NCAA Football

Michigan Football: What Could Have Been for Wolverines in 2014

A lot of things were supposed to happen in 2014 for Michigan—but very few, if any, came to fruition for Brady Hoke’s once-again-lowly Wolverines.

Instead of capitalizing on a weak schedule and winning eight or nine games, Team 135 plummeted to 5-7 after getting drilled by Michigan State and Ohio State, stunned by Rutgers and embarrassed at home by Utah and Maryland.

Instead of “competing for championships,” a phrase that fell on deaf ears week after frustrating week, the Wolverines were essentially out of the running for anything meaningful by October. Instead of rising above 8-5 and 7-6, Hoke’s program sunk to the murky depths of painful mediocrity.  

Hoke was then fired—and that about covers it.

With that said, it’s time to hit the reset button—just like was done in 2013—and ponder the could-have-beens for what was supposed to be the team that got Hoke over the hump.

 

Recruiting Renaissance

A year ago, some recruits began to reconsider their pledge to Michigan—and then, like dominoes, they fell one by one.

In December, 5-star receiver George Campbell, a longtime target, was the first to bid farewell to the struggling Wolverines, who were on pace to finish with Hoke’s best class yet. The 6’3”, 184-pound wideout would have added 4.36-second 40-yard speed, great hands and deep-ball capabilities.

He wouldn’t have been a bad replacement for Devin Funchess, a junior who recently declared for the 2015 NFL draft. Funchess was supposed to usher in another familiar era of big-bodied receivers, but he didn’t live up to the sky-high expectations. Conversely, Campbell, who ended up pledging to Florida State, was supposed to be among those newcomers who’d carry the torch lit by Funchess.

Not long after Campbell severed ties, 5-star running back Damien Harris changed his mind. The 5’11”, 205-pounder probably would have fit well in Michigan’s backfield. According to scouting reports, he’s posted 4.40-second times in the 40-yard dash. One look at his highlight tape, and it’s plain to see—the Bluegrass State’s thoroughbred knows how to trot through holes, pick lanes and gallop to the end zone.

As of now, he’s looking at Kentucky and Ohio State.

And speaking of Ohio State, it was the recipient of the other high-profile running back to wave goodbye to Ann Arbor—Detroit Cass Tech’s Michael Weber committed to the Buckeyes immediately following Hoke’s dismissal.

The 4-star prospect’s incredible compact strength and speed would have likely done wonders for Michigan next fall. But like Harris, he won’t be there as originally forecasted; he was viewed as Harris’ replacement, too, adding insult to injury.

In all, the Wolverines lost eight pledges from players ranked in 247Sports’ top 150 of 2015. From star corners and tight ends to linebackers and safeties, Michigan’s 2015 class was stripped of crazy amounts of talent and firepower due to another free fall under Hoke.

The next coach is probably going to have some trouble filling enough spots in time for national signing day. Even the best recruiters in the land would be hard-pressed to gain 10 or so Michigan-caliber athletes in just a handful of weeks.

 

Stat-Stuffing Stars

Well, you’ve heard this one before: Devin Gardner and Funchess should have been the tandem of Michigan fans’ dreams.

They weren’t anywhere close to that. Banged up (again), Gardner hobbled his way through 2014, never looking like the quarterback most envisioned. No 3,000-yarder here—the fifth-year senior threw for a paltry 1,896 yards, a career-low 10 touchdowns and career-high 15 picks.

Funchess could have been a 1,000-yard receiver—or, at the very least, a consistent threat for six points. Rather than doing that, he finished with not enough catches for not enough yards and not enough touchdowns.

The running backs also underachieved, as sophomores Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith were going to combine for 1,800 yards and oh, roughly 20 touchdowns—just a conservative estimate. Green suffered a season-ending injury Oct. 4 but not before rushing 82 times for 471 yards and three touchdowns. Smith went 108 times for 519 and six.

Freddy Canteen was the name of the spring; the sleek freshman hauled in catches during the scrimmage that made it difficult to wait for the arrival of Team 135—it was really happening, Hoke’s vision was finally coming true.

The 6’1”, 176-pounder finished with five catches for 22 yards and a touchdown—or what could have been about three quarters' worth of work on a decent Saturday. 

Jabrill Peppers, oh, Jabrill Peppers. We're not even going to mention what he could have done. Use your imagination. The 6'1", 202-pound athlete could have thrown touchdowns to himself after returning punts for six. That was the general feeling, anyway. He was going to be a special freshman. 

But he was shelved after three games due to a lower-body injury. 

The list is long, and really, it’s unnecessary to scale down the roster, critiquing each guy who didn’t do what he could have done this past season. You get the point. Thanks to injuries and unforeseen barriers, the guys who were supposed to shine brightly in 2014 barely held a faint glow.

 

Impact on Program

Had 2014 not happened the way it happened, Michigan may not be in the market for a new coach.

Had Hoke’s team achieved its goals, we could be talking about a defining 2015 for the Wolverines, who were on the brink of turning the corner in the very near future, according to Hoke’s coaching staff—the same staff that repeated the same line of “we have to execute better” each and every week.

A nine-win season would have probably prevented the mass exodus of 2015 recruits. It would have probably provided a respectable curtain call for Gardner, and it would have probably set up Smith and Green to evolve into an excellent duo in the Big Ten.

Michigan football used to be about reaching realistic expectations and then exceeding them. Today, it’s about crying over spilled milk and wondering how the table got wet. 

 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and references were obtained firsthand by the writer. All recruiting information via 247Sports. 

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Auburn Football: Holiday Wish List for the Tigers

AUBURN, Ala. — The holidays are a perfect time to reflect on the year that was and prepare for what's ahead on the new calendar.

And, of course, they are a perfect time for gifts.

Auburn's players are off for a few days this Christmas week, taking a break between the start of bowl practice on the Plains and next week's trip to the Outback Bowl. 

With the holidays in mind, here is what Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn might put on his team's wish list as his Tigers look to move on from the 2014 regular season and get ready for what they hope will be a better year in 2015. 

(You know, besides more sweater vests and visors.)

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Ole Miss Football Recruit Chad Kelly Arrested After Reported Fight with Bouncers

Ole Miss commit Chad Kelly faces charges of third-degree assault, second-degree harassment, second-degree menacing and resisting arrest, among others, after being arrested early Sunday, according to Joseph Popiolkowski and Keith McShea of The Buffalo News.

The charges stem from a reported fight between Kelly and bouncers at a bar in downtown Buffalo, per The Buffalo News report:

Kelly, 20, of Niagara Falls, refused to leave Encore at 492 Pearl St. about 3:15 a.m. and punched a bouncer in the face, Buffalo police said. Kelly's companion, Brandon Hickey, 21, of Clarence, had been thrown out of the bar earlier and tried to re-enter, police said.

Kelly continued to fight with two bouncers and stated "I'm going to go to my car and get my AK-47 and spray this place," according to a report.

The report goes on to state that Kelly would not calm down once the police arrived: 

Buffalo police officers responding to that alleged threat stopped a 2005 Ford F-150 pickup truck in which Kelly was a passenger at 458 Pearl.

Kelly was forcibly removed from the vehicle, officers said. Police said Kelly kicked and tried to swing at officers as they removed him from the vehicle. They said he resisted getting into a patrol vehicle and struggled with staff at central booking.

Kelly signed a letter of intent with the Rebels on Wednesday.

"We needed to create competition and depth at quarterback," head coach Hugh Freeze said, via the Ole Miss athletic site. "And we were able to do that with Chad Kelly."

