NCAA Football

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.

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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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Ultimate Chaos Theories for Every Top 25 College Football Team

As the 2015 college football season marches toward the College Football Playoff, the one thing we know is that we’re really not sure about anything.

Five unbeaten teams remain as we enter Week 12 (Clemson, Houston, Iowa, Ohio State and Oklahoma State), and each week has been unpredictable. One week after a number of unbeatens bit the dust, Week 11 was crazy, too, with four Top 10 teams falling.

With three weeks remaining before the second College Football Playoff field is announced, lots can still happen. Lots of chaos can happen.

One year ago, only one team (Florida State) reached the playoff unbeaten, and we’re trending toward a similar stat this season. Expect the unexpected before playoff teams are announced on Dec. 6.

Here’s a look at the ultimate chaos theories for this week’s College Football Playoff Top 25. This is not a prediction of what will happen but rather a look at the most chaotic moments that could unfold for each team to ultimately achieve its best possible result.

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Les Miles: Latest News, Rumors, Speculation on Coach's Future with LSU

Longtime LSU head coach Les Miles is reportedly on the hot seat heading into the Tigers' final two games of the regular season after losses to Alabama and Arkansas.

Continue for updates.

Miles Comments on Job Security Wednesday, Nov. 18

Miles answered questions concerning his job security, per Ross Dellenger of the Advocate:

I’ve kind of always played beyond a … when you finish second, I’ve always played the same style of football. To get back on track is a sincere feeling in this program. When you go two games, it’s painful. I don’t know (that there’s) any additional pressure (than) in my second game when we finished second to Tennessee and went on to have a great season.

I think it’s imperative that the Tigers get back on track. I don’t think there could be anymore, additional motivation that I have.

'Serious Threat' to Miles' Job Status After Recent Defeats Wednesday, Nov. 18

Scott Rabalais of the Advocate‎ reported there are "strong indications" Miles will be coaching for his job against the Ole Miss Rebels and Texas A&M Aggies over the next two weeks. He noted that the coach's offensive philosophy, which has left the team throwing the lowest percentage of passes in the SEC, is a "big issue."

Miles Under Pressure Despite Strong Start to Season

It's amazing how quickly things can change in the world of college football. At the start of November, the Tigers were among the top contenders for a coveted College Football Playoff spot at 7-0, and now, less than a month later, it's possible the head coach could be on the way out unless the team finishes strong.

Miles took over the LSU program ahead of the 2005 season. He's led the Tigers to a bowl game in every season and never finished with a record worse than 8-5. His overall record at the school is 110-31 (.780), which most teams would accept in a heartbeat.

There are consistent championship expectations at LSU, though. So the fact he's led the team to just two championship game appearances and one title is starting to work against him after the fans watched another opportunity slip away in recent weeks.

If nothing else, Miles' apparently shaky job status adds some extra drama and importance to the last two games of the regular season for LSU. Facing Ole Miss on the road is a tough challenge, and Texas A&M is no pushover, either.

It puts a lot of pressure on the coaching staff to showcase improvement before it's too late.


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Michigan Football: The 5 Most Important Recruits for the Wolverines' 2016 Season

Head coach Jim Harbaugh is working with more than an empty cupboard at Michigan this season, but the 2016 recruiting class holds key players for the Wolverines' future.

Some top prospects are already committed to play in Ann Arbor, while the coaching staff is still trying to gain a verbal pledge from others. Either way, nothing is official until pen meets paper on national signing day.

The key elements in deciding which recruits are the most important include the prospect's ranking and position combined with the need on Michigan's roster.

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Bleacher Report's Week 12 College Football Playoff Predictions

Will your team make the College Football Playoff?

Unlike most media sites, Bleacher Report doesn't give you a yes-or-no answer. Instead, we use the playoff committee's rankings and analytics to assign your team a probability of making the playoff.

This sortable table shows the results, while you can find more information on the simulation methods here.

Let's look at the biggest stories after Week 11.


Losses Don't Doom Baylor or Stanford

Stanford suffered a crushing home 38-36 defeat to Oregon last Saturday, as quarterback Kevin Hogan lost two fumbles in the second half. Combined with a Utah loss at Arizona, conventional wisdom was that the Pac-12's playoff chances were all but gone.

Meanwhile, Baylor lost to Oklahoma in its first game against serious competition. The committee looked poised to bury the Bears in the early teens—giving them little chance to rise back to the top four—just as it had done with TCU after the Horned Frogs fell to Oklahoma State two weeks ago.

Nope. Despite losses, Stanford (No. 11) and Baylor (No. 10) remain within striking distance of a playoff spot. The committee showed how it acts differently than the polls, as these two teams dropped fewer places than in the Associated Press poll.

With its No. 11 ranking, Stanford has a 24 percent chance to make the playoff. But the Cardinal still have Notre Dame and presumably the Pac-12 Championship Game on their schedule.

Sitting at No. 10, Baylor has a 20 percent chance to make the playoff. The Bears still have opportunities to impress the committee with Oklahoma State and TCU on their schedule—they head to Stillwater this weekend to face the former.


Ohio State Catching Michigan State at Opportune Time

Despite some early-season struggles, Ohio State has hit its stride over the last five games. During that span, no opponent has come within fewer than two touchdowns of knocking off the Buckeyes. These large margins of victory keep the team third in the committee rankings.

Ohio State gets a chance to make another statement this weekend against Michigan State. In addition, Ohio State caught a break, as Spartans QB Connor Cook hurt his throwing shoulder last week and might not be 100 percent.

It goes without saying, but Cook is critical to Michigan State's success. The Spartans can't run the ball and struggle to cover receivers, and while they have a talented defensive line, it doesn't show up every game. Michigan State has needed Cook to make plays to earn victories this season.

Consider the Michigan game, for instance. Cook continually made pinpoint passes that gave his receivers the best chance to come down with the ball. It was difficult against a good Michigan secondary, but Cook made enough throws to give Michigan State the chance to win on the last play.

In the same way, Cook will find it difficult to throw against Ohio State, a team that allows only 4.55 yards per pass attempt, sixth in the nation (numbers include sacks). But the passing game is Michigan State's best way of moving the ball, as it has gained 4.27 yards per carry (111th in the nation, not including sacks).

By our numbers, Ohio State has a 79 percent chance to beat the Spartans on Saturday. However, that win probability is too low if Cook isn't close to 100 percent by game time. His unfortunate injury helps the Buckeyes' chances to continue their playoff run tremendously.


Oklahoma State Can Open Eyes Against Baylor

Oklahoma State made a late surge to beat lowly Iowa State last weekend, 35-31. The win moved the undefeated Cowboys up to sixth in the committee rankings. However, the road to the playoff gets much tougher, as Baylor comes to Stillwater this weekend.

Oklahoma State should be able to throw the ball against Baylor; Mason Rudolph leads the 13th-best pass offense in yards per play, adjusted for schedule. In addition, the Cowboys bring in J.W. Walsh as a change-of-pace, dual-threat QB.

However, Oklahoma State's defense will find it tough to stop Baylor. Even with freshman Jarrett Stidham at the helm, the Bears have the most efficient pass offense in the country, and Baylor hasn't seen much regression with Stidham over the last two games.

In typical Big 12 fashion, the game will likely be a shootout. The markets predicted a total of 78 points in this game. Baylor has the better offense, though, which implies only a 36 percent win probability for Oklahoma State, even at home.


Ed Feng has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Stanford and runs sports analytics site The Power Rank. You can find him on Twitter, @thepowerrank.

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Notre Dame Football: The 5 Most Important Recruits for the Irish's 2016 Season

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The Notre Dame football recruiting engine continues to rev, as the Irish added an 18th commitment to their class of 2016 on Monday.

Running back Deon McIntosh became the latest high school senior to pledge to the Irish for the 2016 season. Notre Dame’s class is slotted as the 13th-best in the nation at 247Sports.

Of those verbal commits and Notre Dame’s remaining targets, who are the five (OK, maybe six) most important recruits for the Irish heading into the 2016 season? We’ll consider the prospects’ overall rankings, plus their potential to make an impact in 2016.

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Bowl Predictions 2015: Projections for College Football Playoff Teams

The College Football Playoff committee released its third rankings of the season on Tuesday night and there were no changes to the top five teams. 

But with plenty of difficult matchups remaining, there are sure to be some upsets that will send shockwaves through the college football world.

Below are the current CFP committee rankings, followed by a projection of which teams will be left standing at season's end and a breakdown of what those four teams need to do to reach the playoffs. 


Projected Final CFP Rankings 

1. Clemson

The Tigers already survived their toughest tests of the season by beating Notre Dame and Florida State. 

Clemson will be heavily favored in its final two regular-season games against Wake Forest and South Carolina, which likely leaves North Carolina as the only remaining challenge between the Tigers and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. 

If Clemson falters down the stretch, it will likely be due to the mounting injuries. 

According to Dan Hope of, a number of key players injured on Saturday are still questionable for Week 12:

#Clemson CB Mackensie Alexander, RB Wayne Gallman, RG Tyrone Crowder all listed as questionable for this week. WR Ray-Ray McCloud still out.

— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) November 17, 2015

The most critical name on that list is starting running back Wayne Gallman. 

Gallman was crucial to the Tigers' success against Notre Dame and Florida State, rushing for over 100 yards in each game. 

If Gallman returns in time for the ACC title game, the Tigers should be considered heavy favorites to run the table and enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed. But if Gallman is out, the Tar Heels may have a shot to pull the upset. 


2. Ohio State

Ohio State enters Week 12 at No. 3 in the rankings, but with three quality opponents potentially remaining on the schedule, the Buckeyes will almost certainly jump one-loss Alabama if they run the table.  

Urban Meyer's crew hosts Michigan State on Saturday, and while both teams are known for their defenses, this matchup was a shootout in 2014 when Ohio State pulled off the 49-37 win. 

Michigan State simply couldn't contain Ohio State last season, as J.T. Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott combined to account for 540 yards of offense. 

If the Buckeyes duo can generate anything close to that type of output again, Ohio State should cruise to victory.

Anything could happen in the regular-season finale against Michigan, as this rivalry has seen its share of upsets. But the Buckeyes will certainly be favorites given the recent domination in the series. Dating back to the start of the Jim Tressel era in 2001, Ohio State is 12-2 against its rival up North.

Ohio State will then be met by the Big Ten West division champ, which may actually be the easiest remaining game on the Buckeyes' schedule. Undefeated Iowa is on track to advance to meet the Buckeyes in Indianapolis but will be significant underdogs in the game. 


3. Alabama

Despite the early-season loss to Ole Miss, Alabama will represent the SEC in the playoffs if it runs the table. 

Jeff Long: There was some talk about moving Alabama to No. 1, but the final vote was clear for Clemson.

— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) November 18, 2015

The only question will be where a one-loss Alabama team falls in the rankings. 

The Tide are currently ranked second due to their strength of schedule, but that advantage will diminish greatly as the Big Ten and Big 12 close out the season with a number of high-profile matchups. 

Given the respect the committee clearly has for the SEC, and fact that Alabama has a Top 25 nonconference victory over Wisconsin, the Crimson Tide will likely be the highest-ranked one-loss team in the final rankings. 


4. Notre Dame

Among the current top four, Notre Dame is the only school that may not control its own destiny.

If either Oklahoma State or Oklahoma runs the table, the Big 12 champion could slide into this spot. However, both teams have difficult matchups in the final two weeks, including a head-to-head matchup on November 28. 

Notre Dame fans should be pulling hard for Baylor (against Oklahoma State) and TCU (against Oklahoma) this weekend. 

Jeff Long said committee discussed 5-through-7 the most, which indicates Notre Dame still entrenched at No. 4.

— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) November 18, 2015

If both Oklahoma schools go down on Saturday, the Irish would likely control their own destiny given their strength of schedule to this point and another quality opponent remaining in the season finale against Stanford. 

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College Football Rankings 2015: Playoff Standings and Predictions for Week 12

Week 11 was the calm before the proverbial storm in college football. A new batch of playoff rankings were released, but the Top Four remained the same. 

For now, Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame can rest assured the committee still likes what they've done on the field. They can't afford to fall asleep at the wheel, though.

At this point, one bad week could lead to a tumble down the rankings. Even a win that isn't deemed impressive by the committee can lead to losing some ground in the race. TCU found that out the hard way this week. The Frogs dropped three spots from last week after narrowly defeating Kansas.

Here's a look at the most recent Top 25 as the playoff committee sees it.  

The current hierarchy is only a snapshot of how the committee views these teams at this point in time. If we've learned anything so far, it's that tectonic shifts can happen as the season comes to its conclusion. Here's a look at the games that could have a drastic effect on the field. 


Notre Dame vs. Boston College

On the surface, this seems like an odd place to start a list of important games in Week 12. 

Based on records and the eye test, this should be an easy win for Notre Dame. But if the Irish think they can start looking ahead to Stanford while keeping their spot at No. 4, this is a game that's more dangerous than its first impression indicates. 

Consider the following:

  • Boston College's defense is one of the best in college football by just about every metric. Football Outsiders' S&P rankings have them at No. 2, their FEI is at No. 5 and they're No. 1 in yards allowed per game, per CFBStats.
  • This game is being played at Fenway in Boston, which is essentially a home game for the Eagles, with the added weird factor of playing at a baseball field. 
  • Notre Dame has No. 11 Stanford next week, which creates a bit of a look-ahead risk in this game. 

This doesn't necessarily mean that the Irish are doomed. There's a reason that they are ranked No. 4. They have plenty of weapons on offense to challenge the Eagles defense in the way most offenses cannot.

Head coach Brian Kelly acknowledged the balance that BC has on defense, noting that there aren't many players you can target.

“It’s really a defensive unit philosophy that you’re working at more than anything else,” he said, according to an Associated Press report via the Indianapolis Star. “So it’s not one particular guy. So you’re really looking at how they’re coached and how they’re defending down-and-distance and formationally.” 

However, it's worth noting that it wouldn't be surprising to see this game get ugly. Boston College's offense is abysmal at just 17.3 points per game, but they do have the ability to make this a slugfest.  

The Irish probably aren't on full-blown upset alert, but it isn't a stretch to think they might have issues getting separation from a 1-7 team on Saturday. With some of the teams sitting behind them looking to make big statements, this game is sneakily important for Brian Kelly. 

Prediction: Notre Dame 20, Boston College 14


The Big 12 Doubleheader: TCU vs. Oklahoma; Oklahoma State vs. Baylor

When the Big 12 put together its schedule, it clearly wanted the conference to be on center stage the last two weeks of the season. 

Mission accomplished. 

The four teams involved in these two games have three losses among them, and only one team really feels like it has been eliminated by the committee. TCU would have to win convincingly the next two weeks to move from 18 to the Top Four. 

However, one of these teams is going to have a strong case for inclusion in the playoff. On Saturday, we'll have a better idea of who that team is. 

Oklahoma State has the inside track. The Cowboys are ranked the highest at No. 6. They're also the only team that hasn't lost. With Baylor and Oklahoma remaining on the schedule, they also have the best opportunity to impress the committee over these last two games. 

Oklahoma might be the best team, though. As Joe Schad of ESPN notes, the Sooners are better than the Cowboys in various metrics:

Vegas seems to think that Oklahoma is the Big 12's best bet to make the playoff as well. RJ Bell of ESPN Radio projected Bob Stoops' squad as favorites over each of the three teams ahead of them right now:

Baylor is the forgotten contender here. Art Briles' squad is actually ranked seven spots ahead of Oklahoma State in terms of Football Outsiders' F/+ rankings. The game is a pick'em according to Odds Shark

If the Bears can win with any style points, they would be right back in the conversation and would once again become a difficult team for the committee to rank. 

Prediction: Oklahoma 42, TCU 28

Baylor 34, Oklahoma State 31


Ohio State vs. Michigan State

Ohio State has benefited from the name on their jerseys and the CFP National Championship banner it hung last season. The committee has been slow to give credit to teams that haven't played fellow elite teams, but the Buckeyes are sitting at No. 3 without a game against a team currently ranked in the Top 25. 

Clay Travis of Fox Sports 1 noted that fellow undefeated teams such as Iowa and Oklahoma State could argue strength of schedule with the Buckeyes. 

However, the defending champions will have something to hang their hats on by the end of Saturday. The No. 9 Spartans will roll into Columbus and give them an opportunity to pick up an emphatic win over a top-10 opponent. 

According to Odds Shark, Ohio State is expected to pass its first test of the season with flying colors. It is a 13-point favorite just two weeks removed from the Spartans losing to Nebraska. 

Because Urban Meyer's team did an outstanding job of improving on a weekly basis last season, it will continue to get the benefit of the doubt until that is no longer the case. With Michigan State losing some of its shine in recent weeks, the Buckeyes should make a statement here. 

Prediction: Ohio State 38, Michigan State 24

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Georgia Southern Eagles vs. Georgia Bulldogs Complete Game Preview

The Georgia Bulldogs have completed SEC play with a 5-3 record, and they will now have a two-week stretch when they face in-state opponents. On Saturday night, the Bulldogs will face Georgia Southern in the final game at Sanford Stadium this season.

Georgia Southern comes into the game with a 7-2 overall record and a 5-1 record in Sun Belt Conference play. They are also the defending conference champions.

The Bulldogs, however, come into the game with some momentum. After losing to Florida almost three weeks ago, they rolled past Kentucky and beat Auburn with defense and special teams. So Georgia will look to keep the momentum going against a very good Georgia Southern team.

But as good as the Eagles are, the Bulldogs should be able to come away with a win if they continue to play like they have the last two weeks.


Date: Nov. 22, 2015

Time: 7 p.m.

Place: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga.


Radio: Georgia Bulldog Sports Network, Eagle Sports Network, Sirius/XM 112/202

Odds: Georgia is a 14.5 favorite according to Odds Shark.


When Georgia Southern Has the Ball

Georgia Southern runs an option offense, but they run it better than any team in the country. The Eagles lead the country in rushing yards per game (378.89), rushing touchdowns (39) and yards per carry (6.73).

And because the Eagles run the ball better than any team in Division I, they rarely throw the ball, as they have attempted to pass 96 times and they average 64 passing yards per game.

The offense is led by running backs Matt Breida and L.A. Ramsby as well as quarterback Kevin Ellison. All three players have rushed for at least 560 yards and six touchdowns this season. Running back Wesley Fields has also been a key contributor, rushing for 557 yards and six touchdowns.

The Eagles are facing a Georgia defense that has given up 139.6 rushing yards per game. And despite winning against Auburn last week, the Bulldogs allowed 213 yards on the ground.

Overall, the defense has been solid for the Bulldogs, ranking fourth in the SEC in total defense and fifth in the SEC in scoring defense. Jake Ganus has emerged as the leader on defense, as he is 14th in the conference with 74 tackles. And Jordan Jenkins is putting together another strong season with 9.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.


When Georgia Has the Ball

I think it’s safe to say the Georgia offense is not going to scare anyone based on that they have done the last month. They have not reached the 30-point mark during that span, and last week, the Bulldogs scored only one offensive touchdown in the win against Auburn.

Greyson Lambert completed 12 of his 17 passes last week, but he threw for only 97 yards. If the Bulldogs are going to light up the scoreboard, the run game will have to be on fire. The Bulldogs are fourth in the SEC in rushing offense, and Sony Michel has done a solid job taking the place of Nick Chubb as he has rushed for 795 yards and five touchdowns.

The Bulldogs are facing an Eagles defense that is second in the Sun Belt in scoring, rushing and total defense. They are led by Antwione Williams, who is sixth in the conference with 73 tackles. Bernard Dawson leads the team with three sacks, and Antonio Glover has been a monster in the secondary, as he’s third in the country with six interceptions.


Player to Watch for Georgia Southern: Matt Breida

As it was mentioned earlier, there are a number of players who have helped the Eagles become the No. 1 rushing attack in FBS. But if there is one player the Bulldogs need to watch for, it would have to be Breida.

Not only is the junior running back second in the Sun Belt in rushing, he also ranks eighth in the country with 1,242 yards. He knows how to get into the end zone too, as he ranks 10th in the country with 14 touchdowns.

@SportsSturm If you had RBs like Matt Breida doing this kind of thing, you'd never pass either:

— Adam McC (@TwoBitWhackJob) November 13, 2015

So why isn’t Breida getting a whole lot of national attention? Because he plays in a non-Power Five conference and Georgia Southern is not nationally ranked. Also, most of his damage has come against Sun Belt Conference opponents. Regardless, Breida will get his yards on Saturday. If he has a career day against the Bulldogs, the boys in red and black will be in deep trouble.


Player to Watch for Georgia: Isaiah McKenzie

If there was one player who was key in Georgia’s victory over Auburn last week, it would have to be Isaiah McKenzie. 

The sophomore receiver scored the Bulldogs' only offensive touchdown late in the third quarter, and he gave the Bulldogs the lead in the fourth quarter as he returned a 53-yard punt for a touchdown.

Isaiah McKenzie gives #UGA the late lead with a 55 yard punt return for a TD!

— Georgia Bulldogs (@UGAonScout) November 14, 2015

That play was noticed by the higher-ups in the conference, and McKenzie was named the SEC Special Teams Player of the Week.

McKenzie has been the team’s biggest weapon the last two seasons, recording four punt returns for touchdowns, which ties a school record, according to Chip Towers of He also has one kick return for a touchdown, which gives him five overall special teams’ touchdowns.

If the Eagles want to win on Saturday, one of the things they have to do is keep McKenzie in check.


Final Prediction: Georgia 35, Georgia Southern 17

The Bulldogs likely won’t blow past the Eagles because they have been inconsistent the last month and the Eagles are good enough to keep it close. However, the Bulldogs are more talented and have more depth at key positions.

The one thing Georgia Southern has to do is run the football like they have all season long. If Breida gets going, the Bulldogs will have a tough time pulling away from the Eagles.

However, the Bulldogs should be able to do enough on defense to limit Georgia Southern, and McKenzie should have a couple of big punt returns. That should help the offense score points, because they will work from a short field, and they should get north of 30 points for the first time in over a month.

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College Football Week 12 Schedule: Top 25 Teams' TV Schedule, Live Stream Info

The College Football Playoff committee could be facing some excruciatingly tough decisions if the remaining weeks don't weed out some of the contenders. It's still a crowded race heading into Week 12, which leaves basically no margin for error down the stretch.

Although the competitive nature of the playoff race will likely leave a couple of programs with strong resumes on the outside looking in, it does make the final stage of the regular season more intriguing. A few upsets could change the complexion of the entire outlook.

With that in mind, let's check out the Top 25 schedule for Week 12, including viewing information for each contest. That's followed by an early look at the most important matchups.


Top 25 Schedule


Biggest Games

Michigan State at Ohio State

The reigning champion Buckeyes have benefited from a favorable schedule so far. A season-opening victory over Virginia Tech is the most notable result. But finishing the regular season with the Spartans and then Michigan should finally provide a serious test.

Michigan State has already scored victories over Oregon and the Wolverines thanks to a well-balanced offensive attack and the nation's third-best turnover margin. In turn, Ohio State star Joey Bosa knows the real tests start now, as noted by Matt Charboneau of the Detroit News.

"This is definitely the biggest game of the year so far," Bosa said. "We try and treat every game like that but we're facing a really good team. They're good every year and as always, the next two games are huge and they are every year, so we treat it just like that."

