NCAA Football

The Biggest X-Factors of the College Football Playoff

Want star power? The College Football Playoff certainly isn't lacking any.

The Rose Bowl (No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State) and Sugar Bowl (No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State) feature an eclectic mix of top-tier coaches, contrasting philosophies and future NFL players—all on the biggest stages.

Compelling television, it should be.

Which players will be X-factors in their respective January 1 games? It's tough to compile a short list from so many big names, but the following players were selected due to key matchups and important positions. Put another way, these are players whose teams wouldn't quite be the same without them.

The following list features two players—one for defense and one for offense—from each of the four teams.

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Michigan Recruits React to Jim Harbaugh Hiring

Jim Harbaugh spent Sunday afternoon scheming his way to victory against the playoff-bound Arizona Cardinals. He stood at a podium in Ann Arbor less than 48 hours later, providing a resounding message for fans of Michigan and college football at large.

The Wolverines' new leader, fresh off three conference championship appearances and a Super Bowl berth in four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, is ready to bring top-tier talent to a program that's near and dear to his heart:

Harbaugh, who previously resurrected a downtrodden Stanford program, doesn't face as tough a task at Michigan, but there's certainly work to be done.

The Wolverines have finished with a losing record three times since 2008. Prior to the Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke eras, Michigan hadn't suffered a losing season since 1967.

The university clearly understands its storied program is in peril. Administrators acted swiftly and aggressively to secure a long-term commitment form the most coveted head coach at any level of football.

"Coach Harbaugh coming to Michigan is the best choice for many reasons," 4-star Wolverines quarterback Alex Malzone told Bleacher Report. "He's going to bring attitude back to the team. He's going to bring in the right guys that want to play for Michigan."

For Malzone and future Michigan targets at his position, the opportunity to learn from a former star Wolverines passer is immeasurable.

"As a quarterback, I couldn't be more excited," Malzone added. 

He could have more offensive weapons at his disposal within a few weeks. Cordell Broadus, a 4-star uncommitted receiver from Nevada who is the son of hip-hop icon Snoop Dogg, expressed interest in a Harbaugh-led squad earlier this week:

Former Michigan commit Chris Clark, a 4-star tight end from Connecticut, is another candidate to end up in Ann Arbor. He told MLive.com the Wolverines "would instantly move toward the top of his list again" with Harbaugh on board.

Osa Masina is one top Michigan target who won't be swayed by the development. The 4-star Utah linebacker has narrowed his focus to USC, UCLA and Arizona State. 

"If Harbaugh had been hired earlier, it may have changed my mind," he said. "But it's just too late right now and I'm comfortable with my three finalists. It's an awesome move for Michigan, though. I'm sure it will pay off."

The presence of an accomplished NFL coach breathes new life into a despondent program. The 2015 Michigan recruiting class currently consists of just six commitments and ranks 90th in 247Sports' composite rankings behind Louisiana-Lafayette, South Alabama and FBS newcomer Old Dominion's. 

"I see a situation like this having the ability to fuel a much-anticipated turnaround," said 4-star 2016 prospect Josh Imatorbhebhe, who holds a Michigan offer. "Truly nothing short of revolutionary."

The coveted Georgia wide receiver believes the university found an ideal fit.

"This hire is a match made in heaven," Imatorbhebhe said. "You have a successful NFL head coach step down to be a head coach at his alma mater, whom he led to the Rose Bowl."

Fellow 2016 Wolverines target Ahmir Mitchell agreed Harbaugh's arrival represents a new chapter Michigan desperately needed.

"That's huge for Michigan to have a coach of that caliber," the 4-star New Jersey athlete said. "He could bring huge things and players to Michigan and have a fresh start."

Heralded 2016 Illinois running back Kentrail Moran also chimed in, providing another positive glimpse of early feedback for long-frustrated Wolverines fans:

Even a top-tier Ohio State commit had to tip his cap at the move. 

Detroit running back Michael Weber, a Buckeyes pledge who decommitted from Michigan in November, believes the Harbaugh hiring is a step in the right direction for his soon-to-be rival.

"Jim Harbaugh is a great coach," Weber said. "I think he’s going to change things around there a bit with how the team gets ready for big games. He’ll get some guys in there who actually want to win. He has some work to do, so we’ll see.”

Harbaugh has plenty of slots to fill in hist first Wolverines recruiting class with just six weeks remaining until national signing day. Based on first impressions, that won't present problems for a man and a program who've stolen the national spotlight leading up to the inaugural College Football Playoff.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise mentioned.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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College Football Playoffs 2015: Most Important Players in National Semifinals

You can argue as much as you want about the College Football Playoff, but it is impossible to deny the committee gave fans two great games with elite talent on all four squads.

Between All-Conference players, All-Americans and Heisman winners, there are a number of big-time stars who could impact each game in the national semifinals. The question is, which competitors will have the biggest roles in deciding the outcome?

A mistake or great performance by anyone could help affect which squads will play for a national championship, but these players are likely to have the biggest impact on the upcoming games.

 

10. Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State

After losing Braxton Miller and then J.T. Barrett to injury, many teams would've given up. However, Ohio State kept going, as Cardale Jones carried the torch for the offense in a 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.

While the Sugar Bowl represents just his second career start, this could actually be beneficial against Alabama. As Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban explained to ESPN's Adam Rittenberg, the lack of film on Jones makes him difficult to game-plan against:

Still, Jones wasn't asked to do too much against Wisconsin. Against Alabama, the sophomore will have more pressure on him with the fate of the Buckeyes in his hands.

 

9. Troy Hill, CB, Oregon

The Oregon defense took a major hit when All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu was sidelined for the postseason after injuring his knee in practice. As a result, the rest of the secondary will have to seriously step up against Florida State.

Fortunately, the Ducks have someone ready to be the No. 1 option at cornerback in senior Troy Hill. Opposing quarterbacks have looked in his direction for much of the season to avoid Ekpre-Olomu, but Hill came through with a team-leading 17 passes defended.

He and safety Erick Dargan will make sure the Oregon defense will remain as solid as it has been lately.

 

8. Blake Sims, QB, Alabama

It didn't seem like Blake Sims would win the starting quarterback job coming into the season, but it's a good thing he did because his play is a major reason Alabama is currently the No. 1 team in the nation.

The senior put up big numbers this year, but more importantly, he changed the offense with his ability to make accurate passes as well as extend plays with his legs. He has given opponents yet another dimension to defend on a field with a lot of skill players.

As long as he can keep up his recent level of play and avoid mistakes, Alabama should be just fine.

 

7. Jalen Ramsey, S, Florida State

It's hard to find a more versatile defender than Jalen Ramsey. The safety can line up just off the defensive line or deep into coverage and have success from any spot.

Even Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota is impressed with what he has seen from the sophomore on film:

Ramsey has filled up the stat sheet this year with 9.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, two interceptions and 13 passes defended. He always seems to be around the ball, and his speed and instincts will be a major part of the Seminoles' ability to slow down Oregon's red-hot offense. 

