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Iron Bowl 2014: Odds and Storylines to Watch in Auburn vs. Alabama Showdown

The Iron Bowl is something that gets talked about every day in the state of Alabama. For every other college football fan, this year's showdown between Auburn and Alabama has been 364 days in the making. 

It will be impossible for the 2014 showdown to match what happened last year. You had a rare spot where both teams were fighting for a shot in the SEC Championship Game and potential national championship matchup with Florida State. 

When you combine that with the way Auburn wound up winning last year's Iron Bowl, this year will be like a sequel to an all-time classic movie. No matter how good it is, it will always be unfairly judged by its predecessor. 

However, since we are talking about one of the great rivalries in sports, don't underestimate the chances for something shocking happening in Tuscaloosa on Saturday night. Whatever goes down, here are how the oddsmakers see things shaking out and the storylines to keep an eye on. 

 

Auburn's Spread-Option Offense vs. Alabama's Defense

Even though it often seems like nothing can crack the walls of Nick Saban's defense, there has been one thing that's given it problems in the past: fast, up-tempo, spread-option offenses. 

We saw it when Johnny Manziel was the quarterback at Texas A&M and in last year's Iron Bowl. Alabama gave up 393 total yards and 296 rushing yards to Auburn in 2013. For perspective on how much of an anomaly that was, look at Alabama's overall defensive stats from last season, via StatMilk:

It's no surprise, then, that Saban was one of the head coaches who was in favor of the proposed rule change that would have made it mandatory for teams to wait at least 10 seconds between plays before snapping the ball. The proposal was eventually shot down. 

While Alabama hasn't gone against a spread-option offense as good as Auburn's this season, the closest comparison on the Crimson Tide schedule is Mississippi State. 

Mississippi State was able to move the ball against Alabama in that game, racking up 428 yards, but it was ultimately undone by three interceptions from quarterback Dak Prescott.

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall may not have the number of Heisman moments that Prescott has had this season, but he's been every bit as efficient, with 26 total touchdowns and six interceptions. The senior had only 97 passing yards in last year's Iron Bowl, yet he still managed to throw two touchdown passes. 

Saban has praised Marshall's development as a passer this season, per Marquavius Burnett of The Anniston Star:

Because opposing teams have to sell out against Auburn's rushing attack, the play-action passing game opens up. Gus Malzahn doesn't want to be in a spot where he must rely on throwing to win, but at least he knows Marshall is capable of shouldering the load if the Tigers need to eat up a lot of yards through the air. 

Everything Alabama does on defense works through the defensive line. So if Auburn is able to exploit that like it did last year, there will be a lot of worried faces in Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night. 

 

Will Auburn Stop The Big Plays?

Going to the other side, with Alabama's offense against Auburn's defense, Malzahn has a lot of work to do with his team. The Tigers' problems this season have come because they struggle to stop opposing teams from moving the ball. 

In fact, when you look at the defensive ratings for both teams, it's not even close. Here's how they stack up head-to-head, via StatMilk:

When it comes to points allowed, Auburn is giving up 23.5 points per game compared to 14.5 for Alabama. If you want to look deeper than that, the Tigers have allowed 179 points in their last five SEC games. Alabama has allowed 159 points all year. 

Considering Auburn will be going against the dual-threat quarterback in Blake Sims and the country's best deep threat in Amari Cooper, this defense can't afford another lackluster showing. 

Joel A. Erickson of AL.com noted that Auburn will look to change up some of its defensive plans because of how many wide receivers have given the defense problems:

Wide receivers who play with a lot of strength have given Auburn fits. Mississippi State's De'Runnya Wilson caught four passes for 72 yards, South Carolina's Pharoh Cooper piled up seven catches for 127 yards, Ole Miss receiver LaQuon Treadwell had 10 grabs for 103 and Texas A&M's Josh Reynolds came away with six catches for 88 yards.  

Amari Cooper has had only one game this year in which he was held without a reception of at least 20 yards. It's no surprise that was also Alabama's lowest-scoring game of the year, against Arkansas on October 11. 

It's no secret that Auburn has to contain Cooper if it wants to pull off the upset, Sims has 20 touchdown passes this year. Cooper has caught 11 of them. As a team, Alabama has 3,079 passing yards. Cooper enters the game with 1,349 receiving yards. No one else on the roster has more than 319 yards. 

Alabama doesn't have a quick-strike offense, but Cooper can rack up a lot of yards in a hurry. Auburn needs to play its best defensive game of the year against the nation's best receiver to have a shot in this game. 

 

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Georgia's Damian Swann Returns Fumble 99 Yards for TD vs. Georgia Tech

Georgia came up with a huge defensive touchdown that resulted in a 14-point swing for the Bulldogs vs. Georgia Tech.

With the Yellow Jackets driving and on the 1-yard line, Damian Swann somehow came out of a pile with the ball and returned it 99 yards for a score. 

The play resulted in a huge momentum change and put the Bulldogs up 14-7. 


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Reggie Bonnafon Injury: Updates on Louisville QB's Leg and Return

Louisville quarterback Reggie Bonnafon was taken out of Saturday's game against Kentucky in the second quarter with a leg injury. 

According to Jeff Greer of The Courier Journal, Bonnafon was taken back to the locker room with the help of trainers:

ESPN's Brett McMurphy reported that the signal caller would not return:

Louisville was already down one quarterback, as Will Gardner is out for the season after injuring his knee in a win against Boston College on November 8. Bonnafon took the reins last week against Notre Dame, helping to lead the Cardinals to a 31-28 win against Notre Dame despite completing just 8-of-21 passes. 

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Cold Hard Fact for Saturday, November 29, 2014

Fact: The winner of the Iron Bowl (Alabama vs Auburn) has played for the national championship each of the last 5 years.

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: ESPN Stats and Info

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J.T. Barrett Breaks Drew Brees' Big Ten Single-Season Record with 43 Touchdowns

Ohio State freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett is the new single-season touchdown king in the Big Ten after tallying his 43rd total touchdown early in the Buckeyes' rivalry clash with Michigan.

ESPN Stats and Info confirmed the mark:

College GameDay noted former Purdue and current New Orleans Saints star Drew Brees previously held the record at 42:

Nicole Auerbach of USA Today noted that Barrett's touchdowns have come at the perfect time for the Buckeyes:

Barrett set the new standard with a six-yard strike to Nick Vannett, who was wide open in the flat and waltzed across the goal line. It gave the freshman 34 passing touchdowns to go along with nine more on the ground in his first collegiate season.

Barrett has emerged as a legitimate playmaking star this season for Ohio State, although his starting spot in 2015 is still far from assured. With senior Braxton Miller returning from a shoulder injury next year, Barrett will have to further prove to Buckeyes fans and coaches that he's the man for the job. 

Not bad for a player who was only installed as the starter approximately two weeks before the 2014 season opener.

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Lee Corso Joins Joe Namath with Massive Fur Coat on 'GameDay'

Broadway Lee?

"Broadway" Joe Namath was College GameDay's celebrity guest picker Saturday, and Lee Corso welcomed him by wearing a fur coat similar to Namath's.

The outfit was completed when Corso picked Alabama over Auburn and wore Big Al's head.

College Spun has video of the Corso selection.


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Louisville and Kentucky Players Scuffle Before Game, Coaches Involved

The University of Louisville and University of Kentucky square off in Week 14, with the Wildcats gunning to earn a spot in a bowl game. Things got heated prior to kickoff. 

College football analyst Desmond Howard went on to call them "fake tough guys," but the photo of Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino and Kentucky assistant coach Dan Berezowitz shows how "heated" it was. 

The Big Lead captured video of Petrino and Berezowitz's involvement.

[The Kentucky Kernel, h/t The Big Lead]

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Best Signs from ESPN's 'College GameDay' Week 14

ESPN's College GameDay crew came live from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to provide coverage from the Iron Bowl for the second year in a row, and the signs did not disappoint for this year's rivalry week.

Here are some of our favorites, including signs that didn't make it to air.

His anaconda don't...

This is how they roll.

Not surprisingly, Jameis was targeted for yet another week.

"Saban uses MySpace."

Poor Lou.

One of these teams has cable and the other has DirecTV.

Oh my!

A Thanksgiving edition for Gus Malzahn.

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College Football Week 14: Live Scores, Highlights and Reaction

Keep it locked right here as we bring you live coverage of Week 14 of college football!

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Georgia Tech vs. Georgia: Live Score and Highlights

Early Third Quarter

Georgia Tech 7, Georgia 7

Georgia controlled the first half, but turnovers cost the Bulldogs 14 points.  Will Georgia Tech capitalize in the third quarter?

Follow along for live updates and analysis.

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Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss: Live Score and Highlights

The Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Ole Miss Rebels are getting ready to do battle in the annual Egg Bowl. The game will kick off at 3:30 p.m. EST and will be televised on CBS.

Mississippi State is in a must-win situation after losing to Alabama two weeks ago. The Bulldogs need to beat the Rebels and Alabama needs to lose to Auburn in order for the Bulldogs to face Missouri in the SEC Championship Game next week. But even if the Bulldogs don’t go to the SEC title game, if they beat Ole Miss, they will still have a chance to play in the College Football Playoff since they are the No. 4 team in the country.

Ole Miss started the season strong, winning its first seven games. But since then, the Rebels have lost three of their last four, including a 30-0 loss to Arkansas last week. A win against the Bulldogs would give the Rebels their first nine-win season since 2009. It would also give them a chance to get to 10 wins for the first time since 2003.

Be sure to come back to this blog when the game kicks off for the latest scoring updates and highlights.

 

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SEC Championship 2014: Bold Predictions for Missouri in Title Game

The Missouri Tigers defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks 21-14 Friday, clinching a berth in the SEC championship game. The Tigers were the better offensive team throughout the contest, and then their defense clamped down to seal the game; they established themselves as legitimate SEC title contenders.

Of course, they'll have their hands full with the winner of the SEC West. That side of the conference has been highly competitive this season, and Missouri will be awaiting their fate as Saturday will decide if the Tigers will face the Alabama Crimson Tide or Mississippi State Bulldogs.

While we may not know which team Missouri will be facing just yet, we do know the Tigers' tendencies on the field. This allows some speculation into some bold predictions for the team that will undoubtedly be considered the big underdog in the SEC championship game.

 

Bold Predictions

Maty Mauk Passes for 300 Yards, Three Touchdowns

The Tigers had a rough stretch in the middle of the season due to some down performances from their signal-caller; however, Mauk got back on track and played well over the last five games of the regular season. He's poised to come away with a big game in the championship, and here's why.

Missouri has begun to rely more often on the sophomore quarterback. He's attempted at least 40 passes in two of the team's last three games. The only other time he reached that mark was in September against Indiana in a shootout.

Expect that high volume of passes to continue against either Alabama or Mississippi State due to the strength against the run of both defenses. The Crimson Tide ranks second in the nation, allowing an average of just 85.3 yards per game and just two rushing touchdowns all season long. The Bulldogs are ranked 18th, allowing 119.4 rushing yards per game and just eight touchdowns on the ground this year.

SEC Network tweeted another great reason why this team will continue to rely on Mauk, especially late in the game:

If the Tigers are to keep up with those teams, they will have to do so through the air. Missouri will lean heavily on its quarterback, and Mauk will answer the call.

 

Marcus Murphy Tallies 100 Yards from Scrimmage, Touchdown

The senior running back earned his second consecutive SEC East title, and he'll be an instrumental part of Missouri's game plan against its opposition from the other half of the conference. So, here's the question you may be asking: Why Murphy instead of Russell Hansbrough?

Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweeted the answer:

Hansbrough was injured in the waning seconds of Missouri's clash with Arkansas. He needed to be carted off the field as time expired, and that's never a good sign for any running back. Even if his injury doesn't turn out to be overly serious, it's fair to assume he may be limited in the championship game.

Enter Murphy.

Last year, Murphy only carried four times against Auburn in the championship game, but he did record three receptions for 40 yards and a touchdown. Expect him to produce in the same fashion this time around.

Both Alabama and Mississippi State are good at sitting back in coverage and looking for a potential takeaway. The Crimson Tide have accumulated nine interceptions this season, and the Bulldogs have notched 14. To protect from these ball-hawking secondaries, watch for the Tigers to throw underneath.

Murphy has seen increased usage in this department late in the season, catching five passes against Texas A&M and four against Arkansas. In those two games, he tallied 111 and 85 yards, respectively. If his role does increase, there's no reason to think he can't do the same against a very stout SEC West defense.

 

Missouri Defense Holds Opposing Quarterback Under 200 Passing Yards

The Tigers have been very good against the pass this season. Through 11 games, they allowed an average of just 210.5 passing yards per game, ranking 37th in the nation. That number will get even lower following Friday's contest against Arkansas.

Missouri gave Razorbacks quarterback Brandon Allen fits. He completed just 13 of his 30 passing attempts for 133 yards, averaging just 4.4 yards per attempt. He did tally two touchdowns, but both were early in the game.

After entering halftime completing seven of his 10 passing attempts for 77 yards and two scores, Missouri clamped down. Allen completed just six of his 20 passing attempts for 56 yards in the second half.

Mizzou Football tweeted a comment on the team's best player in its secondary during the game:

One big reason for this team's success in this department this year has been the addition of Kenya Dennis. The 6'1" cornerback has the tools to keep up with talented receivers, and that will go a long way against the likes of either Amari Cooper or De'Runnya Wilson.

While Blake Sims and Dak Prescott have succeeded as passers this season, there's reason to believe Missouri can limit their yards through the air.

Sims hasn't eclipsed 222 passing yards in his three November contests, and Prescott only threw for more than 206 yards in November just once due to a season-high 48 passing attempts against Alabama. Considering the recently limited amount of production through the air from these signal-callers, and the fine play by Missouri's secondary of late, this isn't an unattainable feat.

 

All defensive rankings courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of November 28 at 7:30 p.m. ET.

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Michigan vs. Ohio State: Live Score and Highlights

Michigan 14, Ohio State 14 — Early 3rd quarter

Game action is now underway between Michigan (5-6) and No. 6 Ohio State (10-1). ABC is televising the matchup nationally from Ohio Stadium.

We are watching the game, providing live analysis as the action unfolds:

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South Carolina vs. Clemson: Live Score and Highlights

South Carolina 10, Clemson 21 ; Early 3rd Quarter

The battle for The Palmetto State takes place today, as the Clemson Tigers (8-3) play host to the South Carolina Gamecocks (6-5). 

While both teams don't have a ton to play for from a bowl perspective, there's a lot of pride on the line. Steve Spurrier's team has beaten Dabo Swinney's bunch five straight times. This is the 106th consecutive year both programs have played each other. 

The game will begin at noon ET. It can be seen on ESPN. 

Odds Shark has Clemson as a 6.5-point favorite. A full box score can be found here, courtesy of NCAA.com. 

 

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Bowl Projections 2014: Playoff Predictions, Odds Before Rivalry Clashes

Friday saw UCLA’s College Football Playoff hopes go up in smoke, and we are bound to see more flames Saturday with a number of rivalry showdowns on the immediate horizon. 

Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, Mississippi State and Oregon all square off with their bitter rivals as significant favorites, but rivalry games have a tricky way of eliciting surprising results. After all, Ohio State and Oregon beat overmatched Michigan and Oregon State squads, respectively, by a combined two points last season.

With that in mind, read on to see the latest playoff projections from StatMilk, championship odds from Odds Shark and my own playoff predictions before Saturday’s schedule kicks off.

(Note: As the table header indicates, the logo shown at the far right of each team's row is for that team's next opponent and not for the ranked team itself.)

 

StatMilk and Odds Shark Playoff Projections and Odds

*Odds to win national championship courtesy of Odds Shark, as of Friday night at 10 p.m. ET.

 

Scott Polacek's Playoff Projections

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

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

Championship Bowl (in Arlington, Texas): TBD (semifinal winners)

 

Non-Rivalry Playoff Game to Watch: Baylor vs. Texas Tech

Five of the top six teams in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings will be taking on their archrival Saturday, and TCU already beat Texas on Thanksgiving. Baylor’s battle with Texas Tech won’t draw the headlines that those rivalry clashes will, but it is just as important in the playoff rankings.

The Bears’ clash with the Red Raiders will take place in the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium Saturday, which seemed to work for Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, according to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com:

"It's where the Cowboys play. It's always cool to play in that place because of what it brings and who plays there. That's where we all want to be, playing on Sundays. You're playing on the same field they are, so you love the whole emotion and the setting."

The fact that the game is indoors with no weather conditions could be a problem for Texas Tech’s defense. Baylor boasts the nation’s top scoring offense at a ridiculous 50 points a game and has scored 60 or more points four times already this year. By contrast, the Red Raiders have allowed more than 30 points nine times this season. 

A major reason why Baylor has put up points like it has is the wide receiver corps, which impressed Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, via Baylor Football:

Texas Tech is 125th in the nation in scoring defense at 40.6 points allowed per game. That number is bound to go up against the Bears Saturday.

On the other side, the Red Raiders are sixth in the country in passing yards per game, so they should be able to put up some points, but it won’t be nearly enough to match Baylor’s production.

Style points will be important for the Bears because they are No. 7 in the College Football Playoff rankings. They need to catch up to TCU, especially after the Horned Frogs racked up an impressive showing Thursday against Texas. If Baylor continues to win, its head-to-head victory over TCU could come into play when deciding the final rankings.

Baylor also needs more style points in the race for the No. 4 seed with Ohio State because the Buckeyes have the chance to be outright Big Ten champions with a win over Wisconsin or Minnesota in Indianapolis.

The selection committee will give more credence to conference titles at the end of the season, so Baylor needs to impress as much as possible during the regular season.

It will start Saturday in a blowout win over Texas Tech. 

Prediction: Baylor 61, Texas Tech 27

 

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Big Ten Championship Game 2014: Early Predictions for Title Clash

We know the Ohio State football team will be in Indianapolis on Dec. 6 for the 2014 Big Ten Championship game, but the only question now is, which team from the West Division will join the Buckeyes?

Minnesota travels to Wisconsin Saturday to take on the Badgers in front of a raucous crowd. The winner will clinch a spot in the conference title game, so there is more than just the Paul Bunyan Axe on the line between the two rivals.

As already mentioned, Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes will be in Indianapolis, regardless of what happens Saturday against the hated Michigan Wolverines. There will be plenty at stake for the Scarlet and Gray in that showdown, including a potential spot in the College Football Playoff, redemption for last season’s loss and the team’s first Big Ten Championship game victory since the game was instituted before the 2011 season.

The Buckeyes struggled in the aftermath of Jim Tressel's departure and Terrelle Pryor's suspension in 2011, they were ineligible in 2012 because of the same scandal—which was unfortunate, considering they were undefeated and could have played their way into the national title game—and lost to Michigan State in the 2013 championship game with a national championship berth on the line.

Ohio State came up short under pressure in that game against the Spartans; Michigan State seized a 17-0 lead, but the Buckeyes came back before losing their lead in the fourth quarter.

It’s not a stretch to suggest that the two times a team would feel the most pressure with a spot in the title game on the line (right when the game starts and in the closing quarter) is when Ohio State struggled. It will have to avoid that type of tight play in the 2014 conference title tilt if it wants to make the playoffs.

Regardless of the winner of the Minnesota and Wisconsin game, the prediction is that the Buckeyes will emerge victorious as a result of that painful experience a year ago.

If it is the Golden Gophers, we have already seen that matchup in Minnesota. The Buckeyes were able to put 31 points and 489 total offensive yards on the board in a snow storm in a 31-24 win. It would not have been that close without three costly Ohio State turnovers that led to Minnesota scores and took what was sure to be a Buckeyes touchdown off the board after a fumble inside the five-yard line.

The Big Ten Championship game will be indoors on a fast turf, and between J.T. Barrett, Ezekiel Elliott, Jalin Marshall, Michael Thomas, Curtis Samuel and Devin Smith, the Golden Gophers would not be able to handle Ohio State’s speed for four quarters on that surface.

They couldn’t even do it in the snow in Minnesota.

Minnesota’s David Cobb did run for 145 yards and three scores in that game and would represent a challenge for the Ohio State defense, but not as much of a challenge as Melvin Gordon would in a game against Wisconsin.

Gordon—a one-man wrecking crew when carrying the ball—is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, with 2,109 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns on the ground. JBook of Bucknuts.com pointed out that the Buckeyes would have trouble with Gordon after Ohio State struggled to stop the run against Minnesota and Indiana:

Gordon put up 408 rushing yards in three quarters against Nebraska earlier this season and has propelled himself into the Heisman discussion. He talked about what that award would mean, via Brian Bennett of ESPN.com:

You obviously think about it. When you walk in our new academic center, before you get to the elevators, the Heisman Trophy is right there. There's a little iPad next to it, and sometimes I'll read the stats and things on it. Or sometimes I'll just sit there and look at it and just think, 'It's not easy winning that.’

Wisconsin represents quite a predicament for Ohio State.

On the one hand, it would be good to see Minnesota win against the Badgers so it could avoid a potential matchup with the game’s top running back, especially since it just allowed 228 rushing yards and three touchdowns to Indiana’s Tevin Coleman.

However, a win over Wisconsin, which is No. 14 in the current College Football Playoff rankings but could climb as high as the Top 10 by next week after losses by UCLA and Arizona State Friday, would be much better for the playoff resume.

Gordon would certainly get his yards against the Buckeyes, but the Ohio State offense would counter with more points of its own.

The Buckeyes are fifth in the nation in scoring per game at a ridiculous 44.3 points, and all the points about speed on turf that were mentioned when discussing a matchup with Minnesota still apply here. The Buckeyes would put up enough points in Indianapolis to win the game and the Big Ten championship against either Wisconsin or Minnesota.

Whether it will be enough to impress the selection committee remains to be seen. 

Predictions: Wisconsin beats Minnesota to earn a spot in the title game. Ohio State then beats Wisconsin, 31-24, in the Big Ten Championship game.

 

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ACC Championship Game 2014: Early Preview, Predictions for Title Clash

The ACC and a potential spot in the initial College Football Playoff will all be up for grabs Saturday, Dec. 6 in Charlotte during the ACC Championship Game, but Florida State and Georgia Tech have more immediate concerns on their mind.

The Seminoles take on the hated Florida Gators Saturday, while the Yellow Jackets continue the ACC vs. SEC theme against their archrival, the Georgia Bulldogs.

However, once Florida State gets past its rivalry game, it will have to deal with a better-than-advertised and dangerous Georgia Tech squad. The Seminoles will have a two-season winning streak and playoff spot on the line in the ACC title clash, and the pressure will be squarely on their sideline.

Still, that is the same pressure they have been playing with every time they have taken the field since they won last season’s national title.

As for Georgia Tech, it is 9-2 with wins over Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech and checks in at No. 16 in the College Football Playoff rankings. If it could upset Georgia and Florida State in consecutive weeks, it will play its way straight into a selection committee bowl game on New Year’s Eve. The bottom line is that there will be plenty at stake for more than just Florida State. 

The Seminoles have shown an unfortunate tendency to fall behind early this season, as ESPN Stats & Info noted:

If this happens again in the ACC Championship Game, it will be a serious problem against Georgia Tech.

The Yellow Jackets are fourth in the nation in rushing yards per game and 14th in scoring offense. They will continue to put points on the board throughout the game with their triple-option threat and Justin Thomas mixing in the occasional pass (15 touchdowns through the air on the season).

If the Seminoles fall behind again, few teams in the entire country can work the clock and take the air out of the ball quite like the Yellow Jackets. Ball control and time of possession are the backbone of their offense, which makes it all the more difficult for opponents trying to dig out of an early hole.

Georgia Tech actually used that methodical offensive style and almost upset Florida State in the 2012 ACC title game in what was ultimately a 21-15 loss. Look for a similar formula this time around.

Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal Constitution pointed out why the Yellow Jackets are not the most ideal opponent for the Seminoles:

Florida State has acted bored all season: It doesn’t start playing until it’s two touchdowns behind. If the Seminoles try that against a team that can control the ball and the clock via the run, they’ll get four touchdowns behind and they’ll lose. It would be no great shock if the team that took forever to get noticed is the one to deal FSU its first loss since Nov. 24, 2012.

It is easy to criticize Florida State because it falls behind in so many games, but the important thing is that it wins. That is why it is the defending national champion and has an inside track for one of the four College Football Playoff spots.

Head coach Jimbo Fisher insinuated as much, via Heather Dinich of ESPN.com:

Let me ask you this: How about the way everybody else hasn't finished? Our team has never not finished. The game is 60 minutes. This team hasn't lost in over two years. Everybody says 'game control.' That's something made up. As a coach, you talk about one thing: Finish. Get it done. This team wins in every way, shape and form you can win. Everybody else has failed at least once, no matter what you look at, and some of those teams have lost when they were over 20-point favorites.

The Seminoles will have an understanding of Georgia Tech’s style and ball-control offense and come out of the locker room accordingly with more urgency than usual. They will know they can’t fall behind and will play like the game is on the line in the first quarter instead of waiting until after halftime.

Jameis Winston is still one of the best players in the nation and has his team at 11th in the country in passing yards per game.

Georgia Tech is a decidedly mediocre 58th in the country against the pass, and Winston and his crew of athletic receivers should be able to make plays through the air and dictate the tempo in the early going. North Carolina threw for 390 yards against Georgia Tech in a 48-43 victory, and the Seminoles are better suited than the Tar Heels to exploit the secondary.

Yes, the Yellow Jackets represent a stylistic challenge, but the Seminoles have the talent advantage at nearly every position. Talent often wins out when championships are on the line.

It will again in Charlotte in the ACC Championship Game, and Winston and company will clinch a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Prediction: Florida State 31, Georgia Tech 13

 

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Pac-12 Championship Game: Bold Predictions for Arizona vs. Oregon

Before Friday, all we knew was the Oregon Ducks would represent the North in the Pac-12 championship game. However, after Stanford slaughtered UCLA, and Arizona held off Arizona State, the Wildcats earned a berth for a shot at the title as the South's representative.

This is arguably the most intriguing title game that could have come to fruition. The Ducks have been virtually unbeatable for the last two seasons—unless you happen to be Arizona. The Wildcats have knocked off Oregon in two consecutive years, most recently defeating the Ducks 31-24 on their own turf in October.

ESPN Stats & Info tweeted the end result of that contest:

There's plenty on the line for both teams, but Arizona can play spoiler for a couple reasons. Oregon is still in line to earn a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff and Marcus Mariota is leading the Heisman race by a small margin. A big victory by the Wildcats could end both runs.

So, what can we expect from these teams this time around? Well, based on recent history, it's extremely tough to tell. For now, here's a couple of bold predictions for each squad as we await what could become one of the year's most memorable games.

 

Bold Predictions: Oregon

Marcus Mariota Totals Six Touchdowns

Mariota may be the Heisman front-runner right now, but scoring six total touchdowns in a game is something he hasn't achieved this season. In fact, earlier in the year, he only accounted for two scores against Arizona, tied for his lowest total of any game in 2014. So, what's changed?

Oregon's signal-caller is what lots of analysts love to call a "winner." While that term has been highly overused in the past (see: Tebow, Tim), there's something different about this quarterback. Before 2014, he never defeated Stanford. It was clear how badly he wanted to change that this season, as he racked up four touchdowns and well over 300 yards of offense. Expect him to have that same mentality against the Wildcats.

Arizona hasn't been good against the pass this season, ranking 113th out of 125 eligible teams and allowing an average of 275.9 passing yards per game along with a total of 21 touchdowns through the air this season. That's most certainly a weakness Mariota can exploit.

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports tweeted Mariota's extremely efficient numbers over the last two seasons:

Combine that favorable matchup and Mariota's tenacity with his ability to run the football, and you get a player who's poised to accumulate a significant amount of touchdowns.

 

Royce Freeman Throws Another Touchdown Pass

The first time these teams met earlier this season, Mariota scored Oregon's first touchdown in a rather different manner than usual—he caught a pass. The play had Freeman alongside Mariota in shotgun, and the running back appeared to be getting a pitch to the right side. However, he stopped and threw back across the field to his quarterback, who went beast mode on the way to a score.

Here's a look back at the play:

Of course, Oregon will want to pull out all of the stops against an Arizona team that's given it fits over the last couple of years. This play worked once against the Wildcats, so who's to say it won't work again? Freeman showed he has decent accuracy, and getting Mariota into space with the ball in his hands is never a bad thing.

Oregon will make lightning strike twice against Arizona.

 

Bold Predictions: Arizona

Nick Wilson Rushes for 200 Yards, Three Touchdowns

Wilson was a thorn in Oregon's side when these teams met back in early October, and he'll be once again in the Pac-12 championship game. The freshman ball-carrier rushed 13 times for 92 yards and two scores, adding one 34-yard scoring reception.

He's continued to light it up on the ground since, eclipsing 100 rushing yards in each of his last four games. Wilson's highlight of the season came against the Utah defense. He rushed 20 times for 218 yards and three touchdowns in that contest. If he can achieve that feat against the 65th-ranked Utes, he certainly can against Oregon's 58th-ranked rushing defense.

This kind of tweet from SportsCenter during Arizona's game against Arizona State could be seen again in the near future:

Wilson was instrumental in Arizona's win over Arizona State to end the regular season. He carried 24 times for 178 yards, scoring three touchdowns. He was the team's only running back to receive a carry in that game, and he took full advantage.

With Wilson receiving the team's full workload out of the backfield, and riding some serious momentum heading into the Pac-12 championship game, expect him to do some major damage.

 

Wildcats Tally 600 Yards of Total Offense

Piggybacking off the prediction that Wilson will rush for 200 yards, that leaves Arizona 400 yards shy of the 600-yard mark. Well, quarterback Anu Solomon will go ahead and pick that up for the Wildcats.

The last time these teams played, Arizona tallied 495 yards of total offense, with 208 rushing yards and 287 passing yards. It's bold, but not too far-fetched, to think they can gain an extra 105 yards this time around. Solomon hasn't been putting up big numbers recently, but he hasn't exactly had the opportunity, as his passing attempts have been limited.

Solomon was even able to put up some decent numbers against the Sun Devils while playing through injury, according to Doug Haller of AZCentral.com:

However, due to Oregon's tendency to score quick points, Arizona will be looking to retaliate with some of their own. The Ducks have been susceptible to big plays through the air this season and rank 114th in the nation against the pass, allowing an average of 276.8 yards per game and 11.11 yards per completion.

Solomon has some talented wide receivers at his disposal, with Cayleb Jones, Samajie Grant and Austin Hill capable of producing big plays. The quarterback may not need to ramp up his passing attempts to gain 400 yards with these weapons against Oregon's porous secondary.

Wilson's prowess on the ground will only help matters, as Arizona will be able to take the top off the Ducks defense if they begin to sell out for the run. This versatile Wildcats offense is in for yet another big day against Oregon—this time in the Pac-12 championship game.

 

All team statistics and ranking courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of November 28 at 9 p.m. ET.

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Pac-12 Championship Game: Bold Predictions for Arizona vs. Oregon

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SEC Championship Game 2014: Analyzing How Title Clash Could Impact Final Playoff

One half of the SEC Championship Game is set following Missouri's 21-14 win over Arkansas on Friday. Now, it's up to Alabama and Mississippi State to figure out that final place.

The Tigers are headed to Atlanta for the second year in a row, the gravity of which wasn't lost on head coach Gary Pinkel. After the game, he said, per Missouri's official website:

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.

No conference championship has more playoff implications than the SEC title game. The result will not only have an effect on the SEC but also the Big 12 and Big Ten, whose top teams are on the playoff periphery at the moment.

You can view the most recent playoff rankings below. (Note: As the table header indicates, the logo shown at the far right of each team's row is for that team's next opponent and not for the ranked team itself.)

While it's not yet known who will play Missouri, the field is narrowed to an extent that you can examine the few different playoff scenarios.

 

SEC Championship Scenarios

Missouri Wins SEC

Strictly from a neutral perspective, this one might be the most interesting, if only to see whether the playoff committee would throw in a two-loss Missouri ahead of TCU/Baylor or Ohio State.

Beating Arkansas is unlikely to have a radical effect on the Tigers' place in the playoff rankings. Missouri should be hanging around 15th or 16th by the time it's in the conference championship. So the issue would then become how beating Mississippi State or Alabama would be enough to make the Tigers jump 10-plus spots into the top four.

The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide are good, but they aren't that good.

On the basis of this year, it'd be hard to argue for sending Missouri into the playoff. The Tigers lost at home to Indiana and were shut out 34-0 at home to Georgia. Not to mention that outside of beating the Bulldogs or Crimson Tide, they wouldn't have a great track record.

According to CBSSports.com's Jon Solomon, Missouri has one win over an SEC team that finished over .500 in the conference in the last two years:

Missouri's best non-conference win was against an 8-3 UCF.

If Ohio State ends up losing in the Big Ten Championship Game, then the Tigers will have earned a playoff spot. Otherwise, the playoff should favor OSU and one of TCU or Baylor.

 

11-2 Alabama Wins SEC

Unlike Missouri, an 11-2 Alabama would have a strong case to finish in the top four in the event the Crimson Tide won the SEC championship. The wins over Texas A&M and West Virginia have lost some significance, but 'Bama would still have nice victories over Missouri, Mississippi State and LSU.

That would in all likelihood be enough to get the Tide in ahead of TCU/Baylor or Ohio State. The Big 12 doesn't have a conference championship, which could hurt in terms of perception, while it's no secret that Ohio State's road hasn't been the most daunting.

Beating Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game could put the Buckeyes over the hump, but TCU or Baylor would still have a hard time in a head-to-head tale of the tape with Alabama.

 

11-1 Mississippi State/Alabama Wins SEC

This is by far the easiest scenario to forecast. One of Mississippi State or Alabama finishes 11-1, wins the SEC and likely takes the top seed in the playoff. It's that simple.

The idea of the SEC champion making the playoff has essentially been a foregone conclusion for the entire season. The biggest question about the conference was whether it would send, one, two, three or four teams. Heck, maybe the committee thought about making a special dispensation so as to allow every SEC team into the playoff.

Instead, it looks like the SEC champion is the only team from the Southeast headed into the playoff.

The playoff committee obviously has no dog in the fight, but the committee members must be hoping that this is how things play out. Their jobs would be much more straightforward as a result.

 

Missouri/Alabama Wins SEC, Mississippi State Finishes 11-1

Here is where things would get really interesting. Would the selection committee really throw in a team that didn't even win its own conference, let alone its own division?

If the season ended right now, the Bulldogs would be in, and there's not a lot of time for things to change much. It's not a crazy prospect.

Bleacher Report and sports analytics expert Ed Feng crunched the numbers, and Mississippi State is a slight favorite to get into the top four ahead of TCU and Ohio State.

As discussed previously, an SEC champion Missouri would have a hard time cracking the top four. That opens the door for Mississippi State to enter the playoff even if it loses the SEC West. It would be a bit unfair for Mississippi State to go in ahead of Missouri, considering the Tigers would have beaten Alabama, which the Bulldogs failed to do.

The committee will likely want to make a strong stance in the first year of the playoff. The members shouldn't court disaster by having a non-champion go into the top four ahead of the conference champion.

CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd read over the CFP protocol and reached this conclusion:

A non-champion would be selected only if it is "unequivocally one of the four best teams in the country."

Your response is: Define unequivocally. That's up to the CFP committee. It would be reasonable to conclude from that language conference champions will be favored.

Could Mississippi State still be one of the four best teams in the country despite not winning the SEC? Sure.

But the beauty of the playoff is that everything's decided on the field. It wouldn't make sense to throw in a team that didn't even win its own division.

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