NCAA Football

Heisman Watch 2014: Breaking Down Race with Full Predictions

Controversy has become so common in college football that we are confused when there is none. Unfortunately for lovers of chaos, the Heisman Trophy competition should be an open-and-shut case.

Sure, you could have an argument about the finalists involved when only three players were given an invite to New York City. Players that put up fantastic numbers like Tevin Coleman or Trevone Boykin, or a defensive star like Scooby Wright should be rewarded for impressive seasons.

It's even weird to see a defending Heisman winner in Jameis Winston not become a finalist, even though his down year speaks for itself.

Still, the voters narrowed it down to just three deserving candidates. While each had a good year, the winner is pretty clear cut this season. Here is a breakdown of the three finalists in order of their projected finish.

 

3. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

Remember when Alabama was just a running team that lacked dynamic players on offense? Well that certainly isn't the case anymore thanks to the play of Amari Cooper.

The junior has totaled 115 catches and 1,656 receiving yards this season, each of which leads all of FBS. His 14 touchdowns trails only Rashard Higgins of Colorado State.

As if his numbers weren't impressive enough, Cooper has been a human highlight reel that has become almost impossible to stop at this level.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer will have to find a way to slow down the receiver in the Sugar Bowl, but he already has great things to say about the Crimson Tide star:

Alabama has a lot of talent on both sides of the ball to help it be ranked No. 1 headed into the bowl season, but Cooper is clearly the most impactful player on the roster.

 

2. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

This season has been the year of the running back, with Todd Gurley, Tevin Coleman, Ameer Abdullah, Semaje Perine and others posting big numbers. However, Melvin Gordon has been the best of the best with 2,336 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns on the ground.

Just for good measure, the Wisconsin running back also has 151 receiving yards and three touchdowns through the air.

Although his NCAA record of 408 rushing yards in a game lasted only one week until Perine was able to top it, Gordon did his damage in just three quarters in a blowout win over Nebraska.

The only downside is that he did not leave the best impression in his most recent game. With Wisconsin competing for a Big Ten title, Gordon only managed 76 yards with an average of 2.9 per carry and no scores.

It isn't surprising the Badgers struggled on an off day by their best player, losing 59-0.

Bleacher Report's Ian Kenyon argued that this was enough to lose him the Heisman Trophy:

Gordon was able to put together an historic season and one of the best you will ever see at the position. Unfortunately, it's unlikely he will raise the trophy.

 

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

Everyone on this list has had a great year in their own right, but it is hard to make an argument against Marcus Mariota being the most outstanding player in college football.

The Oregon quarterback leads the nation with a 186.3 efficiency rating, which is better than Jameis Winston's mark a year ago a full 15 points better than the next best on the 2014 list.

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports also adds some incredible stats from this season:

Seth Davis of CBS Sports has more great things to say about the quarterback while discussing the Heisman race as a foregone conclusion:

While the Ducks went through a rough patch behind an injured offensive line, Mariota was there to hold the team together and end the season with eight straight wins while scoring at least 40 points in each.

After his five-touchdown performance in the Pac-12 title game, this should be a nearly unanimous decision for the Heisman Trophy.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Awards Show 2014: Start Time, Date, TV Info and More

Save for the Heisman Trophy, all of the biggest awards in college football will be handed out at Thursday's College Football Awards event.

Finalists have already been named for each of the marquee awards, with future NFL standouts sprinkled all across the place. Getting the chance to add your name to a list that features many of the best to ever play the game is no small feat. 

While the Heisman finalists will have to wait it out until Saturday night to learn their fate, each has a realistic chance to bring home some hardware Thursday. Let's take a look at everything you need to know for the show.

 

What: 2014 Home Depot College Football Awards

When: Thursday, December 11

Start Time (ET): 7 p.m.

TV: ESPN

 

Complete List of Finalists 

Note: Coach of the Year finalists TBA on Wednesday, Dec. 10

Awards finalists information per CBSSports.com.

 

Maxwell Award: College Player of the Year

Finalists: Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon, Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott

For an award that ever-so-closely mimics the Heisman Trophy, you'd be surprised at how rarely the Heisman and Maxwell winners intertwine.

Since 2008, Cam Newton is the only player to win both awards in the same year. Andrew Luck took it over Heisman winner Robert Griffin III in 2011, Manti Te'o stole it from Johnny Manziel in 2012, and AJ McCarron snuffed out Jameis Winston in 2013.

Will we see Marcus Mariota buck that trend come Thursday night? Don't be surprised.

The Oregon gunslinger has almost certainly wrapped up the Heisman, and fellow Maxwell finalists Melvin Gordon and Dak Prescott both faded down the stretch. Meanwhile, Mariota has been on fire throughout the entire season, as ESPN's Dari Nowkhah shared:

Back in 2010, Newton ran away with both major awards en route to his unbelievable championship season. Mariota's championship hopes are still up in the air, but he's emerged far enough ahead of the pack to follow in Newton's footsteps.

 

Biletnikoff Award: Top Wide Receiver

Finalists: Alabama's Amari Cooper, West Virginia's Kevin White, Colorado State's Rashard Higgins

Like Saturday's announcement of the Heisman Trophy, the naming of the Biletnikoff winner should be a mere formality.

That's because Alabama wideout Amari Cooper has simply shredded the competition—no disrespect to Kevin White and Rashard Higgins, two soon-to-be NFL standouts. With three 200-yard games this season, he's reached 1,656 receiving yards to lead the nation and even ink out Higgins' gaudy numbers.

With the way Hattiesburg American's Jason Munz puts it, White and Higgins are simply duking it out for second place:

Already having rewritten the record books at Alabama, Cooper will have the chance to add both a national title and an early first-round draft pick to his resume. But the Biletnikoff is already pretty much in the bag.

 

Chuck Bednarik Award: Defensive Player of the Year

None of the Chuck Bednarik Award finalists were able to make a late push to sneak into the once-wide-open Heisman conversation, but all three should enter Thursday night feeling confident of their chances.

It's a duo of sophomore standouts for top teams, as Ohio State's Joey Bosa and Arizona's Scooby Wright III propelled their teams to New Year's Six bowls through dominant play in the trenches. Joining them is Clemson's scary pass-rusher, Vic Beasley, who should be wreaking havoc off the edge at the next level rather quickly.

