NCAA Football News

The Surprising X-Factor in Oregon vs. Ohio State National Championship

Darron Lee didn't even come to Ohio State as a linebacker. 

As noted by Gerry Ahern of USA Today, Lee, a redshirt freshman, was a high school quarterback for New Albany High School (Ohio) and joined the Buckeyes as a safety. Now in the middle of the Buckeyes defense, Lee has turned into one of the pleasant surprises anywhere in major college football. On Monday night against Oregon in the College Football Playoff National Championship, Lee can be the game's surprising X-factor. 

Lee has emerged in the second half of the season, recording at least five tackles in five of the last six games. In all, he's third on the team with 73 tackles. In the 42-35 Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, Lee was named the game's Most Outstanding Defensive Player with seven tackles and a pair of sacks. 

In fact, Lee is second on Ohio State's defense in sacks (7.5) only to star defensive end Joey Bosa (13.5). However, sacking Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota might not be Lee's No. 1 priority—at least ideally. 

Lee's job against the Ducks? Spend less time in the backfield and more time using his speed to slow down Oregon's offense in space. 

In an interview with Martin Rickman of Sports Illustrated, Pac-12 Network analyst and ex-USC assistant Yogi Roth said the Buckeyes must get pressure on Mariota with their defensive line: 

If you look at the history of teams who have had success against Marcus, they’ve had the ability to get pressure with their interior defensive linemen. They’re extremely gap sound, and their overhang players [linebackers or a strong safety in the box] have done an incredible job of playing really fast and stringing out plays. If you put on the Stanford film from years ago, they had a really talented guy on the edge who was so big and long that they played their gap, did not have to guess and just strung it out to the sideline and used it as an extra defender. If you can do that, you’re going to have a chance.

And, indeed, the Buckeyes have one of the best defensive lines in the country. Matt Brown of Sports on Earth calls the matchup of Ohio State's D-line vs. Mariota the best of the season. If any team can disrupt Oregon's offense with its front four, it's Ohio State. 

But as good as Ohio State's D-line is, it's not perfect. Ohio State ranks 34th nationally against the run at 3.9 yards per rush, as noted by Jon Solomon of CBSSports.com.

What happens defensively behind that loaded front four will be important as well. Oregon's offense hasn't been stopped all season. In their lone loss—31-24 to Arizona on Oct. 2—the Ducks were held to season lows in total yards (446) and yards per play (6.03). That's still a good day for a lot of teams. 

Stats and history say that Ohio State isn't going to shut Oregon down completely even though the Ducks will be without receivers Darren Carrington (suspension) and Devon Allen (knee injury) and tight end Pharaoh Brown (knee injury). 

As such, there's a good chance Lee will make a lot of tackles and great individual plays even if his defense is giving up yards. And for as fast as Oregon goes at times, the Ducks are surprisingly (and impressively) not prone to turnovers. 

Oregon is probably going to get its yards and its points. Lee's job is to make the Ducks earn everything and hunker down in the red zone. 

Lee is going to be asked to wear a lot of hats in the process by stopping the run and the pass. He'll be asked to stretch the field and make one-on-one plays as well as get into a phone booth against an offense that is more physical than in years past. 

"He is an amazing athlete," Mariota told Ahern about Lee. "He is always around the ball."

Ohio State's defensive line will grab the headlines, but Lee is as important to the Buckeyes' success as anyone on the field. If he has a great game, Ohio State has a great chance to take home the first playoff national championship. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.  

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Miami Football: Hurricanes' Top Remaining Recruiting Targets for NSD 2015

The Miami Hurricanes are looking to close the run toward national signing day 2015 on a positive note, attempting to fill a handful of remaining scholarships.

However, recruiting the next-best players in college football is a volatile process, because the definition of "commitment" can fluctuate by day.

Al Golden and his coaching staff are hoping to keep prospects currently pledged to the 'Canes in the fold, snag a few uncommitted athletes and potentially flip a couple more—just like other programs are trying with Miami commits.

Consequently, the list includes both all applicable prospects regardless of commitment status. With that being said, any verbal pledge mentioned has been the subject of decommitment rumors.

 

The Long Shots

The following players are on the board and are seriously considering Miami but are probably leaning elsewhere. Granted, elsewhere might be specifically USC.

Five-star defensive tackle Rasheem Green and 4-star linebacker John Houston are considered leans to the Trojans. On their respective 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions, Green shows 97 percent to USC and Houston 96.

While the players occupy a position of need for the Hurricanes and would be the biggest pulls of the cycle, toppling USC, Oregon, Arizona State and Oklahoma is not particularly probable following a 6-6 campaign.

Green and Houston both visited Miami during Florida State weekend in mid-November.

 

Top Uncommitted Targets

Excluding Green and Houston, Marcus Lewis is the highest-ranked player in the 247Sports Composite with an official final group that contains Miami. The 'Canes have focused on adding depth to a streaky secondary, and Lewis could provide impact both as a corner and as a safety.

Defensive tackle Kendrick Norton must be a high priority for Golden and Co. The 4-star Norton recently tweeted out his final five (or six) schools, and the 247Sports Crystal Ball has started to trend in Miami's favor.

Another key target is Antonio Callaway, a 4-star wide receiver with speed to burn. The Hurricanes pass-catching corps has a handful of decent possession-focused players and their straight-line star, Herb Waters, will be a senior in 2015.

Miami needs help at linebacker, and signing Saleem Brightwell would definitely be a recruiting victory. The 3-star linebacker received an offer in December and is set to visit campus on Jan. 16.

According to David Lake of 247Sports (subscription required), 3-star offensive lineman Fredrick Johnson could commit following his official visit on Jan. 16. A high school teammate of 'Canes pledge Charles Perry, Johnson would give Miami six new bodies on the O-line.

A 3-star defensive end from nearby Delray Beach, Shelton Johnson is scheduled to check out Coral Gables on Jan. 23. Johnson is down to "The U," Florida State and Virginia tech, per Nate Adelson of 247Sports (s/r).

Dexter Williams recently backed out of his pledge, which was surprising because it happened just hours after the 4-star had reaffirmed his commitment to Adelson (s/r). He doesn't appear to be a likely pull, but his recruitment is wide open at this time.

 

Top Committed Prospects

Jordan Scarlett is an important element to the Hurricanes' current haul, and the 4-star running back wants to stay in-state for college according to Chris Nee of 247Sports (s/r). Which school that ultimately becomes, however, is a development to watch.

Miami must also attempt to keep Lawrence Cager in the fold, a 4-star receiver who committed to the 'Canes at the Army All-American Game. Per 247Sports, Cager was perhaps leaning toward Alabama before announcing.

Adelson notes Terrell Chatman is planning on visiting TCU, Arizona State and Miami before signing day and is also considering Arizona. The 3-star is one of three commits at wide receiver.

Though the Hurricanes whiffed on 4-star athlete Shawn Burgess-Becker in the spring, they haven't stopped recruiting the local star. It's an obvious point, but flipping any high-profile prospect from Alabama would be a serious win.

Miami is making a late push to steal Mohamed Barry from a Kansas State pledge. Barry, a 3-star linebacker, was offered a scholarship on Dec. 8.

 

Stats courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting information via 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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Actual Tiger Rooting for Ohio State in National Championship

The College Football Playoff National Championship is so big, even animals are picking sides.

A tiger at the Columbus Zoo posed for a picture spelling out "O-H-I-O" prior to the championship game between Ohio State and Oregon. Not sure how many takes this took, but it's impressive nonetheless.

 Your move, Oregon.

[Twitter]

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Frank Kaminsky Injury: Updates on Wisconsin Star's Concussion and Return

Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky is recovering from a concussion, which leaves the Badgers with a huge hole to fill while he is out.    

According to Robin Washut of Rivals.com, head coach Bo Ryan commented on Kaminsky's status on Monday:

As Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinelreported, Kaminsky was unavailable for Sunday's game against Rutgers after "he began experiencing concussion-like symptoms on Thursday."

Kaminsky could have declared for the NBA draft thanks to his stellar efforts in the NCAA tournament. The seven-footer averaged 16.4 points per game during the Badgers' run to the Final Four, increasing his stock to an all-time high.

Instead, Kaminsky decided to return to Wisconsin for his senior season. He explained the choice on his personal blog, The Moose Basketball:

I made a commitment to the University of Wisconsin, and they made a commitment to me. Who would have thought that I would be in this position at the end of last season? If any, they wouldn't have been willing to bet on that. If you know anything about me, you would know that I pride myself on being loyal. I will always be loyal to anyone or anything that I care about, and I care about this school and this basketball team. They have become part of my identity and who I am. 

The star forward was ranked as the No. 1 player in college basketball by ESPN.com coming into the year, citing his unique combination of size, shooting ability and versatility. He averaged 13.6 points per game last season, or nearly 19 percent of Wisconsin's 73.5 average. 

Bo Ryan's system is good in that there usually isn't one single dominant scorer on the roster. The Badgers are accustomed to playing a slow, plodding style that wears opponents down.

They've never been a great scoring team, which is why a player like Kaminsky becomes so vital. He's averaging 16.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game this season.

 

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


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Oregon vs Ohio State 2015: Last-Minute Preview for College Football Championship

When toe meets ball at AT&T Stadium on Monday night, Oregon and Ohio State won't just be playing for the national championship. They'll be playing for history. 

They'll be playing to be the first champion decided solely on performance and not an abhorred computer formula. They'll be playing for a spot at the top of a new section in the record books. They'll be playing for a shiny new trophy. 

This game has many leather-bound books and smells of rich mahogany. This game is kind of a big deal. 

 

Date: Monday, January 12, 2015

Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

Location: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

TV: ESPN (And pretty much all of the other ESPN channels for different types of broadcasts)

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

The most fascinating matchups in this one come when Oregon has the ball. 

Of course, it all starts with quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Heisman winner has enjoyed one of the best seasons in college football history, compiling 4,852 yards (4,121 passing, 731 rushing), 55 touchdowns (40 passing, 15 rushing) and just three interceptions. His speed makes him a dangerous threat in Oregon's option game, but he also has the ability to beat teams through the air. 

As ESPN Stats & Info noted, he has been nearly unstoppable in Oregon's most important contests:

The Ducks will be without key wide receivers Darren Carrington and Devon Allen, who are responsible for the team's last four touchdown receptions, but with Mariota under center, Oregon isn't concerned. 

"Marcus makes everybody better, there's no question about it," offensive coordinator Scott Frost told USA Today's Nicole Auerbach. "If you ask him, he wouldn't say that; it's a team thing. These guys have been rising to the occasion all year."

It also helps to have a dominant running game. Royce Freeman has established himself as one of the most talented ball-carriers—let alone true freshmen—in the country, tallying 1,343 yards, 19 total touchdowns and one overpowering run on 314-pound defensive tackle Eddie Goldman. 

“He’s such a smart football player and such a freak athlete that it really makes us that much better,” Mariota said, per The Columbus Dispatch's Tim May. “Without him it’s hard to say where we’d be as an offense.”

So how do you stop an offense with so much speed, so much power and so many weapons? One way is with disruptive play in the trenches, and the Buckeyes have just the personnel to do that. 

Joey Bosa, a 6'5", 278-pound relentless force, is a potential No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL draft. He has 13.5 sacks, 20.0 tackles for loss and has made things easier for everyone else around him. 

He recently talked about the pleasure in accomplishing the latter, per Cleveland.com's Bill Landis: "I've realized a lot now that it's a lot more than getting sacks and stuff like that. It's taking on double teams and freeing up my guys on the line. And that's just as effective as me making plays. I'm happy when my other D-linemen are making plays."

But it goes well beyond just Bosa. With Steve Miller on the opposite edge and Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington controlling the interior, the Buckeyes have the talent to disrupt Oregon's timing and to keep Mariota inside the pocket, where he is least dangerous. 

"They've got an awesome front seven," Mariota said, per The Associated Press' Ralph D. Russo. "Big, physical guys that really control the line of scrimmage."

There are plenty of other important factors in this game. Will quarterback Cardale Jones continue to play well despite his inexperience? Can Ohio State's offensive line open more cavernous lanes for talented running back Ezekiel Elliott? Can the Ducks force more key turnovers? Who wins the coaching battle?

Finally, on Monday night, we'll get all of the answers. 

And some history. 

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Oregon vs. Ohio State: Updated Preview for College Football Championship 2015

The Oregon Ducks are losing some key playmakers leading up to Monday's College Football Playoff National Championship showdown with Ohio State.

Receiver Devon Allen went down early in the Ducks' 59-20 Rose Bowl victory over Florida State with a knee injury, while pass-catcher Darren Carrington failed a drug test and has been suspended.

ESPN College Football highlights Carringon's recent impact:

That puts the onus all the more on Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota to make magic happen against a tenacious Buckeyes defensive front led by Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett.

Despite some key absences, the second-ranked Ducks are still favored by as much as seven points at Odds Shark. That should only add incentive for coach Urban Meyer's Buckeyes—the fourth and final team to secure a postseason berth—to will their way to another landmark win and a national title.

Below is a look at the viewing information for this epic clash, along with a closer look at the game itself and a prediction for the final score.

 

Preview and Prediction

As much speed and uptempo firepower as Oregon is rightly reputed to have on offense, Ohio State has similar explosiveness. That should create quite a high-scoring game, with the pass-rushing ability of the defensive lines playing a big role in the outcome.

DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead are matchup problems and will create issues for the Buckeyes in pass protection.

However, the 250-pound, mobile, cannon-armed Cardale Jones has the physical faculties to shrug off defenders, escape pressure and deliver accurate strikes deep downfield. As brilliant as Mariota is at extending the play, Jones' precision on longer passes will be a big test for Oregon's secondary.

Jones is still tough to plan for, since he's only recently taken the reins of the Buckeyes offense and has guided the team to its two biggest wins. Even Meyer is at a loss for words to describe how well Jones has filled in under center, via Cleveland.com's Doug Lesmerises:

And one big advantage Jones will have is a full cast of weapons featuring superior deep threat Devin Smith, all-purpose playmaker Jalin Marshall and dependable pass-catcher Michael Thomas. The strengths of Jones and Smith are the real weapons, though.

OSU's official Twitter account accentuated how much of a home run hitter Smith has been:

Mariota has his work cut out for him, considering how well Bosa can scream in off the edge and how Bennett and others in Ohio State's rotation can collapse the pocket from the inside.

Dane Brugler of CBS Sports analyzed what the absence of Allen and Carrington means for the Ducks:

The rest of Mariota's receivers will have to create separation in a hurry. With limited reps and the task of stepping up on the biggest stage imaginable, Oregon is asking a lot of its less proven wideouts.

Both running games will be critical. Featured ball-carriers Ezekiel Elliott of Ohio State and Oregon counterpart Royce Freeman are comparably prolific.

The X-factor could come in the form of the Buckeyes' stud linebacker, Darron Lee. The Sugar Bowl Defensive MVP's ability to roam around the entire field, storm the gaps as a blitzer and engage in excellent pursuit against even the speediest backs gives OSU a big weapon on its front seven.

Like many of his teammates, Lee certainly hasn't lacked any faith in what the Buckeyes have been doing amid their torrid year-end run to get to this point:

Betting against Meyer in a big game also doesn't seem like the sagest decision, considering he's won multiple national championships, engineered multiple perfect regular seasons and has his Buckeyes completely invested.

That isn't to take away anything from Mark Helfrich and the job he's done succeeding Chip Kelly in exceptional fashion in Eugene. It's more of a commentary on how formidable Meyer is, which he proved in outfoxing Alabama and Nick Saban in a thrilling Sugar Bowl triumph.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly hints that Meyer will give Ohio State an inside track to the top prize:

So while Oregon has the consensus best player in college football on its side in Mariota, Ohio State arguably has a better coach and team built by Meyer in short order. Another championship may cement Meyer as the best coach in the country, and he ought to have plenty of returning stars back next year for another potential run at the title.

It's likely that the Ducks will lose Mariota to the NFL draft and will have to search for a new, viable signal-caller. That won't be the case in Columbus, as Meyer has the enviable dilemma of perhaps choosing between Jones, J.T. Barrett and even Braxton Miller if he returns.

Had several of Oregon's key offensive standouts been active for Monday's contest, this game might have played out a bit differently. However, Ohio State looks better built for success in this national championship game and beyond.

Prediction: Ohio State 38, Oregon 28

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Did NCAA Go Too Far with Oregon Marijuana Suspensions?

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota's receiving options will be limited in Monday night's national championship against Ohio State. That's been a short-handed group all year. However, the latest attrition to the Ducks' wide receiver unit isn't because of injury or bad luck.

According to Aaron Fentress of CSNNW.com, second-leading receiver Darren Carrington failed an NCAA-administered drug test for marijuana and did not travel to Arlington for the title game. Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated later reported that running back Ayele Forde will also miss the game because of a failed drug test for marijuana.

The Ducks will already be without Devon Allen, who led the team with seven receiving touchdowns, because of a knee injury.

"Darren's my friend," said Allen to Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports. "I love that guy and it sucks that he can't play and the NCAA made an example out of him."

There's no debate that Carrington and Forde are in the wrong, even though Oregon, along with Alaska, is set to legalize marijuana for recreational use by this year. (Recreational use is already legal in Colorado and Washington.) They used it and got busted for it. As a result, they won't be able to help their team. That part is as black and white as it gets.

Where things get cloudier, so to speak, is whether the NCAA should re-examine its testing policy. (Additionally, each school has its own drug policy; Oregon specifically has a four-strike policy.) The NCAA's threshold for a positive marijuana test is five nanograms of THC, the primary ingredient in marijuana, an NCAA spokesperson told Thamel. That's far lower than the NFL and MLB:

The easiest way to quantify how strict the NCAA's threshold is: Compare it to the threshold from other sports. The NFL increased its minimum threshold from 15 nanograms to 35 in September. The MLB's minimum is 50 nanograms, the same level as airline pilots. The World Anti-Doping Agency set its minimum at 150 nanograms, a level at which an expert contacted by USA Today was quoted as saying, "[one has to be a] pretty dedicated cannabis consumer" to test positive.

Is the NCAA being too strict when it comes to pot? Comparing it side-by-side to other major sports, amateur or professional, would indicate that it is. Easing up on the THC threshold for future tests feels like a logical next step.

The question is how long will it take for the NCAA's stance on the matter to catch up with much of society's stance.

How marijuana is viewed is changing, both nationally and within the scope of college athletics. Specifically, it's not tied to enhancing on-field performance. If it doesn't affect the game in the way performance-enhancing drugs do, there's not a lot of incentive to care what someone does in their spare time.

In that way, marijuana use is joining the ranks of underage drinking and even impermissible benefits on the scale of "illegal" activity.

There are roadblocks for actual change, however. NCAA legislation, even with upcoming voting autonomy for Power Five conferences, can take eons to pass, if it passes at all. Given that this would be a push to liberalize punishment for recreational drug use, widespread support from admins could be hard to garner.

Furthermore, there are front-burner issues that need to be addressed like player safety, well-being and compensation.

But at some point, the NCAA will no longer be able to delay changes in how it views and discourages marijuana use. Loosening the threshold for testing marijuana wouldn't be an admission that pot, or other harder drugs, is OK. It wouldn't be a stance from the Association that pot should be legal.

It would, however, be an admission that the testing policy was out of date—and it is. Change is something the NCAA needs if it's going to remain college athletics' governing body. Until then, there will be more and more guys like Darren Carrington who get suspended for an antiquated policy.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football.

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Terrence Ross Suspended After Arrest: Latest Details, Reaction for Louisville DB

Louisville defensive back Terrence Ross has been indefinitely suspended by the university after being arrested early Sunday morning on a number of charges related to an altercation with a police officer.  

"The football program is aware of the situation and is continuing to gather information,"spokesman Rocco Gasparro told Jeff Greer of The Courier-Journal. "Terrence Ross has been suspended and the matter will continue to be evaluated."

Ross was charged with with felony assault of a probation or police officer and misdemeanor possession of marijuana and disorderly conduct. Additional details on the incident are scant as police continue to investigate the case. A redshirt sophomore, Ross made five tackles and returned two kicks for 28 yards during the regular season, largely playing on special teams.

This is the second time Ross has been arrested since arriving at Louisville. As noted by WAVE-TV, he was arrested on criminal mischief charges in November after allegedly damaging a door while trying to ram it down with his shoulder. 

Ross will be arraigned in both cases Wednesday. He is currently free on $1,000 bond.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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Tennessee Football: Volunteers' Top Remaining Recruiting Targets for NSD 2015

Most of Tennessee's top recruiting targets are already in the fold as Volunteers commitments. That's what happens when, for the second year in a row, head coach Butch Jones has compiled a class that is the envy of most programs.

UT currently sits in third place in the recruiting rankings, according to the 247Sports composite. The Vols have 28 pledges, and there are plenty of questions about just how many they'll sign after bringing 32 players into the fold in the 2014 cycle.

Unless there's a lot of attrition before signing day, the Vols could be finished right now and have a sterling haul. Even so, there are still several top players UT would love to add to its class and worry about shaking out the numbers later.

"Now we have to go assemble a top-three, top-four recruiting class—which we will—because we're building, and we have something special and great people," Jones said after UT's TaxSlayer Bowl victory, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown.

Getting another running back and an offensive tackle appear to be the top priorities, so this list will be heavy on those positions. Also, you can never have too much team speed, so that's another area Jones is targeting.

While it's possible UT can get back in on a few in-state players such as receiver Van Jefferson, offensive tackle Drew Richmond and safety Rico McGraw, there isn't a ton of buzz surrounding those players with the Vols right now, so we'll stick with the most legit options.

Let's take a look at a few players Jones and his staff would love to sign to really put the finishing touches on another awesome class on Rocky Top.

Begin Slideshow

Grading Every New College Football Head Coaching Hire

We’re approaching the midpoint of January, and for now, it appears the college football head coaching carousel has come to a stop for another year. That is subject to change, of course, if a program makes a surprising late firing or a current head coach makes the jump to an NFL opening, but as of Sunday night, every FBS program has a sitting head coach.

This winter, 14 programs made changes, from SMU (where June Jones resigned in September) to Pittsburgh (which hired Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi after Paul Chryst headed back to Wisconsin after three seasons). That’s down from a year ago, when 20 programs hired new leaders.

History says not all of these hires will work out. College football is notorious for its churn among head coaching hires. Per an analysis by Patrick Stevens of Syracuse.com, when the 2014 season began, 76 of 128 FBS head coaches had three full seasons or fewer at their current positions.

Here's a look at all of the new hires, with a grade assigned for each new coach. 

Begin Slideshow

College Football National Championship 2015: Vegas Odds Guide for Oregon vs. OSU

The stage doesn't get any bigger. The lights can't get any brighter. And the talent level can't possibly reach more elevated heights.

Thanks to the inaugural College Football Playoff, fans can feast their eyes on two deserving teams that might not have made it to this stage in previous years. Let's just say the national championship game is going to be a wild ride.

Bettors have been drooling over the possibility to line their pockets with the odds set for the big game. Between the enormous over-under and the edge of less than a touchdown given to Oregon, history tells us all we need to know about how to bet on this matchup.

Just hours away from the Bucks vs. Ducks, here's a look at the full spread information and tips for prospective bettors.

 

Game Information

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

When: Monday, Jan. 12 at 8:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Spread: Oregon -6.5

Over/Under: 74

Odds courtesy of OddsShark.com.

 

Analysis

There is plenty of excitement brewing around the country for Monday's showdown. Having two of the best offensive teams in the country will do that for college football fans.

Just how exuberant are bettors for the game to finally get underway? David Payne Purdum of ESPN.com notes the game has a chance to make history after early numbers:

What will ultimately decide the final score is the play of the biggest stars.

For the Ducks, there is no bigger star than Marcus Mariota. The Oregon quarterback has compiled 56 total touchdowns to just six turnovers and can get the job done both with his arm and legs. He'll be without receiver Darren Carrington after he was ruled ineligible, but he has fought through adversity all season with success. 

Speaking of battling adversity, the Buckeyes have done just that since before the season started. Cardale Jones is the third starting quarterback, but he won't be carrying the entire load thanks to Ezekiel Elliott. The sophomore has blossomed into a superstar with a combined 450 rushing yards and four touchdowns in his last two games.

Oregon linebacker Tony Washington spoke about Elliott's ability, via Laken Litman of USA Today:

Dude is really fast, makes a lot of plays. He’s a tough guy to bring down and he’s gonna compete and work hard every rep. I noticed last game against Alabama he was making a lot of big runs and that’s because he’s determined to get into the end zone. So I mean as a defense you’ve gotta wrap this guy up because it’s going to take multiple efforts to get him down.

Essentially, that wealth of talent means there will be plenty of offense to cover the over-under projection. Then there's the fact that Oregon ranks second in the country in points scored (47.2 per game) and Ohio State ranks fifth (45.0). Oh, there will be scoring.

At the end of the game, Oregon will be the team pulling away for a decisive win. Though both will put up huge numbers, Mariota's ability to create plays and not turn the ball over will lead the Ducks to a victory. ESPN College Football notes how impressive the Ducks are at winning the turnover battle:

The Ducks won't win by a margin of 59-20—sorry, FSU fans—but they will cover the 6.5-point spread. In a battle of two teams looking to make history by winning the first-ever playoff, the Ducks will be riding high on Monday night. You can bet on it.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Notre Dame Football: Sheldon Day's Return Sets Tone for Irish Defense

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — With the uncertain schedule of possible returns and looming decisions littering the Notre Dame football offseason, the Irish received important news Saturday from defensive end Sheldon Day.

Day will return for his senior season, bypassing an early exit and the NFL draft, Notre Dame announced Saturday.

Sure, there are still pivotal decisions to be made by or about left tackle Ronnie Stanley and quarterback Everett Golson, and returns from cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams and wide receiver DaVaris Daniels would be crucial. But Day’s decision, though not particularly surprising, is the one that sets the tone for the entire Notre Dame defense—and even the team at large—moving forward.

“While the process leading up to this decision was difficult, ultimately my decision to return was easy,” Day said in a statement. “I love this school, my teammates and this coaching staff. I just felt it was in my best interest to play another for Notre Dame.”

It’s obviously in Notre Dame’s best interest, too.

“I believe we’ve got an opportunity to have a special season in 2015 and I wanted to be a part of that success,” Day said. “I was blessed to play in the national championship game as a freshman in 2012, and I want to do everything in my power to reach that stage again with my guys.”

Day was tabbed as Notre Dame’s Defensive Lineman of the Year despite missing time in three games with a knee injury. Locking him in along the defensive line provides a steadying force to a group that otherwise was without a leader and a stalwart heading into 2015.

Defensive tackle Jarron Jones (Lisfranc) emerged as a junior but is expected to miss four to six months with the injury. Kelly said in November he is hopeful to have Jones back in time for spring practice. Defensive lineman Isaac Rochell was stout and reliable throughout the season, one of just three players on the Irish defense to start all 13 games. Still, Notre Dame needed its rock.

Jaylon Smith leads the linebackers, and the position could be even stronger with a healthy Joe Schmidt, of course. The secondary, with Cole Luke and KeiVarae Russell manning the perimeter, would figure to be strong.

And Day shores up the first level of the defense. A junior captain in 2014, the Indianapolis native is both a leader on the defense and one of the team’s best players. Day finished tied for first among Irish defensive linemen in tackles (40) and tackles for loss (7.5) and second with nine quarterback hurries.

“He’s an outstanding player and makes a difference on the field for our team, but Sheldon’s impact goes beyond success on the field,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. “His leadership as a captain in our program has been instrumental, and I look forward to him carrying this role into 2015.”

Notre Dame’s defense won’t be fixed overnight, however. The holes run deeper than merely the injuries that withered the Irish down the stretch.

But Day’s return is the first tone-setting step in building up the Irish squad, specifically the defense, for a potential run through the national rankings. Notre Dame’s ETA always seemed closest to 2015, with a 24-member recruiting class of soon-to-be juniors that ranked fifth in the country, per 247Sports, now serving as the team’s backbone.

And with key upperclassmen like Day committing to 2015, the Irish are still on track.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

National Championship Preview: Why Oregon Will Beat Ohio State

Midway through the college football season, an Oregon-Ohio State matchup in the national championship did not seem likely.  The Ducks had just lost to Arizona, and the Buckeyes were a one-loss team with a freshman quarterback in J.T. Barrett who was still getting his feet wet at the collegiate level.

Nobody expected the first championship game of the playoff era to be played without an SEC team in the running for the title, especially since the conference has had a representative in the final game in each of the past eight years and several SEC teams were in the playoff conversation throughout the entire season.

As the two teams prepare for the inaugural championship of the College Football Playoff in Arlington, it is not too difficult to see why they were able to finish their respective seasons without another loss.  Both teams are extremely fast and athletic, they both have dynamic offenses and both teams’ defensive units have improved as the season progressed.

I will break down Monday’s national championship game and make a prediction for the result.

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