NCAA Football News

Army vs. Navy: Live Score and Highlights

Army 7, Navy 10—Early 4th Quarter

It may not be a game that has an impact on Top 25 rankings or national championship chances, but the Army-Navy game is "America's Game."  Today, the Midshipmen from Navy look to earn their 13th consecutive victory over the Army Black Knights.

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Best 'College GameDay' Signs from Army-Navy Game

ESPN's College GameDay was live from Baltimore on Saturday for the Army-Navy game.

As you would expect, fans brought plenty of hilarious signs in an attempt to trash talk the other team.

These were the best of the bunch.

[Twitter]

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Army vs. Navy 2014: Breaking Down Stars That Will Shine in Renowned Rivalry Game

The Army-Navy Game has been one of the most beloved college football rivalries since its inception in 1890, and the 2014 edition promises to continue the tradition of passion and dedication.

Navy hasn't lost this game since 2001, and the Midshipmen are once again expected to beat the Black Knights, but there are few guarantees in this series. Perhaps the only one is that both teams will leave everything out on field at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

Navy and Army are very similar teams in terms of their respective approaches on both sides of the ball, so Saturday's clash should be an intriguing chess match.

While the Midshipmen and Black Knights rely heavily on overall team play, here is a closer look at a few players who will stand out from the crowd in the Army-Navy Game.

 

Keenan Reynolds

Although Navy has less than 1,000 passing yards as a team this season, all eyes are usually on junior quarterback Keenan Reynolds. He has mastered the option attack, and there is no doubt that Army will see a heavy dose of him on the ground.

Reynolds enters the game with 1,082 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns. As incredible as that may seem, it's actually a huge drop-off from last season, when he found paydirt 31 times with his legs.

For his career, Reynolds has a remarkable 61 rushing touchdowns. According to Navy Athletics on Twitter, that is an all-time NCAA record for a quarterback:

Making history is something that Reynolds has grown quite accustomed to. In a 52-19 romp over Georgia Southern a few weeks ago, he ran for 277 yards and six touchdowns, which matched a single-game record, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Part of what makes Reynolds so dangerous is the threat of handing the ball off to fullback Noah Copeland, who averages over eight yards per carry. He also has the option of utilizing bruiser Chris Swain, so opposing defenses have to pick their poison.

Reynolds has topped 100 yards rushing in five games this season, and he seems like a solid bet to do it against Army as well.

 

Larry Dixon

Army relies heavily on the running game, just like Navy, but the Black Knights' main offensive star is fullback Larry Dixon. The compact senior is in the midst of his best collegiate season, having topped 1,000 yards for the first time and scoring a career-high nine touchdowns.

Few players put in a more consistent effort than Dixon, which is why he is one of the leading rushers in the history of the program, according to Army Football on Twitter:

While Dixon will long be remembered as an all-time great at Army regardless of what happens Saturday, beating Navy is the one thing he desperately wants to accomplish.

The Black Knights nearly did that two years ago, but a late fumble by Dixon allowed the Midshipmen to close out a 17-13 victory. Per Tom Pedulla of The New York Times, that miscue has stuck with Dixon.

"I'll never forget it," Dixon said. "It's always going to be in the back of my mind. But I try not to take it with me on the field."

Dixon is a motivated player no matter the situation, but the memory of that mistake could very well light an even bigger fire under him Saturday. If it does, then Army has a fighting chance to pull off the upset.

 

Parrish Gaines

Strong, fundamentally sound defensive play is always important in the Army-Navy Game, which is why Midshipmen senior safety Parrish Gaines promises to play a huge role in Saturday's clash.

Gaines is the defense's leader in every conceivable way, and he is enjoying a spectacular campaign. He has three interceptions to his credit, and while that may not come into play against a run-heavy team like Army, he is a sure-handed tackler as well.

There are many Gaines supporters out there but perhaps none greater than Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo, according to Bill Wagner of the Capital Gazette.

I couldn't be more proud of Parrish. He's worked hard academically, been a model citizen in the hall and an outstanding football player. Parrish has played in a ton of ball games and never flinched on the field. Along the way, he's been a tremendous leader—always exhibiting great character and behavior. He really exemplifies what this place is all about—honor, courage and integrity.

The qualities Niumatalolo mentioned will be hugely important in the Army-Navy Game. Gaines has them in spades, and he will do everything possible to set an example for this teammates.

Provided they follow his lead, the Midshipmen will be very tough to beat.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Why Paul Chryst Is a Great Choice to Be the Wisconsin Badgers Football Coach

Earlier this week, athletic director Barry Alvarez of Wisconsin was certainly shocked to hear that head football coach Gary Andersen was leaving the Badgers to take the same job with Oregon State. That meant that Alvarez would have to find a new head coach for the football team for the second time in three years.

Andersen had been 19-7 in two years with the Badgers, and the team had just won the Big Ten West Division. That title led to Andersen and the Badgers getting walloped 59-0 by the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Three years ago, it was Bret Bielema who opted out of Wisconsin after the team had won their second Big Ten Championship Game in a row and their third straight Big Ten title. Bielema decided he wanted a new challenge. The challenge was coaching Arkansas in the very tough SEC West Division.

When Bielema left, the seniors came to Alvarez and asked him to coach them in the Rose Bowl. He did just that, but Wisconsin lost to Stanford 20-14 in the game, ending Alvarez's perfect record of three Rose Bowl wins without a defeat.

When Andersen left the team, the same thing happened. The seniors asked Alvarez to coach the team in the Outback Bowl in Tampa versus Auburn. Once again, Barry will coach the Badgers.

Meanwhile, the search for a new coach is underway. After Andersen decided to leave Wisconsin, Alvarez issued a statement in response:

I began working to find a new head coach as soon as I spoke with Gary this morning. My first concern is taking care of the players on the current team, especially the senior class, and ensuring that their bowl experience is a memorable one. I will find a head coach to uphold the great tradition at Wisconsin, someone who is committed to excellence both on and off the field.

I want to thank Gary for his two years here and commend him on the way his team performed on the field, in the classroom and in the community. I wish him the best at Oregon State.

Three years ago, after Bielema left, one of the first names brought up as his possible successor was Paul Chryst, who had just completed his first season as the new head coach at Pittsburgh.

Chryst had an extensive background with the Badgers—first as a quarterback from 1986-1988, then as tight ends coach in 2002 and finally as offensive coordinator from 2005-2011.

But Alvarez didn't feel the timing was right to hire Chryst then.

"I wouldn't feel right, and I don't think it would be appropriate for me to hire him back after I asked someone to do me a favor and help him get that job," Alvarez said.

But now, two years later, the timing is certainly better. Chryst has been at Pitt three years now. The Panthers have had a 19-19 record in those three years and will be going to their third straight bowl under Chryst.

Earlier this week, Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinelreported that Chryst was set to become the new head football coach of the Badgers.

In the story, Alvarez talked about his process for finding a new head coach.

"I always keep a short list," Alvarez said. "And we will proceed in our search for a new head coach immediately."

Shortly after the report of the eminent hiring of Chryst was circulated in the media, Alvarez said in a release that the coaching search was not finished:

We are continuing the process of finding our new head football coach. We have not offered the position to anyone. In accordance with University of Wisconsin hiring policies, the earliest we could make an offer to a candidate is Wednesday, Dec. 17.

Any accepted offer would be contingent upon approval by the UW System Board of Regents.

We'll follow the process. It has to be posted until the date we have set and then we're free to move.

There was also a report by George Schroeder of USA Today Sports that Alvarez also interviewed Greg Schiano, who was formerly the head coach at Rutgers and also the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The bottom line is that the new head football coach of the Badgers should definitely be Chryst.

Why? For one thing, he's a Madison native. He also played ball for the Badgers and coached them on two different occasions, including being the offensive coordinator for seven years.

In 2011, his last year with the Badgers as their offensive coordinator, the team went 11-3 and went to the Rose Bowl to face Oregon.

Statistically, the team was a force on offense. The Badgers were sixth in the country in scoring and averaged over 44 points a game.

In 2010, the 11-2 Badgers also went to the Rose Bowl versus TCU. The offense under Chryst was once again outstanding. The Badgers were fifth in the nation in scoring offense and averaged over 41 points a game.

In his seven years running the Wisconsin offense, the Badgers averaged 34 points a game.

Just look at the job he did with Russell Wilson in 2011 when Wilson was a fifth-year transfer out of North Carolina State.

Wilson first came to the Badgers in late June. That gave Chryst just over a month to write up a playbook for his new quarterback.

All Wilson did was have the best year ever at quarterback in the history of Wisconsin football. Wilson threw 33 touchdowns to just four interceptions for 3,175 yards. The mobile quarterback also ran for 338 yards and six more scores.

Wilson was named All-Big Ten by both the coaches and the media and finished ninth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy.

Chryst runs a pro-style offense. The running game is a big factor in the success of his offense, and that will always be a major part of the way Wisconsin plays offense—at least as long as Alvarez is around.

I believe Chryst would treat an opportunity to coach at Wisconsin as a destination job. A final job. Just like Alvarez did when he coached the Badgers from 1990-2005.

That was certainly not the case for Bielema or Andersen.

But it will be for Chryst, who, I believe, will return to his hometown to make things official next week and become the new head football coach of the Badgers.

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Army-Navy Game 2014: Start Time and Predictions for Rivalry Game

No football tradition is more sacred than the annual Army-Navy showdown.

Some things transcend a simple result, a thought process put on display each year when the two services collide on the gridiron.

Traditional ground-based approaches rule the day in what annually devolves into a war of wills. The Midshipmen enter with a major advantage, though, as they look to extend their winning streak against the Black Knights to 13.

The beauty of this rivalry is in the tradition and details.

 

When: Saturday, December 13,3 p.m. ET

Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Maryland

Television: CBS

 

Preview and Predictions

The result Saturday means little in the grand scheme of things.

Bob Socci, who called Navy's games for 16 years, explains the dynamics behind the tradition best per CBSLocal.com:

But that game is all about that dimension that can’t be duplicated anywhere else in sports, and that really comes into focus at the end of the game. It’s been true throughout the history of the service academy when they’ve competed since Dennis Michie first challenged the Midshipmen to a game of football, at the end of the game all of those seniors come together for the alma maters, and they are brothers in arms thereafter — they’re on the same team, with much greater consequences than the outcome of a football game.

Of course, none of this prohibits the journey from being an entertaining ride.

Navy is bowl eligible for the 11th time in the last 12 years thanks to the nation's second-ranked rushing attack. As ESPN CollegeFootball points out, Ken Niumatalolo's team has a stranglehold on the rivalry right now:

The 115th encounter between the two sides is unlikely to be predictable, though.

Fullback Larry Dixon, who bruises his way on the ground in the triple-option attack, leads Army. To date, his 1,028 yards and nine touchdowns lead the team, although quarterback Angel Santiago is not far off with 793 yards and 10 scores of his own. 

The story is much of the same for Navy. A number of talented rushers flank the quarterback position, but Keenan Reynolds is by far the most important piece to watch Sunday.

Niumatalolo rarely asks the junior to pass. Why would he? Reynolds has 205 carries for 1,082 yards and 20 touchdowns on the season. As Army coach Jeff Monken told the media, per Sal Interdonato of the Times Herald-Record, few players in the nation are more important to their teams:

Reynolds is the key for this year's matchup, as he was last season with just seven pass attempts and 136 rushing yards with three scores on the ground in a 34-7 triumph.

Army enters Saturday off a 42-31 win over Fordham, but it was just win No. 4 on the season. The defense still ranks 109th in the nation with an average of 34.4 points allowed per game. In other words, the unit's ability to stop a Navy rushing attack that has seen 10 players score touchdowns this year is not likely.

Remember, this is a Navy attack that took on then-No. 10 Notre Dame at the start of November and lost just 49-39. There, Reynolds was effective through the air with two touchdowns, second-leading rusher Noah Copeland ran for 138 yards, and 10 different players recorded a carry.

The Fighting Irish scored with one minute, 27 seconds left to inflate the final score.

Look for Reynolds to have a major game on the ground Saturday. Army is much better than in years past, and Dixon is sure to post a major game. Just last week in the triumph against Fordham, he ran wild for 158 yards and three scores on a 7.2 per-carry average.

Dixon cannot do it on his own, though. The deep Navy attack will grind down Army over the course of four frames and get the win.

For seniors such as Copeland and Dixon, the desired end result to a storied role in a historic rivalry will not be obtainable by both.

In a spectacle that transcends sports, though, both win. 

Prediction: Navy 36, Army 24

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Heisman Race 2014: Last-Minute Predictions for Top Contenders

Tensions are high as the nation eagerly await Saturday night's Heisman Trophy declaration. Any of college football's three superstar finalists could walk away with the NCAA's prestigious honor.

Who is anyone kidding? Marcus Mariota will win.

That's no slight to Melvin Gordon and Amari Cooper, two football terminators sent to this planet to eventually become fantasy football overlords on Sundays. But come on, neither of those two studs is responsible for 53 touchdowns—don't forget Mariota's receiving score—this season.

Sorry to kill the suspense, but Gordon and Cooper are battling for second despite crafting campaigns merited of grand recognition. In another year, either one could have triumphed.

This year, however, the Oregon quarterback will not be denied the sport's biggest accolade.

 

Heisman Finalists

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

He's already won every other award, so what's one more? SportsCenter highlighted Mariota's expanding list of crowns before embarking on the big one.

Each game made it tougher to argue against Mariota. Scoring 19 times in the final four contests without a single interception solidified his case on top, especially with the Ducks finishing No. 2 in the College Football Playoff Rankings.

The junior concluded his incredible year with 4,478 total yards, 53 touchdowns and two picks. He leads the FBS with 10.2 passing yards per attempt and a 186.3 quarterback rating.

Courtesy of Philly.com's Sheil Kapadia, former Oregon coach Chip Kelly—who moved on to lead the Philadelphia Eagles—offered high praise for the versatile star.

In his worst game of the season, Mariota only went 20-of-32 with 276 passing yards and two touchdowns in a losing effort against Arizona, the team he decimated for five scores during the Pac-12 title game. Give that man his trophy and be done with it.

 

Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

It's saying something about Mariota's season to enter the clear favorite over a running back who procured a nation-high 2,336 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns on the ground. Gordon certainly had a season to remember in his own right.

Amazingly, his yards per carry actually decreased from 2013, going down from 7.8 to 7.6. Yet he maintained that stellar rate despite getting worked to the bone with 309 handoffs, only once receiving fewer than 15 touches in a game.

Oh, by the way, he finished with 258 total yards and five touchdowns on 14 touches during that one holdover.

Whether fair or unfair, recency bias will dampen the running back's chances, perhaps stringing him down to No. 3 behind a soaring Cooper. Ohio State slaughtered Wisconsin, 59-0, to win the Big Ten during Gordon's first game below 100 yards since Sept. 6.

The junior gained just 76 rushing yards on 26 carries, failing to break off a 20-yard run for the first time all season. Allow ESPN Stats & Info to illuminate the oddity in him not accomplishing a difficult feat for most mortals.

That shouldn't lessen his season of destruction, as this is a man who topped 200 rushing yards five times while torching Nebraska for an unfathomable 408 yards. Most years, that's enough to claim the throne.

 

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

Playing the least glorified of the three positions represented in New York, Cooper holds the worst chance of emerging victorious—despite transforming Alabama's offense into a powerhouse.

First off, it's important to note how rare it is for a wide receiver just to get considered. Per ESPN Stats & Info, it hasn't happened in more than a decade, and that guy has since caught 903 passes in the NFL.

To find a winning wideout, one must backtrack all the way to 1991, when Desmond Howard won it while also impacting games as a returner.

Nevertheless, Cooper forced his way into the discussion by collecting an SEC-record 115 receptions for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns. Against two fierce SEC foes in Auburn and Missouri, the junior closed out the season with 25 grabs, 307 yards and a score, stamping his ticket to the ceremony.

Don't feel too bad for him if he's snubbed. Per ESPN CollegeFootball, he doesn't sound overly concerned about bringing home the hardware.

He certainly deserves this spot as a finalist, and SI.com's People's Heisman poll declared him the slight winner over Mariota. Don't expect that to carry over to the real voting, but it could forebode a closer finish than anticipated.

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Heisman Finalists 2014: Predictions for Candidates' Order of Finish

One college football player is about to become a legend Saturday without even picking up a ball. 

Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Alabama’s Amari Cooper are the finalists for the 2014 Heisman Trophy, and the winner will enter a distinguished and private fraternity of players who have become almost mythological figures and heroes.

The only question now is who will take the trophy home. Here is a look at the predicted order of finish for the three candidates:

 

Marcus Mariota

While Gordon dazzled this season on his way to 2,336 rushing yards and Cooper wowed NFL scouts and college football fans alike with 1,656 receiving yards, this choice is clear for the 2014 Heisman.

The case for Mariota begins with the raw statistics.

Mariota led the entire country in passing efficiency at 186.3, tallied a Pac-12 record 53 touchdowns (38 of which were passing touchdowns), threw for 3,783 yards, ran for 669 yards and even threw in a receiving touchdown among those 53 scores for good measure. 

College GameDay recognized Mariota’s statistical success, but it was Paul Myerberg of USA Today who passed along the most ridiculous number of all for the Oregon quarterback:

Incredibly, Mariota threw a measly two interceptions the entire season. That is ultimately what separates him from the rest of the Heisman field and country as a whole. Oregon runs a fast-pace, high-octane offense that incorporates a number of different looks, misdirection and personnel packages. They may confuse an opposing defense, but never Mariota.

The raw number of plays the Ducks run would suggest that Mariota threw at least a handful of interceptions because of a larger sample size, but he always protected the ball.

For context, Florida State’s Jameis Winston, who won the Heisman last season, threw 17 picks this year.

The most important stat regarding Mariota, though, is 12, which is the number of wins he led the Ducks to this season. They reached the College Football Playoff as a result and earned a Pac-12 title and some revenge on Arizona—the only team to beat Oregon this year—along the way.

Mariota has already collected plenty of hardware for his season, including the Maxwell Award as the country’s most outstanding player, the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award and the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award.

Mariota discussed all the recognition, via ESPN.com:

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

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

Mariota’s future is unsurprisingly bright, even though he hasn’t officially declared for the 2015 NFL draft.

He could very well be the top pick in that draft, or at least the top quarterback, and those questions that have dogged Oregon quarterbacks in the past simply don’t apply to Mariota. He is not a system quarterback, not too small (listed at 6’4” and 219 pounds) and can make plays both inside and outside the pocket with his arm and legs.

Before the NFL, though, is a date with Florida State, which has managed to find a way to win every time it takes the field this season despite narrow calls against North Carolina State, Louisville, Notre Dame, Florida, Clemson, Boston College and Georgia Tech, among others.

While the Seminoles certainly deserve all the credit in the world for coming away victorious, there has been a considerable talent gap in their favor every time. That talent gap won’t exist for Winston and company in the Rose Bowl. 

It’s only right that the new Heisman winner ends the old Heisman winner’s bid at a second straight national championship.

 

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What Is Auburn's Ceiling with New Defensive Coordinator Will Muschamp?

Will Muschamp has been named the new defensive coordinator for the Auburn Tigers, as Gus Malzahn confirmed. The former Florida Gators head coach brings his defensive acumen to a team that gave up nearly 400 yards per game in 2014.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee break down what Muschamp will bring to Auburn in the future.

Does this hire make Auburn an automatic contender? Check out the video and let us know!     

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Heisman Trophy Ceremony 2014: TV Info, Updated Predictions for Coveted Award

The 80th presentation of the prestigious Heisman Trophy will take place on Saturday evening from New York City, with three of college football's finest athletes looking to become the newest member of the brotherhood of previous winners.

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon and Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper are the only three finalists this year. One could argue that other players should have been included in the final ceremony—Trevone Boykin and Tevin Coleman are the two most widely debated—but there's no denying the fact that the finalists chosen are deserving of their recognition.

Just being considered for the Heisman is something amazing to put on a resume, but somebody has to strike the famous pose by the end of the evening. Who will make history in 2014? Tune in on Saturday night to find out.

 

When: Saturday, Dec. 13

Where: Best Buy Theater, New York City

Time: 8 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: Watch ESPN

 

Prediction

There's no shortage of dynamic talent between Mariota, Gordon and Cooper. While their talents and positions are different, the fact that they dominated opposing defenses throughout the entirety of the 2014 campaign makes them quite similar.

Each player posted gaudy numbers for their teams. Check out the most notable numbers below:

Zac Ellis of SI.com believes that Mariota has the advantage over the field:

The current Heisman race also features three finalists who play different positions. Legitimate arguments exist for Mariota, Gordon and Cooper as the best in the country at what they do. But who is the best player overall? That’s a tough question to answer. However, Mariota is thriving in a Heisman era largely defined by dual-threat quarterbacks. Four running quarterbacks have won the trophy since 2007.

Twelve of the last 14 Heisman winners have been quarterbacks, further helping Mariota's case.

Voters tend to also look at the overall success of a finalist's team, and the Ducks are the No. 3 team in the country. They'll play Florida State (No. 3) in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.

The deck may be stacked against Gordon and Cooper, but the two high-powered athletes have still made strong cases.

The Associated Press broke down Gordon's candidacy as it relates to how close he is to the single-season rushing record, via FoxSports.com:

Gordon leads the nation with 2,336 yards rushing and 179.7 yards per game. Gordon broke the single-game FBS rushing record with 408 yards against Nebraska, a record that only stood for a week. He needs another huge game in the Outback Bowl against Auburn to break Barry Sanders' single-season record of 2,628, set in his Heisman winning season of 1988 with Oklahoma State.

Gordon, however, faltered in the Big Ten Championship Game against Ohio State, gaining just 76 yards and averaging 2.9 yards per carry. Regardless, the tailback has been practicing his Heisman pose:

Cooper has broken countless records en route to his candidacy, so it's no surprise that he's being considered heavily:

The wideout is special. He has incredible speed and hands, but it's his mentality that sets him above the rest. Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban told Michael Casagrande of AL.com about the things that Cooper has overcome to be great:

"He hasn't let little things bother him. Whether it's a little nagging injury or whatever and has just been kind of a demon every time the game comes in terms of how he competes."

That's certainly something to commend, but it won't help him in the overall voting. Mariota is destined to win this award. Fox Sports' Joel Klatt thinks he'll win in a landslide:

He only threw two interceptions, amassed 50 total touchdowns and led his team to the Pac-12 title. The Ducks face a tough test in the Seminoles on Jan. 1, but Mariota can send the Ducks to the title game if he continues his dominant, mistake-free play.

Given the recent success of quarterbacks (and specifically dual-threat signal-callers), Mariota has everything in his favor. He'll be the next addition to the most prestigious fraternity in sports.

 

Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @kennydejohn.

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Bowl Games Schedule 2014-15: TV Info, Dates and Odds for Entire Slate

The great thing about the bowl season is that it gives a chance for every team to play in the spotlight.

While there has been a lot of coverage on the College Football Playoff—something that won't change because, well, they are the best teams in the nation—the next few weeks give other squads a chance to show what they can do.

Although not everyone is competing for a national championship, a total of 76 teams will try to end their season on a high note with a win in their bowl game. From the fans' perspective, there are a lot of games worth watching besides just the ones on New Year's Day.

Here is a look at the schedule with odds for every bowl game this winter, along with a breakdown of some of the under-the-radar matchups to watch.

All odds courtesy of OddsShark.com.

 

Best Bowls Outside of New Year's Six

Alamo Bowl: Kansas State vs. UCLA

Based on preseason expectations, it wouldn't have been too surprising to see either team competing for a national championship. At the very least, both Kansas State and UCLA had the talent to be in the running for conference titles.

Unfortunately, each squad fell short on the last game of the season with a shot at a conference title on the line.

While they won't be raising trophies this year, each side is still a lot of fun to watch behind two of the most intriguing quarterbacks in the game. UCLA's Brett Hundley has an up-and-down year, but he already decided he will enter the NFL draft and has all the talent to have success there. 

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder is a little intimidated going into this challenge:

On the other hand, Jake Waters is unlikely to be lining up under center in the NFL, but he is still a dynamic player who can make things happen with either his arm or his legs. 

Against a below-average pass defense, Waters has an opportunity to put up some big stats in this one.

In a bowl that has seen some high-scoring battles over the years, this matchup could once again approach 100 points. 

 

Outback Bowl: Auburn vs. Wisconsin

The big story with Wisconsin is the changes in the coaching staff after head coach Gary Andersen left for Oregon State. As a result, athletic director and former head coach Barry Alvarez will be on the sidelines for the Badgers in the bowl game.

While this will be entertaining and will give fans plenty of nostalgia, it won't necessarily lead to much success.

Still, Wisconsin will certainly put up a fight with the best running back in the nation. Melvin Gordon is one of three finalists for the Heisman Trophy and has a legitimate argument to win based on his stats, via Mike Hall of the Big Ten Network:

The problem is Auburn has already faced plenty of talent on both sides of the ball this year:

It's clear the 8-4 record is not indicative of the Tigers' true ability. With some better breaks, and possibly some better home games, they could easily be playing for a national championship.

Auburn should be able to win this game with ease, but it will be entertaining to see some great running plays from Gordon, Nick Marshall and Cameron Artis-Payne. 

 

Belk Bowl: Georgia vs. Louisville

This bowl game is not only good for its on-field matchups, but there are storylines all around, as noted by Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated:

Besides the players who have switched teams, Todd Grantham will have a pretty big role, as noted by Tim Sullivan of The Courier-Journal:

There were many who questioned Grantham's ability as a defensive coordinator during his time with Georgia, but now he has a chance to show what he can do firsthand.

Louisville has the No. 18 scoring defense in the nation, although it will be a challenge to stop running back Nick Chubb, who has been a star for the Bulldogs ever since losing Todd Gurley to injury.

This battle will have talent and passion, two ingredients for a great football game. 

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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Heisman Watch 2014: Last-Minute Predictions for Epic Race

The majority of big college football awards were handed out on Thursday night in Orlando, Florida.

Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back and Alabama's Amari Cooper took home the Fred Biletnikoff Award as college football's best wide receiver.

Louisville's Gerod Holliman and his 14 interceptions earned the Jim Thorpe Award (top defensive back), Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright won the Chuck Bednarik Award as the best defensive player in 2014 and Oregon's Marcus Mariotacleaned up.

However, it's Saturday night in New York when the most prized piece of hardware in college football, the Heisman Trophy, will be presented to the latest deserving recipient. 

SportsCenter has the rundown of the three finalists for the award:

All three players have put in outstanding efforts this season, but only one can walk away with the Heisman trophy on Saturday night. Here are some last-minute predictions for the award and the case for each player's candidacy.

 

Third: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

While Cooper and Mariota have quite clearly been the nation's best wideout and best quarterback this season, respectively, it took a few weeks for everyone to catch onto the fact that Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon was an electric combination of speed and power capable of routinely laying waste to even the brainiest defensive coordinator's best-laid plans.

For the first few weeks of the regular season, it was Georgia's Todd Gurley who served as college football's premier running back and it's interesting to think about how the Heisman race might've played out if Gurley was able to put in a full season's work.

Still, there really aren't too many arguments to lobby against 309 carries for 2,336 yards and 26 rushing touchdowns. Gordon's numbers dwarf those of some of the other top-yardage running backs in the nation.

ESPN's Chris Low pointed out on Dec. 4 that the Gordon put up huge numbers against some of the Badgers' fiercest competition:

He has an outside shot at Barry Sanders' single-season record of 2,628 yards. Considering he put up a record-setting 408 yards in just three quarters against Nebraska this season, there's hope yet for Gordon to set the mark.

The achievements are made all the more remarkable by the fact that Gordon simply was the offense for long stretches of the season. Corey Clement finished second on the team in rushing with 824 yards and Badgers quarterbacks Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy combined to complete just 161-of-291 passes for 1,938 yards, 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Still, his accomplishments fall just short of those put up by Cooper and Mariota. Oklahoma's Samaje Perine may have taken away some prestige from Gordon's campaign by breaking the single-game rushing record just a week after Gordon set it.

The diminished stature of the Big Ten as a conference might also hurt Gordon's chances in a race featuring representatives from the SEC and Pac-12.

Gordon will likely finish third but only because someone has to. His stats this year would be worthy of the Heisman in a number of seasons, just not this one.

 

Second: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

Wide receivers don't tend to get much play when it comes to the Heisman trophy. The last time a wideout won the award was Michigan's Desmond Howard in 1991 and he received a huge resume burst with his kick- and punt-return abilities.

Before him, it was Notre Dame's Tim Brown in 1987. Still, the fact that Cooper is even invited to the Heisman ceremony bodes well for his chances to finish above Gordon, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Gordon spent all season long running behind a mammoth offensive line that's one of the best in the country. Alabama has a fine offense, but Cooper was the one who dragged his benefactor, quarterback Blake Sims, to stardom this season.

Sims and Jake Coker combined to complete 258 passes this season. Cooper caught 115 of them (48.3 percent). DeAndrew White was second on the team in receptions with 37. It could hardly have been more obvious whom the ball was going to on any given pass play, but Cooper got open regardless. Cooper was so money, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin started celebrating his touchdowns early.

Few other receivers in the nation can boast numbers comparable to Cooper's, which also include an FBS-leading 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Colorado State's Rashard Higgins has the only comparable line with 89/1,640/17, but he did it against the 77th toughest schedule, while the Crimson Tide played the fifth toughest, per TeamRankings.com.

Cooper credits Kiffin for much of his success this year.

"The script of the first 10 plays, I get excited every time I look at it because I'm featured in about five of them," Cooper said, via AL.com's Michael Casagrande. "So I'm always happy when I look at the first 10 plays knowing that I'll be able to start out fast."

Still, Cooper isn't on the verge of breaking a big national record like Gordon is and that could work against him. If there is one thing that can separate these two players, it might be the stats from their respective conference championships.

Cooper, coming off a 224-yard, three-touchdown performance against Auburn in the Iron Bowl, was the bane of Mizzou's existence in the first half of the SEC Championship Game. He reeled in 10 catches in the first two quarters and finished with 12 receptions for 83 yards. 

Gordon struggled against a bonkers Ohio State defense in a Big Ten Championship shutout loss, gaining just 76 yards on 26 carries.

The latest performances could affect some Heisman voters' thought processes and Cooper's final two games of the calendar year were fine displays of the sure hands and crisp route running that made him such a dominant offensive force in 2014.

 

First: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

Make no mistake, Marcus Mariota will win the 2014 Heisman Trophy. It wouldn't be a terrible thing if either Cooper or Gordon took home the stiff-arming prize, but Mariota's accomplishments this season at the game's toughest position will ensure he wins the award.

As SportsCenter noted, he already has quite a full trophy case, but one more wouldn't hurt:

Former Ducks head coach and current Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly saw Mariota's huge potential when he was freshman and didn't take credit for his current success.

"It had nothing to do with me,” Kelly said via The Philadelphia Inquirer's Jeff McLane. “When he was a freshman I remarked, ‘This kid’s going to win the Heisman.’”

Mariota finished fifth in the nation in passing yardage and second in passing touchdowns with 38.

Sure, the likes of California's Jared Goff (3,973) might have more yards and Western Kentucky's Brandon Doughty threw more touchdowns (44), but Mariota played in arguably the best conference in the nation and casually tossed in 669 rushing yards, 14 rushing touchdowns and a 26-yard scoring reception.

Goff and Doughty? They combined for negative-100 yards rushing and two ground scores.

Mariota also led the country with a passer efficiency rating of 186.3, per ESPN.com. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller gave him a favorable comparison to a current NFL star:

Of the 372 passes he attempted this season, only two were picked off. This essentially makes him the best caretaker quarterback in the nation and that term is almost always reserved for signal-callers who put scoreboard operators to sleep in most games.

He did all this with an offensive line that struggled to protect him at times. Simply put, Mariota was as unflappable as he was unstoppable in 2014.

The Heisman is supposed to represent a single season of achievement, but for Mariota it could very well serve as a career-achievement award of sorts. He's been a dominant college quarterback for three seasons now; 2014 was simply the best he's ever been in a Ducks uniform.

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Sugar Bowl 2015: X-Factors in Ohio State vs. Alabama Showdown

The moment Urban Meyer took over at Ohio State, the goal was to beat the SEC, and the Alabama dynasty in particular, on the way to multiple national titles. Now, the Buckeyes have their chance in the 2015 Sugar Bowl.

You know the main actors in this matchup already.

Third-string quarterback Cardale Jones, running back Ezekiel Elliott and deep threat Devin Smith will lead the Buckeyes against quarterback Blake Sims, wide receiver Amari Cooper, running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry and the rest of the Crimson Tide.

However, there are bound to be some X-factors outside of just the main players that help shape the outcome of the game. With that in mind, read on for some details on those X-factors.

 

A Healthy Dontre Wilson

Ohio State announced to the nation that it was back and ready to compete for a playoff spot when it walked into East Lansing and knocked off Michigan State, but it lost H-back Dontre Wilson in the process.

Wilson broke his foot (but still managed to catch a critical touchdown down the stretch) and was lost for the remainder of the regular season.

Jalin Marshall filled in, and the offense didn't miss much of a beat. Marshall is versatile enough to play on the outside, in the backfield or out of the slot, and he even took some snaps as a Wildcat quarterback. He saved the game for Ohio State against Indiana.

Since Marshall thrived in November, the injured Wilson became something of the forgotten man in the Ohio State offense while he was sidelined. However, having both Marshall and Wilson on the field at once makes the Buckeyes offense, which was fourth in the nation in points per game, all the more dangerous. 

It appears like that will be the case in the Sugar Bowl, via Patrick Maks of Eleven Warriors:

Wilson is fast enough to score from anywhere on the field anytime he touches the ball and is an all-purpose player who will impact the game in a number of ways.

Before getting hurt, he tallied 100 rushing yards on 5.6 yards per carry, 300 receiving yards and three touchdown catches on 14.3 yards per catch, 136 yards on punt returns and 528 yards on kick returns. While Marshall will continue to return punts in the Sugar Bowl, Wilson was Ohio State's main kick returner while he was healthy and likely will be again in the postseason. 

Adding a game-changing speedster to an offense that was already dominant as well as to a dangerous special teams is a solid formula for an upset.

 

Alabama's Defense Dealing With No-Huddle

Alabama's defense has been one of the most consistent units in all of college football for years, but there has been one perceived chink in the armor the past couple of seasons.

Whether it was Johnny Manziel torching the Alabama secondary, Oklahoma shocking the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl with an aerial onslaught or Auburn nearly scoring at will the past couple of Iron Bowls, Alabama's defense struggled to stop the no-huddle offense. That could be a problem against the Buckeyes in the playoffs.

Alabama safety Landon Collins discussed his team's issues against the no-huddle attack before the 2014 Iron Bowl, via Kelly Ward of The Tuscaloosa News.

"Definitely in the past," Collins said. "Definitely saw it as, especially with Auburn and with Oklahoma, they ran that fast-pace offense against us and ran us out the stadium. Definitely saw that as a downside of our defense, and we had to pick that up and show that we are very dominant against it."

So much for that.

The Tigers torched the Crimson Tide for 630 total yards even in defeat. While Auburn couldn't stop Cooper and the Alabama offense and ultimately lost the game, it provided yet another example of an uptempo attack having its way against Alabama.

How the Crimson Tide deal with Ohio State's version of the no-huddle offense will go a long way toward determining the outcome of the Sugar Bowl. For as impressive as Jones and the rest of the Buckeyes looked in a 59-0 win over Wisconsin, it is asking an awful lot of a young quarterback in his second career start to deal with Alabama's defense.

What's more, head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will have three weeks to prepare a game plan for Jones. There are a lot of national championships in the coaching room when Alabama prepares for an opponent, and that should not be overlooked. 

No pressure, Mr. Jones.

 

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Rose Bowl 2015: Oregon vs. FSU Viewing Info and Early Preview for CFP Semifinal

The 2015 Rose Bowl is the first under the new College Football Playoff system. Yet, regardless of the postseason format in place, it's hard to imagine the long-running annual showcase getting a better matchup than Oregon against Florida State.

On one side, the Ducks are led by likely Heisman Trophy recipient Marcus Mariota and feature perhaps the nation's most exciting offense. On the other side, the reigning champion Seminoles are highlighted by last year's Heisman winner, Jameis Winston, and a squad with a flair for the dramatic.

The winning side will advance to the national championship game to face off with either Alabama or Ohio State. So let's check out all of the important details for the semifinal along with an early look at the highly anticipated semifinal clash.

 

Viewing Information

Where: Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California

When: Thursday, Jan. 1, at 5 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Rose Bowl Preview

The two quarterbacks are going to remain the central focus of the build-up, and rightfully so. Winston took the college football world by storm last fall while leading Florida State to a championship. Now, Mariota is trying to replicate the Heisman-national title double.

What makes Oregon so difficult to slow down is the incredible combination of efficiency and pace with which it moves on offense. Mariota has attempted 372 passes and been intercepted just twice. Along with limiting mistakes, he's accounted for 53 total touchdowns in 13 games.

ESPN Stats and Info passed along some numbers to show exactly how similar he's performed compared to his Rose Bowl counterpart's 2013 season:

The extra preparation time should help the Florida State defense. The unit gave up 465 yards and 35 points to Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game. To say a better effort will be necessary to keep its repeat hopes alive would be a massive understatement.

Head coach Jimbo Fisher isn't sure it's entirely possible to prepare his team for what it will see on New Year's Day, though. Tim Linafelt of Florida State's official athletics site provided comments from him about the challenge the Ducks present.

"They're unbelievably explosive in what they do," Fisher said. "I don't know if you can ever practice for the speed. …You can always look at film, but, until you play the real people, it's difficult."

The bigger concern for Fisher is figuring out a way to get his team to rediscover its championship form during the current lull.

Yes, Florida State stands at a perfect 13-0. It was far from dominant during the regular season, though, often falling behind early and needing a comeback to keep the winning streak alive.

Seven of the Seminoles' 13 wins were by a single score. Only once was against a team ranked in the Top Five, and that was Notre Dame, before the Fighting Irish fell off in a major way down the stretch.

The lack of blowout wins and elite competition makes FSU somewhat of a mystery heading into the playoff. The formula used by NumberFire suggests the results this season barely make the defending champs a top-20 team:

That brings us back to quarterback play. Winston, unlike Mariota, has done a poor job of protecting the football. He's been picked off 17 times, which is a major reason for his rating dropping nearly 40 points after his dynamic freshman campaign.

So while there will be plenty of outstanding players on the field for the semifinal—Royce Freeman, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Nick O'Leary and Jalen Ramsey, to name a few—it's likely to come down to which quarterback can strike the better balance between risk and reward.

If that's how it plays out, Mariota and Oregon have the edge.

 

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Army-Navy Game 2014: TV Info, Odds for Epic Rivalry

It wouldn't matter if the two teams were winless going into the final game of the year. When Army and Navy face each other, it's a big deal.

The two military academies look forward to this annual rivalry all season long as the only real game that matters. Navy has had some good performances this season and goes into the last week with a 6-5 record. Army has struggled a bit more, but it still managed to go 4-7.

Still, a win or loss Saturday will determine whether the season is a success for these two programs.

This is an exciting game to watch for all college football fans, so make sure not to miss a second of the action from Baltimore.

 

When: Saturday, Dec. 13

Time: 3 p.m. ET

Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Maryland

TV: CBS

Spread (via OddsShark.com): Navy -15

Over/Under: 56

 

The most intriguing part of this game is the fact that it's almost like a time-traveling experience to football before the invention of the forward pass.

With both teams running the option offense, throwing the ball is extremely rare. Army ranks last in the nation with just 64.5 passing yards per game, while Navy is second-to-last with an average of 87.6.

Navy won last year's game 34-7 with quarterback Keenan Reynolds passing for just 10 yards on seven attempts.

With Reynolds back as one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the nation, it wouldn't be surprising to see more of the same this time around. The junior leads the team with 1,082 rushing yards, and his 20 touchdowns on the ground ranks seventh in the country.

Army has struggled defensively all season, and it is hard to imagine the squad finding ways to stop—or even slow down—a quarterback who can score on any play.

This doesn't seem like a year that is going to end the Midshipmen's run of recent success, as noted by ESPN Stats and Info:

The Black Knights will battle back with the one-two punch of Angel Santiago and Larry Dixon in the backfield. They will find a way to move the ball and keep the Navy offense off the field as long as possible.

However, Navy has more talent from top to bottom and should be able to pull out another win in its home state of Maryland.

Still, this game is about more than wins and losses. ESPN's College GameDay will make its way to M&T Bank Stadium to watch the action, as Kirk Herbstreit excitedly announced:

Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo sums up the rivalry well:

The thing that’s always cool is, as bad as we want to beat them and as bad as they want to beat us, there’s a great amount of respect between both schools. The sportsmanship after, by us singing each other’s alma mater, shows that. In a sport where everyone’s talking about who’s going to be in the top four, it’s cool to have two teams that just play a rivalry for the pure competition.

The simultaneous hatred and respect make this an incredible event that transcends sports. One of these teams will leave as a winner, but there will truly be no losers in this one.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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College Football Playoff Championship 2015: Schedule, Dates for Inaugural Event

For the first time ever, the national champion in college football will be determined in a playoff format. The inaugural College Football Playoff is just a little over two weeks away.

While many of us would prefer a larger field, the four-team format is still an improvement from the BCS and prior systems.

The semifinals matchups will take place on New Year's Day. These two games will captivate the attention of the American sports world.

Here's a look at the matchups along with their respective times and locations:

 

No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State

Rose Bowl Stadium
Pasadena, California
January 1, 2015—5 p.m. ET

 

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State

Mercedes-Benz Superdome
New Orleans, Louisiana
January 1, 2015—8:30 p.m. ET

 

The winners of the semifinals will advance to the national championship final. That game will be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 12 at 7:30 p.m. ET. Which teams will play in the inaugural CFP?

Here are my picks:

 

Alabama Crimson Tide

The Tide has drawn the Ohio State Buckeyes in their semifinal matchup. Without question, Bama has been the best team in the country over the last seven weeks.

In that span, Alabama has defeated five ranked teams.

In Amari Cooper, Alabama has a Heisman Trophy finalist and arguably the best player in the nation.

On defense, Nick Saban's team has allowed just 16.6 points per game. While Ohio State deserves credit for rallying behind third-string quarterback Cardale Jones, it doesn't have the overall team speed to contend with Bama.

 

Florida State Seminoles

The Noles will be fueled by disrespect and guided by the experience of a core that won a national championship last season.

The team hasn't really looked good in a big game all year, yet many forget that Florida State is the only undefeated team. The Seminoles simply know how to win.

That's something we don't know about the Oregon Ducks—especially not in bowl games. Sure, Oregon is guided by the likely Heisman Trophy winner in Marcus Mariota, but the Ducks defense is ranked just 50th in the nation against the run.

The Seminoles have leaned increasingly on the ground game late in the season, and it has taken pressure off of Jameis Winston. He had his best game of the season against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the ACC Championship game. For just the third time all season, Winston didn't throw an interception.

As the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Winston will be fired up to play against this year's probable recipient.

Florida State will produce its best performance of the season to beat the Ducks and advance to the final.

 

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Will Muschamp Named Defensive Coordinator at Auburn: Latest Details and Reaction

As has been suspected, former Florida head coach Will Muschamp will be named defensive coordinator at Auburn. 

Auburn announced Muschamp's return to the program:

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn Tweeted about the news:

According to Thayer Evans of Sports Illustrated, Auburn is expected to make the move official at a press conference over the weekend:

Former Florida coach Will Muschamp will be Auburn’s new defensive coordinator per a source.

A press conference is expected this weekend, the source said. The move marks Muschamp’s return to the Tigers. He was Auburn’s defensive coordinator from 2006-07 and got his start in coaching at the school as a graduate assistant just over a decade before.

Ever since Auburn announced the firing of Ellis Johnson after the Tigers defense allowed 55 points against Alabama, Muschamp has been the favorite to get the job. 

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn talked about Muschamp's credentials during an appearance on ESPN television this week, via James Crepea of the TimesDaily.

“We’re going to go out and try and hire the best defensive coordinator around,” Malzahn said. “Obviously he’s one of the best—there’s no doubt about that—but we’ll see what happens. We’re working hard to try to get the right guy.”

Muschamp struggled as a head coach at Florida, compiling a 28-21 record in four years, but was one of the top defensive coordinators in the country with Auburn in 2006-07 and Texas in 2008-10. He had been named as the eventual successor to Mack Brown at Texas before taking the Gators job. 

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Hawaii Bowl Betting: Fresno State Bulldogs vs. Rice Owls Odds, Analysis & Pick

Fresno State is back in a bowl for the 13th time in the last 15 seasons, but the Bulldogs haven't had much luck bowling lately, losing their last five bowls both straight up and against the spread. Fresno State shoots for a little better luck when it goes up against the Rice Owls in the 13th edition of the Hawaii Bowl on December 24 at 8 p.m. ET at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.

 

Hawaii Bowl point spread: Bulldogs opened as two-point favorites; the total was 59.

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 26.1-23.5 Owls

 

Why the Bulldogs can cover the spread

The Bulldogs began this season 0-3, getting beat up by USC, Utah and Nebraska. Fresno State then won three in a row to get back to even but then lost three in a row, including an overtime decision to UNLV and a tough defeat at Boise State.

But the Dogs then won three in a row to both win the Mountain West's West Division and become bowl-eligible, before losing the conference championship game to Boise State. However, the Bulldogs covered the spread in both those losses to the Broncos, as underdogs of 17 and 22 points, respectively.

So Fresno State ended the season on a 3-1 SU and ATS run, and hopes to carry that over into the bowl.

 

Why the Owls can cover the spread

The Owls started 0-3 this year, but two of those losses came at Notre Dame and Texas A&M. Rice then won six games in a row both SU and ATS, hitting the 40-point mark in half those victories, before going 1-2 both SU and ATS to finish the season.

So the Owls are playing in a bowl for the third straight year. Statistically speaking, Rice doesn't impress much, but it did outrush seven of 12 opponents this season, scored at least 31 points seven times and held seven opponents to 23 points or less. If the Owls can put up 31 against the Bulldogs, they might be in good shape.

 

Smart pick

Fresno State owns the advantage on offense, but Rice (despite its performance in its season finale against Louisiana Tech) owns the edge on defense. And in close calls like this, it's better to go with the better defense. So the smart money here resides with the Owls.

 

Trends

  • Fresno State is 7-3 ATS in its last 10 games
  • Rice is 7-2 ATS in its last nine games

 

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

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Bahamas Bowl Betting: Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky Odds, Analysis, Pick

Western Kentucky went 8-4 last year but was snubbed when it came to bowl invitations. This season the Hilltoppers, with a 4-0 straight up, 3-1 against-the-spread finish, went 7-5 and received a bowl bid, and a nice one at that. Western Kentucky will take on 7-5 Central Michigan in the inaugural Bahamas Bowl Wednesday, December 24 at Thomas Robinson Stadium in Nassau.

 

Bahamas Bowl Point Spread: Hilltoppers opened as 1.5-point favorites; the total was 65.5. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark Computer Prediction: 34.8-32.3 Hilltoppers

 

Why the Chippewas Can Cover the Spread

The Chippewas started just 2-3 this season, although one of those victories came at a Big Ten school— Purdue. CMU then won five of its next six games, including an upset of eventual MAC champion Northern Illinois, before falling in its season finale to Western Michigan.

So the Chips are back in a bowl after a one-year absence. On the season they only rank 83rd in the country in total offense and 69th in rushing, but they have a quarterback who has completed 64 percent of his throws and owns a 20/12 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio, and a 1,000-yard rusher.

The Chippewas defense ranks 16th overall and 18th against the run.

 

Why the Hilltoppers Can Cover the Spread

The Hilltoppers sat at just 3-5 one month ago, but won their last four games, including a 67-66 overtime upset of eventual AAC champion Marshall. That victory came as a 24.5-point underdog on the betting line. Western Kentucky racked up 738 yards of offense on the Herd, and only 25 of those came in the overtime period.

So the Hilltoppers are in a bowl for the second time in the last three seasons. Western Kentucky ranks sixth in the country in total offense, averaging 528 yards per game, as senior QB Brandon Doughty threw for 4,300 yards and 44 touchdowns, against just 10 interceptions.

Running back Leon Allen ran for almost 1,500 yards and 12 scores. If this game becomes a shootout, the Hilltoppers have the ability to simply outscore the Chippewas.

 

Smart Pick

Western Kentucky owns the edge on offense, while Central Michigan owns the advantage on defense. And in close calls like this the smart money usually resides with the better defense. So the choice here is with the Chippewas.

 

Trends

  • Central Michigan is 5-2 SU in its last seven games
  • The total has gone over in nine of Western Kentucky's last 13 games

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 50.6-36.0 Thundering Herd

 

Why the Huskies can cover the spread

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

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

 

Why the Thundering Herd can cover the spread

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

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

 

Smart Pick

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

 

Trends

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 30.7-29.8 Aztecs

 

Why the Midshipmen can cover the spread

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

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

 

Why the Aztecs can cover the spread

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

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

 

Smart Pick

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

 

Trends

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

 

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