NCAA Football News

College Football Fact or Fiction Heading into Championship Weekend

Heading into championship weekend, the focus intensifies on the College Football Playoff as teams get their last chance to prove to the committee that they are worthy of one of the four available spots. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee discuss some of the hottest topics heading into this highly anticipated week of the season. 

Who do you think will play in the national championship game?

Watch the video and let us know!

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College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

The uncertainty surrounding Brady Hoke’s future as the head coach at Michigan continues to hurt the Wolverines' 2015 class.

Last week, 4-star running back Michael Weber announced that he is reopening his recruiting process.

It didn’t take long for the interest to pick up in the 5’10”, 205-pounder. 

The U.S. Army All-American picked up offers from Georgia, Notre Dame and Alabama.

Those three powerhouses join the likes of Michigan State, Ohio State, USC and Wisconsin in addition to the Wolverines as schools that Weber is still considering.

According to Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports, Weber—who has plans to announce his commitment on Jan. 3 at the U.S. Army All-American game—was excited to receive his latest offer from Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.

“They are the No. 1 team in the country that always wins and they put running backs in the league every year,” Weber told Wiltfong.

The Irish will lose starting running back Cam McDaniel to graduation, while Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and Georgia’s Todd Gurley are juniors with potential to test the NFL draft waters.

With a little more than a month left until he plans to make a commitment, Weber figures to receive more interest and take some trips between now and when he leaves for San Antonio.

Can the Irish deal a further blow to the rival Wolverines by swiping Weber away, or will he be tempted to head to the SEC to play his college football?

Stay tuned.

 

Alabama Hits Sunshine State

In addition to offering Weber, Saban and his staff were active in Florida last week.

The Tide tendered 2015 3-star wide receiver Ryan Davis and 2017 4-star corner Stanford Samuels III.

Davis has offers from the likes of Florida, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Tennessee, among others. However, according to ESPN’s Derek Tyson, Davis plans to visit Tuscaloosa after his season concludes.

Meanwhile, Samuels is rated as the No. 3 corner in the 2017 class, and he possesses early offers from schools such as Georgia, Miami, LSU, Oklahoma and Tennessee, among others. Per Barton Simmons of 247Sports, UCLA also offered Samuels last week.

His father, Stanford Samuels Jr., played corner at Florida State from 2000-03.

 

Tennessee Offers Multiple Underclassmen

Butch Jones and the rest of his staff at Tennessee have been one of the surprises of the 2015 cycle, as the Vols currently have the nation’s No. 5 class

Last week, the Vols turned their attention to some of the top underclassmen in their backyard.

Jones and his staff offered 2016 3-star athlete Ikenna Okeke, 2017 running back Chase Hayden and 2018 receiver Camron Johnson—all of whom are Tennessee natives.

The Vols also offered 2017 4-star rusher Cam Akers, per Demetric Warren of Varsity Preps.

Hayden’s father, Aaron, was a standout running back for the Vols in the early 1990s.

 

Miami after California, Texas Talent

Another program who was busy last week in scouting the future classes was Miami.

Al Golden and his staff hit the fertile grounds of California and Texas to offer some of the top underclassmen in those states. 

The ‘Canes offered 2016 4-star offensive lineman Frank Martin, per Adam Gorney of Rivals. They also offered 2016 3-star defensive end Marcus Moore from the Golden State, according to David Lake of InsideTheU (subscription required).

Meanwhile, they also tendered 2016 4-star offensive lineman Jean Delance, who committed to Oklahoma earlier in the week.

Given this level of aggressiveness early, it’s clear that Golden and his staff are extending their reach by identifying top talent across the nation.

 

Best of the Rest

  • Miami offered 2018 linebacker Merlin Robertson, per Gorney.

 

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

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Tennessee Football: Best Bowl Options for the Volunteers

With the hard part of getting bowl-eligible over, the Tennessee Volunteers can now sit back, heal up and eagerly anticipate their bowl destination.

The Vols secured their first postseason berth since 2010 with a 24-17 sigh-of-relief victory over instate rival Vanderbilt. Though they looked anything but bowl-ready, none of that matters now. They overcame adversity, and jubilation reigns on Rocky Top.

Tennessee is vying for its first winning season since the Lane Kiffin-led 2009 campaign. While just getting to a bowl game and securing 15 more practices were big for perception and development, winning one would really fuel the positive vibes heading into the offseason.

So, what are the Vols looking for in a bowl berth?

  • First of all, a quality opponent that injects excitement and makes the nation forget about UT playing in a lower-tier bowl. For instance, nobody would care what bowl it was if the Vols could play a tradition-rich program such as Notre Dame or Texas. It would just be a fun matchup.
  • Secondly, UT probably wants to play somebody it matches up well against. At this point, just getting to a bowl game with this young, shallow roster was an accomplishment. But if the Vols lose a bowl game, it still goes down in the books as yet another losing season.

Considering the Big Orange Nation is a hungry bunch starved for any bowl game, many committees will be looking to get the Vols to secure good gate revenue. In other words, UT fans are going to travel well. 

But with the new SEC selection process, where the Vols land is anybody's guess, especially considering there are 12 league teams eligible for a bowl.

With Alabama an option for the first College Football Playoff, the SEC has nine additional bowl tie-ins (Citrus, Outback, Belk, Liberty, Music City, Texas, TaxSlayer, Birmingham and Independence).

The Citrus will pick from the remaining participants after the CFP committee selects its playoff and bowl participants. Then, the SEC office will decide which team goes to which bowls afterward.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Dave Matter has a good breakdown, and SEC executive associate commissioner Mark Womack told Matter there is no pecking order within the six (Outback, Belk, Liberty, Music City, Texas and TaxSlayer) and no significant differences between payouts.

The Tennessean's Matt Slovin reported that the league office will take into consideration the list of preferences submitted by both the universities and the bowl sites in choosing the destinations for those six bowls.

The Birmingham and Independence bowls will then pick from the remaining pool.

So, in the past, when the Music City Bowl almost assuredly wouldn't have passed up on the Vols because keeping UT instate virtually guaranteed a sellout, it may not have that option this year with the league office placing teams.

That makes UT's bowl destination extremely up in the air. So, where are the best possible landing spots for the Vols?

 

No. 1: Music City Bowl, Nashville

There is little doubt that a date in the Music City would be beneficial for both parties, but it's ideal for the Vols.

Not only is the Midstate a recruiting hotbed for the Vols, it would be easy travel for the fanbase, and UT would paint the state capital orange for the Dec. 30 game. 

Of the three destinations most being buzzed about with Tennessee, the Music City has the best reputation, but it also seems like the longest shot considering all the good, marquee SEC teams that have qualified. 

UT's last bowl appearance was a 30-27 loss to North Carolina in the 2010 Music City Bowl.

The Vols almost certainly would prefer this landing spot, and Music City president and CEO Scott Ramsey told The Tennessean's Mike Organ last week prior to the Vols beating Vandy that UT would be a desirable participant: "We love Tennessee; I joked with (UT athletics director) Dave Hart a couple of weeks ago and said, 'If we could book all of your home games here, I wonder if we could cut that deal?' Seriously, if Tennessee wins this week we're going to have to have a discussion because of the relationships we have there."

ESPN's Mark Schlabach and Phil Steele project the Vols to head there for their bowl. Some of the participants thrown around in recent weeks for the game were Duke, Iowa and Miami. None of those teams are dynamic offensively, and they'd be good matchups for the Vols. 

A date with Duke would see UT go toe-to-toe with longtime Vols offensive coordinator and current Duke coach David Cutcliffe, so that would be a fun game.

There's little doubt that Tennessee would sell its ticket allotment with ease to set up a showdown with Notre Dame, and that would be a game that would get plenty of national exposure because of the Irish's countrywide support.

 

No. 2: Liberty Bowl, Memphis

Again, since there's really not a lot of difference in bowl games at this level, the Vols would absolutely love to play in Memphis' bowl, where they haven't been since the 1986 game against Minnesota.

That city is about as far away in the state as you can get, and UT struggles to recruit out there, but there's still a large contingent of Vols fans in the area.

This seems the most logical choice and most likely destination for the Vols, and that would make bowl officials in the Bluff City giddy. According to GoVols247's Wes Rucker, "Tennessee is No. 1 with a bullet on the Liberty Bowl's list. It would settle for Arkansas but would prefer Tennessee. In fact, it’s tough to see a bowl wanting a program more than the Liberty Bowl wants Tennessee."

A dream matchup there on Dec. 29 that has at least been discussed is setting up Tennessee with the other UT (Texas) and coach Charlie Strong, who spurned the Vols in the search that ultimately landed Jones.

However, ESPN Big 12 writer Jake Trotter tweeted that he's hearing another prominent name for a potential UT opponent in Memphis:

If the Vols played the Mountaineers, it would be a precursor to the 2018 opener scheduled to be played in Charlotte. WVU is a good team that has played a hard schedule and would be a difficult draw for the Vols.

 

No. 3: Belk Bowl, Charlotte

Under Jones, Tennessee has knocked down the walls to the fertile recruiting grounds of North Carolina, securing nine commitments from past, current and future classes from that state.

It's such an important battleground that UT has scheduled that aforementioned opener for the '18 season there. So, playing in Charlotte on Dec. 30 would not be a bad option for the Vols, especially those fans wanting an experience away from the state.

