NCAA Football News

Rapid-Fire Predictions for College Football's Biggest Matchups in Week 15

Championship week is upon us. All eyes will be on the sport as we inch closer to the first-ever College Football Playoff. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Adam Kramer, and Barrett Sallee dish out their biggest headlines for what should be a memorable weekend of games. 

Who will impress the most?

Check out the video and let us know! 

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Missouri Tigers vs. Alabama Crimson Tide: Betting Odds, SEC Championship Pick

The Missouri Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide are unfamiliar with each other but back in familiar territory as they prepare to battle in the SEC Championship Game Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

The teams have met just once recently, with Alabama routing Missouri 42-10 as a 21-point road favorite in 2012, the same year the Crimson Tide won the SEC title game.

However, the Tigers bounced back from that 5-7 season by going 11-1 last year before losing to Auburn 59-42 as a 1.5-point favorite in the SEC Championship Game.

 

Point spread: The Crimson Tide opened as three-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 29.0-21.8 Crimson Tide

 

Why the Missouri Tigers can cover the spread

East Division champion Missouri is riding a six-game winning streak, going 5-1 against the spread since suffering a disappointing 34-0 loss to the Georgia Bulldogs as three-point home underdogs on October 11.

The Tigers have won four games as dogs during that stretch, including a 21-14 home victory last week against the Arkansas Razorbacks, who were 2.5-point road favorites after shutting out LSU and Ole Miss in consecutive games.

In fact, Missouri has played much better as a dog outside of the loss to Georgia, going 8-1 straight up and ATS in its past nine under that scenario dating back to last season, including that one.

 

Why the Alabama Crimson Tide can cover the spread

West Division champion Alabama knows losing this game would not only drop the team from the top spot in the College Football Playoff rankings, but also knock it out of the field altogether. An SEC team has played for the national championship in each of the past eight years, and the Crimson Tide have won three of the previous five BCS titles.

While they are truly rolling heading into this year’s SEC Championship Game with a seven-game winning streak, they covered the spread for just the second time over that period with a 55-44 win over Auburn in the Iron Bowl last week as a 9.5-point home favorite. Alabama got a wake-up call at halftime against the Tigers, when they were trailing 26-21, and will not let that happen again here with a much better start.

 

Smart Pick

The teams the Crimson Tide have beaten during their winning streak are far superior to those of the Tigers, much like the overall competition in the respective divisions. Every team in the SEC West finished the regular season .500 or better, including an Arkansas squad that lost 17 straight conference games at one point.

Alabama might appear to be struggling a bit with a 3-10-1 ATS mark in its past 14 games, but this team knows how to rise to the occasion and win big when needed. This is one of those spots where the nation will be watching the No. 1 team in the country. The Tide will not disappoint and should have a similar performance as the last meeting with another easy cover.

 

Betting Trends

  • The total has gone under in seven of Missouri's last 10 games
  • Alabama is 1-3-1 ATS in its last five games

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates and get the free odds tracker app.

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College Football Week 15 Schedule: TV and Live Stream Info for Every Game

The college football season is down to championship weekend, as some of the best teams in the country gear up for an ever-important Week 15.

College Football Playoff hopes are on the line for most of the teams atop the current CFP rankings, and just one or two chaotic results could shake up the championship picture as we know it. But first and foremost on most teams' minds will be the chances to win their respective conference championship.

Along with those must-watch affairs and a handful of Big 12 season-ending showdowns, college football aficionados should find plenty of reasons to stay parked in front of their television sets all Saturday long despite a much smaller slate of games.

Here's a complete breakdown of the FBS games on tap for Week 15.

 

Note: Week 15 schedule courtesy of ESPN.com.

 

Live Stream Note

Many college football live streams will be available at the following sites (subscription or cable service may be required):

WatchESPN.com

CBSSports.com

Fox Sports Go

ABC Live

 

Game of the Week

No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 11 Georgia Tech

An ACC title game that many already pegged as Florida State's toughest late-season test got a lot more interesting with the release of Tuesday's Week 15 CFP rankings.

After the Seminoles struggled once again against in-state rivals Florida over the weekend, they tumbled even further down the rankings. This time, it was TCU instead of Oregon jumping Florida State, per Bleacher Report:

It would be nothing short of mind-boggling if Florida State were to miss the playoff entirely with an undefeated record, but that's a 60-minute battle away from even being the case.

After lethargic performances in wins over Miami, Boston College and Florida over recent weeks, it's far from a stretch to suggest the Yellow Jackets could pull off the feat and win. Head coach Paul Johnson has his squad playing confident after an upset win over Georgia extended its win streak to five games.

Without a pair of one-score losses to Duke and North Carolina in back-to-back weeks, Georgia Tech would be undefeated and pressing Florida State for that final playoff spot.

The last time these two faced off, Florida State began its win streak against the Jackets in a 21-15 ACC title game in 2012. But Georgia Tech has transformed itself in the two years since and won't be lacking confidence like that last time out.

"We went into that game not as confident, I would say, until after the first half when he realized we could play with those guys," Georgia Tech's Shaquille Mason told The Associated Press' Paul Newberry (via Yahoo). "As opposed to this game, where we're going in very confident. They're going to get our best shot from the first snap to the final whistle."

In the process of a 10-2 season, Georgia Tech has impressed many more folks than just themselves, including SEC Network's Greg McElroy:

The Yellow Jackets have undoubtedly deserved their ascension toward the Top 10 and guarantee to stick with Florida State for four quarters just as most of the Seminoles' opponents in 2014. But sophomore quarterback Jameis Winston and Co. have shown the ability to pull out wins right when everyone starts to count them out.

Despite a No. 4 ranking in the latest CFP release, the Seminoles are still the top dogs in college football. Despite their looks as of late and continued slip down the rankings, an undefeated Florida State squad won't be left out of the CFP party if it takes care of Georgia Tech in any fashion Saturday.

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College Football Playoff Rankings 2014: Week 15 NCAA Championship Predictions

There is one more week until we know exactly who will play in the College Football Playoff, but a lot can change between now and then.

The committee has released its penultimate rankings. The Top Four teams are the ones who will compete in the semifinals if the season ended today. However, we know better than to assume the favorites will win in college football.

After a season full of crazy upsets and surprising results, fans should prepare themselves for more twists and turns during championship weekend. Here is a full look at the latest rankings as well as my predictions for the final teams invited to the playoffs.

 

Playoff Predictions

1. Alabama

This year's Iron Bowl was certainly a unique one. Both sides lit up the scoreboard in a 55-44 win for Alabama. Amari Cooper was once again the star for the Crimson Tide, totaling 13 receptions for 224 yards and three touchdowns as the offense outscored its rival in a back-and-forth game.

Despite the win, head coach Nick Saban remained disappointed, via Gary Parrish of CBS Sports:

This drive to always be better is what makes Alabama so good year after year, and it is why the squad will almost certainly be competing for a national championship this season.

With wins over Mississippi State, Auburn and others as well as a respectable road loss to Ole Miss, the Crimson Tide have the best profile of any team in the country.

Meanwhile, ESPN's Paul Finebaum quotes Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated on the possibility of getting into the playoffs even with a loss:

In reality, this should not be an issue. Alabama will have too much talent on both sides of the ball for Missouri to handle in the SEC Championship Game. The Tide will earn an easy win and clinch a spot in the national semifinals.

 

2. Oregon

Based on Oregon's recent success, it seems like a win in the Pac-12 Championship Game would be a foregone conclusion. The Ducks have won seven games in a row while topping 40 points in each contest. 

However, this is a very important stat when looking at how Oregon will fare against Arizona:

The Wildcats have been a thorn in Oregon's side over the last two years thanks to the strong defensive front and linebacker Scooby Wright finding ways to make plays all over the field. With big-time playmakers on offense, this could be another close battle.

On the plus side for Oregon, the team is past the need for style points. The game doesn't need to be pretty, and if the Ducks come away with a win, they should earn a spot in the College Football Playoffs.

Wins over UCLA, Michigan State, Utah and presumably Arizona this weekend will give Oregon more than enough on the resume to be considered one of the top teams in the land.

 

3. TCU

The debate over which team is more deserving between TCU and Baylor has lasted just about the entire season, and it will continue past the final week assuming both teams take care of business Saturday.

TCU has proven to have the better non-conference schedule, while Baylor has a head-to-head win over the Horned Frogs earlier in the year. Interestingly, the Bears' win over TCU does not seem to matter in the eyes of the committee.

Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports makes an interesting argument against this:

Of course, you also have to keep in mind that it was a three-point win in Waco on a late comeback effort. A win is a win, but things might have been different if the game was on a neutral field.

Either way, the three spots between the team seems to indicate the committee has made its decision on which has a better resume, which means the Horned Frogs will earn a spot in the playoff with one more win against Iowa State.

 

4. Ohio State

Where's Florida State? The defending national champions might not have had the toughest schedule, but they should at least earn a spot in the playoffs for finishing undefeated. 

The problem is Georgia Tech has everything needed to knock off the Seminoles. The Yellow Jackets run the ball well, which will help control possession and keep Jameis Winston off the field, and they force turnovers and turn them into points.

After a few close calls, Florida State will finally see its luck run out in the ACC Championship Game.

This will leave the door open for Ohio State to move up in the rankings as long as they can beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.

The problem is this won't be easy with J.T. Barrett out with an ankle injury. Cardale Jones will be forced to replace the freshman and keep the Buckeyes playing as well as possible. This performance will go a long way in how the team is evaluated by the committee, according to Yahoo Sports:

Jones not only has to earn a win, but he has to show that the team that won 10 games in a row is just as good regardless of who is under center. With plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, this should be no problem.

 

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

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Bowl Predictions 2014: Projections for Playoff Matchups After Week 15 Rankings

One thing is certain at this point: No one really knows what the selection committee is going to do.

The penultimate college football playoff rankings were supposed to be simple. Mississippi State was the only team in the Top Six to lose. We assumed the teams immediately behind the Bulldogs would shift one spot upward, and that would be that.

Not quite. TCU, fresh off a 48-10 thrashing of Texas, became the third one-loss team to bunny-hop undefeated Florida State, which lumbered past a Florida team playing for a fired head coach.

"We feel they're an improving team. We watch these games, we evaluate these teams, we feel TCU is a better team [than Florida State] at this time," said Jeff Long, selection committee chairman, via Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel.

Could the Seminoles, the defending national champions, really go undefeated and miss out on the playoffs? Probably not, but they are suddenly much closer to that nightmare, and with conference championship week on the horizon, things could get wild.

 

College Football Playoff Rankings

 

Projected Semifinal Matchups

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

Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 TCU

The top two spots are simple. Alabama and Oregon have been at the mountaintop for several weeks now, and as long as they win their respective conference championships, there's no doubt they'll remain there.

Missouri is playing extremely well as of late, and Arizona already beat Oregon earlier in the season, but the Crimson Tide and the Ducks are simply the better teams. They'll win their conferences and finish at No. 1 and No. 2.

After that, things get a bit hazy.

It's probably safe to assume there will be one Big 12 team. Baylor is three spots behind TCU, but it has a huge potential resume-booster against No. 9 Kansas State remaining, while the Horned Frogs play 2-9 Iowa State. Should they both come out on top this weekend, they would share the conference title, with Baylor winning the lone head-to-head matchup.

Many people, such as The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey, believe that would be enough to vault the Bears past TCU:

But as Long explained, via ESPN's Jake Trotter and Joe Schad, the committee clearly doesn't agree:

Baylor has an opportunity to close the gap this weekend, but it's abundantly clear the committee values the Horned Frogs' entire body of work over their loss to the Bears. That doesn't seem likely to change, even if Baylor dismantles Kansas State.

Finally, we have Florida State.

The Seminoles haven't been impressive lately, and the committee is punishing them for that. But that's because Jimbo Fisher's squad has been narrowly beating mediocre teams. A win against No. 11 Georgia Tech—whether it's by a field goal or three touchdowns—will be enough to secure a playoff spot.

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ACC Championship 2014: TV Info, Odds and Predictions for FSU vs. Georgia Tech

Florida State is hoping to play for a second consecutive national championship, but the squad must first get past Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship.

The Seminoles finished the regular season 12-0, extending their incredible winning streak to 28 consecutive games. While there has been debate over which is the best team in the country, Florida State will almost certainly earn a spot in the College Football Playoff with another win Saturday.

However, Georgia Tech isn't going to play the role of the Washington Generals and simply roll over in this one. The Yellow Jackets have won five games in a row, including last week's overtime road victory over Georgia, and they have the talent to beat anyone in the nation.

With Florida State barely escaping a few tough challenges in recent weeks, this game has upset written all over it. Make sure you tune in for one of the biggest games of the college football season.

 

When: Saturday, December 6 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina

Watch: ABC

Live Stream:Watch ESPN

Betting Info: (via Odds Shark)

  • Over/Under: 58.5
  • Spread: Florida State (-4)

 

Good Jameis or Bad Jameis?

A year ago at this time, Jameis Winston was sealing his Heisman Trophy campaign with a dominant performance in the ACC Championship Game against Duke. He finished his freshman year with 4,057 passing yards, 40 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a NCAA-best 184.8 passer rating.

Unfortunately, he hasn't been anywhere near as consistent this season. Winston has only 21 touchdowns in 11 games with an embarrassing 17 interceptions. Only three players in the nation have more picks this year.

The most recent performance was arguably the worst of his career as the quarterback went just 12-of-24 for 125 passing yards and four interceptions in a win over Florida. 

On the plus side, Florida State has clearly learned how to win without Winston playing at his best. Head coach Jimbo Fisher explained how the rest of the team carried him against the Gators, per Jared Shanker of ESPN.com: "Jameis always has got it on his back and brings us back with the other players around him functioning, but we did it [Saturday] with the running game and great defense There are a lot of other parts of this team that are very good, and when they have to be used, they can be used."

This is clearly a very talented roster that can win games no matter who is under center. The team proved that earlier in the year with an overtime win over Clemson with Sean Maguire at quarterback.

Of course, things are much easier for the Seminoles when Winston plays like an elite passer. He has the tools needed to succeed, but he has not shown it lately.

In all likelihood, this game will come down to whether the quarterback can avoid mistakes and play to his potential.

 

Run, Run, Run

Georgia Tech has a very simple philosophy on offense: Run the ball until the team stops you and then run some more.

Thanks to the play of Justin Thomas, Zach Laskey, Synjyn Days and others, the Yellow Jackets rank third in the nation in rushing offense. The fact that they rank near the bottom of the list in passing is irrelevant because no one seems to be able to stop the option attack on the ground.

Head coach Paul Johnson has created exactly what he wanted in the offense and has seen plenty of success with it, as ESPN's Joe Schad noted:

Bleacher Report's Kyle Kensing believes the coach has done a great job this season:

Although the Yellow Jackets can keep teams off balance with a pass every now and then (Thomas has 16 passing touchdowns this season), opponents know that they will run most of the time. The only question is whether you can stop it.

This could be a problem for Florida State, currently allowing 145.8 rushing yards per game to rank 42nd in the nation. Not only would this allow Georgia Tech to move the ball and score touchdowns, but it will also help maintain possession and keep the Seminoles offense off the field.

If you were trying to find a blueprint to beating the defending national champions, this is the way to do it.

 

Prediction

A number of teams have had Florida State on the ropes this season but haven't been able to close them out. Squads like Louisville, Florida and Miami gave the game away with multiple turnovers, while Boston College simply could not score enough to secure a win.

However, Georgia Tech doesn't have either of these problems. The Yellow Jackets have a plus-11 turnover margin this season, which has helped them average 37.2 points per game to rank 17th in the country.

The defense can jump on Winston's mistakes—a likely scenario after the quarterback has thrown 11 interceptions in the last five games—and turn those into scores. While controlling possession, Florida State will have limited chances to light up the scoreboard.

Thomas will run wild on offense and give the Seminoles defense fits in what should be a close game.

With everyone around the nation rooting for the Yellow Jackets, they will hand Florida State its first loss in two years.

Prediction: Georgia Tech 27, Florida State 24

 

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

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UCLA Football: The Biggest Disappointments for the Bruins in 2014

Jim Mora and the UCLA football team (9-3) finished the regular season ranked as the No. 15 team in the country. 

For most programs, this could be considered a very good season. Potential bowl game appearances could include the Valero Alamo Bowl or the Bridgeport Education Holiday Bowl. 

Massive expectations were placed upon the team heading into the year. 

Signal-caller Brett Hundley was looked upon as one of the top players in the entire country. In fact, he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as a potential Heisman candidate. ESPN pundits Lee Corso and Desmond Howard even went as far as saying UCLA was going to win the National Championship

However, this year should be looked at as a general disappointment. 

Credit Mora for immensely increasing the quality of the program from a talent, productivity and perception standpoint. In three years, he's taken a spectacularly mediocre program and has turned it into one of the better teams in the Pac-12. 

UCLA will have won at least nine games in each of the past three seasons. Mora is also undefeated against crosstown rival Southern Cal in three meetings. There has never been a more successful three-year period ever in the history of the program. 

It truly does come with the territory. The more success a program has, the more open it becomes to scrutiny within the public eye. 

This piece will look at multiple disappointments that lead up to the ultimate "disappointment" that is this season.

 

The loss to Utah

There were various aspects of this game that should stick in Mora's proverbial craw.

Utah was a good team this year. Kyle Whittingham did a very nice job of putting together a team structured around a staunch defense and a strong running game. On the legs of running back Devontae Booker and a stellar defensive effort up front, the Utes upended the Bruins in the Rose Bowl by a score of 30-28.

Utah had limitations from an offensive perspective. The Utes opted to play reserve quarterback Kendal Thompson for virtually the entire game. 

Without a ton of offensive weapons outside of Booker, there wasn't a whole lot Utah was going to do other than running the football. The combination of Booker and Thompson torched UCLA's defense for over 200 yards on the ground. There seemingly were no adjustments made from a defensive standpoint to slow the power running game—nor the zone read element brought to the table by Thompson. 

UCLA's offensive line also allowed an eye-popping 10 sacks to the Utah defensive front. A unit led by Hunter Dimick and Nate Orchard was very good. But are they really that good?

When comparing the talent levels of both teams, UCLA is the more talented and deeper squad. The fact UCLA lost this game to an unranked squad—and at home—is a major disappointment for a team ranked No. 8 at the time. 

 

The loss to Stanford

Stanford has been a monkey on Mora's back ever since he took over in Westwood. UCLA has played Stanford multiple times over the past three years—and in each contest, the Cardinal has imposed its will in a very physical form. 

This year was supposed to be different. Heading into the final game of the season, Stanford was a paltry 6-5. It looked nothing like the team that had dominated the Pac-12 North Division the last several seasons. 

On the other side of the coin, UCLA had a ton to play for. Thanks to an Oregon State upset of Arizona State, UCLA controlled its own destiny. A win versus Stanford would propel the Bruins into the Pac-12 Championship Game versus Oregon. 

A win in the title game, and the Bruins would likely sneak into the College Football Playoff as the fourth team. 

However, it wasn't meant to be. In what was the most important game of the year, UCLA played its worst game of the year. The Bruins were absolutely thumped at home versus another unranked opponent. The final score was 31-10—and it wasn't even that close. 

 

Stanford had nothing to play for, and UCLA had everything to play for. Moreover, there was an apparent (and shocking) lack of energy and urgency from the Bruins' sideline. 

This game provided the opportunity for Mora to shake the Stanford curse and perhaps take his program to new heights. Instead, he has now lost four straight contests against David Shaw's team. 

 

Not Being Able to Handle the Expectations Well

This is perhaps the biggest disappointment—but it's also one which is the most understandable. 

UCLA is a very young team. There are only three senior starters (Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Anthony Jefferson, Eric Kendricks) graduating this season. The depth chart is primarily made up of freshmen and sophomores.

Naturally for such an inexperienced team, a false sense of confidence could creep in—especially with the inordinate amount of praise UCLA was garnering in the offseason. There isn't any way to tangibly quantify this claim, but there's a good chance UCLA read its press clippings a bit too much. 

A pseudo reality show on the Pac-12 Network entitled The Drive also filmed UCLA on a daily basis. 

The ability—or inability—to handle the vast expectations crippled this team. UCLA desperately needs to find consistency in this category. It is a learning process, especially for program not generally in a position associated with potential national championship implications. 

Going forward, UCLA will have to continue to monitor and manage these newfound expectations brought upon the program by the relative success over the past three years. 

 

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Oregon Football: Postseason Bowl Options for the Ducks

The second-ranked Oregon Ducks (11-1, 8-1) are one step away from reaching the inaugural College Football Playoff. Meanwhile, quarterback Marcus Mariota is one performance away from locking up the first Heisman Trophy in school history

Of course, the Ducks are also one misstep away from losing out on what could be the best season in school history. Their opponent in the Pac-12 Championship Game, Arizona, has handed Oregon its last two losses.

After what has been an incredible run for the Ducks, there are only a few bowl-game options for them. There are six premier bowl games, and the CFP committee will determine the contestants in each of those games.

Moreover, each of those games will be played on either Dec. 31 or Jan. 1 on national television.

The Ducks are a lock for a New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day bowl game. With a win over Arizona and a Pac-12 title in tow, the Ducks will be locked into the Rose Bowl.

However, if they lose to Arizona for the third consecutive time, their bowl situation gets a bit murkier.

 

Rose Bowl or Bust

The CFP committee will make a final decision on the four playoff participants this weekend and will announce the final bracket on Sunday (9:30 a.m. PST on ESPN).

As long as the Ducks are able to take out the Wildcats in the Pac-12 title game, they will play at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on Jan. 1.

If the Ducks win, they’ll likely be either the first or second seed in the final CFP rankings. If that holds true—it should—the Ducks will be placed at the semifinal venue closest to them—the Rose Bowl—per section 9B of the CFP selection protocol:

When assigning teams to sites, the committee will place the top two seeds at the most advantageous sites, weighing criteria such as convenience of travel for its fans, home-crowd advantage or disadvantage and general familiarity with the host city and its stadium. Preference will go to the No. 1 seed.

The Ducks would be a great fit for the Rose Bowl, as they would have a strong following of loyal fans and would keep the Pac-12 tie-in with the game.

The Rose Bowl’s ideal scenario would have seen Oregon take on Ohio State; however, with the loss of Heisman candidate J.T. Barrett, it’s highly unlikely that will happen.

Also, it seems as though the playoff committee is inclined to have Florida State play Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, assuming both teams win their conference championships on Saturday, Dec. 6.

Not only would that matchup draw an unmatched national audience, but it would also draw one of the largest crowds in Sugar Bowl history due to the proximity of both universities. That’s likely one of the reasons Florida State is currently ranked No. 4 in the CFP poll and that TCU jumped to No. 3 this week.

TheBigLead.com's Jason McIntyre notes the potential scenario:

In my opinion, if the Ducks win the Pac-12 title in convincing fashion, they’ll end up as the No. 1 seed. That would leave Alabama and Florida State as the second and third seeds.

In this scenario, Oregon would likely end up facing TCU, Baylor or Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.

Of course, if the Ducks lose to Arizona for a third consecutive time, all of their postseason dreams will go up in smoke.

 

New Year’s Eve/Day Possibilities

If the Ducks were to lose to Arizona (take a deep breath Oregon fans, this is hypothetical), they would almost assuredly play in one of the other four premier New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day bowl games.

In total, six bowl games are hand-picked by the CFP committee. This year, the Rose Bowl (Pasadena, California) and Sugar Bowl (New Orleans) were selected as the New Year’s Day semifinal sites, and the Cotton Bowl (Arlington, Texas) will also be played on Jan. 1.

On New Year’s Eve, there are three other premier bowl games that the Ducks would hypothetically be eligible to play in—the Orange Bowl (Miami), Peach Bowl (Atlanta) and Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, Arizona).

Here is how the playoff committee will select the participants in the four non-semifinal bowl games, according to section 10 of the CFP selection protocol:

A. All displaced conference champions and the highest ranked champion from a non-contract conference, as ranked by the committee, will participate in selected other bowl games and will be assigned to those games by the committee. If berths in the selected other bowl games remain available after those teams have been identified, the highest ranked other teams, as ranked by the committee, will fill those berths in rank order.’(Note: A “displaced conference champion” is a champion of a contract conference that does not qualify for the playoff in a year when its contract bowl hosts a semifinal game.)

B. The committee shall create the best matchups in these bowl games in light of the following considerations. None of these considerations shall affect the ranking of teams. Also, none of these considerations will be controlling in determining the assignment of teams to available bowl games. The committee will use geography as a consideration in the pairing of teams and assigning them to available bowl games. The committee will attempt to avoid regular-season rematches when assigning teams to bowls. To benefit fans and student-athletes, the committee will attempt to avoid assigning a team, or conference, or the highest-ranked champion of a non-contract conference, to the same bowl game repeatedly. The committee will consider regular-season head-to-head results when assigning teams to bowls. The committee will consider conference championships when assigning teams to bowls.

The key point within this part of the selection protocol is that the committee would make decisions based on geography. So, you can throw out the Orange Bowl and Peach Bowl.

That would leave the Cotton and Fiesta bowls as options for the Ducks. If the Ducks lose to Arizona and the Wildcats earn a bid into the CFP, then Oregon would mostly likely end up playing in the Fiesta Bowl.

However, if the Wildcats beat Oregon and don’t make the Top Four, then Arizona would likely play in the Fiesta Bowl. In that case, the Ducks would likely be on their way to Jerry’s World in Arlington, Texas. Per ESPN.com Pac-12 writer Ted Miller:

The Ducks would love the opportunity to play in Arlington, but they don’t want to play there on Jan. 1. They want to play in Texas on Jan. 12 for the national title.

Oregon has positioned itself well to make a run at a national title this season. However, without a victory over Arizona in the Pac-12 title game, the 2014 season will have been a tease of unbearable proportions.

The Ducks are so close to completing one of the finest seasons in school history. Heck, with a Pac-12 title and a Heisman Trophy winner—which would be a first for the program—you could make a case that the 2014 campaign has been the best in school history.

Mariota and company are on the precipice of greatness. With three more victories, the Ducks will be national champions. However, they must be cautious with every step. The Wildcats are not a team the Ducks can afford to overlook.

If they do overlook, they may be spending New Year's Day somewhere other than Pasadena.

 

Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise stated. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.

Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.

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@FauxPelini Opens Up on Bo's Firing, Reveals Plans for Future of Parody Account

It has been four years since @FauxPelini first tweeted. In that time, the account has amassed more than 163,000 followers and become a favorite across the college football landscape.

The man behind the account, who will be referred to as "Michael" (his middle name), never saw it coming. What started as a joke became something much bigger than he ever expected.

As a result, the news of Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini being fired left many people—some Nebraska fans and some not—asking one question: What's next?

Michael isn't sure. It may be the end, it may not. One thing is for sure, though: he'll never be @FauxPelini as you know him now.

Bleacher Report had the opportunity to speak with Michael and get a little more insight into what's next and, of course, what will happen to the famous cat.

 

Q: The news broke suddenly Sunday morning that Pelini had been fired. Where were you when you first heard?

FP: I was actually in Omaha for Thanksgiving weekend, getting ready to drive back home, when I randomly checked Twitter and saw the news. That delayed my departure for about an hour as the messages started rolling in.

Q: Upon hearing the news, what were your initial thoughts?

FP: I was very surprised. After the Iowa game, I thought [Bo] was in the clear for another year, or at least until after the bowl game. Clearly [director of athletics Shawn] Eichhorst means business.

My next thought was what will this mean for the account? I had started to look ahead and had to rethink things again. The firing of Bo means some sort of an end, or at least a transition. That became my focus after the initial surprise of the news.

Q: What does your Twitter buyout contract look like?

FP: It’s the same as Bo’s, except without any money. But I don’t have to move. So I kind of have the advantage, other than the $7 million part.

Q: Who will keep the cat: you or Pelini?

FP: The cat will be auctioned off on eBay or maybe sold on Craigslist.

"For sale, one pretend cat that does not exist and therefore will not pee on your couch."

Q: Who do you think would be a good replacement for your job? Will their Twitter account be as entertaining?

FP: Scott Frost would be an interesting hire but would be a difficult guy to parody. The ideal replacement from a Twitter perspective would be either Steve Spurrier or Charlie Weis, or maybe Matthew McConaughey. Or Whoopi Goldberg. Any of them would work well on Twitter.

Q: What’s next for Twitter’s favorite faux coach?

FP: The straight answer is, I really don’t know. I probably won’t follow Bo and probably won’t parody the new guy. I don’t think my heart would be in either of those options. I might hang it up or maybe stick around for a little while as a Ghost of Pelini thing or something. I’ll figure it out in the coming week or so.

Q: Do you have anything that you would like to say to your many fans?

FP: Whatever happens—or doesn’t happen—next, it’s been fun. I’ve appreciated the support and kind words over the last couple days. It’s been a cool thing.

Q: And lastly, for those curious, will you ever reveal your identity?

FP: Never! Well, maybe. But definitely not yet.

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Louisiana Tech Bulldogs vs. Marshall Thundering Herd Odds, College Football Pick

Marshall was the preseason favorite to win the Conference USA championship, and despite last week's loss, which ruined the Herd's run at perfection, they can still live up to those lofty expectations.

Louisiana Tech, meanwhile, got hot toward the end of this season, going 4-1 against the spread over its last five games, winning CUSA's West Division.

Two of the better teams to bet on this season meet when the Thundering Herd and the Bulldogs battle in the CUSA Championship Game on the Herd's home field in Huntington on Saturday afternoon.

 

Point spread: The Thundering Herd opened as 14.5-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 41.6-23.0 Thundering Herd

 

Why the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs can cover the spread

The Bulldogs are 6-1 SU over their last seven games and 6-2 ATS over their last eight after routing Rice 76-31 and easily covering the spread as seven-point favorites last week. Louisiana Tech led 28-17 at the half and then scored four times in the third quarter to pull away. The 'Dogs racked up 677 yards of offense on the Owls, ran for 269 yards and scored twice on defensive touchdowns.

So after going 4-8 in its first season under Skip Holtz last year, Louisiana Tech is playing for a conference title. The Bulldogs have been betting dogs four times this season; they're 4-0 ATS in that spot.

 

Why the Marshall Thundering Herd can cover the spread

The Herd had won 11 games in a row but got caught napping last week, giving up nine touchdowns in a 67-66 overtime loss to Western Kentucky. Marshall trailed almost all day, including by 10 points with 10 minutes to go, but rallied for two scores to force overtime before falling on a bold two-point call by the Hilltoppers. Prior to that, the Herd had won 10 of their 11 games by at least 19 points.

Marshall is averaging 289 yards per game on the ground and 286 through the air while giving up just 359 total yards per outing. Finally, after losing last year's conference title game to Rice as six-point favorites, the Herd might be hungry for redemption.

 

Smart pick

Marshall owns the edge on offense, but Louisiana Tech owns the edge on defense. And when you can get the team with the better defense plus points, that's probably the smart choice.

 

Betting trends

  • Louisiana Tech is 4-2 SU in its last six games on the road.
  • Marshall is 7-3 ATS in its last 10 games.

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line-movement updates, and get the free odds tracker app.

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Kansas State Wildcats vs. Baylor Bears Betting Odds, Analysis and Big 12 Pick

It's a mess at the top of the Big 12 with three teams, Baylor, TCU and Kansas State, all tied at 7-1 in conference play. Two of those teams still harbor hopes of making the College Football Playoffs, and one of those teams is the 10-1 Bears, who host the 9-2 Wildcats Saturday night.


Point spread: This game was OFF the board early in the week at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (Line updates and matchup report).


College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 47.4-33.6 Bears

 

Why the Kansas State Wildcats can cover the spread

The Wildcats are 7-1 both straight up and against the spread over their last eight games, after beating rival Kansas last week 51-13, covering as a 26-point favorite. Kansas State led 31-6 at the half, removing all doubt as to the outcome of the game and eventually outgained the Jayhawks 505-197.

The Wildcats' only two losses this season came by a touchdown against Auburn, and at TCU, and they've already won games at Oklahoma and at West Virginia. Bill Snyder is a great coach, one of those guys who always gets more out of what he has to work with, so Kansas State is a live dog in this spot.

 

Why the Baylor Bears can cover the spread

The Bears just overcame upset-minded Texas Tech last week 48-46, surviving an injury to quarterback Bryce Petty and a furious Red Raiders comeback attempt, hanging on to both the victory and their national championship aspirations.

With a win this Saturday, combined with its amazing, come-from-behind victory over TCU back in October, Baylor would claim the Big 12 title, which would give it a chance to overtake the Horned Frogs in the
College Football Playoff Rankings.

Since losing at West Virginia the Bears are 4-0, averaging 51 points per game. And if Petty can't go, at least backup quarterback Seth Russell has taken a few snaps already this season, compiling an 8/1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

 

Smart Pick

Art Briles and his Bears are 3-1 SU against Snyder and his Wildcats, but Kansas State is 3-1 ATS in that span. Also, Baylor isn't quite the monster it was last year, and its quarterback situation, as of early this week, remained up in the air. So the smart choice here is with the Wildcats.

 

Betting Trends

  • The total has gone over in four of Kansas State's last five games when playing Baylor
  • Baylor is 15-3 ATS in its last 18 games at home

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Iowa State Cyclones vs. TCU Horned Frogs Betting Odds, Analysis, Pick

The TCU Horned Frogs sit on the verge of making the College Football Playoff. At 10-1 straight up and 9-2 against the spread, the Horned Frogs will finish out their regular season at home Saturday afternoon against 2-9 Iowa State.

The Horned Frogs are big favorites for this one, and covering the spread wouldn't be a bad way to impress the playoff committee.

 

Point spread: The Horned Frogs opened as 33-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 42.2-17.9 Horned Frogs

 

Why the Iowa State Cyclones can cover the spread

The Cyclones are 0-5 SU and 1-4 ATS over their last five games, but they've had chances to make some cash.

Two weeks ago, ISU led Texas Tech by 10 points in the third quarter and by four points late into the fourth quarter before giving up the game-winning score. And last week, as 10-point dogs, the Cyclones led West Virginia 21-7 in the second quarter before giving up 30 of the last 33 points in a 37-24 defeat.

If Iowa State can get a full 60-minute effort, continued good play from quarterback Sam Richardson, perhaps 100 yards from running back Aaron Wimberly and some containment on defense, it could easily cover this spread.

 

Why the TCU Horned Frogs can cover the spread

The Frogs not only took care of business last week at Texas, but they also earned the necessary style points to stick right near the No. 4 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings. TCU led 20-3 through three quarters but, perhaps sensing it hadn't done quite enough, scored four times in the fourth for a gaudy final score of 48-10.

Quarterback Trevone Boykin accounted for 280 yards and three scores, and the defense held the 'Horns to 290 yards while forcing six turnovers. The Frogs have already won five games this season by 30 or more points, and they know the committee will be watching Saturday's game closely.

 

Smart pick

Motivation means everything in this spot, and the Frogs can't afford to call off the dogs. So the smart money here resides with TCU, giving the big points.

 

Betting trends

  • Iowa State is 1-4 SU in its last five games when playing TCU.
  • TCU is 5-0 ATS in its last five games at home.

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line-movement updates, and get the free odds tracker app.

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Kramer's College Football Notebook: The Committee Has Gone Mad

If winning all of the games on your schedule is not enough, what precedent does that set? More importantly, in a year devoid of dominant teams, why should a program playing in a Power Five conference be penalized for accomplishing something no other team could? If anything, it should make the achievement that much more impressive.

The College Football Playoff selection committee has made it abundantly clear it is not of this mindset.

In its most recent College Football Playoff rankings, the committee dropped Florida State down to the No. 4 spot, bumping TCU up to No. 3, heading into the final weekend. In doing so, the committee has affirmed its stance that it does not care for the Seminoles' sloppy, cardiac-packed, blemish-less resume.

Now, let’s make one thing abundantly clear: Florida State has not looked crisp in many of its wins, and it is nowhere close to a dominant team. The Seminoles have major flaws—starting with their Heisman-winning quarterback who looks more hobbled by the week—and various pieces playing at a far less dominant level than they were a season ago. 

But, they are undefeated. This cannot be reiterated enough. You can cry foul over the lack of quality teams in the ACC and make a valid case. Still, the Seminoles have done something no other team has done. They were also just leapfrogged by a team that nearly lost to Kansas mere weeks ago.

That is not a knock on TCU, which warrants the utmost playoff consideration given its overall season. In all actuality, this isn’t even a debate centered around head-to-head resumes. 

It boils down to what matters most, which should be victories above all, no strings attached. Winning everything on your schedule—no matter the path taken to arrive at this point—should be valued more than it currently is.

That was the original plan, at least. Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples shared the CFP media guide's take on humans vs. computers as it relates to rankings:

Wow RT @CarltonLemley: You won't believe what the CFP media guide says about using humans over computers for rankings pic.twitter.com/CZIQlHvHvf

— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) December 3, 2014

My, how things change.

However, this is far from the only takeaway from the committee’s final weekly release before the Top 25 (and the first-ever College Football Playoff) is set in stone.

 

Welcome to the Playoff, TCU

Florida State’s fall is TCU’s gain. Of course it is. The Horned Frogs' surprising climb to No. 3 in the latest rankings means much more for Gary Patterson’s team than it does for Jimbo Fisher’s. 

This is the buffer TCU was so desperately seeking. Not only does it put the Horned Frogs ahead of the undefeated Seminoles, but it also, more importantly, distances them from Baylor, the only team to beat them this season. Although the separation between No. 3 and No. 6 may seem insignificant, it might as well be the Grand Canyon.

The Bears are by no means out of the College Football Playoff conversation, although they likely need help getting in under the circumstances. Despite owning a win over TCU, Baylor will likely be unable to make up the ground necessary to surpass TCU in the end. However, it doesn't hurt to have No. 9 Kansas State on deck in the finale.

If TCU struggles against Iowa State and Baylor waxes a Top 10 team, perhaps that will be enough to shake things up. Given the committee's most recent stance, however, this feels unlikely.

Once thought to be in a position of weakness due to the absence of a conference championship game, the Horned Frogs are now in the driver's seat.

 

No J.T. Barrett, No Problem

As it stands right now, Ohio State’s playoff hopes haven’t wavered despite a seismic shift in public perception. The loss of star quarterback J.T. Barrett to season-ending surgery has complicated matters, and committee chairman Jeff Long addressed this topic while appearing on ESPN (via Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod):

Jeff Long on J.T. Barrett injury: “Ohio State’s situation has not been impacted at this point…we will evaluate his replacement."

— Ben Axelrod (@BenAxelrod) December 3, 2014

Everything is on course. The Buckeyes still need help, but, for the time being, it's business as usual.

With that cleared up, you can’t help but zero in on the most fascinating part of that statement. While Ohio State moved up to No. 5, thanks to Mississippi State’s loss to Ole Miss, the word “reevaluate” jumps off the page. It was the most meaningful of Long's remarks in his brief appearance. 

The committee chairman has made the committee's stance here clear as day: Ohio State is on trial with new quarterback Cardale Jones, and the takeaways from this game will be judged differently than any other game played this season.

As a result, Ohio State doesn't just have to beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship. It also has to look the part of a top-four team with a top-flight QB while doing so.

 

Arizona Looks to Control Its Own Playoff Destiny 

TCU’s ascent to No. 3 wasn’t the only notable jump in the rankings. Arizona surged four spots in the latest Top 25, at a time when it matters most and with a final impression still to make.

No longer just a backup plan reserved for chaos; the Wildcats, at No. 7, are a team you need to be thinking about when it comes to playoff consumption. Suddenly, the Pac-12 Championship has the feel of a quarterfinal.

If Oregon wins, it will obviously be granted access to the playoff. The Ducks were tabbed as the No. 2 team again this week and could potentially seize the No. 1 spot with a solid performance. Regardless, they're in with a win.

An Arizona win could throw a wrench into the process. It would give the Wildcats two victories over a team the committee clearly likes. It would also give Arizona more momentum to close out the year than any other program in the country, which would certainly help its cause in these closed-door discussions.

While Arizona might not be a lock to crack the top four with a victory, its movement prior to its final game certainly helps the push. Now comes the hard part of the plan, which involves no committee opinion or poll. 

The Wildcats have to beat a much healthier, much more efficient Oregon team than the last time these two teams met. They also have to stop the quarterback playing better than any college football player on the planet right now.

No one said it would be easy.

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Final College Football Playoff Projections from Analytics Guru Ed Feng

Ever since ESPN aired the release of the inaugural College Football Playoff poll on Oct. 28, there has been just one question on everybody's mind: What will the rankings look like when they matter on Dec. 7?

My algorithm projects just that in the sortable table above. Now, allow me to explain my rankings...


Why Florida State Fell to No. 4

Despite its undefeated record, Florida State dropped from third to fourth in the committee rankings. That is because the Seminoles are not winning games in a convincing fashion. This past week was a great example of that as the Noles eked out a five-point win over a Florida team that fired its coach, Will Muschamp.

But shouldn't Florida State's undefeated, 12-0 record matter? Shouldn't winning percentage determine the four best teams?

We can test this hypothesis with data.

If record matters most, the team with the better regular-season win percentage should win a bowl game more often. However, since 2005, the team with the better win percentage has only won 50.4 percent of bowl games. According to this metric, win percentage is a moot point. 

In contrast, the team with a higher average margin of victory won 59.7 percent of bowl games. Margin of victory matters more in judging teams, and the committee intuitively understands this.

Florida State has struggled mostly because of its defense. Over the past two seasons, the Seminole defense ranked in the top five in my yards-allowed-per-play-adjusted-for-strength-of-schedule metric. However, Florida State ranks 34th this season.

The Seminoles have failed to generate a consistent pass rush, and they have sacked the opposing quarterback on only 4.2 percent of pass attempts. This is much lower than the 6.0 percent FBS average.

All that said, Florida State should still make the playoff as it has a 65.9 percent win probability over Georgia Tech in Saturday's ACC Championship Game. 


Welcome to the Playoff, TCU

This week, TCU took over as the team most likely to make the playoff, ahead of even Alabama and Oregon. The reason is simple: TCU has the easiest game this last weekend with a 92.5 percent win probability over Iowa State at home, and the committee gave it a buffer with the No. 3 ranking.

It would be very tough to see the Horned Frogs get jumped by two teams if they win. 

However, this TCU team might be overrated. It has enjoyed an incredible plus-18 in turnover margin (takeaways minus giveaways) this season. Since turnovers are mostly random, TCU's success is less stable than some of the other teams at the top of the rankings.

 

Quantifying the Impact of J.T. Barrett's Injury

Just 2.6 percent. That is the impact of quarterback J.T. Barrett's injury as Ohio State's playoff chances only drop from 17.9 percent to 15.3 percent without him at the helm. 

Ohio State suffered a huge setback when Barrett broke his ankle against Michigan on Saturday. With Barrett at the helm, Ohio State had the third ranked offense by my yards-per-play-adjusted-for-strength-of-schedule statistic.

The offense will most likely regress without him.

How can we account for his injury in the numbers? I consulted market data to make an estimate. One can use past point spreads to assign each team a rating, or an expected point spread against an average team. It's similar to how computer rankings use margin of victory to rank teams. These market rankings gave Ohio State and Wisconsin approximately the same rating.

With the Barrett injury, the markets favor Wisconsin by four points over Ohio State. So I adjusted Ohio State's rating four points to account for his absence. This changes the Buckeyes' win probability from 55.3 percent to 43.4 percent over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday.

Despite this reduced win probability against Wisconsin, Ohio State still has a 15.3 percent chance to make the playoff.


85 Percent Chance a Contending Team Loses

Championship week doesn't offer stiff competition for the top three teams in the committee rankings. Here are the win probabilities given by my model:

1. Alabama 82.9 percent over Missouri
2. Oregon 85.0 percent over Arizona
3. TCU 92.5 percent over Iowa State

However, the next three teams face tougher games.

4. Florida State 65.9 percent over Georgia Tech
5. Ohio State 43.4 percent over Wisconsin
6. Baylor 52.4 percent over Kansas State

To determine the likelihood that all three teams win, you multiply their win probabilities together to obtain 15 percent. Then 100 percent minus this probability, or 85 percent, gives the chance that at least one of these three teams loses.


Ed Feng founded The Power Rank and has also written for Grantland and Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter @thepowerrank.

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Fresno State vs. Boise State Betting Odds, College Football Pick

What started out as a rough season for the Fresno State Bulldogs has turned into a shot at the conference title. They meet the Boise State Broncos in Saturday’s Mountain West Championship Game at Bronco Stadium.

The West Division champion Bulldogs suffered through two three-game skids this year but also won three in a row twice, going 5-1 against the spread during the two different winning streaks.

 

Point spread: The Broncos opened as 17-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 30.3-20.6 Broncos

 

Why the Fresno State Bulldogs can cover the spread

Fresno State has nothing to lose here. It is already bowl-eligible with six wins and is content to finish the season on a positive note by making it to this game.

The Bulldogs played Mountain Division champion Boise State tough on the road back on October 17, losing 37-27 but covering the spread as 18-point underdogs. All looked lost for them when they fell to the Wyoming Cowboys 45-17 two weeks later as 15.5-point favorites.

But Fresno was able to come together and end the regular season with three straight wins, including two as an underdog. The Bulldogs are 7-3 straight up and against the spread in their last 10 road games against Mountain West opponents.

 

Why the Boise State Broncos can cover the spread 

The Broncos have absolutely dominated Fresno State over the past 14 meetings, going 12-2 SU and ATS. One of those non-covers came earlier this year, but you have to go back to 2005 to find the previous time they failed to beat the number against the Bulldogs. Boise has also won its last seven games overall, winning the past two by a combined score of 113-33 and easily covering both.

During their winning streak, the Broncos are averaging nearly 51 points per game, while Fresno has scored more than 35 only twice all season. The over cashed in all of those games for Boise, and if that trend continues, the Bulldogs will struggle to keep up this time in a shootout.

 

Smart pick

The Broncos seem to have finally found their groove late in the season and should be able to win this rematch by at least three touchdowns.

They have superior talent and will be facing a team that is just happy to be here. Fresno is way too inconsistent to trust in this spot and has not covered two straight in the series over the past 13 years, so why would that change here?

Keep in mind that Boise dominated the Bulldogs in the first meeting earlier this year despite only winning by 10 points, outgaining them 492-313 in total yardage and 24-12 in first downs. If that happens again, the final margin will at least double on the scoreboard, so look for the Broncos to cover at home.

 

Betting trends 

  • The total has gone over in five of Fresno State's last seven games when playing Boise State.
  • The total has gone over in five of Boise State's last six games at home.

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line-movement updates and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

FCS Playoff Bracket 2014: Preview and Predictions for 2nd Round

A wild first week in the FCS football playoffs left a lot of some of the top teams heading home early.

Top seeds like New Hampshire, Jacksonville State and North Dakota State remained home, but are set to take the stage this weekend. All three programs will be at home along with Illinois State, Coastal Carolina and other elite programs.

One of the biggest shake-ups came when Liberty edged James Madison for its second significant win. After taking down Coastal Carolina and JMU in consecutive weeks, the Flames look like a dark horse moving forward.

Prior to the big dogs rolling out in the playoffs, here's a look at the FCS bracket, predictions and analysis of the second round.

 

Analysis

In the FCS playoffs, no team is riding higher than Liberty.

Not only did the Flames clinch a spot into the postseason with a massive win over former No. 1 Coastal, but they also took down JMU in the first round. It was a historic moment for the program, as the Flames men's basketball Twitter account notes:

On the heels of its first playoff victory, Turner Gill has the team ready to compete with Villanova. The Wildcats come in at 10-2 and 6-0 at home, but the Flames are burning bright at the right time after two of the biggest victories, with a chance to make a late run.

Playing well in the FCS playoffs might not be the ceiling for the rising program. With UAB's football program folds, via ESPN.com, the Flames might be looking for a move, per Dan Wolken of USA Today:

For now, the Flames look like a strong contender in the FCS playoffs. Going up against a stout Villanova program, Liberty has another shot to prove it's a program on the rise with a win.

Outside of Liberty, South Dakota State has been another surprise team. The Jackrabbits have been slowly on the rise but recently had a huge win of their own against Montana State to move forward in the postseason.

Zach Zenner enjoyed a career day with 324 yards from scrimmage and five total touchdowns to propel SDSU to the next round. Bobcats head coach Rob Ash spoke about the swift running back, via Scott Mansch of the Great Falls Tribune.

"Boy," Ash said. "When he broke free it was like we weren't even out there. He was very impressive. ... I saw him way too much today. He just made phenomenal plays."

Zenner isn't the only weapon for the Jackrabbits, as Terry Vandrovec of the Argus Leader notes:

The Jackrabbits and Zenner will now have to face North Dakota State for a chance to advance. While the Bison recently dropped a game to Northern Iowa, coming away with a win in Fargo will take another phenomenal game from Zenner and the entire team.

However, the NDSU program has been entirely too strong to drop a game this early in the playoffs. There will be upsets on Saturday, but the Jackrabbits are huge underdogs against the Bison.

A lot is still up in the air with the playoffs continuing, so several shake-ups might be on the horizon. Expect even more turmoil in the weeks to come as Liberty, SDSU and several others look to continue improbable postseason runs.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Florida State Seminoles vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Betting Odds, Analysis

Florida State owns a 28-game winning streak, but those wins have been getting harder and harder to come by. Last week, the Seminoles just squeaked by a poor Florida team, and now they're only 3-9 against the spread on the season.

And even though the 'Noles are 12-0 overall, many people are wondering if Florida State is assured a spot in the College Football Playoff. To be safe, it has to take care of business when it runs into 10-2 Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game on Saturday night in Charlotte.

 

Point spread: The Seminoles opened as 3.5-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 39.0-26.9 Seminoles

 

Why the Florida State Seminoles can cover the spread

The Seminoles are not the powerhouse they were last season, but they just keep winning. Last week, it was a 24-19 decision over the Gators. FSU outrushed Florida 181-113, but four interceptions by Jameis Winston kept the Gators close.

In what was probably the key play of the game, the Seminoles defense came up big. Down 9-0 with Florida threatening again, linebacker Terrance Smith picked off a Treon Harris pass and rambled 94 yards for a score, turning the tide. Florida State even built a 21-9 lead, although it couldn't quite hang on for the cover.

 

Why the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets can cover the spread

The Ramblin' Wreck are the surprise champions of the Coastal Division, and they're coming off a huge overtime rivalry victory over Georgia last Saturday. Georgia Tech tied the game on a 53-yard field goal at the buzzer and then won it 30-24 in overtime, snapping a five-game losing streak in the series against the Bulldogs.

The Yellow Jackets ride a five-game winning streak both SU and ATS into Saturday's conference title contest. Georgia Tech is 8-4 ATS on the season and has outrushed every opponent. Outrushing Florida State, which is averaging only 131 yards per game on the ground, might go a long way toward not only covering this spread but also pulling off the upset.

 

Smart pick

The Seminoles have been living dangerously this season, winning a bunch of close games and having to come from behind on an almost weekly basis. One of these times, they're going to come up short. And going against a team that can run the ball like the Wreck should be cause for concern.

The smart money in this spot resides with Georgia Tech, plus the points.

 

Betting trends

  • Florida State is 28-0 SU in its last 28 games.
  • Georgia Tech is 2-9 SU in its last 11 games when playing Florida State.

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line-movement updates, and get the free odds tracker app.

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Ohio State's Quarterback Injury Shouldn't Keep Buckeyes out of Playoff

What’s more important: what a team has conclusively accomplished on the field or what some people think that team might possibly do in future games?

That suddenly is a huge factor for the College Football Playoff committee, as it weighs the implications of Ohio State losing Heisman Trophy candidate J.T. Barrett and being left with untested sophomore Cardale Jones as its quarterback.

For the moment, the committee hasn’t done anything. Ohio State predictably sits in the No. 5 slot, moving up one place after Mississippi State’s loss.

But what if Ohio State defeats Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis, yet Jones clearly struggles in his first start? How will the committee react then?

If the committee decides to, it’s perfectly entitled to hammer the Buckeyes in the rankings and drop them out of sight. That authority was extended in the protocol that has been posted all season long on the CFP website.

It’s the fifth and final “principle” that’s to be considered—after conference championships won, strength of schedule, head-to-head competition and comparative outcomes of common opponents—and reads: “Other relevant factors such as key injuries that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance.”

And I think it needs to be erased.

Injuries are a huge part of sports, and to suddenly wipe out a team’s drive for a championship because one player has been hobbled is totally contrary to the fundamental belief that anything can happen once the game kicks off. It’s also like taking points off the board in a game that has been completed.

Imagine if Peyton Manning cracked a couple of ribs just before the NFL playoffs, and Roger Goodell responded by removing a division-winning Broncos team from the postseason. It’s too ridiculous to even consider, yet the CFP committee has that option.

No matter who gets hurt, it shouldn’t undo the victories a team has amassed. The Buckeyes can log a 12th win on Saturday, and if they miss the playoffs, it should be because they lost to a vastly mediocre Virginia Tech team at home—not because they’ve had to dip into their depth chart.

The same Ohio State team that’s being questioned because of Barrett’s injury is also the one that proved a season-ending injury to a star quarterback can be overcome.

Hardly anyone knew who Barrett was back in August, before the Buckeyes lost Braxton Miller, their two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, to a shoulder injury.

Can Jones make the same magical ascent as Barrett? I have no idea, and neither does the committee. What is definite is that he has been in Urban Meyer’s offensive system for three years, and that if Ohio State gets past Wisconsin, he’d have nearly a month to prepare for the playoff.

But heaping the decision about Ohio State’s future solely onto Jones’ shoulders misses the point. He could have a three-interception game, like Blake Sims did for No. 1-ranked Alabama last Saturday against Auburn, and still see his team win.

No one is going to seek Oregon’s playoff ouster if Marcus Mariota is so-so in the Pac-12 championship tilt against Arizona, as long as the Ducks win. The same applies to TCU’s Trevone Boykin against Iowa State.

But Ohio State has reason to be very nervous.

The playoff committee has shown a willingness to run against the grain, and some might say extremely so.

Dropping Florida State to No. 4 was flat-out a rogue move. The defending national champions are wobbling as they edge closer and closer to a second consecutive undefeated season, but dropping them behind three once-beaten teams shows the committee has little regard for traditional ranking methodology.

Similarly, reading the collective mind of the committee is even more difficult with TCU ranked two spots ahead of No. 6 Baylor. Baylor beat TCU, but the protocol principle of valuing head-to-head competition seems to be getting ignored.

The committee chairman, Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long, shed precious little light on Ohio State’s situation when the latest rankings were unveiled on ESPN.

Long said Barrett’s injury “has not impacted” Ohio State’s ranking yet, but he added that, “It will be evaluated in this last game.”

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher thinks that’s one of several things that are wrong with the way rankings are being conducted this season, as Fisher told reporters regarding Barrett’s injury and the rankings:

It should have no bearing. Their body of work and what they do should be measured. It's not figure skating. If Ohio State wins the game and does what they're supposed to do and that's what they feel is right, they should put them in there. Their other quarterback got hurt and they put him in and he did pretty well. They have one loss and they've done pretty well. To me, that is total craziness if you think that way.

If Barrett’s injury proves to be a hurdle the Buckeyes can’t clear, the committee will hear from coach Meyer. And loudly so.

Contemplating that possibility, Meyer told Cleveland.com before this week’s rankings were announced, "I think that's wrong, if that happens. If it's Ohio State or some other team, I don't know how—it's strictly how you play."

Added Meyer, "You're the champion of the Big Ten Conference, you lose one Heisman Trophy candidate before the season and another one in [Game 12] that is also a Heisman candidate. I think that's almost a positive, that your team can still go function, and it tells you about the players and talent on your team."

I think Meyer has it right. Suppose Jones is downright awful against Wisconsin, but Ohio State still finds a way to win via the rushing game, air-tight defense and special teams precision.

Doesn’t that speak to the talent level of the rest of the Buckeyes, and isn't football still a team sport?

 

Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.

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Arizona Wildcats vs. Oregon Ducks Betting Odds, Analysis, College Football Pick

The Arizona Wildcats will look to beat the Oregon Ducks for the third straight time when they play in the Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday at Levi’s Stadium, home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.

The North Division champion Ducks were stunned by the South Division champion Wildcats 31-24 on October 2 in Eugene as 21.5-point home favorites and have not lost since, winning their past seven games both straight up and against the spread.

 

Point spread: The Ducks opened as 14-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 43.4-28.6 Ducks

 

Why the Arizona Wildcats can cover the spread

Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez seems to have created the secret formula needed to defeat Oregon. Whether he ends up parlaying that success into a better job opportunity after the season, such as the opening with the Florida Gators, remains to be seen, but he can at least help end the national championship dreams of the Ducks with one more win here.

In the meeting earlier this season, the Wildcats were able to run the ball effectively with 208 yards on 55 carries and three rushing touchdowns against Oregon, controlling the clock and keeping the opposition’s offense off the field. If they can do that again, there’s no reason to believe they can’t make it three wins in a row.

 

Why the Oregon Ducks can cover the spread

The Ducks have much more on the line here than Arizona does, as a berth in the first-ever College Football Playoff field is within reach with a victory. They figure to finish among the top four teams in the country if they can avenge their lone loss of the season and win the Pac-12 title.

Oregon has proved itself more than any other team since suffering that setback at home against the Wildcats, rewarding backers who have continued to believe in them down the stretch.

Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota has all but locked up the Heisman Trophy, based on the latest odds, and he can put the finishing touches on his campaign by winning a conference championship.

They have won seven in a row ATS versus conference foes since last losing against the Wildcats.

 

Smart pick

Mariota did not play like a Heisman favorite in the last two meetings with Arizona, but he can certainly make up for those past performances with one victory.

He didn't play poorly in either game, but he rushed for only one yard on nine carries in the loss this year and threw two interceptions in last season's 42-16 road loss, in which the Ducks were 18.5-point favorites.

Last year was much different, though, as Oregon went 1-4 ATS down the stretch and had already lost on the road to the Stanford Cardinal after starting the season 8-0.

The Ducks are peaking and might just be the team to beat for the national championship this year. They will serve notice in Santa Clara with their eighth straight dominant victory and cover against the number.

 

Betting trends

  • Arizona is 4-12 SU in its last 16 games when playing Oregon.
  • Oregon is 3-7 ATS in its last 10 games when playing Arizona.

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line-movement updates, and get the free odds tracker app.

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The 1 Dark Horse in Perfect Position to Crash the College Football Playoff

With the committee closing in on its final rankings Dec. 7, there are many underdog teams with visions of cracking the first College Football Playoff. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee dishes out the underdog team that could crash the CFP.

Which dark-horse squad currently outside of the Top Four can do so?

Check out the video and let us know! 

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