HC3's National Championship Preview: Oregon vs. Ohio State

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Midway through the college football season, an Oregon-Ohio State matchup in the national championship did not seem likely. The Ducks had just lost to Arizona, and the Buckeyes were a one-loss team with a freshman quarterback in J.T. Barrett who was still getting his feet wet at the collegiate level.

Nobody expected the first championship game of the playoff era to be played without an SEC team in the running for the title, especially since the conference has had a representative in the final game in each of the past eight years and several SEC teams were in the playoff conversation throughout the entire season.

As the two teams prepare for the inaugural championship of the College Football Playoff in Arlington, it is not too difficult to see why they were able to finish their respective seasons without another loss. Both teams are extremely fast and athletic, they both have dynamic offenses and both teams’ defensive units have improved as the season progressed.

I will break down Monday’s national championship game and make a prediction at the end of the article.

Quarterback:

This is a very interesting matchup between Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Ohio State’s Cardale Jones. Mariota is obviously the better quarterback, but Jones has played terrifically in both of his starts this year.

Jones is much bigger at 6’5” and 250 pounds, and he likely has one of the strongest arms in all of college football. He is also a solid runner, and he took advantage of Alabama with several first down scrambles in the semifinal game. He also torched the Tide on third down, driving Nick Saban crazy while repeatedly converting on 3rd-and-long.

However, Mariota is simply on another level. His decision making skills are unparalleled, he runs the ball like a running back and makes Houdini-like plays in the pocket. Ted Miller of ESPN.com wrote in a recent article that Mariota has a chance to be the best college quarterback of all time if the Ducks beat Ohio State. He won the Heisman Trophy this year as the best player in college football, and is the obvious choice for this matchup.

Advantage: Oregon

Running Back:

While both teams are known for their up-tempo offenses and eye popping statistics, both offenses have the uncanny ability to run the ball between the tackles. Ohio State does this with Ezekiel Elliot, while Oregon uses both Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner to churn out rushing yards.

Both teams had tremendous success in their respective semifinal matchups. Oregon dismantled Florida State’s defense, imposing their will from the beginning en route to 301 rushing yards. Freeman and Tyner rushed for two touchdowns apiece, and Mariota pitched in a few impressive runs as well.

On the Buckeyes’ side, Elliot has played his two best games of his college career in OSU’s last two games. The sophomore running back from St. Louis rushed for more than 200 yards and more than ten yards per carry in both games, and there is no reason that he won’t continue his onslaught of opposing defenses in the championship game.

Advantage: Ohio State

Wide Receiving Corps

Oregon received some unfortunate news on Friday evening when they learned that wide receiver Darren Carrington will not play in the championship game due to a failed drug test. That loss is compounded by the fact that speedster Devon Allen will not play either due to a leg injury he suffered on the opening kickoff against Florida State. They will also be without starting tight end Pharoah Brown, who was injured against Utah.

On the other hand, Ohio State comes into Monday’s showdown in full force. Devin Smith is the team’s leading receiver and one of the nation’s best deep threats, Michael Thomas leads the team in catches with 50 and freshman Jalin Marshall is an all-purpose receiver that the Buckeyes like to use on jet sweeps.

While Ohio State’s receiving corps is completely healthy and has the edge on paper, it will not really matter on Monday. Oregon will find a way to utilize underrated tight end Evan Baylis, he caught six passes for 73 yards against FSU, and will be able to keep Ohio State off balance all night.

So the Buckeyes will get the advantage, but that is a bit misleading because Mariota is so good that he can make the receivers better than they really are. The receivers, especially for OSU, are important, but they are not going to be the difference in the game.

Advantage: Ohio State

Offensive Line

Massive struggles to protect the quarterback were one of the reasons Oregon lost to Arizona, but they improved drastically as the season transpired. All six of the Ducks’ offensive lineman missed time this year, but they are now healthy. Center Hroniss Grasu and tackle Jake Fisher are two of the best lineman in the country, and they must perform if the Ducks want to control the line of scrimmage against Ohio State’s vaunted front seven.

Ohio State has a solid offensive line too, as they opened up enough holes to spring Elliot to 230 against an Alabama defense that had not allowed anyone to go over the century mark all year. However, they don’t have the depth that Oregon does.

Advantage: Oregon

Defense:

This category is very similar to the receivers. Ohio State has an exceptionally talented defensive unit, led by All-American defensive end Joey Bosa, but it is almost a foregone conclusion that they are going to give up boatloads of yards to Oregon anyway.

Oregon is without top cornerback Ifo Epkre-Olomu, who was injured before the semifinal game, but they still managed to hold Florida State’s Rashad Greene to only 59 yards on six catches. The Ducks have held its opponent to fewer than 28 points in their past six games, and they will come into Jerry World with plenty of momentum after smothering Jameis Winston all game long in the Rose Bowl.

Lindsay Schnell of Sports Illustrated had an interesting take on the defensive competition. In SI’s National Championship roundtable, Schnell wrote this:

“Ohio State has been statistically superior this season (the Buckeyes rank 17th in total defense, allowing 333.6 yards per game, compared to Oregon, who ranks 84th with 421.9 yards allowed per game), but no team has played better than Oregon over the last two games. The Ducks forced five turnovers in their Rose Bowl semifinal and are loaded with confidence.”

In addition, the inexperienced Cardale Jones could easily make a few mistakes, and if the Ducks can take advantage of those, they can win the game.

Advantage: Even

Special Teams:

Special teams are not usually needed by the Ducks, as they rarely punt or kick field goals. But when they have settled for three, they have been pretty successful. Kickers Aidan Schneider and Matt Wogan have combined to make 16-of-19 field goal attempts, but coach Mark Helfrich rarely opts for field goals outside of 40 yards.

Ohio State, on the other hand, was forced to settle for two field goals early in the game against Alabama. They converted both, and those six points ended up being pivotal to the final score.

In the return game, Ohio State has the obvious edge, especially since Devon Allen won’t play. Kick returner Dontre Wilson is a speedster who can change the game if given a crease, and punt returner Jalin Marshall is averaging 12 yards per return this year including a 54-yard touchdown.

I don’t expect special teams to be the deciding factor of the game, but if the Buckeyes can consistently get great field position, their chances of winning increase exponentially.

Advantage: Ohio State

Coaching:

This one isn’t very difficult to decipher. Urban Meyer is a proven winner and one of the best coaches in all of college football. He won two National Championships at Florida, and has done well in big games in the past. Mark Helfrich will be coaching his first national championship game as a head coach, and it will be interesting to see if the pressure gets to him at all.

Both offensive coordinators are supremely talented as well. Oregon’s Scott Frost garnered plenty of head coaching interest at the end of the season but wasn’t offered, and Ohio State’s Tom Herman accepted the Houston head coaching job but will coach the Buckeyes in the championship game.

The coaching matchup will definitely be intriguing as both staffs will bring their A-game to the field, but I can’t go against Meyer.

Advantage: Ohio State

Conclusion:

As you read this article and assemble all the pieces in your head, you’re probably thinking that Ohio State will run away with the title. And it’s true, they have the edge in more areas when the game is broken down. However, I still think Oregon will win the game.

After watching the Quack Attack dismantle the Seminoles two weeks ago, it doesn’t look like their offense can be stopped. They were second in the nation in total yardage and points per game, they have an impeccably balanced attack that moves at an unstoppable pace and they have the best player in all of college football.

It’s a recipe for success, and it’s why Oregon will walk out of AT&T Stadium on Monday night as national champions.

Final Prediction: Ducks 49, Buckeyes 38

Padres' Exciting Offseason Does Not Guarantee Success

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The San Diego Padres took the baseball world by surprise this offseason, as general manager A.J Preller was outlandishly aggressive on the trade market in December. In a flurry of moves with several different teams, the Padres upgraded at nearly every position and didn’t worry about the future or the financial repercussions.

They sent plenty of prospects away in exchange for big-name players. Preller pulled the trigger to add Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks to a Padre lineup that ranked last in the MLB in nearly every offensive category, including batting average, runs scored, hits and OPS.

They are undoubtedly hampered a bit by their home ballpark, the spacious pitcher-friendly Petco Park, but to be at the bottom of all those categories is inexcusable. Which is likely why Preller felt he must make drastic changes in his first season as general manager.

However, the sheer volume of moves no way guarantees that the Padres will be instant contenders in the NL West.

History is replete with examples of teams that added starpower with unimpressive results. The Marlins are probably the most glaring recent example. Before the 2012 season, they acquired the trio of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell and hoped to win immediately, but the roster never gelled and all three were eventually traded.

The Angels are another example. After signing free agents Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton to massive contracts to give the Halos a scary heart of the order, they missed the playoffs in 2013.

Back to the Padres, there are questions about nearly every one of the team’s newest acquisitions. Kemp has failed to live up to his MVP-caliber season in 2012, and although he had a stellar second-half of the season, he hit .269 with only eight home runs before the All-Star Break. It was also revealed in his physical with San Diego that he has arthritis in both hips, which has to be at least a bit concerning.

Wil Myers had a phenomenal Rookie of the Year season in 2013, but he followed it up with an injury-prone sophomore campaign. He only played 87 games for the Rays last year due to a wrist injury he suffered in June, and managed a measly .222 average with six homers.

Justin Upton might be the most consistent of the three outfielders, which is saying something considering the former Brave has proven to be one of the streakiest hitters in the entire league. For example, he hit .326 with eight dingers in April of last year. He also had solid stats in May, July and August, but hit .226 and .169 in June and September, respectively. For the season, he hit .270 with 29 homers and 102 RBIs.

He likely won’t hit for a great average in the future, but he is a good bet to hit 25-30 round trippers and plenty of RBIs if his teammates get on base in front of him.

Derek Norris, who was acquired in a trade with the Athletics, is a solid catcher, but he doesn’t have near the potential that Yasmani Grandal does, who was traded to the Dodgers in the Kemp sweepstakes. And Will Middlebrooks makes everyone look like the model of consistency.

The former Boston top prospect had a terrific rookie season back in 2012 when he hit 15 homers in only 75 games. But he followed with two horrific years where he failed to crack .230. While he did flash some decent pop in 2013, if he doesn’t improve his contact skills he will struggle to stay on the field.

The Friars will also hope to get contributions from the likes of infielders Jedd Gyorko and Yangervis Solarte, but those two aren’t slam dunks to say the least.

Don’t forget about the ballpark either. Upton recently told ESPN that he does not fear the cavernous dimensions of Petco Park, which is a positive outlook for the Padres.

“Everybody says it’s big,” he said. “It usually plays pretty fair. It’s one of those places where if you hit a home run, it’s going to be a home run. I’ve enjoyed a bit of success here, and I enjoy playing here.”

He has fared well in San Diego throughout his career, but it has to be expected that the stadium will take away a few home runs from the new sluggers. There isn’t a ballpark in America where if you hit a home run, it’s not going to be a home run, and it will be interesting to see if any of the new additions will see their power numbers decrease.

And then there’s the financial position that the Padres are in with the barrage of moves. Matt Kemp will only add about $3 million to the club’s payroll for 2015, but in 2016-2019 the Padres will pay him $18.5 million each year.

Justin Upton is in the last year of his contract, and will surely command a lucrative contract at season’s end. San Diego has shown a propensity to be frugal in the past, so it is doubtful that they will even re-sign Upton.

If that is the case, they are going all in to win this year. Unfortunately for them, I don’t think they will even make the playoffs. They finished 17 games out of first place in 2014, and despite the new additions, they don’t have enough talent to overtake the Dodgers or the Giants in the division.

The lineup should be considerably more potent in 2015, but there are still numerous questions regarding the pitching staff that have not yet been addressed. The Padres will not be as embarrassing as the Marlins were, but don’t expect them to be this year’s version of the Royals.

On the other hand, if all the acquisitions return to their best form, the outcome could be drastically different.

How Much is James Shields Really Worth?

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Max Scherzer is the biggest pitching prize still on the free agent market, but there is another starter still without a team who is due for a big payday soon. Former Kansas City Royal James Shields is a little old at 33, but he has had an impressive career and should have plenty of suitors.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported earlier this week that he was told by two executives that Shields has a five-year, $110 million offer on the table.

But in Shields’ case, the question is not whether or not he is a good pitcher, but whether he is worth such a huge contract.

Considering he is going into his age-33 season, he would already be 37 with still two years left on his contract. That is very old for a pitcher, especially one with as much mileage on his arm as Shields. Only four other pitchers accumulated more innings than Shields from 2007-2012, and it is questionable if he can sustain that durability throughout the duration of his contract.

One positive statistic for Shields going forward is that he hasn’t lost velocity on his fastball as he has gotten older. In fact, his velocity has increased every year since 2011 according to Fangraphs. This indicates that he might have what it takes to be a workhorse deep into his 30s.

Another thing that needs to be taken into account is the other big-time arms on the market this offseason. Max Scherzer is reportedly looking for at least $200 million and Jon Lester signed a six-year, $155 million with the Cubs in early December. Shields is not quite as good as either of those guys, but his stats show that he is at least in the conversation. With that in mind, $110 million for Shields might be a bargain considering what other aces on the market have signed for.

It also needs to be noted that the team that eventually signs Shields is not only getting a quality pitcher but one who can transform an entire pitching staff. When he was traded to the Royals before the 2013 season, they were a hopeless franchise. Only two years later, they were playing in the World Series.

Shields changed the culture of the rotation, infusing the mindset of taking the ball every fifth day and competing as much as possible. The Royals pitching is what led them deep into October, and Shields was a big reason why.

So the intangibles have to be considered in addition to his statistics. Not only is he likely to give his new team 30-35 starts and over 200 innings per season, but he also helps improve the people around him.

In conclusion, the $110 million rumor is not overly outrageous. Realistically, it is way too much for any player, but in an age when baseball teams are making more and more money, Shields’ body of work should net him at least $100 million.

If Lester is worth $155 million and Scherzer is hoping for $200 million, then it doesn’t seem too far-fetched that Shields will sign at least a $100 million contract.

He has proven in his career to be one of the most durable workhorses in the league, and whoever signs him will drastically improve their pitching staff.

Ohio State Can Win a Championship This Year, But Expect Them to be Even Better in 2015 and Beyond

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Coming into the inaugural College Football Playoff, Alabama was the favorite to win it all. And in the Sugar Bowl, nobody really gave Ohio State a chance against the winner of the mighty SEC West. Alabama was a 7.5-point favorite, according to Odds Shark, and seemingly every analyst was picking the Crimson Tide.

That is how it has been for Ohio State for the duration of Urban Meyer’s tenure. They have always been perceived as second-tier regardless of their performance.

When the Buckeyes went a perfect 12-0 in 2012, it was because they weren’t facing any pressure, as they couldn’t participate in the postseason due to NCAA sanctions. And in 2013, when they won their first 12 games it was only because they were playing against weak Big Ten competition. That claim was made stronger when Ohio State lost their final two games, falling to Michigan State in the conference championship game and then to Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

In 2014, it was a different story. The Buckeyes were highly touted before the start of the season, ranked fifth in the AP Preseason Poll, but their title hopes went bleak in a hurry when Braxton Miller tore his labrum in practice the week before the team’s season opener against Navy.

The doubt became greater as J.T. Barrett struggled in his first few starts. The Buckeyes lost their first regular season game of the Urban Meyer era, a rough defeat to Virginia Tech, but once Barrett got a little experience under his belt, he was phenomenal. The sense of doubt did not begin to abate until Barrett scored five touchdowns against then-eighth ranked Michigan State in a convincing 49-37 victory over the Spartans.

He accounted for 45 touchdowns on the year, but suffered a gruesome ankle injury against Michigan in the last game of the regular season. In stepped Cardale Jones, who led the Buckeyes to a dominating 59-0 win in the Big Ten championship, and then found a way to beat Alabama in a hard-fought playoff victory.

That’s how it’s been for Meyer so far in Columbus. Even as his team continues to win boatloads of games, the Buckeyes haven’t gotten much respect due to the perceived inferiority of the Big Ten conference.

However, that is going to change soon.

The Buckeyes have a very young team and they are only getting better. Of the team’s top offensive playmakers, only receivers Devin Smith, Evan Spencer and tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett are seniors.

Running back Ezekiel Elliot, who torched the Tide for 230 rushing yards, is a sophomore. Michael Thomas, the team leader in receptions, is a sophomore. Speedster Dontre Wilson is also a sophomore, and receiver Jalin Marshall is only a freshman.

On the defensive side of the ball, it’s much of the same. Of the Buckeyes’ top ten tacklers, only Curtis and Doran Grant are seniors. Safety Vonn Bell, who made a pivotal interception against Alabama, is a former five-star athlete who has turned into a terrific player as a sophomore. Linebacker Darron Lee, who is second on the team with 16.5 tackles-for-loss and 7.5 sacks, is a freshman. And first-team All-American Joey Bosa, who is fifth in the nation with 13.5 sacks, is only a sophomore.

When Meyer got the Ohio State, they weren’t exactly stocked with dynamic players. They were coming off of a disappointing 6-7 season, but like he has done everywhere he has been, Meyer found a way to quickly turn them into winners.

Using a blend of superb recruiting, a new offense and a culture change, Meyer has gone 37-3 in his three years in Columbus.

And now, with the Buckeye players heading into the biggest game of their lives, those recruits are starting to blossom. Ohio State’s recruiting hauls have ranked fifth, second and third in the past three years. Each of those classes were the best in the Big Ten, and it was that top-tier talent that allowed the Buckeyes to knock off Alabama.

But while the OSU roster is loaded with young talent, their inexperience is not hindering them. 2014 was not supposed to be their year, especially when Braxton Miller went down, but they are in the national championship game nonetheless. The fact that they can compete on college football’s highest level with so many freshman and sophomores logging significant playing time is a testament to Meyer’s coaching ability.

He has found a way to mold his players into winners, and what is scary is that there are even brighter days ahead. Those players are going to continue to improve, and more and more top recruits are going to flood into the program.

The Buckeyes’ current recruiting class ranks sixth in the nation and best in the conference, according to 247Sports.com.

So even if they cannot find a way to slow down the potent Oregon offensive attack and they end up losing, it will still be a tremendously successful season. Because if they can make it so far with inexperienced quarterbacks, just imagine what they can do with a seasoned signal caller.

Whether it’s Miller, Barrett or Jones, it will be an improvement over the 2014 quarterback play. If it’s Miller, he will be playing because Meyer feels he is better than the other two. If it’s Barrett behind center, he will undoubtedly perform better with a full offseason of practice with the first-stringers. And if it happens to be Jones, he will have grown immensely as he learns the offense and continues to hone his craft.

Whatever the case, Meyer will make it work. Barring any catastrophic setbacks, the Buckeyes are my early selection for the top-ranked team in next year’s preseason poll.  

Florida State Shows True Colors in Rose Bowl Debacle

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It had been over two years since Florida State lost a football game, dating back to November of 2012. The Seminoles had won 29 games in a row, 26 of them with Jameis Winston starting at quarterback. That streak came to a screeching halt in Thursday’s Rose Bowl at the hands of Oregon, as the ‘Noles turned the ball over five times en route to a 59-20 drubbing.

It was a fitting end to the Winston era, who likely played his final collegiate game. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported back in October that Winston would declare for the NFL draft after the season, but nothing official has been announced yet.

After everything that the Seminoles have been through, all of the late game comebacks, the Winston lawsuit and the run-ins with the police, it was only right that the streak came to an end in dramatic fashion.

Jimbo Fisher’s squad finally met a team that was too good to allow a late game comeback. The Rose Bowl started off as a close game, only an 18-13 Oregon lead at halftime, but the Ducks imposed their will in the second half. The Seminoles were a turnover machine in the third quarter, as their four turnovers in that period led to 28 Oregon points.

The ‘Noles have faced adversity all season, but this time around the wheels started to come off early. It has become a common sight over that time to see Winston and Fisher yelling at each other, but it reached new heights on Thursday evening. There was a sense of desperation on the FSU sideline as Winston repeatedly walked to the sideline without putting points on the board.

Things got so heated that if one was to read Fisher’s lips, it looked as if he threatened to bench his starting quarterback. Fisher downplayed the conversation after the game to reporters, but that instance showed that the Seminoles were overmatched.

“He gets animated, but it wasn’t words,” Fisher said via ESPN.com. “One of the receivers on the play…the guy fell down on the route. It would have been wide open. I couldn’t see it from there. I asked him what happened and that was it. He always gets animated like that when he talks.”

Whatever the case, the shot of them arguing exemplified the Seminoles’ Rose Bowl experience. They found themselves matched up against a superior opponent, and they didn’t know how to react.

However, it didn’t take a genius to see that this was going to happen.

Florida State repeatedly needed big comebacks and plenty of good fortune throughout the year to beat the mediocre opponents on its schedule. Oklahoma State, NC State, Notre Dame, Louisville, Miami, Boston College and Florida all took the ‘Noles down to the wire, so it was inevitable that the streak was eventually going to end.

And the way it ended, and how the Seminoles handled defeat, showed the nation what kind of program they have down in Tallahassee.

As the Ducks continued to chew up yards and widen the lead, the ‘Noles started to show their true colors. Kirk Herbstreit, who was announcing the game on ESPN, said that it looked like the Florida State defense had ‘quit’ as Oregon went on yet another long scoring drive.

Herbstreit was right. On one particular touchdown run, half of the defense didn’t even get in a stance before Thomas Tyner bullied his way into the end zone. How can a team that has won 29 games in a row not have the pride to play a full 60 minutes of football?

The final score was 59-20, but it could have been much, much worse. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich mercifully took his foot off the gas pedal in the fourth quarter, as the Ducks slowed down their pace with about 11 minutes left in the game. Marcus Mariota and Co. could have scored at least 70, especially since the FSU defense was dog-tired.

Then, when the clock hit zero and the final buzzer sounded, the Seminoles went straight to the locker room without shaking hands with the opposition. Instead of congratulating the Ducks for the great game they played, as most teams usually do, they showed their lack of character by sprinting to the confines of their locker.

Herbstreit even scolded them on the air, which was a surprise considering he seemed to become more and more infatuated with the Seminoles as the season progressed.

In Fisher’s press conference the day before the game, he had an interesting quote regarding his team’s character.

“We’re going to continue to do things the right way,” Fisher said via USA Today. “The Florida State way, and we believe that’s definitely the right way and be good people, and in time we’ll see.”

Well, it didn’t take too long to see what the ‘Florida State way’ entails. It’s a culture that is fueled by winning, but when failure is on the horizon, the players don’t know how to react.

The Seminoles have a roster that is loaded with speed and athleticism, but until Fisher changes the culture in a positive manner, they will not be able to utilize that talent to its fullest extent and won’t be able to win the College Football Playoff.

Mariota vs. Winston: Not Even a Competition

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This bowl season has been one of the best in recent memory, with a plethora of close games that have come down to the wire. Even in games where the opponents haven’t been overly intriguing, fans all over the country have been on the edge of their seats while watching it on television.

And now, as the inaugural College Football Playoff approaches, the games are ostensibly going to get even better. The first Playoff game is the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, where the Oregon Ducks will match against the Florida State Seminoles.

The media has tried to paint this matchup as a quarterback duel, Marcus Mariota versus Jameis Winston. The last two Heisman Trophy winners, and potentially the first two quarterbacks taken in the 2015 NFL Draft. It’s a match made in heaven, right?

Right?

Not in the least. Mariota has been drastically better than Winston this year, and it’s not even close. It’s almost unfair to Mariota, a travesty even, to be spoken of in the same conversation as Winston.

After the conclusion of the Fiesta Bowl and before the start of the Orange Bowl, ESPN was previewing the Rose Bowl. They showed a comparison of the two opposing signal-callers, and the chart was laughable.

Mariota

Winston

Passing YDS

3,783

3,559

Passing TDs

38

24

Interceptions

2

17

Rushing YDS

669

80

Rushing TDs

14

3

Take away the names on top of the graphs, and one would pick Mariota’s line as better every day of the week. It’s tough to pinpoint the exact reason why Winston is being compared to Mariota, it could be the fact that Oregon is perceived as second-tier because of their style of play or that Mariota’s stats are somehow deceiving. But no matter the reason, Winston has been tremendously overrated leading up to the bowl game.

As the teams take the field on New Year’s Day, the spotlight is undoubtedly going to be on the two quarterbacks, and rightly so. That is the most important position on the field, especially as college football has evolved into an offensively dominant game.

Winston has shown signs of brilliance throughout his collegiate career and has led some impressive comebacks, but Mariota’s numbers are far superior. Winston has turned the ball over at an alarming rate, and that’s against less-than-stellar ACC competition.

Jimbo Fisher called Mariota one of the greatest players college football has ever see, per Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times. And Fisher also said that Winston has been better than he was last year, but the stats show otherwise.

If anything, Winston should be praised for his ability to win, not for his greatness as a quarterback.

Make no mistake, just because Oregon has the better quarterback doesn’t mean they are a lock to win the game. Winston has shown an uncanny ability this year to overcome his lackadaisical play by leading comeback after comeback. Also, Winston has a 26-0 record as a starter, which is unheard of and has to be admired.

So as the two teams fight in the trenches in the ‘Grandaddy of Them All,’ the Seminoles might be able to find a way to win, as they have so many times over the past two years. But make no mistake, it won’t be because they have a more talented quarterback.

Report: Braxton Miller Interested in Florida State?

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Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is considering transferring to Florida State, according to a report in the Palm Beach Post.

Miller graduated from Ohio State in December, and the NCAA allows graduate students to transfer to a new school without having to sit out a year. Miller was touted as a Heisman candidate coming into this season, but a torn labrum right before the start of the season kept him off the field all year.

His situation has been confused even more as other Buckeye quarterbacks thrive in Urban Meyer’s system. J.T Barrett had a phenomenal freshman year after taking over for the injured Miller, and when Barrett was injured against Michigan, third stringer Cardale Jones had plenty of success in the Big Ten Championship against Wisconsin.

There has been speculation of Miller possibly garnering interest from Oregon, Ole Miss and others, but nothing has been confirmed.

Although surprising, Florida State is an interesting possibility. Current Seminole quarterback, former Heisman winner Jameis Winston, is expected to declare for the NFL Draft after the Florida State season ends.

However, Miller isn’t a prototypical pro style quarterback. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is known for developing quarterbacks and sending them to the NFL, but Miller is more of an option quarterback whose skills might fit better in an offensive system based more on the quarterback run game.

ESPN Analyst Kirk Herbstreit is a bit dubious of this situation as well.

“Braxton is a unique talent,” Herbstreit said via the same Palm Beach Post report. “I don’t see him choosing to go to Florida State. I could see Oregon, I could see Ole Miss because of his skill set and how he fits a little better with those types of offenses.”

Several quarterbacks have gone this transfer route, especially recently, and it looks like Braxton Miller could be the next. He is one of the most dynamic offensive threats in the country, and will likely thrive in whichever scenario he finds himself.

Way-too-Early Heisman Rankings for 2015

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The Heisman Trophy is one of the most coveted awards in all of sports, and there is always plenty of speculation of contenders for the prestigious award. It honors the best player in college football, and there are plenty of players who can contend for the Heisman next year.

College football is a quarterback-driven league these days thanks to the evolution of the spread offense, and the Heisman voters have given QBs the benefit of the doubt. 13 of the 14 Heisman winners this decade have been quarterbacks, and there is nothing showing that trend to be stopping.

Here is my early attempt at documenting the favorites for the 2015 Heisman Trophy.

1. Trevone Boykin, TCU

Boykin has really flourished under the new system brought in by co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie, throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and 33 touchdowns. He has true dual-threat ability, as he has rushed for eight touchdowns. He has played running back and wide receiver in his collegiate career, and he displays that type of speed on a regular basis.

Expect Boykin to put up even better stats in his senior year. He could declare for the NFL Draft if he wanted to, but one more year to polish his throwing skills would probably be the most beneficial. TCU missed the Playoff this year, but their complete domination of Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl makes them legitimate national title contenders for next year.

He also finished fourth on this year’s Heisman ballot, so he already has garnered some respect from the voters.

2. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State

Barrett took over for Braxton Miller after he injured his shoulder a week before the Buckeyes’ season opener against Navy, and after a few rough games, including a 34-17 loss to Virginia Tech, Barrett became a beast for Ohio State.

He accounted for 45 touchdowns as a true freshman, 34 passing and 11 rushing, and Ohio State continues to stockpile talent through recruiting. There will be bit of quarterback controversy next year as Miller returns from injury, but if Barrett retains the starting gig, he should continue to thrive in Urban Meyer’s offense and have a shot to win the Heisman.

3. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State

Mississippi State was one of the most surprising teams in college football this year, and Prescott was a big reason why. He was the frontrunner for this year’s Heisman award until his Bulldogs lost to Alabama and then Ole Miss, but his experience as a contender should help his case.

He is one of the best short yardage runners in the nation, and his running style brings back memories of Tim Tebow, a former Heisman winner. It will come down to how his team does, though. If MSU is one of the top teams come next winter, Prescott just might win.

4. Cody Kessler, USC

Kessler flew mostly under the radar in 2014, maybe because of Marcus Mariota’s brilliance, but he will have a huge senior season. He already announced that he will return to USC, and he will have plenty of weapons at his disposal to put up video game-like stats.

The Trojans also have a chance to contend for next year’s playoff, and if they do that, the voters will have no choice but to pay attention to pay attention to Kessler.

5. Nick Chubb, Georgia

This pick might come as a surprise to some, but I had to put a running back into these rankings. Chubb is the running back who will go into 2015 with the most momentum. He capped off his prolific freshman season in dramatic fashion in the Bulldogs’ bowl win over Louisville, rushing for 266 yards and two touchdowns.

Chubb amassed the fourth-most rushing yards in a single season in Georgia history, behind only Herschel Walker, and Chubb started only eight games. Todd Gurley has already announced that he will forego his senior season and declare for the NFL Draft, meaning Chubb will be the feature back for Mark Richt’s squad.

TCU’s Boykin has to be the front runner at this point because of the offense he plays in, the guarantee that he will be the primary quarterback and the fact that he plays in the Big 12, a conference known for scoring points in bunches.

But there have been plenty of surprises in the past, so don’t be shocked if someone outside of this list ends up accepting the award in New York.  

Gritty Effort Against Detroit Shows Why Aaron Rodgers is Best Quarterback in the NFL

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It is always said that the great players come out in big games. Well, if that’s the case, then Aaron Rodgers is definitely a great player.

On Sunday, playing against the division rival Detroit Lions with a first-round bye on the line, it took a gritty effort by Rodgers to clinch the NFC North.

Rodgers initially injured his calf against the Buccaneers the week before, and he left the game before halftime against the Lions after he landed awkwardly on his calf on a touchdown pass in the second quarter.

When the star quarterback left the game, his Packers led 14-0. Midway through the third quarter, the score was tied 14-14. So Rodgers did what winners do, he fought through the pain and returned to the game.

On his first possession, he led the Packers right down the field for a touchdown to retake the lead. He threaded the needle twice on the drive, both big completions to Randall Cobb. The first was a 29-yard pass that got Green Bay into the red zone, and then after two running plays, Rodgers found Cobb in the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown that gave the Packers a 21-14 lead.

A few drives later, Rodgers capped off a nine play, 42-yard touchdown drive with a decisive one-yard scoring plunge that put the Packers ahead for good.

It is this type of determination that seals the deal that Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL. A case could be made for Peyton Manning or Tom Brady that they are the best at their position, but Rodgers has shown that he is just a step above.

Rodgers doesn’t air it out as much as some other quarterbacks around the league do thanks to the consistent running threat of Eddie Lacy, but he has amassed some stellar stats nonetheless. He has thrown for 4,381 yards, which ranks seventh in the NFL, despite throwing only the 13th-most pass attempts.

He has completed 65.6% of his passes, and has taken care of the ball better than any other signal-caller in the NFL. He has thrown only five interceptions all season, which is the fewest number of picks of anyone in the league with at least 300 pass attempts.

And while playing inside the friendly confines of Lambeau Field, he has been nearly flawless, throwing 25 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. As a quarterback, he has the entire package. He has a strong, accurate arm, he is a very good decision-maker and he has enough speed to scramble effectively when he needs to.

He also has a phenomenal 112.2 passer rating, per ESPN.com, which ranks second in the NFL behind only Tony Romo, who had the best season of his professional career.

Manning and Brady are both losing a bit of their edge as the years go by, but Rodgers is in his prime and playing the best football of his life. His QBR is the second highest of his career, behind only his MVP-winning season in 2011.

His coach, Mike McCarthy, insists that Rodgers is “much better” than he was in 2011.

“Aaron is a much better player today than he was in 2011,” McCarthy said via Fox Sports. “His responsibility has increased a lot since then. So, what he does during the course of the week, during the course of the game, at the line of scrimmage, the communications between (QB coach) Alex Van Pelt and myself, he is, in my opinion, watching him grow throughout his career, he’s clearly a better player.”

His improvement in the mental side of the game is nice, but both Brady and Manning are revered for their pre-snap decisions and ability to read defenses. Where Rodgers really separates himself is in the running game.

He is deceptively quick and can scramble for first downs better than most other quarterbacks in the NFL.

Rodgers has rushed for 648 yards in the past three seasons. In that same amount of time, Brady has 107 rushing yards and Manning has failed to record positive yards on the ground (-49). Rodgers also only played nine games last year because of an injury, so he likely would have amassed more yards in 16 games.

That stat is not to make Brady or Manning look bad, running the ball is not their métier. It just shows how truly great Rodgers is. He can do things that nobody else can.

Cam Newton and Robert Griffin are known as running quarterbacks, but they have both struggled to throw the ball consistently. Rodgers, on the other hand, is known as a tremendous pocket passer, but he can also contribute to the offense with his legs.

It is for this reason that Rodgers is in a league of his own when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks. He can throw the ball from the pocket, throw the ball on the run and he can also scramble if he needs to.

He is more than likely going to win his second MVP award for his outstanding efforts this year, and it is well deserved. Rodgers is the best player at the most scrutinized position in football.

He has the talent to retain that title for a long time, and his display of perseverance against the Lions on Sunday only strengthens his case.