NCAA Football News

Jameis Winston Has Best Game of Year, Quiets Critics with Playoff-Clinching Win

Where was this Jameis Winston all year? 

In the Florida State Seminoles' 37-35 win over Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game—yet another close call for the Cardiac Kids of Tallahassee—Winston looked like his old Heisman self, throwing for 309 yards on 21-of-30 passing while also racking up three touchdowns and, for just the third time all year, zero interceptions. 

Now, there is no doubt. 

The undefeated Seminoles will be in the College Football Playoff, and in their last leg of the journey to get there, they have the defending Heisman Trophy winner to thank. 

Georgia Tech also hung 35 points on the board, forcing Winston and Co. to march down the field time and time again to provide answers. 

The Yellow Jackets rushed for 331 yards, gained 465 total yards and made the option look like the newest trend. And every time Jimbo Fisher had to rely on his quarterback to help withstand the punches the Jackets were throwing, Winston delivered. 

Now, as the playoffs near, Winston's endless list of critics can finally be silenced for a while. 

The first half provided the biggest turnaround for Winston. Last week against Florida, he threw three picks in the first 30 minutes of the game. 

In fact, Winston's been shaky all season. He's had five multi-interception games, and he has also had five games during which he's been limited to just one touchdown pass. 

On three separate drives against Georgia Tech, Winston led the Seminoles down to the end zone just one drive after the Yellow Jackets found paydirt themselves. 

Winston rose to the occasion in the ACC title game, and now the Seminoles can rest easy. They'll be in the playoffs, and Winston should—whether he will or not is still debatable—get an invite to New York City as a Heisman Trophy finalist for leading his squad to a second straight undefeated season.

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Cardale Jones Proves It Doesn't Matter Who Plays QB for Urban Meyer

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Even before J.T. Barrett went down with a season-ending broken ankle in last weekend's win over Michigan, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer seemed to have found a new favorite phrase this season.

"A quarterback is a product of those around him," Meyer would repeat, seemingly ad nauseam.

And as it turns out, the Buckeyes have some pretty good players surrounding their signal-caller.

Down to its third option at quarterback, the Ohio State offense put on a clinic on Saturday, totaling 558 yards in the Buckeyes' 59-0 walloping of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. You would have never known that Cardale Jones was at one point listed behind Barrett and Braxton Miller on the Ohio State quarterback depth chart, as the redshirt sophomore accounted for 257 yards and three touchdowns in the Buckeyes' Big Ten title blowout.

Like his predecessors, Jones brought his own flare to the OSU offense, his canon-like arm taking the place of Barrett's prominent precision and Miller's signature stutter step before that. He put it on display just two minutes into the game, Jones connected with wide receiver Devin Smith for a 39-yard touchdown bomb, later finding the senior speedster for scores of 44 and 42 yards.

"He went out there and showed everybody that he could play," Smith said of Jones.

The first start of Jones' college career spoke volumes to his own ability, it also boded well for a Buckeyes team battling for one of the final spots in the College Football Playoff. The selection committee stated that it would wait to evaluate the Barrett-less Buckeyes until after Jones' debut.  Lucky for the Ohio State he turned in one heck of a one-game resume.

"Whoever lines up at quarterback, to me, it really doesn't matter," said Smith. "We've got a whole bunch of people who can make plays for this football team and that's one thing that we really want everyone in the world to know."

Make no mistake, the Buckeyes are very much a quarterback-driven team, as evidenced by Miller's record-setting numbers and Barrett's breakout rookie season. But just like Meyer likes to say, a quarterback is a product of those around him, and that includes his head coach.

After all, Meyer has been synonymus with star quarterbacks for the better part of the past 14 years, dating back to the start of his head coaching career at Bowling Green. It was there that he transformed running back Josh Harris into an unlikely Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback, who would go on to be drafted to play the position by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

From there Meyer went to Utah, turning Alex Smith from backup quarterback to Heisman finalist and the 2005 NFL draft's No. 1 overall draft pick. At Florida, he revitalized the career of Chris Leak en route to winning the 2006 national championship, before Tim Tebow turned in one of the most storied careers in the history of college football.

Meyer's only down year when it came to the quarterback position came in 2010, when John Brantley, Trey Burton and Jordan Reed each took turns at spearheading the Gators' 8-5 campaign. But after enjoying a one-year retirement, it didn't take long for Meyer to again showcase his skills as a quarterback whisperer.

Talent at the Buckeyes' skill positions was admittedly lacking when Meyer came to Columbus, but his spread system still managed to turn Miller into a two-time Big Ten MVP and a preseason favorite to win the 2014 Heisman Trophy before a torn labrum ended his senior season before it even started. Miller's apparent importance to Ohio State was one of the main reasons why the Buckeyes were written off when he went down last August, the loss of a player of his caliber seemingly unfathomable to replace.

But Barrett stepped right in—and then some—breaking the Buckeyes' single-season records for total yardage and total touchdowns before suffering a season-ending injury his own. Facing the nation's second-ranked defense with its third-string quarterback, the odds were stacked against Ohio State, but that didn't seem to matter from the moment the ball was kicked off in its battle with the Badgers.

"We came out here and executed on all cylinders, offensively and defensively and we won in a fashion like this," Smith said. "You can't win a game with just one person."

What that will mean when the playoff committee announces its top four on Sunday remains to be seen, but if Jones' MVP performance showed anything, it's that the loss of Barrett shouldn't hinder Buckeyes' chances of landing in the final four. With Meyer at the helm, Ohio State's offense is simply too talented for just one player to receive credit, as Saturday's statement win showed. 

"We showed that we're not a one-man team," OSU wide receiver Evan Spencer said. "We showed that we're a high-caliber, high impact team that knows how to win, knows how to play for one another and at the end of the day, knows how to win championships."

All that said, Cardale Jones sure had a lot to do with it. 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Updated College Football Playoff Projections Before Selection Sunday

After some wild championship-weekend games, it's time to reevaluate the top teams and their positioning in the College Football Playoff. Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder gives you his projected playoff bracket.

Who do you think will be playing for a national title at the end of the season?

Watch the video and let us know!

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College Football Playoff Rankings: Final Projections from Week 15

The College Football Playoff selection committee has some hard choices to make. Starting Friday night in Santa Clara, Calif., and ending Saturday night in Indianapolis, every one of its top six teams from last week won. And it only has four playoff spots to dole out.

But forget the canard that the selection committee looks at the entire picture from scratch every week; the 12 members already tipped their hand last week. The top three teams—Alabama, Oregon and TCU—all won impressively to claim a piece of their respective conference championships. No. 4 Florida State as usual labored to win its game, but as the only unbeaten team in the FBS it will get to defend its national title.

That leaves Ohio State and Baylor on the outside, but the committee can reasonably defend its decision for leaving them out. These two teams easily had the worst losses among the contenders—Ohio State to 6-6 Virginia Tech and Baylor to 7-5 West Virginia—and also the weakest schedules (according to Jeff Sagarin).

Despite Ohio State's impressive thrashing of Wisconsin, the problem remains that the committee views the Big Ten as the weakest Power Five conference, and with good reason. Each of the Big Ten's top four teams lost a nonconference game to a Power Five opponent, and Ohio State's loss to Virginia Tech was actually the worst among them.

As for Baylor, its nonconference schedule and how it performed against the nine common opponents will allow the committee to overlook the Bears' head-to-head victory over TCU as both teams shared the Big 12 title with identical 11-1 records.

Of course, unlike the BCS, we can no longer project the rankings with confidence, as the final decision will be made by 12 people and nothing else. And since this is year one of the College Football Playoff, we have no precedent to go by.

That said, this is how we project the committee's final rankings, to be released at 12:45 p.m. ET Sunday.

 

Projected Top 25

No. 1 vs. No. 4: Alabama vs. Florida State, Sugar Bowl - The matchup of the teams that won the last three national championships will be intriguing. Florida State was wobbly all season but never lost a game, something the other 127 FBS teams couldn't do. Alabama looks primed to continue its dynasty-interrupted with Lane Kiffin calling the shots of a dynamic offense.

No. 2 vs. No. 3: Oregon vs. TCU, Rose Bowl - It'll be TCU's second Rose Bowl berth in five years—only Wisconsin has more appearances in that span. The last time the Horned Frogs were in Pasadena they were the gritty underdogs from the Mountain West and beat the Badgers to finish the season unbeaten. This time they'll face an explosive Oregon team piloted by the presumptive Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.

 

Group-of-Five Bid

Boise State, the only non-Power Five team in last week's committee rankings, made things easy for the committee by taking care of Fresno State to win the Mountain West title late Saturday night. The Broncos likely will earn a trip to the Fiesta Bowl, their third in nine years. They beat Oklahoma and TCU in their two previous appearances in the BCS era.

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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ACC Championship Game 2014: Game Grades, Analysis for FSU and Georgia Tech

Florida State University won its 29th consecutive game along with the ACC title with a 37-35 win over Georgia Tech. The final box score can be found on NCAA.com.

The Seminoles played one of their best games of the season. They were efficient on offense, the defense made plays when it needed to and the special teams came up big with nine crucial points.

Georgia Tech also played a great game, as it was able to rush for 331 yards. But it could not make the plays when it needed to at the end of the game, which was the difference.

Here are my game grades and analysis for the Jackets and the Seminoles.

Passing Offense

Jameis Winston played his best game of the season, and it came at the best time. He threw for 309 yards and three touchdowns, which all came in the first half. Winston was poised in the pocket, he had great vision and the ball flew off his hands. He looked like the Winston of 2013 that won the Heisman.

 

Running Offense

Nobody knew what to expect from Dalvin Cook when his number was called for the ACC title game. But he delivered in a big way, as he rushed for 177 yards and one touchdown. Cook had great vision, exploded when he found the hole and was patient. As good as Winston was for the Seminoles, Cook's running was the reason FSU played the way it did on offense.

 

Passing Defense

This was really hard to grade because Georgia Tech only threw the ball 14 times, and the majority of the throws came in the final series when Georgia Tech was trying to get back in the game. On that series, the Seminoles gave up a touchdown through the air. But on the previous series, Lamarcus Brutus came up with a big interception that helped FSU win the game. So Florida State did give up some big plays through the air, but they were able to come up with some key plays as well.

 

Running Defense

It’s hard to defend Georgia Tech’s triple option offense, and the Seminoles had fits with it all game long. During the second half, FSU was able to slow it down a little bit, but they had serious issues with it in the first half. Allowing 331 yards on the ground is not something to be proud of, but it’s an offense Florida State is not used to seeing.

 

Special Teams

Roberto Aguayo is one of the unsung heroes for the Seminoles because he did all the scoring in the second half. He kicked a field goal in the third quarter and two in the fourth to help the Seminoles pull away from the Yellow Jackets. Another good thing about the special teams is they only had to punt twice, which means the Seminoles were scoring touchdowns or kicking field goals the majority of the time.

 

Coaching

Jimbo Fisher knew that his team has not played well down the stretch, but that was not the case against Georgia Tech. Fisher’s offense was aggressive, and the defense hung in there. He made the right call kicking field goals in the second half. Fisher proved why he and his team have won 29 consecutive games and are the defending ACC Champions.

 

Passing Offense

Justin Thomas threw the ball well considering he only had 14 pass attempts. Thomas’ strength is running the ball, but he’s very efficient when he throws. Thomas finished with 134 passing yards, one touchdown and one interception. One of the reasons he’s can throw the ball is that nobody expects him to do it since he’s an option quarterback.

 

Running Offense

And as an option quarterback, you have a chance to run for a ton of yards, and that’s what Thomas did. He had 104 yards on the ground and 9.5 yards per carry. But Zach Laskey, Synjyn Days and Charles Perkins also were able to run on FSU’s defense because of the difficulty to defend the option. Tech is excellent at running the ball because Thomas knows how to make the right reads. But he also has a great supporting cast that can run just as well as he can.

 

Passing Defense

Tech’s passing defense was a reason it lost to FSU. Winston was able to find receivers that were wide open due to miscommunication by Georgia Tech, which was also not able to cover receivers one-on-one. The pass defense has thrived on interceptions, as it tallied 17 this season. That was not the case against Florida State because Winston was on target with his receivers and Tech could do nothing about it.

 

Running Defense

Another thing that hurt the Yellow Jackets was they could not shed their blocks in the run game. That’s why Cook was able to have a huge night running the ball. Tech has athletes on defense, but the offensive line for Florida State overpowered them and got worn out at the end of the game. The defense as a whole will be something the coaching staff will address next season.

 

Special Teams

It was a quiet night for special teams because the Jackets only punted twice. They didn't kick any field goals, and the return team did not have room to make any plays. But the coverage teams were strong, and they did not make any costly mistakes. It was not a bad outing by the special teams, but a few more key plays would have helped Tech edge the Seminoles.

 

Coaching

Paul Johnson stayed on FSU throughout the game, but a costly decision to go for it on fourth down in the fourth quarter proved to be the difference. Johnson did not make the wrong call there, but it would have been better if his team would have punted it away because the defense did not allow a touchdown the entire half. Johnson had the right game plan to take down Florida State, but the players could not executed when they needed to in key situations.

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Ohio State Puts Playoff Committee Between a Rock and a Hard Place

INDIANAPOLIS — If you are a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee member reading this for whatever reason, I have some simple, timely advice. 

Run as fast as you possibly can and don’t look back. Don’t attend any more meetings and don’t worry about packing your clothes. Shut off your phone. Grab enough canned goods to last at least a few weeks and don’t forget the boxed wine.

You are going to need it.

There is no possible way you, card-carrying selection committee member, can reach a verdict that will be greeted with open arms come Sunday. Not after Ohio State dominated Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten Championship, proving its playoff worth with a third-string quarterback. You couldn’t have pictured this, not even with the great quarterback whisperer Urban Meyer seemingly ripe for the challenge.

Boasting the nation’s most prolific running back, it was assumed Wisconsin—which was favored—would at least make this interesting. But then the first whistle came and the carnage unfolded before you knew what was going on. It didn't stop.

Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones was brilliant, throwing for 257 yards and three touchdowns. He looked more like a seasoned veteran than an inexperienced reserve thrown into action.

Joey Bosa, the team’s rock on the defensive line, picked up a Melvin Gordon fumble and ran it in for a touchdown just before half, putting an exclamation point on his fabulous sophomore season. Running back Ezekiel Elliott eclipsed the 200-yard mark, breaking off one final big run in the fourth quarter with only one shoe.

It was that kind of night for the Buckeyes. They delivered one final resounding impression with the whole football world tuning in.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt we’re one of the top four teams in America,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said as he accepted the Big Ten Championship trophy following the game, campaigning accordingly.

He’s not wrong. 

Ohio State deserves to be in the playoff. But so does TCU. And so does Baylor.

There are strong, unique cases to be made for all three, but there is only one vacancy to fill. That’s the scenario we’re left with after other teams involved handled their business.

Oregon, Alabama and Florida State all won their conference championship games, and they will all be rewarded with a playoff spot as a result. Although the Seminoles have been plummeting in recent polls, the committee cannot (and should not) leave an undefeated conference champion out of the playoff. Strike that off your chaos checklist.

This means there’s one spot—the much discussed No. 4 spot—and three one-loss teams worthy of consideration to fill it.

All three took care of business on Saturday, beating their opponents in a variety of ways. No. 3 Baylor likely came away with the best win in terms of quality, beating Kansas State—the No. 9 team in the latest poll—by double digits. 

After a sluggish first half, No. 3 TCU exploded against Iowa State, beating the Cyclones 55-3. The Horned Frogs needed a performance like this, and they got it. 

And then there’s Ohio State, the No. 5 team in the latest poll. Having gone through two quarterbacks this season, expectations for the Buckeyes coming into this Saturday were relatively low. My how the outlook changed over 60 minutes. 

The committee now has to figure this thing out, which is an impossible task. And yet, committee chairman Jeff Long has been bracing for this kind of situation since the committee's very first meeting. 

“The craziest thing that can happen, will happen,” Long told Bleacher Report in November. “Everybody being undefeated or nobody being undefeated, we should expect everything in between. We were mentally prepared for that going into the season.”

It’s not the ultimate doomsday scenario, although it’s pretty darn close.

If momentum and final impressions are what you’re seeking, then the Buckeyes are your likely pick. If you’re into the most impressive-looking team and resume from start to finish, then TCU’s likely going to be the team you write down. And if you’re all about results and the critical head-to-head matchups, then Baylor will likely secure your vote with its victory over TCU.

There is not one correct answer. There are quality points to be made about all three teams, which is precisely why the decision—regardless of what it is eventually announced—will be greeted with pronounced and warranted outrage.

Conspiracy theories and claims of committee bias are about to become quite popular. It doesn't matter how much time the committee invests in determining the most deserving team. The storm is coming. There was already great debate to be had with TCU and Baylor, but Ohio State’s historic shutout threw a massive wrench in the playoff machine.

Are you still with me, committee member? If so, why?

Forget about the impossible task you have in front of you. Leave your Dallas headquarters as quickly as you possibly can and go underground. Don't just shut off your phone; break it and toss it away. And don’t even fret about your clothes; there’s no time for that now.

You’re going to want to grab that boxed wine, though.

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Who Deserves No. 4 Spot in College Football Playoff?

Now let the debate begin. TCU, Baylor or Ohio State? These teams are seemingly competing for the final playoff spot, and everyone wants to know who is in.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss who should be the fourth team into the playoff.

Who is your top four for the CFP?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Baylor Looking Like 1st Unfair Casualty of the College Football Playoff Era

The Baylor Bears, at 11-1 overall and 8-1 in league play, are the Big 12 co-champions, have three wins over top-15 teams, two over top-10 teams and have two straight conference titles. 

Yet—unfortunately for fans in Waco, but fortunately for fans in Fort Worth or Columbus—the Bears won't be in the playoffs. 

The resume, as polished as it is, isn't strong enough. 

The Bears were sixth in the playoff rankings, behind Alabama, Oregon, TCU, Florida State and Ohio State. They needed help, if only a little. At least one of those teams had to lose on Saturday for Baylor to have a realistic chance. 

None did. In fact, all five made nearly as big, if not bigger, statements than the Bears did in beating No. 9 Kansas State. 

Take a look at what the top five in the playoff rankings did this week: 

The weakest win of those six was TCU's victory over Iowa State, but the 52-point margin was enough to turn heads around the country. 

Pro-Baylor folks will point out that the Horned Frogs fell to the Bears 61-58 earlier in the season, in a game which TCU led by 21 points in the fourth quarter. 

As thrilling as that victory was for Baylor (it's the only thing really keeping them in the playoff conversation), the comeback nature of it may very well be the shot in the foot to Art Briles and Co., as harsh as that sounds. 

The committee has to wonder, was that game indicative of which of the two teams is better, or was the comeback an anomaly? 

Even the final margin of victory—a field goal's worth of points—plus the fact that Baylor was at home, leans that game more toward a wash than a defining resume-builder for the Bears. 

Is it all unfair? You bet. 

Baylor just won a share of the Big 12, the only conference in America with three top-10 teams (that'll likely change by Sunday). The Bears beat the other two—TCU and K-State—that are ranked as high, and had just one off day against a West Virginia team that, at the time, looked like a dark horse to compete for the conference title. 

But there was widespread disapproval of the BCS system, fans clamored for a playoff and they got one. But nothing is ever black-and-white, and even the new playoff system will have casualties. 

In 2014, Baylor's playoff corpse can be found in Morgantown, West Virginia. 

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Kansas State vs. Baylor: Game Grades, Analysis for Wildcats and Bears

The Baylor Bears took care of business against the Kansas State Wildcats with a 38-27 win and sealed up their share of the Big 12 title Saturday evening.

Kansas State managed to hold Baylor under its season average of nearly 50 points per game, but the Wildcats couldn't generate enough offense of their own to keep up with the Bears' potent passing attack, led by senior quarterback Bryce Petty.

Petty was remarkably effective for Baylor, as he threw for 412 yards and one touchdown and completed 34 of 40 passes.

Kansas State's offense came alive in the second half, but a slow start doomed the team when the Wildcats fell into a hole earlier in the game.

Overall, both teams played well and there were few glaring mistakes, but Baylor simply executed better and was able to maintain control for all four quarters and hold off Kansas State's comeback attempts.

Here are halftime and final grades for both teams using statistics from NCAA.com.

 

Baylor Bears Game Grades

Position UnitFirst-Half GradesFinal Grades Passing Offense A A Pass Defense B+ C+ Rushing Offense C+ B Rush Defense B+ A Special Teams B+ B+ Coaching A A

 

Passing Offense

Bryce Petty's only mistake against Kansas State was an end-zone interception early in the first quarter that prevented the Bears from blowing the game wide open right off the bat.

Otherwise, he played about as well as a quarterback can play, completing 34 of 40 passes for more than 400 yards. Baylor's passing attack was simply too much for Kansas State, and the Wildcats had no answer for it.

 

Pass Defense

The Bears managed to limit Jake Waters' effectiveness in the first half, but Kansas State's passing game really opened up in the third and fourth quarters. 

Baylor also gave up too many pass plays on 3rd-and-long, and a couple of pass-interference penalties led to touchdowns or field goals for the Wildcats.

 

Rushing Offense

Shock Linwood, Baylor's leading rusher, had 91 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries, while Johnny Jefferson had 46 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries.

Overall, Baylor's rushing attack served as a great complement to the passing game and was reliable enough for the Bears to put points on the board nearly every time they entered the red zone. 

 

Rush Defense

Kansas State barely cracked the 100-yard mark on the night in rushing. Baylor's defense did a great job preventing big plays on the ground and forcing Waters to try and beat them through the air.

By limiting the Wildcats rushing attack, Baylor was able to avoid their trap of dictating the tempo of the game and slowing it down.

 

Special Teams

Baylor's special teams play was almost negligible because of how little the unit was used outside of kickoffs.

The Bears punted only twice and attempted only one field goal, which was good. Overall, the unit was solid enough not to be a detriment, and sometimes that's all you need. 

 

Coaching

Art Briles' offense was executed nearly to perfection against Kansas State. Although the Bears didn't score as easily and often as they do against some teams, they were able to move the ball with ease and stop the Wildcats or answer with touchdowns of their own when it looked like the outcome might be in question. 

 

Kansas State Wildcats Game Grades

Position UnitFirst-Half GradesFinal Grades Passing Offense C B+ Pass Defense D D Rushing Offense C C Rush Defense B C Special Teams B- B- Coaching B B

 

Passing Offense

Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett were both great for Kansas State, especially in the second half.

Waters threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns, and the bulk of his yardage came off passes to Lockett, who hauled in 14 catches for 158 yards.

Zach Trujillo was also a major target for Waters, as he had three catches for 88 yards and one touchdown.

 

Pass Defense

Kansas State's secondary was helpless against Bryce Petty all night. 

Baylor seemed to convert first downs on screen passes and throws over the middle at will, and even though the Wildcats defensive backs gave the Bears wide receivers big cushions, they still got burned constantly throughout the game.

 

Rushing Offense

The Wildcats rushing attack was fairly anemic against Baylor. With a running back-by-committee approach, Charles Jones led the group with 45 yards and one touchdown.

Overall, Kansas State gained only 103 yards on the ground on 40 carries, which forced the Wildcats to play right into Baylor's hands by relying on their passing attack.

 

Rush Defense

Kansas State found much more success stopping Baylor's rushing attack than it did stopping the passing attack.

Unfortunately, Baylor still had a pretty good night on the ground, piling up nearly 175 yards and four touchdowns on 37 yards. 

 

Special Teams

Unlike Baylor, Kansas State was forced to rely on its special teams unit quite often throughout the night. Both field-goal attempts were good, but punting and kick returns were both lackluster.

The Wildcats averaged just 11.7 yards per kick return and allowed Baylor to average 21.3 yards per return. That 10-yard differential can make a big difference against a team that can score as quickly and easily as Baylor.

 

Coaching

Overall, head coach Bill Snyder's game plan was solid, but Baylor's offense proved to be too fast and too dynamic for Kansas State to stop on a consistent basis.

To his credit, the Wildcats played much better in the second half than the first half and started challenging Baylor on defense.

But by that time, the deficit was too big and Baylor's offense still had enough juice to maintain its comfortable lead. 

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Wisconsin vs. Ohio State: Score, Twitter Reaction from Big Ten Championship 2014

Take a bow, Cardale Jones.

The former third-string quarterback led the Ohio State Buckeyes to a resounding 59-0 win over a hapless Wisconsin Badgers squad in the Big Ten championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night.

With J.T. Barrett out for the season with a broken ankle he suffered last week against Michigan, it was up to Jones to carry the torch and propel Ohio State to victory. It was an unenviable situation no other first-time starting quarterback had ever encountered in the Power Five conferences, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Considering the circumstances, his performance was legendary. Jones threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns on just 12 completions. All three of those touchdown passes were to wideout Devin Smith, who finished with four catches and 137 yards on the night.

The Buckeyes defense was also practically beyond belief during the game. ESPN's Darren Rovell noted their shutout was a novel event:

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer was unequivocal in his postgame remarks regarding his team's status in relation to the College Football Playoff, via Fox Sports Ohio's Zac Jackson:

Jones' first touchdown pass, a 39-yard jump ball that Smith did well to win the battle for, came just one minute and 59 seconds into the game. The big play apparently stunned Wisconsin, which never had a chance in this game despite a gritty performance from running back Melvin Gordon, and energized the Buckeyes squad as it systematically dismantled its opponents. 

Here is the quarter-by-quarter score from the game:

Prior to the game, Meyer was adamant that Jones' teammates would have a huge impact on his ability to perform in the championship game.

"I've said it at least a couple hundred times since the beginning of the week that the quarterback is a product of those around him," he said, via Jackson. "He still obviously has to execute and do his things. The guys had a very good week of practice around him as well, starting with the offensive line."

Jones' teammates were definitely at their collective best on Saturday, but don't let that take away from the sophomore QB's performance.

Running back Ezekiel Elliott and his bare midriff ran the read-option plays with Jones to perfection for much of the contest and put Ohio State up 14-0 on an 81-yard scoring scamper early in the first quarter. Anthony Lima of 92.3 The Fan noted Elliott hit the century mark early on in the game:

ESPN Stats & Info pointed out that Jones quickly surpassed Braxton Miller's performance from last season's Big Ten championship contest:

Wisconsin's vaunted defense, which was second in the NCAA in yardage allowed coming into the contest at 260.3 yards per game, was no match for an up-tempo Ohio State offense firing on all cylinders.

Jones' second touchdown pass was a perfectly placed bomb to Smith for 44 yards, putting the Buckeyes up 24-0 midway through the second quarter. 

The-Ozone.net's Brandon Castel noted Smith was ecstatic after the play:

Elliott added another score on a 14-yard run with 6:36 left to go in the first half, easily outperforming Gordon, who found little room to run against a vicious Ohio State defense. Sports Illustrated's Brian Hamilton summed up the damage done up to this point:

The Buckeyes would suffer just one bit of misfortune right before the half when wide receiver Corey Smith was ejected from the contest for targeting after making a bone-rattling block on a Jones rush. Bill Livingston of The Plain Dealer vehemently disagreed with the call:

It was of little consequence, as Ohio State's Joey Bosa would pick up a Gordon fumble—Wisconsin's second turnover of the half—on the Badgers' next possession and take it to the house for a vertigo-inducing 38-0 halftime lead.

There would be no reprieve in the second half for the Badgers, as Ohio State was out to make a statement in this one. Jones started off the third quarter with a mammoth 42-yard toss to Smith, who came down with the catch in the front corner of the end zone for a 45-0 Buckeyes lead. 

Dave Biddle of 247Sports joked that Smith might be able to set an important Ohio State record at the rate things were going:

At the very least, Jones showed that he has one of the best cannons in the country. Prior to the game, offensive coordinator Tom Herman gave Jones' arm strength an outstanding rating, per Scout.com's Ryan Ginn:

The game fizzled a bit at this point, as Wisconsin could hardly muster any fight on offense and the Buckeyes finally seemed content to finish the game at a measured pace. Hamilton updated the numbers from the Ohio State defense's superlative performance midway through the third quarter:

Ohio State would go up 52-0 on a 12-yard run from freshman running back Curtis Samuel early on in the fourth quarter. The Badgers were clearly dejected and had little to work with even in the fourth quarter.

Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave would end up with three interceptions on the night and completed well below 50 percent of his passes. Samuel created the final scoreline on a one-yard run with just over two minutes left in the game to make it 59-0.

Barrett had high praise for Jones and his team after the contest, per Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman:

Meanwhile, Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson dedicated the team's performance to a fallen teammate:

The Buckeyes' performance left no doubt that they are one of the top teams in the nation, but it's certainly crowded at the top.

With Florida State completing another undefeated season by beating Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game and TCU drubbing Iowa State 55-3 to win a share of the Big 12 title, it stands to reason that there will be at least one wholly deserving program disappointed when the playoff committee puts out its final College Football Playoff rankings on Sunday.

That is to say nothing of the Baylor Bears, who completed a fine season with a 38-27 win over No. 9 Kansas State on Saturday night but are a longer shot than any of the aforementioned teams due to their No. 6 ranking coming into Week 15.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Heisman Watch 2014: Top-5 Rankings After Week 15

The Heisman Trophy race seems to be getting clearer as the season winds down, with Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota making a definitive case for the prestigious award, as the rest of the field tries to catch up. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee gives you his updated top five for the Heisman Trophy.

Who will win the Heisman? 

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

FSU vs. Georgia Tech: Score and Twitter Reaction from ACC Championship 2014

 Florida State's fate is in the selection committee's hands now.

The No. 4 Seminoles outlasted the No. 11 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Saturday night at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, winning the ACC Championship Game, 37-35, and finishing the regular season unbeaten (13-0, 8-0 ACC).

With both TCU and Ohio State dominating in their respective final regular season games, many fans wonder whether Florida State's penchant for close wins and lack of signature victories will result in an undefeated FBS team missing out on the playoff altogether.

Before the game, Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher questioned why the ACC fails to get any recognition, per Safid Deen of the Tallahassee Democrat:

I keep saying it: We got a great conference. (The) perception that is driven home out there, it's amazing how you can brainwash somebody. I think the SEC is wonderful football. But you look at the records of certain divisions, I think there's a lot of parity throughout if you're going to tell the truth about it.

Fisher doubled down on his team's playoff credentials after the final whistle, per Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated:

Florida State nearly threw away the win late and didn't have its strongest performance of the season, but nobody can argue with the result. Being the only unbeaten FBS team speaks volumes about the Seminoles.

Jameis Winston was extremely efficient on Saturday night, going 21-of-30 for 309 yards and three touchdowns. His favorite target was Rashad Greene, who finished with 123 yards and two TDs, setting a conference record for most career receiving yards, per the Tallahassee Democrat's Corey Clark:

Dalvin Cook was perhaps FSU's best offensive player, rushing for 151 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries. His ability to continue gaining positive yards and eat time off the clock helped counter Georgia Tech's vaunted option attack.

The Yellow Jackets ran the ball 59 times, gaining 331 yards. Justin Thomas and Synjyn Days combined to go for 174 yards on the ground. Thomas also went 8-of-14 for 134 yards through the air with a touchdown and an interception.

Thomas and Days looked great to start the game, but Georgia Tech's one-dimensional offense was its ultimate undoing. After Florida State figured out the Yellow Jackets, they couldn't make the necessary adjustments.

Florida State's built a reputation for being a slow starter this year, and that trend continued into the ACC title game. The first quarter couldn't have gone much worse FSU.

Days gave Georgia Tech a 7-0 lead on a one-yard touchdown run 5:10 into the first quarter. The biggest development on the drive was an injury to FSU defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, per Ken Sugiura of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Clark felt that Goldman's injury was a far more damaging development for the Seminoles than actually giving up the touchdown:

Dustin McComas of Orangebloods.com wasn't optimistic about how the Florida State defense would handle Georgia Tech's option offense without the junior defensive star:

The early returns weren't promising, but Goldman's absence was less of an issue in the second half.

Nick O'Leary hauled in a 46-yard touchdown pass a little over two minutes after Days' TD to tie the game. Days negated the score on Georgia Tech's next drive, once again running it in from a yard out.

The Seminoles certainly had no answer for the Yellow Jackets' ground game in the first quarter, surrendering 141 yards.

However, once the second quarter began, Florida State was a much better team, dropping 21 points on Georgia Tech, taking a 28-21 lead into the half.

Although Cook tied the game at 14-14 with a one-yard touchdown run, Florida State's respite was only momentary.

Zach Laskey put the Yellow Jackets on top once again, 21-14, with a four-yard TD run. Dave George of the Palm Beach Post wondered if the Seminoles defense was playing down a man with the way that Tech continued marching down the field:

With FSU looking very shaky,Greene stepped up and delivered two touchdown receptions to give the Seminoles their first lead of the night, 28-21.

Greene's first TD came with 5:40 to go until halftime. Winston and the senior wideout connected for a 44-yard pitch-and-catch.

After Florida State forced Georgia Tech into its first punt of the game on the ensuing drive, the defending national champions took 1:56 to move 75 yards, with Winston finding Greene for a nine-yard touchdown pass.

With the TD grab, Greene moved to within striking distance of Peter Warrick's school record for career touchdown reception record, per ACC Football:

CBSSports.com's Jerry Hinnen was floored with how efficient the respective offenses were. Aside from Georgia Tech's final drive, which ended the half, only two of the game's first nine drives failed to end in a TD:

Winston was the biggest reason why Florida State headed into the locker rooms with a slim advantage despite the defense having little success. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner went 12-of-17 for 222 yards and three touchdowns.

ESPN's Bomani Jones argued it was Winston's most impressive half of football this year:

Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde thought that the star quarterback benefited from a less than spectacular Georgia Tech front seven:

The Yellow Jackets received the ball to start the second half, and they began the third quarter with their typical ground-and-pound style. They took 14 plays and nearly seven minutes to go 77 yards. Days got his third rushing touchdown of the game to tie the game at 28-28, setting a career high for TDs in the process:

Roberto Aguayo banged home a 33-yard field goal with 3:13 left in the third quarter to give FSU a slim three-point lead, 31-28.

Fisher's renowned for making second-half adjustments, and it was clear that he figured out the Georgia Tech offense as the game dragged on. After the field goal, the Seminoles forced the Yellow Jackets to punt, allowing 31 yards on six plays.

The 'Noles added to their lead on the next drive, with Aguayo splitting the uprights from 32 yards out with 10:25 left in the game.

The Seminoles defense was again stout Tech's next possession. With a 4th-and-5 on his own 47-yard line, Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson opted to go for it. Thomas' pass to Darren Waller was incomplete, turning the ball over on downs.

Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press questioned the play call since Tech had little success through the air to that point:

Florida State made the most of the short field, with Aguayo hitting his third field goal of the night to make it a two-score game, 37-28.

Georgia Tech had 4:28 to make up the nine-point gap. The Yellow Jackets' style is perfect for protecting a lead or grinding out a close win. When they have to score a lot of points in a short amount of time, they run into trouble.

With Tech out of its comfort zone and in a hurry, Florida State pounced. FSU defensive back Lamarcus Brutus intercepted Thomas and returned the ball to the Tech 43-yard line. That turnover arguably should've sealed the deal.

But nothing's come easy for Florida State this year. The Seminoles allowed Georgia Tech to move 97 yards in a little over a minute to get within two points, 37-35. Waller was on the receiving end of a 25-yard touchdown pass from Thomas on the score.

Forde felt the defensive breakdown was in keeping with FSU's general inability to make things easy:

Florida State recovered the onside kick to wipe out the comeback opportunity. The Seminoles wound the clock down at that point to secure the win.

The victory wasn't exactly definitive, but the Seminoles won, just like they have all season. There are certainly valid arguments for why FSU shouldn't be the top seed in the playoff, but it would be shocking to see the 'Noles miss out altogether.

It's hard to tell when Georgia Tech will be in this position again. After making the 2010 Orange Bowl, the Yellow Jackets failed to win more than eight games until this year's 10-win season. Johnson signed an extension yesterday, per ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy, so the school is clearly happy with where he's taking the program.

Tech will be headed to a bowl game this year, which will offer a chance to end an otherwise good season on a high note.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Winners and Losers from Week 15 of College Football

The 2014 college football season is coming to an end. In a way, though, it feels like everything is just getting started. 

On Sunday, the College Football Playoff selection committee will unveil its four-team field. Some of those spots appear to be secured, while others could be more open to discussion. In any case, everything college football fans have waited months on end for is coming to fruition. 

From convincing wins by Alabama, Ohio State and Oregon, to a wild Bedlam game finish, there were plenty of takeaways from the weekend. 

Which players and teams were winners? Which ones ended the season on a sour note? The answers are in the following slides. 

Begin Slideshow

Kansas State vs. Baylor: Score and Twitter Reaction

The No. 6 Baylor Bears won 38-27 over the ninth-ranked Kansas State Wildcats Saturday night, grabbing a share of the Big 12 championship and leaving their national title hopes up to the College Football Playoff committee.

Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty's status was unknown for much of the week following a concussion suffered last week, but he was back to his usual self Saturday. The senior finished with a sterling stat line of 34-of-40 passing with 412 yards, a touchdown and an interception in his McLane Stadium send-off.

The Bears added 172 more yards on the ground, including 91 yards on 18 carries from Shock Linwood. The balanced attack thwarted a Kansas State defense that had allowed more than 30 points only once all season. 

Here was the box score from the Waco, Texas contest:

Baylor jumped out to an early lead that it wouldn't relinquish on the game's opening drive. Despite the Wildcats trimming the deficit to one possession early in the third quarter, Petty and the Bears offense rediscovered their offensive success in the second half for a couple of game-sealing scores.

After the win, Bears head coach Art Briles resurfaced the case for Baylor over TCU in the playoff that he echoed earlier in the week, per Andrew Perloff of Sports Illustrated:

Despite Saturday's game being a matchup of two Top 10 teams, the focus on remained whether Baylor could do enough to supplant the likes of TCU, Florida State or Ohio State and sneak into the CFP.

But after the Bears killed Kansas State's hopes in a similar scenario back in 2012, Briles wanted to keep things centered on the matchup at hand in the days leading up to the game, per ESPN.com's Max Olson.

"When you ride up there at a certain level for so long and every week there’s people shooting at you, as Kansas State was that year, it’s hard to dodge for 12 weeks," Briles said. "It’s just hard to do."

On the very first drive, Baylor looked just as focused as it needed to be to avoid that sort of slip-up.

Petty led the Bears on a quick 81-yard drive to open the game, scampering in from one yard out to give Baylor a 7-0 lead less than two minutes in. Baylor kept its foot on the gas pedal and nearly scored on its next drive, before Petty threw a costly interception in the end zone.

With the Bears' defense holding firm and forcing quick K-State punts, Baylor got another chance to punch it in but nearly suffered another terrible goal-line mistake. After review, though, a forced fumble was overturned and Linwood broke through for a one-yard score, per Sports Illustrated.

But in the typical fashion of head coach Bill Snyder and Kansas State, the Wildcats rolled down the field in a long drive to get back in it. Running back Charles Jones found the end zone from one yard out, making it a 14-7 game.

Baylor had no trouble responding, but once again it came in controversial fashion after nearly fumbling. But as Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel showed, those near-gaffes didn't overshadow Baylor's offensive dominance:

Petty and the Baylor offense had it going early, but the defense couldn't continue shutting Kansas State down. The Wildcats rolled out another methodical drive and used a splash play to get back in the game.

Jake Waters found Zach Trujillo for a big 36-yard touchdown, bringing the game to 21-14 and resurfacing some of Baylor's secondary woes, as Jimmy Burch of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram noticed:

Baylor added a last-second field goal before halftime after Petty led them 48 yards in just 44 seconds, but the Wildcats were still very much in it with the score at 24-14 as the teams headed in to the break.

K-State threatened to grab a crucial touchdown coming out for the second half but was held to a 24-yard Matthew McCrane field goal that made it a one-score game again.

Right when the Wildcats were within striking distance, Petty struck back.

The senior found Antwan Goodley for a 58-yard touchdown that mimicked so many of Baylor's long scores this season, putting the Bears up 31-17 and spurring USA Today's George Schroeder to note how short the touchdown drive was:

K-State kicker McCrane answered with another field goal, but the Wildcats needed seven points on those drives, not threes. That was clear when Baylor next got the ball and rattled off a 10-play, 72-yard drive capped by Johnny Jefferson's three-yard score. That drive extended the Bears' lead to 38-20.

At the end of the third quarter, just about the only critique you could give Baylor was that the likes of Ohio State and TCU were winning in similar fashion, per Dallas Morning News' Chuck Carlton:

The Baylor victory looked more than guaranteed at that point, but it just isn't in Kansas State's DNA to keel over in such a situation. The Wildcats had to scratch and claw on a 90-yard drive that took up more than seven minutes, but made it a 38-27 game on Waters' eight-yard touchdown toss to Tyler Lockett.

Waters got a chance with 9:48 left to lead the Wildcats down the field and make it a one-score game, but threw a game-sealing interception at the Baylor 34 to essentially end the contest.

Everyone will have their own opinions on whether TCU has done enough to stay ahead of Baylor despite the head-to-head loss, or whether one of them even deserves to be in the playoff after Ohio State's convincing win over Wisconsin. But no matter what happens, Baylor can crown themselves the Big 12 champions after holding the tiebreaker over fellow one-loss TCU.

It's safe to say, though, that those conference championship celebrations will turn sour come Sunday afternoon if Baylor's name isn't among the Top Four.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How Alabama Matches Up with the 5 Other Potential Playoff Teams

Alabama fans can finally book that travel to New Orleans.

Barring some drastic shake-up in the College Football Playoff rankings on Sunday afternoon, the Crimson Tide will play as the No. 1 or 2 seed in the Superdome in the first round of the inaugural four-team tournament.

Alabama’s 42-13 win over Missouri in the SEC championship game sealed the Crimson Tide’s playoff fate. Now fans can begin to look ahead to potential opponents, for the first round and the championship game.

Let’s take a look at the remaining contenders in alphabetical order and determine how Alabama matches up with each, along with a projected Vegas spread.

 

Baylor

The narrative for this game would be pretty straightforward: Baylor’s high-flying offense against Alabama’s stingy defense.

The Bears had the top offense in the country in yards per game coming into this weekend. Alabama’s defense was No. 11.

The good news for Baylor is that its offensive strength is Alabama’s defensive weakness.

Despite the gaudy overall defensive numbers, Alabama is just No. 55 in pass defense. Against Auburn, it gave up several long passing plays, and Saturday, Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk hit a couple of deep balls to keep the Tigers in the game too.

The difference in the game would occur when Alabama has the ball.

Baylor has given up at least 300 yards in all but two of its games this year, against FCS Northwestern State and lowly SMU. The Bears just don’t have the defensive talent to keep up with Amari Cooper.

Points would be scored, but Alabama would get a couple of more stops.

Predicted spread: Alabama (-11)

 

Florida State

Of all of these hypothetical matchups, the Seminoles are the only ones that can go pound-for-pound with Alabama talent-wise.

FSU’s recruiting classes have been ranked Nos. 4, 10, 3 and 2, whereas Alabama has had the top class every year.

Head coach Jimbo Fisher is a Saban disciple and has built a similar wear-you-out team in Tallahassee.

Quarterback Jameis Winston could pick apart the Alabama secondary better than most, while FSU’s offensive line could hold its own against Alabama’s front seven.

The Crimson Tide would likely have the weight of the college football world behind it. Florida State has, fair or unfair, been billed as college football’s villain this year.

It would be a doozy for sure.

Predicted spread: Alabama (-2)

 

Ohio State

This one is probably the biggest wild card of the group.

Cardale Jones looked fantastic in his first start after injuries to Braxton Miller and JT Barrett forced him into action, throwing three touchdowns in a blowout of Wisconsin on Saturday.

Still, the Crimson Tide’s modus operandi on defense is collapsing the pocket and forcing bad decisions by opposing quarterbacks. You have to think Nick Saban and Kirby Smart would go hard after a quarterback like Jones in that situation.

Otherwise, it would seem to be a fairly even matchup, with some interesting individual battles on the other side of the ball.

Joey Bosa vs. freshman left tackle Cam Robinson would be an intense one-on-one matchup. Ohio State safety Von Bell chose the Buckeyes over the Crimson Tide in recruiting and would play a role in slowing down Cooper and the Alabama passing game.

It’s been a while since we’ve gotten Urban Meyer vs. Nick Saban. A rejuvenation of that personal rivalry would be highly entertaining in the postseason.

Predicted spread: Alabama (-6)

 

Oregon

It feels like college football has waited ages for this matchup, hasn’t it? Oregon’s innovative offense against Saban and Alabama’s defense.

That side of the ball would be nothing if not entertaining. The Ducks came into the weekend with the country’s third-best offense and humming under quarterback and likely Heisman winner Marcus Mariota.

The Ducks offensive line, though, could be susceptible to an aggressive pass rush. Oregon has allowed 29 sacks coming into the weekend, just No. 93 in the nation. Alabama had registered 28 sacks before that. Mariota would at least be on the run for a good part of the game.

It would seem to be a mismatch on the other side of the ball.

Oregon is giving up 413.8 yards per game, No. 82 nationally. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin would be licking his chops, ready to unleash his offense on that susceptible defense.

Predicted spread: Alabama (-8)

 

TCU

Who will the Big 12 send to the playoff? Will it send anyone? If it does, its two options are relatively similar.

TCU, like Baylor, is very good on offense and average-to-good on defense.

The Horned Frogs are No. 46 in the country in total defense, giving up 370.7 yards per game this year. Their offense, meanwhile, sits at No. 5 (525.8).

The difference for TCU, and what would make this a little bit more competitive of a game for TCU, is under center.

Trevone Boykin and Bryce Petty are putting up similar numbers this year passing the ball. But Boykin brings an extra dimension to the position.

He is averaging 54.36 yards per game on the ground, compared to Petty's 13-plus per game.

Alabama has been susceptible to mobile quarterbacks this year. Nick Marshall went for 49 last week. Dak Prescott rushed for 82. Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs added 75 on the ground.

Boykin could be a difference-maker, but Alabama still has the edge.

Predicted spread: Alabama (-7)

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from CFBStats.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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TCU QB Trevone Boykin Takes Home CFB's Top Performer for Week 15

Trevone Boykin decided to make his own statement to the playoff committee on Saturday. The TCU quarterback passed for 460 yards and four touchdowns, as the Horned Frogs destroyed the Iowa State Cyclones 55-3.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder explains why this performance was good enough to receive our Lexus Top Performer of Week 15.

Does TCU deserve a spot in the College Football Playoff?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

BYU Football: Ranking the 5 Best Moments for the Cougars in 2014

BYU finished its regular season on a great note last week, notching a big road win over the University of California. But with the Miami Beach Bowl several weeks away, now is a great time to look back on the regular season.

There is no doubt that the Cougs experienced an interesting mix of great wins and devastating losses this season. But there were numerous memorable moments in each game that added up to a long list of highlights.

Which ones deserve to be a top-five moment of this Cougars season? Read on to find out.

Begin Slideshow

Ohio State's Michael Bennett Honors Kosta Karageorge by Wearing His Number

Ohio State Buckeyes lineman Michael Bennett is wearing No. 53 Saturday night in the Big Ten Championship against Wisconsin.

He is honoring his late teammate, Kosta Karageorge, who was found dead from a gunshot wound on Sunday.

Bennett typically wears No. 63.

[BTN Journey]

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Derrick Henry Will Be Alabama's Difference-Maker in College Football Playoff

Derrick Henry is peaking at the end of the season for the second consecutive year, which is bad news for whichever three teams join Alabama in the College Football Playoff.

The breakout star of the 2014 Sugar Bowl took over in the second half of Saturday's SEC Championship Game, rushing for 102 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries during a three-possession stretch that saw the Tide extend their lead from 21-13 to 42-13. 

For the game, he had 20 carries for 141 yards and those two scores.

You do not want this man stampeding toward you:

The first two years of Henry's career have been atypical.

He was the leading rusher in high school football history at Yulee High School in northern Florida and came to Alabama as a 5-star recruit last season. But he didn't make an impact (in meaningful action) until the aforementioned Sugar Bowl, when he scored touchdowns of 43 and 61 yards in the second half of a 45-31 loss to Oklahoma.

The blogosphere erupted with high hopes for Henry in 2014—this author not being exempt—but he did not live up to his promise. He saw a decent number of carries and enjoyed moderate success but did not perform like a supposed dark-horse Heisman candidate.

Until now.

Henry rushed five times for 72 yards and a touchdown in the Iron Bowl win over Auburn last week, which means he has 213 yards and three touchdowns in his past two SEC games. And he only needed 25 carries to get there. He is averaging 8.52 yards per attempt.

That is basically a first down per carry.

The obvious rebuttal to Henry's success concerns timing.

Starter T.J. Yeldon wears down the defense in the first half, allowing Henry to exploit a tired group of tacklers in the second half. It's the same thing he did against Oklahoma, when you think about. And it means, in some ways, that his numbers are inflated.

And they are.

But so what?

So what if his numbers are inflated? So what if he's not 8.52-yards-per-carry good? It's not about what kind of stats Henry posts. It's about how scary Alabama's offense can be. And with Henry playing as well as he has these past two weeks, the Tide can be pretty darn scary.

No 6'3", 241-pound human being should run as fast or move his feet as well as Henry. Short of an actual rhinoceros, he is the last thing a tired defense wants to tackle. When he's plugged in feeling fresh at the end of a physical game, he is acid on top of a wound.

In hindsight, we probably should have seen this coming.

We should have known that Nick Saban was saving Henry for the end of the season, resting him a la Greg Popovich with Tim Duncan, ensuring he stays fresh for the games that matter most.

"We have total confidence in [Henry] as a player," Saban said after Henry rushed for 24 yards on eight carries against LSU November 8, per Marc Torrence of Bleacher Report.

So why the heck did the rest of us start to waver?

Consider this reminder heeded. Henry will make a difference when the calendar turns to January.

And he might just be the thing that pushes Alabama over the top.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Championship 2014: Game Grades, Analysis for Alabama and Missouri

Alabama dominated the 2014 SEC Championship Game, blowing past Missouri 42-13 while simultaneously punching a ticket to the inaugural College Football Playoff this January.

Alabama rode an outstanding quarterbacking performance by Blake Sims while exerting constant defensive pressure on Missouri's Maty Mauk.  Nick Saban, meanwhile, ties Steve Spurrier for the record for most SEC championships with five.

Here's the box score via NCAA.com.

 

Missouri Pass Offense

Were you to look at nothing more than a box score, you might think Mauk had a pretty decent night against the Crimson Tide.  On one hand, he did.  But if you actually watched the game, you saw a quarterback scrambling for his life most of the evening, while occasionally finding wide receivers (in particular Jimmie Hunt) on prayers heaved downfield just before Mauk hit the sideline.

We'll give credit where credit is due: the Mauk-to-Hunt connection was impressive to watch.  But the protection offered by the offensive line is part of the passing game, too, and that was sorely lacking against the talented front seven from Tuscaloosa.

It's also worth noting that if you remove Hunt's numbers, there were just 103 receiving yards spread among four other Tigers.

 

Missouri Run Offense

We didn't really expect the SEC's top rushing defense (92.7 yards allowed per game during the regular season) to give up a ton of yards, but Mizzou is a team that had been averaging 176 rushing yards per game.

The Tigers, who never led in the game, resorted to passing the ball early and often, after the Tide showed they were in no mood to allow much in the way of rushing success.  From the opening drive, Missouri was constantly faced with third-and-long, which amount to a Tigers run offense that had just 23 carries on the night.

By comparison, Alabama's Derrick Henry had 20 carries by himself, and the Tide as a team had 49 rush attempts.

Mizzou finished with just 41 rushing yards or 1.8 yards per attempt.  Establishing the run is an important step in any championship hunt, and the Tigers failed miserably in this regard.

 

Missouri Pass Defense

Giving up 262 yards and two scores is bad enough, but when that comes on a 23-of-27 performance by the opposing quarterback, you just want to throw up your hands.

Nothing the Missouri secondary did seemed to matter, although it's not like many people have been able to slow down the likes of Amari Cooper this season.  But it's the 101 yards on just four receptions given up to DeAndrew White that should annoy Mizzou fans.

Missouri spend a lot of time focusing on Cooper—not that it mattered, as Cooper still had 12 catches—to the detriment of the coverage on White.  Blake Sims is just too good and the Tide are too well-coached for any defense to get away with that.

 

Missouri Run Defense

Missouri wasn't able to get to Sims much, and he is elusive enough that when the pressure did exist, he still made plays.  It also didn't help the Tigers' cause when the SEC's leading sacker, Shane Ray, was ejected in the first half for a late hit on Sims with a targeting foul tacked on.

While Mizzou didn't completely fall apart after Ray's departure, things certainly didn't improve against the pass.  It all resulted in the most yards (both rushing and total) that Missouri had given up all season long.

 

Missouri Special Teams

Sure, the special teams were pretty good for Missouri.  But when you lose 42-13, does it really matter that much?

In reality, Mizzou probable needed a spark or two from the special teams tonight, and that didn't happen.  We won't penalize guys for not carrying their team, but we're not going to shower an otherwise efficient special teams unit with praise for simply showing up and not screwing up.

Andrew Baggett was two-of-two on field goals, and Christian Brinser averaged 43.4 yards on his busy night of seven punts.

 

Missouri Coaching

Gary Pinkel and Nick Saban played football together at Kent State in the 1970s and even won a MAC championship together.  That familiarity showed at times, as Pinkel seemed to have the right offensive scheme dialed up at just the right moment.

But calling the right play and executing the right play are two different things.  Mauk looked just a little off-target early on, and a drop by tight end Sean Culkin on Missouri's second drive resulted in a punt instead of a first down.

We'll even give Pinkel a great deal of credit for the adjustments Missouri made offensively at halftime, scoring the first 10 points of the second half while holding Alabama scoreless in the third quarter.  But as the game wore on, the athletes took over.

Alabama just has more of them than Missouri.

 

Alabama Pass Offense

There's no other way to put this: Blake Sims was phenomenal.  Finishing 23-of-27 with 262 yards and two touchdowns is a successful night for any quarterback, but the fact that this came in a conference championship game is more than enough reason to award Sims the SEC Championship Game MVP award.

Sims was back to his old tricks, throwing strikes into coverage or scrambling away from pressure to pick up yards with his feet.  Sims finished with nine rushes for 19 yards, and only two or three of those were designed runs (plus one sack).

When people were wondering whether or not Sims was only being played because Saban was honoring Sims as a senior, we now wonder if Saban knew all along that he had an eventual championship game MVP on his hands.

 

Alabama Run Offense

Missouri doesn't typically give up a ton of rushing yards—unless the Tigers are playing in the SEC Championship Game.  While Alabama didn't quite have the 545-yard performance Auburn did a year ago, the Tide's 242 was still an impressive outing for the sixth-best rushing offense in the SEC this season (206.8 yards per game).

While T.J. Yeldon is certainly hailed as a premier back (and with two touchdowns on 14 carries with 47 yards, we certainly need to give him his due), tonight belonged to Derrick Henry.  This 6'3", 241-pound sophomore was deadly against Missouri, and his career-high 141 yards and two scores provided more than the nail in the coffin for the Tigers' SEC title hopes.  It provided the first shovel-full or two of dirt, too.

Henry was too big and (surprisingly) too fast for Missouri to adjust to most of the night.  Alabama fans should rightly be excited about not only his future in Tuscaloosa next season but what his presence can mean for the Tide moving into the College Football Playoff next month.

 

Alabama Pass Defense

We're going to split this breakdown into two parts.  First, there was the pressure the Alabama defensive line and blitzing personnel put on Mauk.

Mauk rarely looked comfortable in the pocket, and he spent most of his night running around the field, looking for open receivers while scrambling.  In fact, Mauk probably ran for more lateral yardage than any Tiger did for positive yardage.

Mauk was able, however, to find some open receivers downfield on what looked like desperation heave after desperation heave.  With that, we come to our second part of the pass defense.

Against Missouri, Mauk and a Tigers offense that averaged just 189.9 passing yards per game (11th in the SEC), the three-to-four-second coverage window given by the Alabama secondary was enough to keep Mizzou from really punishing the Tide.  

But against quarterbacks likely to be seen in the playoff this season (Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota, for example), even the small windows left open by the Tide's secondary will be exploited.

Jimmie Hunt's six receptions for 169 yards should be a concern for the Alabama defensive coaching staff moving forward.

 

Alabama Run Defense

The performance was nothing short of excellent for the Bama run defense tonight.

A'Shawn Robinson was all over the field, pressuring Mauk in the passing game and making big plays at or behind the line of scrimmage on run plays.

After teaching Missouri that running the football was futile pretty early on, the Tide maintained their dominance in the trenches, limiting Mizzou to just 41 rushing yards.  In fact, only two Tigers had more than one yard on the evening, and none had more than 21 yards.

That's what we call an A-plus performance.

 

Alabama Special Teams

Coaches are never going to be thrilled when a kicker misses a field goal, especially with Alabama's history of missing field goals in important games.

That being said, it's a little easier as a kicker to avoid the wrath of Saban on nights when your team wins by four touchdowns.

We also have to mention a potential momentum-shifting play deftly negated by punter JK Scott in the second half.  After dropping the snap, Scott quickly picked up the football and quick-kicked it away, avoiding the Missouri pressure (some of which was now coming from behind him).

Scott got the kick away for 33 yards, and it was downed at the Missouri 20—instead of giving the Tigers the ball on the plus side of midfield.

 

Alabama Coaching

All of the criticisms about Nick Saban have been said and debated for years now.  The only thing left to wonder is how many more championships this guy can possibly win.

Saban has now tied Steve Spurrier for the most number of SEC titles by a coach with five.  And unless Old Saint Nick is planning on retiring anytime soon, we're pretty confident that he'll have the record all to himself before long.

Nick Saban's greatest feat, however, is probably his ability to surround himself with some of the greatest assistants in the game.  Lane Kiffin, admittedly a failure as a head coach, is once again showing his genius as an assistant.  And even if Saban didn't have a world-class football brain trust around him, he would still probably come out on top.

Saban and his staff were able to withstand Pinkel's adjustments after halftime, and despite not scoring in the third quarter, Alabama never let the score get closer than eight points before pulling away in the fourth.

We're excited to see what new heights Saban can reach with the Crimson Tide, and we have a sneaking suspicion that it won't take us long to find out.

 

Unless otherwise noted, quotes or references to quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.

Follow Bleacher Report's National College Football Featured Columnist David Luther on Twitter.

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