CFT Previews: Allstate Sugar Bowl

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WHO: No. 1 Alabama (12-1) vs. No. 4 Ohio State (12-1)
WHAT: The 80th Allstate Sugar Bowl
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La.
WHEN: 8:30 p.m. ET Jan. 1 on ESPN
THE SKINNY: There is more on the line for the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes and the Big Ten Conference during the Allstate Sugar Bowl against the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide than simply an appearance in the first national championship game decided by a playoff system.

A win provides validity to the both the Buckeyes and the Big Ten. A loss only adds to the narrative that the Big Ten Conference and its teams are nothing more than second-class citizens in the hierarchy of college football.

“Everyone’s gonna try to make it something bigger,” Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett told USA TODAY‘s Michael Schroeder. “Everyone is gonna try to lump everybody into the Big Ten and the SEC.”

What generally separates the SEC from the other leagues around the country is the quality depth of talent each of its teams claim, particularly along the offensive and defensive lines. The Buckeyes haven’t faced anything quite like Alabama’s defensive line this season.

Alabama’s starting nose tackle, A’Shawn Robinson, is listed at 320 pounds. Jarran Reed, who is one of the nation’s top run defenderd, plays defensive end and nose tackle at 315 pounds. Plus, backup nose tackle Brandon Ivory, a senior, also weighs 310 pounds.

Among Ohio State’s five toughest opponents this season — the Virginia Tech Hokies, Penn State Nittany Lions, Michigan State Spartans, Minnesota Gophers and Wisconsin Badgers — only one starting defensive lineman weighed over 300 pounds.

Alabama’s overall size and athleticism along its defensive front seven will be difficult for the Buckeyes to handle.

If Ohio State’s offensive line can hold up against that defensive front and get Alabama’s linemen running laterally,  it will open up Urban Meyer‘s entire offense.

First, the Buckeyes’ running game is built around its zone blocking. Running back Ezekiel Elliott emerged as a dangerous weapon out of the backfield. The speedster amassed 220 rushing yards against the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Championship Game. Penetration is the key to stopping the Buckeyes’ blocking scheme, though. If Elliott runs free like he’s did during the previous three contest then it will make it easier on quarterback Cardale Jones.

Jones will be making his second career start in one of the biggest games in college football history.

The redshirt sophomore was nearly perfect during his starting debut in the Big Ten Championship Game. He completed 64.7 percent of his passes and threw three touchdown tosses.

Ohio State’s ability to keep Jones clean in the pocket will be vital as the Buckeyes’ wide receivers, particularly senior Devin Smith, attempt to exploit an uncharacteristically porous Alabama secondary. The Crimson Tide is currently ranked 57th overall in pass defense.

But it all starts up front. If Ohio State can slow Alabama’s defensive front and vice versa, the ripple effects will be felt throughout the entirety of the contest.

THE PREDICTION: Alabama 35, Ohio State 28

 

Wisconsin launches early Heisman campaign for RB Jonathan Taylor

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The Heisman Trophy has generally been synonymous with the best quarterback on one of the best teams in recent years but there have been a few running backs who have broken through to win the most prestigious award in all of college football.

Hoping to become the next tailback to break the signal-callers’ grip on the stiff arm? That would be Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, who appears to have a budding campaign for the trophy that was launched by the school on Thursday:

Herschel Walker. Ron Dayne. Ricky Williams. Adrian Peterson. LaDainian Tomlinson. Dominant running backs. Legendary names. Unrivaled production … until now,” one tagline reads. “There’s a new kid on the block and he’s “Bringing Running Back,” back into the spotlight, just like those that came before him. And his name is Jonathan Taylor.”

The website goes through all of the notable stats that Taylor has piled up in just two seasons in Madison and while it doesn’t explicitly say everything is designed to raise the junior’s awareness ahead of Big Ten Media Days and the upcoming 2019 campaign, it does note that his fellow Wisconsin Doak Walker Award winners have all been finalists in New York at some point in their career.

i.e. hint, hint media this guy is pretty good.

And nobody is debating that after he has set numerous records during his first two years on campus. Key to actually making it to New York though might be how Taylor’s team does around him. If the Badgers can get back to being in contention for the Big Ten title once again in 2019, chances are high that the tailback’s play will play a bigger part in getting him the attention he deserves than a website and a hashtag.

Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy headlines 2019 Biletnikoff Award Watch List

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Media Day season is also Watch List season and the latest to surface for the 2019 campaign comes out of Tallahassee in the form of the Biletnikoff Award Watch List. The award, given annually to the nation’s most outstanding receiver, includes the defending winner in Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and fellow semifinalist Tylan Wallace out of Oklahoma State, as well as a number of other talented pass-catchers from around the country.

