NCAA Football News

SEC's College Football Playoff Hopes All Riding on Alabama, Which Is Just Fine

Two teams? Three teams? All four teams?

SEC schools littered the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings during the season.

When the dust settled, though, only one remains alive as we head into championship weekend.

Goliath.

Alabama earned a trip to Atlanta before even taking the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium, as No. 4 Mississippi State fell on the road to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. When it took the field in the Iron Bowl against Auburn, it made a statement.

A bold one.

This is an Alabama team that, for the most part, hadn't been winning pretty this year. Sure, there was the 59-0 win against Texas A&M, but the one-point victory over 6-6 Arkansas, an overtime win over an LSU team whose offense was more myth than reality and a 10-point victory over West Virginia that saw the Tide secondary get torched by quarterback Clint Trickett and wide receiver Kevin White.

We knew they could win sloppy and win blowouts, but could the Crimson Tide win a shootout?

The 55-44 win over Auburn in the Iron Bowl answered that question with an emphatic "yes."

On the brink of being benched following three interceptions, quarterback Blake Sims responded in the second half, throwing for 312 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Tide out of the abyss and into the Georgia Dome with enough momentum to cover Stone Mountain.

Helping lead that charge was wide receiver Amari Cooper, who finished the day with 224 receiving yards and three touchdowns in an epic Iron Bowl performance for the ages.

With Oregon surging, it appears the Crimson Tide have done enough to fend off the Ducks in the race for the No. 1 seed, as Stewart Mandel of FoxSports.com notes:

Alabama is the SEC's only shot to win the College Football Playoff, but that's just fine.

This is a team that can do it all. 

Can in get into and win an old-fashioned slugfest that's played inside of a phone booth? Yep, it did it in Fayetteville. Can it win on the road in clutch moments? Yep, it did that in Baton Rouge. Can it dominate? It's done that consistently throughout the season. Can it open things up when the moment is right? It did that Saturday night.

Alabama is the most complete team in college football, and it has veterans on the roster like Cooper, running back T.J. Yeldon and safety Landon Collins who have already been on—and succeeded on—the big stage.

It wasn't always pretty in Tuscaloosa this year. In fact, at times, it was sloppy. 

That's ok. 

Alabama has learned on the fly, is hot at the right time and, if it beats Missouri on Saturday afternoon, will enter the postseason as the unquestioned favorite to win the national title.

The SEC its riding a 900-pound gorilla into the College Football Playoff, and that gorilla can sprint if it needs to.

I'm sure the SEC office in Birmingham will take quality over quantity every day of the week.

 

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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Nebraska Football Head Coach Search: Latest News, Speculation on Vacant Position

In a move that has been rumored throughout the 2014 college football season, Nebraska has fired head coach Bo Pelini.    

The official Twitter account of the school's athletic department tweeted the news:

A 67-27 record at Nebraska and a streak of nine-win seasons dating back to 2008 wasn't enough to save Pelini's job. It's an indication of not only the tenuous nature of a coach's position at a major college program but also of Nebraska's aspirations.

Clearly, the school—which has as storied a history as any in college football—feels it should be competing for conference titles and national championships, not competing in second-rate bowl games.

The question now, of course, is who Nebraska might seek to replace Pelini. 

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee weighed in with five potential candidates:

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports reiterated one potential candidate:

Whoever the next coach ends up being, one thing is very clear—the expectations are going to be sky high.

Nine-win seasons and winning 71 percent hasn't been enough to meet Nebraska's lofty goals. The next coach will surely head to Lincoln knowing only conference championships and national titles will guarantee his position.

 

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Meet Cardale Jones, Ohio State's Last Hope at Quarterback

COLUMBUS, Ohio — "The infamous tweet."

That's what you probably know about Cardale Jones—a 2012 social media miscue that made its way into college textbooks and has yet to have left the lexicon of the average college football fan.

It's also the work of Ohio State's new starting quarterback, the Buckeyes' last hope at landing a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain't come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.

Those were the words that first introduced Jones to the college football world, which immediately went viral and earned the then-true freshman a suspension for Ohio State's prime-time matchup with Nebraska two seasons ago. As Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer explained at the time, the distraction of Jones simply wasn't worth what Jones was contributing to the team.

"We're getting ready to play a big-time game in a great stadium and I get a bunch of text messages and phone calls about, 'Did you hear?'" Meyer said at the time. "So we suspended him immediately for the game. [It was a] very ignorant comment."

Whether it's fair or not, that moment of immaturity has defined Jones' college career. But thanks to J.T. Barrett's ill-timed season-ending injury and the Buckeyes' inclusion in the playoff hunt, it will no longer have to, as it will be Jones who leads Ohio State into next weekend's Big Ten Championship game.

 

'They Knew I Wanted to Be a Buckeye'

A product of the storied Cleveland Glenville pipeline, Jones was a 3-star prospect and the 10th-ranked pro-style quarterback in the 2011 class. With offers from Michigan, Penn State, Iowa, Illinois and West Virginia, the 6'5", 215-pound Jones opted to accept Ohio State's late scholarship offer on national signing day.

But Jones' pledge to the Buckeyes came with a caveat.

With 5-star quarterback Braxton Miller already enrolled in Columbus, it didn't make sense for Ohio State to add another signal-caller to its 2011 class. So former Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel accepted Jones' commitment with the expectation that he'd "gray shirt," spending a season at a prep school before beginning his college career.

Jones obliged, spurning his other BCS conference offers in order to to head to Virginia's Fork Union Military Academy. Even as his recruitment essentially reopened, Jones never wavered in his commitment to Ohio State, citing his time at Fork Union as worthwhile.

"It hasn't been hard because I have wanted to be a Buckeye and I was willing to do whatever it takes to be a Buckeye," Jones told BuckeyeSports.com in 2011. "They knew I wanted to be a Buckeye. Before I even committed they told me what I was going to have to do to achieve this. I think it shows that I am dedicated and loyal."

 

'He Kind of Was a Little Bit of a Knucklehead.'

While his errant tweet may be what he's still best known for, it was only a glimpse of the struggles that Jones endured upon finally arriving in Columbus in 2012. With Tressel gone and Meyer in charge, the freshman signal-caller failed to click with the new Ohio State staff throughout the Buckeyes' 12-0 season.

"He had a one-way bus ticket back to Cleveland," Meyer said. “He was a guy who couldn’t get out of his own way."

Jones' infamous tweet was his lone public indiscretion, and both he and Meyer maintained that he was excelling in his classes at the time. But it was rare that Jones' name was brought up in a positive manner during his first two years on campus, and Meyer's actions spoke louder than his words.

Even once active, Ohio State was hesitant to allow Jones to play, and the redshirt freshman appeared in just three games in 2013 and attempted a total of three passes. At one point, Meyer even considered the competition between Jones and Barrett to be the Buckeyes' third-string quarterback as "close," even though the true freshman Barrett was still recovering from a torn ACL and was an obvious redshirt candidate.

"He kind of was a little bit of a knucklehead," Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott said.

 

'A Changed Guy.'

Somewhere between the end of the Buckeyes' 2013 campaign and the start of the ensuing offseason, something clicked for Jones. With Kenny Guiton having graduated and Miller recovering from shoulder surgery, there would be plenty of quarterback reps to be had in spring practice as Meyer searched for Miller's new backup quarterback.

Jones appeared to make the most of his new opportunity, exiting the spring session as the Buckeyes' undisputed No. 2 quarterback. His 13-of-29, 106-yard passing performance in the spring game left much to be desired, but most importantly, his personal strides allowed him to remain a member of the Ohio State roster.

“Cardale, you talk about a changed guy,” Meyer said following the first spring practice of the year. "You remember the famous tweet or whatever? It’s a different guy. He had to be a different guy or he wouldn’t be here.”

On the field, Jones wasn't able to maintain his momentum, with Barrett surpassing the redshirt sophomore on the Buckeyes' depth chart two weeks prior to the start of the season. Two days later, Miller suffered a season-ending torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, allowing Barrett to embark on what would be a Heisman Trophy-caliber campaign.

But off the field, Meyer remained impressed with Jones' progress. Even as he was relegated to the role of backup for a younger player, the Cleveland native remained consistent in his preparation, knowing that he was just one play away from being Ohio State's starter.

"Cardale Jones is growing up. I admire him," Meyer said in September. "I like his professional approach right now."

 

The Rookie and the Vet

Whether Jones' newfound approach will pay off remains to be determined, but both he and the Buckeyes will have the chance to find out on Saturday.

With Ohio State playing in its second consecutive conference championship game and a potential spot in the College Football Playoff on the line, it will be up to Jones to quarterback the Buckeyes against Wisconsin's defense, which is ranked second in the nation.

"We gotta go and we have a lot of confidence in the guy that's going to be doing it," Meyer said in his post-Michigan press conference. "His name is Cardale Jones. He's been here, I think, for 120 years. He's been here for a while."

It might seem that way for a player who initially signed with the Buckeyes on the same day as most of the team's current seniors, but Jones' eligibility is still just that of a redshirt sophomore. More than that, he remains something of an unknown, as he has attempted just 17 passes in his seven appearances in mop up duty this season.

Meyer maintains that Jones' skill set is similar to that of Barrett and Miller, although now at 250 pounds, he's more bulldozer than he is Ferrari. He has, however, shown ability as a runner, ranking fourth on Ohio State with 206 rushing yards despite his limited playing time.

But against the Badgers, Jones will be asked to do much more than run out the clock, which has been his primary objective throughout the 2014 season. In addition to Meyer, his teammates remain confident in his ability, pointing to his short stint as the Buckeyes' No. 1 signal-caller last summer.

"He was the starter before J.T. took the spot, so we're not talking about some random, nobody quarterback," star defensive end Joey Bosa said. "He's a great quarterback and he'll get the job done.”

"He's changed a lot," Elliott added. "He's matured a lot, and he helped J.T. lead this year. I think he'll do a great job."

As for his infamous tweet? All indications are that it is nothing but a distant memory remembered more on Twitter than it is inside of the Ohio State locker room. But Saturday could go a long way toward changing Jones' reputation on a national scale, as he'll finally have the opportunity to play football.

And his performance will likely make or break the Buckeyes' 2014 season.

 

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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College Football Playoff 2014: Latest NCAA Predictions After Week 14 Standings

College football's rivalry week proved to be wild for teams in contention for a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Just how wild? Well, we can go ahead and confidently say there will be changes in the nation's top four when the new rankings are released.

SportsCenter summed it all up with this singular tweet:

As we await the latest from the selection committee, let's look a little further down the road and predict which four squads will participate in this year's playoff. With a second loss on the season, Mississippi State is out. Also, Florida State just barely escaped defeat once again against an unranked opponent. How will these results affect the standings? Before we take a glance into the future, here's where things stood entering Week 14:

 

College Football Playoff Predictions

1. Alabama

Through two-and-a-half quarters of the Iron Bowl, it looked as though this was going to change. After all, early in the third, Auburn pulled out to a 33-21 lead. How was this possible? Well, quarterback Blake Sims struggled early in the game, tossing three interceptions, and the Tigers were able to take advantage.

However, there's a reason why the Crimson Tide were ranked No. 1 in the country. They are chock-full of highly talented players and can put up a bevy of points at a moment's notice. That was the case Saturday, as wide receiver Amari Cooper ensured a victory for his team.

Cooper could be considered entrenched in the Heisman race following his 224-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Iron Bowl. In fact, according to ESPN Stats & Info, he set a new game record:

Sims overcame his early adversity and led the Crimson Tide to a convincing 55-44 victory. This win wasn't typical of Alabama, but the team showed extreme resilience when faced with adversity. That will propel it into the College Football Playoff's top seed.

 

2. Oregon

Speaking of Heisman front-runners, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota may as well have etched his name on the prestigious trophy on Saturday. He completed 19 of his 25 passing attempts for 367 yards and four touchdowns, adding 39 rushing yards and two more scores in a 47-19 Civil War victory over Oregon State.

During the game, Mariota set an impressive Pac-12 record, via ESPN Stats & Info:

Accomplishing that feat in just three seasons is highly impressive. However, what's even more impressive is the quarterback's lack of turnovers. He's thrown just two interceptions this season, and that kind of efficiency is why he continues to lead his team to decisive victories.

Mariota and company have a tough test in the Pac-12 championship game, as they prepare to face an Arizona team that has defeated them twice in their last two meetings. However, it's still tough to bet against the Ducks and their extremely potent offense. It's time to lock Oregon into the No. 2 seed.

 

3. Florida State

The Seminoles remain in the No. 3 position by default. This team didn't put on an impressive showing Saturday against Florida, needing another comeback to secure a win against an unranked opponent.

This has been an ongoing trend for Florida State, and this performance had the team poised for a drop to the No. 4 spot, but a loss by Mississippi State allowed the Seminoles to stay put. This team needs better play from quarterback Jameis Winston in a hurry. He tossed four interceptions against the Gators, and that won't fly in the ACC Championship Game against a talented Georgia Tech team.

ESPN Stats & Info tweeted a not-so-great statistic regarding the quarterback:

The Yellow Jackets are capable of eating up clock with a very solid running game, and Florida State's defense has struggled in that department recently. Still, it's tough to go against the Seminoles in their final clash before the College Football Playoff, as the team is very well rounded and continues to find ways to win.

Expect the Seminoles to squeeze past Georgia Tech and earn a spot in the playoff. But, if they don't show any kind of improvement on Dec. 6, don't expect to see them in the national championship game.

 

4. TCU

The Horned Frogs will be the team that takes advantage of Mississippi State's loss and earn a berth as the No. 4 seed in the College Football Playoff. Why is this? Because not only is TCU decimating opponents, but the team is scoring some serious style points by finding paydirt in a variety of ways.

TCU absolutely routed Texas Thursday in Austin, winning 48-10. Those points came from three field goals, a fumble returned for a touchdown, two passing touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns and an interception returned for a touchdown. Obviously, the Horned Frogs special teams unit was slacking.

Defensively, TCU was very impressive, picking off Tyrone Swoopes four times and holding the Longhorns running game to an average of just 2.5 yards per carry. That's the definition of an extremely well-rounded team.

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports noted the team's quality wins this season:

Of course, teams like Ohio State and Baylor are still in the mix for this spot, but neither of those teams completely blew the doors off their respective opponents in a similar fashion during rivalry week. After TCU handles Iowa State with ease on Dec. 6, the Horned Frogs will enter the College Football Playoff.

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Bo Pelini Fired by Nebraska: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Bo Pelini has been dismissed by Nebraska, the team announced Sunday morning. 

He has served as head coach of the school since 2008 and was previously the defensive coordinator in 2003.

The Cornhuskers are fresh off an 37-34 overtime win against Iowa on Friday. However, the Big Ten school was knocked out of the top 25 recently. In all likelihood, this decision hasn't been made as a result of Nebraska's on-field performance, but rather the mess Pelini has made for himself off the field.

Deadspin's Dom Cosentino (Note: Link NSFW) unearthed an audiotape from 2011, after the Cornhuskers were beaten by Ohio State. Pelini could be heard going on an expletive-laden rant against the fans and the Omaha World-Herald's Dick Chatelain.

Although the tape is two years old, it didn't stop from creating the wrong kind of attention for the school.

Nebraska released a two statements condemning what Pelini had to say.

The first, from Chancellor Harvey Perlman, said, "I am aware of the publication of Coach Pelini's comments, I am disappointed and in discussions with Shawn Eichorst about addressing the issue."

Eichorst, the athletic director, said:

I am disheartened and disappointed by the 2011 comments published today attributed to Coach Pelini about our dedicated and passionate fans and supporters. I have spoken with Chancellor Perlman and I have addressed the situation with Bo and expressed our deep concern.

Pelini did apologize for the situation (h/t Brian Rosenthal of the Lincoln Journal Star).

The apology likely wasn't enough as Nebraska jumped to 9-3 on the season following the win over Iowa.

Of course, Pelini also caused a stir a few years ago for the way he handled himself on the sideline, best exemplified by his chewing out of quarterback Taylor Martinez.

You can't blame Nebraska if it felt enough was enough. Plus, this is a results-oriented business, and Pelini had been unable to get the Cornhuskers into a BCS bowl game during his tenure.

In the end, the former coach's tirade was likely just one too many nails in the proverbial coffin. One would expect Pelini finds another position, while Nebraska likely looks for a coach a bit more reserved. 

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Week 15 Standings for College's Top 25 Teams

Rivalry week was just as entertaining as always, and the nation's Top 25 teams produced a wide array of results. There were several convincing victories and plenty of down-to-the-wire finishes in Week 14. We even saw one previously unbeaten team fall to its opponent—no, it's not who you think (but that one was close, too).

Perhaps the most interesting forthcoming change in the nation's hierarchy will be within the Top Four. Yes, one of the four College Football Playoff front-runners was taken down Saturday, and that will lead to severe adjustments from the selection committee.

With the regular season now concluded, and conference championship games set to commence, there isn't much time left for teams to make their case for either the playoff or a certain bowl game. However, before Week 15 brings another wave of action to the amateur gridiron, here's a look at the full Top 25 results from Week 14, followed by an overview of all the action.

Updated college football standings can be viewed at ESPN.com.

 

Breakdown

Alabama should have no trouble retaining its No. 1 ranking after defeating Auburn 55-44 in the Iron Bowl. The Crimson Tide struggled early, but wide receiver Amari Cooper showed why he's worthy of Heisman consideration, catching 13 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns.

That game was one for the ages and set multiple Iron Bowl records, according to ESPN Stats & Info:

Marcus Mariota continued to light it up Saturday for the Ducks, as Oregon handled Oregon State with ease, winning the Civil War 47-19. Mariota passed for 367 yards and four touchdowns, adding 39 rushing yards and two more scores.

The Heisman hopeful reminded us why he's the front-runner for the coveted trophy with those stats and also on one particular play, captured by Brian Davies of The Register-Guard:

Florida State squeezed out another victory over an unranked opponent, defeating Florida 24-19. The Seminoles keep treading water, but this kind of play won't allow the team to last long in the College Football Playoff, especially if Jameis Winston throws another four interceptions.

The Egg Bowl saw Ole Miss take down Dak Prescott and the Mississippi State Bulldogs 31-17, ending their hopes of earning a berth in the playoff. The Rebels accumulated 532 yards of offense while the Bulldogs racked up 445 yards, one of their lowest totals on the season.

TCU could sneak into the College Football Playoff following the loss by Mississippi State. The Horned Frogs decimated Texas 48-10 on Friday, scoring through the air, on the ground and with their defense. This is a talented team that cannot be overlooked.

Ohio State defeated Michigan 42-28 Saturday, but that came at a high cost. Freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett suffered a broken ankle and will miss the remainder of the season, according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

While the Buckeyes struggled with a quarterback injury, so did Baylor. Bryce Petty began to put up some gaudy numbers against Texas Tech, but he was forced to leave the game with a concussion. A nail-biting 48-46 victory for the Bears was the end result.

UCLA produced one of its worst performances in Week 14 against Stanford, losing 31-10. The Cardinal were able to get their offense going, and the team's defense was too much for Brett Hundley and Co. to handle.

Georgia dropped to Georgia Tech 30-24, as the game known as Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate concluded with a Yellow Jackets interception off Hutson Mason in the first overtime.

No. 10 Michigan State and No. 12 Kansas State each produced blowout victories over Penn State and Kansas, respectively. Expect both teams to move up the standings prior to Week 15.

Although, that wasn't the case for Arizona, as the Wildcats escaped Arizona State 42-25, earning a berth in the Pac-12 championship game against the Ducks. Arizona has a chance to take the conference title considering it was able to take down Mariota and Co. in its last two meetings with Oregon.

Wisconsin was given all it could handle by Minnesota, but thanks to the efforts of Heisman-hopeful running back Melvin Gordon, the Badgers were able to come out on top by a score of 34-24. Gordon rushed 29 times for 151 yards and a touchdown in the game, moving into fourth on the all-time rushing list, according to SportsCenter:

Missouri came from behind to take down the surging Arkansas Razorbacks, winning 21-14 and earning a spot against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Clemson, Louisville, Boise State and Utah all defeated their respective opponents, and all should remain in the Top 25 for at least another week.

Unfortunately, it wasn't the same story for the undefeated Marshall Thundering Herd, as they were taken down by Western Kentucky in a 67-66 barnburner. There wasn't a whole lot of defense to be found in this clash, as both quarterbacks passed for over 400 yards, each team had a running back eclipse the 200-yard mark and four receivers tallied over 100 yards. The end result was a combined 1,446 yards of offense.

It was certainly a wild week of college football, and with championship games on the horizon, it will only get better from here.

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College Football Bowl Predictions 2014: Updated Playoff Projections and Odds

It becomes clearer with each passing Saturday that the race for the College Football Playoff is really just a race for the No. 4 seed as long as Alabama, Florida State and Oregon continue to win.

Of course, the Seminoles have made winning look anything but easy (and they once again won in nail-biting fashion Saturday against Florida), but winning is the bottom line in this sport.

Just ask Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs lost the Egg Bowl to archrival Ole Miss Saturday and saw their playoff hopes go up in smoke. That opened the door for Ohio State, TCU or Baylor to sneak in, depending on the Week 15 results.

With that in mind, read on to see my latest bowl projections and some national championship odds from Odds Shark.

 

Scott Polacek's Playoff Projections

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

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

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

 

Odds Shark National Championship Odds

*Odds to win national championship courtesy of Odds Shark, as of Sunday morning at 3 a.m. ET.

 

Race for No. 4 Seed

Ole Miss did the Buckeyes, Horned Frogs and Bears a major favor Saturday when it beat Mississippi State. It also assured that there will only be one SEC team in the College Football Playoff, assuming Alabama dispatches a Missouri team that lost to Indiana earlier this season.

Ohio State is right in the thick of the race for the No. 4 seed, although it is at something of a crossroads now.

On the one hand, the Buckeyes beat their archrival Michigan yet again Saturday and look like a completely different team than the one that lost to Virginia Tech in the second game of the year.

They are undefeated in Big Ten play and boast perhaps the single most impressive win from any team on the season when they went into Michigan State and destroyed a Top 10 Michigan State squad on the road and under the lights in front of a raucous crowd.

However, there is a dark cloud hovering over the team’s playoff hopes now that quarterback J.T. Barrett is out for the season with a broken ankle.

It is rather unfair for the Buckeyes, considering they lost Braxton Miller before the year started along with their speedster Dontre Wilson, who suffered a broken foot. If you throw in Noah Spence’s season-long suspension and Rod Smith's dismissal, the list of missing players from Ohio State could probably win the SEC East.

Two questions now remain for the Buckeyes.

How will the selection committee treat them moving forward, given the loss of Barrett? More importantly, will this team be able to beat a potential top-12 team in Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship without Barrett? 

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports had an interesting theory on the initial question:

Of course, a rather straightforward counter argument would suggest that there are only five players on the basketball floor at once and a star has far more impact than any one of 11 players on the football field. That is especially the case given the amount of talent Ohio State boasts in the skill positions.

Tight end Jeff Heuerman suggested as much, via Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com, "There's 21 other starters on this team that battled and played all year to get where we are now. I'm sure they'll take that into account, too."

Outside of the Buckeyes, the only teams with a realistic shot at the No. 4 seed hail from the Big 12 after Georgia and UCLA both lost in Week 14.

TCU and Baylor represent an interesting case study into how the selection committee will operate in its first year.

The Horned Frogs have a tougher schedule and arguably a more impressive resume from top to bottom, but the Bears beat TCU in a head-to-head matchup earlier in the season. Which factor should be given more importance is a legitimate question if there is a significant gap in the resumes, but if Baylor beats Kansas State Saturday, the difference in strength of schedule becomes much smaller.

After all, TCU and Baylor played the same teams in the Big 12, but TCU did beat Minnesota in the nonconference portion of its schedule.

The real problem for both is that they will be conference co-champions and have one less game than the 12-1 Buckeyes if all three teams win out. The selection committee should certainly consider the fact that the Buckeyes, who would be outright Big Ten champions as well, had to win an extra game against a dangerous Wisconsin team.

That would give them a much-needed month off before the playoffs to lick their wounds.

 

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Bowl Predictions 2014: Playoff Projections After Rivalry Clashes

Rivalry week ruined the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Of course, that statement is all about perspective. But a wide-ranging set of rivalries did much to birth the chaos most knew was inbound in the final weeks to the postseason.

Florida State looks wobbly. The SEC continues to cannibalize itself. Mississippi State took a dive. Ohio State lost a starting quarterback and probably a postseason bid in the process.

In the ashes of a wild weekend emerges a new-look CFP that is all about perspective. Fans of the sport in general can certainly agree it is an epic view.

 

Projected College Football Playoff After Week 14

1. Alabama

For a brief moment, the globe celebrated as the Alabama Crimson Tide dynasty came to a close, and the SEC took itself out of the CFP.

Then the second-half surge led by wideout Amari Cooper happened.

Alabama wound up with a 55-44 win over Auburn in the Iron Bowl but was down by halftime. Nick Saban must have one heck of a halftime speech, though, as ESPN CollegeFootball points out:

Cooper finished with 13 catches for 224 yards and three touchdowns, which proved enough to make up for 312 yards and four touchdowns to three interceptions by a shaky Blake Sims.

Alabama can rest easy now as it heads into a matchup with Missouri out of the SEC East.
ESPN Stats & Info explains why well enough:

While not necessarily as pretty as some may prefer, a win in the Iron Bowl is just that. For all the hoopla about this being a down year for the Crimson Tide, the team now has wins over Arkansas, Texas A&M, LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn.

Few teams have a better playoff resume at this point.

 

2. Oregon 

Easily the most dominant CFP hopeful this past weekend, Marcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks went out and made short work of Oklahoma State in the Civil War. 

There, the Ducks ran up a 30-3 lead by halftime and never looked back before the 47-19 finish. Mariota was his usual self with a 19-of-25 mark for 367 yards and four touchdowns, but try not to forget another 39 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

SportsCenter even captured a strong sense of foreshadowing during the performance:

Of course, Mariota had help. Running back Royce Freeman tallied 135 yards on 22 carries. The defense held a top-25 passing attack to 162 yards and one touchdown.

It was just another strong performance in a long line of them as of late. Many continue to expect the Ducks to falter as they have in past years, but no dice. Up next is an encounter with the only team to take down the Ducks this season: the Arizona Wildcats.

 

3. Florida State

Yet again, Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles have life.

Apparently the team just enjoys life on the edge. The team hardly got past Notre Dame. Same thing against Louisville. Ditto for Miami (Fla.) and Boston College.

The Seminoles were at it again Saturday, this time nearly taking a dive to the Florida Gators before a 24-19 victory. Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 was one of many to point out how shaky the Seminoles look right now:

Winston has all but poured gasoline and struck a match over his Heisman chances at this point. Saturday, he completed 50 percent of his passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns to four interceptions. Luckily, Dalvin Cook rushed for 144 yards, and Nick O'Leary grabbed a pair of touchdowns to bail out the quarterback.

"I made a few mistakes that hurt us, but it's a family here," Winston said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "Defense had my back, offensive had my back, offensive line did a great job and, wow, Dalvin Cook did it again."

It is hard to imagine a reality in which the Seminoles do not make the postseason at this juncture, but that is if the playoff were to start next week.

It doesn't. The Seminoles must still overcome Georgia Tech, a team that just took down No. 9 Georgia, 30-24.

Rest assured a number of one-loss teams will have a watchful eye on that one.

 

4. TCU

What, forget about TCU over the holiday?

Truthfully, had Ohio State's J.T. Barrett not suffered a season-ending injury Saturday, the Buckeyes would likely be the pick here. But it is hard to envision a world in which the committee votes in a fringe team that will start a backup under center—especially for the inaugural spectacle.

LostLettermen.com put it best:

All the Horned Frogs did on Thanksgiving Day was beat down Texas, 48-10. Quarterback Trevone Boykin threw for 233 yards and a pair of scores and added 50 more and a score on the ground for good measure.

TCU now rests at 10-1 and has wins over ranked opponents such as Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Kansas State this year. The lone blemish was a loss in a shootout to Baylor, but the Bears did not look so hot this past weekend in a near-upset loss to Texas Tech.

All that remains is for Boykin and Co. to take care of business against 2-9 Iowa State. TCU needed some help and got plenty of it.

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

 

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Heisman Watch 2014: Updated Race Predictions Following Rivalry Week

Rivalry week proved to be rather fruitful for Heisman contenders, as front-runners put on brilliant performances to further their cases for the coveted trophy. Although, in the end, there can be only one, and with the regular season in the books, speculating on that matter is a lot easier.

Heisman voters select their top three candidates with three points going to first place, two going to second and one going to third. Since that's the official selection method, it's fitting that these predictions also acknowledge a Big Three, so to speak.

However, before we get into the rankings, let's first take a glance at one honorable mention. Ohio State freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett put on a show this season, breaking all kinds of records en route to 45 total touchdowns. Unfortunately, his season ended Saturday due to a broken ankle, according to Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated:

We should all expect to see Barrett return to Heisman discussions when he's healthy next season. Now, on to the top three.

 

3. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

After what Cooper did in the Iron Bowl, it would be foolish to leave him out of the top three. He torched the Auburn defense for 224 yards and three touchdowns on 13 receptions, setting a new school record in the process.

Saturday marked the third time this season Cooper has gone over the 200-yard mark and his second with three total touchdowns. Needless to say, his performance garnered plenty of hype on Twitter. St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long tweeted a notable question:

Of course, the answer to that question is no. However, his season totals of 1,573 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns are incredibly impressive in the highly competitive SEC. It may not be good enough to take the Heisman, but it certainly gets him on the list.

 

2. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

Gordon continued his impressive streak Saturday, racking up 151 yards and a score on 29 carries and adding a touchdown reception for good measure. He's now up to an impressive 2,260 rushing yards on the season, putting him fourth on the FBS all-time list, according to SportsCenter:

Adding to his impressive resume, Gordon now has a total of 29 touchdowns (26 rushing, three receiving) in just 12 games. Of course, the running back's crowning achievement this season was his record-breaking 408-yard effort against Nebraska. While that record was broken a week later by Samaje Perine, let's also keep in mind Gordon was pulled early from that contest against the Cornhuskers.

Gordon will continue chasing Barry Sanders' all-time record in the Big Ten Championship Game against Ohio State. He needs another huge day to get there, but he's certainly more than capable. This talented ball-carrier is well-positioned to be the Heisman runner-up.

 

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

So, the Heisman race between Gordon and Mariota was rather close heading into rivalry week. Gordon put on a show, and Mariota needed to one-up the running back. He did—in a big way.

Mariota torched Oregon State in the Civil War, completing 19 of his 25 passing attempts for 367 yards and four touchdowns and adding 39 rushing yards and two more scores. That's the first time this season he has tallied six total touchdowns. Oh, he also did this, via Brian Davies of The Register-Guard:

Adding to Mariota's legacy with the Ducks, he broke Matt Barkley's Pac-12 record for touchdowns responsible for, via ESPN Stats and Info:

What makes that record even more impressive is the fact Mariota did it in three years—it took Barkley four.

Here we have a quarterback who is extremely efficient, rarely throws interceptions and accounts for just less than 50 touchdowns in one season—all while leading his team to an 11-1 record, a berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game and a potential spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Yeah, that's Heisman-worthy.

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SEC Championship 2014: Key Storylines to Watch in Alabama vs. Missouri

The SEC Championship Game might manage to draw a few eyeballs on Dec. 6.

When Alabama and Missouri meet to decide who will be crowned the SEC champion, there will be some serious College Football Playoff implications on the line. 

The Crimson Tide are looking to punch their ticket to a playoff berth. Nick Saban's team appears to be championship material once again, but it has to be proven on the field. 

Fans of chaos will be wearing their black and yellow, though. A win for Missouri could potentially send the playoff committee into complete chaos, as no SEC team would have fewer than two losses and college football's vaunted conference could be left without a horse in the race. 

Here's a look at the key storylines for when these two teams take the field in Atlanta. 

 

Can Maty Mauk Put Together a Complete Game?

It's fairly simple for Missouri. Maty Mauk must have a great game for Missouri to have a shot at upsetting the Tide in Atlanta. 

The Kenton, Ohio product has had an up-and-down season for the Tigers. His 22 touchdowns are among the best in the SEC this season, but his 11 interceptions are tied for most in the conference. However, he has shown a penchant for stepping up in the clutch. 

His fourth-quarter performances against Tennessee and Arkansas to close out the season have shown that, per David Morrison of the Coumbia Daily Tribune:

Of course, those numbers don't tell the whole story. For instance, in the game against Tennessee, things weren't going all that well for Mauk, as the SEC Network pointed out:

There is hope for Mauk to get the job done, though. Ole Miss' Bo Wallace has been equally inconsistent, and the Rebels quarterback was able to find the end zone three times and throw for 251 yards in the Crimson Tide's lone loss of the season. 

Nick Marshall's 456 passing yards in the Iron Bowl isn't exactly a bad omen for Mauk either. 

 

Can Missouri Slow Down Amari Cooper?

It's no secret that a key component to Alabama's game plan against the stingy Missouri defense will be feeding Amari Cooper. The star wideout is coming off an Iron Bowl performance in which he racked up 224 yards on 13 catches with three touchdowns. 

However, Missouri just might be the team that can slow him down. The Tigers secondary has allowed just two 100-yard receivers this season and are eighth in passing yards allowed per attempt in the country, per TeamRankings.com.

Missouri has the defense to slow the Alabama running game. The unit is surrendering just 3.4 yards per carry on the season. That means that Cooper's ability to stretch the defense vertically will be even more important to Lane Kiffin and Co. 

The Tigers have done a great job of bottling up explosive receivers thus far, but Cooper has proved time and time again he's in a league of his own. 

 

Which Defense Will Embrace the Big Stage?

Its no secret that both of these teams pride themselves on playing stout defense. Alabama might not have shown it against an explosive Auburn offense, but the Tide are once again one of the best defenses in the country. 

Over in the SEC East, the Tigers have utilized one of the top defensive lines in the country to great numbers. Here's a look at how the two units stack up:

The difference in this one might just be the offenses. With two great defenses on the field, it's likely going to come down to the team with the offense built to control the game. 

That would be Alabama. Between Amari Cooper's ability to open up things in the passing game and the treacherous duo of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, the Tide simply have too many options for the Tigers to consistently account for all of them. 

With a berth in the first College Football Playoff on the line, it's tough to envision the Bama defense not bouncing back emphatically after giving up 44 points to Auburn. 

Prediction: Alabama 27, Missouri 14

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Big Ten Championship Game 2014: TV Info, Prediction for Ohio State vs. Wisconsin

Ohio State and Wisconsin secured berths in the Big Ten Championship game after a couple of hard-earned victories on Saturday.

The Badgers rode running back Melvin Gordon to a victory over Minnesota, with the Heisman hopeful shining in yet another brilliant performance. Unfortunately, Ohio State's win came at a big cost.

Electrifying Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett suffered a devastating ankle fracture against Michigan and will miss the remainder of the season, according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

The loss is devastating, but Ohio State has a very well-rounded team and went on to defeat the Wolverines 42-28. Expect a compelling Big Ten title game despite the quarterback's absence.

As we impatiently await the return of these teams to the gridiron, let's take a look at the game's essential viewing information, followed by a preview and prediction  for this monumental Big Ten clash.

 

Viewing Information

When: Saturday, December 6

Where: Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana

Time: 8:17 p.m. ET

Channel: Fox

Live Stream: Fox Sports Go

 

Preview and Prediction

The Buckeyes are known for their potent offense, which features a dual-threat quarterback capable of making plays with both his arm and his legs. Though Barrett won't be playing in this contest, Ohio State still has that element in Cardale Jones.

The sophomore shined when he received playing time against Illinois earlier this season. Taking full advantage of his opportunity, Jones completed five of his nine passing attempts for 82 yards and two touchdowns, adding seven carries for 47 yards.

According to Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod, head coach Urban Meyer sure seems to have faith in the quarterback:

Jones will be accompanied in the backfield by running back Ezekiel Elliott, who carried 17 times for 121 yards and two touchdowns against Michigan. Elliott has been extremely efficient this season, eclipsing the 100-yard mark each time he received at least 20 carries. He'll need to have a phenomenal game against a Badgers defense that has been fantastic against the run all season long.

Wisconsin has a completely different philosophy to Ohio State. While the Buckeyes are more of a high-octane squad, the Badgers run a ground-and-pound scheme that features Gordon, one of the season's top Heisman candidates.

According to College Football 24/7, Gordon's 151 yards on Saturday propelled him to fourth on college football's all-time rushing list:

Gordon is well over 2,000 yards on the season heading into the Big Ten title game. He's recorded at least 120 rushing yards and a touchdown in all but one game this season. The highlight of his year was a 408-yard, four-touchdown performance against Nebraska, which set a new FBS single-game record—though that was broken by Samaje Perine one week later.

No matter for Gordon, though. He has plenty of other records to his name, via theScore:

Wisconsin is stout in all areas on the defensive side of the ball. Heading into Saturday, the Badgers were ranked fourth in the nation against the run, third against the pass, fourth in scoring defense and second in total defense. That's about as good as it gets.

Ohio State is certainly a very talented team. However, Jones' inexperience will hurt the Buckeyes against a ferocious opposing defense on such a big stage. Wisconsin has the ability to keep the quarterback out of rhythm by sustaining long drives and then applying pressure on defense.

Jones would need to replicate what Barrett has done all season to give Ohio State a chance against a tough Badgers team, and that's highly unlikely.

Prediction: Wisconsin 27, Ohio State 23

 

All team statistics and rankings courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of November 29.

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ACC Championship Game 2014: Bold Predictions for Florida State vs. Georgia Tech

The stage is set for the 2014 ACC Championship Game featuring the Florida State Seminoles and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. The Seminoles finished the regular season undefeated after surviving a scare from Florida. The Yellow Jackets defeated Georgia in the latest edition of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate, as an overtime interception preserved a 30-24 win.

With both teams riding big waves of momentum, we should be in for quite a title game.

Will Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston lead his team to a 29th consecutive victory, or will the resilient Yellow Jackets earn their third straight win over a ranked opponent? As we await the answer to that quandary, let's take a look at some bold predictions for each team in the ACC Championship Game.

 

Bold Predictions: Florida State

Dalvin Cook Totals 200 Yards from Scrimmage, Touchdown

Cook has been phenomenal this season in a complementary role to Karlos Williams out of the Seminoles backfield. Although, whenever the freshman was given a chance to step up this season, he's answered the call. That situation played out Saturday, as Williams left the game with a concussion, via Zach Abolverdi of The Gainesville Sun:

Once Cook took the lead role, he simply went off. He carried 24 times for 144 yards—both season highs—and added two receptions for 28 yards. His breakaway speed and burst through the line of scrimmage were well on display, as he averaged an impressive 6.0 yards per carry.

Georgia Tech hasn't been overly stout against the run this season. The Yellow Jackets came into Saturday allowing 165.5 rushing yards per game and gave up a total of 194 yards to Nick Chubb and Co. in the regular-season finale.

Even if Williams does play in the championship game, expect Cook to see a slightly increased workload based on what he showed against Florida. With Winston struggling in the passing game, the Seminoles will lean on the run, and Cook will benefit.

 

Seminoles Hold Georgia Tech to 200 Yards of Offense

This is most certainly a bold prediction; however, when considering how one-dimensional the Georgia Tech offense is, it's not completely out of the question.

Yellow Jackets quarterback Justin Thomas isn't much of a passer. He's what many analysts consider a game-manager. In fact, he's thrown for less than 100 yards in five different games this season and completed more than eight passes just twice.

Georgia Tech relies very heavily on the running game to move the ball, as Thomas excels as a dual-threat quarterback and Zach Laskey has been the team's bell cow. That may be a trait that spoils the Yellow Jackets' ACC championship hopes, as Florida State has been solid against the run this season.

The Seminoles were allowing an average of just 3.75 yards per carry prior to Saturday's contest and allowed just 3.4 yards per rush to the Gators. That defensive effort allowed Winston to notch this statistic, via ESPN Stats and Info:

If Florida State keeps up that trend, it would take more than 40 carries for Georgia Tech to reach 150 yards on the ground. As long as the Seminoles don't allow any big passing plays over the top of the secondary, holding Georgia Tech to less than 200 yards will be within reach.

 

Bold Predictions: Georgia Tech

Yellow Jackets Pick off Jameis Winston Four Times

If this bold prediction comes to fruition, we could then call it a trend. After all, Winston produced one of the worst performances of his career on Saturday, completing just 12 of his 24 passing attempts for 125 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.

Winston has struggled with ball security this season, throwing at least one interception in nine of his 11 games. Saturday marked the fifth time this season the quarterback has tossed multiple picks in a single game.

Georgia Tech has been solid against the pass this season. The Yellow Jackets were allowing an average of 223.3 passing yards per game and limiting opponents to 12 touchdowns through the air coming into Saturday. They fared nicely against Hutson Mason, limiting Georgia's signal-caller to just 194 yards and one touchdown and picking him off to end the game.

That interception marked Georgia Tech's 17th of the season. The team has been accumulating picks in all sorts of ways this season. Here's a look back at one of its gems from a game against North Carolina State, via Bleacher Report:

This is one of the nation's best ball-hawking squads, and if Winston isn't careful, he could have another disastrous outing.

 

Georgia Tech Gets the Win, Ends Seminoles' Streak

When Florida State defeated Florida on Saturday evening, social media erupted with updates of the team's ongoing winning streak. Here's an example, via ESPN:

Well, this bold prediction has that streak coming to an end. After all, just how many times can the Seminoles come from behind to notch nail-biting victories? The team received big scares from Notre Dame, Miami and Boston College, but Saturday's contest against Florida was different.

Instead of Winston dominating the second half of the game like he's done so many times in the past, he continued to look mediocre, relying on the team's defense and running game to squeeze out the win. That's not a good sign against Georgia Tech, and here's why.

The Yellow Jackets are a versatile running team that is capable of sustaining drives and killing the clock. They have the ability to keep Winston on the sidelines, preventing him from getting into any kind of rhythm. If that's the case, expect the quarterback to start forcing balls downfield against this ball-hawking secondary. One errant pass in that situation could lead to an enormous upset victory for Georgia Tech.

 

All team statistics courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of November 29.

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Pac-12 Championship Game: TV Info, Preview and Prediction for Oregon vs. Arizona

Even though Oregon had already secured a spot in the Pac-12 championship, the Ducks took care of business Saturday, handily defeating Oregon State in the Civil War. One day prior, the Arizona Wildcats held off Arizona State in the Duel in the Desert, earning a berth in the title game as well.

The Pac-12 always delivers exciting action on the gridiron, and its championship game could turn out to be one of the year's most intriguing contests. While Oregon has looked virtually unbeatable for the last couple of seasons, Arizona continues to give the Ducks fits, winning the last two meetings.

The Wildcats handed Oregon its only loss this season, winning 31-24 in Eugene. Since then, the Ducks have won seven straight, but Arizona dropped games against USC and UCLA. Can Anu Solomon and Co. get it done again, or will Heisman hopeful Marcus Mariota be too much to overcome for a third consecutive time?

This will be one game you don't want to miss, so take a good look at all of its pertinent viewing information before these teams return to the field.

 

Viewing Information

When: Friday, December 5

Where: Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California

Time: 9 p.m. ET

Channel: Fox

Live Stream: Fox Sports Go

 

Preview and Prediction

If there's one thing we should all be able to agree on before this game takes place, it's that we shouldn't expect too much defense from either side. Both of these teams have accumulated wins due to their prolific offenses winning shootouts, and that trend is likely to continue in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

So, what do these offenses have to offer?

Mariota has been one of the nation's most efficient and prolific quarterbacks over the last couple of years. He's a favorite in the Heisman race and is considered to be one of the top options at No. 1 overall in the 2015 NFL draft. However, ESPN Stats & Info tweeted this statistic:

What makes Mariota so special is his efficiency. He simply doesn't throw interceptions. While that aforementioned statistic is accurate regarding Mariota's struggles against Arizona, none of those interceptions came when these teams faced off earlier this season.

With a bevy of weapons at Mariota's disposal, Oregon should be able to take significant advantage of a porous Arizona defense that is allowing an average of 159.5 rushing yards per game and 275.2 passing yards per game and has allowed a total of 306 points this season.

Combating Mariota and Co. will be Arizona's Solomon. The freshman was on fire earlier in the season; however, his recent production has tapered off, as he's thrown two touchdown passes and two interceptions over his last three games.

Although, Solomon has been dealing with an ankle injury lately, according to Pac-12 Networks:

Apparently, he wasn't bothered too much by the ailment, completing 15 of his 21 passing attempts for 208 yards and two touchdowns against Arizona State. Those may not be overly gaudy numbers, but they don't need to be with the talented Nick Wilson in the backfield.

This season, Wilson carried 204 times for 1,263 yards, averaging 6.2 yards per rush, and 15 touchdowns. He finished the regular season on a high note, rushing for 178 yards and three scores against the Sun Devils. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports tweeted his thoughts on the ball-carrier during the contest:

Wilson was also instrumental in Arizona's win over Oregon earlier in the season, rushing for 92 yards and two touchdowns, adding one 34-yard touchdown reception.

Arizona's running game will be an enormous key to success in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Excessively running the ball against a Ducks team that struggles in that department will sustain long drives and keep Mariota on the sidelines.

History suggests we're in for a down-to-the-wire contest this time around. With both teams primed to score plenty of points, this one could certainly come down to who has the ball last. In this case, it's simply too difficult to pick against Mariota and a Ducks team on its way to the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Prediction: Oregon 45, Arizona 42

 

All team statistics courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of November 29.

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Iron Bowl Win Reminds Us Revenge Is Nick Saban's Middle Name

Watching Nick Saban on the sideline, even the untrained eye doesn’t take long to pick up on the fact there’s an acidic harshness about the man, an overt willingness to climb down the throat of any slacker who’s only giving 99.99 percent.

And it never shows more than when Saban’s Alabama football team brings a bare-knuckle attitude to a revenge game, seeking to administer some payback justice.

Saban’s teams bring an extra roundhouse punch when facing an opponent who beat them the last time out, as was overwhelmingly apparent during the decisive minutes of Saturday’s 55-44 victory over Auburn in the Iron Bowl.

This was the fourth consecutive time that a Saban-coached Alabama team has won in the revenge role against an opponent that threatened to topple the Tide’s place atop the nation’s toughest football conference.

Even more impressive is that, since taking over in Tuscaloosa in 2007, Saban has a 9-1 overall record in SEC games where Alabama had the opportunity to avenge a loss and prevent an opponent from mounting a two-game winning streak against the Crimson Tide.

That march of dominance took firm hold in 2009, when Alabama and Florida met as the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2-ranked teams in the SEC championship game. The 31-13 victory left tears on Tim Tebow's face and signaled that the Gators no longer owned the conference as Alabama went on to win its  first national championship under Saban. 

The vengeance theme continued last season against Texas A&M. After a Johnny Manziel-led upset ended a 13-game Alabama win streak in 2012, the Tide bounced back with a 49-42 victory at College Station.

The only exception to Alabama’s history of retribution under Saban came when Louisiana State followed up its 24-12 victory in 2010 with a 9-6 survival in overtime in 2011. But Alabama still had the last word that season.

The two teams met again in the 2011 season’s BCS championship game, and Alabama reclaimed superiority with a 21-0 romp that gave Saban the second of his three national championships with the Tide.

But Saturday’s victory may have been even sweeter.

Nothing will ever totally erase the stunned agony of seeing Auburn win last year’s Iron Bowl on the famous “Kick Six,” when the Tigers’ Chris Davis ran back a missed field goal 109 yards for a game-winning touchdown. But Saturday’s victory will at least dull the memory of what may be Alabama’s most painful defeat.

The retaliation didn’t come easily, however.

Down 26-21 at the half, Saban was compelled to deliver a quick speech, telling his team that:

This is a gut-check as to what kind of heart you have, what kind of character you have and what kind of competitor you are in how you go out and play the second half of this game. I believe in you, I think we can win and I think we will win if everybody makes a commitment to doing their best in the second half.

In a game that was filled with explosive numbers, defensive-minded Saban ultimately beat Auburn coach Gus Malzahn at his own high-scoring game. Saban no doubt felt the sting of seeing his defense yield a school-record 630 yards, but he found the perfect salve when his offense rattled off a 28-0 scoring binge from late in the third quarter until the outcome was decided with 3:42 left.

What made this revenge game a little different for Alabama was that Saban’s demand for perfection found itself at a crossroads in the third quarter, after Blake Sims threw his third interception. The Alabama quarterback typically has done his best work in home games, but this didn’t start out as one of them, and his errant arm put his team in a 33-21 ditch.

Backup QB Jacob Coker began throwing on the sideline, and for a few moments it appeared Saban would abandon the signal-caller who had guided the Tide to the No. 1 position in the College Football Playoff rankings.

But then Saban proved he does possess at least a little patience, and his decision to stick with Sims was rewarded with five consecutive touchdown drives that restored Alabama’s national championship hopes.

“Blake just didn’t seem to be having his best stuff, and I talked to him about needing to respond and do a little better,” Saban told reporters afterward. “We really didn’t think about making a change, but if things kept going the way they were, we probably would’ve given Jake a chance.”

Saban no doubt will spend this week hammering his defense back into place, but give the man credit for adapting and realizing that he sometimes will look at the scoreboard and wonder if he’s playing in the Big 12.

“The way we’re headed in college football, there’s going to be games like this and we’re going to have to win games like this,” Saban readily conceded to reporters.

And there’s only one reason to doubt Alabama as it heads to Atlanta for Saturday’s SEC championship game against Missouri: The only other time ’Bama has faced Missouri during the Saban era the Tide won handily, by the count of 42-10 in 2012.

So no, this won’t be a revenge game.

 

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

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Bowl Projections 2014: Playoff Predictions, Odds Before Critical Week 15

Florida State once again survived by the skin of its teeth, this time against archrival Florida, but it was maybe the fourth-biggest story from Week 14 in the College Football Playoff race. 

That is certainly a testament to the unpredictable nature of this sport on a week-to-week basis, especially as the schedule winds down. After all, fans saw the No. 4 team in the rankings lose, Alabama put on an aerial show in a second-half comeback against Auburn and a disheartening injury to a Heisman Trophy candidate all within the course of a few hours Saturday.

With all that in mind, read on for some updated playoff projections and a brief look ahead to Week 15.

 

Scott Polacek's Playoff Projections

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

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

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

 

Odds Shark National Championship Odds

*Odds to win national championship courtesy of Odds Shark, as of Sunday morning at 1:30 a.m. ET.

 

Week 15 Playoff Implications Preview

Oregon and Arizona will jump-start Week 15’s slate of conference championship tilts Friday night in the Pac-12 title game.

That matchup is certainly juicy enough on its own, but the Wildcats were the only team to beat the Ducks this entire season. Arizona pressured Marcus Mariota the entire game and picked up timely scores from its offense to shock the college football world. 

While the Wildcats have lost twice since then, Oregon has been a completely different team, as Dan Rubenstein of The Solid Verbal pointed out:

For a number of reasons, Saturday’s most intriguing matchup is the Big Ten Championship Game between Wisconsin and Ohio State.

For one, it will be a showdown between two potential Top 10 teams when the updated College Football Playoff rankings are released Tuesday. It will also give the nation and selection committee a chance to see what the Buckeyes look like without J.T. Barrett, who broke his ankle in devastating fashion in Saturday’s win over Michigan. 

Paul Myerberg of USA Today had a rather amusing take on the situation:

While much of the discussion surrounding this game will be about Barrett’s injury, Melvin Gordon gets to go up against a run defense that allowed 228 yards to Tevin Coleman and 145 yards to David Cobb. He could solidify his Heisman Trophy campaign with a big game and a victory.

Elsewhere Saturday, Alabama takes on Missouri in the SEC Championship Game.

Missouri lost to Indiana earlier in the season, and that is the only thing that is ever mentioned when discussing the Tigers. Still, they won seven out of eight SEC games, although that is largely because they avoided Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and LSU on the schedule. They were blown out by Georgia and simply don’t have the talent to deal with Alabama.

The Crimson Tide are a machine that have won seven in a row and will be playing for an assured playoff spot.

The other marquee conference title clash comes in the ACC between Florida State and Georgia Tech.

We know how this is going to end—Florida State will flirt with disaster all game and then find a way to win in the final minutes, just like it always does. One thing to watch out for, though, is Georgia Tech’s powerful running attack out of the triple-option formation. If the Yellow Jackets get a lead, they can bleed the clock by continuously moving the chains on the ground.

The Big 12 games between Kansas State and Baylor and Iowa State and TCU will be somewhat forgotten about with all the conference championships across the sport, but there are major playoff implications in those ones as well.

The Horned Frogs and Bears are battling with Ohio State for the No. 4 seed, but TCU coach Gary Patterson was more worried about what he can control, according to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com.

"You know, this team deserves to go home and win a championship," Patterson said. "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."

While it would make Patterson happy, TCU beating 2-9 Iowa State would do absolutely nothing for its playoff resume, but Baylor beating No. 12 Kansas State would shrink the perceived gap between the Bears and the Horned Frogs. 

If that was the case, that head-to-head victory that Baylor boasts over TCU may finally come into play in the playoff race.

 

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College Football Bowl Projections 2014: Latest Playoff Predictions After Week 14

It was right about now in past college football seasons that commentators and fans were trying to understand the algorithms behind the BCS rankings and what it would take for certain teams to move up or down.

Now, the College Football Playoff contenders only have to worry about impressing a selection committee of humans with quality wins, style points and conference championships.

Week 15 represents an opportunity for a number of potential playoff teams to clinch their respective conferences. How much weight the selection committee will put on those league titles remains to be seen, but it is sure to make a difference.

Here is a look at my latest playoff projections, which operate under the idea that conference titles will be given plenty of credence, before looking at some matchups to watch in Week 15.

 

Scott Polacek's Playoff Projections

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

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

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

 

Week 15 In-Game Matchups to Watch

Week 15 features a handful of conference championships and important battles that will shape the playoff race. However, there are individual matchups within those contests that will determine the winners.

In the Big Ten Championship, Ohio State's run defense will get its stiffest test of the year against Melvin Gordon Saturday night. How it performs takes on even more importance considering superstar quarterback J.T. Barrett is out for the remainder of the season with a broken ankle.

The Buckeyes let Minnesota’s David Cobb rumble for 145 yards and three touchdowns, Indiana’s Tevin Coleman run for 228 yards and three touchdowns and even Michigan’s Drake Johnson tally two rushing touchdowns.

Gordon is a different animal than all of them and has a ridiculous 2,260 rushing yards on the season, which is good for 188 yards a game. He also put up a head-turning 408 rushing yards against Nebraska in three quarters and is a one-man wrecking crew who could ruin the Buckeyes' playoff hopes with another monster game.

Gordon could also solidify himself as a serious Heisman Trophy candidate behind Oregon’s Marcus Mariota with a productive game.

Elsewhere, Florida State’s tendency to fall behind early in games will be tested against Georgia Tech’s ball-control offense that will keep the clock running and the chains moving.

The Seminoles struggled to pull away from Oklahoma State, Clemson, North Carolina State, Notre Dame, Louisville, Miami, Boston College and Florida this season but somehow won all of them in the final quarter. 

The Seminoles still deserve credit for winning all those games, as head coach Jimbo Fisher said, according to 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.

But, that's not our ultimate accomplishment and we've got a lot more to play for.

First up before that ultimate accomplishment is a date with the Yellow Jackets, who are fourth in the nation in rushing yards per game and are built to protect leads.

If Florida State once again finds itself behind down the stretch, it may not even have the ball to attempt a comeback in the closing minutes if Georgia Tech is keeping it on the ground.

While the Buckeyes rush defense going up against Gordon and the Seminoles going up against their own tendency to fall behind early and the clock control of Georgia Tech are conceptual matchups, the individual showdown between Oregon’s Mariota and Arizona’s Scooby Wright will play a large role in determining who wins the Pac-12.

Mariota is a household name, but Wright is an under-the-radar leader on the defensive side. Joel Klatt of Fox Sports pointed out just how impressive Wright is, while Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports was seemingly disappointed by Wright’s lack of national recognition.

Wright sacked and stripped Mariota in Arizona’s regular-season win over Oregon in the Ducks’ final drive. The fact that Wright was the one who scooped the fumble up only felt appropriate.

His counterpart, Mariota, is the Heisman Trophy front-runner and has simply eviscerated defenses this season. Mariota will be fresh off an Oregon State win where he accounted for six touchdowns and more than 400 yards of total offense by himself. Most teams don’t get that type of production in a day.

However, he only finished with a single rushing yard and two touchdowns in his first matchup with Arizona. Wright's tenacious defense was a big part of that middle-of-the-road production. 

He will have to control the tempo from the defensive side again Friday if the Wildcats have any hope of upsetting the Ducks for the second time this year.

 

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Auburn vs. Alabama: Iron Bowl Win Shows Crimson Tide Should Be Playoff Favorite

The general college football public can debate who the fourth team in the College Football Playoff all it wants after a hectic rivalry week. Alabama proved that it should be the favorite to win the whole thing when the tournament actually transpires on Jan. 1. 

The Crimson Tide weren't perfect in the Iron Bowl. The naysayers will immediately point out that the usually dominant defense gave up 630 total yards, couldn't defend the deep ball very well and were let off the hook by some questionable red-zone execution by Auburn. 

Yet, the Crimson Tide still won by a comfortable margin when the clock hit zero at Bryant-Denny Stadium. 

Here are a few takeaways from the 55-44 victory that has the Crimson Tide looking like the team to beat in college football once again. 

 

History Repeats Itself

The Iron Bowl isn't just a massive in-state rivalry these days. Lately it's become an indicator of things to come on the national stage. As ESPN Stats & Info points out, the winner of the game has gone on to win the national championship in four of the last five seasons:

Yes, every year is played in a vacuum. But a pattern of five years is saying something. Auburn might not have been the most consistent team this season, but Alabama got the Tigers' best shot. 

Of all the top teams who failed to win in dominant fashion on Saturday, Alabama did so against the best opponent. The ability to win in an emotional atmosphere is crucial to postseason success, and the Tide showed they could do just that on Saturday. 

 

The Tide Can Win in Many Ways

This can't be overstated. There's value in a team that has multiple ways to win. The defensive effort from Alabama might be cause for concern to many, but it also showed that Alabama has the firepower to thrive in a shootout game. 

We already know Bama can win in ugly fashion. They've been known as a ground-and-pound team with excellent defense throughout the Nick Saban era. They've done it against the likes of Arkansas, LSU and Mississippi State. 

What we didn't know was how they would respond against an offense that finds ways to score against their vaunted defense. Turns out, they can handle a shootout just fine. The Tide answered with 55 points and 539 total yards of their own. 

With Baylor, TCU, Oregon and Ohio State all in the top five in scoring offense, per CFBStats.com, and in contention to be an Alabama opponent in the playoff, the defense will give up some points. Now we know it's not the end of the road for Bama. 

 

They're Resilient

It's been said about Florida State all season. There's something to be said for a team that simply finds a way to win. 

Unlike the 'Noles, the Tide haven't been put in too many bad situations this season. They found themselves in one in the Iron Bowl. Auburn rode a great first half and hot start to the second to a 33-21 lead. 

Wide reciever Amari Cooper really summed it up best after the game, via Jon Solomon of CBS Sports, "We're relentless. We don't want to lose. I guess you can say we'll win by any means."

Florida State has been lauded for that quality all season. Alabama just proved that they can also come from behind when the situation calls for it.

 

Blake Sims Is Championship Material

Coming into this season, one question loomed large over Alabama's season: Can Blake Sims really replace A.J. McCarron? Through the first half, it really looked like the answer was a resounding no. The senior became the first Saban-coached quarterback to throw three interceptions in a game by the third quarter.

But just like his team, Sims didn't let a rough start bring him down. The senior displayed great leadership by staying the course and believing he could turn things around, via Solomon:

I wasn't frustrated... I try to keep my body language up, let the team know my spirit was still up because I felt like if my body language got down, the team was going to get down, and this wasn't the game for that.

Sims' relentless attitude paid off in a big way. The athletic quarterback made plenty of clutch plays down the stretch including the 11-yard scamper that put the Tide up for good in the fourth quarter. College GameDay tweeted the highlight:

The run was just part of an admirable turnaround. Marc Torrence of Bleacher Report provided the stats for Sims after pick No. 3:

Behind every dominant Alabama team in the Saban era has been a quarterback who has what it takes to make plays down the stretch and win championships. After watching Sims take ownership of a bad first half and lead a comeback victory, it looks like they have that once again. 

Sims might not have the cache with fans of stars like Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Trevone Boykin and Bryce Petty. He's playing in a much different system with a much different role. But he's more than able of outdueling them down the stretch of a big game. 

Add it all up and it looks like the new system for crowning a champion could lead to the coronation of a familiar face when it's all over. 

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SEC Championship Game 2014: Bold Predictions for Alabama vs. Missouri

Missouri came from behind to knock off the dangerous Arkansas 21-14 Friday in the Battle Line Rivalry, but the Tigers didn't know who they'd be facing in the SEC championship game until just about 24 hours later.

When Ole Miss defeated Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl, Alabama earned a berth in the title game; however, that didn't stop the Crimson Tide from showing up in a big way Saturday evening. Auburn came to play in the Iron Bowl, but in the end, Alabama emerged victorious 55-44, remaining in the hunt for the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Both of these teams are riding high following some impressive performances during college football's rivalry week. We're in for an enticing showdown of SEC juggernauts, and before these teams take the gridiron once again, let's have a little fun with some bold predictions for the championship game.

 

Bold Predictions: Alabama

Amari Cooper Tallies 250 Receiving Yards, Three Touchdowns

Cooper has been one of the nation's most prolific wide receivers this season, and he reaffirmed that fact Saturday in the Iron Bowl, tying his own school record of 224 yards receiving, adding three touchdowns for good measure. That marks the third time this season, he's eclipsed 200 yards, so why not go for 250?

It's clear Cooper is good enough to beat whatever coverage is being rolled in his direction. He caught a team-high 13 passes against Auburn. The next closest receiver to that number was DeAndrew White with three.

Grantland's Rembert Browne came away very impressed:

Let's take nothing away from Missouri. The Tigers have a very solid secondary. In fact, they allowed an average of just 204.1 passing yards per game this season. But, seriously, is there really anyone capable of stopping Cooper right now? Probably not.

 

Alabama Holds Missouri Under 100 Rushing Yards

Heading into the Iron Bowl, the Crimson Tide were allowing an average of just 2.76 yards per carry and only gave up two rushing touchdowns all season long. Then, Alabama met a dangerous Auburn attack, and while the Tigers racked up 174 rushing yards and a score, they averaged just 3.7 yards per carry.

Alabama is about to face yet another dangerous rushing offense. This time, it will be Missouri's attack led by running back Russell Hansbrough. Although, in typical Crimson Tide fashion, the defense will continue to penetrate and stifle Tigers ball-carriers.

On Friday, Arkansas held Missouri to 3.9 yards per carry, and while the Razorbacks have been playing well of late, they don't have as stifling a defense as Alabama. The status of Hansbrough is up in the air following a late ankle injury suffered against Arkansas, but according to Joe Walljasper of the Columbia Daily Tribune, indications are the ball-carrier is fine:

Regardless, having a lead running back who isn't 100 percent against Alabama isn't a good situation for Missouri. The team has a capable ball-carrier in Marcus Murphy, but the way things look heading into this contest, the Crimson Tide has the upper hand in this department.

 

Bold Predictions: Missouri

Maty Mauk Passes for 350 Yards, Three Touchdowns

Mauk began the 2014 season with a frenzy of touchdowns, throwing 12 in his first three games. However, he only passed for 10 more throughout the remainder of the regular season. Well, expect to see a bounce-back showing from the quarterback against one of the nation's stingiest defenses.

Alabama ranked 26th in the nation against the pass entering Saturday, allowing just 198.2 passing yards per game. Then, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall lit up the Crimson Tide like a Christmas tree, accumulating 456 passing yards and three touchdowns. Mauk has the tools to nearly duplicate that feat.

Bud Sasser has been the team's most reliable wide receiver, and he came through against Arkansas, racking up nine receptions for 127 yards. Senior Jimmy Hunt has also come around lately, scoring in each of the team's last two contests and displaying his big-play ability.

Here's a look at Hunt's 73-yard grab from Friday's contest, via ESPN College Football:

If Hansbrough is hampered in any way, that will only increase Missouri's reliance on the pass. Having a pass-catching running back like Murphy on the field more often will only help Mauk's production. The sophomore quarterback may not have put up a 300-yard game since September, but that's about to change.

 

Missouri Scores Two Defensive Touchdowns

If defense wins championships, the Tigers have a fair shot at taking one from the Crimson Tide in the title game. Plenty of ball hawks reside on Missouri's defense, and they've accumulated a total of 22 takeaways in 12 games this season.

Alabama quarterback Blake Sims showed a great deal of efficiency throughout the season, but he suffered a major setback Saturday against Auburn, throwing three interceptions early in the game. That marked the first time this season Sims threw multiple picks.

Bleacher Report's Dan Hope tweeted his thoughts on the quarterback's struggles:

While Sims was able to right the ship later in the game, we can speculate his confidence will be a little shaken going forward. How do you rattle a shaken quarterback? With a good pass rush.

Missouri's pass rush has caused plenty of problems for opposing quarterbacks this season. According to CFBStats.com, the Tigers have accumulated 38 sacks through 12 games, tallying three or more in seven contests this year. Shane Ray has been a monster in this category, totaling 13.5 sacks in 2014, via ESPN.com. He's the kind of player who can be a difference-maker in this situation.

By pressuring Sims, Missouri has a good chance of creating some takeaways and use their speed to take a couple to the house.


All team statistics and rankings via NCAA.com unless otherwise noted and current as of November 30 at 1:30 a.m. ET.

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Alabama vs. Missouri: Assessing Matchups to Watch in SEC Championship 2014

Both the Missouri Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide proved worthy of a spot in the SEC Championship Game after a couple of impressive showings during rivalry week.

Missouri showed a great deal of resilience in a 21-14 victory over Arkansas, and Alabama overcame early mistakes to defeat Auburn 55-44.

The Tigers and the Crimson Tide share plenty of similarities. They both run balanced offenses featuring bruising running backs and game-altering wide receivers, along with stout defenses that are capable of controlling field position and the pace of the game.

Needless to say, there are several key matchups to keep an eye on in this impending clash.

Before these teams take the field on December 6 to crown this year's SEC champion, let's take a look at the matchups that will prove to be deciding factors in the game's outcome.

 

Missouri Secondary vs. Amari Cooper

By now, the nation knows exactly how dangerous Cooper can be on any given week. However, no one knows better than the Auburn Tigers.

The prolific wide receiver tore up the Iron Bowl, racking up 13 receptions for 224 yards and three touchdowns. Cooper was so dangerous, he set a new game record through just three quarters, via ESPN Stats & Info:

That game marked the third time this season Cooper went over the 200-yard mark and his fourth outing with multiple touchdowns. Missouri really needs to focus its attention on the junior wideout.

Luckily for the Tigers, they have the talent to contain Cooper as well as anyone. Through 12 games this season, Missouri is allowing an average of just 204.1 passing yards per game.

They've been burned at times, though. Josh Reynolds of Texas A&M caught five receptions for 125 yards and two scores in a November 15 clash.

The key for Missouri is to get pressure on quarterback Blake Sims. The Tigers have maintained one of the nation's best pass rushes this season, tallying 40 sacks. Conversely, Alabama has been one of the best teams against the rush, allowing just 10 entering Saturday's game.

 

Alabama Run Defense vs. Missouri Backfield

Missouri has been riding its talented running backs to wins for the majority of the season, as Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy have combined to form a dangerous two-headed monster.

The duo was instrumental in defeating Arkansas on Friday, combining to carry 31 times for 149 yards and a touchdown.

Hansbrough has been the team's featured back this season; however, his status remains up in the air for the title game following an ankle injury late in the contest against the Razorbacks.

Fortunately, Pete Scantlebury of Rivals.com relayed a favorable message from Murphy about his counterpart:

Alabama continues to have one of the stingiest run defenses year after year, and 2014 was no exception. Heading into Saturday's clash against Auburn, the Crimson Tide were allowing an average of just 2.76 yards per carry and 85.3 yards per game, ranking second in the nation.

Auburn's attack did get to Alabama a bit, as the Tigers accumulated 174 rushing yards, but they were limited to just 3.7 yards per carry.

If the Crimson Tide can do the same against Missouri, it will be difficult for quarterback Maty Mauk to successfully orchestrate a one-dimensional defense.

 

Quarterbacks vs. Themselves

This may seem like a rather unusual category—and it is, but it will be one of the most decisive factors in the SEC Championship Game.

Sims has been extremely efficient for the Crimson Tide this season, throwing just four interceptions through the team's first 11 games. That took a big turn for the worse Saturday, as the quarterback tossed three early picks against Auburn.

In fact, head coach Nick Saban appeared to contemplate putting backup Jacob Coker in the game, via Jon Solomon of CBSSports.com:

The senior signal-caller was finally able to get it going later in the game thanks to the efforts of Cooper, but his confidence may be a bit down going forward. We'll see if he can rise above those mistakes against Missouri.

Mauk hasn't been the most consistent quarterback this season. He's completing just 53.5 percent of his passes and has thrown 11 interceptions to 22 touchdown passes.

He had one terrible showing earlier in the season against Georgia, throwing four picks and completing just nine of his 21 passing attempts in that contest.

Recently, he's fared better, throwing just two interceptions over his last five games. Mihir Bhagat of KOMU-TV tweeted the quarterback's progression prior to the team's contest against Arkansas:

He's certainly been looking more precise of late, but can he keep it up against an Alabama defense that recorded its 10th interception of the season on Saturday? The sophomore signal-caller will be heavily tested.

 

All team rankings and statistics courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of November 30 at 2:45 a.m. ET.

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Bowl Predictions 2014: Updated Playoff Projections After Week 14 Results

There was heartbreak, hatred, overwhelming joy and incredibly tense moments throughout Week 14 of the college football season, and the playoff picture looks just a bit different as a result.

Alabama found a way to give up 44 points and still look impressive, Mississippi State saw its playoff hopes go up in smoke, Baylor escaped a fourth-quarter charge from a significant underdog, Oregon rolled once again, and Ohio State won on the field but suffered a devastating loss on the injury report the same day.

To nobody’s surprise, Florida State also managed to find yet another way to snatch victory from the (Gator) jaws of defeat Saturday in the final minutes.

Here’s a look at what the latest playoff projections look like after an action-packed day of college football.

 

Scott Polacek's Playoff Projections

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

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

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

 

Odds Shark National Championship Odds

*Odds to win national championship courtesy of Odds Shark, as of Sunday morning at 12:30 a.m. ET.

 

Week 14 Playoff Race Results

The most entertaining game of the day came in the Iron Bowl when an aerial show from the Big 12 broke out in the disguise of an SEC game.

Alabama survived three Blake Sims interceptions and 206 receiving yards from Auburn’s Sammie Coates to win 55-44. Amari Cooper looked like a robot specifically designed in Tuscaloosa to dominate the Tigers secondary and finished with a ridiculous 224 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

Sims' early struggles were very uncharacteristic of a Nick Saban quarterback, as ESPN Stats & Info pointed out, but he eventually figured out that if you throw the ball anywhere within Cooper’s vicinity, he is going to catch it:

Elsewhere in the SEC, Mississippi State lost the Egg Bowl to Ole Miss 31-17 and essentially dropped out of the playoff picture.

Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace threw for 296 yards on a hurt ankle and commented on the performance after the game via ESPN.com: "I knew this game would define my legacy. I had to win this game to be remembered like I want. ... I hope they'll remember as a guy who gave his all ever single game and won a lot of games."

Ohio State, Baylor and TCU fans were certainly glad Wallace defined his legacy with a victory over the No. 4 team.

It should come as no surprise that the team right ahead of Mississippi State in the College Football Rankings, Florida State, struggled throughout its game against Florida before eventually winning at the end, 24-19. 

SportsCenter passed along a stat that virtually summarizes the Seminoles’ entire charmed year:

Regardless of whether it was impressive or not, Florida State won the game and was part of the ACC’s brutal treatment of the SEC on Saturday.

The ACC went 4-0 against the powerful, invincible SEC (Florida State over Florida, Clemson over South Carolina, Georgia Tech over Georgia and Louisville over Kentucky), which garnered this statistic from Aaron Schoonmaker of WRALSportsFan.com:

Along the same escape lines as Florida State, Baylor managed to survive a 19-3 charge in the final quarter from Texas Tech and win 48-46. The Red Raiders had a chance to tie the game but missed a two-point conversion in the final minutes.

Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty had to leave the contest with concussion symptoms, but it was not the type of performance the Bears were looking for with the No. 4 spot in the playoffs up for grabs.

It is difficult to imagine the Bears leapfrogging Ohio State or TCU in the new rankings released Tuesday after narrowly edging a 4-8 Texas Tech squad.

The Buckeyes pulled away from Michigan, and the Horned Frogs destroyed Texas on Thanksgiving. Baylor does have that head-to-head win over TCU that will eventually come into play when its resume is more parallel with that of the Horned Frogs, but it won’t be a factor this week.

The most disheartening moment of the entire day came in Columbus when J.T. Barrett broke his ankle in Ohio State’s victory over its archrival Michigan.

Regardless of whether you cheer for the Buckeyes or not, it left a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach to see Barrett go down, especially since Braxton Miller is already out for the year. Barrett is a redshirt freshman who was blossoming into one of the sport’s brightest stars. 

The disappointment from that development had a silver lining, though, in the form of incredible sportsmanship from Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, as the Detroit Free Press noted:

While the rest of the country started its day with Ohio State beating Michigan, switched to Florida State’s nailbiter with Florida and Ole Miss’ win over Mississippi State in the afternoon and then finished with the Iron Bowl, Oregon quietly dominated Oregon State in the Civil War.

The Ducks got another vintage performance from Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota, as he tallied 406 total yards and six touchdowns in the easy victory. 

SportsCenter passed along this perfectly timed picture from Brian Davies of The Register-Guard:

It won’t be long before Mariota is making the same pose with a trophy in his hands instead of the football.

 

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