Wright may have garnered the most hype with his dominant play throughout the Pac-12 slate, including game-changing plays in Arizona's early road win over Oregon. As SB Nation's Spencer Hall noted, Oregon had to change its entire philosophy when the two played Friday:

Beasley has posted a remarkable season as expected, but Bosa's dominant play to get his Buckeyes into the College Football Playoff and Wright's impact play in big moments should have the two sophomores duking it out.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Games 2014-15: TV Schedule, Live Stream Info, Predictions for Top Matchups

From the pre-Christmas bowls to the vaunted College Football Playoff, fans of college football will be glued to their television sets all holiday season long.

There's nothing in sports quite like bowl season. Every school invited to one of the postseason games will play in front of a national television audience, and fans often get to see dream matchups they are otherwise left at the mercy of their athletic directors to schedule. 

The momentum built from a big bowl win can't be overstated either, as it can be the difference between high hopes and downtrodden doubts entering the 2015 campaign.

Let's take a look at all of the bowl matchups on tap for the postseason and predictions for three of the biggest games on tap.

 

Live Stream: Games on ABC/ESPN networks streamed on WatchESPN; Hyundai Sun Bowl streamed on CBSSports.com.

Note: Bowl schedule courtesy of ESPN.com.

  

Predictions for Top Matchups

Peach Bowl: No. 9 Ole Miss vs. No. 6 TCU

TCU might still be wiping the disappointment from its brow after being snubbed by the CFP committee. But the Horned Frogs will have to put that in the rearview mirror to prepare for Ole Miss in an exciting Peach Bowl matchup.

Any fan keeping close tabs on the 2014 season knows what kind of a high-flying matchup this will be, as FanSided's Patrick Schmidt shared:

Despite falling from No. 3 to No. 6 in the rankings after a 55-3 drubbing of Iowa State, TCU more than earned its chance to face one of the SEC heavyweights. And it creates quite the matchup on one side of the ball.

The Ole Miss defense has thwarted some of the nation's most prolific attacks, stifling both Mississippi State and Alabama in key victories throughout 2014. With Robert Nkemdiche wreaking havoc off the edge and Senquez Golson ball-hawking, TCU will undoubtedly face the stingiest defense it has gone up against all year.

Few quarterbacks have posted seasons as strong as that of TCU's Trevone Boykin, but the Rebels will have the team speed on defense to frustrate him.

Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace has been inconsistent, but he should find success here. In all of the Horned Frogs' games decided by one possession or less, the defense allowed 30-plus points.

TCU will be motivated by the snub and won't back down, but the Rebels have found their magic again after some late-season issues. Expect one of the best bowl matchups of the year to end in a tight victory for the Rebels.

Prediction: Ole Miss 34, TCU 30

 

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

In what should be a battle between Heisman Trophy winners when the time comes, the Rose Bowl between No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Florida State will go to the most complete team. 

That's undoubtedly Marcus Mariota's Ducks.

Ever since an early October defeat at home to Arizona, Oregon has been an absolute wrecking ball. It has racked up 40 points in each of its final eight games, including a resounding 51-13 win in a rematch against the Wildcats in Friday's Pac-12 title game.

In order to continue their furious win streak, the Ducks will have to thwart the Seminoles' unbeaten streak, which has stretched over two seasons. But Florida State has been playing with fire, with seven wins by six points or fewer, and on New Year's Day, the 'Noles will get burned.

Florida State's defense has been opportunistic in making plays to allow Jameis Winston to mount game-winning drives, but no opportunities will come against Mariota—who has thrown two picks all year to Winston's 17. Both quarterbacks will bring their best, but the Ducks are peaking at the right time and will win this one convincingly. 

Prediction: Oregon 41, Florida State 30

 

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

Ohio State got the final spot in the CFP it so desperately wanted, and now the Buckeyes get the reward of playing top-ranked Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

The problem with that for the Buckeyes? Their upcoming foe looks the part of a buzz saw ready to rip every one of its opponents to shreds on the football field.

The Crimson Tide's playoff hopes looked dashed with an early season loss at Ole Miss, but they've more than taken care of business since. They have risen up to tests from LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn in recent weeks and have left no doubt about their supremacy. 

As ESPN's Paul Finebaum put best, the doubters were awfully wrong:

The Buckeyes have mirrored Alabama with a dominant run of their own, beating 11 straight opponents after a shocking 14-point home loss to Virginia Tech back in Week 2. Third-string-quarterback-turned-starter Cardale Jones looked magnificent in his starting debut against Wisconsin and should find more success against a susceptible Alabama secondary.

That will only be enough to keep this one close, however. The Buckeyes' stingy defensive front will be no match for Alabama's downhill rushing attack, and Blake Sims' arm along with Amari Cooper's threat on the outside will keep Ohio State's defense on its heels.

Don't count against Alabama head coach Nick Saban with three-plus weeks to prepare.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Ohio State 24

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Rose Bowl 2015: Updated Odds and Full Preview for Oregon vs. Florida State

The 2015 Rose Bowl has everything a college football fan could ask for, including the pressure that comes with being in the semifinals of the initial College Football Playoff. 

Oregon and Florida State are two national brands that are instantly recognizable by even the most casual followers of the sport. The Seminoles feature last season’s Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback in Jameis Winston, while the Ducks counter with this season’s overwhelming Heisman favorite in Marcus Mariota.

The two teams combined to go 25-1 this season, and Florida State has not lost in two years. Oregon typically destroys its opponents (winning by just over 26 points a game the past eight contests), while Florida State has worn out the cliche “finds a way to win” saying with escape acts against North Carolina State, Louisville, Clemson, Notre Dame, Miami, Boston College, Florida and Georgia Tech.

Here is a look at the essential information for the game before digging into a preview.

 

2015 Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State

When: Thursday, Jan. 1

Where: Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, California

Start Time (ET): 5 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN 

Odds (via Odds Shark): Oregon -9.5, as of December 8

 

Preview

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher could not have set up this game much better, via Andrew Greif of The Oregonian:

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

While Florida State has won every game it has played the last two seasons, the key to this one will be stopping the high-octane Oregon attack. Jared Shanker of ESPN.com believes that the Seminoles caught a break getting matched up with the Ducks instead of Alabama:

It sounds crazy -- and maybe it is considering Oregon is outscoring opponents by almost 24 points per game -- but football is a game of matchups, and the Seminoles are better off against the Ducks, an early 8.5-point favorite.

Oregon’s offense is “off the charts,” Fisher said, but the Seminoles have the luxury of three-week period to prepare for the Ducks’ dynamic spread. Although no offense is soaring quite like the Ducks’, Florida State’s last three games have been against Boston College, Florida and Georgia Tech. All or some of those teams are predicated on the run, have mobile quarterbacks, use a lot of misdirection and run some variance of the option.

That experience may help, but stopping Boston College, Florida or even the tricky option offense of Georgia Tech pales in comparison to stopping Marcus Mariota and company.

The good news for Florida State is that it is loaded with dynamic athletes along the defensive line who are explosive enough to counter Oregon’s speed and strong enough to stuff the middle. Eddie Goldman in particular will be asked to plug the middle, while Mario Edwards must contain the edge and find a way to redirect plays back to Goldman and the linebackers.

Oregon’s one weakness on the offensive side this year was protecting Mariota, and it allowed 29 sacks throughout the campaign. While much of that was when there were injury problems along the front, Goldman and Edwards represent the protection’s biggest challenge of the year.

Florida State will have to generate pressure because the rest of the matchup with Oregon’s offense doesn’t look promising. The Ducks only turned the ball over eight times this entire season and should be able to run all over Florida State’s 60th-ranked rush defense with Mariota and Royce Freeman.

Mariota is the face of college football this season, but Freeman gave Oregon’s offense an extra dimension down the stretch with 12 touchdowns in his last eight games. The freshman is a physical presence in the backfield who improved as the season progressed.

Remember, the Seminoles allowed 331 rushing yards to Georgia Tech the last time out. Oregon should have plenty of lanes to attack on the ground. Of course, that will force Florida State to devote more attention to stopping the run, which will open up the passing game over the top for Mariota.

On the other side of the ball, Florida State will have to establish the run for multiple reasons. For one, freshman Dalvin Cook is a budding superstar who carried the offense with 392 yards in his last two games and won an ACC Championship Game MVP award. What’s more, Oregon’s defense is a mediocre 57th in yards per rush, so there should be some openings along the line.

If the Seminoles can keep the chains moving and the clock running, it would also keep Mariota and the powerful Oregon offense on the sidelines for longer and give the Florida State defense a much-needed rest.

Running the ball consistently should open up the pass for Florida State as well, which is critical because Oregon is an abysmal 103rd in the country in passing defense. The Seminoles counter with the No. 14 passing offense.

That disparity is the biggest advantage Florida State has on paper in this game, and it needs to exploit it to come away with the victory. Look for deep-threat Rashad Greene and Nick O’Leary, who is Winston’s security blanket on critical third downs, to make some pivotal plays in the passing attack.

However, before you just assume Florida State’s offense is going to destroy an overmatched Oregon defense, it is important to point out that the Ducks thrive by creating turnovers. Only seven defenses in the country scored more points off turnovers per game than Oregon this year, while Florida State’s offense ranked an alarming 116th in the country with 27 turnovers.

The game will ultimately be determined by a costly Florida State turnover. Playing against Mariota and Oregon’s offense puts an incredible amount of pressure on the opposing offense to score almost every time it touches the ball. Winston will press given the circumstances and throw a crippling interception. 

Mariota will make him pay.

Prediction: Oregon 34, Florida State 24

 

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Sugar Bowl 2015: Updated Odds and Full Preview for Alabama vs. Ohio State

Controversy surrounds the Sugar Bowl. 

As the bowl that houses the No. 4 seed in the College Football Playoff, this is a given. The fourth and final spot is the subject of much debate with both Baylor and TCU of the Big 12 on the outside of things.

In is Ohio State, a team with a third-string quarterback under center. That line is deceptive, but either way, the Buckeyes are in for a serious test against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Blake Sims and Co. are through the self-cannibalizing SEC and have done nothing short of improve each step of the way.

It sets up a tantalizing showdown, to say the least.

 

When: Thursday, January 1, 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana

Television: ESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 58
  • Spread: Alabama (-9)

 

Preview and Prediction

What else could the world want? Yet another showdown between Urban Meyer and Nick Saban will put the butts in seats.

These two have quite the history, with another chapter set to unfold at the turn of the new year. ESPN College Football captures the story so far:

Meyer is the one in a new home, although this season shows he is quite great at adaptation. This is very much the case when it comes to the quarterback position.

J.T. Barrett was a surefire Heisman contender thanks to his strong performance in place of Braxton Miller, but now sophomore Cardale Jones is at the controls. Injuries continue to decimate the Buckeyes at the position, yet the team keeps rolling right along.

Case in point—the Big Ten Championship against Wisconsin, otherwise known as Jones' first start. A 59-0 triumph with 257 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions from the sophomore serves to explain why the Buckeyes are the fourth seed.

Still, Meyer understands that his wealth of riches via recruiting means little in the face of the juggernaut that is Alabama.

"At some point, if you're going to reach for the top, that you have to go through the top," said Meyer, per ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg. "And the last several years Alabama has certainly been at the top of college football."

Jones needs to prove in his second start that he can help uphold Ohio State's gaudy stats in the face of a top defense: 

Alabama ranks fourth in the nation in total defense. Great, but boring. What folks focus on this year is an explosive offense that averages 37.1 points per game.

Senior quarterback Blake Sims has 3,250 yards and 26 touchdowns to seven interceptions this year. His mobility gives defenses fits, as noted by six more scores on the ground.

Life is much easier thanks to Heisman contender Amari Cooper. The future NFL first-round pick now has 115 grabs for 1,656 yards and 14 scores. Major help to free up the aerial attack comes from a number of talented rushers:

Which Ohio State defense will show up this January? The unit that let Indiana and Minnesota run wild for 200 or more yards on the ground, or the unit that just stuffed Heisman contender Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin to 76 yards?

It is difficult to project, but the onus of production falls on linebacker Joey Bosa, whose 13.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss suggest Ohio State is ready for the challenge.

As game as the Buckeyes seem, Las Vegas feels a certain way about the encounter for good reason.

Ezekiel Elliott (1,402 yards and 12 scores) is an absolute stud on the ground but has yet to encounter anything like the Alabama defense. This is understood, but neither has Jones this early in his career.

On the other side, there is not a corner or corner-safety tandem that can stop Cooper. A strong Ohio State rush is great, but Saban can get Sims out of the pocket on rollouts to soothe these issues.

The Buckeyes will hang tough and disprove most archaic thoughts about the program and the Big Ten, but Alabama is too ripe with firepower on both sides of the football to lose to a team with an inexperienced quarterback in control.

Look for the Crimson Tide to pull away late and ride the ground game.

