NCAA Football News

Central Michigan Comes Up with Potential Game-Tying TD on Hail Mary, Laterals

When a team needs a touchdown on the final play of a game, it usually resorts to either a Hail Mary or a short pass followed by a series of laterals. Central Michigan found a way to combine the two strategies to get the job done.

Central Michigan trailed Western Kentucky 49-42 with one second remaining in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl and needed 75 yards to tie the game.

Chippewas quarterback Cooper Rush connected with Jesse Kroll on a Hail Mary. Then, a series of laterals began. Titus Davis was the one who eventually found his way into the end zone, which was his fourth touchdown of the game.

The wild touchdown capped off an insane comeback by Central Michigan. The Chippewas had trailed the Hilltoppers 49-14 with just under 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. However, they did not complete the comeback.

Feeling lucky, Central Michigan went for the win. Cooper's fade pass to the back of the end zone fell incomplete on the two-point conversion, putting an end to the wild game.

With the 49-48 victory, Western Kentucky got its first bowl win in school history.

[cjzerovids]

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Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky: 2014 Bahamas Bowl Score, Twitter Reaction

Central Michigan did everything possible to climb back into the inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, but it wouldn't be enough. A late Hail Mary that went for a touchdown gave the Chippewas a chance, but Western Kentucky shut down a two-point conversion for the 49-48 win.

Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty capped off his memorable season with the Christmas Eve bowl victory. The senior finished the game with five passing touchdowns after leading the nation during the regular season.

ESPN College Football provides the final play and result from Nassau, Bahamas:

Doughty shined on the big stage by throwing for three or more touchdowns in his ninth game this season. Going 31-of-42 for 486 passing yards, Doughty connected with five different players for touchdowns, including Willie McNeal, who had 155 receiving yards.

Doughty's numbers alone in the last three games are more than several programs on the entire year, via ESPN Stats and Info:

Prior to the game, Central Michigan coach Dan Enos spoke about the caliber of quarterback his team would be facing, via Nate Schneider of The Morning Sun:

I think he is the best (quarterback) we’ve played all year. ...He doesn’t get rattled. He gets hit a lot and you can’t tell from play to play because he doesn’t get nervous in there. His posture is very good in the pocket. He’s not a great runner, but he’s strong and can extend plays a little bit. He understands what they are doing really well offensively and they do a good job with him.

The first drives for both teams ended well with two consecutive passing touchdowns. Doughty connected with Jared Dangerfield for a 14-yard touchdown, while Cooper Rush's strike to Titus Davis for 21 yards ended in the end zone.

Rush finished the game with a more impressive stat line than Doughty at 28-of-45 for 493 passing yards, 25 rushing yards, seven touchdowns and one interception. Those numbers were overshadowed by Doughty, but Rush ended a great sophomore season with optimism for the future.

His seven touchdown passes tied a bowl record, as Michael David Smith of Pro Football Focus noted:

After the first drive, it was nearly all Hilltoppers to close out the half. Doughty finished the half with five passing touchdowns and nearly had a rushing touchdown that was called back and eventually run in by Leon Allen.

College GameDay provided a look at his first-half statistics:

Allen's numbers also helped make history along with Doughty, as Chad Bishop of the Bowling Green Daily News pointed out:

The blowout was already in full effect at the point, but Central Michigan wouldn't just lie down for the second half. The Chippewas chipped away at the lead as Rush led three fourth-quarter drives that resulted in passing touchdowns.

Davis caught another three touchdowns along with his 142 total yards, while Courtney Williams hauled in his second of the day after tallying one during the second quarter. However, the deficit was just about insurmountable at that point, and Western Kentucky held on late.

Smith described the atmosphere in Nassau at the end of the game:

The last-ditch Hail Mary toss by Rush was lateraled multiple times before Davis scored a touchdown. However, the two-point effort meant the Chippewas would fall short of the epic comeback.

Despite the disappointing finish for Central Michigan, the program still has plenty of potential for next season. Rush will lose his top two receivers and tight end Deon Butler, but he still has several young targets who can fill in those roles.

Having Doughty back for another year of eligibility means the Hilltoppers have their best offensive weapon back in the fold. Having two running backs in Allen and Anthony Wales back, WKU's offense promises to be just as exciting next year.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Santa Claus Delivers Scholarship to Western Michigan Walk-on

Given that it's the holiday season, there was only one way for Western Michigan to present walk-on Grant DePalma with a scholarship.

Santa Claus crashed a Broncos team meeting and handed coach P.J. Fleck a present. That's when Fleck called fellow linebacker Austin Lewis up to the front to give DePalma a life-changing gift.

Santa never disappoints.

[Bronco Video, h/t Dr. Saturday]

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Dalvin Cook Linked to Aggravated Assault Investigation: Latest Details, Reaction

Florida State running back Dalvin Cook is being investigated as an associate in an aggravated assault incident by Tallahassee police following a July situation.

ESPN's Brett McMurphy first reported the case:

The Tallahassee Police Department also issued a statement confirming the veracity of the case, citing an ESPN FOIA request regarding Florida State football players. Public records show ESPN requested potential arrest records of 360 Florida State athletes though Cook is the only one named. Another closed case involving an unnamed former player was also mentioned, but the TPD declined to offer the student-athlete's name or give case details.

"We are committed to ensuring that every citizen of this community, including our university students, know that we take every report of possible criminal activity seriously," Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo said. "We also have an obligation, under state law, to respond to national media requests such as this and have done so professionally and with a commitment to openness.

Cook, a true freshman from Miami, rushed for 905 yards and eight touchdowns during the regular season. He was named the ACC Championship Game Most Valuable Player after rushing for 177 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries in the Seminoles' 37-35 win over Georgia Tech. As the season has progressed, Cook has taken an increased role and for large chucks supplanted senior running back Karlos Williams.

The Seminoles' level of knowledge about the case is unclear. According to records released, Cook is listed as an "associate" in an altercation where two men brandished firearms at another resident. Aggravated assault cases involving guns in Florida are subject to a minimum three-year prison sentence if found guilty. 

The case against Cook is still ongoing. Neither DeLeo nor the Tallahassee Police Department offered further details on the investigation.

Florida State has not indicated whether the case will affect Cook's status for the College Football Playoff. The Seminoles play Oregon at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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Jim McElwain's Doug Nussmeier Hire at Florida Does Not Inspire

The pieces of new Florida head coach Jim McElwain's coaching staff are coming together, and the latest one to be added to the puzzle is a familiar face.

Doug Nussmeier—who helped lead the Alabama Crimson Tide to a national title in 2012—has joined McElwain's staff in Gainesville as the new offensive coordinator of the Gators, according to Gatorzone.com, fresh off a rather unsuccessful one-year stint on Brady Hoke's former staff at Michigan.

"I’m excited to reunite with Coach Mac—we obviously have a long history and share similar philosophies," Nussmeier said in a quote emailed by Florida. "I’m honored to join The Gator Nation and work for one of the most storied programs in all of college football."

A home run hire? Hardly.

It's more like a bloop single.

Nussmeier's Michigan offense finished next-to-last in the Big Ten in total offense (333.0 yards per game) and scoring offense (20.9 points per game), and 11th in yards per play (5.32). Quarterback Devin Gardner threw 15 picks and only 10 touchdowns, and backup Shane Morris wasn't much better, throwing three interceptions without finding the end zone once.

His work at Alabama was better.

The Crimson Tide finished sixth in the SEC in total offense in 2013 (454.1 yards per game) and second in yards per play (7.15), and quarterbacks combined to throw more than 30 touchdown passes in each of his two seasons. For comparison, Florida didn't combine to throw 30 touchdown passes over the last two seasons combined (27).

That's great, but is a coach who wasn't exactly missed when he left the SEC the first time really he who Florida needs to run the offense?

Nope.

The Gators program became synonymous with stale offenses under former head coach Will Muschamp, and fixing that very issue was the primary reason Saban brought in Lane Kiffin to follow Nussmeier at Alabama.

Crimson Tide tight end Brian Vogler told B/R's Lars Anderson in November that a more open offense and more fun are two primary differences between Kiffin and Nussmeier's offenses at Alabama.

We're having more fun this year and coach Kiffin is a big reason why. He's opened up the offense. He really understands what players do well and he puts them in positions to succeed. And having him on the field has been key because he listens to us during games and takes our suggestions. It makes all of us feel like we're really part of the offense and part of something special.   

"Opening things up?" "Having more fun?"

Those sound like the exact things that McElwain needs to remedy in Gainesville, not replicate.

Plus, the timing of this hire is bizarre.

Scott Roussel of FootballScoop.com said on his radio show (3:20 mark) on Sunday that Alabama wide receivers coach Billy Napier was the name to watch, but that, obviously, nothing could transpire until after Alabama's playoff run ends.

So why Nussmeier, and why now?

It's not like he's a fresh name on the coaching scene. He had been available ever since Hoke was fired on Dec. 2, and it's not like he was getting any top head coaching offers during the holiday season.

Did something change in Florida's search that forced Florida to land on Nussmeier? If he was the top choice all along, what took so long?

Florida isn't getting a fresh start with Nussmeier, it's getting more of the same, just with a slightly different twist.

 

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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Clemson Football: Burning Questions Ahead of the Tigers' Bowl Game

The Clemson Tigers and Oklahoma Sooners are set to square off in the Russell Athletic Bowl on December 29, but there are many questions surrounding the matchup.

A very good Oklahoma offensive line will face one of the best defensive lines in the country, so this game could be won or lost in the trenches.

The ultimate question mark for the Tigers is the offense. Without Deshaun Watson—who will miss the bowl game due to ACL surgery—the unit hasn’t performed well, but the Tigers will likely have to find a way to score points.

This is an Oklahoma offense that averages almost 40 points per game, and recently injured quarterback Trevor Knight will be available for the bowl game.

Let’s take a look at the burning questions ahead of the Tigers’ final game.

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Alabama Football: The Return of Bo Scarbrough

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Arguably the biggest news to come from Alabama’s pre-Christmas Sugar Bowl practices had nothing to do with anything that will affect that actual game, or any other game the Crimson Tide may play this postseason.

No, it came in the form of a 6’2”, 235-pound running back, an early Christmas present, if you will, for Nick Saban and his Alabama team.

Bo Scarbrough was going through drills with the running backs on Dec. 16, finally academically eligible after a whirlwind clearing process.

Scarbrough, a 5-star athlete originally from Tuscaloosa’s Northridge High School, transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, for his senior year. He had been committed to Alabama’s 2014 class since September 2012.

He was announced as a member of that class on national signing day, but never showed up on campus. Saban in early August said that Alabama had an appeal in place that “will take some time.”

That process appears to be behind Alabama now.

“Once a guy finishes all the things that he has to do by NCAA rules and is admitted to school, he's eligible to practice,” Saban said after that first day of Sugar Bowl practice. “He can't play. So while we're practicing here, he can participate in practices. This was his first day.”

Like Saban said, Scarbrough won’t be able to play with the team in New Orleans, or travel at all, but he can practice, giving himself a leg up even on class of 2015 early enrollees.

And looking at the roster, Scarbrough may have a chance to come in and play right away in 2015.

Scarbrough is an electric athlete and could succeed at a number of positions.

His primary options are likely on offense, at running back, wide receiver or H-back.

He likely is at running back right now out of necessity. Alabama lost Kenyan Drake for the year to a leg injury, and the team has been limiting T.J. Yeldon to give him a little bit more rest after a grueling season.

So it’s a numbers game for Scarbrough right now. Derrick Henry, Jalston Fowler and Tyren Jones are Alabama’s fully healthy backs right now, leaving few options for scout team work. Scarbrough was wearing Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott’s No. 15, so he’s already contributing in some fashion.

“Bo looked pretty good,” Fowler said after that first practice. “Those fresh legs were moving today. Everybody was just out there today, 'There goes those fresh legs.' He was moving so fast. And everybody else was just like—it was crazy though.”

But come 2015, he’ll have a lot of options.

He could end up settling in at running back. Yeldon is expected to go pro as a junior, as has become a trend for running backs looking to get to the next level with as little wear and tear as possible.

That would leave Henry, Drake and Jones as returning backs with significant game experience. And there’s somewhat of a long shot that Drake could turn pro, too, not wanting to risk another injury like Vinnie Sunseri the year before him.

Scarbrough could find a way to crack that kind of a running back rotation.

He could, though, have better luck at receiver.

Heisman finalist and Biletnikoff winner Amari Cooper is another expected early draft entrant. Around him, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones will be out of eligibility. That means Alabama will be looking to replace its top three wide receivers.

The next three options there currently on the roster would likely be ArDarius Stewart, Chris Black and Cam Sims. Those three have seen some playing time in spots this season when the previous three have been hurt or just for some fresh legs. But none of those options is a proven, slam dunk lock for playing time next year either.

Scarbrough could step in and have an impact in some sort of way.

If he wanted to make a fairly drastic change, he would probably have the most opportunities as a tight end or H-back.

Senior tight end Brian Vogler will be gone, and O.J. Howard is the only consistent option right now behind him.

On signing day, Alabama listed Scarbrough at 235 pounds. Alabama doesn’t have a tight end on its current roster listed at under 240 pounds. Scarbrough would have to add some mass as well as significantly hone his blocking if he wanted to play at that position. But it could offer him the quickest route to playing time.

If Scarbrough makes an impact on the team for the Sugar Bowl, it will be behind the scenes, giving the defense a talented, if raw, athlete to go up against in its on-campus preparations.

But 2015 will be his first crack at a tangible impact. And he will have plenty of options to do so.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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The One Player Each Big Ten Team Will Miss Most in 2015

No matter who declares (or doesn't declare) for the 2015 NFL draft, the Big Ten is set to lose a fair amount of talent.

Decisions from projected first-round picks such as Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory and Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun could change things, but the senior class was strong enough that each team will sorely miss at least one player regardless of how the early-entry process plays out.

This list separated the "most missed player" from the "best player" by accounting for context. If a team is losing its best player at a position where it doesn't have a logical replacement, its best player might also be its most missed.

But if it's losing its best player at a position where it does have a logical replacement, he might not be.

We also made an effort to only include seniors and players who have declared for the NFL draft, so as not to be presumptuous.

Sound off below and let us know whom you would add!

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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.

 

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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

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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

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