NCAA Football News

Under Armour All-America Game 2015: Final Look at Roster and Notable Recruits

Now that the College Football Playoff Semifinals are in the books, fans can turn their attention to St. Petersburg, Fla. as the next generation of talent partakes in the Under Armour All-America Game.

The event is no ordinary all-star gathering, though, as the top programs such as Ohio State, Alabama and more will watch closely as a number of undecided recruits put on a show before potentially making their collegiate homes public knowledge.

Fans of programs that already have commitments from some of the recruits in Friday's action can kick back and enjoy the show as the best of the best strap up for what is sure to be a contest littered with big plays.

Those hoping for a commitment from some of those in the game may want to consider Friday a final chance to root for the recruits in question before they potentially join arch rivals.

 

When: Friday, Jan. 2

Time: 4 p.m. ET

Where: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Watch: ESPN2

 

Under Armour All-American Game Rosters

Roster courtesy of ESPN.

 

Recruits to Watch

Byron Cowart, SDE, Undecided

Few defenders who will take the field Friday come in as highly regarded as Armwood High Scool's Byron Cowart.

The Seffner, Fla. native comes in at 6'4" and 250 pounds—with an eye-popping 4.6 40-yard dash time. That last number in large part explains his ability to put on a show in this week's set of practices, as Football Vines captures:

A 5-star recruit and the top strong-side defensive end in the country, Cowart has a blend of size that allows him to clog gaps and speed to apply pressure, which is something most teams in the nation covet.

It makes sense that the Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles seem to be the front-runners right now. No matter where he ends up, Cowart will wreak havoc once acclimated. 

For now, he gets a final, sure-to-be explosive sendoff.

 

Tyron Johnson, WR, Undecided

Want to know why Tyron Johnson is a 5-star recruit and the No. 2 wideout in the nation? 

Observe a moment captured by ESPN's Derek Tyson:

The Warren Easton High School product and New Orleans native is the top known recruit set to announce his commitment Friday, as 247Sports' Daniel Paulling notes:

With hands like that and a frame that comes in at 6'1" and 191 pounds, the speedy receiver who blazed a 4.52 40-yard dash was the crown jewel for many a top program, although LSU, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech appear to be the final three in the running.

Some of the nation's top defenders will attend Friday as well, but if Johnson's practice performances are any indication, there will be no stopping him.

 

Soso Jamabo, RB, Undecided

Three-down backs are all the rage at the collegiate and professional levels these days as the game continues to evolve. 

Soso Jamabo out of Plano West High School will fit right in with the best. 

The 5-star running back and top overall player at his position not only has great measurables, but he can also catch a pass under pressure, as ESPN's Tom VanHaaren captures:

Between the tackles, a 6'2.5" and 210-pound frame does Jamabo well, as does 4.55 40-yard dash speed on the edges. These traits will ensure he sees the field as a freshman.

The "where" part of the equation remains an unknown still, although the Texas native seems to have a good idea of what traits his future home will have.

"Probably where I got the best opportunity to now only better myself as a football player, but as a man. Where I feel more family oriented and academically probably the most stable school," Jamabo said, per Greg Powers of Scout.com. "It is where I will feel the most comfortable and where I feel I can be the most successful."

For now, fans of programs such as UCLA and Notre Dame will need to settle for a strong performance by Jamabo.

 

Player rankings based on 247Sports' composite ranking system. All recruit measurements and stats courtesy of 247Sports.

 

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Baylor's Shawn Oakman Becomes Internet Meme Due to Massive Frame

Baylor Bears defensive end Shawn Oakman has turned plenty of heads this college football season, coming in at 6'9" and 280 pounds. As his team faced the Michigan State Spartans on the national stage Thursday, he attracted even more attention.

A picture surfaced on Twitter of Oakman on the giant video boards at AT&T Stadium, with the 22-year-old towering over his opponents. Not surprisingly, the picture of Oakman quickly started to spread, and now the junior defensive end has become a new Internet meme.

Here are just a few of the best tweets regarding Oakman:

While Oakman says he will return to school in 2015, according to The Associated Press (via FoxSports.com), it shouldn't be long before we see the massive defender playing at the next level.

[Twitter]

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Ohio State Victory Confirms Urban Meyer Is Strong as Ever and Fully in Command

NEW ORLEANS — Urban Meyer was flogged four years ago. He was a weakling for having physical issues brought on by the stress of coaching. Soon, those physical issues were mental health issues. Then they became issues of courage. There was denunciation, an indictment, that he left Florida following the 2010 season because he did not want any part of Nick Saban and Alabama.

I watched him get on a golf cart underneath the grandstands in Tampa following his last game with Florida, Jan. 1, 2011, a victory over Penn State, and I said, “Riding off into the sunset, huh?” He smiled this pained smile, like he was done with it.

I never thought he would be back on top of the heap again. I asked him then if he had any intention of coming back. It was clear he was thinking only about leaving, not returning.

Thursday night, the Urbanator hit the high point in a triumphant return. He rolled the clock back to 2006, when the Gators beat Ohio State for the national title. He replayed 2008, when the Gators took down unbeaten Alabama in the Georgia Dome and then beat Oklahoma for the national title.

Ohio State put away Alabama here in the national semifinal, 42-35, and the Urbanator was full of juice with a team stocked with speed and playmakers and crafty coaches.

Meyer didn’t look so frail when he heaved his headset in the bench area after the officials ruled his punter was on the ground because, well, he must have just slipped. Meyer didn’t look so frail stalking the sidelines with his head down, talking into the headset to the coaches in the press box, scheming to beat Saban and Kirby Smart’s defense.

There is this idea that Nick Saban with three weeks of preparation is a lock to win a bowl game. Well, Meyer had three weeks to prepare and he was the one who won the game...with a third-string quarterback.

The Ohio State offense was retooled to take advantage of the big arm of Cardale Jones, who was a benchwarmer all year. The Buckeyes offense was styled around the runs of J.T. Barrett, and now it was a vertical offense with a 6'5" slinger.

Jones threw for 243 yards in the second start of his career. Ohio State had 537 total yards. Jones also had some big runs, because his coaches schemed in runs to combat Alabama’s two-deep safeties.

How about this? Meyer had his H-back, Jalin Marshall, in motion, moving here and there, and it caused some confusion in the Alabama secondary. The safeties had to rock and roll with the motion and got caught out of position and big runs followed.

“There was some stuff we hadn’t put on film they had issues with,” said right guard Pat Elflein.

Meyer was also the master motivator. On the field after the game his players said their coach made sure they were paying attention to the demise in the bowl games of the SEC West, which had been labeled the best division in college football.

“I'll tell you when I think the tide turned a little bit: When Wisconsin beat Auburn,” Meyer said about his team’s confidence. “Everybody on our team knew that. I made sure they knew that. When Michigan State came back and beat an excellent Baylor team. And maybe the Big Ten's not that bad. Maybe the Big Ten is pretty damned good. And it's certainly getting better.”

The Urbanator hired a safeties coach, Chris Ash, who is co-defensive coordinator, and the Buckeyes have grown on defense since last season, especially against the pass. Thursday night they held All-American wide receiver Amari Cooper to 71 yards.

One third-quarter play was key to their scheming. On 3rd-and-7 at the Alabama 36-yard line, quarterback Blake Sims thought he was going to do the usual, find Cooper for the first down. Cooper ran a curl route, but defensive end Steve Miller broke back into coverage to take away the curl. He intercepted the pass and ran 41 yards for the touchdown.

“The masterminds on the sideline and in the press box made that call,” said cornerback Doran Grant. “Down and distance and tendencies; they knew what to do to get us in position.”

Several days after the final four were announced, Meyer was at a press conference at Disney in Florida promoting the first-ever college football semifinals.

He was asked about his run in the SEC and how it ended. He hasn’t forgotten. “Very clear memories,” Meyer said.

Revenge is too strong a word to describe what’s going on now. Meyer wants a title more for his home state of Ohio than to claim some redemption, but there must be a pride factor with him for how it ended with Florida.

The Urbanator, once upon a time the Alpha Male in college football coaching, is one win away from snatching back his throne. He’s back in the game. Meyer has a preposterous record at Ohio State (37-3), yet this team is young and growing.

He talks about football being like a game of checkers and said Thursday night, “The guy moving the pieces is a fortunate guy that wakes up every morning and very grateful for the opportunities given to him.”

 

Ray Glier covers college football for Bleacher Report. 

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Oregon vs. Ohio State: Biggest Keys for College Football Championship 2015

Oregon used a second-half barrage to pull away from Florida State, advancing to the final and ending the Seminoles' 29-game win streak in the process. Ohio State withstood a late rally by Alabama to complete an entertaining upset. Now, the two teams left standing play for the title.

The Ducks head into the College Football Playoff finale as the favorite and rightfully so. When they have clicked on all cylinders this year, they have looked unstoppable. NumberFire suggests the gap between the teams isn't as big as it may seem, though:

It points toward a thrilling conclusion to the campaign. The CFP National Championship Game is set for Monday, Jan. 12 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. While the sides begin their preparations, let's examine the biggest key for each team.

 

Oregon: Don't Play Too Fast

The Ducks will probably downplay any discussion about the bigger picture leading up to the game. Yet, the result is definitely going to have a lasting impact. Ever since they began their rise, doubters have been skeptical about their style of playing working on the game's biggest stages.

Oregon must be careful, though. The natural tendency at this stage, especially when trying to prove something, is to start trying to play even faster. That would be a mistake, which is something it should have taken away from the semifinals.

The team's high-flying offense looked out of rhythm in the first half against Florida State. It wasn't until the Ducks got a chance to regroup at halftime that things finally fell into place after the break. The coaching staff needs to use that as a learning experience.

Afterward, Paul Myerberg of USA Today passed along comments from Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, who admitted the connection just wasn't there at first: "I didn't feel that I was too anxious going in. I just missed a couple throws here and there. But that's the thing with our offense. You start building a rhythm up—the offense has to go a little bit."

Once the Oregon offense gets rolling, it can put up points in a major hurry. The key is not giving Ohio State an advantage first by trying to play too quickly, which would likely lead to mistakes. Being a little conservative in the early going isn't a bad thing.

Thomas Tyner, Royce Freeman and Co. showed they are capable of leading the offensive charge in the semifinals. Attack the Buckeyes defense with the running back group early, start to build rhythm in the offense and that will open things up for Mariota as the game goes on.

 

Ohio State: Defend Play Action

Mariota heads into the title game with 40 passing touchdowns and just three interceptions. The only way a quarterback can have that much success through the air is when an offense has so many weapons it becomes incredibly difficult to stop them all.

Oregon has a reliable running game and a quarterback who can escape the pocket to make plays with his legs. Teams become so focused on slowing down those two aspects that there's usually huge passing lanes to take advantage of, especially in the second half.

As you'd expect, the Ducks use a lot of play-action calls to further capitalize on the overaggressive approach of opposing defenses. Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus provided some numbers on that subject heading into the semifinals:

Perhaps the best stat that shows the difference in Oregon's offense compared to Florida State and even a traditional NFL offense, Mariota used play action on 51% of his drop-backs. By comparison, in the NFL, Alex Smith led the league with 31% and Winston only uses play action 16% of the time. Mariota's numbers are exceptional, but the grade sitting at only +5.5 shows that the play action game has led to some easier throws that have looked great on the stat sheet.

The Buckeyes coaching staff must preach over the next 10 days to avoid biting on the fakes. The secondary has to trust the front seven to contain the running game. Otherwise, Mariota is going to beat them over the top against single coverage.

Ohio State wants to slow the pace of the game anyway. Giving up a couple extra yards on the ground in order to maintain structure at the back is perfectly fine. It just cannot let the Oregon offense find its stride like it did in the second half against Florida State.

Ultimately, the underdogs aren't going to be able to completely stop the Ducks. They have to pick their poison. Being able to prevent the play action from leading to big gains would go a long way in pulling off another upset.

 

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Georgia Football: Quarterback Play Is Offseason's Biggest Question Mark

The Georgia Bulldogs set school records for points scored in 2014, but they may have a problem in 2015.

No, that problem won't be replacing Todd Gurley.  Nick Chubb has amazingly found a way to do that already.

The problem won't necessarily be replacing departed offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.  As tight ends coach John Lilly showed in the Belk Bowl, mirroring Bobo's success can be done.

The problem for Georgia—for the first time in half a decade—may come from the quarterback position, which will be the biggest question mark for this team heading into the offseason.

Though the 2014 offense was highlighted by a stout running game while fans inexplicably demanded more from fifth-year quarterback Hutson Mason, quarterback play for the Bulldogs was once again solid.  Mason finished the season ranked 11th in the nation in passer rating and eighth in completion percentage.  Along the way, he tossed 21 touchdown passes and just four interceptions.

That's not a bad effort in replacing a legend.

For the four previous seasons, Aaron Murray was at the helm, and all he did was shatter SEC career passing marks left and right while racking up 13,166 yards through the air and 137 total touchdowns.

For the last five years, steadiness has defined quarterback play for Georgia.  At this point, that's not exactly a sure thing for year six.

Brice Ramsey, the heir apparent and apple of Bulldog Nation's eye even for much of this season, is the early leader to take over for Mason based on playing time in 2014.  Ramsey, who was regarded as the third-best pro-style quarterback in 2013's recruiting class (per 247Sports), has showed promise.  But he's also shown a tendency for ill-advised throws.

This year, Ramsey appeared in six games, throwing more than one pass on five occasions.  In those five games—blowout wins against the likes of Troy, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Charleston Southern and Louisville—he completed more than half his passes just twice.  And he was unimpressive in his longest and most significant stint at quarterback, in the bowl game against Louisville.

After Hutson Mason left the game with concussion-like symptoms, Ramsey took over.  His statistical line—four completions for 51 yards, no touchdowns and one interception on nine attempts—left much to be desired, but more nuanced concerns were also left.

His only pass of the first half was intercepted and squashed a drive that started with incredible field position at the Louisville 31-yard line.  A score there would have made the lead all but insurmountable at 27-7 heading into halftime.  Instead, he gave the ball back to the opposition.

In the third quarter, Georgia's only score came off of a possession in which Chubb broke an 82-yard run.  To be sure, conservative play-calling had begun to set in, but Ramsey and the offense failed to string together consistent drives.

And on Georgia's two scoring drives of the fourth quarter—one resulting in a field goal and one yielding a touchdown—Ramsey attempted and completed just one total pass, a 14-yarder to Kenneth Townes.

It should be noted that Ramsey is green, and Lilly, who had been coaching tight ends and not quarterbacks like former offensive coordinator Bobo, was likely less familiar with Ramsey.  But Georgia's offense was noticeably less diverse when he came into the game.  Some of that was probably due to experience and familiarity, but some was likely due to Ramsey's tendency to throw into double coverage.

And if there's a bone to pick with Ramsey, that's where it's buried.  

His athleticism and capabilities as a passer are unquestioned.  His arm is stronger than any quarterback Georgia's had since Matthew Stafford.  But his decision-making against Louisville looked like that of a true freshman at the beginning of his debut campaign.  That's concerning seeing as Ramsey has been in Athens for two full years after enrolling a semester early in 2013 and redshirting.

And while mistakes may often plague inexperienced quarterbacks resigned to backup duty, that was not the case with Mason early in his career.  Mason played as a reserve as a true freshman and as a true sophomore.  He didn't throw an interception in any of his 47 pass attempts.  Ramsey has thrown three in just 39 attempts.

For a good portion of this season, fans clamored for Ramsey simply because he wasn't Mason.  In some regards, that sentiment was understandable.  After all, Mason wasn't a record-setting gunslinger like Murray.  From a skills standpoint, Ramsey fit that bill more closely.  

But the biggest flaw with Ramsey is that he's not Mason.  For his career, Mason averaged one interception per 62 attempts.  Right now, Ramsey's tossing one every 13 passes.

That's a small sample size and hardly the only statistic that matters, but for an offense that is likely to rely heavily on the ground game again in 2015, mistake-free passing will be at a premium.

With that in mind, the question is not necessarily if Ramsey can limit mistakes by improving over the offseason; it may actually be who can limit mistakes at the quarterback position for Georgia.

Faton Bauta, who will be a redshirt junior in 2015, adds something of a dual-threat component to the quarterback position.  And Jacob Park has recently drawn praise for his performance while redshirting as a freshman this season.

As senior cornerback Damian Swann told Gentry Estes of 247Sports, Park has "got a bright future."  Swann went on to praise Park's arm strength and athleticism.

Georgia has—at least in theory—three viable options to step in next year, but Ramsey is the current favorite.  He needs to transition from a question mark to an exclamation point to hold onto the job.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

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The Fall of the SEC West

Remember when the SEC West was the flag-bearer of college football, a 900-pound gorilla swatting any fly that got anywhere near it?

Those were the good ol' days—or, perhaps more appropriately, ancient history.

Bowl season for the SEC West is in the books, and the only two teams that posted wins were the two worst teams in the final division standings—Texas A&M (over West Virginia) and Arkansas (over Texas). As Kevin Negandhi of ESPN pointed out, that's a 180-degree turn from where the division was during the regular season:

What's more, Alabama's and Auburn's losses came to "lowly Big Ten" teams—Ohio State and Wisconsin, respectively—that were both more than one touchdown underdogs, according to Odds Shark.

Ninth-ranked Ole Miss' problems—specifically, the inability to run between the tackles—prevented the Rebels from getting on track in a 42-3 loss to TCU in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated. Its state-rival Mississippi State followed it up on New Year's Eve by getting worked 49-34 by Georgia Tech in the Capital One Orange Bowl.

That game prompted a classic reaction from Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson, via Vinnyviner on Vine:

"For at least a week or two we don't have to hear about the SEC," Johnson said.

That matters big time.

Fans from around the country undoubtedly have become annoyed with SEC chest-thumping, the "S-E-C" chant billowing through buildings during the final minutes of bowl games and conference pride taking precedence over rivalries during the holiday season.

Perception matters in college football more than it does in any other sport. Why else would one-loss Alabama be the unquestioned No. 1 heading into the postseason ahead of Oregon and Florida State? 

Perception.

"You've got to be one family," TCU head coach Gary Patterson said after the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl win over Ole Miss. "I think yesterday, listening in yesterday during our press conference of how strong they are being as one, and I think that's one thing the Big 12 has been able to do. I don't believe that it's Big 12 vs. the SEC, but I do believe that you have to be proud of conferences you're in."

What happened to the SEC West to change the perception of the division this season? While all of its teams made bowls, they all also had major flaws and were simply incapable of overcoming them.

This season wasn't like 2009, 2010 or 2011, when there were teams around the country—many of which were in the SEC West—that were clearly better than others. There are no "great" teams in college football this year, only good ones that have managed to win despite glaring holes.

SEC West champion Alabama has been dealing with inconsistency in the secondary for two years, and it struggles against running quarterbacks and offenses that thrive on tempo. Auburn and Texas A&M are defensively challenged, LSU and Ole Miss have hit-or-miss quarterbacks, Mississippi State's pass defense is atrocious, and Arkansas took nearly two years to get going under head coach Bret Bielema.

When those flaws surface at key times in games, they're impossible to overcome.

In many of these cases, there were no other options. LSU simply couldn't turn to Brandon Harris when Anthony Jennings struggled. Ohio State, meanwhile, is the anti-LSU. Urban Meyer's crew lost two Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterbacks, and all third-stringer Cardale Jones did against Alabama's defense was toss for 243 yards.

As Chris Vernon of 92.9 in Memphis notes, that's a major statement:

No SEC West team has the depth to overcome those losses on the fly like Ohio State did, and depth is what builds champions. That depth is created through recruiting, which was the foundation SEC West power was built on.

Is the SEC West still the king of recruiting? Yes, but the rest of the country is starting to make waves.

Florida State, last year's champ, has been in the top 10 in the 247Sports team rankings every year since 2010. Ohio State had enjoyed similar success on the recruiting trail under Urban Meyer, even going into SEC territory and signing several southern blue-chip prospects, including safety Vonn Bell and linebacker Raekwon McMillan—both of whom hail from Georgia. 

Oregon? It has branded itself as a national power and routinely signs players from fertile recruiting territories such as Texas and California to join that high-flying offense.

As a whole, the best players from around the country do play in the SEC. That doesn't mean great players and coaches don't exist elsewhere. They do, as Ralph Russo of The Associated Press notes:

The College Football Playoff was designed to "settle it on the field," and the players and coaches at Ohio State, Oregon and the other programs that wrecked shop this bowl season simply did a better job preparing their players throughout the season than those in the SEC West.

It happens, and it is nothing to be ashamed of.

As a whole, the SEC West was a paper tiger that lived off its reputation rather than its merit this year. Cracks in the foundation surfaced this holiday season, and it's up to the coaches to do some renovation during the offseason.

In 2014, the SEC West was more sizzle than steak.

 

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.

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Armed Forces Bowl Houston vs. Pittsburgh: Live Score and Highlights

PITTSBURGH - 24

HOUSTON - 6

4th QTR

Time: 12 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Both these teams are entering the game without the coaches that led them through the 2014 season, but all that should do is reignite the Pittsburgh Panthers and the Houston Cougars as they gear up for the Armed Forces Bowl. 

The Panthers finished the regular season 6-6, while Houston finished 7-5, so the winner is guaranteed a winning record as well as the pride of ending the season on the high note of a bowl title. 

 

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College Football Championship 2015: Breaking Down Biggest X-Factors in CFP Final

The College Football Playoff National Championship is officially set with the Oregon Ducks and the Ohio State Buckeyes winning on New Year's Day, and both teams have myriad players capable of having a huge impact on the title game.

That much was proven true in the CFP Semifinals as the Ducks and the Buckeyes needed contributions across the board to knock off the Florida State Seminoles and the Alabama Crimson Tide, respectively. Their stars had to shine as well, but they aren't nearly as effective without role players helping them along.

With that in mind, here is a look at a few players that promise to be X-factors when Oregon and Ohio State meet to decide the best team in college football.

 

Thomas Tyner

Although Oregon is mostly lauded for the play of quarterback Marcus Mariota, it has been an extremely good running team all season. In addition to the damage Mariota does with his legs, running back Royce Freeman has rushed for over 1,300 yards. One person who wasn't a huge factor until the Rose Bowl, though, was sophomore running back Thomas Tyner.

Tyner had missed four games due to injury, and his season high on the ground was just 64 yards in the opener. There wasn't a ton expected of him against FSU, but he went on to lead the Ducks in rushing as he piled up 124 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.

As pointed out by Bleacher Report's Michael Felder, Tyner essentially came out of nowhere to be one of Oregon's biggest weapons on New Year's Day:

Most of the focus was on Freeman in that regard, but he averaged less than four yards per carry and never really got going. Tyner gashed the Seminoles for nearly 10 yards per tote, though, and he gives the Buckeyes something to worry about.

Based on his comments leading up to the Rose Bowl, per Ryan Thorburn of The Register-Guard, Tyner seems driven by the fact that this has been such a trying season for him: "It has been very upsetting, having to sit and watch is something nobody wants to do. You want to get on the field, and that is the way I felt the whole time I was out. I am just excited now to get back out there."

Ohio State allowed 170 rushing yards against Alabama despite its victory, so the Ducks know they can run on the Buckeyes. If they commit to it, then Tyner figures to be utilized much more heavily than he was during the regular season.

 

Devin Smith

Nobody was quite sure how quarterback Cardale Jones would fare against Alabama's talented offense in the Sugar Bowl, but he held up just fine for the Buckeyes as he threw for 243 yards and a touchdown. A big reason for that was the presence of deep-threat wide receiver Devin Smith.

The senior wideout has been one of the most dynamic pass-catchers in college football over the past four years, and that was on full display against the Crimson Tide. Smith caught just two passes, but they went for a total of 87 yards and a touchdown.

Smith now has 30 career touchdown receptions, and the Buckeyes have never lost a game in which he has nabbed a touchdown pass, according to Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch:

Although Smith has only 32 receptions on the season, he has 886 yards, which is good for nearly 28 yards per catch. Per ESPN Stats & Info, he is particularly adept at picking up yardage in massive chunks:

The Oregon defense held Florida State in check in the Rose Bowl and didn't allow many big plays. When it comes to Smith, though, at least one explosive play per game is almost inevitable.

He has a quarterback that throws an extremely good deep ball, and Jones wasn't afraid to take shots down the field in the Sugar Bowl. That isn't likely to change in the championship game, which means Smith will have some opportunities to make game-changing plays.

 

Aidan Schneider

Oregon didn't need to be great in the kicking game against Florida State as it routed the Seminoles 59-20, but that could very well change in the College Football Playoff National Championship if things are tight down the stretch.

The Ducks' primary kicker is freshman Aidan Schneider, who has hit nine of his 10 field-goal attempts this season. He hasn't been called upon very often due to the potency of Oregon's offense and previous injuries, but he usually delivers when he is.

It remains to be seen how Schneider might fare with everything on the line, but he believes he is prepared for any situation due to the way Oregon practices, according to Steve Mims of The Register-Guard: "One thing that helps the most is the clutch periods we do at practice. I don't feel a ton more pressure in games. That is like a game to us because we could potentially be in that situation."

Schneider hit his only field-goal attempt in the Rose Bowl, although he did miss an extra point, which is something that could conceivably come back to haunt the Ducks if it happens in the title game.

Oregon cannot score a touchdown on every possession, and it will be interesting to see if Schneider can step up when called upon in the biggest game of his life.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Under Armour All-American Game Roster 2015: Complete Look at Each Team

After a couple days full of scintillating bowl games, there's no better time to take a look at the next generation of college football's stars. 

Many of the players featured in Friday's Under Armour All-American Game will be household names by November. Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook were in St. Petersburg a year ago, while studs like A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Landon Collins and Jameis Winston have previously entered the national spotlight at the entertaining exhibition. 

With top recruits from Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and all of the country's other powerhouse programs, there is no shortage of young players capable of putting on a show and becoming the next big thing.  

Here's a look at everything you need to know, as well as each team's complete roster. 

 

Date: Friday, Jan. 2

Time: 4 p.m. ET

Location: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Florida 

TV: ESPN2

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

White Team (Highlight)

There is never just one player to watch in an All-Star game of this nature, but Byron Cowart has done a pretty good job of vaulting himself to the top of the list. 

Plays like this, via Rivals' Mike Farrell, are the reason why:

That is the stuff nightmares—or dreams, if you're on his team—are made of. Cowart, a 5-star defensive end out of Florida, has an impressive blend of size (6'4", 250 lbs) and speed. But when you throw in that kind of explosion and violent hand action, he becomes virtually impossible to block one-on-one. 

Another one to pay attention to on this defense is Iman Marshall. The top-ranked conerback, per 247Sports' composite rankings, has also enjoyed an impressive week of practice:

A tremendous athlete who has already shown elite coverage skills, Marshall is a good bet to come down with an interception on Friday. 

 

Black Team (Armour)

If we could see Marshall line up against Christian Kirk, that would be great. The Texas A&M commit doesn't possess immense size (5'10", 191 lbs), but he is arguably the quickest WR in attendance. His change of direction makes him an incredibly tough cover, and if he gets the ball in any kind of space, he's a threat to take the ball to the house. 

ESPN.com's Jeremy Crabtree gave a glimpse of what the explosive youngster is capable of:

Here's a more visual look, via ESPN.com's Derek Tyson:

Speedy Noil made a huge impact in this game last year, and it will be interesting to see if his future teammate can put on a similar show. 

And from a lightning-fast, dynamic offensive weapon to a daunting defensive force, another player to watch is defensive tackle Daron Payne.

The 4-star defensive tackle is an absolute load, capable of overpowering interior lineman and creating disruption in the backfield. Exhibit A:

There are going to be a lot of entertaining matchups on Friday, and watching the big nasties in the trenches isn't always fun. But seeing Payne clash with future Alabama offensive guards Lester Cotton and Richie Petitbon is something you won't want to miss.

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Urban Meyer Visibly Shocked After Hearing of Oregon's 39-Point Blowout of FSU

Urban Meyer's generally blank-faced demeanor gave way to awe Thursday night after reporters told him of Oregon's 39-point victory over Florida State in the College Football Playoff semifinal.

Busy coaching Ohio State to a 42-35 upset over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, Meyer apparently hadn't had time to check the scoreline in Pasadena. Reporters kindly alerted him to the fact that Marcus Mariota and the Ducks had steamrolled Florida State at the Rose Bowl, 59-20.

Vine user Mighty Oregon provided proof that it took a few moments for Meyer to metabolize this news: 

"Oregon won by 40?" Urban asked. The Buckeyes head coach followed that up by making the only face you can make after hearing your next opponent had flash-fried the defending national champions.

He then said, "I gotta go. We gotta go get ready for that one."

It’s difficult to say whether Meyer was chuckling at Florida State’s collapse or the absurdity of the Oregon offense, which piled 41 points on the Seminoles in the second half. Either is an appropriate response, really.

 

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ESPN300: Analyzing How Top Committed Recruits Fit with Their Teams

A significant number of ESPN300 high school football recruits have made firm commitments to their respective colleges of choice.

While the top three prospects are still weighing their options, the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-ranked players in the class of 2015 have decided. Defensive tackle Trenton Thompson chose Georgia, while dynamic defensive end Josh Sweat will take his talents to Tallahassee and play for Florida State.

LSU appears to have added to a long line of exceptional defensive backs by landing Kevin Toliver II.

Below is a closer look at how the incoming freshman phenoms figure to fit in with their teams and how feasible it is to expect an immediate impact from each 5-star stud.

 

Trenton Thompson, DT, Georgia

The pride of Westover Comprehensive High School in Albany, Georgia, is an in-state product who will make his new home in Athens as an athletic force of nature in the trenches.

A unique Bulldogs defense relies on a lot of athleticism and versatility on its front seven, but many of its biggest men from the 2014 campaign are departing. Defensive tackles Mike Thornton and Toby Johnson are seniors, and the same goes for Ray Drew.

That creates quite an opportunity for Thompson to vie for early playing time. The following footage should offer an idea of what Thompson will bring to Georgia's program:

Rivals' Anthony Dasher documented the mindset Thompson seems to have as he prepares to make the transition to SEC football:

USA Today named Thompson its high school Defensive Player of the Year. Jim Halley reports that Thompson, despite having two or three blockers on him on any given play, racked up 84 tackles this year.

Thompson is the type of player who will likely require double-teams even as a true freshman playing against the best competition the NCAA has to offer.

On his 247Sports profile, he's listed at 6'4", 292 pounds and has perfect 10 ratings in explosiveness and first step attributes. Thompson also has a nine out of 10 rating in motor, strength and point of attack, so he knows how to harness his physical tools into on-field production.

A special player that Bulldogs fans will be pulling for in the years to come, Thompson has the upside to eventually become an NFL player if he stays his current, promising course.

 

Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State

In discussions about rosters loaded with pro-caliber talent, the SEC probably comes to mind as the most populous. However, the Florida State Seminoles have plenty of those types of standouts, and that can result in a lot of annual turnover.

The most recent national champions lost 59-20 to Oregon in the Rose Bowl on Thursday. With the possibility of losing both Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards Jr. to the 2015 NFL draft, FSU needs someone to fill the void fast.

Tom D'Angelo of the Palm Beast Post noted how Sweat's commitment bolstered the perception of the Seminoles' incoming class:

A 6'5", 240-pound freak of nature is one way to describe how gifted the Oscar Frommel Smith High School (Chesapeake, Virginia) star is. ESPN Insider's scouting report (subscription required) lists Sweat's 40-yard dash at 4.46 seconds.

Talk about blazing speed off the edge. Sweat has a ridiculous ceiling as a college pass-rusher, and had a whopping 22 sacks as a junior, per  247Sports.

Unfortunately, a dislocated kneecap and torn ACL that Sweat underwent surgery for in October could cost him his true freshman campaign. There is a chance he recovers in time to contribute, though.

The Seminoles could also lose cornerbacks P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby to the pros, intensifying the need for a viable defensive front to make up for what should be an inexperienced secondary in 2015.

As long as Sweat can add a little bit more bulk to defend the run, he should develop into a tremendous player. 

Should Florida State retain the likes of Edwards or others, it will only ease Sweat's transition and decrease the pressure to play him. It's key to ensure Sweat is healthy enough before he embarks on a quest to be a difference-maker in Tallahassee.

 

Kevin Toliver II, CB, LSU

First-round NFL draft picks such as Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne and Eric Reid have recently occupied LSU's defensive backfield. Jalen Collins may be the latest in light of his declaring for the 2015 draft on Thursday, per his announcement on Instagram.

Quite a rich lineage for Toliver to live up to, but he has the skills to be up for the task.

Rivals recruiting expert Mike Farrell believes in Toliver after witnessing him in action recently:

The biggest advantage Toliver has is his tremendous length. The Trinity Christian Academy star in Jacksonville, Florida, sports a wiry 6'2" frame and can play both zone and man coverage.

If he packs on enough muscle, there's a chance Toliver could ultimately be deployed as a safety in Baton Rouge. For a team that is often loaded with blue-chippers, it all depends on how the Tigers draw up their schemes moving forward.

This quote from Ross Dellenger of The Advocate summarizes one notable, recent development at LSU:

In quite a surprising move, longtime LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis bolted town to try to turn around the Texas A&M Aggies' struggling unit.

That suddenly leaves the Tigers on the hunt for a successor who will be hard-pressed to live up to Chavis' strong record.

How that impacts Toliver remains to be seen. From a pure personnel standpoint, Collins' departure leaves an opening that Toliver can exploit. Talented CB Rashard Robinson is indefinitely suspended, while Tre'Davious White doesn't have the same height Toliver does to match up well with bigger receivers.

That Toliver is enrolling early despite Chavis leaving shows he's truly dedicated to playing for the Tigers. That has to make coach Les Miles feel better about perhaps his most prized player in the 2015 class.

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College Football Playoff 2015: Championship Game Info for Oregon vs. Ohio State

The inaugural College Football Playoff now has its teams for the national championship game. Oregon, which completely dominated Florida State in the second half of their semifinal, will take on an Ohio State squad fresh off an upset of Alabama.

Based purely on the entertainment value of the first two games under the new system, it's safe to say college football is moving in the right direction. Perhaps increasing the field to eight teams would eliminate some of the controversy. It's already an upgrade over the BCS, though.

Given the fact the Ducks and Buckeyes combined to score 101 points in the semifinals, the title game should be another thriller. Let's check out all of the important information for the final followed by a preview of the fight for the first CFP crown. 

College Football Playoff Final

Where: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas

When: Monday, Jan. 12 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Line: Oregon (-7) (via Odds Shark)

 

Championship Preview

Both semifinals had some element of surprise. For Oregon, it was how easily it pulled away from a Seminoles side that had previously won 29 straight games. For Ohio State, it was simply beating the top-seeded, highly touted Crimson Tide.

If nothing else, the results reaffirm confidence in the playoff format. As Colin Cowherd of ESPN notes, under the BCS system neither of the teams now slated to play for the championship would have likely been among the final two:

The biggest question coming into the final is whether the Buckeyes, which were prepared for just about everything Alabama threw their way, can replicate that against Oregon. There's a big difference between 10 days between games and nearly a month.

That's especially true when talking about the high-flying Ducks offense. It's a group averaging over 47 points per game for the season. They haven't been held below 40 points since their loss to Arizona all the way back in early October.

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports passed along comments from Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer after beating the Tide. He said watching Wisconsin, which the Buckeyes demolished in the Big Ten title game, beat Auburn was a big moment as he tried to build belief within his team:

Maybe the Big Ten's not that bad.

That was a major, major moment for us getting ready for this game. We talked about how strong belief can increase your level of play. Bad belief, or poor belief, can also lower your level of play.

Now he needs to further fortify that belief as they enter another game as a sizable underdog. NumberFire thinks the line may be a bit inflated, however:

The good news for Ohio State is the success of its rushing attack. It put up 281 yards on the ground against the Tide after topping the 300 mark in the conference title game. A similar performance will be necessary to complete yet another upset.

Controlling the pace of the game is crucial against Oregon. Florida State found that out the hard way on New Year's Day. It was a close contest until the Ducks started to find a groove, and from that moment on it was a runaway train the Seminoles couldn't stop.

The Buckeyes must utilize a ground-and-pound approach effectively to have a chance.

As for the Ducks, it comes down to maintaining their level of efficiency. Led by continued strong play from Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, they were able to put up an eye-popping 639 total yards against Florida State.

The presence of Mariota really has been the difference. Success on the ground is what Oregon built its rise on. But having a quarterback who could make big plays through the air, thus keeping opposing defenses honest, has made the unit unstoppable at times.

Since the offense moves at such a rapid pace, the defense is going to give up plenty of yards. The key is forcing turnovers, which it did five times against the Seminoles.

All told, Oregon is clicking on all cylinders and enters the title game as the rightful favorite. Ohio State thrived in the underdog role against Alabama, though.

Expect a memorable College Football Playoff finale.

 

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Is Florida State Still a Playoff Contender Without Jameis Winston?

The Florida State Seminoles were ousted from the first-ever College Football Playoff in embarrassing fashion, losing 59-20 to the Oregon Ducks.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss what is next for the Seminoles in the years to come.

Where will Florida State finish next season? Check out the video and let us know! 

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Nebraska Football: Future Looks Bright with Huskers' 2015 Talent

It's officially 2015. For Nebraska, that doesn't just mean a new year; it also means a new head coach and an opportunity for talent to shine.

The Huskers graduated some stellar seniors with the 2014 season. That includes I-back Ameer Abdullah and wide receiver Kenny Bell. Nebraska is also losing defensive end Randy Gregory to the NFL, per ESPN.com.

What does that mean for the Huskers? While it will mean some growing pains, it also means the talent that's been waiting in the wings will now have a chance to shine. Nebraska has plenty of talent to make the future look bright.

Running backs Imani Cross and Terrell Newby will be tasked with filling the void left by Abdullah. While Abdullah will be a difficult player to replace, Husker fans should feel good about Cross and Newby.

Cross, for example, had some shining moments in 2014. He finished the season with 384 rushing yards on 75 attempts for five touchdowns. His 2012 and 2013 numbers were also strong, showing that he has the potential to really step up for Nebraska in the future.

Cross also carries himself well. The junior is a calm force at postgame press conferences, which will be beneficial to the Huskers as the team looks for new leaders.

Newby will also be a bright spot for the Huskers in 2015. He had 297 yards on 67 attempts for five touchdowns in 2014. With a clearer offensive identity, Newby should grow and become a much smarter player with head coach Mike Riley.

As for the spot Bell leaves behind, Husker fans got a good idea of what Nebraska has with both Jordan Westerkamp and De'Mornay Pierson-El. Both players are young, but they both had stellar moments in 2014. That's enough to get fans excited about their potential.

Westerkamp proved in 2014 that he's willing to do whatever it takes to make a catch. Whether it was leaping or diving for a ball, Westerkamp was willing to do it.

As for Pierson-El, he initially made a name for himself in 2014 on special teams. Many opponents learned not to kick to Pierson-El, who returned three punts for touchdowns.

However, Pierson-El became known for more than just his punt return skills. As a wide receiver, he racked up 321 yards on 23 receptions for four touchdowns. One of those touchdowns came against USC in the Holiday Bowl.

On the defensive side of the ball, losing Gregory is not ideal; however, the Huskers are still in good shape, as The Associated Press' Eric Olson pointed out (via The State): "The defense's strength should remain the front four even without Gregory. Greg McMullen, Vincent Valentine and Maliek Collins are back, and Jack Gangwish played a lot of snaps when Gregory was hurt."

Plus, the Blackshirts will have Nate Gerry. As a safety, he had five interceptions in 2014. He also returned an 85-yard blocked field-goal attempt, which proves Gerry can make the big plays.

The best part? Gerry was only a sophomore in 2014. The offseason will provide him with plenty of time to continue to grow.

Husker fans have to feel good about the talent returning in 2015. The names listed above are only a handful of what Nebraska has to offer. Riley also has to feel good about the talent he has.

It's going to be a long spring and summer before college football returns to Lincoln, Nebraska. Looking at the talent alone, the future looks bright for the Huskers' talent.

 

Stats via ESPN.com unless otherwise noted. 

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Oregon Players to Be Disciplined After Singing 'No Means No' to FSU Warchant

Florida State's "warchant" is ubiquitous.

The Seminoles' chant is played after touchdowns, during timeouts and, for reasons that remain their own, after their opponents' longest plays.

Any team facing Florida State hears the warchant on loop, and Oregon players appeared to have the tune lodged in their collective consciousness after their 59-20 stomping of the undefeated Seminoles at the Rose Bowl on Thursday.

Several Oregon players are now facing internal disciplinary measures for remixing the chant with a "no means no" homage to FSU quarterback Jameis Winston's prior sexual assault allegations.

Here's a Vine of the chant, uploaded by Bleacher Report's Bear Heiser:

According to ESPN.com, Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich plans to reprimand the players involved in the postgame chant. Per the article, "Sophomore linebacker Torrodney Prevot and redshirt freshman Kani Benoit are both visible doing the chant, along with a third player who is wearing a "WON NOT DONE" T-shirt over his game jersey."

"We are aware of inappropriate behavior in the postgame," Helfrich said. "This is not what our program stands for, and the student-athletes will be disciplined internally."

Oregon will face the Ohio State Buckeyes—who upset Alabama 42-35 in the Sugar Bowl on Thursday—in the College Football Playoff National Championship on Monday, Jan. 12.

 

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College Football National Championship 2015: Predictions for Massive Title Clash

How did college football ever live without the playoff?

With each successive change to determine a national champion, the game has improved that little bit. Fans are then left to wonder how anybody ever could've done it differently. With the playoff, you get the sense that a true champion will be revealed in a season that would've been a disaster under the BCS umbrella.

Both Oregon and Ohio State likely would've been overlooked in favor of Alabama and Florida State in past years, and now the two are competing in the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship.

The game itself isn't for nearly two weeks, so there's still a lot of time to really analyze the matchup. But both teams have a large body of work, so forecasting the outcome isn't impossible.

Below are three early predictions for the title battle.

 

Royce Freeman Will Run for Over a Hundred Yards

By his high standards this year, Royce Freeman was a bit subdued in the win over Florida State, rushing for 44 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. In comparison, Thomas Tyner went for 124 yards and two TDs on 13 carries, his first 100-yard game of the year.

Freeman arguably made the bigger statement, though, dragging Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, a potential first-round draft pick, into the end zone on his second touchdown run. The Associated Press' Ralph D. Russo was more than impressed with the freshman's power:

The run was over quickly, but it was a small sample as to how powerful Freeman is and how tough he can be to bring down.

Freeman's not quite a carbon copy of Derrick Henry, but one only needs to have watched Henry's success against the Buckeyes on the ground in the Sugar Bowl to see that the Ducks star can be similarly productive in the national title game. Henry finished with 95 yards on 13 carries.

Had Alabama not frozen him out in the second half, the Tide might have won. It's anybody's guess as to why offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin decided to keep the ball out of the hands of his most productive player.

Heading into the Sugar Bowl, Ohio State gave up an average of 139.8 yards a game (34th in the country), which is good but not great.

The stage is set for Freeman to really put himself on the map.

 

The Buckeyes' Success Will Hinge on Ezekiel Elliott

Throughout the Sugar Bowl, you saw little moments that magnified Cardale Jones being a third-string quarterback making his second career start. Two in particular stand out: the sack on the goal line that was nearly a safety early on and his 11-yard loss on the third down before Alabama's final possession of the game.

