NCAA Football

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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College Football Playoff Rankings: Biggest Takeaways from Week 14

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

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

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

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

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

 

Teams That Are Win-and-in

Alabama, Oregon and Florida State

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

 

Teams That Need Some Help

TCU and Baylor

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

 

Team That Needs Lots of Help

Ohio State

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

 

Teams That Still Have a Shot

Arizona and Kansas State

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

 

Group of Five Teams in the Best Position

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

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

 

Conference Championship Matchups

ACC: Florida State vs. Georgia Tech

Big Ten: Ohio State vs. Wisconsin

Pac-12: Oregon vs. Arizona

SEC: Alabama vs. Missouri

C-USA: Marshall vs. Louisiana Tech

MAC: Northern Illinois vs. Bowling Green

MWC: Boise State vs. Fresno State

 

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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Watch Amari Cooper Make Heisman Statement with Epic Iron Bowl Performance

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

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

Will Cooper win the Heisman Trophy?

Watch the video and let us know!  

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

"Is this what we want football to be?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

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

Not bad, Lane.

Not bad at all.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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

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

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

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

The Heisman is Mariota's to lose. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next, Dak Prescott. 

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

How about Trevone Boykin? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football Playoff Projections After Week 14

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

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

Who is in your top four?

Watch the video and let us know!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saban kept his first-half assessment short:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Heisman Watch 2014: Top 5 Rankings for Week 14

Major college football matchups between top programs in Week 14 had a huge effect on the Heisman race.

Many of the top contenders remain in the running, but other dark horses continue to emerge.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee gives his updated Heisman contenders after Week 14.

Who will win the Heisman Trophy?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Oregon vs. Oregon State: 2014 Civil War Score, Platypus Trophy Winner and More

Make no mistake, Marcus Mariota rules the Beaver State.

The Oregon Ducks (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12) trounced the Oregon State Beavers (5-7, 2-7 Pac-12), 47-19, in the 2014 Civil War matchup, taking home bragging rights and the Platypus Trophy to go along with their berth in the Pac-12 title game against Arizona.

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich's squad was in control of the contest throughout, but it was a 21-point explosion in the second quarter that put the game to bed early and has the Ducks looking like one of the hottest teams in the country as the season comes to an end.

Mariota turned in another superlative performance, completing 19 of 25 passes for 367 yards, four touchdowns and zero picks, while picking up 39 additional yards and two more scores on the ground. He also set a notable Pac-12 record, per The Daily Emerald's Twitter account:

The Beavers were hardly in this contest, but running back Storm Wood can be proud of his output. He put up 186 all-purpose yards and one rushing touchdown on 28 touches.

Here is a quarter-by-quarter look at the score:

The Ducks aren't ones to waste time on offense and they were at their quick-strike best on the game's opening possession. Mariota marched his team 71 yards down the field in nine plays, culminating in a 29-yard touchdown pass to Charles Nelson for a 6-0 lead (Oregon would fail the two-point conversion). Two minutes, 33 seconds and they were on the scoreboard.

SportsCenter provided a look at the play:

The Beavers would turn the ball over on downs after getting mostly nowhere on the next possession. Oregon's drive would stall out in the red zone, but kicker Matt Wogan would nail the 30-yard field goal for a 9-0 Ducks lead.

Oregon would mix in quick passes from Mariota and darting runs from Royce Freeman on the next possession—which bridged the first and second quarters—with the two converging for a 15-yard passing touchdown to the freshman tailback. Oregon football passed along a nifty infographic after the drive:

It was more magic from Mariota on the next drive. This time, he found a streaking Byron Marshall for a huge 77-yard touchdown pass. 

A quick three-and-out from the Beavers put the ball back in Mariota's hands, and he promptly capped a five-play, 67-yard drive with a 23-yard TD run of his own, giving the Ducks a 30-0 lead.

The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre noted he would much rather have Mariota as a pro than Florida State's Jameis Winston:

Oregon State managed to move just 24 yards on their next possession and failed to move the chains on a 4th-and-1 for the second time in the young contest. The desperation was palpable, but there was simply no contending with the Ducks on Saturday night.

The turnover didn't end up costing the Beavers. Following an Oregon punt, quarterback Sean Mannion finally put together a cohesive drive, which turned into a Garrett Owens field goal and a 30-3 halftime scoreline.

