NCAA Football

FCS Playoff Bracket 2014: Preview and Predictions for Quarterfinals

The bracket-style FCS playoffs offer an interesting changeup to the postseason format at the highest level of college football. While the FBS is experimenting with a new four-team layout, the FCS continues to excite with a March Madness-esque way of determining its national champion.

Eight teams remain alive for the grand prize, as the quarterfinals are slated for this next Friday and Saturday. Fans eagerly anticipating NCAA bowl season should have plenty of quality games to hold them over between the four contests on tap.

FCS Football has the updated postseason bracket, headlined by top seeds in No. 1 New Hampshire and three-time reigning national title winner North Dakota State:

Viewing information can be found below followed by a breakdown and prediction for every FCS playoff matchup.

Note: Statistics and information courtesy of NCAA.com unless otherwise indicated.

 

No. 1 New Hampshire vs. No. 8 Chattanooga

The tournament's top seed will be challenged by a Southern champion in Chattanooga that went undefeated in conference play with a perfect 7-0 record.

But New Hampshire may have put forth the most impressive postseason performance of all in last week's second round. Fordham's prolific offense was held to a season-low point total as the Wildcats routed their way to a 44-19 triumph. The Rams converted just three of 13 third-down opportunities.

A sprained MCL forced New Hampshire quarterback Sean Goldrich to the sidelines earlier in the 2014 season, yet the Wildcats banded together until his return, and now the offense is playing at a high level. Goldrich had been third in the FCS in total offense before getting hurt but does face the fifth-ranked Mocs defense on Friday.

New Hampshire is tied for eighth in the nation and is first among the remaining playoff teams in average sacks per game. Its defensive front is going to be a load for Chattanooga to handle in its efforts to protect true dual-threat QB Jacob Huesman.

Indiana State was no match for Huesman in Round 2, as he had 241 yards passing and 153 on the ground in the Mocs' 35-14 win. Huesman's athleticism can neutralize the Wildcats' pass rush and make this perhaps the most competitive quarterfinal.

It's hard not to go with a mobile QB who can hurt a defense in so many different ways. At the most important position on the field, Huesman gives the underdogs an edge, which will result in an upset in Chattanooga's favor.

Prediction: Chattanooga 21, New Hampshire 17

 

No. 4 Eastern Washington vs. No. 5 Illinois State

The road hasn't been easy for Eastern Washington as of late. It had to defeat Montana once to get an edge en route to the Big Sky Conference championship and then again in the playoffs.

These Eagles have a tremendous amount of offensive firepower, evident in their close-call loss to Washington earlier in the year by a score of 59-52.

In that contest against the Huskies, QB Vernon Adams Jr. tossed a whopping seven touchdowns on an opposing defense that featured NFL-caliber talent in Shaq Thompson, Marcus Peters and Danny Shelton.

Adams, who missed four games with a broken foot and returned in the first Montana game, was recently named the conference offensive player of the year—just the third time that's ever happened in program history.

The savvy signal-caller is a threat to run but is lethal from the pocket as well, as he'll have to be with somewhat limited mobility. It's critical that Adams is ready to roll for the Eagles, whose defense has to negotiate the nation's third-leading rusher in Marshaun Coprich.

There's plenty of momentum for Illinois State to carry over from its previous victory over Northern Iowa, as Coprich ran for 148 yards and his QB, Tre Roberson, passed for 382 and four scores. The Eagles are 93rd in total defense, so there should be plenty of touchdowns scored in this one.

Eastern Washington is undefeated this year against FCS competition with Adams in the lineup, and that shouldn't change against the Redbirds on Saturday at Roos Field in what ought to be a shootout for the ages.

Prediction: Eastern Washington 49, Illinois State 45

 

No. 2 North Dakota State vs. No. 7 Coastal Carolina

It's hard not to like what North Dakota State has done this year. After the departure of the head coach who led them to three previous championships, Craig Bohl, his successor, Chris Klieman, has guided the Bison to a 12-1 record.

But a close call happened in the second round this past weekend, as North Dakota State edged out South Dakota State 27-24. Junior Bison quarterback Carson Wentz hit RJ Urzendowski on a 12-yard TD strike with less than a minute remaining to help the favorites escape.

Christopher Spiker of KFYR TV in Bismarck noted how NDSU has made a living off close calls, similar to what Florida State has done in its own national title defense:

The Bison only concede 3.53 yards per carry and will have to be stingy against the likes of Chanticleers star ball-carrier De'Angelo Henderson, who has 1,391 yards and 19 touchdowns on 6.6 yards per tote.

NDSU is tied for 10th in the country in third-down defense while Coastal Carolina is 36th. The latter front seven is going to match up against another talented running back in Bison star John Crockett.

Senior associate athletic director Troy Goergen documented what Crockett had to say regarding NDSU's pursuit of yet another banner:

Although Klieman is a different face at the helm of this powerhouse program, the nucleus, led by Crockett, has witnessed what it takes to win a championship. That was evident when the team didn't give up in facing a last-minute deficit versus South Dakota State last week.

Superior all-around execution and talent will help the Bison get the job done once again and carry on to the semifinals.

Prediction: North Dakota State 27, Coastal Carolina 14

 

No. 6 Villanova vs. Sam Houston State

The biggest red flag in assessing Sam Houston State's potential to pull off the improbable win is that it has lost four games this year. That did include a season-opening loss to Eastern Washington on the road and a 56-0 blowout defeat at LSU, though.

With a capable running QB in Jared Johnson at the controls, Sam Houston's best chance is to lean on a deep backfield of Keshawn Hill, Jalen Overstreet and Donavan Williams to try to control the clock and keep the ball away from Villanova.

