NCAA Football

LSU Football: Final 2014 Positional Grades for the Tigers

LSU went through a major transition phase in 2014. 

The Tigers declined offensively in large part to the departure of Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Zach Mettenberger and Jeremy Hill. Their fast start in the NFL this season shows how much talent LSU actually lost.

Head coach Les Miles saw his team average less than 20 points per game against conference opposition. Only Vanderbilt's putrid 12.1 points per game in SEC play was worse. 

But on defense, the Tigers saw improvement. LSU only allowed 20 points per game in conference play, which is over four points better than the year before. Defensive coordinator John Chavis notes his unit finished first in total yards:

Proud of our guys for fighting back this year! #1 defense in the #SEC .

— John Chavis (@LSUCoachChavis) December 5, 2014

Some position groups on both sides of the ball were stronger than others. Here is how each graded out. 

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Alabama's Walk of Champions: The Real College Football Experience

You can't talk about college football without mentioning the University of Alabama. The Crimson Tide have one of the most diehard fanbases in sports and are not afraid to show it. Before every home game, the fans gather around "The Walk of Champions" to see their team enter Bryant-Denny Stadium. Check out what Alabama football means to their fans.

A special thanks to the Ideas United group for all their hard work on this piece.

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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College Football Superlatives from Kramer's Korner: End-of-Year Awards

It was just August; how exactly did we arrive here?

Each year we tell ourselves to relish each and every moment of the college football season, knowing the silent void ahead. We sign this contract, re-upping yearly, and despite our best efforts to soak it all in—from the marquee Saturday night no-brainers to the mid-week MACtion—it still speeds by entirely too quickly.

Army and Navy tied a magnificent bow on college football’s regular season this past Saturday, which means all regular-season games, sadly, have been completed. This also means that we can officially hand out the necessary hardware to celebrate yet another successful year before bowls kick into action.

While familiar awards will be handed out—starting with an obvious and deserving Offensive Player of the Year—this is a slightly different College Football Oscars from the ones you’ve come across.

This is about the people, the box-score oddities, the coaches, the teams and, most importantly, the moments.

Who came away with the most impressive catch this season? How about most impressive run? Which individual weighing over 300 pounds scored the most impressive touchdown? And why would anyone deliberately (and unsuccessfully) fake fainting during an actual live play?

Those questions and so much more will be answered below as we honor and celebrate the magnificence of another glorious college football season.  


Offensive Player of the Year: Marcus Mariota, Oregon 

Marcus Mariota won the Heisman on Saturday night, as anticipated. In fact, the Oregon quarterback destroyed all drama in college football’s most prestigious award by doing ridiculous things to box scores all year, as anticipated.

It still seems odd to look down at 53 touchdowns and only two interceptions, like there must be a misprint somehow. I’ve double-checked it a few dozen times since Oregon’s last game and, surprisingly, it has not changed. The numbers are as absurd as they are real, and Mariota was as good as (if not better than) advertised.

Through the air, on the ground and even as a receiver, Mariota was the most spectacular offensive player of a spectacular bunch this year. Of course he’s the Offensive Player of the Year. Never has a difficult decision been so incredibly easy to make.


Dominant Defender: Scooby Wright, Arizona 

Scooby Wright, Arizona’s star linebacker, finished the season with 153 tackles, good for No. 2 in the nation. He finished with 14 sacks, which clocked in at No. 3 nationally. And he capped this all off with a screen-altering 27 tackles for loss, which was the best in the country.

This was one of the more dominant defensive seasons in recent memory, one that warranted the Chuck Bednarik Award (check) and Heisman consideration (check).

He was everywhere, and his individual performance helped Arizona soar past all expectations in 2014. For his efforts, Wright finished No. 9 overall in Heisman voting, which was warranted. (He probably could have and should have finished higher, although it was fabulous to see a defensive player in anti-defensive player era crack the Top 10.)


Video-Game Box Score: Season Edition

-Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday finished the season No. 4 in the nation in overall passing yards. His 3,873 yards through the air was a full season in terms of production, although Halliday accomplished this in far less time. Even after missing the final three games and only throwing nine passes against USC on November 1—the game he suffered a season-ending injury early on— Halliday still managed to crack the Top Five. Now that is production. 

- Louisville defensive back Gerod Holliman finished the season with 14 interceptions, tying an NCAA record in this category. There were only three games this year in which Holliman did not pick off a pass, and he never went back-to-back weeks without forcing a turnover. To put this figure in perspective, no one else in all of college football picked off 10 passes this season.


Anti-Video-Game Box Score: Season Edition

-If you root for Wake Forest in football, run away from this section. Go now. You do not want to hear that your team ran the ball 383 times for 479 yards in 2014, good for an average of 1.25 yards per carry. You don’t want to hear that you averaged only 39.92 rushing yards per game. You also don’t want to hear that you ran for only one more yard than Washington Stat—the nation's worst rushing offense—despite logging 140 more carries. Why didn't you run? 

-It was solid rebound for Cal and head coach Sonny Dykes despite having one of the worst defenses in the country. The pass defense, in particular, really struggled. The Bears allowed an average of 367.2 yards passing yards per game, which was worst in the nation. Even more startling, the nation’s second-worst pass defense statistically, Washington State, gave up 296.6 yards through the air per game. That’s not exactly a small gap.


Biggest Surprise 

When you consider that TCU’s best player, defensive end Devonte Fields, was booted from the team before the season began, you gain further appreciation for the most surprising rise in 2014. The Horned Frogs didn’t just surpass expectations; they broke through barriers and quickly became a power to be reckoned with.

It could’ve even better for Gary Patterson’s team, which is perhaps why the Horned Frogs haven’t gotten the appropriate recognition for their run. It’s easy to be consumed with the College Football Playoff and nothing more, but TCU’s surge was the most significant storyline this year.

A surprise no more, the Horned Frogs will likely return the majority of its team next season, including quarterback Trevone Boykin. Expectations are in place for yet another run at the playoff, which means they won’t be sneaking up on anyone next season.


Best Moment

The Ole Miss masses carried the goal posts out of the stadium, around campus and eventually into someone’s apartment. The aftermath of a program-shifting victory was a celebration that could be felt well beyond the state of Mississippi.

I wrote about the aftermath of the Rebels’ 23-14 upset victory over Alabama on October 4, and more specifically, the voyage of what is now cherished memorabilia through the Ole Miss campus.

The dream season eventually unraveled for Hugh Freeze’s team due to a variety of factors, although that shouldn’t—and won’t—undo 24 hours of madness in The Grove that will live on for generations. 

Perhaps your moment—courtesy of your own perspective—is different. This particular category is dependent on where you come and individual rooting interests. It's also why they love this sport oh so very much.


Quote of the Year

We have spent countless hours and endless paragraphs trying to encompass the student athletes’ current standing with the NCAA in a new revenue-driven era.

Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty summed up the discussion in roughly three seconds as Baylor's regular season came to a close.

Bryce Petty asked to campaign for playoff: "That's above my pay grade. All I'm not paid to do is play."

— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) December 7, 2014


For the Highlight Reel: Best Catch of the Season

It was over after Week 1. Once Jordan Westerkamp’s came down with an absurd, Matrix-like grab on the sideline, we could have handed out for the hardware for this category right then and there. 

Playing against Florida Atlantic, the Nebraska wideout somehow caught a deflected ball behind his back and managed to stay in bounds. This still doesn't seem feasible months later, and yet, there it is.


For the Highlight Reel: Best Run of the Season

A bowling ball with feet was born this past fall, and that bowling bowl was Mississippi State running back Josh Robinson. 

Robinson, operating with legs that resemble sequoia trees, showcased his ability to make hopeful tacklers come away slightly less hopeful throughout the regular season. Against Kentucky, however, he took his efforts up a notch.

Behold one human being running through an entire defense for a 22-yard gain.


For the Highlight Reel: Best Tackle of the Season 

Before Ohio State was a College Football Playoff participant, it was a Big Ten program with a terrifying assistant strength coach.

Anthony Schlegel does not seem like the kind of human being you want tackling you. A bold—and likely liquid-infused—Buckeyes fan found this out firsthand during an actual game this season. 

You can see the exact moment this fan had an “I’ve made a huge mistake” realization in slow-motion, right before he was brought down. 

Indeed, sir. Indeed.


Coach of the Year 

TCU’s Gary Patterson is a deserving selection for Coach of the Year for all of the reasons mentioned above. However, we’re going a different direction with this award entirely. In fact, this is where this entire train goes off the tracks, so be prepared. 

Our Coach of the Year isn't technically a coach. He's a sideline phone technician, which is a spectacular title built for a business card.

Dan Lehman, Minnesota’s sideline phone technician, is this year’s recipient thanks to his outstanding ice-cream consumption. Although the Gophers were playing in blizzard-like conditions, Lehman still enjoyed a televised snack coming out of a halftime.

This is a reminder that there is never a bad time to eat ice cream despite what simple people may tell you. 


Large Man of the Year

I will spare you the suspense: Arkansas guard Sebastian Tretola is this year’s Large Man of the Year. It really wasn’t much of a contest. He was the Marcus Mariota of large humans, and he should never have to pay for another meal again. It's only right.

At 6’5” and 350 pounds, Tretola scored one of the season’s most remarkable touchdowns against UAB in Week 9. Before we get to the actual play itself, here it what head coach Bret Bielema—a pioneer for large-man excellence—had to say at halftime following Tretola's touchdown pass.

Bielema in halftime interview: "Coming to Arkansas, if you're an o-lineman, we'll make you famous."

— Adam Alter (@Adam_Alter) October 25, 2014

He's right.

As for the pass itself, here it is in all of its glory. We can only hope that more coaches add this to their playbooks moving forward.


Large Man of the Year (Runner-up) 

Jake Cotton, Nebraska’s left guard, didn’t score a touchdown against Michigan State. In fact, all he did to warrant consideration for the award was fall down.

It’s the way he fell, however, that was truly special. 

With the helping hand of slow-motion along with a tune fit for the moment, Cotton gave us one of the season’s most unexpected efforts while trying to avoid a false-start penalty.

He deserves an “A” for effort and probably a "C-" for execution, but it's the effort that counts.


Official of the Year

Ken Williamson cares so much; that became clear during the Mississippi State-Texas A&M game on October 4.

After facing the wrong direction to deliver a call for the cameras, Williamson didn’t just turn around. Instead of quickly correcting the error without anyone really taking note of the gaffe, Williamson scolded himself in front of the entire football-watching world.

I’m proud to report that this is still hilarious more than two months later.


The Best, Worst Pass of the Year

It’s not necessarily the award Colin Reardon wanted, although the Kent State quarterback delivered one of the strangest, replay-necessary moments of 2014. If you’re wondering how Kent State fared against Ohio State at the beginning of the season, here is your answer.


Press Conference of the Year 

After a lackluster showing against Vanderbilt in Week 4—a game the Gamecocks had to battle back to win—a sweaty Steve Spurrier met with media members.

The Vine that came from this glorious day should be celebrated for generations.



Failed Deception of the Year

They practiced this.

That’s critically important to remember before you watch Arkansas State's failed fake punt. The “fainting goat” was indeed put to good use, and wideout Booker Mays executed it perfectly before the pass was thrown.

Seriously, they practiced this.

Unfortunately, the rest of the play did not develop as planned. The pass that followed was intercepted and Mays was drilled by a Miami player shortly after he tried to bring himself up off the turf. Even though it did not work out, give Arkansas State all of the awards for even dabbling with such creative excellence.



My (Personal) Favorite Moment of 2014

I had a daughter this season, on October 18—a Saturday—to be exact. I’ve enjoyed a lot of wonderful Saturdays writing and shooting videos about college football over the past few seasons, although this was the most rewarding, terrifying and exhilarating day of my life.

When the day had finally reached a normal pace and all visitors had left later that evening, I watched the final few minutes of Notre Dame-Florida State—arguably the year's best game—with a newborn baby on my chest, moving up and down with every new breath of air.

We watched it on a hospital cot, together. Nothing can possibly top this. Nothing ever will.

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Auburn Football: Final 2014 Positional Grades for the Tigers

AUBURN, Ala. — Monday marks the official start of the holiday break for Auburn students, so it's definitely time for some final grades for the semester.

The football program started out in August with a lot of promise and high hopes, but it tailed off toward the end of what was a frustrating fall.

Big moves are on the horizon for the Tigers after the departure of their talented senior class, and head coach Gus Malzahn is already building toward next season with the hiring of new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.

Before the Tigers begin their Outback Bowl practices Monday afternoon, let's review the final report card for Malzahn and his team after an 8-4 regular season.

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Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota: Who Will Prove to Be the Better QB?

There won't be a more compelling matchup of quarterbacks this bowl season than the one in the Rose Bowl. "The Granddaddy of Them All" features, as anticipated, the latest Heisman Trophy winner, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, and last year's Heisman winner, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. 

On top of that, it's likely going to be the final college game for one of them, as the winner will move on to the College Football Playoff championship. Some might be so bold to say that's a decent storyline. 

Mariota's numbers have been not only eye-popping, but consistent: 68.3 completion percentage, 3,783 yards, 10.2 yards per attempt, 669 rushing yards, 5.72 yards per rush, 53 total touchdowns, two interceptions and a partridge in a pear tree. 

Winston's numbers are down this season, a reflection of—but not necessarily a reason for—Florida State's inconsistent play. On the year, Winston has a 65.4 completion percentage, 3,559 yards, 8.4 yards per attempt, 27 total touchdowns and 17 interceptions. 

Which one is primed for the better game?


The Case for Mariota

He hasn't had a bad game all year. Not one. That's amazing considering how hit-and-miss the Ducks' offensive line has been this season. Oregon has allowed 2.23 sacks per game, but there was a stretch in late September into October when, because of injuries, Oregon had a hard time keeping a clean pocket for Mariota.  

The closest any team has been to making Mariota "just a guy" was Arizona in a 31-24 win over the Ducks in early October. Mariota was still 20-of-32 for 276 passing yards and a pair of scores, but was a non-factor running the ball and forced into two fumbles on sacks. 

The flip side to all of that is that Mariota has faced just two truly stout defenses: Stanford and Michigan State. The Cardinal and Spartans rank first and 14th in yards per passing attempt allowed, respectively, and second and 12th in points per game allowed. 

Granted, Mariota played well in both of those games, throwing for 318 yards and three touchdowns against Michigan State and 258 yards with four total touchdowns against Stanford. The results, however limited, indicate he's not a quarterback that thrives only on weaker competition. 

What makes Mariota so good is his decision-making. Mistakes are a rarity for Mariota, but when he does show signs of being human, it doesn't affect him.

"He's freakishly smart, especially when it comes to football," Ducks offensive coordinator Scott Frost told Adam Rittenberg of in November. "He sees things and processes things so quickly that he just doesn't make a ton of mistakes." 

Florida State is decent enough in getting takeaways. The Seminoles defense averages one interception a game; it's holding on to the ball that's a problem for FSU. Athletically, Florida State matches up well with Oregon. Can the Noles finally fluster Mariota? No one has done it yet. 

The Case for Winston

It's become impossible to talk about Winston solely as an on-the-field product. 

If you conducted an approval-rating survey of Winston like you would for a president, the results would be bad. There are a lot of people who don't like him because of his off-the-field antics, if you want to call them that.

Of course, those incidents—the shoplifting, the BB gun fight, etc.—are microscopic in the bigger question of whether Winston sexually assaulted a woman two years ago. (The results from Winston's code of conduct hearing should be known within the next few weeks, according to Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel.)

As a result, everything Winston does, like push a referee out of the way during a game, gets magnified. How others view Winston as a football player is done through the lens of his personal life. Additionally, the perception of Mariota has become that of an anti-Winston. 

But make no mistake: Winston is still a top-tier college quarterback. According to B/R's draft guru Matt Miller, Winston would be a top-five selection from a grade standpoint. 

It's true that Winston has made some bad decisions this season. Though interceptions are a team stat in that a number of things can contribute to them, Winston's four interceptions against Florida last month were mostly, if not all, on him. 

However, there are a couple of things to consider. The Seminoles didn't have much of a running game until freshman Dalvin Cook emerged in the second half of the season. That was putting pressure on Winston as a passer. Florida State is also breaking in some freshman receivers. While guys like Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane are full of promise, they are going to make freshman mistakes like running the wrong route. That can result in a pick. 

That said, Winston's ball placement is impeccable. He makes some difficult throws look easy. There's something to be said for that. He's not a gifted runner like Mariota, but he's athletic enough to move around in the pocket and make plays with his feet when he has to. 

In short: Winston didn't magically morph from the most outstanding player in college football a year ago to a nobody. In fact, Winston went from his worst game of the season against Florida to his best against Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game (21-of-30 for 309 yards and three touchdowns). 


The Verdict

Throw out the season stats mentioned above because this one is a close call. A month to prepare might be Winston's best friend. However, there just hasn't been anything this season that indicates Mariota will be anything other than brilliant. 

It's a safe choice, sure, but not necessarily one that is indicative of the outcome. The Rose Bowl could actually become a game where an unsung hero, perhaps Cook or Royce Freeman of Oregon, takes over the game

The question will be whether Florida State's defense can do two things: play disciplined, especially against tempo, and shut down Oregon's receivers in pass defense. The Seminoles don't get into the backfield much (1.31 sacks per game, last in the ACC), so Mariota could have plenty of time to throw. 

The more an offense has time, the more likely it's going to make a play. That's all Mariota has done this year. 


Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of

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DE Carl Lawson Is the Key to Will Muschamp's Auburn Success

Auburn bought the coordinator equivalent of a muscle car when it announced late Friday night that former Florida head coach Will Muschamp had agreed to a three-year deal worth somewhere between $1.6 million and $1.8 million, according to Chris Low and Mark Schlabach of

If Muschamp is the muscle car, defensive end Carl Lawson is the fuel additive.

The 6'2", 261-pound Alpharetta, Georgia, native had a stellar freshman campaign in 2013, notching 20 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks while serving as a rotational defensive end. In the 2013 Iron Bowl, Lawson made a key fourth-down stop on Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon in the red zone late in the fourth quarter. That stop kept Auburn in the game, which it eventually won on a "kick six."

2014 was supposed to be the season in which he stepped up from "situational star" to "every-down stud." But an ACL injury ended Lawson's season before it started, which hampered the Tigers pass rush all year. 

Under former coordinator Ellis Johnson, the Tigers managed just 20 sacks—tied for the third-worst mark in the conference. Despite that fact, Muschamp is excited about the future of the front seven on the Plains.

"I think the front seven is very strong," he said in his introductory press conference. "Just looking at some of the guys up front, I recruited a bunch of them. I'm looking forward to coaching some of them that turned me down."

One of the players he specifically mentioned is Lawson, according to Ryan Black of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer:

According to Justin Hokanson of 247Sports, the "burst" off the edge returned in December, and Lawson will practice this month as the Tigers prepare for a showdown with Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl. He could play in the bowl game, but that would burn his redshirt, and Muschamp would probably prefer to have Lawson sit and return in 2015 as a redshirt sophomore.

His return would be huge for the 2015 Tigers.

Lawson can be the next Dante Fowler.

Fowler made waves in Gainesville under Muschamp, racking up 31 tackles for loss in three seasons and earning first-team All-SEC honors from the SEC's coaches as a junior in 2014. The 6'3" 260-pounder was stout against the run but also quick off the edge, and he made a living in opponents' backfields, which caused mistakes from quarterbacks and put opposing offenses behind the chains.

If Lawson can come back and be a Fowler clone, it will complete the defensive puzzle for the Tigers.

More of a punch line than a power, Auburn still has quality players on that side of the ball—it just never seemed to come together for all of them at any point over the final two months of the season.

Cornerback Jonathan Jones was a second-team All-SEC defensive back and finished the season with six interceptions—the second-most in the conference. Linebackers Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost had up-and-down seasons, but when they shine—like they did in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game—they're two of the best. Defensive tackle Montravius Adams is a monster in the middle of the line who not only takes up space but is also quick on his feet and tough to block.

The foundation is already there for Muschamp to orchestrate a dramatic turnaround in 2015 as long as he can find a way to get pressure on the quarterback. Lawson should be that guy.

If he comes back at or near 100 percent, Muschamp's new defense could become a power sooner rather than later.


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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Felder's Awards: Which College Football Running Backs Had the Best 2014?

The running back position in the 2014 college football season was stacked full of big-time talent, with each back possessing a different skill set that made him excel. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder dishes out his awards for the top running back of 2014.

Which back had the best 2014?

Check out the video, and let us know! 

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Felder's Awards: Which College Football Running Backs Had the Best 2014?

The running back position in the 2014 college football season was stacked full of big-time talent, with each back possessing a different skill set that made him excel. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder dishes out his awards for the top running back of 2014.

Which back had the best 2014?

Check out the video, and let us know! 

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Can Ohio State Disrupt the Blake Sims-Amari Cooper Connection?

Alabama quarterback Blake Sims and receiver Amari Cooper have formed one of college football's most dynamic and powerful connections.

If Ohio State can't find a way to disrupt that connection in the Sugar Bowl, the Crimson Tide could roll over the Buckeyes on their way to the College Football Playoff National Championship.

That will be a tough challenge for Urban Meyer's squad. Ohio State's secondary has made huge strides after a dismal season a year ago, when it ranked 110th nationally in pass defense, according to Eleven Warriors. Chris Ash was brought in as co-defensive coordinator to fix those issues—a move that worked out well for the Buckeyes, who rank 17th after allowing an average of 188.2 passing yards in 13 games this season.

But Ohio State hasn't faced a quarterback as efficient as Sims or a receiver with the game-breaking ability that Cooper possesses.

With Lane Kiffin calling the plays, Alabama's offense has evolved from its former run-heavy tendencies. The Tide have much more balance, fueled by the steady hand of Sims, who broke the single-season school record for passing yards in the SEC title game against Missouri.

In addition to his incredible production—he has 3,250 passing yards and 26 touchdowns—he's also very careful with the ball, ranking seventh overall in passing efficiency.

Sims' job is made easier by Cooper, who leads the nation in receptions (115) and receiving yards (1,656). The star junior has registered three games with more than 200 receiving yards (two of which came against top-30 pass defenses) and two games with three receiving touchdowns.

He's thought by many as the best receiver in the country, and his trophy case is starting to back that up.

Cooper was named the Biletnikoff Award winner and a first-team All-American, and he finished third in the Heisman Trophy race behind Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon.

Saban told reporters what makes Cooper the "complete package":

He's exceptionally good against press, coming off the ball, but he's also very good coming out of a break. Most of the time the defender gets beat either on the release or out of the break. A lot of guys are pretty good at one and maybe not as good at the other. And he has really good hands and good ball skills.

How can Ohio State stop these guys?

The most talented quarterback-receiver combo the Buckeyes saw this year came on the road against Michigan State, when they faced Connor Cook and Tony Lippett.

Cook leads the Big Ten in passing yards with 2,900 and Lippett is the conference's best wideout with 1,124 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. But when Ohio State traveled to Spartans Stadium on November 8, it made the duo look ordinary.

Lippett was shut down by senior cornerback Doran Grant in the first half, catching just one pass for 10 yards. The Spartans found themselves in a sizable hole in the second half and tried to pass their way out of it, but Lippett still finished with just five receptions for 64 yards and no touchdowns.

"He was chirping off at the mouth in the beginning, but as the game started going he was like, 'hold up,'" Grant told reporters. "I never let it faze me. He's a great player, obviously, the leading receiver in the Big Ten, it was a great battle out there."

Lippett talked about the difference between last year's Ohio State defense and the improved unit this season.

"They came out there prepared," Lippett said. "I would just say they're more prepared this year. They came out there aggressive and not just trying to hold on."

That's a process Ohio State will have to repeat against Alabama. With three-and-a-half weeks to prepare, the Buckeyes' coaching staff must come up with a plan to stop the unstoppable. According to USA Today's Nicole Auerbach, Meyer is fully aware of what his team is up against.

Will Ohio State alter its pass coverage more toward Cooper with double-teams and extra help? Or will it leave Grant to fend for himself in order to free up blitzers to pressure Sims?

It could be a combination of both. If they're successful, the Buckeyes would have a great shot of upsetting the Tide and advancing to the national championship game.


All stats via and B/R research.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Bowl Games Schedule 2014-15: Dates and TV Info for Every Contest

It's bowl season—not just holiday cheer—that makes this the most wonderful time of the year.

Maybe that doesn't apply to all of us, but the mystique and magnificence of the postseason in college football can't be overstated. A plethora of bowl games means high-quality action is on national television all throughout the season, and the matchups only get better as 2015 approaches.

Throw in the added wrinkle of the brand-new College Football Playoff, and anticipation for this bowl season should be the highest yet. Not only are four of college football's biggest brand names in the playoff, but some of those who narrowly missed out will battle in exciting New Year's Six contests.

Although the season won't be in the books until Jan. 12 at the national title game, we're just a few days away from the action beginning. Let's take a look at the entire 2014-15 bowl schedule.


Best Bowl Games on Tap

Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Ohio State

Head coaches Nick Saban and Urban Meyer are used to facing off in games practically pegged as national semifinals. Only this time, it's official.

Top-ranked Alabama will face No. 4 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, with the victor advancing to the national championship game. It's a new wrinkle to an old coaching rivalry that began with the Crimson Tide's battles against Meyer's Florida squad in SEC Championship Games of years past.

They don't hail from the same conference this time around, but the Buckeyes resemble an SEC foe—physical, hard-nosed defense with a wealth of skill players on offense.

Defensive end Joey Bosa and linebacker Joshua Perry headline a hard-hitting defense, while rusher Ezekiel Elliott (1,402 yards) and receivers Devin Smith and Jalin Marshall rack up the points on offense.

Team speed is one thing that stood out to Saban in watching Ohio State, per Patrick Maks of

Of course, the Crimson Tide are used to speedy opponents from playing in the SEC but have struggled against that team trait as well. Auburn racked up more than 600 yards of offense, and Alabama struggled to contain the strong passing attacks of West Virginia and Ole Miss this season.

That will put the onus on Cardale Jones to step up. The Ohio State quarterback dazzled in his first start against Wisconsin but will face the beast that is the Alabama defense.

Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will play to their advantage, which is attacking the backfield and forcing Jones to make big plays with his arm.

Jones will have to do what Marshall did and then some in this one, taking the top off the Alabama defense early and often. That's what it will take to outscore an offense with Blake Sims, Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon sure to rack up the points against a susceptible Buckeyes defense.


Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Florida State

The CFP committee just so happened to make the holiday season simple for NFL scouts and personnel scouring the games for potential franchise quarterbacks.

The last two Heisman Trophy winners and the top two quarterbacks on Bleacher Report's Matt Miller's draft board—Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota—will go at it with everything on the line.

There's no denying the greatness both Mariota and Winston have shown for their respective teams throughout the last two seasons. ESPN Stats & Info showed how similar their Heisman campaigns were:

But when these two Heisman victors trot onto the field at the Rose Bowl, it will be solely about surviving and advancing. One team has shown a mastery of doing just that—for more than just 2014.

Florida State takes an incredible 29-game winning streak into Pasadena, but one that has been tested over and over. Seven of the Seminoles' games this season have been decided by six or fewer points, including lethargic wins over Florida and Boston College late in the year.

Despite one loss to Arizona, the Ducks have been the exact opposite, absolutely dismantling every team they've faced since that defeat. Mariota's offense has hung 42 or more points on its last eight opponents, including a revenge victory over the Wildcats.

Anything can happen in a game with this much preparation time and this much on the line, but it should be expected to go one of two ways.

Oregon will either put on another offensive display and blow out Florida State or the Seminoles will find a way to stick around and win it the only way they know how.


Belk Bowl: Louisville vs. Georgia

If you're looking for a marquee bowl matchup taking place before the madness of New Year's Eve, look no further than the Belk Bowl on Dec. 30 between No. 13 Georgia and No. 21 Louisville.

The Bulldogs had much higher sights for the season than finishing in Charlotte, North Carolina two days before the New Year, but they lost an outside shot at the CFP with a midseason loss to Florida.

They overcame the loss—and return, and subsequent loss—of Todd Gurley and notched a big win over Auburn in November, but it was negated by a season-ending loss to Georgia Tech.

While Georgia's morale has been shot in the leg every time it gets sky-high, Louisville has remained dangerous in Bobby Petrino's first season back with the Cardinals. After coming oh so close to an upset of Florida State, Louisville closed the season hanging 31 or more on Boston College, Notre Dame and Kentucky—all wins.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt has come off impressed by Louisville, per the school's official athletics Twitter:

If there's a game on the bowl slate that the SEC should be expected to lose, this may be it.

On top of the spirits being high for one team and low for another, Georgia has struggled mightily on the ground, which should continue against Louisville.

The Bulldogs allowed 399 or more rushing yards in each of their last two defeats, and Louisville's passing prowess will keep space open for Michael Dyer and Brandon Radcliff to make their impact on the ground.

Plus, Louisville will be somewhat ready for the SEC foe after finishing its season with a win over Kentucky. Facing an ACC opponent won't be high on Georgia's to-do list after Georgia Tech stunned the Bulldogs in Week 15.

If both teams play up to scratch, the Belk Bowl should be one of the most exciting matchups of the bowl season.


Bowl schedule and TV information courtesy of

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Can Florida 'Catch Lightning in a Bottle' and Enter CFP Picture in 2015?

With new head coach Jim McElwain in place, the Florida Gators have every intention of getting back into the national title picture. A solid running game coupled with a stout defense could make Florida a dark horse in the SEC East.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer debate Florida's ceiling for 2015.

How many wins will the Gators have in 2015?

Check out the video and let us know!  

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Georgia Football: Early Look at Bulldogs 2015 Roster

The 2014 season isn't even over yet, but the Georgia Bulldogs have already received good news regarding their 2015 campaign.

On Friday, the university announced that offensive lineman Kolton Houston has been granted a sixth year of eligibility and would be able to play again for the Bulldogs next year.  

Then on Saturday, Georgia head coach Mark Richt announced that star outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell and offensive tackle John Theus would return for another season rather than enter the NFL draft, per Marc Weiszer.  Weiszer also cited a source close to the program in saying that Jordan Jenkins (another stud linebacker) would "most likely" return.

With so many stars returning and yet another stellar recruiting class coming in—Georgia's current 2015 commitments trail only Alabama and Florida State, according to 247Sports—this team could be one of the most talented in recent memory.

Here's an early look at the 2015 roster.



The return of Houston and Theus means Georgia's offensive line will return four starters who started every game in 2014, but replacing center David Andrews will be no easy feat.  Andrews has started the last 39 games for Georgia and on Saturday was named the team's MVP and overall permanent captain.  Additionally, a lack of depth at the tackle positions is a bit concerning, as the projection above has two incoming commitments as the top backups at the tackle positions.

In the passing game, Georgia fans will get to see the man they clamored for at quarterback earlier this year, Brice Ramsey.  Ramsey has been heralded since his high school days, when he was the nation's third-best pro-style quarterback prospect, according to 247Sports.  He's shown flashes as a backup this season, completing 20 of 30 attempts for 282 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

And Ramsey will have some familiar targets running routes.  Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley should be even more healthy following 2013 knee injuries and will be able to stretch the field.  Meanwhile, speedsters Reggie Davis and Isaiah McKenzie will be utilized in space early and often.  And if Terry Godwin stays at receiver, the 5-star athlete could play immediately.

With Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Keith Marshall and Brendan Douglas all back, the running game will once again be in capable hands.  Todd Gurley will be missed, but he was missed for most of the 2014 campaign, and the ground attack remained strong.  These four backs have combined for 3,918 career yards of offense and 36 touchdowns.



Quite fortuitously, Georgia's pass rush should remain strong.  Sterling Bailey had a fine campaign in 2014 and if Lorenzo Carter can build on his phenomenal performance as a freshman, opposing offensive lines will have their hands full with an outside pass rush—particularly with Floyd and Jenkins back.

Their jobs will be a bit easier if Trent Thompson, a 5-star defensive tackle and the nation's second-best prospect according to the 247Sports Composite, lives up to the hype early on.

The front seven as a whole looks strong and chock-full of familiar faces, but depth at inside linebacker will be a concern.  Tim Kimbrough and Reggie Carter played well in 2014, combining for 60 tackles, but who plays after them?  Ryne Rankin has played well on special teams, but can he be an every-down linebacker if needed?  One possible candidate to help out is Shaun McGee, who may struggle to break into the rotation on the outside.

Meanwhile, the secondary returns a lot for the first time in years.  Damian Swann, a four-year contributor, will be gone, but three other starters return, and the surrounding depth (highlighted by the likes of Tramel Terry, a healthy Shattle Fenteng and incoming freshman Rashad Roundtree) is encouraging.


Special Teams

Placekicker Marshall Morgan will return as a senior.  He's converted 42 of 55 career field goals and should prove a steady leg on kickoffs and extra points as well.

Additionally, Collin Barber and his career 41.5-yard punting average will return.

With Isaiah McKenzie and Reggie Davis back to return kicks, special teams play should continue to take steps forward in 2015.


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand, all stats courtesy of and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

As Florida State prepares for the inaugural College Football Playoff, Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles are reaping the benefits of a second consecutive undefeated regular season on the recruiting trail.

Last week, the 'Noles offered a pair of prep teammates from Flanagan High School in Hollywood, Florida, who have ties to the program.

The 'Noles tendered 2016 4-star safety Devin Bush Jr. and 2017 4-star corner Stanford Samuels III.

Bush’s father, Devin Bush Sr., was a standout defensive back on the Seminoles' 1993 national title team. After a lengthy career in the NFL, he began coaching and is currently the head coach at Flanagan High School.

Meanwhile, Samuels is the son of the Stanford Samuels Jr., who starred as a corner for the 'Noles from 2000 to 2003.

The younger Bush, who can also play outside linebacker, has offers from Florida, Georgia, Louisville, Miami and South Carolina, among others.

Samuels, who checks in as the No. 3 corner and the No. 25 player overall in the class of 2017, sports an offer list that includes Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee and UCLA, among others.

While both prospects project as national-level recruits, the 'Noles figure to have the inside track with both legacy recruits.


Alabama offers Biggie

Iman Marshall is one of the most sought-after recruits heading down the stretch toward national signing day.

A potential wrench in his recruitment came when he earned an offer from Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide last week.

The nation's top corner has Florida State, LSU, Notre Dame and USC among his group of favorites.

While the Tide are late to the race for Marshall, it will be interesting to monitor whether they can become a serious contender for the elite cover man nicknamed "Biggie."


Nation’s Top 2016 CB Nets Pair of SEC Offers

While Biggie Marshall is nearing the end of his recruiting process, Saivion Smith—the nation’s top corner in 2016—is still in the early stages of his recruitment.

Last week, South Carolina and Auburn joined the race for the 5-star Sunshine State standout.

The 6'2" 175-pounder has more than 20 offers from the likes of Clemson, Georgia, Florida, Florida State and Miami, among others.

Smith visited Clemson, Florida State and UCF for games during the 2014 season.


2017 RB Nets Trio of Offers

One of the most explosive athletes in the 2017 cycle is 4-star Maryland running back Anthony McFarland.

The 5'9" 181-pounder picked up offers from Penn State, Rutgers and Georgia last week.

McFarland, who is the nation's No. 2 running back and the No. 28 player overall in the 2017 class, has already fielded offers from Clemson, Florida State, Michigan State and Ohio State, among others.

It's early, but McFarland has already separated himself as one of the elite playmakers in the 2017 class.


Best of the Rest

  • According to's Corey Bender, 2016 defensive tackle Bo Peek earned an offer from Georgia Tech.


Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.


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College Football Bowl Picks 2014: Predictions for Every Postseason Game

Even casual fans know about the marquee College Football Playoff matchups at this point.

After all, when the selection committee matched up Florida State against Oregon in the Rose Bowl and Alabama against Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, it guaranteed a New Year’s Day of incredible football.

However, a full slate of bowl games is sure to entertain college football loyalists throughout the holiday season. Here is a look at the entire schedule and predictions for every postseason contest.


Under-the-Radar Bowl to Watch: Marshall vs. Northern Illinois in Boca Raton Bowl

Mark Schlabach of ranked the Boca Raton Bowl between Marshall and Northern Illinois as one of the best 15 bowl games on the entire slate:

Set aside your Power 5 arrogance and hear me out. The Thundering Herd and Huskies were two of the best teams from the Group of 5 conferences this season. Marshall went 12-1 and its only loss was 67-66 in overtime to Western Kentucky. Northern Illinois went 11-2, falling to Arkansas and Central Michigan. Seeing Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato in action is enough of a reason to watch.

Don’t scoff at the matchup between the Conference USA’s Marshall and the MAC’s Northern Illinois. Besides the "New Year's Six" bowls, it is the only game on the bowl schedule that features two conference champions, and it should see plenty of points.

What’s more, the Thundering Herd started the season 11-0 and appeared primed to at least challenge for the automatic "Group of Five" spot in a New Year’s bowl. Yes, a 67-66 heartbreaker against Western Kentucky ended those dreams, but they salvaged their season with a Conference USA Championship Game victory over Louisiana Tech.

Northern Illinois finished the season on a six-game winning streak and is playing the best football it has played all year.

Marshall coach Doc Holliday said the following about the matchup, via Nate Taylor of the Sun Sentinel: "I guarantee you Rod's team is a whole hell of a lot better than any team we could have played in that Power Five conference. That was our goal and we know we have our hands full. The exposure that we're going to get from this game will be second to none in any others we could have played."

On paper, Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato is the offensive star to watch in this game.

He has thrown at least one touchdown pass in an astounding 45 consecutive games, which is an FBS record, and he finished the season with 3,622 passing yards and 37 touchdowns. He also became the first Marshall quarterback to throw for 30 or more touchdowns in three separate seasons.

Receiver Tommy Shuler, who finished with 953 receiving yards and eight touchdown catches, is Cato’s favorite target in the nation's No. 18 passing attack. However, Marshall is also seventh in the country in rushing yards per game and fifth in scoring offense, largely because running back Devon Johnson is the unheralded weapon who keeps the chains moving and gives Marshall some balance.

He finished with 1,636 yards on the ground and 16 touchdowns.

Northern Illinois does not bring the same type of offensive balance to the table, even though receiver Da'Ron Brown led the team with 64 catches for 1,002 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Huskies led the MAC and finished 14th in the country with 252.9 rushing yards per game thanks to the trio of quarterback Drew Hare and running backs Cameron Stingily and Joel Bouagnon.

However, Northern Illinois' passing offense was only 101st in the nation and will be too one-dimensional to consistently counter Marshall's powerful offense.

This game will be close throughout, but the Thundering Herd will take a late lead and force the Huskies to play from behind. That is not where an offense that relies heavily on the run wants to be in a bowl game. 

Prediction: Marshall 41, Northern Illinois 28


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College Football Playoff 2014-15: TV Schedule, Key Matchups for Postseason Bouts

Reserve your spot on the couch now before New Year’s Day because college football fans couldn’t ask for better playoff matchups than the doubleheader featuring Florida State against Oregon and Ohio State against Alabama.

College football royalty, Heisman Trophies, All-Americans and championship-level coaches will be on display in the College Football Playoff. 

Even with all that talent, there are bound to be particular matchups that ultimately shape the outcome of the contests. With that in mind, here is a look at the schedule and key matchups to watch for the two playoff showdowns.


Rose Bowl

Matchup: Oregon vs. Florida State

Date: Thursday, Jan. 1

Time: 5 p.m. ET

Place: Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California 



Sugar Bowl

Matchup: Ohio State vs. Alabama

Date: Thursday, Jan. 1

Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

Place: Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana 

Channel: ESPN


Key Matchups

Rose Bowl: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu vs. Rashad Greene

Oregon doesn’t have a lot of weaknesses, but pass defense is certainly one of them, at least statistically.

The Ducks were an abysmal 103rd in the country against the pass, which may be a serious problem against Florida State’s No. 14-ranked passing offense. Jameis Winston could have some windows to exploit, and he will look Rashad Greene’s way when they open up.

You would be forgiven if you assumed that Greene was the only wide receiver Winston threw to, although that is partially because of the presence of tight end Nick O’Leary as the third-down security blanket.

Greene tallied 1,306 receiving yards and seven touchdown catches, while the next highest wide receiver for the Seminoles was Travis Rudolph at 459 receiving yards.

The task of containing Greene will fall on cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu’s shoulders. If the future NFL player can negate Greene and take him out of the passing game, it will force Winston to look elsewhere. Remember, Winston threw 17 interceptions this season, and Oregon will try to force more by getting him out of his comfort zone.

The Ducks may struggle against the pass, but they were third in the country in turnover margin. If Ekpre-Olomu can blanket Greene, Winston may force the issue elsewhere and turn it over. Considering how consistently excellent Ekpre-Olomu has been throughout his career, as Ryan Thorburn of The Register-Guard (Eugene) noted, that is a possibility:


Sugar Bowl: Alabama Offensive Line vs. Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett

While much of the attention surrounding Ohio State leading to the playoffs revolved around third-string quarterback Cardale Jones, the defensive line may be the strongest unit on the team.

The Buckeyes were seventh in the nation with 40 sacks and tallied at least three sacks in nine different games. The main reason for that dominance was Joey Bosa, who led the Big Ten with 13.5 sacks and finished with 20 tackles for loss. Don’t overlook defensive tackle Michael Bennett’s contributions, though, because his ability to swallow up blockers on the inside freed Bosa up to beat guys on the outside.

Wisconsin right tackle Rob Havenstein discussed the prospect of matching up with Bosa before the Big Ten Championship Game, via Jesse Temple of Fox Sports Wisconsin:

If you're watching it from just the fans' perspective, you're like, 'This is exciting to watch. I'm excited seeing this.' If you're sitting in an offensive tackles' shoes, you're like, 'Oh, gosh. [Bosa] does that real well.' You look at something else, another aspect of the game, he does that real well. This guy's a complete player.

If there is one team in the postseason built to slow Bosa and Bennett down, it is Alabama.

The Crimson Tide allowed a measly 13 sacks all season, which was 11th in the nation, and did not give up three sacks in a single game all year. It is nearly impossible to run a successful offense without protection up front, and the Crimson Tide front provided that in spades.

What’s more, the pass rush from Ohio State will have a direct impact on Amari Cooper’s overall success. The All-American receiver won’t have as much time to beat Doran Grant if Bosa and Bennett can get a successful pass rush, which would give the Buckeyes secondary a fighting chance against Cooper.

Consistent penetration will also give the linebackers an opportunity to make plays against running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. 

It is much easier said than done, but Ohio State needs to pressure the Crimson Tide up front to pull off the upset in the Sugar Bowl.


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B/R CFB 250: Top 20 Dual-Threat Quarterbacks

Bleacher Report's CFB 250 is an annual ranking of the best players in college football, regardless of NFL potential. Brian Leigh and Kynon Codrington have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list down to a mere 250 and sorted by position. Today, we present the Top 20 Dual-Threat Quarterbacks.

Dual-threat quarterbacks have been around since the earliest days of football, but they have never been more en vogue.

Quarterbacks who can run as well as pass make quarterbacks who can only do the latter look stunted, like a point guard who can't shoot past the elbow. In an age where being versatile is cherished, dual-threat quarterbacks have gone from novel to the norm.

But there's an art to becoming a true dual-threat quarterback. It is not as simple as taking an athletic player from one position and throwing him behind center. If it were, even more teams would do it.

This is still the most complex position in sports.

The best dual-threat quarterbacks are paradoxes: so good with their legs that the defense has to spy them, but so good with their arm that the defense can't afford to spy them. That is a lot to ask of one player, but when it works, and the opponent gets stuck between Scylla and Charybdis, it's a beautiful thing.

Before we start, please take note that these players were graded as college quarterbacks, not on how they project as NFL QBs.

Targeted skills such as arm strength are important at both levels, but there is a difference between college arm strength and professional arm strength. If a quarterback slings it well enough to hit his marks in the SEC or the Big 12, it doesn't matter that he can't stretch the field against the NFC North. At least not here, it doesn't.

This is all about college performance. 

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Sugar Bowl 2015: Players Who Must Shine in Ohio State vs. Alabama

The inaugural College Football Playoff features two incredible semifinal matchups, but the game fans are most excited for is the battle between the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide and the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes.

While Alabama has showcased the team’s tenacity and ability to win in any way necessary, it is the ability of Ohio State to overcome adversity that will have the program ready for an incredibly tough test in the 2015 Sugar Bowl.

Here are the top players from each team who must step up in the Sugar Bowl.


Ohio State Player Who Must Shine: Cardale Jones, QB

There were few fans of the sport who thought the Ohio State Buckeyes would make it to the semifinals after losing both Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett to season-ending injuries, but the program squeezed into the postseason as the No. 4 seed.

Now, Ohio State’s success will be dependent on sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones, who came into the offseason as a third-string player.

When asked about his confidence, Jones told Sean Merriman of the Big Ten Network: “There’s no doubt, I was confident coming into this game. But my teammates and my coaches took my confidence to a whole new level that I’ve never felt before.”

Jones’ first true start came in the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin, and he was solid in his new role. Head coach Urban Meyer kept the game plan simple, and Jones managed to rack up 257 passing yards and three touchdowns without throwing an interception.

There is no doubt that Jones has the natural mobility to get out of trouble, but his ability and desire to make the best plays down the field and not depend on his legs makes him a dangerous weapon in the Buckeyes' offensive system.

With a dangerous rushing attack led by Ezekiel Elliott (220 yards and two touchdowns vs. Wisconsin) and a talented group of receivers featuring Devin Smith and Michael Thomas, Jones will have every opportunity to succeed against Alabama.


Alabama Player Who Must Shine: Amari Cooper, WR

The Alabama Crimson Tide are known for the team’s ability to run the ball efficiently each and every year, but it has been the 22nd-ranked pass offense (281 yards per game) led by senior quarterback Blake Sims that has been the biggest surprise.

The dominance of the passing attack is due largely to the skill of wide receiver Amari Cooper.

Cooper has exploded in his junior season, racking up an impressive 115 receptions for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns. Not only does Cooper lead the team in receptions, but he is also the team’s most dangerous weapon, with DeAndrew White amassing only 37 catches all year, the second most in the program.

A matchup against Ohio State won’t be easy. The Buckeyes have given up just 188.2 passing yards per game and 13 total touchdowns. On the other hand, the team has yet to face a player as imposing as the 6’1” and 210-pound Cooper.

With a berth in the national championship on the line, college football fans should expect Alabama to lean on its best players. The best overall player on the Crimson Tide offense is Cooper, and whether he rises to the occasion or not will determine the outcome of this matchup.


Stats via

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Rose Bowl 2015: Biggest X-Factors for Each Team in Oregon vs. FSU Showdown

In a game with national championship implications that both teams will have several weeks to prepare for, players and matchups rarely talked about will decide the 2015 Rose Bowl. 

Florida State enters as the underdog but boasts a 29-game winning streak the one-loss Oregon Ducks are intent on bringing to an end. They'd better, or it will be curtains on their hopes of winning the program's first-ever national championship.

Heisman Trophy winners Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston will dominate talk before the game, but don't be surprised when less talked-about aspects end up deciding which team advances to the national title contest.

Let's take a look at what those X-factors will be in the Rose Bowl.


X-Factors for Oregon

Charles Nelson, WR

All of the buzz for Florida State's defense heading into the Rose Bowl will be about containing Mariota, Royce Freeman, and wideouts Byron Marshall and Devon Allen. But if the Seminoles aren't careful, Charles Nelson will run right past them.

The speedy freshman hasn't been a big part of the Oregon offense throughout 2014, but that changed with a big performance in the Pac-12 Championship Game. He went for over 100 yards, nearly doubling his total for the season, as Oregon's Andy McNamara noted:

Don't be surprised if Nelson stays under the radar until he makes an impact in special teams. He hasn't carved out a permanent role in the offense but has home run ability as a kick returner and a punt returner.

With that said, Nelson can make the Seminoles pay with the deep ball. Although he has 17 catches on the season, five of them have gone for scores. 

If No. 6 is out there for the Oregon offense, Florida State will want to make sure it stays in front of him.


Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB

Oregon's defensive backs are no strangers to going up against formidable offensive attacks, but a battle against Jameis Winston and Florida State presents a unique matchup for the Ducks secondary.

In such a situation, Oregon could use a huge performance from its best secondary player—cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.

Ekpre-Olomu's stats don't resemble the stats of a shutdown corner, but that's largely due to teams shying away from attacking him. With Ekpre-Olomu likely lined up against Seminoles wideout Rashad Greene, who happens to be Winston's favorite receiver, that won't be the case.

But the senior's impact will go far beyond his individual play. Ekpre-Olomu sets the tone for the Oregon defense, which has been dominant late in the year but showcased plenty of issues early on. If he leads by example and notches a few big pass breakups early on, his teammates will follow suit.


X-Factors for Florida State

Eddie Goldman, DT

If Florida State is looking for a scapegoat for its late-season troubles, it should look no further than the run defense. The Seminoles allowed a combined 600-plus rushing yards in their last three games, all wins by five points or fewer.

You wouldn't expect that from a defensive line featuring a first-round talent of Eddie Goldman's ability.

Goldman is a wrecking ball up front for Florida State, plugging running lanes and tracking down the passer furiously—when he's healthy. That last part, however, has been an issue as of late.

But head coach Jimbo Fisher remains confident of Goldman's ability to play in the Rose Bowl, per Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel:

Oregon doesn't present the traditional running threat with speedy weapons attacking the perimeter combating a bowling-ball back such as Freeman. But a tone-setting will be crucial for Florida State up front in order to keep Oregon's run-blockers on their heels.

Goldman figures to be ready for the game considering the long layoff and the implications, but he'll be of no use to Florida State without his usual impact. If he's unable to blow up the line like he typically does, pass rushers Mario Edwards Jr. and Lorenzo Featherston will be ineffective against Mariota.


Nick O'Leary, TE

Winston has a wealth of weapons to throw to throughout the game, but he goes to Nick O'Leary in the clutch moments.

Despite weapons all around the outside, the tight end has emerged as a favorite for Winston. He ranks second behind Greene with 614 yards, and his six receiving touchdowns are one shy of the team lead.

During Florida State's win over Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game, O'Leary's value was on display once again, as Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski noted:

Oregon's defense boasts speed on the outside and physical, quick-footed defenders up front, but the Ducks' best linebackers primarily excel in rushing the passer. They haven't seen a tight end of O'Leary's skill set and overall ability, and the Ducks will need some unique packages to help negate his impact.

However, Mark Helfrich's defense has plenty on its plate keeping weapons such as Greene, Dalvin Cook and Travis Rudolph under wraps. Like he's done so much in the past, O'Leary will get open, and it will be up to Winston to find him.

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Tennessee Football: Early Look at Vols' 2015 Roster

When Tennessee head football coach Butch Jones embarks on year three of his program in 2015, it'll shed itself of the "rebuilding" moniker. That phase completed with the Volunteers' trip to Jan. 2's TaxSlayer Bowl.

Jones' roster should begin to fill out with fewer holes thanks to two larger-than-normal recruiting classes in the 2014 and '15 cycles.

And while there have been some unexpected roster casualties that happen with any reclamation project, the Vols should have ample talent to start winning more games.

Thanks to Jones' stellar recruiting, UT is able to combat the loss of a player such as Helm by having Ethan Wolf, A.J. Branisel and Neiko Creamer coming back as well as Kyle Oliver coming in. Hendrix leaving? How about replacing him with 5-star Kahlil McKenzie, 4-star Shy Tuttle and others.

These are the fruits of building a program the right way.

Let's take a look ahead at Tennessee's projected 2015 roster position by position, and you'll see a team that has folks on Rocky Top excited and some around the conference expecting UT to contend for the division.



Tennessee's once-shaky quarterback situation solidified somewhat with sophomore Joshua Dobbs bursting onto the scene with all-world performances against South Carolina and Kentucky.

Though he came back down to Earth a bit against Mizzou and Vanderbilt, the 6'3", 216-pound signal-caller still showed star power and the ability to put the team on his shoulders and carry it to victory. He has leadership qualities that are difficult to teach.

Dobbs is still a work in progress, but if he progresses the way he's expected to, it's not difficult to see him as one of the SEC's next stars. He has the ability to beat teams with his arm or legs.

Behind him, Nathan Peterman is still on the roster (for now) and has played some snaps, though none that were worth remembering.

The Vols are bringing in a duo of quarterbacks of the future, including Murfreesboro 4-star Jauan Jennings and 3-star Quinten Dormady of Texas. Dormady is already on campus, and Jennings is doing extra work to become a mid-term enrollee, according to GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required).

Another name to watch is former Florida commit Sheriron Jones, who decommitted from the Gators and told 247Sports' Ryan Bartow that UT now heads his list. Given the dearth of depth at the position, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the Vols could take three signal-callers.

Both Jennings and Dormady are extremely talented, and either could be the face of the future. It's highly likely that barring an unforeseen transfer of an upperclassman, one will back up Dobbs in '15.

At running back, Jalen Hurd will be looking around the film room at a whole new group of players beside him as well. Scott's transfer along with the end to Marlin Lane's and Devrin Young's eligibility means Hurd will be one of the two elder statesman next year along with senior transfer Justus Pickett.

Hurd is certainly the bell cow of the offense and a cornerstone for what the Vols want to do, but he's got a huge helper coming in, too.

Alvin Kamara—the former Alabama commit and nation's second-ranked JUCO runner—is a special talent who has all the intangibles to be elite. He will certainly come right in and get immediate important carries.

Rusty Mansell of 247Sports tweeted this week something that excited UT fans even more about Kamara:

Bruising freshman Rocky Reid and in-state athlete Vincent Perry could also find their way into the backfield for the Vols. But a wild card thrown into the mix is special teams dynamo and speedy senior transfer Ralph David Abernathy IV, who played for Jones at Cincinnati and is transferring to Knoxville to end his career.

Abernathy could provide a nice change-of-pace for UT, and he's a quality piece to an offense that likes to get players in space. Tennessee continues its search to land at least one more running back in this cycle, and most of those efforts center on Bryce Love.

If the Vols can convince Love to come to Knoxville, he will be a big-play producer down the road.

The 2014 Vols receiving corps was a stable of walking wounded, but they've got as much talent as anybody in the country when healthy.

Marquez North, Josh Smith, Josh Malone, Jason Croom, Von Pearson and Pig Howard are all expected back. Throw in some talented youngsters who showed flashes such as Vic Wharton and Ryan Jenkins as well as 5-star Preston Williams (the nation's fifth-ranked receiver per 247Sports), and the Vols will have plenty of weapons for Dobbs.

Williams, especially, looks like he has special abilities.

Helm's departure at tight end leaves a bit of a gulf, but Ethan Wolf was the big surprise this season as the 6'5", 240-pound freshman was UT's starter when healthy for much of the year. Junior walk-on Alex Ellis also earned valuable reps, and he'll settle in at No. 2.

The Vols have plenty of talent besides them, too. A.J. Branisel sat out this season recovering from a torn ACL after hauling in three catches (including a touchdown) as a true freshman. Freshman athlete Neiko Creamer bounced around at several positions before settling at tight end and taking a year to redshirt and gain weight.

Finally, Oliver has high upside, and if the Vols can hang on to the Murfreesboro prospect between now and signing day, he is a tall, athletic tight end in the mold of Alabama's O.J. Howard.

The biggest question mark on Tennessee's entire team will remain its offensive line. Sure, when Dobbs entered the picture, the sacks allowed went down, but then came the Missouri game when the same old issues reared their heads.

The bottom line is the line has to improve dramatically. Senior right tackle Jacob Gilliam is the only player out of eligibility, and all the others who were part of the rotation return. Somehow, UT has to find a pair of tackles to allow Kyler Kerbyson to slide back inside. Coleman Thomas, too, probably has seen his last days at tackle.

A key to the whole group is redshirting junior offensive tackle Dontavius Blair, who couldn't crack the rotation this year and took a season to get stronger. UT desperately needs him to anchor a tackle spot next season. Sophomore Brett Kendrick is another candidate to play out there.

A freshman group of Chance Hall, Jack Jones, Venzell Boulware and Zach Stewart may be counted on earlier than usual, and if Charles Mosley can return from his broken leg and become a huge factor (at tackle perhaps?), UT could improve a lot out there by 2015.

Those are big "ifs," but offensive line coach Don Mahoney should begin to feel some heat if he can't find the right formula of five. 



Second-year coordinator John Jancek's unit made a monumental leap forward in 2014, going from 84th nationally in total defense a season ago to 35th. The Vols could make an even bigger step forward in 2015 if they can find a replacement for departing senior middle linebacker A.J. Johnson.

Without any semblance of a pass rush for much of the past decade, Tennessee wallowed in the bottom tier of the league defensively. Enter Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt, and UT finished third in the SEC and 18th nationally in tackles for loss.

More talent is on the way, too.

Let's start by taking a look at the defensive line, where rising sophomore Barnett is a superstar around which any team in the nation would like to build. The Nashville native was virtually unblockable for much of the season, and there's no reason to believe he'll do anything but improve.

Maggitt is expected to return for his senior season to anchor the other edge, and by the end of the year, he may have been UT's best at getting to the quarterback. He simply began to play at another level he hadn't throughout his entire career.

LaTroy Lewis, Corey Vereen and Jaylen Miller all played well at times this season, and outside linebacker Chris Weatherd can put his hand down and rush the passer, too.

How are the Vols adding to that embarrassment of riches at defensive end? Darrell Taylor, Andrew Butcher and Marques Ford are all scheduled to play in high school All-America games, and the fourth defensive end commitment, Dylan Jackson, is being coveted by LSU, Alabama, Stanford and others.

Throw in the possibility that UT remains in the picture for 4-star Kyle Phillips and 4-star D'Andre Walker, and the recruiting haul at that position could be the best in the nation.

On the interior, the Vols played much of the season with a two-man defensive tackle tandem of Danny O'Brien and Jordan Williams. With Jordan Williams out of eligibility, Owen Williams could slide in and be a senior leader there. 

But they've got a lot of young star talent to battle against. Dimarya Mixon could be an athletic force with a full offseason in the weight room, and the trio of newcomers could all compete for immediate playing time.

It all starts with McKenzie, who is 247Sports' No. 1-ranked player in the entire class and the Composite's second-ranked overall. He has the size and athleticism to come in and immediately dominate, and it's hard to imagine he won't get snaps right off the bat.

How can you not play a guy who spits out highlight reels like this?

Then, there's Tuttle, who would be the centerpiece of most defensive line classes as the 247Composite's fifth-ranked DT, but he's just another star in this year's haul for UT line coach Steve Stripling. Add in versatile lineman Quay Picou, and the Vols have three players with extremely high ceilings to add to a shallow depth chart inside.

If Michael Sawyers returns, he has the body to get into the rotation, and if he stays committed to the weight room, he could realize his potential as well.

Linebacker is going to be a position that has to grow as the season progresses. Losing Johnson is going to hurt badly, as everybody saw when he was suspended the season's final two games during a sexual-assault investigation.

Filling in during his absence is massive freshman Jakob Johnson—a 6'4", 240-pound German native who has a lot of potential but lateral limitations. 

He'll have plenty of competition to hold down the middle in 2015. 

Dillon Bates, who received a medical redshirt after playing sparingly before tearing his labrum, could be a perfect fit there, and Kenny Bynum is a veteran who is solid against the run. Also, Gavin Bryant redshirted and has all the physical attributes SEC teams like in 4-3 middle linebackers.

Finally, UT could receive some huge news Monday with the announcement of 4-star prospect Darrin Kirkland Jr. The one-time Michigan commit is announcing between UT, Ole Miss, Texas and Oklahoma, and the 247 Crystal Ball currently points to Tennessee as the favorite.

If the Vols get Kirkland, he could make things extremely interesting in the middle next season.

Outside, it starts with Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who became an integral part of Tennessee's defense this year, registering 88 tackles including 10 for a loss. Between senior pass-rush specialist Weatherd and big-hitting freshman Cortez McDowell, UT looks solid there.

Bates' natural position is on the outside, and he's UT's best coverage linebacker. Colton Jumper and Elliott Berry also could become factors in certain packages.

The only outside 'backer the Vols currently have in the class is Picou's high school teammate at Buford (Georgia) High School, Austin Smith. He's the kind of speedy, athletic linebacker who Tommy Thigpen loves to employ, and he'll find a home in Knoxville.

Quarte Sapp is another linebacker on UT's radar who has yet to make a decision.

In the secondary, the Vols likely will be enjoying their final season with star cornerback Cameron Sutton. Even though he hasn't been showered with hardware, a player as talented as him won't slip past the NFL.

He's a dynamic talent at cornerback, and with a year to add weight, Emmanuel Moseley has an exciting future opposite him as well. Malik Foreman and Rashaan Gaulden are another couple of nice-looking prospects who've yet to see extended action.

Michael Williams is a bit of a wild card. He started most of this season until Moseley usurped him. Then, he was named in the sexual assault investigation along with A.J. Johnson that is still ongoing. If he returns, he'll be in the mix as well.

The Vols have a pair of strong cornerback prospects coming in with Darrell Miller and Micah Abernathy, but they're looking for more. JUCO prospect Justin Miller and Nashville corner Ugo Amadi are major needs, and UT would take either or both of them down the stretch. A class that includes those two would be ideal.

A trio of safeties who started games for UT (Brian Randolph, LaDarrell McNeil and Todd Kelly Jr.) all return, so the Vols should be strong on the back level. Evan Berry, Devaun Swafford and incoming freshman Stephen Griffin will all provide depth for the future.


Special Teams

One thing Tennessee has to do in 2015 is get Sutton away from punt return duties. He's too valuable to put back there every time.

Ralph David Abernathy could be a huge benefit for the Vols on special teams, and if they could somehow land Amadi, he's dynamic enough to make an immediate impact returning kicks, too. Evan Berry showed some major promise as a kick returner, and his future there is bright as well.

Tennessee couldn't be facing two more different situations when it comes to its kicking and punting games.

At kicker, UT is set for the next three years with Aaron Medley, who was almost automatic inside of 40 yards and kicked everything high and long, even when he missed. He wound up the regular season 19-of-25 in field goals and made all but one of his 37 extra-point attempts. 

The Vols have an enviable situation at that position for the near future.

At punter, they'll lose senior Matt Darr, who resurrected his career and had a brilliant final season in 2014. 

Unless Medley can steal that job as well (a la Michael Palardy holding all kicking duties in 2013), the punting responsibilities look as if they'll come down to a battle between walk-on Trevor Daniel, invited walk-on and redshirt freshman Troy Waites and Tommy Townsend, who is the nation's fifth-ranked punter.

Townsend has a big leg, and he was UT's top punting target this offseason. Waites was a left-footer UT brought in for depth last season who could develop into a key player.

Tennessee has plenty of talent all over the football field to make some serious noise next year. The roster isn't perfect (not everybody can be Alabama, after all) but there are enough solid players mixed with some well-placed spectacular ones that the Vols appear poised to make an extended run.

These seasons of battling to get to .500 may be close to over on Rocky Top.


All stats gathered from, unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports Composite ranking, unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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College Football Playoff Championship 2015: Breaking Down Semifinal Matchups

Let's be honest: There are some great matchups in the bowl games, and most of us would watch just about any football game offered, but the only games people really care about this December and January are the playoff contests. 

For months, we debated which teams deserved to reach the last four. We have those teams now, and they're about to settle things on the field. 

So with that in mind, you'll find an overview and a breakdown of each semifinal matchup below. It's going to be fun, folks. Let's take a closer look at each game.


Oregon vs. Florida State

If this game comes down to the wire, you have to imagine Florida State will find a way to win. After all, the Seminoles have won seven games by one touchdown or less, including four in a row to close the season. Jameis Winston and Co. know how to be clutch when it matters. 

On the other hand, Oregon has a habit of ending things before the fourth quarter begins. The Ducks have had just two games decided by a touchdown or less and are 1-1 in those games. They've won eight straight games by 12 or more and have scored at least 42 points in all but two games.

It's hard to imagine a Florida State team that has given up 26 or more points to Oklahoma State, NC State, Notre Dame, Louisville, Miami and Georgia Tech slowing down Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and his talented crop of weapons. 

Mariota may receive the plaudits, but it's important to remember that Royce Freeman rushed for 1,299 yards and 16 touchdowns this season and that six players have 350 receiving yards or more, including Byron Marshall (61 receptions for 814 yards and five touchdowns) and Devon Allen (684 receiving yards, seven touchdowns). Dwayne Stanford and Pharaoh Brown each have six receiving scores, meanwhile.

Florida State's defense isn't as good as it was a year ago and has struggled in games against less talented offenses. The Ducks are going to run rampant and will win this game. 


Alabama vs. Ohio State

At first, we questioned how Ohio State would manage without Braxton Miller. All J.T. Barrett did in relief was post Heisman-esque numbers. Then, we wondered how the Buckeyes would fare in the Big Ten Championship Game without Barrett.

Three touchdown passes and a 59-0 victory later, Cardale Jones proved Ohio State would be just fine. 

That was Wisconsin, however. Alabama is a whole new beast.

The Buckeyes haven't faced a team as balanced as Alabama this season, in large part because no other team in the nation is as balanced as the Crimson Tide. Blake Sims and Amari Cooper are a handful in the passing game. T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry form one of the better backfield duos in the country. The defense isn't as impervious as prior Nick Saban teams but is still quite good, holding opponents to 16.6 points per game, fourth in the nation.

Yes, the Buckeyes contained Heisman finalist Melvin Gordon. But Wisconsin was far more one-dimensional than Alabama will be. The difference with this Crimson Tide team is offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who has opened up the passing game.

Cooper, for one, is thrilled he did, as he told Zach Braziller of the New York Post:

He’s a genius as a coach. He deserves a lot of credit. He likes to throw the ball and not only does he likes to throw the ball, he comes up with really good schemes to get players open and get his playmakers in space.

I was really happy when he got hired because I saw what he did with Marquise Lee and Robert Woods at USC. Both of those guys had 100 catches. I was confident I would have a good year with him.

He's had a heck of a year.

Still, underestimate the Buckeyes are your own peril. They beat Michigan State and Minnesota on the road in consecutive weeks. They've overcome injuries to two excellent quarterbacks. They score 45.2 yards per game (fourth in the country) and rush for 260.8 yards per contest (11th). They've scored 31 or more points in every game but one. 

The Buckeyes are legit. They just aren't legit to knock off the country's most balanced team. Alabama will win this one, but it will be tighter than many people think.


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