 

6. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

The Heisman Trophy finalist was outstanding this season, leading all FBS players with 115 catches to go with 1,656 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. He can burn a defender and get open down the field or simply take a screen pass and break a few tackles to go the distance.

On the downside, the Tide have become incredibly reliant on Cooper. The receiver has about 43 percent of the team's receptions this season, including three times more than DeAndrew White, who's second on the team.

He has turned himself into an excellent player, but he better match his recent play or else Alabama will be in trouble. 

 

5. Joey Bosa, DL, Ohio State

One of the most effective defensive players in the nation, Joey Bosa has NFL teams disappointed that he is only a sophomore. It will take at least another year until he can make an impact at the next level.

Until then, Bosa will have to satisfy as one of the top defensive linemen in the nation. He finished the regular season with 50 tackles, including 20 for loss, and 13.5 sacks. He does an excellent job of getting into the backfield and blowing up both passes and run plays.

As good as Alabama has become offensively, Bosa has a chance to single-handedly slow down the Tide if he plays to his ability. 

 

4. Landon Collins, S, Alabama

Most teams don't want to see the safety finish the year with too many tackles. This usually means the stops are coming down the field and the defensive is struggling.

That is not the case with Alabama and Landon Collins, a hard-hitting safety who is excellent against the run and always finds a way to make tackles right at the line. He currently has 91 tackles and has also done a great job in coverage.

Ohio State usually finds ways to get a few long plays every game, but Collins will be the person trying to prevent this from happening. 

 

3. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

Although Cardale Jones will be important, Ohio State's offense goes through Ezekiel Elliott. In his first year as a featured back, the sophomore has amassed 1,402 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns to help the team move the football regardless of who is under center.

The Big Ten championship was by far Elliott's best game of the year, as he totaled 220 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.

With plenty of questions in the passing game, the Buckeyes will lean heavily on the running back and hope he can once again carry the squad to victory.

 

2. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

Jameis Winston was considered by far the best player in the nation a year ago, but the quarterback has struggled for much of the 2014 season. His incredible efficiency that he showed en route to winning the Heisman Trophy was gone this year, and he ended up throwing a putrid 17 interceptions 

The good news, though, is he is coming off one of the best performances of the season against Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game. ESPN's Andrea Adelson and Mike Greenberg agreed on this fact in the most recent win:

After throwing four interceptions in a win the week before, Winston kept his mistakes to a minimum. If he can do this again, the Seminoles will have a serious chance to upset Oregon and advance to the title game.

 

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

The Heisman Trophy winner is not only the best player in the nation—he is the most important person on any team contending for a national championship.

Oregon dealt with injuries to the offensive line and shifts in roles for playmakers, but Marcus Mariota heads into the Rose Bowl with 38 passing touchdowns, 14 rushing touchdowns and just two interceptions.

While you can call him a system quarterback, no one else would be as productive in this offense. More importantly, it's hard to imagine the Ducks having any success if Mariota wasn't at his best. This means he better show up for the squad to advance to the national title game.

 

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

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Music City Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for Notre Dame vs. LSU

Notre Dame 21, LSU 21—Early 3rd Quarter

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish and LSU Tigers are meeting in the 2014 Music City Bowl at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee.

ESPN is broadcasting the game. Bleacher Report is providing scoring updates and analysis. Please add your thoughts in the comments section.

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Inside Urban Meyer's Forgotten Rivalry with Lane Kiffin

How much star power does a matchup between Ohio State's Urban Meyer and Alabama's Nick Saban possess?

So much that Alabama's big-name offensive coordinator once publicly accused Meyer of cheating—and nobody seems to be talking about it.

But that's exactly what happened five years ago when Lane Kiffin took over as the head coach at Tennessee. Celebrating his first signing day with the Volunteers, Kiffin looked to make a splash, taking aim at Meyer, then the head coach at Florida.

"I'm going to turn Florida in right here in front of you," Kiffin said as he addressed a crowd of donors about the recruitment of new Tennessee wide receiver Nu'Keese Richardson.

"As Nu'Keese was here on campus, his phone keeps ringing. And so one of our coaches is sitting in a meeting with him and he says, 'Who's that?' and he looks at the phone and it says 'Urban Meyer.' Just so you know, when a recruit's on another campus, you can't call a recruit on another campus.

"I love the fact that Urban Meyer had to cheat and still didn't get him."

As it turned out, Meyer wasn't cheating—there was and is no rule that prohibits a coach from calling an unsigned recruit on another campus. It wasn't the first time that Meyer found himself in the crosshairs of Kiffin, who guaranteed a victory over the reigning national champion Gators in his introductory press conference at Tennessee.

"I'm really looking forward to embracing some of the great traditions at the University of Tennessee," Kiffin said. "Singing 'Rocky Top' all night long after we beat Florida next year. It's going to be a blast, OK? So get ready."

Kiffin never got to that, as the Gators beat the Volunteers by a score of 23-13 nine months later. It proved to be to last SEC battle between Meyer and Kiffin, as the latter left for Southern California after just one season in Knoxville, with cameras allegedly capturing Meyer happily receiving the news.

Although it was brief, the Meyer-Kiffin rivalry was certainly memorable, a brash up-and-coming head coach unapologetically needling the then-king of college football. Meyer, for his part, never seemed to take the bait, although it's no secret that Kiffin's words were used as motivation inside the Florida locker room.

"I don't like anybody talking [negatively] about Coach Meyer," star quarterback Tim Tebow said, per The Commercial Appeal.

It wasn't just Kiffin whose time in the SEC wouldn't last much longer, as Meyer would retire from Florida in 2011 before taking over the Ohio State program in 2012. Kiffin, meanwhile, wore out his welcome in Los Angeles and was fired by USC in the middle of the 2013 season.

Kiffin has since revitalized his career this past season as Alabama's offensive coordinator, installing hurry-up elements into Saban's formerly traditional offense. His time in Tuscaloosa has also indirectly put him back on a collision course with Meyer, whose No. 4 Buckeyes will face the top-ranked Crimson Tide in Thursday's College Football Playoff semifinal Sugar Bowl.

So why isn't anybody talking about the revival of one of college football's greatest lost rivalries?

Mostly because the matchup between Meyer and Saban leaves few headlines left for anybody else. But also because, just as Meyer claimed five years ago, the ill-will between the two appears to be water under the bridge.

"Coach Meyer and myself communicated a few times over texts and a phone call," Kiffin said at his Sugar Bowl press conference on Monday.

"It was really just kind of, 'Hey, this kind of crap from before, let's move on.' Obviously I have a great respect for what he's done everywhere he's been and how fast he's gotten this program up to being a top-four team in the country.

"That was just one of my many mistakes."

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Michigan Fan Creates 'Coming Home' Video for Jim Harbaugh's Return to Ann Arbor

With Jim Harbaugh coming home to Ann Arbor to coach his alma mater, one Michigan fan has decided to create a fitting tribute video in his honor.

A young Harbaugh helps set the tone, and then, as with any homecoming video these days, Skylar Grey's "Coming Home" takes over. 

Although football season is more than nine months away, this video will help get Wolverines fans excited for a new era of Michigan football.

[YouTube, h/t College Spun]

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Cold Hard Fact for Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fact: The $5 million per year Jim Harbaugh is making to coach Michigan matches his biggest money-making year as a player. 

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: Darren Rovell

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USC's Rising Star Adoree' Jackson Will Contend for 2015 Heisman

Do-everything USC freshman Adoree' Jackson just dove headfirst into the 2015 Heisman Trophy conversation—literally. 

Early in the first quarter of the Trojans' 45-42 Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska on Saturday, Jackson took a kickoff from his own two-yard line. Finding a seam in the Cornhuskers' coverage, he burst through and hit the gear that made him a 10.68-second 100-meter sprinter in high school.

Not only was Jackson's return longer than any in the bowl's 36-year history, it was also the first to end with a well-executed front flip into the end zone.

"My dad called me before the game and he told me do something for him...because he wasn't able to make the game," Jackson said. 

The officials played Soviet judge to Jackson's impromptu gymnastics exhibition, flagging him for unsportsmanlike conduct.

"Do I condone it? No," head coach Steve Sarkisian said of the celebration, which cost USC 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff.

However, Sarkisian added: "We only get to do this 13, 14 times a year so when we get our chances we better have fun doing it."

Jackson may not demonstrate his exuberance through an aerial display again, but it won't be the last time we see the rising star reach the end zone, either. 

In 2015, a more appropriate celebration might be an homage to Desmond Howard's Heisman pose when the Michigan star won the trophy in 1991. 

The kickoff return was the first of two proverbial Heisman moments for Jackson on Saturday, albeit a year early. 

The 71-yard touchdown reception was Jackson's third of the season, fourth-most among all Trojans. Not bad for a full-time cornerback moonlighting on offense. 

This particular grab was arguably his most impressive yet, as Jackson lined up in the backfield and took a short screen from quarterback Cody Kessler, then exploded past the Nebraska defense to reach paydirt. 

"It was reminiscent of another guy I've seen wearing our uniform before," Sarkisian said of Jackson's Holiday Bowl performance, without naming names. 

Not that he needs to: Comparisons to 2005 Heisman winner Reggie Bush surfaced before Jackson ever played a down in cardinal and gold, insofar as Jackson was even rumored to seek out Bush's No. 5 before the season, as the Los Angeles Daily News' Scott Wolf wrote in February. 

Jackson's freshman campaign validated the comparisons. His explosiveness as both a returner and offensive weapon bore similarities to Bush, right down to the end-zone flip. 

And building off the finish to his freshman season, Jackson could emulate Bush in another way as a sophomore. 

Bush was the last of USC's seven alumni to win college football's most prestigious individual honor, asterisk notwithstanding. He's also the last Heisman recipient to have contributed extensively in a phase other than offense, excelling in special teams as much as he did at running back. 

As easy as it is to draw comparisons between Bush and Jackson, however, there's a more fitting Heisman case study, as Sarkisian alluded to on his conference call Sunday night. 

"Charles Woodson, what he was able to do for Michigan, was tremendous," Sarkisian said. 

Woodson is the only defensive player ever to win the award, though that distinction is somewhat misleading. His highlight-reel moments on special teams and offense attracted the necessary voter attention to spotlight his play at cornerback. 

Likewise, Jackson won't contend for the Heisman with his work on defense alone, outstanding as it may be.

And it was outstanding. Jackson became USC's lockdown cornerback almost immediately in 2014, proving himself too invaluable to transition to wide receiver full-time. 

Making the most of his opportunities in special teams and on offense, as he did in the Holiday Bowl, is how Jackson can be the next Woodson. 

A side-by-side comparison of Jackson's statistical output in 2014 to Woodson's Heisman-winning campaign shows that the USC freshman doesn't have far to go.

One key metric in which Woodson had a distinct advantage over Jackson's 2014, however, is team wins. Michigan went undefeated in 1997 en route to a share of the national championship. 

Talk of USC pursuing the 2015 title began in earnest Saturday night.

"We're going to compete for championships. That's why you come to USC," Sarkisian said. "Get ready for 2015." 

And get ready for Jackson to chase both a championship and a Heisman—with or without acrobatics. 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of CFBstats.com

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USC's Rising Star Adoree' Jackson Will Contend for 2015 Heisman

Do-everything USC freshman Adoree' Jackson just dove headfirst into the 2015 Heisman Trophy conversation—literally...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Alabama vs. Ohio State: Unheralded Players Who Will Impact 2015 Sugar Bowl

The stars might get the headlines, but they are not always the ones who make the biggest impact in a football game. In many cases, it's the little-known players who help decide the outcome.

When Alabama takes on Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, college football fans will be able to name many of the key players on both sides. Quarterbacks Blake Sims and Cardale Jones will obviously take center stage, while notable competitors like Amari Cooper, Landon Collins, Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa have become household names.

Obviously, each of these competitors will have a major role in helping decide the national semifinal. However, here is a look at a few other players to watch out for in this matchup.

 

Doran Grant, CB, Ohio State

Cooper has been without question the best receiver in college football this season. The Alabama star leads the nation with 115 receptions to go with 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns.

On a team that is usually run-heavy and lacking downfield threats, Cooper has completely changed the dynamic of the Crimson Tide offense. Even Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer knows what he is getting into in this game, via Nicole Auerbach of USA Today:

If the Buckeyes want to slow down this passing attack, a lot of pressure will be on the shoulders of Doran Grant. The senior cornerback has had a great season, finishing the regular season with 14 passes defended to go with five interceptions. Two of those picks came against Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.

Of course, stopping Cooper is a completely different challenge. Grant has the quickness to stay with smaller receivers, but the real test will be bringing the Alabama receiver down after the catch, which is where he usually excels.

Grant doesn't have an easy job, but he will be one of the most important players on the field for the Buckeyes.

 

Jeff Heuerman, TE, Ohio State

If you're going to beat Alabama, you need to take advantage of your best weapons. For Ohio State, that includes tight end Jeff Heuerman.

The 6'5" senior has the size and athleticism to be a serious mismatch at this level. Unfortunately, he hasn't been used as much as he should, heading as he is into the bowl game with just 17 catches for 207 yards and two scores.

He recently joked about his limited role in the passing game:

While his blocking ability is valuable, Meyer needs to let his tight end run loose against the Crimson Tide. He has NFL-level talent, but he hasn't been used to his full ability.

With an inexperienced quarterback under center, Ohio State will need players who can make things happen in the passing game. Heuerman can make a major impact, he just needs to be given a chance.

 

Arie Kouandjio, OG, Alabama

Alabama is certainly battle-tested from playing in the SEC West, competing against some of the best defenses in the nation. However, the Tide haven't faced anyone with a better defensive line than Ohio State.

Bleacher Report's Adam Lefkoe was impressed by this unit during the 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the conference title game:

Between Bosa, Michael Bennett, Adolphus Washington and others, there are a lot of guys who will eventually be playing on Sundays. In the meantime, they do a great job of shutting down the opposing run game while consistently getting pressure on the quarterback.

While the entire Alabama offensive line will have to step up, senior Arie Kouandjio is the one who can make the biggest impact. The talented guard is a leader on this unit and generally does a great job of clearing space for T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry in the middle of the line.

Things will clearly be tougher for Kouandjio no matter who lines up against him, but he needs to give the same consistent approach to limit the impact of the opposing players. If he can do his job, the Crimson Tide might be able to cruise to victory.

 

Christion Jones, WR/KR, Alabama

While he wasn't asked to do much on the offensive end throughout the season, Christion Jones stepped up in the SEC Championship Game with three catches for 40 yards and his only touchdown of the season.

Cooper is clearly the go-to option in the passing game, but Jones can take some of the pressure off by getting open and giving Sims another target.

Still, Jones' biggest impact will come on special teams. The senior was among the best in the SEC with an average of 25 yards per kickoff return while also coming through with 8.4 yards per punt return.

Although he hasn't gotten himself into the end zone on a return this season, he got into the end zone three times on special teams plays a year ago and is always a threat to take it to the house.

Ohio State ranked 15th in the nation with just 17.9 yards allowed per kickoff return, but Jones can make a big impact in the field-position battle with some big returns. If he can break one for a score, it will be a bonus that could help decide the Sugar Bowl.

 

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

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TCU vs. Ole Miss: Individual Matchups to Watch in 2014 Peach Bowl

Do your job and your team will be successful.

That's the mentality for football players who know that winning a one-on-one battle against your opponent is all you have to worry about. In many cases, these individual matchups separate wins from losses.

This is exactly the case in the 2014 Peach Bowl between TCU and Ole Miss. The highly anticipated game pits one of the best offenses in college football against one of the best defenses. While everyone has their own role, a few key spots will help decide the outcome.

These are the most important battles to watch for in one of the best bowl games of the season.

 

Josh Doctson vs. Senquez Golson

Although Ole Miss had a good year and the No. 1 scoring defense in the nation, only one player was named first team All-American by the Associated Press. This honor went to Senquez Golson, the senior cornerback who has been outstanding all season long.

Bleacher Report's college football staff selected the 5'9" player as the No. 1 player at the position this season, explaining:

No cornerback in America plays the ball better than Golson, who led the SEC with nine total interceptions and picked off six passes in five games during the heart of conference play. He is a former outfielder for the Ole Miss baseball team (and draft pick of the Boston Red Sox) with innate tracking instincts and the timing and athleticism needed to compensate for being 5’9”.

This will make things difficult for quarterback Trevone Boykin, especially when he is trying to target his No. 1 receiver, Josh Doctson.

While TCU did a great job of spreading the ball around this season, Doctson was the top option in the passing game. He finished the year with 59 catches, 959 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, all of which led the team.

The junior is also red hot going into the bowl game, with 266 yards on 16 catches and two touchdowns in the past two games.

Most importantly, he has a seven-inch height advantage over Golson. Boykin likely doesn't want to target the elite cornerback directly, but Doctson has a chance to change the game by winning this battle.

 

Bo Wallace vs. Chris Hackett

TCU safety Chris Hackett is simply a playmaker on the defensive side of the ball. The junior not only led the team with six interceptions on the year, but he averaged 21.8 yards per return to put the team in good field position on the other end.

If you want to be successful against this defense, you need to be aware of where Hackett is on the field at all times.

This will be the primary task for Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace, who has plenty of talent but has taken on the role of game manager this season to help win with a great defense behind him. His job is simply to avoid mistakes, something he has struggled with at times this year.

In games where Wallace has at least a 110 passer efficiency rating (which would rank 111th in the nation over the course of the season), Ole Miss is 9-1. Of course, the other two games were road losses to LSU and Arkansas where the offense scored a total of seven points.

Hugh Kellenberger of The Clarion-Ledger summed it up during the Arkansas loss:

If the senior doesn't take care of the ball, Hackett will be all over him with some game-changing turnovers. This will quickly slide the momentum in TCU's favor, and possibly lead to a Big 12 victory.

 

Joey Hunt vs. Robert Nkemdiche

Slowing down Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche will have to be a team effort. The highly touted sophomore was the top recruit in his high school class and has lived up to expectations in his two years with the Rebels.

"I always have a motor on me and try to make things happen to free up other guys or do it for me," the second-team All-American explained to Kellenberger. "I just want to disrupt the game, and that's what I'm going to do by being in the backfield as much as I can."

No matter what you are trying to do offensively, Nkemdiche has the ability to blow up the game plan by penetrating the line and getting to the ball-carrier.

If TCU wants to run its offense like it has in the past, the first task will be containing the tackle. This will start with the play of center Joey Hunt.

The junior was a second-team All-Conference selection this season as someone who can lead his teammates on both passing and running plays. No matter what side of the field Nkemdiche lines up on, Hunt will likely be asked to help out on a double-team and keep the opposing player as far away from the play as possible.

If he can limit the defender's impact just a little bit, the Horned Frogs will have much more success in this game.

 

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

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Boise State vs. Arizona: Key Matchups That Will Decide Fiesta Bowl 2014

It seems fitting that Boise State's first trip to one of the big New Year's Six bowl games in eight years is the Fiesta Bowl. This is the spot where the Broncos made their name against Oklahoma following the 2006 season. They get another chance in 2014, this time against an Arizona team that defeated three Top-25 teams. 

The Wildcats have taken huge steps forward in three years under Rich Rodriguez. The former Michigan head coach took over a 4-8 program in 2012 and has led the school three consecutive bowl appearances, including victories the past two years. Arizona won 10 games this year, the first time since 1998. 

Boise State is no longer the national powerhouse it was from 2006-11 under Chris Petersen, but first-year head coach Bryan Harsin did a masterful job of getting the program back on track. The Broncos enter the Fiesta Bowl with an 11-2 record and eight straight wins, though they only played one ranked team, losing to Mississippi in the first game. 

Before Boise State and Arizona meet in Tempe to decide the Fiesta Bowl champion, here are the matchups to watch that will decide the outcome. 

 

Grant Hedrick vs. Arizona's Secondary

Singling out the quarterback matchup is an easy matchup, but Boise State goes as Grant Hedrick goes. In the Broncos' two losses, Hedrick has thrown one touchdown and eight interceptions. The low point of his season came against Air Force, when he threw four interceptions and was benched in a 28-14 loss. 

Hedrick was asked about that game and how it shaped the rest of his season, during which Boise State has won eight straight games and he's 17 of his 22 touchdowns, during media day for the Fiesta Bowl, via Tyler Killian of The Arizona Republic:

"It was like, 'What the heck's going on?'" Hedrick said."Everything you do, you can't do it right. You think you're making the right reads and you're not. It was just one of those days — nothing's going right and you have no explanation."

Even though Boise State doesn't have much of a resume against schools in the Power Five conferences, Arizona's defense could provide the elixir that Hedrick needs to succeed on the big stage. 

The Wildcats allowed 51 points to Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game. While Boise State isn't at Oregon's level offensively, the Broncos average 496 yards and 39.8 points per game. Arizona's defense has been a problem all year, allowing 27.5 points per game. 

If there was a bowl matchup designed for Hedrick to put those earlier struggles against Ole Miss and Air Force behind him, it's this one. 

 

Jay Ajayi vs. Scooby Wright

If there's a better matchup between a running back and linebacker this bowl season than Boise State's Jay Ajayi and Arizona's Scooby Wright, good luck finding it. 

Ajayi is the best running back who doesn't get much national attention. He finished sixth in the nation with 1,689 yards and 25 touchdowns in the regular season. After the junior declared for the NFL draft, his offensive coordinator offered this assessment, via Jay Tust of KTVB:

During Boise State's winning streak, Ajayi had seven straight 100-yard rushing games before Fresno State held him to 70 yards. 

Ajayi will have the unenviable task of going up against the nation's best linebacker. The sophomore star, per Shane Dale of ArizonaSports.com, led the nation with 27 tackles for loss and tied for the FBS lead with six forced fumbles. 

Adding a little more drama to this entire matchup, Wright told the media, via Chadd Cripe of The Idaho Statesman, that Boise State was interested in him coming out of high school:

“(The Broncos) said they were going to keep evaluating me,” Wright said. “We always kept in contact, but nothing too serious.”

Wright has used his lack of scholarship offers as a motivating tool, according to a profile from Bruce Feldman of FoxSports.com:

As a recruit two years ago, Wright was deemed a two-star prospect. Deep down he hated it, but in a way he loves it now. Wright uses it. The whole "TwoStarScoob" thing serves as a constant reminder of a time when no one expected him to be great or even wanted him on their football team. Thanks to a whole lot of grit, Wright’s proved all those naysayers wrong. 

Wright will be making plays all over the field, but if he's going to give Arizona a chance to win, his most important task will be spying Ajayi and preventing big plays in the running game. 

 

Samajie Grant vs. Boise State's Secondary

Samajie Grant was having a breakout season for Arizona before having everything fall apart after being cited for suspicion of a DUI after the Wildcats defeated Arizona State. He didn't start in the Pac-12 Championship Game and had just one reception in the 51-13 loss. 

Rodriguez talked about Grant leading up to the Fiesta Bowl, praising the star wide receiver's work ethic, via Daniel Berk of The Arizona Daily Star:

Now that Grant has been able to properly prepare for this game, Boise State will have its hands full trying to contain him. The sophomore star leads the Wildcats with 15.8 yards per reception and is second with five touchdown catches. 

In a game that's expected to feature a lot of big plays, Grant is Arizona's home-run hitter in the passing game, while the Broncos finished 63rd in pass defense despite allowing 17 touchdowns with 20 interceptions. 

Grant isn't a big receiver who will overpower defenders at 5'9", 177 pounds, but his speed and hands on the outside have been key components in Arizona's growth this season. The Broncos are opportunistic on defense, which has produced good results but can get them in trouble. 

 

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

 

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FSU vs. Oregon: Rose Bowl 2015 Schedule and X-Factors to Watch

You know the storylines already for the 2015 Rose Bowl.

The College Football Playoff showdown pits last season’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in Florida State’s Jameis Winston against this season’s winner in Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Not only are they arguably the top two players in college football, they could be the top two picks in the upcoming draft.

There is also the fact that Oregon is attempting to finally get over the mountaintop as an elite college football program. It has been one of the marquee teams across the country in recent years, but it has fallen short with the national title on the line.

Finally, the Seminoles are still battling for respect even after winning the national title a season ago. They sneaked past a number of overmatched opponents this season at the very end, which caused some commentators and fans to forget the fact that they haven’t lost a game since the 2012 campaign. 

Still, there are bound to be some under-the-radar X-factors that will determine such a marquee showdown. With that in mind, here is a look at the schedule and a couple of X-factors to watch for Thursday’s clash.

 

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

When: Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015

Where: Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, California

Start Time (ET): 5 p.m.

TV: ESPN  

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

X-Factors to Watch

Oregon’s Ability to Slow Down Tight End Nick O’Leary

Everyone is worried about Oregon’s ability to contain wide receiver Rashad Greene in the Rose Bowl without injured cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, but the X-factor will be the Ducks’ ability—or inability—to contain tight end Nick O’Leary.

O’Leary finished the season with 614 receiving yards and six touchdowns and was the second-leading receiver on the team outside of Greene. He was a consensus All-American and also won the John Mackey Award as the best tight end in the country.

O’Leary is something of a security blanket for Winston on critical third downs and is as sure-handed as pass-catching options come.

Oregon’s pass defense is not exactly built to stop O’Leary either considering it finished an abysmal 105th in the nation. Granted, some of that is a result of the Ducks always being ahead, which forces the other team to throw the ball more, or the fact that Oregon’s offense runs a no-huddle attack and scores so quickly that the defense is on the field for longer than normal.

Still, 105th in the country is an alarming number for a playoff team.

If the Ducks let O’Leary run free up the middle and can’t get the Seminoles off the field on third downs, Mariota will have fewer opportunities to make plays. That will also allow Florida State to control the tempo and give its defense some much-needed breathers against the fast-paced Oregon offense.

Florida State receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey discussed O’Leary, via Gary Smits of Jacksonville.com: “Nick has the best ball skills on the team. He’s not the fastest guy but understands where he needs to be by route-running and positioning his body.” 

If he uses those ball skills at the Rose Bowl to pick up critical third downs, it could be a long day for the Ducks.

 

Health of Eddie Goldman

Florida State finished 58th in the country against the run this season, and it really struggled down the stretch. The Seminoles allowed 331 rushing yards against Georgia Tech, 240 to Boston College and 176 to Miami in three of the final four games and looked vulnerable heading into the postseason.

That type of production is going to be a major problem against Oregon’s offense that was third in the nation in points per game and 22nd in rushing yards per game. 

It will be an even bigger problem if defensive lineman Eddie Goldman is limited after leaving the victory over Florida with an injury. Safid Deen of the Tallahassee Democrat had some good news for Florida State fans along those lines:

Goldman is a first-round prospect who brings immense talent to the table, and Florida State is going to need him at full strength to counter Mariota and running back Royce Freeman. Freeman tallied 1,299 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground this year, while Mariota added 669 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns.

For as much as Oregon’s offense gets credit for being a high-flying attack, the bread and butter is still the read-option.

The Seminoles need a strong middle along the defensive line to shut that down and allow the linebackers and safeties to make plays in space if the quarterback keeps it. If Goldman and the interior of the Florida State line can’t contain Freeman from attacking the middle, it will force the safeties and linebackers to crowd the box, which will open up seam routes for Mariota to hit with his arm or openings on the outside for Mariota to exploit with his legs. 

Oregon’s offense is almost impossible to stop for any collegiate defense. The only way Florida State is going to be able to do so in the Rose Bowl is with a healthy Goldman plugging the middle.

 

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Michigan Paying Jim Harbaugh $5M a Year Is the Steal of the Season

Jim Harbaugh was announced Tuesday as the head football coach at Michigan, returning to his alma mater after mutually parting ways with the San Francisco 49ers.

And he's giving the Wolverines a hometown discount.

According Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News, Michigan signed Harbaugh to a seven-year contract worth $5 million per season plus incentives—the same basic deal he was making in the NFL.

Five FBS head coaches—Nick Saban, Mark Dantonio, Bob Stoops, Kevin Sumlin and Charlie Strong—made more than $5 million this past season, per the salary database at USA Today.

For Harbaugh to land behind them is a minor shock after previous reports indicated he would make roughly $8 million per year.

According to John U. Bacon, however, Harbaugh went out of his way to avoid becoming the highest paid coach in college football—or even in the Big Ten. He wants to save money to fill out the rest of his staff.

Landing Harbaugh at $6, $7 or even $8 million per year would have been a coup for the Wolverines. Landing him for less than Oklahoma pays Stoops is highway robbery. He is the perfect head coach entering the perfect program at the perfect time.

Michigan football is in a state of disrepair. The Wolverines are 46-42 since Lloyd Carr retired in 2007. They haven't had a worse seven-year stretch since going 34-34-2 under Bump Elliott from 1961 to 1967. They have never in the post-Bo Schembechler era needed a win this badly.

In Harbaugh they get a coach with proven NFL success. He took the 49ers to three straight NFC championship games—one of which he won—before going 8-8 in 2014. NFL teams like the Oakland Raiders would have broken the bank to hire him this offseason.

As much as he wants to help his alma mater, this is still, technically, a professional demotion. And it's not a small one, either.

Thus, no one batted an eye at reports about his massive, record-breaking contract. Making Harbaugh the richest coach in college football would have given him an excuse for dropping down a level. It would not have looked like he was leaving the NFL with his tail between his legs.

It would have looked like he was leaving to get paid.

And everyone understands getting paid.

But by signing for something substantially less than $8 million, Harbaugh made it clear that something bigger is afoot. This move is about more than dollars and cents and pride and hubris and egotism. It's about restoring the program he grew up with.

"Throughout my life I have dreamed of coaching at the University of Michigan," said Harbaugh in a statement released by the school.

"Now I have the honor to live it."

Beyond his proven record of success, Harbaugh placates the old-school fans who think being a "Michigan Man" still matters.

And who's to say for sure that it doesn't?

Rich Rodriguez came to Michigan with great success but little cultural connection to Ann Arbor. Look how that turned out.

Brady Hoke came to Michigan with little success but great cultural connection to Ann Arbor. Look how that turned out.

Harbaugh combines the best of both worlds. He has Rich-Rod's coaching bona fides (only better) and Hoke's association with the city (only deeper).

Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune (subscription required) painted an apt picture of what Harbaugh means to Michigan:

People say, rightfully so, that Pat Fitzgerald is the perfect fit at Northwestern. Harbaugh is so ideal for Michigan, he should chuck the white horse and saddle up a wolverine (Hugh Jackman doesn’t count) for his ride into Ann Arbor.

…What makes Harbaugh so perfect for Michigan?

Start with the fact that his two biggest influences have been Bo Schembechler, the modern godfather of Michigan football, and father Jack Harbaugh, who coached under Schembechler. Jim spent eight years of his childhood in Ann Arbor and quarterbacked the 1986 team to the Rose Bowl, so he won’t need directions to Zingerman’s Deli.

Another reason Harbaugh is a perfect fit at Michigan? His area of expertise.

Specifically, the work he does with quarterbacks.

Harbaugh was a three-year starting quarterback for the Wolverines and played 14 seasons in the NFL. He started 140 games as a pro. The last college quarterback he developed was Andrew Luck. The last NFL quarterback he developed was Colin Kaepernick.

Luck became the No. 1 overall draft pick under Harbaugh. Kaepernick became a $100 million man.

The biggest problem Michigan has faced the past seven seasons is its lack of a reliable quarterback. Ever since Chad Henne left in 2007, the likes of Steven Threet, Nick Sheridan, Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner have defiled the position.

Even Denard Robinson, who led Michigan to the Sugar Bowl in 2011, played poorly enough to get benched and moved to running back in favor of Gardner during his senior season.

Michigan—once again—could have afforded $8 million per year if it meant landing a quarterback guru. It could not have afforded to let Shane Morris, Wilton Speight and incoming freshman Alex Malzone flame out in the vein of their predecessors.

It got exactly what it needed at a 40 percent discount.

Merry belated Christmas!

Harbaugh was the one and only option for Michigan. There does not appear to have been a Plan B. But he checks every box this coaching search was looking for.

He's not just successful. He's not just a quarterback specialist. He's not just a devout Schembechler Orthodox

He is equal parts all of the above.

He is the perfect tonic for what happened with Rodriguez and Hoke. And he's coming to Ann Arbor on the cheap. This is without a doubt the biggest steal of the coaching cycle.

And it might be the biggest steal of the decade.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeigh35

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Biggest Takeaways from Jim Harbaugh's Introductory Press Conference at Michigan

The University of Michigan made one of the biggest hirings in school history official on Tuesday as it was announced at a press conference that Jim Harbaugh is the Wolverines' new head football coach.   

Michigan interim athletic director Jim Hackett was the one who made the announcement, per Michigan Football on Twitter:

Prior to the presser, it was revealed by New York Times bestselling author John U. Bacon that Harbaugh had inked a seven-year, $35 million deal to coach in Ann Arbor, Michigan:

While Harbaugh undoubtedly could have gotten more, he declined in favor of getting better pay for his assistants, per Bacon:

Harbaugh revealed he felt as though going to Michigan was the best move for himself and his family regardless of compensation, according to Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports 1:

Hackett acknowledged that Harbaugh could have easily chosen to coach any NFL team with a vacancy after leaving the San Francisco 49ers, but he was thrilled to announce that the Wolverines got their top choice:

After carving out an excellent career as a quarterback at the University of Michigan, Harbaugh went on to have success in the NFL as a player as well.