It took a lot for the Wildcats just to get to this stage, courtesy of a 29-22 win over Liberty in the previous contest. One of QB John Robertson's eight completions went for 70 yards and a TD to Kevin Gulyas, sparking Villanova's comeback charge in the fourth that saw it score 15 unanswered points.

Robertson racked up 100 yards on the ground in that game but also leads the nation in passing efficiency with just three interceptions and 35 touchdown tosses.

Mike Jensen of The Philadelphia Inquirer, among others, is of the belief that Robertson is the best overall player in the FCS:

That will be hard for Sam Houston State to overcome, particularly with Villanova hosting the game in Philadelphia with the home crowd supporting.

Should the Wildcats indeed carry on thanks to Robertson's brilliance, it would set up an epic prospective battle with North Dakota State. Robertson is the type of game-changing player who has the faculties to engineer an upset over the Bison.

A similar phenomenon is occurring in the College Football Playoff, as Oregon's dual-threat dynamo, Marcus Mariota, hopes to knock off Florida State in the Rose Bowl. Such a reminiscent development would likely be a great point of comparison to help the FCS gain exposure and deserved notice for its exciting postseason.

Prediction: Villanova 34, Sam Houston State 20

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Alabama Recruiting 2014-15: Latest News, Rumors and Commit Updates

Alabama is steamrolling toward its fifth consecutive top-rated recruiting class, and Nick Saban and his staff have already assembled a stout group less than two months away from national signing day.

The Tide currently have 21 commitments in their 2015 class, per 247Sports.

Here's a look at the latest news, top targets and commits for the Tide.

 

Latest News

Monday, Dec. 8 

Alabama added a huge commitment on Monday when one of its top remaining targets, 4-star linebacker Adonis Thomas, announced his commitment to the Tide via his Twitter account.

The 6'4", 229-pounder, who initially committed to Florida before reopening his recruitment in October, picked the Tide over Florida and LSU among others.

Thomas is the 21st commitment for the Tide's 2015 class.

 

Top Targets and Commitments 

 

Monday, Dec. 8

Alabama suffered a decommitment over the weekend when 4-star receiver Daylon Charlot backed off his pledge to the Tide while on a visit to LSU.

Les Miles and the Tigers now appear to be in the driver's seat for Charlot.

Per James Smith of NOLA.com, Charlot plans to decide on national signing day. 

 

Monday, Dec. 8 

Four-star Texas athlete DeAndre McNeal, who is scheduled to announce his commitment on Dec. 19, released his top five schools via his Twitter account on Sunday evening. 

Alabama made the list, along with UCLA, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. 

This is a wide-open race, but the Tide appear to have as good of a shot as anyone. However, his friendship with teammate and 5-star linebacker Malik Jefferson—who appears to be leaning toward in-state powers Texas and Texas A&M—may play a role in his final decision.

With that in mind, it's hard to envision McNeal leaving the Lone Star State in the end.

 

Recruit ratings and information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted. 

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Butch Jones' Tennessee Contract Extension Intensifies Pressure to Succeed

The Tennessee athletic department did the right thing by lengthening Butch Jones' contract and giving him a raise on Monday. Now, the Volunteers' second-year head coach must make the administration look smart.

He's got to start winning the way Tennessee expects to win.

Make no mistake: He hasn't been expected to win like that yet with the talent gulf and roster deficiencies he inherited from the failed Derek Dooley regime. But now that he has many of the pieces in place, he's being paid to produce.

And paid handsomely, indeed. UT athletic director Dave Hart announced Monday he'd reached an agreement with Jones that extends the contract two years through 2020 and gives him a pay increase of more than $600,000 annually.

Jones new contract is worth $3.6 million per year, up from the $2.95 million previously, according to VolQuest.com's John Brice and Grant Ramey (subscription required). Assistants also received raises.

Given the way Jones has recruited—finishing with a class that ranked seventh nationally last year and fourth in the current cycle—the way he's galvanized the fanbase and improved academics (as noted by UTSports.com), all the external elements have been strengthened.

The final bit of important evidence that likely cemented the new deal was UT finishing this season 6-6 and heading to the TaxSlayer Bowl, marking the program's first trip to the postseason since 2010.

Add to that the rumors that Jones would have a "strong interest" in returning to his home state of Michigan to fill the vacant Wolverines head coaching position, according to 247Sports' Ryan Bartow, and extending the contract was a no-brainer.

For what it's worth, Hart told the media that Michigan nor any other school had contacted UT to speak with Jones. Regardless, UT's head coach earned this raise with the rebuilding job he's done.

Hart reiterated that Monday:

"It has always been my philosophy to reward people for performance and the job that they are doing and not reward for them because you think somebody else might come and get them. This is about that."

With the raise, Jones is on par with his peers and should have no reason to bolt for a place where the pastures are greener simply because they're lined with greenbacks.

But now that the Vols have locked up who they deem as their long-term coach and are paying him like you'd expect a program like UT to pay, Jones has to perform.

As ousted coaches Brady Hoke and Will Muschamp can attest, lofty recruiting rankings don't always equal wins. And while taking a tangible step forward to bowl eligibility is a respectable step, expectations only grow from here.

The Vols are a .500 football team, but $3.6 million isn't 6-6 money. Hart knows it. Jones knows it. Every single Tennessee fan knows it.

So, now, Jones has to build off this strong start and return the program to the form it hasn't been in for nearly a decade.

