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Butch Jones, Tennessee Agree on New Contract: Latest Details and Reaction

Tennessee has reached an agreement with head football coach Butch Jones on a new contract that runs through 2020 and will pay him $3.6 million annually, the school confirmed in a release.  

Tennessee athletics director Dave Hart commented on the new deal in the release:

'When you are rebuilding a program, you face many challenges in order to change the culture,' said Hart. 'A tireless effort is required from the entire organization. The most critical piece of the puzzle is leadership, and we have the right man leading our football program. Butch Jones has reenergized our fans base and is an outstanding ambassador for our university. He and his staff have recruited at a very high level in an effort to restock our talent base, and we have made great strides academically since his arrival. He possesses a unique skill set, and I value our relationship personally and professionally. The terms of the agreement extend the contract by two years through the 2020 season, at $3.6 million per year.'

Jones also discussed his new contract at Tennessee:

'I am very honored and grateful to be the head football coach at the University of Tennessee, and I understand what this program represents,' said Jones. 'This has been a complete team effort as we continue to rebuild and restore the Tennessee football program to the standards and expectations that we all have. I'm extremely appreciative to Dave Hart, Chancellor Cheek, and our entire administration for all the support they have given us, and I am also thankful for the loyal support from the best and most passionate fan base in the nation.'

Following the announcement, Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports weighed in on the new contract for Jones:

Jones recently completed his second regular season with the Volunteers. The team made a one-game improvement to finish 6-6, earning bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010. They won three of their final four games to reach that plateau.

The extension also comes as the Michigan native was a rumored target for the Wolverines following the departure of Brady Hoke. If nothing else, that speculation increased the urgency for Tennessee to lock Jones in with a fresh contract.

Randy Moore of Inside Tennessee asked the veteran coach why he felt coaching the Vols amounted to a dream job and provided his reply:

I wanted to go into a situation, take over a program that had great resources, great leadership from the administration, a tremendous fan base, a vision, a standard in expectation, a tradition of winning and facilities but maybe they're struggling in some areas where we could maybe go in there and help win. Obviously that fit the Tennessee profile. So, there was a number of reasons of this being a 'dream job.' But, yeah, just TV and following the Vols and all the great players that have played here.

Although the strides made on the field have only been incremental so far, the recruiting success points toward further advancement in the coming years. Tennessee had a top-10 class in 2014 and is on pace for another strong showing in 2015, based on 247Sports' team rankings.

Recruiting against other SEC powerhouses is a difficult task. But Jones, who previously enjoyed success at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati, has been able to lean on Tennessee's tradition to start bringing in the next wave of stars.

It may take another year or two to fully complete the process. Clearly the school seen enough progress to give Jones the boost now with hope things continue to trend in the right direction.

The Volunteers have been stuck around .500 for the past seven years. Getting back to a point where they are consistently in the Top 25 and then eventually fighting for a spot in the College Football Playoff is the ultimate expectation.

With a new contract in hand, it's now up to Jones to make it happen.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Recruiting 2014-15: Latest News, Rumors and Commit Updates

Texas A&M has taken charge as the hottest college football team in terms of recruiting the Lone Star State. Head coach Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies are rolling toward another star-studded class as national signing day nears.

The team aims to take a necessary step up the SEC ladder, and the acquisition of premier prospects from Texas and beyond is paramount in that effort. Top 2014 pickup Myles Garrett set a conference record for sacks as a freshman, while classmate Speedy Noil quickly emerged as a key downfield target in the passing game.

Texas A&M currently holds 21 commitments in its 2015 class, per 247Sports.

Let's take a look at the latest news, top targets and commits for the Aggies.

 

Latest News

Monday, Dec. 8

DeAndre McNeal is down to five collegiate options less than two weeks shy of his scheduled decision date. The 4-star athlete, who lines up at receiver and linebacker, released his top-five list Sunday and included the Aggies:

The 6'2", 228-pound prospect plays at Poteet High School in Mesquite, Texas, where he is often overshadowed by teammate and top-ranked linebacker Malik Jefferson. The Aggies would love to make it a package deal and land both players when they announce collegiate commitments during a Dec. 19 ceremony.

McNeal, who is also considering Texas and Texas Tech in his home state, is projected to sign with Alabama by 36 percent of experts in 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions. Texas A&M follows with 25 percent.

He is expected to land on defense at the next level but just enjoyed the finest offensive season of his career. McNeal caught 35 passes for 836 yards and 12 touchdowns, adding 380 yards and 11 scores on the ground.

 

Top Targets and Commitments

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Bowl Games Schedule 2014-15: TV, Live Stream Info and Projections

Whether you're competing for the national championship or you're in the GoDaddy Bowl, everyone wants to end the year on a high note.

This year's bowl season is loaded with interesting matchups from top to bottom, each game containing its own unique storylines. Some might appear to be one-sided on paper, although you can be certain no players are stepping onto the field without believing they have what it takes to win.

The only question remaining is which teams will come through with strong enough efforts to add bowl victories to their resumes.

Here is a look at the complete bowl schedule with predictions for each game and a breakdown of some of the better matchups of the season.

All games can be viewed online courtesy of Watch ESPN

 

Top Games

Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Florida State

No matter who you thought should've been the four teams in the College Football Playoff, the official matchups are about as exciting as possible.

Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher was quick to see the appeal of the Rose Bowl battle between his team and Oregon, via Andrew Greif of OregonLive.com:

It's what college football is all about. That makes for great TV and great competition and what it's all about. Getting the best against the best. Oregon is a national brand-name team. They have earned that right, the team is recognized all the way across this country. ...Florida State is a national brand-name. When you put two quarterbacks like that, brand names like that as far as college football it's what the playoff was designed to do. 

In addition to the competition between the two top programs, this game will also feature two of the most well-known players in college football as quarterbacks of each team. Last year's Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston will try to have a good showing for the Seminoles while the Ducks are led by this year's Heisman favorite, Marcus Mariota.

This game is certain to be a good one with two teams that simply know how to win. However, Oregon has been red hot during the second half of the year, winning eight games in a row by double digits while topping 40 points scored in each.

The Ducks offense is too good to stop, and this game could be a stepping stone to a national championship.

 

Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Ohio State

Ohio State was the last team in the playoff field, earning the fourth seed over Baylor and TCU. There is no denying the fact that this was due to its 59-0 blowout over a very good Wisconsin team in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Although he got a lot of help from his teammates, Cardale Jones was fantastic at quarterback for the Buckeyes, throwing three touchdown passes in the win after replacing the injured J.T. Barrett. This was actually the third option coming into the year, with Braxton Miller expecting to be the starter before going down in the preseason.

Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated noted this as a reason the squad is still in contention for a national championship:

Unfortunately, it will be extremely difficult to keep this going against Alabama and its No. 4 scoring defense in the nation. The front line will be able to slow down the run, putting more pressure on Jones and likely causing plenty of mistakes.

With Blake Sims playing well lately and always capable of finding Amari Cooper down the field, the Crimson Tide's offense will be able to run up the score and earn an easy win in the national semifinal.

 

Peach Bowl: TCU vs. Ole Miss

Although TCU might not be competing in a playoff game, it will at least be involved in one of the most intriguing bowls of the season.

Jeff Roberson of The Ole Miss Spirit details what the two teams bring to the table:

Ole Miss does have three losses this year, but the squad still only allowed 13.8 points per game to lead the nation. This includes allowing just 17 points each in wins over Alabama and Mississippi State.

The problem is that Bo Wallace has been inconsistent at quarterback this season and things have only been worse without injured receiver Laquon Treadwell. This will hurt the Rebels' chances of winning even a low-scoring battle.

Meanwhile, TCU has one of the best offenses in the nation behind Trevon Boykin. If it wasn't for a 61-58 loss to Baylor, this team would likely be playing for a national championship.

The Horned Frogs will try to prove the committee made a mistake by sending a message with a win here.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

Given its prestige and tradition, Notre Dame is one of the few schools who have the ability to recruit the entire country instead of focusing on a territory close to its campus 

Brian Kelly and his staff may have seen the 2014 season spiral as the Irish have lost five of their last six games after a 6-0 start, but that hasn’t slowed their efforts on the recruiting trail. 

In particular, Kelly hit the state of California hard last week offering four of the Golden State’s top juniors and one of its top sophomores.

The Irish offered a trio of 4-star receivers in Brandon Burton, Tyler Vaughns and Dylan Crawford plus 3-star defensive end Olowule Betiku

Additionally, 2017 4-star athlete Darnay Holmes was also tendered by the Irish.

Burton—who plays at powerhouse Serra High School in Gardena, California—was excited to receive the offer from Notre Dame, per Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.

"They are very high on my list," Burton told Wiltfong. "It's a great program, great academics. It's a great young team with a ton of potential."

The Irish have had success recruiting skill players in California recently—including luring tight end Tyler Luatua in the 2014 class and having a pledge from 2015 4-star receiver C.J. Sanders.

Betiku—who also picked up an offer from Penn State last week—is a prep teammate of Burton’s that has offers from schools such as Arizona State, Florida State, Oklahoma and UCLA among others.

Given the amount of work the Irish staff is putting in on the West Coast, it’s clear that Kelly’s staff has identified California as an important territory for their future efforts on the recruiting trail.

 

Michigan State Goes on 2016 Offer Spree

Both Notre Dame and Michigan State were the newest schools to enter the race for 2016 4-star defensive end Terrell Hall, according to Adam Friedman of Rivals.

In addition to Hall, Mark Dantonio offered five other 2016 prospects who are all slated to play defense in college.

The Spartans tendered 4-star safety Damar Hamlin—who also received an offer from Duke—and 4-star cornerJoshua Dunn.

Kyle Goblirsch of Gophers247 reports that 4-star linebacker Carter Coughlin earned an offer from Dantonio. Also, Demetric Warren of VarsityPreps notes that the Spartans also offered 4-star defensive end Isaiah Chambers.

Finally, 2016 4-star athlete Kyle Davis—who is committed to South Carolina—was also offered by the Spartans.

 

Texas offers 2016 Florida OL

Texas head coach Charlie Strong has had a tremendous amount of success recruiting in the state of Florida dating back to his days as an assistant at the University of Florida.

Last week, Strong and his staff offered one of the elite offensive line prospects in the 2016 cycle—4-star Sunshine State product Parker Boudreaux.

Boudreaux—who was also one of the first recruits to pick up an offer from new SMU head coach Chad Morris—has nearly 60 offers to his credit before he begins his senior season.

The 6’5”, 282-pounder is a candidate to become a left tackle at the next level.

 

Mississippi State Offers Trio of Underclassmen

With it’s 2015 class sitting on 29 pledges, Mississippi State has been aggressive in pursuing prospects in the 2016, 2017 and even 2018 classes.

Dan Mullen and his staff offered 2016 4-star receiver Freddie Swain, per Ryan Bartow of 247Sports. Bartow also reports that the Bulldogs joined West Virginia in offering Swain’s teammate and 2018 athlete Jalen Patterson.

According to Josh Edwards of TheCatsPause247, Mullen and his staff also offered 2017 4-star linebacker Markail Benton.

With the Bulldogs making some noise on the national scene this season, Mullen’s staff has hit the recruiting trail aggressively in hopes of capitalizing on that exposure.

 

Best of the Rest

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff 2014-15: Updated Odds, Predictions Against the Spread

The first inaugural College Football Playoff is finally set, but not without its fair share of controversy and second-guessing.

With a 59-0 drubbing of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, Ohio State was able to climb from sixth all the way to the fourth and final spot. The problem? That snatched the Big 12's championship aspirations, with both Baylor and TCU seemingly duking it out to get into the playoff.

But as the Horned Frogs and Bears head to the Peach and Cotton Bowls, respectively, the focus will soon shift back from the what-ifs to the matchups at hand. And, boy, are they scintillating. 

Let's take a look at the CFP schedule, including odds and predictions against the spread for both semifinals.

 

Note: Bowl information per ESPN.com; odds according to Odds Shark and updated as of December 7 

 

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

Florida State dominated everyone en route to last year's national championship appearance. This time around, the Seminoles are still undefeated but will hardly scare the No. 2 Oregon Ducks as they descend upon the Rose Bowl.

The matchup pegs the top two quarterbacks in college football against each other as Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston will do battle, which SportsCenter showed:

By the time New Year's Day comes, it's very likely that Mariota will have a Heisman Trophy along with Winston. Mariota entered the final weekend with massive 1-10 odds of winning the trophy, per Odds Shark

But while the quarterbacks will most likely be tied in the Heisman count when kickoff comes, they stand on very different teams—much to the demise of the defending national champions.

Ever since Oregon's shocking home loss to Arizona, the Ducks have been all business, beating their last seven opponents by 18 points or more. Meanwhile, Florida State's well-documented issues on the field have had the 'Noles in four straight games that went down to the wire—three against unranked foes.

Florida State's defense has been able to make timely plays to give Winston chances to win games, but that won't be the case against Mariota. Turning the ball over isn't in his vocabulary, having thrown just two picks all year.

Oregon's offense will get hot early and blow this one open. As things get embarrassing for the Seminoles, they will fight back, but not enough to cover the spread. 

Prediction: Oregon covers the spread, wins 41-30

 

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

The Ohio State Buckeyes got the final CFP spot they so desperately wanted, and now they will have to buck a painful trend in recent program history.

In both the 2007 and 2008 seasons, the Buckeyes entered the BCS championship game as the top-ranked team only to fall to SEC foes—first Florida, then LSU. But now, it's Ohio State as the underdog against the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide.

Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer—on the SEC's side of one of those championship games—admitted his tape studying of Alabama is yet to come, but he lauded bruising running back Derrick Henry, per Bleacher Report's Marc Torrence:

As for Alabama head coach Nick Saban, he's quite aware of what Meyer's teams are made of after their battles when he coached Florida, per Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod:

Perhaps the biggest X-factor in the game is still somewhat of an unknown. Ohio State freshman quarterback Cardale Jones had a magnificent game in his starting debut against Wisconsin, leading Ohio State to a 59-0 win when the Buckeyes were pegged to lose.

With a huge arm and speedy targets like Jalin Marshall and Devin Smith, the Buckeyes should stretch a susceptible Alabama secondary that allowed big play after big play from Auburn and Missouri. 

That will keep it close, but not even Ohio State's much-improved defense will be able to hang with the likes of Blake Sims, Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon for four quarters. However, the Buckeyes will scratch and claw until the end, and a growing line in Vegas will end up being too large as Alabama wins a one-score game.

Prediction: Alabama fails to cover spread, still wins 31-24

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NCAA Football Playoff 2014-15: Full TV Schedule, Odds and Projections

If you set the controversial arguments aside and take the first ever College Football Playoff for what it is, there's no denying the two semifinals offer everything a fan would want.

There's the Rose Bowl, which pegs last year's Heisman Trophy winner in Jameis Winston against the likely 2014 Heisman winner in Marcus Mariota. Take a gander across the bracket, and you'll find Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer looking to put the Buckeyes' recent SEC woes in the past against the conference he coached in some four years ago.

That only scratches the surface of the storylines set to unfold throughout two semifinal matchups that show exactly why this new format was created—to give four worthy schools the chance to duke it out against each other.

Let's take a look at the full television schedule for the CFP games, and everything else worth knowing. 

Note: Schedule per ESPN.com; odds according to Odds Shark, as of December 7

 

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

Given the prestige of the Oregon and Florida State football programs over the course of recent history, it's pretty amazing that January 1 will mark their first ever meeting.

As ESPN Stats & Info noted, it's long overdue:

But while the programs will be meeting for the first time in the Rose Bowl, that's not really what will have the folks talking entering this high-flying matchup.

Instead, it's the matchup of quarterbacks that will likely peg two Heisman Trophy winners against each other. Reigning champion Winston faces this year's hopeful Mariota—the winner keeping their national title aspirations alive.

Winston vs. Mariota has undoubtedly grabbed the headlines in the hours after the announcement, but Sports Illustrated's Martin Rickman noted another appetizing matchup under the radar:

While the two offenses have similar star power, the Ducks and Seminoles could not have finished their respective seasons differently. Florida State is still undefeated, but well-documented struggles have led to each of its last four wins coming by five points or fewer. The Citadel, Wake Forest and Syracuse are the only foes the 'Noles have beaten by more than two scores.

On the other hand, Oregon has been an absolute wrecking ball, outscoring every one of its last seven opponents by 18 or more. A once-suspect defense is also coming to play, having held Arizona's prolific offense to 13 points in their rematch in the Pac-12 title game.

The Seminoles defense has had to force big turnovers to get here, which Mariota simply doesn't give up with only two picks on the year. Meanwhile, Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu leads a Ducks secondary that will feast on Winston's growing interception problem.

Despite the undefeated record, Florida State has shown that it might not belong here. Oregon will leave no doubt of that, although the Seminoles won't go down without a fight.

Prediction: Oregon 41, Florida State 30

 

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

For all of the beating Ohio State has taken against SEC foes in national championship games over the last few decades, how sweet would it be to supplant the conference's flagship program in the first ever playoff?

It would be more than sweet for Meyer's Buckeyes, but nevertheless unlikely. Top-ranked Alabama has already seen its nine-point line grow to double digits since the announcement, per Odds Shark

Of course, the mighty Crimson Tide would probably be decent-sized favorites against any team with the way they've closed out the season. They held on in must-wins over then-No. 1 Mississippi State and Auburn, before hounding Missouri in the conference title game.

They will be going up against an Ohio State team fresh off a 59-0 beating of Wisconsin, but the Buckeyes will trot out freshman Cardale Jones—who, to his credit, played magnificently against the Badgers—against the stingy Alabama defense. That's not the ideal position for Jones to be in, as SBNation.com's Spencer Hall alluded to:

There is one aspect that could help him, which is the lack of film Nick Saban and Co. will have on the youngster, as Aaron Suttles of The Tuscaloosa News points out:

Despite his inexperience, Jones' big arm should be able to take the top off the Tide offense similar to the success Nick Marshall had in the Iron Bowl. But Alabama's defensive front will create too much havoc for the young quarterback to deal with, forcing some errant throws that the Tide will snatch for big turnovers.

Meyer has worked his magic before in these moments and should do so again with ample time to prepare for a susceptible Alabama defense. But Blake Sims' increased consistency and a multifaceted running game will have 'Bama winning a close one.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Ohio State 24

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Fiesta Bowl 2014: Full Preview and Predictions for Boise State vs. Arizona

The No. 20 Boise State Broncos and the Fiesta Bowl have become quite the partners over the years, but 10th-ranked Arizona is intent on spoiling their reunion.

As the only ranked non-Power Five school in the College Football Playoff rankings, the Broncos were able to crash the New Year's Six party despite two losses. The Fiesta Bowl was an easy fit as the Broncos look to improve to 3-0 all-time in the game.

While Boise State has history and recent momentum on its side with eight straight wins, the Wildcats have a big proximity advantage. The fans in Boise will have to make a 900-mile trek to Glendale, Arizona, while it's just a two-hour trip up the road (125 miles) for University of Arizona students.

Let's break down everything you need to know and the biggest talking points heading into an enticing Fiesta Bowl.

 

What: 2014 VIZIO Fiesta Bowl

When: Wednesday, December 31

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

Start Time (ET): 4 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Odds (via Odds Shark): Arizona -4 (as of Dec. 7)

 

Fiesta Bowl: Boise State vs. Arizona

Whenever Boise State and the Fiesta Bowl are mentioned in the same sentence, naturally only four words can follow: The Statue of Liberty.

But 2007 was a long time ago, and now the Broncos are looking to build their once-magical Fiesta Bowl success into a much more tangible 3-0 record in the game. They will have to essentially play a road game to pull that off, however.

The trickeration is still alive and well in Boise, but the team's biggest strength this season is a predictable between-the-tackles rushing attack. Running back Jay Ajayi has been more than a workhorse, carrying 325 times on the season for 1,689 yards and 25 touchdowns—which all rank top five in the nation.

One stat tweeted by Boise State Football indicates he's on par with Heisman contender Melvin Gordon:

When teams inevitably pack the box to contain Ajayi, quarterback Grant Hedrick has been on point with a 70.9 percent completion percentage for the season. 

But will Arizona's defense need to pack the box? Walter Camp Award finalist Scooby Wright III captained a stingy Wildcat defensive front used to prolific offenses but was gashed for 301 yards (and 627 total) by the Oregon offense the last time out.

Arizona's offense has the biggest issues to sort out after the drubbing. After an ineffective start, freshman quarterback Anu Solomon left the game with an injury and replacement Jesse Scroggins III got himself replaced with poor play.

While hopes are down in Tucson following the loss, being selected for a big-time bowl should have Arizona invigorated, and the extra time will be crucial for offensive guru Rich Rodriguez, as he told Arizona Daily Star's Daniel Berk:

While many Wildcats fans may be batting their eyes at the chance to face a foe outside the Power Five, the equivocal home team will have its hands more than full with a confident and battle-tested Broncos squad.

 

Prediction

This one will come down to much more than another dose of Boise State magic in the desert, although a helping of that should also be expected.

Rodriguez's team is built on a multifaceted offense, but it will be a shell of itself with the quarterback position a mess. The defense hasn't been holding up, allowing 86 points in the last two games. 

The Broncos hung tight for most of the game against a now-proven Ole Miss team in Week 1, and this is a much more complete team than the one that faced the Rebels. No strangers to the spotlight, Boise State will show up and hold off an inevitable Wildcats surge.

Prediction: Boise State wins, 37-31

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Peach Bowl 2015: Full Preview and Predictions for Ole Miss vs. TCU

What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? We'll find out during the Peach Bowl.

The stout, hard-hitting, top-ranked defense of Ole Miss will attempt to hold up against a potent TCU offense that ranks second in the nation, scoring an average of 46.8 points per game. That narrative alone will make for an extremely compelling game.

However, the Horned Frogs may be coming into this matchup with a bit of a chip on their shoulders.

They were ranked No. 3 overall by the College Football Playoff selection committee entering Saturday's contest against Iowa State. Well, they did what they were supposed to do and blew out the Cyclones 55-3. Apparently, that wasn't good enough, as TCU dropped to No. 6 overall and missed out on the playoff altogether.

Not everyone always sees eye to eye with ESPN's Skip Bayless, but he does bring up a valid point:

Will the Horned Frogs prove the selection committee made a mistake and defeat Ole Miss, or will the Rebels further establish the SEC's dominance? Let's break it down.

 

Viewing Information

When: Wednesday, December 31

Where: Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia

Time: 12:30 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Preview and Prediction

Ole Miss began the season strong, winning its first seven games, including a 23-17 victory over Alabama. However, the wheels began to fall off, as the Rebels lost three of their next four games, falling out of contention for the College Football Playoff.

Although, the Rebels did finish the season with a flourish, defeating Mississippi State 31-17 in the Egg Bowl, playing spoiler and ending their in-state rival's playoff hopes. While the win was impressive, the team's offense continued to be underwhelming.

Quarterback Bo Wallace has struggled for much of the season, and things weren't much better against a porous Bulldogs secondary. Wallace completed 13 of his 30 passing attempts for 296 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. Mississippi State is prone to giving up big plays, and the quarterback racked up 168 of those yards on just four plays.

Although, one thing on Wallace's side is his solid history in bowl games. Chase Parham of Rivals.com tweeted the quarterback could enter the Ole Miss record books:

Running back Jaylen Walton rushed 14 times for 148 yards and a score; however, that included a 91-yard scamper.

While 532 yards of offense is certainly impressive, Wallace and Co. may find it tougher to move the ball against an underrated TCU defense that ranks 16th in the nation, allowing an average of just 20.3 points per game.

After all, head coach Gary Patterson is excited for the challenge, via Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee:

Meanwhile, TCU's offense has been extremely dynamic. Quarterback Trevone Boykin has posted some gaudy numbers this season, and he may have saved his best for last, completing 30 of his 41 passing attempts for 460 yards, four touchdowns and one interception against Iowa State. Boykin even scored on a trick play, hauling in a 55-yard reception.

He's been doing that all season long, and that resulted in a new school record, via theScore:

With versatile running back Aaron Green and wide receiver Josh Doctson in the fold, the Horned Frogs have two of the nation's biggest playmakers; however, the team has no shortage of weapons. Against the Cyclones, eight different players received at least one carry and 11 players caught at least one pass. That's a versatile offense.

Of course, TCU won't roll over Ole Miss like they've been able to do against many Big 12 opponents this season. However, the lack of an efficient offense for the Rebels remains a concern against a team that will be able to put up some points. TCU has the edge in this one.

Prediction: TCU 30, Ole Miss 24

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College Football Playoff Rankings 2014: Final Standings, Semifinal Predictions

Regardless of how the system to decide a champion works, college football just seems to generate controversy. The BCS wasn't good enough, so a selection committee was instituted to decide the Top Four teams for a playoff. Not surprisingly, there were too many deserving teams for so few slots. 

Whether you agree or not with what the committee did Sunday, it's impossible to deny how much fun championship weekend turned out to be. All six of the top contenders took care of business, each making a real case as championship material. 

The time for talking about what did happen is over, and it's now time to focus on what will happen. The Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl are where all eyes need to be since those are the two semifinal games that will set up the title game on January 12. 

 

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

The one thing no one can dispute is Alabama's credentials as the No. 1 team in the nation. Nick Saban's crew answered every question coming into the season in resounding fashion, highlighted by the development of quarterback Blake Sims. 

An unknown commodity out of spring camp, Sims turned in the most prolific season of any quarterback in Alabama history, per Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

On top of that, 'Bama has the nation's top receiver in Amari Cooper and a rushing attack that you can't game-plan for. T.J. Yeldon was held in check against Missouri with 47 yards on 14 carries, but Derrick Henry powered his way to 141 yards on 20 carries. 

The defense has shown holes in the last two games. Specifically, Nick Marshall and Maty Mauk have been able to find big plays down the field. Missouri didn't have enough of those plays to make the game interesting, but Auburn dropped 44 on Saban's defense. 

The Buckeyes are the perfect opponent for Saban in the semifinals, as they aren't a fast-paced offense and need the running game to have success. Despite what you might think after the Big Ten Championship Game, Ohio State is not going to keep playing at a high level with Cardale Jones at quarterback. 

One reason for Jones' success against the Badgers is because Ohio State was able to run the ball so well. The Buckeyes had 301 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns and averaged 7.9 yards per carry. As a result of that success, Wisconsin had to sell out in order to stop the run and everything down field was one-on-one. 

Alabama has allowed three rushing touchdowns all year and the second-fewest yards per game and per carry, via Yahoo Sports. Those matchups that Jones exploited against Wisconsin aren't going to be there against a superior team. 

Alabama 34, Ohio State 13

 

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

If you listen to former players talk, they almost unanimously say there is a process teams must go through before winning a championship. The first thing they say is you must learn how to win games, even if you're not playing your best, and go from there. 

While Oregon has been one of the best programs in the country for years, it seems to have followed that process to completion in 2014. The Ducks have already conquered their biggest stumbling blocks over the last three years, defeating Stanford and Arizona this season. 

On top of avenging its only defeat this season in dominating fashion against Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game, Oregon has the most dynamic player in the country playing quarterback. ESPN Stats & Info tweeted out how dominant Marcus Mariota has been this season before destroying Arizona on Friday:

You can add five more touchdowns to that total, putting Mariota at 53 on the season. This high-powered Oregon offense has been impossible to contain since the loss against Arizona on October 2, scoring at least 42 points in the last eight games. 

Even though the offense gets all the accolades, Mark Helfrich's defense has been terrific in holding four of its last five opponents to under 20 points. While the schedule has helped that, Arizona was held 21 points below its season average Friday. 

That will be what Florida State has to overcome, as the offense has been erratic this season. Jameis Winston goes from throwing four interceptions against a mediocre Florida team to throwing for 309 yards and three touchdowns against Georgia Tech. 

In many ways, the disparity between those Winston performances perfectly sums up the Seminoles' season. It's not always pretty to watch, but you can't argue with the final results. However, they are dealing with a different animal against Oregon. 

The highest-scoring offense Florida State has seen so far this year was Georgia Tech, which averages 37 points per game. However, the Yellow Jackets are one-dimensional because they don't throw the ball. They aren't necessarily easy to stop, but there's not a lot of surprise in what they do. 

Oregon averages 46.3 points per game, ranks 11th in passing yards per game (308.9) and 22nd in rushing yards (237.3). The only team to slow down the Ducks this year was Arizona, which was eight weeks ago. 

You can only flirt with disaster for so long before getting burned. Florida State's light will be extinguished at the Rose Bowl. 

Oregon 37, Florida State 23

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 

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Orange Bowl 2014: Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech Preview and Predictions

Both seventh-ranked Mississippi State and No. 12 Georgia Tech started the season unranked. They'll finish their seasons playing in the 2014 Orange Bowl just hours before the new year.

The 10-2 Bulldogs surprised in the final College Football Playoff rankings by leapfrogging Michigan State with both idle in Week 15, which sent the SEC school to Miami instead of the Spartans. But it's hard to argue Dan Mullen's squad doesn't deserve the shot. Its only losses this year were to Alabama and Ole Miss.

Georgia Tech—like so many others—nearly pulled off the upset over Florida State in the ACC title game. The Yellow Jackets would probably still be here had they beat the Seminoles, but the close defeat will have them hungrier to start unpeeling those oranges after the game.

Either way, let's break down what you need to know heading into the game.

 

What: 2014 Capital One Orange Bowl

When: Wednesday, December 31

Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami

Start Time (ET): 8 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Odds (via Odds Shark): Mississippi State -7 (as of Dec. 7)

 

Orange Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech

Mississippi State's magical 2014 season wasn't lost in the CFP rankings despite two losses in a two-week span, as the Bulldogs head for an Orange Bowl matchup pegging two high-powered offenses.

Dak Prescott may have seen his Heisman campaign fade along with the Bulldogs' championship hopes, but the junior can still seal one of the best seasons in program history. 

The Mississippi State quarterback has already shattered most of the single-season school records, but his biggest tool can be a deceptively powerful running game. With a style similar to a Tim Tebow, he still puts up huge numbers as David Hale of ESPN.com noted:

Paul Johnson's defense will have its hands full with Prescott and rusher Josh Robinson, but the coach has a pretty nifty offense of his own. And after four straight seasons with seven wins, the Yellow Jackets made a furious charge down the stretch to top Clemson and Georgia before a two-point defeat to the unbeaten Seminoles.

Their triple-option has been shredding some decent competition as of late, racking up 331 yards on the ground against Florida State and one shy of 400 at Georgia. 

Understandably, Mullen and the Bulldogs hadn't done too much studying of the system they will be quickly refamiliarizing themselves with. But he did catch some of Tech's game Saturday and noted his son's key advice, as Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal's Logan Lowery and Starkville Daily News' Ben Wait shared:

Georgia Tech's offense is a freight train that the Bulldogs will be hard-pressed to stop, but they can look back to strong performances against Auburn and LSU to trust they can stand up against a physical rushing attack. Top NFL draft prospect and linebacker Benardrick McKinney has been on point as the defensive signal-caller all season, but he'll need to trust his fellow rushers to make the proper reads.

Prescott and Co. will inevitably put up the points against an average Georgia Tech defense, but the offense won't be able to afford the cold spells it is being more accustomed to if the Yellow Jackets pour it on them.

As told by Johnson's lobbying for an eight-team playoff after the ACC title loss, they're not the only team in this matchup that believed in its chances for a national title, and they should be intent on proving it against a top-caliber foe, per SiriusXM:

 

Prediction

The vaunted triple-option cannot be stopped; it can only be contained. And the Bulldogs are about to do just that.

Mississippi State's incredible depth on the defensive line and McKinney's instincts will force just enough punts to inevitably get Prescott into his groove. The Yellow Jackets won't have an answer for the Bulldogs' rushing attack, and Prescott will test the outside with De'Runnya Wilson enough to keep them honest.

Synjyn Days and Zach Laskey will make it respectable for Georgia Tech late, but the difference between these two teams will be apparent quite early.

Mississippi State 38, Georgia Tech 24

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Cotton Bowl 2015: Full Preview and Predictions for Michigan State vs. Baylor

Baylor and Michigan State may not enjoy how they were treated by the selection committee, but it makes for an undeniably alluring Cotton Bowl. 

The Bears beat No. 9 Kansas State on Saturday 38-27, securing an 11-1 finish and a tie with TCU atop the Big 12. With a win over the Horned Frogs, Art Briles' team felt it had done enough to crack the inaugural College Football Playoff, but the committee simply awarded the de facto conference champs as first runner-up.

Briles, via BaylorBears.com, talked about the disappointment: 

I hate it for the Big 12. I think the Big 12 is a great conference. I don't think there is any doubt that it is certainly one of the stronger leagues in America. I think the waters got muddied a couple of weeks ago -saying we would be presented as co-champions. I think that hurt the cause for both of us quite honestly.

As for the Spartans, they didn't even need to play to get done in by the committee. Despite a bye, they were flip-flopped with Mississippi State, who were also off for the week. 

CBS Sports' Jon Solomon put it simply:

The national championship may not be on the line, but both teams are unequivocally going to be out to make a statement. 

Everyone will look to the Rose Bowl as the quarterback matchup to watch (and understandably so, with Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston), but this one isn't far behind. 

Bryce Petty and Connor Cook will both be playing on Sundays in the future, and they aren't too bad on Saturdays, either.

Petty has completed 62.1 percent of his throws for 3,305 yards, 26 touchdowns and six interceptions. It has actually been a down year compared to his ridiculous junior campaign, but he's still one of the best playmakers in the country, and as he showcased against Kansas State, he thrives in the spotlight. 

As ESPN Stats & Info noted, Baylor's offense, which is first in the country in points (46.9) and yards per game (568.7), can strike in a hurry:

Cook has proven capable of keeping up, though. On the season, he has 2,900 yards (with a slightly better yards-per-attempt average than Petty), 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. Against a Bears defense that is stout against the run but allowing 7.6 yards per pass (101st in the country), the junior will be airing it out a lot. 

Defensively, Michigan State boasts better numbers overall (4.7 yards per play allowed vs. Baylor's 5.1, per TeamRankings.com), but the difference in style of play from each conference must be considered. When the Spartans have gone up against teams with Baylor's kind of offensive talent, they have given up 46 (at Oregon in September) and 49 points (versus Ohio State in November). 

Football Outsiders, which factors in schedule strength and other variables, ranks Baylor 23rd in the nation in defense, while Michigan State is down at No. 43.

All of this is a way of saying this game is going to turn into a scintillating shootout. No matter who ends up on top, it's safe to say this will be one of the most entertaining contests of the bowl season. 

This may be a last-team-with-the-ball-wins sort of thing. Ultimately, though, Baylor's offense will make just a few more plays in the end. 

Prediction: Baylor 45, Michigan State 42

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College Football Playoff Championship 2015: TV Schedule, Odds and Predictions

There will never be a lack of controversy when it comes to deciding who gets to play for the national championship, but the inaugural College Football Playoff certainly isn't short on storylines. 

In the Sugar Bowl, it's No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 1 Alabama. Urban Meyer vs Nick Saban. The Buckeyes' explosive offense vs. the Crimson Tide's star-studded defense. 

And as Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan discussed, via The Times-Picayune's Trey Iles, a whole lot of history:

The opportunity to host two national powers with such great tradition is a true honor. Alabama boasts 15 national championships and met the challenge of another difficult SEC season, while Ohio State has been a perennial power in the Big Ten and has seven national titles of its own. With all that, we have little doubt that this game will produce another memorable chapter in the great history of the Sugar Bowl.

In the Rose Bowl, it's No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State. Jameis Winston, the defending Heisman Trophy winner, will exchange offensive haymakers with Marcus Mariota, who is expected to be the next Heisman Trophy winner. 

For everyone not from TCU or Baylor, it's a dream pair of semifinal matchups, as Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage noted:

Buckle up. 

 

While the matchups are tantalizing in terms of narratives, they aren't exactly toss-ups, with the oddsmakers favoring both Alabama and Oregon by more than a touchdown. 

It's not difficult to see why. After inconsistent starts, the Tide and Ducks have been the two best teams in the country since the middle of October. Comparatively, Ohio State (inexperienced QB) and Florida State (only two double-digit wins in its last seven) face fairly large question marks. 

Still, don't expect either to turn into a blowout. Meyer has two national championships and is 7-2 in his career in bowl games. Jimbo Fisher has one national championship and is 4-0 in the postseason. Each head coach, who has loads of talent to work with, will have his team prepared for the semifinals. 

However, while both will cover the spread, neither will earn the upset.

Alabama is just too good on both sides of the ball. It is 11th in the nation in yards per play and 10th in yards per play allowed, per TeamRankings.com. Meyer, via The Tuscaloosa News' Cecil Hurt, put it simply:

Ohio State, even with sophomore Cardale Jones making just his second career start, has the offensive arsenal to keep up (just ask Wisconsin). But ultimately, Amari Cooper and the Crimson Tide offense will be too much for the Buckeyes. 

For the Ducks, it's all about Mariota. With a ridiculous 38-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio on the season, the junior has proven to be the best player in college in 2014. Florida State, which has struggled to contain Justin Thomas and Treon Harris in the past two weeks, will have no answer for the versatile, up-tempo attack.

Predictions: Alabama 35, Ohio State 28; Oregon 38, Florida State 31 

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Sugar Bowl 2015: Full Preview and Predictions for Alabama vs. Ohio State

After a wild season with a chaotic finish, the College Football Playoff is finally set. In the final game of a full New Year's Day slate, two of the sport's most illustrious programs will face off for a chance to play for the national championship.

Coming off wins in their conference championships, Alabama and Ohio State will match up in New Orleans in the second semifinal. Years after facing each other three times in the SEC, Nick Saban and Urban Meyer will match up for a fourth time on the national stage.

Along with the coaching battle, both offenses pack plenty of firepower. Whether it's Blake Sims and Amari Cooper or Ezekiel Elliott and Devin Smith, fans will get their money's worth on New Year's Day.

Prior to the pivotal battle getting underway, here's a look at the full preview and predictions for the 2015 Sugar Bowl.

 

Viewing Information

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans

When: Jan. 1, 2015

Start Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Preview

Coming into the year, many analysts believed both programs would contend for a title. Even after losing two quarterbacks throughout the season, Ohio State has survived to enter the playoff bracket.

Both programs feature offenses playing at a very high level, but the Buckeyes come in after rolling Wisconsin. Cardale Jones got his first start under center and responded with three touchdowns to go along with Ezekiel Elliott's 220 rushing yards and two scores.

Ohio State might not have its first two choices at signal-caller, but it still looked dominant enough against Wisconsin to secure a spot. Playoff chairman Jeff Long referenced the huge win, per Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

Fans also get an opportunity to feast their eyes on another explosive offense on the other side of the field. Alabama has been defined by its passing game, and one player in particular, this season.

Cooper currently holds the SEC record for a single season with 115 receptions this season for a total of 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns. The junior has three games with over 200 yards this season and four with multiple touchdowns.

Meyer put it simply when talking about Cooper's ability, via Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News:

Along with the potent passing game, the Tide also offer one of the best defenses in the country. Outside of a shootout with Auburn in the Iron Bowl, Alabama has been stout against great competition throughout the year.

ESPN Stats & Info notes what appears to be a pivotal matchup for the two sides:

Ohio State clearly isn't a team full of schmucks either after dismantling Wisconsin to the tune of 59-0. Holding Melvin Gordon in check is no easy feat, so creating opportunities through the running game will prove difficult for the Tide.

Each team comes in with strengths and weaknesses, but they are clearly two of the best teams in the country. The second semifinal promises to be an intriguing one in the Superdome with a chance at a title on the line.

 

Prediction

The argument over who deserved to earn the No. 4 seed will continue to rage on, but Ohio State will put up a huge battle. Led by Jones, the Buckeyes have a chance to make things interesting in the biggest game of the Meyer era.

Ultimately, it will be Alabama moving on to play for a fourth title in the last six seasons. The Buckeyes will prove to be a worthy opponent, but Saban will flex his defensive muscle against Meyer as he did in the 2009 SEC Championship Game.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Ohio State 23

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Rose Bowl 2015: Full Preview and Predictions for Oregon vs. Florida State

The second-ranked Oregon Ducks will make a familiar trip to the Rose Bowl, this time with much different implications as they take on undefeated Florida State for a spot in the national championship game.

The College Football Playoff selection committee pegged the two teams for their first-ever appearance against each other in the history of both programs, and one of two national semifinals boasts nearly every exciting storyline you could dream of. 

From Oregon chasing its first national title against the defending champions to two of the nation's most decorated gunslingers going at it, there won't be any reason to change the channel throughout the afternoon of New Year's Day.

No strangers to the spotlight, both Florida State and Oregon are unlikely to back down in a national semifinal with legacies on the line.

 

2015 Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State

When: Thursday, January 1

Where: Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, California

Start Time (ET): 5 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Odds (via Odds Shark): Oregon -8, as of December 7

 

Oregon vs. Florida State Preview

It's hard to imagine a program going undefeated en route to a national title, follow it up as the nation's only unbeaten a season later and emerge from that as the nation's third-ranked team. But that's exactly where Florida State is as it enters the Rose Bowl.

Of course, winning eight of your games by six points or fewer—many against unranked foes—will do that. As easy as the Seminoles made winning look a year ago, it's been like pulling teeth for them to grind out some of their 2014 victories.

But there wasn't any beating around the bush for Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich when he addressed Florida State's winning streak Sunday, per the Tallahassee Democrat's Corey Clark:

Helfrich's Ducks may not be able to boast an unbeaten record, but they were able to exact revenge on their only defeat of 2014. That came in the Pac-12 Championship Game, when Oregon trounced then-No. 7 Arizona 51-13 to make no doubt of their superiority out west.

That convincing of a win on Friday night spurred folks like Altoona Mirror's Cory Giger to laud them as the potential No. 1 seed:

The big Rose Bowl matchup centers around the battle at the quarterback spot, with reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston going up against one of this season's Heisman hopefuls in Marcus Mariota. Ball security could loom large, as Winston has thrown a ghastly 17 interceptions on the year to Mariota's two.

Both quarterbacks have certainly shown the ability to take over games, which means it could really go either way. But if there's any doubt as to who has the better team around them right now, just remember that Oregon has won its last five games by more than 20 points, and Florida State has just two such wins all year.

 

Prediction

Winston and Florida State have shown time and time again throughout ridiculous circumstances that they're a team of destiny.

With that said, the Seminoles are going up against a buzz saw that is ready to chop them to pieces. Oregon will have no trouble mixing it up with an unconventional attack to get to the 40-point plateau for the ninth straight game, and Florida State won't be able to notch crucial turnovers against a poised Mariota.

Winston will show championship pedigree by battling back in it late like he's known to do, but that will come with the 'Noles already facing a 20-point deficit. A few late touchdowns won't be enough to even cover the spread, as Oregon advances to the championship.

Prediction: Oregon 41, Florida State 30

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

The 2014-15 bowl game schedule was revealed on Sunday, and there are a number of matchups to look forward to even outside of the elite, inaugural College Football Playoff.

Although all but four teams will be disappointed not to be in the running for the national title, there is still plenty of postseason action for them to get in on. Those who were just on the fringe, such as Big 12 co-champions Baylor and TCU, will get a chance to prove themselves against quality opponents.

The focus will inevitably fall on the new playoffs, which feature the four top-ranked teams battling each other on New Year's Day.

Since both games are bound to be epic, it's worth taking a closer look at them, along with the best non-playoff game on tap.

Note: Statistics courtesy of NCAA.com.

 

 

Predictions For Top Bowl Matchups

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

The head coaching matchup of Alabama's Nick Saban and his Ohio State counterpart Urban Meyer alone makes this a massive draw.

Various pitfalls have prevented the Buckeyes from rising as prominently into the national championship picture. That they were able to overcome the loss of two potential Heisman quarterbacks to win the Big Ten in such dominant fashion is a testament to the program Meyer has built in Columbus.

Even Meyer is a bit surprised the Buckeyes are in this position, via ESPN.com's Austin Ward:

We're a young program, a team where if you had told me this in August, I would have said not yet. Maybe next year, but not this year because we're just so young.

[...] When Braxton was the quarterback, I still didn't know. Four new offensive linemen. Brand new tailback. Issues on defense. I didn't know. I liked the young players, I thought once they grew up it was going to be [good]...They just grew up rather quickly. When did that start? I started seeing it but I didn't believe it completely until the experience we had on Saturday night.

While the Crimson Tide rightly carry clout with their record of success, physical, run-heavy style of offense and tenacious defense, Ohio State has many of those same attributes with its current team.

Ezekiel Elliott is a bruising ball-carrier who can thrive even against Alabama's stout front seven. Wisconsin was supposed to be a formidable opponent, yet Elliott compiled 222 yards rushing and two scores on just 20 carries in the Bucks' 59-0 victory.

Tony Gerdeman of The-Ozone.net noted how Elliott was able to find some space, which could be a sound strategy versus the Tide, too:

But the body of work Alabama has put together in the SEC this year can't be ignored, as it is in the best conference in the country.

Blake Sims is a fifth-year senior who finally got his shot and made the most of it with great decision-making and more explosive playmaking ability than the Tide have enjoyed in years at the position.

Sims seems to be the safer bet to handle the spotlight than Cardale Jones—despite the latter's magnificent debut in the conference title game. Since Alabama has film on Jones and ample time to prepare, it will likely force him into a critical mistake that Sims won't make.

A No. 1 receiver battle for the ages between Ohio State's Devin Smith and Alabama's Amari Cooper will also unfold, but the Tide have the edge there as well. In a close contest that should feature plenty of ground-and-pound football, Alabama will pull off a tight win.

Prediction: Alabama 24, Ohio State 20

 

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

The head coaches, running backs and top wideouts headline the Sugar Bowl, but in Pasadena, it's all about the most important position on the field.

Oregon's Marcus Mariota is the front-runner to take the Heisman away from previous winner and Rose Bowl counterpart Jameis Winston. Whether Mariota can rise to the occasion and lead the Ducks one game away from taking the national championship from the Seminoles remains to be seen.

Where the Ducks star stands out is his lack of giveaways, something Winston has been susceptible to. ESPN Stats & Info highlights Mariota's mind-boggling production:

As opposed to the Sugar Bowl, this matchup will be a complete clash of styles. Mariota and Oregon will be pushing the tempo as much as possible. For a Florida State defense that struggles against the run, that's bad news.

But Winston managed to light up Georgia Tech for 309 yards passing and three TDs in guiding FSU to the ACC title. That was with just 25:05 of offensive possession, too, and it showed again that Winston can overcome adversity and execute an intricate, pro-style offense.

This one could come down to which dynamic signal-caller gets the ball last, but the Ducks present the matchup problems and tools to make Florida State's seemingly endless luck run thin. Between DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead on the defensive front, the personnel is there for Oregon to do enough to slow Dalvin Cook out of the Seminoles backfield.

Combine that with Mariota's ball security and superior athleticism to Winston's, and the Ducks should find themselves meeting Alabama for all the marbles on January 12.

Prediction: Oregon 41, Florida State 30

 

Cotton Bowl: No. 5 Baylor vs. No. 8 Michigan State

Either the Bears are going to have a demoralized hangover from being the last team out of the College Football Playoff, or they will take out that frustration on the Spartans in the Cotton Bowl.

Based on the poise Baylor star Bryce Petty exuded on Twitter after the disappointing news from Sunday, yours truly is more inclined to believe the former scenario is most probable:

As much fanfare as the Oregon-FSU matchup will get for its QBs, NFL.com's Gil Brandt is looking forward to the field generals that will occupy the gridiron in Arlington:

Sparty's defense has been reputable under coach Mark Dantonio, yet it was lit up for 49 points by the Buckeyes in a season-defining game. That was the last time Michigan State faced a truly explosive, spread-based opponent.

Baylor is lethal with the veteran Petty at the controls, with three receivers who have at least 50 receptions and four who have at least six touchdown grabs. Such an array of weapons is enough to keep any adversary on its heels.

It will take an exceptional effort from the Spartans' offensive leaders, QB Connor Cook and senior running back Jeremy Langford, to keep Michigan State in this one. The balance Cook and Langford present will keep their side executing at a top-10 national level on third down, helping to keep the score close.

However, there won't be quite enough speed on Michigan State's defense or personnel in the secondary to account for the Bears' myriad of playmakers.

Once the fourth quarter hits, the tempo Baylor plays with, the toll RB Shock Linwood will exact on Sparty and the Bears' exceptional skill players will be the difference.

Prediction: Baylor 35, Michigan State 23

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Bowl Games 2014-15: Latest Odds, Predictions for Entire Schedule

Let the College Football Playoff experiment begin.

Following weeks of heated debate over which four schools should participate in the inaugural postseason bracket, the selection committee finally locked down the representatives on Sunday. SportsCenter shows the final rankings entering bowl season.

While three-quarters of the quadrant crushed their way into the final four, Florida State tested its fortune one more time with a close call. Even as the bite-sized tournament's lone undefeated team, the Seminoles wield the worst probability of capturing another title, per ESPN Stats & Info.

Tensions will rise until the two playoff contests occur on New Year's Day, but football fans can fill the void with the myriad of other bowl games. At this rate, it's probably rarer to find a company not sponsoring one of these showdowns.

 

College Football Playoff Preview

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

A crushing injury to freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett figured to expel Ohio State from the playoff picture, but a 59-0 beatdown of Wisconsin propelled the Big Ten champions into the main event.

TCU and Baylor both have axes to grind, but ESPN Stats & Info gives the Buckeyes a major advantage in their level of opposition.

Starting the season as a third-stringer behind Braxton Miller and Barrett, Cardale Jones delivered 257 passing yards and three touchdowns to top the Badgers on Saturday. Per NFL.com's Albert Breer, the performance left head coach Urban Meyer convinced his squad would make the cut.

The defense deserves just as much credit after containing Heisman Trophy hopeful Melvin Gordon to 76 rushing yards on 26 carries, his first output below 120 yards since Week 2. With a long run of 13, the Wisconsin star failed to rattle off a 20-yard rush in a game for the first time this season.

Yet the Buckeyes will once again be tasked with shutting down an offensive monster. This time, it's Amari Cooper, who has caught 25 passes for 307 yards and three scores over his last two games against Auburn and Missouri. 

The junior's dominant display set a pair of SEC records on Saturday, per the SEC Network's Twitter page:

While Ohio State scores 45.2 points per game, good for fourth in the FBS, the Crimson Tide have averaged 48.3 points over their past trio of contests. Quarterback Blake Sims quietly touts a fourth-best 9.2 yards per attempt heading a potent passing attack.

Alabama produces 130.2 more passing yards per game than Wisconsin, and a defense surrendering 14.6 points a contest creates a ferocious challenge for Jones in just his second start. The Crimson Tide are used to steep competition after combating the SEC, so look for them to return to the national championship game.

Prediction: Alabama 34, Ohio State 20

 

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

Think ESPN likes this matchup? Top quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston will audition for bottom-dwelling NFL clubs as Oregon battles to usurp Florida State's grasp on the NCAA throne.

In all likelihood, this is a collision between last year's Heisman winner and this year's Heisman victor. The committee might as well spare some expenses and send Mariota the trophy after he scored five touchdowns against Arizona during the Pac-12 title clash.

ESPN's John Buccigross demonstrates how Mariota has already exceeded the accomplishments of both Johnny Manziel and Winston.

Meanwhile, Winston has thrown a dozen interceptions during the last seven games. During that stretch, the Seminoles sustained a 6.1-point margin of victory. Through the same time frame, Oregon has decimated all its opponents by an average of 28 points per contest.

The Ducks have won all but one game by double digits this year; the Seminoles have claimed seven victories by six points or less. Sure, a win is a win, but their inclination to salvage close victories reflects their shortcomings on both ends.

They relinquish 378 total yards per game, shunning them from the FBS top 50. Oregon fares even worse at No. 82 with 414 yards allowed, but it also averages 111 more yards than FSU on the other side. Points will come plenty in this shootout, but Jimbo Fisher's squad won't be able to contain Mariota's powerhouse.

Anyone who scoffs at the Seminoles not brandishing the No. 1 rank will quickly realize why when they get outclassed by a superior team.

Prediction: Oregon 45, Florida State 27

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