NCAA Football

Albert Huggins to Clemson: Tigers Land 4-Star DT Prospect

Clemson has landed coveted defensive line prospect Albert Huggins following a recruiting battle that featured plenty of competition and few initial hints as to which way the talented recruit was leaning.

Ryan Bartow of 247Sports passed along the news:

Huggins is rated as a 4-star prospect by 247Sports' composite ratings. The rankings list him as the No. 78 overall recruit nationally for the class of 2015, the 12th-best defensive tackle available and the No. 1 player coming out of the state of South Carolina.

The outlet notes more than 20 programs from around the nation showed interest in Huggins during his recruitment. Several of them were strong contenders throughout the process, as the potential impact defender remained open about multiple possibilities.

That didn't come as a surprise. When interest in him really began to pick up last summer, he spoke with Dwayne McLemore of GoGamecocks.com about keeping an open mind as every program made its pitch.

"I try to keep an open mind about all the recruiting process and let everybody try to win me over so I can give everybody a chance," he said.

He stuck to that plan as more interested coaching staffs came forward before finally making his decision about where to continue his football career.

Although listed as a defensive tackle, Huggins has also shown the versatility necessary to shift outside to end. He's actually built more like a new-age edge-rusher (6'3'', 279 lbs) right now but possesses the strength and quickness necessary to succeed on the interior, too.

It will probably take a couple years of development at the collegiate level before it's determined where he'll stick for the long haul.

In the short term, that versatility should bode well for his chances of breaking the defensive line rotation sooner rather than later.

Ultimately, the high amount of interest from around the country—including many of the marquee programs—shows coaching staffs believe Huggins has a bright future. It just comes down to finding the perfect role for him to excel in.

He certainly has the skill set necessary to make a pretty quick impact. Once he gains some experience against tougher competition and improves his technique, he should develop into a key piece of the defensive line by the time he's an upperclassman.

That's a long way into the future, though. For now, Huggins just needs to focus on making a positive first impression.

 

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What Impact Will 4-Star Clemson Commit Albert Huggins Have in 2015?

According to 247Sports, Albert Huggins, a 4-Star defensive end, has committed to Clemson.  

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses what impact Huggins could have on the Tigers next season.

How will Huggins fare in his first year at Clemson?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Auburn Football: Can a Great Defense Coexist with Gus Malzahn's Offense?

AUBURN, Ala. — There's no doubt what Auburn's strength will be as long as Gus Malzahn roams its sidelines.

The sweater-vested, bubble gum-chewing, glasses-wearing Arkansas native rose from high school assistant to SEC-winning head coach in a little over two decades because of his offensive brand of football.

Malzahn literally wrote the book on how to win with a no-huddle offense.

But throughout Malzahn's second season as Auburn's head coach, the other side of the ball has gotten all the attention on the Plains—and not in a good way.

Although the Tigers made several improvements in major defensive categories from a season that ended with an SEC title and a close loss in the national championship game, there will be a new defensive coordinator on the Plains after an 8-4 regular season:

With Malzahn firing Ellis Johnson after a year that the Tigers actually put up better defensive stats, it is apparent the Auburn head coach wants to see a big change from the other side of his roster.

But how much can Malzahn and fans of his team expect defensively out of a team that wants to score quickly and run as many plays as possible? Does elite balance between these two seemingly opposing agendas exist for other teams?

 

Ole Miss

Well, a quick glance at a school one state over doesn't look so encouraging for those hopes.

The Ole Miss Rebels were early-season contenders for the SEC West crown after defeating Alabama and finished the regular season with the country's top scoring defense and 13th-best total defense.

However, after leading the SEC in plays per game in 2012 and 2013, the Rebels went from averaging 78 plays per game to just 70 in 2014.

It was all by design, as Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze looked to lean on his swarming "Land Sharks" defense to get Ole Miss into national-title contention.

Freeze told The Clarion Ledger's Hugh Kellenberger in October: 

You're more concerned now with not putting yourself in the hole because of negative plays, whether they be turnovers or negative-two (yards) or negative-threes. When you go fast the possibilities increase as defenses catch up to it. … Last year we had quite a few negative plays in the tempo world that we're bad schematically against a call.

But while slower offense and better defense was the way in Oxford this season, another SEC West school—one that averaged around the same number of plays per game as Auburn did—got the best of both worlds while cranking up its offensive tempo. 

 

Alabama

Under new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, Alabama experimented with the no-huddle look at times and finished the 2014 regular season with another SEC Championship and the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff.

According to average plays per game and Football Outsiders' Adjusted Pace—an advanced metric that "compares a team's plays per game to its expected plays per game (based on run-pass rates)"—Auburn and Alabama had similar offensive speed in 2014:

Kiffin's new twist on the Alabama offense came at no detriment to Saban and Kirby Smart's defense, though, as the Crimson Tide actually improved in yards allowed per play from 4.83 in 2013 to 4.68 in 2014.

Saban might have been a vocal opponent of no-huddle offenses in the past, but his new offensive coordinator's use of it has gotten the defensive-minded coach's stamp of approval.

Saban said after the SEC Championship Game, per USA Today's Dan Wolken:

We toyed with it early this season and it was a little bit of a work in progress getting to it, but because [quarterback Blake Sims] executes it so well and makes really good reads it’s been really beneficial to us. It’s what he does best and the rest of our players kind of fit in that too, and if we didn’t do it I don’t think we’d be here where we are right now.

Though Auburn's biggest rival ranked in the top 20 nationally in both offense and defense with a newer pace, Alabama is still far from a hurry-up, no-huddle program.

 

Clemson

For the best case of defensive success with a wide-open, spread-it-out offense, look at the top of the FBS's total defense leaderboard.

The Clemson Tigers led the nation in yards allowed per play and per game in 2014 while running an offense coached by Chad Morris, a Malzahn protege and the new head coach at SMU. 

Although the Tigers ranked No. 62 in total offense due to a few key injuries throughout the season, Morris' unit still averaged three more plays per game than Malzahn's offense and ranked 13 spots ahead of Auburn in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Pace ranking.

A commitment to playing fast-paced offense didn't stop Clemson from becoming the nation's top defense this season.

Judging by the success up in Death Valley this season, Malzahn's fast-paced offensive philosophy shouldn't be a hindrance toward future success for Auburn's defensive coordinator.

No matter who is tasked with rejuvenating a dormant Auburn defense, one thing is for certain—the hurry-up, no-huddle style on the other side isn't going anywhere.

"When we get our tempo going at the rhythm, we really feel good about playing fast," Malzahn said in October. "That's who we are. Each coach does evaluations of each team in the offseason and all that, and we like to put the hammer down."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

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Hits and Misses of Top 2014 College Football Award Winners

The playoff field is set, and college football's individual awards have been handed out. Only the prestigious Heisman Trophy remains. 

