NCAA Football

Orange Bowl 2014: Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech Schedule, Early Predictions

The Orange Bowl has long been one of college football's most coveted postseason venues, and that trend continues with the introduction of the College Football Playoff. This contest won't yield a national champion this year, but it will feature two of the nation's best teams as one of the New Year's Six games.

We received quite a show when the Orange Bowl last took place, on Jan. 3, as Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Clemson's Tajh Boyd lit up the scoreboard, combining for 10 total touchdowns in a 40-35 victory for the Tigers.

So, which two teams will face off in this prestigious bowl game? College GameDay tweeted the answer:

With the prolific offenses of Mississippi State and Georgia Tech set to compete, expectations are high once again. Here's a look at the contest's complete viewing information to ensure not a moment of excitement is missed.


Viewing Information

When: Wednesday, Dec. 31

Where: Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN


Preview and Prediction

Mississippi State is coming off a devastating 31-17 loss to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. That defeat ended the Bulldogs' hopes of participating in the inaugural College Football Playoff, forcing the team to enter bowl season surrounded by uncertainty. Well, a trip to the Orange Bowl isn't a bad consolation prize.

Although, the Bulldogs' berth in this contest came as a bit of a surprise after jumping Michigan State in the rankings, via Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports:

Quarterback Dak Prescott has been Mississippi State's catalyst this season, passing for 2,996 yards, 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and adding 939 rushing yards and 13 scores. He's even reeled in two receptions for 35 yards and a touchdown, making him an all-around weapon.

Prescott is complemented nicely by running back Josh Robinson. The junior ball-carrier runs with a punishing style, and he's racked up 1,128 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 6.4 yards per carry along the way.

The duo of Prescott and Robinson led the Bulldogs to rank 20th in the nation in rushing offense. They'll have plenty of chances for success against a Georgia Tech defense that ranks 69th in the nation against the run and allowed 23 rushing touchdowns this season.

Georgia Tech's triple-option is one of the most feared attacks in college football. Quarterback Justin Thomas makes extremely smart, quick decisions, putting his offense in great position to gain chunks of yardage at a time. Thomas combines with senior running back Zach Laskey to form the nation's third-ranked run defense.

Unfortunately for the Yellow Jackets, they aren't much of a passing team, ranking 122nd in the nation due to a limited number of attempts per game. Mississippi State's greatest weakness is its 122nd-ranked secondary that allows an average of 285.2 yards per game through the air. 

While the Yellow Jackets can put up some points, their defense has been inconsistent throughout the season, allowing more than 30 points to three unranked teams in Georgia Southern, Duke and North Carolina. That's not a good sign when they are slated to face a very well-rounded Mississippi State offense.

If Prescott and Co. get out to a big lead, Georgia Tech will be forced to rely on the pass. Even against a porous Bulldogs secondary, the Yellow Jackets are at a disadvantage with a quarterback who has completed only 89 passes this season. The advantage on both sides of the ball goes to Mississippi State.  

Prediction: Mississippi State 42, Georgia Tech 28


All team statistics and rankings courtesy of and current as of December 7.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Top 25 Standings and Playoff Bracket

Another full college football season is in the books and the inaugural College Football Playoff bracket is set. As expected, there were quite a few surprises in the top four and final poll overall.   

The most resounding change was Ohio State taking the final spot in the playoff to face No. 1 Alabama. That change, of course, left two Big 12 powerhouses in Baylor and TCU out of the race for a national championship.

Instead, the Bears and Horned Frogs had to settle for the Cotton and Peach Bowl, respectively. Both will have to cope with missing out and wondering what might have been if either had won, say, a Big 12 championship game.

On the heels of the final list being announced, here's a look at the latest CFP Top 25 Standings and bracket.



If fans thought the regular season was wild, the College Football Playoff is setting up to be even more chaotic.

All four teams in the bracket are conference champions. Whether it was another nail biter for Florida State or a dismantling for Ohio State, each program made a huge statement this year.

Now it's time to prove who deserves the right to play for a national title. One team that is clearly comfortable with this environment is Alabama, as evidence by Nick Saban's reaction to the announcement, via Will Brinson of CBS Sports:

The biggest surprise in the bracket is obviously Ohio State, who recently lost J.T. Barrett for the remainder of the season. In his place, Cardale Jones passed for 257 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Buckeyes to a 59-0 demolition of Wisconsin.

Following that matchup, Athletics Director Gene Smith put it simply when talking about why OSU deserved a spot over Baylor or TCU, via Brian Bennett of ESPN:

Jones isn't the only offensive leader now for the Buckeyes. Ezekiel Elliott (220 rushing yards, two TDs) was explosive out of the backfield and Devin Smith (137 receiving yards) caught all three scores from Jones.

Even with those explosive weapons, many believed it would be difficult for OSU to overtake TCU or Baylor after decisive wins. Matt Winer of Turner Sports passed along his take on the movement:

Controversy has surrounded the committee's decisions recently and likely won't end after Sunday. If Alabama demolishes Ohio State on the national stage, expect cries from Big 12 fans about either the Bears or Horned Frogs missing out on the Sugar Bowl.

Regardless of who "deserved" or "earned" the final spot, there is no question three of the best four teams made the bracket. Between Alabama and Oregon, both programs will be favorites in their matchups to potentially tie up for the title.

Less than a month stands between now and the two semifinals. The madness has already begun but will reach all new heights in the Sugar and Rose Bowls. Buckle up college football fans.


Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Cotton Bowl 2015: Preview, Predictions for Baylor vs. Michigan State

Even with the College Football Playoff stealing most of the sizzle of New Year's Day, there will be no shortage of conference pride in the remaining bowl games. That might not be more evident anywhere than it will be in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl, where No. 5 Baylor will do battle with eighth-ranked Michigan State.

Representing the Big 12, the Bears will look to prove that they were deserving of a spot in the much-talked about playoff, while the Spartans will aim to add a signature win to the reputation of the Big Ten. Factor in Baylor's high-powered offense squaring off with Michigan State's dominant defense and the Cotton Bowl figures to be one of the most interesting games of the college football bowl season.

Will the Bears leave the playoff committee with regrets, or will the Spartans steal the show? We'll find out on New Year's Day, but until then, here's everything you need to know about this year's Cotton Bowl:


Date: Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015

Time: 12:30 p.m. ET

Place: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas


Radio:Spartan Sports Network, Baylor Bears Radio

Spread: Baylor (-1.5), via Odds Shark

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Fiesta Bowl 2014: Arizona vs. Boise State Schedule and Early Predictions

Participants of the Fiesta Bowl may not have a shot at the national title, but they still have the privilege of playing in one of the coveted New Year's Six games.

Recognized as one of the top-tier bowl games, the Fiesta Bowl has produced some of the bowl season's most exciting contests in recent years. UCF and Baylor kicked off 2014 in style, combining for 94 points in a New Year's Day shootout. Also, who can forget Boise State's overtime victory over Oklahoma in 2007 via the Statue of Liberty?

