Already one of the biggest bowl games on the schedule, the 2015 Sugar Bowl will take on an increased importance as it is one of the two semifinal games in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
As the selection committee prepares to unveil its final rankings on Sunday, the pieces have been put in place for the matchup that will take place in Atlanta on New Year's Day. All that remains is making sure the committee doesn't try anything funny, which has happened more than once this season.
While there's still more than three weeks to go before the game and a few hours before the matchup is officially announced, here is a look at everything that's set for this year's Sugar Bowl thus far. It's only appropriate to follow that up with an examination of the teams most likely to be playing in New Orleans.
Teams in the Mix
Alabama Crimson Tide
As things are set up, the Sugar Bowl will play host to the No. 1 and No. 4 seeds in the College Football Playoff rankings. For the last three weeks, since defeating Mississippi State on November 15, the top spot has belonged to the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Nick Saban's team has shown some cracks at times this season. The offense was stagnant against LSU, while the defense gave up 630 yards and 44 points against Auburn. Through it all, they have come out with just one loss.
ESPN Stats & Info put out numbers using advanced metrics, as well as the rankings, prior to the SEC Championship Game to show how good Alabama has been this season:
Everything has been set up for 'Bama to play in the Sugar Bowl. The Crimson Tide have taken care of their biggest rivals (LSU and Auburn) already this season. Blake Sims has had his ups and downs but stepped up in the biggest moment of his career in the Iron Bowl.
Combine that with the committee's love of the Tide, and it's not going to surprise anyone when they are selected as the top overall seed.
TCU Horned Frogs
Even though TCU rose up to No. 3 in last week's rankings, the committee could opt to knock the Horned Frogs back down due to a cupcake opponent in Iowa State on Saturday.
Regardless, though, Gary Patterson's team is a lock for one of the two big bowl games. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com actually gave TCU the best odds of any team to make the playoff after last week's rankings came out:
TCU’s chances of making the playoff are now 96 percent, according to the FiveThirtyEight model — up from 80 percent before the committee’s new rankings were released. Those odds might seem incredibly high, but TCU has a cupcake opponent in 2-9 Iowa State, against whom it’s a 97 percent favorite, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). TCU remains unlikely to make the playoff should it lose, but it looks safer in the event of a win.
Based on the comments made by selection committee chairman Jeff Long after TCU was announced as the No. 3 team on Tuesday, it's clear the people in power love what they have seen from the Horned Frogs despite their head-to-head loss against Big 12 rival Baylor, via Jerry Hinnen of CBSSports.com:
We look at their losses. Baylor's loss is against a West Virginia team that's outside the top 25, and TCU's is against Baylor, who is No. 6 ... We look at many, many different things. Overall, the evaluation -- the human evaluation -- of this is what this committee is designed to do. And I think they've done that in this case with TCU and Baylor.
Saturday was basically a glorified coronation for TCU, as there was little doubt it would take care of business against Iowa State. The Horned Frogs aren't likely to move down after climbing up, though there is a logjam after the top two spots that warrants putting them here.
Florida State Seminoles
Based on the current rankings, the Sugar Bowl matchup was set to be Alabama against Florida State. There was some controversy about the committee dropping an undefeated Seminoles team from third to fourth, though Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com has a theory about that:
"Dropping Florida State to No. 4 means a semifinal in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans against No. 1 Alabama," Adelson wrote. "That is the dream matchup everybody wanted to end last season, a delicious pairing between mentor Nick Saban and mentee Jimbo Fisher."
It's a good conspiracy theory, helped by the fact that Florida State wouldn't have to travel as far to get to New Orleans compared to Pasadena, California for the Rose Bowl.
Even though their wins aren't always sexy, there's something to be said for the Seminoles always finding a way to come out on top. Per ESPN's College GameDay on Twitter, no other school in the country can match Florida State's combination of comeback wins and close wins:
Statistical analysis has taken over sports, and a lot of it is valuable, but sometimes it takes away from remembering the ultimate goal is to win a game. No one has done that more over the last two years than Florida State.
There's a real argument to be made for Baylor to be ranked ahead of TCU already, as the Bears won a 61-58 shootout against their conference rivals on October 11. The committee didn't agree, slotting Art Briles' team in three spots behind the Horned Frogs before Saturday's games.
One silver lining for Baylor is it had a chance to prove itself once again with a showdown against ninth-ranked Kansas State. The school tried to take necessary steps to get more publicity, including hiring a public relations firm, via SportsCenter:
While that's going a little overboard, as well as blurring the lines once again between college football and business, all Baylor really had to do is beat Kansas State to at least warrant consideration for one of the top four spots.
The climb is steep because of the competition around them, but the Bears have put together a resume that can compete with anyone. There will be justified outrage if they don't get in and TCU does. Remember when the BCS formula was broken?
Ohio State Buckeyes
Even the most optimistic Ohio State fan will tell you that they didn't see a 59-0 drubbing of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game coming. Certainly, it wouldn't happen without star quarterback J.T. Barrett.
But it did, which leaves the selection committee with the unenviable task of having to leave out one of TCU, Ohio State or Baylor. Florida State could be included in that group since it was fourth last week, but there's no way to leave out an undefeated defending national champion.
As crazy as it sounds based on the results from Saturday, Ohio State still seems like the odd team out. Think about what we know: The committee loves TCU, as evidenced by its ranking last week; Baylor has a head-to-head win over TCU and by matchup ranking had a tougher game on Saturday than the Buckeyes.
Therefore, it comes down to what the committee prefers. Even with the win over Wisconsin, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com only gives Ohio State a 40 percent chance to make the top four, putting the Buckeyes fifth in its latest simulation.
While being fifth is nothing to scoff at, it's not enough to get you into the playoff.
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The Rose Bowl is traditionally one of the biggest games of the college football season, and that's no different this year, given the stakes.
Historically, the Rose Bowl generally featured the winners of the Big Ten and Pac-10/Pac-12 conferences.
Since the creation of the Bowl Championship Series, the Rose Bowl became a little more inclusive, serving as the national championship for a few different seasons and also featuring TCU and Oklahoma when the conference champions were otherwise occupied.
With the advent of the College Football Playoff, that changes a bit.
Until the selection committee unveils the last batch of College Football Playoff rankings, it's anybody's guess as to whom will play in the 2015 Rose Bowl.
Here's what we know so far heading into the New Year's Day clash.
When: Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015, at 5 p.m. ET
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
Where Rose Bowl Fits into Playoff
Since this is the first year for the playoff, some fans remain unaware how the Rose Bowl fits into this year's rotation. The game serves as one of two semifinals this year, with the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds facing off. The winner will play whomever wins the Sugar Bowl, with the national championship in Arlington, Texas.
In the old system, you had the Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl fall under the BCS umbrella. One of the four would host the national championship, with the host rotating from one year to the next.
In the CFP, the Cotton Bowl and Peach Bowl are added to the prestigious list. Rather than switching the national championship, the six bowls rotate who hosts the two semifinal games. You can see the rotation schedule for the next three years below.
The Rose Bowl won't serve as the national semifinal at any other point in the next three years.
Who's Still in Play?
Nobody can say for sure right now who will play in the Rose Bowl. Between glancing at the Week 15 playoff rankings and results from Friday and Saturday's games, however, fans can get a good idea of at least which teams are in the discussion.
Three teams are essentially locks for the top four after the conference championships: Florida State, Alabama and Oregon. The Crimson Tide and Ducks won the two toughest conferences in the country, while the Seminoles are the only Power Five team still unbeaten.
Say what you want about Florida State's penchant for close wins. The only thing FSU needs as a playoff credential is its 13-0 record. Head coach Jimbo Fisher isn't sweating the committee's decision, per Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated:
It seems a safe bet that the committee will be weighing the resumes of Ohio State, Baylor and TCU as it fills out the playoff bracket.
The Big 12 is officially recognizing two champions, which makes the committee's decision that much harder:
Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight wondered whether the members might save itself a major headache and simply send in the Buckeyes:
Say what you want about the Big Ten, but beating Wisconsin by 59 points in the title game was a major statement. According to ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach, it was the second-biggest shutout of a top-15 team ever:
Schlabach also crunched the numbers, and it's hard to vote against OSU:
Those fans without a dog in the fight shouldn't really get upset no matter who gets sent into the playoff. There won't be a bad semifinal matchup, and this system is miles better than the Bowl Championship Series.
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College football's regular season is over, and with it went the best part of ESPN's College GameDay: the celebrity pickers.
The show will broadcast from Annapolis, Maryland, for Army-Navy next weekend and again during bowl season, but without another full slate of games to pick from, we will not get the immaculate weirdness of, say, Bill Murray body-slamming Lee Corso.
No celebrity picker topped Murray's showmanship during 2014, but that was to be expected. Nobody ever will.
