NCAA Football

Alabama vs. Missouri: Preview and Predictions for SEC Championship 2014

One more barrier stands before Alabama stamps a ticket into the College Football Playoff. After navigating the sport's toughest conference all season, the Crimson Tide must finish the job off against the Missouri Tigers in the 2014 SEC Championship Game.

A year removed from getting its title chances dashed by Auburn, Alabama can reclaim the SEC crown by upending No. 16 Missouri, which rode a six-game winning streak to the top of the SEC East. For such a marquee bout, a clear consensus has emerged.

Michael Casagrande of AL.com rounded out predictions from several pundits from five major media outlets. Of the 34 experts, only one (Sports Illustrated's Thayer Evans) predicted Missouri to pull off the upset. You can also add in a clean sweep of four Bleacher Report experts siding with the Crimson Tide.

There's no fun in assuming a result beforehand, but Nick Saban's explosive offense certainly gives his club an edge in Georgia.

 

When: Saturday, December 6, 4 p.m. ET

Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Television: CBS

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark): Alabama (-14.5)

 

SEC Championship Preview

Looking at each team's resume, it's easy to see why Alabama gets credited with such a massive upper hand heading into Saturday's bout.

After suffering a six-point road loss to Ole Miss, the Crimson Tide bested four juggernauts from the crowded SEC West. That included a victory over then-No. 1 Mississippi State and last week's redemptive win over Auburn. Now, the college juggernaut is firmly back in the driver's seat.

Ranked No. 20 in scoring offense and No. 5 in defense, Alabama has outscored opponents by a 19.8-point margin. Missouri, meanwhile, sports a 8.9-point average of victory. Only one of its last seven triumphs came by more than 10 points.

Each side wields a stout rushing offense, and the Tigers especially will need a huge outing from junior Russell Hansbrough. That won't come easy against an adversary relinquishing 2.9 yards per rush.

The seal separation stems above the ground. Quarterback Maty Mauk has played the game-facilitator role well enough for his team to get this opportunity. Saban even complimented his upcoming opponent, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Dave Metter.

Yet Missouri's passing game lags greatly behind the colossal favorite, averaging 92.7 fewer yards per game through the air. Mauk has backpedaled during his second season, averaging a mediocre 6.3 yards per passing attempt with a 53.5 completion percentage. Georgia fans showing up to their state-hosted clash will recall the time he fired four interceptions during a 34-0 loss to the Bulldogs.

On the other side, a usually conservative Alabama offense has generated ample excitement, accumulating 241 points over the past six games. Expected to keep the seat warm for Jacob Coker, Blake Sims has instead delivered 9.1 yards per passing attempt during a stellar senior year.

For that, he owes a seismic amount of credit to pass-catching vacuum Amari Cooper, who ascended up the Heisman Trophy leaderboard with 13 catches for 224 yards and three touchdowns against Auburn.

Per ESPN Stats & Info, the NFL-bound junior is rewriting Alabama's prestigious record book.

Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel admitted to Metter that nobody stands much hope of shutting Cooper down.

Through 12 games, the wideout has reeled in at least eight catches 10 times, but the other two games at least offer a glimmer of hope that even the greats have off days. Yet he is responsible for a resounding 42 percent of the team's passing plays, and the player with the second-most receptions (DeAndrew White) has just 33 catches to his credit.

The transcendent talent turns an otherwise traditional battle into a potential deep-ball brigade for Saban's squad. A usual day for Cooper directs Alabama in the right direction, but those glamorized trenches will still affect the outcome. Missouri can't trade touchdowns with Alabama, so it must disrupt Sims' pocket.

As shown by ESPN's College GameDay's Twitter account, things go well for the Tigers when they successfully pressure the quarterback, but the Crimson Tide rarely lets that happen.

Forget three sacks, opponents have collected only 11 against Alabama through a dozen games. That impenetrable offensive line holds the key to exposing a team that wouldn't remain standing if forced to run the SEC West gauntlet. 

They score a lot more points. They allow slightly fewer ticks on the scoreboard. The Crimson Tide are simply better. Look for them to prove deserving of the No. 1 national rank with a convincing win on Saturday.

Prediction: Alabama 30, Missouri 17 

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The Wisconsin Badgers Are Looking for Their Fourth Big Ten Title in 5 Years

If the 10-2 Wisconsin Badgers defeat the 11-1 Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2014 Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, it will be the Badgers' fourth Big Ten title in five years.

The Badgers shared the 2010 Big Ten crown with the Buckeyes and Michigan State in 2010 and went to the Rose Bowl. Then in 2011 and 2012, the Badgers won the first two Big Ten Championship Games by defeating the Spartans and Nebraska respectively.

In the 2011 game, the Badgers beat Michigan State 42-39 in a very exciting contest that went back and forth in heart-stopping action. Quarterback Russell Wilson was the MVP of the game, as he threw three touchdown passes.

In the 2012 contest, the Badgers destroyed Nebraska 70-31 as Wisconsin rushed for a whopping 539 yards. Running back Montee Ball was the MVP, as he ran for 202 yards and had three touchdowns.

Current Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon had 216 yards rushing and one touchdown in that game against the Huskers on just nine carries.

Last year, the Buckeyes were in the title game but lost to the Spartans 34-24.

The Badgers won the West Division this year by beating their closest competitors (Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota) in their last three games of the regular season.

The Buckeyes won the East Division in convincing fashion and were only threatened by Michigan State, who they defeated earlier this season 49-37 in East Lansing.

The Badgers won their three most recent Big Ten titles under head coach Bret Bielema, who is now at Arkansas. This will be the first opportunity for head coach Gary Andersen to win his first title.

Likewise, head coach Urban Meyer of the Buckeyes is looking for his first Big Ten title as well. The Buckeyes have gone 24-0 under him the last three seasons in the Big Ten, but they were ineligible in 2012 and lost in the title game last year.

Andersen and Meyer know each other well, as Andersen was an assistant coach under Meyer at Utah in 2004. Andersen was the defensive line coach for that team, which went 12-0 and won the Fiesta Bowl.

Meyer moved on to Florida in 2005, where he won two BCS National Championships before moving on to Ohio State.

Andersen left Utah in 2009 to become the head coach at Utah State, where he was for four seasons before becoming the head coach at Wisconsin.

Although Wisconsin has dominated recently in winning Big Ten championships, Ohio State has been the overall king of the conference this past decade.

The Buckeyes have won or shared six Big Ten titles over the past 10 years. The Badgers are next with three won or shared championships.

The game on Saturday night looks to be a close one, which has been the case for the Badgers when they have faced the Buckeyes under Meyer.

The Buckeyes defeated the Badgers in overtime, 21-14, in 2012 at Madison. Bielema was the head coach of the Badgers then. In 2013 under Andersen, the Badgers lost 31-24 to Meyer and the Buckeyes in Columbus.

The Buckeyes come into the title game being ranked 11th overall in offense in the nation, while being ranked 19th on defense.

The Badgers meanwhile, are ranked 21st in offense and a sparkling second in total defense.

The Buckeyes lost their starting quarterback J.T. Barrett to a broken ankle last week in their game against Michigan, and he will be very difficult to replace.

Barrett was putting up phenomenal numbers this season before his injury. Barrett had thrown for 2,834 yards with 34 touchdown passes versus 10 interceptions.

Barrett also ran for 938 more yards and 11 touchdowns.

Barrett will be replaced by Cardale Jones, who is also an exceptional athlete like Barrett. The problem is his lack of experience. It's tough to perform well on the big stage when your first start is in a championship game atmosphere against an exceptional defense.

Jones has only attempted 17 passes all season, but did throw two touchdown passes without throwing a pick. Jones has also rushed for 206 yards.

The big name for the Badgers is Gordon. Like Barrett, Gordon has put up some amazing stats that definitely deserve consideration for winning the Heisman Trophy.

Gordon has rushed for 2,260 yards, which is the best mark in Wisconsin history, as well as the best all-time record in Big Ten history. No. 25 also has 26 rushing touchdowns.

Gordon is a threat in the passing game as well, as he has 17 receptions for 151 yards and three more scores.

Bottom line, expect another close football game on Saturday night. This may be a cliche, but the team that makes the biggest plays and has the fewest mistakes will win this contest.

The Buckeyes lost their biggest playmaker last week when Barrett was injured, while the Badgers still have the explosive Gordon.

The Buckeyes are also starting a quarterback who is making his first start ever in a title game.

The advantages seem to be lining up for the Badgers.

Whether that means that Wisconsin will win their fourth Big Ten title in five years is another story. That will be determined late on Saturday night in Indianapolis.

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Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech Agree to New Contract: Latest Details and Reaction

Georgia Tech announced an agreement with head football coach Paul Johnson on a four-year contract extension through 2020. He was previously signed through the 2016 season.

The Yellow Jackets confirmed the new deal on their official site. It comes on the same day they are set to face off with Florida State in the ACC Championship Game. The release included comments from athletic director Mike Bobinski about the decision:

I'm pleased to announce an extension of Paul Johnson's contract. This extension reflects our confidence in the solid foundation Coach Johnson has built for the future success of our program, which reaches beyond the field and includes increasingly strong academic achievement.

I look forward to Paul Johnson's continued leadership of our football program and am excited about the possibilities in the years ahead.

"I am excited that we were able to work out a contract extension," Johnson added. "I appreciate the support of our fans, students and alumni during my time here. My family and I are looking forward to being a part of Georgia Tech for a long time."

Johnson has led Georgia Tech to a 10-2 record to bring his career mark at the school to 58-34 across seven years. The team has qualified for a bowl in each season with him at the helm.

The Yellow Jackets have also steered clear of the popular spread offense approach that's taken over both the collegiate and pro games in recent years. Instead, Johnson and Co. have stuck with the run-heavy triple-option to great effect.

Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press summed it all up in a unique way:

Although he was under contract for two more seasons, this is the time of year when the college football coaching carousel begins to heat up. Getting any potential distractions out of the way before bowl preparations begin is a positive.

A lot will depend on the outcomes of championship Saturday, including the team's clash with the Seminoles, but an Orange Bowl appearance seems likely. That would be a nice accomplishment for a team that didn't receive much preseason hype.

Georgia Tech is clearly pleased enough with the continued progress to lock Johnson up for the foreseeable future.

 

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College Football Playoff 2014: Updated Rankings and Bowl Predictions

Championship Saturday is finally upon us, and the nation's top teams have one last chance to prove to the College Football Playoff selection committee they are deserving of a spot in the inaugural playoff. While many are eligible, few are worthy and only four get in.

One spot within the Top Four appears to be locked up by the Oregon Ducks following their 51-13 drubbing of the Arizona Wildcats in Friday's Pac-12 Championship Game. At the moment, the Ducks are ranked No. 2 overall by the selection committee, but will they stay there when the dust settles after Saturday's action?

Selection Sunday is now just a day away, and we'll soon know which four teams will comprise the 2014 College Football Playoff. Of course, that gives us very little time to speculate, so some predictions are in order. Here's a look at the current CFP rankings, followed by the predicted participants in the Sugar and Rose Bowls.

 

College Football Playoff Bowl Predictions

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Baylor

Don't look now, but Baylor is making a surprise appearance in the Top Four. The Bears own the nation's most prolific offense, accumulating an average of 49.8 points per game. Much of that success has stemmed from quarterback Bryce Petty and a passing game that ranks sixth in the nation.

Baylor received a bit of a scare when Petty was knocked out of the Bears' game against Texas Tech with a concussion; however, Sports Illustrated tweeted some very good news:

Kansas State has a solid defense, but it ranks 56th in the nation against the pass, allowing a total of 2,429 yards and 18 touchdowns through the air over the season. That's not a good sign for the Wildcats, as Petty has led Baylor to at least 48 points in five of the team's last six games.

The Wildcats are coming off a nice 51-point outing against Kansas, but quarterback Jake Waters and Co. are only averaging 36.6 points per game. While that's a very good number against most opponents, it simply won't get it done against the Bears.

Even though Baylor gets the win, it needs help to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. That help will come from Florida State and Ohio State.

The Seminoles have barely been surviving unranked opponents of late, and their defense won't be able to withstand Georgia Tech's triple-option. The Yellow Jackets will earn the ACC crown, and Florida State will miss out on the playoff.

Need another reason why the Seminoles are bound to lose? Jameis Winston hasn't exactly been an efficient passer of late, which doesn't bode well for any kind of late-game heroics, via ESPN Stats & Info:

The Buckeyes really need dynamic quarterback J.T. Barrett in the Big Ten Championship Game. Unfortunately, the signal-caller was lost for the season, so backup Cardale Jones must step in. Expect the inexperienced quarterback to struggle against Wisconsin's fourth-ranked defense, which allows an average of just 16.8 points per game, while Heisman-hopeful Melvin Gordon runs all over Ohio State's defense.

Alabama is much easier to project into the College Football Playoff. Basically, the Crimson Tide need a win and they're in. That will come to fruition against Missouri in the SEC Championship Game.

The Tigers have a fearsome pass rush that has produced 40 sacks this season; however, Alabama's offensive line has been very good as well. In fact, here's a very telling statistic from College GameDay:

Alabama is too well-rounded for Missouri's pass rush to be extremely effective. The team is prolific through the air and on the ground thanks to the talents of running back T.J. Yeldon and wide receiver Amari Cooper. The efficient play of quarterback Blake Sims will keep the Tigers off balance and produce a win for Alabama, securing the No. 1 seed and a berth in the Sugar Bowl.

 

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

With Alabama claiming the No. 1 seed, Oregon is a lock at No. 2 following its huge 51-13 victory over Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Ducks have looked dangerous throughout the season, but they took it to a whole new level on Friday night.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota was unstoppable against the Wildcats. He scored at will, racking up 313 passing yards and two touchdowns, as well as 33 rushing yards and three more scores. Surrounded by a bevy of weapons, Oregon was as potent as ever, with Royce Freeman rushing for 114 yards and both Darren Carrington and Charles Nelson eclipsing 100 receiving yards.

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports tweeted the quarterback's impressive numbers for the season:

Although we all knew Oregon's offense was dominant, its defense was simply outstanding against Arizona.

The Wildcats just couldn't get anything going throughout the entire game, producing just 224 total yards of offense. Running back Nick Wilson could only muster 2.0 yards per carry, rushing 13 times for just 26 yards, and Arizona completed nine of its 26 passing attempts for 113 yards, one touchdown and one interception as a team—69 of those yards came on one play.

Oregon looks as dominant as ever, and Mariota may have secured the Heisman Trophy after his impeccable performance. This team is poised to do some damage in the College Football Playoff.

The Ducks are a sure thing for the playoff, but according to Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, the Horned Frogs aren't far behind:

TCU is ranked third by the CFP selection committee entering Championship Saturday, and it needs a big win over the 2-9 Iowa State Cyclones to secure a berth in the playoff. Luckily, the matchup highly favors the Horned Frogs, so that shouldn't be an issue.

Quarterback Trevone Boykin leads the nation's fourth-ranked scoring offense, averaging 46.1 points per game, against a Cyclones defense that ranks 115th in the nation, giving up an average of 37.4 points. That may be the most lopsided statistic we'll see on Saturday.

ESPN College Football tweeted one big reason for Boykin's success this season:

Looking at the playoff scenario, TCU is in rather good shape with both Florida State and Ohio State losing to their respective opponents. This makes Georgia Tech and Wisconsin the two teams poised to make the biggest leaps up the rankings. Still, both are two-loss squads, and it would take some kind of monumental performance to warrant either surpassing the Horned Frogs in the rankings.

If TCU does what it is supposed to do and blows Iowa State out of the water, there should be no question that it will remain secured in the College Football Playoff as the No. 3 seed.

 

All team rankings and statistics courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 6 at 2 a.m. ET.

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SEC Championship 2014: Final Odds, Preview, Prediction for Alabama vs. Missouri

Feel free to call the SEC championship showdown between the Alabama Crimson Tide and Missouri Tigers the quarterfinal for the College Football Playoff. 

Alabama is in the inaugural CFP if it can get a win Saturday. The same cannot be said for Missouri, but great bowl placement and an unofficial arrival as an SEC power awaits the Tigers if they can manage to do the unthinkable.

Nick Saban's Crimson Tide get credit as one of the nation's hottest teams at the moment, but the classification certainly applies to the Tigers and a top-15 defense as well.

A game littered with postseason implications, top recruiting classes, Heisman contenders and more—birthed by the strongest conference in the land, no less—is not one to miss.

 

When: Saturday, December 6, 4 p.m. ET

Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Television: CBS

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 49
  • Spread: Alabama (-14.5)

 

Preview and Prediction

Las Vegas does not appear to believe Gary Pinkel's team has much of a chance. To be fair, that likely aligns with the global vibe quite well.

This is how shocking upsets happen, folks.

Missouri has a notable loss to Indiana and an ugly shutout at the hands of Georgia this season, but the team has six wins in a row at the moment. Statistically speaking, the Tigers tout a defense that can certainly run with Alabama:

This is a Missouri defense led by elite defensive ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden. The former leads the SEC with 12 sacks, and the latter has 8.5. Just last week, the two were a big part of the reason the unit held Arkansas to just 155 rushing yards.

Pinkel certainly understands the challenge that awaits his strong defense now that the Crimson Tide rank better offensively than they have in quite some time.

"When you're that potent offensively, when you can play defense at that high, consistent level, that's certainly problematic for anybody that's going to play against them," Pinkel said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com.

The chief concern for any team against Alabama this year is Heisman contender Amari Cooper. The nation's best wideout has 103 catches for 1,573 yards and 14 touchdowns on the year.

The next closest receiver on the team? DeAndrew White, who has 33 grabs for 338 yards and three scores.

A close second in terms of concern for the Missouri defense is Blake Sims. In his first year as starter he has 2,988 yards and 24 touchdowns to seven interceptions. His ability to extend drives with his feet adds a level of versatility to an offense that has taken a traditional approach for a long time.

Not to be forgotten, though, is a strong ground game led by T.J. Yeldon. This is an area Missouri can actually match offensively, though, thanks to the efforts of Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy.

Through the air is where things can get dicey. If the Tigers fall behind, it means more pressure on quarterback Maty Mauk. The sophomore has completed just 53.5 percent of his passes this year for 2,279 yards and 22 touchdowns to 11 interceptions.

To his credit, though, Mauk has been electric when it matters most over the course of the past two weeks, as the team points out on Twitter: 

For that streak to continue, the Tigers need to stay within striking distance for most of the game or have the lead outright.

The key for the Tigers is the rush. As the ESPN report above notes, 30 of the team's SEC-leading 40 sacks this year have come when sending four or fewer rushers.

If the Tigers can get to Sims without bringing any extra personnel, that means extra bodies in coverage to account for Cooper down the field. This is a luxury many teams simply have not had this season against the Crimson Tide.

When it comes right down to it, though, the Crimson Tide can do enough to negate the Tigers rush. Whether it is getting the mobile Sims out on rollouts or quick-hitting plays to Cooper and allowing him to do the rest, Alabama has the sheer talent and coaching to pull ahead and stay ahead.

So long as the Crimson Tide grab a lead, they can beat Missouri at its own game by pounding the ball and the clock on the way to the CFP.

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Pac-12 Championship 2014: Top Performers and Takeaways from Arizona vs. Oregon

Marcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks are through to the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Friday's Pac-12 Championship Game against the Arizona Wildcats presented the Ducks with their final demon in need of an exorcism. Mariota and Co. defied late-season collapses against Stanford and others this year. The roster got healthy. Most of all, the team spent Friday night blowing away the only adversary to conquer the Ducks.

All that remains now is to see where the Ducks will rank in the playoff itself. Alabama has a tougher schedule, but Oregon's performance Friday certainly raises the question of whether or not the Ducks might just steal the top rank.

 

Top Performers

Mariota has his Heisman moment.

The man was robbed of it earlier this year considering the dire situation Stanford finds itself in at the moment. But a win over the only team to beat the Ducks to claim a Pac-12 title and advance to the CFP certainly makes up for it.

Mariota was great from the opening snap, but he really turned heads in the second half. There, he managed to toss all of no interceptions on his way to a 25-of-38 line for 313 yards and two scores. Not bad, but things get more impressive—he also found room for 33 yards and three scores on the ground.

"This is a huge accomplishment for us," Mariota said, per ESPN.com. "Now we need to continue to improve and get better for whoever comes next."

As ESPN Stats & Info notes, Mariota is now among some notable company thanks to the performance:

Try not to forget about Mariota's cohort, though, running back Royce Freeman. The freshman entered the night with five 100-yard performances under his belt and erupted for 114 yards on just 21 opportunities against a defense that had held him to just 85 in the loss earlier this year.

In fact, freshmen were on fire Friday. 

Wideout Darren Carrington rounds out the list of notable performances. The San Diego native was a secret weapon of sorts against a stingy Arizona defense. He had yet to record a 100-yard performance on the season and never had more than five receptions in a contest entering Friday.

By night's end, Carrington was Mariota's favorite target, catching seven passes for 126 yards and a touchdown.

For Oregon, the performance was just what the team needed. Experience shone through, as Arizona freshman quarterback Anu Solomon managed just 34 passing yards and freshman back Nick Wilson found 26 yards on the ground. 

In a few years, those totals will be a thing of the past, but Friday night, it was all about the experienced Ducks.

 

Top Takeaways

What a resume these Ducks now tout. 

Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel puts it into perspective:

It is not just that Oregon has beaten those teams, though.

Look, 491 total yards and 46 points against a perennially stout Michigan State defense is great. But it is how the Ducks responded to the adversity of the early-October loss to Arizona and got healthy in the process that makes this list of accomplishments so impressive.

Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer puts it best:

Friday was the culmination of a hard-fought season. A ranked UCLA team was no match in a 12-point Ducks win. Stanford wound up a 45-16 win. Utah, more Stanford than Stanford this year, was a ho-hum 51-27 victory. The Civil War was a 47-19 knee-slapper.

Things are now full circle. The Ducks encountered an offense that entered averaging nearly 35 points per game.  The Oregon defense stiffened and held Arizona to a 3-of-15 mark on third downs and just 224 total yards to the Ducks' 627.

Speaking of offense, a hobbled offensive line that has undergone plenty of shuffling allowed Mariota to escape the contest without a sack against a strong defense that entered ranked 11th in the nation with 37.

When perceived weaknesses such as defense and line play are suddenly a highlight in a championship game for a team such as Oregon, it is time to muse the thought of that No. 1 rank.

Even if the Ducks do not get the bump, they happen to be the team nobody should want to play at the moment. If things remain in a holding pattern, Mariota and Co. would dance with TCU based on last week's rankings, but neither Florida State nor Alabama would have a serious advantage given Oregon's current form, either.

The biggest takeaway? Oregon is not only in championship form thanks to its offense, but weaknesses are now afterthoughts at the perfect time. 

All that remains is for the Ducks to keep flying high and make up for the missteps of the past few seasons.

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Pac-12 Championship 2014: Top Performers and Takeaways from Arizona vs. Oregon

Marcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks are through to the inaugural College Football Playoff. Friday's Pac -12 Championship Game against the Arizona Wildcats presented the Ducks with their final demon in need of an exorcism...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Iowa State vs. TCU: Live Score and Highlights

The Iowa State Cyclones and the TCU Horned Frogs are getting ready to do battle in the regular-season finale at Amon G. Carter Stadium. The game will kick off at noon EST, and it will air on ABC.

It has not been a great year for the Cyclones, as they have lost their last five games and have yet to win a Big 12 game. The one player who has shined, though, is running back Aaron Wimberly, who has averaged 82 yards per game, racked up 5.3 yards per carry and scored five touchdowns the last five games.

However, Wimberly and the rest of the Cyclones will face a TCU team that is one of the hottest teams in all of football. The Cyclones will need to find a way to stop Trevone Boykin, who is a finalist for the Walter Camp Award. Boykin has thrown for 26 touchdowns and has also rushed for eight scores.

Be sure to come back here as soon as the game kicks off for the latest scoring updates, highlights and analysis.

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Bowl Predictions 2014: Full Projections for Top Games

College football's conference championship games take place this week, which means one thing: Bowl season is almost upon us. This is the time of year every team strives for and every fan impatiently anticipates.

The Bowl Championship Series has gone the way of the dinosaurs, so we're going to see some significant alterations in the system this year, as the inaugural College Football Playoff is set to commence. The New Year's Six comprise the more prestigious bowl games, and participating teams will be handpicked by the CFP selection committee on Sunday.

As we anxiously await the forthcoming conference championships and Selection Sunday, let's take a look at the teams that are most likely to face off in the six prominent bowl games and predict a winner for each. 

But first, here's a look at the current playoff odds and official rankings entering Week 15:

 

Allstate Sugar Bowl

Alabama vs. Baylor

Missouri's pass rush may give Alabama's offensive line some problems, but the Crimson Tide simply have too many weapons on both sides of the ball to suggest a loss to the Tigers. A victory over Missouri will propel Alabama to 12-1 on the season and solidify the team as the nation's No. 1 seed for the College Football Playoff.

Baylor is our surprise entrant here. Bryce Petty is set to take the field for the Bears, and Baylor's top-ranked scoring offense will be just too much for Kansas State to handle. Despite the win, Baylor will need some help to get in, and the team will get it.

Florida State has been squeezing past opponents, and the Seminoles will finally lose their first game of the season due to their inability to stop Georgia Tech's triple option and fall out of the Top Four. Ohio State will fall to Wisconsin without J.T. Barrett at the helm; Cardale Jones is talented, but he'll struggle against a tough Badgers defense.

When Alabama and Baylor meet, we'll see a clash between a great offense and a great defense. Petty will put up some points, but the Crimson Tide defense will keep the Bears offense in check just long enough to earn a tight victory.

Prediction: Alabama 34, Baylor 30

 

Rose Bowl Presented by Northwestern Mutual

Oregon vs. TCU

Oregon is cemented in the No. 2 position if Alabama wins on Saturday. The Ducks dismantled Arizona on Friday night thanks to another great performance by quarterback Marcus Mariota and some stout defensive play. Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports tweeted Oregon's impressive resume:

TCU has a cake game against hapless Iowa State on Saturday, and we should expect Trevone Boykin and Co. to manhandle the Cyclones with ease. A big win for the Horned Frogs will keep them at No. 3 overall and earn a berth in the Rose Bowl.

This matchup will be extremely exciting between two prolific offenses. While Boykin has been very impressive this season, the Ducks have stepped up on defense lately and will make it extremely difficult for TCU's signal-caller to keep up with Mariota.

Prediction: Oregon 38, TCU 27

 

Capital One Orange Bowl

Georgia Tech vs. Michigan State

After defeating Florida State, Georgia Tech earns a berth in the Orange Bowl. This team features a deadly triple option with dual-threat quarterback Justin Thomas at the helm, the pounding running style of Zach Laskey and the outside threat of DeAndre Smelter. Georgia's isn't an easy offense to contain.

Michigan State gets the nod following Ohio State's loss. The Spartans are done for the season, coming off a 34-10 victory over Penn State. Though the team lost to both Oregon and Ohio State this season, Michigan State boasts a solid defense and well-balanced offense.

Georgia Tech's triple option is dangerous, but with plenty of time to prepare, the Spartans will be ready for the attack. Expect Michigan State to slow down the Yellow Jackets just enough to allow Connor Cook and Co. to get enough points on the board to come away with a win.

Prediction: Michigan State 35, Georgia Tech 28

 

Vizio Fiesta Bowl

Boise State vs. Wisconsin

Boise State has quickly been one of the year's biggest surprises and currently leads the Mountain West Conference with a 10-2 record.

The Broncos have been riding their well-rounded offensive attack to dismantle opposing defenses, putting up at least 50 points in five of their last seven games. They'll continue that trend with a win over Fresno State and earn a trip to the Fiesta Bowl.

Wisconsin is about to become this year's Big Ten champion. The Buckeyes have been hit by a very unfortunate injury, as J.T. Barrett was lost for the season. Without the prolific quarterback in the fold, Ohio State will have an extremely difficult time keeping up with Badgers running back Melvin Gordon. The ball-carrier will lead Wisconsin to the conference title and a Fiesta Bowl appearance.

Just how good has Gordon been? This tweet from College GameDay sums it up nicely:

Though the Broncos certainly have a more versatile offense, they have yet to face a running back close to the talent level of Gordon. The Heisman hopeful will put up some gaudy numbers, keeping the Boise State offense on the sidelines and propel the Badgers to victory.

Prediction: Wisconsin 38, Boise State 27

 

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

Florida State vs. Mississippi State

After losing to Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship game, Florida State falls out of the Top Four and earns a trip to the Peach Bowl. This isn't a bad consolation prize, and the opportunity gives Jameis Winston and Co. a chance to redeem themselves in the national spotlight. After all, Winston didn't exactly finish the season in stellar fashion, via ESPN Stats & Info:

Mississippi State's dreams of entering the College Football Playoff were shattered after losing to Ole Miss, 31-17, in its regular-season finale. Like the Seminoles, Dak Prescott and the Bulldogs are looking for some redemption. They'll get their chance in the Peach Bowl.

Once again, Florida State's inconsistency comes back to haunt them. Prescott, Josh Robinson and De'Runnya Wilson from a formidable trio, and the Seminoles will be hard pressed to slow them down. Meanwhile, Winston hasn't looked capable of producing enough offense to keep up in a shootout, which will ensure Florida State's season ends with another loss.

Prediction: Mississippi State 34, Florida State 26

 

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic

Arizona vs. Ole Miss

The Wildcats just did not look good against Oregon in the Pac-12 championship. They couldn't hang with Mariota out of the gate, allowing the quarterback to throw for two touchdowns and run for another three.

Meanwhile, Arizona's offense could barely muster 200 total yards. Still, finishing second in the conference afforded the team a berth in the Cotton Bowl.

Ole Miss finished off its season with a bang, trouncing Mississippi State. Quarterback Bo Wallace put together some big plays, but he's still very inconsistent, which could be an issue in the team's bowl game against a good Arizona pass rush.

If Jaylen Walton can't get it going on the ground against Arizona, Ole Miss won't stand a chance here. The Rebels have a solid defense, but Wallace is a liability under center. However, the Wildcats haven't looked great on offense recently, and they'll struggle even more against the Rebels.

Prediction: Ole Miss 24, Arizona 17

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College Football Playoff Championship 2015: Date, Schedule, Latest Predictions

There are still a few weeks to go before the College Football Playoff games kick off, but Saturday is the final day for the teams still fighting for a spot to make a case to the selection committee. The final standings will be released on Sunday, creating a sense of urgency that is new to college football. 

While there will be three games that compromise the College Football Playoff, starting with the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl on January 1, our focus is on the actual championship game. Instead of looking at the final four, why not go one step ahead to the final two?

This is the first time that more than two teams will have a chance to fight over the biggest prize in college football, so no one knows what to expect. The selection committee has been figuring things out as it goes, and four teams will have a chance to stake their claim as the best in the sport. 

 

College Football Playoff Championship Schedule

Date: January 12, 2015

Location: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas

Start Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

 

Latest Playoff Rankings

 

Championship Game Predictions

The College Football Playoff has worked out perfectly in terms of drama, as each team in the Top Four plays a game this weekend. Oregon actually played Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday night, but Alabama, TCU and Florida State are in action on Saturday. 

Of those three teams, TCU has the easiest game against an Iowa State team that's winless in Big 12 play. Florida State has the most difficult game, based on the rankings, against No. 11 Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game. 

Based on how each of these teams is playing right now, as well as their matchups, Alabama and TCU seem like the safest bet to maintain their positions. In fact, based on projections from Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com, those two teams had the highest percentage chance of getting in the playoff:

However, Silver also notes that Alabama still has a good chance of staying in the Top Four with a loss to Missouri in the SEC Championship Game because of its conference:

The dangerous case for Alabama is if it loses while the rest of the top five — Oregon, TCU, Florida State and Ohio State — win. That scenario would be a nightmare for the committee; it would either have to deny the SEC a slot in the playoff (Missouri and Mississippi State have almost no chance) or bypass a one-loss conference champion such as Ohio State for two-loss Alabama.

Since Alabama doesn't seem likely to lose against Missouri—with respect to the Tigers—it will be in. At that point, the Crimson Tide are looking at a game against a team like Florida State, Ohio State or Baylor. 

The Seminoles and Buckeyes don't seem to provide much of a challenge for Nick Saban's defense. Florida State may be undefeated, but quarterback Jameis Winston has been awful with 17 interceptions, including at least one in six straight games. 

Winston might be able to get away with that against teams like Florida, Notre Dame and Louisville, but Alabama is a different animal entirely. 

Ohio State, while not as inconsistent as Florida State, has to deal with breaking in a new quarterback at the worst possible time. Even if Cardale Jones helps lead the Buckeyes to a win over Wisconsin, he will be going up against a different animal entirely when Saban's defense gets a crack at him. 

Baylor is an interesting option in the semifinals because Alabama struggled mightily on defense against an Auburn team that spreads the field. Saban infamously supported the proposed rule change that was shot down in which teams would have had to wait 10 seconds between plays to allow substitutions. 

While Saban cited player safety as the reason, the cynical take is that he was simply trying to help himself because Alabama has struggled to defend those open offenses. Baylor leads the nation in scoring offense at 49.8 points per game. 