Here’s the full list, which is a good general overview of the best wide receivers and tight ends for the upcoming season even if a few names can gripe about being left off:

Lynn Bowden, Jr. (Kentucky)

Rico Bussey, Jr. (North Texas)

Cedric Byrd (Hawaii)

Grant Calcaterra (Oklahoma)

Damonte Coxie (Memphis)

Gabriel Davis (UCF)

Bryan Edwards (South Carolina)

D’Wayne Eskridge (Western Michigan)

Aaron Fuller (Washington)

Antonio Gandy-Golden (Liberty)

KJ Hamler (Penn State)

Adrian Hardy (Louisiana Tech)

Damon Hazelton (Virginia Tech)

Tee Higgins (Clemson)

K.J. Hill (Ohio State)

Isaiah Hodgins (Oregon State)

Justin Jefferson (LSU)

Jerry Jeudy (Alabama)

Tyler Johnson (Minnesota)

Collin Johnson (Texas)

CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma)

Ty Lee (Middle Tennessee State)

Kalija Lipscomb (Vanderbilt)

McLane Mannix (Texas Tech)

Kirk Merritt (Arkansas State)

Riley Miller (Ball State)

Denzel Mims (Baylor)

Darnell Mooney (Tulane)

Rondale Moore (Purdue)

Albert Okwuegbunam (Missouri)

K.J. Osborn (Miami)

Dezmon Patmon (Washington State)

Jared Pinkney (Vanderbilt)

Michael Pittman, Jr. (USC)

James Proche (SMU)

Jalen Reagor (TCU)

Jared Rice (Fresno State)

Sean Riley (Syracuse)

Reggie Roberson, Jr. (SMU)

Justyn Ross (Clemson)

Henry Ruggs III (Alabama)

Laviska Shenault, Jr. (Colorado)

JD Spielman (Nebraska)

Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC)

Marquez Stevenson (Houston)

Tamorrion Terry (Florida State)

Jaylen Waddle (Alabama)

Tylan Wallace (Oklahoma State)

JoJo Ward (Hawaii)

Quez Watkins (Southern Miss)

Ryan Day isn’t going to name Justin Fields as Ohio State’s starting QB just yet

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Almost as soon as Justin Fields’ waiver to play right away in 2019 was approved, the Georgia transfer was pegged as Ohio State’s starting quarterback.

Ryan Day, however, is picking up this whole being a head coach at media day thing pretty good because the new leader of the Buckeyes offense declined to anoint Fields as the starter despite ample evidence that he’s the guy for the job.

“It’s an interesting situation. Whoever is playing in that first game will be the first time. Justin and Gunnar (Hoak) are going to compete like heck to go win the job,” Day said from the podium at Big Ten Media Days on Thursday. “At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to who can play the game.”

Hoak, who grad transferred over from Kentucky, was a key pickup for the program in the offseason not just to provide some competition for Fields but to provide much-needed depth after a host of quarterbacks left for other schools. While he has experience playing in five games last year with the Wildcats, there’s a gap in terms of natural talent between him and Fields.

Day seems likely to stick to his timetable of naming the starter a few weeks into camp but it still seems pretty clear as to who eventually will take over for Dwayne Haskins under center for the scarlet and gray.

Still though, you have to hand it to the rookie for going full on coach-speak when it came to his signal-caller at his very first media day in charge.

Big Ten’s Jim Delany upset with College Football Playoff Selection Committee

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Thursday marked the final Big Ten Media Days press conference for outgoing commissioner Jim Delany.

While his appearance was fairly low-key all things considered, the longtime college athletics stalwart didn’t hold back when it came to discussing his league and the College Football Playoff, lobbing some critical comments towards the Selection Committee in particular.

“I wish we had a little more continuity. I wish they would demonstrate as well as state the stronger commitment to strength of schedule,” Delany said. “We should be playing comparable schedules and if we’re not, there should be somewhat to differentiate that.”

The Big Ten has missed out on the playoff the past two seasons and saw its champion be skipped over in another year for a divisional runner-up.

Delany also voiced support for something suggested by Big 12 counterpart Bob Bowlsby to require all teams to play at least 10 Power Five opponents in a season, helping even out the difference between eight and nine conference slates.

“I’ve been disappointed, quite honestly, about the strength of schedule,” he added. “We’re not going to change. There may be pressure to change, but I think that’s short-selling our fans, our players, our TV partners. I’m hoping that the committee catches up with the intent of the founders.”