The Ducks appeared to put the game on cruise control in the second half. They would score 10 points in the third quarter, opening things up with another Wogan field goal and finishing the scoring for the quarter with a one-yard run from Mariota.

Mariota has had some ridiculous stat lines in his career, but not all of them came complete with an uncanny Heisman pose, via SportsCenter:

These touchdowns came on either side of a 20-yard touchdown pass from Mannion to wideout Hunter Jarmon.

With the score 33-10 entering the fourth quarter, the final frame essentially served as a victory lap for the Ducks. Give the Beavers credit, they played extremely hard right up until the final whistle, but there was no magic to be had in front of a supportive home crowd at Reser Stadium.

Woods cut the deficit to 40-17 with a three-yard touchdown run early in the fourth. The Bulletin's Grant Lucas noted he was pretty much the lone bright spot for the Beavers:

Mariota would again find Nelson for a touchdown pass with just over six minutes remaining, this time a 27-yarder. The game's final points came on a somewhat humorous note, as the Oregon center sent back a wayward snap that would fall in the end zone for a Ducks' safety, two points to the home side and a final score of 47-19. 

As unusual as the play might've been, this fan noted no gambler wants to see shenanigans like that, even in a blowout:

It was the final collegiate game for Mannion, and ESPN.com's Chantel Jennings noted the result of his final pass as a Beaver:

It's a disappointing end to the season for the Beavers. Aside from a win over the Arizona State Sun Devils on Nov. 15, the team didn't put together too many complete games and will likely be at the bottom of the totem pole in the Pac-12 heading into the 2015 season. There is plenty of time for this squad to improve year over year, but it's going to be tough in a conference that looks to be one of the deepest in the country.

Oregon may be destined for bigger and better things with the Pac-12 title game and the College Football Playoff looming, but no Ducks season is complete without a win over their in-state rival.

The Beavers are a solid enough program to have given the Ducks a good tune-up before they take on the Wildcats. The state is firmly in the Ducks' control; in a few weeks, the entire country could be as well.

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Dak Prescott Comments on NFL Draft Decision After Loss to Ole Miss in Egg Bowl

The Mississippi State Bulldogs have been in the NCAA limelight all season long. Much of that credit goes to quarterback Dak Prescott, whose athleticism and leadership abilities have turned him into a talismanic figure in Mississippi.

After a disappointing 31-17 loss to rival Ole Miss in the 2014 Egg Bowl, one that pretty much snuffed out any hope of the Bulldogs securing a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff, Prescott's thoughts turned to the future.

According to Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel, Prescott will spend another year in Starkville so long as the NFL evaluators don't see him going in the first two rounds.

Prescott cited Saturday's loss to the Rebels specifically as motivation to remain a Bulldog for another year.

"I’m 100 percent sure I want to come back. For this reason tonight, just to win the Egg Bowl and bring it back," he said, via Thamel.

Prescott has turned in some fine performances this season and kept the Bulldogs in the running in a tough-as-nails SEC West division for as long as he could. When pressed for clarification on his answer, Prescott noted the appeal of the NFL, but he promptly relayed his emotional attachment to the program, via Thamel:

When asked to clarify if he’s definitely returning, Prescott admitted that a projection by the NFL that he’ll go in the first two rounds would be 'hard to deny.' (And it may be unlikely, as he’s still not refined as a thrower.) But he quickly added the core of his feelings: 'My heart is in coming back and playing another year.'

Prescott has been one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in college football this season. He's thrown for 2,996 yards, 24 touchdowns and 10 picks this season while picking up another 13 scores on the ground. CBSSports.com has him as the fourth-rated quarterback in the class of 2015.

Still, he's turned in some erratic performances, a three-interception effort in a loss to Alabama the most notable among them and has a long wind-up on his throws, something that NFL corners would have no trouble picking up and pouncing on. 

Another year of seasoning could turn Prescott into a better pocket passer, making his return a good investment both for the Mississippi State program and his potential longevity as a pro. Then again, if the NFL scouts see a player worth molding into a future franchise player, the guaranteed millions would be indeed be tough to turn down.

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Dalvin Cook Saves Florida State from Worst Game of Jameis Winston's Career

Jameis Winston had two interceptions in the first four minutes. And he added a third interception before the first quarter was over.

Florida State University has dug itself out of deficits before this season—but never with Winston playing this poorly, finishing with a career-high four interceptions and a career-low 125 passing yards.

That's when FSU coach Jimbo Fisher went with Plan B: Dalvin Cook to the right, Dalvin Cook to the left and Dalvin Cook up the middle. Cook ran 24 times for 144 yards, with both counting as season-high marks.

"The trump card today was Dalvin Cook," Fisher said. "That defense is extremely good, and our offensive line did a very good job."

It's not ideal to take the ball out of the hands of a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and put it into the hands of a heralded true freshman. But it worked.

Usually, it's Winston who helps FSU piece together drives. But on Saturday, he completed just 12 of 24 passes, and two of them went for touchdowns to tight end Nick O'Leary.

This time, it was Cook who was the workhorse. With senior Karlos Williams injured and on the sideline, Fisher went to Cook.

With the game in doubt, FSU took possession of the ball after Florida's Austin Hardin missed a 42-yard field-goal attempt. FSU led just 21-19 with 9:42 on the clock, and Fisher decided to hand off to Cook.

Cook ran six times and caught a pass in a 10-play drive that ate up six minutes and 19 seconds. While the drive ended in a Roberto Aguayo field goal, FSU had drained the clock down to 3:23 left. 

With Florida having to drive the length of the field and score a touchdown to win, the Gators couldn't deliver. 

But Cook certainly did.

"It just says a lot about that guy's character and his heart—the way he fights and claws for those inches," FSU receiver Rashad Greene said. "And we continue to go down and move that football."

Cook has come through in some pressure situations for FSU. With Williams (ankle) and Mario Pender (concussion) out against Syracuse University on Oct. 11, Cook ran 23 times for 122 yards and a touchdown. And at the University of Louisville, he had nine carries for 110 yards and two touchdowns, as FSU stormed back from a 21-0 deficit.

Two weeks ago, in his hometown of Miami, Cook had 92 yards and a pair of second-half touchdown runs.

FSU's offense is often driven by a senior-filled offensive line, a senior playmaker (Greene) and a senior tight end (O'Leary). And Winston is usually the engine of the offense. But on Saturday, it was a freshman.

"Dalvin's just getting better and better as each week goes by," FSU center Cameron Erving said. "He's a dynamic player. He can break tackles, he's fast [and] he's elusive. There's not enough positive things you can say about Dalvin. He's been very, very vital to our success."

 

Bob Ferrante is the lead FSU writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. Stats courtesy of seminoles.com. Recruiting information courtesy of 247sports.com.

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Davis Webb Injury: Updates on Texas Tech QB's Shoulder and Recovery

Texas Tech Red Raiders sophomore quarterback Davis Webb will have surgery on his left shoulder, per Nick Talbot of The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Talbot quoted a text message from team spokesman Blayne Beal.

Beal confirmed the procedure and gave a glimpse into Webb's recovery. Beal said: "I can confirm surgery ... expected to make a full recovery and be ready for spring ball."

This prognosis may put to bed some of the concerns originally reported by Travis Haney of ESPN.com that suggested Webb could possibly missing spring practice .

Webb missed the last four-plus games and was replaced by freshman Patrick Mahomes. As a replacement, Mahomes more than made his mark. In the last three games, Mahomes has averaged 439.6 passing yards and 4.6 touchdowns per game.

Many are impressed with the freshman's performance.

Webb originally injured the shoulder on Sept. 25 in the Red Raiders' loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

Despite the injury, Webb returned to action the following week against the TCU Horned Frogs. He suffered an ankle injury that ended his season. 

Webb threw for 2,539 yards, 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions this season.

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Lane Kiffin Celebrates Amari Cooper Touchdown Right After Snap

When you have a playmaker like Amari Cooper, sometimes calling plays seems easy. 

In the third quarter of the Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin made the perfect play call against the Auburn defense. He knew it was correct when he saw the Tigers playing off his star wideout. 

Kiffin puts his hands up, signaling touchdown before the ball was thrown because he knew that no one could cover Cooper. He was right, as the wide-open receiver scored on the 39-yard pass from Blake Sims to cut Auburn's lead to 33-27. 

[Vine]

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Bo Wallace's Complicated Ole Miss Legacy

There's Good Bo. 

There's Bad Bo. 

There's the quarterback that owns the University of Mississippi records for career offensive yards, total offense in a season and most completions in a season. There's times when Bo Wallace looks like one of the school's all-time greats, like Saturday against Mississippi State University. 

But we can't forget Bad Bo. The Bo Wallace that threw an interception on the last play of the game against LSU this season, despite a game-tying field goal being within reach. The Wallace that threw two picks and no touchdowns in a 30-0 loss to the University of Arkansas didn't make him look like a Rebels legend. 

At the end of the day though, that's what Wallace is. A legend. 

To understand why he is, it's important to know where Ole Miss was before he got there. 

When Hugh Freeze took over in 2012, he inherited a program that had been run into the ground by Houston Nutt. In 2011, Ole Miss was 2-10 overall and lost all eight SEC games. 

They were punching bags. And Freeze, more than anything, needed a quarterback. 

He found Wallace at East Mississippi Community College, where the gunslinger set junior college records for passing yards (4,604), total yards (4,810) and touchdown passes (53). He was also 12-0 and won the national title. 

In Wallace's first season with the Rebels in 2012, he put up better numbers than anybody had since Eli Manning, who last played for Ole Miss in 2003. 

He finished with 2,994 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and completed 63 percent of his passes. More importantly, he won seven games, including the Egg Bowl and the BBVA Compass Bowl. 

That season alone not only gave Rebels fans new faith in the program, but it gave Freeze a bona fide quarterback that could develop into a winner. 

After his first year, fans wanted Wallace to take that next step. In more ways than one, he did. And so, too, did the program. 

He and the Rebels won four SEC games—one more than the year prior. The Rebels also won eight games—one notch higher than 2012. 

For Wallace, 2013 saw him tear up the stat sheet with 3,346 passing yards and 18 touchdowns. 

Two years removed from a two-win season, and the Rebels were making significant progress. Now fans in Oxford wanted more. 

And through the first half of 2014, they got more. 

Through seven games this season, Wallace and the Rebels were brilliant. They were 7-0 and poised for a berth into the playoffs. And they had that season-defining win over the University of Alabama in their belt. 

Through those same seven games, Wallace had 17 touchdowns through the air and just six interceptions, with half of the latter coming in Week 1 in a win against Boise State University. 

Then LSU happened. The Rebels lost 10-7, and the Oxford faithful wanted a scapegoat. All the fingers pointed at Wallace, who not only threw the game-crushing interception on the final play, but was also limited to just 176 yards on 14-of-33 passing. 

Bad Bo had reared his ugly head in that game. 

Against Arkansas, Bad Bo showed up again, as he threw two interceptions, completed just 51 percent of his passes and didn't score a single point. 

But it's important to remember that over the course of his three-year career, which is a bowl game away from completion, he was Good Bo. He was the guy that helped Freeze establish a new culture in Oxford. 

Ask any coach at any level of football what they need to be successful, and their first answer will be a quarterback. 

Freeze, in his attempt to rebuild Ole Miss, found a great one in Wallace. 

Through Good Bo and Bad Bo, there is one important thing to remember: Without him, this program wouldn't be among the elite SEC squads. That's what defines his legacy. 

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Cardale Jones and Ohio State Will Fall to Wisconsin in Big Ten Title Game

Cardale Jones may very well have a great future as a quarterback, but he will not engineer a victory over the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Championship game. 

Jones is being pressed into action after J.T. Barrett suffered a season-ending injury to his ankle on Saturday in the Ohio State Buckeyes' 42-28 win over the Michigan Wolverines. ESPN College Football has the bad news:

Barrett is a freshman second-stringer who was only playing because starter Braxton Miller was injured during a summer practice. The Buckeyes are now down to their third-string quarterback. Anyway you spin that, it just isn't encouraging heading into the postseason.

The nature of the Bucks postseason depends on what they are able to do against the Badgers on Dec. 6.

A win would presumably put them right in the thick of things for the fourth spot in the College Football Playoff rankings. That's assuming things stay to form with the top three teams (Alabama Crimson Tide, Oregon Ducks and Florida State Seminoles).

Ohio State would have a great case for making the final four with a quality win over a team like Wisconsin to close out its Big Ten season. Much of those hopes will be riding on the broad shoulders of an untested quarterback.

Jones is a sophomore who has thrown just 19 passes in two seasons. He'll likely be asked to throw more than that on Saturday alone.

He's known for his remarkable athleticism, per teammate Jeff Heuerman and others. Heuerman told Bill Landis of Cleveland.com that "He's a long strider. He's pretty big, about 250 pounds, 6-6, and he brings a lot to the table. He's an incredible athlete, he's got a super strong arm."

Beastly Ohio State offensive lineman Michael Bennett says Jones has the faith of his teammates, per the program's Twitter account:

All of that sounds great, but why wasn't he picked as the starter when Miller was hurt before the season started? A redshirt freshman—albeit a talented one—got the nod over him. That says something about Jones' development and ability, doesn't it?

Now he is going to be thrown into the fire with just a week to prepare for the biggest game of the Bucks season, and of his life.

That's a tall task, even for a man as big as Jones.

It's not just Jones' inexperience that will be an issue. It's also the way his defense matches up with the Badgers offense. Specifically how it will struggle to contain the nation's leading rusher, Melvin Gordon.

The Badgers Heisman Trophy candidate finished up the regular season with 2,260 yards rushing. He topped 200 yards five times this season, and that includes a 408-yard explosion against Nebraska on Nov. 15. At the time, it was a single-game NCAA rushing record, but the mark was broken the following week by the Oklahoma Sooners' Samaje Perine.

ESPN's SportsCenter puts Gordon in some elite company:

Coming into the rivalry game against Michigan, the Buckeyes weren't exactly doing a great job against the run. The team ranked 42nd overall in that category. It allowed a lowly Wolverines team 121 yards on the ground. That's not horrible, but Michigan isn't Wisconsin.

What will happen when Gordon and his dominant offensive line begin to pound the Bucks front seven? Expect Wisconsin to control time of possession. Its dominance of the ball will force Jones to press to make plays.

That will lead to turnovers and a disappointing loss for Ohio State in the conference title game. Oh, what could have been.

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Who Should Win Battle for No. 4 in the Next College Football Playoff Rankings?

With No. 4 Mississippi State's loss to Ole Miss on Saturday, there is a new vacancy in the final spot of the College Football Playoff bracket. Teams like Baylor, TCU and Ohio State have staked their claims for the remaining spot, but who really deserves it?

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer give you their pick for the fourth and final spot in the CFP. 

Who should be the new No. 4?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Alabama vs. Missouri: Date, Start Time and More for 2014 SEC Championship Game

No matter what happens in the Iron Bowl, Alabama's headed to Atlanta for the 2014 SEC Championship Game.

With the No. 4 Mississippi State Bulldogs losing the Egg Bowl to Ole Miss on Saturday, the top-ranked Crimson Tide won the SEC West and will meet Missouri to determine the conference champion.

On paper, it looks like a rather one-sided matchup, with Alabama playing like the best team in the country. The Tide have had their problems throughout 2014, however, looking less than convincing in wins over LSU and Arkansas earlier in the year, along with that defeat to Ole Miss.

If this were a seven-game series, you'd give a substantial edge to the Crimson Tide, hands down. In a one-off conference championship, anything can happen.

 

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

Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Watch: CBS

Live Stream:CBSSports.com

 

The Book on Alabama

Everybody knows what to expect from Alabama at this point.

Offensively, the Crimson Tide can bludgeon you with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, both of whom could arguably be the best running back in the country if given the ball on a regular basis.

Then, if you begin creeping up and stacking the box to stop the run, Amari Cooper can kill you over the top. Many have Marcus Mariota atop the Heisman Trophy rankings, but Cooper might be the best skill player in the country.

According to Football Outsiders' Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI), Alabama possesses the eighth-best offense in the country, which helps illustrate just how good the unit is. Some might look at the Tide being ranked 19th in total offense (484.8 YPG) and not be impressed.

When Lane Kiffin joined the Alabama coaching staff as the offensive coordinator, it became a bit of a joke, like Nick Saban's conquered college football, so now he's creating obstacles for himself by hiring Kiffin.

Over time, though, the Tide have had the last laugh. Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee argued that Kiffin's work hasn't gotten the proper credit it deserves:

He took an offense to the next level with Sims—a quarterback who was largely considered to be a backup in the offseason. Kiffin has done it with creativity, flexibility and patience. He didn't give Sims too much too quickly or try to force too much into the game plan, and that's paying off for the Crimson Tide late in the season.

Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson elaborated on some of the contrasts between the Alabama of 2013 and the Alabama of 2014.

"There are a lot of similarities in their formations from last year, but they're whole system is very different," he said, per Brandon Marcello of AL.com. "It's got a lot of pace in it, a real fast operation, a lot of zone read. The quarterback doesn't carry it a whole lot, but when he does, he's a threat to go the whole way."

As if being incredible on one side of the ball isn't enough, 'Bama also ranks fifth in total defense (283.5 YPG). Missouri isn't a particularly daunting offensive team, so it's hard to see how the Tigers will be able to consistently move the ball against the Crimson Tide.

Alabama does have a tendency to shoot itself in the foot, with a minus-one turnover differential entering Saturday. You could imagine a big fumble or interception turning the tide—no pun intended—and providing Missouri a lifeline.

 

The Book on Missouri

It's impressive that Missouri's been so successful this season despite Maty Mauk being a mostly average to below-average quarterback.

Mauk's performance has risen in recent weeks, but it's worth mentioning that Texas A&M, Tennessee and Arkansas rank 61st, 35th and 53rd, respectively in pass defense. Also, only A&M has a winning record. That wasn't exactly a murderer's row of defenses.

Don't get me wrong. There should be some optimism among the Missouri faithful about Mauk, but major question marks remain as to whether he can win the game if the running game stalls. In his three career losses, the sophomore's gone a combined 48-of-94 for 677 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions.

There aren't any questions about his attitude, though. He said after the win over the Razorbacks that the perception surrounding his ability is far less important than winning football games, via Mihir Bhagat of KOMU 8 News in Columbia, Missouri:

Missouri doesn't need to have Mauk to have a huge game as long as Marcus Murphy and Russell Hansbrough help move the chains.

What offers the most hope for the Tigers is a defense ranked 10th in the FEI, according to Football Outsiders. Missouri's giving up 331.1 yards a game, 19th in the nation. The more pressure it can place on Blake Sims, the better off it will be.

Missouri's best strategy might be to out-ugly Alabama, which LSU nearly did back on Nov. 8. A slow, methodical style wouldn't be pretty, but it would likely produce results.

Les Miles' team pushed the Tide into overtime, eventually losing, 20-13, in overtime. The Tigers probably should've won, too, were it not for the porous defense on Alabama's game-tying drive.

LSU had no passing game to speak of, with Anthony Jennings going 8-of-26 for 76 yards. But the Tigers found a lot of success on the ground. Their cadre of running backs gained 183 yards on 56 carries. LSU possessed the ball for a little over 38 minutes, wore down the Tide defense and kept the Alabama offense off the field.

Gary Pinkel would be wise to follow that same blueprint.

Problems would arise, however, if Hansbrough and Murphy are consistently stifled by Alabama. Against Georgia, the duo combined for 64 rushing yards. Without a ground game to provide support, Mauk shouldered more of the burden and collapsed, going 9-of-21 and failing to break the century mark.

Not coincidentally, Missouri was shut out, 34-0, by the Bulldogs.

 

Note: All stats are courtesy of NCAA.com unless otherwise noted.

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Tennessee Will Compete for SEC Title Soon After Earning First Bowl Since 2010

When Tennessee freshman running back Jalen Hurd is running over opponents and sophomore quarterback Joshua Dobbs is running past them next season, Saturday's struggle will be looked at as a catalyst. 

When the Volunteers add to the mix a stable of highly coveted defensive linemen in another top-shelf recruiting class compiled by coach Butch Jones, the ulcer-inducing, how-is-this-happening close call against Vanderbilt will be remembered fondly.

Yes, Tennessee had to go into ultimate survival mode with Hurd hurt just to squeak by the Commodores, 24-17, on Saturday night in Nashville. But the bottom line is the Vols did it.

Now, they're going to their first bowl game since 2010.

And it seems like they're standing on the top of that mountain they've tried so hard to get over through the forgettable Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley eras, staring directly at a future where they'll be an immediate contender in the SEC East race moving forward.

Sure, they looked far from championship-caliber on Saturday, but the Vols (most importantly) found a way. You may be disgruntled with the way the game went, but Jones sure wasn't.

Unlike Kiffin and Dooley, Jones is not only recruiting as well as anybody nationally, but players are developing, the team is competitive virtually every week and the Vols have broken through for some meaningful victories. Any team can say it buys in to what its coach is saying, but UT is backing it up on the field.

They did it again Saturday.

The Vols got timely quarterback pressure by defensive ends Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt. They got a dynamic, foot-dragging interception from freshman Todd Kelly Jr. that was parlayed into a touchdown.

With Marquez North out for the year and Josh Malone injured, they combated virtually no downfield passing game with Dobbs' dynamic feet. The sophomore quarterback struggled with passing, but he wound up with 183 total yards and a pair of touchdowns that were just enough.

When absolutely nothing else worked, UT rode Dobbs, and Dobbs came through.

Each of these players return next season, too.

With so many injuries, so much adversity and so little depth, Tennessee had to fight through the cruel present to break through into the daylight of the future. Now that the Vols have secured a bowl berth, that future is very, very bright.

It's easy to forget when a team is struggling to beat Vandy that the offense was decimated by the losses of North and Hurd, not to mention Malone and Jason Croom being limited.

The defense just two weeks ago lost its heart and soul in middle linebacker A.J. Johnson and starting cornerback Michael Williams, who are being investigated for a sexual assault.

But the team banded together, playing a lineup full of true freshmen to somehow get to six wins. Add another massive class of highly ranked prospects into the fold next year, get the playmakers healthy and UT is a team nobody wants to face.

Once Jones and crew inserted Dobbs two series into the Alabama game, the entire trajectory of the program changed.

UT trimmed a 27-point deficit against the Tide with Dobbs under center. Then, the season's turnaround came when the Vols came from two scores behind late to upset South Carolina in overtime on the road, followed by a blowout win over Kentucky.

When Dobbs came in, Hurd came alive. The Vols will add former Alabama running back and the nation's second-ranked JUCO runner, Alvin Kamara, into the fold next year, and that will not only provide depth but quality and talent to an offensive backfield needing it.

UT's victory parade was derailed by the SEC East champion Missouri Tigers last week, but it got back on track against Vanderbilt with UT trotting basically a M.A.S.H. unit out there.

The only real gaping hole heading into the future for UT is that porous offensive line that has been both injury-riddled and downright bad all season. But with that group losing only former walk-on tackle Jacob Gilliam and grooming redshirting JUCO transfer Dontavius Blair for the left tackle, the unit should be more talented and a year better.

Lines get better the longer they play together, so an offseason could work wonders.

Defensively, UT will return a pair of defensive centerpieces in Barnett and Cameron Sutton as well as its emotional leader in Maggitt, who'll be a senior. With those three and a group of star prospects coming in, the Vols should get even better on that side of the ball.

They enjoyed a massive turnaround this season under coordinator John Jancek.

While Tennessee would love to win a bowl game and exit the season with more positive momentum, just getting to one was the biggest deal. Securing 15 extra practices is massive for a program needing to develop depth and find answers for a future full of promise.

The Vols are now 6-6 with a chance to win a seventh game. With a more favorable schedule, 2015 could produce eight wins or maybe even nine. After that, the depth and talent will be back in place for the program to return to its rightful place: competing for championships.

Saturday was the hump, and the Vols finally got over it. It wasn't pretty, but don't deny that it was memorable.

Anybody who believes otherwise failed to see the joy, jubilation and the relief strewn all over the faces of everybody involved with UT's program on the Vanderbilt Stadium football field.

There were plenty of mistakes, and there's plenty of reason for Vols fans to be concerned about the ability to win a bowl game this season with all the injuries and all the holes. 

There are plenty of superstar youngsters around whom a championship-caliber team can be built.

Given the way the way the players already on campus are developing, the resounding response necessary to send this program to the next level was breaking through and getting to a bowl.

Now, that's happened, and it doesn't matter that the Vols didn't earn any style points Saturday in getting there.

It was an ugly game, but it was a beautiful win; for now and for the future.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats gathered from UTSports.com and recruiting information gathered from 247Sports.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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USC's Big Win over Notre Dame Shows Trojans Will Be Strong Contender in 2015

LOS ANGELES — If USC’s 49-14 rout of rival Notre Dame in Saturday’s regular-season finale was a preview of the 2015 season, get ready for the Trojans to make a run at Pac -12 title contention...

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