So let's check out how they did with their actual picks:
Jase and Willie
Our standings are bookended by Jase and Willie Robertson, the Duck Dynasty brothers who appeared at Ole Miss-LSU in Week 9.
Willie made a point of fading every pick Jase offered—save their LSU Tigers—which backfired when it turned out Jase went 9-0. Jase ended up with the best record of the season. Willie ended up in the cellar:
At least it made for decent TV.
Katy Perry Had a Day
Teen idol Katy Perry had herself a day in Oxford, Mississippi, nailing seven of her nine predictions.
The only games she missed were Tennessee over Florida and Oklahoma over TCU. The former was an ugly 10-9 Gators win that easily could have gone to the Vols, and the latter can be forgiven since Perry admitted that lust for Sooners quarterback Trevor Knight informed her pick.
It's all good, though. Two losses were not enough to spoil Perry's first college football experience. She followed up her day by having herself a night, and Oxford's bar scene might never be the same:
Legend Status: Unlocked.
Sorry, Male Musicians
Do not—I repeat, do not—invite a male musician to GameDay.
Chances are he'll make your team lose.
South Carolina lost when Kenny Chesney came for the Missouri game. West Virginia lost when Brad Paisley came for the TCU game. And Michigan State lost when Alice Cooper came for the Ohio State game.
Care to guess how many other home teams lost after hosting GameDay?
Exactly as many other male musicians appeared as pickers.
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Urban Meyer and No. 5 Ohio State flexed their muscles and proved themselves as the class of the conference, hammering No. 13 Wisconsin in a 59-0 shutout loss in the Big Ten Championship Game Saturday night.
The Buckeyes (12-1) put on a show as they claimed their first Big Ten title since 2009, out-gaining the Badgers (10-3) by 293 yards. Cardale Jones was brilliant playing in place of the injured J.T. Barrett, leading Ohio State to a huge victory in his first career start.
How did the Badgers and the Buckeyes grade out from the surprising blowout Saturday night?
Wisconsin Badgers Grade Analysis
Pass Offense: Wisconsin's offense is most successful when it's featuring running back Melvin Gordon, but due to the blowout nature of the game, quarterback Joel Stave received a heavy workload. That wasn't a good thing for the Badgers, as he completed just 17 of 43 passes (39.4 percent) for 187 yards and no touchdowns. Most of that work came in the second half, when Stave threw 28 passes for 129 yards, as the Badgers were desperately trying to claw their way back into the game.
Run Offense: Wisconsin entered the game with the nation's No. 2 rushing offense, averaging 334.3 yards per contest. The Badgers were fueled by Gordon, a Heisman Trophy candidate who leads the country with 2,260 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns. But Wisconsin was completely shut down by Ohio State, rushing for just 78 total yards on the game. Gordon was held out of the end zone for the first time all year, and the Badgers managed just 2.1 yards per carry.
Pass Defense: Going up against Ohio State's third-string quarterback, Wisconsin was consistently gashed, especially on the deep ball. The Badgers surrendered 257 passing yards on just 18 pass attempts from the Buckeyes. The three touchdowns they gave up—all of which went to Ohio State's Devin Smith—were an average of 41.7 yards.
Run Defense: Wisconsin's run defense was even worse. Ezekiel Elliott had his way with the Badgers defense, running for 220 yards (a Big Ten title game record, previously held by Melvin Gordon) and two touchdowns on just 20 carries. In total, the Buckeyes bulldozed their way to 301 rushing yards and four touchdowns on just 38 carries, averaging 7.9 yards per carry.
Special Teams: The Badgers could have used a big play (or several big plays) from their special teams to provide a spark, but it was an uninspired night at every level. Drew Meyer had a busy night, averaging 41.1 yards on eight punts. But Kenzel Doe couldn't shake loose against Ohio State's kick coverage team and averaged just 19 yards on six returns.
Coaching: Gary Andersen and the Wisconsin coaching staff were thoroughly outclassed by Meyer and Ohio State. The Badgers failed to rattle a quarterback who was making his first start on one of college football's biggest stages, and in the end, nothing Andersen did helped his team keep pace with the high-flying Buckeyes.
Ohio State Buckeyes Grade Analysis
Pass Offense: Many thought Ohio State would play it conservatively without Barrett, but Jones came out and lit the Wisconsin defense up. The sophomore signal-caller threw for 211 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone, and Smith was the big beneficiary, hauling in three passes for 95 yards.
The Buckeyes pounded things out on the ground in the second half as Jones attempted just four passes in the final two quarters. He finished with 257 yards and three touchdowns, all of which ended up in the steady, secure hands of Smith.
Run Offense: Elliott got the Buckeyes off to a fast start in the first half, breaking off an 81-yard touchdown run on the third drive to put Ohio State up by 14. That run alone accounted for more rushing yards than Wisconsin managed in the entire game as the Buckeyes pounded their way to 153 yards in the first half.
Up 38-0 to start the third quarter, Ohio State stuck to the ground attack with great success. Elliott finished with a game-high 220 rushing yards, and Bri'onte Dunn and Curtis Samuel combined for 70 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries. That helped the Buckeyes pile up 558 total yards against the nation's No. 2 total defense.
Pass Defense: Ohio State's offense actually guided Wisconsin to play directly into the strength of the Buckeyes defense. Trailing by such a wide margin, the Badgers were forced to throw into Ohio State's vastly improved secondary. That proved difficult as Ohio State's defensive line, led by Joey Bosa, terrorized Stave all night. The Badgers missed on 26 of their 43 pass attempts, and the Buckeyes came up with three interceptions (two from senior cornerback Doran Grant).
Ohio State only gave up 187 passing yards as Wisconsin averaged a meager 4.3 yards per pass attempt.
Run Defense: Ohio State's run defense was even more impressive as it shut down the nation's leading rusher in Gordon. Coming into the game averaging an incredible 188.3 rushing yards per game, the Badgers running back was shut down by the Buckeyes, gaining just 76 yards on 26 carries. The Buckeyes also forced Gordon to fumble near Wisconsin's goal line, which Bosa scooped up and returned four yards for a touchdown. It was an encouraging performance for Ohio State, which had surrendered 584 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns to the last four running backs it had faced.
Special Teams: Cameron Johnston had another incredible night, averaging 53 yards on four punts. His 73-yard boot in the first quarter that pinned Wisconsin at its own 2-yard line was the special teams play of the game. The Badgers came close to blocking a couple of Ohio State's punts, but Johnston was able to get his four attempts off cleanly. The only hiccup of the game came early in the fourth quarter when Wisconsin blocked a 30-yard field-goal attempt from Sean Nuernberger.
Coaching: Offensively and defensively, Ohio State completely dominated Wisconsin Saturday night. That was the result of a perfect game plan by the coaching staff that was executed flawlessly by the players. Chris Ash and Luke Fickell called their best game of the season, registering a historic shutout. Meyer, Tom Herman and the offensive staff knew exactly what they had in Jones, and they put him in the perfect position to trigger the blowout. From play-calling to game management, the Buckeyes didn't miss on Saturday night, and they're Big Ten champions because of it.
All stats via NCAA.com.
David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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It was championship week and fans expected plenty of playoff drama to unfold. We all wanted chaos.
While chaos may still ensue with six teams having legitimate claims to four spots, most games ended up being blowouts this week with the exception of the ACC Championship Game, which Florida State won 37-35 to earn itself an undefeated season for the second-straight year.
Only 13 teams in the Week 15 AP Poll were in action—nearly all of them in conference title games. That'll create some interesting poll shuffles, as six of the 13 ranked teams lost.
So how will the season's penultimate AP Poll pan out? Here's our best crack at figuring that out.
Despite having the week off, the Clemson Tigers should move up quite a few spots in this week's poll. They were positioned right behind the Oklahoma Sooners, who coughed it up against Oklahoma State this week. Couple that with the other teams losing in conference championship games, and the Tigers should be a Top 15 team heading into bowl season.
Rakeem Cato and Co. avenged last week's loss to Western Kentucky with a win over a decent Louisiana Tech team in the C-USA Championship Game. Not exactly a Power Five title, but the Thundering Herd still have 12 wins on the year and should climb back into the polls after falling out last week.
Saturday's home loss in the Bedlam game to Oklahoma State in Norman was not only embarrassing for the Sooners, it was also its fourth of the season. Oklahoma was pegged as the Big 12 favorite at the start of the season—instead it has been turned into a mediocre team at best. Losing to Oklahoma State to give the Cowboys bowl eligibility was a huge blow that should knock the Sooners out of the polls altogether.
The Badgers won't be punished for losing to Ohio State—they'll be punished for how they lost. A 59-0 shutout victory for the Buckeyes put Wisconsin, which had been rolling since Melvin Gordon's massive game against Nebraska a few weeks ago. Now the Badgers will be reeling from a morale-crushing defeat heading into bowl season and will suffer in the polls because of it.
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