NCAA Football News

Is the SEC's Reign of Terror Really Over?

The SEC has been the most dominant conference in football for some time, but is it in danger of losing that stranglehold on the college football world? 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee discuss whether the SEC's time at the top is over. 

Is the SEC in danger of missing the College Football Playoff?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Todd Gurley's Memorabilia Dealer Talks Suspension, More in ESPN, SI Interview

Bryan Allen, the man who paid Georgia star running back Todd Gurley money for signing memorabilia and later emailed the media and the school about the transaction because he feared he was being set up, has told his side of the story to ESPN and Sports Illustrated.    

"I never wanted to screw over Gurley," Allen told Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com in a story published Tuesday. "I never wanted to screw over their fans or anything like that. That was never my intention. I wish I had never even gone down there. It's not worth it."

Per McMurphy's report, Allen paid Gurley $400 for signing about 80 items earlier this year. He provided the two media outlets that conducted the interview with memorabilia Gurley signed and a video of him signing it. Shane Smith, a man Allen had met at the memorabilia store Players in Rome, Georgia, was also in the car at the time.

Allen was prompted to contact media outlets and the university, however, when he felt he was being set up over the transactions and decided to try to get his side of the story out first. According to McMurphy's report, Allen claimed he contacted two media members with "ties to the University of Florida," along with Spencer Hall, a reporter for SB Nation, and eventually even Deadspin.

Allen claimed in the interview with ESPN and SI that he never sought compensation for passing along the information to members of the press, though in emails to Deadspin obtained by McMurphy, Allen did request compensation.

He then contacted members of Georgia's compliance office. The NCAA eventually suspended Gurley four games for accepting money for signing memorabilia.

Allen—who claimed he has since lost his job, dealt with an attempted break-in at his house and is considering leaving the state of Georgia altogether—felt compelled to share his side of the story:

People think it was just me [involved with Gurley], but it wasn't. All the parties were guilty. And I regret it. This [article] could come out and this could infuriate people. They could say this stupid guy is trying to get famous off this.

I want everyone to know that I did not try to make money. Last thing I want is to be in the public eye. I can't go find a job right here. Perception of me is I was an autograph dealer that got wronged and I turned my back on one of the players and screwed him over. That's not what happened. That's not what I did.

I'm not some secret Florida fan that is trying to sabotage Georgia's football program. I made the mistake of going down there. 

There are certainly other sides of this story, including that of Gurley and Smith.

Gurley, a junior, posted 911 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 123 carries this season before tearing his ACL on Nov. 15. Georgia coach Mark Richt said on his weekly radio show (h/t Anthony Dasher of UGASports.com) Gurley is planning to enter the 2015 NFL draft.

 

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Why Who Is Playing QB for Ohio State Doesn't Really Matter

If Ohio State beats Wisconsin in Saturday's Big Ten Championship Game, the Buckeyes will have won 12 games this season with, basically, two backup quarterbacks. 

Some might take that to mean the Buckeyes have a group of "system quarterbacks." Call it what you will, but Ohio State calls it an identity. So far, that identity has worked despite two key injuries. 

As you'll recall, starting quarterback Braxton Miller was ruled out for the year in the preseason after he reinjured his right shoulder. That propelled backup J.T. Barrett into the starting role. Despite a slow start, Barrett has flourished in an offense that has dramatically improved over the course of the season.

Statistically, Barrett was having a better season than Miller did a year ago before sustaining his own season-ending injury, a fractured ankle, last week against Michigan. That means reserve quarterback Cardale Jones, who is 10-of-17 passing for 118 yards and two touchdowns on the season, will start against the Badgers. 

Disregard for a moment whether Ohio State should even be in a position to make the four-team playoff. Don't worry how Barrett's injury alters the selection committee's view of the Buckeyes. Just look at this for what it is:

The fact that Ohio State is even in this position is nothing short of impressive. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has his critics, but the job he and offensive coordinator Tom Herman have done recruiting and developing quarterbacks is noteworthy. 

Unless an offense in the Wildcat formation, the quarterback touches the ball on every snap. And unless you run an offense like Wisconsin's, in which running back Melvin Gordon is the cornerstone, the quarterback is the key component that makes the engine turn.

That's especially true in Meyer's offenses, where the quarterback is asked to be a running and passing threat more often than not. The upside to that is Meyer's quarterbacks are often difference-makers. The downside is that they open themselves up to injuries, which has obviously been the case this year.  

The question now is whether Jones will be asked to be a difference-maker or a game manager. How Meyer handled Barrett's development suggests it will be the former, not the latter. 

Meyer and Herman already showed that they didn't feel the need to hold Barrett back. The redshirt freshman hasn't been the traditional "game manager," simply handing the ball off and making short, easy throws. Quite the contrary, he's been a pleasantly surprising runner while equally capable of making difficult throws down the field. 

Based on recent comments, Meyer clearly has confidence in Jones as a playmaker as well, via Austin Ward of ESPN.com

Obviously it's going to be a really good environment against a very tough defense. But it's not like he's not taking snaps with the one offense or understands the concepts. He has a very good understanding. We expect our quarterbacks here to prepare a certain way. He hasn't been in this situation [in a game] yet. But he did it in spring [practice], and he did a good job. Remember, he was our backup.

One of the concerns about losing Barrett is whether Ohio State can win with enough "style points" to impress the selection committee—if it can win at all. In other words, will Jones come out and play with the same "wow factor" that Barrett has been delivering for the past couple of months? After all, there could be as many as three or four teams vying for one final playoff spot. 

Here's the thing, though: Winning with a third-string quarterback carries its own set of style points. Does it matter if Jones throws for 300 yards? Does it make a difference if he's the team's leading rusher? Winning with a reserve quarterback shows tremendous depth—not to mention that it's a reflection of the coaching staff. 

As Tony Gerdeman of The Ozone points out, Jones has moved the ball well when he sees the field, albeit in garbage time:

Ohio State won't ask Jones to do anything he's not capable of doing, but to suggest Meyer and Herman will throw out the playbook and crawl into a shell seems unlike them. The Buckeyes have gotten this far by refusing to play it safe. What's one more game?

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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Young Cancer Survivor Tells Ohio State QB Cardale Jones to 'Be Brave'

"If I can beat cancer, you can beat Wisconsin. Go Bucks."

No matter how many people are doubting Ohio State right now, one young cancer survivor still has faith in Cardale Jones and the Buckeyes. 

Jones—Ohio State's third-string quarterback—will be making his first career start against the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday. Injuries to Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett have forced Jones into action.

A lot of people have jumped off the Ohio State bandwagon since Barrett suffered a broken ankle this past weekend, but this kid doesn't see any reason as to why Jones can't lead the Buckeyes to a victory—and possibly a playoff berth.

[YouTube, h/t reader Derek]

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College Football Rankings 2014: Playoff Predictions for Top Contenders

There are many teams across the nation worthy of a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff; however, there is only room for four.

Before a pivotal Week 14, the Top Four consisted of Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Mississippi State in the eyes of the College Football Playoff selection committee. The new rankings have yet to be released, but following the Bulldogs' loss to the Ole Miss Rebels, we can rest assured there will be some significant changes.

With just under one week remaining until Selection Sunday, one burning question remains: Which four contenders will comprise the nation's best four teams once the dust settles after conference championship games? Some predictions are in order.

Although, let's take these predictions just one step further and project just how far each Top Four team will go, concluding with our expected national champion. Before we delve into those predictions, here's a look at the AP Top 25 to help get an idea of which teams are still in contention.

 

Top Four Predictions

1. Alabama

The Crimson Tide won the Iron Bowl in dramatic fashion, lighting up the scoreboard to obtain a 55-44 victory over Auburn. The team's second-half efficiency certainly helped matters, via ESPN College Football:

Alabama will be facing Missouri in the SEC title game, and while the Tigers are talented, they will have trouble putting up necessary points against the Crimson Tide's sixth-ranked scoring defense. Alabama takes the SEC and remains No. 1 overall.

 

2. Oregon

The Ducks aren't a lock for the No. 2 seed with a game against the Arizona Wildcats on the horizon. Arizona has defeated Oregon in their last two meetings; however, Heisman-hopeful quarterback Marcus Mariota is in excellent form coming off his first six-touchdown performance of the season in the Civil War. In fact, he's been in excellent form his entire career, via ESPN Stats & Info:

Expect the Ducks to ride that momentum to a Pac-12 title and the No. 2 seed.

 

3. TCU

The Horned Frogs visited Texas and handed the Longhorns a blowout loss. While Texas didn't exactly play a spectacular game, TCU reaffirmed why it is one of the nation's most dangerous teams. ESPN's Chris Fowler tweeted his take:

This team will deliver an even larger victory over Iowa State on Saturday, further solidifying its spot in the College Football Playoff at No. 3 overall.

 

4. Florida State

The Seminoles may be undefeated, but they have only won by margins of five points or fewer in their last three games against unranked opponents. That keeps Florida State in the hunt, but it's not winning it any style points in the eyes of the selection committee. Quarterback Jameis Winston needs to buck this trend quickly, via ESPN Stats & Info:

The Seminoles will be heavily tested against Georgia Tech, but another close victory will see them squeeze into the College Football Playoff at No. 4.

 

College Football Playoff Bowl Game Predictions

 

Sugar Bowl

Florida State hasn't seen a team quite like Alabama this season, and that will be the Seminoles' undoing. Winston has been extremely sluggish in the first half of games this season, and ESPN Stats & Info summed up his struggles with this tweet:

Meanwhile, Alabama's potent offense may have been one reason why Auburn fired defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson just one day after the Iron Bowl. Blake Sims may have struggled early in the game, but he was bailed out in a big way by Amari Cooper, who went for 224 yards and three touchdowns.

Defending against the pass has been a big weakness of the Seminoles this season, ranking 62nd in the nation. They don't have the personnel to contain Cooper, and that could lead to the Crimson Tide building an early lead. If that happens, don't expect any kind of miracle comeback against Alabama's sixth-ranked scoring defense.

Prediction: Alabama 38, Florida State 24

 

Rose Bowl

This matchup could easily be a tremendous shootout. Trevone Boykin and the Horned Frogs have the nation's third-ranked offense, scoring an average of 46.1 points per game. This team hasn't been held to fewer than 30 points in any single game this season.

On the flip side, Mariota leads Oregon's fourth-ranked offense, averaging 45.9 points per game. He's been incredibly efficient this season, and Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports tweeted the impressive numbers:

Boykin has tallied 34 total touchdowns this season, but he's accompanied them with six interceptions and a completion percentage of 59.3. While those are some gaudy numbers, he simply isn't nearly as efficient as Mariota, and that will be the reason Oregon takes the Rose Bowl.

Expect plenty of points scored between these two teams, but the Ducks will pull away late due to steady quarterbacking and a wide array of versatile offensive weapons.

Prediction: Oregon 49, TCU 38

 

National Championship

With wins by Alabama and Oregon, we have a showdown of the nation's Top Two teams in the national championship game. This would certainly be a case of the irresistible force meeting an immovable object, as Alabama's defense will be a challenge for Oregon's offense and vice versa.

ESPN College Football tweeted one ominous omen that the Ducks must overcome in this instance:

Mariota has been one of the nation's most exiting players to watch this season, and he's certainly the clear-cut favorite for the Heisman Trophy. He fared well against a good Michigan State defense early in the season; however, the Crimson Tide have been much better, and this game will be taking place at a neutral location—not in Eugene.

While Alabama gets plenty of credit for its defense, its offense may be slightly underrated. This team is still putting up an average of 36.7 points per game, good enough for 20th in the nation. A balanced attack with Sims at quarterback and T.J. Yeldon in the backfield allows Alabama to keep opposing defenses off balance.

Oregon's defense is allowing an average of 23.3 points per game, ranking 32nd in the nation. However, that hasn't been due to limiting yards accumulated by opposing offenses. The Ducks are ranked 54th against the run, allowing 157.8 yards per game, and 111th against the pass, allowing 271.8 yards per game.

Alabama will be able to put up some significant points on this defense, and while Mariota is very capable of lighting up scoreboards, it will be extremely difficult for him to find Heisman-like success against the Crimson Tide.

This will be a highly entertaining game, but Alabama will earn yet another national title.

Prediction: Alabama 38, Oregon 30

 

All team statistics and rankings courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 1.

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SEC Championship 2014: Alabama vs. Missouri Live Stream, TV Info and Schedule

The mission is clear for the Alabama Crimson Tide—beat the Missouri Tigers in Saturday’s SEC Championship, and they get to participate in the first-ever College Football Playoff. Alabama will probably even be the No. 1 seed.

Missouri gets to play the role of spoiler, but an SEC title in a year that looked doomed early on after a stunning home loss to Indiana would mark an incredible turnaround. A win would also position the Tigers as dark-horse contenders for a playoff spot if there were a handful of other upsets across the college football landscape.

Here is a look at the essential information for the game.

 

Alabama vs. Missouri

Date: Saturday, Dec. 6

Time: 4 p.m. ET

Place: Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia

TV: CBS 

Live Stream: CBS Sports Live

 

Preview

If Missouri has a chance Saturday, it will have to start up front with the pass rush.

Shane Ray leads the SEC with 14 sacks on the season, while his partner in crime, Markus Golden, has nine sacks of his own. The Alabama offensive line, in particular left tackle Cam Robinson, will be tasked with slowing the Ray and Golden combination down to give Blake Sims time to throw to Amari Cooper.

If Sims gets that time, he will certainly find his superstar wide receiver, so that is plenty of responsibility for the star pass-rushers.

Pressuring Sims won’t even be an issue for Missouri, though, if it can’t stop the run. The Tigers defense was gutted on the ground in losses to Indiana (241 rushing yards allowed) and Georgia (210 rushing yards allowed) and now has to deal with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. 

If the Crimson Tide force the Tigers to worry about the run early, it will neutralize the pass rush and free up Cooper for some big plays over the top in one-on-one situations. There may not be a better receiver in all of college football, and the SEC Network passed along the numbers to prove it:

Missouri has nobody to counter Cooper, although you cannot hold that against the Tigers because nobody can really stop him.

On the other side, Alabama’s defense is licking its wounds a bit after allowing an astounding 628 total yards to Auburn in the Iron Bowl. However, Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk and the rest of the Tigers’ pass offense only averages 189.9 yards per game through the air, so this is an ideal offense for Alabama to get some of its defensive momentum back against.

To make matters worse for Missouri, Mauk is less than 100 percent, as head coach Gary Pinkel said, via Tod Palmer of The Kansas City Star: “He tweaked his shoulder a little bit. Nothing really bad, but obviously, if you’re a quarterback and your shoulder’s hurt a little bit, especially your throwing shoulder, it certainly affects you.”

Missouri simply doesn’t have the offensive firepower of an Auburn to put up numbers like fans saw in the Iron Bowl against Alabama’s defense. If nothing else, that recent performance will serve to motivate the Crimson Tide on that side of the ball, which is trouble for the Tigers.

Don’t be fooled by Missouri’s overall 10-2 record, either.

It somehow avoided Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State and Ole Miss from the SEC West. If it is possible to have an easy schedule in the SEC, the Tigers found a way to do just that. In the team’s one game against a marquee opponent this year, it was eviscerated by Georgia to the tune of 34-0. The Tigers couldn’t stop the Bulldogs or muster up anything of note on offense.

Of course, the Tigers also have the inexplicable loss to Indiana on the resume. The Crimson Tide have gotten past much stiffer tests than this already this season and should have no trouble Saturday.

Nick Saban has a motivated defense looking to correct its errors from a week ago and offensive weapons in Cooper and the running backs that Missouri simply won’t be able to stop. This one will get out of hand quickly. 

Prediction: Alabama 41, Missouri 17

 

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Bowl Predictions 2014: Matchup Projections for Biggest Bowls

Rivalry week in college football has come to a conclusion, and the insanity once again continued. Another top team fell while several others will hope to take advantage of the opportunity in conference championship games.

The biggest loser over the weekend was Mississippi State. While losses for UCLA and Georgia hurt for two previously Top 10 teams, the Bulldogs will likely miss out on the College Football Playoff after falling in the Egg Bowl.

Meanwhile, both Baylor and TCU are vying for the fourth spot in the playoff. Each program will need to win convincingly to keep Ohio State out of the discussion if the Buckeyes take down Wisconsin.

While not everything is set in the playoff rankings, there is plenty of reason to look ahead. Below is a look at the biggest bowls on tap for the best programs in the country.

 

Breakdown of Predictions

Mayhem at the end of college football seasons is nothing new. Having a College Football Playoff spot on the line in multiple conference championship games is a completely different story.

That's the situation heading into this weekend for Alabama, Oregon and Florida State. All three hope to make the playoff, but they need to get past difficult conference foes to simply make the cut.

Along with the SEC, the Pac-12 and the ACC title games, several other matchups might decide who gets in. Gabe DeArmond of Rivals.com points out a few of the teams that might change the entire landscape:

Nick Saban is hoping to make the first playoff with a game against a two-loss Missouri team. Out of the three conference championships, Alabama has the best chance to win after nearly running the table against the much more difficult SEC West.

Florida State faces a Georgia Tech team that runs the ball with authority after scuffling against nearly every team this season. GT head coach Paul Johnson has been a model of consistency and might have one his best teams in recent memory, as Joe Schad of ESPN notes:

On the West Coast, Oregon will have to take down Arizona in order to make the playoff. That's obviously easier said than done since the Wildcats have defeated them in both of their last two meetings and are the only team to beat the Ducks this season.

Oregon may have struggled against Arizona recently, but it has been one of the best programs in the country recently. Joey Galloway points out it may be more solid than even Alabama, per ESPN College Football:

Two other programs vying for the final spot are TCU and Baylor. While the Bears hold a head-to-head win over the Horned Frogs, the 14-point loss against West Virginia will likely hinder them when the committee ultimately selects a Big 12 team.

Cork Gaines of Business Insider and George Schroeder of USA Today offer differing opinions of the two teams:

Regardless of which team deserves to get in, both might make an appearance if chaos ensues during the conference championships. There's also still an outside shot for Ohio State but only if Cardale Jones can step up after J.T. Barrett's season-ending injury.

While things appear to be relatively predictable at this point, nothing is for certain in college football. The playoff committee will have tough decisions to make this week, but things might be even more difficult if insanity continues Friday and Saturday.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Insider Buzz: Florida Not Interested in NFL Coaches Chip Kelly, Josh McDaniels

The Florida Gators are in the process of looking for a new head coach after Will Muschamp's departure.

Which coaches are the Gators targeting? Is Florida interested in an NFL coach?

Watch as Stephen Nelson and Bleacher Report NFL Insider Jason Cole discuss potential Florida head coaching candidates in the video above. 

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Wisconsin Badgers vs. Ohio State Buckeyes Complete Game Preview

Here we are, Badgers fans: Wisconsin Badgers vs. Ohio State Buckeyes, playing for the Big Ten title.  While the Buckeyes have won the past three against the Badgers and six of seven, these last few games have been incredibly competitive between the two squads.

Last season's matchup saw the Badgers walk into Columbus and lose 31-24; however, Jared Abbrederis had easily the best game of his career, torching Buckeyes corner Bradley Roby to the tune of 10 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown.

Both Roby and Abbrederis are gone, along with almost every other key contributor from that game for both teams including Braxton Miller, Philly Brown and Carlos Hyde for the Buckeyes offense and the Badgers' entire front seven.

For the Big Ten Championship, let's take a look at the keys to success for both teams, the players to watch, what the coaches and players are saying and a prediction for this matchup with potential playoff implications for the Buckeyes.

Begin Slideshow

Kynon's Korner: Recruits React to Bo Pelini's Firing, 4-Star Loves Notre Dame

On Sunday, the University of Nebraska made national headlines when they fired head coach Bo Pelini coming off a 9-3 season. According to Bleacher Report's own Ben Kercheval, the decision came a year too late.

Now, athletic director Shawn Eichorst will be tasked with hiring a big-name replacement with a little over two months until national signing day. 

After the news broke of Pelini's ouster, several recruits took to Twitter to voice status updates—and the reaction wasn't positive for the Cornhuskers. 

New Orleans (Louisiana) Isidore Newman athlete Kendall Bussey had this to say:

St. Augustine prospect Stanley Morgan posted this on his Twitter page:

Three-star defensive end Reuben Jones from Lakeland (Florida) Lake Gibson sent this tweet out:

Jones went on to tell Bleacher Report, "As far as a commitment stands, I am going to stay a solid commit as of now and review more options from other colleges."

The Sunshine State standout committed to Nebraska over serious interest from Michigan State and UCF, among others. Jones said it's hard to be in the situation and stay 100 percent committed.

"You are really forced to not be 100 percent after something like that happens," added Jones. "I'm not sure (on taking other visits); it all depends on who comes in."

Jones said other schools are reaching out but declined to report which programs are in the mix. 

 

4-Star Ben Edwards Loving Irish

Jacksonville (Florida) Trinity Christian defensive back Ben Edwards has Notre Dame in front following his official visit to South Bend, Indiana. Edwards' recruitment has seen two verbal pledges, one to Ohio State and the other to Auburn. The 4-star safety said he is focused on making the right decision this time around and that the Irish are in great shape. 

"The trip was really good. I had a great time," said Edwards. "All the coaches showed a lot of love, and they expressed their need for me. My favorite part about my visit was just be able to experience an actual game. The atmosphere was crazy, and the fans were wild and supportive the entire game. They moved up because I felt comfortable there."

Defensively, Edwards said he likes what the team has to offer him schematically. "They do a lot of things with their safeties that enable them to make a lot of plays, and I love that," added Edwards. "Me and my position coaches clicked, and I wouldn't mind playing for them. Plus, they both have NFL experience."

Edwards was hosted by defensive back Nick Watkins and wideout Corey Holmes. As far as his relationship with his primary recruiters and what he wants in a school, he replied, "I talk to my primary recruiter on Twitter almost everyday. I call him every week, coach (Scott) Booker and coach (Kyle) McCarthy. Academics are important. I want the best of both worlds: great football and great education."

The third time usually is the charm, and Notre Dame could add a nice pickup to their 2015 class if they can land Edwards over several big Power Five schools.

 

Nyheim Hines Discusses Gators, ACC contenders

Shifty all-purpose back Nyheim Hines grew up a fan of the Gators and Clemson. However, Florida's coaching carousel has him pumping the brakes a bit on his childhood favorite. 

"Florida is going through a lot, and they have to find a coach," said Hines. "I'm not sure about the job stability. The people recruiting me may be gone when I'm ready to commit." 

Assistant coaches Brad Lawing and Brian White are the primary and secondary recruiters for Hines, respectively. Both coaches may be looking for a new job when Florida hires their next head coach. It looks like a handful of ACC schools could benefit from the instability in Gainesville.

When asked who is making him feel like a priority and why, he answered, "NC State, Wake Forest, UNC, and Virginia Tech are recruiting me the hardest. They stay in touch with me every week, and more importantly they call my father every week and speak to him. I feel most comfortable around the NC State, Duke, and Wake Forest coaches."

Speaking of the Blue Devils, assistant coach Scottie Montgomery stopped by the 4-star's high school for a campus visit on Monday.

Hines took official visits to NC State and Wake Forest already and is in the process of setting up his trip to Virginia Tech. "My OV to Wake was awesome," noted Hines. "I didn't know I would like it as much as I did. My OV to VT is next weekend, but it may be moved up to this weekend depending on if we win in the fourth round (of the playoffs) on Friday."

The proximity of the ACC schools in contention is another factor with Hines. "I don't care if I stay in-state; I'll go where I can be most successful," explained Hines. "Although the pressure from people around me to stay in-state is immense."

On film, Hines reminds me of Taquan Mizzell at Virginia. He has a chance to be a special if he ends up in the ACC because of his game-breaking ability in space. 

 

Miami Pledge from Louisiana Talks 'CanesTerrell Chatman of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, committed to the Miami Hurricanes in July over offers from Georgia, Houston, and Louisville, among others. Since his commitment the 'Canes have stumbled to a disappointing 6-6 record with the hot-seat talk heating up for head coach Al Golden. Chatman said he isn't focused on that. "I don't think they had a bad season; they just needed to work some kinks out," he stated. "Their record would say otherwise, but I don't think their record really explains the football they played." Chatman is looking forward to catching up with the coaches to find out what's in store for the future. He said his primary recruiter, Brennan Carroll, is flying in this week to talk about the state of The U. His official visit to Coral Gables, Florida, will likely be in December or January. As Miami continues to disappoint on the field, is he starting to look around to some places closer to home? "Yes I'm 100 percent, but I'm not just turning down other schools, because I still want to see what they have to offer. My family wants what is best for me, so there's no pressure." The rangy flanker said Arizona, Arizona State and TCU are the schools still keeping tabs on the 6'3", 180-pound pass-catcher.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand. Recruiting information and ratings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Todd Gurley's Complicated College Football Legacy

Todd Gurley's legacy at Georgia is one of supreme talent, unquestioned leadership and missed opportunity.

The true junior from Tarboro, North Carolina, missed the final two games of Georgia's season after tearing his ACL late in the victory over Auburn, but according to Anthony Dasher of UGASports.com, head coach Mark Richt said Gurley has opted to rehab while preparing for the NFL draft:

Despite missing six games—two due to injury and four due to his suspension after admitting that he received money for autographs—Gurley rushed for 911 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior.

He wrapped up his storied three-year career with 3,285 rushing yards, 36 rushing touchdowns, 615 receiving yards, six receiving touchdowns, 422 kickoff return yards and two touchdowns.

What's his legacy?

 

Redefined Greatness

Every top-tier running back who has come through Athens since the early 1980s has seemingly been billed as the "next Herschel Walker."

While players like Garrison Hearst, Robert Edwards, Jasper Sanks, Musa Smith, Knowshon Moreno and others have enjoyed a reasonable amount of success at Georgia, none lived up to what seemed like insurmountable hype.

Gurley did.

He did in the face of adversity, injury and pressure.

Future running backs who sign on the dotted line at Georgia won't be saddled with the Herschel hype—they'll be compared to Gurley.

If you're 6'1" and hovering around 230 pounds with track star speed, you won't be expected to be a bruiser. You'll be expected to be an all-purpose back who doubles as a receiver and triples as a special teams force who can run over, around, through and leap over just about anybody.

Is that fair?

Of course it isn't. The Walker comparisons weren't either. Gurley didn't care.

He embraced expectations and redefined greatness from the moment he stepped between the white lines. In his first game with the Bulldogs, Gurley rushed for 100 yards, two touchdowns and returned a kickoff 100 yards for another touchdown in win over Buffalo. 

It wasn't an anomaly against a weak opponent. It was Gurley saying, "I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere."

 

Complete, Yet Incomplete

Gurley will be remembered as a legend, but he will also be remembered for what might have been. He averaged 1,095 rushing yards per season despite missing a total of nine games and change due to injuries and suspensions during his three seasons in Athens.

The Bulldogs won every game Gurley played between the hedges yet lost two important ones in which he didn't.

Gurley missed three games in the middle of the 2013 season due to an ankle injury. The Bulldogs lost two of those, one of which was a home loss to Missouri which cost the program its third straight SEC East title.

Last weekend, after this year's SEC East title disappeared thanks to Missouri's win the day before, Georgia fell to Georgia Tech between the hedges—only the third loss to the Yellow Jackets since the Y2K bug was a legitimate concern.

The four-game autograph suspension put Georgia fans into a bind. The running back they loved admitted to breaking rules many think are clearly antiquated but still widely known.

It complicated the perception of Gurley.

Was he wrong for doing what he did? Absolutely. Was it selfish? Sure. Should it have cost him four games in this day and age of the college football business? Of course not.

In the end, he'll likely become a sympathetic figure and a bit of a trailblazer. Ten years ago, Gurley would be criticized for taking money for autographs and putting himself in front of his team. In this day and age of impending NCAA reform, he became a sympathetic figure and the poster child for advocates of players making money off of their likeness.

The combination of injuries and self-created adversity created a sense of an incomplete career. One that was great, but flawed.

However you view Gurley, though, his impact on the field and off will be felt for decades to come.

 

Continuing a Trend

Other schools around the country can make the claim that they're "Running Back U," Miami and Auburn in particular. There's plenty of room in that party for several programs, and Georgia is one of them.

Walker, Moreno, Smith, Terrell Davis and several other former Bulldogs have moved on from Athens to prosper as professionals.

Despite the ACL injury, Bleacher Report Lead Draft Analyst Matt Miller has mentioned Gurley alongside likely Heisman Trophy finalist Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin in regard to the 2015 NFL draft:

Gurley will continue the trend of talented Georgia running backs making a splash at the next level, which boosts Georgia's recruiting and keeps the cycle of talented running backs coming through Athens with NFL hopes spinning in their heads.

Gurley's success, and future success, may not redefine Georgia as the true "Running Back U," but it's a major bullet point to a resume that will only be boosted when—not if—he tears up the NFL, which has become known for chewing up and spitting out running backs.

It seemed like only yesterday when Gurley was taking a kickoff back 100 yards against Buffalo and announcing his college presence with authority.

In the blink of an eye, he redefined greatness for a program that was dripping with running back greatness.

He is a legend.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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College Football Playoff Championship 2015: Predictions, Odds for All Matchups

A week is all that separates the globe from the revelation of which teams will participate in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

From the ashes of a wild Week 14, in which contenders such as Mississippi State suffered major losses, rise four teams that appear to be the favorites to make the CFP—for the time being, of course.

The four teams will be selected by the committee based on a number of variables, but keep in mind that conference championships will alter the current outlook. All four will compete in bowls on January 1 in the semifinals before advancing to Texas for the national championship.

Below, let's predict how the CFP will play out based on matchups birthed from the latest odds to win the national championship.

 

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama (17-10) vs. No. 4 TCU (5-1)

Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oregon (5-2) vs. No. 3 Florida State (13-2)

Championship Bowl (in Arlington, Texas): TBD (semifinal winners)

Odds via Odd Shark as of December 1 at 9 p.m. ET.

 

Semifinals Breakdown

Many will groan about an encounter between Alabama and TCU.

That's understandable. TCU is not the most attractive program to have in a semifinal. Ohio State and Baylor may be better draws, but the Horned Frogs certainly deserve respect for the accomplishments of a great season to date.

Emerging from the Big 12 is an accomplishment in and of itself, although it might draw controversy this year, as captured by Lost Lettermen:

Regardless, TCU quietly touts an offense that can do some serious damage to Alabama. The Horned Frogs rank third in the nation in scoring behind the arm of Heisman contender Trevone Boykin, whose gaudy numbers come from multiple angles:

Keep in mind that Alabama has an elite defense, though. The team ranks sixth nationally with an average of just 16.9 points allowed per game.

But wideout Amari Cooper is the reason the Crimson Tide would outlast the Horned Frogs.

Cooper has 103 catches with 1,573 yards and 14 scores on the year. Considering the Horned Frogs rank 26th nationally in terms of scoring defense, sheer talent would eventually see the Crimson Tide to the final—as it has in all but one game this season in a wildly competitive SEC.

The other semifinal in this scenario is not as straightforward. 

It appears that way, though. Oregon ranks fourth nationally with an average of 45.9 points scored per game. That figures to mean the Ducks will fly away against a downtrodden Florida State defense that ranks 27th nationally and has serious issues when it comes to getting off the field.

Try not to forget about that whole clutch thing, though.

The Seminoles find ways to win and have won 28 games in a row. Jameis Winston has directed a number of late-game miracles this season, as an odd set of numbers shows, via ESPN.com's David Hale:

Still, a late-game comeback relies on Winston keeping the game close. It is easy to get away with sloppy play in the first half against teams such as N.C. State and Boston College.

Oregon? Not so much.

Marcus Mariota and the Ducks offense take no time off in any contest. This one figures to be epic as the Seminoles attempt to close the gap late, but expect Oregon to build a massive lead in the first half that it never relinquishes.

 

Championship Breakdown

Alabama-Oregon seems to be the matchup most people have had on their minds all season. 

Who wouldn't love some tactical chess between the SEC powerhouse led by Nick Saban and the unstoppable offensive force from out West?

The numbers in such a showdown speak for themselves:

One could make the argument that one player changes everything in such a showdown. Good luck with that—is it Cooper or Mariota?

Oregon's signal-caller has been just as impressive this season, if not more so. Stuck behind an injured line, Mariota has managed 3,470 yards and 36 touchdowns to just two interceptions, with another 636 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich attributes most of his team's success to Mariota.

"That guy is just such a stud," Helfrich said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "It starts at the beginning of last week just in terms of his approach, which is infectious to everybody."

Mariota is the reason the Ducks can pull off a shocker in this scenario. The Crimson Tide struggle against quality dual-threat quarterbacks. Look at what Auburn's Nick Marshall did in the Iron Bowl with 456 yards and three touchdown passes and 49 more yards on the ground.

The keys are game tempo and ball security. As the numbers show, Mariota does not turn the ball over. The Ducks can grind down the Crimson Tide and emerge winners of the inaugural CFP.

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

 

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Everything You Need to Know About New No. 1 2015 Recruit Martez Ivey

There’s a new No. 1 overall recruit in the 2015 cycle following the latest update to the 247Sports Composite Rankings, and that rating now belongs to 5-star offensive tackle Martez Ivey, according to Chad Carson of 247Sports.

Ivey has been a fixture as one of the top 10 prospects in the 2015 cycle since the first batch of rankings came out for the 2015 class last summer. He was initially rated No. 3 overall last July, according to JC Shurburtt of 247Sports.

Before the latest update, he was No. 2 overall behind 5-star defensive end Josh Sweat.

What makes Ivey a special talent who is projected to be a franchise-caliber left tackle prospect at the next level?

 

Measurables

Height: 6’6”

Weight: 270 lbs

Rating: 5-star

Recruitment Status: Uncommitted. Considering Alabama, Auburn, Florida and LSU among others.

 

Resume

Ivey has been an overpowering left tackle on the prep level, and he displayed his strength and athleticism during The Opening against some of the nation’s top pass-rushers.

According to Kipp Adams of 247Sports, Ivey was named the MVP of the offensive line segment at the premier showcase for the elite prospects in the 2015 cycle.

In particular, he was able to display nimble footwork and stone defensive linemen at the point of attack by using his long arms.

He’s been a key cog in helping Apopka (Florida) High School to a 23-6 record over the last two seasons—including an appearance in the Florida 8A title game last season.

 

Recruitment

Ivey has a lengthy offer list, but two teams widely believed to be at the top of his list since the beginning of his recruitment are Auburn and Florida.

In particular, the Gators—who remain the heavy favorite on Ivey’s Crystal Ball page—have long been considered the front-runner for the top prospect in the Sunshine State.

Even with the recent departure of head coach Will Muschamp, Ivey still notes that he will still continue to have interest in the Gators.

“I definitely know enough about the school to make the decision without the coach, but you definitely want to know about your head coach,” Ivey told GatorBait’s Dan Meyer (subscription required). “That’s like the heart of your program, who are they going to bring in and how they are going to change up the game plan. I never had a set date on when I was going to make a decision, just whatever feels right to me.”

A factor in Auburn’s corner is that the Tigers have a pledge from his prep teammate and good friend, 3-star fullback Chandler Cox.

Up next on his calendar is a trip to visit LSU this weekend.

 

Outlook in College

While Ivey possesses the frame and athleticism to be an elite left tackle, it’s very likely that he will have to spend time bulking up before he makes an impact in college.

It’s very rare that offensive linemen can compete as freshmen in a league such as the SEC. Last year’s No. 1 overall prospect Cam Robinson—who signed with Alabama—broke that trend thanks in part to his 6’7”, 335-pound frame.

Still, few big men emerge from the prep level with the traits that Ivey possesses.

Wherever he lands in college, Ivey will have a chance to develop into an All-American-caliber player at perhaps the most important position on the offensive line.

 

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

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Is Baylor Going Too Far by Hiring PR Firm to Make Case for the Playoff?

If you thought the days of BCS politicking would end in the playoff era, guess again. Settling things on the field is only part of the equation. The rest is still nothing more than good, old-fashioned lobbying. 

According to Jake Trotter of ESPN.com, Baylor has hired Kevin Sullivan Communications, a public relations company, to advocate on Baylor's behalf for a spot in the first College Football Playoff. The firm will not advocate directly to the playoff selection committee but rather to national media. 

It's a roundabout way to go about things. Media members do not have a vote in forming the playoff field, but perhaps appealing to them could somehow indirectly influence the committee. It's not like the committee members are holed up in underground bunkers with canned foods for months on end. 

Of course, if the committee is influenced by media preferences, then it has bigger issues than trying to select four teams. But that's another conversation for another day. 

For what it's worth, Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw said this week, via George Schroeder of USA Today, that "politicking shouldn't matter." However, as Schroeder notes, Baylor has consistently been ranked behind TCU in the playoff standings: 

For the past several weeks, as TCU has consistently been ranked ahead of Baylor, [selection committee chairman Jeff] Long's explanation has been that the teams' resumes aren't similar enough for head-to-head to be applied. At the same time, he's characterized the differences among the contenders for the No. 4 slot as "very, very narrow" and "very close."

The move makes sense on Baylor's part, though. Unless there's a playoff in which the field consists of nothing but automatic bids, there will always be a level of subjectivity involved in the selection process. Because of that, there will always be some form of politicking from the schools, even if it is publicly discouraged. 

The selection committee's job is to choose the four best teams at season's end. How and why it comes to that conclusion is the single most important, and most scrutinized, part of the process.

Baylor's job is to do everything it can to make sure it's one of those four teams—and by any means necessary, apparently. It owes absolutely nothing to TCU, the committee or anyone else. 

If Baylor thinks hiring KSC is going to help push it into the final four by this time next week, that's its prerogative. 

In an email, Sullivan deferred to Baylor for comment. A request for further comment from Baylor was not immediately returned. 

Still, the plan is clear and already underway. An email sent to media members highlights, above all else, that Baylor beat TCU head-to-head 61-58 on Oct. 11. 

It's the opposite angle taken by TCU. Following last Thursday's win over Texas, Horned Frogs head coach Gary Patterson made his case that a team's whole body of work matters more than a head-to-head result.

"That's why I'm telling you that head-to-head doesn't make a difference," Patterson told Paul Myerberg of USA Today. "To me, it doesn't have anything to do with it at all."

Should both teams win this weekend—TCU plays Iowa State; Baylor plays Kansas State—they will be named co-champions of the Big 12. Officially, the conference will not recommend one team over the other if a playoff spot is on the line.  

Thus, it's up to the schools to make their cases; it's the medium in which they do it that's been different. They, along with anyone else, are entitled to do so in any way they see fit. 

 

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

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The Future of the RB Position at Georgia Post-Todd Gurley

In what was all but a foregone conclusion, Georgia head coach Mark Richt re-emphasized on Monday his expectation that star running back Todd Gurley, who recently underwent successful surgery on a torn ACL, will declare for the 2015 NFL draft.  According to Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald, Richt took time on his weekly radio show to say he expects Gurley will "still be a very high draft pick in this draft."

Though the draft stock of the injured back is debatable, few were surprised to hear that the junior would be leaving Athens early.  

With the departure of Gurley, here's what Georgia fans can look forward to in the Bulldog backfield.

 

Nick Chubb

Chubb, currently a true freshman, burst onto the scene in Georgia's season opener with a 47-yard touchdown run against Clemson.  At the time, his 70-yard debut seemed like a crowning achievement given the heavy presence of Gurley.  But as Gurley missed time—first due to a four-game suspension and then to injury—Chubb's Clemson performance became little more than a blip on the radar of his fantastic freshman season.

Since taking over for Gurley in mid-October, Chubb has been the first running back to be called upon in seven consecutive games.  He's made the most of that opportunity and run for 100 or more yards in each contest.  In seven starts, Chubb has averaged more than 177 yards of offense per contest, scored a touchdown in every game and accounted for two or more scores on four occasions.

Needless to say, the future of the tailback position is bright as long as Nick Chubb stays healthy.  

Chubb isn't Todd Gurley.  He's half a step slower, slightly less agile and needs to improve on ball security, but he's a comparable (if not favorable) replacement in several regards.

With Gurley out of the picture, Chubb stands to benefit primarily from repetitions.  Heading into his freshman season, Chubb trailed Gurley and other veterans like Brendan Douglas and Keith Marshall on the depth chart.  Heading into 2015, he will be the unquestioned of the backfield and will only improve with a heavier work load and more attentive coaching.

 

Sony Michel

Like Chubb, Michel was a highly coveted recruit in the 2014 class.  Similarly, he had moments of absolute brilliance this fall.  His 155-yard performance against Troy in September was highlighted by three touchdowns and just 10 carries.

Though he's been slowed by injury, Michel's explosiveness has not vanished.  He's posted a run in excess of 10 yards in five of his seven games, and he's never failed to break at least one run of eight or more yards in a contest.

A viable threat in the passing game as well, Michel took a short pass and raced 33 yards for a touchdown in Georgia's narrow defeat against South Carolina in Week 3.  That versatility will benefit him as he seeks to carve out time alongside Chubb, and don't be surprised if offensive coordinator Mike Bobo finds a way to feature both backs simultaneously as often as possible.

For Michel, the most obvious alteration following Gurley's departure will be playing time, and that could vest itself in a number of ways.  Given his diverse skill set, Michel's impact in 2015 could be just as large as that of Chubb.

 

Keith Marshall

At this point in time, the tale of Keith Marshall is a rather sad one.  

The more celebrated back in the class of 2012, Marshall arrived in Athens and was expected to be the next in a long line of great Georgia running backs.  That narrative changed when Gurley, also a freshman, broke loose for 100 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries and added a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the season opener against Buffalo.

To be clear, Marshall was also a major contributor on that 2012 team.  He topped the 100-yard threshold three times and broke out with a 164-yard day in a shootout against Tennessee.  He finished his freshman season with 759 rushing yards and a higher yards-per-carry mark than Gurley.

But even then, Marshall's production was streaky.  He ran for 104 yards on 10 touches against Florida Atlantic, but the week prior to that he turned 12 carries into just 32 yards.  He followed up a stellar performance against the Volunteers with 64 yards over the following three games.  After running for 105 yards against Auburn, he accounted for just 29 yards versus Georgia Southern.  In the SEC Championship Game and the Capital One Bowl, Marshall carried the ball a total of 10 times for just 39 yards.

That inconsistency carried over into Marshall's 2013 campaign.  In the season opener against Clemson, Marshall carried the ball 16 times (then a career high) but racked up just 43 yards.  The following week, he turned nine touches (seven rushes and two receptions) into 112 yards against South Carolina.  And ultimately, his 2013 campaign was cut short with a knee injury.

Nagging injuries in 2014 have Marshall destined for a medical redshirt after appearing in just three games and converting 13 total offensive touches into 19 yards.

Though the tale of the tape has been unkind thus far, Marshall's career is not over.  Even the use of a medical redshirt is a positive sign as it points to Marshall and the coaching staff's belief in a bright future for the junior.  If he can get fully healthy, he still has All-SEC talent, and he knows the Bulldogs' offensive system as well as anyone.  

It's hard to presume greatness for Marshall moving forward, but he's certainly shown flashes of it in the past.  The next two years could be tremendously productive for Marshall and if they are, the Bulldogs will be even more dangerous.

 

Brendan Douglas

The proverbial victory cigar, Douglas is best known for his late-game, clock-eating, punishing runs.  But it's important to remember that Douglas has carried the load for Georgia before.  With Gurley and Marshall sidelined by injuries in 2013, Douglas racked up 204 combined yards of offense on 38 total touches against Tennessee and Missouri.  

And he's remained relevant within the offense this year.  The sophomore from Augusta, Georgia, has racked up 30 or more rushing yards in four of his seven appearances, and his 225 rushing yards, two scores and 4.5 yards-per-carry average are nothing to scoff at.

Though his role is unlikely to change, Douglas could see a few more early-game reps with Gurley out of the picture.

 

The Field

A.J. Turman, currently a redshirt freshman, has not played in a game since arriving on campus in 2013, but that doesn't mean he can't be a factor.  A now-thinning crowd at the position and a slew of injuries have kept him out of the rotation, but Turman was one of the nation's best running backs in his class, according to 247Sports, and he garnered offers from the likes of Florida State, Miami, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Notre Dame. 

Chris Carson, a JUCO transfer, is committed to join the Bulldogs as part of the 2015 recruiting class.  A 3-star recruit per 247Sports, Carson is also drawing heavy interest from Louisville.  This season, Carson averaged 110.4 rushing yards per game on 7.2 yards per carry while playing at Butler Community College in Kansas.

Turman and Carson may or may not prove to be substantially valuable to an already deep backfield, but they stand to benefit from opportunities with the departure of Gurley, especially given the injury-proneness of Michel and Marshall.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

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Ted's Takes: Did the Pac-12 Live Up to Expectations in 2014?

The arrival of December allows for “self-scouting,” an attempt to grade our own Pac-12 predictions.

First, the Big 12 has threatened the premise that veteran quarterbacks and top-tier coaches would lead the Pac-12 to challenge SEC supremacy. My take: The teams in the Pac-12 South have cannibalized each other enough to take the entire division out of the national picture. Result: The Big 12 has strong teams in the Top 10 and a better national presence.

Here is Exhibit A for the Pac-12:

The Pac-12 losses were Stanford at Notre Dame, Washington State to Rutgers and USC at Boston College. Notable wins by Utah at Michigan, Cal at Northwestern and the Arizona State/USC home wins over Notre Dame lost luster as the Wolverines, Wildcats and Irish all stumbled to the finish line.

My premise hinged on the foundation of Pac-12 veteran quarterbacks. While Marcus Mariota solidified his Heisman candidacy and Cody Kessler emerged as the conference’s most underrated player, Sean Mannion and Kevin Hogan had uneven years, in part surrounded by lesser supporting casts.

 

Ups and Downs of Brett Hundley

But no player puzzled me more at season’s end than Brett Hundley. A career highlight, the dominance of USC for a third straight year, was neutered by a tepid performance against Stanford and failure to clinch the Pac-12 South Division. 

What impacted Hundley in prior games with Stanford, and during this year's opener at Virginia, was repeated in the game where UCLA expected to confirm its ownership of not just its Los Angeles rivalry but the Pac-12 South. Stanford pressured Hundley, as the Cardinal defensive front outplayed the same Bruins defensive line that had decisively powered through the Trojans.

Hundley’s passive response, reflected by his team, left the Bruins hollow. 

“I thought we closed the gap,” Mora said, via Kyle Kensing of Bleacher Report. “But we still have work to do. We will continue to work hard on getting bigger and faster and stronger and more physical [and] recruiting the type of student-athletes we think can help us win those types of games.” 

That gap never seemed bigger than Saturday. Stanford, previously unable to replicate the power run game that had been its identity, pounded out 202 rushing yards while possessing the ball for over 37 minutes.

Then, when Hundley needed to generate drives to keep his defense off the field, Stanford’s defense won the day. Hundley was sacked four times, threw 15 incompletions and was outgained through the air by 88 yards.

So, it is fair to wonder about the comments Hundley made four days prior to the game on The Jim Rome Show (via The Beast 980):

“I think the chances are really high,” Hundley said. “The conversation keeps coming up. I’ve got my degree. I’ve done everything I wanted to do here. I’ve left something that’s really, truly great and I feel good. That was probably my last one against USC.”    

Hundley needed a strong wingman, someone to smother those thoughts for two weeks. Focus on Stanford, take another shot at Oregon and then talk about the pros. His game performance places those comments in an unflattering light.

Stanford discovered its offense in the final moments of the season. Now, a 7-5 finish could have the Cardinal bound for the Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara. Of bigger concern is the play of quarterback Kevin Hogan. With a year to play, Hogan may have solidified his decision to return and delayed the ascension of redshirt Keller Chryst.

 

Answers to the Other Preseason Questions

Is Oregon Tough Enough?

Yes, with one remaining hurdle—winning the physical battle against Arizona Friday. The Ducks set the tone of their season in Week 2, slapping 46 points on Michigan State. Michigan State’s running back, Jeremy Langford, was held to a 3.6 yards-per-carry average (24 rushes for 86 yards.)

But Arizona remains the last frontier for Oregon. After Ka’Deem Carey crushed the Ducks last year, Arizona threw a tandem of Terris Jones-Grigsby (115) and Nick Wilson (92) at Oregon for a similar result—207 rushing yards.

 

Will Stanford Change Its Identity?

Without a primary running back and incorporating highly regarded but new offensive linemen, Stanford turned to a more balanced offense in 2014:

The result was an offense that sputtered through much of the season before providing an unexpected surge in the final two games. The Cardinal scored the second-fewest touchdowns (38) and allowed the fewest (23, 10 less than second-place Oregon).

Losing their best offensive player in Ty Montgomery, will Stanford attempt to revert to power football for 2015?

 

Don’t Sleep on Washington State?

My worst call of 2014. The Cougars were a major disappointment, remaining woefully unable to run, unable to defend the pass and, sadly, unable to protect its quarterback. Connor Halliday deserved a better ending. The Cougar faithful must wonder if they are tracking upward after year three of having head coach Mike Leach at the helm.

 

The Playoff

A conversation with Tyrone Willingham, former Stanford and Washington head coach, provided some facts to know for this weekend’s championship games. Willingham would not divulge specific conversations within the selection committee, but he did confirm that the mission is to pick the best four teams. No conference quotas. Conference championships help, but a second-place team would not be eliminated.

And selection is to be based on the team that would play in January. Thus, injuries matter. Ohio State would be judged as the team that would be without quarterback J.T. Barrett.

Relevance to the Pac-12? It seems clear that Oregon is win-and-in on Friday. A two-loss Arizona team with a weak non-conference schedule would, from this view, be a long shot.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

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Sugar Bowl 2015: TV Info, Schedule, Predictions and More

One-half of the inaugural College Football Playoff semifinals comes at fans from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 1 and pits two of the nation's best teams against one another with everything on the line.

The counterpart to the Rose Bowl semifinal matchup pits the No. 1 seed in the final CFP poll (released on December 7) against the No. 4 seed.

When the Sugar Bowl is not busy hosting the CFP, it will feature the winner of the SEC Championship Game against the Big 12 conference champion.

At this rate, that is how things appear to be shaping up this year, too.

 

When: Thursday, January 1, 2015 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana

Watch: ESPN

 

Predictions

Alabama and TCU Collide

Alabama is tops in the latest polls for good reason. Ditto for TCU, which comes in at fourth.

It is hard to see how the Crimson Tide do not keep a tight grip on the No. 1 slot at this point. Though many have hoped to see Nick Saban's dynasty take a fall, the team has instead overcome quite a laundry list of impressive opponents, including West Virginia, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Texas A&M, LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn.

The most recent win was the most impressive, though, as Blake Sims and Co. survived the Iron Bowl against the Tigers with a 55-44 triumph. Sims threw four touchdowns to three interceptions while wideout Amari Cooper torched the defense on his way to 224 yards and three scores.

As SportsCenter points out, the win bodes well for Alabama's chances in the Sugar Bowl and beyond:

All that stands in Alabama's way at this point is a 10-2 Missouri Tigers team that ranks 13th nationally in terms of scoring defense. But the Tigers have been erratic all season, with notable losses to Indiana and Georgia, and they boast a 70th-ranked offense that will struggle to move the ball against the Crimson Tide defense.

The competition for the fourth spot and the right to face Alabama is vast, but expect TCU to pull through.

With Ohio State losing starting quarterback J.T. Barrett for the rest of the season and Baylor struggling as of late, the Horned Frogs figure to sneak into the fray.

TCU has wins over Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Minnesota, West Virginia and Kansas State this season, not to mention the third-ranked offense in the country. A recent 48-10 win over Texas has coach Gary Patterson and Co. riding high.

Patterson said, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com): "You know, this team deserves to go home and win a championship. We've got one more to do it, and I'm very proud of them. I'm finally going to go maybe smile once, but we've got to get ready to play Iowa State."

All that stands between the Horned Frogs and the CFP now is 2-9 Iowa State—and the fact that Baylor owns a small head-to-head decision over the Horned Frogs this year and can cause some chaos to end the season if it can overcome Kansas State. 

Right now, though, TCU is in the driver's seat. Baylor looked shaky one week ago with a two-point win over Texas Tech and even a season-ending win may not be enough to encourage the committee to make a swap at this point.

 

Alabama Rolls

Now that the who is out of the way, things can get to the heart of the matter—how it plays out. 

Call it a war of strengths in this scenario, really. TCU has a top-three offense thanks to dual-threat quarterback Trevone Boykin. A total of 3,254 yards and 26 touchdowns through the air and 598 yards and eight scores on the ground can attest to his Heisman candidacy.

Quality dual-threat quarterbacks have given Alabama problems this year, too. Mississippi State's Dak Prescott threw for 290 yards and two scores to three interceptions with 82 more yards on the ground in a close loss.

Nick Marshall threw for 456 yards and three touchdown passes in the Iron Bowl with another 49 yard on the ground.

That said, the inverse certainly applies, meaning TCU would need to come up with a way to stop Sims and Cooper. The former has 2,988 yards and 24 touchdowns through the air and 302 yards and six scores on the ground.

Cooper is in a class of his own on the way to the pros. An eye-popping 103 grabs for 1,573 yards and 14 scores might just make him the favorite for the Heisman.

Considering TCU ranks 26th in total defense with an average of 21.9 points allowed per game and in its lone loss allowed Baylor to rush for 272 yards, it seems the Crimson Tide have a distinct advantage in that they can play strong defense and control the pace of the game.

Alabama certainly has a strong cast of rushers who can ride this weakness for all it is worth:

Boykin deserves more credit than he gets this season, but against the experienced Crimson Tide, Alabama figures to pull away in the second half and advance to the final.

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.  

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Rose Bowl 2015: TV Info, Schedule, Predictions and More

The 101st Rose Bowl Game takes the torch as one of two College Football Playoff Semifinal events this January.

Normally the Rose Bowl pits the winner of the Big Ten Conference against the winner of the Pac-12, but any and all are welcome and at the mercy of the CFP committee. The game will feature the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds as ranked by the committee in the final batch of rankings that go out on December 7.

Right now, the two participants seem quite obvious. There is still one weekend of football to be played before the spectacle is finalized, but a pair of elite quarterbacks seem destined to dance.

 

When: Thursday, January 1, 2015 at 5 p.m. ET

Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

Watch: ESPN

 

Predictions

Oregon and Florida State Dance

Like it or not, Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles, winners of 28 straight, are not going to be ignored.

Some may want that, though. The Seminoles have had close calls against NC State, Oklahoma State, Notre Dame, Louisville, Miami (Fla.), Boston College and Florida.

Yet they keep on winning. Coach Jimbo Fisher put it best after the 24-19 win against the Gators, as captured by The Associated Press, via ESPN.com: "First time in school history we ever went back-to-back undefeated regular seasons. With all the great teams (that have been here), that shows how hard that is to do. ... That just doesn't happen. It's a true testament to our players and assistant coaches, what they've done."

Even four interceptions by Winston against a quality defense was not enough to doom the Seminoles this past weekend. That ability to pull through in the clutch and clear display of elite talent top to bottom downright ensures the team hangs around at the No. 3 seed, so long as it overcomes a pesky ground-based Georgia Tech team.

The Oregon Ducks have flown right past to seize No. 2, though.

Oregon has not lost since the beginning of October. Even that was respectable given the fact Arizona is 10-2, very much in the running for the CFP and will throw down with the Ducks again in the Pac-12 championship.

The Ducks rank fourth nationally with an average of 45.9 points scored per contest behind the arm of Marcus Mariota. A Heisman favorite, the junior has thrown for 3,470 yards and 36 touchdowns to just two interceptions this year.

Most were right to think Oregon would lose by now. The Ducks have this time of year in the past. But Mariota and Co. seem more mature than ever. Stanford? No problem. Utah? Despite being even better, than the Cardinal, no problem. Same thing applies to Oregon State in the Civil War.

It remains to be seen how well the Ducks perform against other elite opposition, but one thing seems a certainty—it will happen in the Rose Bowl.

 

Ducks Fly Away

This one seems a mismatch on paper.

Florida State has been shaky defensively all season long, while the Ducks have little issue moving the ball at will against any unit they encounter:

As SportsCenter illustrates, the differences under center are just as jarring:

There is something to be said for Winston's ability to get his team a late win, though.

The catch is, Winston actually has to keep his team in the game until the waning moments to pull off another comeback. Florida State's defense has yet to encounter a team that even sniffs what the Ducks are about on the offensive side of things. 

All of the attention goes to Mariota, but keep in mind how potent the Ducks can be on the ground.

Royce Freeman has 1,185 yards and 16 scores on the ground with a per-carry average of 5.7. When healthy, Thomas Tyner averages 4.4 yards and has 387 yards and three scores.

Swing the spotlight back on the elusive Mariota, who has been on the run all season long thanks to an injured line. The result so far is 636 yards and 11 scores on a 5.9 per-carry average.

As mentioned, it is not as if the Ducks have made their mark against a weak schedule, either.

Oregon's ability to keep the chains moving and grind out the clock against a wobbly defense neutralizes Winston's ability to keep his team in this hypothetical matchup, which does not even mention how iffy he has been as of late, anyway. 

A No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the final seems boring, but expect the Ducks to uphold their end of the deal and reach the final after a win at the Rose Bowl.

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified. 

 

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2016 5-Star Brandon Jones Tweets Top 10 Schools

Brandon Jones already holds dozens of offers from college programs midway through his junior year at Nacogdoches High School in Texas. The 5-star defensive back provided a glimpse of teams that have made strong early impressions Monday evening when he posted a top-10 list on Twitter:

His favorites from across the country represent five conferences.

Texas and Texas A&M stand out among in-state squads, while Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Ole Miss are SEC opponents competing against the Aggies. Longtime Longhorns rival Oklahoma is also in the mix.

Defending national champion Florida State and fellow College Football Playoff contender Ohio State appear on the list as well. USC is the lone West Coast option at this stage of his recruitment.

Jones, a 5'11", 193-pound playmaker, is considered the premier 2016 prospect in East Texas. He rates third overall in the state and first nationally among safeties in 247Sports' composite rankings.

Scholarship offers arrived from nearly 20 teams before the end of his sophomore year and continued to pile up throughout the summer. Naturally, he entered the 2014 season surrounded by significant hype.

Expectations for this fall lessened when he suffered an early knee injury that sidelined him for a stretch. Jones was limited to just five regular-season games but made the most of an abbreviated campaign.

He tallied 30 tackles and two forced fumbles in those five contests, according to Mike Graham of the East Texas Sports Network.

Nacogdoches featured one of the nation's most impressive defensive secondaries this season. Jones joined 4-star 2015 recruit Jaylon Lane, a former Oklahoma State commit who is still considering several high-level FBS offers.

There's a long road ahead in Jones' recruitment, so expect his list of favorites to remain fluid moving forward. Teams aiming to gain traction with the talented Texan include Mississippi State, Miami, Tennessee and Stanford.

Future campus visits should help further define the situation. He spent time at Texas A&M last weekend when the team hosted LSU.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Hugh Freeze's Contract Extension at Ole Miss Is Very Well-Deserved

It's a good time to be in the agent business, and Jimmy Sexton is working his magic.

His client, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze, agreed to a contract extension in Oxford overnight after Freeze's name emerged as a top candidate for the coaching vacancy at Florida.

Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork announced on Twitter that a deal is in place to keep Freeze in Oxford and followed it up with a picture of himself catching a fish—something Freeze does when the program gets a commitment from a top prospect.

Did Freeze have an offer from Florida? 

Pat Dooley of The Gainesville Sun (Fla.) says the two sides never met and Freeze never had a Florida offer. But like a good lawyer in court, you don't ask questions if you don't know the answer.

Semantics aside, Freeze's extension and raise—which will pay him more than $4 million per year, according to Parrish Alford of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journalis very well-deserved.

Freeze put Ole Miss on the map.

He inherited a program that only won one SEC game over the previous two seasons and led them to three straight bowls. This year, in his third season at the helm, Ole Miss posted a 9-3 record, was ranked in the top five and was ranked fourth in the inaugural College Football Playoff rankings.

That served notice that the program had arrived on the national landscape, but it arrived on the recruiting trail long before that.

Former head coach Houston Nutt ignored recruiting over his final two seasons in Oxford. The Rebels ranked 22nd in 2010 and 20th in 2011. When Freeze arrived, everything changed. After piecing together a class on the fly in 2012, Freeze made a huge splash in 2013 by landing the eighth-best class in the country. That class featured No. 1 overall player Robert Nkemdiche, 5-star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, 5-star offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil and 5-star safety Tony Conner.

Seemingly overnight, Ole Miss transformed from an afterthought into a destination.

Freeze deserves all the credit for that.

With that recruiting class in house, the program built momentum.

"If someone would have told me my first spring that we got here that we'd win 15 games and two bowl games, inheriting a team that hadn't won an SEC game and won only two games the previous year, I'd have been thrilled, because the teams in this league aren't getting worse," Freeze told B/R last March. "They're not going backwards."

Neither is the program.

Freeze—an offensive-minded coach—won big this year with a defense that ranked 14th in the nation in total defense (321.2 yards per game) and ninth in yards per play (4.61). In fact, it was the one-dimensional nature of his offense that hamstrung him.

With offensive-line woes and no reliable running back to soften up opposing front sevens, the Rebels were relegated to pass to set up the run. That prevented them from winning at the highest level, but it's also the last brick that needs to be laid in Ole Miss' foundation for success.

If the first three years are any indication, Freeze knows this and can handle this.

Freeze is building a contender in Oxford, and the fact that he's the first coach to get a raise due to the Florida vacancy makes it clear that his peers recognize it as well.

 

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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