USA TODAY's Dan Wolken also provided a quote Freeze gave The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi:

ESPN.com's Travis Haney said he believed Ole Miss should have done a better job in the recruiting process:

Kelly is the nephew of legendary Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly. According to 247Sports' composite rankings, he's the best dual-threat junior-college quarterback in the 2015 recruiting class. He was a 4-star QB coming out of high school in 2012 when he signed with Clemson.

Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney dismissed Kelly from the team in April after Kelly argued with the coaching staff during Clemson's spring game.

"He has had a pattern of behavior that is not consistent with the values of our program," Swinney said at the time, per ESPN.com's Andrea Adelson. "I hope he will mature and grow from this and become the man and player I know he can be. I wish him nothing but the best in the future academically and athletically."

It's currently unknown how this news will affect Kelly's status with Ole Miss.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football: Burning Questions for the Holiday Bowl

Nebraska football fans might have forgotten about the upcoming Holiday Bowl amid all of the drama, but there are a number of questions to be answered. After the firing of Bo Pelini, more questions than normal surround Nebraska as the Huskers prepare for their bowl game.

Here are three burning questions that will help define Nebraska’s performance in San Diego.

  

What Will Nebraska's Motivation Be?

Bowl games are always tricky to forecast because of the motivation question.

How hard will a group of college students, nearly one month removed from the regular season and with the holidays in between, really want to work? Will one team be more willing to pay the price in preparation and have more of a chance to be successful?

That’s for any bowl game. 

Add on top of that a popular head coach being fired. Add on top of that the fired coach having a 9-3 record. And add on top of that a farewell speech from the fired 9-3 coach that further stoked the "us-versus-them" mentality that was one of the defining traits of that coach’s career.

You could imagine almost anything in terms of how Nebraska will show up for the Holiday Bowl.

The players could be razor-sharp and play the game of their life in honor of Pelini. They could be flat and listless, feeling like their season was stolen. They could come out like wild horses, riding an emotional high but falling apart at the first sign of trouble.

Each of those scenarios are plausible. Indeed, over the course of Pelini’s career, we’ve seen each of those Nebraska teams take the field.

Finding out which team comes out of the locker room will be one of the biggest questions of the Holiday Bowl.

 

What Will the Game Plan Be?

While Pelini is getting comfortable in Youngstown, the rest of his staff will be preparing Nebraska for the Holiday Bowl. That means defensive coordinator John Papuchis will be in charge of the Blackshirts, and offensive coordinator Tim Beck will call the game however he wants.

Throw in a month to prepare—and coaches who will be looking to make a good impression for future employers—and Nebraska could look different than it has at any point this year.

How effective that will be, of course, is anyone’s guess.

 

How Healthy Will Nebraska Be?

Without the coaching change, this one might have been the biggest question to answer coming into the Holiday Bowl.

Ameer Abdullah’s status will be the biggest question, of course, as it was his injury during the Purdue game that really changed the course of Nebraska’s season. But Kenny Bell has also struggled with injuries all season—as have a number of other Huskers.

With a month to heal, Nebraska will be as healthy as it has been since the start of the season. That will make a significant difference, particularly given the talent level of a team like USC.

 

For a different look at Nebraska football, check out The Double Extra Point.

You can also use the Twitter machine to follow @DblExtraPoint.

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At Long Last, It's Time to Focus on Jameis Winston the Football Player

You don’t have to care for Jamies Winston. You don’t have to suddenly root for Florida State. You are entitled to your opinions about this player and person—two vastly different entities in a complex situation—but you also have to respect the process, or in this instance, processes that have taken place.

On Sunday, Winston was cleared of any Florida State University conduct code violations. Following sexual assault allegations stemming back to December 2012, Major Harding, a retired Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice, was tasked with this case. He oversaw the December 3 hearing and then provided the results less than three weeks later.

With Florida State’s semifinal matchup against Oregon less than two weeks away, Harding announced the findings.

"This was a complex case, and I worked hard to make sure both parties had a full and fair opportunity to present information,” Harding said in a letter obtained by USA Today. “In sum, the preponderance of the evidence has not shown that you are responsible for any of the charge violations of the Code. Namely, I find that the evidence before me is insufficient to satisfy the burden of proof."

Florida State University President John Thrasher also released a statement on Sunday that addressed the decision, via 247Sports:

The university selected Justice Major Harding, a highly qualified and respected jurist, to remove any doubt about the integrity of this process and the result. He conducted a thorough Student Conduct Code hearing and reviewed more than 1,000 pages of evidence generated by three other investigations, and we would like to thank him sincerely for his service. Moving forward, we remain committed to the principle of due process, and our highest priority will continue to be the safety and well-being of all our students.

The ruling can still be appealed by the accuser. The cutoff date for this decision is January 13, which just so happens to be the day following the College Football Playoff National Championship. This could also serve as the first day of Winston’s professional career, given the likelihood that he will declare for the NFL Draft shortly after that day, if not before.

If that’s the case, the dissection of Winston the football player—and the person, but in a drastically different arena—will be up to the NFL scouts. After undergoing legal and school-based investigations, they’re likely to get the next crack. The tone of these interviews and conversations will certainly be far different.

Winston will have questions to answer, but not to us. Not anymore. The questions regarding his struggles this year, along with the inevitable offseason inquiries, will be something he has to deal with moving forward, out of the public eye.

For that reason, his draft evaluation—whenever it begins—will be complicated. He’ll have to answer why his interceptions skyrocketed in 2014 and why his overall performance, at least in many weeks, was down.

On a more personal level, Winston will likely also be asked about what has transpired over the past few years—from the crab legs, to the BB guns, to the obvious, more impactful topics.

This should be no concern of ours. Unless you work in the front office of an NFL franchise that is near the top of the draft, it will not be on you to determine whether he’s worth a multi-million dollar investment.

As a result, it’s time to move on.

The perception of Winston, for many, likely will never change. Even with Harding’s announcement on Sunday, no ruling—be it legal or through a university—will convince some people. If anything, the frustration of a long, strange process might grow more robust. And there’s really only one direction to cast this negative response.

Given the way these investigations have concluded, however, anything more than an assessment of Winston as a quarterback is unfair at this point. As stated above, you don’t have like him. In fact, you don’t have to embrace the way this entire process has been conducted from a variety of different facets. It has, on multiple levels, been an absolute mess from start to finish.

But it has also, finally, reached a conclusion. And although we have no idea what took place in December 2012—and never will—the various processes in place have played out accordingly. Whether they played out to your liking is a much deeper, personal conversation.

The only thing we can do is go off of the results and what we know as fact.

We know we have questions about Winston entering the Rose Bowl. He has been hobbled all year with a bum ankle while playing behind an offensive line that was nowhere close to advertised. As a result, his performance has suffered.

We also know that he has never lost a game in his collegiate career, which is something that is often overlooked given everything that has gone on. Along those lines, Winston is coming off his best performance of the season, a laser-sharp, 309-yard, three-touchdown performance against Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game with a playoff spot on the line.

With Oregon on deck and Winston and the Seminoles playing the role of underdog for the first time in two seasons, this is the information that should be processed. Anything more is a trek you can take by your lonesome.

Sunday’s ruling may not have altered your opinion of the person, but the player—and only the player—should be what we’re concerned with as Winston's collegiate career likely inches closer toward its own conclusion.

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Jameis Winston Cleared In FSU Code of Conduct Hearing

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has been cleared of any potential violations following his code of conduct hearing.  