So, which teams will compete this time around? College GameDay tweeted the information:

Will Boise State repeat history, this time against Arizona?

To ensure the next batch of memories produced by this game don't go missed, here's a look at all of the essential viewing information for the upcoming Fiesta Bowl.


Viewing Information

When: Wednesday, Dec. 31

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona

Time: 4 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN


Preview and Prediction

The Broncos were a rather surprising team over the back half of the regular season, bouncing back from a brutal loss to Air Force with eight consecutive wins, culminating in a 28-14 victory over Fresno State to claim the Mountain West Conference title.

TheScore deemed Boise State as "college football's best kept secret":

Junior running back Jay Ajayi has been phenomenal for Boise State this season, rushing for 1,689 yards and 25 touchdowns, adding 45 receptions for 536 yards and four scores. He's been an absolute workhorse for the Broncos, and he'll get a great chance to rip it up once again versus Arizona's 72nd-ranked run defense that is allowing an average of 170.4 rushing yards per game.

Senior quarterback Grant Hedrick began the season in rocky fashion, tossing four interceptions in both of Boise State's losses. Since then, he's been highly efficient, throwing 17 touchdown passes against four interceptions. The Wildcats' weakness on defense is their 118th-ranked secondary, and Hedrick's 70.9 completion percentage this season will certainly work in his favor.

If Arizona is to overcome Boise State's prolific offense, it must continue to utilize the blitz to get pressure on Hedrick, throwing the quarterback off balance. The Wildcats have been very good in that department this year, accumulating 37 total sacks. They'll get some opportunities in the Fiesta Bowl against a Broncos offensive line that gave up 27 sacks this season.

On the offensive side of the ball, Arizona really needs to get running back Nick Wilson going early against Boise State's 36th-ranked run defense. The ball-carrier only averaged 2.0 yards per carry against Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship, and that led to a stagnant offense.

The Wildcats struggled under center against the Ducks, as Jesse Scroggins replaced Anu Solomon, and Scroggins was later replaced by Jerrard Randall. The quarterback position is absolutely a weakness heading into this contest, furthering the importance of establishing the run.

While Arizona is a highly talented team, Boise State comes into this contest as the more well-rounded squad. The Wildcats have given up a total of 86 points over their last two games, and they'll continue to struggle against the Broncos' ninth-ranked offense.       

Prediction: Boise State 38, Arizona 30


All team statistics and rankings courtesy of and current as of December 7.

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Bowl Projections 2014: Early Odds, Predictions for Playoffs and Top Games

College football has taken the magic of Selection Sunday in college basketball, whittled it down to four teams to provide more drama than you can find in an Aaron Sorkin movie and wrapped it in a nice bow that can be talked about for long after the announcement is made. 

With the final College Football Playoff rankings being released and the 2014-15 bowl schedule set, it's time to start the analysis of what will happen and what games to focus on closely. While the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl will get all the attention, since they are the semifinal games, they aren't the only big games. 

There's nothing better than bowl season, especially this year, so here is an early look at odds and predictions for the games that have us most excited. 


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

Even though traditional bowl rules have fallen by the wayside since the BCS came around, it's nice to see the Rose Bowl still feature a Pac-12 team. Oregon has been tapped for this spot since it reclaimed the No. 2 spot in the rankings November 9 and secured it by destroying Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game. 

No team enters the playoff hotter than the Ducks, who have won eight straight games and the last five by at least 24 points. Marcus Mariota has been more than just one of the best players in college football this season, as SportsCenter tweeted out before Friday's game against Arizona:

Even in weather conditions that were less than ideal at Levi's Stadium against Arizona, Mariota added five total touchdowns (two passing, three rushing) to his career total and had 313 yards passing in the game. It was his third straight game with at least 300 passing yards. 

However, Oregon is here because of a revamped defense that flies under the radar because of how potent the offense is, as Lindsay Schnell of Sports Illustrated wrote:

Oregon bottled up Arizona superstar running back Nick Wilson, didn’t let any Wildcat receivers catch a pass longer than 10 yards and sacked quarterback Anu Solomon four times. It’s easy to say Arizona had a rough night. But that was due mostly to a defense that sent a message Friday night: This team is more than a snazzy offense.

How fitting that Oregon's matchup is against Florida State. Mariota is the likely Heisman winner this season, going against the 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston. 

The Seminoles aren't always pretty to watch, but all that matters is winning games. No one has found a way to do that better than Jimbo Fisher's team, which comes into the playoff as the only undefeated team in FBS. 

Despite a 13-0 record, the deck is stacked against Florida State. In fact, per SportsCenter, the Seminoles will likely find themselves in a spot they haven't been in a very long time:

There's nothing sexy about Florida State's resume. It did get a good win over Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game, along with wins over Clemson and Louisville, but the Seminoles will be up against it in Pasadena. 

Winston remains an enigma, going from a four-interception game against Florida in which he looked lost to a near-perfect game against the Yellow Jackets that reminded everyone what makes him so special. He needs to be the second guy against Oregon for the Seminoles to have a chance. 

Florida State's defense has regressed considerably from last year, allowing 23 points per game in 2014. Fisher's defense has given up 684 rushing yards in its last three games, going against an Oregon offense that averages 237.3 yards per game on the ground and 46.3 points. 

It's been an incredible run for the Seminoles, but the Ducks are simply better and will prove it on New Year's Day. 

Oregon 37, Florida State 23


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

It's strange to look at how dominant Alabama has been under Nick Saban, then realize it has won only three SEC championships since 2007. There was no doubt about the Crimson Tide in 2014, as they knocked Missouri around early and often to secure their spot as the No. 1 seed.

The unique thing about this year's Alabama team is how it's had to rely more on offense to win than in past years. Saban has always had solid offensive teams with efficient quarterbacks, but Blake Sims has put this team at a different level. 

It's also a testament to the job Lane Kiffin has done in his first year as offensive coordinator. Even though it's been easy to bash the controversial former Oakland Raiders head coach, Saban said after the SEC Championship Game he had no doubts about him, via B/R's Barrett Sallee.

"I think I got exactly what I expected," Saban said on Friday. "I don't think anybody else expected what I expected, to the point where I even got criticized for doing it by a lot of people."

Another thing that's helped Alabama's offensive evolution is Amari Cooper, who has had the best season ever by a Crimson Tide receiver, via ESPN Stats & Info:

Alabama still has the defensive chops to shut an offense down, though Auburn did expose some holes in the team's coverage down the field. That's where you see the value of an upgraded offense come into play, because the Crimson Tide are capable of putting up a lot of points when they need to. 

Ohio State earned its spot in this game with a 59-0 drubbing of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Buckeyes should be riding high now, but they will have a much tougher time against Alabama's defense. 

First, Urban Meyer's team ran for 301 yards on 38 carries against the Badgers. Alabama ranks second in the country in rushing yards allowed per game and yards allowed per carry, per Yahoo Sports. Those running lanes aren't going to be open for the Buckeyes in this game. 