Despite his coaching career initially taking him to Western Kentucky University, the Oakland Raiders, the University of San Diego, Stanford and the 49ers, Harbaugh admitted that Michigan has always been his dream job, according to NFL on ESPN:

In many ways, Harbaugh is synonymous with Michigan, and he obviously takes that quite seriously, per SportsCenter:

Harbaugh's record at Stanford and with the 49ers speaks for itself, but the fiery, 51-year-old coach vowed that excellence is the goal at Michigan as well:

He acknowledged his history of building teams into winners, and made it clear that he intends to do the same at Michigan on a more permanent basis, per Sam Webb of WTKA:

At the same time, Harbaugh plans to draw on Michigan's championship legacy rather than making sweeping changes:

There is no question that Harbaugh has his work cut out for him as the Wolverines are coming off a 5-7 season. In fact, Michigan has won more than eight games just once over the past seven campaigns.

Harbaugh is used to vying for championships, and while that may not be realistic in his first or even second year at Michigan, his resume suggests that the Wolverines football program is bound to return to elite status in the very near future.

Perhaps the biggest theme throughout Harbaugh's press conference was his positive attitude and confidence that brighter days are ahead for the program.

It shouldn't take much to get players to buy into that as well, which means a golden age of Wolverines football could be on the horizon.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Texas A&M Football: 5 Takeaways from the Aggies' Bowl Game

The Texas A&M football team defeated the West Virginia Mountaineers 45-37 in the 2014 Liberty Bowl. The game revealed a lot about the 2014 team and what the future holds for the Aggies.

The bowl win was the Aggies' fourth in a row, which set a school record. The win gave head coach Kevin Sumlin 28 wins in his first three seasons, which is the best start for any coach in the history of the school.

The Aggies have a very young team, and the program definitely benefited from the 15 extra practices a bowl game provides. Multiple true freshmen stepped up and had solid games against West Virginia.

This is a look at a few takeaways from Texas A&M's 45-37 Liberty Bowl win.  

Begin Slideshow

College Is the Perfect Place for New Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh

In the end, how things developed behind closed doors weren't all that important—at least not in this case. Michigan got its guy. 

Whether it was his first choice or fifth, whether family influenced himor not, Jim Harbaugh came home. Not just home to coach Michigan, his alma mater where he played quarterback from 1983-86, but home to college football. 

"Throughout my life I have dreamed of coaching at the University of Michigan," Harbaugh said in a university-released statement

Both are instantly better for it. The Wolverines feel like they have one of the elite coaches in the country, and they do. The sport gets a polarizing personality that rivals Alabama's Nick Saban, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and, most importantly, Ohio State's Urban Meyer

Harbaugh probably could have stayed in the NFL as a head coach if he wanted to. Chicago, New York and Atlanta all had vacancies. At this point in time, though, the college game is the perfect place for him.

The college ranks are where Harbaugh cut his coaching teeth. He was a volunteer assistant for his father, Jack, at Western Kentucky (1994-2001) and then served as the head coach at the University of San Diego (2004-06) and Stanford (2007-10). Prior to coming to Michigan, Harbaugh spent four seasons as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

Each stop was better than the previous one, though Harbaugh's time with the 49ers ended unceremoniously.  

As B/R's Jason Cole reported Saturday when Harbaugh was expected to take the Michigan job, his coaching style is better suited for college, via an NFL source: 

That's what everybody on staff believes is going to happen this week. Jim has figured out that his style is best suited for the college game. His shtick works better with young guys who are gone after three or four years.

The apparent drawbacks for Harbaugh were the other activities he might deem frivolous, like glad-handing boosters and alumni. A NFL coach's job, on the other hand, is far more straightforward. However, per Cole, Harbaugh "measured those issues against the opportunities that might be available around the pros."

The flipside to that is Harbaugh has a type of control at Michigan that he didn't with the 49ers. He can pick his own players in recruiting and develop them before moving on to another group of signees. Furthermore, there is no battle of egos; Harbaugh is the main man. 

His task at Michigan is not unlike the ones he's faced at Stanford and San Francisco: Take a downtrodden program that has remained surprisingly irrelevant for the better part of a decade and turn it into a force. Each time, he's succeeded. 

In fact, the way Harbaugh must rebuild Michigan is similar to how he rebuilt the Cardinal.

The first thing that will be pointed out is the quarterback situation. There's promise with sophomore Shane Morris, but the offense has been so bad and his experience is so limited that it's difficult to gauge what the program really has in the former blue-chip recruit

Given that Harbaugh recruited Andrew Luck to Stanford, you can bet there will be more than a few takes that the Wolverines need their own version of Luck. 

But what Michigan really needs is to dominate in the trenches again. The Wolverines have been abysmal up front for the past two seasons because of poor recruiting and developing by the previous coaching staff. Interestingly, two offensive linemen—tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield—were drafted in 2014, Lewan in the first round. 

However, Michigan ranked 87th in total offense, 109th in sacks allowed and dead last in tackles for loss allowed in 2013.

Stanford had four linemen drafted in the past three drafts, including first rounder David DeCastro. All of those players were recruited by Harbaugh and his staff. However, Stanford's offenses, even this past season, have been more efficient and balanced. 

The Stanford remedy could take some time to cure what ails Michigan, but a turnaround seems as close to a sure thing as they come. Along the lines of Saban to Alabama and Meyer to Ohio State, the pair of Harbaugh and Michigan feels, as Dan Wolken of USA Today describes, too big to fail. 

The larger-than-life pairing doesn't work for everyone, though, especially when egos are involved. Harbaugh didn't "mutually agree to part ways" with San Francisco shortly after a 20-17 win over Arizona on Sunday because he was a cruddy coach.

Quite the contrary, he amassed a 49-22-1 record with the franchise, taking it to three straight NFC championship games and a Super Bowl appearance. 

Rather, Harbaugh was allowed to pursue other opportunities because he was reportedly "headstrong" and clashed frequently with management. Things were apparently so bad that the organization allegedly considered trading Harbaugh to the Cleveland Browns at one point. 

Harbaugh doesn't need a glowing recommendation for this homecoming, though. In fact, Michigan has apparently been so hellbent on Harbaugh that it's willing to make him a member of the $5 million club regardless, according to John U. Bacon

That's three million less than the amount originally reported by Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. As gaudy as that number remains, though, the contract is similar to the one Harbaugh had in San Francisco. It's clearly not about the money for him.

But there's still a difficult question: How long will Harbaugh stay in Ann Arbor? Even after an 8-8 season and an awkward relationship with team management, Harbaugh remains a hot coaching commodity. Imagine how tempting he'll look in seven years—the length of his contract—if he elevates Michigan to a national power again. 

And in this day and age, seven years anywhere is a decent tenure. 

When you've tasted that type of success, you want to taste it again. In his final press conference with the 49ers, Harbaugh left the door open to a possible return to the pros: 

To be clear, Harbaugh would get that chance if he wanted it. He's earned the right to be in this position. 

Michigan is a great job for Harbaugh right now, though, because it's a career palate cleanser. He's proved he can win at the highest level in his first go around as a head coach. That part can't be stressed strongly enough because while it shows Harbaugh has tremendous ability, it also shows he has room to grow. 

Sometimes, the only way to see that is to take a step back. Going back to the college ranks will be good for Harbaugh. Whether it's for a few years, 10 years or longer, Harbaugh will make college football more compelling, and he'll be a better coach for it. 

Realistically, that's all both sides should want. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com. Draft information courtesy of NFL.com

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Alabama Freshman LB Rashaan Evans Is Enjoying 'Living It Up on Bourbon Street'

This is the reason that college coaches don't like freshmen talking to the media. 

With a big Sugar Bowl showdown against Ohio State looming, Alabama fans hope that their team is focused on the game, not partying in the streets of New Orleans. However, it sounds like one Crimson Tide player is enjoying his time in the festive environment.

Alabama freshman linebacker Rashaan Evans revealed to an ESPN reporter that the best part of being in New Orleans is "living it up on Bourbon Street." 

That's probably not what Alabama coach Nick Saban wants to hear just days before the Crimson Tide's College Football Playoff semifinal game. On the other hand, it is exactly the type of thing that Buckeyes fans want to hear.

[Vine, h/t Eleven Warriors]

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FSU vs. Oregon: Predictions for Matchups That Will Decide Rose Bowl 2015

Though most view the 2015 Rose Bowl as a battle between potential top NFL picks, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston represent only a fraction of what will determine the College Football Playoff semifinal's outcome...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

FSU vs. Oregon: Predictions for Matchups That Will Decide Rose Bowl 2015

Though most view the 2015 Rose Bowl as a battle between potential top NFL picks, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston represent only a fraction of what will determine the College Football Playoff semifinal's outcome.

The quarterbacks may be the most important players, but both Florida State and Oregon boast deep rosters that can win even when the signal-callers aren't at their best.

Indeed, based on Football Outsiders' Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI), both teams possess top-six offenses buttressed by top-20 defenses.

The 13-0 Seminoles and 12-1 Ducks underperformed at times for varying reasons—the former because of complacency, the latter due to injuries—but with one loss between them, both squads can make legitimate claims as the national championship favorite.

Diving deeper into the talent beyond Mariota and Winston, let's take a look at three matchups that could determine this game's outcome, while also predicting which team holds the upper hand.

 

Rashad Greene (WR, FSU) vs. Troy Hill (CB, Oregon)

Mariota may be the Ducks' most prominent and important player, but potential first-round cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu wasn't far behind. With Ekpre-Olomu out due to a debilitating knee injury, senior Troy Hill now steps up as the leader of the Ducks' secondary.

With many opponents avoiding Oregon's top corner, Hill has established himself as a worthy complement opposite Ekpre-Olomu with a team-high 16 pass breakups this season.

Now, he'll take on the role of shadowing Florida State's top target, Rashad Greene, a challenge unlike any he has faced this season:

Greene led the 'Noles with 93 catches, 1,306 receiving yards and seven touchdowns en route to a first-team All-ACC selection. Though the 6'1", 180-pound receiver is not quite like Winston's last top target, the mammoth Kelvin Benjamin, Greene actually outproduced Benjamin's 2013 numbers in receptions and yards.

Moreover, Greene has been Winston's favorite target in crunch-time situations, having caught crucial fourth-quarter touchdowns against Oklahoma State and Clemson, as well as a pair of scores in the ACC Championship Game against Georgia Tech.

According to Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel, Winston himself has acknowledged that the underachieving Seminoles would likely not be in the CFP if not for Greene:

Hill has matured this season and seems ready for the shadow duties that come with being a true No. 1 corner. However, given Greene's route-running polish and the quick passing concepts Florida State utilizes to get the ball in his hands, look for the Seminoles' top target to still carry his fair share of the offense.

Edge: Florida State

 

Terrance Smith and Reggie Northrup (LBs, FSU) vs. Royce Freeman (RB, Oregon)

Smith and Northrup form the core of Florida State's linebacking unit, as the two juniors are the elder statesmen on a unit without a senior.

Northrup and Smith led the Seminoles with 113 and 84 tackles, respectively, with the two combining for 8.5 tackles for loss. The former landed on the All-ACC second team, while the latter was a third-teamer.

However, Oregon's offensive pace coupled with Freeman's burst presents a challenge unlike anything the Seminoles have encountered. The true freshman seized control of the Ducks' backfield this season after Thomas Tyner went down with injuries.

Indeed, while Oregon has typically featured an egalitarian backfield in recent years, Freeman dominated the touches in 2014. He carried the ball 230 times this year, while no other back had more than 88 carries.

Moreover, the 229-pound Freeman is an extremely balanced runner, with both the size to bowl over smaller collegiate linebackers as well as the speed and vision necessary to find holes in Oregon's spread sets.

Since taking over primary backfield duties, Freeman has notched at least 98 rushing yards in eight consecutive games, averaging 119.1 yards per game during that stretch. 

Florida State had its share of issues against Georgia Tech in the conference championship game, conceding 331 rushing yards on 5.6 yards per carry to the Yellow Jackets. Plenty of teams have had problems with that triple-option attack, but the Seminoles did struggle against other premier backs like Duke Johnson and Michael Dyer during the season.

Moreover, Safid Deen of the Tallahassee Democrat reports Smith is still nursing a knee injury that hampered him against Georgia Tech:

As such, it seems difficult to expect the Seminoles to contain Freeman. Florida State can still win defensively if their athletic secondary limits Mariota downfield, but that might mean giving up plenty of small victories on the ground.

Edge: Oregon

 

Mario Edwards, Jr. (DE, FSU) vs. Jake Fisher (LT, Oregon)

Junior defensive end Edwards is the most heralded player on the Florida State front seven, with a team-high 11 tackles for loss and three sacks this season.

At the Rose Bowl on January 1, Edwards will face off against Oregon's most reliable lineman, senior left tackle Jake Fisher.

Despite his lack of high sack totals, Edwards is arguably the defense's most versatile and disruptive player, with the ability to drop into coverage as a "Jack" linebacker while also setting the edge in run support. Edwards was Florida State's best defender in the national championship game last season, when he notched three tackles for loss and a sack.

ESPN's Marty Smith notes that, as the leader of the front seven, Edwards has been vocal about the disrespect Florida State has received this season:

Meanwhile, Fisher has shifted across from right to left tackle as injuries have taken their toll on the Ducks' offensive line. The senior himself missed two games, during which Oregon conceded an eye-opening 12 sacks.

Indeed, Jason Quick of The Oregonian (h/t Ken Goe of The Oregonian) believes that Fisher deserves consideration as the Ducks' MVP, despite Mariota's Heisman Trophy-winning season:

While many fans don't focus on line play, this is arguably the game's best individual matchup. Keep an eye on Mariota's blind side because Edwards' ability to penetrate the backfield and Fisher's ability to hold up against an athletically superior opponent may determine this game's outcome.

Slight Edge: Florida State

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