NCAA Football News

College Football Playoff Semifinals on New Year's Eve Are Coming

ATLANTA — Based on viewership, the College Football Playoff has been a mind-boggling success.

According to a release from ESPN, the two national semifinals—the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual and the Allstate Sugar Bowl—were the two highest-rated events in cable television history.

"These record-setting numbers illustrate the enormous fan interest in college football and the wide-ranging appeal of the new College Football Playoff format," said John Wildhack, ESPN executive vice president, programming and production, said in the release.

Next year, and during most seasons of the College Football Playoff, that might not be the case, though.

The Rose and Sugar Bowls are locked in to those New Year's afternoon and night time slots whether they are national semifinals or not (except in years in which Jan. 1 falls on a Sunday), which means that, for the next two seasons and every season in which the Rose and Sugar aren't national semifinals, the semifinals will be played on New Year's Eve.

Here are the future dates and locations of national semifinals for the next two seasons:

  • 2015: Capital One Orange Bowl and Goodyear Cotton Bowl on Dec. 31, 2015
  • 2016: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and Vizio Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31, 2016

Are national semifinals on New Year's Eve a good idea?

Whether it's a good idea or not, they aren't changing.

"We won't be changing," College Football Playoff Executive Director Bill Hancock told B/R in December. "We have a 12-year schedule...well, really a six-year schedule, and we may look at it again. The Sugar and the Rose are entrenched in their spots, and that was a part of our deal from Day 1."

Is that a problem?

Next season, it could be. New Year's Eve is on a Thursday in 2015, which means that the first national semifinal will be kicking off when a lot of people are still at work—even those on the East Coast.

That's just fine in the eyes of CFB's power brokers.

"It will be interesting for the next two seasons with the semifinals on New Year's Eve," Hancock said. "It will absolutely change New Year's Eve in this country. When we go to New Year's Eve parties, they better have a television because we're going to have to be watching college football."

How do the bowls feel about that?

It's obviously not ideal, but for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, it's the norm.

The bowl's exclusive New Year's Eve ESPN time slot is a big reason why it rose from a game that—as Cory McCartney of Fox Sports noted—once had its CBS television contract pulled to one of the top bowl games in college football.

"The last two years, with the LSU vs. Clemson game and the Texas A&M vs. Duke game, we set viewership records on ESPN for non-BCS games," Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl President and CEO Gary Stokan told B/R in December. "With the semifinal games, that viewership number is just going to explode. I think people now are doing more cocooning and not going out as much, so the household viewership numbers will be unbelievable for the semifinal games on the 31st." 

It's certainly a risk to stage two of the three biggest annual events of a sport during the afternoon and evening time slots on New Year's Eve, and it is one that not only college football fans, but advertisers, will play close attention to.

If it doesn't work and the ratings don't match what's expected, the Rose and Sugar Bowls will undoubtedly be pressured to move off their exclusive time slots on New Year's Day and New Year's Night.

For four of the next five years, though, semifinals on New Year's Eve will be the reality in college football.

Plan accordingly.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon vs. Ohio State: Biggest Game-Changers in College Football Championship

When the Oregon Ducks square off against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship Game, football fans from all over the country will be enthralled by the unexpected matchup.

Oregon overcame a loss early in the season to earn the No. 2 ranking coming into the playoffs, but Ohio State faced even more adversity. Even with season-ending injuries to the first- and second-string quarterbacks, the Buckeyes still managed to beat the Alabama Crimson Tide to earn a title-game berth.

Here is all the vital viewing information for the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship and the biggest potential game-changers for each team.

 

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

When: Monday, January 12

Start Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream:WatchESPN

 

Oregon’s Biggest Potential Game-Changer: Marcus Mariota, QB

Without question, the biggest game-changer for the Oregon Ducks every time the team takes the field is Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota.

In 14 games this season, Mariota amassed 4,121 yards and 40 passing touchdowns with only three interceptions. Add in the 731 yards and 15 touchdowns he racked up running the ball, and it’s clear that the Oregon offense runs through Mariota.

When asked about turning his focus to the national championship and moving past any mistakes he made against Florida State in the Rose Bowl, Mariota told Tyson Alger of The Oregonian, “For me, it's a refocus. You tend to miss some things sometimes. You just have to continue to have the same mentality and don't really let it bother me.”

Ohio State’s defense has played well this season, allowing just 22.1 points per game, but Alabama proved that the Buckeyes have weaknesses. While Crimson Tide quarterback Blake Sims couldn’t take advantage, Mariota should be able to pick apart the Buckeyes defense.

With elite performances in the biggest moments all season, Mariota should be able to end his college career with a monumental victory over Ohio State and a national championship.

 

Ohio State’s Biggest Potential Game-Changer: Cardale Jones, QB

Just as Oregon’s biggest key to success will be the play of the quarterback, the same can be said for Ohio State and sophomore Cardale Jones. After both Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett went down for the season with injuries, Jones has thrived in the starting role.

In Jones’ two starts, he beat Wisconsin 59-0 for the Big Ten Championship and went on to beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. While head coach Urban Meyer has been smart to minimize how much pressure is on Jones, the quarterback must continue protecting the football.

ESPN’s Skip Bayless spoke glowingly of Jones and his natural ability:

Jones must learn from the mistakes that Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston made in the Rose Bowl against Oregon. The Ducks defense was suffocating and forced the former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback to make bad decisions.

Oregon will throw everything at the inexperienced Ohio State quarterback, and the Buckeyes' success will depend on how Jones handles the different looks and schemes. If Meyer can simplify the game plan and keep the sophomore out of trouble, Ohio State has a chance to win the national championship.

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Football: Roster Changes the Bulldogs Should Consider

The Georgia Bulldogs are starting to get their coaching staff in order, as former St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is now the offensive coordinator for the Bulldogs. The Rams offense did not light the world on fire, but Schottenheimer is a young guy who brings new ideas and energy to the Bulldogs.

With Schottenheimer at the helm, this could mean there could be some personnel changes with the offense. But the same thing can be said about the defense as defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt enters his second season with the Bulldogs.

Shaking the roster up to help the team in Athens get to where it wants to go in 2015 is not a bad idea. Here are some roster changes the Bulldogs should consider.

Begin Slideshow

College Football Championship 2015: Key Matchups to Decide Oregon vs. Ohio State

The upcoming national championship between Oregon and Ohio State may end up coming down to one final play, but it will all be predicated upon each team's execution in some key matchups.

The second-ranked Ducks dominated almost every facet of the game in their semifinal showdown against Florida State, at least in the second half. But going up against a Buckeye squad that just knocked off the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide in their own semifinal, they should expect to have their hands full.

The same can be said of Ohio State, which is going up against an Oregon team racing at furious speeds in pursuit of its first national championship.

So much goes into a big-time college football game with everything on the line, which means a matchup or two that nobody talked about could end up deciding the outcome. With that said, let's look at some of the key matchup areas—along with one you might not expect.

 

Key Matchups to Decide Oregon vs. Ohio State

Oregon's Receivers vs. Ohio State's Defensive Backs

For all of the talk surrounding Oregon's spread offense and its unstoppable running game, the Ducks receivers certainly had a coming-out party in the Rose Bowl—and not just one of them.

Freshman Darren Carrington led the way with 165 yards, a career high. He amounted for almost half of Marcus Mariota's passing yards and both touchdowns. Sophomore tight end Evan Baylis had just 45 yards on the season prior to catching six balls for 73 yards against the Seminoles.

To show even more how well Mariota was spreading it out, leading receiver Byron Marshall finished fifth among receivers in terms of yardage against Florida State.

The Buckeyes, however, come in riding high on their defense. Alabama's passing attack that had been so potent all season was stymied by Ohio State, as Blake Sims threw three interceptions and averaged just 6.6 yards per throw.

Keeping Amari Cooper and DeAndrew White under wraps is no small task, but it pales in comparison to covering Oregon's five or six reliable targets. As if keeping Royce Freeman, Mariota and the multifaceted running game isn't hard enough, the Buckeyes defensive backs will have to be on their p's and q's against Oregon's passing game.

 

Buckeyes' Run Game vs. Ducks' Front Seven

It's safe to say now that not only was Ohio State not afraid of Alabama's burly run defense, but the Buckeyes had every answer for exposing it.

Running back Ezekiel Elliott, coming off a 200-yard performance in the Big Ten title game, continued his roll. He rushed for 230 yards on 20 carries, including an 85-yarder late that seemingly put the game away against Alabama.

That performance came against a Crimson Tide team that ranked atop the nation in run defense before that game. And considering how Elliott fared against a top run defense from earlier this year, per The Buckeye Nut, his chances should be liked:

What makes the Buckeyes' run game even more worrisome for Oregon is the lack of dominance the Ducks have shown defensively. 

As CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd uncovered, Oregon's defense will rank down there with the worst among national champions should the Ducks find a way to win against Ohio State:

Of course, if the Ducks are going to hoist their first national championship, stymying the run seems like the top priority. Cardale Jones made some big throws against Alabama but finished a pedestrian 18-for-35 passing and had to rely on Elliott as well as his own legs to keep the Buckeyes in it throughout certain stretches.

If the Ducks can follow up some offensive success with a few big stops defensively, it will force the Buckeyes to air it out.

 

The Turnover Battle

It seems to go without saying that whoever wins the turnover battle will have the inside track toward victory, but in Oregon vs. Ohio State, it could mean everything.

For those who didn't catch the Ducks' win over Florida State, all it takes is a look at the box score to show the boost Oregon received from turnovers. The Seminoles turned it over four times in the third quarter alone, all of which eventually led to Oregon touchdowns, putting the game away.

Oregon's dominance in capitalizing on turnovers should be expected from such a noteworthy offense, but avoiding the same mistakes has put them over the top, as WTVN's Matt McCoy noted:

A quick look at the Buckeyes' semifinal win also shows a need for winning the turnover battle. Two first-half turnovers for Elliott and Jones led directly to Alabama touchdowns, but a turnover-free second half along with Tide miscues helped the Buckeyes to claw their way into the lead.

Mariota only has six interceptions thrown on the season, but the Buckeyes just picked off the typically careful Sims three times in an elimination game. If Ohio State wants to receive the boost it got against Alabama, repeating the turnover advantage should be a primary concern.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football: Oregon vs. Ohio State 2015 National Championship Preview

It’s the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship Game, and the stakes could not be higher in what should be an intense game between No. 2 Oregon and No. 4 Ohio State. The two last met in the 2010 Rose Bowl, where the Buckeyes prevailed with a 26-17 victory.

The second-ranked Ducks humiliated No. 3 Florida State in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 with a 59-20 win and made their claim as to why they should be playing in their second national championship game in five years. Oregon is now on the verge of winning its first national title in school history and will hope to do so with help from its explosive offense.

Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota passed for 338 yards, rushed for 62 yards and scored three total touchdowns against Florida State. With Mariota leading a potent offense averaging 47.2 points per game and defeating opponents by an average of 27.4 points this season, he'll look for big performances from his backfield and receiving corps as well.

Freshman running back Royce Freeman will be a physical threat against a stout Ohio State defensive line after scoring two touchdowns in the Rose Bowl, but it could be Thomas Tyner who becomes a game-changer against the Buckeyes.

Tyner, who battled through injuries for most of the season and missed four games, had one of his best outings in his career against the Seminoles, reeling off 124 rushing yards and finding the end zone twice.

In the passing game, it's been redshirt freshman Darren Carrington who has been the playmaker as of late. Carrington, who combined for 291 receiving yards and three touchdowns in Oregon’s last two wins, will continue to be the go-to guy with speedster Devon Allen doubtful for Monday’s contest.

Look for Byron Marshall and tight end Evan Baylis to get in on the action as well. 

A big matchup will be Oregon's offensive line, led by All-Americans Hroniss Grasu and Jake Fisher, against an Ohio State defensive line headed by Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year Joey Bosa (54 tackles, 13.5 sacks).

Ohio State’s defense currently ranks 15th in the nation in total yards per game (328) and ranks 26th in points given up per game (22.1). It will have its hands full against arguably the best offense in college football.

Third-year head coach Urban Meyer won two national championships with Florida back in 2006 and 2008, one of which was a lopsided 41-14 victory over Ohio State.

Now he’ll hope to lead the Buckeyes to their first national championship win since 2002 with a group that has overcome adversity this season and given itself a chance to win the program’s eighth national title.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones has become one of the biggest stories at the conclusion of the 2014-15 college football season, as he looks to help his team win the College Football Playoff in just his third start under center.

So far, Jones has produced a combined total of 500 passing yards and four touchdowns in his two starts while leading an offense averaging 45 points per game (fifth in the country).

Jones could be tough for Oregon's defense to bring down because of his 6'5", 250-pound athletic build. Another player the Ducks could have difficulty tackling is 1,000-yard rusher Ezekiel Elliott, who tore through the Alabama defense and set a Sugar Bowl record of 230 yards and two touchdowns.

Ohio State will also look to test a Duck secondary, led by safety Erick Dargan (90 tackles, seven interceptions), with wide receivers Devin Smith and Michael Thomas. Smith has totaled 886 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Thomas has recorded 746 yards and nine touchdowns this season.

Don Pellum’s Oregon defense has been tough since November, holding opponents to only 17.5 points per game and converting a total of 14 turnovers.

This matchup should live up to the hype in what will be the first national championship consisting of two non-SEC teams since the 2006 Rose Bowl when Texas defeated USC 41-38.

Oregon must start quick on offense and be able to create problems for Jones, as well as not give up big plays on defense.

Ohio State, on the other hand, needs Jones to make smart decisions and avoid turning the ball over, which would give the Ducks more opportunities to put points on the scoreboard.

It’s no simple task for the Buckeye defense, as it will need to contain the best quarterback in the country and shut down a Duck ground attack averaging 241.9 yards per game.

It will be a back-and-forth game that will be decided late in the fourth quarter on a go-ahead game-winning touchdown.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson Football: The Biggest Offseason Storylines for the Tigers

The 2014 season is in the books for the Clemson Tigers, and it’s now time to turn our focus toward next season. This past year finished on a very happy note, with the Tigers downing Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl 40-6.

The season was already a success before that game, with nine wins in the regular season and a victory over South Carolina, but expectations for next season are even higher.

Here are the storylines to watch in the offseason as we enter into a new chapter of Clemson football.

Begin Slideshow

Tennessee Football: Early 2015 Season Predictions

It's never too early to look at next season, is it? Maybe so, but not when the Tennessee Volunteers finished the season 4-1, averaged 37 points per game and won their first bowl game in seven years. It's hard not to look forward to next year.

The Vols only lose five contributing players and return 10 of 11 starters on offense and eight of 11 on defense. The team built depth and experience by playing an unmatched 23 true freshmen in 2014, which will only serve Tennessee well in the years to come.

So what is a realistic record prediction for 2015? How about the starting lineups?

Begin Slideshow

Cardinals' Darnell Dockett Tries to Recruit Ohio State QB Braxton Miller to FSU

With Jameis Winston turning pro, Florida State alumnus and current Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett is doing what he can to try to land a high-profile quarterback to lead the Seminoles.

On Wednesday, via ESPN.com, Winston declared for the 2015 NFL draft. The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner had two years of eligibility remaining but decided to chase his dream of playing in the NFL.

That announcement has the Seminoles looking for a new quarterback. Dockett has wasted no time in trying to recruit a Heisman candidate to his school.

Braxton Miller has missed the entire season with a shoulder injury. During Miller's time on the shelf, Ohio State has not missed a beat, thanks to its second- and third-string quarterbacks. J.T. Barrett put himself in the conversation for the 2014 Heisman Trophy with a record-setting season, and Cardale Jones has led the Buckeyes to a berth in the national championship game after taking over for the now-injured Barrett.

With Miller, Barrett and Jones all succeeding at quarterback for the Buckeyes, it brings up an interesting situation. Only one of them, realistically, can be on the field at a time. The other two could either stick around and serve as backups, or they could look at transferring.

If Miller, the oldest of the bunch, decides to go the transfer route, Dockett is ready to try to sell the dynamic quarterback on a move to Florida State.

[Twitter]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Teams That Should Get Involved in the Next Realignment Craze

Who is going to be the next Louisville, Maryland or Rutgers?

When it comes to college football realignment, it's more a matter of when rather than if it will happen again. This season included another wave of schools joining or switching leagues, a fourth straight year of movement that has caused the power conferences to swell and others to fight over the leftovers.

In 2015 we'll see a small amount of change, with Navy joining the American Athletic Conference and Charlotte moving up from FCS to join Conference USA. The only move set for 2016 involves Massachusetts leaving the Mid-American Conference to become an FBS independent.

Will there be more in the near future? Probably. Who will it involve? That's where the speculation begins.

With the Big 12 getting shut out of the College Football Playoff this year—partly due to its lack of a title game—talk has already begun about whether the league should expand to 12 teams to improve its postseason hopes.

Such a move would likely start another chain reaction, like when the Big 12 was raided by the Big Ten and Pac-12 in 2011 and the SEC in 2012.

Here's a look at 10 schools that figure to be in the mix—or should get themselves involved—the next time the realignment carousel gets going.

Begin Slideshow

Georgia OC Brian Schottenheimer 'Is Not the Right Hire' for Bulldogs

Brian Schottenheimer has just been hired as the new offensive coordinator for the University of Georgia. Schottenheimer has previously been the OC for two NFL teams.

Bleacher Report college football analyst Barrett Sallee debates whether this is a good or bad decision for the Bulldogs.

Do you think this is a smart hire?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football: Can the Huskers Really Compete for the Big Ten Title in 2015?

Things are starting to come together for Mike Riley and his Nebraska football staff. With the addition of a few new faces, per Huskers.com, the Huskers assistant coaches are pretty much in place.

With the new year and the new coaches, Riley can finally get started. There's a recruiting class to complete and a brand new season to prepare for.

However, as it all takes shape, fans are still curious about one thing. Can Nebraska really compete for the Big Ten title in 2015? It was a question that was asked previously, and fans want an answer.

First and foremost, the Huskers will have to win the West division before the title talk can really begin. That's doable, especially with the West being the arguably weaker division in the Big Ten.

To win the West, Nebraska will have to get past Wisconsin and Minnesota. Fans can expect the Badgers to be an early favorite to get to Indianapolis in 2015, but the Gophers won't be forgotten either.

The good news for Nebraska is that Wisconsin has to travel to Lincoln in 2015. Home-field advantage could be exactly what the Huskers need in this matchup, too. The only time Nebraska has defeated Wisconsin since joining the Big Ten was at home in 2012. Maybe that's the charm.

On the flip side, Nebraska will have to travel to Minneapolis to face Minnesota this year. The Huskers have lost to the Gophers twice in a row, which will make this matchup more interesting. Being on the road will definitely add a higher level of difficulty for Nebraska as well.

Beyond that, Nebraska's 2015 schedule is manageable. There are possible hiccups along the way, but Riley and the Huskers could handle it.

From there, if the Huskers can make it to Indianapolis, it seems likely the opponent would be the Ohio State Buckeyes. That's the most worrisome part in the equation.

Ohio State will likely be the favorite to win the Big Ten again in 2015. After completely destroying Wisconsin 59-0 in Indianapolis and defeating Alabama 42-35 in the first round of the College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes are now CFP National Championship contenders. That will definitely hold some weight going into next season.

Even more worrisome is that the Buckeyes has accomplished what they have with their second- and third-string quarterbacks. Under head coach Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes have shown they are resilient. They would make it very difficult for Nebraska to win.

The good news is that the Huskers' talent looks good for 2015. A previous look at the returning talent highlights a group that will bring some good experience to the table. On offense, that includes running backs Imani Cross and Terrell Newby, wide receivers Jordan Westerkamp and De'Mornay Pierson-El and quarterback Tommy Armstrong (even if his job is up for grabs).

On defense, Greg McMullen, Vincent Valentine, Maliek Collins and Nate Gerry are all returning, just to name a few. With Riley working to find an identity for the offense, the same should be expected for the defense. How these players are developed between now and September will determine how well they'll be able to compete against programs like Ohio State and Wisconsin.

One specific area that would benefit the Huskers is improving on how the team responds to adversity. Nebraska fell a part against teams like Wisconsin in 2014 when the going got tough. If Riley can correct that, the Huskers will absolutely be more competitive in the Big Ten.

So, can Nebraska really win the Big Ten? At this point, not many are predicting it to happen. BTN.com's Tom Dienhart has already given his early prediction for who will win each division in 2015. "East, Ohio State. West, Wisconsin. Yep, I know, not real sexy," he said.

That's not to say Nebraska can't give the Badgers (or the Gophers) a run for the West division title. Riley and his new staff definitely have their work cut out for them in 2015, though. That's no secret.

There's no telling what Riley will be able to do for Nebraska. Can he win the games needed to get to the championship? That's what's hard to say.

The Omaha World-Herald took a look at how programs fare under new coaches. Based on their findings, Nebraska's chances of winning big do not look great. "Just know that when a Power Five school replaces a college football coach — as Nebraska just did with Mike Riley for Pelini — nothing is guaranteed," they wrote.

That's the key. There are no guarantees. Several months out, Nebraska's chances at winning the Big Ten don't look great. Things can change, though.

Will they for the Huskers? Only Riley, his staff and time to prepare can truly answer that question.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Football: Ducks' Keys to Victory vs. Ohio State

There have been 845 college football games played this season. None of them holds a candle to No. 846 in Arlington, Texas.

The Oregon Ducks and Ohio State Buckeyes will face off in the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship on Jan. 12. The Buckeyes (13-1) are coming off of two wildly impressive performances against Wisconsin and Alabama.

Meanwhile, Oregon (13-1) has been the hottest team in the country over the past two months. The Ducks have demolished their past nine opponents by an average of 27 points per game, including a 39-point beatdown of Florida State in the Rose Bowl.

According to Odds Shark, the Ducks are 6.5-point favorites over the Buckeyes. The Power Rank, a site founded by Bleacher Report’s own Ed Feng, calculates that the Ducks will beat Ohio State by 5.6 points at a neutral site. Moreover, ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) gives the Ducks a 62.8 percent chance of beating Ohio State.

The Ducks may be favored, but they’re far from a lock to beat Ohio State. In fact, these two programs nearly mirrored each other this season.

The biggest difference between these two teams right now is the experience of their starting quarterbacks. Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner, will be starting his 41st consecutive game for the Ducks.

On the other side of the field, Cardale Jones, Ohio State’s third-string quarterback, will only be starting his third game as the Buckeyes QB. That being said, Jones has been dynamic in leading his team to the national title game.

This game is sure to be an instant classic as the Buckeyes and Ducks look to make history at AT&T Stadium.

Here are the keys to the game for the Oregon Ducks as they attempt to bring home the first national championship in school history.

Begin Slideshow

5 Dark-Horse Playoff Contenders for 2015 College Football Season

What? You thought you'd get through the first College Football Playoff National Championship before being subjected to way-too-early dark-horse contenders for 2015?

Where's the fun in that?

If the 2014 season has taught us anything, it's that no one should be removed from the playoff table in September and October. Otherwise, we wouldn't have Ohio State playing for the national championship. With that in mind, there are a handful of teams—at least—with a case to be a possible playoff contender next year. 

Which teams have an outside shot at making next year's four-team field? Let's take our best guesses in the following slides. 

Begin Slideshow

Insider Film Breakdown: How Ohio State Can Stop Marcus Mariota

Marcus Mariota won the Heisman Trophy, and he has led the Ducks to the CFP National Championship. The Oregon offense is extremely explosive, but is it unstoppable?

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder explains how you can slow down Marcus Mariota. 

Can Ohio State slow down the Oregon offense?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Insider Buzz: Which 2015 Recruits Are Atop Texas A&M's Big Board?

The Texas A&M Aggies have hit the recruiting trail hard, as head coach Kevin Sumlin has scooped up some of the best recruits in the land. Their 2015 recruiting class is currently ranked eighth in the nation by 247Sports.

With that said, there is still work to be done in College Station.

Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson was joined by 247Sports' Brian Perroni to discuss which players are still coveted by the Aggies.

Whom do the Aggies need to land to round out their class? Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Trent Irwin Commits to Stanford: WR Can Be Instant Starter for Cardinal

Trent Irwin is a 4-star wide receiver, per 247 Sports Composite Rankings, and committed to Stanford University. The athletic wide receiver out of Newhall, California, is staying close to home choosing the Cardinal over a host of other big-name programs. 

Bleacher Report college football analyst Michael Felder breaks down Irwin's game and what his impact will be at Stanford.

Will Irwin make an immediate splash for the Cardinal? Check out the video, and let us know!  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football: Why the Future Is Brighter Than Ever for the Longhorns

More than a year has passed since Charlie Strong was named the head football coach of the University of Texas.

Change is something that will always follow when a new head coach is hired to take over a football program. But the number of changes Texas underwent in 2014 may have been larger than what some people anticipated. 

Strong made a point to do things his way at Texas, which led to hiring new assistant coaches and removing nine players from the team for violating his five core values. 

Some questioned if Strong was too tough for Texas or if he would lose the locker room after dismissing players from his program.

But if recent history proves anything, it is that Strong has full control over the program and has the Longhorns heading in the right direction.

 

Where It All Began

Strong held his first press conference as the head football coach at Texas on Jan. 6, 2014. He spoke on many topics, primarily his goal to put Texas back at the top of the college football ranks by instilling toughness in the program.

Strong hit the ground running and had his new staff in place by Jan. 15. It was then time to focus on recruiting.

The staff had less than a month to hold together the Longhorns' 2014 recruiting class. Texas had a couple of decommitments but signed the No. 20 recruiting class, according to Rivals.com.

The Longhorns would soon lose a handful of players either to career-ending injuries or dismissals.

Removing nine players from a team before the season began was not an easy move for the first-year head coach, but it was proof that Strong was not playing around when it came to obeying his core values—no drugs, no weapons, no stealing and treating women with respect and honesty.

 

The Season

The Longhorns' first season under Strong did not play out the way some may have hoped. Texas suffered yet another embarrassing loss to BYU and entered conference play with a losing record for the second consecutive year.

The Longhorns hit an all-time low when they were shut out by Kansas State. They had a 3-6 record and dwindling hopes of making it to a bowl game.

But the team took matters into its own hands and decided it was not the time to give up. Texas answered by winning three of its final four games of the season and nabbed a bowl bid to face former Southwest Conference foe Arkansas in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl.

The bowl game did not go in the Longhorns' favor. Texas was embarrassed by Arkansas in the 31-7 defeat.

The game may have looked bad for Texas fans, but the momentum train had already begun moving in the Longhorns' direction.

 

The Momentum

Convincing recruits to attend your school is not always an easy task. Convincing recruits to attend your school after you had a losing season is even more difficult.

But Strong has managed not only to recruit well but also land some of the top talent in the 2015 recruiting class, beginning with 5-star commit Malik Jefferson.

The talented linebacker appeared to be a Texas A&M lean throughout the majority of the recruiting process. But Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford proved they would not give up on landing the athlete.

Their work and dedication was rewarded. Jefferson announced his commitment to Texas on Dec. 18, 2014.

But the momentum did not end with Jefferson.

The Longhorns have received verbal commitments from 4-star linebackers Cecil Cherry and Anthony Wheeler, 4-star tight end Devonaire Clarington, 4-star defensive backs Davante Davis and Tim Irvin and 3-star wide receivers Gilbert Johnson and Deandre McNeal.

In other words, the train is rolling for Strong and the Longhorns.

 

The Future

Texas will be looking to replace a handful of players on both sides of the ball, but the defense will take the biggest hit. However, the amount of talent the Longhorns will sign on national signing day who could very well be contributors in 2015 cannot be ignored. 

There's a solid possibility that a number of these signees will play in 2015. One of the biggest questions will be who starts at quarterback for the Longhorns.

That question has yet to be answered, but Texas will have more than one option to lead the Longhorns in the next few years.

A lot of hype surrounds redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard—and rightfully so. The young quarterback was a stud in high school and led his team to back-to-back state championships during his junior and senior seasons. 

Heard did not enroll early and therefore was a bit behind in the quarterback competition during his true freshman year in 2014.

But redshirting Heard is a blessing for the future of the program.

Texas has not had the chance to redshirt an eventual starting quarterback since Colt McCoy in 2005. Heard's chance to have more than a year to get used to the college game and offensive scheme can only help the Longhorns' future.

If Heard can take over the reins and these talented commits develop into their college roles, the future could be very bright for the Longhorns.

 

Unless otherwise noted all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Recruiting star ratings via Rivals.com.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Oregon Ducks: Betting Odds, NCAA Championship Pick

The high-flying Oregon Ducks are 9-0 both straight up and against the spread since suffering their only defeat of this season back in October, and they've done that while facing big numbers as favorites on the spreads almost every time out.

Oregon bettors might actually think they're getting a deal on Monday's College Football Playoff Championship Game against Ohio State, considering the Ducks are giving under a touchdown.

But beware of the Buckeyes, who do not take kindly to being labelled underdogs.

 

Point Spread: The Ducks opened as 6.5-point favorites but are favored by six points as of Wednesday. The total sits at 75.5.

Odds Shark Computer Pick: Oregon 44, Ohio State 36

 

Why the Ohio State Buckeyes Can Cover the Spread

After the injury to quarterback J.T. Barrett, the season seemed almost over for the Buckeyes. They were underdogs to Wisconsin going into the Big Ten Championship Game and had to jump over two teams to make the CFP.

However, with third-string QB Cardale Jones making his first collegiate start, Ohio State blew out the Badgers 59-0, which was enough to make the playoff field.

Then, as eight-point underdogs in the Sugar Bowl against vaunted Alabama, the Buckeyes racked up 281 yards on the ground and pulled off a 42-35 upset.

Ohio State is solid everywhere. If it can keep the chains moving on offense, run some clock and make a few stops on defense, it could win this game outright. And as an underdog, the Buckeyes (13-2 ATS) have been very profitable over the years.

 

Why the Oregon Ducks Can Cover the Spread

The Ducks are the hottest team in the country, with nine straight wins—most in blowout fashion—including a 59-20 romp over Florida State in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks let the 'Noles hang around through halftime, then won the second half 41-7.

For the day, Oregon totaled 639 yards of offense and 301 on the ground. Over their last nine games, the Ducks are averaging 49 points per outing.

Also, the Oregon defense has held its last four opponents to an average of just 16 points. The Quack Attack is tough to stop once it gets rolling, and with its team speed, Oregon will try to run Ohio State off the field.

Oregon has won and covered nine straight overall, facing spreads of seven or more points eight times.


Smart Pick

Led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota, Oregon has the edge on offense. However, Ohio State holds an edge on defense. The Buckeyes have been underrated by the oddsmakers and the betting public since Jones took over behind center.

Looking back to the summer, it seemed Ohio State's season was lost when Braxton Miller got hurt and their title odds plunged from 10-1 to 40-1.

In a matchup that looks closer on paper than the spread might indicate, the smart choice might be with the underdog, plus the points.

 

Betting Trends

  • The total has gone over in 12 of Ohio State's last 13 games.
  • Ohio State is 13-2 ATS as an underdog since 2007, covering six in a row when getting a TD or more.
  • This is the first time since 2006 Rose Bowl that no SEC team is in the championship game (eight seasons).
  • Three of past four title games played under.
  • Oregon has won and covered four straight bowl games.
  • Oregon has won and covered nine straight overall, facing spreads of seven or more points eight times.
  • Oregon is 5-1 SU vs Big Ten schools since 2007.

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Cardale Jones' Wild-Card Status for 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer has a problem.

It's a good problem to have. But a problem nonetheless.

Meyer's Ohio State team will play Oregon in the national championship game on Monday, which wouldn't have been a surprise had somebody predicted that this is where the Buckeyes would eventually wind up back in August. Returning its star quarterback with a manageable schedule, Ohio State was ranked as the No. 5 country in the preseason AP Top 25, projected to finish right on the edge of the first-ever College Football Playoff.

But days later, the Buckeyes' star quarterback would go down with a season-ending injury, the same fate that would later be suffered by his Heisman Trophy-caliber successor in Ohio State's regular season finale. And yet here the Buckeyes sit with their third option at quarterback, one win away from capturing college football's national crown.

So what's Meyer's problem? 

While his roster apparently possesses no fewer than three quality quarterbacks, each of the three has eligibility remaining after this season and is currently slated to return to Columbus for the 2015 season. At football's most important position, only one player can start, meaning that Meyer will be tasked with benching two more-than-qualified quarterbacks.

So who should start for the Buckeyes next season? Let's look at the blind resumes of each of Meyer's options.

 

Option A

Claim to Fame: Two-time Big Ten MVP (2012, 2013), Two-time Big Ten Quarterback of the Year (2012, 2013), Big Ten Freshman of the Year (2011), CFB Performance Awards National Freshman of the Year (2011), fifth-place Heisman Trophy finish (2012).

Experience: Three-year starter (26-8 record as a starter, including a 22-2 mark under Meyer from 2012-13).

Numbers: 5,292 passing yards, 3,054 rushing yards (8,346 total yards). 52 passing touchdowns, 32 rushing touchdowns. Career 59.3 completion percentage (63.5 completion percentage in 2013). Seventeen interceptions.

Current Status: Recovering from a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, which necessitated a second shoulder surgery in an eight-month span in August. Expected to be fully recovered between the start and finish of fall camp.

Other Options: As a fifth-year senior who has already obtained his undergraduate degree, could transfer to another program and be immediately eligible, or enter the NFL draft.

 

Option B

Claim to Fame: Third-team AP All-American (2014), CFPA National Freshman of the Year (2014), Big Ten Quarterback of the Year (2014), Big Ten Freshman of the Year (2014), fifth-place Heisman Trophy finish (2014).

Experience: One-year starter (11-1 record).

Numbers: 2,834 passing yards, 938 rushing yards (single-season school record 3,772 total yards). Single-season school record 34 passing touchdowns, 11 rushing touchdowns (Big Ten single-season record 45 total touchdowns). 64.6 completion percentage. 10 interceptions.

Current Status: Recovering from a fractured ankle suffered against Michigan on Nov. 29, 2014. Expected to be fully recovered by the start of fall camp.

Other Options: As a redshirt freshman, has three years of eligibility remaining. Could transfer to another FBS program and sit out 2015, or transfer to an FCS school and play right away.

 

Option C

Claim to Fame: Big Ten Championship Game MVP (2014), Sugar Bowl/College Football Playoff win over Alabama (2015).

Experience: Three starts (2-0 in games played), 12 combined appearances in 2013 and 2014.

Numbers: 621 passing yards, 386 rushing yards. Six passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown. 57.7 completion percentage. One interception.

Current Status: Preparing to start for the Buckeyes in the College Football Playoff championship.

Other Options: As a redshirt sophomore, has two years of eligibility remaining. Could enter the NFL draft, transfer to another FBS program and sit out 2015, or transfer to an FCS school and play right away.

 

As you probably already know, Option A is Braxton Miller, B is J.T. Barrett and C is Cardale Jones. And while all three present compelling cases to be Ohio State's starting quarterback after Monday, there's no doubting that given his options and still incomplete resume, Jones is the wild card of the bunch.

A 22-year-old redshirt sophomore by way of Cleveland Glenville, Jones will make just the third start of his college career against Oregon after leading the Buckeyes to wins over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game and Alabama in the Sugar Bowl/playoff semifinal. Albeit in a small sample size, Jones has won on the biggest stages for Ohio State, the 6'5", 250-pounder's apparent arm strength adding a dynamic to Meyer's spread offense not seen in a decade.

"All three of those guys are very good deep-ball throwers," Meyer said of his quarterback stable. "But Cardale is the first guy I've had, I want to say since [former Utah quarterback] Alex [Smith] that is up there that can high‑low a pass over the top of a defensive line and that's rare. That's hard to find those guys."

So are guys like Miller, who almost single-handedly led the Buckeyes to a 12-0 season in 2012 with his explosive ability as a runner, and guys like Barrett, who in his freshman season managed to rewrite Ohio State's quarterback record book. Even as they recover from their respective injuries, having either Miller or Barrett as a starting quarterback would immediately enter any team into the national championship discussion.

And yet when Ohio State takes the field at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Monday playing for just that, it will be led by a player who entered the 2014 season as Meyer's third option at quarterback. But if Jones beats the Ducks and adds a national championship to his short but outstanding resume, could Meyer really relegate him back to the bench in 2015 once Barrett and Jones are healed?

That's a big "if" of course, given that Oregon enters the game as a seven-point favorite, according to Odds Shark. And according to Jones, what happens in North Texas on Monday won't affect his future for the coming year, as he already plans on returning to Ohio State for his junior season.

"I definitely will be back," Jones said. "I don’t think about things like that right now at this point."

He may not be, but others certainly are, especially given that his options for the 2015 season are almost limitless.

Even if the Buckeyes were to win on Monday, it wouldn't necessarily guarantee a return to Columbus for their starting quarterback. Four years removed from high school, Jones could enter the upcoming NFL draft,  where scouts are reportedly intrigued by the OSU signal-caller.

With two years of eligibility remaining, Jones could also transfer to an FBS program and regain eligibility in 2016, although that wouldn't make much sense for a player who just sat out for the better part of three seasons and is already 22-years-old. He could also transfer to an FCS school—Youngstown State would be intriguing given his connection to YSU president Jim Tressel, who originally recruited him to Ohio State—but his high school coach, Ted Ginn Sr., insisted to SI.com that Jones' primary goal is to graduate from OSU, which he is slated to do at the end of 2015.

That would indicate that Jones, indeed, does intend to return to Columbus next season, where he would be the team's No. 1 quarterback in spring practice with both Miller and Barrett still recovering from their respective injuries. Even if he were to return to his role as a backup, he would possess the ability to transfer as a graduate in 2016, giving him immediate eligibility at any FBS school in the country.

And while he maintains that he'll be back at Ohio State regardless of Monday's outcome, a third consecutive big game under the brightest lights could change everything. With a national championship on his resume, Jones could conceivably permanently go from third to first on the Buckeyes' depth chart, or even become one of the most unlikeliest NFL draft picks in recent memory.

Jones, however, insists that all three of Ohio State's quarterbacks will return next season, joking that they're begging the coaching staff to install a triple-quarterback package. "We talk about next year," Jones said. "My opinon, we’ll all be back."

It certainly makes sense for Barrett to return to Ohio State, where he'd either resume his role as the Buckeyes' starter or serve as a backup during the same season that he'd have to sit out even if he transferred. Meanwhile, rumors have swirled that Miller will take advantage of his ability as a graduate transfer, with the two-time Big Ten MVP being linked to Florida State, LSU, Duke and even Ohio State's upcoming opponent, Oregon.

Miller, for his part, has remained mum on the topic, and Meyer said in New Orleans that he anticipates the star quarterback being back at Ohio State.

"We've had conversations and I expect him to be back at Ohio State," Meyer said at a Sugar Bowl press conference.

Like Jones, Miller possesses a plethora of options, including staying at Ohio State, transferring, switching positions or entering the NFL draft. Given all of the moving parts, the Buckeyes' quarterback situation for 2015 would be complicated enough if there were just two players involved, but having three could make for an unprecedented quarterback controversy in Columbus next season.

"I'm really excited to have two really good quarterbacks next year," Meyer said in November, before Jones ever entered the fray. "Competition brings out the best."

After Monday, that theory will certainly be put to the test.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Which 2014 CFB Playoff Participant Is Most Likely to Be Back in 2015?

While its performance in the Rose Bowl might indicate otherwise, having Florida State included in the first College Football Playoff served as a great passing of the torch from the BCS era to this new semifinal age. The defending national champion bridged the gap from one format to the next, providing some stability in a time of major change. 

Will we get another dose of familiarity next time around?

The first playoff participants all figure to remain among the top teams in the country in 2015, despite their various significant player departures. It wouldn't be a surprise to see one or more of the lot of Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State or Oregon back in the semifinals, as from 2010-2013 at least one team that finished in the top four of the final BCS standings was among the final four the following year.

If we had to pick just one, though, the best bet right now looks to be Ohio State. Based on what each team will lose, what's coming back and who they're set to play in 2015, the Buckeyes have more pieces in place to make a return trip than anyone else.

Follow along as we break this down in more detail.

 

Holes to fill

Florida State showed that you can win a title, lose a lot and still stay near the top, as did Alabama. The schools had a combined 15 players taken in the 2014 NFL draft, yet both matched their regular-season record from the year before.

The losses for each of those teams figures to be far more significant this time around, though.

Alabama has to replace eight senior starters, including quarterback Blake Sims and 60 percent of its offensive line, and that doesn't even include the expected departures of juniors Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon. The Crimson Tide's defense doesn't take as big of a hit, even with safety Landon Collins expected to turn pro early, but the linebacker corps loses some key pieces that need to be replaced in Trey DePriest and Xzavier Dickson.

FSU's departures are far more widespread than Alabama's and will be impacted as much by graduation as the NFL draft. The Seminoles had eight senior starters on offense, and combined with redshirt sophomore Jameis Winston announcing Wednesday he was going pro, a complete overhaul of that side of the ball is expected. Defensively, defensive end Mario Edwards and cornerback P.J. Williams have already declared, while cornerback Ronald Darby and defensive end Eddie Goldman could both leave as well.

Oregon's lineup won't lose too much, in terms of quantity, with eight seniors and a handful of projected junior departures, but in terms of quality the losses could be the most significant of any team. First and foremost, there's reigning Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, the junior quarterback who sits No. 1 on Bleacher Report NFL draft expert Matt Miller's latest big board. The Ducks have three offensive linemen and several key defensive players to replace as well, though none are as significant as Mariota to sustained success.

That leaves Ohio State, which figures to be in the best shape to replace those losses of any of this year's playoff teams.

OSU is in line to graduate seven starters (as well as big-play receiver Devin Smith, who is technically the No. 3 wideout in an offense that goes with two receivers for its base formation) and might even elude the siren song of the NFL draft. The most likely candidates to leave early are left tackle Taylor Decker and defensive tackle Adolphus Washington, but Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch reported that both are expected to return.

"I think another year, barring something drastic happening, it can only benefit me," Decker told May, who wrote that Decker was projected as a potential second-round pick. "My draft stock can only go up."

A look at the Buckeyes' depth chart for the national championship game shows that, including Smith, there are only 11 seniors listed among the 62 players on offense and defense. Many of the backups are sophomores and juniors, who have gotten plenty of reps this season, which would help ease the transition to becoming starters.

Depth was built throughout the season by the other playoff participants, but not to the level that OSU did. And combined with the lack of impact departures, the Buckeyes figure to head into 2015 best resembling this season's product.

 

Questions to answer

It's not always as simple as being able to plug in reserves and newcomers to replace starters and expect things to continue as if nothing happened. You don't give the keys to the Camaro to the teenager who just got his license, not without making sure he can handle the ride.

With that in mind, we have to look at the kind of issues that need to be addressed by playoff teams during the offseason. Each one has at least one major question that requires an answer, and how hard that query is to solve will factor into a team's chances to repeat as a semifinalist.

Alabama has to break in a new starting quarterback for the second year in a row, but offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin managed to turn unproven backup Blake Sims into a star in 2014, so the uncertainty at that position doesn't figure to hold as much weight as this past offseason. Instead, it's what to do about that defense.

Despite finishing 12th in total defense in 2014, the Tide was torn apart down the stretch by Auburn, Missouri and Ohio State, all of whom were able to throw deep and take advantage of tempo to throw off Alabama's complicated and methodical schemes.

"Their system is built on a system of checks and substitutions from the sidelines and from players on the field to be able to defend every nuance of an offense after seeing where it lines up," Bleacher Report's Marc Torrance wrote. "When teams go fast, Alabama can’t substitute the way it wants to and make all the necessary calls."

For Florida State, the biggest question won't be so much about replacing Winston or any single player but how the program responds to a second straight season of mass departures to both graduation and the draft. Alabama and LSU are comparable teams to look at in this area, and while the former has managed to remain among the top four for four seasons despite so much turnover, the same can't be said for LSU.

The Tigers lost 17 players who were part of the team that played for the 2011 title over the next two offseasons to early draft declarations, and while dropping from 13-1 to 10-3 wasn't much of a dropoff, this past season LSU slipped to 8-5 and has lost nine regular-season games in the past three years.

FSU held strong after one year of departures and got the ball rolling on the next batch of stars by integrating key underclassmen such as running back Dalvin Cook and safety Jalen Ramsey. But now the real test comes, of whether coach Jimbo Fisher's recruiting prowess and reputation for developing players (particularly at quarterback, where he figures to have numerous options both from the existing roster and incoming prospects) can maintain success.

"Even though we have a very experienced team, we played a lot of our freshmen," Fisher told Dan Wolken ofUSA Today. "We've developed them early, so it's not like they're coming in totally raw. And as the culture is created, it's not about winning but about working and practicing and about preparation and all the things that go into the winning."

When it comes to Ohio State's offseason to-do list, the most pressing issue is actually one that should be considered a good problem. The Buckeyes' ability to overcome the loss of not one, but two Heisman-level quarterbacks in 2014 means they could be dealing with the mother of all quarterback competitions in the spring and summer.

That assumes, however, that Braxton Miller decides not to transfer to another school and play right away as a graduate student, and that J.T. Barrett is able to fully recover from his leg and ankle injury suffered in late November. If it ends up that OSU has only two, or even just one, viable passer left when the 2015 season starts, however, this year showed that success isn't dependent on who is taking the snaps so much as how Meyer and his staff are able to get that passer prepared for action.

Oregon's biggest question might be the most simple, but also the most difficult. It's all about moving on without Mariota, a three-year starter who has attempted more than 92 percent of the Ducks' passes and accounted for more than 57 percent of the offensive output during that span. He hasn't been a one-man team, but he's been about as close to it as you can get.

Backup Jeff Lockie, a sophomore, figures to get the first crack at the job, but he's thrown only 40 passes the past two years. Morgan Mahalak, a 4-star recruit from the 2014 class, redshirted this season, while Oregon has a commitment from 4-star prospect Travis Waller as well. Any of those guys could end up being really good, but right now none come with the same anticipation of success that Mariota did while redshirting behind Darron Thomas and Bryan Bennett in 2011.

 

2015 schedule

At this point last year, a look at the schedules that each of the top teams had to look forward to gave us an idea of how those schools would fare. But while we figured it would be a lot harder for Auburn to return to the championship game and for Florida State to go unbeaten based on their slates, it was difficult to factor in things such as bye weeks and other parts of schedule makeup.

But we have to make due with what's available, and in that respect the best barometers are comparing number of home, road and neutral-site games and the 2014 records of 2015 opponents.

From a strictly numbers standpoint, Alabama has the toughest schedule in terms of opponents. Every one of its SEC games next season will be against a team that played in a bowl this winter, including crossover opponents Georgia and Tennessee. Add in another high-profile neutral-site opener (against Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas), and the Crimson Tide will again get plenty of tests.

Same goes for Oregon, who despite facing the fewest number of 2014 bowl opponents of the lot gets most of them on the road. That starts with a Sept. 12 visit to Michigan State in a rematch of this season's best nonconference game and continues with Pac-12 trips to Washington, Arizona State and Stanford.

Florida State's ACC schedule isn't set in terms of when it will play those eight games, but the matchups and locations are locked in. And after getting the majority of its toughest foes in Tallahassee this season, the Seminoles have to play at Clemson and Coastal Division champ Georgia Tech while also visiting Florida.

That leaves Ohio State, which plays as many 2014 bowl teams as Alabama (nine) but gets two-thirds of them to come to Columbus, where the Buckeyes have only lost once in Meyer's three seasons. OSU's toughest road games bookend the season, first with the opener at Virginia Tech and then the finale against Michigan in the first of what should be a great series of games between Meyer and new Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh.

 

Final thoughts

While these arguments might not be strong enough to warrant putting the mortgage on future bets for 2015, the road ahead does appear clearest for Ohio State to make a return trip to the semifinals. It would also make for the best storyline, seeing how the Buckeyes had to battle back from the brink of elimination almost from the beginning of this past season.

Much as Florida State's inclusion in the initial Final Four worked for system continuity, so too would having the so-called "last team in" then follow this current run up with another trip to the semifinals. This new playoff approach was meant to decide things on the field, rather than have a formula pick two teams and not take into account the possibility of additional contenders.

OSU benefited the most from the new approach and showed how improving as the season went on is as important as the overall record. Now the Buckeyes get to move into the role of favorite, with the most pieces intact and the most favorable circumstances to get back to the semifinals.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages