NCAA Football News

Sugar Bowl 2015: Bold Predictions for Alabama vs. Ohio State Showdown

In a game like the 2015 Sugar Bowl, in which every position on the field will be analyzed ad nauseam up until kickoff, the unexpected is pretty much guaranteed to happen at some point.

When two teams with the prestige and coaching staff of Alabama and Ohio State get together for an elimination game, the near month of preparation turns out to be crucial. Known football geniuses like Alabama's Nick Saban and Ohio State's Urban Meyer will undoubtedly have different things up their sleeve, and the game's momentum will hinge on that.

Predicting something like a dominating running performance from Alabama's stable of backs would be moot. Meanwhile, other positions and aspects of the game brushed under the rug will emerge to the forefront and play a much larger role than expected.

Let's take a look at what those will be, breaking down some bold predictions for the Sugar Bowl.

 

Cardale Jones Will Pass for 300-Plus Yards

Having one quarterback simply step in for the other will be easier said than done against the vaunted Alabama defense. But despite the tough matchup, Cardale Jones won't blink at the chance to take on a downtrodden Tide secondary.

Alabama as a unit has been on fire to finish the season, but its passing defense has been anything but. The Tide allowed 272 yards passing from Maty Mauk in the SEC title game, 456 from Nick Marshall in the Iron Bowl and even 221 through the air by lowly Western Carolina.

Jones didn't have to do much through the air against Wisconsin, only throwing 17 times. But the Crimson Tide defense will make it a priority to shut down running back Ezekiel Elliott and put the onus on Jones to make the plays downfield.

Although Saban knows the lack of film on Jones will open things up for Ohio State, there won't be much they can do to stop him through the air, per ESPN's Adam Rittenberg:

Priority No. 1 for the Tide will be keeping Elliott in front of them, which will create some favorable matchups on the outside for Jalin Marshall and Devin Smith. Jones isn't a polished passer, but he'll make some big-time throws to make for a strong offensive outing.

 

DeAndrew White—Not Amari Cooper—Will Grab Two TDs

All the focus around Alabama football has been on Amari Cooper since the season ended, as he ringed in the Biletnikoff Award and a Heisman finalist spot. The focus for Ohio State will fittingly be on Cooper as well in the Sugar Bowl, and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will take advantage.

Cooper has been wrecking foes who game-plan for him all season long, but the Tide will be ready for aggressive packages scheming for him against Ohio State. And they'll have no problem using that extra attention to generate some big plays for their senior wideout DeAndrew White.

White is no stranger to making big plays for the Tide despite Cooper's presence, grabbing four touchdowns on the year—including one each against Missouri and Auburn. In White's long touchdown play against Missouri, it was the threat of Cooper that helped White to get open—spurring some early celebration from Kiffin.

Smart Football's Chris B. Brown is one of few who have noticed White's threat despite Cooper's obvious stardom:

Cooper is simply unstoppable with a single defender, which means the Buckeyes will be mixing things up to complicate routes for the Tide receivers. Even if they have some success in doing so, it will open things up even more for White to make huge plays.

White—at 6'0"—won't be jumping over any defenders to score touchdowns in the Superdome, but he won't have to with Cooper and Kiffin working to get him wide-open looks.

 

Alabama Will Win a Close One

Ohio State beat the odds to make it into the College Football Playoff, but that's about as far as many think the Buckeyes will go. In fact, Odds Shark had the Crimson Tide as massive 9.5-point favorites as of December 13.

Alabama will prove its No. 1 ranking true with a victory, but it won't be nearly as easy as the oddsmakers predict.

The Crimson Tide are undoubtedly battle-tested after topping some of the nation's best teams down the stretch, but they rarely have gone up against such a formidable offense. And when they have, struggles have inevitably followed—just look at Auburn's offensive success in the Iron Bowl.

Jones will find the seams down the field early in the game, putting the pressure on Alabama's offense to keep pace. That sort of pressure has stalemated the Tide's offense at times, although they've shown all it takes is one drive to kick the unit back into gear. 

With the Buckeyes featuring stout run-stuffers Joey Bosa and Joshua Perry, Alabama won't be able to run the ball to its liking. The Buckeyes' passing game won't come up big in the fourth quarter but will at least have them in position late.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Ohio State 24

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Rose Bowl 2015: Key Questions in Massive Oregon vs. Florida State Matchup

Some may still hold a grudge against the selection committee for ranking Ohio State fourth, but everybody can agree that the Rose Bowl is a fantastic matchup on paper.

It's hard to create any sort of good vs. evil angle in college football, but Oregon vs. Florida State comes pretty close.

On one side, you've got the Seminoles, led by perhaps the most vilified player in the country, Jameis Winston, and the subject of muchdiscussion for its handling of players' off-field issues. Bleacher Report's Tom Weir wrote that head coach Jimbo Fisher has been a lightning rod for many fans who loathe the 'Noles:

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

On the other side stand the Ducks, who play an exciting brand of football and score points for fun. Oregon's also led by reigning Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, whom NFL.com's Albert Breer described as a "choir boy" in September:

This is one of those games where even fans without a dog in the fight are choosing sides. The committee couldn't have picked a better way to kick off the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Heading into "The Granddaddy of Them All," these three questions continue to linger.

 

Will Florida State Have to Recover from Another Slow Start?

Perhaps not since Ohio State in 2002 has an unbeaten team had so many brushes with mortality. Florida State's modus operandi is starting games slowly, generally until halftime. Then Fisher makes the necessary adjustments, and the Seminoles transform into a different team in the second half.

So far, the strategy hasn't proven fatal. Miami, Louisville and Notre Dame all held first-half leads against FSU, only to fall. The Hurricanes held a 23-7 edge at one point in the second quarter, while the Cardinals had a 21-point lead in the first.

The problem with taking the first 20-25 minutes to get going against Oregon is twofold.

First, the Ducks can score a ton of points in a short amount of time. On average, they're putting up a point for every 78 seconds of game action.

Ask Utah how quickly Oregon can turn the tide of a game.

The Utes were within a yard of taking a 14-0 lead over the Ducks back in November. Then Kaelin Clay fatefully dropped the ball in celebration before he had actually reached the end zone. Joe Walker recovered and ran the length of the field for the Oregon touchdown. That score sparked a 24-point outburst in the second quarter, and the game invariably swung toward the Ducks.

The other potential problem for Florida State is that Oregon generally doesn't stop scoring in the second half. It's not like the Ducks start out hot and then fizzle as the game unfolds. According to TeamRankings.com, they're third in the country in second-half scoring (20.8 points).

 

Can Oregon Defense Stifle Jameis Winston?

Giving up a high volume of yards isn't necessarily an indictment of a team's defense. Oregon helps drive that point home.

The Ducks rank 80th in total defense (413.8 YPG); however, according to Football Outsiders' S&P+ rating, they're the 12th-best defensive team in the country.

It's only natural that a defense will give up yards in punches when the offense uses such a quick-strike strategy.

Still, those wins against Washington State, California and UCLA, and the loss to Arizona offer some possible warning signs for Oregon. Those four teams combined to average 526.7 yards when playing the Ducks.

After the Arizona defeat, some fans were calling for defensive coordinator Don Pellum's head.

Jake Zivin of KEZI 9 News in Eugene felt those fans were a little to quick to cast judgment on Pellum:

In general, the Ducks have prevented opposing quarterbacks from playing well above expectations, as Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel pointed out:

The Ducks are experienced going against high-octane passing attacks, but FSU’s pro-style look with this many weapons will present different challenges. Still, Oregon has fared well against QBs with similar passer ratings (UCLA’s Brett Hundley, Michigan State’s Connor Cook, and Cal’s Jared Goff) as Winston’s of 146.96, keeping Hundley to a rating of 131.74, Cook to a rating of 128.53 and Goff to a rating of 132.38. In all instances, these quarterbacks were held to at least one yard below their yard-per-attempt average. [...]

Because Oregon is so aggressive with its blitz packages, quarterbacks are forced to get rid of the ball earlier. This strong secondary closes quickly and tackles well in space, limiting big plays against a lot of these spread offenses.

