Feed aggregator

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

Throw out the obvious national title implications, and both College Football Playoff matchups are must-watch affairs based on star power and program prestige alone.

The Sugar Bowl features two of the blue bloods in college football, pitting the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide against the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes—who posted a 59-0 humiliation of Wisconsin to jump TCU and Baylor for the final spot. When two teams combining for 18 championships get together in a first-of-its-kind semifinal, fireworks are guaranteed.

Look across the bracket, and it's apparent you should be glued to your couch all New Year's Day long. Florida State and Jameis Winston will go up against Oregon and Marcus Mariota in a game that should almost certainly pit two Heisman Trophy winners against each other.

Here's a look at the complete schedule for the CFP, including previews and predictions for both semifinals.

Note: Odds courtesy of Odds Shark, last updated December 10.

 

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

To congratulate Cardale Jones on his high-flying starting debut for Ohio State in the Buckeyes' 59-0 win over Wisconsin, the CFP committee matched him up against Nick Saban and the vaunted Alabama Crimson Tide. 

Unlike most of their championship runs, the Tide fought an uphill battle to get here after an early loss to Ole Miss set them back. That dynastic feel has been absent from this team at times, but the Tide have left no doubt about their makeup as an elite force down the stretch. 

Cecil Hurt of The Tuscaloosa News reported a quote from Saban that reflected that:

Offensive potency has also been a shake-up, with Blake Sims setting a single-season passing record in a season that saw his starting job in flux time and time again. Ohio State hasn't faced a team in the Big Ten that can toss the ball around the yard with weapons such as Amari Cooper and DeAndrew White.

The Buckeyes have shown their grit in an 11-game win streak ever since a 14-point home loss to Virginia Tech, riding a stingy defensive front with Joey Bosa and Joshua Perry. But they will have their hands full slowing down an Alabama offense that—for the first time in the Saban era—can beat you over the top or on the ground just as well.

The lack of tape on Jones should allow him to make some plays against an Alabama secondary that struggles on the deep ball. But with so long to prepare for the inexperienced youngster, you like Saban's chances, as Clay Travis of Fox Sports noted:

The Buckeyes will keep it close, but stalemating Ezekiel Elliott on the ground will force Jones to make plays. He won't be able to keep up with Sims and Co.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Ohio State 24

 

Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State

The most awkward moment in preparation for Florida State and Oregon in the Rose Bowl will likely come Saturday night in New York City.

That moment will be when Winston—last year's Heisman winner—greets Mariota on the stage after Mariota collects what is almost certainly his 2014 Heisman Trophy. Although Winston will concede his active hold of the trophy to a worthy player, he'll be wishing him defeat the next time he steps on the field.

In everything but individual accolades, Winston has liked his chances of victory as the Seminoles look to go unbeaten for the second straight season. Jimbo Fisher made it clear to them after winning the ACC that they weren't done, per ESPN's Joe Schad:

This time a year ago, the 'Noles were ready for an attack like Oregon's—as told by their win over a similar Auburn team in the national championship. But not now. 

Florida State has been just getting by against inferior foes, and Georgia Tech showed that sticking to what works on offense can yield strong results. Oregon undoubtedly has a system that works, having passed the 40-point plateau in every appearance since that home loss to Arizona on Oct. 2.

Mariota's dominance has been at the center of that, as USA Today's Paul Myerberg illustrated:

What will help Oregon more than anything against the Seminoles is how magnificently Mariota takes care of the ball. He's thrown only two picks all season, and avoiding turnovers will keep an opportunistic Florida State defense from getting the ball in Winston's hands in favorable spots.

Florida State will have a Heisman winner of its own to get it back into the game late, but it won't matter much with Mariota keeping the teams distanced on the scoreboard. The Seminoles defense won't have an answer for Oregon's high-octane attack, and Winston's late magic won't be enough.

Prediction: Oregon 41, Florida State 30

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Heisman Trophy Ceremony 2014: Date, Start Time, Live Stream, TV and Award Info

The 2014 Heisman Trophy has come down to three players, each the best at their respective positions.

While the number of finalists fluctuates every year, the voters felt there was enough separation between the top names and the likes of Tevin Coleman, Trevone Boykin, Scooby Wright and others.

While that issue is open to debate, it is hard to question the three players who did receive an invite.

Indeed, the best quarterback, running back and receiver in college football will this weekend hope to see their name etched in history.

Fans might expect a runaway in the voting, but it will still be interesting to see who gets to raise the prestigious trophy. Here is a look at everything you need to know heading into the ceremony.

 

When: Saturday, Dec. 13

Time: 8 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Live Stream:Watch ESPN

 

Finalists

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

Oregon is competing for a national championship because of the play of Marcus Mariota. The Ducks dealt with injuries on both sides of the ball this year, especially along the offensive line, but the quarterback ensured they remained among the best teams in the nation.

Mariota heads into the bowl season with 52 total touchdowns and just two interceptions, which equals a quarterback rating of 186.3. Not only is this the best in the nation, the difference between him and the second-highest mark is bigger than the gap between second and ninth.

Bob Glauber of Newsday notes how well the quarterback has performed in his entire career:

According to Joel Klatt of Fox Sports, this race is not even going to be close:

The Ducks star is seemingly putting up huge numbers every time he steps onto the field, and he is as deserving of a Heisman as anyone in recent memory. If he doesn't win, it would be a pretty big surprise.

 

Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

Although Mariota is the clear favorite for this award, Melvin Gordon is not ready to concede just yet.

"You've got to keep faith," the Wisconsin running back explained via Jeff Potrykus of the Journal Sentinel. "You never know how the votes are going to turn out." 

Defenses have certainly learned this season never to overlook Gordon. The junior had a breakout season a year ago with 1,609 rushing yards but blew that away in 2014 with 2,336 rushing yards heading into bowl season.

The running back leads the nation in rushing yards and touchdowns (26), while his 7.6 yards per carry is the best among anyone with at least 200 attempts.

Gordon also briefly had the record for most rushing yards in a single game with 408 until Oklahoma's Samaje Perine topped it just a week later. Of course, it only took Gordon three quarters to accomplish the feat.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller believes this should be enough to win the Heisman:

Despite a poor performance against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game, this was still one of the best seasons a running back has ever had at this level.

 

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

It's relatively rare to see a receiver earn a trip to New York, but it's almost impossible to deny Amari Cooper as one of the most outstanding players in the country.

The Alabama star led all of FBS with 115 catches and 1,656 yards while ranking second with 14 touchdowns. 

