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Bahamas Bowl 2014: Full Predictions for Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky

The Central Michigan Chippewas and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers didn't enjoy the most successful of seasons, but each squad was rewarded with a trip to Nassau for the first-ever Bahamas Bowl, Wednesday at noon.

Each team had its fair share of struggles this season. The Chippewas finished in fourth place in the MAC West, as losses to Toledo, Western Michigan and Ball State hurt their standing in the conference.

The Hilltoppers were just 4-4 in Conference USA, though they did take down Marshall in the Thundering Herd's only loss of the season. That was an overtime thriller, resulting in a 67-66 win for Western Kentucky.

There isn't much familiarity between the two teams. The last time they met was in the 2012 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, a game that was won by the Chippewas, 24-21. Will we see a similar result this time around?

Below are a few predictions as to what might go down in the Bahamas on Christmas Eve.

 

Brandon Doughty Will Carve Up Central Michigan

The Hilltoppers rank sixth in the nation in points scored per game (44) and third in passing yards per game (365). That's almost entirely because of senior quarterback Brandon Doughty.

In his sixth year of eligibility because of two injury-riddled seasons, Doughty earned Conference USA MVP honors after tossing 44 touchdowns and amassing 4,344 yards through the air. He did throw 10 interceptions, though a four-interception game against Louisiana Tech on Nov. 1 inflates that number a bit.

As you can see in the accompanying graphic, Doughty's per-game passing average nearly matches the entire offensive output of the Chippewas per game.

CMU knows what's coming. Doughty is the best offensive player on Western Kentucky, and the offense runs through him. Only twice through 12 games has he attempted 26 passes or less. In fact, he averages over 42 attempts per contest.

That has clearly translated to success, as he has three games over 490 passing yards. Two of those games were for over 560. Oh, yeah, and he threw for an unfathomable eight touchdowns against Marshall.

Unforgettable performances like that one led to major recognition. He was given the award dedicated to the best passer in the nation:

Naturally, the Chippewas must be prepared. Head coach Dan Enos said that Doughty "is the best (quarterback) we’ve played all year," via Nate Schneider of The Morning Sun, so it's obvious that he's preaching containment strategies to his defense. The secondary will have to play top-notch coverage against Doughty's weapons.

Even if it does, that's still no guarantee that it'll stop him. He has 19 touchdowns and two interceptions over his last four games, completing over 68 percent of his passes in the process.

He'll definitely top the 400-yard mark against the No. 32 defense in the country, given how he's playing. Expect three touchdowns and another day in the 60s in terms of completion percentage. Even the weather in Nassau isn't hotter than Doughty right now.

 

Devon Spalding Will Surprise for CMU

Running back Thomas Rawls racked up over 1,100 yards and double-dight touchdowns on the ground for CMU this season, but CM Life reported on Monday that he won't be active on Wednesday:

That puts the pressure on Devon Spalding, the freshman who actually led the team in yards per carry (amongst regular rushers) with 5.5.

Not many people know of Spalding, but he's going to surprise against Western Kentucky. He received regular carries in just two games this season. He carried the ball 18 times for 154 yards and two scores against Eastern Michigan on Nov. 1, and he carried it 22 times for 147 yards and two scores the following game against Miami (Ohio).

He has big-play potential, and that's something the Hilltoppers defense has to be ready for. Check out this 51-yard touchdown run from Nov. 15:

The Hilltoppers cannot allow him to get into the second tier of the defense. He excels in open space, as you saw above. He can cut around defenders and make them miss. If the defensive line can contain him, it'll be difficult for him to get yardage.

The graphic tells us that the Hilltoppers are extraordinarily bad against the run, however, so it appears as if Spalding is poised for another productive outing.

He'll reach the 120-yard mark on 18 or so carries, and he'll probably find the end zone at least once. But all those predictions are of the safe variety. Don't be surprised if he blows them out of the water.

 

Prediction

While the Chippewas do play pretty good defense, there's no way this matchup doesn't end in a shootout. Doughty is too good to be held down by a MAC West defense, and Spalding has the chops to succeed against a porous run defense.

CMU simply cannot match the scoring capabilities of Western Kentucky. The only way it can keep up is if Doughty has another four-pick game, but the chances of that are about as low as it snowing in Nassau on Wednesday.

There's going to be plenty of excitement given the fact that this is the inaugural Bahamas Bowl, but don't expect the final result to be all that close.

The Hilltoppers are too strong.

Prediction: Western Kentucky 38, Central Michigan 21

 

Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @kennydejohn

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Hawaii Bowl 2014: Key Factors and Prediction for Fresno State vs. Rice

The records for each team in the Hawaii Bowl might cause some to overlook the matchup, but you can be certain both Fresno State and Rice will be fighting hard to earn a win in this one—set to kick off at 8 p.m. in Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Sure, at 6-7 Fresno State might be the only team this season to enter its bowl game with a losing record. Rice battled back from an awful start to get to 7-5 for the year.

However, there is no chance the intensity in this matchup will be any less than that of some elite teams competing in later bowls. Both sides want to end the year on a high note and will do whatever it takes to get that final win.

With two competitive teams, this battle could come down to just a few players. However, here is a look at the factors that will truly decide the winner in this competition.

 

Brian Burrell Taking Care of the Football

Although he hasn't exactly made people forget about Derek Carr, Brian Burrell has had some big performances this season as Fresno State's quarterback. Head coach Tim DeRuyter was impressed by the play of the junior toward the end of the year:

His best showing came against Nevada, where he accounted for five touchdowns in a 40-20 road win.

Unfortunately, those great efforts often came with bad ones. He finished with at least one interception in 11 of his 13 games this season and totaled 16 picks on the year. In the most recent matchup against Boise State, Burrell's three interceptions took the Bulldogs out of the game.

The good news is Rice has not done the best job of taking away the ball this year. The defense is among the bottom of the nation with just seven interceptions this season, contributing to an opponent passer efficiency that ranks 106th in the FBS.

If Burrell can take advantage of this and avoid turnovers, he will give Fresno State a good chance to win.

 

Rice Using the Rushing Attack

Although Rice has tried to use a balanced attack in most games this year, it is better when the run game is working.

Sophomores Jowan Davis and Darik Dillard make up a formidable tandem in the backfield and can usually take advantage of lanes when there are any. Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle noticed early in the year that this is a group that could blossom into big things:

The good news is there should be a lot of running room in the Hawaii Bowl as Fresno State has struggled all year long to defend the run. The Bulldogs head into the bowl season allowing 206.9 rushing yards per game to rank 103rd in the nation.

Even Rice's inconsistent offensive line should be able to clear some running room for Davis and Dillard to help move the football and control the game.

 

Mentality During Fresno State Streak

Fresno State has done a great job of getting to bowl eligibility lately. Since 1999, the Bulldogs have only missed the postseason on two occasions.

However, just getting a bid is not enough anymore. You want to end the year with a win, and Fresno State has struggled in this aspect in recent years, losing its last five bowl games. This could lead to a lack of confidence going into the next matchup.

On the other hand, DeRuyter has shown a lot of intensity as he prepares for the Hawaii Bowl, via Marek Warszawski of The Fresno Bee:

While some teams go into the bowl season just waiting for the season to end, Fresno State likely wants to win this game more than anything after a bunch of disappointment on this stage. 

 

Prediction

Neither team has shown too much consistency this season, which is why both are playing in the Hawaii Bowl and not on New Year's Eve. This makes it difficult to know what we will get from either side.

What we do know is that Fresno State has a lot of talent on offense that could do damage in this game. Burrell just needs to play an average game for him to take advantage of playmakers like Marteze Waller and Josh Harper.

The Bulldogs defense has been terrible, but so has the Owls defensive unit, with missed tackles and poor positioning plaguing the team all year long.

Although this might not be a pretty game to watch, Fresno State should be able to get back to .500 by defeating Rice in paradise.

Prediction: Fresno State 31, Rice 27

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The 1 Player Each SEC Team Will Miss Most in 2015

All good things must come to an end, including the careers of some of the SEC's best players this season.

Not including the likely notables who will declare their intentions to turn pro in the near future, there's a long list of SEC standouts who have either ended their college careers or will do so in bowl games over the next two weeks. But rather than rank them by overall importance or the impact of their loss, we've singled out one from each school whose absence will be felt the most in 2015.

Check out our list of the player each SEC team will miss the most next season, along with a look at how they'll look to replace these stars.

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Ranking the Best Redshirt Freshmen of 2014 College Football Season

Perhaps a player was shielded by a longtime starter or sustained a season-ending injury last year, which caused the prospect to observe from the sideline and take a redshirt.

But during the 2014 regular season, that young athlete had an opportunity, and he shined.

Redshirt freshmen contributed to college football programs throughout the recent campaign, and some even earned national recognition for their exploits.

But how do they stack up against each other? Let's take an in-depth look at 10 of the best redshirt freshmen college football had to offer during the last four months.

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Holiday Wish List for Top 25 College Football Recruiting Classes

The holiday season is upon us, providing an opportunity for children and adults alike to dream big. Whether you're hoping for the perfect Christmas present or planning to make 2015 the best year of your life, hope springs eternal this time of year.

That sentiment holds true on the college football recruiting trail, where things are heating up six weeks shy of national signing day. We assembled holiday wish lists for each team currently residing in the top 25 of 247Sports' composite class rankings.

Read on to see which prospects could provide some extra cheer for collegiate coaching staffs.

 

Recruit ratings and info courtesy of 247Sports.

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Navy vs. SDSU: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 Poinsettia Bowl

It wasn't always pretty, but it was certainly entertaining. 

Navy and San Diego State combined for seven turnovers during Tuesday night's San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, but the Midshipmen got the last of four lead changes and squeaked out a 17-16 victory. This bowl victory was Navy's third time winning consecutive bowl games, according to ESPN Stats & Info:

Chris Swain led Navy's run-heavy attack with 72 yards on eight carries, quarterback Keenan Reynolds ran for two touchdowns to win Offensive MVP, and the Midshipmen finished with 254 yards on the ground. 

Austin Grebe hit the go-ahead field goal with 1:27 remaining, and ESPN's Travis Haney put it simply for Ken Niumatalolo's squad, which survived four fumbles: 

Niumatalolo was even surprised his team came away with the win per the Associated Press via ESPN.com: "I have no idea how we won the game."

Led by star running back Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State outgained Navy, 327-271. Pumphrey finished with 154 total yards (112 rushing, 42 receiving) and a touchdown, entrenching himself in the school's record books, per the team's official Twitter feed:

But the Aztecs couldn't overcome their own batch of mistakes. They turned the ball over twice in the fourth quarter, and Donny Hageman missed a potential game-winning 34-yard field goal with 24 seconds to go. 

Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel summed it up:

The game's start was an indication of things to come. An interception by Quinn Kaehler on San Diego State's first drive gave Navy a short field, and the Midshipmen took advantage with a quick touchdown drive to take an early 7-0 lead. 

But it took the Aztecs just two minutes to respond. Rashaad Penny took the ensuing kickoff back 57 yards, and four of the next five plays went to Pumphrey, who eventually punched the ball in on a determined third-down run; ESPN College Football highlighted the play:

For the rest of the first half, it was all San Diego State. Pumphrey and Chase Price continued to carve out big chunks of yardage on the ground, and the defensive line got constant penetration and stifled Navy's running game.

Despite a major advantage in yardage, though, the Aztecs had two drives sputter into field goals and carried only a 13-7 lead into halftime. 

The Washington Post's Gene Wang summed it up:

After averaging just 3.0 yards per carry in the first half, Navy found success on the ground immediately out of the locker room. The Midshipmen went 92 yards on 13 plays—all runs—and Reynolds finished the drive with a six-yard run up the gut to make it 14-13. 

Navy's Twitter feed put his second touchdown of the night into historical perspective: 

But then Navy seemingly forgot how to hold onto the ball. 

DeBrandon Sanders fumbled a punt, leading to an SDSU field goal, and on the next three drives, the Midshipmen had one three-and-out and two more fumbles lost at the line of scrimmage. 

The Aztecs couldn't take advantage, though. They mixed in an interception in between those fumbles, and Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde summed up the sloppy nature of the game: 

Pumphrey then fumbled, setting up Navy's game-winning drive. 

The Aztecs would get a chance for the win, but Hageman, who had made his previous three attempts and earlier set an SDSU record for field goals in a season, couldn't come through. 

Yahoo Sports' Frank Schwab wasn't surprised:

It's a disappointing loss for San Diego State, which blew a number of opportunities. But with Pumphrey returning for his junior season, there's reason for optimism. 

For the Midshipmen, Niumatalolo has established some impressive consistency. With the record-breaking Reynolds at the helm, the arrow is pointing up.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State's Receivers Will Be a Matchup Issue for Alabama

When Urban Meyer took over at Ohio State in January 2012, he wasn't high on his receivers, referring to the young group as a "clown show."

Over the past three years, though, that clown show has matured into a strength that could lead the fourth-ranked Buckeyes to a win over No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

That's an advantage Meyer has been working toward since the moment he settled in at Ohio State. It started with the maturation process of two then-sophomores who have become senior leaders for this year's team. Devin Smith, the Buckeyes' blazing deep threat, and Evan Spencer, the unit's do-everything wideout, serve as the foundation for one of the most explosive groups of receivers in the country.

Meyer built on that foundation with his unparalleled ability to recruit playmakers who fit his system. In 2012, the Buckeyes brought in Michael Thomas, who was ranked the No. 3 prep wide receiver in the country. A year later, he brought in 4-star prospects Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall to play H-back (commonly referred to as the Percy Harvin Position), making Ohio State's offense much more lethal. 

That group helped the Buckeyes transition away from the run-heavy strategy deployed last year with Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde in the backfield. With a bevy of talent on the perimeter, Meyer was comfortable putting the ball in the air more frequently, which has led to a more balanced attack. 

A season ago, the Buckeyes ranked 90th nationally in passing yards, averaging just 203.3 yards per game, according to cfbstats.com. This year, the Buckeyes are up 41 spots, averaging 246.8 passing yards per game. 

Play-calling and improved receiver play are the key factors in that spike. Not only that, but the Buckeyes' top three receivers—Smith, Thomas and Marshall—also have all shown the ability to take over a game or dramatically change its momentum. 

Ohio State's receivers pose a big issue for Alabama.

While the Crimson Tide rank 11th overall in total defense, their secondary has been exposed consistently throughout the year. In the season opener against West Virginia, Alabama surrendered 365 passing yards in a 33-23 victory. Those issues didn't go away as the season went along—the Tide gave up an average of 339.3 passing yards to their last three FBS opponents. That included the Auburn game, which featured Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall torching Alabama for a career-high 456 yards and three touchdowns.

The reason for those gaudy numbers? Saban explained them away as a result of "technical" issues, according to Duane Rankin of the Montgomery Advertiser.

I just think that we try to correct the mistakes that we made and show a guy why things happened the way they did. Whether it was eye control, not maintaining position on the receiver, not keeping a guy cut off, not playing the right leverage on the guy when you have help. I think these things are technical in nature, and obviously we want to execute a little better than that. That's how we correct things in the film, and that's what we'll do.

Now, the Tide will need to stop one of the most dynamic groups of playmakers in the country in order to advance to the national championship. Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones knows the challenge that lies ahead.

"Just a lot of guys that can stretch the field and a quarterback who has a live arm," Jones said of the Buckeyes, according to Michael Casagrande of AL.com. "In the back of it, we've just got be in tip-top shape, just knowing what to expect in certain formations and stuff like that and what they like to, what routes they like to run the most. Just being ready."

If Alabama isn't ready, Ohio State has the talent to make them pay.

 

All recruiting information via 247 Sports. Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NCAA.com.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michael Dyer Ruled Academically Ineligible, Won't Play in Belk Bowl

Louisville running back Michael Dyer has been ruled academically ineligible just a week before the No. 21 Cardinals get set to take on No. 13 Georgia in the Belk Bowl. 

FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman had the report:

ESPN 680's Mark Ennis first reported the news.

Further details are unknown, but this continues a tumultuous college career for a player who was once considered one of the brightest young stars in the country. 

In his first two years with Auburn, Dyer tallied 2,351 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns. He broke Bo Jackson's freshman rushing record and was named the MVP of the 2011 BCS national title game after running for 143 yards against Oregon. 

But after reportedly failing a drug test, he was suspended by the team and ultimately released from his scholarship so he could follow Gus Malzahn to Arkansas State. Less than a year later, he was then dismissed from that team, as well, following a traffic incident that involved a handgun

Dyer then attended Arkansas Baptist College before enrolling at Louisville last year with two years of eligibility remaining. 

He seemed to have carved out a nice role with the Cardinals, rushing for 173 yards against NC State and then racking up 134 and three scores against Florida State, the defending national champions. 

But this is yet another setback, further decreasing his hopes of earning a late-round NFL draft pick.

As for the Cardinals, leading rusher Brandon Radcliff will handle the majority of the backfield work against Georgia, while senior Dominique Brown is likely to see his role increase. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Marshall vs. Northern Illinois: Score, Twitter Reaction for 2014 Boca Raton Bowl

In a battle of two teams looking for respect after outstanding seasons, Marshall (13-1) took down Northern Illinois (11-3), 52-23, to claim the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl.

Marshall Football provided a look at the final score and reaction from FAU Stadium:

Rakeem Cato led the Thundering Herd, going 25-of-37 with 281 passing yards, 25 rushing yards and five total touchdowns. Fellow senior Tommy Shuler also went out on a high note, with a staggering 18 receptions, 185 receiving yards and one touchdown. Devon Johnson also tallied 131 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Cato capped his illustrious career with the Herd by extending a record he set prior to Tuesday night, as ESPN Stats & Info noted:

That list includes an already successful NFL quarterback in Russell Wilson and 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. Needless to say, Cato has enjoyed plenty of collegiate success.

Cato's final game was an emotional one, as he wore the No. 31 jersey to honor linebacker Evan McKelvey, who suffered an ACL injury earlier this season. He also played in his hometown for his season finale, something he spoke about prior to the game.

"It is only fitting," Cato said, via Scott Alan Salomon of the Sun Sentinel. "When I found out that I was going to play my final game [in Boca Raton], I fell to my knees and thanked the Lord. ... These four years have been a blessing. I came to Marshall as a boy, and I am leaving as a man."

Grant Traylor of The Herald-Dispatch also pointed out how huge the night was for Shuler, who set several career marks:

While Cato shined during his final game, it was NIU that got the upper hand early. Drew Hare connected with Juwan Brescacin on a 19-yard touchdown that put the Huskies up with 7:33 remaining in the first.

Marshall wasted no time in responding. On the ensuing kickoff, Deandre Reaves returned it for a touchdown. ESPN College Football provided a look at the massive return:

Cato got the offense going on the next drive with a five-play, 42-yard drive that he capped with a five-yard rushing score.

Northern Illinois clawed back with two field goals in the second quarter, but a Devon Johnson rushing touchdown kept Marshall in control. The Herd carried a 24-13 lead into the half thanks to their success on the ground.

That would change in the second half, as Cato's arm stole the show.

A 24-yard Cameron Stingily rushing touchdown was sandwiched between two Cato passing touchdowns to Shuler and Angelo Jean-Louis respectively. Those were then overshadowed in the fourth quarter by a 27-yard strike to Deon-Tay McManus.

Traylor noted just how impressive the final touchdown pass was for Cato:

Even with four touchdowns at that point, Cato wasn't quite done. He capped off his huge night with yet another score on the ground, this time from four yards out after a 41-yard drive.

ESPN College Football provided a look at Cato's final touchdown of his career:

Despite the loss, Northern Illinois still has a lot to be proud of after another successful season. Heading into a huge part of the recruiting season, the Huskies can hold their heads high following a fifth straight 10-plus-win campaign.

Much like its opponent, Marshall heads into next season with a ton of confidence. Even with the loss of several senior leaders like Cato and Shuler, the Herd should be competitive again in Conference USA in 2015 and have a shot at another bowl win.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football Practice Report: Trojans Have Been in Nebraska's Shoes

LOS ANGELES — Members of the USC football team commemorated their last practice at Howard Jones Field on Tuesday by switching jerseys: Leonard Williams sported Hayes Pullard's No. 10, Nelson Agholor wore Khaliel Rodgers' No. 62 and so on. 

"I got it figured out when Randall Telfer [was] running with Chad Wheeler's [No.] 72," offensive line coach Tim Drevno said. 

A little bit of role-reversal in the Trojans' Holiday Bowl preparation is fitting—as Nebraska is an opponent in whose proverbial shoes USC has walked. 

The Cornhuskers come to San Diego in transition, much as the Trojans were a year ago.

After seven seasons as Nebraska's head coach, Bo Pelini was fired on Nov. 30. Just a few days later, a familiar face from the Pac-12 was tabbed as his replacement: former Oregon State sideline general, and USC alum, Mike Riley. 

But because Riley will not coach his first game until next September, Nebraska heads into Saturday's encounter with USC at Qualcomm Stadium at 8 p.m. ET with run-game coordinator and tight-end and offensive-line coach Barney Cotton filling in. 

Cotton is in the same position as Trojans offensive coordinator Clay Helton last December. Helton was the interim to interim head coach Ed Orgeron, who quit just prior to the Las Vegas Bowl after current head coach Steve Sarkisian was hired. 

"It was tough," quarterback Cody Kessler said. "But it's about the players on the field." 

For that reason, USC knows intimately not to take a team in flux lightly come bowl season. 

Kessler threw for a then-career-high four touchdown passes in the Trojans' 45-20 romp over Fresno State last year. 

USC wants to avoid the role-reversal with Nebraska reflecting a similar outcome, with the team in transition coming out on top. 

Thus, despite the fun of a pre-practice jersey swap, the Trojans' last practice on campus before heading south to San Diego was intense. 

"I'm for it when they practice really well," Sarkisian said. "And they practiced good today." 

 

Dueling Defensive Stars 

Another way in which Nebraska reflects USC—and vice versa—is that the Cornhuskers have one of the nation's premier lineman anchoring their defense. 

Randy Gregory is a potential top-five pick in this spring's NFL draft, much like USC's Williams. Each is a handful for opposing offensive lines, capable of wreaking havoc in the backfield. 

"They're very similar in terms of football awareness," Drevno said. 

Gregory comes into the Holiday Bowl with seven sacks and 8.5 tackles for the loss on the season. And as opponents prepping for the Trojans have had to all season, USC is devoting plenty of focus to adjusting for Gregory's versatility up front. 

"They use him a variety of ways," Sarkisian said of Gregory. "He's not just an edge-rusher. They'll bring him on interior pressures [and] they'll put him in an odd-front." 

Nebraska's use of Gregory is similar to that of USC's with Williams—not necessarily an end, not necessarily a tackle, but wholly a threat. 

Freshman Toa Lobendahn will have the unenviable task of matching up with Gregory on the outside, but Sarkisian said stopping the Nebraska star isn't solely the duty of the converted left tackle. 

"We can't go into the game thinking 50 times [of] Randy Gregory vs. Toa Lobendahn is going to go 50-0," Sarkisian said. "So we're going to have to use a variety of protections, different schemes, whether it's the running back, tight end [or] slide to him.

"And that goes for their defense," Sarkisian added. "We have to mix it up on them." 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football Practice Report: Trojans Have Been in Nebraska's Shoes

LOS ANGELES — Members of the USC football team commemorated their last practice at Howard Jones Field on Tuesday by switching jerseys: Leonard Williams sported Hayes Pullard's No...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Tennessee Football: Ranking the 5 Best Redshirt Freshmen for the Vols

In an attempt to overhaul the roster as quickly as possible, second-year Tennessee Volunteers head coach Butch Jones started an inordinate number of freshmen in 2014.

With so many youngsters forced into action, very few new arrivals were able to use their first year on campus lifting in the weight room and studying film. 

Instead, players like Jalen Hurd, Derek Barnett and Todd Kelly Jr. not only played early and often against top competition—they thrived.

Out of Tennessee's 30-plus-strong 2014 class, only a handful of players didn't see action on the field this year.

While these redshirt freshmen may not have received the valuable in-game reps that their peers benefited from, they had the luxury of adding weight and adjusting to the speed of college football.

Here are five of Tennessee's best redshirt freshmen who will have the biggest impacts on the team in 2015. 

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Tennessee's Butch Jones' Christmas Present to Walk-On Turns into Scholarship

In the spirit of Christmas, Tennessee coach Butch Jones gave Volunteers tight end Alex Ellis the best present a walk-on player could ever ask for.

During a team meeting, Jones announced that he was going to hand out bowl gifts to some deserving players. That's when he called Ellis up to the front of the room and gave the redshirt junior a fantastic present: a scholarship.

Ellis' family is going to have a tough time topping that present. 

[UT SportsFootball]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: Holiday Wish List for the Bruins

'Tis the holiday season for Jim Mora and the UCLA football program. 

For those adults longing for the days in which you can revert back to an eager youngster ready to ravage through gifts, this piece is for you. 

In terms of a wish list, there are three items that UCLA would love to collect during this season of spirit. 

Two of the potential "presents" deal directly with recruiting. A third item on the list strictly revolves around the bowl game vs. Kansas State on Jan. 2 at 6:45 p.m.

 

Sign an elite skill player on offense

When looking at UCLA's current crop of commitments for the 2015 class, Scout.com 5-star tight end Alize Jones stands out as the highest-ranked skill position player committed.

The Bishop Gorman High School product is a walking mismatch. He truly represents the new-age player at the position with his ability not only to line up as a traditional tight end but also to split out wide as a bigger receiver.

Jones would instantly impact UCLA's depth chart and would likely play early as a freshman. 

However, his level of commitment could be described as shaky at best. Notre Dame has been—and continues to be—a fixture within his recruitment. 

Jones' high school teammate and good friend Nicco Fertitta is committed to the Fighting Irish. The two have traveled to South Bend multiple times together, and Fertitta is undeniably trying to bring his teammate with him to college. 

Should UCLA not be able to hold onto Jones, there are two players in particular whom it can pivot to. 

Staying at the tight end position, UCLA is targeting Chris Clark. Rated as the top tight end in the country by Scout.com, Clark is a different player compared to Jones. 

He's much more in the traditional mold of a true tight end—something UCLA hasn't had since the days of Joe Fauria. Clark could theoretically act as a security blanket for whomever will man the quarterback position while also acting as a bigger option blocking on the line in run situations. 

UCLA can also point to its solid track record of putting tight ends into the NFL. Cory Harkey, Logan Paulsen, Marcedes Lewis and Fauria have all made impacts this year playing on the next level. 

Additionally, there's no question UCLA could use a bit more explosiveness out of its offense. One player fitting the bill considerably in this case could be elite running back Soso Jamabo. 

Rated as the best back in the nation by 247Sports, Jamabo has long considered UCLA as one of his favorites. According to many pundits from the site, UCLA could be the favorite at this point to land him. 

Potentially combining Jamabo with Paul Perkins would give UCLA a very good one-two punch in the backfield. 

Signing either (if not both) Clark and Jamabo would go a long way in helping UCLA's offense become even more productive and explosive. 

 

Finishing off the recruiting season well

Staying with the theme of recruiting, UCLA should hope to finish off this recruiting cycle strong. This includes not only signing prospects but also holding onto the commitments it has currently. 

As previously stated, holding onto Jones will likely be an endeavor lasting all the way up until signing day in February. 

Recruiting in general is extremely fluid and fickle in nature. These are impressionable young men at a young age. There's no telling how an official visit will impact one's commitment level to any school. In the case of UCLA, it appears as if most of the commitments are solid. 

From sheer speculation, one commitment in question could be linebacker Victor Alexander. It's always a tricky proposition garnering a commitment from the other side of the country. The Jacksonville, Florida, native committed to UCLA over a year ago.

With that said, he's still yet to visit the campus in any capacity. 

As signing day gets closer and closer, the allure of staying closer to home (and attending either Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech) could prove to be too much. Running back T.J. Simmons (also from Florida) could fall into the same category.

In terms of trying to garner commitments, UCLA is pursuing players from all across the country.

In terms of feasibility, the prospects UCLA could have the best chance with include Clark, Jamabo, Osa Masina, Jeffery Holland, DeChaun Holiday, Nathan Meadors, Josh Wariboko, Carlos Strickland, Fotu Leiato, Maea Teuhema, Tyrone Wheatley, Benning Potoae and Jojo Wicker.

Kyon Clark and Semisi Uluave also could be possibilities. 

Scout.com has UCLA with the No. 7 recruiting class in the country. When looking at average star ranking per commitment, the Bruins are tops in the nation—with a 3.89 star-rating-per-recruit average. 

 

A win versus Kansas State

A victory over a very tough Kansas State team in the Valero Alamo Bowl would be the perfect way for Mora and his program to start the 2015 season. 

The matchup alone is intriguing for a variety of reasons. For one, this could be the best bowl game outside of the major ones. This game pits two highly ranked teams from power conferences in a complete clashing of styles. 

Bill Snyder is also one of the best coaches in football—regardless of level. UCLA will have to play with a tremendous amount of focus and energy. The Wildcats rarely beat themselves and are more often than not a team with terrific discipline and physicality. 

A win versus a highly respectable opponent in a good bowl game would be another notch in Mora's belt. It could continue to signify UCLA's ascent as a hot program in the landscape of college football. 

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UCLA Football: Holiday Wish List for the Bruins

'Tis the holiday season for Jim Mora and the UCLA football program. For those adults longing for the days in which you can revert back to an eager youngster ready to ravage through gifts, this piece is for you...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Pac-12 Football: Holiday Wish List for Every Team

Not every Pac-12 team is going bowling this holiday season, but everybody could use a few presents, and we're here to help pick out the very best ones.

For the league's lone playoff participant—the Oregon Ducks—there's nothing Nike Chairman Phil Knight can't buy that he hasn't already bought, and with the team going 12-1 and getting a shot at a national title, the wish list isn't too long.

On the other end of the spectrum, Colorado and Washington State could use a number of presents ranging from improved defenses to better recruiting and everything in between.

But whether your favorite team is coming off a two-win season or leaving behind a 12-win path of destruction, there's always room to improve. Let's take a look at the holiday wish list for every team in the Pac-12.

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Pac-12 Football: Holiday Wish List for Every Team

Not every Pac-12 team is going bowling this holiday season, but everybody could use a few presents, and we're here to help pick out the very best ones...

Begin Slideshow

Texas A&M Football: Why Kyle Allen Needs to Have a Big Liberty Bowl

The Texas A&M football team will play the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Liberty Bowl on December 29. Texas A&M quarterback Kyle Allen needs to have a good game for a number of reasons. 

The Aggies are 7-5 and going through a transition year. They are a very young team, and that youth extends to the quarterback position, where Allen is starting as a true freshman.

Allen has displayed the ability to win big games in the Aggies' 41-38 road victory over Auburn. He can write his place in Aggie football history if he were to lead the Aggies to a bowl win in his first year.

This is a look at why Kyle Allen needs to have a big game in the Liberty Bowl against West Virginia.  

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Florida State Wise to Extend Jimbo Fisher's Contract Before NFL Comes Calling

With a national title under his belt and a shot at another coming up in the next few weeks, Jimbo Fisher has the kind of resume that figures to make him an enticing option for NFL teams looking to dip into college for their next coach.

Florida State has recognized this, announcing Tuesday it inked Fisher to an eight-year contract extension through the 2022 season that should make it easier to keep him from jumping to the pros.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the release said Fisher—who was paid just under $3.6 million for this season—will be "one of college football's highest paid coaches." Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports tweeted that Fisher's average salary would be around $5.5 million, trailing only the Alabama's Nick Saban and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio.

Fisher's name hasn't been mentioned for potential NFL openings like other college coaches, such as Brian Kelly at Notre Dame or Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, but that could change soon, especially if he leads the Seminoles to a second straight FBS title next month.

The 49-year-old has spent his entire coaching career in college, with this being his fifth season in charge of FSU, but his combination of age, experience and success makes him a viable NFL candidate.

"I never had an urge to go to the NFL," Fisher told the Orlando Sentinel's Mike Bianchi, who advocated for the Miami Dolphins to fire Joe Philbin to lure Fisher from FSU in the Dec. 17 column (though since then, Miami owner Stephen Ross announced Philbin would be retained for 2015). "I like college kids. I don't think you ever say never in this business—I've learned that—but I don't have a drive to go to the NFL; that's not an ultimate goal."

Fisher's public statements regarding the NFL can only be believed so much, since money can mean a lot. NFL teams can pay much more than college teams, as his reported $5.5 million average salary in the extension would only put him 11th if it were a pro contract.

Another motivating factor to head to the NFL would be avoiding dealing with major roster turnover again this offseason. This happens in the pros, too, but teams have a little more control over it than in college, where seniors graduate and some underclassmen declare early for the draft. FSU figures to lose quarterback Jameis Winston, among others, and this could lead to a rebuilding year in 2015.

But there was a similar concern heading into this season, yet FSU has a 29-game win streak going. And the recruiting success that Fisher and his staff has had should minimize the effect of the roster attrition, especially with Fisher's reputation for developing quarterbacks and commitments from two highly regarded passers for 2015.

Fisher also seems to genuinely like the challenge of the recruiting landscape, telling Bianchi, "I like the interaction of recruiting and then developing these college kids when they're 18-22 (years old). It's fun. It really is."

The move by FSU to ink Fisher to this long-term deal makes sense, and not just because it's easier than having to deal with a new coach search in the near future. He's winning, he's loved by the fanbase and his players, and he's managed to weather losing multiple coordinators to other programs without any on-field performance backslide. He's also helped steer the ship during the rough seas of controversy that have swirled around the program beyond just what Winston has been involved in.

While Fisher might be criticized by some for defending Winston and others in hot water too unwaveringly, that can also speak to his dedication to the program in that he's trying to separate football from non-football situations. It's also been cited by at least one incoming recruit, running back Jacques Patrick, as a reason for choosing FSU over other schools, as Josh Newberg of 247Sports.com reported:

After a season like this, with seemingly the entire college football world waiting (perhaps, hoping) for FSU to fall from its perch, the idea of bolting for a more lucrative gig in the NFL could have been very enticing. Fisher likely wouldn't have signed this deal if that was really an option for him, though, and Florida State wouldn't have made this extension if it didn't think Fisher was the guy it wanted to ride with for a long, long time.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Poinsettia Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for Navy vs. San Diego State

The Navy Midshipmen and the San Diego State Aztecs are getting ready to do battle in the Poinsettia Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The game will kick off at 9:30 p.m. EST, and it will be televised on ESPN.

Navy comes into the game with a 7-5 record and automatically got the Poinsettia Bowl bid as soon as it defeated South Alabama. The Midshipmen have won five of their last six games because of their running game, which averages over 340 yards per game.

The Midshipmen are going up against a San Diego State team that also has a 7-5 record and can also run the ball. Running back Donnel Pumphrey leads the Aztecs. Pumphrey comes into the game with 1,755 rushing yards and only needs 88 yards to break the single-season school record.

Be sure to come back to this blog as soon as the game kicks off for the latest scoring updates, highlights and analysis.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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