NCAA Football News

College Football Week 14: Live Scores, Highlights and Reaction

Keep it locked right here as we bring you live coverage of Week 14 of college football!

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Georgia Tech vs. Georgia: Live Score and Highlights

Early Third Quarter

Georgia Tech 7, Georgia 7

Georgia controlled the first half, but turnovers cost the Bulldogs 14 points.  Will Georgia Tech capitalize in the third quarter?

Follow along for live updates and analysis.

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Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss: Live Score and Highlights

The Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Ole Miss Rebels are getting ready to do battle in the annual Egg Bowl. The game will kick off at 3:30 p.m. EST and will be televised on CBS.

Mississippi State is in a must-win situation after losing to Alabama two weeks ago. The Bulldogs need to beat the Rebels and Alabama needs to lose to Auburn in order for the Bulldogs to face Missouri in the SEC Championship Game next week. But even if the Bulldogs don’t go to the SEC title game, if they beat Ole Miss, they will still have a chance to play in the College Football Playoff since they are the No. 4 team in the country.

Ole Miss started the season strong, winning its first seven games. But since then, the Rebels have lost three of their last four, including a 30-0 loss to Arkansas last week. A win against the Bulldogs would give the Rebels their first nine-win season since 2009. It would also give them a chance to get to 10 wins for the first time since 2003.

Be sure to come back to this blog when the game kicks off for the latest scoring updates and highlights.

 

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SEC Championship 2014: Bold Predictions for Missouri in Title Game

The Missouri Tigers defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks 21-14 Friday, clinching a berth in the SEC championship game. The Tigers were the better offensive team throughout the contest, and then their defense clamped down to seal the game; they established themselves as legitimate SEC title contenders.

Of course, they'll have their hands full with the winner of the SEC West. That side of the conference has been highly competitive this season, and Missouri will be awaiting their fate as Saturday will decide if the Tigers will face the Alabama Crimson Tide or Mississippi State Bulldogs.

While we may not know which team Missouri will be facing just yet, we do know the Tigers' tendencies on the field. This allows some speculation into some bold predictions for the team that will undoubtedly be considered the big underdog in the SEC championship game.

 

Bold Predictions

Maty Mauk Passes for 300 Yards, Three Touchdowns

The Tigers had a rough stretch in the middle of the season due to some down performances from their signal-caller; however, Mauk got back on track and played well over the last five games of the regular season. He's poised to come away with a big game in the championship, and here's why.

Missouri has begun to rely more often on the sophomore quarterback. He's attempted at least 40 passes in two of the team's last three games. The only other time he reached that mark was in September against Indiana in a shootout.

Expect that high volume of passes to continue against either Alabama or Mississippi State due to the strength against the run of both defenses. The Crimson Tide ranks second in the nation, allowing an average of just 85.3 yards per game and just two rushing touchdowns all season long. The Bulldogs are ranked 18th, allowing 119.4 rushing yards per game and just eight touchdowns on the ground this year.

SEC Network tweeted another great reason why this team will continue to rely on Mauk, especially late in the game:

If the Tigers are to keep up with those teams, they will have to do so through the air. Missouri will lean heavily on its quarterback, and Mauk will answer the call.

 

Marcus Murphy Tallies 100 Yards from Scrimmage, Touchdown

The senior running back earned his second consecutive SEC East title, and he'll be an instrumental part of Missouri's game plan against its opposition from the other half of the conference. So, here's the question you may be asking: Why Murphy instead of Russell Hansbrough?

Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweeted the answer:

Hansbrough was injured in the waning seconds of Missouri's clash with Arkansas. He needed to be carted off the field as time expired, and that's never a good sign for any running back. Even if his injury doesn't turn out to be overly serious, it's fair to assume he may be limited in the championship game.

Enter Murphy.

Last year, Murphy only carried four times against Auburn in the championship game, but he did record three receptions for 40 yards and a touchdown. Expect him to produce in the same fashion this time around.

Both Alabama and Mississippi State are good at sitting back in coverage and looking for a potential takeaway. The Crimson Tide have accumulated nine interceptions this season, and the Bulldogs have notched 14. To protect from these ball-hawking secondaries, watch for the Tigers to throw underneath.

Murphy has seen increased usage in this department late in the season, catching five passes against Texas A&M and four against Arkansas. In those two games, he tallied 111 and 85 yards, respectively. If his role does increase, there's no reason to think he can't do the same against a very stout SEC West defense.

 

Missouri Defense Holds Opposing Quarterback Under 200 Passing Yards

The Tigers have been very good against the pass this season. Through 11 games, they allowed an average of just 210.5 passing yards per game, ranking 37th in the nation. That number will get even lower following Friday's contest against Arkansas.

Missouri gave Razorbacks quarterback Brandon Allen fits. He completed just 13 of his 30 passing attempts for 133 yards, averaging just 4.4 yards per attempt. He did tally two touchdowns, but both were early in the game.

After entering halftime completing seven of his 10 passing attempts for 77 yards and two scores, Missouri clamped down. Allen completed just six of his 20 passing attempts for 56 yards in the second half.

Mizzou Football tweeted a comment on the team's best player in its secondary during the game:

One big reason for this team's success in this department this year has been the addition of Kenya Dennis. The 6'1" cornerback has the tools to keep up with talented receivers, and that will go a long way against the likes of either Amari Cooper or De'Runnya Wilson.

While Blake Sims and Dak Prescott have succeeded as passers this season, there's reason to believe Missouri can limit their yards through the air.

Sims hasn't eclipsed 222 passing yards in his three November contests, and Prescott only threw for more than 206 yards in November just once due to a season-high 48 passing attempts against Alabama. Considering the recently limited amount of production through the air from these signal-callers, and the fine play by Missouri's secondary of late, this isn't an unattainable feat.

 

All defensive rankings courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of November 28 at 7:30 p.m. ET.

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Michigan vs. Ohio State: Live Score and Highlights

Michigan 14, Ohio State 14 — Early 3rd quarter

Game action is now underway between Michigan (5-6) and No. 6 Ohio State (10-1). ABC is televising the matchup nationally from Ohio Stadium.

We are watching the game, providing live analysis as the action unfolds:

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South Carolina vs. Clemson: Live Score and Highlights

South Carolina 10, Clemson 21 ; Early 3rd Quarter

The battle for The Palmetto State takes place today, as the Clemson Tigers (8-3) play host to the South Carolina Gamecocks (6-5). 

While both teams don't have a ton to play for from a bowl perspective, there's a lot of pride on the line. Steve Spurrier's team has beaten Dabo Swinney's bunch five straight times. This is the 106th consecutive year both programs have played each other. 

The game will begin at noon ET. It can be seen on ESPN. 

Odds Shark has Clemson as a 6.5-point favorite. A full box score can be found here, courtesy of NCAA.com. 

 

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Bowl Projections 2014: Playoff Predictions, Odds Before Rivalry Clashes

Friday saw UCLA’s College Football Playoff hopes go up in smoke, and we are bound to see more flames Saturday with a number of rivalry showdowns on the immediate horizon. 

Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, Mississippi State and Oregon all square off with their bitter rivals as significant favorites, but rivalry games have a tricky way of eliciting surprising results. After all, Ohio State and Oregon beat overmatched Michigan and Oregon State squads, respectively, by a combined two points last season.

With that in mind, read on to see the latest playoff projections from StatMilk, championship odds from Odds Shark and my own playoff predictions before Saturday’s schedule kicks off.

(Note: As the table header indicates, the logo shown at the far right of each team's row is for that team's next opponent and not for the ranked team itself.)

 

StatMilk and Odds Shark Playoff Projections and Odds

*Odds to win national championship courtesy of Odds Shark, as of Friday night at 10 p.m. ET.

 

Scott Polacek's Playoff Projections

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

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

Championship Bowl (in Arlington, Texas): TBD (semifinal winners)

 

Non-Rivalry Playoff Game to Watch: Baylor vs. Texas Tech

Five of the top six teams in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings will be taking on their archrival Saturday, and TCU already beat Texas on Thanksgiving. Baylor’s battle with Texas Tech won’t draw the headlines that those rivalry clashes will, but it is just as important in the playoff rankings.

The Bears’ clash with the Red Raiders will take place in the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium Saturday, which seemed to work for Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, according to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com:

"It's where the Cowboys play. It's always cool to play in that place because of what it brings and who plays there. That's where we all want to be, playing on Sundays. You're playing on the same field they are, so you love the whole emotion and the setting."

The fact that the game is indoors with no weather conditions could be a problem for Texas Tech’s defense. Baylor boasts the nation’s top scoring offense at a ridiculous 50 points a game and has scored 60 or more points four times already this year. By contrast, the Red Raiders have allowed more than 30 points nine times this season. 

A major reason why Baylor has put up points like it has is the wide receiver corps, which impressed Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, via Baylor Football:

Texas Tech is 125th in the nation in scoring defense at 40.6 points allowed per game. That number is bound to go up against the Bears Saturday.

On the other side, the Red Raiders are sixth in the country in passing yards per game, so they should be able to put up some points, but it won’t be nearly enough to match Baylor’s production.

Style points will be important for the Bears because they are No. 7 in the College Football Playoff rankings. They need to catch up to TCU, especially after the Horned Frogs racked up an impressive showing Thursday against Texas. If Baylor continues to win, its head-to-head victory over TCU could come into play when deciding the final rankings.

Baylor also needs more style points in the race for the No. 4 seed with Ohio State because the Buckeyes have the chance to be outright Big Ten champions with a win over Wisconsin or Minnesota in Indianapolis.

The selection committee will give more credence to conference titles at the end of the season, so Baylor needs to impress as much as possible during the regular season.

It will start Saturday in a blowout win over Texas Tech. 

Prediction: Baylor 61, Texas Tech 27

 

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Big Ten Championship Game 2014: Early Predictions for Title Clash

We know the Ohio State football team will be in Indianapolis on Dec. 6 for the 2014 Big Ten Championship game, but the only question now is, which team from the West Division will join the Buckeyes?

Minnesota travels to Wisconsin Saturday to take on the Badgers in front of a raucous crowd. The winner will clinch a spot in the conference title game, so there is more than just the Paul Bunyan Axe on the line between the two rivals.

As already mentioned, Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes will be in Indianapolis, regardless of what happens Saturday against the hated Michigan Wolverines. There will be plenty at stake for the Scarlet and Gray in that showdown, including a potential spot in the College Football Playoff, redemption for last season’s loss and the team’s first Big Ten Championship game victory since the game was instituted before the 2011 season.

The Buckeyes struggled in the aftermath of Jim Tressel's departure and Terrelle Pryor's suspension in 2011, they were ineligible in 2012 because of the same scandal—which was unfortunate, considering they were undefeated and could have played their way into the national title game—and lost to Michigan State in the 2013 championship game with a national championship berth on the line.

Ohio State came up short under pressure in that game against the Spartans; Michigan State seized a 17-0 lead, but the Buckeyes came back before losing their lead in the fourth quarter.

It’s not a stretch to suggest that the two times a team would feel the most pressure with a spot in the title game on the line (right when the game starts and in the closing quarter) is when Ohio State struggled. It will have to avoid that type of tight play in the 2014 conference title tilt if it wants to make the playoffs.

Regardless of the winner of the Minnesota and Wisconsin game, the prediction is that the Buckeyes will emerge victorious as a result of that painful experience a year ago.

If it is the Golden Gophers, we have already seen that matchup in Minnesota. The Buckeyes were able to put 31 points and 489 total offensive yards on the board in a snow storm in a 31-24 win. It would not have been that close without three costly Ohio State turnovers that led to Minnesota scores and took what was sure to be a Buckeyes touchdown off the board after a fumble inside the five-yard line.

The Big Ten Championship game will be indoors on a fast turf, and between J.T. Barrett, Ezekiel Elliott, Jalin Marshall, Michael Thomas, Curtis Samuel and Devin Smith, the Golden Gophers would not be able to handle Ohio State’s speed for four quarters on that surface.

They couldn’t even do it in the snow in Minnesota.

Minnesota’s David Cobb did run for 145 yards and three scores in that game and would represent a challenge for the Ohio State defense, but not as much of a challenge as Melvin Gordon would in a game against Wisconsin.

Gordon—a one-man wrecking crew when carrying the ball—is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, with 2,109 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns on the ground. JBook of Bucknuts.com pointed out that the Buckeyes would have trouble with Gordon after Ohio State struggled to stop the run against Minnesota and Indiana:

Gordon put up 408 rushing yards in three quarters against Nebraska earlier this season and has propelled himself into the Heisman discussion. He talked about what that award would mean, via Brian Bennett of ESPN.com:

You obviously think about it. When you walk in our new academic center, before you get to the elevators, the Heisman Trophy is right there. There's a little iPad next to it, and sometimes I'll read the stats and things on it. Or sometimes I'll just sit there and look at it and just think, 'It's not easy winning that.’

Wisconsin represents quite a predicament for Ohio State.

On the one hand, it would be good to see Minnesota win against the Badgers so it could avoid a potential matchup with the game’s top running back, especially since it just allowed 228 rushing yards and three touchdowns to Indiana’s Tevin Coleman.

However, a win over Wisconsin, which is No. 14 in the current College Football Playoff rankings but could climb as high as the Top 10 by next week after losses by UCLA and Arizona State Friday, would be much better for the playoff resume.

Gordon would certainly get his yards against the Buckeyes, but the Ohio State offense would counter with more points of its own.

The Buckeyes are fifth in the nation in scoring per game at a ridiculous 44.3 points, and all the points about speed on turf that were mentioned when discussing a matchup with Minnesota still apply here. The Buckeyes would put up enough points in Indianapolis to win the game and the Big Ten championship against either Wisconsin or Minnesota.

Whether it will be enough to impress the selection committee remains to be seen. 

Predictions: Wisconsin beats Minnesota to earn a spot in the title game. Ohio State then beats Wisconsin, 31-24, in the Big Ten Championship game.

 

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ACC Championship Game 2014: Early Preview, Predictions for Title Clash

The ACC and a potential spot in the initial College Football Playoff will all be up for grabs Saturday, Dec. 6 in Charlotte during the ACC Championship Game, but Florida State and Georgia Tech have more immediate concerns on their mind.

The Seminoles take on the hated Florida Gators Saturday, while the Yellow Jackets continue the ACC vs. SEC theme against their archrival, the Georgia Bulldogs.

However, once Florida State gets past its rivalry game, it will have to deal with a better-than-advertised and dangerous Georgia Tech squad. The Seminoles will have a two-season winning streak and playoff spot on the line in the ACC title clash, and the pressure will be squarely on their sideline.

Still, that is the same pressure they have been playing with every time they have taken the field since they won last season’s national title.

As for Georgia Tech, it is 9-2 with wins over Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech and checks in at No. 16 in the College Football Playoff rankings. If it could upset Georgia and Florida State in consecutive weeks, it will play its way straight into a selection committee bowl game on New Year’s Eve. The bottom line is that there will be plenty at stake for more than just Florida State. 

The Seminoles have shown an unfortunate tendency to fall behind early this season, as ESPN Stats & Info noted:

If this happens again in the ACC Championship Game, it will be a serious problem against Georgia Tech.

The Yellow Jackets are fourth in the nation in rushing yards per game and 14th in scoring offense. They will continue to put points on the board throughout the game with their triple-option threat and Justin Thomas mixing in the occasional pass (15 touchdowns through the air on the season).

If the Seminoles fall behind again, few teams in the entire country can work the clock and take the air out of the ball quite like the Yellow Jackets. Ball control and time of possession are the backbone of their offense, which makes it all the more difficult for opponents trying to dig out of an early hole.

Georgia Tech actually used that methodical offensive style and almost upset Florida State in the 2012 ACC title game in what was ultimately a 21-15 loss. Look for a similar formula this time around.

Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal Constitution pointed out why the Yellow Jackets are not the most ideal opponent for the Seminoles:

Florida State has acted bored all season: It doesn’t start playing until it’s two touchdowns behind. If the Seminoles try that against a team that can control the ball and the clock via the run, they’ll get four touchdowns behind and they’ll lose. It would be no great shock if the team that took forever to get noticed is the one to deal FSU its first loss since Nov. 24, 2012.

It is easy to criticize Florida State because it falls behind in so many games, but the important thing is that it wins. That is why it is the defending national champion and has an inside track for one of the four College Football Playoff spots.

Head coach Jimbo Fisher insinuated as much, via Heather Dinich of ESPN.com:

Let me ask you this: How about the way everybody else hasn't finished? Our team has never not finished. The game is 60 minutes. This team hasn't lost in over two years. Everybody says 'game control.' That's something made up. As a coach, you talk about one thing: Finish. Get it done. This team wins in every way, shape and form you can win. Everybody else has failed at least once, no matter what you look at, and some of those teams have lost when they were over 20-point favorites.

The Seminoles will have an understanding of Georgia Tech’s style and ball-control offense and come out of the locker room accordingly with more urgency than usual. They will know they can’t fall behind and will play like the game is on the line in the first quarter instead of waiting until after halftime.

Jameis Winston is still one of the best players in the nation and has his team at 11th in the country in passing yards per game.

Georgia Tech is a decidedly mediocre 58th in the country against the pass, and Winston and his crew of athletic receivers should be able to make plays through the air and dictate the tempo in the early going. North Carolina threw for 390 yards against Georgia Tech in a 48-43 victory, and the Seminoles are better suited than the Tar Heels to exploit the secondary.

Yes, the Yellow Jackets represent a stylistic challenge, but the Seminoles have the talent advantage at nearly every position. Talent often wins out when championships are on the line.

It will again in Charlotte in the ACC Championship Game, and Winston and company will clinch a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Prediction: Florida State 31, Georgia Tech 13

 

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Pac-12 Championship Game: Bold Predictions for Arizona vs. Oregon

Before Friday, all we knew was the Oregon Ducks would represent the North in the Pac-12 championship game. However, after Stanford slaughtered UCLA, and Arizona held off Arizona State, the Wildcats earned a berth for a shot at the title as the South's representative.

This is arguably the most intriguing title game that could have come to fruition. The Ducks have been virtually unbeatable for the last two seasons—unless you happen to be Arizona. The Wildcats have knocked off Oregon in two consecutive years, most recently defeating the Ducks 31-24 on their own turf in October.

ESPN Stats & Info tweeted the end result of that contest:

There's plenty on the line for both teams, but Arizona can play spoiler for a couple reasons. Oregon is still in line to earn a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff and Marcus Mariota is leading the Heisman race by a small margin. A big victory by the Wildcats could end both runs.

So, what can we expect from these teams this time around? Well, based on recent history, it's extremely tough to tell. For now, here's a couple of bold predictions for each squad as we await what could become one of the year's most memorable games.

 

Bold Predictions: Oregon

Marcus Mariota Totals Six Touchdowns

Mariota may be the Heisman front-runner right now, but scoring six total touchdowns in a game is something he hasn't achieved this season. In fact, earlier in the year, he only accounted for two scores against Arizona, tied for his lowest total of any game in 2014. So, what's changed?

Oregon's signal-caller is what lots of analysts love to call a "winner." While that term has been highly overused in the past (see: Tebow, Tim), there's something different about this quarterback. Before 2014, he never defeated Stanford. It was clear how badly he wanted to change that this season, as he racked up four touchdowns and well over 300 yards of offense. Expect him to have that same mentality against the Wildcats.

Arizona hasn't been good against the pass this season, ranking 113th out of 125 eligible teams and allowing an average of 275.9 passing yards per game along with a total of 21 touchdowns through the air this season. That's most certainly a weakness Mariota can exploit.

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports tweeted Mariota's extremely efficient numbers over the last two seasons:

Combine that favorable matchup and Mariota's tenacity with his ability to run the football, and you get a player who's poised to accumulate a significant amount of touchdowns.

 

Royce Freeman Throws Another Touchdown Pass

The first time these teams met earlier this season, Mariota scored Oregon's first touchdown in a rather different manner than usual—he caught a pass. The play had Freeman alongside Mariota in shotgun, and the running back appeared to be getting a pitch to the right side. However, he stopped and threw back across the field to his quarterback, who went beast mode on the way to a score.

Here's a look back at the play:

Of course, Oregon will want to pull out all of the stops against an Arizona team that's given it fits over the last couple of years. This play worked once against the Wildcats, so who's to say it won't work again? Freeman showed he has decent accuracy, and getting Mariota into space with the ball in his hands is never a bad thing.

Oregon will make lightning strike twice against Arizona.

 

Bold Predictions: Arizona

Nick Wilson Rushes for 200 Yards, Three Touchdowns

Wilson was a thorn in Oregon's side when these teams met back in early October, and he'll be once again in the Pac-12 championship game. The freshman ball-carrier rushed 13 times for 92 yards and two scores, adding one 34-yard scoring reception.

He's continued to light it up on the ground since, eclipsing 100 rushing yards in each of his last four games. Wilson's highlight of the season came against the Utah defense. He rushed 20 times for 218 yards and three touchdowns in that contest. If he can achieve that feat against the 65th-ranked Utes, he certainly can against Oregon's 58th-ranked rushing defense.

This kind of tweet from SportsCenter during Arizona's game against Arizona State could be seen again in the near future:

Wilson was instrumental in Arizona's win over Arizona State to end the regular season. He carried 24 times for 178 yards, scoring three touchdowns. He was the team's only running back to receive a carry in that game, and he took full advantage.

With Wilson receiving the team's full workload out of the backfield, and riding some serious momentum heading into the Pac-12 championship game, expect him to do some major damage.

 

Wildcats Tally 600 Yards of Total Offense

Piggybacking off the prediction that Wilson will rush for 200 yards, that leaves Arizona 400 yards shy of the 600-yard mark. Well, quarterback Anu Solomon will go ahead and pick that up for the Wildcats.

The last time these teams played, Arizona tallied 495 yards of total offense, with 208 rushing yards and 287 passing yards. It's bold, but not too far-fetched, to think they can gain an extra 105 yards this time around. Solomon hasn't been putting up big numbers recently, but he hasn't exactly had the opportunity, as his passing attempts have been limited.

Solomon was even able to put up some decent numbers against the Sun Devils while playing through injury, according to Doug Haller of AZCentral.com:

However, due to Oregon's tendency to score quick points, Arizona will be looking to retaliate with some of their own. The Ducks have been susceptible to big plays through the air this season and rank 114th in the nation against the pass, allowing an average of 276.8 yards per game and 11.11 yards per completion.

Solomon has some talented wide receivers at his disposal, with Cayleb Jones, Samajie Grant and Austin Hill capable of producing big plays. The quarterback may not need to ramp up his passing attempts to gain 400 yards with these weapons against Oregon's porous secondary.

Wilson's prowess on the ground will only help matters, as Arizona will be able to take the top off the Ducks defense if they begin to sell out for the run. This versatile Wildcats offense is in for yet another big day against Oregon—this time in the Pac-12 championship game.

 

All team statistics and ranking courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of November 28 at 9 p.m. ET.

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SEC Championship Game 2014: Analyzing How Title Clash Could Impact Final Playoff

One half of the SEC Championship Game is set following Missouri's 21-14 win over Arkansas on Friday. Now, it's up to Alabama and Mississippi State to figure out that final place.

The Tigers are headed to Atlanta for the second year in a row, the gravity of which wasn't lost on head coach Gary Pinkel. After the game, he said, per Missouri's official website:

It means an awful lot to me. I love my team. This has not been an easy year, but we battled and competed. I feel thankful for all the people around me. Mizzou Athletic Director, Mike Alden, has been tremendously important to me and our fans too. We sold Faurot out tonight and this place was rocking. There are a lot of things to be thankful for. Whoever we play next week, it's going to be a huge game. It's our second time down there (Atlanta, Ga.) in a row, and I'll tell you this, that's hard to do.

No conference championship has more playoff implications than the SEC title game. The result will not only have an effect on the SEC but also the Big 12 and Big Ten, whose top teams are on the playoff periphery at the moment.

You can view the most recent playoff rankings below. (Note: As the table header indicates, the logo shown at the far right of each team's row is for that team's next opponent and not for the ranked team itself.)

While it's not yet known who will play Missouri, the field is narrowed to an extent that you can examine the few different playoff scenarios.

 

SEC Championship Scenarios

Missouri Wins SEC

Strictly from a neutral perspective, this one might be the most interesting, if only to see whether the playoff committee would throw in a two-loss Missouri ahead of TCU/Baylor or Ohio State.

Beating Arkansas is unlikely to have a radical effect on the Tigers' place in the playoff rankings. Missouri should be hanging around 15th or 16th by the time it's in the conference championship. So the issue would then become how beating Mississippi State or Alabama would be enough to make the Tigers jump 10-plus spots into the top four.

The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide are good, but they aren't that good.

On the basis of this year, it'd be hard to argue for sending Missouri into the playoff. The Tigers lost at home to Indiana and were shut out 34-0 at home to Georgia. Not to mention that outside of beating the Bulldogs or Crimson Tide, they wouldn't have a great track record.

According to CBSSports.com's Jon Solomon, Missouri has one win over an SEC team that finished over .500 in the conference in the last two years:

Missouri's best non-conference win was against an 8-3 UCF.

If Ohio State ends up losing in the Big Ten Championship Game, then the Tigers will have earned a playoff spot. Otherwise, the playoff should favor OSU and one of TCU or Baylor.

 

11-2 Alabama Wins SEC

Unlike Missouri, an 11-2 Alabama would have a strong case to finish in the top four in the event the Crimson Tide won the SEC championship. The wins over Texas A&M and West Virginia have lost some significance, but 'Bama would still have nice victories over Missouri, Mississippi State and LSU.

That would in all likelihood be enough to get the Tide in ahead of TCU/Baylor or Ohio State. The Big 12 doesn't have a conference championship, which could hurt in terms of perception, while it's no secret that Ohio State's road hasn't been the most daunting.

Beating Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game could put the Buckeyes over the hump, but TCU or Baylor would still have a hard time in a head-to-head tale of the tape with Alabama.

 

11-1 Mississippi State/Alabama Wins SEC

This is by far the easiest scenario to forecast. One of Mississippi State or Alabama finishes 11-1, wins the SEC and likely takes the top seed in the playoff. It's that simple.

The idea of the SEC champion making the playoff has essentially been a foregone conclusion for the entire season. The biggest question about the conference was whether it would send, one, two, three or four teams. Heck, maybe the committee thought about making a special dispensation so as to allow every SEC team into the playoff.

Instead, it looks like the SEC champion is the only team from the Southeast headed into the playoff.

The playoff committee obviously has no dog in the fight, but the committee members must be hoping that this is how things play out. Their jobs would be much more straightforward as a result.

 

Missouri/Alabama Wins SEC, Mississippi State Finishes 11-1

Here is where things would get really interesting. Would the selection committee really throw in a team that didn't even win its own conference, let alone its own division?

If the season ended right now, the Bulldogs would be in, and there's not a lot of time for things to change much. It's not a crazy prospect.

Bleacher Report and sports analytics expert Ed Feng crunched the numbers, and Mississippi State is a slight favorite to get into the top four ahead of TCU and Ohio State.

As discussed previously, an SEC champion Missouri would have a hard time cracking the top four. That opens the door for Mississippi State to enter the playoff even if it loses the SEC West. It would be a bit unfair for Mississippi State to go in ahead of Missouri, considering the Tigers would have beaten Alabama, which the Bulldogs failed to do.

The committee will likely want to make a strong stance in the first year of the playoff. The members shouldn't court disaster by having a non-champion go into the top four ahead of the conference champion.

CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd read over the CFP protocol and reached this conclusion:

A non-champion would be selected only if it is "unequivocally one of the four best teams in the country."

Your response is: Define unequivocally. That's up to the CFP committee. It would be reasonable to conclude from that language conference champions will be favored.

Could Mississippi State still be one of the four best teams in the country despite not winning the SEC? Sure.

But the beauty of the playoff is that everything's decided on the field. It wouldn't make sense to throw in a team that didn't even win its own division.

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Bowl Predictions 2014: Last-Minute Playoff Projections, Odds Before Week 14

If we are going to get any chaos in the race for the College Football Playoff, it is bound to happen during "Rivalry Saturday."

After all, end-of-season showdowns against hated opponents elicit a different type of emotion and effort level, and the pressure that comes with being a playoff contender could come into play if the games are tight down the stretch.

With that in mind, read on to see some last-minute playoff projections from StatMilk, championship odds from Odds Shark and my own playoff predictions before the games start Saturday. 

(Note: As the table header indicates, the logo shown at the far right of each team's row is for that team's next opponent and not for the ranked team itself.)

 

StatMilk and Odds Shark Playoff Projections and Odds

*Odds to win national championship courtesy of Odds Shark, as of Friday night at 10 p.m. ET.

 

Scott Polacek Playoff Projections

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

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

Championship Bowl (in Arlington, Texas): TBD (semifinal winners)

 

Game to Watch: Auburn at Alabama

No game on the college football schedule has played a larger role in determining the national champion in the past decade than the Iron Bowl.

In fact, the winner of the Alabama and Auburn showdown has won four of the past five titles, and the one they didn’t win was when Auburn lost to Florida State in the championship game. Of course, the Tigers only got there because Chris Davis ran Alabama’s missed field goal back for a 109-yard touchdown on the game’s final play.

Alabama safety Landon Collins discussed that incredible play, according to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com, "It shows up on the TV every now and again, and it breaks our heart every time. In one second they took our whole chance away of winning anything, and definitely it rewinds in my head. Definitely it will rewind in my head constantly throughout this week."

It’s not like Alabama needs any extra motivation with the College Football Playoff and the heated Iron Bowl hanging in the balance, but reliving that play for 365 days is sure to have the players ready for some revenge.

That is a problem for Auburn considering it lost its past two SEC games to Texas A&M and Georgia, the second in blowout fashion. Interestingly, the Tigers are 6-0 in the last 10 Iron Bowls when they are ranked and 0-4 when they are not, so recent history would suggest ranked Auburn is going to win Saturday.

Playoff contenders hoping Alabama loses better pull for that to happen because next up for the Crimson Tide if they win is the SEC Championship Game against the same Missouri team that lost at home to Indiana. If Alabama is going to drop another game at all, it will likely be Saturday.

The Crimson Tide are the quintessential balanced championship threat because there is nothing they don’t do well. They are 25th nationally in passing yards per game, 35th in rushing yards per game, 28th in scoring offense and second in scoring defense. That shutdown defense is the key against Auburn’s no-huddle attack that gave the Crimson Tide so many issues last season.

Auburn is ninth in the country in rushing yards per game with quarterback Nick Marshall and Cameron Artis-Payne leading the way. 

Artis-Payne’s 1,405 rushing yards is the best in the SEC, and it puts him in rare company, via Kyle Burger of Alabama’s 13:

However, Alabama’s powerful defense will make Auburn one-dimensional much the same way that Georgia did in its blowout win over the Tigers. Marshall finished 11-of-23 on the day for 112 yards, zero touchdowns and an interception and looked lost when the team couldn’t get much going on the ground early.

The Crimson Tide will also have the home crowd behind them, which will make life even more difficult for the Auburn offense.

Revenge is in order Saturday, and Alabama will take another step toward the College Football Playoff in decisive fashion. 

Prediction: Alabama 31, Auburn 14

 

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Auburn vs. Alabama: Stat Predictions for Both Teams' Top Playmakers in Iron Bowl

Alabama and Auburn have combined for 18 wins this season due to a bevy of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. While both teams are built in different manners, each have been highly effective in their respective schemes this season.

The Tigers utilize a run-heavy offense featuring several talented ball-carriers and a dual-threat quarterback. They routinely succeed by putting up sufficient points to outscore opponents. The Crimson Tide runs more of a pro-style offense. They orchestrate methodical drives and control the game with strong possessions.

After watching both of these teams in action throughout the course of the season, it will certainly be intriguing to see how these clashing styles fare against each other. As we await the highly anticipated 2014 Iron Bowl, let's predict the final stat lines that some of the biggest playmakers from each squad will produce.

 

Alabama

Blake Sims, Quarterback

Expect Sims to pass a little more often that usual in the Iron Bowl. Head coach Nick Saban will want to take advantage of Auburn's 75th-ranked pass defense that has yielded 17 touchdowns and an average of 232.5 yards per game through the air.

The coach noted his quarterback's high level of confidence entering the game, via Tide 99.1:

Sims has been very efficient this season and has taken care of the football nicely, throwing just four interceptions. The Tigers aren't exactly known for takeaways, so Alabama's signal-caller is likely to keep his stat sheet clear of any blemishes.

 

T.J. Yeldon, Running Back

Yeldon's had some strong performances this season, but they've been sporadic. While Auburn is ranked 35th in the nation against the run, they are only allowing an average of 3.87 yards per carry to opposing running backs. This junior ball-carrier shouldn't be expected to blow the doors off the Tigers defense.

Derrick Henry will also be in the mix for the Crimson Tide, and he'll help get Alabama over the 100-yard mark as a team. Although, unless Saban's team finds itself way out in front, expect Alabama to do most of its offensive damage through the air.

 

Amari Cooper, Wide Receiver

It may be asking a little too much of Auburn's secondary to keep up with the prolific Cooper. He's been one of the nation's best receivers all season long, accumulating 90 receptions for 1,349 yards and 11 touchdowns. He'll add a nice chunk to those numbers on Saturday.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn noted now difficult it's been to prepare for the wideout during an interview with Joel A. Erickson of AL.com, "You can put a jersey on somebody who has the same number, but to simulate one of the best players in college football, that's probably not realistic."

While the Tigers may roll some coverage in Cooper's direction, they can't afford to leave anyone on an island against DeAndrew White. Cooper will get opportunities to make several big plays against Auburn, and he should be expected to take full advantage.

 

Auburn

Nick Marshall, Quarterback

Don't expect Marshall to put up any kind of gaudy numbers against the Alabama defense. The Crimson Tide know he's the Tigers' No. 1 playmaker and will be giving him plenty of attention. Marshall is talented enough to pull off a few big plays, but he'll have it tough.

Although, here's an interesting stat regarding last year's Iron Bowl, via ESPN's Cole Cubelic:

This year, when Alabama played Mississippi State, it limited Dak Prescott to 3.7 yards per carry. Conversely, when Marshall faced off against a solid Ole Miss run defense, he averaged 5.0 yards per rush. Expect this matchup to put the quarterback somewhere in between.

 

Cameron Artis-Payne, Running Back

Artis-Payne will get his carries against Alabama, but he's facing a Crimson Tide team that is ranked second in the nation against the run, allowing an average of just 2.76 yards per carry. Making matters even worse for the ball-carrier, don't expect him to find paydirt, as Alabama has only given up two rushing touchdowns this season.

The senior ball-carrier has put up respectable numbers throughout the year, but he hasn't faced a run defense nearly as stingy as Alabama's. Unfortunately, his nice season won't end on a very high note.

 

D'haquille Williams, Wide Receiver

Williams is coming off a knee injury and missed the team's last two contests, but according to Ryan Cody of WHNT.com, he's expected to play Saturday. The 6'2" wide receiver will have his hands full with the talented, 27th-ranked Alabama secondary, but he'll be a significant presence on Auburn's offense.

The Alabama coach had some high praise for Williams and Co. prior to the game, via Tide 99.1:

With Sammie Coates and Quan Bray also in the mix, we should expect Marshall to spread the ball around. That will help Auburn's overall offensive efficiency, but it will restrict Williams' final output.

 

All team rankings courtesy of NCAA.com. Player statistics via ESPN.com. All stats current as of November 28.

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College Football Rankings 2014: Final NCAA Overview of Week 14 Standings

TCU is in an enviable position among College Football Playoff contenders heading into Saturday’s slate of games.

It already made a loud statement Thursday—even if that came against a struggling 6-6 Texas program that looks like a shell of its once proud self—and now gets to sit back and root for upsets that will bolster its positions in the rankings. An Ole Miss win over No. 4 Mississippi State would really help the Horned Frogs’ cause as the No. 5 team.

With that in mind, here is a look at the various polls, including the all-important College Football Playoff rankings.

 

(Note: As the table header indicates, the logo shown at the far right of each team's row is for that team's next opponent and not for the ranked team itself.)

Saturday’s rivalry clashes start at high noon ET, when Ohio State and Michigan renew their storied history in Columbus.

On the surface, this is a matchup between a program that seemingly wins double-digit games every season as one of the most established brands in all of football and a sinking ship of a program that is losing games and recruits left, right and centre. While that may be an accurate assessment, Michigan gave Ohio State a major scare in a similar matchup last season.

The Wolverines lost by a single point last season and had a two-point conversion attempt that would have ended the Buckeyes’ perfect season if they converted. Still, this time, the game is at Ohio State, and the team that has won nine of the past 10 games in this showdown should have the upper hand.

Quarterback J.T. Barrett discussed the meaning of this rivalry, via Ben Axelrod of Bleacher Report: "I knew it was big, but coming from Texas, it was Texas-Oklahoma. I went to that game, and it doesn't have anything on the Team Up North and Ohio State." 

Elsewhere, Florida State will put its two-year winning streak on the line against Florida. This game could go down to the wire if the Seminoles fall behind again. ESPN Stats & Info noted that slow starts have been a habit of Florida State all season:

The one thing that Florida does well on offense is run the ball (40th in the nation in rushing yards per game), and it also boasts a solid defense that is 23rd in the country in points allowed per game. If there is a combination that lends itself well to protecting a lead, it is playing solid defense and keeping the clock running with the ground attack.

The Gators could shake up the college football world if they are able to do just that.

Two other SEC teams looking for a rivalry win are Alabama and Auburn. It will be impossible to top the ending of last year’s game, but an Auburn upset would send unexpected shock waves throughout the playoff race (and possibly knock the mighty SEC out of contention for a spot).

Auburn may be seen in a better light than Michigan or Florida in its rivalry games, but it feels like the Tigers have as much of a chance to beat the Crimson Tide as the Wolverines and Gators do of beating the Buckeyes and Seminoles.

Auburn lost its last two SEC games and gave up a combined 75 points to Georgia and a decidedly mediocre Texas A&M team. Auburn won’t have to worry about falling out of the Top 25 with another loss because SEC teams always get a boost in the rankings—fair or not—but a loss to its hated rivals will be the cherry on top of a disappointing season.

The other critical game in the SEC West is the clash between Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

A few weeks ago, it looked like this would be a matchup between the top-two teams in the nation, but reality finally hit the Rebels. They have lost three straight SEC contests, including an embarrassing 30-0 defeat to Arkansas. Now, the only way to salvage a once-promising season is to beat Mississippi State.

The final rivalry Saturday is the Civil War out West between Oregon and Oregon State.

This is as similar a mismatch on paper as the Ohio State and Michigan, Florida and Florida State and Auburn and Alabama games, but last year’s contest came down to the wire, with Oregon scoring a touchdown in the final minutes to win by a single point.

All-time Pac-12 passing leader Sean Mannion is back for Oregon State. Still, Heisman Trophy favorite Marcus Mariota will be going up against one of the worst defenses in the entire country, which is simply an unfair fight.

The Beavers have given up at least 27 points in every single Pac-12 game this season, and that is certainly not going to change Saturday against the mighty Oregon attack.

Predicted rivalry winners: Ohio State, Florida State, Alabama, Oregon and Mississippi State

 

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SMU Football: Hiring Morris a Bold Move, but the Right One

Southern Methodist football is in shambles. After June Jones elected to resign from his post as head coach only two games into the 2014 season, the Mustangs were left with an interim coach and a roster with a paucity of real talent.

They have not won a game this year, and their average margin of defeat is more than 34 points. The offense has been pitiful and the defense has been porous—there is really no nice way to put it.

However, the team made a bold move on Thursday evening, hiring former Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris to rebuild the struggling program. The news was first reported by Clint Brewster of 247Sports, and Chip Brown of HornsDigest.com reported that Morris will make approximately $3 million per year.

In six years and two games at SMU, Jones’ record was 36-43—pretty impressive considering the Mustangs have still not recovered from the death penalty ruling they got in 1987 for breaking NCAA rules.

The Mustangs went to a bowl game in four straight years under Jones, an amazing feat considering they hadn’t been to one in 25 years before 2009.

But it will be an uphill battle for Morris—there is no question about it. He is known for his innovative offensive schemes, and he is going to need every bit of deception to get the SMU offense to produce in his first few years on the job.

The thing that Morris has going for him that has made him an enticing candidate is his rich Texas roots. He assembled a staunch resume at the high school level, winning a state championship at Bay City and then grooming Jevan Snead into a Division I quarterback at Stephenville before moving on to Austin Lake Travis, one of the most decorated football programs in the state.

He coached there for two seasons, going 16-0 and winning the state championship in both 2008 and 2009. He helped Garrett Gilbert set the state records for passing yards in a season and career passing yards, both records previously held by former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell.

Then Morris moved to the college level, where he was the offensive coordinator at Tulsa for one season before moving to Clemson in 2011.

At Clemson, his offenses experienced phenomenal success. He molded Tajh Boyd into a record-setting college quarterback and sent wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins to the NFL.

SMU is obviously not afraid of the 45-year-old Morris’ inexperience. He has never been a collegiate head coach and has only been at the college level for five seasons.

However, Morris’ most valuable asset might be his recruiting potential in Texas, arguably the most talent-rich state in the country. He knows the state of Texas and should be able to lure talented athletes to Dallas.

Morris has been in the conversation for several jobs, most notably Texas Tech (per ESPN.com) after Tommy Tuberville’s departure, but it has always been hard to lure him away from his gig as the highest-paid assistant in all of college football.

Finally, though, he found a match he liked.

Expectations shouldn’t be too high. If he can somehow manage to get the Mustangs to be a .500 team, it would be a miracle. He won’t have much to work with in his first year on the job, but he does have Matt Davis, a heralded dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school back in 2012.

Davis, the third-ranked dual-threat quarterback in his class according to Rivals.com, originally committed to Texas A&M. But he transferred to Tyler Junior College after he redshirted his first year at A&M, and after one year of JUCO action, he arrived at SMU. He will be a junior in 2015, and his athleticism projects well in Morris’ offense.

The Mustangs’ recruiting haul is unimpressive, but they do have commits from Kyle Kearns, the 12th-best pocket passer according to 247Sports, as well as 4-star receiver James Proche II.

Chip Brown of HornsDigest tweeted that his sources tell him that SMU will let Morris begin recruiting very soon, in hopes of swaying some of the uncommitted prep players interested in SMU.

This move benefits both parties involved. SMU gets a young, passionate coach full of potential, and Morris gets his first opportunity as a college head coach in the same state where he built his reputation.

It will be interesting to see if Morris’ offense will be effective with mediocre players and if Morris can recruit as a head coach. Sure, he coaxed plenty of offensive players to Clemson, but he had Dabo Swinney there to help out.

Now, Morris is the main man. It is his responsibility not only to recruit players to fit his offense but to recruit defensive players as well.

Also, he will not be able to spend all his time in practice working with the offense. He will have to learn to delegate some of those duties to trusted assistants.

There is definitely going to be a learning curve, but Morris and SMU is a good match and one that could reap rewards down the road.

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UCLA's Quest to Reach Upper Echelon in College Football Falls Short Again

Vegas knew something. It had to. The opening line was just too odd. 

Oddsshark.com had UCLA open as a mere 4.5-point favorite for Friday's home game against Stanford. The line eventually grew to six points, but that was all.

That's six points one week after UCLA earned its most impressive victory of the year—a 38-20 rout over USC—and the score wasn't even that close—and crept back into the periphery of the College Football Playoff conversation. That's six points with Stanford missing its star receiver, Ty Montgomery, who had a shoulder injury. 

Or, maybe it was six points because oddsmakers knew UCLA was due to lay an egg. It hasn't been the first time it's happened this season. 

The sad narrative of UCLA being perennially good but never quite good enough came to fruition again in a stunning 31-10 loss to the Cardinal. Certainly, no one saw Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan having his best game of the season with a 16-of-19 passing performance for 234 yards and a pair of touchdowns. 

The loss, coupled with Arizona's win over Arizona State, sends the Wildcats to the Pac-12 Championship Game for a rematch with Oregon. UCLA, meanwhile, is sent away wondering what could have been. That's been the theme in Westwood for a while now. 

The Bruins were overwhelming preseason Pac-12 South media favorites and sexy picks to make the College Football Playoff. However, UCLA got off to a noticeably slow start even though it sported a 3-0 record with narrow wins against Virginia, Memphis and Texas.

The crux of the problem was protecting quarterback Brett Hundley. Though sacks are a team effort, offensive line issues have been glaring. The Bruins have given up nearly three sacks a game this season. 

Sure enough, offense and protection were lacking against the Cardinal. Hundley left the game in the fourth quarter with an apparent hand injury. 

Though UCLA briefly lived up to expectations by demolishing Arizona State, 62-27, in late September, the reality is Jim Mora's team didn't start to gather steam until the month of November. But just when UCLA seemed to have turned a corner, things went off track. The win over the Sun Devils was followed by back-to-back losses to Utah and Oregon, and the USC victory was followed by the face-plant against Stanford. 

UCLA continues to be in a frustrating spot. The Bruins are consistently good and at times look incredible. They're 3-0 against USC under Mora and generally beat the teams they should. However, UCLA loses consistently to the upper echelon of the Pac-12, Stanford and Oregon, the two programs that have won the past five conference championships. 

The Bruins are a whopping 0-12 against Stanford and Oregon since 2008 with the average margin of defeat being 20.3 points. Ten of those 12 losses have been by double digits. Former head coach Rick Neuheisel was never able to get his alma mater to the next level from 2008-11. Though Mora has injected an obvious edge into the program, he continues to come up short as well. 

With Stanford rebuilding and both the Cardinal and Ducks coming to L.A. this year, 2014 was a prime time for the Bruins to get over the hump. Still, this program continues to get outcoached regularly. 

In all likelihood, Hundley, easily the best quarterback to come through UCLA in a long time, risks leaving for the NFL draft without having played in a major New Year's Eve/Day bowl. That tells you about everything you need to know.

The question is regurgitated: If not now for UCLA, then when? Hundley is likely gone, and linebacker Eric Kendricks, who has led the team in tackles for three straight years, is a senior. 

There are good pieces in place. Sophomore linebacker Myles Jack will come back for one more season at least, but how many more times can cornerstone players return for "the year"?

"We thought this was the year we could become one of the Stanford's or Oregon's," Jack told Clay Fowler of the Los Angeles News Group. "I guess not."

Will next year be different? At this point, UCLA is forcing everyone to wait and see. The high expectations aren't coming through. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

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Arizona State vs. Arizona: Game Grades, Analysis for Sun Devils and Wildcats

The last time Arizona and Arizona State met for the Territorial Cup while both being ranked in the Top 25, Ronald Reagan wasn't even midway through his second term and Dionne Warwick, Elton John and Gladys Knight combined to bring us the top song of the year with "That's What Friends Are For."

Fast forward to 2014, and the stakes have climbed even higher.  Both Arizona and Arizona State entered the game tied with UCLA for the top spot in the Pac-12's South Division, with UCLA holding the tiebreaker.  With Stanford's win over the Bruins, the annual grudge match for the oldest rivalry trophy morphed into the de facto Pac-12 South title game.

Right from the opening kickoff, this game was shaping up to be a classic.  It didn't disappoint, as both teams went blow for blow for most of the game before the Wildcats eventually squeezed out a victory in the fourth quarter.

Let's dive right in as we pick apart both the Arizona Wildcats and Arizona State Sun Devils in our game grades.

 

Box score via NCAA.com.

 

Arizona State Pass Offense

It's difficult to know exactly what to make of the passing game from Arizona State.  Taylor Kelly, who has been a fairly reliable starter for ASU, was benched in favor of Mike Bercovici in the second half.

Kelly really wasn't that bad.  He finished his performance 13-of-22 for 144 yards and two touchdowns.  Bercovici threw the exact same number of passes and completed 14 of them.  But he also threw one (very costly) interception, and finished with 123 yards and two touchdowns.

So the question now becomes why head coach Todd Graham opted for Bercovici over Kelly in the second half.  Don't worry.  We'll get into that in a little bit.

One of the things lacking from the ASU passing game this afternoon was the big play.  Of the combined 27 completions from ASU quarterbacks, only one went for 25 or more yards (a 50-yarder to Jaelen Strong).  

Strong, who injured his shoulder on his long reception, only hauled in four receptions on the day but led the team with 80 yards and a pretty spectacular one-handed touchdown snag.

All in all, it wasn't a bad day for the Sun Devils passing game.  It certainly wasn't lights-out amazing, but it wasn't bad by any stretch.  But it does leave us feeling just a little uneasy about the Sun Devils in their to-be-determined bowl game.

 

Arizona State Run Offense

Like the passing game, the run game was a bit of a mixed bag.  It can really be boiled down to two halves in which the Sun Devils were either pretty solid or pretty horrible.

Prior to halftime, ASU put up 99 rushing yards on the Wildcats on 29 attempts.  A decent 3.4 yards per rush is a good place to start, and we were thinking that if ASU could continue to find avenues to run the ball while perhaps mixing in a few big plays, the Sun Devils might just be able to pull off the win.

After halftime, however, Arizona stepped up its pressure, which not only kept the passing game off-balance but also completely disrupted the run game from ASU.  Minus the first-half numbers, Arizona State gained just 14 rushing yards on 14 carries.  A yard per rush wasn't exactly what we had in mind when we were thinking ASU had a chance to come out on top after a halftime score knotted at 21.

Demario Richard had, by far, the best day for ASU on the ground, averaging 5.2 yards per carry on his 13 attempts.  Most of those, however, came in the first half.

While running the football won't provide quick dividends for a team playing from behind in the second half, Arizona State's complete inability to challenge Arizona on the ground late in the game gave the Wildcats all the confidence they needed to defend the passing game when it mattered most.

 

Arizona State Pass Defense

The two halves were pretty even for ASU's pass defense.  The Wildcats had nearly identical passing statistics from each half, and the Sun Devils were back to their usual tricks of dialing up pressure early on and often on Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon.

The other side of the blitzing coin is giving up big plays, though.  And ASU gave up some whoppers.

Arizona had five receivers with long receptions of 10 yards or more, and the pass and run defense combined to give up two touchdowns of at least 69 yards.

 

Arizona State Run Defense

That long run we're talking about was a 79-yard scamper from Nick Wilson.  Despite bottling up the Wildcats for just 13 rushing yards on 16 first-half carries, Wilson finished with 178 yards and three touchdowns on 24 attempts.

No other Wildcat had positive rushing yards.

It's not often we'll hand out a midterm A only to watch it plummet much beyond a B or B+, but the Sun Devils' complete inability to slow Wilson down in the second half is probably the biggest reason for ASU's defeat.

For that reason, we're dropping the run defense all the way down to a C- on the day.

 

Arizona State Special Teams

It's hard to hand out a nice grade to a special teams unit that missed its only field-goal attempt, but there were some nice extras thrown in by the special teams that provided the Sun Devils with enough opportunities this afternoon.

First, of ASU's six punts (five from Matt Haack and a quick kick from Taylor Kelly), four were downed inside the 20 (one was blocked).  Arizona was able to overcome poor starting field position almost all day, but we have to give credit to the ASU special teams for putting Arizona in such an uncomfortable position—even if the ASU defense didn't do much about it.

Second, we can't forget about long snapper Mitchell Fraboni, who hustled down the field to pick up a muffed punt return by Arizona.  Everyone loves the big boys making plays, and long snappers are usually only mentioned when they screw up, so we're handing out some kudos here.

 

Arizona State Coaching

Pulling Kelly in favor of Bercovici was a bold move by Todd Graham.  Unfortunately, it didn't pan out.  

Bercovici ended up with nearly identical numbers but had a very costly snap that set up the Wildcats inside the ASU 20.  Arizona capitalized and pushed its lead to two scores.

Had Kelly stayed in, would that have happened?  Maybe, maybe not.  But that extra spark Graham was looking for with Bercovici never really materialized.  You might even be able to argue that the drive or two it took for Bercovici to settle into a rhythm may have cost ASU a potential score or two.

All conjecture, sure.  But if there's one thing college football fans love to do, it's play "what if" after a big loss—especially to a rival.

Arizona State played a solid game, for the most part, and Graham had his team prepared to deal with everything Arizona threw its way early on.  ASU responded to Arizona's first three touchdowns with touchdowns of its own, and the game never really got away from the Sun Devils.  That's a credit to both the players and the coaches.

Still, we're left wondering about the quarterback situation.

 

Arizona Pass Offense

When you have a game in which a running back takes things over, you don't often need a solid game passing the ball.  But in close rivalries, every single yard can be important, and that was certainly the case against Arizona State.

Anu Solomon was about as efficient as they come, finishing 15-of-21 for 208 yards and two touchdowns.  His numbers were also nearly identical in each half, giving the coaching staff ample time to focus their halftime adjustments on the running game and defensive side of the football.

While 208 yards isn't going to get anyone too excited, it's not often we see quarterbacks maintain such a consistent performance for 60 whole minutes.  Solomon was good when he needed to be and even managed to find room for some plays that created momentum.

Samajie Grant was the earlier recipient of one such big play, as Solomon found him on the slant early on and Grant proceeded to weave his way through the ASU defense en route to a 69-yard touchdown reception.  

Solomon also found David Richards later on for a critical 31-yard pickup that extended a drive, but perhaps most importantly, Solomon didn't really do anything to seriously jeopardize the Wildcats' chances.

While sacks for big losses are certainly a concern, we've see far too many quarterbacks panic under pressure and try to force plays when they shouldn't.  Solomon, clearly well-coached, seemed content to suffer through a big sack and come back on the next play or series and regroup.

Punting isn't always the end of the world—a lesson far too many quarterbacks learn far too late in their collegiate careers.  Solomon, a freshman, has already aced that part of his education.

 

Arizona Run Offense

As mentioned earlier, this was truly the tale of two halves and likely where the game was won for Arizona.  After a first half that produced just 13 net yards on 16 carries, it looked as if the Sun Devils only needed to bottle up Solomon in the second half to emerge with a victory.

Nick Wilson had other plans.

The only Wildcat with positive ground yardage on the day, Wilson rattled off 178 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries.  He was helped out by some solid play by the Arizona offensive line, which kept the ASU rush contained long enough to get Wilson to the second level.

And when you get to ASU's second level against its heavy blitz, big yardage can be your reward.

 

Arizona Pass Defense

Arizona's secondary was simply good enough today.  Aside from a late interception by Jourdon Grandon, there wasn't a lot to get overly excited about.  The secondary gave up 267 yards and four touchdowns—something that will certainly need to be cleaned up before facing Oregon next week in the Pac-12 Championship.

Then again, Arizona has done well against the Ducks, so maybe defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel is on to something.

One thing of concern is the defense's penchant for committing bad penalties on 3rd-and-long.  Arizona State was the beneficiary of at least three first downs after would-be punt-causing incompletions or runs on third down thanks to pass interference, defensive holding or hands to the face.

These mental mistakes must be addressed before Arizona can truly be considered one of the nation's elite teams.

 

Arizona Run Defense

After giving up 99 yards in the first half, Arizona went into the locker room looking for a way to bottle up ASU's Demario Richard and D.J. Foster.  The Wildcats came out in the second half with a plan that worked to perfection.

Step one: Get ASU down by more than one score and force the Sun Devils into passing the ball more than they want to.  Mission accomplished.

Step two: Key some defensive speedsters on the perimeter runs and allow the D-line and linebackers to take care of business up the middle.  Check.

Step three: Let Scooby do what Scooby does.  

Scooby Wright is one of the best—and most underrated—defensive players in the nation.  Perhaps another standout performance—this time on national network television over a holiday weekend—is just what he needed to finally earn that missing respect.  

Either way, Wright needed to feature big in the second half.  He did.

All of that amounts to a paltry 14 yards of rushing offense for the Sun Devils after halftime—and we all know if you can't run the ball, you have to throw the ball.  Guess what: The Arizona secondary and pass-rushers knew that, too.

 

Arizona Special Teams

Yes, there was a pretty ugly muffed punt that resulted in a turnover.  Yes, ASU was allowed to create a little momentum with that big special teams play.  But what better way to erase the negatives created by a muffed punt than by blocking a punt?

Cayleb Jones came through the line barely being blocked in the second quarter to set up a four-play, 30-yard Arizona drive that ended in a touchdown.  That's the kind of stuff special teams live for, and Jones came through in a big way for his team.

With a perfect kicking game that went six-for-six on extra points and averaged better than 46 yards on seven punts, we're fine with handing out a solidly above-average B. 

 

Arizona Coaching

Criticize Rich Rodriguez?  What are we, Michigan fans?

Okay, here's a disclaimer.  This is a bit of a nitpick, but we're going to mention it anyway.  We absolutely hated the decision to go with three straight runs for a net of five yards on Arizona's last drive of consequence.

Yes, the Wildcats were protecting a lead, but ASU had all three timeouts remaining, and the lead was one measly touchdown.  We somehow expected Rich Rod to be a little more like, well, Rich Rod.  

We wanted to see Arizona do something to put the game away right then and there—not run the ball three times for five yards in hopes that the Sun Devils wouldn't notice the running clock.

Yes, it worked out in the end, but that was thanks to the defense that forced a turnover on downs.  We just really wanted to see more from Rodriguez's highly touted, high-octane offense.

Oh well.  A win is a win, a Territorial Cup is a Territorial Cup (Rodriguez's first), and a South Division title is a South Division title.

 

Unless otherwise noted, quotes or references to quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.

Follow Bleacher Report's National College Football Featured Columnist David Luther on Twitter.

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Arizona Gets 2nd Chance to Ruin Oregon's Playoff Hopes with Pac-12 South Win

It's not fair to call the Oregon Ducks a Cinderella team. They're clearly one of the best squads in the nation, have the nation's Heisman front-runner in Marcus Mariota and are squarely in the hunt for the College Football Playoff. 

Yet recently, anytime the Ducks square off against the Arizona Wildcats, that clock strikes midnight, and that national championship trophy starts to look more like a pumpkin from Eugene. 

Yes, Arizona's rivalry win over Arizona State on Friday set the stage for a rematch of that thrilling Week 6 matchup that saw the Wildcats upset the then-No. 2 Ducks 31-24. Since that fateful Thursday night, the Ducks have been battling back to get into playoff contention. 

But to make their strongest case to the committee, they have to win the Pac-12. That means, next week, the Ducks have to atone for their sins. ESPN Stats & Info provided a stat comparison for Arizona and Oregon, noting Oregon's only loss came against Arizona:

However, Arizona will certainly have other plans. 

There's no secret to how Arizona likes to toy around with Oregon. In fact, the Wildcats don't toy around at all. 

They run the ball. They run it some more. Then they run it again. 

The Wildcats have beaten the Ducks the last two times they've played—Week 6 of this season and Nov. 23 of last season, when Arizona thumped Oregon 42-16. 

Last year, the Wildcats, behind Ka'Deem Carey's 206 rushing yards, racked up 304 total yards on the ground.

Then in Week 6 of this season, it was again a battle that was won on the ground. In Arizona's seven-point upset, the Wildcats ran for 208 yards compared to Oregon's 144.

What made Arizona so deadly that week, though, was its two-headed monster carrying the ball. Terris Jones-Grigsby led the Wildcats with 115 yards, but he chewed that up over 27 carries.

When the Wildcats needed an explosive play, they turned to Nick Wilson, who racked up 92 yards on just 13 carries, a 7.1 yards per carry average.

Since that game, Wilson has ran for over 150 yards three times, including a monster 218-yard showing at Utah.

Oregon's defense simply isn't up to par with its offense. Some of that is predicated on the fact that when the Ducks take multiple possession leads, teams are forced to pass, and that forces Oregon to use more nickel and dime packages. 

That's part of the reason why the Ducks rank a measly 117th in pass defense, per cfbstats.com, giving up 276.8 yards through the air per game. 

The lousy secondary can be explained away. But part of that trade-off should be a stout rush defense, at least statistically, right? 

Wrong. 

The Ducks rank just 59th in the nation in rush defense, according to cfbstats.com, giving up 158.9 yards per game on the ground. 

So Arizona, a team perfectly built to prey on Oregon's weakness, is now getting another crack at doing so. 

What makes Arizona's simplistic strategy of running the ball so effective is that it stifles the rhythm of the Oregon offense. 

It's tough to keep Marcus Mariota on the sidelines for 10 minutes and then ask him to go into scramble mode. Now he's a Heisman front-runner, so nine times out of 10 he'll do that. But will everybody else around him? 

In both victories against Oregon, the Wildcats dominated the time of possession, holding onto the ball for at least 33 minutes while never letting Oregon hold it for more than 27. 

Six to eight more minutes with the ball in a Pac-12 Championship Game can mean a world of difference. 

You better believe the Wildcats know it, and they're coming for Oregon.

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UCLA Football: Bruins Must Get Tougher to Ultimately Compete with Pac-12 Elite

PASADENA, Calif. — Stanford spoiled No. 8 UCLA’s hope of a Pac-12 South title and berth in the conference championship game Friday at the Rose Bowl, 31-10.

The thorn in head coach Jim Mora’s side once again came from the Cardinal—and more specifically, their physical brand of football.

“This is the worst [Stanford] has beaten us in the four games we played them [since Mora became head coach in 2012],” he said. “They are just big and physical.”

Stanford dominated on both lines, on defense collapsing UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley’s pocket from virtually the moment he took several snaps, resulting in five sacks.

On offense, Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan's sack-free afternoon set the tone. He delivered the ball to the skill-position players on time, which allowed them to pick up yards after the catch.

Putting together perhaps his best individual performance in three years as Stanford’s starting quarterback, Hogan went 16-of-19 passing for 234 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Cardinal to their fourth win over the Bruins in the last three seasons.

The win was also Stanford’s seventh straight in the series, dating back to 2009. That season was the first in which the Cardinal began to establish themselves among the conference’s elite, going on to reach top-tier bowls from 2010 through 2013.

This year’s Stanford team finishes just 7-5, but UCLA linebacker Myles Jack said the Cardinal were much better than their record. More importantly for the Bruins, Jack added that Stanford is a benchmark UCLA is trying to reach.

“Be one of the Oregons and Stanfords, that was kind of our motto,” he said. “We figured this year was the year, but I guess not.”

Jack will be among the returning players in 2015, leading UCLA in its pursuit of reaching the Pac-12’s upper echelon. He should assume a leadership role linebacker partner Eric Kendricks vacates as one of the program’s departing seniors.

Kendricks broke UCLA’s career tackles record of 468, racking up a team-high 11 on the afternoon. Jack was right behind him with 10.

Jack’s ability to swarm to the football and just as importantly bring down the ball-carrier sets the kind of tone the Bruins must follow in the future to be true title contenders. Friday, that was lacking from other spots on the defense.

“We’ve got to do a better job all around, when it comes to rushing, when it comes to tackling, when it comes to everything,” defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said.

Time of possession is an overrated statistic—except when it’s not. And Friday’s contest was an example of the latter, as noted by Dan Greenspan of The Associated Press:

Complementing Hogan’s proficient passing was a methodical run game, which exploited UCLA’s ineffective tackling to take the air out of the ball.

Stanford had possession for 37 minutes, 49 seconds to UCLA’s 22 minutes, 11 seconds, thanks largely to 202 rushing yards.

“When their running game is a viable threat at all times…they don’t mind running on third down-and-7,” Ulbrich said.

UCLA’s rush defense will look considerably different next season without Kendricks, whom Ulbrich called “the heart and soul” of the program.

And Kendricks isn’t the only notable Bruin who may have gone out winless against Stanford.

Friday would seemingly mark the end of Hundley’s UCLA career. A redshirt junior who finished his undergraduate degree, Hundley was recognized as part of the pregame senior-day ceremony.

With Hundley’s exit, Mora was already faced with beginning a new era in the 2015 campaign. The impending quarterback battle between Hundley’s understudy, Asiantii Woulard, and highly touted prospect Josh Rosen, should dominate offseason headlines in Westwood, California.

But the strides UCLA takes toward becoming a more physical team are perhaps most important for the program's future.

“I thought we closed the gap,” Mora said. “But we still have work to do. We will continue to work hard on getting bigger and faster and stronger and more physical [and] recruiting the type of student-athletes we think can help us win those types of games.”

Such was the case for Oregon, which suffered losses to Stanford in 2012 and 2013 akin to that which UCLA sustained Friday. The Ducks refocused on bulking up last offseason and saw results, blowing out the Cardinal in the rematch earlier this month.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of the UCLA athletic department.

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Oregon vs. Arizona: Date, Start Time and More for 2014 Pac-12 Championship Game

Oregon will have its chance to get revenge. The second-ranked Ducks will meet the No. 11 Arizona Wildcats in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

UCLA's loss to Stanford on Friday meant the winner of Arizona vs. Arizona State would take the Pac-12 South and earn a trip to the title game. The Wildcats beat their in-state rivals, 42-35, at home and will attempt to win the first outright Pac-12 title in school history.

ESPN College Football provided a tale of the tape between the two teams:

Oregon and Arizona met back on Oct. 2, with the Wildcats giving the Ducks their only loss of the season. Terris Jones-Grigsby provided the go-ahead score on a one-yard touchdown run with two minutes, 54 seconds left to play in the game. Scooby Wright III forced and recovered a fumble on Oregon's next drive to seal the win.

Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich felt that his team made far too many mistakes against a tough opponent.

"Again have to give Arizona a ton of credit but there was a lot of stuff in this game that makes it that much more of a bitter pill to swallow in terms of self-inflicted wounds and some of the mistakes we made," he said, per Andrew Greif of The Oregonian.

Helfrich and his team will have an opportunity to set the record straight next Friday.

 

When: Friday, Dec. 5, at 9 p.m. ET (6 p.m. PT)

Where: Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California

Watch: Fox

Live Stream:Fox Sports Go

 

The Book on Oregon

By now, most college football fans know what to expect from Oregon. The Ducks attempt to score a lot of points in a short amount of time, and the strategy's proven extremely fruitful. While Oregon ranks 121st in average time of possession, it's also third in points per game.

The Ducks are one of the few programs where the coaches can change, but the system stays in place.

A large reason why that strategy's been so successful is Marcus Mariota, whom most list atop their Heisman Trophy rankings.

Despite an oft-injured and at times inconsistent offensive line, Mariota's thrown for 3,103 yards and 32 touchdowns to just two interceptions. The junior's also a threat on the ground, rushing for 597 yards and nine TDs, and he even caught a touchdown pass against Arizona.

He set the Pac-12 record for most touchdowns in one season, via Oregon Football:

Mariota will also go down as one of the most talented collegiate QBs ever. He's one of five players in NCAA history to pass for 9,000 yards and rush for 2,000 more:

Oregon has plenty of other talented skill players, such as Royce Freeman, Devon Allen and Byron Marshall, but everything begins and ends with Mariota. If he struggles, the Ducks will have a hard time overcoming the Wildcats.

Arizona's had Mariota's number in the past, intercepting him three times throughout his college career, the most against any opponent, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Defense could also be a problem for Oregon. It's natural that a team with such a quick-strike offense would leak some yards. Although the Ducks are 92nd in total defense (435.7 YPG), they're only giving up a more reasonable 23.6 points a game.

The concerning part about Oregon's defense is that it struggles to make stops when necessary. In the win over Oregon, Arizona converted on nine of its 17 third downs. The Ducks are 107th in third-down defense, allowing a first-down conversion 44.1 percent of the time.

Oregon can ill afford the conference championship to turn into a repeat of its earlier meeting with the Wildcats, giving Arizona chance after chance to keep the drive alive.

 

The Book on Arizona

Arizona is a bit like Oregon in that it uses a fast-paced offense built around a mobile quarterback. The Wildcats rank 111th in time of possession and 14th in yards per game.

Of course, that's not a surprise given the connection between Chip Kelly and Rich Rodriguez. It's no secret that Kelly built his Oregon offenses in the image of Rodriguez's when Rich Rod was an offensive coordinator at Tulane and Clemson and then head coach at West Virginia.

Like Oregon, much of Arizona's offensive success is centered around a talented, dual-threat quarter.

While not at the level of Mariota, Anu Solomon's been one of the Pac-12's best quarterbacks this season, carving up opposing defenses with both his arm and his feet. The freshman signal-caller has 3,424 yards and 27 touchdowns through the air and 282 yards on the ground, the final tally of which is somewhat skewed by his minus-47 yards against ASU.

The connection between Mariota and Solomon goes a bit deeper as well, with both players natives of Honolulu, Hawaii. Before Arizona's win over Oregon back in October, Solomon revealed to Sports Illustrated's Thayer Evans that he'd met Mariota when the Ducks star had a workout at his old high school.

"He’s a great icon," Solomon said of Mariota. "I look up to that guy. He’s a great athlete. He’s a great guy."

While Solomon's performance will have a big say on the Pac-12 title game's outcome, what may be more imperative for Arizona is establishing a presence on the ground. Jones-Grigsby and Nick Wilson combined for 207 yards and three touchdowns against the Ducks earlier in the year.

In last year's upset of Oregon, the Wildcats gained 304 yards rushing, with Ka'Deem Carey carrying the ball 48 times for 206 yards and four touchdowns.

The more the Wildcats can run the ball, the more they can eat time off the clock and wear down the Oregon defense. Not to mention, the Ducks' high-powered offense will remain off the field. Slowing down the pace is No. 1 on the list of ways to beat Oregon.

One potential red flag for Arizona is the the number of narrow victories the team's had in 2014 alone, via Sports on Earth's Matt Brown:

The mark of a good team is finding a way to win close games despite not playing well. Against Oregon, though, Arizona won't have much wiggle room. One poor stretch, especially early in the game, can mean a quick two- or even three-score deficit when playing the Ducks.

Just ask Utah. The Utes looked to have taken a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter, only for Kaelin Clay to drop the ball near the goal line. Joe Walker recovered and went the length of the field for the Oregon TD.

That play brought Oregon back to life. The Ducks turned a 7-0 deficit into a 24-7 lead over 12 minutes of game time against the Utes. Oregon won, 51-27.

In terms of aesthetic beauty and entertainment, Oregon-Arizona is the best possible Pac-12 Championship matchup this year.

Between the revenge factor and similarity between the teams' styles, fans should be in for an enthralling game.

 

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

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