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

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

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


Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

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

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

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

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


Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

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

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

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


Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

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

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

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

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


Oregon's Offensive Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Game Information

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans

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


Live Stream: WatchESPN



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Pat Narduzzi vs. Art Briles

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

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

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

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


Underrated Running Games

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

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

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

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


Tony Lippett the X-Factor

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

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

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

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

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

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


Game Information

Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona

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


Live Stream: WatchESPN

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



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

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

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

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

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

Rudolph said, via Richard Obert of AZCentral.com:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ESPN College GameDay provides a look at the play:

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

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

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


Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter. 

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Bowl Schedule 2015: Ranking the Most Intriguing Remaining Matchups

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

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

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


Schedule and Predictions


Official, Highly Scientific Rankings of Best Matchups to Watch

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

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


9. Washington vs. Oklahoma State

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



8. Minnesota vs. Missouri

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

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

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


7. Wisconsin vs. Auburn

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

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


6. The Winter Classic

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

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


5. Kansas State vs. UCLA

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

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


4. Michigan State vs. Baylor

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

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

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


3. Alabama vs. Ohio State

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


2. Oregon vs. Florida State

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

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

You know the storylines. Get pumped.


1. National Championship

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



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Outback Bowl 2015: Viewing Info and Preview for Auburn vs. Wisconsin

Auburn and Wisconsin might have missed out on the College Football Playoff, but both teams are worthy of a notable bowl game. The Tigers and Badgers will get exactly that in the Outback Bowl in yet another Big Ten vs. SEC battle.

After coming up short of a national title last year, Auburn took a slight step back this year with four losses. The Tigers came unwound down the stretch with three losses in the final four games, but they still have an offense that can compete with any team.

Wisconsin closed the regular season with seven straight wins but was blown out in the Big Ten Championship Game by Ohio State. Led by Melvin Gordon, the Badgers are looking to usher in a new era after Gary Andersen left the program for Oregon State.

Both programs have hopes of ending the season on a high note at the Outback Bowl. Below is a look at the schedule and preview for the enticing showdown.


Game Information

Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida

When: Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015 at 12 p.m. ET


Live Stream: WatchESPN



All season long, Gordon proved he was one of the top running backs in the country. His invite to the Heisman Trophy ceremony? Well, that proved he's now one of the best players in the nation.

The Badgers lead back rushed for 2,336 yards and 26 touchdowns this season along with three other receiving scores. Winning the Doak Walker Award for his efforts, Gordon was the catalyst for Wisconsin's offense all season.

Wisconsin athletics director Barry Alvarez knows a thing or two about the history of the Badgers football program. The former coach had high praise for the team's current tailback, via Jesse Temple of Fox Sports:

On the other side stands Nick Marshall and the potent Auburn offense. This hasn't been quite the same season for Marshall as 2013, but he's still been consistent on the ground.

His passing touchdown numbers are up from last year, but the read-option plays didn't have quite the same effectiveness without Tre Mason. The rushing yards were down with 780, but his 11 touchdowns were still a key component to the Tigers' success.

Marshall's athleticism at the college level will likely land him at a different position at the next level. In fact, Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN believes he will be a member of an NFL secondary in the future, via Brandon Marcello of The Birmingham News:

Therefore, two freakish athletes will do battle for the right to claim the Outback Bowl, but Gordon comes in as the more polished product. Given the effectiveness of the offenses on both sides, a shootout can be expected on the big stage.


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Armed Forces Bowl 2015: Houston vs. Pittsburgh TV Info, Spread, Time and More

Fans all over the country are awaiting the College Football Playoff to finally kick off, but the games following the Rose and Sugar Bowls offer plenty of sizzle. The Armed Forces Bowl pits Houston and Pittsburgh against one another, with both teams looking to finish the season on a strong note. 

Pittsburgh was hit hard with the loss of head coach Paul Chryst, who left the program for Wisconsin. Now, the Panthers are tasked with taking on a solid Houston team that finished the season with seven wins after Pat Narduzzi was named the head coach.

The Cougars are dealing with a coaching change of their own after hiring Tom Herman from Ohio State. Led by a potent running attack with Kenneth Farrow, Houston will still be up to the task against Pittsburgh.

Prior to the game kicking off on Friday, here's a look at the full schedule and preview of the Armed Forces Bowl.


Game Information

Where: Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas

When: Friday, Jan. 2, 12 p.m. ET


Live Stream: WatchESPN

Spread: Pittsburgh (-2); via OddsShark.com



Chryst left behind a program that appeared to be on the upswing, which is likely not the comforting words Pitt fans want to hear. However, it does leave an opening for the program to pull out a seven-win season with a win on Friday.

The Panthers offense is led by sophomores James Conner and Chad Voytik. The offensive tandem has a combined 2,101 rushing yards with 42 total touchdowns on the year. Conner alone has 24 of those on the ground while Voytik passed for 15.

Conner spoke about the future of the program heading into the matchup, via Pitt Football:

If the Panthers are going to come away with a seventh win on the season, it will have to be courtesy of great play from Conner. After toting the ball 277 times this year already, expect the young tailback to carry the load again for the Panthers.

On the other side of the ball, Kenneth Farrow will be asked to shoulder the load for the Cougars running attack.

The junior captain has rushed for 1,914 yards during his career, but his recent streak has been the most impressive. Farrow has over 100 yards in each of the last three games, including a four-touchdown performance against Tulsa.

Looking for a second straight eight-win season, Farrow is confident in the team. Via Drew Harris of KHOU.com, Farrow said, "We've put in a lot of work and been able to add another dimension that wasn't here in the past." 

That extra dimension will have to be enough against a defense that allowed 25.6 points per game this season. In a battle of two teams looking to impress their new coaches, expect plenty of offensive fireworks in the Armed Forces Bowl.


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Valero Alamo Bowl 2015: Kansas State vs. UCLA TV Info, Spread, Time and More

Coming into the 2014 season, both Kansas State and UCLA aspired to make the College Football Playoff. They might have missed out on the ultimate prize, but they will face off in the Valero Alamo Bowl as a consolation.

The Wildcats come in with nine wins after losing to Auburn, TCU and Baylor this season. Each team was in the Top 10 at the time of the game, making K-State one of the most battle-tested programs in the country.

UCLA, on the other hand, appeared back on track at the end of the season after two losses midway through. However, the Bruins were blown out against Stanford to deny them a second straight 10-win season.

Each team has a chance to secure its 10th victory, making the Alamo Bowl an important showdown. Prior to kickoff Friday night, here's a look at the bowl information, spread and preview.


Game Information

Where: Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas

When: Friday, January 2, 6:45 p.m. ET


Live Stream: WatchESPN

Spread: Kansas State (-2.5), via Odds Shark



When it comes to star power for the Alamo Bowl, look no further than under center. Each program features a versatile quarterback who can make an impact with his arm or legs.

Jake Waters has led Kansas State the past two seasons, and the senior saved his best for last. His 3,163 passing yards, 471 rushing yards and 28 total touchdowns are all career highs to go along with his minuscule six interceptions.

On the other side stands Brett Hundley, who has built a career out of being one of the most dynamic signal-callers in the country. With 29 total touchdowns and over 3,500 total yards, Hundley can cap off a special season with a second straight bowl win.

His accomplishments on the field, including going 3-0 against USC, have helped him build a legacy in Los Angeles. Hundley reflected on his storied career, via Kevin Gemmell of ESPN.com:

A legacy isn't just about football, it’s also about what you do off the field. It’s about being able to help others, starting a walk for epilepsy, using my platform to touch others and help others and be a mentor to others. ...

When I picked a school, I didn't want to be a part of something that was already established and fully built. When I came here, I wanted to help be a part of bringing UCLA back to something special.

While the Bruins have an explosive backfield with Hundley and Paul Perkins (1,378 rushing yards, seven TDs), it's the Wildcats receiving corps that might steal the show.

Tyler Lockett has been on a tear to close out the season, averaging 134.4 receiving yards per game to go along with eight touchdowns over the final eight games. UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr. had high praise for the senior receiver, via Kellis Robinett of the Kansas City Star:

Along with Lockett, fans can expect to see great play from senior wideout Curry Sexton. He's been overshadowed by Lockett but has over 100 yards in three of the final five contests and has nine or more receptions in four games this season.

Needless to say, Friday night's matchup will likely come down to which offense can pack the most punch. With plenty of offensive weapons in both teams' repertoires, expect a shootout in the Alamodome for the right to earn a 10-win season.


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TaxSlayer Bowl 2015: Iowa vs. Tennessee TV Info, Spread, Time and More

Following two of the most talked about bowls of the season on New Year's Day, college football fans can feast their eyes on yet another SEC vs. Big Ten battle on Friday. The TaxSlayer Bowl features Iowa and Tennessee, two programs on the rise.

It also pits two head coaches who are at completely different stages of their careers against one another.

Kirk Ferentz is in his 16th year as the Iowa coach and looking for his eighth eight-win season with the Hawkeyes. Meanwhile, Butch Jones has Tennessee back in a bowl game for the first time since 2010 in just his second season in Knoxville.

Here's a look at the full viewing information and preview for the TaxSlayer Bowl.


Game Information

Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Florida

When: Friday, January 2, 3:20 p.m. ET


Live Stream: WatchESPN

Spread: Tennessee (-3); via Odds Shark.



Neither team came away at the top of their respective conference but still earned respect with a few notable wins.

Iowa came away with two wins over .500 programs like Pittsburgh and Illinois thanks to its defense. The Volunteers had to scratch and claw their way in the SEC to victories over South Carolina and Kentucky just to become bowl eligible.

One of the biggest reasons for Iowa's success this season has been Mark Weisman, who compiled over 800 rushing yards for the third straight season. Along with his steady production, he's also scored 14 touchdowns on the ground for the Hawkeyes.

Under center is a completely different story for Iowa. Jake Rudock has been the starter, but C.J. Beathard has shown flashes of strong play this season. Ferentz will likely go with a two-quarterback system on Friday, per The Daily Iowan:

For Tennessee, the quarterback position has been an up-and-down one all season. A season-ending injury to Justin Worley earlier in the year forced Joshua Dobbs into action. Though he threw two interceptions in the finale against Vanderbilt, the sophomore makes up for it with his dual-threat ability.

On the receiving end of many of Dobbs' passes is Pig Howard, who has also stepped up late in the season. The junior receiver has over 60 total yards in three of the last four games and leads the team with 589 receiving yards.

Jones spoke about the importance of Howard in the passing game, via Wes Rucker of 247Sports:

We’re gonna need him to step up big, but I’ve been very, very proud of him and how he’s matured over the course of a year. It’s a great story, because again, we always talk about coaching is creating change. When you see individuals change and really grow up and mature and learn from their past experiences, it’s very fulfilling.

That’s why you coach.

Given the versatility of Dobbs and the explosiveness of Howard and Marquez North, the Vols have a trio of players ready to win their first bowl game since 2007. Preparing for the bruising power of Weisman and a formidable duo in Rudock and Beathard, however, will be a tall task for Tennessee's defense.

Whichever team does come away with the win will have a program-building victory to head into next season in the two stout conferences.


Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter. 

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Georgia Tech vs. Mississippi State: Final Grades for Yellow Jackets, Bulldogs

In part two of the SEC's New Year's Eve collapse in bowl games, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets surged in the second half to upend the Mississippi State Bulldogs 49-34 in the Orange Bowl. 

Paul Johnson's option offense was too much for the highly acclaimed defense of the Bulldogs, as the Yellow Jackets racked up 452 yards on the ground. 

With that, let's check out the game grades for both teams, starting with the Yellow Jackets. 


Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Rush Offense: 452 yards and six touchdowns. That's what Georgia Tech racked up on the ground against the Bulldogs on New Year's Eve, and it's the main reason the Yellow Jackets walked away victorious.

Synjyn Days and Justin Thomas both passed the century mark—171 and 121 yards, respectively—and both scored three touchdowns. As a whole, Georgia Tech had five runners rush for 20 or more yards and averaged 7.4 yards per carry.


Pass Offense: The Yellow Jackets are certainly not a passing team, but they made the most out of their chances through the air. On just 12 pass attempts, Thomas connected on seven of them and threw for a touchdown and 125 yards. Those are not big numbers, but when you rush for over 400 yards, you don't need to air it out.


Rush Defense: The Bulldogs ran for 152 yards and found pay dirt on the ground once, but they averaged just 4.6 yards per carry. The Yellow Jackets also didn't allow a 100-yard rusher.


Pass Defense: The Georgia Tech secondary allowed Dak Prescott to accumulate 453 yards through the air, but much of that was because Mississippi State spent the second half playing catch-up. Nevertheless, the pass defense was a lone black mark for the Yellow Jackets.


Special Teams: Harrison Butker didn't need to attempt a field goal, but he was 7-of-7 on extra points. Ultimately, special teams didn't play a huge role either way in Georgia Tech's win, but consistency was key in this department.


Coaching: Paul Johnson exposed Mississippi State to the tune of 49 points and showed that the Flexbone offense isn't quite out of style yet. When you have a month to prepare, coaching will always play a huge role. In this edition of the Orange Bowl, Johnson prevailed. 


Mississippi State Bulldogs

Rush Offense: The Bulldogs did rack up 152 yards on the ground, with Josh Robinson accounting for 75 of them on 13 carries. But as the game got away from the Bulldogs, Prescott was forced to go to the air, and Mississippi State got away from the run game. 


Pass Offense: If Mississippi State can hang its hat on just one thing, it's that Prescott had a day to remember. He threw for 453 yards and three touchdowns; however, he also had an interception on the night. 


Rush Defense: The front line of the Bulldogs was massacred during the Orange Bowl. It clearly couldn't handle the option offense, and the Yellow Jackets exposed the Bulldogs' ill-preparedness to the tune of 452 yards and six touchdowns. 


Pass Defense: Again, Georgia Tech isn't a pass-heavy team. Yet, on just 12 attempts, the Yellow Jackets got a touchdown and 125 yards out of it. Darren Waller of Georgia Tech's Darren Waller, alone, had five receptions for 114 yards. It's definitely concerning when a run-heavy team can find opportunities through the air.


Special Teams: Besides a kickoff that went out of bounds, there wasn't much that went wrong in the special teams department. The Bulldogs had a punt downed inside the 20-yard line and didn't miss a kick. 


Coaching: Dan Mullen looked out of his league against Paul Johnson. He clearly didn't have the scheme to stop the Flexbone, and it cost the Bulldogs, who otherwise had a good season, thanks largely in part to Mullen and his game plan.

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Rose Bowl: Mariota and Winston Not Even a Competition

This bowl season has been one of the best in recent memory, with a plethora of close games that have come down to the wire. Even in games where the opponents haven’t been overly intriguing, fans all over the country have been on the edge of their seats while watching on television.

Now, as the inaugural College Football Playoff approaches, the games are ostensibly going to get even better.

The first game, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, sees the Oregon Ducks go against the Florida State Seminoles.

The media has tried to paint this matchup as a quarterback duel, pitting Marcus Mariota versus Jameis Winston. The last two Heisman Trophy winners, and potentially the first two quarterbacks taken in the 2015 NFL draft. It’s a match made in heaven, right?

Not in the least.

Mariota has been drastically better than Winston this year, and it’s not even close. It’s almost unfair to Mariota—a travesty, even—that Winston is even in the same conversation right now.

After the conclusion of the Fiesta Bowl and before the start of the Orange Bowl, ESPN was previewing the Rose Bowl.  They showed a comparison of the two opposing signal-callers, and the chart was laughable.

  Mariota Winston Passing YDS 3,783 3,559 Passing TDs 38 24 Interceptions 2 17 Rushing YDS 669 80 Rushing TDs 14 3

Take away the names on top of the graphs, and one would pick Mariota’s line as better every day of the week.

It’s tough to pinpoint the exact reason why Winston is being compared to Mariota. It could be the fact that Oregon is perceived as second-tier because of their style of play or that Mariota’s stats are somehow deceiving.

No matter the reason, Winston has been tremendously overrated leading up to the bowl game.

As the teams take the field on New Year’s Day, the spotlight is undoubtedly going to be on the two quarterbacks, and rightly so.  That is the most important position on the field, especially as college football has evolved into an offensively dominant game.

Winston has shown signs of brilliance throughout his collegiate career and has led some impressive comebacks, but Mariota's numbers are far superior. The Seminoles QB has turned the ball over at an alarming rate, and that’s against less-than-stellar ACC competition.

Jimbo Fisher called Mariota one of the greatest players college football has ever seen, per Matt Baker of The Tampa Bay Times. He also said that Winston has been better than he was last year, but the stats show otherwise.

If anything, Winston should be praised for his ability to win, not for his greatness as a quarterback.

Make no mistake, just because Oregon has the better quarterback doesn’t mean they are a lock to win the game. Winston has shown an uncanny ability this year to overcome his lackadaisical play by leading comeback after comeback. He also has a 26-0 record as a starter, which is unheard of and has to be admired.

As the two teams fight in the trenches in the Granddaddy of Them All, the Seminoles might be able to find a way to win, as they have so many times over the past two years. However, even if that's the case, it won’t be because they have a more talented quarterback. 

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SEC West Dominance Hasn't Carried Over to Bowl Season

The best division in college football during the 2014 regular season has looked rather pedestrian since the schedule switched over to bowl time.

Mississippi State's 49-34 drubbing by Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl on Wednesday night followed up Ole Miss' listless effort in a 42-3 loss to TCU in the Peach Bowl earlier in the day, dropping the much-ballyhooed SEC West to 2-3 in bowl games. That's not good for any league; for a division that's had six different schools ranked in the top 10 at one point or another this season, that's horrible. Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde noted the division and the state's unfortunate events:

Meanwhile, the oft-overlooked SEC East is 2-0, with Florida, Missouri and Tennessee all with a good shot to win their upcoming games.

It seems like only yesterday we were wondering if the SEC could get two or three teams into the first four-team playoff, with no less than two coming from the West. All seven schools qualified for bowl games—the first time a division of that size has accomplished such a feat—yet heading into New Year's Day the wins have come from bottom feeders Arkansas and Texas A&M.

No pressure, Alabama and Auburn.

Even as teams started picking each other off during conference play, leaving only Alabama in the playoffs but still taking up 25 percent of the New Year's Six bowl spots, the narrative remained the same: This division is so good, no one can stack up with it. The seven schools went a combined 28-0 in nonconference play (with wins over Boise State, Kansas State and Wisconsin) and 11-4 against the East Division.

Things started off well enough, with Arkansas destroying Texas in the Texas Bowl and A&M outlasting West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl. But then Notre Dame beat LSU in the Music City Bowl, throwing a huge log on to the "how would the Irish do in the SEC?" fire that seems to never burn out.

LSU had an up-and-down season, but Notre Dame was riding a four-game losing streak and shuffled quarterbacks more often than a shady dealer in a back-alley poker game.

Now we have the back-to-back letdowns by Ole Miss and Mississippi State, the teams that were at the center of the college football universe in October, yet they head into 2015 collectively having lost seven times in the past two months.

This isn't meant to take anything away from TCU and Georgia Tech, teams who won 23 games and who both had breakout seasons, but at very few moments (before Wednesday) were either considered anywhere close to being on the level of the SEC West schools.

The most troubling trend noticed among the SEC losers has been their defense or lack thereof. Ole Miss was the FBS leader in scoring defense, at 13.8 points per game, and Mississippi State was 25th against the run before, according to cfbstats.com, Georgia Tech pounded out 452 yards on the ground Wednesday. LSU was a top-20 defense but couldn't force a takeaway against a turnover-prone opponent.

Coach Paul Johnson shared his thoughts after the game (via Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports):

Much can be salvaged by having Auburn take down Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl and having Alabama roll Ohio State and then either Florida State or Oregon for the national title, but for now all that talk of the SEC West taking over the world has been tempered.


Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech: Score, Twitter Reaction for 2014 Orange Bowl

Georgia Tech rushed for over 450 yards en route to a 49-34 victory over Mississippi State in the 2014 Orange Bowl. Justin Thomas and Synjyn Days combined to score six times on the ground in the win.

The biggest question coming into the game was whether the Yellow Jackets could shake off their recent bowl woes against a team from the vaunted SEC West. Paul Johnson led them to a bowl in each of his first six seasons at the helm but went just 1-5 in those games.

The seventh appearance went far better for Johnson's squad. Here's how the game played out from Sun Life Stadium in Miami:

One of the marquee losses for Georgia Tech came in the 2009 season against Iowa in the Orange Bowl. Ryan S. Clark of the Sun Sentinel passed along comments from Johnson, who admitted he used that defeat as a teaching tool as he got the current group of players ready.

"I've talked a little bit about 2009 when we were here before and we didn't play particularly well," he said. "You know, Iowa had a really good team and they had a lot to do with that."

The Jackets certainly came out like a motivated bunch. They forced an immediate turnover on the opening drive, as Chris Milton plucked a deflected pass out of the air on third down.

Dr. Saturday highlighted the early momentum shift:

Four plays later Georgia Tech was in the end zone. After back-to-back runs by Charles Perkins and Deon Hill that covered 37 yards, Days plunged in from three yards out for the score.

Tech was able to stretch the lead to 14 later in the first quarter. It used eight straight runs to move the ball from the 12 out to near midfield. As it usually does, that success on the ground opened up a chance to take a shot deep.

Thomas found Darren Waller, who won a jump-ball situation for the 41-yard score. A stat provided by ESPN Stats and Info shows how little the run-heavy Jackets rely on the deep ball:

The complexion of the first half changed on the next drive, though.

Josh Robinson was bottled up for no gain and appeared to fumble with the loose ball recovered by Tech. It would have given them the ball deep in Mississippi State territory with a golden opportunity to make it 21-0.

Instead, referees ruled him down by contact, and the Bulldogs' drive continued. Thirteen plays and 60 yards later, they put their first points of the game on the board to make it 14-3.

Mark Schlabach of ESPN noted the forward progress calls haven't gone in the Yellow Jackets' favor this season after a previous controversial decision against Georgia:

The score marked the start of a 13-0 run for Mississippi State to get back in the game. The touchdown in that stretch came on a Dak Prescott scamper from five yards out after he had delivered three consecutive strikes to Joe Morrow that covered 50 yards.

Evan Sobiesk then added his second field goal of the game to cut the lead to one. CBS Sports College Football pointed out the change of momentum after the disputed call:

Georgia Tech was finally able to resettle late in the second quarter.

The Jackets got back to basics with a string of runs and a couple timely completions by Thomas to engineer the type of long drive they excel at. It covered 82 yards with 12 plays and took nearly five minutes off the clock before finding paydirt.

Thomas ran in from 13 yards to make it 21-13. Bob Carskadon of Hail State noted the score:

Mississippi State answered in dramatic fashion.

Prevent coverage by Georgia Tech allowed the Bulldogs to get within Hail Mary range as time ticked down in the first half. Prescott threw it up from near midfield, and Fred Ross was in the right place at the right time as the ball deflected in his direction for the diving grab.

ESPN College Football passed along the highlight-reel 42-yard score that made it 21-20 at the break:

Giving up a touchdown of that nature could have been a crushing blow to the Yellow Jackets. Instead, it seemed to motivate them coming out of halftime.

They came out flying on both sides of the ball. It all started on the second play from scrimmage as Days, who opened the scoring, struck again with a burst from 69 yards to quickly erase the Bulldogs' miracle touchdown.

After a defensive stop, the Tech rushing attack was at its best. Seven straight runs allowed them to cover 81 yards in just three minutes. Thomas capped it off with an impressive 32-yard score to stretch the lead back to 15.

David Pollack of ESPN summed up the drive:

It continued, too. Another stop led to a drive where the only blemish was a single incomplete pass. Otherwise, five runs for 52 yards and another touchdown. Once again it was Thomas crossing the goal line, marking his third score of the game.

The sophomore QB impressed Robby Donoho of WCBI:

The Bulldogs answered to open the fourth quarter with a connection between Prescott and De'Runnya Wilson. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen decided to go for an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff down by 15 despite there being an entire quarter to play. Georgia Tech recovered.

The Bulldog defense still didn't have an answer as the Jackets scored again. Days matched Thomas with his third rushing score of the night.

The Bulldogs tacked on a late touchdown, but there was no miracle comeback in the cards. Georgia Tech Football celebrated the result:

Mississippi State's season comes to a close on a sour note despite a strong 10-3 record. The Bulldogs climbed all the way up to No. 1 in the rankings at one point. Three losses in their last four games is a major disappointment as they begin to look ahead to 2015.

On the flip side, Georgia Tech rebounds from its loss in the ACC title game to Florida State with a bowl win to silence the critics, at least for the time being. With Thomas returning to lead the triple-option attack, all signs point to another year in contention on the horizon after an 11-3 campaign.


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Rose Bowl Matchup of Mariota vs. Winston Just Might Be Start of Something Big

LOS ANGELES — You'd think we'd get something like this all the time. The quarterback is the most important guy on the field, so why wouldn't the two best quarterbacks in the country face each other in a championship-type of game?

For some reason it just doesn't happen. And when you look at the quarterbacks who have played in the national championship games from the time the BCS started in 1998 you find the side of the NFL road littered with Tim Tebow, Vince Young, Matt Leinart.

Now, we get Marcus Mariota vs. Jameis Winston on Thursday in the Rose Bowl for a spot in the national championship game. This could be exactly what we've been waiting for. The game will have the country's attention focused on quarterbacks who are polar opposites on-field and off. The past two Heisman Trophy winners. Both players are expected to go to the NFL next season, too.

I know everyone's talking about good vs. evil with these guys. But football is wondering where its next Tom Brady-Aaron Rodgers rivalry is going to come from. The answer might be Pasadena.

Might be. Because if you look through the quarterbacks who played in the national championship game in recent years, you find a shocking lack of future NFL success. Cam Newton, Michael Vick, Carson Palmer. That's about as good as it gets

And it seems that every time two superstar quarterbacks come out of college in the same year, one is a bust. If that's going to happen this time with Mariota and Winston, which one will be Peyton Manning and which one Ryan Leaf?

That's impossible to know. Winston is cool in the pocket with outrageous patience and just won't go down even when people are ramming into him. NFL teams love that toughness. Mariota bulked up in the offseason to stand a little stronger, but his best stuff doesn't happen in the pocket.

Winston has the cocky-leader thing going that we stereotypically associate with quarterbacks. Mariota is quiet.

Winston's coach, Jimbo Fisher, instructs him after a game to get people on his side by being "Humble. Humble pie'' with the media. Mariota is so humble that some NFL scouts wonder if he'll take charge. Oregon assistants wondered the same thing when he arrived.

If Winston's character were reliable, I'd say he'd be picked in the draft ahead of Mariota. Not to mention: Tampa Bay gets the first NFL draft pick, and there's an added PR bonus from taking a player from the state of Florida. That might not be good for Winston, as Tampa coach Lovie Smith, a defensive specialist, has proven over the years he has no clue what to do with a quarterback

The NBA can look at the NCAA Tournament and Final Four as marketing for its future stars. The NFL hasn't had as much luck with that. That's what makes this game special for the future. It's a marquee game between marquee players with everyone watching. Too bad it's not the title game.

Opposites make all rivalries better, too, because it gives you a chance to choose sides.

I'd try to connect this to the Larry Bird-Magic Johnson college national championship game, which did have a lot of the same things going as this Rose Bowl. The difference was that the NBA wasn't particularly popular at the time, and that one college game gave it the rivalry it needed to for the league to explode in popularity.

In this case, the NFL is already the most popular sport in the country. The second most popular is college football.

Mariota is better suited to win Thursday's game. He has been better than he was last year, and far more consistent. Not game-managing consistent, but game-breaking consistent. He has 38 touchdown passes and just two interceptions.

"His efficiency...'' Winston said this week. "That's special. I think he has all the tools. He's fast, has a great arm and he leads the team. Quietly, but he leads the team. And those guys rally up behind him and he affects everyone around him.''

Winston hasn't had nearly the stats he had last year. Last year he threw 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. This year, it has been 24 and 17. But he has found a way to grind out wins. Sure it looks prettier the way he did it last year, but it takes a certain amount of guts to win the close ones. And in two years he has never lost a game.

"He's a great player,'' Mariota said. "What he's been able to do over his career is incredible. His record as a quarterback, you know, says a lot about his game and what he's able to do. He really has that command of the offense and whenever the game is close, you can rely on that guy to make plays.''

I give the edge to Mariota over Winston on Thursday. But Florida State, with a better defense, has more ways to win. (Pick: Oregon in a close win.)

This game is what everyone has been waiting for. But a caution about using it to predict a longtime great rivalry: Tom Brady wasn't drafted until the sixth round. Aaron Rodgers was the 24th pick.

And college football championship games tend to produce quarterbacks such as Matt Flynn, Matt Leinart, Josh Heupel.

Craig Krenzel. Chris Leak. Chris Weinke.

Matt Mauck. Tee Martin. Ken Dorsey.

But this really be the one. I think so.

Might be.


Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.

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Mississippi State Completes Hail Mary to End 1st Half of Orange Bowl

"You don't need it until you need it—today we needed it," said Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen on the ESPN broadcast of Wednesday night's Orange Bowl.

Mullen says his team has practiced this Hail Mary play for moments just like this, and thanks to a great throw from quarterback Dak Prescott, wide receiver Fred Ross was able to grab the batted ball at the end of the half against Georgia Tech for a 42-yard touchdown.

The grab put the Bulldogs within one, 21-20, against the Yellow Jackets heading into the locker room at Sun Life Stadium in Miami.

Here's another angle of the play:


[Barrett Sallee, FanSided]

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College Football Better Watch out for Rich Rod and Arizona in 2015

At the end of Rich Rodriguez's third year at his previous job, despite marked improvement, he was sent packing. Now, his current employer is hoping it can keep him around, especially with the progress he's made turning a program in shambles into a rising power.

While Wednesday's Fiesta Bowl ended with one of Arizona's many young stars making the kind of mistake that comes with not having been there before, the overall body of work in 2014 shows very clearly that Rodriguez has something good going in Tucson.

The fact Arizona was playing in such a high-profile game to begin with just three years after Rodriguez took over a team that had gone 2-10 was amazing in itself. Being able to come back from a 21-0 deficit in the first 10 minutes, with a chance to win it in the final seconds, only added to the improbable season the Wildcats put together with an offense overloaded with underclassmen.

It also sets the stage for what should be a huge 2015 for the Wildcats, a fourth season for Rodriguez that he didn't get at Michigan.

Picked to finish a distant fourth in the Pac-12's South Division, Arizona instead won the title and reached 10 wins for the first time since 1998. The final two games, including a blowout loss to Oregon in the conference championship, put a damper on what was accomplished earlier, but at the same time it figures to provide motivation for the many notables set to return next year. 

Those were the postgame comments that Arizona Daily Star beat writer Daniel Berk got from Scooby Wright, the sophomore linebacker whose rise from an unheralded 2-star recruit to the winner of three major national defensive awards epitomized how this 2014 Wildcats team came from nowhere. It also serves as evidence that in 2015 it could be even better, assuming offseason progress is made.

Besides Wright (who finished the year with a school-record 30 tackles for loss), Arizona brings back a power-packed offense led by redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon, true freshman running back Nick Wilson and a receiving corps that had 20 catches in the Fiesta Bowl come from freshmen or sophomores.

Wilson, who received almost no national attention in a year when freshmen running backs seemed to be growing on trees, ran for 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2014. That included 86 yards and a score in the first half Wednesday before taking a blow to the head and leaving the game.

It was Solomon, though, whose blunder prevented yet another crazy comeback in a season full of frenetic finishes for Arizona. Sacked twice already on a drive that also saw him go 72 yards in less than two-and-a-half minutes, Solomon tried to extend the play on 3rd-and-goal from the 8-yard line and instead was sacked in bounds. The clock expired before the Wildcats could get another snap off. 

Solomon threw for 335 yards on 28-of-49 passing, but he twice was picked off when he could have gotten rid of it and was also sacked eight times. For the season, he threw for 3,793 yards and 28 touchdowns, attempting 540 passes and suffering 38 sacks.

Had Arizona been able to score, get a two-point conversion and force overtime, it wouldn't have been that surprising. This was a team that scored 36 points in the fourth quarter of its Pac-12 opener against California, winning on a Hail Mary pass, for a third straight win by seven points or less.

Twelve days later, the Wildcats did something no other team did this season: beat Oregon, winning 31-24 in Eugene and briefly making Heisman winner Marcus Mariota look somewhat mortal.

But the fact that Solomon made a textbook "freshman mistake" also fit in with the idea that this Arizona team was playing far above expectations and was still a year away. This was evident in the 51-13 loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game and when the team looked like it was going to get run off the field at University of Phoenix Stadium as if it wasn't ready for prime time.

Though the Pac-12 South figures to again be loaded with Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Utah all bringing back plenty, it's unlikely the Wildcats will be as overlooked in 2015 as they were in 2014. 


Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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College Football Better Watch out for Rich Rod and Arizona in 2015

At the end of Rich Rodriguez 's third year at his previous job, despite marked improvement, he was sent packing...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Insider's Guide to the Sugar Bowl: Don't Trust Urban Meyer, and Picking a Winner

NEW ORLEANS — Urban Meyer is 36-2 at Ohio State, yet he said this week that "we have a long ways to go" when asked if this 2014 team is close to the standard he wants for the program. 

Do you feel like you are being set up? You should.

On January 8, 2007, Meyer's Florida team was an underdog to Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game and the Gators trashed the Buckeyes 41-14. He played it cool with that team before the title game and he is playing it cool with his latest underdog, the Buckeyes, who are nine-point dogs to Alabama, according to OddsShark, here Thursday night in the College Football Playoff semifinal.

My feeling is the master psychologist Meyer and his sidekick, strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti, are going to make these Buckeyes edgy for this game. Alabama should be worried by this. In 2008, here in the Sugar Bowl, Utah felt offended by a remark by Nick Saban and, in a pissed-off manner, beat the Tide in the Superdome.


5 Things

1. Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott is going to be a factor, but not by running the ball. He's averaging nine yards a carry his last three games, but Ohio State coaches have seen enough film that they wonder if they get Alabama in a base defense, usually on first down with middle linebacker Trey DePriest on the field, and hit Elliott on a wheel route for a big play. The Crimson Tide's defensive line, led by A'Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen, is the kind of line that does not just fill gaps, it defines the gap. Elliott won't run, but he may catch and run.

2. This Alabama punter JK Scott, a freshman, is a weapon. He averages 47 yards a kick and can parachute the ball inside the 20 (54.2 percent of the time, which is the best in the country). Inside the Dome with fresh, clean air he will make Ohio State go 75 and 80 yards. On the other hand, the Buckeyes have an issue with field-goal kicking. Maybe some of that will be mitigated by indoor-friendly conditions, but Sean Nuernberger is 11-of-18 (5-of-10 from between 40 and 49 yards). The kicking game stands out as advantage for Alabama.

3. There is no dark sky to look up into in the Superdome. You look up into lights. Bright lights. It sounds silly, but when the big arm of Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones launches those throw-me-open shot plays for wide receiver Devin Smith, do the Bama safeties look back and up into those lights and lose the ball? Smith told me he has a 40-inch vertical and he averages 26 yards a catch. He can snatch that pigskin on a jump ball for a big play, just like he did against Wisconsin...indoors.

4. Ohio State should be an underdog because it is using a third-string quarterback. It is not an underdog because of the rest of the talent on the field. Its players are really fast, just like Alabama's. The Crimson Tide have a first-round pick on the defensive line, Robinson, and probably another one in  Allen. Ohio State has a great d-lineman, too, Joey Bosa, who has a J.J. Watt motor. The defensive lines are going to be worth watching all night, especially when Ohio State gets into that frenzied mode with Bosa and Michael Bennett.

5. You can't bet against Alabama because of the quarterback situation. You just can't. The Crimson Tide are going to have smoke and mirrors all night for Jones, who has thrown 34 passes in his career. He is supremely confident. He gets good coaching, but is he going to make that 3rd-and-8 throw? Alabama, on the other hand, has Blake Sims, who scoot from trouble with his feet and convert third downs.


The Pick

Alabama 24, Ohio State 17. The Buckeyes are on the doorstep and with J.T. Barrett at QB might have won this game.


Ray Glier covers college football for Bleacher Report.

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Clemson Football: 5 Takeaways from the Tigers' Bowl Game

The season ended on a positive note for the Clemson Tigers with a 40-6 victory over the Oklahoma Sooners in the Russell Athletic Bowl, so it’s all smiles in The Upstate of South Carolina right now.

The Tigers were dominant on both sides of the ball, forcing five turnovers and totaling 387 yards of total offense on Monday.

There were some key takeaways from the game, so here are five things you should have noticed.

Begin Slideshow