NCAA Football News

Miami Football: Holiday Wish List for the Hurricanes

What's on your Christmas list? Well, if the Miami Hurricanes football program made one, ol' Saint Nick would be reading an extensive report of necessities.

But instead of highlighting all the minor issues surrounding the team, let's focus on five holiday wishes for the 'Canes.

Now, each once included actually has a somewhat-realistic nature, so far-fetched dreams like a brand-new on-campus stadium are not included. Sorry, folks. It ain't happening, nor is Santa Claus bringing one down the chimney.

Rip off the wrapping paper, and check out what's inside Miami's list. Next year, we'll find out if the Hurricanes were naughty or nice.

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USC Football: Holiday Wish List for the Trojans

The 2014 campaign was something of a feeling-out period for USC football. First-year head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff worked with a young Trojans roster, and they navigated a road with its share of bumps.

The coming offseason is a pivotal one for Sarkisian. It took much of this past year for the program to discover its personality, which wide receiver John "JuJu" Smith said is "great."

"When [negative] stuff goes down...and then [our ability to keep] bouncing back, it's great," he said.

If this year was about the Trojans discovering their identity under Sarkisian, next year is about building upon what they learned.

Prospects for a breakout 2015 season are bright and could only get brighter in the coming months, so long as a few things break in the Trojans' favor.

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Jalen Merrick Names His Top 3: Which Program Is Best Fit for 4-Star OL?

Considering that Jalen Merrick is an early enrollee who is weeks away from beginning his college career, the time is rapidly approaching for the 4-star prospect to make a decision.

He took a step forward in that direction over the weekend when he announced a top three of Arkansas, Florida and Florida State, according to Christopher Nee of Noles247 (subscription required).

All three of his finalists have a need for offensive linemen in the 2015 cycle—with each school already having at least two prospects already committed at the position.

However, can Arkansas pull one of the best players in the Sunshine State away from the Gators and the Seminoles? Also, which program of the three programs provides the best fit for Merrick?

 

Arkansas

Since Bret Bielema arrived in Fayetteville, he's transformed the Razorbacks into a program whose offensive identity is shaped by its powerful ground attack.

That message was reiterated to Merrick on his visit to Arkansas, as noted by Ryan Bartow of 247Sports (subscription required).

"Coach Bielema said he's inverting things at Arkansas like they did at Wisconsin," Merrick told Bartow. "They have a huge, huge emphasis on the offensive line. [Razorbacks offensive line] coach [Sam] Pittman isn't afraid to play true freshmen."

In terms of scheme fit, Merrick's skill set complements the Hogs physical mentality in the trenches.

However, as Ourlads shows, the Razorbacks are scheduled to lose only one offensive lineman to graduation this year. The flipside to that is that two true freshmen were able to crack the two-deep this year.

Heading to Fayetteville would give Merrick a chance to compete against some of the country's top defensive linemen in a loaded SEC West.

 

Florida

If the opportunity to play right away is critical to Merrick, no depth chart in the country can possibly be more appealing than the one in Gainseville.

With junior Tyler Moore already announcing his decision to enter the NFL draft and fellow junior D.J. Humphries considering making a similar jump, new head coach Jim McElwain could field a line unit with only three players returning from the team's two-deep this season.

However, the uncertainty surrounding the rest of McElwain's staff could hurt the Gators' chances with Merrick.

"I'm cautious with Florida with their new staff, but I'm still considering them because I like the environment," Merrick told Bartow earlier this month (subscription required).

While there are positives in the Gators favor, unless current Gators offensive line coach Mike Summers is retained by McElwain, it's hard to imagine him deciding on heading to Gainesville without having developed a relationship with his future position coach.

  

Florida State

While Arkansas provides Merrick with a great scheme fit and Florida has the need for big bodies to step in and play early, Florida State appears to merge those two factors better than his other two finalists.

The 'Noles will lose four offensive linemen due to graduation. Another plus is that Seminoles offensive line coach Rick Trickett is among the nation's best at developing talent at his position.

As Merrick told Bartow (subscription required), Trickett was highly impressed with what he saw out of Merrick during his summer camp visit to Tallahassee.

Coach Trickett was still raving about my camp performance. He said he's coached 42 years and I was the best looking offensive lineman he's seen go through agility drills. He has high expectations for me. He wants to make sure I'm the best. He said they are losing four offensive linemen so I'd have the chance to play early.

With that type of endorsement from Trickett, it's clear that FSU holds his abilities in high regard.

 

The Pick

Each of Merrick's final choices present an opportunity for him to find success at the next level.

However, considering factors such as location, playing time, coaching stability and opportunity, Florida State gets the slight nod over Arkansas as the option that provides the best fit for Merrick.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Postseason Awards for 2014 College Football Freshmen

After two straight years in which a freshman won the Heisman Trophy, the biggest awards in college football went across the board to non-first-year players this season.

But the lack of major hardware was misleading for a freshman class that played as well as any group in recent memory. Some positions were stronger than others, but on the whole the 2014 class had both superstars and depth to spare.

Which got us thinking: Why not hand out their own major national awards?

No freshman played well enough to beat Melvin Gordon for the Doak Walker Award, but plenty played well enough to win the Freshman Doak Walker Award. No freshman played well enough to beat Scooby Wright for the Chuck Bednarik Award, but plenty played well enough to win the Freshman Chuck Bednarik Award.

The list that follows is a subjective ballot for the Freshman College Football Awards—the way I would have voted for each trophy if (a) I had a vote and (b) only first-year players were eligible.

Statistics played a major role but were overruled in matters where level of competition or tape study made a difference.

Sound off below and let me know where you agree or disagree!

 

Note: All recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings.

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Will Oregon Contain Jameis Winston and the Florida State Offense?

The 2015 Rose Bowl features the two past Heisman Trophy winners, powerful offenses and defensive units that don't get enough credit. Mix in a berth in the college football championship game, and you have yourself one memorable football game. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer break down the game and dish out their predictions for the Rose Bowl.

Who will win: Oregon or Florida State? Check out the video and let us know!  

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Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel Shows Up to Team's 'NFL Day' in Style

Apparently, Missouri's "NFL Day" isn't just for the players.

The Tigers' NFL Day tradition allows the players to wear whatever they want during the team's final on-campus practice of the season. It's a lot easier for the players to feel comfortable wearing whatever they want when their coach participates as well.

This year, Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel showed up to NFL Day with some big-time swagger. Let's just say his players loved the look.

Here's a closer look at Pinkel's outfit:

The 62-year-old coach has some serious style.

[Gary Pinkel, Mizzou Football; h/t ESPN]

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Watch the Best High School Football Plays of 2014

The 2014 high school football season produced some memorable moments. From outstanding punt returns and wild catches to extreme trick plays, this season had it all. 

Bleacher Report scoured through all the plays and compiled the best plays from the 2014 season in the video above. 

What was the best play of the 2014 season?

 

*Highlights courtesy of Hudl 

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Miami Beach Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for BYU vs. Memphis

Memphis 24, BYU 21 — Late 2nd quarter

Game action is now underway between BYU (8-4) and Memphis (9-3). ESPN is televising the matchup nationally from Marlins Park in Miami, Florida.

We are watching the game, providing live analysis as the action unfolds:

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Forbes Announces 2014's Most Valuable College Football Teams

The University of Texas football program will finish outside the Top 25 for the fourth time in five seasons in 2014. Regardless, according to a valuation from Forbes, the Longhorns still sit atop the standings where it really counts: the bank account. 

The magazine listed Texas atop its rankings of the most valuable college football programs Monday, estimating its worth at $131 million. That comes on the back of a $74 million profit buoyed by the Longhorn Network, Big 12 television contracts and perhaps the largest donor base in the nation.

Texas is valued at $9 million more than the next highest school, Notre Dame, which proves on-field excellence is not always the reason for high revenue. None of the three programs sitting atop the list (Michigan is No. 3) have won a national championship since Texas in 2005. Michigan has not won an outright national championship since 1948 while Notre Dame's last title came under Lou Holtz in 1988.

Note: The remainder of the list can be found at Forbes.com.

The list becomes far more representative of recent excellence after the initial trio. Alabama, currently the nation's biggest power, is one of four straight SEC schools following Michigan. LSU, Auburn and Tennessee—the latter an outlier but still a more recent champion than Notre Dame or Michigan—follow the Crimson Tide.

Tenth-ranked Georgia gives the SEC five of the 10 most valuable programs. Overall, nine of the SEC's 14 programs appear in the top 20—by far the most in the nation. The Big Ten is second with five schools (Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan State). Despite its on-field success, the Pac-12 did not place a single team higher than No. 14 Washington and had only three teams on the list (No. 19 USC and No. 20 Oregon).

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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SEC Football: Holiday Wish List for Every Team

The holiday season is here, and SEC teams are hoping they earned spots on Santa Claus' "nice list."

When St. Nick comes down the chimney of SEC football teams, fans hope he brings them all of the items on their wish lists.

Which presents top the list for each SEC program?

The holiday wish list for every SEC program is in this slideshow.

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Michigan Football: Holiday Wish List for the Wolverines

Michigan fans are sulking at home while rivals Michigan State and Ohio State are both Top 10 teams in major postseason bowls. It’ll be a long offseason in Ann Arbor as the team searches for both a new coach and a permanent athletic director.

Here’s a wish list that could brighten up Michigan’s holiday season.

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Bowl Games 2014-15: Schedule and Predictions for Most Anticipated Games

Coming off a wild college football season, the bowl season has already started with a bang.

Teams like Utah and Utah State have already clinched convincing wins to cap off their seasons. However, most fans are awaiting the biggest bowl games New Year's Eve and Day.

The College Football Playoff features four deserving teams battling for a chance to make the national championship game. Meanwhile, Baylor, TCU and several others will look to end their seasons on a high note in the selection committee games.

Here's a look at the schedule and predictions for the biggest bowl games yet to be played.

 

Playoff Prediction

Let's be honest. While the Big 12 likely did deserve a team in the semifinals, four of the best teams made the final bracket. Alabama, Oregon and Florida State were convincing all season while Ohio State did exactly what it needed to contend for a title.

The Buckeyes might be underdogs coming into the matchup with the mighty Crimson Tide, but they have a secret weapon in Ezekiel Elliott. Well, maybe "secret" isn't the right word after he dismantled Wisconsin's defense for a Big Ten title-game record 220 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

Even with his sensational year with over 1,600 all-purpose yards for Ohio State, Elliott feels he has more in the tank. The sophomore spoke about his success and expectations, via Doug Lesmerises of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

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.

After being overshadowed by Carlos Hyde last season, Elliott has a shot to make a name for himself on the big stage. Going against a stout defense like Alabama's, however, will be a tough task for the dynamic tailback.

The Tide come in allowing the fourth-least points per game while OSU ranks 11th in rushing yards per game and fourth in scoring offense. Alabama's offense might be the difference-maker, with Amari Cooper looking to win a second title.

Out on the West Coast, Oregon and Florida State will do battle for the Rose Bowl. The matchup obviously features the last two Heisman Trophy winners, but Marcus Mariota has been the equivalent of Winston from last season during the Seminoles' title run.

ESPN Stats & Info points out how effective he has been and compares him to other quarterbacks:

Winston hasn't been as consistent as he was in his freshman campaign, but the Noles have found a way to win every game. Given FSU's ability to close, Oregon will need to jump out to a big lead with Mariota leading the way.

The two signal-callers will have the spotlight firmly placed on them, but the running game will steal the show. Both Royce Freeman and Dalvin Cook have put together outstanding freshman seasons and will be game-changers for the Ducks and Noles, respectively.

At the end of the two semifinals, the explosive offenses for Alabama and Oregon will propel them to the final game on Jan. 12. Depending on who shows out on New Year's Day, predicting a winner for the showdown will be as tough as any recent championship game.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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LSU Football: Holiday Wishlist for the Tigers

LSU fans have plenty to be thankful for this holiday season. 

Sure, the Tigers were not at their best in 2014. This season will the first time they will not reach 10 wins since 2009. LSU head coach Les Miles has not reached the SEC Championship Game since 2011. With the talent Miles has had, that is disappointing.

But perspective is sometimes important. The Tigers did turn an 0-2 start in SEC play into a respectable 4-4 overall conference record.  

Looking at the big picture, LSU has not had an awful season under Miles. He has won at least eight games every season. Historic programs such as Michigan, Miami and Nebraska have been in constant turmoil and mediocrity since he has been in Baton Rouge. 

For Miles to get back to winning SEC championships, he needs a few things to go his way in the next few months. Let's take a look at LSU's holiday wishlist.

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After Legal Issue, Ole Miss Must Let Go of Its QB of the Future, Chad Kelly

Chad Kelly is making it simple for Ole Miss in the worst way possible. 

The ex-Clemson quarterback, who committed to the Rebels earlier this month, likely won't compete for the starting job next year. That's because his days as an Ole Miss football player are likely over before they began. 

According to Joseph Popiolkowski of The Buffalo News, Kelly was arrested Sunday following a "scuffle with police." The details of the report are cringe-worthy. The report states that 20-year-old Kelly punched a bouncer attempting to kick him out of a bar. One of Kelly's companions, 21-year-old Brandon Hickey, was reportedly kicked out of the bar earlier. 

Kelly then allegedly threatened to use an assault rifle to "spray this place." From the report:

Kelly continued to fight with two bouncers and stated “I’m going to go to my car and get my AK-47 and spray this place,” according to a report.

Buffalo police officers responding to that alleged threat stopped a 2005 Ford F-150 pickup truck in which Kelly was a passenger at 458 Pearl.

Kelly was forcibly removed from the vehicle, officers said. Police said Kelly kicked and tried to swing at officers as they removed him from the vehicle. They said he resisted getting into a patrol vehicle and struggled with staff at central booking.

Kelly, who spent the 2014 season at East Mississippi Community College, faces multiple misdemeanor charges, including "third-degree assault, second-degree harassment, second-degree menacing, resisting arrest, fourth-degree criminal mischief, third-degree criminal trespass and second-degree obstructing governmental administration."

A statement from Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said, "We are gathering facts on the matter." Unless Kelly is completely absolved of the allegations, there should be no way Ole Miss keeps him. Even that would be a stretch.

The allegations are haunting. Kelly's threat to "spray this place" may have been an empty one, but that doesn't make it any less frightening or severe. However, without audio, that might be the hardest thing to prove. 

"There's no evidence of a threat of an AK in that video," Kelly's attorney, Thomas Eoannou told the Associated Press.

Still, Kelly reportedly injured a bouncer and was noncompliant with police. Each incident on its own could warrant a dismissal. Combined, they should be too much for Kelly to overcome. 

The other side of this story falls on Ole Miss. Freeze knowingly took a risk on Kelly, who was dismissed from Clemson following the team's spring game for "conduct detrimental to the team." Per Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com, Kelly got into a "verbal altercation with coaches at halftime over a decision to punt on 4th-and-short. Kelly was benched for the rest of the game."

Sometimes, those risks pay off. There are plenty of success stories about college players who make mistakes and get kicked out of programs but learn from them and go on to be successful elsewhere. 

That's apparently not the case with Kelly, even though Freeze was sold on him. 

"I did my home visit with he and his family after the championship game and was convinced he was the guy we wanted to go on," Freeze previously said about Kelly, per Hugh Kellenberger of The Clarion-Ledger

But these allegations are worse than the ones from Clemson. To keep Kelly—again, unless he is cleared—would invite a lot of warranted backlash. It wouldn't be surprising to see Freeze and Co. cut ties and move on. Ole Miss needs a quarterback to replace Bo Wallace in 2015 and beyond, and Kelly was rated the No. 1 dual-threat JUCO QB by 247Sports' composite rankings

However, Ole Miss doesn't need a quarterback that badly.  

The only thing one can hope for Kelly is that he turns his life around. He'll likely play somewhere eventually, whether it's in the JUCO ranks or in a lower division of football. Ultimately, though, football is the least concerning thing about this situation. 

Thus, the easy and right answer for Ole Miss is to not make it about football. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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Semifinal Preview: Will Ohio State Exploit Alabama's Vulnerable Secondary?

The 2015 Sugar Bowl, pitting the Ohio State Buckeyes against the Alabama Crimson Tide, is not only a play-in game for a berth in the national championship game; it's also a matchup that yields a ton of interesting scenarios. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer break down the Buckeyes offense, Alabama's defense and some of the players to watch as well as their predictions in the video above. 

Who will win, Alabama or Ohio State? Check out the video and let us know! 

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Bowl Game Schedule 2014-15: Complete Predictions for Can't-Miss Matchups

Five college football bowl games have already been played this season, and while Bowling Green and South Alabama put on an especially good show in the Camellia Bowl—with the Falcons winning by a score of 33-28—those contests were merely appetizers for the big-time games to be played in locations all across the country, not to mention the Bahamas, throughout December and early January 2015.

There are still a whopping 34 bowl games left to be played, including the three contests that make up the inaugural College Football Playoff. With so much attention heaped on the Oregon-Florida State and Alabama-Ohio State matchups, the rest of the bowl games might seem like unnecessary sideshows.

Of course, if you take your football mayhem any way you can get it, then these corporate-sponsored affairs are the gifts that keep on giving all throughout the holidays.

It's also a fine opportunity for players set for the NFL or graduation to bid their fans and teammates a final farewell, or to have programs display some of the talent that should be generating highlights in the next season.

Here is a complete schedule and list of predictions for the 2014-15 NCAA football bowl games, followed by a closer look at what could be the most exciting non-playoff matchup of the bowl season.

 

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

Boise State, as per usual, is fighting for the relevancy and respectability of the non-Power Five conferences. It is, in fact, the only non-Power Five team to be playing on New Year's Eve.

Arizona is an intriguing team to watch as it should be in the thick of the Pac-12 race next season and is the only team to beat Oregon this year, although that came way back on Oct. 2.

The Broncos are forever linked with the Fiesta Bowl after their shenanigans in a classic overtime win over Oklahoma back in 2007. Bleacher Report's own Ben Kercheval knows what he wants to see out of Boise State in this contest:

While it would be understandable if football fans got a bit nostalgic and tuned in for some trick plays, it's more likely that they will see a fairly straightforward run-and-gun attack powerful enough to eschew fancy football plays.

Boise State averaged 40 points per game this season, many of them coming from star running back Jay Ajayi. He racked up 2,225 all-purpose yards and 29 total touchdowns on the season. Quarterback Grant Hedrick had a fine year passing for over 3,300 yards, but it's clear that this offense revolves around the heroics of Ajayi. 

Arizona will have to deal with what could be an especially amped-up version of Ajayi, as this bit of news from Sports Illustrated reveals the junior tailback will not be returning for his senior season:

Hedrick also does a fine job of scrambling for extra yardage and spreading the ball around to his receivers. Five players caught at least 28 passes this season, with Shane Williams-Rhodes pacing the squad with 68 receptions and seven touchdowns.

Of course, Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez is no stranger to high-flying offenses, and he will counter Boise State's attack with quarterback Anu Solomon, a Marcus Mariota admirer who threw for 27 touchdowns against just seven interceptions as a wide-eyed redshirt freshman.

Boise State defensive coordinator Marcel Yates likened him to a certain NFL quarterback who made a name for himself with death-defying scrambles.

"He's kind of like Johnny (Manziel) - he keeps a lot of plays alive with his legs," said Yates, via The Idaho Statesman's Chadd Cripe

Solomon doesn't have eye-popping rushing statistics, but he knows how to keep a play alive and maneuver through a collapsing pocket. He has been bothered by an ankle injury as of late, but according to the Arizona Daily Star's Daniel Berk, Rodriguez said his star signal-caller should be fine for the Fiesta Bowl:

Of course, Arizona could run into trouble on third downs, as Solomon's 58.0 completion percentage doesn't bode well against a defense that ranked 22nd in the nation in third-down conversions allowed (35.1 percent), per NCAA.com.

However, if Solomon can keep things manageable on third down, running back Nick Wilson and his robust 5.9 yards per carry should have little trouble moving the chains.

Hopefully, for the neutral fan's sake, defenses are an afterthought in this potentially bonkers ballgame. However, there is one player who stands out among the rest and must be accounted for on every single play: 'Zona linebacker Scooby Wright III. 

The Bednarik, Lombardi and Nagurski award winner will be finishing off an absurd statistical season, and his strip-sack and fumble recovery—all in one motion—of Mariota to seal Arizona's win over the Ducks was one of the plays of the year

Still, Wright has little help around him, as the Wildcats ranked 71st in the nation in rushing defense. Ajayi is going to have his moments, but so will the opposition. And the fans should get to savor them all.

The excellent competition Arizona has played this season should have them well prepared for this contest. Look for them to get a boost from the likely pro-Wildcats crowd and edge the Broncos in a high-scoring affair.

Prediction: Arizona 42-38 Boise State

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College Football Bowl Picks 2014: Predictions for Most Underrated Games on Slate

The big-time bowl games will take center stage during the postseason, but some of the best bowls to watch end up being those that nobody's talking about.

Sure, events like the College Football Playoff and New Year's Six bowls deserve their chunk of the coverage. After all, they include the nation's best teams—and the most tangible awards at stake.

But with well over 30 bowl games on tap, many involving highly talented teams and everybody coming into this time of year with a different mentality, those lower-tier bowl games can end up being the most watchable.

Let's highlight a few of those games as we break down predictions for every single bowl game left in the 2014 season.

 

Note: Bowl schedule courtesy of ESPN.com.

 

Most Underrated Bowls

Belk Bowl: Louisville vs. Georgia

In one of just two non-New Year's Six bowl games to include two Top 25 foes, the Belk Bowl features No. 13 Georgia against No. 21 Louisville—pegging two impressive programs two days before 2015.

The Bulldogs suffered through yet another year with high expectations that turned sour late, but they still maintain the chance to notch another 10-win season. They'll have to remedy their recent ACC woes, going up against the Cardinals shortly after falling to Georgia Tech on Nov. 29.

Louisville looks to do the exact opposite, hoping to stay on top of the SEC after topping Kentucky in its season finale. 

One jolly fellow knows who is going to win, but he's not tipping his hand, per Belk Bowl:

Perhaps a game on a bigger stage with more on the line would favor Mark Richt's Georgia team, but it's just hard to see the Bulldogs fully invested. As for their opposition, they're looking to notch 10 wins for the third consecutive season—not to mention the adrenaline boost that comes from facing a mighty SEC foe.

On top of that, Louisville has an entire month to get DeVante Parker good to go, as the receiver has been unstoppable despite missing half the year with an injury. While he'll have an impact, the Cardinals rushing attack of Brandon Radcliff and Michael Dyer will gash a Georgia run defense that was trounced in each of its three losses.

Bobby Petrino's squad will pull off the upset, further adding to a disappointing ending to 2014 for Georgia.

Prediction: Louisville 31, Georgia 27

 

Boca Raton Bowl: Marshall vs. Northern Illinois

Every year, it seems two of the best schools from outside the Power Five conferences find a way to battle in an early bowl game. In 2014, it will be in Boca Raton, Florida.

Both Marshall and Northern Illinois had their sights set on making a New Year's Six bowl at one point, but the two took conference championship victories en route to a meeting in the Boca Raton Bowl.

The Thundering Herd's undefeated season was thwarted a few short weeks ago, but CBS Sports' J. Darin Darst still noted the prestige of the game:

The Huskies dropped early season games to Arkansas and Central Michigan, but they rolled through the MAC and toppled Bowling Green 51-13 in the championship game—a team that just won its bowl game Saturday. Jordan Lynch is no longer the Heisman hopeful at quarterback, but Drew Hare is filling in nicely and developing a dangerous combination with Da'Ron Brown.

It's safe to say both these teams had hopes of facing a Power Five team and proving something, but that can still be done against a team of similar fortitude. Considering Marshall spent most of the season beating opponents by an average of 30 or more, its chances should be liked.

Quarterback Rakeem Cato will have a huge game, leading Marshall to a big win.

Prediction: Marshall 38, Northern Illinois 21

 

Fiesta Bowl: Boise State vs. Arizona

I know what you're saying. It's a New Year's Six bowl, so how can it be underrated?

Well, with the obsession of the first CFP, mouthwatering games all around it and a midday 4 p.m. ET kickoff, Boise State and Arizona might not get the attention they deserve at the Fiesta Bowl. After all, the Wildcats were drubbed 51-13 by Oregon the last time out, and the Broncos hail from the Mountain West.

But don't sleep on this one—even if you need that pre-New Year's Eve nap. 

Don't let the Pac-12 title game slip-up fool you; Arizona's defense is nasty. Led by bruising linebacker Scooby Wright III, the Wildcats have held the likes of Oregon, UCLA and Utah all under 25 points this season.

Arizona will be revitalized by its invite to the Fiesta Bowl, but it will face an even more hungry foe. Glendale, Arizona, has practically been the Broncos' national championship game over the last decade—a mentality the once-CFP-hopeful Wildcats can't hope to match.

And for all of Arizona's defensive dominance, the unit has been noticeably inept in its last two games—conceding more than 1,000 combined yards to Arizona State and Oregon in recent weeks. Boise State can have a similar impact, riding the workhorse Jay Ajayi and keeping the secondary off balance with play action from Grant Hedrick.

Arizona will come to play, largely in front of a home crowd. But Boise State will show up, too, and has a better feel for what it takes to win this one.

Prediction: Boise State 38, Arizona 34

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5 Top Performers of Opening Weekend of 2014 Bowl Season

How action-packed was Saturday's slate of bowl games? One way to look at it is that we're already about one-eighth of the way through bowl season. 

We're going to be at the College Football Playoff semifinals before you know it.

But before looking ahead to those games and more, it's time to look back at the weekend that was and which players stood out. The top performers from each of Saturday's five bowl games can be found in the following slides. 

While many of this weekend's top performers were named bowl MVPs, it's not a requirement here. 

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Georgia Football: Bulldogs Offense Faces Unique Challenges vs. Louisville

Let's get this out of the way: Georgia's offense isn't good, it's great. After posting 41.7 points per game through 12 contests, that much is not up for debate.

The Bulldogs lead the SEC in points per game and rank eighth in the nation by the same measure. Georgia played half the season without star running back Todd Gurley and still found a way to run for 255 yards per contest. Aaron Murray, the SEC's all-time leading passer, is now in the NFL, but the Dawgs rank ninth in the country in passing efficiency in the first year after his departure.

This offense is not good. This offense is great.

Prolific, efficient and impressive as it may be, though, the offense could be stifled by four unique challenges against Louisville in the Belk Bowl.

 

Unrest

Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo is still a candidate for the head coaching job at Colorado State. That much is known. Whether or not he is offered the job or how seriously he is even being considered remains to be seen, but there is no cause to believe he's been eliminated.

Accordingly, there's reason to believe that Bobo may not even coach in the bowl. Head coach Mark Richt acknowledged this possibility over the weekend, according to Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald.

After saying he didn't know of a timetable for a decision regarding Bobo's future, Richt added: "We'll have a plan for everything, I can say that."

It may be unlikely that Bobo is gone prior to the bowl, but the fact that such a scenario has necessitated planning could weigh on players and other coaching personnel. If he does in fact coach, Bobo's mind could very well be elsewhere.

That unrest could negate some of Georgia's offensive prowess.

 

Rest

Ironically, rest could do the same. After all, Georgia's worst offensive performance of the season came following a bye week.

Indeed, against Florida, the Bulldogs mustered just seven points in the game's first three quarters.

Georgia's other conference loss also came after a week off, and though the defense was largely to blame for that defeat to South Carolina, the offense struggled at times as well.

After scoring a touchdown on its opening drive, Bobo's offense failed to reach the end zone for the remaining 25 minutes of the first half and squandered multiple opportunities.

This offense has not been at its best after long periods of rest, and the month-long lag between the Georgia Tech game and the Belk Bowl certainly fits that bill.

 

Familiar Face

On the other sideline is of course Todd Grantham, Louisville's defensive coordinator and the former occupant of the same position at Georgia.

Bobo and the Bulldog offense have done a fantastic job of adjusting to opposing defenses, so the concern doesn't lie so much in what the Cardinals might throw at them.

With that being said, it is a bit disconcerting that Grantham is every bit as familiar with Georgia's personnel as the Bulldogs are with him.

Grantham saw quarterback Hutson Mason in practice for four years. He knows exactly what receivers like Chris Conley, Malcolm Mitchell and Michael Bennett are capable of. He doesn't know Jeb Blazevich from experience, but he does have an understanding of how Georgia likes to rely on tight ends.

The passing game could be particularly challenged by Grantham's familiarity.

 

Unfamiliar Faces

Quite obviously, Georgia has no keen understanding of Louisville's defensive stars. This is the case for any bowl game, but several Louisville players could impact the game tremendously.

Safety Gerod Holliman, for instance, won the Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back, and he was an AP first team All-American selection.

The Bulldogs will have film on Holliman, but if video footage properly prepared opposing offenses for his ball-hawking affinity, the sophomore star wouldn't have intercepted 14 passes this season.

On the front end, Sheldon Rankins has been a a force from his defensive end position, racking up 12.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage this season and registering seven sacks.

What sets Rankins apart is his play-making ability. He's forced one fumble, recovered a fumble and intercepted two passes. That's not too shabby for a 305-pound defensive lineman.

 

The Antidote

Nick Chubb has been the cure for a host of ailments this season. If he (and the Georgia running game as a whole) plays well against Louisville, these four factors can be negated, and there's reason to suspect he can be the antidote once more.

After all, when Gurley was suspended, many feared the offense would drop off. Chubb made sure it didn't. When Gurley came back briefly and was lost again (this time to injury), Chubb remained constant.

The freshman isn't a no-name filler for Todd Gurley any more. Nick Chubb is the man in Athens. However, he may be the man in Charlotte on this occasion and in doing so have his finest performance of the season.  

Nick Chubb is worried more about running through people than about where Mike Bobo might run to.  

Chubb famously was in the weight room the day after touching the ball 42 times against Missouri, so he's probably not too rested.

Further, Todd Grantham doesn't know a lot about Nick Chubb, and Chubb likely doesn't care too much about Holliman's accolades. He's racking up his own.

There are unique challenges for Georgia's offense in this contest, but there's also cause for optimism.  

In some ways, those sentiments are true about the unit as a whole moving forward.

 

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

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College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

At this point last week, Prince Tega Junior was an unknown on the recruiting circuit.

However, beginning last Monday, Junior’s offer list went from, as Drake would say, “zero to 100 real quick."

Well, not exactly 100, but he did land 14 offers in a two-day span—including at least one school from each of the Power Five conferences, according to Scout’s John Garcia Jr.

The offer spree for the 6’8”, 250-pound defensive end from Edgewood Academy in Elmore, Alabama began with an offer from Kentucky, as noted by Josh Edwards of CatsPause.

Fellow SEC members LSU, Vanderbilt and Tennessee followed suit.

Powers such as Texas, Oregon and Ohio State highlighted the powers who jumped into the race for the nation’s hottest recruit.

As Garcia notes, Junior is an exchange student from Nigeria who began playing football only four months ago.

“I actually came here in August, I didn’t know anything about football, but I’d see it,” Junior told Garcia. “The coaches saw me and I wanted to try it. I’m very glad, I’m very happy for that because when I first started playing football I didn’t expect so much.”

He's now rated as a 4-star prospect and the No. 6 strong-side defensive end in the country.

Given the wave of new interest in Junior, expect the rest of the nation’s powers to follow suit in offering the hulking pass-rushing prospect.

 

UGA, Georgia Tech After 2015 Vanderbilt Commit

It’s been a struggle for Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason since he arrived in Nashville.

However, in 4-star linebacker pledge Josh Smith, the Commodores have a player that ranks among the nation’s top 10 prospects at his position. 

However, per Woody Wommack of Rivals, Georgia offered the 6’4”, 218-pounder on Dec. 17.

The Dawgs' in-state rivals, Georgia Tech, also pulled the trigger in tendering Smith, per Barton Simmons of 247Sports

The main way for Mason to build the Commodores back into a contender is to get it done on the recruiting trail, which makes holding onto talents such as Smith a must.

 

Alabama Offers 2016 DE

Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide are well on their way toward capturing another recruiting national title, but he and his staff are already in hot pursuit of top juniors.

One player who netted an offer from Saban is 4-star defensive end Emmit Gooden:

The 6’3”, 269-pounder ranks as the nation’s No. 9 defensive end and the No. 117 player overall in the 2016 class.

The Tide join SEC powers such as LSU, Tennessee, Mississippi State and Ole Miss who are actively pursuing one of the top players from the state of Tennessee.

 

Texas A&M after 2016 California DE

Another junior pass-rusher drawing interest from some of the nation’s top powers is 4-star California defensive end Oluwole Betiku.

According to Adam Gorney of Rivals, Texas A&M is the newest offer for the 6’3”, 245-pounder:

The Aggies join recruiting giants such as Florida State, Notre Dame and USC as schools who have offered Betiku since November.

Given that Kevin Sumlin and his staff are in strong position to pull their third consecutive top-10 class, offers like the one to Betiku show that the Aggies are beginning recruit on a national basis.

 

Best of the Rest 

  • 2016 4-star defensive end Janarius Robinson, who is committed to Florida State, picked up an offer from USC

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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