NCAA Football News

College Football Rankings 2014: Playoff Bracket and Analysis After Poll Release

The final weekend of the college football season went mostly to script. Each of the top six teams coming into the weekend won to make their case for the playoff, but not all would make the field.

Ultimately, the final spot came down to placing a deserving conference champion in the bracket, with Ohio State making it in. That shut the door on both Baylor and TCU, who shared the Big 12 title without a championship game.

So much for "One True Champion." Instead, the Big 12 will have no shot at a national champion, while the other Power Five conferences all have representatives.

Following the final poll release, here's a look at the playoff bracket and analysis of the final standings.

 

Playoff Bracket Analysis

Prior to the season, no one would have been shocked by the final four rankings. However, Ohio State comes in as a huge surprise due to the adversity it has faced already this season.

Heading into the playoff, the Buckeyes are on their third-string quarterback in Cardale Jones after losing both Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett. Despite the loss of two signal-callers, OSU still rolled Wisconsin to the tune of a 59-0 blowout in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Playoff committee chairman Jeff Long discussed the move for the Buckeyes into the top four, per Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

Urban Meyer's reward for an inspiring season in Columbus? Another showdown with Nick Saban on the national stage.

The two coaches have faced each other three times previously, with Saban winning the last two contests. Both of those victories came in blowout fashion, with Alabama ironically ranked No. 1 in the last matchup.

Both programs feature explosive offenses but offer completely different weapons. Amari Cooper set the SEC receptions record while Ezekiel Elliott rushed for a Big Ten record 220 yards in his conference title game. Needless to say, expect some offensive gymnastics from these two teams.

Over on the west coast, Oregon and Florida State will settle the battle for the best quarterback in the country. Defending Heisman winner Jameis Winston and current Heisman favorite Marcus Mariota will take center stage, but two freshmen might steal the show.

Sharing the backfield with those dynamic quarterbacks will be Royce Freeman for Oregon and Dalvin Cook for FSU. Freeman has been the lead back all season for the Ducks, while Cook has exploded onto the scene recently for the Seminoles.

Tim Brando of Fox Sports 1 offered his take on the less-publicized matchup:

Playing an integral role throughout the season, Freeman has led the Ducks with 1,299 rushing yards and 17 total touchdowns. Meanwhile, Cook has carried the Noles down the stretch with more than 100 total yards in four of the last six games and five touchdowns over that span.

Given the amount of potent playmakers in both the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl, fans can expect plenty of huge point totals. In the end, it will prove to be a great way to usher in the College Football Playoff era with four of the most distinguished programs in the sport's history.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Rose Bowl 2015: Updated Odds and Preview for Oregon vs. Florida State

It's hard to imagine the first-ever national semifinal in college football having a more exciting matchup than this one.

The Rose Bowl is one of two games in the College Football Playoff, along with the Sugar Bowl, and it will feature Oregon trying to knock off defending national champion Florida State.

Not only does this game pit together two of the most dominant programs in the sport over the past few seasons, but it also includes two household names at quarterback between Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston.

This would be an exciting battle to watch even without title implications, but throw in the fact that the winner will be one step away from a national championship, and this game becomes a must-watch.

Here is everything you need to know about the January bowl game.

 

What: Rose Bowl Presented by Northwestern Mutual

When: Thursday, Jan. 1

Time: 5 p.m. ET

Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream:ESPN3

Spread (via Odds Shark): Oregon -8

Over/Under: 70.5

 

Preview

It's amazing the lack of respect Florida State has gotten throughout the season despite having an undefeated record. Besides winning every game this season, the Seminoles haven't lost in 29 games, dating back to 2012.

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich knows that this isn't easy, regardless of matchups.

"It's so difficult to have everybody focused for seven days in a row or 29 days in a row but when you get to 29 weeks, 29 games, that's extremely, extremely impressive," Helfrich recently explained. "That will certainly get our guys to sit up straight in their seats in the meetings."

Then again, the squad has been expected to win each of these games. According to Evan Abrams of ESPN, the Rose Bowl will be the first time Florida State is an underdog in a long time:

While different sites will have different lines, the general consensus is that Oregon should have no problem winning in this game.

On paper, this seems like it could be an easy victory for the Ducks. The Pac-12 champions have seemed unstoppable lately, with eight wins in a row, scoring at least 40 in every game. As Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated noted, the team was especially impressive against top competition:

Meanwhile, Florida State has struggled seemingly every week this season, only winning by less than a score in each of the last four weeks. It would be understandable to think that an upgrade in competition would lead to a blowout.

However, the Seminoles simply know how to win while being led by a quarterback who has never lost in his career. After posting a 94.1 Total QBR in the ACC Championship Game win over Georgia Tech, Winston might finally be ready to live up to his potential.

There is also a whole lot of talent on the roster from top to bottom, as noted by Bleacher Report's Matt Miller:

This is certain to create a true battle that will be much closer than many anticipate.

 

Early Prediction

Winston won last year's Heisman Trophy for a reason. He was the best player in college football last season and has the ability to reach that level again.

On the other hand, Mariota is the favorite to win the prestigious award this year thanks to his unstoppable combination of passing and rushing ability. After he torched Arizona, it is hard to imagine too many other teams in the nation having much more success.

Considering Florida State just allowed 465 total yards and 35 points to Georgia Tech—a team that doesn't know how to throw the ball—the Ducks should be just fine offensively in this one.

The Seminoles will be able to keep up on the scoreboard for the most part thanks to Winston, a powerful rushing attack and Rashad Greene at receiver. However, it still will not be enough to come through with a win in a high-scoring matchup.

Prediction: Oregon 45, Florida State 38

 

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

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Heisman Race 2014: Analyzing Candidates and Predictions for Ceremony

Just give the 2014 Heisman to Marcus Mariota already.

Mariota has the Oregon Ducks in the College Football Playoff. Not only that, they won the Pac-12 championship on the back of his ridiculous statistical output in the face of an injured offensive line and other factors.

Others will have a say. Alabama wideout Amari Cooper will push for the award, if not the No. 1 overall spot in next year's NFL draft. Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon ran wild all season long. TCU's Trevone Boykin is the nation's most prolific dual-threat quarterback.

Those in charge of the decision have no easy task at hand, but the favorite seems obvious at this juncture.

 

Top Candidates

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

Little needs said about Mariota at this point. 

Want statistics? Mariota has thrown for 3,783 yards this season with a total of 53 total touchdowns—38 by air, 14 on the ground—and thrown just two interceptions.

Want character? Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis puts it best:

Adversity? Storyline? Mariota has overcome the odds this season despite the losses of starting linemen and surefire future pros such as Tyler Johnstone and Hroniss Grasu.

Not only that, the Stanford curse was crushed in 45-16 fashion. Michigan's State's elite defense was no problem in a 46-27 win. Utah wound up as a 51-27 shellacking. The Pac-12 Championship Game against the only team to upend Mariota's Ducks this season, Arizona, was a 51-13 blowout.

Mariota has it all on his Heisman resume at this point.

 

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

It is not too difficult to see why Cooper is a serious contender for the Heisman. 

The man has 115 catches for 1,656 yards and 14 scores this season. Alabama as a whole has 268 receptions for 3,653 yards and 30 scores through the air. Or to make it more impressive, go ahead and peek at the next-highest name on the Crimson Tide's receiving list:

As ESPN Stats & Info points out, Cooper's gaudy numbers has him as the top name in the record books at a certain category:

There are plenty of examples that show Cooper steps up in the spotlight. In the 42-13 SEC Championship Game win over Missouri, he caught a title-game record 12 passes for 83 yards. He also does not fade in losses, considering he caught nine passes for 91 yards in a loss to Ole Miss.

While Cooper's position puts him at a serious disadvantage for the hardware, he seems to be the one wideout who can transcend the odds and take it home.

 

Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU

Boykin and his Horned Frogs may have missed out on the CFP for any number of reasons that range from politics to a lack of a Big 12 title game.

Boykin's play is certainly not a factor.

The Texas native turned heads this year by not only leading TCU to the cusp of the CFP, but by completing 60.5 percent of his passes for 3,714 yards and 30 touchdowns to seven interceptions. He also rushed for 642 yards and eight scores.

As far as Heisman moments go, Boykin dropped seven passing touchdowns on Texas Tech in an 82-27 rout. Just this past weekend, he finished his season in a strong manner with 460 yards and four scores though the air in a blowout win over Iowa State.

The fact that Boykin has such an impressive resume—with just one loss coming to Baylor by all of three points—and is so statistically pleasing may only be undermined by the same issues that kept his team from the CFP.

 

Prediction

The award is Mariota's, like it or not.

Cooper has arguably been the best player in the nation, but he plays the wrong position. Boykin has been impressive and a major reason for TCU's trip to the top of the nation, but it is hard to separate him from other dual-threat quarterbacks with similar numbers.

Melvin Gordon put on a jaw-dropping season with 2,336 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns, but the Wisconsin Badgers lost three games and 59-0 in the Big Ten Championship Game as he rushed for just 76 yards.

Speaking of Indiana running backs, there will certainly be whispers for Indiana's Tevin Coleman. He posted 2,036 yards and 15 scores, but the Hoosiers won just four games.

Mississippi State's Dak Prescott was a Heisman favorite for quite some time. His 2,996 yards and 24 scores with another 939 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground are gaudy, but not enough to erase the memory of a late-season collapse.

Many will make the case for Ohio State's J.T. Barrett. A whopping 2,834 yards and 34 scores with 938 and 11 more on the ground make it a viable thought, but the fact a third-string quarterback just posted gaudy numbers in Urban Meyer's system diminishes the freshman's stock.

Based on Mariota's body of work and numerous factors surrounding other candidates such as position, team performance and quality of performances in critical scenarios, words from Oregon coach Mark Helfrich ring true.

"If this guy isn't what the Heisman Trophy is all about, then I'm in the wrong profession," Helfrich said, per ESPN.com.

Mariota came back to school for a lot of things. The Heisman may or may not have been one of them. Regardless, his awe-inspiring performance in the face of unfinished business gets him the hardware all the same.

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.  

 

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Sugar Bowl 2015: Updated Odds and Preview for Alabama vs. Ohio State

Even those clamoring for another team as the final member of the College Football Playoff can't be too disappointed with an Alabama vs. Ohio State matchup in the Sugar Bowl.

Two of the true blue bloods in college football will go at it after the Buckeyes trounced Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten Championship Game, a result convincing enough to jump both TCU and Baylor for the fourth and final spot. That gives Ohio State the chance to remedy its recent SEC woes, and stick it to the conference's top prize-fighter.

But with a spot in the national championship on the line, only one thing will be on both teams' minds—survive and advance to Jan. 12.

Let's break down the Sugar Bowl.

 

What: 2015 Allstate Sugar Bowl 

When: Thursday, January 1, 2015

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans

Start Time (ET): 8:30 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Odds (via Odds Shark): Alabama -10.5

Over/Under: 58

 

2015 Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Ohio State

Even though things weren't as gloomy as they seemed early in the season, Alabama's turnaround from the beginning of 2014 until now can't be overlooked.

The Crimson Tide looked lethargic in their 33-23 win over West Virginia in Atlanta to start the season, and didn't wait long to drop a road contest to Ole Miss. They virtually faced eight must-win games from there on out in order to make the CFP.

When they wrapped up a 42-13 win over Missouri in Atlanta to close out 2014, however, it was obvious given their body of work that the strides made have been huge. Head coach Nick Saban agreed, per Tuscaloosa News' Cecil Hurt:

If you want to talk about turnaround projects in this game, however, the conversation really has to start with Ohio State.

The Buckeyes scoff at Alabama's early season problems. After all, they fell 35-21 to a then-unranked Virginia Tech team at home on just the second week of the season—a Hokies squad that finished a paltry 6-6 (3-5 ACC). 

The loss set them back quite a ways, but head coach Urban Meyer's Buckeyes ripped through their final 11 games—including wins over Michigan State, Minnesota and a drubbing of Wisconsin—despite now starting third-string quarterback Cardale Jones. And when Meyer (who has been around the block) lauds it as his most-improved team, you know it's real, per Big Ten Football:

But early season trends and late turnarounds won't matter all that much when the two teams go toe-to-toe on New Year's Day.

What will matter is the offensive revitalization of quarterback Blake Sims, who has gone from a scrutinized starter to the top single-season passer in Alabama history. Three of his seven picks on the season came in an uncharacteristic struggle against Auburn, and his short-passing game with Amari Cooper has been uncontainable. 

Lane Kiffin has been mixing up screen passes with deep balls down the field to Cooper and DeAndrew White that Sims is hitting. The Tide's newfound ability to throw it deep only opens things up more for backs like T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, the latter of which Meyer lauded per Bleacher Report's Marc Torrence:

The Crimson Tide's defense could have its hands full as well, as Ohio State's Jones dazzled in his first-ever start against Wisconsin. He'll have to throw it more than 17 times against a relatively weak (for its standard) Alabama secondary, but he showed incredible efficiency against Wisconsin.

Ezekiel Elliott bursted out to break the Big Ten championship rushing record with 220 yards against a stout Wisconsin defensive front. But while the Badgers may be the most burly front in the Big Ten, Alabama has proven even more sound against the run.

Needless to say, both defenses have their hands more than full in a game featuring two prolific offenses.

 

Preview

When two high-powered offenses with weapons all around go to battle in a game with championship implications, the top defense typically finds a way to make the winning plays. 

That will undoubtedly be Alabama, which isn't the defensive dynamo it was a few years back but maintains all the speed and physicality to match whatever Ohio State throws out. You also can't deny the mastery of Saban when he has ample time to prepare, as Fox Sports' Clay Travis noted:

The Buckeyes won't keel over, however. A lack of tape on Jones will allow him to make some plays deep down the field as Alabama's secondary has been known to concede. 

But a defensive performance similar to that of Wisconsin won't be in the works against the Tide, who will mix it up and keep Meyer's defense on its heels.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Ohio State 24

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The Big 12's Great Blunder

So far, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby has managed to blame the College Football Playoff selection committee, the Big 12 athletic directors and Baylor coach Art Briles. That poses a problem for Bowlsby, as he has just 10 fingers, but 23 people he's trying to point them at.     

Meanwhile, Briles has blamed the committee for not having any members born in Texas and few in the South (seriously), and Bowlsby.

Of course, the two people pointing fingers are the ones responsible for the Big 12 being left out of the playoff on Sunday. As a result, the conference has suddenly fallen into a shambles. Critics are pointing to the fact that the Big 12 is the only major conference without its own championship game. Sure, but that's a blameless point, as rules prohibit a conference with only 10 members from splitting into two and holding a title game. 

The failure was Bowlsby's big gamble. And Briles? Well, it's hard to take his whining seriously as long as he has Incarnate Word on an upcoming schedule.

Incarnate Word. Really.

The truth is, for all the gripes about the committee—about bias and Condoleezza Rice and decisions coming from people who haven't had their hand in the dirt—it ended up getting it exactly right, picking Alabama (SEC), Florida State (ACC), Oregon (Pac-12) and Ohio State (Big Ten). An eight-team field would be better, but if it's going to be four, then those were the right four.

You could have made the case for Baylor over Ohio State. Baylor hired a PR firm to help. But the Big 12's top cheerleader, Bowlsby, wasn't making that case, wasn't even saying Baylor was the best team in the conference.

Baylor was the first one left out of the playoff, and the Big 12 is already acting with the fatal feelings of a political party the morning after losing the White House. When was the last time a championship presentation ended with the winning coach yelling at the commissioner?

That was actually the Big 12s second championship presentation of the day Saturday. Earlier, Bowlsby gave another trophy to TCU. And this is where Bowlsby blew it.

He needs to learn a little something about brand confusion. Bowlsby was trying to push both Baylor and TCU on the committee, and the problem is that you can barely tell those teams apart. Two Texas Big 12 teams playing big-scoring, hurry-up offense and no defense. Just a guess, but they likely split the committee's vote.

Baylor was the one brand Bowlsby should have pushed. They finished tied for first place, but Baylor beat TCU and that's how everyone breaks ties.

Still, Bowlsby's play wasn't as baffling as it looks. He was going for broke.

Look, in July at the Big 12 media days, Bowlsby said there wouldn't be an issue with ties because, "You're not going to have two teams with the same record that didn't play each other. So that part is self-resolvable." 

Makes perfect sense. Meanwhile the league paid PR people to come up with the slogan "One True Champion." Presumably, that was an effort to block the SEC, which has two divisions, from doing what it was trying to do: Sell its division champs as separate champions that should be in the playoff.

One True Champion. So that was part strategy, part philosophy. Bowlsby gambled it away. Just last week, with TCU and Baylor both in the running for the playoff, Bowlsby said the conference wouldn't name one champ if they finished tied. They would be co-champs.

The Big 12 was trying to muscle two teams into the playoff. Ohio State was down to its third quarterback, thanks to injuries, and what if the Buckeyes had lost to Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game? And then, what if Georgia Tech had beaten Florida State in the ACC title game? Or what if Arizona beat Oregon again in the Pac-12?

That could have left two spots for the Big 12's two champions. The selection committee had said all along that it would strongly value conference champions. By not declaring Baylor the champ, the Big 12 could say it had two.

But Alabama, Florida State and Oregon won their conference title games. They were obvious picks for the playoff. The last spot was for Ohio State or two Big 12 co-champion clones.

"If you're gonna slogan around and say there's 'one true champion,' and then all of the sudden you're gonna go out the back door instead of going out the front?" Briles told reporters. "I mean, don't say one thing and do another. That's my whole deal."

Feel sorry for Briles? Don't. He didn't need to play Buffalo, Northwestern State and SMU in non-conference games. There's a reason teams do that, and they learned it from Kansas State coach Bill Snyder. By playing nobodies, a team can all but ensure at least six overall wins, which makes it eligible for a bowl game.

So you can schedule for a low-level bowl, or for the mountaintop. But don't schedule low and cry about lack of respect.

Meanwhile, Bowlsby said he warned the Big 12 coaches to toughen up their schedules. He said the ADs voted on the co-champ move. He said he wished he'd have known the committee valued a championship game so much.

It's called passing the buck.

And while the country looks ahead to its first football final four, the Big 12 ADs will meet in New York this week at the Football Foundation meetings, where they will try to pick up the pieces. Bowlsby's job security and finger-pointing might come up, too.

After all, he was the one sloganning around.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report. He also writes for The New York Times and was formerly a scribe for FoxSports.com and the Chicago Sun-Times. Follow him on Twitter @gregcouch.

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College Football Picks: Navy Midshipmen vs. Army Black Knights Odds

One of the greatest rivalries in college football will be renewed this Saturday afternoon at M&T Bank Field in Baltimore when the Navy Midshipmen battle it out against the Army Black Knights. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. (ET), and the game will be broadcast nationally on CBS.

Navy was able to notch that key sixth victory of the season with a thrilling 42-40 win against South Alabama on Nov. 28 as a 7.5-point road favorite. This team appears to be peaking at just the right time after a slow 2-5 start with four straight-up wins in its last five games. The Midshipmen are 3-1 against the spread in their last four outings, and each time the total went “over” the closing line.

It has been another tough campaign for the Black Knights with a 4-7 record both SU and ATS heading into this storied showdown. The one positive has been a 2-1 mark both SU and ATS in their last three games, with solid victories over Connecticut and Fordham sandwiched around a lopsided 52-24 loss to Western Kentucky as 7.5-point road underdogs. The total has gone over in all three games.

 

Navy vs. Army Betting Storylines

The Midshipmen remain a team built around a powerful rushing attack that has averaged 357.8 yards a game. Keenan Reynolds has led the way at the quarterback position with 1,082 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns on 205 carries. He has also put the ball up 96 times for 749 yards and five scores on 43 completions. Noah Copeland has actually been the most productive runner with 8.2 yards a carry. This has added up to 859 yards and five more touchdowns.

Navy’s offense is ranked 33rd in the nation in scoring with 34.5 points a game, and it has been able to exceed this total in its last five games. Defensively, the Midshipmen have had their issues this year by allowing an average of 29.9 points. Even in its recent run, this unit allowed 31 points in a win over San Jose State, and it was torched for 49 points in a loss to Notre Dame.

The Black Knights are another team driven by the ground game with an average of 305.5 yards a game. Larry Dixon is the team’s leading rusher with 1,012 yards on 176 attempts for an average of 5.8 yards a carry, but the most versatile player could be Angel Santiago. While some of the top quarterbacks in the nation have thrown for more yards in a game than he has thrown all season long (488), he has also been an integral part of the running game with 793 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns on the ground.

Army’s offense has not always been that productive putting points on the board, and overall it is averaging 26.3 points a game. However, this unit combined for 77 points in those final two wins against the Huskies and the Rams. Defense has not been this team’s strong suit in any of the Black Knights’ first 11 games. They have allowed 34.4 points a game this season, including an average of 28.9 points in their four wins.

 

Navy vs. Army Betting Odds and Trends by Doc’s Sports

Point Spread: Navy -15

Total Line: OFF

The betting trends on Doc’s Sports have Navy coming into this game with a 3-1 record ATS in its last four games played at a neutral site, but the Midshipmen are just 2-4 ATS in their last six games as favorites. The total has gone over in their last four games.

The Black Knights have gone 2-6 ATS in their last eight games, and they are 1-5 ATS in their last six games as underdogs. The total has gone over in five of their last six games.

Navy brings a five-game SU winning streak into this year’s matchup, and it holds an 8-4 edge ATS in the last 12 meetings. The total has stayed “under” in the last five games.

 

College Football Picks: Navy vs. Army Betting Predictions

These two bitter rivals gear up all season for this one single game, so you know that emotions will be running high from the opening kickoff to the final gun. It would be hard to see Navy losing this game SU, but I am taking Army and the 15 points to keep things close enough to cover.

 

Take: Army (+15) over Navy; 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13

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College Bowl Picks 2014-15: Predictions for Playoffs and More Top Matchups

Sunday marked a day college football fans everywhere had been waiting for years to finally come. Yet somehow, many were still left unhappy with the results of the first ever College Football Playoff bracket.

The committee released the latest Top 25 rankings with Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State in the Top Four. Meanwhile, programs like TCU and Baylor were left on the outside looking in but will still face worthy opponents in two notable bowls.

While the Rose and Sugar Bowls will garner the most attention, there are quite a few other selection committee bowls.

Prior to the start of the postseason matchups, here's a look at predictions for the playoff and other top matchups.

 

Playoff Breakdown

Regardless of the controversy surrounding the teams that made the playoff, every team is worthy of its ranking. That makes predicting winners in both semifinals an arduous task.

Luckily, there is a full season of results to reflect on when trying to pick who will make the national championship game.

One player who has made a statement every time he's taken the field this season is Amari Cooper. The Alabama receiver has torched each opponent this season, solidifying himself as a Heisman Trophy contender alongside Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

ESPN Stats & Info notes Cooper's production this season:

Along with quarterback Blake Sims, the tandem has been one of the main reasons for the Crimson Tide earning the No. 1 ranking. Cooper's electric play has also caught the eye of OSU coach Urban Meyer, via Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News:

Facing an Ohio State team that loves to keep the ball on the ground, Alabama will need to make the most of every offensive opportunity. Having a player like Cooper to take the top off the Buckeyes defense will be the difference to put Bama through to the national championship.

As for that other Heisman contender, Mariota is looking to cap off a special year with a national title. He has a chance to not only dethrone Jameis Winston for the Heisman, but also end Florida State's winning streak.

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher addressed the matchup between the two notable quarterbacks, via Marty Smith of ESPN:

Going against Florida State in the Rose Bowl, Oregon is coming off a huge victory over Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The revenge game for the Ducks was led again by Mariota, who finished the day with 346 yards from scrimmage and five total touchdowns.

Much like Cooper, Mariota has paced his team all season with phenomenal numbers, via Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

By the end of New Year's Day, only two teams will stand with a chance to win the title. Given their sensational play this season, those programs will be Alabama and Oregon.

A matchup featuring two of the most dynamic players in the country will undoubtedly be a must-watch title game. Coming off two blowout wins in their conference championships, expect plenty of offensive fireworks from these teams in the final game of the season.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Notre Dame Recruiting 2014-15: Latest News, Rumors and Commit Updates

Whether or not Notre Dame is in national title contention, the program remains nationally recognized as a historic football powerhouse. That allure helps Fighting Irish recruiting efforts extend far beyond regional borders on an annual basis.

Brian Kelly and his staff have repeatedly stockpiled talent on national signing day, and they're well on their way toward another impressive haul of prospects. Notre Dame currently holds 21 commitments in its 2015 class, per 247Sports.

Let's take a look at the latest news, top targets and commits for the Fighting Irish.

 

Latest News

Monday, Dec. 8

Nearly six months after landing former Michigan defensive back commit Shaun Crawford, Notre Dame may be making inroads with another Wolverines pledge. The team is expected to send assistant coach Mike Elston to Dayton, Ohio, for an in-home visit with 4-star safety Tyree Kinnel, according to Steven Lorenz of 247Sports.

The 6'0", 205-pound playmaker picked up an offer from the Fighting Irish in September, about three weeks after he extended a verbal commitment to Michigan. The Wolverines' 2015 class is in shambles, currently made up of just six committed players.

Kinnel remains a member of the group but could be more willing to explore options elsewhere given the instability in Ann Arbor. Notre Dame is wise to remain on his trail and should get a good sense of how he's feeling when Elston, a former Michigan linebacker, sits down with the secondary standout.

 

Top Targets and Commitments

Monday, Dec. 8

Notre Dame pledge Crawford is a late addition to the Under Armour All-America Game, per Tom Loy of 247Sports. The 5'9.5", 170-pound Ohio cornerback collected a state championship at St. Edward High School this past weekend, when he also formally received an invitation to the star-studded event.

The game takes place Jan. 2 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, and it is nationally televised. Crawford joins fellow Fighting Irish commits Brandon Wimbush (quarterback) and Justin Yoon (kicker) on the roster.

Crawford, rated 13th nationally among cornerbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings, was a key pickup for Notre Dame in June. He pledged to Kelly less than a month after decommitting from Michigan.

 

Recruit ratings and information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Butch Jones, Tennessee Agree on New Contract: Latest Details and Reaction

Tennessee has reached an agreement with head football coach Butch Jones on a new contract that runs through 2020 and will pay him $3.6 million annually, the school confirmed in a release.  

Tennessee athletics director Dave Hart commented on the new deal in the release:

'When you are rebuilding a program, you face many challenges in order to change the culture,' said Hart. 'A tireless effort is required from the entire organization. The most critical piece of the puzzle is leadership, and we have the right man leading our football program. Butch Jones has reenergized our fans base and is an outstanding ambassador for our university. He and his staff have recruited at a very high level in an effort to restock our talent base, and we have made great strides academically since his arrival. He possesses a unique skill set, and I value our relationship personally and professionally. The terms of the agreement extend the contract by two years through the 2020 season, at $3.6 million per year.'

Jones also discussed his new contract at Tennessee:

'I am very honored and grateful to be the head football coach at the University of Tennessee, and I understand what this program represents,' said Jones. 'This has been a complete team effort as we continue to rebuild and restore the Tennessee football program to the standards and expectations that we all have. I'm extremely appreciative to Dave Hart, Chancellor Cheek, and our entire administration for all the support they have given us, and I am also thankful for the loyal support from the best and most passionate fan base in the nation.'

Following the announcement, Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports weighed in on the new contract for Jones:

Jones recently completed his second regular season with the Volunteers. The team made a one-game improvement to finish 6-6, earning bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010. They won three of their final four games to reach that plateau.

The extension also comes as the Michigan native was a rumored target for the Wolverines following the departure of Brady Hoke. If nothing else, that speculation increased the urgency for Tennessee to lock Jones in with a fresh contract.

Randy Moore of Inside Tennessee asked the veteran coach why he felt coaching the Vols amounted to a dream job and provided his reply:

I wanted to go into a situation, take over a program that had great resources, great leadership from the administration, a tremendous fan base, a vision, a standard in expectation, a tradition of winning and facilities but maybe they're struggling in some areas where we could maybe go in there and help win. Obviously that fit the Tennessee profile. So, there was a number of reasons of this being a 'dream job.' But, yeah, just TV and following the Vols and all the great players that have played here.

Although the strides made on the field have only been incremental so far, the recruiting success points toward further advancement in the coming years. Tennessee had a top-10 class in 2014 and is on pace for another strong showing in 2015, based on 247Sports' team rankings.

Recruiting against other SEC powerhouses is a difficult task. But Jones, who previously enjoyed success at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati, has been able to lean on Tennessee's tradition to start bringing in the next wave of stars.

It may take another year or two to fully complete the process. Clearly the school seen enough progress to give Jones the boost now with hope things continue to trend in the right direction.

The Volunteers have been stuck around .500 for the past seven years. Getting back to a point where they are consistently in the Top 25 and then eventually fighting for a spot in the College Football Playoff is the ultimate expectation.

With a new contract in hand, it's now up to Jones to make it happen.

 

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Texas A&M Recruiting 2014-15: Latest News, Rumors and Commit Updates

Texas A&M has taken charge as the hottest college football team in terms of recruiting the Lone Star State. Head coach Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies are rolling toward another star-studded class as national signing day nears.

The team aims to take a necessary step up the SEC ladder, and the acquisition of premier prospects from Texas and beyond is paramount in that effort. Top 2014 pickup Myles Garrett set a conference record for sacks as a freshman, while classmate Speedy Noil quickly emerged as a key downfield target in the passing game.

Texas A&M currently holds 21 commitments in its 2015 class, per 247Sports.

Let's take a look at the latest news, top targets and commits for the Aggies.

 

Latest News

Monday, Dec. 8

DeAndre McNeal is down to five collegiate options less than two weeks shy of his scheduled decision date. The 4-star athlete, who lines up at receiver and linebacker, released his top-five list Sunday and included the Aggies:

The 6'2", 228-pound prospect plays at Poteet High School in Mesquite, Texas, where he is often overshadowed by teammate and top-ranked linebacker Malik Jefferson. The Aggies would love to make it a package deal and land both players when they announce collegiate commitments during a Dec. 19 ceremony.

McNeal, who is also considering Texas and Texas Tech in his home state, is projected to sign with Alabama by 36 percent of experts in 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions. Texas A&M follows with 25 percent.

He is expected to land on defense at the next level but just enjoyed the finest offensive season of his career. McNeal caught 35 passes for 836 yards and 12 touchdowns, adding 380 yards and 11 scores on the ground.

 

Top Targets and Commitments

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Bowl Games Schedule 2014-15: TV, Live Stream Info and Projections

Whether you're competing for the national championship or you're in the GoDaddy Bowl, everyone wants to end the year on a high note.

This year's bowl season is loaded with interesting matchups from top to bottom, each game containing its own unique storylines. Some might appear to be one-sided on paper, although you can be certain no players are stepping onto the field without believing they have what it takes to win.

The only question remaining is which teams will come through with strong enough efforts to add bowl victories to their resumes.

Here is a look at the complete bowl schedule with predictions for each game and a breakdown of some of the better matchups of the season.

All games can be viewed online courtesy of Watch ESPN

 

Top Games

Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Florida State

No matter who you thought should've been the four teams in the College Football Playoff, the official matchups are about as exciting as possible.

Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher was quick to see the appeal of the Rose Bowl battle between his team and Oregon, via Andrew Greif of OregonLive.com:

It's what college football is all about. That makes for great TV and great competition and what it's all about. Getting the best against the best. Oregon is a national brand-name team. They have earned that right, the team is recognized all the way across this country. ...Florida State is a national brand-name. When you put two quarterbacks like that, brand names like that as far as college football it's what the playoff was designed to do. 

In addition to the competition between the two top programs, this game will also feature two of the most well-known players in college football as quarterbacks of each team. Last year's Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston will try to have a good showing for the Seminoles while the Ducks are led by this year's Heisman favorite, Marcus Mariota.

This game is certain to be a good one with two teams that simply know how to win. However, Oregon has been red hot during the second half of the year, winning eight games in a row by double digits while topping 40 points scored in each.

The Ducks offense is too good to stop, and this game could be a stepping stone to a national championship.

 

Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Ohio State

Ohio State was the last team in the playoff field, earning the fourth seed over Baylor and TCU. There is no denying the fact that this was due to its 59-0 blowout over a very good Wisconsin team in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Although he got a lot of help from his teammates, Cardale Jones was fantastic at quarterback for the Buckeyes, throwing three touchdown passes in the win after replacing the injured J.T. Barrett. This was actually the third option coming into the year, with Braxton Miller expecting to be the starter before going down in the preseason.

Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated noted this as a reason the squad is still in contention for a national championship:

Unfortunately, it will be extremely difficult to keep this going against Alabama and its No. 4 scoring defense in the nation. The front line will be able to slow down the run, putting more pressure on Jones and likely causing plenty of mistakes.

With Blake Sims playing well lately and always capable of finding Amari Cooper down the field, the Crimson Tide's offense will be able to run up the score and earn an easy win in the national semifinal.

 

Peach Bowl: TCU vs. Ole Miss

Although TCU might not be competing in a playoff game, it will at least be involved in one of the most intriguing bowls of the season.

Jeff Roberson of The Ole Miss Spirit details what the two teams bring to the table:

Ole Miss does have three losses this year, but the squad still only allowed 13.8 points per game to lead the nation. This includes allowing just 17 points each in wins over Alabama and Mississippi State.

The problem is that Bo Wallace has been inconsistent at quarterback this season and things have only been worse without injured receiver Laquon Treadwell. This will hurt the Rebels' chances of winning even a low-scoring battle.

Meanwhile, TCU has one of the best offenses in the nation behind Trevon Boykin. If it wasn't for a 61-58 loss to Baylor, this team would likely be playing for a national championship.

The Horned Frogs will try to prove the committee made a mistake by sending a message with a win here.

 

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

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College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

Given its prestige and tradition, Notre Dame is one of the few schools who have the ability to recruit the entire country instead of focusing on a territory close to its campus 

Brian Kelly and his staff may have seen the 2014 season spiral as the Irish have lost five of their last six games after a 6-0 start, but that hasn’t slowed their efforts on the recruiting trail. 

In particular, Kelly hit the state of California hard last week offering four of the Golden State’s top juniors and one of its top sophomores.

The Irish offered a trio of 4-star receivers in Brandon Burton, Tyler Vaughns and Dylan Crawford plus 3-star defensive end Olowule Betiku

Additionally, 2017 4-star athlete Darnay Holmes was also tendered by the Irish.

Burton—who plays at powerhouse Serra High School in Gardena, California—was excited to receive the offer from Notre Dame, per Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.

"They are very high on my list," Burton told Wiltfong. "It's a great program, great academics. It's a great young team with a ton of potential."

The Irish have had success recruiting skill players in California recently—including luring tight end Tyler Luatua in the 2014 class and having a pledge from 2015 4-star receiver C.J. Sanders.

Betiku—who also picked up an offer from Penn State last week—is a prep teammate of Burton’s that has offers from schools such as Arizona State, Florida State, Oklahoma and UCLA among others.

Given the amount of work the Irish staff is putting in on the West Coast, it’s clear that Kelly’s staff has identified California as an important territory for their future efforts on the recruiting trail.

 

Michigan State Goes on 2016 Offer Spree

Both Notre Dame and Michigan State were the newest schools to enter the race for 2016 4-star defensive end Terrell Hall, according to Adam Friedman of Rivals.

In addition to Hall, Mark Dantonio offered five other 2016 prospects who are all slated to play defense in college.

The Spartans tendered 4-star safety Damar Hamlin—who also received an offer from Duke—and 4-star cornerJoshua Dunn.

Kyle Goblirsch of Gophers247 reports that 4-star linebacker Carter Coughlin earned an offer from Dantonio. Also, Demetric Warren of VarsityPreps notes that the Spartans also offered 4-star defensive end Isaiah Chambers.

Finally, 2016 4-star athlete Kyle Davis—who is committed to South Carolina—was also offered by the Spartans.

 

Texas offers 2016 Florida OL

Texas head coach Charlie Strong has had a tremendous amount of success recruiting in the state of Florida dating back to his days as an assistant at the University of Florida.

Last week, Strong and his staff offered one of the elite offensive line prospects in the 2016 cycle—4-star Sunshine State product Parker Boudreaux.

Boudreaux—who was also one of the first recruits to pick up an offer from new SMU head coach Chad Morris—has nearly 60 offers to his credit before he begins his senior season.

The 6’5”, 282-pounder is a candidate to become a left tackle at the next level.

 

Mississippi State Offers Trio of Underclassmen

With it’s 2015 class sitting on 29 pledges, Mississippi State has been aggressive in pursuing prospects in the 2016, 2017 and even 2018 classes.

Dan Mullen and his staff offered 2016 4-star receiver Freddie Swain, per Ryan Bartow of 247Sports. Bartow also reports that the Bulldogs joined West Virginia in offering Swain’s teammate and 2018 athlete Jalen Patterson.

According to Josh Edwards of TheCatsPause247, Mullen and his staff also offered 2017 4-star linebacker Markail Benton.

With the Bulldogs making some noise on the national scene this season, Mullen’s staff has hit the recruiting trail aggressively in hopes of capitalizing on that exposure.

 

Best of the Rest

 

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

 

 

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College Football Playoff 2014-15: Updated Odds, Predictions Against the Spread

The first inaugural College Football Playoff is finally set, but not without its fair share of controversy and second-guessing.

With a 59-0 drubbing of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, Ohio State was able to climb from sixth all the way to the fourth and final spot. The problem? That snatched the Big 12's championship aspirations, with both Baylor and TCU seemingly duking it out to get into the playoff.

But as the Horned Frogs and Bears head to the Peach and Cotton Bowls, respectively, the focus will soon shift back from the what-ifs to the matchups at hand. And, boy, are they scintillating. 

Let's take a look at the CFP schedule, including odds and predictions against the spread for both semifinals.

 

Note: Bowl information per ESPN.com; odds according to Odds Shark and updated as of December 7 

 

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

Florida State dominated everyone en route to last year's national championship appearance. This time around, the Seminoles are still undefeated but will hardly scare the No. 2 Oregon Ducks as they descend upon the Rose Bowl.

The matchup pegs the top two quarterbacks in college football against each other as Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston will do battle, which SportsCenter showed:

By the time New Year's Day comes, it's very likely that Mariota will have a Heisman Trophy along with Winston. Mariota entered the final weekend with massive 1-10 odds of winning the trophy, per Odds Shark

But while the quarterbacks will most likely be tied in the Heisman count when kickoff comes, they stand on very different teams—much to the demise of the defending national champions.

Ever since Oregon's shocking home loss to Arizona, the Ducks have been all business, beating their last seven opponents by 18 points or more. Meanwhile, Florida State's well-documented issues on the field have had the 'Noles in four straight games that went down to the wire—three against unranked foes.

Florida State's defense has been able to make timely plays to give Winston chances to win games, but that won't be the case against Mariota. Turning the ball over isn't in his vocabulary, having thrown just two picks all year.

Oregon's offense will get hot early and blow this one open. As things get embarrassing for the Seminoles, they will fight back, but not enough to cover the spread. 

Prediction: Oregon covers the spread, wins 41-30

 

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

The Ohio State Buckeyes got the final CFP spot they so desperately wanted, and now they will have to buck a painful trend in recent program history.

In both the 2007 and 2008 seasons, the Buckeyes entered the BCS championship game as the top-ranked team only to fall to SEC foes—first Florida, then LSU. But now, it's Ohio State as the underdog against the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide.

Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer—on the SEC's side of one of those championship games—admitted his tape studying of Alabama is yet to come, but he lauded bruising running back Derrick Henry, per Bleacher Report's Marc Torrence:

As for Alabama head coach Nick Saban, he's quite aware of what Meyer's teams are made of after their battles when he coached Florida, per Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod:

Perhaps the biggest X-factor in the game is still somewhat of an unknown. Ohio State freshman quarterback Cardale Jones had a magnificent game in his starting debut against Wisconsin, leading Ohio State to a 59-0 win when the Buckeyes were pegged to lose.

With a huge arm and speedy targets like Jalin Marshall and Devin Smith, the Buckeyes should stretch a susceptible Alabama secondary that allowed big play after big play from Auburn and Missouri. 

That will keep it close, but not even Ohio State's much-improved defense will be able to hang with the likes of Blake Sims, Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon for four quarters. However, the Buckeyes will scratch and claw until the end, and a growing line in Vegas will end up being too large as Alabama wins a one-score game.

Prediction: Alabama fails to cover spread, still wins 31-24

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NCAA Football Playoff 2014-15: Full TV Schedule, Odds and Projections

If you set the controversial arguments aside and take the first ever College Football Playoff for what it is, there's no denying the two semifinals offer everything a fan would want.

There's the Rose Bowl, which pegs last year's Heisman Trophy winner in Jameis Winston against the likely 2014 Heisman winner in Marcus Mariota. Take a gander across the bracket, and you'll find Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer looking to put the Buckeyes' recent SEC woes in the past against the conference he coached in some four years ago.

That only scratches the surface of the storylines set to unfold throughout two semifinal matchups that show exactly why this new format was created—to give four worthy schools the chance to duke it out against each other.

Let's take a look at the full television schedule for the CFP games, and everything else worth knowing. 

Note: Schedule per ESPN.com; odds according to Odds Shark, as of December 7

 

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

Given the prestige of the Oregon and Florida State football programs over the course of recent history, it's pretty amazing that January 1 will mark their first ever meeting.

As ESPN Stats & Info noted, it's long overdue:

But while the programs will be meeting for the first time in the Rose Bowl, that's not really what will have the folks talking entering this high-flying matchup.

Instead, it's the matchup of quarterbacks that will likely peg two Heisman Trophy winners against each other. Reigning champion Winston faces this year's hopeful Mariota—the winner keeping their national title aspirations alive.

Winston vs. Mariota has undoubtedly grabbed the headlines in the hours after the announcement, but Sports Illustrated's Martin Rickman noted another appetizing matchup under the radar:

While the two offenses have similar star power, the Ducks and Seminoles could not have finished their respective seasons differently. Florida State is still undefeated, but well-documented struggles have led to each of its last four wins coming by five points or fewer. The Citadel, Wake Forest and Syracuse are the only foes the 'Noles have beaten by more than two scores.

On the other hand, Oregon has been an absolute wrecking ball, outscoring every one of its last seven opponents by 18 or more. A once-suspect defense is also coming to play, having held Arizona's prolific offense to 13 points in their rematch in the Pac-12 title game.

The Seminoles defense has had to force big turnovers to get here, which Mariota simply doesn't give up with only two picks on the year. Meanwhile, Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu leads a Ducks secondary that will feast on Winston's growing interception problem.

Despite the undefeated record, Florida State has shown that it might not belong here. Oregon will leave no doubt of that, although the Seminoles won't go down without a fight.

Prediction: Oregon 41, Florida State 30

 

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

For all of the beating Ohio State has taken against SEC foes in national championship games over the last few decades, how sweet would it be to supplant the conference's flagship program in the first ever playoff?

It would be more than sweet for Meyer's Buckeyes, but nevertheless unlikely. Top-ranked Alabama has already seen its nine-point line grow to double digits since the announcement, per Odds Shark

Of course, the mighty Crimson Tide would probably be decent-sized favorites against any team with the way they've closed out the season. They held on in must-wins over then-No. 1 Mississippi State and Auburn, before hounding Missouri in the conference title game.

They will be going up against an Ohio State team fresh off a 59-0 beating of Wisconsin, but the Buckeyes will trot out freshman Cardale Jones—who, to his credit, played magnificently against the Badgers—against the stingy Alabama defense. That's not the ideal position for Jones to be in, as SBNation.com's Spencer Hall alluded to:

There is one aspect that could help him, which is the lack of film Nick Saban and Co. will have on the youngster, as Aaron Suttles of The Tuscaloosa News points out:

Despite his inexperience, Jones' big arm should be able to take the top off the Tide offense similar to the success Nick Marshall had in the Iron Bowl. But Alabama's defensive front will create too much havoc for the young quarterback to deal with, forcing some errant throws that the Tide will snatch for big turnovers.

Meyer has worked his magic before in these moments and should do so again with ample time to prepare for a susceptible Alabama defense. But Blake Sims' increased consistency and a multifaceted running game will have 'Bama winning a close one.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Ohio State 24

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Fiesta Bowl 2014: Full Preview and Predictions for Boise State vs. Arizona

The No. 20 Boise State Broncos and the Fiesta Bowl have become quite the partners over the years, but 10th-ranked Arizona is intent on spoiling their reunion.

As the only ranked non-Power Five school in the College Football Playoff rankings, the Broncos were able to crash the New Year's Six party despite two losses. The Fiesta Bowl was an easy fit as the Broncos look to improve to 3-0 all-time in the game.

While Boise State has history and recent momentum on its side with eight straight wins, the Wildcats have a big proximity advantage. The fans in Boise will have to make a 900-mile trek to Glendale, Arizona, while it's just a two-hour trip up the road (125 miles) for University of Arizona students.

Let's break down everything you need to know and the biggest talking points heading into an enticing Fiesta Bowl.

 

What: 2014 VIZIO Fiesta Bowl

When: Wednesday, December 31

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

Start Time (ET): 4 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Odds (via Odds Shark): Arizona -4 (as of Dec. 7)

 

Fiesta Bowl: Boise State vs. Arizona

Whenever Boise State and the Fiesta Bowl are mentioned in the same sentence, naturally only four words can follow: The Statue of Liberty.

But 2007 was a long time ago, and now the Broncos are looking to build their once-magical Fiesta Bowl success into a much more tangible 3-0 record in the game. They will have to essentially play a road game to pull that off, however.

The trickeration is still alive and well in Boise, but the team's biggest strength this season is a predictable between-the-tackles rushing attack. Running back Jay Ajayi has been more than a workhorse, carrying 325 times on the season for 1,689 yards and 25 touchdowns—which all rank top five in the nation.

One stat tweeted by Boise State Football indicates he's on par with Heisman contender Melvin Gordon:

When teams inevitably pack the box to contain Ajayi, quarterback Grant Hedrick has been on point with a 70.9 percent completion percentage for the season. 

But will Arizona's defense need to pack the box? Walter Camp Award finalist Scooby Wright III captained a stingy Wildcat defensive front used to prolific offenses but was gashed for 301 yards (and 627 total) by the Oregon offense the last time out.

Arizona's offense has the biggest issues to sort out after the drubbing. After an ineffective start, freshman quarterback Anu Solomon left the game with an injury and replacement Jesse Scroggins III got himself replaced with poor play.

While hopes are down in Tucson following the loss, being selected for a big-time bowl should have Arizona invigorated, and the extra time will be crucial for offensive guru Rich Rodriguez, as he told Arizona Daily Star's Daniel Berk:

While many Wildcats fans may be batting their eyes at the chance to face a foe outside the Power Five, the equivocal home team will have its hands more than full with a confident and battle-tested Broncos squad.

 

Prediction

This one will come down to much more than another dose of Boise State magic in the desert, although a helping of that should also be expected.

Rodriguez's team is built on a multifaceted offense, but it will be a shell of itself with the quarterback position a mess. The defense hasn't been holding up, allowing 86 points in the last two games. 

The Broncos hung tight for most of the game against a now-proven Ole Miss team in Week 1, and this is a much more complete team than the one that faced the Rebels. No strangers to the spotlight, Boise State will show up and hold off an inevitable Wildcats surge.

Prediction: Boise State wins, 37-31

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Peach Bowl 2015: Full Preview and Predictions for Ole Miss vs. TCU

What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? We'll find out during the Peach Bowl.

The stout, hard-hitting, top-ranked defense of Ole Miss will attempt to hold up against a potent TCU offense that ranks second in the nation, scoring an average of 46.8 points per game. That narrative alone will make for an extremely compelling game.

However, the Horned Frogs may be coming into this matchup with a bit of a chip on their shoulders.

They were ranked No. 3 overall by the College Football Playoff selection committee entering Saturday's contest against Iowa State. Well, they did what they were supposed to do and blew out the Cyclones 55-3. Apparently, that wasn't good enough, as TCU dropped to No. 6 overall and missed out on the playoff altogether.

Not everyone always sees eye to eye with ESPN's Skip Bayless, but he does bring up a valid point:

Will the Horned Frogs prove the selection committee made a mistake and defeat Ole Miss, or will the Rebels further establish the SEC's dominance? Let's break it down.

 

Viewing Information

When: Wednesday, December 31

Where: Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia

Time: 12:30 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Preview and Prediction

Ole Miss began the season strong, winning its first seven games, including a 23-17 victory over Alabama. However, the wheels began to fall off, as the Rebels lost three of their next four games, falling out of contention for the College Football Playoff.

Although, the Rebels did finish the season with a flourish, defeating Mississippi State 31-17 in the Egg Bowl, playing spoiler and ending their in-state rival's playoff hopes. While the win was impressive, the team's offense continued to be underwhelming.

Quarterback Bo Wallace has struggled for much of the season, and things weren't much better against a porous Bulldogs secondary. Wallace completed 13 of his 30 passing attempts for 296 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. Mississippi State is prone to giving up big plays, and the quarterback racked up 168 of those yards on just four plays.

Although, one thing on Wallace's side is his solid history in bowl games. Chase Parham of Rivals.com tweeted the quarterback could enter the Ole Miss record books:

Running back Jaylen Walton rushed 14 times for 148 yards and a score; however, that included a 91-yard scamper.

While 532 yards of offense is certainly impressive, Wallace and Co. may find it tougher to move the ball against an underrated TCU defense that ranks 16th in the nation, allowing an average of just 20.3 points per game.

After all, head coach Gary Patterson is excited for the challenge, via Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee:

Meanwhile, TCU's offense has been extremely dynamic. Quarterback Trevone Boykin has posted some gaudy numbers this season, and he may have saved his best for last, completing 30 of his 41 passing attempts for 460 yards, four touchdowns and one interception against Iowa State. Boykin even scored on a trick play, hauling in a 55-yard reception.

He's been doing that all season long, and that resulted in a new school record, via theScore:

With versatile running back Aaron Green and wide receiver Josh Doctson in the fold, the Horned Frogs have two of the nation's biggest playmakers; however, the team has no shortage of weapons. Against the Cyclones, eight different players received at least one carry and 11 players caught at least one pass. That's a versatile offense.

Of course, TCU won't roll over Ole Miss like they've been able to do against many Big 12 opponents this season. However, the lack of an efficient offense for the Rebels remains a concern against a team that will be able to put up some points. TCU has the edge in this one.

Prediction: TCU 30, Ole Miss 24

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College Football Playoff Rankings 2014: Final Standings, Semifinal Predictions

Regardless of how the system to decide a champion works, college football just seems to generate controversy. The BCS wasn't good enough, so a selection committee was instituted to decide the Top Four teams for a playoff. Not surprisingly, there were too many deserving teams for so few slots. 

Whether you agree or not with what the committee did Sunday, it's impossible to deny how much fun championship weekend turned out to be. All six of the top contenders took care of business, each making a real case as championship material. 

The time for talking about what did happen is over, and it's now time to focus on what will happen. The Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl are where all eyes need to be since those are the two semifinal games that will set up the title game on January 12. 

 

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

The one thing no one can dispute is Alabama's credentials as the No. 1 team in the nation. Nick Saban's crew answered every question coming into the season in resounding fashion, highlighted by the development of quarterback Blake Sims. 

An unknown commodity out of spring camp, Sims turned in the most prolific season of any quarterback in Alabama history, per Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

On top of that, 'Bama has the nation's top receiver in Amari Cooper and a rushing attack that you can't game-plan for. T.J. Yeldon was held in check against Missouri with 47 yards on 14 carries, but Derrick Henry powered his way to 141 yards on 20 carries. 

The defense has shown holes in the last two games. Specifically, Nick Marshall and Maty Mauk have been able to find big plays down the field. Missouri didn't have enough of those plays to make the game interesting, but Auburn dropped 44 on Saban's defense. 

The Buckeyes are the perfect opponent for Saban in the semifinals, as they aren't a fast-paced offense and need the running game to have success. Despite what you might think after the Big Ten Championship Game, Ohio State is not going to keep playing at a high level with Cardale Jones at quarterback. 

One reason for Jones' success against the Badgers is because Ohio State was able to run the ball so well. The Buckeyes had 301 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns and averaged 7.9 yards per carry. As a result of that success, Wisconsin had to sell out in order to stop the run and everything down field was one-on-one. 

Alabama has allowed three rushing touchdowns all year and the second-fewest yards per game and per carry, via Yahoo Sports. Those matchups that Jones exploited against Wisconsin aren't going to be there against a superior team. 

Alabama 34, Ohio State 13

 

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

If you listen to former players talk, they almost unanimously say there is a process teams must go through before winning a championship. The first thing they say is you must learn how to win games, even if you're not playing your best, and go from there. 

While Oregon has been one of the best programs in the country for years, it seems to have followed that process to completion in 2014. The Ducks have already conquered their biggest stumbling blocks over the last three years, defeating Stanford and Arizona this season. 

On top of avenging its only defeat this season in dominating fashion against Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game, Oregon has the most dynamic player in the country playing quarterback. ESPN Stats & Info tweeted out how dominant Marcus Mariota has been this season before destroying Arizona on Friday:

You can add five more touchdowns to that total, putting Mariota at 53 on the season. This high-powered Oregon offense has been impossible to contain since the loss against Arizona on October 2, scoring at least 42 points in the last eight games. 

Even though the offense gets all the accolades, Mark Helfrich's defense has been terrific in holding four of its last five opponents to under 20 points. While the schedule has helped that, Arizona was held 21 points below its season average Friday. 

That will be what Florida State has to overcome, as the offense has been erratic this season. Jameis Winston goes from throwing four interceptions against a mediocre Florida team to throwing for 309 yards and three touchdowns against Georgia Tech. 

In many ways, the disparity between those Winston performances perfectly sums up the Seminoles' season. It's not always pretty to watch, but you can't argue with the final results. However, they are dealing with a different animal against Oregon. 

The highest-scoring offense Florida State has seen so far this year was Georgia Tech, which averages 37 points per game. However, the Yellow Jackets are one-dimensional because they don't throw the ball. They aren't necessarily easy to stop, but there's not a lot of surprise in what they do. 

Oregon averages 46.3 points per game, ranks 11th in passing yards per game (308.9) and 22nd in rushing yards (237.3). The only team to slow down the Ducks this year was Arizona, which was eight weeks ago. 

You can only flirt with disaster for so long before getting burned. Florida State's light will be extinguished at the Rose Bowl. 

Oregon 37, Florida State 23

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 

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Orange Bowl 2014: Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech Preview and Predictions

Both seventh-ranked Mississippi State and No. 12 Georgia Tech started the season unranked. They'll finish their seasons playing in the 2014 Orange Bowl just hours before the new year.

The 10-2 Bulldogs surprised in the final College Football Playoff rankings by leapfrogging Michigan State with both idle in Week 15, which sent the SEC school to Miami instead of the Spartans. But it's hard to argue Dan Mullen's squad doesn't deserve the shot. Its only losses this year were to Alabama and Ole Miss.

Georgia Tech—like so many others—nearly pulled off the upset over Florida State in the ACC title game. The Yellow Jackets would probably still be here had they beat the Seminoles, but the close defeat will have them hungrier to start unpeeling those oranges after the game.

Either way, let's break down what you need to know heading into the game.

 

What: 2014 Capital One Orange Bowl

When: Wednesday, December 31

Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami

Start Time (ET): 8 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Odds (via Odds Shark): Mississippi State -7 (as of Dec. 7)

 

Orange Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech

Mississippi State's magical 2014 season wasn't lost in the CFP rankings despite two losses in a two-week span, as the Bulldogs head for an Orange Bowl matchup pegging two high-powered offenses.

Dak Prescott may have seen his Heisman campaign fade along with the Bulldogs' championship hopes, but the junior can still seal one of the best seasons in program history. 

The Mississippi State quarterback has already shattered most of the single-season school records, but his biggest tool can be a deceptively powerful running game. With a style similar to a Tim Tebow, he still puts up huge numbers as David Hale of ESPN.com noted:

Paul Johnson's defense will have its hands full with Prescott and rusher Josh Robinson, but the coach has a pretty nifty offense of his own. And after four straight seasons with seven wins, the Yellow Jackets made a furious charge down the stretch to top Clemson and Georgia before a two-point defeat to the unbeaten Seminoles.

Their triple-option has been shredding some decent competition as of late, racking up 331 yards on the ground against Florida State and one shy of 400 at Georgia. 

Understandably, Mullen and the Bulldogs hadn't done too much studying of the system they will be quickly refamiliarizing themselves with. But he did catch some of Tech's game Saturday and noted his son's key advice, as Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal's Logan Lowery and Starkville Daily News' Ben Wait shared:

Georgia Tech's offense is a freight train that the Bulldogs will be hard-pressed to stop, but they can look back to strong performances against Auburn and LSU to trust they can stand up against a physical rushing attack. Top NFL draft prospect and linebacker Benardrick McKinney has been on point as the defensive signal-caller all season, but he'll need to trust his fellow rushers to make the proper reads.

Prescott and Co. will inevitably put up the points against an average Georgia Tech defense, but the offense won't be able to afford the cold spells it is being more accustomed to if the Yellow Jackets pour it on them.

As told by Johnson's lobbying for an eight-team playoff after the ACC title loss, they're not the only team in this matchup that believed in its chances for a national title, and they should be intent on proving it against a top-caliber foe, per SiriusXM:

 

Prediction

The vaunted triple-option cannot be stopped; it can only be contained. And the Bulldogs are about to do just that.

Mississippi State's incredible depth on the defensive line and McKinney's instincts will force just enough punts to inevitably get Prescott into his groove. The Yellow Jackets won't have an answer for the Bulldogs' rushing attack, and Prescott will test the outside with De'Runnya Wilson enough to keep them honest.

Synjyn Days and Zach Laskey will make it respectable for Georgia Tech late, but the difference between these two teams will be apparent quite early.

Mississippi State 38, Georgia Tech 24

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Cotton Bowl 2015: Full Preview and Predictions for Michigan State vs. Baylor

Baylor and Michigan State may not enjoy how they were treated by the selection committee, but it makes for an undeniably alluring Cotton Bowl. 

The Bears beat No. 9 Kansas State on Saturday 38-27, securing an 11-1 finish and a tie with TCU atop the Big 12. With a win over the Horned Frogs, Art Briles' team felt it had done enough to crack the inaugural College Football Playoff, but the committee simply awarded the de facto conference champs as first runner-up.

Briles, via BaylorBears.com, talked about the disappointment: 

I hate it for the Big 12. I think the Big 12 is a great conference. I don't think there is any doubt that it is certainly one of the stronger leagues in America. I think the waters got muddied a couple of weeks ago -saying we would be presented as co-champions. I think that hurt the cause for both of us quite honestly.

As for the Spartans, they didn't even need to play to get done in by the committee. Despite a bye, they were flip-flopped with Mississippi State, who were also off for the week. 

CBS Sports' Jon Solomon put it simply:

The national championship may not be on the line, but both teams are unequivocally going to be out to make a statement. 

Everyone will look to the Rose Bowl as the quarterback matchup to watch (and understandably so, with Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston), but this one isn't far behind. 

Bryce Petty and Connor Cook will both be playing on Sundays in the future, and they aren't too bad on Saturdays, either.

Petty has completed 62.1 percent of his throws for 3,305 yards, 26 touchdowns and six interceptions. It has actually been a down year compared to his ridiculous junior campaign, but he's still one of the best playmakers in the country, and as he showcased against Kansas State, he thrives in the spotlight. 

As ESPN Stats & Info noted, Baylor's offense, which is first in the country in points (46.9) and yards per game (568.7), can strike in a hurry:

Cook has proven capable of keeping up, though. On the season, he has 2,900 yards (with a slightly better yards-per-attempt average than Petty), 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. Against a Bears defense that is stout against the run but allowing 7.6 yards per pass (101st in the country), the junior will be airing it out a lot. 

Defensively, Michigan State boasts better numbers overall (4.7 yards per play allowed vs. Baylor's 5.1, per TeamRankings.com), but the difference in style of play from each conference must be considered. When the Spartans have gone up against teams with Baylor's kind of offensive talent, they have given up 46 (at Oregon in September) and 49 points (versus Ohio State in November). 

Football Outsiders, which factors in schedule strength and other variables, ranks Baylor 23rd in the nation in defense, while Michigan State is down at No. 43.

All of this is a way of saying this game is going to turn into a scintillating shootout. No matter who ends up on top, it's safe to say this will be one of the most entertaining contests of the bowl season. 

This may be a last-team-with-the-ball-wins sort of thing. Ultimately, though, Baylor's offense will make just a few more plays in the end. 

Prediction: Baylor 45, Michigan State 42

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College Football Playoff Championship 2015: TV Schedule, Odds and Predictions

There will never be a lack of controversy when it comes to deciding who gets to play for the national championship, but the inaugural College Football Playoff certainly isn't short on storylines. 

In the Sugar Bowl, it's No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 1 Alabama. Urban Meyer vs Nick Saban. The Buckeyes' explosive offense vs. the Crimson Tide's star-studded defense. 

And as Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan discussed, via The Times-Picayune's Trey Iles, a whole lot of history:

The opportunity to host two national powers with such great tradition is a true honor. Alabama boasts 15 national championships and met the challenge of another difficult SEC season, while Ohio State has been a perennial power in the Big Ten and has seven national titles of its own. With all that, we have little doubt that this game will produce another memorable chapter in the great history of the Sugar Bowl.

In the Rose Bowl, it's No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State. Jameis Winston, the defending Heisman Trophy winner, will exchange offensive haymakers with Marcus Mariota, who is expected to be the next Heisman Trophy winner. 

For everyone not from TCU or Baylor, it's a dream pair of semifinal matchups, as Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage noted:

Buckle up. 

 

While the matchups are tantalizing in terms of narratives, they aren't exactly toss-ups, with the oddsmakers favoring both Alabama and Oregon by more than a touchdown. 

It's not difficult to see why. After inconsistent starts, the Tide and Ducks have been the two best teams in the country since the middle of October. Comparatively, Ohio State (inexperienced QB) and Florida State (only two double-digit wins in its last seven) face fairly large question marks. 

Still, don't expect either to turn into a blowout. Meyer has two national championships and is 7-2 in his career in bowl games. Jimbo Fisher has one national championship and is 4-0 in the postseason. Each head coach, who has loads of talent to work with, will have his team prepared for the semifinals. 

However, while both will cover the spread, neither will earn the upset.

Alabama is just too good on both sides of the ball. It is 11th in the nation in yards per play and 10th in yards per play allowed, per TeamRankings.com. Meyer, via The Tuscaloosa News' Cecil Hurt, put it simply:

Ohio State, even with sophomore Cardale Jones making just his second career start, has the offensive arsenal to keep up (just ask Wisconsin). But ultimately, Amari Cooper and the Crimson Tide offense will be too much for the Buckeyes. 

For the Ducks, it's all about Mariota. With a ridiculous 38-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio on the season, the junior has proven to be the best player in college in 2014. Florida State, which has struggled to contain Justin Thomas and Treon Harris in the past two weeks, will have no answer for the versatile, up-tempo attack.

Predictions: Alabama 35, Ohio State 28; Oregon 38, Florida State 31 

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