Prediction: Alabama 24, Ohio State 21

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Amari Cooper's Case for the Heisman Trophy

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If you came across Amari Cooper on the street, you might not know that you were looking at a Heisman Trophy contender.

He’s an unassuming 6’1”, 210 pounds. The reserved Cooper rarely raises his voice or makes himself heard.

It’s a different story on Saturdays.

In 2014, Cooper has been the best player every time he steps on the field. He demands a defense’s attention wherever he lines up, and the second you hesitate, he will make you pay.

He was named one of three finalists for the Heisman Trophy on Monday, the first wide receiver to do so since Larry Fitzgerald in 2003. Only two receivers have ever won the prestigious award.

"It is a tremendous honor to be selected as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy," Cooper said in a UA release. "This will be my first trip to New York City, and I can’t put into words how much it means to me and my family. I am privileged to have the opportunity to represent our team at the Heisman ceremony. None of this would be possible without my coaches and teammates. The quarterback, offensive line, running backs and tight ends have done an unbelievable job all season and our coaches always put us in a position to be successful."

But Cooper deserves a shot at the trophy. Everything has gone his way this season, in one that will be remembered whether or not he takes home any hardware from New York.

Let’s lay out the case for Amari Cooper for Heisman.

 

The Stats

First and foremost, all Heisman candidates need the stats. Cooper has those and more.

A look at his raw numbers is impressive enough.

Cooper is at or near the top of every major statistical category in the country. It’s a testament to his quarterback, Blake Sims, who has gotten him the ball more than anyone else in the nation. And offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has made him a major part of the game plan every week.

But Cooper has simply been a mismatch for every defense he’s faced.

He’s also making a tear through the record books. Here’s a sample of some of the records he’s broken this year:

If you’re looking for a history-maker and someone who can stand up statistically around the country, Cooper is your guy.

 

The Eye Test

Fair or not, Heisman contenders are at least somewhat judged by a highlight reel of sorts, or a “Heisman Moment.” Cooper never had one specific moment. His highlight reel, though, is pretty lengthy.

Here’s a small sampling.

Cooper, for starters, has the eye-opening speed to blow through defenders for deep-ball scores:

He’s shifty enough and explosive enough to take short throws to the house:

And his body control and positioning near the goal line can make even the most cynical of #BanTheFade haters into instant believers (start at the 4:18 mark):

These are plays he has made all season, beginning with a clunky win over West Virginia and ending with a complete clobbering of Missouri in the SEC Championship Game.

At some point, it almost becomes routine watching Cooper making these plays.

But if voters were looking for Heisman Moments from Cooper this year, they had plenty to choose from.

 

The Intangibles

The Heisman Trust’s mission statement famously includes the words “with integrity,” a subject of endless debate when discussing the trophy.

It almost cost Jameis Winston the award last year. Reggie Bush was stripped of his because of it.

There are no concerns with Cooper’s character, and he’s given us no reason to believe there ever would be.

He was nonchalant when approached about the possibility of winning the award shortly after the SEC Championship Game.

"That's great," Cooper said, according to Michael Casagrande of al.com. "That's a great accomplishment. To go to New York, very few are chosen and I'm just happy that I might get the opportunity to go."

He’s never been an over-the-top or outlandish guy. That carries over on the field.

“He is sort of a quiet guy when it comes to how he plays," Alabama coach Nick Saban said earlier this season. "He's not a trash-talker. He doesn't say much. He listens. Very respectful of his coaches to do what they're asking him to do and tries to do it and get better. I have a tremendous amount of respect for guys that go about their business like he does. He's just a really good person as well as a very, very good competitor.”

It all adds up to a bona fide Heisman candidate, one that deserves serious consideration for college football’s most prestigious award.

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Texas Football: 5 Bold Predictions for the Longhorns' Bowl Game

Texas has drawn Arkansas in this year's Texas Bowl, hoping to end its season on a high note after being shellacked on Thanksgiving.

Charlie Strong's team looked awful in its 48-10 loss to TCU, turning the ball over five times to put the defense in an impossible position. The good news is this entire team now has a month to rediscover the magic it found during its recent three-game winning streak.

Most importantly, quarterback Tyrone Swoopes gets time to reset, which will allow him and one of the nation's best defenses to come away with the close victory.

Begin Slideshow

Scooby Wright Wins Bronko Nagurski Trophy: Latest Details and Reaction

The pain of losing the Pac-12 Championship Game likely still stings for Arizona, but Wildcats linebacker Scooby Wright III can at least revel in his personal success.

The sophomore star won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy on Monday, which is handed out to the best defensive player in college football. Wright tweeted out a selfie of him with the award:

The Arizona football Twitter page also saluted Wright's accomplishment:

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller felt Wright more than earned the honor:

Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com thought that it also helped the stature of the Pac-12 as a whole:

Wright has certainly traveled quite a road to get to this point. He was far from a highly regarded prep star when he arrived in Tucson, Arizona. According to 247Sports' composite rankings, he ranked 94th at inside linebacker and No. 2,078 overall.

Almost nobody could've seen his meteoric rise coming. Wright admitted that lack of attention helped to motivate him when he hit college.

"Coming out of high school, I didn't really have too many colleges knocking on my door—actually nobody really wanted me except Arizona," he said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "So I always have that little chip on my shoulder. You always remember those people who didn't think you were good enough. It still motivates me to this day."

Wright was a terror for opposing offenses in 2014. He amassed 153 total tackles, including 28 tackles for loss and 14 sacks. In Arizona's upset win over Oregon back on Oct. 2, his sack on Marcus Mariota and subsequent fumble recovery helped seal the victory in the fourth quarter.

Wright will unquestionably be one of the defensive stars to watch this bowl season. The Wildcats may have missed out on the playoff, but they did qualify for one of the six selection committee bowl games. They'll meet the Boise State Broncos in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31.

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College Football Rankings: Complete Predictions for Top 4 Playoff Teams

The College Football Playoff has four teams and two juicy matchups in its maiden voyage to stray away from the controversy that plagued the prior BCS system.

However, Ohio State's move into the Top Four on the strength of a 59-0 rout in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Buckeyes will now take on the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl.

In the other marquee showdown, second-ranked Oregon will attempt to dethrone the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles. That should be a quarterback matchup for the ages between Ducks star Marcus Mariota and his counterpart Jameis Winston.

But who will take home the top prize when the dust settles after this exciting conclusion to the college football season? Read on for some early predictions as to how the postseason picture will pan out.

Note: Statistics are courtesy of NCAA.com unless otherwise indicated. Odds were obtained from OddsShark.com.

