NCAA Football

SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Les Miles, Pressure and the State of LSU

Two weeks ago, LSU was ranked No. 2 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings and set to visit Alabama in what was supposed to be the game of the year not only in the SEC, but perhaps all of college football.

My, how things have changed.

According to Scott Rabalais of the Advocate in Baton Rouge, the losses at Alabama and at home to Arkansas have thinned the ice under 11th-year head coach Les Miles to the point where he might have to win out over Ole Miss and Texas A&M in order to keep his job.


Miles isn't feeling it.

"To get back on track is a sincere feeling in this program," Miles said. "When you (lose) two games, it's painful. I don't know if there's any additional pressure than my second game. This is the style of job you get, you are expected to win and that's the kind of job I want. I enjoy going into a stadium where everybody wants you to beat the tar out of the opponent."

That's the problem, though. Miles isn't beating the tar of the most important opponents. He's lost five straight to Alabama, the offense isn't a threat to stretch the field and is trending down in 2015.

"In college football few things are more damning to a head coach than consistently losing to your rivals," said former Tigers offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert, who co-hosts Double Coverage on WWL 870 in New Orleans. "This is how, despite being ranked No. 2 just a couple of weeks ago, Les Miles is now 'coaching for his job' following losses to Alabama and Arkansas. It's the fifth time in a row the Tigers have lost to Bama and the second consecutive embarrassing loss to the Razorbacks and fifth in the last nine games. Combine this with the fact that LSU's SEC record has steadily been on the decline since 2008, and I understand why this conversation is gaining traction."

As Rabalais noted in his column, Miles would be owed $15 million over eight years if he's dismissed without cause. That's not crazy for a high-profile program that's fully capable of passing the hat around big boosters and raising that money. But for LSU, a university that's gone through some serious financial issues over the last few years, that might not be the best public relations move.

"I know these boosters are going to spend their money as they see fit, but I do wonder how the mainstream media will respond when a region's priorities are so blatantly exposed," said Hebert.

Tigers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is on the third year of his three-year deal, and could easily serve as the fall guy if Miles is forced to jettison coordinators in order to buy himself another year. The question is, though, would it be enough?

Miles has been infatuated with dual-threat quarterbacks throughout his entire LSU coaching career, but has never truly embraced how to properly use them. That, coupled with the fact teams have to at least be capable of doing something other than playing old-school, smashmouth football these days, might make that ice crack if LSU continues stumbling down the stretch.

LSU is a mess, and Miles has two weeks to clean it up.


The Heisman Shadow

LSU running back Leonard Fournette was squarely in the Heisman spotlight for the first two months of the season, but that spotlight switched to the other sideline in early November when Alabama's Derrick Henry left the showdown with the Tigers with all of Fournette's Heisman love.

It didn't seem to phase him. 

Against Mississippi State last week, all Henry did was rush for 204 yards and two touchdowns—his 15th straight game with at least one touchdown run.

How's he handling the Heisman buzz?

"He works hard and really cares about the team," head coach Nick Saban said. "He always gives the other players a lot of credit, is a good leader and sets a good example. He's a driven guy, so I don't see any issues."

He'll have two more big stages to impress Heisman voters after this week's tuneup against Charleston Southern. If he goes north of 200 against Auburn and in the SEC Championship Game against a tough Florida defense, it could be one of the most dramatic Heisman Trophy ceremonies in recent years.


Revolving Door

Another week, another open quarterback competition at Texas A&M.

In what's becoming commonplace in College Station, head coach Kevin Sumlin has again opened up the quarterback competition after dual-threat true freshman Kyler Murray threw five picks over the last two games and former starter Kyle Allen completed all eight of his passes last week against Western Carolina.

"We've turned the ball over a lot more than we're comfortable with. We're minus-three in turnover ratio for the year, and our guys have to understand that possession of the ball is key," Sumlin said.  "There have been some football games that we could have won with ball possession, and having possessions end in some sort of kick rather than other teams having the ball."

Don't expect an answer for who the starter will be anytime soon, though.

Texas A&M visits Vanderbilt—which is top 20 nationally in total defense and yards per play—Saturday night, and Sumlin is content letting the mystery play out up until kickoff.

"I will announced it pretty close to game time," he said. "That doesn't mean we won't figure it out by then, because we will figure it out before then."

It's an interesting stretch for Texas A&M football. 

Allen is more of a traditional passer and Murray is the dual-threat, so it's imperative for Sumlin and his staff to decide which direction they want to go over these next two weeks and during bowl practice, because as it stands, they're sort of running two separate offenses. 

Sumlin needs to establish direction for the offense, and doing so against a Vanderbilt defense would be a good start.


Challenge Issued

The topic of out-of-conference scheduling came to the forefront this week thanks to the SEC's traditional Thanksgiving appetizer of cupcakes that includes Charleston Southern, Charlotte, The Citadel and others.

That prompted this hilarious, not safe for work rant from Saban.

I already discussed a few options on how to fix it, but Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema went a step further.

"I tell you a fun one to think about, there's 14 teams in the Big Ten and 14 in the SEC, kind of like the basketball one, let's have a Big Ten-SEC challenge," he said. "Let some people rank them in the offseason and let the best of the best play each other, the lower ones play each other and reserve a weekend every year. People would get into that, now."

Indeed they would.

I'm on board with Bielema's plan, but not 100 percent. The Big Ten-SEC challenge is essentially known as "bowl season" now, thanks to so many postseason games that have tie-ins with both conferences. If bowls can change that up a bit, sign me up.

It'd be a win-win.

There's only been one SEC-Pac-12 bowl game (Auburn vs. Oregon in the BCS National Championship Game in January 2014) since the 1989 Freedom Bowl between Florida and Washington. Fix that, and bring Bielema's plan on.


Lessons Learned

Get ready for the Tennessee hype train, because it's coming again this offseason.

Well, sort of.

The Vols are going to finish strong and should have a ton of talent returning for 2016, which will raise the expectation level on Rocky Top. While the expectations for head coach Butch Jones' fourth season will be high, the program won't get the offseason buzz in the SEC East thanks to the emergence of Florida as a potential power.

Jones is looking forward to learning from some of the struggles from earlier this year.

"I believe in learning lessons," he said. "Those are all lessons that can make you better if you allow yourself to make yourself better. Our players and coaches have done that, and our program has done that. Now, it's not making the same mistakes twice, it's learning from it."

Tennessee should have quarterback Joshua Dobbs, two stud running backs, a talented wide receiving corps, more depth on both sides of the line of scrimmage in the trenches and get the Gators at home next year.

The buzz won't be there, but the expectations should be.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Heisman Watch 2015: Top Contenders in Race for College Football's Biggest Honor

The race for college football's most prestigious award, the Heisman Trophy, is certainly heating up. Below, we'll break down the top-five contenders for the honor as the season winds down. 

Spoiler alert: Welcome to the year of the running back.


1. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama

When you rush for 200 yards in three of your last four games down the stretch of the SEC schedule—and you post those games against Texas A&M, LSU and Mississippi State—then, yes, you are probably going to shoot to the top of the Heisman watch list.

That's just what Derrick Henry has done. The Alabama back now has 1,458 rushing yards and 19 rushing touchdowns on the season, and he has registered a rushing touchdown in 15 straight games. 

What makes Henry so dangerous is that he can not only wear down a defense with his size and physicality, but he can also burn them with his speed and vision. 

“I think that’s the kind of back that he is," his head coach, Nick Saban, told Alex Scarborough of ESPN. "As long as he is, he does a good job of picking his way through holes. But I think that once he gets rolling, he’s fast—faster than people think and faster than he looks. But what you can always tell is he outruns the angle, and that’s when you know someone is pretty fast.”

Henry probably doesn't need to continue his streak of 200-yard rushing games down the stretch to win the Heisman. Strong performances down the stretch that pad his stats will probably be enough. 


2. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

Ezekiel Elliott is the No. 2 candidate at the moment, but there is a major asterisk next to his name. Why? Because in the next two weeks, Elliott and the Buckeyes will face their biggest challenges of the season in matchups against Michigan State and Michigan. 

If Ohio State wins those games—and Elliott has big performances—it's very possible he could vault past Henry in the Heisman race. His stats are comparable to Henry's, as he's rushed for 1,425 yards and 16 touchdowns, albeit against an easier schedule. 

If he blows up down the stretch like he did last year and puts up huge numbers against Michigan State, Michigan and likely Iowa in the Big Ten title game, he's going to make the job of the Heisman voters very difficult. 


3. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

In the year of the running back, Baker Mayfield has his supporters. ESPN's Danny Kanell is a fan, as he told the Mike and Mike radio show:

Mayfield certainly has the stats. He's thrown for 3,082 yards, 31 touchdowns and five interceptions, completing 70.2 percent of his passes. What he needs now, however, are the major, prime-time wins.

Beating Baylor was a strong start, but how he performs against TCU and Oklahoma State will likely determine not only where he finishes in the Heisman voting, but also whether the Sooners can sneak into the College Football Playoff.  


4. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

One thing should be clear—Leonard Fournette is the best running back in the country. From a pure talent standpoint, few can compare. 

But despite his dominance for much of the year, Fournette rushed for just 31 yards against Alabama in his team's biggest game of the year. A week later, he again failed to reach 100 rushing yards in a shock loss to Arkansas, rushing for 91 yards and a score. 

And that, in a pretty tight Heisman race where no one player has completely separated himself from the pack, was costly. 


5. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

Dalvin Cook is quickly becoming the en vogue sleeper choice to win the Heisman. And why not? In nine games, he's rushed for 1,369 yards and 14 touchdowns while maintaining a ridiculous 8.1 yards per carry. 

NFL Philosophy certainly thinks highly of him:

Florida State's two losses will probably keep him from winning the trophy, but Cook shouldn't be forgotten. He's having a spectacular season. 


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College Football Picks: Week 12 Predictions for Every Game

Another week, another chance for the top teams in college football to make or break their cases to play for a national title.

So far, November has lived up to its promise of playing a key role in deciding who will qualify for the College Football Playoff, but there's still a long way to go. This weekend's slate of games features another batch of matchups that will propel the winners up the rankings and and cause the losers to spiral downward.

But more than just playoff hopes are up for grabs in Week 12. Several division titles can be clinched, while another 16 schools find themselves a win away from being bowl-eligible.

Check out our predictions for every game this weekend, then give us your picks in the comments section.


All rankings are based on the College Football Playoff standings.


Last week: 45-14 (.763)

Season: 524-170 (.755)

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Bowl Projections 2015: CFP Predictions, Postseason Outlook Heading into Week 12

Just two weeks remain in the college football regular season, and the pressure is starting to build. The top-five teams remained in their Week 11 spots, while there was plenty of movement beneath them. 

Here are the current rankings:

No. 4 Notre Dame is bound to be hearing footsteps behind them as Iowa, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma are building momentum and making impressive cases as to why they should be in the Top Four. This is where the strength of schedule comes into effect and benefits the Oklahoman schools and hurts the Irish, who do not have a conference championship game to play. 

Which is what is making my current bowl predictions a difficult task as things will surely change in the next few weeks. But this is what I anticipate each postseason matchup to look like and who will win:

Notre Dame's biggest win of the season at the moment is Navy. That isn't playoff-worthy. With two games left, the Irish have to beat No. 11 Stanford in their finale, which isn't enough compared to what the teams behind them have coming up on their schedule. 

No. 5 Iowa has a pair of easier games with Minnesota and Nebraska to end the regular season, but the Big 10 Championship could pit it against either No. 3 Ohio State, No. 9 Michigan State or No. 12 Michigan. 

Ohio State, though, looks to be too strong this season and should win the conference. It's the Big 12 teams in No. 7 Oklahoma and No. 6 Oklahoma State that will be Notre Dame's downfall. Fox Sports' Joel Klatt already thinks that the two schools should be in the running right now:

The Sooners have No. 18 TCU in Week 12 while the Cowboys take on No. 10 Baylor. If both schools win, then the last game of the regular season makes the Bedlam rivalry more important than ever. 

Whoever wins that game should get the No. 4 spot but will run into a roadblock of Ohio State, who should get the No. 1 ranking if it goes on to sweep Michigan State, Michigan and the Big Ten Championship. 

That would move Clemson down to No. 2 and Alabama to No. 3. When it comes to a semifinal game, though, Alabama has been playing too well as of late, and it should move past the Tigers, setting up a rematch of last year's semifinal in the national championship game. 

The Buckeyes have beaten Alabama before, and they'll do it again if they face off in the national championship. 

Prediction: Ohio States defeats Alabama 31-24 to win national championship

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Daily Fantasy CFB Week 12: DraftKings Optimum Lineup, Matchup Advice

Amid all the rankings and noise surrounding the college football season, daily fantasy college football owners have a tough task ahead with Week 12 on the horizon.

Crafting the optimum DraftKings lineup is never an easy feat given the wealth of games each slate presents. The incredible amount of information available to owners through various mediums can act as a double-edged sword, too, because it could send some into overthinking decisions and costing themselves value. 

Below, let's cut through the noise with one example of an optimum Week 12 lineup based on past performance, projections for both players and teams and much more. 


DraftKings Optimum Week 12 Lineup 

Only Saturday games (noon ET to 3:30 p.m. ET) listed. 



Paxton Lynch, Memphis ($8,100)

It's impossible to ignore Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch this week against Temple in a game Las Vegas has at an over/under of 62.

There's going to be a lot of scoring in what should be a close encounter, with Lynch surely doing most of it for the Tigers. Outside of a dud of a season-opening performance, he has at least 20.6 points in every game this season.

Not only is Lynch attempting more than 30 passes in most contests, he's carried the ball six or more times in eight games this season as a dual-threat player who can get owners much in the way of production. 


Cody Kessler, USC ($7,200)

USC quarterback Cody Kessler might end up the highest scorer at quarterback by the time he's done with Oregon's 125th-ranked pass defense this weekend.

Kessler has struggled in recent weeks, but if there's a way to get him back to 36.6-point form from Week 4, it's against the Ducks in a game with a ridiculous over/under of 71.5 points.

Great matchup or not, Kessler still averages 20.3 fantasy points per game in a high-profile offense surrounded by plenty of weapons. It certainly helps, though, that the Trojans control their own destiny in the conference and have everything to play for this weekend.

An incredible matchup is just icing on the proverbial cake.



Demario Richard, Arizona State ($7,000)

Now would not be the time to go away from Arizona State running back Demario Richard.

Yes, Richard just posted 4.5 points in a dud of a performance last weekend, but he's still averaging 22.7 on the year.

Why? He's eclipsed more than 100 rushing yards five times with nine touchdowns and has four or more catches in four contests this year.

Now Richard, who gets it done in all phases, gets a rebound performance in an incredible matchup against Arizona, a defense ranked 85th against the run. Tripling his salary looks like the floor.


Markell Jones, Purdue ($4,200)

Owners who keep awaiting a price hike on Purdue running back Markell Jones don't get it this weekend, which is nothing short of a good thing. 

Jones has outbursts of 31.3, 14.7 and 23.6 points over his last three games and his team's official Twitter account added some interesting details: 

An encounter with Iowa isn't the best situation in the world for the freshman, but opportunities equal production, something he's proved all year.

At worst, Jones hits value, which is exactly what owners want when building an optimum lineup.



JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC ($7,000)

The old quarterback-wideout stack works wonders when value-hunting, so pair Kessler with top wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster this weekend.

JSS has six or more catches in six games this year and averages a smooth 25.6 points, nothing but outstanding blurbs given the aforementioned details around the USC-Oregon shootout.

Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News provided notable insight from JSS' quarterback:

In other words, JSS will see a boatload of targets in a scoring system in which catches on their lonesome give owners points. 

What's not to like? 


Levern Jacobs, Maryland ($3,300)

When it comes to a punt play this weekend, owners could do much worse than Maryland wideout Levern Jacobs.

Jacobs is the No. 1 receiver on an offense that struggles with quarterback play. It's enough to shy some owners away, but Jacobs averages 10 points per game and has 11.2 or more points four times this year.

Keep in mind, too, that Jacobs gets to go against the worst-ranked pass defense in the nation this weekend in a contest against Indiana, which Las Vegas has at a total of 64 points. This one's all about ceiling for Jacobs.


D.J. Foster, Arizona State ($5,200)

Speaking of upside, look at Arizona State's D.J. Foster.

The explosive weapon has 60 or more receiving yards in four games this season and last week rushed the ball six times, the second such total in two of his past three outings.

Overall, Foster averages 14.2 points and has 12.9 or more in each of his last three. Perhaps most notable? Foster hasn't scored any sort of touchdown since Week 6.

Foster is due, as silly as that notion can be at times, especially going into a contest against an Arizona defense sporting a rank of 121 against the pass.



Michael Thomas, Ohio State ($5,000)

Consistency is key for owners who need value at the flex spot and grabbing a No. 1 wideout on an offense such as Ohio State's for $5,000 defines the word value. 

Michael Thomas leads the Buckeyes in targets by a mile with 58 and averages 16.4 points per game. He's recorded four or more catches in seven games this year with eight total touchdowns.

Thomas will see the same workload against the Michigan State Spartans in a contest with 53 total points up for grabs. He figures to do some of the scoring considering the Spartans rank 86th in terms of passing yards allowed.


Clinton Taylor, Florida International ($3,000)

Florida International's Clinton Taylor would be the minimum-priced option to target this week.

Taylor only averages 8.5 points per game, but that's nearly a triple and the upside? Look at his 36.6-point outburst in Week 10 on nine grabs for 126 yards and two scores.

Over the course of the past few weeks Taylor has broken out and it's a trend sure to continue against Western Kentucky, owners of a defense ranked 96th against the pass. 

Best of all, Taylor's team rests as 16.5 dogs in a game with a total of 66.5 points. They're going to need to throw all day Saturday, meaning huge output for Taylor.



Enter the DraftKings $1.25 M Play-Action contest this weekend. Use promo code BLEACHER REPORT when you sign up.

Pricing information and scoring data obtained from Odds via Odds Shark.

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Texas Football: The 5 Most Important Recruits for the Longhorns' 2016 Season

Ranked 50th in the country, the Texas Longhorns' current 2016 class hardly screams instant impact on paper. But the state of the roster will give these recruits a chance, and a few of them bring some talent to make an instant impact.

With last year's ninth-ranked class setting the foundation, head coach Charlie Strong's now tasked with tacking on a second group that can help Texas get back to its winning ways. It's been tough, as only 11 commits remain after Tren'Davian Dickson flipped back to Baylor.

Fortunately, the Horns have still been able to address needs at receiver, cornerback and along the offensive line. They've also been able to ensure that quarterback Shane Buechele, the face of the class, will be enrolling in January.

Strong still needs to get some sure things on campus, but he's done well to grab guys who can come in and compete where needed. The following five commits will get the best chance to do so immediately.

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Denzel Nkemdiche Reportedly Hospitalized: Updates on Star's Status, Return

Ole Miss linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche has reportedly been hospitalized for an undisclosed reason, according to Neal McCready of 

Continue for updates. 

Nkemdiche in Intensive Care Unit Wednesday, Nov. 18

McCready reported Nkemdiche has been at Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi since Monday and is conscious, but that's the extent of what's known about the senior at this point. 

According to the Clarion-Ledger's Daniel Paulling, Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze said Nkemdiche was dealing with a "personal matter" when addressing reporters Wednesday

"It’s just day by day (determining whether Nkemdiche could return for Saturday)," Freeze said, per Paulling. "Issues come up that you need to get through that involve one of our players and anything with their family, we just want to support them and help them through it."

The 22-year-old has been deemed questionable for Saturday's SEC showdown with LSU.    

Nkemdiche, the older brother of Ole Miss star defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, has manned the middle of the Rebels defense this season. Through 10 games, he's recorded 53 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks, according to    

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Bret Bielema Proposes 'Big Ten-SEC Challenge' for College Football

University of Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema is thinking of ways to improve college football's strength-of-schedule issue that is plaguing many teams among the top of the rankings. 

Speaking with's Edward Aschoff, Bielema proposed the "Big Ten vs. SEC Challenge," where each team would receive a ranking in the preseason and play a team in the opposite conference with the corresponding number during the regular season. 

Bielema expanded on it while speaking with Aschoff:

Let the best of the best play each other, and maybe the lower ones play each other week-in and week-out. Just reserve a week every year, it would be kind of a fun thing. People would get into that now. I've been in both leagues, and I have the utmost respect for both. It would be something kind of fun if you could just reserve that and that might eliminate the whole need for an FCS [team]. Then you schedule three other opponents that are FBS and go.

Bielema coached the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten for eight seasons before moving to the SEC and beginning his tenure at Arkansas. 

According to Aschoff, Bielema believes that it will help improve each team's strength of schedule, which could prove beneficial come the end of the season for teams vying for postseason spots in big bowls. 

It's become a prevalent topic among the College Football Playoff committee, and Bielema is aware of that:

You have to think outside the box. You really do see it come into effect [with the playoff rankings], and people are talking about it week-in and week-out. As coaches, we can't really get into it too much during the season, but people talk about all the time, and it's on TV and it's on radio, it's what's made our sport at an unprecedented high. I think if you think outside the box a little bit, even like what I just said or maybe with another conference you could maybe find some constructive ways to do away [with FCS opponents] by even making it a little more balanced. To me, that's a fun way to look at it.

The idea has gotten some support from Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin, who previously stated that inter-conference play could eliminate "bad losses," per Aschoff.

Eliminating FCS opponents, though, would hurt the smaller schools, as their budgets, according to Aschoff, rely on playing schools that are in the Power Five conferences. The Big Ten will not be playing FCS teams next season, but coaches in the SEC are challenging that notion.

It is just in the discussion phase, but adding games in the the regular season that pit big-conference schools against each other could only help the sport in terms of viewership and interest. Fans would much rather see Alabama play Ohio State than Charleston Southern. 

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Charlie Strong: Latest News, Rumors Surrounding Texas Coach's Future

Rumors have swirled regarding the future of Texas head football coach Charlie Strong, but a new report indicates the Longhorns boss isn't in danger of being sent packing. 

Continue for updates. 

Strong Comments on Miami Rumors, Texas' Struggles Wednesday, Nov. 18 

"It's all a rumor," Strong said when asked about speculation he could fill the University of Miami's head coaching vacancy, per Max Olson of ESPN. "We're here to build a program. That's why I came here."

He also said he realizes Texas fans are frustrated and that he has to turn things around, per Anwar Richardson of

Strong Won't Be Fired if Texas Loses Final 2 Games Wednesday, Nov. 18

Citing two sources, Chip Brown of reported, "UT president Greg Fenves and interim athletic director Mike Perrin are unequivocal in their support of Charlie Strong coming back in 2016."

Brown added Strong's job security within the university hierarchy is linked to feelings that the head coach "didn't receive the support he needed during his first 20 months at Texas."

Texas started the season 1-4, but a 24-17 win over Oklahoma in October's Red River Rivalry offered hope the Longhorns were turning a corner. And while the Longhorns have won two contests since over Kansas State and Kansas, they've faltered in winnable Big 12 showdowns against Iowa State and West Virginia. 

After posting a 6-7 record during Strong's first season in Austin, it's understandable for the Longhorns faithful to be growing restless. However, the university's patience during trying times is admirable, especially since Strong was tasked with rebuilding the program following Mack Brown's departure. 

On the flip side, Strong appears to be reciprocating commitment to Texas. According to's Anwar Richardson, Strong has not been in contact with Miami. 

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Anonymous Heckler's Letter 'Doesn't Bother' 4-Star RB Elijah Holyfield

Many good football players are heckled on social media. Some even manage to get letters from anonymous haters.

When your name is Elijah Holyfield—and you're the son of the former world heavyweight boxing champion—dealing with hecklers and haters comes with the territory. But sometimes, the heckling toes the line way too close.

Wednesday afternoon, Holyfield tweeted a letter he received at Woodward Academy. The letter suggested that Spalding High School, Woodward's upcoming opponent in a Georgia AAAA second-round playoff game on Friday, will "KO Holyfield." The letter concluded by saying, "Take it to the bank."

To some, those are fighting words, no pun intended. To Holyfield, in his words, "it is what it is."

"It doesn't bother me too much," Holyfield told Bleacher Report. "I've had this treatment from people since I was young because of my name and that I'm good in football. I try to just use it as motivation. It's a part of it."

Perhaps the person who wrote the letter used it as an attempt on a play on words, as Holyfield's father is boxing legend Evander Holyfield. The 4-star Atlanta football prospect, the No. 5 running back in the 2016 class, didn't believe the letter was literal, but he did say he'll use it as additional enthusiasm and initiative for Friday's playoff.

Holyfield, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, rushed for 133 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, and he also returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a score in a 48-7 first-round playoff win against North Oconee last week.

Worrying about anonymous letters is something Holyfield refuses to do. He'd rather put his focus on helping his team win a state championship—that, and worrying about his future. Holyfield committed to Georgia on Sept. 4 and is one of 17 commitments in the 2016 class.

Holyfield added that he's hoping commitment No. 18 will be a major Georgia target in 4-star Beaumont, Texas, standout Devwah Whaley, the nation's No. 4 running back. Whaley told Bleacher Report that he's down to Georgia, Arkansas and Texas in his recruiting race.

The idea of recreating a one-two punch alongside Whaley in the backfield similar to Nick Chubb and Sony Michel is something Holyfield said he is definitely welcoming.

"I would love it," Holyfield said of teaming up with Whaley. "I think we would have an early impact, and we could be special."


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

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College Football Playoff 2015: Rankings and Reaction from Week 12 Poll

With just two weeks remaining in college football's regular season, more and more pressure is building on the teams that are in position to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. 

On Tuesday, the CFP committee released its third rankings of the season with little change among the top five teams in the running. Here is a look at the current rankings:

The nation's No. 1 team has an easy-looking schedule to finish off the regular season. With games against a pair of 3-7 teams in Wake Forest and South Carolina, Clemson (10-0) should have no trouble running the table, it's what is waiting for them in the ACC Championship Game that may cause a problem. 

No. 17 North Carolina (9-1) is mounting a charge toward the playoff, and they are playing their best football of the season after convincing wins against Pitt, Duke and Miami (FL). But it might be too little too late, as playoff selection committee chairman Jeff Long told's Jared Shanker:

They do have two FCS wins and the committee is certainly aware, and then they had an opening-season loss to South Carolina, a team that is not having a very successful season. So certainly those things are weighing them down. But we see a team that's really emerging and playing very well.

A win in the conference championship game over Clemson, though unlikely, would make the committee's decision that much more difficult. 

No. 3 Ohio State might have the toughest road ahead of them in order to stay in a playoff spot. They host No. 9 Michigan State in Week 12, and then have to travel to Ann Arbor to take on No. 12 Michigan in the Big House. 

If the Buckeyes win out, they will most likely meet No. 5 Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game. Win those three games, and Ohio State is looking at being No. 1 come the final rankings. 

But staying at No. 3 for now isn't bothering Eleven Warriors:

Alabama remains at No. 2 and is in excellent position to add another national championship to their collection, according to ESPN Stats & Info:

While they might be the title favorites, the Crimson Tide, along with No. 4 Notre Dame, has one loss this season. Alabama is playing some great football at the moment, but 99.9 The Fan's Adam Gold has a problem with the accolades they are getting from the media:

Notre Dame could find itself in the same predicament that Baylor and TCU were in last season, as they didn't have a conference championship game. It was one of the reasons why both teams were held out of the inaugural playoffs, and the Palm Beach Post's Tom D'Angelo doesn't want fans to forget that:

Outside of the Top Four, though, there is a titanic matchup brewing in the state of Oklahoma if No. 6 Oklahoma State and the No. 7 Sooners win their Week 12 matchups. Oklahoma has No. 18 TCU, while Oklahoma State will play No. 10 Baylor. 

Wins from both teams will further boost their resumes, and come the last game of the season, they play each other in what could be the Bedlam rivalry game to end all Bedlam rivalry games. 

Among the release of the new polls though, Mustang News' Kyle Salomon is seeing rivals showing support, at least for one week:

Oklahoma is coming off of a 10-point win over Baylor, who was originally No. 6 in the Week 11 polls, and is garnering plenty of talk as to why it should be in the Top Four right now. Fox Sports' Joel Klatt raises this point on The Herd with Colin Cowherd:

Hopefully, for the sake of the playoff, all of these tough decisions will be made much easier on the field of play instead of inside the committee's war room. But with just three more polls left to be released, those on the outside have to make some big statements in the final weeks of the season to set themselves up for a postseason run. 


Stats courtesy of

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Alabama's Sack Attack Unrivaled in College Football

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — What’s different for University of Alabama junior defensive lineman Jonathan Allen is now he can go through opponents as well as around them.

It makes all the difference as Mississippi State learned the hard way last Saturday. Lining up in various spots, Allen recorded three of his team’s nine sacks and led an assault by the Crimson Tide’s front seven that could only be described as relentless and suffocating.

“Jonathan was a really good in high school on the edge as a pass rush guy,” head coach Nick Saban said. “Very, very good. I think he has gotten bigger and developed a lot of strength where now he can rush off the edge. But he's a really, really effective inside rusher because he's gotten bigger and stronger."

“He's got enough pop now to turn speed to power on people as well as enough quickness to get by them. That usually is the combination that makes a really good pass-rusher.”

The thing is, Saban could almost say the same thing about a number of other Crimson Tide defenders, as Alabama is getting to quarterbacks like no other team in college football.

So far, 15 players have been in on a sack and 20 have contributed to a tackle for a loss, those numbers only tell part of the story. Granted, its total of 38 sacks is second in the nation only to Penn State’s 42, but the Nittany Lions don’t have the same depth, and most of their sacks have come late in games.

Former walk-on Carl Nassib has 15.5 by himself, a school record, and Penn State just played its second ranked opponent (and lost to both). Alabama, which is now fourth nationally in total defense and much better against the run, has faced six ranked opponents and eight teams that were in the Top 25 at some point this season.

“I thought that was going to be the strength of our team going in, and every one of those guys has gotten better, which is a tribute to their work ethic but also Coach Bo Davis has done a nice job with them,” Saban said about the defensive line. “Some of the guys got lighter and are quicker. Some of the guys have developed and been able to play more significant roles. I think the diversity we have in players is very helpful.”

Although Saban doesn’t necessarily equate sacks to success—his position has long been it’s more about affecting the quarterback—he’s still never going to turn one down. When he was at LSU, the Tigers went from just 11 sacks in 2000 to 20, 27 and 44 during the national championship season, and 37 in 2004.

The most sacks by a Saban-coached team was during his last year at Michigan State, 1999, when the Spartans had 60 to go with 119 tackles for a loss. Alabama had that same number in 1988 when Derrick Thomas recorded an amazing 27.

Specific to this season, three obvious qualities that stand out about the Crimson Tide’s pass rush are experience, talent and depth.

All the players involved, except for freshman defensive tackle Daron Payne, who has quietly started two games this season (vs. Arkansas and LSU), have been in the system for a couple of years, and senior linebacker Reggie Ragland leads the communication on the field.

The talent has been well documented, but the depth is greater than most realize. Alabama legitimately rotates in nine or 10 defensive linemen who may all someday play in the National Football League, and it also uses linebackers like Ryan Anderson, Rahsaan Evans, Ragland and Tim Williams as pass-rushers.

So it's really going with a 14-man rotation, and Williams, who gets largely overlooked because he’s not considered an every-down player, may be the best pass-rusher of them all.

“I think that he's always had good pass-rush ability,” Saban said. “It's always been a question of dependability in terms of is he going to do the right things on and off the field so that you could know that he's going to be responsible enough to make the kind of choices and decisions that you need him to make, so that he can play winning football on the field."

“Tim’s worked very hard, made a lot of sacrifices to try to get where he is right now, and we certainly appreciate it. A lot of people in our organization have tried to help and he's been very, very productive.”

Over the last seven games, Williams has been in on a sack in each except for one, Tennessee. Of his 14 tackles, more than half (7.5) have been for a loss including his 5.5 sacks. He’s second on the team in both categories.

“We do a chart not only sacks, but quarterback pressures, as well as batted balls,” Saban said. “Those two things have been very good in terms of what the defensive line has been able to do, as well. They've been able to consistently make the quarterback uncomfortable and affect the way the guy has played, and I think that helps the secondary when the quarterback is not feeling like ‘I can get in a rhythm, I got time, I can stand back here and wait for guys to come open.’”

In Alabama’s official stats (the ones made public) junior defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson leads the team in quarterback hurries with eight, although it’s an unreliable gauge because of how they’re credited.

For example, Mississippi State tallied four for the Crimson Tide, three fewer than it had for the Bulldogs. The statisticians at A&T Stadium for the Wisconsin game had Alabama down for two, and Georgia’s crew didn’t credit a player from either team with one, which isn’t uncommon.

As for batted passes, Alabama’s linemen have 16, which is tied with UCLA for the most in the NCAA. Junior Dalvin Tomlinson, who would be starting just about anywhere else, tops the Crimson Tide with six.

Another statistic that Alabama keeps track of is quarterbacks hits, and Saban noted that in addition to the sacks, Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott got hit 12 more times and ran six quarterback scrambles.

Although Saban said Alabama didn’t seem to affect Prescott too much—“I have a tremendous amount of respect for that guy as a competitor and a player,” the coach said—it did manage to force his second interception of the season.

“I’m proud of the way our defense played,” Allen said. “It feels great when you execute the game plan, we did a hell of a job up front. But a lot of times it was cover sacks, so the DBs deserve a lot of credit. They were knocking down receivers and giving us a lot of time to get to the quarterback."

“So as good as we played, they played just as well.”

Alabama’s improving secondary has been sort of the missing piece for the Crimson Tide defense, which had struggled in key games last year. That and the improvement made by linemen like Allen, senior Jarran Reed and Robinson, plus everyone behind them.

“I don't know if they were doing anything special but just beating guys up there," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said.



Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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5-Star OT Patrick Hudson All About Results, Not the Spotlight

It doesn't take long to get an idea of the type of person Baylor commitment Patrick Hudson is.

On the field, he's menacing. He's dominant. At 6'5 ½" and 314 pounds, he's larger than life, figuratively and literally.

Off the field, the 5-star offensive lineman prefers that no one knows much about him.

"I'm just me," he said. "Not really much more to be said."

As the nation's No. 2 offensive tackle and No. 15 overall player, Hudson fits the bill of a college football superstar in the making. He's an Under Armour All-American and an athlete who has earned several other accolades as a leader for Silsbee High School in Silsbee, Texas.

But take him off the field, and you see who Hudson really is. Ask him a question, and get a direct-but-honest answer. There will be a lot of "yes, sir" and "yes, ma'am" responses in his replies. His dialogue is like a master storyteller: He always leaves you wanting to hear more.

But chances are, you won't get it. Unless it's involving something on the football field, which is when he'll answer a football question with his play rather than his words.

And that's the real reason why he'll play in the Under Armour game on Jan. 2. It's also why he'll put on a Baylor uniform and see success early in his college career.


From Silsbee to Waco

Silsbee is a small city in Texas' Piney Woods region, minutes away from the Gulf of Mexico and less than two hours northeast of the greater Houston area. For pro wrestling fans, it's the home of WWE Superstar Mark Henry.

To Hudson, it's also the home of something else.

"Tumbleweeds. Lot of tumbleweeds," he said. "Nothing's really out here. You have your friends, but there's nothing really to do. It's a very rural area."

"I just think of it as a small, little town. Football is the No. 1 thing."

Hudson also described Silsbee as "Aggie Land," referring to the many Texas A&M fans in the town of roughly 6,600. On March 28, 2014, Hudson committed to the Aggies as a sophomore, but his commitment lasted only four months, as he switched his pledge from Texas A&M to Baylor on July 18.

Three days earlier, 4-star all-purpose back Kameron Martin committed to the Bears. Martin, who lives in neighboring Port Arthur, Texas, said Hudson's decision was one that excited him then and still excites him today.

"Patrick is a very loyal person I've known for three years and since we've been committed to Baylor," said Martin, the nation's No. 5 all-purpose back. "It's amazing to have a person like that who will be blocking for me."

Recruited by offensive line coach Randy Clements and defensive backs coach Carlton Buckels, Hudson is expected to see time at tackle, but he also could be asked to play guard early. According to Baylor's depth chart, courtesy of Ourlads, the Bears will lose four out of five starters to graduation in tackles Spencer Drango and Pat Colbert and guards Blake Muir and Jarell Broxton.

Guard Desmine Hilliard also is a senior this year, which means there will be plenty of opportunities for Hudson to come in and earn starter's minutes. Ask Hudson about his future, and he's cut-and-dry.

"My preference is tackle," he said. "Whether it's left or right, I want to play tackle."


Keeping a low profile

Need proof of Hudson's desire for anonymity? Notice his player profile. His offer list only features six reported offers. He said he has plenty more, but listing them all isn't necessary. The offers further bring attention to him.

"What's my life like? I think it's like being everyone else," Hudson said. "I wake up like you do. I go to sleep like you do. There's nothing new to the story. I try not to make anything bigger than it is."

If you ask Hudson, all he wants is to go to school, earn a business degree and help his team on the football field. As much as Hudson tries to stay out of the spotlight, it's his work on the field that keeps him highly relevant.

Hudson's a part of a Silsbee offensive line that has helped the duo of quarterback Dontre Thomas and running back Adonis Thomas rush for more than 2,600 yards this season. Silsbee's offense nearly had 600 yards of total offense—including 340 rushing yards—in a playoff win against Chapel Hill on Friday.

In November, Hudson made history becoming the first Silsbee player to be invited to the Under Armour All-America Game, which will take place Jan. 2 in Orlando, Florida.

"You all know the kind of person he is, and you couldn't ask for a better person," Silsbee head coach Bobby McGallion said, according to the Beaumont Enterprise, during Hudson's jersey presentation in November. "As a football coach, you couldn't ask for a better player than we have in Patrick Hudson. We could not be prouder of him receiving this honor."

Hudson's quickness, length and ability to finish defenders in one-on-one situations is an easy sell to college recruiters. He plays with solid pad level, and his footwork will put him on the field early and often at Baylor. At 314 pounds, he has the body frame to add muscle and become even more of an intimidating factor at the next level.

He's an athlete who could be the face of Baylor's program.

"People should expect me to do everything I have to do to win the game," Hudson said. "Nothing more, nothing less."


Preparing for the next level

Martin gets it: His future college teammate wants to play without the fanfare.

"Pat is a very quiet guy who really likes to stay under the limelight," Martin said. "He doesn't talk to many people, but he is very friendly and cool in person."

Hudson's idea of a good time is either being with friends or celebrating victories with teammates on Friday nights. On Sundays, he's at his church obtaining spiritual knowledge and getting additional support from those expecting him to do well in college.

Hudson has been committed to Baylor for more than a year, but he said official visits to other schools aren't out of the picture. He was in Waco last week on an unofficial visit.

Hudson said Baylor's camaraderie on campus, overall environment of the city and sincerity of the coaching staff, including head coach Art Briles, won him over.

"[Waco] is small, but the city is growing," Hudson said. "I like the culture there. Everywhere you go, coaches are going to be the same, but you could tell [Briles] was genuine. I like all of the coaches."

A multitude of schools are hoping to change Hudson's mind before February's signing day. Whether that happens is still to be determined, but look for Hudson to continue being the person he is.

And who is he? Someone who wants to improve for himself and his team every day, yet at the same time keep the lowest profile possible.

"I want to do all of the things that will help me become better," he said. "But when it comes to wanting praise for it ... no, that's not me."


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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College Football Picks for Week 12: B/R Experts' Predictions for the Top 5 Games

The college football season is quickly drawing to a close, but fear not fans, we've still got a few more weeks of action to tide us over until bowl season. With rivalry week on the horizon, it's time to separate the contenders from the pretenders.

Both on the field and in the battle for King of Experts' Picks, Barrett Sallee has made a charge to close the gap on Adam Kramer, with the rest of the field trailing back. Let's take a look at the top five games this week—including some conference battles that will either provide clarity or create utter chaos. 

In the Big Ten, it's put-up-or-shut-up time for both the Michigan State Spartans and Ohio State Buckeyes, as the Spartans travel to Columbus this weekend. Both teams are flawed and have each looked very impressive and very unimpressive at times this season, and this will be the game that could boost one of them to greater heights. Spartans quarterback Connor Cook was injured last week vs. Maryland, but he's expected to be back and at full strength. For the Buckeyes, expect them to give the Michigan State defense a healthy dose of Heisman-hopeful running back Ezekiel Elliott.

Speaking of two teams that have looked unimpressive at times this year, the LSU Tigers travel to the Grove to play the Ole Miss Rebels. The Tigers are reeling from back-to-back beatdowns from Alabama and Arkansas, respectively, and it is starting to look like their initial undefeated start was all smoke and mirrors and Leonard Fournette. The Rebels, on the other hand, have been the ultimate roller-coaster team; one that can beat Alabama one week and lose to Memphis two weeks later. It won't be the best game of the week, but it should be entertaining. 

In the Pac-12, we have a pair of resurgent teams facing off with the Oregon Ducks hosting the USC Trojans. The Trojans have won four in a row since firing Steve Sarkisian in October, including an impressive victory over then-No. 3 Utah. They've started to click on offense, where they are loaded with weapons.

Similarly, the Ducks have won five out of six games since losing to Utah in September, culminating in last week's upset of the Stanford Cardinal in Palo Alto. Both teams are still mathematically alive to win their respective divisions, but they will need to win this game to stay in contention. 

Finally, we head to the Big 12 for two games in its back-loaded action. Fresh off their win at Baylor last week, the Oklahoma Sooners host the TCU Horned Frogs, who are reeling from injuries and managed only a seven-point victory last week at winless Kansas. Both Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson are currently questionable to play Saturday, giving Oklahoma a clear advantage.

With Baker Mayfield playing lights-out right now, the Horned Frogs will likely have no shot without their star battery combo. However, if Boykin and Doctson do suit up, they have enough talent and playmaking ability to help TCU pull the upset. For the sake of this game, let's hope they suit up. 

This is also the week we find out if the Oklahoma State Cowboys are for real. Their win over TCU was impressive, sure, but the Cowboys looked lifeless for much of the game last week at Iowa State and needed a furious comeback to escape with victory. Baylor will be very motivated to come out and show that, despite its loss last week, it's still a force to be reckoned with both in conference and nationally. In what should be one of the most entertaining games of the weekend, seeing how the Pokes' physical secondary can match up with Corey Coleman and the rest of the Bears' talented receiving corps will determine who comes out on top, and who stays alive for the conference title. 

What do you think of the picks this week? Please sound off in the comments and let us know who you'd take. 

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CFB Playoffs Rankings: Teams with the Most to Gain After Latest Polls

The race for the College Football Playoff (CFP) is heating up with two weeks remaining in the season. The top four teams—Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame—remain intact, but movement is occurring just behind the Fighting Irish, as Oklahoma State, Iowa and the Oklahoma Sooners are making a late surge up the rankings.

By winning out, the top three teams in Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State are more than likely to guarantee themselves a spot in the playoffs, but for Notre Dame (9-1), things will be more difficult, as they end their season playing against the Stanford Cardinal after a game against Boston College. The Fighting Irish have the 27th-hardest schedule but have one loss on their resume.

The Cowboys from Oklahoma State (10-0) have moved up to seventh in the latest rankings, and Oklahoma State has the advantage of being unbeaten over Notre Dame and has the opportunity to pad its resume with home games against Baylor and Oklahoma in the next two weeks.

If the Fighting Irish and the No. 8 Oklahoma Sooners (9-1) both win out, finishing the season 11-1, chances are the final spot in the playoff will go to one of them.

If this happens, the Sooners would end the season with three major victories over the likes of Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State. Notre Dame's best wins would likely be USC, Stanford and Navy.

The Irish's lone loss was by two at Clemson and the Sooners' loss was by seven to Texas in Dallas. Notre Dame beat Texas 38-3, and the committee considers games against common opponents in its selections protocol, which could come back to bite the Sooners if the committee is choosing between Notre Dame and Oklahoma.

On the flip side, if Notre Dame loses to Stanford, Iowa falls and Oklahoma and Oklahoma State go into the final weekend of the season after winning their games this weekend, that game should decide who is worthy of the fourth and final spot in the CFP.

The Sooners have the hardest schedule in the final two weeks. They take on TCU and Oklahoma State. That's both good and bad for the Sooners, because if they are able to win both games, they will likely solidify their spot in the playoff. However, losing either of these games will give the Sooners their second loss of the season, which guarantees that they won't be in contention for the national championship. 

But don't sleep on the Hawkeyes.

Unbeaten Iowa (10-0) currently ranks sixth, ahead of both the Cowboys and the Sooners. The undefeated Hawkeyes basically just have to win their remaining games for a spot in the playoff, as it gives the committee little choice but to reward an undefeated team with two wins over Top-25 teams.

Iowa's toughest opponent down the stretch is Nebraska, which owns a 5-6 record heading into this weekend. Iowa is in a good position to finish out the season and spoil the CFP for the Cowboys, Sooners and Fighting Irish. 

Either the Sooners or the Cowboys will fall off the wagon in the final week of the regular season when they play each other, so Notre Dame and Iowa just have to worry about their own schedules in the meantime.

It's anyone's guess who will finish where in two weeks' time. It will be controversial, but most of all, it will be exciting.

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Buying or Selling Every Top 10 Team as a CFP Championship Contender

The college football stock market for national championship contenders is nearing the closing bell, as we have three weeks left before this season's final four is announced.

The College Football Playoff committee might have gone chalk with most of its Top 10 heading into Week 12, but a lot has changed in the last few weeks for a number of contenders.

Last month, I took stock of each Top 10 team in the Associated Press poll. A few weeks later, I'm back to re-evaluate each contender's championship chances—and this time, I can use the rankings the key decision-makers will use whenever they lock in the second-ever playoff field next month.

Each team in the Top 10 still has a realistic shot at making the playoff and winning the national championship. But in order to divide up their chances based on remaining schedule, potential matchups and overall strength, I've handed out stock grades of Strong Sell, Moderate Sell, Reluctant Sell, Reluctant Buy, Moderate Buy and Strong Buy.

Everyone has his opinion on how to play the market, so feel free to tell me whom you're buying and selling in the comments below.

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Bleacher Report's College Football Ultimate Guide to Week 12

For many, this is the weekend college football’s second season begins. Right here and now, in Week 12, with the sport running short on natural resources, fuel and beer, everything’s poised to change once more before the whole thing is put in storage.

The first season is finished. I hope you enjoyed its many wildly entertaining chapters. What happened up until this point means a great deal. And if you just so happen to be one of the few teams that have made it this far with minimal damage, congratulations are in order. It’s more than most can claim.

But this celebration cannot and will not last. The final 2015 purge begins on Saturday in places like Columbus, Ohio, along with Stillwater and Norman, Oklahoma. This healthy bucket of contenders will dwindle down to a handful over the next two weeks.

Fun season storylines will be ripped to pieces before our eyes. Playoff hopes will be put to bed, finally. Heisman campaigns will be lost. A few will be found. Only a handful will be left standing by the time it all comes together—the part of the calendar that isn’t kind to most.

The stakes rise just as the opportunities vanish. With college football inching closer to its final act, a second abbreviated season begins. And it all starts with Week 12, a lineup of games as deep as it is significant.

So here we go. Let’s dive right into the weekend’s most impactful matchups, a glorious social media Heisman push and a note about this Saturday’s curious SEC slate.


The Buffet: Previewing the Top Five Games of Week 12

5. USC at Oregon (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

It’s strange to think that this matchup suddenly means a great deal. It’s even stranger to think that a matchup between the two Pac-12 favorites heading into the season didn’t mean much a few short weeks ago.

Behold the wild, weird and vicious Pac-12—a never-ending upset saga that might ultimately leave the conference without a playoff representative. Suddenly, however, the former chalks have purpose.

Welcome back, Oregon. It’s good to have you. In beating Stanford last Saturday, the Ducks showcased a bit of everything. The defense wasn’t a brick wall, but it played well. The star of the show, however, was quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., who is healthy and exceptional. Adams threw for 205 yards and two touchdowns on only 12 pass attempts.

When he’s upright, the Ducks have a chance. His presence is exactly what this restoration demanded. It’s worth noting, however, that USC has enjoyed a nice little resurrection of its own. It has not always come easy—and it certainly didn’t in a 27-24 victory over Colorado on Friday—but the Trojans have quietly won four straight since losing a close game to Notre Dame. Cody Kessler threw three touchdowns last week, and he should have ample opportunities to add to that total.

Now, with Utah’s loss, USC suddenly controls its own Pac-12 destiny. Interim coach Clay Helton might be coaching to keep this job, which is not something anyone expected. Beat Oregon and UCLA, and the Trojans win the South. Helton could make it very difficult on his bosses.


4. Northwestern at Wisconsin (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

Do not be alarmed by this game’s inclusion in the buffet. All is well.

It is here by intent and with a full understanding of what it means. Quite simply, beyond the obvious matchups below, you won’t find many (any?) better than Northwestern vs. Wisconsin in Week 12.

Both ranked teams enter Week 12 with somewhat surprising 8-2 marks, having rebounded from disappointing showings earlier in the year. Following two dismantling losses against Michigan and Iowa, Northwestern has won three straight thanks in large part to sophomore running back Justin Jackson. In the past two games, Jackson has rushed for 302 yards.

Wisconsin’s only two losses of the season came against Alabama and Iowa, which doesn't look too shabby at the moment. Having won five straight games, the Badgers have an opportunity to close with a 10-win regular season. There’s still a glimmer of hope to win the division—a small glimmer—but it beckons. In the meantime, behind only a handful of standout individual performances—headlined by sack machine Joe Schobert—all they can do is churn right along.

It seems reasonable to assume that this game will not be easy on the eyes—that conservative play-calling and quality defense will be the general theme. I’m not sure if that’s the sexiest way to sell a game, but that's how we're going to package it. Get it while it's hot.


3. TCU at Oklahoma (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET, ABC)

The first of two spectacular Big 12 games to be played in Week 12 suddenly feels oddly lopsided. That’s by no means intended to deter you from watching. Do watch. It’s simply an assessment of two fluid situations.

TCU, having spent the better part of the year near the top of just about any ranking, is trying to keep the boat from capsizing. There’s water everywhere and the holes are being plugged with toasters, turkey sandwiches and unused turtlenecks. Oklahoma, having tumbled to unexpected depths earlier this year, is now one of the nation’s hottest programs.

Baker Mayfield, a huge part of the Sooners’ revival, is fun. I could simply leave it at that. He’s emotional, fist-pump driven and remarkably talented. He’s more WWE hype man than he is college quarterback, and it’s intoxicating to watch. In last Saturday’s win over Baylor, Mayfield threw for 270 yards, ran for 76 yards and scored four touchdowns. I lost track of fist pumps (but he had a whole bunch).

Oh, and Oklahoma is now a potential playoff team. Its opponent this week, TCU, is not quite in that same conversation anymore. The committee has cooled on the Horned Frogs. No team has had to endure a rash of injuries quite like this one, and that will be a theme moving forward.

Quarterback Trevone Boykin and wideout Josh Doctson—two of the nation’s most exceptional talents—are both questionable with injuries. Whether they play or not is significant; what kind of shape they’re in if they play is another matter of note, if and when that time comes.

TCU barely squeaked past Kansas last week as more than a 40-point favorite last week, which is not something anyone expected, even with the injuries. Now, playing one of the nation’s fastest risers, a herculean effort will be necessary to make this game close. 


2. Baylor at Oklahoma State (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX)

If Big 12 chaos is your thing—and by all means, dive right in for an enormous plateful—feast your eyes on Baylor-Oklahoma State. By the end of the weekend, every team in the conference could have a loss. Or perhaps the Pokes might just drive on past, waving at the wreckage as they go.

Oh, the whole journey was nearly undone in Ames. Trailing nearly the entire game, Oklahoma State mounted a tremendous rally to win 35-31. Old nightmares were not rehashed. The undefeated season, despite a handful of moments where the future looked bleak, is intact.

That is no longer the case for Baylor following last week’s loss to Oklahoma. The Bears defense struggled. And Jarrett Stidham, Baylor’s young quarterbacking phenom, never quite looked comfortable, and for good reason. He played with a back injury for most of the evening that clearly limited his play and the playbook.

"We're just dealing with muscles and bruising, which equates to soreness and pain," Briles told reporters this week. "No structural damage. That's the encouraging part. That's a good sign."

If Stidham plays—and he should—Baylor is very much in this game. So often we find ourselves over-analyzing a team based on one result. While the Bears have issues in dire need of fixing, there is no shortage of talent, especially on offense, to fix it.

On the flip side, Oklahoma State can inch one game away from a playoff spot with a win.

Huge ramifications, ahoy. And if you like points, you'll like this one.


1. Michigan State at Ohio State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Before the season began, this was billed as the most important game of the Big Ten season and one of 2015’s most anticipated games overall. It might not carry the same magnificent hype as it did a few weeks ago, but it’s still hugely imperative. This is a big ol’ piece of the puzzle.

Even when Ohio State looks somewhat off, it’s still capable of dominance. The Buckeyes’ 28-3 road win at Illinois wasn’t an offensive clinic, and yet, it’s hard to argue with the overall result.

Outside of its demolition of Rutgers, this has been Ohio State’s identity this year: stretches of obvious greatness thanks in large part to spectacular individual players. But clearly there is more out there, which is a terrifying thought. And at some point, perhaps as soon as this week, it will need to be found.

Michigan State has suffered from a similar complex this year, although its perfect season is no more. Thanks in large part to a call that went in Nebraska's favor, the Spartans watched their perfect season come undone. While they had no issues with Maryland the next week, winning 24-7, it might have come at a price. Quarterback Connor Cook suffered a shoulder injury, which will be something to watch.

It did not look good at first.

"I'll be fine to go next week," Cook told reporters after the game. "I'll be good."

Cook has reiterated a handful of times this week that he is fine, so perhaps this will not have an impact on the game. We shall see. 

We will also see if Ohio State can find that next gear and what Michigan State has left in the tank. We will see, well, all of it. Don’t miss any of it.


The “Break All Message Boards” Game of the Week: LSU at Ole Miss (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

It wasn’t long ago—weeks, in fact—that both of these programs had College Football Playoff aspirations and tremendous momentum. And while it wasn't long ago, it feels like it's been ages. That’s not to say all is now lost for either Ole Miss or LSU, but expectations have changed. Momentum has cooled.

With exceptional talent on both sidelines—and many still hanging on to more dominant times—someone will exit this game on Saturday with a bad taste. A fanbase will then take this feeling to the Internet and showcase the madness online.

The message board servers don’t stand a chance. The following threads are likely guarantees, regardless of the winner.

FIRE [insert head coach here]





This sport is grueling. It is unrelenting. Godspeed to the losing team.


Speaking of... Should Les Miles Be on the Hot Seat?

And away we go. The Baton Rouge Advocate's Scott Rabalais reported that Miles could be coaching to keep his job over the next few weeks. That seems, quite frankly, a bit absurd. I'm not doubting the reporting; I'm questioning whether Miles should be in this position at all.

Should the Tigers really think about firing Miles after the season took a turn?

No. That really should end the discussion. There's also that enormous buyout to deal with. So, again. No.


Best Heisman Promotion of the Week: Oklahoma

How do you sell your dancing, stat-piling quarterback to the Internet? Well, that’s easy. You do this.

Just RT it.

— Oklahoma Football (@OU_Football) November 16, 2015

Tecmo Bowl graphics? Check.

Dancing animations? Check.

Pixelated Heisman pose? Check.

This is how you properly push your star through social media. I can't believe it's taken this long for us to make Tecmo Bowl graphics a thing again.


The Latest “Let’s Put a Football Game in a Baseball Stadium” Game of the Week

The concept of playing a football game in a football stadium on an actual college campus that enjoys its football is always the best idea. Let’s not overthink this. Ever.

But I will admit that the Notre Dame-Boston College matchup at Fenway Park is shaping up quite lovely.

Take another look at the blue paint going in the end zones at #FenwayPark! ⚾️➡️🏈

— Fenway Park (@fenwaypark) November 14, 2015

Not allowing the field-goal kickers to blast footballs over the Green Monster, however, is a misstep of Green Monster-sized proportions. I understand that fitting a football stadium inside a vintage baseball cathedral is exceptionally difficult, but come on.

There’s still time to turn that field around—even if it’s only 84 yards—and fix this egregious error. Repaint if it's necessary. Do the right thing and give us field-goal home runs and broken windshields.


Parting Shot: Let’s Talk About Week 12 in the SEC (and Scheduling in General)

Here it is, in all of its glory, the SEC slate for Week 12—the penultimate Saturday of the regular season.

Now, this lineup is not without its highlights. LSU-Ole Miss, despite recent wreckage, is still strangely intriguing, as is Mississippi State-Arkansas. Tennessee playing at Missouri is sort of fun, I guess. And sure, go ahead and watch Texas A&M play Vanderbilt. That sounds fine. Sure.

The overall lineup, however, does little to be desired. This might as well be a bye week for many and a big ol’ paycheck for the FCS opponents agreeing to a beatdown.

“But that’s what the Big Ten and Big 12 schedules have looked like all season,” screamed the loud gentleman in the back, spilling his drink on a family of five.

Ah, yes. There is always this. I could spend the next 5,000 words diving into trivial scheduling discussions, but that’s no fun. (It gets us nowhere.)

I suppose let’s start with the obvious. For many of the SEC teams choosing to take this win, this is good business. In fact, it’s great business. Alabama has been thrown through a gauntlet for basically the entire season. Nick Saban’s team, quite frankly, deserves a break before the Iron Bowl. Others are in similar situations.

I completely understand why this is common practice, and yes, the gauntlet of the SEC, even in a "down year," still trumps what just about any other conference has to deal with. For some, it might be the difference in making a bowl. For SEC coaches simply trying to navigate expectations, it's a much-needed check mark in the win column.

And for the FCS team involved, this game carries a great deal of value. The paycheck will help fund sports that this program might not otherwise be able to fund for the next year. This is routine and unquestionably helpful.

But do these games add any value to us? Selfishly, as fans, what exactly do they provide?

This is not just an SEC thing, of course. The SEC is simply being highlighted because of timing. For further proof, go back and look at the scheduling for the first three weeks of the year around the country. Heck, look at North Carolina State’s first month.

This is common practice. Everyone does this. It is not exclusive to a conference or select teams. In fact, Alabama has always stepped up and consistently played quality teams to open the year. Tennessee played Oklahoma and Bowling Green this season. There are plenty of high-quality games to highlight over the course of time.

But again, with our season dwindling, it feels like we could do better. There are so little opportunities left to watch competitive games that this slate certainly leaves a lot to be desired. While there is unquestionably a method to the madness, one can’t help but look at the calendar and feel angst.

Again, this is not exclusive to the SEC. It's also not the worst idea for these programs from where they're sitting. As consumers looking to drain every last morsel out of what has been a thrilling season from the moment they said go, however, this proven business doesn't have quite the same feel.

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The Most Tight-Knit Teams in College Football

When a team is divided, reaching the pinnacle of success is a tall task. When the roster is a tight-knit group, championships are possible.

Whether due to off-field togetherness or an ability to overcome adversity—and typically combined with on-field accomplishments—a collection of programs have stood out in 2015.

To be clear, exclusion is neither an indictment nor a criticism of a team's collective character or anything of the sort. Each one holds some kind of commendable bond.

Nevertheless, the following teams have regularly displayed a close association for a wide variety of reasons.

Begin Slideshow

The Wild Race for the 2015 Heisman Trophy

LSU running back Leonard Fournette was unstoppable. You know this because you, along with the rest of the free-loving college football world, saw him play. 

"Play" is an appropriate verb here, because Fournette looked so effortless when he ran. It was clearly fun for him, and the opposite of that for everyone else. 

You watched the Auburn game on Sept. 19 as Fournette went full Beast Mode by running around, under and through defenders for 228 yards. And then you witnessed him do it again against Syracuse. And again against South Carolina. And Florida. And Western Kentucky. 

Through October, the Heisman was Fournette's, and the more relevant question was who would finish second—and by how large a margin. 

And then you watched, stunned, as it all came to a screeching halt against Alabama's vaunted run defense. You saw Fournette try his best yet manage only 31 yards on 19 carries. Meanwhile, Fournette's Alabama counterpart, Derrick Henry, rushed for 210 yards in a 30-16 Crimson Tide victory. 

It was then that the Heisman race became an actual race for the first time in the 2015 season—and for the first time in a few years. Things broke open more when Fournette failed to eclipse 100 yards again in a 31-14 loss to Arkansas the following Saturday. 

Now, with just three weeks left before Heisman votes must be submitted, there are a half-dozen candidates—at least—with a legitimate claim to be named college football's most outstanding player. Unlike previous years, Fournette's decline hasn't yielded a clear successor. 

"It doesn’t feel like there’s one go-to guy to take over that front-runner spot," said Zac Ellis of Sports Illustrated, a Heisman voter. 


Who's No. 1? Look at the Running Backs

There is a front-runner, technically. Odds Shark has Henry as the odds-on favorite to win the award if the season ended today. However, this is as fluid a Heisman race as we've seen in a few years: 

"I think it’s Derrick Henry’s to lose," said B/R's Christopher Walsh, another Heisman voter. "I don’t think Fournette can win. You pretty much have to carry a region. I think a lot of voters in the South are going to go with Henry as of now."

Still, the South voting region could be the most divisive with Henry, Fournette and Florida State running back Dalvin Cook in the picture.

Cook, interestingly enough, doesn't show up on the latest Heisman odds, but he's been Florida State's MVP. The sophomore broke the school's single-season rushing record previously held by Warrick Dunn in Week 11 against North Carolina State. Despite having battled hamstring and ankle injuries, Cook is at 1,369 yards on the year with two games remaining. Keep in mind, too, that Cook missed a game due to injury. His numbers could be—should be—better. 

However, Ellis noted that Cook may be held down in the voting because Florida State will not play on the first weekend in December, days before votes must be submitted. Clemson has already wrapped up the ACC Atlantic division and will presumably play North Carolina in the conference championship game. 

No matter how well Cook performs in the next two weeks against Tennessee-Chattanooga and Florida, his regular season will end one game early. 

If there is a running back who can challenge Henry, Ellis and Walsh, believe it's Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott ranks third nationally behind Fournette and Henry in rushing yards (1,425) and has 16 touchdowns. He's logged at least 100 yards in every game this season. 

The single most amazing thing about Elliott's year is that he has done it all quietly. Sure, he's in the Heisman conversation, but what he's accomplished feels secondary to other storylines surrounding the Buckeyes.

Chatter about Ohio State has revolved around two things: the playoff, the subset of which is whether the Buckeyes should be ranked in the top four based on who they've beaten and how they've looked to date; and the quarterback situation with J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones. 

Everything changes for Ohio State starting this Saturday against Michigan State. In the next two and potentially three weeks, Elliott will face the Spartans, Michigan and Iowa (barring an end-of-season meltdown from the Hawkeyes). Elliott, of all the running backs, can pick up the most momentum. 

"This is their season," Ellis said. 


What About the Quarterbacks?

The Heisman has traditionally favored quarterbacks, but more so in recent years. If you remove former USC running back Reggie Bush from the list of winners—that's up to you; the Heisman trust does not recognize Bush because of the NCAA scandal—13 of the last 14 winners have been quarterbacks. 

Yet 2015 has been the year of the running back. 

There are myriad reasons for this, but it boils down to a lack of star power at quarterback on playoff-caliber teams. Fair or not, overall record plays a role in which players get Heisman consideration. Luke Falk (Washington State), Patrick Mahomes II (Texas Tech) and Jared Goff (Cal) are among the more prolific passers in college football, but none play on a team anywhere close to the playoff conversation. 

"It’s become such a quarterback award, and this year there really isn’t that guy that makes people say, 'He’s the best quarterback.' I think that’s what makes it such an unusual race," Walsh said. 

Injuries have played a part (and have been been more unforgiving than usual for college football's star players). The Big 12's top two quarterbacks for much of the year, Baylor's Seth Russell and TCU's Trevone Boykin, are hurt. Russell, who had 35 total touchdowns, is out for the remainder of the year with a neck fracture. Boykin is questionable for Saturday's game against Oklahoma with an ankle injury

Realistically, there are two quarterbacks with a legitimate shot at the Heisman: Clemson's Deshaun Watson and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield. The pair have taken two entirely different paths to get to this point. 

Watson is the reliable gear that turns the Clemson machine, which is No. 1 in the College Football Playoff Top 25. His numbers are solid (2,601 passing yards, 598 rushing yards, 28 touchdowns), but not gaudy. His improvisational skills are more subtle, as explained by B/R's Michael Felder:

Watson does many things well; he almost makes it look so easy that the casual observer can take it for granted. His ball placement, decision-making and mobility are all top-notch. 

Mayfield is the exact opposite. He has the flash and the bravado. He's the trash-talker and the all-time quarterback during the pickup game in your friend's backyard. And he's the player with the most Heisman hype entering Week 12. His breakout performance came against Baylor in Week 11, in which he threw for 270 yards, ran for another 76 and accounted for four touchdowns. 

His improvisational skills mirror Johnny Manziel's. The longer he holds on to the ball and evades defenders, the more likely it is that he'll make the opposing defense look bad. 

The win over the Bears officially launched Mayfield's Heisman campaign. Teammates began tweeting #Baker4Heisman on Twitter, and the Sooners' official Twitter page joined in with the best pixilated Heisman campaign you'll see:

Statistically speaking, Mayfield has been on pace with two recent Heisman-winning quarterbacks from Oklahoma: Sam Bradford and Jason White. Yet he gives the Sooner offense an entirely different dimension than Bradford or White because of his scrambling and running ability. 

All this raises the question: Where was Mayfield all year? Plenty of Oklahoma fans surely remember the comeback win over Tennessee in September, but only now is Mayfield legitimately entering the Heisman conversation. 

Walsh explained, "Part of it is Oklahoma started low in the rankings. Part of it has been the schedule and the whole perception that no one in the Big 12 was playing anyone tough until the last month.

"The Texas loss is a huge black mark against him. No one thinks Texas is any good this year. If you have a loss, it better be a quality loss. Mayfield needs to finish really strong."

You certainly can't say Mayfield won't have the opportunity. Oklahoma faces TCU and Oklahoma State over the next two weeks. In a year when the Heisman race has lacked a notable quarterback, Mayfield can seize momentum at the right time against the toughest competition.


The Heisman Moment

What makes this Heisman race a real one is that for many of the candidates, the biggest moments are still ahead. 

"The biggest argument for a guy is: How did he play in the biggest game against the biggest opponent?" Ellis said. "How do you perform, say, when you’re down on the road? If you’re a running back, are you getting the ball a lot? Are you coming through when your team needs you?"

Every Heisman contender, including a few not on the most recent odds, has at least one big game remaining. Watson won't have a major opponent until the ACC championship game. Elliott has perhaps the hardest stretch vs. quality opponents. Cook and Henry could face Florida, which has the No. 10 rush defense, in back-to-back weeks. 

These will be the games that mold the Heisman race unlike any other time in the season. Maybe the so-called "Heisman moment" has already happened. It could have been when Henry rushed for 210 yards against LSU. It could have been Mayfield's performance against Baylor. But with so many candidates and critical, playoff-defining games on the line, chances are the Heisman moment hasn't happened yet. 

Make no mistake: A team doesn't have to necessarily win those big games for the Heisman contender to keep pace. But that player does have to put his team in a position to win. When two Heisman contenders go head-to-head, voters will look at which player made the biggest impact. 

That explains Henry's current edge over Fournette. 

"Fournette and LSU lost to Alabama. Derrick Henry had a big day, Fournette didn’t," Walsh said. 

The last time a race was this wide-open was in 2011, when Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III needed four touchdowns in a win over Texas in the final week of the season to seal the deal. Until that game, RG3 was in a battle with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and Alabama running back Trent Richardson. 

In 2009, the year Alabama running back Mark Ingram won, the Heisman voting was the closest it had ever been in 75 years. 

"We were going into the SEC championship game, and everyone was still talking about [former Florida quarterback and 2007 Heisman winner] Tim Tebow. Ingram ended up having the big game and won the Heisman," Walsh said.

The 2015 Heisman race is no longer just a race; it's a sprint. And it could go down to the final week with as many as five or six players making their way to New York, some of which haven't been mentioned once in this piece.

For all anyone knows, Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds could make his way into the discussion if the Midshipmen keep winning. Against SMU in Week 11, Reynolds broke the Football Bowl Subdivision record for most career rushing touchdowns. He now has 81. 

As exciting and wide-open as the playoff race has been, the Heisman race is right there with it. The sheer number of quality games featuring quality players packed into the next three weeks ensures that 2015 will be nothing short of unpredictable. 

"For once, we actually have a real race for the Heisman," Ellis said. 


Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. All stats courtesy of

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Michigan State Playing for Program's Future vs. Ohio State

If there was a moment on Tuesday that was telling of the meaning of Michigan State's upcoming showdown with Ohio State, it was one that nearly never came to fruition.

After all, it wasn't until the final question of Mark Dantonio's weekly press conference that the Spartans head coach was asked to compare his program's recent history with the Buckeyes to the storied Ohio State-Michigan rivalry.

And when it was suggested that Michigan State's contention with the Buckeyes didn't measure up to the Wolverines', Dantonio jumped at the opportunity to interject.

"We're so conditioned in this region to think Michigan and Ohio State, Michigan and Ohio State and for good reason," the reporter began.

"Not really," Dantonio deadpanned while interrupting.

If the ninth-year Spartans head coach was offended by the premise that his program wasn't worthy of the attention afforded to the Buckeyes and Wolverines, it was with good reason. While Michigan floundered for the better part of the past decade under the direction of Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke after him, it was Michigan State that's most recently served as the most important game on Ohio State's schedule, with the Spartans beating the Buckeyes in the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game before losing a de facto Big Ten East title game in East Lansing to Urban Meyer's team last November.

Over the course of the past three seasons, Michigan State and Ohio State have combined for a 69-7 record, with four major bowl wins and a national championship between the two programs. Michigan, meanwhile, compiled a 12-13 record from 2013-14, before getting off to an 8-2 start under Jim Harbaugh this season.

But to the reporter's point, the Spartans' days as Ohio State's—or Michigan's, for that matter—chief rival, may be numbered.

Because while Michigan State has enjoyed remarkable consistency under Dantonio, the Spartans seem to be at a crossroads of sorts with the re-emergence of the Wolverines under Harbaugh threatening their status as the Buckeyes' biggest obstacle in the Big Ten. Michigan State may have knocked off Michigan on Oct. 17 thanks to Jalen Watts-Jackson's improbable blocked punt return, but all signs point to a bright future in Ann Arbor—much of which could come at the expense of the Spartans.

Especially on the recruiting trail, where Michigan State has recently seen a somewhat alarming number of recruits de-commit from their previous pledges to spend their college careers playing for the Spartans. At least two of those players—2016 4-star defensive tackle Naquan Jones and 2016 3-star running back Abdul Adams—are weighing offers from Michigan, which has also shown interest in 2016 3-star linebacker Jonah Morris, who told the Detroit Free Press that despite still being committed to the Spartans, he plans to continue to look around in his recruitment.

With fewer than three months to go until national signing day, Michigan State currently lays claim to the nation's 15th-ranked 2016 class, the fourth best in the Big Ten at the moment. Michigan, on the other hand, currently possesses the country's No. 9 class, a standing that could improve as Harbaugh's first full year on the recruiting trail for the Wolverines comes to a close.

As far as the Big Ten East is concerned, it's also worth noting that Ohio State is on track to land the nation's second-ranked class in 2016.

But it's not just Michigan State's momentum—or lack thereof—on the recruiting trail that has created a sense of urgency for the Spartans, but the current makeup of the MSU roster that's a cause for concern. Senior quarterback Connor Cook, defensive end Shilique Calhoun, wide receiver Aaron Burbridge, center Jack Allen and potentially junior left tackle Jack Conklin are each in the midst of playing the final few games of their college careers, creating a cloud of uncertainty over the Spartans for 2016.

Michigan, meanwhile, is expected to return six starters on each side of the ball next season, including star defensive backs Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers, and emerging wide receivers Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh. And while Ohio State is expected to see a mass exodus of talent head for the NFL draft, star quarterback J.T. Barrett will only be a junior, and Meyer has proven to reload rather than rebuild.

That's not to say that Dantonio won't be able to do the same, as Michigan State has actually recruited higher ranked classes in recent years than the ones that put it in position for its recent run of success in the first place. The Spartans also possess one of the best player development programs in all of the country, having routinely turned 3-star prospects into first-round picks.

What's more is that despite having already lost a game this season and sitting at ninth in the most recent College Football Playoff standings, Michigan State still controls its own destiny in this year's race for the Big Ten East—and perhaps beyond. With a win over the Buckeyes, the Spartans would be a regular-season finale victory over Penn State away from landing in Indianapolis for the conference title game, which could serve as a play-in game for the playoff should Michigan State be meeting an undefeated Iowa team, currently ranked fifth in the CFP standings.

"The bottom line is we're a 9-1 football team and we've found a way to win nine times," Dantonio said. "And while we're not perfect, because we didn't find a way [to win] the one week, we are in a position to move ourselves forward. I'm very, very proud of our football team, and our expectations remain extremely high."

But if the Buckeyes beat the Spartans this weekend and the Wolverines win their games against the Nittany Lions, it would set up an Ohio State-Michigan regular-season finale with a trip to the Big Ten title game—and potentially, much more—on the line for both teams.

With the way the Big Ten East is trending, it could be the first of many meaningful battles between the Buckeyes and Wolverines in the coming years, with the Spartans once again being on the outside looking in.

Just don't try telling Dantonio that.


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. All statistics courtesy of Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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