Amari Cooper and Marcus MariotaGetty Images, AP PhotoRoughly two-thirds of the coaches in the country believe Amari Cooper and Alabama will meet Marcus Mariota and Oregon in the championship game.

No. 1 Alabama was the overwhelming favorite to win the College Football Playoff in ESPN’s weekly poll of the FBS head coaches, #1QFor128.

Also, nearly one-third of the coaches who voted believed the selection committee did not pick the best four teams for the inaugural playoff.

Of the 128 FBS head coaches, 107 participated in the poll, conducted by ESPN’s Brett McMurphy.

Alabama was picked by 60 percent of the coaches to win the playoff, followed by No. 2 Oregon (28 percent). No. 3 Florida State and No. 4 Ohio State each received 6 percent of the votes to win the national title.

In the semifinal matchups, Alabama was chosen over Ohio State by a 90-10 percent margin in the Sugar Bowl, while Oregon was selected over Florida State by 73-27 percent margin.

Of the possible title matchups in Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 12, Alabama-Oregon was picked by 67 percent of the coaches, followed by Alabama-Florida State (24 percent), Oregon-Ohio State (5 percent) and Florida State-Ohio State (4 percent).

The coaches who voted believed the selection committee correctly picked the best four teams (69 percent yes, 31 percent no).

The voting among the coaches from the Power 5 and Group of 5 conferences were fairly similar for the most part.

Despite Big 12 co-champion TCU falling from No. 3 to No. 6 in the final ranking, a higher percentage of Power 5 coaches believed the selection committee picked the correct four teams (72 percent yes, 28 percent no) compared to the Group of 5 coaches (67 percent yes, 33 percent no).

The biggest discrepancy was picking the Oregon-Florida State semifinal winner. Only 67 percent of the coaches from the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12) who voted chose Oregon to beat FSU, compared to 77 percent of the coaches from the Group of 5 conferences (American, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, Sun Belt).

Another significant difference between the Power 5 and Group of 5 coaches was picking the national champion. Alabama was picked to win by more of the Group of 5 coaches (62 percent) than the Power 5 coaches (58 percent). Oregon had a higher percentage of Power 5 coaches (32 percent) picking the Ducks than the Group of 5 coaches (24 percent).

Also among the Group of 5 coaches, No. 4 Ohio State (8 percent) actually received more votes to win the title than No. 3 Florida State (6 percent). Of the Power 5 coaches, 7 percent picked Ohio State to win the title and 3 percent Florida State.

Vote breakdown

Did the selection committee pick the best four teams?
Yes: 69 percent
No: 31 percent

How the Power 5 coaches voted:
Yes: 72 percent
No: 28 percent

How the Group of 5 coaches voted:
Yes: 67 percent
No: 33 percent

Who will win the College Football Playoff?
Alabama: 60 percent
Oregon: 28 percent
Florida State: 6 percent
Ohio State: 6 percent

How the Power 5 coaches voted:
Alabama: 58 percent
Oregon: 32 percent
Florida State: 7 percent
Ohio State: 3 percent

How the Group of 5 coaches voted:
Alabama: 62 percent
Oregon: 24 percent
Ohio State: 8 percent
Florida State: 6 percent

Who will win the Rose Bowl semifinal?
Oregon: 73 percent
Florida State: 27 percent

How the Power 5 coaches voted:
Oregon: 67 percent
Florida State: 33 percent

How the Group of 5 coaches voted:
Oregon: 77 percent
Florida State: 23 percent

Who will win the Sugar Bowl semifinal?
Alabama: 90 percent
Ohio State: 10 percent

How the Power 5 coaches voted:
Alabama: 91 percent
Ohio State: 9 percent

How the Group of 5 coaches voted:
Alabama: 89 percent
Ohio State: 11 percent

Who will meet in the College Football Playoff final?
Alabama-Oregon: 67 percent
Alabama-Florida State: 24 percent
Oregon-Ohio State: 5 percent
Ohio State-Florida State: 4 percent

ACC mailblog

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
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Only a few more days until the bowls begin!

Eric from Atlanta writes: Jimbo Fisher made a huge mistake in not snagging Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator, not only by failing to upgrade Florida State's defense but by letting him go 200 miles up the road to Auburn to pair up with Gus Malzahn's offense. This will haunt FSU in both recruiting and performance. Agree/disagree?

Jared Shanker writes: I would disagree. There are few defensive coordinators out there better than Muschamp, but Charles Kelly has not even finished his first season as the Seminoles’ defensive coordinator. Did I miss something or is Florida State not 30th in scoring and 52nd in total defense? Obviously, the defensive numbers aren’t as good as recent seasons, but there also isn’t the same amount of talent and depth as recent years. Kelly’s defenses have struggled at times, especially in early games, but they have answered the bell in crucial moments.

Kelly has earned praise from previous coaches he has worked under for his recruiting ability, too. It’s not as if the Seminoles are struggling on the recruiting trail either.

Also, the Seminoles are in the middle of a playoff race. It’s probably not the best idea to start making or planning personnel changes with the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual a few weeks away.

Last, all of this is contingent on Muschamp even wanting to come to Tallahassee over the number of SEC schools that courted him.

Chris from Atlanta writes: I think it is kind of funny how everyone is making a big deal about the controversy this year. Let’s go ahead and imagine what would have happened this year if we still had the BCS system. You have a one-loss SEC team who you have to assume would make it in. Then you have a one-loss Oregon team and an undefeated Florida State team. There IS NOT a correct choice. If they pick Florida State the country erupts in one giant roar about how a team that barely beat Boston College and Florida was in the championship game. If they pick Oregon (I don't think it would happen) then you’re leaving out an undefeated team over two 1-loss teams. That would cause even more chaos. I think fans should be grateful that we got to see the four best teams in football all make the playoffs.

Shanker: If this was the BCS system, Florida State would likely be No. 1. I understand the projected BCS rankings have the Seminoles second, but I think the College Football Playoff has influenced the pollsters and the Seminoles aren’t earning as many first-place votes as they would have under the old polling system. There would be a little controversy, in my opinion, about who would go between Alabama and Oregon, but I’d believe Alabama would get the nod and there wouldn’t be a huge uproar about it since the Ducks lost at home. I agree with your overall statement that this system -- at least the part where four teams play it out on the field -- is better than the old and we’re set up for a wild ride beginning on New Year’s Day.

Eric from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, writes: I'm just wondering what makes Oregon so great? All I hear from the media to fans to Vegas is that Oregon is going to dominate FSU. The general consensus is that FSU is the team that all the other teams wanted to play as that would be the easiest game. FSU is faster and outweighs the toughest defense that Oregon has played all season. That weight and speed disparity never gets mentioned. FSU has played many defenses similar to Oregon's and beat far tougher. People talk about the schedule that Oregon played, but I don't see it. FSU has overcome far greater injuries that cost Oregon in the loss column. If FSU had lost a game because of those injuries they would not be afforded excuses that Oregon gets. Tell me what makes Oregon better than FSU?

Shanker: I don’t expect Oregon to dominate Florida State, and if I was a betting man taking Florida State and the nine points would look pretty good. I did pick Oregon to win the game but think it will be very close. Stanford has one of the country’s best defenses and, although the Cardinal struggled this season, they are a better defense than Florida State’s. I also think Florida State’s schedule is much better than some people give it credit for. Florida, Notre Dame and Oklahoma State were not as strong as they normally are, but the Seminoles still had three Power 5 teams on their nonconference schedule and those teams are capable of combining for 30 wins in any given season. I don’t know if Florida State has overcome more significant injuries than the Ducks have, but the Noles would not get the luxury of a pass if they lost partially because of an injury. Ultimately, I think Oregon wins because the Ducks will have success running the football and it will continue into the second half. I think Florida State’s slow starts will finally catch up to them. But I make that pick knowing full well there’s a really good chance the Seminoles will make me look foolish.
Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual: No. 3 Florida State (13-0) vs. No. 2 Oregon (12-1)

Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California (ESPN)

Key matchup: Oregon RB Royce Freeman vs. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook

Why it matters: The battle between the two most recent Heisman Trophy winners will generate the most headlines, but one of the defining factors of this game will be which freshman running back has a better afternoon. Both first-year players are hitting their stride at the perfect time; it’s imperative for teams to run the football well late in the season. Freeman has toppled the 100-yard mark in six of his last eight games, and he ran for 98 and 99 in those other two performances. Cook has ran for 321 yards over his last two games and was named the MVP of the ACC championship game for his 31-carry, 177-yard effort. Adding to the intrigue of this matchup is the difference in running styles. Freeman tips the scales at 229 pounds and sends would-be tacklers tumbling backward. Cook runs through tackles, too, but he also embarrasses defenders with his nifty footwork.

Who wins: The winner of this matchup could determine the winner of the game. It would not be a shock to see both teams light up the scoreboard in the first half, but eventually the running games will need to take control for Oregon or Florida State to win. Florida State (60th nationally) and Oregon (50th) are essentially equally average against the run, so it’s not as if one running back will have a significantly easier afternoon against a porous defense. What could help Freeman is the running threat of Marcus Mariota on option plays. The Ducks will look to put pressure on the Seminoles’ defensive line with the read option, forcing it to make a decision to take away either Marcus Mariota or Freeman. IF the unit makes the wrong decision it could lead to big gains for the Ducks. Freeman will have a productive day and cross the 100-yard threshold in a 35-34 Oregon win.

Bowl game matchups: Houston vs. Pitt

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
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Lockheed Martin Armed Services Bowl: Houston Cougars (7-5) vs. Pitt Panthers (6-6)

Jan. 2, 2015, noon, Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas (ESPN)

Key matchup: James Conner vs. Houston rush defense

Why it matters: Amid all the uncertainty about who will come in and become Pitt's head coach, there is one thing the Panthers will be able to count on: big, bad James Conner busting through with some big runs. There is a reason Conner won ACC Player of the Year honors on an average team. The man was virtually unstoppable on the ground, ranking No. 5 in the nation with 1,675 yards; No. 3 in rushing touchdowns (24), No. 5 in rushing yards per game (139.6 avg.) and No. 5 in scoring (12.0 ppg). Oh, and he also averages 6 yards a carry. Though Houston had a disappointing season -- the biggest reason the Cougars also are searching for a new head coach -- the defense was one of the bright spots. The Cougars rank No. 19 in the nation in total defense, and have allowed an average of 136 yards on the ground this season, ranking No. 31 in the country. Houston also excels at creating turnovers with 30 this season, including 11 fumbles. Conner has been fumble-prone this season, so this is definitely something to keep an eye on.

Who wins: Both teams have interim coaches, a position Pitt has been in several times during bowl season. This time around, offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph will be calling the shots, and you can bet he will rely heavily on the two best players on the field -- Conner and receiver Tyler Boyd, who came on strong at the end of the season. Boyd posted 100-yard receiving games in four of the season's final five games for a second consecutive 1,000-yard season. And let's not forget what this duo did in the bowl game last year against Bowling Green: Conner had 229 yards rushing, and Boyd had 173 yards receiving and a punt return for a TD. Houston counters with receiver Deontay Greenberry and running back Kenneth Farrow, but the Conner-Boyd duo will prove difficult to stop. Pitt 30, Houston 24.

ACC bowl predictions

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
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Quick Lane Bowl

Hale: Who knows what to make of the Jekyll-and-Hyde Tar Heels? Their defense isn’t good, but neither is Rutgers’. The offense looked stagnant in its last outing, but Larry Fedora will have had a month of prep time to fix any flaws. UNC at least beat some quality opponents (Georgia Tech, Duke), while Rutgers was 2-5 against teams that finished .500 or better, allowing 457 yards and 36 points per game. North Carolina 38, Rutgers 28.

Fortuna: Fans of defense will have to close their eyes and look away in horror. Though Marquise Williams has been phenomenal for much of the season, the Rutgers' offense is riding high off its comeback win at Maryland. With the chance at an eight-win season in its inaugural Big Ten campaign. Leonte Carroo will be a handful for a UNC defense that has already seen its coordinator get fired. Rutgers 38, UNC 31

Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl

Adelson: The Wolfpack ended the season on a high note after a total domination of in-state rival North Carolina. The defense has started to gain momentum and play a little more aggressively, while the run game has started to find some footing, too. Jacoby Brissett and Shadrach Thornton each had 100 yards rushing against the Tar Heels. Look for that combination to be the difference. NC State 28, UCF 27.

Shanker: UCF has their own Jacoby to combat NC State’s Brissett. The Knights' Jacoby Glenn was the AAC’s defensive player of the year. UCF will keep NC State offense in check and score just enough points. UCF 24, NC State 17

Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman

Adelson: The Hokies have not been consistently reliable this season, but they did show signs of life offensively last time out against Virginia. J.C. Coleman ran hard -- and that run game will be a big key against a Cincinnati run D that ranks No. 80 in the nation. Here is betting Virginia Tech will get its run game going to make the difference. Virginia Tech 24, Cincinnati 21.

Shanker: This should be an interesting battle of strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness. Cincinnati’s offense and Virginia Tech’s defense are among the country’s best. Each team’s other unit is among the worst. The Bearcats will have more motivation in this game, though. Cincinnati 20, Virginia Tech 17

Duck Commander Independence Bowl

Shanker: It was an ugly finish for Miami, but South Carolina couldn’t beat a Clemson team that had a one-legged Deshaun Watson at quarterback. Miami 23, South Carolina 14

Adelson: In a game that presents such even matchups, this one might come down to coaching. That is where South Carolina has the edge. Miami has lost four straight bowl games; South Carolina has won three straight. The Hurricanes have shown no motivation to play; Spurrier will find one for the Gamecocks. South Carolina 27, Miami 24.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl

Fortuna: Points will be hard to come by at Yankee Stadium. Penn State might have the nation's No. 1 rushing defense, but it struggled the one time it faced a mobile quarterback in J.T. Barrett, as Ohio State rushed for 219 yards. Tyler Murphy is an even bigger threat with his legs, and he'll be able to make a few big plays that will ultimately prove to be the difference for an Eagles team that just keeps getting better. BC 17, Penn State 13

Hale: OK, Penn State’s offense isn’t much to rave about, but what has been lost in the Nittany Lions’ season is that the defense has been exceptional. Penn State allowed just 85 yards per game on the ground -- tops in the country -- which could negate BC’s top offensive threats. Expect a low-scoring game, with the Lions having a slight edge. Penn State 17, BC 14

Russell Athletic Bowl

Adelson: It is hard to forget how different Clemson looks offensively with Cole Stoudt behind center, so all the attention in this one will be squarely focused on the Tigers' No. 1-ranked defense. Oklahoma expects Samaje Perine to play, but he will not have much running room against Vic Beasley & Co. Clemson 20, Oklahoma 17

Hale: Since their respective regular-season finales, Oklahoma has gotten healthier and Clemson has learned it will be without star QB Deshaun Watson. The Tigers’ D is terrific, and perhaps that will be enough to secure a win, but odds are the offense is going to have to muster at least a few sustained drives, and Cole Stoudt is averaging just 5.6 yards-per-attempt since Oct. 1 with four TDs and eight interceptions. Oklahoma 17, Clemson 13

Hyundai Sun Bowl

Adelson: Duke has improved defensively this season, but the Blue Devils have not faced many teams as explosive as Arizona State. Plus, they beat only one team with a winning record. Both teams struggled down the stretch, but Arizona State has a better body of work and offense, so expect a Sun Devils victory. Arizona State 35, Duke 28.

Fortuna: These types of games usually come down to who has more to play for, and in this case it is certainly Duke. The Blue Devils are aiming for their second straight 10-win season and for their first bowl win in 53 years after falling just short against Johnny Football last year. Expect a clean offensive performance and just enough stops on defense to escape victorious. Duke 34, ASU 27

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Hale: The Fighting Irish have lost five of six and didn’t beat a team with better than a 7-5 record this season. LSU’s offense might not be stellar, but the Tigers took Alabama to overtime, fell five points shy of beating Mississippi State and have wins over Wisconsin and Ole Miss. We’ll take the LSU defense, with just enough help from Leonard Fournette, to get the job done. LSU 24, Notre Dame 20.

Belk Bowl

Fortuna: Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will have his work cut out for him in trying to stop a Bulldogs offense that's No. 8 nationally in scoring (41.7 ppg), but his defensive unit has been among the nation's best as well. If quarterback Reggie Bonnafon is at full health, he and the Louisville run game should be able to open things up for DeVante Parker and the passing attack. Louisville 31, Georgia 24

Shanker: Louisville’s sixth-ranked defense is allowing 364 yards per game against teams with winning records. Behind Nick Chubb, Georgia will be able to score. Georgia 30, Louisville 24

Capital One Orange Bowl

Hale: The bottom line for the Yellow Jackets is that the D has to do a much better job against Dak Prescott than it did against Jameis Winston in the ACC Championship Game. If Prescott gets time to move in the pocket and make throws downfield, it will be hard to corral Mississippi State. If Tech’s D can limit his big plays and force a couple turnovers, the offense will do more than enough to get the win. We’re betting on the latter. Georgia Tech 41, Mississippi State 38

Fortuna: The Bulldogs' rush defense has been solid (No. 31 nationally), which should improve with nearly a month to prepare for Georgia Tech's triple-option attack. MSU also has a really good quarterback in Dak Prescott, who was near the top of the Heisman discussion before losing at Alabama. The Yellow Jackets need to force several Prescott turnovers to give their offense a chance to have its desired effect, and that might be a tall order. Mississippi State 35, Georgia Tech 30

Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual
Adelson: The Seminoles are in a different position -- playing as the underdog. There is little doubt that will serve as motivation. But beyond the intangibles, Florida State will find a way to win behind Jameis Winston and Dalvin Cook, who has emerged to make the Seminoles more balanced and effective. Florida State 35, Oregon 31

Shanker: It was tough to pull the trigger on Oregon after going with Florida State all season. The rash of injuries are continuing for Oregon, but I think they will be able to run the ball effectively against the Seminoles. The Ducks will blow an early lead but put together a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. Oregon 35, Florida State 34

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl

Shanker: Both teams lost their coach, so it will be interesting to see how each team responds. The talent is clearly in the Panthers’ favor as they have James Conner and Tyler Boyd on offense. Pitt 31, Houston 13

ACC morning links

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
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Boston College took the proper steps to wrapping up Steve Addazio on Thursday, signing the second-year coach to an extension through the 2020 season. The deal should, at the very least, provide some security for a program that has done nothing but overachieve in Addazio's first two years on the job, making consecutive bowl games despite massive personnel losses.

Addazio's name has been floated around plenty during silly season, but Eagles fans can at least rest a little bit easier knowing that his rebuilding plan is still on schedule. But clarity throughout ACC regimes remains difficult to find after Wednesday.

Pittsburgh still needs a new athletic director, in addition to a new head coach, and it is unclear which will come first, or the effect one will have on the other. As colleague Andrea Adelson wrote this week, you cannot blame the Panthers for third-year coach Paul Chryst leaving for his dream job, as he went home to Wisconsin. But it is clear now more than ever that the program needs some stability, something Chryst was able to bring to the program after so much turnover.

The Panthers have plenty of young weapons on offense and are in a much better position now than they were when Chryst took over, but the cumulative effect of a fourth coaching search -- and an AD search -- since 2010 cannot be overstated.

Here are the rest of your ACC links:
Josh Bordner's final college football game might look a little like some of his first college football games. At least the first ones he attended.

The Boston College wide receiver was born in State College, Pennsylvania, and grew up a huge Penn State fan. He said his father, Scott, had a government job in town and would take him to Nittany Lions games regularly, with little Josh tagging along in one of those "little kid backpacks."

"I just remember when everyone gets up and starts jumping, the whole stadium feels like it's going to collapse," Bordner said with a laugh. "They definitely take pride in their football there."

[+] EnlargeJosh Bordner, Tony Steward
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesBoston College receiver Josh Bordner, a converted quarterback, caught three touchdown passes for the Eagles as a senior.
Bordner's football career will in many ways come full circle when his Eagles face the Lions in the Dec. 27 New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. The career reserve quarterback was called into coach Steve Addazio's office last winter and, with Florida transfer Tyler Murphy coming in to take over the reins under center, was asked if he would be willing to switch to receiver.

Bordner said he had not played the position since he was a sophomore at Century High — his family moved to Sykesville, Maryland, before high school — but he was eager to have an opportunity to get on the field in his final season.

The numbers followed, as Bordner's 26 catches, 342 receiving yards and three touchdown grabs all led or tied for the team lead in the regular season. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Bordner's biggest attribute, however, might have come in the run game — more specifically, blocking for Murphy and the rest of a BC rushing attack that put up 251.83 yards per game, good for 14th in the country.

Those efforts did not go unnoticed, as Bordner was rewarded Sunday as the recipient of the Scanlan Award, the program's highest honor, which goes to the senior who was outstanding in scholarship, leadership and athletic ability.

"Every Sunday morning we’d come in and watch highlights of the big plays from Saturday’s game and most often it’s highlighting Josh making a huge block down the field," center and fellow captain Andy Gallik said. "He’s always making big cuts down field and making wider lanes for Tyler and the running backs. He’s always making blocks and doing whatever he can to get his blockers down. It helped us tremendously.

"He was the hands-down, clear favorite to win that award. When I think of the Scanlan Award, I think of Josh Bordner. There’s nobody that should have won that besides him.”

Bordner will run into one more familiar face next Saturday when he sees coach James Franklin roaming the Penn State sideline. Franklin had recruited Bordner when the coach was an assistant at Maryland, with Bordner recalling an hour-long meeting in which he loved Franklin's enthusiasm.

Bordner said he had two cousins attend Penn State and still has a handful of friends and family members in town. He joked that the bowl game will mark the first time any of them find themselves rooting against the Lions, even if this is a long time coming for a Penn State program that was banned from bowls the previous two seasons in light of NCAA sanctions.

"I'm definitely really excited," Bordner said. "It's going to be a sold-out, packed crowd. It's going to be one of the top-viewed bowl games. I'm looking forward to going out there and playing against a team I grew up loving. They're definitely a good team. They have a great defense, so we're really looking forward to getting out there and playing."
Capital One Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (10-3) vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs (10-2)

Dec. 31, 8 p.m. ET, Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla. (ESPN)

Key matchup: Dak Prescott vs. Georgia Tech defensive front

Why it matters: At lot of small things go into deciding wins and losses on a football field, but here’s a fairly telling stat: In Mississippi State’s 10 wins, Prescott had a Total QBR of 81.4 and a 21-to-7 TD:INT ratio. In its two losses, Prescott’s QBR was 34.0 with three touchdowns and three picks. It’s oversimplifying to say that as Prescott goes, so goes Mississippi State, but it’s certainly true that the Bulldogs are a much easier offense to defend when Prescott is off his game. On the flip side, Georgia Tech’s defense has struggled to disrupt the opposing quarterback throughout this season, and the ACC Championship Game was a perfect example of just how porous the Yellow Jackets’ D can be when it gives a top quarterback time in the pocket. In games when Tech records two sacks or more this year, it’s 6-0 and allows an average of 18 points per game. In games when it has zero or one sack, the record is just 4-3 and the D surrenders an average of 31 points per game.

Who wins: The smart money is probably on Prescott and the Bulldogs here. Not only is Tech’s pass rush among the most listless in the Power 5, but Prescott’s mobility and Josh Robinson's playmaking ability will only help to temper the Yellow Jackets’ aggressiveness. Of course, none of this is a secret to Tech DC Ted Roof either, and with a month to prep and get healthy (including the possible return of Jabari Hunt-Days), it’s certainly possible that the Jackets will look far sharper defensively than they did against Florida State. And if Prescott does make a mistake, Tech is more than capable of capitalizing. Perhaps as important, too, is that Tech’s offense should be able to move the ball against Mississippi State, chewing up some clock and limiting Prescott’s opportunities to create the big play. In the end, it may not be a great performance for either defense, but whichever one can come up with a couple of key stops could be the difference in a high-scoring affair. We’ll go with Tech, 41-38.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The Florida State offensive line wasn’t scaring defensive coordinators through the first month of the season. A unit hailed as the country’s best during the preseason had struggled clearing space for a rushing attack that ranked 103rd at the end of September.

Four games ago, Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher made a bold switch along the offensive line in the midst of an undefeated season. Before the Nov. 15 game against Miami, just as starting center Austin Barron was cleared to play after fracturing his forearm back in early October, Fisher moved all-conference performer Cam Erving from left tackle to center. That meant true freshman Roderick Johnson was being inserted at left tackle, the position responsible for Jameis Winston’s blind side.

Fisher’s roll of the dice worked. The Seminoles are averaging 146 yards rushing over their past four games -- not a sizable difference -- but they are averaging 4.8 yards per carry. They averaged less than four yards per rush in September. And in the ACC title game, FSU averaged 5.42 yards per rush, a stat that helped carry them to the No. 3 playoff seed and a date against No. 2 Oregon in the Rose Bowl.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Orlando Sentinel via Getty ImagesFlorida State's offensive line has improved since a bold late-season move by coach Jimbo Fisher.
With this new starting five, Florida State might as well be Wisconsin South. Both Florida State and Wisconsin, whose offensive line’s girth is annually celebrated, have a starting five that averages 6-foot-5 along the line. The Seminoles’ combined weight across the group is actually greater than Wisconsin’s, and Florida State still has athleticism along the unit, too.

"We got great size," said Josue Matias, who is the link between Johnson and Erving at left guard. "We got intimidation off the bus. It just has a different attitude."

As early as this spring, Erving was being groomed as a potential center. Fisher originally said it was strictly for emergencies that Erving would play center, but as the 6-foot-7, 330-pound Johnson continued to hold his own in fall practice against a talented FSU defensive line, Fisher felt at some point during the season he would be able to move Erving to center.

At 308 pounds, Erving is the smallest player on the line, but he’s also maybe the most athletic. As the offensive line anchor, Erving has been effective firing off as a run blocker, but also when he’s pulling.

"Athletically you can see our difference, and in height and weight and you don’t really drop off with Rod at left tackle," right tackle Bobby Hart said.

Erving, one of the team leaders, praised the effort of Barron and fellow center Ryan Hoefeld, but he said the chemistry of this starting five just seems to be better.

"It’s all about chemistry on the offensive line," Erving said. "You got to know what each other is thinking and how you’re going to do each block. The chemistry is coming together better."

Through the first nine games, despite Florida State winning them all, there were legitimate questions as to whether the Seminoles could win a second straight national title without an effective running game. And the offensive line had struggled to protect Winston at times. The new structure of the offensive line potentially returns Florida State to its perch among football’s most talented groups as it hits its stride.

The lack of an effective run game and inconsistent offensive line play put the offense, and specifically Winston, in a weekly bind. Winston was forced to shoulder too much of the offense. Winston averaged 38.5 passing attempts per game in October. That number has dropped to 32 over the past four games.

"We’ve taken on a new identity," Erving said.

With the playoffs only two weeks away, the shift has come at the perfect time.
Belk Bowl: No. 13 Georgia Bulldogs (9-3) vs. No. 21 Louisville Cardinals (9-3)

Dec. 30, 6:30 p.m., Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C. (ESPN)

Key matchup: Georgia RB Nick Chubb vs. Louisville front seven.

Why it matters: Chubb has been absolutely terrific as a true freshman, and is the key to the entire Georgia offense. Since taking over as the starter in Week 7, Chubb ranks seventh in the FBS in rushing yards per game (151.0) and fifth in rushes of 10 yards or more (29), according to ESPN Stats & Information. Not only that, Chubb is averaging 3.3 yards after contact per rush, No. 2 among power-5 backs with at least 100 carries. Louisville, meanwhile, counters with former Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and a group that has been feisty all season against the run. Louisville ranks No. 3 in the nation in rush defense, No. 2 in yards per rush allowed. Following the standard set under former coordinator Vance Bedford, the Cardinals have not allowed an opponent to rush for 200 or more yards in an FBS-high 28 straight games. Only three times this season have the Cards allowed a 100-yard rusher. If Louisville can find a way to limit Chubb and his explosive plays, the Cards will put themselves in great position to win.

Who wins: Louisville has been pretty stellar against the run, so the take here is that will continue -- especially when you consider how familiar Grantham is with the way Georgia runs its offense. Making Georgia rely on the pass and Hutson Mason not only means taking Chubb and Sony Michel out of the game, it also means more opportunities for Gerod Holliman and teammates to grab a few interceptions. Here is one more telling note from ESPN Stats & Information: Louisville leads the FBS in Opponent Total QBR (16.9), thanks in part to its FBS-high 25 interceptions. Louisville has won two straight bowl games over Power 5 opponents in impressive fashion, dominating Florida and Miami. While there is uncertainty over who will start at quarterback for Louisville, there is no doubt this team will rely on its defense again to win. Louisville 30, Georgia 27.

ACC morning links

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
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Pitt must try and replace Paul Chryst without an athletic director.

Maybe that is not such a bad idea.

While it is true outgoing AD Steve Pederson helped usher Pitt into the ACC, it also is true he had an uneven track record when it came to hiring football coaches. Though Chryst's departure for Wisconsin after three years on the job cannot be placed on Pederson's shoulders, the next hire Pitt makes will be absolutely crucial for the program. Pitt cannot swing and miss on this hire the way Pederson did with Todd Graham and Mike Haywood, the two men brought in after he fired Dave Wannstedt.

Bill Fralic, a Pitt All-American lineman, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review of Pederson:

"He could not hire a good football coach. And he fired a loyal Pitt guy who averaged nine wins his last three years, and they haven't come close to that since. He meddled with everything. He was a control freak. Hopefully, we can recover from what he's done there."


Pitt is ready to win right now. It must hire a coach who can take what Chryst did and run with it. Make no mistake -- Pitt must hire a coach who will continue on with the blue-collar tradition Pitt fans have come to expect. All the high-octane mumbo jumbo Graham sold in the one year he was in Pittsburgh is just not going to fly. An offense predicated on a strong run game must remain a priority.

Many have already laid out their lists of potential candidates. Greg Schiano and Pat Narduzzi are among the two most intriguing names. They both have recruiting ties to the area, and both would presumably emphasize a power-run game. Double plus right there. Returning running back James Conner has the potential to be a 2,000-yard rusher with the right coach calling the plays.

Having been burned so many times in the recent past, Pitt would obviously be looking for a coach to put down roots in Pittsburgh for the long-term. Whether Pitt is that type of job may be in the eye of the beholder. In any case, Pitt should not concern itself with that idea right now.

It should hire the best available coach, plain and simple. Several outlets reported that Pederson had made contact with Schiano before being removed as AD. Though Pederson is gone, Schiano should remain on the list. At least he has proven he can win on the collegiate level, though he did fail to deliver in the clutch several times at Rutgers.

It is safe to say Pitt is brimming with potential. That is why this hire has to be the right hire. Pitt cannot afford to take any more steps backward.

Here are a few more links to start your morning:

A week later, I still have a hard time understanding how Roberto Aguayo did not win the Lou Groza Award. Now, more puzzlement: the FWAA All-America team does not have Aguayo on it, either. None of this is meant to take away from the year Brad Craddock had at Maryland. He was terrific, too. But there is no real doubt Aguyao is the hands down best kicker in the country, is there?
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The familiar story line will be trotted out again, one that has trailed Pitt for four years now through a series of botched coaching moves.

People will take one glance and declare, “Oh, would you look at that? Pitt is hiring another coach again!”

It is unavoidable to look at the messy track record since Dave Wannstedt was fired at the end of the 2010 season. Athletic director Steve Pederson fell victim to that, losing his job Wednesday night in a clear indication the administration had lost faith in his ability to hire a head coach.

But losing Paul Chryst does not fit the narrative hoisted onto the Panthers since they made the mistake of hiring Mike Haywood, then Todd Graham, over a one-month span bridging 2010 and 2011.

Truthfully, Chryst leaving for Wisconsin should just be chalked up to bad luck.

[+] EnlargePaul Chryst
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsPaul Chryst's departure is not an indictment on the state of Pitt's program.
Just two weeks ago, Chryst stood in a ballroom in Charlotte, North Carolina, to celebrate running back James Conner, the ACC Offensive and Overall Player of the Year. He was happy and looking forward not only to the bowl game but also to a 2015 season that he believed would finally show the results of all the hard work he, his coaches and his players have put in since he arrived three years ago.

He was not a coach looking to take the next train out.

Then the Wisconsin job unexpectedly came open when Gary Andersen bolted for Oregon State after two years with the Badgers. And well, you got the feeling Chryst would be the only call athletic director Barry Alvarez would make. When Bret Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas in 2012, Chryst -- a Madison, Wisconsin, native and former Badgers quarterback -- looked like the top candidate, too. But the timing was bad.

Chryst was not about to pull a Graham and leave Pitt after one season.

Now, the timing is just about perfect. While Pitt has not been much better than average in the three seasons he has coached the Panthers, perspective is in order -- and a big reason why his overall record should be ignored.

Pitt was an absolute disaster when Chryst was hired to replace Graham, who left for Arizona State after one year on the job. There was an absence of leadership and loyalty, not to mention a hodge-podge locker room filled with players who had committed to various coaches no longer there.

Players needed somebody they could trust. Chryst, with his guy-next-door demeanor and low-key attitude, proved to be the right man to steady the program. He knew Pitt was not going to be an easy fix. So did athletic director Steve Pederson.

So Chryst got to work, slowly reshaping the program in his image. He took no shortcuts, making tough decisions when they were needed, like parting ways with talented players like Rushel Shell, Tra'Von Chapman and Drew Carswell.

It has taken three years to get the locker room in order and get the players to believe and get everybody pulling in the same direction. Had any other program come calling, Chryst may have very well said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

But Wisconsin has a pull nobody else does. Simply put, Wisconsin is home.

So his decision to leave is understandable and should not be seen as a reflection on the Pitt job itself. Chryst is not a career opportunist like Graham, who trotted out one excuse after another when he hightailed it to Tempe.

If there is one silver lining here, it is that Pitt is no longer a toxic mess. Chryst has left the program in much better shape than he found it. In back-to-back years, Pitt has had the ACC Defensive Player of the Year (Aaron Donald) and ACC Player of the Year (Conner). Pitt fans will tell you there are actually two silver linings: getting rid of Pederson means somebody who has not swung and missed multiple times will have the opportunity to hire a coach who should be able to win immediately.

After racking up 1,675 yards rushing, Conner returns. So does All-ACC receiver Tyler Boyd, who has posted consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Quarterback Chad Voytik also will be back, having shown growth in the latter half of the season. In all, 15 starters are expected to return to a team that will be older and much more experienced.

After all, Pitt went through training camp with 81 underclassmen (53 freshmen and 28 sophomores), the highest total of any FBS team in the country.

It is undeniable that losing Chryst is a blow to the players and the program. It is hard to find a more likeable guy. Though his time at Pitt was brief, he made this a much more attractive job.

For that, he deserves a hearty pat on the back. Chryst may not have finished the job, but it was a job well done nonetheless.
The most aggressive offense in the ACC in 2014 was Clemson, which might not have been a surprise in 2012 or 2013, but in a year in which there were so many personnel issues for the Tigers’ offense, it’s a bit shocking.

Clemson threw deep (20-plus yards) on 7.46 percent of its total plays, well above the league average of 5.93 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Info. And that was probably not the best idea either, because while Clemson went deep more often than anyone else, the Tigers also averaged the second-fewest yards-per-attempt on those throws (trailing only Syracuse) and nearly 10 yards per attempt less than what Tajh Boyd mustered last year for Clemson. That’s not exactly a recipe for offensive success.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtDeshaun Watson completed nearly 50 percent of his deep balls in 2014 with seven touchdowns and just one interception.
But, of course, personnel had a lot to do with that, and it only goes to show how much a healthy Deshaun Watson affects Clemson’s overall offensive success, because those aggregate numbers hardly tell the whole story.

Watson completed nearly 50 percent of his deep balls in 2014 with seven touchdowns and just one interception. He averaged 15.9 yards per attempt, which would’ve been tops in the ACC if he’d been the only quarterback throwing for the Tigers in 2014. But he wasn’t.

Cole Stoudt and Nick Schuessler completed just 15 percent of their deep balls this season with one TD, two interceptions and a woeful 5.2 yards-per-attempt average. To put that in perspective, if they’d been the only quarterbacks throwing for Clemson this year, the Tigers would’ve been dead last in the league in YPA by nearly four full yards.

That’s just one of the interesting facts we find when we dig into the ACC’s deep-ball numbers for 2014.

A few more, with deep-ball stats courtesy ESPN Stats & Info:

  • No team was worse on the deep ball in the ACC than Syracuse. This is no surprise. The Orange completed just 27.8 percent of its deep balls (worst in the ACC), averaged 9.2 yards per attempt (again, worst), had just two touchdowns (13th) and five interceptions (t-12th). That’s down a bit from last year, but the Orange have struggled on those throws ever since Ryan Nassib left.
  • Perhaps the most improved team on the deep ball this year was Virginia. Last season, the Hoos were just 7-of-50 on throws of 20 yards or more. This year, they more than doubled their deep-ball yards, completion percentage and TD throws.
  • North Carolina had one of the ACC’s most potent offenses, but it wasn’t because of the deep ball. This is one of the reasons Larry Fedora was so high on Mitch Trubisky, but the numbers didn’t back up that confidence. Overall, UNC’s completion percentage of 28 percent on deep balls was third-worst in the league and its 9.93 YPA was fourth worst, but Marquise Williams was far better than his counterpart. Williams wasn’t great (28 percent completions, 12.2 YPA) but Trubisky really struggled (3-of-15 for 100 yards with a pick).
  • Only Wake Forest went deep less often than Pittsburgh (4.28 percent of total plays), which seems a bit odd considering that the Panthers could’ve used play-action well (given the strong running game) and they actually had the highest completion percentage of any ACC team on throws of 20-plus yards (44.4 percent).
  • Florida State was far less successful on the deep ball this year than last, with its completion percentage down (48.8 in 2013 to 35.7 in 2014) and TDs way off (16 last year, nine this). But FSU also threw five fewer interceptions on deep throws this year, and when it did get a completion, it’s YPC was actually improved (40 YPA this year, 32 YPA last year).
  • No team was better on the deep ball than Miami in 2014. Brad Kaaya proved to be an excellent downfield thrower, matched with a good running game and speed at receiver. For the year, Miami completed 41.3 percent of its deep balls (second in ACC), averaged 14.6 yards per attempt (first) and had nine touchdowns on those throws (tied for first). It’s worth noting though that just 12 percent of Miami’s passes in 2014 were 20 yards or more, the third fewest in the league.
  • No team gained a higher percentage of its total offense in 2014 via the deep ball than Louisville (15.9 percent), which is interesting given that DeVante Parker missed seven games and Bobby Petrino cycled through three different quarterbacks. Overall, Louisville’s deep-ball numbers were virtually the same as 2013, in spite of losing its star receiver for more than half the year and a first-round draft pick at quarterback. That’s a real credit to the work Petrino did this season.
  • Not surprisingly, Georgia Tech and Boston College had the highest percentage of their pass attempts be deep balls. Next up though? NC State (17 percent).
  • Virginia Tech wasn’t great on the deep ball (10.5 YPA, four TDs, four INTs), but it was a necessary part of the Hokies’ offense. For the year, 74.1 percent of Tech’s plays of 20-plus yards came on throws of 20-plus yards -- meaning if the Hokies didn’t look deep, they rarely had a shot at a big play. The league average on that stat was 45.6 percent, meaning the rest of the ACC got more than half of its big plays from plays that weren’t deep balls. Virtually all of Virginia Tech’s big-play threat relied on the arm of Michael Brewer. That speaks volumes about the Hokies’ season.
Russell Athletic Bowl: Clemson (9-3) vs. Oklahoma (8-4)

Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m., Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (ESPN)

Key matchup: Wayne Gallman vs. Sooners’ D

Why it matters: There were two different Clemson offenses this year -- the one with Deshaun Watson and the one without him. In the Tigers’ bowl game, they’ll be without the freshman sensation, and that’s bad news for the offense. Cole Stoudt struggled badly down the stretch, and as good as Clemson’s D has been all year, it’ll be tough to beat Oklahoma without finding the end zone on offense. That means the onus is likely going to be on Gallman and the Tigers’ running game to keep some balance, take the pressure off Stoudt, convert short-yardage plays and chew up some clock. That hadn’t been an overly successful game plan for much of the season, but Gallman finished the year strong, topping 100 yards in three of his final five games, including a 27-carry, 191-yard performance in the regular-season finale against South Carolina.

Who wins: While Oklahoma is getting healthy on offense, Clemson will finish up the year with Stoudt at quarterback, and that’s a major concern. Against Power 5 opponents this season, Stoudt had just four touchdowns with nine interceptions and averaged a woeful 5.5 yards per attempt. Given his shaky finish to the season and the coaching turnover with Chad Morris leaving, it’s hard to envision Clemson staking the game on Stoudt, so Oklahoma figures to be keyed in on Gallman and the ground game. Linebacker Eric Striker leads a Sooners D that ranked eighth nationally, allowing just 110 yards per game against FBS foes this year, so they’re more than capable of slowing Clemson’s ground attack, and while Gallman finished strong, the Tigers’ running backs averaged just 4.26 yards per rush against Power 5 foes this year -- 52nd out of 65 Power 5 teams. Perhaps Vic Beasley & Co. can create a couple turnovers on defense to swing the game, but if it comes down to Clemson’s O carrying the day, the formula is a little tough to envision.

Prediction: Oklahoma 21, Clemson 17.
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A flurry of commitments and decommitments has led to considerable movement in the latest class rankings update. Several top-10 programs added ESPN 300 prospects, including Tennessee, which picked up top-10 ILB Darrin Kirkland Jr. The Vols already have a class that features a talented group of defensive linemen, and have now added a big, powerful inside linebacker that can develop into a tough downhill run-stopper. Butch Jones now has Tennessee in contention for a second-straight top-five finish.

Outside the top 10, USC landed a verbal from in-state tight end Tyler Petite, a tall, lengthy prospect with the size, speed and leaping ability to potentially create mismatches as a receiving target at the position. After landing the former Duke commit, USC's class features eight ESPN 300 prospects.

Ole Miss also saw a move up in the rankings with a pair of additions. The Rebels landed ESPN Junior College 50 QB Chad Kelly, a player who is physically gifted enough to be a strong candidate to replace QB Bo Wallace, a one-time junior college transfer himself. Ole Miss, who not sits at No. 17, also landed ESPN 300 OT Michael Howard. He is a lean OL prospect that needs to fill out, but is an athletic and tenacious player and with development could end up being a real strong pick-up out of Florida for the Rebels.

Inside the rankings

Coach Art Briles has had two very distinct luxuries when it comes to recruiting in today's complicated landscape -- recruiting in the shadows and recruiting without pressure. Both are actually in many ways, one in the same. As Briles has built this program, he's been able to do it his way without public pressure or booster interference because early on, nobody thought it could be done and nobody cared.

This staff was able to go after who they wanted, on their own timetable and without much scrutiny. In today's recruiting world, that's a huge luxury. Players like Levi Norwood, Antwan Goodley or Tevin Reese, who was a late qualifier, were all bypassed by other Power 5 programs, but nobody even noticed Baylor signed them or griped, "who are these guys" on signing day.

As a result, prospects like these were brought along at a normal pace and developed properly by the coaching staff. Redshirting the bulk of the classes for the first few years has also been huge for the Bears. The challenge going forward will be dealing with increased program exposure and expectation level which almost always brings with it increased recruiting scrutiny from boosters and fans alike. But the Bears don??t need to change a thing.



To see the full class rankings, click here.

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