 

 

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

Similar game plans should be deployed when these two high-profile programs meet. The Buckeyes have had trouble with the SEC in recent years, their win over Arkansas in the 2011 Sugar Bowl notwithstanding.

OSU coach Urban Meyer was at the helm of the Florida Gators team that blew out the Buckeyes 41-14 in the 2007 national title game. Now Meyer has a chance to lead Ohio State back to college football's promised land.

Unfortunately, Meyer and Co. have to go through Nick Saban, who has his Crimson Tide team on the verge of a potential third national title in four years. Both teams boast contrasting schematics on offense yet should stick to running the ball as much as possible.

What the game will come down to is the play under center. Even though Cardale Jones thrived in his starting debut as the Buckeyes blew out Wisconsin, the stakes are even higher now—and he has such little experience.

Cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs is nevertheless confident Meyer will devise a game plan to keep OSU within striking distance.

"One thing I've learned about (Meyer) is that he is brilliant at handling the dynamics of a team and handling whatever comes up during the course of the season," said Coombs, per USA Today's Paul Myerberg. "So whatever is, he'll have a well thought out plan."

On the other side, though, Blake Sims leads the Alabama huddle. The fifth-year senior was 23-of-27 passing for 262 yards and two touchdowns in the Tide's victory over Missouri in the SEC title game.

Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman praised Sims for making the most of his long-awaited chance to start:

Between T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, Alabama might have the nation's most physical running back tandem. Oh, and by the way—Amari Cooper, the best receiver in college football, is Sims' No. 1 target in the passing game.

As hard-nosed of a runner as Buckeyes star Ezekiel Elliott is in his own right, he is the clear workhorse and is facing a Tide front seven that's surrendered just 2.81 yards per carry and three rushing TDs all year long.

It will eventually be on Jones to step up and make some big-time throws. Judging by how well he handled himself in the Wisconsin game, he'll produce at times, but he'll also succumb to Saban's tricky defense and send OSU home.

Prediction: Alabama 35, Ohio State 24

 

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

Mariota and Winston are going to jostle for the right to be chosen as the first QB in the 2015 NFL draft, presuming both declare as expected.

While it appears Mariota has the inside track because of his lack of off-field issues, Winston is the more pro-ready commodity between the white lines. Florida State's offense is a complicated pro-style system that Winston executes better than anyone else in the country could.

Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller believes both signal-callers will go high in the draft, regardless of the order in which they're chosen:

The Ducks rely more on speed, tempo and spreading defenses out to exploit matchups. That clash of offensive philosophies will certainly make this game interesting, as will the fact that the Seminoles have managed to stay undefeated despite Winston's proneness to turnovers late in the season.

In addition to Mariota's brilliance through the air, as he's accrued 38 touchdown tosses to just two interceptions, he is a lethal runner. He's helped Oregon rank 20th nationally in rushing offense, with the help of a backfield led by Royce Freeman, who has 16 rushing TDs to Mariota's 14.

FSU has a lot of talent on defense, yet it ranks 58th in the country versus the run. That isn't good enough to keep the Ducks' quick-hitting attack off the scoreboard. Thus, it comes down to how well Winston plays.

The sophomore signal-caller did come to life in guiding the Seminoles to an ACC title over Georgia Tech. NFL.com's Gil Brandt observed how Winston was off to a rare hot start after recent disasters out of the gate:

Since Winston has only one truly dependable receiver in senior Rashad Greene and will deal with an opposing defensive front that features DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead, he'll have his hands full.

Based on how the personnel from both sides match up, it isn't outlandish to endorse the Ducks as the 8.5-point favorites they are.

Prediction: Oregon 42, Florida State 27

 

Championship Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Oregon

The Crimson Tide have struggled against dual-threat quarterbacks like Johnny Manziel and Trevor Knight, to name a couple, in recent years. Mariota will pose serious problems for an Alabama defense predicated more on assignment discipline and muscle than flash plays.

It will be vital for the Tide to stem Mariota's impact by keeping him off the field, relying heavily on Yeldon and Henry to get it done on the ground.

But unlike the Ohio State game, in which Saban has a ton of time to plan for an inexperienced QB, this is a situation where Mariota is simply too good to be denied.

Oregon's leader has proved himself time and again. Mariota will do all he can to silence any doubters who claim he's such a huge success because of the system he's in. Don't be shocked when Mariota does just that.

Coming off a physically punishing game against Elliott and Ohio State, this is a bad situation for the Tide's defense to walk into. Their legs are going to be a bit heavy, and Mariota, Freeman and the rest of the Ducks playmakers will make them pay.

Securing a win in the national championship would give the Pac-12 some serious clout moving forward, and also make a move toward diminishing SEC bias. While the nation's most reputable conference does deserve its gaudy status, Mariota and the Ducks represent a modernized version of football, a stark deviation from Saban's old-school approach.

Prediction: Oregon 38, Alabama 31

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff Committee Got Right Teams, Wrong Matchups

While the state of Texas may disagree, the College Football Playoff committee did a superb job in selecting Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State as the four playoff participants.

However, the 12-member panel made a mistake when it came to creating the semifinal matchups.

No one is going to complain about Nick Saban and Urban Meyer facing each other in the Sugar Bowl. No one should make a fuss over having to watch 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston take on 2014 Heisman front-runner Marcus Mariota in the Rose Bowl.

Both of the College Football Playoff semifinals games have a plethora of storylines lines that will please ESPN and the rest of the sports world. Moreover, both games feature amazing teams and will undoubtedly bring in record-setting viewership.

I’m sure you’re now wondering, how did the committee get it wrong then?

Well, the committee had the opportunity to create the CFP dream scenario: Alabama vs. Florida State in the Sugar Bowl and Oregon vs. Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.

It was staring it right in the face, and it dropped the ball.

In order to get to Alabama-Florida State and Oregon-Ohio State, the CFB committee would likely have had to jump the Ducks to No. 1 over Alabama. The reason for this is that there was no logical reason for Ohio State—previously ranked No. 5—to jump No. 4 Florida State.

Yes, the Buckeyes played better against Wisconsin than the Seminoles did against Georgia Tech on championship weekend.

However, it’s tough to look past Ohio State’s home loss to Virginia Tech and, perhaps more importantly, the committee had to take into account the Buckeyes' quarterback situation. Third-string quarterback Cardale Jones had a great game against the Badgers, but do we really know enough to have the Buckeyes jump over FSU? Probably not.

Therefore, Oregon would have simply had to jump Alabama in order for the CFP to get its dream matchups.

Is there a case to be made for Oregon over Alabama? Absolutely. The Ducks have won eight straight games and done it by an average margin of over 26 points per game. Moreover, Oregon has been the most complete team in the country over the past two months.

ESPN.com’s Kyle Bonagura explains:

In the five games since the win against Cal, the Ducks have turned into the most complete team -- statistically -- in the country. 

During that span, only eight FBS teams -- none of them named Alabama, Ohio State or Florida State -- allowed fewer points than the Ducks (17 points per game). They led the nation in points margin (30.6) and yards margin (plus-227) per game and their defense ranked No. 26 overall (336 ypg). 

Only Utah cracked 20 points and the Ducks held all five opponents to less than their scoring average. Games that might have remained close earlier in the season turned into routs in a hurry.

However, due to section 9B of the selection committee protocol, it really didn’t matter who was No. 1 and No. 2 this year. The Ducks were a lock to be the home team in the Rose Bowl and the Crimson Tide were shoe-ins for the Sugar Bowl based on the geographical proximity to each school and its fans.

What would have been the difference between swapping Oregon and Alabama? It would have meant very little, other than giving the Ducks more jersey options in the national title game should they win the Rose Bowl.

Let’s be honest, giving Oregon more jersey options is always the right thing to do.

Awarding Oregon the No. 1 overall seed would have set up a Rose Bowl between Oregon and Ohio State. Not only would that game have garnered the same attention as Florida State-Oregon, but it also would have kept the traditional Big Ten vs. Pac-12 matchup.

I’m not big on tradition and believe it to be overrated.

However, the Rose Bowl is meant to be played between the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions. Now imagine a traditional Rose Bowl with a spot in the CFP National Championship Game on the line.

If the customary Rose Bowl were the original recipe, then the 2014 Rose Bowl would have been extra spicy.

The Rose Bowl would have benefited from a Big Ten vs. Pac-12 battle. The true winner in this scenario, though, would have been the Sugar Bowl.

If Alabama and Florida State had matched up as the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, it would have likely been the highest-rated Jan. 1 bowl game ever and pitted the past two national champions up against one another for the right to play for another title. What could’ve been better than that?

Section 10B of the CFP selection committee protocol deals with the selection process of the four non-semifinal “premier” bowl games:

B. The committee shall create the best matchups in these bowl games in light of the following considerations. None of these considerations shall affect the ranking of teams. Also, none of these considerations will be controlling in determining the assignment of teams to available bowl games.

  • The committee will use geography as a consideration in the pairing of teams and assigning them to available bowl games.
  • The committee will attempt to avoid regular-season rematches when assigning teams to bowls.
  • To benefit fans and student-athletes, the committee will attempt to avoid assigning a team, or conference, or the highest-ranked champion of a non-contract conference, to the same bowl game repeatedly.
  • The committee will consider regular-season head-to-head results when assigning teams to bowls.
  • The committee will consider conference championships when assigning teams to bowls.

“The committee shall create the best matchups.” That part of the first sentence is flashing in neon lights.

The CFP committee has a responsibility to rank the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in a particular order due to the geographic advantage those rankings hold. However, I believe that the committee has a responsibility to also create the best matchups possible.

This year, the best semifinal matchups would have been Oregon vs. Ohio State and Alabama vs. Florida State.

Look, perhaps I’m nitpicking here because the four best teams—in my opinion—got into the playoff. Moreover, all four teams are brand names and will generate big-time television ratings for ESPN.

With that said, the CFP committee had the opportunity to uphold the Rose Bowl's tradition and keep a Big Ten versus Pac-12 game in place. It didn’t. It had an opportunity to give Florida State, the undefeated defending national champion, a chance to play much closer to its home fans and match up the past two national champions. It didn’t.

Outside of the state of Texas, most people are congratulating the CFP committee on what it did. I’m dumbfounded by what it failed to do.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Football: 5 Bold Predictions for the Bulldogs' Bowl Game

It’s not the bowl game the Georgia Bulldogs envisioned when the 2014 season started, but they will face the Louisville Cardinals in the Belk Bowl on December 30 at 6:30 p.m. ET.

This has a chance to be one of the better bowl games of the season. This will be the first time the Bulldogs face off against former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and this will also be the first time these two schools have ever met on the football field.

The Bulldogs are an early favorite according to Oddsshark.com, so if they are motivated and not make the same mistakes they did against Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs can finish the season with 10 wins, which would be the third time in four seasons they have accomplished that feat.

Here are five bold predictions for the Bulldogs in the Belk Bowl.

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Adam Kramer's Guide to the College Football Bowl Season

We have been conditioned to care about the College Football Playoff and only the College Football Playoff. But let your gaze wander beyond the two spectacular, storyline-jammed semifinal matchups, and you will see one of the richest bowl seasons in recent memory.

Thank you, selection committee. You probably haven’t heard that much in recent days, have you?

That sentiment has not been voiced all that often—except in Columbus, Ohio—although it’s warranted here. The group of humans tasked with picking the top four teams in college football also helped shape many of the familiar marquee games. Although they will never be given the appropriate credit, these bowl architects delivered where they were allowed.

Beyond an absolutely loaded New Year’s Day slate, there are enthralling matchups from start to finish. The discussions and primary interests will center on the semifinal games, which is understandable given the brands, coaches and talent involved. However, don’t let this detract from the sheer excellence along the way.

There are glorious exhibition games all over the place that warrant your careful planning and utmost attention. Before ranking all 38 games in terms of watchability, here’s what you should be on the lookout for this bowl season beyond a human-sized potato mascot capable of seeing into your soul.

 

Best Game: The Rose Bowl

We begin, of course, with the obvious. Oregon and Florida State will meet up on Jan. 1 in a game that requires no formal introduction.

By the time these two teams meet, you will likely have two Heisman-winning quarterbacks going head-to-head. One opponent could take the field wearing actual yellow spacesuits, and you wouldn’t question the motive (or the execution). The other, college football’s tabbed villain, is going for its thirtieth consecutive win.

Jimbo Fisher, head coach of the Seminoles, put it perfectly.

Jimbo Fisher says pitting Oregon & FSU with the marquee programs and quarterbacks is great for college football and what the playoff is for

— TomahawkNation.com (@TomahawkNation) December 7, 2014

I don’t need to remind you that the Rose Bowl is required viewing, because any football person in the world knows this without further reminding. Add in the possibility of playing for a national championship, and you’ve reached peak pigskin enjoyment.

 

Best Non-Playoff Bowl Game: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

Before you embrace your love for cheap champagne and its diabolical day-after effects, you have fabulous football to watch on New Year’s Eve day. The matinee—the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl—is without doubt the finest non-semifinal matchup of them all, which is telling given some of the games to pick from.

TCU and Ole Miss will meet up in Atlanta right about the time you dig in for lunch. The Horned Frogs obviously had an even bigger bowl game in mind prior to Sunday, although this will serve as a mighty consolation. On the other sideline, the Rebels will look to gain momentum for another playoff push in 2015.

When a non-college football fan proclaims that the bowl season is nothing more than a flurry of exhibitions for the big finish, hold up this game with a smile and without a care in the world.

This has a chance to be special.

 

Sneaky Good Game That Won’t Be Watched Enough: Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl

Shortly after the gates are opened for this year’s bowl season, Colorado State and Utah will meet in a matchup not nearly enough people will carve up time to enjoy.

Don’t make that same mistake. Be by your television at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, Dec. 20 to witness two quality football programs play in Sin City.

Even though Colorado State will be operating without its former coach, Jim McElwain’s positive offensive influence will be evident. The Rams, however, will have the difficult task of moving the football and scoring points on an underappreciated Utah defense. The seasons did not end favorably for either sideline, although both are talented and capable.

Just because it’s early on doesn’t mean it’s not a game worthy of your attention.

 

Game I Would Most Like to Cover: Popeyes Bahamas Bowl

When you pair up tropical paradise with the best fried chicken on the planet, you’ve essentially won the “Man, I Hope My Boss Sends Me Here” Lifetime Achievement Award.

On Christmas Eve, Central Michigan and Western Kentucky will meet in Nassau to celebrate what six wins in a single season can get you. Lucky beat writers for these teams and other media members will also head to the Bahamas to cover the first-ever Popeyes Bahamas Bowl.

This will be all business, I’m certain.

Please don’t let the combined 14-10 record fool you. This matchup has a chance to shift the national landscape of the sport, and the winner will immediately vault into early 2015 playoff consideration. You could argue that the storylines between CMU and WKU are actually more attention-grabbing than Ohio State and Alabama. There is not the least bit of sarcasm in this statement.

What say you, boss?

 

Best Team Reaction to a Bowl Game Appearance

Speaking of the Bahamas Bowl, Central Michigan wins the award for most dramatic bowl reveal of the year. And maybe that’s not good enough.

I’m not sure the room would have erupted the same way had Boise, Idaho been the final destination chosen. If you’re reading this from Boise, you likely just closed out this page and stormed off in obscenities.

Well done by all.

 

Best Bowl Name: Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl

Here is the definition of Bitcoin, according to CNN.com.

Bitcoin is a new currency that was created in 2009 by an unknown person using the alias Satoshi Nakamoto. Transactions are made with no middle men – meaning, no banks! There are no transaction fees and no need to give your real name. More merchants are beginning to accept them: You can buy webhosting services, pizza or even manicures.

This currency now has its own bowl game, and it will be played between North Carolina State and Central Florida on the day after Christmas.

That’s not exactly this year’s most promising and tantalizing marriage between teams, although the name alone makes you want to load up on the necessary bowl merchandise.

 

Game Most Likely to Break the Scoreboard: AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Memphis, this one may take a while.

West Virginia and Texas A&M will face off in a game that could very well last five hours. Both teams will be looking to build momentum heading into 2015, and they’ll each attempt to do that through the air and with endless offense.

Although there are bright spots to be found on both defenses, the scoreboard operator should probably hydrate accordingly days in advance, just in case. Head coaches Kevin Sumlin and Dana Holgorsen will each look to flex their offensive muscles, and there’s no reason to believe either will be denied.

 

Best “Ignore Your Family Around the Holiday” Bowl: Hawai'i Bowl

Ah, Christmas Eve. It’s a time to celebrate with loved ones, pour a glass of something cold and delicious, gather around the fire and watch the high winds blow trash all over the field as two teams go toe-to-toe under the Hawaiian sun.

This year’s Hawai'i Bowl will take place the night before Christmas and it will feature Fresno State and Rice, two teams you likely haven’t watched in large doses this season. Please don’t let such inexperience discourage you from digging in.

As much as you love your family, the yearly tradition of giving your utmost attention to two slightly-above-average football teams over people you don’t see often is one we cherish most.

It is the football constant in our holiday hearts.

 

Most Terrifying Bowl Mascot

Science has given us many amazing, life-alerting advancements. It also gave us the monstrosity seen above.

That smiling nightmare spud is the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl mascot. He will be featured prominently on Dec. 20 as Western Michigan and Air Force faceoff. He will also see you in your dreams.

Also, on a less terrifying note, why is he wearing gloves? This is all too much.

 

Best Bowl Swag: Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman

The annual tradition of analyzing bowl swag with extreme focus is alive and well in 2014.

For those unfamiliar, each bowl provides the players of both teams participating with a gift package of sorts. These gifts, which were explored by David Broughton of SportsBusiness Daily, can vary greatly in appeal. From hairdryers to massive gift cards—with a Fossil watch sprinkled throughout—players are each given something by companies with swag to spare.

In terms of ranking this swag, my No. 1 ranking for the 2014 slate would go to the Military Bowl. Cincinnati and Virginia Tech players will each receive a Microsoft Xbox One console and Under Armour backpack, Might Boom Ball speakers and a beanie.

It certainly beats a hairdryer.

 

Ranking All Bowl Games in Order of Watchability

There are 38 bowl games for you to sink your teeth into this season, and there’s a high probability you won’t see them all. With your busy holiday schedules in mind, here is each and every bowl game ranked in terms of watchability.

Please note: "Watchability" isn’t based exclusively on having two quality teams. Certain bowl games might be rated higher than others based off of matchups, individual players (see: Pittsburgh’s James Conner in the Armed Forces Bowl), or the overall possibility of things becoming weird.

With that disclaimer in mind, here are the rankings. If your team or preferred matchup is slighted, it was almost certainly due to a personal vendetta against your program or bowl.

1. Rose Bowl: (2) Oregon vs. (3) Florida State (Jan. 1)

2. Allstate Sugar Bowl: (1) Alabama vs. (4) Ohio State (Jan. 1)

3.Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Ole Miss vs. TCU (Dec. 31)

4.Goodyear Cotton Bowl: Michigan State vs. Baylor (Jan. 1)

5. Outback Bowl: Auburn vs. Wisconsin (Jan. 1)

6. Capital One Orange Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech (Dec. 31)

7. AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Texas A&M vs. West Virginia (Dec. 29)

8. Vizio Fiesta Bowl: Boise State vs. Arizona (Dec. 31)

9. Hyundai Sun Bowl: Arizona State vs. Duke (Dec. 27)

10. Valero Alamo Bowl: Kansas State vs. UCLA (Jan. 2)

11. Boca Raton Bowl: Marshall vs. Northern Illinois (Dec. 23)

12. National University Holiday: Bowl Nebraska vs. USC (Dec. 27)

13. Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Utah vs. Colorado State (Dec. 20)

14. Belk Bowl: Georgia vs. Louisville (Dec. 30)

15. AdvoCare Texas Bowl: Arkansas vs. Texas (Dec. 29)

16. Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: Minnesota vs. Missouri (Jan. 1)

17. Russell Athletic Bowl: Clemson vs. Oklahoma (Dec. 29)

18. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Notre Dame vs. LSU (Dec. 30)

19. Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Miami vs. South Carolina (Dec. 27)

20. TicketCity Cactus Bowl: Washington vs. Oklahoma State (Jan. 2)

21. Miami Beach Bowl: BYU vs. Memphis (Dec. 22)

22. TaxSlayer Bowl: Iowa vs. Tennessee (Jan. 2)

23. Foster Farms Bowl: Maryland vs. Stanford (Dec. 30)

24. Popeyes Bahamas Bowl: Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky (Dec. 24)

25. Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Houston vs. Pittsburgh (Jan. 2)

26. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Western Michigan vs. Air Force (Dec. 20)

27. Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl: NC State vs. UCF (Dec. 26)

28. San Diego County CU Poinsettia Bowl: Navy vs. San Diego State (Dec. 23)

29. Sheraton Hawaii Bowl: Fresno State vs. Rice (Dec. 24)

30. R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Nevada vs. UL Lafayette (Dec. 20)

31. Quick Lane Bowl: Rutgers vs. North Carolina (Dec. 26)

32. Military Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech (Dec. 27)

33. Birmingham Bowl: East Carolina vs. Florida (Jan. 3)

34. Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Utah State vs. UTEP (Dec. 20)

35. New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College vs. Penn State (Dec. 27)

36. GoDaddy Bowl: Toledo vs. Arkansas State (Jan. 4)

37. Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl: Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech (Dec. 26)

38. Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: South Alabama vs. Bowling Green (Dec. 20)

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Adonis Thomas to Alabama: Crimson Tide Land 4-Star LB Prospect

Nick Saban continued his work on yet another star-studded recruiting class, securing the commitment of 4-star linebacker Adonis Thomas.       

The Central Gwinnett (Lawrenceville, Georgia) star confirmed the news on his Twitter account Monday:

247Sports' composite rankings slot him as the No. 175 overall prospect and No. 11 outside linebacker in the Class of 2015. 

Thomas originally committed to Florida but later re-opened his recruitment due to uncertainty with the coaching staff in Gainesville. That opened the door for Alabama and Saban, who now has 22 commits and the country's top-rated class, per 247Sports' composite system. 

At 6'3.5" and 229 pounds, the 17-year-old has a tantalizing blend of speed and size. While he's still a bit raw, his athleticism and physical traits give him an extremely high ceiling, whether that be as an outside linebacker or defensive end. 

Thomas is the third outside linebacker commit of Alabama's 2015 class, joining 4-star Joshua McMillon and 3-star Keaton Anderson. On a team that already has a load of talent (and not many seniors) at the position, he'll have his work cut out for him if he intends on making an immediate impact for the Crimson Tide.     

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Heisman Trophy 2014: Complete List of Finalists Announced

With the conference titles determined, the four playoff teams announced and a layover before the bowl games begin, the next major event in college football is the announcement of this year's Heisman Trophy winner.      

SportsCenter shared the list of finalists Monday on Twitter:

Let's take a closer look at the finalists.

 

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

Marcus Mariota had another stellar performance in the Pac-12 title game. He finished 25-of-38 with 313 passing yards, two touchdowns, 33 rushing yards and three more scores on the ground in a 51-13 rout against an Arizona team that beat the Ducks earlier in the year. After the win, a reporter asked him how it felt to win the Heisman.

"I haven't won the Heisman," Mariota said, according to Bryan Fischer of NFL.com. "I haven't even been invited."

For Mariota, it was a typically humble remark. But he's been invited now, and he's the favorite as well. Frankly, it would be a huge shock if Mariota didn't win the award. His stats speak for themselves.

A 38-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio is rather superb, and his total of 53 touchdowns scored (one reception TD) easily tops that of any of the other Heisman finalists. Mariota led Oregon to a 12-1 record, and now he and the Ducks are preparing for a playoff showdown against Florida State and last year's Heisman winner, Jameis Winston.

Mariota could add a lot of hardware to his shelf this winter. He was already named as the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award winner on Monday, per Chantel Jennings of ESPN.com. If he doesn't win the Heisman, more than a few folks will be surprised.

 

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

While Alabama has had its fair share of talented wide receivers throughout the years—Julio Jones comes to mind—the team has come to resemble a ground-and-pound offense and stout defense for much of Nick Saban's tenure.

This year has been a bit different, however, in part due to talented receiver Amari Cooper.

The junior has been college football's best receiver this year, an assertion few would argue against. Matt Miller of Bleacher Report certainly thinks so:

Cooper caught an SEC-record 115 passes for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns this season, incredibly impressive marks. More importantly, though, he's come up huge when the Crimson Tide needed him most. In wins over LSU, Mississippi State, Auburn and Missouri down the stretch, he notched 41 receptions for 478 yards and five touchdowns.    

His performance in the Iron Bowl, in particular, probably earned him a trip to New York, as he caught 13 passes for 224 yards and three scores. If Heisman winners need a signature performance, that was his.

 

Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

Speaking of signature performances, one of the standout achievements of this college football season was when Melvin Gordon rushed 25 times for 408 yards—yes, you read that correctly—and four touchdowns against Nebraska.

It broke the all-time NCAA single-game rushing record set by future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson 15 years ago (406 yards).

For the season, Gordon rushed 309 times for 2,336 yards and 26 touchdowns, adding 17 receptions for 151 yards and three more scores. He was the nation's top running back and helped lead Wisconsin to a 10-3 record and an Outback Bowl matchup against Auburn.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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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