KANSAS STATE WILDCATS (9-3) VS. UCLA BRUINS (9-3)
JAN. 2, 6:45 P.M. ET, ALAMODOME, SAN ANTONIO (ESPN)


KANSAS STATE BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: On Oct. 18, the Wildcats won a second consecutive game at Oklahoma to solidify their status as a Big 12 title contender. K-State surrendered 533 yards of offense but bowed up with a critical goal-line stand at the end of the game to force Oklahoma into a field goal. The Sooners missed the chip shot, and K-State ran out the clock with a couple of first downs to preserve a 31-30 victory. K-State quarterback Jake Waters had one of the finest games of his career, with 225 yards passing, a 53-yard run and three touchdowns.

Season lowlights: The Wildcats had every opportunity to land the marquee win of the nonconference season. But ultimately, too many uncharacteristic mistakes cost K-State in a 20-14 loss to then-No. 5 Auburn on Sept. 18. Waters fumbled deep in K-State territory, which led to an Auburn field goal, Tyler Lockett allowed a pass to bounce off his chest into the hands of an Auburn defender in the end zone to negate a touchdown, and veteran kicker Jack Cantele missed three field goals. The Wildcats still had a chance to get the ball back in the final minute, but the Tigers converted a third-and-9 to seal the game.

Player to watch: Lockett has been one of the preeminent all-around playmakers in college football the past three years. Late this season, he passed his father Kevin to become the all-time leading receiver in K-State history. He has produced back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons, and going into the final week of 2014, he led the country in average yards per punt return.

Motivation: The Wildcats don’t want their regular-season-ending loss to Baylor in the pseudo-Big 12 title game to linger by dropping the Alamo Bowl, thus heading into the offseason with two straight defeats. More importantly, K-State will want to send Lockett, Waters, productive defensive end Ryan Mueller and the rest of the senior class out with a win. And the Wildcats can defend the Big 12’s reputation with a win over the Pac-12’s Bruins, adding to the intrigue and motivation for Bill Snyder’s team.
-- Jake Trotter

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UCLA BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: After back-to-back losses seemingly took UCLA out of the Pac-12 South race three games into the conference season, the Bruins roared back. During its five-game winning streak to improve to 9-2, UCLA showed several flashes of the type of team many thought it would be when it began the season ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press poll. The capper was a 38-20 win over USC that made an emphatic statement as to which school “owned” Los Angeles.

Season lowlights: Going into the final game of the regular season, UCLA just needed a win against Stanford to secure the Pac-12 South title and remain in contention for the College Football Playoff. Just a win against an underperforming 6-5 team at home. That’s all. But the Cardinal dominated UCLA in a 31-10 win, preventing the Bruins from obtaining any of their tangible goals.

Player to watch: Quarterback Brett Hundley could have been a first-round NFL draft pick if he left after the 2013 season, but he decided to come back for what he made clear would be a final season at UCLA. He spent the beginning of the season trying to be more comfortable in the pocket, but once the Bruins started losing, he started to rely more on his feet to make plays. The bowl game is a final opportunity to play within his own offense as he tries to impress NFL scouts.

Motivation factor: If the Bruins win their bowl, they would secure the ninth 10-win season in school history. It would also be just the third time in school history that they have notched back-to-back 10-win years. UCLA has never had an 11-win season. With only six scholarship seniors this year, the Bruins are still a young team and any opportunity to develop is of value.
-- Kyle Bonagura
WASHINGTON HUSKIES (8-5) VS. OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS (6-6)
JAN. 2, 10:15 P.M. ET, SUN DEVIL STADIUM, TEMPE, ARIZ. (ESPN)

WASHINGTON BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: Washington went 4-2 on the road. Those four wins came against unranked opponents, but to have a winning record on the road, including three Pac-12 victories, is pretty impressive for Chris Petersen’s first season. The Huskies' first road win was a tight one at Hawaii, but things got less stressful from there. They took down Cal 31-7 before recording a 15-point win at Colorado and an 18-point win at Washington State in which Washington held the Cougars scoreless through the first three quarters. That Wazzu win was another big highlight for Huskies fans, as Petersen starts his Washington tenure 1-0 in the Apple Cup.

Season lowlights: The Huskies went 0-5 against ranked opponents, which were their five losses on the season. They kept it close with Arizona (one-point loss) and Stanford (seven-point loss) but lost by an average of 18 points against Oregon, Arizona State and UCLA. The offense sputtered in those five losses, scoring just eight touchdowns.

Player to watch: LB Shaq Thompson. … Or LB Hau'oli Kikaha. … Or DL Danny Shelton. That trio was a three-headed monster for the Washington defense. All three were All-Pac-12 first-team selections (Thompson named to both the defensive and special teams). Thompson has four defensive touchdowns -- three returned fumbles and one after an interception. Kikaha has recorded 24 tackles for a loss, including 18 sacks. Shelton has 16.5 tackles for a loss and nine sacks (which look ridiculous when directly following Kikaha’s numbers).

Motivation factor: Eight wins is nothing to scoff at, but in some ways, it feels as though the Huskies underachieved this season. Even with their offensive limitations, you would have expected them to win a game against a ranked opponent with the talent they possessed on defense. Washington has one more opportunity to make a statement.
-- Chantel Jennings

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OKLAHOMA STATE BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: A Bedlam win stands out as the clear highlight of a season in which Mike Gundy’s young squad surprised early in the year and disappointed during the final stretch before leaving Norman with a much-needed win. The Cowboys had their struggles but competed, even when the odds were against them, and saw their willingness to fight pay off in Bedlam. Now Oklahoma State gets the chance to kick-start its offseason with a bowl victory.

Season lowlights: Things got ugly when the Cowboys' offense scored three touchdowns in a four-game stretch that took the Pokes from the top half of the conference standings to the bottom half. Oklahoma State, while talented, has revealed its youth time and time again along with a general lack of playmakers on both sides of the ball. A return to Big 12 title contention is currently a dream scenario.

Player to watch: The breakout season from Emmanuel Ogbah has been the highlight for the Cowboys. The sophomore defensive end ranks among the Big 12 leaders in sacks and tackles for loss. Ogbah was held without a tackle for loss in just two games this season, with his length and athleticism becoming a nightmare for opposing offensive tackles. Offensively, all-purpose threat Tyreek Hill can take your breath away with his track speed and explosive nature.

Motivation factor: Oklahoma State wants to show that Bedlam wasn’t just a mirage. A bowl win would go a long way to proving that Gundy’s young Cowboys learned from the program’s worst season since 2007. It would set up a potential rebound season in 2015 with the bulk of the roster set to return.
-- Brandon Chatmon
NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS (9-3) VS. USC TROJANS (8-4)
DEC. 27, 8 P.M. ET, QUALCOMM STADIUM, SAN DIEGO (ESPN)

NEBRASKA BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: Nebraska started 5-0 for the first time since 2010. It amassed a Big Ten-record 784 yards in the opener against Florida Atlantic and won in resounding fashion at home against historical nemesis Miami, grinding out 343 rushing yards. The Huskers reached nine wins for the seventh straight season under Bo Pelini. They saw receiver Kenny Bell and I-back Ameer Abdullah shatter records and capped the regular season by matching the largest road comeback in program history in a 37-34 overtime win at Iowa on the day after Thanksgiving.

Season lowlights: Michigan State stole the thunder from Nebraska’s high-powered offense, holding the Huskers to 1.3 yards per rushing attempt in a big-game disappointment nearly erased by a late Nebraska charge. Six weeks later, there was no comeback at Wisconsin as Melvin Gordon gouged the Huskers for a then-FBS record 408 rushing yards in a five-touchdown loss that ultimately cost Pelini his job. A week later, Minnesota won at Memorial Stadium for the first time since 1960, eliminating the Huskers from contention for the West Division title. On Nov. 30, Pelini was fired.

Player to watch: With a month to heal from a Nov. 1 knee sprain, Abdullah should get an opportunity to go out in a flash. His 4,500 career rushing yards rank behind only Mike Rozier, with 4,780, in Nebraska history. A Doak Walker Award finalist, Abdullah topped 200 yards four times and registered a play-of-the-year candidate with his 58-yard catch-and-run in the final seconds to beat McNeese State. Only the knee injury, which knocked him out against Purdue and severely limited him in three other games, kept Abdullah from a run at 2,000 yards.

Motivation factor: It remains to be seen how the Huskers respond in practice to the Pelini firing, met with anger from many players. Can interim coach Barney Cotton rally the team? The answer is likely yes, considering the cohesiveness of this group and the connection formed with the outgoing staff. They figure to play with abandon. For some Huskers, it’s an opportunity to make a first impression on new coach Mike Riley, who won’t be involved with the game but, no doubt, wants to see his team in action.
-- Mitch Sherman

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USC BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: Three wins stand out. The Steve Sarkisian era got off to a great start when the Trojans won at then-No. 13 Stanford on Sept. 6, ending the Cardinal’s 17-game home winning streak -- then the longest active streak in the country. The Trojans’ most significant win of the year came at eventual Pac-12 South Division champion Arizona, which entered the game 6-0 and ranked No. 10. Lastly, the Trojans’ 49-14 win against rival Notre Dame was the one of the most lopsided wins in the 86-game history of the series.

Season lowlights: If not for a Hail Mary to lose against Arizona State, USC would have won the South. It still would have won the division with a win against UCLA but instead lost 38-20. Josh Shaw’s fictitious hero tale was the most prominent of many off-the-field issues that didn’t put USC in a good light. It came just a few weeks before AD Pat Haden was fined $25,000 following a bizarre incident in which he confronted officials in the second half of a game against Stanford.

Player to watch: DL Leonard Williams. Despite being possibly the best pro prospect in the country -- ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has him No. 2 on his latest Big Board -- Williams has managed to fly somewhat under the radar. While other players in the Pac-12 put up massive sack numbers, the shared opinion among coaches and scouts is that Williams is the best defensive lineman. The bowl will likely be his final game in a USC uniform, but Williams, a junior, has not announced whether he will enter the NFL draft.

Motivation factor: Assuming QB Cody Kessler comes back, USC will be among the favorites in the Pac-12 South next year thanks to its returning young talent. If the Trojans end the year with a big win, they may also have some momentum when recruiting heats up ahead of signing day on Feb. 4.
-- Kyle Bonagura
MARYLAND TERRAPINS (7-5) vs. STANFORD CARDINAL (7-5)
DEC. 30, 10 P.M. ET, LEVI'S STADIUM, SANTA CLARA, CALIF. (ESPN)


MARYLAND BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: Maryland’s 20-19 win over Penn State -- on a last-minute field goal -- wasn’t just the highlight of the season. For coach Randy Edsall, it might have been the highlight of his Maryland career. “You all want the stock answer, of course,” he said, when asked if this was his biggest win. “But, yeah, it is. You don’t know what this means to our program.” The defense forced four turnovers, tallied nine tackles for loss and broke up seven passes. It was the first time Maryland had ever won in Beaver Stadium. No victory was bigger, but a 38-31 win over Iowa helped cement Maryland's status as a force in the Big Ten.

Season lowlights: The Terps were a heavy favorite over Rutgers in the regular-season finale, so when they took a commanding 35-10 lead in the second quarter, most assumed the rout was on. Well, most assumed wrong. Rutgers rallied to outscore Maryland 31-3 and ended up completing the unlikely comeback in a 41-38 victory. It was the biggest comeback in Rutgers history and one of the worst for Maryland. Said Edsall: “It’s disappointing to say the least.” Big losses to Ohio State (52-24) and Wisconsin (52-7) hurt from earlier in the season, but none carried a sting quite like Rutgers.

Player to watch: WR Stefon Diggs. He missed the last three games with a lacerated kidney (and an overlapping one-game suspension), but he is expected to be back in time for the bowl game. Still, nine games are all the Big Ten coaches needed to see to place him on the All-Big Ten second team. He is the playmaker of this offense, and when he’s at his best, few are better. He finished second in the conference in receptions per game (5.8) and was fourth with 72.7 receiving yards per game. Kicker Brad Craddock and defensive back Will Likely are also worth watching.

Motivation factor: Maryland was expected to be a middle-of-the-road team in the Big Ten. In a lot of ways, the conference newcomer is still fighting to prove it’s better than that. Unlike Rutgers, Maryland was expected to make a bowl game this year, so its work isn’t quite done.
-- Josh Moyer

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STANFORD BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: There weren’t many until the very end. Stanford was unable to register a victory against a ranked team until the regular-season finale, when it finally put it all together to stun UCLA 31-10 in the Rose Bowl. Before that game and a 38-17 rout of archival Cal a week earlier, the Cardinal had enjoyed consistently spectacular defensive play but not enough matching production on offense. They also won Pac-12 games against Washington, Washington State and Oregon State.

Season lowlights: For a program that entered 2014 coming off four consecutive BCS bowl appearances, there were plenty of these. The first came in Week 2 against USC, when Stanford managed only 10 points on nine trips into scoring territory in a 13-10 loss. That marked the onset of severe offensive woes. A heartbreaking 17-14 loss at Notre Dame was the next gut punch. Arizona State beat a listless Cardinal squad 26-10 before Oregon pulverized them 45-16. A 20-17 double-overtime setback to Utah marked the first consecutive defeats of the David Shaw era.

Player to watch: Quarterback Kevin Hogan is the most intriguing variable for the Cardinal moving forward. The redshirt junior still has one more year of eligibility remaining, but his struggles for much of the season led a restless portion of the fan base to hope that touted freshman Keller Chryst would take over in 2015. Hogan, however, delivered a spectacular 16-for-19 performance in the season-ending rout of UCLA, which might give Shaw something to think about -- especially if he values experience at quarterback. Many eyes should be on Hogan as Stanford enters a possible transition period.

Motivation factor: The Cardinal’s 7-5 record was their worst since 2008, the year before Andrew Luck took over as starting quarterback on the Farm. Stanford’s bowl prospects were in doubt when they dropped to 5-5 after that ugly loss to Utah, but the Cardinal rebounded to finish with a pair of wins. That puts Shaw’s team in position to close the 2014 campaign at 8-5, which should be motivation enough for a squad hungry to show that one disappointing season doesn’t yank a program from the nation’s elite.
-- David Lombardi
ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS (9-3) vs. DUKE BLUE DEVILS (9-3)
DEC. 27, 2 P.M. ET, SUN BOWL, EL PASO, TEXAS (CBS)


ARIZONA STATE BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: The transformative moment of Arizona State’s season was a shocking win against USC on a Hail Mary pass from backup quarterback Mike Bercovici to receiver Jaelen Strong -- Jael Mary! -- for a 38-34 victory. The Sun Devils, who were without starting quarterback Taylor Kelly, had suffered a dispiriting blowout loss the week before to UCLA, and the win against the Trojans became the first of five consecutive victories that put the Sun Devils into the Pac-12 South Division driver’s seat.

Season lowlights: Though the 62-27 defeat at home to UCLA on Sept. 25 was embarrassing, the 35-27 loss at Oregon State on Nov. 15 was both shocking and critical. The Beavers were struggling, coming off a loss to Washington State, and the Sun Devils controlled their own destiny in the South. Finally, the 42-35 loss at archrival Arizona not only cost the Sun Devils the South title but also gave it to those hated Wildcats.

Player to watch: The Sun Devils have a bit of a quarterback quandary, with starter Kelly getting replaced by Bercovici in the Arizona loss, so that merits watching. Whoever plays quarterback, he has plenty of help from Strong and running back D.J. Foster.

Motivation factor: The Sun Devils, though disappointed they weren’t able to defend their South crown, will be aiming for a second straight 10-win season under Todd Graham. They should be plenty motivated to end the season strong, particularly when the Sun Devils look like a potential front-runner in the South in 2015.
-- Ted Miller

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DUKE BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: Duke can no longer be considered a surprise, not when it has made three consecutive bowl trips for the first time ever. The Blue Devils also have won nine games in back-to-back seasons for the first time. Though they fell short of the Coastal title, this season qualifies as yet another success for coach David Cutcliffe. Their best win came against now-No. 12 Georgia Tech 31-25 in October, breaking a 10-game losing streak in the series. It ended up being the only win Duke had against a team with a winning record.

Season lowlights: It is a testament to the strides this program has made that some consider what happened in November a disappointment. Sitting atop the Coastal Division, all Duke had to do was beat Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Wake Forest at home to go back to the ACC championship game. But the Blue Devils stumbled in an ugly 17-16 loss to Virginia Tech in which they missed a go-ahead field goal with 2:26 left. Then the rival Tar Heels routed Duke the following Thursday, handing the division to Georgia Tech.

Player to watch: Receiver Jamison Crowder. The all-purpose Crowder still has a chance at a few school and ACC records in his final game for the Blue Devils. He needs seven receptions to tie former Duke receiver Conner Vernon (2009-12, 283 catches) for the ACC and school career marks. Crowder would tie Vernon's league and school records for career receiving yards with 210 in the bowl.

Motivation factor: Getting back to 10 wins, finishing in the top 25 and winning the bowl. Duke won 10 games in 2013 but ended up losing to Texas A&M in one of the best bowl games of last season. The Blue Devils ended last year on a two-game losing streak, so you have to believe getting to 10 with a bowl win is enough motivation.
-- Andrea Adelson
UTAH UTES (8-4) vs. COLORADO STATE RAMS (10-2)
DEC. 20, 3:30 P.M. ET, SAM BOYD STADIUM, LAS VEGAS (ABC)


UTAH BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: Are the Utes the true kings of Los Angeles? Thrilling last-minute wins at UCLA and home to USC suggest they are. Utah looked very much the part of a Pac-12 team, competing for the South Division title (arguably the toughest division in college football) up until the final weeks. Besides topping the L.A. schools, Utah also beat brand-name programs like Stanford and Michigan.

Season lowlights: Many will look to the Kaelin Clay fumble against Oregon. And that would be fair. No one likes being a national punch line. The home loss to Washington State early in the year was shocking, as was kicker “Automatic” Andy Phillips missing an overtime field goal in the loss to ASU. But the Utes will tell you the lowlight was a 42-10 thumping at the hands of Arizona. It knocked them out of South contention and was their worst loss of the year.

Player to watch: Hybrid defensive end Nate Orchard has been one of the most dominating defensive players in the country in 2014. He leads the nation with an average of 1.46 sacks per game and is second nationally with a total of 17.5 on the year. Running backs have felt his wrath, too, as he’s tallied 20 tackles for loss, which ranks third in the Pac-12. But he’s not just a backfield specialist. He averages 6.8 tackles per game and has 81 stops (51 solo) on the season.

Motivation: The Utes missed the postseason the previous two years, but are now back for the 11th time in 14 seasons. Head coach Kyle Whittingham is 7-1 in bowl games, which includes a win as co-head coach in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. So playing in a bowl should be motivation enough. For nine straight weeks the Utes have led the nation in sacks, averaging 4.33 per game. That’s a streak #SackLakeCity would like to extend in the postseason.
-- Kevin Gemmell

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COLORADO STATE BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: This was a breakthrough year for the Rams, and they just lost their head coach, Jim McElwain, to Florida because of it. Colorado State had finished 3-9 in three consecutive seasons prior to McElwain’s arrival, but their win total reached 10 in 2014. The Rams’ offense ranked 13th nationally while averaging 498 yards per game, and that helped fuel a nine-game win streak. A comeback victory at Boston College helped unleash that tear. And a win against in-state rival Colorado to kick off the season is always a big deal in Fort Collins.

Season lowlights: They didn’t know it at the time, but after losing 37-24 to Boise State in Week 2, the Rams were eliminated from title contention in the Mountain Division because the Broncos would only lose one more time the rest of the way. That was a rough setback on the blue turf for Colorado State, as Boise State grabbed a 37-10 lead after three quarters. A 27-24 loss to Air Force in the finale was painful, too. The Rams failed on a fourth-and-short before the Falcons kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired.

Players to watch: Keep an eye on Colorado State’s offensive Big Three. Quarterback Garrett Grayson has been a consistent 300-yard-per-game performer, tossing 32 touchdowns against only six interceptions. That’s helped running back Dee Hart put up some gaudy numbers (6.7 yards per carry, 16 TDs), and it’s gone well with receiver Rashard Higgins’ monster year (89 catches, 1,640 yards, 17 TDs). Higgins leads the nation in receiving yards.

Motivation: It’s always interesting to see how a team responds in bowl season after losing its head coach, and that’ll be the Colorado State question moving forward under interim man Dave Baldwin. This has been an excellent Rams run, and there’s great offensive leadership on this team, so the guess here is that they’ll be pumped up to play.
-- David Lombardi
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Five Oregon State assistant coaches have been linked to Mike Riley’s new coaching staff at Nebraska, according to media reports.

Riley, at his introduction Friday, said he hoped to bring a portion of his staff from Oregon State, where he had coached since 2003.

[+] EnlargeHawaii Bowl
Marco Garcia/USA TODAY SportsDefensive coordinator Mike Banker (middle) is among the former Oregon State assistants reportedly following Mike Riley (right) to Nebraska.
Linebackers coach Mike Bray on Saturday helped deliver to Riley his first recruit at Nebraska as linebacker Tyrin Ferguson of New Orleans switched his pledge from the Oregon State to the Huskers. Bray also contacted safety prospect Kahlil Haughton of Waco, Texas, about Nebraska, according to Huskers Illustrated.

The 32-year-old Bray has coached the past two seasons in a full-time position at Oregon State. He recruited the Dallas metroplex and portions of southern California. Regarded as a top recruiter, Bray previously was linebackers coach at Arizona State.

Others reportedly headed to Lincoln from Corvallis include defensive coordinator Mark Banker, 58; special teams coach Bruce Read, 51; and offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh, 51. All three coached for at least 10 years at Oregon State.

Read and Banker have a history with Riley that dates to their time together with the San Diego Chargers from 1999 to 2001.

Additionally, receivers coach Brent Brennan has been mentioned in reports as likely to follow to Riley. Brennan, a 1996 UCLA graduate, coached Brandin Cooks, the 2013 Biletnikoff Award winner, at Oregon State.

Riley said he planned to meet with the remaining coaches at Nebraska but that he could not assure any positions. Bo Pelini was fired Nov. 30 after seven seasons. Barney Cotton, assistant head coach under Pelini, will serve as interim coach for Nebraska's bowl game.

Riley will not be involved in bowl preparations.
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NO. 20 BOISE STATE BRONCOS (11-2) VS. NO. 10 ARIZONA WILDCATS (10-3)
DEC. 31, 4 P.M. ET, GLENDALE, ARIZ., UNIVERSITY OF PHOENIX STADIUM (ESPN)


BOISE STATE BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: Nobody at Boise State was happy after an 8-5 season a year ago that ended with coach Chris Petersen moving on to Washington. But former Boise State quarterback Bryan Harsin has led a resurgence in his first year, taking Boise State back to its customary 10 wins and a New Year’s Six bowl game in the first year of the College Football Playoff. After starting 3-2, the Broncos ended the season on an eight-game winning streak, including a huge 50-19 win against Utah State that clinched a spot in the Mountain West championship game against Fresno State.

[+] EnlargeJay Ajayi
Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman/Getty ImagesBoise State running back Jay Ajayi has rushed for 25 TDs and has 2,225 all-purpose yards this season.
Season lowlights: There was one major lowlight: an embarrassing 28-14 loss to Air Force in September that had many wondering what direction the Broncos were heading. The loss featured seven turnovers -- five interceptions plus two fumbles from leading rusher Jay Ajayi. It was their worst conference loss since joining the Mountain West in 2011. But rather than allowing that defeat to taint the season, Boise State refocused.

Player to watch: Ajayi. Nicknamed "J-Train," Ajayi has been a dominant force for the Broncos with 2,225 all-purpose yards, ranking third in the nation. He has rushed for multiple touchdowns in seven of his past eight games, with 20 total during that span. He has 25 rushing touchdowns in 2014, which is the second most in a single season in Mountain West history.

Motivation factor: You know Boise State is going to be fired up to be back in an elite bowl game on a national stage. The Broncos were 2-0 in BCS games and seem to thrive when doubters are shouting them down. Plus, they will be eager to reclaim some of their past success against Power 5 schools after most recently losing to Washington and Ole Miss. Their last Power 5 win was against Washington in the 2012 Las Vegas Bowl. Boise State is 4-1 in its past five bowl games, with three wins against Power 5 schools.
--Andrea Adelson

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ARIZONA BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: There were three defining moments for Arizona’s season. First was the 47-yard Hail Mary completion from Anu Solomon to Austin Hill that capped a 36-point fourth quarter in a 49-45 win against California. Without that win, the Wildcats don’t win the Pac-12 South Division. Then there’s the 31-24 win at Oregon that gave the Wildcats national legitimacy. Finally, there is the 42-35 win against archrival Arizona State that secured the South crown on the final weekend of the regular season.

[+] EnlargeScooby Wright
Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsArizona linebacker Scooby Wright has 28 tackles for loss this season, including 14 sacks.
Season lowlights: When kicker Casey Skowron pushed a last-second 36-yard field goal wide right against USC, the then-No. 10 Wildcats fell from the unbeaten ranks. They played their worst game -- offensively at least -- in a 17-7 loss at UCLA. It was the only game of the regular season in which they failed to score at least 26 points.

Player to watch: Solomon, a redshirt freshman, has been a revelation for the Wildcats offense, but the unquestioned star of the team is sophomore linebacker Scooby Wright, a certain All-American who is up for a number of national awards. Wright is the name brand on a formerly no-name defense that has proved opportunistic and surprisingly salty in crunch time.

Motivation factor: The Wildcats will be plenty motivated to close out their best season since 1998 with a win in a quality bowl game. This team also sets up nicely for what should be a highly contested race in the Pac-12 South in 2015.
-- Ted Miller

Best of the visits: Pac-12

December, 7, 2014
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While Arizona and Oregon spent last week focused on battling for the Pac-12 title, several other conference teams were preparing to host significant recruiting weekends. Colorado, USC, Washington and Washington State all had a number of official visitors on hand, as the recruiting season ramped up another notch following the conclusion of the regular season. Here is a look at those visit weekends through the eyes of recruits on social media.

Buffs' weekend stampede

Colorado coaches made a dedicated push to bring in a number of uncommitted visitors -- along with a couple committed prospects -- in what turned out to be their biggest recruiting weekend of the year thus far. Buff commits Lausii Sewell and T.J. Fehoko were in attendance and looked to help the coaches make headway with ESPN 300 defensive end Mika Tafua, along with junior college prospect Afolabi Laguda and linebacker Gabe Sewell.

It's never easy to make a recruiting trip all the way out from Hawaii, and Tafua -- along with Utah commit Tuli Wily-Matagi -- definitely took a red-eye out to visit Colorado.
For several other commitments, donning the jerseys and checking out the locker room proved to be a high point. Cougars stock up on juco defenders

Washington State landed commitments from four junior college teammates this weekend. It started with cornerback Treshon Broughton, who flipped his commitment from Oregon State. The Cougars then hosted DeVante Wilson, Jonah Moi and Jeremiah Mitchell on official visits and landed commitments from all three. The Cougars also had defensive end Mufi Hunt on campus for an official visit. Hunt has offers or interest from a number of Pac-12 programs, but his connection to several members of the Washington State staff is strong. Huskies host prospects

Across the state, Washington played host to several official visitors as well. Two-way standout Octavius Spencer has seen his recruitment take off following his senior season, as Cal, Oregon, UCLA and Washington have now all offered. This past weekend, Spencer took his official visit to see the Huskies. Also at Washington this past weekend was a very interesting visitor, in ESPN 300 running back Austin Joyner. The standout running back and cornerback initially committed to the previous staff of the Huskies, but eventually pulled back when Steve Sarkisian and company left for USC. Joyner then made a commitment to Washington State, but took that back when two Cougars defensive coaches were let go. The visit to Washington this past weekend will be followed by a trip to Boise State this coming weekend. While the Cougars are still in the mix for Joyner, this recruitment could get interesting, with several programs looking to land an ESPN 300 prospect who could play on either side of the ball. Big weekend for Trojans

USC didn't receive official visits from ESPN 300 prospects Christian Kirk or Porter Gustin, which had been planned, but the Trojans did get six official visitors on campus this past weekend -- four of them from uncommitted prospects.

The farthest traveler was ESPN 300 athlete Terry Godwin, the nation's No. 38 prospect, who shared this photo from inside the Coliseum. Also on hand was the nation's No. 24 juco prospect, wide receiver Isaac Whitney, who has USC among his final choices and will announce his decision on Dec. 18.
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NO. 2 OREGON DUCKS (12-1) vs. NO. 3 FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES (13-0)
JAN. 1, 5 P.M. ET, ROSE BOWL, PASADENA, CALIFORNIA (ESPN)


OREGON BREAKDOWN

Season highlight: Winning the Pac-12 championship. The Ducks' 38-point win against Arizona made up for the fact the Wildcats gave the Ducks their only blemish of the season. But when you come back and absolutely dominate that opponent in the most important game of the season, those wounds seem to heal pretty quickly. Quarterback Marcus Mariota had more than one Heisman moment and finished the day with three rushing touchdowns and two passing touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Brian Davies/The Register-Guard Marcus Mariota and the Ducks face a tough test in the defending national champions.
Season lowlight: That Oct. 2 loss to Arizona. The Ducks could've been undefeated had they not laid an egg against the Wildcats in their first encounter. The Ducks' defense looked confused and scatterbrained, giving up 495 yards of offense and letting redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon and freshman running back Nick Wilson look like All-Americans.

Player to watch: Mariota. He's not just the player to watch for Oregon or the Pac-12. He's the player to watch nationally as the front-runner for the Heisman (and folks who say otherwise probably haven't spent enough time -- or any time -- watching him play). This season he has thrown 38 touchdowns while being picked off just two times. Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty is the only QB who has thrown more touchdown passes, with 44. But he also has eight more interceptions than Mariota. There's no quarterback more efficient in college football right now.

Motivation factor: This is the season. The Ducks almost have it all -- including the big names, and their flashy style -- but what they don't have is a national title. And in the first year of the College Football Playoff, it's within their reach. The chances Mariota returns next year are similar to that of an iceberg's chances in Hades. He's surrounded by huge playmakers on offense and a defense that has made major strides in the second half of the season. This roster has the talent to win a national title, and if Oregon wants a chance at glory anytime soon, this seems to be the season.
-- Chantel Jennings

vs.
FLORIDA STATE BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: It begins with the fact that the Seminoles were the only team to finish the regular season undefeated, and they did it with three nonconference games against Power 5 opponents. While FSU had to sweat out nearly all of its victories, the Seminoles received every team's best shot. Their ACC season was littered with come-from-behind wins and it began with an overtime win against Clemson without quarterback Jameis Winston. After he returned to the lineup, Winston orchestrated game-winning fourth-quarter drives against Notre Dame, Louisville, Miami and Boston College -- all of which came over a five-game period.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJameis Winston and the Noles have a chance to win titles under both the old BCS and the new playoff.
Season lowlights: With an undefeated record, all of the lowlights came off the field. Winston was suspended for screaming a sexually charged phrase near the hub of the campus. Karlos Williams was investigated for assaulting his live-in ex-girlfriend, who was pregnant with the couple's second child. And the ruling from Winston's student code of conduct hearing should come down soon. The other lowlights came every Tuesday after the midway point of the season. Each week the College Football Playoff rankings were released, the Seminoles walked away from the television feeling slighted.

Player to watch: The player to watch is Winston any time he is on the field. Although the reigning Heisman Trophy winner didn't match the numbers from his redshirt freshman season, he rose to the occasion every time the Seminoles needed him. No matter the deficit, and Florida State has seen many this season, it's foolish to count out Winston. What's also worth watching is whether Winston has the opportunity to play in the remainder of the postseason. The code of conduct decision is still pending and could jeopardize his eligibility.

Motivation factor: Florida State has become a polarizing program over the past 13 months with Winston's transgressions, coach Jimbo Fisher's public defense of Winston and the selection committee's opinion of a team on a 29-game winning streak. That has generated the popular us-against-the-world mentality in the FSU locker room. That's been the source of motivation much of the season for the Seminoles. On top of that, the team is chasing history. Never has Florida State posted back-to-back undefeated seasons or national championships. It can do both.
-- Jared Shanker

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 15

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It’s Selection Day and the first time in history that college football will have a four-team bracket.

When it comes to the playoff, who would coaches least like to see on the other sideline? I’ve ranked the top six from the playoff contenders. This is a reprise of an exercise from the spring. Alabama’s Nick Saban was No. 1 back in May. Spoiler alert: He’s still No. 1 now. But there is a caveat attached this time. FSU’s Jimbo Fisher was No. 3 in the spring, but he has fallen in the most recent round of polling. TCU’s Gary Patterson is the name on the rise.

Why Florida State could miss the playoff 

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It all started with a simple argument: Should Ohio State be in the College Football Playoff, and Oregon left out?

When I made my initial four-team selection as part of ESPN’s College Football Playoff predictions, I went with Alabama, Ohio State, Baylor and TCU as my selections, thus leaving the Ducks out of the playoffs.

That selection was posted on ESPN.com early Sunday morning, but after kicking it around for a short time, I decided that the strength of the Pac-12 conference was enough to warrant moving Oregon in over Ohio State, so I changed my selection to the Ducks.

I thought the public perception of the relative strengths of these two teams was quite even, but after making the change, I signed into Twitter and found that definitely wasn’t the case. In fact, many fans had seen the four-team selection that left the Ducks out of the playoffs, and it was clear that to those fans, putting Ohio State in over Oregon was akin to walking into a collection of "South Park" fans and screaming "'Family Guy' rules!”

How is it that Ohio State’s candidacy is so undervalued? And how is it that leaving Florida State out of the top four did not foster anywhere near the type of reaction that leaving Oregon out of the playoff equation did?

The answer starts with

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It was an atypical Championship Saturday, as chalk held serve and many of the College Football Playoff contenders won convincingly.

The College Football Playoff selection committee will reveal the four-team field for the inaugural playoff at 12:30 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Three teams -- No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon and No. 4 Florida State -- seem to be locks to receive one of the four spots. The Seminoles might move up to No. 3 or they could remain at No. 4 after another close victory, 37-35, over No. 11 Georgia Tech in Saturday night’s ACC championship game in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Deciding on the fourth team figures to be a raging debate until the field is announced. Three teams -- No. 3 TCU, No. 5 Ohio State and No. 6 Baylor -- are in contention, and each of them could make a credible argument as to why it is most deserving.

It might be hard to see the Horned Frogs falling out of the top 4 after blasting overmatched Iowa State 55-3 in Saturday’s regular-season finale in the Big 12, but it wasn’t even the most impressive performance of the day.

Ohio State, which seemed to be left for dead after losing to Virginia Tech 35-21 at home in Week 2, suddenly seems very much alive in the playoff hunt after routing No. 13 Wisconsin 59-0 in Saturday night’s Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis. The Buckeyes have won 11 games in a row and keep winning despite having lost two star quarterbacks this season.

And don’t forget about Baylor, which beat the Horned Frogs 61-58 during the regular season and clinched a share of the Big 12 title (with TCU) by defeating No. 9 Kansas State 38-27 at home on Saturday night.

For now, we’ll go with the Buckeyes as the fourth team and make them the No. 4 seed, behind No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Florida State. Based on those seeds, the playoff bracket would look like this:

Projected bracket ESPN.com


If Baylor and TCU aren’t selected for the playoff, they’ll both undoubtedly receive invitations to one of the New Year’s Six bowl games. The same goes for Ohio State. While that might hardly seem like a consolation for not getting a chance to play for a national championship, it would be a just reward for outstanding seasons. Either the Bears or Horned Frogs figure to play in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic in Arlington, Texas, on New Year’s Day, while the other might be headed to the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta on New Year’s Eve.

After putting up an admirable fight against FSU in the ACC championship game, Georgia Tech is probably headed to the Capital One Orange Bowl, where the ACC’s No. 2 team is guaranteed a spot. The Yellow Jackets would probably play No. 8 Michigan State, which was the highest-ranked team from the Big Ten, SEC and Notre Dame.

No. 22 Boise State also probably locked up a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game by defeating Fresno State 28-14 in Saturday night’s Mountain West Conference championship game. The Broncos were the highest-ranked team from the Group of 5 conferences in last week’s rankings, and it’s unlikely that will change when the committee’s final ballot is unveiled on Sunday.

No. 7 Arizona and No. 12 Ole Miss also might be in position to play in New Year’s Six bowl games, but they’ll be holding their breath until the matchups are announced on Sunday. The Wildcats didn’t put up much of a fight in a 51-13 loss to Oregon in Friday night’s Pac-12 championship game, but they still seem to be the likely No. 2 team from the Pac-12, which might be enough to earn a spot in a marquee bowl game.

Meanwhile, the Rebels might benefit from Wisconsin’s ugly shutout loss in the Big Ten title game. It was the Badgers’ worst loss since 1979 and their first shutout defeat since 1997. It’s hard to imagine Wisconsin being invited to a New Year’s Six bowl game after such a forgettable performance on such a big stage.

The Rebels figure to move up a couple of spots in the rankings, and their 31-17 victory over Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl and earlier 23-17 upset of Alabama might be enough to push them into a New Year’s Six bowl game.

Here’s what New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day could look like, based on this weekend’s results (using current selection committee rankings):

Dec. 31

12:30 p.m. ET -- Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: No. 10 Mississippi State vs. No. 3 TCU

4 p.m. ET -- VIZIO Fiesta Bowl: No. 7 Arizona vs. No. 22 Boise State

8 p.m. ET -- Capital One Orange Bowl: No. 11 Georgia Tech vs. No. 8 Michigan State

Jan. 1

12:30 p.m. ET -- Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: No. 12 Ole Miss vs. No. 6 Baylor

5 p.m. ET -- Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 4 Florida State

8:30 p.m. ET -- Allstate Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 5 Ohio State

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 15

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Oregon is a lock for the College Football Playoff and will find out early Sunday who it will play at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.

Is it Florida State and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston? TCU or Baylor? Maybe Ohio State in a traditional Big Ten vs. Pac-12 Rose Bowl? We'll see.

The bigger question for the Pac-12 is really about Arizona. Our guess is that the Wildcats' poor performance against Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game will be forgiven and they'll get a shot to stay in-state and play in the Fiesta Bowl (likely against Boise State).

If that's the case, the rest will likely play out as listed below. Foster Farms Bowl executive director Gary Cavalli has made it clear if Stanford is available for selection, the Cardinal will stay for the local game.

College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual): No. 2 Oregon
VIZIO Fiesta Bowl: No. 7 Arizona
Valero Alamo Bowl: No. 15 UCLA
National University Holiday Bowl: No. 25 USC
Foster Farms Bowl: Stanford
Hyundai Sun Bowl: No. 17 Arizona State
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: No. 23 Utah
Cactus Bowl: Washington

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