NCAA Football News

Alabama Football Awards for 2014 Season

The Alabama football season isn't quite over yet. Some would say it's just beginning.

But as players finish final exams this week, and there's a little break before College Football Playoff practice begins, now seems like a good time to hand out some season awards.

The football team had its team banquet the Sunday night after the SEC Championship Game, where it gave out its long list of awards.

Here are Bleacher Report's awards for the 2014 Alabama football team.

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2014 Will Be Remembered as Start of Ohio State Football Dynasty

COLUMBUS, Ohio — When it comes to the first-ever College Football Playoff, to paraphrase a certain kid from Akron, Ohio, the Buckeyes aren't even supposed to be here.

No, at least not after star quarterback Braxton Miller went down with a season-ending injury two weeks prior to the start of the 2014 campaign. And certainly not after his Heisman Trophy-worthy replacement suffered a broken ankle in Ohio State's regular-season finale on the eve of the Big Ten Championship Game.

But even if he wouldn't admit it at the time, Urban Meyer's doubts of his own team dated back to before August. And they only increased once he saw an already young roster get even younger with the loss of its most important player.

"If you would have told me back in August, I would have said, 'Not yet. Maybe next year,'" Meyer told ESPN following Sunday's announcement that the Buckeyes had been selected as the fourth and final team in this year's playoff. "We're a young program."

And yet here Ohio State sits, ahead of schedule, preparing to take on No. 1 Alabama in a Sugar Bowl that will double as a playoff semifinal game. One look at the Buckeyes' roster justifies Meyer's previous concerns but also makes it clear that Ohio State is set up for much more than short-term success.

 

'Still Very Young'

Of the 24 players listed as starters on offense, defense and special teams for the Buckeyes, a total of 13 are classified as either freshmen or sophomores. None, however, has been more important to OSU's success than quarterback J.T. Barrett, who brought the Buckeyes to the brink of the playoffs before the broken ankle he suffered in Ohio State's finale brought his stellar freshman campaign to a premature end.

"I thought he'd be OK," Meyer said of Barrett. "I didn't think he'd—I'm hoping he gets that phone call to go to New York [as a Heisman Trophy finalist] because he should."

Barrett didn't get that call—the Heisman only announced three finalists this year—but his numbers indicate that he was deserving. In just 12 games, the redshirt freshman broke Ohio State's single-season record for total offense (3,772 yards) and the Big Ten's mark for total touchdowns (45) en route to being named the league's Freshman and Quarterback of the Year.

Make no mistake, while backup Cardale Jones turned in an MVP performance in the Big Ten title game and Miller ponders his future, Barrett will be Ohio State's quarterback once he's fully healed, giving the Buckeyes the Big Ten's best at the most important position for the foreseeable future.

"He's a product of those around him," Meyer said of Barrett earlier this season. "There's some guys making really terrific plays out there for him, too."

And like Barrett, they also happen to be young.

Next season, the Buckeyes will return running back Ezekiel Elliott next season (1,402 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns), as well as backup Curtis Samuel, who has shown plenty of promise in the limited playing time he's received in his freshman season. Altogether, Ohio State is slated to return nine of its top 10 rushers from 2014, the lone departure being reserve running back Rod Smith, who was dismissed from the Buckeyes program in October.

In the passing game, Ohio State will lose steady seniors Devin Smith, Evan Spencer and Jeff Heuerman but will most likely return third-year sophomore Michael Thomas, who leads the Buckeyes in receptions with 43. The Buckeyes will also bring back second-year H-backs Jalin Marshall (523 total yards, seven touchdowns) and Dontre Wilson (400 total yards, four touchdowns), as well as tight end Nick Vannett and freshman Noah Brown.

“We’re still a very young team," Meyer said.

Perhaps second only to Barrett in terms of importance, Ohio State also remains young on an offensive line that has come together throughout the 2014 season. Right tackle Darryl Baldwin is the unit's only senior this season, although left tackle Taylor Decker could entertain the possibility of entering next May's NFL draft.

The return of Decker would be an obvious boost for the Buckeyes, but either way, they'll bring back an interior line that includes All-Big Ten sophomore guard Pat Elflein, center Jacoby Boren and freshman guard Billy Price. That's reason enough for excitement in Columbus, as Meyer cited the Buckeyes' young offensive line as his top concern entering the 2014 season.

"Four new offensive linemen," Meyer recalled. "When Braxton was our quarterback, I was still worried."

 

'They Just Grew Up Rather Quickly'

Defensively, Meyer's worries were twofold, as Ohio State attempted to mesh a young unit with defensive coordinator Chris Ash's new scheme. The Buckeyes defense still has its issues—although you wouldn't know it from their 59-0 shutout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game—but showed steady improvement, and most importantly, could return seven of its top players in 2015.

That starts with defensive end Joey Bosa, who was named a USA Today All-American after recording 13.5 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss in his sophomore season. The 6'5", 278-pounder is a lock to be a high first-round pick in the 2016 draft but will return to Ohio State next season with one more year of experience under his belt.

"With a guy that big, normally you're one-dimensional," Meyer said of Bosa. "He can beat you with speed and power. He's got it all as far as defensive linemen go."

The Buckeyes will lose likely first-round pick defensive tackle Michael Bennett, and junior Adolphus Washington's status as a potential first-rounder leaves the status of OSU's interior defensive line up in the air. But senior-to-be Tommy Schutt possesses plenty of experience as a reserve, and defensive end Jalyn Holmes has shown flashes in limited time throughout his freshman season.

Perhaps more importantly, the players in the Buckeyes' back seven have shown strong improvement this season, after a shaky 2013 brought last season to a crashing halt. The Buckeyes will lose senior linebacker Curtis Grant and cornerback Doran Grant, but there's no shortage of talent—and youth—in the other five spots.

Freshman linebacker Darron Lee has shown a knack for making big plays, and cornerback Eli Apple has gone from weak link to one of the most improved players on the OSU roster in his freshman season. Likewise, sophomore safeties Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell have only gotten better as the 2014 season has wore on, and true freshman Raekwon McMillan has emerged to take the lion's share of the snaps at middle linebacker, leaving Meyer excited about burgeoning return of the "Silver Bullets."

"Did I think Darron Lee would perform like an All-Big Ten linebacker? He's not there yet, but he's darn close. To see the development of Eli Apple, I thought he was a very average player. He's not an average player, he's a pretty good player," Meyer said. "When those two young safeties—three actually with Cam Burrows and you throw [freshman] Erick Smith in there—when those kids grow up, I think they'll be outstanding safeties. They just grew up rather quickly."

 

Final Four

As the Buckeyes learned last week, until the Big 12 adds a conference championship game, Ohio State will likely always have an inside track to the College Football Playoff. All it will take is winning the Big Ten with one or no losses, and the Buckeyes should find themselves in the final four at each year's end.

Given the current state of the Big Ten, that might be a realistic expectation for the next three seasons.

Michigan is currently in flux, searching for its third head coach in the last seven years. Wisconsin, the Big Ten West's defending champion, just lost its second head coach in three seasons after Gary Andersen accepted the head coaching position at Oregon State on Wednesday.

Penn State is still building with James Franklin and recovering from three seasons of NCAA sanctions, while Nebraska will be breaking in a new head coach in Mike Riley. Michigan State has built a legitimate threat to the Buckeyes under Mark Dantonio, but quarterback Connor Cook is about to be a senior, if the potential first-round pick doesn't decide to enter the 2015 draft.

Add it all up and Ohio State should be set with the most stable program and quarterback situation in a league that's already benefited from the new college playoff system. The Buckeyes may have eked their way into the final four this year, but get used to hearing their name in the conversation, as this season is only the start of something special happening in Columbus.

"I look at our players and I see how many young guys are playing for us that are going to be around here for awhile," Meyer said following the Buckeyes' win over Michigan State on Nov. 8. "The future is extremely bright for Ohio State."

 

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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Why Nobody Wants the Wisconsin Head Coaching Job

Wisconsin lost its second head coach in four years when Gary Andersen departed at the end of the regular season. For a second time in four years, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez will be the interim coach for the Badgers' upcoming bowl game, per Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer explain why Wisconsin seems to have trouble keeping a head coach.

Why can't the Badgers keep a head coach?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Texas A&M Football: 5 Bold Predictions for the Aggies' Bowl Game

The Texas A&M football team will play the West Virginia Mountaineers in the 2014 Liberty Bowl. The Aggies will have a number of players who will surprise with their strong play in Memphis.

The Aggies and Mountaineers have a lot of crossover between the two coaching staffs. West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen was an assistant under Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin when the two coached at Houston.

Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital coached quarterbacks under Holgorsen at West Virginia. Both teams should be very familiar which the other's offense.

The Texas A&M defense plays against the West Virginia offense every day in practice. The Liberty Bowl should come down to which team executes its defense best.

This is a look at a few bold predictions for the 2014 Liberty Bowl.  

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USC Football: How Will Trojans Stop Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah?

The man in red on whom USC football will be focused this holiday season does not come from the North Pole, but Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah is known for producing magic. 

The Trojans defense is tasked with slowing down the Cornhuskers' multifaceted playmaker in the Dec. 27 Holiday Bowl. It's not the most desirable of chores, to be sure; Abdullah heads into the postseason affair averaging 126.9 rushing yards per game with four games of 200 yards or more as well as an average of 144.3 yards per game from the line of scrimmage. 

Still, USC's defense is well-equipped to contain the explosive running back, as the Trojans have demonstrated at times this season.  

Obviously, the Trojans' efforts start on the line, and standout lineman Leonard Williams' ability to shed blockers will be vital to USC controlling the Cornhuskers up front. 

He'll get help from Antwaun Woods and end Claude Pelon, both of whom have come on of late. Woods has made 10 of his 37 tackles in USC's last two games while head coach Steve Sarkisian has praised Pelon for his emergence in the back half of the season.

But stopping one of the most electric running backs in college football is going to take more than the play of the line due to his wide-ranging skill set.  

Elements of Abdullah's role in the Nebraska offense are comparable to that of Arizona State running back D.J. Foster. 

Beyond their similar size—Abdullah is 5'9", 195 pounds, and Foster is 5'11", 205 pounds—both are capable pass-catchers. 

While Foster is used in that capacity far more often—he has 53 receptions to Abdullah's 16—Abdullah is just as dangerous when taking a swing pass as he is on a carry. 

For this reason, USC cannot simply limit its efforts in containing Abdullah to between the tackles. Slowing him down extends sideline to sideline but starts with pressure in the backfield. 

When the Trojans hosted Arizona State on Oct. 4, USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox's game plan had USC selling out on Foster behind the line of scrimmage. 

The first-quarter result, per the USC athletic department's official game stats: 

  • Run for three yards
  • Run for a loss of two yards
  • Incomplete pass 
  • Run for a loss of five yards
  • Run for two yards
  • Reception for seven yards 

USC was aggressive up front, opting to cover wide receivers one-on-one with the linebackers supplementing the rush. 

That included hybrid linebacker-defensive back Su'a Cravens, who played up on the line for much of the evening. 

By swamping Foster in the backfield, USC made Arizona State an almost exclusively downfield passing team. In many ways, that strategy mirrors how Michigan State game-planned for Abdullah and Nebraska in the Spartans' Oct. 4 win.

Michigan State held Abdullah to 45 yards rushing on 24 carries. Linebacker Riley Bullough explained the Spartans' strategy, per MSUSpartans.com:   

He's quick, he was going to try to cut back on us, so we preached all week that we all got to swarm to the ball. We all know schematically what we want to do and I think for the most part we achieved it. The big thing was we wanted to get heads to the ball and I think we did that.

Simple enough in theory. More difficult in execution. But USC's ability to do so against Abdullah—or not—will likely determine the Holiday Bowl's outcome.  

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of CFBstats.com

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Do the 2015 Miami Hurricanes Have What It Takes to Win the ACC?

The Miami Hurricanes finished 6-6 in 2014, earning them a berth in the Independence Bowl. With Brad Kaaya and Joseph  Yearby back next season, coupled with a deep recruiting class, they have their sights set on an ACC title in 2015. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss Miami's expectations for 2015.

Can Miami win the ACC in 2015?

Check out the video and let us know!

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Barry Alvarez Will Coach Wisconsin in Outback Bowl

Longtime Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez is returning to the sidelines from his current role as the school's athletic director to lead the Badgers in the Outback Bowl.

The decision comes after the surprisingly swift exit of Gary Andersen, who is leaving to become head coach at Oregon State, per ESPN.com.

Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN reported the decision to have Alvarez take over for the clash with Auburn:

Alvarez coached the Badgers for 16 years starting in 1990. He's compiled a 118-74-4 career record, which includes a 2012 Rose Bowl loss when he temporarily took the reins after the departure of head coach Bret Bielema.

Before the announcement, Adam Kramer of Bleacher Report commented on Alvarez:

Jesse Temple of Fox Sports passed along comments from the 67-year-old coach, who admitted Andersen's exit was a surprise.

"I was very surprised," Alvarez said. "I really had no idea that this was in the works."

Now he's forced to quickly shift gears to get Wisconsin prepared for a high-profile clash with a talented Tigers squad on New Year's Day.

His previous experience making the change, which resulted in a 20-14 Rose Bowl defeat to Stanford, should help him this time around. 

 

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Watch the Wildest High School Trick Plays in 2014

Who doesn't love trick plays? They require tons of preparation and just the right amount of bravery. And when they are successful, they are something to behold.  

We've compiled the best high school football trick plays of the 2014 season in the video above. 

Which trick play was the best?

Check out the video and let us know! 

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Will Georgia Return to Prominence and Capture 2015 SEC East Title?

Georgia has had one of the most dominant programs in the SEC in recent years. It was unable to reach the SEC title game this year, even with the mediocrity of the SEC East. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee debate whether Georgia can deal with key departures and make a push for the SEC East title. 

Will Georgia make it to the College Football Playoff next season?

Watch the video, and let us know! 

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2014 Heisman Trophy Finalists' Pro Player Comparisons

For the second time in three years, the Heisman Trust announced just three finalists for the Heisman Trophy: Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Six finalists made the trip to New York City last season, but Cooper, Gordon and Mariota were so much better than the rest of the country in 2014 that no fourth, fifth or sixth player received enough votes to qualify for the ceremony.

Each of the finalists will go down in college football history for the season he just enjoyed. Cooper had one of the best wide receiver seasons ever. Gordon had one of the best running back seasons ever. And Mariota had one of the best quarterback seasons ever.

But who do they compare to once they get to the next level?

Good question.

It's time to indulge in some NFL comparisons.

 

Amari Cooper, Alabama — Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles

In the past, I have compared Cooper to a young Santonio Holmes, and while I still think that comparison fits, I think this one fits better.

The biggest difference between Jeremy Maclin and Holmes is that Maclin is a little bit faster. He is more of a home run threat with the ball in his hands on short throws and (in his college life) kick returns.

Cooper told Andrew Gribble of AL.com that he ran a 4.31 40-yard dash at Alabama's pro day, and his junior year tape looks even faster. Like Maclin (and Holmes), he is a fluid route-runner who makes getting open look easy and running after the catch look even easier.

He is the type of player you can target at all levels of the field: short, intermediate and deep. Cooper has been especially good in the short area this season, taking advantage of Lane Kiffin's screen-heavy offense by turning low-risk throws into high rewards.

And here is the kind of stuff Maclin got into at Missouri:

Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel compared Cooper to Maclin before the SEC Championship Game, noting the similar explosiveness, speed, hands and fluidity, per Ron Clements of the Montgomery Adviser.

Pinkel coached Maclin from 2006-2008, so he would know.

 

Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin — Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs

I have tried to avoid making this comparison because Jamaal Charles relies so much on catching the football, and Gordon, prior to the 2014 season, had done little to prove he was a threat in the receiving game.

This year, however, Gordon turned his three career catches into 20 with a 17-reception season that proved he could make plays out of the backfield, as he did in impressive fashion against Purdue:

Having now checked the box as a viable receiving back, Gordon stacks up well with Charles in terms of frame and overall skill set.

Gordon (6'1", 217 lbs) is noticeably bigger than Charles (5'11", 199 lbs) and better at running between the tackles. Charles is a little bit faster than Gordon and better at running in space. But both use a similarly straight-up, long-legged style and run with confidence.

Neither struggles in any one area.

 

Marcus Mariota, Oregon — Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers

This is not comparing Mariota with the zombie version of Colin Kaepernick we have seen in the NFL this season.

Rather, it's comparing Mariota with the pre-2014 version of Kaepernick—the one who took the San Francisco 49ers to three consecutive NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl.

Both players have similar running styles and speed and maintain their passing effectiveness from outside the pocket. Kaepernick has more pure arm strength, but Mariota is not far behind.

Mariota has slightly better accuracy and makes smarter decisions, but those are minor quibbles. Prior to 2014, Kaepernick did not really struggle with either of those things. Assuming Kaep gets back to his previous form, watching him and Mariota play in the NFL will be a treat.

Other NFL quarterbacks are mobile, but only Kaepernick had made a solid defense look like Swiss cheese in a playoff game:

Mariota has the same capability.

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Chad Kelly Perfect Fit to Keep Ole Miss as a Top SEC Contender

Ole Miss has become synonymous with transfer quarterbacks, as Jeremiah Masoli, Randall Mackey and Bo Wallace all have started games under center for the Rebels since 2010.

It appears that former Clemson and current East Mississippi Community College quarterback Chad Kelly might be next in line to the transfer throne.

The 3-star prospect and the No. 1 dual-threat junior college quarterback in the class of 2015, per 247Sports, announced his decision to transfer on Twitter.

Kelly is a perfect choice to fill the shoes of Wallace—who will play his last game as a Rebel at the Georgia Dome against TCU in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.

"I know Bo Wallace, he's a great quarterback and he happens to be leaving," Kelly told Riley Blevins of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. "I have to go in there and fight for the job.... They're looking for a guy to come in right away, that's why you recruit a junior college quarterback."

He was a 4-star prospect out of the St. Joseph School in Buffalo, New York, in the class of 2012 who threw for 5,354 yards, rushed for 2,132 and accounted for 81 touchdowns (52 passing, 29 rushing) in 23 high school games played, according to MaxPreps.com.

He ran into some issues at Clemson last offseason, and was dismissed by head coach Dabo Swinney for conduct detrimental to the team.

"I let down not only my coaches, and teammates, but also Clemson University and all of our fans," Kelly said in April in a statement, according to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "Most importantly, I've let down myself and my family."

There's no doubt that Hugh Freeze is taking a risk on Kelly.

The dismissal from Clemson should be concerning, but Kelly led East Mississippi to a national title this season, passing for 3,905 yards and 47 touchdowns while tossing only eight picks, according to stats from the school. He added 446 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, which will be a huge benefit to the Rebels—who haven't been able to establish a running game between the tackles since Freeze took over prior to the 2012 season.

He's worth the risk for Ole Miss and can absolutely keep the Rebels in the conference title conversation.

Vince Sanders is the only senior who caught more than one pass this year for the Rebels. That means Kelly will have nearly a full cast of characters outside including Laquon Treadwell, Cody Core, Quincy Adeboyejo and tight end Evan Engram next fall if he's the starting quarterback.

Couple that with all of Ole Miss' top rushers returning and a defense that can compete with the very best in the country, and Ole Miss is set up to be in the thick of the SEC West in 2015.

If it doesn't work out with Kelly, Freeze still has options under center including pro-style quarterback Ryan Buchanan and dual-threat quarterback DeVante Kincade—both of whom will be redshirt sophomores in 2015. 

Kelly gives Freeze another option, and when you're replacing a three-year starter with a player who doesn't have a ton of experience, finding one that has—albeit at the junior college level—is a smart move.

If it doesn't work out, Buchanan and Kincade are still viable options, plus Kelly's presence will, if anything, cause both of them to up their game this offseason as the position battle rages on.

 

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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Expert Preseason College Football Predictions That Were Way Wrong

Well, they looked good at the time...

Less than four months ago, when the 2014 college football season was still to be played, the long offseason made for a lot of idle time. One way to fill this void is with a healthy dose of expectation, speculation and prognostication.

In other words, preseason predictions.

Which school will win the first-ever College Football Playoff? Who is in line to win the Heisman Trophy? What will be the breakout team in 2014? Who will rise? Who will fall?

Really, it's all about trying to make educated guesses based on past results and a perception of the future. If they all came true, the predictors would probably be better off devoting their time to sports betting.

For the most part, the experts in college football didn't do so badly this year. Presumptive Heisman winner Marcus Mariota was at or near the top of nearly every preseason ranking for the award, while Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Oregon were among the more frequent choices to qualify for the semifinals.

Where did we go horribly wrong, though? Check out some expert preseason predictions that fell far short of coming true.

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Bowl Games Schedule 2014-15: TV and Live Stream Info for Every Matchup

The 2014-15 bowl schedule features matchups capable of becoming instant classics all across the board, but only four teams are playing for the chance to make an encore performance.

That's because the first year of the College Football Playoff is finally here, with four storied programs entering the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl games possessing the chance to get to Arlington, Texas, for the national championship game with a win.

The controversy and second-guessing appropriately followed the CFP selection committee's decisions, but that quickly took a back seat when it was released that snubbed teams like Baylor and TCU would get huge chances in New Year's Six games to prove their worth against elite foes.

Let's take a look at every single bowl matchup of the 2014-15 postseason and glance closer at the two games with even bigger implications.

 

 

Live Stream: Games on ABC and ESPN networks can be streamed live on WatchESPN.com. The Hyundai Sun Bowl can be streamed live on CBSSports.com.

Note: Bowl schedule courtesy of ESPN.com.

 

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

The unbeaten Florida State Seminoles have kept their hopes of defending their national title alive, despite playing in tough tests every week down the stretch. To keep themselves alive for one more game, they'll have to top a team that hasn't faced a tough test in months.

Ever since an early October loss to Arizona at home, the Ducks have been more than unbeatable, scoring 40 points in each of their games to follow it up. After drubbing the Wildcats 51-13 in a Pac-12 Championship Game rematch, they more than earned the right to play close to home in the Rose Bowl.

The matchup pegs not only two of the top teams in the country, but also more than likely two Heisman Trophy winners. Last year's champion, Jameis Winston, will go up against Marcus Mariota, who will more than likely snag the 2014 Heisman. 

ESPN Stats and Information showed the similarity between the two passers' Heisman campaigns:

Mariota has been much more careful with the ball this season, throwing just two interceptions all year to Winston's 17. Add that to the speed and weapons Mariota has at his disposal in a dangerous Oregon offense, and the Ducks boast an even larger advantage.

But one aspect of the game all too often ignored is a mouth-watering matchup of young running backs in Royce Freeman and Dalvin Cook, as Sports Illustrated's Martin Rickman noted:

Florida State's defense has not been the dominant force it was a year ago, but even in its struggles, the Seminoles have found ways to generate turnovers and give Winston chances to win the game. Getting any sort of stops will be tough for them in this one, against an Oregon offense that not only avoids turnovers but also generates points at a gaudy rate.

Winston has put his team on his back and led it through some incredibly tough situations, but New Year's Day will prove to be the toughest position yet. Whether he can rise to the occasion against the mighty Oregon Ducks will decide whether Florida State's run continues or is brought to a screeching halt. 

 

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State

Head coaches Nick Saban and Urban Meyer are no strangers, from their SEC battles to battling in games with national title implications. But when the Sugar Bowl arrives, it will be unchartered territory for both coaches.

This time, Meyer leads the Ohio State Buckeyes into the first-ever CFP against Alabama in a game that pegs two elite foes that have overcome a plethora of adversity throughout the season.

An early season loss at Ole Miss put the Crimson Tide behind the eight ball in the treacherous SEC, but they navigated through tough games against LSU, Auburn and Mississippi State. Alabama's once-unstoppable defense has been porous in stretches, but the offense has more than bailed it out.

Much of that is due to Blake Sims' emergence, as Saban told Sports Illustrated's Zac Ellis:

Ohio State knows all about overcoming adversity this season. The Buckeyes suffered an early defeat to Virginia Tech, but they have since won 11 straight, despite losing freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett for the season and replacing him with Cardale Jones.

The squad's performance resulted in Meyer lauding the team as the most improved one he's ever coached, which is saying something, as Big Ten Football noted:

Jones was magnificent in his starting debut against a strong Wisconsin defense, but matching that success against Alabama will be tough. Even with the Tide's struggling secondary, Alabama's run defense remains formidable and should plug up Ezekiel Elliott's running lanes.

Ohio State will be forced to put Jones in positions where he has to make the winning plays, and that's not a position he's been in through his young career. The Buckeyes defense will have to make some huge plays to stifle Amari Cooper and the Alabama offense in order to give Jones and Ohio State an outside shot at pulling off the upset. 

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Dan Mullen Got Robbed for SEC Coach of the Year

A 10-2 record at a program where 10-win seasons are the college football equivalent of a Sasquatch sighting, the first No. 1 ranking in program history and a quarterback who was in the thick of the Heisman Trophy race for the majority of the year would typically land any coach consensus SEC Coach of the Year honors.

Well, except for Mississippi State's Dan Mullen.

The sixth-year head coach of the Bulldogs has racked up quite a few awards so far this offseason but was robbed of the SEC Coach of the Year award by his own peers. 

The conference announced Wednesday that Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel is the 2014 SEC Coach of the Year, as voted on by the league's coaches.

Yes, the same Pinkel who lost at home to Indiana and got shut out by Georgia at home. Sure, back-to-back SEC East titles are impressive, as is the undefeated SEC road record over that time span. 

But was there anything historic about Pinkel's season this year?

Aside from the back-to-back SEC East titles, not really. Sure, Missouri navigated through the rather calm waters of the SEC East with some new pieces of the puzzle to get back to the Georgia Dome. But we already knew Pinkel is a good coach. He has produced double-digit win seasons five times since 2007.

He's a tremendous coach who has proved he can do less with more time and time again across two conferences. This season was great, but it's also par for the course for Pinkel.

Meanwhile, Mullen's season is dripping with history.

In addition to the 10-2 record and the first No. 1 ranking in program history, the Bulldogs will play Georgia Tech in the 2015 Capital One Orange Bowl—their first Orange Bowl appearance since 1941 (following the 1940 season).

That's not only worthy of coach of the year honors; that's worthy of a parade in Starkville.

This is a program that has reached the 10-win mark only two other times since the turn of the century—the 20th century. 

If anybody should recognize the work Mullen did this year in Starkville, it's his peers. He took a team that, according to recruiting services, isn't nearly as talented as the others in the SEC West and made it play like a champion in the toughest neighborhood in the nation.

That deserves recognition.

Sure, Mullen has already filled his trophy case this offseason, including SEC Coach of the Year awards from Athlon Sports and The Associated Press, according to Michael Bonner of The Clarion-LedgerThose are great, and Mullen should be proud. But he didn't get the one that matters most.

That's a shame.

 

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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College Bowl Picks 2014-15: Latest Odds and Predictions Against the Spread

When it comes to winning in bowl season, mindset is everything.

Expectations are built throughout the season inside each locker room, and not getting to a postseason game that's highly desired can leave teams listless to finish out the season. With that said, other programs motivated by their bowl appearance will take advantage of the chance to play a top-quality foe on national television.

The bowls do a fantastic job of pegging marquee matchups, and this year is no different, but analyzing how motivated a team will be can allow you to better navigate some interesting odds for bowl season.

Let's keep that in mind and make a prediction for every single bowl on tap for the holiday season.

Note: Odds via Odds Shark as of December 10.

 

Predictions for Top Bowls

Peach Bowl: Ole Miss vs. TCU (-3)

After their College Football Playoff hopes were dashed by the committee, TCU will have its chance to make a statement against a proven foe in the Peach Bowl versus Ole Miss.

For those taking the action in objectively, this is probably the most fascinating matchup of the bowl season. It pegs TCU's No. 2 scoring offense against the dominant defense of Ole Miss, which ranks atop the nation allowing just 13.8 points per contest.

The stout Rebels defense will have its hands full with Trevone Boykin, the Horned Frogs' junior quarterback who made a serious Heisman Trophy case with over 4,300 total yards and 38 touchdowns accounted for. 

TCU has been on fire to close out the season, and head coach Gary Patterson doesn't see the playoff snub hampering his team's mindset, per The Clarion-Ledger's Hugh Kellenberger:

The Horned Frogs shouldn't be lacking in motivation after coming off a 4-8 campaign last year, but Ole Miss is battle-tested when it comes to facing top competition. The Rebels stifled Alabama's potent offense as well as Mississippi State's, holding each to 17 points scored.

Quarterback Bo Wallace and the Ole Miss offense has been stagnant at times against SEC defenses, but the Horned Frogs' defensive unit struggles in tight games. TCU has been in four one-possession games this season and allowed 30 or more points in each.

The Rebels offense will rack up the points early, and Boykin won't be used to the speed and physicality of the Ole Miss front seven. He'll show the resolve to get back in the game, but the Rebels will easily win to beat the spread.

Prediction: Ole Miss (+3) beats TCU, 34-30

 

Outback Bowl: Auburn (-6.5) vs. Wisconsin

What was already a mouth-watering New Year's Day matchup between Auburn and Wisconsin received an added wrinkle of interest with some news Wednesday afternoon.

That moment came when Wisconsin announced Gary Andersen had left his job as Badgers head coach for the same position at Oregon State. It was a shocking move, to put it lightly, and significantly clouded a week in which running back Melvin Gordon had been announced as a Heisman Trophy finalist.

Priority No. 1 for athletic director and former coach Barry Alvarez is finding a replacement, but he may decide to step back on the sidelines for a game, as told to Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman:

Alvarez can help motivate his down players by coaching the game, but he can't do much to stop the high-powered Auburn offense—an offense feasting its eyes upon a beleaguered Wisconsin defense fresh off conceding 59 points to Ohio State.

Ezekiel Elliott had his way against the Badgers' previously stable defense, cutting through open lanes at ease. With quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Cameron Artis-Payne running their deceiving option attack, lanes will become even more open.

As Bleacher Report's Zach Kruse noted, watching Gordon in his last game might be the only plus for Wisconsin fans:

Even if Gordon has a huge day in his final collegiate appearance, Wisconsin won't be able to air it out at the rate necessary to hang with Auburn. Tigers wideouts Sammie Coates and D'haquille Williams will take the top off the Badgers defense en route to an Outback Bowl rout.

Prediction: Auburn 44, Wisconsin 20

 

Note: Team stats per CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.

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What Should Expectations Be for Texas Longhorns in 2015?

The Texas Longhorns are continuing to build a solid foundation under head coach Charlie Strong. However, their fanbase is one of the most passionate in college football, expecting a national title each season. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer discuss what the expectations are for the Longhorns in 2015.

How many wins will Texas finish with in 2015?

Check out the video and let us know!

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Felder's Awards: Who Deserves the 2014 Defensive Heisman?

Year in and year out, with a few notable exceptions, defensive players are rarely recognized for the Heisman Trophy.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder gives you his picks for defensive Heisman.

Who would get your defensive Heisman?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Sugar Bowl 2015: Breaking Down Biggest X-Factors in Alabama vs. Ohio State

Ohio State earned the final spot in the College Football Playoff, but the real challenge starts now with a Sugar Bowl matchup against Alabama.

Each of these teams are loaded with talented players on both sides of the ball, many of whom will be playing on Sundays in the future. However, it's not always the best players who make the difference in a competitive battle like this one.

While everyone will have to be at his best in order to advance to the national title game, these players will especially be important as X-factors for their team's success.

 

Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama

T.J. Yeldon had secured the position as the go-to option for Alabama out of the backfield, with Derrick Henry appearing to be relegated to backup duty. Even in the run-heavy offense, the sophomore only averaged nine carries per game in the month of November.

However, the running back reminded people what he can do in the SEC Championship Game with a career-high 141 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the win over Missouri.

College GameDay joked about the challenge of tackling the 6'3", 241-pound behemoth:

Meanwhile, the real usefulness of the running back comes when he is still relatively fresh at the end of games. Matt Brown of Sports on Earth noted this issue for opposing defenders:

Yeldon will still have a big role in this game, but Henry is the one who can really be a difference-maker for the Ohio State defense. If he plays well, it could make the Crimson Tide very difficult to stop.

 

Xzavier Dickson, LB, Alabama

With a quarterback making just his second start, Alabama will want to do whatever it takes to put him under as much pressure as possible. That role will fall on Xzavier Dickson. 

The senior heads into the bowl season with eight sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss and 10 quarterback hits, all of which lead the team.

Despite this, he doesn't get the credit he deserves, as noted by D.C. Reeves of TheTuscaloosa News during the win over Missouri:

He certainly cannot be overlooked in the Sugar Bowl, as his job will be extremely important. Although he only has one sack in the last four games, he needs to find a way to at least get pressure on Cardale Jones whenever possible.

If Alabama gives Ohio State time to develop plays, the Buckeyes have the skill to put up a lot of points.

 

Dontre Wilson, RB, Ohio State

Although Dontre Wilson has been out since breaking his foot against Michigan State, he appears on track to return for the Sugar Bowl, according to Eleven Warriors:

If the sophomore is able to return, it would give a huge boost toward Ohio State's scoring chances in this one.

While the running back had trouble getting carries behind Ezekiel Elliott and Curtis Samuel, Wilson was a big factor in the passing game before getting hurt. Even after missing the past four games, he finished fourth on the team in receiving yards and third with 14.3 yards per catch.

Additionally, Wilson is especially important in the return game after averaging 9.7 yards per punt return and 24 yards per kickoff return. Only Elliott finished with more all-purpose yards this season than Wilson's 1,064 despite playing just nine games.

The dynamic player can score whenever he touches the ball and can be a game-changer in this one.

 

Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State

Usually a starting quarterback is not considered an X-factor, but most teams are usually not relying on such an inexperienced player in such an important game.

Jones made his first career start in the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin and responded with three touchdowns, a 255.8 efficiency rating and a 59-0 win.

"Surprise, you're right, I don't use the word," head coach Urban Meyersaid after the game. "I guess I'll use it for the first time. I was a little surprised. ... He's one of the most improved players I've ever been around."

Of course, it's important to remember that Jones only needed to throw 17 passes in a blowout victory while his teammates were able to do most of the work. This will not necessarily be the case against the No. 1 team in the nation.

The sophomore will be under pressure all day long, and he will be forced to make more plays himself with Alabama likely to slow down the rushing attack. His ability to respond will be the deciding factor in this game.

 

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

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Heisman Watch 2014: Updated Odds and Final Predictions for Tight Race

Jameis Winston not being named among the Heisman Trophy finalists was expected, but it also made official one reality—the trophy will have a new owner come Saturday night in New York City.

It's been a wide-open battle for the Heisman since the start of the season, and the play from some of the game's top stars reflected that. If anything, it's a surprise only three players were invited to the Big Apple, with standout quarterbacks like TCU's Trevone Boykin and Mississippi State's Dak Prescott staying at home.

But the final three—Marcus Mariota, Melvin Gordon and Amari Cooper—aren't too shabby, as CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd noted:

The competition might already feel like it's decided, depending on who you are—or how much you pay attention to college football. But with three deserving superstars being invited to the party, anything could happen. 

Let's break down the latest Heisman Trophy odds, with just a few days to go.

 

Note: Heisman Trophy odds are courtesy of OddsChecker.com, last updated December 10

 

Oregon QB Marcus Mariota: 1-80

Is anyone really surprised at this point that Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota boasts some of the most lopsided Heisman odds in history?

It shouldn't when you take a look at his body of work throughout 2014. The Ducks quarterback has completed every prerequisite voters have ever asked of a Heisman winner.

With 3,783 passing yards and 52 total touchdowns, Mariota has spectacularly only thrown two interceptions all season. He ranks up there with Winston's 2013 Heisman campaign in almost every major category, per ESPN Stats and Information:

Must your Heisman winner be the leader of a contending team? Mariota has that box checked, as well.

Oregon's early season struggles were noticeably due to a banged-up offensive line, and the Ducks have been on a furious run to the College Football Playoff since becoming healthy again.

It didn't take long for Mariota to resurface as the Heisman leader after an early slip-up against Arizona, as ESPN College Football showcased:

Mariota had his hands full entering championship weekend with a definitive rematch test against Arizona, but he dominated in convincing fashion while contender Melvin Gordon struggled mightily against Ohio State.

That result sealed the already apparent belief that the Heisman is all Mariota's.

Predicted finish: Unanimous winner

 

Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: 18-1

Gordon's trip to New York City will be overshadowed at home by Gary Andersen moving to Oregon State and in the Big Apple by Mariota's impending Heisman.

But considering the season he's posted, that's a crying shame.

The Wisconsin running back has had a historic junior season with the Badgers in many accounts. He has been a workhorse with 309 rushes, going for 2,336 yards, scoring 29 total touchdowns and accounting for 174 points by himself.

He's even close to breaking Barry Sanders' all-time record, which he can do with 293 yards against Auburn in the Outback Bowl—and don't put that past him because he's gone for over 250 three times this season.

Stats.com noted his place in the record books:

Gordon could have made some serious noise for late consideration as the winner, but he struggled against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game with 76 yards on 29 carries.

His overall body of work is incredible enough to warrant a definite second-place finish, though.

Predicted finish: Second place

 

Alabama WR Amari Cooper: 50-1

Just being named as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy is an incredible feat for a wide receiver, and it just goes to show the type of season Alabama's Amari Cooper has had.

The junior wideout has shattered the Crimson Tide record books with 115 catches for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns—proving impossible to contain even when defenses base their game plan around him. Whether he runs short screens, slants across the middle or deep down the field, Cooper is lethal.

He also has some respectable plans if he happens to bring home the Heisman, as ESPN College Football captured:

Cooper was on the radar to start 2014, but he burst onto the scene with four consecutive 130-yard performances to begin his season. He's surpassed the 200-yard mark three times and has four multi-touchdown games—two of those games with three scores.

Alabama has reached the CFP in no small part because of Cooper, but his presence in New York City is based off his incredible individual play. He doesn't have the stats necessary to compete with Mariota and Gordon as a wideout, but he has already been rewarded with a trip to the Big Apple.

Predicted finish: Third place

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Rose Bowl 2015: Breaking Down Biggest X-Factors in Oregon vs. Florida State

It's not always the most high-profile players who decide a team's fate in a big game.

While most college football fans can name Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, some key plays by lesser-known contributors could end up making the difference in the big game between Oregon and Florida State.

Regardless of what we have seen from these teams during the year, the Rose Bowl is going to be extremely competitive from start to finish. The winner will be the squad that gets big-time performances from these X-factors.

 

Charles Nelson, WR, Oregon

Oregon has plenty of playmakers on offense between Mariota, Royce Freeman, Byron Marshall and others. Even with all these players, however, Charles Nelson is someone you cannot forget about if you're the opposing team.

The receiver is coming off a huge week where he put up stats in various categories in the Pac-12 Championship Game:

He only has a total of 17 catches on the year, but he turned five of those into touchdowns, as he is always a threat to score whenever he has the ball. Still, his biggest impact is on special teams, where he has scored two touchdowns on punt returns while averaging 15.5 yards per return.

“I’ve never seen a freshman make an impact on special teams—ever—in the way he has made," wide receivers coach Matt Lubick recently explained to Chantel Jennings of ESPN.com.

Whether he is getting touches as a running back, receiver or returner, Nelson has a chance to score on any play, and he could really impact this game.

 

DeForest Buckner, DL, Oregon

There might not be many more talented defensive linemen in the nation, but the problem with DeForest Buckner has been inconsistency. 

Bryan Fischer of NFL.com saw this problem during the win over Arizona:

The good news is he can still impact the game with his ability to get into the backfield. He only has four sacks on the year, but he leads the team with 12 tackles for a loss. Even when he doesn't make a stop, he can still disrupt the play with his penetration.

Of course, Buckner will be in for a tough challenge against a quality Florida State offensive line. The key will be for him to be aggressive on each play and force his way into the action.

The Seminoles can score points, but they will be limited offensively if the defensive lineman can put pressure on Winston as often as possible.

 

Nick O'Leary, TE, Florida State

Rashad Greene is Florida State's most talented receiver, but Winston's most consistent option is probably tight end Nick O'Leary.

The Mackey Award winner as the best tight end in the country is as safe as they come when you need someone to make a big play. Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel saw this in the ACC Championship Game:

On the downside, O'Leary has not been targeted as often as he should be, failing to reach five catches in a game since late October.

If Florida State is going to move the ball consistently against Oregon, the senior will have to have a bigger role everywhere on the field and not just near the end zone.

 

Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State

Although it's hard to call Jalen Ramsey an X-factor as one of the team's most talented players, the reality is this is the best description for a player who does it all for Florida State.

The defensive back fills up the stat sheet in just about every category, finishing the regular season with 75 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and 13 pass breakups. 

Matt Brown of Sports on Earth explained why the sophomore deserved consideration for the Heisman Trophy:

Ramsey is one of the most valuable players in college football because of his ability as a Swiss Army knife in the Florida State defense. The Seminoles have more holes than they had last year, with significant depth issues up front, but someone like Ramsey can do it all, moving all around the formation. He's physical against the run. He can line up as a stand-up edge rusher. He can roam the middle of the field as a safety. He can play cornerback.

He might not have a true position, but he is someone who is going to have a major impact if Florida State is going to win this game.

Although Ramsey cannot be expected to cover the entire field against Oregon, he will have to be all over the place in order to slow down the opposing offense.

 

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

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