NCAA Football

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

The college football regular season was one of the wildest in recent memory. If the 2014-15 bowl games and the inaugural College Football Playoff build on that, this could go down as one of the most unforgettable seasons in recent memory.

While the College Football Playoff semifinals are stealing many of the national headlines, there are many marquee bowls not being talked about enough. If you love the sport of college football, the coming weeks will be filled with entertaining action.

Here is all the vital viewing information for each remaining bowl game this season:

 

*All games can be live streamed via WatchESPN.com.

 

Underrated Game to Watch: Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl

When the No. 9 Ole Miss Rebels square off against the No. 6 TCU Horned Frogs on New Year’s Eve at the Georgia Dome, college football fans will be treated to a thrilling matchup that could conceivably go either way.

On one hand, Ole Miss was one of the strongest teams in the Southeastern Conference this season, finishing the year with a 9-3 record and big wins over Alabama, Texas A&M and Mississippi State.

While the Rebels' offensive unit wasn’t overly impressive in 2015, finishing 31st in passing yards (275.6) and 60th in rushing yards (167.7) per game, the Ole Miss defensive unit has been lights out.

The Rebels have the top-ranked defense in the nation, allowing an average of only 13.8 points per game.

Asked about the challenge of facing off against the high-powered offense of TCU, Ole Miss cornerback Senquez Golson told Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com:

It’s always a red flag for a defense when you’ve got a quarterback is that caliber [of player]. They have a lot of athletes; they make a lot of plays. It’s definitely one of the better offenses we’ll face this year. We’re looking forward to the challenge. I don’t think we could have had a better matchup. This is really going to put our defense to the test and see what we got.

On the other hand, the Horned Frogs have a legitimate gripe with the College Football Playoff voting committee after being bumped from the top four in the final week, and the program will be looking to take their frustration out in the Peach Bowl.

Most will point to the elite defense of the Rebels as the best on the field, but TCU has a stellar defense as well. They rank 17th, giving up just 20.3 points per game.

Where the Horned Frogs really differentiate themselves from Ole Miss is on the offensive side of the ball.

With the seventh-ranked pass offense (332.8 yards per game) and the 35th-ranked rushing attack (209.3 yards per game), TCU finished the regular season with the second-ranked offensive unit in the nation, averaging 46.8 points per game.

The Rebels and the Horned Frogs have contrasting styles, and it will make for an interesting game. The conversation about whether a top Big 12 team can stand toe-to-toe with an SEC program will also add to the intrigue of this matchup.

Unfortunately for TCU fans, the strong Ole Miss defense will stifle junior quarterback Trevone Boykin and the Horned Frogs offense. If Rebels senior QB Bo Wallace can protect the football and control the pace of the game, Ole Miss should pull out the victory.

Predicted Winner: Ole Miss 33, TCU 30

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

 

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Sugar Bowl 2015: Full Schedule, Positional Breakdown for Alabama vs. Ohio State

Here's a statement fans have been waiting to hear for several years: We are one week away from a College Football Playoff. New Year's Day will mark the start of a new era in the sport when four teams compete for the right to play for the national championship.

Both games will feature outstanding teams, but the Sugar Bowl has two coaches with multiple national titles. Urban Meyer and Nick Saban will face off for the fourth time in their careers, with Saban holding the upper hand at 2-1.

If Meyer plans to knot up the series and move on, he will need his third quarterback this season to step up. Cardale Jones broke out in the Big Ten title game thanks to Ezekiel Elliott leading the way.

Going against a potent Alabama offense with Blake Sims and Amari Cooper means another stiff test for Ohio State. Prior to the Sugar Bowl kicking off, here's a look at the schedule and positional breakdown for the matchup.

 

Sugar Bowl Information

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans

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

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Quarterback: Alabama

Leading up to the regular season, Sims wasn't even assured the starting spot for the Crimson Tide. Heading into the inaugural playoff, the senior has asserted himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the country.

Sims has taken the reins at Alabama, and he's leading an offense that has passed for 281 yards per game, which ranks 22nd in the NCAA. Saban spoke about the character of his signal-caller, via Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com:

Equipped with weapons such as Amari Cooper and DeAndrew White, Sims has the tools to bring another title back to Tuscaloosa. Throwing for 26 touchdowns and just seven interceptions this season, he doesn't make critical mistakes that can hamper top teams.

Jones can prove a lot with consistent play for OSU in the Sugar Bowl, but he hasn't put together the same resume as Sims. Both will have a chance on the big stage, but Sims comes in with the advantage thanks to success all season.

 

Running Backs: Ohio State

During the last half of the season, Melvin Gordon has been considered the best running back in the country. The Heisman finalist was recently overshadowed by Elliott, who set a new record for rushing yards in the Big Ten title game.

His 220 rushing yards against Wisconsin put him on the map, but the sophomore has been explosive all season. Eleven Warriors notes his total yards in the last five games for Ohio State:

With an inexperienced quarterback under center, Elliott has a chance to be the difference-maker for the Buckeyes. He'll be facing a stout Bama rush defense that has not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season.

Elliott's recent success puts him over Alabama's two running backs, T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. If he can find holes in the Tide's defense, Elliott might just be the one key to an upset win for the Buckeyes on New Year's Day.

 

Wide Receivers: Alabama

Let's be honest—was there really another choice in this category? Devin Smith and Michael Thomas are special talents, but neither comes close to Cooper's dynamic ability this season.

In fact, Ohio State's top three receivers don't have as many receptions combined (101) as Cooper alone (115) this year. That SEC record was just one of many amazing marks for Cooper in 2014, as the SEC Network notes:

Along with Cooper, White also proved he can be effective down the field for Alabama. White led the Tide in receiving during the SEC Championship Game and caught a 58-yard touchdown pass.

Bama's tandem will have to compete against an Ohio State defense that allowed just 188.2 passing yards per game this season. Meanwhile, the Tide's secondary has given up an average of 223.7 passing yards per contest.

Smith and Thomas may be able to exploit Alabama's pass defense, but Cooper alone is a better playmaker. His outstanding season paired with White's effectiveness gives Bama's receiving corps the edge.

 

Defense: Alabama

Much like the Tide's passing game, the defense has plenty of star power. One standout this season has been Landon Collins, a do-it-all safety who has led the defense all season.

Alabama's safety has been special all year, following a long line of defensive backs to explode in Tuscaloosa. Collins leads the Tide in tackles (91) and interceptions (three) along with 3.5 tackles for loss this season.

Thanks to Collins and a stout front seven, the Tide ranks fourth in scoring defense, allowing just 16.6 points per game. Facing the fourth-best scoring offense in Ohio State at 45.2 points per game, the entire defense will be tested.

Getting the job done all season, Bama has earned its place as the top defense in the Sugar Bowl.

 

Prediction

Much like the total tally in the positional battle, Alabama will come away with a win next Thursday night. Jones and Elliott will certainly have a lot to say about the outcome but will ultimately be limited by the Tide's stout defense.

Both Saban and Meyer will no doubt have their teams ready, but the experience under center will make all the difference. Ultimately, it will be Saban moving forward to compete for a fourth national title in the last six seasons.

Final score: Alabama 30, Ohio State 24

 

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St. Petersburg Bowl 2014: NC State vs. UCF TV Info, Spread, Injury News and Time

Central Florida went 0-2 in its two opportunities to beat a Power Five conference opponent this season, but it gets a much-deserved third chance in the 2014 St. Petersburg Bowl against the ACC’s North Carolina State.

College football fans have already seen a double-overtime thriller, a dramatic Hail Mary and a missed game-winning field-goal attempt in the pre-Christmas bowls. Now the Wolfpack and Knights will attempt to keep the postseason action rolling.

Here is a look at the key information for the St. Petersburg Bowl.

 

NC State vs. Central Florida

Date: Friday, Dec. 26

Time: 8 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN 

Spread: Central Florida -2.5 (via Odds Shark, as of Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. ET) 

 

Injury Report (courtesy of USA Today)

 

Preview

Central Florida enters the St. Petersburg Bowl with four straight wins, including a dramatic victory in the final seconds against East Carolina. Despite a falloff from last season’s BCS appearance, head coach George O’Leary seemed thrilled with the postseason destination, according to STATS LLC, via ESPN.com:

After a 9-3 season, we are very happy to go to the St. Petersburg Bowl. Obviously a bowl game is a great reward for the players, the program and the fan base. We are very anxious to get to St. Petersburg and enjoy the bowl and its festivities. It will be a great experience for our players and fans.

As for North Carolina State, the Wolfpack have some momentum after crushing rival North Carolina to finish the season.

That Wolfpack defense will have to deal with a Central Florida offense that features a different quarterback than it started the season with against Penn State. The Knights started 0-2, but Justin Holman took over for freshman Pete DiNovo and finished with 2,661 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

You can throw in an American Athletic Conference Championship as well.

North Carolina State finished 77th against the run but was 29th against the pass, which means Central Florida’s best chance could be through the rushing attack. The problem is, the Knights were 105th in the country in rushing offense and didn’t have a single runner tally 700 yards on the ground this season.

The one thing that does stand out in the matchup between Central Florida’s offense and North Carolina State’s defense is the turnovers. Holman threw 13 picks, and Central Florida had a minus-one turnover margin, while North Carolina State had a plus-five.

If the Wolfpack force the Knights to cough the ball up once or twice, it could swing the early momentum their way and put a red-hot offense in position to score.

North Carolina State picked up 362 rushing yards against Wake Forest and 388 against North Carolina. What’s more, quarterback Jacoby Brissett is a threat to run on every snap and gashed the Tar Heels for 167 rushing yards and a touchdown, while running back Shadrach Thompson posted 161 yards on the ground in that game.

Brissett threw for 22 touchdowns and only five interceptions, but the Wolfpack are much more effective keeping the ball on the ground (38th in rushing yards per game and 97th in passing yards per game).

Unfortunately for Brissett and company, that plays right into the hands of Central Florida’s strong defense. 

The Knights were fifth in the country against the run, third in the nation in total defense and eighth in scoring defense. Pack Pride, a syndicated partner of Scout.com, pointed out just how effective Central Florida has been on defense this season:

In what is otherwise a tightly contested matchup on paper, Central Florida’s defense will make the difference down the stretch. The Knights are built to stop the run and will force a late turnover to come away with the St. Petersburg Bowl title.

It will set Central Florida up for another impressive season in 2015. 

Prediction: Central Florida 24, North Carolina State 17

 

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Quick Lane Bowl 2014: Rutgers vs. UNC TV Info, Spread, Injury News, Time, More

The 2014 Quick Lane Bowl could very well turn into the Quick-Don't-Look-Away-From-The-TV Bowl, as both the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the North Carolina Tar Heels can put points on the board in a hurry.

Don't blink. You'll probably miss a touchdown.

But what makes these offenses so good? Jerry Izenberg of The Star-Ledger points out that UNC runs an offensive play every 12 seconds. He describes the Tar Heels as a "where-did-they-go-and-why-did-I-blink offense." That's because junior quarterback Marquise Williams can make all the plays with his arm and with his feet. He's a deadly weapon.

Rutgers relies heavily on senior quarterback Gary Nova and Leonte Carroo, his favorite target down the field. They have hooked up for 10 touchdowns this year, half of Nova's season total. 

Because these two teams boast potent offenses and defenses prone to giving up yards, we're in for an exciting inaugural Quick Lane Bowl.

 

When: Friday, Dec. 26

Where: Ford Field, Detroit, Michigan

Time: 4:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark on Wednesday, Dec. 24)

  • Over/Under: 65.5
  • Spread: UNC (-3)

 

Team Injury Updates

Team injury reports are courtesy of The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

 

Analysis

Having already touched on some of the key players, let's dive into statistics. First up is Williams.

The definition of a dual-threat quarterback, the UNC stud has carried this offense all season. His passing numbers are pedestrian. He tallied 20 touchdowns, nine interceptions and 2,870 yards and completed 62.7 percent of his attempts.

On the ground is where he thrives. He notched 737 yards (4.1 yards per carry) and found the end zone 12 times.

His cumulative numbers are spectacular. Many expect him to compete for the Heisman Trophy next season. Bleacher Report's Brian Leigh broke down why:

UNC's five leading pass-catchers are all eligible to return next season. So are all eight players who recorded a carry. If Williams can exploit the Scarlet Knights in Detroit, start full time over Mitch Trubisky next fall and play as well as he does in the second half of the season in the first half of the season, he's a sneaky Heisman dark horse.

There's reason to believe he can have his way against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights rank 97th in total defense, as the accompanying graphic indicates. That's better than UNC, but it puts them roughly in the same tier.

The key for Rutgers is to tear up UNC's porous defense. They've been, in a word, horrific. The Tar Heels rank 118th in total defense, 117th in rush defense, 119th in scoring defense and 108th in passing defense. East Carolina dropped 70 against them, while four other teams also crossed the 43-point threshold.

It needs to be a complete effort from Rutgers, though. Nova and Carroo can exploit the secondary, but a career touchdown-to-interceptions ratio of 71-to-51 indicates he's turnover prone. Even a lackluster secondary can jump a route or two and come up with a pick.

It's those drives Nova must avoid. He can't march his team down the field and then throw a costly turnover in UNC's half of the field. Those plays can kill momentum and swing it in the opposite direction.

A 58 percent passer this year, Nova has been far from a sure thing. Carroo has made him far better.

Naturally, Rutgers must lean on the ground game. Head coach Kyle Flood has taken a committee approach to the running back position this season, as eight separate ball-carriers have accumulated 1,774 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Expect to see a combination of Robert Martin and Josh Hicks against UNC. The two freshmen combined for 126 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries in their last game against Maryland.

One player who hasn't gotten a carry this year is fullback Michael Burton, but Flood says he's a big aspect of the offense anyway, via NJ.com's Dan Duggan.

"There are a lot of plays on the tape when you watch it where Michael does a great job of either getting on a designated defender or cleaning the color of a defender who might be coming off another block," Flood said. "It's what all great fullbacks do. And he is a big reason why we were able to have success running the ball."

If he can block the defensive linemen of UNC and allow his running backs to break into the second tier of the defense, the Scarlet Knights will score some points.

While the Quick Lane Bowl doesn't feature the most successful teams in college football this season, it could easily turn into one of the most exciting bowl games on the schedule. High-octane offenses and underwhelming defenses mean the over/under of 65.5 could easily be surpassed.

The uncertainty surrounding Nova and the passing game of Rutgers makes it easy to think UNC will take this game, however. At least one team will notch 40 points—maybe both. But expect the Tar Heels to overcome their defensive shortcomings and celebrate in Detroit.

 

Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @kennydejohn

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Rose Bowl 2015: Key Storylines for Oregon vs. FSU Showdown

While there's no denying the all-around appeal of the College Football Playoff, the Rose Bowl battle between Oregon and Florida State is the more intriguing game of the two. 

Just a few of the minor storylines to discuss include the battle of the Heisman-winning quarterbacks Marcus Mariota (2014) and Jameis Winston (2013), and the undefeated defending national champions being ranked behind a one-loss Oregon team and having to travel across the country. 

The Alabama-Ohio State game certainly has storylines, but it's not as appealing because Cardale Jones is an unproven quarterback going against a Nick Saban defense when he has three weeks to prepare.

The 2015 Rose Bowl has all the makings of a classic showdown between two premier football programs, so here are the top storylines to follow when the game kicks off on New Year's Day. 

 

Which Florida State Team Will Show Up?

Much like Winston, the Seminoles seem to be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on a quarter-by-quarter basis. Never was that illustrated better than in the regular-season finale against Florida. Winston threw three interceptions in the first quarter before throwing two touchdowns in the second quarter. 

Florida State's best performance of the season, at least offensively, came in the ACC Championship Game against Georgia Tech. The Seminoles scored 37 points, Winston was flawless with 309 yards and three touchdowns and the team racked up 488 yards. 

It wasn't a perfect team game, as the defense continued to struggle by allowing 35 points and 331 rushing yards to the Yellow Jackets. It was the third time in four games the Seminoles gave up at least 175 rushing yards, yet they haven't found the banana peel. 

However, Florida State is going up against an animal the likes of which it hasn't seen this season. Oregon is the most complete team the Seminoles will face this season. Here's how the Ducks' offense stacks up against Jimbo Fisher's defense, via StatMilk:

The highest-scoring offense Florida State has faced this season was Georgia Tech (19th in points per game). No other team on the schedule ranked in the top 40 in scoring offense, so Oregon will be a dramatic change of pace. 

That means Florida State has to build off the momentum it built in the ACC Championship Game. There won't be any margin for error against Mariota, who accounted for 52 touchdowns on his own this season. That doesn't include the 23 rushing touchdowns from other Oregon players. 

If Florida State and its fans feel disrespected after being ranked third despite a 13-0 record and 29 straight wins, this is its best chance to prove the doubters wrong. 

 

Has Oregon Really Turned A Corner?

For the last three years, Oregon has felt like a college version of Peyton Manning. It puts up great records and incredible offensive numbers, but getting over that final hump has been a problem. 

In 2012, Stanford ruined the Ducks' undefeated season and cost them a shot at the BCS Championship Game. In 2013, Stanford and Arizona defeated Oregon in a three-week span to leave the Ducks in the Alamo Bowl against Texas. 

This year, it seemed like Oregon was destined to fall short again after losing to Arizona in October. There's no denying the Ducks have been one of the best football programs in the country since Chip Kelly's first year as head coach in 2009, but they've had problems against certain Pac-12 teams along the way. 

Fortunately, things worked out perfectly for Oregon in 2014. After the Arizona loss, the Ducks were able to right the ship. They finally conquered Stanford in a 45-16 blowout and avenged their loss against Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game with 51-13 drubbing of the Wildcats. 

Mark Helfrich doesn't get the national credit he deserves because of the perception that he inherited all of Kelly's players. While that may be true, he's run with that talent and brought in his own to keep Oregon among the national elite. 

Per Jason Quick of The Oregonian, it was Helfrich who took ownership of Oregon's loss to Arizona in October and helped repair a struggling team:

(Oregon) had just played a decidedly sloppy game that elicited several boos from the normally supportive Autzen Stadium crowd. There were 10 penalties. Countless missed tackles. Five sacks allowed. Two fumbles lost. And several blown coverages.

But when the then 40-year-old coach stood before the team, he didn't deride his players.

Helfrich took the blame.

Quick then notes that Helfrich was "more intense and a more detail-oriented head coach" after the loss. That's what Oregon has been lacking in the previous two years. The Ducks have been content to run on the field, but figuring out what a roster needs to get over the top is why they have a chance to win a championship. 

Now, the Ducks have to prove those changes can stick against a team they appear to be superior to in Florida State. 

Mariota has been what Winston was last year, a dazzling playmaker who constantly finds ways to create big plays and doesn't turn the ball over. The first game against Arizona was his worst of the year, yet he still finished with 276 passing yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. 

Oregon has been building itself back into a national-title contender since losing the BCS Championship Game to Auburn in 2010. This is the final stage of that process, though it will all be undone with one disappointing performance against Florida State. 

 

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


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Fresno State vs. Rice: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 Hawaii Bowl

Rice cruised to a 30-6 win in the Hawaii Bowl over Fresno State on Christmas Eve in Honolulu. The Owls wrapped up the 2014 season with an 8-5 record while the Bulldogs fell to 6-8 overall.

Rice junior quarterback Driphus Jackson finished the game 15-of-24 for 318 yards and three touchdowns. He added another 41 yards on the ground. The Owls featured a balanced offensive attack, gaining 463 yards on the day.

Some wondered why Fresno State received a bowl invite in the first place. At 6-7, the Bulldogs were the seventh team in the last 64 years to have made a postseason bowl despite posting a losing record, per ESPN College Football:

Fresno did little to bolster the idea of bowls accepting losing teams, putting in a largely listless display. The Bulldogs gained 255 yards of total offense. NFL.com's Bryan Fischer thinks that this is a growing trend under head coach Tim DeRuyter:

The team is 0-3 in bowl games since he took over.

Before the game, DeRuyter commented that the attention paid to the Hawaii Bowl could either prove a help or hindrance to the Bulldogs, depending on their performance, per Bryant-Jon Anteola of The Fresno Bee:

We’re looking to have a really good national name as we reach out to different areas in recruiting. And because people see us out on ESPN regularly, things are real good when you win on national TV.

But when the last thing you leave out there, especially on Christmas Eve when we’re the only game of the day, it’s not a good look for you. It can hurt your image nationally and hurt you down the line if recruits are influenced by it.

He and Fresno State didn't do themselves any favors with this defeat. The Owls outplayed the Bulldogs in every aspect, and it started as soon as the contest began.

Rice couldn't have started the game much better. The Owls jumped out to a comfortable 16-3 lead after a field goal from senior James Hairston and two touchdown passes from Jackson.

Hairston put Rice ahead 3-0 on the first drive of the game, but Fresno State's Kody Kroening canceled out the field goal with one of his own with two minutes and 16 seconds left in the quarter.

That's when the Owls offense kicked it into high gear. Jackson needed five plays to go 78 yards, connecting with senior wide receiver Jordan Taylor for a 14-yard TD pass with 23 seconds to go until the second quarter.

Rice sophomore cornerback J.T. Blasingame then intercepted Fresno State QB Brian Burrell on the second play of the ensuing drive. Immediately following the turnover, senior wide receiver Mario Hull hauled in a 69-yard touchdown reception, scoring Rice's second TD in 19 seconds of game time and giving the Owls a 13-point advantage.

According to Rice Football, the catch was also Hull's career long:

The opening frame was all about setting new records, with Rice's 16 points the most the team had ever scored in the first quarter of any bowl game:

Fresno State was arguably lucky to only be down by 13, considering the disparity between the two teams in total yards. In only 15 minutes, Rice managed to outgain its opponent by over 200 yards:

Only one quarter in, the Bulldogs were teetering on the brink. Another touchdown or two from Rice, and the game could've been out of reach before halftime.

Instead, Fresno State tightened up on defense and held the Owls to four yards for the entire second quarter, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Rice didn't help itself by committing seven penalties for 60 yards in the first half and converting only two of its seven third downs.

Unfortunately, the Fresno State offense could only muster a 40-yard field goal from Kroening to cut the deficit to 10 points, 16-6, before halftime. The Bulldogs' offensive stagnancy wasted the strong defensive performance.

Burrell really struggled in the half, throwing for 40 yards on 9-of-18 passing. On the other side, Jackson completed the same amount of passes but instead gained 195 yards through the air.

Running backs Josh Quezada and Marteze Waller provided little support on the ground, rushing for a combined 55 yards. The Bulldogs averaged 183.9 yards on the ground heading into the game.

The third quarter was more of the same for Fresno State as the Bulldogs offense couldn't find the key to unlock the Rice defense. Two of the team's drives ended in three-and-outs, another in an interception and the last in a missed field goal from Kroening.

Jackson padded Rice's lead with 6:18 remaining in the third. He hit junior wideout Dennis Parks for a 40-yard touchdown. Anteola highlighted a block downfield that allowed Parks to break for the big play:

It was Parks' first touchdown of the season. WNSP's Patrick Woo thinks the wide receiver has a bright future ahead:

Rice carried its 23-6 lead into the fourth quarter.

DeRuyter replaced Burrell at quarterback with freshman Zack Greenlee. The move produced little, with Greenlee finishing the game 7-of-18 for 49 yards.

A one-yard touchdown run from sophomore running back Darik Dillard put even more distance between the two teams, giving Rice a 30-6 lead 10:07 from the final whistle.

For Rice, this is both a nice way to close out the 2014 campaign and begin building toward 2015. This was the third straight bowl game for the Owls, with head coach David Bailiff building a consistently strong program in Houston.

Fresno State, meanwhile, wraps up a frustrating season with an even more frustrating loss. This year was a major backward step for the Bulldogs after they won nine games in 2012 and then 11 in 2013.

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USC Star Su'a Cravens Ready to Cap Monster Season with Happy Holiday Bowl

SAN DIEGO — Forget falling snow: The 75 degrees welcoming USC football to its first Holiday Bowl practice Wednesday at San Diego State made for Trojans sophomore safety/linebacker Su’a Cravens’ ideal winter wonderland.

“It’s good to be in California,” Cravens said. “Glad to not be in another state around Christmastime.”

A native Southern Californian, Cravens should feel right at home with conditions like these at the holiday season. He played his prep football at Vista Murrieta High School in the bedroom community of Murrieta, California.

That’s just a short trek from San Diego up Interstate 15, a roadway that passes near where Cravens and the Trojans conclude the 2014 season Saturday at 8 p.m. ET against Nebraska.

Cravens exudes California swagger, right down to the tattoo of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on his arm.

But had fate twisted another way, Saturday’s Holiday Bowl would have a much different feel for Cravens.

“I was planning on taking an official visit to Nebraska my junior year [at Vista Murrietta],” he said. “But it didn’t quite work out.”

Nebraska worked to establish a recruiting pipeline into Southern California under its previous coaching regime.

Bo Pelini’s gone now,” Cravens said of the Cornhuskers head coach who recruited him, fired last month. “But I’ve got a former teammate on Nebraska, [offensive lineman] Corey Whitaker, so it’s going to be fun to see him.”

Things may not have worked out for Nebraska, but they certainly are for both USC and Cravens, as his second season in the program comes to an end.

Cravens earned first-team All-Pac-12 recognition this season, racking up 62 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, five sacks and two interceptions—one of which went for a touchdown.

Of Cravens’ many contributions to the Trojans this season, the most significant may be one that stat sheets cannot fully quantify. He played a variety of spots for defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, primarily nickelback or strong-side linebacker, depending on the need at any given snap.

And while his original head coach at USC—Lane Kiffin—is gone, the Trojans’ current staff has an obviously high opinion of what Cravens brings to the team.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian said earlier this season that “[continuing] to recruit players like Su’a,” meaning versatile defenders who can seamlessly switch roles against hurry-up offenses, is imperative for competing in the Pac-12 Conference.

But against Nebraska, Cravens leads the USC defense against an opponent known for a much more traditional style, predicated on establishing All-American running back Ameer Abdullah on the ground.

“You said it: Run the ball,” Cravens said of Nebraska’s game plan. “They’ve got a big [offensive] line and they’ve got a very good running back [in Abdullah].

“We’ll do everything we can to shut down the run game,” he added. “And hopefully it will turn into a game where they’re playing catch-up and have to pass the ball.”

No matter if the Cornhuskers go to the run or the pass, however, Cravens will be on the field. That’s a certainty regardless of where the Trojans are playing—though doing so in California makes this particular matchup a little sweeter.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com.

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USC Star Su'a Cravens Ready to Cap Monster Season with Happy Holiday Bowl

SAN DIEGO — Forget falling snow: The 75 degrees welcoming USC football to its first Holiday Bowl practice Wednesday at San Diego State made for Trojans sophomore safety/linebacker Su ’a Cravens’ ideal winter wonderland...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Hawaii Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for Fresno State vs. Rice

Rice 16, Fresno State 6 — Mid 3rd Quarter

College football fans will get to open just one present from under the bowl tree on Christmas Eve night, as Fresno State takes on Rice in the sunny setting of the 2014 Hawaii Bowl.

The Bulldogs pulled the rare feat in 2014 of making a bowl despite finishing with a sub-.500 record. It's usually impossible due to teams needing at least six of 12 regular-season wins, but Fresno State is 6-7 after falling to Boise State in the Mountain West championship.

Rice won six games all in a row at one point but has dropped two of three to close the season. The Owls will also try to end an 0-6 all-time record against Fresno State, which they previously played in the WAC.

If you like defensive showcases, this might not be the game for you. Rice allowed 76 points to Louisiana Tech in its final regular-season game, and Fresno State allowed over 45 four times on the year. 

Tune into ESPN at 8 p.m. ET to catch the game, or stay updated with live updates below.

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Florida State vs. Oregon: Who Is the Better 2nd-Half Team?

With nine come-from-behind victories this season, it would seem as though the third-ranked Florida State Seminoles are the best second-half team in the nation.

But is that really the case? Perhaps it is the second-ranked Oregon Ducks, Florida State’s Rose Bowl opponent, that are the team to beat in the second half.

While there are tons of intriguing Rose Bowl storylines, most notably a meeting of the past two Heisman Trophy winners, one that has been overlooked is how differently these two conference champions have won this year.

The Ducks are perhaps the best front-runners in the entire country and usually play the first half of games as if they were lightning shot out of a cannon. When they’ve had a lead this year, they’ve pummeled opponents into the ground and left no doubt as to whom the better team was.

Meanwhile, the Seminoles have played the role of the cardiac kids. Fans of Florida State have purchased a controlling share of the Lipitor market in the process. The Noles have made a habit of waiting until the second half or fourth quarter to inflict pain on their opponents and ultimately spoil upset after upset.

This phenomenon is even more interesting when you consider that during Florida State’s national title run last season, they played more like the 2014 Ducks than the 2014 Noles.

Both teams have found great success in the second half of games this season, and it is highly likely that the Rose Bowl will be decided in the last 30 minutes.

So, which semifinalist is the better second-half team?

 

More Points!

All college football teams are bound to fall behind in a couple of games during the course of the season, even the very best squads. In fact, as Nicole Auerbach of USA Today explained on Dec. 3, Oregon, Alabama and Florida State trailed in a majority of their games this season.

However, the difference between Bama, Oregon and Florida State is the margin by which the Noles have had to come back from.

Even the best teams in college football get behind in games. Alabama has trailed in eight of 12 games this season — the same number as Florida State — and Oregon has been down seven times. The difference comes in the margins. Alabama's average largest deficit is 6.4 points, and Oregon's is 7.1. Florida State's is 14.1.

Including the ACC Championship against Georgia Tech, the Noles have had nine come-from-behind victories this season. In Auerbach’s piece, John Ewing, the director of research and analytics for Prediction Machine, explains just how unlikely it is that the Noles are still undefeated this season.

According to John Ewing, Director of Research and Analytics for Prediction Machine, Florida State was the projected winner 83% of the time in all of its games, and even considering the games in which opponents had leads in the second half, no team was ever more than 75% likely to win its game against Florida State. Still, there was only approximately a 1-in-10,000 chance that Florida State should still be undefeated considering the team's tendency to trail so many opponents, Prediction Machine found.

While Florida State was almost always favored to win ballgames in which the team tailed, the probability that it would actually win each and every one of those games is bordering on a statistical anomaly.

So, how have the Seminoles been able to dominate the last 30 minutes of games this season? Well, it all starts with 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and the FSU offense.

In the first half of games this season, Florida State is averaging 16.6 points per half—ranked No. 37 in the nation. In second halves, FSU is averaging 17.5 points—ranked No. 18. While an extra point of offense per half may not sound like a lot, it is.

On average, FBS teams have averaged 14.6 points per first half this season. Comparatively, teams have averaged just 13.3 points per second half this season.

Florida State is different. It is one of the few teams in college football that average more points in the second half than in the first. Moreover, the Noles are also scoring four more points in the second half than the average FBS team.

But how do those statistics compare to the Ducks? Oregon has one of the most prolific offenses in college football and is led by 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.

The Ducks rank No. 3 in the country in points per game and total offense this year. Moreover, they rank No. 5 in first-half points with 24.2 and No. 3 in second-half points with 20.8.

Oregon clearly has the far superior offense and is averaging 11.5 more points per game than Florida State.

The Ducks are outscoring FSU by more than a touchdown in first halves this year and by 3.3 points in second halves, despite the fact that Oregon’s offense has taken its foot off the gas in multiple games this season due to insurmountable leads.

However, Oregon’s offense “slows down” in the second half. Florida State’s offense has gotten better as the game has gone along.

Additionally, FSU knows how to win close games in the fourth quarter. If a similar situation were to occur in the Rose Bowl, one would think FSU would be more apt to deal with that scenario.

By my calculations, the Ducks have only been in four games this season in which their opponent was within two scores of them going into the fourth quarter.

In those four contests—against Michigan State, Washington State, Arizona and Utah—the Ducks have averaged 14.5 points in those fourth quarters and have allowed just six points per fourth quarter. Even in their loss to Arizona, the Ducks won the fourth quarter 10-7.

Oregon’s offense is just as potent as any in college football, and it’s clear it dominates the Seminoles in terms of points per half. However, there is something to be said for teams that get better as the game goes along.

Florida State is flat out a better team in the second half than it is in the first half. But is FSU's offense really better than Oregon in the second half of games this season? The statistics would suggest that it's not.

 

First-Half versus Second-Half Defense 

Despite the fact that the Ducks rank No. 84 in total defense and No. 103 in passing defense, they’ve done a relatively good job of keeping opposing teams out of the end zone, especially in the first halves of games this year.

In total, Oregon is allowing 22.5 points per game this season, which ranks No. 29 in the country. Statistically, Oregon’s defense has gotten off to strong starts this season and has allowed an average of 10.7 points per game in the first 30 minutes of games this season—ranked No. 16 in the country.

Over Oregon’s past five games, the Ducks defense has allowed a paltry 5.8 points per first half, including a total of six points over the past three games.

While Oregon’s defense has been very solid in the first half of games this season, the D has taken some hits in the final 30 minutes.

Oregon ranks No. 52 in the country in terms of points allowed per second half this year. On average, the Ducks have allowed 12.6 points per second half. While that number is still above the national average of 13.3, the Ducks are still allowing almost two more points in the second half than in the first.

So how does Florida State’s defense compare to Oregon’s?

In terms of points per game allowed, the Ducks and Seminoles are basically identical. Florida State is ranked just behind the Ducks at No. 30 and is allowing 23 points per game this year. Moreover, Oregon’s defense has allowed 35 touchdowns this year—ranked No. 29—and FSU has allowed 36 touchdowns—ranked No. 33.

You would think based on Florida State’s propensity for comebacks that its second-half defense would be far superior than its first-half D. You would be correct.

In the first half of games this season, FSU’s defense is ranked No. 67 in points allowed with 14.5, which is just a hair better than the national average of 14.6.

However, the Seminoles defense has shined in the second half this year. It's allowing a minuscule 9.4 points per fourth quarter this year—ranked No. 13 in the nation. Furthermore, Florida State’s defense is allowing 3.2 fewer points than Oregon’s defense in second halves this year and 3.9 fewer than the national average.

Oregon and Florida State’s defenses are almost identical; however, it’s very clear which defense is better in the first half and which is better in the final 30 minutes.

 

The Heisman Winners

While defense, production out of the backfield, coaching, turnovers and a host of other factors will help determine which team advances to the national championship, the Rose Bowl ultimately will be won by the quarterback who gets the job done in the second half.

Let’s start with the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner.

Mariota’s offense scores more points in the first half, which is partially due to the fact that he and his starters often sit out large portions of the second half. That being said, Mariota’s second-half passing numbers are actually much more efficient than those in the first half.

Mariota’s passer rating in the second half of games this year is 208.95, which is far and away the best in the nation.

Moreover, he is completing an ungodly 75.4 percent of his passes in the second half, which ranks No. 2 in the country. Yes, Mariota has more passing touchdowns in the first half (21) than he does in the second (17), but he’s been more efficient with the ball, which could be huge against Florida State.

The most obvious difference between Mariota’s first- and second-half performance this year has been in the running game. In the first half of games this year, Mariota has rushed 78 times for 511 yards—an average of 6.55 yards per carry—and nine touchdowns.

In the second halves, he has dialed down the running game. So far this year, Mariota has 39 carries for 158 yards (4.05 YPC) and five touchdowns in the second half of games.

This is not to say Mariota is a worse overall player in the second half. He’s not. Mariota has been equally as good in both halves. He's just done more damage with his legs in the first half and has been more efficient with his arm in the final 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, the other Heisman-winning quarterback in this matchup has performed much better in the second half of games this season. By Jameis Winston’s incredibly lofty standards, his performance in the first half of games this season has been an unmitigated disaster.

Not only has Winston thrown the most first-half interceptions in college football (13), but he has also registered a 137.37 quarterback rating—ranked No. 73 in the country—and has only completed 62.9 percent of his passes. You don’t need to look much further to see why the Seminoles have struggled as a team in the first half of games this season.

However, Winston has been great in the second half this season, which is one of the reasons why FSU has been able to overcome nine significant deficits. On average, Florida State is outscoring opponents by 8.1 points in the second half this year.

Winston has the fourth-most second-half passing yards this season (1,769) and has only thrown four picks, which is a bit high by national standards but low in comparison to his interception percentage.

Winston has thrown 10 second-half touchdowns and completed more than 68 percent of his passes—a 5.5 percent improvement over his first-half completion percentage this season.

Mariota’s performance in second halves this season is still superior to Winston’s; however, Winston gets much better as the game goes along, as does his defense. The Ducks may have the slight edge in the second half due to the performance of their offense, but there’s no denying the fact that Florida State is a dominant second-half team.

The 2015 Rose Bowl will come down to what happens in the second half. There will be no running away and hiding by either team unless something really crazy happens.

Oregon’s offense is clearly superior in both halves this season, and its defense outranks Florida State’s in the first half as well. However, Florida State’s offense improves in the second half of games while Oregon’s declines, and FSU has one of the strongest second-half defenses in the nation.

So who’s the better second-half team? It’s too close to call.

 

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

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

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Jim Harbaugh: Michigan Desperately Wants Him, but Is the Feeling Mutual?

The Michigan Wolverines have won more games than any other team in college football history, but they have fallen out of prominence recently.  Their Brady Hoke experiment didn’t work out, and now they are scouring the coaching carousel looking for someone to replace Hoke, who was fired on December 2.

They haven’t tried to hide the fact that Jim Harbaugh is their top candidate.  The former Michigan quarterback, Harbaugh brought unprecedented success to a Stanford program that was a perennial loser for decades.  Then, he became the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers and promptly led them to the NFC Championship Game in each of his first three seasons.

Michigan has already offered Harbaugh a very lucrative contract, reportedly a six-year, $48 million deal per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.  That annual salary of $8 million would immediately make him the highest-paid coach in all of college football, a perk that would be hard to pass up.  They also gave Harbaugh a shoutout on Twitter, wishing him happy birthday on December 23 when he turned 51.

Even 49ers general manager Trent Baalke confirmed Michigan’s interest in Harbaugh during an interview on radio station 95.7 The Game (via The Wolverine).

Ever since Lloyd Carr left Michigan after the 2007 season, the Wolverines have been struggling to uphold their sterling tradition and prestige.

Rich Rodriguez took over for Carr, and he and Hoke each did their fair share of damage to the program. Now Michigan is in dire need of someone to transform U-M back into a winner.

If Harbaugh does anything, it’s win.  He has proved throughout his career that he is a winner.  He is one of the most intense and passionate coaches around, and a startling story of Harbaugh while he was at Stanford recently reported by Max Cohen of The Michigan Daily is a perfect example.

According to Cohen, Harbaugh rubbed a Stanford player’s blood on his face like war paint to show that he wanted badly to be on the field with his team.  Say what you want about this incident, but it’s the epitome of intensity.

Michigan needs that type of coach pacing its sideline in 2015.  Harbaugh has everything that would turn the Wolverines into championship contenders.  He is a U-M alum, so he is aware what it is like to be part of the tradition.  He is extremely competitive, and he would do everything in his power to win games.  He has national appeal due to his past success, and he would recruit with outstanding aplomb.

But if there is anything that makes the Michigan fans hurt worse than the team’s mediocre play in recent years, it’s that Ohio State has been tremendously successful since it hiredUrban Meyer.

Harbaugh is Michigan’s Urban Meyer, someone who can come in and change the culture and win quickly.

So it’s crystal clear that Michigan desperately wants and needs Harbaugh, but does Harbaugh want and need Michigan?

That is the million dollar question and one that can only be answered by the coach himself.  He is almost surely going to leave the 49ers on a sour note, as they are reportedly going to fire Harbaugh within 48 hours after the team’s final game against the Arizona Cardinals, according to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports.

There is likely to be a host of other NFL job openings at season’s end, including the Oakland Raiders and Chicago Bears, and if Harbaugh feels like he wants to remain a pro coach, he will unquestionably be at the top of almost every team’s list.

Harbaugh’s competitive nature might keep him in the NFL too.  His brother, John, has a Super Bowl ring with the Ravens as does the Seahawks’ Pete Carroll.  Carroll and Harbaugh have a well-documented rivalry that goes back to both coaches’ college coaching days, Carroll at USC and Harbaugh at Stanford.  Whether the animosity started with their angry handshake after Stanford beat USC 55-21 in 2009 or some other time is unknown, but it has to be hard for Harbaugh to see Carroll as a Super Bowl-winning coach.

But Carroll also won championships at USC, and that is something that Harbaugh has never experienced.  He has never reached the pinnacle, college or NFL, and he is going to have to decide if Michigan or some other pro job gives him the best chance to finish the season ranked No. 1.

This will definitely be one of the most interesting stories in sports for the near future.  Harbaugh and Michigan is a terrific match, and it has already made an outrageous offer that would make Harbaugh a very rich man, but money is not going to be the deciding factor.

Harbaugh will be well compensated wherever he ends up, and where he ends up will depend on if he would rather pursue a national championship at Michigan or a Super Bowl in the NFL.

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Central Michigan Comes Up with Potential Game-Tying TD on Hail Mary, Laterals

When a team needs a touchdown on the final play of a game, it usually resorts to either a Hail Mary or a short pass followed by a series of laterals. Central Michigan found a way to combine the two strategies to get the job done.

Central Michigan trailed Western Kentucky 49-42 with one second remaining in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl and needed 75 yards to tie the game.

Chippewas quarterback Cooper Rush connected with Jesse Kroll on a Hail Mary. Then, a series of laterals began. Titus Davis was the one who eventually found his way into the end zone, which was his fourth touchdown of the game.

The wild touchdown capped off an insane comeback by Central Michigan. The Chippewas had trailed the Hilltoppers 49-14 with just under 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. However, they did not complete the comeback.

Feeling lucky, Central Michigan went for the win. Cooper's fade pass to the back of the end zone fell incomplete on the two-point conversion, putting an end to the wild game.

With the 49-48 victory, Western Kentucky got its first bowl win in school history.

[cjzerovids]

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Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky: 2014 Bahamas Bowl Score, Twitter Reaction

Central Michigan did everything possible to climb back into the inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, but it wouldn't be enough. A late Hail Mary that went for a touchdown gave the Chippewas a chance, but Western Kentucky shut down a two-point conversion for the 49-48 win.

Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty capped off his memorable season with the Christmas Eve bowl victory. The senior finished the game with five passing touchdowns after leading the nation during the regular season.

ESPN College Football provides the final play and result from Nassau, Bahamas:

Doughty shined on the big stage by throwing for three or more touchdowns in his ninth game this season. Going 31-of-42 for 486 passing yards, Doughty connected with five different players for touchdowns, including Willie McNeal, who had 155 receiving yards.

Doughty's numbers alone in the last three games are more than several programs on the entire year, via ESPN Stats and Info:

Prior to the game, Central Michigan coach Dan Enos spoke about the caliber of quarterback his team would be facing, via Nate Schneider of The Morning Sun:

I think he is the best (quarterback) we’ve played all year. ...He doesn’t get rattled. He gets hit a lot and you can’t tell from play to play because he doesn’t get nervous in there. His posture is very good in the pocket. He’s not a great runner, but he’s strong and can extend plays a little bit. He understands what they are doing really well offensively and they do a good job with him.

The first drives for both teams ended well with two consecutive passing touchdowns. Doughty connected with Jared Dangerfield for a 14-yard touchdown, while Cooper Rush's strike to Titus Davis for 21 yards ended in the end zone.

Rush finished the game with a more impressive stat line than Doughty at 28-of-45 for 493 passing yards, 25 rushing yards, seven touchdowns and one interception. Those numbers were overshadowed by Doughty, but Rush ended a great sophomore season with optimism for the future.

His seven touchdown passes tied a bowl record, as Michael David Smith of Pro Football Focus noted:

After the first drive, it was nearly all Hilltoppers to close out the half. Doughty finished the half with five passing touchdowns and nearly had a rushing touchdown that was called back and eventually run in by Leon Allen.

College GameDay provided a look at his first-half statistics:

Allen's numbers also helped make history along with Doughty, as Chad Bishop of the Bowling Green Daily News pointed out:

The blowout was already in full effect at the point, but Central Michigan wouldn't just lie down for the second half. The Chippewas chipped away at the lead as Rush led three fourth-quarter drives that resulted in passing touchdowns.

Davis caught another three touchdowns along with his 142 total yards, while Courtney Williams hauled in his second of the day after tallying one during the second quarter. However, the deficit was just about insurmountable at that point, and Western Kentucky held on late.

Smith described the atmosphere in Nassau at the end of the game:

The last-ditch Hail Mary toss by Rush was lateraled multiple times before Davis scored a touchdown. However, the two-point effort meant the Chippewas would fall short of the epic comeback.

Despite the disappointing finish for Central Michigan, the program still has plenty of potential for next season. Rush will lose his top two receivers and tight end Deon Butler, but he still has several young targets who can fill in those roles.

Having Doughty back for another year of eligibility means the Hilltoppers have their best offensive weapon back in the fold. Having two running backs in Allen and Anthony Wales back, WKU's offense promises to be just as exciting next year.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Santa Claus Delivers Scholarship to Western Michigan Walk-on

Given that it's the holiday season, there was only one way for Western Michigan to present walk-on Grant DePalma with a scholarship.

Santa Claus crashed a Broncos team meeting and handed coach P.J. Fleck a present. That's when Fleck called fellow linebacker Austin Lewis up to the front to give DePalma a life-changing gift.

Santa never disappoints.

[Bronco Video, h/t Dr. Saturday]

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Dalvin Cook Linked to Aggravated Assault Investigation: Latest Details, Reaction

Florida State running back Dalvin Cook is being investigated as an associate in an aggravated assault incident by Tallahassee police following a July situation.

ESPN's Brett McMurphy first reported the case:

The Tallahassee Police Department also issued a statement confirming the veracity of the case, citing an ESPN FOIA request regarding Florida State football players. Public records show ESPN requested potential arrest records of 360 Florida State athletes though Cook is the only one named. Another closed case involving an unnamed former player was also mentioned, but the TPD declined to offer the student-athlete's name or give case details.

"We are committed to ensuring that every citizen of this community, including our university students, know that we take every report of possible criminal activity seriously," Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo said. "We also have an obligation, under state law, to respond to national media requests such as this and have done so professionally and with a commitment to openness.

Cook, a true freshman from Miami, rushed for 905 yards and eight touchdowns during the regular season. He was named the ACC Championship Game Most Valuable Player after rushing for 177 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries in the Seminoles' 37-35 win over Georgia Tech. As the season has progressed, Cook has taken an increased role and for large chucks supplanted senior running back Karlos Williams.

The Seminoles' level of knowledge about the case is unclear. According to records released, Cook is listed as an "associate" in an altercation where two men brandished firearms at another resident. Aggravated assault cases involving guns in Florida are subject to a minimum three-year prison sentence if found guilty. 

The case against Cook is still ongoing. Neither DeLeo nor the Tallahassee Police Department offered further details on the investigation.

Florida State has not indicated whether the case will affect Cook's status for the College Football Playoff. The Seminoles play Oregon at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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Jim McElwain's Doug Nussmeier Hire at Florida Does Not Inspire

The pieces of new Florida head coach Jim McElwain's coaching staff are coming together, and the latest one to be added to the puzzle is a familiar face.

Doug Nussmeier—who helped lead the Alabama Crimson Tide to a national title in 2012—has joined McElwain's staff in Gainesville as the new offensive coordinator of the Gators, according to Gatorzone.com, fresh off a rather unsuccessful one-year stint on Brady Hoke's former staff at Michigan.

"I’m excited to reunite with Coach Mac—we obviously have a long history and share similar philosophies," Nussmeier said in a quote emailed by Florida. "I’m honored to join The Gator Nation and work for one of the most storied programs in all of college football."

A home run hire? Hardly.

It's more like a bloop single.

Nussmeier's Michigan offense finished next-to-last in the Big Ten in total offense (333.0 yards per game) and scoring offense (20.9 points per game), and 11th in yards per play (5.32). Quarterback Devin Gardner threw 15 picks and only 10 touchdowns, and backup Shane Morris wasn't much better, throwing three interceptions without finding the end zone once.

His work at Alabama was better.

The Crimson Tide finished sixth in the SEC in total offense in 2013 (454.1 yards per game) and second in yards per play (7.15), and quarterbacks combined to throw more than 30 touchdown passes in each of his two seasons. For comparison, Florida didn't combine to throw 30 touchdown passes over the last two seasons combined (27).

That's great, but is a coach who wasn't exactly missed when he left the SEC the first time really he who Florida needs to run the offense?

Nope.

The Gators program became synonymous with stale offenses under former head coach Will Muschamp, and fixing that very issue was the primary reason Saban brought in Lane Kiffin to follow Nussmeier at Alabama.

Crimson Tide tight end Brian Vogler told B/R's Lars Anderson in November that a more open offense and more fun are two primary differences between Kiffin and Nussmeier's offenses at Alabama.

We're having more fun this year and coach Kiffin is a big reason why. He's opened up the offense. He really understands what players do well and he puts them in positions to succeed. And having him on the field has been key because he listens to us during games and takes our suggestions. It makes all of us feel like we're really part of the offense and part of something special.   

"Opening things up?" "Having more fun?"

Those sound like the exact things that McElwain needs to remedy in Gainesville, not replicate.

Plus, the timing of this hire is bizarre.

Scott Roussel of FootballScoop.com said on his radio show (3:20 mark) on Sunday that Alabama wide receivers coach Billy Napier was the name to watch, but that, obviously, nothing could transpire until after Alabama's playoff run ends.

So why Nussmeier, and why now?

It's not like he's a fresh name on the coaching scene. He had been available ever since Hoke was fired on Dec. 2, and it's not like he was getting any top head coaching offers during the holiday season.

Did something change in Florida's search that forced Florida to land on Nussmeier? If he was the top choice all along, what took so long?

Florida isn't getting a fresh start with Nussmeier, it's getting more of the same, just with a slightly different twist.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee

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Clemson Football: Burning Questions Ahead of the Tigers' Bowl Game

The Clemson Tigers and Oklahoma Sooners are set to square off in the Russell Athletic Bowl on December 29, but there are many questions surrounding the matchup.

A very good Oklahoma offensive line will face one of the best defensive lines in the country, so this game could be won or lost in the trenches.

The ultimate question mark for the Tigers is the offense. Without Deshaun Watson—who will miss the bowl game due to ACL surgery—the unit hasn’t performed well, but the Tigers will likely have to find a way to score points.

This is an Oklahoma offense that averages almost 40 points per game, and recently injured quarterback Trevor Knight will be available for the bowl game.

Let’s take a look at the burning questions ahead of the Tigers’ final game.

Begin Slideshow

Alabama Football: The Return of Bo Scarbrough

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Arguably the biggest news to come from Alabama’s pre-Christmas Sugar Bowl practices had nothing to do with anything that will affect that actual game, or any other game the Crimson Tide may play this postseason.

No, it came in the form of a 6’2”, 235-pound running back, an early Christmas present, if you will, for Nick Saban and his Alabama team.

Bo Scarbrough was going through drills with the running backs on Dec. 16, finally academically eligible after a whirlwind clearing process.

Scarbrough, a 5-star athlete originally from Tuscaloosa’s Northridge High School, transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, for his senior year. He had been committed to Alabama’s 2014 class since September 2012.

He was announced as a member of that class on national signing day, but never showed up on campus. Saban in early August said that Alabama had an appeal in place that “will take some time.”

That process appears to be behind Alabama now.

“Once a guy finishes all the things that he has to do by NCAA rules and is admitted to school, he's eligible to practice,” Saban said after that first day of Sugar Bowl practice. “He can't play. So while we're practicing here, he can participate in practices. This was his first day.”

Like Saban said, Scarbrough won’t be able to play with the team in New Orleans, or travel at all, but he can practice, giving himself a leg up even on class of 2015 early enrollees.

And looking at the roster, Scarbrough may have a chance to come in and play right away in 2015.

Scarbrough is an electric athlete and could succeed at a number of positions.

His primary options are likely on offense, at running back, wide receiver or H-back.

He likely is at running back right now out of necessity. Alabama lost Kenyan Drake for the year to a leg injury, and the team has been limiting T.J. Yeldon to give him a little bit more rest after a grueling season.

So it’s a numbers game for Scarbrough right now. Derrick Henry, Jalston Fowler and Tyren Jones are Alabama’s fully healthy backs right now, leaving few options for scout team work. Scarbrough was wearing Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott’s No. 15, so he’s already contributing in some fashion.

“Bo looked pretty good,” Fowler said after that first practice. “Those fresh legs were moving today. Everybody was just out there today, 'There goes those fresh legs.' He was moving so fast. And everybody else was just like—it was crazy though.”

But come 2015, he’ll have a lot of options.

He could end up settling in at running back. Yeldon is expected to go pro as a junior, as has become a trend for running backs looking to get to the next level with as little wear and tear as possible.

That would leave Henry, Drake and Jones as returning backs with significant game experience. And there’s somewhat of a long shot that Drake could turn pro, too, not wanting to risk another injury like Vinnie Sunseri the year before him.

Scarbrough could find a way to crack that kind of a running back rotation.

He could, though, have better luck at receiver.

Heisman finalist and Biletnikoff winner Amari Cooper is another expected early draft entrant. Around him, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones will be out of eligibility. That means Alabama will be looking to replace its top three wide receivers.

The next three options there currently on the roster would likely be ArDarius Stewart, Chris Black and Cam Sims. Those three have seen some playing time in spots this season when the previous three have been hurt or just for some fresh legs. But none of those options is a proven, slam dunk lock for playing time next year either.

Scarbrough could step in and have an impact in some sort of way.

If he wanted to make a fairly drastic change, he would probably have the most opportunities as a tight end or H-back.

Senior tight end Brian Vogler will be gone, and O.J. Howard is the only consistent option right now behind him.

On signing day, Alabama listed Scarbrough at 235 pounds. Alabama doesn’t have a tight end on its current roster listed at under 240 pounds. Scarbrough would have to add some mass as well as significantly hone his blocking if he wanted to play at that position. But it could offer him the quickest route to playing time.

If Scarbrough makes an impact on the team for the Sugar Bowl, it will be behind the scenes, giving the defense a talented, if raw, athlete to go up against in its on-campus preparations.

But 2015 will be his first crack at a tangible impact. And he will have plenty of options to do so.

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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The One Player Each Big Ten Team Will Miss Most in 2015

No matter who declares (or doesn't declare) for the 2015 NFL draft, the Big Ten is set to lose a fair amount of talent.

Decisions from projected first-round picks such as Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory and Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun could change things, but the senior class was strong enough that each team will sorely miss at least one player regardless of how the early-entry process plays out.

This list separated the "most missed player" from the "best player" by accounting for context. If a team is losing its best player at a position where it doesn't have a logical replacement, its best player might also be its most missed.

But if it's losing its best player at a position where it does have a logical replacement, he might not be.

We also made an effort to only include seniors and players who have declared for the NFL draft, so as not to be presumptuous.

Sound off below and let us know whom you would add!

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After Another Fall from Grace, Does Michael Dyer Have a Future in Football?

Some players aren't made for college football. Louisville running back Michael Dyer fits that description.

That's not an indictment on Dyer. The NCAA system is such that it demands athletes take care of athletics and academics at the same time—or at least enough to get by. That's not for everyone, for one reason or another. The issue is that there's no alternative, no semi-pro league. 

Universities like Louisville and Dyer's former stop, Auburn, have the resources to make sure football players can at least be eligible; the rest, short of cheating, is up to the player himself.

According to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports, Dyer didn't hold up his end of the deal and has been ruled academically ineligible for the Belk Bowl against Georgia. 

The only thing that means is that Dyer's college days are officially over. His future in the pros? He still has a say in that. 

From the moment Dyer arrived at Auburn in 2010, his physical gifts were evident. The former No. 1 running back recruit—as listed by 247Sports—was built beyond his years and ready to shoulder a rushing load as a freshman. 

His impact was immediately felt for the Tigers. The play Dyer will be remembered for most was his game-changing 37-yard run against Oregon in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game. With 2:13 remaining and the score tied at 19, Dyer appeared to be tackled but instead got up and ran to the 23-yard line. Three plays later, Auburn kicked the game-winning field goal. 

The moments of Dyer's college career since have been mostly negative. He was suspended by Auburn in December of 2011 for failing a drug test and left the program shortly thereafter. A brief stint at Arkansas State also ended when Dyer was dismissed from the team following a traffic stop in which he was caught going 96 mph in a 70 mph zone with marijuana and a gun in the car.

Another stop at Arkansas Baptist seemed to get Dyer on the right track before resuming his football career at Louisville under former coach Charlie Strong. 

"He's excited to have an opportunity to resume his career," Fitz Hill, the president of Arkansas Baptist and Dyer's mentor, told George Schroeder of USA Today in 2013. "Many people doubted that Michael would ever make this comeback, and it's here."

Strangely enough, given everything he's been through away from the field, the NFL might actually be the best thing for Dyer. The typical line of thought is that professional athletes have to act like professionals, but sometimes, the pros can actually force players into becoming professionals. 

For one, the NFL life is a football-first one. That's clearly Dyer's M.O. Secondly, whichever team does take a chance on Dyer will have a close eye on him. The kind of mentoring and monitoring Dyer will receive in the league might just be what he needs. 

And a team will take a chance on him whether in the draft or as an unsigned free agent. He's physically ready to go, and his mileage as a running back is low considering he spent four years playing college football. His 154 carries at Louisville over the past two seasons, for example, is half of what Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon had this year alone (309 carries). 

Yes, Dyer has red flags that may keep him from being drafted high, if at all, and could eventually be his downfall. Being ruled academically ineligible for his last college game is not among the more pressing ones. 

He'll get a shot somewhere. The question is whether Dyer can avoid any more problems in the future. Here's hoping that he can. 

It's easy to tear someone down for their mistakes, and Dyer has earned more than his fair share of criticism for his. But at the receiving end of each of those criticisms is a human being trying to, hopefully, improve his/her life. 

Dyer's life was not made for college, but that doesn't mean it can't be made for the next level. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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