NCAA Football News

After Another Fall from Grace, Does Michael Dyer Have a Future in Football?

Some players aren't made for college football. Louisville running back Michael Dyer fits that description.

That's not an indictment on Dyer. The NCAA system is such that it demands athletes take care of athletics and academics at the same time—or at least enough to get by. That's not for everyone, for one reason or another. The issue is that there's no alternative, no semi-pro league. 

Universities like Louisville and Dyer's former stop, Auburn, have the resources to make sure football players can at least be eligible; the rest, short of cheating, is up to the player himself.

According to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports, Dyer didn't hold up his end of the deal and has been ruled academically ineligible for the Belk Bowl against Georgia. 

The only thing that means is that Dyer's college days are officially over. His future in the pros? He still has a say in that. 

From the moment Dyer arrived at Auburn in 2010, his physical gifts were evident. The former No. 1 running back recruit—as listed by 247Sports—was built beyond his years and ready to shoulder a rushing load as a freshman. 

His impact was immediately felt for the Tigers. The play Dyer will be remembered for most was his game-changing 37-yard run against Oregon in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game. With 2:13 remaining and the score tied at 19, Dyer appeared to be tackled but instead got up and ran to the 23-yard line. Three plays later, Auburn kicked the game-winning field goal. 

The moments of Dyer's college career since have been mostly negative. He was suspended by Auburn in December of 2011 for failing a drug test and left the program shortly thereafter. A brief stint at Arkansas State also ended when Dyer was dismissed from the team following a traffic stop in which he was caught going 96 mph in a 70 mph zone with marijuana and a gun in the car.

Another stop at Arkansas Baptist seemed to get Dyer on the right track before resuming his football career at Louisville under former coach Charlie Strong. 

"He's excited to have an opportunity to resume his career," Fitz Hill, the president of Arkansas Baptist and Dyer's mentor, told George Schroeder of USA Today in 2013. "Many people doubted that Michael would ever make this comeback, and it's here."

Strangely enough, given everything he's been through away from the field, the NFL might actually be the best thing for Dyer. The typical line of thought is that professional athletes have to act like professionals, but sometimes, the pros can actually force players into becoming professionals. 

For one, the NFL life is a football-first one. That's clearly Dyer's M.O. Secondly, whichever team does take a chance on Dyer will have a close eye on him. The kind of mentoring and monitoring Dyer will receive in the league might just be what he needs. 

And a team will take a chance on him whether in the draft or as an unsigned free agent. He's physically ready to go, and his mileage as a running back is low considering he spent four years playing college football. His 154 carries at Louisville over the past two seasons, for example, is half of what Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon had this year alone (309 carries). 

Yes, Dyer has red flags that may keep him from being drafted high, if at all, and could eventually be his downfall. Being ruled academically ineligible for his last college game is not among the more pressing ones. 

He'll get a shot somewhere. The question is whether Dyer can avoid any more problems in the future. Here's hoping that he can. 

It's easy to tear someone down for their mistakes, and Dyer has earned more than his fair share of criticism for his. But at the receiving end of each of those criticisms is a human being trying to, hopefully, improve his/her life. 

Dyer's life was not made for college, but that doesn't mean it can't be made for the next level. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football.

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If Jim Harbaugh Turns Michigan Down, Where Should Wolverines Go Next?

Everyone’s thinking about what could be if—and ultimately when, depending on whom you ask—Jim Harbaugh decides to leave the San Francisco 49ers for Michigan.

Everyone’s in love with the potential homecoming tale—the one in which the former Wolverines star quarterback finds his way back to Ann Arbor and restores order to a once-proud football program.

But what if he doesn’t?

What if Harbaugh opts to stay in the NFL?

Chicago could be a landing spot. So could Oakland. He’s one of the most sought-after coaches in the game, college or professional, so he’s in charge. He has the power to pick his next destination.

It’s just a matter of when he plans to announce his intentions and publicly commit to a new team.

“Whatever’s next for him, he’ll do great there,” said his brother, John Harbaugh, coach of the Baltimore Ravens, during an interview with Comcast SportsNet Baltimore.

He could turn around the Raiders. He could do wonders for the Bears, too.

But he would instantly resurrect the Wolverines without even wrinkling his khakis.

However, should the worst happen...

 

More with Les

As the obvious No. 2, and one-time No. 1 prior to former coaches Brady Hoke and Rich Rodriguez, Les Miles makes a lot of sense on several levels.

For starters, he has the attractive, but no longer necessary, Michigan background. He played for Bo, and he probably knows the culture and expectations just as well as Harbaugh.

Miles’ success—a national championship and three SEC West titles since 2007—at LSU has been nothing short of spectacular, although it’s often taken for granted by a difficult-to-please fanbase.

During a recent interview with XM Radio’s Jack Arute, Miles was asked for his input regarding the open position at Michigan, one which has been tied to Harbaugh for months. Harbaugh reportedly received an offer reaching upward of $8 million per year.

Miles offered little more than a “go get ‘em, Michigan” to Arute.

"The only thing I can tell you is I'm so for Michigan," Miles replied (via Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press). "They have a process, they're going to go through it. They'll get a great coach. I wish them the very best."

Despite shooting down rumors and publicly removing himself from the speculation, Miles would be an ideal fit for the Wolverines—not just a perfect second option to Harbaugh. Either way, whether with Miles or Harbaugh, Michigan would get its man.

Really, it boils down to interest and likelihood.

Tuesday could be decision day. In fact, Fox Sports Detroit’s Art Regner wouldn’t be shocked if a press conference were called to introduce the next head coach at Michigan—which will probably be Harbaugh, he says.

However, Miles’ Tigers play Notre Dame that day in the Music City Bowl. Should they lose, The Mad Hatter could feel some heat.

He’s already been excused by The Advocate’s Scott Rabalais, who encourages the “underappreciated” coach—one who’s qualified for 10 consecutive bowls (6-3)—to pursue other options.

A loss to the Irish could send him out of Baton Rouge and into the open arms of Ann Arbor—she’d welcome one of Bo’s boys any day, any time.

Miles would be a home run hire for athletic director Jim Hackett. 

 

Playing the Field

For what it’s worth, Odds Shark lists Miles as the 5-2 favorite, Tennessee’s Butch Jones at 7-2, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy at 7-2 and former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano at 9-2.

However, there has been a buzz surrounding a few other high-profile college and NFL coaches, with Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen being among the most popular.

In 2009, his first year in Starkville, Mullen coached the Bulldogs to a 5-7 record. The next year, they went 9-4 and won the Gator Bowl. Since then, they’ve won at least seven games and have posted a 3-1 bowl record. This past season, he guided Mississippi State to new heights—No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. Despite losses to Alabama and Ole Miss, the Bulldogs finished as one of the country’s best.

Mullen’s ability to recruit in the dog-eat-dog SEC has been just as impressive as his ability to compete with the big boys in the West division; he’d be one hell of a hire for Hackett, too.

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, probably the most unlikely, has been mentioned as a potential suitor for Michigan, and so has Buffalo’s Doug Marrone, according to CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora.

Payton wouldn’t be a consolation prize. He’s a proven winner at the highest of levels, evidenced by his 11- and 13-game win stretch from 2009 to 2013. The Super Bowl XLIV ring helps, too. Things have gotten difficult this season in the Big Easy, so Payton may look around for new digs.

But they probably wouldn’t be in college.

Marrone seems to be just a name—nothing more, nothing less.

Sure, it’s Harbaugh or bust. Hackett and Michigan have made it so—the birthday wishes on Twitter say everything. He's the one, has been the one and will be the one until he says otherwise. But Miles and Mullen would fit; they are the obvious second, third, fourth and fifth choices. 

Payton wouldn't be bad. 

Anyone beyond them isn't worth entertaining. 

 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.

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Pat Narduzzi to Pittsburgh: Latest Contract Details, Comments and Reaction

After years of being listed among the top head-coaching targets in college football, Pat Narduzzi has finally landed a program of his own. The Michigan State defensive coordinator was named Pittsburgh's head coach Wednesday, as expected, ending more than a decade of grooming under Mark Dantonio.

ESPN's Joe Schad announced that the contract is done:

Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has more detail:

Narduzzi, 48, takes over the Panthers program from Paul Chryst, who was named Gary Andersen's replacement at Wisconsin this month.

A 2013 recipient of the Broyles Award, given to the nation's top assistant coach, Narduzzi joins a program that's struggled to find itself in recent seasons. Chryst landed the Wisconsin job despite posting a 19-19 record, and he's the second straight head coach to bolt for greener pastures. Todd Graham, Chryst's predecessor, left for Arizona State after a lone 6-6 season.

The Panthers have not had more than seven wins since 2009. This season, they were plagued by inconsistent quarterback play and a defense that ranked 73rd in FBS, per Football Outsiders' FEI-plus ratings. Pittsburgh managed to sneak into bowl eligibility with wins over Syracuse and Miami to close its season, and it plays Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl on Jan. 2.

While the program has increasingly been seen as a coaching stepping stone, Narduzzi might be the perfect man to bring the Panthers instant success. He has been one of the nation's best defensive coordinators for more than a decade, following Dantonio from Cincinnati to East Lansing.

At Michigan State, the Spartans were consistently among the nation's best defensive attacks. They've finished inside the top five of defensive FEI-plus three of the last four seasons, though they dropped to No. 24 in 2014

"In regards to Pat, I think he's been up there and talked about quite a lot," Dantonio told reporters of his top lieutenant becoming a head coach, "and I've continually said it's going to happen at some point in time. When that point in time happens, it's going to be right for him, and he's going to be prepared."

The Panthers are hoping Narduzzi's defensive background can help solve their recent woes. Pittsburgh has not had a top-25 unit since 2009.

On offense, there is plenty of reason to be hopeful. Quarterback Chad Voytik, running back James Conner and top receiver Tyler Boyd are all due back for their junior seasons in 2015 and should lead one of the ACC's most promising units. Conner rushed for 1,675 yards and 24 touchdowns as a sophomore and has a bruising style not unlike former Michigan State star Le'Veon Bell.

Pittsburgh, on the surface, will likely take on a Michigan State-lite feeling, with Voytik doing his best Connor Cook impression. It's unclear at this time if Narduzzi will be allowed to bring anyone from the Spartans staff along with him to Pittsburgh, though it's likely at least a couple of guys will tag along for the ride.

If the result looks anything like the job Dantonio's done at Michigan State, Pitt could be on its way to a renaissance. If not, well, recent history says Narduzzi will probably trip, fall and find his way to another high-profile gig anyway.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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Gary Patterson Wins 2014 Associated Press Coach of the Year Award

TCU Horned Frogs head football coach Gary Patterson was voted 2014 Associated Press College Football Coach of the Year Wednesday, according to AP reporter Ralph D. Russo.

Patterson also won the award in 2009, making he and Nick Saban the only two head coaches to ever take home the honor twice. At just 54 years old, there is plenty of time left to win another as well.

TCU Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations Mark Cohen shared more information on Patterson's success:

Despite his excellent performance in 2014, Patterson deflected praise and put it on his team when speaking to Russo, saying, “The head coaches get too much attention. That means really that you had a good team. Good players and really a great coaching staff.”

TCU finished the season with an 11-1 record and amassed an impressive 8-1 record in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs were ranked No. 4 in the nation going into the last week of the season, but the College Football Playoff voting committee decided to put the Ohio State Buckeyes into the semifinals instead.

Patterson has kept his team focused all season, and the setback of being passed over for the playoff could result in a lackluster performance from TCU in the Peach Bowl against Ole Miss on New Year’s Eve.

After watching Patterson win the coach of the year award, though, he will be expected to help lead his team to a marquee bowl victory.

 

Stats via ESPN.com.

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Bahamas Bowl 2014: Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky Live Score, Highlights

The 2014 Bahamas Bowl between the Central Michigan Chippewas and Western Kentucky Hilltoppers is set for a noon ET kickoff Dec. 24.

Central Michigan (7-5, 5-3 MAC) must overcome the absence of leading rusher Thomas Rawls, who was declared academically ineligible and did not make the trip.

Western Kentucky (7-5, 4-4 C-USA) boasts the No. 6 scoring offense in the nation, spearheaded by quarterback Brandon Doughty (44 touchdowns) and running back Leon Allen (1,490 yards, 14 TDs).

ESPN will broadcast the matchup. Bleacher Report will provide scoring updates and analysis. Please add your thoughts in the comments section.

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College Football Bowl Picks 2014: Schedule and Predictions for Upcoming Action

If you're an absolute college football fanatic, then every day from Dec. 22 to Jan. 4—except for Christmas—is a holiday because a bowl game awaits to siphon off any free time not spent with family, friends or at work (although some of those activities will inevitably get combined).

There are 31 bowl games total remaining, and although it's hard to find a rooting interest in many of the games whether it's due to a team's poor finish, a lack of rivalry or just general post-regular season apathy, the action will play out and give observers one last look at teams that will never again exist in their current form.

BYU-Memphis probably didn't sound like a hot ticket to many sports fans when the bowl games were announced, but the two teams combined for 103 points and plenty of fireworks in a Memphis overtime victory.

Here is the updated schedule for the remaining bowl games, complete with predictions for every contest, followed by a closer look at one of the most intriguing non-College Football Playoff matchups to take place in the coming days.

 

Capital One Orange Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech

Mississippi State (10-2, 6-2 SEC) fell off the national radar after losing to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl on Nov. 29, and Georgia Tech (10-3, 6-2 ACC) never really piqued much interest until they had a shot at knocking off an undefeated Florida State in the ACC title game, but these two teams are more than just also-rans and offer a uniquely competitive matchup that should make for some rough and rugged television viewing.

