NCAA Football News

College Football Playoffs 2015: Latest Odds and Predictions for Semifinals 2015

For the first time in history, college football's highest level will have a semifinal. The Rose and Sugar Bowls will take on even greater significance as they become the final proving grounds for the two teams who will play for the national championship. 

The playoff committee couldn't have asked for a more intriguing field of contenders, either.

Kicking off the tournament festivities will be the Rose Bowl matchup of Florida State vs. Oregon. In a rare occurrence, two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks will face off as Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston try to lead their teams to the title game.  

Rounding out New Year's Day will be a matchup of two traditional college football powers. Ohio State and Alabama have a long history of being top powers in college football. Their Sugar Bowl matchup will add another chapter to both schools' storied traditions. 

Below is a look at the key (non-quarterback) player for each team along with the latest odds and a prediction as to who will wind up playing for the national championship. 

 

Oregon vs. Florida State

When: Jan. 1, 2015 at 5 p.m. ET

Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Line: Oregon -9, per Odds Shark

 

Key Player for Florida State: Dalvin Cook, RB, Fr.

Yes, Winston will be key for the Seminoles. If the 2013 version of their star quarterback can show up, this is a different ballgame. But the key factor for Florida State could be freshman running back Dalvin Cook. 

The 200-pound back has become a serious staple of the offense and should play a big role in the Noles game plan against the Ducks. Oregon's run defense is nothing special. The 4.12 yards per carry it allows is good for just 57th in nation, according to CFBStats.com

That means that Florida State can help itself out by utilizing a steady dosage of Cook. Head coach Jimbo Fisher and Co. turned to the freshman 31 times in the run game against Georgia Tech en route to an ACC championship. He rewarded them with 177 yards and a touchdown. 

He also had five receptions for 43 yards for good measure. 

In an offense returning playmakers from a national champion, it could be the newcomer who makes the biggest impact for Florida State.

 

Key Player for Oregon: Chris Seisay, CB, Fr. 

The Oregon offense can score. That's a given since the offense has posted 45 points per game this season. The question for the Ducks is whether they can stop the Seminoles from keeping up. 

In order to do that, Oregon will need a big performance from an unfamiliar name in Chris Seisay. The redshirt freshman cornerback will be called upon to do that now that All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu has been sidelined for the playoff with a knee injury

Seisay isn't completely inexperienced, though. He has been involved in the defensive rotation throughout the season and was heavily involved in the second half of the Michigan State game. His 6'1", 187-pound frame gave the Ducks a bigger option to work with in the secondary to go against the Spartans' tall receiving corps. 

Oregon defensive backs coach John Neal talked about his confidence level in Seisay even then, via Andrew Greif of The Oregonian:

You know what happens sometimes is you're with guys for long periods of times and they get to play and you know in the back of your mind, 'If I put that guy in...'

I had (safety) John Boyett a long time ago and when TJ (Ward) got hurt, I put John Boyett in and I didn't blink an eye. I knew he'd do well and I feel the same way about Chris. He'll play more and more, he's a good player.

Fast-forward all the way to January, and Seisay will now be called upon to do even more. The Noles aren't nearly as deep at the receiver position as they were last season. After Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O'Leary, Florida State doesn't have any one receiver who stands out above the rest. 

However, it's likely that Winston will be looking to find the new starter and test him early and often. Whether Seisay is ready or not could be a huge factor in the early going. 

 

Prediction

It's easy to see why Oregon is a somewhat heavy favorite here—perception. 

Florida State has done itself no favors in the eye test this season. The Noles have had a bad habit of playing down to competition, with close games against the likes of North Carolina State and Florida serving as prime examples. 

Meanwhile, all Oregon has done is thrash opponents. Even the one team that defeated it didn't stand a chance in a rematch. The Ducks destroyed Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game, 51-13. 

However, the one number that doesn't align with Oregon being a heavy favorite in the game: zero. That's how many losses Florida State has this season—and last season for that matter. No matter how ugly, the Seminoles have always found a way to win. 

That's why it's difficult to envision them getting completely blown out of the water by Oregon. 

Oregon 38, Florida State 34

 

Ohio State vs. Alabama

When: Jan. 1, 2015 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Line: Alabama -9, via Odds Shark

 

Key Player for Ohio State: Devin Smith, WR, Sr. 

The 2014 Alabama defense isn't as ironclad as previous incarnations. If there's one unit that has proved it can be tested, it's the secondary. The Tide have allowed numerous wide receivers to have big days if those teams had the offensive lines to buy the quarterbacks enough time to throw it deep. 

The perfect receiver to disrupt the Alabama defense? Ohio State's Devin Smith. The senior wideout is among the best deep threats in the country. As Kevin Weidl of ESPN points out, he's a great combination of athleticism and ball skills:

Smith is coming off an all-time performance against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. With Cardale Jones making his first start at quarterback, the receiver pulled in four passes for 137 yards and three touchdowns. 

With Alabama's defense already prone to giving up big plays in the passing game, it wouldn't be a shock to see Smith in the end zone at least once on New Year's Day. 

 

Key Player for Alabama: Austin Shepherd, OT, Sr. 

Alabama might be known for its wealth of talent along the defensive line, but it's the recruit that got away who could cause their own offense trouble in the Sugar Bowl. Joey Bosa has been a man among boys at defensive end for Ohio State.

The sophomore has been a one-man wrecking crew this season. He's anchored the defensive front with 20 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. Now, he'll face one of the top offensive lines in the country.

As the right tackle, senior offensive lineman Austin Shepherd will be the one primarily responsible for slowing Bosa down. It's a task he's diligently preparing for. 

"I don't really think about who I'm playing against," Shepherd said, via Charlie Potter of 247Sports. "I kind of approach everybody the same way, so I'm not really thinking about the accolades. I'm just trying to look at how I can beat him every play."

Shepherd's mindset may sound a bit arrogant, but it's an approach that's worked for him and his fellow offensive linemen. The Tide's O-line has seen quite a few talented pass-rushers in the SEC this season with strong results. 

Shutting down Bosa will be another challenge altogether, but Shepherd is a proven commodity with the ability to test Bosa in a way that few have this season. 

Keeping Bosa away from quarterback Blake Sims and the Alabama stable of running backs will be vital for Bama to beat the Buckeyes. It'll be up to Shepherd to lead the way. 

 

Prediction

This is another game in which the line appears to have been impacted by perception. The Buckeyes might be a nationally recognized brand, but it can also claim just one bowl victory in the last seven years and three in the last decade. 

That's an established trend. However, there's reason to believe it could be bucked this year—or at the very least, they could come much closer than the wide spread would have you believe. 

The Buckeyes sit at No. 2 in Football Outsiders' F-Plus rankings and No. 3 in ESPN's Football Power Index metric. Of course, Alabama sits at No. 1 and No. 2 in those metrics, respectively, but the fact remains that there is objective data that points to these two teams being equal. 

That's enough to show that Ohio State has what it takes to make this game interesting. Paired with Devin Smith's ability to get behind the Alabama secondary, the Buckeyes have an opportunity to strike with big plays and even take an early lead. 

Still, this Alabama team has shown that it doesn't mind playing from behind. The Tide have won defensive battles along with shootouts. Expect them to come out on top in a game that is closer than expected. 

Alabama 28, Ohio State 23

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Former Third-String QB Cardale Jones Is Ohio State's Best Hope Against Alabama

NEW ORLEANS—Cardale Jones will be maimed. Cardale Jones' head will spin. Cardale Jones isn't scrappy enough, and he hasn't seen pressure. Cardale Jones isn't a precise thrower. Cardale Jones won't process the changing looks of a defense and get his team in the right play.

The Apocalypse is coming for Cardale Jones. This Thursday. Put it on your calendar.    

That's the blather before the battle, at least. But the fact is the Ohio State quarterback, who has started just one game in his college career, is the reason Ohio State has a chance against Alabama.

Two things gave Alabama's defense trouble this season: the deep ball and the read option. The Ohio State quarterback, a third-string guy not long ago, can throw the deep ball and can high-step through a defense, if it gives him the option.

Ohio State averages 260 yards rushing per game, but it will run the ball against Alabama's front six only if Jones completes some deep balls or barrels into the secondary on the read-option. The Crimson Tide are not going to let Ohio State throw those swing passes to spread them out so running back Ezekiel Elliott can run inside.

The Alabama defensive line is too good, which is the hallmark of the SEC and why the D-linemen in the SEC are called the Baddest Men on the Planet. The Buckeyes almost seem in awe of the size of the front they're about to see.

"You don't really get much movement off the line of scrimmage," Elliott said Sunday.

"Big, strong guys that can move," said left tackle Taylor Decker. "They aren't just space fillers. That is going to be a challenge as far as the offensive line is concerned, because it is the best we have faced so far."

So it will be up to Jones. Big on big. He's 6'5", 250 pounds., and Bama's behemoths are going to have to wrestle him to the ground.

Jones has to run for 85 yards and throw for 200 yards…or Ohio State is going to lose by two scores, or more.

 

 

Jones is the guy who tweeted two years ago, "Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain't come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS" and now carries a 3.0 grade point average. He is a long way past being that knucklehead.

"It's been huge growing pain, my mature level was not where it needed to be coming into college, which is one of the reasons I went to military school," Jones said. "It's good to look back on it and see where I am now."

He wouldn't give in to the speculation of what a win Thursday night would mean for his career, given that Ohio State has two other quarterbacks with eligibility, J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller, who have been dazzling in their careers. Jones said he doesn't see anything "drastic" happening, where one of the three would leave Ohio State because of the bottleneck.

Jones is 22 years old, which means he is older than Marcus Mariota, and he will be eligible for the NFL draft in January. He's been out of high school four years, so Ohio State is not sending some peach-fuzzed kid against Alabama. He's started one game, but he has something of a clue with all his practice reps, not to mention a seasoned quarterbacks coach in Tom Herman to guide him.

Maybe Jones is right when he says about the changing looks of Alabama's defense, "I don't think the different looks will be a problem for me, actually." 

If there is a film Ohio State can study, it is not just the Auburn game where the Tide were burned over and over by deep balls in the first half. It is the Tennessee game where the Vols' quarterback Joshua Dobbs ran 19 times for 75 yards, mostly on zone read plays. Alabama prefers to play two-deep and a nickel defense, and it takes a linebacker out of the middle of the field, which means there is no one there to account for the quarterback. Dobbs broke some big runs in Alabama's 34-20 victory by reading the Tide's defense and taking off.

"I think a lot of people got their eyes out of the wrong place, focusing on the pass, and a lot of times when spread out you don't have too many guys in the box like that," said Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones. "It leaves you vulnerable for those types of runs."

Kirby Smart, the Alabama defensive coordinator, said the Crimson Tide were not ready for Tennessee, which had just switched quarterbacks to the faster Dobbs. Is 'Bama ready for the long strides of Jones?

"He's a mystery. Really don't know exactly what all he can do or what kind of offense they're gonna have come game time, so we're just preparing for everything and anything," said Alabama safety Nick Perry. "You know they're gonna come out there with something different on game day and we just have to be able to adjust and go out there and execute."

All it will take for Alabama to bring a safety a little closer to the line is Jones long-striding out of the backfield after reading the defense and going for 20 yards. You know what happens next? Alabama commits a safety and Jones will show that powerful arm and throw it down the middle of the field to the acrobatic flyer, wide receiver Devin Smith.

The other thing Ohio State can do with Jones against the changing looks of the Alabama defense is to sprint him out and limit how much of the field he has to process. He is not as experienced as Barrett or Miller, but his arm is stronger and while they keep plays alive with their feet, he can keep plays alive with his brawn.

The inexperience worries Tom Herman, the Ohio State offensive coordinator, because the new guy always feels he has to do more. Trying to fire a ball into a receiver in the middle of the Alabama defense on third down can mean doom.

"I worried about that in the Big Ten championship game," Herman said. "Yeah, this week as well."

Herman should embrace an ambitious quarterback. He might have a real superstar on his hands for one game.

 

 

Just be careful before you go all-in against the Buckeyes.

A year ago, right here in the Sugar Bowl, with Alabama as the opponent, a quarterback made a name for himself. The stakes were much different, but Oklahoma's Trevor Knight had himself a night in the Superdome and no one expected that to happen with the kind of regular season he had been through.

In 2006, no one expected Urban Meyer's Florida team to beat Ohio State in the national championship game. The Gators thrashed the Buckeyes with a quarterback, Chris Leak, who had many insisted was ill-fitted for Meyer's offense.

The SEC defensive line that night mauled the Ohio State quarterback, Troy Smith, and the Buckeyes had no back-up plan. Cardale Jones, the Plan C quarterback, better be the remedy Thursday night when the SEC marauders come calling once again.

 

Ray Glier covers college football for Bleacher Report.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Braxton Miller Reportedly Interested in Transferring to Duke

Duke's season ended Saturday night with a 36-31 loss against Arizona State in the Sun Bowl, but potential interest from a 2015 Heisman candidate should help quell that disappointment.

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is showing interest in the Blue Devils' rising program, according to sources cited by 247Sports' Adam Rowe:

Miller hasn't made official his intent to transfer away from the Buckeyes, but most believe it is inevitable.

After Miller was lost for the season with a shoulder injury in August, J.T. Barrett filled in more than admirably—proving to be a legitimate Heisman contender himself. 

There simply isn't room for two of the best quarterbacks in the country, and many believe Miller will transfer, as he would be eligible to play right away. 

Sporting News' Matt Hayes put it simply:

As much as Miller loves playing for Ohio State, he has no other option but to leave for his final season if he wants to play in the NFL. He’s not helping his draft stock by sitting behind Barrett (because that’s where he’ll be), and he’s not getting critical repetitions against college football’s elite teams unless he transfers as a graduate student and plays somewhere else in 2015.

If Miller leaves, he would be one of the college football's biggest "free agents" ever. As such, it would be a massive get for David Cutcliffe and his staff.

Duke's football program has steadily been rising, but replacing Anthony Boone with Miller—a dangerous dual-threat quarterback who has run for 3,054 yards and 32 touchdowns in his career—would vault the Blue Devils into the nation's elite.

Should he choose to transfer, though, Miller will have his choice of some of the top teams in the nation, so it's probably best for Duke fans to pump the brakes a bit.

Nevertheless, this is an intriguing possibility and potential game-changer for an up-and-coming program.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn Football: Players to Watch in High School All-American Games

The eyes of Auburn fans everywhere will be locked onto Tampa this week as the Tigers wrap up their 2014 season on New Year's Day at the Outback Bowl.

But, after Gus Malzahn's team takes on Wisconsin, the attention will shift to nearby St. Petersburg and then San Antonio.

In St. Petersburg, one day after the Outback Bowl, the Under Armour All-America Game will kick off at Tropicana Field. The majority of Auburn's biggest remaining targets and current commitments will be playing in that game, from a pair of 5-star defensive ends to in-state star Kerryon Johnson.

However, in San Antonio's Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 3, the nation's No. 1 recruit will take the field. Auburn is a top school for his services, as well as another top offensive tackle and two more highly rated defensive ends.

With the two major games set to kick off this weekend, here is a look at Auburn's top targets and commitments who will be going up against some of the nation's best prospects.

Begin Slideshow

Ty Montgomery Injury: Updates on Stanford Star's Shoulder and Return

Ty Montgomery has played his last game at Stanford. 

There was speculation that the senior wide receiver would be able to recover from his shoulder injury in time to play Tuesday against Maryland in the Foster Farms Bowl, but according to the Mercury News' Jon Wilner, that won't happen:

Montgomery injured his shoulder Nov. 22 against Cal and missed the season finale vs. UCLA. 

An all-purpose stud, he leads the Cardinal in receptions (61) and receiving yards (604) and also serves as an electric threat in the return game. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jameis Winston's Complicated College Football Legacy

LOS ANGELES—If Jameis Winston makes it through an entire college career without losing a game, winning a Heisman Trophy and two national championships along the way, then he has to go down as one of the greatest college football players ever.    

That's not how people look at him now, of course. Now, people look at him as the person who in one year turned Florida State from a feel-good story to a national villain. It was based on a monstrous allegation against him, though our system of justice didn't find enough evidence to pursue it. What we know for sure is that he did a bunch of immature things.

But the point is this: Jameis Winston is probably in the final few days of his college career, and his college football legacy is highly complicated. They say that winning cures everything, but with Winston, it isn't that simple. How will people see him?

"What people think about me is none of my business, really," he said Sunday at a media conference leading up to the College Football Playoff semifinal against Oregon at the Rose Bowl. "It's not like I just look up what people say about me all the time. I really don't know what the word around the street is."

Sure he does. He complained that he can't go outside and go "walking down the street backwards" without people tweeting about it and taking pictures. True enough, but social media didn't catch him walking backward. It captured him jumping on a table in public and chanting an obscenity about a female body part at the same time that he was a part of the national discussion about athletes mistreating women.

We all saw coach Jimbo Fisher coaching him after a game, telling him to win people back with the right attitude: "Humble pie," Fisher said.

Winston listened. He knows. He feels it.

He also hasn't played nearly as well this year as he did last year, though he keeps winning in the end.

But that's not what people focus on. The moment word came out about Winston and a rape allegation, his name was forever connected to the word rape—even though, at that point, no one knew anything.

If we're just talking about image and legacy, it's hard to look at Winston the same way now as we did, say, early last year.

That is partly the fault of the school, the Tallahassee police and even some of the most fervant FSU fans. The university and the police tried so hard to protect Winston, instead of the alleged victim, that there are doubts even now that justice ever got a fair shake. That doesn't mean justice wasn't served.

But it factors into Winston's legacy. Stealing crablegs and shooting BB's didn't help, either.

Winston clearly sees himself as the victim, and it's possible that he is. He told reporters Saturday at a brief media gathering at Disneyland that football was his "sanctuary." And on Sunday, he equated overcoming adversity on the field this year with dealing with it in life.

"When you get to the next level (the NFL), or even in life when things are not going your way, you just can't hide up under a bridge or hide up under a rock," he said. "You've got to keep going."

With athletes, winning almost always does fix things. People cheer—and get emotionally attached to star athletes as if they represent the beliefs of a town and a community. That is, when they win.

If Winston leads Florida State to another national championship in the next few weeks, then more and more people will add that up with the fact that even a Florida Supreme Court justice didn't find enough evidence to prove wrongdoing, saying only that the stories of Winston and the alleged victim both had holes, but that neither was more believable than the other.

The truth is Winston's college legacy won't be set until a few years after his pro career starts. This season as a villain will never fully be wiped from his legacy. But if he plays well and starts to behave well as a grown man out on his own, it will be pushed back.

On Thursday, he'll face another Heisman winner, Marcus Mariota, whose college legacy is set as the ultimate humble good-guy. It's another chance for Winston to just keep going, as he put it.

His spot in history is guaranteed. What that spot is, exactly, isn't quite set yet. But it will have nothing to do with walking down the street backward.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Football: Players to Watch in High School All-American Games

The Texas A&M football coaches have one of the top 10 recruiting classes in the nation committed to sign with them in February. The Aggies have multiple members of their signing class participating in national high school All-Star games.

The Aggies have two commitments in the Under Armour All-Star and four in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. There are multiple uncommitted recruits in the two games who may sign with the Aggies in February.

In the 2014 Under Armour Game, Speedy Noil and Myles Garrett had standout performances that were a nice prelude to their impact on the Texas A&M team as true freshmen.

This is a look at the 2015 Texas A&M recruits who will be participating in national high school All-American games.  

Begin Slideshow

Michigan Football: Players to Watch in High School All-American Game

Thanks to continuous slides in the wrong direction, Michigan ended up losing eight high-end pieces to its 2015 class. Evidently, Brady Hoke’s final two seasons—5-7 in 2014 and 7-6 in 2013—gave more than enough reason for several 4- and 5-star talents to look elsewhere. 

At one point, the 2015 class appeared to be on track for something special. It could have been one of Michigan's finest hauls, certainly that for Hoke. Today, it's in desperate need of repair. 

The Wolverines seem to be ready for the future, reportedly telling recruits that they’ll have a new head coach this week—likely San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh, per Adam Schefter of ESPN (h/t ESPN.com news services).

Those who jumped ship may reconsider their decision to cut ties, while some others may view Ann Arbor as a better option than their current situation—and a lot of those prospects are playing in the upcoming 2015 Under Armour and Army High School All-Star Games.

It’s time to take a look at what could be an open market for Harbaugh, who is, according to several local reports, certainly on the way to save Michigan football; its upcoming class, which has six members, could receive a much-needed boost (Harbaugh-kick in the backside) just in time for national signing day, Feb. 4, 2015.

Recruit information via 247Sports. 

I just got off the phone with more sources tonight. It's done. Jim Harbaugh is coming to Michigan - and his friends are flying in Monday.

— John U. Bacon (@Johnubacon) December 28, 2014

Begin Slideshow

Bowl Games 2014-15: Schedule, Predictions and More for Rest of Postseason

Take a much-deserved breath, college football fans. There are no bowl games Sunday after an incredible start to the postseason that has featured overtime thrillers, costly kicking gaffes, Hail Mary endings and conference pride.

The good news is there are plenty of games remaining after your one-day, NFL-induced Sunday break.

Here is a look at some predictions for the remaining bowl showdowns before a closer look at an intriguing game to watch.

 

Intriguing Battle to Watch: Oklahoma vs. Clemson

Two of the most recognizable programs in college football will square off Monday in the Russell Athletic Bowl, although motivation could come into play for both Oklahoma and Clemson.

Remember, Clemson finished last season with an Orange Bowl victory over Ohio State, while Oklahoma knocked off perennial powerhouse Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Now, the Crimson Tide and Buckeyes are squaring off in the initial College Football Playoff, while the Sooners and Tigers turned in mediocre seasons by their standards to reach Orlando.

Even if the motivation is there, Clemson could have some trouble on offense.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson was the leader of that unit with 14 touchdown passes to only two interceptions. He also added five scores with his legs and improved as the season progressed.

The problem is that he is recovering from knee surgery and will not play in this game.

That means the Tigers will turn the offense over to Cole Stoudt, who threw zero touchdowns and six interceptions in his eight games against bowl-bound teams. That is not exactly an encouraging statistic for Clemson fans, and it may be difficult to watch this offense Monday.

Granted, the Sooners are an abysmal 115th in the country against the pass, but Clemson is not exactly positioned to take advantage of that with Stoudt under center. Don’t expect the Tigers to have a lot of luck relying on the run either, considering Oklahoma is 10th in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game.

The Clemson defense seemed to understand that it has to turn in a solid game to win, as defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said, according to STATS LLC, via ESPN.com:

"We have full confidence in our offense and their abilities. They just got to handle their adversity and they're going to do fine, but we're going to continue to do our part and do what we've been doing all year and try to put a strong finish on our season."

The Tigers defense is well positioned to do just that. It finished first in the nation in yards allowed per game, third against the pass, seventh against the run and sixth in scoring defense. Defensive end Vic Beasley took home the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award behind his 11 sacks.

Something will have to give since Clemson held seven of its last eight opponents to 20 points or fewer, while the Sooners scored at least 30 in every game but one.

That Oklahoma offense was 10th in the nation in scoring and will rely heavily on superstar running back Samaje Perine. He set a major college record with 427 rushing yards against Kansas and has averaged 8.6 yards per carry in the past five games. He also finished eighth in the country with 1,579 rushing yards. 

Perine was dealing with injuries late in the season, but John Shinn of The Norman Transcript had some good news for Sooners supporters:

Ultimately, Oklahoma’s biggest weakness—its vulnerable secondary—will not be nearly the same issue against Stoudt as it would against Watson. Throw that on top of the fact that the Sooners consistently stuff the run, and it is difficult to envision Clemson scoring a lot of points.

This will be a low-scoring affair simply because the Tigers bring a top-notch defense to the table, but the injured Clemson offense will not have enough firepower to keep up with Perine for four quarters.

Look for a late Oklahoma touchdown to put this one away. 

Prediction: Oklahoma 21, Clemson 13

 

Follow me on Twitter:

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Game Schedule 2014-15: Full Viewing Info and Key Storylines to Watch

One of the virtues of having so many bowl games is there is no shortage of storylines to keep track of in college football. You can come up with a long list of items for each matchup, so when you multiply that by 39, it becomes difficult to keep up with. 

Instead of trying to keep track of every storyline from every bowl game, it's easier to pinpoint the biggest points to which everyone will be paying attention. It's not easy to single out a few things in the midst of a bowl barrage, but that's what makes this such a special time for the sport. 

To help build your anticipation for what's going to happen this bowl season, here's a look at the remaining schedule and what you need to watch closely. 

2014-15 Bowl TV Schedule and Odds Date Bowl Matchup (Spread) Time (ET) TV           Dec. 29 AutoZone Liberty Bowl West Virginia (-3.5) vs. Texas A&M 2 p.m. ESPN Dec. 29 Russell Athletic Bowl Clemson vs. Oklahoma (-3.5) 5:30 p.m. ESPN Dec. 29 AdvoCare Texas Bowl Texas vs. Arkansas (-6) 9 p.m. ESPN Dec. 30 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl Notre Dame vs. LSU (-7) 3 p.m. ESPN Dec. 30 Belk Bowl Louisville vs. Georgia (-6.5) 6:30 p.m. ESPN Dec. 30 Foster Farms Bowl Maryland vs. Stanford (-14) 10 p.m. ESPN Dec. 31 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Ole Miss vs. TCU (-3) 12:30 p.m. ESPN Dec. 31 VIZIO Fiesta Bowl Boise State vs. Arizona (-3) 4 p.m. ESPN Dec. 31 Capital One Orange Bowl Mississippi State (-7) vs. Georgia Tech 8 p.m. ESPN Jan. 1 Outback Bowl Wisconsin vs. Auburn (-6.5) 12 p.m. ESPN2 Jan. 1 Goodyear Cotton Bowl Michigan State vs. Baylor (-2.5) 12:30 p.m. ESPN Jan. 1 Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl Minnesota vs. Missouri (-5) 1 p.m. ABC Jan. 1 Rose Bowl Game Oregon (-9) vs. Florida State 5 p.m. ESPN Jan. 1 Allstate Sugar Bowl Alabama (-9) vs. Ohio State 8:30 p.m. ESPN Jan. 2 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl Pittsburgh (-3) vs. Houston 12 p.m. ESPN Jan. 2 TaxSlayer Bowl Iowa vs. Tennessee (-3.5) 3:20 p.m. ESPN Jan. 2 Valero Alamo Bowl Kansas State vs. UCLA (-1.5) 6:45 p.m. ESPN Jan. 2 Cactus Bowl Oklahoma State vs.Washington (-5.5) 10:15 p.m. ESPN Jan. 3 Birmingham Bowl Florida (-6.5) vs. East Carolina 1 p.m. ESPN2 Jan. 4 GoDaddy Bowl Toledo (-4) vs. Arkansas State 9 p.m. ESPN Jan. 12 College Football Championship Game TBD 8:30 p.m. ESPN

ESPN.com / Odds Shark

Odds via Odds Shark

 

Which Jameis Winston Will Show Up vs. Oregon?

One of the great mysteries of the 2014 college football season has been trying to figure out which Jameis Winston is going to show up on a given day. The last two games for Florida State's quarterback perfectly encapsulated this problem. 

In the regular-season finale against Florida, Winston was terrible. He threw four interceptions, going 12-of-24 for 125 yards in a 24-19 victory. Just when you think the Seminoles are in trouble, however, the 2013 Heisman winner comes back in the ACC Championship Game by going 21-of-30 for 309 yards and three touchdowns. 

Florida State can't get away with another performance from Winston like the one he had against Florida. The Seminoles are going up against their most formidable opponent since the Auburn Tigers in last year's BCS Championship Game when Oregon takes the field. 

Jimbo Fisher's team does catch a break against Oregon's defense. Star cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu suffered a knee injury during practice for the Rose Bowl, which ended his season. With him out, look for Rashad Greene to be targeted early and often until Oregon proves it has someone who can cover the star wideout. 

The Ducks have been as consistent as any team in the country on offense, scoring 40 or more points in 11 of 13 games. Marcus Mariota won the 2014 Heisman Trophy with 4,478 yards and 53 total touchdowns. Florida State's defense has given up a lot of points to mediocre teams, letting NC State to drop 41 on it. 

However, one area the Seminoles can boast about being better than Oregon is in close games. The Ducks don't play in many of them, while the Seminoles this year had seven games decided by six points or fewer. Expanding things out slightly, per FSU Gameday, Winston excels in tight games compared to Mariota:

No quarterback in the country has shown a better knack for blocking out all of the noise on and off the field than Winston. Whether he's able to do that against a dynamic Oregon team is another story. 

If there is a game in which Winston's inconsistencies will come back to haunt him, it is against an explosive offense like Oregon's. Of course, Florida State has been teetering on the edge all year and come out unscathed. 

 

Will OSU's Rushing Attack Succeed vs. Alabama?

Even though Cardale Jones got all of the attention for Ohio State's 59-0 victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, it was the Buckeyes' running game that set everything else up. Ezekiel Elliott went off with 220 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.

In fact, Elliott might be the unsung hero for Ohio State in 2014. J.T. Barrett was phenomenal when he was healthy and Jones certainly looked good against Wisconsin, but the sophomore running back has 1,402 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. 

ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit told Zac Ellis of Sports Illustated that Elliott reminds him a lot of another former Buckeyes star:

When J.T. Barrett started to establish himself as a threat running, and those four new offensive linemen started to get game reps, the combination of those two things opened up opportunities for Ezekiel Elliott to have the year that he’s had. By the end of the year, he started to be somewhat reminiscent to what we saw a year ago from Carlos Hyde.

Elliott's contributions will be more important than ever against Alabama in the College Football Playoff. Nick Saban's defense may give up big plays in the passing game on occasion, but they are always stout against the run, and that was no different in 2014. 

Diving deeper into the numbers, Alabama hasn't allowed one 100-yard rusher this season. The Crimson Tide led the nation with three rushing touchdowns allowed and tied for the second-fewest yards allowed per carry (2.8), per Yahoo Sports.

If Ohio State's running game isn't working like it did in the Big Ten Championship, that puts more pressure on Jones to make plays with his arm. Saban has no problems exploiting a young quarterback in a game in which the stakes can't get any higher.

Elliott has had great success running against Big Ten defenses, but he's going up against an entirely different animal in Alabama on New Year's Day. It's going to be hard for Ohio State to drum up any offense in this game.

 

Are Baylor and TCU In For A Letdown?

Looking away from the College Football Playoff, the two teams that were just outside the top four in the final rankings have business to handle. TCU has a showdown with Mississippi in the Peach Bowl, while Baylor has to tackle Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl. 

Even though the opposition is formidable, this can't feel like anything but a step down for both Big 12 teams, based on where they hoped to be after their final games. TCU and Baylor did everything they could to show the selection committee they were worthy of a spot, but the committee opted to take the easy way out by going with Ohio State.

Baylor head coach Art Briles addressed the topic of a letdown in the bowl game during a press conference after his team got left out of the playoff, via Kyle Austin of MLive.com:

"That's not an issue at all," Briles said. "Our guys want to play, they want to win, they want to represent. We can win 12 games. We can finish [as] a top-five team. For our seniors and our program, it's a huge, huge game."

Briles did a good job of spinning things, but there are plenty of past instances when superior teams have looked lackluster in bowl games. Last year, Alabama made Oklahoma look like a world-beater in the Sugar Bowl and prompted poll voters to make the Sooners a top-five team in the preseason rankings. 

TCU also went on the spin cycle after accepting an invite to the Peach Bowl. Athletic director Chris Del Conte told Carlos Mendez of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram that if "you had told me at the beginning of the year—11-1, Peach Bowl? I’m sold."

Of the two Big 12 teams, TCU seems more likely to come out flat in its game. Baylor has the advantage of playing a game close to home in Arlington, Texas. TCU is going into the heart of SEC territory against the nation's top-ranked scoring defense in Mississippi. 

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff Championship 2015: Analyzing Schedule and Matchups

The defending champion Florida State Seminoles will take on the Oregon Ducks in the Rose Bowl, and the Alabama Crimson Tide face the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl. At stake for all four teams is an opportunity to play in the first-ever College Football Playoff championship.

The matchups for the CFP don't favor the Ducks or the Buckeyes. Both teams have had excellent one-loss seasons but are headed toward battles with teams that will overpower them. Bo Mattingly of Sports Talk with Bo spoke with Bruce Feldman who sees the same two teams emerging, but he believes the games will be close. I do not.

Here's a breakdown of the schedule for the entire postseason bracket.

Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual
College Football Playoff Semifinal

No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State Pasadena, Calif.
Rose Bowl Jan. 1
5 p.m. ESPN Allstate Sugar Bowl
College Football Playoff Semifinal

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State New Orleans
Mercedes-Benz Superdome Jan. 1
8:30 p.m. ESPN

College Football Playoff National Championship                        

Presented by AT&T

Arlington, Texas
AT&T Stadium Jan. 12
8:30 p.m. ESPN

 

Oregon Will Struggle to Move the Ball Against Seminoles

The big question in the Rose Bowl is: Can Oregon consistently move the ball against Florida State? My opinion is no.

Marcus Mariota deserved the Heisman Trophy he won earlier in the month, but he and his offensive teammates have never played against a defense with so many future NFL players.

The Seminoles' defensive line features two stud interior players in Mario Edwards and Eddie Goldman. That duo will collapse the Ducks' inside protection and keep Mariota under pressure. 

Even when Mariota is able to get protection, Florida State's cornerbacks, Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams, are capable of locking down the Heisman winner's weapons on the outside. Expect some uncharacteristic turnovers to lead to short fields in the first half for Jameis Winston and the offense.

Florida State will take the early lead and never look back en route to an easy win.

 

Alabama's Speed and Offensive Weapons Will Devour Ohio State

Oregon has a chance to keep it close against Florida State, but it's hard to find a way that the Buckeyes can keep from getting blown out by the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl.

On both sides of the ball, it would appear that Alabama has the huge edge. Offensively, Blake Sims has the premier passing weapon in the nation in Amari Cooper. Alabama's offensive line is big, strong and versatile. They can give Sims the time to allow Cooper to get deep, or pave running lanes.

The team's running backs TJ Yeldon and Derrick Henry both have a chance to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark against the Buckeyes. Yeldon needs just 68 yards and Henry is 105 short.

Throw in the fact that Sims is pretty nimble and can be a dual threat, and Ohio State is going to have a tough time stopping 'Bama.

On defense, 'Bama's front seven isn't as star-studded as it has been in years past, but the group led by Xzavier Dickson and Jonathan Allen are still the most athletic group Ohio State will have faced. With third-string quarterback Cardale Jones tasked with finding holes in 'Bama's defense, he'll be left at the mercy of Nick Saban's in-game adjustments. Ohio State is in trouble.

This one will be over shortly after halftime and the national championship meeting with Florida State will take center stage.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff 2014-15: Predictions for Top Storylines of Semifinals

Storylines abound in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Regardless of how things got to this point—the lack of a Big 12 title game being an interesting storyline in its own right—the fact of the matter is that the teams in the big dance make for quite an interesting set of potential showdowns.

On one side is Oregon and Florida State, a showdown with plenty of quarterback prestige and cross-conference narratives that shed both defenses in questionable light.

On the other is Ohio State and Alabama, which really writes itself as a showdown between two conferences with no love lost and a pair of head coaches with plenty of history.

The only thing left is for the games finally to arrive.

 

2015 College Football Playoff Schedule

Odds courtesy of Odds Shark and accurate as of 3 p.m. ET on Dec. 27.

 

Marcus Mariota Wins a Quarterback Duel

By now, observers know the tale of the tape.

Florida State's Jameis Winston won the Heisman last year but has since lived on the edge. Late-game comebacks are all that litter his resume this year, although 24 touchdowns to 17 interceptions means many consider an undefeated campaign a "down" one.

It is funny how that goes, really. Mariota has a loss to his name this year but is one of the most dominant Heisman winners in history thanks to 4,452 total yards and 52 total touchdowns.

In fact, the accolades continue to pour in, as AP Top 25 illustrates:

Regardless, the two have their teams in the CFP and set for a duel. 

That duel will go to Mariota, too. The Ducks signal-caller has been in pristine form in big games this year. He threw for three scores against Michigan State. He posted four total touchdowns against Stanford, four against Utah, six against Oregon State and five against Arizona—all blowout victories.

Winston shows the exact opposite in recent narrow escapes. He threw one touchdown to an interception in a four-point win over Miami (Fla.). Instead, tailback Dalvin Cook ran for 92 yards and the game-winning score with about three minutes left.

Rinse and repeat in a 24-19 win over Florida. Winston threw a pair of scores along with four interceptions while Cook carried the team with 144 rushing yards.

For a game billed as a quarterback showdown, the edge clearly goes to one side. Even worse, speculation that the Florida State defense is unlike anything Oregon has seen all year long is patently false given Mariota's strong performances against Michigan State (14th-ranked defense) and Stanford (second), not to mention his ability to torch defenses on rollouts.

Mariota and the Ducks get the nod in a matchup that goes to the better quarterback.

 

Alabama Runs over Ohio State

A meeting of the minds between Urban Meyer and Nick Saban is as good as it gets from a coaching standpoint.

On the field, Alabama is too much.

Saban flipped the script this year thanks to the surprise promotion of Blake Sims. The starting quarterback threw for 3,250 yards and 26 touchdowns in a performance that lifted the Crimson Tide to an average of 37.1 points per game.

The run-first label shed, now would be a good time to remind folks that few better running back tandems this side of Arkansas are better than T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry:

This is where things get a bit ugly. Cardale Jones, a third-string quarterback turned Big Ten Championship hero, is a great story. So is starting tailback Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for 1,402 yards and 12 touchdowns.

What is lost in translation is the disparity between defenses.

Alabama ranks fourth in the nation and controls the trenches. Arkansas' elite ground game rushed for just 89 yards against the Crimson Tide defense. LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn each ran for more than 100 total yards, but combined for just one touchdown and no victories in the process.

The Crimson Tide can shut down Elliott, especially against an attack led by an inexperienced quarterback. In that same vein, the duo of Yeldon and Henry will have few issues with an Ohio State defense that excels at rushing the passer but allowed Minnesota to rush for 218 yards and three scores and Indiana to gain 281 and three.

Call it a deceptive matchup perhaps not worth all of the hype. Regardless, the eventual outcome is obvious.

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Orange Bowl 2014: Updated Odds, Preview for Georgia Tech vs. Mississippi State

Make no mistake, the 2014 Capital One Orange Bowl between Georgia Tech (10-3, 6-2 ACC) and Mississippi State (10-2, 6-2 SEC) is more than just one last showcase for two of the bigger programs in the nation.

This competition, despite taking place outside of the College Football Playoff, which should siphon most of the attention placed on NCAA football this winter, is plenty meaningful to the teams involved.

"We felt this was an unbelievable destination for us to go to," Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said, via the AP (h/t FoxSports.com). "If you went and asked all our players to what bowl game they wanted to go, this would be their No. 1 choice."

It's been 75 years since the Bulldogs last played in the Orange Bowl, making this perhaps one of the most meaningful bowl games outside of the CFP, if one is capable of getting emotionally invested in this year's overcoming of a stark history in Starkville.

The two-loss team's real No. 1 choice was assuredly a spot in the playoff, but this is quite the consolation prize.

Georgia Tech is coming off a close loss to Florida State in the ACC title game, but the Yellow Jackets have had plenty of time to shrug off that disappointing result and come out ready to prove the Seminoles aren't the only ACC team capable of defeating marquee opponents from the other Power Five conferences.

A battle against an SEC squad is the perfect opportunity for some interconference jockeying.

Here is a look at the latest odds and viewing information for the Capital One Orange Bowl, followed by a quick preview of what to watch for in this high-profile contest.


2014 Orange Bowl Odds, Viewing Info

Date: Dec. 31

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Location: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida

Matchup (spread): Georgia Tech vs. Mississippi State (-6.5)

Odds: Georgia Tech +105, Mississippi State -115

TV: ESPN

Live Stream:WatchESPN

Note: Odds courtesy of Odds Shark and updated as of Dec. 28 at 12 a.m. ET.


Preview

The first task for Mississippi State will be contending with the Yellow Jackets' triple-option offense, a throwback attack that produced 4,337 rushing yards this season.

There is no big secret to head coach Paul Johnson's offense, just a beguiling mix of option runs, dive plays, counters and tosses designed to flummox even the most disciplined of defenses. Sticking to assignments and maintaining gaps will be key to the Bulldogs' success in this contest. 

"They catch a lot of people out of gaps a lot of time," Bulldogs defensive lineman Preston Smith said, via the Sun Sentinel's Ryan S. Clark. "They catch people slipping who are trying to do too much. They break on a lot of the mistakes that other teams make. Watching film, we've seen we have to do to eliminate the mistakes other teams have made against them."

Yellow Jackets quarterback Justin Thomas was in fact the team's leading rusher, with 965 of the 4,337 rushing yards, but it's not like the team's preeminent ball-carrier is allergic to the pass. Thomas still managed to throw for 1,594 yards and 17 touchdowns against just five interceptions.

Dive back Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days were key cogs in the triple-option machine, combining for 1,441 rushing yards this season.

Of course, much of the team's success through the air comes from catching its opposition off guard, and Thomas completed just 50.9 percent of his passes.

If Mississippi State can manage to force this team into 3rd- and 4th-and-long situations, it should have a solid chance of ending drives early. The Bulldogs boast a voracious defensive front, anchored by Smith, who racked up 14.5 tackles for loss this season, per CFBStats.com. 

Johnson is aware of the challenge.

"All of those guys that they have up front are good," Johnson said, via the Sun Sentinel's Scott Alan Salomon. "They have a really good front seven, and I spoke to some coaches in the conference and they think that they might be the best front seven in the entire SEC."

Mississippi State allowed just 126.5 rushing yards per game this season.

Fourth down is mentioned because Johnson isn't keen on punting the ball. Georgia Tech converted on 12 of 17 fourth downs and punted just 29 times all season.

Johnson will do all he can to establish an early lead and hold on for dear life, as his defense is liable to let him down against Dak Prescott and the Bulldogs offense.

Prescott accounted for 37 total touchdowns and 3,935 all-purpose yards this season. He formed an effective backfield tandem with running back Josh Robinson, who averaged 6.4 yards per carry and rushed for 11 touchdowns.

The Yellow Jackets ranked 49th in points against and 64th in yards allowed per contest. The Bulldogs couldn't have achieved such great balance without a stout offensive line.

SB Nation's Reid Coker noted offensive lineman Ben Beckwith as perhaps the most important offensive player not named Dak or Josh:

The fact that the guy went from being a walk on to a starter in the SEC says all you need to know. But not only was he a starter, he had so good of a season that he received All-SEC and All-American honors. The interior of the offensive line dominated in the big wins this season, and Beckwith was a big reason why. The offensive line as a whole made the difference for the offense this year. They don't have a lot of star power, but they are experienced and played well enough to give us a chance to win every single game.

If the Bulldogs can storm out to an early lead, it could prove to be a tough uphill climb for the Yellow Jackets, who can't rely on quick-strike attacks to shift the tide of the game. Their best bet for racking up an early advantage might be getting pressure and forcing Prescott into making mistakes.

The Yellow Jackets picked off 17 passes this season. Junior defensive backs Jamal Golden and D.J. White led the way with four each.

However, Prescott doesn't make too many mistakes and is liable to tuck the ball and run instead of forcing passes into coverage. Georgia Tech recovered 12 fumbles this season, but those can't be relied upon in a game of this magnitude.

Look for these teams to trade blows early on, with Georgia Tech's misdirection dizzying the Bulldogs for the first couple quarters and racking up a ton of yardage. Prescott will hook up with wideout De'Runnya Wilson early and often and keep Mississippi State in contention.

Once the Bulldogs start picking up their cues on defense, they should be able to build a slim advantage and hold it against a Yellow Jackets team that doesn't have the ability to mount a quick, late comeback, especially against a disciplined defense used to big-game pressure by this point.

Prediction: Mississippi State 34, Georgia Tech 28

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Fiesta Bowl 2014: Top Storylines to Follow in Boise State vs. Arizona

Boise State enters the 2014 Fiesta Bowl looking to build on an already-prestigious history in the bowl, going up against an Arizona team that might feel a distinct home-field advantage.

But although the Wildcats should have somewhat of a crowd advantage due to the proximity, the Broncos will make this quite the spectacle. Along with prestigious history in the bowl game, Boise State has shown its grit amid emerging as the only non-Power Five team to notch a Top 25 ranking at season's end.

But the Broncos will go up against an Arizona team looking to make up for its most recent drubbing at the hands of Oregon, and also hoping to get its 11th win in what has been a memorable season.

Here's a look at the top storylines to watch for in the Fiesta Bowl.

 

The Quest for 3-0

No matter what Boise State accomplishes in bowl games for the distant future, the 2007 Fiesta Bowl will forever live in college football lore.

An unthinkable Statue of Liberty play won the Broncos the Fiesta Bowl over Oklahoma in crazy fashion. Then, Boise State repeated the feat in 2010 by knocking off No. 4 TCU 17-10 in the program's second appearance.

Now back for the third time ever, the Broncos shouldn't expect anything other than to make it a perfect 3-0. 

Even though their first appearance in the Fiesta Bowl came just eight years ago, the Broncos can inch closer to history with another win, as 93.1 The Ticket's Jeff Caves noted:

The Mountain West-hailing Broncos haven't faced too much elite opposition this season to show how they'll fare against Arizona, but they have impressed in certain stretches. They hung in there for most of a 28-14 loss to Ole Miss in August, and they toppled bowl-bound foes like BYU, San Diego State, Utah State and Colorado State convincingly. 

Unlike the last two times the Broncos made it here, though, it hasn't quite been a banner year. With two losses on the slate, it remains to be seen whether Boise State has enough magic to make a third run at a bowl it has dominated.

 

Month-Long Hangover

Conventional wisdom would suggest that Arizona's more than excited to be a part of the Fiesta Bowl. After all, the Wildcats haven't made it here since 1993.

But it'd be even easier to suggest that Rich Rodriguez's crew will have somewhat of a hard time getting up for this one.

The last time Arizona played, it faced an Oregon team that it beat the previous time the two met. The sequel wasn't as rewarding for the Wildcats, who were drubbed 51-13 in a game that could have propelled them into the College Football Playoff conversation.

It's made Rodriguez—and many around Arizona's facilities, probably—a little on edge, as Arizona Daily Star's Daniel Berk noted:

Of course, the Wildcat players can take that edge one of two ways—they can come into New Year's Eve with a chip on their shoulder, or come in deflated after a few weeks of lower spirits than normal.

Getting a bid to the Fiesta Bowl likely reinvigorated the Arizona players, but nothing turns things around like winning football games. And even though we're a few weeks removed from it, that loss to Oregon is freshest on the Wildcats players' minds.

If the hangover carries on into the first quarter, Rodriguez and Co. could get run out of Glendale.

 

Battle of the Best

Boise State's Jay Ajayi and Arizona's Scooby Wright III have been impossible to contain for their respective teams in 2014.

Already declared for the NFL draft, Ajayi has proven to be uncatchable all season long. He's scampered for a whopping 1,689 yards, amassing a total of 2,225 yards from scrimmage and serving as a one-man wrecking crew.

The playmaker he'll be going up against first and foremost has him beat on postseason accolades, however. The sophomore linebacker took home the Bednarik Award and Nagurski Award (top defensive player) rather convincingly, and he's only a spry 20 years old.

Wright typically makes his impact rushing the passer, and he'll certainly become acclimated with Grant Hedrick. But with how much the Broncos value the run, he'll be called upon to shed blockers and find Ajayi before he breaks loose.

What makes their matchup even crazier is that Wright could be in Boise blue, as Rivals.com's Jeremy Rodrigues noted:

When it comes down to it, Wright leads an Arizona defense looking to make up for two paltry performances against Oregon and Arizona State to close out 2014. He and the defense will be intent on a big performance to set the tone entering next year.

Meanwhile, Ajayi is playing in his last collegiate game and looking to leave a lasting impact on his legacy in practically Boise State's championship setting. 

Both players will have everything to play for on New Year's Eve, but in much different ways. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Sugar Bowl 2015: Keys to Victory in Alabama vs. Ohio State Playoff Clash

This might sound like a cliche, but just participating in the Sugar Bowl signifies a remarkable feat for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

The heavy underdog heading into Thursday's showdown against the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide, Urban Meyer's club lost starting quarterback Braxton Miller early in the season, only to see his sensational replacement, J.T. Barrett, go down right before the end.

Yet the Buckeyes captured the inaugural College Football Playoff's fourth and final spot by dismantling the Wisconsin Badgers for the Big Ten crown. Meyer praised his team's resolve to ESPN.com's Austin Ward:

Incredible year, a year that if you would have told me back in August when I saw our starting quarterback go down that this would happen, I would have said, 'Not yet.' You just never can devalue the chemistry on a team, the closeness of a team. And then when you deal with tragedy and other things that our team has experienced throughout the year, it was a learning experience. I learned more from our players maybe this year than in a long time.

As a reward for their hard work, the Buckeyes play the 12-1 Crimson Tide, who are armed with their usual suffocating defense and one of their most explosive offenses in years. After getting shunned from the title picture last year, they're now in the driver's seat to reclaim college football's throne.

Let's take a look at what needs to happen for each squad to celebrate New Year's Day with a victory.

 

When: Thursday, Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana

Watch: ESPN/WatchESPN

 

Alabama vs. Ohio State Stats

 

Alabama's Key to Victory: Don't Lose Turnover Battle

Look at the pretty table above, and the tale of the tape doesn't give Ohio State much reason for optimism besides a slightly superior passing game now operating without Barrett. There's only one notable advantage for Ohio State, which boasts a plus-nine turnover margin to Alabama's minus-one.

This is where you should be saying, "But the Buckeyes recovered 21 fumbles all season. Fumble recoveries are more luck than skill." Very true. There's a craft involved to stripping balls loose, but no linebacker possesses the sorcery to control how it then bounces.

For a heavy favorite like the Crimson Tide to lose, such fortune would have to turn against them. Notice it doesn't even say "Win Turnover Battle." Shaking Cardale Jones could turn this match into a rout, but simply avoiding any mistakes on their end will ensure a victory.

Nick Saban preached the same philosophy in his own way before the SEC championship clash against Missouri. Per AL.com's Natalie Pierre, he encouraged quarterback Blake Sims to stay poised like a fictional character from a movie well before Sims' time:

Even with the reference lost on him, the junior went 23-of-27 passing for a cruising offense that generated 9.7 yards per play and secured the football. That rousing efficiency will earn the nation's top-ranked club a ticket to the championship.

In its only loss of the season, on the other hand, Alabama coughed up two turnovers to Mississippi State, including an interception in the end zone with under a minute left. Such game-changing plays are the only way to take down a ferocious powerhouse.

 

Ohio State's Key to Victory: Shut Down Run

Thanks to Heisman finalist Amari Cooper, Alabama is far from a one-dimensional offense. Nick Saban's squad can hold its own through the air, but the smashmouth school has not ditched its old-fashioned roots.

The Crimson Tide still produce 209 yards per game through the ground, led by 10 touchdowns apiece from T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. Each rusher enters the playoff bout averaging over five yards per carry.

Nobody is going to eliminate Cooper from the fold, so the Buckeyes instead must prevent any further damage by silencing Alabama's rushing attack. Although not outstanding in that category, they recently stifled the nation's premier runner.

Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon entered the Big Ten title game with 10 straight 120-yard rushing games, scoring 27 touchdowns in the process. Against Ohio State, he mustered just 76 yards on 26 carries during a 59-0 laugher.

Yet two weeks earlier, Indiana's Tevin Coleman burned the Buckeyes for 228 rushing yards and three scores. Heading into Thursday, nobody knows which unit to expect.

Replicating the latter effort will yield disastrous results, as combining a hearty rushing attack with the pairing of Sims and Cooper will force replacement quarterback Jones to carry Ohio State through a shootout.

Keep Yeldon and Henry at bay, and the green signal-caller at least has a fighting chance to lead his club to an upset.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Russell Athletic Bowl 2014: Oklahoma vs. Clemson TV Info, Spread, Time and More

Different paths have the Oklahoma Sooners and Clemson Tigers in the 2014 Russell Athletic Bowl for what promises to be one of the most memorable encounters of the season.

Bob Stoops' Sooners tumbled to the late-December encounter thanks to a heartbreaking overtime loss to Oklahoma State to finish the season at 8-4. Dabo Swinney's team came on strong to end the season and took down South Carolina to finish 9-3.

The paths merge Monday as the Sooners look to get back on track and the Tigers look to finish a surprising season in strong fashion, starting quarterback or not.

 

Opposing Strengths

It is almost as if those who create the bowl games want each encounter to be entertaining.

Mission accomplished here, as a prolific Oklahoma offense takes on the nation's top-ranked defense.

The Sooners figure to have starting quarterback Trevor Knight back. The sophomore's 2,197 yards and 14 touchdowns, with another 340 yards and five scores on the ground, hint at the versatility he brings to the offense.

A freshman leads the nation's ninth-ranked rushing attack, though. Samaje Perine leads a long list of effective runners, albeit in rather dominant fashion:

Clemson is not exactly a team intimidated by rank or statistics, however.

Early hiccups against Georgia and Florida State derailed the season, but a 35-17 blowout over South Carolina shows just how dominant the Tigers can be against top competition. There, a talented Gamecocks rushing attack averaged just 1.9 yards per carry on the way to 63 rushing yards.

An Oklahoma offense accustomed to scoring in the neighborhood of 40 points must now find a way to produce against a defense that allows an average of 17.6.

As they say, something has to give.