It's no secret that Florida State goes about as far as Winston takes them. When he's off, the entire team's off. When Winston's on, he can compensate for whatever issues are affecting the Seminoles on the field.

Throwing Winston out of his comfort zone will be Oregon's No. 1 objective.

 

Will Oregon Have Problems Protecting Marcus Mariota?

There couldn't have been a more fitting end for Oregon's only loss in 2014. As the Ducks were driving for the potential game-tying score late in the fourth, Mariota was forced out of the pocket and ran right into the reach of Scooby Wright III, who forced a turnover and sealed the win for Arizona.

Oregon's offensive line wasn't dreadful early in the season, but it was clearly an issue. As a result, the Ducks were far too reliant on their Heisman-winning QB doing something incredible. It was the old Bo Jackson Tecmo Bowl strategy.

"The worst thing you want is to have your name in the paper, really, as an offensive lineman or an offensive line coach," said Steve Greatwood, Oregon's offensive line coach, per USA Today's Paul Myerberg. "When we were going through that rough stretch I'd never been interviewed more in my life. That's not really what you want."

Myerberg explained how Greatwood took a more simplistic approach to practices, which allowed the players to focus more on their areas of concern and helped rebuild the confidence of the entire O-line.

"It's something that as a coach you're always kind of trying to decide where to spend your time," Greatwood said. "But if you can't execute fundamentally, then all the Xs and the Os aren't going to help you."

The Arizona game was the nadir for the Oregon offensive line this year, and the entire unit steadily improved as the season unfolded. Just look at the difference between Mariota against the Wildcats in that October loss and then the Pac-12 Championship Game.

As a team, Florida State sacked the opposing quarterback just 17 times, good for 107th in the nation. In Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman, though, the 'Noles have two players who can wreak havoc on Mariota if Oregon's offensive line regresses to its early-season form.

Goldman was injured in the ACC Championship Game, but Fisher brushed aside any concerns that he'd be out for the Rose Bowl, per Tim Linafelt of Seminoles.com:

Oregon will have back Rimington Trophy finalist Hroniss Grasu to help bolster the interior of the line, which will help allay any concerns Ducks fans have about how the team will handle the FSU front seven.

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Auburn Freshman Tight End Jakell Mitchell Shot and Killed Near University Campus

Auburn tight end and redshirt freshman Jakell Mitchell was shot and killed at an apartment complex near the university early Sunday morning.  

Brandon Marcello of AL.com has more:

Police responded to the Tiger Lodge apartment complex at 12:25 a.m., where Mitchell suffered a fatal injury, Auburn police Capt. Will Matthews told AL.com.

Mitchell was rushed to East Alabama Medical Center by ambulance with multiple gunshot wounds, according to the Lee County Coroner's Office. He died shortly after arriving at the emergency room. The death is being treated as a homicide. An autopsy will be performed in Montgomery.

No arrests have been made, and the police are still searching for suspects.

The shooting took place in the same apartment complex where former Auburn players Ed Christian and Ladarious Phillips were murdered by Desmonte Leonard at a summer party in 2012. Per Marcello, "[Leonard] was convicted of capital murder, attempted murder and assault in October and will be sentenced Jan. 7."

Mitchell spent the 2014 season as a redshirt but was expected to compete for a starting spot in 2015 with seniors Brandon Fulse and C.J. Uzomah graduating this season.

The tragedy comes on the heels of Auburn bringing back Will Muschamp to serve as the team's defensive coordinator, per ESPN.com. The mood has turned from one of excitement to sadness and mourning at Auburn.

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College Football Playoff Championship 2015: Odds and Predictions for Semifinals

Fear not, college football fans, for New Year's Day will be here before you know it.

The weeks between the conference championships and the start of the playoff will feel like an eternity, especially for those fans with a rooting interest in one of the two semifinal games.

The final product should be more than worth the wait, as either of the two playoff games could easily serve as a national championship by itself.

 

Sugar Bowl

No. 1 Alabama (-9.5) vs. No. 4 Ohio State

Over the last few years, Ohio State's built a reputation for being a very good football team but one not quite ready for prime time, especially when playing the cream of the crop from the SEC. The Buckeyes might have a 2011 Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas, but that did little to counter the back-to-back national championship losses to Florida and LSU in 2006 and 2007 by a combined 41 points.

Hiring Urban Meyer was supposed to bridge that perceived gap between Ohio State and the likes of Alabama, LSU, Florida, Auburn, etc.

Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod wrote an article titled "Is Ohio State 'SEC Enough' to Beat Alabama in the College Football Playoff?" and argued that Meyer's work on the recruiting trail has helped put the Buckeyes on level pegging:

Ohio State will always possess plenty of players from its own talent-rich state, but one glance at the Buckeyes' roster shows that this is far from your father's Ohio State squad.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a key player on this year's Buckeyes team who wasn't wooed by a school from the SEC, as Meyer hasn't been afraid to go head-to-head with his former conference on the recruiting trail.

Meyer has been able to wrestle defensive end Joey Bosa (Alabama, Florida), running back Ezekiel Elliott (Missouri), cornerback Eli Apple (Alabama), safety Vonn Bell (Alabama, Tennessee), H-back Dontre Wilson (Texas A&M), running back Curtis Samuel (Florida, Tennessee) and linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Alabama, Georgia) away from the grasp of the SEC, while also keeping Ohioans Jalin Marshall (Tennessee) and Erick Smith (Alabama) away from the pull of America's best conference.

Meyer has done extremely well to build Ohio State into a national powerhouse again, but the Buckeyes might not be No. 1 just yet.

Cardale Jones looked great against Wisconsin, but he's still a third-string quarterback who's made one career college start. In his second start, he'll play the best team in the country in a national semifinal. That's a ton of pressure on an inexperienced quarterback.

Of course, Ohio State could benefit from the element of surprise. Alabama head coach Nick Saban said he has to plan for any number of looks from the Buckeyes offense, per ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg:

There's also the question as to whether Ezekiel Elliott can continue his strong run of form against an Alabama defense that ranks second in the country in rushing yards allowed (88.7 YPG). According to ESPN.com's Jungkyu Lee, the Tide are the only FBS team that hasn't allowed an opposing running back to run for more than 90 yards, while they've given up just 34 runs of 10 yards or more, first in the country.

As if that's not enough for Meyer to worry about, there's also quite possibly the most balanced offense in the country on the other side of the field, one that's improved since Lane Kiffin's arrival.

Alabama's the top seed in the country for a reason. The Crimson Tide are the best team from top to bottom on both sides of the ball, and it's never a good idea to bet against Saban in a big game.

An Ohio State upset wouldn't be all that surprising, but Alabama should edge out a close win.

Prediction: Alabama 30, Ohio State 24

 

Rose Bowl

No. 2 Oregon (-9.5) vs. No. 3 Florida State

Sooner or later, starting games slowly is bound to bite a team in the rear end. Florida State generally takes at least 15-20 minutes to really get going, but after a poor first quarter, Oregon could have already built an unassailable lead.

With that said, the Seminoles didn't win 29 games in a row by accident. Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich isn't going to downplay a winning streak like that, per Corey Clark of the Tallahassee Democrat:

It's crazy to think that the only unbeaten FBS team in the country would be an underdog in the playoff, but that's exactly the case for the 'Noles. As a result, you can count on FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher using that slight as the proverbial "bulletin-board material":

In a way, many of the criticisms toward Florida State were said about Ohio State in 2002. How may discounted the Buckeyes for their close victories and penchant for winning games ugly?

But if the 'Noles start the Rose Bowl like they did against Florida, Miami and Louisville, they'll be dead in the water. Oregon's averaging 46.3 points a game, and the Ducks don't slow down in the second half. According to TeamRankings.com, they're third in second-half scoring.

Florida State will also be in a lot of trouble if it can't get pressure on Marcus Mariota. When the Ducks went through their rough patch around the end of September through early October, much of the problems stemmed from an inability to protect Mariota.

The more time he has in the pocket, the more comfortable he becomes. Mariota can pick apart an opposing defense when he's not under fire on every down. The more successful Mariota is, the more Royce Freeman and the Oregon running game can attack the FSU defense.

The Ducks will get a boost in the form of center Hroniss Grasu, who missed the last couple of months. In what is a sign of his immense talent, Grasu was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy despite his injury:

With Grasu on the line, Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman won't be able to manhandle the Ducks offensive line.

Another red flag for the Seminoles is their inability to constantly harass the quarterback. Sacks aren't the perfect indicator for a team's pass rush, but ranking 107th in the nation in QB sacks is a worry when trying to stop somebody like Mariota.

If FSU isn't getting constant pressure on him, then Oregon can dictate the pace and turn the game in its favor.

The Ducks will likely run out to a big lead in the first or second quarter. Fisher will make his halftime adjustments, but it will be too little too late for the Seminoles.

Prediction: Oregon 38, Florida State 34

 

Note: Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl opening lines are courtesy of OddsShark.com.

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Bowl Games 2014-15: Schedule and Winning Predictions for College Football Slate

College football bowl season is among the most exciting stretches in sports, and the 2014-15 schedule features 39 intriguing matchups that should have fans interested for weeks.

Much of the focus is on the inaugural College Football Playoff for good reason, but there are other potentially thrilling games worth watching as well. They won't all be classics, but each and every contest will be of interest for one reason or another.

Here is a full rundown of where and when you can catch every bowl game, along with winning predictions and a closer look at some of the marquee bowls that will impact the college football landscape.

 

Breaking Down Top Matchups

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

In what is unquestionably one of the most highly anticipated college football matchups this season, the No. 2 Oregon Ducks and No. 3 Florida State Seminoles will meet in the Rose Bowl as part of the College Football Playoff semifinals.

On paper, there is more to love about this game than perhaps any other on the schedule. FSU is undefeated as well as the defending national champion, while Oregon is a perennial contender that is hoping to finally have a shot at playing for the title.

Despite being in the midst of a 29-game winning streak, the Seminoles are heavy underdogs. That breaks a long string of games in which Florida State has been favored, according to Evan Abrams of ESPN Stats & Info:

Truth be told, the Noles have gotten very little respect this season. Many of their victories have come by the skin of their teeth, but they have a certain intangible factor that other teams don't. Not to mention, they have the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Jameis Winston.

With so many people doubting Florida State's ability to repeat as the national champion, former Heisman winner Desmond Howard believes it will be extra motivated, per ESPN College Football:

That may be the case, but the Seminoles will still have to deal with Oregon and its No. 3-ranked scoring offense. The Ducks have a Heisman winner in their own right in the form of signal-caller Marcus Mariota, which could make this one of the greatest quarterback matchups in college football history.

This game undoubtedly has the potential to be an all-time great, and the fact that there is so much riding on it will make it that much better.

 

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

It may not quite measure up to Oregon vs. Florida State, but the other CFP semifinal isn't too shabby in its own right. No. 1 Alabama will face No. 4 Ohio State in a Sugar Bowl clash between two of the most storied programs in college football.

The Crimson Tide have been viewed as the best team in the nation for much of the season, so it comes as no surprise that most expect them to win. The Buckeyes have only one loss just like Bama, but they barely squeaked in as the last CFP team just ahead of Baylor and TCU.

Also, history isn't in Ohio State's favor. According to SportsCenter, the Buckeyes have never managed to beat Alabama:

If that weren't enough, the Buckeyes have some question marks at the most vital position. Sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones stepped in and played remarkably well for OSU in a Big Ten Championship Game thrashing of Wisconsin, but he is a relative unknown compared to J.T. Barrett, who went down for the season.

Even so, it wouldn't be wise to totally discount Ohio State's chances. The Buckeyes are playing with house money to some degree, and the pressure is clearly on Alabama's shoulders. Because of that, Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer plans to be aggressive, per Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch:

That won't be easy against the Crimson Tide's No. 4 scoring defense. Also, Alabama has a dynamic offense in its own right with quarterback Blake Sims, running back T.J. Yeldon and Heisman Trophy candidate wide receiver Amari Cooper.

It isn't often that two programs with the pedigrees of Alabama and Ohio State meet up, so there is every reason for college football fans to be giddy.

 

Cotton Bowl: No. 5 Baylor vs. No. 8 Michigan State

Baylor and its fans may feel slighted after being left out of the College Football Playoff, but the consolation prize is a good one as the Bears will battle the Michigan State Spartans in the Cotton Bowl.

This is arguably the top matchup outside the CFP, and there is no question that both teams want to make a statement. In addition to that, this game will feature a clash of styles that has Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports among those who are excited about it:

Some may believe that Baylor will enter the game flat and without motivation after missing out on its ultimate goal. Perhaps that will ultimately be the case, but head coach Art Briles has been nothing but positive about his team's situation, according to the Cotton Bowl Classic on Twitter:

In many ways, the Bears have something to prove. If they lose to the Spartans, then everyone will assume that the CFP selection committee made the right decision. If Baylor wins, though, it will help build credibility that will help when it comes to reaching the CFP in future seasons.

The Bears boast the best offense in college football with quarterback Bryce Petty and running back Shock Linwood leading the way. Although the Spartans don't receive as much hype as Baylor in that regard, they are seventh in scoring thanks to the play of quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford.

Michigan State is also 12th in scoring defense, which is why this will be such a big challenge for Baylor. If it can overcome the Spartans, though, this could be a landmark win for the program.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Heisman Trophy Winner 2014: Marcus Mariota Is Deserving of Sport's Top Award

In many ways, the University of Oregon Ducks' Marcus Mariota was like a preseason No. 1 team in the old BCS system. He began the year as one of—if not the— favorites to win the Heisman Trophy award.

Like a preseason No. 1 that goes undefeated and never relinquishes the top ranking, Mariota coasted to the Heisman Trophy without ever faltering through the 2014 campaign. On Saturday, it became official. The star junior quarterback from Oregon became the school's first Heisman Trophy winner.

Stephen Nelson of Bleacher Report had the official voting results.

Per ESPN College GameDay, here's how Mariota's dominance in the voting compares to other runaway winners.

The Ducks lost to the Arizona Wildcats on Oct. 2. But even in that game, Mariota made a solid account of himself. Against the Wildcats, Mariota completed 20 of 32 passes for 276 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. In the rematch in the Pac-12 Championship Game, Mariota was even better. He threw for 313 yards and two more scores in Oregon's 51-13 romp.

All year long, Mariota was the picture of consistency and excellence. He threw just two interceptions during the season, while throwing for 3,783 yards and a whopping 38 touchdown passes.

As impressive as his individual numbers and the Ducks' 12-1 record are, what seems to make Mariota all the more worthy of the Heisman are his intangibles.

You'd be hard pressed to find anyone with a negative word to say about his leadership qualities. In fact, here's a glimpse of the way Twitter reacted after Mariota was named the winner.

The Ducks' star is always humble, and he gave his teammates and coaches much of the credit for his success. 

Both the Wisconsin Badgers' Melvin Gordon and Alabama Crimson Tide's Amari Cooper have similar qualities, but Mariota's responsibilities as a quarterback likely gave him the nod over the other two finalists.

Whether the Ducks lose to the Florida State Seminoles or go on to win the national championship, Mariota's next individual distinction could be as the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.

As it stands, the Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans are all just 2-11. The Titans, Bucs and Jets would likely take Mariota in a heartbeat if they land the top pick. The Raiders and Jags just drafted quarterbacks last season, so they may be more apt to trade down to a team that covets the Heisman winner.

In any case, 2014 has been great for the 21-year-old from Honolulu, but 2015 could be even better.

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Oregon's Marcus Mariota Gives Heartfelt Acceptance Speech After Winning Heisman

In a move that surprised very few people, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota capped off his fantastic season by winning the 2014 Heisman Trophy with 95 percent of the votes.

Another highlight of Mariota's season came in his tearful acceptance speech, in which he thanked his teammates, coaches, teachers, the Polynesian community, his family and more. 

[YouTube]

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2015 5-Star QB Jarrett Stidham Decommits from Texas Tech

The Texas Tech Red Raiders have lost the crown jewel of their 2015 recruiting class.

Five-star quarterback Jarrett Stidham announced on Twitter that he has decommitted from the school:

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Stidham is the third-best dual-threat quarterback and 26th-best player overall in the country. By securing Stidham's commitment, Red Raiders head coach Kliff Kingsbury sent a message to the rest of the Big 12 that Tech was a team in the ascendancy.

Now, Kingsbury and the rest of his staff are thrown for a loop.

Aaron Dickens of RedRaiderSports.com notes the timing of the decision couldn't be much worse, with Kingsbury soon unable to meet with Stidham to try and lure him back to Lubbock, Texas:

All signs pointed to Stidham becoming a Red Raider in 2015, especially after signing a financial-aid agreement with the school in August, per Max Olson of ESPN.com:

David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest believes this is an almost unprecedented situation:

Daniel Paulling of 247Sports reported that Stidham could be concerned about playing time upon his potential arrival at Texas Tech:

A source close to the situation says Stidham's decommitment revolves around whether he'd redshirt his freshman year or play immediately. ... Red Raiders head coach Kliff Kingsbury said the quarterback competition in spring workouts would be “wide open” between Stidham, who was set to enroll at Tech in January, Patrick Mahomes, Davis Webb, walk-on Vincent Testaverde and Nic Shimonek.

Kingsbury and offensive coordinator Eric Morris made an in-home visit with Stidham on Sunday.

Freshman Mahomes threw for 598 yards and six touchdowns in a 48-46 loss to Baylor on Nov. 29. According to ESPN.com's Jake Trotter, Stidham was at the game:

Trotter then added credence to the notion that Baylor could now be in play for Stidham:

With a recruiting dead period rapidly approaching, time is running out for coaches to make their case in front of the prep star until the calendar turns over to 2015.

Once the window opens again, though, you can bet that the race to secure Stidham's commitment will be furious.

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Heisman Trophy 2014: Winner, Voting Results and Highlights from Award Ceremony

To the surprise of almost no one, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota won the 2014 Heisman Trophy, becoming the first Ducks player to win the award.

Oregon celebrated Mariota's triumph on Twitter:

Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman provided the top 10 vote-getters. Melvin Gordon and Amari Cooper, the other two Heisman finalists, finished second and third, respectively:

The voting wasn't even close. Many wondered if this would be the biggest landslide in Heisman history. According to Feldman, Mariota collected the second-highest percentage of possible points ever:

In addition, voters listed Mariota on a little over 95 percent of the Heisman ballots, which is the highest total ever, per Nicole Auerbach of USA Today:

Fox Sports' Joel Klatt was more surprised that any voters left Mariota off their ballot:

Many expected Saturday's presentation to be a coronation for Mariota, with Cooper and Gordon being present to at least present some form of drama. The voting bears out just how far ahead Mariota was from the rest of the competition.

Former Heisman winner Tim Tebow praised Mariota's composure, per ESPN College Football:

USA Today's Paul Myerberg noted that Mariota not only beat out Cooper and Gordon but also overcame the perceived East Coast bias:

Jim Plunkett at Stanford in 1970 was the last winner from a West Coast school that wasn't Southern Cal.

Mariota is also the first Hawaiian-born player to win the Heisman, and it's a designation he isn't taking lightly. During the press conference before the presentation on Saturday, Mariota said that his triumph could serve as motivation for other Hawaiians down the line, per Feldman:

It's been quite a road for Mariota to get here. As ESPN's Darren Rovell pointed out, Mariota wasn't exactly a sure thing coming out of high school:

Now, the Ducks star will be remembered as one of the greatest quarterbacks in college football history.

Gordon and Cooper will undoubtedly be remembered for their excellence as well, but they had little chance of lifting the Heisman on Saturday night.

Only two wide receivers have ever won the Heisman Trophy—Tim Brown and Desmond Howard—both of whom also impressed voters as kick and/or punt returners. Despite his gaudy numbers, Cooper didn't figure too heavily on the final outcome.

Gordon was in a similarly tough position. Only two running backs have won the Heisman since 2000. Gordon lacked the dynamism of Reggie Bush and the on-field success of Mark Ingram. Had Wisconsin finished unbeaten or at least made the College Football Playoff, voters might have been swayed by Gordon's credentials.

Instead, the Badgers rusher, despite running for the fourth-most yards in a season since 1956, was on the outside looking in.

Mariota had both the numbers and team success to vault ahead of the field. He enters the CFP having thrown for 3,783 yards and 38 touchdowns to just two interceptions. The junior added 669 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground.

According to ESPN Stats and Info, his TD-to-turnover ratio was the best in the last decade:

Mariota can't take sole credit for Oregon's earning the No. 2 seed in the playoff, but he's the biggest on-field reason for the Ducks' 12-1 regular season.

Grantland's Matt Hinton argued that Mariota covered all the bases for a typical Heisman winner:

One reason the outcome seems so inevitable is that Heisman winners tend to be cut from the same cloth, and that template happens to fit Mariota about as snugly as it’s fit anyone in the past decade. One, he’s a quarterback, and 12 of the 14 winners since the turn of the century have been quarterbacks. Two, he’s a known quantity, having logged 39 career starts for a team that’s spent exactly three weeks outside of the top 10 in his three years at the helm. Three, his team will play for a shot at the national championship in January. Four, he has a Boy Scout’s reputation off the field. Everyone who gets an invite to New York as a Heisman finalist can check at least a couple of those boxes; the last guy who could check every one of them was Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford back in 2008.

While the field was a bit weak this year, few will contest the final result.

Not only is this a landmark moment in Mariota's playing career, but it's a landmark moment in the history of Oregon football.

Former Ducks quarterback Joey Harrington finished fourth in the 2001 Heisman voting. Earlier in the week, he spoke about what a Mariota win would mean for Oregon.

"For the University of Oregon, it's just another feather in their hat, if you will," said Harrington, per CSNNW.com's Aaron Fentress. "It's hard to put into words. It means so much for recruiting, it means so much for donors, and just the pure pride that there's a Heisman Trophy winner from your school."

The 2014 season could be a banner year for Oregon, between Mariota's Heisman and a potential national championship. The Ducks take on the Florida State Seminoles on Jan. 1 in the Rose Bowl. The winner will advance to the national title game.

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Heisman Trophy Winner 2014: Twitter Reacts to Marcus Mariota's Presentation

To no one's surprise, University of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has been awarded the 2014 Heisman Trophy at the ceremony on Saturday. 

Immediately after Mariota was announced as the winner, SportsCenter tweeted out this very- appropriate picture:

According to ESPN's Joe Schad, Mariota was named on a higher percentage of ballots than any player in history:

Schad also tweeted out the disparity between first-place votes, which Mariota received the overwhelming majority of from the 929 voters:

Per Greg Logan of Newsday, Mariota more than doubled runner-up Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon's point total:

The final vote total is a reflection of the admiration everyone seemed to have for Mariota's season, during which he finished with 3,783 passing yards and 52 total touchdowns. Per Sports Illustrated's College Football Twitter account, only Troy Smith received a higher percentage of possible points when he won in 2006:

Despite all the accolades for Mariota this season, he's remained as humble as any star college player in recent memory. Here were his comments on Thursday after winning the Maxwell Award, Davey O'Brien Award and Walter Camp Player of the Year, via ESPN.com:

It's surreal. It's surreal. It really all is. Growing up as a kid you always kind of see these award shows. To say that I'm a part of really this fraternity ... it's really just a blessing.

Being from Hawaii, being kinda quiet and reserved to now being a little more vocal and being a part of a special team, it's come a long way for me. It's all been such a blessing.

[My teammates] asked me to kinda step up and be vocal and understand that my words can be powerful. ... It's been an ongoing process for me and I've definitely come a long way with it.

One thing that hasn't been talked about much is that Mariota immediately stepped into the starting quarterback spot three years ago without missing a beat, though Kirk Herbstreit mentioned it on the ESPN telecast (via College Gameday):

In 2012, Mariota threw for 2,677 yards and 32 touchdowns with another 752 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. He's only gotten better since his freshman year, culminating in his crowning achievement on Saturday. 

While looking back at history, ESPN Stats & Info noted Mariota finished second in total QBR the past two years with some notable names ahead of him:

It's funny to think how history might have been different, as Schad noted Mariota wasn't sold that football was for him in high school:

Using ESPN's QBR metric, Mariota led the nation with a 91.9 mark. ESPN Stats & Info pointed out the last seven leaders in that category, which includes both Heisman winners and current NFL stars:

In other words, Mariota is in excellent company. He could also find himself joining Andrew Luck and Sam Bradford as No. 1 overall picks in the NFL draft by the time May rolls around, which was brought up by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport: 

For now, Mariota can bask in the glow of being Oregon's first Heisman winner. He also has the looming matchup with Florida State at the Rose Bowl in the semifinals of the College Football Playoff on New Year's Day. 

Mariota has earned his place among the greats in college football. His performance this season—guiding Oregon to the No. 2 ranking and consistency from week to week—made him the best player in the sport. Now, the junior has the hardware to prove it. 

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Top 10 Plays from 2014 Heisman Trophy Winner Marcus Mariota's Season

Marcus Mariota has been named the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner, a testament to the highlight-reel performances he displayed throughout the season.

The Oregon quarterback tallied 3,783 yards, 38 touchdowns and just two interceptions through the air, adding 669 yards and 14 scores on the ground.

Mariota led the Ducks into the inaugural College Football Playoff, where he's set to battle last year's Heisman winner Jameis Winston in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET.

Additionally, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller projects Mariota to be the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft should the dual-threat weapon forgo his senior season.

But before those exciting events take place, let's relive what Mariota accomplished during his Heisman-worthy 2014 campaign.

Begin Slideshow

Marcus Mariota Is the Heisman Winner College Football Needed

In the end, this was the obvious choice, but that still wasn't a guarantee it would happen. Marcus Mariota, the Oregon quarterback, won the Heisman Trophy Saturday.

Marcus Mariota, sports hero.

Is it safe to say that? No, of course it isn't. I feel the need to put a disclaimer here or something, in case his future—or even his past—has something dark in it. But no, this was an important moment for college football based on Mariota's body of work as we know it on and off the field.

Three of the previous four Heisman winners were Jameis Winston, Johnny Manziel and Cam Newton, and they were all great on the field but trouble off it. And there are a few things at play with Mariota's good-guy angle. He was the best player in college football, and he did it quietly.

He did it in the middle of the night, playing in games that were on too late for most of the country to stay up to watch. So that's nice for him.

At some point, you have to wonder if the look-at-me stuff of today's superstar athletes is more than just a byproduct of spotlight. You have to wonder if it is actually exactly what we want from athletes. (To be clear, when I say that, I'm not talking about the rape allegation against Winston.)

But maybe the attention-grabbing behavior—the look-at-me stuff—is an ugly attitude that creates interest and gets votes, too. I was starting to wonder if you can be a star anymore without it.

Not this time. More than ever, it was important this year that we champion a good guy, on and off the field. It is just nice to see that a guy can win the top award in college sports so quietly. If you're watching, youth coaches and high school coaches, pass on the message please.

I wrote a few months ago that Mariota might save the Heisman. He did.

He told Bleacher Report then about the responsibility he felt, talking about why he stopped and spoke with kids before leaving the field after the Ducks lost to Arizona this year. At that moment, it appeared that Mariota's Heisman hopes were lost as well as Oregon's national title hopes.

And I asked him if off-field behavior should even be a factor in the Heisman.

"That's up to Heisman voters," he said. "It's out of my control, quite frankly. If people want to use that as a trait, they can.

"For myself, I just try to represent where I come from, my family, this university in the right light. There is no extra responsibility with being a Heisman Trophy candidate."

For a while, it looked like we were giving up on the idea. The Heisman Trust describes the award as being for the outstanding college player "whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity." This year they left off the "with integrity" part, later claiming that was a mistake.

It's not about the other Heisman finalists. Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon needs 292 rushing yards in the Outback Bowl against Auburn to catch Barry Sanders' single-season record of 2,628, and Alabama receiver Amari Cooper broke an SEC record with 115 catches for the No. 1 team in the country.

They haven't made headlines for selfishness, either. But Mariota has stood out for, well, not trying to stand out. It was news when he got a speeding ticket. And note who wasn't even among the three finalists: Winston.

It's true that Winston hasn't had the season he did last year, but he is the defending Heisman winner on the defending national champs. And he also led the nation's only undefeated team. Winston has never lost a game.

And he wasn't even a Heisman finalist?

That will make the buildup easy for the College Football Playoff semifinal game Jan. 1 at the Rose Bowl. It's Oregon vs. Florida State, Mariota vs. Winston.

And the hype will surely be oversimplified.

It's not that there isn't a place for cockiness. I've covered several Olympics, and it's a blast to see Usain Bolt and the other sprinters strut around. But there's a time for that kind of thing, and for football, this wasn't it.

This time, we needed a football hero.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report. He also writes for The New York Times and was formerly a scribe for FoxSports.com and the Chicago Sun-Times. Follow him on Twitter @gregcouch.

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Marcus Mariota Wins Heisman, Odds on Who Will Win Heisman in 2015

Marcus Mariota took home the 2014 Heisman Trophy award, beating out Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Alabama's Amari Cooper. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer breaks down which 2015 CFB players have the best odds of winning the prestigious award next year.

Who do you think will win the 2015 Heisman trophy?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Marcus Mariota Awarded 2014 Heisman Trophy: Voting Results, Comments, Reaction

Marcus Mariota hopes his last act at Oregon will be leading the Ducks to their first national championship. For now, he'll have to settle for being the school's first Heisman Trophy recipient.

Bleacher Report shows the winner:

Chris Huston of Heisman.com tweeted the full results, while Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports broke things down further:

Ralph D. Russo of The Associated Press and Feldman added a few more details about the results:

Mariota, as expected, was given college football's top individual honor Saturday night, besting Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon and Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper. The junior quarterback is widely expected to be the No. 1 selection in the 2015 NFL draft.

Gordon and Cooper, also potential first-round selections, each emerged as arguably the most gifted players at their respective positions. Gordon led the nation with 2,336 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns, currently the fourth-highest rushing total in FBS history. He briefly held the NCAA single-game record with a 408-yard performance against Nebraska, though it was broken a week later by Samaje Perine of Oklahoma.

Cooper was at times a one-man offense for Alabama, smashing the Tide record book en route to a 115-reception, 1,656-yard campaign. The Miami native made 25 total receptions in playoff-clinching wins over Auburn and Missouri, setting an SEC Championship Game record in the latter.

But it was nonetheless an inevitability that the trophy went home with Mariota. Not only does he play the most important position on the field—the last five Heisman winners and eight of the last 10 have been quarterbacks—he put together one of the most efficient campaigns in history.

Mariota threw for 3,783 yards and 38 touchdowns against two interceptions, completing 68.3 percent of his passes. A nimble runner, he added 669 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground, giving him an NCAA-high 53 total touchdowns (he added another touchdown receiving). For his career Mariota has combined for 131 total touchdowns (101 passing, 28 rushing, two receiving) and just 23 turnovers (12 interceptions, 11 fumbles lost).

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

Mariota had already earned the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award for the nation's top quarterback. Throughout the process he has maintained a humble exterior, finding ways to thank his teammates with every passing accolade.

"I can't say enough about the guys inside the locker room," Mariota told reporters of his record-breaking ways. "I wouldn't be where I am without those guys. I hope that each record that's broken people realize it's a collective effort and not just me."

Feldman had more after Mariota's win on what the award means:

Mariota's win continues a trend of underclassmen taking home the Heisman. He's not a freshman like predecessors Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel, but Mariota is the eighth straight non-senior to win the award. Ohio State's Troy Smith was the last senior in 2006.

Of course, all these individual awards pale in comparison to the road that lies ahead. Mariota's second-seeded Ducks take on No. 3 Florida State in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day with a berth in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game at stake. Mariota will square off against Winston, who led the Seminoles to the national championship a year ago. Given that he's already taken the Heisman crown, it'll be interesting to see what happens next.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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Heisman Trophy Winner 2014: Live Ceremony Results, Reaction and Speech Recap

The 2014 Heisman Trophy will be awarded to one outstanding college football player tonight at the Best Buy Theater in New York City.

The three finalists are Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon.

Each finalist has put up quite the impressive resume this season.

Gordon leads the nations in rushing with 2,336 yards and scored 29 total touchdowns. 

Cooper leads the nation in receiving yards and receptions, totaling 1,656 yards and 115 catches on the year.

Mariota leads the nation in passer rating, threw for 3,783 yards and scored 53 total touchdowns while leading the Ducks to the Pac-12 title.

Who will win?

Keep it locked right here with Bleacher Report for the latest updates from the 2014 Heisman Trophy presentation.

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Army vs. Navy: Score and Twitter Reaction from 2014 Game

Navy scored a 17-10 victory over Army in a highly competitive contest on Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. It marks the 13th straight win for the Midshipmen in the rivalry.

The clash between the academies is unlike any other game during the college football regular season. The rivalry dates back to 1890—and has been played annually since 1930—and always creates a tremendous atmosphere.

Here's how the 2014 edition of the Army–Navy Game played out:

Although plenty has changed over the years, the widespread appeal of the game remains firmly intact. Laken Litman of USA Today passed along comments from Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo, who explained why the game is popular regardless of the type of season each team is having:

I think the difference with our game is it's a national game. The Auburn-Alabama game is a huge rivalry game, but it's even stronger in the South and the state of Alabama and the SEC. USC-UCLA is a big game on the West Coast and the LA area. Ohio State-Michigan is big for the Midwest. But for our game, everybody has somebody in their family or knows somebody who served, so I think it touches everybody regardless of where you live.

A popular sentiment expressed leading up to the game is that the players are rivals today but are otherwise on the same team moving forward. That's where the respect comes from.

CBS Sports noted some showed up to the game in more interesting fashion than others:

Army came into the game with a chip on its shoulder. Not only had it lost 12 straight matchups with Navy, but it was also a 15-point underdog. That extra motivation showed in the early going.

The Black Knights' defense came out fired up, forcing a three-and-out drive by Navy on its first possession. On the ensuing play, a cavalcade of rushers broke through Navy's line and blocked Pablo Beltran's punt. 

Xavier Moss scooped up the loose ball and waltzed into the end zone. It gave Army the lead and sent its fans into a frenzy. Army Times noted it was the second straight game with a key block by Josh Jenkins:

It set the tone for a defensive first half of football. Both sides clearly knew to expect run-heavy attacks and were prepared for the fight at the line of scrimmage.

Particularly impressive was the Black Knights' effort to slow down Keenan Reynolds. The Navy quarterback entered the game with 1,082 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground this season.

The Midshipmen were also up to the task defensively, though. Of course, Auburn Professor John Carvalho rightfully pointed out that probably shouldn't be much of a surprise given the teams involved:

Navy did get the game back level before halftime. After getting a crucial fourth-down stop at its own 30, Navy covered 70 yards in just six plays to make it 7-7.

The key play was a 39-yard completion from Reynolds to Jamir Tillman. The duo hooked up again for the score a couple plays later from nine yards out with just 18 seconds left in the opening half.

David Ginsburg of The Associated Press pointed out how that one drive changed the entire complexion of the first 30 minutes:

Army moved the ball to around midfield and attempted a Hail Mary, but it fell harmlessly to the turf as timed expired.

Even though the Black Knights defense continued to do its job in the second half, it wasn't enough to stop Navy from creating some separation.

Austin Grebe connected on a 45-yard field goal for Navy just over five minutes into the third quarter. It gave the Midshipmen their first lead of the game.

ESPN Lehigh Valley noted it was a career long for the kicker:

Navy stretched the lead to 10 early in the fourth quarter. Reynolds led the offense on a 15-play, 69-yard touchdown drive that ate up nearly eight minutes off the clock. The quarterback forced his way across the goal line from one yard out for the score.

Kevin McGuire of College Football Talk provided an intriguing stat about Reynolds after his latest score:

More importantly, it put an Army side not used to relying on the pass in trouble. CBS Sports College Football highlighted the uphill battle:

A fumble recovery with less than four minutes left gave the Black Knights one last chance to mount a comeback. They got within a touchdown after Daniel Grochowski converted a field goal from 52 yards out.

Army didn't recover the ensuing onside kick, however. Navy proceeded to run out the clock.

ESPN Stats & Info updated the rivalry numbers:

All told, the game was far closer than most expected with the Army defense standing tall throughout. Its offense just didn't sustain enough drives.

Navy can celebrate keeping the streak alive but not for long. The Midshipmen are set to face San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl in just 10 days. If they pull off another win on the quick turnaround, the pair of victories will make for a terrific finish to the campaign.

 

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Marcus Mariota's Historic 2014 Season Will Lead to Dominant Heisman Win

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is likely in the final stages of his collegiate career, assuming he goes to the NFL after the Ducks' season is over. He's been among the best players in the country for three years and deserves to be rewarded with the Heisman Trophy in a landslide. 

Arguably the most prestigious individual honor in all of sports, the Heisman has become a de facto way to honor the best quarterback in the country. with the last four winners and 12 of the last 14 playing the position. 

Naturally, this can lead to some position bias. There are 22 players on a football field at any given time and it takes a team effort to create a Heisman winner. After all, would Mariota be here if Oregon had an extra loss or two on its resume?

There's also the competition Mariota is going up against. Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon had his own Heisman moment with 408 rushing yards against Nebraska, which was a record for one week before Oklahoma's Samaje Perine. 

Upon winning the Doak Walker Award as the nation's best running back, SportsCenter tweeted out that Gordon led FBS running backs with nearly 180 rushing yards per game:

Unfortunately, the last image voters have of Gordon was his worst game of the season with 76 yards in a 59-0 loss against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. 

The other contender is Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, who made history playing in what is widely considered the best conference in the country, per College Gameday:

Cooper had seven games with at least 100 receiving yards and three with at least 200, including 224 with three touchdowns against Auburn in the Iron Bowl. Two of those touchdown catches put the Crimson Tide ahead in the third quarter. 

You can craft a legitimate Heisman campaign for Cooper, who was arguably the biggest reason for Alabama's success this season as Blake Sims was developing at quarterback. His 1,656 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns were nearly half of the team's 3,653 passing yards and 30 touchdowns. 

However, when you break down Mariota's season, the only question is if voters will make this one of the most lopsided Heisman wins in history. He finished the regular season with 3,783 passing yards, a completion percentage of 68.3, quarterback rating of 186.3 and 52 total touchdowns with two interceptions. 

Making Mariota's season more impressive is he came into the season with as much hype as any quarterback and delivered. He told Chris Johnson of Sports Illustrated that his goals this year were all team oriented, despite the individual accolades coming his way:

“I was more concerned with achieving team goals, and more focused on that,” Mariota said. “Outside pressure is stuff that other people make, and we weren’t focused on that at all.”

Per ESPN Stats & Info, Mariota's QBR this season stacks up well with past Heisman winners and a few current NFL starters who led college football in that category:

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports also highlighted what makes Mariota the leading Heisman contender, though he added the *wink*caveat*wink* in which his official vote had to remain a secret until after the ceremony:

Only five quarterbacks in the last seven years averaged more than his 10.2 yards per attempt. Mariota has thrown 38 touchdowns and two interceptions, a 19-to-1 ratio bettered by only one QB in the last seven seasons (South Carolina’s Connor Shaw was 24-1 last year). His 9.1 yards per play running and passing is third-highest among all quarterbacks in the last seven seasons.

When you add all of the numbers together, then combine them with Oregon's 12-1 record and spot in the College Football Playoff, Mariota becomes the overwhelming favorite to be named the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner. 

Even if there is backlash against quarterbacks always winning these awards, no one can deny Mariota's value to Oregon this season. His worst game of the year, against Arizona on October 2, the junior had 276 passing yards and two touchdowns. 

Numbers can be skewed to say anything, but there's no way to downplay Mariota's season. He should win the Heisman and do so in a landslide. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 

 

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2014 Heisman Trophy Race: Finalists and Predictions for Prestigious Award

There aren't a ton of serious contenders for this year's Heisman Trophy, so it was refreshing to see only three players invited to New York for the ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 13.

It always sucks to see players with a snowball's chance in hell to win the award invited just for the sake of having a pre-announcement highlight package run in their honor.

This year, all three candidates are worthy of nomination, and there's a case to be made for each of them. On the flip side, there's also details that could factor into each not winning the award.

 

Melvin Gordon

ESPN.com's Brian Bennett reported that the Wisconsin Badgers star will enter the 2015 NFL draft. This comes as no surprise considering the season Gordon had for the Badgers. His 2,336 rushing yards are a single-season Big Ten record, and his 4,664 career yards rank third all time in Badgers history behind Ron Dayne and Montee Ball. 

In 2014, Gordon averaged a whopping 179.7 yards per game on the ground. To put that in the proper perspective, that's more than 78 other FBS schools. 

 

Heisman Moment

Though the record was broken a week later by the Oklahoma Sooners' Samaje Perine, Gordon's 408 yards against the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Nov. 15 was without a doubt one of the most impressive individual performances of the season.

Perine may have run for more yards when he racked up 427 on Nov. 22 against the Kansas Jayhawks, but Gordon's game stands out more.

The Jayhawks run defense is notoriously horrible. The team ranked 106th in the nation against the run. The Cornhuskers rank 80th, which is obviously not great, but if you subtract Gordon's performance, Nebraska would be ranked 51st, just behind the Oregon Ducks.

Furthermore, Gordon put up those numbers while going head-to-head with friend and fellow first-round prospect Ameer Abdullah. In a high-profile matchup, Gordon was at his best. 

 

The Case Against Gordon

The Big Ten title game did not boost Gordon's Heisman hopes.

In the biggest game of the season for the Badgers, Gordon and the Wisconsin offense were shut down. The Ohio State Buckeyes blanked Wisconsin 59-0 and held Gordon to his second-lowest rushing total of the season: just 76 yards on 26 carries.

That's a tough stat line for a Heisman candidate in a conference championship game.

With a big performance and a win against the Buckeyes, Gordon's chances to win the Heisman might be even higher.

 

Amari Cooper

Simply being the best player in the country should count for something. We could talk about awards, of which Cooper has already captured the Fred Biletnikoff Award for the nation's top receiver, and we could talk stats. Cooper has those too. In 2014, he had 115 receptions, 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Cooper caught at least 10 passes in five games. He eclipsed 100 yards seven times and 200 yards on three occasions.

Beyond the awards and the numbers, Cooper was the most stable threat for an inexperienced quarterback. Blake Sims' elusiveness has been an asset to the Alabama Crimson Tide offense, but 'Bama fans should shudder at the thought of what the 2014 season would've looked like without their stud receiver.

 

Heisman Moment

The Iron Bowl is a game where legends are made. Cooper may not have needed this year's performance to cement his legendary status, but just in case, he was an absolute beast against the Tide's biggest rival.

Cooper caught 13 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns against the Auburn Tigers. All three stats tied career highs for Cooper. He came up huge with the Tide facing their last significant impediment before qualifying for the College Football Playoff.

 

The Case Against Cooper

Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus expresses his desire to see Cooper win, but he doesn't have much faith in it happening:

To be honest, Cooper did everything within his power to hoist that trophy. The biggest thing that could keep him from winning is his position. The Heisman Trophy has largely been a quarterback award, with a few running backs sprinkled in.

Twelve of the last 13 winners have been signal-callers. The last wide receiver to win the award was the Michigan Wolverines' Desmond Howard back in 1991. Howard was also dynamic in the return game, and that helped to boost his case. Cooper doesn't have that layer, and he's going up against a pretty good quarterback candidate.

 

Marcus Mariota

If you were to say the word "leader" in association with the 2014 college football season, most would picture the Oregon Ducks' quarterback.

Mariota has led by example in regards to competitiveness, excellence of play and disposition. It's hard to ask for anything more. By doing a simple Twitter search for "Mariota leader," here's two examples of tweets that came up as a result:

At this point, people are jumping on the bandwagon with this concept, but there also has to be something to the theme when everyone within and outside of an organization sees the same qualities.

Mariota's appeal isn't all intangible.

He did throw for 3,783 yards, 38 touchdown passes and just two interceptions in 372 pass attempts. Mariota ran for another 14 scores as well. Because of the year he's had, it's a challenge picking one Heisman moment, but here's my best shot.

 

Heisman Moment

On Sept. 20, the Ducks went to Pullman, Washington, to take on the high-powered Washington State Cougars. Connor Halliday and Co. were clicking on all cylinders. The Cougars pushed the Ducks for four quarters before Oregon prevailed 38-31.

Mariota never blinked in a road game that some of his teammates may have overlooked heading into a bye week. He completed 21 of 25 passes for 329 yards and five touchdown passes. It was an almost perfect performance in a close game in which Mariota's team needed him to be big.

 

The Case Against Mariota

Breaking biases is a thing for people these days, as well it should be. Because of the long history of quarterbacks dominating the award, there could be voters of a mindset similar to that of Palazzolo. 

There's also a valid argument that Cooper is indeed the nation's best player. After all, that's who the award is supposed to go to. If you asked people who the best player in college football is, and didn't use the word Heisman, you might get more to references Cooper than Mariota.

 

Prediction

Like Palazzolo, I'm of the belief that Cooper should win the Heisman. However, also like the Pro Football Focus guru, I don't think he will.

Mariota has been the face of the hype all year long, and to be honest, he's never faltered. Essentially, he's been like a preseason No. 1 team in the old BCS system who never lost a game and thus remained No. 1.

While Mariota and the Ducks did lose to the Arizona Wildcats on Oct. 2, he still played pretty well in that game, and his case for the Heisman didn't take a hit. Call it quarterback bias, or anything else, but come Saturday, we'll be calling Mariota the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner.

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Heisman Watch 2014: Final Predictions for Award Race

Unlike the College Football Playoff, no controversy surrounds the 2014 Heisman Trophy.

Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Alabama's Amari Cooper and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon were easy picks for the committee. Names such as Jameis Winston and Dak Prescott, among others, were worthy of consideration.

Truthfully, though, the trio set to take the stage in New York made sure the trust in charge stressed little:

Observers will notice one thing—a lone quarterback makes the list.

That makes it seem like an obvious result rests ahead Saturday night. The lengthy process has given the globe plenty of time to digest all three candidates, so things may wind up closer than most would expect.

 

Predictions

3. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

Gordon is one of the best backs to take the field in the past decade, but he is stuck in the wrong era. 

The Doak Walker Award already shows that Gordon was the best back by far this season, although some shred of doubt due to a season-ending injury to Georgia's Todd Gurley will always be a topic of discussion.

Regardless, Gordon rushed for 2,336 yards and 26 touchdowns on a 7.6 per-carry average despite every team fully understanding what Wisconsin would attempt to do.

While impressive, the injury to Gurley, losses to LSU and Northwestern and a 59-0 blowout at the hands of Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship show that Gordon simply has shoddy luck. Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine topped his crowning achievement and Heisman moment—smashing NCAA records with 408 yards and four scores against Nebraska—just a few weeks after the fact.

The topper is the position. As former Heisman winner and Badgers back Ron Dayne told Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer, the position is key right now.

