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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.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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.

 

Analysis

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.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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: 

 

Arizona

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. 

 

Wisconsin

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. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

 

Analysis

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.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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. 

[Twitter]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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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Amway College Football Poll 2014: Complete Week 15 Rankings Released

The wild on-field action this week in college football has led to a few changes in the Week 15 Amway Coaches Top 25 poll.      

Alabama, Oregon and Florida State were able to win crucial conference matchups, yet the Mississippi State Bulldogs were defeated by Ole Miss. The turnover created by this loss has given many programs a new lease on their College Football Playoff lives.    

Here are the Week 15 Amway Coaches and Bleacher Report Top 25 polls and a review of the action.

 

 

Breaking Down Week 14

The Ducks dominated the Oregon State Beavers, 47-19, but the Crimson Tide and the Seminoles were involved in much closer battles. Alabama beat Auburn in a thrilling 55-44 win and Florida State managed to hold off Florida, 24-19.

Meanwhile, Mississippi State wasn’t so lucky.

With a playoff berth on the line, the Bulldogs cracked under the pressure and succumbed to Ole Miss. Conference championships will throw a wrench in the rankings once again, but Mississippi State currently finds itself on the outside of the CFP looking in.

Now the discussion begins regarding which team truly deserves the honor of being No. 4 overall.

There were no shortage of programs that made a case to climb the rankings in Week 14, including huge wins for TCU, Ohio State and Baylor (all with just one loss). For the Buckeyes, it remains to be seen how J.T. Barrett's devastating injury will affect their outlook. ESPN.com's Austin Ward reported Barrett suffered a fractured ankle in the team's win over Michigan. They'll now turn to Cardale Jones under center for next week's showdown with Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship. 

The Horned Frogs destroyed Texas on Thursday, while Baylor managed to beat Texas Tech in a 48-46 thriller, but a win is a win at this crucial part of the season.

Two teams that failed to shine were UCLA and Georgia. The Bruins lost to Stanford on Friday night, and the Bulldogs were defeated by in-state rival Georgia Tech in a thrilling overtime matchup.

UCLA linebacker Myles Jack spoke to reporters about the devastating loss, saying, “The reward we would have got for winning this game, it hurts. We were aware of what was to come if we handled our business, but it didn't happen that way.”

Other programs like Michigan State, Arizona, Kansas State and Wisconsin pulled out much-needed wins late in the season, but there were other teams who clearly faltered under the pressure.

If you are a supporter of ranked programs like Arizona State, Minnesota and Marshall, watching the aforementioned teams take losses on the holiday weekend had to be devastating.

With plenty of turnover in the latest Amway Coaches poll, the excitement for the conference championships and the eventual College Football Playoff is higher than ever. It’s a good time to be a fan of the sport.

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

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Nebraska Fires Bo Pelini 1 Year Too Late

Nebraska and head football coach Bo Pelini were always going to part ways, it was just a matter of when. With the news of Pelini's dismissal on Sunday morning, however, it feels like the decision was made a year too late. 

"Coach Pelini served our University admirably for seven years and led our football programs transition to the Big Ten Conference," athletic director Shawn Eichorst said in a statement. "We wish Coach Pelini and his wonderful family all the best and thank him for his dedicated service to the University."

Consider for a moment what Pelini has accomplished, both this year and every year since taking over the program in 2008. His body of work has been remarkably consistent for better and for worse.

Pelini's overall record with the Huskers was 67-27 and he never won fewer than nine games a season. This year, Nebraska went 9-3, highlighted by a thrilling season-ending win over Iowa and marred by stinging losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota. 

Pelini led his teams to a few conference championships spanning the Big 12 and Big Ten, but never quite got his teams to the level Nebraska wanted. That was Pelini's career in a nutshell: a lot of wins, but few of real quality and some embarrassing losses. 

Coaches can, and often do, get fired for a series of declining seasons; see Florida and head coach Will Muschamp, for example. Pelini was getting paid $3.1 million a year to win. The thing that stands out about Pelini and Nebraska, though, was that the Huskers technically never got worse with him on the sidelines. 

As Doug Samuels of Footballscoop.com notes, though, this decision was allegedly about more than wins and losses: 

Per sources, Bo felt that change needed to happen for Nebraska football to move forward. He planned to meet with the very top administration to share his feelings and his plan; most importantly he felt that he needed the administration clearly 100% with him, or they needed to go a different direction. It was clear to Pelini that Harvey Perlman (Chancellor) wasn’t giving him any support and that was creating an untenable situation for all. Pelini was willing to go over Perlman’s head (to the Board of Regents) if necessary.

That kind of reported tension within a program isn't healthy for anyone. If Nebraska was going to part ways with Pelini, last year in the height of "audio-gate" would have been the time to do it. Pelini, in a thought-to-be moment of privacy in 2011, ripped Nebraska fans and media while unknowingly being recorded. It wouldn't have made that decision right or wrong, per se, but it would have given Nebraska an out. It also would have allowed Pelini to move on. 

Pelini himself even gave Nebraska permission. "If they want to fire me," Pelini said after a season-ending loss to Iowa in 2013, "then go ahead."

Firing Pelini now makes far less sense. If anything, it was an unnecessary delay of the inevitable. 

That's a shame. Pelini is good coach who by all appearances runs a clean program and genuinely cares about his players, even if his outlandish sideline demeanor suggests otherwise. The disbelief from Nebraska players has begun, led by quarterback Tommy Armstrong: 

In August, B/R colleague Adam Kramer profiled the side of Pelini no one knew, the side with an unexpected sense of humor, the side that would do anything for a former player or coach, the side who loves cats

Where Nebraska goes from here remains to be seen. Winning nine or 10 games regularly is something a lot of programs would be happy with and letting Pelini go after another 9-3 season without controversy isn't a great look. 

Sure, the Huskers have options. The Nebraska brand isn't what it used to be, but it still carries plenty of weight nationally. Landing a high-profile coach or coordinator is realistic. 

The question is whether that next coach will be able to take the program to the levels it could never achieve under Pelini. Recruiting Nebraska and the Midwest isn't what it used to be. As Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated tweets, whoever takes over the program better be ready to concentrate on player development and not on landing 5-star recruits. 

Firing a coach is the easy part. The difficult part is having the plan going forward. Nebraska fired former coach Frank Solich after a nine-win season in 2003 and hired Bill Callahan with disastrous results. 

Will that history repeat itself with Pelini? Perhaps, but the fact remains that this was never going to be a long-term match. It would have been better if at least one side had reached that conclusion earlier. It would have made for a lot less discomfort. Both sides at least deserve that much. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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SEC Championship Game 2014: Players to Watch in Missouri vs. Alabama Showdown

The 2014 SEC Championship Game matchup is set, as Missouri will look for the upset against Alabama—a powerhouse who appears to be ready for a playoff berth.

It took the Tigers some last-quarter heroics to squeak past Arkansas and earn a spot in the title game for the second-consecutive season. That's something that head coach Gary Pinkel acknowledged in the postgame press conference, via MUTigers.com:

It means an awful lot to me. I love my team. This has not been an easy year, but we battled and competed. I feel thankful for all the people around me. Mizzou Athletic Director, Mike Alden, has been tremendously important to me and our fans too. We sold Faurot out tonight and this place was rocking. There are a lot of things to be thankful for. Whoever we play next week, it's going to be a huge game. It's our second time down there (Atlanta, Ga.) in a row, and I'll tell you this, that's hard to do.

Alabama took care of business against Auburn to earn a spot in the game. The Crimson Tide rode strong performances from Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon, both of whom lit up the Tigers for big yardage.

Who will star in the SEC title game for both Missouri and Alabama? Both teams have plenty of candidates given their talent, but there are a few clear options to consider.

 

Marcus Murphy, RB, Missouri

Marcus Murphy can do it all.

The Tigers running back is a threat on the ground, in the air and on kick and punt returns. That versatility is hard to come by, making him a candidate for the Paul Hornung Award.

The award, designed for the most versatile player in the nation, could find a home in Murphy's trophy case. The award's official Twitter account tweeted what makes Murphy a finalist:

Murphy does most of his damage on the ground, having gained more than 700 yards rushing to go with four touchdowns. He has just one touchdown and 185 yards through the air.

While four touchdowns doesn't seem like many, the senior has turned it on in the past two weeks. Three of those four have come since November 22 at Tennessee. He scored twice against the Volunteers, then he added one more against the Razorbacks.

It appears as if his touchdowns come in bunches, meaning he's a candidate to put more points on the board against Alabama. The Crimson Tide may boast the No. 6 defense in the nation in terms of points allowed per game, but that shouldn't stop Murphy from punching it in.

He might even help himself score a touchdown if he can gain some valuable yards on kicks and punts. Beating Alabama is all about getting good starting field position. Just about any team in the country can score if they only have to go 50 yards.

Alabama must look out for Murphy in all facets of the game.

 

Markus Golden, DE, Missouri

Senior Markus Golden is a key reason why the Tigers are headed to Atlanta, Georgia. As a hole, he and the defense played poorly in the early portion of the game against Arkansas.

They stepped up incredibly in the second half, however, leading Tod Palmer of The Kansas City Star to give the unit an "A" for the game: "Missouri had a few missed tackles on Arkansas’ first drive and also gave up a touchdown with a short field, but the Tigers limited the Razorbacks to 288 total yards and pitched a second-half shutout," Palmer assessed.

Golden led the charge. He may have finished with just three tackles, but two of those were for a loss. He was a disruptive force in the backfield and a major reason why the Razorbacks only had 288 yards of offense.

He also forced a fumble and recovered another, both of which were key plays in the Tigers' second-half surge.

Mizzou's defense has played at a high level for most of the season. Even though Alabama is a top-notch offense, the Tigers have the aggressive defense capable of slowing them down. Golden will be at the forefront of that.

His stats don't necessarily jump off the page, but he does have three games this season with at least nine tackles and has recorded a total of 8.5 sacks. His ability to create havoc in the backfield either by bringing down the ball-carrier for a loss or by hurrying the quarterback is instrumental in the success of this defense.

Even if Golden doesn't have a huge game, he's a player to watch because of how he dictates the overall success of the unit. Keep your eyes on No. 33.

 

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

The best player by far in the SEC Championship Game is Amari Cooper. By very, very far.

Just how good is he? Well, he scored three touchdowns against Auburn in the Iron Bowl and racked up more than 200 yards receiving. He was so open on one of his touchdowns that Lane Kiffin began celebrating before the ball was even thrown:

Routes like that are why ESPN's Adam Schefter thinks he'll be the top prize of the 2015 NFL draft:

Cooper has been phenomenal as a junior. With 14 touchdowns, 103 receptions and more than 1,500 yards receiving, there haven't been many better offensive weapons.

He has helped make Blake Sims' first year as the starter easier, as it's always nice to have a target with the speed, hands, instincts and route-running ability of Cooper.

Needless to say, he'll have an enormous impact on this game.

He has had three games with more than 200 yards receiving, four games with at least 10 receptions and four games with multiple touchdowns. The man is nearly unstoppable.

There's a reason why he's in consideration for the Heisman. One way or another, he'll make his presence felt.

 

Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @kennydejohn

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Top 5 Candidates to Replace Bo Pelini as Nebraska Head Coach

Nebraska fired Bo Pelini as its head football coach Sunday, per a release from athletics director Shawn Eichorst, creating an attractive opening for prospective coaching candidates. 

Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman should be getting a lot of attention as a head coaching candidate this offseason. Will Herman land in Lincoln? Who else could be interested in the job? 

Watch Barrett Sallee break down the top five candidates to replace Pelini at Nebraska. 

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SEC's College Football Playoff Hopes All Riding on Alabama, Which Is Just Fine

Two teams? Three teams? All four teams?

SEC schools littered the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings during the season.

When the dust settled, though, only one remains alive as we head into championship weekend.

Goliath.

Alabama earned a trip to Atlanta before even taking the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium, as No. 4 Mississippi State fell on the road to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. When it took the field in the Iron Bowl against Auburn, it made a statement.

A bold one.

This is an Alabama team that, for the most part, hadn't been winning pretty this year. Sure, there was the 59-0 win against Texas A&M, but the one-point victory over 6-6 Arkansas, an overtime win over an LSU team whose offense was more myth than reality and a 10-point victory over West Virginia that saw the Tide secondary get torched by quarterback Clint Trickett and wide receiver Kevin White.

We knew they could win sloppy and win blowouts, but could the Crimson Tide win a shootout?

The 55-44 win over Auburn in the Iron Bowl answered that question with an emphatic "yes."

On the brink of being benched following three interceptions, quarterback Blake Sims responded in the second half, throwing for 312 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Tide out of the abyss and into the Georgia Dome with enough momentum to cover Stone Mountain.

Helping lead that charge was wide receiver Amari Cooper, who finished the day with 224 receiving yards and three touchdowns in an epic Iron Bowl performance for the ages.

With Oregon surging, it appears the Crimson Tide have done enough to fend off the Ducks in the race for the No. 1 seed, as Stewart Mandel of FoxSports.com notes:

Alabama is the SEC's only shot to win the College Football Playoff, but that's just fine.

This is a team that can do it all. 

Can in get into and win an old-fashioned slugfest that's played inside of a phone booth? Yep, it did it in Fayetteville. Can it win on the road in clutch moments? Yep, it did that in Baton Rouge. Can it dominate? It's done that consistently throughout the season. Can it open things up when the moment is right? It did that Saturday night.

Alabama is the most complete team in college football, and it has veterans on the roster like Cooper, running back T.J. Yeldon and safety Landon Collins who have already been on—and succeeded on—the big stage.

It wasn't always pretty in Tuscaloosa this year. In fact, at times, it was sloppy. 

That's ok. 

Alabama has learned on the fly, is hot at the right time and, if it beats Missouri on Saturday afternoon, will enter the postseason as the unquestioned favorite to win the national title.

The SEC its riding a 900-pound gorilla into the College Football Playoff, and that gorilla can sprint if it needs to.

I'm sure the SEC office in Birmingham will take quality over quantity every day of the week.

 

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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Nebraska Football Head Coach Search: Latest News, Speculation on Vacant Position

In a move that has been rumored throughout the 2014 college football season, Nebraska has fired head coach Bo Pelini.    

The official Twitter account of the school's athletic department tweeted the news:

A 67-27 record at Nebraska and a streak of nine-win seasons dating back to 2008 wasn't enough to save Pelini's job. It's an indication of not only the tenuous nature of a coach's position at a major college program but also of Nebraska's aspirations.

Clearly, the school—which has as storied a history as any in college football—feels it should be competing for conference titles and national championships, not competing in second-rate bowl games.

The question now, of course, is who Nebraska might seek to replace Pelini. 

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee weighed in with five potential candidates:

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports reiterated one potential candidate:

Whoever the next coach ends up being, one thing is very clear—the expectations are going to be sky high.

Nine-win seasons and winning 71 percent hasn't been enough to meet Nebraska's lofty goals. The next coach will surely head to Lincoln knowing only conference championships and national titles will guarantee his position.

 

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Meet Cardale Jones, Ohio State's Last Hope at Quarterback

COLUMBUS, Ohio — "The infamous tweet."

That's what you probably know about Cardale Jones—a 2012 social media miscue that made its way into college textbooks and has yet to have left the lexicon of the average college football fan.

It's also the work of Ohio State's new starting quarterback, the Buckeyes' last hope at landing a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain't come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.

Those were the words that first introduced Jones to the college football world, which immediately went viral and earned the then-true freshman a suspension for Ohio State's prime-time matchup with Nebraska two seasons ago. As Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer explained at the time, the distraction of Jones simply wasn't worth what Jones was contributing to the team.

"We're getting ready to play a big-time game in a great stadium and I get a bunch of text messages and phone calls about, 'Did you hear?'" Meyer said at the time. "So we suspended him immediately for the game. [It was a] very ignorant comment."

Whether it's fair or not, that moment of immaturity has defined Jones' college career. But thanks to J.T. Barrett's ill-timed season-ending injury and the Buckeyes' inclusion in the playoff hunt, it will no longer have to, as it will be Jones who leads Ohio State into next weekend's Big Ten Championship game.

 

'They Knew I Wanted to Be a Buckeye'

A product of the storied Cleveland Glenville pipeline, Jones was a 3-star prospect and the 10th-ranked pro-style quarterback in the 2011 class. With offers from Michigan, Penn State, Iowa, Illinois and West Virginia, the 6'5", 215-pound Jones opted to accept Ohio State's late scholarship offer on national signing day.

But Jones' pledge to the Buckeyes came with a caveat.

With 5-star quarterback Braxton Miller already enrolled in Columbus, it didn't make sense for Ohio State to add another signal-caller to its 2011 class. So former Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel accepted Jones' commitment with the expectation that he'd "gray shirt," spending a season at a prep school before beginning his college career.

Jones obliged, spurning his other BCS conference offers in order to to head to Virginia's Fork Union Military Academy. Even as his recruitment essentially reopened, Jones never wavered in his commitment to Ohio State, citing his time at Fork Union as worthwhile.

"It hasn't been hard because I have wanted to be a Buckeye and I was willing to do whatever it takes to be a Buckeye," Jones told BuckeyeSports.com in 2011. "They knew I wanted to be a Buckeye. Before I even committed they told me what I was going to have to do to achieve this. I think it shows that I am dedicated and loyal."

 

'He Kind of Was a Little Bit of a Knucklehead.'

While his errant tweet may be what he's still best known for, it was only a glimpse of the struggles that Jones endured upon finally arriving in Columbus in 2012. With Tressel gone and Meyer in charge, the freshman signal-caller failed to click with the new Ohio State staff throughout the Buckeyes' 12-0 season.

"He had a one-way bus ticket back to Cleveland," Meyer said. “He was a guy who couldn’t get out of his own way."

Jones' infamous tweet was his lone public indiscretion, and both he and Meyer maintained that he was excelling in his classes at the time. But it was rare that Jones' name was brought up in a positive manner during his first two years on campus, and Meyer's actions spoke louder than his words.

Even once active, Ohio State was hesitant to allow Jones to play, and the redshirt freshman appeared in just three games in 2013 and attempted a total of three passes. At one point, Meyer even considered the competition between Jones and Barrett to be the Buckeyes' third-string quarterback as "close," even though the true freshman Barrett was still recovering from a torn ACL and was an obvious redshirt candidate.

"He kind of was a little bit of a knucklehead," Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott said.

 

'A Changed Guy.'

Somewhere between the end of the Buckeyes' 2013 campaign and the start of the ensuing offseason, something clicked for Jones. With Kenny Guiton having graduated and Miller recovering from shoulder surgery, there would be plenty of quarterback reps to be had in spring practice as Meyer searched for Miller's new backup quarterback.

Jones appeared to make the most of his new opportunity, exiting the spring session as the Buckeyes' undisputed No. 2 quarterback. His 13-of-29, 106-yard passing performance in the spring game left much to be desired, but most importantly, his personal strides allowed him to remain a member of the Ohio State roster.

“Cardale, you talk about a changed guy,” Meyer said following the first spring practice of the year. "You remember the famous tweet or whatever? It’s a different guy. He had to be a different guy or he wouldn’t be here.”

On the field, Jones wasn't able to maintain his momentum, with Barrett surpassing the redshirt sophomore on the Buckeyes' depth chart two weeks prior to the start of the season. Two days later, Miller suffered a season-ending torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, allowing Barrett to embark on what would be a Heisman Trophy-caliber campaign.

But off the field, Meyer remained impressed with Jones' progress. Even as he was relegated to the role of backup for a younger player, the Cleveland native remained consistent in his preparation, knowing that he was just one play away from being Ohio State's starter.

"Cardale Jones is growing up. I admire him," Meyer said in September. "I like his professional approach right now."

 

The Rookie and the Vet

Whether Jones' newfound approach will pay off remains to be determined, but both he and the Buckeyes will have the chance to find out on Saturday.

With Ohio State playing in its second consecutive conference championship game and a potential spot in the College Football Playoff on the line, it will be up to Jones to quarterback the Buckeyes against Wisconsin's defense, which is ranked second in the nation.

"We gotta go and we have a lot of confidence in the guy that's going to be doing it," Meyer said in his post-Michigan press conference. "His name is Cardale Jones. He's been here, I think, for 120 years. He's been here for a while."

It might seem that way for a player who initially signed with the Buckeyes on the same day as most of the team's current seniors, but Jones' eligibility is still just that of a redshirt sophomore. More than that, he remains something of an unknown, as he has attempted just 17 passes in his seven appearances in mop up duty this season.

Meyer maintains that Jones' skill set is similar to that of Barrett and Miller, although now at 250 pounds, he's more bulldozer than he is Ferrari. He has, however, shown ability as a runner, ranking fourth on Ohio State with 206 rushing yards despite his limited playing time.

But against the Badgers, Jones will be asked to do much more than run out the clock, which has been his primary objective throughout the 2014 season. In addition to Meyer, his teammates remain confident in his ability, pointing to his short stint as the Buckeyes' No. 1 signal-caller last summer.

"He was the starter before J.T. took the spot, so we're not talking about some random, nobody quarterback," star defensive end Joey Bosa said. "He's a great quarterback and he'll get the job done.”

"He's changed a lot," Elliott added. "He's matured a lot, and he helped J.T. lead this year. I think he'll do a great job."

As for his infamous tweet? All indications are that it is nothing but a distant memory remembered more on Twitter than it is inside of the Ohio State locker room. But Saturday could go a long way toward changing Jones' reputation on a national scale, as he'll finally have the opportunity to play football.

And his performance will likely make or break the Buckeyes' 2014 season.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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College Football Playoff 2014: Latest NCAA Predictions After Week 14 Standings

College football's rivalry week proved to be wild for teams in contention for a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Just how wild? Well, we can go ahead and confidently say there will be changes in the nation's top four when the new rankings are released.

SportsCenter summed it all up with this singular tweet:

As we await the latest from the selection committee, let's look a little further down the road and predict which four squads will participate in this year's playoff. With a second loss on the season, Mississippi State is out. Also, Florida State just barely escaped defeat once again against an unranked opponent. How will these results affect the standings? Before we take a glance into the future, here's where things stood entering Week 14:

 

College Football Playoff Predictions

1. Alabama

Through two-and-a-half quarters of the Iron Bowl, it looked as though this was going to change. After all, early in the third, Auburn pulled out to a 33-21 lead. How was this possible? Well, quarterback Blake Sims struggled early in the game, tossing three interceptions, and the Tigers were able to take advantage.

However, there's a reason why the Crimson Tide were ranked No. 1 in the country. They are chock-full of highly talented players and can put up a bevy of points at a moment's notice. That was the case Saturday, as wide receiver Amari Cooper ensured a victory for his team.

Cooper could be considered entrenched in the Heisman race following his 224-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Iron Bowl. In fact, according to ESPN Stats & Info, he set a new game record:

Sims overcame his early adversity and led the Crimson Tide to a convincing 55-44 victory. This win wasn't typical of Alabama, but the team showed extreme resilience when faced with adversity. That will propel it into the College Football Playoff's top seed.

 

2. Oregon

Speaking of Heisman front-runners, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota may as well have etched his name on the prestigious trophy on Saturday. He completed 19 of his 25 passing attempts for 367 yards and four touchdowns, adding 39 rushing yards and two more scores in a 47-19 Civil War victory over Oregon State.

During the game, Mariota set an impressive Pac-12 record, via ESPN Stats & Info:

Accomplishing that feat in just three seasons is highly impressive. However, what's even more impressive is the quarterback's lack of turnovers. He's thrown just two interceptions this season, and that kind of efficiency is why he continues to lead his team to decisive victories.

Mariota and company have a tough test in the Pac-12 championship game, as they prepare to face an Arizona team that has defeated them twice in their last two meetings. However, it's still tough to bet against the Ducks and their extremely potent offense. It's time to lock Oregon into the No. 2 seed.

 

3. Florida State

The Seminoles remain in the No. 3 position by default. This team didn't put on an impressive showing Saturday against Florida, needing another comeback to secure a win against an unranked opponent.

This has been an ongoing trend for Florida State, and this performance had the team poised for a drop to the No. 4 spot, but a loss by Mississippi State allowed the Seminoles to stay put. This team needs better play from quarterback Jameis Winston in a hurry. He tossed four interceptions against the Gators, and that won't fly in the ACC Championship Game against a talented Georgia Tech team.

ESPN Stats & Info tweeted a not-so-great statistic regarding the quarterback:

The Yellow Jackets are capable of eating up clock with a very solid running game, and Florida State's defense has struggled in that department recently. Still, it's tough to go against the Seminoles in their final clash before the College Football Playoff, as the team is very well rounded and continues to find ways to win.

Expect the Seminoles to squeeze past Georgia Tech and earn a spot in the playoff. But, if they don't show any kind of improvement on Dec. 6, don't expect to see them in the national championship game.

 

4. TCU

The Horned Frogs will be the team that takes advantage of Mississippi State's loss and earn a berth as the No. 4 seed in the College Football Playoff. Why is this? Because not only is TCU decimating opponents, but the team is scoring some serious style points by finding paydirt in a variety of ways.

TCU absolutely routed Texas Thursday in Austin, winning 48-10. Those points came from three field goals, a fumble returned for a touchdown, two passing touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns and an interception returned for a touchdown. Obviously, the Horned Frogs special teams unit was slacking.

Defensively, TCU was very impressive, picking off Tyrone Swoopes four times and holding the Longhorns running game to an average of just 2.5 yards per carry. That's the definition of an extremely well-rounded team.

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports noted the team's quality wins this season:

Of course, teams like Ohio State and Baylor are still in the mix for this spot, but neither of those teams completely blew the doors off their respective opponents in a similar fashion during rivalry week. After TCU handles Iowa State with ease on Dec. 6, the Horned Frogs will enter the College Football Playoff.

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Bo Pelini Fired by Nebraska: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Bo Pelini has been dismissed by Nebraska, the team announced Sunday morning. 

He has served as head coach of the school since 2008 and was previously the defensive coordinator in 2003.

The Cornhuskers are fresh off an 37-34 overtime win against Iowa on Friday. However, the Big Ten school was knocked out of the top 25 recently. In all likelihood, this decision hasn't been made as a result of Nebraska's on-field performance, but rather the mess Pelini has made for himself off the field.

Deadspin's Dom Cosentino (Note: Link NSFW) unearthed an audiotape from 2011, after the Cornhuskers were beaten by Ohio State. Pelini could be heard going on an expletive-laden rant against the fans and the Omaha World-Herald's Dick Chatelain.

Although the tape is two years old, it didn't stop from creating the wrong kind of attention for the school.

Nebraska released a two statements condemning what Pelini had to say.

The first, from Chancellor Harvey Perlman, said, "I am aware of the publication of Coach Pelini's comments, I am disappointed and in discussions with Shawn Eichorst about addressing the issue."

Eichorst, the athletic director, said:

I am disheartened and disappointed by the 2011 comments published today attributed to Coach Pelini about our dedicated and passionate fans and supporters. I have spoken with Chancellor Perlman and I have addressed the situation with Bo and expressed our deep concern.

Pelini did apologize for the situation (h/t Brian Rosenthal of the Lincoln Journal Star).

The apology likely wasn't enough as Nebraska jumped to 9-3 on the season following the win over Iowa.

Of course, Pelini also caused a stir a few years ago for the way he handled himself on the sideline, best exemplified by his chewing out of quarterback Taylor Martinez.

You can't blame Nebraska if it felt enough was enough. Plus, this is a results-oriented business, and Pelini had been unable to get the Cornhuskers into a BCS bowl game during his tenure.

In the end, the former coach's tirade was likely just one too many nails in the proverbial coffin. One would expect Pelini finds another position, while Nebraska likely looks for a coach a bit more reserved. 

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Week 15 Standings for College's Top 25 Teams

Rivalry week was just as entertaining as always, and the nation's Top 25 teams produced a wide array of results. There were several convincing victories and plenty of down-to-the-wire finishes in Week 14. We even saw one previously unbeaten team fall to its opponent—no, it's not who you think (but that one was close, too).

Perhaps the most interesting forthcoming change in the nation's hierarchy will be within the Top Four. Yes, one of the four College Football Playoff front-runners was taken down Saturday, and that will lead to severe adjustments from the selection committee.

With the regular season now concluded, and conference championship games set to commence, there isn't much time left for teams to make their case for either the playoff or a certain bowl game. However, before Week 15 brings another wave of action to the amateur gridiron, here's a look at the full Top 25 results from Week 14, followed by an overview of all the action.

Updated college football standings can be viewed at ESPN.com.

 

Breakdown

Alabama should have no trouble retaining its No. 1 ranking after defeating Auburn 55-44 in the Iron Bowl. The Crimson Tide struggled early, but wide receiver Amari Cooper showed why he's worthy of Heisman consideration, catching 13 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns.

That game was one for the ages and set multiple Iron Bowl records, according to ESPN Stats & Info:

Marcus Mariota continued to light it up Saturday for the Ducks, as Oregon handled Oregon State with ease, winning the Civil War 47-19. Mariota passed for 367 yards and four touchdowns, adding 39 rushing yards and two more scores.

The Heisman hopeful reminded us why he's the front-runner for the coveted trophy with those stats and also on one particular play, captured by Brian Davies of The Register-Guard:

Florida State squeezed out another victory over an unranked opponent, defeating Florida 24-19. The Seminoles keep treading water, but this kind of play won't allow the team to last long in the College Football Playoff, especially if Jameis Winston throws another four interceptions.

The Egg Bowl saw Ole Miss take down Dak Prescott and the Mississippi State Bulldogs 31-17, ending their hopes of earning a berth in the playoff. The Rebels accumulated 532 yards of offense while the Bulldogs racked up 445 yards, one of their lowest totals on the season.

TCU could sneak into the College Football Playoff following the loss by Mississippi State. The Horned Frogs decimated Texas 48-10 on Friday, scoring through the air, on the ground and with their defense. This is a talented team that cannot be overlooked.

Ohio State defeated Michigan 42-28 Saturday, but that came at a high cost. Freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett suffered a broken ankle and will miss the remainder of the season, according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

While the Buckeyes struggled with a quarterback injury, so did Baylor. Bryce Petty began to put up some gaudy numbers against Texas Tech, but he was forced to leave the game with a concussion. A nail-biting 48-46 victory for the Bears was the end result.

UCLA produced one of its worst performances in Week 14 against Stanford, losing 31-10. The Cardinal were able to get their offense going, and the team's defense was too much for Brett Hundley and Co. to handle.

Georgia dropped to Georgia Tech 30-24, as the game known as Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate concluded with a Yellow Jackets interception off Hutson Mason in the first overtime.

No. 10 Michigan State and No. 12 Kansas State each produced blowout victories over Penn State and Kansas, respectively. Expect both teams to move up the standings prior to Week 15.

Although, that wasn't the case for Arizona, as the Wildcats escaped Arizona State 42-25, earning a berth in the Pac-12 championship game against the Ducks. Arizona has a chance to take the conference title considering it was able to take down Mariota and Co. in its last two meetings with Oregon.

Wisconsin was given all it could handle by Minnesota, but thanks to the efforts of Heisman-hopeful running back Melvin Gordon, the Badgers were able to come out on top by a score of 34-24. Gordon rushed 29 times for 151 yards and a touchdown in the game, moving into fourth on the all-time rushing list, according to SportsCenter:

Missouri came from behind to take down the surging Arkansas Razorbacks, winning 21-14 and earning a spot against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Clemson, Louisville, Boise State and Utah all defeated their respective opponents, and all should remain in the Top 25 for at least another week.

Unfortunately, it wasn't the same story for the undefeated Marshall Thundering Herd, as they were taken down by Western Kentucky in a 67-66 barnburner. There wasn't a whole lot of defense to be found in this clash, as both quarterbacks passed for over 400 yards, each team had a running back eclipse the 200-yard mark and four receivers tallied over 100 yards. The end result was a combined 1,446 yards of offense.

It was certainly a wild week of college football, and with championship games on the horizon, it will only get better from here.

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