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Military Bowl 2014: Odds, Schedule, Prediction for Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech

Expect to see a big clash of styles when the Cincinnati Bearcats face off against the Virginia Tech Hokies in the 2014 Military Bowl.

Cincinnati enters the contest with a 9-3 record and riding a seven-game winning streak. The Bearcats struggled at times on the defensive side of the ball throughout the season, but their offense carried them through, scoring at least 34 points in six of their last seven games.

Virginia Tech hasn't been able to get much going on the offensive side of the ball this season, but it has been very sound defensively, allowing an average of just 20.4 points per game. While the Hokies just barely made the postseason at 6-6, their crowning achievement in the regular season came in the form of a 35-21 victory over Ohio State.

Will Virginia Tech's defense continue to step up, or will Cincinnati's offense rise to the occasion? Before we receive the answer to that question, here's a look at the game's viewing information, updated odds and final prediction.

 

Viewing Information

When: Saturday, December 27

Where: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, MD

Time: 1 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Info (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 51
  • Spread: Cincinnati -2.5

 

Preview and Prediction

Quarterback Gunner Kiel has been the driving force for the Cincinnati offense this season. He's completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 3,010 yards, 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this year, leading the Bearcats to the nation's 12th-ranked passing attack.

Kiel is surrounded by a deep receiving corps, as Mekale McKay, Shaq Washington and Max Morrison have all accumulated more than 40 receptions this season. The reliable Washington leads the group in catches with 61, while McKay has been more of a big-play threat, leading the team with 690 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.

Cincinnati's passing attack is very potent, but it will be severely challenged on Saturday. The Hokies own the nation's 15th-ranked pass defense, allowing an average of just 186.8 yards per game through the air. One big reason for the team's success against the pass has been a phenomenal pass rush that has accumulated 46 sacks this year, ranking second in the nation.

Although, Cincinnati's offensive line has been very good in pass protection this season, allowing just 16 sacks, so expect a big battle in the trenches in the Military Bowl.

If Virginia Tech is going to generate offense, it must be through the air. The Hokies haven't been able to get anything going on the ground this season, and their best hope remains on the arm of quarterback Michael Brewer.

The junior signal-caller completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 2,598 yards and 17 touchdowns this year; however, he's also tossed 14 interceptions. Although, 10 of those picks were thrown over his first five games, and he showed better ball security over the second half of the season.

Cincinnati has been dreadful against the pass this year, ranking 109th in the nation and allowing 266.3 yards per game, as well as 21 passing touchdowns in just 12 contests. They're coming off a 38-31 victory over Houston after allowing 360 passing yards to Cougars quarterback Greg Ward Jr.

While the Bearcats have been prolific at times on offense this season, going up against a Virginia Tech defense that ranks 16th in yards allowed and 18th in points against won't lead to many points. Meanwhile, Brewer and Co. have the ability to completely take advantage of Cincinnati's porous secondary, gain an early lead and maintain it with solid defensive play.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Cincinnati 24

 

All team statistics and rankings courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of December 26.

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Sugar Bowl 2015: Individual Matchups to Watch in Alabama vs. Ohio State

Many are expecting Alabama to cruise to victory over Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. However, the outcome of this highly anticipated showdown will come down to a few key battles.

While football is a team sport, each person on the field has to do his job to help win a game. In a tough matchup like this one, a few players have an even bigger role to take on the tough challenges of All-Conference players at just about every position.

These players in particular will have to do their jobs to help their team win in the College Football Playoff.

 

Cam Robinson vs. Joey Bosa

Joey Bosa might just be a sophomore, but he has been one of the most dominant players in college football this season.

Senior Bowl director Phil Savage had great things to say about the Ohio State defensive end:

Meanwhile, Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod noted that most of the country agrees with the player's abilities on the field:

Along with tackles Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington, Ohio State has one of the best defensive lines in the nation. This will be a serious challenge for all of Alabama to try to handle in the Sugar Bowl.

While right tackle Austin Shepherd will see a lot of Bosa, the real challenge will be whether freshman Cam Robinson can live up to the challenge on the left side of the line. The Louisiana native has done a great job of protecting Blake Sims' blind side to this point, but stopping Bosa will be another story.

If he can't contain the All-American, the Crimson Tide will have a tough time moving the football in this one.

 

Devin Smith vs. Landon Collins

Ohio State doesn't always have the most consistent offense, but it can score in a hurry with a big play from out of nowhere. In a lot of cases, Devin Smith is the one coming through with a long touchdown.

Smith finished the Big Ten Championship Game with three scores, each of which going at least 39 yards. Although he only has one game of more than four receptions, he has an incredible eight catches for over 40 yards on the year.

If he is able to break a few of these against Alabama, the Buckeyes will be able to keep up on the scoreboard.

The person capable of stopping this is Crimson Tide safety Landon Collins. While he likely won't be lining up directly opposite Smith, he will need to cover the field to prevent any open opportunities down the field.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller believes he has this ability:

Collins will have a lot of responsibilities in this game, but one of the safety's biggest jobs will be to keep anyone from getting any easy touchdowns.

 

Ezekiel Elliott vs. Reggie Ragland

The pressure is certainly on quarterback Cardale Jones in this game, but the Ohio State offense runs through Ezekiel Elliott. Going into the bowl game, he has 1,402 rushing yards on the year, including 220 in the Big Ten game.

Buckeyes offensive line coach Ed Warinner explained his thoughts on the young running back, via Zac Ellis of Sports Illustrated:

All the ingredients were there. We just had to wait and see what happened. [...] 

He was very talented and explosive, but he was obviously young and, playing wise, inexperienced. We had to see how he would handle those situations -- the week-to-week grind and the physical stress that puts on you.

It will take the entire front seven to help contain Elliott in this game, but Reggie Ragland will be the one expected to do the heavy lifting. The linebacker might not have the same press as past Alabama defenders like C.J. Mosley or Rolando McClain, but he still ranks second on the team with 88 tackles.

Ragland has the ability to cover sideline to sideline, and he has to prove it to slow down the rushing attack and keep the Buckeyes off the scoreboard.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Rose Bowl 2015: Individual Matchups to Watch in Oregon vs. FSU

 

While dozens of players will help decide the 2015 Rose Bowl, a few key performances will make the real difference in this one.

Florida State and Oregon have taken different paths to the national semifinals, but there is no denying the amount of talent on both sides of the ball. Many of these players will be competing on Sundays in the future with others being stars at the college level.

This game will come down to which big-time players can win their individual battles to help give their team an advantage. Here is a look at the biggest matchups to watch in the Rose Bowl.

 

Hroniss Grasu vs. Eddie Goldman

Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman was injured against Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game, and it almost cost the Seminoles the game. The Yellow Jackets were able to run all day long without a force causing problems in the middle.

The good news is he should be healthy in the Rose Bowl, which is bad news for the Ducks. 

Of course, one person that can take the tackle out of the game is Oregon center Hroniss Grasu. The second-team AP All-American has been a major part of the team's success this season with his ability to control the offensive line and clear space in the middle.

Unfortunately, he has been out since injuring his foot on Nov. 8. The hope is he can return for the upcoming game and help lead the Oregon offense the way he has earlier in the year.

If only one of these two players is healthy, it will give their team a huge advantage in this one. If both are in the game, however, the winner of this will have a big impact on Oregon's rushing attack.

 

Rashad Greene vs. Troy Hill

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu has been one of the top cornerbacks in the nation for Oregon, but he will miss the Rose Bowl after suffering a knee injury in practice.

As a result, Troy Hill will have to step up to be the No. 1 option in the Ducks secondary. While the senior has been overshadowed by his teammate in the past, he still has the ability to shut down an opponent's best player.

Matt Prehm of 247 Sports thinks Hill has this type of talent:

Still, this will not be an easy task against Rashad Greene. The senior has been one of the most productive players in college football over the past two years, and this season ranks eighth in the nation with 1,306 receiving yards.

Greene has become a game-changing player and a reliable option for Jameis Winston whenever Florida State needs a big play.

Hill needs to find a way to slow down Greene and limit the Seminoles' best option in the passing attack.

 

Marcus Mariota vs. Jalen Ramsey

Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota has put together an outstanding career at Oregon and this season has separated himself from the rest of the country. This year, his efficiency has been through the roof with 38 passing touchdowns and just two interceptions.

Besides his physical abilities, Mariota helps himself by doing his research on his opponents. The bad news is he sees a real challenge in Florida State safety Jalen Ramsey, via Natalie Pierre of AL.com:

I mean, Ramsey, if you just watch him on film is one of those types of guys that will single-handedly turn a drive and stop it. He's a great player, he's gonna make his plays; we just gotta continue to be ourselves and try to execute against those guys.

Ramsey is one of the best defensive playmakers in the nation and he always has a way to be near the football. He heads into the bowl season with 75 tackles, including three sacks and 9.5 for loss. He also makes a huge impact in the passing game with two interceptions and 13 passes defended.

Quarterbacks always have to know where he is on the field in order to be successful.

Mariota is arguably the best player in the nation at any position, but even he can end up struggling if he isn't ready for Ramsey.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Denver Nuggets 12/26/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Denver Nuggets looked to bounce back from a recent rough patch on Friday when they took on the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Nuggets had dropped two straight and faced the T-Wolves, who had dropped six straight and 12 of their last 13. 

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Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl 2014: Game Grades, Analysis for NC State vs. UCF

The North Carolina State Wolfpack raced out to an 18-point lead behind a highlight-reel effort from quarterback Jacoby Brissett and hung on to beat Central Florida 34-27 in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl.

The star junior transfer from Florida stole the show for much of the game. Then, a thunder-and-lightning rushing attack from Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes stretched the lead. 

NC State needed every bit of the cushion, too, as UCF quarterback Justin Holman led the pesky Knights back, but an onside kick wasn't recovered late, and the Wolfpack capped their comeback season with an 8-5 record. The Knights fell to 9-4.

 

NC State Game Analysis

Pass Offense

Brissett continued the resurrection of his career to cap off a season that saw him throw 23 touchdowns and just five picks. As he has much of the year, Brissett evaded pressure with his nimble feet, stepped up in the pocket and found various receivers for big gains. He was calm, poised and competitive.

Though he didn't put up massive numbers, he was extremely effective, and he had a near-perfect game other than taking a sack at the end of the first half that cost the Pack points.

 

Run Offense

Following a stagnant first half when it seemed Brissett was the only real ground threat, the Pack found their sea legs after the break. In a dominant third quarter, Thornton and Dayes combined to take UCF out of the game.

The duo wound up rushing for 174 combined yards, and Brissett added more than 30 of his own. Dayes had two scoring runs, and the Pack wound up with 187 rushing yards. The 3.8 average wasn't great, but there were big plays all night.

 

Pass Defense

Justin Holman got his passing yards and (frustratingly) had three touchdown passes to Josh Reese, but the Pack did get an interception from Josh Jones. Also, Holman threw the ball 53 times, but he was nowhere near completing 50 percent of his passes and still didn't get to 300 yards. Yeah, there were some big plays NCSU would like to have back, but it was still a stellar performance.

 

Run Defense

Any time you can hold a rushing offense as good as UCF's to fewer than 100 yards, that's a strong showing. Star runner William Stanback wound up with just 12 carries for 38 yards as the Pack took UCF's running game completely out of the game.

 

Special Teams

As excellent as Niklas Sade was, he gets docked a little for missing the 47-yard field goal that would have iced the game and put it out of reach. Yeah, that's a little tough to dock a kicker for missing one so long, but that was a big one, and he's the best kicker in the history of the school. Wil Baumann averaged 46.5 yards over four punts. All in all, a good night.

 

Coaching

Dave Doeren had a perfect game plan for the first three quarters, and offensive coordinator Matt Canada dialed up some really stellar play calls that worked. But it's frustrating when a coach gets ultra-conservative at the end of the game, and it nearly cost him. Doeren was just trying to hang on at the end. Ultimately, his team did, so it's all good.

 

UCF Game Analysis

Pass Offense

There were times on Friday night when Justin Holman showed flashes of NFL potential.

Then, there were others where he looked like an unseasoned sophomore. Holman is an immense, unpolished talent, and he nearly led his team back. But he had some terrible overthrows, and he also was intercepted once on the night. It really could have been twice.

All in all, it was a nice performance in his first bowl start, but it wasn't good enough. He'll be back.

 

Run Offense

This was pretty much a disaster. The NC State defense was stellar all night in the front seven, to the point where UCF coach George O'Leary abandoned the run totally. With the Knights down by 18, he went exclusively to the air, and any hope for balance was lost. They finished with 82 yards and a 2.9 average.

 

Pass Defense

Too many times, there were breakdowns and busts in a secondary that had been among college football's best this year. Brissett bought time with his feet, and the Knights defensive backs didn't stick with plays. On one quick-strike drive in particular that eventually made the score 31-13, UCF was just lost in the backfield. That can't happen against a quarterback as good as Brissett.

 

Run Defense

The strength of UCF's team was very strong in a first half where it took over the game at times in the front seven. But when the Wolfpack charged out of the locker room after halftime, they pummeled the Knights with Thornton and Dayes, and there was no answer. They flat-out won the game on the ground in the third quarter, and they made UCF like it.

 

Special Teams

It was pretty much a flawless game from a special teams standpoint as Shawn Moffitt made both his field goals, and Caleb Houston averaged 42.8 yards per punt. The Wolfpack had just one opportunity to return a kick all night. UCF was stellar here.

 

Coaching

O'Leary is known for being a very good game-day coach, but Doeren had his number tonight. With the game being virtually in UCF's backyard, you'd have expected the Knights to come out fired up, ride the crowd momentum and soar to their third consecutive 10-win season.

Instead, they were flat defensively, and it took them too long to wake up. Like most O'Leary-coached teams, they didn't quit and they were right there in the end, but there were too many lapses for this to be a good grade.

 

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: Ranking the 5 Best Redshirt Freshmen for the Bruins

The talent on the UCLA football roster is much higher under Jim Mora than it had been before his arrival in Westwood. As a means to building up the said depth on the roster, Mora has been forced (sometimes out of necessity) to play younger players. 

In 2014, this premise continued. Players such as Jaleel Wadood and Kenny Young saw extensive time as true freshmen. 

This piece won't look at the freshmen who've played this year—but rather it will focus on those freshmen who redshirted this past year. 

Five youngsters in particular will be analyzed. Enjoy this piece on the potential future stars of the UCLA football program.

Begin Slideshow

UCLA Football: Ranking the 5 Best Redshirt Freshmen for the Bruins

The talent on the UCLA football roster is much higher under Jim Mora than it had been before his arrival in Westwood. As a means to building up the said depth on the roster, Mora has been forced (sometimes out of necessity) to play younger players...

Begin Slideshow

NC State vs. UCF: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 St. Petersburg Bowl

The North Carolina State Wolfpack cashed in at the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl with a 34-27 win over the University of Central Florida Knights on Friday night.

In the first half, quarterback Jacoby Brissett victimized the Knights with his elusiveness and abilities as a dual threat. Brissett's play and some inaccuracy from his counterpart, Justin Holman, helped to push the Wolfpack to a 17-10 halftime lead. 

Holman was only able to complete 23 of 53 pass attempts. He threw three touchdowns, but he undershot and overthrew receivers on a regular basis.

To Holman's defense, he was under duress the entire night. The Knights' offensive line didn't do a great job protecting him. He was sacked twice and pressured constantly.

After the break, NC State's potent running game led to some separation between the teams, though UCF would battle back late.

 

How It Was Settled

The Wolfpack running backs got involved early, but they did damage through the air before their legs made a mark. On a halfback option, Shadrach Thornton tossed an 18-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Samuels to give NC State the 7-3 lead in the first quarter.

Check out the play in The Score's tweet:

The Knights responded with a strong drive that culminated in Holman's six-yard strike to Josh Reese. The score briefly gave the Knights the lead in the second quarter. Before halftime, the Wolfpack would regain the lead and never relinquish it.

Brissett kept plays alive throughout a beautifully crafted drive. The junior quarterback hit Johnathan Alston for a 37-yard touchdown pass that made the score 14-10 in NC State's favor. For the game, Brissett completed 15 of 26 passes for 262 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions.

Pack Pride has a clip of the play:

Chip Patterson of CBS Sports admired Brissett's performance in the first half:

Niklas Sade would add a field goal to give the Wolfpack the seven-point advantage at intermission. 

After the break, the Wolfpack run game started to chew up the Knights defense. Speedy Matt Dayes was the primary culprit. You won't find many collegiate running backs who hit the hole as quick or as decisively as Dayes.

This electric 24-yard run (via Pack Pride) gave NC State a 14-point edge:

Dayes finished with 78 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.

The Wolfpack would blow the lead up to 34-13, but they ultimately settled for the seven-point win as the Knights added two fourth-quarter scores to make it interesting.

NC State finishes the season at 8-5. Head coach Dave Doeren engineered a huge turnaround from the 2013 season, when the Wolfpack won just three games. With a good number of sophomore contributors like Dayes returning, as well as Brissett, 2015 looks promising for the Wolfpack.

ACC Now provides comments from Doeren, who reflected on the season after the win:

This is a team that could potentially challenge the Florida State Seminoles in the Atlantic Coast Conference. 

UCF drops to 9-4 and wraps up a solid season with a disappointing ending.

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