A more experienced QB might have been able to at least throw the ball away and avoid losing so much ground.

Jones finished 18-of-35 for 243 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also ran for 43 yards on 17 carries. Most striking about Jones' game was how much he loved dishing out punishment to the defense:

What helped Ohio State the most, though, was the fact that Jones didn't need to win the game all on his own. As was the case in the Big Ten championship, Ezekiel Elliott did the heavy lifting. Between the two games, he's rushed for 450 yards and four touchdowns, per Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman:

The less Jones needs to do in the national championship, the better. He will be making his third career college start, after all, in the biggest game of his career to date.

As long as Elliott's running the ball well and breaking a big play or two, Jones' inexperience won't become a factor.

Slowing down the pace of the game is the easiest way to beat Oregon, too. The Ducks have historically struggled against teams that dominate possession and keep the Ducks offense off the field. If Elliott's consistently eating up yards and moving the chains, Ohio State will dictate the tempo, thus marginalizing two of Oregon's greatest assets—Freeman and Marcus Mariota.

 

Ohio State Will Hang with Oregon in First Half but Fall Behind by Double Digits in Second

Ohio State very easily could've lost the Sugar Bowl. In between Steve Miller's pick-six in the third quarter and Elliott's 85-yard TD run with three minutes and 24 seconds left in the game, the Buckeyes had four drives that all ended in punts and totaled 25 yards.

Had Kiffin not seemingly sabotaged his own team, the Crimson Tide might have tied the game, and who knows what happens from there?

That same kind of dry spell could be fatal against a team like Oregon. The Ducks surged in the second half against Florida State, scoring 27 points in the third quarter and adding 14 more in the fourth.

Entering the Rose Bowl, they were one of the most potent teams offensively after halftime, averaging 20.8 points in the final two quarters (second in the country), according to TeamRankings.com. What's worth noting is that Oregon's second-half scoring average would be likely be even higher if it didn't take its foot off the gas late in a few games after building massive leads in the first half.

And for all of the talk about Ohio State's injuries at quarterback, the Ducks have had to replace their fair share of starters as well. They've handled the issue extremely well all season, especially when it comes to the offensive line.

Only Arizona's found the secret to beating Oregon, and that was during Oregon's worst stretch of the season. As Daniel Berk of the Arizona Daily Star noted, it's almost comical to think back to how fans in Eugene were so downtrodden after that loss:

Since November, the Ducks have won by an average of 32 points. Even Urban Meyer couldn't believe how much they manhandled Florida State, via Sports Illustrated College Football:

The margin for error is so small against Oregon. Not only is the Ducks offense among the best in the country, but it's turned the ball over now 10 times, which is still the fewest in the country.

The critique could be made that the final score inflated how good Oregon truly was in the win over Florida State, but the Ducks systematically dismantled the only unbeaten remaining Power-Five team.

Ohio State will stay competitive with Oregon through the first three quarters of the game, but the Ducks will score a couple of touchdowns in the fourth quarter and coast until the final whistle.

 

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

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Sugar Bowl 2015: Highlights and Standout Players from Ohio State vs. Alabama

Heading into the regular season, Ohio State was forced to resort to a backup quarterback in J.T. Barrett. Prior to the Big Ten Championship Game, Barrett's injury forced Cardale Jones to take over the role for the Buckeyes.

Just two starts into his young career, Jones is now 2-0 with wins over Wisconsin and No. 1 Alabama. The sophomore led the Buckeyes to a massive comeback win over the Crimson Tide, 42-35, in the Sugar Bowl.

Now, he has a shot to win a conference championship and a national title in his first three starts. That's real life.

Jones finished with a slightly subdued 243 passing yards, 43 rushing yards, one touchdown and one interception. That came after his three-touchdown performance against the Wisconsin Badgers to lead Ohio State in two straight games with a total of 101 points between the two contests.

ESPN Stats & Info gives a shocking stat on just how tremendous the comeback was for Jones and the Buckeyes:

Along with Jones, yet another quarterback might have also emerged for OSU late in the second quarter. He's not exactly listed on the depth chart as a QB, but Evan Spencer's strike to Michael Thomas—two wide receivers—was a thing of beauty.

When watching the play back, it's difficult to figure out which is better, the pass or the footwork. Both were captured by ESPN College Football:

It might have been Jones that proved he is able to lead the Buckeyes, but running back Ezekiel Elliott showed he is here to stay. The sophomore running back had 220 rushing yards in the Big Ten Championship Game and followed that up with 230 against the vaunted Alabama defense.

His biggest run of the night came in the fourth quarter on the biggest play allowed by the Crimson Tide's defense all season. ESPN provides a look at the 85-yard touchdown that helped turn the tide for OSU late in the game:

Ohio State's official Twitter account notes the run helped set a record for the Sugar Bowl:

Led by two sophomores on the offensive side of the ball, Ohio State heads into the final game of the season with its national title hopes still intact. That not only speaks to the talent of the two young players but also to the coaching job that Urban Meyer has done down the stretch.

The Buckeyes lost early in the season in a surprising result to Virginia Tech. Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times pointed out the wild turnaround for OSU:

This time around, it was Alabama and Nick Saban that were left dejected rather than Meyer. The two coaches have now faced off four times, with the series now evened up at 2-2 thanks to Meyer's triumph Thursday night.

Following the game, Saban voiced his thoughts to Cecil Hurt of The Tuscaloosa News:

Meanwhile, Meyer faces yet another tough test in the final game against Oregon. The Ducks trounced a previously undefeated Florida State team 59-20 to earn the right to face Ohio State.

Meyer's reaction to finding out about Oregon's win was priceless, as Nicole Auerbach of USA Today passed along:

After facing Heisman finalists Melvin Gordon and Amari Cooper in subsequent games, the Buckeyes defense will now be tasked with Marcus Mariota.

At this point, no one is doubting the Buckeyes, Meyer, Elliott or Jones. If they can slay the Ducks on Jan. 12, no one will ever forget them.

 

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Rose Bowl 2015: Highlights and Standout Players from Oregon vs. Florida State

The Rose Bowl saw the clash of two Heisman winners in what promised to be an epic matchup.

In the end, one quarterback showed up while the other came well short of the mark in a blowout win for Oregon over Florida State 59-20.

Marcus Mariota, the most recent Heisman winner, was the man who showed up on the big stage for the Ducks. On the heels of a phenomenal season, the Oregon signal-caller appears to have done everything this season, as SportsCenter notes:

Rather than the game being an entertaining one for fans, it turned out to be a boat race for the Ducks. Not only was Mariota showing out, but his entire running back corps was special. Thomas Tyner put up 124 total yards and two scores, while Royce Freeman finished with 44 yards and two touchdowns of his own.

Tyner proved why he is considered a special running back on New Year's Day by exploding with just one more carry than Freeman. The freshman might have outperformed him during the regular season, but Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com points out how great Tyner would be for any other team:

That's likely one of the scariest parts for an Ohio State team that will be facing Oregon in the national championship game. Not only is Freeman firing on all cylinders, but Tyner has the potential to breakout at any point.

ESPN provides a highlight of Tyner's second touchdown on the night during the rout:

For the Ducks, Tyner and Freeman are only two thirds of the equation. Mariota's running ability—he had 62 yards and a score on the ground on Thursday night—makes this a three-headed monster.

On the other side, the heartache was very real for the Seminoles. Two straight undefeated seasons came to a shocking end with the lopsided loss, with one moment from Winston capping off the horrid night.

Winston scrambled to get away from a sack and ultimately stumbled, fumbled and got chewed out by coach Jimbo Fisher. Cork Gaines of Business Insider and Adam Lefkoe of Bleacher Report provide videos of the play and reaction from Fisher:

To top it all off, Oregon players mocked the quarterback following the win, via AP Top 25:

Oregon continues riding high into the national championship game. If the Ducks can find ways to exploit the Ohio State defense in similar fashion, Jan. 12 might see yet another huge celebration for the Pac-12 champions.

 

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Cotton Bowl 2015: Highlights and Reaction from Michigan State vs. Baylor

Looking to make a statement after missing out on the College Football Playoff, Baylor came out and throttled Michigan State—for three quarters. It was the fourth quarter that left the Bears reeling after a 42-41 comeback win for the Spartans in the Cotton Bowl.

Bleacher Report noted the final score and reaction from quarterback Connor Cook:

The Spartans quarterback didn't put together as spectacular of a night as Bryce Petty, but he led his team back with 21 points in the final quarter. Cook finished the night 24-of-42 for 314 passing yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Both of those passing touchdowns, of course, came in the final 13 minutes of the game. His biggest pass of the night was on the final drive with 17 seconds remaining on a strike to Keith Mumphery. Adam Biggers of Bleacher Report passes along a look at the score:

On the other side was Petty, who seemingly cruised during the first half and had the game in hand after three quarters. The senior finished his career with the school with four total touchdowns and just one interception before the fateful fourth quarter started.

His 550 passing yards on the night were enough to score 41 points but not enough to pull out the win. Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports points out just how sensational his night was against the Michigan State defense:

Already leading by a considerable mark after the first half, Petty decided not to take his foot off the throttle. ESPN College Football passes along a highlight of the second touchdown pass to KD Cannon:

The huge fourth quarter for Michigan State led to a bit of redemption for the Big Ten as well. Ohio State would cap the night with a huge win over No. 1 Alabama, but it was the Spartans that got the memorable day started for the conference.

Both teams combined to set a bit of history in the game as well. By eclipsing the 500-yard mark for each program, the two offenses set a Cotton Bowl record, via the bowl's official Twitter account:

No player had a more unforgettable touchdown than LaQuan McGowan, a 6'7", 390-pound offensive lineman. Petty threw an 18-yard pass to the big man and the rest was history. Cork Gaines of Business Insider shared the literally huge touchdown for McGowan:

Unfortunately, that wouldn't be enough for the Bears, as the fun ended after that score. A full 21 unanswered points later, Sparty walked away with a statement win to close out the season.

Given the fact that Cook will be back next season for the Spartans, there is a chance they might make some serious noise in the Big Ten and return to the spotlight next January. Ohio State came away with the biggest win of the day for the conference, but Michigan State's victory was equally as impressive.

 

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Army All-American Bowl 2015: Top Recruits and Storylines to Watch

There are still teams in college football preparing to play a bowl game, but coaches and scouts will have their hands full January 3 when the nation's best high school recruits make their way to San Antonio, Texas, for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. 

Of all the showcase events for recruits, the Army All-American Bowl is the most high profile and provides the biggest stage to make that one statement in order to lock down a scholarship offer from the school they most want to attend. 

Recruiting season is entering the home stretch before national signing day February 4. There's a lot on the line for everyone, even in an exhibition setting, so expect to see a high-caliber game and the future of college football represented well. 

 

The Uncertain Future of Martez Ivey

Martez Ivey, who is listed as the No. 1 overall recruit, was supposed to make one school's fanbase very happy this weekend. The big offensive tackle was poised to announce his decision Saturday, but he has opted to keep things open. 

According to Wesley Sinor of AL.com, citing a 247Sports report, Ivey wants to wait until LSU and Auburn are able to meet with him on his turf: "He is reportedly holding off because of upcoming in-home visits from Auburn and LSU. It now appears he will wait until National Signing Day to make his decision public. Ivey has been split between Auburn and Florida for months. His best friend and teammate, Chandler Cox, is committed to Auburn."

That could signal bad news for Florida, though the Gators are close to Ivey's home in Apopka and have settled their coaching situation with the hiring of Jim McElwain in December. 

Most of the top recruits in the country aren't going to commit until national signing day because they like to take as much time as possible to hear all of the pitches, and it brings them more media attention. Ivey is just playing the game, like so many others before him have done. 

Still, landing the top-ranked high school recruit would be a major boon to McElwain's initial class as head coach at Florida. He's got time to work on things, but he will be tested by two other SEC powerhouse programs. 

 

Devonaire Clarington's Decision

Even though Ivey will make everyone wait to hear what school lies in his future, star tight end Devonaire Clarington has no reservations about making up his mind Saturday. 

Clarington, who is a 4-star recruit and is the fourth-ranked tight end in the 2015 class, tweeted on December 23 that his decision would be made at the Army All-American Game:

The schools Clarington will decide between include Texas, Miami, Florida and LSU. The Hurricanes have the home-field advantage, as the star prospect is from Miami and plays at Booker T. Washington High School. 

Texas has been the most active recruiter. Clarington had an official visit to the school November 7 and two different visits from Longhorns assistant coach Chris Vaughn in December.

Clarington does have an official visit to LSU scheduled for January 16, though that will obviously change depending on what his decision ends up being. The Miami native already looks like a pass-catching monster at 6'5" and 222 pounds, but there's room for him to add more strength to overpower college defenders. 

Whatever Clarington's decision, he's going to make one school very happy and lethal in the passing game when he arrives on campus. 

 

Donte Jackson's Last Stand

It's one thing to be a standout during practice and another to carry that talent over into games. Few players have drawn reviews in the week leading up to the game comparable to star athlete Donte Jackson. 

Barton Simmons of 247Sports wrote in his practice notes from Monday that Jackson was dazzling as a cornerback and a wide receiver: "Jackson looked five-starish on Monday. He has an Adoree' Jackson skill set and like Jackson he made plays on both sides of the ball. He was the most natural cornerback and had the best break on the football. Whe he swung over to the offensive side of the ball, he won every rep we saw."

Simmons notes that Jackson has "looked five-starish" because the website has him listed as a 4-star player and the No. 7 athlete in the class. Everyone ahead of Jackson has committed, so his performance will only increase the desperation to get him signed. 

Andrew Lopez of The New Orleans Times-Picayune noted that Saturday should see Jackson doing a little bit of everything on the field:

He's been a lockdown cornerback and when he switches to offense, shows some of the best burst of any of the wide receivers in attendance. I could forsee a game where Jackson makes plays on offense, defense and in the punt return game where he should get a chance to make an impact. Don't be surprised to see Jackson rise in the national recruiting rankings when this week is done.

Since Jackson is from New Orleans, it's not a surprise that LSU is on his short list of schools. Georgia is also listed as a serious player for his services so the SEC figures to get one of the premiere athletes and arguably the fastest-rising player from this week. 

Jackson's versatility on both sides of the ball, as well as his ability to contribute on special teams, will be one of the key aspects of the All-American Bowl. He's got everyone eating out of his hands right now, so don't expect anything less than a dazzling effort when the game starts. 

 

Recruiting rankings and information via 247Sports unless otherwise noted. 

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