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College Football Playoff Championship 2015: Schedule and Bracket Predictions

It's finally (almost) here—the inaugural College Football Playoff.

We talked about it before the season, anticipating who would be in before games were even played. We talked about it all during the season, critiquing every weekly rankings put out by the CFP committee.

But now that the teams are announced and the bowl season is just about in full swing, it's time to put all the talking aside and get ready for two semifinal games that promise to live up to the billing.

Let's jump right in and look at everything you need to know for the first-ever CFP.

 

Note: Odds courtesy of Odds Shark, last updated December 20

 

Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 FSU

Looking back, the first year of the four-team CFP format could not have come at a better time for Florida State.

If we still had the BCS format for this year, the unbeaten Seminoles would have been the first team out. And considering they're in the midst of a 29-game win streak, the madness in reaction would have been ear-piercing.

Alas, Florida State has made it into the group of four and will be intent on proving its plethora of ugly wins this season are an aberration. Doing so against the No. 2 Oregon Ducks—who have enough to prove on their own—won't be a walk in the park.

Jameis Winston seems to make the winning plays whenever he feels it's needed, but he'll face a fast Duck defense giving up just 17 points per contest in their last five. Oregon will, however, be without star cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu after his practice injury.

That won't be the side of the ball that leads to Florida State's demise, though. Instead, this experience of Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III—who helped the Wildcats beat Oregon earlier in 2014—explains the trouble ahead for the Seminoles, per Arizona Daily Star's Daniel Berk:

Well, Wright doesn't know anymore—nor does anyone. His Wildcats were drubbed 51-13 in a Pac-12 title game rematch, with Marcus Mariota dominating via the air and ground.

With 38 passing touchdowns to just two picks, Mariota will take care of the ball and make the big plays to get Oregon the early lead. He'll get some good play from the Ducks' speedsters and bowling-ball running back Royce Freeman, but the Seminoles' stout defensive line means Mariota will be taking it upon himself to make the plays.

There won't be a lot of space for him to air it out, but that's not really Oregon's style, anyway. They exhaust defenses with a run-heavy attack and short passing prowess, and Florida State's defense has been exhausted more than a few times this season.

Oregon's defense won't shut Winston and the Florida State offense down by any means, but it will do enough to stay alive and get to Arlington, Texas.

Prediction: Oregon 41, Florida State 30

 

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State

In the middle of the season, this destination seemed improbable at best for Ohio State and even Alabama. But here they are, two of college football's powerhouses gearing up for a date in the 2015 Sugar Bowl.

The Crimson Tide's season doesn't nearly match up to Ohio State's in that regard, though. The Buckeyes lost two star quarterbacks throughout the season, fell 35-21 at home to Virginia Tech and still found a way to rattle off 11 straight wins—including a 59-0 drubbing of Wisconsin that got them over the hump.

His team's resolve hasn't been lost on Urban Meyer, who gave a striking superlative to his team, per ESPN College Football:

Don't forget how impossible the Crimson Tide's championship hopes looked at times, too. They had to battle back all season after a loss at Ole Miss, and their hopes looked all but dead at times against LSU and Auburn.

Alabama's offensive resurgence has been perhaps the biggest reason that they're still around, and it will prove huge again versus a stout Ohio State defense featuring Joey Bosa and Joshua Perry. 

Offensive success should be expected from Blake Sims, Amari Cooper and Co., but the big X-factor is Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones. He was magnificent in his first start against Wisconsin, but Alabama's strong run defense means he won't be able to lean on Ezekiel Elliott quite the same.

Elliott's impact will be stalemated by Alabama up front, putting the onus on Jones to lead Ohio State to a win. He has the ability to, but it will prove an impossible task against a Crimson Tide defense smelling a trip to the national championship.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Ohio State 24

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff 2014-15: Odds and Predictions for Every Game

The first College Football Playoff is getting nearer and nearer, but dealing with the anticipation is only getting tougher by the minute.

Thankfully, the bowl season has officially begun, giving viewers some significant appetizers before New Year's Day brings the debut of the national semifinal system.

It's not really the fact of the matter that has excitement at a fever pitch, though.

Instead, it's the matchups. Top-ranked Alabama goes up against Ohio State in a battle of college football blue bloods, while the last two Heisman Trophy winners do battle in Oregon vs. Florida State in the Rose Bowl.

CFB Playoff is ready, as they tweeted out the uniforms each team will be wearing on New Year's Day:

The holidays and other bowl games will help take some of the attention away from the CFP over the coming days, but three early-January battles will soon decide this year's national champion. 

Let's take a look at predictions and odds for both of the semifinals and a championship pick.

 

Note: Odds courtesy of Odds Shark, last updated December 20 

 

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State

Ohio State won the furious race for the final CFP spot, and the Buckeyes were awarded the prize of facing Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Maybe that's not much of a Christmas present, but Urban Meyer's squad figures to be up for the challenge. After bouncing back from an early-season gaffe against Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes have won 11 straight games—including a 59-0 beating of Wisconsin as underdogs in the Big Ten title game.

Ohio State's defense is among the most underrated units in football, but what will Meyer get from Cardale Jones? The once third-stringer now starts at quarterback, and the jury is still out despite his great performance against the Badgers.

He knows the test he's facing on New Year's Day will be as tough as can be, per Ohio State athletics:

Jones got some serious help from Ezekiel Elliott in that Wisconsin game, as he rushed for over 200 yards. Don't expect a repeat performance against an Alabama run defense that blows over offensive lines en route to rushers.

The Crimson Tide are all but expected to find some answers offensively, with Blake Sims making quick passes and downhill run plays to thwart the Buckeyes' strength in rushing the passer. Ohio State will struggle at first but find a way to string together stops and give Jones the ball in favorable spots.

He'll play admirably in leading the Buckeyes close, but he will have to play the game of his life to overcome Alabama—and even that might not be enough. The Tide secondary will be susceptible to some big plays but will keep Jones in check during crunch time to advance.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Ohio State 24

 

Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 FSU

The two best quarterbacks in college football—and perhaps best players overall—will go at it in the Rose Bowl, as Marcus Mariota leads Oregon into a semifinal against Jameis Winston's Florida State Seminoles.

It's a battle of the last two Heisman Trophy winners, as well, after Mariota took this year's trophy following Winston's historic 2013 season. But if Mariota wants to add a championship to it like Winston, he'll have to go through that very same person.

Both quarterbacks have showcased their leadership abilities and clutch gene throughout the year, but there is one striking difference: Mariota has thrown two interceptions this year to Winston's 17, as ESPN College Football expanded upon:

The game will inevitably come down to which team is more complete, and that's undoubtedly Oregon.

The Ducks have been blowing out every opponent they have faced since an early-season loss at home to Arizona, utilizing a fast defense and that same high-octane offense to big success. Unlike in previous seasons, when late blunders would cost them everything, Oregon peaked to close out 2014.

Florida State's ability isn't lost despite a handful of ugly victories this season, but it's hard to imagine the Seminoles making those winning plays against a team like Oregon. The Ducks will take advantage of every opportunity the Noles give them early, and it will be too late before Winston can rally them back.

Prediction: Oregon 41, Florida State 30

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Bowl Picks 2014: Odds and Predictions for Hottest Teams

While some teams are limping their way toward bowl season and the current campaign's finish line, others are firing on all cylinders and looking to make a statement.

The latter point is certainly true of all four teams that qualified for the College Football Playoff, but there are other teams that would like to continue their excellent play and end the year on a high note even if it doesn't include a championship.

Regular-season success in college football is great, but bowl season is a totally different animal. Here is a closer look at how some of the top teams will fare when the games truly count.

*Point spreads courtesy of OddsShark.com.

 

Predictions for Hottest Teams

Rose Bowl: Florida State (+8.5) vs. Oregon

With 29 consecutive wins to their credit, Florida State may very well be the hottest team in college football. That is bolstered by the fact that they are the defending national champions, but there is no question that the Seminoles have escaped with wins by the skin of their teeth on several occasions in 2014.

Oregon does have one loss, but it came way back in October, and the Ducks have been dominant in winning every game by double digits since then. That is why Oregon is a fairly significant favorite entering the Rose Bowl. However, FSU won't go quietly.

The Seminoles have a penchant for pulling out big games and making plays in the clutch. They may not blow teams out like the Ducks, but every win counts regardless of the margin. Florida State is only the No. 3 seed despite going undefeated, but head coach Jimbo Fisher believes that works in his favor, according to Warchant.com:

Also, while FSU lost plenty of talent from last year's title team, it still has the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback in Jameis Winston. He has an excellent array of weapons as well with wide receiver Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O'Leary leading the way.

Greene could be the biggest key to Florida State's success as Oregon will be without shutdown cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu due to injury, per SportsCenter:

That may help the Seminoles score some points, but the Ducks aren't afraid to engage in a shootout. They have the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in the form of quarterback Marcus Mariota, and they have speed to burn at absolutely every skill position.

The Seminoles are going to hang in there and cover the 8.5-point spread, but Oregon's explosiveness will prove to be a bit too much as it will win a 45-42 thriller.

 

Sugar Bowl: Alabama (-9) vs. Ohio State

In the other CFP semifinal, No. 1 Alabama will look to live up to its billing against No. 4 Ohio State. The Crimson Tide have been considered the best team in college football for much of the year despite losing to Ole Miss in October, and now they have a chance to prove it.

The Buckeyes barged their way into the CFP with 59-0 dismantling of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. With top quarterbacks Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett both on the shelf, Cardale Jones got the job done in his first start. Repeating that feat won't be easy against the nation's No. 4 defense.

As good as Bama is on that side of the ball, though, most of the focus will be on its offense. The Buckeyes have a somewhat inconsistent defense, but they can't afford to have any lapses when defending Heisman Trophy finalist and star wide receiver Amari Cooper, according to ESPN College Football:

A big reason for Cooper's success has been the play of quarterback Blake Sims. Nobody was sure how he would fare in place of A.J. McCarron, but he has been even better than advertised. Per Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports, Cooper views his signal-caller as a true leader:

The Tide also have a pair of excellent running backs in T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, so OSU will essentially have to pick its poison.

A nine-point spread is fairly large for a talented team like the Buckeyes, but their inexperience at quarterback will ultimately come back to bite them against an elite defense, and the Tide will roll to a 38-21 victory.

 

Cotton Bowl: Michigan State (+2.5) vs. Baylor

Baylor feels as though it should be playing for a national title, but the Bears were left out of the CFP, which means they will instead meet a strong Michigan State team in the Cotton Bowl.

Despite losing just one game and beating a strong TCU squad, Baylor sits as the No. 5 team in the nation, which is the loneliest number under the current format. With that in mind, it could be quite difficult for head coach Art Briles to get the Bears excited for this bowl.

That likely won't be a problem for the Spartans since they didn't have a realistic CFP shot with two losses. Michigan State is far from a pushover, though, as it is seventh in scoring offense and 12th in scoring defense. That makes MSU one of the most well-balanced teams in college football.

Baylor, of course, is all about offense and the play of quarterback Bryce Petty. According to Chris Solari of The Lansing State Journal, Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is quite cognizant of the Bears' frenetic offense:

That style has helped Baylor become the No. 1 scoring team in the country, but it didn't encounter many defenses the caliber of MSU's in the Big 12. Also, the Spartans have the ability to slow down Baylor's offense by using its own offense.

Michigan State has an excellent running back in Jeremy Langford who should be able to grind out yardage and eat clock. Also, quarterback Connor Cook is a great decision-maker, and he will find ways to establish long drives as well.

The Bears are favored to win after their great season, but the Spartans have the personnel needed to pull off a 27-24 upset.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Sugar Bowl 2015: Alabama vs. Ohio State Schedule, Live Stream and TV Info

Ohio State vs. Alabama is an old school matchup with a new school twist. The 2015 Sugar Bowl matchup isn't an unusual one. College football fans should be used to the Big 10 power running into the best the SEC can offer at this point, but the stakes have been raised this year.

This is the beginning of a new era in college football.

The two traditional powers will face off for the chance to play in the first national championship decided by a playoff.

After all of the #hottakes and heated discussion about who should or shouldn't be in the inaugural four-team tournament, the teams have finally been decided. It's time to sit back and actually enjoy the festivities.

Here's a look at when and where to catch the historic contest along with the biggest questions surrounding the matchup.

 

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

Where: Superdome (New Orleans, Louisiana)

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

What Matters More? Metrics or Narrative?

The oddsmakers have this pegged as a comfortable win for Alabama. The Crimson Tide opened up as a nine-point favorite, according to Odds Shark.

However, a look at some metrics show that this matchup is much closer.

Football Outsiders' F/+ metric has the two schools as the best in the country with Alabama at No. 1 and Ohio State No. 2. Team Rankings, Ed Feng and ESPN also have them as comparable teams.

So why is Alabama such a big favorite?

It's hard to deny that there has to be an aspect of narrative that is behind the expected result. Ohio State has built a reputation as a team pickers can't depend on. The Buckeyes can claim just one bowl win since 2007.

For all the accomplishments and hype that have come with the Urban Meyer era, he has yet to capture a bowl win. The team was unable to participate in the postseason in his debut season and were upended by Clemson in last year's Orange Bowl.

Meyer, for his part, doesn't even feel like the Buckeyes are preparing for a bowl, though.

“It's completely different,” Meyer said via Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch. “That is one of the negatives of it. You don't even think about the bowl. The Sugar Bowl is one of the great bowls in college football history and football playoffs (from the Bowl Championship Series days).

“So it will be interesting how that evolves over the years. … I love bowl games. (But) It's a playoff game.”

The Buckeyes will be hoping that a new approach to postseason preparation will yield new results. However, the oddsmakers seem less than confident that will be the case.

 

Can Cardale Jones Step Up Once Again?

The Ohio State quarterback situation in 2014 is a tale of resilience. As anyone who has access to TV or Internet can tell you, the Buckeyes lost star quarterback Braxton Miller weeks before the season opener only to watch J.T. Barrett step up in his stead and become a Heisman contender.

Barrett was then lost for the season in the Michigan game. Backup Cardale Jones proceeded to take the helm in a 59-0 drubbing of Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship Game.

Essentially, the signal-caller went from "the guy that said 'we ain't come to play school'" to a legend in Columbus.

Urban Meyer even commented on how much the sophomore has matured via 11 Warriors:

The question is now is whether he can do it against an Alabama defense that will have nearly a month to prepare for the Ohio State offense.

It's a question that no one really knows the answer to. Jones only had two pass attempts and 17 rushes in his first season as a Buckeye. This year, he only has 34 passes and 34 rushes to his credit. Nick Saban won't have much film to work with. That could mean that he's difficult to game-plan for or his conference title performance will prove to be a fluke.

If that's the case, the Buckeyes are going to have a difficult time pulling off the upset.

 

Who Will Have His Team More Prepared? Urban Meyer or Nick Saban?

Ask anyone who the best coaches in college football are, and you're likely to hear Nick Saban and Urban Meyer in quick succession. The two have each built impressive resumes as titans within the profession. 

Once upon a time, the college football world was treated to an annual matchup against the two minds in the SEC.

Now, the two have the opportunity to meet once again on a grander stage. Meyer will be looking to even up the series at two each. He won the initial meeting when Florida beat Alabama 31-20 in the 2008 SEC Championship Game.

From there, Saban's Bama teams dominated Florida in the 2009 conference title game 32-13. Saban's Alabama team blew out Meyer's Florida squad again in the 2010 regular season.

Now, Saban will look to make the last two lopsided results the norm in this coaching rivalry.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Rose Bowl 2015: Oregon vs. FSU Schedule, Live Stream and TV Info

In 2015, "The Granddaddy of Them All" will become even bigger. Gone is the nostalgic Big Ten vs. Pac-12 matchup. In its stead is a matchup between the Pac-12 and defending national champion for a shot at winning it all this year.

There's no shortage of intrigue heading into this game. Florida State enters the contest as the owner of the nation's longest winning streak but is somehow feeling like an underdog. Oregon and Heisman-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota opened as -8.5 favorites, according to Odds Shark.

The line has only moved in the Ducks favor since.

Still, the fact remains that the Seminoles were the only team to run through 2014 unscathed in the regular season. It wasn't always pretty, but 13-0 is 13-0. Are the Ducks the team to put an end to the run?

Here's a look at all the information you need to catch the game along with some of the key questions surrounding this matchup.

 

When: Jan. 1, 2015, at 4:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Which Jameis Winston Will We See?

It's no secret that Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota is the matchup everyone is talking about heading into this game. It's very rare for two Heisman winners to square off in a bowl game, and the fact that it's happening in a game of this magnitude makes for some compelling TV. 

The question, though, is whether we are going to see the same Winston that won the Heisman last season. The 2014 incarnation hasn't been nearly as efficient as the one that took college football by storm in 2013. 

While Winston's numbers have dropped overall, it's the one that's increased that's the most worrisome. His new found penchant for turning the ball over is one that could finally catch up with him.

The good news is that Oregon's defense hasn't exactly been known for ball hawking. The Ducks rank 91st in the nation in defensive interception percentage, per TeamRankings.com.

However, Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich knows they must be prepared to get Winston's best shot on New Year's Day.

That's one thing you never really know," Helfrich said, via The Oregonian. "Yes, his stats are different. Early game production is different. ... A lot of times against a team like Florida State, those guys are going to get every single team's best shot. Best preparation, most dialed in sense of urgency in meetings. You're trying to knock off No. 1...people are dialed into that.

The loss of Ifo Ekpre-Olomu makes this an even more favorable matchup for Winston. The cornerback is considered one of the top defensive backs in the country and will be difficult to replace going against Florida State's receiving corps led by Rashad Greene.

 

Can Florida State's Defense Slow Down Oregon's Rushing Attack?

Mariota steals all the headlines, but Oregon's offense is still propelled by a fast-paced rushing attack. The Ducks are 22nd nationally in yards per game and 17th in yards per rush. Basically, they're not only efficient but just keep coming with volume.

This, of course, sets up defenses for all kind of headaches, because once they've established that running game, there's the matter of stopping a Heisman-winning quarterback in the passing game.

The good news for the Noles is they may have what it takes to slow down the Ducks running game. Florida State's defense isn't what it was last season but still ranks 37th in defensive yards per carry at 3.9.

That ranking may not seem impressive. After all, it would seem a top-10 rushing defense would be necessary to stop the likes of Royce Freeman, Mariota and Byron Marshall. However, at 37, Florida State will be the highest-ranked rush defense the Ducks have seen outside of Michigan State way back in September.

Florida State hasn't always played the part, but the front seven is still chock-full of 4- and 5-star athletes. The potential is there for the Noles to make the Ducks work for yardage in this one.

 

Is This the Year Oregon Wins It All?

Since the Chip Kelly era, the Oregon Ducks have been among the top programs in college football. The Pac-12 power has been to BCS bowls in four of the last five seasons but hasn't been able to break through to win a national title.

But this feels as much like the year of the Duck as any.

First, there's the fact that Mariota's career has come to a head. The junior has somehow taken his game to a new level this season, as evidenced by his runaway Heisman season, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Then there's the fact that this may be the best defense in this era of Oregon football. The Ducks are 13th defensively in the country, according to Football Outsiders' F/+ metric. That's the highest they've finished since 2011.

The switch to Don Pellum may have seemed rocky in the beginning, but he's rounding the defense into shape just in time for the stretch run.

With an efficient defense, their usual high-flying offense and a favorable matchup in the national semifinal, this could finally be the year the Ducks truly enter the fray as the nation's top team.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Beach Bowl 2014: BYU vs. Memphis TV Info, Spread, Injury News, Time, More

The BYU Cougars and Memphis Tigers meet for the first time at the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl.

Both teams enter with potent offenses and gaudy win streaks. Bronco Mendenhall's Cougars are winners of four straight and in the process overcame some serious injury woes that would have derailed most seasons.

The Tigers and coach Justin Fuente ride a six-game winning streak, which includes a 41-10 shellacking of Connecticut to take home part of the American Conference title.

What results is one of the year's most underrated encounters between a potent offense and one of the nation's best defenses. Great coaching and a war of wills are on the slate.

 

When: Monday, December 22, 2 p.m. ET

Where: Marlins Park, Miami, Florida

Television: ESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 55
  • Spread: Memphis (-1.5)

 

Answering the Call One Last Time

Some were right to stick the proverbial fork in the Cougars back in October when starting quarterback Taysom Hill went down with a season-ending injury.

After all, there were whispers about Hill's name in the early Heisman race one season removed from throwing for 2,938 yards and 19 scores with another 1,344 yards and 10 scores on the ground.

Mendenhall's team persevered behind the arm of senior Christian Stewart, though. While not quite the runner Hill is, the Orem, Utah, native has thrown for 2,273 yards and accounted for 26 total touchdowns in his brief time as starter.

Stewart seems to have saved his best for last, as he has thrown 14 touchdowns to one interception over the course of his team's season-ending, four-game winning streak. He also sounds quite confident given the circumstances, as captured by Jarom Jordan of BYU Sports Nation:

The task is not that simple, though.

Memphis is in the bowl game in large part thanks to the nation's fifth-ranked defense, which allows an average of just 17.1 points per game. The unit has held seven of its 10 opponents to 10 or fewer points this year.

The leader of the unit is Tank Jakes, who has 83 total tackles, 15.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks on the season.

If Stewart is to etch his legacy in stone as the man who saved BYU's season, what may be his biggest test of the year awaits in Miami.

 

Creating a Shootout 

Most of the talk that surrounds Memphis dials in on a strong defense, and rightfully so.

That in no way permits observers from sleeping on a potent offense.

The Tigers rank 30th in the nation with an average of 34.7 points per game thanks to the efforts of quarterback Paxton Lynch. The sophomore has thrown for 2,725 yards and 18 touchdowns but is also quietly a great dual-threat player thanks to 282 yards and 10 scores on the ground.

As Greg Wrubell of BYUCougars.com points out, Lynch has also turned his game up a notch over the course of the past month and change:

The Tigers have also overcome a serious loss on that side of the football this year. Doroland Dorceus was lost for the season, but in his place stepped Brandon Hayes, who now leads the team in rushing with 900 yards and five scores on a 5.2 per-carry average.

A sufficient level of offensive potency is the last thing the Cougars want to hear about at this point. Mendenhall's defense has allowed a minimum of 23 points in two of its last four outings. Before that, four consecutive opponents scored 31 or more points, all losses.

The blueprint for a Tigers win is apparent. As long as the offense continues to play its game, a win is certainly within the realm of possibility.

  

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

This game, just the seventh bowl in program history and first since 2008, will be a success for the Tigers.

Fuente's team plays strong defense that can keep its offense in most games. Motivational factors such as national respect weigh heavy in pre-Christmas bowl games such as this, and the Tigers have plenty to fight for in a rare bowl appearance.

Simply put, Memphis is a more complete team and can limit Stewart and the Cougars offense. How BYU accounts for the versatile approach put on by Lynch and the Tigers will decide the game.

Look for the Tigers to hold on late as a ball-control offense and strong defense stand tall.  

Prediction: Memphis 28, BYU 24

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

South Alabama vs. Bowling Green: Score, Twitter Reaction for 2014 Camellia Bowl

The Bowling Green Falcons narrowly escaped a loss that would have stuck with them for a long time.

On Saturday night in the inaugural Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama, the Falcons needed a miracle 78-yard pass play from James Knapke to Roger Lewis to pull out a 33-28 win over the South Alabama Jaguars. Photojournalist Mickey Welsh captured the heartbreaking/exhilirating score.

Bowling Green jumped all over South Alabama early and held a 20-7 lead at the half. The Falcons' offense was stifled for most of the second half, though. It only managed to score seven points for the first 28-plus minutes after the break.

South Alabama clawed its way back in behind two touchdown passes from Brandon Bridge.

With the score 27-21 in Bowling Green's favor, and the ball on South Alabama's 1-yard line, the Falcons went for an 18-yard field goal that would have made it a two-score game.

Only problem is, Bowling Green kicker Tyler Tate missed the chip shot. His teammates picked him up.

For most of the fourth quarter, the Falcons defense stiffened and forced punts on consecutive possessions. However, Knapke and the offense couldn't score the clincher—yet.

With 1:20 left, Terrance Timmons scored from three yards out and gave South Alabama the 28-27 lead. the Alabama crowd was ecstatic and the Falcons sideline was in shock. They didn't hang their heads long, though.

On the first play after the ensuing kickoff, Knapke would hit Lewis for what proved to be the decisive score and the Falcons escaped with one of the wildest wins you'll see. It was a brain cramp of epic proportions by the Jaguars secondary and a totally busted coverage.

Ben Bolton of WAKA and WNCF in Alabama offered his bird's-eye view of the miracle play.

Jordan Strack of WTOL asked a rhetorical question:

While the huge play at the end will get most of the shine in recaps, the biggest reason South Alabama lost was turnovers. The Jaguars gave the ball away four times, and that helped give extra opportunities to Knapke and the Falcons.

On the day, Knapke threw for 368 yards and two scores. The performance earned him game MVP honors, per CFB Bowl Season.

Lewis caught four passes for 137 yards and both of Knapke's touchdowns. Gehrig Dieter had seven catches for 108 yards.

The Jaguars needed this win to finish above .500. With the loss, they complete the 2014 season with a record of 6-7. The win snapped a three-game losing streak for Bowling Green and it finished 8-6. While South Alabama truly didn't play well enough to deserve the win, it still smarts to have had the game in its clutches only to lose on a blown coverage.

This win gives the Falcons program some much-needed momentum heading into recruiting season. It hopes to build on the spectacular finish and take another step toward more respectability in 2015.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 Reasons College Football Bowl Season Is the Best Time of Year

Football, football and more football—that's what the next three weeks entail, in case you were wondering. And because of that, there's little doubt college football bowl season is the best time of the year.

But, if that one reason won't suffice, Bleacher Report is giving you nine more to provide reassurance. You're not alone. We love football, too.

From a player's perspective, a season's worth of work results in one final contest, while we, the fans, have 39 bowl games for our viewing pleasure.

Of course, there are easily more than 10 reasons, so please add what you love most about bowl season in the comments section.

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Bowl Predictions 2014-15: Full Schedule and Picks for Notable Matchups

College football fans finally got their first glimpse of the bowl season on Saturday, but they still have a lot to look forward to in the next several weeks.

For the first time in the history of college football, there will be a playoff at the Division I level. Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State will all battle for a coveted spot in the national championship.

Outside of the two semifinals, four other bowls were decided by the playoff selection committee. Baylor and TCU may have missed out of the playoff, but they will get a chance at redemption in the Cotton and Peach Bowls, respectively.

Here's a look at the complete schedule and picks for the biggest matchups.

 

Breakdown of Notable Bowls

By this point, every fan has dissected and taken in just about everything possible surrounding the Sugar and Rose Bowls. Both games feature massive matchups, but the other four selection committee contests offer plenty of intrigue as well.

One of the biggest contests will take place in Glendale, Arizona with two familiar programs. Arizona comes in with potential home-field advantage, but Boise State has a bit of history at the Fiesta Bowl.

After knocking off Oklahoma in 2007 and the previously undefeated TCU in 2010, the Broncos know all about stepping up on the big stage. This time around, they have another explosive running back in Jay Ajayi, as the team's official account notes:

Ajayi put up career highs in nearly every category this season, tallying 2,225 yards from scrimmage and 29 total touchdowns—10 more than his sophomore season. He's been so successful with the Broncos that he'll likely forgo his final year in Boise, per Rand Getlin of Yahoo Sports:

Along with Ajayi, Grant Hedrick is looking to go out on top as a senior. The Broncos quarterback has 30 total touchdowns and 13 interceptions, but he offers enough mobility to potentially find the same success as Marcus Mariota against the Wildcats defense.

Over in Arlington, Baylor will be looking to prove it was worthy of earning a playoff spot. The Bears were overlooked by the selection committee in favor of Ohio State despite defeating Kansas State in the final weekend.

Much of Baylor's success over the last several seasons has been because of Bryce Petty. The quarterback has been up-and-down all year, but he still finished the year with 26 passing touchdowns to just six interceptions. Petty spoke about his expectations of his final year, via Max Olson of ESPN.com.

“Obviously I’d want it different,” Petty said. “Shoot, I’d love to be No. 1 on the Heisman list. I’d love to be the No. 1 pick coming out. I’d love to have 40 touchdowns, no picks.”

Baylor and Petty might be looking to prove themselves on New Year's Day, but Michigan State will be a difficult test. The Spartans feature a battle-tested quarterback in Connor Cook and a dynamic running back in Jeremy Langford.

Cook has already made his intentions clear about returning next season and will look to prove he's one of the best in the country against Petty. Mike Huguenin of NFL.com believes Cook is a Heisman contender for next year, via Spartan Football's Twitter:

After claiming the Rose Bowl MVP last season, Cook will look to star in another huge game for the Spartans. Having a tailback in Langford that has rushed for an average of 134 yards and 2.5 touchdowns in his last six games makes Michigan State's backfield even more dangerous.

All six games feature great matchups, but the offensive fireworks in both the Fiesta and Cotton Bowls should be something to watch for college football fans.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Jim Harbaugh Would Need Years to Turn Michigan into National Title Contender

Jim Harbaugh might be the best man for the job, but that doesn't mean the Michigan Wolverines would transform overnight upon his arrival.

Wolverines fans have long held out hope that Harbaugh would return to his alma mater and help it return to national prominence. As almost every Michigan fan now knows, the school reportedly offered him a six-year, $49 million deal, according to Joe Pequeno of CBS 5 in Phoenix:

ESPN's Adam Schefter posted on Facebook that "Jim Harbaugh’s family and friends have been encouraging him to take the Michigan HC job, but he is torn because his heart is in the NFL, per sources close to the situation."

NFL.com's Ian Rapoport added that Harbaugh hasn't had face-to-face contact with Michigan officials yet, so it's still way too early to definitively say that he's on his way to Ann Arbor:

With that said, the timing would be right for a move, and Harbaugh might have a hard time turning down potentially $8 million-plus a year.

This is one of those situations where anything he does won't come as a complete surprise, whether it's staying with the San Francisco 49ers, taking another NFL job or going to Michigan.

Let's just pretend he does in fact become the Wolverines' head coach. While he'd receive the full backing of the fanbase, expectations would also be sky high, especially after Urban Meyer helped Ohio State go unbeaten in his first season with the Buckeyes.

The only snag is that Michigan's problems go deeper than finding a new head coach.

One of the more pressing issues for 2015 is whom will be the team's starting quarterback. Shane Morris, Wilton Speight and Alex Malzone will be vying for the job, and all three are largely inexperienced at college level.

Harbaugh's had success molding young quarterbacks in the past, and there's no reason to expect things would be any different at Michigan. Still, though, Morris, Speight and Malzone aren't guaranteed to be immediate sensations. J.T. Barrett, Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston are the exceptions, not the rule.

In general, Brady Hoke did a good job on the recruiting trail, with Michigan's classes ranking sixth in 2012, fourth in 2013 and 20th in 2014, according to 247Sports. Hoke gave the Wolverines the talent, but he was unable to make the most of his personnel.

While the cupboard wouldn't be bare for Harbaugh, he'd need to overcome the same problem that hindered Meyer in his first couple of years in Columbus: the lack of explosive playmakers who can put the Wolverines on level pegging with the SEC's best.

On December 12, Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod wrote an article titled "Is Ohio State 'SEC Enough' to Beat Alabama in the College Football Playoff?" in which he discussed how the Buckeyes needed to grow its recruiting base in order to keep up with the top teams in the country:

Ohio State will always possess plenty of players from its own talent-rich state, but one glance at the Buckeyes' roster shows that this is far from your father's Ohio State squad.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a key player on this year's Buckeyes team who wasn't wooed by a school from the SEC, as Meyer hasn't been afraid to go head-to-head with his former conference on the recruiting trail.

"We’re getting close," Meyer said of he and his staff's work on the recruiting trail. "We have to get our speed up with overall offensive skill, but where it was two years ago to where it is now is much different."

It's not enough for Harbaugh or any other Wolverines coach to dominate in-state recruiting. He also has to go out to California, Texas and Florida, among others, to find the best players in the country. That process takes time, especially with the team falling down the college football hierarchy.

Michigan is a big school in reputation only at the moment. The Wolverines are relying on past glories in order to lure in the best prep stars.

At least when Meyer arrived, Ohio State had won at least 10 games a season from 2005 to 2010. In comparison, the Wolverines have one 10-plus-win season since 2006.

Harbaugh would undoubtedly bring a lot of buzz to the program and elevate it in the eyes of potential recruits. But he'd still need to demonstrate that he can bring sustained success to Michigan. You can also bet that other schools would use Harbaugh's NFL history against him, planting that seed of doubt that he could bolt for the big leagues once again at a moment's notice.

To be clear, Harbaugh would be the dream hire for the Wolverines. Paying him $49 million would seem crazy, but The Daily Beast's Jesse Lawrence argued the investment could pay for itself in no time. It's a no-brainer.

Hiring the 49ers head coach would be the quickest way for Michigan to return to an elite level again, but the school would still be looking at a long, arduous climb back to the top.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Western Michigan vs. Air Force: 2014 Idaho Potato Bowl Score, Twitter Reaction

On a rain-soaked field at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho, Air Force beat Western Michigan, 38-24, to win the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The victory gave the Falcons their third bowl win in the last six seasons, while the Broncos are still in search of their first postseason win.

CBS Sports CFB provided reaction to Air Force's victory:

The Falcons were led by Shayne Davern, who had a career day with 101 rushing yards and two touchdowns. 

Zach Terrell and Corey Davis also had a great day in the Broncos' losing effort. Terrell finished the game 19-of-38 for 297 passing yards, 61 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Each of those scores went to Davis, who capped off his season with 176 receiving yards.

Coming into the 2014 season, not many would have tabbed Western Michigan or Air Force as potential postseason teams. The Broncos and Falcons finished last season at 1-11 and 2-10, respectively. Both teams entered this game with seven more wins than they had the previous season. 

Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck spoke about the matchup Saturday, per Tim Booth of The Associated Press (via CBS Denver):

"How cool is it that two of the top turnarounds in college football get to play each other?" Fleck said. "I am very excited and very eager to strengthen my commitment to Western Michigan."

Bryan Fischer of NFL.com also noted how remarkable the turnaround was for Air Force:

While both teams followed similar paths to the Idaho Potato Bowl, it was Air Force that looked like the more dominant team early. The Falcons and Broncos traded off field goals in the first quarter, but two rushing touchdowns in the second quarter put Air Force out in front for good.

Shortly after a 47-yard touchdown connection between Terrell and Davis, Davern took the momentum back with a 55-yard TD run of his own. ESPN College Football provided a look at the massive run:

Air Force Football also noted how memorable the night was for Davern:

Devin Rushing followed that up with a one-yard rushing touchdown of his own after a 15-play, 80-yard drive for the Falcons. When the two huge drives were completed, Air Force took a 20-10 lead into halftime and had full control of the game.

In the third quarter, Terrell answered a field goal from Western Michigan with a 35-yard strike to Davis. WMU Football's official Twitter account pointed out where that puts Davis in the program's history books:

However, that touchdown would be essentially negated by a fumble on the following drive by Terrell that Dexter Walker returned 60 yards for a touchdown. ESPN College Football passed along the highlight from the pivotal score:

The Falcons cruised from there. 

Coming off two tremendous turnarounds, the future looks bright for both programs.

While Jarvion Franklin wasn't much of a factor on Saturday night, the rising freshman has the potential to be special in the MAC. Terrell and Davis are heading into their junior seasons, laying the foundation for what should be a special offense moving forward.

Meanwhile, the Falcons can get used to seeing Davern have more games like this in the future. The Falcons have reason for optimism after a 10-win season under Troy Calhoun.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Camellia Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for South Alabama vs. Bowling Green

Bowling Green 17, South Alabama 7 Late 2nd Quarter

In its sixth season of football, the South Alabama Jaguars will make their postseason debut here in about an hour against Bowling Green on ESPN.

The fact that they're getting to do it in what is essentially a home game is big for the Sun Belt program. The Camellia Bowl is played at Montgomery's Cramton Bowl, just a skip and a jump from the Mobile-based school. The Jags (6-6) are led by quarterback Brandon Bridge, and will be trying to break a streak of futility.

Meanwhile, though the Falcons (7-6) won the MAC East, they too are reeling, having lost three straight games, including a 51-17 blowout loss to Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game. USA has lost four of the season's final five games.

Keep this live blog open for the latest scoring updates, highlights and analysis.

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Division II Football Championship 2014: MSU-Mankato vs. CSU-Pueblo Score, Recap

Coming into the final matchup of the Division II season, both teams were looking to win the national championship for the first time in program history. After a 13-0 victory over Minnesota State-Mankato on Saturday, Colorado State-Pueblo became the fifth team in the last five years to claim the title.

CSU-Pueblo Athletics' official Twitter account provided the final score from Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas:

Chris Bonner wasn't perfect for the ThunderWolves but still led the way for the offense. Finishing 17-of-30 with 191 yards, one touchdown and one interception, Bonner found leading receiver Paul Browning for 84 receiving yards. Cameron McDondle also contributed 148 total yards on the afternoon to pace the offense on the ground.

NFL Draft Diamonds shared its thoughts on the ThunderWolves quarterback:

Overall, Bonner didn't take over the game or torch the Mavericks. But when he was asked to step up and take his team down the field, he did a much better job than Ricky Lloyd or Nick Pieruccini for MSU-Mankato.

Pueblo coach John Wristen spoke about his team's ability to win ugly games prior to the matchup, via Skylar Rolstad of NCAA.com:

Every playoff game is a game where you’ve just got to find a way to survive and advance. Our guys found a way on Saturday [against West Georgia]. Statistics weren’t always in our favor but you’re not judged by statistics, you’re judged by you wins and losses, so I think when you can win a ball game like that it’s a good step because you gain a little confidence when you go through.

Lloyd did provide a spark for the Mavericks at times with 99 passing yards and 67 rushing yards. That unfortunately was not enough to change the outcome, as Mankato was shut out in the national championship game.

From the start of the matchup, defense stole the show. Neither team was able to finish a drive in the end zone during the first quarter. Pueblo notched the only points of the half on a field goal and touchdown in the second quarter.

The ThunderWolves came on strong after a slow start with the field goal but really got rolling with Browning's touchdown. Bonner connected with Browning on an 18-yard completion to put CSU-Pueblo on top, 10-0, heading into the locker rooms.

The NCAA Division II official Twitter account offered a look at the reaction following the two scoring drives:

Adam Amin of ESPN offered his take on the early action in Kansas City:

It was much of the same in the second half from both teams, but CSU-Pueblo continued to find ways to score. A field goal in the third quarter would all but secure it for the stingy defense after limiting Mankato again in the second half.

Sporting Park noted just how dominant the performance was for Pueblo's defense:

Both programs came away with memorable seasons, but it's CSU-Pueblo who claimed its first championship. The ThunderWolves proved they are a program that can compete with anyone and will look to defend their crown next season.

Meanwhile, Mankato will seek to return to the big stage again in 2015. Coming up short is a sour end to the season, but making it this far and knocking off some of the best teams in the country along the way should translate to next season.

With a history of change at the top in the last several seasons, there's no telling what the future holds for either program. For now, the ThunderWolves hold the crown for the first time in school history.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Utah vs. Colorado State: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 Las Vegas Bowl

The 2014 Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl was supposed to be a matchup of the Utah's potent pass rush against Colorado State's aerial assault. Instead, the Utes dominated on both sides of the ball en route to a 45-10 win.

Despite an 8-4 regular-season record, Utah put together several impressive performances against quality teams. The Utes upset UCLA and USC, and lost a close game to Arizona State. Kyle Whittingham did an excellent job getting this program back up following consecutive losing seasons. 

Colorado State entered the Las Vegas Bowl boasting the eighth-ranked passing offense in the country, averaging 326.3 yards per game. The Rams also scored 35.9 points per game in winning 10 games during the regular season, though they had no answer for a relentless Utah defense on Saturday. 

Despite those numbers, Whittingham tried to downplay the idea that a one-on-one battle would determine the outcome, via Dirk Facer of the Deseret News: “That’s one of the subplots. There’s a lot of things going on....But I guess the headliner would be the Colorado State offense against our defense.”

Of course, Colorado State was playing this game without the man who led the program to those wins. Jim McElwain didn't coach this game after taking over at the University of Florida. 

There was an odd moment in the telecast, per Dr. Saturday of Yahoo Sports, when ESPN had McElwain call in to provide analysis of the game:

Whether McElwain would have made a difference for Colorado State is debatable. Given the way Utah controlled the game, it seems unlikely the Rams would have found a way to win. 

Running back Devontae Booker was Utah's offensive hero with 162 rushing yards on 26 carries. His first big play of the game came late in the first quarter. Colorado State had just scored to cut the Utes' lead to 14-7. On the first play after a 25-yard kickoff, via CBS Sports College Football, Booker scored from 60 yards out:

Booker also helped in the passing game with four receptions for 24 yards. After he made an incredible one-handed circus catch out of the backfield, Kyle Goon of The Salt Lake Tribune noted that's nothing new for the junior:

Overall, the Utes rushed for 359 yards and were able to control the clock for nearly 34 minutes in the victory. 

While the offense for Utah was outstanding, the defense deserves credit as well. Nate Orchard ended his spectacular season in grand fashion by taking the overall lead in sacks with 18.5, per Mark Anderson of the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

One player who should become more of a household name as he develops is Lowell Lotulelei, brother of 2013 first-round pick Star Lotulelei. Jared Stanger of DraftBreakdown.com provided a quick scouting report of the freshman:

Utah finishes the season with nine wins and a bowl victory. Whittingham will look to build on his already strong defense next season.

Colorado State will be disappointed with the way this season ended. It lost a head coach and got embarrassed in its bowl game. But it won 10 games for the first time since 2002 and played in consecutive bowl games for the first time since going to five straight from 1999-2003. 

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Idaho Potato Bowl Mascot Needs Personal Umbrella Holder

The Western Michigan Broncos took on the Air Force Falcons on Saturday in the Idaho Potato Bowl, but it was the mascot who stole the show early on.

The two teams had to play in a rainstorm, but the official Potato Bowl mascot refused to be exposed to the elements. Indeed, he had his very own personal umbrella holder—just like P. Diddy. Sadly, the umbrella holder didn't get an umbrella of his own.

Here's a GIF of the mascot trying to celebrate without moving from underneath the umbrella.

[Twitter, h/t SB Nation]

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Utah State vs. UTEP: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 New Mexico Bowl

The Utah State Aggies continued their recent postseason success Saturday in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl by defeating the UTEP Miners 21-6 at University Stadium in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Utah State ended the season with an impressive 10-4 record, while UTEP fell to 7-6. Winning the New Mexico Bowl was an especially big accomplishment for the Aggies considering all the adversity they faced in 2014, according to NFL.com's Bryan Fischer:

As seen in this graphic from the Mountain West Conference's official Twitter account, both teams entered the game with a run-centric mindset:

That trend held true as Utah State and UTEP combined to rack up 428 yards on the ground compared to just 194 through the air.

With that said, both defenses played an excellent game and were able to prevent the opposition from getting into a rhythm and putting too many points on the board.

While UTEP entered the game as a 10-point underdog, according to OddsShark, it had high hopes in terms of ending its 47-year bowl win drought. Miners head coach Sean Kugler explained what he believed a victory would mean for his team, per KVIA.com.

I think we would make history if we take the opportunity to win the bowl game. We're not done yet. We've got a lot of work to prepare. We are going to have to play our best to beat a great Utah State team. That would put a punctuation on this season. Regardless of the outcome of this game, I couldn't be more proud of these kids the way that they have fought all year.

The Miners got on the board first with just over three minutes remaining in the first quarter with a 32-yard field goal from sophomore kicker Jay Mattox.

UTEP drove 60 yards on seven plays with the big strike coming via a 53-yard pass from senior quarterback Jameill Showers to senior wide receiver Ian Hamilton. Although that got the Miners down to the Utah State 21, they couldn't capitalize with a touchdown.

Utah State made them pay on the ensuing drive as freshman signal-caller Kent Myers scored on a 48-yard run after dazzling the UTEP defense with a read option.

As pointed out by Wade Denniston of The Herald Journal, the blocking exploits of junior wide receiver Devonte Robinson downfield aided Myers significantly:

The Aggies very nearly added to their lead shortly after that as junior wide receiver JoJo Natson returned a punt 78 yards before being stopped just shy of the end zone.

That game-breaking play didn't hold up, however, as a penalty canceled it out, per Rick Wright of The Albuquerque Journal:

Utah State committed another miscue midway through the second quarter as UTEP senior defensive back Damian Payne intercepted Myers after the QB absorbed a big hit, as seen in this video courtesy of ESPN College Football:

The Miners offense stalled once again after that, but the defense then picked up for the second consecutive possession.

With Utah State at its own 32, UTEP senior defensive back Adrian James blasted Myers, which resulted in a fumble and Miners recovery deep in Aggies territory, according to Chris Jackson of Examiner.com:

To make matters worse for Utah State, Myers was shaken up on the play and had to be checked out on the sidelines, per Aggies Radio Sports:

Myers was taken to the locker room in the closing minutes of the half as UTEP attempted to convert the advantageous field position into points.

The Miners had to settle for a short field goal attempt, but even that went awry as the holder mishandled the snap, which gave Utah State the ball at its own 10.

With Myers still in the locker room, senior Ronald Butler was forced to take over at quarterback. Since only 43 seconds remained and the Aggies were pinned deep, most probably figured they would be content to enter the half up 7-3.

That changed, though, when Butler took a quarterback draw 61 yards to the UTEP 29 on his first play. To make matters even more shocking, Butler is a wide receiver by trade, according to Yahoo Sports' Dr. Saturday:

Butler is the Aggies' second-leading receiver with 478 yards, but he is also a capable passer with two scoring tosses. Utah State has been so decimated by injuries at quarterback this season that Butler became their fifth quarterback of the year, per Jeff Rhineer of Fox13Now.com:

Myers surprisingly returned to the game near the end of the drive, but the Aggies had to settle for a late field goal attempt.

Utah State senior kicker Nick Diaz appeared to extend the lead to 10-3 after a 28-yard make, but Kugler iced him.

The tactic worked as Diaz shanked his next kick well to the right, and the score remained 7-3 in favor of Utah State at halftime despite both teams having golden scoring opportunities late in the second.

Even though the first half ended in disappointment for the Aggies, it didn't seem to impact them at the start of the third quarter. After having a big play nullified earlier in the game, the speedy Natson made up for it with a 46-yard reception from Myers on Utah State's opening drive.

As pointed out by Lya Wodraska of The Salt Lake Tribune, Natson used his elusiveness to weave through the UTEP defense and get down to the Miners' 24:

Utah State then ran the ball down UTEP's throat, culminating in a three-yard touchdown run by sophomore linebacker and running back Nick Vigil to go up 14-3.

The Aggies once again put themselves in great position with less than six minutes remaining in the third as junior cornerback Tyler Floyd picked off Showers.

Although Floyd made a nice play on the ball, Showers wasn't helped by his receiver, according to Kurt Kragthorpe of The Salt Lake Tribune:

Utah State couldn't convert that turnover into points, and both offenses struggled for several drives.

The Aggies had a chance to make things difficult on the Miners with about 10 minutes left in the game as a 47-yard field goal would have put Utah State up by two touchdowns. Diaz couldn't atone for his earlier miss, though, as he was wayward once again, which gave UTEP some hope.

With just over three minutes remaining in the game, the Miners made a 34-yard field goal to cut the deficit to eight points.

Since UTEP had two timeouts remaining, it decided to kick the ball deep rather than opting for an onside attempt. That plan ultimately didn't pay off, though, as Utah State put the game away with a 32-yard run from Joe Hill followed by an 11-yard touchdown scamper by Hill to make it 21-6.

This win caps another strong season for the Aggies, and it extends their bowl winning streak to three straight. Also, Utah State has now won 10 or more games in two out of the past three seasons, which speaks to its progress as a program.

As for UTEP, it will continue to chase that elusive bowl win in the coming years. After winning just two games in 2013, though, going 7-6 in 2014 has to be considered a major accomplishment.

Utah State was a great measuring stick, and the Miners learned Saturday that they aren't quite at that level yet.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Famous Idaho Potato Bowl 2014: Live Score, Highlights for WMU vs. Air Force

Air Force 13, Western Michigan 10—Mid 2nd Quarter

Air Force and Western Michigan are meeting for the first time ever in Saturday's Famous Idaho Potato Bowl—a destination few expected from either program after three combined wins a season ago.

Alas, Western Michigan bounced back from a 1-11 season a year ago and a 2-3 start to this season to finish by winning six of seven with a chance at the end of the season to win the MAC. Either way, it was the biggest turnaround in the conference's history.

Air Force had only two victories (to Colgate and Army) in 2013 before a seismic turnaround en route to a 9-3 season. The Falcons are back to where they're used to being during the holidays, marking their seventh bowl game in eight seasons. 

To say a bowl victory would be the icing on the cake for either team's impressive season would be a big understatement—especially for Western Michigan, who is 0-5 all time in bowl games.

Kickoff is at 5:45 p.m. ET on ESPN, but take a look below for live updates as they happen. Also, check NCAA.com for updated stats of the game. 

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College Football Playoff 2014: Full Bracket, Viewing Information for Semifinals

Welcome to the start of the bowl season. Instead of looking at the full slate on the first day of the bowl schedule, it's already time to look ahead at what college football fans have been waiting for all season.

On New Year's Day, the inaugural College Football Playoff will steal the show from the rest of the bowl games. Along with having four of the most notable programs in the sport, each team has been dominant throughout the season.

Between the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl, football fans have everything they could ever want on the field. Prior to the kickoff in these two massive matchups, here's a look at the full bracket, schedule and analysis of the bowls.

 

Analysis of College Football Playoff

Storylines are abundant in the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl, but the biggest ones are under center and on the sidelines.

In the case of the Rose Bowl, the two quarterbacks both hold Heisman trophies after two outstanding seasons. Marcus Mariota, the Oregon signal-caller, has been nearly perfect all season, with 52 total touchdowns and only two interceptions.

Meanwhile, Jameis Winston has not been as great, with 27 total touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Kevin Gemmell of ESPN.com points out why the turnover margin will likely be the difference in the Rose Bowl:

Oregon's 120 points off of turnovers ranks sixth nationally, and their points margin of 107 (120 points scored, 13 allowed after a turnover) is second best in the country behind TCU. Again, in this category, Florida State isn't so good. The Seminoles are actually in the negative in points margin at minus-10. They've scored 83 points off of turnovers, but allowed 93. That ranks in the bottom 20 of all Power 5 schools.

Along with the two signal-callers, a duo of young running backs in Royce Freeman and Dalvin Cook will also make a huge difference. Both have come on strong and finished the season with authority to help lead their programs to the promised land.

Back on the East Coast, Alabama and Ohio State will do battle. Or, as most fans of both teams will refer to it, Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer: Part IV.

Two of the most well-known coaches in college football, Saban and Meyer have a combined five national championships. They also happen to be coaching two of the best programs in the country this season.

Looking to move to 2-2 against Saban, Meyer pointed out what is different about the Crimson Tide this year, via Cecil Hurt of TheTuscaloosa News:

Ranking fourth in the country in points allowed (16.6) and 17th in points scored (37.1) per game, the Tide are rolling heading into the showdown.

But they face a potent Buckeyes rushing attack that features Ezekiel Elliott and Cardale Jones. Elliott crushed Wisconsin his last time out for 220 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the Big Ten Championship Game.

The sophomore spoke about having to face that stingy 'Bama defense, via OSU's official account:

Needless to say, both games feature some of the best athletes from around the country looking to accomplish one thing—reaching the College Football Playoff National Championship. New Year's Day will mark one of the biggest days in the history of the sport, but the ultimate goal is to play in the final game of the season.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Las Vegas Bowl 2014: Utah vs. Colorado State

Utah 0, Colorado State 0 ; Early 1st Quarter

Today features a classic matchup of old Mountain West foes, as the No. 22 Utah Utes (8-4) take on the Colorado State Rams (10-2) in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.  

The game begins at 3:30 p.m. ET. It can be seen on ABC. 

Odds Shark has Utah as a 2.5-point favorite. A full box score can be found here, courtesy of NCAA.com.

 

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Nevada vs. LA-Lafayette: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 New Orleans Bowl

Louisiana-Lafayette kicked off college football bowl season with a 16-3 win over Nevada in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on Saturday. In the process, it became the first school to win the same bowl game four straight years.

Yes, the Ragin' Cajuns were making their fourth consecutive appearance in the same bowl. They won each of the previous three with triumphs over Tulane, East Carolina and San Diego State. It's made the Mercedes-Benz Superdome almost like a second home for the Sun Belt squad.

Here's how their latest trip to the New Orleans Bowl played out:

The Wolf Pack knew the contest presented a unique challenge. Going into a road atmosphere against a team with recent success in the game isn't too common during bowl season.

Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo told Trey Iles of The Times-Picayune they were looking at it as a typical away game rather than a neutral-site encounter.

"They have a great history in this game," he said. "This is their fourth consecutive year here. They're pretty much the home team, and that's the way we're approaching it. It'll be a fun atmosphere."

Given those factors—along with the fact the game kicked off at 8 a.m. Reno time, where the Nevada program is based—perhaps the way the game started shouldn't have been much of a surprise.

Louisiana-Lafayette took the ball after the opening kickoff and proceeded to put together an eight-play, 77-yard drive to get on the scoreboard first. Terrance Broadway found C.J. Bates for a 17-yard touchdown strike to grab a quick 7-0 edge.

As CBS Sports College Football pointed out, it was quite a start to bowl season:

After forcing a three-and-out on defense, the Ragin' Cajuns embarked on another long drive that resulted in points.

This one covered 60 yards on 13 plays and ate up nearly seven minutes of the clock. The drive stalled out just inside the Nevada 30, however. Hunter Stover made sure they still salvaged something out of the drive by connecting on a 46-yard field-goal attempt. 

Nick Krueger from House of Sparky noted it was a career long for the senior kicker:

The Wolf Pack, probably just emerging from their morning daze, were finally able to stabilize the game after that score. The offense started moving the ball, and the defense made a couple stops.

Nevada got on the scoreboard about midway through the second quarter. A brutal nine-yard punt by Daniel Cadona gave it terrific field position. The offense drove all the way down to the 1-yard line, but a false start penalty pushed it back, and from there, the group couldn't find the end zone.

Brent Zuzo made sure the Mountain West side got something out of the drive by splitting the uprights from 21 yards out to make it 10-3.

Scott Prather of ESPN 1420 noted the lack of big plays from either side in the first half:

Louisiana-Lafayette tried to change that on the final drive of the half by throwing up a Hail Mary as the clock ticked down to zero. But Broadway, who completed his first 14 attempts in the game, watched the long toss get knocked down in the end zone.

Still, the Ragin' Cajuns entered the locker room up by a touchdown. On Twitter, the program noted its success in that situation both this season and during the tenure of head coach Mark Hudspeth:

Although there were no points scored in the third quarter, a key stretch occurred about midway through the period.

Matthew Leach of MLB.com probably summed up the thoughts of many college football fans:

Louisiana-Lafayette was inside the Nevada 25-yard line when Lenny Jones came through for the Wolf Pack defense. He delivered a huge hit on Broadway for the strip-sack and also recovered the fumble.

It felt like a perfect opportunity for the Wolf Pack to take the sudden change of fortune to start building some positive vibes on the offensive side of the ball.

Instead, they could only muster one first down before punting. That allowed the Ragin' Cajuns to get the ball back and go on another extended drive. Fifteen plays later, they stretched the lead back to a pair of scores with Stover's second field goal of the afternoon.

Chad Washington of The Daily World noted it put a lot of pressure on the Nevada offense against a defense that was playing perhaps its best game of the season:

The Wolf Pack attempted to respond quickly. They started advancing down the field with ease against a less aggressive Cajuns defense, but four straight incompletions from Fajardo brought the drive to an abrupt halt after they had moved into opposing territory.

Louisiana-Lafayette went back to the ground-and-pound approach once again. It milked four more minutes off the clock, and Stover delivered, this time from 35, to make it 16-3.

ESPN Stats & Info pointed out the lack of success on the ground held Nevada back, especially with the Cajuns utilizing that facet of the game to control the clock:

There was no miracle comeback to be found in the final minutes. Louisiana-Lafayette finished the job to become the first winner of bowl season.

Dr. Saturday highlighted the result:

SI College Football gave props to the winning squad:

Nevada finishes the season with a 7-6 record. It deserves credit for bouncing back from a mediocre beginning to the campaign to secure bowl eligibility. The Wolf Pack just got off to a sluggish start and didn't have enough offense to mount a comeback.

Louisiana-Lafayette ends its year with a win in the New Orleans Bowl for the fourth consecutive year. For a program that waited a long time for success after its move to Division I, it's a nice accomplishment. The Ragin' Cajuns will aim even higher in 2015.

 

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