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Oregon vs. Florida State: Top NFL Prospects to Watch for in Rose Bowl 2015

The Rose Bowl features some of the top talent from around the country, including the best quarterback prospects for the 2015 NFL draft. But even with the two signal-callers facing off, expect some defensive players to steal the show.

On one side, Marcus Mariota will look to prove he's the No. 1 pick as he leads Oregon in the College Football Playoff. Meanwhile, Jameis Winston hopes to overtake Mariota en route to a second straight national championship game appearance.

Eddie Goldman and P.J. Williams will wreak havoc on the defensive side of the ball for Florida State. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is out for the Ducks with a knee injury, which leaves the two Seminoles prospects plenty of spotlight to shine.

Here's a look at each player and a breakdown of their potential heading into the Rose Bowl.

 

Marcus Mariota

What's not to like about Mariota? The junior quarterback has been nearly flawless all season with 52 total touchdowns and just two interceptions.

His play was also good enough to earn him the Heisman Trophy a year after Winston took the award. A potential No. 1 selection when the draft eventually rolls around, Mariota has shown flashes of brilliance in both the passing and running game.

Along with his physical traits, Mariota continues to impress with his ongoing growth as a quarterback. Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost spoke about his offensive leader, via Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

Going against an athletic defense that has several NFL prospects of its own, Mariota has a chance to show off his potential yet again. Currently a virtual lock as a top-10 pick going in, expect Mariota to come away with even more buzz following the Rose Bowl.

 

Jameis Winston

The Heisman has been a gift and a curse recently for quarterbacks. Playing under the pressure it brings has clearly taken its toll on Winston this season, but he continues to find ways to win in Tallahassee.

One reason for his success with FSU is his resilience and confidence in his own ability. That was no more evident than when he spoke about throwing the ball against Richard Sherman leading up to the Rose Bowl, via Aaron J. Fentress of Comcast SportsNet:

Even with his draft stock still high, Winston needs a huge game against Oregon to show he's a serious contender to be the top quarterback taken. His 17 interceptions this year have raised some questions about his decision-making, but Winston remains one of the best prospects in the country.

Stepping up yet again on the big stage? That would solidify his status near the top heading into the 2015 draft.

 

FSU Defensive Stars

Pairing these two together seems fitting after both helped contribute to the Florida State defense. While the Seminoles weren't quite as effective as their 2013 campaign, both Goldman and Williams are worthy of being first-round picks.

Williams has 10 passes defended and one interception this season as a junior. He was also named the Defensive MVP during last year's national championship game, so he knows all about stepping up on the big stage.

Along with Williams, Goldman's impact has been felt up front with four sacks and great play against the run. The huge defensive tackle also appears to be healthy heading into New Year's Day, via Safid Deen of the Tallahassee Democrat:

Having both players on defense, the Noles have a chance to test Mariota throughout the afternoon. During the process, both Williams and Goldman can show off their potential in front of a national audience in one of the biggest games of the year.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Miami Football: Reality-Check Time for Al Golden, Hurricanes Program

The Miami Hurricanes football program is a disaster. Following a 6-7 season that ended with a four-game losing streak, the unhappiness surrounding the program has reached a new peak.

"Fire Al Golden!" rings out from the masses on social media.

After all, the fourth-year coach matched Randy Shannon's tenure in Coral Gables. Both were 28-22 at this point and dropped a pair of bowl games. Golden's two saving graces were the NCAA investigation and a shared Coastal Division championship, but those don't matter much.

Per Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post, Golden believed the team was better this year though he admitted Miami is indeed what its record shows.

But finishing 6-7 isn't acceptable, and everyone involved knows it. Consequently, "fire everyone!" isn't a rare exclamation, either.

Morally, calling for a coach to be fired is not an easy thing. This is someone's livelihood. Another school might not come calling, and a man will be without a job. That's not something to ignore because an athletic team was disappointing.

No, that doesn't mean to never make changes because a coach might get his feelings hurt. But the animosity grown men directed toward other grown men in hopes of that person losing his job can be sickening.

With that being said, the cynical definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If Golden ultimately brings back the entire crew, Miami shouldn't expect anything other than a six-win season that includes a few completely uninspired performances.

Christopher Stock of InsideTheU (subscription required) said changes are coming to the Hurricanes staff, so perhaps something will develop soon, though that's not guaranteed.

Miami ripped off a 46-4 record during a four-year stretch from 2001 to 2004, and fans want to relive those days. The 'Canes won three BCS bowl games, one national championship and fell one overtime short of another. Some supporters wish for it so much, they are clamoring for Butch Davis—the engineer of that run—to return.

But it's time to wake up; 2001 was a long, long time ago. Comparing any team to the last title-winning team from Miami, frankly, is stupid. That was arguably the greatest roster in college football history. The Hurricanes will never have that team again. Heck, no program in the nation may organize a similar squad. The sooner that's accepted, the easier this process gets.

Speaking of the process, it was a legitimate thing heading into the 2014 season. Golden inherited a wasteland, fought through two years of an NCAA investigation, lifted Miami to a 9-4 record during his third campaign and buzzworded his way toward relevance.

But it's time to wake up. After serious regression in year four, changes need to be made on the coaching staff. The most notable shortcomings were on the defensive line and in the secondary, and the receiving corps wasn't a shining example of excellence.

According to Susan Miller Degnan of The Miami Herald, athletic director Blake James said that responsibility falls on Golden's shoulders.

I'm not going to get into telling him who our defensive coordinator, offensive coordinator, running backs, wide receivers, defensive line, offensive line, linebackers, DBs—whatever the [coaching] position is [should be]. I'll give him my thoughts. We'll share perspective. At the end of the day, those are his decisions.

At this point, the much-discussed NCAA cloud is completely irrelevant, and the process took a few massive steps backwards. Golden is out of excuses, and he must address obvious issues as his fifth year approaches.

The most glaring problem, of course, is the Hurricanes have consistently signed heralded players, yet year-to-year development is lacking. The struggles are a direct result of the coaching staff. Either Miami isn't targeting the right prospects or the athletes aren't being progressed properly.

"It's got to be the talent level," Davis said, according to Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. "Somebody is not evaluating the talent. Name the time they weren't ranked in the top 13 or 14 recruiting classes. And 29 of these guys are gone in the last four years, and [some of those still at UM] are not good players."

Miami is primed to sign another new group of promising players, such as Jordan Scarlett and Jaquan Johnson, who can provide an immediate impact. And so, once again, the 'Canes undeniably have a roster built to succeed.

Plus, with sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya at the helm, there should be little reason for Miami to lose seven contests, let alone four or five. The players must start putting it together on the field for 60 minutes, something only achieved opposite Virginia Tech and North Carolina in 2014.

But while coaching and on-field execution are obviously major parts of the Hurricanes' problem, they're not everything.

Sometimes, the same people who are adamant about a head coaching change are busy negatively recruiting against their own program. Few things are more counterintuitive than complaining about how disappointing a school is, bashing it and then wondering why it won't get better.

Many prospects have said "[School X] is showing me lots of love. The fans are hitting me up on Twitter." Similarly, the negative-toned, 140-character messages aren't falling on deaf ears, so it's not exactly helping.

That, and rule No. 1 of tweeting at recruits is "Don't Do It."

So what is Miami? Is it Alabama in the late 1990s and early 2000s, where the teams bounced around from six to 10 wins with little explanation before a resurgence? Is Miami turning into Iowa, where mustering bowl eligibility with a good-but-not-elite coach is commonly accepted?

Is a conference title the objective? Is winning the Coastal Division the ultimate goal? Or is Miami a premier academic school that happens to have a football team that used to be dominant?

The Hurricanes haven't won an outright conference title since 2002. They haven't managed 10 victories in a season since 2003. They haven't brought home a bowl trophy since 2006. They haven't defeated rival Florida State since 2009.

The media, whether national scribes, beat writers or bloggers, want to provide more reasons to explain what's happening. But right now, the University of Miami needs to answer those questions.

One year ago, we thought we knew what the Hurricanes were. They were on the rise. They were favored to win the Coastal. They were ready to establish themselves as an ACC power.

Entering 2015, Miami is a perennially underachieving team considering the roster's depth of talent. It's time to realize the current personnel isn't getting it done, lest it follow the definition of insanity.

If Golden and his superiors aren't willing to make the changes necessary to rebuild a winning program, it's time to stop expecting Miami to win.

 

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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Braxton Miller Transfer Rumors: Latest Buzz and Speculation Surrounding Star QB

Ohio State is going to have quite the quarterback controversy next season, it would appear. 

Despite persisting rumors that Braxton Miller would consider transferring to another school next season, head coach Urban Meyer said he expects Miller to return to Ohio State, per Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports:

Miller could transfer to another school without needing to sit out a year since he already graduated, and after J.T. Barrett's Heisman-esque season, many folks thought Miller would choose to leave Ohio State. The Buckeyes also have Cardale Jones in the fold, who played well in the Big Ten title game.    

According to Tom D'Angelo of the Palm Beach Post, Miller has been linked to Florida State, Oregon, Mississippi and Duke. He has thrown for 5,292 yards, 52 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in three seasons at Ohio State while also rushing for 3,054 yards and 32 scores, so most schools in the nation would welcome him with open arms.

If Miller chooses to transfer, Bleacher Report CFB analyst Adam Kramer believes Oregon would be the quarterback's top potential destination with Marcus Mariota set to turn pro:

He was in the 2014 preseason Heisman discussion before injuring his shoulder during an August practice. The injury has kept him on the sidelines for the entire season. 

It appears he won't be leaving the Buckeyes, however, which should make for quite the quarterback battle for the starting gig next season. Ohio State will be testing the theory that you can never have too much of a good thing.

 

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Alabama vs. Ohio State: Each Team's Key to Victory in Sugar Bowl 2015

Everyone has different expectations for the College Football Playoff, but the truth is anything can happen.

The season will feature the first-ever national semifinals in the sport, and the games decided by the committee came with a lot of debate. Ohio State had to convince the world that its loss to Virginia Tech earlier in the year was a fluke, while Alabama relied on its difficult strength of schedule in the SEC to make its case.

The result is the Crimson Tide coming into the game as a nine-point favorite, according to Odds Shark, with many thinking the Buckeyes have no chance of victory. However, counting out the Big Ten champs would be a major mistake.

Either team could win this game and compete for a national title if it follows its keys to victory.

 

Ohio State

Stick with the Run

Quarterback Cardale Jones impressed in his first career start against Wisconsin, throwing three touchdowns with no interceptions to help Ohio State win the Big Ten title. This was quite a showing for someone who came into the year third on the depth chart at quarterback. 

That being said, the Buckeyes limited Jones' involvement to just 17 pass attempts thanks to the big lead and the play of running back Ezekiel Elliott.

The sophomore torched the Badgers defense in the win to the tune of 220 yards and two scores, taking the pressure off Jones. He will need to give the team similar production against Alabama to prevent the defense from taking advantage of an inexperienced quarterback.

On the plus side, head coach Urban Meyer has a lot of faith in his running back:

The important thing is not forgetting who helped you get to this point, even if the start of the game doesn't go as planned. In J.T. Barrett's second career start, the Virginia Tech game (Ohio State's only loss of the season), the quarterback completed nine of his 29 pass attempts while throwing three interceptions.

Elliott only received eight touches in the loss.

Ohio State needs to give the ball to its best offensive playmaker no matter what happens early in the game.

 

Key on Amari Cooper

Amari Cooper is the best receiver in college football this season and one of the most talented ever to compete at this level. He heads into the bowl season with 115 catches to lead the nation and is always a threat to score whenever he has the ball.

Stopping him would be fun, but it's not as easy as it sounds. Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell joked that the only thing that could slow down Cooper was nature:

Of course, these are unlikely outcomes in a dome.

Even if you aren't completely shutting down the receiver, though, there are ways to limit him, and Ohio State has to find it. According to Nicole Auerbach of USA Today, "One coach said his team decided it would stop Cooper at all costs and let 'anybody else on the football field' beat it."

Using cornerback Doran Grant as part of a double-team or triple-team against Cooper would seem like a smart plan considering Alabama's lack of options around him. The projected first-round pick had more than three times as many catches as the next closest player on the team and 42.9 percent of the squad's overall receptions.

Alabama quarterback Blake Sims will do whatever he can to target his No. 1 option, but Ohio State has to at least force him to look in other places in this game.

 

Alabama

Stop the Big Play

Ohio State sometimes lulls opponents to sleep with its offense, but it wakes everyone up with a big play either on the ground or through the air.

Against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, receiver Devin Smith finished with touchdowns of 39, 42 and 44 yards. Elliott also came through with an 81-yard run.

These are not flukes. Elliott now has three games in a row with a touchdown of at least 40 yards. Barrett also had an 86-yard touchdown last month, while Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson all have plays of at least 40 yards this season.

Alabama has to be ready for this type of play at all times, and a lot of that falls on safety Landon Collins.

Collins has been outstanding all year, earning All-American honors with just about every publication. Former teammate AJ McCarron had great things to say about the junior when talking to The Game 99.1:

The important thing will be for him to stay focused at all times against both the run and the pass. He can't bite on play-action passes and leave receivers open deep.

As long as everyone does their job and wraps up tackles, the Crimson Tide should be able to prevent a potential game-changing touchdown.

 

Get Blake Sims on the Move

Alabama is used to having "game managers" at quarterback, with the job being mostly handing the ball off and avoiding mistakes. However, Sims has brought the team a new dynamic in his first year as a starter.

The senior finished the regular season with a Total QBR of 88.3, trailing only Marcus Mariota in this category. This takes into account everything a quarterback does to help his team win, and it's now clear Sims is an important part of the team's success.

NFL analyst Benjamin Allbright has liked what he has seen from the passer:

The problem is that he will face a real challenge from Ohio State in the form of one of the best defensive lines in college football. Joey Bosa headlines the group, but Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington can make plays as well.

If the Crimson Tide ask Sims to be a pocket passer in the Sugar Bowl, he will get killed. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has to call plays where he can get out of the pocket and either throw on the move or run for big gains.

Sims has great athleticism and has shown the ability to make things happen on the run all year. This will be extremely valuable in this one because it will be the only chance Alabama has to move the football.

 

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

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Ole Miss vs. TCU: Complete Peach Bowl 2014 Viewing Guide and Predictions

Even though it doesn't fall into the same category of the Big Four bowl games, the 2014 Peach Bowl is one of the biggest games of the college bowl season because it features two Top 10 teams. Mississippi looks to end its miracle season with a win, while TCU wants to show the world it belonged in the playoff discussion. 

This will be an emotional game for the Rebels, or at least for quarterback Bo Wallace. The senior is playing in his final game with the program after three years as a starter. Head coach Hugh Freeze is looking to become the first Mississippi coach to win three straight bowl games since John Vaught won four in a row from 1957-60. 

For the Horned Frogs, this is the game that will define their season. They may not have a chance to compete for a championship, but their argument as one of the top four teams is legitimate. Given how revered the SEC is, as well as the strength of Mississippi's defense, TCU can make a loud statement with a win on Wednesday. 

With so much on the line for both programs, it's no wonder that the Peach Bowl is one of the most anticipated games on the schedule. Here is everything you need to know before things kick off, as well as a final prediction. 

 

What Ole Miss Must Do

Mississippi has been carried by its defense all year. The Rebels allow an NCAA-best 13.8 points per game and allowed 20 or more points three times in 12 games. Freeze's secondary has been tremendous, ranking third in passing touchdowns allowed (eight), tied for sixth in interceptions (19) and 16th in pass yards allowed (187.6), per Yahoo.com.

That group will have its hands full with an explosive TCU offense that finished second in points per game (46.8) and seventh in passing (332.8). The Horned Frogs' only loss was in a game they scored 58 points. 

There is reason to believe Ole Miss can slow down TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin. In the final game of the regular season, the Rebels held dual-threat quarterback Dak Prescott to 48 rushing yards on 24 carries. The Mississippi State star did have 282 passing yards, but his game is built on being able to run first. 

Boykin isn't a significantly better passer than Prescott. The TCU standout had 718 more passing yards, but he also threw 116 more passes. Prescott had a sizable edge in yards per attempt (8.68 to 8.02) and slightly better completion percentage (61.2 to 60.5). 

Being able to look over the tape of the Mississippi State game, the Rebels defense should be able to keep this matchup close. 

On the other side of the ball, Todd Fuhrman of FoxSports.com noted that Mississippi's offense is underrated, or at least underappreciated:

"I think the biggest surprise for most is that Ole Miss actually has a very efficient offense as well, ranking 34th...but still 11 spots below their Chick-Fil-A opponent," Fuhrman wrote. 

Wallace has endured his share of criticism, yet it's important to remember he had 251 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions against Alabama earlier this year. He is capable of putting up big numbers in a key spot. 

Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com noted that Wallace compares favorably to an Ole Miss legend, including a quote from offensive coordinator Dan Werner:

Nobody ever coined the term "Good Eli, Bad Eli," but Manning was an interception machine just like Wallace. In his final two years at Ole Miss, he threw 25 picks. Wallace, over his junior and senior seasons, has four fewer. 

"The issue that Bo has is that he’s a gambler, he’ll take some shots," Werner said. "The thing is, if you’re going to take some shots, sometimes they’re going to work out and make big plays and everybody gets excited, and sometimes it’s not going to work out and it’s going to get intercepted. He’ll make...two of the exact same decisions in a game, one is for a touchdown and the other is for an interception." 

Mississippi's defense is so good that Wallace doesn't need to have the same performance he did against Alabama. As long as he avoids those mistakes and is efficient throwing the ball, the Rebels will be in the game down to the wire. 

 

What TCU Must Do

As impressive as TCU's offense has been this season, it's entering a different world against Mississippi. With respect to the Big 12, the Horned Frogs' schedule wasn't full of defensive juggernauts. They only faced one defense that finished in the top 25 of points allowed (Kansas State) and three others in the top 40 (Minnesota, Texas, Baylor). 

Boykin got a word of advice from Prescott about what to expect from Mississippi's defense, via Hugh Kellenberger and Courtney Cronin of The Clarion-Ledger:

"I talked to (Mississippi State quarterback) Dak Prescott about them and we chopped it up," Boykin said. "He told me they're a pretty physical team and they're going to fly around a lot."

In the same article, the TCU quarterback also talked about the difference in talent between the Rebels defense and what he usually faces in the Big 12: 

"No, not at all," Boykin said. "The athletes they have on that side of the ball, it's kind of crazy because you don't see that every day in the Big 12 and it's going to be something new for us."

Being able to counter that speed and physicality is essential for TCU to succeed in the Peach Bowl. 

There's also the question of how motivated TCU will be to play this game. Even though no one on the roster would admit it, going from the potential high of playing in the College Football Playoff to the Peach Bowl is a letdown. 

Zac Ellis of Sports Illustrated wondered about the Horned Frogs' motivation factor after being left out of the championship race:

Five days before the final College Football Playoff rankings were unveiled, TCU sat at No. 3 in the selection committee’s top 25. The Horned Frogs then whipped Iowa State, 55-3, on Championship Saturday. But rather than punching their playoff tickets, the Big 12 co-champions dropped to No. 6 while Big Ten champion Ohio State slid into the semifinal field. Now TCU players who expected to compete for a championship are spending the New Year in Atlanta.

TCU head coach Gary Patterson told reporters earlier this month that he's treating this like a playoff game because of the team on the other side of the field, via Carlos Mendez of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

We feel like this is a playoff game. Ole Miss is a team that was as high as third in the nation, that played at a very high level, that could have been in the playoffs, lost a couple heartbreakers — exactly what I would want as a coach. The kids are going to practice hard because they know the competition level.

The spin cycle was in full effect on that day. The only way to know how TCU players feel about being in the Peach Bowl is seeing how they play. It's not likely the Horned Frogs will come out with their heads down, but Mississippi's defense can make any offense look lackluster. 

 

Prediction

In matchups like this, it's always safest to bet on the physical team. TCU has been one of the best teams in the nation this season, but it's going up against a unique opponent, the likes of which it hasn't seen in 2014. Mississippi doesn't always look pretty, though you don't get style points for winning games. 

Ole Miss 27, TCU 23

 

Stats via ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.

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Fiesta Bowl 2014: Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Arizona and Boise State enter the Fiesta Bowl following completely different conclusions to their seasons.

The Wildcats were riding high for a while, winning four consecutive games, which included victories against Utah and Arizona State, before being derailed by Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game. On the other hand, the Broncos suffered a tough loss to Air Force back in September but went on an eight-game winning streak to close out the season with a Mountain West title.

Despite those very different results, these teams have a number of similarities, including balanced offenses, good turnover margins and the ability to get after opposing quarterbacks. Those attributes make this impending contest even more compelling.

Will Boise State continue its success in the Fiesta Bowl, or will Arizona rise to the occasion in its own backyard? Before we get underway from Glendale, here's a look at the latest spread, injury updates, game schedule and final prediction for this highly anticipated showdown.

 

Game Information

When: Wednesday, December 31

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona

Time: 4 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Info (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 67.5
  • Spread: Arizona -3

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports courtesy of The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Preview and Prediction

Boise State's offense has a great chance to do some damage in the Fiesta Bowl. Arizona's defense ranks 73rd in points against, allowing an average of 27.5 per game. Much of that has been due to the team's ineffectiveness against the pass; Arizona ranks 117th in the nation, giving up an average of 279.1 passing yards per game.

This means Broncos senior quarterback Grant Hedrick really needs to step up. He has maintained his accuracy this season, completing 70.9 percent of his passes; however, he's also made his fair share of mistakes, tossing a career-high 13 interceptions.

There is good news for Boise State: Hedrick improved his ball security over the back half of the season. Since throwing four picks against Air Force, he's been mistake-free in five of his final eight contests, throwing more than one interception in just one game.

One big way for the Broncos to ensure their quarterback avoids turnovers and lights up a susceptible defense is to get the ground game going. Arizona isn't much better defending opposing rushing attacks, ranking 72nd in the nation and allowing an average of 170.4 yards per game. This is where Jay Ajayi comes in.

Ajayi has been the team's biggest offensive weapon this season, racking up 1,689 yards and 25 touchdowns while maintaining an average of 5.2 yards per carry. Getting him going early will help open up passing lanes for Hedrick and keep Arizona's pass rush at bay.

If the Wildcats are to find success against Boise State, quarterback Anu Solomon has to get back on track. The freshman separated himself from the pack early in the season and wound up completing 58 percent of his passes for 3,458 yards and 27 touchdowns against seven interceptions.

Solomon had some big games—he had two five-touchdown performances this season—but he was dreadful in the Pac-12 championship game against Oregon, finding himself under pressure often and completing six of his 12 passing attempts for 34 yards. He was benched as a result.

Boise State's pass rush is no joke, and Solomon will need help from his supporting cast to avoid another disastrous outing.

The quarterback's best defense against the rush is running back Nick Wilson. This freshman ball-carrier was stellar throughout the season, eclipsing the 100-yard mark in seven games while racking up 1,289 yards and 15 touchdowns. He's averaging 5.9 yards per carry and should be able to do some damage against a Broncos run defense that's seen a rather soft schedule this season.

If Wilson gets going early, he'll be difficult to stop. In the six games in which he received at least 20 carries this season, he rushed for at least 153 yards in five of them and scored a total of 11 touchdowns. Utilizing Wilson as an offensive workhorse is how Arizona will emerge victorious.

Taking everything into consideration, the upper hand here goes to Boise State. The Broncos enter the game with tons of momentum, and they have been the more consistent of the two teams of late. While defeating the Wildcats in Arizona will be a tall order, the well-rounded team will get the job done and remain undefeated in the Fiesta Bowl.

Prediction: Boise State 34, Arizona 31

 

All team statistics and rankings courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 31.

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Florida State vs. Oregon: Why Ducks Will Prevail in 2015 Rose Bowl

There are similarities between Oregon and Florida State, and there are major differences. Both teams have a Heisman winner at quarterback, for instance, and each program has reached the national championship game in the past four years. 

However, there are major differences as well.

Oregon has been blowing out opponents down the stretch, for instance, while Florida State has managed to stay perfect by the skin of their teeth. 

The differences in this game tend to favor Oregon. Let's break down a few reasons why the Ducks will triumph in this year's Rose Bowl.

 

Marcus Mariota is the Best Player in College Football

Winston was awesome last year but has been inconsistent in 2014, a concern for the Seminoles. Mariota, on the other hand, has been absolutely brilliant all season long for the Ducks. His 4,478 yards from scrimmage and 53 total touchdowns are impressive enough, but it helps that he's only thrown two interceptions this season.

Just to be clear, once again, Mariota has only thrown two interceptions this season. That's insane.

There's no questioning that Winston possesses the clutch gene, but the problem for Florida State is that he's performed poorly early in games. His splits paint that portrait pretty clearly.

Against Oregon, a slow start could quickly turn into a blowout, as the Ducks have one of the nations's most electrifying offenses.

Maybe Winston is the better fourth-quarter quarterback, but Mariota has generally been good for entire games. That will be a major factor in this contest.

 

Margin of Victory

Florida State has won seven games by seven points or less, while Oregon has beat every opponent by 12 or more points since losing to Arizona on October 2. Florida State has needed to come from behind in nine games to win this year, while Oregon has won nine games by 15 or more points and is third in the nation in points scored per game with 46.3.

The point is pretty simple—if the Seminole comes out flat, the Ducks will steamroll them. Many of the teams on Florida State's schedule weren't able to punish Winston and company for starting slow and failed to fully capitalize on the opportunities presented to them. 

The Ducks don't need opponents to create opportunities for them. They often do that on their own just fine. The Seminoles generally get better on defense as the game goes on, but against Oregon that tendency might just be their undoing.

 

Oregon Isn't Soft

Often in matchups like this, the more physical team is able to push around the "finesse" offense, taking them out of their rhythm and beating them up in the process.

However, according to Florida State's defensive coordinator, Oregon is anything but a finesse team.

Per Bill Bender of the Sporting News:

[Oregon's recent] success is enough for Florida State defensive coordinator Charles Kelly to dismiss the notion Oregon is a finesse team. Kelly emphasized that not all spread offenses deserve that tag. He said the Ducks run between the tackles—the ‘A’ gaps—as well as anybody. Finesse teams don’t do that. He’s also heard this line in the same place last year.

'To me, finesse is throwing the ball around the perimeter all the time,' Kelly said. 'They move the pile. Going into the national championship game last year, the same thing was said about Auburn.'

That translates to the defense, too. The Ducks have held four of their last five opponents to 19 points or less, and they held an Arizona team averaging 34.8 points per game to just 13 in the Pac-12 title game.

The traditional argument against the Ducks is that they are soft, easily pushed around, shaken if a team gets in their face and hits them hard. However, all indications about the current players suggest they are far more than a finesse team. This is a team that will run the ball right at you, one that has played much better defense down the stretch, and one that has seen the offensive line really come together as the season has progressed. 

Florida State might ultimately win the physicality battle in this game, but it's far from a given. Frankly, don't be surprised if the Ducks push the Seminoles around a bit. 

 

 

 

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Malik Zaire Is the 'Real Deal' and Will Be No. 1 QB Heading into Spring

Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire showed everyone he is ready for prime time with his performance in the Music City Bowl, leading the Fighting Irish to an upset of the LSU Tigers, 31-28.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee explains why he thinks Zaire will be the No. 1 QB for the Irish next season. 

Who should start at QB for ND next season?

Watch the video, and let us know!

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SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Mark Richt Not Retiring from Georgia

The coaching carousel never stops spinning, and for a moment, it appeared that it could take off at ludicrous speed in Athens, Georgia.

Rumors surfaced Monday and Tuesday that the Belk Bowl could be the last game in red and black for Georgia head coach Mark Richt, who was wrapped up his 14th year at the helm of the program with a 37-14 win over the Louisville Cardinals.

Brian Straw of Houston's SportsRadio 610 tweeted the following just hours before the game:

That isn't happening. Richt told reporters after the game that the plan is to return to Georgia for the 2015 season, according to Seth Emerson of The Telegraph (Macon, Georgia):

And why wouldn't he?

Running back Nick Chubb had a career-high and SEC bowl-best 266 rushing yards in the Belk Bowl, Georgia returns four of its five starting offensive linemen, and the defense will be in its second season under coordinator Jeremy Pruitt in a down SEC East.

Unless there's something going on behind the scenes that is truly impossible to overcome, Richt owes it to himself to keep fighting. The program wasn't able to elbow its way through the open window in the division in either of the last two seasons, but that doesn't mean Richt should throw in the towel.

 

Losing a Key Piece?

Most of the talk after LSU's 31-28 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl loss to Notre Dame centered around the possibility of defensive coordinator John Chavis' possible move to the same role at Texas A&M or the stagnant LSU offense, which was again one-dimensional by necessity against the Fighting Irish.

That offense could take another hit.

Left guard Vadal Alexander was asked after the game if he had made a decision regarding the possibility of an early jump to the NFL draft.

"I have to sit down and talk to my family about it," he said. "We have to discuss it, but I haven't made a decision yet."

If he chooses to jump, it'd be a big blow to the LSU offense. The Tigers are already losing senior left tackle La'el Collins and senior right guard Evan Washington. If Alexander also bolts, the Tigers could easily struggle next season at the one dimension they do well.

Running back Leonard Fournette was a stud this season and capped if off with a 264-total-yard, three-touchdown performance vs. the Irish. But if Alexander and Collins—LSU's two best offensive lineman—depart, and the Tigers have to replace both guards, it's unlikely that the holes Fournette and the rest of the Tiger running backs ran through in 2014 will be as big in 2015.

LSU deals with early entrants into the NFL draft every year, and it came back to bite them offensively this year. The Tigers need Alexander back in a big way.

 

Tone-Setter

Arkansas held Texas to a pitching wedge worth of offense during Monday night's Texas Bowl, when the Longhorns managed just 59 total yards and just two on the ground.

No, it was worse than that. It was more like a 60-degree lob wedge out of the rough that's all grass.

The strong defensive performance from Bret Bielema's crew absolutely sets up the Hogs to be an elite defense in 2015. Are defensive end Trey Flowers and linebacker Martrell Spaight moving on?

Yes. 

But the return of defensive tackle Darius Philon coupled with the late-season success of defensive coordinator Robb Smith gives Arkansas a solid foundation to build off of. 

After shutting out LSU and Ole Miss in November and stymieing the Longhorns, it's clear that the program is heading in the right direction. That's not good enough, according to Bielema (via Bo Mattingly of Sports Talk with Bo):

Will the Hogs be contenders in the SEC West in 2015? That might be a stretch. But a jump to the nine- or 10-win plateau is possible, similar to the jump Ole Miss made this year. The right defensive coordinator and system are in place, running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins return with quarterback Brandon Allen, and four offensive linemen will be back.

Look out, SEC West. Even if the Razorbacks don't win, they'll surely beat up the opposition.

 

The Waiting Game

While head coaches and coordinators draw most of the attention during the coaching silly season, position coaches also become hot commodities.

One position coach who is drawing a ton of attention is Florida's defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson. Robinson has been in his current role at Florida since Will Muschamp was hired to be the Gators head coach in 2011, but he's now in limbo after Muschamp was let go and subsequently signed on to be Auburn's defensive coordinator.

Will Robinson stay? With his recruiting coordinator duties possibly going to Arkansas linebackers coach Randy Shannon, according to Fox Sports contributor Joey Vizzi, it doesn't seem like it.

Will he follow Muschamp to Auburn? Could he be waiting to see what happens at Texas A&M?

Robinson is still on Florida's staff and will be with the team during Saturday's Birmingham Bowl against East Carolina. As soon as the clock hits zero at Legion Field, however, expect things to move quickly on the "T-Rob" front. He played safety at Auburn and is known as one of the top recruiters in the state of Florida, according to 247Sports.com.

If Auburn steals him away, it will be the biggest recruiting win of the season, high school prospects included.

 

It's That Time of Year

The holiday season is the perfect time to tell your loved ones that you love them, and what better way to do that than with tickets to one of the biggest games in college football history?

That's exactly what one Alabama fan did on Christmas, when he surprised his father with tickets to the Crimson Tide's Allstate Sugar Bowl national semifinal matchup with Ohio State.

"It's sugar. It's a bowl. It's a Sugar Bowl."

Watch the emotional reaction:

 

Quick Outs

  • Nick Chubb for Heisman in 2015? His performance against the Louisville defense will get him in the discussion, but only two non-quarterbacks have won the award since 2000 (Reggie Bush in 2005 and Mark Ingram in 2009). He's going to have to top 2,000 yards to win it in this day and age of quarterbacks with video game numbers.
  • Watch out for Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs in the TaxSlayer Bowl. This is the first time in his career that he's received No. 1 snaps in a camp-like setting. The sophomore could explode against the Iowa defense.
  • LSU, it's time to go to Brandon Harris at quarterback. It actually was time three months ago, but better late than never.

 

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

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

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Does Jim Harbaugh or Urban Meyer Have Edge in the Next Great Coaching Rivalry?

Jim Harbaugh is in as the coach at the University of Michigan. The Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is sure to heat up with Urban Meyer standing on the other sideline. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Adam Kramer and Michael Felder discuss the newest coaching rivalry in the Big Ten.

Who has the edge in this rivalry, Urban Meyer or Jim Harbaugh?

Watch the video and let us know!


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Citrus Bowl 2015: Full Schedule and Key Storylines for Missouri vs. Minnesota

Of the two New Year's Day bowl matchups with an SEC-Big Ten matchup, Missouri vs. Minnesota in the Citrus Bowl may not be as high on the radar, but it's a critical moment for both programs as they attempt to build for the future. 

Missouri has exceeded all expectations in its three years as a member of the SEC. The Tigers have gone 22-5 since 2013, appearing in the SEC Championship Game each year, and they have a chance to finish in the Top 15 with a victory. 

Minnesota is on a different path, though head coach Jerry Kill has done a tremendous job rebuilding this program. The Golden Gophers have won 16 games since 2013, their best two-year stretch since 2003-04. They finished the regular season ranked 25th in the College Football Playoff poll can end the year ranked for the first time since 2003. 

Even though the similarities between the programs aren't vast, this is an intriguing matchup that could impact where each goes in 2015. Here are the storylines to keep a close eye on when the Citrus Bowl kicks off. 

How Will Shane Ray Bounce Back?

Missouri star defensive end Shane Ray was supposed to have his moment in the spotlight against Alabama during the SEC Championship Game. After all, he had 61 total tackles and 13.5 sacks prior to that game. 

Unfortunately, though completely warranted, Ray was ejected early in the second quarter following this hit on Alabama quarterback Blake Sims, via D.C. Reeves of The Tuscaloosa News:

While that play alone wasn't the only reason Missouri lost the game, it did leave a void that no one else on the Tigers defense can fill. The team was fortunate the ejection occurred in the first half, which meant he didn't have to sit out any part of the Citrus Bowl. 

Andy Greder of The St. Paul Pioneer-Press noted that Missouri's defensive line compares favorably to another team that Minnesota has already faced this season:

The Tigers' speedy defensive front has been compared to Texas Christian's, which helped wallop the Gophers 30-7 on Sept. 13. The Gophers gave up only two sacks in that loss but were 5 for 18 on third and fourth down conversions and committed five turnovers, the most giveaways in a game since the 1-11 season in 2007.

The entire front four is worthy of praise, but it's Ray that makes the engine go. He's not a dirty player, though the hit on Sims was a stupid play. 

Even though there's not as much on the line in this game, Ray has a lot to gain because of his potential as a top-10 draft pick if he opts to declare for the NFL. One more masterful performance will only help his stock. 

 

Which Quarterback Will Make A Play?

Missouri and Minnesota aren't that different when you really look at how they've succeeded in 2014. The Tigers use that defensive line to dominate opponents into submission, then get solid contributions from the offense that mostly come from the running game. 

The Golden Gophers have a solid defensive presence this season and one of the nation's most versatile rushing attacks, led by the two-headed monster of David Cobb and quarterback Mitch Leidner. 

Both defensive coordinators are smart enough to figure out that loading the box is going to be essential, forcing the other team to throw if they want to score. 

Missouri's passing game was awful this season. Maty Mauk did have 23 touchdown passes but threw 11 interceptions, and the team averaged just 196.2 passing yards per game. 

As ugly as the Tigers' numbers are, Minnesota's are significantly worse. Leidner completed 49 percent of his passes for 1,540 yards with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Golden Gophers offense resembles another Big Ten team in Wisconsin. 

The Badgers are one-dimensional, though that dimension can be explosive because Melvin Gordon is so good against everyone not named Ohio State. The Buckeyes figured out how to stop Gordon, forcing Joel Stave to throw the ball. He couldn't do it, finishing the game with three interceptions and completing 17 of 43 attempts. 

Mauk has been criticized throughout the season for some of his decisions, though wide receiver Bud Sasser didn't put all the blame on his quarterback when talking to Tod Palmer of The Kansas City Star in October:

It’s everywhere. Receivers will have a drop when we finally can get the ball downfield or we’ve got a misread up front. Maty might be getting out of the pocket a little early. It’s everywhere. The thing is we’re trying to make sure we’re all on the same page and we’re all believing in each other and understanding that the guy next to you has his job down.

There's no doubt that Mauk is the quarterback most likely to make a big throw in this game if necessary. Leidner is a versatile quarterback who moves well out of the pocket, but his inability to make routine throws is going to be problematic against this defense. 

 

The SEC-Big Ten Challenge

Since Ohio State got blown out by Florida in the 2007 BCS Championship Game, the Big Ten has endured its share of criticism. The Buckeyes have gained some clout in recent years thanks to the hiring of Urban Meyer, but the conference as a whole is still seen as an insignificant player in the grand scheme. 

ESPN's David Pollack indirectly shined a light on the Big Ten's problems in January bowl games since 2007 when he was bragging about the SEC:

Given how inept the Big Ten has been in January bowl games over the last seven years, Minnesota has the first chance to prove that a turnaround is coming. The Golden Gophers haven't beaten a team currently ranked all year, though Nebraska was 23rd at the time. 

Missouri may not be the preeminent program in the SEC, but it's turned into one of the most consistent in a short period of time. After a 5-7 record in their first year with the conference, the Tigers have improved exponentially in the last two years. 

A loss in this spot would be devastating for Missouri, given where it wants to be and how low the Big Ten has been in these games for years. Minnesota can prove that the talent gap between the conferences is starting to shrink with a win on New Year's Day. 

 

Stats via Sports-Reference.com.

If you want to talk sports,

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T.J. Yeldon Injury: Updates on Alabama Star's Ankle, Hamstring and Return

Alabama star running back T.J. Yeldon is reportedly battling through ankle and hamstring injuries that have put his status for the Sugar Bowl in question.

D.C. Reeves of the Tuscaloosa News reported the details on Yeldon's status:

The Crimson Tide have the likes of bruising, sophomore ball-carrier Derrick Henry to lean on while Yeldon recuperates, but Henry isn't as capable of a receiver out of the backfield.

Yeldon has already dealt with a minor ankle sprain this season, missed the win over Western Carolina and hasn't been quite as impressive as he was in his first two years in Tuscaloosa.

Bleacher Report NFL draft expert Matt Miller still believes Yeldon is a potential second-round pick, which could temper his timeline to return to the gridiron:

When Kenyan Drake suffered a broken leg in the loss to Ole Miss earlier this season, it harmed the Tide's backfield depth and took away perhaps its speediest, most explosive option. Now it will likely be on Henry to take on almost a full-time feature role until Yeldon is fit enough to return.

If dual-threat Alabama quarterback Blake Sims doesn't have a strong rushing attack to lean on, it will be up to the fifth-year senior to be more aggressive and beat defenses with bigger plays of his own.

Alabama remains a heavy favorite over Ohio State, though losing a player of Yeldon's caliber is not the way they want to enter the first leg of college football's first playoff.

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Coaches Jim Harbaugh Should Target to Fill out Michigan Staff

Jim Harbaugh’s introductory meet-and-greet Tuesday in Ann Arbor wasn’t just a high-profile press conference—it was an event, perhaps long overdue, held on hallowed ground.

Years from now, regardless of allegiance or favorites, football followers everywhere will likely remember where they were and what they were doing as Bo’s star quarterback announced that he was taking over as the head coach at Michigan.

To one day have that sacred position was always a childhood dream, Harbaugh said while fondly gazing up on his family—which was seated in the front row—and dozens upon dozens of media members.

That dream has now become a reality, and he’s more than ready to execute his office to the best of his ability. He intends to carry out his plan to rebuild by simply following tradition and encouraging values learned long ago—the same lessons he learned while at Michigan, and the same ones which he intends to pass onto this, and the next, generation of Wolverines. 

Of course, Harbaugh, a finalist for the 1986 Heisman Trophy, focused on the here and now during his homecoming celebration, leaving speculation about the future for another time and another place.

He artfully skipped past questions regarding Ohio State and Michigan State, he floated by a question asking if his personality was better suited for college and he gently pushed aside talk about who’ll round out his royal cabinet.

So let’s do it for him.

The game is easy.

At this point, it appears that at least one coach from Harbaugh’s 49ers regime could be on his way to Ann Arbor. There’s also a former SEC coordinator who could join the mix. That said, picking ideal candidates for offensive and defensive coordinator should be relatively easy—it’d be Harbaugh’s reported picks, of course.

However, there are also position coaches to discuss because there are no guarantees stating Brady Hoke’s former assistants will be welcomed by the Harbaugh camp, which could be filled out by coaches from San Francisco

 

Offensive Coordinator

Michigan’s offense was supposed to get a fuel injection from Doug Nussmeier—but not even Alabama’s former OC could kick-start the Wolverines, who finished 2014 with the Big Ten’s No. 13-ranked scoring offense (20.9 PPG) and No. 14-ranked total offense (333 YPG).

Or, in other terms: Far less than what was expected.

As of now, the hot talk surrounds Greg Roman, Harbaugh’s OC with the Niners, as the clear-cut favorite to replace Nussmeier, who’s now at Florida.

While under Roman’s control, San Francisco’s offense had the potential to blow away opponents each Sunday, but things didn’t always work out that way.

This past fall made that clear.

However, previous experience and the 2012 and 2013 seasons lend to Roman’s expertise, proving that his schemes and ideology can—and probably will—be successful elsewhere.

In 2012, the Niners finished ranked No. 11 in scoring with 397 points in the regular season. They later lost Super Bowl XLVII to the Baltimore Ravens, coached by John Harbaugh. In 2013, they finished No. 11 overall with 407 points.

While coaching tight ends and offensive tackles in 2009 and 2010, Roman helped Stanford rule the trenches in much the same way Michigan did back during its glory days. In 2010, the Cardinal barreled its way to 213.8 yards per game, good enough for No. 17 overall. The year prior, they rushed for 218.2 per outing, placing them at No. 11 in the nation.

Roman is the obvious choice. He knows Harbaugh’s system and could make a seamless transition back into the college ranks.

 

Defensive Coordinator

Greg Mattison deserves a role within the new staff. Whether or not he gets it remains to be seen. He’d make an excellent linebackers coach. His experience, energy and dedication are invaluable. Mark Smith, the D-line coach under Hoke, deserves consideration too.

His line was a huge contributor in 2014.

That said, the next DC will inherit a run-stopping, lane-plugging line, a nice variety of linebackers and a secondary that’s due for redemption in 2015.

According to the winds that blow, via Gregg Henson, Mattison’s successor will probably be D.J. Durkin, Florida’s former coordinator (and Roman as the OC). 

Despite a 6-5 record and the tumultuous end of Will Muschamp’s reign, the Gators clocked out of the 2014 regular season with the nation’s No. 9-ranked total defense—one spot ahead of Mattison’s Wolverines.

No defense is perfect. Mattison’s wasn’t, and neither was Durkin’s. But stopping the run, a must in the Big Ten, is one of Durkin’s priorities. His rushing defense was ranked No. 13 in 2014, two spots ahead of Mattison’s; it ranked No. 5 overall in 2013, and Michigan had the No. 13-ranked total D.

At 36, Durkin has years and years ahead of him, not to mention a respectable track record of coaching special teams, linebackers and ends. Should he take the job, Michigan would have another Mattison-esque defensive mind on file—one that’d be an ideal replacement for the man who deserves credit for returning Michigan’s defense to prominence.

 

Position Coaches

Running backs coach Fred Jackson has survived the Gary Moeller, Lloyd Carr, Rich Rodriguez and Hoke eras. The 23-year Michigan vet has produced eight first-round draft picks at running back and has also assisted as an offensive coordinator and head coach. 

Jackson knows how to recruit and wouldn't need to be brought up to speed or trained. An obvious catch for any staff, he seems like a logical option for Harbaugh.

However, Harbaugh could turn to Niners running backs coach Tom Rathman for guidance. Since 2009, Rathman's played a vital role in the development of Frank Gore, one of the best ball-carriers in the NFL. His expertise would complement Michigan's next coaching staff. 

Former Michigan star and current Buffalo Bills running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley has also been mentioned in conversations as a potential hire for the same position in Ann Arbor. He also has a son, Tyrone Jr., who seems destined for Michigan. 

Two Wheatleys are better than one, so keep an eye on the father and son combo. 

Receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski entered with Hoke and did a respectable job with players such as Devin Funchess and Jeremy Gallon. Respectable, not exemplary.

That said, he could be replaced by John Morton, who's been with San Francisco since 2011. Morton's also a Western Michigan grad. Having ties to the state never hurts.

Corners coach Roy Manning hopes to stay in Ann Arbor.

The former letter-winning Wolverines linebacker (2001-2004) is well-respected by players and fans. Within the past three years, he's developed a tight defensive backfield.

There are exceptions to the rule, though. Michigan's corners had issues in 2014, but when on, Jourdan Lewis and Blake Countess are among the best in the Big Ten. 

The list goes on for days. Really, anyone with connections to Michigan and/or Harbaugh could be a candidate. Most coaches have staffs ready to go, so it's doubtful that Harbaugh is scrambling to find help. 

But if he finds himself short-handed, the following guys could get a call (if they haven't already): Niners D-line coach Jim Tomsula, O-line coaches Reggie Davis and Mike Solari and possibly tight ends coach Eric Mangini. 

The hard part is done. Harbaugh's home. 

The rest is just part of the process. New coaches could be identified and introduced within the next week, as a staff-less team doesn't have a ton of curb appeal when it comes to luring recruits. 

 

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

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

Who would you like to see join Harbaugh's staff? Feel free to comment with your nominations. 

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Insider Film Breakdown: What Makes 2015 Rose Bowl Best QB Matchup Ever

The 2015 Rose Bowl is not only a play-in game for a berth in the national championship game, but it features two of the best quarterbacks in college football right now. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down the film to illustrate why he believes Marcus Mariota vs. Jameis Winston could be the best quarterback matchup of all time. 

Which quarterback will lead his team to victory? Check out the video, and let us know! 

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Bold Predictions for College Football Playoff

It’s finally here. Following a full season of speculation, projections, rankings and angst, the College Football Playoff is finally here and ready to roll. Thursday, the inaugural playoff semifinals get rolling on a New Year’s Day to remember.

First, the Rose Bowl will pit No. 2 seed Oregon against No. 3 Florida State in a matchup that pits the last two Heisman Trophy winners, followed by a much-anticipated Sugar Bowl showdown against top-seeded Alabama and No. 4 Ohio State, a pair of national powers who don’t cross paths very often.

Eleven days later, the winners will meet up in north Texas for the highly anticipated College Football Playoff National Championship, with all of the pomp, circumstance and hype that playing in AT&T Stadium, aka Jerry World, affords. It’ll be a fascinating journey through college football’s upper echelon, with many jaw-dropping moments and plays ahead.

What will happen? Who will emerge as standouts, and which team will climb onto the podium as the national champion? We’ll find out soon enough, but until then, here are some bold predictions for the first College Football Playoff.

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Mississippi State vs Georgia Tech: Orange Bowl 2014 Live Stream, TV Info, More

For much of the season, this probably isn't what Mississippi State envisioned for its season finale. 

The Bulldogs took the college football world by storm and stood at No. 1 in the country for most of October and November, but late-season losses to Alabama and Ole Miss sent them plummeting out of the playoff picture. 

Now, instead of playing an inaugural semifinal contest that likely would have brought the school invaluable exposure, Dan Mullen's squad will play No. 12 Georgia Tech in a far-less-publicized Orange Bowl matchup. 

Still, while its not the game Mississippi State was hoping for, there are plenty of reasons to be intrigued as the pair of high-powered offenses clash for an opportunity at the coveted 11-win season. 

 

Date: Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Location: Sun Life Stadium, Miami, Florida

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Spread: Mississippi St (-7), per OddsShark.com

 

When Mississippi State Has the Ball: The Dak Prescott Show

One of the most dynamic dual-threat players in college football, Dak Prescott threw for 2,996 yards and 24 touchdowns, while rushing for another 939 yards and 13 scores. 

It was a transcendent campaign, as he single-handedly re-wrote the Bulldogs' record books, per ForWhomTheCowBellTolls.com's Charlie Burris:

What's more, he'll be playing with a Heisman-sized chip on his shoulder. No one was ever going to top Marcus Mariota for the prestigious award, but many felt Prescott's season—even with a slight slip down the stretch—at least deserved a trip to New York as a finalist. 

Surely, he'll be looking to use the national stage to let the voters know they made a mistake. And against a Georgia Tech defense that is 106th in the nation in yards per play allowed (6.1), he shouldn't have much trouble doing so. 

 

When Georgia Tech Has the Ball: The Triple Option

Paul Johnson's unique triple-option attack has drawn plenty of criticism over the years, but there's no question it gets results. 

The Yellow Jackets are third in the country in rushing yards per game and eighth in yards per carry, per sports-reference.com. Led by quarterback Justin Thomas (965 yards, five touchdowns), three different players have at least 700 yards and eight have hit the 200-yard mark. 

Teams know it's coming—Georgia Tech runs the ball on an astounding 78.76 percent of its plays—but they can't stop it. 

Mississippi State senior safety Jay Hughes, however, feels his team knows the antidote, via The Sun Herald's Patrick Magee:

Man, it does present some challenges. But it's basically assignment football. It all just boils down to assignments. It's all about discipline. One player has the quarterback and one has pitch. It all boils down to execution.

That's easier said than done, but the Bulldogs certainly have the pieces to make it happen. With first-team All-SEC DE Preston Smith holding the edge and potential first-round pick Benardrick McKinney roaming sideline-to-sideline, Mississippi State is allowing just 3.7 yards per carry. 

Unstoppable force, meet immovable object. 

 

Prediction

According to the Associated Press' Tim Reynolds, the Bulldogs are out-scoring opponents 106-35 in the first quarter this season.

Getting another fast start on Wednesday will be key for Mullen's squad, as Georgia Tech just doesn't have the personnel to play from behind.

With leading wide receiver DeAndre Smelter out with a torn ACL, moving the ball through the air at a high volume simply isn't a viable option for the Yellow Jackets. 

Even if Georgia Tech doesn't fall into an early hole, though, it doesn't have the defense to slow down Prescott, Josh Robinson and the Bulldogs offense. 

Mississippi State 37, Georgia Tech 24

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College Football Championship 2015: Odds and Projected Winner of 1st Playoff

College football's inaugural playoff is meaningful for a multitude of reasons. For one, there are suddenly three times as many meaningful games. No more talking yourself into BCS-related games that are the difference between finishing sixth and 12th in the final Associated Press poll. I love those games, but the advent of the playoff gives one the opportunity to ignore all but three games.

Because, for once, the true champion will be decided on the field. With respect to TCU and Baylor, the College Football Playoff committee picked the correct four teams. We probably could have gotten a fairer outlook from an eight-team playoff, but it's hard to argue against these being the four best.

Alabama, Oregon and Florida State are givens. Ohio State played itself into that status by taking a baseball bat to Wisconsin's kneecaps. The Buckeyes' gift for their Big Ten championship is a matchup with top-seeded Alabama, a game that gives them the opportunity to prove they belong once and for all.

Urban Meyer's biggest questions begin and end at the quarterback position. Had J.T. Barrett been under center and led Ohio State's 59-0 win over the Badgers, no one would have batted an eye at the Buckeyes' last-second jump. Barrett was a Heisman contender. The Buckeyes turned in one of the most impressive two-way performances of the 2014 season. It would have made perfect sense.

But it wasn't Barrett. It was Cardale Jones, an unproven sophomore making his first start. While Jones performed beyond anyone's wildest expectations, he's still a major question mark. Ezekiel Elliott will not be providing him with a 220-yard cushion against Alabama's front seven, and Nick Saban has long thrived on making life living hell for inexperienced quarterbacks.

"I know against us, he's going to have to do a lot of processing and a lot of thinking," Alabama safety Landon Collins told reporters. "We're definitely going to confuse him as much as possible."

Despite the Buckeyes' greenness under center, neither side expects much to change from Ohio State's perspective. Jones told reporters he'll have as much freedom as Braxton Miller, a veteran who was a preseason Heisman favorite before going down with a season-ending injury. Whether that's true or not is anyone's guess, but Alabama is preparing as if that's the case. 

"Most of their quarterbacks are kind of similar," Collins told reporters. "They run the same scheme offense. We’re just gonna have to watch film on what they do because, I mean, they’re not gonna change the whole offense for one player." 

If Jones performs similarly to Barrett, Ohio State has a chance to put up a fight. The Buckeyes are a legitimate threat on both sides of the ball, one of two teams to rank among the 10 best against the run and pass in Football Outsiders' FEI-plus metric (Alabama being the other).

On the other side of the bracket, Oregon and Florida State know the importance one player can have. Without Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston, neither of their teams are remotely close to Pasadena on New Year's Day. You know, unless they really like parades and Southern California. (Which is totally possible and A-OK in my book.)

Mariota will leave Eugene, Oregon, among the handful of best quarterbacks in college football history. His Heisman stat line has been repeated so many times you'd almost get tired of it if it weren't so great. The junior threw for 3,783 yards and 38 touchdowns against two interceptions, adding another 669 yards and 14 scores on the ground.

What's amazing about Mariota's run is that it's not atypical. He's been nearly this great for three years running. In 1,094 collegiate pass attempts, Mariota has thrown 12 interceptions. For his career, he has 129 total touchdowns and 23 turnovers. 

Senior receiver Keanon Lowe told reporters:

Every single day he's not too high, he's not too low. He's a consistent person and treats everyone with respect. He comes to work every day and he works the hardest out of everyone. It's definitely inspiring. You want to to try to outwork Marcus, but you're not going to.

To put Mariota's efficiency another way: He has five fewer interceptions in his 1,094 career passes than Winston has in 442 tosses this season.

Winston's 2014 campaign has been defined by its high variance. The polarizing quarterback has at times resembled a more polished, smarter version of the player he was as a freshman. His ACC Championship Game tape against Georgia Tech should be the first his representation touts with NFL scouts. Poised in the pocket, accurate with his ball placement and mistake-free, Winston flashed all the physical tools that could make him a No. 1 overall pick.

Then there were...those other times. Like his abysmal first quarter against rival Florida that nearly cost the Seminoles a playoff berth. Or whatever the hell he was doing in the first half against Louisville. 

Winston's high-variance performance is a perfect representation of his team. Florida State enters the Rose Bowl with a lucky horseshoe lodged somewhere in some body part on someone. The Seminoles are 7-0 in games decided by one touchdown or less this season, a record that's equal parts enviable and anomalous.

Their penchant for close calls has often been lobbed as a criticism from opposing fans and analysts. Florida State has the odd distinction of being an undefeated team from a Power Five conference that's ranked third in the country—something almost unheard of when there aren't any others in a similar position. For its part, Oregon has been quick to give credit where it's due.

"While other teams don't finish, they always do," Oregon linebacker Tony Washington said, per Safid Deen of the Tallahassee Democrat. "They always keep coming. They always keep bringing punches. It doesn't matter what the score is. They believe they're going to get it down, and they always do."

We'll get to see whether Florida State can continue its last-second brilliance Thursday. Oregon enters the Rose Bowl with a distinct statistical advantage on both sides of the ball. The Ducks are by most metrics the nation's best or second-best offense, and their defense is much better than advertised, even after Ifo Ekpre-Olomu's injury.

Every objective measure says Oregon should win. But until that lucky horseshoe is located and disposed of, we'll have to see someone beat Florida State to believe it.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Boise State vs. Arizona: Complete Fiesta Bowl 2014 Preview, Odds and Pick

In the past, the Fiesta Bowl would have taken on an air of grand importance as a showcase of the BCS. The 2015 version featuring Boise State and Arizona may not be at the old level because of the College Football Playoff, but it is the first of the four old major bowls to ring in the big games. 

Boise State returns to the game that made it famous eight years ago. In 2006, the Broncos finished a 13-0 season with a stunning victory over Oklahoma. This year, first-year coach Bryan Harsin has brought the program back to those roots following an 11-2 season. 

Arizona is making its first trip to the Fiesta Bowl since 1993. Head coach Rich Rodriguez has done a masterful job of rebuilding the Wildcats in three years, going from eight wins each of his first two seasons to 10 in 2014. They have a chance to end the season ranked in the top 10 for the first time since 1998. 

There's no shortage of drama or storylines to find in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl, so here is all the information you need to know heading into the Boise State-Arizona showdown. 

 

Preview

Despite its return to a premier bowl game, Boise State is still looking for a signature win in 2014. The Broncos' lost their only game against a ranked team when Mississippi beat them 35-13 in the season opener but did go 11-1 after that. 

If you want to know what direction the game will go for Boise State, keep an eye on quarterback Grant Hedrick. The senior has been solid this season with 3,387 yards, 22 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and an NCAA-best completion percentage of 70.9. 

However, when you go over what Hedrick has done in the Broncos' losses, it's not pretty. He has one touchdown and eight interceptions in those two games against Mississippi and Air Force. The latter game served as the impetus for Boise State's turnaround, per Kevin Zimmerman of Fox Sports Arizona:

A game after the loss to Air Force, Hedrick completed 26 of 31 passes for 346 yards, three total touchdowns and one interception in a win over Nevada. Since the Air Force loss, he's thrown 17 touchdowns to four picks as Boise State has won eight games in a row behind Hedrick and running back Jay Ajayi.

Hedrick isn't the only reason Boise State has been rolling lately. Running back Jay Ajayi has been tremendous with 1,132 yards and 20 of his 25 rushing touchdowns in the last eight games. 

Rodriguez has compared Ajayi's running style to his former running back at Arizona Ka'Deem Carey, via Scott Bordow of The Arizona Republic

There are going to be points galore in this matchup, as Boise State ranks ninth with 39.8 points per game and Arizona is 28th at 34.8 per game. 

However, the Wildcats can become one-dimensional because their quarterback Anu Solomon has had six games this season in which he completed less than 56 percent of his passes, including five of the last six. 

One thing Solomon does have working in his favor is the presence of big-play threat Samajie Grant. Cayleb Jones led Arizona in receptions (65), yards (902) and touchdowns (nine), but Grant had the highest yards per reception average (15.8). 

Neither defense offers much, allowing a combined 54 points per game, but Arizona does have the best player on that side of the ball. Linebacker Scooby Wright is a playmaker extraordinaire and might also be the angriest star in the country, based on comments Rodriguez made to Shane Dale of Arizona Sports 98.7:

Whatever Wright needs to do for motivation seems to be working, as he leads the nation with 153 total tackles and added 14 sacks, via Sports-Reference.com

Given the balance Boise State has on offense, it's essential that Arizona has at least one defensive player capable of attacking the line to stop the run and get after the quarterback. 

Arizona may not be the sexiest team on offense, yet it has an explosive element that Boise State lacks. The Wildcats aren't afraid to be on this stage after defeating Oregon in October. 

As nice as it is to see Boise State back in a prominent position during bowl season, the Broncos don't have enough of a resume against quality competition to expect an upset happening in this spot. 

Arizona 38, Boise State 31

 

Stats via ESPN.com unless otherwise noted

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football: 5 Takeaways from the Longhorns' Bowl Game

Following their 31-7 loss to Arkansas in the Texas Bowl on Monday, the Texas Longhorns are back to square one. 

Charlie Strong's team is once again on the quarterback search, has no offensive identity and will lose a massive amount of experienced talent. There's a talent infusion coming, but it's more likely that Texas is two years away rather than one.

"Texas has got to mean something," Strong said during his postgame press conference. "Right now, it doesn't mean much."

Texas' head coach has his work cut out for him, and that's the biggest takeaway from the mess we saw in Houston.

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B/R CFB 250: Top 17 Outside Linebackers

Bleacher Report's CFB 250 is an annual ranking of the best players in college football, regardless of NFL potential. Brian Leigh and Kynon Codrington have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list to 250 and sorted by position. Today, we present the Top 17 Outside Linebackers.

Other CFB 250 Positions

Outside linebackers come in all shapes and sizes, some occupying a traditional role in a 4-3 defense, others functioning as glorified defensive ends who are fast enough to play standing up.

The lineman/linebacker hybrid has become more popular in recent seasons, as defenses adjust to the evolving state of college offenses, but many of the players whose teams classify them as "linebackers" actually spend most of their time with their hand down.

That is not who this section was looking for.

Instead, this section sought the 17 best pure outside linebackers: The ones who play on their feet. Their job requires more than just attacking the passer; it demands they play the run and cover receivers as well as they wreak havoc in the backfield.

Before we start, please take note that these players were graded as college linebackers, not on how they project as NFL linebackers.

Targeted skills such as run defense are important at both levels, but there is a difference between college run defense and professional run defense. If a linebacker can execute his run fits and make plays in the SEC or the Big 12, it doesn't matter that he can't execute his run fits and make plays in the NFC North. At least not here, it doesn't.

This is all about college performance.

Note: If two players finished with the same grade, a subjective call was made based on whom we would rather have on our team right now.

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