NCAA Football

College Football Rankings 2014: Playoff Predictions and Bracket Projections

As far as the inaugural College Football Playoff goes, rivalry week was as chaotic as advertised.

Granted, the first three slots remain pretty much the same. But for those who experienced the journey firsthand, it sure did not feel like it would turn out that way.

The Alabama Crimson Tide got a near-perfect second half to take down Auburn in the Iron Bowl. Jameis Winston and Florida State yet again were almost upset, this time by in-state rival Florida.

What is so fun about this process at this juncture is the No. 4 slot. A number of teams have a legitimate claim, but one is without a quarterback, one has a loss to another hopeful and that hopeful does not have a stronger track record, while countless others nip at their heels.

Who says this time of year is not fun?

 

Chris Roling Playoff Projections

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

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

Championship Bowl (in Arlington, Texas): TBD (semifinal winners)

 

Breakdown

Feel free to just jump right into the meat of the matter—that No. 4 spot.

If the playoff starts this weekend, TCU has to be the final team that fends off the field and sneaks into the fray.

One problem—the season still has life.

The Horned Frogs took care of business on Thanksgiving Day with a 48-10 thumping of Texas. Quarterback Trevone Boykin accounted for 233 yards and a pair of scores through the air and 50 more and a score on the ground.

As far as ranked wins go, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Kansas State is a great resume. Feel free to sprinkle in a nonconference win over pesky Minnesota. Most, including Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports, concur that this is enough to get the Horned Frogs to the postseason:

TCU has plenty of help, though. Mississippi State took a dive last weekend. Ohio State would surely occupy the No. 4 spot, but quarterback J.T. Barrett suffering a season-ending injury has a way of ruining the Buckeyes in the eyes of the committee—unless they pull off an absolutely jaw-dropping performance against Wisconsin with a backup under center.

Baylor is another team out of the Big 12 with some help as of late, though. The Bears got an ugly 48-46 win over Texas Tech last weekend, but keep in mind that means the team still has just one loss and owns a win over TCU.

A win against Kansas State to close the season throws this all for a loop. Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde puts it best:

It is hard to see how TCU does not take care of business against two-win Iowa State, though. Ohio State seems out of the equation, so as long as Baylor looks sloppy once more, TCU figures to hold on to that final spot by way of a superb resume and consistent domination since the lone loss back in mid-October.

The top three slots are not as dramatic.

Like it or not, Alabama is a lock for No. 1. The Iron Bowl was a scare for three quarters and change, but five second-half touchdowns has a way of putting away the opposition. Heisman-contending wideout Amari Cooper placed the team on his back with 13 grabs for 224 yards and three scores in the process.

For as much as folks want to see the SEC cannibalize itself out of the postseason, the Crimson Tide now have wins over Florida, West Virginia, Arkansas, Texas A&M, LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn.

Keep in mind that each of the last five Iron Bowl winners went on to the national championship, where four of them won it all. That trend seems like it will stay alive thanks to an impending matchup with Missouri, a 10-2 team with little offense (ranked 70th nationally) and losses to Georgia and Indiana on the year.

Oregon-Florida State is not the most appealing playoff matchup, either, although anything can happen once both teams are there. 

Winston and the Seminoles are the reason for the negative talk there. The team has now needed late finishes to overcome NC State, Notre Dame, Louisville, Miami (Florida), Boston College and Florida. The national vibe about the team seems to align with a note from ESPN.com's James Walker:

Then again, it is pretty impressive that the Seminoles are talented enough to overcome just 125 passing yards and a career-high four interceptions from Winston.

It may take another late-game miracle to overcome a game Georgia Tech team, though. The Yellow Jackets tout a top-five rushing attack and top-20 offense with recent wins over ranked Clemson and Georgia teams.

The road is much easier for Oregon, a team most figure would have lost by now in past years. This edition is more mature, though, and Marcus Mariota put on a clinic in the Civil War with 367 total yards and six touchdowns to get the Ducks to 11-1.

All that remains now is a chance for the Ducks to exorcise some demons with a win against Arizona to close the season. The Wildcats are the only team to best the Ducks this season, so the heavyweight bout might just be enough for Oregon to jump even higher in the CFP standings—or fall out entirely.

As it stands right now, a game TCU squad would encounter Alabama. With nothing to lose after sneaking in, the Horned Frogs may be a tougher test than most would figure. Given the late-game heroics on a weekly basis by Winston and Co., an encounter with the high-flying Ducks figures to be one of the best games of the year. 

As is always the case, though, all of this is subject to change with just one contest concluding in a certain manner.

 

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

 

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How Long Will Lane Kiffin Stay at Alabama?

From lightning rod to leader.

That's the journey Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has embarked on this year.

The former USC and Tennessee head coach took over the Alabama offense under a cloud of doubt.

"Is he really a good offensive mind?"

"Can his personalty mesh with that of head coach Nick Saban?"

"Will his system work with Alabama's personnel?"

The answer to all of those questions is an emphatic "yes," as the Crimson Tide finished the season 11-1 with the second-best offense in the conference (489.3 yards per game), the SEC West crown in hand and a No. 1 seed in the inaugural College Football Playoff within reach.

Nobody expected Blake Sims to be Kiffin's quarterback this year. It was supposed to be Jake Coker. But all the redshirt senior Sims has done is complete 63.1 percent of his passes (207 of 328) for 2,988 yards, 24 touchdowns and seven picks. He finished the season as the most efficient passer in the nation (159.91) and seventh in the nation.

Essentially, he turned into a game manager who would impress even former Tide quarterback AJ McCarron.

Not bad for a dual-threat quarterback who, at one time, played running back for the Crimson Tide.

Kiffin came to Alabama to revitalize his career, and boy did he. The question now becomes, how long will he be there?

According to Michael Casagrande of AL.com, Kiffin is currently working on a three-year deal as Alabama's offensive coordinator, which surely includes some provisions that would allow him to become a head coach if offered the chance.

So where would he go?

Kiffin would seem like a fish out of water at Nebraska and Kansas, and while he'd kill it at Florida, burned bridges from his time at Tennessee likely can't be rebuilt quickly enough for Kiffin to get the job in Gainesville.

If Michigan opens up, he could have a tremendous amount of success there. Like Nebraska and Kansas, though, the personalities may not mesh well between Kiffin and the higher-ups in Ann Arbor.

The openings that are out there now and could pop up this week don't scream Kiffin, so Alabama might luck out and get to keep its suddenly hot offensive coordinator for another year.

The wild card, though, is Miami.

The Hurricanes sputtered down the stretch, losing their final three games to close the season 6-6 and fifth in the ACC Coastal division—one of the worst divisions in FBS. Head coach Al Golden has been in Coral Gables for four seasons, posting a 28-21 overall record and a 16-16 record within the division.

As Luke Stampini of 247Sports.com notes, his resume is comparable to another former coach in the Sunshine State:

Golden is likely safe this offseason but will enter 2015 on one of the hottest seats in America.

The Miami job is one that screams "Kiffin." 

He's an offensive coach who can boost a Hurricanes' offense that finished the regular season ranked 48th (431.0 yards per game), proved that he can adjust his system to the players on the roster and would set the recruiting trail ablaze in talent-rich South Florida.

One more year of success at Alabama would work wonders for Kiffin's job prospects. He'll have to rebuild with a new quarterback and likely without junior wide receiver Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon, both of whom are eligible for the NFL draft. 

