NCAA Football

Notre Dame Football: Irish Problems Too Big to Fix This Year

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — As Notre Dame football’s list of problems continues to grow with injuries and “critical errors,” the Irish head into their final two games of the regular season staring at a pair of ranked opponents.

As lost as the season might feel for some Notre Dame fans, the reality is the Irish could still finish the regular season at 9-3, earn a spot in a respectable bowl game and have an opportunity to reach 10 wins this season. While it’s a far cry from Notre Dame’s legitimate flirtation with the College Football Playoff, the season isn’t totally lost.

But to ensure they still do take something away from the 2014 campaign, the Irish must clean up in a variety of areas down the stretch. So which problems are correctable, and which issues might have to wait until next year?

 

Turnovers

It seems we’re beating a dead horse by routinely analyzing Notre Dame’s turnover mishaps, but that’s what happens when a team goes on a brutal run of misfortune.

As bad as Notre Dame has been with ball security of late—nine turnovers in two games—it’s tough to envision this horrid stretch continuing. At some point, the Irish must clean things up and protect the football better, right?

“When we turn it over, it's critical,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday. “I mean it's catastrophic turnovers. We're turning it over on the 5-yard line, on the goal line. We're throwing it off our kid's helmet, it's bouncing up in the air and they're returning it. They are absolutely critical turnovers.”

Even just marginal improvement in that area will do a world of difference for Notre Dame. As Kelly mentioned Tuesday, there’s a fine line between wins and losses in college football, and the Irish turnovers have recently placed them on the wrong end of things.

“We've got to hold on to the football,” Kelly said. “Now, when we say 'hold on to the football,' what does that mean? Clearly we've got to make sure that we're giving the ball to the right guy at the right time and doing the things that minimize risk. And so all those things are in the evaluation mode while still knowing at the end of the day, we have to score a lot of points.”

 

Defense

While the turnovers seem at least somewhat correctable, the outlook isn’t as optimistic for the Notre Dame defense.

Already without senior middle linebacker Joe Schmidt, the Irish must now proceed without stalwart defensive lineman Sheldon Day, who will miss Saturday’s matchup against Louisville with an MCL sprain. Kelly did say he expects to get Day back at some point this season.

The previously lowly Northwestern offense gashed the Irish and exposed problems at all levels of the defense. Communication, though, has been a common issue throughout the entire defense, a group Kelly said is younger than any he’s had before.

“We've got to play better defense,” Kelly said. “We've got to make some key stops. We've got to get lined up.”

Alignment and communication have been difficult for Notre Dame, especially without Schmidt. While it’s just one fluky example, take this third-down play from Saturday’s game:

It’s reasonable to expect some improvement from the likes of freshman middle linebacker Nyles Morgan, who will be making just his third start Saturday against Louisville. But wholesale improvement could be tough to come by for an Irish defensive unit that might not even start one senior down the stretch.

Graduate student cornerback Cody Riggs should play some with a stress reaction in his foot, and graduate-student defensive lineman Justin Utupo will likely be counted on in some capacity with Day out. Otherwise, the young Irish defense must find its way on its own against Top 25 opponents.

 

Kicking Game

The holding malfunctions were one thing, but Kyle Brindza’s hooked field-goal attempts against the Wildcats were another. Brindza has now missed eight field goals this season, but Kelly still supported his senior Tuesday.

“I still think we've got one of the best kickers in the country,” Kelly said. “He had an off day on Saturday. But I expect him to bounce back.”

Kelly has loads of evidence to back that up. Brindza entered the season as a worthy candidate for the Lou Groza Award based on two strong seasons of place-kicking. Another week with holder Malik Zaire should instill more comfort and confidence in Brindza.

A few rough weeks won’t overshadow the rest of Brindza’s season—much less his career. Expect him to bounce back Saturday.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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Could Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett Make a 2-QB System Work at Ohio State?

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Even as he continues to recover from a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder that ended his senior season before it ever started, Braxton Miller appears to have no shortage of options when it comes to his future.

The two-time Big Ten MVP could take his talents to the NFL draft, where he'd likely be a late-round pick, or take advantage of college football's graduate transfer rule and immediately receive eligibility at another school.

But those in Columbus maintain that Miller's plan is to return to Ohio State for a second try at a senior season in 2015. That sentiment was backed up by an NFL.com report by Chase Goodbread on Wednesday.

"Speculation is swelling that Miller is considering a post-graduate transfer," Goodbread writes. "Two sources close to Miller, however, say the quarterback's plan for now is to remain at Ohio State and lead the Buckeyes in 2015, according to NFL Media's Albert Breer."

While head coach Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes' staff would certainly welcome Miller back with open arms, the emergence of redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett complicates matters.

After all, the assumption in August was that Miller would regain OSU's starting quarterback job based on his previous merits, but Barrett's accomplishments may ultimately trump those, as the Heisman Trophy contender has the Buckeyes on the cusp of a Big Ten Championship and potential appearance in the College Football Playoff.

A lot, of course, can change between now and the end of the season, but Barrett's progress to this point makes it awfully hard to imagine that he'll find himself back on the bench when the 2015 season kicks off.

In just 10 games, the Wichita Falls, Texas, native has broken Ohio State's single-season record for touchdowns accounted for (38) and is only four scores away from tying Drew Brees' Big Ten record of 42 total touchdowns in a single season.

Those numbers certainly speak for themselves, as it becomes clearer each week that Barrett will be the Buckeyes' starting quarterback in 2015. But where would that leave Miller?

After all, when healthy, there may not be a more dynamic quarterback in the country, one more capable of single-handedly keeping his team in any game than Miller. He has finished in the top 10 in Heisman voting in each of the past two seasons.

While rumors that Miller could potentially change positions in the Ohio State offense have only been further fueled by the success that former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has found as a running back with the Jacksonville Jaguars, it's unlikely that Miller would opt to learn a new spot in college and not the pros.

Despite his injury, Miller has already put enough footage on film to prove that he'd be worth a late-round investment for any NFL team looking to add another potential playmaker to its offense.

But if Miller really is hellbent on returning to Ohio State, one seldom discussed option for the Buckeyes would be to run a two-quarterback system.

That would present questions of its own, given the alpha dog nature of the quarterback position, but Meyer has insisted that such setup could be successful if both signal-callers possess the right attitude.

"It all depends on the makeup of the individual," Meyer said when asked about Wisconsin's quarterback situation on Nov. 11. "If they're egoless and team-first guys, it will be no problem."

Meyer is no stranger to multiquarterback systems, his most famous coming in 2006 when Chris Leak and Tim Tebow helped lead Florida to a BCS National Championship. That might actually provide an intriguing blueprint for the Buckeyes, with Barrett playing the primary quarterback role that Leak did and Miller serving as the situational back with a unique skill set a la Tebow.

Such a setup would be dependent on Miller accepting a secondary role, which would undoubtedly be humbling for a player who has accomplished as much he already has in his college career.

But if the Huber Heights, Ohio, native was willing to move from starting quarterback to situational weapon, the Ohio State offense would be the most versatile in the nation with Barrett, Miller, H-back Jalin Marshall and 4-star prospect Torrance Gibson all capable of both carrying the ball and attempting passes.

Although a two-quarterback system featuring both Barrett and Miller could make one of the best offenses in the country all the more dangerous, Meyer also knows that there's a reason why championship contenders often stick with just one signal-caller.

In 2010, Meyer again opted to use multiple quarterbacks in the same offense, with John Brantley, Jordan Reed and Trey Burton splitting reps for the Gators.

Brantley, Reed and Burton never found the same chemistry that Leak and Tebow did four years prior, with Florida ultimately tallying an 8-5 record in Meyer's final season in Gainesville.

"It's actually very hard," Meyer said of multiquarterback systems. "It's risky. We had some issues with it."

As Meyer alluded to, it all comes down to the mindsets of the players participating in it, and there's no reason to believe that either Barrett or Miller would be averse to splitting reps with one another. In fact, Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said that Miller has still been active in the Buckeyes' quarterback room despite his inability to play this season.

"He's in meetings, he's engaged with our guys when he's not in the training room," Herman said. "He's doing good."

As for a potential two-quarterback system or quarterback controversy, Meyer has recently declined to commit to anything after initially giving Miller his endorsement in late September. But of all the problems for a head coach to have, Meyer insists that this is a good one.

"Competition brings out the best," Meyer said on Nov. 10. "And I'm really excited to have two really good quarterbacks next year, if that's the plan."

According to NFL.com, it is the plan. And that could make the Buckeyes' options—like Miller's—limitless.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Tennessee's Showdown vs. Missouri Has Ramifications Beyond Just Bowl Eligibility

Tennessee is getting ready to play its biggest football game of head coach Butch Jones' two-year tenure, chiefly because of the respectability a victory would bring to the program.

Playing meaningful games this late is something the Volunteers haven't been able to do much in recent years. While winning one out of the final two games and going to a bowl game remains a vital goal to the growth of this program, taking care of both would accomplish much more than many thought could be done this season.

Not only would UT assure itself of that all-important postseason berth (not to mention the 15 additional practices), it would signal a landmark victory that would make the nation stand up and take notice.

Here are three additional reasons beyond the bowl why beating the Tigers would be huge:

 

A Return to the National Picture

The most important residual effect of beating Missouri is that Tennessee will be viewed as a force to be reckoned with in the SEC East for the foreseeable future.

UT has been a powderkeg waiting to explode for years now, but it seems just when everybody is ready to say the Vols are "back," they're knocked back down to reality.

ESPN's College GameDay came to town back in early September of 2012 for the Florida game and devoted much of its program to the fact that if UT could get over the hump against the Gators, Derek Dooley may have his program on the track back.

Then, UF beat the No. 23 Vols 37-20, exposing Sal Sunseri's defense and sending it down what would become yet another 5-7 season that got Dooley fired.

Last year, things looked like they could turn when the Vols broke through with an upset of South Carolina, but they lost four of five down the stretch to fail to become bowl-eligible once again.

Now, Tennessee stands at 5-5 after upsetting South Carolina and blowing out Kentucky. It is actually favored at home in a night game at Neyland Stadium against an 8-2 Mizzou team contending for the top of the SEC East.

With a really strong chance to make a bowl game already, due to closing the season against hapless Vanderbilt, UT needs to set its sights higher. Beating the Tigers will make everybody stand up and take notice that Jones has the program aiming for a higher trajectory this season than most expected.

People already are trumpeting UT's turnaround since Joshua Dobbs took over at quarterback to lead what has become an unstoppable offense in recent weeks.

On the SEC Network's nightly review of Saturday's games, analyst Greg McElroy mentioned Tennessee as being the potential SEC East favorite heading into 2015, a sentiment he reiterated on Twitter.

McElroy's studio colleague Booger McFarland went a step further, calling Dobbs a Heisman Trophy contender next season.

Despite all the positive buzz surrounding the program on a national level (at least, prior to the alarming allegations that permeated the program this week), the facts remain that the defenses of South Carolina and Kentucky are atrocious.

Scoring 95 points against any duo of SEC teams the way the Vols have is impressive, but if they can duplicate a winning effort against a Missouri team that has continually found ways to win—especially on the road where it is 4-0—would make it impossible for anybody to doubt the direction of the program.

 

A Response to Adversity

By now, everybody knows about the allegations surrounding UT's second all-time leading tackler and emotional senior leader A.J. Johnson, as well as sophomore cornerback Michael Williams.

While there are much more important elements in the investigation beyond football purposes, the immediate impact for the Vols on the gridiron is potentially catastrophic.

Johnson rarely leaves the field in any alignment, and he's been a starter since his first day on campus. He aligns the front seven, and he is one of the best tacklers in the history of the SEC.

With safety Brian Randolph (who calls plays for the back four of the UT defense) out for the first half of the Mizzou game following a targeting penalty, the Vols are expected to be without their two defensive leaders for much of a game against an opponent whose offensive success hinges on speed and motion.

"We're gonna need to grow up in a hurry," Jones told GoVols247's Wes Rucker (subscription required).

Volquest.com's John Brice (subscription required) noted that true freshman Jakob Johnson would be the "likely starter" in Johnson's place this weekend.

With two key cogs in the defense almost definitely not playing and another one suspended for a half, UT has major questions. But that's why Jones' vaunted recruiting class last year is important.

If UT goes out and plays an emotional, impressive game on defense without some of its playmakers, it will not only be a major testament to the depth and talent on the roster, but it also could prove this team is mentally tough enough to face adversity and excel despite it.

Jones preaches mental toughness and earning the right to win over and over. It may as well be another game maxim. This is an opportunity for the Vols to prove it in practice.

If they go out and win, that's a huge step forward for a program that hasn't been able to get out of its own way in the past.

 

A Recruiting Tool

As if the nation's fourth-ranked recruiting class on 247Sports needed another reason to get hotter on the recruiting trail, the Vols have a chance to fill their remaining few spots in their class with elite players.

The nation's No. 4 inside linebacker, Darrin Kirkland Jr., is expected to visit Knoxville this weekend, and a good showing from the Vols could put them in an enviable position for the former Michigan commitment.

Also, a couple of vitally important targets have mentioned in the past comments that suggest they need to see some signs of winning from the Vols.

Nashville defensive end Kyle Phillips (who lists UT, LSU, Ole Miss and Alabama among his finalists) has noted how he wants to see progress. He told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required) earlier this year:

I mean, it is important for me to see wins. But, also, I'm realistic. I know that a young team's not going to come in and win a national championship and stuff like that. I know stuff like that just doesn't happen like that. But if I see that they're fitting in the system and they've improved, and they've got a lot of younger guys playing, then it would give me some confidence (in them).

UT is also trying hard to flip Georgia offensive tackle commitment Patrick Allen, who told Volquest.com's Paul Fortenberry (subscription required) that "Tennessee hasn't always been the best but they are finishing strong."

The way Jones has recruited thus far in his time at Tennessee without wins to back up his words has been extremely impressive. Going to a bowl will enhance that pitch, but making the postseason and being able to hang his coonskin cap on beating an 8-2 division rival on the way can only fan the flames.

Tennessee is a surging program with a rising star at quarterback, a stable of young talent playing all over the field, another elite recruiting class lined up to come in 2015 and a bright future.

Beating Mizzou can announce to the college football world that the wait for UT's return to the conversation in the SEC is over.

 

All recruiting information taken from 247Sports composite, unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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Braxton Miller or J.T. Barrett: Who Should Start for Ohio State in 2015?

Injured Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is reportedly planning to return to the Buckeyes next season, according to College Football 24/7's Chase Goodbread.

Bleacher Report college football analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer discuss the potential impact of Miller's return for the Buckeyes.

Who will be Ohio State's starter next season?

Watch the video, and let us know!        

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College Football Playoff Standings: Week 13 Rankings and Bowl Game Projections

Ever so slightly, the playoff field is getting smaller. This week, it's all about which team gets that fourth and final spot. 

For everyone else, it's bowl season. Projections are back, and we're here to give the postseason our best guess. 

Here's how the two major Top 25 polls looked after Week 12. The following slides contain bowl projections heading into Week 13. Click on the links below to view the latest College Football Playoff, Associated Press and USA Today Top 25 polls.

College Football Playoff 

Associated Press

USA Today Amway Coaches Poll

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Michigan Football: Biggest X-Factors for Wolverines vs. Maryland

Despite disappointing losses, numerous controversies and season-ending injuries to key players, a bowl game is still within Michigan’s reach.

It may seem like a small consolation for a team that entered the season hoping to compete for a Big Ten title, but a bowl trip would represent a remarkable turnaround for team that was 2-4 halfway through the season.

The bye week gave head coach Brady Hoke no respite from controversy. It began with university president Mark Schlissel speaking out about perceived academic failings in the football program and ended with the dismissal of defensive end Frank Clark.

In both cases, Hoke took the high road—countering Schlissel’s attack with statistics that documented the football program's graduation record and dismissing Clark outright.

Hoke's future is unclear, but he’s done an admirable job of keeping his team from imploding. He’s working to be bowl-eligible and send his seniors out on with a win in their final home game.

Maryland may be a tough opponent on Saturday, but the game is far more winnable than Michigan’s final season contest with Ohio State.

Hoke needs the following players to have great performances for Michigan to become bowl-eligible.


Defensive End Taco Charlton

The loss of Frank Clark is a critical blow to a Michigan defense (ranked No. 8 nationally) that has been steadily improving throughout the season.

After losing two of its top receivers, Juwann Winfree (suspension) and Stefon Diggs (injury), Maryland will need to pound the ground to open up the passing game for quarterback C.J. Brown. Taco Charlton will need to show that he can contain the run game while harassing Brown when he drops back to pass.

Charlton has played well, but he’ll need to prove he has the conditioning to remain effective and handle the increased reps he’ll get in Clark's absence.


Running Back Drake Johnson

Drake Johnson burst onto the scene with 123 rushing yards versus Indiana only to disappear the next week versus Northwestern. Johnson seems to be more comfortable playing at home, relying on the energy of the home crowd.

Michigan needs Johnson to have a good game running the ball and grinding down the clock.

If the offense can run the ball, quarterback Devin Gardner will have fewer opportunities to throw interceptions. It’s a brutal assessment, but Gardner’s inaccuracy is well-documented and doesn’t seem to be improving. He is a huge liability in the passing game.




Defensive Back Jourdan Lewis

Maryland may be down two top receivers, but quarterback C.J. Brown will need to throw the ball, giving Jourdan Lewis an opportunity for a big game.

According to Matt Zenitz of The Baltimore Sun, injured top receiver Diggs (52 receptions for 654 yards and five touchdowns) may be back versus Michigan.

If not, then Deon Long (38 receptions for 450 yards and one touchdown) will be Brown’s top target.

Brown has thrown nine interceptions this season, and if the Michigan defensive line can pressure him, Lewis can add to that total.

Wide Receiver Dennis Norfleet

Dennis Norfleet is offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s favorite wild card on offense. Seemingly every trick play features Norfleet in a prominent role.

His return after missing the Northwestern game because of injury adds a much-needed wrinkle to the Michigan attack. He will have an opportunity to shine on offense and by returning kicks versus Maryland.

A huge game for Norfleet could clinch a bowl berth for Michigan and let Hoke win in what might be his final game at Michigan Stadium.
 

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand.

Follow @PSCallihan.

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LSU Football: 2015 Recruits Tigers Must Land

LSU needs help. 

Head coach Les Miles has watched his team flounder over the past couple of weeks. The Tigers were shut out with ease by Arkansas after losing a close heartbreaker to Alabama. LSU fans have a right to be concerned for the future. 

Miles will look for some reinforcements on the recruiting trail. The Tigers' 15 commits in the 2015 class has them ranked 15th nationally, which is only good enough for the eighth in the SEC. But there is still plenty of room to grow. 

Predicting what teenagers will do is an inexact science. The Tigers would take a step back if any of their current commits were to renounce their pledge. Miles will be hopeful if they all keep their word and sign with LSU.

But that is out of the control of Miles and his staff. All they can do is recruit prospects that are currently uncommitted or committed to other schools. Here are four players the Tigers could desperately use for a return to the SEC Championship Game.

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NFL Draft Stock for CFB's Top Performers Including Florida DL Dante Fowler

There is a host of NFL talent in college football this year, and they don't all play for top teams.

These are guys with some solid draft prospects and tremendous upside that you should know about. 

Stephen Nelson sits down with Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder and Bleacher Report Lead NFL Draft Analyst Matt Miller to discuss some of CFB's top performers.

Which one of these players can have the biggest impact in the NFL?

Watch the video and let us know!

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The Most Important Ohio State Players for the Rest of the Year

After a 31-24 victory over No. 25 Minnesota last Saturday, Ohio State jumped two spots to No. 6 in the latest playoff rankings. But with the regular season winding down, Urban Meyer will need his best players to step up and push the Buckeyes into the Top Four to make this year's highly anticipated postseason. 

As the top teams jockey for position, the Buckeyes are set to host wavering Indiana and Michigan teams before a potential trip to the Big Ten title game.

Whether they're fueling an explosive offense or helping a surging defense, these four players are crucial to Ohio State's playoff hopes.

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Injuries That Have Had Biggest Impact on 2014 College Football Season

With only three weeks left in the 2014 college football regular season, the chase for the inaugural College Football Playoff has come into sharp focus. Tuesday’s release of the latest College Football Playoff Top 25 sparked more debate among fans who believed their team deserved a higher ranking and set the table for a frantic finish.

If your team is in the top four, or close to it, you’re in a good mood. If not, you’re probably pretty unhappy. While there are many factors that go into a successful season, one of the most important is beyond a coaching staff’s control.

Injuries can make or break a season, depending on if key players can stay healthy for the most important games on the slate. They can change a team’s chances of beating its most talented foes, often pushing younger, less experienced players into the spotlight (often with negative results). Here’s a look at the injuries which have had the biggest impact on this college football season.

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Braxton Miller Reportedly Will Return to Ohio State for 2015 Season

Braxton Miller is reportedly planning to continue his collegiate career at Ohio State next season rather than transfer to another school or enter the NFL draft.

Sources tell NFL reporter Albert Breer (via Chase Goodbread of NFL.com) that Miller is currently expecting to remain with the Buckeyes. There have been increasing questions about his future in recent weeks following the emergence of J.T. Barrett:

As freshman J.T. Barrett continues to lead Ohio State just as capably as Miller, and with a College Football Playoff berth within reach for the Buckeyes, speculation is swelling that Miller is considering a post-graduate transfer. Two sources close to Miller, however, say the quarterback's plan for now is to remain at Ohio State and lead the Buckeyes in 2015, according to NFL Media's Albert Breer.

Miller was ruled out for the entire campaign back in August due to a shoulder injury. Following the injury, Miller spoke on his future, courtesy of OhioStateBuckeyes.com on Aug. 19:

I love Ohio State and Buckeye nation, and my goal is to come back from this injury stronger and better than ever. I am on course to graduate in December and I want to attend graduate school, and then return to lead the Buckeyes next season. In the meantime, I want to give all the support I can to my coaches and teammates as they chase a championship this season.

Barrett, a freshman, got off to a bit for a sluggish start, but has excelled in recent weeks. It creates a murky situation if the senior does return for another year.

Ultimately, it remains to be seen if Miller has made his final decision and if his feeling has changed since August. He's planning to return as of right now, but it's probably not the last report on this subject. The outlook may change, especially if Barrett continues to improve in the remaining portion of this season.

If Miller does stay with the Buckeyes, it will create an interesting dynamic heading toward next season.

 

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2015 Quarterback Recruits with the Strongest Arms

One of the most loaded positions in the 2015 cycle is quarterback, as eight signal-callers are rated among the top 100 prospects nationally. 

Five of those passers come from the state of California—which boasts another three additional quarterbacks who are committed to power-five schools. 

Overall, this is a deep class with a handful of quarterbacks who possess elite arm talent.

Which 2015 passers have the strongest arms?

*Players listed in alphabetical order.

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College Football Playoff Rankings 2014: Week 13 NCAA Championship Predictions

Alabama's victory over Mississippi State was always going to shake up the rankings.  However, by propelling their way up to the No. 1 spot, the Crimson Tide, along with Oregon and Florida State, have separated themselves and set up a clear race for the fourth and final playoff spot.

If those aforementioned three teams win out, they will almost certainly be selected for the inaugural playoff.  However, no other team really enjoys that luxury, which should make for a wide-open and dramatic conclusion to the season.

Week 13 does not bring a clearly titanic matchup like last Saturday, but college football has always proved to be unpredictable.  Looking at the newly released committee playoff rankings, let's make some predictions for what may happen this upcoming weekend.

 

Top Four Remains Constant

The status quo is never particularly intriguing, but it's hard to envision an upset this weekend.  Oregon hosts 2-8 Colorado, Alabama gets a week to recover against FCS foe Western Carolina and Mississippi State will return to lick its wounds against 3-7 Vanderbilt.  

Florida State is the one team that may have even the slightest issues, hosting a 6-4 Boston College squad that upset USC earlier this season, but it is extraordinarily difficult to imagine the Seminoles tripping up at Tallahassee.

Thus, it would be surprising to see any shifts in the current order, barring unexpected difficulties from these teams.  The drama will pick up soon, however, as the Bulldogs and Tide will face their biggest rivals next Saturday.  Ole Miss and Auburn are surely disappointed to fall out of postseason consideration, but both are legitimate top-10 talents who will have the supreme motivation to foil their rivals' postseason hopes.

Oregon and Florida State are likely locked in until their respective conference championship games, which figure to represent their stiffest challenge until the postseason.  The Ducks will likely face one of the Pac-12 South quartet of USC, UCLA, Arizona or Arizona State, but with the higher seed hosting the game, Oregon gets the benefit of a game in Eugene.  

Indeed, with their strong outlook and prior resume, many are surprised that the Tide leaped over the Ducks for the No. 1 ranking:

The Bulldogs are the other intriguing team from the top four, as it is unclear if they will control their own destiny.  While a one-loss SEC team would be difficult to pass up, failing to earn the "conference champion" label, as Ohio State and TCU/Baylor likely will, could reflect poorly in the committee's eyes:

This Saturday serves as the calm before the storm for the top four.  We'll likely see a big mix-up before the end of the regular season, but it would be too bold to pencil in a loss given the quality of competition this weekend.

 

Game of the Week: Oklahoma State at No. 7 Baylor

The one game that may have a chance to significantly shift the playoff implication kicks off in Waco, Texas, where the one-loss Bears will continue making their case as the best Big 12 team.  Baylor will hold its fourth-quarter comeback over TCU as self-evident of that truth, but in reality, the Bears must continue padding their resume in what will be a very close race.

Indeed, advanced metrics like Football Outsiders' Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) actually rank the Horned Frogs as the Big 12's best.  As the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Mac Engel argues, the conference itself has precedent of overriding a head-to-head win between top contenders, as Oklahoma reached the 2008 national title game over Texas despite a loss:

What we have found in any age and any system of college football is that timing, the score and convenience are also great deciders. There is nothing fair about this, and double standards rain.

Baylor’s win against TCU was in early October, meaning by the time the final regular-season rankings are released that victory will be two months old.

Baylor ultimately may jump TCU in the college football rankings, and the move can easily be justified, but to rely on the head-to-head argument guarantees nothing.

This week, the Bears are facing a reeling but talented Oklahoma State squad.  The Cowboys have lost four consecutive games, giving up 38.0 points and 493.8 yards per game during the streak.  The two road games in that month-long malaise, against Kansas State and TCU, resulted in losses by a combined 90-23 score.  

However, the most head-scratching facet has been the offense's sudden demise, as the Cowboys have fallen to seventh in the 10-team Big 12 in points per game:

Nevertheless, the Pokes nearly took down Florida State in the season opener and have not missed a bowl game in eight years under Mike Gundy.  This is undoubtedly a game the Bears should win, but given Oklahoma State's track record, Baylor looks like the one playoff contender that might harbor at least some reservations heading into Saturday.

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Bowl Predictions 2014: Updated Projections for Playoff Games Before Week 13

For as thrilling as the 2014 college football season has been with stunning upsets, marquee matchups and what promises to be a memorable finish on the way to the first ever College Football Playoff, the Week 13 schedule is lackluster at best. 

Playoff contenders Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Mississippi State, Ohio State and Baylor are all at home against overmatched opponents and should rack up some style points.

Of course, if the favorites go into their games with that mindset, we could have a shocking upset or two that turns the postseason race upside down. With that in mind, here is a look at the updated playoff projections heading into Week 13.

 

Playoff Projections

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Baylor

Rose Bowl: No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 3 Oregon

Championship Bowl (in Arlington, Texas): TBD (semifinal winners)

 

Under-the-Radar Week 13 Playoff Game to Watch: Boston College at Florida State

One person who thinks Florida State should be the top-ranked team in the country is Boston College coach Steve Addazio.

He suggested as much in recent comments, according to The Associated Press (h/t USA Today): “How anybody could rationalize it any other way is absolutely mind-blowing to me. These guys find a way to win and they play the best at their most competitive moments. That's usually what great teams do.”

The Seminoles have found a way to win every week, and they should do the same Saturday against Addazio’s squad. From a talent standpoint, this should not be a close game, and that’s not even mentioning the fact that Florida State is at home and playing for much more than Boston College will be Saturday.

However, there has been a disturbing pattern for the Seminoles that could pose a problem against the Eagles.

Florida State has trailed at the half in six of its last 11 games (dating back to the BCS title showdown with Auburn) and has won three games this season in which it trailed by 15 points or more.

The Seminoles even found themselves behind 17-3 against Boston College in the second quarter of last year’s meeting. 

Of course, Florida State found a way to win all of those games, largely because defending Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston was a completely different player in the second halves. Here is a look at how much better he has been after intermission, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info:

The reason this pattern of slow starts may be a concern Saturday if it pops up again is Boston College is built to play with the lead. It is 12th in the nation in rushing yards per game and features a quarterback in Tyler Murphy who has 1,006 rushing yards and is more comfortable moving the chains with his legs than arm.

Running back Jon Hilliman has also been effective and has 620 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.

The Eagles shocked USC earlier in the season with an incredible 452 rushing yards as a team. Murphy ran for 191 all by himself, and Hilliman found the end zone on the ground twice. That is the exact formula the Eagles will stick with Saturday when they try to pull off a second incredible upset in the same season, and they will look to grind out the clock if they find themselves with the lead.

However, the other side of the ball could be a problem for a Boston College defense that ranks 65th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game.

The Eagles like to bring pressure, which will put their cornerbacks in a number of one-on-one situations with Florida State’s athletic receivers on the outside. Again, the talent difference will come into play, as Winston will find a number of his playmakers for big plays to open up a lead.

While the Eagles do have the formula to play with an early lead if they can grab one, Florida State will bank on its talent advantage from the opening kick. Eventually, the Seminoles will stop playing with fire and take the early initiative on the scoreboard, and Saturday will be that day.

Style points matter now more than ever with four playoff spots up for grabs and a number of one-loss contenders hanging around.

The Seminoles will rack up plenty of those points Saturday. 

Prediction: Florida State 48, Boston College 17

 

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College Football Week 13 Schedule: TV and Live Stream Info for Every Game

There aren't as many heavyweight matchups in Week 13 as there have been in previous weeks of the college football season, but the game of the week is one that will impress.

Arizona and Utah will square off in a game with major implications. A loss for Utah likely knocks them out of the Top 25, and a win for the Wildcats would be crucial in inching them closer to the Top 10. With the regular season coming to a close, every game is a must-win for nationally ranked teams.

Most of the big boys have cupcake games this week. Mississippi State, Oregon, Florida State and others in the Top 10 should all make it out unscathed. That makes it even more imperative for Arizona to win.

There's a vast slate of games on the schedule this week. If watching powerhouses beat up on lesser teams doesn't interest you, then there are a bevy of other games to choose from. Continue reading on for the schedule and live stream information for every game in Week 13.

 

2014 College Football Week 13 Schedule

 

Schedule and viewing info courtesy of ESPN.comFor games without national or regional coverage on a major network, check local listings.

 

Live Stream

On the go and want to catch the live stream of your favorite team? Find the game by using the below information. Note that some live streams may require a subscription.

ESPN: WatchESPN

SEC: CBSSports.com

Fox: Fox Sports Go

BTN: BTN2Go.com

Pac-12: Pac-12.com

ABC: ABC Live

CBS: CBSSports.com

 

Game of the Week

No. 14 Arizona at No. 23 Utah

The Arizona Wildcats and the Utah Utes enter this week's matchup coming off similar victories in Week 12.

The Wildcats needed a field goal at the end of the game to take care of Washington, 27-26. The Utes needed two overtimes to defeat Stanford by a field goal, 20-17.

ESPN's Ted Miller tweeted that these two squads are used to playing tight games:

Having just squeaked past inferior competition, these two teams come into Week 13 looking to play far better. It won't be easy against much-improved competition.

Arizona struggled last week in large part because of the struggles in the passing attack. Quarterback Anu Solomon was just 17-for-39 passing with two interceptions, while his wide receivers didn't do him any favors. Samajie Grant led the way with 85 yards on just four catches.

Coach Rich Rodriguez obviously wasn't pleased with the outing, and he let his players know about his displeasure, via Daniel Berk of the Arizona Daily Star:

We had a really stern quarterback-receiver meeting (Sunday), and it wasn’t real enjoyable for them. It wasn’t really enjoyable for them or for me. I told them that my expectations are so much higher for them than anyone else’s. We owe it to each other to be as sound and efficient and clean as far as doing your assignments as best as possible.

The Utes defense is pretty good against the pass, having held each of their past three opponents under 239 yards through the air.

Utah's offense isn't particularly explosive, but they have a good opportunity to put some points on the board in this one. Kyle Gunther of KFAN tweeted about the porous Arizona defense and how it could help Utah:

Offense should be the story of this game. It'll come down to how well each team can execute against tougher competition.

Rodriguez's conference with his players should give them the spark necessary to perform better offensively, and the Wildcats defense should be enough to jump-start the Utes.

The difference-maker will likely be Arizona running back Nick Wilson. If the passing game still isn't working, the Cats are going to pound the ball on the ground. Wilson has nine touchdowns and 867 rush yards on the year, so he's clearly a potent weapon out of the backfield.

Establishing the run early will help Solomon through the air later on in the game, so Wilson will surely dictate the overall success of his offense.

Every game is a must-win for Arizona because of how tight the Pac-12 is. We're in store for an emotional contest. Arizona and Utah should make headlines Saturday afternoon.

Tune into ESPN at 3:30 p.m. ET to catch the action.

 

Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @kennydejohn

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: 6 Most Important Players for Rest of the Year

Sitting at 8-2, the No. 9 UCLA Bruins have a lot to play for with two games remaining on the schedule. 

There's a very real chance Jim Mora's squad could sneak into the mix as a playoff team. In order for this scenario to potentially unfold, the Bruins must win their two remaining contests—in addition to the Pac-12 Championship Game against Oregon. 

There are a group of players on the roster in particular which will aid in UCLA running the table. Two of the players are considered team leaders.

One is perhaps the most dynamic offensive weapon on the team, and three others are significantly important when it comes to getting after the opposing signal-caller.

The following six players are very important when speaking about UCLA's prospects for the rest of the year.

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UCLA Football: 6 Most Important Players for Rest of the Year

Sitting at 8-2, the No. 9 UCLA Bruins have a lot to play for with two games remaining on the schedule. There's a very real chance Jim Mora's squad could sneak into the mix as a playoff team...

Begin Slideshow

Texas Football: The Most Important Longhorns Players for the Rest of the Year

Bowl-eligible coming off an impressive 28-7 win at Oklahoma State, the Texas Longhorns can now focus on upsetting No. 5 TCU and then winning said postseason game.

So maybe that's a little easier said than done, but it's possible if head coach Charlie Strong's most important players can step up and close the season as one of the hottest teams in the country.

That means the Horns need big showings from their quarterback, resurgent running back and—most importantly—the guys who have shown up for them all season.

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2015 NFL Draft: NFL Comparisons for Some of Draft's Top Talent

NFL draft season is creeping closer, and a picture of the top prospects in the class is starting to come into focus. 

As fans start to envision this year's crop in their favorite teams' uniforms, the easiest way to analyze their fit is by picturing their closest NFL comparison. 

While no comparison is perfect due to the complex nature of scouting prospects, here are a few close NFL comparisons for some of the top draft-eligible prospects based on each of their strengths and weaknesses.

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If Florida State Isn't a Playoff Fraud, Now's the Time to Prove It

Florida State’s football reputation is on trial, and since the gridiron isn’t a courtroom the Seminoles will have to endure being considered guilty of fraud until proven otherwise.

That means they really need to beat Boston College by about 60 points on Saturday.

Such is life for a team that dominates the ACC but flatlines with the 12 members of the College Football Playoff committee, ranking only third again this week despite an undefeated record.

The Seminoles are learning the hard way that evaluating today’s teams extends way beyond counting wins and losses. At a time when style points are being tallied and discussed like never before, FSU has spent 2014 looking like someone in danger of drowning in his or her own bathtub.

CFP committee chairman Jeff Long made it clear that it’s not enough to win on the scoreboard. A team also must look good doing it.

"We look at the games, how they've played them, whether they've controlled the game," Long said, via AL.com's Mike Herndon, referencing FSU’s repeated early deficits against so-so opponents. "They've had a number of come-from-behind victories."

That makes me a little itchy. It hints that selecting four teams for the playoff is drifting into the world of beauty pageants. Or worse, figure skating, where soft landings, mood-enhancing music and flashy sequined costumes all figure into the judges’ computations.

But the committee’s collection of hypercritical eyes also speaks to just how valuable the four playoff spots are. This isn’t the NCAA basketball tournament, where sixth-place teams can grab a spot in the field and no-name universities get gifted with a play-in game. 

Per Jeff Sagarin (via USA Today), Florida State’s strength of schedule ranks only 51st, and there’s no chance of it spiking with only a pair of unranked teams left on the regular-season slate, Boston College and Florida.

To be fair, playoff contender Baylor is further back at 55th, and Ohio State is starting to stir up talk of edging into the final four despite a schedule that ranks 47th.

But Florida State’s performances scream vulnerability. Saturday’s win over Miami was the fifth one this season that saw the Seminoles trail at halftime. 

Also, maybe FSU has stirred up residual doubts by having a history of not living up to its early-season ratings. According to the The Wall Street Journal, no other college team has been overrated so often as the Seminoles have been this century.

If FSU is looking for a scapegoat for its plight, Notre Dame is the best candidate.

The Fighting Irish were undefeated when they took FSU down to the wire on Oct. 18 in what seemed like the game of the season at the time. But that 31-27 victory, which easily could have flipped if not for a late pass-interference call, now looks aggravatingly ho-hum in the wake of Notre Dame nosediving to 7-3 after an overtime loss to Northwestern.

That means the only FSU games that yielded “quality wins” came against two teams that barely wedged their way into the CFP rankings: No. 22 Clemson and No. 24 Louisville. And FSU should be glad that the AP poll’s voters don’t get a say in the playoff, because neither Clemson nor Louisville made that Top 25 this week. 

But there’s a second Notre Dame factor at work for those who would love to see Florida State shunned from college football’s first four-team playoff for the national championship. 

It doesn’t take an elephantine memory to recall what a lousy participant Notre Dame was in the 2012 season’s BCS Championship Game, trailing 28-0 at halftime and falling further behind at 35-0 before losing 42-14 to Alabama.

That’s the team FSU resembles right now. 

The Irish had three wins against teams that finished in the final AP poll’s Top 25: No. 7 Stanford in overtime, No. 15 Oklahoma and No. 24 Michigan by the scant margin of 13-6.

Florida State is 10-0 and has won 26 consecutive games, but things get blurry when the eye test is administered.

Riding the arm of reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, the Seminoles rank a very respectable 11th for passing yards. But the ground game has been absent since the school year started, ranking only 105th.

For scoring, they’re 17th, and the defense is 34th for points allowed. Those are nice numbers if you’re trying to impress the selection committee of a tier-three bowl game, but they definitely don’t scream final four.

Florida State has some ready-made alibis for why it has had to scramble its way to victories that should be walkovers for a team that’s truly playoff-worthy.

Last Saturday’s 30-26 survival against Miami was an in-state rivalry game, where emotions often narrow the final margin.

As the defending national champion, FSU also has a figurative target on its collective back. The added incentive for opponents is ending that 26-game winning streak and earning a distinction that can never be taken away.

But the committee obviously couldn't care less about the tough road that teams will take to what may be the most prestigious national championship ever won in college football. The schedule SEC West teams play ends that discussion in a hurry.

So if Florida State is unhappy with its No. 3 spot in the playoff rankings the best way to show it is by looking like a champion on Saturday—a take-no-prisoners champion who controls the game from the outset and starts making up for all those other unimpressive performances.

 

Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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