NCAA Football

GoDaddy Bowl 2015: Preview, Predictions for Arkansas State vs. Toledo

Sunday, January 4 will see the renewal of the GoDaddy Bowl as the Arkansas State Red Wolves, this year's Sun Belt champions, will take on the Toledo Rockets. 

The game will kick off at 8 p.m. EST on ESPN. 

Check out this bowl's biggest players, as well as each team's keys to victory. 

Begin Slideshow

New Mexico Bowl 2014: Preview, Predictions for UTEP vs. Utah State

College football fans thirsty for bowl action will only have to wait until Dec. 20, when UTEP takes on Utah State in Albuquerque for the New Mexico Bowl.

The 7-5 Miners are headed to their first bowl game since 2010, when they also descended upon Albuquerque for the very same bowl. They will be looking for a very different outcome this time around, however, as BYU drubbed them 52-24 four years ago.

Utah State's season began in earnest with the return of Chuckie Keeton, but the Aggies have had to rebound ever since losing their star quarterback in early October. They have done just that, winning five of six to close out 2014.

Both squads overcame the odds to get here, which had Bryan Fischer of NFL.com lauding the coaching jobs of Utah State's Matt Wells and UTEP's Sean Kugler:

While some of the bowl-bound teams have nearly a month to prepare, just days separate us from the New Mexico Bowl. Let's go ahead and break down everything you should know.

 

2014 New Mexico Bowl: UTEP vs. Utah State

When: Saturday, Dec. 20

Where: University Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Start Time (ET): 2:20 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

The Book on UTEP

In mid-October, even getting to this point seemed like a stretch for the UTEP Miners.

That was largely due to starting 2-3, which included understandable losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State. But after being trounced 55-3 on the road by Louisiana Tech, the Miners rattled off five of their last seven to notch a 7-5 record and secure their right to go bowling.

The New Mexico Bowl seemed like the likeliest destination given the geography and their spot in Conference USA, but it didn't matter much to the players where they ended up. For guys like safety Wesley Miller, one of the few on the team for the 2010 bowl loss, they just wanted to get back to the big stage and prove themselves, per the El Paso Times' Bret Bloomquist: "It was a lot of fun early in the week. It wasn't as fun on game day (when UTEP got blown out by Brigham Young). That wasn't a good memory and it left a bad taste in our mouth. We want to wash that away this year."

The Miners' biggest strength on the field comes by running rampant on the ground. Aaron Jones is the conference's No. 5 leading rusher both in terms of yards (1,233) and carries (217), but Nathan Jeffery and quarterback Jameill Showers combine for a strong three-pronged rushing attack.

UTEP will be feverishly watching tape of Utah State's 50-19 loss to Boise State in order to replicate the Broncos' rushing success. Jay Ajayi scampered for 229 yards and five touchdowns in that game, beleaguering the Aggies' front seven all game. 

The Miners may not have the rushing prowess of Boise State, but they should look to replicate it as much as possible in the New Mexico Bowl.

 

The Book on Utah State

Cut out the Utah State Aggies' season opener and their season finale, and you'd have a more impressive team than the 9-4 squad entering the New Mexico Bowl.

Utah State was welcomed into the 2014 season with a trip to face Tennessee in Neyland Stadium and came out battered and bruised en route to a 38-7 defeat. Keeton's shaky performance ended up being a sign, as the talented quarterback was never 100 percent on his surgically repaired knee and eventually reinjured it.

The Aggies' season seemed lost when they shut Keeton down for the season, but they showed their worth even without their star quarterback in the fold. They bounced back from that news in impressive fashion, including a 35-20 upset win at then-No. 18 BYU.

But with a chance to possibly win the Mountain West and thwart No. 23 Boise State in the season finale, the Aggies were housed in a 50-19 decision.

Utah State may not have Keeton, but freshman Kent Myers has filled his shoes nicely ever since his debut Oct. 25. Also a dual-threat weapon, Myers has five touchdowns through the air and four scores on the ground.

LaJuan Hunt and Joe Hill help to take the pressure off Myers, as the two running backs each have more than 100 carries on the year. 

Along with establishing their multifaceted rushing attack, getting out to an early lead will also be crucial for the Aggies. UTEP trailed at the half in four of its five losses, and the Miners—with a strong rushing attack but not much through the air—aren't built to come from behind.

 

Prediction

The Miners will come to play in Albuquerque, unlike in 2010, but it won't result in a different result. UTEP will keep it close throughout, but the Aggies will establish the run to grab an early lead. That will force the Miners to push the envelope through the air, and Utah State's ball-hawking secondary will be up for the challenge in a defensive struggle of a game.

Prediction: Utah State 20, UTEP 14

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff Committee Welcomes Boise State Back to the Big Time

Boise State is headed to a marquee bowl for the first time since 2009, when it beat TCU 17-10 in the Fiesta Bowl.

The College Football Playoff selection committee announced Sunday that the No. 20 Broncos will play No. 10 Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl December 31 in Glendale, Arizona.

Boise State won the Mountain West Conference with a 28-14 win over Fresno State Saturday, finishing the season 11-2. One of those losses came on a neutral field to No. 9 Ole Miss in Week 1. The other came against a plucky Air Force team in Week 5. Its eight consecutive wins are tied for the third-longest streak in the country.

In the BCS era, there is no way an 11-2 Broncos team would have made an Access Bowl. Thanks to the CFP, which mandates that the highest-ranked champion from a "Group of Five" conference be included, they will be back in Glendale for the third time in nine years.

Not a bad first season for head coach Bryan Harsin.

Harsin came to Boise after one year as the head coach at Arkansas State. He spent the previous two years as the co-offensive coordinator at Texas and the nine years before that as an assistant with the Broncos.

From 2006 to 2010, Harsin was the offensive coordinator under head coach Chris Petersen, a Boise State legend who in December 2013 became the head coach at Washington. Petersen had flirted with and shot down a number of high-profile jobs in the past, so when he left it seemed the Boise State "dynasty" might be dead.

But Harsin never wavered from the standard he helped Petersen establish. This is one of the most balanced teams in college football, a roster with no discernible weak spot. The pass defense is the only unit on either side of the ball that does not rank in the national Top 40 in yards per game, and even that is a misleading number.

The Broncos rank No. 5 in the country with 20 interceptions.

Much like the other great Boise State teams of the past decade—the 2007 and 2010 Fiesta Bowl Champions—this year's team is led by one of the best backfields in college football: dual-threat quarterback Grant Hedrick and running back Jay Ajayi.

Hedrick ranks No. 9 in the country in passer rating (157.78) and has rushed for 563 yards and eight touchdowns. He is No. 19 in ESPN's Total QBR metric, which adjusts for rushing stats and context. Only two non-power-five quarterbacks rank higher.