The Orange Bowl might lack some of its usual luster in the eyes of most fans since it isn't hosting a College Football Playoff game, but that doesn't appear to be an issue for this Mississippi State squad. The Orange Bowl still holds weight.

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

Fans who've become numb to the explosion of spread offenses and hurry-up, no-huddle attacks can take comfort in settling into the rhythmic, languid pace of the Yellow Jackets' triple-option offense, the masterwork of head coach Paul Johnson. 

Who gets in on this multipronged running attack? Just about everyone who doesn't start off each play with a hand on the ground.

Eight different Georgia Tech players racked up at least 200 rushing yards this season, with quarterback Justin Thomas leading the way with 965 rushing yards. Georgia Tech finished second in the nation at 333.6 rushing yards per game. 

When this offense is flowing, it's poetry in motion although running into the teeth of the Bulldogs 25th-ranked rushing defense might see the works gummed up a bit more than usual. The Yellow Jackets faced just two teams that proved to be stauncher against the run than Mississippi State this season: Clemson and Virginia.

Fortunately, Georgia Tech controlled the clock and won both of those games handily behind strong performances from senior running back Synjyn Days and big-play specialist Broderick Snoddy (10.1 yards per carry this season).

The Bulldogs will need big games out of junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney, a strong, disciplined tackler, and defensive lineman Preston Smith, who led the team with 14.5 tackles for loss, per CFBStats.com.

When Mississippi State is on offense, you have the pleasure of watching one of the nation's best dual-threat quarterbacks in Dak Prescott, who could be playing his last game as a Bulldog if the NFL wants him enough. According to The Clarion-Ledger's Michael Bonner, Prescott has received a draft grade from the NFL although he won't reveal the results and remains committed to the task at hand.

"I'm not even focused or paying attention to it," Prescott said, via Bonner, "I'm just worried about Georgia Tech and getting this Orange Bowl win."

The Orange Bowl could be a spectacular sendoff for Prescott, a player who was relatively unheralded prior to this season and brought more attention to Starkville than just about any other player in the program's history.

Ball control will be key for the Yellow Jackets, as Prescott is liable to have a huge game against their soft defense. Georgia Tech ranked 77th in passing efficiency defense and 68th in rushing defense, per NCAA.com.

Florida State's Jameis Winston torched Georgia Tech for 308 yards and three touchdowns in the ACC title game and didn't even establish the threat of running the ball on his own. Prescott and tailback Josh Robinson could prove to be quite a headache for defensive coordinator Ted Roof.

This game could very well come down to special teams. Georgia Tech needs to keep the ball away from Mississippi State and run their offense the way they see fit. It appears they have the weapon to do so, via The (Macon, Georgia) Telegraph's Stan Awtrey:

Georgia Tech ranks dead last in the ACC for the number of punts. The Yellow Jackets have kicked it away only 29 times, 15 fewer than No. 2 Florida State. That number is so low because the offense has been effective at keeping the ball and converting on third downs.

Ryan Rodwell has delivered when needed. He has averaged 40.8 yards per punt, with a long kick of 55 yards. Only two of his punts have resulted in a touchback, and 13 times he has placed the opposition inside the 20. Seven of his kicks have been fielded with a fair catch.

There is plenty for Georgia Tech fans to feel hopeful about heading into this contest, but this game might mean too much to a Bulldogs program that doesn't get too many chances to shine in the national spotlight. Look for Prescott to put in another spectacular performance, leaving fans wondering if it is the last chapter in what should be an unassailable legacy at Mississippi State.


Prediction: Mississippi State 34-28 Georgia Tech

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1 Player to Watch in Every Remaining College Football Bowl Game

It is here, and it is glorious. We’re talking about the 2014 college football bowl season, of course. Ten games in, the postseason football buffet has already produced fantastic finishes, slobberknockers and postgame fisticuffs. And that was just the Miami Beach Bowl!

Starting Friday, 28 bowl games remain on the schedule, plus Jan. 12’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium, which will pit the winners of the Rose and Sugar Bowls. You know you’re watching that game. But why should you watch the other 28?

We’re here to help you out. We’ve identified a player to watch in every remaining bowl game. They’re interesting for a variety of reasons, be it skill, chasing records or just importance to the game at hand. Regardless, they’re worth watching.

*Stats for this article were obtained from ESPN.com and individual schools’ statistical websites.

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College Football Playoff 2014-15: Updated Odds and Predictions for Semifinals

The inaugural College Football Playoff has come with its pros and cons. Many of us have been waiting for a playoff system for quite some time now, and the hype surrounding these semifinal contests appears to have us off to a great start. However, the new system has also come with decreased ticket prices and sales as well as clamoring for an expanded format involving eight teams.

It just goes to show you can't please everyone.

Still, we have some great narratives this year, as Marcus Mariota's Oregon Ducks take on Jameis Winston's Florida State Seminoles in the Rose Bowl, and Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide meet Urban Meyer's Ohio State Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl.

New Year's Day will certainly be chock-full of excitement, as two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback go head-to-head, and two of college football's greatest coaches engage in an expected chess match shortly after. Regardless of your stance on the playoff format, you can't argue the compelling nature of both games.

As we await to find out which two teams will face off in the national championship game, let's take a look at the updated odds, schedule and predictions for each semifinal clash.

 

Rose Bowl

Who: Oregon vs. Florida State

When: Thursday, January 1, 2015

Where: Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California

Time: 5 p.m. EST

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Info (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 72
  • Spread: Oregon -9

 

Prediction

The question for the Rose Bowl is simple: Can Florida State generate enough offense to keep up with the high-powered Ducks?

After all, we know just how good Oregon can be when it gets going. Mariota has been a touchdown machine this season, accumulating 38 scores through the air, 14 on the ground and even one as a receiver. The Ducks are riding an eight-game winning streak and have scored at least 42 points in each of those contests. Their last game ended in a 51-13 win over Arizona in which the offense tallied a total of 627 yards.

Heading into this matchup, the Seminoles rank 58th against the run, 50th against the pass, 51st in total defense and 30th in scoring defense. Those aren't good numbers when preparing to face off against the nation's third-ranked offense that averages 46.3 points per game.

If the Seminoles are going to keep up, they need two things.

First, Winston must cut back on the turnovers. He's been highly erratic this season, tossing 17 picks after only throwing 10 during his Heisman-winning 2013 season. The interceptions have been spread out throughout the year as well, as the quarterback has tossed one in all but three games.

He's entering the Rose Bowl after putting up his best performance of the season, completing 21 of his 30 passing attempts for 309 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions against Georgia Tech. However, just one game prior, he threw four picks in a close win over Florida. Efficiency is key going forward.

The other key to the game for the Seminoles is getting the ball into the hands of running back Dalvin Cook. Oregon's strength on the defensive side of the ball is against the run, ranking 49th in the nation in that category. Cook is averaging an impressive 5.8 yards per carry this season, and if he can get going early, Winston will have more opportunities to pick apart the Ducks' 100th-ranked pass defense.

Can the Seminoles get this done? Absolutely. However, if Oregon strikes quickly—as it so often does—Florida State will need to revert back to a pass-happy offense in an effort to keep up. That's not a game plan that will produce a victory, so the upper hand here goes to Mariota and Co.

Prediction: Oregon 45, Florida State 31 

 

Sugar Bowl

Who: Alabama vs. Ohio State

When: Thursday, January 1, 2015

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans

Time: 8:30 p.m. EST

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Info (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 58.5
  • Spread: Alabama -9

 

Prediction

Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones may be the most talked-about player heading into the playoff. He's only starting due to season-ending injuries to both Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, yet he led the Buckeyes to a brilliant 59-0 victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Here's the question surrounding the Sugar Bowl: Can Jones find a way to circumvent a stingy Alabama defense?

We all know what the Crimson Tide are capable of accomplishing on the defensive side of the ball. They enter the Rose Bowl ranked fourth in the nation, allowing an average of just 16.6 points per game. In fact, despite a tough schedule, Alabama has held opponents to less than 20 points in over half of its contests this season.

If Jones is going to generate any kind of offense against this unit, he needs to take a page out of Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall's book. The Tigers scored 44 points on Alabama in the Iron Bowl, producing the most successful performance of the season against Saban's defense. Rest assured, Meyer took notice.

One of the big reasons why Auburn lit up the scoreboard was its dedication to establishing the run. Alabama ranks second in the nation against opposing running games, but the Tigers still carried the ball 47 times compared to 43 passing attempts. They may have only averaged 3.7 yards per carry, but they accumulated 174 yards, one touchdown and controlled time of possession.

If Auburn was able to get that done with the duo of Marshall and running back Cameron Artis-Payne, Ohio State should be able to put together a similar game plan with Jones and running back Ezekiel Elliott.

Elliott rushed for 220 yards and two touchdowns against a Badgers defense that ranks 16th against the run. He's a highly skilled running back and could give fits to Alabama's front seven. However, Jones didn't attempt to run the ball much against Wisconsin, but he did manage a long rush of 20 yards. He'll need to produce larger quantities of those plays to defeat Alabama.

So can Ohio State get it done? The Buckeyes do hold the nation's fourth-ranked offense and average 45.2 points per game, so there's a good chance they will. However, Alabama is such a well-coached and well-rounded team, it's difficult to see such an inexperienced quarterback putting up gaudy numbers for the second consecutive performance.

Expect Ohio State to keep this one close, but a resilient Alabama team will strike late in the game to put the Buckeyes away and claim a berth in the national championship game.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Ohio State 27

 

All statistics and rankings courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 23.

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Rose Bowl 2015: Unheralded Players Ready to Emerge in Oregon vs. FSU

The national spotlight in games like the 2015 Rose Bowl between Oregon and Florida State can define great players but also expose guys on the roster capable of great things in the future. 

There's no doubt that the legacies of Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota will forever hinge on what happens New Year's Day, but other legacies could begin to shape for players who aren't often talked of. Some of them have already begun making waves on their teams, and others are being thrust into the spotlight, but don't be surprised if players in both categories end up making big plays that loom large in the game's outcome.

What you do during the regular season builds your reputation and what you're known as, but games like this decide what you'll be remembered as. These players have a chance to make a lasting memory and surprise many watching by doing so.

 

Players Ready to Emerge

Chris Seisay, CB, Oregon

The Ducks received just about the worst blow they possibly could have received defensively in practice leading up to the Rose Bowl. Star cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu injured his knee and will be out for the College Football Playoff. 

The consensus All-American and Thorpe Award finalist locked up his side of the field most of the season, but now redshirt freshman Chris Seisay is thrust into a starting spot, and Dior Mathis will take on more responsibility. But secondary coach John Neal iterated both guys are ready, per Ryan Thorburn of The (Eugene, Oregon) Register-Guard:

Mathis is a senior who has been through the rigors before, but it will be the dawn of a new era for Seisay—who has only played sparingly this season. Now, he's an every-down cornerback lining up against some of the nation's fastest playmakers.

When he's not lined up against Rashad Greene, it will be one of Florida State's fast freshmen. Seisay is used to the speed of the Pac-12, but doing it on the biggest stage of his career and under the biggest responsibilities of his college career will be no small task.

Seisay will emerge one way or another, for better or worse.

 

Ermon Lane, WR, Florida State

Florida State has a fabulous trio of freshmen that doesn't get very much hype largely because it isn't much of a trio—Dalvin Cook is so dominant that he outshines two stellar freshman wideouts Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph. But Lane flies further under the radar than all of them.

A combination of depth and freshman struggles have Lane only catching 11 balls for 245 yards and one touchdown this year, but he dominates games in other ways. Corey Dowlar, formerly of ESPN.com, noted how the 6'3", 206-pound freshman can seal off the edge for Cook and Karlos Williams in a big way:

Plays like that go unnoticed by the general eye in regular-season games, but not in the Rose Bowl with a million camera angles and exponentially more eyes watching. If he makes a big seal-off block for a touchdown, he'll get his credit.

But like the receiver he is, Lane is also bound to make some plays in the passing game. Ekpre-Olomu's injury figures to have a trickle-down impact on the depth chart, meaning Lane could be lining up against one of the Ducks' fourth or fifth defensive backs on occasion.

 

Charles Nelson, WR, Oregon

Unlike the other two players on this list, freshman Charles Nelson's emergence is already pretty much in full swing.

The 5'9", 170-pound wideout is the next installment of the too-fast-to-lay-a-finger-on Oregon playmaker on a team that has about four of them. Among them, Nelson is easily the least utilized, with only 17 catches on the season.

He's had no trouble showcasing his work with the small sample size, as he caught five of them for touchdowns and averages 15.6 yards per catch.

Nelson didn't do much early in his freshman season but has matured significantly over the year and had his career-best performance in the Pac-12 title game, Danny Klein of The Daytona Beach News-Journal recalled:

He's capable of getting it done on all three phases—receiving, rushing and in special teams—and isn't even one of the first two or three names on FSU's scouting report when it comes to home run hitters on offense. Nobody knows this more than the Ducks, who will break him out when the 'Noles least expect.

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Sugar Bowl 2015: Players with Most to Prove in Alabama vs. Ohio State

When it comes right down to it, few participants have something to prove in the 2015 Sugar Bowl when the Alabama Crimson Tide and Ohio State Buckeyes collide.

Nick Saban and Urban Meyer are old acquaintances of sorts, but the reputations are established. Alabama wideout Amari Cooper is a Heisman finalist. Landon Collins joins him as a consensus All American. Joey Bosa is one of the most-feared defenders in the nation.

The point is observers know what to expect from some of the biggest names. For others, the Sugar Bowl is perhaps a final chance to show that successful recent tears are no fluke. Momentum gained by the following players will do nothing short of both helping the program and each individual future down the road.

 

Players With Most to Prove

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

Ohio State sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott began the 2014 campaign as a reserve in need of experience.

He finished it with 1,402 yards and 12 touchdowns. Seven times the St. Louis native surpassed the 100-yard mark while scoring a touchdown in nine different games. While impressive, Elliott himself does not seem satisfied with his performance to date, as captured by Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com:

I think there will be a lot of things that will improve, just like breaking tackles and things. I've left a lot of yards on the field this year just because of my wrist, I can't really carry the ball in my left hand, and can't really use my stiff-arm. I can't really use my hand to post on the ground. I have left a lot of yards on the field, something we are going to improve on next year.

One can argue that Elliott has yet to encounter anything like the Collins-led Alabama defense that surrenders just 16.6 points per game to rank fourth in the nation.

Michigan State comes close. A gaudy 154 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-37 triumph against the Spartans back in November suggests Elliott is ready for the task. 

Regardless, a big performance in perhaps the biggest game of his career will do much to silence any questions surrounding Elliott—including some of his own.

 

Blake Sims, QB, Alabama

Not many expected Blake Sims to beat out Jake Coker this past preseason for the starting gig.

He did and has never looked back.

The senior has put on a stunning performance in the process, throwing for 3,250 yards and 26 touchdowns to seven interceptions. He is also a strong dual-threat presence, as one can glean from his 321 yards and six scores on the ground.

Sims' play to date even has him on the cover of Sports Illustrated, per the team's Twitter account:

It is hard to doubt Sims in crunch time. Look at a 42-13 win over Missouri in the SEC Championship when he posted a 23-of-27 line for 262 yards and two scores. There is a reason Cooper and others often reference Sims as a source of inspiration, per Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman:

Through all of the adversity on the way to this peak, Sims has yet to play in a game as important as the College Football Playoff Semifinal, nor has he seen a team as talented as the Buckeyes.

For Sims, the January showdown is another chance to silence the remaining critics.

 

Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State

A long path has led Ohio State sophomore Cardale Jones to this point.

Backup duty behind Braxton Miller, Kenny Guiton and J.T. Barrett left Jones suspended in the wings. Once through, though, the Cleveland native left his mark on the program with 257 yards and three touchdowns in a 59-0 thumping of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship.

It seems just the beginning of Jones' journey, too. Meyer concurs, as illustrated by Eleven Warriors:

The blueprint for Jones to take the next step on a long journey is there. Auburn's Nick Marshall found plenty of success against the elite Crimson Tide defense, throwing for 456 yards and three scores. Mississippi State' Dak Prescott threw for 290 yards and two scores and ran for another 82 yards.

One problem—both efforts were not enough.

Jones has a lot to prove and gets a trial by fire where experienced quarterbacks have failed. The CFP Semifinal is a chance for Jones either to solidify his status as the future, or to once again fade down the depth chart.

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Games 2014-15: Full Postseason Schedule and Predictions for Top Battles

Bowl season is in full swing, and the anticipation for games on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day is at an all-time high.

The unveiling of a new system to decide the college football champion has mixed up the postseason entirely. While the top BCS bowl games used to be spread out into five days or more, now all New Year's Six games will be played on Dec. 31 or Jan. 1

That includes the coveted College Football Playoff semifinals between Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon and Florida State, generating excitement at a fever pitch for what is already an enticing bowl slate.

Let's take a look at every bowl game ahead of us on the schedule and predict the outcomes of three marquee games.

 

 

Predictions for Top Battles

Peach Bowl: No. 6 TCU vs. No. 9 Ole Miss

If watching elite defenses trying to unravel high-octane offenses is your thing, the Ole Miss defense going up against TCU's offense will be must-watch television in the Peach Bowl.

There are enticing matchups all around this postseason, but there may not be one better than this. According to CFBStats.com, the Rebels boast the nation's best scoring defense, while the Horned Frogs have the second-best scoring offense in the country.

Ole Miss' defensive front is used to chasing down speedsters but will have its hands full containing quarterback Trevone Boykin. He makes his impact on the ground with eight touchdowns and 642 yards but is even better at rolling out and connecting deep down the field.

The Rebels have the star power in the secondary with Cody Prewitt and Senquez Golson, but they'll have to stay composed to make big plays against the poised Boykin.

TCU's offense is sure to put up some points regardless of the tough matchup. But where this game will be won is offensively for the Rebels, as Bo Wallace has a pretty solid stable of weapons on his side as well.

There's no Laquon Treadwell, but Jaylen Walton has been breaking out and will do the same against a less-than-average TCU defense. It will be a shootout that goes late into the fourth quarter, but Wallace will keep the Rebels on top.

Prediction: Ole Miss 34, TCU 30

 

Fiesta Bowl: No. 10 Arizona vs. No. 20 Boise State

The Arizona Wildcats are on one of the biggest stages in the program's history, playing what is almost a home game in Glendale, Arizona. Boise State enters as the Fiesta Bowl darlings, looking to add another chapter to the storybook.

Rich Rodriguez's Wildcats were trounced 51-13 the last time out, but that was against a peaking Oregon squad they had already beaten earlier this season. As for the Broncos, they haven't lost since September and are on a tear of seven straight wins by two possessions or more.

Boise State may be the road team in essence, but it will be well represented, according to B.J. Rains of the Idaho Press-Tribune noted:

Arizona's defense has been the difference this season for the Wildcats, dominating in its best stretches and unable to force stops at its worst. Preventing the run has proven especially tough, and the Arizona defense has allowed an average of more than 200 yards a game on the ground in its last two outings.

Things don't figure to get any easier with Jay Ajayi up next, Boise State's bruising running back with the wheels and athleticism to make opponents pay at the second level.

Quarterback Grant Hedrick won't play like Marcus Mariota, but he'll be able to make the Wildcats pay in a similar fashion with play-action looks set up by Ajayi's running. A hard-hitting Broncos defense will keep them ahead, pressuring whoever Arizona decides to go with at quarterback.

Expect late theatrics but a Boise State win.

Prediction: Boise State 34, Arizona 31

 

Outback Bowl: No. 18 Wisconsin vs. No. 19 Auburn

The Outback Bowl won't be one of the must-watch games on New Year's Day, but it will peg two teams well known for their national prestige and expected to stay around the championship conversation in the future.

The immediate outlook for both No. 18 Wisconsin and No. 19 Auburn, however, hinges on how each squad shows up.

Jarred by the abrupt leaving of head coach Gary Andersen, the Badgers will be coached again by former coach and long-time athletic director Barry Alvarez in an interim role. How his team responds to the adversity will be telling in how much of an impact Wisconsin will have.

It will be Alvarez's first win in a long time if Wisconsin can pull it off, as 247Sports' Evan Flood noted:

Of course, it's only fair to wonder how ready the Tigers will be as well. There's only a departing defensive coordinator, but Auburn undoubtedly expected to be in a CFP semifinal at this point in the year.

Wisconsin won't be short on energy despite the unfavorable circumstances, but containing Nick Marshall and the Auburn offense will be a different story. The Badgers are at an all-time low in defensive confidence after Ohio State hung 59 on them, and the Tigers boast many similar threats at the skill positions.

Melvin Gordon will make a few big plays, but Auburn will keep the Wisconsin offense contained enough to let Marshall and Cameron Artis-Payne do their thing.

Prediction: Auburn 44, Wisconsin 20

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bahamas Bowl 2014: Full Predictions for Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky

The Central Michigan Chippewas and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers didn't enjoy the most successful of seasons, but each squad was rewarded with a trip to Nassau for the first-ever Bahamas Bowl, Wednesday at noon.

Each team had its fair share of struggles this season. The Chippewas finished in fourth place in the MAC West, as losses to Toledo, Western Michigan and Ball State hurt their standing in the conference.

The Hilltoppers were just 4-4 in Conference USA, though they did take down Marshall in the Thundering Herd's only loss of the season. That was an overtime thriller, resulting in a 67-66 win for Western Kentucky.

There isn't much familiarity between the two teams. The last time they met was in the 2012 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, a game that was won by the Chippewas, 24-21. Will we see a similar result this time around?

Below are a few predictions as to what might go down in the Bahamas on Christmas Eve.

 

Brandon Doughty Will Carve Up Central Michigan

The Hilltoppers rank sixth in the nation in points scored per game (44) and third in passing yards per game (365). That's almost entirely because of senior quarterback Brandon Doughty.

In his sixth year of eligibility because of two injury-riddled seasons, Doughty earned Conference USA MVP honors after tossing 44 touchdowns and amassing 4,344 yards through the air. He did throw 10 interceptions, though a four-interception game against Louisiana Tech on Nov. 1 inflates that number a bit.

As you can see in the accompanying graphic, Doughty's per-game passing average nearly matches the entire offensive output of the Chippewas per game.

CMU knows what's coming. Doughty is the best offensive player on Western Kentucky, and the offense runs through him. Only twice through 12 games has he attempted 26 passes or less. In fact, he averages over 42 attempts per contest.

That has clearly translated to success, as he has three games over 490 passing yards. Two of those games were for over 560. Oh, yeah, and he threw for an unfathomable eight touchdowns against Marshall.

Unforgettable performances like that one led to major recognition. He was given the award dedicated to the best passer in the nation:

Naturally, the Chippewas must be prepared. Head coach Dan Enos said that Doughty "is the best (quarterback) we’ve played all year," via Nate Schneider of The Morning Sun, so it's obvious that he's preaching containment strategies to his defense. The secondary will have to play top-notch coverage against Doughty's weapons.

Even if it does, that's still no guarantee that it'll stop him. He has 19 touchdowns and two interceptions over his last four games, completing over 68 percent of his passes in the process.

He'll definitely top the 400-yard mark against the No. 32 defense in the country, given how he's playing. Expect three touchdowns and another day in the 60s in terms of completion percentage. Even the weather in Nassau isn't hotter than Doughty right now.

 

Devon Spalding Will Surprise for CMU

Running back Thomas Rawls racked up over 1,100 yards and double-dight touchdowns on the ground for CMU this season, but CM Life reported on Monday that he won't be active on Wednesday:

That puts the pressure on Devon Spalding, the freshman who actually led the team in yards per carry (amongst regular rushers) with 5.5.

Not many people know of Spalding, but he's going to surprise against Western Kentucky. He received regular carries in just two games this season. He carried the ball 18 times for 154 yards and two scores against Eastern Michigan on Nov. 1, and he carried it 22 times for 147 yards and two scores the following game against Miami (Ohio).

He has big-play potential, and that's something the Hilltoppers defense has to be ready for. Check out this 51-yard touchdown run from Nov. 15:

The Hilltoppers cannot allow him to get into the second tier of the defense. He excels in open space, as you saw above. He can cut around defenders and make them miss. If the defensive line can contain him, it'll be difficult for him to get yardage.

The graphic tells us that the Hilltoppers are extraordinarily bad against the run, however, so it appears as if Spalding is poised for another productive outing.

He'll reach the 120-yard mark on 18 or so carries, and he'll probably find the end zone at least once. But all those predictions are of the safe variety. Don't be surprised if he blows them out of the water.

 

Prediction

While the Chippewas do play pretty good defense, there's no way this matchup doesn't end in a shootout. Doughty is too good to be held down by a MAC West defense, and Spalding has the chops to succeed against a porous run defense.

CMU simply cannot match the scoring capabilities of Western Kentucky. The only way it can keep up is if Doughty has another four-pick game, but the chances of that are about as low as it snowing in Nassau on Wednesday.

There's going to be plenty of excitement given the fact that this is the inaugural Bahamas Bowl, but don't expect the final result to be all that close.

The Hilltoppers are too strong.

Prediction: Western Kentucky 38, Central Michigan 21

 

Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @kennydejohn

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Hawaii Bowl 2014: Key Factors and Prediction for Fresno State vs. Rice

The records for each team in the Hawaii Bowl might cause some to overlook the matchup, but you can be certain both Fresno State and Rice will be fighting hard to earn a win in this one—set to kick off at 8 p.m. in Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Sure, at 6-7 Fresno State might be the only team this season to enter its bowl game with a losing record. Rice battled back from an awful start to get to 7-5 for the year.

However, there is no chance the intensity in this matchup will be any less than that of some elite teams competing in later bowls. Both sides want to end the year on a high note and will do whatever it takes to get that final win.

With two competitive teams, this battle could come down to just a few players. However, here is a look at the factors that will truly decide the winner in this competition.

 

Brian Burrell Taking Care of the Football

Although he hasn't exactly made people forget about Derek Carr, Brian Burrell has had some big performances this season as Fresno State's quarterback. Head coach Tim DeRuyter was impressed by the play of the junior toward the end of the year:

His best showing came against Nevada, where he accounted for five touchdowns in a 40-20 road win.

Unfortunately, those great efforts often came with bad ones. He finished with at least one interception in 11 of his 13 games this season and totaled 16 picks on the year. In the most recent matchup against Boise State, Burrell's three interceptions took the Bulldogs out of the game.

The good news is Rice has not done the best job of taking away the ball this year. The defense is among the bottom of the nation with just seven interceptions this season, contributing to an opponent passer efficiency that ranks 106th in the FBS.

If Burrell can take advantage of this and avoid turnovers, he will give Fresno State a good chance to win.

 

Rice Using the Rushing Attack

Although Rice has tried to use a balanced attack in most games this year, it is better when the run game is working.

Sophomores Jowan Davis and Darik Dillard make up a formidable tandem in the backfield and can usually take advantage of lanes when there are any. Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle noticed early in the year that this is a group that could blossom into big things:

The good news is there should be a lot of running room in the Hawaii Bowl as Fresno State has struggled all year long to defend the run. The Bulldogs head into the bowl season allowing 206.9 rushing yards per game to rank 103rd in the nation.

Even Rice's inconsistent offensive line should be able to clear some running room for Davis and Dillard to help move the football and control the game.

 

Mentality During Fresno State Streak

Fresno State has done a great job of getting to bowl eligibility lately. Since 1999, the Bulldogs have only missed the postseason on two occasions.

However, just getting a bid is not enough anymore. You want to end the year with a win, and Fresno State has struggled in this aspect in recent years, losing its last five bowl games. This could lead to a lack of confidence going into the next matchup.

On the other hand, DeRuyter has shown a lot of intensity as he prepares for the Hawaii Bowl, via Marek Warszawski of The Fresno Bee:

While some teams go into the bowl season just waiting for the season to end, Fresno State likely wants to win this game more than anything after a bunch of disappointment on this stage. 

 

Prediction

Neither team has shown too much consistency this season, which is why both are playing in the Hawaii Bowl and not on New Year's Eve. This makes it difficult to know what we will get from either side.

What we do know is that Fresno State has a lot of talent on offense that could do damage in this game. Burrell just needs to play an average game for him to take advantage of playmakers like Marteze Waller and Josh Harper.

The Bulldogs defense has been terrible, but so has the Owls defensive unit, with missed tackles and poor positioning plaguing the team all year long.

Although this might not be a pretty game to watch, Fresno State should be able to get back to .500 by defeating Rice in paradise.

Prediction: Fresno State 31, Rice 27

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The 1 Player Each SEC Team Will Miss Most in 2015

All good things must come to an end, including the careers of some of the SEC's best players this season.

Not including the likely notables who will declare their intentions to turn pro in the near future, there's a long list of SEC standouts who have either ended their college careers or will do so in bowl games over the next two weeks. But rather than rank them by overall importance or the impact of their loss, we've singled out one from each school whose absence will be felt the most in 2015.

Check out our list of the player each SEC team will miss the most next season, along with a look at how they'll look to replace these stars.

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Ranking the Best Redshirt Freshmen of 2014 College Football Season

Perhaps a player was shielded by a longtime starter or sustained a season-ending injury last year, which caused the prospect to observe from the sideline and take a redshirt.

But during the 2014 regular season, that young athlete had an opportunity, and he shined.

Redshirt freshmen contributed to college football programs throughout the recent campaign, and some even earned national recognition for their exploits.

But how do they stack up against each other? Let's take an in-depth look at 10 of the best redshirt freshmen college football had to offer during the last four months.

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Holiday Wish List for Top 25 College Football Recruiting Classes

The holiday season is upon us, providing an opportunity for children and adults alike to dream big. Whether you're hoping for the perfect Christmas present or planning to make 2015 the best year of your life, hope springs eternal this time of year.

That sentiment holds true on the college football recruiting trail, where things are heating up six weeks shy of national signing day. We assembled holiday wish lists for each team currently residing in the top 25 of 247Sports' composite class rankings.

Read on to see which prospects could provide some extra cheer for collegiate coaching staffs.

 

Recruit ratings and info courtesy of 247Sports.

Begin Slideshow

Navy vs. SDSU: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 Poinsettia Bowl

It wasn't always pretty, but it was certainly entertaining. 

Navy and San Diego State combined for seven turnovers during Tuesday night's San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, but the Midshipmen got the last of four lead changes and squeaked out a 17-16 victory. This bowl victory was Navy's third time winning consecutive bowl games, according to ESPN Stats & Info:

Chris Swain led Navy's run-heavy attack with 72 yards on eight carries, quarterback Keenan Reynolds ran for two touchdowns to win Offensive MVP, and the Midshipmen finished with 254 yards on the ground. 

Austin Grebe hit the go-ahead field goal with 1:27 remaining, and ESPN's Travis Haney put it simply for Ken Niumatalolo's squad, which survived four fumbles: 

Niumatalolo was even surprised his team came away with the win per the Associated Press via ESPN.com: "I have no idea how we won the game."

Led by star running back Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State outgained Navy, 327-271. Pumphrey finished with 154 total yards (112 rushing, 42 receiving) and a touchdown, entrenching himself in the school's record books, per the team's official Twitter feed:

But the Aztecs couldn't overcome their own batch of mistakes. They turned the ball over twice in the fourth quarter, and Donny Hageman missed a potential game-winning 34-yard field goal with 24 seconds to go. 

Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel summed it up:

The game's start was an indication of things to come. An interception by Quinn Kaehler on San Diego State's first drive gave Navy a short field, and the Midshipmen took advantage with a quick touchdown drive to take an early 7-0 lead. 

But it took the Aztecs just two minutes to respond. Rashaad Penny took the ensuing kickoff back 57 yards, and four of the next five plays went to Pumphrey, who eventually punched the ball in on a determined third-down run; ESPN College Football highlighted the play:

For the rest of the first half, it was all San Diego State. Pumphrey and Chase Price continued to carve out big chunks of yardage on the ground, and the defensive line got constant penetration and stifled Navy's running game.

Despite a major advantage in yardage, though, the Aztecs had two drives sputter into field goals and carried only a 13-7 lead into halftime. 

The Washington Post's Gene Wang summed it up:

After averaging just 3.0 yards per carry in the first half, Navy found success on the ground immediately out of the locker room. The Midshipmen went 92 yards on 13 plays—all runs—and Reynolds finished the drive with a six-yard run up the gut to make it 14-13. 

Navy's Twitter feed put his second touchdown of the night into historical perspective: 

But then Navy seemingly forgot how to hold onto the ball. 

DeBrandon Sanders fumbled a punt, leading to an SDSU field goal, and on the next three drives, the Midshipmen had one three-and-out and two more fumbles lost at the line of scrimmage. 

The Aztecs couldn't take advantage, though. They mixed in an interception in between those fumbles, and Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde summed up the sloppy nature of the game: 

Pumphrey then fumbled, setting up Navy's game-winning drive. 

The Aztecs would get a chance for the win, but Hageman, who had made his previous three attempts and earlier set an SDSU record for field goals in a season, couldn't come through. 

Yahoo Sports' Frank Schwab wasn't surprised:

It's a disappointing loss for San Diego State, which blew a number of opportunities. But with Pumphrey returning for his junior season, there's reason for optimism. 

For the Midshipmen, Niumatalolo has established some impressive consistency. With the record-breaking Reynolds at the helm, the arrow is pointing up.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State's Receivers Will Be a Matchup Issue for Alabama

When Urban Meyer took over at Ohio State in January 2012, he wasn't high on his receivers, referring to the young group as a "clown show."

Over the past three years, though, that clown show has matured into a strength that could lead the fourth-ranked Buckeyes to a win over No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

That's an advantage Meyer has been working toward since the moment he settled in at Ohio State. It started with the maturation process of two then-sophomores who have become senior leaders for this year's team. Devin Smith, the Buckeyes' blazing deep threat, and Evan Spencer, the unit's do-everything wideout, serve as the foundation for one of the most explosive groups of receivers in the country.

Meyer built on that foundation with his unparalleled ability to recruit playmakers who fit his system. In 2012, the Buckeyes brought in Michael Thomas, who was ranked the No. 3 prep wide receiver in the country. A year later, he brought in 4-star prospects Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall to play H-back (commonly referred to as the Percy Harvin Position), making Ohio State's offense much more lethal. 

That group helped the Buckeyes transition away from the run-heavy strategy deployed last year with Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde in the backfield. With a bevy of talent on the perimeter, Meyer was comfortable putting the ball in the air more frequently, which has led to a more balanced attack. 

A season ago, the Buckeyes ranked 90th nationally in passing yards, averaging just 203.3 yards per game, according to cfbstats.com. This year, the Buckeyes are up 41 spots, averaging 246.8 passing yards per game. 

Play-calling and improved receiver play are the key factors in that spike. Not only that, but the Buckeyes' top three receivers—Smith, Thomas and Marshall—also have all shown the ability to take over a game or dramatically change its momentum. 

Ohio State's receivers pose a big issue for Alabama.

While the Crimson Tide rank 11th overall in total defense, their secondary has been exposed consistently throughout the year. In the season opener against West Virginia, Alabama surrendered 365 passing yards in a 33-23 victory. Those issues didn't go away as the season went along—the Tide gave up an average of 339.3 passing yards to their last three FBS opponents. That included the Auburn game, which featured Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall torching Alabama for a career-high 456 yards and three touchdowns.

The reason for those gaudy numbers? Saban explained them away as a result of "technical" issues, according to Duane Rankin of the Montgomery Advertiser.

I just think that we try to correct the mistakes that we made and show a guy why things happened the way they did. Whether it was eye control, not maintaining position on the receiver, not keeping a guy cut off, not playing the right leverage on the guy when you have help. I think these things are technical in nature, and obviously we want to execute a little better than that. That's how we correct things in the film, and that's what we'll do.

Now, the Tide will need to stop one of the most dynamic groups of playmakers in the country in order to advance to the national championship. Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones knows the challenge that lies ahead.

"Just a lot of guys that can stretch the field and a quarterback who has a live arm," Jones said of the Buckeyes, according to Michael Casagrande of AL.com. "In the back of it, we've just got be in tip-top shape, just knowing what to expect in certain formations and stuff like that and what they like to, what routes they like to run the most. Just being ready."

If Alabama isn't ready, Ohio State has the talent to make them pay.

 

All recruiting information via 247 Sports. Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NCAA.com.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michael Dyer Ruled Academically Ineligible, Won't Play in Belk Bowl

Louisville running back Michael Dyer has been ruled academically ineligible just a week before the No. 21 Cardinals get set to take on No. 13 Georgia in the Belk Bowl. 

FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman had the report:

ESPN 680's Mark Ennis first reported the news.

Further details are unknown, but this continues a tumultuous college career for a player who was once considered one of the brightest young stars in the country. 

In his first two years with Auburn, Dyer tallied 2,351 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns. He broke Bo Jackson's freshman rushing record and was named the MVP of the 2011 BCS national title game after running for 143 yards against Oregon. 

But after reportedly failing a drug test, he was suspended by the team and ultimately released from his scholarship so he could follow Gus Malzahn to Arkansas State. Less than a year later, he was then dismissed from that team, as well, following a traffic incident that involved a handgun

Dyer then attended Arkansas Baptist College before enrolling at Louisville last year with two years of eligibility remaining. 

He seemed to have carved out a nice role with the Cardinals, rushing for 173 yards against NC State and then racking up 134 and three scores against Florida State, the defending national champions. 

But this is yet another setback, further decreasing his hopes of earning a late-round NFL draft pick.

As for the Cardinals, leading rusher Brandon Radcliff will handle the majority of the backfield work against Georgia, while senior Dominique Brown is likely to see his role increase. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Marshall vs. Northern Illinois: Score, Twitter Reaction for 2014 Boca Raton Bowl

In a battle of two teams looking for respect after outstanding seasons, Marshall (13-1) took down Northern Illinois (11-3), 52-23, to claim the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl.

Marshall Football provided a look at the final score and reaction from FAU Stadium:

Rakeem Cato led the Thundering Herd, going 25-of-37 with 281 passing yards, 25 rushing yards and five total touchdowns. Fellow senior Tommy Shuler also went out on a high note, with a staggering 18 receptions, 185 receiving yards and one touchdown. Devon Johnson also tallied 131 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Cato capped his illustrious career with the Herd by extending a record he set prior to Tuesday night, as ESPN Stats & Info noted:

That list includes an already successful NFL quarterback in Russell Wilson and 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. Needless to say, Cato has enjoyed plenty of collegiate success.

Cato's final game was an emotional one, as he wore the No. 31 jersey to honor linebacker Evan McKelvey, who suffered an ACL injury earlier this season. He also played in his hometown for his season finale, something he spoke about prior to the game.

"It is only fitting," Cato said, via Scott Alan Salomon of the Sun Sentinel. "When I found out that I was going to play my final game [in Boca Raton], I fell to my knees and thanked the Lord. ... These four years have been a blessing. I came to Marshall as a boy, and I am leaving as a man."

Grant Traylor of The Herald-Dispatch also pointed out how huge the night was for Shuler, who set several career marks:

While Cato shined during his final game, it was NIU that got the upper hand early. Drew Hare connected with Juwan Brescacin on a 19-yard touchdown that put the Huskies up with 7:33 remaining in the first.

Marshall wasted no time in responding. On the ensuing kickoff, Deandre Reaves returned it for a touchdown. ESPN College Football provided a look at the massive return:

Cato got the offense going on the next drive with a five-play, 42-yard drive that he capped with a five-yard rushing score.

Northern Illinois clawed back with two field goals in the second quarter, but a Devon Johnson rushing touchdown kept Marshall in control. The Herd carried a 24-13 lead into the half thanks to their success on the ground.

That would change in the second half, as Cato's arm stole the show.

A 24-yard Cameron Stingily rushing touchdown was sandwiched between two Cato passing touchdowns to Shuler and Angelo Jean-Louis respectively. Those were then overshadowed in the fourth quarter by a 27-yard strike to Deon-Tay McManus.

Traylor noted just how impressive the final touchdown pass was for Cato:

Even with four touchdowns at that point, Cato wasn't quite done. He capped off his huge night with yet another score on the ground, this time from four yards out after a 41-yard drive.

ESPN College Football provided a look at Cato's final touchdown of his career:

Despite the loss, Northern Illinois still has a lot to be proud of after another successful season. Heading into a huge part of the recruiting season, the Huskies can hold their heads high following a fifth straight 10-plus-win campaign.

Much like its opponent, Marshall heads into next season with a ton of confidence. Even with the loss of several senior leaders like Cato and Shuler, the Herd should be competitive again in Conference USA in 2015 and have a shot at another bowl win.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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