Articles By Steven Lassan
Florida State enters the college football playoff with a 29-game winning streak and a tough first-round matchup against Oregon in the Rose Bowl. The Seminoles aren’t the same team that claimed the BCS Championship last season, but coach Jimbo Fisher’s team is loaded with young talent and one of the top quarterbacks (Jameis Winston) in the nation.
Despite finishing unbeaten, Florida State dropped in the committee’s rankings throughout the year. The Seminoles weren’t dominant in most of their games, but Fisher’s team consistently found ways to win, while overcoming youth and injuries on defense.
5 Reasons Why Florida State Will Win the CFB Playoff
1. Jameis Winston
Winston has experienced his shares of ups and downs this season, but when the sophomore is locked in, he’s one of the best in college football. The sophomore missed one game due to suspension and finished the season with 3,559 yards and 24 touchdowns to 17 interceptions. In the ACC Championship against Georgia Tech, Winston turned in one of his best performances of the year by throwing for 309 yards and three scores on 21 completions. An ankle injury bothered Winston late in the year, and with nearly a month to heal, the sophomore should be at his best in the playoffs. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that Winston will have plenty of time to work on getting in rhythm with young targets like Travis Rudolph, Jesus Wilson and Ermon Lane. In the playoffs, a quarterback that’s on fire can carry a team to a championship. Winston is that type of player.
2. Defensive Improvement and Better Health
Florida State’s defense isn’t as dominant as it was last year, but this unit also had to overcome a lot of injuries, a new coordinator and youth in the starting lineup. The Seminoles allow 5.3 yards per play, which ranks 11th in the ACC. And under the direction of first-year coordinator Charles Kelly, the defense ranks sixth in the conference in points allowed per game (23). Kelly has done a good job of making adjustments within the game, as the defense stepped up in the second half against Louisville, Georgia Tech and Miami. While those numbers are up from last season, it’s important to consider Florida State could have zero senior starters in its first playoff game. Standout defensive tackle Eddie Goldman suffered an ankle injury in the ACC Championship, and his status for the playoff games is uncertain. If Goldman can’t play, that’s a huge blow for a defensive line that is already without Nile Lawrence-Stample due to a season-ending injury. Injuries also hit the linebacking corps hard, including ailments to junior Terrance Smith and redshirt freshman Matthew Thomas. It’s possible the time off is going to benefit Florida State’s defense more than any other unit in the four-team playoff.
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3. Freshman Talent on Offense
The Seminoles have veteran playmakers like seniors Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary, but the time to prepare for the playoffs will help coach Jimbo Fisher develop some of the team’s young talent. Running back Dalvin Cook emerged as the team’s top running back over the second half of the season and finished the year with 905 yards and eight scores. The true freshman from Miami gashed Georgia Tech for 177 yards and rushed for 144 yards against Florida. In addition to Cook’s emergence, the receiving corps features an emerging star in freshman Travis Rudolph (32 catches for 459 yards), and true freshman Roderick Johnson is now the team’s starting left tackle. All three players have been major contributors over the last half of the season, and with the additional time to prepare, all three will be more comfortable in Florida State’s offense. That’s a scary thought for the rest of the playoff teams.
4. Experience Winning Close Games
The knock on Florida State’s resume heading into the national championship last year was the lack of close wins. The Seminoles dispelled that narrative after scoring a late touchdown to beat Auburn in the BCS Championship. A year later, the narrative on coach Jimbo Fisher’s team is the Seminoles are simply winning too many close games. Regardless of whether that should be held against Florida State in the seeding, it could come in handy in the playoffs. Florida State won seven games by a touchdown or less and only two of its final seven matchups were decided by more than 10 points. If the Seminoles are locked into another tight matchup in the playoffs, this team has the experience and confidence to overcome a late deficit.
5. Best Kicker in College Football
If Florida State plays another close game, kicker Roberto Aguayo could be a difference maker. Yes, that’s right – we are highlighting a kicker in this section. The sophomore is the best kicker in the nation and the defending Lou Groza Award winner. Aguayo connected on 25 of 27 field goals this season, including 9 of 11 attempts from 40 yards or more. Both Alabama and Oregon have struggled at times with their field goal attempts this season. If either team is locked into a close game with Florida State, Aguayo’s ability to hit 50-yard attempts is a valuable asset for coach Jimbo Fisher.
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley moved quickly in replacing the fired Will Muschamp, as the Gators announced Jim McElwain as the team’s new coach on Thursday. The Florida’s coaching search was an interesting exploration into hiring a coach, as the program was very public with its pursuit of McElwain and the negotiations for a hefty buyout with Colorado State.
Now that the dust has settled on the hire, it’s time to examine whether or not McElwain makes sense for Florida. Foley struck out on Muschamp and needs to get this hire right to get the Gators back in contention for SEC East titles.
It’s tough to know where a program stands with candidates when a search opens. Florida is one of the top jobs in college football, so there was no shortage of interested candidates. If some were expecting a big name here, they may be disappointed in McElwain’s hire. However, good coaches can come from any program, and McElwain – while it’s unspectacular – is going to work out well for Florida.
Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives for the Gators and grade the hire:
Positives in Florida’s Hire of McElwain
Background on Offense
Offense was the biggest problem under Muschamp. Florida never averaged more than 26 points per game in SEC contests over the last four seasons and struggled mightily in 2013 by recording 19.9 points per game in league matchups. It will take McElwain some time, but he should jumpstart this offense. Under McElwain’s guidance, Colorado State averaged 35.9 points per game in 2014 and recorded a 36.2 mark in 2013. Sure, the competition is tougher in the SEC, but McElwain transformed quarterback Garrett Grayson into an all-conference performer for the Rams and has a track record of success on this side of the ball. McElwain seems to be the right coach to fix some of Florida’s woes on offense, especially after this team struggled to develop a standout quarterback since Tim Tebow left Gainesville.
McElwain has spent a sizeable chunk of his coaching career out West, but he does have a four-year stint under Nick Saban as Alabama’s offensive coordinator (2008-11). Under McElwain’s direction, the Crimson Tide averaged at least 30 points per game in his four seasons as the play-caller. Even though McElwain has never been a head coach in the SEC before, his experience at Alabama will be a huge bonus when he opens the 2014 season. Experience isn’t required to win in the SEC – but it certainly doesn’t hurt either.
Concerns in Florida’s Hire of McElwain:
Recruiting in the SEC
This is being nitpicky but recruiting to Colorado State and Alabama is a different beast. As we mentioned above, it certainly helps McElwain that he has SEC experience. However, it’s one thing to win at the Mountain West level and another to win enough in the SEC to keep the fans quiet. Will McElwain struggle to recruit to Florida? Probably not. After all, the program is one of the best in the nation and should sell itself on the recruiting trail. However, this is one area that opposing coaches could use against him when going head-to-head with recruits. McElwain is an unknown to most prospects, so it’s important for him to sell his vision and blueprint right away to salvage a class that currently ranks at the bottom of the SEC. It’s also critical for McElwain to build a staff that’s familiar with the SEC, perhaps retaining a few of the assistants from the Muschamp regime would be a good place to start. Can McElwain win consistent recruiting battles against Florida State, Alabama and Georgia? We are about to find out.
This is more of a question than a concern for McElwain. Can he meet the high expectations at Florida? As we mentioned above, it’s easier to win at the Mountain West, and there’s certainly less pressure to coach at Colorado State than Florida. Will the Montana native meet the demands of the fanbase by consistently winning the East, recording 10 victories and beating rival Florida State? That remains to be seen, but the pressure on McElwain to win – and win big – is about to increase by a significant margin.
Florida missed on Muschamp – a Saban assistant – in the last hire, so there’s some doubt among the fanbase McElwain will produce at a higher level. However, there’s plenty in McElwain’s track record to suggest he’s done enough outside of his stint at Alabama to produce at a high level. The Montana native has experience in the NFL with the Raiders, worked as an assistant at Louisville, Michigan State and Montana State and has spent the last three seasons turning around the Colorado State program (including a 10-2 mark in 2014).
By no means is McElwain the flashy hire most fans want. However, he’s exactly what the program needs. Florida is going to get its share of talent on the recruiting trail. Now it needs a coach that can develop and put the talent into a position to succeed. McElwain is clearly that type of coach and is inheriting plenty to work with in 2015.
Boise State and Fresno State close out the 2014 regular season with a showdown on the blue turf in the Mountain West Conference championship game. With a win over the Bulldogs, the Broncos are expected to clinch a spot in one of college football’s premier bowl games as the top team from the Group of 5 conferences. While there’s a lot at stake for Boise State, Fresno State is trying to build off the momentum to close out the regular season. The Bulldogs won their final three games, including a 40-20 upset against Nevada to win the West Division.
Boise State and Fresno State have met 15 previous times, with the Broncos owning a 12-3 series edge. Fresno State’s last win in this series was last season (2013) by just one point (41-40). The Bulldogs have never won in Boise and lost the 2008 and 2010 meetings by 51 points each.
Fresno State at Boise State
Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Boise State -22
Fresno State’s Key to Victory: QB Brian Burrell
It’s no secret Fresno State is going to need to score some points to keep pace with Boise State. The Broncos average 41.8 points in six home games this season, and coach Bryan Harsin’s offense is tough to stop on the blue turf. The Bulldogs are averaging 35.3 points per contest over their last three games, and quarterback Brian Burrell is playing better after early-season struggles. Burrell tossed four touchdown passes and threw for 313 yards in an upset win at Nevada and added 207 yards and three touchdowns in a win over San Jose State on Nov. 8. Burrell has 13 picks this year, and he has to keep that number to zero or one on Saturday night. The junior has a strong supporting cast, including running back Marteze Waller (6.5 ypc) and receiver Josh Harper (76 catches). Burrell holds the keys to the offense and will determine if Fresno State can pull off the upset. If he plays well and limits the mistakes, the Bulldogs have a chance to keep this close into the fourth quarter – similar to the first meeting between these two teams.
Boise State’s Key to Victory: Get RB Jay Ajayi Going Once Again
Jay Ajayi is one of the nation’s most underrated players, and the junior enters the Mountain West Championship with seven consecutive 100-yard efforts. In 12 games, Ajayi has 1,619 yards and 24 rushing scores and has caught 45 passes for 536 yards and four touchdowns. In the first meeting between these two programs in 2014, Ajayi gashed the Fresno State defense for 158 yards and two scores on 30 carries. The Bulldogs will be challenged at the point of attack once again, as this defensive front has struggled to stop the run this season and ranks ninth in the Mountain West in rush defense. Surprisingly, Ajayi wasn’t voted the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year this week, and it’s likely the junior will use that snub as motivation on Saturday night. Ajayi makes the offense for Boise State go. Fresno State has to find a way to slow down the junior on the ground, while the Broncos want to see around 130-150 yards from their star running back on Saturday night.
Fresno State gave Boise State all it could handle in the first meeting between these two teams this year. And the Bulldogs played better down the stretch this season, finishing with a three-game winning streak to earn back-to-back trips to the Mountain West Conference championship game. However, it’s a tall order to win in Boise. And the Broncos simply have too much to play for. Ajayi and quarterback Grant Hedrick have big performances, elevating Boise State to a conference title and a spot in a premier bowl game this year.
Prediction: Boise State 45, Fresno State 20
Nebraska didn’t waste time in finding its next coach, as less than a week after Bo Pelini was fired, athletic director Shawn Eichorst has hired Mike Riley from Oregon State.
Not only was Eichorst’s hire quick, but Riley’s move from Oregon State to Nebraska comes as a major surprise. Riley had a long-term contract with the Beavers and was 93-80 during his tenure in Corvallis.
Some may look at Riley’s record and be underwhelmed with just 93 victories. However, Oregon State is one of the toughest jobs in the Pac-12. Riley was hired away from USC in 1997 as the Beavers’ head coach and brought immediate improvement to the program. From 1972-97, Oregon State had zero seasons of more than four wins. In Riley’s first year (1997), the Beavers went 3-8 and improved to 5-6 in the following season. After the five-win mark in 1998, Riley left Corvallis for the NFL.
After four years in the NFL, Riley returned to Oregon State and guided the Beavers to eight bowl games since 2003. The program also tied for second in the final conference standings twice and has four finishes in the final Associated Press poll.
Just how good was Riley at Oregon State? The Beavers had no bowl appearances from 1996-1998. From 1999-13, Oregon State has played in 11 postseason games – clearly a sign of how much the program improved under Riley’s direction.
Did Nebraska hit a home run by hiring Riley? Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives of this hire.
Positives in Nebraska’s Hire of Mike Riley
Mike Riley…the Anti-Bo?
Bo Pelini certainly won a lot of games at Nebraska, but it’s clear his personality clashed with the fanbase and administrators. That won’t be an issue with Riley. The Idaho native is known as one of the nicest coaches in college football. That distinction doesn’t win games, but Riley has the personality to win at a place like Nebraska.
Developing Talent…Doing More With Less
Riley wasn’t going to reel in elite talent at Oregon State. So the coaching staff had to find overlooked players and develop prospects into All-Pac-12 talent. That formula can work at Nebraska, as the Cornhuskers need to hit Texas and California to find talent, which are two areas Riley recruited for Oregon State. Riley has a good eye for talent, and it’s much easier to recruit at Nebraska than Oregon State. Even if Riley doesn’t reel in top 10-15 classes – something Nebraska wasn’t doing under Pelini – the program can win at a higher level if he continues to find and develop talent similar to what the Beavers were doing in Corvallis. Nebraska is a top 25 job but it can be difficult to attract talent to Lincoln. And with that in mind, it’s critical to have a coach that can find and develop talent.
Here’s a look at Riley’s recruiting rankings with the Beavers from 2011-14:
|Year||National Rank||Commits||5-Stars Signed||4-Stars Signed||3-Stars Signed|
|Rankings and recruiting data according to 247Sports|
Any Concerns in Nebraska’s Hire of Mike Riley?
It’s hard to identify many weaknesses in this hire for Nebraska. But is Riley the right coach to move Nebraska back into national title contention? The guess here is the Cornhuskers won’t win at a significantly higher level than what Pelini was able to do. However, if Nebraska wants the anti-Bo Pelini, then Riley is the right coach. Sure, he may not win 11 or 12 games in a season, and the Cornhuskers may have a puzzling loss or two at times, but he’s not going to clash with the fanbase. That’s important after the last few years isn’t it?
By no means in this a splashy hire. Riley isn’t going to move the needle much nationally, and the initial reaction by most took this coaching move as a surprise. However, once the initial surprise has dissipated, it’s easy to see why Nebraska went this direction. Riley is the opposite in terms of personality to Bo Pelini, has recruited Texas well – an area the Cornhuskers need to significantly mine for talent – and has succeeded in terms of developing talent.
In last year’s coach rankings by Athlon Sports, Riley ranked as the No. 27 coach in the nation. Pelini ranked No. 43. Riley is a better coach, knows how to evaluate talent and is going to fit in well at Nebraska with his easy-going personality.
Nebraska is the best job in the Big Ten West Division. The Cornhuskers may not contend for national championships on a consistent basis, but this program should be a player on a yearly basis for the conference title and should rank as a top 25 team.
Riley did more with less at Oregon State. Forget about the record - it's the 11th best job in the Pac-12. He may not bring a national title to Lincoln, but he’s going to win a lot of games.
Final Grade: B
Mike Riley departed Oregon State for Nebraska on Thursday, leaving the Beavers looking for a new head coach for the first time since the end of the 2002 season. Oregon State is one of the toughest jobs in the Pac-12, so finding a coach that can win at a high level won’t be easy for athletic director Bob De Carolis.
De Carolis could be looking at current Pac-12 assistants like Justin Wilcox at Washington or Scott Frost at Oregon. Current FBS or FCS coaches are also expected to jump into the mix, including Fresno State’s Tim DeRuyter, Utah State’s Matt Wells and Eastern Washington’s Beau Baldwin.
Who might replace Mike Riley at Oregon State? Let’s take a look at 10 possible candidates:
10 Coaching Candidates to Replace Mike Riley at Oregon State
Beau Baldwin, head coach, Eastern Washington
Baldwin is a rising star in the FCS ranks, and Oregon State fans are certainly familiar with his Eastern Washington team after the Eagles knocked off the Beavers in the 2013 season opener. Baldwin spent one year as Central Washington’s head coach in 2007, recording a 10-3 record with a Division II playoff appearance. The California native replaced Paul Wulff at Eastern Washington in 2008 and has a 76-27 mark with the Eagles in seven years. Baldwin has won at least 10 games in each of the last three seasons and claimed the FCS Championship in 2010. He is regarded as a bright offensive mind, and Eastern Washington ranked No. 1 in FCS ranks with an average of 44.6 points per game in 2014.
Tim DeRuyter, head coach, Fresno State
DeRuyter is 26-12 in his three years at Fresno State, including an 11-2 mark in 2013 with a Mountain West title. DeRuyter’s background in Texas and California is critical for a program like Oregon State, as the Beavers recruit heavily in those two areas. Prior to taking over at Fresno State, DeRuyter worked at Texas A&M for two seasons as a defensive coordinator and had stops as an assistant at Air Force, Nevada, Ohio and Navy prior to College Station. DeRuyter went 6-6 this season but also had to replace standout quarterback Derek Carr and receiver Davante Adams.
Scott Frost, offensive coordinator, Oregon
An Oregon assistant as the head coach at Oregon State? It’s not out of the realm of possibility. Frost is considered by many to be a rising star and a future head coach at a Power 5 program. The Nebraska native doesn’t have a ton of coaching experience, but he spent one season as a graduate assistant at Nebraska (2002), a year in the same capacity with Kansas State (2006) and two seasons at Northern Iowa from 2007-08. Frost was hired by former Oregon coach Chip Kelly to tutor the wide receivers in 2009, and he served in that capacity until the start of the 2013 season. Frost was promoted to offensive coordinator after Kelly left for the NFL, and the Ducks’ offense continues to be one of the best in the nation under his watch. Oregon averaged 45.5 points per game in 2013 and has a 45.9 mark entering the Pac-12 Championship. Frost is young and still largely unproven. However, at a place like Oregon State, a coach that can implement an lethal offense like the Ducks have used in recent years would help the Beavers compete in the Pac-12 North.
Tom Herman, offensive coordinator, Ohio State
Herman is another assistant coach primed for a chance to run his own program in the coming seasons. The Ohio native started his coaching career in 1998 at Texas Lutheran University and has worked his way up the assistant ladder over the last 17 seasons. Herman also has stops at Texas (graduate assistant) and Sam Houston State (2001-04) before landing his first opportunity to be a play-caller in 2005 at Texas State. After two years with the Bobcats, Herman called the plays at Rice for two seasons and spent three years at Iowa State from 2009-11. Herman was hired by Urban Meyer as Ohio State’s play-caller at the end of the 2011 season, and the Buckeyes’ offense has thrived under his watch. Herman is also a member of Mensa International.
Brady Hoke, former Michigan coach
Hoke seems like a longshot, but his name has popped up in the initial rumor mill of candidates. Why would Hoke be a possible candidate at Oregon State after striking out at Michigan? Hoke was an assistant with the Beavers from 1989-94 and worked with the Wolverines as an assistant while Oregon State athletic director Bob De Carolis also spent time in Ann Arbor. While Hoke went 31-20 in four years at Michigan and was fired at the conclusion of 2014, he won at San Diego State (not an easy job) and went 19-7 in his last two seasons at Ball State. The connections are there but it would be surprising to see Hoke in Corvallis next year.
Bronco Mendenhall, head coach, BYU
Mendenhall is a longshot, but he played at Oregon State from 1986-87 and later coached in Corvallis from 1995-96. There are certainly ties for Mendenhall to Oregon State, but BYU is a better job. Prior to taking over as the Cougars’ head coach, Mendenhall worked as the defensive coordinator in Provo for two seasons (03-04), spent five years at New Mexico (1998-02) and made other stops at Louisiana Tech (1997), Northern Arizona (1993-94) and Snow College (1991-92). In 10 years as BYU’s coach, Mendenhall has a 90-38 record with nine consecutive bowl appearances.
Mike Norvell, offensive coordinator, Arizona State
Norvell is technically the deputy head coach to Todd Graham at Arizona State, but he’s the architect of the offenses in Tempe. Norvell has worked under Graham for the last eight years, including stints outside of Arizona State at Tulsa and Pittsburgh. The 33-year-old play-caller does not have any experience as a head coach, but it’s clear he’s a rising star in the coaching ranks and is on a fast track to running a Power 5 program.
Bob Stitt, head coach, Colorado School of Mines
Sure, Stitt is a little off the national radar, but it’s not easy to win at Oregon State. Why not try something different? Stitt has coached at Colorado School of Mines since 2000 and has a 98-60 record in that span. The Nebraska native is known for his innovative offenses and spent time as Harvard’s offensive coordinator from 1999-00. Stitt may lack the experience of some of the other candidates on the major college level, but his scheme would be difficult for opposing Pac-12 defensive coordinators to prepare against.
Matt Wells, head coach, Utah State
Wells has picked up where Gary Andersen left off in Logan. Utah State is 18-9 over the last two seasons and played in the Mountain West title game in 2013. Wells and his staff have overcome a plethora of quarterback injuries over the last two years and had to start a true freshman that opened the season as the No. 4 option in 2014. Prior to taking over as Utah State’s head coach and spending two years under Andersen as an assistant, Wells worked at Navy, Tulsa, New Mexico and Louisville.
Justin Wilcox, defensive coordinator, USC
Wilcox is no stranger to the Pacific Northwest, as he played at Oregon from 1996-99 and coached as an assistant at Boise State (2001-02 and 06-09) and at Washington from 2012-13. The Oregon native worked as the defensive coordinator at USC in 2014, and the Trojans finished third in the Pac-12 by holding opponents to 23.8 points per game. Wilcox has been a defensive coordinator for the last nine seasons, including a two-year stint at Tennessee from 2010-11.
Bowling Green and Northern Illinois meet for the second consecutive year in Detroit for the MAC Championship Game. The stakes are a little lower in this season’s matchup, as the Huskies entered last year's game undefeated and had a chance at a marquee bowl. However, the Falcons used a huge performance from quarterback Matt Johnson to end Northern Illinois’ unbeaten season. Much has changed about both programs since last season, as the Huskies had to replace standout quarterback Jordan Lynch and Dino Babers was hired from Eastern Illinois to replace Dave Clawson, who left to be the head coach at Wake Forest.
Bowling Green owns an 11-7 series edge over Northern Illinois. The Falcons snapped a three-game losing streak to the Huskies in last year’s MAC Championship. These two teams have played only once in the regular season since 2011. This is the second meeting between Northern Illinois and Bowling Green in the MAC Championship.
Bowling Green vs. Northern Illinois
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Friday)
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Northern Illinois -6.5
Bowling Green’s Key to Victory: Get QB James Knapke Back on Track
Bowling Green is just 2-3 over its last five games, and a big problem during that span has been the play of its quarterbacks. Of course, any discussion about the Falcons’ passing attack has to rewind back to the season opener. Starter Matt Johnson suffered a season-ending injury against Western Kentucky, and Knapke – a sophomore from Indiana – has been pressed into the starting role. Knapke has the keys to a potent offense, as first-year coach Dino Babers preaches a “falcon fast” approach, and Bowling Green has ran the most plays in the MAC this season. Knapke has just two touchdown passes in his last four games and passed for just 71 yards against Toledo and 140 against Ball State. The sophomore has a solid group of receivers at his disposal, and running back Travis Greene returned from injury to rush for 159 yards and a score in the season finale. The playmakers are there for Babers. However, the Bowling Green offense won’t get on track without a solid performance from Knapke.
Northern Illinois’ Key to Victory: Establish the Run
The Huskies rank second in the MAC with an average of 246.2 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Drew Hare leads the squad with 790 yards, but there’s a cast of running backs available to contribute. The best of the bunch is Cameron Stingily (4.9 ypc), and Joel Bouagnon and Akeem Daniels also help contribute to the ground attack. The effectiveness of the rush attack has fueled the Northern Illinois offense this season, as the passing game ranks 12th in the MAC with an average of 187.2 yards per game. Hare has tossed 15 touchdown passes to just one interception in 2014, but it’s clear this offense isn’t as explosive through the air as it was under Lynch. And leaning on the rushing attack on Friday night is ideal with a Bowling Green defense ranked 10th in the MAC against the run. The Falcons allowed 325 rushing yards to Toledo and 199 to Ball State. The opportunity is there with a veteran offensive line and talented group of rushers for Northern Illinois to control the time of possession and pound away at the Falcons’ defense.
Revenge should be on the mind of Northern Illinois. The Huskies had a chance to play in a marquee bowl last season, but the Falcons pulled off an upset in last year’s MAC title game. If Northern Illinois establishes its ground attack and continues to take care of the ball (10 lost turnovers in 2014), coach Rod Carey’s team will claim its third conference championship in four years. The Huskies rank sixth in the MAC against the run, which should allow Bowling Green to use Greene and the rest of the backfield to take some of the pressure off of quarterback James Knapke. The Falcons fall short of winning back-to-back MAC titles, as Northern Illinois gets revenge from last year’s loss.
Prediction: Northern Illinois 30, Bowling Green 20
Alabama and Missouri have met only once as SEC members, but there’s no shortage of familiarity between the two programs, as the Tigers and Crimson Tide are set to met in the SEC Championship game on Saturday afternoon. Alabama coach Nick Saban and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel played under Don James at Kent State and both spent time as graduate assistants with the Golden Flashes to begin their coaching career.
But on Saturday, the focus isn’t on the coaching background of Pinkel and Saban, as both teams have plenty to play for in Atlanta. With a win over Missouri, Alabama would solidify its spot in the playoffs and should be the No. 1 overall seed heading into the four-team tournament. The Tigers are No. 16 in the latest committee rankings, which makes a spot in college football’s playoff unlikely. However, Missouri can improve its bowl positioning with a victory over the Crimson Tide. And of course, the chance to win the SEC title is more than enough for the Tigers to be ready for the matchup in Atlanta.
The overall series between Alabama and Missouri is tied at two games apiece. The Crimson Tide has won the last two meetings, while the Tigers claimed the first two matchups. Missouri’s wins against Alabama occurred in 1968 and 1975, while the Crimson Tide has won the only matchup between these two programs as SEC members (42-10 in 2012).
Championship Week Previews and Predictions:
ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12
Missouri vs. Alabama
Kickoff: 4 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Alabama -14.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Missouri’s Defensive Line
Despite the departure of two of last year’s standout defensive linemen (Michael Sam and Kony Ealy), Missouri hasn’t missed a beat up front. This group is arguably one of the best in the nation and is headlined by the defensive end pairing of Markus Golden and Shane Ray. The duo has combined for 22 sacks and four forced fumbles this season and rank among the top five tacklers on the team. Alabama’s offensive line may not be as dominant as it was in previous years, but this group is still one of the best in the SEC. The Crimson Tide has allowed only 11 sacks this season and led the way for rushers for average 5.1 yards per carry. Running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry have combined for 1,639 yards and 16 touchdowns this year, and despite the emergence of quarterback Blake Sims, Alabama’s offense still revolves around its ground attack. Missouri needs Golden and Ray to create havoc on passing downs, while being tough at the point of attack against the run. In SEC-only matchups, the Tigers led the conference by limiting opponents to just 115 yards on the ground. Of course, it’s easy to poke holes in Missouri’s defensive statistics, as the East Division was the weaker side of the SEC. Indiana, Georgia and Arkansas each rushed for more than 150 yards against this defense. While Golden and Ray are a force off the edge, the Tigers need a big game from tackles Matt Hoch, Lucas Vincent, Harold Brantley and Josh Augusta on the interior. Alabama left tackle Cam Robinson suffered a shoulder injury in the win over Auburn. If Robinson is less than full strength, that’s an opportunity for Golden and Ray to generate pressure on quarterback Blake Sims.
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2. Stopping Amari Cooper
In order to pull off the upset, Missouri’s defensive front has to control the pace of the game. If the Tigers get to quarterback Blake Sims, that’s less time the senior has to scan the field and find standout receiver Amari Cooper. The junior has 103 receptions for 1,573 yards and 14 scores through 12 games and is the best receiver Missouri has played in 2014. The Tigers may not have an elite, shutdown cornerback, but coordinator Dave Steckel has a solid overall group. Missouri ranks 25th nationally in pass efficiency defense and limited opposing offenses to just 13 passing scores in SEC games this season. Junior Kenya Dennis or sophomore Aarion Penton will attempt to cover Cooper, but the Tigers could also rely on safety help from Braylon Webb or Ian Simon. Regardless of which defenders line up against Cooper, this is not an easy matchup for Missouri.
3. Missouri’s Offense
The 2014 version of Missouri’s offense isn’t as explosive or potent as the 2013 version. Last season, the Tigers averaged 39.1 points per game but that number has dipped to 28.6 in 2014. In addition to the drop in scoring, Missouri’s per-play average has dropped from 6.6 (2013) to 5.3 (2014). Pinpointing the reason for the drop in production is due to a couple of factors, but the Tigers have a balanced attack (2,112 rushing yards, 2,279 passing yards) and are one of the best in the SEC in turnover margin. Quarterback Maty Mauk has experienced his share of ups and downs in his first year as the starter but is coming off his highest passing performance in SEC play (265) yards and has tossed only two picks in Missouri’s last five games. Running back Russell Hansbrough suffered an ankle injury in last week’s win over Arkansas but is expected to play. Hansbrough’s health is critical to the offense, as the Tigers need balance in order to knock off Alabama. The Crimson Tide has been tough to run against all year and has allowed only three scores on the ground all season. Mauk should have opportunities to hit receiver Bud Sasser on big passing plays if Alabama continues to have its share of inconsistent play at cornerback. This is a tough matchup for Missouri’s offense, and considering the Crimson Tide’s elite run defense, the Tigers may need to throw more on Saturday to win. Is Mauk up to the task?
Missouri has exceeded preseason expectations once again. The Tigers were picked by most to finish third or fourth in the East this year, but coach Gary Pinkel’s team reached Atlanta for the second consecutive season. While Missouri has reeled off six consecutive wins since a 34-0 loss to Georgia, this is the toughest opponent Pinkel’s squad will play in 2014. Alabama has its weaknesses, but the offense is coming off a huge performance against Auburn, and the defense has been stingy all season. The Crimson Tide enter Saturday’s game nearly a two-touchdown favorite. Can Missouri surprise once again? Or will Alabama win and clinch a playoff spot in the process?
SEC Championship Game Predictions
|Missouri (+14.5) vs. Alabama||Alabama|
Florida State and Georgia Tech meet for the second time in three seasons in the ACC Championship, and both programs head into this matchup with plenty at stake. The Seminoles have won 28 games in a row and need a victory to stay in the mix for a spot in college football’s new four-team playoff format. The Yellow Jackets are in the driver’s seat to make an appearance in the Orange Bowl if Florida State makes the four-team playoff, and coach Paul Johnson’s team may still land there even with a loss on Saturday night.
It’s been a rebound year for Georgia Tech after going 14-13 in the two previous seasons. The Yellow Jackets won 10 games, including key rivalry matchups against Clemson and Georgia. Johnson was named ACC Coach of the Year for Georgia Tech’s success in 2014, and the seventh-year coach has the program poised to finish in the final Associated Press poll for the first time since 2009.
On the other sideline, Florida State isn’t as dominant as it was in 2013, but the Seminoles are still one of the best teams in the nation. Coach Jimbo Fisher’s team enters the ACC Championship with three consecutive wins by five points or less, and the Seminoles have solid road wins over Miami and Louisville, along with a neutral site affair against Oklahoma State.
Florida State owns a 13-9-1 series edge over Georgia Tech. The Seminoles won 12 consecutive games against the Yellow Jackets from 1992-03. Georgia Tech won back-to-back matchups in 2008-09, but Florida State won the last meeting between these two teams in 2012 in a 21-15 victory in the ACC Championship.
Championship Week Previews and Predictions:
Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC
Georgia Tech vs. Florida State
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Florida State -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Florida State’s Run Defense
Stopping Georgia Tech’s option offense is going to be a handful for Florida State’s defense, especially on just one week to prepare. The Seminoles do have some experience against the option this year, as they played FCS opponent Citadel and allowed 250 rushing yards on 56 attempts. In eight ACC contests, Florida State allowed 133.6 rushing yards per game and limited opponents to 3.5 yards per carry. Anytime a defense matches up against an option attack, it’s important to play assignment football. Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially after Florida State’s defensive line was banged up in the win over Citadel. Facing a team that uses cut blocks is not something defensive linemen particularly enjoy, but the Seminoles have the talent to win the battle at the line of scrimmage. Defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and end Mario Edwards Jr. earned All-ACC honors this season and are two of the best players against the run in the ACC. Georgia Tech’s leading rusher is quarterback Justin Thomas (861 yards), but B-backs Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days will do the heavy lifting on the ground. Laskey averages five yards per carry, while Days has a 5.9 mark in 12 games. Thomas doesn’t throw it often, but he averages 17.8 yards per completion. Even though receiver DeAndre Smelter is out due to a knee injury, if Thomas, Days and Laskey produce on the ground, it should open up downfield passing opportunities for the passing game. If Florida State limits Georgia Tech’s big plays on the ground, it will extend its winning streak to 29 games.
Listen to the Championship Week predictions podcast:
2. Turnover Battle
Florida State knows every possession against Georgia Tech is going to be valuable. The Yellow Jackets dominate the time of possession (averaging 34:02 per game), which limits the overall opportunities by the other offense. In the Seminoles’ win over Florida, they recorded 13 possessions (including end of half kneel downs). Against Citadel, Florida State had only nine offensive possessions. In addition to its ability to control the clock and limit offensive possessions, Georgia Tech has the best turnover margin in the ACC (+11) and has generated 27 takeaways this year. On the flipside, Florida State has been generous with giving the ball away, as it has lost 27 turnovers in 12 games. In last week’s win over Florida, the Seminoles lost four turnovers and still managed to win. However, against the Yellow Jackets, Florida State cannot afford to have a similar performance in the turnover department. It’s pretty simple to see Georgia Tech’s formula for a win on Saturday night: Control the clock and keep quarterback Jameis Winston on the sideline and win the turnover battle. If the Yellow Jackets are +2 or +3 in turnover margin on Saturday night, there’s a good chance Johnson’s team hoists the ACC trophy.
3. Georgia Tech’s Defense
Even if Georgia Tech’s offense has success against Florida State’s defense, will the Yellow Jackets get stops against the Seminoles? Statistically, Georgia Tech’s defense has struggled in 2014. The Yellow Jackets rank 13th in the ACC in yards per play allowed (6.1) and seventh in points allowed (24.1 ppg). This unit also ranks low in the conference in sacks (18 – 12th in the ACC) and struggled to get off the field on third downs. However, this unit played better in the second half of the season, limiting Clemson to just six points on Nov. 15, held Georgia to 24 points after the Bulldogs entered the season finale by scoring at least 34 points in their last three games and has forced 17 turnovers over the last five games. Despite their recent performance, the Yellow Jackets are going to have their hands full on Saturday night. Florida State’s offense averages 34.6 points per game and is third in the ACC by recording 6.3 yards per play. Quarterback Jameis Winston has tossed 17 picks this year, but the sophomore is still one of the best passers in the nation and is capable of carrying this offense to another national title. Winston has plenty of help from his supporting cast, which includes standout receiver Rashad Greene (86 catches) and a rising star in freshman running back Dalvin Cook (5.9 ypc). If Winston limits his mistakes, and Florida State doesn’t turn the ball over against an opportunistic defense, all signs point to the Seminoles being able to move the ball – and rather successfully.
The star power in this matchup is clearly with Florida State. Winston, Cook and Greene are capable of scoring 30-40 points if the Seminoles don’t make careless mistakes with the ball. On the defensive side, Georgia Tech’s option offense on a week to prepare is going to be tough for the Seminoles. Keep an eye on third downs – can Florida State put the Yellow Jackets in long-yardage situations? The worst scenario for the Seminoles would be for Georgia Tech’s offense to dominate time of possession and win the turnover battle. Will Florida State clinch a playoff spot and win its third ACC title in three years? Or will the Yellow Jackets spoil the Seminoles’ unbeaten season and win its first ACC title since 2009.
ACC Championship Predictions
|FSU (-4) vs. GT||FSU 35-28||FSU 34-31||FSU 31-27||GT 31-30|
Michigan is the second Big Ten coaching position to open this offseason, as coach Brady Hoke was fired on Tuesday. Hoke went 31-20 in four seasons with the Wolverines, including an 11-2 record in 2011. However, since leading Michigan to a Sugar Bowl appearance and winning 11 games, the Wolverines are just 20-18 and missed out on a bowl in 2014.
Hoke was hailed as a “Michigan Man” when he was hired in 2011. Will the Wolverines look for a “Michigan Man” and hire Les Miles or Jim Harbaugh? Or will outside names appeal to interim athletic director Jim Hackett?
8 Candidates to Replace Brady Hoke at Michigan
Steve Addazio, head coach, Boston College
Addazio wouldn’t be a splashy, name hire like Jim Harbaugh or Les Miles, but he’s a good coach that would win a lot of games at Michigan. In two years at Boston College, Addazio is 14-11 and has recorded a .500 record in conference play in both seasons. Prior to taking over in Chestnut Hill, Addazio spent two years at Temple and went 13-11 during that span. Before taking over the top spot at Temple, Addazio coached at Florida from 2005-10 under Urban Meyer, spent three years at Indiana (2002-04) and also had stops at Notre Dame and Syracuse. Addazio’s style of play and emphasis on toughness would fit in well in the Big Ten.
Mike Gundy, head coach, Oklahoma State
Gundy is 82-44 since taking over as Oklahoma State’s head coach in 2005. Considering he works at his alma mater, Gundy isn’t necessarily looking to leave Stillwater, but reports have indicated there could be friction between the head coach and athletic director Mike Holder. Under Gundy’s direction, the Cowboys have played in eight consecutive bowl games and finished No. 3 nationally in 2011. Gundy’s name also popped up in connection with the opening at Florida and Nebraska. Is he really interested in leaving his alma mater? That’s the big question with Gundy.
Podcast: Who should be Michigan's next head coach?
Jim Harbaugh, head coach, San Francisco 49ers
Harbaugh would be a home run hire for Michigan. But does he want to leave the NFL? Harbaugh played at Michigan from 1983-87 and has been a successful coach at three different jobs. Harbaugh went 29-6 in three years at San Diego, 29-21 in four seasons with Stanford and is 43-16-1 with the 49ers. While Harbaugh is certainly in play at his alma mater, staying in the NFL is also a possibility. If Harbaugh wants to come back to Michigan, he should be Michigan’s No. 1 target.
Jerry Kill, head coach, Minnesota
Kill wouldn’t be the flashiest of hires, but he’s a proven coach at five college jobs. The Kansas native is 25-25 in four seasons with the Golden Gophers, which includes a 9-7 mark in Big Ten play over the last two years. Prior to taking over at Minnesota, Kill spent two years at Northern Illinois (23-16), seven seasons at Southern Illinois (55-32), went 11-11 at Emporia State and 38-14 at Saginaw Valley State (1994-98). While Kill has a good job at Minnesota, Michigan is one of the elite coaching jobs in college football. Wouldn’t necessarily move the needle nationally, but Kill would win a lot of games in Ann Arbor.
Les Miles, head coach, LSU
If Jim Harbaugh is the No. 1 candidate at Michigan, then Miles should be a close No. 2 or 1b. The Ohio native played under Bo Schembechler in Ann Arbor and coached at Michigan as an assistant from 1980-81 and 1987-94. Miles left Ann Arbor for Oklahoma State in 1995 and was elevated to head coach after a three-year stint with the Dallas Cowboys in 2000. From 2001-04, Miles guided Oklahoma State to a 28-21 record with three bowl appearances. Miles took over at LSU in 2005 and is 103-28 during his tenure in Baton Rouge.
Jim McElwain, head coach, Colorado State
McElwain is believed to be one of the frontrunners to replace Will Muschamp at Florida. But if he doesn’t land the job in Gainesville, the Montana native should be in the mix at Michigan. McElwain coached at Alabama under Nick Saban from 2008-11 and has previous experience as an assistant at Fresno State, Michigan State, Louisville and in the NFL with the Raiders. McElwain has thrived at Colorado State after a 4-8 mark in his first season, guiding the Rams to an 8-6 record and a bowl appearance in 2013 and a 10-2 mark in 2014.
Dan Mullen, head coach, Mississippi State
Mullen has spent the past six seasons at Mississippi State, recording a 46-30 record during that span. The Bulldogs also recorded four consecutive bowl appearances and will extend that streak to five in 2014. While coaching in the SEC is an attractive destination for all coaches, Mississippi State is one of the toughest jobs in the SEC. Mullen elevated the Bulldogs into playoff contention this season and led the program to a 10-2 record, which was its first season of double-digit wins since 1999. Prior to Mississippi State, Mullen worked as Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator at Florida from 2005-08 and worked under Meyer at Bowling Green (2001-02) and Utah (2003-04) as an assistant. Mullen is clearly capable of winning at a high level. And it’s much easier to win at Michigan than in the brutal SEC West.
Greg Schiano, former Rutgers/Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach
Schiano has been out of coaching since he was fired at the end of the 2013 season in Tampa Bay. In two years with the Buccaneers, Schiano was just 11-21. However, Schiano was a successful college coach, recording a 68-67 mark at Rutgers from 2001-11. While his record was barely over .500, Schiano inherited a struggling program and transformed the Scarlet Knights into a consistent winner. Prior to his stint with Rutgers, Schiano worked as an assistant at Miami.
Pat Fitzgerald, head coach, Northwestern
Fitzgerald turned down Michigan in 2011. Would he be interested in leaving after a 5-7 record at Northwestern in 2014?
Pep Hamilton, offensive coordinator, Indianapolis Colts
A name to remember in future seasons, as Hamilton has helped mentor Andrew Luck over the last few years in Indianapolis (and at Stanford).
John Harbaugh, head coach, Baltimore Ravens
If Jim won’t leave the NFL, would John Harbaugh be an option?
Tom Herman, offensive coordinator, Ohio State
A rising star in the coaching ranks but needs a chance to run another program before jumping to a Power 5 job.
Butch Jones, head coach, Tennessee
Jones is a Michigan native but is reportedly not a candidate at Michigan.
Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State
Would be an excellent choice, but Narduzzi would be unlikely to leave Michigan State for Michigan.
College football’s playoff committee has released four sets of rankings, and the debate about the top four teams will continue every week until the final matchups are released. While the top 25 rankings are expected to change each week and will look drastically different from the release of the first poll to the last one, the playoff committee's poll provided some insight into the process.
Each week, Athlon Sports hopes to replicate the playoff committee’s work by asking some of college football’s top media members to vote on their top eight teams. This poll will attempt to project how the playoff picture stacks up after each week until the end of the year.
Bobby Bowden (@TheBobbyBowden), Legends Poll
Gene Stallings, (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Don Nehlen (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Athlon Sports
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Athlon Sports
Zac Ellis (@ZacEllis), Sports Illustrated
David Fox (@DavidFox615), Athlon Sports
Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis), CardChronicle.com
Teddy Mitrosilis (@TMitrosilis), Fox Sports
Steven Godfrey (@38Godfrey), SBNation.com
Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB), SportsonEarth.com
Rich Cirminiello (@RichCirminiello), Campus Insiders
Brad Crawford (@BCrawfordSDS), SaturdayDownSouth.com
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), Eersports.com
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45), CFBHuddle.com
Adam Powell (@ACCSports), ACCSports.com
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch) Athlon Sports
Josh Ward (@Josh_Ward), MrSEC.com
Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), CollegeFootballTalk.com
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), Athlon Sports
Post-Week 14 Playoff Projection
Takeaways From Expert Poll Results
* Alabama holds a sizeable lead for the No. 1 spot in the playoff projection. The Crimson Tide received 16 of the 21 first-place votes and ranked below second on just one ballot.
* Oregon passed Florida State by a small margin (four points) for the No. 2 spot. The Seminoles have more first-place votes (three) than the Ducks (two), but Oregon claimed 11 second-place rankings to edge Florida State.
* TCU dominated Texas on Thanksgiving, and that result swayed some of the voters to flip the Horned Frogs and Baylor. The Bears own a head-to-head win over TCU, but trail in Athlon’s playoff projection by eight points. Style points in Week 15 could be important.
* With a win over Arizona State, combined with UCLA’s loss to Stanford, Arizona jumped to No. 7 in this week’s poll. The Wildcats are still alive for a playoff spot if they beat Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship on Friday night.
* The battle to claim a playoff spot seems to be down to seven teams: Florida State, Oregon, TCU, Baylor, Ohio State and Arizona. Perhaps there’s a crazy scenario where another team could jump into the conversation with losses by all four of the top teams in this week’s poll, but the formula for the first playoff poll seems simple. If Alabama, Florida State and Oregon win this weekend, all three teams will be in. The fourth spot will be up for grabs between Baylor, Ohio State and TCU if the top three win in Week 15.
Group of 5 Rankings
1. Boise State
The Broncos are in the driver’s seat for the Group of 5 bowl spot in one of college football’s premier games. Boise State ranked No. 23 in last week’s playoff rankings and should move up after defeating Utah State last week. The Broncos host Fresno State in the Mountain West Championship on Saturday night.
The Tigers clinched a share of the American Athletic Conference title with a victory over UConn last week. Memphis pounded UConn 41-10 in Week 14 and finished the regular season at 9-3 overall. Coach Justin Fuente’s team could claim the outright league title if UCF loses to East Carolina, leaving Memphis and Cincinnati (if it beats Houston) tied at 7-1 overall in conference games. The Tigers beat the Bearcats earlier this year.
Next in Line: Cincinnati, UCF, Northern Illinois, Marshall
Games With Playoff/Bowl Implications in Week 15
UCF at East Carolina
7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN (Thursday)
Northern Illinois vs. Bowling Green (Detroit)
7 p.m. ET, ESPN2 (Friday)
Arizona vs. Oregon (Santa Clara)
9 p.m. ET, FOX (Friday)
Iowa State at TCU
Noon ET, ABC
Louisiana Tech at Marshall
Noon ET, ESPN2
Houston at Cincinnati
Noon ET, ESPN
Alabama vs. Missouri (Atlanta)
4 p.m. ET, CBS
Kansas State at Baylor
7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
Florida State vs. Georgia Tech (Charlotte)
8 p.m. ET, ABC
Wisconsin vs. Ohio State (Indianapolis)
8:17 p.m. ET, FOX
Fresno State at Boise State
10 p.m. ET, CBS
The final week of the 2014 college football season has arrived, and the bowl and national title picture is starting to clear. The playoff committee will release its sixth set of rankings on Tuesday this week, and there’s one more poll coming from the committee next Sunday after the Week 15 action.
The new playoff format has added a new layer of intrigue, as four teams – instead of two – will have a shot at the national championship once the bowl pairings are announced in early December.
With 14 weeks in the books, it’s time to take a look at what the bowl picture might hold for each conference and team this year.
Teams on the projection bubble and missing our projections this week: Oklahoma State, MTSU, Temple, UAB and Ohio.
College Football's Post-Week 14 Bowl Projections
|New Orleans||Dec. 20||Sun Belt vs.|
| UL Lafayette vs.|
|New Mexico||Dec. 20||C-USA vs.|
| UTEP vs.|
|Las Vegas||Dec. 20||Mountain West vs.|
| Colorado State vs.|
|Famous Idaho Potato||Dec. 20||MAC vs.|
| Bowling Green vs.|
|Camellia||Dec. 20||MAC vs.|
| Central Michigan vs.|
|Miami Beach||Dec. 22||American vs.|
|Boca Raton||Dec. 23||C-USA vs.|
| Marshall vs.|
|Poinsettia||Dec. 23||Mountain West vs.|
| San Diego State vs.|
|Bahamas||Dec. 24||C-USA vs.|
| Western Kentucky vs.|
|Hawaii||Dec. 24||C-USA vs. |
| Rice vs.|
|Heart of Dallas||Dec. 26||Big Ten vs.|
| Rutgers vs.|
|Quick Lane||Dec. 26||ACC vs. |
| Virginia Tech vs.|
|St. Petersburg||Dec. 26||ACC vs.|
| Miami vs.|
|Military||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| NC State vs.|
|Sun||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Duke vs.|
|Independence||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| North Carolina vs.|
|Pinstripe||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Boston College vs.|
|Holiday||Dec. 27||Big Ten vs.|
| Nebraska vs.|
|Liberty||Dec. 29||SEC vs.|
| Tennessee vs.|
|Russell Athletic||Dec. 29||ACC vs.|
| Clemson vs.|
|Texas||Dec. 29||Big 12 vs.|
| Texas vs.|
|Music City||Dec. 30||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Maryland vs.|
|Belk||Dec. 30||ACC vs.|
| Notre Dame vs.|
|San Francisco||Dec. 30||Big Ten vs.|
| Iowa vs.|
|Outback||Jan. 1||Big Ten vs.|
| Minnesota vs.|
|Citrus||Jan. 1||Big Ten/ACC vs.|
| Wisconsin vs.|
|Armed Forces||Jan. 2||American vs.|
| Houston vs.|
|Taxslayer||Jan. 2||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Louisville vs.|
|Alamo||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
| Oklahoma vs.|
|TicketCity Cactus||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
| Washington vs.|
|Birmingham||Jan. 3||American vs.|
| Memphis vs.|
|GoDaddy||Jan. 4||MAC vs.|
| Northern Illinois vs.|
|New Year's Bowls|
|Peach||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| Ohio State vs.|
|Fiesta||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| Boise State vs.|
|Orange||Dec. 31||ACC vs.|
| Georgia Tech vs.|
|Cotton||Jan. 1||At-large vs.|
| TCU vs.|
|Related: Projecting the Playoff Teams After Week 14|
|Rose||Jan. 1||Playoff |
| Oregon vs.|
|Sugar||Jan. 1||Playoff |
| Alabama vs.|
|National Title||Jan. 12||Semifinal Winner vs.|
| Alabama vs.|
Bold indicates team has accepted bowl bid.
* Indicates conference is not expected to fill all of its allotted tie-ins.
Nebraska fired coach Bo Pelini after the Cornhuskers closed the 2014 regular season with a 9-3 record. Pelini’s record in Lincoln was an impressive 67-27, but the program never took the next step under his watch. Nebraska won at least nine games in each of Pelini’s seven seasons and had four finishes in the final Associated Press poll. However, the Cornhuskers never played in one of college football’s premier bowl games or won a conference title.
Nebraska is one of the top 25 jobs in college football, but there are also drawbacks to coaching in Lincoln. The state does not produce enough in-state talent to win a national championship, which means the coaching staff has to recruit Texas and surrounding areas for talent.
Even though this job may not be as elite as some would suggest, Nebraska has all of the necessary resources to win a Big Ten title – and it’s the best program in the Big Ten West Division.
13 Candidates to Replace Bo Pelini at Nebraska
Steve Addazio, Head Coach, Boston College
Addazio has quickly emerged as one of the top coaches in the ACC over the last two years. Boston College is 14-11 under Addazio’s watch and has finished .500 in league play in both seasons. Prior to Addazio’s arrival, the Eagles went 6-18 from 2011-12 and missed out on bowl appearances in both years. Making Addazio’s two years in Chestnut Hill even more impressive is his ability to win with the available talent and mesh with graduate transfers (quarterback Tyler Murphy), while the program reloads and builds an identity through recruiting. Addazio’s style of play (run-first mentality and toughness) would translate well in Lincoln. Prior to taking over at Boston College, Addazio went 13-11 in two years at Temple and served as an assistant at Florida, Indiana, Notre Dame and Syracuse.
Podcast: Who should be Nebraska's next head coach?
Craig Bohl, Head Coach, Wyoming
To borrow a term from another Big Ten program, Bohl seems to be a “Nebraska man.” He’s a Lincoln native, played under Tom Osborne from 1977-79 and worked on the Cornhuskers’ coaching staff from 1995-02. Bohl was hired as North Dakota State’s head coach in 2003, and he led the Bison until 2013 when he was hired at Wyoming. Bohl’s record with the Bison was a stellar 104-32 and included three consecutive FCS Championships from 2011-13. Bohl led Wyoming to a 4-8 mark in 2014.
Troy Calhoun, Head Coach, Air Force
Calhoun currently coaches at his alma mater (Air Force), so it’s not a guarantee that he wants to leave for another job. Calhoun is 58-44 in eight seasons with the Falcons and guided the program to six consecutive bowl appearances from 2007-12. Air Force missed out on a bowl and went 2-10 in 2013, which was Calhoun’s worst season with the program. However, the Falcons rebounded to 9-3 and could reach 10 victories if they win a bowl game. And considering Nebraska’s history with the option offense, Calhoun’s ties to that style of play would be attractive to the fanbase. Calhoun also has stops on his resume from stints in the NFL (Houston and Denver) and in college with Ohio and Wake Forest.
Willie Fritz, Head Coach, Georgia Southern
Fritz is coming off a successful debut at Georgia Southern, as the Eagles finished 9-3 in their first season on the FBS level. Barring an appeal that’s approved by the NCAA, Georgia Southern won’t be eligible for a bowl game, but a 9-3 record with a Sun Belt title is an impressive debut from Fritz. Prior to Georgia Southern, Fritz went 40-14 at Sam Houston State and 97-47 at Central Missouri. The Kansas native could be in the mix for the opening with the Jayhawks after the program fired coach Charlie Weis earlier this year.
Scott Frost, Offensive Coordinator, Oregon
As a former Nebraska quarterback, Frost is already a popular name in the search to replace Bo Pelini. Frost is only 39 years old, and a younger coach could spark energy into a program that is looking to move back into the national title mix on a yearly basis. The Lincoln native doesn’t have a ton of coaching experience, but he spent one season as a graduate assistant at Nebraska (2002), a year in the same capacity with Kansas State (2006) and two seasons at Northern Iowa from 2007-08. Frost was hired by former Oregon coach Chip Kelly to tutor the wide receivers in 2009, and he served in that capacity until the start of the 2013 season. Frost was promoted to offensive coordinator after Kelly left for the NFL, and the Ducks’ offense continues to be one of the best in the nation under his watch. Oregon averaged 45.5 points per game in 2013 and has a 45.9 mark entering the Pac-12 Championship.
Justin Fuente, Head Coach, Memphis
Fuente inherited a mess after the failed Larry Porter era at Memphis. But in just three years, the Tigers went from 4-8 to winning a share of the American Athletic Conference title in 2014. Fuente’s record at Memphis is just 16-20, but the program has clearly made progress under his watch and finished 9-3 in its second season playing in the American Athletic Conference. The Oklahoma native is no stranger to coaching in the Midwest, as he spent five years under Gary Patterson at TCU and worked from 2001-06 at Illinois State.
Mike Gundy, Head Coach, Oklahoma State
Gundy is 82-44 since taking over as Oklahoma State’s head coach in 2005. Considering he works at his alma mater, Gundy isn’t necessarily looking to leave Stillwater, but reports have indicated there could be friction between the head coach and athletic director Mike Holder. Under Gundy’s direction, the Cowboys have played in eight consecutive bowl games and finished No. 3 nationally in 2011. Gundy’s name also popped up in connection with the opening at Florida.
Mark Hudspeth, Head Coach, UL Lafayette
Hudspeth has been successful at two different head coaching stops, including a 35-16 mark with UL Lafayette over the last four years. The Ragin’ Cajuns are also poised to earn their fourth consecutive bowl appearance after an 8-4 mark in 2014. Prior to taking over at ULL, Hudspeth worked as an assistant at Mississippi State for two seasons (2009-10) and worked for seven years as the head coach at North Alabama (66-21). Hudspeth also has stops in his career at Navy, Delta State and Central Arkansas. Hudspeth is due for a promotion to run a Power 5 job, but his background suggests he would be more interested in SEC openings.
Jerry Kill, Head Coach, Minnesota
Nebraska fans are certainly familiar with Kill after Minnesota claimed back-to-back victories against the Cornhuskers in 2013-14. The Kansas native has a good job at Minnesota, but it’s much easier to win at a higher level at Nebraska. Kill wouldn’t necessarily be the most exciting hire for a program that wants to return to national prominence. However, there’s no doubt Kill knows how to win games. He went 38-14 in five years at Saginaw Valley State, 55-32 in seven seasons at Southern Illinois, 23-16 at Northern Illinois and is 25-25 in four years with the Golden Gophers. Kill’s career record is 152-98, and he has elevated the Minnesota program over the last two seasons.
Jim McElwain, Head Coach, Colorado State
McElwain is one of the rising stars in college football’s coaching ranks. In three years with Colorado State, McElwain is 22-16 and has the Rams poised to earn back-to-back bowl appearances. Colorado State is also 15-3 in McElwain’s last 18 games, which includes wins over Power 5 opponents in Boston College, Washington State and Colorado. Prior to taking the top spot in Fort Collins, McElwain served as an assistant under Nick Saban at Alabama from 2008-11, coordinated Fresno State’s offense in 2007 and worked with the Raiders in 2006. He also has stops as an assistant at Michigan State, Louisville, Eastern Washington and Montana State. McElwain is primed to eventually move up the coaching ranks, but there’s a potential issue with his buyout. All signs point to McElwain’s buyout at Colorado State checking in at a hefty $7.5 million this year.
Joe Moglia, Head Coach, Coastal Carolina
Moglia might be a better fit in the longshot category, but he’s an intriguing name to remember in coaching searches this offseason. The former Ameritrade CEO spent two years as a volunteer assistant at Nebraska (2009-10) and was hired as Coastal Carolina’s coach after a four-game stint with the Omaha Nighthawks. In three years with the Chanticleers, Moglia’s record is 31-9 and has guided the program to three consecutive FCS playoff appearances.
Pat Narduzzi, Defensive Coordinator, Michigan State
Would Nebraska venture into the defensive assistant ranks once again for a coach? If so, Narduzzi would be a home-run hire for athletic director Shawn Eichorst. The Connecticut native reportedly turned down the UConn job last year, but it’s only a matter of time before he runs his own program. Narduzzi has coordinated some of the nation’s top defenses at Michigan State, including the 2013 season when the Spartans led the nation by holding opponents to four yards per play. Prior to coordinating Michigan State’s defense, Narduzzi called the defensive signals at Cincinnati and Miami (Ohio) and has stops as an assistant at Northern Illinois and Rhode Island.
Greg Schiano, former Rutgers/Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach
Schiano sat out the 2014 season after he was fired after two years as Tampa Bay’s head coach. Despite the failed stint in the NFL, Schiano is expected to get back in the mix for college jobs, as he recorded a 68-67 record at Rutgers, which included six bowl appearances over his final seven years. Schiano’s record with the Scarlet Knights was just one win over .500, but he inherited a program that won only nine games in the four years prior to his arrival.
Other Names to Watch/Longshots
Dave Aranda, Defensive Coordinator, Wisconsin
Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst has ties to Wisconsin from a stint under Barry Alvarez in the program’s athletic department from 2006-11. Eichorst and Aranda didn’t work together at Wisconsin, but it’s probably a safe bet Eichorst has kept a close watch on the Badgers over the last few years. Aranda helped to coordinate a defense that led the Big Ten in fewest points allowed per game (16.8) in 2014. A rising star in the coaching ranks but likely a year or two away from taking a head coaching job.
Al Golden, Head Coach, Miami
Golden has ties to athletic director Shawn Eichorst, as they worked together in Miami from 2011-12. However, Golden could be a tough sell in Lincoln after a 28-21 start to his tenure in Coral Gables. Additionally, the Hurricanes are coming off a 6-6 record and went 3-5 in a mediocre Coastal Division.
Jim Harbaugh, Head Coach, San Francisco 49ers
All signs point to Harbaugh coaching somewhere other than San Francisco in 2015. Will it be Michigan, the Raiders or the Jets? Hard to see Harbaugh going to Nebraska, but he’s a name to watch in all coaching searches this offseason.
Tom Herman, Offensive Coordinator, Ohio State
Despite losing quarterback Braxton Miller to a shoulder injury in fall practice, Ohio State’s offense ranked as the best in the Big Ten by averaging 44.1 points per game. Herman and coach Urban Meyer were instrumental in the development of redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett and will have to do the same for Cardale Jones after Barrett’s injury against Michigan. Herman has worked under coach Urban Meyer since 2012 and called the plays at Texas State (2005-06), Rice (2007-08) and Iowa State (2009-11). Herman also is a member of Mensa International. Expect Herman to get a look for openings outside of the Power 5 leagues.
Jim Tressel, Former Ohio State Head Coach
Tressel has been out of coaching since he resigned at Ohio State after the 2010 season. While the end of his tenure with the Buckeyes was rocky with NCAA problems, Tressel is a proven winner with a 241-79 career record. Is he ready to get back into coaching? Or is Tressel comfortable serving in an administration role at Youngstown State?
Brent Venables, Defensive Coordinator, Clemson
Venables is familiar with Nebraska from his time as a player and coach at Kansas State. And Venables has emerged as one of the nation’s highest-paid defensive coordinators and has guided Clemson’s defense to finishes inside of the top three in the ACC in scoring defense over the last three seasons.
Nebraska has fired coach Bo Pelini. Athletic director Shawn Eichorst will hold a press conference on Sunday to discuss Pelini's firing and what's next for the program. Pelini will not coach Nebraska in a bowl game.
Pelini went 67-27 in seven full years with the Cornhuskers and won at least nine games in each season.
However, the expectations are high at Nebraska. Pelini never won a conference championship and never led the program to one of college football’s top bowl games.
Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst has dismissed Head Football Coach Bo Pelini effective immediately. Press conference 1pm.— Nebraska Huskers (@Huskers) November 30, 2014
Coach Pelini served our University admirably for seven years and led our football program’s transition to the Big Ten Conference. -Eichorst— Nebraska Huskers (@Huskers) November 30, 2014
Alabama is known for its elite defenses under coach Nick Saban, but in order to win the Iron Bowl matchup against Auburn and keep its national title hopes alive, the Crimson Tide leaned on the offense and receiver Amari Cooper.
Cooper earned Athlon Sports Week 14 Player of the Week honors by catching 13 passes for 224 yards and three scores in a 55-44 shootout victory over Auburn. The junior caught 13 of quarterback Blake Sims’ 20 completions, as the Tigers’ secondary simply had no answer for the receiver that should win the Biletnikoff Award in December.
Cooper and quarterback Blake Sims guided Alabama back from a 26-20 halftime deficit in the highest-scoring game in Iron Bowl history. The Sims-Cooper connection helped to power an offense that averaged 8.8 yards per play and scored on each of its final five drives of the second half.
Cooper caught two of his touchdowns after halftime, including a 75-yard bomb from Sims to cut Auburn’s lead to 36-34 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Iron Bowl totals – 13 catches for 224 yards and three scores – each tied a season-high for Cooper.
Cooper heads into the SEC Championship with 103 catches for 1,573 yards and 14 touchdown catches.
Defensive Player of the Week: Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona
Wright continued to state his case as the best defensive player in college football this season with a huge performance in the win over Arizona State. The sophomore helped the Wildcats clinch the Pac-12 South title by leading the team with 13 tackles (five for a loss), one forced fumble and two sacks. Wright’s forced fumble came on Arizona State’s third offensive play from scrimmage, which was returned by Anthony Lopez to give Arizona an early 7-0 lead. Wright heads into the Pac-12 Championship with 139 total tackles, 14 sacks and six forced fumbles.
Coordinator of the Week: Dave Wommack, Ole Miss
The Rebels reclaimed in-state bragging rights and the Egg Bowl trophy after a 31-17 victory over Mississippi State in Oxford. The offense generated 532 yards, but the defense – and coordinator Dave Wommack – deserves accolades for holding Mississippi State to just 17 points and 5.3 yards per play. The 17 points scored by the Bulldogs tied a season-low, and the 5.3 yards per play mark was the second-lowest total recorded by coach Dan Mullen’s team in 2014. Mississippi State’s offense accumulated 445 total yards, but Wommack’s defense stepped up when it mattered. The Rebels stopped two drives on downs and limited the Bulldogs to just one red zone conversion score on three opportunities. Ole Miss also recorded three sacks and nine tackles for a loss. Wommack’s defense also refused to allow Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott any room on the ground, limiting the junior to 48 yards on 24 attempts. Injuries took a toll on the Ole Miss defense in 2014, but the Rebels stood tall against their in-state rival.
Freshman of the Week: Kyle Bolin, QB, Louisville
Bolin became an unlikely hero in Louisville’s 44-40 victory over Kentucky. After a knee injury sidelined starting quarterback Reggie Bonnafon, Bolin entered the game in the second quarter and jumpstarted the offense. The redshirt freshman from Lexington attempted just seven passes prior to Saturday’s game but showed poise against Kentucky’s pass rush and helped to guide coach Bobby Petrino’s team back from a 13-0 deficit to a huge victory in the rivalry matchup. Bolin completed 21 of 31 passes for 381 yards and three scores, with all three of his touchdown tosses traveling at least 33 yards.
Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett suffered a fractured ankle in Saturday’s 42-28 win over Michigan and will miss the remainder of the 2014 season. Barrett was injured during the fourth quarter of the Buckeyes’ victory and was carted to the locker room with an air cast on his leg.
Barrett will be replaced in the starting lineup by sophomore Cardale Jones in the Big Ten Championship and in Ohio State’s bowl game. Jones completed 2 of 3 passes for seven yards and rushed for 19 yards on two attempts in limited snaps against Michigan.
Jones has attempted just 16 passes during his career in Columbus. The sophomore has rushed for 316 yards and one score during that span.
Jones will have a huge opportunity in his first start next Saturday in the Big Ten Championship. If Ohio State emerges with a victory next week, it will stay in the mix for a playoff spot.
However, Barrett’s injury is a huge blow to Ohio State’s playoff hopes. The committee will take into account injuries, and a team with a third-string will be an interesting evaluation for the rankings after the final weekend – assuming the Buckeyes win the Big Ten title.
Prior to Week 14, Barrett was considered a top-five candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Sure, the redshirt freshman was a longshot, but his candidacy was remarkable considering what transpired for Ohio State in the preseason. Starter Braxton Miller was lost for the year, and Barrett – with zero career attempts – was pushed into the lineup.
Barrett’s final 2014 numbers were impressive by a first-year starter, as he threw for 2,658 yards and 33 scores and added 849 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.
Sportsmanship. pic.twitter.com/2q8sw7OlsN— Freep Sports (@freepsports) November 29, 2014
Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett suffered a leg injury and was carted off the field during the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game against Michigan. Barrett was tackled by a Michigan defender, and his leg bent awkwardly in a pile of defenders. The redshirt freshman was replaced by Cardale Jones.
Barrett’s injury is a huge blow to Ohio State’s national and Big Ten title hopes. The Buckeyes were on the outside of the college football playoff’s top four teams and needed a lot of help over the final two weeks. However, with a win over Michigan and the Big Ten West champ, there was plenty for Ohio State to play for over the final few weeks of the season.
With Barrett out indefinitely, Jones – the third quarterback to play major snaps for Ohio State – will have to lead the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship next Saturday. And in the first year of the college football playoff, who knows how the committee would view the Buckeyes if Barrett can't play in a bowl.
Barrett entered fall practice as the No. 2 quarterback but moved to the top spot on the depth chart after Braxton Miller suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in August.
The redshirt freshman was one of the big question marks for Ohio State in 2014, but he quickly emerged as one of the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks.
Prior to his injury against Michigan, Barrett completed 12 of 20 throws for 170 yards and one touchdown and added 85 yards and two scores on the ground.
Entering the Michigan contest, Barrett was considered one of the favorites to get to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation. The redshirt freshman threw for 2,658 yards and 33 scores and rushed for 849 yards and nine touchdowns through the first 11 games of the year.
It’s rivalry week, so it’s no surprise when teams exchange words or punches at midfield prior to kickoff. And the overall play in a rivalry game is usually pretty chippy.
Prior to kickoff, Louisville and Kentucky met at midfield and had a small scuffle – including Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino.
Here’s video of the scuffle, along with a picture of Petrino and Kentucky assistant Dan Berezowitz exchanging words prior to kickoff.
Texas A&M finished its regular season slate with a 23-17 loss to LSU, and one day after the finale, coach Kevin Sumlin announced defensive coordinator Mark Snyder won’t return in 2015.
Snyder’s firing was no surprise, as Texas A&M’s defense has lagged behind its offense since this program joined the SEC prior to the start of the 2012 season.
The Aggies allowed 5.2 yards per play in Snyder’s debut (2012), and the numbers only got worse from there. In 2013, Texas A&M gave up 6.4 yards per play and then 5.9 in 2014.
The points allowed totals weren’t much better for Snyder. Texas A&M gave up 21.8 points per game in 2012, 32.2 in 2013 and 27.3 in 2014.
Additionally, the Aggies ranked near the bottom of the SEC in third down and red zone defense over the last two seasons.
In a brutal SEC West, Texas A&M simply can’t fall far behind its opponents, and the timing was right for Sumlin after a 7-5 record.
Former Florida coach Will Muschamp has been mentioned as a possible candidate in College Station and several other big names are expected to be in the mix to replace Snyder.
Texas A&M has plenty of talent on the roster, but it has to fix its defense in order to move up the pecking order in the SEC West.
The next defensive coordinator won’t be short on talent, as defensive end Myles Garrett is one of the nation’s rising stars, and there’s a good chunk of talent on the roster in the underclassmen ranks.
The SEC West isn’t getting any easier. Sumlin isn’t facing a make-or-break year in 2015, but progress is certainly needed in College Station. Hiring a new defensive coordinator is a chance to hit the reset button on defense and find the right solution before it’s too late for Sumlin and this coaching staff.
Arizona State receiver Jaelen Strong is one of the best in the nation, and the junior has provided plenty of highlight-worthy catches during his two seasons in Tempe.
Strong grabbed an awesome one-handed touchdown grab against Arizona during Friday’s Territorial Cup that might be one of the best catches of the year in the Pac-12.
Check out Strong’s one-handed touchdown grab:
LSU freshman running back Leonard Fournette helped to power the Tigers past Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night with 146 yards and one score on 19 carries.
Fournette’s production wasn’t the only highlight of the night, as the freshman destroyed Texas A&M safety Howard Matthews on a touchdown run in the second quarter.
Check out Fournette’s touchdown run and destruction of a Texas A&M defender in the process:
The Egg Bowl is always one of the top rivalry games in the SEC, but there’s more at stake in 2014 for Mississippi State and Ole Miss than in recent memory. For the Rebels, the opportunity to play spoiler against their biggest rival is huge. However, coach Hugh Freeze’s team still has an outside shot at one of college football’s top bowl games if it knocks off Mississippi State, combined with losses by a few teams ahead in the rankings. For the Bulldogs, this is a must-win situation with a No. 4 ranking in the college football playoff headed into Week 14. And style points certainly wouldn’t hurt with Ohio State, TCU and Baylor all close behind Mississippi State.
Ole Miss has a 61-43-6 edge over Mississippi State in the all-time series rivalry. However, the recent trend in this series favors the Bulldogs. Mississippi State has won four out of the last five meetings against the Rebels, including a 17-10 thriller in Starkville last season.
Mississippi State at Ole Miss
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Mississippi State -2.5
Ole Miss’ Key to Victory: Contain Dak Prescott
Containing Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott sounds easy, but only one team – Alabama – has been able to accomplish that in 2014. The junior was held to 82 yards on 22 rushing attempts against the Crimson Tide and completed 27 of 48 passes for 290 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Those numbers certainly aren’t awful for Prescott, but it’s important to remember 14 of Mississippi State’s points scored in that game were in the fourth quarter – after Alabama was ahead 19-3 at halftime. Stopping the run is the best way to slow down the Bulldogs’ offense. And it doesn’t just revolve around Prescott, as junior Josh Robinson leads the team with 1,084 yards and 11 scores. Ole Miss ranks sixth in the SEC against the run, but the Rebels have limited opponents to just 3.4 yards per carry and seven scores on the ground. This unit is giving up 4.4 yards per carry in its last three SEC games. Injuries and a brutal schedule have taken a toll on the Rebels’ defense in the second half of the year, but this unit limited a potent Arkansas’ ground attack to 3.2 yards per rush last week. Ole Miss has to find a way to limit Prescott and Robinson’s effectiveness on early downs, which will place the offense in third-and-long situations.
Mississippi State’s Key to Victory: Protect the Ball, Win the Turnover Battle
Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace is dealing with an ankle injury and was clearly less than 100 percent in last week’s game against Arkansas. Wallace has been inconsistent at times, as he completed 70 percent of his passes in a 35-31 loss to Auburn but tossed an interception and completed only 14 of 33 throws in a 10-7 loss against LSU. It’s no secret Wallace is the key to the Ole Miss offense, especially since Freeze’s team is trying to find a rushing attack. In last week’s defeat to the Razorbacks, the Rebels lost six turnovers. And for the first time all year, Ole Miss has recorded a negative turnover margin in back-to-back games. That’s a concern for Freeze as Mississippi State has recorded 21 takeaways this year and has five games of at least three takeaways in 2014. In addition to forcing turnovers, the Bulldogs have to do a better job of protecting the ball. In three out of Mississippi State’s seven SEC games, Mullen’s team has a negative turnover margin. Despite that mark, the Bulldogs are 2-1 in those games. In a rivalry game, Mississippi State cannot afford to let the underdog hang around due to a turnovers and sloppy play.
Rivalry games always bring out the best in the underdog, which is why Mississippi State should get a test from Ole Miss on Saturday. Sure, the Rebels have lost three out of their last four games, but this team still has talent and is capable of pulling off the upset at home. Freeze will have Ole Miss ready to play – there’s no doubt about that. However, Mississippi State has more to play for and is the better team in 2014. Prescott won’t have huge numbers against the Rebels, but he will find just enough running room and should connect on a few big plays in the passing game to give the Bulldogs a tight victory in Oxford.
Prediction: Mississippi State 27, Ole Miss 24
Minnesota and Wisconsin have met 123 previous times on the gridiron, but Saturday’s matchup in Madison could be one of the biggest in the history of this annual Big Ten rivalry. The Golden Gophers and Badgers are not only playing for the coveted Paul Bunyan’s Axe, but a trip to the Big Ten title game is also up for grabs. The winner of Saturday’s game will claim the West Division title.
Minnesota has made steady progress in four years under coach Jerry Kill. With a victory over Wisconsin or in the bowl game, the Golden Gophers will increase their win total for three consecutive seasons after going 3-9 in Kill’s debut. Minnesota lost to TCU in non-conference play earlier this year, but the Golden Gophers were defeated by Illinois and Ohio State by a combined 11 points. On the other sideline, Wisconsin enters this matchup with six consecutive victories. The Badgers lost 20-14 to Northwestern in early October but rebounded by claiming five of those wins by at least 10 points.
Minnesota owns a 59-56-8 series edge over Wisconsin. However, this rivalry has been a one-sided affair in recent years. The Badgers have claimed 10 in a row over the Golden Gophers, including four consecutive games by at least 13 points.
Minnesota at Wisconsin
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: Big Ten Network
Spread: Wisconsin -14
Minnesota’s Key to Victory: Stop Melvin Gordon
Those three words – stop Melvin Gordon – sound really simple. But one look at the stat sheet shows how difficult that has been for opposing teams in 2014. The junior is making a run at the record books with 2,109 yards and 25 touchdowns on 254 attempts. Gordon averages 213.9 rushing yards in conference-only matchups and has not been held below 200 over his last three games. Minnesota’s rush defense is allowing 167.9 yards per game on the ground in conference action. The Golden Gophers held Nebraska to 174 last week but allowed 289 to Ohio State on Nov. 15. In last year’s meeting, Minnesota gave up 197 yards and one score to Wisconsin’s rushing attack. Make no mistake: The Badgers and Gordon are going to get their yards on the ground. However, Minnesota needs to limit the damage and prevent Gordon from breaking big plays.
Wisconsin’s Key to Victory: Limit Turnovers
Minnesota running back David Cobb is questionable due to a hamstring injury. Cobb is the team’s leading rusher this season with 1,430 yards and 12 scores, and if he can’t go, it’s a huge loss for the offense. Quarterback Mitch Leidner is second on the team with 408 yards, with Berkley Edwards, Rodrick Williams and Donnell Kirkwood the next in line as options at running back. Considering Minnesota could be shorthanded at running back, combined with Leidner’s inconsistent play under center, it’s important for Wisconsin to not give the Golden Gophers any advantage in the turnover department. Minnesota ranks second in the Big Ten with 27 forced turnovers and a +11 margin. The Badgers cannot afford to give a shorthanded offense any short fields on Saturday afternoon.
The breakdown of this game seems pretty simple: Wisconsin has a better defense and rushing attack. If the Badgers establish the run and manages to limit the success of Minnesota’s rushing attack, Wisconsin will pull away in the second half. Leidner’s ability to make plays on the ground could be a huge boost to the Golden Gophers’ upset hopes. On the Badgers’ sideline, Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy will each see time, and both need to limit their mistakes against an opportunistic defense. Minnesota finds a way to keep this game close into the third quarter. However, Wisconsin is simply a better team, and Gordon clinches the game in the fourth quarter with another huge second-half effort.
Prediction: Wisconsin 31, Minnesota 20
Florida State and Florida enter their annual Sunshine State showdown with different goals in mind. Despite the differences in record and what’s next for both programs, this rivalry matchup will have plenty of intrigue on Saturday afternoon in Doak Campbell Stadium.
Florida State enters this matchup with a 27-game winning streak. The last loss by the Seminoles? Try a 37-26 defeat at the hands of Florida in 2012. But since that game, much has changed for both programs. The Gators are looking for a new coach after Will Muschamp was not retained for 2015, while Florida State is trying to win back-to-back national championships.
The Gators have already clinched bowl eligibility, and with this being Muschamp’s finale game at Florida, expect this team to play hard for their soon-to-be former coach. Florida State has struggled in the first half of games (at times) this year but continues to find ways to win. The Seminoles used a last-second field goal to beat Boston College last week and defeated Miami by four points one week prior.
Florida owns a 34-23-2 series edge over Florida State. However, the recent history in this series favors the Seminoles. Coach Jimbo Fisher’s team has won three out of the last four against the Gators. Florida State won last year’s meeting by a convincing 37-7 margin.
Florida at Florida State
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Florida State -7.5
Florida’s Key to Victory: Win the Battle Up Front
If Florida wants to spoil Florida State’s unbeaten season, it has to win the battle up front on offense. The Seminoles are not as strong as they were last year in the trenches, as the rush defense allows 148.8 yards per game. In last week’s win over Boston College, Florida State gave up 240 yards and allowed the Eagles to rush for 4.7 yards per carry. The Seminoles will be challenged once again up front, as the strength of Florida’s offense is its rushing attack. The Gators average 201 yards per game in SEC play on the ground and plan to test the Florida State defensive front with two running backs: Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor. Jones leads the team with 788 yards, but Taylor isn’t far behind with 528 yards. Freshman quarterback Treon Harris is a former Florida State commit that switched to Florida on signing day. Harris hasn’t been asked to do much in the passing game (37 of 68 for 727 yards), but his ability to run (250 yards on 56 attempts) will be a valuable asset for the Gators’ offense. If Florida has success on first and second downs to limit putting Harris in long-yardage situations, then the Gators can control the clock and limit Florida State’s possessions on offense. That’s the best formula for a Florida upset.
Florida State’s Key to Victory: Attack the Florida Secondary
Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III is one of the best in college football. And it’s expected the sophomore will see some snaps against Florida State senior Rashad Greene (83 catches for 1,148 yards and five scores) on Saturday afternoon. However, even with Hargreaves III on their side, the Gators’ pass defense struggled at times in SEC play. Florida was torched by Alabama for 449 yards, Kentucky for 369 yards and Georgia for 319. Total yardage isn’t the best indicator of success or failure by a pass defense, and it’s notable the Gators are fifth in the SEC in pass efficiency defense. The secondary also has help in the form of pressure generated by its front seven, as Florida ranks sixth in the SEC with 25 sacks this year. Even though the Gators are strong up front, if Florida State’s revamped offensive line can provide adequate protection for quarterback Jameis Winston, the sophomore should have opportunities to make big plays against this secondary. Winston threw for 327 yards and three scores against Florida last year and seems to be developing a nice rapport with younger receivers like Jesus Wilson and Travis Rudolph during the second half of the season. And the offense has an emerging star in running back Dalvin Cook to test a Gators’ defense that ranks second in the SEC against the run. Florida State’s keys to victory are pretty clear: Stop the run on defense and let Winston attack downfield against an improving, but potentially vulnerable secondary.
It isn’t always pretty, but Florida State continues to win games. While style points are important to some, the Seminoles just need to survive and advance. Coach Jimbo Fisher has a relatively young team in spots, including on defense where Florida State is not as dominant as it was last year. Even though Florida is struggling, this is a dangerous spot for the Seminoles. The Gators have the front seven to give Winston and the offensive line trouble, while the rushing attack will test the Florida State defensive front. Expect Florida to play tough for Muschamp and find a way to hang around until the fourth quarter. However, the Seminoles are the better team and the best player on the field is still Winston. Florida State gets it done in the fourth quarter once again and extends its winning streak to 28 games in a row.
Prediction: Florida State 30, Florida 20
Alabama and Auburn is one of college football’s top rivalries, and the winner of the last five Iron Bowl matchups has played in the national championship that season. The Crimson Tide could extend that streak to six, as coach Nick Saban’s team was No. 1 in the latest release of the playoff committee rankings. Auburn is out of the playoff picture, but the Tigers can play spoiler against their in-state rival and improve their bowl position in the process.
Alabama enters the Iron Bowl with six wins in a row after losing 23-17 to Ole Miss on Oct. 4. The Crimson Tide defeated Mississippi State on Nov. 15 to take the No. 1 spot in college football’s playoff committee rankings. In addition to the win over the Bulldogs, Saban’s team has quality wins over Arkansas, LSU and a 59-0 shutout victory over Texas A&M. Auburn has lost two out of its last three games, including a 34-7 defeat at the hands of Georgia. The Tigers played for the national championship last year, but a tough road schedule and a struggling defense has been too much for coach Gus Malzahn’s team to overcome.
Alabama owns a 41-30-1 series edge over Auburn. The Crimson Tide has won four out of the last six meetings against the Tigers. However, no team has won more than two in a row in this series since Auburn claimed six consecutive victories from 2002-07.
And of course, we can’t preview Alabama-Auburn without mentioning last year’s crazy “Kick Six” ending to lift the Tigers to the SEC West Championship.
Auburn at Alabama
Kickoff: 7:45 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Alabama -9.5
Auburn’s Key to Victory: Push the Tempo
In last year’s meeting, Auburn averaged 5.8 yards per play and gashed the Crimson Tide for 296 yards on the ground. The Tigers aren’t as stout on the offensive line as they were last year, yet still lead the SEC in rushing offense by averaging 266.2 yards per game. Tre Mason has moved onto the NFL, but Cameron Artis-Payne (1,405 yards, 11 TDs) has proven to be a capable replacement, and quarterback Nick Marshall has 731 rushing yards on 133 attempts. The ability to run between the tackles is a strength of Artis-Payne, but the senior has seven runs of 30 yards or more this season – second in the SEC. In addition to Artis-Payne’s ability to hammer away on the interior, Marshall can make plays on the outside, which is difficult to defend when Auburn establishes its tempo. Alabama’s rush defense has been an immovable object all year. The Crimson Tide limit opponents to just 2.8 yards per carry and have not allowed a rushing touchdown since Oct. 11. Running room could be limited for Auburn, but Malzahn’s offense is going to give the Crimson Tide defense a lot of reads and different looks to find room on the ground. And when Auburn gets first downs, Malzahn will speed up the tempo, allowing the offense to keep Alabama’s defense on the field and out of position. The Tigers need to have success on the ground to setup their offense, but Marshall has to be able to take advantage of opportunities in the passing game. The senior has tossed three of his picks in Auburn’s three losses in 2014. But Marshall will have some additional help on Saturday, as receiver Duke Williams is expected to return from a leg injury suffered against Texas A&M.
Alabama’s Key to Victory: T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry
We could list a number of keys to the game for Alabama, but let’s focus on the Crimson Tide running backs. Yeldon has been dealing with injuries to his foot and ankle recently, and the junior did not play against Western Carolina. The extra rest should pay dividends for Yeldon, as Auburn’s rush defense has struggled to stop the run in SEC play. The Tigers rank ninth against the run in conference-only matchups, allowing 177.7 yards per game. Two opponents – Georgia and Mississippi State – also rushed for over 200 yards against Auburn, while Texas A&M averaged five yards per touch in a 41-38 win by the Aggies in Jordan-Hare Stadium. As long as he’s healthy, Yeldon will be the feature back for coordinator Lane Kiffin. But the Tigers will see plenty of Derrick Henry, who averages 5.1 yards per carry on 134 attempts this year. Establishing Henry and Yeldon is critical for Kiffin, as it will help open up passing opportunities downfield for receiver Amari Cooper. Quarterback Blake Sims has tossed only two picks at home, and the Sims-Cooper connection will be a handful for an Auburn secondary ranked 10th in the SEC in pass efficiency defense.
Never count out the underdog in a rivalry matchup. Alabama will get Auburn’s best shot, but the Crimson Tide defend home turf and reclaim bragging rights within the state for the next year. The Tigers should have some success moving the ball with their up-tempo attack. However, Alabama’s defense stops Auburn in the redzone and on third downs to prevent the Tigers from pulling off the upset. The Crimson Tide’s offense has been better at home than in road contests. Sims connects with Cooper a few times, and Yeldon and Henry pound away on the ground to push Alabama to victory.
Prediction: Alabama 34, Auburn 24
Mike London will return as Virginia’s coach in 2015. The school announced the news on Wednesday, just a few days before the Cavaliers’ rivalry matchup against Virginia Tech.
London was on the hot seat in 2014, but Virginia has a 5-6 record entering its finale against the Hokies.
In five seasons at Virginia, London is 23-37 and has one bowl appearance.
London will be on the hot seat once again in 2015, but it seems the Cavaliers are trending in the right direction. A bowl appearance next year would help secure London’s long-term outlook in Charlottesville.
#UVa admin has granted Mike London a reprieve. Now if they really want to help, bail on '15 opener at UCLA.— David Teel (@DavidTeelatDP) November 26, 2014