NCAA Football News

Marcus Mariota Wins Heisman, Odds on Who Will Win Heisman in 2015

Marcus Mariota took home the 2014 Heisman Trophy award, beating out Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Alabama's Amari Cooper. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer breaks down which 2015 CFB players have the best odds of winning the prestigious award next year.

Who do you think will win the 2015 Heisman trophy?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Marcus Mariota Awarded 2014 Heisman Trophy: Voting Results, Comments, Reaction

Marcus Mariota hopes his last act at Oregon will be leading the Ducks to their first national championship. For now, he'll have to settle for being the school's first Heisman Trophy recipient.

Bleacher Report shows the winner:

Chris Huston of Heisman.com tweeted the full results, while Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports broke things down further:

Ralph D. Russo of The Associated Press and Feldman added a few more details about the results:

Mariota, as expected, was given college football's top individual honor Saturday night, besting Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon and Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper. The junior quarterback is widely expected to be the No. 1 selection in the 2015 NFL draft.

Gordon and Cooper, also potential first-round selections, each emerged as arguably the most gifted players at their respective positions. Gordon led the nation with 2,336 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns, currently the fourth-highest rushing total in FBS history. He briefly held the NCAA single-game record with a 408-yard performance against Nebraska, though it was broken a week later by Samaje Perine of Oklahoma.

Cooper was at times a one-man offense for Alabama, smashing the Tide record book en route to a 115-reception, 1,656-yard campaign. The Miami native made 25 total receptions in playoff-clinching wins over Auburn and Missouri, setting an SEC Championship Game record in the latter.

But it was nonetheless an inevitability that the trophy went home with Mariota. Not only does he play the most important position on the field—the last five Heisman winners and eight of the last 10 have been quarterbacks—he put together one of the most efficient campaigns in history.

Mariota threw for 3,783 yards and 38 touchdowns against two interceptions, completing 68.3 percent of his passes. A nimble runner, he added 669 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground, giving him an NCAA-high 53 total touchdowns (he added another touchdown receiving). For his career Mariota has combined for 131 total touchdowns (101 passing, 28 rushing, two receiving) and just 23 turnovers (12 interceptions, 11 fumbles lost).

"If this guy isn't what the Heisman Trophy is all about, then I'm in the wrong profession," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich told reporters. "If you want your son or daughter to have a role model, pick this guy."

Mariota had already earned the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award for the nation's top quarterback. Throughout the process he has maintained a humble exterior, finding ways to thank his teammates with every passing accolade.

"I can't say enough about the guys inside the locker room," Mariota told reporters of his record-breaking ways. "I wouldn't be where I am without those guys. I hope that each record that's broken people realize it's a collective effort and not just me."

Feldman had more after Mariota's win on what the award means:

Mariota's win continues a trend of underclassmen taking home the Heisman. He's not a freshman like predecessors Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel, but Mariota is the eighth straight non-senior to win the award. Ohio State's Troy Smith was the last senior in 2006.

Of course, all these individual awards pale in comparison to the road that lies ahead. Mariota's second-seeded Ducks take on No. 3 Florida State in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day with a berth in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game at stake. Mariota will square off against Winston, who led the Seminoles to the national championship a year ago. Given that he's already taken the Heisman crown, it'll be interesting to see what happens next.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Heisman Trophy Winner 2014: Live Ceremony Results, Reaction and Speech Recap

The 2014 Heisman Trophy will be awarded to one outstanding college football player tonight at the Best Buy Theater in New York City.

The three finalists are Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon.

Each finalist has put up quite the impressive resume this season.

Gordon leads the nations in rushing with 2,336 yards and scored 29 total touchdowns. 

Cooper leads the nation in receiving yards and receptions, totaling 1,656 yards and 115 catches on the year.

Mariota leads the nation in passer rating, threw for 3,783 yards and scored 53 total touchdowns while leading the Ducks to the Pac-12 title.

Who will win?

Keep it locked right here with Bleacher Report for the latest updates from the 2014 Heisman Trophy presentation.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Army vs. Navy: Score and Twitter Reaction from 2014 Game

Navy scored a 17-10 victory over Army in a highly competitive contest on Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. It marks the 13th straight win for the Midshipmen in the rivalry.

The clash between the academies is unlike any other game during the college football regular season. The rivalry dates back to 1890—and has been played annually since 1930—and always creates a tremendous atmosphere.

Here's how the 2014 edition of the Army–Navy Game played out:

Although plenty has changed over the years, the widespread appeal of the game remains firmly intact. Laken Litman of USA Today passed along comments from Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo, who explained why the game is popular regardless of the type of season each team is having:

I think the difference with our game is it's a national game. The Auburn-Alabama game is a huge rivalry game, but it's even stronger in the South and the state of Alabama and the SEC. USC-UCLA is a big game on the West Coast and the LA area. Ohio State-Michigan is big for the Midwest. But for our game, everybody has somebody in their family or knows somebody who served, so I think it touches everybody regardless of where you live.

A popular sentiment expressed leading up to the game is that the players are rivals today but are otherwise on the same team moving forward. That's where the respect comes from.

CBS Sports noted some showed up to the game in more interesting fashion than others:

Army came into the game with a chip on its shoulder. Not only had it lost 12 straight matchups with Navy, but it was also a 15-point underdog. That extra motivation showed in the early going.

The Black Knights' defense came out fired up, forcing a three-and-out drive by Navy on its first possession. On the ensuing play, a cavalcade of rushers broke through Navy's line and blocked Pablo Beltran's punt. 

Xavier Moss scooped up the loose ball and waltzed into the end zone. It gave Army the lead and sent its fans into a frenzy. Army Times noted it was the second straight game with a key block by Josh Jenkins:

It set the tone for a defensive first half of football. Both sides clearly knew to expect run-heavy attacks and were prepared for the fight at the line of scrimmage.

Particularly impressive was the Black Knights' effort to slow down Keenan Reynolds. The Navy quarterback entered the game with 1,082 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground this season.

The Midshipmen were also up to the task defensively, though. Of course, Auburn Professor John Carvalho rightfully pointed out that probably shouldn't be much of a surprise given the teams involved:

Navy did get the game back level before halftime. After getting a crucial fourth-down stop at its own 30, Navy covered 70 yards in just six plays to make it 7-7.

The key play was a 39-yard completion from Reynolds to Jamir Tillman. The duo hooked up again for the score a couple plays later from nine yards out with just 18 seconds left in the opening half.

David Ginsburg of The Associated Press pointed out how that one drive changed the entire complexion of the first 30 minutes:

Army moved the ball to around midfield and attempted a Hail Mary, but it fell harmlessly to the turf as timed expired.

Even though the Black Knights defense continued to do its job in the second half, it wasn't enough to stop Navy from creating some separation.

Austin Grebe connected on a 45-yard field goal for Navy just over five minutes into the third quarter. It gave the Midshipmen their first lead of the game.

ESPN Lehigh Valley noted it was a career long for the kicker:

Navy stretched the lead to 10 early in the fourth quarter. Reynolds led the offense on a 15-play, 69-yard touchdown drive that ate up nearly eight minutes off the clock. The quarterback forced his way across the goal line from one yard out for the score.

Kevin McGuire of College Football Talk provided an intriguing stat about Reynolds after his latest score:

More importantly, it put an Army side not used to relying on the pass in trouble. CBS Sports College Football highlighted the uphill battle:

A fumble recovery with less than four minutes left gave the Black Knights one last chance to mount a comeback. They got within a touchdown after Daniel Grochowski converted a field goal from 52 yards out.

Army didn't recover the ensuing onside kick, however. Navy proceeded to run out the clock.

ESPN Stats & Info updated the rivalry numbers:

All told, the game was far closer than most expected with the Army defense standing tall throughout. Its offense just didn't sustain enough drives.

Navy can celebrate keeping the streak alive but not for long. The Midshipmen are set to face San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl in just 10 days. If they pull off another win on the quick turnaround, the pair of victories will make for a terrific finish to the campaign.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Marcus Mariota's Historic 2014 Season Will Lead to Dominant Heisman Win

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is likely in the final stages of his collegiate career, assuming he goes to the NFL after the Ducks' season is over. He's been among the best players in the country for three years and deserves to be rewarded with the Heisman Trophy in a landslide. 

Arguably the most prestigious individual honor in all of sports, the Heisman has become a de facto way to honor the best quarterback in the country. with the last four winners and 12 of the last 14 playing the position. 

Naturally, this can lead to some position bias. There are 22 players on a football field at any given time and it takes a team effort to create a Heisman winner. After all, would Mariota be here if Oregon had an extra loss or two on its resume?

There's also the competition Mariota is going up against. Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon had his own Heisman moment with 408 rushing yards against Nebraska, which was a record for one week before Oklahoma's Samaje Perine. 

Upon winning the Doak Walker Award as the nation's best running back, SportsCenter tweeted out that Gordon led FBS running backs with nearly 180 rushing yards per game:

Unfortunately, the last image voters have of Gordon was his worst game of the season with 76 yards in a 59-0 loss against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. 

The other contender is Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, who made history playing in what is widely considered the best conference in the country, per College Gameday:

Cooper had seven games with at least 100 receiving yards and three with at least 200, including 224 with three touchdowns against Auburn in the Iron Bowl. Two of those touchdown catches put the Crimson Tide ahead in the third quarter. 

You can craft a legitimate Heisman campaign for Cooper, who was arguably the biggest reason for Alabama's success this season as Blake Sims was developing at quarterback. His 1,656 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns were nearly half of the team's 3,653 passing yards and 30 touchdowns. 

However, when you break down Mariota's season, the only question is if voters will make this one of the most lopsided Heisman wins in history. He finished the regular season with 3,783 passing yards, a completion percentage of 68.3, quarterback rating of 186.3 and 52 total touchdowns with two interceptions. 

Making Mariota's season more impressive is he came into the season with as much hype as any quarterback and delivered. He told Chris Johnson of Sports Illustrated that his goals this year were all team oriented, despite the individual accolades coming his way:

“I was more concerned with achieving team goals, and more focused on that,” Mariota said. “Outside pressure is stuff that other people make, and we weren’t focused on that at all.”

Per ESPN Stats & Info, Mariota's QBR this season stacks up well with past Heisman winners and a few current NFL starters who led college football in that category:

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports also highlighted what makes Mariota the leading Heisman contender, though he added the *wink*caveat*wink* in which his official vote had to remain a secret until after the ceremony:

Only five quarterbacks in the last seven years averaged more than his 10.2 yards per attempt. Mariota has thrown 38 touchdowns and two interceptions, a 19-to-1 ratio bettered by only one QB in the last seven seasons (South Carolina’s Connor Shaw was 24-1 last year). His 9.1 yards per play running and passing is third-highest among all quarterbacks in the last seven seasons.

When you add all of the numbers together, then combine them with Oregon's 12-1 record and spot in the College Football Playoff, Mariota becomes the overwhelming favorite to be named the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner. 

Even if there is backlash against quarterbacks always winning these awards, no one can deny Mariota's value to Oregon this season. His worst game of the year, against Arizona on October 2, the junior had 276 passing yards and two touchdowns. 

Numbers can be skewed to say anything, but there's no way to downplay Mariota's season. He should win the Heisman and do so in a landslide. 

 

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

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2014 Heisman Trophy Race: Finalists and Predictions for Prestigious Award

There aren't a ton of serious contenders for this year's Heisman Trophy, so it was refreshing to see only three players invited to New York for the ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 13.

It always sucks to see players with a snowball's chance in hell to win the award invited just for the sake of having a pre-announcement highlight package run in their honor.

This year, all three candidates are worthy of nomination, and there's a case to be made for each of them. On the flip side, there's also details that could factor into each not winning the award.

 

Melvin Gordon

ESPN.com's Brian Bennett reported that the Wisconsin Badgers star will enter the 2015 NFL draft. This comes as no surprise considering the season Gordon had for the Badgers. His 2,336 rushing yards are a single-season Big Ten record, and his 4,664 career yards rank third all time in Badgers history behind Ron Dayne and Montee Ball. 

In 2014, Gordon averaged a whopping 179.7 yards per game on the ground. To put that in the proper perspective, that's more than 78 other FBS schools. 

 

Heisman Moment

Though the record was broken a week later by the Oklahoma Sooners' Samaje Perine, Gordon's 408 yards against the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Nov. 15 was without a doubt one of the most impressive individual performances of the season.

Perine may have run for more yards when he racked up 427 on Nov. 22 against the Kansas Jayhawks, but Gordon's game stands out more.

The Jayhawks run defense is notoriously horrible. The team ranked 106th in the nation against the run. The Cornhuskers rank 80th, which is obviously not great, but if you subtract Gordon's performance, Nebraska would be ranked 51st, just behind the Oregon Ducks.

Furthermore, Gordon put up those numbers while going head-to-head with friend and fellow first-round prospect Ameer Abdullah. In a high-profile matchup, Gordon was at his best. 

 

The Case Against Gordon

The Big Ten title game did not boost Gordon's Heisman hopes.

In the biggest game of the season for the Badgers, Gordon and the Wisconsin offense were shut down. The Ohio State Buckeyes blanked Wisconsin 59-0 and held Gordon to his second-lowest rushing total of the season: just 76 yards on 26 carries.

That's a tough stat line for a Heisman candidate in a conference championship game.

With a big performance and a win against the Buckeyes, Gordon's chances to win the Heisman might be even higher.

 

Amari Cooper

Simply being the best player in the country should count for something. We could talk about awards, of which Cooper has already captured the Fred Biletnikoff Award for the nation's top receiver, and we could talk stats. Cooper has those too. In 2014, he had 115 receptions, 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Cooper caught at least 10 passes in five games. He eclipsed 100 yards seven times and 200 yards on three occasions.

Beyond the awards and the numbers, Cooper was the most stable threat for an inexperienced quarterback. Blake Sims' elusiveness has been an asset to the Alabama Crimson Tide offense, but 'Bama fans should shudder at the thought of what the 2014 season would've looked like without their stud receiver.

 

Heisman Moment

The Iron Bowl is a game where legends are made. Cooper may not have needed this year's performance to cement his legendary status, but just in case, he was an absolute beast against the Tide's biggest rival.

Cooper caught 13 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns against the Auburn Tigers. All three stats tied career highs for Cooper. He came up huge with the Tide facing their last significant impediment before qualifying for the College Football Playoff.

 

The Case Against Cooper

Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus expresses his desire to see Cooper win, but he doesn't have much faith in it happening:

To be honest, Cooper did everything within his power to hoist that trophy. The biggest thing that could keep him from winning is his position. The Heisman Trophy has largely been a quarterback award, with a few running backs sprinkled in.

Twelve of the last 13 winners have been signal-callers. The last wide receiver to win the award was the Michigan Wolverines' Desmond Howard back in 1991. Howard was also dynamic in the return game, and that helped to boost his case. Cooper doesn't have that layer, and he's going up against a pretty good quarterback candidate.

 

Marcus Mariota

If you were to say the word "leader" in association with the 2014 college football season, most would picture the Oregon Ducks' quarterback.

Mariota has led by example in regards to competitiveness, excellence of play and disposition. It's hard to ask for anything more. By doing a simple Twitter search for "Mariota leader," here's two examples of tweets that came up as a result:

At this point, people are jumping on the bandwagon with this concept, but there also has to be something to the theme when everyone within and outside of an organization sees the same qualities.

Mariota's appeal isn't all intangible.

He did throw for 3,783 yards, 38 touchdown passes and just two interceptions in 372 pass attempts. Mariota ran for another 14 scores as well. Because of the year he's had, it's a challenge picking one Heisman moment, but here's my best shot.

 

Heisman Moment

On Sept. 20, the Ducks went to Pullman, Washington, to take on the high-powered Washington State Cougars. Connor Halliday and Co. were clicking on all cylinders. The Cougars pushed the Ducks for four quarters before Oregon prevailed 38-31.

Mariota never blinked in a road game that some of his teammates may have overlooked heading into a bye week. He completed 21 of 25 passes for 329 yards and five touchdown passes. It was an almost perfect performance in a close game in which Mariota's team needed him to be big.

 

The Case Against Mariota

Breaking biases is a thing for people these days, as well it should be. Because of the long history of quarterbacks dominating the award, there could be voters of a mindset similar to that of Palazzolo. 

There's also a valid argument that Cooper is indeed the nation's best player. After all, that's who the award is supposed to go to. If you asked people who the best player in college football is, and didn't use the word Heisman, you might get more to references Cooper than Mariota.

 

Prediction

Like Palazzolo, I'm of the belief that Cooper should win the Heisman. However, also like the Pro Football Focus guru, I don't think he will.

Mariota has been the face of the hype all year long, and to be honest, he's never faltered. Essentially, he's been like a preseason No. 1 team in the old BCS system who never lost a game and thus remained No. 1.

While Mariota and the Ducks did lose to the Arizona Wildcats on Oct. 2, he still played pretty well in that game, and his case for the Heisman didn't take a hit. Call it quarterback bias, or anything else, but come Saturday, we'll be calling Mariota the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Heisman Watch 2014: Final Predictions for Award Race

Unlike the College Football Playoff, no controversy surrounds the 2014 Heisman Trophy.

Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Alabama's Amari Cooper and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon were easy picks for the committee. Names such as Jameis Winston and Dak Prescott, among others, were worthy of consideration.

Truthfully, though, the trio set to take the stage in New York made sure the trust in charge stressed little:

Observers will notice one thing—a lone quarterback makes the list.

That makes it seem like an obvious result rests ahead Saturday night. The lengthy process has given the globe plenty of time to digest all three candidates, so things may wind up closer than most would expect.

 

Predictions

3. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

Gordon is one of the best backs to take the field in the past decade, but he is stuck in the wrong era. 

The Doak Walker Award already shows that Gordon was the best back by far this season, although some shred of doubt due to a season-ending injury to Georgia's Todd Gurley will always be a topic of discussion.

Regardless, Gordon rushed for 2,336 yards and 26 touchdowns on a 7.6 per-carry average despite every team fully understanding what Wisconsin would attempt to do.

While impressive, the injury to Gurley, losses to LSU and Northwestern and a 59-0 blowout at the hands of Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship show that Gordon simply has shoddy luck. Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine topped his crowning achievement and Heisman moment—smashing NCAA records with 408 yards and four scores against Nebraska—just a few weeks after the fact.

The topper is the position. As former Heisman winner and Badgers back Ron Dayne told Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer, the position is key right now.

“You’re not looking at running backs anymore,” Dayne said. “Everyone’s looking at different positions. It didn’t circle back around yet for him to get the attention that he needed.”

Gordon's accomplishments are awe-inspiring. His productivity in a defensive-minded conference goes against the grain these days. That is part of the problem, as are jaw-dropping performances by the other two finalists.

 

2. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama 

This year's Biletnikoff Award winner was too obvious.

A serious threat to sit alongside Mark Ingram as the only Alabama Heisman Trophy winner, Cooper also defied plenty of conventional wisdom on his way to his status as a finalist.

Remember when Nick Saban's Crimson Tide were a run-first team? Neither does the coach or his top wideout, who caught an SEC-record 115 passes for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns. Put it into this context: The team as a whole posted 268 catches for 3,653 yards and 30 touchdowns.

Remember when there was serious cause for concern about quarterback Blake Sims, who was entering his first year as starter? Or how Alabama could not possibly survive the brutal SEC?

Cooper is a huge reason Sims completed 64.8 percent of his passes and posted 26 touchdowns. He came up big in the Iron Bowl with 13 grabs for 224 yards and three scores. Ditto for the SEC Championship with 12 for 83. A showdown with then-No. 1 Mississippi State? Eight for 88 and a score.

Few receivers will replicate what Cooper has done this season. Yet even he concurs that the award is not necessarily something that should come his way.

"Quarterbacks have such a huge responsibility out on the field. Marcus deserves the trophy,” Cooper said, per Zach Braziller of The New York Post. “I haven’t watched him play, but he has thrown only two interceptions. That’s crazy.”

If a player is going to steal the Heisman from Mariota, odds are great it will be Cooper. Even if he does not, though, rest assured the future NFL first-round pick would not stress over a second-place finish.

 

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

Forget the fact that 12 of the last 13 Heisman winners are quarterbacks.

In an alternate history, that number could favor running backs, and Mariota would still be the favorite this year.

Believe the hype. A completion percentage of nearly 70 percent is nothing until observers realize that it comes with 3,783 yards and 38 touchdowns to two interceptions. Add another 669 yards and 14 scores with his legs for good measure.

Production and efficiency such as that is quite rare, regardless of scheme or competition. The numbers are only more impressive when one recalls that key linemen such as Tyler Johnstone and Hroniss Grasu have been in and out of the lineup with serious injuries.

The only knock on Mariota now is the lack of a singular "Heisman moment."

That is quite laughable, really. Arguably, no player entered this season with loftier expectations on his shoulders. How did Mariota respond?

He shredded an elite Michigan State defense for 318 yards and three scores. Stanford demons? Expelled via four total touchdowns. Ditto against Utah. The Civil War saw six total touchdowns go up on the board before yet five more total in the Pac-12 Championship against Arizona, the only team to beat the Ducks this year.

No player was more important to his team. A Heisman moment may be lacking on the resume because it is just too difficult to single out one performance.

Even other finalists seem to agree—Mariota is this year's Heisman winner.

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

4 Changes Will Muschamp Will Bring to the Auburn Defense

AUBURN, Ala. — Will Muschamp is ready to rebuild.

The former Florida head coach was officially introduced Saturday morning as Auburn's new defensive coordinator, marking his second return to the Tigers' staff since the start of his collegiate career.

"Great to be back," Muschamp said in his introductory press conference. "I want to thank Gus for this opportunity to come to Auburn. It's a great place. It's a special place obviously, in the way you treat people and the way you handle your business. Really excited to be back. It's going to be a lot of fun."

His career won't be the only thing Muschamp is looking to rebuild in his return to Auburn.

Things have changed a lot in Auburn since Muschamp left as Tommy Tuberville's defensive coordinator after the 2007 season—and it's more than just the new facilities Muschamp raved about in his opening statement Saturday morning.

Defense was Auburn's strength during his last two tenures, but the Tigers have since had to compete for SEC and national championships in spite of their underwhelming defenses. The 2014 regular season, one that started with title aspirations for the Tigers, was filled with disappointed losses that saw opponents easily crack the 400-yard and 30-point marks.

And that's why head coach Gus Malzahn made the decision to bring Muschamp back—one that reportedly will make him the highest-paid coordinator in the country.

Changes are in the air on the Plains this winter. Here are four that the Tigers will be able to make thanks to Muschamp:  

 

Immediate Improvement

Through all the well-documented struggles of Muschamp's time as the head man in Gainesville, his Gators still played standout defense. Since his first full season as Texas' defensive coordinator, Muschamp's defense have greatly outperformed ones from Auburn:

"If you look at his track record wherever he’s been, he’s had a top defense," Malzahn said. "He’ll have a chance to evaluate our guys. He has high expectations just like I do. We expect to win and expect to win championships. I’m looking forward to coaching with him."

Muschamp is inheriting a struggling defense that has several leaders returning—he specifically mentioned the return of injured defensive end Carl Lawson in his press conference as a big factor for a "very strong" front seven.

But should Auburn fans expect top-20 success from the first year?

"I would," Muschamp said. "We've been pretty good where we've been, but we've also had a bunch of good players. And that's the bottom line. That's what it comes down to, players."

 

Fewer Explosive Plays

Perhaps the most impressive statistics from Muschamp's defenses at Florida are how the Gators were able to prevent big plays.

Florida never fell outside the top 20 in fewest amount of opponent long scrimmage plays—ones that gain more than 10 yards—under Muschamp. 

Auburn, on the other hand, is coming off a season in which it finished No. 90 in that category.

"In our league, and especially this division, you better win on the line of scrimmage, or you won't have a chance," Muschamp said. "And stay away from explosive plays. When they're getting chunk yardage down the field, it's hard to defend and change the vertical field position in the game."

Muschamp said his top priority at Auburn will be forcing any offense to go one-dimensional by becoming a defense that excels in both stopping the run and the pass. After several long seasons of watching opponents hit them for long gains through the air, Auburn now has a defensive coordinator who has a track record of cutting those out tremendously.

 

Intense Energy

Before Malzahn's "Boom!" became a trademark in Auburn, there was Muschamp—the original Coach Boom.

Muschamp made a name for himself during his time as an assistant coach for being intense on the field, commanding his swarming defenses on the sidelines and in the locker room with seemingly limitless energy.

"I love his energy," Malzahn said. "I'm an energy guy, too. I really wanted somebody who had great energy and intensity, to have that defense really take on his personality... He’s been on the sideline, and he looks the players in the eye and they play hard for him. He’s got it figured out."

That type of on-field intensity is quite a considerable difference from former defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, a veteran coach who directed from up in a box during his two years at Auburn.

Muschamp has already brought a new level of excitement and energy from Auburn's fanbase by coming back to the program. Now, he will look to do the same for Auburn's current defensive players.

"I am going to ask the kids every day to give me great effort, a great attitude when they hit the field and great energy," Muschamp said. "Those three things are on you as a player, and we will handle the execution and other stuff as we move forward."

 

More Recruiting Firepower

Auburn and Florida might not be the most traditional pair of recruiting rivals, but the two schools have butted heads several times over the last few years with Malzahn and Muschamp going after top players.

This cycle, the decisions for 5-star offensive tackle Martez Ivey—247Sports' new No. 1 overall player nationally in their composite rankings—and 4-star linebacker Jeffrey Holland seem to come down to the Tigers and the Gators.

The head coach whose staff recruited them at Florida is now at Auburn, and Holland has definitely taken notice:

Outside of the state of Florida, Muschamp's hiring should be a boost for Auburn in terms of recruiting, especially in the eyes of several top defensive targets.

"He’s one of the best defensive minds in all of football," Malzahn said. "He’s got a great reputation. The kids love to play for him. The success he’s had is unbelievable. He provides a whole lot."

And while Muschamp will simply monitor Auburn's upcoming bowl practices, he can immediately go to work recruiting and changing the future of the Tigers defense.

In fact, that was on his mind during his introductory press conference Saturday morning.

"As soon as we get done here and walk out that door, we are going [recruiting]," Muschamp said.

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Cold Hard Fact for Saturday, December 13, 2014

Fact: Marcus Mariota is attempting to become the first Heisman Trophy winner from Oregon. Running back LaMichael James finished third in 2010.

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

 

Source: ESPN Stats and Info

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Army vs. Navy: Live Score and Highlights

Army 7, Navy 10—Early 4th Quarter

It may not be a game that has an impact on Top 25 rankings or national championship chances, but the Army-Navy game is "America's Game."  Today, the Midshipmen from Navy look to earn their 13th consecutive victory over the Army Black Knights.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Best 'College GameDay' Signs from Army-Navy Game

ESPN's College GameDay was live from Baltimore on Saturday for the Army-Navy game.

As you would expect, fans brought plenty of hilarious signs in an attempt to trash talk the other team.

These were the best of the bunch.

[Twitter]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Army vs. Navy 2014: Breaking Down Stars That Will Shine in Renowned Rivalry Game

The Army-Navy Game has been one of the most beloved college football rivalries since its inception in 1890, and the 2014 edition promises to continue the tradition of passion and dedication.

Navy hasn't lost this game since 2001, and the Midshipmen are once again expected to beat the Black Knights, but there are few guarantees in this series. Perhaps the only one is that both teams will leave everything out on field at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

Navy and Army are very similar teams in terms of their respective approaches on both sides of the ball, so Saturday's clash should be an intriguing chess match.

While the Midshipmen and Black Knights rely heavily on overall team play, here is a closer look at a few players who will stand out from the crowd in the Army-Navy Game.

 

Keenan Reynolds

Although Navy has less than 1,000 passing yards as a team this season, all eyes are usually on junior quarterback Keenan Reynolds. He has mastered the option attack, and there is no doubt that Army will see a heavy dose of him on the ground.

Reynolds enters the game with 1,082 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns. As incredible as that may seem, it's actually a huge drop-off from last season, when he found paydirt 31 times with his legs.

For his career, Reynolds has a remarkable 61 rushing touchdowns. According to Navy Athletics on Twitter, that is an all-time NCAA record for a quarterback:

Making history is something that Reynolds has grown quite accustomed to. In a 52-19 romp over Georgia Southern a few weeks ago, he ran for 277 yards and six touchdowns, which matched a single-game record, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Part of what makes Reynolds so dangerous is the threat of handing the ball off to fullback Noah Copeland, who averages over eight yards per carry. He also has the option of utilizing bruiser Chris Swain, so opposing defenses have to pick their poison.

Reynolds has topped 100 yards rushing in five games this season, and he seems like a solid bet to do it against Army as well.

 

Larry Dixon

Army relies heavily on the running game, just like Navy, but the Black Knights' main offensive star is fullback Larry Dixon. The compact senior is in the midst of his best collegiate season, having topped 1,000 yards for the first time and scoring a career-high nine touchdowns.

Few players put in a more consistent effort than Dixon, which is why he is one of the leading rushers in the history of the program, according to Army Football on Twitter:

While Dixon will long be remembered as an all-time great at Army regardless of what happens Saturday, beating Navy is the one thing he desperately wants to accomplish.

The Black Knights nearly did that two years ago, but a late fumble by Dixon allowed the Midshipmen to close out a 17-13 victory. Per Tom Pedulla of The New York Times, that miscue has stuck with Dixon.

"I'll never forget it," Dixon said. "It's always going to be in the back of my mind. But I try not to take it with me on the field."

Dixon is a motivated player no matter the situation, but the memory of that mistake could very well light an even bigger fire under him Saturday. If it does, then Army has a fighting chance to pull off the upset.

 

Parrish Gaines

Strong, fundamentally sound defensive play is always important in the Army-Navy Game, which is why Midshipmen senior safety Parrish Gaines promises to play a huge role in Saturday's clash.

Gaines is the defense's leader in every conceivable way, and he is enjoying a spectacular campaign. He has three interceptions to his credit, and while that may not come into play against a run-heavy team like Army, he is a sure-handed tackler as well.

There are many Gaines supporters out there but perhaps none greater than Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo, according to Bill Wagner of the Capital Gazette.

I couldn't be more proud of Parrish. He's worked hard academically, been a model citizen in the hall and an outstanding football player. Parrish has played in a ton of ball games and never flinched on the field. Along the way, he's been a tremendous leader—always exhibiting great character and behavior. He really exemplifies what this place is all about—honor, courage and integrity.

The qualities Niumatalolo mentioned will be hugely important in the Army-Navy Game. Gaines has them in spades, and he will do everything possible to set an example for this teammates.

Provided they follow his lead, the Midshipmen will be very tough to beat.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Paul Chryst Is a Great Choice to Be the Wisconsin Badgers Football Coach

Earlier this week, athletic director Barry Alvarez of Wisconsin was certainly shocked to hear that head football coach Gary Andersen was leaving the Badgers to take the same job with Oregon State. That meant that Alvarez would have to find a new head coach for the football team for the second time in three years.

Andersen had been 19-7 in two years with the Badgers, and the team had just won the Big Ten West Division. That title led to Andersen and the Badgers getting walloped 59-0 by the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Three years ago, it was Bret Bielema who opted out of Wisconsin after the team had won their second Big Ten Championship Game in a row and their third straight Big Ten title. Bielema decided he wanted a new challenge. The challenge was coaching Arkansas in the very tough SEC West Division.

When Bielema left, the seniors came to Alvarez and asked him to coach them in the Rose Bowl. He did just that, but Wisconsin lost to Stanford 20-14 in the game, ending Alvarez's perfect record of three Rose Bowl wins without a defeat.

When Andersen left the team, the same thing happened. The seniors asked Alvarez to coach the team in the Outback Bowl in Tampa versus Auburn. Once again, Barry will coach the Badgers.

Meanwhile, the search for a new coach is underway. After Andersen decided to leave Wisconsin, Alvarez issued a statement in response:

I began working to find a new head coach as soon as I spoke with Gary this morning. My first concern is taking care of the players on the current team, especially the senior class, and ensuring that their bowl experience is a memorable one. I will find a head coach to uphold the great tradition at Wisconsin, someone who is committed to excellence both on and off the field.

I want to thank Gary for his two years here and commend him on the way his team performed on the field, in the classroom and in the community. I wish him the best at Oregon State.

Three years ago, after Bielema left, one of the first names brought up as his possible successor was Paul Chryst, who had just completed his first season as the new head coach at Pittsburgh.

Chryst had an extensive background with the Badgers—first as a quarterback from 1986-1988, then as tight ends coach in 2002 and finally as offensive coordinator from 2005-2011.

But Alvarez didn't feel the timing was right to hire Chryst then.

"I wouldn't feel right, and I don't think it would be appropriate for me to hire him back after I asked someone to do me a favor and help him get that job," Alvarez said.

But now, two years later, the timing is certainly better. Chryst has been at Pitt three years now. The Panthers have had a 19-19 record in those three years and will be going to their third straight bowl under Chryst.

Earlier this week, Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinelreported that Chryst was set to become the new head football coach of the Badgers.

In the story, Alvarez talked about his process for finding a new head coach.

"I always keep a short list," Alvarez said. "And we will proceed in our search for a new head coach immediately."

Shortly after the report of the eminent hiring of Chryst was circulated in the media, Alvarez said in a release that the coaching search was not finished:

We are continuing the process of finding our new head football coach. We have not offered the position to anyone. In accordance with University of Wisconsin hiring policies, the earliest we could make an offer to a candidate is Wednesday, Dec. 17.

Any accepted offer would be contingent upon approval by the UW System Board of Regents.

We'll follow the process. It has to be posted until the date we have set and then we're free to move.

There was also a report by George Schroeder of USA Today Sports that Alvarez also interviewed Greg Schiano, who was formerly the head coach at Rutgers and also the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The bottom line is that the new head football coach of the Badgers should definitely be Chryst.

Why? For one thing, he's a Madison native. He also played ball for the Badgers and coached them on two different occasions, including being the offensive coordinator for seven years.

In 2011, his last year with the Badgers as their offensive coordinator, the team went 11-3 and went to the Rose Bowl to face Oregon.

Statistically, the team was a force on offense. The Badgers were sixth in the country in scoring and averaged over 44 points a game.

In 2010, the 11-2 Badgers also went to the Rose Bowl versus TCU. The offense under Chryst was once again outstanding. The Badgers were fifth in the nation in scoring offense and averaged over 41 points a game.

In his seven years running the Wisconsin offense, the Badgers averaged 34 points a game.

Just look at the job he did with Russell Wilson in 2011 when Wilson was a fifth-year transfer out of North Carolina State.

Wilson first came to the Badgers in late June. That gave Chryst just over a month to write up a playbook for his new quarterback.

All Wilson did was have the best year ever at quarterback in the history of Wisconsin football. Wilson threw 33 touchdowns to just four interceptions for 3,175 yards. The mobile quarterback also ran for 338 yards and six more scores.

Wilson was named All-Big Ten by both the coaches and the media and finished ninth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy.

Chryst runs a pro-style offense. The running game is a big factor in the success of his offense, and that will always be a major part of the way Wisconsin plays offense—at least as long as Alvarez is around.

I believe Chryst would treat an opportunity to coach at Wisconsin as a destination job. A final job. Just like Alvarez did when he coached the Badgers from 1990-2005.

That was certainly not the case for Bielema or Andersen.

But it will be for Chryst, who, I believe, will return to his hometown to make things official next week and become the new head football coach of the Badgers.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Army-Navy Game 2014: Start Time and Predictions for Rivalry Game

No football tradition is more sacred than the annual Army-Navy showdown.

Some things transcend a simple result, a thought process put on display each year when the two services collide on the gridiron.

Traditional ground-based approaches rule the day in what annually devolves into a war of wills. The Midshipmen enter with a major advantage, though, as they look to extend their winning streak against the Black Knights to 13.

The beauty of this rivalry is in the tradition and details.

 

When: Saturday, December 13,3 p.m. ET

Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Maryland

Television: CBS

 

Preview and Predictions

The result Saturday means little in the grand scheme of things.

Bob Socci, who called Navy's games for 16 years, explains the dynamics behind the tradition best per CBSLocal.com:

But that game is all about that dimension that can’t be duplicated anywhere else in sports, and that really comes into focus at the end of the game. It’s been true throughout the history of the service academy when they’ve competed since Dennis Michie first challenged the Midshipmen to a game of football, at the end of the game all of those seniors come together for the alma maters, and they are brothers in arms thereafter — they’re on the same team, with much greater consequences than the outcome of a football game.

Of course, none of this prohibits the journey from being an entertaining ride.

Navy is bowl eligible for the 11th time in the last 12 years thanks to the nation's second-ranked rushing attack. As ESPN CollegeFootball points out, Ken Niumatalolo's team has a stranglehold on the rivalry right now:

The 115th encounter between the two sides is unlikely to be predictable, though.

Fullback Larry Dixon, who bruises his way on the ground in the triple-option attack, leads Army. To date, his 1,028 yards and nine touchdowns lead the team, although quarterback Angel Santiago is not far off with 793 yards and 10 scores of his own. 

The story is much of the same for Navy. A number of talented rushers flank the quarterback position, but Keenan Reynolds is by far the most important piece to watch Sunday.

Niumatalolo rarely asks the junior to pass. Why would he? Reynolds has 205 carries for 1,082 yards and 20 touchdowns on the season. As Army coach Jeff Monken told the media, per Sal Interdonato of the Times Herald-Record, few players in the nation are more important to their teams:

Reynolds is the key for this year's matchup, as he was last season with just seven pass attempts and 136 rushing yards with three scores on the ground in a 34-7 triumph.

Army enters Saturday off a 42-31 win over Fordham, but it was just win No. 4 on the season. The defense still ranks 109th in the nation with an average of 34.4 points allowed per game. In other words, the unit's ability to stop a Navy rushing attack that has seen 10 players score touchdowns this year is not likely.

Remember, this is a Navy attack that took on then-No. 10 Notre Dame at the start of November and lost just 49-39. There, Reynolds was effective through the air with two touchdowns, second-leading rusher Noah Copeland ran for 138 yards, and 10 different players recorded a carry.

The Fighting Irish scored with one minute, 27 seconds left to inflate the final score.

Look for Reynolds to have a major game on the ground Saturday. Army is much better than in years past, and Dixon is sure to post a major game. Just last week in the triumph against Fordham, he ran wild for 158 yards and three scores on a 7.2 per-carry average.

Dixon cannot do it on his own, though. The deep Navy attack will grind down Army over the course of four frames and get the win.

For seniors such as Copeland and Dixon, the desired end result to a storied role in a historic rivalry will not be obtainable by both.

In a spectacle that transcends sports, though, both win. 

Prediction: Navy 36, Army 24

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Heisman Race 2014: Last-Minute Predictions for Top Contenders

Tensions are high as the nation eagerly await Saturday night's Heisman Trophy declaration. Any of college football's three superstar finalists could walk away with the NCAA's prestigious honor.

Who is anyone kidding? Marcus Mariota will win.

That's no slight to Melvin Gordon and Amari Cooper, two football terminators sent to this planet to eventually become fantasy football overlords on Sundays. But come on, neither of those two studs is responsible for 53 touchdowns—don't forget Mariota's receiving score—this season.

Sorry to kill the suspense, but Gordon and Cooper are battling for second despite crafting campaigns merited of grand recognition. In another year, either one could have triumphed.

This year, however, the Oregon quarterback will not be denied the sport's biggest accolade.

 

Heisman Finalists

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

He's already won every other award, so what's one more? SportsCenter highlighted Mariota's expanding list of crowns before embarking on the big one.

Each game made it tougher to argue against Mariota. Scoring 19 times in the final four contests without a single interception solidified his case on top, especially with the Ducks finishing No. 2 in the College Football Playoff Rankings.

The junior concluded his incredible year with 4,478 total yards, 53 touchdowns and two picks. He leads the FBS with 10.2 passing yards per attempt and a 186.3 quarterback rating.

Courtesy of Philly.com's Sheil Kapadia, former Oregon coach Chip Kelly—who moved on to lead the Philadelphia Eagles—offered high praise for the versatile star.

In his worst game of the season, Mariota only went 20-of-32 with 276 passing yards and two touchdowns in a losing effort against Arizona, the team he decimated for five scores during the Pac-12 title game. Give that man his trophy and be done with it.

 

Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

It's saying something about Mariota's season to enter the clear favorite over a running back who procured a nation-high 2,336 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns on the ground. Gordon certainly had a season to remember in his own right.

Amazingly, his yards per carry actually decreased from 2013, going down from 7.8 to 7.6. Yet he maintained that stellar rate despite getting worked to the bone with 309 handoffs, only once receiving fewer than 15 touches in a game.

Oh, by the way, he finished with 258 total yards and five touchdowns on 14 touches during that one holdover.

Whether fair or unfair, recency bias will dampen the running back's chances, perhaps stringing him down to No. 3 behind a soaring Cooper. Ohio State slaughtered Wisconsin, 59-0, to win the Big Ten during Gordon's first game below 100 yards since Sept. 6.

The junior gained just 76 rushing yards on 26 carries, failing to break off a 20-yard run for the first time all season. Allow ESPN Stats & Info to illuminate the oddity in him not accomplishing a difficult feat for most mortals.

That shouldn't lessen his season of destruction, as this is a man who topped 200 rushing yards five times while torching Nebraska for an unfathomable 408 yards. Most years, that's enough to claim the throne.

 

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

Playing the least glorified of the three positions represented in New York, Cooper holds the worst chance of emerging victorious—despite transforming Alabama's offense into a powerhouse.

First off, it's important to note how rare it is for a wide receiver just to get considered. Per ESPN Stats & Info, it hasn't happened in more than a decade, and that guy has since caught 903 passes in the NFL.

To find a winning wideout, one must backtrack all the way to 1991, when Desmond Howard won it while also impacting games as a returner.

Nevertheless, Cooper forced his way into the discussion by collecting an SEC-record 115 receptions for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns. Against two fierce SEC foes in Auburn and Missouri, the junior closed out the season with 25 grabs, 307 yards and a score, stamping his ticket to the ceremony.

Don't feel too bad for him if he's snubbed. Per ESPN CollegeFootball, he doesn't sound overly concerned about bringing home the hardware.

He certainly deserves this spot as a finalist, and SI.com's People's Heisman poll declared him the slight winner over Mariota. Don't expect that to carry over to the real voting, but it could forebode a closer finish than anticipated.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Heisman Finalists 2014: Predictions for Candidates' Order of Finish

One college football player is about to become a legend Saturday without even picking up a ball. 

Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Alabama’s Amari Cooper are the finalists for the 2014 Heisman Trophy, and the winner will enter a distinguished and private fraternity of players who have become almost mythological figures and heroes.

The only question now is who will take the trophy home. Here is a look at the predicted order of finish for the three candidates:

 

Marcus Mariota

While Gordon dazzled this season on his way to 2,336 rushing yards and Cooper wowed NFL scouts and college football fans alike with 1,656 receiving yards, this choice is clear for the 2014 Heisman.

The case for Mariota begins with the raw statistics.

Mariota led the entire country in passing efficiency at 186.3, tallied a Pac-12 record 53 touchdowns (38 of which were passing touchdowns), threw for 3,783 yards, ran for 669 yards and even threw in a receiving touchdown among those 53 scores for good measure. 

College GameDay recognized Mariota’s statistical success, but it was Paul Myerberg of USA Today who passed along the most ridiculous number of all for the Oregon quarterback:

Incredibly, Mariota threw a measly two interceptions the entire season. That is ultimately what separates him from the rest of the Heisman field and country as a whole. Oregon runs a fast-pace, high-octane offense that incorporates a number of different looks, misdirection and personnel packages. They may confuse an opposing defense, but never Mariota.

The raw number of plays the Ducks run would suggest that Mariota threw at least a handful of interceptions because of a larger sample size, but he always protected the ball.

For context, Florida State’s Jameis Winston, who won the Heisman last season, threw 17 picks this year.

The most important stat regarding Mariota, though, is 12, which is the number of wins he led the Ducks to this season. They reached the College Football Playoff as a result and earned a Pac-12 title and some revenge on Arizona—the only team to beat Oregon this year—along the way.

Mariota has already collected plenty of hardware for his season, including the Maxwell Award as the country’s most outstanding player, the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award and the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award.

Mariota discussed all the recognition, via ESPN.com:

It's surreal. It's surreal. It really all is. Growing up as a kid you always kind of see these award shows. To say that I'm a part of really this fraternity ... it's really just a blessing.

Being from Hawaii, being kinda quiet and reserved to now being a little more vocal and being a part of a special team, it's come a long way for me. It's all been such a blessing.

Mariota’s future is unsurprisingly bright, even though he hasn’t officially declared for the 2015 NFL draft.

He could very well be the top pick in that draft, or at least the top quarterback, and those questions that have dogged Oregon quarterbacks in the past simply don’t apply to Mariota. He is not a system quarterback, not too small (listed at 6’4” and 219 pounds) and can make plays both inside and outside the pocket with his arm and legs.

Before the NFL, though, is a date with Florida State, which has managed to find a way to win every time it takes the field this season despite narrow calls against North Carolina State, Louisville, Notre Dame, Florida, Clemson, Boston College and Georgia Tech, among others.

While the Seminoles certainly deserve all the credit in the world for coming away victorious, there has been a considerable talent gap in their favor every time. That talent gap won’t exist for Winston and company in the Rose Bowl. 

It’s only right that the new Heisman winner ends the old Heisman winner’s bid at a second straight national championship.

 

Follow me on Twitter:

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What Is Auburn's Ceiling with New Defensive Coordinator Will Muschamp?

Will Muschamp has been named the new defensive coordinator for the Auburn Tigers, as Gus Malzahn confirmed. The former Florida Gators head coach brings his defensive acumen to a team that gave up nearly 400 yards per game in 2014.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee break down what Muschamp will bring to Auburn in the future.

Does this hire make Auburn an automatic contender? Check out the video and let us know!     

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Heisman Trophy Ceremony 2014: TV Info, Updated Predictions for Coveted Award

The 80th presentation of the prestigious Heisman Trophy will take place on Saturday evening from New York City, with three of college football's finest athletes looking to become the newest member of the brotherhood of previous winners.

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon and Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper are the only three finalists this year. One could argue that other players should have been included in the final ceremony—Trevone Boykin and Tevin Coleman are the two most widely debated—but there's no denying the fact that the finalists chosen are deserving of their recognition.

Just being considered for the Heisman is something amazing to put on a resume, but somebody has to strike the famous pose by the end of the evening. Who will make history in 2014? Tune in on Saturday night to find out.

 

When: Saturday, Dec. 13

Where: Best Buy Theater, New York City

Time: 8 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: Watch ESPN

 

Prediction

There's no shortage of dynamic talent between Mariota, Gordon and Cooper. While their talents and positions are different, the fact that they dominated opposing defenses throughout the entirety of the 2014 campaign makes them quite similar.

Each player posted gaudy numbers for their teams. Check out the most notable numbers below:

Zac Ellis of SI.com believes that Mariota has the advantage over the field:

The current Heisman race also features three finalists who play different positions. Legitimate arguments exist for Mariota, Gordon and Cooper as the best in the country at what they do. But who is the best player overall? That’s a tough question to answer. However, Mariota is thriving in a Heisman era largely defined by dual-threat quarterbacks. Four running quarterbacks have won the trophy since 2007.

Twelve of the last 14 Heisman winners have been quarterbacks, further helping Mariota's case.

Voters tend to also look at the overall success of a finalist's team, and the Ducks are the No. 3 team in the country. They'll play Florida State (No. 3) in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.

The deck may be stacked against Gordon and Cooper, but the two high-powered athletes have still made strong cases.

The Associated Press broke down Gordon's candidacy as it relates to how close he is to the single-season rushing record, via FoxSports.com:

Gordon leads the nation with 2,336 yards rushing and 179.7 yards per game. Gordon broke the single-game FBS rushing record with 408 yards against Nebraska, a record that only stood for a week. He needs another huge game in the Outback Bowl against Auburn to break Barry Sanders' single-season record of 2,628, set in his Heisman winning season of 1988 with Oklahoma State.

Gordon, however, faltered in the Big Ten Championship Game against Ohio State, gaining just 76 yards and averaging 2.9 yards per carry. Regardless, the tailback has been practicing his Heisman pose:

Cooper has broken countless records en route to his candidacy, so it's no surprise that he's being considered heavily:

The wideout is special. He has incredible speed and hands, but it's his mentality that sets him above the rest. Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban told Michael Casagrande of AL.com about the things that Cooper has overcome to be great:

"He hasn't let little things bother him. Whether it's a little nagging injury or whatever and has just been kind of a demon every time the game comes in terms of how he competes."

That's certainly something to commend, but it won't help him in the overall voting. Mariota is destined to win this award. Fox Sports' Joel Klatt thinks he'll win in a landslide:

He only threw two interceptions, amassed 50 total touchdowns and led his team to the Pac-12 title. The Ducks face a tough test in the Seminoles on Jan. 1, but Mariota can send the Ducks to the title game if he continues his dominant, mistake-free play.

Given the recent success of quarterbacks (and specifically dual-threat signal-callers), Mariota has everything in his favor. He'll be the next addition to the most prestigious fraternity in sports.

 

Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @kennydejohn.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Games Schedule 2014-15: TV Info, Dates and Odds for Entire Slate

The great thing about the bowl season is that it gives a chance for every team to play in the spotlight.

While there has been a lot of coverage on the College Football Playoff—something that won't change because, well, they are the best teams in the nation—the next few weeks give other squads a chance to show what they can do.

Although not everyone is competing for a national championship, a total of 76 teams will try to end their season on a high note with a win in their bowl game. From the fans' perspective, there are a lot of games worth watching besides just the ones on New Year's Day.

Here is a look at the schedule with odds for every bowl game this winter, along with a breakdown of some of the under-the-radar matchups to watch.

All odds courtesy of OddsShark.com.

 

Best Bowls Outside of New Year's Six

Alamo Bowl: Kansas State vs. UCLA

Based on preseason expectations, it wouldn't have been too surprising to see either team competing for a national championship. At the very least, both Kansas State and UCLA had the talent to be in the running for conference titles.

Unfortunately, each squad fell short on the last game of the season with a shot at a conference title on the line.

While they won't be raising trophies this year, each side is still a lot of fun to watch behind two of the most intriguing quarterbacks in the game. UCLA's Brett Hundley has an up-and-down year, but he already decided he will enter the NFL draft and has all the talent to have success there. 

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder is a little intimidated going into this challenge:

On the other hand, Jake Waters is unlikely to be lining up under center in the NFL, but he is still a dynamic player who can make things happen with either his arm or his legs. 

Against a below-average pass defense, Waters has an opportunity to put up some big stats in this one.

In a bowl that has seen some high-scoring battles over the years, this matchup could once again approach 100 points. 

 

Outback Bowl: Auburn vs. Wisconsin

The big story with Wisconsin is the changes in the coaching staff after head coach Gary Andersen left for Oregon State. As a result, athletic director and former head coach Barry Alvarez will be on the sidelines for the Badgers in the bowl game.

While this will be entertaining and will give fans plenty of nostalgia, it won't necessarily lead to much success.

Still, Wisconsin will certainly put up a fight with the best running back in the nation. Melvin Gordon is one of three finalists for the Heisman Trophy and has a legitimate argument to win based on his stats, via Mike Hall of the Big Ten Network:

The problem is Auburn has already faced plenty of talent on both sides of the ball this year:

It's clear the 8-4 record is not indicative of the Tigers' true ability. With some better breaks, and possibly some better home games, they could easily be playing for a national championship.

Auburn should be able to win this game with ease, but it will be entertaining to see some great running plays from Gordon, Nick Marshall and Cameron Artis-Payne. 

 

Belk Bowl: Georgia vs. Louisville

This bowl game is not only good for its on-field matchups, but there are storylines all around, as noted by Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated:

Besides the players who have switched teams, Todd Grantham will have a pretty big role, as noted by Tim Sullivan of The Courier-Journal:

There were many who questioned Grantham's ability as a defensive coordinator during his time with Georgia, but now he has a chance to show what he can do firsthand.

Louisville has the No. 18 scoring defense in the nation, although it will be a challenge to stop running back Nick Chubb, who has been a star for the Bulldogs ever since losing Todd Gurley to injury.

This battle will have talent and passion, two ingredients for a great football game. 

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Heisman Watch 2014: Last-Minute Predictions for Epic Race

The majority of big college football awards were handed out on Thursday night in Orlando, Florida.

Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back and Alabama's Amari Cooper took home the Fred Biletnikoff Award as college football's best wide receiver.

Louisville's Gerod Holliman and his 14 interceptions earned the Jim Thorpe Award (top defensive back), Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright won the Chuck Bednarik Award as the best defensive player in 2014 and Oregon's Marcus Mariotacleaned up.

However, it's Saturday night in New York when the most prized piece of hardware in college football, the Heisman Trophy, will be presented to the latest deserving recipient. 

SportsCenter has the rundown of the three finalists for the award:

All three players have put in outstanding efforts this season, but only one can walk away with the Heisman trophy on Saturday night. Here are some last-minute predictions for the award and the case for each player's candidacy.

 

Third: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

While Cooper and Mariota have quite clearly been the nation's best wideout and best quarterback this season, respectively, it took a few weeks for everyone to catch onto the fact that Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon was an electric combination of speed and power capable of routinely laying waste to even the brainiest defensive coordinator's best-laid plans.

For the first few weeks of the regular season, it was Georgia's Todd Gurley who served as college football's premier running back and it's interesting to think about how the Heisman race might've played out if Gurley was able to put in a full season's work.

Still, there really aren't too many arguments to lobby against 309 carries for 2,336 yards and 26 rushing touchdowns. Gordon's numbers dwarf those of some of the other top-yardage running backs in the nation.

ESPN's Chris Low pointed out on Dec. 4 that the Gordon put up huge numbers against some of the Badgers' fiercest competition:

He has an outside shot at Barry Sanders' single-season record of 2,628 yards. Considering he put up a record-setting 408 yards in just three quarters against Nebraska this season, there's hope yet for Gordon to set the mark.

The achievements are made all the more remarkable by the fact that Gordon simply was the offense for long stretches of the season. Corey Clement finished second on the team in rushing with 824 yards and Badgers quarterbacks Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy combined to complete just 161-of-291 passes for 1,938 yards, 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Still, his accomplishments fall just short of those put up by Cooper and Mariota. Oklahoma's Samaje Perine may have taken away some prestige from Gordon's campaign by breaking the single-game rushing record just a week after Gordon set it.

The diminished stature of the Big Ten as a conference might also hurt Gordon's chances in a race featuring representatives from the SEC and Pac-12.

Gordon will likely finish third but only because someone has to. His stats this year would be worthy of the Heisman in a number of seasons, just not this one.

 

Second: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

Wide receivers don't tend to get much play when it comes to the Heisman trophy. The last time a wideout won the award was Michigan's Desmond Howard in 1991 and he received a huge resume burst with his kick- and punt-return abilities.

Before him, it was Notre Dame's Tim Brown in 1987. Still, the fact that Cooper is even invited to the Heisman ceremony bodes well for his chances to finish above Gordon, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Gordon spent all season long running behind a mammoth offensive line that's one of the best in the country. Alabama has a fine offense, but Cooper was the one who dragged his benefactor, quarterback Blake Sims, to stardom this season.

Sims and Jake Coker combined to complete 258 passes this season. Cooper caught 115 of them (48.3 percent). DeAndrew White was second on the team in receptions with 37. It could hardly have been more obvious whom the ball was going to on any given pass play, but Cooper got open regardless. Cooper was so money, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin started celebrating his touchdowns early.

Few other receivers in the nation can boast numbers comparable to Cooper's, which also include an FBS-leading 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Colorado State's Rashard Higgins has the only comparable line with 89/1,640/17, but he did it against the 77th toughest schedule, while the Crimson Tide played the fifth toughest, per TeamRankings.com.

Cooper credits Kiffin for much of his success this year.

"The script of the first 10 plays, I get excited every time I look at it because I'm featured in about five of them," Cooper said, via AL.com's Michael Casagrande. "So I'm always happy when I look at the first 10 plays knowing that I'll be able to start out fast."

Still, Cooper isn't on the verge of breaking a big national record like Gordon is and that could work against him. If there is one thing that can separate these two players, it might be the stats from their respective conference championships.

Cooper, coming off a 224-yard, three-touchdown performance against Auburn in the Iron Bowl, was the bane of Mizzou's existence in the first half of the SEC Championship Game. He reeled in 10 catches in the first two quarters and finished with 12 receptions for 83 yards. 

Gordon struggled against a bonkers Ohio State defense in a Big Ten Championship shutout loss, gaining just 76 yards on 26 carries.

The latest performances could affect some Heisman voters' thought processes and Cooper's final two games of the calendar year were fine displays of the sure hands and crisp route running that made him such a dominant offensive force in 2014.

 

First: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

Make no mistake, Marcus Mariota will win the 2014 Heisman Trophy. It wouldn't be a terrible thing if either Cooper or Gordon took home the stiff-arming prize, but Mariota's accomplishments this season at the game's toughest position will ensure he wins the award.

As SportsCenter noted, he already has quite a full trophy case, but one more wouldn't hurt:

Former Ducks head coach and current Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly saw Mariota's huge potential when he was freshman and didn't take credit for his current success.

"It had nothing to do with me,” Kelly said via The Philadelphia Inquirer's Jeff McLane. “When he was a freshman I remarked, ‘This kid’s going to win the Heisman.’”

Mariota finished fifth in the nation in passing yardage and second in passing touchdowns with 38.

Sure, the likes of California's Jared Goff (3,973) might have more yards and Western Kentucky's Brandon Doughty threw more touchdowns (44), but Mariota played in arguably the best conference in the nation and casually tossed in 669 rushing yards, 14 rushing touchdowns and a 26-yard scoring reception.

Goff and Doughty? They combined for negative-100 yards rushing and two ground scores.

Mariota also led the country with a passer efficiency rating of 186.3, per ESPN.com. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller gave him a favorable comparison to a current NFL star:

Of the 372 passes he attempted this season, only two were picked off. This essentially makes him the best caretaker quarterback in the nation and that term is almost always reserved for signal-callers who put scoreboard operators to sleep in most games.

He did all this with an offensive line that struggled to protect him at times. Simply put, Mariota was as unflappable as he was unstoppable in 2014.

The Heisman is supposed to represent a single season of achievement, but for Mariota it could very well serve as a career-achievement award of sorts. He's been a dominant college quarterback for three seasons now; 2014 was simply the best he's ever been in a Ducks uniform.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages