NCAA Football News

College Football Playoff Championship 2015: Date, Schedule, Latest Predictions

There are still a few weeks to go before the College Football Playoff games kick off, but Saturday is the final day for the teams still fighting for a spot to make a case to the selection committee. The final standings will be released on Sunday, creating a sense of urgency that is new to college football. 

While there will be three games that compromise the College Football Playoff, starting with the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl on January 1, our focus is on the actual championship game. Instead of looking at the final four, why not go one step ahead to the final two?

This is the first time that more than two teams will have a chance to fight over the biggest prize in college football, so no one knows what to expect. The selection committee has been figuring things out as it goes, and four teams will have a chance to stake their claim as the best in the sport. 

 

College Football Playoff Championship Schedule

Date: January 12, 2015

Location: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas

Start Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

 

Latest Playoff Rankings

 

Championship Game Predictions

The College Football Playoff has worked out perfectly in terms of drama, as each team in the Top Four plays a game this weekend. Oregon actually played Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday night, but Alabama, TCU and Florida State are in action on Saturday. 

Of those three teams, TCU has the easiest game against an Iowa State team that's winless in Big 12 play. Florida State has the most difficult game, based on the rankings, against No. 11 Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game. 

Based on how each of these teams is playing right now, as well as their matchups, Alabama and TCU seem like the safest bet to maintain their positions. In fact, based on projections from Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com, those two teams had the highest percentage chance of getting in the playoff:

However, Silver also notes that Alabama still has a good chance of staying in the Top Four with a loss to Missouri in the SEC Championship Game because of its conference:

The dangerous case for Alabama is if it loses while the rest of the top five — Oregon, TCU, Florida State and Ohio State — win. That scenario would be a nightmare for the committee; it would either have to deny the SEC a slot in the playoff (Missouri and Mississippi State have almost no chance) or bypass a one-loss conference champion such as Ohio State for two-loss Alabama.

Since Alabama doesn't seem likely to lose against Missouri—with respect to the Tigers—it will be in. At that point, the Crimson Tide are looking at a game against a team like Florida State, Ohio State or Baylor. 

The Seminoles and Buckeyes don't seem to provide much of a challenge for Nick Saban's defense. Florida State may be undefeated, but quarterback Jameis Winston has been awful with 17 interceptions, including at least one in six straight games. 

Winston might be able to get away with that against teams like Florida, Notre Dame and Louisville, but Alabama is a different animal entirely. 

Ohio State, while not as inconsistent as Florida State, has to deal with breaking in a new quarterback at the worst possible time. Even if Cardale Jones helps lead the Buckeyes to a win over Wisconsin, he will be going up against a different animal entirely when Saban's defense gets a crack at him. 

Baylor is an interesting option in the semifinals because Alabama struggled mightily on defense against an Auburn team that spreads the field. Saban infamously supported the proposed rule change that was shot down in which teams would have had to wait 10 seconds between plays to allow substitutions. 

While Saban cited player safety as the reason, the cynical take is that he was simply trying to help himself because Alabama has struggled to defend those open offenses. Baylor leads the nation in scoring offense at 49.8 points per game. 

That's not enough to call for a Baylor upset if the matchup happens, but the Bears have the formula to give Alabama problems. 

Bottom line with the Crimson Tide, as noted by ESPN Stats & Info, is that they are simply the best team in the sport right now:

The other team in the College Football Playoff Championship isn't as complex to figure out. The selection committee seems to love TCU, bumping the Horned Frogs over an undefeated Florida State team and three spots ahead of a Baylor team that beat them earlier this season.

Oregon has been securely in the playoff for weeks, bouncing back nicely from a loss against Arizona earlier in the year. More importantly than just winning the rest of their games, the Ducks have gotten better as the season has gone on.

The offensive line was Oregon's Achilles' heel, as Arizona exploited in that 31-24 win with seven sacks of quarterback Marcus Mariota, but Paul Myerberg of USA Today noted the Heisman Trophy contender was only sacked 14 times in the next seven games after that defeat. 

Assuming Oregon and TCU maintain their current spots for a matchup in the Rose Bowl, the Ducks get the edge in a head-to-head battle because they have the better quarterback and have proved themselves against better competition with wins over Michigan State and Arizona. 

Per this stat from ESPN's Chris Fowler, Mariota was able to conquer his white whale in the Pac-12 Championship Game:

Now imagine what Mariota will do against a TCU defense that allowed 61 points against Baylor and struggled against Kansas. It should be a blast to watch these two offenses do work, but the Ducks have been battle-tested against better competition and should prevail in this spot. 

This leaves us with a showdown between Alabama and Oregon for the national championship, which seems only fitting since they appear to be the two best teams in college football. 

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ACC Championship 2014: Odds, Preview, Predictions for FSU vs. Georgia Tech

Depending on your rooting interests when it comes to Florida State, Georgia Tech is the final hope for knocking off the defending champion Seminoles before the College Football Playoff or the final obstacle in their way.

If things follow the same script that they always do with Florida State, Jameis Winston and Co. will fall behind early and come from behind to win in the fourth quarter. If that happens, the Seminoles will be firmly in the four-team postseason with a chance to defend their crown. 

Read on for some of the essential information for the game, as well as a look at the keys to the contest.

 

Florida State vs. Georgia Tech

Date: Saturday, Dec. 6

Time: 8 p.m. ET

TV: ABC

Live Stream: Watch ESPN 

Spread: Florida State -4 (via Odds Shark, as of Friday morning at 11 p.m. ET)

 

Keys to the Game

Establishing Momentum

Florida State hasn’t lost for two seasons, but Georgia Tech has a five-game winning streak of its own. It should be very confident heading into this contest, and a quick start would only serve to boost that confidence.

That quick start is likely for the Yellow Jackets considering Florida State has fallen behind in the first half nine different times this season, including five of the last six games. While the Seminoles consistently play with a deficit, Georgia Tech runs the ball 78 percent of the time.

It plays ahead of the chains with that type of attack and creates third-and-short situations, which are much easier to pick up on the ground. Consistently extending drives will gradually wear the Florida State defense down and open up more holes later in the game.

College GameDay noted that Georgia Tech has made a habit of starting fast:

Florida State has fallen behind all season, but it hasn’t faced a running attack like that of the Yellow Jackets. Ideally for Georgia Tech, it will keep the clock running all game and force Winston to watch the action from the sidelines.

 

Triple-Option

Georgia Tech controls the clock and pace of the game with the triple-option offense.

Interestingly, this will not be the first time Florida State faces the triple-option this season. It played against The Citadel and allowed 250 rushing yards, thanks to a number of different looks and misdirection plays.

Justin Thomas, Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days spearhead the Georgia Tech ground attack and are certainly better athletes than Florida State saw when it struggled to stop the option from The Citadel. That could be a problem on Saturday.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher discussed the matchup, according to The Associated Press (via ESPN.com):

It's a whole different perspective of how you have to defend their offensive attack. It's going to have to be a complete gameplan overhaul as far as different things you do. Everybody had a certain way they play that. 

You have your plan, you know what you do. We work on those things in the offseason when you have to play teams like this and then you try to implement based on what they do.

The triple-option is one of the trickiest offensive sets to prepare for, largely because teams rarely see it, and it is a great way to neutralize any perceived talent advantages. The Yellow Jackets will use it early and often against Florida State in an effort to keep Winston on the sidelines.

 

Jameis Winston Avoiding Turnovers

Winston deserves credit for winning every time he takes the field, but he has thrown 11 interceptions in six games and has to face a defense that has 17 picks on the season.

The Seminoles may boast an athletic advantage at the wide receiver position and across the board in general, but turnovers are the great equalizer. If the Yellow Jackets can force a couple of quick turnovers and set the triple-option up in ideal field position, they can put the Seminoles behind early.

An early deficit would force Winston to throw the ball even more, and those throws would give Georgia Tech’s opportunistic defense a chance to create even more turnovers and further neutralize Florida State’s talent advantage.

While there are certainly a number of intriguing aspects to this game that could suggest a potential Georgia Tech upset, Florida State has thrived in situations where it has its back against the wall all season.

Cliche or not, the Seminoles find a way to win at the end of games, and there is no reason to expect anything different this time around.

Winston will eventually find a groove and hit Nick O’Leary underneath for critical gains and Rashad Greene over the top for game-changers. If that softens up the defense, running back Dalvin Cook will hit the gaps along the line.

It would be crucial if Winston could get his team the lead at any point in the second half. The Yellow Jackets were 122nd in the country in passing yards per game and are not built to sustain drives through the air.

That will be their ultimate undoing on Saturday, much to the dismay of the teams behind Florida State in the College Football Playoff standings. 

Prediction: Florida State 31, Georgia Tech 24

 

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SEC Championship Game 2014: Odds and Final Breakdown of Alabama vs. Missouri

The SEC Championship Game is one of the most hyped events of the college football season—and rightfully so.

This conference has dominated the collegiate ranks, producing seven of the last eight national champions. This year, No. 1 Alabama has a great chance to get back to the big dance, but the road will be even more difficult due to the inaugural College Football Playoff. Before the Crimson Tide can even think about the playoff, they must first contend with a dangerous Missouri team.

The Tigers are on quite a roll entering the title game, winning six straight to end the regular season. Nothing was handed to Missouri, as a win over a surging Arkansas team was necessary to clinch the SEC East. However, Alabama is on a streak of its own, winning seven in a row, including four victories against ranked opponents during that stretch.

Before these teams take the field to decide who will be crowned this year's SEC champion, let's take one final look at all of the game's essential information.

 

Viewing Information

When: Saturday, December 6

Where: Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia

Time: 4 p.m. ET

Channel: CBS

Live Stream: CBSSports.com

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 49
  • Spread: Alabama -14.5

 

Preview and Prediction

Alabama's defense has been one of the nation's most dominant units once again this season. The team is ranked second against the run, 54th against the pass, 11th in total defense and fifth in points allowed. Yes, Maty Mauk, Russell Hansbrough and Co. will have a rough time in the title game—that narrative has been beaten to death by now.

Let's go ahead and turn things on their head and talk about the Missouri defense. After all, the Tigers' pass rush will be the biggest key to victory for both teams on Saturday.

Missouri can really get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The team has several prolific pass-rushers, including SEC sacks leader Shane Ray and Markus Golden, who are more than capable of giving offensive linemen plenty of trouble. In fact, the Tigers are ranked sixth in the nation with a total of 40 sacks on the season. For those of you counting at home, that's an average of 3.33 per game.

Now, here's a fun statistic based off that number, via College GameDay:

That's quite a track record for Missouri; however, Alabama's offensive line has protected its quarterback nicely this year, allowing a total of 11 sacks to rank seventh in the nation.

While Alabama's line has been sturdy, it hasn't been overly consistent against better pass rushes. The Crimson Tide have seen some good pass rushes this year in Ole Miss, Arkansas, LSU and Mississippi State. Alabama went 3-1 over those four games, and each game was decided by a one-score margin.

The reason for that was solid defensive line play. During those games, quarterback Blake Sims was sacked five times and kept in check, completing just 54 percent of his passes, and the backfield duo of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry combined to average just 3.9 yards per carry.

Here's a telling statement from Gary Danielson of CBS Sports, via Tim McKernan of InsideSTL.com:

Taking care of things up front will also hinder the performance of prolific wide receiver Amari Cooper by limiting the amount of time Sims has to get rid of the football. Less time in the pocket equates to less time in coverage, which leads to more pass breakups and fewer big plays.

So, here's the big question: Will Missouri ride its pass rush to a huge upset win on Saturday?

The answer is no.

While the Tigers will give Alabama's offense a hard time, there's still a concern regarding Missouri's ability to generate offense of its own and get enough points on the board. Considering the Tigers have only eclipsed 30 points just once over their past five games, that doesn't exude much confidence that they'll be able to outscore the Crimson Tide.

Prediction: Alabama 30, Missouri 20

 

All team statistics and rankings courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 5 at 8:30 p.m. ET.

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Heisman Watch 2014: Latest Predictions in Race for Coveted Award

The case against Marcus Mariota winning the 2014 Heisman Trophy becomes increasingly difficult to make with each passing week.

The junior exorcised his demons with a Pac-12 Championship victory over No. 7 Arizona on Friday night, scoring two touchdowns through the air and three on the ground. He will lead the Oregon Ducks into the College Football Playoff boasting 4,452 total yards, 53 touchdowns and two interceptions for an offense that generates 45.8 points per contest.

Before Friday night's showdown, an ESPN poll projected the race as a nail-biter between Mariota and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. Per College GameDay's Twitter page:

The future pro put a bow around his submission with another impressive evening, this time proving that Oregon's offense can't go the distance. In a perfect world, individuals would be judged on their own merit, but voters certainly won't turn a blind eye to Mariota's eye-popping season now it's attached to a 12-1 program.

It's hardly an open-and-shut case, but looking at the quarterbacks alone, none of Mariota's peers hold a candle to him. 

Emerging as Mariota's steepest adversary under center, J.T. Barrett will not receive the opportunity to wrap up his sterling freshman year. The Ohio State newcomer's season ended prematurely when he suffered an ankle injury against Michigan.

Although robbed of a Big Ten title appearance against Wisconsin, his 45 touchdowns and 3,772 total yards keep him on the short list of possible invitees for the Heisman ceremony. If any quarterback besides Mariota gets the call, it should be Barrett.

Dak Prescott once represented a strong contender heading the top-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs, but he could not maintain his stellar start. The junior surrendered eight interceptions during a five-game stretch that culminated in a loss to Alabama.

His candidacy relied on Mississippi State's success. While his numbers keep him in the conversation, they're not enough to surpass Mariota's amazing campaign.

Trevone Boykin strikes a dashing 26-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but he has completed just 59.3 percent of his passes for the TCU Horned Frogs. The junior sneaked into the conversation with a seven-touchdown outing against Texas Tech, but the full ledger simply doesn't stack up.

Anyone who still considers Jameis Winston a viable candidate to retain his crown hasn't been paying attention. After throwing four interceptions to Florida, the defending champion has now coughed up 12 picks in his last six games.

But quarterback isn't the only position out there. With 665 rushing yards through the past three games, Tevin Coleman is giving Melvin Gordon some healthy competition as the nation's top rusher. However, the Wisconsin phenom hasn't slowed down, rattling off at least 120 rushing yards and a score during each contest since Week 2.

Once he finds a hole, he routinely bites off massive gains. He has scooped up at least one 20-yard run in every contest. College GameDay expanded on his incredible breakaway speed off the edges:

He has convinced everyone except himself of his awesomeness. When speaking to Grantland's Holly Anderson, he insisted that those 2,260 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns don't make him a finished product.

“I don’t feel like I’m top-notch at anything I do,” Gordon said. “I’m not overly fast, I’m not overly strong. My strong suits, I can work on those too.” 

Amari Cooper has certainly wowed for the Alabama Crimson Tide, especially after his 224-yard, three-touchdown outburst against Auburn. Yet, a wide receiver has not picked up a Heisman Trophy since 1991, when Desmond Howard won with the help of an inflated touchdown tally (23) and his return-game prowess.

Quarterbacks have taken home the hardware in 12 of the past 14 seasons, with running backs Reggie Bush and Mark Ingram representing the two holdovers. The committee will only look someone else's way if that person commands their attention well above the passers and runners.

With elite choices elsewhere, that's not the case, so barring another groundbreaking performance in Saturday's SEC Championship game, Cooper will have to settle for third place. 

When it comes to Maritoa and Gordon, it's tough to pick wrong. Both are offensive dynamos functioning at an optimal rate. In a battle pitting an otherworldly quarterback with an unstoppable running back, the passer usually wins out.

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Rose Bowl 2015: TV, Live Stream Info and Early Predictions

It's been a long time coming, but college football will finally have a playoff following the season. With the first semifinals set to take place in less than a month, fans have been clamoring for the Rose Bowl to finally arrive.

Taking place in Pasadena, California, the Rose Bowl will host the No. 2 and 3 teams in the College Football Playoff committee's poll. Currently, that leaves Oregon facing TCU—but that seems destined to change this weekend.

The Ducks will likely remain at No. 2, but the Horned Frogs have question marks with their final game. Going against a weak Iowa State, TCU might be jumped by either Florida State or a host of other teams vying for the final spot.

Ahead of the announcement this weekend, here's a look at the viewing information and predictions for the Rose Bowl.

 

Viewing Information

Where: Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California

When: Jan. 1, 2015

Start Time: 5 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

Live StreamWatchESPN

 

Rose Bowl Prediction

It seemed like a predetermined fact: If Florida State ran the table, it would be in the College Football Playoff. After a year of struggling to keep that unblemished record, however, the playoff committee has the Seminoles on the cusp of missing out entirely at the No. 4 spot.

More shade has been thrown on Florida State in the recent rankings after more first-half woes against Florida. Despite the slow start, the Noles still found a way to win and stand as the only 12-0 team. Albert Breer of NFL.com and Mike Greenberg of ESPN pointed out their disgust over the move:

Even with the doubt that is clearly creeping into the minds of voters, any questions can be answered with a win over Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have been dominant recently and defeated two straight Top 25 teams to close the regular season.

Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports shared his thoughts on the situation for FSU:

However, the Yellow Jackets have other thoughts about the ACC Championship game.

Georgia Tech boasts one of the most prolific offenses in the country under Paul Johnson. Florida State's defense will have its hands full with Georgia Tech's offense, which comes in at No. 1 in the ACC in scoring (37.2 points per game), total offense (469.1 yards per game) and rushing touchdowns (37).

Johnson referenced his high-power offense, per Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com:

There have been so many misperceptions promoted for so long about, well, people catch up to the offense, and it's this, and it's that. …  It's like anything. When people say it long enough, they want it to be true. A broken clock's right twice a day. … We beat Clemson 28-6. You're not going to see any headlines that say, ‘Well, they figured out the hurry-up offense. It's through now. That's the blueprint, they'll never score again.' Now if that's us, you get the, ‘Well, they figured it out, and that's it for that offense.'

Florida State winning—which I believe will happen—should be enough to move the Noles back up to the No. 3 spot. TCU's underwhelming final game will hurt but won't drop it entirely out of the picture with a Sugar Bowl berth.

As for the Seminoles' opponent, expect Oregon to finally get over the Arizona hurdle to play for a chance at a national title. Marcus Mariota leads one of the most overpowering offenses in the country, as College GameDay noted:

It may seem clear now, but the playoff picture can still change drastically this weekend. If Mizzou, Arizona or Georgia Tech pull off upsets, any of the top teams might fall out of the top four.

Fans rooting for any of the teams outside of the current bracket are obviously hoping for chaos during championship weekend. By the time the dust settles, however, it will be Oregon and Florida State squaring off in Pasadena.

 

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Sugar Bowl 2015: TV, Live Stream Info and Early Predictions

The Sugar Bowl is less than a month away, but college football fans are already looking ahead to the massive matchup. Multiple programs are still vying for a spot in the College Football Playoff semifinals, but only two will be chosen.

For now, the New Year's Day bowl game is one of the most unpredictable matchups of the year. Alabama appears to be destined for the No. 1 seed if it beats Missouri in the SEC Championship, but the final spot is up for grabs.

TCU, Florida State, Baylor, Ohio State and even Arizona are all in the hunt heading into their final games of the year. If I had to make a prediction right now, it would be Alabama and TCU competing in the Sugar Bowl for a chance to play for a national championship.

Prior to the announcement this weekend, here's a look at the full broadcast information and predictions for the Sugar Bowl.

 

Viewing Information

Where: Super Dome in New Orleans

When: Jan. 1, 2015

Start Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Sugar Bowl Prediction

Despite the huge jump by TCU this past week all the way to the No. 3 spot in the rankings, the Horned Frogs are far from a lock to make the playoff. As crazy as that sounds, it's not so insane after the recent decisions by the committee.

First and foremost, the committee cares not for the overall results on the year but rather how the team performs. For example, TCU actually lost to Baylor—yeah, that happened—and the poll has TCU ahead due to its recent results against top competition.

However, the Frogs face a lowly Iowa State this weekend, while Florida State has a shot at a conference title with a win over highly ranked Georgia Tech. A victory for both might be enough to propel the Seminoles back into the No. 3 spot, as Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports notes:

That actually presents a better situation for TCU by playing in New Orleans, while FSU would be flying across the country to take on Oregon. Regardless of the circumstances, TCU will likely move behind the Noles even with a massive win over Iowa State due to the difficulty of the victory.

Just the simple fact that TCU is even in the playoff picture over the myriad of contending teams is baffling to several analysts. Joe Giglio of The News & Observer and Mike Greenberg of ESPN passed along their thoughts:

Given the way this weekend will likely go down, it appears TCU will still be competing with Alabama for a shot at the title.

The Crimson Tide simply need to take down Mizzou, which seems like a sure thing after cruising to close the season. Coming off a smackdown late against Auburn in the Iron Bowl, Bama will continue to roll over another set of Tigers to make the Sugar Bowl.

Outside of the SEC Championship, Ohio State will have its hands full against Melvin Gordon and the Wisconsin Badgers. If the Buckeyes and Bears lose or struggle against their opponents, TCU will be a lock to make the playoff.

Though some college football fans will be hoping for mayhem, there will be none for the Horned Frogs against an awful Iowa State team. That leaves both Alabama and TCU ringing in the New Year with a chance to compete for a national championship.

 

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College Football Rankings 2014: Final NCAA Overview of Week 15 Standings

Oregon enters the final Saturday of the 2014 season as the only Top Four team having taken care of business and seemingly wrapped up its spot in the College Football Playoff.

Alabama can inevitably wrap up their case for the playoff with a win, but the Crimson Tide's hopes of getting the SEC back in the national title game will ride on a SEC title game showdown against peaking Missouri. 

Everyone else in the hunt is at the mercy of the committee. The likes of TCU, Baylor and Ohio State enter the final weekend needing to make a statement in order to ensure their spot while some of them and others look for help to climb into the conversation.

With that said, let's take a final look at all of the Top 25 rankings as the final weekend approaches.

Full CFP rankings can be found here.

After No. 2 Oregon throttled No. 7 Arizona in Friday's Pac-12 Championship Game, the stage is set for a Saturday slate that will tell us just how real these CFP contenders' chances are.

But although it's championship weekend, the first matchup on tap doesn't figure to be much of a championship-like bout, as third-ranked TCU hosts 2-9 Iowa State to close out its Big 12 slate.

Unsurprisingly, quarterback Trevone Boykin and the Horned Frogs come in as massive 34.5-point favorites, according to Odds Shark. But does that mean that an unimpressive victory could knock them out of the Top Four altogether?

The Baylor Bears certainly hope so, and they've got a compelling case.

Art Briles' crew has one blemish on its record, a road loss at West Virginia, but have an all-important head-to-head win over TCU earlier in the season. However, that hasn't made much of a difference to the committee, which has kept TCU ahead of its conference counterpart.

But with Baylor having the chance to knock off No. 9 Kansas State on Saturday, 247Sports' Steve Wiltfong noted the questions will come in droves if the Bears fail to leapfrog the Frogs with a win:

It's easy to find folks on both sides of the argument when it comes to TCU and Baylor, but one thing seems to be a consensus—Florida State may be undefeated, but it can ill-afford a loss in the ACC Championship Game against No. 11 Georgia Tech.

The Yellow Jackets' dangerous triple-option might give the Seminoles fits, and a defeat would certainly knock the undefeated squad from the CFP conversation. Doubt has crept up in the form of Florida State winning seven of its games by six or fewer points.

But as head coach Jimbo Fisher told ESPN.com's David Hale, there isn't much premise in leaving the 'Noles out should they stay unbeaten:

It's hard to imagine Florida State falling further should it beat an impressive Top 15 team. But Ohio State looks likely to miss out on the fun altogether—even if it tops Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game Saturday night. 

The Buckeyes will trot out Cardale Jones at quarterback after J.T. Barrett's season-ending injury against Michigan, but they still remain No. 6 in the CFP rankings. Without help in the form of at least two superior teams falling, Urban Meyer's squad will be on the outside looking in.

Even as the final day of the college football season gets underway, the Top Four is nowhere near set. If things get as chaotic on Saturday as we've seen through stretches of this season, a team not even mentioned here could make the leap.

In this wacky 2014 season, unpredictable results have practically been the norm. If that continues into Saturday, none of the teams atop the rankings are safe.

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Big Ten Championship 2014: Odds, Preview, Prediction for Wisconsin vs Ohio State

Ohio State has lost a single Big Ten game since 2012, and it just so happened to come in Indianapolis at the Big Ten Championship Game last year. Safe to say, the Buckeyes have some unfinished business to take care of in the nation's heartland.

Standing in their way is the daunting rushing attack of Melvin Gordon and Wisconsin. 

The Badgers are looking to solidify their position in an elite bowl game and prevent Ohio State from contending for a College Football Playoff spot in the process. Read on to see if they can do just that.

 

Wisconsin vs. Ohio State

Date: Saturday, Dec. 6 

Time: 8:17 p.m. ET

TV: Fox 

Odds: Wisconsin -4.5 (via Odds Shark, as of Friday night at 11:30 p.m. ET)

 

Preview, Keys to Game, Prediction

Melvin Gordon vs. Ohio State Front Seven

Gordon is the best running back in the country, embarrassed Nebraska for 408 yards and four touchdowns and has virtually locked up a spot in New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. A monster game against the Buckeyes defense could propel him into the No. 1 spot with Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. 

Gordon finished the season with 2,260 rushing yards and 29 total touchdowns, and he broke the 100-yard barrier in every game but one.

Chris Trapasso of NFL.com believes Gordon is the Heisman favorite at this point:

Ohio State's rush defense is not exactly dominant, either. It gave up 228 rushing yards to Indiana's Tevin Coleman, 145 rushing yards to Minnesota's David Cobb and has struggled to swarm to the ball and attack the line of scrimmage.

The silver lining for this matchup from the Buckeyes' perspective is that they contained Gordon for 74 rushing yards in their 2013 matchup. That game was at home, but the overall team speed on the defensive end was impressive enough to slow down the superstar. 

Ohio State needs a repeat performance again Saturday, otherwise Gordon will rack up more Heisman-like numbers.

 

Jalin Marshall Plan 

Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer provided some interesting updates and quotes on receiver Jalin Marshall and what his role will be Saturday, via Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch and Patrick Maks of Eleven Warriors:

Marshall is a multidimensional threat who has found the end zone on the ground, through the air and by returning punts. He is also the primary quarterback in the Wildcat offense who can exploit the opposing defense through misdirection and speed.

The Buckeyes are going to need to add some wrinkles to the offense with Cardale Jones under center instead of J.T. Barrett, and Marshall may be the answer. He can throw off reverses or out of the Wildcat, take shovel passes to the house and make a play on special teams. 

The Buckeyes need Marshall's A-game if they are going to pull off the upset in Indianapolis.

 

Joel Stave vs. Cardale Jones

Saturday's Big Ten Championship Game is not exactly a showdown between two elite quarterbacks.

The Buckeyes' signal-caller situation is no secret—they are down to the third-string quarterback after devastating injuries to Braxton Miller and Barrett. This is their final chance to impress the selection committee, and that will be much easier said than done without a proven quarterback.

Wisconsin's situation is better, but it is not exactly lighting up the scoreboard with 147.8 passing yards per game behind Joel Stave.

Both teams will force the quarterbacks to win by stuffing the box because the rushing attacks will draw most of the defensive attention. The Badgers averaged 334.3 rushing yards per game while Ohio State was not that far behind at 257.4. Which quarterback comes through with single coverage all over the field will ultimately determine the winner. 

The Buckeyes have more weapons at the receiver spot with Marshall, Devin Smith and Michael Thomas, and that will be the key with so much focus on stopping the run. Look for Smith or Thomas to make a monumental play downfield in the fourth quarter to give the Buckeyes the lead for good.

Game Prediction: Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 24

 

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