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Will Any College Football Team Go Undefeated in 2016?

An undefeated record used to be the ultimate measuring stick in college football. Back when polls determined national champions and bowl selection wasn't as structured as it was now, seeing that zero in the final loss column meant a team was title material.

Things have changed in a big way for the game over the last several decades. In the 1990s, the Bowl Coalition and the Bowl Alliance led to the BCS, all of which tried to put the two best teams in a national championship game. More one-loss teams got shots at the title. In the 2007 season, two-loss LSU won it all.

Now with the College Football Playoff, the field for a national championship has doubled. Of the eight teams that have participated in the playoff so far, only two of them entered with undefeated records.

In today's college football, undefeated seasons aren't as crucial as they used to be. They're no longer the tickets to get into the title game party. Seven of the last 10 national champions have had at least one loss on their records.

With the playoff adding one more game for potential champions, it's getting even tougher to get through an entire season unscathed. But the quest for perfection will hang over plenty of contenders in 2016, especially after Clemson was a quarter away from becoming the first 15-0 team in college football history last year.

Will any team go undefeated this season? Don't bet on it.

Exactly one year ago, I wrote a column laying out the groups of teams that could go undefeated in 2015—a small pack of 15-0 chances led by unanimous No. 1 Ohio State, the winner of the Big 12 and a couple of Group of Five contenders.

Judging by the regular-season schedules, that criteria doesn't look like it will continue into 2016.

Powerhouse teams have beefed up their strengths of schedule over the last few seasons. Thanks to mandates from their own conferences and desires to improve their playoff resumes in case of a loss, more and more big-name programs are squaring off in the regular season.

Going undefeated isn't the baseline anymore. Who a team beats carries more weight than just the sheer volume of wins, as College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock told Heather Dinich of ESPN.com last year:

Clearly, teams that have faced tougher opposition are generally going to come out ahead. There's just no question that the committee compares those nonconference schedules. I know that the playoff will usher in a whole new era of scheduling and that teams who want to be in this playoff are going to have to prove themselves with their schedules.

All that pressure is how college football gets the jam-packed Week 1 it will have in 2016. Four matchups—Oklahoma vs. Houston, Georgia vs. North Carolina, USC vs. Alabama and Ole Miss vs. Florida State—will include a pair of teams inside my Composite Preseason Top 25.

That means four ranked teams' undefeated dreams will be shattered before we even get to Week 2. Other projected Top 25 teams such as Clemson, LSU, Notre Dame and UCLA will face Power Five opponents away from home in Week 1.

Those early-season pitfalls roll into the rest of nonconference ball and into the league slates. Unlike last year, no team expected to challenge for a major conference title this season has an overly favorable schedule. 

There isn't a clear-cut favorite this season like Ohio State. Projected top-two teams Alabama and Clemson both face challenges away from home in Week 1. They also have to play their best conference opponents on the road.

The Crimson Tide haven't gone undefeated since 2009 but still have won three national titles since then. They must face both Ole Miss—a team that has beaten them each of the last two seasons—Tennessee and LSU outside of Tuscaloosa.

For the rest of the conference, keep in mind that the SEC has only had three undefeated teams since 2000. Navigating through that treacherous schedule without a loss looks less and less likely each year for teams such as LSU and Tennessee.

Clemson's 2016 opponents combined for a paltry 67-81 record last season, but it has to play fellow powerhouse Florida State in Tallahassee, where it has lost 11 of its last 12 meetings with the Seminoles. And, as the old saying goes in college football, it's so hard to go undefeated two years in a row.

FSU has a much tougher schedule standing in its way this fall. The Seminoles play both Ole Miss and Florida out of conference, as well as early road games against Louisville and Miami.

The Big Ten will have a three-way battle on its hands in the East again between Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State—and all three have big schedule challenges. Michigan has to face the other two on the road, as well as defending West champion Iowa. Michigan State plays Notre Dame away from home. Ohio State plays at Oklahoma in Week 3.

The Pac-12 looks like another top-to-bottom slugfest. Stanford is the preseason favorite, but its schedule is packed with road games against the likes of Washington, Notre Dame and Oregon. USC has arguably the toughest schedule in college football. UCLA has a tough stretch to start 2016.

The Big 12 has a built-in advantage right now without a conference title game, so a theoretical champion would only have to go 14-0 to have a perfect season.

But defending champ and favorite Oklahoma, which lost to a Texas team with a losing record last year, has to play previously mentioned Houston and Ohio State. Baylor, Oklahoma State and TCU all have their own unique question marks heading into the 2016 Big 12 race.

Notre Dame would only have to go 14-0 as well, but its 2016 schedule is treacherous. The Fighting Irish's opponents combined for 98 wins last season, and four of them are projected to start the season in the Top 25. Even though it's home- and neutral-friendly, the slate doesn't scream "undefeated record."

Even the Group of Five is in a tough spot this season for an undefeated team. In addition to Oklahoma, Houston also has to face Louisville on top of its AAC slate. 

Boise State, always a good pick to make an unbeaten run, will have to wrestle the MWC crown away from San Diego State—perhaps the team with the best chance at an undefeated season—after losing four games in 2015. Favorites in the MAC have to take on powerhouse opponents early.

With all these tough schedules and without favorites that are far and away from the rest, it's hard to project a team even getting out of the regular season with an unbeaten record. And if a team like an Iowa—who has the schedule to make a big run again—goes 12-0 out of nowhere, it will most likely have to face a tougher opponent in the conference title game before plunging into the postseason.

The playoff system has put a higher value on playing tougher competition than just getting through a schedule without a loss. Undefeated seasons will become rarer as nonconference scheduling continues to strengthen among contenders.

It's going to take a truly special team and a decent amount of good fortune to make an unbeaten run through the 2016 slate. Anything can happen in this unpredictable sport, but it's getting harder and harder to project perfection.

Look for chaos, not clean-cut scenarios, to create a champion this season.

                 

Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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Big Ten Q&A: Who Should Be the B1G Preseason Offensive Player of the Year?

Big Ten media days have come and gone, training camps across the country are getting set to open up and, before you know it, the 2016 college football season will finally be here.

With that in mind, let's get to this week's Big Ten Q&A, where we'll pick the Big Ten's preseason Offensive Player of the Year and tackle Iowa's outlook for the coming season, Michigan State's title hopes and a potential conference wild card.

As always, you can send me your questions each week on Twitter (@BenAxelrod).

Let's get started.

        

Question 1

While some conferences still hand out preseason honors for championship favorites and offensive and defensive players of the year, the Big Ten hasn't done so since 2010.  

How long ago was that? The last time the conference selected a preseason Offensive Player of the Year, it was Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who has since seen himself disassociated and reassociated from and with the Buckeyes program.

Since that time, the conference has released an annual Players to Watch list, just as it did at this week's annual media days. Split between five players from each division, this year's list included most of the usual suspects, including the league's top two returning quarterbacks and running backs.

And when forced to choose a preseason Offensive Player of the Year from the bunch, the consensus pick might be Buckeyes signal-caller J.T. Barrett, but I'm going to go with a more under-the-radar selection. After rushing for 1,418 yards and four touchdowns in his sophomore season, there may not be a more overlooked player in the Big Ten than Northwestern running back Justin Jackson, who returns to Evanston as the conference's leading returning rusher.

"Very talented player from a standpoint of being able to do everything. Just not a first-down back or third-down back," Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald said of his star running back at media days. "He's a complete back."

Aside from Barrett, there may not be a player in the conference more valuable to his offense than Jackson, who helped negate Northwestern having the last-ranked passing offense in the Big Ten and led the Wildcats to a 10-3 record last year. Factor in the up-and-down 2015 Barrett is coming off of, and until proved otherwise, I'm giving Jackson the nod as the conference's top offensive player.

          

Question 2

Contender.

And trust me, I understand the skepticism.

After all, under Kirk Ferentz, Iowa has hardly been the poster child for consistency.

In order to find the last time the Hawkeyes put together double-digit wins in consecutive seasons, you'd have to go all the way back to 2003 and 2004, a two-year stretch that saw Iowa combine for a 21-5 record. The Hawkeyes will have a chance to snap that streak in the coming year, coming off last season's 12-2 (12-0 in the regular season) record.

And while I've been riding the "look out for Nebraska" train longer than most, at the least, Iowa deserves to be considered a heavy favorite for repeating as Big Ten West champions. Between an abundance of returning talent and a favorable schedule, the Hawkeyes have plenty working in their favor heading into their defense of the division crown.

While the Big Ten West is only seemingly improving, Iowa lays claim to not only the division's most accomplished quarterback in C.J. Beathard, but also two of the league's top defenders in cornerback Desmond King and linebacker Josey Jewell. According to SB Nation's Bill Connelly, the Hawkeyes return 72 percent of their production from a year ago—the second-highest return rate in the Big Ten West.

And then there's a schedule that will see the Hawkeyes' three toughest games of the year come at home, including visits from Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska. If ever there was a time for Iowa to sustain its success, it's right now, as no other team in the division has more apparent advantages than the Hawkeyes.

        

Question 3

As crazy as it might seem, there may not be a more underrated team in the Big Ten right now than the defending champs.

While I understand all Michigan State has working against it—namely the losses of quarterback Connor Cook, leading receiver Aaron Burbridge, left tackle Jack Conklin, star defensive end Shilique Calhoun and others—I think we're at a point where the Spartans deserve the benefit of the doubt. 

It's not like Michigan State is coming off one fluky standout season—this is a team that's now won two of the past three Big Ten titles. Dating back to 2010, the Spartans have won 11 or more games in every season but one, making their 7-6 campaign in 2012 appear to be more of an outlier than anything else.

Yes, the losses are significant, and Ohio State and Michigan are only getting better from top to bottom. But it's also worth noting that MSU is just now starting to reap the recruiting rewards of its recent success, which could pay dividends for the Spartans as early as this year.

For the past six years, Michigan State has maintained its consistency by continually getting the most out of 3-star prospects. Now, the Spartans are routinely recruiting 4- and 5-star players, which should only increase their long-term viability.

At the moment, I wouldn't pick the Spartans to win the Big Ten—Ohio State, Michigan and even Iowa simply have too much working in their favors. But giving Michigan State +700 (bet $100 to win $700) odds, per Odds Shark, to win the conference just doesn't seem to be granting the Spartans the respect they deserve, but then again, that's a role they've continually thrived in.

           

Question 4

As I found him to be one of the more intriguing players present at Big Ten media days, I spent a good portion of Monday talking to Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner.

And as much as I tried to direct the conversation toward ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay's first-round projection for the Golden Gophers signal-caller, Leidner kept changing the subject to something else: the Big Ten title.

