NCAA Football News

Report: Braxton Miller Considering Transferring to Florida State?

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is considering transferring to Florida State, according to a report by Tom D'Angelo of the Palm Beach Post.

Miller graduated from Ohio State in December, and the NCAA allows graduate students to transfer to a new school without having to sit out a year.  Miller was touted as a Heisman candidate coming into this season, but a torn labrum right before the start of the season kept him off the field all year.

His situation has been confused even more as other Buckeye quarterbacks thrive in Urban Meyer’s system.  J.T Barrett had a phenomenal freshman year after taking over for the injured Miller, and when Barrett was injured against Michigan, third-stringer Cardale Jones had plenty of success in the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin.

There has been speculation of Miller possibly garnering interest from Oregon, Ole Miss and others, but nothing has been confirmed.

Although surprising, Florida State is an interesting possibility.  According to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora (h/t SportsIllustrated.com), current Seminole quarterback and former Heisman winner Jameis Winston is expected to declare for the NFL draft after the Florida State season ends. 

However, Miller isn’t a prototypical pro-style quarterback.  Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is known for developing quarterbacks and sending them to the NFL, but Miller is more of an option quarterback whose skills might fit better in an offensive system based more on the quarterback run game.

ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit is a bit dubious of this situation as well.

“Braxton is a unique talent,” Herbstreit said, via the same Palm Beach Post report.  “I don’t see him choosing to go to Florida State.  I could see Oregon, I could see Ole Miss because of his skill set and how he fits a little better with those types of offenses.”

Several quarterbacks have gone this transfer route, especially recently, and it looks like Braxton Miller could be the next.  He is one of the most dynamic offensive threats in the country and will likely thrive in whichever scenario he finds himself.

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Winds Rip Through Rose Bowl Fanfest Area Day Before Game

Fans near the Rose Bowl fanfest on Wednesday were in for a scare when huge winds ripped through the area and sent things flying everywhere.

Just a day before the big game between Oregon and Florida State, winds wreaked havoc, sending pop-up tents swirling in the air.

According to ABC News, four people were treated for minor injuries.

[YouTube, Instagram; h/t Dr. Saturday]

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Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech: Live Score and Highlights of Orange Bowl

Keep it locked right here as we bring you live coverage of the Orange Bowl between Mississippi State and Georgia Tech!

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2015 Heisman Watch: Early Possible Candidates

The Heisman Trophy is one of the most coveted awards in sports, and there is always speculation about who might contend for it.  The Heisman honors the best player in college football, and plenty of players can contend for the trophy next year.

College football is a quarterback-driven league these days thanks to the evolution of the spread offense, and the Heisman voters have given QBs the benefit of the doubt.  Thirteen of the 14 Heisman winners in the 2000s have been quarterbacks, and that trend has no indication of stopping.

Here is my early attempt at documenting the favorites for the 2015 Heisman Trophy.  In this slideshow, I have put together my list of the top five candidates to win next year's award.  I have taken into account national appeal, on-field ability and the potential for putting up huge stats next year.  

Begin Slideshow

Everett Golson's Reduced Role for Notre Dame Is Smart Tactic Heading into 2015

Notre Dame is still celebrating the high of its last-second victory over LSU in the Music City Bowl, but there's a lingering question about what the future holds for quarterback Everett Golson

It's no secret that Golson has been on thin ice as the starter for weeks. He got off to a hot start in 2014 but ended the year throwing at least one interception in the last nine games of the regular season. He had seven games with a completion percentage under 60 from October 4 through the bowl game. 

Head coach Brian Kelly opened up the quarterback competition in preparation for the Music City Bowl and even gave the start to sophomore Malik Zaire. Both players got in the game, including on the final drive that resulted in a game-winning field goal, but it left things open for 2015. 

According to Pete Sampson of IrishIllustrated.com, Golson will return to Notre Dame with the intention of graduating this spring:

That leaves open the possibility for Golson to transfer without having to sit out a season, as noted by Mike Huguenin of NFL.com, since he would qualify as a "graduate transfer."

Golson is officially a senior but has one more year of eligibility left after he was suspended from school for the fall semester in 2013 due to what he called "poor judgement on a test," as he told Sports Illustrated, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com).

With so many unanswered questions for Notre Dame and Golson, the only thing that would benefit everyone involved is to see what another quarterback could do. 

At a Monday press conference in which Kelly announced Zaire as the starter, he said the decision was strictly about the bowl game, via Jim Kleinpeter of The New Orleans Times-Picayune:

We're going to start Malik Zaire. We're obviously going to play both quarterbacks. Tomorrow is about 2014, it's not about 2015. Our focus is on winning tomorrow's football game. Playing both of them gives us the best chance to win tomorrow.

We'll figure out 2015 in January. This is about both of these guys giving us the best chance to win.

That can be interpreted as spin because the seniors who are going to graduate don't care what happens, but there's little doubt that Kelly needed to evaluate what he has moving forward. What better time to do that than a game against an LSU defense that ranks sixth with 17.5 points allowed per game?

Kelly got the answer he was looking for, as Notre Dame came out of the gate more explosive than it had been in weeks. The offense was firing on all cylinders with 449 total yards, including 263 on the ground, and Zaire had 192 total yards with two touchdowns. 

Golson wasn't bad in his time on the field, accounting for 96 total yards, but the offense was moving better with Zaire under center. 

It may not be the situation Golson wanted, though, he can rectify that by moving to another school that can promise him a starting job in 2015. He's certainly talented enough to warrant another look, even being an early Heisman contender in 2014 before everything fell apart. 

Despite the struggles, Golson still threw for more yards (3,445) and touchdowns (29) than Alabama's Blake Sims (3,250, 26). His mobility in and out of the pocket leaves a lot to be desired, but the base requirements for a starting quarterback are there to work with. 

Notre Dame can feel confident with Zaire as the No. 1 guy heading into next year if Golson opts to transfer. It can also retain the option of having an open competition for 2015 if Golson decides to stay. 

The possibilities for Notre Dame and Golson are vast thanks to Kelly's decision in the Music City Bowl. It does leave some unanswered questions right now, but everyone will benefit in the long run because of what happened in the Fighting Irish's bowl win. 

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New Year's Day Bowl Games: Picks Against the Spread

There are five big New Year’s Day bowl games and none bigger than the two semifinal games between Oregon vs. Florida State and Alabama vs. Ohio State. The winners of these inaugural playoff games will face each other in the BCS title game on Jan. 12.

The other three bowl games on the day are big ones in their own right, and each features a couple of Top 25 teams. 

Without further ado, let's go bowling! 

 

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide vs. No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes

Betting Odds: Alabama -9; Over/Under: 58.5

Both schools are coming off wins in their conference title games, and the Buckeyes have a ton of momentum after beating Wisconsin, 59-0. However, the Crimson Tide are stacked on both sides of the ball. Alabama crushed Missouri in the SEC title game and has the nation's third-ranked defense.

The Tide has not been a great betting team this season but has covered the spread in four of their last five bowl games.

Trends: Alabama is 9-3 against the spread in its last 12 neutral site games, and Ohio State is 5-2 ATS in its last seven games facing a team with a winning record.

Pick Against the Spread: Alabama 

 

Rose Bowl: No. 3 Oregon Ducks vs. No. 2 Florida State Seminoles

Betting Odds: Oregon -10; Over/Under 71.5

FSU ran the table this season winning all of its games, yet it is no surprise the 'Noles are a big betting underdog in this game. In their last five games, they did not win one by more than five points, and three of those games came facing unranked teams. On the other side of the coin, Oregon won its last eight games of the regular season, and every single one was a blowout.

This game features this season’s Heisman winner in Oregon QB Marcus Mariota and last season's winner in FSU QB Jameis Winston. The Ducks have the nation’s third-highest scoring offense and will face a Seminole defense that gave up over 450 yards in their ACC title game win over Georgia Tech.

Pick Against the Spread: Oregon

 

Cotton Bowl: No. 8 Michigan State Spartans vs. No. 5 Baylor Bears

Betting Odds: Baylor -2.5; Over/Under 71.5

Baylor is the betting favorite in this game and the highest-scoring team in the nation, to boot. The Bears will be playing at a neutral site, but they still have home field with the game being held in Arlington, Texas.

Michigan State had a solid season, but in its only two games facing Top 10 teams, they lost badly in both, giving up at least 46 points in each. The losses came against teams with dynamic offenses in Oregon and Ohio State, and Baylor has that as well.

Trends: Michigan State is 5-1 ATS in its last six games, and Baylor is 12-4 ATS in its last 16 games facing a team with a winning record.

Pick Against the Spread: Baylor 

 

Citrus Bowl: No. 16 Missouri Tigers vs. No. 25 Minnesota Golden Gophers

Betting Odds: Missouri -4.5; Over/Under 47.5

Missouri lost badly in the SEC title game to Alabama, but the Tigers still had a solid season winning the SEC East Division. Minnesota was a solid betting team on the season, going 8-4 ATS, but the Gophers are a one-dimensional team that has a good rushing offense but not good on the passing side.

On the other hand, Mizzou has a balanced offense and won six straight before losing to Alabama. Missouri was 2-2 facing Top 25 teams, and Minnesota was only 1-2, and the one win came against a Nebraska team that ended the season out of the Top 25. 

Pick Against the Spread: Missouri 

 

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

Betting Odds: Auburn -7; Over/Under 63.5

Auburn lost three of its last four games of the season but is still the favorite facing a Wisconsin team that lost, 59-0, to Ohio State in its last contest. Running back Cameron Artis-Payne and QB Nick Marshall lead the Tigers' rushing offense, and they face a Badgers run defense that gave up 301 rushing yards in the loss to the Buckeyes.

Wisconsin has to rely on running back Melvin Gordon on offense, as the Badgers don’t have a good passing game. However, he struggled his last time on the field, and the defense, obviously, did as well.

Pick Against the Spread: Auburn

 

Lines are courtesy of Sports Information Traders. 

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Jimbo Fisher's Great Escape from Bobby Bowden's Shadow

LOS ANGELES — Sports legends aren't just people who have done great things in sports. They are also people who are able to do an amazing magic trick. All the bad things that happened in their careers—poof, they disappear from fans' memories. After retiring, the longer legends are gone, the better they get.

Soon, Michael Jordan will have been able to dunk from half-court.    

So you don't follow a legend. You can't. It's absolutely impossible. Just ask Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher.

"He don't have any problem with it," Bobby Bowden, the legend he followed, told Bleacher Report on Wednesday "I'm the one who's forgotten."

That wasn't bitterness. It was one of those jokes with a little bit of truth. Fisher followed the winningest coach in major college football history, the guy who built a program and put it on the map. And now, in Fisher's fifth year, the fans have already completely moved on.

Sure, winning a national championship and being in position to win another one this year—Florida State plays Oregon Thursday in the College Football Playoff semifinal—is the big reason. But people don't even compare Fisher and Bowden the way, say, Alabama fans talk about whether Nick Saban has reached Bear Bryant levels.

And Fisher did it in his first big-time head-coaching job, where he had to learn, really, who he was.

"I don't think you ever stop learning yourself as a coach," he told Bleacher Report. "The thing I thought I had to do was be myself. I don't believe people who follow people try to emulate (them). A lot of my core values and traditions were from Coach Bowden, years ago when I was around him.

"I learned from all the coaches I was under, and I've taken things that I've liked and disliked from everyone. But at the same time, I don't think, when something happens, 'What would Coach Bowden do here?' or 'Coach Saban do here?', 'Coach (Les) Miles do here?' I don't ever think like that. You learn from people, but the key is you've got to put your own stamp, your own personality, on your own program."

The people who replace legends are always such immediate targets. Bob Davie couldn't replace Lou Holtz. Ron Zook had no shot replacing Steve Spurrier.

"I've known all the great coaches and known all who followed them," Bowden said. "And they don't last. But what Jimbo's doing doesn't surprise me. I'm glad to see it because it brings back Florida State. When I was here, we were on top a few years and all of a sudden (if the program falls), you're forgotten and Florida State is forgotten. I'd love to see them win one more."

Fisher, who had been Bowden's offensive coordinator, put his stamp on the program by modernizing. He cleared out several of Bowden's assistants, which was risky. But Fisher also put in place sports psychologists and nutritionists and a GPS monitoring system that uses a thousand tracking points on each player in practice to measure exertion, performance, etc.

The big thing he did, of course, was win big. But Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, in his second year, has been winning, too. Yet he hasn't erased his predecessor, Chip Kelly.

Before Helfrich took over last year, I asked Helfrich what he was going to do to put his stamp on the program. He said he didn't care about stamps, that Kelly's system was working fine and it would be stupid to drop it. Helfrich is still compared to Kelly.

The big difference is that Kelly left on a high note, and became the Philadelphia Eagles coach. When Bowden left, he was forced out after the program had dropped from the sport's elite.

It wasn't a pretty ending for Bowden, who did not want to leave. He stayed away from Florida State for a couple years, and then returned last year.

"I just wanted to stay one more year," Bowden said. "It's not like I wanted to keep on coaching. I was already 80. But I knew it was going to be a good team and I'd have liked to have gone out with that.

"You get over things like that, and I'm working with the Seminoles boosters now, making talks for them."

Bowden said that when he left, he recommended his longtime assistant Mickey Andrews for the job.

"I told Jimbo when I hired him that I was going to recommend (Andrews), but the president told me they wanted to go younger," Bowden said. "I said 'Well, Jimbo's the next best man.' "

Bowden said he won't be at the Rose Bowl Thursday, that he doesn't like to go to games. He said that even at last year's national title game, he was there for the pregame coin toss and then went back to his hotel for the game.

Just hard to stay and watch someone else coach your team?

"No," Bowden said. "I just don't want to get in that crowd. I don't enjoy trying to park. At Florida State it's like 35, 45 minutes to get out of the parking lot. I don't enjoy that. I'm 85 years old. At home, I can watch every play three or four times and the refrigerator is only 10 feet away.

"No, I'd give anything to see them win again. I can't wait for that game. I'm still picking them."

While Fisher tries to get another national title, Bowden will be like everyone else: Just an anonymous legend at home watching on TV.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.

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Sugar Bowl Is Urban Meyer's Audition for the Future of Ohio State Football

NEW ORLEANS — The sweet spot in college football recruiting is the five-hour car ride in any direction from campus. The player's family leaves home at 6 a.m. Saturday morning, arrives at 11, tailgates and is ready for kickoff at 1, 2, 3:30, 7. It is a swell deal if you are an SEC program because you have a bountiful harvest of high school players in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee.

If you are Ohio State and factories have shut down in your neighborhood and jobs have been lost and families have relocated to the Sun Belt, the sweet spot is still Ohio and western Pennsylvania, but it is a less fertile sweet spot. Your recruiting needs wings, not wheels. You have to get into the South.

Urban Meyer and Ohio State can put some wings on their recruiting Thursday night against Alabama.

Here in the backyard of the SEC bully, the Buckeyes can get recruits in the South to look away from 'Bama and Florida and LSU and Georgia, not to mention Florida State. The speedy guys who thought they had to showcase for the NFL in the SEC are going to look at Meyer's spread on offense and his sub-packages on defense of 3-3-5 alignments and open the door when the Buckeyes knock.

This is a big deal Thursday night for Meyer. He won two national titles at Florida, and he is 36-3 at Ohio State, but his brand is still No. 2 to Nick Saban and Alabama. He was on that top-shelf of college football from 2006-2009, but he got bumped off by a health crisis. For years the Alabama fandom has insisted it was Saban who made Meyer sick.

On Thursday night, Meyer can hop back on the pedestal. He has a three-hour window.

Meyer already recruited All-American defensive end Joey Bosa away from Alabama two years ago. Bosa, who is from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, had even gone to a summer camp at Alabama and said he was mesmerized by Saban and the office door Saban can close with the push of his button from his desk.

The Alabama coach has a pet pitch for recruits: Make a 40-year decision, not a four-year decision, when choosing a school. Meyer uses the same tactic, and he, not Saban, landed Bosa.

"I knew it was going to be a short period in my life and I'm going to have the rest of my life to live where I want, do what I want," Bosa said. "This is the most important years of my life to set up my future. The weather doesn't matter. It matters what's the best fit for me, and I felt Ohio State was that place."

On getting into the South to fill out the Ohio State roster and get speed, Bosa said of Meyer, "He's talented enough as a recruiter to get whoever he wants. He'll be doing that as long as he is here."     

Bosa said his brother and some friends who are football players have made visits to Ohio State. You get the impression the rock that was being pushed uphill against the SEC mountain of seven straight national titles is starting to get a little lighter.

Vonn Bell is a sophomore from Rossville, Georgia. Meyer snatched him out of Saban's grasp too. Bell is the ambassador of speed from the South.

"You always want speed. That's what he always talks about, speed and power," Bell said. "Fast guys, react. Speed wins the game. That's what he wants. A number of (fast) guys thought about it but wanted to stay home. It's hard to say no to Alabama and Coach Saban. The overriding factor is Coach Meyer. He is a very winning guy."

Bell thought more about speed as the calling card of football in the South. He didn't want to knock football in the Midwest, but…

"It's a couple good (fast) guys in Ohio—I can't down my guys, they look out for me," he said. "I guess we (Southern players) bring a little more to the table. We got speed."

Raekwon McMillan, a freshman linebacker from Hinesville, Georgia, was sold on Ohio State as a 40-year home not 4-year home, just like Bosa. Life after football is better in the scarlet red of Ohio State than the crimson red of Alabama.

McMillan had his pick of SEC schools, and he went with Meyer. Several other stars considered it and had the Buckeyes high on their list: Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Georgia), a freshman at Georgia, thought about it; so did Deshaun Watson (Gainesville, Georgia). He went to Clemson and is the future quarterback.

"It's 10 hours from home to Columbus so my family has to pick which games to come to or they watch on TV," McMillan said. "The others, I think, did not want their families to go so far."

In the South, the families cherish the time in the stands on Saturdays with their football players. It is a special time of togetherness, and that makes it hard to get players to go to college 10 hours from home. The family can't get there easily because of time and expense.

That's why autonomy for major Division I schools could be a good thing for Ohio State. Suppose the extra amount of money schools can give players is slid toward family travel? What if the players who are in need are also allowed to keep their $5,700 a year in Pell Grant money?

Meyer will have to recruit the South even harder now, with Michigan's Jim Harbaugh slicing into Meyer's recruiting base in the Midwest.

But when you walk out on to lush Bermuda grass in November in the South and it is still 68 degrees and the sun is shining, how do you put your feet in the frost in Ohio?

Meyer, who is from Ohio, just shrugged and said, "Once in awhile you get a little bit of weather." He smiled.

And if a player is more worried about the Bermuda grass than job opportunities after school? "We probably don't want them," Meyer said.

Not all Ohio State players have had a positive recruiting experience with Meyer. The coach made a really bad impression on tight end Jeff Heuerman when Meyer was still at Florida. Heuerman, who is from Naples, Florida, was recruited by LSU but not the Gators. He made a visit to Florida anyway.

"I met him," Heuerman said. "I wasn't a highly rated tight end coming out. Slow white kid from Naples, Florida. I met him and it was, 'Hey, how you doing. See ya. I got practice to go to.'"

Does he remind Meyer?

"Just about every day."

Mostly, Meyer gets it right on recruits, and he has the right idea of going south to find difference-makers and fill in some holes.

The Sugar Bowl can showcase so much for Ohio State. The blue-chip recruits who come out of the South can see for themselves that the Buckeyes have some explosiveness to their offense. They average 45 points a game, but you can bet the recruit in the South has been brainwashed to believe the Big Ten plays plodding football. Recruits from Atlanta to Orlando will see that the SEC is not the only league that plays with speed.

More important, a win Thursday night can show those recruits in Georgia, Florida, perhaps Texas that Meyer can stand toe-to-toe with Saban and that the idea the Alabama coach scared him out of the SEC was just foolish.

 

Ray Glier covers college football for Bleacher Report.

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Oregon Ducks Send Customized Twitter Jerseys to High-Profile Fans

The Oregon Ducks are doing everything they can to get as many fans behind them as they try to come out on top in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Oregon has sent out customized jerseys—complete with Twitter handles—to some of its high-profile fans. Given how many different jerseys the team has, this was a great campaign to try to gain some extra support.

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

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Boise State Scores TD on Statue of Liberty Play in Fiesta Bowl Against Arizona

Boise State. Statue of Liberty. Fiesta Bowl.

Does any of that sound familiar?

Back in the stadium where they pulled off one of the greatest upsets in college football history, the Broncos broke out a familiar play against Arizona on Wednesday.

On 1st-and-10 from the Arizona 16-yard line, Boise State quarterback Grant Hedrick and running back Jay Ajayi teamed up to pull off the Statue of Liberty play that the Broncos made famous nearly eight years ago.

Ajayi's touchdown gave the Broncos a 21-0 lead with just more than five minutes remaining in the first quarter.

Back in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma, Boise State won the game by running the Statue of Liberty on a two-point conversion in overtime.

[Vine, YouTube]

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Orange Bowl 2014: Georgia Tech vs Mississippi State Schedule, Viewing Info, More

The names on the front of the jerseys might cause tradition college football fans to overlook the Orange Bowl, but that would be a huge mistake.

While neither Georgia Tech nor Mississippi State have been national powers in recent years, both squads have shown over the course of the season they are among the best in the country. Each are led by playmakers at quarterback with big-time talents on the defensive side of the ball as well.

These players and the schemes the coaches have put together are certain to make this an exciting matchup to watch.

Here is a look at all the information you need to know to follow the action as well as some players you have to keep track of in this highly anticipated battle.

 

What: Capital One Orange Bowl

Who: Georgia Tech vs. Mississippi State

When: Dec. 31 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream:WatchESPN

Odds (via Oddsshark.com)

  • Spread: MSST -7
  • Over/Under: 61.5

 

Players to Watch

Justin Thomas, QB, Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech averaged 37 points per game this season and just about every point was thanks to quarterback Justin Thomas. The sophomore was the offense for the Yellow Jackets this year with his ability to make huge plays in every game.

Thomas ran the triple-option offense to perfection, leading the team with 965 rushing yards. Only four quarterbacks in FBS had more on the year. Meanwhile, he also kept opponents off balanced by throwing for 1,594 yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions.

For a quarterback who spends most of his time scrambling, these are extremely efficient numbers.

Although he couldn't carry the Yellow Jackets to a win in the ACC Championship Game against Florida State, people like ESPN's Andrea Adelson were impressed by the effort:

Defenses have to key on him more than just about any other quarterback in the nation, but Thomas can still make them pay.

 

Jamal Golden, S, Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech has a number of talented players on both sides of the field like guard Shaquille Mason, receiver DeAndre Smelter and defensive tackle Adam Gotsis. However, one player you need to keep an eye on is safety Jamal Golden.

While he sometimes lacks consistency, Golden is someone that simply makes things happen on the field.

The safety is tied for the team lead with four interceptions to go with two forced fumbles. He and D.J. White (also with four interceptions) have combined to make a formidable tandem in the secondary, as defensive coordinator Ted Roof explained, via David M. Hale of ESPN.com:

There’s a lot of communication and a certain comfort level right now. They both understand the defense, they know where they belong, know when they can take a chance to go make a play and when they better make sure to stay on top. The longer that happens in the back end of the defense, the better off you are.

Additionally, Golden makes a major impact in the return game on both punts and kickoffs. The all-around game actually has the young player ranking fourth on the squad with 62.2 all-purpose yards despite not playing any offense.

If Mississippi State wants to win, it will have to keep the ball as far away from Golden as possible.

 

Benardrick McKinney, ILB, Mississippi State

Although he didn't put up huge numbers as far as tackles were concerned, Benardrick McKinney always seemed to be in the right spot for Mississippi State this season.

The junior has great size at 6'5", 245 pounds and the speed to cover sideline to sideline on defense. His instincts are also among the best in the country to get to the ball in a hurry.

This makes it no surprise ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. (subscription required) considers McKinney the No. 1 inside linebacker in the 2015 draft class if he declares. Russ Mitchell of SEC14 believes this is a certainty:

Against the triple-option offense for Georgia Tech, McKinney will have to play a huge role in stopping plays from breaking for long gains. Considering how well he wraps up when he gets a chance, he seems up to the challenge.

 

Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State

Although the season didn't end the way he might've wanted, it's hard not to be impressed with the play of Dak Prescott this season. The junior quarterback took a team that was overlooked in the preseason as high as No. 1 in the polls before eventually falling out of national title contention.

Prescott heads into the bowl season with a good shot of finishing with more than 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a season, an incredible feat for anyone. In the meantime, he still has 24 passing touchdowns and 13 rushing touchdowns to show off his versatility on the football field.

Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson also was impressed by the fight he has seen from the quarterback:

This great play helped Prescott finish in eighth place in the Heisman voting, the highest mark in Mississippi State history:

Two voters even gave Prescott a first-place vote, although that might be a questionable decision. Still, this was an incredible year for the talented player, and he will do whatever he can to end the season on a high note.

 

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

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Arizona Cheerleader Gives Up After Football Team Tramples Giant Flag

This isn't a good sign for the Arizona Wildcats.

As the cheerleaders led the team onto the field before the Wildcats' Fiesta Bowl showdown against Boise State on Wednesday, there was a slight issue with one of the flags. The "S" flag got stuck in the players, leaving one cheerleader in a tough spot.

Eventually, he gave up trying to get the flag upright and just walked off to the side.

[Vine]

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TCU Makes Statement in Peach Bowl Win over Ole Miss, Will Be 2015 Favorites

TCU looked like one of the four best teams in the country in a 42-3 rout of Ole Miss—and that is putting it lightly.

The Horned Frogs out-gained the Rebels by 294 yards to claim the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl title, proving in the process that they (a) were a College Football Playoff-worthy team this season, and (b) will be favored to make the playoff in 2015-16.

Trevone Boykin completed 22 of 31 passes for 188 yards and three touchdowns for an offense that entered Wednesday ranked No. 2 in the country in points per game and No. 4 in yards per game and lived up to its billing against the vaunted "Landsharks" defense.

And he did it with his signature flair.

As good as the Horned Frogs offense was in 2014, however, there is reason to believe it will improve next season.

The only senior in Wednesday's starting lineup was left tackle Tayo Fabuluje. Every other meaningful contributor is set to return.

Boykin is the leader, but TCU's supporting cast is just as impressive.

Running back Aaron Green came on late in the season and is a threat to score from anywhere. Ditto for Week 1 starter B.J. Catalon.

Receivers Josh Doctson and Kolby Listenbee can rival any pass-catching duo in the country, and center Joey Hunt and right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai both made the All-Big 12 second team.

TCU scored 42 points in 32 minutes against the No. 1 scoring defense in the country (13.8 points per game). One of its six touchdowns came on defense, and field position played a role in setting up a few of the other five, but that doesn't change the pace this team was on before taking its foot off the pedal with a 42-0 lead.

Co-offensive coordinators Sonnie Cumbie and Doug Meacham have reinvented the TCU offense, giving it an uptempo flourish.

The Horned Frogs had the No. 8 adjusted pace in the country, per Football Outsiders, and never scored fewer than 30 points in a game.

Last season, before hiring Cumbie and Meacham, TCU scored fewer than 30 points in eight of 12 games—the same amount of games it lost outright. The defense was strong, but the offense couldn't keep up, so the Frogs missed a bowl game for the first time since 2004.

Now this might be the most complete team in America.

But it's not just the TCU offense that is stocked for next season.

The defense is set to lose some meaningful contributors—chief among them linebacker Paul Dawson, defensive tackle Chucky Hunter, cornerback Kevin White and safety Sam Carter—but a huge showing from its younger players inspired hope for 2015.

James McFarland, for example, intercepted a Bo Wallace pass in the end zone for a touchdown in the second quarter. Derrick Kindred had a pick and a third-down tackle for loss. Ranthony Texada made a pair of great coverage plays on the Rebels' first drive.

Ole Miss averaged 2.01 yards per play.

Chris Hackett was the No. 1 safety on Bleacher Report's CFB 250 and has a big NFL draft decision ahead of him. His return would be a massive lift, but as long as defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas comes back for his 11th season, this defense will be fine regardless.

Remember, after all, that preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields was dismissed from the team in August.

TCU entered Wednesday with No. 6 defense in the country, per the F/+ ratings at Football Outsiders, despite losing its projected best player in fall camp and last year's best player (cornerback Jason Verrett) to the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.

Bumpas has laughed in the face of attrition for more than a decade.

Why should he stop laughing now?

TCU rose as high as No. 3 in the CFP standings but dropped to No. 6 after the final week of the season.

The Horned Frogs did their own job, pasting Iowa State 55-3, but were passed by outright ACC champion Florida State, outright Big Ten champion Ohio State and co-Big 12 champion Baylor, which handed TCU its only loss of the season in October.

There was outcry after the Horned Frogs dropped three spots, seemingly for reasons that were out of their control, but head coach Gary Patterson doesn't feel the need to rub their success in the face of the selection committee—or anyone else, for that matter.

"I don't think I have to say anything," he told Shannon Spake on the ESPN broadcast. "I think for next year, and what happened this year, I think everyone can see what kind of football team [this is]."

We can. And considering how much talent comes back, it's scary to think what kind of football team this might become.

"I think as a university, as a program, I don't think we've touched the iceberg," Patterson told reporters before the game.

After Saturday, though, that iceberg is dead ahead.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter @BLeigh35.

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Ole Miss' Embarrassing Peach Bowl Loss Shows Rebels Are Far from Being Elite

ATLANTA — Ole Miss entered the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl matchup with TCU with the No. 9 ranking from the College Football Playoff selection committee.

That is reflective of its rank in all of college football, not the SEC. 

During Wednesday's 42-3 loss to TCU in the Georgia Dome, that ranking looked more like that of a lower-tier SEC team.

The Rebels' "Landshark" defense—the top scoring defense in the country coming into the game—was sliced and diced by TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, who completed 22 of 31 passes for 188 yards, three touchdowns and gained 65 yards on the ground.

More problematic for Ole Miss was that all of its offensive problems from the season reappeared at the same time, creating a perfect storm of Horned Frogs domination.

Running between the tackles? That didn't happen. The Rebels gained just nine yards on the ground.

Blocking? That was an issue as well, as quarterback Bo Wallace was sacked five times, four of which came before star offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil left the game with a fractured fibula. ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough reported the news.

"They certainly had a good plan, and we have to go back and make ourselves better in a lot of ways, head coach Hugh Freeze said. "They had a good scheme for us. It felt like they knew when we were passing and when we weren't, and, boy, they won a bunch of one-on-ones."

Consistency from the quarterback? That was absent, too. Wallace looked confused in the face of the treacherous Horned Frog pass rush, throwing three interceptions and an embarrassing pick-six while trying to avoid a safety late in the first half.

"It's pretty obvious that I didn't want to go out this way," Wallace said. "We had a chance to help our team next season in the preseason ratings, and that was important to me. This program has given me a lot, and I felt like winning this game could be me giving them something—with a Top 5 rating in the preseason next year."

What's more concerning is that this really wasn't an anomaly. It's Ole Miss' identity.

The Rebels haven't been able to run between the tackles for the better part of Freeze's three-year tenure as head coach, have to pass to set up the run, still are without a consistent offensive line and now have to replace Wallace.

Sure, it's easy to say that Wallace's absence will be a blessing. But he was the best option this year. If he wasn't, DeVante Kincade or Ryan Buchanan would have taken more snaps.

Is junior college standout Chad Kelly going to come into Oxford and set the world on fire? Maybe, as long as he stays out of trouble.

Will Freeze jump feet-first in the quarterback free-agent market, which could include Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller? Buckeyes coach Urban Meyertold reporters that he expected Miller back next season, but with J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones also there, that could change once Ohio State's playoff run ends.

"You're going to consider anyone you feel like helps your football team move another step forward," Freeze said.

"I'm anxious to see both of those guys [Kincade and Buchanan] go to work, and whoever else we decided to bring in during the spring...we've got a lot of kids returning too."

Ole Miss is far from elite.

Its problems on offense have been apparent all year, became exaggerated when wide receivers Laquon Treadwell and Vince Sanders were lost due to injury and culminated with a putrid performance under the big top at the Georgia Dome.

If Freeze catches lightning in a bottle with a new quarterback, that's great. Fixing the offensive line and running game are far more pressing issues.

Until they are fixed, Ole Miss will struggle to break through the glass ceiling and get to Atlanta for the biggest game of each season—the SEC Championship Game.

 

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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UCLA Football: 4 Burning Questions Ahead of the Alamo Bowl for Bruins

With the 2015 Valero Alamo Bowl a mere two days away, Jim Mora and the UCLA football team have a few questions to answer with regards to the game. 

Kansas State is a quality foe in every sense of the term. The Wildcats are buoyed by fundamentals, discipline and energy. Unquestionably, head coach Bill Snyder will have his team ready to compete. It will be up to UCLA to match the expected intensity and execution. 

This piece will take a look at four burning questions for the Bruins. Three of those questions will directly correlate with the contest itself, while a fourth delves into the bigger-picture outlook. 

 

Can UCLA contain Tyler Lockett in all phases?

There's no question as to which player Kansas State relies upon offensively. 

The diminutive receiver epitomizes explosiveness and big-play ability. Lockett leads the Wildcats in receptions (93), receiving yards (1,351) and touchdowns (9).

Noted as the 2014 Big 12 Football Scholar-Athlete of the year, he was also named as the conference Special Teams Player of the Year. Lockett is deadly on both punt and kick returns. He's blessed with terrific vision to go along with superlative speed and quickness. 

Simply put, how will UCLA defend him? Conventional wisdom would suggest having First-Team All Pac-12 selection Ishmael Adams start out on him. However, it wouldn't be a shock to see Fabian Moreau on him—or even Myles Jack in certain situations. 

Lockett will be used in a myriad of ways—including on quick throws to the perimeter. UCLA has to limit the yards after catch and tackle well in space. If Lockett is evading defenders and picking up yards in chunks, it could be a long day. 

From a return standpoint, the coverage team has to clamp down on both punt and kickoff returns. Lockett is a threat to take the ball to the house every time he touches it. 

 

Will Jake Waters have a big game?

Waters is perhaps an amalgam of multiple quarterbacks UCLA has faced throughout the year. In all honesty, perhaps an apt comparison would be as a smaller, stouter version of Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan. 

He truly is the prototypical Snyder signal-caller. Waters plays with a lot of moxie and poise and is a very efficient quarterback. He doesn't turn the ball over often—as evidenced to his ratio of 20 touchdowns to only six interceptions on the season.

Waters is also an effective runner—especially on quarterback-designed runs between the tackles. On the season, the KSU quarterback is second on the team with 471 yards rushing and eight rushing touchdowns. 

UCLA has to play assignment-perfect football. This means exercising great gap integrity up front and not allowing Waters to pick up yardage with his legs. Potentially more than in any contest this year, UCLA has to be disciplined against this somewhat-unconventional offense. 

 

Will UCLA open up the playbook?

In what is likely Brett Hundley's last game as UCLA's quarterback, it will be fascinating to see whether or not the Bruins will look to exploit their athletic advantage in this contest. 

Noel Mazzone's offensive scheme is very much in the mold of running the football coupled with a dink-and-dunk style of throwing the football. Rarely has UCLA looked to attack the field vertically. Much of the passing attempts are of the horizontal variety. 

Against a stingy Kansas State defense allowing only 21.8 points per game, UCLA needs to try and loosen up the opponent by attacking down the field. This means integrating Mossi Johnson to a great extent—and also utilizing speedster Kenny Walker. 

Additionally, with more than a month to prepare for the game, it would behoove the Bruins to pull out some foreign formation and looks—not including the potential appearance of trick plays. 

 

Can UCLA win 10 games? 

We are currently in the midst of the most successful period of UCLA football ever. Mora has won more games in his first three years than any other UCLA coach has within the same time frame. 

It's the first time UCLA has won at least nine games in three straight seasons. A victory in the bowl game would equal back-to-back seasons with 10 wins. 

Additionally, a win versus a highly respectable opponent from a very good conference would only help to validate UCLA's rise as a program. 

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Ole Miss vs. TCU: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

The College Football Playoff selection committee may not have felt TCU was worthy of a spot in the Top Four, but the Horned Frogs left no doubt that they were one of the best teams in the country. Gary Patterson's bunch rolled over Mississippi, 42-3, in the 2014 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Wednesday. 

There is no shortage of ways to describe how impressive TCU looked against the Rebels. The offense picked apart an Ole Miss defense that came into the day leading the nation in points allowed per game (13.8). The defense was in Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace's face all afternoon, forcing the senior into many bad throws and allowing just 139 yards of total offense. 

What's more remarkable about TCU's win is how inspired the team came out, despite missing out on the College Football Playoff. Patterson told Carlos Mendez of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram earlier in the month that his team wanted this challenge and he wasn't worried about a letdown:

We feel like this is a playoff game. Ole Miss is a team that was as high as third in the nation, that played at a very high level, that could have been in the playoffs, lost a couple heartbreakers—exactly what I would want as a coach. The kids are going to practice hard because they know the competition level.

It's safe to say that Patterson pushed all the right buttons with his team in the lead-up to this game. TCU fans certainly weren't discouraged that this was the end of their season, based on this chant Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee recorded:

The only sad part about TCU's win is we won't get to see what would happen if the Horned Frogs got to play Alabama. 

Andrew Perloff of The Dan Patrick Show and Sports Illustrated was one of many on social media campaigning for a playoff expansion already:

Who knows how long it will be before the playoff gets expanded? CBS Sports conducted a poll of 27 FBS-level athletic directors in April, with 15 saying they believe the playoff will move to eight teams in the next decade. 

Until that time, there might be more controversy as far as the national championship is concerned. Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk posed a very interesting question about how Associated Press voters will cast their ballots after the season if Ohio State wins the playoff:

There's no doubt this was a loud statement win for TCU to anyone that doubted the program's credentials. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Horned Frogs did something against an SEC opponent that is a rarity:

Also via ESPN Stats & Info, this is TCU's first bowl win against an SEC team in nearly 80 years:

Despite putting up 42 points, TCU's offense didn't come out of the gate sharp. Trevone Boykin exited the game early in the fourth quarter because the game was over, but he threw three interceptions to go along with three touchdowns and had just 187 passing yards. 

The problem for Mississippi was Wallace was a disaster from the start. His college career ends in embarrassing fashion going 10-of-23 with three interceptions and no touchdowns. There's also this stat from ESPN's College GameDay that won't help the criticism:

Ralph Russo of The Associated Press summed up Wallace's day succinctly:

Wallace was getting beat up because his offensive line wasn't protecting well. He held the ball for too long because the receivers weren't creating any separation. When he did have time, he was inaccurate and throwing the ball to defenders. An injury to star offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil didn't help matters.  

It's a sad end to what had been a very good season for Mississippi. Head coach Hugh Freeze has built this program into one of the SEC's best in just three years, winning nine games in a season for the first time since 2009. 

Given how strong Freeze has been recruiting and the electric defense on display most of the year, Ole Miss will be back in 2015. 

TCU is going to ride this wave of momentum into the Top Five next season in all likelihood. The Horned Frogs will bring back Boykin and finished in the top 10 of both scoring offense and defense. Patterson got this program out of the early growing pains in the Big 12 to turn it into a national power. 

There won't be any controversy if TCU gets into the College Football Playoff next season. Based on how things played out this year, it would be an upset if the Horned Frogs weren't in the Top Four at the end of 2015. 

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Orange Bowl 2014: Mississippi State Will Survive Georgia Tech in Shootout

There are two ways to look at the matchup between Mississippi State and Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl: Either both teams are thrilled to be playing in the game or each team is disappointed with its lot in life.

The former viewpoint would suggest that both Mississippi State and Georgia Tech are overachievers and reached a bowl game most folks wouldn't have pegged them to reach this season.

The latter viewpoint points out that Mississippi State was at one point the No. 1 team in the country, while Georgia Tech lost a tight game to Florida State in the ACC title game.

Any way you slice it, Wednesday's game should be a fun one that will come down to the wire. Mississippi State is going to sneak away with a victory, however.

For starters, the Bulldogs have the best offensive player in this game in quarterback Dak Prescott and an excellent running back in Josh Robinson. Prescott had an awesome 2014, throwing for 2,996 yards, 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, while rushing for 939 yards and another 13 touchdowns.

He's been tough to stop all year, and as David M. Hale of ESPN.com writes, the one way to slow him down hasn't exactly been one of Georgia Tech's strengths this season:

In Mississippi State's 10 wins, QB Dak Prescott had a QBR of 81.4. In its two losses, his QBR was just 34.0. That makes the job for Tech's defense clear: Rattle Prescott. That job won't be easy, of course. Prescott was a Heisman favorite for much of the season, and he's one of the nation's top QBs. Moreover, Georgia Tech has struggled to consistently get pressure on the passer, ranking 105th nationally in sack rate. When it recorded two or more sacks in a game, Tech was 6-0 and allowed just 18 points per game. When it didn't, Tech was just 2-3 vs. FBS foes, allowing an average of 36 points per game.

When they aren't dealing with Prescott, they'll have to deal with Robinson, who rushed for 1,128 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. The Bulldogs boast a well-rounded offense that averages 506.2 yards (ranked ninth in the nation) and 37.2 points (14th) per game, so they'll attack Georgia Tech in a number of ways.

For Georgia Tech to win this game, two things need to happen: It needs to control the ball on offense and be opportunistic on defense.

It's managed to do both for much of the year. Head coach Paul Johnson’s option offense and standout quarterback Justin Thomas (965 rushing yards this year) have led Georgia Tech to the second-ranked rushing offense in the country (333.6 yards per game), one that ranks third in time of possession (34:02).

Mississippi State star linebacker Benardrick McKinney is going to have his hands full in this one. Really, all of the Bulldogs will. They talked with Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com about preparing for the triple-option attack:

"This will be the first real deal since high school and it was hard to stop then, so it's going to be even harder to stop on this level," Mississippi State cornerback Jamerson Love told reporters in South Florida. "They want to run the ball, but they will sneak it and throw it on you. They have some huge receivers. We just have to go out and play physical all game."

[Head coach Dan] Mullen added the biggest challenge is "the chop blocks—you can’t simulate that at practice. When you’re getting that type of speed and how aggressive all the chop blocks are, that’s one of the things that’s a huge challenge in preparing for these guys and how fast we adjust to the speed of the game."

The Bulldogs have been inconsistent against the run this season, yes, but they are better at defending that than the pass. While Georgia Tech can throw the ball around a little bit, its bread is buttered by running the ball. Plus, Hale reports the Yellow Jackets will be without star receiver DeAndre Smelter, which will really hurt the passing game.

That means that the Yellow Jackets may not be able to fully exploit Mississippi State's biggest weakness, a pass defense giving up 285.2 yards per game through the air (125th).

Georgia Tech doesn't only hold on to the ball—it also likes to take it away, forcing 27 turnovers this year and turning six of them into defensive touchdowns.

Georgia Tech's defense is going to have a hard time slowing down this Mississippi State offense, but if they can capitalize on a few turnovers, the momentum could swing in the Yellow Jackets' direction.

Still, the explosive nature of Mississippi State's offense and the ability of Prescott to take over at any moment is going to make the Bulldogs tough to beat. Georgia Tech is going to have to completely control the ball on offense, come up with timely turnovers and find a way to slow down Prescott and Robinson.

That seems like too much to ask from this Georgia Tech squad. This one is going to be close, but the Bulldogs will prevail in the end.

 

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Peach Bowl 2014: Game Grades, Analysis for Ole Miss vs. TCU

The No. 6 TCU Horned Frogs dominated the ninth-ranked Ole Miss Rebels 42-3 in the 2014 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Wednesday.

TCU (12-1) blasted Ole Miss (9-4), earning a 42-point advantage before a fourth-quarter field goal nixed a potential shutout.

Pass Offense: Bo Wallace telegraphed a pair of interceptions during the first quarter and was constantly pressured, resulting in the worst "Bad Bo" day of his college career. The senior ended his final game 10-of-23 for 109 yards with zero touchdowns and three interceptions.

Run Offense: Ole Miss failed to sustain a rushing attack, leaving all the pressure on Wallace—and that didn't work out well. The Rebels managed a mere 14 yards on 37 attempts, which was unsurprisingly a season-worst total and average.

Pass Defense: Put simply, the vaunted Landsharks struggled. They weren't helped by Wallace's interceptions surrendering field position, but three 25-plus-yard passing touchdowns were the secondary's fault. Keith Lewis, Cody Prewitt and Senquez Golson managed an interception each.

Run Defense: Although Ole Miss wasn't gashed on the ground, it couldn't really stop TCU, either. On first down, the Rebels allowed a meager 2.8 yards per attempt. On the other snaps, however, the Frogs racked up 5.5 YPA.

Special Teams: Will Gleeson averaged 43.1 yards per punt and blasted a 65-yarder, but eight kicks against a lethal TCU team means the offense probably isn't getting it done. Gary Wunderlich missed a 52-yard field goal before connecting on a 27-yard attempt.

Coaching: Hugh Freeze was outclassed by Gary Patterson in all three phases. Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack struggled to find an answer for the Horned Frogs' combination of pace and speed.

 

Pass Offense: Trevone Boykin completed 22 of 31 passes for 188 yards and three scores. However, he launched a few unnecessary passes and could've been intercepted more than five times, though the junior finished with three. Wide receiver Kolby Listenbee opened the scoring with a 31-yard double pass.

Run Offense: Since Boykin was so effective through the air, TCU didn't need much from the running game. Aaron Green tallied 67 yards and one touchdown and Boykin added 65 yards, complementing a strong performance from the wideouts.

Pass Defense: Without Laquon Treadwell, the Ole Miss receivers were again lost. However, the TCU pass rush didn't allow Wallace to find a rhythm or be comfortable in the pocket, disrupting the senior quarterback to the tune of five sacks, three picks and numerous hits.

Run Defense: The Frogs forced Ole Miss into minus-four yards during the first half, which is impressive even with sacks factoring in. Chris Hackett, Derrick Kindred and James McFarland each recorded an interception, while Marcus Mallet forced and recovered a fumble.

Special Teams: Jaden Oberkrom buried six extra points but pushed a 41-yard field goal wide. The kick-coverage unit limited Ole Miss kick returns to 21.0 yards per return, and Ranthony Texada ripped off a 65-yarder following halftime.

Coaching: Offensive coordinator Doug Meachem's aggressiveness was commendable, despite one trick play resulting in a turnover. Most importantly, though, he kept attacking Ole Miss. The TCU defense, led by coordinator Dick Bumpus, had its best performance of the season.

 

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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College Football Playoff 2015: Top NFL Prospects to Watch in Semifinal Games

College football fans will be watching the national semifinal games with a keen interest on the teams that advance to play for the national championship. NFL scouts will be paying close attention to the pro prospects who might just be putting the finishing touches on their college careers.

Here's a quick look at the top prospects to watch from all four teams.

 

Oregon Ducks

Marcus Mariota

Naturally, all eyes will be on the Heisman Trophy winner in what will likely be his final college game. Yes, that means I'm picking the Florida State Seminoles to win. This is a huge game for Mariota's stock. The Seminoles defense features a wealth of future NFL talent.

Seeing how Mariota performs against such a talented defense will give some clue as to what to expect from him in the NFL.

He's known for his leadership and great intangibles. He'll need both qualities if he hopes to keep the Ducks competitive against the defending national champions.

 

Florida State Seminoles

Jameis Winston

Think Winston wants to have a big Rose Bowl? Let's examine the various motivations for the polarizing Seminoles quarterback. First, he's the 2013 Heisman winner going head-to-head with the man who won the award this season. 

That makes for a naturally competitive situation. Winston is also likely winding down his tumultuous and wildly successful college career. At the most, he probably has two more chances to impress pro scouts in game action.

Last but certainly not least, there's a little thing called the national championship that Florida State won last year. Winston would probably like to defend that title as well.

 

Alabama Crimson Tide

Landon Collins

There doesn't figure to be a deep or talented crop of safeties in this year's draft, but Collins is by most accounts the best of the bunch. He's a crunching hitter who some believe could play free or strong safety.

Teammate Amari Cooper talks about being happy he doesn't get to see Collins' vicious hitting in practice, per The Game WDGM in Tuscaloosa.

While you'll read a good number of positive reviews on Collins, you'll also see scouts dish the negative his way.

Dane Brugler of CBS Sports thinks Collins is overhyped.

Collins does seem to struggle in pass coverage on deep routes. He could help to prove that criticism is untrue against the Ohio State Buckeyes. If the Bucks are to have any chance of beating Bama, they will have to make some plays downfield. Collins will be partially tasked with preventing that.

 

Amari Cooper

In my opinion, the most can't-miss offensive prospect potentially in the 2015 NFL draft is Cooper. His speed, hands, route-running and toughness make him the best receiver prospect by a long shot.

Bama's offense presents Ohio State with several problems, but how to match up with Cooper is probably the biggest. Without safety help, Cooper is ticketed for the end zone on deep throws, and that impacts the defense in a major way.

Enjoy watching him while you can, because it's only a matter of time before he's making plays on Sunday.

 

Ohio State Buckeyes

Devin Smith

As receivers go in college football, there's Cooper and then there's everybody else. Smith could vault himself into the national spotlight if he has a big game against Cooper's defensive teammates.

Cardale Jones will be looking to find Smith for the occasional big play to loosen up Bama's defense to make room for the run game. If Smith plays well, not only will he give the Bucks a chance to win, he'll also drastically improve his draft stock.

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Can Ohio State Really Upset Alabama in the Sugar Bowl?

Once the euphoria of landing in the first-ever College Football Playoff wore off—or at least dimmed down—one question permeated throughout Columbus:

Can Ohio State really beat Alabama?

And according to Las Vegas oddsmakers, the answer was a sobering one.

Opening as a nine-point underdog, per Odds Shark, the Buckeyes don't seem to stand much of a chance against the Crimson Tide in the eyes of those who know the sport best. Of course, Ohio State also headed to Indianapolis as a four-point underdog against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, before covering the spread by a season-best 63 points with a 59-0 blowout of the Badgers.

But beating 13th-ranked Wisconsin is one thing, and the Buckeyes' underdog status at the time was primarily due to OSU quarterback Cardale Jones making the first start of his college career. It's a safe bet that even if Buckeyes' star quarterback J.T. Barrett was healthy, Alabama would still be favored over Ohio State, who knows that it will have its hands full with the country's top-ranked team.

"Wisconsin is Wisconsin," Buckeyes defensive end Joey Bosa said. "Alabama is a different animal."

One look at the Crimson Tide's roster—and Nick Saban's track record—proves as much.

Future NFL draft picks litter both sides of the ball for Alabama, particularly on the defensive line, where the Crimson Tide have routinely rotated double-digit players throughout the season. Alabama also possesses arguably college football's best wide receiver in the past decade in the form of Heisman Trophy finalist Amari Cooper.

"Obviously [Cooper] could be the first pick in the draft," Meyer said of the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner, who's tallied 115 catches, 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2014. "He's that good."

Throw in that ESPN currently ranks eight Alabama players in its top 200 of NFL prospects for the 2015 draft, and this Crimson Tide roster is what college football has come to expect from Alabama since Saban took over the program in 2007. With a win over the Buckeyes, the Crimson Tide will move on to play for what would be their fourth national title in the past six seasons.

"Consistency at this competitive time is very impressive. And that's something everybody tries to model," Meyer said. "You can have that one-shot wonder, that one-year wonder, that one year where everything goes right. But to have it year after year, that's the model that people look for."

And while it's Alabama who's best embodied what Meyer went on to refer to as the "Patriots" model, he too has managed to build his own cradle of consistency in Columbus.

Since taking over the Ohio State program in 2012, Meyer has accumulated a remarkable 36-3 record, which has included winning streaks of 24 and now 11 games. Simultaneously, the two-time national champion head coach has been recruiting at a remarkable clip, even by his standard, luring three consecutive top-fiverecruiting classes to Columbus, with a fourth on the way.

The fruits of that labor were realized this year, when the Buckeyes were selected as the No. 4 team in college football's first-ever playoff, despite star quarterback Braxton Miller suffering a season-ending injury in training camp and Barrett going down a week before the Big Ten title game. If Ohio State has proved anything this season, it's that the Buckeyes are more than a one-man show, a roster stockpiled with young talent at almost every position.

"It's very difficult, the more competitive and the amount of exposure and every school in the country right now is trying to load up and become part of this playoff," Meyer said. "You see it happening every day across college football. To remain at the top is very difficult."

But to get there is even more difficult, which is exactly where Ohio State will be able to place itself with a win over Alabama on Thursday. That, of course, will be easier said than done, which brings us back to the current question heard 'round Columbus:

Can the Buckeyes really beat the Crimson Tide?

 

My Prediction

Since I wasn't responsible for writing B/R's original Sugar Bowl preview, I've yet to have gone on record with my prediction for the game. And while I'm not typically a fan of having to make such predictions, I figure a matchup of this magnitude—and column of this nature—warrants such attention.

To answer the question originally posed in this column, of course Ohio State can beat Alabama. The Buckeyes wouldn't be in the playoff if the 12-person selection committee didn't think they stood a shot in it, and they proved their worth with the dominating way in which they made their final case in Indianapolis. Regardless of what TCU and Baylor do in their respective bowl games, there isn't a more deserving team of the No. 4 spot in the playoff than Ohio State.

But will the Buckeyes beat the Crimson Tide? It's much more difficult to make that case.

On the surface, Alabama is deserving of its status as the heavy favorite, with a defensive mastermind in Saban having nearly a full month to prepare for a quarterback who at one point was Ohio State's third-stringer. The Buckeyes are talented—but young—and appear to be a year away from being legitimate national championship contenders.

But there's also reasons to like Ohio State's chances.

For one, Jones' inexperience also gives Saban limited film to work with when it comes to preparing for the Buckeyes. And of the film that does exist, Jones looks pretty impressive, consistently torching the Badgers secondary deep in his Big Ten title game MVP performance.

Add in that Meyer has thrived in his few opportunities as an underdog at Ohio State, and it becomes easier to see the Buckeyes pulling off the upset. Ultimately, I expect a game for the ages, a back-and-forth battle with just the right amount of plays on both sides of the ball for each team, with Ohio State pulling ahead late and Bosa sealing the deal with a game-clinching sack.

Crazy? Perhaps. But it's been that type of season in Columbus.

Final score: Ohio State 28, Alabama 24

 

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

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