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Big Ten Championship 2014: Preview, Predictions for Ohio State vs. Wisconsin

On the surface, a Big Ten Championship matchup between Ohio State and Wisconsin would have surprised nobody heading into the season.

However, nobody would have expected the Buckeyes to be down to their third-string quarterback by the time the game rolled around.

Ohio State has beaten Wisconsin six of the past seven meetings, although Terrelle Pryor or Braxton Miller won’t be walking through the door for the Buckeyes. It will be up to Cardale Jones to lead the Scarlet and Gray against the Badgers with the conference title and a potential College Football Playoff spot on the line.

Ohio State will also be looking for some redemption for last season’s loss to Michigan State in Indianapolis. A spot in the national championship was at stake last year, but the Buckeyes came out tight. Before they knew it, they were down 17-0.

Although they came back to take the lead, they fell short when the pressure was at its highest in the final minutes.

This year’s game gives Ohio State its one chance to prove to the selection committee that it is still capable of being one of the best teams in the nation with Jones under center instead of the injured Miller or J.T. Barrett.

Barrett’s broken ankle, suffered in the win against Michigan, was the latest blow to a team that has already lost Miller, Noah Spence, Dontre Wilson and Rod Smith for various reasons. Miller was on the short list of Heisman Trophy candidates before the season, and Barrett was on the way to an invitation to New York as a finalist before going down.

What’s more, Spence was arguably the best defensive lineman on a team that includes Joey Bosa, and Wilson is a speedster who gives the Buckeyes' offense and return game an extra dimension. Ohio State fans would be forgiven if they felt like the latest developments simply weren’t fair. 

Buckeyes fans looking for some hope in the light of the latest injuries should point to these updates and quotes from Urban Meyer regarding Jones, via Jeff Svoboda of Buckeye Sports Bulletin, Patrick Maks of Eleven Warriors and Dave Biddle of Bucknuts.com:

Like Miller and Barrett, Jones is a dual-threat quarterback who has averaged 7.9 yards per carry this season in limited chances. Look for him to use his legs on a number of occasions Saturday.

A third-string quarterback is not the only thing that should have Ohio State concerned for this game.

Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is arguably the best player in the nation this side of Marcus Mariota and has 2,260 rushing yards and 29 total touchdowns. He topped 100 yards rushing in every single game this year except the contest against Western Illinois in September. He also topped 200 yards five different times and tallied a ridiculous 408 yards and four touchdowns in three quarters against Nebraska.

Gordon gets a shot at an Ohio State defense that gave up 228 rushing yards to Minnesota’s Tevin Coleman and 145 rushing yards to Minnesota’s David Cobb in two of the last three games. A big day against one of the nation’s highest-ranked teams on a national, prime-time stage could propel Gordon right to the top of the Heisman Trophy race.

The good news for the porous Ohio State run defense is that there is precedent for Gordon to go off—and for the Badgers to still lose the game.

He finished with 140 rushing yards and a touchdown in the loss to LSU, although he only saw 16 carries. The Badgers would have won that game if Gordon had been on the field more down the stretch after he helped them get a big early lead.

Gordon also tallied 259 rushing yards and a touchdown against Northwestern, even though Wisconsin lost.

Even if Gordon has a big day, the Buckeyes can still win if their own skill players step up in Barrett’s absence.

Between Ezekiel Elliott, Jalin Marshall, Michael Thomas, Curtis Samuel, Evan Spencer, Devin Smith and Jeff Heuerman, Ohio State has all kinds of speed that will be unleashed on the turf in Indianapolis. There will be no weather to slow these players down, and the Badgers will have trouble containing them all for four quarters.

The Buckeyes are also 12th in the nation in rushing yards per game behind a much-improved offensive line and Elliott’s legs, so look for a heavy dose of the running game in Barrett’s absence.

Still, that Ohio State defense is going to be the key to the game because it is difficult to imagine the Buckeyes matching their 44.1 points-per-game average.

The Buckeyes don’t have to pitch a shutout, but they need to give the offensive skill players a chance. Along those lines, Marshall’s punt returning will be critical for field-position purposes. He has experienced some fumbling issues this year, but when he does get his hands on it, he can break a game open with a big return, like he did against Indiana.

The Badgers have seen big games from Gordon before, and still lost. That will happen once again on Saturday, as the Buckeyes' skill position players step up without Barrett and make a loud statement to the College Football Playoff selection committee. 

Prediction: Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 24


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Top 5 Candidates to Replace Ellis Johnson as Auburn Defensive Coordinator

AUBURN, Ala. — The timing might have been a surprise, but few eyebrows were raised on The Plains on Sunday afternoon when Auburn announced it had fired defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson.

Less than 24 hours before Johnson's dismissal, the Tigers allowed more than 400 yards and 30 points for its sixth straight conference game in a 55-44 shootout loss to No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. While the Auburn offense continued its big-play pace under head coach Gus Malzahn, the defense took several steps backward from the strides it made in 2013.

"At this time, I felt it was best for our program to make a change with our defensive coordinator," Malzahn said in a statement. "Ellis is a true professional, and I would like to thank him for his contributions at Auburn."

With just a lower-tier bowl left on the horizon, the Tigers are already moving forward by quickly firing Johnson ahead of postseason practices. As AL.com's Joel A. Erickson notes, fans should expect Malzahn to name a new coordinator sooner than later:

With Johnson out, something to remember on Malzahn’s searches for assistants: Took him 1 day to hire Johnson, 2 to hire Lashlee. Moves fast.

— Joel A. Erickson (@JoelAEricksonAU) November 30, 2014

As for Malzahn's upcoming search, two major names with SEC ties have jumped out to the forefront recently along with several coordinators who will be some of the hottest commodities in the coaching carousel this offseason. Here is a list of the top five defensive coordinator candidates Auburn fans should watch for in the coming days.

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SEC Championship 2014: Alabama Will Solidify Top Ranking with Win vs. Missouri

The best teams in the SEC are in the West division. It's really just that simple. As the champions of the conference's West division, the Alabama Crimson Tide survived a rigorous regular-season schedule with just one loss. After running that gauntlet with just one blemish, the Associated Press felt that Bama earned the top spot.

On Saturday, the Tide will make easy work of the Missouri Tigers to claim the SEC crown and put a stamp on the top seed in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

At 10-2, the Tigers are a good team that would be a handful for most squads. Unfortunately for them, Alabama is not most teams. In having played one of its worst games of the season against the Auburn Tigers in the Iron Bowl, Alabama made perhaps its biggest statement.

It proved it can win against a quality team even when it isn't playing its best football. 

Quarterback Blake Sims threw three interceptions—something that ESPN Stats & Info says has never happened at Alabama during the Nick Saban era—and the Tide defense gave up 456 passing yards to Nick Marshall:

Marshall is not known for his throwing prowess, yet he set his career high for passing yards by 117 yards. It was just Marshall's second career game with 300 or more yards through the air. SportsCenter noted Alabama's dominant second-half performance in the Iron Bowl, specifically highlighting Amari Cooper:

Still, Alabama found a way to win 55-44. That way was largely paved by the excellent play of wide receiver Amari Cooper. He had 13 catches for 224 yards and three touchdowns. It was his fourth game with at least 10 catches and third with at least 200 yards receiving.

The Tide star continues to not only make his case for an invite to the Heisman Trophy ceremony but also as the possible No. 1 pick in the 2015 NFL draft.

As good as the Tigers have been all season, they don't have the likes of Marshall as a dual threat at quarterback. With all due respect to sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk, he won't require nearly as many defensive adjustments and attention as Marshall.

Likewise, the Tigers don't have a deep threat like Sammie Coates to stretch the Tide defense. In the Iron Bowl, Coates had five catches for 206 yards and two long touchdown passes (68 and 34 yards).

Senior wideout Bud Sasser has had a solid year, but he isn't the deep threat that Coates is.

Defensively, Missouri does bring a lot to the table. Defensive end Shane Ray is a likely first-round pick in the draft, and he will have to be accounted for by the Bama offensive line. On the season, Missouri is ranked 16th in the nation in total defense.

That's obviously not too shabby. Alabama, however, is ranked 11th in this category, and it has managed this ranking while playing a tougher schedule than the Tigers.

On both sides of the ball, Bama is better. It will prove it on Saturday as the Tide rolls into the CFP as the top-seeded team in the land.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Lineman Kosta Karageorge Dies at Age 22

Police in Columbus, Ohio, confirmed on Sunday that Ohio State football player Kosta Karageorge has died.

Authorities believe he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to Clay Hall of ABC 6/Fox 28 in Columbus:

The Buckeyes' athletic department also confirmed the news, per Brent Yarina of BTN.com:

Local police had considered Karageorge missing the past few days. His family last heard from him Wednesday and filed a missing persons report that night, per ESPN.com.    

Karageorge's disappearance became part of Saturday's game between Ohio State and Michigan, with the senior defensive lineman's picture shown on the Ohio Stadium video board.

Karageorge sent a text message to his mother, Susan Karageorge, at 1:25 a.m. ET on Wednesday morning, according to Marcus Thorpe and Alex Mazer of NBC 4 in Columbus. The text reportedly read: "Sorry if I am an embarrassment, but these concussions have my head all [expletive] up."

According to the report, Karageorge had a history of concussions, including one as recently as last month. His mother said Karageorge "had a few spells of being extremely confused."

Matt Barnes of NBC 4 said the young player's death should serve to underscore the importance of continuing research on concussions:

Karageorge was 22 years old.

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Will Muschamp and Auburn Is a Great Match, Should Terrify SEC

The coaching silly season is upon us, and judging from the first two coordinator positions that have opened up in the SEC, former Florida head coach Will Muschamp might have his pick of high-profile jobs.

Texas A&M relieved Mark Snyder on Friday after the loss to LSU. On Sunday, less than 24 hours after surrendering 55 points to Alabama, Auburn followed suit and dispatched of second-year defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson according to a release from the University.

"At this time I felt it was best for our program to make a change with our defensive coordinator," head coach Gus Malzahn said in the release. "Ellis is a true professional and I would like to thank him for his contributions at Auburn."

Johnson handled the news well.

"This is part of the business and I totally understand," Johnson said in the release. "I did think we were good in several areas, but overall it wasn't good enough. I’m disappointed for our players, but this is a results business. I want to thank Coach Malzahn and Auburn for the opportunity the last two years."

Could Muschamp be headed to the Plains?

Muschamp has Texas ties due to his time as the Longhorns' defensive coordinator, but the former head man in Gainesville got his coaching start as a graduate assistant under Terry Bowden in 1995 and 1996, and then served as the Tigers' defensive coordinator under Tommy Tuberville in 2006 and 2007.

ESPN.com's Travis Haney reports, there's already interest between current Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and Muschamp:

The idea of Malzahn and Muschamp teaming up together on the Plains should terrify the SEC.

Auburn's primary problem this season was its pass defense, if anybody can fix that it is Muschamp.  His Gator defenses finished in the top four in the conference in pass defense every year and finished in the top three in the SEC in yards allowed per attempt in each of the last three seasons and generally make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. 

The foundation for success is there at Auburn. Junior cornerback Jonathan Jones was one of Auburn's most consistent performers this season with six picks—the second-most in the conference. He should be back, along with safeties Rudy Ford and Joshua Holsey.

The secondary took the brunt of the criticism this season, but main problem on the Plains was the inability for Auburn to get pressure with four, which forced Johnson to bring pressure from a variety of places. That pressure rarely got to the opposing quarterback, which left passing lanes the size of the Grand Canyon.

As Haney notes, the absence of defensive end Carl Lawson—who missed the season recovering from a torn ACL—played a big part in Auburn's pass rushing woes.

Lawson will be back in 2014, along with several of the replacements that rotated to fill that spot this year including Elijah Daniel, DaVonte Lambert and Gimel President.

From a recruiting standpoint, this could be a blessing in disguise. 

As Allie Davison of AuburnSports.com notes, Johnson wasn't as much of a factor on the recruiting trail as other defensive coordinators.

Who could come with Muschamp to the Plains?

That remains to be seen, but a former Tiger player could be coming with him.

If Muschamp is hired, that could signal a return of former Auburn defensive back and current Gator defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson, according to Zach Abolverdi of the Gainesville (Fla.) Sun:

That'd be huge for Auburn from a recruiting standpoint.

Not only has Robinson been instrumental as an assistant on Muschamp's staff, but he was ranked 24th on 247Sports.com's recruiter rankings in 2014. The Miami native was recently voted as one of the top nine recruiters who focus on the state of Florida by 247Sports.com's Luke Stampini. A recruiting boost specifically in the talent-rich state of Florida would be enormous for Auburn, and could pay immediate dividends in the class of 2015 and beyond.

The prospect of Muschamp's proven track record of success as a defensive coach, the recruiting boost it could bring the Tigers and Malzahn's ability to put up crooked offensive numbers all over the scoreboard would make Auburn a perennial contender.

Muschamp would wake up the monster. The same monster that has competed for two national championships since 2010 with defenses that were far from stellar.


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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Ellis Johnson Fired by Auburn: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

After giving up 55 points to the hated Alabama Crimson Tide in the Iron Bowl on Saturday night, Auburn has fired defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson.     

Travis Haney of ESPN.com passed along the details:

This should come as no surprise from a program that has national championship aspirations every year. The defense allowed a combined 130 points in the Tigers’ last three SEC games, which were all losses to Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama.    

Interestingly, head coach Gus Malzahn was not ready to make immediate comments on the future of the defensive coordinator position after losing to Alabama, via Brandon Marcello of AL.com.

“I'm not going there right now," said Malzahn. "Right now we're disappointed we got beat and that's it." 

Now the question becomes where the Tigers should turn next, especially after their offense put up an impressive 44 points against Alabama but still lost. Haney provided an update on a very intriguing candidate:

Will Muschamp failed to win enough games as the head coach of Florida, but he was an excellent defensive coordinator at Texas. His efforts with the Longhorns landed him the Gators job in the first place, and a switch back to his old position in a conference that he is already familiar with could be beneficial to all parties involved.  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Garrett Taylor to Penn State: Nittany Lions Land 4-Star CB Prospect

Garrett Taylor is heading to Penn State. The cornerback, who previously changed his mind after originally committing to Michigan, should provide a nice boost to the Nittany Lions' defense in the years ahead.

Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports provided word of the decision:

Taylor explained his decision to Wiltfong.   

"It just felt like home with Coach (James) Franklin and his staff and it's a good balance academically and football wise for me," Taylor said.

Taylor is a 4-star prospect who ranks just outside the top 100 for the class of 2015, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. He also rates as the 11th-best corner in the group and is a top-10 recruit out of the state of Virginia.

As mentioned, it looked like he was heading to Michigan before he changed his mind. He announced the decision to decommit and start reconsidering his options back in October:

One other issue was the health of his knee. Steven Lorenz of 247Sports reported back in August that Taylor would miss his entire season at St. Christopher's School in Richmond after tearing the ACL in his right knee.

"I plan to get on a stricter diet than normal so I can stay in peak shape while recovering," Taylor said. "We're going to do some pool stuff and a lot of upper body weight training and conditioning during the period as well. My goal is to come back stronger than I was before the injury."

He was never a player that was overly reliant on speed to make plays. He has a strong understanding of the position and how to use his size effectively. His ball skills are also among the best of the corner group, an asset he used while also gaining some experience on the offensive side of the ball.

So even though suffering a major knee injury at this stage of a player's career is worrisome, it wasn't enough to eliminate the hype around Taylor.

The question is whether he can come back from the injury strong enough to thrive at the next level. Returning from the ailment while also trying to make the step up in competition level is going to present a serious test early in his collegiate career.

Michael Clark of Scout.com thinks the defender's versatility will help:

Taylor is a physical corner with good size and instincts. He does a nice job of reading the quarterback's eyes and has good ball skills. Taylor also does a good job of shedding blocks and is very good in run support. Overall, Taylor has a lot of natural ability. He could play either cornerback or safety at the next level.

Ultimately, while there are some uncertainties surrounding Taylor, the potential he previously showcased make him an intriguing addition. If he can get to full strength, or reach an even higher level as he suggested, he's capable of making a major impact in the coming years.

The coaching staff may decide to bring him along slowly at first just to ensure no further setbacks. Once any restrictions are removed, however, he'll definitely be a player to watch closely.


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Bowl Projections: Playoff Predictions Heading into Conference Championship Week

For the first time all season, some clarity has been provided atop the College Football Playoff rankings. Mississippi State's upset loss at Ole Miss leaves only one SEC team with one loss and opens the possibility of champions from four different conferences making the playoff.

Heading into Tuesday night's reveal, the four playoff teams are pretty obvious. Alabama and Oregon did nothing to lose their spots as the country's two best teams, and Florida State just continues to do Florida State things at No. 3. TCU, which has been a committee favorite over Ohio State and Baylor, seems like a lock at No. 4.

The only question is whether everything will stay the same heading into conference championship week.

Despite losing quarterback J.T. Barrett, the Buckeyes have a chance to solidify their resume against a red-hot Wisconsin team. Baylor, which defeated TCU earlier this season, can add a win against a Top 25 opponent when it hosts Kansas State on Saturday.

The Bears would not only receive head-to-head consideration but would also clinch a Big 12 championship, solidifying two of the biggest pillars for the committee.

Would that be enough to leapfrog TCU and move into the fourth spot? Let's check out the latest projections and find out.


No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 TCU

To answer the question previously posited: Nope. TCU should still have enough of a margin over Baylor and Ohio State to get in, assuming the Horned Frogs take care of business against Iowa State. Their loss to Baylor will come up in some discussion—as it should—but it's about finding context in a murky situations.

Few remember that game because it was nearly two months ago, but it remains inexplicable that TCU blew their lead. The Frogs led, 58-37, with 11 minutes, 38 seconds remaining and somehow allowed Baylor to score 24 points in the remaining time to pull off perhaps the season's most impressive comeback.

While some rightly view that as a black mark on TCU's resume, it's also worth noting that game was in Waco. Coming within three points of one of the nation's five best teams on the road in most cases would not receive any outward criticism. Alabama dropped Mississippi State by five points in Tuscaloosa, and the Bulldogs only dropped to No. 4; it's only fair that similar leeway be granted to TCU.

The most basic question for the committee to answer is this: Neutral field, who wins? If we acknowledge the normal three-point home spread, then it would appear TCU and Baylor are as even as they come. The Horned Frogs, however, have looked like the far superior team over the course of the regular season.

Ohio State, meanwhile, has little hope of convincing the committee it's worth taking over the two Big 12 teams given Barrett's injury. Cardale Jones may prove to be just as good in the long run, but he'll only have a one-game sample to prove himself to the committee. It won't and probably shouldn't be enough.

Alabama is the no-brainer as a No. 1 seed. The Tide have taken care of Auburn and Mississippi State in impressive fashion, and they're a strong favorite over what appears to be a pretty overrated Missouri team.

Whereas each SEC West team went through a weekly gauntlet, Missouri was gifted a slate that includes exactly one team still ranked in the Top 25 (Georgia). The Tigers have won only one conference game by more than 10 points, and they lost to Indiana.

So, yes, the Tide will be heading exactly where they were expected to start the season. Whether they'll be able to hoist Nick Saban's fifth national championship is another question entirely.


No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State

This matchup has seemed like a mortal lock for weeks. With the committee dinging Florida State for its propensity for close games against unranked opponents and Alabama's schedule backloaded, the Seminoles and Ducks have been natural bedfellows.