If he can do it, he'd make himself very attractive to potential suitors, one of which could be Miami.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Championship 2014: Alabama vs. Missouri Odds, Schedule and Prediction

The top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide and the No. 14 Missouri Tigers both braved the conference slate with just one loss, and various other results have made it quite a worrisome 2014 SEC Championship Game for general fans of the conference.

After Mississippi State's loss to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, the SEC's national championship hopes rest solely on the Crimson Tide's shoulders. Missouri will look to play spoiler as the new kids on the block, attempting to thwart Alabama's efforts en route to its first-ever SEC crown in its second season.

The SEC's Chuck Dunlap noted Missouri will be the home team in its dark uniforms, but don't expect a crowd advantage with Alabama's campus more than 400 miles closer to the Georgia Dome:

Gary Pinkel's squad gave Auburn all it could handle and more last year on its way to the national title game, and the Tide won't be expecting anything less Saturday afternoon.

 

When: Saturday, December 6, at 4 p.m. ET

Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta

TV: CBS

Live Stream: CBSSports.com

 

SEC Championship Odds

Note: Odds courtesy of Odds Shark, last updated Nov. 30 at 11 p.m. ET

 

Preview and Prediction

Alabama knew before taking the field in the Iron Bowl that it would represent the SEC West in Atlanta, but with a national title still to play for, the Tide overcame Auburn's upset hopes and exploded on offense to outscore the Tigers 55-44 and get revenge from last year's debacle—or miracle, depending on what side you're on.

That kept them as the nation's top team, with their only blemish a road loss to Ole Miss, and it sends them to a familiar venue—the Georgia Dome—for the conference title.

Unsurprisingly, their odds of victory improved dramatically after their furious rally against Auburn, per Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee (via Odds Shark):

Meeting them there is a repeat visitor, with Missouri claiming its second SEC East title in as many seasons. Despite hailing from the far inferior division, the Tigers have posted a strong 7-1 SEC record with an out-of-conference loss to Indiana as the only thing separating them from a (very outside) CFP shot.

The Tigers' most impressive win was a 21-20 road victory over then-13th-ranked South Carolina, which doesn't look so hot in retrospect. But their skill isn't lost on Saban and his staff as they prepare for the game, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Dave Matter:

There's no doubt that Missouri has turned heads around the conference, winning both of its must-win contests down the stretch against Tennessee and Arkansas to hold off Georgia for the SEC East crown. 

A somewhat soft schedule for an SEC program had Missouri only facing one team still in the Top 25, and that was a 34-0 beatdown administered by Georgia. But they obviously weren't scared off by the competition a year ago, when the Tigers trailed Auburn by three points entering the fourth.

Missouri's crowd-storming win over Arkansas to clinch the division title had a sprinkle of despair as star rusher Russell Hansbrough was carted off, but Pinkel was optimistic on his chances, per AL.com's Drew Champlin: "Russell had a right ankle sprain. We expect him to practice Tuesday. Like everybody right now, you have bumps and bruises. There's no question about it, it's been a long season. We expect everybody who played this past Friday (to be) ready to play Saturday."

Perhaps even more important against Alabama's stiff defense is the performance of Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk. His midseason struggles went hand-in-hand with his team's, but he's since rebounded with 230 yards or more in three straight contests.

The long ball with Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt should be a focal point of Missouri's game plan, after Alabama struggled mightily with Auburn's aerial threats for most of the Iron Bowl.

The offense will need to do as much as it can in its own end to negate the imminent big plays from Amari Cooper and Co., as Pinkel struggled to put words to Cooper's greatness, per Bleacher Report's Marc Torrence:

The first 15 minutes will be beyond crucial for Missouri, who has only been able to play from behind this season if it's by a slim margin. Alabama's offense won't be shut down completely for long, so staying within a score or two of the Tide is a must early on.

The only real chance the Tigers have to stick with the Tide is to find some big plays early on and rely on their menacing defensive line—which features two first-round picks in Shane Ray and Markus Golden. An early lead will put the pressure on Blake Sims to make plays, and that will allow the Tigers pass-rushers to tee off. 

It's just hard to see that happening against this formidable of a unit, however. Missouri's weakness has been deep down the field, and Lane Kiffin has been magnificently drawing up ways for Cooper to get open as of late.

Missouri's stiff defensive line will keep the Tigers in it at halftime, but the Tide will blow it open.

Prediction: Alabama wins, 41-24

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Predictions 2014: Projections for Selection Committee Bowl Games

With the college football season winding down, most teams know whether they're making a bowl or not. A very small amount still have aspirations of attending one of the high-profile bowls or even the College Football Playoff.

During the regular-season finale for many programs, Mississippi State lost a second game to all but seal its fate. The Bulldogs will likely miss out on a playoff spot, but they still have a lock on a selection committee bowl game thanks to a strong season.

Hoping to grab the reins from Mississippi State are TCU, Baylor and potentially Ohio State in the next week. All three have one more game to play, but the Buckeyes have the most to prove after losing J.T. Barrett for the rest of the season.

Even this late in the season, nothing is locked up for any team heading into conference championships. Prior to the weekend getting underway, here's a look at the latest projections for the selection committee bowl games.

 

Breakdown of Projections

A lot will be settled this weekend, but for now, TCU looks like the best team in the Big 12.

That's a difficult statement for some to swallow given the fact that Baylor defeated TCU earlier this season. But even with that comeback victory, the Bears have hardly been as impressive since that point.

Looking at both teams compared to each other, TCU has a more impressive strength of schedule and didn't lose to West Virginia by 14 points. Cork Gaines of Business Insider notes the crushing loss for the Bears:

However, they might trade places next week depending on how both play in their final games. The Horned Frogs face a weak Iowa State team, while the Bears have one last chance to make a statement against Kansas State.

Speaking of this weekend, the potential top three seeds will all be tested to earn a spot in the playoff. Alabama faces Missouri for the SEC title, but the two biggest games will be taking place in the ACC and Pac-12 championships.

Leading up to the ACC Championship showdown with Florida State, Georgia Tech took down SEC-rival Georgia in a massive day for the conference. Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson referenced the 4-0 weekend for the ACC over the SEC:

The ACC Digital Network also noted the statement day for the conference:

Sure, each of those wins were over SEC East teams, but it solidifies the ACC as a strong conference and the Jackets as the No. 2 program. If Florida State is able to take down GT, it would all but guarantee it a shot at a second straight national championship.

On the West Coast, Oregon and Arizona will be a standoff between teams with plenty of recent history. While the Ducks have been a powerhouse in the Pac-12, the Wildcats have had their number with wins in the last two games, as ESPN College Football notes:

Given their seasons, both Georgia Tech and Arizona have a great shot at making it into a selection committee bowl game. Even with a loss to FSU or Oregon, both should have a chance to represent their respective conferences on the national stage.

Baylor can still jump TCU and blowouts for Georgia Tech or Arizona would hurt their chances at a notable bowl game. Perhaps the conference championships will finally go to plan—but chaos still seems likely.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Would Alabama Still Make the Playoff Even If Tide Lose to Missouri?

Breaking Bad won the 2014 Emmy Award for "Best Drama Series," even though the best drama series in America is known as "the college football regular season."

If more drama breaks out over championship weekend, Alabama would prefer not to be nominated.

The Crimson Tide enter the SEC Championship Game with the No. 1 ranking attached to their name, an SEC title in their sights and the top seed in the inaugural College Football Playoff within their reach.

What if it slips through their fingertips, though?

SEC East champion Missouri again came out of nowhere in 2014 to claim its second straight division title and will enter the Georgia Dome riding a wave of momentum generated from last weekend's 21-14 win over Arkansas in Columbia.

"Coach [Gary] Pinkel, my old teammate, has done a fantastic job," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said on Sunday. "They have a very good team. It's going to be a real challenge for our team."

If it's too much of a challenge and Missouri—a two-touchdown underdog as of Monday, according to OddsShark.com—springs the upset, what happens to Alabama?

The primary problem for the Crimson Tide would be No. 14 Missouri.

Sure, the Tigers have a loss to woeful Indiana on their resume, but a conference championship and a head-to-head victory over the Crimson Tide on championship weekend would relegate Saban's crew behind Pinkel's in the College Football Playoff pecking order.

Both programs would need a ton of help, and several dominoes around the country would need to fall for the Tide to get in position to make the bracket.

Forget the Pac-12 Championship Game, because regardless of what happens at Levi's Stadium, if Missouri wins the SEC title, the Pac-12 winner will be above both SEC contenders. Oregon would be a no-brainer, and if the Ducks win on Friday night and Alabama loses, they'll likely be the top seed. If Arizona springs the upset, it will have two wins over Oregon on its resume, and that'll be too much for the committee to ignore.

At that point, the Crimson Tide would need three upsets to happen out of the four biggest games of the final weekend of the season.

  • No. 9 Kansas State at No. 5 Baylor
  • No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 12 Georgia Tech
  • Iowa State at No. 5 TCU
  • No. 11 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Ohio State

If three of those four games are upsets, Missouri would probably jump the winners and Alabama will likely stay ahead of those winners as well. Would Kansas State, Georgia Tech and Wisconsin have championships to boast to the committee? Yep, and that matters.

That might not be enough to get in over a high-profile program like Alabama, though.

At that point, you'd be looking at a playoff that includes the Pac-12 champion, the one team of the four listed that doesn't fall on the final weekend of the year, Missouri and Alabama.

That'd be the only path, and even that path would be littered with multiple-loss teams with conference championships in their back pockets, something that Alabama wouldn't have if it loses to Missouri. 

So Crimson Tide fans, for insurance purposes, you might want to root for more chaos this weekend in places other than the Georgia Dome. If contenders fall, it'd make the Crimson Tide's path to a national title a beat easier and keep the door open if Missouri's magical run continues.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

A handful of teams enter Week 15 with either championships or season-ending showdowns on the horizon, but the remaining bowl-eligible programs wait patiently to find out where their holiday business trips will take them.

There won't be any real answers until Selection Sunday, although bowl representatives have been following teams around all season and preferences are starting to emerge. When it comes down to it, the College Football Playoff results and subsequent New Year's Six selections will have a trickle-down effect on everything else.

Until then, take a look below to figure out the date and time of your team's potential bowl destination.

 

Live Stream: Visit WatchESPN.com for live streaming of games on ESPN/ABC networks, and check out CBSSports.com for streaming of the Sun Bowl.

Bowl schedule information courtesy of ESPN.com.

With just one week to go until the final top four is decided and the CFP field is set, those who called for the four-team playoff are being shown exactly why the new format was created.

Alabama and Oregon have both leapfrogged Florida State in the CFP rankings, despite the fact that the Seminoles have yet to lose a game since their national title run in 2013. 

While Florida State has looked far from unstoppable, as told by its slipping down the rankings, could you imagine the chaos if an undefeated defending champion was left out?

Alas, Jimbo Fisher and Co. will have their chance to defend their title—as long as they can get past No. 12 Georgia Tech in the ACC championship. That will be a tall task for a team that has struggled practically every week, as the Yellow Jackets just knocked off Georgia.

The 'Noles won't be the only playoff hopeful with work to do Saturday in title games. Alabama will go up against No. 14 Missouri, No. 2 Oregon faces Arizona (the only team it has lost to in 2014) and No. 6 Ohio State will face No. 11 Wisconsin.

But if we see some more unpredictable finishes there, the Big 12 could be the big winner as Baylor and TCU both wrap up their nine-game conference slates Saturday, per USA Today's George Schroeder:

After Mississippi State's loss to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, the final spot in the top four is likely to open up, and either TCU or Baylor will likely fill that spot. While TCU has been ahead of Baylor in the rankings, the Bears would wrap up the Big 12 title with a win over Kansas State, and that could sway the committee.

Big-time implications can also be found in the Week 15 slate outside of CFP hopefuls. No. 22 Boise State is in position to make a New Year's Six bowl with one more win in the Mountain West title game against Fresno State.

After the Broncos dispatched the Bulldogs 37-27 in their previous meeting, you have to like two-loss Boise State's chances.

When it comes down to it, this weekend's results will have far-reaching implications beyond just the CFP and New Year's Six games. The outcomes will decide whether teams like Ole Miss, Kansas State and Georgia Tech will sneak into one of those games and bump up their conference foes to better bowl games or not. 

Simply put, a fan of any bowl-eligible team can find a reason to root a certain way as championship weekend nears.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

AP College Football Poll 2014: Official Top 25 Rankings and Week 15 Projections

Whether teams are putting the finishing touches on a College Football Playoff resume or simply building momentum for a better bowl invite, there are rarely higher stakes than in Week 15 of the season.

It's conference championship weekend, which means Alabama, Oregon and Florida State will all be put to the test one last time against a dangerous conference foe. Elsewhere, a pair of Big 12 teams in TCU and Baylor will wrap up their nine-game conference slates in the hopes of sneaking into the CFP. 

Needless to say, we may be one week away from the Top 4 being decided, but there is still plenty of work to do for teams in the running. With the stakes higher than ever, let's break down the Week 15 tilts between Top 25 foes.

Full CFB standings can be found at ESPN.com.

 

Note: All odds courtesy of Odds Shark, last updated Nov. 30 at 11 p.m. ET (Kansas State-Baylor spread not yet released).

 

Upset Pick: No. 6 Ohio State over No. 11 Wisconsin

It might not be an upset in terms of seeding, but as far as the odds go, the Ohio State Buckeyes will be pulling off the upset when they slip past Wisconsin to win the Big Ten title.

Of course, a primary reason for the Badgers' favorite status has nothing to do with anyone playing, but someone who won't play. Ohio State's quarterback J.T. Barrett fractured his ankle Saturday against Michigan, per ESPN.com's Austin Ward, and is out the rest of the year.

The Buckeyes have now lost two star quarterbacks in one season, which means they'll now strut out an inexperienced Cardale Jones against Wisconsin, per SportsCenter:

Barrett's fingerprints are all over this offense, having been the one who single-handedly led them back to prominence after early-season struggles. But now that this offense is rolling, who is calling the shots won't matter as much as you think.

Case in point—on his first drive, Jones led the Buckeyes into the end zone against Michigan late to make it a two-score game. Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman agrees, per Cleveland.com's Ari Wasserman:

The quarterback doesn't have to win games for us, the quarterback has to manage games and distribute the football and lead. We've seen that throughout this season. As long as he's mentally prepared and he's got a ton of physical tools ... I have nothing but the utmost confidence in him because of what we've got around him.

The Badgers' dominant rushing game is another reason why they are favorites, with Melvin Gordon breaking records left and right. But Ohio State's strength on defense is up front, and some early stops will put the pressure on Joel Stave to make plays against defensive backs who will be ready to pounce.

Wisconsin's downhill running will keep it close, but the Buckeyes just have too many weapons on offense for Jones to utilize. 

Prediction: Ohio State 28, Wisconsin 24

 

 

Lock of the Week: No. 22 Boise State over Fresno State

No. 22 Boise State has a chance to lock up another Mountain West title Saturday, but even larger aspirations will spur the Broncos to a resounding beating of Fresno State.

Since now-unranked Marshall's perfect season has come to an end, Boise State is well in control of that coveted spot for any team outside the Power Five. As the only one ranked and no other true contenders, the Broncos could wrap up a spot in the Fiesta Bowl—or another marquee bowl—with the win.

Needing style points down the stretch, the Broncos have laid it to their last two opponents, outscoring Wyoming 63-14 and Utah State 50-19. Boise State running back Jay Ajayi has been simply unstoppable, with eight touchdowns in his last two games.

A five-touchdown performance against Utah State put Ajayi near the NCAA lead in a number of categories, per KTVB's Jay Tust:

While the Broncos have looked unstoppable ever since their early-season loss to Air Force, the Bulldogs have hardly looked dangerous of late. With only two teams above .500 in conference play in its division, Fresno State practically made the title game by default.

Boise State only held off the Bulldogs 37-27 when these two squads faced off in Boise in October, but the Broncos offense has transformed since then around Ajayi. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have won three straight—all against unimpressive opponents, however.

Expect the Broncos to blow open the spread as they look to woo voters.

Prediction: Boise State 49, Fresno State 20

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Samuel Chi's Mock College Football Playoff Standings: Week 15

TCU, Baylor or Ohio State?

That will be the selection committee's toughest task, picking one of those three teams to place in the College Football Playoff field. Each of the top six teams in the committee's next rankings will be playing this weekend in games in which they are favored.

The top three teams—Alabama, Oregon and Florida State—will all be playing in their respective conference title games, and they're in with a victory. If any of them should lose, it opens the door for another one of the aforementioned "next three."

Ohio State has a major issue. On one hand, the Buckeyes hope the committee won't hold the season-ending injury to Heisman candidate QB J.T. Barrett against them. On the other, they must defeat Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game with Barrett's backup Cardale Jones.

So in all likelihood, the final spot will be contested by the two Big 12 teams, with each having a chance to win a share of the conference title. As there is no Big 12 championship game, both TCU and Baylor can claim at least to be a co-champion with a win next week.

This is where things get tricky. Baylor defeated TCU 61-58 at home earlier this season, rallying from 21 points down with 11 minutes remaining to hand the Horned Frogs their only loss of the season. But the problem for the Bears is that the committee thinks there's enough of a resume gap between the two teams for the head-to-head result not to matter.

TCU and Baylor each played an FCS team, and the Horned Frogs routed Big Ten title contender Minnesota while the Bears blew out MAC also-ran Buffalo. Besides getting a lift from the Gophers' surprising season, TCU also owns a significant advantage over Baylor in the games so far against nine common opponents.

As TCU is unlikely to lose to 2-9 Iowa State, Baylor must defeat Kansas State impressively to have any shot of catching the Horned Frogs in the eyes of the committee. Making the task more difficult is that the Wildcats are playing for much more than spoiler, as they also will claim at least a share of the Big 12 title with a victory.

 

Other Fun Facts

* Boise State is a victory over 6-6 Fresno State in the Mountain West Championship Game away from the inaugural CFP "Group of Five" automatic bid. It will be the Broncos' third major bowl appearance in the last nine seasons, and it's likely it'll be a third Fiesta Bowl berth. Northern Illinois and Memphis figure to be next in line if Boise State somehow stumbles.

* The rest of the 11 bowl slots, of course, will all go to the Power Five conferences. The SEC will get three berths, while the other conferences will receive two each. Mississippi State probably has a bid wrapped up regardless of how the conference championship games go.

* There are a total of 80 bowl-eligible teams, and Oklahoma State and Temple can still earn eligibility. Georgia Southern, Appalachian State and Old Dominion will not go bowling as they're all in the second year of FBS transition and thus ineligible. Looks like Middle Tennessee, South Alabama, UAB and Ohio—all 6-6— will be left out despite being eligible.

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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10 Most Disappointing Teams of 2014 College Football Season

We’re nearing the end of college football’s 2014 regular season. Conference championships are set, teams are getting bowl-eligible and accepting postseason bids and Saturday will be the last thing resembling a full slate of football until September of 2015. Sunday afternoon, the College Football Playoff’s first four-team field will be revealed, as well as the rest of the bowl destinations.

Many fans will be happy with their teams, but a number of followers across the nation will spend the winter stewing about what might have been. While this season featured positive surprises like Mississippi State and TCU, it also included many teams who failed to live up to preseason expectations.

Here’s a look at the most disappointing teams of the 2014 season.

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Georgia Football: Best Bowl Options for the Bulldogs

The Georgia Bulldogs' regular season ended in multifaceted disappointment over the weekend.  

On Friday, the Missouri Tigers held off the Arkansas Razorbacks and in doing so clinched the SEC East's berth in the conference championship, thus eliminating the Dawgs.  And then on Saturday, a mistake-heavy Georgia effort resulted in a heartbreaking overtime defeat against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

Despite these setbacks, there will still be a lot to play for—most notably a 10-win season—when the Bulldogs participate in a bowl game.  Here are the four most likely bowl destinations for Georgia.

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College Football Playoff 2014: Bracket Dates, Schedule and Rankings Predictions

The 2014 season will feature the inaugural College Football Playoff bracket, and fans of the sport are already trying to decipher which programs will earn the honor of fighting for the national championship.

While teams like Alabama, Oregon and Florida State have made a claim on a spot in the postseason, the playoff voting committee could promote several programs into the No. 4 position after Mississippi State’s heartbreaking loss.

Here is the full schedule of the semifinals and championship for the College Football Playoff, the complete Week 15 projected Top 25 rankings and a preview of the most underrated team in the Top Four.

 

 

 

The Most Underrated Playoff Contender

There are many programs that deserve the honor of playing in the first-ever College Football Playoff, but few fans are talking about the legitimate possibility that the Oregon Ducks could stun the sport and make a run at the national title.

Oregon went 11-1 this season with the team’s only loss coming to Arizona earlier in the season, but the team gets a chance at redemption. On Friday, the Ducks square off against the Wildcats in the Pac-12 Championship in what should be a thrilling battle.

Arizona beat Oregon on October 2, 31-24, but the Ducks have managed to win seven straight games since, including big victories over UCLA and Utah. On the other hand, the Wildcats lost two games after the win over Oregon but ended the year with four straight victories.

When asked about playing Arizona, Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich spoke to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com, saying, “We talked a little bit about preparing to give somebody our best shot. I would have said it about whoever was next. But certainly our guys know the 'coulda, woulda, shoulda' of some of that night. And a lot of that night is Arizona is really good.”

The key for the Ducks will be the play of quarterback Marcus Mariota. The junior is running away with the Heisman Trophy race and has been lights-out for Oregon, racking up 3,470 yards and 36 touchdowns through the air and another 636 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.

ESPN’s SportsCenter shared just how dominant Mariota was in Week 14:

While Oregon should be able to beat Arizona in the conference championship, the team will also be a legitimate threat in the College Football Playoff. With one of the most dangerous offensive units in the country and a defense that has played better than expected, the Ducks have the talent and depth to defeat teams like Florida State and Alabama.

The Seminoles may have the national championship experience and the Crimson Tide may have a roster full of potential NFL stars, but Oregon has the fourth-ranked offense in college football and a defense that only allows 23.3 points per game.

The result is a Ducks program that has the potential to win the inaugural College Football Playoff.

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Week 15 Standings and Analysis for Latest Polls

Over the span of a few hours a handful of the top teams in the nation flirted with College Football Playoff disaster.

Pollsters who were drenched in sweat as the Week 14 slate played itself out were rewarded handsomely—the top three teams in the nation took care of business.

But Alabama made it tough in the Iron Bowl. Florida State pulled a disappearing act for three quarters yet again. TCU and Ohio State suffered various hiccups in the wake of Mississippi State and Dak Prescott taking a dive.

The pollsters have come through, though. All that remains is to break down who is what, where and why—before it all goes up in flames again. 

 

Week 14 Winners

The king of the castle in this regard is undoubtedly TCU.

Trevone Boykin and the Horned Frogs were in need of some serious help as they took care of business against Texas. They did their part with a 48-10 triumph, then watched as the Bulldogs took a dive and Ohio State lost its starting quarterback for the season (more on that in a bit).

As ESPN Stats & Info points out, the Horned Frogs certainly helped themselves with the schedule, too:

Wins over Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Kansas State will do that for a resume. In the eyes of the CFP committee, it helps that Boykin is one of the best dual-threat players in the nation with his 3,254 passing yards and 26 scores with 598 yards and eight scores on the ground.

Baylor is still feeling pretty good right about now, though. After all, Bryce Petty and Co. have a win over TCU this season, and although things were ugly in a 48-46 win over Texas Tech, there is an outside chance the team jumps the Horned Frogs if it takes down Kansas State next weekend.

Do not forget about Arizona's stunning rise to the top, either. The Wildcats used the chaos around the landscape and a 43-35 win over ranked Arizona State to make another leap in the polls and now gets another shot at Oregon—a team it has already got the best of once this season.

In a similar fashion, Missouri comes out on top of the SEC East thanks to a Georgia loss and a strong performance in the face of an elite Arkansas ground game. Accomplishments aside, the Tigers still have work to do if they want to move past Alabama.

 

Week 14 Losers

Ohio State gets the nod as the biggest loser of all. 

In an unfortunate turn of events, the Buckeyes took down the Michigan Wolverines in "The Game", 42-28, but lost Heisman contender J.T. Barrett in the process.

Make that two occurrences of that particular bad luck this season for the Buckeyes. Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com captured coach Urban Meyer's thoughts on the matter:

[Barrett] is for sure out. We've had two quarterbacks go down, and we're going to find out if we earn our coaching stripes and do a good job getting [Cardale] Jones ready to go. … We've got to go on, and we've got a lot of confidence in the guy that's going to be doing it.

[But] obviously, we lost a Heisman candidate today.

Now the question becomes whether or not the Buckeyes can take down a Wisconsin team that just made a statement with a win over Minnesota.

Mississippi State is right behind Ohio State. Despite 282 passing yards and two total touchdowns from Prescott, the Bulldogs could not trump Ole Miss at home in the Egg Bowl. Two losses in three games means the Bulldogs stay behind Alabama in the SEC West and have a fairy-tale season end with a resounding dud.

Say goodbye to UCLA, too. Brett Hundley and the Bruins can now only watch as Arizona moves on thanks to a 31-10 shellacking at the hands of Stanford. The Cardinal have had a down year, but Hundley's 17-of-32 line for 146 yards and a score, paired with miserable defense at home, have ruined the Bruins' shot at the CFP.

Ditto for Georgia. Those Bulldogs got 129 yards and a score out of Nick Chubb, but the defense allowed 399 rushing yards and three scores to Georgia Tech, a team that escaped with a 30-24 road win.

Ohio State takes the cake, but those teams such as Mississippi State taking the dive into the realm of two-loss hopefuls at this time of the season are in serious trouble. The landscape was sure to eventually sort itself out, and if Week 14 was any indication, the process is almost complete.

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

 

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College Football Fact or Fiction Heading into Championship Weekend

Heading into championship weekend, the focus intensifies on the College Football Playoff as teams get their last chance to prove to the committee that they are worthy of one of the four available spots. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee discuss some of the hottest topics heading into this highly anticipated week of the season. 

Who do you think will play in the national championship game?

Watch the video and let us know!

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College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

The uncertainty surrounding Brady Hoke’s future as the head coach at Michigan continues to hurt the Wolverines' 2015 class.

Last week, 4-star running back Michael Weber announced that he is reopening his recruiting process.

It didn’t take long for the interest to pick up in the 5’10”, 205-pounder. 

The U.S. Army All-American picked up offers from Georgia, Notre Dame and Alabama.

Those three powerhouses join the likes of Michigan State, Ohio State, USC and Wisconsin in addition to the Wolverines as schools that Weber is still considering.

According to Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports, Weber—who has plans to announce his commitment on Jan. 3 at the U.S. Army All-American game—was excited to receive his latest offer from Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.

“They are the No. 1 team in the country that always wins and they put running backs in the league every year,” Weber told Wiltfong.

The Irish will lose starting running back Cam McDaniel to graduation, while Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and Georgia’s Todd Gurley are juniors with potential to test the NFL draft waters.

With a little more than a month left until he plans to make a commitment, Weber figures to receive more interest and take some trips between now and when he leaves for San Antonio.

Can the Irish deal a further blow to the rival Wolverines by swiping Weber away, or will he be tempted to head to the SEC to play his college football?

Stay tuned.

 

Alabama Hits Sunshine State

In addition to offering Weber, Saban and his staff were active in Florida last week.

The Tide tendered 2015 3-star wide receiver Ryan Davis and 2017 4-star corner Stanford Samuels III.

Davis has offers from the likes of Florida, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Tennessee, among others. However, according to ESPN’s Derek Tyson, Davis plans to visit Tuscaloosa after his season concludes.

Meanwhile, Samuels is rated as the No. 3 corner in the 2017 class, and he possesses early offers from schools such as Georgia, Miami, LSU, Oklahoma and Tennessee, among others. Per Barton Simmons of 247Sports, UCLA also offered Samuels last week.

His father, Stanford Samuels Jr., played corner at Florida State from 2000-03.

 

Tennessee Offers Multiple Underclassmen

Butch Jones and the rest of his staff at Tennessee have been one of the surprises of the 2015 cycle, as the Vols currently have the nation’s No. 5 class

Last week, the Vols turned their attention to some of the top underclassmen in their backyard.

Jones and his staff offered 2016 3-star athlete Ikenna Okeke, 2017 running back Chase Hayden and 2018 receiver Camron Johnson—all of whom are Tennessee natives.

The Vols also offered 2017 4-star rusher Cam Akers, per Demetric Warren of Varsity Preps.

Hayden’s father, Aaron, was a standout running back for the Vols in the early 1990s.

 

Miami after California, Texas Talent

Another program who was busy last week in scouting the future classes was Miami.

Al Golden and his staff hit the fertile grounds of California and Texas to offer some of the top underclassmen in those states. 

The ‘Canes offered 2016 4-star offensive lineman Frank Martin, per Adam Gorney of Rivals. They also offered 2016 3-star defensive end Marcus Moore from the Golden State, according to David Lake of InsideTheU (subscription required).

Meanwhile, they also tendered 2016 4-star offensive lineman Jean Delance, who committed to Oklahoma earlier in the week.

Given this level of aggressiveness early, it’s clear that Golden and his staff are extending their reach by identifying top talent across the nation.

 

Best of the Rest

  • Miami offered 2018 linebacker Merlin Robertson, per Gorney.

 

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

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Tennessee Football: Best Bowl Options for the Volunteers

With the hard part of getting bowl-eligible over, the Tennessee Volunteers can now sit back, heal up and eagerly anticipate their bowl destination.

The Vols secured their first postseason berth since 2010 with a 24-17 sigh-of-relief victory over instate rival Vanderbilt. Though they looked anything but bowl-ready, none of that matters now. They overcame adversity, and jubilation reigns on Rocky Top.

Tennessee is vying for its first winning season since the Lane Kiffin-led 2009 campaign. While just getting to a bowl game and securing 15 more practices were big for perception and development, winning one would really fuel the positive vibes heading into the offseason.

So, what are the Vols looking for in a bowl berth?

  • First of all, a quality opponent that injects excitement and makes the nation forget about UT playing in a lower-tier bowl. For instance, nobody would care what bowl it was if the Vols could play a tradition-rich program such as Notre Dame or Texas. It would just be a fun matchup.
  • Secondly, UT probably wants to play somebody it matches up well against. At this point, just getting to a bowl game with this young, shallow roster was an accomplishment. But if the Vols lose a bowl game, it still goes down in the books as yet another losing season.

Considering the Big Orange Nation is a hungry bunch starved for any bowl game, many committees will be looking to get the Vols to secure good gate revenue. In other words, UT fans are going to travel well. 

But with the new SEC selection process, where the Vols land is anybody's guess, especially considering there are 12 league teams eligible for a bowl.

With Alabama an option for the first College Football Playoff, the SEC has nine additional bowl tie-ins (Citrus, Outback, Belk, Liberty, Music City, Texas, TaxSlayer, Birmingham and Independence).

The Citrus will pick from the remaining participants after the CFP committee selects its playoff and bowl participants. Then, the SEC office will decide which team goes to which bowls afterward.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Dave Matter has a good breakdown, and SEC executive associate commissioner Mark Womack told Matter there is no pecking order within the six (Outback, Belk, Liberty, Music City, Texas and TaxSlayer) and no significant differences between payouts.

The Tennessean's Matt Slovin reported that the league office will take into consideration the list of preferences submitted by both the universities and the bowl sites in choosing the destinations for those six bowls.

The Birmingham and Independence bowls will then pick from the remaining pool.

So, in the past, when the Music City Bowl almost assuredly wouldn't have passed up on the Vols because keeping UT instate virtually guaranteed a sellout, it may not have that option this year with the league office placing teams.

That makes UT's bowl destination extremely up in the air. So, where are the best possible landing spots for the Vols?

 

No. 1: Music City Bowl, Nashville

There is little doubt that a date in the Music City would be beneficial for both parties, but it's ideal for the Vols.

Not only is the Midstate a recruiting hotbed for the Vols, it would be easy travel for the fanbase, and UT would paint the state capital orange for the Dec. 30 game. 

Of the three destinations most being buzzed about with Tennessee, the Music City has the best reputation, but it also seems like the longest shot considering all the good, marquee SEC teams that have qualified. 

UT's last bowl appearance was a 30-27 loss to North Carolina in the 2010 Music City Bowl.

The Vols almost certainly would prefer this landing spot, and Music City president and CEO Scott Ramsey told The Tennessean's Mike Organ last week prior to the Vols beating Vandy that UT would be a desirable participant: "We love Tennessee; I joked with (UT athletics director) Dave Hart a couple of weeks ago and said, 'If we could book all of your home games here, I wonder if we could cut that deal?' Seriously, if Tennessee wins this week we're going to have to have a discussion because of the relationships we have there."

ESPN's Mark Schlabach and Phil Steele project the Vols to head there for their bowl. Some of the participants thrown around in recent weeks for the game were Duke, Iowa and Miami. None of those teams are dynamic offensively, and they'd be good matchups for the Vols. 

A date with Duke would see UT go toe-to-toe with longtime Vols offensive coordinator and current Duke coach David Cutcliffe, so that would be a fun game.

There's little doubt that Tennessee would sell its ticket allotment with ease to set up a showdown with Notre Dame, and that would be a game that would get plenty of national exposure because of the Irish's countrywide support.

 

No. 2: Liberty Bowl, Memphis

Again, since there's really not a lot of difference in bowl games at this level, the Vols would absolutely love to play in Memphis' bowl, where they haven't been since the 1986 game against Minnesota.

That city is about as far away in the state as you can get, and UT struggles to recruit out there, but there's still a large contingent of Vols fans in the area.

This seems the most logical choice and most likely destination for the Vols, and that would make bowl officials in the Bluff City giddy. According to GoVols247's Wes Rucker, "Tennessee is No. 1 with a bullet on the Liberty Bowl's list. It would settle for Arkansas but would prefer Tennessee. In fact, it’s tough to see a bowl wanting a program more than the Liberty Bowl wants Tennessee."

A dream matchup there on Dec. 29 that has at least been discussed is setting up Tennessee with the other UT (Texas) and coach Charlie Strong, who spurned the Vols in the search that ultimately landed Jones.

However, ESPN Big 12 writer Jake Trotter tweeted that he's hearing another prominent name for a potential UT opponent in Memphis:

If the Vols played the Mountaineers, it would be a precursor to the 2018 opener scheduled to be played in Charlotte. WVU is a good team that has played a hard schedule and would be a difficult draw for the Vols.

 

No. 3: Belk Bowl, Charlotte

Under Jones, Tennessee has knocked down the walls to the fertile recruiting grounds of North Carolina, securing nine commitments from past, current and future classes from that state.

It's such an important battleground that UT has scheduled that aforementioned opener for the '18 season there. So, playing in Charlotte on Dec. 30 would not be a bad option for the Vols, especially those fans wanting an experience away from the state.

The coolest thing about a possible Belk Bowl berth would be the rumor that the Vols could play Notre Dame, a tradition-rich school with which UT has a storied history.

CBSSports.com's Jerry Palm predicts a Vols-Irish bowl game in Charlotte.

 

No. 4: Hey, anywhere will do just fine

Let's face it: When you win six games, beggars can't be choosers. Also, considering UT hasn't played later than the regular-season finale in four long, frustrating years, players and coaches are simply ecstatic to be going anywhere.

Birmingham and Shreveport aren't exactly exotic locales this time of year, but football is football, and getting those extra practices, more exposure and bonus perception points matter. Heck, just getting the bowl swag will be a new experience for many of the UT players.

As a matter of fact, nobody on Tennessee's roster has played in a bowl game. The ones who were part of that 2010 team—punter Matt Darr, offensive tackles Jacob Gilliam and Marques Pair and walk-ons Jacob Carter, Gregory Grieco and Deanthonie Summerhill—all redshirted that year.

That's a clear picture of how far Tennessee had fallen. A program that used to bristle at Steve Spurrier wisecracking that "You can't spell Citrus without 'UT'" has struggled to get to six wins for years. 

Now that they have, the Vols are just thrilled with going to a bowl. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan after the win over VU: "That was our goal coming into this season. We wanted to get to a bowl game and get our seniors to a bowl game and then progress from there. This is a stepping stone to this program, and it's definitely an exciting time to be here. I'm excited to be going to a bowl game."

No matter where it is.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats gathered from UTSports.com unless otherwise noted.

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

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College Football Picks Week 15: Predictions and Odds for Top 25 Schedule

There is a new No. 1 in college football heading into Week 15, which is chock-full of conference championship tilts with huge implications for the College Football Playoff.

Alabama takes the top spot in the Associated Press poll after beating rival Auburn 55-44 in the highest-scoring Iron Bowl ever. Quarterback Blake Sims made a startling mid-game turnaround to lead his team to victory and finished with five total touchdowns and three interceptions.

Wide receiver Amari Cooper put in a magisterial performance, catching 13 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns. 

The AP pointed out how rare it is for a team to move from second to first in the poll this late in the season (h/t ESPN.com): "The last time the No. 2 team had more first-place votes than the No. 1 team this late in the season was Nov. 25, 1968, when No. 1 Ohio State had 21.5 first-places votes to USC's 24.5."

Florida State slipped to second after a middling win over Florida, Oregon held strong at third with a blowout victory in the Civil War over Oregon State and TCU is now in the Top Four and should be bullish on its playoff hopes after Mississippi State lost to Ole Miss 31-17 in the Egg Bowl.

Here is the Associated Press Top 25 heading into Week 15, followed by picks for every top team in action and a closer look at the game of the week.



AP Top 25 Predictions for Week 15

Note: odds courtesy of Odds Shark and updated as of Monday, Dec. 1, at 4 a.m. ET.

 

Game of the Week: No. 14 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Ohio State

A late injury to a major star, huge playoff implications and a star running back make the Big Ten Championship Game—to be played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis—between Ohio State and Wisconsin the can't-miss event of Week 15.

Wisconsin clinched a spot in the Big Ten title match with a 34-24 Week 14 win over Minnesota. The Buckeyes had already earned a berth, but they have a new challenge to deal with coming into the biggest game of the season.

Ohio State's dreams of a spot in the College Football Playoff took a major hit when freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett was lost for the season after suffering a broken ankle in the Buckeyes' 42-28 win over rival Michigan on Saturday, per ESPN.com's Austin Ward.

Barrett, who had set the Big Ten record for total touchdowns in a season earlier in that contest, was instrumental in turning Ohio State into one of the more potent offenses in college. The Buckeyes currently rank fifth in points per game (44.1) and 11th in total offense with 503.4 yards per game.

When star quarterback Braxton Miller was lost for the season with a shoulder injury back in summer, few could have foreseen Barrett taking the team so close to the top.

Now, it's Cardale Jones' turn.

The sophomore third-stringer will play a huge role in determining whether or not the Buckeyes can pip TCU and stave off Baylor and Mississippi State for the final playoff spot (assuming Oregon, Alabama and Florida State don't implode and hold their places).

Jones has attempted just 19 passes in his collegiate career, but coach Urban Meyer has implied the playbook will be open to Jones on Saturday.

"It's his show," he said, via Fox Sports Ohio's Zac Jackson. "He's got the keys to the car. He's already been in studying film and getting ready to go."

Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch also provided this nugget of insight from Meyer:

Of course, if his athleticism was so important, he would have beaten out Barrett this summer. Jones couldn't really have much of a tougher test for his first start at the big show. Wisconsin's defense has allowed just 16.8 points per game this season. However, Cleveland.com's Ari Wasserman believes the Buckeyes can produce enough points to win with Jones running the show:

That means relying a little more on Ezekiel Elliott to run the ball, more jet sweeps to Jalin Marshall, short slants to Michael Thomas. The Buckeyes have the playmakers to move the football without relying on Jones to do too much. 

And because Jones is a 6-foot-6, 250-pounds, maybe a few quarterbacks runs to the right and left. 

Herman has made three quarterbacks look great in his system – Braxton Miller, Kenny Guiton and Barrett. Maybe outside of Barrett's start vs. Virginia Tech, none of them have had a truly bad performance. 

Wisconsin's own offense should prove to be a tough test for the Buckeyes defenders. Quarterback Joel Stave has done well in his game manager role in recent weeks, and the team puts up 334.3 rushing yards per game, most of them coming from the imperial Melvin Gordon.

The rampaging running back, who looks like a Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson at times, has 2,260 yards and 29 total touchdowns on the season. He is closing out a historic campaign and making a run through the record books, per SportsCenter:

The Buckeyes have a fairly soft run defense, so don't expect them to shut down Gordon. What they can do, is try to force Stave into making mistakes when the Badgers do opt to pass the ball. They've forced 25 turnovers this season and will need all the extra possessions they can get in this one.

However, Badgers coach Gary Andersen feels his signal-caller is settling into a groove with seven starts under his belt in 2014.

"I really believe that he feels comfortable with his protection now," he said, via Fox Sports Wisconsin's Jesse Temple. "Probably as comfortable, I believe, as he's been since we've all been here together. If this gets blocked up, I am going to have a chance to throw the ball. He is seeing the field very, very well."

Ohio State should win this game, but Jones won't be able to deliver a big enough win for the Buckeyes to make the College Football Playoff.

That spot should go to TCU, who has a big opportunity to shine against a lowly Iowa State squad. If the scoreline is as lopsided as the spread indicates, the Horned Frogs will catch the eyes of those on the playoff committee and join the Seminoles, Crimson Tide and Ducks.

Prediction: Ohio State 24-21 Wisconsin

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College Football Rankings 2014: Latest Standings and Predictions for Week 15

The Associated Press has finally seen the light. On Sunday morning, the Alabama Crimson Tide took over the top spot from the defending champion Florida State Seminoles in the latest AP poll. Behind 224 receiving yards from Amari Cooper, the Tide knocked off the rival No. 20 Auburn Tigers in the Iron Bowl 55-44 on Saturday.

The win was enough to push Bama past the Noles, who narrowly beat the unranked Florida Gators 24-19. It should also be enough to keep Bama No. 1 in the College Football Playoff standings.

Here's a look at the latest AP Top 25 poll.

 

Mississippi State Is No Longer a Championship Contender

The Mississippi State Bulldogs saw their hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff dashed with a 31-17 loss to in-state rival Ole Miss on Saturday. That has opened the door for a small group of teams to seize the fourth spot in the College Football Playoff rankings.

The AP has thrust the TCU Horned Frogs into the fourth spot in its rankings. The Baylor Bears are fifth and the Ohio State Buckeyes are sixth. When the final CFP rankings are announced, TCU, Baylor and Ohio State will be under consideration for a spot.

 

About that Fourth Spot

Baylor beat TCU 61-58 in a game most believe the Horned Frogs deserved to win. Proof that many see TCU as the superior team is its higher ranking in the latest CFP rankings. Going into Saturday's games, TCU was ranked fifth while Baylor was sixth.

If the Bears can defeat the No. 12 Kansas State Wildcats on Saturday, it might be enough to convince voters that they should be ahead of their Big 12 rivals.

TCU draws the Iowa State Cyclones in the regular-season finale. Obviously, a loss would push the Horned Frogs out of consideration. Because the Cyclones are unranked, a win may not be enough to hold off Baylor should the Bears beat the Wildcats.

The Buckeyes will obviously have something to say about all of this.

Ohio State will face the No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Championship. If the Bucks win and both Big 12 teams fall, it should be pretty academic, assuming Alabama, the Oregon Ducks and Florida State Seminoles avoid upsets in their conference championships.

If Ohio State is to win, it will have to do it without quarterback J.T. Barrett. The freshman suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the regular-season finale against the Michigan Wolverines.

Sophomore Cardale Jones will get the start in his place. 

Things will get especially interesting if Ohio State, Baylor and TCU win. Which of the three one-loss teams will get the fourth spot in the inaugural CFP?

It's going to be an interesting Week 15.

 

Prediction: Baylor Gets the Nod

Whether TCU looks like the better team or not, the fact is it lost to Baylor head-to-head. Because both teams each have one loss, the Bears should be ranked ahead. That's not the case now, but I believe it will be once the final CFP standings are announced.

It would be a major shock if TCU fell to Iowa State. The Cyclones are 2-9, and their defense is ranked 115th in the nation. It would take a miracle for them to win on the road against TCU.

Ohio State is heading into a tough matchup against the Badgers. This battle would be difficult even if the Buckeyes had Barrett. Without him, the Badgers are my pick to win. The nation's leading rusher, Melvin Gordon, and the Badgers' dominant offensive line will control time of possession to claim the Big Ten title.

That leaves Baylor.

The Bears should feel disrespected, and they should be on a mission to stick it to everyone who ranks the Horned Frogs ahead of them. Playing at home against a tough Kansas State defense that is ranked 17th in points allowed per game, the Bears will prevail.

Last season, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty torched the Wildcats for 332 yards and three touchdowns. I see him leading the Bears to another win over Kansas State.

With a more impressive victory on the final day of the season, Baylor will earn the nod for the fourth spot in the CFP.

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Pac-12 Championship 2014: Oregon vs. Arizona Odds, Schedule and Prediction

The 2014 Pac-12 championship may very well be the nation's most intriguing title game. The Oregon Ducks have been virtually unstoppable this season, steamrolling opponents en route to an 11-1 record. Although, that one loss came against this very same Arizona Wildcats team on October 2.

ESPN College Football tweeted the tale of the tape for these teams entering the championship bout:

Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota has resembled Superman for the majority of his career in Oregon; however, Arizona has proven to be his kryptonite. Will the Heisman-hopeful signal-caller come out on top this time around, or will the Wildcats spoil the Ducks' potential College Football Playoff berth?

Before these teams head back into action, here's a look at the essential viewing information, followed by a preview and prediction for this clash of Pac-12 foes.

 

Viewing Information

When: Friday, December 5

Where: Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California

Time: 9 p.m. ET

Channel: Fox

Live Stream: Fox Sports Go

Game Odds (via Odds Shark): Oregon -13.5

 

Preview and Prediction

It's really quite impressive what Mariota's been able to accomplish this season. He's notched 48 total touchdowns and 4,132 yards of offense while only throwing two interceptions. The quarterback recorded six total touchdowns against Oregon State on Saturday, setting a new Pac-12 record, via College GameDay:

Arizona has been able to get to Mariota in the past. According to CFBStats.com, the Wildcats were able to sack the signal-caller five times earlier this season, throwing off his rhythm and ability to complete passes down the field. Expect the Wildcats to apply as much pressure as possible once again versus a Ducks offensive line that has allowed 29 sacks this season, ranking 90th in the nation.

Of course, the way to combat the pass rush is by utilizing the running game and short passing game. The Ducks excel at both, as they average 232.0 yards per game on the ground, and playmakers Royce Freeman and Byron Marshall are more than capable of producing yards after the catch.

Here's a look at a spectacular one-handed grab by Freeman in the Civil War, via SportsCenter:

The Wildcats are going to need a superior effort from running back Nick Wilson. The freshman has been phenomenal this season, averaging 6.2 yards per carry and rushing for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns. He's really been lighting it up late in the season, accumulating a total of 396 rushing yards and six scores over his last two games.

Here's the call from Brian Jeffries during Wilson's 72-yard touchdown scamper against Arizona State, via IMG College Audio:

Oregon has been taken advantage of on the ground at times this season, ranking 54th in the nation and allowing an average of 157.8 yards per game. If the Ducks sell out against the run, quarterback Anu Solomon is more than capable of taking the top off the defense—he passed for 287 yards the last time he faced Oregon.

While Arizona certainly has the talent to keep up with this potent Oregon offense, it's simply too difficult to bet against Mariota here. He ended the season with a flourish, accounting for no less than four touchdowns in each of his last five games. When he's scoring those kinds of points, the Ducks become extremely difficult to defeat.

This time around, the kryptonite won't take down Superman.

Prediction: Oregon 38, Arizona 27

 

All team statistics and rankings courtesy of NCAA.com unless noted otherwise and current as of November 30.

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Pac-12 Championship 2014: Oregon vs. Arizona Odds, Schedule and Prediction

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ACC Championship 2014: Florida State vs. Georgia Tech Odds, Schedule, Prediction

Florida State finished off the regular season with a win, extending its winning streak to 28 games; however, Georgia Tech produced a very impressive conclusion to its season, defeating two ranked teams in consecutive games to earn a berth in the ACC championship against the Seminoles.

In fact, the ACC was a big overall winner in rivalry week, per ESPN College Football:

While Florida State is unbeaten this season, are the Seminoles still favored in this title clash? After all, they haven't won by more than a five-point margin in their last three games against unranked opponents. Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets took care of business against both Clemson and Georgia.

Can Florida State reach 29 consecutive victories and secure a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff, or will a surging Georgia Tech team play spoiler and take the ACC crown? Before we receive an answer to that question, here's a look at the game's pertinent viewing information, followed by a preview and a prediction of this highly anticipated bout.

 

Viewing Information

When: Saturday, December 6

Where: Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Channel: ABC

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Game Odds (via Odds Shark): Florida State -4

 

Preview and Prediction

Georgia Tech overcame some early miscues against Georgia and put itself in position for a Harrison Butker 53-yard field goal as time expired. Following a convincing touchdown drive in the first overtime, the ball-hawking Yellow Jackets defense secured the victory with an interception off Hutson Mason.

Following that win, Georgia Tech improved to 12th in the nation in takeaways, totaling 17 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries through 12 games. That's not a good sign for a suddenly turnover-prone Jameis Winston.

The former Heisman-winning quarterback has struggled with ball security this season, throwing at least one interception in nine of his 11 games. He capped off the regular season with a four-pick performance against Florida, keeping the Gators in the game for the full 60 minutes.

Here's a rather telling statistic on the matter, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Winston's miscues have led to some nail-biting games for the Seminoles, and that trend is likely to continue against a Georgia Tech team capable of controlling the pace of the game with its fourth-ranked rushing offense.

The Yellow Jackets are averaging 333.8 yards per game on the ground this season, and the Seminoles have been average defensively in that category, allowing an average of 145.8 yards per game, which ranks 42nd in the nation.

A combination of dual-threat quarterback Justin Thomas, bruising running back Zach Laskey and the speedy Synjyn Days has been formidable this year, as each player is averaging at least 5.0 yards per carry. Here's a look at what this team did on the ground against the Bulldogs during rivalry week, per ESPN College Football:

If the Yellow Jackets can take advantage of some Winston miscues and utilize their running game to control the contest's pace, there's a good possibility Georgia Tech will pull off the upset over a sluggish Seminoles squad.

Florida State may attempt to utilize the combination of running backs Karlos Williams and Dalvin Cook to keep Georgia Tech's offense off the field, and that will be the team's best bet against the Yellow Jackets' 70th-ranked run defense; however, even limiting Winston to just 24 passing attempts against Florida didn't fix his turnover woes.

Taking these current on-field trends into consideration, we're in for a rather surprising ACC champion.

Prediction: Georgia Tech 31, Florida State 27

 

All team rankings and statistics courtesy of NCAA.com and are current as of November 30.

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