David Cornwell, Winston's attorney, tweeted the news on Sunday:

Sean Rossman of the Tallahassee Democrat received confirmation from Cornwell:

Sports Illustrated's Michael McMann weighed in on the university's ruling:

Winston has been the subject of a sexual assault accusation stemming from an alleged incident in December 2012. After an investigation, the state attorney decided not to charge him in December 2013, but he was still subject to discipline from the university.

Avoiding punishment from the code of conduct hearing, which ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach noted could have included expulsion, will make Winston certain to play in the forthcoming Rose Bowl versus Oregon.

Retired Florida Supreme Court justice Major Harding oversaw the Title IX code of conduct case and delivered the decision 18 days after the Dec. 3 hearing. 

USA TODAY provided an excerpt of Harding's ruling:

"This was a complex case, and I worked hard to make sure both parties had a full and fair opportunity to present information. In sum, the preponderance of the evidence has not shown that you are responsible for any of the charge violations of the Code. Namely, I find that the evidence before me is insufficient to satisfy the burden of proof.

"As summarized in the preceding paragraphs, the evidence regarding the events that unfolded between you and (the woman) once in your room is irreconcilable," Harding wrote. "In light of all the circumstances, I do not find the credibility of one story substantially stronger than that of the other. Both have their own strengths and weaknesses. I cannot find with any confidence that the events as set forth by you, (the woman), or a particular combination thereof is more probable than not as required to find you responsible for a violation of the Code."

According to FSU policy, the alleged victim has five class days to appeal the decision. Given that FSU is currently on holiday break, that deadline would be Jan. 13. 

Florida State remains under investigation by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. In April the department began investigating FSU's handling of alleged sexual violence and compliance with Title IX.

Sunday's ruling should help at least a little with regard to the redshirt sophomore Winston's 2015 NFL draft stock. Even with a checkered past, the Heisman Trophy and national title accolades, along with an understanding of a pro-style offense, make Winston a top prospect.

The off-field issues have persisted as a part of Winston's image, though. Winston shoplifted crab legs in the spring and shouted an unsavory phrase in the student union that earned him a one-game suspension this year.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Football: Holiday Wish List for the Aggies

The Texas A&M Football team had a transitional year in 2014. The Aggies struggled to a 7-5 regular-season record and could use a few gifts under their Christmas tree before they enter 2015.

Texas A&M struggled on defense again in 2014. In 2013, the Aggies ended the season ranked No. 109 in total defense. In 2014, the Aggies ended the regular season ranked No. 102 in the nation in total defense.

They need to improve dramatically on the defensive side of the ball in 2015 in order to compete for a conference title. They also need to add more talent across the board in order to remain competitive in the SEC.

This is a look at a few gifts the Aggies would wish for during this holiday season.

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Texas Football: Jefferson, McNeal Pledges Brighten Horns' Future

There is a perception across the state of Texas that Texas A&M has overtaken the University of Texas as the premier program in the Lone Star State.

While the Aggies have indeed been more successful over the past few years, December 19, 2014 may be looked back on as the day that signaled a monumental change.

Charlie Strong pulled off stunning moves on Friday, receiving commitments from two coveted recruits from the Dallas area who were supposedly favoring the Aggies. 

Malik Jefferson, the best recruit in Texas and best linebacker in the nation, according to 247Sports, announced his commitment to the Longhorns along with teammate DeAndre McNeal at a ceremony at their high school.

McNeal is a 4-star athlete who possesses the unique ability to play wide receiver, tight end and linebacker effectively. He is likely to end up on defense once he gets to Austin and should be a very versatile defensive presence for Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford to utilize.

This has to come as a relief for the Longhorns coaching staff. The pressure has mounted since Strong kicked nine players off the team before the calendar changed to October, and the Longhorns struggled for the majority of 2014.

The pledges from Jefferson and McNeal pushed the Horns’ recruiting haul from good to great, catapulting the ’15 class to the best in the Big 12 and the 14th-ranked class in the country, per 247Sports.com.

Those two Mesquite Poteet products have incredible potential and will undoubtedly contribute to the Longhorns down the road, but most of the problems for Texas came on the offensive side of the ball.

Tyrone Swoopes was unimpressive in his first season as a collegiate starting quarterback, and he will have plenty of competition come next season.

Redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard and Zach Gentry, a highly touted pro-style quarterback from New Mexico, should both challenge Swoopes for next year’s starting gig. Both of them have tons of talent, and it will be interesting to see which direction Charlie Strong decides to go.

Johnathan Gray will return next year for his senior season, and he should be able to shoulder the majority of the carries after sharing time with Malcolm Brown the past three seasons. 

The receiving corps will be arguably the biggest question heading into next year. Jaxon Shipley and John Harris, who accounted for more than half of the team’s catches last season, will both play the final games of their respective careers in the Texas Bowl against Arkansas.

Defense is Strong’s forte, and with the addition of superior talent like Jefferson, the Horns D-line should be stifling in 2015.

So while Texas A&M will almost assuredly rake in a more prominent recruiting class on the February 4 Signing Day, the Longhorns are slowly but surely closing the gap. The U.T. program fell to unprecedented lows toward the end of the Mack Brown era, and Strong has been trying to change the culture since he took the job.

Luring Jefferson and McNeal out of the Aggies’ grasp is a terrific start, and if the administration stays patient with Strong and his plan, the Longhorns will not only be able to regain their place as a perennial powerhouse, they will be able to sustain their success for the long haul.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Games Schedule 2014-15: Complete Listings for Every Game

The first day of the holiday bowl season resurfaced a theme seen time and time again during the college football postseason—motivation is everything entering these games.

A team's mindset can be so much more important than sheer X's and O's come bowl season, and that was shown once again Saturday. Utah drubbed Colorado State—shaken by the departure of head coach Jim McElwain to Florida—45-10, as the Rams couldn't overcome a coaching change and play inspired football.

Whether it's schools that won't bring the same fight to the field knowing their once-realistic national title hopes are over, or a program with young talent furiously looking to build momentum for 2015, motivation is often the deciding factor come bowl season. Of course, then there are teams like Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon and Florida State, which have everything to play for.

Take a look below to figure out when every game will be played and where you can catch it on the tube. We'll then dissect two games in which motivation will loom larger than most.

 

 

Note: Bowl schedule courtesy of ESPN.com.

 

Outback Bowl: Auburn vs. Wisconsin

Some rough late-season results and—in Wisconsin's case—a coaching change have the Outback Bowl as one of the more intriguing battles on tap for bowl season.

The Tigers didn't make it through the SEC gauntlet with enough wins to threaten the College Football Playoff, and it's a fair question to wonder whether they will be completely up for it after much higher hopes. 

As for Wisconsin, the abrupt departure of head coach Gary Andersen has a Badgers team that was recently drubbed by Ohio State 59-0 reeling even more. Even Heisman runner-up Melvin Gordon is coming off his worst performance of the season.

The problem for the Badgers, though, will be that defense recently gashed by the Buckeyes. While Auburn's defense doesn't help much, its offense is among the best in the nation with Nick Marshall and Cameron Artis-Payne running Gus Malzahn's system to perfection.

If Malzahn's team comes in wanting to prove something on New Year's Day and plays like it, the Badgers will have to show the resolve they didn't against Ohio State—or face a similar result.

You have a team spoiled by success in one end, and a team undergoing a coaching change playing for a staff that they know won't be back next season. But if there's one group of people who should be all-in for this game, it's the entire nation, according to AL.com's Brandon Marcello:

Maybe all Auburn's players need to find the motivation for this one is to read that above tweet.