 

Grounding it Out

For Clemson, Monday is perhaps the biggest dose of adversity the offense has faced all season.

Freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson lit a fire under the stagnant Tigers attack this season with 1,466 yards and 14 touchdowns to two interceptions through the air and another five scores on the ground.

Things shift back to senior Cole Stoudt under center Monday, though, with Watson out due to knee surgery. In other words, Swinney will need to lean on an upstart rushing attack:

Stoudt has completed 62.0 percent of his passes this season, but he struggles with turnovers, as a 6-10 touchdowns-interceptions ratio shows. Despite his struggles, the defense seems confident that the senior and his unit will uphold their end of the bargain.

"We have full confidence in our offense and their abilities,"defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said, per STATS LLC (via ESPN.com). "They just got to handle their adversity and they're going to do fine, but we're going to continue to do our part and do what we've been doing all year and try to put a strong finish on our season."

Thanks to Wayne Gallman and Tyshon Dye, the Clemson rushing attack figures to be the strong complement Stoudt needs, unlike earlier in the regular season.

What Stoudt does with the talent around him may decide the game outright.

 

When: Monday, December 29, 5:30 p.m. ET

Where: Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida

Television: ESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 52.5
  • Spread: Oklahoma (-3.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

The absence of Watson will hurt Clemson in a big way Monday. 

A sudden lack of versatility in the Tigers attack means the entirety of the pressure falls on the defense. While it's up to the task, few have been game enough to handle Oklahoma's Perine this season. The owner of a minimum of 151 yards and two touchdowns in each of his past three outings, Perine is set to gash Clemson in a way it has not seen so far this year.

For Oklahoma, a disappointing season ends on a high note.

Prediction: Oklahoma 35, Clemson 28

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Liberty Bowl 2014: Texas A&M vs. West Virginia TV Info, Spread, Time and More

Of the offensive-minded bowl games this season, few hold a candle to the Liberty Bowl, in which the Texas A&M Aggies and West Virginia Mountaineers will collide.

Kevin Sumlin's Aggies were not game enough to compete in the SEC, but a young roster gets a great test against an upstart Mountaineers team that also finished with a 7-5 record. Both programs lean on top-12 passing attacks that help the offenses to average a minimum of 33 points per game.

Monday is a critical stepping stone for both programs. Texas A&M needs to mature to compete in a division that contains Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn, LSU and Arkansas, not to mention the SEC as a whole. If West Virginia is to join the ranks of Baylor, TCU and Kansas State, a Monday triumph is a step in the right direction.

It may not be the College Football Playoff, but few games are as important as the Liberty Bowl.

 

Shootout in Memphis

Dana Holgorsen's offense ranks better through the air than the Aggies, but the biggest storyline surrounding the contest is the loss of his starting quarterback, Clint Trickett.

The senior, who threw for 3,285 yards and 18 scores this year, decided to retire before the bowl game due to concussions, as Allan Taylor of the West Virginia Metro News reports:

Things now rest on the arm of sophomore Skyler Howard, who has thrown five touchdowns to no interceptions over the course of his past two outings.

The loss of a starting quarterback is never something to gloss over, but the torrid state of the Aggies defense is noteworthy:

Then again, Sumlin's offense should encounter few issues posting numbers on the scoreboard.

The campaign has been disappointing overall, but the Aggies offense has shown flashes such as a 41-point outburst in an upset of Auburn. Freshman quarterback Kyle Allen leads the way and has 1,028 yards and 12 scores to his name on the year.

A trio of runners who give even the best SEC powers issues this season insulates Allen:

The high-scoring environment magnifies each possession and mistake. Even better, inexperience under center is not the negative it seems.

 

X-Factor Defined 

NFL scouts will invade Memphis Monday. 

The reason, of course, being West Virginia senior wideout Kevin White. A gaudy 102 receptions for 1,318 yards and nine scores on the year is great, but his impact goes beyond numbers.

Truthfully, the Mountaineers go as White goes.

White wowed the nation with a stretch of seven games to start the season in which he surpassed the 100-yard mark. The only losses in that span were understandable—at the hands of Alabama and Oklahoma.

After that, though, White went for more than 100 yards just once in the team's final five games, of which the Mountaineers lost three.

Now the challenge is getting White involved early and often with a backup under center.

"Skyler and I are starting to get on pace, and he has been doing a great job at practice," White said, per STATS LLC (via ESPN.com). "He has improved, and his knowledge of the offense has improved tremendously. ... We will make it work."

Texas A&M cannot handle top-flight receivers (Alabama's Amari Cooper caught eight passes for 140 yards and a pair of scores against the unit back in October), but the wrinkle that is Skyler under center complicates things to a degree.

 

When: Monday, December 29, 2 p.m. ET

Where: Liberty Bowl Memorial, Memphis, Tennessee

Television: ESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 64.5
  • Spread: West Virginia (-3.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

The Texas A&M defense really makes this a simplistic pick. 

Sumlin's offense can move the ball well enough, but not to the point it can compensate for what the defense will allow Monday.

Much of the attention goes to the unfortunate loss of its starting quarterback, but the West Virginia offense could not have asked for a more favorable encounter in order to keep the offense rolling.

Expect just that as White takes things into his own hands in a shootout.

Prediction: West Virginia 42, Texas A&M 35

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Bowl Picks 2014: Predictions on Most Overlooked Games Remaining

With 39 different bowl games, it's only natural that some intriguing matchups will fall through the cracks as everybody talks about the new College Football Playoff.

Most of the attention in the college football world is focused on the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, which serve as national semifinals. And after that, there's the other four bowls that comprise "New Year's Six."

It makes sense that the best teams would receive the most hype.

That also means that a handful of potentially great games are getting overlooked. Below are two such bowls.

 

Most Overlooked Bowls

AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Texas A&M vs. West Virginia

Do you love offense? Of course you do.

West Virginia and Texas A&M are ninth and 12th, respectively, in passing offense and also 64th and 63rd, respectively, in passing yards allowed. With any luck, this bowl turns into one of those games where one quarterback has five touchdowns, but the other one has six.

As if that's not enough reason to tune into this game, Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorsen and Aggies offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, who's a former member of Holgorsen's staff, have had a nice Twitter battle over the last few weeks.

WVU play-by-play man Tony Caridi sparked the friendly battle:

This game will feature two quarterbacks who took over midseason, with Kyle Allen replacing the suspended Kenny Hill, and Skyler Howard stepping in for the injured and subsequently retired Clint Trickett. While Allen arguably has the slight edge in terms of talent and 2014 production, the A&M defense will likely negate that advantage.

Say what you want about Aggies defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, but it's generally not going to help the unit when the DC is gone a month before a bowl game. Texas A&M's defense was already bad enough, giving up 449 yards a game. Take Snyder out of the mix, and little is likely to change.

The Mountaineers have a far more balanced offense as well. Kevin White is perhaps the second-best wide receiver in the country behind Amari Cooper. The trio of Rushel Shell, Wendell Smallwood and Dreamius Smith also combined to rush for 1,856 yards and 14 touchdowns.

It's hard seeing how the A&M defense slows WVU down enough to let Allen have a chance. At least both teams should score points by the bucketload.

Prediction: West Virginia 45, Texas A&M 34

 

Outback Bowl: Auburn vs. Wisconsin

And now from two teams that love to pass to two teams that love to run. Auburn and Wisconsin combined to average 572.5 yards a game during the season. The two teams were 11th and third, respectively, in the country in rushing.

With more and more teams adopting some sort of spread, pass-happy offensive style, the Tigers and Badgers are becoming a bit of a novelty. That's why it will be so much fun to watch them going head-to-head against one another.

If anything, watch this game because it will be Melvin Gordon's last in college football. The 2014 Heisman Trophy runner-up was one of the most dynamic players in the country, rushing for 200-plus yards on five different occasions.

Wisconsin interim head coach Barry Alvarez has seen his fair share of talented RBs at the school, but he didn't hesitate to put Gordon at the top of the list, per Jesse Temple of Fox Sports Wisconsin:

While Gordon is a great collegiate player, the Big Ten title game illustrated that one man cannot win a game by himself. Ohio State held Gordon to 76 yards in a 59-0 shutout.

It's hard to ignore that massive defeat when looking at Wisconsin's chances, considering the loss to the Buckeyes was one of the team's few truly tough games. In another difficult matchup, the Badgers squandered a 17-point second-half lead to LSU.

Auburn also illustrated in the loss to Alabama that it possesses a dynamic passing game. Nick Marshall threw for 456 yards and three touchdowns against the Tide.

Back on Dec. 15, Bleacher Report's college football staff ranked the top dual-threat QBs in the country and listed Marshall fourth behind Marcus Mariota, J.T. Barrett and Brett Hundley. Overall, the Tigers star received an 86 out of 100. The B/R staff highlighted how Marshall's grown into a more balanced quarterback:

Nick Marshall has made striking improvements as a passer. Last season he was timid throwing intermediate and vertical routes, doing most of his damage on screens. This season he has missed fewer open receivers and shown confidence stretching the field. He is still less consistent than the players above him, but he's getting there.

Auburn's not particularly great against the run, but the Tigers should limit Gordon enough so that he doesn't have a monster game. As long as the Badgers running back finishes right around the century mark, the Tigers should be able to overwhelm the Badgers defense with their offensive firepower.

Prediction: Auburn 34, Wisconsin 24

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Games 2014-15: Postseason Schedule and Predictions for Biggest Matchups

We've already seen some epic games during the bowl season, and there are still 21 more postseason tilts to be played.

Any of them could turn into instant classics. It's all leading up to the culmination of the first College Football Playoff, which is scheduled for Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas.

Which two teams will be vying for the distinction of being the first national champion of the playoff era? It's between the Oregon Ducks, Alabama Crimson Tide, defending champion Florida State Seminoles and Ohio State Buckeyes.

I'll give you my take on the two semifinals matchups, but first here's a look at the remaining bowl schedule.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Texas A&M vs. West Virginia Memphis, Tenn.
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium Dec. 29
2 p.m. ESPN Russell Athletic Bowl
Oklahoma vs. No. 17 Clemson Orlando, Fla.
Florida Citrus Bowl Dec. 29
5:30 p.m. ESPN AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl
Arkansas vs. Texas Houston
NRG Stadium Dec. 29
9 p.m. ESPN Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Notre Dame vs. No. 23 LSU Nashville, Tenn.
LP Field Dec. 30
3 p.m. ESPN Belk Bowl
No. 13 Georgia vs. No. 21 Louisville Charlotte, N.C.
Bank of America Stadium Dec. 30
6:30 p.m. ESPN Foster Farms Bowl
Maryland vs. Stanford Santa Clara, Calif.
Levi's Stadium Dec. 30
10 p.m. ESPN Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
No. 9 Ole Miss vs. No. 6 TCU Atlanta
Georgia Dome Dec. 31
12:30 p.m. ESPN VIZIO Fiesta Bowl
No. 20 Boise State vs. No. 10 Arizona Glendale, Ariz.
University of Phoenix Stadium Dec. 31
4 p.m. ESPN Capital One Orange Bowl
No. 7 Mississippi State vs. No. 12 Georgia Tech Miami Gardens, Fla.
Sun Life Stadium Dec. 31
8 p.m. ESPN Outback Bowl
No. 19 Auburn vs. No. 18 Wisconsin Tampa, Fla.
Raymond James Stadium Jan. 1
Noon ESPN2 Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
No. 8 Michigan State vs. No. 5 Baylor Arlington, Texas
AT&T Stadium Jan. 1
12:30 p.m. ESPN Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl
No. 16 Missouri vs. No. 25 Minnesota Orlando, Fla.
Florida Citrus Bowl Jan. 1
1 p.m. ABC Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual
College Football Playoff Semifinal

No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State Pasadena, Calif.
Rose Bowl Jan. 1
5 p.m. ESPN Allstate Sugar Bowl
College Football Playoff Semifinal

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State New Orleans
Mercedes-Benz Superdome Jan. 1
8:30 p.m. ESPN Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
Houston vs. Pittsburgh Fort Worth, Texas
Amon G. Carter Stadium Jan. 2
Noon ESPN TaxSlayer Bowl
Iowa vs. Tennessee Jacksonville, Fla.
EverBank Field Jan. 2
3:20 p.m. ESPN Valero Alamo Bowl
No. 11 Kansas State vs. No. 14 UCLA San Antonio
Alamodome Jan. 2
6:45 p.m. ESPN TicketCity Cactus Bowl
Washington vs. Oklahoma State Tempe, Ariz.
Sun Devil Stadium Jan. 2
10:15 p.m. ESPN Birmingham Bowl
East Carolina vs. Florida Birmingham, Ala.
Legion Field Jan. 3
Noon ESPN GoDaddy Bowl
Toledo vs. Arkansas State Mobile, Ala.
Ladd-Peebles Stadium Jan. 4
9 p.m. ESPN College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T
TBD vs. TBD Arlington, Texas
AT&T Stadium Jan. 12
8:30 p.m. ESPN

 

Florida State Will Roll Past Oregon

The battle of the last two Heisman Trophy winners won't be much of a contest. The Seminoles have squeaked by winning a mountain of close games all season long. Truth be told, they haven't played well for 60 minutes in any game this season.

With everything on the line and facing the newly crowned Heisman winner, the Seminoles will produce their best performance of the season. The lack of respect from the CFP committee and analysts have created an us-against-the-world theme for the champions, and that's bad news for Oregon.

Bo Mattingly of Sports Talk with Bo sees Florida State winning a close one.

Marcus Mariota was deserving of his 2014 Heisman award, but he has never faced a defense as athletic as the Noles. From players such as Eddie Goldman on the defensive line to corners such as P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby, Florida State will get after Mariota.

Turnovers will give the Noles great field position, and Jameis Winston and the offense will make the Ducks pay. Florida State will advance to the championship game with a 34-14 win.

 

Alabama's Speed Will Lead to Blow Out

The Crimson Tide have never had so many weapons on offense. Nor have they had the willingness to use them all. Amari Cooper is the best wide receiver in the nation, and the Tide's offensive line is still big, nasty and dominant.

Add in TJ Yeldon and quarterback Blake Sims has protection and a wealth of ammunition.

Ohio State's defense might be able to keep it close if its offense could stay on the field. Unfortunately for Buckeye Nation, third-string quarterback Cardale Jones and the offense are going to be looking at a lot of three-and-out possessions.

The speed on Alabama's defense will be a shock to Ohio State's system. The front seven will take away Jones' running ability and stuff the conventional run game.

Even if J.T. Barrett or even Braxton Miller had been the signal-caller for Ohio State, I'd lean toward Bama's defense and overall team speed.

However, with the inexperienced Jones in the hot seat, things look even better for Bama. Get ready for a beatdown in the Bayou as Alabama will dominate the Sugar Bowl 40-13.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

AdvoCare Texas Bowl 2014: Arkansas vs. Texas TV Info, Spread, Time and More

Thanks to high-profile upsets near the end of the season, the 2014 AdvoCare Texas Bowl between the Arkansas Razorbacks and Texas Longhorns is much more than just a battle between a pair of .500 teams.

Charlie Strong's Longhorns found a way to take down Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma State in successive fashion to become bowl eligible. Bret Bielema and the Razorbacks did much of the same with upsets of LSU and Ole Miss.

The result is a standoff between a forceful rushing attack and a Texas defense that carries along a struggling offense.

Monday night's marquee showdown is not one to skip.

 

Trench Warfare

Observers know by now that Arkansas does not disguise what it wants to do each time out.

In short, Bielema and Co. want to run the ball down the defense's throat on each play.

Arkansas touts a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, proof enough that the approach works:

The fact Williams even rushed for 83 yards and a score on a 4.2 per-carry average against Alabama in a 14-13 loss speaks volumes about how effective the attack can be against any opponent.

Texas knows a thing or two about strong defense, though. The Longhorns ranked No. 1 in total defense and pass defense in the Big 12 this year.

Though they lost the game, the Longhorns defense held Baylor—a team that averages 48.8 points to lead the nation—to 28 points. A West Virginia offense that averages 33.2 scored just 16 against the unit, while Texas Tech managed just 13 despite its average resting slightly above 30 points per game.

Arkansas brings the pain in the trenches on the opposite side of the football too, mostly thanks to Trey Flowers. The senior end has five sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss this year, which is a large part of the reason the defense ranks 16th nationally in scoring.

It sounds obvious to say any football game is won in the trenches, but this train of thought gets a boost when the two collide Monday.

 

The Weight of the World...

...falls on the shoulders of Longhorns sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes.

The Texas offense can only go as Swoopes does. He has thrown for 2,352 yards and has 16 total touchdowns on the year, but 10 interceptions personify his turnover struggles.

Case in point, a 48-10 season-ending loss to TCU was the direct result of Swoopes' four interceptions. As Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman captures, he is ready to move on from the woeful performance:

Now would be an ideal time to do so, given the magnitude of the historic rivalry being renewed Monday. The emotions run deep, as even Strong outlined recently.

"I grew up in Arkansas, grew up an Arkansas fan because it's a major university in the state," Strong said, per STATS LLC (via ESPN). "So many memorable games. Like I said, the '69 game was an unbelievable game. ... Growing up around it, you just know how big it was and how important it is to so many people."

No pressure, right? 

Swoopes can hurt the Arkansas defense and possibly negate the rush with his legs. If turnover issues persist, though, the Razorbacks will use additional possessions to grind the clock to an eventual win.

 

When: Monday, December 29, 9 p.m. ET

Where: NRG Stadium, Houston, TX

Television: ESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 44.5
  • Spread: Arkansas (-6.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

Las Vegas has this one right. 

The turnaround by Texas is something to be proud of and will help in the recruiting department, but Arkansas is simply further along in the rebuilding process at this stage.

Thanks to a defense that stood tall in the rigors of a brutal SEC schedule, the Razorbacks have a distinct advantage. Rushing the ball will not come as fluidly as usual, but Williams and the stable of Arkansas backs will find plenty of room to operate on the ground.

In a ground-based affair, Arkansas gets the edge.

Prediction: Arkansas 27, Texas 20

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages