Feed aggregator

College Football Playoff Schedule 2015: Full Bracket and Storylines to Watch

When the sun rose on the new year, it brought the biggest change college football has seen in nearly 20 years. Thursday marks the start of the College Football Playoff in which Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State compete to determine the national champion. 

For the first time in a long time, it feels like there's no controversy over who the true champion in college football will be. There might be some nitpicks from outsiders saying that other teams had a case as one of the four teams, but that's a small gripe compared to what the BCS usually offered. 

The only bad part of the playoff is the 11-day wait between the semifinals and championship game on January 12. In anticipation of the College Football Playoff, here are the storylines to watch and a look at the bracket released from the selection committee. 

 

Alabama vs. Ohio State

Is Alabama's Defense Getting Too Much Credit?

When you think of Nick Saban's team, defense is the first thing that comes to mind. That hasn't been the case in 2014, as Blake Sims and Amari Cooper have given the offense an explosive element it lacked with Greg McElroy and A.J. McCarron. 

A lot of credit has to go to offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, which speaks to Saban's ability to adapt his style, as noted by Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com:

The master of controlling, power football decided to speed things up and spread things out. He supported "fast ball" and "speed ball" after initially challenging the up-tempo philosophy. He has mixed in some of that previous burly ball, but for the most part, Saban has adapted to the more modern offensive approach. He is letting his passing game set up the run and has his most explosive Alabama offense ever. 

While the offense has taken steps forward, there's a lingering question about the defense that will come into play at some point. 

Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart acknowledged that his group has been exploited in the last two games against Auburn, via Michael Casagrande of AL.com:

We got exposed. Auburn did a great job passing the ball, throwing those deep balls, attacking us. I don't think our kids respected their wideouts enough and they have good wideouts just like this team does. They challenged us to stop them vertically down the field and we didn't make some plays that we should have made and we put them in some tough situations as well.

There's no doubt that Alabama's defense is stout against the run. The Crimson Tide led the nation with three rushing touchdowns allowed and tied for the second-fewest yards allowed per carry (2.8), via Yahoo.com

Defending the pass, specifically deep down the field, has become an issue. Auburn exposed it, and Missouri kept that trend going in the SEC Championship Game. Tigers quarterback Maty Mauk only went 16-of-34, but he wound up with 272 yards because of four completions that gained at least 25 yards. 

Cardale Jones doesn't have much experience as a starting quarterback, but he's got four wide receivers who averaged at least 14 yards per reception. Devin Smith leads the stable with an astounding 25.6 yards per catch and 11 touchdowns. 

The Buckeyes should be able to create big plays based on what's happened with Alabama's defense, but it's what happens when those opportunities aren't there that will determine the outcome.

The Crimson Tide are stronger in the trenches and should be able to procure a victory thanks to their offensive aptitude and ability to make an offense one-dimensional. 

 

Oregon vs. Florida State

The Second-Half Adjustment

The story of Florida State's season can be defined by everything that happens in the locker room at halftime. Head coach Jimbo Fisher's speeches may not be the same, but the end result for his team is often brilliant. 

According to Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com, no team in the country has been better in the final 30 minutes of a game than the Seminoles:

Florida State has outscored Power 5 opponents by 8.6 points per game in the second half, second-best among Power 5 teams behind TCU, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. A big reason why are the defensive improvements. In their past eight games, the FSU defense has given up fewer yards in the second half seven times. Opponents have scored 125 total points in the second half. Compare that to Oregon, which has given up 151 second-half points. 

There seems to be no limit to Florida State's ability in the second half, though Oregon poses a different challenge. The Seminoles are notoriously slow starters, which isn't a good thing going against a Ducks offense that ranks third in the nation with 46.3 points per game. 

Oregon's explosiveness on offense will require Florida State's defense to do something it hasn't done all year: get to the quarterback. Marcus Mariota is dangerous in any situation, but with no pass rush to worry about, he becomes the most lethal weapon in college football. 

Paul Myerberg of USA Today noted the Seminoles are wholly dependent on one player for production from the defensive front:

The play of Florida State's line depends almost entirely on the play of junior Eddie Goldman, an all-conference pick along the inside. In fact, it's fair to make the case that Goldman's play will dictate the overall production of the Seminoles' entire defense. As good as Goldman is, the Seminoles' line has been a disappointment. FSU has only 17 sacks all season, and only 10 of those came from players classified as linemen.

No quarterback is better in a two-minute drill than Jameis Winston, and he's shown a knack for overcoming turnovers without batting an eye. 

However, if Florida State allows Oregon to strike early and often in the first half, keeping the Ducks at bay in the second half doesn't seem likely. It's imperative the Seminoles stay within shouting distance before halftime in order for those adjustments to keep working.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Conflicting Reports Emerge Regarding Dak Prescott's NFL Draft Decision

Coming off a standout junior season with Mississippi State, quarterback Dak Prescott's future is the subject of conflicting reports

The SEC Network reported Prescott would be returning to Starkville, courtesy of ESPN broadcaster Brent Musburger:

However, Musberger's report was contradicted by Michael Bonner of the Clarion Ledger:

Prescott led Mississippi State to a 10-3 record in 2014, finishing with 3,449 passing yards, 986 rushing yards, 41 total touchdowns and 11 interceptions. In the Capital One Orange Bowl versus Georgia Tech on Wednesday, he went 33-of-51 for 453 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in a 49-34 loss.

His performance in the SEC West earned him praise from Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson in early December, via Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report:

The 21-year-old signal-caller emerged in 2014 as a potential Heisman candidate, with the Bulldogs rising all the way to No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings. They were unable to sustain that success, but Prescott still saw his stock rise thanks to his inspired play.

Given the success Mississippi State enjoyed with Prescott under center in 2014, his senior campaign will likely be a special one. The Bulldogs have a huge presence back on offense and remain contenders in the tough SEC West.

Having another season under his belt will also be huge for Prescott. Getting a chance to prove he's a more consistent quarterback in 2015 would boost his draft stock while he also takes care of some unfinished business in college.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Cotton Bowl 2015: Live Score, Highlights for Michigan State vs. Baylor

Baylor 21, Michigan State 14—Mid 2nd Quarter

The No. 8 Michigan State Spartans are battling the fifth-ranked Baylor Bears in the 2015 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

ESPN is broadcasting the matchup. Bleacher Report is providing scoring updates and analysis. Please add your thoughts in the comments section.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State vs. Alabama: Breaking Down Key Matchups in Sugar Bowl 2015

There's a reason the Alabama Crimson Tide are nine-point favorites heading into their Sugar Bowl battle with the Ohio State Buckeyes, per Odds Shark. On paper, Alabama is faster, deeper and the Bucks are starting a third-string quarterback. 

To top all of that off, the game is being played at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana, where you'd expect Crimson Tide fans to fill out the seats more than Buckeye Nation.

It's hard to argue with any of those assessments, but the truth of the matter is games aren't won and lost with projections. The Tide and Bucks will settle things on the field. Here are the three key matchups that will determine a victor.

 

WR Amari Cooper vs. CB Doran Grant and the Buckeyes Secondary

Has a wide receiver ever been the most dangerous weapon in an Alabama offense? That's the case right now with Amari Cooper.

The job of slowing down Cooper can't fall on the shoulders of one man. Though, per College Football 24/7, Grant says he'll play Cooper "man up":

There's a chance Grant, Eli Apple and others will have their chance to cover Cooper one-on-one, but the Buckeyes will have to pick those spots carefully. In addition to the corners, the Ohio State safeties Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell will need to do their best to offer help over the top. 

Cooper is too good to stop altogether, but limiting him is Ohio State's only chance to slow down Alabama's passing game. I can't believe I just typed that.

 

OL Ryan Kelly and Leon Brown vs. DL Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington

Even with Cooper, everything 'Bama does is still built on the running game. Success in that area is about getting a push up front. The Buckeyes need Michael Bennett to be a presence in the middle on defense. As Ohio State's top defensive tackle, the initial responsibility for shutting down running lanes will fall on him.

Chances are 'Bama won't leave it up to Kelly or Brown to contain Bennett. A combination of the two will look to win the war in the trenches and help to establish 'Bama's ground game. If Bennett is subdued, Washington must take the opportunity to make his presence felt.

 

DL Joey Bosa vs. OL Cam Robinson

Robinson has been a wonder child this season. He became the first true freshman to start at left tackle for Alabama in the Nick Saban era. He's held his own against most of the top defensive linemen in the SEC, and that includes helping to limit SEC Defensive Player of the Year Shane Ray to half a sack in the SEC title game.

Now Robinson has another stiff test in front of him in Bosa. Austin Ward of ESPN.com also sees this as a key matchup:

Bosa led Ohio State in sacks with 13.5, and the Bucks need him to generate pressure on 'Bama quarterback Blake Sims.

If Ohio State has to blitz to get to Sims, that's fewer players the team can commit to coverage. That might mean one less guy to deal with Cooper, which could be disastrous for the Buckeyes defense.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Citrus Bowl 2014: Breaking Down Keys to Victory in Missouri vs. Minnesota Game

This is nice.

A bowl game at a truly neutral site where neither team will have a built-in advantage. The Florida Citrus Bowl will be played on New Year's Day in Orlando, Florida. It's far away from the campuses of the Missouri Tigers and the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Ideally, this is the way bowl games should be set up.

All that said, the early word suggests that the Golden Gophers fans might be traveling a little better than Missouri's. Per Marcus R. Fuller of the Pioneer Press, Gophers head coach Jerry Kill said this about fan interest in the game:

It was 12 degrees in Minneapolis on Wednesday, and the high is 25 on New Year's Day. Gophers fans are happy to have an excuse to travel to Florida to escape the cold. The fan interest will be big, but the chess match from the sidelines is also compelling.

Seeing these two teams led by top-notch head coaches, Gary Pinkel and Kill, is great. Both programs are attempting to establish themselves on different levels. Missouri is still trying to sustain long-term respect in the SEC, and Kill talked about how big a win this would be for the rebuilding foundation of Golden Gophers football.

Per Odds Shark, the Tigers are a 6.5-point favorite, but the game won't be played in Las Vegas, literally or figuratively. Each team has areas to focus on if it hopes to be victorious. Here are the biggest keys for the Tigers and Golden Gophers.

 

Minnesota: Run the Football Effectively

When teams have beaten Missouri this season, they have done it by running right at them. In the three defeats Missouri has had, the opposition racked up an average of 231 yards per game on the ground. In wins, Mizzou's defense only allowed 106.

The Golden Gophers happen to have one of the most underrated running backs in the nation in David Cobb. On the season, the 5'11" senior ran for 1,548 yards and 12 touchdowns. 

If he and his offensive line can deliver against Missouri, this one could get really interesting.

 

Missouri: Pressure Without Blitzing

Stopping the run and maintaining balance on defense will be much easier for the Tigers if they don't have to blitz to get pressure on Mitch Leidner. Minnesota has a pretty one-dimensional attack.

Leidner has thrown almost as many picks (8) as he has touchdown passes (10). The only way he can hurt Missouri with his arm is if he's given a great deal of time to throw. The much-maligned quarterback had to delete his Twitter account, per Joe Christensen of the (Minnesota) Star-Tribune, to escape verbal abuse from overzealous fans.

The pressure from the Tigers defensive line could be even worse than the heat from angry Gophers fans.

Shane Ray and Markus Golden will be tasked with winning their matchups at the line of scrimmage to further squash the miniature Minnesota passing game. If the duo has their way, Leidner's haters will have more ammunition for their criticism.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Game Predictions 2015: Full Schedule and Picks for Remaining Contests

Do not be the foolish football fan who turns away from bowl season just yet now that the NFL playoffs are here.

Things as of late have been quite exciting. Notre Dame slipped past LSU in a classic at the Music City Bowl. USC outlasted Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. Arizona State did the same against Duke in the Sun Bowl.

These are reasons to stay locked into bowl season, not turn away. Games of big and small meaning continue to provide thrilling action, which is both a testament to those in charge of making the games and the parity of the sport.

As they say, the best is yet to come.

 

2014-15 College Football Bowl Schedule

 

Underrated Matchups to Watch 

Alamo Bowl: Kansas State vs. UCLA

The Alamo Bowl is a consolation prize for the Kansas State Wildcats and UCLA Bruins, a pair of teams that allowed conference titles to slip right past their fingertips. 

Both are angry and want a win.

Kansas State fell right behind Baylor and TCU in the Big 12 thanks to losses to the three best teams it played all season—the aforementioned two and Auburn. UCLA lost in the middle of the season to Utah and Oregon and then finished the season with a dud of a 31-10 loss to Stanford.

Observers win, though, as a war of wills is set to unfold:

The Kansas State defense is still great. This same unit held then-No. 5 Auburn to just 20 points. A 38-27 loss to Baylor looks rough, but the secondary did hold Bryce Petty to 412 yards with a touchdown and interception—one of just three times the Bears quarterback failed to throw for multiple touchdowns in a game this year. 

As an added bonus, the locale seems to favor the Wildcats, as Kellis Robinett of The Kansas City Star captures:

The Wildcats will need all the help they can get against Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley.

Hundley runs roughshod on most defenses he encounters. This year he has completed 70.4 percent of his passes for 3,019 yards and 21 touchdowns to five interceptions, with another 548 yards and eight scores on the ground.

In what may be his last collegiate game before leaving for the pros, Hundley will be motivated to make a serious statement against a strong defense.

Dual-threat players under center such as Hundley have given Kansas State the most trouble this year, hence losses to a Nick Marshall-led Auburn and Trevone Boykin of TCU. Look for the Bruins signal-caller to have a massive day in all facets as his team pulls away late.

Prediction: UCLA 30, Kansas State 24

 

Birmingham Bowl: East Carolina vs. Florida

With interim coach D.J. Durkin at the helm before Jim McElwain takes over next year, the Florida Gators look to finish the 2014 campaign strong with a victory against a prolific aerial attack.

Durkin understands the task at hand in the Birmingham Bowl against the nation's third-ranked passing attack.

"Our guys know the challenge we have ahead of us," Durkin said, per STATS LLC (via ESPN.com). "Everyone keeps mentioning all the stats and numbers, which are very impressive and eye opening. The most important thing to me, when you turn on the film, is that they have a group of guys who play the game the right way."

Florida is no slouch defensively, though, with an average of just over 21 points allowed per game. A strong rushing attack that ranks among the top 50 in the nation figures to provide a strong counter to Shane Carden's aerial assault.

A miserable forecast helps, too, as Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel points out:

Carden has been great this season with 4,309 yards and 28 touchdowns, plus six more as a rusher. Sloppy conditions against a strong defense is not a recipe for success, though.

Look for Florida to ride a stout rushing attack early and often:

Florida's defense catches a serious break given the forecast, as errant throws are a forgone conclusion in a slick environment.

So long as the Gators can capitalize on those and control the clock, the Gators will end one era on a positive note and usher in another at the same time.

Prediction: Florida 27, East Carolina 24

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Championship 2015: Schedule and Predictions for Playoff Games

The moment college football fans have been waiting years to see has finally arrived. The New Year brings with it the semifinals of the inaugural College Football Playoff, featuring the top four teams in the country looking to leave their historic mark on the sport. 

Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State have taken very different paths to get here, but all of them are fighting over the same goal. In a year with no great teams, these four stood above the rest. There is at least one significant question mark each must overcome to win a title, which makes these matchups even more fascinating. 

The mark of a championship team is one that can overcome adversity to win. All four teams have done that at various points in the year. One can make a strong, legitimate argument for any of these schools to win the national title. 

Here's a breakdown of the College Football Playoff, complete with predictions and analysis of what will happen after the clock strikes zero on January 12. 

 

Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Florida State

It's hard to beat a matchup with Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, but the Rose Bowl showdown between Oregon and Florida State certainly looks more appealing to the casual observer. The big reason is the battle between last year's Heisman winner, Jameis Winston, and this year's winner, Marcus Mariota. 

The two quarterbacks have had very different 2014 seasons. Winston has somehow found a way to be the only quarterback in history to win all of his starts and be a disappointment. His performance this year has left a lot to be desired, with 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. 

Mariota has done almost nothing wrong in 2014, with 53 total touchdowns and two interceptions. His only blemish was a loss against Arizona in October that was avenged in the Pac-12 Championship Game when he had 346 total yards and five total touchdowns. 

However, Mariota isn't perfect. In fact, as Matt Hinton of Grantland noted, Florida State's defense could have the magic formula for slowing down the Oregon quarterback:

If there’s any solace for Florida State, it’s the sheer athleticism of its front seven, the likes of which has given Oregon some trouble in past seasons. Mariota isn’t impervious to a decent pass rush — despite his elusiveness, Michigan State, Washington State, Arizona, Washington, Utah, and Oregon State all recorded at least three sacks this year, including the blindside hit that caused the decisive fumble in the loss to Arizona — nor does he have a magic wand to wave on obvious passing downs, the one area in which FSU’s defense has truly excelled.

That pressure will be crucial for the Seminoles, though there's more to Oregon's offense than just Mariota. The Ducks average 237.3 rushing yards per game, which is an area where the Seminoles have struggled. Per Yahoo Sports' defensive rankings, Florida State is allowing 160.1 rushing yards per game. 

Since Florida State can't expect to slow down Oregon, this game has to become a shootout for the Seminoles to win. They've had success in those games this year, winning all four games in which both teams have scored at least 30 points. 

However, if Winston has one of his bad games, Florida State will be out of the Rose Bowl before it can blink. He was lucky to get away with four interceptions against Florida because the Gators offense is terrible. 

Given the way Florida State has flirted with disaster all year, and that Oregon is the best team it will play by a wide margin, the magic carpet ride will come to an end. The Seminoles will keep things close because they've done that all year, but the big play in the fourth quarter won't come. 

Oregon 38, Florida State 31

 

Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Ohio State

It's been more than four years since Saban and Meyer last coached opposite each other. On October 2, 2010, Saban's Alabama team cruised to a 31-6 win over Meyer's Florida team in the first matchup of the post-Tim Tebow era. 

Meyer is facing a similar situation this time around. Ohio State lost two star quarterbacks this season—Braxton Miller in camp and J.T. Barrett in the regular-season finale against Michigan—and is depending on Cardale Jones. 

Jones was a pleasant surprise in the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin, but he only had to throw 17 passes because Ohio State ran for 301 yards. Don't expect that kind of production on the ground against an Alabama defense that allowed the second-fewest rushing yards per game (88.7) and tied for second-fewest yards per carry (2.8) in the country, via Yahoo Sports.

Alabama's offense is more versatile than what Ohio State's defense had to deal with in the Big Ten Championship. The Crimson Tide have the most explosive wide receiver in the country, though there is an overreliance on Amari Cooper that could cause problems, as this stat from ESPN's John Buccigross shows:

The problem is no one has been able to slow Cooper down. He's been held under eight catches and 80 yards twice all season. 

The Crimson Tide can counter any double-team on Cooper with a running game that averages 209.5 yards per game and accounted for 32 touchdowns. 

One area of Alabama's defense that has been picked on at times this year is the secondary, allowing 223.7 yards per game. If the Buckeyes can establish some kind of running game early, Jones can work the play-action passing game to throw the ball down the field.  

Given how unlikely that is because of how well Saban has built the front four, all signs point to an Alabama blowout. Ohio State deserves credit for making it this far without its original starting quarterback and losing the other starter late in the year, but there's only so far a team can go with a third-stringer against the Crimson Tide defense. 

Alabama 41, Ohio State 24

 

College Football Playoff National Championship

It seems only fitting that Alabama and Oregon meet to decide college football's national champion. These have been the best two teams in the country all year and arguably the top two programs for the last five years. 

Alabama has the physical defense, while Oregon has the most exciting offense in college football. Saban is a legend in the sport. Mark Helfrich is still trying to build his resume and escape the shadow of Chip Kelly. 

An early look at this matchup does favor Alabama. The Crimson Tide are more physical on both sides of the ball. As noted earlier, Mariota has had problems against defensive lines that are able to get after the quarterback. 

Oregon won't have star cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu due to a knee injury, leaving Cooper matched up with an inferior cornerback. The Ducks do have balance on offense that can cause Alabama problems, especially in the passing game. 

Mariota averaged 10.17 yards per attempt this season, so there will be big plays for Oregon to make down the field. The only question is if the Ducks can keep up their rapid-fire pace against a bigger team that can throw around their smaller defensive players. 

Alabama is at its best when the offense methodically wears an opponent down, creating huge lanes in the running game late. It happened against Missouri in the SEC Championship Game when Derrick Henry had two late touchdowns to seal a 42-13 victory. 

Oregon will keep this game closer than that, but Alabama is just too strong on both sides of the ball. 

Alabama 34, Oregon 28

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Outback Bowl 2015: Stat Predictions for Stars and Pick for Auburn vs. Wisconsin

While the college football scene on New Year's Day will hone in on the semifinal games, there are several intriguing appetizers before the main events.  At noon ET, the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Florida, between the Auburn Tigers and Wisconsin Badgers stands out because of its potential for fireworks on the ground, pitting Heisman finalist Melvin Gordon against Gus Malzahn's prolific spread attack.

Both squads will also enter the bowl with sour tastes in their mouths.  The Tigers were once the second-ranked team in the nation but dropped three of their final four games to fall far out of the SEC West race.  Meanwhile, the Badgers bounced back from a 3-2 start to reach the Big Ten Championship Game, only to suffer a 59-0 humiliation at the hands of Ohio State.

Thus, both teams come into this game with plenty to prove before they can reestablish themselves as playoff contenders in 2015.  Read on for last-minute predictions surrounding the game's outcome and top stars.

 

Auburn Stat Predictions

Nick Marshall, QB: 13-of-21, 175 passing yards, 85 rushing yards, 2 total TDs

Sammie Coates, WR: 4 catches, 90 yards, 1 TD

Cassanova McKinzy, LB: 10 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 FF

Despite his reputation as a scrambling quarterback in Auburn's offense, Nick Marshall has actually eclipsed the 200-yard passing mark six times this season, compared to just four times during the 2013 regular season.  Nevertheless, given that Wisconsin ranks fourth in the country in terms of fewest passing yards per game allowed (164.3), don't expect Marshall to reach those heights.

However, he should still make an impact on the ground, as the Badgers haven't yet faced a quarterback with Marshall's scrambling ability this season.  With 11 touchdowns on the ground, only six quarterbacks had more rushing scores than Marshall this season.  As such, expect him to make his impact felt testing the gap discipline of Wisconsin's front seven.

When Marshall does go to the air, big-play threat Sammie Coates figures to represent his top target.  Though D'haquille Williams leads the Tigers in receptions, Coates' 23.9 yards per catch ranks third in the country among receivers with at least 30 catches.  Following a jaw-dropping 206-yard performance against Alabama, Coates has earned a reputation as one of the nation's premier receivers, even in Auburn's run-heavy scheme:

The NFL will arrive soon enough for the senior receiver, but for now, he should find success against a Badgers defense that gave up three scores of 39 or more yards against Ohio State in their last game.  Coates is a bit of a boom-or-bust proposition—he's had seven games this year with fewer than 65 yards receiving—but look for him to get loose deep at least once.

Defensively, the challenge will fall upon Cassanova McKinzy and the rest of the front seven to slow down Wisconsin's prolific rushing game.  McKinzy led the Tigers with 10 tackles for loss and finished second with 82 total tackles.

He's not much of a pass-rushing threat, having notched just 1.5 sacks on the year, but he could still have a playmaking impact against Wisconsin, which has fumbled 1.8 times per game this year (109th in the country).  If Auburn is to have a reasonable hope of slowing down the ground game, turnovers will be a necessity.

 

Wisconsin Stat Predictions

Melvin Gordon, RB: 28 carries, 180 yards, 2 TD

Corey Clement, RB: 13 carries, 80 yards, 1 TD

Derek Landisch, LB: 9 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack 

It might be strange seeing two running back projections and no mention of a quarterback, but that's likely what Wisconsin's offense will boil down to.  Joel Stave's 61.5 adjusted QBR would have ranked 55th in the country if he had enough attempts to qualify; however, Stave threw for under 100 yards three times in nine starts and attempted over 20 passes just twice.

Gordon is a known quantity, as the Heisman Trophy runner-up has eclipsed 120 yards in all but two games this season.  Facing a Tigers defense that conceded 4.09 yards per carry during the regular season—54th in the country—Gordon should put the cherry on top of his collegiate career in his Badgers' finale.

However, the game's biggest key might be how well Gordon's wingman, sophomore Corey Clement, can assert himself.  Despite a gaudy 6.4 yards per carry average on the season, Clement has received just 5.2 carries per game over the last five contests.  

Much of that stems from Gordon's productivity, as he does average 7.6 yards per carry.  Still, Wisconsin's best bet at winning is to keep Gordon fresh while relieving pressure off Stave's shoulders, a formula that calls for Clement to receive his share of touches.

Defensively, senior Derek Landisch accrued a whopping 15.0 tackles for loss and eight sacks, emerging as the Badgers' most disruptive playmaker.  Landisch understands the importance of creating big plays against the methodical yet deadly Tigers offense:

Along with fellow linebacker Vince Biegel, Landisch will be the primary player responsible for slowing down Marshall and Cameron Artis-Payne on the ground.  Look for him to make his fair share of plays in the backfield throughout the game.

 

Game Pick

A potential X-factor in this contest is Wisconsin's coaching change following Gary Andersen's stunning departure, as Barry Alvarez will conduct yet another comeback tour, albeit just for a single contest.  Alvarez had a similar one-game tour of duty at the Rose Bowl two years ago, a game the Badgers lost.  This time, Alvarez insists the prior experience will help him manage the prep period better:

Still, the continuity advantage is undeniably on Auburn's side.  It's unclear what future defensive coordinator Will Muschamp had on the Tigers' game-planning, but with both defenses struggling at the end of the regular season, his potential contributions stand as another positive in Auburn's corner.

Wisconsin certainly has a strong chance if it can win in the trenches.  But considering the aftershock of Andersen's departure, it's hard to imagine the Badgers pulling together quickly enough to upset a talented Tigers squad.

Pick: Auburn 40, Wisconsin 32

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon vs. FSU: Odds, Schedule and Key Storylines for Rose Bowl 2015

It's rare that a sport can take one of its most prestigious games and make it more glamorous, but college football has turned the 2015 Rose Bowl between Oregon and Florida State into a game with everything at stake. 

The inaugural College Football Playoff has an anticipation level unlike anything seen in the sport. For the first time ever, there will be a champion decided on the field. No longer is there a dependence on computers or external factors, but just the top four teams lining up to determine which one is best. 

Of the two semifinal matchups, Oregon and Florida State offers the most intrigue because of how these two teams have played in 2014 and what a loss would mean for each. Here is all the information you need to know before sitting down to watch the Rose Bowl. 

The Winston Factor

One of the definitions for the word "enigma," from Dictionary.com, is "a person of puzzling or contradictory character." There are a lot of words that have been used to describe Jameis Winston over the last two years, but none fits better than that one. 

After entering the year as the defending Heisman Trophy winner and arguably the best quarterback in the country, Winston had a pedestrian 24-17 touchdown-to-interception mark with a six-game streak of at least one interception from Oct. 18 through Nov. 29. 

The bottoming out came in that Nov. 29 game against Florida. Winston went 12-of-24 with two touchdowns and four interceptions in a 24-19 win. The victory was emblematic of how Florida State has played all year—ugly, but somehow effective. 

As Matt Hinton of Grantland.com noted in his breakdown of the quarterback matchup between Winston and Marcus Mariota, Florida State's leader tends to rises from the ashes like a phoenix:

Against the Wolfpack, Winston countered a sloppy start by leading touchdown drives on five of FSU’s last six full possessions; the Seminoles rallied from a 17-point hole to win by 15. Against the Fighting Irish, he hit 15 of 16 passes for 181 yards after halftime and led three extended touchdown drives in a game decided by four points. Against the Cardinals, FSU erased a 21-0 deficit by hitting pay dirt on five of its last seven possessions, with three of those scores coming courtesy of Winston’s right arm as he hobbled around on a bad ankle. 

As inconsistent as Winston has looked this year, he can't afford the mistakes this time around. Oregon's offense is a different animal than anything Florida State has faced so far. Mariota doesn't turn the ball over, while the Ducks have been held under 38 points once all year. 

Winston did show glimpses of his 2013 performance against Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game with three touchdowns and no interceptions. It was just the third game he didn't throw an interception. 

Since Florida State can't count on slowing down Oregon's fast-paced offense, Winston has to match Mariota play for play. He's certainly capable of doing it, though no one has any idea which version will show up. 

 

Oregon's Versatility

One thing that often gets lost in the shuffle when discussing Oregon's offense is balance. There's no doubt that Mariota makes the engine run. You can't have 53 total touchdowns by accident, but the 2014 Heisman winner gets a lot of help from his friends. 

Freshman running back Royce Freeman had 1,299 yards and 16 touchdowns in the regular season. Byron Marshall is averaging 7.7 yards per carry on only 50 attempts. Those two will get additional support in the backfield with the return of Thomas Tyner.

Ryan Thorburn of The Register-Guard highlighted that depth in the backfield, as well as how Florida State's bad run defense only helps the Ducks:

Oregon enters the national semifinal against Florida State ranked 20th nationally in rushing offense (237.3 ypg). The Seminoles allow 160.1 yards rushing per game, which ranks 56th nationally.

The Hollywood spotlight has been on Mariota and quarterback counterpart Jameis Winston. The Ducks’ depth in the backfield could make the difference in helping Oregon’s Heisman Trophy winner advance to the national championship.

Florida State might be able to slow down Mariota throwing the ball, though odds are against that because the pass defense ranked 51st in pass yards allowed per game and tied for 82nd in passing touchdowns allowed. 

There are so many ways Oregon can beat a defense that it takes a truly special unit—or beat-up offensive line, as was the case when Arizona defeated the Ducks—to slow it down. Florida State may have been that team last year, but the 2014 version is not up to those standards. 

 

Defense Doesn't Matter

One of the overriding themes in college football is how much the sport is dominated by offense. Look at the four teams that comprise the College Football Playoff for evidence of that. Alabama is the only one with a top 20 scoring defense. 

Even the Crimson Tide have turned into an offensive force with Blake Sims at quarterback, averaging 490.5 yards and 37.1 points per game. Florida State is the lowest scoring team in the playoff at 34.8 points per game. 

Chris Low of ESPN.com wrote about how unique the defenses in the College Football Playoff are compared to teams that usually win the national championship:

Only once during the BCS era did a team that went on to win the national championship give up an average of 20 or more points per game (Auburn in 2010), and 12 of the 16 BCS national champions held their opponents to an average of fewer than 16 points per game.

Let that sink in, for a moment, because none of the four teams in this first playoff are ranked in the top 10 nationally in total defense, and three of the four are allowing more than 21 points per game. The only one that isn't is Alabama, and the Crimson Tide are giving up 16.6 points per game.

Oregon comes into this game at a disadvantage on defense because star cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is out for the year with a knee injury. Defensive coordinator Don Pellum told Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel that the scheme won't change.

“You can't change it,” Pellum said. “After 13, 14 games, you're not going to change the plan. We have to do a better job of executing the plan. We have to do a better job of guys picking up slack.”

Florida State should gain confidence on offense without Ekpre-Olomu out there to hover around Rashad Greene, who had 93 receptions for 1,306 yards and seven touchdowns. 

The Seminoles' defensive woes have already been spelled out, so don't go into the Rose Bowl expecting to see a lot of punts or field-goal attempts. This is a matchup of big plays and red-zone scores. Oregon is the better team and should win, but Florida State has found ways to win games it shouldn't have all year. 

 

Stats via ESPN.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Cotton Bowl 2015: Keys to Victory in Michigan State vs. Baylor Clash

There's a reason ESPNFOXYahooCBS and Athlon Sports all tabbed the Cotton Bowl battle between the No. 5 Baylor Bears and the No. 8 Michigan State Spartans as the most intriguing postseason game—aside from the national semifinals. 

It's a unique contrast of styles. The Bears' run-and-gun high-powered attack against the Spartans' smashmouth, defensive style should make for an interesting battle. Also, the Bears and the TCU Horned Frogs are the teams with the biggest axe to grind as it pertains to be being left out of the College Football Playoff field.

You can bet head coach Art Briles has the Bears fired up to prove the committee made a mistake by leaving them out of the CFP final four. Briles wants his program to get respect after a strong run dating back to the days when Robert Griffin III was the quarterback.

At a pregame press conference on Tuesday, a Michigan reporter asked Briles if he was put off by the lack of attention his program gets in Texas. Per Bill Nichols of TheDallas Morning News, Briles said:

Maybe your perception of what's happening in Texas is not the same as what’s in the state of Texas. You know, in the state of Texas, we kind of deal in reality. And the reality is, the last two or three years, we have been the dominant program in the state. When we sneeze, there are people saying ‘gesundheit’ to us and we say, ‘thank you.’

Well then.

Michigan State had its chances to qualify during the regular season, but it couldn't come up with the big wins it needed.

Now, the Spartans will head into hostile territory in Arlington, Texas, looking for a win over the Bears in what might equate to a home game for Briles' team. Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press thinks the game will be nip and tuck, but he likes Baylor because of the home crowd and quarterback Bryce Petty.

Rexrode says:

Unless you think Baylor is going to be sluggish after just missing the playoff, this is a toss-up. And you shouldn't think that. Both of these teams have something to prove and the means to prove it. Both are good enough at their best to be in the four-team playoff. This might come down to which has the ball last. Give Baylor the nod with the home crowd and the more experienced quarterback.

It's difficult to argue with that logic, but Baylor hasn't proved to be infallible this season. In what figures to be a close game, the little things will matter. Here's what both teams need to do to win.

 

Baylor: Avoid Penalties

When the Bears play disciplined football, they are tough to beat. When they rack up penalties, they make the game so much easier for their opponents. If you combine the Bears' lone loss with the other two games from their schedule in which the team won by three points or less, penalties are the common issue.

In those three games, Baylor averages 12.6 penalties for 137.3 yards per contest. In the 41-27 loss to the West Virginia Mountaineers on October 18, Baylor committed 18 penalties for 215 yards. It'll be tough to beat any team if the Bears don't play with more discipline than that.

The onus for this falls primarily on the offensive line to avoid costly holding and false start penalties. It also spotlights the Baylor secondary. Sophomores Xavien Howard and Ryan Reid will have plenty of deep coverage opportunities. They have to cover without drawing flags.

 

Michigan State: Doing the Job on Third Downs

It's all about defense with the Spartans. Specifically, third-down defense. In Michigan State's two losses this season, opposing teams have converted 53.3 percent of their opportunities on third down. 

Against Baylor, that will be disastrous. The Bears offense is potent. It averages 48.8 points per game. The last thing the Spartans need to do is to allow Baylor to extend drives. Third downs could be fairly infrequent in this game. If Michigan State's defense can't get off the field, it will be in trouble.

Look for defensive end Shilique Calhoun to be a catalyst for the Spartans. He's second on the team in sacks with 6.5 and first in quarterback hurries, per CFBStats.com. The more pressure he gets on Petty, the better chance the Spartans defense will have to be effective on third downs.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Football: 5 New Year's Resolutions for the Bulldogs

2014 has come to an end, and the Georgia Bulldogs were able to go out in style with a 37-14 victory over Louisville in the Belk Bowl. The Bulldogs finished the 2014 season with a 10-3 record and have a chance to finish in the Top 10 of the polls.

Now it’s on to 2015, and like every offseason, the expectations for the Bulldogs will be high. Based on the players that are coming back for next season, they will have a chance to win over 10 games in 2015.

But they will need some things to go their way. Here’s a look at five New Year’s resolutions for the Bulldogs.

Begin Slideshow

College Football Playoffs 2015: Analyzing Stars Who Will Decide CFP Semifinals

The revolutionary College Football Playoff begins New Year's Day with the four best teams in the nation doing battle in the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl, respectively. That means there will be plenty of star power involved.

Oregon, Florida State, Alabama and Ohio State are four of the most storied and most successful programs the sport has ever seen. They all deserve an opportunity to chase a national championship, and they all have gotten to this point by virtue of some incredibly talented players.

With the highly anticipated CFP semifinals on the verge of commencing, here is a look at the players who will have a huge hand in determining the results.

 

Marcus Mariota

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, so it is no secret that all eyes will be on him in the Rose Bowl. That is especially true since he will be facing a Florida State team that hasn't lost in two years.

The Ducks are favored despite the Seminoles' impressive winning streak and despite the fact that the 'Noles have a Heisman winner of their own in quarterback Jameis Winston. With that said, there is no doubt Mariota has outperformed his counterpart this season.

Mariota has been so good, in fact, that Winston is thoroughly impressed with the numbers he has amassed, according to Paul Myerberg of USA Today.

"I admire him for being so efficient," Winston said. "As a quarterback to another quarterback, for you to be able to throw 38 touchdowns and only two interceptions that's special, don't matter what offense you're in, don't matter how you do it, that's special."

With nearly 4,500 total yards and 52 touchdowns in the nation's No. 3 scoring offense, Mariota is as vital as they come in college football.

Everything runs through the spectacular junior, and his level of play will have a bigger impact on the Rose Bowl than anything else will.

 

Amari Cooper

Plenty of people were responsible for Alabama's regular-season success in 2014, but perhaps no player was more important than wide receiver Amari Cooper.

Quarterback Blake Sims exceeded expectations in his first season as a starter, but that likely wouldn't have been the case without Cooper playing at an elite level. The junior was incredible for the Crimson Tide, as he was a Heisman Trophy candidate and racked up 115 catches for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns.

According to ESPN's John Buccigross, Cooper was Sims' go-to target and nobody else was even close:

Cooper does have a bit of a challenge ahead of him in the Sugar Bowl against a solid Ohio State defense, but he has essentially been matchup-proof all season long. If the Buckeyes can figure out a way to keep him in check to some degree, then they have a legitimate chance to pull off the upset.

Ole Miss held him to 91 yards and beat the Tide, while Arkansas ceded only 22 yards in a narrow 14-13 defeat.

If Cooper plays like he has for the bulk of the 2014 season, though, the odds are very much in favor of 'Bama playing for the national title in a couple of weeks.

 

Dalvin Cook

Florida State leaned heavily on Winston last season, and while that has been the case to some degree this season as well, the running game has taken a lot of pressure off him.

Senior Karlos Williams was supposed to be the bell cow, but he has taken a back seat to freshman Dalvin Cook recently. The Miami native leads the Seminoles with 905 rushing yards and eight touchdowns this season.

With Williams out for the ACC Championship Game against Georgia Tech, Cook was dominant, as he rushed 31 times for 177 yards. If he can repeat that feat in the Rose Bowl, then Oregon may be in big trouble.

Florida State has a fairly explosive offense, but it pales in comparison to the Ducks in that regard. With that in mind, the Noles' best plan of attack is likely to pound Cook and control the ball as much as possible.

Even if FSU falls behind, though, David Visser of ChopChat.com explains why it should remain committed to the running game:

Oregon is viewed as the favorite against Florida State due largely to Mariota and its dynamic offense, but Cook could be the great equalizer. Provided he turns in a performance similar to his ACC Championship Game showing, the Noles could surprise the Ducks.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Under Armour All-American Game 2015 Roster: Full List of Recruits

The Under Armour All-America Game represents the last chance many high school players will have to showcase their talent before moving on to the next level. Some have already made their college choice, while others remain undecided with national signing day looming.

Probably the most interesting aspect of the game is getting a chance to see how the players perform against other coveted prospects. Most of them come from areas where they are one of a small group of elite recruits. Now they are on the field with a bunch of them.

In the end, some players will shine far more than others, but the overall impact on their long-term outlook will be minimally impacted. So let's check out the rosters for both squads, along with a closer look at a couple players to watch on Friday.

 

White Team Roster

 

Black Team Roster

 

Top Players to Watch

White Team: Terry Beckner Jr. (DE)

Beckner is one of the most coveted recruits in the country. In an era when getting after the opposing quarterback is more important than ever, he possesses all the tools to become a terror off the edge. It's highlighted by his rare combination of ideal size and outstanding short-area quickness.

The East St. Louis Senior High School product is a 5-star prospect who rates inside the top 20 overall nationally, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. He also checks in as one of the top defensive ends in the Class of 2015 and the top talent coming out of Illinois.

Aside from the natural ability, he's also grown as a leader. It's something he talked about with Josh Helmholdt of Rivals back in September:

You can't just talk and tell them what to do. They are going to feed off what you do. If you are playing hard and you are playing fast, the people who follow you are going to do the same.

He's the type of player who will be interesting to watch based on the aforementioned talent gap. He's stood out at the high school level, but will he be able to maintain those dominant stretches against some of the best linemen in the class?

One thing all college football fans know is that incredible talent doesn't always translate into on-field success. Even if everything points toward a player being a star in the future, as it seemingly does for Beckner, there are no guarantees.

The Under Armour All-America Game is a chance for him to begin the process of proving he's the real deal and worth the hype.

 

Black Team: Kyler Murray (QB)

Quarterbacks are always a little more difficult to judge based on these games. The position is based a lot on timing and finding a rhythm with receivers. But Murray is a dual-threat option who brings a lot more to the table than standing in the pocket and delivering strikes.

The Texas A&M commit is another 5-star prospect, based on 247Sports' composite rankings. He's also among the top five in both dual-threat quarterbacks and Texas recruits for the Class of 2015. Once again, plenty of high praise, just like Beckner.

Mike Farrell of Rivals notes there may be a change on the horizon for him, too:

The one concern with Murray is his size. He checks in at 5'10, 180 pounds. Whether he'll take any serious punishment in this type of atmosphere is always a question mark, but the thing he must prove over the long haul is that he can take some licks and keep playing at a high level.

For now, it will be interesting to see how quickly he decides to tuck the ball and run. Given the nature of the game, that is likely to happen quite frequently. But he's also shown some solid passing skills. He must stand tall in the face of pressure and throw some darts, too.

Expect to see a little bit of everything from Murray on Friday.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Live Blog: Outback Bowl 2015 Live Score, Highlights for Auburn vs. Wisconsin

The Auburn Tigers and the Wisconsin Badgers are getting ready to do battle in the 2015 Outback Bowl, which is being played at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The game will kick off at noon ET and will be televised on ESPN 2.

Running the ball will be the theme for the Outback Bowl as both teams feature elite running backs. Auburn is coming off an 8-4 regular season and is led by running back Cameron Artis-Payne, who led the SEC in rushing yards with 1,482.

The Tigers are going up against a Wisconsin team that went 10-3 and is coming off a loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship. The Badgers are led by Heisman finalist Melvin Gordon, who led the nation in rushing with 2,336 yards.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Rose Bowl 2015: Players to Watch in Florida State vs. Oregon

You couldn't ask for a better Rose Bowl matchup than Oregon and Florida State facing off. There are Heisman winners, dynamic freshmen and huge positional matchups to satisfy college football fans looking for the juiciest storylines. 

Below, you'll find a breakdown of the most important players to watch in this matchup. Some of them go without saying; some might surprise you. All will have a huge impact when it comes to deciding which team reaches the championship game.

 

Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

You know the stats and awards. Last year's Heisman Trophy winner. Undefeated as a starting quarterback. Threw for 3,559 yards, 24 touchdowns and a disappointing 17 interceptions while rushing for three more touchdowns. 

You know he has the clutch gene, too. He's never lost a game in college, after all. 

But this season, Winston has struggled early in games and, not surprisingly, Florida State has followed suit. He has a 59.8 completion percentage in the first quarters of games. He's thrown 14 touchdowns but a whopping 13 picks in the first halves of games as well. He has not been at his best early in games.

That could be a major problem against Oregon, who have an explosive enough offense to sprint right on by the Seminoles if they struggle early. Winston needs to be on his game for all four quarters against Oregon. If he isn't, Florida State may finally meet an opponent they can't come back against.

 

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

This year's Heisman winner has been the best player in college football, no questions asked, and nobody has been more important to their team. His 4,478 yards from scrimmage and 53 total touchdowns with just two interceptions is absurd. His continued evolution as a leader has been vital. 

Mariota will face a tough task against a talented front four of Florida State, and the pressure to live up to the Heisman Trophy he won this year on the national stage might play through his mind. But Mariota seems centered if nothing else, and he'll trust in Oregon's scheme, his teammates and his own ability to get the job done.

If he's great, it's hard to see Oregon losing. If he's off his game, however, beating Florida State will be a tall order.

 

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

Freshman Dalvin Cook became Florida State's starting running back after injuries to Karlos Williams and Mario Pender opened the door for him to get more touches. Boy, has he responded in a big way.

Cook has rushed for 905 yards and eight touchdowns on just 155 carries, an impressive 5.8 yards per carry, while adding 19 receptions for 179 yards. And you can bet he'll be a huge part of the game plan against Oregon.

One of the ways to beat the explosive Ducks is to control the line of scrimmage and put together long, time-consuming drives on offense. The easiest way to do that is with an effective running game, which means Cook will likely be fed the ball early and often. 

With 55 carries for 321 yards and a touchdown in his last two games, Cook has proved he's up to the task.

 

Oregon's Offensive Line

Oregon's offensive line was a major weakness to start the year, as inexperience and injuries left Mariota often scrambling for dear life behind the patchwork line. 

But over the course of the season, Oregon's O-line has improved and will be further bolstered by the expected return of center Hroniss Grasu. You probably wouldn't describe the line as one of the team's strengths, but they're no longer a huge weakness, either.

They'll be severely tested against Florida State's excellent defensive line of Mario Edwards Jr., DeMarcus Walker, Eddie Goldman and Desmond Hollin, however. If Florida State can consistently get a rush with just four down linemen, which they generally do, they might just be able to take Mariota and the Oregon offense out of its rhythm. 

If the O-line plays well, however, it's hard to see Florida State slowing down the Ducks.


Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Sugar Bowl 2015: Complete Schedule and X-Factors for Ohio State vs. Alabama

The day college football fans have waited for is finally here. After years of waiting, the College Football Playoff will finally kick off on New Year's Day.

First on the slate is the Rose Bowl, but the nightcap will feature two historic programs in Alabama and Ohio State facing off. A combined six national championships may have been won between the two coaches, but the players on the field will decide which one is playing for another on Jan. 12.

Ringing in a new era for college football will be left to stars like Amari Cooper and Cardale Jones, but the players who step up on the big stage will be the difference. Before the second semifinal kicks off, here's a look at the full schedule and X-factors heading into the Sugar Bowl.

 

Game Information

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans

When: Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015, at 8:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

X-Factors

Ohio State comes into the game as the underdog at the No. 4 seed, but one sophomore can make all the difference for the Buckeyes.

Michael Thomas, the team's leader in receptions, is often overshadowed by Devin Smith and Ezekiel Elliott. The tandem combined for five touchdowns in the Big Ten Championship Game, but it's Thomas who has been a steady force for the Buckeyes all season.

Overlooked coming out of high school by the likes of UCLA and USC, the Los Angeles native used his opportunity at Ohio State to break out. Thomas spoke about his experience heading into college, via Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times.

"It was kind of frustrating," he said. "But I knew if I ever got a chance I was going to make a statement."

On the opposite side, Alabama has a plethora of offensive weapons who also often get overlooked.

DeAndrew White, the Crimson Tide's second-leading receiver, had one of his best games in the SEC Championship Game with four catches for 101 yards and a touchdown. Then again, when a receiver lines up across from Cooper, it's not too hard to figure out why he would be forgotten.

Anish Shroff of ESPN points out the disparity between receptions for the two top wideouts:

The senior has a chance to make a huge difference in his final game with the Tide. Meanwhile, a young running back will look to continue a strong finish of his own on the big stage.

Derrick Henry has been a brute force for Alabama in the last three games, piling up an average of 101.7 yards and five total touchdowns. Henry might also be asked to step up with T.J. Yeldon's status uncertain due to ankle and hamstring injuries, via D.C. Reeves of The Tuscaloosa News:

The recent streak of success doesn't appear to be a fluke for Henry, who can get the job done with five carries or 20 on any given week. Going against an Ohio State defense that allows just 21.2 points per game, his production will be a necessity in order for the Tide to continue rolling.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Cotton Bowl 2015: Previewing Biggest Storylines for Baylor vs. Michigan State

One of the beauties of bowl season is the ability to see two teams from vastly different backgrounds that would not normally get a chance to face each other.  The Cotton Bowl presents that exact type of contrast this year, pitting the nation's top-scoring offense in the Baylor Bears against a Michigan State defense that has been one of the country's stingiest under Mark D'Antonio.

Both teams have plenty to prove, as they were two of the three highest-ranked teams to miss the inaugural playoff.  Along with TCU, the Bears were victimized by the Big 12's lack of a conference championship game, as the absence of a definitive conference champion may have lost Baylor its playoff berth after Ohio State looked so impressive in the Big Ten championship.

Similarly, Michigan State must re-establish itself as one of the nation's premier defenses.  That sounds strange to say, but considering that the Spartans' two toughest opponents, Ohio State and Oregon, carved them up for 47.5 points per game, it's clear that their status as a defensive powerhouse is up for referendum against the nation's toughest offensive test.

For fans looking to catch up on a game that is arguably the best non-playoff bowl, check out a full review of the top storylines headed into the Cotton Bowl Classic.

 

Pat Narduzzi vs. Art Briles

The game will pit arguably the nation's best offensive and defensive coaches against each other.  Narduzzi's patented interior pressure schemes, particularly through A-gap blitzes, will dare Bryce Petty to throw the ball deep.  That suits Baylor just fine, however, as it hit a whopping 69 passes of 25 or more yards.

Michigan State's well-documented "Quarters" coverage normally puts a lid on the short and intermediate in-breaking concepts seen throughout the Big Ten, but Baylor's propensity for deep fade and switch routes is perfectly designed to beat that coverage.  In fact, after a couple hiccups against Texas and West Virginia, Petty's deep ball has catalyzed Baylor's offensive explosion:

At the same time, Narduzzi's zone blitzes have the potential to scramble Baylor's protection and force Petty to tuck the ball down when his initial read is taken away.  The Bears gave up 1.58 sacks per game, 32nd in the country, but the Spartans ranked ninth in the nation with 3.08 sacks per game.

Essentially, much of this game will boil down to whether Michigan State can scheme well enough to eliminate the deep ball while also still generating reasonable pressure on Petty.  The greater burden probably lies with Narduzzi given Michigan State's regular-season failures against premier offenses, but the increased prep time should even the playing field between him and Briles.

 

Underrated Running Games

Despite the attention surrounding quarterbacks Petty and Connor Cook, there's a strong chance this game will be won on the ground behind two very different, but effective rushing attacks.  Baylor and Michigan State ranked 23rd and 24th in rushing yards per game, respectively.  The teams combined for a whopping 82 rushing touchdowns, with the Bears and Spartans ranking fourth and sixth, respectively, in the country.

Shock Linwood led the Baylor rushing attack, notching 1,226 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on 5.1 yards per carry.  At 5'9" and 200 pounds, the All-Big 12 first-teamer is an ideal fit for Baylor's speed-based system, though he notes that Michigan State's size and physicality could present a difficult challenge:

On the Spartans' side, Jeremy Langford has compiled 1,360 yards and 19 scores on 5.5 yards per carry behind Michigan State's gap-blocking power schemes.  The Spartans figure to run a bevy of pro-style trap schemes to exploit Baylor's quick and aggressive downhill linebackers, potentially opening up the play-action game for Cook.

In many ways, both running games are well-designed to exploit the opposing defense.  So while the quarterbacks naturally receive the spotlight, the performances of Linwood and Langford might have just as significant a say on the game's outcome.

 

Tony Lippett the X-Factor

The nation has fallen in love with old-school two-way players like Shaq Evans and Shaq Thompson over the past two years, but Michigan State's Lippett deserves mention in that same breath.  The 6'3", 185-pound Lippett is listed as a wide receiver, and he is easily the Spartans' most valuable receiver, with 60 catches for 1,124 yards and 11 touchdowns.

However, Lippett has also become a starting cornerback, ascending to the No. 2 role on Michigan State's depth chart.  Despite Baylor's torrid pace, the current plan calls for Lippett to continue his two-way action, which could result in upwards of 100 snaps:

Clearly the bigger issue will be on defense, where Lippett and fellow starting corner Trae Waynes may not receive consistent safety help due to the plus splits that Baylor frequently employs with its wide receivers.  That is, the Bears often line up receivers such as Antwan Goodley and KD Cannon far outside the numbers to purposely isolate them in solo coverage against opposing corners.

Lippett figures to have success against a Bears offense that has allowed 7.5 yards per pass attempt, 96th in the country.  However, it's his stamina and ability to hold up in his unnatural position that could determine this game's outcome.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Cactus Bowl 2015: Washington vs. Oklahoma State TV Info, Spread, Time and More

The Friday nightcap features two programs with plenty to prove heading into the bowl season. Washington and Oklahoma State face off in the Cactus Bowl, with the winner capturing a strong finish to an otherwise disappointing close to the season.

Heading into a bowl in the first year under Chris Petersen, Washington has a shot at winning a second straight postseason game. But when the Huskies have needed to step up against worthy opponents, they have fallen short against the likes of Stanford, UCLA and Oregon this season.

On the other side, Oklahoma State barely became bowl-eligible after losing five of its final six games after starting 5-1. The Cowboys healed some of those wounds with a win in the finale over rival Oklahoma, and a victory over Washington would secure a fourth bowl win in the last five years for the program.

Below is a full look at the schedule, spread and preview for the Cactus Bowl.

 

Game Information

Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona

When: Friday, January 2, 10:15 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Spread: Washington (-5), via OddsShark.com

 

Preview

Last season, Oklahoma State put together one of the strongest seasons with 10 wins but fell short of a bowl win. Now, the Cowboys get a shot at redemption under Mike Gundy against a Washington team hoping to close the season on a strong note.

Gundy's team is led by senior running back Desmond Roland, who led the team in rushing yards (647) and touchdowns (10) on the season. Roland has yet to compile over 100 yards per game this season, but he has three multi-touchdown performances.

The running game isn't the question. It's his backfield mate that the question marks are centered around.

Daxx Garman leads the Cowboys with 12 passing touchdowns this season, but a concussion has allowed Mason Rudolph to step up in his place. Gundy noted Garman has been cleared, but the decision has not yet been made about the starter, via Jake Trotter of ESPN.com:

Rudolph has four passing touchdowns to three interceptions, but the freshman stepped up big in the Bedlam Series. If given the opportunity on the big stage, Rudolph doesn't lack confidence under center.

Rudolph said, via Richard Obert of AZCentral.com:

In the beginning of the year, I was No. 3, but I told myself I'd prepare like I was the starter. If called upon, I'd be ready. … I'm ready to go. I've ironed things out. We're working well on offense. We're firing on all cylinders.

On the other side, there is no question about Washington's all-around game. The Huskies have a young quarterback of their own in Cyler Miles, who has compiled 20 total touchdowns and just three picks this season.

However, Washington's biggest playmakers are on the defensive side of the ball.

Danny Shelton has nine sacks on the season and lived in his opponent's backfield. Meanwhile, Shaq Thompson has made an impact on the ground offensively with 456 rushing yards, but he has built a reputation as a sure tackler with 71 already this season.

Thompson's versatility won him the Paul Hornung Award for his efforts, via the Tacoma News Tribune:

Oklahoma State's quarterback situation will be tested by a defense with several potential future NFL stars. Suffice to say, it's not exactly a perfect situation for either Rudolph or Garman heading into the Cactus Bowl.

Regardless of who gets the snaps on Friday night, the signal-caller will get a true test against the athletic Huskies defense. With a lot on the line for Shelton, Thompson and the program as a whole, Petersen will be looking for his sixth bowl win and first with the Huskies.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Orange Bowl 2014: Highlights, Reaction from Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech

In one of the most highly anticipated matchups of the bowl season, the ACC toppled yet another mighty SEC opponent in the 2014 Orange Bowl.

Georgia Tech's 49-34 victory secured another Orange Bowl win for the ACC and capped off a miserable day for the SEC and state of Mississippi as a whole. A 39-point drubbing for TCU over Ole Miss was followed by the 15-point loss for the Bulldogs.

After a season that saw both teams rise to the top, the fall was a dramatic one for both Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Phil Savage of the Senior Bowl noted the shift from huge wins earlier in the season to the losses on New Year's Eve:

Much of the success for Georgia Tech, of course, came on the ground. Leading the way was sophomore quarterback Justin Thomas, who finished with a career-high three rushing touchdowns and four total scores.

The young quarterback spoke about his team's success following the game.

"Our program took a step forward this year," he told Steven Wine of The Associated Press (via The Salt Lake Tribune). "We’re planning to keep striving to put Georgia Tech’s name on the top of the list."

His overall effectiveness overshadowed even Dak Prescott, who was an early contender for the Heisman Trophy this season. Thomas may not have thrown for over 300 yards—he finished with just 125—but he was the biggest playmaker on the field.

Dan Wolken of USA Today and Pat Forde of Yahoo offered their take on his play:

The ACC's official site also provides a look at the highlights from Thomas' memorable night:

While Prescott was not able to secure a win for his team, the versatile quarterback finished with four touchdowns of his own—three through the air and one rushing. Unable to guide the Bulldogs to two crucial wins down the stretch, Prescott was still unbelievable under center in the Orange Bowl.

His night was good enough to set a school record on the biggest stage of Prescott's life, per Michael Bonner of the Clarion-Ledger:

One of his passing touchdowns will also be featured on highlight reels for the next several days. Looking to tighten the score before the half, Prescott heaved a pass down to the end zone and found Fred Ross to close the gap to only 21-20 at that point.

ESPN College GameDay provides a look at the play:

Ultimately, it would not be enough for the Bulldogs. The Jackets trounced them in the second half with 21 points in the third quarter alone.

Both teams head into next season with reason for optimism, but it's Georgia Tech that is brimming with confidence. Having Thomas back for at least next season guarantees the Jackets have a leader under center with the versatility to lead Paul Johnson's offense.

Mississippi State, on the other hand, has to hope that their offense and defense will remain intact. Both Prescott and defensive leader Benardrick McKinney have yet to make a decision about their future, so the next moves will be telling ones for the program.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Schedule 2015: Ranking the Most Intriguing Remaining Matchups

Maybe you were scrolling around the Internet thinking to yourself, "Oh boy, I'm really in the mood to read one man's quirky, completely subjective ranking of the remaining matchups in college football's bowl season."

Well, folks, you are in luck, because I've provided just that. And even more, I've provided a full schedule for the remaining games and some predictions as well, of which I'll likely nail 30 percent. 

I can't think of a better way for you to ring in the new year than reading my article below. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a couch to lay on and a television to watch.
 

 

Schedule and Predictions

 

Official, Highly Scientific Rankings of Best Matchups to Watch

10. Toledo vs. Arkansas State, Florida vs. ECU, Houston vs. Pittsburgh and Iowa vs. Tennessee

Nope, I have better things to do. Maybe. OK, fine, I probably don't have better things to do, but I'm still not intrigued by these games. So there.

 

9. Washington vs. Oklahoma State

Washington has a few NFL prospects I'm excited to see in action (Shaq Thompson and Danny Shelton), so I might check out this game for "scouting" purposes. And by scouting purposes, I mean there's a pretty good chance I'll be bored on Friday night and will flip over to watch it. 

YOLO.

 

8. Minnesota vs. Missouri

Apparently, Minnesota wasn't a good enough non-conference win for TCU to get them into the College Football Playoff, but I'll be the judge of that myself, thank you very much, playoff committee. 

I am intrigued by Minnesota's rushing attack, which features running back David Cobb (1,545 rushing yards and 13 scores) and quarterback Mitch Leidner (462 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns). But Missouri will counter with defensive end Shane Ray (14 sacks), who should be a top-10 pick in this year's draft.

Neither of these teams pass very well, so I hope you enjoy a lot of running plays. You do? Then watch this game!

 

7. Wisconsin vs. Auburn

I wish this game was played before the new year, because it would remind me of all the resolutions I didn't live up to in 2014. Wisconsin and Auburn can sympathize—both finished their seasons on a poor note, with Wisconsin getting smoked in the Big Ten title game and Auburn losing three of their last four games, including a heartbreaker to Alabama in the Iron Bowl.

Watching Melvin Gordon is always fun of course, and Nick Marshall and Sammie Coates are electrifying players for Auburn. Still, I'm calling this the "What Might Have Been Bowl," which is sort of cruel, I know, but it's also true.

 

6. The Winter Classic

Hey, wait a second, this isn't a college football game! 

Can't slip anything past you, huh? This is an outdoor hockey game, however, which is awesome, and I'll likely be tuning out of most of the college football games while this is on. I'll be flipping between this and the Cotton Bowl, so it comes in at No. 6. 

 

5. Kansas State vs. UCLA

UCLA was quietly one of the hottest teams in the country down the stretch until they lost their last game against Stanford, but whatever, they still beat Arizona State, Arizona and USC this year, OK? Sure, they underachieved, but they achieved against the teams I listed above, so you have to give them that.

I'm sort of hoping the Philadelphia Eagles select Brett Hundley in the second round of this year's NFL draft, so I won't be missing this one. Honestly, that's the primary reason I'll be watching this game, but Kansas State is a pretty good team, and I think these squads are fairly evenly matched, so I'm all in for this one.

 

4. Michigan State vs. Baylor

TCU made a strong case to suggest they were snubbed by blowing out Ole Miss, so now Baylor has to hold serve against an equally talented Michigan State team.

The Spartans are balanced and play excellent defense (they held opponents to 19.9 points per game this year, 16th in the nation) but Baylor leads the nation in points scored per game (48.8) and was fifth in passing yards per contest (346.2).

Um, can you say "clash of styles?" Sure you can. There's nothing better than pitting a good offense against a good defense. An immovable object against an unstoppable force, or whatever. Woot!

 

3. Alabama vs. Ohio State

Nick Saban versus Urban Meyer. Amari Cooper. Ohio State's third-string quarterback, Cardale Jones. Two of the traditional powers in college football. You know the storylines. You can't wait for this game. Neither can I. 

 

2. Oregon vs. Florida State

Last year's Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston, versus this year's winner, Marcus Mariota—two players who couldn't be less alike.

Florida State's "living on the edge" season against Oregon's "we pretty much blow everyone out except that one time against Arizona—shhhhh, that was months ago" approach. Florida State's perception of disrespect after going two years without a loss but still being ranked No. 3 by the playoff committee. Oregon's weird uniforms.

You know the storylines. Get pumped.

 

1. National Championship

We obviously don't know who the teams will be, but this will be the best game of them all. Or at least the most anticipated. Get excited.

 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages