NCAA Football News

Boca Raton Bowl Betting: Northern Illinois Huskies vs. Marshall Odds, Pick

The Marshall Thundering Herd almost went undefeated this season and won a conference championship, but they finished the campaign by going 0-3 against the spread over their last three games. Northern Illinois, meanwhile, also won a conference title and went 3-0 ATS over its last three games.

The champions of Conference USA take on the champions of the MAC when 12-1 Marshall and the 11-2 Huskies meet in the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl Tuesday, December 23 at FAU Stadium.

 

Boca Raton Bowl point spread: Thundering Herd opened as 11-point favorites; the total was 65. (Line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 50.6-36.0 Thundering Herd

 

Why the Huskies can cover the spread

The Huskies started 3-0 this season, including a win at Northwestern, followed by a loss at Arkansas and later got upset at home by Central Michigan. Then they won their last seven games in a row, including a 51-17 romp over Bowling Green in the MAC Championship Game for their third conference title in the last four seasons.

NIU let the Falcons stick around for about a quarter-and-a-half, then went on a 24-0 run to put the game away. So the Huskies have won at least 11 games five years in a row. On the season, the Huskies ranked 40th in the country in total offense and 14th in rushing, while their defense held eight of 13 opponents to 21 points or less.

 

Why the Thundering Herd can cover the spread

The Herd started this season with 11 consecutive victories, many in blowout fashion, before finally losing in the regular-season finale in overtime to Western Kentucky. Marshall then shook that off and rallied to beat Louisiana Tech in the C-USA Championship Game 26-23.

The Herd outgained the Bulldogs, 429 to 268 total yards, but made things hard on themselves by turning the ball over four times. Still, Marshall scored twice in the last eight minutes to secure the victory. For the season, the Herd ranked second in the country in total offense, seventh in rushing and 30th in total defense.

 

Smart Pick

Marshall has had a fine season, but it appears as if it's been slightly overrated on the betting lines lately, going 0-3 ATS in its last three games. And now it's favored by double digits over a conference champion. So while the Herd might well win this game outright, the smart money probably resides with the underdog Huskies.

 

Trends

  • Northern Illinois is 4-1 ATS in its last five games
  • Marshall is 13-1 straight up in its last 14 games

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark - follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Poinsettia Bowl Betting: Navy Midshipmen vs. San Diego State Aztecs Odds, Pick

Heading into its big rivalry game with Army, the Navy Midshipmen were on a nice run, winning four of their last five games and going 3-1 against the spread over their last four outings. San Diego State, meanwhile, has won five of its last seven games straight up, and is 3-0 ATS in its last three contests.

Two teams playing some good ball of late meet when the 6-5 Middies and the 7-5 Aztecs play in the Poinsettia Bowl Tuesday, December 23 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.

 

Poinsettia Bowl point spread: This game opened as a pick'em; the total was 54. (Line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 30.7-29.8 Aztecs

 

Why the Midshipmen can cover the spread

The Middies started this season 2-4, but all four of those losses came against teams that are headed to bowls. Navy then won four of its last five games to earn a third straight bowl bid. And the only loss during that late run came in a game against Notre Dame in which the Middies led through three quarters.

Also, over its last five games, Navy has averaged 45 points per outing. On the season, the Middies rank second in the nation in rushing at 358 yards per game, outrushing every opponent but one. And winning the ground battles is always a good start when trying to win games and cover spreads in college football.

 

Why the Aztecs can cover the spread

The Aztecs also started just 2-4 this season but won five of their last seven games to finish in a tie for first place in the Mountain West's West Division, earning a bowl bid for the fifth season in a row. In its penultimate game, San Diego State beat bowl-bound Air Force, 30-14, covering as a six-point favorite, and in its season finale ,it stuffed San Jose State 38-7, covering at minus-14.

On the season, the Aztecs averaged 219 yards per game rushing, while their 21st-ranked defense held opponents to 147 yards per game on the ground.

 

Smart Pick

Navy holds an edge on offense with its running game, but San Diego State holds an advantage on defense. And in close calls like this, the smarter money resides with the better defense. So the smart choice in this spot is with the Aztecs.

 

Trends

  • Navy is 4-1-1 SU in its last six games
  • San Diego State is 5-2 SU in its last seven games

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark - follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Beach Bowl Betting: BYU Cougars vs. Memphis Tigers Odds, Analysis and Pick

The BYU Cougars are just 5-11-1 against the spread over their last 17 games, but they're also 4-1 both straight up and ATS in their last five bowl games. Meanwhile, the Tigers of Memphis haven't even played in a bowl since 2008. In an intriguing matchup, the 8-4 Cougars and 9-3 Tigers meet in the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl Monday, December 22 at Marlins Park.

 

Miami Beach Bowl point spread: Tigers opened as one-point favorites; the total was 57.5. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 42.4-36.3 Tigers

 

Why the Cougars can cover the spread

The Cougars started 4-0 this season, then lost talented quarterback Taysom Hill for the season to a nasty knee injury and lost four in a row. But BYU got hot again at the end, as backup quarterback Christian Stewart improved his play, and it won its last four games in a row, finishing with a 42-35 victory over Cal in which Stewart tossed five touchdown passes.

So the Cougars are playing in a bowl for the 10th year in a row. On the season, BYU averaged 272 yards per game passing, 191 yards per game rushing, and its defense, while a little vulnerable through the air, held foes to 118 yards per game on the ground.

 

Why the Tigers can cover the spread

The Tigers started 3-3 this season, with tough losses at UCLA and at Ole Miss, but then they finished with a flourish, winning their last six games by an average score of 36-13 to claim a share of the American Athletic Conference championship.

And the nine victories equaled this team's total of the last three seasons combined. So Memphis is playing in its first bowl in six seasons. On the year, the Tigers averaged 231 yards per game through the air and 192 yards per game on the ground, and their defense ranked 22nd in the country, holding foes to 343 yards per game.

 

Smart Pick

As the spread indicates, this looks like a good, even matchup. Both teams are balanced on offense, and both can play defense. But sometimes bowl games come down to the team that wants it more, and in this spot, that might be Memphis, whose players will be participating in their first bowl.

So the smarter choice here is with the Tigers.

 

Trends

  • BYU is 5-11-1 ATS in its last 17 games
  • The total has gone over in five of Memphis's last seven games

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark - follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Idaho Potato Bowl Betting: Western Michigan vs. Air Force Odds, Analysis, Pick

Western Michigan came out of almost nowhere this season to become one of the two best teams in college football on which to wager, going 10-2 against the spread and earning a bowl bid. Air Force also bounced back after a down season last year to get back to a bowl. The 8-4 Broncos and the 9-3 Falcons hook up in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Saturday, December 20 in Boise.

 

Idaho Potato Bowl Point Spread: Broncos opened as three-point favorites; the total was 56.  (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark Computer Prediction: 36.2-32.5 Broncos

 

Why the Broncos Can Cover the Spread

After going 1-11 last year the Broncos went 8-4 this year to make a bowl for the first time since 2011. They opened this season 2-3, with losses to Purdue, Virginia Tech and in overtime to Toledo, but then won six games in a row before getting upset in their season finale by eventual MAC champion Northern Illinois.

Along the way the Broncos covered 10 spreads in a row, making them (along with TCU) the best moneymaker in college football this season. Western Michigan averaged 265 yards per game through the air this year, 179 yards per game on the ground and held seven of 12 opponents to 21 points or fewer.

 

Why the Falcons Can Cover the Spread

After going 2-10 last year the Falcons finished this regular season with a flurry, winning five of their last six games straight up and going 4-1 against the spread over their last five contests to return to a bowl. Air Force started 4-1, with wins over Boise State and Navy, then lost to Utah State.

The Falcons then won four in a row and beat Army to claim the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for the third time in the last five seasons. Air Force then beat Colorado State in the season finale 27-24, winning outright as a touchdown underdog without starting quarterback Kale Pearson.

On the season, the Falcons ranked eighth in the country in rushing at 272 yards per game while holding foes to 142 yards per game on the ground.

 

Smart Pick

Western Michigan is more balanced on offense and owns an edge on defense. Meanwhile, Air Force might be without its starting quarterback. So the smart money in this spot resides with the Broncos.

 

Trends

  • Western Michigan is 10-1 ATS in its last 11 games
  • Air Force is 4-1 ATS in its last five games

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark—follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Camellia Bowl Betting: South Alabama vs. Bowling Green Odds, Pick

South Alabama won six games to earn its first-ever bowl berth but struggled down the stretch, winning just one of its last five games straight up, going 1-6 against the spread over its last seven outings. Bowling Green, meanwhile, won seven games to earn a third straight bowl bid but also finished poorly, losing its last three games SU, going 0-3-1 ATS over its last four contests.

In the first edition of the Camellia Bowl the 6-6 Jaguars take on the 7-6 Falcons Saturday, December 20 at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery.

 

Camellia Bowl point spread: Falcons opened as 1.5-point favorites; the total was 54 (Line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 22.3-22.0 Jaguars

 

Why the Jaguars can cover the spread

The Jags started 5-2 this season, with wins at Kent State, at Idaho and at Appalachian State. They then lost four of their last five games but gave UL-Lafayette a tough contest, playing the Cajuns to a 9-9 tie through three quarters, beat a decent Texas State team, had the spread covered at South Carolina into the fourth quarter and lost by just two points to bowl-bound Navy.

So USA has given some good performances against some quality foes.

 

Why the Falcons can cover the spread

The Falcons started 7-3 this season, with a win over Indiana out of the Big Ten, and later won five of their first six MAC games, propelling themselves to the MAC East title. BGU then only trailed favored Northern Illinois 13-7 late into the second quarter of the MAC Championship Game before letting that one get away.

On the season the Falcons averaged 252 yards per game passing, 177 yards per game rushing and hit the 30-point mark seven times. So while the Bowling Green defense might leave something to be desired the Falcons can generate enough on offense to stay in most games.

 

Smart Pick

As the spread indicates this should be a close one. Bowling Green owns the edge on offense, but South Alabama holds the edge on defense. And the Jaguars should have a home-crowd advantage, playing just about four hours up the road from their home in Mobile. So the smart money in this spot probably resides with USA.

 

Trends

  • South Alabama is 1-4 SU in its last five games
  • Bowling Green is 2-4 SU in its last six games

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark - follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Sugar Bowl Betting: Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Alabama Crimson Tide Odds, Analysis

The Ohio State Buckeyes are hoping their third quarterback this season will be the lucky charm that leads them to an upset win over the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl and a berth in this year’s national championship game.

The Buckeyes rode third-string QB Cardale Jones to a 59-0 rout of the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Championship Game, earning them the final spot in the College Football Playoff field. But they will face a tough task against the SEC champion, the Crimson Tide, who have gone 4-0 straight up and against the spread in their last four games versus Big Ten schools.

 

Sugar Bowl point spread: Crimson Tide opened as nine-point favorites; the total was 58.5. (Line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 50.0-46.7 Buckeyes

 

Why the Buckeyes can cover the spread

Ohio State’s offensive system produces results, period. Led by head coach Urban Meyer, a well-known quarterback whisperer who has enabled Alex Smith and Tim Tebow to become first-round NFL draft picks, the Buckeyes managed to roll through the Big Ten undefeated at 8-0.

Keep in mind, this is also a team that was 12-0 heading into last year’s Big Ten Championship Game and went 12-0 in 2012 as well. Meyer has lost just three games in three years at the school, and he knows the SEC very well from his days as head coach of the Florida Gators.

Ohio State would not be in this spot without Meyer, and he is the only reason this team has any shot at a national title.

 

Why the Crimson Tide can cover the spread

If there is any coach in the country who can win a strategic matchup with Meyer, it’s Alabama’s Nick Saban, who has won two of the three career meetings between them. That makes this an intriguing battle of X’s and O’s.

There’s no doubt the Crimson Tide will be ready for the Buckeyes offense with Jones under center. Their defense was stifling in a 42-13 rout of the Missouri Tigers in the SEC Championship Game and will not be like anything Ohio State has seen this season. Alabama is the top seed in the field for a reason and will flex its muscles again here.

 

Smart Pick

Meyer’s 2006 Florida squad crushed the Buckeyes, 41-14, in a high-profile matchup between SEC and Big Ten schools in the 2007 BCS Championship Game that started a run of seven straight national titles for the conference. Ohio State also lost to the LSU Tigers the following year for the national championship, and the SEC has still had at least one team in the title game each of the past eight years.

That streak is on the line for the Crimson Tide, who are looking for their fourth national championship in six years. In order to get to the title game, Alabama must hold the Buckeyes in check offensively. If the Virginia Tech Hokies were able to do that in a 35-21 victory at Ohio State on Sept. 6, the Crimson Tide can certainly win by a similar margin.

 

Trends

  • Ohio State is 5-0 SU in its last five games
  • Alabama is 4-10-1 ATS in its last 15 games

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark - follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Cotton Bowl Classic Betting: Michigan State Spartans vs. Baylor Bears Odds, Pick

The Baylor Bears get a consolation game of sorts after getting snubbed by the College Football Playoff selection committee as they square off against the Michigan State Spartans in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium.

The Bears are riding a five-game winning streak—going 3-2 against the spread—since suffering their lone loss of the season while the Spartans lost twice this year to two schools that are in the four-team College Football Playoff field in the Oregon Ducks and Ohio State Buckeyes.

 

Cotton Bowl Classic point spread: Bears opened as 1.5-point favorites; the total was 71.5 (Line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 54.3-52.9 Bears

 

Why the Spartans can cover the spread

Michigan State has arguably faced stiffer competition on its way to the Cotton Bowl, and the College Football Playoff selection committee would likely agree with that statement. The Spartans may have lost both of their toughest games this year to the Ducks and Buckeyes, but they bounced back from each of those setbacks to cover the spread in multiple games afterwards.

After losing to Oregon, they beat the line in consecutive games and won six in a row before falling to Ohio State. Since dropping a 49-37 matchup against the Buckeyes, Michigan State has won and covered three straight.

 

Why the Bears can cover the spread

Baylor will be playing close to home and should have thousands of fans there cheering them on. The Bears went unbeaten at home this season, going 4-2 against the spread, and they have averaged 48.4 points in winning their past five games overall since losing 41-27 on the road to the West Virginia Mountaineers as eight-point favorites.

Baylor’s motivation will be the key, as head coach Art Briles needs to tell his players that the only way to prove they belong among the top-four teams in the country is to go out and prove it on the football field. Beating Michigan State worse than Ohio State did would help.

 

Smart Pick

The Big Ten has taken plenty of criticism this year, and rightfully so. However, it’s games like this that can earn the conference some respect. While the Bears certainly have the right to be upset about not playing in the College Football Playoff, that disappointment can work against them here.

The Spartans have won and covered their past three bowl games, and they have also gone 8-1-1 ATS in their previous 10 overall as underdogs. Even though Baylor may have enjoyed a better regular season, Michigan State is the better team and just happened to lose to two of the top four teams in the nation.

For that reason, the Spartans are the play as underdogs in the Cotton Bowl.

 

Trends

  • The total has gone OVER in 11 of Michigan State's last 14 games
  • Baylor is 17-8 ATS in its last 25 games

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark - follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Every SEC Team's Most Underrated 2015 Committed Recruit

For all of the chatter emanating about the potential loosening of the SEC’s grip over college football, a quick glance at the recruiting rankings for 2015 would show that top talent is still flocking toward the SEC more than any other conference in the country.

Eleven of the league’s 14 members have classes ranked among the Top 25 in the 247Sports team rankings

However, even with a number of top prospects slated to head to the SEC, there are still a number of players who have committed to SEC schools who are still flying under the radar. 

Which recruits are among the most underrated crop of prep stars who will line up in the SEC?

 

*Schools listed in alphabetical order.

Begin Slideshow

Rose Bowl: Florida State Seminoles vs. Oregon Ducks Odds, Analysis and Pick

The Pac-12 champion Oregon Ducks will try to hand the ACC champion Florida State Seminoles their first loss of the season and advance to the national championship game with a victory in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks have won their last eight games both straight up and against the spread since losing at home to the Arizona Wildcats 31-24 as 21.5-point favorites.

Meanwhile, the defending national champion Seminoles have won 29 games in a row, but they have failed to cover 11 of their past 14 games dating back to last year’s BCS Championship Game victory against the Auburn Tigers.

 

Rose Bowl point spread: Ducks opened as 8.5-point favorites; the total was 71.

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 51.3-40.1 Ducks

 

Why the Seminoles can cover the spread

Florida State has not been an underdog since losing to the Clemson Tigers back in 2011 and remains undefeated this year despite failing to beat the spread a lot more often than not. Regardless, the Seminoles are still the defending national champs with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in Jameis Winston.

No matter what you think of Winston, he has yet to lose a game as a college quarterback—going 27-0 in his starts—and he remains one of the most clutch players in the game. Another thing potentially working in Florida State’s favor is the layoff between games.

The time off cooled the hot Seminoles before last year’s national title game and could do the same thing to Oregon.

 

Why the Ducks can cover the spread

The Ducks have been the best team in the country since falling to Arizona, and all bettors need to do is look at their ATS record to see why. They have been absolutely relentless against their opponents, including the Wildcats during a 51-13 rout in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Oregon easily covered the spread in the rematch with Arizona and proved to all of its doubters that this team truly belongs in the national semifinals. The Ducks are playing like Florida State did last year, led by likely Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.

The junior quarterback made a wise decision coming back to school this year after entertaining the idea of leaving early for the NFL draft. Mariota has a great opportunity to improve his stock here by going head-to-head with Winston.

 

Smart pick

Oregon’s offense is simply too much to handle for the Seminoles in this spot, which is why the Ducks are favored by nearly double digits. Florida State has made a bad habit of keeping its opponents in the game way too long before doing just enough to win at the end.

While that may work in the ACC, Oregon is a team full of firepower that can jump out to a double-digit lead in a heartbeat. The Seminoles will not know how to react to that situation because they have grown used to needing only one score to win.

This is clearly not the same team that won it all last year, and playing with fire will finally burn them. Watch for the Ducks to quack their way to a victory by at least two touchdowns.

 

Trends

  • Florida State is 5-0 SU in its last five games
  • Oregon is 5-0 ATS in its last five games

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark. Follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Football: Who Are the Ducks' Most Important Players vs. Florida State?

Is it possible to overlook the defending national champions who are riding a 29-game win streak?

While the second-ranked Oregon Ducks are heavily favored by Odds Shark to take down the Florida State Seminoles in the Rose Bowl, there is no way that the Ducks should consider themselves better than the Noles.

Not only do the Seminoles have the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Jameis Winston, but also their roster is stock full of players who know how to win and have come up big in clutch situations.

Yes, the Ducks are the better team on paper this season and lead the Seminoles in a host of statistical categories. However, if the Ducks are to win the Rose Bowl and advance to the College Football Playoff National Championship, they’re going to need to play their best game of the season.

Florida State is a team that is built to come back late in games. They’ve done it numerous times this season and did it in the BCS National Championship last year against Auburn.

Meanwhile, the Ducks are the best front-runners in the country and play their best football when they’re trying to close the door on an opponent. This will make for an interesting matchup come Jan. 1.

Let’s take a look at the five players who must be at their best in order for the Ducks to beat the defending national champs.

Begin Slideshow

Heisman Finalist Melvin Gordon on His Rushing Record Being Broken: 'It Sucks'

Heisman finalist Melvin Gordon rushed for 408 yards versus Nebraska to break LaDainian Tomlinson's record for rushing yards in a game, which had stood for 15 years.

But Gordon's record lasted far shorter than 15 years. Just one week later, Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine broke it when he ran for 427 yards against Kansas. 

Bleacher Report caught up with Gordon to get his thoughts on losing the single-game rushing record, which you can hear in the video above.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Is Paul Chryst the Right Choice for the Wisconsin Head Coaching Position?

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Pittsburgh head coach Paul Chryst is the leader for the Wisconsin head coaching position. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder and Adam Kramer breaks down Chryst at Wisconsin and what it would mean for the Badgers.

Is this the right move for Wisconsin?

Check out the video and let us know!  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Which League's All-Conference Team Would Win in a Playoff?

We are in the thick of superlative season: the time between the conference championship games and the bowl games, during which all major national- and conference-specific honors are presented.

Among these honors are the all-conference teams, which cobble together the best players at each position for a hypothetical depth chart in each of the 10 FBS leagues.

But what if they weren't hypothetical? Which league's all-conference team would win on the field?

For the sake of simplicity, the only leagues we looked at are the Power Five: the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. If you think one of the other conferences could compete — that's your prerogative, I guess. But the depth of talent in the major leagues suggests otherwise.

Sound off below to let us know which team you think is the best.

Begin Slideshow

D'Andre Walker Names Top 3: Which Program Is Best Fit for 4-Star DE?

D'Andre Walker set the stage for the final portion of his recruitment process Thursday by announcing a top-three list of Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia. The 4-star standout revealed the favorites in style, offering up some holiday spirit by using the "Elf Yourself" app to insert each team's logo in dancing elves' faces.

No, seriously. Take a look for yourself:

However you feel about his method of declaration—it gets a high grade from us for creativity—the details provide compelling insight regarding Walker's current collegiate outlook. The 6'2", 218-pound player is a crucial uncommitted prospect in SEC territory and presents elite pass-rushing prowess.

Walker, rated 11th nationally among weak-side defensive ends in 247Sports' composite rankings, spent his upperclassman career destroying offensive game plans at Langston Hughes High School in Georgia.

He holds a list of scholarship offers that includes Clemson, Alabama, Florida State and USC. Now that Walker has trimmed things down to three preferred destinations, let's take a look at which program appears to be the best fit.

 

Auburn

Head coach Gus Malzahn has assembled another impressive class built predominately on premier prospects at skill positions. Auburn could upgrade this group in the trenches, particularly along the defensive front.

The Tigers lack a top lineman on that side of the ball in this class, though this offensive line haul features three Peach State products. If Auburn can pull another key target out of Georgia, it would greatly enhance the overall balance of this class. 

Walker is capable of growing into a role similar to the one Dee Ford filled. He would also arrive on campus with familiarity within the Tigers' defensive unit.

High school teammate and inside linebacker Montavious Atkinson committed to Auburn in March. The duo traveled to campus together earlier this year:

 

Georgia

The Bulldogs are tremendously loaded with 2015 defensive linemen, including a pair of players who fit a similar mold as Walker. Natrez Patrick and Chauncey Rivers are capable of playing with their hands in the dirt along the perimeter or attacking from a stand-up position at linebacker.

That duo is joined by more traditional defensive ends in Michael Barnett and Jonathan Ledbetter, who flipped his commitment from Alabama to Georgia this summer. Trent Thompson, the nation's top-ranked defensive tackle, serves as the anchor of a loaded class.

"Between the veterans we have returning next year and the young guys like me coming in, we're going to have a lot of great players to work with," Thompson told Bleacher Report earlier this week. "Our defensive line should be special with people filling different roles. We can be an important part of a championship team."

Walker could add to that collection, but he would risk being buried on a stocked depth chart.

 

Tennessee

Walker traveled to Knoxville last weekend for an official visit with the Volunteers. The program has a need for edge-rushers who can consistently harass the quarterback and are capable of contributing at the second level.

Tennessee holds a pledge from 4-star defensive ends Andrew Butcher and Darrell Taylor, while tackles Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle provide substantial promise in interior roles. Walker would complement the group well and give Butch Jones another quality defender to implement in his scheme.

The Georgia star has visited Knoxville three times since June, establishing a solid rapport with the Volunteers' coaching staff. He should fully understand the team's expectations for him at this point and would continue positive momentum for a program on the upswing.

 

Verdict

Longstanding relationships with Georgia and Tennessee make this an extremely close call, but Walker's best fit is found at Auburn. He could join forces with his high school teammate in a class that currently needs more help throughout the defensive front seven than the other finalists.

His road to early playing time would be less crowded at Auburn, where he would be counted on to bulk up and patrol the perimeter with authority. Walker looks destined to land in the SEC, and the Tigers are an appropriate match.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football: Players Who Could Have a Breakout Performance in the Texas Bowl

The Texas Longhorns will have the chance to bounce back from the embarrassing regular-season finale loss to TCU with an upset win over Arkansas in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl.

A win over the Razorbacks could be exactly what Charlie Strong needs for added momentum heading into the offseason. But Strong will need a complete performance from his Longhorns in order to leave Houston with a win.

One of the most important players who needs a breakout game is quarterback Tyrone Swoopes.

Swoopes' performance in the Longhorns' Thanksgiving loss to the Horned Frogs was his worst game as a first-year starter. The quarterback had five turnovers that ultimately led to 24-points for TCU.

Strong made it clear the coaches have not given up on Swoopes but need to recruit better to bring more competition to the quarterback position.

A solid performance could not only help eliminate the criticism from his five-turnover game, but it could help him make a case as the starting quarterback for 2015.

In addition to making a case for his future, Swoopes will need to bring his best game to NRG Stadium against the Arkansas defense. The Razorbacks have struggled to come from behind in games this season.

The quarterback needs to get his offense off to a fast start and put up points early to force the Razorbacks to keep up with the Longhorns.

Swoopes has proven he can play at a high level and has a chance to continue to prove it against the Razorbacks.

But Swoopes will also need the help of his offensive weapons against Arkansas.

The quarterback's go-to guy this season has been fifth-year wide receiver John Harris.

Harris leads the Longhorns with 1,015 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. His breakout senior season could be even more special with a standout performance against a SEC defensive unit.

The Razorbacks have allowed an average 221 passing yards per game and 19 passing touchdowns. If Swoopes can play on point against Arkansas, Harris has a chance to increase his final season numbers in the Texas Bowl.

A lot of attention will be placed on the Texas offense in the bowl game, but one could argue this game will come down to the team with the best defense.

The Razorbacks offense consists of two 1,000-yard rushers in Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. The duo has combined for a total of 2,109 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Collins and Williams run behind a massive offensive line, which has helped open up the holes in the run game. Containing the backs will be an arduous task for the Texas run defense, which has allowed an average of 162 rushing yards per game and 16 rushing touchdowns.

The Longhorns' ability to stop the run could be the determining factor in the outcome of the game.

The entire defense will be tasked with containing the duo, but defensive tackle Malcom Brown and linebacker Jordan Hicks will be must-watch players for Texas.

Brown has been one of the biggest difference-makers for the Texas defense in his junior season. The 6'2", 320-pound tackle leads the Longhorns with 6.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss.

He has been a force to be reckoned with all season and has the chance of finishing off his junior year on a high note with a standout performance against the Razorbacks.

Fifth-year senior linebacker Hicks is arguably one of the most important players on the Texas defense. The 6'1", 234-pound linebacker racked up 138 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two interceptions in his fifth year at Texas.

His ability to make one-on-one tackles is one of the biggest upsides of the linebacker and he will need to bring that talent to the Texas Bowl.

In the end, the Longhorns will have their hands full in facing 6-6 Arkansas, but all hope is not lost for Texas.

If Swoopes can play consistently well and not turn over the football while the defense can find a way to stop Arkansas' run game, Texas will leave Houston with a win. But if either of those groups fails to perform to its ability, it could be a negative end of the season for the Longhorns.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter @Taylor_Gaspar.

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Everett Golson and Malik Zaire: Breaking Down Notre Dame's QB Situation

Not long after Notre Dame football officially announced it would battle LSU in the Music City Bowl on December 30, Irish head coach Brian Kelly said, “There’s competition at all positions.”

But the focus is certainly on the quarterback situation involving Everett Golson and Malik Zaire.

The ensuing competition is a certainty, something that wasn’t the case during the regular season when Golson was the clear-cut starter and Zaire was the etched-in-stone backup.

Beyond the confirmed competition, however, just what shape the quarterback competition will take is unclear, based on Kelly’s comments on Sunday.

“I think we have to, obviously, go into practice with a mindset of getting Everett and Malik both an opportunity to show what they’re made of and how they’re going to compete and allow us the opportunity for them to both grow but, at the same time, see what competition looks like from that standpoint of true competition,” Kelly told reporters.

As Kelly said, there wasn’t a “competitive situation” during the season. Now?

“We’re going to let them compete, and we’ll see where that puts us come game time.”

Notre Dame effectively has “another spring ball” to prepare for the future, starting with the bowl matchup against LSU.

The Irish will hold eight total practices before heading to Nashville, where there will be another five formal sessions—not to mention the other training. However, the timeframe to resolve the quarterback quandary is unclear.

“It may be eight practices. It may be a year,” Kelly said. “But I’m going to have to see what I need to see from both of them.”

Kelly said Sunday he had already had conversations with both Golson and Zaire, and he’ll now pay close attention to their work in practice.

“It will be when I see what I see will be the duration of that competition,” Kelly said.

So what is Kelly hoping to see? For Golson, it seems pretty obvious. Clean up the turnovers, which plagued the quarterback through the final nine games of the season. Golson tossed 14 interceptions and lost eight fumbles (with Notre Dame recovering four others this year) in the last nine games.

Everett Golson is responsible for 22 turnovers this year. 85 FBS teams have 21 or fewer turnovers.

— JJ Stankevitz (@JJStankevitz) November 30, 2014

Of course, Golson’s problems weren’t limited to just turnovers, though better ball security would assuredly solve the bulk of his—and Notre Dame’s offensive—issues.

After completing 25 consecutive passes against Syracuse in the fourth game of the season, Golson only connected on 55.5 percent of his passes in the next eight games, a rate that would have slotted him 90th among 100 qualifying quarterbacks in the FBS, according to cfbstats.com.

Zaire, meanwhile, stepped in during the first half against USC in the regular-season finale over Thanksgiving weekend and went 9-of-20 for 170 yards and a rushing touchdown.

Kelly is looking for more consistency from Zaire in practice.

“He has a tendency to fall off his throws a little bit,” Kelly said. “I think we saw that in his game performance. Made some really good throws, but has a tendency to lose his balance in his throws a little bit. Be more in balance on throws.”

Kelly said he’s pleased with Zaire’s handle of the running game, praising his communicative ability with the offensive line.

But whether Zaire or Golson grabs hold of the quarterback job heading into the bowl game doesn’t necessarily finalize the situation moving forward. Asked if the winner of this competition has a leg up going to the spring, Kelly said he is not sure.

“I think it really just depends on upon the factors of what improvements are made, what the attitude is,” Kelly said. “All those things come into play. There’s some things that have to change at that position.

“So we’re going to have to see how quickly they are, if we’re on the right track, if we’re making progress there. That could be an extension into the spring. I really think it’s just a matter of we’re going to have to take it really step by step.”

Those steps start with the bowl preparation and could continue through the spring, summer and fall, for all we know.

“The best I can give you is there’s a way I want that position to operate, and it’s going to operate the way I want it to operate," he said. "If you operate it the way I want it done, you’ll be the starting quarterback at Notre Dame.”

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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Michigan Football: Early Look at Wolverines Roster for 2015 Season

Michigan is coachless and Devin Funchess-less.

But it’s not talentless.

As a matter of fact, the new regime—led by San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh or LSU’s Les Miles or whomever—will have plenty to work with, manipulate and move to its liking in 2015.

That’s the outlook right now, anyway.

Despite having lost just about everyone from their upcoming recruiting class, the Wolverines have enough on the defensive and offensive side of the ball to win on Saturdays. Really, they had that in 2014—the only thing missing was a coaching staff capable of widely developing athletes at each position, not just a few at select spots.

Jake Butt, a tight end (maybe receiver?), and wideout Amara Darboh will be obvious keys to success when it comes to moving the ball through the air, while De’Veon Smith, Derrick Green and Ty Isaac will have to carry the load via ground game.

In light of Ray Taylor’s expired eligibility, Jourdan Lewis and Blake Countess must return as the leaders of the defensive backfield. Forget Team 135’s 5-7 record for a moment and remember that Lewis’ stock rose in 2014. However, Countess took a few steps in the wrong direction, but that’s not to say that he can’t rebound as a senior.

Sure, the program seems to be in limbo at the moment. However, once talks lead to the hiring of a coach, Michigan can set its priorities on making sure the Wolverines won’t be the Big Ten’s doormat next season.

It’s time to take a look at some of the key positions and personnel, as they’ll determine the immediate fortunes of Michigan football. That said, a full breakdown will be in order after things settle. 

 

Who’s the Quarterback?

Speculation, feelings and the direction of the wind are the only guides at the moment as the Wolverines probably haven't tabbed a leader at this juncture. 

The next likely candidate is Shane Morris, who’ll be a junior returning with 389 passing yards and five picks. As a sophomore, he completed 14 of 40 attempts for 128 yards and three interceptions.

That said, he looked much better as a freshman reliever during Michigan’s 2014 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl loss to Kansas State than he did this past fall.

But for the sake of his development, Michigan’s next coach better hope that the kid still has confidence.

During the team’s 2014 media day, Morris said that he was “100 percent ready” to start. That mentality probably hasn’t changed. However, the new staff will certainly take hard looks at incoming 4-star freshman Alex Malzone and will-be-redshirt-frosh Wilton Speight before making any decisions on who gets the top nod.

At 6’1.5” and 200 pounds, Malzone has adequate size with an above average arm. At 6’6” and 234 pounds, Speight has ideal size and returns, arguably, the team’s top arm.

There isn’t a proven commodity, but Morris has wheels and can throw. Speight regularly threw 50-yard bombs during warm-ups. And then there’s the hometown kid (Malzone) who won Michigan’s Mr. Football honors out of Brother Rice.

Not proven, but far from slim pickings.

 

Defense has Upside

Losing linebacker Jake Ryan and defensive end Brennen Beyer hurts. They were both among Big Ten leaders in tackles for loss during most of 2014. Ryan finished with 14 (No. 6 overall) and Beyer finished with 7.5, one behind Nebraska’s Randy Gregory, who was No. 20 in the league.

Defensive linemen Matt Godin, Taco Charlton and Bryan Mone are among logical successors to those posts, as are Willie Henry and Ondre Pipkins.

As a redshirt sophomore in 2014, Godin whet his appetite as a key backup for Greg Mattison’s No. 10-ranked total defense. The 6’6”, 286-pounder out of Novi finished with an unimpressive nine tackles but certainly showed a high motor.

It’s not every day that D-linemen get picks—he snagged one during Michigan’s ugly 10-9 road victory over Northwestern. Players such as Godin will help carry on the teachings of Mattison, who constructed a respectable corps in Ann Arbor during the past four years.

At 6’6” and 275 pounds, Charlton can do damage. He finished his sophomore year with 19 tackles, 5.5 of which were for a loss. Mone’s a bull. The 6’4”, 312-pounder should be one step closer to league-wide domination during his sophomore season.

And that’s even if Michigan isn’t very good overall. Mone dazzled when he was given the opportunity to smash someone.

Joe Bolden is another guy who’ll carry Mattison’s torch this fall.

As a junior, he displayed heart and leadership each week. He missed some tackles and wasn’t always in position, but he always took accountability for his transgressions—and those of others—and vowed to improve.  If anything, 2014 was a shocking learning experience that’ll aid the 6’3”, 231-pound linebacker this upcoming fall.

Along with James Ross and Royce Jenkins-Stone, his fellow-seniors-to-be, Bolden will likely be tasked with pushing underclassmen Noah Furbush, Mike McCray, Jared Wangler and Michael Ferns.

They won’t have to worry about junior Ben Gedeon. He’s on the up-and-up and could be the team’s top linebacker next season. The 6'3", 240-pounder has great instincts and knows how to hit. 

And they won't have to worry about Desmond Morgan, who sat out 2014 with an arm injury. The 6'1", 232-pounder has 31 starts to his credit. 

 

Special Teams

Now that kicker Matt Wile and punter Will Hagerup are out of the picture, it’s on Kenny Allen and Andrew David to split uprights and pin teams into corners. At 6’3” and 220 pounds, Allen has a ton of leg. David was the No. 7 kicker of the 2015 class, per 247Sports.

 

Stay Breezy

Peppers spent his freshman year pumping iron, as evidenced by a photo tweeted by College Spun. Due to a lower-body and/or ankle injury, the former 5-star recruit saw action in just three games for Michigan in 2014.

He’s listed at 6’1” and 202 pounds. It’s safe to say he’s put on at least 15 pounds since arriving to Ann Arbor. What coach wouldn’t want to coach this kid? Peppers—despite not having the chance to show off the goods—remains Michigan’s most-hyped player in years.

Imagine what’ll happen when he’s a regular. That’s something to look forward to, despite the mayhem in Ann Arbor.

 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and references were obtained firsthand by the writer

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Xavier Lewis Suffers Stroke: Updates on Wyoming Safety's Recovery

Wyoming sophomore Xavier Lewis suffered a stroke late Wednesday night. Luckily, teammate Eric Nzeocha was there, recognized the symptoms and rushed the safety to the hospital for potentially life-saving treatment.

Mike Vorel of the Casper Star-Tribune reports Lewis was transported from the local hospital to Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, Colorado. The player's father, Quentin Lewis, told the outlet he's now resting and making swift strides in his recovery:

He's back in Colorado right now, resting and recovering. It's a work in progress. We've got a lot of faith as a family. We've all bonded together, and Xavier's coming through it. He's progressing fast.

The elder Lewis also said his son has received plenty of support from the Cowboys. Numerous coaches and players have either made the trip to visit him in the hospital or have called to send along their well wishes already.

Wide receiver Tanner Simpson was among those to post message of support on social media:

Lewis' father also praised Nzeocha for knowing what to do in a difficult situation and getting to the hospital as soon as he knew something was wrong.

"Eric Nzeocha saved him," Quentin Lewis said. "You have to give him the most accolades ever. The kids that have now stood behind Xavier, to me as a parent, that’s the best thing in the world."

Obviously things could have been a lot worse if not for those quick actions. Now, it sounds like Lewis is already making his way down the road to recovery.

 

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The Freshmen Running Backs Who Lit the World on Fire in 2014

The story of the Rose Bowl will be obvious. The Granddaddy of Them All will pair this year's likely Heisman winner, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, against the reigning Heisman winner, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. However, the outcome of one of the College Football Playoff's semifinal games may not specifically come down to either. 

Forget the passing games for a minute; running backs Royce Freeman of Oregon and Dalvin Cook at Florida State could be as important as Mariota or Winston. As far as impact freshmen go, you'd be hard-pressed to find a pair more crucial to their team's success in the playoff. 

Cook and Freeman were blue-chip, sought-after prospects. Specifically, Cook was a 5-star recruit and considered the No. 1 player in the state of Florida, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. Freeman was a 4-star recruit, listed as the No. 6 running back nationally and No. 4 player in California. 

That's where the similarities end. Their paths to this point have been different, not to mention that they bring different elements to their respective team's offense.

Freeman is the production guy: Only two other freshman running backs—Oklahoma's Samaje Perine and Western Michigan's Jarvion Franklin—have more yards than Freeman's 1,299. Listed at 6'0" and 229 pounds on his official profile, Freeman is the bruising back that the Ducks have missed for some time. As B/R's Adam Kramer explained in October, Freeman is more Stanford than he is Oregon. 

“You see a young freshman running back not looking like a freshman running back,” Stanford coach David Shaw told Kramer. “He’s coming into his own as a really, really good college football player.”

Cook, interestingly enough, is the opposite. The track star who once ran a 10.92 in a 100-meter race provides the spark Florida State's offense has needed when struggling. He does lead the Seminoles in rushing with 905 yards, but Cook really emerged in the second half of the season over Karlos Williams. 

That's not to say Freeman lacks speed or that Cook lacks power, but their crisscrossed styles have made each offense more complete in the most unlikely ways. 

So, what can each do in the Rose Bowl?

Freeman has the chance to feast. It's no secret that Florida State's defense is less efficient than last year's group, according to Football Outsiders' FEI rankings. Specifically, the Seminoles have given up at least four yards per rush in eight games this season. Most recently, Georgia Tech ran all up and down the Seminoles in the ACC championship. 

Of course, Georgia Tech's option offense is tough to prepare for in a week's time. Not to mention, it's a physically taxing offense to defend and shed blocks against. Furthermore, Florida State has gone up against some tough offenses

The question is whether the Ducks can continue to be physical against Florida State, as Oregon hasn't faced the toughest defensive strength of schedule this season. For what it's worth, though, the Ducks racked up 267 yards on 5.8 yards per carry against their toughest defensive opponent, Stanford. Freeman had 98 yards on 19 carries in that game. 

For Cook, it's about picking up where he left off. His breakout game came on Oct. 30 in a win over Louisville in which he had nine carries for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Four of his five games since have had double-digit carries. He surpassed the century mark in wins over Florida and Georgia Tech. Of Florida State's 32 rushes against the Yellow Jackets, Cook was responsible for 31. 

Florida State's offensive line has been better over the second half of the season, but Cook gives the Seminoles a speed element that Williams simply doesn't. 

The knock on Oregon, fair or not, is that it hasn't been able to match up well against physical teams like Stanford. That narrative was debunked, at least in part, in a convincing 45-16 win over the Cardinal in November. 

Oregon can debunk it for good against Florida State. However the Rose Bowl plays out, though, take a few minutes and look beyond the quarterback on each sideline. We know it could be Mariota and Winston's last college game. The future of each program could be lined up beside/behind them. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com unless noted elsewhere. 

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5-Star Iman Marshall Finally Gets Alabama Offer: What Took So Long?

Alabama has assembled the nation's No. 1 recruiting class by acquiring top prospects from across the country. Days after landing a commitment from coveted Georgia linebacker Adonis Thomas, Nick Saban has turned his attention to California defensive back Iman Marshall.

The 5-star Long Beach Poly High School senior shared the development Thursday evening on his Twitter account:

His offer comes as a bit of a surprise. Not because it isn't warranted—Marshall is the top-rated cornerback in 247Sports' composite rankings—but because of its timing.

The 6'1", 190-pound playmaker has collected dozens of scholarship offers during his high school career and is entering the final stretch of a frenzied recruitment. Strangely enough, Alabama waited to pull the trigger on a scholarship until eight weeks before national signing day.

Marshall mentioned the Crimson Tide as a team of interest early in the process but, without an offer, he's focused his attentions elsewhere. Stanford, USC and UCLA are still in the picture as in-state options, but he's set to explore opportunities elsewhere now that his final high school season is finished.

Notre Dame welcomes him to campus this weekend, while Oklahoma, LSU and Florida State are also expected to receive official visits. Marshall previously pegged Michigan as one of his five official visits, but the struggling program no longer appears to be part of the equation.

Could Alabama swoop in and secure an on-campus sales pitch before his decision is made?

The Crimson Tide should be aided by Marshall's placement on Team White in the 2015 Under Armour All-America Game. The event, set for January 2 in St. Petersburg, Florida, features nine Alabama commits on the same roster.

Blake Barnett, a 5-star California quarterback, is among them and has a solid relationship with Marshall.

"Receivers really have to fight to get open against him because he always seems to be on the attack," Barnett told me this summer. "He's pretty fearless. That definitely doesn't make it easy on us quarterbacks."

Top-rated wide receiver and Crimson Tide commit Calvin Ridley will also compete for Team White. He matched up against Marshall in July at The Opening, an invite-only prospect showcase at Nike's world headquarters in Oregon.

"Marshall is the No. 1 cornerback in this class," Ridley told me afterward. "I caught a big pass against him, but he was always right on me, fighting for the ball. He doesn't fall for any moves either, so he stays with you the whole time."

The Team White defensive backfield also includes Alabama pledges Shawn Burgess-Becker and Deionte Thompson.

Lauded for his physicality and smooth coverage skills, Marshall believes his off-field efforts ultimately separate him from the pack.

"Preparation is so important because it helps you react as quickly as possible, and that’s what playing defensive back is all about," he told me at the start of this season. "When you study something over and over again, nothing is a surprise anymore. You understand what’s coming—the formations, the schemes, everything."

Marshall is arguably the premier uncommitted player remaining in this cycle, putting plenty of pressure on programs to seal the deal as signing day approaches. Alabama may be late to the party, but it sure does provide some unexpected intrigue at a pivotal stage of the pursuit.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report national college football recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue.

Ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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