NCAA Football News

SEC's Favorite Rivalry Renewed in Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer Semifinal

When Chris Davis went 109 yards to end last season's Iron Bowl, the rivalry between Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and Alabama head coach Nick Saban jumped into national consciousness as one of the best new coaching rivalries in the SEC.

Long before that, though, it was Saban vs. Urban Meyer that stole the show in the SEC.

Those two legends were a major part of the beginning of the title run. Meyer won national championships at Florida in 2006 and 2008, and Saban took the torch and ran with it from there, winning titles in 2009, 2011 and 2012.

The rivalry kicked into overdrive in the 2008 season, when top-ranked and undefeated Alabama took his Crimson Tide to the SEC Championship Game to face off against No. 4 Florida in what was essentially a de facto BCS national semifinal.

The Crimson Tide took a three-point lead into the fourth quarter before Meyer's Gators—led by quarterback Tim Tebow—scored two touchdowns in the final frame to punch a ticket to the BCS National Championship Game against Oklahoma.

According to The Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com), Tebow had been 0-5 as a starting quarterback when trailing in the second half up to that point in his career. However, he put his team on his back, throwing for 53 yards and rushing for seven on the game-winning drive, which culminated with a five-yard touchdown pass to Riley Cooper with two minutes and 50 seconds to play to give the Gators the 31-20 win.

The next year in Atlanta, the stakes were the same.

Alabama again entered undefeated but was ranked No. 2 thanks to No. 1 Florida navigating the season undefeated as well.

In a game for the ages—which, according to Lance Taylor of WJOX in Birmingham, was the last time Alabama was the underdog—the Crimson Tide throttled the Gators 32-13 and went on to win their first national championship since the 1992 season.

"I can't remember my address or phone number," Meyer said on Sunday's Sugar Bowl teleconference. "But I can tell you probably every play from those games.

"That [2009 Alabama] team was one of the best teams that I ever coached against."

Meyer retired shortly after the 2009 SEC Championship Game loss only to rethink his plans and recommit to Florida for the 2010 season—his last in Gainesville.

These are the two coaches who were at the forefront of the SEC's rise to become a superpower. While they wanted to beat each other in the biggest games of the late 2000s, they remain friends off the field.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Urban," Saban said on Sunday's teleconference. "We've done some ESPN games together. I consider him a good friend and I certainly have a tremendous amount of personal respect for the kind of professional that he is and the kind of coach that he is and the kind of programs that he's had."

Meyer echoed those sentiments, saying that the two "used to sit next to each other at SEC meetings" and serve on several committees together that focus on the future of player well-being and other goals that could be achieved through autonomy.

It's a rivalry between two coaches who, while friends, are two of the fiercest competitors in college football. On top of that, they boast two different styles.

Saban, a defensive guru who hired Lane Kiffin to become more versatile vs. Meyer, an offensive pioneer who has been at his best at Florida and Ohio State with fearsome defenses.

Two fiery competitors who have competed against each other will renew the rivalry on the biggest stage in college football history.

These are uncharted waters.

New Year's Day 2015 will cut the ribbon on a brand new era for college football, one that includes national semifinals and a Super Bowl-style title game.

It's only fitting that two of the best coaches of this generation have the scissors in their hands to get the festivities started.

Saban and Meyer helped put the SEC on the map, and they'll do the same with the College Football Playoff.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee. 

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Rapid-Fire Predictions for Wisconsin vs. Auburn in Outback Bowl

Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon had one of the most prolific seasons in college football history, leading the Badgers to a Big Ten Championship appearance. Auburn has one of the most dangerous offensive attacks in the country. These teams will square off in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer discuss the headlines of this bowl game.

Who will win the Outback Bowl?

Watch the video, and let us know! 

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Comparing Resumes for Every Heisman Trophy Finalist

In what might have been the most anticlimactic Heisman finalist reveal in recent memory, Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota have punched their respective tickets to New York. 

There are a handful of other players who had a case. Indiana running back Tevin Coleman, TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III and even now-injured Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett all had an argument for a trip to the ceremony. 

That said, was there a chance any one of those players would win? In all likelihood, no. 

There was a clear separation between the top three players and everyone else, and then there's another separation between Mariota and Cooper and Gordon.  

Still, how do all three resumes stack up against one another? Let's take a look. 

 

Marcus Mariota, Quarterback, Oregon

The Stats: 68.3 completion percentage, 3,783 passing yards on 10.2 yards per attempt, 669 rushing yards, 53 total touchdowns, two interceptions

The Skinny: Mariota is the favorite and there isn't even a second guess about it. No player has been more consistent while having a direct impact on the game on every snap. 

(For the record, Reggie Bush finished with 794 first-place votes, or roughly 85 percent, on 892 ballots cast in the 2005 voting.)

For all the turnover and injury issues Oregon had at wide receiver heading into the 2014 season, Mariota actually surpassed his passing numbers from a year ago (3,665 yards passing, 31 touchdowns, 9.5 yards per attempt) on 14 fewer passing attempts. Only Brandon Doughty of Western Kentucky has more touchdown passes this year. Mariota also threw two fewer interceptions than a year ago. 

The only major area in which Mariota's numbers went down were his rushing yards (715 to 669), but that's negligible. Furthermore, the emergence of freshman Royce Freeman at running back had taken some pressure off of Mariota to run the ball. His 342.5 total yards per game ranks fifth in major college football. 

Against Stanford, which has the second-best scoring defense in the country and the third-best defense in yards per play allowed (4.21), Mariota tallied 343 total yards at nine yards per play and four total touchdowns. 

Beyond the stats, the other thing that has helped Mariota has been the lack of a Heisman conversation. The first College Football Playoff has become the main talking point while the Heisman has moved to a back-burner discussion. That's been a good thing for Mariota, the presumed front-runner. But there's no denying he's had a year worthy of Heisman love.

 

Amari Cooper, Wide Receiver, Alabama

The Stats: 115 receptions, 1,656 receiving yards, 14.4 yards per reception, 127.4 yards per game, 14 touchdowns

The Skinny: As far as wide receivers go, no player changes the momentum of a game like Cooper. 

Cooper was hampered by injuries in 2013, but he showed why he's the most sought-after receiver this year with 1,656 yards, which is best in the country. Only Rashard Higgins of Colorado State has more touchdowns (17) and yards per game (149.1). But Cooper has pulled in nearly nine receptions per game (8.8). Only East Carolina's Justin Hardy has better numbers there (9.2 per game). 

The only time Cooper was shut down in 2014 was in a 14-13 win over Arkansas, in which he was again slowed by injuries. When healthy—or close to healthy—no one has been able to stop Cooper. He's a smooth route-runner and has game-changing speed. It's no wonder that B/R draft guru Matt Miller has Cooper as the No. 1 overall receiver in this year's draft class. 

And not that it will win him the Heisman, but Cooper was also part of perhaps the best moment of the year: Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin signaling touchdown before Cooper even catches the ball against Auburn in the Iron Bowl. 

 

Melvin Gordon, Running Back, Wisconsin

The Stats: 309 rushes, 2,336 rushing yards, 7.56 yards per rush, 26 rushing touchdowns, 179.69 yards per game

The Skinny: There may not be a player of the non-quarterback variety that is a bigger part of his team's offense than Gordon. The senior has accounted for 57 percent of Wisconsin's 314 rushing yards per game, which is best in the Big Ten. He's also responsible for 60 percent of the Badgers' rushing touchdowns. 

Gordon isn't your traditional, bruising Wisconsin running back like Heisman winner Ron Dayne. He's a big-play threat every time he touches the ball.

Twice this season, Gordon has averaged at least 16.3 yards per carry: Against Nebraska, in which he also broke LaDainian Tomlinson's single-game FBS rushing record with 408 yards in three quarters, and against Bowling Green, in which he averaged 19.5 yards per carry. 

Of course, if Gordon's career day against the Huskers—which held up for one whole week before Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine rushed for 427 yards against Kansas, mind you—couldn't get him past Mariota in the Heisman race though, what will?

Heading into the Big Ten title game against Ohio State, Gordon had the attention of Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer, who was more concerned about stopping the Heisman candidate than anything else. 

“That’s our No. 1 concern, is getting this guy to the ground,” Meyer said, via Tim Moody of The Lantern. “Then No. 2 is making sure that we are protecting our quarterback.” 

Ohio State did just that, too, limiting Gordon to 76 yards on 26 carries and no touchdowns. 

 

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

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Nike Unveils Home Uniforms for Teams Playing in 2015 College Football Playoff

All four teams in the inaugural College Football Playoff are Nike schools, and Nike unveiled the home uniform for each team Tuesday morning.

There were no drastic alterations to any team's uniform. The biggest change may be the addition of a fractal diamond-colored swoosh. 

Take a look below to see all of the home uniforms for the 2015 College Football Playoff.

 

Alabama

 

Ohio State

It is important to note that because Alabama and Ohio State are so close in color, one team will have to wear white in the Sugar Bowl.

 

Oregon

It should also come as no surprise that Nike's biggest changes were for Oregon. The Ducks will not be wearing the winged helmets they wore for the majority of games this season, instead opting for a green helmet with a yellow "O."

 

Florida State

 

Cleats

[Nike]

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Navy to Wear Custom 'Don't Tread on Me' Uniforms for Army-Navy Game

Under Armour is rolling out custom uniforms for the Navy Midshipmen in time for Saturday’s Army-Navy game, and, as you might expect, the gear is as American as Duke Nukem fist-fighting a crepe iron.

Tagged with the words "Don't Tread On Me," the gear features red stripes over navy and white. Under Armour also made significant use of the First Navy Jack rattlesnake, which will be featured in a non-coiled, flying-out-of-the-fake-peanut-jar form. 

In short, these uniforms are quite to very fresh, depending on your taste for hammer-down patriotism. 

The main logo will feature a redesigned Navy "N-star" with an intertwining rattlesnake, because the snake is terrifying and cannot be featured enough.

Army and Navy will kick off at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. The game will mark the 115th meeting between the two programs. Navy leads the series 58-49 (with seven ties).

  

Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture filigree.

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Bowl Games Schedule 2014-15: Viewing Info, Latest Odds for Every Matchup

Do you agree with the College Football Playoff selection committee's Top Four?

Whether you do or don't, there's good news for all of us: It's bowl season, and we're in for a couple weeks of some darn good football. Whether your team is contending for a national championship or just barely squeezed into a bowl game after a six-win season, the upshot is that you get to watch it at least one more time.

While college football enthusiasts are excited about the upcoming slate of games, so are savvy bettors. There's plenty of money that can be taken off the hands of Vegas oddsmakers in the coming weeks.

As we all impatiently await the return of the nation's top teams to the amateur gridiron, here's a look at the full schedule of bowl games and the corresponding odds for each.

 

Early Odds to Bet

Music City Bowl: Notre Dame vs. LSU (-8)

The Fighting Irish fooled us all until about halfway through the regular season. Notre Dame looked like one of the nation's dominant teams after beginning the year with a 6-0 record.

However, the wheels fell off after the team suffered its first loss to Florida State.

After that 6-0 start, Notre Dame played the remainder of the season at 1-5, quickly falling out of contention for all top-tier bowl games. The Fighting Irish did finish the season 7-5 and earned a berth in the Music City Bowl, but they will have their hands full against the stout defense of LSU.

The Tigers finished the season ranked third in the nation in points allowed, giving up an average of 16.4 per game.

While the team's offense has struggled, its defense has provided many wins in low-scoring affairs, and that's exactly how LSU will defeat Notre Dame.

In the season finale against Texas A&M, LSU running back Leonard Fournette rushed for 146 yards while quarterback Anthony Jennings rushed for 119. As a team, the Tigers put up a total of 384 yards on the ground en route to a 23-17 victory.

Notre Dame ranked 62nd against the run this season, allowing an average of 161.2 yards per game on the ground. The team struggled mightily against run-first opponents, allowing 336 rushing yards and three scores to Navy in a 49-39 victory.

Rest assured, the Irish won't put up 49 points on LSU's defense.

When factoring in the massive amount of turnovers committed by quarterback Everett Golson this season—he's thrown at least one interception in each of his last nine games—and LSU's 20 takeaways in 12 games, it becomes difficult to bet against the Tigers.

Prediction: LSU 27, Notre Dame 17

 

Outback Bowl: Michigan State vs. Baylor (-3)

We know Michigan State's defense is very good. After all, the unit finished the regular season ranking 12th in points allowed, giving up an average of just 19.9 per game.

With that said, we also know one other thing about that defense: It really struggles against better offenses.

The Spartans played two of the nation's most prolific offenses in Oregon and Ohio State this season. The Ducks rattled off 46 points and the Buckeyes accumulated 49 against Sparty. That's not a good omen considering the team's next opponent is a Baylor squad that owns the nation's most potent offense, averaging 48.8 points per game.

Baylor finished the season against Kansas State's respectable defense, and quarterback Bryce Petty simply picked the Wildcats apart. He earned his team a share of the Big 12 title after completing 34 of his 40 passing attempts for 412 yards and one touchdown in a 38-27 victory.

Michigan State does have a good offense of its own, ranking seventh in the nation with an average of 43.1 points per game. However, this team hasn't been able to keep up with the offensive juggernauts in 2014, scoring 27 points against Oregon and 37 against Ohio State.

This contest won't be a blowout by any stretch of the imagination, as the Spartans certainly aren't pushovers. However, a win shouldn't be expected considering the team's track record this season.

Prediction: Baylor 45, Michigan State 38

 

All game odds courtesy of Odds Shark and current as of December 8. All team statistics and rankings courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 8.

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

The College Football Playoff committee and Las Vegas have spoken: The CFP Semifinals will be blowouts. 

Try not to shoot the messenger.

Alabama is a hefty favorite over Ohio State. This makes sense not because of the silly SEC-Big Ten squabble, but because of a third-string quarterback under center for the Buckeyes.

Oregon is the other major favorite thanks to the astonishing output by Marcus Mariota. It does not help that Florida State's Jameis Winston looks nothing like the guy who won a Heisman last year.

But hey, these are just early lines to digest—and exploit.

 

2015 College Football Playoffs Info and Odds

Odds via Odds Shark as of 8 p.m. ET on Dec. 8.

 

Odds Advice 

No. 1 Alabama (-10) vs. No. 4 Ohio State

Alabama is on top of the world for good reason.

Nick Saban has his normal elite defense by way of a unit that ranks fourth in the nation. But he also happens to possess an elite offense led by quarterback Blake Sims (3,250 yards, 26 scores), whose dual-threat capabilities help the Crimson Tide to average 37.1 points per game.

Saban also has a Heisman contender at wide receiver. Amari Cooper is a household name at this point by way of 1,656 yards and 14 scores. Backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry complement the aerial attack with 10 touchdowns apiece.

"You love to see a guy who's gone through what he's gone through, who's worked so hard and always persevered, then have success," Saban said of Sims after the SEC Championship win over Missouri, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "It's a credit to his character and work ethic."

So Alabama is right to be the favorite, but try not to be blindsided when the potent Buckeyes keep pace.

Sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones may have one start to his name, but 257 yards and three scores with no picks in the Big Ten Championship show that he is more than ready to fill J.T. Barrett's cleats.

Coach Urban Meyer has his own strong ground game to lean on thanks to the efforts of Ezekiel Elliott, who has 1,402 yards and 12 scores on the year. The sophomore carries his own when asked, as shown by his 20 carries for 220 yards and two scores in the 59-0 win over Wisconsin.

It all equates to a close encounter between two teams that have improved each step of the way this season.

Alabama's path through the SEC was much more difficult. The team is also healthier at key areas and has a Heisman contender to lean on when things get rough. The Crimson Tide will pull one out late, but do not expect Jones and the Buckeyes to go down without a fight.

Prediction: Alabama 24, Ohio State 21

 

No. 2 Oregon (-9) vs. No. 3 Florida St.

Say hello to the toughest spread of the CFP to date.

Oregon could show up and blow away Florida State, right? Bang-bang bet right there. Or, the Seminoles could show well on the defensive side of things, and Winston's recent flirtation with elite play could lead to a breakthrough.

It is no secret that Winston is a mess this season with 3,559 yards and 24 touchdowns to 17 interceptions. That said, the ACC Championship win over Georgia Tech is notable as a potential turning point thanks to 309 passing yards and three scores with no interceptions.

For those who keep track of such things, it was the first time Winston has not thrown a pick in a game since mid-October.

As one can glean from the above numbers, though, Winston downright pales in comparison to Mariota.

Then again, who doesn't?

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports puts it best: 

The devil in the details for this set of odds analysis is the Florida State defense.

Jimbo Fisher's unit is not bad per se, but it does rank 30th in the nation with an average of 23.0 points allowed per game. A major red flag is the fact that the unit continues to struggle to get off the field.

Just last week in the ACC Championship, Georgia Tech held the ball for more than 34 minutes of play. This same unit was lucky to get past Boston College 20-17, as the Eagles had possession for more than 33 minutes and ran for 240 yards and a score in the process.

Now imagine what Mariota can do to such a defense. The superb defenses of Michigan State, Stanford and Utah certainly know, as all surrendered a minimum of 45 points.

The spread is still a tad too large due to Winston's late-game heroics, but Mariota has this one under control.

Prediction: Oregon 36, Florida State 28

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified

 

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

We've been waiting for a change to the bowl system for quite some time now, and the inaugural College Football Playoff appears to be living up to expectations right out of the gate, giving us two very compelling semifinal contests to kick off 2015.

The Allstate Sugar Bowl pits No. 1 Alabama against No. 4 Ohio State in a battle between two of college's legendary coaches, Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. The Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual features No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Florida State, as former Heisman winner Jameis Winston takes on this year's expected Heisman winner, Marcus Mariota.

Hollywood couldn't write a better script.

As we impatiently wait for these four teams to return to the gridiron and decide who will battle in the national championship game, here's a look at the full viewing information, odds and predictions for both semifinal contests.

 

Sugar Bowl

When: Thursday, January 1

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana

Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Info (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 58
  • Spread: Alabama -10

 

Prediction

The Crimson Tide may be known for their defense, but the offense has been firing on all cylinders lately. In Alabama's last three games, it put up at least 42 points in each due to a well-balanced attack.

Quarterback Blake Sims overcame three early interceptions in the Iron Bowl to throw four touchdowns in a victory over Auburn, and he returned to his efficient self in the SEC championship, tossing two touchdowns and zero picks against Missouri. Amari Cooper remains one of college's biggest weapons and Sims' most reliable target, hauling in 25 receptions for 307 yards and three touchdowns over that span.

Running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry complement the passing game perfectly. Both are averaging more than 5.0 yards per carry and have scored 10 touchdowns apiece this season. This two-headed monster out of the backfield allows Alabama to move the ball at will.

Ohio State has a prolific offense of its own; however, there's inexperience at the quarterback position. With J.T. Barrett out for the season, Cardale Jones stepped in and did a fantastic job in the Big Ten championship, completing 12 of his 17 attempts for 257 yards and three touchdowns. He was complemented nicely by running back Ezekiel Elliott, who carried 20 times for 220 yards and two scores.

The Buckeyes can sure move the ball, but contending with Alabama's fourth-ranked scoring defense that's allowing an average of just 16.6 points per game will be a hefty challenge for a quarterback making just his second career start. Alabama's experience will prevail.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Ohio State 23

 

Rose Bowl

When: Thursday, January 1

Where: Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California

Time: 5 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Info: (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 71
  • Spread: Oregon -9.5

 

Prediction

Winston won the Heisman Trophy and the Seminoles won the national championship following a fantastic 2013 campaign; however, it hasn't been smooth sailing for this team once again this season.

Yes, Florida State did go undefeated in 2014, but over its final four games of the year, it didn't notch a victory by any more than five points. That's a cause for concern heading into the Rose Bowl considering three of those final four teams were unranked and didn't have nearly as prolific an offense as Oregon's.

If the Seminoles are going to take down the Ducks, they must score some serious points. Luckily, Winston put together a great performance in the ACC championship, completing 21 of his 30 passing attempts for 309 yards and three touchdowns. It marked the first time in seven games in which he didn't throw an interception. That should give him some confidence heading into the team's bowl game.

Of course, Winston will need some help from running back Dalvin Cook and wide receiver Rashad Greene. Cook is averaging 5.8 yards per carry on the season and can be a factor in the passing game as well. Greene's reliable hands have tallied 93 receptions on the year for 1,306 yards and seven scores. They give the Seminoles a great chance to accumulate points against Oregon's 80th-ranked defense in total yards allowed.

Florida State may be in better shape with the nation's 51st-ranked defense in that category, but it must contend with Mariota and Oregon's third-ranked scoring offense that's averaging 46.3 points per game.

Mariota has been a touchdown machine this season, totaling 53 while throwing just two interceptions. He has some great weapons of his own in running back Royce Freeman and wide receiver Byron Marshall. This trio has been lighting it up all season and scored at least 42 points in each of its last eight contests. Meanwhile, the Seminoles have only eclipsed that number three times this season.

Prediction: Oregon 45, Florida State 35

 

All team statistics and rankings courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 8.

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