The ripple effect of not being able to run the ball is that it limits the effectiveness of play-action passing, which the Buckeyes were able to exploit against Wisconsin. Alabama is just a bad stylistic matchup for Ohio State, to say nothing of Saban having three weeks to prepare for Cardale Jones, which is why this game won't be close. 

Alabama 34, Ohio State 13


Best Non-Playoff Game: No. 5 Baylor vs. No. 8 Michigan State (Cotton Bowl)

Even though Baylor came up just short of its ultimate goal, it will have a chance to make a loud statement to anyone who doubted its credentials against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl. 

The danger with a game like this is neither team being able to get pumped up for a lesser bowl than either would have liked. Baylor was hoping/expecting to have a shot at the national title. Now, it doesn't even get a bid in one of the major bowls, though the Cotton Bowl is in the Bears' backyard in Arlington, Texas. 

Here is what Baylor head coach Art Briles said after his team defeated Kansas State on Saturday, via ESPN's College GameDay:

Briles' team has to go from the high of one of the best days in the history of Waco to one of the most disappointing. 

Michigan State also has to be wondering where things went wrong, as the Spartans seemed like a safe bet to play in the Orange Bowl before the invitation was given to Mississippi State. 

On paper, the matchup is fantastic. Baylor's offense leads the nation in scoring with 48.8 points per game and ranks fifth in passing yards per game with 346.2. Michigan State isn't lacking for offense, averaging 43.1 points per game, but the Spartans make their money on defense. 

In fact, ignoring their two losses for a moment, Michigan State held eight opponents under 20 points. It wasn't the greatest competition, with teams like Michigan, Maryland and Rutgers included, but it was still a good accomplishment for any defense. 

As far as those losses at Oregon and against Ohio State go, the Spartans aren't likely to have the same problems with Baylor. The Ducks and Buckeyes featured dual-threat quarterbacks capable of extending plays. 

While Bryce Petty is a terrific quarterback, he's a traditional dropback passer who sits in the pocket and waits for plays to develop. 

In addition to having high-scoring offenses, the gap between Petty and Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook isn't as significant as you might think, via Matt Hoeppner of

Both teams enter the Cotton Bowl on a relative high note. Michigan State has won its last three games, while Baylor is riding a five-game streak. These teams are capable of lighting up a scoreboard, though one has been more adept at keeping opponents out of the end zone. 

The Bears will have to be at their best to conquer the Spartans, which they will be in a close game that gets decided by a late touchdown. 

Baylor 45, Michigan State 35


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

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Orange Bowl 2014: Preview, Predictions for Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech

For all the debate stirred up after the College Football Playoff selection committee tabbed its Top Four, the Orange Bowl features a matchup that's relatively controversy-free.

Two 10-win teams will do battle, with Georgia Tech and Mississippi State squaring off in Miami. 

For all the glitz and glamor of South Beach, New Year's Day will likely be a slugfest. That's what happens when you pair two top 25 rushing attacks, with both Dan Mullen and Paul Johnson building their programs around the power game. 

For Georgia Tech, that means Johnson's triple-option. After four straight seasons of averaging seven wins, the Yellow Jackets took a big step forward in 2014.

While it wasn't enough to pull off the upset of defending national champion Florida State in the ACC title game, the 10-win season earned Johnson a four-year contract extension and a bowl berth that's among the most envious of the non-playoff games.

In Starkville, Mullen's sixth season was finally Mississippi State's breakthrough in the SEC. While the Bulldogs faded down the stretch, the 10-win season put Mullen's program on the map after spending much of the past in the cellar of the SEC.  

Let's get you ready for the Capital One Orange Bowl.

Date: Wednesday, December 31

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Place: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida


Radio: ESPN Radio

Point Spread: Mississippi State by 7, according to Odds Shark

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GoDaddy Bowl 2015: Preview, Predictions for Arkansas State vs. Toledo

Sunday, January 4 will see the renewal of the GoDaddy Bowl as the Arkansas State Red Wolves, this year's Sun Belt champions, will take on the Toledo Rockets. 

The game will kick off at 8 p.m. EST on ESPN. 

Check out this bowl's biggest players, as well as each team's keys to victory. 

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New Mexico Bowl 2014: Preview, Predictions for UTEP vs. Utah State

College football fans thirsty for bowl action will only have to wait until Dec. 20, when UTEP takes on Utah State in Albuquerque for the New Mexico Bowl.

The 7-5 Miners are headed to their first bowl game since 2010, when they also descended upon Albuquerque for the very same bowl. They will be looking for a very different outcome this time around, however, as BYU drubbed them 52-24 four years ago.

Utah State's season began in earnest with the return of Chuckie Keeton, but the Aggies have had to rebound ever since losing their star quarterback in early October. They have done just that, winning five of six to close out 2014.

Both squads overcame the odds to get here, which had Bryan Fischer of lauding the coaching jobs of Utah State's Matt Wells and UTEP's Sean Kugler:

While some of the bowl-bound teams have nearly a month to prepare, just days separate us from the New Mexico Bowl. Let's go ahead and break down everything you should know.


2014 New Mexico Bowl: UTEP vs. Utah State

When: Saturday, Dec. 20

Where: University Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Start Time (ET): 2:20 p.m.


Live Stream: WatchESPN


The Book on UTEP

In mid-October, even getting to this point seemed like a stretch for the UTEP Miners.

That was largely due to starting 2-3, which included understandable losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State. But after being trounced 55-3 on the road by Louisiana Tech, the Miners rattled off five of their last seven to notch a 7-5 record and secure their right to go bowling.

The New Mexico Bowl seemed like the likeliest destination given the geography and their spot in Conference USA, but it didn't matter much to the players where they ended up. For guys like safety Wesley Miller, one of the few on the team for the 2010 bowl loss, they just wanted to get back to the big stage and prove themselves, per the El Paso Times' Bret Bloomquist: "It was a lot of fun early in the week. It wasn't as fun on game day (when UTEP got blown out by Brigham Young). That wasn't a good memory and it left a bad taste in our mouth. We want to wash that away this year."

The Miners' biggest strength on the field comes by running rampant on the ground. Aaron Jones is the conference's No. 5 leading rusher both in terms of yards (1,233) and carries (217), but Nathan Jeffery and quarterback Jameill Showers combine for a strong three-pronged rushing attack.

UTEP will be feverishly watching tape of Utah State's 50-19 loss to Boise State in order to replicate the Broncos' rushing success. Jay Ajayi scampered for 229 yards and five touchdowns in that game, beleaguering the Aggies' front seven all game. 

The Miners may not have the rushing prowess of Boise State, but they should look to replicate it as much as possible in the New Mexico Bowl.


The Book on Utah State

Cut out the Utah State Aggies' season opener and their season finale, and you'd have a more impressive team than the 9-4 squad entering the New Mexico Bowl.

Utah State was welcomed into the 2014 season with a trip to face Tennessee in Neyland Stadium and came out battered and bruised en route to a 38-7 defeat. Keeton's shaky performance ended up being a sign, as the talented quarterback was never 100 percent on his surgically repaired knee and eventually reinjured it.

The Aggies' season seemed lost when they shut Keeton down for the season, but they showed their worth even without their star quarterback in the fold. They bounced back from that news in impressive fashion, including a 35-20 upset win at then-No. 18 BYU.

But with a chance to possibly win the Mountain West and thwart No. 23 Boise State in the season finale, the Aggies were housed in a 50-19 decision.

Utah State may not have Keeton, but freshman Kent Myers has filled his shoes nicely ever since his debut Oct. 25. Also a dual-threat weapon, Myers has five touchdowns through the air and four scores on the ground.

LaJuan Hunt and Joe Hill help to take the pressure off Myers, as the two running backs each have more than 100 carries on the year. 

Along with establishing their multifaceted rushing attack, getting out to an early lead will also be crucial for the Aggies. UTEP trailed at the half in four of its five losses, and the Miners—with a strong rushing attack but not much through the air—aren't built to come from behind.



The Miners will come to play in Albuquerque, unlike in 2010, but it won't result in a different result. UTEP will keep it close throughout, but the Aggies will establish the run to grab an early lead. That will force the Miners to push the envelope through the air, and Utah State's ball-hawking secondary will be up for the challenge in a defensive struggle of a game.

Prediction: Utah State 20, UTEP 14

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College Football Playoff Committee Welcomes Boise State Back to the Big Time

Boise State is headed to a marquee bowl for the first time since 2009, when it beat TCU 17-10 in the Fiesta Bowl.

The College Football Playoff selection committee announced Sunday that the No. 20 Broncos will play No. 10 Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl December 31 in Glendale, Arizona.

Boise State won the Mountain West Conference with a 28-14 win over Fresno State Saturday, finishing the season 11-2. One of those losses came on a neutral field to No. 9 Ole Miss in Week 1. The other came against a plucky Air Force team in Week 5. Its eight consecutive wins are tied for the third-longest streak in the country.

In the BCS era, there is no way an 11-2 Broncos team would have made an Access Bowl. Thanks to the CFP, which mandates that the highest-ranked champion from a "Group of Five" conference be included, they will be back in Glendale for the third time in nine years.

Not a bad first season for head coach Bryan Harsin.

Harsin came to Boise after one year as the head coach at Arkansas State. He spent the previous two years as the co-offensive coordinator at Texas and the nine years before that as an assistant with the Broncos.

From 2006 to 2010, Harsin was the offensive coordinator under head coach Chris Petersen, a Boise State legend who in December 2013 became the head coach at Washington. Petersen had flirted with and shot down a number of high-profile jobs in the past, so when he left it seemed the Boise State "dynasty" might be dead.

But Harsin never wavered from the standard he helped Petersen establish. This is one of the most balanced teams in college football, a roster with no discernible weak spot. The pass defense is the only unit on either side of the ball that does not rank in the national Top 40 in yards per game, and even that is a misleading number.

The Broncos rank No. 5 in the country with 20 interceptions.

Much like the other great Boise State teams of the past decade—the 2007 and 2010 Fiesta Bowl Champions—this year's team is led by one of the best backfields in college football: dual-threat quarterback Grant Hedrick and running back Jay Ajayi.

Hedrick ranks No. 9 in the country in passer rating (157.78) and has rushed for 563 yards and eight touchdowns. He is No. 19 in ESPN's Total QBR metric, which adjusts for rushing stats and context. Only two non-power-five quarterbacks rank higher.

But Ajayi is the real star of the team. The 6'0", 216-pound bruiser is a redshirt junior but will likely declare for the NFL draft this offseason.

It is rare to find a player with his size and power who can also move like a scatback and catch like a tight end. He ranks No. 9 in the country in rushing yards per game (179.69) and No. 2 in rushing touchdowns (25) and flashed his versatility with 12 catches for 93 yards against Ole Miss in Week 1.

"Most of the national attention on the running back position has been directed towards Melvin Gordon, Telvin Coleman and James Conner for their spectacular efforts, but Ajayi is beginning to generate some buzz on the West Coast with his sensational production as the Broncos' workhorse runner," wrote Bucky Brooks of

Better late than never, I suppose.

Even with Petersen in Seattle, Boise State is the Alabama of non-power-conference football. It is the team every other team wants to beat. And for that, Harsin takes more (or at least different) pride in this year's achievements than anything he accomplished in the past.

"For the guys in our program right now, this is the most difficult time to win a championship, because Boise State is on the map," Harsin told reporters after Saturday's win. "And that’s what I’m most proud of, to go out there every single week and know that we have a history and a record. We still step out there and give their very best.

"I don’t know if there is a another group, not to take anything away [from previous teams], but it’s been five years and one last time on the blue as seniors in particular, that’s what they’ve set out to do."

We all know what happened the first time Boise State made the Fiesta Bowl. With Petersen at the helm, it upset Adrian Peterson's Oklahoma Sooners with a hook-and-lateral at the end of regulation and a statue-of-liberty two-point conversion in overtime.

The Broncos will not shock the world with another win, which in part speaks to the state of their own program and in part speaks to the widespread opinion of Arizona, which looked awful, to put it kindly, in the Pac-12 Championship Game against Oregon. But in some ways, that might be more fitting. Boise State is in no shape to be shocking anyone or anything. Not anymore, it isn't.

When it wins, we should all nod our heads.


Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Peach Bowl 2014: Ole Miss vs. TCU Schedule and Early Predictions

It's Ole Miss and TCU slated for the 2014 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on New Year's Eve, pegging one of the nation's hardest-hitting defenses against an insanely prolific offense.     

The Horned Frogs are undoubtedly feeling left out after falling from No. 3 to No. 6 in the final College Football Playoff standings, but they will look to bounce back from that disappointment with a chance to knock off one of the SEC's elite. As for the Rebels, they turned around a sour ending to the season with a big Egg Bowl win. A still-young Ole Miss squad will be intent on building some momentum for a 2015 run.

The matchup is certainly enticing from an outside perspective, as Sports Illustrated's Zac Ellis noted:

Let's take an early glance at the 2014 Peach Bowl matchup.    


2014 Peach Bowl: No. 9 Ole Miss vs. No. 6 TCU

When: Wednesday, Dec. 31

Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Start Time (ET): 12:30 p.m.


Live Stream: WatchESPN

Odds (via Odds Shark): TCU -3, as of Dec. 7


Peach Bowl Preview

The Book on Ole Miss

A magical 2014 season of resurgence for Ole Miss football turned sour in the form of three straight SEC losses, but the resilient Rebels bounced back when it mattered most.

Maybe it didn't matter for their already-dashed playoff hopes, but the Egg Bowl is everything in Mississippi, and the Rebels made a statement by drubbing Mississippi State, 31-17, in a game that wasn't as close as the final score might indicate. 

Hugh Freeze's Rebels have undoubtedly emerged from the slugfest of the SEC West with some bruises, as star wideout Laquon Treadwell and linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche are out for the season. The offense isn't the same without Treadwell but is finding its rushing prowess with Jaylen Walton. He rattled off 148 yards in 14 carries against the Bulldogs, passing the century mark for the first time in 2014.

The Rebels' biggest win of the last week was retaining Freeze after reported overtures from Florida for its then-vacant position. But after locking up a raise and extension, athletic director Ross Bjork lobbied his team for the Peach Bowl in Atlanta:

Ole Miss ended up getting the nod for the Peach Bowl with Mississippi State heading to Miami for the Orange Bowl, and it creates quite the matchup.

The Rebels' three losses came largely from offensive struggles, which shouldn't be a problem against TCU if Wallace takes care of the ball. The Horned Frogs are stingier than expected up front, but Ole Miss is a passing team first and foremost—and if TCU's defense has a weakness, it's definitely the secondary.

A big game from the Ole Miss defense—specifically from star cornerback Senquez Golson and the secondary—will be needed against TCU's high-powered offense. The Rebels' stout defensive line should hold up well against a strong running game, but Trevone Boykin can get to the edge with his legs and take the top off the defense with long passes.

Staying composed in the secondary could be the difference between a resounding victory and an embarrassing defeat for Ole Miss.


The Book on TCU

It would be hard to blame TCU for being shell-shocked in its first few days in preparation for the Peach Bowl.

After all, the Horned Frogs were No. 3 in the final unofficial CFP poll last week, then turned around in the final weekend of the season to smack Iowa State, 55-3. However, not only did they fall out of the Top Four and see their championship hopes fade, but even Baylor jumped them as they fell to No. 6.

Their inexplicable fall really just showed how flawed the system can be, per CBS Sports' Will Brinson:

But as Gary Patterson's Horned Frogs showed on the field in every instance other than its 61-58 loss to Baylor, they're quite close to the complete package.

Dual-threat quarterback Trevone Boykin has been brilliant in a Heisman-contending season, throwing for 3,714 yards and 30 touchdowns while adding 642 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. 

His incredible season has set a plethora of school records, as ESPN Stats & Info noted:

TCU boasts a multi-pronged rushing attack. Boykin is the leading rusher in terms of carries, but Aaron Green leads the team with 854 yards and a 7.7 yards-per-carry average. Green, Boykin and burly back B.J. Catalon have combined for 26 rushing scores.

The offense has been more than formidable in the Big 12 but will go up against one of the nation's most feared defenses in Ole Miss. Deception will be key for the Horned Frogs in the running game, disguising outside rushes with Boykin roll-outs in order to create openings.



TCU has been the better team from start to finish this season, but in a battle of a top offense against a top defense, nearly a month of preparation will result in a Rebels victory.

Ole Miss hounded Dak Prescott last weekend in the Egg Bowl, and while Boykin brings a different skill set to the table, they're both dual-threat quarterbacks with big arms. The Rebels will again bring the house over and over. Boykin will make some plays against it but will also be taken down in the backfield plenty.

The defense will be huge for Ole Miss, but Wallace should also have success against a TCU defense that has allowed 30 or more points in every one of its one-possession games. It will be down to the wire, but Wallace and the Rebels defense will come through.

Prediction: Ole Miss 34, TCU 30

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Somehow, Someway College Football Got Its Dream Playoff Lineup

The biggest cheers on Sunday didn’t come from Columbus, Ohio. They came from back rooms and boardrooms in Bristol, Connecticut, where the network tasked with televising the first-ever College Football Playoff celebrated a miraculous (and lucrative) sequence of events.

For the first time all season—and the only time that mattered—the four vacancies in the College Football Playoff were claimed by four eyeball-grabbing, ratings-breeding college football programs. That draft you currently feel is the wind coming courtesy of the aggressive, shoulder-surgery-inducing fist pumps at ESPN.

Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State will be the first four teams to compete for a national championship in the College Football Playoff era.

The nation’s No. 1 team, the Crimson Tide, will meet the No. 4 Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl, while the Ducks and Seminoles will compete in the Rose Bowl in the matchup between No. 2 and No. 3.

The elephant in the room—outside of the actual elephant firmly holding on to the top seed—is that No. 5 Baylor and No. 6 TCU were both left out of the playoff entirely.

More matter of fact, the conference-championship-game-less Big 12 will be without a team on New Year’s Day. 

There was a strong, convincing case to be made for both Big 12 programs. TCU’s overall resume had the look and feel of a Top Four team. Baylor closed out the season with only one defeat and was the lone team to beat the Horned Frogs.

Both campuses will be coping with the letdown for some time, and understandably so. The same could be said about Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who expressed his disappointment shortly after ESPN unveiled the final rankings. 

Big12's Bob Bowlsby: "We were penalized for not having a championship game. It would have been nice to have been told that ahead of time"

— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) December 7, 2014

The debate that has helped drive interest in this shiny new postseason will continue, although it’s moot at this point. The top four teams—whether you believe they belong or not—are set.

As a result, the storylines, intrigue and interest will follow like an avalanche. Outside of perhaps a Notre Dame cameo, it’s hard to envision a more enthralling way to kick things off from a viewership and watchability perspective.

We have Nick Saban versus Urban Meyer, a heavyweight fight between the two finest coaches in the sport. We have a likely Heisman finalist in wideout Amari Cooper going up against a third-string quarterback, Cardale Jones, who looked superhuman in his one and only start. 

And there’s Lane Kiffin on his continued path to redemption going toe-to-toe with the spectacular Ohio State defensive line led by Joey Bosa, a sophomore ripe with endless talent and charisma.

Ohio State fans unleashed a “We Want 'Bama” chant in Lucas Oil Stadium as the Big Ten championship was winding down. They got their wish.

This, however, is only half of the heavenly slate.

Florida State and Oregon will be a matchup featuring Heisman quarterbacks. Jameis Winston, last year’s winner, just put together his most impressive single-game performance of the year in the ACC championship game. Marcus Mariota, a lock to win the award next Saturday, just closed out one of the more dominant individual seasons we’ve ever seen.

You have speed versus size. You have traditional and familiar versus neon and bold. You have one program hoping to finally break through and win a national championship going up against an opponent that hasn’t lost a football game in two years.

There are so many subplots to discuss in both of these games with ample time to do so.

And perhaps most intriguing of all, there’s a real possibility that Alabama and Oregon will finally meet in a dream matchup that has been in the making for years, this time for a national championship. 

Such potential scenarios will be explored in depth in the days and weeks to follow. Regardless of the outcomes of the two semifinal games, the inaugural College Football Playoff has already won.

You might not agree with what the selection committee ultimately decided, which is understandable considering the unique and controversial circumstances. But given the coaches, players, Heismans, villains, unexpected stars, uniforms and the seemingly endless storylines involved, it's hard not to be captivated by what's ahead.

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Bowl Games Schedule 2014-15: TV, Live Stream Coverage Info and Predictions

Selection Sunday is typically a term reserved for college basketball. Well, this Sunday saw college football's first foray into the madness.

The College Football Playoff selection committee's choice of Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State for the inaugural four-team postseason bonanza set the stage for a crazy afternoon in which the nation's best found out where they were headed. After selecting the Top Four teams, the committee was also tasked with selecting representatives for the contests formerly known as BCS bowls—though those matchups were held to conference restrictions.

In large part, the committee's selections created a trickle-down effect that helped finalize the 2014-15 bowl schedule. There are a record 39 bowl games in all this season, nearly every one of which can be found on the ESPN family of networks. Which, of course, means they're available on the WatchESPN app for streaming purposes.

While most will be transfixed on discussing the inaugural playoff—in part because it's long overdue—the two weeks of buildup to those games may prove just as exciting. The stakes won't nearly be as high nor the crowds as raucous (or in some cases existent), but the proliferation of smaller bowls has opened the stage for eye-opening performances. After all, we weren't seeing Johnny Manziel shock the world with his freewheeling ways in January last season.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the complete bowl schedule for this season and dive deep into the playoff. 


College Football Playoff Preview

We came into Sunday's selection show with two guarantees: Alabama and Oregon were locks with impressive victories in their conference championship games.

The No. 1 Crimson Tide survived a third-quarter scare from Missouri to score the game's final 21 points in a 42-13 rout. Derrick Henry rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns, while Blake Sims completed all but four of his 27 passes for 262 yards and two scores.

Sims, who quietly sat for his first four seasons in Tuscaloosa, has become one of college football's best stories. He's thrown for 3,250 yards and 26 touchdowns against seven interceptions while also giving Alabama's offense an extra dimension with his legs. While we're probably not looking at a future pro, Sims has been a nearly perfect fit for Lane Kiffin's ascending offense.

"I don't know that I've ever seen a player go through any more than Blake went through for four years, and never once did he ever not do whatever he needed to do to help the team," Alabama coach Nick Sabantold reporters.

The Crimson Tide will face an Ohio State team that's been a source of controversy as the fourth seed. The Buckeyes vaulted into the No. 4 spot thanks to a 59-0 thrashing of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Cardale Jones, taking over for the injured J.T. Barrett, threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start. Running back Ezekiel Elliott also picked a great time for the best performance of his career, rushing for 220 yards and two touchdowns, including an 81-yard scamper in the first half. 

Since taking over at Ohio State, Urban Meyer has dropped only one game in the conference and three contests overall. The Buckeyes' 11-game winning streak is longer than any team not named Florida State coming into the playoff. They've emerged as a powerful offense despite injuries depleting their depth, and the defense is peaking at the right time.

Ohio State held Heisman candidate Melvin Gordon to 76 yards on 26 carries, his second-lowest total of the season. Gordon finished only two games this season under five yards per carry, and the first was a meaningless blowout of lowly Western Illinois.

"It was really about Ohio State's movement up," committee chair Jeff Long said on ESPN, per Nicole Auerbach of USA Today. "It was their performance on the field that made a difference to the committee. We said going into this weekend that three-through-six was very close. I will say Ohio State was decisive at No. 4, they were voted in there clearly. Ohio State was clear-cut over five and six."

The other semifinal game will very likely see the last two Heisman winners battle it out. Marcus Mariota's five touchdowns gave Oregon its fourth conference championship in six seasons, as the Ducks cruised to a 51-13 win over Arizona. Mariota has accounted for 53 touchdowns (38 passing, 14 rushing, one receiving) and only two interceptions in a season that's likely clinched his spot as the No. 1 pick in next April's draft.

"If this guy isn't what the Heisman Trophy is all about, then I'm in the wrong profession," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich told reporters. "If you want your son or daughter to have a role model, pick this guy."

Jameis Winston, who entered 2014 as Mariota's closest competition for the top spot, has had anything but an easy ride in his Heisman defense. The sophomore has experienced noticeable drop-offs in every major category while turning the ball over at an alarming rate. His 17 interceptions are tied for fourth-most in the nation and are two fewer than the combined total of the three primary quarterbacks for Ohio State, Oregon and Alabama.

But for all his struggles, Winston finds ways to come through when the Seminoles need him most. Perhaps his most impressive performance of 2014 came Saturday, when he threw for 309 yards and three touchdowns in Florida State's 37-35 win over Georgia Tech. Winston and Dalvin Cook consistently answered the call as the Seminoles defense struggled to curtail Georgia Tech's triple-option attack.

Florida State will hope Winston is phenomenal again. Oregon has been held under 38 points once all season and under the 40-point mark just twice. Barring a significant defensive upgrade from the unit on the field Saturday, the Seminoles' best bet is to win a shootout.

With a month to prepare, Jimbo Fisher will be tasked with coming up with the game plan of his life. It'll be interesting to see if he can get the job done.   


Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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College Football Playoff Schedule 2014-15: Vital Viewing Info for All Games

The 2014-15 college football regular season was full of wild outcomes, upsets and unprecedented upheaval of the rankings, but the madness is just beginning after the College Football Playoff schedule was announced Sunday.

With Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State making the semifinals, the matchups should result in two marquee battles in the inaugural CFP, and the first-ever true national champion will be crowned.

Here is all the vital viewing information for every playoff game.


*All games can be live streamed via


Breaking Down No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State

While Alabama vs. Ohio State will steal many of the headlines as a marquee semifinals battle, the game that should be the best on-field matchup  is the Oregon Ducks squaring off against the Florida State Seminoles.

Oregon finished the season as the No. 2-ranked team in the nation following a big win in the Pac-12 Championship Game against Arizona. The Ducks lost to the Wildcats earlier in the year, and the conference championship was the perfect opportunity for the team to show the voting committee how much skill the program possesses.

When asked about the win over Arizona and turning his attention to the team’s next game, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota told reporters (via that “This is a huge accomplishment for us. Now we need to continue to improve and get better for whoever comes next.”

Oregon finished the season with the third-ranked offensive unit, scoring 46.3 points per game. The Ducks have always been known for their high-powered offense, but the defensive unit has stepped up this season, allowing only 22.5 points per game (29th in the nation).

Oregon will square off against Florida State in the semifinals. For the second straight season, the Seminoles have gone unbeaten, and they will look to win back-to-back national championships with quarterback Jameis Winston under center.

Florida State isn’t as dangerous as it was last season, but the team is still ranked in the top 30 in terms of points scored and points allowed. With elite defensive and offensive units (29th and 30th respectively), the Seminoles have been able to pull out close wins in key moments.

As well as Florida State has played at times this season, the lack of consistency is a major issue that Oregon will exploit. Led by Heisman Trophy candidate Mariota, the Ducks will hit the Seminoles early and often, testing just how resilient FSU can be this season.

The dream run for Winston and Florida State will come to an end in the College Football Playoff semifinals, and the result will be Oregon advancing to the national championship.

Predicted Winner: Oregon 34, Florida State 30


*Stats via

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Oregon vs. Florida State in a Battle for the Soul of College Football

Last year's Heisman winner vs. this season's (likely) Heisman winner. Longest winning streak in the nation against the hottest team. And also what many fans may choose to view as Good vs. Evil.

That’s what we’ll get with the Oregon-Florida State semifinal in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Oregon certainly comes in with the more sparkling image, and not just because of all those dazzling uniforms the neon Ducks wear.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota is a lock for the Heisman Trophy in the wake of throwing for a record 313 yards in Friday’s Pac-12 Championship Game. He's winning high praise for his smarts, humility and work ethic, leading Oregon coach Mark Helfrich to tell reporters, "If (Mariota) isn’t what the Heisman Trophy is all about, I’m in the wrong profession."

That 55-13 victory over Arizona typifies the difference in perception between these two teams.

It was Oregon’s eighth consecutive victory against a conference opponent, and in all eight the Ducks have scored at least 42 points while winning by an average margin of 26. It also wiped out the one negative on the Oregon resume, a loss to Arizona back on Oct. 2.

What’s not to like about Oregon? They’ve kept their cartoon-like Duck mascot busy doing pushups on the sideline by scoring a point every 78 seconds this season.   

Counter that with Florida State’s slip-and-slide approach to getting into college football’s first playoff.

Even without the 2012 allegation of sexual assault against Jameis Winston—which never led to charges—the Seminoles have absolutely failed to seize the nation’s imagination despite piling up a 29-game winning streak.

There has been a "here we go again" cloud hanging over their wins as they struggle against teams with mediocre records before pulling another escape act.

There’s also a sense that Lady Luck has suited up in Seminole garnet and gold and done just enough to keep their hopes alive for a repeat title.

Six Seminoles victories have been by six points or fewer, and hunting for an FSU signature victory is like trying to get a dead man’s autograph.

The Seminoles survived Notre Dame (ahem, 7-5 Notre Dame) thanks to a debatable pass-interference call.

They needed a field goal with three seconds left to best a middling Boston College, in a game where Winston further ruffled perceptions by pushing a referee out of his way to get under center.

They beat Clemson in overtime with Winston sitting out, but that just brought more attention to the profanity-fueled tirade in public that got the quarterback suspended.

And this isn’t the Florida State that a lot of fans got cozy with when Bobby Bowden ran the program. Bowden was the wise-cracking grandfather-type everyone loves, but Jimbo Fisher often comes off as the arrogant neighbor who wants you to know his new car has more horsepower than yours. For many, Bowden was a wizened-but-wise Yoda, and Fisher is just Darth Vader with a southern accent.

But what has Fisher done with all of that horsepower? Not a lot. Even Saturday night’s convincing victory over Georgia Tech for the ACC title ended up being by only a two-point margin.

As all the debating has made clear, these four inaugural playoff spots are sacred to college football fans, and there’s a widespread sense FSU didn’t play as if it was operating on the same value system.

Winston threw four interceptions in the rivalry game against Florida. That’s twice the number of times Mariota has been picked all season.

FSU has overcome three deficits of more than 15 points, but those comebacks haven’t endeared the Seminoles to anyone outside of their home state. Teams that appear to play in cruise control don’t win popularity polls, and that’s how FSU appeared to play while falling way behind to North Carolina State, Louisville and Miami.

But Oregon, as Dan Wetzel pointed out on Yahoo, has staked a claim to being the most dominant team in the nation by taking leads and refusing to relinquish them. Aside from the loss to Arizona, the Ducks have trailed for only 39 minutes and 23 seconds, and they were never behind in the fourth quarter of their 12 victories.

What makes the Ducks even more fearsome as the playoffs approach is they now have a defense their offense can be proud of. The Pac-12 title win was the fourth time in the last five games they've held an opponent to under 20 points.

Florida State has played some stout second-half defense that has kept the Seminoles in range, but with a rushing defense that ranks only 104th in the nation Mariota might run wild on them.

And that's exactly how many fans would love to see Florida State get bounced out of a playoff appearance they think the Seminoles didn't earn. 


Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.

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Rose Bowl 2015: Preview, Predictions for Oregon vs. Florida State

This may be Rose Bowl No. 101, but it will undoubtedly be unlike any other in its long and storied history.

The Pac-12 champion Oregon Ducks were awarded the second seed by the College Football Playoff committee and will take on ACC champion and defending national champion Florida State in the “Granddaddy of Them All” on Jan. 1 in Pasadena.

While the Ducks have mostly cruised over their past eight games—winning by an average margin of just over 26 points per game—the Seminoles have struggled to fend off lesser opponents all season. That being said, Florida State has not lost in two full seasons and is undefeated with defending Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston under center.

Oregon will have a distinct advantage due to its proximity to the Rose Bowl; however, it should be noted that the Seminoles won last year’s BCS National Championship at the Rose Bowl vs. Auburn.

With Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota being a lock to win the Heisman Trophy, the Rose Bowl will feature two Heisman-winning quarterbacks.

This has all of the makings of one of the most memorable Rose Bowls in history. Can the Ducks be the team that finishes off Florida State? Will the Seminoles continue their magical ride toward back-to-back national championships?

Here's what you need to know:

Date: Thursday, Jan. 1

Time: 2 p.m. PT/5 p.m. ET

Place: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California


Line: Oregon -8.5, according to Odds Shark.

Begin Slideshow

Rose Bowl 2015: Preview, Predictions for Oregon vs. Florida State

This may be Rose Bowl No. 101, but it will undoubtedly be unlike any other in its long and storied history...

Begin Slideshow

Did the CFP Committee Get the Top 4 Playoff Spots Right?

The final four is set, and naturally, there is controversy. Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State will be battling it out for a shot at the national championship. TCU and Baylor are on the outside looking in. 

Bleacher Report college football analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer debate whether the committee got it right with the final official rankings.

Did the committee make the correct picks?

Check out the video and let us know!

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Adam Kramer: 'The Big 12 Screwed Itself' out of Playoff Spot

The College Football Committee released its final rankings Sunday, with Baylor and TCU on the outside looking in, ranked No. 5 and No. 6, respectively. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer debate whether the committee was right leaving TCU and Baylor out of the College Football Playoff. 

Did one of these Big 12 teams deserve to make the playoff?

Check out the video and let us know! 

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Scalding Hot Nick Saban and Alabama Are Ohio State's Worst Nightmare

ATLANTA — Coaching is an ego-driven profession, and while every head coach has a specific style in which he goes about his business, only the best know the proper time to put their ego aside.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban is the best coach in America at doing just that, and the job he's done with the 2014 Crimson Tide make this his best coaching job during his eight-year tenure at the Capstone.

He knew he needed to make his offense more dynamic so that, in the age of "fastball" offenses that focus on pace, his team could not only get into shootouts, but win them. 

Enter offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and and quarterback Blake Sims. The duo found out during the second quarter of the 33-23 win over West Virginia in the season opener that Sims thrives with tempo, and implemented more and more of that as the season progressed.

"[Sims] is the reason that we do it, because it's what he does best, and the rest of our players really kind of fit in that too with the kind of team we have," Saban said after the 42-13 SEC Championship Game win over Missouri. "So it's worked out great for us. And if we didn't do it, I don't think we'd be here where we are right now."

Flexibility wins. 

Saban didn't change his entire philosophy. Alabama's goal is, and always will be, to run to set up the pass, play disciplined and work off play-action.

It still is. Saban just nudged the pendulum ever so slightly into the 21st century.

It isn't just the offense that made the change, though. Saban recognized that he needed to coach differently to combat offenses that put more of a focus on pace.

"I think it's more difficult to coach defensive players in practice because what do you practice?" Saban asked on Friday. "Do you practice the fundamentals or do you practice the pace of play? Until recently we always emphasized the fundamentals. We didn't play very well when the pace of play was faster. This year we tried to put more emphasis on pace of play."

It has worked.

While Alabama's defense has given up the most yards per game (312.4) since Saban's first in Tuscaloosa, its 4.68 yards per play average is better than last year's squad, and the ability to practice against it has paid off.

"These plays we see now, there is a lot of space created from horizontal and vertical, all right, which is going to stress the defensive player athletically to be able to make the play in space," he said on Friday.

This Ohio State team has its work cut out for it in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on New Year's night, because Alabama is hitting its stride at the right time.

The offense now gets a full allotment of 15 bowl practices to expand on the success of the season which, for the most part, was tweaked and tinkered with on the fly while the Crimson Tide prepared for opponents week after week.

On top of that, the last two times we saw Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer square off with Saban, his Florida Gators lost twice by a combined score of 63-30. One of those games, the 32-13 shellacking in the 2009 SEC Championship Game, was the last time the Crimson Tide was an underdog, according to Lance Taylor of WJOX in Birmingham.

Sure, new Buckeyes quarterback Cardale Jones led his team to the Big Ten championship in his first start. But he only threw 17 passes, relied heavily on running back Ezekiel Elliott (not the worst idea in the world) and didn't see anything like the pressure Alabama can generate in the 59-0 win over Wisconsin.

Ohio State is playing its best football right now, which is a major compliment considering its already lost two Heisman Trophy candidates at quarterback. 

Alabama is still climbing up that peak with a full roster that has more 4-star and 5-star talent to fill the Mercedes Benz Superdome.

On top of that, Saban has been at his best with time to prepare. Since 2007, when he took over the program, the Crimson Tide is 21-7 with more than a week to prepare for a game.

The Crimson Tide has been slowly building all year long. They are playing their best football right now and clearly have room to grow without having to deal with major injuries on the fly.

Good luck, Buckeyes. You're going to need it.


Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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College Football Rankings 2014: Playoff Championship Predictions After Last Poll

The guessing is over. The debating most certainly is not.

The college football playoff is set, and SportsCenter on Twitter posted the schools lucky enough to make the cut:

It's a disappointing day at TCU and Baylor—and a disappointing day for the Big 12 in general. But despite the heartbreak that comes when deserving teams get shut out of the playoff, it's also a great day for college football, as the four teams that made the tournament promise to offer an exciting playoff. 

Below, you'll find the playoff schedule and a prediction for each game.



All contests will be live streamed on WatchESPN and the WatchESPN app.


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

Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer. Blake Sims, the senior quarterback who spent time as a running back and scout-team quarterback, vs. Cardale Jones, Ohio State's third-string quarterback thrust into the starting gig after injuries to Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett. The nation's fourth-stingiest defense in points allowed vs. the nation's fourth-best offense in points per game.

Oh baby, this one is going to be good.

Alabama might just be the most balanced team in college football. Sims and Amari Cooper lead a dangerous passing attack that has flourished under offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Cooper may be a Heisman finalist—he absolutely should be, at least—but Sims is really the story after throwing for 3,250 yards and 26 touchdowns this season.

"I don't know that I've ever seen a player go through any more than Blake went through for four years, and never once did he ever not do whatever he needed to do to help the team," Saban told Kevin Scarbinsky of after Alabama routed Missouri in the SEC title game.

Of course the Crimson Tide can kill you on the ground, too. T.J. Yeldon (932 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns) and Derrick Henry (895 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns) give 'Bama one of the best backfields in college football. Add in Sims' 321 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the ground—and the team's solid defense—and the Crimson Tide can beat you in multiple ways.

Ohio State won't be worried about all of that (though maybe they should be). The Buckeyes have scored 31 or more points in all but one game this season and have a bevy of offensive weapons to support Jones, who just so happened to be named the MVP of the Big Ten title game after throwing for 257 yards and three touchdowns.

Ezekiel Elliott has rushed for 1,402 yards and 12 touchdowns. Devin Smith and Michael Thomas are a solid one-two punch at receiver. The defense, which has struggled against the run for much of the season, just held Heisman hopeful Melvin Gordon to 76 rushing yards on 26 carries.

The Buckeyes are red-hot. The Crimson Tide are red-hot. This game is going to be brilliant. Ultimately, however, Alabama's balance should be the difference in a game that seems destined to come down to the wire.

Prediction: Alabama wins, 35-31.


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

Had Florida State faltered at any point during a season that saw them survive close call after close call, it likely wouldn't have made the playoff. It didn't falter, however, and its perfect record was the cherry on top of an otherwise shaky resume.

The defending champions and custodians of a 29-game winning streak haven't faced a team as good as Oregon, however. Not even close. 

Led by likely Heisman-winner Marcus Mariota, the Ducks have won eight straight and have beaten six of their last seven opponents by 20 or more points. They score a whopping 46.3 points per game (third in the nation) and average 546 yards per game (also third in the nation). 

Where Florida State has generally survived the competition, Oregon has annihilated them. 

Florida State fans will argue, of course, that the Seminoles never lost a game—while Oregon lost to Arizona 31-24 in early October. But that feels like a distant memory, especially after Oregon demolished the Wildcats in a rematch at the Pac-12 championship, 51-13. 

Jameis Winston and company always seem to find a way to win, however. Joe Schad of ESPN joked about that very habit:

Still, it's hard to imagine Oregon keeping things close enough for the Seminoles to steal this one in the end. The Ducks have kicked things into a higher gear. By the time Florida State gets going, this one will be out of reach.  

Prediction: Oregon wins, 42-24.


Championship Game

Outside of Tallahassee and Columbus, a matchup between Alabama and Oregon is the one most people likely want to see. And why not? 

It would be the nation's most balanced team vs. the nation's most explosive team. It would feature arguably the two best players in the country in Cooper and Mariota. And it would have a coaching legend in Saban vs. Mark Helfrich, a coach building his own legend in the shadow of Chip Kelly.

In the end, these teams are both talented enough that picking one must be based on a hunch. SEC traditionalists might argue that Alabama will beat up on Oregon, but the Ducks have been better defensively than they are given credit for (and this Crimson Tide team is more finesse than we've seen in years past, anyway).

In the end, it's never a bad idea to take the team with the best quarterback. When that player also happens to be the best player in college football, period, it makes the decision easier. This game will be tight. It will be fun. It will be one to remember.

And it will be won by Oregon.

Prediction: Oregon wins, 27-23.


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