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Fiesta Bowl 2014: TV Schedule, Odds and Predictions for Boise State vs. Arizona

The Boise State football team could probably get used to this whole Fiesta Bowl thing.

After all, the Broncos are 2-0 in this game and won the 2007 Fiesta Bowl over Oklahoma in one of the most famous finishes in the history of college football. One hook-and-ladder, Statue of Liberty and marriage proposal later, and the Broncos captured the hearts of the nation with an upset of the Sooners.

Boise State will attempt to recapture that Fiesta Bowl magic against another Power Five conference opponent in Arizona, which is fresh off a blowout loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Here is a look at the essential information for the game.


Boise State vs. Arizona

Date: Dec. 31

Time: 4 p.m. ET

Where: Glendale, Arizona, University of Phoenix Stadium


Live Stream: Watch ESPN 

Odds: Arizona -3, via Odds Shark on Wednesday morning at 2 a.m. ET



Boise State coach Bryan Harsin recognized his team’s history in Glendale, via KTVB.com:

"Playing on that stage has been very good for us. Playing on that stage is something that every team in the country wants to be able to do. We're very fortunate to be in this position and we're proud to go back and represent Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl."

While that may be the case, the Broncos have not beaten a Power Five conference team since a 2012 bowl matchup with Washington and are a disappointing 1-5 in their last five tries. What’s more, they are 0-4 in their last four games against ranked squads.

However, Boise State has plenty of momentum on its side after overcoming a disappointing 3-2 start with eight consecutive wins and a Mountain West championship.

Now it has to deal with an Arizona offense that has been prolific all season, save for two high-profile losses against UCLA and Oregon. The Wildcats feature a balanced attack that averaged 277.7 passing yards per game and 183.8 rushing yards per game, and Anu Solomon threw for 3,458 yards and announced his presence to the nation in the regular-season win over Oregon.

Unfortunately for Wildcats fans, Solomon and the offense went missing in action in the Pac-12 Championship Game against those same Ducks.

On paper, Boise State’s weakness is its defense. It finished 65th in the country in points allowed per game, and the Wildcats will likely try to establish the running game early behind Solomon and freshman Nick Wilson, who ran for 1,289 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season.

If they can successfully do that, it will force Boise State to respect the play-action pass and open things up downfield for Cayleb Jones and the rest of the Arizona receiving corps against the same Broncos defense that allowed 49 points to 4-8 New Mexico.

Arizona is not the only that features a balanced offensive attack in this game, though.

Boise State finished 26th in passing, 31st in rushing and ninth in scoring offense nationally and boasts one of the nation’s best overall running backs in Jay Ajayi. Ajayi was third in the nation with 2,225 all-purpose yards and has 25 rushing touchdowns on the season. That is the second most in one year in the history of the Mountain West.

Quarterback Grant Hedrick is also more than capable of hurting a defense that focuses too much on Ajayi, as evidenced by his 3,387 passing yards.

However, Arizona counters with arguably the top defensive player in the nation in linebacker Scooby Wright. Wright terrorized opposing offenses all season and finished with 14 sacks and 28 tackles for loss. 

College GameDay noted that he earned some national recognition for his season, while Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman commended Wright for overcoming expectations:

Wright's most memorable play came when he made the game-winning sack and strip of quarterback Marcus Mariota on Oregon’s final drive in Arizona’s dramatic regular-season victory over the Ducks.

While it is easy to focus on the last time college football fans saw Arizona when discussing the Wildcats’ Fiesta Bowl prospects, plenty of teams have gotten blown out by Mariota and Oregon. That doesn’t make the earlier win over the Ducks any less impressive.

Ultimately, this Arizona team has proved itself against better competition than Boise State all season. With wins over Oregon, Utah and Arizona State and a heartbreaking loss to USC that would have been a win had the Wildcats’ game-winning field-goal attempt not sailed wide, Arizona impressed against ranked teams on a number of occasions.

Boise State, on the other hand, has recently fallen short in that department.

It had the solid win over Colorado State but got blown out in its only contest against a Power Five conference team this season when it played Ole Miss.

Wright and the Arizona defense will keep the Boise State attack in check, while Solomon and the Arizona offense will find the end zone early and often against a vulnerable Broncos defense. Boise State will have to try again next season in its quest to beat another Power Five conference team.

Prediction: Arizona 38, Boise State 24


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Orange Bowl 2014: TV Info, Odds, Predictions for Mississippi State-Georgia Tech

Just add Mississippi State to Georgia Tech's tab. 

The Yellow Jackets are preparing for the Bulldogs and the 2014 Orange Bowl in what will be their fourth straight game against a ranked foe and third consecutive game against a Top 10 opponent. Georgia Tech knocked off Clemson and Georgia but lost a heartbreaker in the ACC Championship Game to Florida State.

This season's Orange Bowl is a fascinating matchup because both teams were unranked at the start of the season. However, Mississippi State climbed all the way to No. 1 while Georgia Tech reached its conference title game and almost knocked off the defending champs when it got there.

Here is a look at the essential information for the showdown.


Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech

Date: Dec. 31

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida


Live Stream: WatchESPN 

Odds: Mississippi State -7.5 (via Odds Shark, as of Tuesday at 11:30 p.m. ET)



As with any bowl that isn't directly tied to a potential national championship, the motivation factor has to be considered.

Mississippi State was potentially one win away from reaching the College Football Playoff but lost to Ole Miss in the season finale. Georgia Tech is also certainly dealing with some disappointment after losing to Florida State in ACC Championship Game, but it was never a real threat to reach the Top Four.

A selection committee bowl has always been the ceiling for the Yellow Jackets. 

Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com discussed Mississippi State's potential motivation heading into the Orange Bowl:

As we saw throughout the season, Mississippi State's psyche does make a difference. It did in the run-up to being ranked No. 1, and it did on the downslide out of the playoff picture. So which team will show up in the bowl game? Will it be the one full of two-star recruits doing everything it can to prove itself? Or will it be the team that thinks it should be in a bigger, better game? That's up to coach Dan Mullen and the rest of the staff to decide. After losing so badly to Ole Miss, there should be a sense of wanting to show that they are better than that. But that was the case entering the Egg Bowl too.

The first thing Mississippi State will have to worry about in this matchup is Georgia Tech's unique triple-option offense. The Bulldogs have not faced a similar system all season, and it is impossible to completely prepare for Georgia Tech's precision, misdirection and speed.

The Yellow Jackets were No. 3 in the country with 333.6 rushing yards per game this year and found the end zone on the ground 41 times.

Quarterback Justin Thomas led the team with 965 rushing yards while Zach Laskey added 788 rushing yards of its own. Synjyn Days and Charles Perkins are also formidable threats on the ground.

What's more, Georgia Tech didn't just rack up those numbers against weak competition. It finished with 331 rushing yards against Florida State and 399 against Georgia.

Mississippi State's front seven is the strength of its defense, though. It allowed a measly 11 rushing touchdowns all season and gave up 3.7 yards per carry on the year, per cfbstats.com. The Bulldogs have the strength to stuff the middle against the option and the speed to funnel outside plays back to the inside.

The problem is, that defensive production came against mostly traditional rushing attacks in the SEC, and Georgia Tech's triple-option style has given stout defensive fronts fits all year (see the Florida State and Georgia games).

Mississippi State will counter with quarterback Dak Prescott, who wowed Bulldogs fans with 24 passing touchdowns, 13 rushing touchdowns and 327.9 yards of total offense per game.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson is aware of Prescott's presence already, according to Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press, via ABCNews.com:

"Everybody knows about Dak Prescott and what he's done," Johnson said. "I know that they were ranked No. 1 in the country for about three or four weeks there. Tremendous team, some outstanding individual players and a lot of respect for what they've done there."

Prescott was the main reason the Bulldogs finished 15th in the nation in points per game at 37.2 although they struggled in three of their last four SEC games. Mississippi State finished with 17 points against Ole Miss, 20 against Alabama and 17 against Arkansas. Georgia Tech's defense is vulnerable, though, and finished 52nd in the country in points allowed per game.

Prescott and running back Josh Robinson should get the running game going and give the Bulldogs an early lead. Mississippi State was 20th in the nation in rushing yards per game, and Georgia Tech allowed 5.1 yards per carry this season.

That early lead will be a problem for the Yellow Jackets because they are not built to come from behind with the passing game, especially now that leading receiver DeAndre Smelter is out with a torn ACL.

What's more, this game will fly by with two of the nation's best rushing attacks going at it, which will keep the clock running. Mississippi State's early lead and the ability of Prescott and Robinson to keep the ball away from Georgia Tech's dominant rushing offense will be the key to the game.

The Yellow Jackets will have to rely on the passing attack down the stretch, and Mississippi State's defense will come through with a final stop. 

Prediction: Mississippi State 31, Georgia Tech 28


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Cotton Bowl 2015: TV Schedule, Odds and Predictions for Michigan State vs Baylor

The No. 5 Baylor Bears didn't get the coveted College Football Playoff spot that they vied so desperately for, but they received quite the runners-up prize in being able to face Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.

Head coach Art Briles and his Baylor team bounced back from an early-season loss to West Virginia and finished 2014 on a tear. Depending on how they took the news on Selection Sunday, they will either enter AT&T Stadium disheartened or with a massive chip on their shoulder.

The Spartans missed out on an Orange Bowl appearance thanks to Mississippi State jumping them in the final CFP rankings, but with its only losses to Ohio State and Oregon on the year, Michigan State will be insistent upon making a statement.

Let's break down a full preview and take a look at what you need to know for the Cotton Bowl.


What: 2015 Cotton Bowl

When: Thursday, January 1, 2015

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Start Time (ET): 12:30 p.m.


Live Stream: WatchESPN

Odds (via Odds Shark): Baylor -3, over/under 70.5


Cotton Bowl Preview and Prediction

Feeling a bit of despair along with the undoubted jubilation of making a New Year's Six bowl would simply be natural for the Baylor Bears.

After all, they had every reason to believe that a season-ending victory over then-No. 9 Kansas State at home would be enough to supplant TCU for the fourth and final CFP spot. And while they did end up jumping their fellow Big 12 co-champions, Ohio State's dominant showing against Wisconsin allowed the Buckeyes to sneak in in their place.

Being invited to the Cotton Bowl is no small achievement, however, which Briles alluded to, per KCEN's Nick Canizales:

It wouldn't be surprising at all, however, for Baylor to come in ready to prove itself. The Bears have seemingly been counted out ever since a loss to West Virginia ended their unbeaten hopes, and still they finished the season immensely strong despite that. 

Baylor's offense has been impossible to stop in that span, scoring at least 38 points in every game since the Oct. 18 defeat. Bryce Petty's offensive dominance has led to Baylor being the No. 1 scoring offense in college football.

It's rare for the Big 12 side to go up against as formidable a defense as Michigan State, who has allowed a 12th-best 19.8 points against per game. Baylor has only gone up against one scoring defense (TCU) currently in the top 25 in that regard.

Not to be lost in translation is the offensive prowess of Michigan State, which boasts burly running back Jeremy Langford and quarterback Connor Cook, per Cotton Bowl Classic:

The Baylor defense has rarely gone up against such a physical offense but showed in a big win over Kansas State that it can stuff running lanes and force teams into passing situations. If there's one place where Cook has struggled, it's in finding success when the run game is stalemated.

And the Spartans' lone weakness on defense could lead to their demise against Petty's treacherous arsenal of receivers. In Michigan State's two losses, it allowed 300 or more passing yards in each contest.

Petty won't torch the Spartan secondary all game long but will generate some big plays to get Baylor the quick points it has been living off of. It will be enough to build a sizable lead over a Michigan State team that won't give up.

The Bears will need all of the points they can muster early in what should become a slugfest late. But Michigan State has proven unable to complete late comebacks against the two elite teams it has faced, and some late offensive success won't be enough.

Prediction: Baylor 34, Michigan State 26

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Peach Bowl 2014: TV Schedule, Updated Odds and Predictions for Ole Miss vs. TCU

Two of the surprise stories in the college football season will battle in the Peach Bowl, as No. 6 TCU and No. 9 Ole Miss are set to go at it in the Georgia Dome.

There's no doubting both sides would rather be playing in 2015 in one of the College Football Playoff semifinals, but it's also safe to say both teams vastly exceeded expectations. The Rebels emerged as a Top Five squad for much of 2014 with two of the most impressive wins—over Alabama and Mississippi State—that you'll see, while the Horned Frogs emerged following a 4-8 season to lose just once—to No. 5 Baylor—in 2014.

A championship won't be on the line come New Year's Eve in Atlanta, but a chance to make a national statement and enter 2015 on a high note will result in a must-watch affair. Let's take a look at everything you need to know.


What: 2014 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

When: Wednesday, December 31

Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Start Time (ET): 12:30 p.m. 


Live Stream: WatchESPN

Odds (via Odds Shark): TCU -3, over/under 56


Peach Bowl Preview and Prediction

When it comes to matching up one of the most high-octane offenses in college football with arguably the most ferocious defense, the Peach Bowl couldn't have done any better if it tried.

There's no doubt that the mouth-watering matchup of TCU's offense against the Rebels defense will be the one to watch entering Atlanta. The Horned Frogs score at will with Trevone Boykin at the helm, and Ole Miss has proved impossible to score on against the most prolific SEC offenses.

Patrick Schmidt of Fansided.com noted the two units' prowess:

Slowing down that TCU offense will have to be priority No. 1 for the Rebels, who will be going up against a team that has scored 30 points or more in every game this season. Boykin stayed hot as the regular season came to a close, scoring eight touchdowns in the last two games. Oh, and one was a receiving score.

While Boykin can undoubtedly air it out to deep threats Josh Doctson and Kolby Listenbee, a formidable run game with Boykin and Aaron Green keeps defenses packing the box. 

The Clarion-Ledger's Hugh Kellenberger noted Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze ironically started studying up on TCU's offense months ago:

It's safe to say that TCU could have used some early preparation for Ole Miss as well. Two of the Horned Frogs' last three games have come against scoring defenses outside of the top 100, while the Rebels give up an NCAA-best 13.8 points per contest.

And when the Rebels offense has been on point, it's been impossibly tough to beat. The team is 7-0 when scoring 34 or more points but 2-3 otherwise. Bo Wallace's play has swung from unstoppable to ineffective, and Ole Miss will need the former to compete in the Peach Bowl.

The Rebels should also come in highly motivated after a season-ending Egg Bowl win over Mississippi State propelled them to a New Year's Six bowl. The Horned Frogs won't be lacking in energy either, head coach Gary Patterson promised as he shared some thoughts with Scout.com's Ben Garrett:

TCU's defense is battle-tested coming out of the high-scoring Big 12, but it also rarely faces the athletes that Ole Miss will feature. Even without star wideout Laquon Treadwell in the fold, Vince Sanders should help to take the top off the defense if Wallace is firing.

The passing game has always been there for Ole Miss, but a rediscovered run game should keep the offense rolling. Jalen Walton showed his star caliber against the Bulldogs with 148 yards and a touchdown, and Jordan Wilkins is a more-than-serviceable second option.

Boykin will find the holes in the Ole Miss secondary, but TCU will struggle to continue establishing the run against the Rebels' stingy front seven. That will allow Wallace to air it out and get Ole Miss an early lead, which it won't relinquish despite a feverish comeback from the Horned Frogs.

Prediction: Ole Miss 34, TCU 30


Note: Team stats and rankings courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.

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College Football Playoff 2014-15: TV Schedule, Latest Odds and Projections

Many chat about how long the four teams in the College Football Playoff have to prepare, but so too do bettors who want to take on Las Vegas in their own head-to-head showdown.

The season was wild, to say the least. Upsets were the name of the game each and every week, which is why the nation came very close to the notion that a two-loss team might just be worth a CFP bid (but only if they come from a conference that has a title game, folks).

Whether or not bettors found it difficult to make financial headway on college football odds is tough to say, but one final redemption tour rests in the confines of the inaugural CFP.

The early lines are juicy. Those hungry for an advantage against the house need to get ahead of the game.


2015 College Football Playoffs Info and Odds

Odds via Odds Shark as of 8 a.m. ET on Dec. 10.


Early Odds Strategy 

Underdog to Bet: Ohio State(+10)

Perhaps Las Vegas buys stock in the notion that the SEC will outclass the Big Ten in every way. 

Or maybe it believes the fact that the Ohio State Buckeyes using a third-string quarterback is the ultimate factor in the team's showdown with the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Either way, the current spread is just too big.

Ohio State did not get to the CFP because of any singular part. The loss of J.T. Barrett hurts, but this is a team that lost Braxton Miller and kept moving right along. It did it again in the Big Ten Championship Game thanks to the efforts of sophomore Cardale Jones, who tossed three touchdowns in the triumph.

Urban Meyer's scheme insulates any quarterback who gets under center, right along with back Ezekiel Elliott, who has 1,402 yards and 12 scores on the year. A complementary defense helps, as defensive end Joey Bosa (13.5 sacks) might be the best defensive player in the country.

None of this is to suggest Alabama will not win.

The Crimson Tide have more experience and made it through a tougher schedule in the SEC thanks to encounters with Texas A&M, LSU, Mississippi State, Auburn and Missouri.

Alabama coach Nick Saban is not one to take Meyer and the Buckeyes lightly, either, as captured by ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough:

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Urban. And we've done some things, the ESPN games and stuff, together, and I consider him a good friend and certainly have a tremendous amount of personal respect for the kind of professional he is and the kind of coach he is and the kind of programs he's had, the great teams that he's had at Florida.

I know that we haven't had much of an opportunity to look at Ohio State yet, but we certainly have a tremendous amount of respect for what their team has accomplished this year and know that they'll be a very, very wellcoached team.

There is no doubt Saban will have his team ready to go. Quarterback Blake Sims is more mature than the player who was on the field way back near the tail end of last summer. His 3,250 yards and 26 scores can attest to that.

As great as the Ohio State defense is, it will have no answer for Heisman Trophy finalist Amari Cooper, who has 115 catches for 1,656 yards and 14 scores on the year. The star receiver makes a habit of major production in big games, as noted by his 13 grabs for 224 yards and three scores in the Iron Bowl.

When it comes to bets against the spread, feel free to capitalize on archaic ways of thought when it comes to conference versus conference showdowns. Ohio State is in the CFP for a reason, after all. If the committee thought the Buckeyes stood no chance, there would be a Big 12 team in their place.

Prediction: Alabama 24, Ohio State 21


Over/Under to Bet: Oregon vs. FSU (71)

Look, folks know Oregon for a high-flying attack. Florida State's Jameis Winston is a big name.

But more than 70 points?

One must understand how and why Oregon will attack Florida State to know why that number is out of the question.

The Florida State defense allows just 23.0 points per game on average but struggles to get off the field. Boston College and Georgia Tech rushing for a minimum of 240 yards and controlling the pace of the game can attest to that.

Even worse, it is hard to know just how healthy the Seminoles will be by January. A recent note from coach Jimbo Fisher includes some of the most prominent names of the unit.

"You had [defensive tackle] Eddie [Goldman] out, you had [starting cornerback Ronald] Darby out, you had Terrance Smith playing on one leg,” Fisher said, per Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel. “We were banged, bruised everywhere.”

This seems like it means an epic point total for quarterback Marcus Mariota and Co., right? Wrong—it means the Ducks would rather grind it out on the ground with freshman breakout star Royce Freeman (1,299 yards and 16 scores). That keeps Winston off the field.

Folks know Winston is in the middle of a down season with 3,559 yards and 24 touchdowns to 17 picks. However, he remains as dangerous as ever—three scores and 309 yards against the Yellow Jackets came with just nine incompletions.

Winston cannot burn the Ducks if he is on the sideline. The offense cannot pull off its late-game feats if a hobbled defense remains on the field, hand on hips and gasping for air.

When it comes to this over/under, the conventional train of thought is what will get bettors burnt. An offensive shootout is what most want to happen. With money on the line, though, wants mean little in the face of logic.

Prediction: Oregon 36, Florida State 28 


Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.


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B/R CFB 250: Top 22 Pro-Style Quarterbacks

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 down to a mere 250 and sorted by position. Today, we present the Top 22 Pro-Style Quarterbacks.

Are pro-style quarterbacks a dying breed? If not, they are certainly a decaying one. College football values versatility, and with more and more teams adopting uptempo, spread and zone-read principles, the appeal of having a dual-threat quarterback is obvious.

The long-term sustainability of the pocket quarterback depends on those who actively play the position. As long as there are great pro-style players, there will always be a place for pro-style schemes. Only when the last of the dinosaurs dies can the next epoch begin.

Seven of the top nine pocket quarterbacks from last year's CFB 250 are no longer in school, which threw the position into even more flux this season. Would anyone step up to fill the void? Or would the world keep spinning in the direction of dual-threat QBs?

That is what we're here to find out.

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

Targeted skills such as arm strength are important at both levels, but there is a difference between college arm strength and professional arm strength. If a quarterback slings it well enough to hit his marks in the SEC or the Big 12, it doesn't matter that he can't stretch the field against the NFC North. At least not here, it doesn't.

This is all about his 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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Rose Bowl 2015: TV Schedule, Odds and Predictions for Oregon vs. Florida State

It's not often we get to see the reigning Heisman winner take on the potential upcoming Heisman winner on one of college football's biggest stages, but that's about to happen when Florida State's Jameis Winston meets Oregon's Marcus Mariota in the Rose Bowl.

The Ducks have been one of the nation's most dangerous teams of late, decimating opponents by scoring at least 42 points in each of their last eight games. They capped off that stretch with a 51-13 victory over Arizona, the only team to beat them this season. Florida State enters as the only undefeated team in the Top Four, going 13-0 this year and ending the season on a high note, defeating Georgia Tech 37-35.

Both of these teams are on hot streaks right now, and they are sure to deliver an entertaining display on the amateur gridiron. We're still weeks away before they face off, so let's take this time to overview the game's full schedule, peek at the updated odds and speculate on which team will advance to the national championship game.


Viewing Information

When: Thursday, January 1, 2015

Where: Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California

Time: 5 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Info (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 71
  • Spread: Oregon -9.5


Preview and Prediction

There's most definitely a contrast in styles between the Ducks and Seminoles, and each has been wildly successful this season.

Oregon relies on its potent offense to jump out to early leads, forcing opponents away from their game plans quickly. With opposing teams becoming more one-dimensional on offense, Oregon's defense becomes more successful in limiting scoring opportunities. This has led to the Ducks winning by margins of at least three scores in 10 of their 13 games this year.

Florida State hasn't exactly lit up the scoreboard this season, but it remains one of the nation's most resilient teams. The Seminoles continued to cling to their undefeated record by winning late in games over the back half of the season. While the wins weren't overly impressive, a team that can flourish in the face of adversity week after week can be extremely dangerous in an elimination-game scenario.

So, which of these two conflicting styles is most likely to prevail in the Rose Bowl?

If the Ducks are to emerge victorious, they must take advantage of Florida State's 58th-ranked run defense that is allowing an average of 160.1 yards per game on the ground and has given up 16 rushing touchdowns this season. Mariota is a very capable runner, and ball-carrier Royce Freeman is averaging 5.6 yards per rush this year.

The Seminoles don't have much of a pass rush, generating just 17 sacks over the course of the season, and if Oregon gets the ground game going, it will nullify any pressure on Mariota, limiting chances for costly fumbles and allowing him time in the pocket to pick apart Florida State's 49th-ranked pass defense.

Florida State's key to victory is a simple one: get out of the gate quickly. Winston has struggled mightily in the first half of games this season, tossing 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions during the first two quarters of games compared to 10 touchdowns to just four interceptions in the final two quarters. That must change against an Oregon team that is capable of scoring early and often.

In an effort to avoid costly interceptions, Winston must rely on short-to-intermediate passing routes featuring the sure hands of wide receiver Rashad Greene and work speedy running back Dalvin Cook into the mix as well. This will sustain longer drives for the Seminoles, keeping Mariota and the dangerous Oregon offense on the sidelines for a greater amount of time.

We may know the outcome of this game early. After all, if Oregon gets out to a quick lead, the Seminoles don't have the firepower to keep up. However, if Florida State continues to hang around, it will have the advantage late in the game due to a massive amount of experience in that scenario. Although, based on how these teams match up, the former is more likely.

Prediction: Oregon 45, Florida State 31


All team rankings and statistics courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 9.

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Sugar Bowl 2015: TV Schedule, Odds and Predictions for Alabama vs. Ohio State

The inaugural College Football Playoff is sure living up to the hype. The Sugar Bowl features a clash of legendary college coaches in Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, producing one of the most compelling storylines in the bowl season.

If that isn't enough, we have extremely contrasting players at the quarterback position. Blake Sims is a senior who has sat and watched, waiting patiently for his turn to start for the Crimson Tide. Cardale Jones is a freshman who was thrust into the mix following injures to Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett. He'll be making his second career start in one of the year's most important games.

Yes, the Sugar Bowl has storylines galore. Unfortunately, we have to wait until New Year's Day to watch these teams in action, so that leaves us plenty of time to speculate. Here's a look at the game's complete viewing information, updated odds and a prediction for which team gets a shot at the national championship.


Viewing Information

When: Thursday, January 1, 2015

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana

Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Info (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 58
  • Spread: Alabama -10


Preview and Prediction

This should be an extremely entertaining contest featuring two very well-rounded, yet diverse, teams.

Alabama has ridden a stout defense and very efficient offense throughout the year. Defensively, the Crimson Tide have been fantastic, allowing an average of just 16.6 points per game to rank fourth in the nation. The team has seen its ups and downs on offense this season, but it finished strong, putting up at least 42 points in three consecutive performances.

Ohio State has owned one of the nation's most potent offenses throughout the season, ranking fourth in the nation, averaging 45.2 points per game. That offense certainly didn't slow down with Jones under center, as the Buckeyes put up 59 points on Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship. Defensively, Ohio State is underrated, ranking 23rd in the nation, allowing 21.2 points per game.

So, what must each team accomplish to get a big win and a shot at the national title?

The Crimson Tide need very efficient play from their quarterback. Sims has done nicely in that department this season, aside from a three-pick showing in the Iron Bowl. Ohio State's secondary is very talented, ranking 17th in the nation while allowing an average of 188.2 passing yards per game. No strangers to forcing turnovers, the Buckeyes have 21 interceptions on the season.

The key here is to get the ground game going against Ohio State's 33rd-ranked run defense. The combination of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry has been phenomenal this season, and forcing the Buckeyes to concentrate on those ball-carriers will help open things up in the secondary for the dangerous Amari Cooper.

Ohio State must protect its inexperienced quarterback against an Alabama defense that has accumulated 28 sacks this season. The Buckeyes defeated the Badgers with big plays, but the Crimson Tide defense won't allow that to happen in the Sugar Bowl. This will force Jones to sustain longer drives, putting him in harm's way more often.

The key for this team is to get the ball out of Jones' hands quickly by taking advantage of short, high-percentage passes and allowing wide receiver Devin Smith to create yards after the catch against Alabama's 58th-ranked secondary. Involving running back Ezekiel Elliott in the passing game with some screens will go a long way as well.

This game will be much closer than the 10-point spread indicates. Expect Ohio State to keep up with Alabama throughout the contest, but if Jones is forced into a late comeback situation, his inexperience against one of the nation's best defenses could prove to be the Buckeyes' undoing.

Prediction: Alabama 38, Ohio State 31


All team rankings and statistics courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 9.

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Heisman Watch 2014: Predictions for College Football's Most Prestigious Award

Marcus Mariota, Amari Cooper and Melvin Gordon would make one heck of an offense. 

Those names are the finalists for the 2014 Heisman Trophy, although it seems like an obvious outcome given the positions of all involved.

The selections do not reek of a search for adversity, though. All deserve the distinction as one of the final three thanks to epic seasons the globe will not soon forget.

While a tad strange not to see someone such as Jameis Winston or J.T. Barrett around, the voters have spoken. All that remains is to crown a winner.


Heisman Predictions

3. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

Given the dire state of his position, Gordon should be proud he even has an invite to New York.

Were this a decade ago, Gordon would stand more of a chance. He just does not play quarterback, nor did his play elevate Wisconsin when it was most in need of a boost.

Gordon's numbers are gaudy. Not often does a back go for 2,336 yards and 26 scores on a 7.6 per-carry average. As for a Heisman moment, look no further than 408 yards on the ground against Nebraska, although that record only stood for one week.

Outside of his position, Gordon came up short in the Big Ten Championship, gaining just 76 yards on 26 attempts in a 59-0 loss. Bleacher Report's Ian Kenyon hit the nail on the head after the outcome:

In a time when voters need strong performances across the board and title contention is necessary, Gordon's numbers are not enough to sway the argument in his favor.

Wisconsin and Gordon are losers of three games this season. He has numbers, but little else—especially in comparison to the other two names on the list.


2. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

Cooper will come much closer to Mariota's Heisman than most think. 

The man's name is all over several records thanks to 115 catches for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns. Impressive, right? He was also quite clutch for Alabama this year.

In a major showdown with then-No. 1 Mississippi State, Cooper caught eight balls for 88 yards and a score. An Iron Bowl win was a fireworks show thanks to 13 grabs for 224 yards and three scores. Even the SEC Championship was a strong outing in some ways thanks to 12 receptions for 83 yards.

The point is simple—the Crimson Tide do not get to the College Football Playoff without Cooper.

His numbers are impressive, but put it in this context: Alabama as a whole finished with 268 catches for 3,653 yards and 30 touchdowns. The next receiver down the list after Cooper's 115 receptions, DeAndrew White, caught 37 passes for 439 yards and four scores.

Still, Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus provides a dose of reality:

Cooper does not play quarterback. His numbers are also not enough in comparison to what Mariota has on the year to date.

Unless voters decide to throw weight behind the best NFL prospect of the three or arguably the best player on the best team, Cooper will come in second place. That is not a bad place to end up, though, especially since he is the reason the run-first stereotype that enshrouds the Crimson Tide is no more.


1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

It takes a whole lot to outshine the two names above. 

Mariota seems to do that with ease.

The Oregon signal-caller completed an eyebrow-raising 68.3 percent of his passes on the season for 3,783 yards and 38 touchdowns to two interceptions. Forget not the 669 yards and 14 scores on the ground, either.

Also, keep in mind that Mariota did a large portion of damage without some of his best offensive linemen considering Tyler Johnstone and Hroniss Grasu are out for the year.

As far as Heisman moments go, feel free to throw a dart at the schedule while blindfolded. Mariota expelled Stanford demons, upended Utah and blew away Oregon State in the Civil War with 367 passing yards and six total touchdowns. He also has a measure of revenge over Arizona thanks to a 51-13 win in the Pac-12 Championship.

The character for the award is present, too, as Seth Davis of CBS Sports illustrates:

"It is humbling to be considered for an award that I have admired for a very long time," Mariota said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "I would like to thank my teammates and coaches as I could not have been recognized as a finalist without their help."

Point blank, Mariota is the most important player in the nation. Oregon is nowhere close to the Pac-12 title or CFP without him under center.

Borderline unbelievable efficiency, stats, adversity hurdles surpassed and a potential national title before moving on to the pro game are just nice bonuses that add up to one perfect Heisman package. 


Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Alabama 31, Ohio State 24


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Oregon 41, Florida State 30

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

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

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

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

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

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


When: Saturday, Dec. 13

Time: 8 p.m. ET


Live Stream:Watch ESPN



Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

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

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

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

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

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


Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

All games can be viewed online courtesy of Watch ESPN.


Top Games

Cotton Bowl: Baylor vs. Michigan State

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Baylor 48, Michigan State 35


Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Ohio State

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Alabama 27, Ohio State 14


Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Florida State

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Oregon 45, Florida State 38


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

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Bowl Game Schedule 2014-15: Predictions for Underrated Matchups

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

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

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

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

Note: Statistics courtesy of NCAA.com.



Predictions For Underrated Matchups

Sun Bowl: Duke vs. No. 15 Arizona State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Arizona State 35, Duke 27


Holiday Bowl: Nebraska vs. No. 24 USC

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: USC 41, Nebraska 38


Liberty Bowl: West Virginia vs. Texas A&M

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: West Virginia 51, Texas A&M 49

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

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

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

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


Why the Army Black Knights can cover the spread

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

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


Why the Navy Midshipmen can cover the spread

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

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


Smart Pick

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

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


Betting Trends

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


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

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

The season for Clemson freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson is over. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Michigan Football: How Wolverines Will Replace Devin Funchess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want more proof?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Begin Slideshow

2014 Alabama Team Is Nick Saban's Crowning Achievement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Turning point

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

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

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

That's coaching. Stand behind your guys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

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

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


Latest News

Tuesday, Dec. 9

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

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

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


Top Targets and Commitments



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

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

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

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

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


Latest News

Tue, Dec. 9

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

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

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


Top Targets and Commitments


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

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