Oregon did most of its damage early in the season but always had a difficult Pac-12 Championship Game awaiting. Arizona was able to clinch its spot on the back of two impressive victories over Utah and Arizona State to cap their regular season. Rich Rodriguez's outfit will be a tougher matchup than most are expecting, and Oregon more than deserves to stay in the picture with a win.

Florida State is gone the moment it loses. If there is anything that could create a no-questions-asked Final Four, it's the Seminoles going down to Georgia Tech on Saturday. Then again, the Seminoles defeating Georgia Tech might be enough for some to say they deserve the so-called "home" team distinction in this matchup.

Regardless of the dents in its resume, Florida State is the only FBS program in the country without a loss. The amount of luck necessary to stay undefeated has been astounding, and most would agree that this isn't college football's best team. But there is something to be said for staying undefeated when you're taking every team's best shot and facing national scrutiny on every snap.

"Well, you know, we were downgraded every time we blew someone out last year, so think of the irony of that," Jameis Winston told reporters. "If we win the game close, we're bad. When we blow someone out, we're bad. But the thing is, we're a team, we're a family at Florida State. What everyone else thinks about us, that's none of our business."

On paper, all four of these matchups look like high-scoring affairs. Alabama and TCU are better defensively than Oregon and Florida State, but both have had their big-time lapses. The Ducks, as is a yearly occurrence, have blitzed everybody with their fast-paced attack. The Seminoles find ways to win—whether it be high-scoring, low-scoring or anything in between.

Assuming they all get out of this weekend unscathed, the College Football Playoff should be the showcase the NCAA dreamt of.


Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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Why Nebraska Made Mistake Firing Head Coach Bo Pelini

No amount of wins will be enough for Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst. After firing head coach Bo Pelini, Eichorst was clear that's now what it's about.

“I am good with the record that gets us in the position to win championships," he said.

And that's the one thing Pelini wasn't winning. While he was 67-27 overall for Nebraska during his seven-year tenure, he failed to produce a conference or national title for the Huskers. As a result, Eichorst was ready to take Nebraska in a different direction.

However, that decision could have serious repercussions for the Huskers. While Eichorst may feel he knows best, it's hard not to see the choice to let Pelini go as a mistake.

The expectation that Nebraska must win championships is daunting. Some, like ESPN's Matt Schick, don't think the Huskers should apologize for high standards, though.

Nebraska doesn't need to apologize either. On the other hand, the Huskers have to be prepared for what that pride may do to national perception. After all, replacing a nine-win coach will not be easy, as ESPN's David Pollack pointed out.

This also isn't the first time Nebraska has been in this situation. In 2003, Frank Solich was in charge. He had just completed a 9-3 regular season. Similar to Pelini, Solich's biggest issue was not that he lost but how he lost.

During that season, Solich's Cornhuskers lost 41-24 to Missouri, 31-7 to Texas and 38-9 to Kansas State. It was that final game against the Wildcats that really sealed Solich's fate, as Nebraska determined that it was not a program that lost in such a fashion.

Husker fans know what happened next. Bill Callahan was hired to replace Solich and bring championships back to Nebraska. It never panned out quite as planned.

It didn't have to happen that way, though. Callahan wasn't the only coach the Huskers were eyeing. However, the biggest issue Nebraska faced in finding a new coach was itself.

In 2011, the Omaha World-Herald's Sam McKewon sat down for a two-part Q&A session with Urban Meyer (via HuskerBoard.com). The ESPN analyst (at that time) didn't hold back when McKewon asked him about Nebraska and 2003:

We actually were contacted by a third party. Not directly. I remember thinking about it. I had such great respect for Solich — he's an Ohio guy who's a good friend of mine — and I didn't agree with everything that went down. He won 10 games that year, right? That was alarming to me. I'm a coach, and whenever I see that happening to a coach, I think there's got to be something behind Door No. 1 to fire him after he won 10 games. I remember having great respect for the school but being concerned about what happened — and why it happened. If 10 games isn't good enough, I'm not sure what is.

Some may argue that the situation was different in 2003 than it is now, but looking at it on paper, it doesn't look like it. Eichorst isn't worried, though. "I’m not going to lower our standards," he said. "I don’t think Nebraskans want that.”

And he's right about that. Nebraskans don't need to lower their standards. However, firing Pelini wasn't the way to go about it.

When a team has a coach winning nine or 10 games per season, you don't fire that coach. Eichorst knows that because he was clear in how he addressed it.

“We weren’t good enough in the games that mattered against championship-caliber opponents and I didn't see that changing at end of the day," he confirmed.

Those are some high standards Eichorst is setting. Any coach who comes to Nebraska will not have win or loss benchmarks. Instead, it's all about winning championships and winning the games that Nebraska should win. Unfortunately, that's easier said than done.

Fans may point at former head coach Tom Osborne for inspiration. He won three national championships for Nebraska and 13 conference championships. While one of those conference titles came three years into his tenure, it also took him nine years to have a Top 5 finish, per SaturdayBlitz.com. Plus, those national titles took 20 years to obtain.

That's not to say that Pelini had a national title coming, but only time would have told. And of course the college football landscape has changed since Osborne was coach, but Nebraska fans will never get to truly see what Pelini was capable of.

There were other options. Eichorst could have asked for Pelini to make some changes. Defensive coordinator would have been a great place to start. However, the athletic director didn't ask Pelini to make any changes.

"The people of Nebraska not only deserve high standards and expectations, but they deserve to reach them," Eichorst said.

Nebraska fans do deserve that. However, firing Pelini feels like a mistake. Eichorst likely has the next person in mind, and that person better be ready to live up to Nebraska's expectations. If he can't, Nebraska will be back in the same place it was after firing Solich.

It felt like a mistake then. It's hard not to feel like it's a mistake yet again.


All quotes and information obtained firsthand from athletic director Shawn Eichorst's press conference.

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Final Regular-Season SEC Power Rankings

It seems like only yesterday when the assembled members of the SEC media were casting our votes for the conference champion at media days in Hoover, Alabama.

Those who picked Alabama aren't shocked that the Crimson Tide prevailed in the West, and even those who didn't pick head coach Nick Saban's crew won't be floored when the crimson and white takes the field on Saturday. 

Missouri, on the other hand, was a total shock out of the East. The Tigers finished 7-1 in conference for the second consecutive season, and had it not been for a home loss to lowly Indiana, would be in the thick of the College Football Playoff chase.

How do the SEC teams rank after the final game of the regular season? Our power rankings are in this slideshow.

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Texas A&M Football: Criteria Aggies' Next Defensive Coordinator Must Meet

The Texas A&M football team had a disappointing 7-5 record in 2014. As a result of continued struggles on the defensive side of the ball, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder was let go, per Jerry Hinnen of CBS Sports. Aggie head coach Kevin Sumlin needs to look for certain criteria in his next defensive coordinator hire. 

Sumlin's hire at the defensive coordinator position may well dictate his own future in Aggieland. The Aggies have won 27 games during Sumlin's first three seasons as the head coach. 

That total has definitely exceeded expectations for a program that was expected to struggle to be competitive in the SEC. However, the early success in the league has raised the bar for what is considered an acceptable season. 

Texas A&M fans are pouring money into a $450 million renovation of Kyle Field. Sumlin is being paid $5 million per year to coach the Aggies. The fans want to see a return on that investment—and that involves winning SEC titles and competing for national titles. 

The Aggies need to have a much better defense if they want to compete for SEC titles. Sumlin's next hire at the defensive coordinator position needs to give the Aggies that improved defense. This is a look at some of the criteria that the new defensive coordinator hire should meet.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Hits and Misses from Week 14

Rivalry week is over. In a week's time, so too will the college football regular season. The days of overreacting to polls are (mostly) over. Teams now have entire bodies of work to show off. Weekly rankings are far more steady.

That doesn't mean they're all correct, however. 

As is customary every Sunday, The Associated Press and USA Today released their new Top 25 polls. Though neither of these polls is taken into consideration by the playoff selection committee, the polls may provide a glimpse into where teams stand. 

You can also check out the latest Bleacher Report Top 25 for comparison.

Which teams were appropriately ranked in the latest Top 25 polls? Which ones weren't? The answers are in the following slides.

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Cardale Jones Will Lead Ohio State to Big Ten Title After J.T. Barrett Injury

Ohio State is back in the Big Ten Championship Game. At the beginning of the season, this would have seemed like a no-brainer for most college football fans.

The only caveat is the Buckeyes will be competing for the crown without Braxton Miller or J.T. Barrett. In fact, the program will be without Barrett for the remainder of the season due to an ankle fracture, as Brendan F. Quinn of MLive.com notes:

Instead, Urban Meyer will be leaning on third-string quarterback Cardale Jones. Many will remember him for the infamous tweet he sent out in October, 2012, but he appears to have matured now—and the Buckeyes will need him.

On the field, Jones has very little experience at the college level. He has 121 passing yards during his career, with two touchdowns late against Illinois earlier this season. But even with his lack of time on the field, Meyer noted Jones is still able to run the offense, per Jeff Svoboda of Buckeye Sports Bulletin:

Much like Barrett and Miller, he can run and pass with authority as evidenced by his 7.9 yards per carry average this season. Given his ability to scramble and keep plays alive, look for Jones to take over with relative ease for the Buckeyes, as he did against Michigan.

That's not an attempt to lessen what Barrett did in place of Miller, but the offensive game plan simply remains the same with Jones. Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer offered his take on where the offense stands now:

Now that Ohio State has to lean on Cardale Jones in the Big Ten title game vs. Wisconsin on Saturday, the Buckeyes offense isn't going to be as good. Jones probably can't match Barrett's dazzling runs, his perfectly-placed passes or the way he led the team.

But if Jones trusts offensive coordinator Tom Herman's system and plays within himself, the Buckeyes, as a team, are offensively still good enough to knock off the Badgers. 

With limited experience, Jones likely won't be asked to carry the offense for the Buckeyes. Luckily, he has plenty of talent around him to help lead the team to a win.

Devin Smith and Michael Thomas haven't been great lately, but have produced solid results all season. Fellow sophomore Ezekiel Elliott has gone for over 100 total yards in eight of the last 10 games. ESPN College Football provides a glimpse at what he's capable of:

On the other end, Wisconsin offers one of the best running backs in the country in Melvin Gordon. If the defense can simply contain the Heisman contender—which is easier said than done—the Buckeyes will clinch the Big Ten Championship.

That's a lot of ifs and hope in a young quarterback, but Meyer is clearly comfortable with that situation. Given his history of still producing great results under pressure, expect Ohio State to give the College Football Playoff committee something to ponder with a win on Saturday.


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College Football Rankings 2014: Week 15 AP and Amway Standings Revealed

Rivalry week in college football is over, and the landscape has completely shifted as a result. One of the biggest changes, of course, is Mississippi State's fall from the Top Five.         

The Bulldogs dropped in the Associated Press and Amway Coaches polls but remained in the Top 10 in both. Along with Mississippi State, programs like Georgia and UCLA plummeted after disappointing losses.

By virtue of their wins, Alabama, Florida State and Oregon all remained at the top of each poll in that exact order. TCU also firmly entrenched itself as one of the top programs in the country with a decisive victory over Texas on Thanksgiving.      

Here's a look at the full Associated Press and Amway rankings along with analysis of the latest polls.



College football fans hoped for chaos and they got it.

The Bulldogs went from College Football Playoff hopeful to hoping to simply remain in the Top 10 after losing the Egg Bowl. Ole Miss decisively took down Dak Prescott and Mississippi State and moved up both polls.

Having a second loss might not have been as hard to take if it wasn't against in-state rival Ole Miss. Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen spoke about the loss and the result for other programs around the country, per George Schroeder of USA Today:

I didn’t think we were getting in the playoff, anyway. ... I’m sure we made a lot of people around the country happy. And maybe a lot of (selection) committee members breathed a big sigh of relief right now. They don’t have to consider it.

This is as tough as it gets. I don’t care about the stakes. This game is for bragging rights in the state. It’s the most important game we play. So obviously, it is a devastating loss.

As heartbreaking as the loss was for Mississippi State, Alabama got to avenge one from last season. The Crimson Tide continued to roll against Auburn to move to 11-1 and one game against Missouri in the SEC Championship standing between them and the playoff.

Though there wasn't much defense played in the Iron Bowl, both teams put on a show that proved why they are two of the best programs in the country. The result was a record-breaking night, as ESPN Stats & Info notes:

If Amari Cooper keeps up his current pace, stopping the Tide will be nearly impossible for any team. One team that may be up to that task is Oregon, which possesses a nearly equal offense that dismantled Oregon State.

Of the teams dropping down the totem pole, UCLA's loss likely hurt it the worst. The Bruins were coming off a commanding win over USC and looked like a playoff dark horse leading up to the Pac-12 Championship.

Arizona was waiting in the wings to take over the spot in the conference championship and the Top 10. Bleacher Report points out that change following the Wildcats' massive win:

Heading down the final stretch of the season, the final games seem just as unpredictable. Upsets can still take place to cause even more chaos, with FSU, Oregon and Alabama having their playoff spots on the line.

Regardless of how clear things look now, the 2014 season has proved that nothing is given to any team. While the Tide and Seminoles still reign supreme, both will have their hands full in what will be the biggest game of the year for both Mizzou and Georgia Tech.


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Introducing Your New College Football Playoff Darkhorse Contenders

One week does not a season make—or does it?

With the 2014 college football season coming to a close next weekend, sans Army-Navy, the playoff picture is as clear as it has been all year. On the flip side, that makes the opportunity for chaos that much more concentrated. 

Here's what we know—or, at least, feel confident enough in guessing. The top three teams in Tuesday's playoff poll should be some variation of the following: Alabama, Florida State and Oregon. Jockeying for the fourth and final spot will be Baylor, Ohio State and TCU. 

If all things go according to plan—a dangerous assumption to make—the selection committee has a fairly simple job all things considered. That's not to say that picking No. 4 will be easy, but it is easier than trying to pick three or four spots in a wide-open field.  

What if things get wacky though? What if Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Oregon all lose their respective conference championship games? What if TCU does a face plant against Iowa State and Baylor falls to Kansas State?

The odds of all of those things happening at once are small, but things can shake up abruptly all the same. That paves the road for teams like Arizona, Georgia Tech and Wisconsin to enter the playoff conversation. 

What hasn't been measured is how much winning a conference matters. "I don't think there is any way to project that," said committee chair Jeff Long earlier this month (h/t Ralph Russo, the Associated Press). "It will certainly be weighed into the equation on Dec. 6 and 7."

Arizona, Georgia Tech and Wisconsin all have a chance to win their respective conferences and get key resume-building wins next weekend. Would those be enough to crash the playoff? Here's the run down: 



Record: 10-2

AP Rank: No. 8 

Key Wins: at Oregon (Oct. 2), Arizona State (Nov. 28)

Losses: USC (Oct. 11), at UCLA (Nov. 1)

Given how highly the committee thinks of the Pac-12, it wouldn't be surprising to see Arizona make a last-second push toward the playoff with a week remaining. The Wildcats are in prime position: They're ranked in the AP Top 10, and should be a top-10 team in the playoff poll, with the chance to win a conference championship. Additionally, Arizona has the chance to beat the same playoff-bound team, Oregon, twice. 

With critics picking apart every win, it's tough to argue against a team that could potentially beat the Ducks twice away from home. There aren't any terrible losses for Arizona, either. The 28-26 loss to USC came on a missed field goal and the 17-7 loss to UCLA isn't the worst thing in the world. 

Easily, Arizona has the best chance of the dark-horse contenders to reach the final four. 


Georgia Tech

Record: 10-2

AP Rank: No. 12 

Key Wins: Clemson (Nov. 15), at Georgia (Nov. 29)

Losses: Duke (Oct. 11), at North Carolina (Oct. 18) 

Georgia Tech was one of the quietest two-loss teams heading into Week 14. After a wild 30-24 overtime win over Georgia, though, the Yellow Jackets aren't creeping up on anyone anymore. 

Georgia Tech doesn't have that one signature win that Arizona has—yet. Paul Johnson's team will meet Florida State in the ACC championship game and the Seminoles are the sole remaining undefeated team in college football.

The good news for Georgia Tech is that Florida State has been playing like a team that could easily have three or four loses. This is not your 2013 Seminoles, not by a long shot. Georgia Tech, with its triple-option offense, can be a nightmare-ish opponent to prepare for in a week's time, too. 

It feels like the Yellow Jackets would need some help elsewhere, but beating the last undefeated team would open up a slot. 



Record: 10-2

AP Rank: No. 11

Key Wins: Nebraska (Nov. 15), Minnesota (Nov. 29) 

Losses: LSU (Aug. 30), at Northwestern (Oct. 4)

Like Georgia Tech, Wisconsin doesn't yet have a win to give it that extra push. Additionally, the Badgers have a glaring loss at Northwestern, which finished the season 5-7. Not even Ohio State's loss to Virginia Tech is that bad.

What Wisconsin does have going for it is a seven-game win streak and arguably the best player in college football, running back Melvin Gordon. In a 34-24 win over Minnesota on Saturday, Gordon had 151 yards and averaged 5.2 yards a carry with a touchdown.

It was his worst game in nearly a month. 

Ohio State's defense is good, though a tad more susceptible against the run lately. Earlier this month, Indiana running back Tevin Coleman put up 228 yards on the Buckeyes. A win over Ohio State would at least put Wisconsin in the playoff conversation, but the Badgers probably need a ton of help elsewhere. 


Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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AP College Football Poll 2014: Complete Week 15 Rankings Released

It's all happening now, folks. 

After a weekend of upsets, major injuries and huge rivalry wins, the conference championships are all that stand between several schools and the College Football Playoff. For more than a few schools, it's as simple as "win and you're in." For others, of course, it's "win and hope your resume stacks up favorably against the competition."

Ultimately, the CFP committee will have the final say in that regard. But while we wait for the official rankings, let's take a look at this week's Associated Press poll, the Bleacher Report poll and quickly analyze the week that was.     


Associated Press Poll


Bleacher Report Poll



Ohio State may now be in a lose-lose situation following Saturday's victory over Michigan.

Wait, what?

While the Buckeyes survived their rivals, they also lost starting quarterback J.T. Barrett for the season after he fractured his ankle, as coach Urban Meyer confirmed to Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com:

[Barrett] is for sure out. We've had two quarterbacks go down, and we're going to find out if we earn our coaching stripes and do a good job getting [Cardale] Jones ready to go. ... We've got to go on, and we've got a lot of confidence in the guy that's going to be doing it.

[But] obviously, we lost a Heisman candidate today.

The worry for the Buckeyes is twofold. First, can they beat Wisconsin without Barrett? That's the big one. And second, even if they do beat the Badgers, will the committee be more likely to rank a team like Baylor or TCU ahead of them due to Barrett's injury?

After all, you can make a pretty compelling case that Ohio State simply isn't as good without Barrett on the field, especially if Cardale Jones struggles against Wisconsin. If the committee judges Ohio State to be fairly even with another playoff hopeful, it isn't crazy to think that Barrett's injury could tip the scales toward a TCU or Baylor.

It's safe to say at this point that if Alabama, Oregon and Florida State win their respective conference titles, each school will be in the playoff. Alabama is fresh off a crazy 55-44 win over rivals Auburn and can add another resume-building win over Missouri in the SEC championship.

After surviving a tough SEC slate the Crimson Tide might even have a case to make the playoff if they lose to Missouri in a close game, though there won't be any questions about their place in the playoff if they simply win.

Meanwhile, Oregon has the chance to exorcise some demons against Arizona, which defeated the Ducks earlier in the season. That's no easy task—the Wildcats will head into that game with consecutive wins over Utah and Arizona State. 

Florida State's surviving-by-the-seat-of-its-pants season will be tested next weekend, as the Seminoles face a red-hot Georgia Tech team that has won five straight games, including big wins over Clemson and Georgia the last two weeks. The Seminoles are certainly in if they win, but if they lose to Georgia Tech and the teams below them all win next weekend, it would hardly be shocking to see Florida State miss the playoff. 

You can justify a series of close calls against inferior competition if you always find a way to win. That's resiliency. But once you've lost, that series of close calls against inferior competition seems less like resiliency and more like an indication that you weren't all that good in the first place.

Finally, Baylor holds the final piece of the puzzle in its hands next weekend when it faces Kansas State. If they win, their resume will stack up closely enough to TCU's that the Bears could be ranked higher due to their head-to-head win.

TCU's non-conference victory over Minnesota—which was potentially their trump card in this debate—also took a hit when Minnesota lost to Wisconsin this weekend. Add it all up, and it's hard to imagine that a Baylor team that won the Big 12 and beat TCU would somehow still be ranked below the Horned Frogs in the rankings.


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College Football Rankings 2014: Twitter Reacts to AP and Amway Week 15 Polls

Week 15 didn't entirely solve the College Football Playoff riddle. But it did make it easier.

A Mississippi State upset combined with a major non-scoreboard loss for Ohio State leaves what appears to be only five teams with a legitimate shot at a title. Alabama's atonement for last year's Iron Bowl loss puts the Crimson Tide squarely in the driver's seat for a top overall seed, while Oregon's thrashing of Oregon State and Florida State's nail-biter against Florida keep them in control of their own destiny.          

The major question will come down to a battle of Big 12 schools. Baylor struggled for the second straight Saturday in its win over Texas Tech, while TCU looked strong in its thrashing of Texas. Both teams have games left on their slate for next week, but let's look at how the Associated Press and Coaches polls have them faring:

For obvious reasons, Mississippi State's loss to Ole Miss created the week's biggest ripple effect. The Bulldogs came into their regular-season closer with an inside track at the No. 4 seed despite having little shot at an SEC championship. But Ole Miss held its rivals' ground game to only 3.5 yards per carry, got a breakout 148-yard performance from Jaylen Walton and held on for an emphatic 31-17 victory.

"This is as tough as it gets," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen told reporters. "I do not care about the stakes. This game is for bragging right in the state. It is the most important game we play. So it is obviously a devastating loss."

Mike Greenberg of ESPN pointed out neither of the Bulldogs' losses saw them playing at their peak:

Mississippi State's loss would have created a three-team logjam had Ohio State not lost its most important offensive weapon in its win over Michigan. Freshman star J.T. Barrett suffered a season-ending broken ankle on the first play of the fourth quarter in the Buckeyes' closer-than-expected 42-28 victory. After a rough start Barrett had emerged as one of the nation's most efficient quarterbacks.

Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star believes Barrett should still be a Heisman finalist:

While not impossible to think Ohio State can still make the playoff, it's much more unlikely. Sophomore Cardale Jones, who entered the 2014 season as the third-string quarterback, will now take over under center. Jones has only 19 career college passes under his belt, and his first career start will come in the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin.

Even if the Buckeyes are able to get past Wisconsin, Barrett's injury leaves the committee with a difficult choice. The Big 12 and Big Ten are on a relatively similar playing field from a strength perspective. Ohio State is a far more traditional power than either Baylor or TCU, and we've seen plenty of instances in the past of the longstanding giant receiving an extra bump.

But the committee's job is to find the nation's four best teams. Without Barrett and without a significant sample of games from Jones, it's hard to see the committee giving Ohio State the nod. ESPN's Sam Ponder offered a similar thought:

"It's almost like you've got a weird feeling," tight end Jeff Heuerman told reporters. "It's your Senior Day, you just beat The Team Up North, you're going to the Big Ten Championship Game and you feel like something is missing. And really something is missing. Your starting quarterback that you rallied around all season is done."

TCU, meanwhile, doesn't appear to be missing a thing. The Horned Frogs forced six Texas turnovers and scored the game's final 21 points in their 48-10 thumping of the Longhorns. The TCU defense accounted for two touchdowns and held Texas to 2.5 yards per carry. Trevone Boykin threw for 233 yards, added 50 on the ground and had three of the Horned Frogs' four offensive touchdowns.

"You know, this team deserves to go home and win a championship," Patterson told reporters. "We've got one more to do it, and I'm very proud of them. I'm finally going to go maybe smile once, but we've got to get ready to play Iowa State."

Albert Breer of NFL Network is still unimpressed:

The Lost Lettermen Twitter account disagrees:

At issue, as it has been for most of the season, is how to separate TCU from Baylor. The Bears defeated their conference rival in a thriller earlier this year but have looked like the inferior team for most of the season. Their 48-46 victory over Texas Tech on Saturday was the latest evidence, as Baylor needed to hold off a late two-point conversion attempt to avoid overtime.

Losing quarterback Bryce Petty to a concussion didn't make things easier, but it's the Bears' defense that's proven more concerning. Patrick Mahomes threw for 598 yards and six touchdowns, and Texas Tech is the third opponent this season to score 40 or more points against Baylor. 

ESPN's Jake Trotter summed the game up properly:

Bryan Fischer of NFL.com provided a devil's advocate outlook:

Elsewhere in the Top 25, UCLA and Georgia each ruined their chance at sneaking into the playoff picture. The Bruins were dominated in their 31-10 loss to unranked Stanford, held without a point for the game's final 41 minutes. Kevin Hogan missed on only three of his 19 pass attempts, while Brett Hundley turned in his worst performance of 2014.

Here is what can only be described as a tongue twister from ESPN's John Ireland: 

Georgia wasn't blown out, but its 30-24 overtime loss to Georgia Tech was nonetheless frustrating. The Bulldogs allowed a 21-yard Justin Thomas run at the end of regulation to set up a game-tying 53-yard field goal from Harrison Butker. Then, given a chance to win in overtime with a touchdown and extra point, Hutson Mason threw an upset-clinching interception.

ESPN Stats & Info noted how unlikely Georgia Tech's win was:

With two of the nation's best two-loss teams out of the picture and Mississippi State blowing its chance, the committee should have an easier time setting up college football's hierarchy. Any more confusion this Saturday, though, and things could get a lot more interesting.


Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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Bowl Projections 2014: College Football Playoff Predictions Pre-Week 15 Rankings

The 2014 regular season is coming to an end soon, and the anticipation of the Week 15 College Football Playoff rankings has led to projections and predictions about which teams will play in the top postseason bowls.

Top teams like Alabama, Oregon and Florida State were able to pull out much-needed wins in Week 14, but a devastating loss for Mississippi State will ensure the Playoff voting committee will have a new team in the final postseason slot.

Here are the College Football Playoff bowl projections and a complete breakdown of the team to beat this season.



Breaking Down the Team to Beat

There are many programs that have put together excellent performances this season, but the Alabama Crimson Tide have earned their spot as the favorite to win the inaugural College Football Playoff.

After another thrilling Iron Bowl matchup, Alabama walked away victorious over Auburn and cemented a spot at the top of the rankings. A loss earlier in the season to Ole Miss ruined the Crimson Tide's perfect record, but wins over Mississippi State, LSU and Texas A&M have put them in a great position heading into next Saturday’s SEC Championship Game.

Alabama will take on Missouri on December 6 with the chance to stake its claim on the No. 1 seed in the Playoff and serious momentum heading into the postseason. While the Wildcats are a talented program, the Crimson Tide are superior on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.

Crimson Tide defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson spoke to Drew Champlin of AL.com about his team’s SEC Championship Game opponent, saying, “They're a great team. They had a great win (against Arkansas). I watched them throughout (and) when we can, we watch any other SEC team. They're a really good SEC team and we're excited to be playing them.”

Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin’s offensive unit has been excellent this season, ranking 20th in the nation with an average of 36.7 points per game. The rushing attack is ranked 37th in college football, and the passing attack is ranked 22nd.

As well as the offensive unit has played, the defense has been just as dangerous. The always impressive defensive unit is ranked sixth in the country, allowing just 16.9 points per game. Missouri deserves immense credit for a successful season, but the Wildcats will face their toughest competition of the season.

Led by Saban and his experience in big games, there is no program in the nation more prepared for a deep run in the postseason. If Alabama can beat Missouri, the other three teams who make the postseason should fear the Crimson Tide.


*Stats via ESPN.com.

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'Fake Bo Pelini' Reacts to Real Bo Pelini's Firing

Former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini isn't the only one affected by his dismissal.

On Sunday morning, the Cornhuskers announced that Pelini had been dismissed as coach after a 9-3 regular season.

The firing obviously impacted Pelini the most, but there was someone else in the public eye who had to find a way to deal with the tough news.

The Internet has become a big fan of Fake Bo Pelini on Twitter. How much do people love the parody account? As of early Sunday afternoon, Fake Bo Pelini had over 50,000 more followers than the man himself.

When the news of the coach's firing broke, all eyes were on Fake Bo Pelini to see how he would react. He didn't disappoint.

The parody account was a bit shocked by the news at first.

Once he had time to soak in the news, he was back to his normal self.

Fake Bo Pelini even offered to help Nebraska out for its bowl game if the Cornhuskers were interested.

Be sure to follow the account throughout the process to see how Fake Bo Pelini handles things. 


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Alabama vs. Missouri: Preview, Predictions for SEC Championship Game 2014

It will be one of the SEC’s relative newcomers against the most established brand in the league and perhaps all of college football Saturday in a clash for the conference crown.

Alabama and Missouri will square off in the SEC Championship on Saturday in Atlanta at 4 p.m. ET with a potential spot in the College Football Playoff on the line. What’s more, head coaches Nick Saban and Gary Pinkel were actually teammates at Kent State back in the '70s and will likely be looking for some bragging rights against each other in this one.

If the Crimson Tide wins, it is almost assured a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff. That may create a bit more pressure for Alabama than Missouri, but that is the exact championship-or-bust pressure that the Tide plays under in every single game.

Interestingly, Saban has more national titles (three) than SEC titles (two) during his tenure at Alabama.

As for Missouri, this game represents a golden opportunity to legitimize itself to the rest of the nation after that early loss to Indiana. The team can also clinch a selection committee bowl game in the process. There is still a slight chance the Tigers could sneak into a backdoor and reach the playoff if complete chaos reigns atop the rankings in Week 15, but erasing that Indiana loss from the public consciousness should be motivation enough.

Missouri will have to stop the Blake Sims and Amari Cooper combination if it hopes to win. 

Sims will be looking for some redemption after he threw three interceptions against Auburn and fell behind by 12 points in the second half. Eventually, he realized that throwing the ball to Cooper was a great strategy, and Cooper finished with 224 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

He made mincemeat of any Auburn defender who tried to cover him and set a record in the process, via ESPN Stats & Info:

If Missouri is to stop Alabama's offense, it will be on the back of its relentless pass rush.

Shane Ray has 14 sacks on the year, while Markus Golden checks in with nine. That is as formidable of a pass-rushing duo as you will find in the SEC, and it has to get to Sims so the secondary isn’t forced to cover Cooper for too long.

This Missouri defense has been solid all season, but it was exposed against the run in its two losses. Indiana finished with 241 rushing yards (including 132 from superstar Tevin Coleman), and Georgia posted 210 yards on the ground (including 143 from Nick Chubb).

Individual runners can beat this defense, and Alabama has a couple of bruisers in T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry that plan to do just that.

Look for the Tide to pound the running game early and often, which will force Missouri to move its safeties up closer to the box. That is when Sims will hit Cooper over the top for long, backbreaking touchdown passes. 

The question will then become whether Missouri’s offense can counter and perhaps even push the tempo like Auburn did when it scored 44 against the Crimson Tide.

Mike Herndon of AL.com discussed the Missouri offense before Alabama clinched the SEC West:

Missouri's offense isn't among the most prolific in the conference, but the Tigers thrive on balance. They entered the game averaging 177 yards rushing per game and 183 yards through the air…Job one for the Crimson Tide or Bulldog defenses would be shutting him and Murphy down, destroying that balance and forcing Mauk to carry the offense by himself.

Maty Mauk and the passing offense is only mustering 189.9 yards a game through the air after the Arkansas game. A Mauk-led offense is not exactly built to come back from deficits against elite talent like Alabama has, even though the Tigers do have some comebacks this season. Those comebacks didn’t come against the NFL-caliber talent in the secondary for the Crimson Tide.

In addition, Alabama’s defense will be out to send a message after struggling against Auburn. Saban certainly didn’t sound pleased with the effort on that side of the ball. According to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com, "We haven't played a lot of games where we give up 44 points and win. That's not really our style."

A motivated Alabama defense, bruising Alabama running backs and Cooper on the outside is an unfortunate combination for Missouri. The Tigers simply don’t have the talent to match up in this one, and it will show on the scoreboard. 

Prediction: Alabama 41, Missouri 17


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