But Ajayi is the real star of the team. The 6'0", 216-pound bruiser is a redshirt junior but will likely declare for the NFL draft this offseason.

It is rare to find a player with his size and power who can also move like a scatback and catch like a tight end. He ranks No. 9 in the country in rushing yards per game (179.69) and No. 2 in rushing touchdowns (25) and flashed his versatility with 12 catches for 93 yards against Ole Miss in Week 1.

"Most of the national attention on the running back position has been directed towards Melvin Gordon, Telvin Coleman and James Conner for their spectacular efforts, but Ajayi is beginning to generate some buzz on the West Coast with his sensational production as the Broncos' workhorse runner," wrote Bucky Brooks of NFL.com.

Better late than never, I suppose.

Even with Petersen in Seattle, Boise State is the Alabama of non-power-conference football. It is the team every other team wants to beat. And for that, Harsin takes more (or at least different) pride in this year's achievements than anything he accomplished in the past.

"For the guys in our program right now, this is the most difficult time to win a championship, because Boise State is on the map," Harsin told reporters after Saturday's win. "And that’s what I’m most proud of, to go out there every single week and know that we have a history and a record. We still step out there and give their very best.

"I don’t know if there is a another group, not to take anything away [from previous teams], but it’s been five years and one last time on the blue as seniors in particular, that’s what they’ve set out to do."

We all know what happened the first time Boise State made the Fiesta Bowl. With Petersen at the helm, it upset Adrian Peterson's Oklahoma Sooners with a hook-and-lateral at the end of regulation and a statue-of-liberty two-point conversion in overtime.

The Broncos will not shock the world with another win, which in part speaks to the state of their own program and in part speaks to the widespread opinion of Arizona, which looked awful, to put it kindly, in the Pac-12 Championship Game against Oregon. But in some ways, that might be more fitting. Boise State is in no shape to be shocking anyone or anything. Not anymore, it isn't.

When it wins, we should all nod our heads.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Peach Bowl 2014: Ole Miss vs. TCU Schedule and Early Predictions

It's Ole Miss and TCU slated for the 2014 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on New Year's Eve, pegging one of the nation's hardest-hitting defenses against an insanely prolific offense.     

The Horned Frogs are undoubtedly feeling left out after falling from No. 3 to No. 6 in the final College Football Playoff standings, but they will look to bounce back from that disappointment with a chance to knock off one of the SEC's elite. As for the Rebels, they turned around a sour ending to the season with a big Egg Bowl win. A still-young Ole Miss squad will be intent on building some momentum for a 2015 run.

The matchup is certainly enticing from an outside perspective, as Sports Illustrated's Zac Ellis noted:

Let's take an early glance at the 2014 Peach Bowl matchup.    

 

2014 Peach Bowl: No. 9 Ole Miss vs. No. 6 TCU

When: Wednesday, Dec. 31

Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Start Time (ET): 12:30 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Odds (via Odds Shark): TCU -3, as of Dec. 7

 

Peach Bowl Preview

The Book on Ole Miss

A magical 2014 season of resurgence for Ole Miss football turned sour in the form of three straight SEC losses, but the resilient Rebels bounced back when it mattered most.

Maybe it didn't matter for their already-dashed playoff hopes, but the Egg Bowl is everything in Mississippi, and the Rebels made a statement by drubbing Mississippi State, 31-17, in a game that wasn't as close as the final score might indicate. 

Hugh Freeze's Rebels have undoubtedly emerged from the slugfest of the SEC West with some bruises, as star wideout Laquon Treadwell and linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche are out for the season. The offense isn't the same without Treadwell but is finding its rushing prowess with Jaylen Walton. He rattled off 148 yards in 14 carries against the Bulldogs, passing the century mark for the first time in 2014.

The Rebels' biggest win of the last week was retaining Freeze after reported overtures from Florida for its then-vacant position. But after locking up a raise and extension, athletic director Ross Bjork lobbied his team for the Peach Bowl in Atlanta:

Ole Miss ended up getting the nod for the Peach Bowl with Mississippi State heading to Miami for the Orange Bowl, and it creates quite the matchup.

The Rebels' three losses came largely from offensive struggles, which shouldn't be a problem against TCU if Wallace takes care of the ball. The Horned Frogs are stingier than expected up front, but Ole Miss is a passing team first and foremost—and if TCU's defense has a weakness, it's definitely the secondary.

A big game from the Ole Miss defense—specifically from star cornerback Senquez Golson and the secondary—will be needed against TCU's high-powered offense. The Rebels' stout defensive line should hold up well against a strong running game, but Trevone Boykin can get to the edge with his legs and take the top off the defense with long passes.

Staying composed in the secondary could be the difference between a resounding victory and an embarrassing defeat for Ole Miss.

 

The Book on TCU

It would be hard to blame TCU for being shell-shocked in its first few days in preparation for the Peach Bowl.

After all, the Horned Frogs were No. 3 in the final unofficial CFP poll last week, then turned around in the final weekend of the season to smack Iowa State, 55-3. However, not only did they fall out of the Top Four and see their championship hopes fade, but even Baylor jumped them as they fell to No. 6.

Their inexplicable fall really just showed how flawed the system can be, per CBS Sports' Will Brinson:

But as Gary Patterson's Horned Frogs showed on the field in every instance other than its 61-58 loss to Baylor, they're quite close to the complete package.

Dual-threat quarterback Trevone Boykin has been brilliant in a Heisman-contending season, throwing for 3,714 yards and 30 touchdowns while adding 642 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. 

His incredible season has set a plethora of school records, as ESPN Stats & Info noted:

TCU boasts a multi-pronged rushing attack. Boykin is the leading rusher in terms of carries, but Aaron Green leads the team with 854 yards and a 7.7 yards-per-carry average. Green, Boykin and burly back B.J. Catalon have combined for 26 rushing scores.

The offense has been more than formidable in the Big 12 but will go up against one of the nation's most feared defenses in Ole Miss. Deception will be key for the Horned Frogs in the running game, disguising outside rushes with Boykin roll-outs in order to create openings.

 

Prediction

TCU has been the better team from start to finish this season, but in a battle of a top offense against a top defense, nearly a month of preparation will result in a Rebels victory.

Ole Miss hounded Dak Prescott last weekend in the Egg Bowl, and while Boykin brings a different skill set to the table, they're both dual-threat quarterbacks with big arms. The Rebels will again bring the house over and over. Boykin will make some plays against it but will also be taken down in the backfield plenty.

The defense will be huge for Ole Miss, but Wallace should also have success against a TCU defense that has allowed 30 or more points in every one of its one-possession games. It will be down to the wire, but Wallace and the Rebels defense will come through.

Prediction: Ole Miss 34, TCU 30

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Somehow, Someway College Football Got Its Dream Playoff Lineup

The biggest cheers on Sunday didn’t come from Columbus, Ohio. They came from back rooms and boardrooms in Bristol, Connecticut, where the network tasked with televising the first-ever College Football Playoff celebrated a miraculous (and lucrative) sequence of events.

For the first time all season—and the only time that mattered—the four vacancies in the College Football Playoff were claimed by four eyeball-grabbing, ratings-breeding college football programs. That draft you currently feel is the wind coming courtesy of the aggressive, shoulder-surgery-inducing fist pumps at ESPN.

Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State will be the first four teams to compete for a national championship in the College Football Playoff era.

The nation’s No. 1 team, the Crimson Tide, will meet the No. 4 Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl, while the Ducks and Seminoles will compete in the Rose Bowl in the matchup between No. 2 and No. 3.

The elephant in the room—outside of the actual elephant firmly holding on to the top seed—is that No. 5 Baylor and No. 6 TCU were both left out of the playoff entirely.

More matter of fact, the conference-championship-game-less Big 12 will be without a team on New Year’s Day. 

There was a strong, convincing case to be made for both Big 12 programs. TCU’s overall resume had the look and feel of a Top Four team. Baylor closed out the season with only one defeat and was the lone team to beat the Horned Frogs.

Both campuses will be coping with the letdown for some time, and understandably so. The same could be said about Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who expressed his disappointment shortly after ESPN unveiled the final rankings. 

Big12's Bob Bowlsby: "We were penalized for not having a championship game. It would have been nice to have been told that ahead of time"

— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) December 7, 2014

The debate that has helped drive interest in this shiny new postseason will continue, although it’s moot at this point. The top four teams—whether you believe they belong or not—are set.

As a result, the storylines, intrigue and interest will follow like an avalanche. Outside of perhaps a Notre Dame cameo, it’s hard to envision a more enthralling way to kick things off from a viewership and watchability perspective.

We have Nick Saban versus Urban Meyer, a heavyweight fight between the two finest coaches in the sport. We have a likely Heisman finalist in wideout Amari Cooper going up against a third-string quarterback, Cardale Jones, who looked superhuman in his one and only start. 

And there’s Lane Kiffin on his continued path to redemption going toe-to-toe with the spectacular Ohio State defensive line led by Joey Bosa, a sophomore ripe with endless talent and charisma.

Ohio State fans unleashed a “We Want 'Bama” chant in Lucas Oil Stadium as the Big Ten championship was winding down. They got their wish.

This, however, is only half of the heavenly slate.

Florida State and Oregon will be a matchup featuring Heisman quarterbacks. Jameis Winston, last year’s winner, just put together his most impressive single-game performance of the year in the ACC championship game. Marcus Mariota, a lock to win the award next Saturday, just closed out one of the more dominant individual seasons we’ve ever seen.

You have speed versus size. You have traditional and familiar versus neon and bold. You have one program hoping to finally break through and win a national championship going up against an opponent that hasn’t lost a football game in two years.

There are so many subplots to discuss in both of these games with ample time to do so.

And perhaps most intriguing of all, there’s a real possibility that Alabama and Oregon will finally meet in a dream matchup that has been in the making for years, this time for a national championship. 

Such potential scenarios will be explored in depth in the days and weeks to follow. Regardless of the outcomes of the two semifinal games, the inaugural College Football Playoff has already won.

You might not agree with what the selection committee ultimately decided, which is understandable considering the unique and controversial circumstances. But given the coaches, players, Heismans, villains, unexpected stars, uniforms and the seemingly endless storylines involved, it's hard not to be captivated by what's ahead.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

Selection Sunday is typically a term reserved for college basketball. Well, this Sunday saw college football's first foray into the madness.

The College Football Playoff selection committee's choice of Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State for the inaugural four-team postseason bonanza set the stage for a crazy afternoon in which the nation's best found out where they were headed. After selecting the Top Four teams, the committee was also tasked with selecting representatives for the contests formerly known as BCS bowls—though those matchups were held to conference restrictions.

In large part, the committee's selections created a trickle-down effect that helped finalize the 2014-15 bowl schedule. There are a record 39 bowl games in all this season, nearly every one of which can be found on the ESPN family of networks. Which, of course, means they're available on the WatchESPN app for streaming purposes.

While most will be transfixed on discussing the inaugural playoff—in part because it's long overdue—the two weeks of buildup to those games may prove just as exciting. The stakes won't nearly be as high nor the crowds as raucous (or in some cases existent), but the proliferation of smaller bowls has opened the stage for eye-opening performances. After all, we weren't seeing Johnny Manziel shock the world with his freewheeling ways in January last season.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the complete bowl schedule for this season and dive deep into the playoff. 

 

College Football Playoff Preview

We came into Sunday's selection show with two guarantees: Alabama and Oregon were locks with impressive victories in their conference championship games.

The No. 1 Crimson Tide survived a third-quarter scare from Missouri to score the game's final 21 points in a 42-13 rout. Derrick Henry rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns, while Blake Sims completed all but four of his 27 passes for 262 yards and two scores.

Sims, who quietly sat for his first four seasons in Tuscaloosa, has become one of college football's best stories. He's thrown for 3,250 yards and 26 touchdowns against seven interceptions while also giving Alabama's offense an extra dimension with his legs. While we're probably not looking at a future pro, Sims has been a nearly perfect fit for Lane Kiffin's ascending offense.

"I don't know that I've ever seen a player go through any more than Blake went through for four years, and never once did he ever not do whatever he needed to do to help the team," Alabama coach Nick Sabantold reporters.

The Crimson Tide will face an Ohio State team that's been a source of controversy as the fourth seed. The Buckeyes vaulted into the No. 4 spot thanks to a 59-0 thrashing of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Cardale Jones, taking over for the injured J.T. Barrett, threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start. Running back Ezekiel Elliott also picked a great time for the best performance of his career, rushing for 220 yards and two touchdowns, including an 81-yard scamper in the first half. 

Since taking over at Ohio State, Urban Meyer has dropped only one game in the conference and three contests overall. The Buckeyes' 11-game winning streak is longer than any team not named Florida State coming into the playoff. They've emerged as a powerful offense despite injuries depleting their depth, and the defense is peaking at the right time.

Ohio State held Heisman candidate Melvin Gordon to 76 yards on 26 carries, his second-lowest total of the season. Gordon finished only two games this season under five yards per carry, and the first was a meaningless blowout of lowly Western Illinois.

"It was really about Ohio State's movement up," committee chair Jeff Long said on ESPN, per Nicole Auerbach of USA Today. "It was their performance on the field that made a difference to the committee. We said going into this weekend that three-through-six was very close. I will say Ohio State was decisive at No. 4, they were voted in there clearly. Ohio State was clear-cut over five and six."

The other semifinal game will very likely see the last two Heisman winners battle it out. Marcus Mariota's five touchdowns gave Oregon its fourth conference championship in six seasons, as the Ducks cruised to a 51-13 win over Arizona. Mariota has accounted for 53 touchdowns (38 passing, 14 rushing, one receiving) and only two interceptions in a season that's likely clinched his spot as the No. 1 pick in next April's draft.

"If this guy isn't what the Heisman Trophy is all about, then I'm in the wrong profession," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich told reporters. "If you want your son or daughter to have a role model, pick this guy."

Jameis Winston, who entered 2014 as Mariota's closest competition for the top spot, has had anything but an easy ride in his Heisman defense. The sophomore has experienced noticeable drop-offs in every major category while turning the ball over at an alarming rate. His 17 interceptions are tied for fourth-most in the nation and are two fewer than the combined total of the three primary quarterbacks for Ohio State, Oregon and Alabama.

But for all his struggles, Winston finds ways to come through when the Seminoles need him most. Perhaps his most impressive performance of 2014 came Saturday, when he threw for 309 yards and three touchdowns in Florida State's 37-35 win over Georgia Tech. Winston and Dalvin Cook consistently answered the call as the Seminoles defense struggled to curtail Georgia Tech's triple-option attack.

Florida State will hope Winston is phenomenal again. Oregon has been held under 38 points once all season and under the 40-point mark just twice. Barring a significant defensive upgrade from the unit on the field Saturday, the Seminoles' best bet is to win a shootout.

With a month to prepare, Jimbo Fisher will be tasked with coming up with the game plan of his life. It'll be interesting to see if he can get the job done.   

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff Schedule 2014-15: Vital Viewing Info for All Games

The 2014-15 college football regular season was full of wild outcomes, upsets and unprecedented upheaval of the rankings, but the madness is just beginning after the College Football Playoff schedule was announced Sunday.

With Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State making the semifinals, the matchups should result in two marquee battles in the inaugural CFP, and the first-ever true national champion will be crowned.

Here is all the vital viewing information for every playoff game.

 

*All games can be live streamed via WatchESPN.com.

 

Breaking Down No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State

While Alabama vs. Ohio State will steal many of the headlines as a marquee semifinals battle, the game that should be the best on-field matchup  is the Oregon Ducks squaring off against the Florida State Seminoles.

Oregon finished the season as the No. 2-ranked team in the nation following a big win in the Pac-12 Championship Game against Arizona. The Ducks lost to the Wildcats earlier in the year, and the conference championship was the perfect opportunity for the team to show the voting committee how much skill the program possesses.

When asked about the win over Arizona and turning his attention to the team’s next game, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota told reporters (via ESPN.com) that “This is a huge accomplishment for us. Now we need to continue to improve and get better for whoever comes next.”

Oregon finished the season with the third-ranked offensive unit, scoring 46.3 points per game. The Ducks have always been known for their high-powered offense, but the defensive unit has stepped up this season, allowing only 22.5 points per game (29th in the nation).

Oregon will square off against Florida State in the semifinals. For the second straight season, the Seminoles have gone unbeaten, and they will look to win back-to-back national championships with quarterback Jameis Winston under center.

Florida State isn’t as dangerous as it was last season, but the team is still ranked in the top 30 in terms of points scored and points allowed. With elite defensive and offensive units (29th and 30th respectively), the Seminoles have been able to pull out close wins in key moments.

As well as Florida State has played at times this season, the lack of consistency is a major issue that Oregon will exploit. Led by Heisman Trophy candidate Mariota, the Ducks will hit the Seminoles early and often, testing just how resilient FSU can be this season.

The dream run for Winston and Florida State will come to an end in the College Football Playoff semifinals, and the result will be Oregon advancing to the national championship.

Predicted Winner: Oregon 34, Florida State 30

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon vs. Florida State in a Battle for the Soul of College Football

Last year's Heisman winner vs. this season's (likely) Heisman winner. Longest winning streak in the nation against the hottest team. And also what many fans may choose to view as Good vs. Evil.

That’s what we’ll get with the Oregon-Florida State semifinal in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Oregon certainly comes in with the more sparkling image, and not just because of all those dazzling uniforms the neon Ducks wear.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota is a lock for the Heisman Trophy in the wake of throwing for a record 313 yards in Friday’s Pac-12 Championship Game. He's winning high praise for his smarts, humility and work ethic, leading Oregon coach Mark Helfrich to tell reporters, "If (Mariota) isn’t what the Heisman Trophy is all about, I’m in the wrong profession."

That 55-13 victory over Arizona typifies the difference in perception between these two teams.

It was Oregon’s eighth consecutive victory against a conference opponent, and in all eight the Ducks have scored at least 42 points while winning by an average margin of 26. It also wiped out the one negative on the Oregon resume, a loss to Arizona back on Oct. 2.

What’s not to like about Oregon? They’ve kept their cartoon-like Duck mascot busy doing pushups on the sideline by scoring a point every 78 seconds this season.   

Counter that with Florida State’s slip-and-slide approach to getting into college football’s first playoff.

Even without the 2012 allegation of sexual assault against Jameis Winston—which never led to charges—the Seminoles have absolutely failed to seize the nation’s imagination despite piling up a 29-game winning streak.

There has been a "here we go again" cloud hanging over their wins as they struggle against teams with mediocre records before pulling another escape act.

There’s also a sense that Lady Luck has suited up in Seminole garnet and gold and done just enough to keep their hopes alive for a repeat title.

Six Seminoles victories have been by six points or fewer, and hunting for an FSU signature victory is like trying to get a dead man’s autograph.

The Seminoles survived Notre Dame (ahem, 7-5 Notre Dame) thanks to a debatable pass-interference call.

They needed a field goal with three seconds left to best a middling Boston College, in a game where Winston further ruffled perceptions by pushing a referee out of his way to get under center.

They beat Clemson in overtime with Winston sitting out, but that just brought more attention to the profanity-fueled tirade in public that got the quarterback suspended.

And this isn’t the Florida State that a lot of fans got cozy with when Bobby Bowden ran the program. Bowden was the wise-cracking grandfather-type everyone loves, but Jimbo Fisher often comes off as the arrogant neighbor who wants you to know his new car has more horsepower than yours. For many, Bowden was a wizened-but-wise Yoda, and Fisher is just Darth Vader with a southern accent.

But what has Fisher done with all of that horsepower? Not a lot. Even Saturday night’s convincing victory over Georgia Tech for the ACC title ended up being by only a two-point margin.

As all the debating has made clear, these four inaugural playoff spots are sacred to college football fans, and there’s a widespread sense FSU didn’t play as if it was operating on the same value system.

Winston threw four interceptions in the rivalry game against Florida. That’s twice the number of times Mariota has been picked all season.

FSU has overcome three deficits of more than 15 points, but those comebacks haven’t endeared the Seminoles to anyone outside of their home state. Teams that appear to play in cruise control don’t win popularity polls, and that’s how FSU appeared to play while falling way behind to North Carolina State, Louisville and Miami.

But Oregon, as Dan Wetzel pointed out on Yahoo, has staked a claim to being the most dominant team in the nation by taking leads and refusing to relinquish them. Aside from the loss to Arizona, the Ducks have trailed for only 39 minutes and 23 seconds, and they were never behind in the fourth quarter of their 12 victories.

What makes the Ducks even more fearsome as the playoffs approach is they now have a defense their offense can be proud of. The Pac-12 title win was the fourth time in the last five games they've held an opponent to under 20 points.

Florida State has played some stout second-half defense that has kept the Seminoles in range, but with a rushing defense that ranks only 104th in the nation Mariota might run wild on them.

And that's exactly how many fans would love to see Florida State get bounced out of a playoff appearance they think the Seminoles didn't earn. 

 

Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Rose Bowl 2015: Preview, Predictions for Oregon vs. Florida State

This may be Rose Bowl No. 101, but it will undoubtedly be unlike any other in its long and storied history.

The Pac-12 champion Oregon Ducks were awarded the second seed by the College Football Playoff committee and will take on ACC champion and defending national champion Florida State in the “Granddaddy of Them All” on Jan. 1 in Pasadena.

While the Ducks have mostly cruised over their past eight games—winning by an average margin of just over 26 points per game—the Seminoles have struggled to fend off lesser opponents all season. That being said, Florida State has not lost in two full seasons and is undefeated with defending Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston under center.

Oregon will have a distinct advantage due to its proximity to the Rose Bowl; however, it should be noted that the Seminoles won last year’s BCS National Championship at the Rose Bowl vs. Auburn.

With Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota being a lock to win the Heisman Trophy, the Rose Bowl will feature two Heisman-winning quarterbacks.

This has all of the makings of one of the most memorable Rose Bowls in history. Can the Ducks be the team that finishes off Florida State? Will the Seminoles continue their magical ride toward back-to-back national championships?

Here's what you need to know:

Date: Thursday, Jan. 1

Time: 2 p.m. PT/5 p.m. ET

Place: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

TV: ESPN

Line: Oregon -8.5, according to Odds Shark.

Begin Slideshow

Rose Bowl 2015: Preview, Predictions for Oregon vs. Florida State

This may be Rose Bowl No. 101, but it will undoubtedly be unlike any other in its long and storied history...

Begin Slideshow

Did the CFP Committee Get the Top 4 Playoff Spots Right?

The final four is set, and naturally, there is controversy. Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State will be battling it out for a shot at the national championship. TCU and Baylor are on the outside looking in. 

Bleacher Report college football analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer debate whether the committee got it right with the final official rankings.

Did the committee make the correct picks?

Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Adam Kramer: 'The Big 12 Screwed Itself' out of Playoff Spot

The College Football Committee released its final rankings Sunday, with Baylor and TCU on the outside looking in, ranked No. 5 and No. 6, respectively. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer debate whether the committee was right leaving TCU and Baylor out of the College Football Playoff. 

Did one of these Big 12 teams deserve to make the playoff?

Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Scalding Hot Nick Saban and Alabama Are Ohio State's Worst Nightmare

ATLANTA — Coaching is an ego-driven profession, and while every head coach has a specific style in which he goes about his business, only the best know the proper time to put their ego aside.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban is the best coach in America at doing just that, and the job he's done with the 2014 Crimson Tide make this his best coaching job during his eight-year tenure at the Capstone.

He knew he needed to make his offense more dynamic so that, in the age of "fastball" offenses that focus on pace, his team could not only get into shootouts, but win them. 

Enter offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and and quarterback Blake Sims. The duo found out during the second quarter of the 33-23 win over West Virginia in the season opener that Sims thrives with tempo, and implemented more and more of that as the season progressed.

"[Sims] is the reason that we do it, because it's what he does best, and the rest of our players really kind of fit in that too with the kind of team we have," Saban said after the 42-13 SEC Championship Game win over Missouri. "So it's worked out great for us. And if we didn't do it, I don't think we'd be here where we are right now."

Flexibility wins. 

Saban didn't change his entire philosophy. Alabama's goal is, and always will be, to run to set up the pass, play disciplined and work off play-action.

It still is. Saban just nudged the pendulum ever so slightly into the 21st century.

It isn't just the offense that made the change, though. Saban recognized that he needed to coach differently to combat offenses that put more of a focus on pace.

"I think it's more difficult to coach defensive players in practice because what do you practice?" Saban asked on Friday. "Do you practice the fundamentals or do you practice the pace of play? Until recently we always emphasized the fundamentals. We didn't play very well when the pace of play was faster. This year we tried to put more emphasis on pace of play."

It has worked.

While Alabama's defense has given up the most yards per game (312.4) since Saban's first in Tuscaloosa, its 4.68 yards per play average is better than last year's squad, and the ability to practice against it has paid off.

"These plays we see now, there is a lot of space created from horizontal and vertical, all right, which is going to stress the defensive player athletically to be able to make the play in space," he said on Friday.

This Ohio State team has its work cut out for it in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on New Year's night, because Alabama is hitting its stride at the right time.

The offense now gets a full allotment of 15 bowl practices to expand on the success of the season which, for the most part, was tweaked and tinkered with on the fly while the Crimson Tide prepared for opponents week after week.

On top of that, the last two times we saw Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer square off with Saban, his Florida Gators lost twice by a combined score of 63-30. One of those games, the 32-13 shellacking in the 2009 SEC Championship Game, was the last time the Crimson Tide was an underdog, according to Lance Taylor of WJOX in Birmingham.

Sure, new Buckeyes quarterback Cardale Jones led his team to the Big Ten championship in his first start. But he only threw 17 passes, relied heavily on running back Ezekiel Elliott (not the worst idea in the world) and didn't see anything like the pressure Alabama can generate in the 59-0 win over Wisconsin.

Ohio State is playing its best football right now, which is a major compliment considering its already lost two Heisman Trophy candidates at quarterback. 

Alabama is still climbing up that peak with a full roster that has more 4-star and 5-star talent to fill the Mercedes Benz Superdome.

On top of that, Saban has been at his best with time to prepare. Since 2007, when he took over the program, the Crimson Tide is 21-7 with more than a week to prepare for a game.

The Crimson Tide has been slowly building all year long. They are playing their best football right now and clearly have room to grow without having to deal with major injuries on the fly.

Good luck, Buckeyes. You're going to need it.

 

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

College Football Rankings 2014: Playoff Championship Predictions After Last Poll

The guessing is over. The debating most certainly is not.

The college football playoff is set, and SportsCenter on Twitter posted the schools lucky enough to make the cut:

It's a disappointing day at TCU and Baylor—and a disappointing day for the Big 12 in general. But despite the heartbreak that comes when deserving teams get shut out of the playoff, it's also a great day for college football, as the four teams that made the tournament promise to offer an exciting playoff. 

Below, you'll find the playoff schedule and a prediction for each game.

 

Schedule

All contests will be live streamed on WatchESPN and the WatchESPN app.

 

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

Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer. Blake Sims, the senior quarterback who spent time as a running back and scout-team quarterback, vs. Cardale Jones, Ohio State's third-string quarterback thrust into the starting gig after injuries to Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett. The nation's fourth-stingiest defense in points allowed vs. the nation's fourth-best offense in points per game.

Oh baby, this one is going to be good.

Alabama might just be the most balanced team in college football. Sims and Amari Cooper lead a dangerous passing attack that has flourished under offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Cooper may be a Heisman finalist—he absolutely should be, at least—but Sims is really the story after throwing for 3,250 yards and 26 touchdowns this season.

"I don't know that I've ever seen a player go through any more than Blake went through for four years, and never once did he ever not do whatever he needed to do to help the team," Saban told Kevin Scarbinsky of AL.com after Alabama routed Missouri in the SEC title game.

Of course the Crimson Tide can kill you on the ground, too. T.J. Yeldon (932 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns) and Derrick Henry (895 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns) give 'Bama one of the best backfields in college football. Add in Sims' 321 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the ground—and the team's solid defense—and the Crimson Tide can beat you in multiple ways.

Ohio State won't be worried about all of that (though maybe they should be). The Buckeyes have scored 31 or more points in all but one game this season and have a bevy of offensive weapons to support Jones, who just so happened to be named the MVP of the Big Ten title game after throwing for 257 yards and three touchdowns.

Ezekiel Elliott has rushed for 1,402 yards and 12 touchdowns. Devin Smith and Michael Thomas are a solid one-two punch at receiver. The defense, which has struggled against the run for much of the season, just held Heisman hopeful Melvin Gordon to 76 rushing yards on 26 carries.

The Buckeyes are red-hot. The Crimson Tide are red-hot. This game is going to be brilliant. Ultimately, however, Alabama's balance should be the difference in a game that seems destined to come down to the wire.

Prediction: Alabama wins, 35-31.

 

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

Had Florida State faltered at any point during a season that saw them survive close call after close call, it likely wouldn't have made the playoff. It didn't falter, however, and its perfect record was the cherry on top of an otherwise shaky resume.

The defending champions and custodians of a 29-game winning streak haven't faced a team as good as Oregon, however. Not even close. 

Led by likely Heisman-winner Marcus Mariota, the Ducks have won eight straight and have beaten six of their last seven opponents by 20 or more points. They score a whopping 46.3 points per game (third in the nation) and average 546 yards per game (also third in the nation). 

Where Florida State has generally survived the competition, Oregon has annihilated them. 

Florida State fans will argue, of course, that the Seminoles never lost a game—while Oregon lost to Arizona 31-24 in early October. But that feels like a distant memory, especially after Oregon demolished the Wildcats in a rematch at the Pac-12 championship, 51-13. 

Jameis Winston and company always seem to find a way to win, however. Joe Schad of ESPN joked about that very habit:

Still, it's hard to imagine Oregon keeping things close enough for the Seminoles to steal this one in the end. The Ducks have kicked things into a higher gear. By the time Florida State gets going, this one will be out of reach.  

Prediction: Oregon wins, 42-24.

 

Championship Game

Outside of Tallahassee and Columbus, a matchup between Alabama and Oregon is the one most people likely want to see. And why not? 

It would be the nation's most balanced team vs. the nation's most explosive team. It would feature arguably the two best players in the country in Cooper and Mariota. And it would have a coaching legend in Saban vs. Mark Helfrich, a coach building his own legend in the shadow of Chip Kelly.

In the end, these teams are both talented enough that picking one must be based on a hunch. SEC traditionalists might argue that Alabama will beat up on Oregon, but the Ducks have been better defensively than they are given credit for (and this Crimson Tide team is more finesse than we've seen in years past, anyway).

In the end, it's never a bad idea to take the team with the best quarterback. When that player also happens to be the best player in college football, period, it makes the decision easier. This game will be tight. It will be fun. It will be one to remember.

And it will be won by Oregon.

Prediction: Oregon wins, 27-23.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Allstate Sugar Bowl 2015: Preview, Predictions for Alabama vs. Ohio State

There was immense drama for one team and a casual golf clap for another.

No. 1 Alabama was all but a sure thing to make the college football playoff. The drama was at No. 4.

The lucky team resided in Columbus, Ohio, where Ohio State got the last spot in the inaugural field.

The Buckeyes’ season hasn’t been short on drama. They lost preseason Heisman hopeful quarterback Braxton Miller before the season started. Backup J.T. Barrett grabbed the reins, and after a shaky start to the season, he was vaulted into Heisman consideration himself but then sustained an injury of his own against Michigan. But third-string Cardale Jones led Ohio State to a 59-0 dismantling of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game that cemented its playoff spot.

“With the championship game, Ohio State demonstrated that they were a total team,” playoff chair Jeff Long said on ESPN shortly after the field announcement.

On the other side are the Crimson Tide, which suffered a lone blemish against Ole Miss but has looked dominant down the stretch, winning tough games at LSU, at home against Mississippi State and against Auburn. An SEC Championship Game win over Missouri sent Alabama into the playoff.

It’s a revival of the Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer rivalry, which peaked with back-to-back SEC Championship Games in 2008 and 2009.

Can the Big Ten’s best trump the mighty SEC?

 

Date: January 1, 2015

Time: 7:30 p.m. CT

Place: Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana

Begin Slideshow

College Football Rankings 2014: Twitter Reacts to AP, Playoff and Amway Week 16

While the Associated Press and Amway polls released as expected on Sunday, the last College Football Playoff rankings were also revealed, a deviation from the typical Tuesday slot.     

Alabama remained atop the hierarchy in all three major standings, and Oregon and Florida State deservedly stayed in the Top Four. What changed was that Ohio State jumped past TCU on the strength of a 59-0 win in the Big Ten Championship Game to secure the fourth spot in the rankings that mattered most.

As can be determined in the listings below, the prior reveals of the AP and Amway polls were split on whether the Buckeyes merited their place in the Sugar Bowl, where they'll take on the Crimson Tide:

Once the AP was released, showing Baylor at No. 4 over the Buckeyes, Fox Sports 1's Clay Travis lacked faith that gridiron justice would be served:

Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated liked the AP hierarchy as well:

ESPN's Darren Rovell suspected the Buckeyes might get the edge over Big 12 co-champions Baylor and TCU for the fourth and final spot:

Ralph D. Russo of The Associated Press had little sympathy for the Horned Frogs, despite their 55-3 romp over Iowa State to cap off their regular season:

Jesse Palmer of ESPN sided with the AP poll in giving the Bears the No. 4 ranking:

Despite a weak out-of-conference schedule, Baylor did beat Kansas State 38-27 and had a win over TCU on its resume. There was a case to be made, but the Buckeyes' blowout was evidently too insurmountable.

ESPN's Joe Schad put forth rather convincing evidence that Ohio State is superior:

USA Today's Gerry Ahern was proud to say that the Amway poll lined up with what the selection committee ultimately decided on:

Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports documented what committee chairman Jeff Long had to say regarding Ohio State's move to No. 4:

ESPN's Skip Bayless provided his take as to why TCU wasn't rewarded for its mostly spectacular 2014 campaign, as opposed to the committee snubbing Ohio State or Florida State:

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports poked fun at how the Seminoles kept getting penalized for lack of style points en route to an undefeated season, within the context of the Horned Frogs' misfortunes:

In a brief look ahead to the Sugar Bowl showdown, it seems the sky is the limit for Ohio State. Cardale Jones proved the stage wasn't too big for him in guiding the Bucks to a Big Ten championship, despite expecting to start the year third on the depth chart behind Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett.

Coach Nick Saban has the Crimson Tide positioned for a potential third national title in four years. His experience in such significant games will loom large, but Urban Meyer has his Buckeyes flying as high as anyone in the country off the massive triumph over Wisconsin.

Oregon's Marcus Mariota is going to lead an uptempo, spread-out Ducks offense in the Rose Bowl versus the defending national champion Seminoles. Mariota's counterpart, Jameis Winston, won the Heisman last year and operates a far more complex, pro-style system.

The clash of styles will be fascinating to witness not only from a pure football standpoint, but also to see whether it impacts how NFL teams view the two top-tier prospects. Both have a chance to be the first signal-caller chosen in the 2015 draft, should they do as expected and enter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nick Saban Provides Typical Reaction to Alabama Making College Football Playoff

On Sunday, the Alabama Crimson Tide earned the top seed in the inaugural College Football Playoff. When Alabama coach Nick Saban found out, he offered a very typical Saban response.

It will take a lot more than locking up the No. 1 seed in the playoffs to get a coach who has won three national championships since 2009 fired up.

[Vine, h/t USA Today's FTW]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff Championship 2015: Semifinals Bracket and Predictions

The inaugural College Football Playoff sure succeeded in causing plenty of intrigue across the nation. Following the conclusion of Championship Saturday, the case for a playoff berth could legitimately be made for six different teams; however, there were only four spots available.

Heading into Selection Sunday, debates raged on, as everyone wanted a final answer to one burning question: Who's in?

The esteemed members of the College Football Playoff selection committee have painstakingly dissected the resumes of all contenders in an effort to bring the official Top Four to fruition. With their job now done, here's a look at the bracket:

There we have it. No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon, No. 3 Florida State and No. 4 Ohio State will represent the nation in the playoff. Unfortunately for No. 5 Baylor and No. 6 TCU, they are in the unfortunate positions of being the first two out after impressive seasons.

With the Top Four finally revealed, here's a look at the matchups, schedule and early predictions for the playoff's semifinal clashes.

 

Sugar Bowl

Matchup: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State

When: Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans

Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Prediction

There shouldn't have been any question over Alabama's No. 1 ranking. The Crimson Tide entered the SEC Championship Game as the top seed and went on to dismantle the Missouri Tigers by a score of 42-13. The victory extends the team's winning streak to eight games heading into the Sugar Bowl.  

Ohio State was the surprise team in the Top Four, leapfrogging TCU to earn a playoff berth. One big question surrounding this team was the loss of quarterback J.T. Barrett before the Big Ten Championship Game; however, Cardale Jones quickly quelled any doubts, leading the Buckeyes to an impressive 59-0 win over Wisconsin. That performance was certainly playoff-worthy.

While Jones was electrifying against the Badgers, he'll be severely challenged against an Alabama defense that ranks fourth in the nation, allowing an average of just 16.6 points per game. The Crimson Tide aren't a team that allows many big plays, and that could cause problems for a young quarterback who didn't need to sustain many long drives against Wisconsin—none of Ohio State's drives were longer than seven plays.

Although, Aaron Suttles of TideSports.com raises an interesting concern for Alabama:

Ohio State's defense is coming off a brilliant shutout performance, limiting Heisman hopeful running back Melvin Gordon to just 2.9 yards per carry and just his second game this season with fewer than 100 rushing yards.

It's difficult to predict how Jones will fare against a tough Alabama defense after just a small sample size. There's no doubt he's a talented quarterback, but he may not be ready for the defensive wrinkles head coach Nick Saban will employ against him. Expect the Crimson Tide to limit big plays from the Buckeyes offense while Amari Cooper and Co. chip away at Ohio State's 13th-ranked pass defense in a close game.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Ohio State 27

 

Rose Bowl

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

When: Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015

Where: Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California

Time: 4:30 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Prediction

Following Marcus Mariota's stellar performance against Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game, it was easy to factor the Ducks into the College Football Playoff immediately. Oregon's signal-caller accounted for five touchdowns in a huge 51-13 victory over a team that had given him issues in the past.

Florida State finally produced a more convincing showing Saturday, defeating Georgia Tech 37-35. While the Seminoles defense struggled to contain the triple-option of the Yellow Jackets, quarterback Jameis Winston put up one of his best games this season, passing for 309 yards and three touchdowns.

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport tweeted a bit of extra motivation for both quarterbacks:

Winston will need another big performance if the Seminoles are to keep pace with Mariota and the Ducks. Florida State is ranked 49th in the nation against the pass and has allowed 20 passing touchdowns this season. The team has yet to face a quarterback nearly as dangerous as Mariota.

Through Oregon's 13 games this season, Mariota has completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 3,783 yards, 38 touchdowns and just two interceptions while adding 669 rushing yards and another 14 scores. He's even scored on a 26-yard reception. That's a pretty impressive resume and gives him a strong case for the Heisman Trophy.

Winston will have room to throw against Oregon's 100th-ranked pass defense, but he's been far too inconsistent to warrant any kind of confidence in a big game. Meanwhile, Mariota has produced on a record pace this season, and that will be the difference-maker in a game that will produce some big numbers on the scoreboard.   

Prediction: Oregon 42, Florida State 35

 

All team rankings and statistics courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of Dec. 7.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Odds on Who Will Win the First College Football Playoff

The first-ever College Football Playoff is set. Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State will be battling it out to determine the national champion. But who will win it all?  

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer dishes out his odds on who will win the College Football Playoff.

Who will win the national title?

Check out the video and let us know!   

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff 2014: Week 16 Rankings and Predictions

Coming into Sunday, there were six teams for four spots. Alabama and Oregon cemented their status as the nation's two best teams, taking their respective conference championships in impressive fashion.

After them? Pure anarchy. The College Football Playoff selection committee was tasked with separating four teams of relatively similar stature for the remaining two spots, each boasting its own convincing argument.    

Florida State, despite its numerous flaws, is the only FBS team without a loss. TCU's lone loss of the season came against a fellow Top Six team in Baylor, which has consistently pointed to its head-to-head win over the Horned Frogs for resume affirmation. Ohio State has survived season-ending injuries to two quarterbacks and still managed to obliterate Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.

It was an unenviable assignment. No matter which way the committee swung its votes, two schools were going to leave disappointed. The Horned Frogs and Bears became those two teams Sunday, as Florida State and Ohio State joined Alabama and Oregon in the College Football Playoff.

No. 1 Alabama will take on No. 4 Ohio State at the Sugar Bowl, while No. 2 Oregon travels to the Rose Bowl for a matchup against No. 3 Florida State. Here is a look at how the final six played out, per SportsCenter's Twitter feed:

The top-seeded Crimson Tide come into the playoff with no controversy surrounding their selection. Though their early schedule was a bit weak, they've taken down four Top 25 teams in their last five games and looked impressive on both sides of the ball.

Alabama raced out to a 21-3 lead and scored the final 21 points in its 42-13 win over Missouri on Saturday. T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Blake Sims each accounted for two touchdowns, and the Tide defense did an excellent job of bottling up a struggling Missouri offense. Nick Saban's team came into the week considered the nation's best team by the committee and numerous advanced metrics, which helped make them a 9.5 favorite over Ohio State, per ESPN's Darren Rovell:

"All everyone wants to talk about is the playoffs," Saban told reporters. "It's tough to win (in this conference). It's tough to win your division and this game."

Urban Meyer continued his dominant Big Ten run at Ohio State on Saturday with a playoff-clinching 59-0 win over Wisconsin. Third-stringer Cardale Jones threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns, and the Buckeyes defense held Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon to just 76 yards on 26 carries. Ezekiel Elliott, meanwhile, rushed for 220 yards and two touchdowns, with Ohio State regularly picking up massive chunks of yardage.

"It was a huge statement," Jones told reporters. "I mean we played a great, great team, the No. 2 defense in the country and we put up 59 points on them. And they have the best running back in the country."

The Buckeyes' ascent is a surprise given how little the committee initially respected them. They were viewed as the nation's second-worst one-loss team from a Power Five conference in Week 11, ranked behind a Nebraska team that recently fired its coach. From the outset TCU and Baylor were significantly ahead of Ohio State; the committee's flip-flop will undoubtedly be the source of controversy in the coming days. 

Florida State, as has been the case all season, didn't have such an easy time. The Seminoles allowed 331 rushing yards and trailed at multiple points in the first half before holding on late for a 37-35 win over Georgia Tech. The last of Roberto Aguayo's three field goals proved to be the game-clincher, giving Florida State its first two-possession lead of the game and providing enough of a cushion to survive the Yellow Jackets' late comeback push.

After not allowing a team to come closer than two touchdowns last season, seven Seminoles contests have been within one possession in 2014. It's been a run that has frustrated many, confounded others and taken years off the life expectancy of Tallahassee's population.

It's also one of the most impressive streaks in recent college football history. Amid the near-constant controversy, highly variant play on both sides of the ball and every team offering their best shot, Florida State has won an ACC record 29 straight games.

"Last year's team was dominating, this year's team is more amazing," Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher told reporters. "It is really is...They compete together. They have had some struggles together and I think that's what makes them so tight."

Oregon boasts a player in Marcus Mariota who is a near-lock to overtake Winston as the Heisman Trophy winner this season. Mariota accounted for five touchdowns and again avoided turnovers, leading the Ducks to a 51-13 thrashing of Arizona. The junior quarterback has thrown for 38 touchdowns against two interceptions this season, adding 669 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground.

For his career, Mariota has been picked off only 12 times and accounted for 129 touchdowns.

"If this guy isn't what the Heisman Trophy is all about, then I'm in the wrong profession," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich told reporters. "If you want your son or daughter to have a role model, pick this guy."

Oregon sits third in the nation in points per game and has developed into a better all-around team. Coming into this week Football Outsiders had the team's defense a solid 23rd nationally, a ranking that should move up given its thrashing of Arizona's high-powered attack. It also helps that the Ducks have an excellent special teams outfit that has the ability to change any game in one play.

TCU could argue that it's just as well-rounded and not be wrong. The Horned Frogs lead the nation in point differential, defeating their opponents by an average of 25.8 points. They are second nationally in scoring and 16th in defensive points allowed. Baylor is the nation's highest scoring team, defeated TCU head-to-head and has a Heisman candidate in Bryce Petty.

"I feel like we did everything we needed to do on our end to be one of those top four teams," TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin told reporters.

The Big 12 outfit, which one year ago went 4-8 and looked ill-equipped for its move to a Power Five conference, will again be left feeling it doesn't belong. 

From the outside looking in, TCU and Baylor will have their eyes transfixed on the Buckeyes. The conference's lack of definitive champion—the Big 12 considered Baylor and TCU co-champion—very likely cost one of them the final spot. Of course, Baylor coach Art Briles said he believes there shouldn't have been a controversy. 

"What country do we live in? America?" Briles told reporters this week. "If you and I race and you beat me, you're faster than me. We play a football game on the field, we win, we're the better team. We are and that's the way it is."

The committee disagreed, but held both teams out for reasons that will create a ripple effect across college football. The Big 12's lack of championship game should be atop the talking points list as they look to improve their national standing.     

Nonetheless, Ohio State and the committee will both be hoping they made the right decision come New Year's Day.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages