NCAA Football News

Wisconsin vs. Auburn: Outback Bowl 2015 Preview for Big Ten vs. SEC Clash

Neither Wisconsin nor Auburn was satisfied with the way 2014 came to a close. The Badgers were routed 59-0 by Cardale Jones and the Ohio State Buckeyes, while the Tigers were gave up 55 points in a loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Both of these squads have a chance at redemption on New Year's Day, but only one will achieve it.

Wisconsin boasts the top running back in the nation and a very stingy defense, but Auburn's versatile offense features a dual-threat quarterback who is surrounded by a bevy of weapons. So, which of these styles has the upper hand in the 2015 Outback Bowl?

Before these teams return to the gridiron, let's take a look a the game's schedule, updated odds and predict the winner of this impending showdown between the Big Ten and SEC.

 

Game Information

When: Thursday, January 1, 2015

Where: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida

Time: 12 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN2

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Info (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 63.5
  • Spread: Auburn -7

 

Preview and Prediction

The player everyone will be keeping a keen eye on in the Outback Bowl will be Badgers running back Melvin Gordon. He may not have won the Heisman this year, but he was certainly a worthy candidate, rushing for 2,336 yards and 26 touchdowns while averaging an impressive 7.6 yards per carry.

Gordon's phenomenal year included breaking the Big Ten rushing record, the single-game rushing record and becoming the fastest player in FBS history to reach 2,000 rushing yards in a season. Yeah, that's pretty darn good.

Obviously, Auburn's 45th-ranked run defense that allows an average of 149.5 yards per game on the ground will have its hands full.

Although, it's not as though the Tigers don't have plenty of tape on the running back. In the Big Ten Championship Game, Ohio State successfully contained Gordon, allowing just 76 yards on 26 carries to the prolific running back. With no passing game to speak of, Wisconsin was shut out easily as a result.

Interestingly enough, Justin Hokanson of 247Sports.com tweeted that Auburn was in a similar situation back in 2003:

Of course, this is a completely different team in a completely different decade, but the point is, it's been done before.

Wisconsin's defense was very strong throughout most of the season; however, it began to taper off toward the end of the year, allowing at least 24 points in each of its last four contests, capping the year off with that dreadful showing against Ohio State.

That's not a good sign considering Auburn runs a very well-rounded offense that ranks 24th in the nation with an average of 35.8 points per game. However, like the Badgers, the Tigers inconsistently closed out the season, scoring at least 31 points in five of their last six games but only managing seven against a Georgia team that had given up 31 to Kentucky the week before.

On paper, it's easy to say Auburn must attack Wisconsin's 17th-ranked run defense since the Badgers are ranked fifth in the nation against the pass. Well, look closer. Yes, Wisconsin is ranked highly in that category, allowing an average of just 164.3 passing yards per game, but it is also allowing an average of 13.87 yards per completion; that's the fourth most of all teams ranked in the top 50.

The reason Wisconsin is ranked highly against the pass is due to the lack of aerial attacks in the Big Ten. This is where Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall really has an advantage. SEC Football noted the availability of big-play opportunities in the Outback Bowl:

A decent passer, Marshall, completed 60.1 percent of his passes for 2,315 yards and 18 touchdowns against seven interceptions in 2014. However, he finished the year with a bang, racking up 456 yards and three touchdowns against a stingy Alabama defense.

Much of his success in that game came from a resurgent Sammie Coates. The junior had his biggest game of the season, catching five passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns. It will be absolutely crucial for Auburn to get him involved right out of the gate.

Based on how these teams match up, Auburn has the advantage. Both defenses have their strengths and weaknesses, but the difference is on the offensive side of the ball, as the Tigers run a versatile scheme, while the Badgers are more one-dimensional.

Prediction: Auburn 30, Wisconsin 24

 

All team rankings and statistics courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 31.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Kevin Sumlin Reportedly Will Remain at Texas A&M: Latest Details and Reaction

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin is enjoying the college life and is reportedly not looking to make a leap into the NFL. 

According to sources speaking with ESPN.com, Sumlin intends to stay with Texas A&M despite receiving interest from around the professional circles.      

"Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has informed several NFL teams that have expressed interest in him that he will stay with the Aggies, according to team and league sources," per the report.    

Included in ESPN's report is a note about Sumlin's contract that states if he "leaves Texas A&M before the end of the 2016 season, he'll have to pay $5 million to get out of the deal." 

Rumors involving Sumlin and the NFL are nothing new. At this time last year, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported the Texas A&M coach intended to honor his contract with the school.

"Sumlin not only walked away from a chance to be USC's coach, but he is also declining all requests to interview for NFL coaching jobs as he'll honor the six-year, $30 million contract he signed with the Aggies on Nov. 30, according to several sources," Mortensen wrote.

However, Mortensen's report also cites an NFL source as noting "Sumlin is open to coaching a select professional team or two."

Considering Mortensen's point, it would appear the spot Sumlin might consider going to in the NFL didn't become available this year. 

Sumlin took over as head coach at Texas A&M in 2012 after guiding the the University of Houston to a 35-17 record in four years, including a 12-1 mark in 2011. He's won at least eight games in each of his three years with the Aggies, including three consecutive bowl wins.

Even though the Aggies had a disappointing 8-5 season in 2014, they were also breaking in a new quarterback after Johnny Manziel went to the NFL. Sumlin has work to do fixing the defense and getting more consistent play out of the quarterback position to make Texas A&M a force in the SEC, but he's made the transition from the Big 12 easier than anyone could have predicted three years ago. 

With reported interest already coming from NFL teams, Sumlin is poised to continue his success at Texas A&M and further boost his stock should he ever consider going to the pros in the future.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff Semifinal Projections from Analytics Guru Ed Feng

You want to know which teams will win the semifinal games for the first College Football Playoff. Can Ohio State stay hot and beat Alabama? Will Florida State shake off a season of close calls and beat Oregon?

I have run the numbers through my algorithm (based heavily on the yards-per-play metric) to evaluate the offense and defense of every College Football Playoff team and predict the winners. Here's the rub... 

 

Ohio State vs. Alabama

Ohio State answered many questions, especially on defense, with their 59-0 blowout win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.  Quite simply, the Buckeyes played their best game of the season. 

The Buckeyes defense entered the game ranked 30th in my numbers. They showed a particular weakness against the run with a rank of 51st in yards per carry adjusted for schedule.

However, Ohio State held Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon to 2.9 yards per carry (76 yards on 26 carries), effectively ending his hopes for the Heisman trophy. As a result, the Buckeyes' rush defense rose from 51st to 32nd after the game and the overall defense overall rocketed up from 30th to 14th.

Ohio State faces an Alabama offense that is surprisingly better at throwing than running the ball. On the ground, Alabama ran for 5.38 yards per carry not much better than the 4.97 college football average. After adjustments for schedule, Alabama ranks 20th in rush offense.

However, the Tide has the third-best passing offense in the nation.  QB Blake Sims has completed 65 percent of his passes and WR Amari Cooper totaled an amazing 115 receptions and 14 touchdowns. Sims and Lane Kiffin should have their way with Ohio State's DBs.

Unsurprisingly, Ohio Stat's biggest question mark is third-string QB Cardale Jones.  Jones was able to keep the machine moving in the Big Ten Championship Game, as he threw for 248 yards on 13.8 yards per attempt and kept Ohio State's offense ranked second in the nation. 

However, one should question whether Ohio State's offense will be this good when Jones makes the second start of his career against Alabama. We have just 35 pass attempts for Jones this season, far too few to be certain that he can maintain the success that J.T. Barrett had with the offense.

Because of this uncertainty over the quarterback, I adjusted Ohio State's rating by three points in predicting the College Football Playoff. This drops Ohio State from a five- to eight-point underdog against Alabama, very close to the betting line of nine points.

As a result, Alabama has a 71.7 percent chance to advance to the championship game.

 

Florida State vs. Oregon

Despite their undefeated record, Florida State struggled through their ACC schedule this season. They went 7-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less. However, win percentage in close games is a poor predictor of how a team will perform in future close games.

Does Florida State have a chance against Oregon? They do, and it's because of Oregon's defense.

Oregon's defense ranks 29th based on my yards per play adjusted for schedule. This is a significant drop-off from their ranking of fifth last year. Additionally, Oregon won't have injured Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, an excellent cover cornerback who would have matched up against Florida State's top receiver Rashad Greene.

Simply put, Florida State and QB Jameis Winston should be able to score points against Oregon's defense. And they must, because Florida State's defense has struggled all season.

On the other side of the ball, Florida State's defense has had a similar fate to Oregon's this season. After spending the last two seasons in the top five, the Seminoles defense has dropped to 35th this season. They are weak against the pass (50th), mostly because the pass rush has sacked the opposing QB on 4.1 percent of pass attempts, far below the 6.0 percent average. They face QB Marcus Mariota and a Oregon pass offense ranked first in the nation.

Florida State has fared better against the run and ranks 22nd in rush defense. However, defensive tackle Eddie Goldman has an ankle injury. He'll probably play against Oregon, but the entire defense will struggle against an elite offense in Oregon.

Oregon has a 78.9 percent chance to advance to the championship game.

 

Championship Game 

Based on numbers available right now, Oregon has the highest probability to win the college football playoff at 47.1 percent. Alabama has the second-highest chance at 37.7 percent.  If this were to happen, my analytics favor Oregon by 1.3 points, although this could change with more data from the semifinal games.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Orange Bowl 2014: Mississippi State vs Georgia Tech Odds, Over/Under, Pick, More

Both Mississippi State and Georgia Tech saw their seasons end in tragic fashion.

The Bulldogs appeared poised to be one of the four teams in the inaugural College Football Playoff before falling to Ole Miss 31-17 in the Egg Bowl. The Yellow Jackets shocked Georgia, winning 30-24 in overtime in the 2014 edition of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate, but were just edged by Florida State 37-25 in the ACC Championship Game.

Rest assured, these teams are entering the Orange Bowl with big chips on their shoulders, and we're going to get an exciting contest when two strong but diverse teams take the gridiron.

Before things get underway from Miami, here's one last look at the game's viewing information, odds, preview and prediction.

 

Game Information

When: Wednesday, December 31

Where: Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Florida

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Info (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 61.5
  • Spread: Mississippi State -7

 

Preview and Prediction

The most intriguing matchup in this contest has to be the Yellow Jackets' triple option against the Bulldogs' 25th-ranked run defense, which allows an average of just 126.5 rushing yards per game and 3.70 yards per carry.

Georgia Tech is the nation's third-ranked rushing offense, averaging a whopping 333.6 yards per game on the ground. Much of that success is due to dual-threat quarterback Justin Thomas. This season, the sophomore has thrown for 1,594 yards and 17 touchdowns while rushing for 965 yards and another five scores.

Thomas' strength is reading an opposing defense and making quick decisions with the football in hand. That was on display during the ACC Championship Game. Thomas racked up 104 rush yards, and the Yellow Jackets accumulated 331 yards and four scores on the ground as a team.

Unfortunately, Thomas isn't a prolific passer, completing just 50.9 percent of his attempts this season, and he's unlikely to take full advantage of Mississippi State's true weakness—its 121st-ranked pass defense, which allows an average of 285.2 yards per game.

The offense has been prolific this season, and while Mississippi State's defense has defended against the option in 2014, it has yet to see a triple-option attack. The Bulldogs are talented on the defensive side of the ball, though, ranking 10th in the nation in points allowed. The extra time to prepare for this contest gives them an advantage.

On the offensive side of the ball, all eyes will be on Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott. Thought to be a Heisman Trophy candidate earlier in the season, Prescott put up some gaudy numbers with both his arm and his legs. However, his production wavered later in the year with disappointing showings against Alabama and Ole Miss.

Luckily for Prescott, Georgia Tech's defense isn't as stout as the defenses of those two SEC squads. The Yellow Jackets are about average against the pass, ranking 64th in the nation and allowing an average of 227.6 yards per game through the air, and they rank 69th against the run, allowing 168.8 yards per game and 5.10 yards per carry.

Prescott hasn't eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the ground since October, but the Bulldogs have emerged as the nation's 20th-ranked rushing team. Running back Josh Robinson's usage has varied throughout the year, but he's averaging a healthy 6.4 yards per carry and has the ability to tear apart a defense allowing more than five yards per rush.

Once Mississippi State gets its running game going, Prescott will be able to take the top off the Georgia Tech defense with his strong arm. Usually on the receiving end of such big plays is 6'5" wide receiver De'Runnya Wilson, who is averaging 15.1 yards per catch this season.

Georgia Tech's triple option is likely to cause some issues for Mississippi State's defense. However, the Yellow Jackets will have a difficult time keeping up with a Bulldogs offense that is likely to get points on the board rather quickly.

Prediction: Mississippi State 35, Georgia Tech 28

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ole Miss vs. TCU: Live Score, Highlights and Analysis of Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

Keep it locked right here as we bring you live Ole Miss vs. TCU coverage!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: How Jim Harbaugh Can Save Wolverines' QBs

Jim Harbaugh was hailed as a conquering hero in Ann Arbor after spurning the NFL to be Michigan’s next head football coach. However, his enthusiasm may be tempered after reviewing his roster and finding a crucial lack of experience at the quarterback position.

“I want to win on the practice field, the classroom and the community. We want to win on fall Saturday afternoons, and we have great expectations for that,” said Harbaugh at an introductory press conference. “We’ll have great expectations for the first team meeting and the first week of winter conditioning. I can’t wait.”

The hard work now begins for Harbaugh. Brady Hoke didn’t fail for a lack of effort. His teams struggled because of an inability to develop and protect its quarterbacks.

Harbaugh will need to prove he can do better or risk failing to meet the expectations of Michigan fans who expect a quick turnaround.

In the NFL, Harbaugh had the luxury of having an experienced starting quarterback when he came in at San Francisco. It gave him time to draft Colin Kaepernick and mold him to fill the starting role.

At Michigan, Shane Morris (43-of-87 for 389 with five interceptions) has the most experience, but he is yet to throw a touchdown during his career.

Morris has started two games, a bowl contest his freshman year and the Big Ten opener this season versus Minnesota. His concussion injury versus Minnesota resulted in a national controversy. Morris will get a fresh start under Harbaugh.

Harbaugh will need to evaluate the quarterbacks currently on the roster (Morris, Wilton Speight and Russell Bellomy) along with incoming freshman Alex Malzone to find the best fit.

During his career, the former Stanford coach has shown a preference for a mixed offensive attack, but a lack of offensive consistency made it open season on Michigan quarterbacks under Hoke.

Details of his hiring revealed that his contract, while lucrative, is less than earlier reported. Harbaugh wanted to make sure that he had a healthy budget for his assistant coaches. 

Harbaugh’s experience will help cultivate his quarterbacks, but he’ll need to find a top assistant to develop the offensive line. Brady Hoke was soundly criticized for his loyalty to offensive line coach Darrell Funk as quarterback Devin Gardner scrambled for this life. Gardner took a beating during his final two seasons that greatly hampered his development.

Michigan does have two key building blocks returning next season in center Jack Miller and offensive tackle Mason Cole. Both helped the Michigan running attack make strides toward the end of the season and should adapt to whatever system Harbaugh installs.

The running back position is the next layer of defense for the quarterback position. Michigan is expected to have great depth next season, with De’Veon Smith, Derrick Green, Ty Isaac, Drake Johnson and Justice Hayes all expected to return.

The ability to pass protect may be the determining factor when it comes to which player starts next season.

Harbaugh must also decide whether to retain running back coach Fred Jackson, a stalwart on the coaching staff who has survived the retirement of Lloyd Carr and the dismissal of Rich Rodriguez.

Michigan once had a reputation for developing NFL quarterbacks. That needs to be true again to make Harbaugh's homecoming successful.

 

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand

Follow
@PCallihan

All season statistics from mgoblue.com, official University of Michigan athletic department web site.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football: Quarterback Position Should Be Up for Grabs in 2015

The 2014 football season was a wild one for Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong. He encountered many highs but also many lows.

Toward the start of the season, Armstrong had a goal. He wanted to complete 60 percent or more of his passes, as reported by Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln-Journal Star. Did he reach that? Unfortunately, he fell just a bit short.

The sophomore finished the season with a 53.3 completion percentage. He also threw for 22 touchdowns, with three coming against USC in the Holiday Bowl alone. On the other hand, he had 12 interceptions on the season, with one against the Trojans.

While Armstrong's numbers were not always strong—his completion percentage was only 33.3 against Wisconsin—the current starter showed grit and a strong will from the start to the end of the season.

Does that guarantee he will be the starting quarterback in 2015? It doesn't and shouldn't.

While Armstrong will likely be a decent favorite heading into 2015, he'll have competition from redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton and sophomore walk-on Ryker Fyfe. That's a good thing, too.

There's no reason the quarterback position shouldn't be up for grabs at Nebraska. With a new head coach, it's the perfect time to reevaluate the players and put them all to the test. That includes Armstrong.

During 2014, Armstrong had shining moments. Against Iowa and USC, for instance, Armstrong was able to turn around terrible first-half performances, as Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star noted.

"He clearly picked up confidence in the last two games," Sipple wrote. "During the fourth quarter and overtime at Iowa, he was 5-for-7 passing for 102 yards and two touchdowns (after a brutal first half)."

For Armstrong, opening the quarterback position back up will allow him to work on becoming a better player. What he showed in the second half against USC proved that he has what it takes, but now he needs to put that together for a full four quarters.

A lot of that can be corrected with an offensive identity. Nebraska struggled to find one under former head coach Bo Pelini and former offensive coordinator Tim Beck. The Huskers' new head coach, Mike Riley, understands that, as reported by Jon Nyatawa of the Omaha World-Herald:

We certainly have to establish an identity. And an identity has to be a blend of the system with what the players are comfortable with and good at. I think that's coaching. You take your talent and you make sure it's the right fit for the system — and you adapt the system as best you can to the team.

A clear offensive identity will do nothing but benefit Armstrong, as Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald wrote after the Holiday Bowl:

It’s hard to have one foot in “don’t make mistakes!” and in another “all right, we’re way down, run around, throw it deep and do your thing!” Against USC, Iowa and Michigan State — all feverish comebacks — Armstrong was better at the latter (he tended to make truer reads, even) but is in need of a coach who can settle him down, give a clear, consistent vision, and let him get good at a few things instead of dabbling in many.

One thing Nebraska lacked during Pelini's tenure was a true quarterbacks coach. According to ESPN.com's Dan Graziano, Riley has hired Danny Langsdorf, former Oregon State offensive coordinator and New York Giants quarterback coach, to take over the Huskers offense.

Lansgorf, alongside Riley, has experience with developing quarterbacks.

For Armstrong, it's all about polishing up his game now. He needs to spend the winter and spring working on the mechanics. He stills struggles, but a clear offensive identity and a coach who can help him grow will be extremely beneficial.

That doesn't mean the job is his just yet. Stanton and Fyfe should rightfully give Armstrong a run for his money. If nothing else, that will only further improve Armstrong as a quarterback.

With a true quarterback competition, Armstrong could come out victorious at the end. He also may not. However, the only way the Huskers will find the true leader of this team is to push and develop Armstrong, Stanton and Fyfe together.

That won't happen by simply handing the job to the current starter with no competition.

Armstrong is the likely favorite heading into the 2015 season. That doesn't mean he is a lock to start for Nebraska. That's a good thing, too.

As of right now, the quarterback position is anyone's to earn in Riley's new offense.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Cardale Jones Will Be Ohio State's Secret Weapon Against Alabama

Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones will enter Thursday's Sugar Bowl matchup against Alabama with one career start under his belt.

At first glance, that appears to be a big advantage for the Crimson Tide. But with four weeks to prepare, Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes coaching staff have had the time to turn Jones into their secret weapon. 

The 6'5", 250-pound redshirt sophomore fell to No. 3 on the Buckeyes' depth chart during fall camp, but season-ending injuries to Braxton Miller (preseason) and J.T. Barrett (vs. Michigan) thrust Jones into the spotlight. With six days of preparation, Jones was able to take over the starting duties and execute Ohio State's game plan to perfection in a 59-0 demolition of Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. 

That's the only usable film Alabama has on a quarterback it needs to stop in order to reach the national title game. With the meticulous way Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart prepare, that lack of film is an issue.

 

The Dangerous Unknown

Jones was brilliant in his first career start, completing 70.6 percent of his passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns against no interceptions. While his stats were gaudy, Jones truly wasn't asked to do much, attempting just 17 passes as the Buckeyes ran on 69.6 percent of their plays from scrimmage.

Despite Jones' easy workload, the Buckeyes still managed to carve up the nation's second-ranked defense, averaging 9.9 yards per play on their way to 558 total yards of offense. Ohio State was devastatingly effective, yet it still provided Alabama very little to work with in the scouting department. 

"He's a mystery," Alabama safety Nick Perry said of Jones, according to Trey Iles of The Times-Picayune (New Orleans). "Really don't know exactly what all he can do or what kind of offense they're going to have come game time so we're just preparing for everything and anything." 

That's not ideal for any team, let alone one coached by Saban. Alabama is a defensive juggernaut in part because of the way it prepares for the team it's facing. With Jones at the helm, the Tide will have to make adjustments and react to what the Buckeyes show them throughout the game rather than their preferred method of knowing what's coming.

Smart talked about the difficulties that presents, according to Austin Ward of ESPN.com

Well, not knowing how [Jones] reacts to different things would be the toughest thing. You don't know how he's going to react in certain situations. You haven't seen enough tape to know.  

That's probably the hardest thing for us to get prepared for is we're watching one quarterback (J.T. Barrett) in a lot of games, yet we're going to face a different quarterback. So knowing what they want to do with that guy makes it harder, tougher to get ready for. 

Still, this is an Alabama team that ranks 10th nationally in total defense and third in scoring defense. The Tide plan to put pressure on Jones and see if he has what it takes to stand in the pocket and deliver. 

"I know against us, he's going to have to do a lot of processing and a lot of thinking," Alabama safety Landon Collins said, according to Drew Champlin of AL.com. "We're definitely going to confuse him as much as possible." 

On the other side, Jones has watched plenty of film on Alabama's defense. He knows that the Tide don't need to get fancy because they execute so well. 

"There's been countless [hours], dating back to last year's Sugar Bowl, just trying to be prepared for any and everything," Jones said, via Ward. "It's not so much exotic, but I would say they're a schematic defense. They prepare for the team they play that week, and they change their looks to defeat that team's offense." 

Will Jones be ready for Alabama on New Year's Day? If you ask Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, there's no doubt at all. 

"I don't think there will be a moment in this game, or any future games, that he's not prepared for," Herman said, according to Nancy Armour of USA Today

If that's the case, Jones will be a nightmare for Alabama's defense. 

 

All stats via NCAA.com and B/R research. 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon Could Have a Big Day Versus Auburn in the Outback Bowl

When the 10-3 Wisconsin Badgers take on the 8-4 Auburn Tigers on New Year's Day at the Outback Bowl, expect to see a high-scoring game. The game will be played at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

Also expect to see a very productive day from running back Melvin Gordon of the Badgers. Why? Because of No. 25's performance for the bulk of the 2014 season and the fact that the Auburn defense has many shortcomings.

For the season, Gordon has rushed for 2,339 yards on 309 carries, which leads the country. That equates to a 7.6 yards-per-carry average. Gordon has also rushed for 26 touchdowns.

No. 25 can hurt you in the passing game, too, as he has 17 receptions for 151 yards and three more scores.

Auburn comes into its matchup against Wisconsin ranked just 57th in the nation in total defense. The Tigers give up an average of 388.7 yards a game. Auburn is also ranked 58th in scoring defense, as it gives up an average of 26.1 points per game.

Against the run, the Tigers are ranked 44th and have given up an average of 149.5 yards per game.

Gordon should be able to exploit that weakness.

But he will be helped if quarterback Joel Stave can have a solid day. Why? The biggest weakness on the defense of the Tigers is their secondary.

Auburn is ranked 80th in pass defense and has given up an average of 239.2 yards per game through the air.

Stave could have a nice afternoon. But No. 2 hasn't exactly had a stellar year throwing the football. Yes, the passing game got better for the Badgers once Stave was installed as the primary quarterback over Tanner McEvoy, but it still needs to improve.

For the 2014 season, Stave has thrown eight touchdown passes versus seven picks for 1,229 yards. His completion percentage is just 53.6 percent.

Stave needs to take advantage of the Auburn secondary. That will help Gordon since Auburn won't be able to stack the box like Ohio State did in the Big Ten Championship Game.

That means the receivers of the Badgers need to come through versus Auburn. Stave looks mostly to wide receiver Alex Erickson when he's passing. Erickson has 51 catches for 734 yards and three touchdowns.

Stave also likes to utilize tight end Sam Arneson, who has 27 catches for 354 yards and four touchdowns.

The key for both Stave and Gordon will be the play of the offensive line for the Badgers. It appears that starting center Dan Voltz will be able to play based on a report by Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

That will be key, because Voltz missed most of the Ohio State game due to an ankle sprain he suffered against Minnesota. With Voltz starting at center, the offensive line of the Badgers is more in sync and plays much more effectively.

The Badgers are ranked 22nd in total offense in the country. The running game is ranked third in the nation, while the passing game is ranked a paltry 116th.

The passing game has to improve against the vulnerable Auburn secondary. Otherwise, the Badgers could be in big trouble.

Why? The Tigers have one of the most explosive offenses in the country. They are ranked 16th in total offense and average 35.8 points per game.

Auburn can hurt you in the running game; the Tigers are ranked 12th in that area. The Tigers are ranked just 64th in passing offense, but they do have 21 passing touchdowns.

The offense is led by quarterback Nick Marshall, who can beat you with his arm and his legs. Marshall has thrown 18 touchdown passes versus seven picks for 2,315 yards.

He has also rushed for 780 yards and 11 touchdowns. The player who totes the rock the most for Auburn is Cameron Artis-Payne, who has rushed for 1,482 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Marshall will be missing his top receiver for the Outback Bowl, as D'haquille Williams will not play because he broke team rules, according to head coach Gus Malzahn. Williams finished with 45 receptions for 730 yards and five touchdowns.

Without Williams, expect to see receivers like Sammie Coates (30 catches for 717 yards and four touchdowns) and Quan Bray (34 catches for 408 yards and four touchdowns) have larger roles in the Auburn offense against the Badgers.

The Wisconsin defense—which played very well most of the season, only to be exposed in the Big Ten title game against Ohio State—faces a big test versus Auburn.

Going into the game, the Badgers are ranked fourth in the country in total defense, even after the 59-0 beating they took against the Buckeyes.

Wisconsin is ranked 17th versus the run and fourth against the pass. You wouldn't have known that based on the way the defense performed against Ohio State.

But knowing now that then head coach Gary Andersen was about to leave for the same position at Oregon State just a few days later, one has to wonder about the team's preparation prior to that game.

Because of Andersen's departure, athletic director Barry Alvarez will be the interim coach for this game, even with the hiring of Paul Chryst as the new head coach.

The last time Auburn and Wisconsin played in a bowl game was nine years ago in the Capital One Bowl. That was also supposed to be the last game Alvarez would ever coach, as the Badgers dominated the Tigers 24-10.

But Alvarez has now had to coach on an interim basis twice in bowl games. Once for the 2013 Rose Bowl after head coach Bret Bielema left to take the same job at Arkansas and now for the Outback Bowl due to Andersen taking the Oregon State job.

The game between Wisconsin and Auburn could come down to special teams on New Year's Day.

Bray is a dangerous punt returner for the Tigers. He has averaged 18.1 yards per return, which is second in the nation. He has two touchdown returns.

Kenzel Doe of the Badgers is 16th in the country in punt returns, as he averages 11 yards a return.

Both teams have solid kickers. Rafael Gaglianone of the Badgers is ranked 11th in the country in field-goal percentage, having converted 17 of 20 field goals. Daniel Carlson of the Tigers has made 12 of 17 kicks, which has him tied for 27th in the rankings.

Bottom line, the Outback Bowl should be a fun game to watch, as I expect to see plenty of scoring from the Badgers and Tigers. The team that has the fewest turnovers will most likely win this game.

I anticipate to see a lot of firepower in the game and wouldn't be surprised if Gordon, the Doak Walker Award winner, provides a lot of it.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Fan to Pay Up on Bet, Get Jim Harbaugh 'Saved by the Bell' Tattoo

As happy as most Michigan fans are that Jim Harbaugh is back in Ann Arbor, one fan now has to reluctantly pay up on a wager he made on Twitter a few months ago.

Back in October, one fan apparently didn't believe that there was a real chance that Harbaugh would become the next coach of the Wolverines. Thus, he sent out this tweet:

That was a big—and painful—mistake.

True to his word, the Michigan fan fully intends to get the tattoo. He has even set up a GoFundMe page to try to raise $200 to cover the cost of the tattoo.

He may not be looking forward to getting the tattoo, but he has to be excited that Harbaugh will be leading a new era of Michigan football.

For reference, Harbaugh appeared on a 1994 episode of Saved by the Bell as Screech's football-playing cousin. 

[h/t SB Nation]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon vs. Florida State: Top NFL Prospects to Watch for in Rose Bowl 2015

The Rose Bowl features some of the top talent from around the country, including the best quarterback prospects for the 2015 NFL draft. But even with the two signal-callers facing off, expect some defensive players to steal the show.

On one side, Marcus Mariota will look to prove he's the No. 1 pick as he leads Oregon in the College Football Playoff. Meanwhile, Jameis Winston hopes to overtake Mariota en route to a second straight national championship game appearance.

Eddie Goldman and P.J. Williams will wreak havoc on the defensive side of the ball for Florida State. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is out for the Ducks with a knee injury, which leaves the two Seminoles prospects plenty of spotlight to shine.

Here's a look at each player and a breakdown of their potential heading into the Rose Bowl.

 

Marcus Mariota

What's not to like about Mariota? The junior quarterback has been nearly flawless all season with 52 total touchdowns and just two interceptions.

His play was also good enough to earn him the Heisman Trophy a year after Winston took the award. A potential No. 1 selection when the draft eventually rolls around, Mariota has shown flashes of brilliance in both the passing and running game.

Along with his physical traits, Mariota continues to impress with his ongoing growth as a quarterback. Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost spoke about his offensive leader, via Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

Going against an athletic defense that has several NFL prospects of its own, Mariota has a chance to show off his potential yet again. Currently a virtual lock as a top-10 pick going in, expect Mariota to come away with even more buzz following the Rose Bowl.

 

Jameis Winston

The Heisman has been a gift and a curse recently for quarterbacks. Playing under the pressure it brings has clearly taken its toll on Winston this season, but he continues to find ways to win in Tallahassee.

One reason for his success with FSU is his resilience and confidence in his own ability. That was no more evident than when he spoke about throwing the ball against Richard Sherman leading up to the Rose Bowl, via Aaron J. Fentress of Comcast SportsNet:

Even with his draft stock still high, Winston needs a huge game against Oregon to show he's a serious contender to be the top quarterback taken. His 17 interceptions this year have raised some questions about his decision-making, but Winston remains one of the best prospects in the country.

Stepping up yet again on the big stage? That would solidify his status near the top heading into the 2015 draft.

 

FSU Defensive Stars

Pairing these two together seems fitting after both helped contribute to the Florida State defense. While the Seminoles weren't quite as effective as their 2013 campaign, both Goldman and Williams are worthy of being first-round picks.

Williams has 10 passes defended and one interception this season as a junior. He was also named the Defensive MVP during last year's national championship game, so he knows all about stepping up on the big stage.

Along with Williams, Goldman's impact has been felt up front with four sacks and great play against the run. The huge defensive tackle also appears to be healthy heading into New Year's Day, via Safid Deen of the Tallahassee Democrat:

Having both players on defense, the Noles have a chance to test Mariota throughout the afternoon. During the process, both Williams and Goldman can show off their potential in front of a national audience in one of the biggest games of the year.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Football: Reality-Check Time for Al Golden, Hurricanes Program

The Miami Hurricanes football program is a disaster. Following a 6-7 season that ended with a four-game losing streak, the unhappiness surrounding the program has reached a new peak.

"Fire Al Golden!" rings out from the masses on social media.

After all, the fourth-year coach matched Randy Shannon's tenure in Coral Gables. Both were 28-22 at this point and dropped a pair of bowl games. Golden's two saving graces were the NCAA investigation and a shared Coastal Division championship, but those don't matter much.

Per Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post, Golden believed the team was better this year though he admitted Miami is indeed what its record shows.

But finishing 6-7 isn't acceptable, and everyone involved knows it. Consequently, "fire everyone!" isn't a rare exclamation, either.

Morally, calling for a coach to be fired is not an easy thing. This is someone's livelihood. Another school might not come calling, and a man will be without a job. That's not something to ignore because an athletic team was disappointing.

No, that doesn't mean to never make changes because a coach might get his feelings hurt. But the animosity grown men directed toward other grown men in hopes of that person losing his job can be sickening.

With that being said, the cynical definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If Golden ultimately brings back the entire crew, Miami shouldn't expect anything other than a six-win season that includes a few completely uninspired performances.

Christopher Stock of InsideTheU (subscription required) said changes are coming to the Hurricanes staff, so perhaps something will develop soon, though that's not guaranteed.

Miami ripped off a 46-4 record during a four-year stretch from 2001 to 2004, and fans want to relive those days. The 'Canes won three BCS bowl games, one national championship and fell one overtime short of another. Some supporters wish for it so much, they are clamoring for Butch Davis—the engineer of that run—to return.

But it's time to wake up; 2001 was a long, long time ago. Comparing any team to the last title-winning team from Miami, frankly, is stupid. That was arguably the greatest roster in college football history. The Hurricanes will never have that team again. Heck, no program in the nation may organize a similar squad. The sooner that's accepted, the easier this process gets.

Speaking of the process, it was a legitimate thing heading into the 2014 season. Golden inherited a wasteland, fought through two years of an NCAA investigation, lifted Miami to a 9-4 record during his third campaign and buzzworded his way toward relevance.

But it's time to wake up. After serious regression in year four, changes need to be made on the coaching staff. The most notable shortcomings were on the defensive line and in the secondary, and the receiving corps wasn't a shining example of excellence.

According to Susan Miller Degnan of The Miami Herald, athletic director Blake James said that responsibility falls on Golden's shoulders.

I'm not going to get into telling him who our defensive coordinator, offensive coordinator, running backs, wide receivers, defensive line, offensive line, linebackers, DBs—whatever the [coaching] position is [should be]. I'll give him my thoughts. We'll share perspective. At the end of the day, those are his decisions.

At this point, the much-discussed NCAA cloud is completely irrelevant, and the process took a few massive steps backwards. Golden is out of excuses, and he must address obvious issues as his fifth year approaches.

The most glaring problem, of course, is the Hurricanes have consistently signed heralded players, yet year-to-year development is lacking. The struggles are a direct result of the coaching staff. Either Miami isn't targeting the right prospects or the athletes aren't being progressed properly.

"It's got to be the talent level," Davis said, according to Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. "Somebody is not evaluating the talent. Name the time they weren't ranked in the top 13 or 14 recruiting classes. And 29 of these guys are gone in the last four years, and [some of those still at UM] are not good players."

Miami is primed to sign another new group of promising players, such as Jordan Scarlett and Jaquan Johnson, who can provide an immediate impact. And so, once again, the 'Canes undeniably have a roster built to succeed.

Plus, with sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya at the helm, there should be little reason for Miami to lose seven contests, let alone four or five. The players must start putting it together on the field for 60 minutes, something only achieved opposite Virginia Tech and North Carolina in 2014.

But while coaching and on-field execution are obviously major parts of the Hurricanes' problem, they're not everything.

Sometimes, the same people who are adamant about a head coaching change are busy negatively recruiting against their own program. Few things are more counterintuitive than complaining about how disappointing a school is, bashing it and then wondering why it won't get better.

Many prospects have said "[School X] is showing me lots of love. The fans are hitting me up on Twitter." Similarly, the negative-toned, 140-character messages aren't falling on deaf ears, so it's not exactly helping.

That, and rule No. 1 of tweeting at recruits is "Don't Do It."

So what is Miami? Is it Alabama in the late 1990s and early 2000s, where the teams bounced around from six to 10 wins with little explanation before a resurgence? Is Miami turning into Iowa, where mustering bowl eligibility with a good-but-not-elite coach is commonly accepted?

Is a conference title the objective? Is winning the Coastal Division the ultimate goal? Or is Miami a premier academic school that happens to have a football team that used to be dominant?

The Hurricanes haven't won an outright conference title since 2002. They haven't managed 10 victories in a season since 2003. They haven't brought home a bowl trophy since 2006. They haven't defeated rival Florida State since 2009.

The media, whether national scribes, beat writers or bloggers, want to provide more reasons to explain what's happening. But right now, the University of Miami needs to answer those questions.

One year ago, we thought we knew what the Hurricanes were. They were on the rise. They were favored to win the Coastal. They were ready to establish themselves as an ACC power.

Entering 2015, Miami is a perennially underachieving team considering the roster's depth of talent. It's time to realize the current personnel isn't getting it done, lest it follow the definition of insanity.

If Golden and his superiors aren't willing to make the changes necessary to rebuild a winning program, it's time to stop expecting Miami to win.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Braxton Miller Transfer Rumors: Latest Buzz and Speculation Surrounding Star QB

Ohio State is going to have quite the quarterback controversy next season, it would appear. 

Despite persisting rumors that Braxton Miller would consider transferring to another school next season, head coach Urban Meyer said he expects Miller to return to Ohio State, per Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports:

Miller could transfer to another school without needing to sit out a year since he already graduated, and after J.T. Barrett's Heisman-esque season, many folks thought Miller would choose to leave Ohio State. The Buckeyes also have Cardale Jones in the fold, who played well in the Big Ten title game.    

According to Tom D'Angelo of the Palm Beach Post, Miller has been linked to Florida State, Oregon, Mississippi and Duke. He has thrown for 5,292 yards, 52 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in three seasons at Ohio State while also rushing for 3,054 yards and 32 scores, so most schools in the nation would welcome him with open arms.

If Miller chooses to transfer, Bleacher Report CFB analyst Adam Kramer believes Oregon would be the quarterback's top potential destination with Marcus Mariota set to turn pro:

He was in the 2014 preseason Heisman discussion before injuring his shoulder during an August practice. The injury has kept him on the sidelines for the entire season. 

It appears he won't be leaving the Buckeyes, however, which should make for quite the quarterback battle for the starting gig next season. Ohio State will be testing the theory that you can never have too much of a good thing.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama vs. Ohio State: Each Team's Key to Victory in Sugar Bowl 2015

Everyone has different expectations for the College Football Playoff, but the truth is anything can happen.

The season will feature the first-ever national semifinals in the sport, and the games decided by the committee came with a lot of debate. Ohio State had to convince the world that its loss to Virginia Tech earlier in the year was a fluke, while Alabama relied on its difficult strength of schedule in the SEC to make its case.

The result is the Crimson Tide coming into the game as a nine-point favorite, according to Odds Shark, with many thinking the Buckeyes have no chance of victory. However, counting out the Big Ten champs would be a major mistake.

Either team could win this game and compete for a national title if it follows its keys to victory.

 

Ohio State

Stick with the Run

Quarterback Cardale Jones impressed in his first career start against Wisconsin, throwing three touchdowns with no interceptions to help Ohio State win the Big Ten title. This was quite a showing for someone who came into the year third on the depth chart at quarterback. 

That being said, the Buckeyes limited Jones' involvement to just 17 pass attempts thanks to the big lead and the play of running back Ezekiel Elliott.

The sophomore torched the Badgers defense in the win to the tune of 220 yards and two scores, taking the pressure off Jones. He will need to give the team similar production against Alabama to prevent the defense from taking advantage of an inexperienced quarterback.

On the plus side, head coach Urban Meyer has a lot of faith in his running back:

The important thing is not forgetting who helped you get to this point, even if the start of the game doesn't go as planned. In J.T. Barrett's second career start, the Virginia Tech game (Ohio State's only loss of the season), the quarterback completed nine of his 29 pass attempts while throwing three interceptions.

Elliott only received eight touches in the loss.

Ohio State needs to give the ball to its best offensive playmaker no matter what happens early in the game.

 

Key on Amari Cooper

Amari Cooper is the best receiver in college football this season and one of the most talented ever to compete at this level. He heads into the bowl season with 115 catches to lead the nation and is always a threat to score whenever he has the ball.

Stopping him would be fun, but it's not as easy as it sounds. Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell joked that the only thing that could slow down Cooper was nature:

Of course, these are unlikely outcomes in a dome.

Even if you aren't completely shutting down the receiver, though, there are ways to limit him, and Ohio State has to find it. According to Nicole Auerbach of USA Today, "One coach said his team decided it would stop Cooper at all costs and let 'anybody else on the football field' beat it."

Using cornerback Doran Grant as part of a double-team or triple-team against Cooper would seem like a smart plan considering Alabama's lack of options around him. The projected first-round pick had more than three times as many catches as the next closest player on the team and 42.9 percent of the squad's overall receptions.

Alabama quarterback Blake Sims will do whatever he can to target his No. 1 option, but Ohio State has to at least force him to look in other places in this game.

 

Alabama

Stop the Big Play

Ohio State sometimes lulls opponents to sleep with its offense, but it wakes everyone up with a big play either on the ground or through the air.

Against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, receiver Devin Smith finished with touchdowns of 39, 42 and 44 yards. Elliott also came through with an 81-yard run.

These are not flukes. Elliott now has three games in a row with a touchdown of at least 40 yards. Barrett also had an 86-yard touchdown last month, while Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson all have plays of at least 40 yards this season.

Alabama has to be ready for this type of play at all times, and a lot of that falls on safety Landon Collins.

Collins has been outstanding all year, earning All-American honors with just about every publication. Former teammate AJ McCarron had great things to say about the junior when talking to The Game 99.1:

The important thing will be for him to stay focused at all times against both the run and the pass. He can't bite on play-action passes and leave receivers open deep.

As long as everyone does their job and wraps up tackles, the Crimson Tide should be able to prevent a potential game-changing touchdown.

 

Get Blake Sims on the Move

Alabama is used to having "game managers" at quarterback, with the job being mostly handing the ball off and avoiding mistakes. However, Sims has brought the team a new dynamic in his first year as a starter.

The senior finished the regular season with a Total QBR of 88.3, trailing only Marcus Mariota in this category. This takes into account everything a quarterback does to help his team win, and it's now clear Sims is an important part of the team's success.

NFL analyst Benjamin Allbright has liked what he has seen from the passer:

The problem is that he will face a real challenge from Ohio State in the form of one of the best defensive lines in college football. Joey Bosa headlines the group, but Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington can make plays as well.

If the Crimson Tide ask Sims to be a pocket passer in the Sugar Bowl, he will get killed. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has to call plays where he can get out of the pocket and either throw on the move or run for big gains.

Sims has great athleticism and has shown the ability to make things happen on the run all year. This will be extremely valuable in this one because it will be the only chance Alabama has to move the football.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ole Miss vs. TCU: Complete Peach Bowl 2014 Viewing Guide and Predictions

Even though it doesn't fall into the same category of the Big Four bowl games, the 2014 Peach Bowl is one of the biggest games of the college bowl season because it features two Top 10 teams. Mississippi looks to end its miracle season with a win, while TCU wants to show the world it belonged in the playoff discussion. 

This will be an emotional game for the Rebels, or at least for quarterback Bo Wallace. The senior is playing in his final game with the program after three years as a starter. Head coach Hugh Freeze is looking to become the first Mississippi coach to win three straight bowl games since John Vaught won four in a row from 1957-60. 

For the Horned Frogs, this is the game that will define their season. They may not have a chance to compete for a championship, but their argument as one of the top four teams is legitimate. Given how revered the SEC is, as well as the strength of Mississippi's defense, TCU can make a loud statement with a win on Wednesday. 

With so much on the line for both programs, it's no wonder that the Peach Bowl is one of the most anticipated games on the schedule. Here is everything you need to know before things kick off, as well as a final prediction. 

 

What Ole Miss Must Do

Mississippi has been carried by its defense all year. The Rebels allow an NCAA-best 13.8 points per game and allowed 20 or more points three times in 12 games. Freeze's secondary has been tremendous, ranking third in passing touchdowns allowed (eight), tied for sixth in interceptions (19) and 16th in pass yards allowed (187.6), per Yahoo.com.

That group will have its hands full with an explosive TCU offense that finished second in points per game (46.8) and seventh in passing (332.8). The Horned Frogs' only loss was in a game they scored 58 points. 

There is reason to believe Ole Miss can slow down TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin. In the final game of the regular season, the Rebels held dual-threat quarterback Dak Prescott to 48 rushing yards on 24 carries. The Mississippi State star did have 282 passing yards, but his game is built on being able to run first. 

Boykin isn't a significantly better passer than Prescott. The TCU standout had 718 more passing yards, but he also threw 116 more passes. Prescott had a sizable edge in yards per attempt (8.68 to 8.02) and slightly better completion percentage (61.2 to 60.5). 

Being able to look over the tape of the Mississippi State game, the Rebels defense should be able to keep this matchup close. 

On the other side of the ball, Todd Fuhrman of FoxSports.com noted that Mississippi's offense is underrated, or at least underappreciated:

"I think the biggest surprise for most is that Ole Miss actually has a very efficient offense as well, ranking 34th...but still 11 spots below their Chick-Fil-A opponent," Fuhrman wrote. 

Wallace has endured his share of criticism, yet it's important to remember he had 251 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions against Alabama earlier this year. He is capable of putting up big numbers in a key spot. 

Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com noted that Wallace compares favorably to an Ole Miss legend, including a quote from offensive coordinator Dan Werner:

Nobody ever coined the term "Good Eli, Bad Eli," but Manning was an interception machine just like Wallace. In his final two years at Ole Miss, he threw 25 picks. Wallace, over his junior and senior seasons, has four fewer. 

"The issue that Bo has is that he’s a gambler, he’ll take some shots," Werner said. "The thing is, if you’re going to take some shots, sometimes they’re going to work out and make big plays and everybody gets excited, and sometimes it’s not going to work out and it’s going to get intercepted. He’ll make...two of the exact same decisions in a game, one is for a touchdown and the other is for an interception." 

Mississippi's defense is so good that Wallace doesn't need to have the same performance he did against Alabama. As long as he avoids those mistakes and is efficient throwing the ball, the Rebels will be in the game down to the wire. 

 

What TCU Must Do

As impressive as TCU's offense has been this season, it's entering a different world against Mississippi. With respect to the Big 12, the Horned Frogs' schedule wasn't full of defensive juggernauts. They only faced one defense that finished in the top 25 of points allowed (Kansas State) and three others in the top 40 (Minnesota, Texas, Baylor). 

Boykin got a word of advice from Prescott about what to expect from Mississippi's defense, via Hugh Kellenberger and Courtney Cronin of The Clarion-Ledger:

"I talked to (Mississippi State quarterback) Dak Prescott about them and we chopped it up," Boykin said. "He told me they're a pretty physical team and they're going to fly around a lot."

In the same article, the TCU quarterback also talked about the difference in talent between the Rebels defense and what he usually faces in the Big 12: 

"No, not at all," Boykin said. "The athletes they have on that side of the ball, it's kind of crazy because you don't see that every day in the Big 12 and it's going to be something new for us."

Being able to counter that speed and physicality is essential for TCU to succeed in the Peach Bowl. 

There's also the question of how motivated TCU will be to play this game. Even though no one on the roster would admit it, going from the potential high of playing in the College Football Playoff to the Peach Bowl is a letdown. 

Zac Ellis of Sports Illustrated wondered about the Horned Frogs' motivation factor after being left out of the championship race:

Five days before the final College Football Playoff rankings were unveiled, TCU sat at No. 3 in the selection committee’s top 25. The Horned Frogs then whipped Iowa State, 55-3, on Championship Saturday. But rather than punching their playoff tickets, the Big 12 co-champions dropped to No. 6 while Big Ten champion Ohio State slid into the semifinal field. Now TCU players who expected to compete for a championship are spending the New Year in Atlanta.

TCU head coach Gary Patterson told reporters earlier this month that he's treating this like a playoff game because of the team on the other side of the field, via Carlos Mendez of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

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.

The spin cycle was in full effect on that day. The only way to know how TCU players feel about being in the Peach Bowl is seeing how they play. It's not likely the Horned Frogs will come out with their heads down, but Mississippi's defense can make any offense look lackluster. 

 

Prediction

In matchups like this, it's always safest to bet on the physical team. TCU has been one of the best teams in the nation this season, but it's going up against a unique opponent, the likes of which it hasn't seen in 2014. Mississippi doesn't always look pretty, though you don't get style points for winning games. 

Ole Miss 27, TCU 23

 

Stats via ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Fiesta Bowl 2014: Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Arizona and Boise State enter the Fiesta Bowl following completely different conclusions to their seasons.

The Wildcats were riding high for a while, winning four consecutive games, which included victories against Utah and Arizona State, before being derailed by Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game. On the other hand, the Broncos suffered a tough loss to Air Force back in September but went on an eight-game winning streak to close out the season with a Mountain West title.

Despite those very different results, these teams have a number of similarities, including balanced offenses, good turnover margins and the ability to get after opposing quarterbacks. Those attributes make this impending contest even more compelling.

Will Boise State continue its success in the Fiesta Bowl, or will Arizona rise to the occasion in its own backyard? Before we get underway from Glendale, here's a look at the latest spread, injury updates, game schedule and final prediction for this highly anticipated showdown.

 

Game Information

When: Wednesday, December 31

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona

Time: 4 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Info (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 67.5
  • Spread: Arizona -3

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports courtesy of The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Preview and Prediction

Boise State's offense has a great chance to do some damage in the Fiesta Bowl. Arizona's defense ranks 73rd in points against, allowing an average of 27.5 per game. Much of that has been due to the team's ineffectiveness against the pass; Arizona ranks 117th in the nation, giving up an average of 279.1 passing yards per game.

This means Broncos senior quarterback Grant Hedrick really needs to step up. He has maintained his accuracy this season, completing 70.9 percent of his passes; however, he's also made his fair share of mistakes, tossing a career-high 13 interceptions.

There is good news for Boise State: Hedrick improved his ball security over the back half of the season. Since throwing four picks against Air Force, he's been mistake-free in five of his final eight contests, throwing more than one interception in just one game.

One big way for the Broncos to ensure their quarterback avoids turnovers and lights up a susceptible defense is to get the ground game going. Arizona isn't much better defending opposing rushing attacks, ranking 72nd in the nation and allowing an average of 170.4 yards per game. This is where Jay Ajayi comes in.

Ajayi has been the team's biggest offensive weapon this season, racking up 1,689 yards and 25 touchdowns while maintaining an average of 5.2 yards per carry. Getting him going early will help open up passing lanes for Hedrick and keep Arizona's pass rush at bay.

If the Wildcats are to find success against Boise State, quarterback Anu Solomon has to get back on track. The freshman separated himself from the pack early in the season and wound up completing 58 percent of his passes for 3,458 yards and 27 touchdowns against seven interceptions.

Solomon had some big games—he had two five-touchdown performances this season—but he was dreadful in the Pac-12 championship game against Oregon, finding himself under pressure often and completing six of his 12 passing attempts for 34 yards. He was benched as a result.

Boise State's pass rush is no joke, and Solomon will need help from his supporting cast to avoid another disastrous outing.

The quarterback's best defense against the rush is running back Nick Wilson. This freshman ball-carrier was stellar throughout the season, eclipsing the 100-yard mark in seven games while racking up 1,289 yards and 15 touchdowns. He's averaging 5.9 yards per carry and should be able to do some damage against a Broncos run defense that's seen a rather soft schedule this season.

If Wilson gets going early, he'll be difficult to stop. In the six games in which he received at least 20 carries this season, he rushed for at least 153 yards in five of them and scored a total of 11 touchdowns. Utilizing Wilson as an offensive workhorse is how Arizona will emerge victorious.

Taking everything into consideration, the upper hand here goes to Boise State. The Broncos enter the game with tons of momentum, and they have been the more consistent of the two teams of late. While defeating the Wildcats in Arizona will be a tall order, the well-rounded team will get the job done and remain undefeated in the Fiesta Bowl.

Prediction: Boise State 34, Arizona 31

 

All team statistics and rankings courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 31.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida State vs. Oregon: Why Ducks Will Prevail in 2015 Rose Bowl

There are similarities between Oregon and Florida State, and there are major differences. Both teams have a Heisman winner at quarterback, for instance, and each program has reached the national championship game in the past four years. 

However, there are major differences as well.

Oregon has been blowing out opponents down the stretch, for instance, while Florida State has managed to stay perfect by the skin of their teeth. 

The differences in this game tend to favor Oregon. Let's break down a few reasons why the Ducks will triumph in this year's Rose Bowl.

 

Marcus Mariota is the Best Player in College Football

Winston was awesome last year but has been inconsistent in 2014, a concern for the Seminoles. Mariota, on the other hand, has been absolutely brilliant all season long for the Ducks. His 4,478 yards from scrimmage and 53 total touchdowns are impressive enough, but it helps that he's only thrown two interceptions this season.

Just to be clear, once again, Mariota has only thrown two interceptions this season. That's insane.

There's no questioning that Winston possesses the clutch gene, but the problem for Florida State is that he's performed poorly early in games. His splits paint that portrait pretty clearly.

Against Oregon, a slow start could quickly turn into a blowout, as the Ducks have one of the nations's most electrifying offenses.

Maybe Winston is the better fourth-quarter quarterback, but Mariota has generally been good for entire games. That will be a major factor in this contest.

 

Margin of Victory

Florida State has won seven games by seven points or less, while Oregon has beat every opponent by 12 or more points since losing to Arizona on October 2. Florida State has needed to come from behind in nine games to win this year, while Oregon has won nine games by 15 or more points and is third in the nation in points scored per game with 46.3.

The point is pretty simple—if the Seminole comes out flat, the Ducks will steamroll them. Many of the teams on Florida State's schedule weren't able to punish Winston and company for starting slow and failed to fully capitalize on the opportunities presented to them. 

The Ducks don't need opponents to create opportunities for them. They often do that on their own just fine. The Seminoles generally get better on defense as the game goes on, but against Oregon that tendency might just be their undoing.

 

Oregon Isn't Soft

Often in matchups like this, the more physical team is able to push around the "finesse" offense, taking them out of their rhythm and beating them up in the process.

However, according to Florida State's defensive coordinator, Oregon is anything but a finesse team.

Per Bill Bender of the Sporting News:

[Oregon's recent] success is enough for Florida State defensive coordinator Charles Kelly to dismiss the notion Oregon is a finesse team. Kelly emphasized that not all spread offenses deserve that tag. He said the Ducks run between the tackles—the ‘A’ gaps—as well as anybody. Finesse teams don’t do that. He’s also heard this line in the same place last year.

'To me, finesse is throwing the ball around the perimeter all the time,' Kelly said. 'They move the pile. Going into the national championship game last year, the same thing was said about Auburn.'

That translates to the defense, too. The Ducks have held four of their last five opponents to 19 points or less, and they held an Arizona team averaging 34.8 points per game to just 13 in the Pac-12 title game.

The traditional argument against the Ducks is that they are soft, easily pushed around, shaken if a team gets in their face and hits them hard. However, all indications about the current players suggest they are far more than a finesse team. This is a team that will run the ball right at you, one that has played much better defense down the stretch, and one that has seen the offensive line really come together as the season has progressed. 

Florida State might ultimately win the physicality battle in this game, but it's far from a given. Frankly, don't be surprised if the Ducks push the Seminoles around a bit. 

 

 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Malik Zaire Is the 'Real Deal' and Will Be No. 1 QB Heading into Spring

Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire showed everyone he is ready for prime time with his performance in the Music City Bowl, leading the Fighting Irish to an upset of the LSU Tigers, 31-28.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee explains why he thinks Zaire will be the No. 1 QB for the Irish next season. 

Who should start at QB for ND next season?

Watch the video, and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Mark Richt Not Retiring from Georgia

The coaching carousel never stops spinning, and for a moment, it appeared that it could take off at ludicrous speed in Athens, Georgia.

Rumors surfaced Monday and Tuesday that the Belk Bowl could be the last game in red and black for Georgia head coach Mark Richt, who was wrapped up his 14th year at the helm of the program with a 37-14 win over the Louisville Cardinals.

Brian Straw of Houston's SportsRadio 610 tweeted the following just hours before the game:

That isn't happening. Richt told reporters after the game that the plan is to return to Georgia for the 2015 season, according to Seth Emerson of The Telegraph (Macon, Georgia):

And why wouldn't he?

Running back Nick Chubb had a career-high and SEC bowl-best 266 rushing yards in the Belk Bowl, Georgia returns four of its five starting offensive linemen, and the defense will be in its second season under coordinator Jeremy Pruitt in a down SEC East.

Unless there's something going on behind the scenes that is truly impossible to overcome, Richt owes it to himself to keep fighting. The program wasn't able to elbow its way through the open window in the division in either of the last two seasons, but that doesn't mean Richt should throw in the towel.

 

Losing a Key Piece?

Most of the talk after LSU's 31-28 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl loss to Notre Dame centered around the possibility of defensive coordinator John Chavis' possible move to the same role at Texas A&M or the stagnant LSU offense, which was again one-dimensional by necessity against the Fighting Irish.

That offense could take another hit.

Left guard Vadal Alexander was asked after the game if he had made a decision regarding the possibility of an early jump to the NFL draft.

"I have to sit down and talk to my family about it," he said. "We have to discuss it, but I haven't made a decision yet."

If he chooses to jump, it'd be a big blow to the LSU offense. The Tigers are already losing senior left tackle La'el Collins and senior right guard Evan Washington. If Alexander also bolts, the Tigers could easily struggle next season at the one dimension they do well.

Running back Leonard Fournette was a stud this season and capped if off with a 264-total-yard, three-touchdown performance vs. the Irish. But if Alexander and Collins—LSU's two best offensive lineman—depart, and the Tigers have to replace both guards, it's unlikely that the holes Fournette and the rest of the Tiger running backs ran through in 2014 will be as big in 2015.

LSU deals with early entrants into the NFL draft every year, and it came back to bite them offensively this year. The Tigers need Alexander back in a big way.

 

Tone-Setter

Arkansas held Texas to a pitching wedge worth of offense during Monday night's Texas Bowl, when the Longhorns managed just 59 total yards and just two on the ground.

No, it was worse than that. It was more like a 60-degree lob wedge out of the rough that's all grass.

The strong defensive performance from Bret Bielema's crew absolutely sets up the Hogs to be an elite defense in 2015. Are defensive end Trey Flowers and linebacker Martrell Spaight moving on?

Yes. 

But the return of defensive tackle Darius Philon coupled with the late-season success of defensive coordinator Robb Smith gives Arkansas a solid foundation to build off of. 

After shutting out LSU and Ole Miss in November and stymieing the Longhorns, it's clear that the program is heading in the right direction. That's not good enough, according to Bielema (via Bo Mattingly of Sports Talk with Bo):

Will the Hogs be contenders in the SEC West in 2015? That might be a stretch. But a jump to the nine- or 10-win plateau is possible, similar to the jump Ole Miss made this year. The right defensive coordinator and system are in place, running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins return with quarterback Brandon Allen, and four offensive linemen will be back.

Look out, SEC West. Even if the Razorbacks don't win, they'll surely beat up the opposition.

 

The Waiting Game

While head coaches and coordinators draw most of the attention during the coaching silly season, position coaches also become hot commodities.

One position coach who is drawing a ton of attention is Florida's defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson. Robinson has been in his current role at Florida since Will Muschamp was hired to be the Gators head coach in 2011, but he's now in limbo after Muschamp was let go and subsequently signed on to be Auburn's defensive coordinator.

Will Robinson stay? With his recruiting coordinator duties possibly going to Arkansas linebackers coach Randy Shannon, according to Fox Sports contributor Joey Vizzi, it doesn't seem like it.

Will he follow Muschamp to Auburn? Could he be waiting to see what happens at Texas A&M?

Robinson is still on Florida's staff and will be with the team during Saturday's Birmingham Bowl against East Carolina. As soon as the clock hits zero at Legion Field, however, expect things to move quickly on the "T-Rob" front. He played safety at Auburn and is known as one of the top recruiters in the state of Florida, according to 247Sports.com.

If Auburn steals him away, it will be the biggest recruiting win of the season, high school prospects included.

 

It's That Time of Year

The holiday season is the perfect time to tell your loved ones that you love them, and what better way to do that than with tickets to one of the biggest games in college football history?

That's exactly what one Alabama fan did on Christmas, when he surprised his father with tickets to the Crimson Tide's Allstate Sugar Bowl national semifinal matchup with Ohio State.

"It's sugar. It's a bowl. It's a Sugar Bowl."

Watch the emotional reaction:

 

Quick Outs

  • Nick Chubb for Heisman in 2015? His performance against the Louisville defense will get him in the discussion, but only two non-quarterbacks have won the award since 2000 (Reggie Bush in 2005 and Mark Ingram in 2009). He's going to have to top 2,000 yards to win it in this day and age of quarterbacks with video game numbers.
  • Watch out for Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs in the TaxSlayer Bowl. This is the first time in his career that he's received No. 1 snaps in a camp-like setting. The sophomore could explode against the Iowa defense.
  • LSU, it's time to go to Brandon Harris at quarterback. It actually was time three months ago, but better late than never.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Does Jim Harbaugh or Urban Meyer Have Edge in the Next Great Coaching Rivalry?

Jim Harbaugh is in as the coach at the University of Michigan. The Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is sure to heat up with Urban Meyer standing on the other sideline. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Adam Kramer and Michael Felder discuss the newest coaching rivalry in the Big Ten.

Who has the edge in this rivalry, Urban Meyer or Jim Harbaugh?

Watch the video and let us know!


Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages