NCAA Football News

Does OSU, FSU, UGA or Virginia Tech Have Best Chance to Land 5-Star Josh Sweat?

One of the nation’s top pass-rushing prospects, 5-star defensive end Josh Sweat, is slated to make his commitment on Wednesday.

Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State, Oregon and Virginia Tech are Sweat’s five finalists, but less than 24 hours away from his announcement, which team is trending in the race to land the 6’5”, 240-pounder?

Sweat has been a tough recruit to read, but the latest buzz appears to surround Florida State and Virginia Tech, according to Josh Newberg of Noles247

In particular, it’s the Seminoles who are trending down the stretch with the No. 6 overall prospect in the 2015 class:

According to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports (subscription required), Jimbo Fisher and defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri will see him at his high school on Tuesday—which means they get the last crack at Sweat before his announcement.

Following his official visit last month to Tallahassee, Sweat told Bartow (subscription required) that he’s very comfortable with Sunseri and the ‘Noles' plans for him should he choose FSU.

“We’re pretty close,” Sweat said of Sunseri. “I like him a lot. We went over the schemes they run. How I would play some outside linebacker and mostly have my hand in the dirt as a pass rusher. I see that they are missing that now. I don’t see them having that (pass rusher) right now.”

Even though FSU’s roster is loaded with former prep All-Americans, the ‘Noles have struggled to generate a pass rush.

Per CFBstats.com, junior defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and junior defensive end Mario Edwards Jr.—who have combined to notch seven sacks—are the only linemen who have more than one sack this season.

Both of those players are considered as potential early entries in the 2015 NFL draft, which magnifies the importance of landing an impact pass-rusher such as Sweat—who notched 22 sacks and recorded 31 tackles for loss as a junior.

Additionally, Fisher and the Seminoles have had success in recent years pulling top talent out of the state of Virginia. 

FSU already has a pledge from 4-star defensive tackle and Virginia native Darvin Taylor in the current cycle, and they’ve beaten out the Hokies for players such as defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi and linebacker E.J. Levenberry in recent classes.

Conversely, to land the state’s top prospect, Frank Beamer will have to reverse a trend of top in-state talent heading away from Blacksburg in recent years.

Since the 2011 cycle, the Hokies have landed just one player—safety Holland Fisher in the 2013 class—who was ranked as one of the state of Virginia’s five best prospects.

As noted by Evan Watkins of VTScoop (subscription required), the Hokies made sure to emphasize their need at defensive end when Sweat visited Blacksburg two weeks ago.

If the Hokies can fend off powers such as FSU and Georgia for Sweat, it may produce the biggest win—on or off the field—for the program this season.

 

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

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Predicting the Winner of Every Pac-12 Bowl Game

The Pac-12 Conference enters bowl season with eight teams getting the chance to close out the season with another victory. For the league champion Oregon Ducks, there's the potential to win two games and a national title.

After another season of debate over which conference is the best, who would win hypothetical matchups and is the SEC overrated or just really, really good, the bowls should once again help provide some answers.

Let's give you a rundown on all eight games the Pac-12 will have a say in and offer our predictions for each one.

 

A complete bowl schedule can be found here.

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Devin Funchess Declares for 2015 NFL Draft: Latest Details and Reaction

Ending a process that's felt like an inevitability since before the 2014 season, Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess announced he will hire an agent and officially declare for the 2015 NFL draft.

Funchess, a junior, will forgo his final year of eligibility, the team announced:

A tight end for his first two seasons in Ann Arbor, Funchess transitioned full-time to wide receiver in 2014. He made 62 receptions for 733 yards and four touchdowns, often being the best facet of a struggling Michigan offense.

That said, like nearly everyone on the roster, Funchess' 2014 campaign wasn't filled with all positives. He struggled badly with drops at points, and his counting stats were a little underwhelming given expectations. His yards per reception average dropped more than three yards from his career number in 2014.

"We coach him, there's been guys who have gone through that in the past," Hoke told reporters in November. "We do a lot of JUGS (machine) work, we do a lot of routes on air. You've just got to keep coaching him through that."

The Wolverines finished the regular season 5-7, leading to the dismissal of head coach Brady Hoke. Any thought that Funchess may return mostly went out the window with Hoke's firing, as he was reportedly considering agents within days of the move.

Now that Funchess declared, it'll be interesting to see how scouts evaluate him. While most assumed he'd transition to wide receiver in the pros and that remains the plan for now, his occasional struggles in 2014 are noteworthy. Teams are going to examine his athletic drills closely; it's possible that he's better off in a hybrid, Jimmy Graham-esque role than as a full-time wideout.

ESPN's Todd McShay has listed Funchess as a first-round choice all season but colleague Mel Kiper has been more bearish. Funchess being viewed as a wide receiver helps his draft stock from nearly every angle, though freak tight ends have become more of a first-round fixture. His 230-pound frame has been what most point to in projecting him as a receiver, in large part because he's not big enough to be a reliable blocker in those situations.

All of this uncertainty makes Funchess an interesting prospect to track. If he tests well and convinces teams that his 2014 downturn was more a function of a terrible offense, then he has a chance to go inside the top 15. If those test numbers start screaming "tight end" rather than "wide receiver," it's entirely possible he falls out of the first round.

Let's just say the next couple months will be some of the most important in Funchess' life.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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SEC Football Q&A: Does Ole Miss or Mississippi State Have More Staying Power?

The season is in the books, the College Football Playoff field is set, and fans are making plans to follow their teams to bowl sites around the country over the holidays.

Two of the big surprises this season were Ole Miss and Mississippi State ascending to the national conversation. The Rebels and Bulldogs both made appearances in the playoff rankings during the season, with Mississippi State earning the No. 1 ranking for the first time in program history.

Which one has more staying power?

That question along with Georgia's quarterback battle and playoff expansion are discussed in this week's SEC Q&A.

 

I'll hold my judgement on Mississippi State until this offseason. For Ole Miss, though, this year was absolutely the start of what could be a rise to prominence in the SEC West.

Look who the primary contributors were on this year's Ole Miss team. Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche? Sophomore. Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell? Sophomore. Safety Tony Conner? Sophomore. Running back Jordan Wilkins? Freshman. That's on top of other youngsters who haven't yet made an impact, including safety C.J. Hampton—a former 4-star prospect during the last recruiting cycle. 

We already knew head coach Hugh Freeze and the staff were lights out on the recruiting trail, and Freeze's new contract brings more stability to a program that has had a hard time sustaining success over the last few decades.

Mississippi State, on the other hand, could be a different story. 

Head coach Dan Mullen proved me wrong this season, leading his team to the No. 1 ranking for the first time in program history. That team, though, is a veteran-laden group that includes 12 senior starters as well as junior quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Josh Robinson—both of whom could jump to the NFL if they receive good draft projections.

This is a program that has finished no higher than 22nd in 247Sports's team recruiting rankings over the last five years and finished ranked in the 30s three times over that time span. Recruiting isn't everything, and Mullen's ability to coach up his players is phenomenal. But to be successful next season, he's going to have to do it with a roster that could look much different than it does right now.

Because of that, I'll hold off on judging Mississippi State's staying power until the Bulldogs prove they can win with a relatively new cast of characters.

 

Yes, absolutely.

Hutson Mason was more of a game manager early this season, but he came on strong late, throwing 10 touchdowns and only one pick during the month of November. It was a long time coming, too. 

The redshirt senior finally got his crack at the starting quarterback role this season, but with Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb around to tote the rock, he became more of a caretaker early in the season. His experience within the offense, even though he didn't see much playing time until 2014, gave head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo the confidence that they could trust him to not make mistakes.

That trust won't exist with the new quarterback next year, which will likely be rising sophomore Brice Ramsey, rising junior Faton Bauta or rising redshirt freshman Jacob Park.

Can those guys handle the job? Maybe, but they're going to have to earn the trust that Mason earned long ago, which might lead to a few speed bumps.

 

No, a two-loss team doesn't deserve to win the national championship, and sometimes, a one-loss team doesn't, either. Say, perhaps, one that lost to Virginia Tech at home?

I agree that expanding the playoff would be a mess. If we go to an eight-team postseason, there's no way that commissioners let that happen unless there are automatic bids for conference champions of the Power Five conferences and the champion of the "Group of Five."

Not all conferences are created equal. The Big 12 doesn't have a conference championship game, and its commissioner, Bob Bowlsby, can't even figure out which team is his conference champion even though it was settled on the field.

The likelihood of the eight best teams making an eight-team playoff is slim to none, and slim left the building long ago. You'd have a team ranked 20th in there. If there's an upset on championship Saturday, an unranked team could get in.

Expanding the playoff beyond four teams would put more of an emphasis on access even though the goal is—and should be—to reward excellence.

An eight-team playoff would do much more harm than good.

 

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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USC Football: How Cody Kessler Can Make Trojans History in 2015

Cody Kessler bounced from one quarterback controversy to another in his first two seasons starting at USC. But the only Trojans quarterbacks with whom he'll compete in 2015 are those who built the program's legacy as Quarterback U. 

Kessler finished the 2014 regular season with a flourish on Nov. 29, throwing six touchdown passes in a 49-14 rout of Notre Dame to bring his yearlong total to 36. 

"Cody was on," USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said. "Cody was throwing the ball to the right guys at the right time." 

Talk about an understatement. With the playbook opened, Kessler threw a confident deep ball while continuing to show off the accurate mid-range game that was his signature throughout the season. 

Meanwhile, Kessler wrote his name in the record books as the only quarterback ever to throw that many touchdowns against the venerable Fighting Irish. 

It wasn't the first bit of history he made in 2014, either. Kessler set the program's record for most touchdowns in a game with seven against Colorado on Oct. 19.

That surpassed the previous high set by Kessler's former teammate and predecessor, Matt Barkley.  

Another record of Barkley's is in sight: 39 touchdown passes in a season, the program-best set in 2011. Kessler needs four in the Holiday Bowl, a number he's hit six times already this campaign. 

Kessler is also within striking distance of Carson Palmer's single-season passing yardage mark of 3,942 yards, and 438 yards against Nebraska would do the trick. 

Having such illustrious records within reach shows the prescience of Kessler's comments about the USC quarterback lineage made at July's Pac-12 media day.

"USC's tradition speaks for itself, and you expect that of yourself," he said. "These guys have set the bar so high, and you don't want to let them down."

Even if Kessler falls short of breaking more records this year, he is building up to a potentially historic 2015 season.  

Should Kessler return for his redshirt senior season—and Sarkisian said it's something he'll discuss with the quarterback—he will be at the forefront of the Heisman Trophy discussion.

The case already began in earnest last month.  

"At some point, people are going to recognize him," Sarkisian said. "[His statistics] are ridiculous. ... At some point, you can't ignore it." 

As Sarkisian talked about Kessler's individual credentials, linebacker Hayes Pullard nodded his vehement approval.  

USC has not had a Heisman finalist since Matt Leinart and running back Reggie Bush were both nominated in 2005. 

Kessler has indeed put up numbers that compare favorably with past Trojans quarterbacks who have won the sport's top individual award, including Leinart.

To wit, he's thrown more touchdowns and fewer interceptions than either Leinart or Palmer in their Heisman-winning campaigns. 

Kessler is also a more effective ball-carrier than USC has typically had in its history. While his rushing statistics (two touchdowns, minus-149 yards) hardly to bring to mind dual-threat playmakers like Oregon's Marcus Mariota or former Auburn Heisman winner Cam Newton, Sarkisian said Kessler's mobility adds a dimension to the USC offense. 

Are Kessler's astronomical statistics at least partially a byproduct of the era? Sure—when first implementing the hurry-up scheme at Washington in 2013, Sarkisian himself remarked on the astronomic numbers the USC teams of the mid-2000s could have generated in that system.  

"Ten years ago, I probably should've been running this (as the offensive coordinator at USC)," Sarkisian said, via Adam Jude of The Seattle Times. "That would've gotten Reggie [Bush] and LenDale [White] and Matt [Leinart] more chances to score more points." 

But Kessler cannot control what past USC teams did. He can only impact the Trojans' current offense, which has shown progress throughout Sarkisian's first year as head coach. 

And Kessler specifically said he's continuously gaining confidence in his ability to run the system. 

"I have seen everything, great games and bad games that helped me prepare for the future and made me more comfortable," he said. 

And the future starts Dec. 27 with USC's Holiday Bowl matchup against Nebraska. Last year's bowl game became a springboard for Kessler's impressive 2014, as he threw for a then-career-high four touchdowns in a 45-20 blowout of Fresno State.

This year's postseason affair will also be an important gauge of where Kessler is heading into 2015. Though Nebraska is not ranked in the final College Football Playoff standings, the Holiday Bowl is a high-profile game against an opponent ranked No. 27 against the pass.  

While Kessler put up monster numbers against Colorado and Washington State—each of the Pac-12's divisional basement dwellers—as well as a sputtering Notre Dame, he struggled in the Trojans' marquee matchups with current ranked teams. 

Kessler threw just four touchdowns combined in games against Arizona State, Arizona, Utah and UCLA while three of his four interceptions on the year came in those same contests.  

After USC's win over Cal last month—the one game beyond those four in which Kessler threw an interception—he talked about a mindset critical to rebounding from mistakes. 

"I don't get rattled," he said. "What I learned at an early age from high school coach Bryan Nixon; he told me that it's over. It happened. You can't pout because you're only as good as your next play."  

The most critical facet of the 2014 season from which both Kessler and USC can apply that mentality is performance in the big games.

Either due to play-calling or through his own decision-making, Kessler went conservative against USC's tougher opponents. A more diverse offense with Kessler operating more confidently in it will prove pivotal to the Trojans' championship chances in 2015.  

And winning those games is essential for Kessler to earn individual accolades, Sarkisian pointed out. 

"That stuff comes with a team that performs consistently at a high level," he said. "I know that is what he wants more than anything."

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of CFBstats.com and Sports-Reference.com

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Is UAB Just the First of Many Small-School Programs to Shut Their Doors?

No program wants to be the next UAB. 

The scene, even from thousands of miles away, was equal parts heartbreaking and maddening. That's the power of pictures and video: The whole world was able to see the pain of those who saw their days of playing football for UAB evaporate.

On December 2, the day that UAB football died, university president Ray Watts stood in front of devastated football players trying to explain his way out of an impossible situation. The football program, along with bowling and rifle, was being shut down. The reason, per Watts, was strictly bottom line.

A release from the university, titled "Athletic Strategic Planning," concluded that "UAB would have to substantially increase our operating budget and our capital investments in facilities to support an Athletic Department that fields a competitive Conference USA football team."

As Jon Solomon of CBSSports.com explained, however, the reasons UAB football was killed could be deeper and more political: 

"UAB is overseen by the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees. The very strong belief by UAB supporters is football got killed by powerful trustees with Crimson Tide ties, including Paul Bryant Jr., the son of the legendary Alabama football coach."

"Most of the people in UAB would say it's not about the money," said Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick. What was it about then? Hamrick declined to specify. 

When reached by email, UAB declined to comment further. 

In the age of NCAA voting autonomy for Power Five conferences and compensation for name/image/likeness rights for college football players, there's a growing question about where mid-major programs fit. The easy line to draw is that more and more football programs could be on the chopping block if finances are tight. 

The question is whether it's the correct line to draw. 

 

The Numbers

This was Watt's go-to explanation: The numbers just weren't there to support a Division I football team. 

Sports business reporter Kristi Dosh of Fox Sports explained that UAB is in a similar financial situation as its Conference USA peers. Basically, revenue is low, expenses are high in comparison and institutional support and student fees are relied upon to keep things running: 

The biggest issue for UAB, as identified in the strategic planning report prepared by CarrSports Consulting and used to assist in this decision, is that expenses for maintaining the football program are going to grow much more quickly than revenue. According to the report, it will cost UAB approximately $5,442 per athletic scholarship to fund the unlimited meals now allowed by the NCAA and the cost of attendance stipend expected to be implemented. That's nearly half a million dollars a year for the football team alone.

Even at higher-profile programs, the need for more money to stay competitive is evident. Clemson, as Dosh points out, is considering raising student fees for increasing operational costs.  

Trev Alberts, the athletic director at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and a former college football analyst at ESPN, noted that universities face unique financial challenges to support athletics based on enrollment, tuition and fees to subsidize. In 2011, UNO announced it was eliminating its football and wrestling programs as part of a move from Division II to Division I. 

"By discontinuing football, that gave us about $1 million,"Alberts said. "The football budget would had to have doubled to support Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) football." 

Ultimately, the numbers for many Division I schools outside power conferences are tight. Conference USA doesn't boast the same television deal benefits as power conferences. According to projections obtained by Mike Carmin of the Lafayette Journal and Courier, 11 Big Ten schools will receive $30.9 million in revenue in 2014-15. 

"There's not much of a difference from a competitive standpoint between lower-tier Power Five teams and upper-tier Group of Five schools," Hamrick said. "But as college football and athletics become more expensive, there's pressure to generate more revenue or subsidize." 

 

Understanding the Marketplace

Alberts needed to make on thing clear: There is no broad brush by which college athletics and its challenges can be painted. 

UNO's brand investment was in its revenue-producing Division I hockey program. However, with the state's flagship program, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, just an hour away, UNO football was not a powerful enough brand within the community to sustain at the Division I level. The discussion on whether to keep or drop football, Alberts said, was nearly a year-long process. 

"If we went to Division I," Alberts explained, "we weren't going to be building excellence in all sponsored sports." 

UAB's statement on the end of its football program expresses similar rationale: 

It would be fiscally irresponsible and virtually impossible to keep pace with these growing financial demands without sacrificing the financial health and sustainability of Athletics, or redirecting funds from other critical areas of importance, like education, research, patient care or student services. 

The question at hand is whether UAB had the marketplace to succeed. As recently as 2013, Birmingham was the No. 1 college football market for ESPN, according to David Sher of al.com. That's not a one-year anomaly; Birmingham has been No. 1 in that category for more than a decade. 

Of course, not everyone in Birmingham supported UAB football specifically. The Blazers' home attendance in 2013 was 52,739, according to the NCAA, an average of 10,548 a game. 

Still, Hamrick also notes that, in its final weeks, UAB football felt more alive than it ever had in the past. That makes the decision to shut down the program all the more perplexing. 

"When I went to Birmingham last month [Nov. 22 for the Marshall-UAB football game], that was the first time that I felt the program there had turned a corner," Hamrick said. "There was a vibe—I can't describe it—but they felt like they finally had a good football team." 

 

The Future

There wasn't any fear in Hamrick's voice when asked about the future of mid-major programs. Alberts didn't second-guess himself when asked the same question. 

"That was a unique situation, and I think they [UAB] would tell you that," Hamrick said. "Schools all over the country are adding football."

The last major Division I school to shut down its football program was the University of the Pacific in 1995. As of last August, the University of Hawai'i said the possibility exists its football program could be done for as well. No official move has been made, but as Alberts notes, any decision is a university one, not a football one. 

Football, after all, is perceived as the golden ticket. No one understands that more than college administrators. 

"Administrative support—it's everything," Hamrick said, "from the president to governing board."

In this autonomy-driven world of major college athletics, an arms race exists to have the most money and the most exposure. Schools shell out top dollar for coaches and facilities regularly. Since not all programs are created equally—or viewed equally—the gap between the haves and have mores continues to get wider. 

Will the gap become so wide that certain programs will no longer be able to fund football? Perhaps, but rest assured schools will continue to do everything they can, including raise student fees, to make sure they don't. 

Because, whether it's a money issue or something more, no one wants to be in Watts' shoes. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. 

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Rapid-Fire Predictions for Louisville vs. Georgia in Belk Bowl

The Louisville Cardinals and the Georgia Bulldogs will square off on Dec. 30 in this year's edition of the Belk Bowl. Both teams had their sights set on bigger bowls, but they will gladly take a win heading into the 2015 season.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer dish out their predictions for the Belk Bowl. 

Who will win: Georgia or Louisville?

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Alabama Football: Can 4-Star LB Commit Adonis Thomas Make an Impact as Freshman?

Alabama’s 2015 class received a huge boost on Monday evening when 4-star linebacker Adonis Thomas announced his commitment to the Tide via his Twitter account.

The 6’4”, 229-pounder has been a huge priority for Nick Saban and his staff in the 2015 cycle.

The question for Thomas now becomes how he fits into the Tide’s defense and how quickly he can make an impact upon arriving in Tuscaloosa.

According to Charles Power of BamaOnline (subscription required), his head coach at Central Gwinnett High School in Lawrenceville, GA, Todd Wofford, said that the Tide’s defensive staff has pitched Thomas on the idea of playing at inside linebacker in their scheme.

"I think he could do a lot of things in their defense,” Wofford told Power. “They're looking for him to be inside. Their pitch to him was that they face some of these spread teams and they have to get faster and more athletic at that position and he can do that for them."

According to Barton Simmons of 247Sports (via BamaOnline’s Trevor Hewett, subscription required), Thomas has a skill set that separates him from a number of linebackers currently on the Tide’s roster:

In their defense, I think that a couple of things stand out. He is a really athletic kid obviously, but he is also smart and I think that Alabama has put a premium on that intelligence playing in their defense. I also really think that they don’t have a lot of inside linebackers like him. Sometimes, I think that a lot of times you see Alabama get these bigger bodied linebackers and I think that Adonis Thomas has a little bit more versatility and ability to run and I think that is a nice compliment to some of the guys that they have on board.

According to Ourlads, the Tide’s two starting inside linebackers are senior Trey DePriest and junior Reggie Ragland.

With Ragland slated to play his final season in 2015 and the void that DePriest will leave, Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will look to groom new faces to man the middle of their defense in the future.

Even though there’s a need for bodies in the middle, the likely best-case scenario for Thomas is to find the field on special teams and perhaps some spot duty in certain situations as a freshman.

For example, last year the Tide brought in four highly touted linebackers and a number of other top-flight defenders in its top-rated 2014 class. Yet Rashaan Evans is the only freshman who has notched more than 10 tackles this season, per CFBstats.com.

Thomas has the athleticism to be an asset in coverage in the middle, similar to former Tide All-American and current Ravens standout C.J. Mosley.

Mosley and Dont’a Hightower were the only two freshmen to finish in the top five in tackles on the team as freshmen since 2008.

While Thomas brings an added dimension to an already loaded group of linebackers, his first year in Tuscaloosa is probably going to be spent contributing on special teams and learning the defense in preparation to make a run at a bigger role as a sophomore.

 

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

 

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Rapid-Fire Predictions for Miami vs. South Carolina in Independence Bowl

The Independence Bowl pits two teams looking to bounce back from disappointing regular seasons. The Miami Hurricanes and the South Carolina Gamecocks had their sights set on bigger bowl games, but both will look to make a statement on Dec. 27 heading into 2015.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer dish out their predictions for the Independence Bowl. 

Who will win: Miami or South Carolina?

Check out the video, and let us know! 

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2014 Big 12 Football All-Conference Team

The 2014 college football regular season is over, and it's time to dole out some awards. 

While it is controversially out of the playoffs, the Big 12 still has plenty of talent across the board that made waves this year. 

From quarterback Bryce Petty to receiver Tyler Lockett, the Big 12 has some of the most electrifying players. 

Let's check out this year's 2014 B/R All-Big 12 team. 

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Texas A&M Football: Why WR Ricky Seals-Jones Will Break out in 2014 Liberty Bowl

Texas A&M will face the West Virginia Mountaineers in the 2014 Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennessee. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones will take this opportunity on a national stage to show everyone why he is one of the most gifted athletes in college football. 

Seals-Jones has had a solid freshman year but has not yet played up to his potential. He has the size and speed to be a dominant player at the college level. 

Seals-Jones should be able to use his size to take advantage of the Mountaineers' lack of size in the secondary. He will present an obvious mismatch to the WVU defense, and the Aggie offensive coaches should take advantage of it. 

 

An Elite Talent

Seals-Jones was one of the top recruits in the nation when he signed with the Aggies out of Sealy (Texas) High School. He was ranked as the No. 1 athlete in the country and the No. 25 overall recruit by 247sports.com. 

The 6'5", 235-pound athlete played quarterback and safety as a senior at Sealy High. He missed much of the season with a knee injury but was able to participate in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. 

Seals-Jones tantalized Aggie fans with a 71-yard touchdown reception against Rice in his first collegiate game. He was injured during that game and was forced to take a medical redshirt during the 2014 season.

Seals-Jones has had a couple of nice moments during his redshirt freshman season but has yet to live up to the billing he had out of high school.

 

Disappointing Season

Seals-Jones started off 2014 with a bang, catching five passes for 67 yards and a touchdown in a season-opening win over South Carolina. That was his most complete game of the season.

Seals-Jones caught 48 passes for 444 yards and four touchdowns on the year. His 48 receptions led the Aggies in the regular season. The issue is that he only averaged 9.2 yards per reception.

Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital struggled to find a role for Seals-Jones in the Aggie offense, lining him up as a flex tight end but never sending him on true tight end routes. An athlete with his size and speed should be running intermediate routes down the middle of the field, where he can take advantage of mismatches with linebackers ad safeties. Instead, Spavital has him running routes within five yards of the line of scrimmage.

Seals-Jones takes long strides and is not going to make a lot of defenders miss in space. Spavital's misuse of Seals-Jones contributed to his average season.

The disappointing year by Seals-Jones was not all on the coaches. The redshirt freshman displayed inconsistent hands at times. He had plenty of drops at big moments in multiple games. Seals-Jones will have to work on becoming more consistent with his hands if he wants to be an elite wide receiver.

 

Bad Matchup For Mountaineers

The West Virginia secondary is undersized. Sophomore cornerback Daryl Worley is the Mountaineers' only starting defensive back who stands taller than 6'0" in height.

With Seals-Jones lining up in the slot, that means that either 5'11" junior safety Karl Joseph or 5'11" freshman safety Dravon Henry will be matched up against him. That six-inch difference in height between Seals-Jones and his defenders should be a huge advantage for the Aggie offense.

With multiple weeks to formulate a game plan, the Aggie offensive coaches should be able to come up with multiple ways to get the ball to Seals-Jones downfield against the smaller defensive backs.

It takes years to recruit an athlete the caliber of Seals-Jones. The Aggie coaches need to utilize the talent available and get some payback on all the hours they spent recruiting Seals-Jones to campus.

They need to feature him against WVU and help him have a breakout game to end his freshman season.

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Rose Bowl 2015: TV Schedule, Live Stream Info and Predictions for Oregon vs. FSU

The best quarterback duel of the season is set. 

Marcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks against Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles at the Rose Bowl is just one dream scenario the inaugural College Football Playoff has at its fingertips.

Winston is the face of adversity at this point, no thanks to his up-and-down play this season. The Seminoles love to live on the edge, something Mariota knows little about on his way to what has to be the Heisman Trophy.

There is a spot in the title game on the line this January, although it sure feels like the final game of the postseason already.

 

When: Thursday, January 1, 5 p.m. ET

Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

Television: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 71
  • Spread: Oregon (-9)

 

Preview and Prediction

It sure feels like a season of destiny for Oregon. 

The early-season hiccup by the Ducks did not come in a major showdown against Michigan State. Instead, the Ducks cruised past an elite defense by a final score of 46-27, only to get upended by Arizona about a month later.

Still, Oregon is now free of the Stanford curse thanks to a 45-16 win over the Cardinal. Utah is an afterthought at this point, and the Civil War seems to be on permanent hiatus after a 47-19 decision. Most impressive of all, Mariota and the Ducks are content in the revenge department after a 51-13 thrashing of Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

The comeback tour for Mariota is just about complete. His 3,783 yards and 38 touchdowns to two interceptions are sure to get him plenty of individual accolades. Do not forget the 14 rushing touchdowns, either.

However, the campaign is all about a title, so what better way to start on that postseason path than to take down the defending champs?

It sure feels like a season of trials and tribulations for those defending champions.

The Seminoles are owners of close calls against Oklahoma State, North Carolina State, Notre Dame, Miami (Fla.), Boston College, Florida and Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game. 

Most of the problems fall on the shoulders of Winston. He seems to bumble about in the first half of contests, only to pick things up when it matters. Just 3,559 yards and 24 touchdowns to 17 interceptions can attest to that.

Then again, the same is true for head coach Jimbo Fisher's defense. The Seminoles allow an average of 23.0 points per game, good for 30th in the nation. The two-point victory over Georgia Tech this past weekend speaks well enough to the issue—the Yellow Jackets ran for 331 yards and four scores on a 5.6 yards-per-carry average while holding the ball for more than 34 minutes.

Fisher is well aware of how Oregon's quick-twitch attack will only amplify these problems, as captured by Andrew Bantly of DailyEmerald.com:

I don’t know if you can ever practice for the speed. We’re a fast team ourselves but they do it at such a high level and the efficiency is off the charts. They’re unbelievably explosive. Having time, we’ll have time to evaluate a lot of film and go through the process, just like they’ll have on us.

Mariota is at his best when on the move. Some of it is necessity, as a few of his top linemen are on the shelf with season-ending injuries. Part of it is just his supreme athleticism and judgment while in motion.

This is of particular importance in the semifinal. If Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas got loose from under center for 104 yards on just 11 carries, Mariota is in for a big day. Ditto for Tyler Murphy of Boston College, who found 48 yards and a score.

The Oregon offense enjoys controlling the pace of games after an early lead is established. This will especially be the case as Winston on the sideline means the Seminoles offense cannot do serious damage.

With this approach in mind, it is hard to see how the Seminoles can keep pace to the point where the usual late-game surge makes a difference. Almost a month to prepare for the contest may flip the script on its head. However, based on what these programs have shown as of late, Mariota and Co. will have no issue moving the ball at will and keeping the Seminoles at a distance.

Prediction: Oregon 36, Florida State 28

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

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Sugar Bowl 2015: Ohio State vs. Alabama Early Odds and Picks

The initial College Football Playoff could not have asked for a better matchup to ring in the new year than what it got in the Sugar Bowl. 

Ohio State and Alabama are two of the most storied programs in the history of college football. A showdown between the Buckeyes and the Crimson Tide means Heisman Trophies, national championships, large and passionate fanbases, future NFL players and rock-star coaches.

It also means a third-string quarterback making his second-career start against Nick Saban with nearly a month of preparation time.

Here is a look at all of the essential information for the prime-time showdown between Saban’s Crimson Tide and Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes.

 

Viewing Information

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans

When: Jan. 1, 2015

Start Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: Watch ESPN 

Odds (via Odds Shark): Alabama -10, as of December 8

 

Preview/Prediction

Ohio State and Alabama certainly took different paths to get to the playoffs, which partially explains why the Crimson Tide are No. 1 and the Buckeyes are No. 4.

Alabama was its typical dominant self and only lost one game all season. Among the impressive wins were a 59-0 beatdown of Texas A&M, an overtime win at LSU, a victory over then-No. 1 Mississippi State, a shootout win over Auburn and a blowout of Missouri in the SEC Championship Game.

On the other side, the Buckeyes have experienced an emotional roller-coaster of a season. The drama began before the opening game when superstar quarterback and potential Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller was lost for the year to injury. Then, backup quarterback J.T. Barrett struggled mightily in a shocking loss to Virginia Tech, and the playoff hopes looked all but dead.

However, Barrett elevated his play above any quarterback not named Marcus Mariota and would have likely been a Heisman finalist were it not for a devastating injury in the win over Michigan.

Somehow, the Buckeyes rose from the perceived dead again and destroyed Wisconsin, 59-0, in the Big Ten Championship Game without Miller or Barrett. Third-stringer Cardale Jones lit up the Badgers secondary and won the game’s MVP award as a result.

The cherry on top of all the drama was a tense debate between the Buckeyes, TCU and Baylor for the final playoff spot.

Now that both teams are into the Sugar Bowl, the main storyline will be the clash between Saban and Meyer. The two squared off in SEC Championship Games when Meyer was at Florida and boast more than 300 wins and six national titles between them.

Despite the coaching matchup, the key to the game will be Ohio State’s dynamic offense against Alabama’s stout defense. 

ESPN Stats & Info noted something has to give:

This is a clash between the No. 4 scoring offense in the country in Ohio State and the No. 4 scoring defense in Alabama. No wonder this matchup is so enticing.

Ohio State boasts the nation’s No. 11 rushing offense and will likely rely on the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott, but Alabama’s one potential weakness is its pass defense. The Crimson Tide are 59th in the country against the pass, which means Devin Smith, Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall could be in store for big days.

Jones’ biggest weapon in the game against Wisconsin was the deep ball, especially to Smith, and he may need to connect on a few to give the Buckeyes the victory in New Orleans.

The best way for the Crimson Tide to counter that is with a devastating pass rush. Between Jonathan Allen, Xzavier Dickson, Ryan Anderson, A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed, the Crimson Tide have plenty of rushers to confuse and overwhelm Jones in his second start.

On the other side, Ohio State has to pick its poison when Alabama has the ball.

Meyer certainly understands that, per Michael Casagrande of AL.com:

I see an extremely fast team. They've got the big Power-I, saw a big back (Derrick Henry) running through people yesterday. But the thing that catches your eye is the athleticism and the quarterback (Blake Sims), I guess, played another position, but he looks phenomenal.

And then Cooper is one of the best receivers ever to play college football and they use him at every possible ... they use him as a match-up guy and quick screens, but they obviously ... he's the best down-field threat in the game right now.

Amari Cooper is the best player in college football this side of Mariota, and Ohio State may require multiple defenders shadowing him at all times. The problem is, that would open up the running game for T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry.

The Buckeyes rush defense has been Jekyll and Hyde all season after giving up more than 200 yards on the ground to Indiana and Minnesota but somehow holding superhuman Melvin Gordon to only 71 rushing yards in the Big Ten Championship Game. Which defense shows up will go a long way toward determining the outcome of the Sugar Bowl.

It will be easier to stop Cooper if the pass rush gets to Blake Sims early and cuts down on the amount of time the dynamic receiver has to get open. That means Joey Bosa, who racked up 13.5 sacks this year, needs to get pressure on almost every play.

The Buckeyes will connect on some big strikes against a vulnerable Alabama secondary and ride Elliott, who just carved up a formidable Wisconsin front seven for 220 rushing yards. This game will not be a blowout by any means, especially since Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman have so much time to prepare and get Jones ready.

However, Jones will only be making his second career start and is yet to face any real adversity considering how easy the win over Wisconsin came. Alabama’s defense is the best Ohio State will face all season, and Jones will turn it over in a critical moment in the second half.

Sims and Cooper will make the Buckeyes pay on the other end. 

Prediction: Alabama 31, Ohio State 28

 

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College Football Bowl Betting: Odds Open for 38 Matchups

Only two teams opened as double-digit underdogs, as oddsmakers posted lines on all 38 bowl games this week.

Maryland opened as 13-point dogs against Stanford in the Foster Farms Bowl, and Northern Illinois was getting 11 points against Marshall in the Boca Raton Bowl.

All of the other spreads were tighter, as college football embraced a playoff system for the first time, resulting in a pair of major New Year's Day clashes, with Alabama vs. Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl and Oregon vs. defending champion Florida State in the Rose Bowl.

The Tide and Ducks opened as solid favorites to advance to the national championship game.

The over/under values ranged from a low of 39 in the Pinstripe Bowl (Penn State vs. Boston College) to a high of 71 in the Rose Bowl. And there are intriguing trends associated with most of the bowls and with many of the teams, such as the 2-10 against-the-spread run by Notre Dame in bowl action.

Opening lines aggregated by Odds Shark:

BowlTeamsOpenO/U New Orleans Nevada vs. Louisiana-Lafayette +1 61 New Mexico Texas El Paso vs. Utah State -11 50.5 Las Vegas Utah vs. Colorado State +4 58 Idaho Potato Western Michigan vs. Air Force +3 55.5 Camellia South Alabama vs. Bowling Green -1.5 55 Miami Beach BYU vs. Memphis -1 56.5 Boca Raton Northern Illinois vs. Marshall -11 61.5 Poinsettia Navy vs. San Diego State PK 56.5 Bahamas Central Michigan vs. W. Kentucky -1.5 65 Hawaii Fresno State vs. Rice +2 59 Heart of Dallas Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech -4 61 Quick Lane Rutgers vs. North Carolina -3 65.5 St. Petersburg North Carolina State vs. UCF -3 49 Military Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati -3.5 49 Sun Duke vs. Arizona State -9 59.5 Independence Miami vs. South Carolina PK 59.5 Pinstripe Penn State vs. Boston College -2.5 39 Holiday Nebraska vs. Southern Cal -4 62 Liberty West Virginia vs. Texas A&M +4 OFF Russell Athletic Clemson vs. Oklahoma OFF OFF Texas Texas vs. Arkansas -5 45.5 Music City Notre Dame vs. LSU -7.5 52 Belk Louisville vs. Georgia -7 58.5 Foster Farms Maryland vs. Stanford -13 49 Chick-Fil-A Mississippi vs. TCU -3 56 Fiesta Boise State vs. Arizona -4 69 Orange Georgia Tech vs. Mississippi State -7 59.5 Outback Wisconsin vs. Auburn -6.5 61 Cotton Michigan State vs. Baylor -1.5 70 Citrus Minnesota vs. Missouri -6.5 OFF Rose Florida State vs. Oregon -8.5 71 Sugar Ohio State vs. Alabama -9 58 Armed Forces Pittsburgh vs. Houston +2 53 TaxSlayer Iowa vs. Tennessee -3 52.5 Alamo UCLA vs. Kansas State -2.5 59 Cactus Oklahoma State vs. Washington -5 55.5 Birmingham East Carolina vs. Florida -7 57.5 GoDaddy Toledo vs. Arkansas State +1 66

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Inside Ohio State's Unlikely Journey to the College Football Playoff

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Since arriving at Ohio State in late 2011, Urban Meyer has built a reputation based on his brutal honesty. If a Buckeyes player or position group has been slacking in practice, their head coach hasn't been shy to call them out. When media members ask ill-prepared questions, they soon know about it.

Meyer's bluntness apparently extends to himself as well.

Which is why when he looked at his roster on the eve of the 2014 season, Meyer was realistic with his expectations. Ohio State was ranked fifth in the preseason AP Top 25, but seemed like a long shot to land in the College Football Playoff after star quarterback Braxton Miller went down with a season-ending injury two weeks prior to the start of the 2014 campaign.

"I wasn't sure this year," Meyer said, looking back on his preseason prognostications. "I thought it might be next year."

Meyer wasn't alone. And with an ugly early-season defeat and eventual loss of another Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback, questions followed the Buckeyes all the way up until Sunday's announcement of college football's first-ever playoff field.

But when it was Ohio State that was revealed as the selection committee's fourth and final team, it marked the culmination of one of the most unlikely journeys to the chance to play for a national championship—one that's been more than a year in the making.

 

'I Want to Help This Team Win a Big Ten Championship'

Preseason polls aren't released until a few weeks before the start of the season, but the initial expectations for Ohio State's 2014 campaign were set inside of a small office in Miami's Sun Life Stadium in the early hours of Jan. 4.

It was there that Miller gave his pledge to Meyer that he'd return for his senior season, instantly making the Buckeyes national title contenders with the mere presence of one of the sport's most exciting and accomplished quarterbacks.

Tight end Jeff Heuerman followed suit, adding security to an Ohio State roster that would already be replacing four starting offensive linemen, the Big Ten's best running back in Carlos Hyde, its top receiver in Corey "Philly" Brown and a pair of future NFL first-round picks in linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby. At first glance, Ohio State's depth chart possessed plenty of question marks, but Miller made it clear that he wasn't coming back to be part of a rebuilding season.

“I want to help this team win a Big Ten championship next year," Miller said in a statement officially announcing his decision to forego the NFL draft. "Plus, I want to improve as a quarterback in all aspects of my game."

Cornerstones of the Buckeyes' 2011 recruiting class—former head coach Jim Tressel's last—Miller and Heuerman had seen and accomplished plenty in their time in Columbus. But a conference championship was still missing from each of their resumes.

“As a senior, we just want to go out with a championship," Heuerman said. "That’s something my class doesn’t have to put next to our name.”

If Ohio State was going to do just that, both Miller and Heuerman figured to play key roles in the process. And while each missed spring practice—Miller with outpatient shoulder surgery and Heuerman with foot surgery—both were expected to be ready by the start of training camp in August.

At least that was the plan.

 

'A Bad Day'

On Aug. 20, Heuerman and the Buckeyes' other captains met with reporters, the mood around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center palpably somber. Heuerman looked particularly spent, his eyes glassed over and tone noticeably dejected.

Just three weeks earlier, the Ohio State tight end had compared Miller's importance to the Buckeyes to that of LeBron James' to the Cleveland Cavaliers. But two days prior, Heuerman learned that Ohio State would be without its LeBron, when Miller fell to the ground after attempting a pass in a non-contact throwing drill.

"I went berserk," Meyer said. "It was devastating. It was a bad day."

The prognosis was a torn labrum in Miller's throwing shoulder, which would require season-ending surgery. The Buckeyes' new starting quarterback would be redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, who had been splitting reps with OSU's first-team offense throughout fall camp as Miller struggled to recover from his initial shoulder surgery.

Whether he believed them at the time, Heuerman said all the right things about how there was nobody better suited for the task at hand than Barrett. But even he understood why the the outside perception of Ohio State was suddenly shifting.

"We're not naive to the situation. We understand what happened and what we lost," Heuerman said. "But just like the Cavs, just because LeBron's out, you don't put them out, do you? They've got a lot of other playmakers, so that's kind of the situation we're in. We've got a lot of playmakers and we're going to have to rely on them to make plays.

"Obviously, it's not how you draw it up."

 

'We Just Gotta Get a Lot Better'

Trailing 7-6 at halftime, the Buckeyes struggled in their season opener against Navy, but ultimately prevailed with a 34-17 victory. But just a week later, Ohio State's worst nightmare was realized, as its inexperience showed up at the most inopportune time.

Hosting Virginia Tech in a prime-time matchup with several prominent recruits and the actual LeBron James standing on the sideline, the Buckeyes were both outplayed and outcoached in a 35-21 defeat at the hands of the Hokies. OSU's receivers failed to get open and the offensive line failed to protect Barrett, who turned in a 9-for-29, three-interception performance against Virginia Tech's dare-you-to-throw defense.

The Buckeyes' playoff hopes weren't dead—although some claimed they were—but they certainly took a significant hit against a Hokies team that would wind up with just a 6-6 record on the season. Perhaps more important than Ohio State's drop to No. 22 in the Top 25 was the vulnerability that it showed, leaving so much uncertain for the 10 games left on the Buckeyes' slate.

"We just gotta get a lot better," Meyer said after the game. "And that starts tomorrow."

 

'A Young Team Grew Up'

The Buckeyes bounced back with blowout wins over Kent State and Cincinnati, before opening up their Big Ten schedule with lopsided victories against newcomers Maryland and Rutgers. In the span of one month, Barrett went from question mark to potential Heisman Trophy candidate, posting numbers that put him on pace for the greatest statistical season in the history of Ohio State quarterbacks.

"I had a lot of confidence in J.T. I love J.T. He's fun to coach," Meyer said following Barrett's 409-yard, four-touchdown performance against Cincinnati. "He's a guy that has a great demeanor on the sideline. He's a student of the game. He has a great relationship with his coordinator and position coach. He's a product of those around him."

Playing on a sprained MCL, Barrett helped the Buckeyes eek out a double-overtime win at Penn State on Oct. 25, a week before adding another blowout to their resume with a victory over Illinois. Ohio State was suddenly riding a six-game winning streak, but it didn't seem to mean much to the College Football Playoff committee, who ranked the Buckeyes 16th and then 14th in its first two polls of the season.

"While I wouldn't get that excited about Ohio State's placement, we do think that based on the other teams that they've played to this point in the schedule, this is where they deserve to be ranked," playoff committee chair Jeff Long said when the first rankings were revealed on Oct. 28. "Ohio State has opportunities on their schedule to play up."

The first of those opportunities came on Nov. 8.

That date had long been circled on the Buckeyes' schedule anyways, as it marked their rematch with Michigan State from last season's Big Ten Championship Game. The Spartans had snapped Ohio State's 24-game winning streak and prevented it from appearing in the national title game, and again appeared to stand in the way of the Buckeyes' postseason goals.

Only this time, it was Ohio State who would make a statement.

Despite heading to East Lansing as an underdog, the Buckeyes played their most complete game of the season, leaving Spartan Stadium with a 49-37 win over the eighth-ranked Spartans. Barrett accounted for 386 yards and five touchdowns, vaulting Ohio State back into the national title picture with its first signature win of the season.

“This is a different Buckeye team than it was early in the season,” Meyer said afterward. "A young team grew up tonight."

 

Bye-Bye Barrett

After again boosting its resume with a road win over No. 25 Minnesota, the Buckeyes struggled in wins over Indiana and Michigan, but still found themselves ranked fifth by the playoff committee at the conclusion of the regular season. On paper, Ohio State seemed primed to vault into the top four with a win over No. 13 Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, but one play against the Wolverines threw another wrench into the Buckeyes' postseason plans.

Keeping the ball on a read-option on the first play of the fourth quarter, Barrett was sandwiched between two Michigan defenders. When the play cleared, the Ohio State quarterback remained on the ground, as a hush fell over the Ohio Stadium crowd.

"I heard him yell and I ran over to help him up,'' Heuerman recalled. "When I went over I saw his ankle and it wasn't pretty. I just told him, 'Stay down, stay down.'

"It kind of hit me. 'Oh man.'''

After Barrett was carted off the field, it didn't take long for news to trickle in that he had suffered a broken ankle, thus bringing his stellar freshman season to a close. In 12 games, the redshirt freshman broke Ohio State's single-season total offense record (3,772 yards) and the Big Ten's total touchdowns record (45), en route to being named the Big Ten's quarterback and freshman of the year.

All of a sudden, it appeared as though Barrett's remarkable season would be held against the Buckeyes in their hunt for a playoff spot, as the committee would now judge them without their most prominent player in the picture. Anything less than a commanding performance in the conference championship—with its third option at quarterback—and Ohio State seemed likely to be left out of the final four.

"I think it's all going to be how we play next week," Meyer said of his team's playoff chances.

 

Remembering Kosta

The next week would prove to be one of the most trying in program history, for reasons that extended beyond the football field.

On Nov. 30—one day after the Buckeyes' win over Michigan—OSU walk-on Kosta Karageorge was found dead in an off-campus dumpster. The first-year defensive lineman had died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound and had been missing for the better part of the previous week after sending a cryptic text message to his mother complaining about concussions.

As a result, Ohio State's weekly press conference felt like a mix between a funeral and investigation, as though in attendance tried to make sense of the tragedy.

"This is the best group of medical people I've ever been around, the way they handle their business and the attention to detail," Meyer said when pressed on his program's handling of concussions.

“I don’t think he’d want for anything like this to hold us back. He was a huge team guy, a huge team guy," left tackle Taylor Decker said while remembering Karageorge. "He wasn’t getting reps in the games and stuff like that but he still loved coming out every day. It wasn’t about that for him. He came out and he helped us and I don’t think he’d want anything like that to hold us back at all by any means."

 

Cardale, Controversy and Championships

In Indianapolis, reminders of Karageorge were everywhere at the Big Ten title game, from a moment of silence before kickoff to Michael Bennett wearing Karageorge's No. 53 and other players' own individual tributes.

Despite the somber tone around the OSU program for the previous week, the Buckeyes still had a game to play, and faced a tall task as four-point underdogs to the Badgers.

At least, that's how it seemed.

But from the moment the ball was kicked inside Lucas Oil Stadium, Ohio State took command, with quarterback Cardale Jones leading the Buckeyes on a six-play, 77-yard opening drive that culminated with a 39-yard touchdown toss to Devin Smith. Jones would find Smith in the end zone twice more throughout the game, showcasing his cannon-like arm in an MVP performance in what would be a 59-0 walloping of Wisconsin.

"I played with confidence because of the confidence my teammates had in me, the confidence my coaches had in me, my family, close friends, Buckeye Nation," Jones said. "It was very fun, going out there showing everybody what we can do when we all come together as one."

But would it be enough?

Ohio State was 11-1 and the outright Big Ten champion, but entered championship weekend ranked fifth by the playoff committee, sandwiched between Big 12 co-champions TCU and Baylor. Despite the Horned Frogs' status as the nation's third-place team, they figured to be in a fight with the Buckeyes and Bears for the fourth and final spot, as Alabama, Oregon and Florida State seemed to had already secured their places in the playoff field.

Ohio State's resume seemed to stack up favorably against TCU's and Baylor's, with one more win, an outright conference championship and a dominant performance over a ranked team still fresh on everybody's mind. Still, the playoff selection process was unprecedented, and Meyer admitted to Sports Illustrated that he was nervous on the morning of the announcement.

But when the playoff committee revealed its final four in order at 12:45 p.m. ET—first Alabama, then Oregon, then Florida State—it was Ohio State who laid claim to the fourth and final spot. Given where the Buckeyes stood just 11 months earlier, it was likely as much as it wasn't, after all that Ohio State had been through in 2014.

"It's a long journey," Meyer said after the Buckeyes had been announced for the playoff, a day after the Big Ten Championship Game. "I started seeing it, but I didn't believe it completely until the experience we had on Saturday night."

 

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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2014 Heisman Hype: An Epic Look at All of Marcus Mariota's 53 TDs

Marcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks have had an incredible season. The junior signal-caller is not only the Heisman Trophy front-runner, but he is also two wins away from leading his team to a national title.

Check out all 53 of Mariota's touchdowns in this ultimate Heisman hype tape.

Will Mariota bring home the Heisman?

Check out the video and let us know!

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Teams on Upset Alert in 2014-15 College Football Bowl Season

Of the 38 bowl games this postseason, only 12 include favorites of seven points or more, per Odds Shark.

But whatever this bowl season lacks in underdog quantity, it makes up for in underdog quality. Both of the national semifinals include a power-conference champion (Florida State and Ohio State) getting more than a touchdown.

But which of this year's favorites run the greatest risk of losing outright? In order to find the answer, we looked at teams that have been overvalued, teams that have been undervalued, matchups, context, coaching situations, location and myriad other factors.

The list we came up with includes seven big favorites at risk of going down: six that are giving more than a touchdown, and one that is giving slightly less but will likely draw public support.

Sound off below and let us know what you think.

 

All spreads courtesy of Odds Shark unless noted otherwise.

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Could Ohio State Land Both 5-Star RB Damien Harris and 4-Star RB Mike Weber?

Ohio State remains in search of a stud running back with workhorse potential in the 2015 class. However, recent developments suggest the Buckeyes are firmly in the mix for two of the nation's premier rushers.

Urban Meyer and his staff have long coveted 5-star Kentucky recruit Damien Harris, hosting him for an official visit earlier this season. Now, Michael Weber has inserted himself into the discussion as a potential difference-maker in the Buckeyes backfield.

The 4-star prospect revealed his decision to spend an official visit in Columbus this weekend on Twitter:

Like Harris, Weber was formerly committed to Michigan.

The Detroit product backed off his verbal pledge to the Wolverines in late November. He was initially viewed as a quality replacement for Harris, who decommitted from Michigan last winter.

Now, both are coveted uncommitted players just two months shy of national signing day. Harris is expected to announce his collegiate intentions Jan. 9, while Weber has yet to share any time frame for a decision.

Harris, rated No. 1 overall among running backs in 247Sports' composite rankings, trimmed his list to five teams in August. The group of finalists consists of Ohio State, Alabama, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Florida, though a coaching change in Gainesville doesn't bode well for a squad that always seemed to be the biggest long shot.

He spent time at Ohio State in September, watching the team suffer its lone loss of the season to Virginia Tech. With just four weeks remaining until his commitment, teams are implementing a full-court press during the final stretch:

Though Harris spent significant time sidelined by a knee injury this season, he managed to surpass 6,000 career rushing yards at Madison Southern High School. He finished the fall with 1,500 yards and 23 touchdowns in just seven games after consecutive campaigns with more than 30 scores on the ground, per MaxPreps.

Weber enjoyed a career-best effort in 2014, rushing for more than 2,200 yards and 29 touchdowns. It was his third consecutive 20-touchdown season at Cass Technical High School.

Since decommitting from Michigan, he's picked up an offer from Alabama. However, in-person visits from Meyer and Ohio State assistants Kerry Coombs and Stan Drayton helped turn his attention to the Buckeyes, per Ian Cuevas of Land-Grant Holy Land.

Ohio State currently holds the nation's No. 4 recruiting class in 247Sports' composite rankings, filling the majority of its positional needs. Running back, however, is still a primary concern.

Suddenly, the race for Harris doesn't seem as dire. The battle seemingly centers on the Buckeyes and in-state Kentucky, where he'll use an official visit this weekend.

If Harris elects to stay home, Ohio State seems to be gaining steam with Weber, who would serve as an outstanding Plan B. However, Harris could elect to jump on the Buckeyes bandwagon in January, even if the Michigan standout is already on board.

Unlike Kentucky, Ohio State has at least one high-profile playoff game to showcase an offense that's managed to maintain momentum while losing two star quarterbacks this year. A strong postseason run could attract Harris and other blue-chip prospects, strengthening a 2015 recruiting haul that already contains a wealth of potential.

Neither running back may view sharing the load as an ideal situation in college, but the opportunity to seize a starting role in one of the nation's most dynamic attacks could be enough to lure both to Columbus next season.

 

Recruit ratings and info courtesy of 247Sports.

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Florida State Football: 5 Bold Predictions for the Seminoles' Bowl Game

This one is going to be fun. Two high-powered offenses and two defenses susceptible to giving up big yardage could result in a high-scoring affair between Oregon and Florida State in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

The Seminoles face a tall task when they square off against Marcus Mariota and the talented Ducks in Pasadena, California. Let’s take a look at some very bold predictions from the FSU perspective in this ballgame.

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Rapid-Fire Predictions for LSU vs. Notre Dame in Music City Bowl

Notre Dame has struggled down the stretch, but it has many talented young players looking for a chance to shine. LSU has played the top teams in the country very closely all season. These teams will square off in the Music City Bowl on Tuesday, December 30, at 3 p.m. ET at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer discuss the headlines from this bowl.

Who will win the Music City Bowl?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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