Of course, it's the goal of every prominent player in the league to win the conference crown, but Minnesota is one of the teams nobody seems to be talking about that could actually do it. Not only does the Gophers quarterback possess arguably the highest upside in the league—or at the least, in the Big Ten West—but Minnesota also returns a talented running back duo in Shannon Brooks (709 yards, seven touchdowns in 2015) and Rodney Smith (670 yards, two touchdowns).

Factor in a favorable schedule, which will see the Golden Gophers avoid Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan in cross-divisional games, and Minnesota may just have more on its side than many people realize. The Golden Gophers will even benefit from their toughest game of the year, against Iowa, coming in Minneapolis, which should only aid Tracy Claeys' team in bouncing back from last year's 6-7 campaign.

At the least, Minnesota possesses the potential to shake things up in its conference in the coming year. That, however, likely wouldn't be enough to satisfy Leidner's appetite, and he'll be the first to let you know it.

       

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod.

Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. Recruiting and class ratings courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Football: Coordinators Under the Most Pressure in 2016

There was massive coaching turnover in the SEC this offseason, as 10 of the conference's 14 member institutions welcomed at least one new coordinator.

Many of the newcomers will have a ton of pressure on their shoulders, as well as several incumbents who have to find a way to turn things around in 2016 to avoid more turnover next offseason.

Which SEC coordinators are under the most pressure in 2016? Here are our picks based on history, talent and expectations.

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ACC 2016 Betting Preview: Clemson Favored to Win Conference Behind Watson

Quarterback Deshaun Watson and the Clemson Tigers did just about everything right last season except win the national title, and they will try to take that next and final step in the 2016 season.

But the Tigers will likely need to win the ACC championship again in order to make a repeat appearance in the College Football Playoff. Clemson is a +150 betting favorite (wager $100 to win $150) to win the ACC at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark.

Led by Watson, the Tigers got off to a 14-0 start before falling to the Alabama Crimson Tide 45-40 in the CFP National Championship. Watson threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 73 more yards against Alabama, but it was not enough.

He also finished third in last season’s Heisman Trophy voting, and could win it this year with another outstanding campaign; he's the betting favorite on the odds to win the Heisman at +350. Of course, winning the ACC first is critical all the way around.

Clemson’s main competition for the conference championship this year is the Florida State Seminoles (+225), who have a top Heisman candidate of their own in running back Dalvin Cook.

The Seminoles were second in the ACC’s Atlantic Division behind the Tigers with a 6-2 mark, finishing 10-3 overall. Cook totaled 1,691 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns for Florida State in 12 games and may be the nation’s top back in 2016.

Other schools in the mix to win the ACC championship on the college football betting lines include the Miami Hurricanes (+900), Louisville Cardinals (+1000), North Carolina Tar Heels (+1000) and Virginia Tech Hokies (+1000).

The Hurricanes and Hokies will both have new head coaches in Mark Richt and Justin Fuente, respectively. Richt previously coached the Georgia Bulldogs for 15 years, compiling a 145-51 record. Fuente led the Memphis Tigers for four years, going 19-6 the last two years following a 7-17 mark in his first two there.

The Tar Heels faced Clemson in last year’s ACC Championship Game and lost 45-37. Like the Tigers, they went 8-0 in ACC play during the regular season en route to winning the Coastal Division. North Carolina will play seven teams with first-year head coaches on its schedule this season, including Miami and Virginia Tech.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

B/R Recruiting CFB 200: Top Defensive Ends of 2017 Class

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analysts Damon SaylesSanjay Kirpalani and Tyler Donohue have graded the top 200 players in the 247Sports' composite rankings and provided in-depth analysis on each young athlete. Bleacher Report will run a position-by-position breakdown series of the best college football recruits in the 2017 class. Here we present the Top Defensive Ends.

College football coaches are focused more than ever on countering spread offensive efforts off the edge and disrupting high-octane aerial assaults. As a result, no position is more vital—and necessarily versatile—than defensive end.

Athletes who can chase down quarterbacks, cut off perimeter rushing lanes and provide occasional interior support are coveted on the recruiting trail. Scheme-diverse and dynamic in multiple levels of an attack, these defenders can find themselves with a hand in the dirt or roaming upright depending on the collegiate scheme they encounter.

Joey Bosa (Ohio State), DeForest Buckner (Oregon) and Shaq Lawson (Clemson) are among players who wreaked havoc across the defensive front in college football last fall, and each received a first-round NFL draft payday as a result. Though years away from achieving similar aspirations, members of the 2017 recruiting class are still commanding attention from collegiate scouts and industry analysts.

B/R's CFB Recruiting 200 series continues with a closer look at prospects who persistently present problems for opponents. We reviewed this cycle's premier playmakers at the position, assessing each based on a criteria of explosive strength, pass-rush prowess, run defense, handwork, motor and tackling ability. 

 

Player order and star ratings based on 247Sports' composite rankings through July 26. Unless otherwise noted, player stats are courtesy of 247Sports.

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Tennessee Football Recruiting: 5 Biggest Remaining Needs in Vols' 2017 Class

Tennessee already has 23 commitments in its 2017 recruiting class and we're only at the end of July, but that doesn't mean there will be a lack of movement in some of the names on that list before national signing day.

Like always, players will move on and find greener pastures for themselves. Likewise, if the Volunteers take care of business on the football field this year, they'll upgrade a few of those guys in a haul that includes 20 3-star players and is the nation's 11th-ranked class.

It isn't that UT's class is lacking; that's far from the truth. With the epic group of in-state prospects hailing from the Volunteer State in this cycle, the Vols' class just doesn't look the way many predicted. Wideout Tee Higgins is going to Clemson, safety JaCoby Stevens' final four doesn't include UT and other top Tennessee talent is leaving, too.

But there are still a few jewels left from inside state borders, and the Vols are in the thick of the race for guys like offensive tackle Trey Smith and running back Ty Chandler.

There are a bunch of players UT would still make room for if they wanted to jump on board, but there are also some positions that have become needs for the Vols.

For instance, even though the Vols bolstered their depth with the late addition of Oklahoma high school running back Jeremy Lewis, who'll be eligible to play this year, they still need an elite runner in this class, especially if Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara go pro following the 2016 season.

Other needs abound, too, especially considering Tennessee will lose a slew of impact players after this season, including Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Cameron Sutton, Corey Vereen, Dylan Wiesman and perhaps a bunch of underclassmen.

Let's take a look at the five biggest remaining needs for the Vols in the '17 class.

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Big Ten Football: Bold Predictions for 2016 Fall Camp

Resolution under center for Michigan, Corey Clement's return to form and a youth movement at Ohio State will highlight a busy fall camp season for the Big Ten conference.

The league has earned respect in recent years after Ohio State won the first-ever College Football Playoff in January 2015 and the league went 11-10 in postseason play over the last two seasons. But the Big Ten wants to take another step forward this year, and with a number of teams having the pieces for a potential playoff run, the fall camps leading into the season will be huge for the conference. 

Here are some bold predictions as the league braces for the 2016 season.

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Jerry Jeudy to Alabama: Crimson Tide Land 4-Star WR Prospect

Dynamic playmakers have the ability to carry an offense on their own, making 4-star wide receiver Jerry Jeudy's commitment to Alabama on Thursday a huge win for the program.

Steve Wiltfong of 247 Sports reported Jeudy's pledge to attend Alabama.

Regarded as one of the best wideouts in the nation, Jeudy brings a stellar pedigree with him to the college game. He is ranked as the sixth-best wide receiver, the ninth-best player in the state of Florida and the 35th-best player overall by 247Sports' composite rankings. 

While not yet fully developed physically, Jeudy has the size and length to become one of college football's best outside weapons. He will need to add mass, currently weighing just 180 pounds, because defensive backs at this level will bully him around right now. 

Yet the upside is tremendous with Jeudy because of his 6'1" frame. He also has solid speed for his age, running a 4.65-second 40-yard dash, according to Scout.com. The Florida native has versatile athleticism that could lead to him playing multiple positions at the next level, per Scout.com:

Hands really jump out. Can adjust to the ball well and he really plucks the ball out of the air very well. One who can sneak up on corners with his speed, then close at the same time with that speed in coverage. Has great body control. Nice burst when he gets the ball and out of breaks. Covers a lot of ground quickly, but shifty at the same time. 

Jeudy also turned in one of the most impressive performances during the Opening earlier this month, with Barton Simmons of 247Sports calling him the most productive outside receiver of the entire event" and "a workhorse all weekend."

Even though Alabama head coach Nick Saban has a knack for being able to develop defensive players, he's always in search of playmakers on offense. He's had success with wideouts like Julio Jones and Amari Cooper, so Jeudy should feel he's in good hands. 

The next step for Saban will be developing a quarterback to maximize Jeudy's assets. The Crimson Tide have previously scored a commitment from dual-threat passer Tua Tagovailoa, so that duo coming in together allows them to build chemistry before taking Tuscaloosa by storm. 

Simmons' report from the Opening noted that Tagovailoa and Jeudy were working together during the event and they "seemed to vibe really well" together. 

Jeudy gives Saban another versatile playmaker on the outside to pair with Calvin Ridley who can help springboard the Crimson Tide's run-heavy offense into utilizing the passing game more frequently.

Recruiting classes are built as much on depth as they are star power, but unique talents like Jeudy can cover a lot of blind spots at other positions. 

College football has become a pass-heavy game, making dynamic athletes like Jeudy more valuable than ever. He will need time to develop his skills and his body to play at the collegiate level, but his breakout won't take long.  

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Devan Barrett to Auburn: Tigers Land 4-Star RB Prospect

Widely expected to become a Gator throughout his recruiting process, 4-star running back Devan Barrett stunned Florida fans on Thursday, committing instead to SEC adversary Auburn. 

In an announcement on Twitter, Barrett showed himself wearing a Tigers jersey and explained his decision:

Barrett, who is heading into his senior season at Tampa Catholic, is the 17th-ranked running back in the class of 2017, per 247Sports. He's No. 222 nationally and No. 35 in the state of Florida.

For most of his recruitment, Barrett was expected to attend Florida. At one point, 247Sports' crystal ball gave him a 100 percent chance of landing in Gainesville. South Carolina and Auburn were also among the early favorites. 

Listed at 6'1" and 190 pounds, Barrett busted out with a huge junior season. He rushed for 1,891 yards and 21 touchdowns and hauled in 15 receptions for 218 yards. Deceptive with his quick feet and upfield burst, Barrett makes most of his moves with his vision and home run skills.

"It's nothing really to it, if I see it, I'm just going to take it," Barrett said, per Anthony Brown of The Left Bench. "I don't really have power in me. With my elusiveness, speed and vision, I try to get in and out of there."

The next level will be a transition, mostly because Barrett needs to add weight. He's not going to dominate SEC play with his current body type. If Auburn is looking for him to play as a freshman, it'll probably be in a limited third-down role.

Luckily, Barrett is a bit of a late bloomer. He wasn't a full-time starter at running back until last season and may rocket up recruiting boards with a big senior season. As it stands, coach Gus Malzahn has another young talent to add to his stable and an early piece to his recruiting class in 2017.

Malzahn is the mastermind of a run-heavy, uptempo Tigers offense, which should be in good hands with improved quarterback play and a steady influx of ball-carriers like Barrett.

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Stanford Cardinal 2016 College Football Betting Preview, Championship Odds

Stanford continues to win Pac-12 championships and cover spreads. Since Jim Harbaugh rejuvenated this program almost a decade ago, the Cardinal have been one of the best teams to wager on in college football. They did it again last year, going 10-4 against the spread at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark on their way to another Rose Bowl victory. Can they stay profitable again this year?

            

2015 Stanford record: 12-2 SU, 10-4 ATS

2016 regular-season wins over/under: 8.0

2016 odds to win Pac-12: +300 (bet $100 to win $300)

2016 odds to win national championship: +2000

                 

Last Year in Review

Stanford began last season ranked No. 21 but lost its opener at Northwestern to fall out of the Top 25. But the Cardinal woke up and won their next eight games in a row, knocking off ranked USC and UCLA teams along the way.

They suffered an upset loss at home to Oregon, but they beat Cal to clinch the North Division title. Stanford then broke Notre Dame's heart, beating the Irish on a long field goal on the last play of the game, before disposing of the Trojans in a rematch in the Pac-12 title game. Finally, the Cardinal exposed Iowa, flying out to a 35-0 halftime lead in what became a 45-16 Rose Bowl romp.

In four seasons under Harbaugh, Stanford went 28-22 ATS; in five seasons under David Shaw, the Cardinal are 41-25 ATS.

         

This Year in Preview

Stanford only returns 11 starters this season, although it only had 12 last year. Five starters are back on offense, which is led by the dangerous Christian McCaffrey (2,019 rushing yards last year, 645 receiving yards and 1,200 return yards). But the Cardinal have to replace four-year starter Kevin Hogan at quarterback and three cogs along the offensive line. Meanwhile, six starters return on defense.

The Cardinal averaged 37.8 points per game last year while allowing 22.6. Even with McCaffrey, they'll have trouble matching that first figure this year, but they could improve upon the second.

       

Stanford 2016 Schedule

Stanford better be ready quickly this season because, after opening with a home date against Kansas State, the Cardinal host USC and then visit UCLA and Washington back-to-back. A couple of weeks later, they step out of conference for a trip to Notre Dame and later play at Oregon and at Cal. That's six true road games against some of the top teams in the Pac-12 and the Fighting Irish.

       

Betting on the Cardinal

Stanford is the favorite to win the Pac-12, yet it has an over/under of just eight wins. There's little value in those conference odds, and with some questions on offense but an improved defense, the under wager may be the play on the Cardinal this season.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Stanford Cardinal 2016 College Football Betting Preview, Championship Odds

Stanford continues to win Pac -12 championships and cover spreads. Since Jim Harbaugh rejuvenated this program almost a decade ago, the Cardinal have been one of the best teams to wager on in college football...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

UCLA Bruins 2016 College Football Betting Preview, Championship Odds

The Bruins fell to five losses last year after back-to-back 10-win seasons. UCLA finished 5-8 against the spread and is just 10-16 ATS over the last two seasons at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. Led by one of the best quarterback prospects in the country this year, UCLA hopes to rebound and once again contend for a division title.

 

2015 UCLA record: 8-5 SU, 6-7 ATS

2016 regular-season wins over/under: 9.0

2016 odds to win Pac-12: +350

Odds to win national championship: +5000

 

Last Year in Review

The Bruins started 4-0 last year, with wins over BYU and Arizona, rising to No. 7 in the polls. But the injuries started piling up, especially on defense, and UCLA lost to Arizona State and Stanford.

The Bruins then won three in a row, but were upset at home by Washington State. A win at Utah got them to the season finale against USC with a chance to win the Pac-12 South, but they lost to their cross-town rivals at the Coliseum.

UCLA then embarrassed itself with a 37-29 defeat in the Foster Farms Bowls against a Nebraska team that shouldn't have even been playing in a bowl.

 

This Year in Preview

The Bruins return 13 starters for this season, three less than they had for last year. Just four starters return on offense, following the losses of last year's leading rusher, top two receivers and three along the offensive line.

But they do return quarterback Josh Rosen (60 percent completions, almost 3,700 yards as a freshman last year). And nine starters return on defense, including six of the back seven.

UCLA averaged almost 466 yards per game on offense last year, while allowing almost 402 YPG on defense. We're not sure if the Bruins can match that offensive production this season, but they should improve that number on defense.

 

UCLA 2016 Schedule

The Bruins begin this season with a visit to Texas A&M and will visit BYU two weeks later. From there, they only have to play four Pac-12 road games, all of which seem winnable, and get to face their three toughest conference games against Stanford, Utah and USC, all at the Rose Bowl.

They also avoid two of the top teams from the North, Oregon and Washington. If UCLA wins the games it should, it might only need a split with the Cardinal and Trojans to win the South.

 

Betting on the Bruins

UCLA possesses several of the ingredients needed to be successful for this season, but must play six true road games and several tough home games. There are at least six potential losses on that slate. That's why we're thinking the under on the Bruins' season wins total.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Bruins 2016 College Football Betting Preview, Championship Odds

The Bruins fell to five losses last year a fter back-to-back 10-win seasons. UCLA finished 5-8 against the spread and is just 10-16 ATS over the last two seasons at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Montaric Brown to Arkansas: Razorbacks Land 4-Star Safety Prospect

Montaric Brown announced Thursday that he's planning to play college football at Arkansas, providing a solid boost to the Razorbacks' 2017 recruiting class.

Brown carries a 4-star distinction and ranks as the No. 195 overall prospect in the 2017 class, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. He also rates as the No. 18 safety and the top incoming player from the state of Arkansas.

The Ashdown High School star has displayed an advanced understanding of how to read and react to a play from the safety position. He sports a terrific first step, smooth acceleration and good hands—all the telltale signs of a ball hawk.

Ashdown head coach Matt Richardson told Richard Davenport of WholeHogSports that Brown is most comfortable when making plays on the ball.

"The best thing he does is ball skills," Richardson said. "Because of his hips he can run with receivers."

While the other areas of his game—whether it's providing over-the-top support in pass coverage or dropping into the box to help against the run—aren't as polished, his upside is intriguing. Those other skills can be honed on the practice field. His natural instincts can't be taught.

Managing to keep Brown in Arkansas is a major victory for the Razorbacks. Beating out other high-profile programs like Alabama and Baylor in order to land a top in-state prospect makes quite a statement for head coach Bret Bielema and his staff.

The decision also makes a lot of sense for Brown.

Not only does he get to stay closer to home, but his path to playing time features fewer hurdles than it would have with a secondary-rich team like Alabama. And he still gets to go up against SEC competition.

It's hard to project exactly when Brown will make his way into the starting lineup. But this signing is more about his long-term upside anyway. Once he makes the necessary improvements, particularly in terms of run support, he should become a high-impact player for Arkansas.

             

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Teams with Best Chances to Crash College Football Playoff

Though favorites have emerged in preseason College Football Playoff projections, a currently underrated team will likely exceed expectations and claim a spot in the four-team tournament.

But which program will it be?

Teams inside the top 10 of Odds Shark's championship odds were not considered for the list. The excluded programs are Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson, Michigan, Oklahoma, LSU, Baylor, Florida State, Notre Dame and Stanford.

Of the 118 remaining schools, we've identified five programs with the best rosters, schedules and conference outlooks that could chase Playoff glory in 2016.

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College Football Playoff's Schedule Change Is Refreshing Moment of Common Sense

College football doesn't always make sense.

It's a sport built on traditions and rules that were established decades and even a century ago. College football, especially its leadership, can be stubborn about changing its ways.

So when news broke Thursday that the College Football Playoff would move future semifinals off New Year's Eve, it was a surprising bit of good judgment from a game that could always use more of it.

"We tried to do something special with New Year's Eve, even when it fell on a weekday," College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock said in a release. "But after studying this to see if it worked, we think we can do better. These adjustments will allow more people to experience the games they enjoy so much."

In news first reported by George Schroeder of USA Today, Hancock announced future semifinal games will be played either on Saturdays or holidays, starting with the 2018-19 season.

That means there will be no more New Year's Eve playoff games—with one notable exception—after the 2017-18 season's semifinals:

The New Year's Eve exception, as Schroeder noted on Twitter, will come in 2021. December 31 of that year is the designated federal holiday, as New Year's Day will be on a Saturday.

The move should've been a no-brainer for the playoff. Last season's semifinals on New Year's Eve were a complete flop in terms of TV audience.

According to Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated, the first semifinal game (Clemson vs. Oklahoma) lost 45 percent of its viewership from 2015 (Florida State vs. Oregon). The second semifinal (Alabama vs. Michigan State) lost 34.4 percent from 2015 (Alabama vs. Ohio State). 

In total, the playoff lost more than 12 million viewers from 2014 to 2015. Those losses couldn't be blamed solely on the lack of drama in Clemson and Alabama's commanding victories.

The Clemson vs. Oklahoma semifinal was the closer game, yet it still had the worse ratings. Why? For starters, it kicked off at 4 p.m. ET on a non-holiday, when most of the country was still working.

Playing the semifinals on New Year's Eve, a day fans don't normally get off from work and a night dominated by non-football parties, never made sense. ESPN even lobbied to get the games moved to another night. The network saw the lower ratings coming.

But the CFP wanted to avoid any problems with major bowl games that didn't want to budge from New Year's Day—looking at you, Rose Bowl—and accommodate the playoff schedule. 

So the CFP decided it would play semifinals some years on New Year's Eve, making the grand claim that it was going to "change the paradigm" and create a new tradition on December 31.

That didn't happen. But the flop still didn't look like it was going to change anything. 

In the wake of TV rating news for the 2015 semifinals, Hancock told Fox Sports the playoff was "absolutely locked" into New Year's Eve. In March, he told Schroeder the committee had not discussed moving off of the dates.

A few months later, though, common sense has won out for college football and its fans.

"I heard, 'I have to work,' or 'I wanted to go to a New Year's Eve party,' or 'I was at a party but they wouldn't let me turn the sound on," Hancock told Schroeder on Thursday. "People love college football and they're very opinionated about it. They're happy to share their opinions. I enjoy hearing their opinions."

Hancock was honest in his comments Thursday about the playoff's failure on New Year's Eve. They were refreshing quotes from a college football leader who repeatedly said for over a year now that he and the committee were dead set on sticking with the idea.

The move off of New Year's Eve is an example of putting fans above a clever marketing ploy.

The playoff itself isn't going to make any more money off of these changes. It signed its $5.6 billion contract with ESPN back in 2012. The playoff had already made things clear it wasn't going to cater to ESPN by not changing for the 2015-16 season.

That pressure from ESPN might have increased over the last few months. As Timothy Burke of Deadspin wrote, "with that kind of money comes a very heavy negotiating hand."

But no matter if the move came because of ESPN, the fans or a little of both: The playoff's willingness to change is surprising in a good way. 

The College Football Playoff leadership did the sensible thing. It did it earlier than expected. It also admitted it messed up.

College football doesn't normally give you all of that at one time.

 

Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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16 College Football Freshmen We Can't Wait to See in 2016 Fall Camp

The 2016 season gets into full swing five weeks from today, at which time hundreds of freshmen will make their collegiate debut. How much they play and in what role will likely depend on how they perform during preseason training camp.

Though many of the top freshmen got an early start on their careers by enrolling in January, thus getting to participate in spring practice, it's fall camp when progress is really measured. This goes for both the highly rated prospects and the less heralded ones, all of whom will try to stand out among the veterans to warrant getting a shot to start or at least play this season.

Five weeks from now, we'll know which of these freshmen have accomplished this goal, but until then, here are the 16 we're most looking forward to watching in training camp.

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CFB Playoff Announces Future Schedules for National Semifinals

The College Football Playoff announced it has decided against holding its national semifinals on New Year's Eve when it falls on a weekday, instead playing all semifinal games on Saturdays or holidays.

Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report passed along the dates for the upcoming semifinals:

Bill Hancock, the executive director of the College Football Playoff, discussed the decision:

We had healthy discussions with a lot of people who love college football and we concluded that making these changes would be the right thing to do for our fans.

We tried to do something special with New Year's Eve, even when it fell on a weekday. But after studying this to see if it worked, we think we can do better. These adjustments will allow more people to experience the games they enjoy so much. For these four years, our previous call is reversed.

The 2021 semifinals will be an exception, as they will fall on New Year's Eve. In that particular year, however, New Year's Eve falls on a Friday and will be recognized as a federally observed holiday.

This past year's semifinals on New Year's Eve didn't generate great numbers, which could have prompted the change, according to George Schroeder of USA Today:

TV ratings for the last year's semifinals, played on New Year's Eve (a Thursday) dropped 40% from the 2014 semifinals, which were played on New Year's Day.

Although factors might have included ho-hum games and lessened excitement in the event's second year, ESPN recently presented in-depth data to the Playoff's management committee showing the holiday time slot was a major factor in the ratings decline. ESPN is paying $7.3 billion over 12 years for the rights to the Playoff.

Hancock told Schroeder many fans weren't happy the games were played on New Year's Eve:

I heard, 'I have to work,' or 'I wanted to go to a New Year's Eve party,' or 'I was at a party but they wouldn't let me turn the sound on.' People love college football and they're very opinionated about it. They're happy to share their opinions. I enjoy hearing their opinions.

After the study, we just feel like this is in the best interest of fans. They want to experience these games, and we want them to. And these changes for four years will allow that to happen.

The new change could set up a fairly long wait time between the semifinals and title game, per Schroeder, and Hancock acknowledged that changing the date of the title game hasn't been considered but could be discussed in the future.

Ultimately, however, the College Football Playoff decided that holding last year's semifinals on New Year's Eve wasn't the right decision for the future.

"Saturdays or national holidays, it's the way to go," Hancock concluded.

    

You can follow Timothy Rapp on Twitter.

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Notre Dame Football: Biggest Storylines Heading into Fall Camp

A significant position battle and an extensive group of first-year starters highlight what to watch during Notre Dame football's fall camp, which begins on Saturday, Aug. 6.

The Fighting Irish are expected to hang around the top 15 throughout the season, but they'll have a realistic chance at the national championship if each current unknown is overcome.

While most college football fans know about the quarterback situation, that competition isn't the only meaningful clash on the depth chart. After all, Notre Dame lost 12 players to the NFL.

Despite the turnover, Brian Kelly's squad cannot afford a slow start. Fortunately for the Irish, most of their biggest games are in South Bend.

       

DeShone Kizer or Malik Zaire?

Is there a wrong choice between the quarterbacks? Probably not. Is there a better choice? Yes. Who is it? Good question.

Malik Zaire provided a lot of excitement in his two games last year, amassing 531 yards and four touchdowns prior to his season-ending injury. Then DeShone Kizer posted nine victories, 3,400 total yards and 31 scores.

Every program hopes to have an unquestioned starter by the end of spring practice, but those offseason workouts were mostly a time for Zaire to become comfortable again.

Fall camp, though, is where the competition will be won.

Reaching that decision won't be easy, and Tom Coyne of the Associated Press noted Kelly is prepared to follow a gut feeling.

"I think I'm going to have to make a judgment call," Kelly said. "... There will be a time when I'm going to have to say, 'That's our quarterback. Let's go with him. We're all in, and let's move forward.' They are both that good. I already know that."

        

Replacing the Receivers

Will Fuller was an elite deep threat, racking up 62 receptions, 1,258 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015-16. Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle combined to grab 79 passes for 948 yards and five scores. Corey Robinson added 16 catches for 200 yards.

They're all gone.

Torii Hunter Jr. should emerge as Notre Dame's primary target, and Kelly has massive expectations for the redshirt junior.

Equanimeous St. Brown and Corey Holmes are likely to accompany Hunter in the starting lineup, and C.J. Sanders, Miles Boykin and Kevin Stepherson should see regular snaps.

Robinson—who had one year of eligibility remaining but retired early for health reasons—is confident the young players will produce.

"Once they get comfortable out there and understand what they're doing, they're going to go out there and make plays like the playmakers they are," he said, per Mike Vorel of the South Bend Tribune.

Though the optimism isn't necessarily unfounded, Hunter is the only returning receiver with more than one career catch. Expecting greatness from this unit is wishful thinking, but with Hunter carrying the unit, the Irish should be in decent position.

        

Potential Defensive Struggles

Thanks to Kelly and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford, the offense gets the benefit of the doubt. Not so much for the defense.

Perhaps the scheme is over-complicated, but it's not changing. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is back, and he's relying on a new middle linebacker—Nyles Morgan—to make the calls.

The Irish need to replace their biggest contributors, too. Jaylon Smith (114 total tackles), Sheldon Day (15.5 tackles for loss), Romeo Okwara (9.0 sacks) and KeiVarae Russell (60 stops and two interceptions) all departed for the NFL.

Consequently, the question is whether Notre Dame can field an improved defense despite losing so many principal pieces. It won't take long to discover the answer.

         

Will the Irish Protect Home Field?

Without a doubt, Notre Dame has issues. But the schedule offers the Irish an opportunity to hide their shortcomings.

Looking at the upcoming slate, most would agree Michigan State, Stanford, Miami and USC are the four toughest opponents. The first three each travel to Notre Dame Stadium before the end of October.

Plus, the Irish are 21-3 at home since the beginning of the 2012 season. Even if they drop one contest, a 7-1 record heading into November should have the program in excellent shape to navigate a final month jammed with games away from South Bend.

Granted, Notre Dame takes on a reloading Navy crew and rebuilding Army squad at neutral sites. After that, the Irish wrap up their home schedule against Virginia Tech.

If Kelly's team protects its home field, the regular-season finale at USC should hold College Football Playoff implications.

       

All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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Is Double-Digit 5-Star Commits a Legit Possibility for Ohio State?

Back in December 2013, high school freshman Danny Clark set things off for Ohio State's 2017 class

Little did the 3-star, pro-style quarterback realize then that he would jump-start the nation's premier class as we inch closer to national signing day in February.

It's a signing day that head coach Urban Meyer, his coaching staff and fans worldwide are anticipating to have high expectations. The class currently has 16 commitments, the latest being 4-star talents in defensive end Chase Young and cornerback Amir Riep last week.

Of those 16 pledges, three are 5-star prospects in offensive linemen Josh Myers and Wyatt Davis and cornerback Shaun Wade. The bad news for other teams: That 5-star trio could be joined by a few more 5-star players by February.

Can you imagine the Buckeyes with double-digit 5-star prospects? Nothing is a gimme in recruiting...but there's a strong possibility that it could happen.

Let's do the math. Myers, Davis and Wade are three 5-star commits. Among the 5-star targets considering the Buckeyes are wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, running back Cam Akers, linebacker Baron Browning and cornerbacks Jeffrey Okudah and Darnay Holmes.

It's very hit-and-miss that Ohio State will land all five of these athletes, but to say it's impossible is blatant ignorance—particularly with the outstanding closing ability Meyer possesses as a recruiter. Okudah talked to Bleacher Report's Sanjay Kirpalani about why the Buckeyes are one of his leaders as he gets closer to making a verbal commitment.

"[It's] just the relationships they have formed with the people around me," Okudah said. "That helps a lot because it makes the decision more comfortable with the people around me. That's really key in my recruiting."

Let's say Meyer lands this half-dozen of uncommitted targets. That would give the Buckeyes a total of eight 5-star commits. Add to the mix that young quarterback Tate Martell and running back J.K. Dobbins are high 4-star Ohio State commits who could be a few big regular-season plays away from earning that fifth star. They also could earn their stripes at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January.

If that happens, along with the aforementioned, that would put Ohio State's 5-star count at 10. And this doesn't count the potential rise in the upcoming months of high 4-star targets like offensive tackle Trey Smith, defensive tackle Jay Tufele and wide receivers and Trevon Grimes and Tyjon Lindsey. And Martell told Bleacher Report at The Opening that another 5-star, wide receiver Joseph Lewis, would be a personal target of his.

"I feel like I've gravitated toward Tyjon and Trevon a lot," Martell told Bleacher Report while at The Opening. "I think we're in a good position to land both of them, but we'll see how it turns out.

"Hopefully we'll try to go after Joseph. He's such a good receiver. ... He's a baller, and obviously, I'd love to play with him at Ohio State. He's someone you would much rather play with than play against."

Few classes can say they ended a recruiting cycle with more 5-stars than 3- or 4-stars. This could be Ohio State's year.

Best-case scenario, the Buckeyes could have their best recruiting class ever even if it misses on two or three of these top-ranked athletes. But to see them in contention for them all has to be a scary sight for competitors.

Not so scary for those rooting for the scarlet and gray.

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

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