NCAA Football

Bowl Projections 2014: Predicting Final College Football Playoff Picture

The 2014 College Football Playoff picture is murky at best, with three editions of the selection committee's rankings released to date. A convoluted Big 12 combined with a one-loss Oregon leapfrogging reigning champion Florida State makes matters all the more complicated.

One could argue that it's too early to look ahead at what the final Top Four will look like. Alas, that's precisely what is happening now.

Ahead of the final stretch of the regular season, a crossroads showdown between two SEC foes in Mississippi State and Alabama will go a long way in determining how everything shakes out.

Below are predictions for which teams will square off in the Sugar and Rose Bowls and a preview of those potential matchups, along with a breakdown of the prospective championship game.

 

Sugar Bowl: Florida State (1) vs. TCU (4)

The high-octane Horned Frogs offense will keep them just inside the Top Four. Baylor will have a chance to prove itself as playoff-worthy in the season finale, but slotting TCU here means that the Bears fall at home in a pressure-packed game against Kansas State.

Meanwhile, thanks to a rather generous ACC schedule, Florida State continues to claw its way to victories and preserve its perfect record, poising itself to enter the postseason as the top-ranked team in the country.

TCU will not have faced a cornerback tandem quite as formidable as the Seminoles' P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby. Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller succinctly explains:

Although the FSU secondary has been a bit leakier than expected in 2014, the defensive backfield will have something to prove against a talented but imprecise passer in Horned Frogs star Trevone Boykin. The playmaking signal-caller completes just 58 percent of his throws.

The experience Florida State has would give it the edge here. Last year's Heisman winner, Jameis Winston, had to overcome poor play early in the national title game to lead the Seminoles to a comeback victory as a freshman.

Although his play has dipped in his past two starts, which have featured five total interceptions, Winston has sparked a rally each time, keeping Florida State undefeated regardless of the circumstances.

That's going to count for something once the Seminoles run the regular-season table and set themselves up for another national championship game.

Prediction: Florida State 27, TCU 21

 

Rose Bowl: Alabama (2) vs. Oregon (3)

This leap by the Crimson Tide obviously comes with the expectation that they topple the College Football Playoff's only No. 1 team in history thus far, Mississippi State, at home this next Saturday.

Alabama can defend the run as well as anyone in the nation and should confine Bulldogs QB Dak Prescott to the pocket, where he'll make mistakes that his counterpart, Blake Sims, won't in Tuscaloosa.

The presence of Prescott will undoubtedly help, but the Tide appear to have his team's number, per ESPN's College GameDay:

As for a potential showdown with the Ducks, Alabama may have more trouble defending the fleeter-of-foot Marcus Mariota, whose dual-threat quarterbacking capabilities are among the best ever seen.

John Middlekauff of Comcast SportsNet is intrigued by Mariota matching wits with Alabama:

The uptempo, balanced attack Oregon throws at opponents is a strong contrast to the Tide's penchant for pounding the rock and wearing their adversaries down. If the Ducks were to strike early and often, it would put Sims in a position in which he'd have to pass often.

Should the likes of Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and others get the chance to pin their ears back and pressure the pocket, Sims and Alabama would be in serious trouble.

Mariota would prove too much to handle even for Nick Saban's vaunted defense, as the potential top signal-caller in the 2015 NFL draft class is likely determined to end his career in Eugene on a high note.

Prediction: Oregon 35, Alabama 24

 

Championship Bowl: Florida State vs. Oregon

With how important the quarterback position is at all levels of football, what better way to decide this inaugural title format than by having the two best in the country duel it out?

Winston and Mariota are two of the most compelling figures in recent college football history, and it would only be fitting if they were to square off in the Championship Bowl.

Both QBs have overcome issues on the offensive line to still produce on a weekly basis and have shown extraordinary on-field leadership, but they have starkly different playing styles.

While Mariota runs a quick-strike spread attack, Winston is well-versed in pro-style principles and has a lot more responsibility due to the complexity of the Seminoles offense.

But that isn't to say that Mariota isn't smart or a good decision-maker. In fact, he's probably better than Winston in that regard, evident in Winston's 11 interceptions to Mariota's phenomenal 29-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich noted how well the Ducks have responded since Mariota became more of a vocal leader this year, per The Associated Press' Ralph D. Russo, via NCAA.com:

After every play he had to say something to somebody. Great snap. Great route. We did that with Marcus just to get everything going. He is such a good guy it was vastly positive. And it grew into where he could push guys and subtly demand things in a great way. His credibility as a leader in our program is awesome.

In what would likely be a shootout for the ages, Florida State's epic winning streak would finally come to an end, thanks to Mariota, rather than Winston, taking center stage for late-game heroics.

The superiority of Oregon's ground game, combined with cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu doing a passable-enough job on senior Seminoles star receiver Rashad Greene, will be enough to deliver the national championship to the Ducks.

Prediction: Oregon 42, Florida State 38

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Clemson Football: Ranking the Top 5 Freshman Seasons in Tigers History

We are a few days away from the return of Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, but let’s first take a step back and examine the best freshman seasons in school history. Does Watson—who has 12 touchdowns despite missing almost four games—have the numbers to make an argument for one of the best freshman seasons?

I have put together a list of five Tigers who were impressive in their freshman seasons, ranked from least impressive to most impressive. Let’s start the list.

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Everett Golson Finally Feeling the Pressure of Being Notre Dame Quarterback

Welcome to Notre Dame, Everett Golson.

That's likely what this week feels like for Notre Dame's senior quarterback. And while Golson has been in South Bend for a long time—a redshirt season after enrolling early in 2011, a national title game run in 2012 and the much-discussed academic sabbatical in 2013—only now, after his recent struggles, does Golson really know what it feels like to be the quarterback at Notre Dame. 

Never mind that Golson's second year as a starting quarterback is actually one of the more statistically impressive seasons in the country. Sure, he's ninth in the country in total offense and fourth in points responsible for. But nobody cares about that. 

Not when all people can talk about is his 17 turnovers in the past five games, with the Irish quarterback rightfully wearing the collar for Notre Dame's "Debacle in the Desert," a five-turnover nightmare that saw the Irish give up 28 straight points in just under eight dubious first-half minutes to fall into a 31-3 hole they could never dig out from. 

Even with a gaudy 17-3 record as a starting quarterback, Golson finally now knows what it feels like to be in a doghouse that's been custom-built by Irish fans for the team's starting quarterback.

After housing Tommy Rees the past three seasons and Dayne Crist before that, perhaps Golson can now carve his name into the wooden beam (like Brooks and Red in The Shawshank Redemption), joining names like Jimmy Clausen, Brady Quinn, Carlyle Holiday, Gary Godsey, Matt LoVecchio and Jarious Jackson, ad infinitum. 

That's playing quarterback for the Irish. And it's something I asked Rees about on Wednesday. 

"You know what you’re getting into when you’re the quarterback at Notre Dame," Rees said. "You get a lot of praise, but you also get a lot of scrutiny, right or wrong, that's just the way it is."

Golson has handled that scrutiny like a leader, taking difficult questions after every game as the turnovers piled up. He did the same thing after the loss to Arizona State, the last player to take questions from press looking for an answer, when the rest of the team was looking to get on a plane and escape a nightmare of an afternoon. 

Honestly, I think it’s all on me," Golson said after the game. "You play with fire as much as I did today, you know you are going to get burnt eventually. I’ve go to practice to get better, got to clean up in practice. I think that’s where it really starts, in practice."

Tuesday afternoon, Brian Kelly talked about the team putting the Arizona State game behind itself, something his quarterback needs to do. And after openly acknowledging Golson's mistakes in his postgame recap in Tempe, Kelly was proud of the way his quarterback has handled things. 

"I think what's been talked about, the buck stops with the quarterback, right? I think Everett made that pretty clear," Kelly said. "I think he took full responsibility for what needs to happen at that position. I think that's really the most important thing."  

Cleaning up his game is the next step. Against a Northwestern defense that's given up just 210 passing yards a game, Golson may be facing a struggling Wildcat team but one that's strength will match up head-to-head with the Irish passing attack. 

After seeing his first true on-field adversity, now Golson's job is to turn things around. Rees went through similar situations in his sometimes rocky career in South Bend. And he thinks Golson will come out of it just fine. 

"I believed in my ability, believed in the process, and leaned on my teammates and just dove further into football," Rees said. "Ev will handle it fine. Confidence is no issue for him, he’ll bounce back strong." 

That's life as Notre Dame's quarterback. And even if Notre Dame's disappointing removal from the College Football Playoff isn't all Golson's fault, it all comes back to the man in the middle of the offense. 

"I'm proud of the way he's handled the scrutiny of being under the bright lights of the turnovers," Kelly said. "I said that in the press conference he's responsible for all the turnovers. But that's not to mean that he's to be blamed for all of the turnovers."

A closer look will implicate guys like Ronnie Stanley and Christian Lombard—two veteran offensive linemen who failed to execute blocks on Arizona State's offensive linemen and to turn batted passes into interceptions—or senior tight end Ben Koyack, who has played a lot of good snaps this season but quite a few bad ones last Saturday. 

But you don't read cries for Hunter Bivin or Mike McGlinchey taking over the Internet or reasons for Durham Smythe and Tyler Luatua to get a jump-start on their careers now. 

The last Notre Dame quarterback to get out of South Bend unscathed will be the first one. So welcome to the club, Everett Golson. 

Now get back to winning football games. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 Biggest Questions Facing Top 25 Teams Heading into Week 12

The most anticipated weekend of college football came and went last Saturday, but don't think for a second that things are about to slow down.

With one-loss Oregon jumping undefeated Florida State in the latest College Football Playoff poll, the selection committee has shown it's not going to follow the same old formula. In other words, every game is a chance to impress, even if a team has one or two losses. 

From Mississippi State's showdown with Alabama to a pair of critical Big Ten battles, there's a lot happening in Week 12. Which storylines are the ones to watch? The answers are in the following slides. 

The only criteria here is that teams mentioned have to be in the latest CFP Top 25.

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College Football Picks Week 12: B/R's Expert Predictions for Top 5 Games

While the top two games of Week 12 involve the SEC, that doesn’t mean there aren’t exciting matchups elsewhere across the college football landscape.

Anything can happen on any given Saturday. And as the playoff looms, every game is important.

No. 1 Mississippi State hits the road to take on No. 5 Alabama in a much-anticipated matchup. Dan Mullen has never beaten Nick Saban as head coach of the Bulldogs. Will 2014 be the year he gets revenge thanks to Dak Prescott?

The other major Saturday SEC showdown is the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry, as No. 15 Georgia hosts No. 9 Auburn. The game marks Todd Gurley's return, which could mean bad news for the Tigers. Of course, that’s contingent on the Bulldogs being able to stop Nick Marshall and Co.

In the Big Ten, No. 16 Nebraska looks to gain some respect from the playoff selection committee when the Huskers battle No. 20 Wisconsin. Which Heisman contender will lead his team to victory: Ameer Abdullah or Melvin Gordon?

And in the ACC, two key matchups take place on Saturday. In the afternoon, No. 22 Georgia Tech will host No. 19 Clemson, and at night, No. 3 Florida State hits the road to challenge an unranked Miami (Florida) team hungry to prove its worth with the national spotlight thrust upon it.

Ben Kercheval took back full control of his lead among our experts. What will Week 12 have in store? Who will come out on top?

Let us know your picks in the comments below!

Reminder: Our experts are picking the top five Saturday games against the spread.

Odds via opening lines at Odds Shark.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Report Card Grades for Top 10 College Football Freshmen Post Week 11

Now more than two-thirds of the way through the regular season, enough time has passed that we can give fair grades to the top 10 players from the 2014 recruiting class.

Who has lived up to expectations? Who has surpassed them? Who has not had the season we all had hoped?

To be clear: This article is grading the top 10 prospects from the 247Sports composite rankingsIt is not my own subjective ranking of the 10 best freshmen in the country. Grading the 10 best freshmen would be asinine, since all of them—by definition—have been great.

Instead, this piece is looking back at the 10 freshmen with the highest ratings before the season and grading how they've fared in Year 1. The grades were based on production and how they've looked on film and did not give weight to the size of preseason expectations.

Sound off below to let us know which top-10 freshman has had the best debut season.

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Jameis Winston's Student Conduct Hearing Postponed: Latest Details and Reaction

The saga of Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston took another turn Wednesday, as his previously scheduled student code of conduct hearing has been postponed.   

The news was initially reported by Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times:

Rachel Axon of USA Today breaks down how Winston will likely be able to avoid the hearing until after Florida State's football season concludes:

The hearing relates to allegations that Winston sexually assaulted an FSU student in 2012. Although the star signal-caller was not charged with a crime, he was set to face university officials the week of Nov. 17.

According to ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach, the postponement was requested by the Heisman Trophy winner's attorney:

The reason given was so that Winston and his legal team would have more time to prepare, per Baker:

Pushing the hearing back certainly increases the chances of Winston completing the 2014 season.

The Seminoles have just three regular-season games remaining, and they are currently in position to qualify for the College Football Playoff with a record of 9-0.

Florida State could play as many as three postseason games, including the ACC Championship Game and two potential CFP contests.

Discipline against Winston before the end of the season is still possible if he is found to be in violation of the code of conduct when the hearing ultimately does take place, though that remains to be seen.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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