That's not enough to call for a Baylor upset if the matchup happens, but the Bears have the formula to give Alabama problems. 

Bottom line with the Crimson Tide, as noted by ESPN Stats & Info, is that they are simply the best team in the sport right now:

The other team in the College Football Playoff Championship isn't as complex to figure out. The selection committee seems to love TCU, bumping the Horned Frogs over an undefeated Florida State team and three spots ahead of a Baylor team that beat them earlier this season.

Oregon has been securely in the playoff for weeks, bouncing back nicely from a loss against Arizona earlier in the year. More importantly than just winning the rest of their games, the Ducks have gotten better as the season has gone on.

The offensive line was Oregon's Achilles' heel, as Arizona exploited in that 31-24 win with seven sacks of quarterback Marcus Mariota, but Paul Myerberg of USA Today noted the Heisman Trophy contender was only sacked 14 times in the next seven games after that defeat. 

Assuming Oregon and TCU maintain their current spots for a matchup in the Rose Bowl, the Ducks get the edge in a head-to-head battle because they have the better quarterback and have proved themselves against better competition with wins over Michigan State and Arizona. 

Per this stat from ESPN's Chris Fowler, Mariota was able to conquer his white whale in the Pac-12 Championship Game:

Now imagine what Mariota will do against a TCU defense that allowed 61 points against Baylor and struggled against Kansas. It should be a blast to watch these two offenses do work, but the Ducks have been battle-tested against better competition and should prevail in this spot. 

This leaves us with a showdown between Alabama and Oregon for the national championship, which seems only fitting since they appear to be the two best teams in college football. 

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ACC Championship 2014: Odds, Preview, Predictions for FSU vs. Georgia Tech

Depending on your rooting interests when it comes to Florida State, Georgia Tech is the final hope for knocking off the defending champion Seminoles before the College Football Playoff or the final obstacle in their way.

If things follow the same script that they always do with Florida State, Jameis Winston and Co. will fall behind early and come from behind to win in the fourth quarter. If that happens, the Seminoles will be firmly in the four-team postseason with a chance to defend their crown. 

Read on for some of the essential information for the game, as well as a look at the keys to the contest.

 

Florida State vs. Georgia Tech

Date: Saturday, Dec. 6

Time: 8 p.m. ET

TV: ABC

Live Stream: Watch ESPN 

Spread: Florida State -4 (via Odds Shark, as of Friday morning at 11 p.m. ET)

 

Keys to the Game

Establishing Momentum

Florida State hasn’t lost for two seasons, but Georgia Tech has a five-game winning streak of its own. It should be very confident heading into this contest, and a quick start would only serve to boost that confidence.

That quick start is likely for the Yellow Jackets considering Florida State has fallen behind in the first half nine different times this season, including five of the last six games. While the Seminoles consistently play with a deficit, Georgia Tech runs the ball 78 percent of the time.

It plays ahead of the chains with that type of attack and creates third-and-short situations, which are much easier to pick up on the ground. Consistently extending drives will gradually wear the Florida State defense down and open up more holes later in the game.

College GameDay noted that Georgia Tech has made a habit of starting fast:

Florida State has fallen behind all season, but it hasn’t faced a running attack like that of the Yellow Jackets. Ideally for Georgia Tech, it will keep the clock running all game and force Winston to watch the action from the sidelines.

 

Triple-Option

Georgia Tech controls the clock and pace of the game with the triple-option offense.

Interestingly, this will not be the first time Florida State faces the triple-option this season. It played against The Citadel and allowed 250 rushing yards, thanks to a number of different looks and misdirection plays.

Justin Thomas, Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days spearhead the Georgia Tech ground attack and are certainly better athletes than Florida State saw when it struggled to stop the option from The Citadel. That could be a problem on Saturday.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher discussed the matchup, according to The Associated Press (via ESPN.com):

It's a whole different perspective of how you have to defend their offensive attack. It's going to have to be a complete gameplan overhaul as far as different things you do. Everybody had a certain way they play that. 

You have your plan, you know what you do. We work on those things in the offseason when you have to play teams like this and then you try to implement based on what they do.

The triple-option is one of the trickiest offensive sets to prepare for, largely because teams rarely see it, and it is a great way to neutralize any perceived talent advantages. The Yellow Jackets will use it early and often against Florida State in an effort to keep Winston on the sidelines.

 

Jameis Winston Avoiding Turnovers

Winston deserves credit for winning every time he takes the field, but he has thrown 11 interceptions in six games and has to face a defense that has 17 picks on the season.

The Seminoles may boast an athletic advantage at the wide receiver position and across the board in general, but turnovers are the great equalizer. If the Yellow Jackets can force a couple of quick turnovers and set the triple-option up in ideal field position, they can put the Seminoles behind early.

An early deficit would force Winston to throw the ball even more, and those throws would give Georgia Tech’s opportunistic defense a chance to create even more turnovers and further neutralize Florida State’s talent advantage.

While there are certainly a number of intriguing aspects to this game that could suggest a potential Georgia Tech upset, Florida State has thrived in situations where it has its back against the wall all season.

Cliche or not, the Seminoles find a way to win at the end of games, and there is no reason to expect anything different this time around.

Winston will eventually find a groove and hit Nick O’Leary underneath for critical gains and Rashad Greene over the top for game-changers. If that softens up the defense, running back Dalvin Cook will hit the gaps along the line.

It would be crucial if Winston could get his team the lead at any point in the second half. The Yellow Jackets were 122nd in the country in passing yards per game and are not built to sustain drives through the air.

That will be their ultimate undoing on Saturday, much to the dismay of the teams behind Florida State in the College Football Playoff standings. 

Prediction: Florida State 31, Georgia Tech 24

 

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SEC Championship Game 2014: Odds and Final Breakdown of Alabama vs. Missouri

The SEC Championship Game is one of the most hyped events of the college football season—and rightfully so.

This conference has dominated the collegiate ranks, producing seven of the last eight national champions. This year, No. 1 Alabama has a great chance to get back to the big dance, but the road will be even more difficult due to the inaugural College Football Playoff. Before the Crimson Tide can even think about the playoff, they must first contend with a dangerous Missouri team.

The Tigers are on quite a roll entering the title game, winning six straight to end the regular season. Nothing was handed to Missouri, as a win over a surging Arkansas team was necessary to clinch the SEC East. However, Alabama is on a streak of its own, winning seven in a row, including four victories against ranked opponents during that stretch.

Before these teams take the field to decide who will be crowned this year's SEC champion, let's take one final look at all of the game's essential information.

 

Viewing Information

When: Saturday, December 6

Where: Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia

Time: 4 p.m. ET

Channel: CBS

Live Stream: CBSSports.com

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 49
  • Spread: Alabama -14.5

 

Preview and Prediction

Alabama's defense has been one of the nation's most dominant units once again this season. The team is ranked second against the run, 54th against the pass, 11th in total defense and fifth in points allowed. Yes, Maty Mauk, Russell Hansbrough and Co. will have a rough time in the title game—that narrative has been beaten to death by now.

Let's go ahead and turn things on their head and talk about the Missouri defense. After all, the Tigers' pass rush will be the biggest key to victory for both teams on Saturday.

Missouri can really get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The team has several prolific pass-rushers, including SEC sacks leader Shane Ray and Markus Golden, who are more than capable of giving offensive linemen plenty of trouble. In fact, the Tigers are ranked sixth in the nation with a total of 40 sacks on the season. For those of you counting at home, that's an average of 3.33 per game.

Now, here's a fun statistic based off that number, via College GameDay:

That's quite a track record for Missouri; however, Alabama's offensive line has protected its quarterback nicely this year, allowing a total of 11 sacks to rank seventh in the nation.

While Alabama's line has been sturdy, it hasn't been overly consistent against better pass rushes. The Crimson Tide have seen some good pass rushes this year in Ole Miss, Arkansas, LSU and Mississippi State. Alabama went 3-1 over those four games, and each game was decided by a one-score margin.

The reason for that was solid defensive line play. During those games, quarterback Blake Sims was sacked five times and kept in check, completing just 54 percent of his passes, and the backfield duo of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry combined to average just 3.9 yards per carry.

Here's a telling statement from Gary Danielson of CBS Sports, via Tim McKernan of InsideSTL.com:

Taking care of things up front will also hinder the performance of prolific wide receiver Amari Cooper by limiting the amount of time Sims has to get rid of the football. Less time in the pocket equates to less time in coverage, which leads to more pass breakups and fewer big plays.

So, here's the big question: Will Missouri ride its pass rush to a huge upset win on Saturday?

The answer is no.

While the Tigers will give Alabama's offense a hard time, there's still a concern regarding Missouri's ability to generate offense of its own and get enough points on the board. Considering the Tigers have only eclipsed 30 points just once over their past five games, that doesn't exude much confidence that they'll be able to outscore the Crimson Tide.

Prediction: Alabama 30, Missouri 20

 

All team statistics and rankings courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 5 at 8:30 p.m. ET.

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Heisman Watch 2014: Latest Predictions in Race for Coveted Award

The case against Marcus Mariota winning the 2014 Heisman Trophy becomes increasingly difficult to make with each passing week.

The junior exorcised his demons with a Pac-12 Championship victory over No. 7 Arizona on Friday night, scoring two touchdowns through the air and three on the ground. He will lead the Oregon Ducks into the College Football Playoff boasting 4,452 total yards, 53 touchdowns and two interceptions for an offense that generates 45.8 points per contest.

Before Friday night's showdown, an ESPN poll projected the race as a nail-biter between Mariota and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. Per College GameDay's Twitter page:

The future pro put a bow around his submission with another impressive evening, this time proving that Oregon's offense can't go the distance. In a perfect world, individuals would be judged on their own merit, but voters certainly won't turn a blind eye to Mariota's eye-popping season now it's attached to a 12-1 program.

It's hardly an open-and-shut case, but looking at the quarterbacks alone, none of Mariota's peers hold a candle to him. 

Emerging as Mariota's steepest adversary under center, J.T. Barrett will not receive the opportunity to wrap up his sterling freshman year. The Ohio State newcomer's season ended prematurely when he suffered an ankle injury against Michigan.

Although robbed of a Big Ten title appearance against Wisconsin, his 45 touchdowns and 3,772 total yards keep him on the short list of possible invitees for the Heisman ceremony. If any quarterback besides Mariota gets the call, it should be Barrett.

Dak Prescott once represented a strong contender heading the top-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs, but he could not maintain his stellar start. The junior surrendered eight interceptions during a five-game stretch that culminated in a loss to Alabama.

His candidacy relied on Mississippi State's success. While his numbers keep him in the conversation, they're not enough to surpass Mariota's amazing campaign.

Trevone Boykin strikes a dashing 26-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but he has completed just 59.3 percent of his passes for the TCU Horned Frogs. The junior sneaked into the conversation with a seven-touchdown outing against Texas Tech, but the full ledger simply doesn't stack up.

Anyone who still considers Jameis Winston a viable candidate to retain his crown hasn't been paying attention. After throwing four interceptions to Florida, the defending champion has now coughed up 12 picks in his last six games.

But quarterback isn't the only position out there. With 665 rushing yards through the past three games, Tevin Coleman is giving Melvin Gordon some healthy competition as the nation's top rusher. However, the Wisconsin phenom hasn't slowed down, rattling off at least 120 rushing yards and a score during each contest since Week 2.

Once he finds a hole, he routinely bites off massive gains. He has scooped up at least one 20-yard run in every contest. College GameDay expanded on his incredible breakaway speed off the edges:

He has convinced everyone except himself of his awesomeness. When speaking to Grantland's Holly Anderson, he insisted that those 2,260 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns don't make him a finished product.

“I don’t feel like I’m top-notch at anything I do,” Gordon said. “I’m not overly fast, I’m not overly strong. My strong suits, I can work on those too.” 

Amari Cooper has certainly wowed for the Alabama Crimson Tide, especially after his 224-yard, three-touchdown outburst against Auburn. Yet, a wide receiver has not picked up a Heisman Trophy since 1991, when Desmond Howard won with the help of an inflated touchdown tally (23) and his return-game prowess.

Quarterbacks have taken home the hardware in 12 of the past 14 seasons, with running backs Reggie Bush and Mark Ingram representing the two holdovers. The committee will only look someone else's way if that person commands their attention well above the passers and runners.

With elite choices elsewhere, that's not the case, so barring another groundbreaking performance in Saturday's SEC Championship game, Cooper will have to settle for third place. 

When it comes to Maritoa and Gordon, it's tough to pick wrong. Both are offensive dynamos functioning at an optimal rate. In a battle pitting an otherworldly quarterback with an unstoppable running back, the passer usually wins out.

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Rose Bowl 2015: TV, Live Stream Info and Early Predictions

It's been a long time coming, but college football will finally have a playoff following the season. With the first semifinals set to take place in less than a month, fans have been clamoring for the Rose Bowl to finally arrive.

Taking place in Pasadena, California, the Rose Bowl will host the No. 2 and 3 teams in the College Football Playoff committee's poll. Currently, that leaves Oregon facing TCU—but that seems destined to change this weekend.

The Ducks will likely remain at No. 2, but the Horned Frogs have question marks with their final game. Going against a weak Iowa State, TCU might be jumped by either Florida State or a host of other teams vying for the final spot.

Ahead of the announcement this weekend, here's a look at the viewing information and predictions for the Rose Bowl.

 

Viewing Information

Where: Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California

When: Jan. 1, 2015

Start Time: 5 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

Live StreamWatchESPN

 

Rose Bowl Prediction

It seemed like a predetermined fact: If Florida State ran the table, it would be in the College Football Playoff. After a year of struggling to keep that unblemished record, however, the playoff committee has the Seminoles on the cusp of missing out entirely at the No. 4 spot.

More shade has been thrown on Florida State in the recent rankings after more first-half woes against Florida. Despite the slow start, the Noles still found a way to win and stand as the only 12-0 team. Albert Breer of NFL.com and Mike Greenberg of ESPN pointed out their disgust over the move:

Even with the doubt that is clearly creeping into the minds of voters, any questions can be answered with a win over Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have been dominant recently and defeated two straight Top 25 teams to close the regular season.

Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports shared his thoughts on the situation for FSU:

However, the Yellow Jackets have other thoughts about the ACC Championship game.

Georgia Tech boasts one of the most prolific offenses in the country under Paul Johnson. Florida State's defense will have its hands full with Georgia Tech's offense, which comes in at No. 1 in the ACC in scoring (37.2 points per game), total offense (469.1 yards per game) and rushing touchdowns (37).

Johnson referenced his high-power offense, per Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com:

There have been so many misperceptions promoted for so long about, well, people catch up to the offense, and it's this, and it's that. …  It's like anything. When people say it long enough, they want it to be true. A broken clock's right twice a day. … We beat Clemson 28-6. You're not going to see any headlines that say, ‘Well, they figured out the hurry-up offense. It's through now. That's the blueprint, they'll never score again.' Now if that's us, you get the, ‘Well, they figured it out, and that's it for that offense.'

Florida State winning—which I believe will happen—should be enough to move the Noles back up to the No. 3 spot. TCU's underwhelming final game will hurt but won't drop it entirely out of the picture with a Sugar Bowl berth.

As for the Seminoles' opponent, expect Oregon to finally get over the Arizona hurdle to play for a chance at a national title. Marcus Mariota leads one of the most overpowering offenses in the country, as College GameDay noted:

It may seem clear now, but the playoff picture can still change drastically this weekend. If Mizzou, Arizona or Georgia Tech pull off upsets, any of the top teams might fall out of the top four.

Fans rooting for any of the teams outside of the current bracket are obviously hoping for chaos during championship weekend. By the time the dust settles, however, it will be Oregon and Florida State squaring off in Pasadena.

 

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Sugar Bowl 2015: TV, Live Stream Info and Early Predictions

The Sugar Bowl is less than a month away, but college football fans are already looking ahead to the massive matchup. Multiple programs are still vying for a spot in the College Football Playoff semifinals, but only two will be chosen.

For now, the New Year's Day bowl game is one of the most unpredictable matchups of the year. Alabama appears to be destined for the No. 1 seed if it beats Missouri in the SEC Championship, but the final spot is up for grabs.

TCU, Florida State, Baylor, Ohio State and even Arizona are all in the hunt heading into their final games of the year. If I had to make a prediction right now, it would be Alabama and TCU competing in the Sugar Bowl for a chance to play for a national championship.

Prior to the announcement this weekend, here's a look at the full broadcast information and predictions for the Sugar Bowl.

 

Viewing Information

Where: Super Dome in New Orleans

When: Jan. 1, 2015

Start Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Sugar Bowl Prediction

Despite the huge jump by TCU this past week all the way to the No. 3 spot in the rankings, the Horned Frogs are far from a lock to make the playoff. As crazy as that sounds, it's not so insane after the recent decisions by the committee.

First and foremost, the committee cares not for the overall results on the year but rather how the team performs. For example, TCU actually lost to Baylor—yeah, that happened—and the poll has TCU ahead due to its recent results against top competition.

However, the Frogs face a lowly Iowa State this weekend, while Florida State has a shot at a conference title with a win over highly ranked Georgia Tech. A victory for both might be enough to propel the Seminoles back into the No. 3 spot, as Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports notes:

That actually presents a better situation for TCU by playing in New Orleans, while FSU would be flying across the country to take on Oregon. Regardless of the circumstances, TCU will likely move behind the Noles even with a massive win over Iowa State due to the difficulty of the victory.

Just the simple fact that TCU is even in the playoff picture over the myriad of contending teams is baffling to several analysts. Joe Giglio of The News & Observer and Mike Greenberg of ESPN passed along their thoughts:

Given the way this weekend will likely go down, it appears TCU will still be competing with Alabama for a shot at the title.

The Crimson Tide simply need to take down Mizzou, which seems like a sure thing after cruising to close the season. Coming off a smackdown late against Auburn in the Iron Bowl, Bama will continue to roll over another set of Tigers to make the Sugar Bowl.

Outside of the SEC Championship, Ohio State will have its hands full against Melvin Gordon and the Wisconsin Badgers. If the Buckeyes and Bears lose or struggle against their opponents, TCU will be a lock to make the playoff.

Though some college football fans will be hoping for mayhem, there will be none for the Horned Frogs against an awful Iowa State team. That leaves both Alabama and TCU ringing in the New Year with a chance to compete for a national championship.

 

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College Football Rankings 2014: Final NCAA Overview of Week 15 Standings

Oregon enters the final Saturday of the 2014 season as the only Top Four team having taken care of business and seemingly wrapped up its spot in the College Football Playoff.

Alabama can inevitably wrap up their case for the playoff with a win, but the Crimson Tide's hopes of getting the SEC back in the national title game will ride on a SEC title game showdown against peaking Missouri. 

Everyone else in the hunt is at the mercy of the committee. The likes of TCU, Baylor and Ohio State enter the final weekend needing to make a statement in order to ensure their spot while some of them and others look for help to climb into the conversation.

With that said, let's take a final look at all of the Top 25 rankings as the final weekend approaches.

Full CFP rankings can be found here.

After No. 2 Oregon throttled No. 7 Arizona in Friday's Pac-12 Championship Game, the stage is set for a Saturday slate that will tell us just how real these CFP contenders' chances are.

But although it's championship weekend, the first matchup on tap doesn't figure to be much of a championship-like bout, as third-ranked TCU hosts 2-9 Iowa State to close out its Big 12 slate.

Unsurprisingly, quarterback Trevone Boykin and the Horned Frogs come in as massive 34.5-point favorites, according to Odds Shark. But does that mean that an unimpressive victory could knock them out of the Top Four altogether?

The Baylor Bears certainly hope so, and they've got a compelling case.

Art Briles' crew has one blemish on its record, a road loss at West Virginia, but have an all-important head-to-head win over TCU earlier in the season. However, that hasn't made much of a difference to the committee, which has kept TCU ahead of its conference counterpart.

But with Baylor having the chance to knock off No. 9 Kansas State on Saturday, 247Sports' Steve Wiltfong noted the questions will come in droves if the Bears fail to leapfrog the Frogs with a win:

It's easy to find folks on both sides of the argument when it comes to TCU and Baylor, but one thing seems to be a consensus—Florida State may be undefeated, but it can ill-afford a loss in the ACC Championship Game against No. 11 Georgia Tech.

The Yellow Jackets' dangerous triple-option might give the Seminoles fits, and a defeat would certainly knock the undefeated squad from the CFP conversation. Doubt has crept up in the form of Florida State winning seven of its games by six or fewer points.

But as head coach Jimbo Fisher told ESPN.com's David Hale, there isn't much premise in leaving the 'Noles out should they stay unbeaten:

It's hard to imagine Florida State falling further should it beat an impressive Top 15 team. But Ohio State looks likely to miss out on the fun altogether—even if it tops Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game Saturday night. 

The Buckeyes will trot out Cardale Jones at quarterback after J.T. Barrett's season-ending injury against Michigan, but they still remain No. 6 in the CFP rankings. Without help in the form of at least two superior teams falling, Urban Meyer's squad will be on the outside looking in.

Even as the final day of the college football season gets underway, the Top Four is nowhere near set. If things get as chaotic on Saturday as we've seen through stretches of this season, a team not even mentioned here could make the leap.

In this wacky 2014 season, unpredictable results have practically been the norm. If that continues into Saturday, none of the teams atop the rankings are safe.

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Big Ten Championship 2014: Odds, Preview, Prediction for Wisconsin vs Ohio State

Ohio State has lost a single Big Ten game since 2012, and it just so happened to come in Indianapolis at the Big Ten Championship Game last year. Safe to say, the Buckeyes have some unfinished business to take care of in the nation's heartland.

Standing in their way is the daunting rushing attack of Melvin Gordon and Wisconsin. 

The Badgers are looking to solidify their position in an elite bowl game and prevent Ohio State from contending for a College Football Playoff spot in the process. Read on to see if they can do just that.

 

Wisconsin vs. Ohio State

Date: Saturday, Dec. 6 

Time: 8:17 p.m. ET

TV: Fox 

Odds: Wisconsin -4.5 (via Odds Shark, as of Friday night at 11:30 p.m. ET)

 

Preview, Keys to Game, Prediction

Melvin Gordon vs. Ohio State Front Seven

Gordon is the best running back in the country, embarrassed Nebraska for 408 yards and four touchdowns and has virtually locked up a spot in New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. A monster game against the Buckeyes defense could propel him into the No. 1 spot with Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. 

Gordon finished the season with 2,260 rushing yards and 29 total touchdowns, and he broke the 100-yard barrier in every game but one.

Chris Trapasso of NFL.com believes Gordon is the Heisman favorite at this point:

Ohio State's rush defense is not exactly dominant, either. It gave up 228 rushing yards to Indiana's Tevin Coleman, 145 rushing yards to Minnesota's David Cobb and has struggled to swarm to the ball and attack the line of scrimmage.

The silver lining for this matchup from the Buckeyes' perspective is that they contained Gordon for 74 rushing yards in their 2013 matchup. That game was at home, but the overall team speed on the defensive end was impressive enough to slow down the superstar. 

Ohio State needs a repeat performance again Saturday, otherwise Gordon will rack up more Heisman-like numbers.

 

Jalin Marshall Plan 

Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer provided some interesting updates and quotes on receiver Jalin Marshall and what his role will be Saturday, via Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch and Patrick Maks of Eleven Warriors:

Marshall is a multidimensional threat who has found the end zone on the ground, through the air and by returning punts. He is also the primary quarterback in the Wildcat offense who can exploit the opposing defense through misdirection and speed.

The Buckeyes are going to need to add some wrinkles to the offense with Cardale Jones under center instead of J.T. Barrett, and Marshall may be the answer. He can throw off reverses or out of the Wildcat, take shovel passes to the house and make a play on special teams. 

The Buckeyes need Marshall's A-game if they are going to pull off the upset in Indianapolis.

 

Joel Stave vs. Cardale Jones

Saturday's Big Ten Championship Game is not exactly a showdown between two elite quarterbacks.

The Buckeyes' signal-caller situation is no secret—they are down to the third-string quarterback after devastating injuries to Braxton Miller and Barrett. This is their final chance to impress the selection committee, and that will be much easier said than done without a proven quarterback.

Wisconsin's situation is better, but it is not exactly lighting up the scoreboard with 147.8 passing yards per game behind Joel Stave.

Both teams will force the quarterbacks to win by stuffing the box because the rushing attacks will draw most of the defensive attention. The Badgers averaged 334.3 rushing yards per game while Ohio State was not that far behind at 257.4. Which quarterback comes through with single coverage all over the field will ultimately determine the winner. 

The Buckeyes have more weapons at the receiver spot with Marshall, Devin Smith and Michael Thomas, and that will be the key with so much focus on stopping the run. Look for Smith or Thomas to make a monumental play downfield in the fourth quarter to give the Buckeyes the lead for good.

Game Prediction: Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 24

 

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Embarrassing Pac-12 Championship Game Loss Shows How Far Arizona Has to Go

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Following his No. 7-ranked University of Arizona team’s 51-13 loss to No. 2 University of Oregon in Friday’s Pac-12 Conference Championship Game, head coach Rich Rodriguez did not have much to say...

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Embarrassing Pac-12 Championship Game Loss Shows How Far Arizona Has to Go

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Following his No. 7-ranked University of Arizona team’s 51-13 loss to No. 2 University of Oregon in Friday’s Pac-12 Conference Championship Game, head coach Rich Rodriguez did not have much to say.

“Tonight wasn’t a good night,” an uncharacteristically reserved Rodriguez said flatly in his postgame press conference at Levi’s Stadium.

Rodriguez didn’t need to say much—the outcome spoke volumes about where his program is in its pursuit of reaching the top of the Pac-12.

Arizona’s made progress in just three years under Rodriguez, as he pointed out.

“To win the Pac-12 South is a great accomplishment by our guys and our seniors especially,” he said. “It might be the toughest division in college football.”

But Friday’s title tilt was a potential changing of the guard for the Pac-12: Arizona, the conference’s only pre-expansion member without a Rose Bowl appearance, was looking for its third straight win against the recent benchmark for Pac-12 success.

Instead, the Ducks claimed their fourth conference championship since 2009 and almost assuredly booked one of four spots in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

“The winner of our league each year is going to be a contender to be one of the best in the country,” Rodriguez said. “Oregon’s the best team in our league this year.”

Oregon proved it’s just in another class from Arizona, and Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota demonstrated himself to be peerless with five touchdowns.

A national championship and Heisman Trophy are the next goals for Oregon and Mariota. For Arizona, the postseason is about closing out 2014 in a positive step toward 2015.

The Wildcats didn’t land in Levi’s Stadium by accident. Arizona made its way to the Pac-12 South title and berth in the title game with its first 10-win season since 1998, blending the innovative offense for which Rodriguez is known with a vastly improved defense.

But Arizona’s divisional title wasn’t without its share of good fortune, either.

Bobby Bowden’s philosophy on building a program—as described in John Bacon’s book about Rodriguez’s tenure at Michigan, Three and Out—is lose big in the first year, lose close in the second, win close in the third and win big in the fourth.

Rodriguez’s third Arizona team had the win close part down pat, but Friday was a regression to the first-year mantra.

The Wildcats didn’t just win six of their 10 games by single digits: They ended an 18-point, fourth-quarter rally against Cal with a Hail Mary touchdown pass as time expired and got a final crack at Washington by forcing an improbable fumble in the final minute.

Arizona’s 10-win campaign was truly just a few plays from going in a much different direction.

Conversely, Oregon rolled to its 10th win while outscoring its opponent by at least 18 points.

Yet, despite the lopsided final score and Oregon’s 640 yards of offense, the performance of coordinator Jeff Casteel’s defense was admirable for much of the first half.

During that part of the game, it even looked championship-worthy, holding the Ducks to just six points despite four trips inside the Arizona 25-yard-line.

“They were battling and competing and played a lot of plays,” Rodriguez said. “We couldn’t get any first downs on offense, so the defense had to go back out there. … When you’re having to go out that many times—57 snaps or whatever it was in the first half—with that type of offense, [Oregon] is going to get [its points].”

That discrepancy in offensive production and defensive performance shone a glaring light on one of the challenges Arizona must overcome to become a legitimate title contender: delivering consistently across all phases.

The 2012 team boasted one of the most explosive offenses in the nation with an average of 38.2 points per game, but the defense surrendered 35.3, per CFBstats.com.

This year, Arizona encountered the opposite problem. The Wildcats scored a combined 20 points in two of their three losses, mustering just seven in a Nov. 1 defeat at UCLA and scoring just two touchdowns in seven red-zone opportunities against USC.

A young offense must find more consistency to complement the improved defense, and that starts with first-year quarterback Anu Solomon.

“If I’m not doing well, it all starts with me,” Solomon said. “And that’s what happened today.”

Solomon picked Oregon apart in Arizona’s 31-24 win at Autzen Stadium on Oct. 2, but he was just 6-of-12 passing for 34 yards Friday.

A nagging ankle injury ended Solomon’s night at halftime.

Fellow freshman and running back Nick Wilson was also stymied, finishing with just 26 yards on 13 carries.

Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum called a masterful game, using frequent blitzes to disrupt and rattle the youthful Wildcats. Arizona never found an answer for that particular riddle.

The next one it must try to solve under Rodriguez is how it can bridge the gap between where the team is now and a championship.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of the Pac-12 Conference.

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Introducing Your 2014 Heisman Trophy Winner, Marcus Mariota

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Someone call the engraver. He has 13 letters to add to the Heisman Trophy.

Tonight wasn’t so much a Pac-12 title game as it was a coronation for Marcus Mariota. The 2014 Heisman Trophy is his.

The Heisman Trophy announcement won't come until Dec. 13, but they may as well mail the hardware to Eugene and save everyone a trip to New York. Mariota is a stone-cold lock to take home college football’s most prized award.

Mariota didn’t just guide the second-ranked Oregon Ducks to a Pac-12 title; he obliterated the Arizona Wildcats to the tune of 51-13, including a Pac-12 Championship record 627 yards of offense.

On the night, Mariota threw for 313 yards—a Pac-12 Championship record—ran for 33 more and scored five touchdowns—two through the air and three on the ground, tying a Pac-12 Championship record for rushing touchdowns. For his performance, Mariota was named the Pac-12 Championship game MVP.

When head coach Mark Helfrich was asked about Mariota’s Heisman candidacy, he said, “If [Mariota] isn’t what the Heisman Trophy is all about, I’m in the wrong profession.”

To further that point, Mariota humbly responded “Thanks, coach.”

If you’re not convinced that Mariota is going to win the Heisman, I’ve got a two-play highlight reel from the third quarter I’d like to show you.

With Oregon leading 30-7, Mariota took a snap from Oregon’s 43-yard line. Arizona sent the house. There were no worries, as Mariota simply evaded multiple Wildcats, escaped the pocket as if he was Jackie Chan in Rush Hour, ran toward the Arizona sideline and launched a 46-yard strike off one leg to Oregon wide receiver Darren Carrington. One play later, Mariota hit Carrington for his fourth touchdown of the night and gave the Ducks an insurmountable 37-7 lead.

Game over. Heisman race over.

Not only did the Ducks win the Pac-12 title, but they also slayed their “Arizona problem” along the way. Mariota said that the Ducks had “a lot of motivation going into this game.”

This is the second time this year that the Ducks have faced a team that had previously beaten them in consecutive games. This is the second time that Mariota has annihilated those opponents.

Mariota’s ability to bounce back against those opponents and perform when the Ducks need him the most is one of the reasons why he’s sure to be the Heisman Trophy winner come Dec. 13. His statistics won’t hurt his case either.

The numbers that Mariota has put up in 2014 aren’t just the best in school history; they’re some of the best in Pac-12 and NCAA history.

On the season, Mariota has thrown for 38 touchdowns (Oregon record and second best in Pac-12 history), rushed for 14 touchdowns and received one touchdown. His 53 combined touchdowns are a Pac-12 record and rank eighth in NCAA history. His 4,452 combined yards this season are an Oregon record as well.

Mariota has thrown a touchdown in each of his 39 starts, which is the longest streak to start a career in history and tied for the second-longest streak in NCAA history.

Oh, we should probably mention that Mariota has only thrown two interceptions this year and his 8.5 touchdown-to-interception ratio is the best in the history of college football.

While Mariota’s statistics and Oregon’s victories are obviously strong enough to win the Heisman Trophy, it’s Mariota’s leadership and personality that really set him apart.

In late October, Bleacher Report’s Greg Couch explained how Mariota could save the Heisman Trophy.

Mariota is the anti-Jameis Winston, the anti-Johnny Manziel, the anti-Cam Newton. Three of the past four Heisman winners have been great players on the field but trouble off. And the debate is always whether off-field stuff should be considered at all in a vote for the most outstanding player.

Mariota exemplifies what a student-athlete should be. He excels on the field, off the field and in the classroom, and he sets an example for his teammates.

The Heisman Trophy is the most prestigious award a college athlete can win. Shouldn’t it go to a player who leads his team to victory and does it with class and humility?

The Heisman Trophy is usually—and should be—awarded to the best player on the best team. Based on their performance against seventh-ranked Arizona, the Ducks are the best team in the country and have a chance to be ranked as such on Sunday by the College Football Playoff committee.

Mariota is the best player on the best team in the entire country. The Heisman is his. There’s no reason to vote for anyone else.

 

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

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

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