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USC Recruiting 2014-15: Latest News, Rumors and Commit Updates

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian enjoyed one of the most successful signing days in college football last February despite spending limited time recruiting for the Trojans...

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Bowl Games Schedule 2014-15: TV Info, Predictions, and More

The first year of the College Football Playoff affects much more than the four teams that make it and the few that miss out, as the championship format influences the rest of the bowl schedule. 

There still remains the chance for two teams from the Big 12—Baylor and TCU—to crack the Top Four, which would bump everyone else in the conference up a few spots. Other squads sitting around the Top 10 could sneak into one of the New Year's Six bowls with at-large bids, which would open things up for their bowl-eligible conference counterparts to make a more preferable bowl than expected.

With that said, most of the championship-caliber teams playing throughout Week 15 should take care of business despite eye-opening tests down the stretch. So where will that leave everyone else?

Take a look below to find out, as projections for every bowl game are made.

 

College Football Playoff Outlook

Diehards of every bowl-eligible fanbase in college football are on pins and needles entering Week 15 as they await news of where—or if—they'll be going bowling. But most of the teams playing on championship weekend have their sights set on a much larger prize.

That's because the first year of the CFP is finally here, and for the first time ever four teams will emerge from the ashes with their championship hopes intact.

But even with days to go until Selection Sunday, there's no telling just how things will shake out.

One thing is clear, however: The committee isn't impressed with Florida State's undefeated record, per ESPN's Joe Schad:

Anyone who has watched the Seminoles this year knows why, as they have looked lifeless in most of their games before doing just enough to win. In fact, seven of their 12 victories have come by six or fewer points.

Their most recent performance was a close win over in-state rivals Florida, which bumped the 'Noles down to fourth behind TCU, who slid up to No. 3. But it's awfully easy to craft a scenario that would see Florida State move back into the third spot.

With an ACC Championship Game showdown against No. 11 Georgia Tech, a win for Florida State would almost certainly bump them above TCU, which plays Iowa State, as Sports on Earth's Matt Brown noted:

But where does that leave the Baylor Bears, who beat TCU head-to-head earlier this season but have failed to move ahead of them into the Top Four?

Well, it would leave Art Briles' crew out of the CFP entirely. The Bears may have knocked off TCU when the two played but have since been topped by West Virginia and haven't posted the all-season resume that TCU boasts, as ESPN's Danny Kanell said (via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Jimmy Burch):

Potentially falling back to No. 4, TCU would likely face top-ranked Alabama—which should dispose of 10-2 Missouri in the SEC title game. Blake Sims and Amari Cooper will simply be too much for the Tigers defense, despite first-round NFL draft picks Shane Ray and Markus Golden coming off the edge.

Ohio State, however, will be left on the outside looking in. Even if the Buckeyes take care of Wisconsin in Saturday's Big Ten Championship Game, it's easy to see them missing out with J.T. Barrett's absence still looming large, per Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde:

There may not be a CFP hopeful with a tougher play-in contest than the Oregon Ducks, who face No. 7 Arizona—the only team that beat them in the regular season—in Santa Clara, California, for the Pac-12 title. But while offensive line struggles doomed Oregon in that first matchup, the Ducks offense is at another level now and will take care of business.

After the Ducks stomp on the Wildcats' remote CFP chances, they will advance to face Florida State—a team that would likely rather remain at No. 4 to play in the more geographically friendly Sugar Bowl. But with a spot in the Top Four, the 'Noles won't have much to complain about.

However, with so many games that could go either way among the top teams, the only certainty coming down the stretch is that there will inevitably be disagreement as to how it all unfolds.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff 2014: Full Bowl Predictions for Biggest Matchups

In the matter of a few days, history will be made as the first ever College Football Playoff field of four will be set.

That doesn't mean that things are any closer to being figured out as Week 15 approaches, however. Just about every team in the running for a playoff spot will have to take care of business over the weekend, with many of them going up against top competition in conference championship games.

More chaos could be in store, which would certainly make for a fitting ending to a chaos-rich season. Either way, the disagreements and objections to whatever the CFP committee decides upon are inevitable.

With only one weekend separating us from those decisions, let's go ahead and make some predictions as to how everything will unfold.

Check here for the official College Football Playoff rankings.

 

College Football Playoff Predictions

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 TCU

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

National Championship: TBD (semifinal winners)

While no team enters Week 15 with its CFP spot wrapped up, the big focus over the final weekend remains centered around how the final few spots will shake out.

And there's no better debate than that surrounding the Florida State Seminoles, who have fallen all the way to No. 4 despite failing to lose a game. The culprit has been their ugly wins, with seven of their victories coming by six or fewer points.

But with everything on the line in the ACC Championship Game against No. 11 Georgia Tech, Jimbo Fisher's squad will do just as it always does—pull out the victory and remain (barely) alive for a quest to repeat as champions.

A win over the Yellow Jackets will catapult the Seminoles back up to No. 3 over TCU, as the Horned Frogs face a lowly Iowa State team.

Looking for as many style points as they can muster, the Horned Frogs won't have any problem stating their case as well.

As Fox Sports Southwest's David Ubben noted, even an ugly win shouldn't be enough to knock TCU out of the picture:

TCU's playoff spot will come at the expense of Big 12 rivals Baylor, who topped the Horned Frogs head-to-head but have failed to post as impressive of a season overall. Without TCU blowing a 21-point fourth-quarter lead in Waco, Texas, this wouldn't even be a conversation.

The overall result might not be a favorable one for Florida State, which will have to travel to face Oregon in the Rose Bowl instead of a much friendlier geographic matchup against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. But the 'Noles won't have much to complain about by getting into the Top Four after such a questionable season.

As for the other two spots, they will go to the undoubted best two teams in the nation—Alabama and Oregon.

The entire SEC enters the weekend nervous, as an Alabama loss to Missouri would almost certainly end the conference's national title hopes. But that won't be in the cards, as the Tide offense will take it to a Missouri team that has beat just one team over .500 in SEC play over its last two division-winning seasons.

Oregon will have to go through No. 7 Arizona—the only team it has lost to this season. Unlike earlier in the season, however, the Ducks offense has no real weaknesses and should put up the points necessary.

Should both Alabama and Oregon then take care of business in the CFP semifinals, quite the championship game would be set, as NBC Sports' Josh Elliott noted:

No matter how things shake out, it's almost guaranteed that there will be those out there who disagree. The formula simply can't be perfect—not until a larger playoff system is implemented.

It will never be a unanimous decision, but it will be hard to say that the CFP committee didn't get it right if Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and TCU are left standing after Week 15.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Recruiting: 10 Bold Predictions as Season Winds Down

The close of every recruiting cycle usually brings with it a tendency for the unthinkable to occur.

Decommitments, flips, hat tricks and the use of live animals are just a few of the things we’ve seen recruits do in recent years.

The coaching carousel is also in full swing, with the new coaching staffs at Florida and Nebraska sure to pound the recruiting trail in hopes of infusing their programs with new energy.

The 2015 cycle has already produced its share of newsworthy moments, but there’s still plenty of room for more madness to occur in the weeks leading up to national signing day.

Which teams and recruits could produce some hysteria as the season winds down?

 

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Bold Predictions for Conference Championship Weekend

Conference championship weekend is finally here. For an entire season, we've watched, waited, debated and talked about the happenings of the 2014 college football season, and now that we're coming to its denouement, it is as intriguing as ever.

With the College Football Playoff selection committee watching, who’ll step forward in the chase for the final four spots? Will it be a "favorites" kind of weekend, or will it get wild like the 2007 season, one of the craziest in modern history? Who will emerge in the four-team bracket when the inaugural College Football Playoff is revealed Sunday afternoon?

You have questions. We might have answers, and we definitely have predictions. Take a look at our bold predictions for conference championship weekend.

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Alabama vs. Missouri: TV and Live Stream Info, Predictions for SEC Championship

Alabama is all that's left of the SEC's national title hopes, and Missouri has its sights set on playing the spoiler as Saturday's SEC Championship Game approaches.

Schools like Auburn, Ole Miss and most recently Mississippi State have all fallen by the wayside in the College Football Playoff conversation. Meanwhile, the top-ranked Crimson Tide stand just one victory away from an unquestionable spot in the Top Four.

Standing in their way are the Tigers, who make a repeat trip to the Georgia Dome after hanging with Auburn in a high-scoring affair a year ago. Only one opponent on their 2014 schedule remains in the Top 25, but they'll be hungry to prove themselves against the class of the conference.

Let's take a look at everything you need to know.

 

When: Saturday, Dec. 6 at 4 p.m. ET

Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta

TV: CBS

Live Stream: CBSSports.com (cable provider may be required)

Odds (via Odds Shark): Alabama -14.5, over/under 49

 

SEC Championship Preview

Never mind the fact that they come from the lowly SEC East. These Missouri Tigers have proven in their infant years in the SEC that they more than belong.

Gary Pinkel's squad emerged as one of the best teams in the nation in 2013, when he took his Tigers into Atlanta as the No. 5 team. And despite falling to Auburn, Missouri was within three points entering the fourth quarter of the highest-scoring SEC title game ever.

Even though they lost a flock of players—especially on the defensive side—to the NFL, Missouri (10-2, 7-1 SEC) has opted for reloading instead of rebuilding.

The central figures in that effort have been defensive ends Markus Golden and Shane Ray. With 13.5 sacks, Ray leads the SEC and ranks fourth in the nation, while the duo has combined for 36.5 tackles for loss.

WAKA's Ben Bolton noted Alabama coach Nick Saban's lauding of the pair:

The Tigers defense as a whole has been strong, holding four of its last six opponents—all in conference—to 14 points or less. Golden told AL.com's Mike Herndon that the defensive formidability comes from much more than him and Ray.

"We've got a lot of guys that get out there and just play hard and tough and physical," he said. "So I have to just say guys putting in their mindset that no matter what, we're going to play hard. No matter what, I'm going to make this play. That's what really helps us."

But Missouri's SEC East schedule—and games against Texas A&M and Arkansas from the West—hasn't had the Tigers face an offense quite like Alabama's.

Dominating on the defensive side and game-managing on offense has been a thing of the past in Tuscaloosa, at least in 2014. Quarterback Blake Sims has taken off with star wideout Amari Cooper and a fine-tuned running game, which has helped the Tide average nearly 500 yards of offense in SEC play.

Running back T.J. Yeldon hasn't had to be a workhorse this season with Derrick Henry amassing almost as many carries and yards. The bruising back also has the same amount of touchdowns, as you can see below.

Focusing on the ground game early on should be a priority for Alabama, just like it was against Auburn in the Iron Bowl. That will put the Tide in the best position to succeed and will have Sims avoiding the three interceptions he threw the last time out.

If Alabama can't grind out a decent lead via the ground game, it will put the onus on Sims to evade speedy rushers Golden and Ray. Sims' great foot speed and escapability will prove to be huge factors in extending plays if Alabama is forced to air it out.

 

Prediction

Hanging with the Crimson Tide at the line of scrimmage has been too much for anyone they've faced since the Ole Miss loss. And even for teams that can, attempting to contain Cooper on the outside often leads to their demise.

Alabama's secondary isn't nearly the force it has been in recent seasons, and Maty Mauk and Bud Sasser should connect on a few big plays. But it will take a heap of them to stay with the Crimson Tide on the scoreboard, which simply won't be in the cards.

As Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee noticed, Missouri's SEC dominance in the last two years hasn't been as impressive as its record lets on:

Missouri will keep it a relatively tight game through halftime, but it won't be a contest in the fourth quarter as Sims, Cooper and Yeldon all have their way offensively.

Prediction: Alabama 41, Missouri 24

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Has Florida State's Jameis Winston Regressed as a Quarterback?

The 2014 Florida State Seminoles may be undefeated, but star quarterback Jameis Winston's play has been far from perfect. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder and Bleacher Report Lead NFL Draft Analyst Matt Miller joined Stephen Nelson to break down Winston's 2014 season.    

Has he regressed?

Check out the video and let us know!  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Answering the Burning Questions for Florida State's 2015 Recruiting Class

The Florida State Seminoles boast one of the best 2015 recruiting classes. With Jameis Winston likely headed for the NFL, the team will have a different look in 2015. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder was joined by Stephen Nelson to answer some pressing Florida State questions regarding their incoming class. 

What is FSU's biggest need?

Check out the video and let us know!  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Which 2015 Commits Will Step into Immediate Impact Roles for Tennessee?

The Tennessee Volunteers boast one of the most talented 2015 recruiting classes, featuring big-time talent on both sides of the ball. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder was joined by Stephen Nelson to discuss which incoming freshman will make an immediate impact for the Volunteers. 

Which commit will come in and make the most noise?

Check out the video and let us know!  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

ESPN College GameDay 2014: Week 15 Schedule, Location, Predictions and More

A handful of NCAA conference championship games will be played at neutral locations in Week 15. In some ways, this can take away from the intimacy of tense rivalry contests.

Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis is a fine location for the Big Ten Championship, but it lacks the collegiate charm of the venues belonging to Ohio State and Wisconsin, the teams participating in the game.

For those football fans angling to get a glimpse of the passion and the pride when a home crowd gets behind its team in its most important game of the season, Lee Corso and the ESPN College GameDay crew have you covered.

According to the program's Twitter account, they will be in Waco, Texas, when the Baylor Bears take on Big-12 rival Kansas State in a contest fraught with College Football Playoff implications:

Here is the Week 15 program schedule, followed by a preview and a prediction for the game.

 

ESPN College GameDay Week 15 Info

Date: Saturday, Dec. 6

Time (ET): 9 a.m. - 12 p.m.

Location: McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Preview and Prediction

Baylor, No. 6 in the latest CFP rankings, needs a big win over No. 9 Kansas State and some favorable results in the weekend's other big games to clinch the final College Football Playoff spot.

The Big 12 doesn't have a championship game, but the Kansas State matchup essentially serves as one for Baylor. Conference rival TCU is ranked No. 3 and has gotten plenty of love from the playoff committee, even though the Bears beat the Horned Frogs 61-58 earlier this season.

Grantland's Matt Hinton gave his take on the hair-splitting situation, citing TCU's big win over Minnesota as a possible difference maker in the rankings:

Assuming that the Bears get by K-State, I’d take Baylor on the strength of (a) three Top 25 wins compared to just two for TCU and Ohio State, and, more importantly, (b) the head-to-head win over TCU. Ultimately, the case for the Frogs if both teams finish 11-1 amounts to arguing that a September win over middle-of-the-road Minnesota should take precedence over a head-to-head result between the two teams in question, which is no argument at all. Baylor’s position is airtight: All else being equal: scoreboard.

TCU plays lowly Iowa State in Week 15, a game the Horned Frogs should win comfortably.

Should they somehow lose, Baylor would almost certainly be in with a win of its own; however, the far more likely scenario for Baylor advancing involves No. 5 Ohio State losing to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship and No. 4 Florida State dropping the ACC Championship Game to No. 11 Georgia Tech.

Baylor could potentially leapfrog Ohio State even if it wins, assuming it's an ugly, sluggish victory and the committee lacks faith in Cardale Jones, who is replacing record touchdown-manufacturer J.T. Barrett at quarterback.

Of course, none of these bridges get crossed if Baylor doesn't take care of things at home against one of its toughest opponents this season. As College GameDay notes, the Bears are usually fast starters:

This will be no easy feat against the Wildcats, who are ranked 23rd in the nation in total defense. Bears quarterback Bryce Petty will have to be at his sharpest Saturday. He threw for just 210 yards in Baylor's 48-46 Week 14 win over Texas Tech—a result that did them no favors in the CFP beauty contest—but did complete 72 percent of his passes.

If he can get into a groove, it can open the field for running back Shock Linwood, who is averaging a robust 5.1 yards per carry this season.

Then again, the Bears offense isn't usually the problem. It's the wobbly defense, which has allowed 23.9 points per game this season. Sometimes, the defenders coalesce into a formidable unit, as in the Bears' 48-14 win over Oklahoma.

Unfortunately, they also put up stinkers like the Red Raiders shootout. Kansas State has had success with Jake Waters and the passing game, but the rushing attack leaves something to be desired, as the team is averaging just 4.0 yards per carry. Baylor features the No. 1 run defense in the Big 12.

Keeping Waters, who has 440 rushing yards on the season, in the pocket will be a key to this contest.

This is a big game for Baylor, but the Wildcats aren't without pressure in this contest. They are still hoping to win the Big 12 Championship, a goal players like Waters have carried in their minds all season, per Kellis Robinett of The Kansas City Star:

It would be the best thing that I’ve done. When I came here that is what I wanted to do. I wanted to win a championship. Now we have the opportunity to do it. It’s cool; obviously, this is what you play for. This is why I came here and why everyone is practicing hard. The chance to win a Big 12 championship is here. It just depends on what we do with it.

Look for a high-scoring contest Saturday, with Baylor getting out to an early lead and then relying on heavy doses of Linwood to close out the game. The defense will let the Wildcats back in this contest, but the Bears will hold up their end of the playoff bargain and notch the win. 

Prediction: Baylor 38-31 Kansas State

 

All team rankings courtesy of CollegeFootballPlayoff.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Big Ten Championship 2014: Wisconsin vs. Ohio State TV Info, Spread, Injury News

The Big Ten title is on the line Saturday night in Indianapolis, but Ohio State and Wisconsin are playing for much more than their conference title.

Because this is the first year under the new playoff system, nobody knows how heavily conference titles will be weighed by the playoff selection committee. That means the Buckeyes, No. 6, and the Badgers, No. 11, both have their sights set on playing another game after this weekend.

There are many big storylines as we head into the last day before kickoff. All the essential information—including TV info, the spread and injury news—is below, followed by some analysis of the keys to this game.

 

When: Saturday, Dec. 6

Where: Indianapolis, Lucas Oil Stadium

Time: 8:17 p.m. ET

TV: Fox

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark on Thursday, December 4 at 3 p.m. ET)

  • Over/Under: 52.5
  • Spread: Wisconsin (-3)

 

Team Injury Updates

Team injury reports are courtesy of The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Analysis

When it comes to the Big Ten title game, it's best to first address the elephant in the room.

Record-breaking quarterback J.T. Barrett broke his ankle against Michigan last week, leaving the Buckeyes with Cardale Jones to start Saturday. Jones has not started a game in his college career.

Viewers will quickly learn that this kid has potential, though, and one thing that will surely become evident rather quickly is his ridiculous arm strength. Ryan Ginn of the Buckeye Sports Bulletin tweeted something he'd heard about Jones' cannon:

Jones saw time against Michigan after Barrett went down, completing 10 of his 17 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns. That performance and an overall confidence in his teammate led Barrett to speak highly of Jones on Wednesday, via ESPN.com's Austin Ward.

"Cardale is a great player," Barrett said. "I honestly feel like if I wasn't starting this year, Cardale would have done the same things I did this year. Cardale is that talented. He definitely can do it."

Cardale will have some help coming out of the backfield, as sophomore Ezekiel Elliott has been a rock at running back. He has tallied 1,182 yards, 10 touchdowns and six yards per carry in 2014. CBSSports.com's Tom Fornelli reminds us that much of that impressive stat line has come recently:

What may mean the most for the Buckeyes is Elliott has improved as the season's come to an end. From August until the end of October (seven games) Elliott had carried the ball 117 times for a total of 640 yards (5.47 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. He's taken his game to another level in November, rushing for 542 yards and five touchdowns on 80 carries (6.78 ypc) in four games.

Wisconsin's defense ranks No. 8 in the country in yards allowed on the ground per game (103.8), though, so Elliott won't find it easy to gain yards. Of course, he did torch the Michigan State Spartans on Nov. 8 for 154 yards (6.7 YPC) and two touchdowns. The Spartans currently rank No. 5 nationally in run defense.

The Badgers counter Ohio State's run game with a monster running back of their own.

Melvin Gordon has topped 122 yards and scored at least one touchdown in every game this season except Sept. 6 against Western Illinois (38 yards on 17 carries with no scores). He has been otherworldly since, and his overall marks of 2,260 rush yards and 26 rush touchdowns have him in the running for the Heisman Trophy.

Add his 151 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns, and you've got the most dynamic player in this contest.

The Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year earned that title based on his ability to rip off long runs, as ESPN Stats & Info noted:

Because of Gordon's tendency to gain large chunks of yardage, the big men in the Buckeyes defense are the keys to this game. They limited him to 74 yards on 15 carries last season, but several running backs have taken care of business against them this season, as Jim Naveau of The Lima News points out, via the Daily Advocate.

"Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford ran for 137 yards, Minnesota’s David Cobb got 145 yards, Indiana’s Tevin Coleman rushed for 228 yards and Michigan’s Drake Johnson had 74 yards when he went out of the game early in the third quarter with a knee injury," Naveau writes.

This puts the pressure on defensive coordinator Luke Fickell and the likes of Michael Bennett, Adolphus Washington, Joey Bosa and Curtis Grant.

The Buckeyes won't win if Gordon reaches his per-game average of 188.33 yards per game on the ground. He struggled against Western Illinois because it stacked the box and forced Tanner McEvoy to throw. That has to be Ohio State's strategy.

Because only an FCS team has been able to stop Gordon this season, the chances of Ohio State doing so are slim to none. That explains why the Badgers are favorites in this one.

Anything can happen on this stage, however, so tune in Saturday to see which players steal the show.

 

Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @kennydejohn

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings 2014: Full Top 25, Playoff Predictions and More

One more weekend of college football games, and the arguments, hypotheticals and conversations about game control and style points will be in the rearview mirror.

There are a number of high-stakes conference championship clashes on the schedule for Friday and Saturday, and the outcomes will undoubtedly shape the College Football Playoff field. Can Alabama hold serve in the SEC title game? Can Florida State hang on for dear life one more time? Can Ohio State win with its third-string quarterback?

Read on for a final look at the Top 25 polls before the games, some playoff projections and a brief preview for the conference championship games with playoff implications.

 

Top 25 Polls

 

Playoff Projections 

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

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

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

 

Championship Weekend 

Oregon will square off with Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship to start everything off Friday night. That may not be the best news for the Ducks, as ESPN Stats & Info noted:

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has performed like a football-playing robot this season and set a conference record with 48 total touchdowns. He has only lost as a starter at Oregon four times, but two of them just so happened to come against Arizona.

The Wildcats picked him off three times and forced three different fumbles in matchups the last three seasons. Still, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez was more than complimentary toward the Ducks and Mariota, according to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com:

If you look back at his stats, he got a lot of yards and big plays, but we got a couple turnovers. Some of it was great individual effort and some of it was a little bit of luck. If you go back to this game or even the game last season, he still got his yards, and he is still going to get his yards and make his plays.

Elsewhere, Florida State and Georgia Tech face off in the ACC Championship.

If things go according to script, the Seminoles will fall behind early and then make a dramatic comeback to win at the end. They have trailed in the first half in nine separate games and could have lost multiple games if a few plays went a different way. Even Jameis Winston has thrown 11 interceptions in his last six games heading into Saturday’s contest.

Falling behind early could be a problem against the Yellow Jackets and the nation’s No. 4 rushing attack. Justin Thomas, Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days keep the chains and clock moving with a ball-control offense predicated on picking up chunks of yards on the ground.

Georgia Tech has won five games in a row as a result and should at least challenge Florida State.

On paper, Alabama and Missouri is probably the least intriguing of the matchups. The Crimson Tide are an absolute machine heading into the SEC Championship with Amari Cooper running circles around opposing secondaries and T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry powering their way through the line.

Alabama is also fifth in the country in scoring defense, although it struggled against Auburn in the Iron Bowl.

Missouri lost to Indiana and was destroyed by Georgia. The Tigers also missed Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State on schedule and had about as weak of a slate as possible in the SEC.

The one thing going for Missouri is the fact that it had an SEC-best 40 sacks this season, but Alabama allowed an SEC-low 11 sacks. The Crimson Tide should be able to neutralize the Tigers’ greatest strength and eventually pull away in this one.

In terms of pure storylines, the most intriguing matchup is in the Big Ten Championship. Ohio State is forced to turn to its third-string quarterback in Cardale Jones for the game against the Wisconsin Badgers after J.T. Barrett was lost for the season to an ankle injury in the win over Michigan.

That is certainly not the ideal scenario with the conference crown and a potential spot in the College Football Playoff on the line, but it is far from the only problem the Buckeyes are facing. Melvin Gordon had 2,260 rushing yards and 29 total touchdowns on the season and topped 100 rushing yards in 11 of 12 games.

He is the nation’s best player this side of Mariota and will be a real problem for Ohio State’s front seven.

If the Buckeyes are going to win, they will have to lean on Ezekiel Elliott and the nation’s 12th-ranked rushing attack and skill players like Jalin Marshall, Devin Smith and Michael Thomas.

In these projections, Ohio State does just that and makes a loud statement to the nation and the selection committee with a win over a Top 13 team without its quarterback. The other playmakers will step up, and the designation as the lone Big Ten champion will carry enough weight that the scarlet and gray will get in over the co-champs from the Big 12. 

How does a playoff with Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State sound?

 

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College Football Picks Week 14: Odds and Spread Predictions for Top 25 Teams

If a team wants to play in the College Football Playoff, it better prove it this weekend or be prepared to watch from the couch.

This is championship weekend, where most conferences have their title game to showcase which team is really the best. The Big 12 doesn't have one, so we are left with regular-season battles with both Baylor and TCU trying to earn style points with blowouts (if only they had a head-to-head matchup to prove which is better).

Still, just about every game taking place in Week 15 has some sort of bowl implication, making the level of play that much better. This is certain to create an unpredictable weekend, but here's some help with picks against the spread for the week's biggest games.

 

Top Games

Arizona (+15) over Oregon

Does Arizona have what it takes to beat Oregon? Yes, the Wildcats have proven this on the field with a win in Eugene earlier in the year as well as a victory last season. They not only know what it takes to win, they have shown they can do it.

ESPN's Chris Fowler notes how the defense finds a way to disrupt Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota:

The Arizona defensive line does a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage, and Scooby Wright simply makes big plays no matter where he is on the field. Andrew Greif of The Oregonian quoted thoughts from the Ducks personnel on the elite defensive player:

With the way Nick Wilson has run the ball lately (396 rushing yards and six touchdowns in his last two games), the Wildcats will be able to move the chains and maintain possession for a good portion of the game. At the very least, this will keep the score within two touchdowns.

Oregon also doesn't have a need to play for style points with a spot in the playoffs virtually assured with a win. The Ducks can stay relatively conservative and just earn a win instead of going for a blowout, making sure Arizona covers this way-too-high spread.

 

Alabama (-14.5) over Missouri

Unlike Arizona, Missouri really hasn't shown the ability to beat elite teams when given the chance. Not only is the SEC East significantly weaker than the SEC West this season, but the Tigers had the easiest possible conference schedule while facing the two worst teams in the opposite division (Texas A&M and Arkansas).

The only team Missouri has even played in the current Top 25 is Georgia, and that led to a 34-0 loss. As Dan Wolken of USA Today noted, the team's profile wouldn't be enough to make the playoff even with an SEC Championship:

On the other hand, Alabama has battled and beaten many of the top teams in the nation. The Crimson Tide have shown the ability to win both high- and low-scoring games when needed, and they are still one of the most talented squads in college football.

With Blake Sims improving every game, Alabama should have an easy time in this matchup and secure a blowout win in the SEC title game.

 

Georgia Tech (+4.5) over Florida State

Florida State has managed to survive a number of tough scares throughout the season, but the team's luck could run out Saturday.

Georgia Tech is not only the best team the Seminoles have faced all year, it is perfectly suited to beat the defending national champs. ESPN takes a look at the efficiency on offense for the Yellow Jackets:

They run the ball and run some more, helping maintain possession and keep opposing offenses off the field. They also do a great job of avoiding turnovers and forcing them on defense.

Unlike other teams Florida State has faced, Georgia Tech is not going to give up a lead too easily.

Jameis Winston might have a Heisman Trophy on his mantle, but he hasn't played well lately and now has 17 interceptions on the season. Mistakes like this will finally cost his team as the Yellow Jackets pull off the massive upset and knock Florida State out of the playoff picture.

 

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ACC Championship 2014: FSU vs. Georgia Tech TV Info, Spread and Injury Updates

Florida State is taking on Georgia Tech in the 2014 ACC Championship Game, but it might as well be taking on Ohio State, TCU and Baylor as well.

With four spots up for grabs in the initial College Football Playoff, there are plenty of teams battling that would love to see a Seminoles loss. Considering that hasn’t happened since the 2012 season, though, it may be asking for too much.

Here is a look at the essential information for Saturday’s ACC clash.

 

Date: Saturday, Dec. 6

Time: 8 p.m. ET

TV: ABC

Live Stream: Watch ESPN

Spread: Florida State -3.5 (via Odds Shark, as of Friday morning at 9 a.m. ET) 

Injury Report (via USA Today, as of Friday morning at 9 a.m. ET)

 

Preview/Prediction

The ACC as a whole, including Florida State and Georgia Tech, has plenty of momentum coming into this game after going 4-0 against the mighty SEC in the final week of the regular season. Heather Dinich of ESPN passed along some of the info:

While that is a nice feather in the ACC’s cap, both Florida State and Georgia Tech are far more concerned with who wins Saturday’s game. 

The Seminoles have made a habit of falling behind early, trailing in the first half in nine separate games this season. ESPN Stats & Info pointed out that the first quarter has been particularly problematic for Jameis Winston and Co.:

Perhaps no team in the country is better suited to protect a lead than Georgia Tech, which boasts the country’s fourth-best rushing attack at 333.8 yards per game. The Yellow Jackets have won five games in a row, including the impressive win over Georgia the last time out, and they will look to keep that momentum going with an early lead.

Interestingly, Florida State allowed 250 rushing yards to The Citadel earlier in the season, and the Bulldogs run a very similar version of Georgia Tech’s triple-option attack. Justin Thomas, Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days could find some running lanes Saturday if the Seminoles bring the same defensive effort they did against The Citadel.

Thomas also has 1,460 passing yards and 16 touchdowns through the air to only four interceptions.

Georgia Tech is simply an efficient offense that holds on to the ball and keeps the clock moving. It leads the nation in third downs converted as well, which is critical when holding on to a lead. Ideally for Georgia Tech, the offense would wear Florida State down over the course of the game and hit on a back-breaking play in the fourth quarter on some misdirection.

Florida State may be forced to throw the ball in a comeback effort if it falls behind again, which could be a concern for Winston, who has thrown 11 interceptions in his last six games. The Yellow Jackets have 17 interceptions of their own, which is ninth in the nation, so a game-turning pick isn’t out of the question.

The slow starts and turnovers have left many people unimpressed with Florida State, but Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson recognized that winning is the most important thing, according to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com:

I see a really good football team that knows how to win. Winning is hard. They've won 28 consecutive games. That's really hard to believe in this day and age.

They've got a bunch of guys that are good athletes, they are very well-coached and they know how to win. They haven't blown as many people out as maybe a year ago, but they've still got a really fine football team. Make no mistake about that.

You can throw all the statistics out there that you want to suggest Florida State could be in trouble in this game. Yes, falling behind early against a team that thrives by keeping the ball on the ground is a recipe for disaster. Yes, having a quarterback who is prone to throwing interceptions against an opportunistic defense could make life difficult for the Florida State offense. Yes, the Yellow Jackets have plenty of momentum coming into this game.

As cliche as it may sound, though, the Seminoles simply find ways to win.

Whether it is Florida and Boston College missing critical late field goals, Notre Dame committing an offensive pass interference penalty to nullify the game-winning touchdown or Louisville’s defense forgetting how to defend in the second half, Florida State always emerges with the victory.

It certainly deserves plenty of credit for that. The Seminoles feature a balanced offensive attack with Winston hitting weapons Rashad Greene and Nick O'Leary for critical first downs and touchdowns in fourth quarters of games or Dalvin Cook and Karlos Williams picking up important yards on the ground.

The defense is also 27th in the country in points allowed and always steps up when the team needs it most.

There is no reason to expect anything different Saturday. Sure, the Seminoles may fall behind early, but they will eventually grab the lead behind their offensive attack, like they always do. That will put Georgia Tech in the uncomfortable position of having to throw the ball (122nd in the country in passing yards per game), and the talented Florida State secondary that thwarted final efforts from Florida, Boston College and Miami will rise to the occasion yet again.

Ohio State and Baylor better hope one of the other top four teams loses. 

Prediction: Florida State 31, Georgia Tech 24

 

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Pac-12 Championship 2014: Last-Minute Odds and Prediction for Arizona vs. Oregon

Duck hunting season is coming to an end in many parts of the country, but the Arizona Wildcats could drastically alter the College Football Playoff picture in a single shot.  Though the Oregon Ducks are essentially assured of a berth in the inaugural playoff with a victory in the Pac-12 Championship Game, Rich Rodriguez's Wildcats could also sneak into the top four with a conference title in hand.

As the only team to beat Oregon this season, notching two wins over the Ducks would give Arizona arguably the most impressive signature victories of any team in the country.  It's unclear if the committee would accept a two-loss team, even one that took a conference title, but it would certainly make for a polarizing debate if teams like Baylor and Ohio State finish with just one loss.

Thus, the implications of this game are massive in relation to the postseason. Taking a final look at the odds and need-to-know information, here are the keys to a game tighter than many may perceive.

 

Date: Friday, Dec. 5

Time: 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET

Place: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California 

TV: FOX

Line: Oregon (-14.5), according to Odds Shark

 

Game Prediction

The game may match up the No. 2 and No. 7 teams in the country, but you wouldn't know that looking at the pregame spread.  Especially with the game at a neutral site, it is surprising to see Oregon favored by over two touchdowns.  Yes, the Ducks have been dominant since their Oct. 2 loss to Arizona, winning by an average of 24.3 points per game in the seven games since.  

However, that loss was not a one-off fluke, as the Wildcats have now won two consecutive games against Marcus Mariota and the Ducks.  Mariota has been transcendent en route to a potential Heisman Trophy this season, with a QBR over 80 in 11 of 12 games this season.

The one exception?  The Arizona loss, when his raw QBR was a meager 53.1.  Indeed, the typically uber-efficient Mariota has been turnover-prone against Arizona his entire career:

Whereas Oregon's kryptonite was once Stanford's throwback power scheme, Arizona has taken the mantle from the Cardinal of being the Ducks' Pac-12 nemesis.  Ironically, the problem is totally different, as the Wildcats are closer to being a mirror image of the Ducks rather than their opposite.  

As SI.com's Lindsay Schnell relays, Rodriguez believes the Wildcats' uptempo philosophy allows their defense to adequately prepare for Oregon's typically intimidating offense:

It helps that Arizona is not intimidated or caught off guard by Oregon’s offensive plan or tempo because Rodriquez is the one who developed the zone read concept almost 25 years ago.

“We talk about it in practice all the time: We’re comfortable being uncomfortable,” Rodriguez said. “For us, particularly our staff, isn’t not something new or different. Our first spring here we said we’re going to play faster than everybody in the country.”

Arizona's defense was able to dictate to Oregon in their regular-season upset, generating three sacks and forcing two turnovers.  In Walter Camp finalist Scooby Wright III, the Wildcats possess a rare playmaker with the type of game-changing ability to effectively combat Mariota—a rare ingredient the Ducks are wary of:

So why is Oregon such an overwhelming favorite despite Arizona's proven track record of stopping them?  The Ducks are rightfully favored because of two factors: improved health, which includes the return of senior left tackle Jake Fisher (who missed the first meeting), and questions about the Wildcats defense if they are unable to force big plays.

Using Football Outsiders' Fremeau Efficiency Index as a guide, the Wildcats defense ranks 35th in terms of drive success rate, the lowest ranking of any team in semirealistic playoff contention.  By more conventional statistics, Arizona concedes a whopping 434.7 yards per game, ninth in the Pac-12.  

That latter number is skewed a bit by the Wildcats' fast offensive pace, which is always going to leave the defense on the field longer than if Arizona ran a conventional offense.  But the FEI metrics largely support the conventional wisdom that, apart from Wright, the Wildcats should not have the talent or speed to shut down Oregon as well as they have over the last two years.

Two consecutive victories is not a fluke, so Arizona's chances cannot be dismissed; however, given Oregon's improving health and quietly excellent defensive progress, the Ducks clearly appear as though they are one of the best teams in the nation.  Consequently, expect Oregon to punch its ticket to the playoff and snap their brief skid to the Wildcats.

Prediction: Oregon 37, Arizona 27 

 

Stats via ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.

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Pac-12 Championship 2014: Last-Minute Odds and Prediction for Arizona vs. Oregon

Duck hunting season is coming to an end in many parts of the country, but the Arizona Wildcats could drastically alter the College Football Playoff picture in a single shot...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Interceptions Raising Doubts About Jameis Winston's NFL Potential

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is often characterized as an elite prospect with character concerns, a player whose on-field ability could make him one of the top picks in the 2015 NFL draft but whose off-field history could push him down draft boards.

That description, however, might no longer be accurate. As Winston has thrown 17 interceptions in just 11 games this season, it’s possible that concerns about his play might end up hurting the draft prospect more than his checkered past.

There will always be ambiguity in how seriously concerned teams should be about Winston’s non-football issues.

Although Winston has been involved in numerous well-publicized incidents over the past few years, it’s still unknown whether there’s any validity to the most serious allegation against him: an accused sexual assault, stemming from a December 2012 interaction with a woman that Winston said, in a statement provided during a Florida State code of conduct hearing Tuesday that was later acquired by USA Today, was consensual.

From the outside looking in, it’s impossible to judge Winston’s character while being fair and without leaping to assumptions about the validity or non-validity of allegations against him.

What can be clearly evaluated is that Winston is going to have to play much better than he has on the field this year if he is going to achieve success as an NFL quarterback.

 

Breaking Down Winston’s Rising Interception Total

As a redshirt freshman last season, Winston was the clear-cut best player in college football, and he earned the 2013 Heisman Trophy as a result. This year, despite the facts that Florida State is 12-0 and remains undefeated since Winston has become its starting quarterback, No. 5 hasn’t played well to even deserve an invitation to the Heisman ceremony.

Winston’s completion percentage (65.1 from 66.9), yards per passing attempt (8.3 from 10.6) and passer rating (143.7 from 184.85) are significantly down from last year. Most significantly, Winston has been picked off 17 times in 392 passing attempts, a stark increase from the 10 interceptions he threw in 384 passing attempts last year.

There are factors beyond the quarterback himself that might be contributing to Winston’s decline from a statistical standpoint. The Seminoles have not been able to seamlessly replace some of the players they lost from their 2013 offense, including wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, center Bryan Stork and running back Devonta Freeman.

That said, Winston still has as much NFL talent around him as just about any other quarterback in college football, yet his performance has evidently regressed.

Despite being tied for 31st in passes attempted this year, Winston is one of only six quarterbacks who has thrown 17 or more interceptions. None of the other five—Tulsa’s Dane Evans, New Mexico State’s Tyler Rogers, Georgia State’s Nick Arbuckle, UNLV’s Blake Decker and Idaho’s Matt Linehan—are currently viewed as NFL prospects.

Only two quarterbacks since 2000—Matt Ryan in 2008 and Rex Grossman in 2002—have been selected in the first round of the NFL draft after throwing 17 or more interceptions in their final college football seasons.

Why are such a significantly high percentage of Winston’s passes being picked off by opposing defenses?

In charting all 17 of Winston’s interceptions this year, there are a number of evident patterns. Thirteen of his picks have been thrown in the first half, 13 of them have been made between the numbers and nine of them have occurred within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage.

The first phenomenon is an unusual one that cannot simply be explained by identifying a specific flaw in his game. The second two, however, point to areas in which Winston must become a better decision-maker and coverage-reader to avoid costly turnovers.

Four of Winston’s interceptions this year—including two by Florida’s Brian Poole this past Saturday, and also the two shown below by Oklahoma State linebacker Seth Jacobs and North Carolina State linebacker Jerod Fernandez—have come on throws where Winston stared down a downfield target but never recognized an underneath coverage, allowing that player to read the quarterback’s eyes, step into the passing lane and pick off his throw without any receiver in front of him.

It’s not as though Winston is unable to go through his progression and make multiple reads over the course of a play—he does so regularly—but he must get better at recognizing when there is a defender in the line between his throw point and the intended target.

Most of Winston’s other interceptions have come as a result of making poor decisions under pressure and trying to force passes to receivers against coverage over the middle of the field.

In another example from FSU’s September game against North Carolina State, Winston tried to find Nick O’Leary about 17 yards downfield between the hashes, between a window of three defenders, all the while throwing off his back foot under heavy pressure. Predictably, he paid the price, as his pass was inaccurate and picked off by Fernandez.

The worst interception of all thrown by Winston this year was his pass picked off by Notre Dame linebacker Joe Schmidt in October. Under duress from three Notre Dame pass-rushers inside his own five-yard line, Winston should have just thrown the ball out of bounds but instead threw a desperate heave over the right middle of the field, which allowed Schmidt to play the ball for a takeaway.

Overall, Winston’s interception issues have little to do with passing accuracy and velocity; to the contrary, Winston has gotten away with forced throws on many occasions because of his ability to rifle a throw downfield and hit his target precisely.

That said, Winston won’t get away with forced passes nearly as often at the next level as he goes up against tighter coverage windows and defenders who can make plays on the ball at all levels.

Winston needs to become more consistent with his decision-making and learn when he needs to just check down or throw the ball away rather than attempt a pass downfield against the rush. If he does not do that, his interception totals are likely to only increase in the NFL.

 

How Much is Winston’s Draft Stock Falling?

According to TFY Draft Insider’s Tony Pauline, NFL scouts and decision-makers are finding “Winston’s penchant for turning the ball over”—the quarterback also has four fumbles this year, although he has only lost one to the other team—”very disconcerting.”

“Off the field transgressions aside, his play on Saturday’s has been exciting but not the caliber of an early first round pick,” Pauline wrote earlier this week.

NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks believes that Winston’s “season-long struggles with turnovers and mechanics” have shown that the quarterback “is a talented but flawed prospect who will need time to develop at the next level.”

“Although he remains the top quarterback prospect in college football with valuable experience running a pro-style system, he is not a plug-and-play prospect who can step in and lead a team from Day 1,” Brooks wrote. “In time, I believe Winston will be a franchise player, but his 2014 struggles suggest a patient approach might be best for the team that selects him if he comes out following his sophomore season.”

A team looking for an immediate upgrade at the quarterback position might have to reconsider whether it should invest a high draft choice in Winston. Yet it remains unclear whether Winston's draft stock has actually fallen significantly in the eyes of NFL teams.

In his Scouting Notebook for this week, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller wrote that he recently spoke to three NFL general managers who said, “their view of Winston has not changed.”

Scouts always want to see progression over the course of a player's collegiate career, not regression, so evaluators should be concerned by the negative turn in his play. But even so, Winston's upside could be tough to pass up for a quarterback-needy team in a draft that appears to have no other first-round-caliber passing prospects besides Oregon's Marcus Mariota.

 

Why a Team Will Still Take a Chance on Winston Early in the Draft

Although Winston's errors this season have made it clear that his game still needs significant work, there are a number of areas in which he is better than Mariota and any other quarterback eligible for the 2015 draft.

A 6’4”, 230-pound player with a big arm and good mobility, Winston has all the physical tools to potentially be a great pro quarterback.

He clearly needs to be smarter about what passes he attempts, but his ability to connect with targets between tight windows and when he is pressured remains far better than the vast majority of quarterbacks when they come out of college.

While Winston’s mistakes have been a big reason why Florida State has had to come back from second-half deficits in three of its last six games, and has won by only five points or less in four of its last six games, the quarterback has also been integral in the Seminoles' not only winning every game they have played this year, but also all of last year.

For all of his faults, Winston has stepped up time and time again to make clutch plays for his team with the game on the line. He has the so-called “it factor,” an intangible knack for playing up to the situation and being at his best when needed most.

That doesn’t mean his faults should be excused, nor does it mean Winston will be able to commit turnovers against NFL defenses and still be able to bring his team back to win games. Unlike at Florida State, where his team almost always has clearly superior talent to its opponent, the competition will be much steeper and the margin of error will be much slimmer for Winston as a professional.

It does show, however, that Winston is a natural on-field leader who never gives up on a game and keeps his composure when he has to bounce back from turnovers he has made.

Those qualities, along with the physical tools and playmaking ability that keep Winston’s prospect ceiling very high, make it possible that a team looking for a franchise signal-caller—such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans or New York Jets—could use one of the top overall picks in the draft to select him.

It would be a surprise, at this point, if Winston was selected ahead of Mariota. While Winston has more experience playing under pressure and completing throws with high degrees of difficulty, Mariota has asserted himself as the top draft-eligible quarterback with a stellar season that could also make him this year’s Heisman Trophy winner.

But unless every team agrees that Winston's on-field flaws and off-field red flags make him too risky to draft in early Round 1, it's likely he will come off the board quickly—assuming he declares for the 2015 draft, which CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora has reported he will—after Mariota is selected.

 

All GIFs were made using Gfycatwith videos from DraftBreakdown.com.All statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.

Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

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