NCAA Football

College Football Playoff Championship 2015: Schedule, Dates and Projections

One more week of college football, and fans should finally have their answer as to which teams are worthy of making the inaugural College Football Playoff.

The playoff committee turned heads as we gear up for Week 15 and the conference championships by bumping up TCU to No. 3 in the latest rankings, ahead of new No. 4 Florida State. Alabama and Oregon held down the first and second spots, respectively.

With TCU in third and the undefeated Seminoles in fourth, there is a nice buffer zone between the Horned Frogs and the disappointment of being on the outside looking in when all is said and done. 

Assuming Jameis Winston and the 'Noles do their job and beat Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game in Week 15, it's hard to see No. 5 Ohio State or No. 6 Baylor moving into the Top Four.

That would require an epic collapse from TCU against a cupcake like Iowa State, one that makes the Seminoles look better by comparison and allows the Bears or the Buckeyes to take the fourth and final spot. 

Ohio State has a better shot than Baylor at making the playoff, as sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones does have the athleticism and arm strength to keep the offense humming along against a feisty Wisconsin Badgers squad in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Here is the schedule for the College Football Playoff, followed by projections for which teams will be squaring off in this new format's final four.

Semifinals Date: Jan. 1

Championship Date: Jan. 12 

Semifinals Locations: Rose Bowl—Pasadena, California; and Sugar Bowl (Mercedes-Benz Superdome)—New Orleans, Louisiana

Championship Location: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Semifinals Times (ET): 5 p.m. (Rose Bowl), 8:30 p.m. (Sugar Bowl)




Semifinal Matchup Projections

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

Alabama should hold things down against Missouri in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday and take the No. 1 seed. The Seminoles will beat the Yellow Jackets, but expect another unconvincing performance.

Florida State is a slippery squad, but Alabama has the defensive chops and star talent on offense to take this potential blockbuster. 

Winston's play to end the season has been disappointing to say the least, especially in the first half, as ESPN.com's David Hale points out:

If Winston isn't up to par, Florida State can turn to its run game to generate offense. Karlos Williams has scored 10 rushing touchdowns this season, while Dalvin Cook is a big-play threat out of the backfield, averaging 5.9 yards per carry.

However, an overreliance on explosive plays might not work so well against a Crimson Tide defense that will bend on occasion but is unwilling to break.

"There's some things you can't control," said safety Nick Perry after 'Bama's 55-44 win over Auburn in the 2014 Iron Bowl, per AL.com's Michael Casagrande. "If they get it down there, you just have to bend but don't break, and just can't let them in the end zone, and I think that saved the game for us."

Casagrande also noted that the Crimson Tide have allowed just three rushing touchdowns this season, likely making points hard to come by for Florida State in this one.

Blake Sims lacks consistency at times, but he's much less error-prone than Winston, although the latter does pass the ball more often in games. Prior to throwing three interceptions against Auburn, Sims had thrown just one pick in the previous six games.

He's also secure in the knowledge that Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon are battle-tested against tough SEC run defenses and should be able to make some sort of headway against Florida State.

Oh, and nobody in college football appears capable of guarding wideout Amari Cooper. As ESPN Stats & Info points out, Sims practically couldn't fail when targeting Cooper in the Iron Bowl:

Should these two titans play each other in the CFP, expect the Crimson Tide to make good on an early lead and win the contest.

 

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

This potential offensive firestorm would be a dream come true for college football fans allergic to defensive chess matches.

Both teams boast hyper-efficient, dual-threat quarterbacks commanding explosive, innovative offenses. Oregon's Marcus Mariota is a Heisman Trophy front-runner, while the Horned Frogs' Trevone Boykin runs a team that puts up 46.1 points per game, the third-best mark in the nation.

Mariota's production is pretty much unassailable, but Grantland's Matt Hinton was able to find one area where even Mariota looks like a mere gridiron mortal:

There’s no use pretending that Mariota has some glaring, persistent Achilles’ heel, but on the exceedingly rare occasions he has made mistakes this season, it’s been the result of pressure: Despite his elusiveness, Michigan State, Washington State, Arizona, Washington, Utah, and Oregon State all sacked him at least three times. 

TCU just so happens to be one of the better pass-rushing teams in the nation.

The Horned Frogs have notched 33 sacks this season. They've also managed to force 34 turnovers this year, which makes a crucial sack-fumble of Mariota a definite possibility in this contest.

That being said, don't expect the Ducks quarterback to give them too much else to work with considering his low interception total.

Oregon could also stymie the Horned Frogs' pass rush with clever runs and draws from freshman running back Royce Freeman, who is averaging 5.7 yards per carry this season. He has the speed to break plays open, but he also has the size to punish defenses inside.

"He's big, very big," Oregon State senior linebacker Michael Doctor said, via Gary Horowitz of the Statesman Journal. "You're gonna have to bring your big boy pads to take it to him. He plays like an older guy."

The Horned Frogs offense is full of its own sensational skill players. Wideouts Josh Doctson and Deante' Gray are fantastic big-play threats, combining for 1,307 yards and 15 touchdowns this year.

Running back Aaron Green has little trouble slaloming through opposing defenses with an anomalous 7.7 yards per carry. They should have little to no trouble keeping up with the Ducks in a potential matchup.

TCU is well-prepared for the late-season pressure cooker after going 4-1 against teams ranked in the Top 25 this season. Finishing up the year against lowly Iowa State also bodes well for its prospects heading forward.

Oregon can't afford to ease up, as the Ducks must defeat Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game to hold on to their presumed playoff spot. 

The Wildcats should bring the best out of the Ducks, who have been one of the hottest teams in the nation down the home stretch.

The Horned Frogs will keep things very close, but Oregon's quick-strike nature will allow it to score a late go-ahead touchdown and pip the Big 12 representatives.

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SEC Championship 2014: TV Info, Odds and Predictions for Alabama vs. Missouri

The SEC Championship Game is one of the most highly anticipated matchups of the year. This conference is chock-full of college football's juggernauts, and when they clash on such a big stage, the nation remains captivated until the final whistle is blown.

This year, the Alabama Crimson Tide will be looking to remain the No. 1 seed for the inaugural College Football Playoff by defeating a surging Missouri Tigers team that took control of the SEC East and comes into the title game riding a six-game winning streak.

There's plenty on the line for both teams. Missouri could claim a spot in the Orange Bowl with a victory, and here's a rather telling example of what Alabama is in for after winning the Iron Bowl, courtesy of ESPN College Football:

As we wait for these teams to return to the amateur gridiron, let's take a look at the complete viewing information, odds and final prediction for what should be a compelling SEC Championship Game.

 

Viewing Information

When: Saturday, December 6

Where: Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia

Time: 4 p.m. ET

Channel: CBS

Live Stream: CBSSports.com

Game Odds (via Odds Shark):

  • Spread: Alabama -14.5
  • Over/Under: 48.5

 

Preview and Prediction

We all know this isn't going to be an easy contest for Missouri—the Tigers are big underdogs for a reason. However, this team has played a good stretch of football recently, and if it can put it all together, there's a possibility of a massive upset.

It all starts with the team's defense. Missouri has been solid on that side of the ball this season, ranking 35th in the nation against the pass, 26th against the run, 16th in total defense and 13th in points allowed. That's not too shabby, but everything must click to stop a versatile Alabama offense.

The Tigers are coming off a great game against the pass, limiting Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen to just 133 yards. He did throw for two early touchdowns, but Missouri tightened up in the second half, allowing the quarterback to complete 13 of his 30 passing attempts.

Head coach Gary Pinkel spoke of his team's tenacity during a press conference, via SEC Network:

Alabama quarterback Blake Sims is coming off an uncharacteristic showing, throwing three interceptions against Auburn; however, he's been known for his efficiency throughout the year, throwing a total of just four picks prior to the Iron Bowl. If that performance is a sign the senior signal-caller may falter on a big stage, Missouri must take advantage.

The Tigers can do just that by applying significant pressure on the quarterback. With 40 sacks on the season, Missouri has the talent to pressure Sims and force early and potentially inaccurate throws. This will also limit opportunities to the dangerous Amari Cooper, who torched Auburn for 234 yards and three touchdowns.

Expect Sims to target Cooper early and often after the quarterback put up these numbers in the Iron Bowl, via ESPN Stats & Info:

On the other side of the coin, Missouri may find it a little difficult to move the ball against a very stout Alabama defense. The Crimson Tide are ranked second against the run, 54th against the pass, 11th in total defense and sixth in scoring defense. That ranking against the pass could be a little skewed after Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall threw for 456 yards in the Iron Bowl.

The recent collapse by Alabama's secondary could be good news for Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk. He isn't exactly known for his efficiency, as he has completed just 53.5 percent of his passes and has thrown 11 interceptions this season. However, while his completion percentage is low, he's tossed only two picks in his last five games.

Mauk is inexperienced, and this is his first full season as the team's starting quarterback. He also hasn't played as talented of a defense as what the Crimson Tide bring to the table. Needless to say, he'll need a running game to complement him in an effort to effectively move the ball.

While Missouri does have a talented duo in Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy, not many teams have been able to produce chunks of yardage on the ground against Alabama. Even the dangerous Auburn rushing attack mustered an average of just 3.7 yards per carry during the Iron Bowl. Making matters slightly worse for Missouri, Hansbrough is also dealing with an ankle sprain, according to Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee:

All of that said, this game is certainly in Alabama's favor. The Crimson Tide are a far more complete football team, and they've been more consistent throughout the season. Following a loss to Ole Miss on October 4, Alabama began its seven-game winning streak, defeating four ranked teams in the process. Conversely, the Tigers have just one win against a ranked opponent during their six-game streak.

Both teams have momentum on their side right now, and while Missouri does have a chance to pull off an enormous win, it's difficult to go against Alabama. The Crimson Tide are the more experienced team in this situation, and that will translate to another win on their road to the College Football Playoff.

Prediction: Alabama 38, Missouri 24

 

All team statistics and rankings courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 2.

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Bowl Projections 2014: Full Schedule, Odds and Predictions

Normal bowl games still exist, folks.

The inaugural College Football Playoff is all the rage at the moment, as it should be. Fans are still a week away from the revelation as to which teams will play in the CFP semifinals at the Sugar and Rose Bowls, though.

A handful of teams are still in the running for those four slots and have quite the interesting odds given the circumstances.

But what about the other games?

Below is a full list of info surrounding all of the bowls this season. A few predictions to keep an eye on as things develop reside after the jump.

 

2014-15 Bowl Game Schedule

Bowl schedule information courtesy of ESPN.com.

 

National Championship Odds

*Odds to win national championship courtesy of Odds Shark, as of December 2 at 4 p.m. ET.

 

 

Bowl Predictions

Arkansas Turns Heads

There is a beast growing in the SEC.

It matters little who the Arkansas Razorbacks play and in what bowl it happens to be—Bret Bielema's team will put on a show. 

The 6-6 Razorbacks have been on the cusp of relevancy all season long. The middle of a brutal schedule speaks well enough to this. Close losses to Texas A&M, Alabama and Georgia were of the typical variety. Ditto for a seven-point loss to then-No. 1 Mississippi State.

Arkansas finally turned the corner, though, with a shutout of LSU, 17-0. The next week was a 30-0 win over Ole Miss. That said, the team did end on a sour note with a loss in its first rivalry encounter with Missouri.

"I think we might have worn down in the fourth quarter," Bielema said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "My guess is we'll be very, very energized and very, very excited bowl team to take somewhere."

Still, fans get the point. Arkansas amazingly did not get lost in the hype of the SEC West and ranks 16th nationally with an average of just 20.3 points allowed per game. Its hefty stable of backs can grind down any team in the nation:

For what it is worth, CBS Sports projects Arkansas to meet West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl. While a great team, even the Mountaineers and a 62nd-ranked defense would struggle to keep pace with the Razorbacks.

Regardless, Arkansas is here to stay. That much will be apparent once bowl season concludes.

 

Ohio State Meets Mississippi State

Through the disappointment of late-season adversity comes one of the best possible matchups of the entire season. 

Mississippi State collapsed late, losing two of its last three. Granted, those were respectable losses to Alabama and Ole Miss by the Bulldogs, but the fact remains that Heisman contender Dak Prescott and Co. had SEC title game and CFP hopes dashed.

Believe it or not, things are even more dreadful for Ohio State. Urban Meyer's Buckeyes are actually still in the running for the CFP, but one has to think the committee will shun them regardless of their performance in the Big Ten Championship after losing starting quarterback J.T. Barrett for the season.

ESPN.com's Brian Bennett put it best:

Those in charge will still do right by the hobbled Buckeyes, though, and give them a chance to further exorcise some SEC demons.

Call it a war of wills in this hypothetical matchup. The Buckeyes give up just 22.9 points per game on average, while the Bulldogs allow just 19.4.

The wild card seems to be Prescott, who has completed 61.2 percent of his passes this season for 2,996 yards and 24 touchdowns with another 939 yards and 13 scores on the ground. 

Ohio State will look to keep pace on the ground now that sophomore Cardale Jones is all the team has under center. That means more work than ever for Ezekiel Elliott (197 carries, 1,182 yards and 10 scores) and freshman Curtis Samuel (52 carries, 353 yards, 11 touchdowns).

Given how the Buckeyes are once again starting over under center and Prescott's elite play, it seems like the SEC would win this potential matchup.

 

Wisconsin and Auburn Run Wild

How is this for a Big Ten vs. SEC encounter?

Wisconsin loves to run the ball and is third-best in the nation at doing so. That is likewise for Auburn, which ranks 11th.

After losing three of four to close the season, the Tigers will watch from the sidelines as Alabama moves on to the SEC title game. Still, Gus Malzahn's team is assured a meaty bowl game thanks to an 8-4 finish and one of the most prolific offenses in the nation.

Wisconsin still has to play Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, but regardless, the Badgers will be headed to a high-profile bowl.

A more prolific rushing showdown is hard to find:

Nick Marshall is no slouch through the air, either. He has completed 60.1 percent of his passes for 2,315 yards and 18 scores this year, although Auburn's best chance to win this encounter against the nation's fourth-best defense figures to come on the ground.

Really, though, this potential showdown seems to be a great finale for Melvin Gordon before he heads to the NFL. 

A sixth game with a minimum of 200 rushing yards this season seems in the cards, as does a marquee win for the Big Ten.

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.  

 

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Sugar Bowl 2015: TV Schedule, Matchup Predictions and More

If I was a betting man, I'd wager that the Alabama Crimson Tide will be facing the Baylor Bears in the Sugar Bowl, aka the No. 1 vs. No. 4 matchup in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Before we get into the explanation of this prediction, let's first talk about how you can catch the action from New Orleans on New Year's Day.

 

When: Jan. 1, 2015 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: Superdome in New Orleans

TV: ESPN

 

Why Baylor over TCU?

Call me crazy, and you might as well put CBS Sports' Jerry Palm in the loony bin as well, but I believe that unless something unexpected happens, the Bears will leapfrog the TCU Horned Frogs and claim the fourth spot in the final College Football Playoff rankings.

Both teams have one loss, but the Horned Frogs lost to Baylor head-to-head in a 61-58 OT thriller. Most believe TCU gave the game away. Whatever the case, the fact of the matter is it lost.

Coming into the final game of the season, TCU will host a woeful Iowa State Cyclones team. The Horned Frogs will probably win and finish with just one loss. However, the Bears close things out at home against the No. 12 Kansas State Wildcats.

Bears quarterback Bryce Petty suffered a concussion in the team's win over Texas Tech, but he's expected to play. He has full confidence in Baylor's medical staff to get him ready and healthy, per the program's Twitter account:

A win in that game would give Baylor the Big 12 title and an impressive victory over a ranked opponent to close out the season. That dynamic would have to make Baylor a more attractive team to the committee.

For that reason, Baylor gets the fourth spot in my CFP projections and a date with the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl.

 

Alabama Is Bound for The Big Easy

If you hadn't guessed, I've all but penciled in Alabama as a winner over the Missouri Tigers in Saturday's SEC Championship Game. The Tigers don't have the type of vertical passing game that can expose the few weaknesses in Alabama safety Landon Collins' game. He is the X-factor for the Tide defense.

The game will be played within the 20- to 25-yard range, and 'Bama is the best in the nation in short-to-intermediate situations. A win in the SEC title game will solidify Alabama's spot as the No. 1 team.

 

How About Ohio State?

The Bama-Baylor game would be an interesting clash of styles, but what about the Ohio State Buckeyes? If the Bucks beat the No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Championship Game, they would certainly have a case to reach the playoff.

The one loss on the team's record is a bad one, though. Losing to Virginia Tech, which wrapped up its regular season with a 6-6 record, damages Ohio State's body of work. Still, a conference title in a one-loss season warrants consideration.

Here's the thing: The Buckeyes won't beat the Badgers.

Playing without freshman sensation J.T. Barrett, the Buckeyes will start the inexperienced sophomore Cardale Jones under center in the biggest game of the season. there's a reason Jones was third-string behind Barrett and Braxton Miller this season.

He may ultimately have a decent career, but this moment is going to overwhelm him. 

Ohio State's defense hasn't been stellar against the run this season, and it is about to go head-to-head with the Melvin Gordon, the nation's leading rusher, and a nasty offensive line. The Badgers will remove Ohio State from the CFP equation and further clear the path for Baylor to The Big Easy.

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Wisconsin Badgers vs. Ohio State Buckeyes: Betting Odds, College Football Pick

The Wisconsin Badgers will try to win their third Big Ten Championship Game in four years Saturday when they square off against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The West Division champion Badgers previously won the Big Ten title in 2011 and 2012 and opened as three-point favorites against the East Division champion Buckeyes, who will be without starting quarterback J.T. Barrett due to a fractured ankle.

 

Point spread: The Badgers opened as three-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 35.5-28.4 Buckeyes

 

Why the Wisconsin Badgers can cover the spread

Wisconsin is in perfect position to win the Big Ten again here, going 7-0 straight up and 4-3 against the spread in its last seven games. During their winning streak, the Badgers had just one game decided by less than 10 points, which occurred two weeks ago in a 26-24 road victory against the Iowa Hawkeyes.

They were 9.5-point favorites in that Big Ten matchup and have been favored by at least five points in each of their last 11 games. While Wisconsin has struggled against Ohio State lately, the team will have a significant advantage due to the injury situation with Barrett and gets to face a young quarterback making his first start in a huge spot.

 

Why the Ohio State Buckeyes can cover the spread

As crazy as it sounds, Ohio State has been here before—sort of. The Buckeyes lost original starting quarterback Braxton Miller for the season due to a shoulder injury back in training camp and still won 11 of 12 games this season.

Barrett stepped in and proved to be just as good, making next year very interesting for the Ohio State faithful with both players returning. The next man up is sophomore Cardale Jones, who has completed 11 of 19 passes for 121 yards with two touchdowns in his college career.

Keep in mind, Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer is a quarterback whisperer who has worked wonders in the past with Alex Smith at Utah and Tim Tebow at Florida.

 

Smart Pick

The Buckeyes have failed to cover the spread in their last three conference games heading into the Big Ten Championship Game, letting their opponents hang around before holding them off. That will be much more difficult this time without Barrett, who was capable of blowing a game wide open either through the air or on the ground.

The Badgers will try to grind out a win here by pounding the ball with running back Melvin Gordon, who rushed for 151 yards and one touchdown in last week’s 34-24 win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Even though they did not cover the spread as 16-point favorites, the line against Ohio State is much more manageable, especially considering the Buckeyes will likely struggle to score with Jones under center. Bet Wisconsin to beat Ohio State by at least a touchdown in winning its third Big Ten Championship Game.

 

Betting Trends

  • Wisconsin is 1-6 ATS in its last seven games when playing Ohio State
  • Ohio State is 6-1 ATS in its last seven games when playing Wisconsin

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates and get the free odds tracker app.

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Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Oklahoma Sooners Betting Odds, College Football Pick

Oklahoma owns the recent Bedlam rivalry with Oklahoma State, winning 10 of the last 11 meetings straight up and going 8-3 against the spread. The 8-3 Sooners are solid favorites to continue that recent dominance when the teams meet Saturday afternoon in Norman.

 

Point spread: Sooners opened as 19.5-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 42.3-26.3 Sooners

 

Why the Oklahoma State Cowboys can cover the spread

The Cowboys are going through a rebuilding season and have lost their last five games in a row, but they can still become bowl-eligible with a victory Saturday. Last time out, OSU lost at Baylor 49-28 but hung on for the cover as a 33-point underdog.

Earlier this season, the Cowboys won five games in a row, so it's not as if they don't know how to win. And third-string quarterback Mason Rudolph did manage to throw for 281 yards in his first-ever start last week, with a pair of touchdowns. Oklahoma State also had last week off; having two good weeks of practice has been known to produce positive results on the field.

 

Why the Oklahoma Sooners can cover the spread

Since falling to Baylor a few weeks ago, the Sooners have won two straight games, including a 44-7 decision over Kansas back on November 22. Oklahoma also had last week off.

The Sooners grabbed a 24-0 halftime lead over the Jayhawks and then fed freshman running back Samaje Perine to the tune of a record-breaking 427-yard rushing effort, with five scores.

The Sooners have lost three games this season but realistically could be 10-1; they gave up two defensive touchdowns in a 37-33 loss to TCU and gave up another one, while botching an extra point and two short field goals, in a 31-30 loss to Kansas State. If OU had won those games, it might still be in the running for the College Football Playoff.

 

Smart Pick

A big rivalry matchup on the road is a bad spot for a struggling team that is starting a freshman quarterback. This one could get ugly if the Sooners could just get out of their own way. The smart money here lies with Oklahoma, minus the points.

 

Betting Trends

  • Oklahoma State is 0-5 straight up in its last five games.
  • Oklahoma is 2-5 against the spread in its last seven games.

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates and get the free odds tracker app.

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Rose Bowl 2015: TV Schedule, Matchup Predictions and Odds

As the college football postseason moves into the playoff era, the Rose Bowl takes on a new role. The top bowl games will now rotate on a yearly basis, with the annual California showcase filling one of the national semifinal spots for the 2014-15 campaign.

The Rose Bowl will feature the clash between the No. 2 team and the No. 3 team in the final College Football Playoff rankings. Right now, that would mean a semifinal pitting Oregon against TCU. It has already changed several times since the initial standings were released, though.

Let's check out all of the important details for this year's Rose Bowl, which remains in its usual New Year's Day spot. That's followed by predictions for the matchup and the game odds.

 

Viewing Information

Where: Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California

When: Thursday, Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Predicted Matchup: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State

Oregon heads into the Pac-12 Championship Game with a chance to accomplish two tasks. The first is solidifying its spot in the playoffs. The second is exacting revenge on Arizona, which edged the Ducks back in October for their only loss so far.

Their biggest problem in the first meeting was an inability to get off the field on third down. They allowed the Wildcats to convert nine of 17 attempts. That, of course, leads to time-consuming drives and leaves the high-powered Oregon offense standing on the sidelines.

Look for the Ducks to play a little more aggressively on the early downs in an effort to force Arizona into more 3rd-and-long situations. If they can do that and give their pass-rushers a chance to get loose on third down, the chances for success skyrocket compared to the style of game played last time.

At the very least, Mark Helfrich is confident about the state of his team. Andrew Greif of The Oregonian provided the head coach's remarks about the mental side of things heading into the crucial game.

"Our guys are in a great place right now mentally and psychologically and now they'll be excited," he said Sunday. "We had a workout today and they did a nice job with what we asked them to do and they'll be excited to prepare for Arizona."

Oregon lost by only seven points in the previous meeting despite the Wildcats' firm control in time of possession. Even minor improvement on the defensive side against Arizona's spread look should be enough to reverse the result this time around.

Marcus Mariota should be able to take another step toward the Heisman Trophy with a strong showing that secures the No. 2 seed for his Ducks.

The other team is more of a mystery. On the surface, it seems the College Football Playoff committee is trying to use Florida State as an example for future seasons. An undefeated record is great, but it's not going to guarantee a certain place in the rankings.

As of now, the Seminoles have slipped to the No. 4 spot despite remaining unbeaten. That's in large part due to their lack of marquee wins, especially with Notre Dame fading in a major way following its loss to Florida State in mid-October.

Not everybody agrees with the committee's approach, however, as Mike Greenberg of ESPN made clear:

Of course, it doesn't help that the 'Noles have turned virtually every game into an adventure. They have a zero in the loss column, but they haven't looked dominant.

That's why the ACC title game against Georgia Tech is so important. A convincing win should move them back into the No. 3 spot, with TCU having very little to gain against an Iowa State squad that's winless in Big 12 play.

The Yellow Jackets are coming off back-to-back wins over Clemson and Georgia. Add the pressure of having no margin for error, and this is a serious test for the reigning champions. A return to form should push them back to No. 3 in the final rankings.

Looking ahead, if the matchup does come together as Oregon against Florida State, it will generate plenty of hype. The quarterback battle between Mariota and Jameis Winston is enough to sell the game, but the shootout potential makes it even more intriguing.

The Ducks would likely be the favorites by around a touchdown because the Seminoles haven't shown the level of play necessary to keep pace, mostly due to some slow starts. But Florida State will hope it can get back on track at the right time and make a run to another title.

Predicted Odds: Oregon -7

 

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Northern Illinois Huskies vs. Bowling Green Falcons Betting Odds, Analysis, Pick

The Northern Illinois Huskies will be out for revenge when they meet the Bowling Green Falcons in the Mid-American Conference Championship Game for the second year in a row Friday at Detroit’s Ford Field. The West Division champion Huskies entered last year’s MAC title game unbeaten at 12-0 before getting upset by the East Division champion Falcons 47-27 as three-point favorites.

 

Point spread: The Huskies opened as 2.5-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 26.7-25.7 Huskies

 

Why the Northern Illinois Huskies can cover the spread

If revenge was not enough of a factor, the Huskies are quite simply a much better team than the Falcons this year, and that shows in the spread. Like Bowling Green with Jordan Lynch, they also do not have to deal with Matt Johnson, who shredded their defense for 393 yards and five touchdowns en route to the MAC title.

Northern Illinois should be able to contain his replacement James Knapke, as he has thrown only 12 touchdowns with 10 interceptions this season for the Falcons. Knapke has not thrown a touchdown pass in either of the team’s last two games, both of which have resulted in losses.

 

Why the Bowling Green Falcons can cover the spread

Bowling Green did it last season and can do it again here. The Falcons do not have to contend with Heisman Trophy finalist Lynch, the NIU quarterback who passed for 219 yards and rushed for 126 more in last year’s game, accounting for all three touchdowns.

Despite losing their quarterback Johnson to a season-ending hip injury in a 59-31 loss to the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers back on August 29, they were still able to win the MAC East with a 5-3 record and are bowl-eligible with a 7-5 mark overall.

Bowling Green has the experience of last year’s victory against Northern Illinois to draw from here and should be able to use that to its advantage.

 

Smart Pick

The Huskies are riding a six-game winning streak into Ford Field and needed to win their last two games in order to beat out the Toledo Rockets for their return trip to Detroit. Despite not covering the 3.5-point spread in a 27-24 home win over Toledo, Northern Illinois beat the line in those two following games, including last week’s 31-21 road victory against the Western Michigan Broncos as an eight-point underdog.

Neither of these teams has really fared well ATS in MAC play this season, although the Huskies have covered three of their past four. With revenge also working in their favor this time around, look for Northern Illinois to not only win the MAC Championship Game for the third time in four years, but also cover the spread.

 

Betting Trends

  • The total has gone under in five of Northern Illinois's last five games
  • Bowling Green is 12-6 SU in its last 18 games

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates and get the free odds tracker app.

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Orange Bowl 2014: TV Schedule, Matchup Predictions and More

There are many college football bowl games that will take place over the coming month, but few have the history and prestige associated with the Capital One Orange Bowl.

The Orange Bowl was first played on January 1, 1935, and has been held annually ever since.

The 2014 edition of the game will feature the ACC champion (or second-place ACC team if Florida State makes the College Football Playoff) squaring off against a representative from the SEC, Big Ten or the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Here is all the vital viewing information for the 2014 Orange Bowl.

 

Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida

When: Wednesday, December 31

Start Time: 8 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream:WatchESPN

 

Predicting Possible Matchups

A huge part of the Orange Bowl is the inclusion of an Atlantic Coast Conference representative. While the Florida State Seminoles are the No. 1 team in the conference, the program will have to square off against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets for the ACC Championship Game.

The championship will take place Saturday, December 6, at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

If Florida State wins the game and claims the ACC title, the team will be a lock for the College Football Playoff with an undefeated record. In that case, Georgia Tech would advance to the Orange Bowl as the representative of the ACC.

On the other hand, a loss for the Seminoles would knock the team out of playoff contention and out of the Orange Bowl as well. The Yellow Jackets are in a win-win situation, and their spot in the postseason is secured.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson spoke to Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com about the lack of respect he and his team have received at times:

You're never going to please everybody. As soon as you lose a game or lose a couple games, they come back out. They don't go away. That's the same for everybody. I've been doing this for a long time, and there's a long track record, and I'm proud of it. I figure when it's not good enough, they'll get somebody else.

As for which program the Yellow Jackets play in the Orange Bowl, that’s a bit more complicated.

Notre Dame was a major consideration earlier in the season, but four straight losses to end the season and five losses in the last six games prove that the Fighting Irish do not deserve the honor.

The result will be the highest-ranked team from the Southeastern Conference or the Big Ten Conference (not including conference champions) squaring off against Georgia Tech. Right now, all signs point to either the Michigan State Spartans or the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

It still remains to be seen how the conference championships shake up the College Football Playoff rankings, but losses from top teams in the rankings could drastically change how both Michigan State and Mississippi State are ranked.

As much as the Spartans deserve credit for an impressive season, the schedule was much more difficult for the Bulldogs. Despite a loss in the final game of the regular season, Mississippi State still has marquee wins over LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn.

Michigan State has played only three ranked teams all year and lost two of those matchups (defeated by Oregon and Ohio State), and the Spartans will likely just miss out on the chance to play in the Orange Bowl.

College football fans want the best game possible. With Georgia Tech a lock to make the Orange Bowl and Mississippi State deserving the honor more than Michigan State, the predicted matchup between the Yellow Jackets and Bulldogs will be a marquee bowl game.

As much as Georgia Tech deserves the honor of making the Orange Bowl, Mississippi State is the better team and will be looking for vengeance after ending the regular season with a loss. Those looking to place a bet on the bowl games should ride with the Bulldogs.

Predicted 2014 Orange Bowl and Score: Mississippi State 33, Georgia Tech 24

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

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Insider Film Breakdown: Will Arizona Upset Oregon for Second Time This Season?

The Arizona Wildcats are in control of their own destiny. Sitting at No. 7 in the latest poll with a huge Pac-12 Championship showdown with Oregon looming, the 'Cats are arguably one win away from a College Football Playoff berth.   

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down the film to determine whether or not Arizona has a chance to beat Oregon for the second time this season. 

Will Arizona take down the Ducks?

Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Amari Cooper Is the X-Factor for Alabama

Hangin' With Mr. Cooper

Can anyone on Missouri's roster cover Amari Cooper?

Can anyone on the planet?

Missouri better find an answer to the Cooper puzzle this week because the junior wide receiver for the Alabama Crimson Tide has been torching opposing secondaries to the tune of 1,573 yards, 14 touchdowns and an average of 8.6 catches per game.

Cooper's ability to stabilize the offense and get quarterback Blake Sims in a groove allows first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to get his offense clicking.

As we saw in the second half of the Iron Bowl, when it clicks, it's nearly impossible to slow down.

"Sims, their quarterback, was impressive the other night," Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said. "To make the mistakes he made, then come back. Then Cooper, what do you say about him? It's a very, very good football team. Very well‑coached football team."

All eyes will be on the Missouri secondary on Saturday afternoon at the Georgia Dome. If Tiger cornerback Kenya Dennis can get Cooper off of his routes at the line of scrimmage and disrupt that timing, it will give the Tigers a chance.

Sims got rattled against Auburn last week and threw several balls into coverage, and if Missouri is going to win, it has to repeat the feat and give its offense a short field to work with.

 

Opportunity Awaits?

The last time we saw Alabama's secondary, Auburn wide receiver Sammie Coates was lighting it up like a Christmas tree in an Iron Bowl that looked more like a pinball machine on tilt.

Can Missouri replicate Auburn's aerial success?

Bud Sasser has 64 catches for 904 yards and nine touchdowns this season, and Jimmie Hunt has 529 yards and seven touchdowns. The dynamic wide receiver duo for the Tigers is looking forward to the challenge of going up against an Alabama secondary that's talented, well-coached and, at times, inconsistent.

"It's always great to have a nice challenge out there, someone who will make you think a little bit," Sasser said. "Once you figure it out, it makes you feel pretty good, and your confidence level goes even higher. We're looking forward to it."

They have to get the ball, though, and that means Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk is going to have to play the game of his life against the talented and deep Alabama front seven.

Mauk went through a bit of a lull in October, throwing only two touchdowns and five interceptions. Since then, he's tossed six touchdowns, only two picks and and has recovered from a nicked-up shoulder.

"He's kind of back a little bit in terms of I think he's throwing the ball well," Pinkel said. "I think he's reading defenses better. Certainly going to be a challenge this week, but it's nice to see him making plays again, like we expected him to do. Certainly people around him are playing at a high level, too."

If Mauk and the receivers can connect early, we may see a sequel to the "Iron Bowl on Tilt" this weekend under the big top of the Georgia Dome.

 

Slowing Down Sims

Not many people expected Sims to be the quarterback of the Alabama Crimson Tide during its first visit to the Georgia Dome this year for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against West Virginia, much less its second visit for the SEC Championship Game.

But here he is, cruising right along at 11-1 with the best passer rating in the SEC (159.51).

Sims' ability to operate within the structure of a more pro-style system despite being a dual-threat quarterback makes him a tremendous challenge for opposing defenses.

Designed runs exist in Kiffin's system, but Sims is far likelier to take off when the play breaks down than he is to take it to the house on a zone read.

"You have your problems with a guy like this, athletic as he is," Pinkel said. "So we understand that. I don't think you stop him. I think you contain him the best you can."

The way to do it is with defensive ends like Markus Golden and Shane Ray. The duo has notched 20.5 combined sacks and 36.5 tackles for loss this season. It's a challenge to slow down Sims, but they're excited about the challenge he presents.

"We like playing against great players," Golden said. "No matter what, we're going to be able to get after the pass rusher. We know he's fast, but we're fast enough to run him down."

He is going to have to if Missouri is going to have a chance in the second half.

 

Ground-and-Pound

Missouri isn't known as a team that puts a ton of emphasis on time of possession, but if it becomes clear that Alabama's offense is clicking, draining the clock might not be the worst idea in the world.

If that's how the SEC Championship Game plays out, all eyes will be on Tiger running back Russell Hansbrough. The junior has 949 yards and nine touchdowns on 177 carries this season and has come on strong late, averaging 5.39 yards per carry in November.

He sprained his ankle during Friday's win over Arkansas but should be back this week vs. the Tide.

"Like everybody right now, you have a little bumps and bruises.," Pinkel said. "No question about it. It's been a long season. But we expect to have everybody who played this past Friday ready to play next Saturday."

Hansbrough is one of the more underrated players in the country and is particularly dangerous when making cuts in traffic.

That generally isn't the best idea against a team like Alabama that is so fast, especially considering that fast-twitch linebacker Rashaan Evans has earned a bigger role as the season has gone on.

If Hansbrough can get going, it will keep Alabama's defense honest and keep the Crimson Tide offense off the field. That's a recipe for success for Pinkel's crew.

 

Quick Outs

  • Tuesday night's College Football Playoff rankings have made it abundantly clear—Alabama has to win to get in. If the Crimson Tide lose, there's no chance they make the inaugural four-team event.
  • Missouri also has a major uphill battle if it springs the upset. It's going to have to root for chaos, but with No. 7 Arizona, No. 11 Georgia Tech and No. 13 Wisconsin all ranked ahead of the 16th-ranked Tigers, those teams have to win but look sloppy in the process. That isn't going to happen.
  • Elsewhere in the SEC, Jay G. Tate of AuburnSports.com reported on Wednesday that Auburn has extended an offer to Will Muschamp to become its new defensive coordinator. The same report also states that an offer is on the table from Texas A&M. Oh, to be a coaching agent in December.
  • Once the Muschamp sweepstakes are over, keep an eye on Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. He only makes $480,000, according to the USA Today coaching salary database, and has helped produce the Big Ten's best defense this season (260.3 yards per game). If he makes his way to the SEC, it would be a sneaky-good hire for whoever hires him.

 

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 cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Will Muschamp Rumors: Latest Buzz, Speculation Surrounding Former Florida Coach

Former Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp stepped down from the program after back-to-back lackluster seasons, but he has become one of the hottest coaching commodities on the open market.

According to Jay G. Tate of AuburnSports.com, the Auburn Tigers have offered Muschamp the defensive coordinator position and he is reportedly considering taking the job.

Auburn isn’t the only team reportedly interested, though, as Tate is also hearing that Texas A&M has made an offer to Muschamp.

Regardless of where Muschamp signs next, he will likely demand a hefty paycheck. According to the report, he is owed almost $6 million from Florida and had an annual salary of $2.7 million while with the Gators.

Auburn fired defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson on Saturday, according to Greg Ostendorf of ESPN.com, and Tate is reporting that the Tigers’ athletic department would be willing to pay Muschamp “at least $1.2 million per year.”

Taking a high-profile defensive coordinator position would be the smart move for Muschamp after amassing a 28-21 record during his career with Florida. As an assistant, he has a chance to rehab his image as an elite coach without the pressure of being the head coach.

Muschamp showed glimpses of being an elite football mind during his coaching career, and rebuilding his reputation at Auburn would likely help the 43-year-old earn enough credibility to eventually jump back into being a head coach down the line.

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

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Auburn Defensive Coordinator Search: Latest News, Speculation on Vacant Position

In its quest to find a new defensive coordinator to replace Ellis Johnson, Auburn apparently has its sights set high. According to Jay G. Tate of AuburnSports.com, the school is gunning for former Florida head coach Will Muschamp to fill the position:

Former Florida head coach Will Muschamp has been offered the job and is considering the opportunity, AuburnSports.com has learned. The one-time Auburn assistant coached the Gators during their loss at Florida State last weekend and held firm on plans to spend some time clearing his head before considering his next move.

Per Tate's report, Texas A&M also has interest in Muschamp, while two NFL teams have expressed interest. But if Muschamp isn't interested in the job, Tate reports that UAB head coach Bill Clark—Clark will be available after UAB decided to shut down the football program on Tuesday, per ESPN—and Memphis defensive coordinator Barry Odom are also strong candidates for the position.

Muschamp would be the prize hire, however. While his tenure at Florida as the head coach was a disappointment, Muschamp is still considered one of the brightest defensive minds in college football and has been the defensive coordinator at LSU, with the Miami Dolphins, at Auburn and at Texas. 

It would be a huge hire for Auburn and give them one of the brightest defensive minds in the game to pair with an offensive whiz (head coach Gus Malzahn). The season just ended, but already Auburn is trying to make one of the splashiest moves of the offseason. 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff 2014: Breaking Down Format and Bowl Predictions

Tuesday night, the College Football Playoff committee told fans what most already knew: The final four are set—at least, they appear to be as long as everyone gets out of conference championship weekend unscathed.

That'll be much easier said than done.

Sitting at the top for the third straight week were No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon. No. 3 TCU and No. 4 Florida State flip-flopped this week, but the path is still clear for a playoff berth. Win their respective conference titles, and there is no way the committee can hold them out. Each have matchups against ranked opponents and in some cases (mainly Florida State) will be earning their most impressive victory of the season this weekend.

TCU, despite the move upward, sits in the most precarious position. The Horned Frogs have the easiest game of any Top Six team this weekend, closing their regular season against lowly Iowa State. Outside an apocalypse wiping out the entire football team and forcing a forfeit, TCU is going to win; the only question is by how much.

Seemingly meaningless style points could matter come Sunday. With Baylor facing off against Kansas State and Ohio State taking on Wisconsin, the two other one-loss teams on the fringes have one more chance to leave a lasting impression.

How will the committee decide on that fourth team? Here's a look at how this process plays out.

  

College Football Committee Selection Process

As we all should know by now, the selection committee consists of 12 members. Originally there were 13, but Archie Manning recused himself for one year to undergo back surgery. Most of the members are or were affiliated with major college athletics—former and current athletic directors, reporters, etc. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is the only member without such experience.

The committee will meet following Saturday's games with two tasks in mind: finding the four playoff teams and filling the remaining high-profile bowls, formerly known as BCS contests.

The four pillars for playoff teams are as follows: championships won, strength of schedule, head-to-head record and comparative outcomes of common opponents. We've already seen three of those four in action. The Big 12 says it'll present Baylor and TCU as co-champions if both win this week, making it unlikely anything changes at the top.

The remaining bowl games—this season, the Orange, Cotton, Fiesta and Peach—are surprisingly a bit more complicated. The Orange Bowl has an affiliation with the ACC, assuming its champion is not in the College Football Playoff. It will also take the best of a threesome headlined by the second-ranked team in the SEC, Big Ten or Notre Dame (NOT Notre Dame this season).

The Cotton, Peach and Fiesta Bowls are at the discretion of the committee. Each will pit at-large teams from Power Five conferences, very likely in some predetermined order. The Top 25 should offer a generalized look at how this will play out, though one or two teams could be massaged in to avoid any accusations of favoritism.

Either way, take a glimpse at the final Top 15. Those will be the teams playing in high-profile contests.

 

Playoff Predictions

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 TCU

The most interesting thing I can say here is that Baylor has a chance. The Bears' head-to-head victory has not made an iota of an impact so far with the committee; they've been behind TCU every step of the way. At multiple points, the two Big 12 outfits were separated by six spots despite Baylor upending TCU in Waco.

But nothing is out of the question. TCU had a close call a few weeks ago against Kansas. A similar effort at home against Iowa State would be enough to make the committee rethink its choice—especially if Baylor looks strong against Kansas State. The best way for Bryce Petty and Co. to re-enter the conversation is by blowing out the Wildcats, who were trounced last month at TCU.

Wins over Kansas State, TCU and Oklahoma suddenly make Baylor's strength of schedule not look so dreadful.

"It is an incredible platform for us to make our case," Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw told reporters. "We would be a Big 12 co-champion with a tiebreaker over TCU. It would give us three top-15-quality wins. We would have the strongest resume among those under consideration."

We can probably rule out Ohio State. It's probably unfair to write the Buckeyes off simply because J.T. Barrett was injured, but the tiebreakers in these cases are minuscule. Cardale Jones won't have enough of a sample size to convince the committee he's capable keeping Ohio State's offense near the top of the country. The expected drop-off alone from Barrett, a fringe Heisman candidate, to Jones, a complete unknown, is too much to trust against teams with equally strong resumes.

Urban Meyer will probably need two teams to go down this weekend to have a shot at the national title for a third straight year.

 

No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State

Nothing much to examine here. Assuming Alabama, Oregon and Florida State each win Saturday, this should be the way it plays out. They're each playing teams in a relatively similar strata, and the difference between a No. 2 and a No. 3 seed is semantics. Neither Oregon nor Florida State will have a home-field advantage, and a one-loss Alabama team isn't budging from the No. 1 seed.

Florida State, still undefeated and heading into its toughest game of the season, probably deserves the No. 3 slot over TCU if it beats Georgia Tech. The Seminoles having to play a scary-good Oregon offense is already punishment enough for their "failure" to win each of their games by enough points. Forcing them to go against Alabama and playing them behind three one-loss teams feels like a step too far. 

The Ducks, ironically enough, may be the Top Four team most likely to lose this weekend. They've already fallen to Arizona. In Eugene. The Wildcats failed to use that win as a springboard, losing two of their next three games, but have righted the ship to win their final four contests. The last two have come against ranked opponents.

Arizona has beaten Oregon in their last two matchups, including a 42-16 drubbing last season at home. Far be it from me to bet against Marcus Mariota this season. It'll just be a much closer game than some are expecting.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter 

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

Just one slate of games remains prior to Selection Sunday, but nothing is determined at this point. Even with Florida State, Oregon and Alabama appearing to control their own destiny, any of the top programs might see a fall from grace.

Outside of the top four, there are several tough decisions for the committee and lower-tier bowls on the horizon. Rick Catlett, the CEO of the TaxSlayer Bowl, spoke about how wild the process will be, via Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports:

For the first time in 22 years, team selection is fun again. And it’s certainly going to be fun for the fans, because they’re not going to have any clue. ...

You’re not going to have obstacles getting in the way like the guy with the second pick is going to screw it up by picking the wrong team. The commissioners will make sure of it.

Needless to say, getting every single pick right at this point is nearly impossible to predict. With conference championships coming this weekend, nothing is a given for any program in the bowl projections.

In anticipation of championship weekend, here's a look at the bowl schedule, projections and analysis for the college football playoff.

 

Playoff Analysis

At this point, there is little doubt who the top three teams in the country are. Regardless of how fans feel about Florida State, the Seminoles remain undefeated and are one game away from joining Oregon and Alabama in the College Football Playoff—results pending.

Even with just one weekend remaining, there is a chance for even more insanity prior to the bowl announcements. Gabe DeArmond of Rivals.com notes all the teams that can upset the committee with wins:

The Seminoles appear to be the team most under pressure after struggling against Florida. Georgia Tech is far from the Duke team FSU faced last year in the ACC championship and comes in with one of the most prolific offenses in the country.

Georgia Tech has gone with a ground-and-pound system yet again this year, leading to the team ranking No. 1 in the country in third-down percentage (57 percent). Joe Schad of ESPN also points out other areas where the Yellow Jackets have found success:

FSU has some convincing to do against the Jackets, but Alabama and Oregon also have stiff tests against Missouri and Arizona, respectively. If all three come away victorious, they will more than likely be playing for a spot in the national championship game.

However, the No. 4 spot is a controversial one between a multitude of programs.

TCU, Baylor and Ohio State all look like the most likely candidates, with the Big 12 teams having the best chance. The Horned Frogs face lowly Iowa State, the Bears have a showdown with Kansas State and the Buckeyes must win handily against a strong Wisconsin program.

With the Big 12 teams on the inside track, the Horned Frogs went out and dismantled Texas 48-10. TCU coach Gary Patterson spoke about the decisive victory, per Jim Vertuno of The Associated Press (via The Sacramento Bee):

You want style points? The style points tonight were defense, turnovers, doing the things you needed to do. ...

You know, this team deserves to go home and win a championship," Patterson said. "We've got one more to do it, and I'm very proud of them. I'm finally going to go maybe smile once, but we've got to get ready to play Iowa State.

TCU has proved it is worthy of making the playoff, but it did lose to Baylor earlier this season. Following that win, the Bears went out and laid an egg against West Virginia before struggling recently against Texas Tech.

Another component that is not convincing about Baylor is its nonconference schedule, as Danny Kanell notes on ESPN College Football:

If Baylor wins on Saturday and TCU closes with a narrow win over Iowa State, the margin might become even closer. Outside of the Big 12, Ohio State will hope it can prove to the committee it deserves a spot with Cardale Jones leading the way after losing J.T. Barrett for the season.

The picture is still wide open for a plethora of teams, but it will all become much more clear by the end of Saturday night. Having a tough decision is nothing new in college football, and the committee certainly has one on their hands on Sunday.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Tennessee Football: 5 Offensive Improvements Vols Must Make Before Bowl Game

Back when Tennessee's offense fired on all cylinders against South Carolina and Kentucky, and Joshua Dobbs went from unheralded starter to star, it appeared the Vols had found the rhythm to be a point-scoring juggernaut.

Then, reality struck.

All of a sudden in the season's final two games against Missouri and Vanderbilt, Dobbs couldn't get out of the pocket. The Vols couldn't throw downfield. Jalen Hurd couldn't find daylight. And UT reverted to the struggles that made fans question the play-calling acumen of offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian early in the season.

Despite the sputtering stretch, Tennessee did just enough to beat Vandy and make a bowl game.

Now, with its likely bowl dates occurring on Dec. 29 or 30, the Vols have approximately a little less than a month to recapture their offensive identity.

VU is one of the worst teams in all of football, and Tennessee needed several big defensive plays to bail out its offense and squeak out a win. That won't happen against a bowl-bound team, so Bajakian and the Vols must straighten things out. 

Tennessee is thrilled to be heading to a bowl game for the first time in four years. But what kind of success the Vols have once they get there sits squarely on how far its offense can take them.

Let's take a look what Tennessee has to do between now and the end of the month to be a handful for its opponent.

Begin Slideshow

Fiesta Bowl 2014: TV Schedule, Matchup Predictions and Odds

While this week's slate of college football conference championship games could certainly change the current landscape significantly, the Fiesta Bowl is among the postseason contests with an extremely interesting matchup potentially on tap.

There are several possibilities for the New Year's Eve clash since there is no conference tie-in under the College Football Playoff system, but Arizona and Boise State are likely in the driver's seat as of right now.

As things currently stand, Stewart Mandel of FoxSports.com and noted college football journalist Phil Steele are among those who project an Arizona vs. Boise State meeting.

According to B.J. Rains of The Idaho Press-Tribune, the Fiesta Bowl has become a popular destination for the Broncos:

The Wildcats will face Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game, while the Broncos will take on 6-6 Fresno State to determine the Mountain West champ. The expectation is that Arizona will lose and Boise State will win, which may seal the Fiesta Bowl's fate.

An Oregon win would send it to the CFP semifinals, which would leave Arizona as the top Pac-12 team left out of national title contention. As for Boise State, it is now clearly the top team from a non-power conference in the wake of Marshall's loss to Western Kentucky.

The Fiesta Bowl has traditionally been a proving ground for unheralded teams, which is something the Broncos established when they upset Oklahoma in 2007.

 

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona

When: Wednesday, Dec. 31 at 4 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

Predicted Odds: Arizona (-10)

 

Players to Watch

Anu Solomon

Many factors have contributed to Arizona's spectacular season, but the play of its freshmen may top the list. Quarterback Anu Solomon has shown an incredible skill set and poise throughout the 2014 campaign, and it will be interesting to see how he performs on the big stage.

Entering the Pac-12 Championship Game, Solomon has over 3,400 passing yards and 27 touchdowns to just seven interceptions through the air. In all likelihood, he will make freshman history in one of his next two contests as well, per Blair Willis of ArizonaWildcats.com:

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Solomon has been his toughness and durability. He was forced to leave Arizona's win over Utah a couple weeks ago with an ankle injury after just one half. That led to Solomon being listed as questionable for the Wildcats' rivalry game against Arizona State last week, according to Pac-12 Networks:

Despite that, Solomon played and thrived as he threw for 208 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-35 win that vaulted Arizona to No. 7 in the country.

Solomon has a long, bright future ahead of him at Arizona, but a strong performance in the Fiesta Bowl could represent the start of an unmatched legacy among Wildcats quarterbacks. He'll have the pressure of being under center for the favored team if this potential matchup holds up, but everything he has done thus far suggests that it won't bother him.

 

Jay Ajayi

Boise State has had plenty of great running backs over the years, including the likes of Ian Johnson and Doug Martin, but it can be argued that none have been as dominant as junior Jay Ajayi.

The Plano, Texas, native is clearly Boise State's best player, and it can be argued that he is the most unheralded player in college football. He enters the Mountain West Championship Game having topped 100 yards rushing in seven straight games, but that is far from the only way he can beat opposing teams.

In addition to over 1,600 rushing yards on the season, Ajayi has caught 45 passes for 536 yards. According to Jay Tust of KTVB, it has been nearly a decade since a running back reached those yardage thresholds in major college football:

With last week's 229-yard rushing performance against Utah State, Ajayi entered the Broncos' record book as well, per Boise State Football on Twitter:

As good as Ajayi is at racking up yardage, his nose for the end zone may be even better. He has an incredible 28 total touchdowns one year after finding pay dirt on 19 occasions.

Boise State is ninth in the nation when it comes to scoring offense at nearly 41 points per game. While quarterback Grant Hedrick has done a nice job, it is no secret that Ajayi has been and will continue to be the biggest key to the Broncos' offensive success.

 

Nick Wilson

Solomon is far from the only Arizona freshman to make a notable impact this season, as running back Nick Wilson has gotten acclimated to the college game much faster than anyone could have anticipated.

The impressive debutant is closing in on 1,300 rushing yards on the season to go along with 15 touchdowns. He torched Arizona State for 178 yards and three scores in last week's Territorial Cup and seems to be getting better as the season goes on.

In fact, Wilson is in the midst of a torrid streak over the past month, according to Anthony Gimino of FoxSportsArizona.com:

Wilson's instant contributions have surprised many, including himself, per Craig Morgan of FoxSportsArizona.com.

"Truthfully, I expected to probably come in, just get some reps and probably be in a rotation or possibly redshirt," Wilson said. "I got the chance and I had the opportunity to make the best of it."

Solomon owes credit to many for the success he has had in 2014, but Wilson may be at the top of that list. Opposing defenses truly have to worry about getting beaten by the Wildcats in myriad ways, and it is difficult for teams to come back when Wilson is killing the clock.

If this Fiesta Bowl clash comes to fruition, much of the focus will likely be on Wilson's counterpart, Ajayi, but the fantastic freshman has a chance to steal the show.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Rapid-Fire Predictions for College Football's Biggest Matchups in Week 15

Championship week is upon us. All eyes will be on the sport as we inch closer to the first-ever College Football Playoff. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Adam Kramer, and Barrett Sallee dish out their biggest headlines for what should be a memorable weekend of games. 

Who will impress the most?

Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Missouri Tigers vs. Alabama Crimson Tide: Betting Odds, SEC Championship Pick

The Missouri Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide are unfamiliar with each other but back in familiar territory as they prepare to battle in the SEC Championship Game Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

The teams have met just once recently, with Alabama routing Missouri 42-10 as a 21-point road favorite in 2012, the same year the Crimson Tide won the SEC title game.

However, the Tigers bounced back from that 5-7 season by going 11-1 last year before losing to Auburn 59-42 as a 1.5-point favorite in the SEC Championship Game.

 

Point spread: The Crimson Tide opened as three-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 29.0-21.8 Crimson Tide

 

Why the Missouri Tigers can cover the spread

East Division champion Missouri is riding a six-game winning streak, going 5-1 against the spread since suffering a disappointing 34-0 loss to the Georgia Bulldogs as three-point home underdogs on October 11.

The Tigers have won four games as dogs during that stretch, including a 21-14 home victory last week against the Arkansas Razorbacks, who were 2.5-point road favorites after shutting out LSU and Ole Miss in consecutive games.

In fact, Missouri has played much better as a dog outside of the loss to Georgia, going 8-1 straight up and ATS in its past nine under that scenario dating back to last season, including that one.

 

Why the Alabama Crimson Tide can cover the spread

West Division champion Alabama knows losing this game would not only drop the team from the top spot in the College Football Playoff rankings, but also knock it out of the field altogether. An SEC team has played for the national championship in each of the past eight years, and the Crimson Tide have won three of the previous five BCS titles.

While they are truly rolling heading into this year’s SEC Championship Game with a seven-game winning streak, they covered the spread for just the second time over that period with a 55-44 win over Auburn in the Iron Bowl last week as a 9.5-point home favorite. Alabama got a wake-up call at halftime against the Tigers, when they were trailing 26-21, and will not let that happen again here with a much better start.

 

Smart Pick

The teams the Crimson Tide have beaten during their winning streak are far superior to those of the Tigers, much like the overall competition in the respective divisions. Every team in the SEC West finished the regular season .500 or better, including an Arkansas squad that lost 17 straight conference games at one point.

Alabama might appear to be struggling a bit with a 3-10-1 ATS mark in its past 14 games, but this team knows how to rise to the occasion and win big when needed. This is one of those spots where the nation will be watching the No. 1 team in the country. The Tide will not disappoint and should have a similar performance as the last meeting with another easy cover.

 

Betting Trends

  • The total has gone under in seven of Missouri's last 10 games
  • Alabama is 1-3-1 ATS in its last five games

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates and get the free odds tracker app.

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College Football Week 15 Schedule: TV and Live Stream Info for Every Game

The college football season is down to championship weekend, as some of the best teams in the country gear up for an ever-important Week 15.

College Football Playoff hopes are on the line for most of the teams atop the current CFP rankings, and just one or two chaotic results could shake up the championship picture as we know it. But first and foremost on most teams' minds will be the chances to win their respective conference championship.

Along with those must-watch affairs and a handful of Big 12 season-ending showdowns, college football aficionados should find plenty of reasons to stay parked in front of their television sets all Saturday long despite a much smaller slate of games.

Here's a complete breakdown of the FBS games on tap for Week 15.

 

Note: Week 15 schedule courtesy of ESPN.com.

 

Live Stream Note

Many college football live streams will be available at the following sites (subscription or cable service may be required):

WatchESPN.com

CBSSports.com

Fox Sports Go

ABC Live

 

Game of the Week

No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 11 Georgia Tech

An ACC title game that many already pegged as Florida State's toughest late-season test got a lot more interesting with the release of Tuesday's Week 15 CFP rankings.

After the Seminoles struggled once again against in-state rivals Florida over the weekend, they tumbled even further down the rankings. This time, it was TCU instead of Oregon jumping Florida State, per Bleacher Report:

It would be nothing short of mind-boggling if Florida State were to miss the playoff entirely with an undefeated record, but that's a 60-minute battle away from even being the case.

After lethargic performances in wins over Miami, Boston College and Florida over recent weeks, it's far from a stretch to suggest the Yellow Jackets could pull off the feat and win. Head coach Paul Johnson has his squad playing confident after an upset win over Georgia extended its win streak to five games.

Without a pair of one-score losses to Duke and North Carolina in back-to-back weeks, Georgia Tech would be undefeated and pressing Florida State for that final playoff spot.

The last time these two faced off, Florida State began its win streak against the Jackets in a 21-15 ACC title game in 2012. But Georgia Tech has transformed itself in the two years since and won't be lacking confidence like that last time out.

"We went into that game not as confident, I would say, until after the first half when he realized we could play with those guys," Georgia Tech's Shaquille Mason told The Associated Press' Paul Newberry (via Yahoo). "As opposed to this game, where we're going in very confident. They're going to get our best shot from the first snap to the final whistle."

In the process of a 10-2 season, Georgia Tech has impressed many more folks than just themselves, including SEC Network's Greg McElroy:

The Yellow Jackets have undoubtedly deserved their ascension toward the Top 10 and guarantee to stick with Florida State for four quarters just as most of the Seminoles' opponents in 2014. But sophomore quarterback Jameis Winston and Co. have shown the ability to pull out wins right when everyone starts to count them out.

Despite a No. 4 ranking in the latest CFP release, the Seminoles are still the top dogs in college football. Despite their looks as of late and continued slip down the rankings, an undefeated Florida State squad won't be left out of the CFP party if it takes care of Georgia Tech in any fashion Saturday.

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