The coolest thing about a possible Belk Bowl berth would be the rumor that the Vols could play Notre Dame, a tradition-rich school with which UT has a storied history.

CBSSports.com's Jerry Palm predicts a Vols-Irish bowl game in Charlotte.

 

No. 4: Hey, anywhere will do just fine

Let's face it: When you win six games, beggars can't be choosers. Also, considering UT hasn't played later than the regular-season finale in four long, frustrating years, players and coaches are simply ecstatic to be going anywhere.

Birmingham and Shreveport aren't exactly exotic locales this time of year, but football is football, and getting those extra practices, more exposure and bonus perception points matter. Heck, just getting the bowl swag will be a new experience for many of the UT players.

As a matter of fact, nobody on Tennessee's roster has played in a bowl game. The ones who were part of that 2010 team—punter Matt Darr, offensive tackles Jacob Gilliam and Marques Pair and walk-ons Jacob Carter, Gregory Grieco and Deanthonie Summerhill—all redshirted that year.

That's a clear picture of how far Tennessee had fallen. A program that used to bristle at Steve Spurrier wisecracking that "You can't spell Citrus without 'UT'" has struggled to get to six wins for years. 

Now that they have, the Vols are just thrilled with going to a bowl. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan after the win over VU: "That was our goal coming into this season. We wanted to get to a bowl game and get our seniors to a bowl game and then progress from there. This is a stepping stone to this program, and it's definitely an exciting time to be here. I'm excited to be going to a bowl game."

No matter where it is.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats gathered from UTSports.com unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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College Football Picks Week 15: Predictions and Odds for Top 25 Schedule

There is a new No. 1 in college football heading into Week 15, which is chock-full of conference championship tilts with huge implications for the College Football Playoff.

Alabama takes the top spot in the Associated Press poll after beating rival Auburn 55-44 in the highest-scoring Iron Bowl ever. Quarterback Blake Sims made a startling mid-game turnaround to lead his team to victory and finished with five total touchdowns and three interceptions.

Wide receiver Amari Cooper put in a magisterial performance, catching 13 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns. 

The AP pointed out how rare it is for a team to move from second to first in the poll this late in the season (h/t ESPN.com): "The last time the No. 2 team had more first-place votes than the No. 1 team this late in the season was Nov. 25, 1968, when No. 1 Ohio State had 21.5 first-places votes to USC's 24.5."

Florida State slipped to second after a middling win over Florida, Oregon held strong at third with a blowout victory in the Civil War over Oregon State and TCU is now in the Top Four and should be bullish on its playoff hopes after Mississippi State lost to Ole Miss 31-17 in the Egg Bowl.

Here is the Associated Press Top 25 heading into Week 15, followed by picks for every top team in action and a closer look at the game of the week.



AP Top 25 Predictions for Week 15

Note: odds courtesy of Odds Shark and updated as of Monday, Dec. 1, at 4 a.m. ET.

 

Game of the Week: No. 14 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Ohio State

A late injury to a major star, huge playoff implications and a star running back make the Big Ten Championship Game—to be played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis—between Ohio State and Wisconsin the can't-miss event of Week 15.

Wisconsin clinched a spot in the Big Ten title match with a 34-24 Week 14 win over Minnesota. The Buckeyes had already earned a berth, but they have a new challenge to deal with coming into the biggest game of the season.

Ohio State's dreams of a spot in the College Football Playoff took a major hit when freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett was lost for the season after suffering a broken ankle in the Buckeyes' 42-28 win over rival Michigan on Saturday, per ESPN.com's Austin Ward.

Barrett, who had set the Big Ten record for total touchdowns in a season earlier in that contest, was instrumental in turning Ohio State into one of the more potent offenses in college. The Buckeyes currently rank fifth in points per game (44.1) and 11th in total offense with 503.4 yards per game.

When star quarterback Braxton Miller was lost for the season with a shoulder injury back in summer, few could have foreseen Barrett taking the team so close to the top.

Now, it's Cardale Jones' turn.

The sophomore third-stringer will play a huge role in determining whether or not the Buckeyes can pip TCU and stave off Baylor and Mississippi State for the final playoff spot (assuming Oregon, Alabama and Florida State don't implode and hold their places).

Jones has attempted just 19 passes in his collegiate career, but coach Urban Meyer has implied the playbook will be open to Jones on Saturday.

"It's his show," he said, via Fox Sports Ohio's Zac Jackson. "He's got the keys to the car. He's already been in studying film and getting ready to go."

Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch also provided this nugget of insight from Meyer:

Of course, if his athleticism was so important, he would have beaten out Barrett this summer. Jones couldn't really have much of a tougher test for his first start at the big show. Wisconsin's defense has allowed just 16.8 points per game this season. However, Cleveland.com's Ari Wasserman believes the Buckeyes can produce enough points to win with Jones running the show:

That means relying a little more on Ezekiel Elliott to run the ball, more jet sweeps to Jalin Marshall, short slants to Michael Thomas. The Buckeyes have the playmakers to move the football without relying on Jones to do too much. 

And because Jones is a 6-foot-6, 250-pounds, maybe a few quarterbacks runs to the right and left. 

Herman has made three quarterbacks look great in his system – Braxton Miller, Kenny Guiton and Barrett. Maybe outside of Barrett's start vs. Virginia Tech, none of them have had a truly bad performance. 

Wisconsin's own offense should prove to be a tough test for the Buckeyes defenders. Quarterback Joel Stave has done well in his game manager role in recent weeks, and the team puts up 334.3 rushing yards per game, most of them coming from the imperial Melvin Gordon.

The rampaging running back, who looks like a Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson at times, has 2,260 yards and 29 total touchdowns on the season. He is closing out a historic campaign and making a run through the record books, per SportsCenter:

The Buckeyes have a fairly soft run defense, so don't expect them to shut down Gordon. What they can do, is try to force Stave into making mistakes when the Badgers do opt to pass the ball. They've forced 25 turnovers this season and will need all the extra possessions they can get in this one.

However, Badgers coach Gary Andersen feels his signal-caller is settling into a groove with seven starts under his belt in 2014.

"I really believe that he feels comfortable with his protection now," he said, via Fox Sports Wisconsin's Jesse Temple. "Probably as comfortable, I believe, as he's been since we've all been here together. If this gets blocked up, I am going to have a chance to throw the ball. He is seeing the field very, very well."

Ohio State should win this game, but Jones won't be able to deliver a big enough win for the Buckeyes to make the College Football Playoff.

That spot should go to TCU, who has a big opportunity to shine against a lowly Iowa State squad. If the scoreline is as lopsided as the spread indicates, the Horned Frogs will catch the eyes of those on the playoff committee and join the Seminoles, Crimson Tide and Ducks.

Prediction: Ohio State 24-21 Wisconsin

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College Football Rankings 2014: Latest Standings and Predictions for Week 15

The Associated Press has finally seen the light. On Sunday morning, the Alabama Crimson Tide took over the top spot from the defending champion Florida State Seminoles in the latest AP poll. Behind 224 receiving yards from Amari Cooper, the Tide knocked off the rival No. 20 Auburn Tigers in the Iron Bowl 55-44 on Saturday.

The win was enough to push Bama past the Noles, who narrowly beat the unranked Florida Gators 24-19. It should also be enough to keep Bama No. 1 in the College Football Playoff standings.

Here's a look at the latest AP Top 25 poll.

 

Mississippi State Is No Longer a Championship Contender

The Mississippi State Bulldogs saw their hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff dashed with a 31-17 loss to in-state rival Ole Miss on Saturday. That has opened the door for a small group of teams to seize the fourth spot in the College Football Playoff rankings.

The AP has thrust the TCU Horned Frogs into the fourth spot in its rankings. The Baylor Bears are fifth and the Ohio State Buckeyes are sixth. When the final CFP rankings are announced, TCU, Baylor and Ohio State will be under consideration for a spot.

 

About that Fourth Spot

Baylor beat TCU 61-58 in a game most believe the Horned Frogs deserved to win. Proof that many see TCU as the superior team is its higher ranking in the latest CFP rankings. Going into Saturday's games, TCU was ranked fifth while Baylor was sixth.

If the Bears can defeat the No. 12 Kansas State Wildcats on Saturday, it might be enough to convince voters that they should be ahead of their Big 12 rivals.

TCU draws the Iowa State Cyclones in the regular-season finale. Obviously, a loss would push the Horned Frogs out of consideration. Because the Cyclones are unranked, a win may not be enough to hold off Baylor should the Bears beat the Wildcats.

The Buckeyes will obviously have something to say about all of this.

Ohio State will face the No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Championship. If the Bucks win and both Big 12 teams fall, it should be pretty academic, assuming Alabama, the Oregon Ducks and Florida State Seminoles avoid upsets in their conference championships.

If Ohio State is to win, it will have to do it without quarterback J.T. Barrett. The freshman suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the regular-season finale against the Michigan Wolverines.

Sophomore Cardale Jones will get the start in his place. 

Things will get especially interesting if Ohio State, Baylor and TCU win. Which of the three one-loss teams will get the fourth spot in the inaugural CFP?

It's going to be an interesting Week 15.

 

Prediction: Baylor Gets the Nod

Whether TCU looks like the better team or not, the fact is it lost to Baylor head-to-head. Because both teams each have one loss, the Bears should be ranked ahead. That's not the case now, but I believe it will be once the final CFP standings are announced.

It would be a major shock if TCU fell to Iowa State. The Cyclones are 2-9, and their defense is ranked 115th in the nation. It would take a miracle for them to win on the road against TCU.

Ohio State is heading into a tough matchup against the Badgers. This battle would be difficult even if the Buckeyes had Barrett. Without him, the Badgers are my pick to win. The nation's leading rusher, Melvin Gordon, and the Badgers' dominant offensive line will control time of possession to claim the Big Ten title.

That leaves Baylor.

The Bears should feel disrespected, and they should be on a mission to stick it to everyone who ranks the Horned Frogs ahead of them. Playing at home against a tough Kansas State defense that is ranked 17th in points allowed per game, the Bears will prevail.

Last season, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty torched the Wildcats for 332 yards and three touchdowns. I see him leading the Bears to another win over Kansas State.

With a more impressive victory on the final day of the season, Baylor will earn the nod for the fourth spot in the CFP.

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Pac-12 Championship 2014: Oregon vs. Arizona Odds, Schedule and Prediction

The 2014 Pac-12 championship may very well be the nation's most intriguing title game. The Oregon Ducks have been virtually unstoppable this season, steamrolling opponents en route to an 11-1 record. Although, that one loss came against this very same Arizona Wildcats team on October 2.

ESPN College Football tweeted the tale of the tape for these teams entering the championship bout:

Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota has resembled Superman for the majority of his career in Oregon; however, Arizona has proven to be his kryptonite. Will the Heisman-hopeful signal-caller come out on top this time around, or will the Wildcats spoil the Ducks' potential College Football Playoff berth?

Before these teams head back into action, here's a look at the essential viewing information, followed by a preview and prediction for this clash of Pac-12 foes.

 

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

Game Odds (via Odds Shark): Oregon -13.5

 

Preview and Prediction

It's really quite impressive what Mariota's been able to accomplish this season. He's notched 48 total touchdowns and 4,132 yards of offense while only throwing two interceptions. The quarterback recorded six total touchdowns against Oregon State on Saturday, setting a new Pac-12 record, via College GameDay:

Arizona has been able to get to Mariota in the past. According to CFBStats.com, the Wildcats were able to sack the signal-caller five times earlier this season, throwing off his rhythm and ability to complete passes down the field. Expect the Wildcats to apply as much pressure as possible once again versus a Ducks offensive line that has allowed 29 sacks this season, ranking 90th in the nation.

Of course, the way to combat the pass rush is by utilizing the running game and short passing game. The Ducks excel at both, as they average 232.0 yards per game on the ground, and playmakers Royce Freeman and Byron Marshall are more than capable of producing yards after the catch.

Here's a look at a spectacular one-handed grab by Freeman in the Civil War, via SportsCenter:

The Wildcats are going to need a superior effort from running back Nick Wilson. The freshman has been phenomenal this season, averaging 6.2 yards per carry and rushing for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns. He's really been lighting it up late in the season, accumulating a total of 396 rushing yards and six scores over his last two games.

Here's the call from Brian Jeffries during Wilson's 72-yard touchdown scamper against Arizona State, via IMG College Audio:

Oregon has been taken advantage of on the ground at times this season, ranking 54th in the nation and allowing an average of 157.8 yards per game. If the Ducks sell out against the run, quarterback Anu Solomon is more than capable of taking the top off the defense—he passed for 287 yards the last time he faced Oregon.

While Arizona certainly has the talent to keep up with this potent Oregon offense, it's simply too difficult to bet against Mariota here. He ended the season with a flourish, accounting for no less than four touchdowns in each of his last five games. When he's scoring those kinds of points, the Ducks become extremely difficult to defeat.

This time around, the kryptonite won't take down Superman.

Prediction: Oregon 38, Arizona 27

 

All team statistics and rankings courtesy of NCAA.com unless noted otherwise and current as of November 30.

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ACC Championship 2014: Florida State vs. Georgia Tech Odds, Schedule, Prediction

Florida State finished off the regular season with a win, extending its winning streak to 28 games; however, Georgia Tech produced a very impressive conclusion to its season, defeating two ranked teams in consecutive games to earn a berth in the ACC championship against the Seminoles.

In fact, the ACC was a big overall winner in rivalry week, per ESPN College Football:

While Florida State is unbeaten this season, are the Seminoles still favored in this title clash? After all, they haven't won by more than a five-point margin in their last three games against unranked opponents. Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets took care of business against both Clemson and Georgia.

Can Florida State reach 29 consecutive victories and secure a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff, or will a surging Georgia Tech team play spoiler and take the ACC crown? Before we receive an answer to that question, here's a look at the game's pertinent viewing information, followed by a preview and a prediction of this highly anticipated bout.

 

Viewing Information

When: Saturday, December 6

Where: Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Channel: ABC

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Game Odds (via Odds Shark): Florida State -4

 

Preview and Prediction

Georgia Tech overcame some early miscues against Georgia and put itself in position for a Harrison Butker 53-yard field goal as time expired. Following a convincing touchdown drive in the first overtime, the ball-hawking Yellow Jackets defense secured the victory with an interception off Hutson Mason.

Following that win, Georgia Tech improved to 12th in the nation in takeaways, totaling 17 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries through 12 games. That's not a good sign for a suddenly turnover-prone Jameis Winston.

The former Heisman-winning quarterback has struggled with ball security this season, throwing at least one interception in nine of his 11 games. He capped off the regular season with a four-pick performance against Florida, keeping the Gators in the game for the full 60 minutes.

Here's a rather telling statistic on the matter, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Winston's miscues have led to some nail-biting games for the Seminoles, and that trend is likely to continue against a Georgia Tech team capable of controlling the pace of the game with its fourth-ranked rushing offense.

The Yellow Jackets are averaging 333.8 yards per game on the ground this season, and the Seminoles have been average defensively in that category, allowing an average of 145.8 yards per game, which ranks 42nd in the nation.

A combination of dual-threat quarterback Justin Thomas, bruising running back Zach Laskey and the speedy Synjyn Days has been formidable this year, as each player is averaging at least 5.0 yards per carry. Here's a look at what this team did on the ground against the Bulldogs during rivalry week, per ESPN College Football:

If the Yellow Jackets can take advantage of some Winston miscues and utilize their running game to control the contest's pace, there's a good possibility Georgia Tech will pull off the upset over a sluggish Seminoles squad.

Florida State may attempt to utilize the combination of running backs Karlos Williams and Dalvin Cook to keep Georgia Tech's offense off the field, and that will be the team's best bet against the Yellow Jackets' 70th-ranked run defense; however, even limiting Winston to just 24 passing attempts against Florida didn't fix his turnover woes.

Taking these current on-field trends into consideration, we're in for a rather surprising ACC champion.

Prediction: Georgia Tech 31, Florida State 27

 

All team rankings and statistics courtesy of NCAA.com and are current as of November 30.

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Big Ten Football: The Conference All-Senior Team in 2014

The regular season is in the rear-view mirror, and we're just a few days away from the conference championship game and the naming of the All-Big Ten team for 2014.  We thought we'd put a little twist on the All-Big Ten selections here by limiting our list to Big Ten seniors who will shortly complete their time on campus.

To be eligible for our list, players must be considered seniors in terms of time spent at their schools—not necessarily by what they're listed as on the official roster (meaning some may have redshirted).  Additionally, we're obviously requiring some standout play from these All-Senior team selections, too.

It's safe to say that every guy on this list will be sorely missed by their teammates, coaches and fans next season, and without further ado, we'd like to present our selections of the top senior performers of the 2014 Big Ten season.

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College Football Superlatives from Kramer's Korner: Preseason Polls Looking Good

Preseason football polls are repulsive, purposeless, preposterous and a determent to the overall well-being of the sport. They should be sent to the moon or the bottom of the ocean. They should be denied access to any club and your home, for that matter. They should be mocked openly whenever possible.

With that necessary disclaimer out in the open, let’s give credit where it’s due.

The 2014 preseason AP poll tagged Florida State, Alabama and Oregon as overwhelming favorites before the season began. Such prognostications have played out accordingly—albeit with strange twists and turns along the way—into conference championship week.

The Top 10 has lost and gained a few names since it crept into view all the way back in August, but the voters fared quite well overall. Of the 10 teams highlighted before the season began, six are still in the picture. Another, UCLA, fell out this week.

And the top three, as referenced above, have only seen movement in the two; the three favorites entering the season have remained the favorites.

Watching the chalk play out as such shouldn’t come as some sort of crowning achievement, but the reality is that college football rarely follows this script. For further proof of this, go back less than one full calendar year to the national championship: Florida State (the No. 11-ranked team to start the season) took on Auburn. The Tigers began the year unranked.

Teams with high hopes crash and burn. Typically, however, they burn at a far greater frequency.

This season has not yielded typical results. While chaos has loomed throughout, it’s strange to see us enter the final week prior to the bowl season right back where we started. We never expected TCU or Arizona to crash this party or a talent-rich Oklahoma team to fall so hard, but the preseason poll, for the most part, tabbed this season quite well.

Nicely done, voters. Nicely done.

With that praise out of the way, does anyone have a rocket ship or a submarine I can borrow?

As for the awards, large-men achievements and important Vines of the week, here is a look at Week 14. 

 

Offensive Player of the Week: Cody Kessler, USC

It took Cody Kessler less than two-and-a-half quarters to accomplish something no other quarterback had ever done. Kessler threw for six touchdowns against Notre Dame, becoming the first QB to ever do so. On the afternoon, Kessler completed 32 of his 40 passes thrown for 372 yards and found the end zone six times.

Quite frankly, the entire surgery looked far too easy.

In 2014, Kessler has accounted for 38 touchdowns and has thrown only four interceptions. He has quietly put together a tremendous season, and yet, no one is really talking about it in large part because of the number in USC's loss column.

Assuming Kessler returns in 2015, that should certainly change. With so much talent expected to return with him, Kessler won’t go underappreciated for much longer.

 

Dominant Defender: Scooby Wright, Arizona 

I know we’re not into the whole defensive-players-winning-the-Heisman thing, but please take note of the following. 

Scooby Wright has been a monster all season for Arizona, and his 2014 efforts culminated in a brilliant performance against rival Arizona State. Wright finished Week 14 with 13 tackles, five tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble against the Sun Devils. As impressive as his performance was, this was more or less an extension of what he’s done all season.

Wright has 139 tackles, 27 tackles for loss, 14 sacks and six forced fumbles in 2014. He has a chance to add to these totals in the Pac-12 Championship on Friday, and I ask that you hold on to all Heisman ballots until at least the weekend is complete.

 

Video Game Box Score

The Marshall-Western Kentucky game is precisely why this section was concocted in the first place. After all, where else can you celebrate 133 points, 1,446 yards, 933 passing yards, 74 first downs and so much more in one football game? I can’t possibly do the Hilltoppers’ 67-66 win the complete justice, so please celebrate the absurdity of the box score yourself.

Just been gazing at this for a while. pic.twitter.com/OzZWMUYZD3

— Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) November 29, 2014

Arkansas State created Sun Belt carnage on Saturday, beating New Mexico State 68-35. The score was one thing; the offensive brilliance was another. The Red Wolves finished with 764 yards, which featured a total of 469 rushing yards. Let's dig even deeper. Three different Arkansas State players ran for at least 100 yards in this matchup. You don't see that all too often.

 

Anti-Video Game Box Score 

South Florida capped off its 2014 season by being shut out against Central Florida. The Bulls finished with just 200 total yards and ran the ball 22 times for five yards. Two USF quarterbacks finished with negative rushing yards, which helped vandalize all rushing totals. Take it away, offseason. 

Wake Forest’s final game of the 2014 season was a 21-point loss for Duke. With the 2014 campaign complete, the Demon Deacons capped off one of the most anemic rushing seasons in recent history. Wake Forest finished the year with 383 rushes for 479 yards and four touchdowns. (You can do the math on what this averages out per carry. It is not good.)

 

Biggest Surprise

Justin Fuente just orchestrated one of the more staggering one-year turnarounds you will ever witness. The Memphis head coach led the Tigers to a 9-3 record with their victory over Connecticut, giving the team at least a share of the American Athletic Conference regular-season championship. It's also worth noting that two of these losses came to UCLA and Ole Miss.

One year ago, Memphis was 3-9. Go back a little further, and the Tigers were likely the worst team in the country.

With jobs opening all over the map, expect Fuente to get serious consideration in a handful of places. Regardless of what transpires, he should probably begin construction on his backyard Scrooge McDuck vault.

 

Best Moment

Lane Kiffin knew Amari Cooper was scoring a touchdown before you did. In fact, Kiffin knew that Blake Sims would hit college football’s most dominant weapon in stride before the pass even left his hand. 

Cooper’s 39-yard touchdown catch in the second half may appear somewhat simple on the surface. But when you zero in on the sideline and turn the focus to Alabama’s offensive coordinator—a coach you know quite well—you gain a much bigger appreciation for the way the play was executed.

Nicely called, sir. And thanks to Chris Brown—better known as @Smartfootball—for the tremendous find.

 

For the Highlight Reel: Part 1 

It looked like the play was going to be stopped before it ever began and that a tackle for loss (or a short gain) was inevitable. Then, once all ankles had been broken, it quickly became a 91-yard touchdown.

Ole Miss running back Jaylen Walton somehow managed to avoid almost the entire Mississippi State defense. After navigating a sea of people much larger than him, Walton came out on the other side, somehow, and didn’t look back.

Be careful; you may want to ice all critical knee leg joints out of precaution before you watch.

 

For the Highlight Reel: Part 2 

This is the first time, to my knowledge, a football has been kicked multiple stories skyward before falling down in the arms of a defender. And you thought there was no good reason to watch Kansas State play Kansas. (There was one, and this was it.) 

Kansas quarterback Michael Cummings tried to hit Rodriguez Coleman near the end zone, although Coleman somehow kicked the ball to the clouds. It seemed to hang up there for a while—as if the slow-mo feature was activated—before falling into the arms of Kansas State’s Randall Evans.

It was odd, unusual and spectacular.

 

For the Highlight Reel: Part 3

On Thanksgiving night against Texas A&M, Leonard Fournette showed the world just how miserable he would be to tackle. This is not so much a running back breaking a tackle as it is a tank trying out its new industrial roller skates.

The scariest thing about Fournette isn't what he already is, which is scary. It's what he can (and will) become once he logs more hours with a strength coach at a major college football program. The results could be terrifying.

 

If the College Football Playoff Started Today...(or Why I Hate Your Team)

We are now less than one week away from the first ever release of the College Football Playoff, and I’m not talking about the weekly cash-grab programming. The real thing is coming, which means this will take on a much different tone soon.

If you are a committee member, you should not be wasting your time reading this piece. You should be ensuring that your windows are indeed brick proof and that your basement has enough food to last roughly six months. Get to it.

Here are my four teams as it stands right now, subject to change, of course.

1. Oregon

2. Alabama

3. Florida State

4. TCU

 

5 Leftovers to Chew On

1. I’m shocked, to be honest, that Nebraska fired Bo Pelini when it did. If he was going to go, last year seemed like the appropriate time. The relationship between administration and coach was clearly fractured, although Pelini still won a ton of games. In some ways, because of this, I respect the decision. It shows that the Cornhuskers are risking plenty—more than $7 million—in order to return to their previous form, and that this simply was not good enough. Another part of me wonders just what kind of message this sends to coaches who might be interested in the position. If nine or 10 wins isn’t going to cut it, is this a job they'll want?

2. The injury to Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett is an enormous gut-punch. There is no other way to shape it. Barrett has been one of the most explosive players in all of college football this season, and his absence for the rest of the year due to an ankle injury could potentially reshape the College Football Playoff. Bigger than any postseason or conference championship game impact, however, is the impact on the player. This is a tremendous bummer for one of the game’s true breakout stars in 2014; I hope he returns to form next year. 

3. What a strange week for Group of Five teams. After finally cracking the College Football Playoff selection committee’s Top 25, Marshall lost its first game. Colorado State, which was poised to make an appearance in the poll, also fell in Week 14. That was not the case for Boise State, which cruised in its matchup against Utah State and is poised to represent the Group of Five in a major bowl game. Some things change; some things stay the same. 

4. SMU has been a pinata in these weekly columns all season, but it landed a gem in Chad Morris. The soon-to-be former Clemson offensive coordinator will head back to his high school coaching roots in the state of Texas and have the dubious task of turning around a program that has hit rock bottom. It sounds like he will be compensated handsomely to do so. A turnaround such as this is going to take time—multiple recruiting classes and a few seasons of frustration—but I love this hire. Plus, Morris con operate with little pressure early on while taking home a pretty penny. This is a true win-win. 

5. There is nothing quite like rivalry week. Whether it’s the Iron Bowl, the Egg Bowl, the Apple Cup or any of the other meaningful (and historic) matchups played yearly between familiar programs, we were reminded just how vital these games are to the sport once again in Week 14. While college football can be frustrating at times—especially when it comes to the financial implications seemingly reshaping the sport—the origins of our interests have not shifted. The hate, the love, the passion and the familiarity between schools is why we signed up in the first place, and it was on display this past weekend.

 

Large-Man Play of the Week: Part 1

When a player tipping the scales near or over 300 pounds gets his hands on the football, magic happens. In fact, this magic happens before these large men actually touch the football.

It’s that moment before they can actually make a play, when the ball is falling toward them like a magical glazed ham, that time stops along with our beating hearts.

Virginia defensive lineman David Dean was tossed into this situation against Virginia Tech. The 295-pounder grabbed the tipped pass out of the air and gracefully rumbled for a touchdown.

Please be sure to play the appropriate music before watching.

 

Large-Man Play of the Week: Part 2

Danny Shelton is listed at 339 pounds on his bio. Please keep that in mind as you watch the defensive tackle pull a Varsity Blues-like barrel roll prior to the snap and come away with another quarterback sack shortly after.

He is the world's largest cat. (He's also an exceptional defensive tackle.)

 

Fan of the Week 

What do you do when your team—the No. 1 team in the country—is down in the second half and seemingly on the ropes?

You don’t panic like the rest of Bryant-Denny Stadium. You simply enjoy the delicious nachos you paid $75 for not long ago. Nothing soothes the soul like nachos.

 

Mascot of the Week

Disclaimer: This is snow.

The Western Michigan mascot had himself a good time this past weekend, getting a face full of winter during his team's game. I'm going to leave it at that and allow you to consume the rest of this yourself.

 

Angry Rich Rodriguez Vine of the Week

Let’s attempt to figure out why Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez had a meltdown near the end of his team’s win against Arizona State. Was it something someone said? If so, I have a few ideas.

“Coach, I lost my playbook.”

“Coach, are you taking the Florida job?”

“Coach, I got you a signed photo of Pitbull for Christmas."

“Coach, I didn't get you a signed photo of Pitbull for Christmas. Sorry.”

 

 

Best (Worst) Snap of the Week

This is your Week 14 Notre Dame recap in its entirety. You don't need a replay. You don't need a box score. You don't need in-depth analysis.

All you need is one glorious Vine.

 

 

From the Peanut Gallery (Best Tweets of the Weekend)

Parents of the year RT @BeingOxford: This kid wins the day. pic.twitter.com/DTecIWBe9V

— Bunkie Perkins (@BunkiePerkins) November 29, 2014

Because Louisville. pic.twitter.com/8VEYb9kgbe

— Not Jerry Tipton (@NotJerryTipton) November 29, 2014

Probably gonna frame this. pic.twitter.com/70FklfeMmL

— Isaac (@WorldofIsaac) November 29, 2014

Picture of the year from @NwachukwuTim#Mizzoupic.twitter.com/EApolvNrIQ

— Gabe DeArmond (@GabeDeArmond) November 29, 2014

Sportsmanship. pic.twitter.com/2q8sw7OlsN

— Freep Sports (@freepsports) November 29, 2014

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football: The Biggest Disappointments for the Longhorns in 2014

The Longhorns have had their moments in 2014, but it's impossible to finish the regular season with a 6-6 record without a string of disappointments along the way.

Fresh off of a 48-10 pasting at the hands of TCU, it's easy to forget what Charlie Strong has accomplished in his first season. The Longhorns are still the best pass defense in the Big 12 by a mile, will return their entire offensive line and, no matter what, will have two quarterbacks who have spent a year learning the offense.

No matter what happens in the bowl, these Horns can hold onto those achievements as signs that the program is moving forward.

Right now, it's just tough to swallow the blowout losses, offensive line woes, inconsistent quarterbacking and the disappearance of Cedric Reed.

Begin Slideshow

The 3 Biggest X-Factors for Ohio State vs. Wisconsin

A year after falling short to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game, Urban Meyer and No. 6 Ohio State are headed back to Indianapolis for a matchup against No. 11 Wisconsin this Saturday. 

The Buckeyes haven't won a conference title since 2009 (their shared championship in 2010 was vacated) despite winning 35 of their 38 games under Meyer. Beating the Badgers and earning that championship will be a tall order without star quarterback J.T. Barrett, though. The Heisman Trophy candidate suffered a fractured ankle early in the fourth quarter against Michigan and will be sidelined for the rest of the season.

How can Ohio State rise up and beat Wisconsin? These three X-factors will be imperative as the Buckeyes try to replace Barrett and stop a powerful Badgers offense. 

 

Cardale Jones

Faced with the reality of going to the Big Ten title game without the quarterback who was instrumental in getting his team there, Meyer talked about backup Cardale Jones, who will take the reins as Barrett's replacement.

“Obviously, we lost a Heisman candidate today, J.T. Barrett,” Meyer said, according to Bob Hunter of The Columbus Dispatch. “So we’ve got to go. We’ve got to go, and we have a lot of confidence in the guy that’s going to be doing it. His name is Cardale Jones. He’s been here, I think, for 120 years. He’s been here awhile."

Jones, a redshirt sophomore, was a part of Meyer's first recruiting class at Ohio State. The 6'5", 250-pound bruiser is a strong runner with a cannon of an arm, but the Buckeyes will likely simplify the game plan in an effort to avoid mistakes.

"I can't imagine the type of pressure he's going to be feeling," left tackle Taylor Decker said, according to Bill Landis of The Plain Dealer. "If we come together and let him know the he doesn't need to be a super hero. He doesn't have to play the best game he's every played. He just has to prepare and we'll be fine."

 

The Run Defense

The Buckeyes' run defense has been uncharacteristically poor this season, and they're coming off of four bad outings. 

Dating back to its matchup against the Spartans, Ohio State has surrendered a combined 584 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns to running backs Jeremy Langford (Michigan State), David Cobb (Minnesota), Tevin Coleman (Indiana) and Drake Johnson (Michigan). And those numbers could have been worse if not for an injury to Johnson in the third quarter of Saturday's game. 

In order to win the Big Ten championship, the Buckeyes will have to find a way to limit Melvin Gordon, who leads the country with 2,260 yards and 26 touchdowns on the ground. 

Gordon, who's closing in on Barry Sanders' single-season rushing record and in the thick of the Heisman Trophy race, has the blend of speed and power that could give the Buckeyes serious fits on Saturday. 

The Buckeyes will be able to load the box to stop the run, as Wisconsin averages just 147.8 passing yards per game, which ranks 117th nationally. But that's the blueprint that every team has used against the Badgers, and still, Gordon is on the brink of history.

If Ohio State can't find a way to slow him down, it could be a long night for the Buckeyes. 

 

Jalin Marshall 

The Buckeyes will be looking to utilize their bevy of playmakers in Barrett's absence, and none of those options are more versatile than Jalin Marshall.

The former 4-star athlete has emerged as Ohio State's top H-back after Dontre Wilson broke his foot against Michigan State, and he has thrived with the Buckeyes, leading the team in receiving yards (199) and receiving touchdowns (four) over the past three games. 

But the Buckeyes could get creative with Marshall, who used to play quarterback at the high school level. In fact, Meyer hinted toward that on Sunday night. 

Marshall's versatility as a receiver, runner and as a potential passing threat could catch the Badgers off balance. 

 

All stats via NCAA.com. All recruiting information via 247 Sports

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff 2014: Top 25 Predictions After Week 15 AP Rankings

The college football landscape shifted once again following Saturday, including a massive loss at the top.

Mississippi State losing the Egg Bowl essentially eliminated the Bulldogs from the College Football Playoff discussion. As a result, two Big 12 teams and a cast of others have hopes for making it into the playoff bracket.

Baylor and TCU are vying for the final spot, but the Bears won their head-to-head matchup. In the final game, Baylor also faces Kansas State with a chance to make a statement, while TCU goes up against Iowa State.

With the AP Poll out and the CFP voters pondering their rankings, here's a look at the projected Top 25.

 

Breakdown of Projections

Teams like UCLA and Mississippi State may have shot themselves in the foot, but others like Arizona and TCU were waiting in the wings.

By virtue of their win over Arizona State, the Wildcats head to the Pac-12 Championship Game. In the title game, Arizona faces the most high-profile program they've defeated this season in Oregon, which just so happens to be the only loss for the Ducks.

Not only did the Wildcats take down Oregon earlier this year, but they've also been a bugaboo for the Ducks, as ESPN College Football notes:

Though Arizona and Ohio State still have an outside shot of creating some chaos, the current projections are due to what has happened on the field thus far. Baylor may have defeated TCU earlier this season, but few are questioning which team is currently better.

In fact, Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports believes TCU should be above Florida State:

Regardless of where Florida State falls, the Seminoles continue to remain unscathed. But with a tough test against Georgia Tech coming up, Jameis Winston might have his hands full against a team that enjoys keeping the ball away with its running game.

One team that simply isn't going anywhere is Alabama, who returns to the SEC title game against Missouri. The Crimson Tide's offense comes in rolling behind Amari Cooper, as ESPN Stats & Info notes:

The defense was a bit pedestrian, but Cooper's sensational play has proved to be a catalyst for the Tide. If he is let loose again during the SEC Championship Game, Bama will hold the conference's hopes for a title as the only remaining program in the playoff.

At this point, however, nothing is secured for any of the top programs. TCU might be jumped by Baylor. Ohio State could prove itself with a third-string quarterback. Bama, FSU and Oregon all might fall in the conference championship and completely shake things up.

Those who wanted chaos in Week 14 got it. It's now time to buckle up for what might turn out to be another wild final weekend to decide the playoff. 

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: Wolverines Who Played Best Down the Stretch

Jake Butt, Ben Gedeon and Mason Cole, along with Matt Godin, Drake Johnson and Joe Bolden, were all a part of something that was difficult—or nearly impossible for some—to see this season in Michigan: progress.

Yes, progress.

And it's all returning next year. 

Now, before bursting into maniacal laughter and clicking to something else—because there sure as hell wasn’t anything remotely close to noticeable improvement in 2014, right?!—take the time to look past the 5-7 (3-5 Big Ten) record and the losses to Michigan State, Ohio State and Maryland, and forget about, if even just for a second, the dark cloud hanging above coach Brady Hoke.

That said, it’s OK to remember the cascade of mental lapses in execution and miscues in preparation that contributed to the downfall and widespread failure.

However, there were the occasional noteworthy moments. Some guys showed a strong desire each week.

What about Gedeon’s bigger play-saving hit along the sidelines on Buckeyes running back Curtis Samuel? Evidently, the 6'3", 240-pound sophomore didn’t close shop for the year; he kept it revving all day like the Wolverines were in the hunt for a playoff spot.

Actually, he’s been going strong since this past season’s Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl as a special teamer and linebacker. He’s one of a few who deserve credit for developing.

What about Butt’s 7-7 equalizing touchdown in the first quarter? He even added a “shhh” gesture at the end—he was physically and emotionally ready for “The Game” and the sea of scarlet and gray at The Shoe.

Evidently, like Gedeon and a few others, Butt didn’t succumb to the notion that his team had zero chance of topping Urban Meyer’s bunch—not for one second. He didn’t have an earth-shattering day—four catches (including a 12-yard TD) for 35 yards—but he certainly gave Wolverines fans a little something to briefly smile about.

Discussing Michigan's 2014 implosion is necessary, and there will be plenty of time for that during the offseason. However, following its 42-28 loss to Ohio State, highlighting areas in which Team 135 showed signs of improvement seems like an appropriate change of pace—at least for the time being.

 

Offensive Strides That Weren’t Offensive

Michigan needed someone to deliver Saturday, and that someone just happened to be Johnson, an Ann Arbor-bred kid from Pioneer High who came on strong late in the year.

Prior to suffering an apparent knee injury midway through the third quarter, the 6’1”, 211-pound redshirt sophomore had 15 carries for 74 yards and a pair of touchdowns versus the Buckeyes.

Before that, he rushed for 94 during his team’s 23-16 senior-day loss to Maryland.

And before that, he piled 16 carries for a career-high 122 yards during a 34-10 homecoming trouncing of Indiana—again, it wasn't a season’s worth of documentation, but it was something to reference.

Combined with Derrick Green, who was lost for the year Oct. 4 after suffering a broken clavicle versus Rutgers, Johnson represents a ground game with a glimmer of hope.

Were his 60 carries for 361 yards and four scores too little, too late? Maybe. But they're slightly better than nothing at all. 

Earlier this season, Butt said that his goal was to become one of Michigan’s great tight ends. That’s pretty standard stuff, right? Who sets out to be average? He didn’t shine as brightly as many had hoped for in 2014, but the 6’6”, 250-pound sophomore was effective when he got the ball.

It’s worth noting that drops, mistakes in route running and falling short of full health could have caused a lack of action and production, too. Butt wasn’t perfect by any stretch, finishing the year with a game-high of four catches twice and 21 grabs for 221 yards and two touchdowns; but again, he was able to demonstrate poise and leadership during a crucial contest.

Guys with pride play how Butt played Saturday, that’s all there is to it. Fortunately for Michigan, he’ll be back next year—several more months removed from an ACL tear suffered during this past season’s winter workouts and on pace to accomplish his dream of doing something memorable with the Wolverines. 

As long as he stays away from flying chest-bump touchdown celebrations, he’ll be good. That's how he was injured in the first place. 

Considering that he started at left tackle as a true freshman, Mason Cole gives reason to be cautiously optimistic in regards to the O-line, which, in general terms, was terrible across the board. But Devin Gardner’s sack total dropped from 34, the third-most in FBS in 2013, to 26, good for No. 27 overall this time around.

Cole helped ease the burden of protecting a mobile target. 

At 6’5” and 292 pounds, he has the frame to anchor the front line for three more years. Despite freshman struggles, he’s on the right path, evidenced by his ability to survive and strive during a tumultuous first year with the big boys.

 

Don’t Get Defensive about These Steps

First and foremost, Bolden is an emotional leader. In hindsight, his stake-driving at Michigan State was certainly boisterous and completely over the top, but it was probably a welcome boost for a team looking for motivation.

The Wolverines lost 35-11, but the 6’3”, 231-pound junior racked up a career-high 12 tackles. If that’s not getting up for a game, what is?

During the following Monday’s press conference, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison praised the linebacker’s heart by saying that he’d love to have a “room full of Joe Boldens.”

Now a 6’6”, 285-pound redshirt sophomore, Godin, one of Michigan’s unsung workaholics, continues to forge ahead with a chip on his shoulder and fearless attitude. He didn’t have a reel’s worth of highlights, but he contributed with 1.5 tackles for a loss versus the Terrapins, and he got his first collegiate interception during a 10-9 road win over Northwestern.

Because of depth, pockets of development and players such as Godin, Mattison had the No. 9-ranked total defense in 2014 (pre-bowl/playoff). 

But it still needs some work, especially on the back end. 

The secondary and pass coverage was the Achilles' heel, which is a shock because the Wolverines had all-conference-caliber DBs such as Blake Countess, Raymon Taylor and Jourdan Lewis patrolling the beat.

Somehow, though, Countess took steps backward after being named to the Jim Thorpe Award watch list. Taylor had his moments, but he wasn’t always on top of things.

Lewis, though, and maybe unexpectedly, was the star of the group. The 5’10”, 175-pound sophomore appeared front and center versus Utah—making what was probably the team’s stop of the year—and against Michigan State—a game in which he had four tackles, one for loss.

He also had a touchdown-saving pass breakup Saturday against Ohio State.

Michigan lacked universal improvement in 2014, and it won’t compete for Big Ten titles and playoff bids until everyone is maturing, progressing and getting better—not just a select few.

But it's time to deliver a nod of respect, even a slight tilting of the head or brow, to those who kept it moving while the rest of the Wolverines were stuck in neutral. 

 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and references were obtained firsthand by the writer. 

Agree with the selections? Were there any others who made significant strides in 2014? Let me know in the comments section. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff Rankings: Projecting Top 25 Before Week 15 Release

Rivalry games created a ton of drama, and while many of the favorites won to maintain their spot near the top of the College Football Playoff rankings, there will be one new addition to the first four in Week 15's standings.

Mississippi State couldn't pull out a road victory in the Egg Bowl over Ole Miss, falling 31-17 to lose its grip on the No. 4 postseason berth.

UCLA had been the headliner for the two-loss teams still hoping for a playoff spot, yet the Bruins were blown out 31-10 by Stanford to put an abrupt halt to their gaudier aspirations.

Here is a projected list of the updated Top 25, which will be revealed on Tuesday, along with a breakdown of the biggest storylines to expect when the new rankings come out.

 

 

Top 25 Biggest Storylines

TCU Back in Playoff Picture

Debate will rage on about whether Baylor deserves to be ranked above the Horned Frogs on the strength of its 61-58 head-to-head victory in Waco.

First, the Bears had home-field advantage, mounted an admittedly epic comeback and haven't had as good of a defense or nonconference schedule as TCU has. If Baylor can defeat Kansas State next week, it may do enough to leapfrog the Horned Frogs.

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports noted how the circumstances are actually rather favorable for TCU to hold on, though:

Considering starting Bears quarterback Bryce Petty exited the team's narrow 48-46 escape over Texas Tech with a concussion, the odds of doing that suffer. So for now, it's TCU's turn to occupy the coveted fourth and final spot.

An easy 48-10 victory over Texas gives the Horned Frogs a sensational recent performance to point to.

The selection committee's treatment of an undefeated Florida State team, which has been behind both Alabama and Oregon (one loss each) in the past two editions, reflects its penchant for teams that control games best. That's something the Horned Frogs have been superior at lately, and it should reveal itself in Tuesday's release.

 

Can Ohio State Still Sneak Into Top 4?

Matters become complicated by the injury to Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, who is out for the season with an ankle fracture. The Buckeyes would be a candidate to jump to fourth if not for their star signal-caller going down in Saturday's win over Michigan.

Now it's likely that one of two Big 12 contenders in Baylor or TCU will make the leap into the top four for the time being. As mentioned above, yours truly is partial to the Horned Frogs.

But Ohio State may not be down and out just yet. A lot hinges on the play of former third-string quarterback Cardale Jones. Head coach Urban Meyer seems to feel Jones is in better position to thrive than Barrett was when he initially took over, via Cleveland.com's Bill Landis:

The difference is Cardale is going to walk into an experienced huddle. He's got five linemen who have played together all year, and done pretty well. He's got a 1,000-yard rusher at tailback. When J.T. stepped in there, there was a sophomore tailback that never started a game. There was nothing around J.T. with experience. Now there's a much more veteran group that's one of the top offenses in the country.

The Wisconsin Badgers are the Buckeyes' final hurdle in the Big Ten Championship Game. Led by running back Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin will provide a tough test for OSU's formidable front seven.

Shaky QB play has prevented the Badgers from being an even better team, so if Jones can even emulate Barrett's level of play, the Bucks may be in better shape than most expect. With a powerful ball-carrier in Ezekiel Elliott to hand it to, perhaps OSU can beat Wisconsin at its own game this next Saturday by grinding it out on the ground.

All eyes will be on Jones to see whether he can rise to the occasion as the sudden starter, on the biggest stage he could have imagined and with the stakes so high. A conference title may be enough to boost the Buckeyes beyond both Baylor and TCU to render the Big 12 debate obsolete.

 

Florida State Finds a Way

A little bit of slant rhyme and pseudo-alliteration to carry this subplot. Literary devices aside, the Seminoles refuse to stop winning. Should they fall in the ACC Championship Game against Georgia Tech, chaos will ensue. Until then, the reigning national champions deserve to remain at No. 3 or rise higher.

Given how partial the committee has been to Oregon and the deciders' emphasis on style points, it's reasonable to infer that FSU won't budge in Tuesday's standings. This team deserves respect, though, and it's only the Ducks' transcendent play over the past two months and Alabama's perpetual dominance that merit their spots ahead of FSU.

Taking an opponent's best shot week in and week out is something few programs are equipped to handle. Coach Jimbo Fisher is proving capable of ensuring the Seminoles are up to the task regardless of the circumstances.

ESPN Stats & Info noted how lackluster last year's Heisman winner, Jameis Winston, played in the Seminoles' most recent close call:

Winston must take better care of the football after his four interceptions nearly cost FSU this last weekend in a 24-19 win over Florida. Otherwise, the conference title game could see the Seminoles be dominated in time of possession.

Georgia Tech sports a unique triple-option rushing attack. Run-heavy teams in Florida and Boston College have given Florida State fits. As long as Winston can protect the football, FSU should enter the College Football Playoff format with confidence of the proof of coming out on top before and that it can pull out a tight game.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football: Eichorst Sets Bar at Championship Level by Firing Pelini

Is that good enough?

Ultimately, that was the question Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst answered on Sunday when he announced the firing of seventh-year head football coach Bo Pelini.  In his tenure, Pelini was 67-27, never winning fewer than nine games, with no major scandals and a great graduation rate.

Is that good enough?

Under Pelini, Nebraska had never missed a bowl game.

Is that good enough?

In Pelini’s seven years, only Alabama had won more games than Nebraska.

Is that good enough?

Implicit in the question is the level to which Nebraska aspires to be as a football program. If consistently appearing in bowl games, winning nine games, and doing right by your kids is good enough, then Pelini’s performance was certainly good enough.

But Eichorst, in his comments about Pelini’s firing, pushed all the scarlet and cream chips into the center of the table.

"We just, for whatever reason, weren't good enough in the games that mattered against championship quality and caliber opponents. I didn't see that changing at the end of the day… Although we won a bunch of games, we didn't win the games that mattered the most."

There’s no doubts left in that statement, is there? At Nebraska, the standard is championships. Anything less isn’t good enough.

To say out loud that some games matter—and by implication, admit that some games don’t—is a pretty stunning thing to hear from an athletic director. It’s a huge act of confidence—or hubris—for Eichorst to say that Nebraska is the type of program that defines itself by trophies in the cabinet, not complied wins against the Average Joes of college football.

In other words, wins over middle-of-the-road programs are expected at Nebraska, and success is defined by wins over championship-caliber opponents.

That’s a high bar to set, a brave standard to hold your program to. But, for most Nebraska fans, it’s an eloquent and powerful statement of how they view their team.

In terms of resources and local talent pools, there isn’t a direct comparison of Nebraska with schools like Ohio State, Michigan, Florida and other similarly situated programs. But let’s consider how Nebraska has competed with its comparable rivals.

Wisconsin and Nebraska have similar challenges when it comes to recruiting bases and allures to athletes from warm-weather climates. Under Pelini, Nebraska was 1-3 against the Badgers. In the last two meetings, Wisconsin outscored Nebraska 129-55, surrendering 1,100 yards of rushing offense.

Nebraska is 1-3 against Michigan State, another program with comparable recruiting challenges. Nebraska has dropped two straight to Minnesota, a program over which Nebraska enjoys significant advantages in terms of resources.

That’s not good enough. Eichorst said so on Sunday. And almost every Nebraska fan would acknowledge the hard truth of that assessment.

Heck, Nebraska was 1-1 in the last two meetings against Iowa, needing overtime and a miracle comeback to get a win last Friday. And we heard from Eichorst how much stock he put into the win over Iowa.               

“I am trying to look at who are championship level football teams in that moment. How competitive were we in those games. We were not playing for a conference championship and neither was Iowa. And I have great respect to Iowa, it is a wonderful institution, and a great football program. But in the final analysis, there record was where it was and our record was where it was.”

Iowa is, in many ways, very similar to Nebraska. Same locale. Same climate. Same lack of local recruiting talent.

The Hawkeyes under Kirk Ferentz have (for the most part) gone to bowl games, graduated their players and enjoyed a program free from scandal. Is that good enough?

For Iowa fans, ultimately, the answer is yes. Some of that may be due to the monstrous buy-out clause Ferentz negotiated, making his termination far more expensive than the $7.65 million it will cost Nebraska to dismiss Pelini (as reported by the Omaha World-Herald).

But more importantly, the majority of Iowa’s fanbase is willing to accept the Hawkeyes’ performance under Ferentz. It’s good enough to keep filling (mostly) the stands in Kinnick Stadium, buying black-and-gold merchandise and following the team to its bowl destination.

On Sunday, Eichorst made a statement—and a gamble—that Nebraska fans do not accept Pelini’s performance as good enough.

It’s a gamble because the hiring process could go badly. Nebraska fans have seen that movie, in 2003, when the coaching search descended into farce. (Houston Nutt, fer cryin’ out loud?) And the hire itself could be a flop—some guy whose name rhymes with Cill Ballahan demonstrated the damage the wrong guy for a program can do in a few short years.

Eichorst has put his neck on the chopping block with this move. He’s risking his job by making a bold statement about the type of program Nebraska is, and should be, in the college football world.

Pelini is a good man, and a good coach. The near-universal support he is receiving from current and former players is testament to what he did for them during their time at Nebraska. His ability to take on the cultural disaster that was Nebraska after Callahan speaks to his skill as a coach.

But so does his record against championship-level competition—in Eichorst’s words, the "games that matter." Nebraska failed to win a conference championship in seven years under Pelini’s leadership.

On Sunday, Eichorst said out loud and with authority what most Nebraska fans believe.

That’s not good enough.

All quotes from the Omaha World-Herald.

For a different look at Nebraska football, check out The Double Extra Point.

Or you can use the Twitter machine to follow @DblExtraPoint.

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Big Ten Championship 2014: Preview, Predictions for Ohio State vs. Wisconsin

On the surface, a Big Ten Championship matchup between Ohio State and Wisconsin would have surprised nobody heading into the season.

However, nobody would have expected the Buckeyes to be down to their third-string quarterback by the time the game rolled around.

Ohio State has beaten Wisconsin six of the past seven meetings, although Terrelle Pryor or Braxton Miller won’t be walking through the door for the Buckeyes. It will be up to Cardale Jones to lead the Scarlet and Gray against the Badgers with the conference title and a potential College Football Playoff spot on the line.

Ohio State will also be looking for some redemption for last season’s loss to Michigan State in Indianapolis. A spot in the national championship was at stake last year, but the Buckeyes came out tight. Before they knew it, they were down 17-0.

Although they came back to take the lead, they fell short when the pressure was at its highest in the final minutes.

This year’s game gives Ohio State its one chance to prove to the selection committee that it is still capable of being one of the best teams in the nation with Jones under center instead of the injured Miller or J.T. Barrett.

Barrett’s broken ankle, suffered in the win against Michigan, was the latest blow to a team that has already lost Miller, Noah Spence, Dontre Wilson and Rod Smith for various reasons. Miller was on the short list of Heisman Trophy candidates before the season, and Barrett was on the way to an invitation to New York as a finalist before going down.

What’s more, Spence was arguably the best defensive lineman on a team that includes Joey Bosa, and Wilson is a speedster who gives the Buckeyes' offense and return game an extra dimension. Ohio State fans would be forgiven if they felt like the latest developments simply weren’t fair. 

Buckeyes fans looking for some hope in the light of the latest injuries should point to these updates and quotes from Urban Meyer regarding Jones, via Jeff Svoboda of Buckeye Sports Bulletin, Patrick Maks of Eleven Warriors and Dave Biddle of Bucknuts.com:

Like Miller and Barrett, Jones is a dual-threat quarterback who has averaged 7.9 yards per carry this season in limited chances. Look for him to use his legs on a number of occasions Saturday.

A third-string quarterback is not the only thing that should have Ohio State concerned for this game.

Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is arguably the best player in the nation this side of Marcus Mariota and has 2,260 rushing yards and 29 total touchdowns. He topped 100 yards rushing in every single game this year except the contest against Western Illinois in September. He also topped 200 yards five different times and tallied a ridiculous 408 yards and four touchdowns in three quarters against Nebraska.

Gordon gets a shot at an Ohio State defense that gave up 228 rushing yards to Minnesota’s Tevin Coleman and 145 rushing yards to Minnesota’s David Cobb in two of the last three games. A big day against one of the nation’s highest-ranked teams on a national, prime-time stage could propel Gordon right to the top of the Heisman Trophy race.

The good news for the porous Ohio State run defense is that there is precedent for Gordon to go off—and for the Badgers to still lose the game.

He finished with 140 rushing yards and a touchdown in the loss to LSU, although he only saw 16 carries. The Badgers would have won that game if Gordon had been on the field more down the stretch after he helped them get a big early lead.

Gordon also tallied 259 rushing yards and a touchdown against Northwestern, even though Wisconsin lost.

Even if Gordon has a big day, the Buckeyes can still win if their own skill players step up in Barrett’s absence.

Between Ezekiel Elliott, Jalin Marshall, Michael Thomas, Curtis Samuel, Evan Spencer, Devin Smith and Jeff Heuerman, Ohio State has all kinds of speed that will be unleashed on the turf in Indianapolis. There will be no weather to slow these players down, and the Badgers will have trouble containing them all for four quarters.

The Buckeyes are also 12th in the nation in rushing yards per game behind a much-improved offensive line and Elliott’s legs, so look for a heavy dose of the running game in Barrett’s absence.

Still, that Ohio State defense is going to be the key to the game because it is difficult to imagine the Buckeyes matching their 44.1 points-per-game average.

The Buckeyes don’t have to pitch a shutout, but they need to give the offensive skill players a chance. Along those lines, Marshall’s punt returning will be critical for field-position purposes. He has experienced some fumbling issues this year, but when he does get his hands on it, he can break a game open with a big return, like he did against Indiana.

The Badgers have seen big games from Gordon before, and still lost. That will happen once again on Saturday, as the Buckeyes' skill position players step up without Barrett and make a loud statement to the College Football Playoff selection committee. 

Prediction: Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 24

 

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Top 5 Candidates to Replace Ellis Johnson as Auburn Defensive Coordinator

AUBURN, Ala. — The timing might have been a surprise, but few eyebrows were raised on The Plains on Sunday afternoon when Auburn announced it had fired defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson.

Less than 24 hours before Johnson's dismissal, the Tigers allowed more than 400 yards and 30 points for its sixth straight conference game in a 55-44 shootout loss to No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. While the Auburn offense continued its big-play pace under head coach Gus Malzahn, the defense took several steps backward from the strides it made in 2013.

"At this time, I felt it was best for our program to make a change with our defensive coordinator," Malzahn said in a statement. "Ellis is a true professional, and I would like to thank him for his contributions at Auburn."

With just a lower-tier bowl left on the horizon, the Tigers are already moving forward by quickly firing Johnson ahead of postseason practices. As AL.com's Joel A. Erickson notes, fans should expect Malzahn to name a new coordinator sooner than later:

With Johnson out, something to remember on Malzahn’s searches for assistants: Took him 1 day to hire Johnson, 2 to hire Lashlee. Moves fast.

— Joel A. Erickson (@JoelAEricksonAU) November 30, 2014

As for Malzahn's upcoming search, two major names with SEC ties have jumped out to the forefront recently along with several coordinators who will be some of the hottest commodities in the coaching carousel this offseason. Here is a list of the top five defensive coordinator candidates Auburn fans should watch for in the coming days.

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SEC Championship 2014: Alabama Will Solidify Top Ranking with Win vs. Missouri

The best teams in the SEC are in the West division. It's really just that simple. As the champions of the conference's West division, the Alabama Crimson Tide survived a rigorous regular-season schedule with just one loss. After running that gauntlet with just one blemish, the Associated Press felt that Bama earned the top spot.

On Saturday, the Tide will make easy work of the Missouri Tigers to claim the SEC crown and put a stamp on the top seed in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

At 10-2, the Tigers are a good team that would be a handful for most squads. Unfortunately for them, Alabama is not most teams. In having played one of its worst games of the season against the Auburn Tigers in the Iron Bowl, Alabama made perhaps its biggest statement.

It proved it can win against a quality team even when it isn't playing its best football. 

Quarterback Blake Sims threw three interceptions—something that ESPN Stats & Info says has never happened at Alabama during the Nick Saban era—and the Tide defense gave up 456 passing yards to Nick Marshall:

Marshall is not known for his throwing prowess, yet he set his career high for passing yards by 117 yards. It was just Marshall's second career game with 300 or more yards through the air. SportsCenter noted Alabama's dominant second-half performance in the Iron Bowl, specifically highlighting Amari Cooper:

Still, Alabama found a way to win 55-44. That way was largely paved by the excellent play of wide receiver Amari Cooper. He had 13 catches for 224 yards and three touchdowns. It was his fourth game with at least 10 catches and third with at least 200 yards receiving.

The Tide star continues to not only make his case for an invite to the Heisman Trophy ceremony but also as the possible No. 1 pick in the 2015 NFL draft.

As good as the Tigers have been all season, they don't have the likes of Marshall as a dual threat at quarterback. With all due respect to sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk, he won't require nearly as many defensive adjustments and attention as Marshall.

Likewise, the Tigers don't have a deep threat like Sammie Coates to stretch the Tide defense. In the Iron Bowl, Coates had five catches for 206 yards and two long touchdown passes (68 and 34 yards).

Senior wideout Bud Sasser has had a solid year, but he isn't the deep threat that Coates is.

Defensively, Missouri does bring a lot to the table. Defensive end Shane Ray is a likely first-round pick in the draft, and he will have to be accounted for by the Bama offensive line. On the season, Missouri is ranked 16th in the nation in total defense.

That's obviously not too shabby. Alabama, however, is ranked 11th in this category, and it has managed this ranking while playing a tougher schedule than the Tigers.

On both sides of the ball, Bama is better. It will prove it on Saturday as the Tide rolls into the CFP as the top-seeded team in the land.

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Ohio State Lineman Kosta Karageorge Dies at Age 22

Police in Columbus, Ohio, confirmed on Sunday that Ohio State football player Kosta Karageorge has died.

Authorities believe he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to Clay Hall of ABC 6/Fox 28 in Columbus:

The Buckeyes' athletic department also confirmed the news, per Brent Yarina of BTN.com:

Local police had considered Karageorge missing the past few days. His family last heard from him Wednesday and filed a missing persons report that night, per ESPN.com.    

Karageorge's disappearance became part of Saturday's game between Ohio State and Michigan, with the senior defensive lineman's picture shown on the Ohio Stadium video board.

Karageorge sent a text message to his mother, Susan Karageorge, at 1:25 a.m. ET on Wednesday morning, according to Marcus Thorpe and Alex Mazer of NBC 4 in Columbus. The text reportedly read: "Sorry if I am an embarrassment, but these concussions have my head all [expletive] up."

According to the report, Karageorge had a history of concussions, including one as recently as last month. His mother said Karageorge "had a few spells of being extremely confused."

Matt Barnes of NBC 4 said the young player's death should serve to underscore the importance of continuing research on concussions:

Karageorge was 22 years old.

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Will Muschamp and Auburn Is a Great Match, Should Terrify SEC

The coaching silly season is upon us, and judging from the first two coordinator positions that have opened up in the SEC, former Florida head coach Will Muschamp might have his pick of high-profile jobs.

Texas A&M relieved Mark Snyder on Friday after the loss to LSU. On Sunday, less than 24 hours after surrendering 55 points to Alabama, Auburn followed suit and dispatched of second-year defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson according to a release from the University.

"At this time I felt it was best for our program to make a change with our defensive coordinator," head coach Gus Malzahn said in the release. "Ellis is a true professional and I would like to thank him for his contributions at Auburn."

Johnson handled the news well.

"This is part of the business and I totally understand," Johnson said in the release. "I did think we were good in several areas, but overall it wasn't good enough. I’m disappointed for our players, but this is a results business. I want to thank Coach Malzahn and Auburn for the opportunity the last two years."

Could Muschamp be headed to the Plains?

Muschamp has Texas ties due to his time as the Longhorns' defensive coordinator, but the former head man in Gainesville got his coaching start as a graduate assistant under Terry Bowden in 1995 and 1996, and then served as the Tigers' defensive coordinator under Tommy Tuberville in 2006 and 2007.

ESPN.com's Travis Haney reports, there's already interest between current Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and Muschamp:

The idea of Malzahn and Muschamp teaming up together on the Plains should terrify the SEC.

Auburn's primary problem this season was its pass defense, if anybody can fix that it is Muschamp.  His Gator defenses finished in the top four in the conference in pass defense every year and finished in the top three in the SEC in yards allowed per attempt in each of the last three seasons and generally make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. 

The foundation for success is there at Auburn. Junior cornerback Jonathan Jones was one of Auburn's most consistent performers this season with six picks—the second-most in the conference. He should be back, along with safeties Rudy Ford and Joshua Holsey.

The secondary took the brunt of the criticism this season, but main problem on the Plains was the inability for Auburn to get pressure with four, which forced Johnson to bring pressure from a variety of places. That pressure rarely got to the opposing quarterback, which left passing lanes the size of the Grand Canyon.

As Haney notes, the absence of defensive end Carl Lawson—who missed the season recovering from a torn ACL—played a big part in Auburn's pass rushing woes.

Lawson will be back in 2014, along with several of the replacements that rotated to fill that spot this year including Elijah Daniel, DaVonte Lambert and Gimel President.

From a recruiting standpoint, this could be a blessing in disguise. 

As Allie Davison of AuburnSports.com notes, Johnson wasn't as much of a factor on the recruiting trail as other defensive coordinators.

Who could come with Muschamp to the Plains?

That remains to be seen, but a former Tiger player could be coming with him.

If Muschamp is hired, that could signal a return of former Auburn defensive back and current Gator defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson, according to Zach Abolverdi of the Gainesville (Fla.) Sun:

That'd be huge for Auburn from a recruiting standpoint.

Not only has Robinson been instrumental as an assistant on Muschamp's staff, but he was ranked 24th on 247Sports.com's recruiter rankings in 2014. The Miami native was recently voted as one of the top nine recruiters who focus on the state of Florida by 247Sports.com's Luke Stampini. A recruiting boost specifically in the talent-rich state of Florida would be enormous for Auburn, and could pay immediate dividends in the class of 2015 and beyond.

The prospect of Muschamp's proven track record of success as a defensive coach, the recruiting boost it could bring the Tigers and Malzahn's ability to put up crooked offensive numbers all over the scoreboard would make Auburn a perennial contender.

Muschamp would wake up the monster. The same monster that has competed for two national championships since 2010 with defenses that were far from stellar.

 

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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