes him a dangerous weapon in the Buckeyes' offensive system.

With a dangerous rushing attack led by Ezekiel Elliott (220 yards and two touchdowns vs. Wisconsin) and a talented group of receivers featuring Devin Smith and Michael Thomas, Jones will have every opportunity to succeed against Alabama.

 

Alabama Player Who Must Shine: Amari Cooper, WR

The Alabama Crimson Tide are known for the team’s ability to run the ball efficiently each and every year, but it has been the 22nd-ranked pass offense (281 yards per game) led by senior quarterback Blake Sims that has been the biggest surprise.

The dominance of the passing attack is due largely to the skill of wide receiver Amari Cooper.

Cooper has exploded in his junior season, racking up an impressive 115 receptions for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns. Not only does Cooper lead the team in receptions, but he is also the team’s most dangerous weapon, with DeAndrew White amassing only 37 catches all year, the second most in the program.

A matchup against Ohio State won’t be easy. The Buckeyes have given up just 188.2 passing yards per game and 13 total touchdowns. On the other hand, the team has yet to face a player as imposing as the 6’1” and 210-pound Cooper.

With a berth in the national championship on the line, college football fans should expect Alabama to lean on its best players. The best overall player on the Crimson Tide offense is Cooper, and whether he rises to the occasion or not will determine the outcome of this matchup.

 

Stats via ESPN.com.

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Rose Bowl 2015: Biggest X-Factors for Each Team in Oregon vs. FSU Showdown

In a game with national championship implications that both teams will have several weeks to prepare for, players and matchups rarely talked about will decide the 2015 Rose Bowl. 

Florida State enters as the underdog but boasts a 29-game winning streak the one-loss Oregon Ducks are intent on bringing to an end. They'd better, or it will be curtains on their hopes of winning the program's first-ever national championship.

Heisman Trophy winners Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston will dominate talk before the game, but don't be surprised when less talked-about aspects end up deciding which team advances to the national title contest.

Let's take a look at what those X-factors will be in the Rose Bowl.

 

X-Factors for Oregon

Charles Nelson, WR

All of the buzz for Florida State's defense heading into the Rose Bowl will be about containing Mariota, Royce Freeman, and wideouts Byron Marshall and Devon Allen. But if the Seminoles aren't careful, Charles Nelson will run right past them.

The speedy freshman hasn't been a big part of the Oregon offense throughout 2014, but that changed with a big performance in the Pac-12 Championship Game. He went for over 100 yards, nearly doubling his total for the season, as Oregon's Andy McNamara noted:

Don't be surprised if Nelson stays under the radar until he makes an impact in special teams. He hasn't carved out a permanent role in the offense but has home run ability as a kick returner and a punt returner.

With that said, Nelson can make the Seminoles pay with the deep ball. Although he has 17 catches on the season, five of them have gone for scores. 

If No. 6 is out there for the Oregon offense, Florida State will want to make sure it stays in front of him.

 

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB

Oregon's defensive backs are no strangers to going up against formidable offensive attacks, but a battle against Jameis Winston and Florida State presents a unique matchup for the Ducks secondary.

In such a situation, Oregon could use a huge performance from its best secondary player—cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.

Ekpre-Olomu's stats don't resemble the stats of a shutdown corner, but that's largely due to teams shying away from attacking him. With Ekpre-Olomu likely lined up against Seminoles wideout Rashad Greene, who happens to be Winston's favorite receiver, that won't be the case.

But the senior's impact will go far beyond his individual play. Ekpre-Olomu sets the tone for the Oregon defense, which has been dominant late in the year but showcased plenty of issues early on. If he leads by example and notches a few big pass breakups early on, his teammates will follow suit.

 

X-Factors for Florida State

Eddie Goldman, DT

If Florida State is looking for a scapegoat for its late-season troubles, it should look no further than the run defense. The Seminoles allowed a combined 600-plus rushing yards in their last three games, all wins by five points or fewer.

You wouldn't expect that from a defensive line featuring a first-round talent of Eddie Goldman's ability.

Goldman is a wrecking ball up front for Florida State, plugging running lanes and tracking down the passer furiously—when he's healthy. That last part, however, has been an issue as of late.

But head coach Jimbo Fisher remains confident of Goldman's ability to play in the Rose Bowl, per Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel:

Oregon doesn't present the traditional running threat with speedy weapons attacking the perimeter combating a bowling-ball back such as Freeman. But a tone-setting will be crucial for Florida State up front in order to keep Oregon's run-blockers on their heels.

Goldman figures to be ready for the game considering the long layoff and the implications, but he'll be of no use to Florida State without his usual impact. If he's unable to blow up the line like he typically does, pass rushers Mario Edwards Jr. and Lorenzo Featherston will be ineffective against Mariota.

 

Nick O'Leary, TE

Winston has a wealth of weapons to throw to throughout the game, but he goes to Nick O'Leary in the clutch moments.

Despite weapons all around the outside, the tight end has emerged as a favorite for Winston. He ranks second behind Greene with 614 yards, and his six receiving touchdowns are one shy of the team lead.

During Florida State's win over Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game, O'Leary's value was on display once again, as Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski noted:

Oregon's defense boasts speed on the outside and physical, quick-footed defenders up front, but the Ducks' best linebackers primarily excel in rushing the passer. They haven't seen a tight end of O'Leary's skill set and overall ability, and the Ducks will need some unique packages to help negate his impact.

However, Mark Helfrich's defense has plenty on its plate keeping weapons such as Greene, Dalvin Cook and Travis Rudolph under wraps. Like he's done so much in the past, O'Leary will get open, and it will be up to Winston to find him.

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Tennessee Football: Early Look at Vols' 2015 Roster

When Tennessee head football coach Butch Jones embarks on year three of his program in 2015, it'll shed itself of the "rebuilding" moniker. That phase completed with the Volunteers' trip to Jan. 2's TaxSlayer Bowl.

Jones' roster should begin to fill out with fewer holes thanks to two larger-than-normal recruiting classes in the 2014 and '15 cycles.

And while there have been some unexpected roster casualties that happen with any reclamation project, the Vols should have ample talent to start winning more games.

Thanks to Jones' stellar recruiting, UT is able to combat the loss of a player such as Helm by having Ethan Wolf, A.J. Branisel and Neiko Creamer coming back as well as Kyle Oliver coming in. Hendrix leaving? How about replacing him with 5-star Kahlil McKenzie, 4-star Shy Tuttle and others.

These are the fruits of building a program the right way.

Let's take a look ahead at Tennessee's projected 2015 roster position by position, and you'll see a team that has folks on Rocky Top excited and some around the conference expecting UT to contend for the division.

 

Offense

Tennessee's once-shaky quarterback situation solidified somewhat with sophomore Joshua Dobbs bursting onto the scene with all-world performances against South Carolina and Kentucky.

Though he came back down to Earth a bit against Mizzou and Vanderbilt, the 6'3", 216-pound signal-caller still showed star power and the ability to put the team on his shoulders and carry it to victory. He has leadership qualities that are difficult to teach.

Dobbs is still a work in progress, but if he progresses the way he's expected to, it's not difficult to see him as one of the SEC's next stars. He has the ability to beat teams with his arm or legs.

Behind him, Nathan Peterman is still on the roster (for now) and has played some snaps, though none that were worth remembering.

The Vols are bringing in a duo of quarterbacks of the future, including Murfreesboro 4-star Jauan Jennings and 3-star Quinten Dormady of Texas. Dormady is already on campus, and Jennings is doing extra work to become a mid-term enrollee, according to GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required).

Another name to watch is former Florida commit Sheriron Jones, who decommitted from the Gators and told 247Sports' Ryan Bartow that UT now heads his list. Given the dearth of depth at the position, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the Vols could take three signal-callers.

Both Jennings and Dormady are extremely talented, and either could be the face of the future. It's highly likely that barring an unforeseen transfer of an upperclassman, one will back up Dobbs in '15.

At running back, Jalen Hurd will be looking around the film room at a whole new group of players beside him as well. Scott's transfer along with the end to Marlin Lane's and Devrin Young's eligibility means Hurd will be one of the two elder statesman next year along with senior transfer Justus Pickett.

Hurd is certainly the bell cow of the offense and a cornerstone for what the Vols want to do, but he's got a huge helper coming in, too.

Alvin Kamara—the former Alabama commit and nation's second-ranked JUCO runner—is a special talent who has all the intangibles to be elite. He will certainly come right in and get immediate important carries.

Rusty Mansell of 247Sports tweeted this week something that excited UT fans even more about Kamara:

Bruising freshman Rocky Reid and in-state athlete Vincent Perry could also find their way into the backfield for the Vols. But a wild card thrown into the mix is special teams dynamo and speedy senior transfer Ralph David Abernathy IV, who played for Jones at Cincinnati and is transferring to Knoxville to end his career.

Abernathy could provide a nice change-of-pace for UT, and he's a quality piece to an offense that likes to get players in space. Tennessee continues its search to land at least one more running back in this cycle, and most of those efforts center on Bryce Love.

If the Vols can convince Love to come to Knoxville, he will be a big-play producer down the road.

The 2014 Vols receiving corps was a stable of walking wounded, but they've got as much talent as anybody in the country when healthy.

Marquez North, Josh Smith, Josh Malone, Jason Croom, Von Pearson and Pig Howard are all expected back. Throw in some talented youngsters who showed flashes such as Vic Wharton and Ryan Jenkins as well as 5-star Preston Williams (the nation's fifth-ranked receiver per 247Sports), and the Vols will have plenty of weapons for Dobbs.

Williams, especially, looks like he has special abilities.

Helm's departure at tight end leaves a bit of a gulf, but Ethan Wolf was the big surprise this season as the 6'5", 240-pound freshman was UT's starter when healthy for much of the year. Junior walk-on Alex Ellis also earned valuable reps, and he'll settle in at No. 2.

The Vols have plenty of talent besides them, too. A.J. Branisel sat out this season recovering from a torn ACL after hauling in three catches (including a touchdown) as a true freshman. Freshman athlete Neiko Creamer bounced around at several positions before settling at tight end and taking a year to redshirt and gain weight.

Finally, Oliver has high upside, and if the Vols can hang on to the Murfreesboro prospect between now and signing day, he is a tall, athletic tight end in the mold of Alabama's O.J. Howard.

The biggest question mark on Tennessee's entire team will remain its offensive line. Sure, when Dobbs entered the picture, the sacks allowed went down, but then came the Missouri game when the same old issues reared their heads.

The bottom line is the line has to improve dramatically. Senior right tackle Jacob Gilliam is the only player out of eligibility, and all the others who were part of the rotation return. Somehow, UT has to find a pair of tackles to allow Kyler Kerbyson to slide back inside. Coleman Thomas, too, probably has seen his last days at tackle.

A key to the whole group is redshirting junior offensive tackle Dontavius Blair, who couldn't crack the rotation this year and took a season to get stronger. UT desperately needs him to anchor a tackle spot next season. Sophomore Brett Kendrick is another candidate to play out there.

A freshman group of Chance Hall, Jack Jones, Venzell Boulware and Zach Stewart may be counted on earlier than usual, and if Charles Mosley can return from his broken leg and become a huge factor (at tackle perhaps?), UT could improve a lot out there by 2015.

Those are big "ifs," but offensive line coach Don Mahoney should begin to feel some heat if he can't find the right formula of five. 

 

Defense

Second-year coordinator John Jancek's unit made a monumental leap forward in 2014, going from 84th nationally in total defense a season ago to 35th. The Vols could make an even bigger step forward in 2015 if they can find a replacement for departing senior middle linebacker A.J. Johnson.

Without any semblance of a pass rush for much of the past decade, Tennessee wallowed in the bottom tier of the league defensively. Enter Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt, and UT finished third in the SEC and 18th nationally in tackles for loss.

More talent is on the way, too.

Let's start by taking a look at the defensive line, where rising sophomore Barnett is a superstar around which any team in the nation would like to build. The Nashville native was virtually unblockable for much of the season, and there's no reason to believe he'll do anything but improve.

Maggitt is expected to return for his senior season to anchor the other edge, and by the end of the year, he may have been UT's best at getting to the quarterback. He simply began to play at another level he hadn't throughout his entire career.

LaTroy Lewis, Corey Vereen and Jaylen Miller all played well at times this season, and outside linebacker Chris Weatherd can put his hand down and rush the passer, too.

How are the Vols adding to that embarrassment of riches at defensive end? Darrell Taylor, Andrew Butcher and Marques Ford are all scheduled to play in high school All-America games, and the fourth defensive end commitment, Dylan Jackson, is being coveted by LSU, Alabama, Stanford and others.

Throw in the possibility that UT remains in the picture for 4-star Kyle Phillips and 4-star D'Andre Walker, and the recruiting haul at that position could be the best in the nation.

On the interior, the Vols played much of the season with a two-man defensive tackle tandem of Danny O'Brien and Jordan Williams. With Jordan Williams out of eligibility, Owen Williams could slide in and be a senior leader there. 

But they've got a lot of young star talent to battle against. Dimarya Mixon could be an athletic force with a full offseason in the weight room, and the trio of newcomers could all compete for immediate playing time.

It all starts with McKenzie, who is 247Sports' No. 1-ranked player in the entire class and the Composite's second-ranked overall. He has the size and athleticism to come in and immediately dominate, and it's hard to imagine he won't get snaps right off the bat.

How can you not play a guy who spits out highlight reels like this?

Then, there's Tuttle, who would be the centerpiece of most defensive line classes as the 247Composite's fifth-ranked DT, but he's just another star in this year's haul for UT line coach Steve Stripling. Add in versatile lineman Quay Picou, and the Vols have three players with extremely high ceilings to add to a shallow depth chart inside.

If Michael Sawyers returns, he has the body to get into the rotation, and if he stays committed to the weight room, he could realize his potential as well.

Linebacker is going to be a position that has to grow as the season progresses. Losing Johnson is going to hurt badly, as everybody saw when he was suspended the season's final two games during a sexual-assault investigation.

Filling in during his absence is massive freshman Jakob Johnson—a 6'4", 240-pound German native who has a lot of potential but lateral limitations. 

He'll have plenty of competition to hold down the middle in 2015. 

Dillon Bates, who received a medical redshirt after playing sparingly before tearing his labrum, could be a perfect fit there, and Kenny Bynum is a veteran who is solid against the run. Also, Gavin Bryant redshirted and has all the physical attributes SEC teams like in 4-3 middle linebackers.

Finally, UT could receive some huge news Monday with the announcement of 4-star prospect Darrin Kirkland Jr. The one-time Michigan commit is announcing between UT, Ole Miss, Texas and Oklahoma, and the 247 Crystal Ball currently points to Tennessee as the favorite.

If the Vols get Kirkland, he could make things extremely interesting in the middle next season.

Outside, it starts with Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who became an integral part of Tennessee's defense this year, registering 88 tackles including 10 for a loss. Between senior pass-rush specialist Weatherd and big-hitting freshman Cortez McDowell, UT looks solid there.

Bates' natural position is on the outside, and he's UT's best coverage linebacker. Colton Jumper and Elliott Berry also could become factors in certain packages.

The only outside 'backer the Vols currently have in the class is Picou's high school teammate at Buford (Georgia) High School, Austin Smith. He's the kind of speedy, athletic linebacker who Tommy Thigpen loves to employ, and he'll find a home in Knoxville.

Quarte Sapp is another linebacker on UT's radar who has yet to make a decision.

In the secondary, the Vols likely will be enjoying their final season with star cornerback Cameron Sutton. Even though he hasn't been showered with hardware, a player as talented as him won't slip past the NFL.

He's a dynamic talent at cornerback, and with a year to add weight, Emmanuel Moseley has an exciting future opposite him as well. Malik Foreman and Rashaan Gaulden are another couple of nice-looking prospects who've yet to see extended action.

Michael Williams is a bit of a wild card. He started most of this season until Moseley usurped him. Then, he was named in the sexual assault investigation along with A.J. Johnson that is still ongoing. If he returns, he'll be in the mix as well.

The Vols have a pair of strong cornerback prospects coming in with Darrell Miller and Micah Abernathy, but they're looking for more. JUCO prospect Justin Miller and Nashville corner Ugo Amadi are major needs, and UT would take either or both of them down the stretch. A class that includes those two would be ideal.

A trio of safeties who started games for UT (Brian Randolph, LaDarrell McNeil and Todd Kelly Jr.) all return, so the Vols should be strong on the back level. Evan Berry, Devaun Swafford and incoming freshman Stephen Griffin will all provide depth for the future.

 

Special Teams

One thing Tennessee has to do in 2015 is get Sutton away from punt return duties. He's too valuable to put back there every time.

Ralph David Abernathy could be a huge benefit for the Vols on special teams, and if they could somehow land Amadi, he's dynamic enough to make an immediate impact returning kicks, too. Evan Berry showed some major promise as a kick returner, and his future there is bright as well.

Tennessee couldn't be facing two more different situations when it comes to its kicking and punting games.

At kicker, UT is set for the next three years with Aaron Medley, who was almost automatic inside of 40 yards and kicked everything high and long, even when he missed. He wound up the regular season 19-of-25 in field goals and made all but one of his 37 extra-point attempts. 

The Vols have an enviable situation at that position for the near future.

At punter, they'll lose senior Matt Darr, who resurrected his career and had a brilliant final season in 2014. 

Unless Medley can steal that job as well (a la Michael Palardy holding all kicking duties in 2013), the punting responsibilities look as if they'll come down to a battle between walk-on Trevor Daniel, invited walk-on and redshirt freshman Troy Waites and Tommy Townsend, who is the nation's fifth-ranked punter.

Townsend has a big leg, and he was UT's top punting target this offseason. Waites was a left-footer UT brought in for depth last season who could develop into a key player.

Tennessee has plenty of talent all over the football field to make some serious noise next year. The roster isn't perfect (not everybody can be Alabama, after all) but there are enough solid players mixed with some well-placed spectacular ones that the Vols appear poised to make an extended run.

These seasons of battling to get to .500 may be close to over on Rocky Top.

 

All stats gathered from CFBStats.com, unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports Composite ranking, unless otherwise noted.

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

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College Football Playoff Championship 2015: Breaking Down Semifinal Matchups

Let's be honest: There are some great matchups in the bowl games, and most of us would watch just about any football game offered, but the only games people really care about this December and January are the playoff contests. 

For months, we debated which teams deserved to reach the last four. We have those teams now, and they're about to settle things on the field. 

So with that in mind, you'll find an overview and a breakdown of each semifinal matchup below. It's going to be fun, folks. Let's take a closer look at each game.

 

Oregon vs. Florida State

If this game comes down to the wire, you have to imagine Florida State will find a way to win. After all, the Seminoles have won seven games by one touchdown or less, including four in a row to close the season. Jameis Winston and Co. know how to be clutch when it matters. 

On the other hand, Oregon has a habit of ending things before the fourth quarter begins. The Ducks have had just two games decided by a touchdown or less and are 1-1 in those games. They've won eight straight games by 12 or more and have scored at least 42 points in all but two games.

It's hard to imagine a Florida State team that has given up 26 or more points to Oklahoma State, NC State, Notre Dame, Louisville, Miami and Georgia Tech slowing down Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and his talented crop of weapons. 

Mariota may receive the plaudits, but it's important to remember that Royce Freeman rushed for 1,299 yards and 16 touchdowns this season and that six players have 350 receiving yards or more, including Byron Marshall (61 receptions for 814 yards and five touchdowns) and Devon Allen (684 receiving yards, seven touchdowns). Dwayne Stanford and Pharaoh Brown each have six receiving scores, meanwhile.

Florida State's defense isn't as good as it was a year ago and has struggled in games against less talented offenses. The Ducks are going to run rampant and will win this game. 

 

Alabama vs. Ohio State

At first, we questioned how Ohio State would manage without Braxton Miller. All J.T. Barrett did in relief was post Heisman-esque numbers. Then, we wondered how the Buckeyes would fare in the Big Ten Championship Game without Barrett.

Three touchdown passes and a 59-0 victory later, Cardale Jones proved Ohio State would be just fine. 

That was Wisconsin, however. Alabama is a whole new beast.

The Buckeyes haven't faced a team as balanced as Alabama this season, in large part because no other team in the nation is as balanced as the Crimson Tide. Blake Sims and Amari Cooper are a handful in the passing game. T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry form one of the better backfield duos in the country. The defense isn't as impervious as prior Nick Saban teams but is still quite good, holding opponents to 16.6 points per game, fourth in the nation.

Yes, the Buckeyes contained Heisman finalist Melvin Gordon. But Wisconsin was far more one-dimensional than Alabama will be. The difference with this Crimson Tide team is offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who has opened up the passing game.

Cooper, for one, is thrilled he did, as he told Zach Braziller of the New York Post:

He’s a genius as a coach. He deserves a lot of credit. He likes to throw the ball and not only does he likes to throw the ball, he comes up with really good schemes to get players open and get his playmakers in space.

I was really happy when he got hired because I saw what he did with Marquise Lee and Robert Woods at USC. Both of those guys had 100 catches. I was confident I would have a good year with him.

He's had a heck of a year.

Still, underestimate the Buckeyes are your own peril. They beat Michigan State and Minnesota on the road in consecutive weeks. They've overcome injuries to two excellent quarterbacks. They score 45.2 yards per game (fourth in the country) and rush for 260.8 yards per contest (11th). They've scored 31 or more points in every game but one. 

The Buckeyes are legit. They just aren't legit to knock off the country's most balanced team. Alabama will win this one, but it will be tighter than many people think.

 

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Bowl Games 2014-15: Schedule, TV Info and Predictions for All Games

College football's second season begins on December 20 at 11 a.m. ET when Nevada faces Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl. That will kick off nearly a month of month of football culminating in the championship game of this year's first four-team playoff. 

You can practically hear college football fans giggling in excitement from here.

Below, you'll find the full bowl schedule, including start times, television info and a straight-up prediction for each game. I'll also look at some of the top storylines to watch for heading into the postseason. 

The Bowls are here, folks. Get pumped.

 

 

Top Storylines

Without question, the top storylines in this year's postseason come from the playoff teams, so we'll start there. 

Last year's defending champions, Florida State, led by last year's Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston, have spent much of the season surviving by the smallest of margins. Can they keep up that run of good fortune against an Oregon team that finished the season third in points per game behind Heisman-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota?

It doesn't look good for the Seminoles. Since losing to Arizona on October 2, the Ducks have won every game by 12 or more points, including convincing victories over UCLA, Stanford and Utah. They defeated Arizona in the Pac-12 title game 51-13.

And if you weren't a fan of Mariota before, did you see his Heisman acceptance speech? SportsCenter shared the moment:

How could you not root for a guy like that?

In the other contest, the major question will be if Cardale Jones can lead Ohio State to the upset over Alabama. He certainly looked the part in the Big Ten title game, throwing for 257 yards and three touchdowns in Ohio State's decisive 59-0 victory over Wisconsin. Alabama will be a whole new challenge, of course.

Still, it's a testament to Ohio State's talent as a team that it has been able to overcome injuries to Braxton Miller (a preseason Heisman contender) and J.T. Barrett (a Heisman contender who threw for 2,834 yards, rushed for 938 and accumulated 45 total touchdowns before suffering a season-ending injury). This game is going to be closer than people think, and it wouldn't be shocking if Ohio State pulled off the upset. Few teams are hotter at the moment.

Of course, not everyone agrees. Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee thinks Alabama will win big, per B/R Radio on Twitter:

The other top bowls feature some tasty matchups. Can TCU prove they were a huge playoff snub by beating Ole Miss and the Rebels' talented defense? Can Baylor do the same against a tough Michigan State team? Can Mississippi State top off a season that saw them spend time atop the rankings with a victory over Georgia Tech? Will Boise State pull off yet another upset in a major bowl against Arizona?

There will be individual players to watch as well. Auburn will have their hands full with Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. Ole Miss has faced plenty of talented players, but quarterback Trevone Boykin is as good as any they've played. And we're all excited to see Mariota and Winston do battle and Amari Cooper go up against Ohio State.

Gosh, it's going to be fun watching all of the above play out. There's nothing quite like bowl season, after all.

 

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Oregon State Congratulates Heisman Trophy Winner Marcus Mariota with Classy Ad

Even in a rivalry, it's important to give respect where it's due.

Oregon's Marcus Mariota won the 2014 Heisman Trophy on Saturday night after putting up ridiculous numbers in the regular season. He was so good that even one of his biggest rivals had to give him some respect.

Oregon State suffered a 47-19 defeat to Mariota and Oregon in its regular-season final on Nov. 29. That loss gave the Beavers a 5-7 record, meaning they would not be playing in a bowl game.

Even though Mariota ended their season, the Beavers paid tribute to the Ducks quarterback with a classy ad.

Oregon and Oregon State are rivals on the field, but there is plenty of mutual respect between the two schools, as this ad clearly demonstrates.

[Instagram, Twitter; h/t SB Nation]

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Heisman Trophy 2014: Breaking Down Final Results for Prestigious Award

As expected, Marcus Mariota ran away with the 2014 Heisman Trophy, winning college football's highest honor in a landslide.

Oregon's quarterback made the decision easy for voters after registering 53 total touchdowns and only two interceptions for the Ducks, who placed No. 2 in the final College Football Playoff rankings. He received 788 of 891 first-place votes, doubling runner-up Melvin Gordon's final point tally.

He isn't just basking off a heightened touchdown tally either. Along with compiling 4,478 total yards, Mariota led the FBS with 10.2 passing yards per attempt and a 186.3 quarterback rating. Despite the awesomeness of fellow finalists Melvin Gordon and Amari Cooper, there was no doubt who would leave New York with the hardware.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, only one winner has ever received a higher percentage of points.

The 21-year-old spoke to ESPN College GameDay's Chris Fowler after winning the accolade.

After dominating Saturdays, the star quarterback is poised to become a top NFL draft pick for a bottom-feeding squad in need of a franchise passer. He wasn't, however, the only offensive stud invited to the ceremony.

 

Gordon Tops Cooper for Second

An interesting battle brewed between Wisconsin running back Gordon and Alabama wide receiver Cooper for the second slot. Although Cooper received more first-place nods, Gordon rode a steady stream of points into higher positioning.

All Gordon did was submit 2,336 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns while averaging 7.6 yards per carry. He topped triple-digit yardage in all but two games, including the Badgers' last loss against Ohio State.

The rushing monster is simply a victim of dominating during the wrong year. ESPN College Football displayed how he shredded the last victorious running back's production.

Receivers rarely get mentioned so prominently for the honor, as Larry Fitzgerald was the last one to receive a ceremony invite. The star wideout played 168 NFL games until another pass-catcher got the call.

Given his torrid conclusion to the season, there was no way not to include Cooper. After clobbering Auburn for 224 yards and three scores, he caught a dozen passes for 83 yards in the SEC title clash against Missouri.

SEC Network chronicled his heavy usage in Alabama's offense, which led to him shattering the conference's record books.

NFL.com's Ian Rapoport is far from the first person to suggest Cooper is poised for big things.

Neither man will fret falling short after getting scooped up in the first round next May.

 

Who Didn't Vote for Mariota?

A better person would leave well enough alone since the best man won. Yet any time several people vote on any award, there are always the bad apples who make cringe-worthy judgments.

Per USA Today's Nicole Auerbach, no player was ever more represented in the final ballots.

That's great, but that also leaves an alarming 5 percent of people who failed to acknowledge a quarterback with 53 touchdowns and two interceptions. ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel points to a handful of stubborn souls who either wanted to make a statement or decided he would win without that vote.

Meanwhile, eight people declared Trevone Boykin the rightful winner despite terrific (yet lower) numbers across the board. Four people ignored Jameis Winston's 17 picks and gave him first-place consideration anyway, probably only because Florida State didn't lose a game.

With 2,036 rushing yards, Indiana's Tevin Coleman finished lower than Winston, just because some folks have yet to grasp that football is a team sport.

In the end, the top three studs finished in the right order, but it's irksome to note the potholes along the road.

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Texas A&M Football: Ranking 10 Best Aggies from the 2014 Regular Season

The Texas A&M football team finished the 2014 regular season with a 7-5 record. Despite the disappointing record, the Aggies had a number of players who produced standout performances on the field. 

The Aggies were a very young team in 2014. There are 13 freshmen on the depth chart for the 2014 team. Many of those freshmen are among the best players on the team. 

That bodes well for the future of the Aggies. The 2014 season was somewhat of a transitional one with so much youth gaining experience. 

This is a ranking of the top players on the Texas A&M football team in 2014. 

Begin Slideshow

New York Post Creates Marcus Mariota 'Suck for the Duck' Campaign for Jets

The New York Jets are only two years removed from using a second-round pick on quarterback Geno Smith, but it's not working out as planned. 

After watching Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota tear up college football during his Heisman-winning 2014 season, it's natural that the 2-11 Jets look ahead to the 2015 NFL draft. 

On Sunday, the New York Post decided to run this headline, creating a "Suck for the Duck" campaign to bring Mariota to the Big Apple. 

[Bart Hubbuch, h/t For the Win]

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College Bowl Picks 2014-15: Recent Odds and Predictions Against the Spread

A vast majority of game odds during bowl season reflect games that could go either way, and yet many of those games end up being decisive victories for one team or another. So, what gives?

More often than not, teams go into bowl games with very different mentalities. A postseason appearance can bring an extra breath of fresh air to a locker room and spearhead an effort to win convincingly on national television. In other cases, a sour ending to the year can leave teams lethargic and unmotivated.

Simply put, teams with very similar talent levels can end up separating themselves when the bowl spotlight is on—for various reasons. But it's worth taking into account when assessing teams' chances of covering certain spreads, and this year is no different.

Let's take a look at predictions for every bowl game and a breakdown of some of the more prominent picks.

 

Note: Odds according to Odds Shark, last updated December 13

 

Cotton Bowl: No. 6 TCU (-3) vs. No. 9 Ole Miss 

Simply put, bowl season is tailor-made for matchups like Ole Miss and TCU in the Cotton Bowl.

You rarely get such a high-powered offense going up against the nation's most formidable defense, but that's exactly what will be on tap for the Cotton Bowl. As FanSided.com's Patrick Schmidt noted, TCU's offense versus the Ole Miss defense will be must-watch television:

The Horned Frogs have been wrecking every defense they go up against, with quarterback Trevone Boykin putting up numbers—3,714 passing yards, 38 total touchdowns—worthy of a Heisman Trophy-finalist campaign. The team has racked up more than 40 points on eight occasions this year.

But it will be easier said than done to keep such a ridiculous pace against the Rebels.

Boykin hasn't faced a secondary with ball-hawking defensive backs like Cody Prewitt and Senquez Golson. The two Thorpe Award semifinalists have speed at the second level to help prevent big plays from Kolby Listenbee and Josh Doctson. 

Even with some big plays inevitable for TCU, Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace doesn't have a shabby offense of his own. The Rebels have figured things out after the loss of Laquon Treadwell, showing in a win over Mississippi State that Jalen Walton can be a game-changer.

TCU will prove its worth, but the Rebels will show their superiority early and hold off a late surge from an elite Horned Frogs team.

Prediction: Ole Miss 34, TCU 30

 

Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oregon (-9.5) vs. No. 3 Florida State

Now that the formality of the Heisman Trophy presentation is over, the matchup between Oregon and Florida State in the Rose Bowl will officially peg two Heisman winners against one another.

In one corner, it's Jameis Winston and the still-unbeaten Seminoles, who are looking to prove the continuous doubters wrong. In the other, it's Marcus Mariota, who is fresh off being named this year's Heisman winner and leads an Oregon team peaking at the right time.

The two quarterbacks' Heisman seasons were quite similar, as ESPN Stats and Information noted:

Although their 2013 and 2014 seasons were similar, Mariota has left no doubt of his superiority as far as this season goes. They did lose, but he helped the Ducks bounce back from it by hanging 42 or more against their next eight opponents—including a rematch win over Arizona.

While Mariota has thrown just two picks all year compared to 52 touchdowns, Winston has thrown 17 interceptions and goes up against a stingy Oregon secondary that features dominating cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. 

The Ducks will sit back and keep Winston in front of them, forcing mistakes and getting the Oregon offense into favorable spots. Mariota will take advantage, helping to keep the ball away from an opportunistic Florida State defense and racking up touchdown after touchdown.

The question then moves to whether the Ducks will cover the optimistic near-10-point spread, but with the Ducks' ability to score in bunches, they should hold off the 'Noles. Winston won't go quietly, but Oregon's prolific offense will keep them distanced down the stretch.

Prediction: Oregon 41, Florida State 30

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Army-Navy Game 2014: Breaking Down Top Performers from Saturday's Rivalry Game

The 115th encounter between Army and Navy was a continuance of the Midshipmen's dominance in the series. Navy defeated its longtime rival Saturday 17-10.

Make it 13 in a row for Ken Niumatalolo's team. In the process, he became the winningest coach in program history and took down the Black Knights for the seventh time.

The latest iteration of one of the sporting world's most important traditions played out as advertised. There were just 15 attempted passes on the day while a war of wills unfolded on the ground.

The top performers, including a few seniors playing in their final chapter, put on quite the memorable show.

 

Top Performers

Xavier Moss and Army Defense

The Army defense does not usually receive much praise.

After all, the team has four wins on the year, and one of the bigger issues is the fact the defensive unit ranks 104th in the nation in points allowed (32.9).

As the numbers show, though, the Black Knights defense stiffened in the face of a potent Navy offense. Xavier Moss is a major reason for that, and his play was why Army was able to stay in the game throughout the day.

Bill Wagner of Capital Gazette Communications paints the scene:

In a brutal encounter between two teams that want nothing more than to keep things on the ground, that sort of game-changing play can mean everything.

As a result, Army jumped out to an early lead it held until right before halftime. In fact, that single play was important since the Army offense never found the end zone.

 

Larry Dixon, Army

One of the greatest rushers in Army history put on a show Saturday even in defeat.

Larry Dixon entered the day with 1,028 yards and nine touchdowns and added 90 more yards on just 14 carries. In the process, he lived up to what first-year coach Jeff Monken said of him before the game.

“He knocks tacklers in the other direction to gain that extra yard,” said Monken, per Tom Pedulla ofThe New York Times. “He’s not gifted with great speed, but he’s powerful enough to get through there, and when he gets into the secondary, he’s been able to give us some pretty good runs.”

Indeed, Dixon terrorized Navy for most of the contest, as illustrated by Sal Interdonato of the Times Herald-Record:

The senior did not get the win he so desired, but it was yet another epic performance from a player who will not be soon forgotten in the lore of this historic rivalry.

 

Keenan Reynolds, Navy

Of course, Keenan Reynolds was the star of the show Saturday.

One of the most notable dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, he entered Saturday with 1,082 yards and 20 touchdowns on 205 carries. The junior came up big through the air when asked, though, such as a two-touchdown performance back in November against Notre Dame.

Reynolds did it all Saturday.

He tied things up in the second quarter with a touchdown pass to Jamir Tillman on his way to a six-of-eight line for 77 yards and the score. Reynolds also extended his team's lead in the fourth quarter with a touchdown rush to go with his 100 yards on 26 carries.

Kevin McGuire of CollegeFootballTalk put it into perspective:

Reynolds is no stranger to the rivalry. His calm and cool demeanor Saturday while acting as the most important player on the field can attest to that.

The scary part, at least for Army, is that Reynolds only continues to develop in a positive manner by the year.

For now, though, he and the Midshipmen can celebrate yet another successful outcome over their rivals before getting ready for their bowl game.

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Cotton Bowl 2015: Bold Predictions for Michigan State vs. Baylor

The 2015 Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1 features two teams that would love to get some redemption in the College Football Playoff after being left out of the mix by the selection committee.

Baylor was the first team left out of the Top Four, ranking No. 5 in the final poll of the season despite closing out the year with a decisive 38-27 victory over Kansas State. The Bears will be looking back to a tough loss to West Virginia as the cause for their woes. They'll be looking to prove they were worthy of a playoff spot.

Another team potentially worthy of a spot is Michigan State. The Spartans were impressive on both sides of the ball this season; however, they suffered losses to Oregon and Ohio State—two playoff teams. Ending the season with three wins wasn't good enough to climb back into contention, and they were awarded a trip to the Cotton Bowl instead.

This is certainly an intriguing matchup that pits the high-powered Baylor offense against the stout Michigan State defense. As we await this highly anticipated contest, let's take a look at a couple of bold predictions for each team in the Cotton Bowl.

 

Bold Predictions for Michigan State

The Spartans Hold Baylor's Offense to Four Touchdowns

Sure, holding an opposing offense to four touchdowns seems like a cakewalk for Michigan State's defense, but that won't be the case against Baylor's top-ranked offense that averages 48.8 points per game. In fact, Baylor has only been held under 30 points just twice this season, and the Bears scored three offensive touchdowns in each of those games.

However, Baylor has been on a tear since then, scoring at least 48 points in four of its last five contests. The Bears are on a major hot streak, and that's bad news for a Spartans team that allowed 46 points to Oregon and 49 to Ohio State.

If Michigan State is going to contain the Baylor offense, it must apply pressure to quarterback Bryce Petty. The Bears signal-caller has been their offensive catalyst, passing for 3,305 yards and 26 touchdowns this year.

The Spartans can counter with a solid pass rush. They have maintained good pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season, ranking 11th in the nation with 37 sacks in 12 games.

Petty has been sloppy at times in 2014—notably in the team's lone loss to West Virginia in which he completed 44.4 percent of his passes—and if Michigan State can keep him under pressure, the Bears offense will be out of sync and struggle to get points on the board.

 

Connor Cook Throws for 350 Yards, Three Touchdowns

Baylor has been good against the run this season, ranking ninth in the nation while allowing an average of 107.7 yards per game and just 2.94 yards per carry. If Michigan State is to generate any kind of offense, it must be by Cook's arm.

The junior signal-caller has been impressive this season, throwing for 2,900 yards and 22 touchdowns against just six interceptions. He's had his up-and-down games but has performed admirably in difficult contests, throwing for 343 yards and two scores against Oregon and 358 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State. Those two performances proved he can perform under duress, and he'll demonstrate that again in the Cotton Bowl.

The Bears have had their fair share of trouble against the pass this season, ranking 101st in the nation and allowing an average of 260.0 yards per game through the air. With a pass defense far worse than that of Ohio State and Oregon, Baylor will allow Cook to engage in an aerial shootout.

With a big weapon in the talented Tony Lippett at his disposal, Cook shouldn't have much trouble hooking up regularly with his 6'3" wide receiver to burn Baylor's defense for his biggest performance of the season.

 

Bold Predictions for Baylor

Bryce Petty Throws for 350 Yards, Three Touchdowns

Yes, this is the exact same bold prediction that we set for Michigan State's quarterback; however, it is completely justified in its own right. While Cook has to rise to the challenge against a good team with a shaky secondary, Petty must navigate the nation's 25th-ranked pass defense that allows an average of just 196.0 yards per game.

There's a reason why Petty is being considered by many draft pundits as an elite prospect. The senior has consistently delivered big performances throughout the year. He's eclipsed the 400-yard passing mark three times this season and has thrown multiple touchdowns in eight of his 11 games. He'll be under heavy pressure to elevate that number to nine in the Cotton Bowl.

While Shock Linwood has been good out of the backfield this season, the Spartans are allowing just 97.5 yards per game on the ground, ranking sixth in the nation in that category. This will only provide a bigger challenge to Petty, as he'll have to orchestrate a one-dimensional offense.

The Spartans have given up big days to quarterbacks this season; Heisman winner Marcus Mariota and the electric J.T. Barrett both eclipsed 300 yards and three touchdowns. However, Petty wasn't exactly in the Heisman discussion for his efforts, and he'll need his best performance of the season to surpass those two prolific quarterbacks.

 

Baylor Holds Jeremy Langford Under 100 Yards

Michigan State's senior running back has put on quite a show this season. He's carried 249 times for 1,360 yards and 19 touchdowns, averaging 5.5 yards per attempt. Langford has been on an absolute roll of late, running for more than 100 yards in each of his nine contests. He's also scored at least two touchdowns in each of his last six.

Baylor has been excellent against the run this season, ranking ninth in the nation while holding opponents to an average of 107.7 yards per game on the ground. Even more impressive is the team's ability to limit ball-carriers to just 2.94 yards per carry—an average bested by only three teams.

However, here's where Baylor's trouble comes into play: Langford rushed 30 times for 118 yards and two touchdowns in his final game of the season. That game was against Penn State—one of the three teams to allow fewer yards per carry than the Bears. Still, there's light at the end of the tunnel.

For the Bears to find success where Penn State couldn't, they simply need to limit Langford's workload. That can be done by Petty and the offense, as gaining a big lead would force Michigan State to throw more often than it would like. That's exactly what happened against Oregon, as the running back carried 24 times for 86 yards—his third-lowest total of the season.

 

 All team statistics and rankings courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 13.

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College Football Playoff 2014-15: Predictions and Odds for Complete CFP Schedule

It only took one season of the new College Football Playoff format to show the controversy doesn't end just because the BCS got the boot. Baylor and TCU both built strong cases for a spot in the final four, only to get left out by the selection committee.

The Horned Frogs have the most reason to complain. They were ranked third in the penultimate standings, beat Iowa State by 52 and proceeded to drop three spots. It obviously raises questions about the accuracy of the weekly releases before the one that actually counts.

Ultimately, the committee chose Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State. It's a strong group that should generate plenty of hype, but the debate rages on about the choices. In the meantime, let's check out all the key information for the playoff and make some predictions for how it will play out.

 

College Football Playoff Schedule

 

Championship Odds

 

Playoff Forecast

The Rose Bowl will feature an extraordinary quarterback battle between Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. The two most recent Heisman Trophy winners should put on quite a show, and their performances could very well decide the game.

Ultimately, the creation of these types of matchups, which likely wouldn't have occurred under the old system, is a major plus of the playoff. Andrew Greif of The Oregonian passed along comments from Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher about the high-profile clash:

It's what college football is all about. That makes for great TV and great competition and what it's all about. Getting the best against the best. Oregon is a national brand-name team. They have earned that right, the team is recognized all the way across this country. ... Florida State is a national brand-name. When you put two quarterbacks like that, brand names like that as far as college football it's what the playoff was designed to do.

The problem for the Seminoles is trying to keep pace with the Ducks without putting too much pressure on Winston. He's thrown 17 interceptions this season, and giving the ball away to an explosive opponent like the one the Seminoles will face on New Year's Day would mark the end of their extended winning streak.

So expect to see a more moderate pace from FSU. That means plenty of work for Dalvin Cook and Karlos Williams in an effort to control the clock and open more passing lanes for Winston.

The fact that Florida State hasn't been nearly as dominant, despite its undefeated record, is a concern, though. The Seminoles were able to avert disaster numerous times this season, but look for that to eventually catch up with them as the Ducks advance.

If the Rose Bowl is all about the quarterbacks, the focus of the Sugar Bowl is the coaches. The chess game between Nick Saban and Urban Meyer has surely already begun behind the scenes as the coaching staffs try to figure out how to catch their counterparts off guard.

Unfortunately for Ohio State, a season-ending ankle injury suffered by J.T. Barrett against Michigan makes the task much tougher. Cardale Jones proved himself as a capable replacement so far, but going up against the Crimson Tide is an entirely different task.

The key for the Buckeyes to offset that loss is the defensive line. When Alabama is clicking on all cylinders, as it has been for the better part of two months, it's dominant at the line of scrimmage. Joey Bosa and Co. must make their presence felt in the backfield early and often to have a chance.

That said, without Barrett, it just doesn't feel like Ohio State will have enough explosiveness on the offensive side to hang with the Tide for 60 minutes. The top seed should do enough to hold serve and advance to the title game.

If the top seeds do advance, it will create a titanic clash between Alabama and Oregon for the title. ESPN Stats and Info notes the Ducks enter the bracket as the favorite:

In reality, it would be a toss-up. Oregon probably has the highest upside of any team in the country, but Alabama is battled-tested after surviving the SEC grind. The Tide won five games over ranked opponents out of their last seven contests.

That type of experience pays huge dividends at the end of the season. That's why Saban's teams are so tough to beat at this stage of the campaign. It makes the Tide the pick to win the inaugural College Football Playoff in a thriller over Oregon.

 

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