 

TaxSlayer Bowl: Iowa vs. Tennessee

There might not be a bowl game this postseason featuring teams with more different mentalities heading in than the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida.

Kirk Ferentz's Iowa Hawkeyes entered 2014 with an outside opportunity to compete for a championship in the wide-open Big Ten or at least make some steps toward national prominence. Yet here they are, at 7-5 and at the end of a disappointing season.

They'll look across EverBank Field and see a Tennessee Volunteers team full of young talent and reinvigorated by getting the program's first bowl bid since 2010. If the youth continues to gel and head coach Butch Jones works some more magic, the Vols could be gunning for an SEC Championship Game appearance in 2015.

The excitement of both teams can only be described by the ticket allotments. The Des Moines Register's Chad Leistikow reported Iowa is expecting to sell half of its allotment, while Tennessee sold out days after the announcement.

Iowa has a burly offensive line and the physicality to compete with SEC opposition, but it's hard to see the Hawkeyes fully getting up for this one. Meanwhile, Tennessee is playing in a game that most players on the roster have eyed for years. 

Motivation only factors in so much, but when two evenly-matched teams that are such polar opposites in that department go at it, you'd have to imagine it will factor in considerably.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff Championship 2015: Schedule and Bracket Predictions

It's finally (almost) here—the inaugural College Football Playoff.

We talked about it before the season, anticipating who would be in before games were even played. We talked about it all during the season, critiquing every weekly rankings put out by the CFP committee.

But now that the teams are announced and the bowl season is just about in full swing, it's time to put all the talking aside and get ready for two semifinal games that promise to live up to the billing.

Let's jump right in and look at everything you need to know for the first-ever CFP.

 

Note: Odds courtesy of Odds Shark, last updated December 20

 

Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 FSU

Looking back, the first year of the four-team CFP format could not have come at a better time for Florida State.

If we still had the BCS format for this year, the unbeaten Seminoles would have been the first team out. And considering they're in the midst of a 29-game win streak, the madness in reaction would have been ear-piercing.

Alas, Florida State has made it into the group of four and will be intent on proving its plethora of ugly wins this season are an aberration. Doing so against the No. 2 Oregon Ducks—who have enough to prove on their own—won't be a walk in the park.

Jameis Winston seems to make the winning plays whenever he feels it's needed, but he'll face a fast Duck defense giving up just 17 points per contest in their last five. Oregon will, however, be without star cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu after his practice injury.

That won't be the side of the ball that leads to Florida State's demise, though. Instead, this experience of Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III—who helped the Wildcats beat Oregon earlier in 2014—explains the trouble ahead for the Seminoles, per Arizona Daily Star's Daniel Berk:

Well, Wright doesn't know anymore—nor does anyone. His Wildcats were drubbed 51-13 in a Pac-12 title game rematch, with Marcus Mariota dominating via the air and ground.

With 38 passing touchdowns to just two picks, Mariota will take care of the ball and make the big plays to get Oregon the early lead. He'll get some good play from the Ducks' speedsters and bowling-ball running back Royce Freeman, but the Seminoles' stout defensive line means Mariota will be taking it upon himself to make the plays.

There won't be a lot of space for him to air it out, but that's not really Oregon's style, anyway. They exhaust defenses with a run-heavy attack and short passing prowess, and Florida State's defense has been exhausted more than a few times this season.

Oregon's defense won't shut Winston and the Florida State offense down by any means, but it will do enough to stay alive and get to Arlington, Texas.

Prediction: Oregon 41, Florida State 30

 

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

In the middle of the season, this destination seemed improbable at best for Ohio State and even Alabama. But here they are, two of college football's powerhouses gearing up for a date in the 2015 Sugar Bowl.

The Crimson Tide's season doesn't nearly match up to Ohio State's in that regard, though. The Buckeyes lost two star quarterbacks throughout the season, fell 35-21 at home to Virginia Tech and still found a way to rattle off 11 straight wins—including a 59-0 drubbing of Wisconsin that got them over the hump.

His team's resolve hasn't been lost on Urban Meyer, who gave a striking superlative to his team, per ESPN College Football:

Don't forget how impossible the Crimson Tide's championship hopes looked at times, too. They had to battle back all season after a loss at Ole Miss, and their hopes looked all but dead at times against LSU and Auburn.

Alabama's offensive resurgence has been perhaps the biggest reason that they're still around, and it will prove huge again versus a stout Ohio State defense featuring Joey Bosa and Joshua Perry. 

Offensive success should be expected from Blake Sims, Amari Cooper and Co., but the big X-factor is Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones. He was magnificent in his first start against Wisconsin, but Alabama's strong run defense means he won't be able to lean on Ezekiel Elliott quite the same.

Elliott's impact will be stalemated by Alabama up front, putting the onus on Jones to lead Ohio State to a win. He has the ability to, but it will prove an impossible task against a Crimson Tide defense smelling a trip to the national championship.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Ohio State 24

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

The first College Football Playoff is getting nearer and nearer, but dealing with the anticipation is only getting tougher by the minute.

Thankfully, the bowl season has officially begun, giving viewers some significant appetizers before New Year's Day brings the debut of the national semifinal system.

It's not really the fact of the matter that has excitement at a fever pitch, though.

Instead, it's the matchups. Top-ranked Alabama goes up against Ohio State in a battle of college football blue bloods, while the last two Heisman Trophy winners do battle in Oregon vs. Florida State in the Rose Bowl.

CFB Playoff is ready, as they tweeted out the uniforms each team will be wearing on New Year's Day:

The holidays and other bowl games will help take some of the attention away from the CFP over the coming days, but three early-January battles will soon decide this year's national champion. 

Let's take a look at predictions and odds for both of the semifinals and a championship pick.

 

Note: Odds courtesy of Odds Shark, last updated December 20 

 

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

Ohio State won the furious race for the final CFP spot, and the Buckeyes were awarded the prize of facing Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Maybe that's not much of a Christmas present, but Urban Meyer's squad figures to be up for the challenge. After bouncing back from an early-season gaffe against Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes have won 11 straight games—including a 59-0 beating of Wisconsin as underdogs in the Big Ten title game.

Ohio State's defense is among the most underrated units in football, but what will Meyer get from Cardale Jones? The once third-stringer now starts at quarterback, and the jury is still out despite his great performance against the Badgers.

He knows the test he's facing on New Year's Day will be as tough as can be, per Ohio State athletics:

Jones got some serious help from Ezekiel Elliott in that Wisconsin game, as he rushed for over 200 yards. Don't expect a repeat performance against an Alabama run defense that blows over offensive lines en route to rushers.

The Crimson Tide are all but expected to find some answers offensively, with Blake Sims making quick passes and downhill run plays to thwart the Buckeyes' strength in rushing the passer. Ohio State will struggle at first but find a way to string together stops and give Jones the ball in favorable spots.

He'll play admirably in leading the Buckeyes close, but he will have to play the game of his life to overcome Alabama—and even that might not be enough. The Tide secondary will be susceptible to some big plays but will keep Jones in check during crunch time to advance.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Ohio State 24

 

Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 FSU

The two best quarterbacks in college football—and perhaps best players overall—will go at it in the Rose Bowl, as Marcus Mariota leads Oregon into a semifinal against Jameis Winston's Florida State Seminoles.

It's a battle of the last two Heisman Trophy winners, as well, after Mariota took this year's trophy following Winston's historic 2013 season. But if Mariota wants to add a championship to it like Winston, he'll have to go through that very same person.

Both quarterbacks have showcased their leadership abilities and clutch gene throughout the year, but there is one striking difference: Mariota has thrown two interceptions this year to Winston's 17, as ESPN College Football expanded upon:

The game will inevitably come down to which team is more complete, and that's undoubtedly Oregon.

The Ducks have been blowing out every opponent they have faced since an early-season loss at home to Arizona, utilizing a fast defense and that same high-octane offense to big success. Unlike in previous seasons, when late blunders would cost them everything, Oregon peaked to close out 2014.

Florida State's ability isn't lost despite a handful of ugly victories this season, but it's hard to imagine the Seminoles making those winning plays against a team like Oregon. The Ducks will take advantage of every opportunity the Noles give them early, and it will be too late before Winston can rally them back.

Prediction: Oregon 41, Florida State 30

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College Football Bowl Picks 2014: Odds and Predictions for Hottest Teams

While some teams are limping their way toward bowl season and the current campaign's finish line, others are firing on all cylinders and looking to make a statement.

The latter point is certainly true of all four teams that qualified for the College Football Playoff, but there are other teams that would like to continue their excellent play and end the year on a high note even if it doesn't include a championship.

Regular-season success in college football is great, but bowl season is a totally different animal. Here is a closer look at how some of the top teams will fare when the games truly count.

*Point spreads courtesy of OddsShark.com.

 

Predictions for Hottest Teams

Rose Bowl: Florida State (+8.5) vs. Oregon

With 29 consecutive wins to their credit, Florida State may very well be the hottest team in college football. That is bolstered by the fact that they are the defending national champions, but there is no question that the Seminoles have escaped with wins by the skin of their teeth on several occasions in 2014.

Oregon does have one loss, but it came way back in October, and the Ducks have been dominant in winning every game by double digits since then. That is why Oregon is a fairly significant favorite entering the Rose Bowl. However, FSU won't go quietly.

The Seminoles have a penchant for pulling out big games and making plays in the clutch. They may not blow teams out like the Ducks, but every win counts regardless of the margin. Florida State is only the No. 3 seed despite going undefeated, but head coach Jimbo Fisher believes that works in his favor, according to Warchant.com:

Also, while FSU lost plenty of talent from last year's title team, it still has the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback in Jameis Winston. He has an excellent array of weapons as well with wide receiver Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O'Leary leading the way.

Greene could be the biggest key to Florida State's success as Oregon will be without shutdown cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu due to injury, per SportsCenter:

That may help the Seminoles score some points, but the Ducks aren't afraid to engage in a shootout. They have the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in the form of quarterback Marcus Mariota, and they have speed to burn at absolutely every skill position.

The Seminoles are going to hang in there and cover the 8.5-point spread, but Oregon's explosiveness will prove to be a bit too much as it will win a 45-42 thriller.

 

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

In the other CFP semifinal, No. 1 Alabama will look to live up to its billing against No. 4 Ohio State. The Crimson Tide have been considered the best team in college football for much of the year despite losing to Ole Miss in October, and now they have a chance to prove it.

The Buckeyes barged their way into the CFP with 59-0 dismantling of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. With top quarterbacks Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett both on the shelf, Cardale Jones got the job done in his first start. Repeating that feat won't be easy against the nation's No. 4 defense.

As good as Bama is on that side of the ball, though, most of the focus will be on its offense. The Buckeyes have a somewhat inconsistent defense, but they can't afford to have any lapses when defending Heisman Trophy finalist and star wide receiver Amari Cooper, according to ESPN College Football:

A big reason for Cooper's success has been the play of quarterback Blake Sims. Nobody was sure how he would fare in place of A.J. McCarron, but he has been even better than advertised. Per Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports, Cooper views his signal-caller as a true leader:

The Tide also have a pair of excellent running backs in T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, so OSU will essentially have to pick its poison.

A nine-point spread is fairly large for a talented team like the Buckeyes, but their inexperience at quarterback will ultimately come back to bite them against an elite defense, and the Tide will roll to a 38-21 victory.

 

Cotton Bowl: Michigan State (+2.5) vs. Baylor

Baylor feels as though it should be playing for a national title, but the Bears were left out of the CFP, which means they will instead meet a strong Michigan State team in the Cotton Bowl.

Despite losing just one game and beating a strong TCU squad, Baylor sits as the No. 5 team in the nation, which is the loneliest number under the current format. With that in mind, it could be quite difficult for head coach Art Briles to get the Bears excited for this bowl.

That likely won't be a problem for the Spartans since they didn't have a realistic CFP shot with two losses. Michigan State is far from a pushover, though, as it is seventh in scoring offense and 12th in scoring defense. That makes MSU one of the most well-balanced teams in college football.

Baylor, of course, is all about offense and the play of quarterback Bryce Petty. According to Chris Solari of The Lansing State Journal, Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is quite cognizant of the Bears' frenetic offense:

That style has helped Baylor become the No. 1 scoring team in the country, but it didn't encounter many defenses the caliber of MSU's in the Big 12. Also, the Spartans have the ability to slow down Baylor's offense by using its own offense.

Michigan State has an excellent running back in Jeremy Langford who should be able to grind out yardage and eat clock. Also, quarterback Connor Cook is a great decision-maker, and he will find ways to establish long drives as well.

The Bears are favored to win after their great season, but the Spartans have the personnel needed to pull off a 27-24 upset.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Sugar Bowl 2015: Alabama vs. Ohio State Schedule, Live Stream and TV Info

Ohio State vs. Alabama is an old school matchup with a new school twist. The 2015 Sugar Bowl matchup isn't an unusual one. College football fans should be used to the Big 10 power running into the best the SEC can offer at this point, but the stakes have been raised this year.

This is the beginning of a new era in college football.

The two traditional powers will face off for the chance to play in the first national championship decided by a playoff.

After all of the #hottakes and heated discussion about who should or shouldn't be in the inaugural four-team tournament, the teams have finally been decided. It's time to sit back and actually enjoy the festivities.

Here's a look at when and where to catch the historic contest along with the biggest questions surrounding the matchup.

 

When: Jan. 1, 2015 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: Superdome (New Orleans, Louisiana)

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

What Matters More? Metrics or Narrative?

The oddsmakers have this pegged as a comfortable win for Alabama. The Crimson Tide opened up as a nine-point favorite, according to Odds Shark.

However, a look at some metrics show that this matchup is much closer.

Football Outsiders' F/+ metric has the two schools as the best in the country with Alabama at No. 1 and Ohio State No. 2. Team Rankings, Ed Feng and ESPN also have them as comparable teams.

So why is Alabama such a big favorite?

It's hard to deny that there has to be an aspect of narrative that is behind the expected result. Ohio State has built a reputation as a team pickers can't depend on. The Buckeyes can claim just one bowl win since 2007.

For all the accomplishments and hype that have come with the Urban Meyer era, he has yet to capture a bowl win. The team was unable to participate in the postseason in his debut season and were upended by Clemson in last year's Orange Bowl.

Meyer, for his part, doesn't even feel like the Buckeyes are preparing for a bowl, though.

“It's completely different,” Meyer said via Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch. “That is one of the negatives of it. You don't even think about the bowl. The Sugar Bowl is one of the great bowls in college football history and football playoffs (from the Bowl Championship Series days).

“So it will be interesting how that evolves over the years. … I love bowl games. (But) It's a playoff game.”

The Buckeyes will be hoping that a new approach to postseason preparation will yield new results. However, the oddsmakers seem less than confident that will be the case.

 

Can Cardale Jones Step Up Once Again?

The Ohio State quarterback situation in 2014 is a tale of resilience. As anyone who has access to TV or Internet can tell you, the Buckeyes lost star quarterback Braxton Miller weeks before the season opener only to watch J.T. Barrett step up in his stead and become a Heisman contender.

Barrett was then lost for the season in the Michigan game. Backup Cardale Jones proceeded to take the helm in a 59-0 drubbing of Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship Game.

Essentially, the signal-caller went from "the guy that said 'we ain't come to play school'" to a legend in Columbus.

Urban Meyer even commented on how much the sophomore has matured via 11 Warriors:

The question is now is whether he can do it against an Alabama defense that will have nearly a month to prepare for the Ohio State offense.

It's a question that no one really knows the answer to. Jones only had two pass attempts and 17 rushes in his first season as a Buckeye. This year, he only has 34 passes and 34 rushes to his credit. Nick Saban won't have much film to work with. That could mean that he's difficult to game-plan for or his conference title performance will prove to be a fluke.

If that's the case, the Buckeyes are going to have a difficult time pulling off the upset.

 

Who Will Have His Team More Prepared? Urban Meyer or Nick Saban?

Ask anyone who the best coaches in college football are, and you're likely to hear Nick Saban and Urban Meyer in quick succession. The two have each built impressive resumes as titans within the profession. 

Once upon a time, the college football world was treated to an annual matchup against the two minds in the SEC.

Now, the two have the opportunity to meet once again on a grander stage. Meyer will be looking to even up the series at two each. He won the initial meeting when Florida beat Alabama 31-20 in the 2008 SEC Championship Game.

From there, Saban's Bama teams dominated Florida in the 2009 conference title game 32-13. Saban's Alabama team blew out Meyer's Florida squad again in the 2010 regular season.

Now, Saban will look to make the last two lopsided results the norm in this coaching rivalry.

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Rose Bowl 2015: Oregon vs. FSU Schedule, Live Stream and TV Info

In 2015, "The Granddaddy of Them All" will become even bigger. Gone is the nostalgic Big Ten vs. Pac-12 matchup. In its stead is a matchup between the Pac-12 and defending national champion for a shot at winning it all this year.

There's no shortage of intrigue heading into this game. Florida State enters the contest as the owner of the nation's longest winning streak but is somehow feeling like an underdog. Oregon and Heisman-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota opened as -8.5 favorites, according to Odds Shark.

The line has only moved in the Ducks favor since.

Still, the fact remains that the Seminoles were the only team to run through 2014 unscathed in the regular season. It wasn't always pretty, but 13-0 is 13-0. Are the Ducks the team to put an end to the run?

Here's a look at all the information you need to catch the game along with some of the key questions surrounding this matchup.

 

When: Jan. 1, 2015, at 4:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Which Jameis Winston Will We See?

It's no secret that Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota is the matchup everyone is talking about heading into this game. It's very rare for two Heisman winners to square off in a bowl game, and the fact that it's happening in a game of this magnitude makes for some compelling TV. 

The question, though, is whether we are going to see the same Winston that won the Heisman last season. The 2014 incarnation hasn't been nearly as efficient as the one that took college football by storm in 2013. 

While Winston's numbers have dropped overall, it's the one that's increased that's the most worrisome. His new found penchant for turning the ball over is one that could finally catch up with him.

The good news is that Oregon's defense hasn't exactly been known for ball hawking. The Ducks rank 91st in the nation in defensive interception percentage, per TeamRankings.com.

However, Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich knows they must be prepared to get Winston's best shot on New Year's Day.

That's one thing you never really know," Helfrich said, via The Oregonian. "Yes, his stats are different. Early game production is different. ... A lot of times against a team like Florida State, those guys are going to get every single team's best shot. Best preparation, most dialed in sense of urgency in meetings. You're trying to knock off No. 1...people are dialed into that.

The loss of Ifo Ekpre-Olomu makes this an even more favorable matchup for Winston. The cornerback is considered one of the top defensive backs in the country and will be difficult to replace going against Florida State's receiving corps led by Rashad Greene.

 

Can Florida State's Defense Slow Down Oregon's Rushing Attack?

Mariota steals all the headlines, but Oregon's offense is still propelled by a fast-paced rushing attack. The Ducks are 22nd nationally in yards per game and 17th in yards per rush. Basically, they're not only efficient but just keep coming with volume.

This, of course, sets up defenses for all kind of headaches, because once they've established that running game, there's the matter of stopping a Heisman-winning quarterback in the passing game.

The good news for the Noles is they may have what it takes to slow down the Ducks running game. Florida State's defense isn't what it was last season but still ranks 37th in defensive yards per carry at 3.9.

That ranking may not seem impressive. After all, it would seem a top-10 rushing defense would be necessary to stop the likes of Royce Freeman, Mariota and Byron Marshall. However, at 37, Florida State will be the highest-ranked rush defense the Ducks have seen outside of Michigan State way back in September.

Florida State hasn't always played the part, but the front seven is still chock-full of 4- and 5-star athletes. The potential is there for the Noles to make the Ducks work for yardage in this one.

 

Is This the Year Oregon Wins It All?

Since the Chip Kelly era, the Oregon Ducks have been among the top programs in college football. The Pac-12 power has been to BCS bowls in four of the last five seasons but hasn't been able to break through to win a national title.

But this feels as much like the year of the Duck as any.

First, there's the fact that Mariota's career has come to a head. The junior has somehow taken his game to a new level this season, as evidenced by his runaway Heisman season, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Then there's the fact that this may be the best defense in this era of Oregon football. The Ducks are 13th defensively in the country, according to Football Outsiders' F/+ metric. That's the highest they've finished since 2011.

The switch to Don Pellum may have seemed rocky in the beginning, but he's rounding the defense into shape just in time for the stretch run.

With an efficient defense, their usual high-flying offense and a favorable matchup in the national semifinal, this could finally be the year the Ducks truly enter the fray as the nation's top team.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Beach Bowl 2014: BYU vs. Memphis TV Info, Spread, Injury News, Time, More

The BYU Cougars and Memphis Tigers meet for the first time at the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl.

Both teams enter with potent offenses and gaudy win streaks. Bronco Mendenhall's Cougars are winners of four straight and in the process overcame some serious injury woes that would have derailed most seasons.

The Tigers and coach Justin Fuente ride a six-game winning streak, which includes a 41-10 shellacking of Connecticut to take home part of the American Conference title.

What results is one of the year's most underrated encounters between a potent offense and one of the nation's best defenses. Great coaching and a war of wills are on the slate.

 

When: Monday, December 22, 2 p.m. ET

Where: Marlins Park, Miami, Florida

Television: ESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 55
  • Spread: Memphis (-1.5)

 

Answering the Call One Last Time

Some were right to stick the proverbial fork in the Cougars back in October when starting quarterback Taysom Hill went down with a season-ending injury.

After all, there were whispers about Hill's name in the early Heisman race one season removed from throwing for 2,938 yards and 19 scores with another 1,344 yards and 10 scores on the ground.

Mendenhall's team persevered behind the arm of senior Christian Stewart, though. While not quite the runner Hill is, the Orem, Utah, native has thrown for 2,273 yards and accounted for 26 total touchdowns in his brief time as starter.

Stewart seems to have saved his best for last, as he has thrown 14 touchdowns to one interception over the course of his team's season-ending, four-game winning streak. He also sounds quite confident given the circumstances, as captured by Jarom Jordan of BYU Sports Nation:

The task is not that simple, though.

Memphis is in the bowl game in large part thanks to the nation's fifth-ranked defense, which allows an average of just 17.1 points per game. The unit has held seven of its 10 opponents to 10 or fewer points this year.

The leader of the unit is Tank Jakes, who has 83 total tackles, 15.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks on the season.

If Stewart is to etch his legacy in stone as the man who saved BYU's season, what may be his biggest test of the year awaits in Miami.

 

Creating a Shootout 

Most of the talk that surrounds Memphis dials in on a strong defense, and rightfully so.

That in no way permits observers from sleeping on a potent offense.

The Tigers rank 30th in the nation with an average of 34.7 points per game thanks to the efforts of quarterback Paxton Lynch. The sophomore has thrown for 2,725 yards and 18 touchdowns but is also quietly a great dual-threat player thanks to 282 yards and 10 scores on the ground.

As Greg Wrubell of BYUCougars.com points out, Lynch has also turned his game up a notch over the course of the past month and change:

The Tigers have also overcome a serious loss on that side of the football this year. Doroland Dorceus was lost for the season, but in his place stepped Brandon Hayes, who now leads the team in rushing with 900 yards and five scores on a 5.2 per-carry average.

A sufficient level of offensive potency is the last thing the Cougars want to hear about at this point. Mendenhall's defense has allowed a minimum of 23 points in two of its last four outings. Before that, four consecutive opponents scored 31 or more points, all losses.

The blueprint for a Tigers win is apparent. As long as the offense continues to play its game, a win is certainly within the realm of possibility.

  

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

This game, just the seventh bowl in program history and first since 2008, will be a success for the Tigers.

Fuente's team plays strong defense that can keep its offense in most games. Motivational factors such as national respect weigh heavy in pre-Christmas bowl games such as this, and the Tigers have plenty to fight for in a rare bowl appearance.

Simply put, Memphis is a more complete team and can limit Stewart and the Cougars offense. How BYU accounts for the versatile approach put on by Lynch and the Tigers will decide the game.

Look for the Tigers to hold on late as a ball-control offense and strong defense stand tall.  

Prediction: Memphis 28, BYU 24

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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South Alabama vs. Bowling Green: Score, Twitter Reaction for 2014 Camellia Bowl

The Bowling Green Falcons narrowly escaped a loss that would have stuck with them for a long time.

On Saturday night in the inaugural Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama, the Falcons needed a miracle 78-yard pass play from James Knapke to Roger Lewis to pull out a 33-28 win over the South Alabama Jaguars. Photojournalist Mickey Welsh captured the heartbreaking/exhilirating score.

Bowling Green jumped all over South Alabama early and held a 20-7 lead at the half. The Falcons' offense was stifled for most of the second half, though. It only managed to score seven points for the first 28-plus minutes after the break.

South Alabama clawed its way back in behind two touchdown passes from Brandon Bridge.

With the score 27-21 in Bowling Green's favor, and the ball on South Alabama's 1-yard line, the Falcons went for an 18-yard field goal that would have made it a two-score game.

Only problem is, Bowling Green kicker Tyler Tate missed the chip shot. His teammates picked him up.

For most of the fourth quarter, the Falcons defense stiffened and forced punts on consecutive possessions. However, Knapke and the offense couldn't score the clincher—yet.

With 1:20 left, Terrance Timmons scored from three yards out and gave South Alabama the 28-27 lead. the Alabama crowd was ecstatic and the Falcons sideline was in shock. They didn't hang their heads long, though.

On the first play after the ensuing kickoff, Knapke would hit Lewis for what proved to be the decisive score and the Falcons escaped with one of the wildest wins you'll see. It was a brain cramp of epic proportions by the Jaguars secondary and a totally busted coverage.

Ben Bolton of WAKA and WNCF in Alabama offered his bird's-eye view of the miracle play.

Jordan Strack of WTOL asked a rhetorical question:

While the huge play at the end will get most of the shine in recaps, the biggest reason South Alabama lost was turnovers. The Jaguars gave the ball away four times, and that helped give extra opportunities to Knapke and the Falcons.

On the day, Knapke threw for 368 yards and two scores. The performance earned him game MVP honors, per CFB Bowl Season.

Lewis caught four passes for 137 yards and both of Knapke's touchdowns. Gehrig Dieter had seven catches for 108 yards.

The Jaguars needed this win to finish above .500. With the loss, they complete the 2014 season with a record of 6-7. The win snapped a three-game losing streak for Bowling Green and it finished 8-6. While South Alabama truly didn't play well enough to deserve the win, it still smarts to have had the game in its clutches only to lose on a blown coverage.

This win gives the Falcons program some much-needed momentum heading into recruiting season. It hopes to build on the spectacular finish and take another step toward more respectability in 2015.

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10 Reasons College Football Bowl Season Is the Best Time of Year

Football, football and more football—that's what the next three weeks entail, in case you were wondering. And because of that, there's little doubt college football bowl season is the best time of the year.

But, if that one reason won't suffice, Bleacher Report is giving you nine more to provide reassurance. You're not alone. We love football, too.

From a player's perspective, a season's worth of work results in one final contest, while we, the fans, have 39 bowl games for our viewing pleasure.

Of course, there are easily more than 10 reasons, so please add what you love most about bowl season in the comments section.

Begin Slideshow

Bowl Predictions 2014-15: Full Schedule and Picks for Notable Matchups

College football fans finally got their first glimpse of the bowl season on Saturday, but they still have a lot to look forward to in the next several weeks.

For the first time in the history of college football, there will be a playoff at the Division I level. Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State will all battle for a coveted spot in the national championship.

Outside of the two semifinals, four other bowls were decided by the playoff selection committee. Baylor and TCU may have missed out of the playoff, but they will get a chance at redemption in the Cotton and Peach Bowls, respectively.

Here's a look at the complete schedule and picks for the biggest matchups.

 

Breakdown of Notable Bowls

By this point, every fan has dissected and taken in just about everything possible surrounding the Sugar and Rose Bowls. Both games feature massive matchups, but the other four selection committee contests offer plenty of intrigue as well.

One of the biggest contests will take place in Glendale, Arizona with two familiar programs. Arizona comes in with potential home-field advantage, but Boise State has a bit of history at the Fiesta Bowl.

After knocking off Oklahoma in 2007 and the previously undefeated TCU in 2010, the Broncos know all about stepping up on the big stage. This time around, they have another explosive running back in Jay Ajayi, as the team's official account notes:

Ajayi put up career highs in nearly every category this season, tallying 2,225 yards from scrimmage and 29 total touchdowns—10 more than his sophomore season. He's been so successful with the Broncos that he'll likely forgo his final year in Boise, per Rand Getlin of Yahoo Sports:

Along with Ajayi, Grant Hedrick is looking to go out on top as a senior. The Broncos quarterback has 30 total touchdowns and 13 interceptions, but he offers enough mobility to potentially find the same success as Marcus Mariota against the Wildcats defense.

Over in Arlington, Baylor will be looking to prove it was worthy of earning a playoff spot. The Bears were overlooked by the selection committee in favor of Ohio State despite defeating Kansas State in the final weekend.

Much of Baylor's success over the last several seasons has been because of Bryce Petty. The quarterback has been up-and-down all year, but he still finished the year with 26 passing touchdowns to just six interceptions. Petty spoke about his expectations of his final year, via Max Olson of ESPN.com.

“Obviously I’d want it different,” Petty said. “Shoot, I’d love to be No. 1 on the Heisman list. I’d love to be the No. 1 pick coming out. I’d love to have 40 touchdowns, no picks.”

Baylor and Petty might be looking to prove themselves on New Year's Day, but Michigan State will be a difficult test. The Spartans feature a battle-tested quarterback in Connor Cook and a dynamic running back in Jeremy Langford.

Cook has already made his intentions clear about returning next season and will look to prove he's one of the best in the country against Petty. Mike Huguenin of NFL.com believes Cook is a Heisman contender for next year, via Spartan Football's Twitter:

After claiming the Rose Bowl MVP last season, Cook will look to star in another huge game for the Spartans. Having a tailback in Langford that has rushed for an average of 134 yards and 2.5 touchdowns in his last six games makes Michigan State's backfield even more dangerous.

All six games feature great matchups, but the offensive fireworks in both the Fiesta and Cotton Bowls should be something to watch for college football fans.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Jim Harbaugh Would Need Years to Turn Michigan into National Title Contender

Jim Harbaugh might be the best man for the job, but that doesn't mean the Michigan Wolverines would transform overnight upon his arrival.

Wolverines fans have long held out hope that Harbaugh would return to his alma mater and help it return to national prominence. As almost every Michigan fan now knows, the school reportedly offered him a six-year, $49 million deal, according to Joe Pequeno of CBS 5 in Phoenix:

ESPN's Adam Schefter posted on Facebook that "Jim Harbaugh’s family and friends have been encouraging him to take the Michigan HC job, but he is torn because his heart is in the NFL, per sources close to the situation."

NFL.com's Ian Rapoport added that Harbaugh hasn't had face-to-face contact with Michigan officials yet, so it's still way too early to definitively say that he's on his way to Ann Arbor:

With that said, the timing would be right for a move, and Harbaugh might have a hard time turning down potentially $8 million-plus a year.

This is one of those situations where anything he does won't come as a complete surprise, whether it's staying with the San Francisco 49ers, taking another NFL job or going to Michigan.

Let's just pretend he does in fact become the Wolverines' head coach. While he'd receive the full backing of the fanbase, expectations would also be sky high, especially after Urban Meyer helped Ohio State go unbeaten in his first season with the Buckeyes.

The only snag is that Michigan's problems go deeper than finding a new head coach.

One of the more pressing issues for 2015 is whom will be the team's starting quarterback. Shane Morris, Wilton Speight and Alex Malzone will be vying for the job, and all three are largely inexperienced at college level.

Harbaugh's had success molding young quarterbacks in the past, and there's no reason to expect things would be any different at Michigan. Still, though, Morris, Speight and Malzone aren't guaranteed to be immediate sensations. J.T. Barrett, Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston are the exceptions, not the rule.

In general, Brady Hoke did a good job on the recruiting trail, with Michigan's classes ranking sixth in 2012, fourth in 2013 and 20th in 2014, according to 247Sports. Hoke gave the Wolverines the talent, but he was unable to make the most of his personnel.

While the cupboard wouldn't be bare for Harbaugh, he'd need to overcome the same problem that hindered Meyer in his first couple of years in Columbus: the lack of explosive playmakers who can put the Wolverines on level pegging with the SEC's best.

On December 12, Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod wrote an article titled "Is Ohio State 'SEC Enough' to Beat Alabama in the College Football Playoff?" in which he discussed how the Buckeyes needed to grow its recruiting base in order to keep up with the top teams in the country:

Ohio State will always possess plenty of players from its own talent-rich state, but one glance at the Buckeyes' roster shows that this is far from your father's Ohio State squad.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a key player on this year's Buckeyes team who wasn't wooed by a school from the SEC, as Meyer hasn't been afraid to go head-to-head with his former conference on the recruiting trail.

"We’re getting close," Meyer said of he and his staff's work on the recruiting trail. "We have to get our speed up with overall offensive skill, but where it was two years ago to where it is now is much different."

It's not enough for Harbaugh or any other Wolverines coach to dominate in-state recruiting. He also has to go out to California, Texas and Florida, among others, to find the best players in the country. That process takes time, especially with the team falling down the college football hierarchy.

Michigan is a big school in reputation only at the moment. The Wolverines are relying on past glories in order to lure in the best prep stars.

At least when Meyer arrived, Ohio State had won at least 10 games a season from 2005 to 2010. In comparison, the Wolverines have one 10-plus-win season since 2006.

Harbaugh would undoubtedly bring a lot of buzz to the program and elevate it in the eyes of potential recruits. But he'd still need to demonstrate that he can bring sustained success to Michigan. You can also bet that other schools would use Harbaugh's NFL history against him, planting that seed of doubt that he could bolt for the big leagues once again at a moment's notice.

To be clear, Harbaugh would be the dream hire for the Wolverines. Paying him $49 million would seem crazy, but The Daily Beast's Jesse Lawrence argued the investment could pay for itself in no time. It's a no-brainer.

Hiring the 49ers head coach would be the quickest way for Michigan to return to an elite level again, but the school would still be looking at a long, arduous climb back to the top.

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Western Michigan vs. Air Force: 2014 Idaho Potato Bowl Score, Twitter Reaction

On a rain-soaked field at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho, Air Force beat Western Michigan, 38-24, to win the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The victory gave the Falcons their third bowl win in the last six seasons, while the Broncos are still in search of their first postseason win.

CBS Sports CFB provided reaction to Air Force's victory:

The Falcons were led by Shayne Davern, who had a career day with 101 rushing yards and two touchdowns. 

Zach Terrell and Corey Davis also had a great day in the Broncos' losing effort. Terrell finished the game 19-of-38 for 297 passing yards, 61 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Each of those scores went to Davis, who capped off his season with 176 receiving yards.

Coming into the 2014 season, not many would have tabbed Western Michigan or Air Force as potential postseason teams. The Broncos and Falcons finished last season at 1-11 and 2-10, respectively. Both teams entered this game with seven more wins than they had the previous season. 

Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck spoke about the matchup Saturday, per Tim Booth of The Associated Press (via CBS Denver):

"How cool is it that two of the top turnarounds in college football get to play each other?" Fleck said. "I am very excited and very eager to strengthen my commitment to Western Michigan."

Bryan Fischer of NFL.com also noted how remarkable the turnaround was for Air Force:

While both teams followed similar paths to the Idaho Potato Bowl, it was Air Force that looked like the more dominant team early. The Falcons and Broncos traded off field goals in the first quarter, but two rushing touchdowns in the second quarter put Air Force out in front for good.

Shortly after a 47-yard touchdown connection between Terrell and Davis, Davern took the momentum back with a 55-yard TD run of his own. ESPN College Football provided a look at the massive run:

Air Force Football also noted how memorable the night was for Davern:

Devin Rushing followed that up with a one-yard rushing touchdown of his own after a 15-play, 80-yard drive for the Falcons. When the two huge drives were completed, Air Force took a 20-10 lead into halftime and had full control of the game.

In the third quarter, Terrell answered a field goal from Western Michigan with a 35-yard strike to Davis. WMU Football's official Twitter account pointed out where that puts Davis in the program's history books:

However, that touchdown would be essentially negated by a fumble on the following drive by Terrell that Dexter Walker returned 60 yards for a touchdown. ESPN College Football passed along the highlight from the pivotal score:

The Falcons cruised from there. 

Coming off two tremendous turnarounds, the future looks bright for both programs.

While Jarvion Franklin wasn't much of a factor on Saturday night, the rising freshman has the potential to be special in the MAC. Terrell and Davis are heading into their junior seasons, laying the foundation for what should be a special offense moving forward.

Meanwhile, the Falcons can get used to seeing Davern have more games like this in the future. The Falcons have reason for optimism after a 10-win season under Troy Calhoun.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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