And that's Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota's award to lose. There's been zero buzz about it this season, too. 

Mariota, along with Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III, swept up on awards night. From the Walter Camp Award to the Bednarik Award, the Pac-12 was well-represented. 

What were some of the highlights from the awards ceremony? The answers are in the following slides. 

Begin Slideshow

Tyreek Hill Arrested: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Less than one week after helping Oklahoma State upset Oklahoma on the road, Cowboys return man Tyreek Hill has been arrested.

According to Kyle Fredrickson of The Oklahoman, the junior from Pearson, Georgia, has been accused of domestic violence:

Per Fredrickson, Hill allegedly punched and choked the victim:

In a release from the Stillwater Police Department, it is reported that authorities responded to a call Thursday night. After speaking with the victim, she identified herself as Hill's girlfriend:

The victim, a 20 year old female (name withheld), reported that she and the suspect, her boyfriend, were arguing and the argument escalated into a physical altercation. The victim identified the suspect as Tyreek Hill, 20 years of age, of Stillwater. The incident occurred at the suspect’s residence in Stillwater.

Oklahoma State released a statement on Friday regarding the arrest, according to ESPN's Brett McMurphy:


Hill miraculously returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown with just 45 seconds remaining in Oklahoma State's Bedlam game against the rival Sooners on Dec. 6. That tied the game, and OK State went on to win 38-35 in overtime.

That play also helped the Cowboys become bowl-eligible at 6-6. Oklahoma State will face Washington in the Cactus Bowl on Jan. 2, but it is fair to say that Hill's status is very much in doubt for that game.

If the accusations are found to be true, then one can only assume that Hill's tenure at Oklahoma State is in major jeopardy as well.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

 

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Tim Tebow Moving from SEC Network to ESPN to Commentate 2014 Peach Bowl

Former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow will bring his expertise to the announce booth Dec. 31 as a color commentator for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl between Ole Miss and TCU.

According to Daniel Uthman of USA Today, the current SEC Network analyst will provide commentary for the game on ESPN. It is an opportunity that the polarizing University of Florida alum is extremely excited about:

I love the game and it's been an incredible learning experience on the television side this fall. SEC Nation has become my second family. The bowl season simply provided the opportunity to contribute in a different way and share my passion for the game in-motion as a game analyst. I have a great respect for the booth and feel blessed to be joining a team of veterans for the Peach Bowl in my first game role.

The Peach Bowl will be Tebow's first full contest in the booth, and it will be a big one, as it is arguably the premier bowl game outside the College Football Playoff matchups.

Tebow is already carving out a nice announcing career for himself at just 27 years of age, and he has a chance to truly entrench himself if he is able to adapt to in-game analysis.

The former Denver Broncos and New York Jets signal-caller has been out of the NFL since 2013, and there has been no sign of his absence ending any time soon.

Announcing may be the next best thing for him, and the Peach Bowl on New Year's Eve could be the first of many college football games that he breaks down in the booth.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Nebraska Football: Assistant Coaches That Mike Riley Should Be Targeting

Mike Riley is slowly but surely building his staff at Nebraska. While fans are growing impatient, it's a process that shouldn't move too quickly if Riley wants to ensure the best people are put in place.

He recently announced the addition of four assistants from his Oregon State staff. Those include defensive assistants Mark Banker and Trent Bray, offensive assistant Mike Cavanaugh and special teams expert Bruce Read, per Huskers.com. No coordinators have been appointed as of now, but it's a sign that Riley is working to assemble his staff as quickly as he can.

That doesn't stop the wondering, though. Who could he be targeting? Does he have anyone new in mind? The questions go on and on.

There are certain people Riley should be targeting. A good group of experts could help get Nebraska over the hump and back into championship consideration. So, who are those possible assistant coaches?

First, there's the very popular choice of former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron. Tom Lemming of CBS Sports excited Nebraska fans when he tweeted that Orgeron was very interested in the position.

When Riley learned that Orgeron was interested, he originally called it "pretty neat," per the Omaha World-Herald. He went on to say that adding Orgeron was a "good idea."

However, Orgeron has yet to hear from Nebraska, per the Omaha World-Herald. It's disappointing to hear that for Husker fans, but it's unclear if that means Orgeron is completely off the table. It's ultimately Riley's team and his decision to make, but adding Orgeron could really enhance the Nebraska staff.

For example, Orgeron is a fantastic recruiter. Lemming even called him one of his top 10 recruiters that he's covered.

With so many open head coaching jobs, Orgeron may be hard to snag. However, he could easily step in as the defensive line coach (and possible co-defensive coordinator, depending on the situation with Banker) and really elevate Riley's staff.

If Orgeron doesn't work out, Ohio State's Chris Ash could be a potential target. He's currently the co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach. Both Louisville's Todd Grantham and Clemson's Thomas Venables could be possible big hires. It definitely depends on what Riley plans to do with Banker at Nebraska, but these men could all be great for the Huskers.

Another coach that is on fans' radars from the offensive coordinator position perspective is Oregon's Scott Frost. A quarterback for the Huskers from 1995-1997, Frost is a beloved man in the state of Nebraska. Beyond just that, he's been very successful for the Ducks.

However, a source told Rich Kaipust of the Omaha World-Herald that Frost isn't in Nebraska's plans. So if not Frost, then who?

A possible offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach could be Danny Langsdorf. The current quarterbacks coach for the New York Giants, Langsdorf worked with Riley at Oregon State from 2005 to 2013. Langsdorf was Riley's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach during that time, which means the two know how to work with one another.

Mike Johnson, former UCLA offensive coordinator, could also be a name Riley should consider. The two worked together for Oregon State in 1997 and the San Diego Chargers in 2000, so they are familiar with one another.

Johnson is currently a head coach for a high school in California. He was the interim head coach for the Bruins in 2011 for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl but was not retained when Jim Mora was hired.

Both Johnson and Langsdorf would bring a lot of experience to the table for Nebraska, which is something Riley needs at offensive coordinator as he works to build the Huskers' offensive identity. Plus, it doesn't hurt that he has a relationship of some kind with both.

The next month will be very interesting as Riley begins to put his staff together. The names listed above are only a handful of the potential candidates Nebraska should pursue. What's important is that the Huskers find experts at each role. It also wouldn't hurt to have a couple be big names in the coaching community.

Only time will tell what direction Riley will go. However, with the resources available, there's no reason not to go big.

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Army-Navy Game 2014: TV Info and Predictions for Classic Rivalry

Part of what makes college football unique and memorable from its professional counterpart is the pageantry and tradition that surrounds it, and that will be on full display when Army takes on Navy in the 115th matchup of their rivalry.

College Football Playoff debates and NFL draft projections take a backseat to the one game on the schedule in Week 16, which makes this matchup all the more special.

No two teams deserve the spotlight more than the Midshipmen and Black Knights.

 

2014 Army-Navy Game

Date: Saturday, Dec. 13

Time: 3 p.m. ET

Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore

TV: CBS

 

Preview/Prediction

Navy has controlled the rivalry lately with 12 consecutive wins—the longest streak in the game’s history—which has given it a 58-49-7 lead in the series.

Anytime these two teams take the field, it is appointment viewing, and Tim Murray of ESPN 980 believes this is the best rivalry in all of sports:

Navy may be going to a bowl game later this year, but its top goal every season is to beat the Black Knights. Safety George Jamison suggested as much to Michael Page of PressBoxOnline.com:

It's a huge game. Every year, it's our goal to win. It's something we strive for. They're a great team this year, and we're going to do our best to accomplish our goal with a win. We've got to prepare, because we know they are preparing for us, and we'll find out [Dec. 13] who prepared the best.

This won’t be the first time Navy will be in the national spotlight this season. It led Notre Dame 31-28 late in the second half before ultimately falling and put a major scare into Ohio State as well in the season opener.

Baylor and TCU probably wish the Midshipmen had pulled that game out.

The Midshipmen have won four of their last five, with the only loss in that stretch coming to the Fighting Irish.

Army also impressed earlier this season against a Power Five conference team when it upset Connecticut, 35-21.

The player to watch Saturday will be Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who has 15 touchdowns in his team’s last five contests. Reynolds ran for three touchdowns in Navy’s 34-7 win over Army a season ago and has 1,082 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground this year.

Navy Athletics pointed out that he has scored more rushing touchdowns than any other quarterback, while Sal Interdonato of the Times Herald-Record passed along a quote from Army coach Jeff Monken recognizing Reynolds’ greatness:

Reynolds is the main reason the Midshipmen are second in the nation in rushing yards per game and 33rd in scoring offense, but don’t overlook running back Noah Copeland. He has made defenses pay for focusing too much on Reynolds with 859 rushing yards.

The combination of Reynolds and Copeland will be a problem for Army’s defense, which is the weak point of its team.

The Black Knights are 109th in the country in scoring defense, have allowed more than 20 points in every single game and more than 30 points seven times.

However, Army is sixth in the nation in rushing yards per game on the other side of the ball and will rely largely on quarterback Angel Santiago, although Monken has used A.J. Schurr for stretches this year as well.

Santiago has 793 rushing yards, 488 passing yards and 11 total touchdowns, but it is senior running back Larry Dixon whom the Midshipmen need to be most concerned about.

Dixon has 1,012 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on the ground this year and is coming off a game-changing performance against Fordham during which he ran for 158 yards and three touchdowns.

Still, Navy’s defense is better than Army's in the scoring department and ranks 89th in the country in points allowed per game. That statistic is also slightly skewed because games against Ohio State, Notre Dame and Rutgers made up 25 percent of the schedule.

Ultimately, Navy and Army run similar offenses and try to win games in a similar style by controlling the ball and playing ahead of the chains.

While Santiago and Dixon have been impressive this season, Navy does everything a bit more crisply than the Black Knights, which is part of the reason it has controlled this rivalry lately.

The Midshipmen have the best player in this game in Reynolds and the better overall defense. Look for them to get an early lead and force Army out of its comfort zone, which will result in yet another Navy victory.

Prediction: Navy 31, Army 14

 

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Fiesta Bowl 2014: Keys for Each Team in Boise State vs. Arizona

Although most of the attention during the college football season was directed toward the playoff race, two under-the-radar teams will get a chance to prove what they can do at the Fiesta Bowl...

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College Football Playoff 2014-15: Predictions, Odds, Schedule for Final 4 Teams

With the debate and controversy aside, the College Football Playoff can finally be anticipated for what will come instead of what won't.

Folks around the Big 12 ended up disappointed, but the average college football fan is nothing short of ecstatic for the pair of inaugural national semifinals. Four of the most prestigious programs in college football made the cut, and both matchups feature endless storylines to dissect.

Whether it's a rematch between two legendary coaches or a high-flying showdown amongst elite quarterbacks, the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl boast a lot more than national title implications.

Let's take a look at the entire College Football Playoff schedule, fit with odds and predictions.

Note: Game odds courtesy of Odds Shark, last updated December 11.

 

Odds to Win National Championship

Note: National title odds courtesy of Odds Shark, last updated December 11.

 

Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State

Florida State has been winning ugly on its way to the first CFP, just asking that its unbeaten record would be enough to grant it a seat at the table. Now, the Seminoles travel across the country to face a team that wins as pretty as could be.

The 'Noles take their 29-game winning streak into the Rose Bowl to face an Oregon team that, despite one loss, has resembled the dominant power Florida State proved itself to be en route to last year's title.

It's been a troublesome year for quarterback Jameis Winston in many respects, most notably his turnover problem, throwing 17 picks on the year. But his Seminoles have been getting it done in the clutch moments, even as they were being counted out down the stretch.

They will be counted out yet again come New Year's Day, but head coach Jimbo Fisher explained his team's mindset in every game, per Palm Beach Post's Tom D'Angelo:

Motivation shouldn't be a problem for Florida State with everything on the line, but containing Marcus Mariota will be. The Oregon quarterback has torched opponents both on the ground and via the air, posting at least 300 total yards in his last seven games.

After a 31-24 loss to Arizona on Oct. 2, the Ducks have been disposing of their competition easily. They haven't posted a win by less than 12 points since September, scoring 40 points in every game since that loss to the Wildcats.

Head coach Mark Helfrich was determined to keep up his team's late success Thursday, per Andrew Greif of The Oregonian:

Florida State won't be able to flip the field position with turnovers against Mariota, but keeping him out of the end zone will prove even tougher. Winston's poise and leadership will keep the Seminoles in it, but Oregon won't be stopped.

Prediction: Oregon 41, Florida State 30

 

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State

A week before the final CFP group of four was selected, it was wondered whether the SEC—if Alabama fell in the conference title game—and the Big Ten would both end up missing out. As it turns out, their two flagship programs will battle in it.

That matchup features the top-ranked Crimson Tide up against the peaking Ohio State Buckeyes, also matching two prestigious head coaches in Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. The two are no strangers to facing off with such huge implications, having battled twice in SEC Championship Games (2008 and 2009) that also felt like national semifinals.

But 2014 is a different year, and things haven't come easy for either squad. Alabama had to bounce back from a road loss to Ole Miss, while the Buckeyes were topped by a 6-6 Virginia Tech team on their home turf early in the year. 

Even heading into Week 15, this wasn't expected of Ohio State, ranked at No. 6 and breaking out a new quarterback in Cardale Jones. But after the Buckeyes throttled Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten title game, they proved everything they needed to.

They're obviously sizable underdogs against the top-ranked Tide, but Meyer likes his team's chances, per ESPN's Joe Schad:

It wouldn't be jumping the gun to expect another successful outing from Jones in the passing game. Alabama's defense, while vaunted, can struggle deep down the field, and Jones' big arm can deliver the blows to speedy receivers Devin Smith and Jalin Marshall.

Even so, Jones won't have nearly enough to keep up with Alabama on the scoreboard. A reinvigorated offense behind offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has put quarterback Blake Sims in perfect positions to make the winning plays, and Kiffin will keep things simple for Sims until opportunities open up down the field.

The Crimson Tide defense will eliminate Ezekiel Elliott's impact in the Ohio State running game, forcing Jones to win the game by himself. He'll have a great game, but nowhere near enough to oust the Tide.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Ohio State 24

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Orange Bowl 2014: Most Important Players in Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech

There are 22 players on the football field at all times, but some are clearly more important than others.

While everyone has to do their job in order to be successful, a competitive game is likely going to come down to the performances of a few key players on each side of the ball.

This year's Orange Bowl fits into this category—a matchup between two teams that were in contention for a conference title for much of the year. Both Mississippi State and Georgia Tech had great seasons, but they are hoping one more victory can help seal an outstanding year.

Although there will certainly be X-factors, these players will have the biggest roles in determining the outcome of the game.

 

5. Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State

Although his role has been reduced over the past few weeks with Brandon Holloway and Ashton Shumpert coming up big, it's important not to forget about Josh Robinson in this backfield.

The junior has rushed for 1,128 yards this season to rank third in the SEC. He averages 6.4 yards per carry and has made some highlight plays throughout the year.

When at his best, he takes pressure off the passing game with strong running between the tackles. If Mississippi State wants to be successful against Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs will need to give Robinson touches, and he will need to have a big game.

 

4. Jamal Golden, DB, Georgia Tech

Even with linebackers P.J. Davis and Quayshawn Nealy on the roster, Jamal Golden could have the biggest impact in this game. The junior safety covers a lot of ground in the secondary and always seems to be around the ball to make a big play.

Golden has four interceptions this season, including one returned 85 yards for a touchdown in a win over Clemson.

Of course, he also makes a big impact in the return game on both kickoffs and punts. Although he has not taken a kick back for a score this year, he still ranks fourth on the team with 62.2 all-purpose yards per game—despite never touching the ball on offense.

If Golden gets the ball in his hands in this matchup, he can make a game-changing play.

 

3. Preston Smith, DE, Mississippi State

Benardrick McKinney leads the team in tackles, but the linebacker has struggled down the stretch. However, Preston Smith has been as consistent as they come, as noted by his season statistics.

Smith has 14.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks and 15 quarterback hits. He also has two interceptions, just for good measure.

A triple-option offense like Georgia Tech's can do whatever it wants unless you get penetration into the backfield. This disrupts the blocking schemes and puts the quarterback at risk.

Smith can get that push off the snap and play a big role in slowing down the Yellow Jackets' attack.

 

2. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State

From relative unknown to Heisman candidate, Dak Prescott had a great season. Although he fell out of the national spotlight after losses to Alabama and Ole Miss, he is still a force with the ball in his hands.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson joked about what his team is in for in this game, via Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald:

Their quarterback may be bigger than our defensive linemen, so we’ll have to figure out a way to get him down. He’s quite the player. I was joking with somebody earlier, we probably have to stack [our quarterback] Justin [Thomas] up twice to get up to him.

Prescott's size is a big factor near the goal line, where he is often able to simply get the ball and pound his way into the end zone—helping him total 13 rushing touchdowns this year.

Still, he is a legitimate threat as a passer, as well, and he is difficult to stop no matter who is playing defense. If Georgia Tech doesn't bring its A-game, it could be a long day defensively.

 

1. Justin Thomas, QB, Georgia Tech

Prescott might be the better overall player, but Justin Thomas is the most important person in this game because he is Georgia Tech's offense.

While Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days are quality running backs, Thomas is the engine that helps the offense run. He heads into the bowl season with a team-high 965 rushing yards while also adding 1,594 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and just five interceptions.

The triple-option offense is often difficult for young quarterbacks to figure out, but the sophomore has done a great job of making the right decisions with the ball all year.

If Prescott struggles, Mississippi State can probably still move the ball on the ground. If Thomas has a bad game, the Yellow Jackets will be finished.

 

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

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Cotton Bowl 2015: Keys to Victory in Michigan State vs. Baylor Clash

Baylor coach Art Briles will probably still be complaining about his team’s exclusion from the College Football Playoff by the time the 2015 Cotton Bowl rolls around on Jan. 1 at 12:30 p.m. ET, but that doesn’t take any of the luster off this marquee showdown.

The Bears will represent the Big 12 against the Michigan State Spartans from the Big Ten in something of a New Year’s Day appetizer before the playoff games begin.

It is a showdown between a high-flying offense and a stout defense, and Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com ranked it as the best bowl game of the season outside of the two College Football Playoff showdowns:

The Bears are peeved about being left out of the College Football Playoff, but they should be motivated to make amends for their flop in a 52-42 loss to Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl last season. It will be a matchup of very contrasting styles: Baylor's high-octane offense against Michigan State's menacing defense. 

With that in mind, here is a look at some of the keys to victory.

 

Home-Field Advantage? 

The Cotton Bowl takes place in Arlington, Texas, which is less than a two-hour drive from Baylor’s campus. It is much further from East Lansing, which is probably why Baylor Football’s Twitter account was able to send this out:

There’s nothing like some good old fashioned ticket allotment trolling before a marquee bowl game to let fans know there is too much time between the end of the season and the bowls.

The potential for a home-field advantage effect for the Bears may not seem like that big a deal on the surface, but Baylor is going to need some energy from the crowd early in this one to overcome any lingering disappointment or lack of motivation after narrowly missing out on the College Football Playoff.

It is easy to forget that there is a game to play against a Top 10 opponent in the aftermath.

The Bears didn’t garner much respect nationally this season and were the lowest ranked one-loss Power Five conference team for portions of the year, despite the head-to-head win against TCU. A victory over the same Michigan State program that spent much of the season in the Top 10 and beat Stanford in last year’s Rose Bowl would be a good way to grab some headlines before the 2015 season begins. 

It will be easier to do that in front of a favorable crowd that will make life difficult on the Michigan State offense.

 

Michigan State’s Defense vs. Baylor’s Offense

The narrative surrounding this game is the matchup between Michigan State’s defense, which finished second in the Big Ten and 12th nationally in points allowed per game (19.9), and Baylor’s high-octane offense, which led the nation in points per game (48.8) and yards per game (581.3).

On paper, this is a strength vs. strength matchup, but Michigan State looked incredibly vulnerable against the two offenses it faced this season that most closely resemble Baylor’s. Ohio State torched the Spartans for 49 points and 568 total yards, while Oregon posted 46 points and tallied 491 yards in its early-season statement win over Michigan State.

That fact alone likely has Bryce Petty, who was 11th in the country in passing efficiency and threw for 3,305 yards and 26 touchdowns, fired up to face the Spartans.

Petty’s favorite target is wide receiver Corey Coleman, who tallied 969 receiving yards and 10 touchdown catches and was eighth nationally with 107.7 yards per game. Throw in running back Shock Linwood as the overlooked game-changer for the Bears who finished with 1,226 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground, and Michigan State has its hands full.

However, it’s not just the raw scoring numbers that were impressive about Michigan State’s defense. It held opponents to a meager 3.43 yards per rush and 30.54 percent on third-down conversions, via CFBStats.com, and it also forced 21 fumbles and recovered 16 of them.

Interestingly, 2013 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, Shilique Calhoun said his team would rather face Baylor than Georgia Tech, which was another potential bowl opponent for the Spartans, via Mike Griffith of MLive.com:

Everyone has seen Georgia Tech's veer triple option offense, and I don't think a lot of us wanted to play against that. We would have went out and competed in the best way we could, but I think that playing against Baylor will be a lot more fun because it's more like our offense. Three-step drops, shot gun -- that will be more fun for us because we played against it numerous times each and every day in practice.

Baylor’s defense was stronger this season than in past years (43rd nationally in points allowed per game), but it gave up 58 points to TCU and 46 to Texas Tech.

The Michigan State offense that quietly finished seventh in the nation in points per game (not that far behind the vaunted Baylor attack) should be able to score early and often against the Bears. If the Spartans defense can rack together a few stops in a row against Petty and company, Connor Cook, Jeremy Langford and Tony Lippett could open up a nice lead. 

That may just be enough to win the Cotton Bowl.

 

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Peach Bowl 2014: Keys to Victory in TCU vs. Ole Miss Clash

TCU’s reward for getting its heart ripped out during the College Football Playoff selection show is a date with the nation’s top scoring defense from the SEC in the 2014 Peach Bowl, in Atlanta on Dec. 31 at 12:30 p.m.

Ole Miss beat three teams with double-digit victories and four eventual conference champions this season. In fact, it had playoff ideas of its own when it was No. 3 in the country before ultimately falling off down the stretch.

While it may not be a playoff matchup, the Peach Bowl is one of the best bowl games on the entire schedule. Here is a look at a couple of the keys to victory.

 

Motivation Factor

Ole Miss stunned Alabama, partied with Katy Perry and had the inside track for an SEC West title and eventual spot in the College Football Playoff at one point this season. After all, even if the Rebels ended up tied with the mighty Crimson Tide at the end of the year, they held the tiebreaker.

However, a devastating three-game losing streak in the SEC down the stretch ended those dreams. The slide started with a 10-7 loss at LSU when Bo Wallace threw an interception in the end zone in the final seconds and finished with a 30-0 beatdown at the hands of a resurgent Arkansas squad.

There is certainly a level of disappointment with the three-loss finish for the Rebels, but they did salvage some of the season by ruining archrival Mississippi State’s playoff chances on the final day of the regular season.

TCU experienced its biggest heartbreak while watching a television screen instead of being on the field. It finished the season 11-1 and looked golden to make the College Football Playoff field after destroying Iowa State in its final game. Considering the Horned Frogs were No. 3 at the time, chances were they would be preparing for Alabama or Oregon the rest of December.

Instead, Ohio State leapfrogged the Horned Frogs with a head-turning 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.

TCU will either use that slight as motivation and come out with a singular mission in the Peach Bowl or wallow in the disappointment of missing the playoffs and come out flat against Ole Miss. 

The disappointment is much fresher for TCU, but neither squad envisioned the Peach Bowl as its ultimate destination. Whichever team musters up the proper amount of motivation for this marquee showdown could end up with the victory.

 

Something Has to Give 

Jeff Roberson of Scout.com set the stage for the biggest storyline of the Peach Bowl:

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze talked about the matchup between his defense and TCU’s offense, via Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com: “It's a bit ironic [TCU coach Gary Patterson is] bringing in one of the top offenses and we're bringing in a top defense. He's the guru on the defensive side I've wanted to learn from." 

TCU scored at least 30 points every single game this season and even reached 82 in its contest against Texas Tech. Its second-ranked scoring offense features a balanced attack that relies both on the pass and run, which makes it even more difficult to prepare for in advance.

The Horned Frogs were seventh in the nation in passing yards and 37th in rushing yards per game, and quarterback Trevone Boykin is one of the most dynamic players in the entire country. He threw for 3,714 yards and 30 touchdown passes, and ran for another 642 yards and eight touchdowns.

Sure, Boykin is not afraid to use his legs when a play breaks down, but he doesn’t get enough credit for his playmaking abilities with his arm inside and outside the pocket.

Josh Doctson, who finished with 959 receiving yards and nine touchdown catches, was his favorite target on the season.

Boykin did throw seven interceptions this year, which means Ole Miss’ secondary players, like Cody Prewitt, Senquez Golson and Tony Conner, could have opportunities to swing the momentum of the game.

That Ole Miss defense will be Boykin’s biggest challenge of the year. It only allowed 13.8 points a game, which was best in the nation, and gave up 17 points to No. 1 Alabama, 13 to an underrated Boise State squad, 10 to LSU and only 17 to Mississippi State. 

The Rebels have enough speed along the defensive front to funnel outside runs from Boykin or the TCU runners back to the inside, and they held opponents to a 31 percent conversion rate on third downs and 3.4 yards per rush.

This is a classic matchup of strength vs. strength, and whichever side between TCU’s dynamic offense and Ole Miss’ suffocating defense can dictate the tempo of the game will ultimately take home the Peach Bowl trophy.

 

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Fiesta Bowl 2014: Keys for Each Team in Boise State vs. Arizona

Although most of the attention during the college football season was directed toward the playoff race, two under-the-radar teams will get a chance to prove what they can do at the Fiesta Bowl.

Arizona earned one of the best wins of the year by defeating Oregon, but the next time the Wildcats had a turn in the spotlight, they were blown out in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Still, with plenty of young talent on the roster, fans better start taking note of this up-and-coming squad.

On the other hand, Boise State ended the year as the best non-Power Five conference team in the nation, but it took most of the year for the team to finally get the respect it deserved.

With a great offense and some serious star power, though, it will be hard not to notice the Broncos in this game.

One of these teams will be able to earn a marquee win to end the year and a lot of momentum heading into next season. However, only one can win, and it will be the one that best follows these keys to victory.

 

Arizona

Control the Clock

When Arizona is playing well, it is moving the football on the ground behind Nick Wilson and controlling the pace of the game. Even before Wilson took over as the primary back, he and Terris Jones-Grigsby combined for 207 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the win over Oregon.

The Ducks were limited to just 26 minutes and 28 seconds of possession in their only loss of the season.

This was clearly not the case in the Pac-12 Championship Game, as Arizona had the ball for just over 21 minutes in a 51-13 loss. The team ran just 61 plays compared to 94 for Oregon.

Jerry Palm of CBS Sports joked about this problem during the game:

Arizona dealt with the same problem in the 17-7 loss to UCLA. Meanwhile, USC was able to steal a win against the Wildcats when Anu Solomon threw the ball 72 times.

The team is at its best when it runs the ball as much as possible. Wilson is coming off a terrible outing, but he had 396 rushing yards and six touchdowns in the two games prior.

If he is successful, the team will be able to score offensively and keep Boise State's No. 9 scoring offense off the field.

 

Slow Down the Run

Stopping the run will be almost impossible. Jay Ajayi is one of the most underrated players in college football, ranking fourth in the nation with 1,689 rushing yards and second with 25 touchdowns.

Boise State offensive coordinator Mike Sanford had a lot of praise for the junior running back:

Meanwhile, Arizona ranks just 72nd in the country against the run, a number that was clearly inflated by allowing 301 rushing yards to Oregon.

The good news is the Wildcats do have the ability to at least slow down the Broncos on the ground. Scooby Wright can cover most of the field on defense—he just needs the defensive line to hold its ground in the trenches.

If Boise State is limited in the running game, Arizona should be able to pull out a close win.

 

Boise State

Avoid Interceptions

Each of Boise State's losses had a similar theme: bad turnovers.

Senior quarterback Grant Hedrick had five interceptions all of last season and five more this year in the 11 wins. On the other hand, he had a total of eight picks in losses to Ole Miss and Air Force.

Hedrick has been extremely accurate this season, as noted by Blue Turf of Rivals.com:

The problem is sometimes his decision-making leaves much to be desired. Against a more athletic team than he is used to facing, this could be an issue.

If he cannot hold on to the ball and gives Arizona more opportunities to score, Boise State will be in trouble.

 

Get off the Field on 3rd Downs

Arizona has a quality offense and is at its best when it can move the ball down the field and continue extended drives. Of course, this has not been the case in the losses this season.

In the team's three losses this season, the squad is just 20-of-57 on third downs for a mark of 35.1 percent. Over the course of a full year, this would rank 103rd in the country.

This plays right into Boise State's hands with the team currently ranking 22nd in the country in defensive stops on third down, according to NCAA.com.

There are few things worse for a defense than making good plays on first and second down, only to allow the opponent to keep the drive going with a third-down conversion. The Broncos have to do their best to get the opposing offense off the field to get the ball back to Hedrick and Ajayi as quickly as possible.

 

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Top 5 Heisman Moments of 2014

As the play unfolds, you cannot help but think it: If this guy wins the Heisman Trophy, this is going to be the play that does it.

The term "Heisman moment" gets used a lot when describing big plays at key moments, but sometimes, it really does apply to the situation. This season has had plenty of these moments—and not just for the three finalists headed to New York for this year's award ceremony.

Here's our list of the five best Heisman moments of 2014. Think differently? Give us your take in the comments section.

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B/R CFB 250: Top 13 Interior Linemen

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 13 Interior Offensive Linemen.

It's easy to ignore the offensive line.

And on the rare occasion that the line gets mentioned, it's easy, still, to ignore the interior players for the tackles.

But a good pair of guards and a center is invaluable to an offense. The best "big uglies" relish their role in the trenches, enjoy getting dirty at the line. Earlier this season, Bleacher Report's Michael Felder said Mississippi State guard Ben Beckwith "looks like he smells terrible" and likened him to "a pig that loves the slop."

Each of those was meant as a compliment.

So is the life of an interior offensive lineman.

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

Targeted skills such as power are important at both levels, but there is a difference between college power and professional power. If a lineman can drive defenders backward in the SEC or the Big 12, it doesn't matter that he can't drive defenders backward in the NFC North. At least not here, it doesn't.

This is all about college performance. 

 

Note: If two players finished with the same grade, a subjective call was made based on whom we would rather have on our team right now.

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Heisman Watch 2014: Updated Predictions for Race's Leaders

People often debate the meaning of "valuable" when handing out MVP awards, but that type of debate is crystal clear when compared to the criteria for the Heisman Trophy.  Performance and statistics obviously come first, but sometimes it seems as though the storylines and tradition have as much to do with determining the winner as anything within the control of the players.

Because of this, the media's take often heavily shapes the voting process.  Numerous people have suggested that Marcus Mariota has separated himself as the clear favorite, but that does not mean that college football fans should approach the ceremony with a feeling of inevitability.  

The narrative has yet to reach a consensus on fellow finalists Melvin Gordon and Amari Cooper, suggesting that there is still room for the race's hierarchy to change.

Breaking down the credentials of the three finalists, let's predict their likely current standing while also analyzing how that position might change.

 

Third: Amari Cooper

Alabama's junior receiver has established himself as arguably the nation's most explosive threat.  Cooper's 115 receptions and 1,656 receiving yards both led the country, while only Colorado State's Rashard Higgins topped Cooper's 14 touchdowns.  As such, it's hardly surprising that Cooper ended up taking home some form of postseason hardware:

Simply because of positional prejudice, it seems as though Cooper currently stands a close third.  However, playing in the nation's deepest conference, he put up what was easily the best statistical season by an SEC receiver over the last five years. 

Therefore, when comparing Cooper to the previous baseline of fellow receivers in his conference, he has exceeded the standard more than either Gordon or Mariota.  Whereas Wisconsin and Oregon essentially mass produce massive offensive numbers, Cooper's ascendance was arguably the primary reason for the Crimson Tide's sudden transformation into an explosive offense.

But a full-time wide receiver has not won the Heisman since Tim Brown in 1987, as even Desmond Howard had his punt return game to boost his candidacy in 1991.  It's astounding that the position has not broken through given how offense has evolved, but Cooper is as deserving a candidate as any in this drought that has now exceeded two decades.

 

Second: Melvin Gordon

The Heisman voting process remains the one safeguard for running backs.  In the 26 seasons since Brown last won the Heisman, six running backs have won the award, excluding Reggie Bush's vacated 2005 victory.  Though the marginalization of the running game has just kicked in recently, the likes of Andre Williams and Trent Richardson have still made serious runs within the past three years.

However, Gordon is the one running back in the country who deserves exemption from that prevailing truth.  We just referenced how Cooper's season has been historic by SEC standards, and while the Big 10 has not provided its typical level of competition, Gordon is still having one of the greatest rushing campaigns in FBS history:

Unlike seasons past, there was no two- or three-headed monster in the Wisconsin backfield.  No other Badgers back reached 1,000 yards, and though sophomore Corey Clement has shown promise, Gordon still received 309 rushing attempts, the second most in the country.  His 26 rushing touchdowns also led the nation, and no other running back from a Power Five conference eclipsed Gordon's 7.6 yards-per-carry average.

Indeed, it's simply unfair to claim that Gordon is another byproduct of the Badgers system, as his season far surpassed anything in the program's recent history.  As much as Cooper deserves credit for changing the long-standing identity of Alabama's offense, Gordon gets the nod for raising the bar at a school that already represented the vanguard of rushing offense.

 

First: Marcus Mariota

Putting Mariota first is certainly not a rejection of Cooper or Gordon, who have posted two of the best offensive skill-position seasons in recent FBS history.  However, as Grantland's Matt Borcas illuminates, perhaps the most impressive aspect of Mariota's campaign has been the fact that he has somehow fulfilled the seemingly limitless preseason hype: 

In truth, the only strange thing about Mariota’s regular season is that it went almost exactly according to plan. Even the one slip-up — Oregon’s31-24 October loss to Arizona, in which Mariota performed rather unremarkably — is moot after Friday’s 51-13 shellacking of those same Wildcats in the Pac-12 championship game, which cemented Oregon’s spot in the College Football Playoff. That mulligan made Mariota’s Heisman candidacy nearly unimpeachable, leaving the only real drama as whether he’ll break Troy Smith’s record for first-place votes, which stands at 86 percent. If he does, he’ll have earned it.

With a stunning 38-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, Mariota posted the fourth-highest quarterback rating since the turn of the century, according to Sports-Reference.com.  Statistically, his season is almost exactly on par with the winning campaign Jameis Winston turned in last season, except with fewer turnovers:

Quite simply, Mariota has put up an equally historic season as Cooper or Gordon while also stabilizing an Oregon team that was teetering amid injuries midseason.  Considering that the Ducks are now arguably the favorite to win the inaugural playoff, Mariota deserves recognition for being the clear-cut best quarterback in the nation this season.

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Rose Bowl 2015: Keys to Victory in Oregon vs. FSU Clash

The Rose Bowl may traditionally be a matchup between the Big Ten champion and the Pac-12 champion, but nobody is complaining about the showdown in the 2015 version.

The Oregon Ducks and runaway Heisman Trophy favorite Marcus Mariota will take on the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles and last season’s Heisman winner, Jameis Winston. 

There are sure to be offensive fireworks with two of the nation’s best quarterbacks and offenses taking the field. Here are some of the keys to victory that will help determine which team advances to the national title game.

 

Turnovers

Not only is Oregon’s offense third in the country in points per game, but it simply doesn’t turn the ball over.

The Ducks coughed it up a measly eight times this entire season, which is all the more impressive when their style of play is factored into the conversation. Oregon’s uptempo, no-huddle attack means it runs more plays than a typical offense, which would theoretically give it more chances to turn it over.

That has not been the case.

Florida State, on the other hand, turned the ball over 27 times, which is an abysmal 116th in the country. To make matters worse for the Seminoles, the Oregon defense forced more turnovers than all but seven defenses in the country, so this key seems to suggest good things for the Ducks.

The reason so many of Florida State’s games against inferior competition were so close this season was those early turnovers. Winston threw 17 interceptions, which ultimately cost him a spot in New York as a potential Heisman Trophy finalist and kept the likes of Louisville and Florida in their games against Florida State well into the fourth quarter.

Winston discussed his interceptions earlier in the season, according to The Associated Press (via ESPN.com): “I'm hurting this team, I really am. Make smarter decisions, stop always looking for the big play. I stressed about checking the ball down and making smart decisions, and I've got to go back to that. I can't be careless with the ball."

Mariota, on the other hand, only threw two interceptions the entire season. That is simply ridiculous, considering many of the other better quarterbacks in the country threw that many or more in a single game this season. 

The bottom line is Oregon is far too talented of an opponent to give extra chances with turnovers. The Seminoles have to clean up their sloppy play because Oregon will make them pay much more severely than Florida, Boston College, Louisville, Virginia and Clemson did.

 

Clock-Controlling Rushing Attacks

The Rose Bowl features two powerful quarterbacks who lead two of the most dynamic offenses in the country.

The best way to stop Winston and especially Mariota is by keeping them on the sideline. This is particularly important for Florida State because the fast pace of Oregon’s offense will dictate the tempo and wear out the Seminoles defense. If Florida State’s offense can move the ball on the ground and keep the chains and clock going, it will give the defense a much-needed breather.

Dalvin Cook has emerged into a superstar in the Florida State backfield and has 392 yards in his last two games. Karlos Williams can also serve as the thunder to Cook’s lightning against an Oregon defense that was only 57th in the nation against the run.

On the other side, though, Mariota and running back Royce Freeman should exploit a Seminoles defense that just allowed 331 rushing yards to Georgia Tech the last time out. The Yellow Jackets may confuse opponents with misdirection, but from a pure speed, athleticism and tempo perspective, Oregon should put up monumental numbers by comparison.

The Ducks are 22nd in rushing yards per game and Florida State is 104th, so this key may favor the Ducks on paper; however, an effective running game early from the Seminoles would help set up their 14th-ranked passing attack for big plays later in the game against a vulnerable Oregon secondary.

 

Florida State’s Defensive Line vs. Oregon’s Offensive Line

Oregon doesn’t have many weaknesses on offense, but it did give up 29 sacks this season. Sure, that was partially due to injuries earlier in the season, but Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller and Trent Smallwood of Rivals were not impressed during the blowout win over Arizona in the Pac-12 title game:

That could be a problem for the Ducks against Eddie Goldman, Mario Edwards and the rest of the Florida State defensive line.

They both bring incredible size and athleticism to the table and could bully their way up-front against Oregon’s offensive line. While this is a completely different Oregon team than in the past, college football fans have seen former Ducks squads lose to more physical opponents up-front that simply overwhelmed the line. 

Florida State’s best chance at stopping Oregon’s dynamic offense is by exploiting that offensive front. The question now is whether it can execute the plan.

 

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Sugar Bowl 2015: Keys to Victory in Ohio State vs. Alabama Clash

Urban Meyer vs. Nick Saban. The North vs. the South. The Ohio State brand vs. the Alabama brand. The Buckeyes’ spread offense vs. the Crimson Tide’s powerful defense.

The storylines for the 2015 Sugar Bowl practically write themselves. When Ohio State and Alabama take the field on Jan. 1 in New Orleans after the Rose Bowl is finished, there will only be three teams remaining with national championship aspirations. 

Here are some keys to victory that will ultimately determine who is still standing when that number becomes two.

 

Youth Movement

Ohio State has 24 players listed as starters for either the offense, defense or special teams, and 13 of them are freshmen or sophomores, per Ben Axelrod of Bleacher Report. The fact that Meyer already has this squad that is so clearly built for next year in college football’s version of the Final Four is astounding, especially since the Buckeyes are down to their third-string quarterback.

Ohio State is ahead of schedule, which portends well for the future, but this is by far the brightest stage the players will compete on in their young college careers. The closest thing we have seen to a dynasty in years in college football will be standing on the opposite sideline behind the current king of college football, Mr. Saban.

Ohio State cannot be intimidated.

It is not that difficult to imagine a scenario where nerves and youthful mistakes would get the most of the Buckeyes on such a big stage. If a couple of things go poorly in the early going, be it a costly interception from Cardale Jones in just his second career start or a 60-yard touchdown catch from superhuman Amari Cooper, the game could snowball in the wrong direction for the Buckeyes.

Fans will likely remember that exact scenario happening against Meyer’s Florida team in the 2006 season’s national championship game.

Of course, the youth movement at Ohio State could also set up a passing-of-the-torch narrative if the team is able to avoid those mistakes and come away with the upset victory. The Buckeyes could very well be No. 1 in the country next season, regardless of what happens in these playoffs, with all that talented youth, and Alabama could hand over its king-of-college-football torch if things go Ohio State’s way in New Orleans. 

The only way the Buckeyes can win this game is if they avoid being caught up in the moment and committing critical mistakes.

 

Containing Amari Cooper 

Erick Smith of USA Today had an interesting take on Ohio State’s defense going into the matchup with Alabama:

One reason for that is cornerback Doran Grant. He tallied two picks against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game and also held Michigan State’s game-breaking receiver, Tony Lippett, to 64 receiving yards and zero touchdowns in Ohio State’s most important win of the regular season.

Grant may be talented, but the only football players skilled enough to stop Heisman Trophy finalist Amari Cooper one-on-one play on Sundays. It will take a team effort from the likes of Grant, safety Vonn Bell and the rest of the secondary to contain Alabama’s go-to guy in the passing game.

Auburn was in control of the Iron Bowl until the Cooper show took over. He ended up with 224 receiving yards and three touchdown catches in that one and finished the season with 1,656 receiving yards and 14 touchdown catches. Alabama’s second-leading receiver was DeAndrew White, who only finished with 439 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

Crimson Tide offensive lineman Austin Shepherd put it rather bluntly when discussing Cooper, via John Zenor of The Associated Press: “I’d have the whole defense on him.”

The Crimson Tide rely more on Cooper than perhaps any team in the country relies on a single wide receiver. The Buckeyes aren’t going to completely stop him (nobody can), but if they prevent him from going off for monumental numbers, it can turn Alabama’s offense much more one-dimensional. That will allow Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett and the Ohio State linebackers to focus on containing running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. 

Ohio State is 17th in the country in passing yards allowed per game and finished fourth in the country with 21 interceptions. It is capable of containing Cooper if it plays its best game of the year. It will be needed in New Orleans.

 

Force Cardale Jones to Win the Game

The Buckeyes put on a show in the Big Ten Championship Game with 59 points, and Jones received the game’s MVP award. While he certainly deserved recognition, especially since it was his first career start, that distinction overlooked Ezekiel Elliott, who torched the Badgers for 220 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

Elliott’s early 81-yard touchdown run against the Badgers opened up the entire field later in the game for Jones because Wisconsin started to press up on the line of scrimmage. Jones took advantage of the openings with a number of deep strikes to Devin Smith and company.

Alabama is going to have to stop Ohio State’s rushing attack, which is 11th in the nation, without devoting extra defenders to the box. That will make it much more difficult for Jones to read the field, and he won’t be able to simply rely on chucking it deep in single coverage to Smith. 

Alabama’s defense is fourth in the country in points allowed per game and gave up a measly 2.81 yards per carry on the season, per CFBStats.com. If there is a defense that is perfectly set up to stop Elliott on the run and Jalin Marshall on the dump passes behind the line of scrimmage, it is Alabama’s.

The Crimson Tide’s best route to victory is by taking away the running game and forcing the young Jones to make veteran-type plays all game.

 

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College Football Playoff Championship 2015: Odds and Predictions for Semifinals

There are varied opinions on the College Football Playoff field, but it's hard to deny the fact that the committee created two exciting matchups in the semifinals.

With Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State, fans can watch four top programs with coaches who know what they're doing and plenty of elite players ready to make an impact in the NFL before too long. Although fans of TCU and Baylor are not happy with the outcome, the rest of the country should be excited.

The big question now is which two teams can survive and advance to play for the national championship. Although any squad is capable of surprises, here are predictions for the two semifinals both straight up and against the spread, courtesy of Odds Shark.

 

Rose Bowl: Oregon (-9.5) vs. Florida State

Oregon fans might be the happiest people in the new playoff situation because the Ducks would likely be the odd man out in the BCS days. This would almost be a travesty based on the way they have been playing lately.

Since losing to Arizona, Oregon has won eight games in a row while scoring at least 40 points per game in each. The latest win came against the Wildcats in the Pac-12 Championship Game, avenging the only loss in the year.

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports notes how dominant the squad has been:

This overall play puts the Ducks in the best position to win a title, according to ESPN Stats and Info:

Of course, this will not be the blowout many are expecting. While Florida State struggled in many of its recent games, it always found a way to come out on top while extending its winning streak to 29 games.

Jameis Winston has had an up-and-down year, but he looked as good as ever with three touchdowns and no interceptions in the ACC Championship Game win over Georgia Tech. Jalen Ramsey—who will be extremely important defensively with his ability to cover the majority of the field—is not scared of anyone:

With the talent on the roster and the mental strength to win games in any situation over the past two years, the Seminoles will at least keep this game close enough to cover the spread.

Still, Oregon is just too dynamic offensively behind Marcus Mariota with Royce Freeman and Byron Marshall also making big plays. This will be enough to come through with a win in a high-scoring battle.

Prediction: Oregon 45, Florida State 38

 

Sugar Bowl: Alabama (-9) vs. Ohio State

Everyone who has followed college football over the past few years can't be surprised to see Alabama ranked No. 1 in the country, but Ohio State coach Urban Meyer summed up this year's team:

The Crimson Tide are known for their running ability, which is as strong as ever behind T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. However, the difference is the expanded passing game with Blake Sims throwing the ball to Heisman candidate Amari Cooper.

If you used to be bored watching Alabama, that is no longer the case.

At the same time, Meyer's thoughts about the Tide defense are right on as well. Safety Landon Collins leads a tough group that ranks fourth in the nation with just 16.6 points allowed per game.

This will create quite a challenge for Cardale Jones, who is making his second career start in this game after the injury to J.T. Barrett. As Bleacher Report's Adam Lefkoe noted, the Buckeyes were just as dominant with the backup quarterback under center:

The problem is that Alabama has the big men up front capable of slowing down Ezekiel Elliott, who is the real key to Ohio State's offense. A lack of a run game will put a lot more pressure on Jones to make plays, which is likely to cause problems for such an inexperienced player.

Nick Saban's team has played and beaten some of the best teams in the nation, and the Buckeyes will be the next victim on the list.

Prediction: Alabama 27, Ohio State 14

 

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