If Tennessee's administration believed in Jones the way it said, UT had to pony up. That's today's climate in college football, where it's more of a business than it's ever been. Look no further than Florida's coaching search that ended in Jim McElwain, who came all the way from Colorado State at an exorbitant price, as evidence of that.

Many want to coach in the SEC where every game is magnified, every single week the frenzy borders on a religious experience and the rewards are great when you succeed. But high demands come at a high cost, and the bottom line is Jones was toward the bottom of the league in salaries prior to Monday.

UT more than got its money's worth since it hired Jones in December 2012 at the previous price. Now, it expects to do the same with the significant bump.

There are still some roster holes, thanks to the immense failures of Dooley, but they're fewer and farther between. Jones seized the opportunity for a significant roster turnover that could produce back-to-back recruiting classes of more than 30 commitments.

Once that happens, any issues with personnel are his own.

The Vols played 24 freshmen this year and lost to three SEC East opponents by a combined 12 points. The way the division shook out this year, the future appears there for the taking.

This is truly the perfect time for the Vols to rise back to the top of the East, if not the league. With the young talent in place and the way Jones is recruiting, the expectations are not only high among fans starving for success, but nationally as well.

Jones and the Vols appear poised to do big things with quarterback Joshua Dobbs leading a group of talented youngsters into 2015 and beyond. But UT has to transition from taking steps to making leaps now that it isn't sneaking up on anybody.

This year's quest to get bowl-eligible with the schedule the Vols had was excellent pressure practice for what's coming for Jones and his staff now that the honeymoon's officially over.

UT passed the test by overcoming major obstacles, and that's an encouraging sign for the future.

But the future is here.

The Vols are expected to beat Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Jan. 2, and they'll be a much discussed dark-horse candidate in a wide-open SEC East in 2015 and beyond. Why shouldn't they be?

Tennessee's recruiting prowess under Jones announced to the world that the Vols are back on the minds of the nation's elite players. The 2014 team announced it wasn't to be taken lightly by turning in a competitive performance that will end in a bowl.

Monday's newly-inked deal announces that UT's football program expects to win big, and Hart believes Jones is the one to take the Vols there.

Now comes the most difficult part: Actually doing it.

 

All stats gathered from UTSports.com unless otherwise noted.

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

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5 College Football Recruits Who Had an Explosive Week

The 2014 high school football season has hit its final stretch across the nation, with several states already moving on to the winter sports slate. The teams left competing remain in contention for championship glory, giving players an opportunity to create lasting legacies in their communities.

Throughout the fall, we've focused on weekly standouts from various recruiting classes. Some of these prospects are now just months away from beginning college careers, while others will return to lead high school squads again next year.

We keep the spotlight on recruits who continue to rise to the occasion when it matters most. Here's our latest look at those who shined last weekend.

 

5-star 2015 quarterback Kyler Murray, Allen High School (Allen, Texas)

Time and time again during his career, Murray has shown a refusal to lose. That spirit helped lift the Eagles to a late victory over Euless Trinity High School in the Class 6A state quarterfinals.

Murray completed 25 passes, including a 3rd-and-20 conversion that set up a game-winning field goal with 44 seconds left, per Matt Wixon of The Dallas Morning News. He threw for 428 yards and four touchdowns in the 30-27 win, pushing Allen one step closer to a third straight state title.

The 5'10", 180-pound Texas A&M pledge improved to 40-0 as a varsity starter. He has 175 total touchdowns during that span, including 68 through 14 games this season.

 

4-star 2015 running back Mark Walton, Booker T. Washington High School (Miami, Florida)

Booker T. Washington cruised to a third consecutive Class 4A state championship with Walton leading the way. He earned Most Valuable Player honors by scoring five total touchdowns, including three on the ground, in a 54-35 win over Jacksonville Bolles High School, per J.T. Wilcox of SFHS Sports.

Walton rushed for 184 yards and three scores on 19 carries, collecting an additional 89 yards and two touchdowns through the air. His performance helped punctuate the team's latest title run and extended its win streak to 40 games.

He scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.

“Being a part of history was a big thing to us,” Walton told Wilcox. "I wasn’t going to let my teammates – the seniors on this teams – down and let us lose. That’s why I turned it on in the second half and did whatever I could to help my team win."

The 5'10", 179-pound playmaker committed to Miami in September 2013. Several offers have arrived since, including one from Florida just days after the arrival of new Gators head coach Jim McElwain.

 

3-star 2015 running back Nick Ralston, Argyle High School (Argyle, Texas)

The 6'0", 215-pound rusher put the offensive game plan on his back during a Class 4A quarterfinal win over Kennedale. Argyle rallied from a 17-point deficit as Ralston ran for 214 yards and five touchdowns on 38 carries, according to The Dallas Morning News.

He scored a go-ahead 57-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to give his team a 52-48 victory in the battle of unbeaten teams.

Arizona State landed his commitment in February. The Sun Devils coaching staff paid him a visit this weekend after the dominant effort:

Through 14 games, Ralston is averaging nearly eight yards per carry. He has 2,324 yards and 40 touchdowns on the ground, per MaxPreps.

 

4-star 2015 quarterback Brandon Wimbush, St. Peter's Prep (Jersey City, New Jersey)

Wimbush and St. Peter's Prep avenged a 2013 state title game loss by defeating Paramus Catholic in a championship rematch. The 6'2", 205-pound passer picked apart the opposing defense with his arm and legs, flashing the skill set that makes him America's No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in 247Sports' composite rankings.

He completed 18 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-18 win, per Braulio Perez of 247Sports. Wimbush was most dangerous as a rusher, gaining 158 yards on 11 carries.

