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Bold Predictions for Every SEC Football Bowl Game

With 12 of its 14 teams playing in bowl games this year, the SEC has carried over its distinction as the best conference in the country into the postseason. Nine of those qualifiers are favored to win their matchups, according to Odds Shark, making it very likely the SEC will dominate the bowl season like it did throughout the regular season.

Bowl games tend to bring out the crazy, with the extra preparation time making it possible for teams to break out some new wrinkles to their game plans and unveil breakout players who might not have had much of an impact before then. Anything goes during bowl season, and it's often hard to predict how things will pan out.

We're going to give it a try, though. Here are our bold predictions for what will happen in each bowl game the SEC is involved in over the next two weeks.

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Stagg Bowl 2014: Wisconsin-Whitewater vs. Mount Union Score, Recap and More

In what has become an annual event, Wisconsin-Whitewater and Mount Union put on one of the most memorable Stagg Bowl contests ever with the Warhawks capturing their second consecutive Division III national championship in a 43-34 win. 

This is the ninth time since 2005 these two teams have played for the national title. In the previous eight meetings, Wisconsin-Whitewater came out on top five times, including last year's 52-14 thrashing. This year was more competitive, though the final result ended up being the same. 

If there was going to be a loss for Wisconsin-Whitewater, it was going to happen in this game, as the ESPN Stats & Info department pointed out:

Offense was expected to be prevalent throughout the game, as these were two of the highest scoring teams in the country.

Per NCAA.com, Mount Union led the nation with 60.3 points per game, which makes Wisconsin-Whitewater's 39.9 mark look pedestrian. The two teams combined for 1,069 yards and 54 first downs on Friday. 

Warhawks head coach Lance Leipold manned the sidelines for the final time, as he's set to take over at Buffalo after the season. The 50-year-old talked about his emotions coming into this game during a press conference, via Art Kabelowsky of The Wisconsin State Journal:

“It’s like I joined the senior class,” Leipold said. “It’s been very emotional, and it will continue to be. This is where I grew up. … This place will always be special.”

...

“It’s not about my last game. It’s about my guys, and the chance they have to play a 15th game. I hope you had a chance to see it doesn’t just happen.”

It's safe to say Leipold couldn't have picked a better way to go out, ending his eight-year run at Wisconsin-Whitewater with five undefeated seasons and six national championships. He already made history coming into the game, reaching 100 wins faster than any coach in NCAA history, per ESPN College Football:

As exciting and thrilling as the matchup was, it was also ugly in spots. The two teams combined for seven turnovers, including five by Mount Union. 

Purple Raiders quarterback Kevin Burke was hurt by four interceptions, including a pick-six in the second quarter that gave Wisconsin-Whitewater a 20-7 lead. 

Travis Wilson of WisconsinSports.net noted that Mount Union's halftime deficit was largely due to the inept play by Burke:

Another area of the game that will have Mount Union looking back wondering "what if" is penalties. Kabelowsky noted on Twitter the Purple Raiders had two touchdowns taken away due to holding penalties:

Mount Union had to settle for a field goal on that particular drive, which made the score 40-34 with 9.5 minutes to play. That meant a defensive stop was needed to give the offense a chance, but it never came. 

Wisconsin-Whitewater put together its best drive of the game after getting the ball back, holding the ball for more than six minutes to take a 43-34 lead thanks to a a Lake Bachar field goal. 

Dennis Moore was the hero for the Warhawks, recording 120 receiving yards on just three catches. The biggest play of the game was a 75-yard touchdown on a screen pass from Matt Behrendt that gave them a 37-31 lead, via the Mount Union Twitter:

The dagger came when Burke threw his fourth interception as Mount Union was driving with under two minutes to play, hoping to give the team a chance to take the lead with an onside kick. Wisconsin-Whitewater was able to run out the clock to complete a 15-0 season. 

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Alamo Bowl Betting: UCLA Bruins vs. Kansas State Wildcats Odds, Pick

Kansas State is back in a bowl for the sixth straight season, but the Wildcats have been bad bowl bets lately, going just 1-5 both straight up and against the spread in those last six bowls. Kansas State hopes to reverse that trend when it takes on UCLA in the 22nd edition of the Alamo Bowl Friday, January 2 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

 

Alamo Bowl point spread: Wildcats opened as 2.5-point favorites; the total was 59.5. (Line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 40.3-32.3 Wildcats

 

Why the Bruins can cover the spread

The Bruins started 4-0 this season, including a 62-27 victory at Arizona State. UCLA then lost back-to-back games to Utah and Oregon but then won five in a row, including a 17-7 victory over eventual Pac-12 South champion Arizona and a third straight win over rival USC.

The Bruins then fell in their regular-season finale to Stanford, but they are playing in a bowl for the fourth straight season. UCLA ranks 23rd in total offense, averaging 269 yards per game through the air and 199 yards per game on the ground, so the Bruins have the ability to simply outscore almost any opponent, as they did against Memphis (42-35), Cal (36-34) and Colorado 40-37).

UCLA played against some tough expectations earlier this season and some big spreads, and it consequently went 1-7 ATS through its first eight games. But the Bruins then covered the spread in three of their last four contests.

 

Why the Wildcats can cover the spread

The Wildcats only lost three games this season—to Auburn by a touchdown, at TCU and at Baylor. Those three teams combined to go 30-6 this season, and both the Frogs and Bears had good cases in support of a College Football Playoff berth.

Kansas State also went 8-2 ATS over its last 10 games, with wins and covers against Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State and West Virginia. On the season, the 'Cats rank 50th in the country in total offense, as quarterback Jake Waters has accounted for 3,600 yards and 28 touchdowns, and wide receiver Tyler Lockett has caught 93 balls for almost 1,400 yards and nine scores.

And the Kansas State defense ranks 36th overall and has held seven opponents to 20 points or less.

 

Smart Pick

UCLA holds an edge on offense, while Kansas State holds an edge on defense. And in close calls like this, it's usually wiser to go with the better defense. On top of that, Wildcats head coach Bill Snyder is a handy guy to have on your side when trying to win a bet; his teams are 34-16 ATS over the last four seasons. So the smart money in this spot resides with Kansas State.

 

Trends

  • UCLA is 5-1 SU in its last six games.
  • Kansas State is 8-2 ATS in its last 10 games.

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark - follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

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GoDaddy Bowl Betting: Toledo Rockets vs. Arkansas State Red Wolves Odds, Pick

Arkansas State has won and covered each of the last two GoDaddy Bowl games. The Red Wolves get a chance to run that string to three in a row when they return to familiar territory to take on the Toledo Rockets in the GoDaddy Bowl Sunday, January 4 in Mobile, Alabama.

 

GoDaddy Bowl point spread: Rockets opened as one-point favorites; the total was 67. (Line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 37.2-34.2 Red Wolves

 

Why the Rockets can cover the spread

The Rockets survived an early-season change at quarterback to claim a share of the MAC West championship and return to a bowl after a one-year absence. Toledo started 1-2 this season, with losses to eventual SEC East champion Missouri and Cincinnati.

But it won seven of its last nine games, with the only losses coming by a touchdown to the Big 12's Iowa State and by a field goal to eventual MAC champion Northern Illinois.

For the season, the Rockets rank 19th in the country in total offense, 18th in rushing at 247 yards per game, and 19th against the run, giving up just 121 yards per game on the ground. And outrushing foes by 125 yards per game is a good way to win games and cover spreads.

 

Why the Red Wolves can cover the spread

The Wolves started 1-2 this season, with losses at Tennessee and at Miami. ASU then won five of its next six games, covering the spread as a double-digit favorite three times. The Wolves then lost back-to-back outings but finished the regular season on a high note, bombing New Mexico State, 68-35.

So Arkansas State is playing in the GoDaddy Bowl for the fourth year in a row. The offensive-minded Red Wolves rank 21st in the country in total offense, 25th in rushing at 230 yards per game, and while the defense has its shortcomings, it also held five opponents this season to 14 points or less.

 

Smart Pick

This looks like a even matchup; Arkansas State owns a short edge on offense, while Toledo holds a short edge on defense. But the Rockets have outgained their last five opponents and outrushed their last 10. So the smart choice in this spot is with Toledo, minus the points.

 

Trends

  • Toledo is 4-1 straight up in its last five games.
  • Arkansas State is 13-5 against the spread in its last 18 games.

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark - follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

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Cactus Bowl Betting: Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Washington Huskies Odds, Pick

Washington finished the regular season by covering the spread in each of its last three games. Oklahoma State struggled through a five-game against the spread losing streak, then covered its last two contests. Two teams that showed hope late this season meet when the 8-5 Huskies and 6-6 Cowboys play in the Cactus Bowl Friday, January 2 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.

 

Cactus Bowl point spread: Huskies opened as five-point favorites; the total was 56.5. (Line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 32.5-22.3 Huskies

 

Why the Cowboys can cover the spread

The Cowboys knew they were headed for a rebuilding season this year, but they started off by winning five of their first six games—and the only loss in that span was a 37-31 decision against eventual NCAA playoff qualifier Florida State.

But as the schedule got a little tougher, OSU lost five games in a row—to the likes of TCU, Kansas State and Baylor. But then, in need of a victory in the season finale against rival Oklahoma to become bowl eligible, the Cowboys showed a great flair for the dramatic, returning a punt 92 yards with less than a minute to go to tie the game, then winning in overtime, 38-35.

So Oklahoma State is playing in a bowl for the ninth straight season.

 

Why the Huskies can cover the spread

The Huskies started 4-0 this season, their first under new head coach Chris Petersen, then lost five of their next seven games. But one of those losses came on a touchdown with four minutes to go against Stanford, another came in a game against Arizona State that was tied with five minutes to go and another came against Pac-12 South champion Arizona on a field goal at the buzzer.

Washington then won its last two games, over Oregon State and Washington State, by a combined score of 68-26, to make a bowl for the fifth straight season. On the year, the Huskies are averaging 195 yards per game rushing, while holding opponents to just 122 yards per game on the ground. And outrushing opponents by 70 yards per game can be a good way to cover spreads.

 

Smart Pick

Washington holds advantages in the comparisons of the offenses and the running games, and it's better against the run. And realistically, Oklahoma State probably doesn't even deserve to be in a bowl game. So the smart choice in this spot is with the Huskies, minus the points.

 

Trends

  • Oklahoma State is 1-5 straight up in its last six games.
  • Washington is 11-5 SU in its last 16 games.

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark - follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

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Birmingham Bowl Betting: East Carolina Pirates vs. Florida Gators Odds, Pick

Florida just went through another miserable season, and it lost its head coach. But the Gators also made some money down the stretch, going 4-1 against the spread over their last five games.

East Carolina, meanwhile, made some noise earlier this season, but then word got out and the Pirates finished 1-7 ATS over their last eight games. So two teams riding opposing betting trends meet when 6-5 Florida takes on 8-4 East Carolina in the newly named Birmingham Bowl Saturday, January 3 at Legion Field in (where else?) Birmingham.

 

Birmingham Bowl point spread: Gators opened as seven-point favorites; the total was 57 (line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 37.1-35.0 Pirates

 

Why the Pirates can cover the spread

The Pirates opened this season 6-1 with victories over Virginia Tech and North Carolina (70-41), the only loss a tough 33-23 decision at South Carolina. East Carolina then lost back-to-back games at Temple and at Cincinnati, then beat Tulane and Tulsa.

And the Pirates had Central Florida beat in the regular-season finale but gave up a Hail Mary on the last play of the game to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. On the season, East Carolina, powered by a potent passing attack, ranks fifth in total offense at 533 yards per game and 44th in total defense.

Finally, the Pirates were lined as underdogs three times this season; they won two of those games outright and went 3-0 ATS.

 

Why the Gators can cover the spread

The Gators lost their head coach along the way this season but actually finished with three wins in their last five games and covered four of their last five.

Earlier this year, Florida played Alabama to a 21-21 tie well into the third quarter, then lost on a field goal with three seconds left against LSU. The Gators followed that up by having both a punt and a field goal blocked in the fourth quarter in an eventual overtime loss to South Carolina and then gave up a 9-0 lead and lost to NCAA playoff qualifier Florida State 24-19.

A play or three here and there, and Will Muschamp might still have his job. The Gators are averaging 190 yards per game on the ground this season, and their defense ranks ninth in the country overall and 12th against the run.

 

Smart pick

East Carolina owns some nice numbers, but it played a weak schedule this season. Florida, on the other hand, played a Top 10 schedule. And the Gators own an advantage in overall talent. So the smart choice in this spot, despite the struggles, is probably with Florida, minus the points.

 

Trends

  • East Carolina is 1-7 ATS in its last eight games.
  • The total has gone over in eight of Florida's last 11 games.

 

All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark. Follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

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Outback Bowl Betting: Wisconsin Badgers vs. Auburn Tigers Odds, Pick

The Auburn Tigers may not be playing for the national championship this season, but they will get the opportunity to become the first team to kick off the New Year with a victory when they face the Wisconsin Badgers in the Outback Bowl.

The Tigers have dropped three of their last four games and failed to cover all of them during that stretch, while Wisconsin is looking to recover from an embarrassing 59-0 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes as a four-point favorite in the Big Ten Championship Game.

 

Outback Bowl point spread: Tigers opened as 6.5-point favorites; the total was 62. (Line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 40.5-36.0 Badgers

 

Why the Badgers can cover the spread

Wisconsin not only lost the Big Ten title to the Buckeyes, the school also saw head coach Gary Andersen leave to take the same job for the Oregon State Beavers. Instead, the Badgers will have Athletic Director Barry Alvarez on the sideline coaching the team for the first time since taking over for Bret Bielema in the 2013 Rose Bowl, which the team lost, 20-14, to the Stanford Cardinal.

Alvarez is the perfect person to help the players forget about such a lousy performance against Ohio State and make them remember how good they were before that game, led by Heisman Trophy finalist Melvin Gordon, the nation’s leading rusher, who totaled 2,336 yards and 26 touchdowns.

 

Why the Tigers can cover the spread

Auburn may have lost three of four down the stretch, but all three losses came against bowl teams from the SEC. There’s no shame in losing, 55-44, to the Alabama Crimson Tide, the top-seeded team in the College Football Playoff, especially since the Tigers were leading, 26-21, at halftime.

There’s no doubt they can put points up on the scoreboard; the problem is slowing down their opponent at the end of the game. While that was also an issue against the Florida State Seminoles in losing last year’s BCS National Championship Game, it should not be one versus the Badgers, who simply run the ball.

 

Smart Pick

There may not be a bowl game that is a bigger mismatch from a conference perspective despite one of the SEC’s top teams taking on one of the Big Ten’s best. The SEC was a far superior conference during the season and could have had two teams in the College Football Playoff had Auburn, the Ole Miss Rebels or Mississippi State Bulldogs just played a little better this year.

Wisconsin winning the Big Ten West was not nearly as impressive as the competition the Tigers played in the SEC West, which should have them more than ready to win this game. Auburn is used to competing against much tougher defenses and more well-balanced offenses. The key to stopping the Badgers is slowing Gordon, so expect the Tigers to focus on him defensively.

Wisconsin has failed to cover three straight games and went 5-8 against the spread overall, so look for those negative trends to continue as Auburn wins the Outback Bowl by more than a touchdown.

 

Trends

  • Wisconsin is 5-11 ATS in its last 16 games.
  • Auburn is 1-6 ATS in its last seven games.

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark - follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

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Armed Forces Bowl Betting: Pittsburgh Panthers vs. Houston Cougars Odds, Pick

The Houston Cougars are 8-1-1 against the spread the last 10 times they've played as underdogs. On the other end of the spectrum, the Pittsburgh Panthers are just 2-4 straight up and 1-5 ATS the last six times they've played as favorites. The 6-6 Panthers will be short favorites over the 7-5 Cougars when the teams meet in the 12th edition of the Armed Forces Bowl Friday, January 2 in Fort Worth.

 

Armed Forces Bowl point spread: Panthers opened as two-point favorites; the total was 53.5. (Line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 33.6-30.2 Cougars

 

Why the Panthers can cover the spread

The Panthers started 3-0 this season, with a win over Boston College, but then they lost six of their next seven games. However, one of those losses came in overtime to Duke, and four of them came by a total of 17 points.

Then, with a six-year bowl streak on the line, Pitt won its last two games, beating Syracuse, 30-7, and Miami, 35-23, to become bowl eligible. The Panthers rank 44th in total offense, 16th in rushing at 251 yards per game and 27th in total defense.

And while Pitt is just a .500 team in the win-loss column, it has outscored opponents this year by a 380-307 margin.

 

Why the Cougars can cover the spread

The Cougars started just 2-3 this season but won five of their last seven games SU, going 4-2-1 ATS, to make a bowl for the second straight year. And in the two games Houston lost during its recent run—against Tulane and Cincinnati—it outgained both foes.

On the season, the Cougars are averaging 226 yards per game through the air and 183 yards per game on the ground, and they have scored 104 points over their last three games. Also, the Houston defense ranks 20th in the country overall, 31st against the run and 11th in points allowed at just 19.5 per game.

 

Smart Pick

Both these teams will be playing under interim head coaches, because Pitt's Paul Chryst left to take over at Wisconsin and Houston fired Tony Levine. How those situations might affect the outcome of this game is up for debate.

Ultimately, while these teams put up similar numbers this season, the Panthers might be a little more battle-tested, having played a much tougher schedule. So the smart choice in this spot is Pitt, minus the points.

 

Trends

  • Pittsburgh is 3-6 SU in its last nine games.
  • The total has gone under in 12 of Houston's last 17 games.

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark - follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

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Citrus Bowl Betting: Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Missouri Tigers Odds, Pick

The Minnesota Golden Gophers will try to earn their first postseason win since 2004 when they meet the Missouri Tigers in the Citrus Bowl on January 1 at 1 p.m. The Golden Gophers defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide as three-point underdogs in the 2004 Music City Bowl, and they have gone 0-6 since then straight up and 2-4 against the spread.

Citrus Bowl point spread: Tigers opened as 6.5-point favorites; the total was 48.

Odds Shark computer prediction: 29.0-28.9 Tigers.

 

Why the Golden Gophers can cover the spread

Minnesota has covered its last four games and went 8-4 versus the line overall this season. The Golden Gophers narrowly missed out on playing in the Big Ten Championship Game, falling to the Wisconsin Badgers 34-24 as 16-point road underdogs in a matchup that decided the Big Ten West winner.

Five of their past six covers overall have come as underdogs, with three of them resulting in wins, and they are 10-1 ATS in their previous 11 as a dog. Minnesota also has one of the best coaches in the country in Jerry Kill, who has overcome some health problems to lead the school to consecutive eight-win campaigns.

 

Why the Tigers can cover the spread

The Tigers have played in the SEC Championship Game two years in a row, and while they have not won it either time, that experience should pay off against a Minnesota team without a bowl victory in more than a decade.

They won six in a row before falling 42-13 to the Alabama Crimson Tide for the SEC title, also going 5-1 ATS during the winning streak. Missouri beat the Oklahoma State Cowboys 41-31 last year in the Cotton Bowl as a three-point underdog, and the team has gone 14-3 SU and 12-5 ATS in its past 17 games as a favorite.

 

Smart Pick

Unlike the Outback Bowl where the Auburn Tigers play the Wisconsin Badgers in another SEC versus Big Ten battle, these Tigers and Golden Gophers are two fairly similar teams that should play a competitive game.

Mizzou is not your prototypical SEC team either, joining the conference in 2012 and playing in the weaker of the two divisions. Minnesota did not play in a particularly strong Big Ten division either, but Kill has a coaching edge here and will have his players motivated to defeat an SEC team.

Last year, the Golden Gophers may have underestimated a Syracuse Orange squad that upset them 21-17 as 3.5-point favorites in the Texas Bowl. That will not be the case this time around, as Minnesota upsets Missouri to win the Citrus Bowl.

 

Trends

  • The total has gone over in four of Minnesota's last six games.
  • Missouri is 4-1 ATS in its last five games.

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark. Follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

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Bowl Game Schedule 2014-15: Full Odds and Predictions for Marquee Matchups

Saturday is the official start of the 2014-15 bowl season. It consists of 39 games over 23 days, culminating with the first-ever College Football Championship Game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on January 12. While there's a long wait between now and then, at least the football gods have provided plenty of intriguing matchups in the interim. 

The interesting thing about this year's slate of bowl games is how many marquee matchups there are outside of the College Football Playoff. No one will deny the allure of Alabama-Ohio State and Oregon-Florida State, but the Cotton Bowl features a battle between two top-10 teams in Michigan State and Baylor. 

It's a testament to the depth in college football this season that you can build a list of matchups worth watching without including the College Football Playoff, though everyone will be focused on those games because the stakes are significantly higher. 

Whatever game you have your eye on, here is a look at the full schedule for this bowl season and a closer look at the top matchups. 

 

Rose Bowl: Oregon (-9.5) vs. Florida State

The first of the two College Football Playoff games is hard to forecast simply because of the way Florida State plays. Oregon looks like a clear favorite and the oddsmakers feel that way, as evidenced by the spread, but the Seminoles have knocked down every obstacle in their path thus far. 

It's easy to say that Florida State doesn't win pretty. Seven of its 13 wins have come by six points or fewer, including each of the last four. The Seminoles have given the opposition plenty of chances to win, yet it never happens. 

Why will this time be different?

As Jared Shanker of ESPN.com pointed out, Florida State has the talent on the defensive line to contain Marcus Mariota:

Defensive backs Ronald Darby, Jalen Ramsey and P.J. Williams are all first-day NFL talents in the traditional sense, and up front Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman are among the country's most athletic 300-pound linemen. The linebacking corps is suspect, but there are more than enough pieces to contain Mariota.

However, it's one thing to have NFL talent. It's another thing entirely when talking about execution. Remember that this Florida State defense allowed Everett Golson to throw for 313 yards, Will Gardner dropped 330 and Brad Kaaya had 316 yards. 

None of those quarterbacks is in the same ballpark as Mariota in terms of talent or performance. The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner had a historic season, which ESPN Stats & Info tried to put in perspective with this note:

While Oregon's offense is always the focal point, don't forget about Mark Helfrich's defense. The Ducks held an Arizona offense that averages nearly 35 points per game to 13 in the Pac-12 Championship Game. 

At some point Florida State has to rely on Jameis Winston to win a game, which has led to mixed results this season. The controversial quarterback has thrown 17 interceptions this year, tied for the fourth most by an FBS player. 

Winston has stepped up when Florida State needs him most, notably in the ACC Championship Game against Georgia Tech, but Oregon is easily the best team he will face this year. Those mistakes are going to cost him eventually. 

The Seminoles have walked a tightrope all year, but that luck will run out against a superior Oregon team in the Rose Bowl. 

Oregon 41, Florida State 27

 

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

It's strange the way betting odds work, because most people would assume that Ohio State is a bigger underdog against Alabama than Florida State is against Oregon. After all, the Buckeyes are on their third quarterback who only has one career start. 

You can spin Cardale Jones' performance against Wisconsin however you want, though it's going to be positive because of his results (257 passing yards, three touchdowns). He's going up against an entirely different beast when Alabama takes the field. 

The Crimson Tide are fourth in the nation in scoring defense (16.6 points per game). Jones will have to make plays with his arm because you can't run on Nick Saban's defense. They finished second in rushing yards allowed per game (96.4) and yards per attempt (2.9), per TeamRankings.com.

Jones only had to throw the ball 17 times against Wisconsin. It would be shocking if the Buckeyes got away with that again. 

Ohio State is also going up against an offense that's more diverse than Wisconsin. The Badgers are easy to game-plan for because Melvin Gordon is their only playmaker, as evidenced by the team averaging 150.8 pass yards per game. 

Alabama is 22nd in passing and 36th in rushing, which doesn't even tell you that Amari Cooper is a matchup nightmare for everyone. While opposing coaches know the Heisman finalist is going to be a focal point, no one has been able to stop him, as these numbers from the SEC Network illustrate:

There's no denying that this has been one of Urban Meyer's best seasons as a coach, but there's only so much one can do with a third-string quarterback in his second start. 

Alabama 34, Ohio State 14

 

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

In terms of pure fun, there might not be a better bowl matchup than Michigan State against Baylor. The Bears were on the cusp of a playoff spot, but some last-minute trickery from the selection committee left them on the outside looking in. 

Meanwhile, Michigan State has quietly been chugging along in the top 10 for the second consecutive season. Say what you want about the Spartans not being able to win "big" games this year, but Mark Dantonio has built one of the best programs in the country. 

What's more, the Spartans are more complete this year than the team that won the Rose Bowl last year. Connor Cook has grown into a tremendous quarterback with 2,900 yards, 22 touchdowns and six interceptions.

The rushing attack is among the best in the country thanks to the two-headed monster of Jeremy Langford (1,360 yards, 19 touchdowns) and Nick Hill (596 yards, nine touchdowns). A lot of that success comes from playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the country, as Penn State's James Franklin told Joe Rexrode of The Detroit Free Press:

While Michigan State's defense still rates among the best in the country overall, don't expect many punts in this game. The Spartans did struggle in their two biggest games of the year, allowing 95 total points to Oregon and Ohio State. 

Now, they are going against a Baylor offense that leads the nation in scoring with 48.8 points per game. One thing to note about the Spartans' defensive woes in big games is they were against versatile quarterbacks like Mariota and J.T. Barrett. 

Bryce Petty isn't that kind of quarterback. He stands in the pocket and fires the ball all over the field, which could play into the hands of Michigan State's defense. One thing the Baylor star has going for him is a short memory, via Max Olson of ESPN,com:

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

Being able to get over the letdown of not being in the playoff is going to be critical for Baylor. This team has been unstoppable virtually all year, save for one hiccup against West Virginia. Art Briles' offense has been tremendous, making its opponents one-dimensional. 

The Spartans will keep it close, but Petty and co. will be too much to handle down the stretch. 

Baylor 45, Michigan State 35

Odds via OddsShark.com

 

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TaxSlayer Bowl Betting: Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Tennessee Volunteers Odds, Analysis

The Iowa Hawkeyes are 3-3 straight up but 5-1 against the spread in their last six bowl appearances. The Tennessee Volunteers are just 3-7 both SU and ATS in their last 10 bowls. So the trends are with the 7-5 Hawkeyes when they take on the 6-6 Vols in the TaxSlayer Bowl on January 2 in Jacksonville.

TaxSlayer Bowl point spread: Volunteers opened as three-point favorites; the total was 51.

Odds Shark computer prediction: 27.9-27.4 Hawkeyes.

 

Why the Hawkeyes can cover the spread

The Hawkeyes started 5-1 this season, and while they faltered a bit down the stretch—losing their last two games to Wisconsin and Nebraska by a combined five points—they are playing in a bowl for the 12th time in the last 14 seasons.

Iowa lost five games this season; just one came by more than one score. The Hawkeyes run a bit pedestrian on offense, but quarterback Jake Rudock hit on 63 percent of his throws this season, compiling a 16/5 touchdown-to-interceptions ratio. Also, running back Mark Weisman can be tough to stop, especially in short yardage.

Also, the Iowa defense ranks 19th in the country overall, allowing just 335 yards and 24 points per game.

 

Why the Volunteers can cover the spread

The Vols sat at just 3-5 heading into November but won three of their last four games, including the clincher at rival Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale, to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2010.

Tennessee rallied from two touchdowns down with five minutes to go at South Carolina, winning in overtime. Then, they kicked Kentucky 50-16. Then, following a 29-21 loss to eventual SEC East champion Missouri, the Vols held off the Commodores 24-17 for that crucial sixth victory.

Like its bowl opponent, Tennessee can struggle on offense, but the Vols defense ranks 35th in the country, allowing 360 yards per game and holding six of 12 opponents to 19 points or fewer.

 

Smart Pick

Iowa holds slim advantages on both sides of the ball, although Tennessee did play a tougher schedule—one of the toughest in the country. But for what might turn into a tough, low-scoring affair, it might be handy to have a field goal in the pocket. So the smart choice here is with the Hawkeyes, plus the points.

 

Trends

  • Iowa is 6-3 ATS in its last nine games.
  • The total has gone over in four of Tennessee's last five games.

 

Note: All spread and odds data powered by Odds Shark. Follow us on Twitter for injury updates and line move updates.

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Virginia Tech Football: Ranking 10 Best Hokies from 2014 Regular Season

Another college football season has come and gone. For the Virginia Tech Hokies, it was another disappointing season. 

Sure, the Hokies are going bowling for the 22nd consecutive season, but it's not a trip to the College Football Playoff. Instead, Tech will head a few hours north to Annapolis to play the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Military Bowl on Saturday, December 27.

Injuries played a big part in VT's downfall in 2014. Two of the team's top offensive linemen had to give up football altogether just before the season began due to injuries. And the Hokies lost their top three tailbacks for the season.

On defense, standout defensive tackle Luther Maddy and cornerback Brandon Facyson missed most of the season. 

While it was a tough season overall for the Hokies, it wasn't without several players having solid to outstanding individual performances.

Here is a look at Virginia Tech's top 10 players from the 2014 season. 

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Michigan Football: Who Will Be Wolverines' Leaders on the Field in 2015?

Michigan’s cream must rise to the top—either that, or it'll have another laughable football season in 2015.

With a new coach and new direction, the Wolverines' only choice is to start over. There aren’t many other options.

The 2015 season was supposed to be the real year of title contention under former coach Brady Hoke—instead, it’ll be Year 1 of another rebuild for the once-proud former pinnacle of the Big Ten.

Whomever adopts Team 136 won’t be short on talent—recruits, maybe, but not talent. The Wolverines have loaded classes stocked by Hoke, so finding guys to assume the role in between the lines shouldn’t be an issue for Jim Harbaugh or Guy No. 2.

The problem was never about the level of talent under Hoke; it was always about the lack of widespread development. Under the right tutelage, Michigan's roster will one day compete for conference championships and playoff bids.  

But that won't happen until the program finds firm, reliable leadership from within. Some of the following players could be of assistance. 

 

Leaders by Design

Shane Morris, Wilton Speight and Alex Malzone were all praised for the leadership abilities in high school, and it’s doubtful that they’d make it this far had they been lacking in that department. Quarterbacks, especially at the Division I level, are usually the backbone of a team.

Defense wins championships. Great coaching does wonders. Wins come in the trenches…so on and so forth.

All of that is true. But without a real quarterback, a team is doomed. Ask Michigan, which hasn’t known what to do under center since Chad Henne left in 2008.

A junior this fall, Morris is an obvious choice for Michigan’s next starter. The 6’3”, 204-pound lefty has been around long enough and certainly realizes expectations—especially now, given the circumstances. He’s the most experienced signal-caller Michigan has, so he’ll always have that in his corner.

Plus he’s a local kid out of Warren De La Salle, and Michigan seems to be big on hometown heroes lately, just take a look at the courtship of San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh—who, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, is a candidate for the open job at Michigan. He also starred in Ann Arbor under the legendary Bo Schembechler.

Harbaugh and Morris could be a dream scenario come true, a match made in maize and blue heaven.

Speight is a high-character student-athlete, and there probably isn’t a coach in America who wouldn’t want the 6’6”, 234-pound freshman in his school’s uniform. Evident by a past interview, Speight is all about family and togetherness.

Those are nice qualities to have. People tend to like them in leaders.

That said, he’s also in possession of a right arm that’s capable of lighting up the field. Considering him as a go-to in 2015 isn’t too far of a stretch at all.

Michigan’s situation has to be rough on the players, both old and new.

Just think about it: Juniors and seniors who were once close to Hoke now must either accept the new guy or rebel against him, causing the formation of factions or a split among the team. Now imagine walking into that as a true freshman; that’d be difficult for a veteran transfer to digest, let alone a kid who in high school just months prior.

As a rule, first-year quarterbacks aren’t always looked upon for leadership. But Malzone is a local; the 6’1.5”, 200-pound 4-star prospect is coming off a spectacular and well-publicized career at Birmingham Brother Rice, one of the state’s top powerhouse prep mills.

Michigan’s offense needs an injection of something fresh, energetic and new. Malzone could help quench the fanbase’s thirst for more—the offense certainly could use him, as it’s been nothing short of painfully ineffective the past three seasons.

 

They Showed Glimpses in 2014

Some would argue that the O-line was better in 2014 than it was in 2013. Back in early fall, De’Veon Smith, a junior running back and soon-to-be leader by proxy, said as much when asked about the line’s development this past season.

However, some would argue against that idea because Devin Gardner, to a lesser extent than he was in 2013, was still rag-dolled by opposing defenses. He was sacked 26 times (No. 28 overall) compared to 34 in 2013 (No. 3 overall). 

However, every now and then, the line showed some signs of progression but not quite enough to celebrate. That’ll have to change in 2015, and it’ll start with left tackle Mason Cole and center Jack Miller, two of the best the Wolverines have to offer.

As a true frosh, Cole demonstrated the ability to learn on the fly and hold his position. He made a lot of mistakes, but that goes with the territory when you're tasked with replacing a former All-American. He wasn't horrible, though. 

Miller helped at least solidify the once-pillow-soft interior. He always displayed a great deal of pride during press conferences this past season. He was always thoughtful, honest and accountable. 

Look no further than Mr. Jack Miller, Michigan fan. The 6'4", 299-pounder is certain to be a shining example on the field next fall. 

Video: Remember last time it hit the fan? Miller stood tall then, just like he should in 2015.

 

Upperclassman Honor

The lack of experienced upperclassmen was the calling card of Hoke’s tenure. He’d often encourage spectators, fans and the like to be patient because, well, that was the only choice. Hoke often suggested that the Wolverines would be better led on and off the field once underclassmen mature.

Well, they have—and it’s their time.

Blake Countess, a corner, will be a senior. His counterpart in the backfield, Jarrod Wilson, will be a senior. The rest, such as Dymonte Thomas, Channing Stribling and Jeremy Clark will be juniors. Again, the secondary has enough manpower to make do.

Linebacker Joe Bolden will be a senior. His running mate, Ben Gedeon, will be a junior. Desmond Morgan will return for another senior year. The Wolverines will return some experience at the position, with Morgan’s 31 starts and Bolden’s 17 headlining the depth chart.

There are others. Dozens of them. Some have already been mentioned. Some have not. 

But to be fair, from behind a keyboard, it’s easy to say Player A could do “this” because he's been in tough spots before and has experience. It's easy to say that Player B could help save a sinking ship.

But really, the only guys who really know the deal are in the huddles. They’re at practices. They’re the ones who are enduring the dramatics of the post-Hoke era with their teammates.

And they’re the ones with the real answers.

 

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

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and references were obtained firsthand by the writer. Recruiting information via 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: Final 2014 Position Grades for the Vols

The Tennessee Volunteers' 2014 regular season is in the books, and now the team is preparing for a matchup with the Iowa Hawkeyes in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Jan. 2.

The Vols did well to achieve a 6-6 record in 2014, and considering how many freshmen head coach Butch Jones played throughout the season, it took some serious overachievement from a few position groups for the team to break even on the year.

Of course, those overachieving groups were also paired with units that simply didn't live up to expectations, whether it was because of youth, inexperience or injuries—or in some cases, all three.

No matter how it happened or how good or bad certain aspects of the team were this season, the fact remains that Tennessee reached its goal of getting to a bowl game and will get all the rewards, including 15 extra practices the players and coaches so desperately need. 

To break down which groups were the biggest helps or hindrances to the Vols' postseason goal, here are position grades for each unit on Tennessee's 2014 team. 

 

 

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Oregon Football: Ranking 10 Best Ducks from 2014 Regular Season

After thoroughly destroying everyone in their path from Oct. 2 on, the second-ranked Oregon Ducks are now tasked with knocking off the defending national champions in the Rose Bowl in order to reach the College Football Playoff National Championship.

Before the Ducks get to play Florida State on Jan. 1, it’s worth our time to go back and look at one of the best football seasons in school history.

Not only did the Ducks wrap up their fourth Pac-10/Pac-12 title in the past six seasons, but they also were led by the first Heisman Trophy winner in school history. Regardless of whether or not the Ducks win the national championship this season, the 2014 season is one for the record books.

Here are the top 10 Ducks from the 2014 season.

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Oregon Football: Ranking 10 Best Ducks from 2014 Regular Season

After thoroughly destroying everyone in their path from Oct. 2 on, the second-ranked Oregon Ducks are now tasked with knocking off the defending national champions in the Rose Bowl in order to reach the College Football Playoff National Championship...

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John Houston Tweets Top 5 Schools: Which Program Is Best Fit for 4-Star?

Southern California linebacker John Houston continues to command attention from college programs across the country. He elected to narrow down his list of options Friday, sharing five favorites:

The 6'3", 211-pound Junipero Serra High School standout is focused on an eclectic mix of schools, spanning from South Florida to the Northwest. Less than seven weeks separate us from national signing day so USC, Oregon, Miami, Oklahoma and Arizona State will spend the duration jockeying for position in this pursuit.

Houston, an Under Armour All-America Game selection, posted prolific production during his high school career. He tallied 413 total tackles during the past three seasons, per MaxPreps.

Rated third nationally among linebackers in 247Sports' composite rankings, plenty of eyes will be on Houston as he works his way toward a decision. Here's a closer look at his preferred destinations.

 

Arizona State

The Sun Devils continue to gain increased respect under the direction of head coach Todd Graham and on-field success has translated into the recruiting spectrum. Houston, who spent an official visit at Arizona State in November, would further enhance a class that already possesses potential program-changing pieces.

He fits into the "Devil backer" mold, able to lend pass-rush support off the edge. Houston is at his best ranging sideline to sideline in run coverage and is fully capable of covering tight ends at the intermediate level.

Arizona State currently holds commitments from a trio of linebacker prospects, including fellow 4-star California defender Khaylan Thomas and top-rated junior college linebacker Davon Durant.

"I like (ASU's) coaching staff," Houston told Doug Haller of AZCentral.com. "I've heard great things about how they develop their players to be better men and better players on the field."

 

Miami

The only East Coast team in Houston's top five clearly made a positive impression during his cross-country visit to campus in November. Miami hosted both him and teammate Rasheem Green, a 5-star defensive tackle.

Long gone are the days of Miami being viewed as a "Linebacker U" program, but a presence like Houston sure would give the defense a boost. The Hurricanes are in search of a disruptive force off the edge and he fits the bill.

Miami doesn't possess substantial defensive depth in the 2015 recruiting cycle, so there's an opportunity for Houston to arrive on campus with a shot at early reps. However, he would need to set aside any ambitions of being near home.

 

Oklahoma 

The Sooners landed a pivotal pledge Friday morning shortly before Houston unveiled his top five. Oklahoma secured a commitment from 4-star linebacker Ricky DeBerry, who considered offers from Virginia Tech, Penn State and Texas A&M, among others. 

Oklahoma has put together a class with serious defensive potential. DeBerry joins a group that already includes top playmakers at cornerback (PJ Mbanasor) and defensive tackle (Marquise Overton). 

Houston would team up with DeBerry at the intermediate level. That potential duo could redefine the Oklahoma defensive attack in coming years, making it one of the best in Big-12 competition. 

 

Oregon

The Ducks have been in the mix for several elite defenders during this recruiting cycle and Houston ranks among the best. Oregon was a finalist for top-rated defensive end Josh Sweat and remains on the radar for fellow 5-star pass-rushers Byron Cowart and Terry Beckner.

Houston's official visit to Oregon in October was another tandem trip with Green. If the Ducks can secure a package deal, it would drastically alter the image of a team typically viewed as offense-based. 

Oregon is still searching for its first linebacker pledge of this cycle. Houston could compete for a pivotal defensive role in 2015 and perhaps log stars as a true freshman. 

 

USC

The Trojans have a well-established pipeline with Junipero Serra High School, strengthened by past top prospects like Marqise Lee, Robert Woods and Adoree' Jackson. USC is viewed as the favorite to land Houston, holding 96 percent of expert predictions in 247Sports' composite rankings. 

Steve Sarkisian secured a commitment from 4-star linebacker Cameron Smith in May. The run-stuffing defender is a disruptive downhill force along the interior and an edge player like Houston presents a perfect complement.

USC is assembling an impressive defensive unit with recent recruiting classes and early playing time is still widely available with the Trojans due to past scholarship sanctions. A combination of tradition, familiarity and immediate-impact potential, makes USC the place to be for Houston.

 

All ratings and recruit links courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Early Enrollee QB Travis Waller on Ducks' Biggest Impact 2015 Recruits

4-Star commit Travis Waller announced via his Twitter account on Thursday that he would be enrolling early at Oregon. This is huge for Waller as he gets an extra few months to learn the program and compete to be Marcus Mariota's replacement. 

Which other recruits is Waller most excited about joining him at Oregon? Check out Waller break down the highlights of Oregon's recruiting class. 

 

Highlights courtesy Hudl

Recruit Information from 247 Sports

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Oregon Early Enrollee QB Travis Waller on Ducks' Biggest Impact 2015 Recruits

4-Star commit Travis Waller announced via his Twitter account on Thursday that he would be enrolling early at Oregon. This is huge for Waller as he gets an extra few months to learn the program and compete to be Marcus Mariota's replacement...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Newest Baylor Commit, 5-Star QB Jarrett Stidham, Has Serious Heisman Potential

Dual-threat quarterback Jarrett Stidham has committed to the Baylor Bears, according to Chuck Carlton of TheDallas Morning News. The 5-star QB shocked the recruiting world when he decommitted from Texas Tech earlier this month. 

This is a huge get for the Bears, who are looking for Bryce Petty's replacement in the 2015 class. 

Check out Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder break down just how big Stidham's impact will be at Baylor. 

 

Recruiting information from 247Sports.

Highlights courtesy of Hudl.

 

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