“You’re not looking at running backs anymore,” Dayne said. “Everyone’s looking at different positions. It didn’t circle back around yet for him to get the attention that he needed.”

Gordon's accomplishments are awe-inspiring. His productivity in a defensive-minded conference goes against the grain these days. That is part of the problem, as are jaw-dropping performances by the other two finalists.

 

2. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama 

This year's Biletnikoff Award winner was too obvious.

A serious threat to sit alongside Mark Ingram as the only Alabama Heisman Trophy winner, Cooper also defied plenty of conventional wisdom on his way to his status as a finalist.

Remember when Nick Saban's Crimson Tide were a run-first team? Neither does the coach or his top wideout, who caught an SEC-record 115 passes for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns. Put it into this context: The team as a whole posted 268 catches for 3,653 yards and 30 touchdowns.

Remember when there was serious cause for concern about quarterback Blake Sims, who was entering his first year as starter? Or how Alabama could not possibly survive the brutal SEC?

Cooper is a huge reason Sims completed 64.8 percent of his passes and posted 26 touchdowns. He came up big in the Iron Bowl with 13 grabs for 224 yards and three scores. Ditto for the SEC Championship with 12 for 83. A showdown with then-No. 1 Mississippi State? Eight for 88 and a score.

Few receivers will replicate what Cooper has done this season. Yet even he concurs that the award is not necessarily something that should come his way.

"Quarterbacks have such a huge responsibility out on the field. Marcus deserves the trophy,” Cooper said, per Zach Braziller of The New York Post. “I haven’t watched him play, but he has thrown only two interceptions. That’s crazy.”

If a player is going to steal the Heisman from Mariota, odds are great it will be Cooper. Even if he does not, though, rest assured the future NFL first-round pick would not stress over a second-place finish.

 

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

Forget the fact that 12 of the last 13 Heisman winners are quarterbacks.

In an alternate history, that number could favor running backs, and Mariota would still be the favorite this year.

Believe the hype. A completion percentage of nearly 70 percent is nothing until observers realize that it comes with 3,783 yards and 38 touchdowns to two interceptions. Add another 669 yards and 14 scores with his legs for good measure.

Production and efficiency such as that is quite rare, regardless of scheme or competition. The numbers are only more impressive when one recalls that key linemen such as Tyler Johnstone and Hroniss Grasu have been in and out of the lineup with serious injuries.

The only knock on Mariota now is the lack of a singular "Heisman moment."

That is quite laughable, really. Arguably, no player entered this season with loftier expectations on his shoulders. How did Mariota respond?

He shredded an elite Michigan State defense for 318 yards and three scores. Stanford demons? Expelled via four total touchdowns. Ditto against Utah. The Civil War saw six total touchdowns go up on the board before yet five more total in the Pac-12 Championship against Arizona, the only team to beat the Ducks this year.

No player was more important to his team. A Heisman moment may be lacking on the resume because it is just too difficult to single out one performance.

Even other finalists seem to agree—Mariota is this year's Heisman winner.

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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4 Changes Will Muschamp Will Bring to the Auburn Defense

AUBURN, Ala. — Will Muschamp is ready to rebuild.

The former Florida head coach was officially introduced Saturday morning as Auburn's new defensive coordinator, marking his second return to the Tigers' staff since the start of his collegiate career.

"Great to be back," Muschamp said in his introductory press conference. "I want to thank Gus for this opportunity to come to Auburn. It's a great place. It's a special place obviously, in the way you treat people and the way you handle your business. Really excited to be back. It's going to be a lot of fun."

His career won't be the only thing Muschamp is looking to rebuild in his return to Auburn.

Things have changed a lot in Auburn since Muschamp left as Tommy Tuberville's defensive coordinator after the 2007 season—and it's more than just the new facilities Muschamp raved about in his opening statement Saturday morning.

Defense was Auburn's strength during his last two tenures, but the Tigers have since had to compete for SEC and national championships in spite of their underwhelming defenses. The 2014 regular season, one that started with title aspirations for the Tigers, was filled with disappointed losses that saw opponents easily crack the 400-yard and 30-point marks.

And that's why head coach Gus Malzahn made the decision to bring Muschamp back—one that reportedly will make him the highest-paid coordinator in the country.

Changes are in the air on the Plains this winter. Here are four that the Tigers will be able to make thanks to Muschamp:  

 

Immediate Improvement

Through all the well-documented struggles of Muschamp's time as the head man in Gainesville, his Gators still played standout defense. Since his first full season as Texas' defensive coordinator, Muschamp's defense have greatly outperformed ones from Auburn:

"If you look at his track record wherever he’s been, he’s had a top defense," Malzahn said. "He’ll have a chance to evaluate our guys. He has high expectations just like I do. We expect to win and expect to win championships. I’m looking forward to coaching with him."

Muschamp is inheriting a struggling defense that has several leaders returning—he specifically mentioned the return of injured defensive end Carl Lawson in his press conference as a big factor for a "very strong" front seven.

But should Auburn fans expect top-20 success from the first year?

"I would," Muschamp said. "We've been pretty good where we've been, but we've also had a bunch of good players. And that's the bottom line. That's what it comes down to, players."

 

Fewer Explosive Plays

Perhaps the most impressive statistics from Muschamp's defenses at Florida are how the Gators were able to prevent big plays.

Florida never fell outside the top 20 in fewest amount of opponent long scrimmage plays—ones that gain more than 10 yards—under Muschamp. 

Auburn, on the other hand, is coming off a season in which it finished No. 90 in that category.

"In our league, and especially this division, you better win on the line of scrimmage, or you won't have a chance," Muschamp said. "And stay away from explosive plays. When they're getting chunk yardage down the field, it's hard to defend and change the vertical field position in the game."

Muschamp said his top priority at Auburn will be forcing any offense to go one-dimensional by becoming a defense that excels in both stopping the run and the pass. After several long seasons of watching opponents hit them for long gains through the air, Auburn now has a defensive coordinator who has a track record of cutting those out tremendously.

 

Intense Energy

Before Malzahn's "Boom!" became a trademark in Auburn, there was Muschamp—the original Coach Boom.

Muschamp made a name for himself during his time as an assistant coach for being intense on the field, commanding his swarming defenses on the sidelines and in the locker room with seemingly limitless energy.

"I love his energy," Malzahn said. "I'm an energy guy, too. I really wanted somebody who had great energy and intensity, to have that defense really take on his personality... He’s been on the sideline, and he looks the players in the eye and they play hard for him. He’s got it figured out."

That type of on-field intensity is quite a considerable difference from former defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, a veteran coach who directed from up in a box during his two years at Auburn.

Muschamp has already brought a new level of excitement and energy from Auburn's fanbase by coming back to the program. Now, he will look to do the same for Auburn's current defensive players.

"I am going to ask the kids every day to give me great effort, a great attitude when they hit the field and great energy," Muschamp said. "Those three things are on you as a player, and we will handle the execution and other stuff as we move forward."

 

More Recruiting Firepower

Auburn and Florida might not be the most traditional pair of recruiting rivals, but the two schools have butted heads several times over the last few years with Malzahn and Muschamp going after top players.

This cycle, the decisions for 5-star offensive tackle Martez Ivey—247Sports' new No. 1 overall player nationally in their composite rankings—and 4-star linebacker Jeffrey Holland seem to come down to the Tigers and the Gators.

The head coach whose staff recruited them at Florida is now at Auburn, and Holland has definitely taken notice:

Outside of the state of Florida, Muschamp's hiring should be a boost for Auburn in terms of recruiting, especially in the eyes of several top defensive targets.

"He’s one of the best defensive minds in all of football," Malzahn said. "He’s got a great reputation. The kids love to play for him. The success he’s had is unbelievable. He provides a whole lot."

And while Muschamp will simply monitor Auburn's upcoming bowl practices, he can immediately go to work recruiting and changing the future of the Tigers defense.

In fact, that was on his mind during his introductory press conference Saturday morning.

"As soon as we get done here and walk out that door, we are going [recruiting]," Muschamp said.

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

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