His 63-yard fourth-quarter scoring sprint put the final nail in the coffin for reigning champion Paramus Catholic.

"This is an unbelievable feeling for us right now," Wimbush told Perez. "Just to be able to capture it all with these guys is special. I wouldn't go out like this and win a state championship with another group of dudes."

He flipped his commitment from Penn State to Notre Dame in October. Wimbush finishes as the all-time leader in touchdown passes at St. Peter's Prep.

 

4-star 2017 quarterback Tate Martell, Bishop Gorman High School (Las Vegas, Nevada)

The sophomore signal-caller capped off his first season at the Nevada powerhouse by playing a pivotal role in a state championship victory. Martell, who took over the starting role in late August, completed three early touchdown passes en route to a 70-28 demolishing of Reed High School, per Jim Krajewski of the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Each of his first three tosses resulted in touchdowns, including a strike to 4-star 2015 wide receiver Cordell Broadus on the second play from scrimmage. Martell maximized his 12 pass attempts, tallying 162 yards and the trio of scores.

Bishop Gorman has now won six straight titles and makes a strong case to be considered the country's top team. Martell will return as the face of this premier program in 2015.

The highly touted underclassman transferred from California before the season and completes his sophomore campaign with 3,000 total yards and 41 touchdowns, per MaxPreps. The journey included a nationally televised victory over St. John Bosco (California) and 5-star UCLA quarterback commit Josh Rosen.

Martell committed to Washington while in middle school and has remained loyal to the Huskies despite a coaching change. However, offers from Texas Tech and USC could make things interesting down the road.

 

Recruit ratings and info courtesy of 247Sports.

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Best Non-Playoff Matchups This Bowl Season

Love them or hate them, there's one thing that can't be denied about the overabundance of bowl games: With so many matchups, it's hard not to end up with at least a few really good ones.

Not counting the semifinals, the remaining 36 games set to be played between Dec. 20 and Jan. 3 feature plenty of duds, for sure. But root around a little and you'll find some gems in there, games that either pit teams of clashing styles or ones with built-in storylines because of histories between coaches and/or players.

Whatever the reason, there's a number of non-playoff bowl games that should be appointment viewing. And we've got a lineup all ready for you to plan your holiday activities around. 

Check out our list of the best non-semifinal games of the 2014 bowl season, complete with TV info and plenty of reasons to tune in.

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Power Ranking Top 10 Bowl Games by Their Swag Gifts

It's officially college football bowl season. But more to the point, it's officially college football bowl gift season.

The gift packages each bowl gives away are a deserved prize to the teams that won six or more games. The NCAA allows each bowl to award $550 worth of "swag" to 125 participants per school, and the bowls know how to make that money count.

But some bowls know better than others. And the order of those bowls is pretty random. The team with the best record doesn't always make the bowl with the best gifts. A lot of it is luck of the draw.

In 2014, the real winners are Central Michigan and Western Kentucky, which earned an invite to the newly formed Bahamas Bowl in Nassau.

Not including that, however, here are the 10 bowl games with the best gift packages this season.

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Tulsa Head Coach Search: Latest News and Rumors on Position

The Tulsa football program fired head coach Bill Blankenship following a 2-10 season and are searching for the next leader. Several candidates for the position have already been announced with two interesting names at the top of the list.

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports noted two coaches reportedly being considered for the position:

Frost, who has carved out a huge role with Oregon, jumps out as an intriguing candidate. His offense has the Ducks in the College Football Playoff led by Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota.    

Along with Frost, Tulsa is also reportedly eyeing Utah State coach Matt Wells. Wells has led the Aggies to a 9-4 record this year but was recently throttled by Boise State, 50-19, to close the season.

He recently spoke about his thoughts on other job opportunities, per Scott Garrard of 97.5 The Zone:

Both coaches bring a wealth of experience at the college level, but Wells has two years of success as a head coach. For a Tulsa team that hasn't reached a bowl since 2012, the Golden Hurricane need a coach with the pedigree to win right away.

It should be interesting to see whom the program ultimately decides on, but it can't go wrong with either of these initial options. Due to their recent success, either Frost or Wells might turn the tide for the Golden Hurricane.


Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Central Michigan Players Erupt After Finding out They're Going to Bahamas Bowl

This is how every coach should tell his players what bowl game they will be playing in.

Central Michigan players were kept on the edge of their seats as they watched a video that narrowed down the possible destinations one by one. Once it got down to the final two, the players were ready to erupt.

After a much anticipated wait, it was finally revealed that the Chippewas would be playing in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl. That got a huge roar from the players.

Central Michigan will play Western Kentucky in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl on Dec. 24.

[YouTube, h/t CollegeFootballTalk]

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Rapid-Fire Predictions for TCU vs. Ole Miss in 2014 Peach Bowl

The TCU Horned Frogs finished a magical season just short of the College Football Playoff behind the tremendous play of quarterback Trevone Boykin. The Ole Miss Rebels are the only team all season to beat the No. 1 team in the CFP. These teams square off in the Peach Bowl.

Bleacher Report college football analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer give their predictions for this bowl game.

Who will win the Peach Bowl?

Watch the video, and let us know!

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Rapid-Fire Predictions for Alabama vs. Ohio State in 2015 Sugar Bowl

Alabama vs. Ohio State. Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer. Two storied programs battling it out for a spot in the national championship game.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer dish out their predictions for the Sugar Bowl.

Who will win: Alabama or Ohio State? Check out the video and let us know!                

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Is LSU New Favorite to Land Alabama Decommit 4-Star WR Daylon Charlot?

The rivalry between LSU and Alabama has delivered its share of classics on the field, but the two schools seem to up the ante every year on the recruiting trail.

The latest battleground recruit caught in the tug of war between Nick Saban and Les Miles is 2015 4-star receiver Daylon Charlot—who decommitted from an early pledge to the Tide and is now considering the Tigers, according to Shea Dixon of Geaux247.

In addition to the Tide and the Tigers, Charlot has offers from Arizona State, Florida State, Mississippi State and Texas A&M, among others.

But does this news mean he will stay close to home for college?

Charlot made the decision after visiting Baton Rouge over the weekend. He told James Smith of NOLA.com that he informed Miles of his decision while on his visit.

"I told Coach (Les) Miles that I was decommitting from Alabama when we sat to talk today," Charlot told Smith. "He was excited, very excited. He said they need me really bad. "I got home late so I plan on calling Coach (Billy) Napier at Alabama in the morning to let him know. I think they may even be coming by on Monday, really."

While the path of his recruitment suggests that it’s trending towards him landing at LSU, don’t expect Saban and his staff to end their pursuit of the No. 19 wide receiver in the 2015 class.

The 6’0”, 194-pounder from Patterson, Louisiana had been committed to the Tide since February.

According to Charles Power of BamaOnline (subscription required), Alabama assistant Burton Burns is scheduled to visit Charlot on Tuesday in an effort to see where the Tide stands for his services.

But the Tide will have a long road ahead in convincing him to stick with his original commitment.

Charlot was also in attendance at Tiger Stadium when the Tide earned a hard-fought overtime victory over the Tigers last month.

As noted by Power (subscription required), Charlot was struggling with his decision in the aftermath of that game.

"I could say it's like 60-40. 60 with Alabama and 40 with LSU," Charlot told Power then.

The Tide identified Charlot as an explosive playmaker early in the process, and he pulled the trigger with a commitment shortly after receiving an offer from Saban.

"Coach (Lane) Kiffin, Coach (Billy) Napier, and Coach (Burton) Burns, they've been telling me that I'm sitting great and that I have a great chance of starting because all their receivers are leaving and that I could come in and possibly play as a true freshman,” Charlot told Power after last month’s visit.

Despite the Tide’s pitch, it appears that Miles and his staff have satisfied his concerns about the Tigers offense and showed that his opportunity to find the field is similar to his options in Tuscaloosa.

Charlot told Smith that he plans to wait until signing day to make his final choice, which means there are more opportunities for twists and turns to occur in his recruitment.

However, for now, it appears that Miles and LSU are holding the upper hand over their rivals for one of the Pelican State’s most electric prospects in the 2015 class.

 

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

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7 SEC Players Who Will Explode in Bowl Games

One of the most important times of the year for college football teams is the time between the end of the season and the bowl game.

Earning those 15 bowl practices allows programs another camp-like practice session similar to spring practice while preparing for an opponent that is typically comparable in terms of overall ranking.

That gives unknown players the chance to shine and earn playing time on a big stage, establishing momentum going into the offseason. For veterans, it's a chance to shine on a big stage and set the tone for next season or, for some, the NFL draft process.

Which SEC players will explode during bowl games this season? Our top seven are in this slideshow.

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College Football Playoff 2014-15: TV Schedule, Predictions for Anticipated Games

As thrilling as the college football season was, the inaugural College Football Playoff has the look of two memorable matchups. Four of the most illustrious teams will do battle with only two earning the right to play for a national championship.

The four teams making the field are Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State. Each of the top six teams won its final game during championship weekend, but only four won their conferences with Baylor and TCU sharing the Big 12 title.

Needless to say, the Big 12 might still be asking, "What might have been?" Meanwhile, the Buckeyes have a shot at Alabama to potentially match up with either Oregon or Florida State for a national title.

Prior to the bowl season kicking off, here's a look at the viewing information and predictions for the most anticipated games.

 

Playoff Predictions

Coming into the season as the defending national champions, the Seminoles looked the part of a title contender. Despite being the only team to run the table this year, FSU still comes into the playoff with question marks surrounding the team.

The Noles will look to silence their critics in the first semifinal against Oregon. After taking down a potent offense in Georgia Tech, coach Jimbo Fisher spoke about his team's resilience, via Marc Tracy of The New York Times:

“Last year’s team was dominating,” Fisher said. “This year’s team, the word is more ‘amazing.’”

Rather than blowing out every opponent this season, Florida State has mounted several major comebacks. If any team embodies what the Seminoles were able to accomplish last season, it's Oregon.

The season after Jameis Winston ran away with the Heisman Trophy, Marcus Mariota appears to have done the same this year. Now, the two will do battle for the right to compete for a title.

However, the comparison isn't quite the same this season with Winston struggling on the field. SportsCenter provides a look at the statistics for the quarterback matchup:

If Mariota can put on a similar show to the Pac-12 Championship Game, expect the Ducks to throttle the Seminoles. FSU may have earned the right to make the playoff, but Oregon won't allow a comeback on New Year's Day.

Following the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl pits two great coaches in Nick Saban and Urban Meyer against one another. When Alabama and Ohio State face off, it will mark the fourth time between them as Meyer looks to even up the series after losing the last two games.

Even after OSU came away with the Big Ten championship, Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report believes it won't be close, via B/R Radio:

Both teams have faced adversity this season, but Alabama still has one of the best defenses in the country. Along with elite offensive weapons like Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon, the Crimson Tide have an all-around team to take down the Buckeyes.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Ultimate Guide to College Football Playoff

The field has been set for the first ever College Football Playoff, which will feature the SEC, Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten champions instead of the co-champions tendered by the Big-12.

There are gripes to be had about the four teams that made it (and the two Big 12 teams that did not), but why waste any more time arguing? We have argued for the past four months. It's over. We made it. It is time to look forward, not back.

Looking forward means previewing the inaugural Final Four, which is an exciting sentence to write. And the games are as good as anyone could have hoped. Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer called this college football's "dream playoff," which is the perfect way to describe it.

It may be the only way to describe it.

Here is everything you need to know.

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College Football Playoff Championship 2015: Dates, Schedule and Predictions

The College Football Playoff committee has spoken.

The nation is far from done with the debate.

Controversy is the name of the game. Baylor and TCU out of the Big 12 missed out, and not only that, the latter still won this past weekend and dropped below the former. Both were jumped by Ohio State, a team led by a third-string quarterback.

But hey, those are just some of the talking points surrounding the participants. Now that they are known, it is time to break down how things will pan out.

 

2015 College Football Playoff Schedule

 

Predictions

Mariota Shines Brighter than Winston

The showdown between the Oregon Ducks and Florida State Seminoles is being billed as a battle between last year's Heisman Trophy winner and this season's arguable lock to nab the hardware.

It really is not all that impressive, though.

Jameis Winston won the award last year but has been a shell of his former self this year, throwing for 3,558 yards and 24 touchdowns to 17 interceptions. For comparison's sake, Marcus Mariota has thrown for 3,783 yards and 38 touchdowns to two interceptions, which does not even take into account the 669 yards and 14 scores on the ground.

As a breakdown shows, this on its own gives the Ducks a major advantage when it comes to offense:

The problem with Florida State in this matchup is not Winston. Even he turned things up a notch in the ACC Championship Game against Georgia Tech with three touchdowns to no interceptions. 

No, the problem resides on the defensive side of the football. The Seminoles rank 30th nationally with an average of 23.0 points allowed per game and cannot get off the field at an efficient clip.

Against an Oregon offense that averages more than 546 yards per game, Mariota will have no issues milking the clock and keeping Winston off the field entirely on the way to a comfortable win.

Prediction: Oregon 36, Florida State 28

 

Ohio State Puts up a Serious Fight

The stigma around Ohio State is that it cannot keep pace with the SEC.

This notion is only heightened thanks to the fact the Buckeyes are now without J.T. Barrett under center. That said, it is hard to ignore the fact Urban Meyer's team still went out and won the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin in 59-0 fashion.

The committee certainly did not miss out on this slight detail, as illustrated by Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

The matchup itself is rather jarring on paper but perhaps skewed considering Barrett was such a large part of these numbers in the first place:

Still, Cardale Jones just put to bed—for the time being—any questions about his ability under center. He misfired on just five passes in the Big Ten title game while racking up 257 yards and a trio of scores in the process.

Considering the magnitude of the game and the fact Wisconsin still ranks 13th in the nation in terms of total defense, a better test for Jones would have been quite difficult to find.

That said, Alabama will outlast Ohio State. Nick Saban's defense surrenders just 16.6 points per game. Ohio State may have some success limiting the damage quarterback Blake Sims can do. But the defense has never truly encountered anything like wideout Amari Cooper, who has 115 receptions for 1,656 yards and 14 scores on the year.

The emergence of Jones and Meyer's ability to squeeze the absolute most out of his offense in any given situation means the Buckeyes can keep pace. But with the game on the line late, all advantages swing in Alabama's favor. 

Prediction: Alabama 24, Ohio State 21

 

Oregon Wins it All

It seems inevitable that Mariota clashes with Saban's defense.

Alabama is more potent than ever offensively thanks to the efforts of Sims, who has 3,250 yards and 26 scores through the air and another 321 yards and six scores rushing. As a result, the Crimson Tide average better than 37 points per game.

But that still falls well short of the 46.3 points the Ducks average.

Something has to give, right? Look for that to be Alabama's defense, as strange as that sounds.

The Crimson Tide defense suffers fits in the face of efficient passers who can get out and extend plays with their feet. That would be the reason Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall torched the unit for 456 yards and three scores.

While Oregon may struggle with the power running attack Alabama trots out, it is a simple matter of getting out in front and staying there. Not a problem, really—this is the same Ducks offense that posted a minimum of 45 points on Michigan State, Utah and Stanford, the latter of which even happens to rank better than Alabama defensively.

As things progress this year, it continues to look like a season of fate for the Ducks. As great as Alabama was at surviving the SEC, not even the Crimson Tide can halt Mariota's relentless pursuit of a title.

Prediction: Oregon 30, Alabama 27

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified

 

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Best and Worst Free Swag at the 2014-15 College Football Bowl Games

Bowl season is here, meaning college football players who have earned the right to make their school additional gobs of money can finally go about snapping up free stuff without fear of NCAA reprisal.

As usual, there is an abundance of swag and gifts on the table for bowl-bound teams, and some of it is better than others.

SportsBusiness Daily's David Broughton recently published a comprehensive list of the gear up for grabs this year.

I've gone ahead and ranked the three best and worst gift collections of the 2014-15 bowl season. Let's start with the good stuff, which includes a custom Fathead and an Xbox One.

 

The Best 

3. Quick Lane Bowl: $250 Best Buy card and custom Fathead

A number of bowl games are giving away gift cards to Best Buy, but the Quick Lane Bowl appears to be offering the coolest mix of additional goodies.

In addition to the $250 in Best Buy money, players will get Sony headphones and a custom Fathead of their likeness.

Custom Fatheads are a beautiful thing, and even benchwarmers will enjoy seeing themselves standing around on their living room walls.

 

2. Military Bowl: Xbox One and speakers

Boom! Xbox One and some speakers!

That combo alone cements the Military Bowl at the No. 2 spot on the list. Players will get the gaming console, some Mighty Boom Ball speakers, a beanie and an Under Armour backpack.

The best part is that sometime in the future, Microsoft will probably make a good game for Xbox One.

 

1. Valero Alamo Bowl: GoPro camera

From a sheer dollar-value perspective, the Valero Alamo Bowl stands alone. 

Players will receive a GoPro Hero4 Silver camera ($400) and a 32GB memory card along with a Fossil watch, Oakley Works backpack and a mini helmet. They'll also get a "panoramic photo," presumably of the bowl game.

Even if you don't enjoy strapping cameras to your head, you can flip this technology for a sizable profit.

 

Now for the worst bowl game gifts.

  

The Worst

3. Foster Farms Bowl/R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl/Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Fossil watch

This is a three-way tie because three different bowl games are giving away the lone gift of a single Fossil watch.

Again, this is one watch—from a brand you're supposed to stop wearing after high school.

 

2. AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Adidas duffel bag, belt buckle

In case players are looking to replace their mall kiosk-bought "Thing 1" belt buckle, sponsors at the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl are hooking them up with a new piece to strap to their waist.

Also on the table will be an Adidas duffel bag and a "cap"—items in short supply for most college athletes.

 

1. Hyundai Sun Bowl: Hair dryer, fleece pullover, backpack

I can't tell if this is a joke or an accident, but if you're playing in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, you're going home with a "Helen of Troy" hair dryer, among other things.

The dryer will pair up nicely with the "Majestic" pullover fleece players receive—perfect for that Eddie Bauer commercial they've all been waiting to shoot.

 

No details have emerged on what the participants in the College Football Playoff championship game will receive, but one can hope for an Xbox- and hair-dryer-laden grab bag.

 

Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture filigree.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bleacher Report College Football Awards for 2014 Season

Unlike bowl games, no one ever says there are too many awards in college football. So what's one more?

We at Bleacher Report have had our eyes glued to each and every game this season, chronicling the highs and lows for you from late August until this past Saturday's conference championships. All that college football viewing could make us go bonkers, but it also qualifies our staff as experts in terms of who and what were the best of the best in 2014.

The Bleacher Report College Football Awards were voted on by 20 members of our college football team: writers Keith Arnold, Ben Axelrod, Phil Callihan, Michael Felder, Justin Ferguson, Andrew Hall, Kyle Kensing, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Brian Pedersen, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Erin Sorensen,Marc Torrence and Greg Wallace, as well as editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Max Rausch.

Each voter submitted his or her ballots based on observations made throughout the season. For each category, a first-place vote is worth the value of the number of candidates (for instance, if there are seven choices, a first-place vote is worth seven points), and each subsequent spot is worth one less. The top vote-getter wins our award, not to mention endless praise and recognition. 

Analysis is provided by the voters who singled out the winners and runners-up for their exploits this season.

Check out who won Bleacher Report's 2014 College Football Awards, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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Should the College Football Playoff Expand to 8 Teams?

For many years, the collective public clamored for a College Football Playoff and finally got their wish. But after controversy swirled around which teams would be in and out, the public is now demanding the playoff be expanded to eight teams.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee, and Adam Kramer debate the format of the College Football Playoff.

Should the CFP be expanded to eight teams?

Check out the video and let us know!   

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

6 College Football Bowl Games with Biggest Recruiting Implications

The final weeks of the 2014 college football season begins with bowl season and will conclude with a push toward national signing day. 

With a bowl lineup that offers several juicy matchups between now and the national title game on Jan. 12, a handful of games will provide some intrigue on the recruiting trail. 

Both College Football Playoff semifinals feature teams who currently have top-20 recruiting classes, while a few others offer meetings between traditional recruiting powers.

Which bowl games in the 2014 postseason have the biggest recruiting implications?

 

Begin Slideshow

College Football Playoff Got 4 Teams Right, But 8 Teams Would Be So Much Better

Alabama. Oregon. Florida State. Ohio State. It's a final four any college football fan would dream of in the inaugural four-team playoff system. The College Football Playoff selection committee got it right, or they at least didn't get it wrong, and that decision between selecting Florida State, Ohio State, TCU and/or Baylor has made for some lively debate all across the country.

Four teams are better than two, sure, but is four better than…more?

The question the College Football Playoff committee is answering in the wake of its first football final four announcement is why they decided to include Ohio State over Big 12 competitors Baylor and TCU. The question they really should be answering today is: When do we get to eight, so we no longer have to have that debate and can, instead, see that decided on the field?

Four is good. Eight would be better. And look, I admit the system worked this season. The first year of the playoff system has given us the opportunity to see Nick Saban and Alabama go up against Urban Meyer and Ohio State in a game that will move the winner into a matchup against either Marcus Mariota and Oregon or Jameis Winston and Florida State.

This year's playoff is set up to be incredible drama, hand-picked by a committee of a dozen or so college football enthusiasts, coaches and current athletic directors as part of a new system that is horribly flawed despite giving us a reasonable and credible outcome.

The transparent process of weekly voting only served to confuse people and give teams a false sense of hope throughout the process. How is it possible that a Big Ten team didn't appear in the Top Four a single week until the final vote came in? Why did the resume matter more than the eye test some weeks and less others? What exactly is "game control?"

Yes, the process needs work, and no, the Big 12 teams cannot really complain about getting screwed out of a system their league was ill-equipped to process. Without a championship game—a 13th game for its playoff candidates to get a win over another top opponent—the league was relying on an overall body of work that, for TCU and Baylor, proved insufficient for inclusion.

In other words, TCU and Baylor didn't do enough to get into the tournament because their league doesn't have enough teams, and their collectively undefeated out-of-conference schedules are worse, somehow, than losing to Virginia Tech.

Wouldn't it just make more sense to let them all in and figure it out on the field?

The playoff committee can say all it wants that Ohio State's victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game provided all the tiebreaking needed to include them in the final four, but until this week, TCU was ranked third—ahead of Florida State—and the Horned Frogs went out and trounced a conference opponent by more than 50 points, yet dropped from third to sixth in the process.

Granted, beating Georgia Tech may have been undefeated FSU's best win of the year, and the Buckeyes' win over the Badgers was the signature moment of the weekend, but Baylor beat a top-10 team this weekend—a better opponent than either Florida State or Ohio State had to face, per the playoff rankings from last week—and all they did was leapfrog their amphibious conference foe and get left out in the cold in the process.

So I'll ask the question again: Isn't more better? Isn't including every team that has a legitimate claim to the Top Four into the conversation better than letting a group of voters with clear interests in mind decide which four teams get to fight for the title?

If we clamor for teams to schedule tougher opponents so we can decide who the best teams are on the field and not in the weekly rankings, why can't we manufacture a system where we force them to do exactly that?

If the beauty of college football is that every game matters, what would be the harm in creating four additional games that matter even more?

There wouldn't be a devaluation of the regular season if the playoff committee went from four teams to eight any less than there was going from two to four. In fact—and I hasten to use that word in anything as subjective as the college playoff system—going to four teams over the BCS model of picking the top two may have made this regular season matter more than any in recent memory.

Has anyone ever been this interested in the goings-on of two teams from Mississippi? The two-loss Arizona Wildcats had a stake in the college playoff system until losing to Oregon this week that the BCS system never would have provided, and other two-loss teams that ended up on the outside looking in had great chances to make their seasons count deep into November and December.

This year, six teams with one loss or fewer were vying for four spots, and we're left debating Baylor, TCU and Ohio State for the final spot.

Last year, we would have spent all day debating why in the world Oregon is being left out of the national-championship game while Florida State gets to play Alabama. So, yes, progress has been made.

Four is great. It's just not eight.

An eight-team playoff makes the most sense for a sport that has more than 120 teams—we're talking about the difference between the top three percent and the top six percent of the FBS teams getting a chance to play for the national title—especially considering the fact the Power Five conferences aren't guaranteed a seat at the table in the current model, and even more because the committee expressed just how hard it was (until miraculously this week when the decision needed to be finalized) to pick their top four teams at all.

Do eight teams deserve a chance to play for the national title this year? Probably not, no, but six legitimately do, so why isn't more better than less? Would it be that bad if, say, Michigan State was invited to the party and happened to win? We're talking about some incredible upsets if that were to happen, meaning the televised event of determining a college football champion would be even that much more memorable.

Remember, this is all about television revenue. Let's not think for one second that Ohio State didn't get in over two schools from Texas because they were named TCU and Baylor, not Texas and Texas A&M. The current television contract between the power brokers involved in the college football playoff and ESPN is a 12-year deal worth about $470 million. Per season

Do not tell me than an additional round of playoff games would not be good for the deep-pocketed television wizards, too.

Everybody wins with more teams. The networks win. The conferences win. The teams win. The fans win.

The only loser is the team that finishes ninth. And probably Notre Dame, and right now, nobody cares about either of them.

Imagine, if you will, a system that has the top four seeds hosting first-round games on December 20 against the four teams just on the outside of the current playoff system.

Alabama would host Michigan State, Oregon would face Mississippi State, Florida State would host TCU and Ohio State would invite Baylor into the Horseshoe to see, on the field, which team deserves to be in the final four.

Making the first round on campus would do two things: First, a distinct advantage would go to the teams hosting those games, and second, there would be no additional strain on the fans being asked to travel to multiple neutral-site games.

Then, after a round of eight on campus sites, the semifinals would be held in Pasadena and New Orleans, with the four teams that won those games on the field facing each other in a proper semifinal round.

Would Alabama beat Michigan State? Sure, especially in Tuscaloosa. Would Oregon take care of Mississippi State? In Eugene, almost certainly.

Would Florida State be able to thwart TCU? Would Ohio State be able to handle Baylor? Who has any idea? Nobody knows, and that's the fun of getting the chance to see it happen on the field.

Given the home-field advantage, one could only assume the four teams that got into this year's playoffs would advance in an eight-team tournament, but who can possibly suggest it wouldn't be more fun to see that happen than debate the notion in theory?

Now, granted, inviting more teams could be a lot like inviting more guests to a wedding. Once you get to a certain part of the list, it's even harder to differentiate between the eighth guest and the 16th. There's a case to be made that even including eight would mean inviting all the conference champions, and what would have happened if Missouri had beaten Alabama this past weekend? What would the committee do about the Mountain West, and would that change in years Boise State doesn't win the title?

More is good, but too much is not. We certainly don't want to be left with every team making the tournament and SMU facing Georgia State because more teams is better! 

Eight teams is what's better. Any more than that becomes noticeably unwieldy. But don't get me wrong here. Four is good, but it comes down to this: Why rely on a boardroom full of voters to decide who is four and who is five, six, seven and eight when we could get four amazing games between the best teams in the sport, in December, with the season on the line?

How is more good football not better? Four is awesome. I just can't wait until it gets to eight.

 

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