It's a challenge that's going to force the Buckeyes to play much better than they did in victories over Minnesota and Illinois. The offense in particular was extremely sluggish at times, forcing the defense to step up until those issues got sorted out. J.T. Barrett and Co. can't afford another slow start this week.

Ohio State holds a one-game edge over both Michigan State and Michigan in the Big Ten East, so the importance of the next two weeks really can't be overstated. And it's just as important for the Spartans if they want to at least force themselves back into the playoff conversation.


Baylor at Oklahoma State

Some of the most dramatic moments over the next few weeks will surely come from the top-heavy Big 12. The Bears and Cowboys are joined by TCU and Oklahoma in a four-way battle for the top spot, which is bolstered by a back-loaded schedule to create several key matchups.

This game is particularly important for the Bears, which are coming off a loss to Oklahoma. They have been viewed as a top playoff contender all season, and two straight losses would bring a swift end to their national title hopes. Max Olson of highlighted the various scenarios:

The problem for Baylor is inconsistency on defense. The unit's inability to get key stops puts undue pressure on the offense, and last week, the Jarrett Stidham-led group just couldn't keep pace with the Sooners. The Cowboys have similar explosiveness on offense.

Oklahoma State has gone through the season pretty much the opposite of Baylor. It flew under the radar for quite a while but has now emerged as a serious playoff threat. The Cowboys can further solidify that status with a statement win Saturday.


TCU at Oklahoma

Oklahoma started a treacherous three-game stretch with an impressive road triumph over Baylor last week. The most difficult part of any challenge like the one the Sooners are going through is getting over the emotional high of a big win to compete at a high level again the next week.

The challenge the Horned Frogs represent could change based on injuries. Both quarterback Trevone Boykin and top receiver Josh Doctson are battling ailments this week. Oklahoma noted head coach Bob Stoops is still getting his team ready to face one of the nation's most dangerous QBs:

Of course, the playoff committee may not look as favorably on a win if TCU doesn't have either of its two playmakers. It showcases the numerous different elements in play at this stage of the season when so many teams are fighting for limited space.

That said, if Oklahoma can replicate its offensive showing from last week with Baker Mayfield playing like a serious Heisman candidate, it may not matter who's on the field for the Horned Frogs. That combined with a defense that did well to limit the big play is a potent combo for the Sooners.


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Ranking the Best SEC Matchups of Week 12

Well, we knew it was coming, didn't we? The SEC football schedule was bound to lighten up at some point, and the season's penultimate week is normally a time for league teams to wind up a difficult slate with a cupcake for dessert before the season-finale rivalry game.

Still, even though there are some real clunkers this week, there are also still four or five solid games on the schedule.

The top four contests will be played between two league participants, while Georgia is facing a more-difficult-than-originally-anticipated in-state opponent in Georgia Southern. Nobody expects UGA to lose, but the Bulldogs need to be on upset alert. 

Elsewhere, two pivotal SEC West battles will be waged in Oxford and Fayetteville. Tennessee also travels to Missouri to try to end a three-year drought against the Tigers, while they'll be fired up for coach Gary Pinkel's final game at Faurot Field.

It may not be the best week of games, but there are always surprises. And there are still enough intriguing games to keep us all occupied. So, let's take a look at the top SEC games of the week.

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Tennessee Football: 5 Most Important Recruits for the Volunteers' 2016 Season

After two jam-packed recruiting classes the past two seasons, the Tennessee Volunteers likely won't take the full allotment of 25 players in this year's haul.

But that doesn't mean the 2016 class of players is any less important.

Butch Jones' third full class won't be as highly touted as his first two, but UT desperately needs it to have its fair share of instant-impact players. When you've had to rebuild a program essentially from scratch, many areas are still devoid of depth, even this far into a coaching tenure.

This year's injury-riddled Vols team is proof of that. 

So far, Tennessee's 2016 class is ranked in the top 20 nationally at 17th, according to 247Sports, but that's good for just seventh in a loaded SEC where recruiting is competitive year-round. The Vols have 17 committed players, and, as always, that's fluid.

Though the Vols don't have many guys on the board they're clear-cut leaders for at the moment, a lot can change between now and national signing day. If UT finishes the year 8-4 and then wins its bowl, Jones could find himself with the power of proof on the recruiting trail.

But with several areas of need in Knoxville, who are some of the players in this year's class who could provide big-time help for the Vols right away? Let's take a look at a handful of current commits and a couple of guys who are high on the Tennessee board who would be major additions to the 2016 team.

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Notre Dame's Iconic Brand Has Playoff Committee Between a Rock and a Hard Place

The selection committee finds itself in a most precarious position—one that transcends selecting the top four teams in college football. If push comes to shove and all things are generally equal, would a College Football Playoff so deeply concerned about eyeballs and interest really tell Notre Dame, the sport's most polarizing brand, to try again next year?

Stay tuned. (Well, maybe.) 

In the latest College Football Playoff rankings, the top four didn't budge: Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame made up the "current" playoff as teams below them bounced around like pinballs.

The Irish, with a win over Wake Forest, withstood pushes from Iowa and the Big 12 once more. Those pushes will likely grow stronger in the coming weeks, although Notre Dame is not without its own opportunity. After playing Boston College in Fenway Park this weekend, Brian Kelly's team will head out to Stanford to deliver its final selection-committee impression. 

One of the teams it's most directly competing with, Oklahoma, will have multiple opportunities to impress. After beating then-No. 6 Baylor on Saturday, the Sooners could add wins over No. 18 TCU and No. 6 Oklahoma State in the coming weeks. This is shaping up to be the 2015 version of Ohio State.

With that in mind, the doomsday scenario for the College Football Playoff is looming: If Oklahoma and Notre Dame are left fighting for a single vacancy, which team does the selection committee take?

The Irish aren't just a big brand out of place. While they might be absent a marquee win, their schedule's consistency trumps just about anyone not named Alabama. And a victory over Navy, now No. 16 in the latest rankings, could end up morphing into a marquee win whether the world is ready to embrace it or not.

This isn't some farce. Notre Dame is exceptional. Its resume is excellent. And its close loss to No. 1 Clemson—a 24-22 road defeat—could be a tipping point in this discussion. It certainly looks meaty compared to Oklahoma's still unexplainable loss to Texas.

But with the Irish, especially in a year this convoluted, it can't just be about football. While the Sooners are no slouch in the branding department, few teams match the intrigue—the deep love and even deeper hate—that Notre Dame provides.

There's a weight to this that the committee will have to carry. The conspiracy theories, whether they're warranted or not, will rain down.

In a way it's not fair to the Irish—an exceptional team that has battled through injuries to deliver a remarkable year—one that might be playoff-worthy. It's also not fair to the selection committee. Whether the members realize it or not, politics could play a role. And even if they don't, the perception of politics playing a role could loom large.

Notre Dame is far more than a fantastic and resilient football team; it is a potential golden ticket. The committee, if it comes down to it, will have to decide just what to do with the Irish.

As for other thoughts on the latest playoff standings, let's get to it.


So the Pac-12 Might Not Be Dead After All

I'd like to take a brief moment to apologize to the Pac-12. This will only take a second.

In the heat of the moment, after a long day of maddening results, I closed the door late Saturday night on the Pac-12's chances of making the College Football Playoff.

After seeing the selection committee's work Tuesday night, I've decided to wedge that door open a wee bit. An average house cat—one with a regular exercise plan—could not fit through the opening. My bad, Pac-12. 

Stanford didn't plummet from its No. 7 spot. In fact, after losing to Oregon, the Cardinal should be thrilled about checking in at No. 11 in the latest rankings.

This wasn't a TCU-esque tumble; this was a modest fall during the right week. Many others did the same.

With a game against Notre Dame still looming—along with a likely spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game if all goes as planned against Cal on Saturday—Stanford has enough firepower to inch closer to where it needs to be.

To climb that far, however, the Cardinal will need help. This is not an optimal spot by any means. Chaos of the most chaotic variety is necessary, but perhaps it's not as much as originally believed.


Oklahoma, As Expected, Is a Contender Once More 

In some ways, Oklahoma's Tuesday night was mildly disappointing. Some questioned before the reveal whether the Sooners' convincing victory over Baylor in Week 11 would propel them as high as the top five. That was not to be.

Instead, Oklahoma had to "settle" for the selection committee's No. 7 spot. While this wasn't the shocking rise some were anticipating, make no mistake about it: The Sooners are in lovely shape to crash the playoff, even with that loss to Texas sitting uncomfortably in their sidecar.

Bob Stoops' team debuted at No. 15 just two short weeks ago. Now, it only has to rise three more spots in order to complete an Ohio State-like climb. With those games against TCU and Oklahoma State on tap, Oklahoma could state an emphatic case. 

The Sooners are not a lock, but no team has done more to improve its chances over the past few weeks.


The Lurking Contender

Of all the teams currently in complete control of their seasons, Florida is, without an ounce of doubt, the program being discussed the least. In fact, this feels like a good time to point out that the Gators are right there—sitting at No. 8 with ample opportunities ahead.

Now, this is the part of the Florida playoff hopeful section where I point out the obvious: Unless something drastically changes with the offense, the Gators will not realize this potential. Let's get that straight.

After barely getting by Vanderbilt, Florida let an overmatched South Carolina team hang around for quite a while Saturday. Still, after everything, there is only one loss on its schedule.

This weekend, the Gators draw Florida Atlantic. After that, they will play Florida State and likely Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. There will be no debate if they win those two games—and that "if" should probably be presented in size-72 font.

They win out, and they're in.

It may seem unlikely with a backup quarterback leading the push, but there are only a handful of teams still fortunate enough to make this assertion. This is one of them, even if we don't care to talk about it.


North Carolina Watch: Week 12

The Tar Heels have become a pet project of mine. Over the past couple of weeks, few teams have looked more dominant in conference play. And yet, it's abundantly clear that the selection committee isn't as high on North Carolina as everyone else

After spending time at No. 23 last week, the Tar Heels made a nice jump to No. 17 in the latest rankings. But given the way this team has played—and the way others have not—this is frustratingly low. Selection committee chairman Jeff Long, while making his weekly ESPN appearance, gave some insight as to why that's the case.

"They do have two FCS wins on their record," Long said. "The committee certainly is aware of that."

Long tied a bow on the subject, bringing up the team's Week 1 loss (via Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel):

Jeff Long on UNC: Two FCS wins, and opening loss to South Carolina "weighing them down."

— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) November 18, 2015

Please note: "Weighing them down" is not a term any team wants to acquire in this system. It might as well be a giant anchor. This is a tag that cannot be shed, no matter how well the Tar Heels play in the weeks to follow.

With a potential matchup against Clemson in the ACC Championship Game still likely, North Carolina can no doubt rise. But after hearing Long carve apart its journey to this point, it seems unlikely that a dream finish would be enough.

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College Football Playoff 2015: Championship, Final Four Predictions for Week 12

No shuffles. No surprises. The selection committee released its third College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday, and the Top Four and two outside looking in remained intact.

Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Iowa and Oklahoma State all stayed put at one through six, though the biggest jumper was Oklahoma, which has quietly climbed to No. 7 and looks likely to make a run at the incumbents.

Six of the top eight teams still play teams within those ranks should current conference title game projections hold, leaving plenty left to sort with just three weeks remaining.

Here is a look at the CFP Top 25 with predictions on who will make the final four.    


PREDICTION: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Oklahoma

For a one-loss team in a Big 12 stigmatized for its weak nonconference schedule, Oklahoma arguably sits in the best possible position heading into Week 12.

The Sooners are coming off a convincing win over Big 12 favorite Baylor and still play No. 18 TCU and No. 6 Oklahoma State, which remains unbeaten. A trifecta of victories to secure the conference crown—the Big 12 does not have a title game—will put the Sooners in a favorable position and leave them with a great argument to join the party, as Tony Barnhart of the SEC Network indicated:

Notre Dame currently sits fourth, though that might not be for long. Its lone loss was to top-ranked Clemson, which the committee seems to discount, as Dan Wolken of USA Today hinted:

The Fighting Irish still play No. 11 Stanford to help their cause, but the hot team seems to be Oklahoma. And Vegas hypothetically projected the Sooners would beat the three teams ahead of it, per RJ Bell of 

The Tigers could be the only unbeaten to reach the playoff and, fair or not, will have stay unblemished to keep their title hopes alive.

But they control their destiny with easily the softest schedule among the remaining hopefuls, finishing the season against Wake Forest and South Carolina, each 3-7, then an ACC Championship Game, likely vs. No. 17 North Carolina.

Clemson is coming off narrow wins over Florida State and Syracuse but has proved to be the most complete team with the FBS seventh-ranked defense and 19th-ranked offense.

Prediction: Clemson over Oklahoma


PREDICTION: No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Ohio State

Many were skeptical of Alabama’s rank among the Top Four in the initial polls, but the Crimson Tide continue to show they’re arguably the best. Even committee chair Jeff Long indicated they have a strong case at the top, per Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports:

Aside from rankings, Vegas likes the Tide to not only reach the playoff, but win their fourth title under head coach Nick Saban, per ESPN Stats & Info:

According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Crimson Tide rank first in ESPN's strength of record and strength of schedule. A win over 5-5 Auburn in the final week of the regular season will also assure Alabama a spot in the SEC Championship Game vs. No. 8 Florida, with yet another chance to bolster its resume.

Ohio State, meanwhile, hasn't weathered nearly as difficult a run thus far, as ESPN’s Brett McMurphy noted:

But the Buckeyes have a far more daunting slate than any of the remaining contenders, as their back-heavy schedule has finally arrived.

Should it win its second straight title, Ohio State will have to down five teams in a row currently ranked among the Top 12—at No. 9 Michigan State, at No. 12 Michigan, vs. No. 5 Iowa in the Big 10 Championship Game should the Hawkeyes win out and then two playoff games against the Top Four.

A massive slip-up is the only possible setback that would keep the remarkably talented Buckeyes from winning the Big 10 unblemished. But a run-in with vengeful Alabama in a rematch of last year’s semifinal will be too tall a task to overcome.

The Crimson Tide are churning out wins in archetype fashion to their titles of years past—with relentless defense and a bruising offense. Take the Tide all the way.

Prediction: Alabama over Ohio State

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