NCAA Football News

Rose Bowl 2015: Latest Odds, Final-Score Prediction for Oregon vs. FSU

When the No. 2 Oregon Ducks square off against the No. 3 Florida State Seminoles in the 2015 Rose Bowl, college football fans will be treated to one of the most anticipated and entertaining matchups of the entire season.

Oregon has been an offensive juggernaut all season, but Florida State has shown the tenacity needed to pull out victories in close matchups. Add in the history of the Rose Bowl, and the battle between the Ducks and the Seminoles is must-watch television.

Here are the latest odds and a final-score prediction for the 2015 Rose Bowl.

 

*Betting information via OddsShark.com.

 

Breaking Down Oregon vs. Florida State

The battle between Oregon and Florida State is one of the most anticipated matchups of the entire bowl season. Not only will the matchup take place in the famed Rose Bowl arena, but it will also be the first ever semifinal matchup in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

The Ducks come into the postseason with the third-ranked offensive unit, averaging an astounding 46.3 points per game. With the 11th-ranked pass attack and the 22nd-ranked rushing game (308.9 and 237.3 yards per game respectively), Oregon will be the most talented offensive unit the Seminoles have faced all season.

Dan Greenspan of The Associated Press shared Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum’s comments about the Seminoles:

Florida State linebacker Reggie Northrup spoke to Natalie Pierre of AL.com about the matchup against the Ducks, saying, “Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses. Oregon, they're a great team. There's a lot of stuff we see that's pretty exciting. We're excited to play them, there's a lot of stuff that we see that we'll have an edge on.”

As good as the Ducks have been offensively, the program’s defensive unit will be pushed to its limit against Jameis Winston and the Florida State offense. While the running game has been inconsistent, the team enters the semifinals ranked 14th in the nation in passing yards with 299.8 per game.

The Seminoles will square off against Oregon’s 29th-ranked defense, allowing just 22.5 points per game, but Florida State’s 30th-ranked defense deserves as much credit. While Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota will give his team the slight edge, there is no doubt this will be a close battle.

College football fans can’t miss this Rose Bowl matchup.

Predicted Final Score: Oregon 33, Florida State 30

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

 

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Sugar Bowl 2015: Players to Watch in Alabama vs. Ohio State Matchup

Football is a team sport, and with 11 men battling one another on each side of the field, it's rare that one individual player can completely tip the scales in favor of his side.

Still, in every contest there are a few players who are a bit more important than others. Maybe they play a key position or are a star performer. Perhaps they are an inexperienced player thrust into the spotlight or a player that has the ability to capitalize on an opponent's weakness. 

Whatever the case may be, every game has a few players absolutely worth paying close attention to from the opening kick. Let's break down three of those players from this year's Sugar Bowl between Alabama and Ohio State.

 

Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State

Ohio State seemed doomed. For much of the season, its poor loss to Virginia Tech seemed like it would be the resume-killer that kept it out of the College Football Playoff. But it kept on winning big games, and it kept on looking better and better.

And then it happened. Heisman candidate and star quarterback J.T. Barrett—who, keep in mind, was supposed to be Braxton Miller's backup coming into this season—was injured in Ohio State's 42-28 victory over Michigan, a game before the Big Ten championship. 

The questions came flying in fast and furiously. Could Cardale Jones lead the Buckeyes past Wisconsin? Would the committee look less favorably on the Buckeyes with a backup quarterback in place for the rest of the season? Would Ohio State be the same team without Barrett. 

It turns out the team was just fine. Jones thew for 257 yards and three touchdowns, Ohio State cruised to a 59-0 win and the Buckeyes were headed to the playoff. 

That was Wisconsin, however. This is Alabama. This is a ferocious SEC defense that has chewed up and spit out talented quarterbacks in the past. This is a Nick Saban-led team that is no stranger to huge games. This is the biggest game of this young man's career.

How Jones deals with all of that will likely dictate the outcome of this game. If he is cool, composed and manages the offense, the Buckeyes should be in this game. If Jones tries to do too much, however, or if he's rattled early on and never finds a rhythm, Alabama is good enough to crush Ohio State.

Ohio State is used to being doubted this season. So is Jones. Never has there been a better time to prove all of the doubters wrong once and for all.

 

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

There might not be a more valuable player to his team than Amari Cooper was to Alabama this season. With Lane Kiffin running the offense and adding more of a passing flair to Alabama, it was Cooper who absolutely thrived, catching 115 passes for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Ohio State can't allow Cooper to take over the game. Just ask Auburn, which watched him catch 13 passes for 224 yards and three scores in his signature performance of the season. Or Florida, which saw him catch 10 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns. Texas A&M watched him catch eight passes for 140 yards and two scores. And against Tennessee, he caught nine passes for 224 yards and two scores.

Cooper has the ability to dominate any given game. If he does so against Ohio State, it's hard to see the Buckeyes winning this one.

 

Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State

There haven't been many defensive players much more dominant down the stretch of the 2013 season than Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett. In his last five games, he has registered five sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles.

It turns out he saved his best for last as in those five games, Ohio State beat Michigan State and Minnesota on the road and crushed Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.

Bennett isn't entirely sure why he has heated up so much down the stretch, as he told Austin Ward of ESPN:

I don’t really know what caused the change. I think it was Michigan State week, that was probably when it was the biggest difference. I think I played good football up until Michigan State week, but I think once they moved me to just straight three-technique and said, 'Go do what we know you can do,' I think that made me a lot more comfortable, a lot more confident than playing a new position. 

I don’t know, I was able to feed off my teammates and we just started gelling and things started working out.

Indeed, consistently playing the same role at defensive tackle likely has contributed to his excellent form. Ward also suggested that Bennett became a more dedicated practice player and gave even more effort on game days. Perhaps the senior captain decided he simply wanted to go out with a bang this year and help lead Ohio State to a national championship.

Whatever the case may be, Bennett has become a disruptive, dominant force on the defensive line and is the one Ohio State defensive player that might be able to slow down Alabama's efficient, balanced offense. If he's as dominant as he was to finish the regular season, the Buckeyes are going to be tough to beat.

 

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

Having Tennessee commitments in the high school All-America games over the holidays has become a staple during Butch Jones' two full recruiting cycles as the Volunteers' head football coach.

This season is no different.

The Vols have nine current commitments participating in the two established high school showcases—the Under Armour All-America Game and the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Three more UT commits are in the two other all-star games.

Numerous other targets will be playing in those games as well, and at least three UT targets could announce their college of choice during the televised contests. 

Here's a list of the All-America games and the players to watch for all you Tennessee fans.

 

Under Armour All-America Game

Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Florida; Friday, Jan. 2, 4 p.m. Eastern time 
TV: ESPN2

This is the big one to watch if you're a Tennessee fan. The only problem is you probably won't be watching it live.

It is scheduled to start just 40 minutes after the Vols kick off in the TaxSlayer Bowl against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Still, it may not be a bad idea to set your DVR, as six UT commits and other targets are playing.

 

Commits

Preston Williams 6'4", 191-pound WR Hampton, Georgia

Williams won't play due to a knee injury suffered during the regular season, which is a shame considering the 5-star talent and the nation's fifth-ranked receiver could have had another opportunity to showcase his skills against the nation's best on national television. 

 

Shy Tuttle 6'3", 320-pound DT Lexington, North Carolina

The Vols desperately needed to shore up the interior of the defensive line this season, and they did so with the additions of 5-star Kahlil McKenzie and Tuttle, a highly ranked 4-star player who has the potential to be a disruptive force on the inside. After performing well for the North Carolina squad in the Shrine Bowl, the quiet Tuttle will try to make some noise in St. Pete. After the game, he'll head to Knoxville as an early enrollee.

 

Andrew Butcher 6'2", 242-pound DE Alpharetta, Georgia

After an outstanding senior season that saw him win Defensive Player of the Year honors in one of the most dominant regions in the state of Georgia as well as first-team all-state, Butcher will be roaming the defensive front with Tuttle. He is also slated to be an early enrollee in Knoxville, and he has the potential to make an immediate impact for UT.

 

Micah Abernathy 6'1", 187-pound CB Norcross, Georgia

Abernathy is a rangy cornerback who chose the Vols over in-state Georgia, Ohio State, Alabama and others. He represents yet another massive win for Jones in the state, and he's the third Georgia boy who'll head to UT playing in this game. He is a dynamic athlete who is somewhat new to the cornerback position, so it'll be interesting to see where he plays in this game.

 

Jack Jones 6'5", 290-pound OT Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Jones is one of the offensive linemen who'll probably be counted on early in Knoxville out of necessity. With the Vols desperately needing offensive tackles to come in and at least provide depth in 2015, Jones will get an extended look once he arrives on campus. This will be a good opportunity to see whether he's athletic enough to battle those long, talented defensive ends.

 

Marques Ford 6'4", 220-pound DE Gibsonton, Florida

Though he didn't receive any offers from the "Big Three" in Florida or have the big sheet that a lot of talented Florida defenders boast during the recruiting process, UT believes it got a steal in Ford. He wasn't highly regarded when he chose the Vols over Rutgers, Arkansas, Boston College and others. But after a strong senior season, he got invited to a high-profile all-star game, and it'll be interesting to see how the defender stacks up. He is yet another UT defensive lineman who'll be on the field.

 

Targets

Vols fans also may want to watch a long-shot target in the game, though it's unlikely he will be playing in Knoxville.

Memphis University School offensive tackle Drew Richmond was one of Tennessee's top targets in the 2015 class for more than a year, but he spurned the Vols to commit to Ole Miss. He has seemed solid since that pledge, and there doesn't appear to be any movement between Richmond and UT.

But it'll be interesting to see how he performs on such a high level. Tennessee fans will be watching to see what they missed out on.

 

U.S. Army All-American Bowl

Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas; Saturday, Jan. 3, 1 p.m. Eastern time 
TV: NBC

 

Commits

Kahlil McKenzie 6'4", 319-pound DT Concord, California

The jewel of Tennessee's class and a future defensive cornerstone will be on display on the West squad in the form of defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie.

He's the nation's 10th-ranked overall player in the class, and though he didn't play his senior season due to transfer rules in California, he's expected to immediately help the Vols. It's going to be interesting to see how the layoff affected him.

 

Darrin Kirkland Jr. 6'2", 235-pound MLB Indianapolis, Indiana

One of the biggest coups for UT came after Michigan coach Brady Hoke was fired. That's when middle linebacker Kirkland re-opened his recruitment. He ultimately chose the Vols over Texas and Ole Miss, among many other offers, and he will have a golden opportunity to replace A.J. Johnson in the middle of UT's defense as a true freshman.

He has the sideline-to-sideline speed and the tackling ability to help right away, and he'll line up on the second level behind McKenzie for the West. Despite all the Jim Harbaugh talk swirling around his former destination, the midterm enrollee told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required) that he's solid to UT.

 

Tommy Townsend 6'1", 175-pound P Orlando, Florida

Another player who will have the opportunity to step in and start for the Vols is Townsend. UT loses senior punter Matt Darr to graduation, and it has no clear-cut leader to take over punting duties. Townsend—whose brother punts for the Florida Gators—has the skills to fill that role.

 

Targets

Everybody wants to know who Tennessee's biggest remaining target will pick, and currently, Nashville defensive end Kyle Phillips is slated to make his announcement during the game. Though UT has long been thought of as a favorite to land his services, most of the late movement in the 247Sports Crystal Ball points to LSU.

That would be a big blow to UT's strong class.

Another top target for the Vols is another defensive end: Fairburn, Georgia's D'Andre Walker. UT already has a strong haul on the defensive line, but landing either Phillips or Walker would make this arguably the best defensive line recruiting class in school history.

Walker told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required) that he also was going to announce during the all-star game between Tennessee, Georgia and Auburn. Signing him or Phillips would be a major score for UT.

 

Other All-America Games

The Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl will be televised by FoxSports1 on Jan. 4 at 9 p.m., and it will be worth watching for Tennessee fans.

Stud defensive end commitment Darrell Taylor will be playing in the game as well as offensive line targets Patrick Allen and Mike Horton as well as quarterback target Sheriron Jones.

Jones, according to GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required), "recently has emerged as a top priority for Tennessee and has referred to the Vols as his leader since parting ways with the Gators."

While Phillips may be the biggest name left on Tennessee's board, Allen is arguably more important. With offensive coordinator Mike Bobo leaving Georgia to be the head coach at Colorado State and taking O-line coach Will Friend to be his offensive coordinator, Allen is far from solid on his Georgia commitment.

He was originally scheduled to announce his final decision between UT and UGA during the game, but Callahan said it's unclear whether he'll follow through with that decision.

Midstate UT commits Kyle Oliver and Vincent Perry will play in the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl along with Miami commit and UT offensive line target Tyree St. Louis, but that game is not televised.

 

All recruiting information gathered from the 247Sports composite rankings, unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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Music City Bowl 2014: Notre Dame vs. LSU TV Info, Spread, Time and Injury News

LSU and Notre Dame aren't supposed to be in Nashville on Dec. 30.

The Tigers and the Fighting Irish are two of the most recognizable and prestigious teams in the country, and the goal is almost always national title or bust entering a new season. Alas, both teams struggled to put away the elite opponents on their schedules and ended up with a disappointing nine losses between them.

That means college football fans are in for an early treat before the bigger bowls start. 

Here is a look at the essential information for this showdown.

 

2014 Music City Bowl

Matchup: LSU vs. Notre Dame

Date: Tuesday, Dec. 30

Time: 3 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN 

Spread: LSU -7 (via Odds Shark, as of Sunday at 9 a.m. ET)

 

Injury Report (via USA Today)

 

Preview

There was a time during the regular season when both Notre Dame and LSU were ranked in the Top 10. However, heartbreaking losses to Florida State and Alabama, respectively, sent their seasons into tailspins down the stretch (Notre Dame lost five of six to end the year, and LSU lost two of its last three).

The winner of this bowl game will feel better about the 2015 campaign on the horizon.

When LSU has the ball, it is one of the more one-dimensional teams in the country, at least in terms of the Power Five conferences.

It finished an abysmal 116th in the nation in passing yards per game but an impressive 29th in rushing yards per game thanks largely to the running back rotation of Leonard Fournette (891 rushing yards and eight touchdowns), Terrence Magee (545 rushing yards and three touchdowns) and Kenny Hilliard (431 rushing yards and six touchdowns).

The unbalanced attack resulted in a middle-of-the-road group that scored only seven points against Auburn, 10 points against Ole Miss, 13 points against Alabama and zero points against Arkansas.

A game against the porous Notre Dame defense may be exactly what the Tigers need.

The Fighting Irish allowed 291 points in their last seven games and finished 86th in the country in points allowed per game. They gave up 55 to Arizona State, 49 to USC, 43 to North Carolina and 43 to Northwestern.

Head coach Brian Kelly understands that his offense needs to keep the vulnerable defense off the field, according to Stats LLC, via ESPN.com: "We'll have to do a great job of keeping our defense off the field, and our offense has a lot to say about what goes on there. These are important practices and we're better at (the quarterback) position because of it."

If the Fighting Irish are going to do that, they will need a solid day from the quarterback duo of Everett Golson and Malik Zaire. Golson finished with an impressive 3,355 yards and 29 touchdowns, but he also threw 14 interceptions and coughed it up 22 times. Thanks to that turnover inclination, Notre Dame will split time between the two quarterbacks against LSU. 

That could be a problem against an opportunistic Tigers defense. LSU finished fourth in passing yards allowed, eighth in total yards allowed and third in scoring defense. It also won't be caught off guard by either quarterback, as JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago noted:

Notre Dame is also fairly one-dimensional. It is 16th in passing yards per game and 84th in rushing yards per game.

The Tigers will pin their ears back and attack the mistake-prone Golson or the inexperienced Zaire and make life difficult for either signal-caller. The Fighting Irish do not boast a formidable enough running game to take the pressure off the quarterbacks, which means the Tigers defense should put its offense in ideal positions to score.

Look for Fournette to respond accordingly against Notre Dame’s weak defense. He will rack up critical second-half scores on the way to a victory as the Fighting Irish struggle to keep up. 

Prediction: LSU 28, Notre Dame 17

 

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Foster Farms Bowl 2014: Maryland vs. Stanford TV Info, Spread, Time and More

Both Stanford and Maryland finished with 7-5 records in power conferences, but you would never know it by looking at the point spread.

Stanford from the Pac-12 is a heavy favorite over Maryland from the Big Ten, and it will attempt to unleash its dominant defense on an overmatched Terrapins squad. Whether a middle-of-the-road Maryland offense can respond remains to be seen.

Here is a look at the essential information for the showdown.

 

2014 Foster Farms Bowl

Matchup: Maryland vs. Stanford

Date: Tuesday, Dec. 30

Time: 10 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN 

Spread: Stanford -14 (via Odds Shark, as of Sunday at 11 a.m. ET)

 

Injury Report (via USA Today)

 

Preview

While Stanford was able to reach a bowl game, it fell short of the Rose Bowl because of struggles against the impressive teams on its schedule. 

The Cardinal lost to USC, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon and Utah, and any criticism launched their way was justified. However, they at least partially responded to that criticism in a loud way in the regular-season finale at UCLA with a 31-10 win.

David Shaw discussed some of the ups and downs for his team, according to Stats LLC, via ESPN.com: "They're excited. They understand what this is. They understand this is something that we earned by how we played, positively and negatively. Now it's a chance to go back and play one more game in a great stadium. And hopefully in front of a loud home crowd."

As for Maryland, it lost to West Virginia and was blown out by Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin. That same type of struggles-against-good-teams criticism would be fair regarding the Terrapins as well.

Maryland could struggle once again against quality competition in this bowl game because of Stanford’s elite defense.

The Cardinal finished the season second in points allowed, fifth in total defense, 11th against the run and seventh against the pass, and they had their way with the majority of offenses they faced this season.

The Terrapins will attempt to counter with quarterback C.J. Brown, who led his team in rushing attempts (148), rushing yards (569) and rushing touchdowns (seven). However, he struggled in the throwing department and was eighth in the Big Ten with 173.6 passing yards per game.

If Maryland is going to pull off the upset, superstar wide receiver Stefon Diggs has to step up. He has been out since Nov. 1 but should return as the Terrapins' top weapon with the speed to break a game open in one play.

Still, Maryland fans hoping to see Diggs returning kicks again may be in for a disappointment, according to Matt Zenitz of The Baltimore Sun:

With a limited Diggs for a portion of the year and a lack of an established running game outside of Brown, Maryland finished the season 73rd in passing, 105th in rushing and 67th in scoring. Those are not exactly the types of numbers the program needs to compete with the likes of Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin in the Big Ten.

Maryland isn’t the only team in this bowl game with a middling offense, though.

The Cardinal were last in the Pac-12 with 386.5 yards per game, but they were better down the stretch. Stanford tallied 854 yards in the final two games thanks largely to a rushing attack that passed 200 yards on the ground in each one.

Running back Remound Wright scored six touchdowns in that two-game stretch, while quarterback Kevin Hogan added 92 yards of his own on the ground.

That could be a problem for a Maryland defense that allowed more than 200 rushing yards a game and struggled to contain the offenses of Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin.

Maryland’s defense struggled for much of the season against quality competition and finished 84th in the country in points allowed per game. The Cardinal are just hitting their stride on the offensive side and should be able to put up enough points for their stellar defense against a vulnerable Maryland group.

The return of Diggs will help the Terrapins keep this one closer than the point spread indicates, but Stanford, with its defense and red-hot offense, is simply a mismatch in this one. Chalk one up for the Pac-12. 

Prediction: Stanford 28, Maryland 17

 

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Belk Bowl 2014: Georgia vs. Louisville TV Info, Spread, Time, Injury News, More

There were times during the 2014 season that Georgia looked like a national championship contender. There was also the time when it allowed 38 points to the decidedly mediocre Florida offense.

The result is a mid-tier Dec. 30 bowl game in Charlotte against Louisville instead of the New Year’s Day or Eve contest Bulldogs fans were hoping for this season. While it may not be the game Georgia wanted, it gets a chance to make a statement against a fellow nationally ranked squad.

Here is a look at the essential information for the matchup between the Bulldogs and Cardinals.

 

2014 Belk Bowl

Matchup: Georgia vs. Louisville

Date: Tuesday, Dec. 30

Time: 6:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN 

Spread: Georgia -6.5, via Odds Shark, as of Sunday at 10 a.m. ET

 

Injury Report (via USA Today)

 

Preview

The Belk Bowl is one of only four contests outside of the major bowls that pits two ranked teams against each other. It also represents a chance for both programs to reach double-digit victories.

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino discussed the opportunity in front of his team, according to STATS LLC, via ESPN.com: "Yeah, we want to get to 10 wins. That's certainly something our seniors would be very proud of so they can look back at their career and see the double-digit winning seasons they've had." 

His Cardinals will have to deal with a powerful Georgia offense that finished 12th in the nation in rushing and eighth in scoring. While Todd Gurley won’t be lacing it up in this game, freshman running back Nick Chubb is a star in his own right with 1,281 rushing yards and 14 total touchdowns.

Chris Low of ESPN noted just how effective the physically bruising Chubb has been this season:

The matchup between Georgia’s rushing attack and Louisville’s front seven, which was second in the country against the run, is the key showdown to watch in this contest.

If the Cardinals load up the box to stop the run, Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason may have to make some plays with his arm. He only hit the 200-yard mark in three games, but he did manage 20 touchdown passes to only four interceptions.

Ball control will be critical for Mason against a Louisville defense that led the nation with 25 interceptions, thanks largely to safety Gerod Holliman, who racked up 14 picks on the way to the Jim Thorpe Award as the country’s best defensive back.

Louisville’s defense will need to come through because the Cardinals will be without running back Michael Dyer on the offensive side. The good news for Louisville is that four different players ran for at least 350 yards, so his absence won’t be crippling to the game plan.

Quarterback could be a bigger concern considering Will Gardner tore his ACL and Reggie Bonnafon hurt his knee in the final regular-season game. That means a less than 100 percent Bonnafon may split time with third-stringer Kyle Bolin.

Georgia’s offense gets most of the credit, but its defense was second in the nation against the pass and was 23rd in the country in scoring defense. The uncertainty for Louisville at the quarterback spot to go along with the absence of Dyer (which isn't devastating but does weaken the running back rotation) will be difficult to overcome against a solid Georgia defense.

This one will be close because of Louisville’s ability to stop the run and force turnovers on defense, but the Cardinals won’t have enough firepower to win at the end. Look for an SEC victory in this one. 

Prediction: Georgia 21, Louisville 13

 

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Georgia Football: Burning Questions Ahead of the Bulldogs' Bowl

We are only a few days away from the Georgia Bulldogs taking on the Louisville Cardinals in the Belk Bowl, and it has the makings to be one of the more compelling bowl games not being played on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.

There has been a lot of news with both teams, but the Bulldogs have been in the spotlight more because of the coaching changes they have made recently. Also, the Bulldogs will be without a key defensive player that was expected to rush Louisville’s quarterback—whoever that may be.

It’s not the bowl game the Bulldogs wanted to play in, but they have a chance to finish the season strong and go into the 2015 season with some good momentum.

So here’s a look at five burning questions ahead of the Bulldogs' bowl game.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.  

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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

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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

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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

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