As the SEC Network noted, this was a season to remember for the Crimson Tide:

While most receivers at the college level are able to put up big numbers in a spread offense that throws the ball every play, Alabama remains a pro-style system. Cooper simply beat his man virtually every play and posted huge numbers throughout the year.

Fantasy football owners are probably going to want him on their team as soon as he reaches the NFL.

Until then, college football fans should be able to appreciate one of the best receivers of his generation.

 

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

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Games 2014-15: TV Schedule and Predictions for Most Anticipated Matchups

While there was going to be controversy no matter how the college football season ended, there will at least be plenty of exciting games to keep all fans entertained.

Between national semifinals to determine a champion, big-time matchups in the New Year's Six bowls and other quality battles, the next few weeks should be a thrill for anyone who watches the sport.

Of course, some games will have a bigger following than others. No offense to the organizers of the New Mexico Bowl, but the viewership for the College Football Playoff might be a bit higher.

Still, here is a complete schedule with predictions for every game as well as a breakdown of the top matchups to watch.

All games can be viewed online courtesy of Watch ESPN.

 

Top Games

Cotton Bowl: Baylor vs. Michigan State

Michigan State has a unique perspective this bowl season as a team that has faced two of the four teams in the College Football Playoff. While the losses to Ohio State and Oregon were each decided by double digits, it's clear the squad has been tested.

Quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford have faced much better defenses in their careers than Baylor, and this duo should be able to put up big numbers against the Bears.

Conversely, the lack of competition was a big issue with Baylor throughout the year, especially in the nonconference schedule. ESPN's Trevor Matich notes that as a reason the Bears are not in contention for a championship:

Then again, there hasn't been a lot of respect for the Big Ten this postseason, even with this spread being relatively low, according to Clay Travis of Outkick the Coverage:

Even though the Spartans have played well defensively against inferior competition, they have been torched by the better opponents on the schedule. Baylor's No. 1 offense in the nation should continue to move the ball and help win a high-scoring battle in Texas.

Prediction: Baylor 48, Michigan State 35

 

Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Ohio State

It's not surprising to see Alabama competing for a national championship, but its style is certainly different than it has been in past years.

While the Crimson Tide are used to having a methodical offense with a run-heavy approach, they have been much more dynamic this season under offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer was certainly impressed with the difference:

Blake Sims gives the squad a new dimension at quarterback, and that should help Alabama score points against whoever it plays.

The Buckeyes are certainly capable of putting up points as well, but it's important to remember Cardale Jones will be making just his second start at quarterback when the Sugar Bowl rolls around. While he did have three touchdowns in a 59-0 blowout against Wisconsin, he only threw 17 passes in the win.

With the way Alabama can shut down the run, Jones will be forced to do a lot more in this game and is likely to struggle his way to a loss.

Prediction: Alabama 27, Ohio State 14

 

Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Florida State

The big story in this game is the competition at quarterback. Jameis Winston is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner after leading Florida State to a national championship last season, but Marcus Mariota appears set to win the prestigious award this time around.

Joel Klatt of Fox Sports doesn't even think it'll be close:

While Winston has the talent and is coming off one of the best games of the season in the ACC Championship win over Georgia Tech, he has not had a good year. The biggest problem has been his turnovers as he has thrown 17 interceptions this season to rank fourth worst in the nation.

Meanwhile, Mariota has only thrown two interceptions all year while accounting for 38 touchdowns through the air and another 14 on the ground.

Obviously, this game will have to do with a lot more than the men under center. However, a few small plays will be the difference in what will likely become a shootout.

Considering the Ducks star knows how to hold onto the ball and Winston doesn't, Oregon should be able to escape with a close win.

Prediction: Oregon 45, Florida State 38

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Game Schedule 2014-15: Predictions for Underrated Matchups

The brand-new College Football Playoff offers some amazing matchups, but there are still loads of bowls to play before those games even get underway.

Although casual fans may tune out the also-ran bowls unless they attended the schools involved, several showdowns in late December are worth watching during the holiday season.

Some involve ranked teams eager to end their years with a bang, while other programs will attempt to make the most of their time in the national spotlight. Three contests stand out as particularly noteworthy prior to the playoff commencement on New Year's Day's.

After surveying the complete 2014-15 bowl game schedule, read on for analysis and predictions on some of the more underrated bowls on the slate.

Note: Statistics courtesy of NCAA.com.

 

 

Predictions For Underrated Matchups

Sun Bowl: Duke vs. No. 15 Arizona State

The Blue Devils are one of the better teams in the country not able to crack the selection committee's Top 25. They should pose a considerable challenged to the favored Sun Devils.

Arizona State's 75th-ranked scoring defense will help Duke keep the game close, thanks mostly to the presence of Blue Devils go-to receiver Jamison Crowder. Taylor Kelly is a seasoned veteran under center for the Sun Devils, but he was benched in the regular-season finale loss to Arizona.

As shaky as Anthony Boone is as a pocket passer for the Blue Devils, Kelly doesn't give ASU as big of an edge at the most important position on the field as might be expected. Duke coach David Cutcliffe summarized the game well:

Sun Devils star Jaelen Strong is a superior No. 1 pass-catching target to Crowder, with a bigger frame and more explosive ability to put points on the board in a hurry. Whether it's Kelly or Mike Bercovici throwing the ball, Strong figures to have a big game.

Both teams thrive on making fewer mistakes than their opponents, though. ASU is plus-12 and Duke is plus-8 in turnover margin. Whoever wins that battle has a great shot at claiming victory in this one.

Also worth keeping in mind is that the Blue Devils haven't beaten a team with a winning record all year other than Georgia Tech, per ESPN.com's Andrea Adelson.

Based on the fact that the Sun Devils have superior offensive firepower, have played better competition in the Pac-12 this year than Duke has faced and have two capable QBs in Kelly and Bercovici, the Sun Devils get the edge.

Prediction: Arizona State 35, Duke 27

 

Holiday Bowl: Nebraska vs. No. 24 USC

The Trojans have perhaps the most unheralded star QB in the country in Cody Kessler. He's had such a strong junior campaign that he could even bolster potential NFL draft stock in this one.

David Lombardi of ESPN.com notes just how proficient Kessler has been this year:

No more than a decade or so ago, USC was taking over as the most prominent college football program in the country, but Nebraska preceded the Trojans with that gaudy label. A brief gap transpired when the Miami Hurricanes put together some loaded teams near the turn of the millennium.

Ryan Abraham of USCFootball.com notes how history is on USC's side:

The Cornhuskers are in a bit of disarray. Their former coach, Bo Pelini, was fired on November 30 with a bowl game still to play. Running back Ameer Abdullah has the skills to will Nebraska to an upset over the Trojans, but USC ball-carrier Javorius Allen has run for over 1,300 yards of his own and is no slouch.

The passing game combination of Nelson Agholor and Kessler, combined with Allen's ability to pound the rock, will help the Trojans emerge with a hard-fought win.

Prediction: USC 41, Nebraska 38

 

Liberty Bowl: West Virginia vs. Texas A&M

This should be an epic shootout between two uptempo spread offenses, headlined by a potential future NFL star in Mountaineers receiver Kevin White.

One pro scout even compared White to Arizona Cardinals Pro Bowler Larry Fitzgerald.

"He's more of a (Larry) Fitzgerald type receiver in that he doesn't have great speed," said the scout, per the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Bob McGinn (h/t NFL.com's Chase Goodbread). "I never see him beat people deep. But (if) he is even with them he's going to get the ball. Very good player."

The Aggies' air-raid offense has experienced turbulence this year. Past Heisman winner Johnny Manziel appeared to be a system quarterback for a minute until his successor Kenny Hill struggled and was eventually benched for hotshot freshman Kyle Allen.

Allen has dealt with some growing pains that have raised questions as to whether Hill, a two-game suspension demerit aside, was unseated too soon. Texas A&M has plenty of weapons, however, in the receiving corps and the backfield to help the young signal-caller.

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen tweeted an interesting response to Aggies offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, who served on Holgorson's staff as quarterbacks coach from 2011 to 2012:

Dynamic slot wideout Mario Alford is overshadowed by White, but he is a playmaker in his own right, with 10 touchdown catches in 2014 to White's nine. This game should come down to who has the ball last.

Given Allen's lack of explosiveness with 6.55 yards per pass attempt and how well Skyler Howard has entered the starting QB role for West Virginia with five touchdown tosses in six quarters, expect the Mountaineers to pull this one out.

Prediction: West Virginia 51, Texas A&M 49

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Army Black Knights vs. Navy Midshipmen Betting Odds, Analysis, College Football

The Navy Midshipmen have ruled the recent service academy rivalry with the Black Knights of Army, winning the last 12 meetings in a row and going 8-4 against the spread in the process. The Middies shoot to extend their series-record winning streak to a baker's dozen when the teams meet Saturday afternoon in Baltimore.

 Point spread: Midshipmen opened as 15-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 32.4-18.6 Midshipmen

 

Why the Army Black Knights can cover the spread

The Cadets had lost three games in a row both straight up and against the spread, but they're 2-1 SU and ATS over their last three contests, so perhaps they're getting better as their first season under Jeff Monken (a former Navy assistant) progresses.

One month ago Army upset Connecticut 35-21 as a four-point underdog, and two weeks ago the Cadets beat Fordham 42-31, again as four-point dogs. The Knights outrushed the Huskies by 156 yards, and the Rams by 292 yards, and have now outrushed all but three opponents this season.

 

Why the Navy Midshipmen can cover the spread

Since losing three in a row both SU and ATS back in midseason, the Middies are 4-1 SU and 3-2 ATS, clinching a third-straight bowl bid. The only loss during that span was a 49-39 decision against Notre Dame, a game Navy led through three quarters 31-28.

Last time out the Midshipmen spotted South Alabama an early 17-7 lead then scored 28 of the game's next 31 points to take over. Navy, as a seven-point favorite, had the spread covered until it gave up a touchdown with 30 seconds to go. The Middies have outgained all but four opponents this season and outrushed all but one.

 

Smart Pick

Navy has beaten Army 12 times in a row, several times in blowout fashion, but the Cadets are tired of hearing about that streak and would love to do something about it. And Monken, who picked up the option from former Middies and current Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson, might have a trick or two up his sleeve.

So the smart money in this spot appears to reside with the Black Knights plus the points.

 

Betting Trends

  • The total has gone over in five of Army's last six games
  • Navy is 5-0 SU in its last five games when playing Army

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of OddsShark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Deshaun Watson Injury: Updates on Clemson Star's Recovery from Knee Surgery

The season for Clemson freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson is over. 

There was speculation that the dynamic playmaker, who threw for 269 yards and four touchdowns against South Carolina with a partially torn ACL, would again play through the injury later this month against Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl. But according to sources cited by The Post and Courier's Aaron Brenner, he will undergo surgery on Friday, effectively ending his season. 

While Watson's time on the field was limited—he needed a couple of weeks to earn the starting job, missed three games with a broken hand and missed most of two others due to his injuries—his production was not.

One of the most impressive true freshmen in the country, he completed 67.9 percent of his throws for 1,466 yards, 14 touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for 200 yards and five scores. 

Head coach Dabo Swinney, via the team's official Twitter feed, put it simply:

It's a major loss for the Tigers, but it's more important for Watson to get healthy in preparation for 2015 than to risk further injury in a glorified exhibition. 

Senior Cole Stoudt, who has been markedly less effective under center, will start in his place. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: How Wolverines Will Replace Devin Funchess

Back in September, Devin Gardner said that Devin Funchess "could probably be the best receiver to ever play here."

It was a bold statement from the former quarterback but not too far of a stretch. However, in order to attain such stardom at Michigan, Funchess would have needed an exemplary 2014 and an even better senior session.

But the breakout junior year for Funchess never happened, and the chances of him having an even better final go with the Wolverines were squashed Tuesday when the 6’5”, 236-pound wideout declared for the 2015 NFL Draft.

In a release sent by the university, Funchess thanked former coach Brady Hoke's staff, the fans and everyone associated with Michigan football. The new staff, fans and everyone associated with the team will certainly miss his services next fall. 

The absence of Funchess, who’s been a projected first-rounder since the end of 2013, will present a mountainous climb for an offense that finished in the cellar of the Big Ten this past fall in yard output, ranking No. 13 in total production at 333 yards per game, and in scoring, scraping together a puny output of 20.9 points each Saturday.

The end result of that equation was a 5-7 record.

But so much more was possible, and so much more could be in 2015. Parting is such sweet sorrow, so it’s time to add "replacing prototypical No. 1 receiver" to the to-do list for the incoming regime at Michigan.

Whether Doug Nussmeier is the offensive coordinator is irrelevant, as a meeting of the minds between the OC, quarterbacks and receivers is beyond necessary. 

Shane Morris, a 6'3", 204-pound junior-to-be, and Wilton Speight, a 6'6", 235-pound soon-to-be-sophomore, must quickly recognize and designate candidates for Funchess' replacement going into winter workouts and, ultimately, into spring practices.

Time is of the essence. But haste makes waste. This move has to be calculated. Joe Depth can't take on the load of one of the most athletic wideouts to ever run the field at The Big House. 

But there are options, such as Jake Butt and Amara Darboh, who seem like the logical successors to Funchess’ former perch.

Although listed as a tight end, Butt brings Funchess-like attributes to the table. Funchess made the move; why not Butt? At 6’6” and 250 pounds, he’s capable of shedding defenders and catching the hard-to-reach balls—he just doesn’t have the speed or balance of his former teammate.  

However, that could come in time for Butt, who played well down the stretch, finishing his sophomore run with 21 catches for 211 yards and two touchdowns.

Once workouts begin, he’ll be several more months removed from an ACL tear suffered during drills in the winter of 2013. Distance from an injury is always a good thing for a player looking to find his niche.

During 2014 media day, Butt said that he’d like to become one of Michigan’s great tight ends. Instead, he could end up evolving into Michigan’s next great replacement for the guy who was billed as the program’s next great receiver.

During his first (somewhat) fully healthy year on campus, Darboh caught 36 passes for 473 yards and two touchdowns for Team 135.

Overall, those aren't embarrassing numbers. Yeah, fans wanted more from him, but getting nearly 500 yards from a seldom-used option isn't bad at all. 

Darboh appears to have the required tools to secure acrobatic tosses; he's long and balanced and has sticky hands. For further reference, look back to his six-catch, 88-yard, one-touchdown showing during Michigan's 34-10 victory over Miami of Ohio.

Want more proof?

Review the tape of the Wolverines' 34-10 homecoming romp of Indiana, in which he hauled in nine catches for 107 yards and a score. With stable quarterback play, Darboh could step into the No. 1 receiver role and immediately produce. 

Jehu Chesson checked out with 11 catches for 154 yards and zero touchdowns—but Michigan’s barely seen the best of him. The 6’3”, 197-pound junior-to-be didn’t make quite the impact that was expected of him in 2014, but he has a set of hands that’ll move the chains.

Michigan's existing stable is ready to show what it has, but Chesson’s at the fore of the rotation and 2015 could serve as a springboard for his career.

Really, it has to if he wants to see the field on a regular basis, because the Wolverines have more reinforcements on the way.

That goes for the likes of Drake Harris, Freddy Canteen, Da'Mario Jones and JaRon Dukes. Together, that group returns six catches for 33 yards. Canteen has five of those for 22 yards.

Development, as always, is key in this case. They'll have to chip in with quality shifts so the offense can eventually feature a No. 1. It's like dominoes. 

That doesn't apply to just Butt, Darboh and Chesson, but also to Harris, Canteen, Jones and, among others, Dukes. The Wolverines relied heavily upon Funchess in 2014, and teams rarely, if ever, replace the caliber of a Devin Funchess overnight.

But assuming Michigan's offense takes at least one or two steps forward in 2015, and a couple of players rise from the depths, replacing his 62 catches for 733 yards and four touchdowns shouldn't be too much to overcome. 

 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: 5 Bold Predictions for the Vols' Bowl Game

In a surprise selection, the Tennessee Volunteers' postseason fortunes went from an all-but-guaranteed blustery and cold bowl game somewhere in the mid-South to a berth in the TaxSlayer Bowl in balmy Jacksonville, Florida, against the Iowa Hawkeyes. 

With potential opponents ranging from the West Virginia Mountaineers, the Louisville Cardinals and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, it looks like the Vols lucked out not only on location but also on their opponent.

The Hawkeyes are a solid team that underachieved in 2014, while the Vols met expectations in an unexpected way by clawing their way to bowl eligiblity after winning three of their last four games.

Although the Vols are already reaping the benefits of making the postseason by scheduling 15 extra practices, the season won't be a true success unless the team brings home a win from Jacksonville.

And with a full month to heal and game-plan for the team's Big 10 opponent, expect Tennessee's coaches to give fans and players alike a glimpse of what the team will look like heading into 2015.

With that said, here are five bold predictions for Tennessee's matchup against the Iowa Hawkeyes in the TaxSlayer Bowl. 

Begin Slideshow

2014 Alabama Team Is Nick Saban's Crowning Achievement

It's Alabama, so I shouldn't be surprised the Crimson Tide are a final four team. Well, I am surprised. I'm actually a little bit stunned, even with the SEC being down this season.

I mean, these guys need two wins to snatch a national championship with a squad that should have gone 9-3.

This is Nick Saban and his staff's best work at Alabama in the eight seasons he has been there. It really is.

The quarterback is 6' tall. He was a scout team quarterback. They tried to put him at wide receiver, then running back. There were all kinds of reasons not to hand the job to Blake Sims. Saban was ready to give it to transfer Jake Coker the morning of the August 16 scrimmage, a team source said, but decided on Sims. Now look at Sims. MVP of the SEC Championship game.

Here's the true measure of the coaching done by Saban and his staff this season. He has always hated the no-huddle, hurry up offense—calling it "continuous offense" (and much worse things), according to a source who has worked with him in the past. He really detested it. Then, in the first game of the 2014 season against West Virginia in the Georgia Dome, Saban watched Sims settle into a groove when the pace was fast.

I asked Saban about "continuous offense" after the SEC Championship Game. It was so un-Alabama.

"It's been very, very beneficial to us. He's the reason we do it because it's what he does best," he said. "If we didn't do it, I don't think we would be here where we are right now."

The no-huddle played to Sims' strengths, which are quick feet, quick throws.     

Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin then worked with the veteran wide receiver Amari Cooper to move him around so he was difficult to double-team. Cooper learned the routes of different wide receiver positions, Saban said. That's coaching from Kiffin and second-year assistant Billy Napier. Sims and Cooper drew the defense close and then Sims threw some of the prettiest deep balls you will ever see.

Here is something else about the offense. They have a true freshman left tackle, Cam Robinson. They have another offensive lineman, Leon Brown, who they plucked from some place called ASA College in New York. They have a right tackle, Arie Kouandjio, who has had multiple knee surgeries. Alabama really needed his brother, Cyrus Kouandjio, to stay and not go to the NFL last spring.

Did you know these guys are winning without their most dynamic offensive player? I know, it's sacrilegious to say such a thing because you have been watching Cooper all season. Well, injured running back Kenyan Drake was faster than Cooper. Drake could run and catch passes. Sources around the team said Alabama had a home run play—a wheel route to Drake—that would have wrecked defenses, or made them pay so much attention to it, another play would have opened up.

The coaching on defense has been no less spectacular. Kirby Smart, the Alabama defensive coordinator, had to go fast on defense because of so many no-huddle offenses. He adapted. Instead of eight-word signals via hands from the sidelines, a source close to the team says Smart has compressed the signal to one word. Are you kidding? You are telling teenagers on the field, OK, this one word means eight things from blitz path to shade. Don't forget it.

That brings us to Trey DePriest, the Mike linebacker. Reggie Ragland is a more talented linebacker, but DePriest is more indispensable because Smart has coached him to understand those one-word signals and get the defense lined up. Saban and Smart's defense is a stuffed toolbox. They have an answer for every scheme the offense can come up with, 45 years worth of tools for Saban, and DePriest gets his guys straight on the field.

Now look at the rest of these guys on defense. Corner Eddie Jackson has a brace on his knee. He's just a sophomore and wounded. Cyrus Jones, the other corner, first played offense at Alabama, but the Tide were so weak at corner they had to move him to defense. He's green, still learning. Safety Nick Perry is good, not great.

There are first-round picks, don't get me wrong. Safety Landon Collins is one. Tackle A'Shawn Robinson is another. But look at the youth of the defensive line. Look at DePriest. He was discounted as the season started, fifth-round, NFL scouts tell me. He was named All-SEC on Tuesday.

 

Turning point

On October 11, Alabama squeaked by Arkansas, 14-13, and it was treated as a debacle. Saban fumed, but he wasn't fuming at his team. Privately, I'm told by a source close to Saban, he was fuming at fans, the media, anybody who labeled the win shameful Alabama football. He saw a team come together. Others saw a season ready to fall apart.

This is going to get sappy. Saban loves his football team. We all saw how good a team Arkansas became. Saban knew how good the Razorbacks were that week. His team showed guts with that win. He was daddy-proud.

"I really think that our team came together in the Arkansas game," Saban said. "I saw an energy and enthusiasm in our players that I hadn't really seen before. After that game you saw them play really well against Texas Texas A&M. I think it was a result of what happened at Arkansas."

That's coaching. Stand behind your guys.

Here is what's really special about Alabama besides coaching. Chemistry.

This group, more than others, an insider told me, has pushed aside that chatter about getting to the NFL as fast as you can and getting to the "second contract," where all the money is. Saban talked about chemistry in the postgame press conference at the SEC Championship Game. I mean, one of the most taciturn men in the business of football used the word "love" when describing his squad.

"I think that part of the reason that I love this team so much is we have great team chemistry," Saban said. "We don't have a lot of issues ever. Everybody really sort of supports and helps each other. I think everybody has been all in to the vision of what we want to accomplish this year."

You are talking about ambitious five-star, highly recruited athletes who usually want nothing more than to play on Sundays. Sure, it's a tribute to the players, but Saban has had something to do with that, too.

"We have lots of opportunities on our team where guys could be selfish, because we had one receiver that had a fantastic year and maybe they could have caught more balls," Saban said. "Christion Jones is out there blocking like crazy for that guy, and so is De White. Nobody really cares. Everybody really cares about having success and being successful. Everybody kind of has each other's back.

"In this day and age, the way people are, that's kind of unique, and it's really appreciated by me as a coach to have that kind of group of guys to work with."

Digest that if you are Ohio State. You have to play an Alabama team in a national semifinal that has talent, but also has the "it" factor. 

Alabama is on the cusp of another national title. Coaching got them there, not sheer talent.

 

Ray Glier covers college football for Bleacher Report. He has covered college football and various other sports for 20 years. His work has appeared in USA TodayThe New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post and Al Jazeera America. He is the author of How the SEC Became Goliath (Howard/Simon & Schuster, 2013).

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida Recruiting 2014-15: Latest News, Rumors and Commit Updates

With the hire of new head coach Jim McElwain, the Florida Gators are set to be one of the busiest teams in the country on the recruiting trail heading toward national signing day. 

The Gators currently have seven commitments in their 2015 class, per 247Sports.

Here's a look at the latest news, top targets and commits for the Gators.

 

Latest News

Tuesday, Dec. 9

McElwain has hit the ground running in his first week as the new leader of the Gators program. On Tuesday, he focused on the Tampa area—which has been a hotbed for the Florida program over the years. 

Per ESPN's Derek Tyson, 5-star defensive end Byron Cowart, 4-star running back Ray-Ray McCloud and Auden Tate were among the prospects McElwain was slated to visit with. 

While McElwain is still in the infant stages of rebuilding the Gators program, he's off to a good start in creating a buzz and capturing the attention of recruits in the 2015 cycle.

 

Top Targets and Commitments

 

 

Recruit ratings and information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida State Recruiting 2014-15: Latest News, Rumors and Commit Updates

Head coach Jimbo Fisher and the Florida State Seminoles remain in the hunt to capture a second consecutive national title—which has given a boost to their efforts on the recruiting trail as well.

The 'Noles currently have 20 commitments in their 2015 class, per 247Sports.

Here's a look at the latest news, top targets and commits for the Seminoles.

 

Latest News

Tue, Dec. 9

On Wednesday, 5-star defensive end Josh Sweat, the nation's No. 6 player overall in the 2015 class, will make his commitment out of a final group that includes Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State, Oregon and Virginia Tech, according to Josh Newberg of 247Sports:

According to Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports, the Seminoles hold a slight advantage over the other programs battling for the 6'5", 240-pounder. 

Defensive end is one of the most pressing needs for Fisher and his staff to meet from now until national signing day, and landing Sweat would give the 'Noles a potential impact player who will enroll at his school of choice next month. 

 

Top Targets and Commitments

 

Recruit ratings and information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ted's Takes: Pac-12 Awards, Coaching Changes and Bowl Season Impact

It may be imperfect, but the new College Football Playoff was a win for the Pac-12. Oregon's No. 2 seed and Rose Bowl trip confirmed the conference's standing as second to the SEC. The nonconference records we examined here last week had to play well with the selection committee.

Also winning was Arizona, which was not penalized for a one-sided loss to the same team it had beaten earlier this year. The Wildcats landed a New Year's Day game with a reasonable expectation that they can travel fans to the nearby Fiesta Bowl (unlike the Pac-12 Championship Game). 

Then, the domino effect kicked in and UCLA earned an Alamo Bowl matchup with the Big 12's Kansas State.

Stanford secured a perfect marriage with the Foster Farms (formerly Kraft Hunger) Bowl. The Cardinal have never played in the Bay Area game, now housed in Levi's Stadium—a mere 13 miles from the Palo Alto campus.

Utah fans should descend upon Las Vegas, thrilled to see the Utes back in the bowl business. Same for USC fans, who will see the Trojans meet Nebraska in San Diego for the Holiday Bowl, their best bowl matchup since the 2009 Rose Bowl game with Penn State. 

Breathing easily Sunday night was Washington, the team whose bowl fate was directly tied to Arizona. No New Year's Day game for Arizona would have meant no guaranteed bowl game for the Huskies. So when the last conference domino fell, Washington drew a trip to the Cactus Bowl against Oklahoma State.

Honesty demands that Pac-12 schools have never received better treatment in the bowl process. Credit to Commissioner Larry Scott, who delivered expansion to 12 teams, which meant more TV money, better bowl contracts and, yes, a championship game. Run that concept by Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby this week and brace for the explosion from a man whose league translates "12" to "10," thus no championship game and no CFP berth this year.

 

Coaching Silly Season

For those left out of bowls, coaching free agency has begun.

The first impact was in Corvallis, Oregon, but Nebraska may have done both Mike Riley and Oregon State a favor. Riley, universally liked and respected, gets one last chance to win big (and don't sell that concept short to a man who once led an NFL team).

Oregon State's also now has a chance to win big, as candidly stated by athletic director Bob De Carolis in a December 8 letter addressed to Beaver Nation (h/t Gina Mizell of The Oregonian).

"Last week's announcement that Mike Riley would become the head coach at the University of Nebraska created new opportunities for Oregon State University and our football program."

De Carolis now has the potential to replace Riley. He can survey the field and give Beavers football a fresh start. It could be an experienced candidate—former Cal head coach Jeff Tedford's agent has already started the media sales pitch—or a rising coach, similar to OSU's hire of Wayne Tinkle in men's basketball. 

Meanwhile, there is damage control underway in Pullman, Washington, where Washington State is trying to conceal disappointment over the lack of progress in head coach Mike Leach's three seasons. 

Leach dismissed two coaches last week, including defensive coordinator Mike Breske. The poor season was blamed on injuries and the team's youth (Leach has had three recruiting classes), while the head coach accepts no accountability.

Houston? It fired head coach Tony Levine Sunday, and KTRK-TV in Houston linked Leach to the opening, a report WSU would go on to deny, according to Jacob Thorpe of The Spokesman-Review. Would the Cougars of Houston follow Nebraska and relieve the Cougars of Pullman of a $2.75 million annual salary owed to Leach? 

 

Pac-12 Awards

Best Player: Oregon's Marcus Mariota performed at an elite level with full scrutiny on him. He had the utmost responsibility to lead his team to the first CFP while hoping to place himself in the Heisman Trophy race. Success on both counts. He should lift the Heisman Saturday and then prepare for January.

Best Coach: We get to revote on this one. In mid-November, Arizona State's Todd Graham was anointed in this space. But Arizona's Rich Rodriguez charged on the outside to steal this award in the final weeks. Simple standard: If you rated the talent level of the five teams that contended for the South title, Arizona would land no higher than third, perhaps fourth.

Reaching the Fiesta Bowl makes Rodriguez the most important offseason Pac-12 target. Arizona AD Greg Byrne has to be feverishly working on a retention package. Memo to Greg: Don't be afraid to ask your basketball alums for help, all of whom are proud to see their school relevant in football.

Best Defensive Player: Arizona's Scooby Wright III was voted this honor by the conference coaches for a season that could also include most improved honors.

Watching Wright play reminded me of 49ers rookie linebacker Chris Borland. They look small but play much bigger. When the play ends, more often than not, they are at the ball. The best news for the Wildcats is that they'll have at least one more year of Wright as the anchor of the defense.

Underrated Player, Upper-class Division: Here is a sure trivia stumper for your next bar bet: Which school had the most defensive players chosen as first-team All-Pac-12?

Answer: Washington, with three. There was the all-around brilliance of Shaq Thompson, a junior who must be looking at the NFL draft (I have seen projections of Thompson as a first-round pick), and the pass-rushing sack master in Hau'oli Kikaha. But the anchor, both in body and spirit, was defensive tackle Danny Shelton. His physique is mind-blowing, redefining short and squat with calves the thickness of redwood trunks.

Then you see Shelton defy his appearance and play with athleticism. In the Apple Cup, an instant before the ball was snapped, he dropped to the ground, did a 360-degree roll to the right, popped back into his stance and blew past the center at the snap to attack the quarterback. All this was accomplished in a second. I had to rewind the play many times to soak in Shelton's agility.

Underrated Player, Upper-class Division (Round 2): Who was the best quarterback in Los Angeles this season? I submit Cody Kessler.

Expectations were lower, but a USC quarterback is never anonymous. There were moments (the Hail Mary thrown by Arizona State, a backwards pass that was left untouched and returned for a touchdown by Utah) where the Trojans appeared to be a mix of unaware and unprepared.

But Kessler stood as a rock amidst the ups and downs, commanding an early-season win at Stanford and a decisive smackdown of Notre Dame. Kessler can let the numbers talk: 70.7 completion percentage and 36 TD passes against only four interceptions (Mariota was 36/2.)

Underrated Player, Freshman Division: Trivia question 2: Which back had the most runs of 20 or more yards in the Pac-12?

Answer: Nick Wilson, Arizona freshman, with 12.

That was more than USC's Buck Allen, UCLA's Paul Perkins and Utah's Devontae Booker, all of whom were voted all-conference. It was more than the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, Oregon's Royce Freeman. Wilson scored three touchdowns in the division-clinching win over Arizona State and teamed with Terris Jones-Grigsby for over 200 rushing yards in the regular-season win over Oregon.

If Wilson played for one of the Los Angeles schools, his reputation would be on par with Freeman.

Underperformer of the Year: UCLA's Brett Hundley. Unfair, perhaps, but so is the world of magazine covers, Heisman hype and potential draft glory. Hundley had tremendous moments—most notably the win over USC—but a desolate performance against Stanford cost Hundley the chance to play underneath the brightest lights.

How attractive would Hundley vs. Mariota have been last Friday night in the Pac-12 title game? Instead, UCLA plays a second-tier bowl game, and Hundley heads into a draft world more uncertain than he ever could have imagined back in September.

 
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ted's Takes: Pac-12 Awards, Coaching Changes and Bowl Season Impact

It may be imperfect, but the new College Football Playoff was a win for the Pac-12. Oregon's No. 2 seed and Rose Bowl trip confirmed the conference's standing as second to the SEC...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Rapid-Fire Predictions for Texas vs. Arkansas in Texas Bowl

The 2015 edition of the Texas Bowl features two hard-hitting teams that play a smashmouth style of football. In one corner, you have the Arkansas Razorbacks that feature two bruising running backs in Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. In the other is the Texas Longhorns, who pride themselves on their lockdown defense.  

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer dish out their predictions for the Texas Bowl.

Who will win: Texas or Arkansas?

Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Who Are the 'Must-Watch' Players Headed into the College Football Bowl Season?

With bowl season upon us, everyone is trying to leave a lasting impression or gain momentum heading into next season. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee pick the players who will explode during this year's bowls.

Who do you think will play the best in their bowls?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5-Star Trent Thompson on Idea of Josh Sweat to Georgia: "Can't Block Both of Us"

Trent Thompson and Josh Sweat both took turns as the top overall prospect in national recruiting class rankings during this 2015 cycle. We'll find out Wednesday, December 10, whether the 5-star defensive linemen will spend their college careers terrorizing teams together.

Sweat, a 6'5", 240-pound senior at Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, Virginia, is set to announce his collegiate intentions at 10 a.m., per Rusty Mansell of 247Sports. The country's top-rated weak-side defensive end is down to five finalists, with Georgia, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Oregon and Ohio State still under consideration.

He spent official visits at each school, including a trip to Athens last month.

The Bulldogs landed Thompson, the nation's consensus No. 1 defensive tackle, in August. The Westover High School standout from Albany, Georgia, imagined the possibility of playing alongside Sweat this week while visiting New York City for a U.S. Army All-American Player-of-the-Year event.

Thompson, one of six finalists for the award, admitted there's a potential for something special to develop if Sweat joins him at Georgia.

"If we both become great players in college, teams would always be trying to figure out how to handle us in the trenches," he told Bleacher Report. "But when we're lined up together, they can't double-team both [of] us. They can't block both of us."

Thompson, a 6'4", 292-pound playmaker, is among the most explosive interior linemen we've scouted this decade. His production features 232 tackles, including 78 for loss, 21 sacks and two interceptions during the past three seasons.

He spurned scholarship offers from the likes of Florida State, Auburn, Alabama, USC and Clemson by choosing the Bulldogs. Unlike Sweat, he elected to cut off a nationwide recruitment early rather than deal with this frenzied final stage of the cycle.

"I'm glad I committed before my senior year, because I wanted to be someone who helps build a class instead of waiting a while and joining late," Thompson said. "That was important and it allowed me to focus on my senior season rather than always dealing with recruiting stuff. It also gives me a chance to help bring other good players to Georgia."

Sweat is arguably the top target on Mark Richt's recruiting board two months shy of national signing day.

He drew comparisons to No. 1 NFL draft pick Jadeveon Clowney this summer at The Opening, an invite-only high school football showcase held at Nike's world headquarters. His performance included a 40-yard dash time of 4.46 seconds and repeated one-on-one victories in highly competitive drills.

"You have to be perfect against Sweat," 5-star offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt told Bleacher Report after a head-to-head battle. "Otherwise you're done."

A knee injury ended his senior season in September, ultimately dropping him from No. 1 to No. 6 overall in 247Sports' composite rankings. Sweat secured 22 sacks and 94 tackles, including 31 for loss, as a junior in 2013.

If he joins Georgia, it would be arguably the biggest addition to an impressive recruiting haul along the defensive front. Aside from Thompson, Richt already holds commitments from 4-star defensive ends Chauncey Rivers, Michael Barnett,Natrez Patrick and Jonathan Ledbetter, who flipped from Alabama just four days after Thompson's commitment.

"Between the veterans we have returning next year and the young guys like me coming in, we're going to have a lot of great players to work with," Thompson said. "Our defensive line should be special with people filling different roles. We can be an important part of a championship team."

Sweat is projected to sign with Florida State by 50 percent of expert predictions in 247Sports' Crystal Ball. Georgia (8 percent) ranks third on the list, trailing both the Seminoles and Virginia Tech.

"It's a decision that should only come down to what's right for him and his family," Thompson said. "If it's too far from home, or he likes somewhere else better, then you can't blame him for going to another school."

Though he respects the process, you better believe Thompson will monitor Wednesday morning's news with a rooting interest.

"Obviously, I'd want him at Georgia so we can go to work together," he said. "We'll see what happens."

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Does OSU, FSU, UGA or Virginia Tech Have Best Chance to Land 5-Star Josh Sweat?

One of the nation’s top pass-rushing prospects, 5-star defensive end Josh Sweat, is slated to make his commitment on Wednesday.

Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State, Oregon and Virginia Tech are Sweat’s five finalists, but less than 24 hours away from his announcement, which team is trending in the race to land the 6’5”, 240-pounder?

Sweat has been a tough recruit to read, but the latest buzz appears to surround Florida State and Virginia Tech, according to Josh Newberg of Noles247

In particular, it’s the Seminoles who are trending down the stretch with the No. 6 overall prospect in the 2015 class:

According to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports (subscription required), Jimbo Fisher and defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri will see him at his high school on Tuesday—which means they get the last crack at Sweat before his announcement.

Following his official visit last month to Tallahassee, Sweat told Bartow (subscription required) that he’s very comfortable with Sunseri and the ‘Noles' plans for him should he choose FSU.

“We’re pretty close,” Sweat said of Sunseri. “I like him a lot. We went over the schemes they run. How I would play some outside linebacker and mostly have my hand in the dirt as a pass rusher. I see that they are missing that now. I don’t see them having that (pass rusher) right now.”

Even though FSU’s roster is loaded with former prep All-Americans, the ‘Noles have struggled to generate a pass rush.

Per CFBstats.com, junior defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and junior defensive end Mario Edwards Jr.—who have combined to notch seven sacks—are the only linemen who have more than one sack this season.

Both of those players are considered as potential early entries in the 2015 NFL draft, which magnifies the importance of landing an impact pass-rusher such as Sweat—who notched 22 sacks and recorded 31 tackles for loss as a junior.

Additionally, Fisher and the Seminoles have had success in recent years pulling top talent out of the state of Virginia. 

FSU already has a pledge from 4-star defensive tackle and Virginia native Darvin Taylor in the current cycle, and they’ve beaten out the Hokies for players such as defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi and linebacker E.J. Levenberry in recent classes.

Conversely, to land the state’s top prospect, Frank Beamer will have to reverse a trend of top in-state talent heading away from Blacksburg in recent years.

Since the 2011 cycle, the Hokies have landed just one player—safety Holland Fisher in the 2013 class—who was ranked as one of the state of Virginia’s five best prospects.

As noted by Evan Watkins of VTScoop (subscription required), the Hokies made sure to emphasize their need at defensive end when Sweat visited Blacksburg two weeks ago.

If the Hokies can fend off powers such as FSU and Georgia for Sweat, it may produce the biggest win—on or off the field—for the program this season.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Predicting the Winner of Every Pac-12 Bowl Game

The Pac-12 Conference enters bowl season with eight teams getting the chance to close out the season with another victory. For the league champion Oregon Ducks, there's the potential to win two games and a national title.

After another season of debate over which conference is the best, who would win hypothetical matchups and is the SEC overrated or just really, really good, the bowls should once again help provide some answers.

Let's give you a rundown on all eight games the Pac-12 will have a say in and offer our predictions for each one.

 

A complete bowl schedule can be found here.

Begin Slideshow

Devin Funchess Declares for 2015 NFL Draft: Latest Details and Reaction

Ending a process that's felt like an inevitability since before the 2014 season, Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess announced he will hire an agent and officially declare for the 2015 NFL draft.

Funchess, a junior, will forgo his final year of eligibility, the team announced:

A tight end for his first two seasons in Ann Arbor, Funchess transitioned full-time to wide receiver in 2014. He made 62 receptions for 733 yards and four touchdowns, often being the best facet of a struggling Michigan offense.

That said, like nearly everyone on the roster, Funchess' 2014 campaign wasn't filled with all positives. He struggled badly with drops at points, and his counting stats were a little underwhelming given expectations. His yards per reception average dropped more than three yards from his career number in 2014.

"We coach him, there's been guys who have gone through that in the past," Hoke told reporters in November. "We do a lot of JUGS (machine) work, we do a lot of routes on air. You've just got to keep coaching him through that."

The Wolverines finished the regular season 5-7, leading to the dismissal of head coach Brady Hoke. Any thought that Funchess may return mostly went out the window with Hoke's firing, as he was reportedly considering agents within days of the move.

Now that Funchess declared, it'll be interesting to see how scouts evaluate him. While most assumed he'd transition to wide receiver in the pros and that remains the plan for now, his occasional struggles in 2014 are noteworthy. Teams are going to examine his athletic drills closely; it's possible that he's better off in a hybrid, Jimmy Graham-esque role than as a full-time wideout.

ESPN's Todd McShay has listed Funchess as a first-round choice all season but colleague Mel Kiper has been more bearish. Funchess being viewed as a wide receiver helps his draft stock from nearly every angle, though freak tight ends have become more of a first-round fixture. His 230-pound frame has been what most point to in projecting him as a receiver, in large part because he's not big enough to be a reliable blocker in those situations.

All of this uncertainty makes Funchess an interesting prospect to track. If he tests well and convinces teams that his 2014 downturn was more a function of a terrible offense, then he has a chance to go inside the top 15. If those test numbers start screaming "tight end" rather than "wide receiver," it's entirely possible he falls out of the first round.

Let's just say the next couple months will be some of the most important in Funchess' life.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Football Q&A: Does Ole Miss or Mississippi State Have More Staying Power?

The season is in the books, the College Football Playoff field is set, and fans are making plans to follow their teams to bowl sites around the country over the holidays.

Two of the big surprises this season were Ole Miss and Mississippi State ascending to the national conversation. The Rebels and Bulldogs both made appearances in the playoff rankings during the season, with Mississippi State earning the No. 1 ranking for the first time in program history.

Which one has more staying power?

That question along with Georgia's quarterback battle and playoff expansion are discussed in this week's SEC Q&A.

 

I'll hold my judgement on Mississippi State until this offseason. For Ole Miss, though, this year was absolutely the start of what could be a rise to prominence in the SEC West.

Look who the primary contributors were on this year's Ole Miss team. Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche? Sophomore. Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell? Sophomore. Safety Tony Conner? Sophomore. Running back Jordan Wilkins? Freshman. That's on top of other youngsters who haven't yet made an impact, including safety C.J. Hampton—a former 4-star prospect during the last recruiting cycle. 

We already knew head coach Hugh Freeze and the staff were lights out on the recruiting trail, and Freeze's new contract brings more stability to a program that has had a hard time sustaining success over the last few decades.

Mississippi State, on the other hand, could be a different story. 

Head coach Dan Mullen proved me wrong this season, leading his team to the No. 1 ranking for the first time in program history. That team, though, is a veteran-laden group that includes 12 senior starters as well as junior quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Josh Robinson—both of whom could jump to the NFL if they receive good draft projections.

This is a program that has finished no higher than 22nd in 247Sports's team recruiting rankings over the last five years and finished ranked in the 30s three times over that time span. Recruiting isn't everything, and Mullen's ability to coach up his players is phenomenal. But to be successful next season, he's going to have to do it with a roster that could look much different than it does right now.

Because of that, I'll hold off on judging Mississippi State's staying power until the Bulldogs prove they can win with a relatively new cast of characters.

 

Yes, absolutely.

Hutson Mason was more of a game manager early this season, but he came on strong late, throwing 10 touchdowns and only one pick during the month of November. It was a long time coming, too. 

The redshirt senior finally got his crack at the starting quarterback role this season, but with Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb around to tote the rock, he became more of a caretaker early in the season. His experience within the offense, even though he didn't see much playing time until 2014, gave head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo the confidence that they could trust him to not make mistakes.

That trust won't exist with the new quarterback next year, which will likely be rising sophomore Brice Ramsey, rising junior Faton Bauta or rising redshirt freshman Jacob Park.

Can those guys handle the job? Maybe, but they're going to have to earn the trust that Mason earned long ago, which might lead to a few speed bumps.

 

No, a two-loss team doesn't deserve to win the national championship, and sometimes, a one-loss team doesn't, either. Say, perhaps, one that lost to Virginia Tech at home?

I agree that expanding the playoff would be a mess. If we go to an eight-team postseason, there's no way that commissioners let that happen unless there are automatic bids for conference champions of the Power Five conferences and the champion of the "Group of Five."

Not all conferences are created equal. The Big 12 doesn't have a conference championship game, and its commissioner, Bob Bowlsby, can't even figure out which team is his conference champion even though it was settled on the field.

The likelihood of the eight best teams making an eight-team playoff is slim to none, and slim left the building long ago. You'd have a team ranked 20th in there. If there's an upset on championship Saturday, an unranked team could get in.

Expanding the playoff beyond four teams would put more of an emphasis on access even though the goal is—and should be—to reward excellence.

An eight-team playoff would do much more harm than good.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages