NCAA Football

College Football Playoff Rankings 2014: Predictions for Week 15

With the regular season in the books, the College Football Playoff committee is facing a decision that will set the selection-making precedent for years to come.

Though the Top Three are relatively uncontroversial, the CFP committee must now decide between one-loss teams for the fourth and final playoff berth.  Does an Ohio State squad without J.T. Barrett deserve consideration over TCU, especially if it takes the Big 10 title game next week?  What about Baylor, which beat the Horned Frogs and could very well be the best of the entire trio?

This is the type of no-win controversy straight out of the BCS handbook, one that will elicit plenty of discussion and furor regardless of the verdict.  Taking a look at the odds for Week 14, let's try to forecast how the committee's outlook may change based on Saturday's results.

 

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

After Alabama's come-from-behind 55-44 barnburner over Auburn, there's little doubt that Nick Saban's crew has become the nation's best team once again.  The Crimson Tide have finally provided consensus stability at the top after months of turmoil, a familiar position after two losses to end the 2013 campaign left the program shellshocked.

The Iron Bowl illustrated what has been a prevailing theme, namely the transformation of Bama from an old-school smashmouth team into one capable of keeping up with the proliferation of spread offenses throughout the FBS.  With the SEC West title in hand, the Tide also have some auspicious recent history in their favor:

In the SEC title game, Alabama will face Missouri, who won the SEC East for the second consecutive season.  The Tigers have not played Alabama over the past two seasons, so Missouri's balanced offense led by Maty Mauk and Russell Hansbrough could allow them to keep pace against a Bama offense that has been uncharacteristically explosive this year, ranking fourth in the SEC in yards per play.

Missouri can bring the pressure, having accrued an 8.83 percent sack percentage that ranks 11th in the nation, per TeamRankings.com.  It's doubtful that a two-loss Alabama team without an SEC title would reach the playoff, so Saban's crew has no margin for error against an underrated Tigers squad.

 

2. Oregon Ducks

After a breezy win over rival Oregon State, the Ducks will now cruise into the Pac-12 title game against the team that handed Oregon its only defeat of the season.  The Arizona Wildcats sprung one of the season's biggest upsets at Eugene, pulling out a 31-24 stunner on a quiet Thursday night.

However, repeating the feat at Levi's Stadium next weekend will be more difficult, especially when considering how the Ducks have gotten healthier since that defeat.  The Ducks have won by an average of 22 points per game since that Wildcats loss, including blowouts over Pac-12 South contenders UCLA and Utah.

Marcus Mariota is also healthier, as the Arizona game came on a short week of rest after he had been sacked seven times against Washington State.  Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost admitted that the Heisman candidate was not fully healthy for that game, one in which Mariota posted by far his lowest QBR of the entire season.

Because of Oregon's dominance since the loss, advanced metrics like Football Outsiders' Fremeau Efficiency Index have consistently ranked the Ducks as the best or second-best team in the country most of the season.  Oregon figures to remain second this week, and it would be surprising if they budged from the postseason picture at all.

 

3. Florida State Seminoles

The Seminoles may be the shakiest team here based on their regular-season resume.  Nevertheless, it is impossible to leave out the undefeated defending champions, and although Florida State has not always fulfilled the potential of its high-end talent, it is clear that they will reach the playoff with an ACC title.

Headed into Saturday's action, Florida State's plus-12.1 average margin of victory ranked just 12th in the nation, per TeamRankings.com, nearly four touchdowns worse than their dominant FBS-leading plus-38.8 margin of victory last season.  Indeed, metrics derived from Vegas betting lines suggest that the Seminoles have not been a top-four squad this season:

In the conference title game, Florida State will face a Georgia Tech team that it has not faced in the Jameis Winston era.  At 10-2, the Yellow Jackets are one of the nation's underrated teams, having bounced back from a pair of midseason losses to notch their most regular-season wins since 2009.  

Nevertheless, even if the Seminoles do not win in dominant fashion, leaving out an undefeated defending champion would be an improbable precedent for the committee to set.  If only by sheer force of pedigree, an uber-talented Florida State squad may force its way into the playoff field and adopt the unfamiliar role of underdog.

 

4. TCU Horned Frogs 

This selection is sure to provoke widespread protests and discourse no matter who is selected, but TCU is the cleanest choice.  Picking Ohio State would have made more sense before the Barrett injury, but even if the Buckeyes prevail over Wisconsin next week, it's hard to justify them as one of the four best teams in the nation.

In truth, despite their earlier loss to Baylor, the Horned Frogs look like the Big 12's best team.  The aforementioned FEI rankings placed TCU fifth in the country, five spots ahead of 10th-ranked Baylor.  That gap only figures to grow after the Horned Frogs thrashed Texas but the Bears struggled with Texas Tech.

If the Buckeyes do beat Wisconsin, however, they would have reason to have significant beef with this outcome.  Because we do not have a meaningful sample from which to evaluate, there would be plenty of guesswork as to whether or not a Cardale Jones-led squad is capable of winning the national title.

TCU also has the advantage of not needing to play a conference championship game, as a breezy home win over Iowa State next weekend would put a wrap on an already impressive resume.  Unless someone like Arizona or Missouri springs a conference championship upset, it doesn't look like there is much room for debate.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Predicting the Top 25 After Week 14

Last Saturday—Week 13 on the college football calendar—left us starving. Not so for Week 14. 

It's only fitting that on a weekend when we celebrate family, food and football, our appetites were more than satisfied with the rivalry action on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. 

Florida State overcame Jameis Winston's worst-ever performance to stave off an upset from Florida. Ole Miss proved to be too much for Mississippi State in one of the most highly anticipated editions of the Egg Bowl ever.

And in the week's—and maybe even the entire season's—best game, Alabama scored 24 of the final 27 points to beat Auburn in the highest-scoring Iron Bowl of all time. 

The shake-up in the polls will be inevitable. Let's predict how the AP poll will look come Sunday.

Note: Rankings reflect a prediction of the Week 14 AP poll—not how the author would rank the teams himself.  

 

Biggest Risers

Arizona

The Wildcats held court against their in-state rival Arizona State, winning a high-scoring game 42-35. The win gives them the Pac-12 South crown and a date with No. 3-ranked Oregon next week in the Pac-12 title game.

Quarterback Anu Solomon and Co. are hoping they can get a repeat performance of the brisk Thursday night in October, when they shocked the Ducks in Eugene. 

Head coach Rich Rodriguez always has a solid game plan in place when the Wildcats take on Oregon, and next week should be no different.

Another upset win would catapult the 'Cats into the discussion as a dark-horse playoff candidate, though they'd need a bit of help to sway the committee. 

 

Georgia Tech

Hats off to coach Paul Johnson and his Yellow Jackets, who have very quietly put together an excellent season, with back-to-back wins against ranked teams in Clemson and in-state rival Georgia.

If not for an inexplicable two-week stumble down Tobacco Road, in which Georgia Tech dropped consecutive games to Duke and North Carolina, respectively, we could be talking about next week's ACC Championship Game versus Florida State as one of the games of the year. 

Still, the Yellow Jackets have a chance to further inject themselves into the college football narrative by knocking off Florida State on Saturday and taking out the last of the nation's unbeatens.

 

Biggest Fallers

UCLA

We never should have trusted you, UCLA. The Bruins had a golden opportunity to keep their slim hopes of a playoff berth alive, simply by beating the up-and-down Stanford Cardinal on Friday and setting up a rematch with Oregon for the Pac-12 title.

Instead, Jim Mora's crew had one of its worst performances of the year, dropping the game 31-10, at home nonetheless. Now, the Bruins must wait to find out where they'll be headed for their bowl game.

A 9-3 finish with two inexplicable losses to Utah and Stanford is a far cry from what many people thought would be a dark-horse national title contender before the season began. 

 

Georgia

You can't blame the Bulldogs for losing focus on Saturday. After Missouri's win on Friday wrapped up the SEC East title for the Tigers—giving Georgia no shot at an SEC Championship Game showdown with Alabama—it's understandable that the motivation might not have been there.

Still, Mark Richt can't be happy with how his team performed against a surging, albeit inferior Georgia Tech team. The Dawgs gave up almost 400 yards on the ground to the Yellow Jackets and turned the ball over three times.

Oh, and what could have been if not for the Todd Gurley suspension/injury. Nick Chubb performed very well in his absence, but Gurley's ability to change the game with a single touch was sorely missed.

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Oregon Is Playing Like National Champions Heading into December

If the 2014 Civil War were a boxing match, the referees would have called it off after the first quarter...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Red-Zone Issues Doom Auburn in Epic Iron Bowl

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Forty-four points and 630 yards of offense are usually more than enough to beat any team.

They weren't enough for Auburn on Saturday night as the Tigers allowed 55 points to a surging No. 1 Alabama team in an Iron Bowl shootout.

But instead of pointing the blame toward his defense, which allowed more than 400 yards for the fifth time in its last six games, Auburn's head coach Gus Malzahn absorbed the blame with his offense.

"I think the name of the game really was we got in the red zone, and we had to kick field goals instead of scoring touchdowns," Malzahn said. "We had enough yards to score a whole bunch of points."

Auburn scored on seven of its eight red-zone trips Saturday night, against the nation's No. 5 total defense, but five of them were short field goals by freshman kicker Daniel Carlson.

By settling for field goals, 35 points from touchdowns went down to 15 on those drives, and Malzahn said that was the difference in the 11-point result.

"I think it kind of goes back to this—regardless of what happened, we didn't get enough touchdowns in the red zone," Malzahn said. "We should've scored a whole bunch of points. We didn't get it done."

Quan Bray's five-yard touchdown grab from quarterback Nick Marshall early in the third quarter—one that gave Auburn a 12-point lead—and a garbage-time touchdown run from Corey Grant were the only red-zone trips that resulted in six points.

While the Tigers had an 88 percent scoring rate, the 25 percent touchdown rate was the lowest for Auburn in a game that featured more than one red-zone trip since Malzahn took over last season.

Not scoring touchdowns on red-zone trips had been a problem for Auburn in losses under Malzahn.

"It's frustrating because we were one of the top red-zone teams in the country," Marshall said. "We just have to put points on the board when we get down there."

Four of Carlson's field goals came from inside the Alabama 10-yard line as Auburn's offense continued to stall right outside the end zone.

Several of those drives came down to poor third-down conversions. The Tigers were 9-of-19 on third down against the Crimson Tide, including 5-of-10 on 3rd-and-short situations.

Grant, who started his collegiate career in Tuscaloosa with the Crimson Tide, gave some credit to the play of his former team.

"It does get tougher for you down there," Grant said. "Your options are limited. There are only certain plays you can run down there against a team that has a great defense."

On the earlier visits inside the Alabama 10-yard line, going for a fourth-down conversion seemed like a strong possibility for Malzahn's offense.

The Auburn head coach opted for the field goals, and his team defended the decisions after the game.

"I'm behind my coach," said Sammie Coates, who had 206 receiving yards and two touchdowns on five catches. "If he wanted to kick field goals, we were going to be behind him on that."

But one drive in which the Tigers settled for three points didn't come down to third or fourth down at all.

With less than a minute before halftime, following an interception from Alabama quarterback Blake Sims and a 40-yard pass from Marshall to Coates, Auburn had the ball on the Alabama 1-yard line with one timeout.

But Auburn ran down the clock before its next snap, and a negative rush for star running back Cameron Artis-Payne forced Auburn to send out Carlson.

Instead of taking a two-score lead into the locker room, Auburn made it a 26-21 game thanks to what AL.com's Brandon Marcello correctly identified as poor clock management:

After the game, Malzahn explained the odd end to the quarter and wished for another crack at it.

"Looking back, we probably should have called a timeout," Malzahn said. "We tried to get a formation in there and pace it. We felt really good about it. We were ID'ing certain things. Looking back, that was obviously a big factor. I'm not saying we would've scored [a touchdown], but I'd like to have at least a better chance at that."

While criticism continued to swirl around Auburn's defense and its leadership, the players on the offensive side of the ball said Saturday night they must improve heading into the postseason.

For Bray, that improvement could be the difference in ending what has been a disappointing senior season with either more heartache or a high note.

"We really left a lot of points on the board," Bray said. "The whole world saw that. It would've been a different outcome, I'm sure, if we would've scored touchdowns every time we got down in there. But that's football. We have to finish next time."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

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Amari Cooper's Iron Bowl Performance Shows That He Should Be Heisman Favorite

Amari Cooper is the hero the Heisman Trophy deserves.

Marcus Mariota remains the presumptive favorite to take home the Heisman. He threw for 367 yards and four touchdowns against Oregon State on Saturday. The Oregon Ducks quarterback in all likelihood will lift the award in New York City next month.

Heisman voters love quarterbacks, and Mariota's leading one of the best teams in the country. In truth, he wouldn't be an undeserving candidate.

But that doesn't change the fact that Cooper's the best offensive player in the country.

The Alabama star torched the Auburn secondary in the Crimson Tide's Iron Bowl win. His 224 receiving yards were an Iron Bowl record, per ESPN Stats & Info:

ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough gave his proverbial game ball to Cooper, writing:

He couldn't be stopped. Though his quarterback, Blake Sims, struggled, Cooper played like a man on a mission. Three times he scored a touchdown, two of which came on plays on which he simply outran and outmaneuvered the coverage to get himself open. By the time it was all said and done, Cooper made his best case for the Heisman Trophy with 13 receptions for 224 yards and three scores.

Every time the Tide needed a big play, they turned to Cooper. Chase Goodbread of NFL.com thought that Cooper booked a seat to New York after Saturday:

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee went even further, arguing that the junior should be in line for the Heisman.

When asked after the game about whether the Iron Bowl will get him on the list of Heisman finalists, Cooper responded, "Hopefully," per John Zenor of The Associated Press, via ABCNews.com.

It's easy to argue that Cooper can't be all that valuable when Alabama's loaded with blue-chip recruits and led by the best coach in college football. And to a certain extent, that's a valid criticism.

But that hasn't stopped countless other players from loaded juggernauts from winning. Every star has outside factors that inflate his ability.

For Mariota, it's a relatively weak defensive conference and an up-tempo, high-powered offense. For Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin has no choice but to hand him the ball; Tanner McEvoy and Joel Stave can't exactly be trusted. The offensive line opens up holes almost any running back could navigate.

Cooper isn't really afforded distinct advantages his fellow Heisman contenders lack.

Even with the talent around him, his importance to the Alabama offense can't be understated.

Alabama is using a first-year offensive coordinator (Lane Kiffin), in addition to a first-year starting quarterback (Blake Sims). It's kind of tough to have a prolific offense when two of your biggest pieces are just getting used to the job.

There's no doubt that the mere presence of Cooper is enough to make both Sims' and Kiffin's jobs easier.

The field opens up more for Sims as secondaries shade to Cooper's side. He also has one heck of a security blanket when no one else is open. Against Auburn, Sims looked Cooper's way 16 times, five more than his other targets combined, per ESPN College Football:

For Kiffin, having a wideout so prodigiously talented opens up the playbook a little more, particularly with the play-action pass. When opposing defenses load up the box to stop T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, Kiffin can look over the top to Cooper.

Kiffin and Sims obviously deserve plenty of credit for their own successes, but there's also no questioning how much help they've received.

In historical terms, the deck is stacked against Cooper. Tim Brown and Desmond Howard are the only two wide receivers to win the Heisman Trophy, and both played a role in the return game, thus meaning more opportunities to make game-breaking plays.

Brown and Howard also benefited from a lack of serious competition. Don McPherson and Casey Weldon were the runners-up in 1987 and 1991, respectively.

These days, the Heisman is almost a QB-exclusive award.

If Larry Fitzgerald can lose out on the 2003 Heisman Trophy to Jason White, then there's little hope of Cooper taking home the honor, or any receiver ever, for that matter.

Like with Fitzgerald, Cooper's otherworldly talent has become almost ordinary considering the frequency with which he performs at a high level:

However, Mariota's shadow looms large, like White's did in '03. Some voters may also value Gordon more. In the event Cooper's invited to New York, he'll remain a long shot.

In the grand scheme of things, the Heisman Trophy winner is largely arbitrary. It doesn't affect a player's draft stock or his Hall of Fame credentials, like MVP awards in professional sports.

Still, you want to see the best players in college football saluted appropriately. Cooper's the best offensive player in college football, and the voters should give him his just due.

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College Football Rankings Week 15: B/R's Official Top 25

With nearly every team playing its final game of the regular season, this weekend was supposed to be the one to give us as definitive an answer yet as to which were the best teams in the country in college football.

But did we get clarity, or just more confusion, based on the Week 14 results? You'll have to check out our rankings to see.

The Bleacher Report Top 25 is voted on by 19 members of B/R's college football team: writers Keith Arnold, Ben Axelrod, Phil Callihan, Justin Ferguson, Andrew Hall, Kyle Kensing, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Brian Pedersen, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Erin Sorensen, Marc Torrence and Greg Wallace, as well as editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Max Rausch.

Each voter submits their ballots based on observations made during the just-completed week's games. Teams receive 25 points for a first-place vote, all the way down to one point for being ranked 25th, and then the top 25 vote-getters are ranked in order of their point totals.

Check out B/R's Week 15 poll, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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Alabama Is the Best Team in College Football, Hands Down

Alabama proved, once again, that it's the best team in the country with a 55-44 win over Auburn in the Iron Bowl.

It doesn't matter that Auburn led 26-21 at halftime. It doesn't matter that Auburn led 33-21 soon after. It doesn't matter that Auburn outgained Alabama 422 yards to 181 yards after 34 minutes.

None of that matters in the slightest.

It mattered at the time, sure, but everything Alabama did in the final 26 minutes made it moot. The Crimson Tide scored 24 of the next 27 points, taking a 55-36 lead with less than four minutes to play. For the first time in program history, they allowed 44 points and won.

"The way we’re headed in college football, there are going to be games like this," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said of the highest-scoring Iron Bowl in history, per Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com.

And he's right.

When one plays opponents like Auburn—a team that entered with the No. 3 offense in the country, per Football Outsiders' F/+ ratings—there are bound to be games in which the defense gets gashed. There is no such thing as an immovable object in college football. Not anymore, there isn't. At this point, the best thing a defense can be is "difficult to move."

Allowing 44 points is no recipe for success; but neither is folding when one's defense allows 44 points. The best teams in the country are the ones that can win in the most conceivable ways.

Oregon beat Cal 49-41. Florida State beat NC State 56-41. Baylor and TCU are vying for a playoff spot after the former beat the latter 61-58.

It happens.

What separates the Crimson Tide from the four teams mentioned above, however, is the rarity with which it happens. Entering Week 14, they had the No. 4 offense and No. 2 defense in the country, per the F/+ ratings. Even after Saturday's showing, neither of those units will fall below the top five when next week's numbers come out.

No other team in the country has two units inside the top 10.

Alabama went 11-1 in the SEC West with its sole loss coming on the road at Ole Miss. The Rebels crashed and burned with a 30-0 loss at Arkansas last week but validated how good they can be—especially in Oxford—with a 31-17 win over Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.

Florida State, meanwhile, spent Week 14 struggling to beat in-state rival Florida. The Seminoles won the national title last season and sport the only undefeated record in the country, but they only beat the Gators by five points and out-gained them by just 24 yards.

When the Gators came to Tuscaloosa in September, Alabama beat them by 21 points and out-gained them by 427 (!!!) yards.

A common thread for Alabama between the Florida game and the Auburn game—and, well, every other match this season—was the dominance of Amari Cooper. Florida State's argument for being the best team in the country includes Jameis Winston being the best player in the country. Ditto that with Oregon and Marcus Mariota.

Both of those guys are amazing.

Cooper might be better than them both.

The speedy wide receiver caught 13 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns against Auburn, coming up big when his team most needed him.

His second touchdown was a 39-yarder on a pretty double-move (seen below) that pulled the Tide within six points. After an Auburn field goal made the score 36-27, he caught his third touchdown of the game on a 75-yard streak on Alabama's next offensive play.

Two catches, 114 yards and two touchdowns.

All he needed was two snaps.

Like his quarterback, Blake Sims, Cooper plays his best in the biggest moments. So too does Jameis, but Florida State doesn't have 'Bama's defense. Neither does Oregon. Neither does Baylor. Neither does Ohio State or TCU (although those latter two are closer).

No team can win 55-44 one week and 14-13 another week with as much ease as Alabama. In the College Football Playoff era, the best team is the one that can beat you in the most conceivable ways.

Even before this week, I thought that team was Alabama.

After this week?

I am one step closer to knowing it.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Auburn vs. Alabama: Game Grades, Analysis for Tigers and Tide

After a year of watching highlights of Auburn's miraculous victory in the Iron Bowl last year, Nick Saban and No. 1 Alabama got revenge, beating the No. 15 Tigers in a 55-44 shootout in Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday night.

The Tide had already clinched a spot in the SEC title game by kickoff, thanks to Ole Miss' upset of Mississippi State Saturday afternoon. But with Saban eyeing the top seed in college football's first playoff, he wanted his Alabama team to deliver a message. 

How did the Tide and the Tigers grade out from Saturday's high-scoring affair? 

 

Auburn Tigers Analysis

Pass Offense: Auburn’s strength offensively under Gus Malzahn has been its powerful rushing attack, but the Tigers lit Alabama up through the air Saturday night. Sammie Coates was absolutely untouchable as he went into the halftime break with 153 receiving yards and two touchdowns on just four receptions. The Tigers, led by quarterback Nick Marshall, threw for 252 yards in the first half alone.

It got a bit tougher for the Tigers in the second half, though. Duke Williams whiffed on what would have been an easy touchdown catch in the third quarter, and Marshall threw a crucial interception that set up an easy Alabama touchdown. He still finished with a remarkable, career-high 457 passing yards against a solid Alabama defense.

 

Run Offense: Marshall and Cameron Artis-Payne led the way during an impressive first-half showing, ripping the Tide defense for 127 yards on the ground. Alabama tightened up in the final two quarters, though, keying in on Artis-Payne, who finished the game with 76 yards (and no touchdowns) on 25 carries, averaging a hair over three yards per carry. After a promising start to the game, the Tigers rushed for just 46 yards in the second half, finishing with 173 total 

 

Pass Defense: The Auburn defense did a terrific job defending Blake Sims during the game's first 35 minutes. The Tigers came up with two big interceptions in the first half and produced a third to start the third quarter, which helped Gus Malzahn's squad build a 12-point lead. But Sims warmed up, throwing three second-half touchdowns to spark Alabama's rally. The Tide finished with 312 passing yards and four touchdowns through the air, and Sims only threw five incompletions all game. 

 

Run Defense: Much like the pass defense, Auburn's front seven was up to the task of stopping Alabama's downhill rushing attack in the first half. The Tigers held the Tide and their loaded backfield to just 49 rushing yards through two quarters, with T.J. Yeldon the only ball-carrier to gain any traction. That changed in a big way in the second half, though, as Alabama surged its way to 178 yards in the final two quarters. 

 

Special Teams: Special teams was a surprising bright spot for Auburn in the first half, largely because the offense failed to execute in the red zone. Daniel Carlson was a perfect four of four on field goals through two quarters and finished with a perfect outing on five attempts. Corey Grant, Johnathan Ford and Quan Bray combined to average just 20.8 yards on five kickoff returns. 

 

Coaching: Auburn was aggressive and executed Malzahn's game plan effectively in the first half, but multiple opportunities (and timeouts) were wasted in the red zone on questionable play calls and time management. Still, the Tigers coaching staff had their team outperforming the nation's top squad for the first 35 minutes of the game. That changed dramatically in the second half as Malzahn failed to keep pace with Lane Kiffin and the Tide. 

 

Alabama Crimson Tide Analysis

Pass Offense: Blake Sims came into the game with four interceptions on the year, but he nearly matched that number in 35 minutes, as he threw three costly picks against the Tigers. However, it was like a switch was flipped midway through the third quarter, because Sims and the Tide passing attack caught fire and completely took over the game. 

Amari Cooper was incredible, hauling in 13 receptions for 224 yards and three touchdowns. Sims finished with 312 passing yards and four touchdowns alongside the three interceptions, but it was his second-half explosion that helped the Tide overcome the upset-minded Tigers. 

 

Run Offense: Alabama’s offense had a hard time finding its bearings early, and a lot of that was down to the run game. Yeldon was solid in the first half, running for 59 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries, but the rest of the team combined for negative 10 yards on the ground before the break.

In the second half, Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Co. surged in a big way. The two running backs combined for just 199 total rushing yards and three touchdowns, leading the way for a ground attack that averaged 6.7 yards per carry.

 

Pass Defense: Alabama came into the game allowing just 198.8 passing yards per game, but the Tigers ripped the Tide’s secondary all night. Marshall was almost flawless in the first half, throwing for 255 yards (202 of which came in the second quarter alone) and two touchdowns. The Tide pulled things together a bit in the second half, and Nick Perry made a huge play at the end of the third quarter, picking Marshall off to set the offense up to retake the lead.

Despite Alabama's second-half adjustments, Auburn's quarterback still managed to set a career high for passing yards.

 

Run Defense: The Tigers had success moving the ball on the ground in the first half, but that success didn't translate once the team crossed into the red zone. Alabama's defense did a good job of bending but not breaking in the first half, limiting Auburn to four field goals in four trips inside the Tide's 20. 

Saban's squad was particularly stingy in the second half, limiting Marshall and a dangerous ground attack to just 46 yards. The Tigers finished with 173 yards on the ground, which was 93.2 yards shy of their season average.

 

Special Teams: The night got off to a rough start when Saban called for a pooch kick on the game’s opening kickoff. Adam Griffith ended up kicking it directly out of bounds to set up Auburn up near midfield, which triggered another uneven performance from Alabama's special teams. Christion Jones had a solid night on return duty, but the Tide's offense operated at such a high level that neither Gunnar Raborn nor Griffith attempted a field goal. The Tide did have an extra point blocked, but it was an otherwise uneventful night.

 

Coaching: Saban, Kiffin and Kirby Smart were completely outdone by Auburn's coaching staff in the first half as Malzahn dictated the pace of play early. After Sims threw his third interception, there was a moment when the Tide had Jacob Coker warming up on the sideline. However, they ended up sticking with their year-long quarterback. That was a decision that payed off handsomely, as Sims triggered the comeback, executing Kiffin's perfectly called second half with precision.

 

All stats via NCAA.com.

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Forget the Playoff, the Iron Bowl Is the Best Thing in College Football

It will live on for a multitude of reasons, some of which won’t be defined for some time. It won’t be remembered for one second—or even one specific moment, for that matter—but the 2014 Iron Bowl reminded us that it is the most entertaining and engaging spectacle college football has going right now.

Toss your obsession with rankings, committees and controversy aside, at least momentarily. There will be ample time to express outrage over what a group of human beings will decide when it comes to the College Football Playoff, and there is little doubt we will set the appropriate pieces of flammable items ablaze when the time is right. 

Alabama’s 55-44 win over Auburn on Saturday reminded us that the satisfaction comes in the journey itself. It comes in the moments. It comes when two teams—two rivals with deep (and recent) football history—put on an absolute show in front of the entire football world. Again.

The greatest rivalry in all of college football delivered for the second consecutive year. And although it didn’t top the 2013 installment—and perhaps nothing ever will—it provided yet another brilliant chapter that will live on through generations.

The score told a story, but it didn’t encompass the entire evening. Without context, you could have pegged this for an SEC basketball game with poor free-throw shooting. Or, worse yet, an Alabama blowout.

Although the Crimson Tide bested the Tigers by double digits—with 99 points on the scoreboard between the two teams, one of many Iron Bowl records that fell Saturday evening—the margin of victory was deceptive.

This was a heavyweight fight, one that appeared to be working heavily in Auburn’s favor for much of the game, especially in the first half. 

After fumbling away its first drive and giving up a quick Alabama score, Auburn responded with a surge of offense to close out the first half. Quarterback Nick Marshall was brilliant, while wideouts D'haquille Williams and Sammie Coates ran wild in the Alabama secondary.

Gus Malzahn’s team headed to the locker room with a 26-21 lead, which could have (and perhaps should have) been more had it not been for four Auburn field goals. Turn one or two of those kicks into scores, and the game's blueprint would have looked very different. 

Alabama head coach Nick Saban provided the necessary intermission message with his team down.

Saban: "I told the guys at halftime that "I believe in you. I think we can win and I think we will win.'"

— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) November 30, 2014

The second half told a different tale, and Saban’s words were put into action.

After he threw his third interception shortly after the third quarter began, it appeared that quarterback Blake Sims would be exiting the game. The cameras focused on backup Jake Coker as he loosened up on the sidelines, although the call to the bullpen never came. 

Instead, Sims came back out the very next drive and flipped the game on its side. With the helping hands of Amari Cooper—the best wideout in all of college football and perhaps the best player overall—the two went to work.

Cooper finished with 13 catches for 224 yards—another new Iron Bowl record—and three touchdowns. His 39-yard score was so brilliantly crafted that offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin celebrated long before the pass left Sims’ hand.

Behold a Heisman moment, one of a few on the evening:

Sims later hit Cooper on a 75-yard touchdown. The QB followed this up with a touchdown run before finding wideout DeAndrew White in the back of end zone for a six-yard strike in the fourth quarter.

Tide running back Derrick Henry then found the end zone on a 25-yard score, which secured the victory for Alabama. In total, Alabama and Auburn tallied 1,169 yards. This, too, was an Iron Bowl record.

On the other side, Nick Marshall threw for 456 yards in a losing effort. Coates caught five passes for 206 yards, an average of 41.2 per catch. Auburn did exactly what we’ve grown accustomed to Auburn doing, and yet it was all overshadowed by Alabama’s second-half surge.

It was an expected offensive output given the way these teams were trending, although it was most certainly welcomed. 

Nostradamus Nick spoke following the game, encompassing the matchup from a unique perspective.

Saban: "That was a tremendous college football game on both sides. We kept grinding on offense."

— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) November 30, 2014

Alabama will head to Atlanta to take on Missouri in the SEC Championship Game next weekend. It might as well be called a quarterfinal game—at least for the Crimson Tide—because a victory will guarantee Saban’s team a spot in the first-ever playoff. Auburn, which dismantled the black and gold Tigers in this game last season, will await its bowl fate.

The two will now voyage on different paths, although this moment in time—the 2014 Iron Bowl—will live on.

It won’t be shown in excess like last year’s game-winning missed field goal that was returned for a touchdown by Chris Davis. The buzz never quite got there, nor would you expect it to reach this uncharted threshold.

But goodness was it entertaining. It was everything you hope a rivalry game will be and more. It was two of college football’s most storied programs delivering yet again in the biggest spotlight imaginable.

Before we dissect Auburn’s inevitable defensive changes to come or Alabama’s College Football Playoff aspirations, let’s allow this one to sink in a little longer. Let’s celebrate the journey. Again. 

All hail the Iron Bowl.

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Blake Sims Cements Place in Iron Bowl History Books with Clutch Second Half

There was a moment in this 2014 Iron Bowl where fans thought it might finally happen.

As Blake Sims trotted off the field after throwing his third interception of the night early in the third quarter, Jake Coker began to warm up on the sideline.

For the uninitiated, Coker was the summer super-transfer from Florida State and the presumed heir apparent to AJ McCarron until he didn't win the job. Instead it was Sims, the scrappy fifth-year senior who had waited his turn and bided his time, that has led Alabama on this march toward the first College Football Playoff.

But, as Auburn extended its lead to 33-21 in the third quarter all of that threatened to come apart, and the life went out of the Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin had a decision to make, the kind of decision that defines a season.

They stuck with Sims. And boy did Sims make them look smart.

The veteran responded as he led Alabama on a 34-3 run in an Iron Bowl comeback for the history books. After throwing his third interception of the night, Sims closed the game by going 10-of-12 for 183 yards and three touchdowns (mostly to Amari Cooper), to cement his place in Alabama and Iron Bowl history.

It was the kind of game that defines an Alabama quarterback, and Sims kept delivering in the biggest way. 

Saban was pretty close to making the change under center. He came out and said as much in his post-game press conference, per Aaron Suttles of The Tuscaloosa News:

That kind of a move, at this point in the season, would have sent shock waves through an offense that had really found an identity under Sims this year.

Besides a handful of plays against Florida, when Sims was briefly knocked out of the game, Coker has only had work with the offense in garbage time at the end of blowout games.

It’s not that he’s been terrible, but it’s obvious that, without even having the benefit of spring practice, he is still learning this offense, and that takes time, which is to be expected. He had his best showing of the season last week against Western Carolina, throwing for 115 yards and a score.

Even still, the calls for Coker were loud and clear, after that third pick put Alabama's title dreams in jeopardy:

But Sims, as he has time and time again this season, showed why he is the guy for this team.

Credit to Kiffin. He made sure Sims leaned on his most reliable weapon to get himself back in the flow of the game.

To begin the comeback, he hit Cooper for a 39-yard touchdown that Kiffin knew was good before the ball left Sims’ hand.

The next series, Sims found Cooper again, streaking down the right sideline for a 75-yard score. For the go-ahead score, Sims went full team-on-my-back and scrambled 11 yards into the end zone.

Later Sims found DeAndrew White for a six-yard touchdown later in the fourth and then led a six-play, 92-yard touchdown capped by a Derrick Henry run. That completed a stretch of five straight touchdown drives that put the game away.

After Henry’s 25-yard gallop that made it 55-36, it was hard to believe that minutes ago, the Blake Sims era at Alabama was hanging in the balance.

Sims' performance Saturday night was a testament to the precarious nature of college football and his unbelievable resiliency as a quarterback. 

It was another night in the wild ride that has been his short career at Alabama. And if Sims has shown us anything this season, this ride isn’t over yet.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from CFBStats.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Oregon vs. Oregon State: Game Grades, Analysis for the Ducks

Able to avoid the upset, the Oregon Ducks defeated the Oregon State Beavers by a score of 47-19. However, the score isn't indicative of how the game truly went.

At one point, Mark Helfrich's team was up 30-0 early in the second quarter. From that point on, the Ducks may have taken their proverbial webbed feet off the gas pedal. 

Marcus Mariota had six touchdowns and over 400 yards of total offense. As usual, he was sensational in his distribution of the football on Saturday night. 

The Beavers didn't have the talent or depth to match up with their in-state rival. Sean Mannion threw for only 162 yards on the evening. A bright spot was running back Storm Woods. He led the team in rushing yards (128), receptions (six) and receiving yards (58). 

A full box score of the game can be found here, courtesy of NCAA.com. Analysis for the Oregon position units can be found below, in addition to game grades for both the first half and the game in its entirety. 

 

Oregon Ducks Game Analysis

Passing Offense

Mariota finished the game 19-of-25 for 367 yards and four touchdowns. He threw some absolute lasers down the field to Dwayne Stanford and Darren Carrington, in particular. Mariota also demonstrated immense touch on both touchdown throws to Charles Nelson. 

He really did anything he wanted to with the ball. Mariota placed the ball to all parts of the field. If NFL scouts want to see a nearly flawless performance throwing the football, they should watch the tape of this game. 

 

Pass Defense

Oregon State's passing attack was relatively vanilla tonight. Credit Oregon's secondary for keeping everything underneath. Not once did the unit get beat with anything vertically down the field. 

Credit Oregon with holding the Pac-12's most prolific passer to only 162 yards. It also held Oregon State's best receiver, Victor Bolden, to four catches for a paltry 13 yards. 

 

Rushing Offense

Royce Freeman gashed the Beavers early, especially on runs outside the tackles. The offensive line did a very nice job of opening up holes and running lanes for the talented freshman back. As a whole, the unit rushed for 198 yards on 40 carries. Mariota had two rushing scores.

However, pass protection became an issue. Oregon State's front seven got after the Oregon signal-caller, and it wasn't even with blitzes. Many of the breakdowns were in one-on-one situations. Mariota, in particular, took some considerable shots in the second half. 

 

Run Defense

This was the most problematic unit on the evening. Woods did a very nice job of getting up the field, using his combination of vision and power to get good yardage. It's a bit concerning for Oregon to allow a backup running back to accrue over 120 yards on the ground. Tackling was also an issue at times.

In the first quarter, the unit did a great job of stuffing Oregon State on two back-to-back short rushing attempts. As has been the case the entire year, Joe Walker flashed with his ability to exploit the gaps and get into the backfield. 

As a whole, Oregon State rushed for 142 yards on 32 carries. That equates to 4.4 yards per carry.

 

Special Teams

Nelson had an adventure fielding punts in tonight's game. The freshman out of Florida nearly fumbled the first punt attempt he had, and he muffed the second chance. Although Oregon recovered the fumble, he was removed from that role in favor of former basketball player Johnathan Loyd. 

Matt Wogan connected on both of his field-goal attempts. On the first touchdown, Oregon failed to convert on a two-point conversion attempt.  

Against better competition, these mistakes could prove to be very costly. 

 

Coaching

The offense was ruthless during the first portion of the game. Oregon State really had no answer for the tempo and efficiency of the unit. As the game progressed, the team seemed to lower its collective intensity level. Up 30 points early in the second quarter, human nature surely dictated a bit of a letdown. 

Defensively, it wasn't an overly adventurous effort. The plan seemed to be about keeping everything underneath and not allowing the combination of Mannion and Bolden to link up with big plays down the field. 

For now, it's key that Oregon gets healthy and prepared for Arizona. The Ducks are one win away from playing in the inaugural playoff. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon vs. Oregon State: Game Grades, Analysis for the Ducks

Able to avoid the upset, the Oregon Ducks defeated the Oregon State Beavers by a score of 47-19. However, the score isn't indicative of how the game truly went. At one point, Mark Helfrich's team was up 30-0 early in the second quarter...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Auburn vs. Alabama: How Tigers' Loss Will Impact Playoff Rankings

Alabama appears to be in complete control of its playoff destiny after rolling to a 55-44 come-from-behind win over rival Auburn in the 2014 Iron Bowl.

The Crimson Tide avenged their stunning Iron Bowl loss from 2013. Wide receiver Amari Cooper was at his best on Saturday, racking up 13 catches for 224 yards and three touchdowns.

Quarterback Blake Sims went from pariah to savior in the middle of the game. After throwing his third interception early in the third quarter, Sims was nearly perfect and finished with a gritty 312 passing yards and five total touchdowns.

Coach Nick Saban was pleased with the victory, via John Zenor of The Associated Press:

Alabama will face Missouri in the SEC title game, a rugged squad with a tough defense and a shaky quarterback in Maty Mauk.

The sophomore signal-caller has thrown for more than 200 passing yards in just five games this year. He went through an atrocious midseason slump, with the nadir coming in a zero-touchdown, four-interception game against the Georgia Bulldogs.

Mauk has since recovered, but the Crimson Tide should be able to stifle him in the title game and secure a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Alabama's win—combined with another wobbly Florida State win and a superlative performance from Marcus Mariota and Oregon in the Civil War against Oregon State—puts considerable pressure on a number of teams vying for a fourth and final playoff spot.

Here is a look at the CFP top 10 heading into Week 14.

Mississippi State has likely bowed out of the CFP hunt after a disappointing 31-17 loss to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl on Saturday. Of course, Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen didn't think his team had very good chances even if they beat the Rebels.

"I didn't think we were getting in the playoff anyway," he said, via CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd.

Baylor is still in the hunt after edging out Texas Tech 48-46 on Saturday. It will be interesting to see if the playoff committee puts any value on the Bears owning the Big 12 tiebreaker over TCU, which appears to have the best shot at taking the final playoff spot.

Heading into Week 14, FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver gave the Horned Frogs a 53.2 percent chance of making the playoff. The Ohio State Buckeyes were right behind them with a 42.2 percent chance. However, Urban Meyer's squad took a big hit in its win over Michigan on Saturday, as star quarterback J.T. Barrett went down with an ankle injury that will keep him out for the rest of the season, per MLive.com's Brendan F. Quinn:

Sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones and his 19 career pass attempts will have to lead the Buckeyes to a convincing win over Melvin Gordon and a resolute Wisconsin squad in the Big Ten championship in order for this team to keep its playoff hopes alive.

TCU rolled over Texas by a score of 48-10 on Thursday, which should boost its playoff stock in light of Baylor's shaky Saturday. However, USA Today's George Schroeder does see both teams getting into the playoff:

This of course would take a Buckeyes dud in the Big Ten championship game and a loss from one of Alabama, Oregon and Florida State in their respective conference title tilts. Both Baylor and TCU should handle their Dec. 6 contests against Kansas State and Iowa State, respectively.

Of course, the team that appears likeliest to choke is also the only undefeated team left in the Power Five conferences: the Seminoles. Jameis Winston and company are a strange brand of invincible, playing down to their competition week in and week out and yet always coming up with a victory. In Week 14, it was Florida that missed out on a chance to play spoiler in a 24-19 Gators loss.

Survive and advance," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said, via Ralph D. Russo of The Associated Press. "That's what we did."

It's possible Georgia Tech could score an upset in the ACC Championship, but its old-school triple-wing attack could get shut down by a stout Florida State run defense.

Should Mizzou pull off the unthinkable and upset the Crimson Tide and the other top competitors win their final games, it could prevent any SEC team from making the playoff.

This was perhaps an inconceivable scenario coming into the year with so much talent pooled in the SEC West, but sometimes the best just eat their own. If that goes down, look for Ohio State to get the edge over whichever Big 12 team is ostensibly eliminated by that point.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff Rankings: Biggest Takeaways from Week 14

How much should J.T. Barrett's injury hurt Ohio State?

This will be the No. 1 question put in front of the selection committee this weekend before it releases its penultimate rankings this season. The Buckeyes improved to 11-1 with a victory over archrival Michigan, but late in the game Barrett broke his ankle and is out for the rest of the season.

The NCAA basketball tournament selection committee takes injuries to key players into consideration when it determines seeding. The most infamous case being No. 1-ranked Cincinnati being reduced to a 2-seed when star center Kenyon Martin went down with a season-ending broken leg just before the 2000 tournament.

But should the newly formed football committee do the same? After all, there are only four playoff teams. Is it right to exclude a team based more on future speculation than actual past performance?

We won't have a clue on that until at least Tuesday. But even without that question, the Buckeyes are probably still on the outside of the four-team playoff field at the moment. Here's how the playoff picture looks with one week of the regular season to go:

 

Teams That Are Win-and-in

Alabama, Oregon and Florida State

These three teams probably will remain Nos. 1-3—and in that order—though only the Ducks cruised to victory. While the Seminoles played with fire once again, they still managed to remain as the only unbeaten team in FBS. All three teams will be heavily favored to win their respective conference title games next week.

 

Teams That Need Some Help

TCU and Baylor

Neither team can be certain of advancing to the playoff by just winning next week. TCU has the easier task, hosting 2-9 Iowa State. But the Horned Frogs can't be sure if the committee will finally decide that Baylor's head-to-head victory should matter more. The Bears can really make their case by beating Kansas State convincingly at home to at least share the conference title.

 

Team That Needs Lots of Help

Ohio State

Even without Barrett's injury, Ohio State still does not appear to have the resume to supplant TCU for the final playoff spot. A labored win over woeful Michigan isn't going to help Ohio State's cause much, and beating two-loss Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game might not add much either. If TCU and Baylor both win next week, the Buckeyes will need one of the top three teams to lose.

 

Teams That Still Have a Shot

Arizona and Kansas State

Both teams still have a shot to win their respective conference titles, the former via the Pac-12 Championship Game and the latter by virtue of beating Baylor. Both teams need lots of other things to break their way, of course, chief being upsets in other conference title games.

 

Group of Five Teams in the Best Position

Marshall played its way out of this position after losing to Western Kentucky in overtime. Now this bid is Boise State's to lose. If the Broncos defeat Fresno State in the Mountain West Championship Game, they will grab the first Group of Five bid in CFP history.

Should Boise State (10-2) falter against a team it already defeated earlier in the season, then the access slot will go to Northern Illinois (10-2), if it defeats Bowling Green in the MAC title game. If the Huskies lose, it'll go to Memphis, which has finished the season at 9-3 and claimed at least a share of the American Athletic title.

 

Conference Championship Matchups

ACC: Florida State vs. Georgia Tech

Big Ten: Ohio State vs. Wisconsin

Pac-12: Oregon vs. Arizona

SEC: Alabama vs. Missouri

C-USA: Marshall vs. Louisiana Tech

MAC: Northern Illinois vs. Bowling Green

MWC: Boise State vs. Fresno State

 

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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Watch Amari Cooper Make Heisman Statement with Epic Iron Bowl Performance

The 2014 edition of the Iron Bowl was another classic with the Alabama Crimson Tide on the winning end, 55-44. On a field full of stars, junior wide receiver Amari Cooper shined brightest.

Bleacher Report College Football AnalystBarrett Sallee breaks down Cooper's huge game and his status as college football's MVP.

Will Cooper win the Heisman Trophy?

Watch the video and let us know!  

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Epic Iron Bowl Makes Nick Saban's Hire of Lane Kiffin Look Like Stroke of Genius

"Is this what we want football to be?"

That question was posed by Alabama head coach Nick Saban in 2012, when he was asked about the rise in popularity of no-huddle offenses in college football according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com.

Well, Nick, Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin sure does. 

A lightning rod for controversy, Saban's decision to hire Kiffin established the duo as college football's odd couple. It wasn't just a shock to the college football world outside of Tuscaloosa, but even Saban's boss—athletics director Bill Battle—was perplexed.

"My first reaction, because I didn’t know Lane, wasn’t very positive," Battle told Marq Burnett of the Anniston (Ala.) Star.

On Saturday, Kiffin led the Crimson Tide to 539 yards in a record setting 55-44 Iron Bowl win over Auburn in Tuscaloosa. Kiffin's crew only ran 61 plays in the game, but that was more due to a time of possession discrepancy than anything else. This Tide team used tempo and creativity to set records in the Iron Bowl and establish this offense as Alabama's most feared unit during the Saban era.

This might not be what Saban wants football to be, but sometimes it has to be. With Kiffin calling the shots, Alabama has a new way to win.  Now the Tide can outscore teams, too. 

Saban himself even admitted it in the postgame press conference according to Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com:

Alabama is averaging 72.7 plays per game this season, which is nine more than they averaged last season under former coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Not only are they running more plays, they're mixing things up and calling pass plays on traditional running downs.

That leads to some interesting photos of Kiffin and Saban 'discussing strategy' in the middle of games, but there's a method to the madness.

Kiffin is challenging Saban. He's challenging the traditional way of thinking. He's challenging Alabama to evolve, and it's working.

No team in America has a wide receiver like Amari Cooper, and Kiffin figured out, after Blake Sims won the job, that getting him comfortable with a short passes to Cooper early was the way to go.

Not exactly rocket science, but not exactly "the Bama way" either.

He also figured out that Sims thrives with tempo and can stretch the field when it's appropriate. He evolved with his quarterback, rather than forcing his scheme on Sims.

At no point during the season has it been more evident than in the middle of the third quarter, when Kiffin was celebrating a touchdown moments after the ball was snapped.

No team in America has the wealth of riches that Alabama has at running back. A hot-button issue heading into the season was whether T.J. Yeldon or Derrick Henry would be the feature back. They both are, with Henry—the 6'3" 241-pounder—serving as the changeup back. That's like bringing Madison Bumgarner out of the bullpen during Game 7 of the World Series.

Kiffin's career seemed lost when he was fired from USC in the middle of the 2013 season, but it has been revived in a place not known for offensive explosions.

Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

That revival earned Alabama the SEC West title, has them within 60 minutes of the conference championship and on the brink of not only a College Football Playoff berth, but the No. 1 seed—despite that defending national champion and preseason No. 1 Florida State hasn't lost.

Not bad, Lane.

Not bad at all.

 

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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Heisman Is Marcus Mariota's to Lose After Dominant Late-Season Performances

Marcus Mariota, against rival Oregon State on Saturday, put up six total touchdowns (four passing, two rushing) and 406 total yards in the Oregon Ducks' 47-19 thumping of the Beavers. 

You know, just another day at the office for the Heisman front-runner. 

With Dak Prescott and Rakeem Cato both losing this week, and Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett being ruled out for the season with a leg injury suffered against Michigan, there's no doubt anymore. 

The Heisman is Mariota's to lose. 

His numbers have been off the charts, and in the "what have you done for me lately" world of college football, Oregon is looking like the nation's best team down the stretch. 

Mariota has thrown for at least 230 yards in each of his last six games. His lowest completion percentage of any game this season is 58.6 against Utah, a game he accounted for four touchdowns in a 51-27 victory. 

He's thrown for multiple touchdowns every game this year, and has just two interceptions all season. He's also thrown for 36 touchdowns and run for 11 more. 

Simply put, Mariota's numbers are almost unmatched, and nobody matches his consistency. His only sin is losing to Arizona, where he still threw for 276 yards and two scores. Long story short, the loss wasn't on him. 

Even so, Mariota has a chance to atone for that loss in next week's Pac-12 title game, where the Ducks will face off against the Wildcats for a College Football Playoff berth. 

It's how Mariota, perhaps the most consistently great player week in and week out in college football, stands up to his competitors that puts him in the driver's seat to take home the hardware in New York City. 

Let's start with the reigning Heisman winner, Jameis Winston. The guy has thrown 13 first-half interceptions, 11 more than Mariota's thrown all season. The big difference is that Winston is undefeated, while Mariota has a loss. 

But again, the loss to Arizona wasn't on Mariota, and Winston hasn't necessarily led his teams to victories, but rather has been bailed out in them. 

Next, Dak Prescott. 

In Mississippi State's two biggest games of the year against Alabama and Ole Miss, he came up short. Against the Tide, he threw three costly interceptions. In Saturday's Egg Bowl, he threw for just one touchdown and was limited to a 2.0 yards-per-carry average on 24 carries. 

How about Trevone Boykin? 

As good as the TCU Horned Frogs have been this year, and how dynamic Boykin has been, he's also been just a tad too inconsistent to steal the award away from Mariota. 

This is most apparent in TCU's sloppy road win over West Virginia, where Boykin completed just 40 percent of his passes, threw for just 166 yards and ran for just 49 more. 

His team's collapse against Baylor, which may resonate all the way to the Horned Frogs' playoff hopes, also hurts Boykin's chances. 

The guy with the best case besides Mariota is Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. 

The dude has racked up 2,160 rushing yards, set the FBS record for rushing yards in a game with 408 against Nebraska (the record stood for a week before being broken by Samaje Perine of Oklahoma), and has 26 rushing touchdowns. 

Honestly, it's hard to find much wrong with his resume. If you're looking to be picky though, he was limited to just 38 yards against Western Illinois despite getting 17 carries, and the Badgers have two losses to their credit. 

The Heisman Trust likes winners, and while it's not necessarily Gordon's fault, nobody is talking about Wisconsin right now. Everybody's wondering how Oregon will fare in the Pac-12 title game, and for good reason.

Mariota has a chance to all but seal up the Heisman Trophy if he can heal the wounds from earlier this season and redeem the Ducks' loss to the Wildcats with a victory over them to secure the Pac-12 title.

There's more to Mariota's case than just numbers.

He's gotten past the Stanford demons. The Cardinal, who beat Mariota and the Ducks in both 2012 and 2013, felt the full wrath of the Hawaiian gunslinger as he racked up 343 total yards and four total touchdowns.

He also has Oregon, who so famously over the last few years has always been just one win away from a national title berth, on the verge of making the College Football Playoff.

At the end of the day, Mariota is looking like the nation's best quarterback while leading perhaps the nation's best team. That makes the lock for the Heisman Trophy.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Heisman Is Marcus Mariota's to Lose After Dominant Late-Season Performances

Marcus Mariota , against rival Oregon State on Saturday, put up six total touchdowns (four passing, two rushing) and 406 total yards in the Oregon Ducks' 47-19 thumping of the Beavers...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football Playoff Projections After Week 14

Huge upsets dominate the college football landscape as we finish a crazy Week 14. The playoff committee will have much to debate going into this week's rankings. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer gives his predictions for the upcoming College Football Playoff rankings.

Who is in your top four?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn vs. Alabama: Score and Twitter Reaction from 2014 Iron Bowl

 The No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide avenged their heart-breaking 2013 loss to hated rival Auburn, out-scoring the 15th-ranked Tigers 34-18 in the second half en route to a 55-44 Iron Bowl victory in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday night.

Keeping up with how many records went down tonight was almost as difficult as counting the team's combined offensive output. The 91 points are the most ever in the historic rivalry, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Alabama also tied a school record for most points scored against Auburn, per ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy:

Amari Cooper was brilliant, making a last-ditch effort to impress the Heisman Trophy voters. The Crimson Tide star broke the old mark for most receiving yards in the Iron Bowl, finishing with 13 receptions for 224 yards and three touchdowns, via the SEC Network:

Blake Sims and T.J. Yeldon overcome somewhat slow starts to the game to help propel 'Bama forward in the second half. Sims went 20-of-29 through the air with 312 yards and four touchdowns. Yeldon eclipsed the century mark for the fourth time this year, running for 127 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.

Nick Marshall and Sammie Coates did their best to help the Tigers keep pace with the Tide.

While Marshall regressed a bit as the game went on, he still managed to set a school record for most passing yards:

Coates was by far Auburn's best offensive weapon, amassing 206 yards and two touchdowns in just five receptions. The battle between he and Cooper was alone worth the price of admission.

Between all of the points, lead changes and momentum swings, this will be remembered as one of the best games this year.

The Iron Bowl has become one of, if not the most important regular-season game of the season. Over the last five years, the stakes have been consistently high. According to ESPN, the last five winners went to the national championship, with four winning it all:

Alabama didn't play the perfect game and was far from its best. However, the Crimson Tide rebounded from a brutal second quarter and proved why they're arguably the best team in college football right now.

The beauty of the 2014 Iron Bowl was how the game unfolded, with each team looking great for stretches before ceding the advantage.

Early on, Alabama was in the driver's seat.

On the very first play from scrimmage, Marshall attempted a screen to freshman running back Roc Thomas. Thomas couldn't haul in the throw, which was actually a backward pass. Alabama recovered the ball on the Auburn 35-yard line.

The Tide needed all of five plays to get on the board, with Yeldon punching it in from eight yards out:

The Tigers responded well, using Cameron Artis-Payne to methodically move the ball down the field. Eventually, Auburn got down to the Alabama 6-yard line to set up a 1st-and-goal. The offense stalled close to the goal line, failing to get in the end zone and burning a timeout in the process. It was a poor finish to an otherwise great drive.

All things considered, it could've been a much worse start for Auburn:

Plus, the Tigers hadn't scored in the first quarter on the road against Alabama since 2002:

Alabama wasted little time increasing its lead, going ahead 14-3 with 6:17 remaining in the first quarter after a 17-yard touchdown pass to Cooper. In the process, the junior broke his old record for most receiving TDs in one season:

On the next drive, the Auburn offense once again looked great right until it got near the goal line. Marshall kept the drive alive with a fourth-down conversion, getting the ball to the Tide's 7-yard line. After three incompletions, the Tigers once again called upon Daniel Carlson, who made a 24-yard field goal to get his team to within a score, 14-6.

About four minutes into the second quarter, Carlson nailed his third field goal of the game, closing the gap to five points, 14-9.

From that point on, the Auburn offense was almost unrecognizable—in a good way—and Coates was a big reason why.

The Tigers capitalized on a Sims interception immediately after the field goal. Senior defensive back Jermaine Whitehead picked off a throw from the Tide QB and returned the ball to the Alabama 32-yard line, giving Auburn great field position.

After Marshall lost two yards on first down, he found Coates for a 34-yard touchdown grab on second down, and the Tigers took their first lead of the game, 16-14. CBSSports.com's Jon Solomon solved the riddle of the Auburn offense: Don't get into the red zone:

Yeldon put the Crimson Tide back on top, 21-16, with a one-yard touchdown run, but Coates wasn't done.

Two plays after Yeldon's TD, Marshall and Coates connected for a massive 68-yard touchdown pass 54 seconds from halftime, again propelling Auburn into the lead, 23-21.

The speed Coates demonstrated to break away from the Tide secondary was next-level stuff. ESPN.com's Mitch Sherman believes an NFL career is in Coates' future:

Some have questioned Marshall's merits as a passer in the past. Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman correctly noted that the senior runs hot and cold, and when he's hot, few QBs in the country are better:

The offensive flurry wasn't over, either. Tigers defensive back Johnathan Ford intercepted Sims on the second play of Alabama's subsequent drive, leaving Auburn with 37 seconds to put a few more points on the board.

Carlson came on to hit a 20-yard field goal as time expired in the first half, sending the Tigers into the locker room with a 26-21 advantage.

Auburn out-gained Alabama 383-178 in the first half, which was the most yards allowed by the Tide since Nick Saban took over:

Coates also made history, catching four passes for 153 yards and 2 TDs. He needed all of two quarters to set an albeit brief Iron Bowl record for most receiving yards, per AL.com's Brandon Marcello:

Marshall was marvelous early on, heading into halftime 11-of-18 for 255 yards and two touchdowns. He also had 48 yards rushing to keep the Alabama defense guessing.

Speaking of defense, the Tigers did a great job of limiting the Crimson Tide running game. While Yeldon had 59 yards on eight carries, the rest of the 'Bama offense combined to have minus-10 yards. That, in turn, heaped more pressure on Sims' shoulders, and he made two major mistakes.

Saban kept his first-half assessment short:

And just when the Tide head coach thought things couldn't get any worse, Sims threw another interception on the first drive of the second half. No QB at Alabama in Saban's tenure had ever thrown three picks before Saturday night:

As ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel pointed out, Sims' struggles were very much in contrast to his performance throughout the regular season:

Auburn made the most of the turnover, with Marshall finding Quan Bray for a five-yard touchdown pass, making it a 33-21 game.

Some wondered if Alabama might consider benching Sims after his third INT in favor of Jacob Coker, and Coker was shown warming up on the sidelines.

Not only did Saban and Lane Kiffin keep Sims in the game, they also continued airing it out. The strategy paid off, with Cooper getting in behind the Auburn secondary and hauling in a 39-yard touchdown pass to shrink Auburn's lead to six points, 33-27.

The Tigers maintained a healthy nine-point lead, 36-27, after Carlson's fifth field goal of the game.

Auburn's momentum was short-lived, however, as Cooper scored on Alabama's very next play from scrimmage, going 75 yards for the touchdown:

By that point, the Crimson Tide were clearly the side in the ascendancy, and it was only a matter of time before they took the lead. Completing his second-half metamorphosis, Sims provided the go-ahead score 27 seconds into the fourth quarter, scrambling 11 yards to the corner of the end zone.

On the other side, CBSSports.com's Jerry Hinnen noticed a disturbing trend for the Auburn defense:

Senior wide receiver DeAndrew White added to 'Bama's lead, 48-36, on a six-yard touchdown reception with 8:05 left to play, and a 25-yard TD run from Henry a inside four minutes helped put the game out of reach.

While losing to the Tide is always a bitter pill to swallow, the defeat doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things for Auburn. The Tigers weren't going into the playoff with a win, and Alabama had already secured a place in the SEC title game. They might've lost out on one of the selection committee bowl games, which would be a disappointment.

Alabama's playoff push remains on track. The Tide will almost certainly remain the top-ranked team in the playoff rankings, with a conference title locking up a spot in the Sugar Bowl.

They play Missouri in the SEC Championship Game, which is scheduled for next Saturday at 4 p.m. ET.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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