NCAA Football

Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney Promises Pizza Party If Tigers Make 2015-16 Playoffs

The Clemson Tigers may be No. 1 in the current College Football Playoff rankings, but Clemson coach Dabo Swinney isn't celebrating yet.

However, if the Tigers are in the top four when the final ranking of the season comes out (before the playoffs), the coach will throw a party—and he will make sure everyone has a good time.

How? Free pizza.

Swinney downplayed the importance of earning the top spot in the first College Football Playoff poll of the season, noting that there's still a month to go. That being said, he did promise to throw a giant pizza party for Death Valley should his Tigers be selected for the 2015-16 College Football Playoff.

"The only poll that we’re excited about is Dec. 6, and I promise you we’ll have the biggest poll party you’ve seen," Swinney said, per Ed McGranahan of the State. "We’ll open up Death Valley and serve pizza to everybody. That’ll be a time to celebrate a poll. Until then it doesn’t matter.”

Even if you don't like football but you live near Clemson University, you now have a vested interest. There aren't many things in life better than pizza, let alone free pizza.

Swinney knows that his team can't afford to get caught up in the rankings. Clemson hosts No. 17 Florida State this weekend in a showdown that could decide the ACC Atlantic Division and will certainly have playoff implications.

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High School Safety Blasts Wide Receiver to Free Ball Up for Interception

Watch Dawson Siemonsma out of Plattsmouth High School perfectly time his hit on the opposing wide receiver to jar the ball loose for an interception in the clip above.

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Bowl Predictions 2015: CFP Projections Following Initial Poll Release

Commence the outrage.

The selection committee released the initial College Football Playoff poll Tuesday, and there were a number of surprises. The undefeated, defending national champion Ohio State Buckeyes found themselves at No. 3. Alabama is No. 4 despite a loss and zero wins over a Top 15 team, while undefeated Michigan State, Baylor and TCU are all on the outside looking in if the playoffs started today.

Here is a look at the complete rankings:

Remember, this is just the first poll, and the rankings are incredibly fluid, as the committee proved last year when the Buckeyes worked their way up to the title after starting No. 16 in the first College Football Playoff poll.

There are a number of marquee games that will impact the playoff picture far more than this first batch of rankings.

Ohio State and Michigan State still play each other, and the winner will likely play Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game. The SEC still features a number of marquee showdowns, including Saturday’s clash between LSU and Alabama and the conference title game between Florida and the eventual West champion. Plus, the Big 12 let everyone know how back-loaded its schedule is this year:

With so much still to be decided, here is a look at an early playoff prediction following this first poll.

 

No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State boasts arguably more talent than anyone else in the nation. In fact, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller had five Buckeyes in the first round of his mock draft, and the argument can be made for as many as seven or eight in those initial 32 picks.

That talent will shine through as the season progresses.

Some would argue the defending national champions should be No. 1 until another team knocks them off, but Ohio State is No. 3 in the initial rankings. That is largely a product of the schedule, but it will have opportunities against Michigan State and Michigan late in the season and then Iowa in the conference title game if it takes care of business. 

The Buckeyes will win those marquee games in the final three weeks and make a profound late statement to the committee. Bill Rabinowitz of the Columbus Dispatch declared the defending champions have nothing to worry about if they keep winning:

The title will once again run through the Scarlet and Gray.

 

No. 2 Clemson Tigers

If Clemson knocks off Florida State Saturday, Tigers fans should book their tickets to the College Football Playoff.

Dabo Swinney’s team already beat Notre Dame and a talented Appalachian State squad and survived tricky contests at North Carolina State and at Louisville. The heavy lifting is mostly done if the Tigers get by Florida State, and that game is at home. What’s more, Dalvin Cook and Everett Golson did not play in the Seminoles’ last game with injury concerns and could be limited in Saturday’s contest. 

The Tigers will watch Ohio State leapfrog them because of the late quality wins on the Buckeyes’ schedule, but they are still safely in the playoffs.

 

No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide

Let this sink in, everyone—the SEC champion is getting into the playoffs. Just accept it and enjoy the football. The selection committee made it clear it views the league as the best conference in the country with two teams in the Top Four and six in the Top 25 of Tuesday’s poll.

Just like last year, that champion will be the Crimson Tide. They already have a solid nonconference win over Wisconsin and victories at Georgia and at Texas A&M on the resume. In terms of what’s ahead, the LSU clash is at home Saturday, and Auburn looks nowhere near the top-notch team many expected before the season started.

The Crimson Tide will win out behind the powerful running of Derrick Henry and a stingy defense and represent the SEC in the College Football Playoff once again.

 

No. 4 Baylor Bears

Baylor was left on the outside looking in last season, but that won’t be the case in 2015. The Bears don’t have any quality wins of note yet, but they still have showdowns with Oklahoma, undefeated Oklahoma State and undefeated TCU on the remaining schedule.

Don’t mistake the lack of quality wins for the lack of talent when it comes to Baylor. The Bears are averaging a ridiculous 61.1 points per game this season, which is 12.2 points more than the next-closest team.

Even though quarterback Seth Russell is injured, wide receiver Corey Coleman and running back Shock Linwood are among the best players in the nation and will keep the offense rolling in the signal-caller’s absence.

Coach Art Briles was not afraid to discuss the overflowing amount of talent on the roster, per Chris Low of ESPN.com:

I've told the players that my only anxiousness comes from making sure we fulfill what we're capable of. You don't get many chances to bowl a 300 game. I don't want to bowl a 294 and almost be there. I want to be there. That's my anxiety because we're good.

It's the best team we've had in my eight years here, and I don't think it's even close.

This is the best team in the Big 12, and it will roll through the back-loaded schedule. That’s enough for a playoff berth this season.

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Why Alabama Shouldn't Be Ranked No. 4 in the College Football Playoff

Prior to the season, I picked Alabama to win the College Football Playoff Championship Game.

I still think Alabama will win the College Football Playoff Championship Game.

I think Alabama will run the table, get help with a loss by Ole Miss and win the SEC Championship Game.

Despite all of that, there's no reason why the Crimson Tide should be ranked fourth in the first edition of the 2015 College Football Playoff rankings.

Head coach Nick Saban's crew chimed in at the No. 4 spot on Tuesday night, behind only No. 1 Clemson, No. 2 LSU and No. 3 Ohio State, to the surprise of many.

Are you kidding me?

There's no reason for Alabama to be ranked higher than undefeated "Power Five" teams like Baylor, TCU or Michigan State.

Losses matter, especially home losses. Whether Alabama passes the eye test or not, it still lost at home to Ole Miss—a team that is ranked 18th in the CFP rankings.

In fact, it's a wonder how Florida is ranked six spots behind Alabama, based on a comparison of the resumes of the two SEC powers.

Florida's only loss came on the road to No. 2 LSU by seven points in a game in which Florida fought tooth and nail with backup quarterback Treon Harris, who was thrust into action the week of the game due to the suspension of starter Will Grier. Its loss was at night, at home, to those Rebels—a team that Florida beat at night, at home, 38-10, in a game that really wasn't as close as the score indicated.

Alabama's best win? Spare me the talk of "top-10 Georgia and Texas A&M on the road." 

Yes, those teams were ranked in the top 10 of other polls at the time they played, but the Aggies are 19th in the first edition of the CFP poll, and Georgia is an abject disaster.

"If you go look at Alabama and how they won those games that they've won against quality opponents, and I think that sends a strong message of why we ranked Alabama higher than Florida," CFP selection committee chairman Jeff Long said in his teleconference Tuesday night.

Give me a break.

Should LSU get credit for beating a "top-25 Auburn team" when it throttled the Tigers—who sit at 4-4 right now—during Week 3? 

Of course not.

Let's talk about what's really at play here: The CFP selection committee releases rankings in the middle of the season to program the sport for entertainment purposes.

It'll never outright admit that, but the human element is alive and well in that board room in Grapevine, Texas, and the members know that No. 2 LSU visits No. 4 Alabama this weekend, and one will fall out next week. Just as they knew No. 3 Auburn and No. 4 Ole Miss played the week after the first rankings last year. 

They know that the Big 12—which has Baylor at No. 6, TCU at No. 8, Oklahoma State at No. 14 and Oklahoma No. 15—essentially has a round-robin tournament among top contenders in the month of November.

"[Oklahoma State] still needs to play some stronger teams at the end of their schedule, and that's coming up for them, as well, so they'll get a chance," Long said. "Their overall strength of schedule thus far is not very high, so I think that's resulted in Oklahoma State being ranked behind Baylor and TCU."

Panic set in when Alabama was listed in the No. 4 slot, and even more when you looked one spot below to find fellow one-loss traditional power Notre Dame.

If the selection committee wants people to take it seriously, it has to place important things—you know, like wins and losses—ahead of the eye test and subjective metrics like "talent" and "eye test."

Alabama's presence in the top four indicates that it doesn't, which means that these weekly rankings should be taken with a grain of salt.

Or for what they really are: a programming device.

 

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

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

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Bleacher Report's College Football Ultimate Guide to Week 10

Congratulations! You have officially made it to the most exciting, intense and unpredictable month of the college football season. Take a bow. You did it.

Now, say farewell to your social life. Say goodbye to productivity. Don’t quit your job just yet, but at least build a confined sleep fort under your desk for naps. Naps are going to be important these next four weeks.

The month of November is where an already spectacular college football season reaches its apex. A combination of splendid scheduling along with a solid plateful of high-stakes intensity, each and every Saturday from this point on is destined to take a bat to your mailbox and continue driving. That’s a good thing; you need a new mailbox anyway.

The Big 12’s lineup of undefeated teams will all clash, starting this Saturday. Ohio State and Michigan State are still to meet. Yes, the Harbaugh-infused Wolverines will also get a crack at the Buckeyes. And the SEC and Pac-12 will do their darnedest to keep playoff resumes intact.

As for those energy-infused Group of Five headliners? Well, Memphis and Houston are less than two weeks away from touching gloves. But they have to get by this week first.

By the time December hits, few will be left standing. Chaos is imminent. Nap now so you can consume it all later.

And it all starts in Week 10, where we are guaranteed to see an undefeated team fall. Oh, and Alabama-LSU returns with purpose.

 

The Buffet: Previewing the Top 5 Games of Week 10

5. Notre Dame at Pittsburgh (Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, ABC)

It won’t gobble up headlines like some of the other games on the Week 10 docket, but Notre Dame-Pittsburgh is deeply important. Sure, it might not be Big 12-ian in nature in terms of points scored, but entertainment value could be high.

The Irish seem to operate with suspense. It’s who they are, at least at this point in the season. And thus far, this mantra has worked out well.

Temple gave Notre Dame its best shot, although there are some zombie tendencies about Brian Kelly’s team that are admirable. Even though quarterback DeShone Kizer had his forgettable throws, he also seems to have it. Given the situation he's been thrown into, he’s been exceptional.

Pittsburgh saw its four-game winning streak snapped against North Carolina in Week 9. The Panthers fell 26-19 despite having ample opportunities to change the outcome. Quarterback Nathan Peterman played decent in the loss, although the offense simply could not generate enough big plays.

This will have to change against Notre Dame. While the Pittsburgh defense is capable of slowing down a potent offense for the second consecutive week, the offense will have to do its part.

It won’t be a masterpiece, but it will be fun. (Probably.)

 

4. Duke at North Carolina (Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Let’s address the elephant in the room out of the gate. Duke lost a game last week on a play that wouldn’t pass at lunch recess. They lost on a play that ultimately got the ACC officials suspended less than 24 hours later.

They lost on, well, this:

“The decision that was made in replay was made after all the play was done on the field,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said, speaking about this situation far more professionally than I would have. “So we’re still in the same mode. Nothing has changed other than they realized they got the replay wrong.”

This is going to linger; there’s no question. And yet, Duke has a significant game to play in a few days. This can’t linger any longer.

Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk has been excellent. He leads the team in passing—well, yeah—and also rushing. It will be on him to test a North Carolina defense that is, dare we say...good?

Under new DC Gene Chizik, the Tar Heels are suddenly functional. Chizik is currently coaching the nation’s No. 17 scoring defense. For reference, North Carolina was No. 119 in this category last season. Offensively they might not be as supercharged as we've seen in recent years, but senior Marquise Williams can be electric.

UNC, without much fanfare, has morphed into a contender. Duke is in a position to rebound from devastation. This is an enormous one in the ACC Costal. All broken hearts must be repaired.

 

3. Florida State at Clemson (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

It’s the most important game the ACC will feature all year, which should sound somewhat familiar. While Clemson-Florida State might not have the same buzz as Alabama-LSU, it’s not far behind. When these two teams meet, you should watch.

Clemson’s magnificent rebuild on defense suddenly looks more vulnerable than it did a week ago. There’s no shame in beating NC State 56-41 on the road in a classic look-ahead matchup. But given the defensive dominance early on, all those points allowed were a bit of a surprise.

Still, the offense is deadly and much more than quarterback Deshaun Watson. Running back Wayne Gallman has become a star in the ACC. While other running backs may be mentioned more, such as the primary back on the other sideline in this game, Gallman’s presence his been critical.

On the topic of running backs, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook might be the most explosive player in the nation. The Seminoles cruised right past Syracuse last weekend, doing so without quarterback Everett Golson or Cook. Jimbo Fisher rested his two ailing players for this very game and this very moment.

Cook won’t be 100 percent for the rest of the season, but even 80 percent of his kind of talent can be diabolical. In seven games, he’s averaging more than eight yards per carry and 12 yards per reception.

The health of the Seminoles’ best players will be a storyline to follow before the game and certainly during it. FSU is also banged up in other areas, including the offensive line. That's not optimal.

Last year's contest turned out to be a good one. We'll see if this follows along.

 

2. TCU at Oklahoma State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, Fox)

It’s no surprise that TCU is undefeated entering Week 10 despite the handful of close calls it has had to maneuver past. It’s mildly surprising that Oklahoma State is undefeated at this point of the season, although this is no fluke. This team can play. 

The Big 12’s November spectacular starts in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Although their game against Texas Tech did not go well early, the Pokes rallied in the second half and posted a 70-spot in the win. Not bad. (Well, it’s really bad if you’re Texas Tech.) 

Although the individual offensive performances for Oklahoma State don’t jump off the page the way they do with TCU, this is a deep group. And on the defensive side, Emmanuel Ogbah is an absolute monster. He jumps off every page. More people need to be talking about him.

That is not an issue with Trevone Boykin. We talk about him plenty, and for good reason. Last week, Boykin threw for 388 yards, ran for 84 yards and scored four touchdowns. He also made a move so filthy that he received a high five from West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen.

Sometimes the only thing you can do is offer a surrender high five:

Home field will be significant. The offense from both teams will likely be absurd. This game might take six hours, and I plan to consume every morsel. Stock up the fridge for occasions like these.

 

1. LSU at Alabama (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, CBS)

It has grown into one of sport’s greatest yearly fixtures—doing so not with geographical bragging rights or trophies, but through meaningful moments and hitting that makes your bones weep. That seems like a lovely table-setter for a game that means a great deal to both programs and will likely feature collisions that make your television sway. 

So here we are. Both Alabama and LSU are coming off byes. Both operate with a very familiar, predictable and still taxing identity: run the football down the opponent’s throat and squeeze the hope out of the other sideline.

LSU has been able to operate with this blueprint thanks in large part to running back Leonard Fournette. Just look at his season. Even the numbers don’t put the talent into context. He does not stop, although that will be tested in Week 10.

While Alabama may not have Fournette, it does have its own tap-out battering ram. Derrick Henry might not have the numbers of his counterpart, although he can be equally as impactful. He’s also run for 379 yards in the last two games.

This is the part of an Alabama-LSU preview where the author tells you that the quarterbacks will decide the outcome. And sure, maybe Jake Coker and Brandon Harris will ultimately dictate the results. Or maybe one (or both) of the running backs will just run wild on the opposing defense and win the good ol' fashion way—a method so predictable that no one saw it coming.

It's No. 2 in the current College Football Playoff standings versus No. 4. But it's much, much more than that.

 

The Game You Should Carve Out Time to Watch (Part One): Navy at Memphis (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

The depth of Week 10 exists in the undercard. That’s one to tell you—no, implore you—to watch Memphis play Navy. Sure, Alabama and LSU will be footballing at this time, but do carve out some time. Either that, or fire up the DVR. 

Memphis did not look like a Top 25 team early on against Tulane last week, although the Tigers got it together just fine. An early effort like that against Navy, however, will not fly. The Midshipmen are 6-1, and quarterback Keenan Reynolds just tied an NCAA mark when he rushed for touchdown No. 77 in his career. 

Navy can push Memphis’ Cinderella run to the brink or beyond. Memphis best be careful.

 

The Game You Should Carve Out Time to Watch (Part Two): Cincinnati at Houston (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Again, don’t just focus in on one or two games. Not with the things Tom Herman has brewing at Houston. 

After shutting out Vanderbilt 34-0, the Cougars enter a critical two-game stretch with loads of momentum. However, for those who weren’t watching Cincinnati take on UCF last weekend—and quite honestly, I can’t blame you for that—here’s what you missed from quarterback Gunner Kiel: 

Gunner Kiel is gonna spend his film session today catching up on Netflix shows. pic.twitter.com/4DBdRTocUs

— Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) November 1, 2015

So, yeah. Watch this one. Oh, I should also point out that Houston and Memphis meet in Week 11. That could be enormous.

 

The Game That Could Break The Scoreboard: Texas Tech at West Virginia (Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)

There are a handful of games that could push upward of 100 points, although I’ll take the matchup featuring the defense that has given up 133 points in its past two games and another defense that allowed 100 points the last two weeks.

If defense is your cocktail of choice, don't bother with Texas Tech-West Virginia. It will haunt you.

Both offenses can score. Both defenses can, well, allow scoring. The scoreboard might light on fire before the couches do in Morgantown.

 

Power Ranking November’s Top 10 Games

We can’t talk about this amazing month of football without backing it up with cold, hard evidence. Week 10 is exceptional as is, although the next four weeks are a fine, deep catalog of guaranteed weirdness.

I’d like to apologize in advance for any omissions. I could have made this list a Top 25, Top 50 or Top 100. Blame the editors for these word counts.

10. Florida State at Clemson (Saturday)

9. TCU at Oklahoma (November 21) 

8. Memphis at Houston (November 14) 

7. LSU at Ole Miss (November 21)

6. Oklahoma at Baylor (November 14)

5. Ohio State at Michigan (November 28) 

4. Notre Dame at Stanford (November 28) 

3. LSU at Alabama (Saturday) 

2. Michigan State at Ohio State (November 21)

1. Baylor at TCU (November 27)

 

Parting Shot: The Silly Season Has Started Early, and the End Result Will be Madness

We are still three weeks away from Thanksgiving—the landmark on the calendar that typically serves as the spark plug for the hiring and firing season. But in 2015, we didn't have to wait to carve the turkey. There are already 10 FBS programs looking for new head coaches. 

The latest additions to this list are Virginia Tech and Hawaii. Frank Beamer, after a wonderful career, has decided to retire after this season. Norm Chow, who could never really kick into that next gear at Hawaii, was relieved of his duties. Of course, Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill resigned last week due to concerns over his health.

By itself, it would be substantial. I mean, 10 openings, even in this climate, is a ton. These jobs alone will create a ripple effect that will have an enormous national impact, especially with high-profile programs such as USC, Miami and Virginia Tech all looking for new guidance. 

But that’s not even the most staggering the part. The true lunacy is that we are nowhere close to being done. Firing season really hasn’t started, and the Silly Season has yet to truly open its doors for business.

It’s hard to handicap just what jobs will open, although this is not the end. Will Georgia make a change at the top with Mark Richt? Could West Virginia make a change with Dana Holgorsen? What about Kevin Wilson at Indiana and Darrell Hazell at Purdue? Or Paul Rhoads at Iowa State? Or Mike London at Virginia?

Will the NFL lure a college coach or two away? What surprises are in store?

There are no guarantees in this business. But I guarantee that there is much more to come. By December, there could be upward of 20 teams looking for a new leader.

The end result will be message-board madness. The servers will weep. Coaching rumors will consume the holiday season, and “sources” will be a fixture at the end of the year. And yes, agents and current head coaches searching for leverage are going to make an absolute fortune from all of this. It's inevitable.

It’s going to be wild, frustrating and, of course, entertaining. Don’t worry about it now. There is far too much quality football to focus on.

But don’t forget about it, either. It will be here soon.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Kentucky Wildcats vs. Georgia Bulldogs Complete Game Preview

If there is one word to describe the Kentucky-Georgia game on Saturday, it would have to be redemption.

The Wildcats are coming off a rough 52-21 home loss to Tennessee. They are now 4-4 with a 2-4 conference record. The Bulldogs had just as bad of a loss, as they were blown out by Florida 27-3. They are now 5-3 with a 3-3 record in SEC play.

This game is not the most attractive game on the SEC slate, but this has a chance to be the most compelling simply because both teams will want to bounce back after tough losses.

However, with this game having a noon start time, let’s hope there are not a lot of empty seats at Sanford Stadium.

 

Date: Nov. 7, 2015

Time: Noon ET

Place: Sanford Stadium; Athens, Georgia 

TV: SEC Network

Radio: UK Sports Network, Georgia Bulldogs Sports Network, Sirius/XM 145/191

Odds: Georgia is favored by 14 points, according to Odds Shark.

 

When Kentucky Has the Football

Kentucky’s offense has not been a threat this season, as the Wildcats rank ninth in the SEC in total offense and 11th in the SEC in scoring offense.

The reason for the offensive struggles is the inconsistent play of Patrick Towles, who has thrown nine touchdown passes and 10 interceptions this season. In the 52-21 loss to Tennessee last week, Towles was 16-of-33 for 184 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He finished with a rating of 28.9.

The one bright spot on offense is Stanley “Boom” Williams, who is ninth in the SEC with 563 rushing yards and three touchdowns. However, he did leave the Tennessee game early because of an elbow injury, so we’ll see if he’ll be ready to go.

Garrett Johnson is a legitimate deep threat for the Wildcats. He had two catches for 50 yards and one score on Saturday.

The Wildcats are going up against a Bulldogs defense that is struggling as of late, especially in the run game. The Bulldogs are ninth in the conference in rushing defense, allowing 138 yards per game. And for the second consecutive year, Florida was able to run over the Bulldogs defense, as it rushed for 258 yards in the win.

If there is one good thing about the group, it is second in the SEC in pass defense. Thanks in large part to an experienced group led by Quincy Mauger and Dominick Sanders, the Bulldogs have allowed only 183 passing yards per game and are only allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 53 percent of their passes.

 

When Georgia Has the Football

Last year, Georgia finished first in the SEC in scoring, averaging 41.3 points per game. This year, the Bulldogs are ninth with an average of 29.4 points per game.

The problem is the inconsistency at quarterback, and the injury to Nick Chubb has been an issue as well. Last week, Faton Bauta got his first career start at quarterback—he threw four interceptions. Greyson Lambert has been the starter all season long, but after struggling in the previous three games, the coaching staff decided to make a change for the Florida game.

Brian Schottenheimer Didn't Use Faton Bauta Effectively - https://t.co/XKlifSmGHxpic.twitter.com/h6B3JAcJ57

— SicEmDawgs.com (@SicEmDawgscom) November 2, 2015

And according to the depth chart for this week’s game, either Lambert or Bauta will get the start against the Wildcats.

The good news for Georgia is it is going up against a Kentucky team that is 13th in the SEC in scoring defense (29.1) points per game. In the last three games, the Wildcats have given up 30 points or more, which has resulted in three losses.

The Wildcats are also 11th in the conference in rushing and passing defense, which is why they are giving up a lot of points.

Linebacker Josh Forrest is the leader of the defense, as he has tallied 66 tackles and 3.5 sacks through eight games.

 

Player to Watch for Kentucky: Mikel Horton

If there was one good thing to take away from the loss to Tennessee on Saturday, it would have to be the breakout performance of running back Mikel Horton.

Williams’ injury meant that Horton had to carry the load, and he ended the night rushing for 109 yards on 14 carries. Before the Tennessee game, Horton rushed for 105 yards on 38 carries in the Wildcats’ first seven games.

#mikelhorton puts the #kentuckywildcats on the board #bbn its 7-7 https://t.co/g55KrTQVI3

— Art Vandelay (@PJordan_32714) September 12, 2015

“This opportunity I got today, I took advantage of it, and it’s more to come,” Horton said to Kyle Tucker of the Courier-Journal. “I’m going to work hard to make Kentucky a perfect program.”

Horton rushed for 7.8 yards per carry against a Tennessee team that allowed Oklahoma, Alabama and Florida to rush only 3.3 yards per carry.

As a freshman, Horton rushed for 306 yards on 59 carries and scored twice. So he gave fans a glimpse of what he was capable of last year.

And with Williams’ status for Saturday uncertain, Horton will likely have a chance to make a statement at Sanford Stadium.

 

Player to Watch for Georgia: Davin Bellamy

It was not a good effort from the Georgia defense on Saturday against Florida, as the unit allowed 413 yards of total offense.

However, linebacker Davin Bellamy showed that he’s progressing as a player with seven tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack.

“He plays hard, but he’s got to learn what to do and why it’s important to do it that way,” Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt said to David Paschall of the Albany Herald. “When he does that, he’ll have a chance to be a really good football player. He’s just a redshirt sophomore, so he’s got a lot of football ahead of him.”

UGA football notebook: offensive struggles, defense, and Davin Bellamy - Red and Black https://t.co/nqrc8mRuklpic.twitter.com/RfJkAF9XkV

— Overnewser - NFL (@nflovernewz) November 1, 2015

So far this season, Bellamy has notched 27 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles. He has been seeing more playing time because of Jordan Jenkins' injured hip and Leonard Floyd playing a variety of positions. Bellamy will look to improve on those numbers Saturday against a struggling Kentucky offense.

 

Final Prediction: Georgia 28, Kentucky 14

Despite not knowing who will start at quarterback, Georgia has too much talent to go a third consecutive game where it doesn't score a touchdown. The Bulldogs need to establish the run with Sony Michel and Keith Marshall, and either Lambert or Bauta can work off of it with play action.

The Wildcats' only chance is to get Horton going. If that happens, then they can put Towles in short-yardage situations, and he would then be able to make easier plays in the passing game.

However, with the Bulldogs being at home and the speculation about head coach Mark Richt’s future with the program, the Bulldogs should come out on Saturday and put together a strong performance. The win may need nothing when it comes to the postseason, but it will be a start for the Bulldogs to finish the season strong.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff Matchups We're Dying to See

When the first official College Football Playoff Top 25 of 2015 was released Tuesday night, it generated huge interest across the college gridiron world. That’s no surprise, of course. While the rankings can and will change from week to week, this was the first chance for teams and fans to see where they stand in the eyes of the committee that will determine the second College Football Playoff field.

While Clemson, LSU, Ohio State and Alabama made up the initial Top Four, there’s plenty of room for change, discussion and controversy. It got us thinking: Which matchups would we like to see in this season’s College Football Playoff?

Here’s a look at some of the most intriguing potential games that could unfold this postseason. Games were chosen for their potential storylines as well as overall entertainment value. Here we go:

Begin Slideshow

College Football Rankings 2015: Top Teams, Playoff Predictions from First Polls

Just in case the 2015 college football season wasn't exciting enough, things were ramped up a bit more on Tuesday night after the first College Football Playoff rankings of the year were released. 

While the AP Polls mostly take results into consideration, the playoff committee includes the teams' strength of schedules and where they rank among each other. 

For those reasons, only three of the four teams of the new rankings are undefeated. Let's take a look at the CFP's Top-25 rankings and my very early predictions of which four teams will be vying for the national championship:

 

College Football Playoff Prediction

1. Clemson

2. Alabama

3. Ohio State

4. Notre Dame

Obviously, the four teams that currently reside in the top four spots would like to stay there, but things are all but guaranteed to change as soon as next week. 

No. 2 LSU travels to Tuscaloosa for a Nov. 7 tilt against No. 4 Alabama, the lone beaten side in the Top Four. It will be a desperate Alabama side, who would see its national title hopes all but vanish if they lose to LSU. There are too many unbeaten sides, even if they have easier schedules, that will take their place. 

For a big All-SEC matchup, some think the rankings were a bit too favorable for LSU and Alabama, like ESPN's Danny Kanell:

As well as USA Today's Dan Wolken:

Both teams have faced and beaten plenty of ranked opponents already this season, which means Saturday is sure to be another exciting affair between the two. Because it's such an evenly matched game, I'm going to use home-field advantage as tiebreaker and say that Alabama gets the win. 

I think that would drop LSU out of the playoff and would allow the likes of either No. 5 Notre Dame or No. 6 Baylor into the Top Four. Without their starting quarterback, Seth Russell, who is out for the season with a neck injury, I can't see Baylor running the table, especially with the likes of Oklahoma State and TCU waiting for them.

Elsewhere in the Top Four, if No. 1 Clemson is able to hurdle Florida State on Saturday, they should have a fairly clear path to the playoff. But head coach Dabo Swinney knows there's a lot more to go, as he told ESPN College Football:

For No. 3 Ohio State, the last two games of the season will be their last roadblocks to a second consecutive playoff. They first host Michigan State on Nov. 21 and if they are able to get past the currently 8-0 Spartans, the Buckeyes have their archrival Michigan Wolverines waiting for them at the Big House. 

Those are two pressure-packed games and a perfect precursor to the playoffs. Win both of those games, and I would have them as a favorite to get back to the national championship. 

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Ranking the Best SEC Matchups of Week 10

The gargantuan game this week in the SEC will take place in Tuscaloosa between Alabama and LSU, featuring two of the top four teams in the initial College Football Playoff rankings.

Everything else is just garnish.

But that doesn't mean it's a slate of slaw. Everything may take a back seat to the Crimson Tide and Tigers, but there are some other important games. All seven tilts in the conference take place between league participants. Nobody is out of conference.

It all starts on Thursday night when newly ranked Mississippi State heads to Columbia, Missouri, where the Tigers are searching for any offense whatsoever. East battles between South Carolina-Tennessee, Kentucky-Georgia and Vanderbilt-Florida all happen on Saturday.

The biggest battles, however, are in the West, where the big one will be flanked by Arkansas-Ole Miss and Auburn-Texas A&M.

So, let's take a look at what you'll need to know as you settle in on Saturday with your pizza, adult beverage and remote control. There's plenty to see in the SEC.

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College Football Week 10 Schedule: TV and Live Stream Info for Every Game

Clemson sits atop the first College Football Playoff rankings for the 2015 season. The Tigers are followed by LSU, Ohio State and Alabama amid a highly competitive campaign with no shortage of teams still in contention for a playoff berth heading into Week 10.

That's why, regardless if a team is currently in one of those coveted top-four positions or trying to force their way in, there's little margin for error. It's going to make for a memorable, drama-filled finish to the regular season.

With that in mind, let's check out all of the action across the landscape in Week 10, including the viewing information for each contest. That's followed by a preview of the top game on tap.

 

Week 10 Schedule

 

Top Game: No. 2 LSU at No. 4 Alabama

Just in case this game needed an extra helping of hype, the College Football Playoff committee placed both teams inside the top four. Now the question is which side will emerge with the victory and solidify that preferred placement.

This game is as close as it gets on the surface. Whether it's average point differential (LSU +16.3, Alabama +17.1) or average yardage differential (LSU +150.1, Alabama +146.1), the raw numbers suggest another classic showdown between the perennial SEC powers.

Nick Saban talked about the competitive nature of the rivalry, which has had a major impact on the college football season numerous times in recent years, per Jerit Roser of the Times-Picayune.

"We've had some great games with LSU through the years," Saban said. "This has turned out to be a great rivalry, and I think it's a great rivalry because of the quality of the programs. I think six or seven times since we've been here, both teams are ranked in the top 10."

Most of the focus leading to the game will likely be on the offenses. That's no surprise given the presence of the Tigers' Leonard Fournette and the Crimson Tide's Derrick Henry, two of the nation's most dynamic running backs.

That said, in more traditional SEC style, it's the defenses that will probably decide this game. It's unlikely fans will witness another 9-6 brawl given the strength of the offenses, but whichever defensive unit can force their opponent into more 3rd-and-long situations is going to hold the edge.

For LSU, the secondary play has allowed opponents to hang around too frequently despite its undefeated record. Defensive back Dwayne Thomas stated that must change this month if the Tigers are going to keep pushing toward the playoff, as noted by David Ching of ESPN.

"We have given up a lot of just giveaway touchdowns," Thomas said. "We're correcting that because we know this November stretch is about to be huge for us and we can't afford to give opponents points like that, easy points."

Ultimately, while this game obviously carries a lot of weight both in the SEC West and the playoff chase, both sides share one advantage. Peter Burns of the SEC Network highlighted that:

These are the type of victories that are going to make the difference in the end. Given the high number of unbeaten and one-loss teams with a legitimate playoff case, at least at this stage, marquee victories over fellow contenders are massive.

Alabama and LSU are both strong enough teams to reach the final four, but one of them is going to take a serious hit Saturday. Those are the type of pressure-packed situations that allow college football to shine—something Tide and Tiger fans understand well.

 

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Tennessee Football: Six Breakout Players to Watch for Remainder of 2015 Season

Several Tennessee football players are becoming usual suspects on the stat sheet for coach Butch Jones and a Volunteers team that is finally beginning to play like it's capable.

Quarterback Joshua Dobbs, running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, defensive end Derek Barnett, cornerback Cameron Sutton and safety Brian Randolph are always going to load up on numbers as the most dependable Vols.

But what about the emerging stars? Who are some of the guys on the fringe of becoming key role players?

These are the youngsters who have surpassed people saying, "I hope [Player X] can begin to live up to expectations." No, these are the players who already are or look as if they're getting ready to play integral roles in helping the Vols turn the current 4-4 record into an 8-4 campaign and a quality bowl berth.

The criteria here is first- or second-year players who are really starting to catch on to the college game. With such a young group of Vols that Jones compiled, Tennessee has several who fit the mold.

Let's take a look at the handful of Vols about to burst onto the scene.

 

Darrin Kirkland Jr.

It's hard to stand out in such a promising group of freshmen, but the first-year starting middle linebacker from Indianapolis fits the bill.

He has as high of a ceiling as any freshman linebacker in the entire Southeastern Conference. Though there are a few reminders that he's a young pup, there are also times when you see what he can do on the field and marvel at Kirkland's ability.

With each start, he looks more and more like he belongs. Early in the year, walk-on Colton Jumper started over him because Kirkland had a difficult time performing the all-important pre-snap chores required by such a demanding position. Tennessee's defense suffered without his athleticism.

But once he got on the field, things still didn't come easily. Kirkland flew around everywhere, sometimes without purpose or direction. His stats suffered because of it, and UT struggled in gap control.

Not anymore.

Now that Kirkland is comfortable, he's performing. The light began to come on at Florida, where he had five tackles, including 1.5 for a loss. Despite a struggle against Georgia, the youngster has at least six tackles in three of his past four games.

He talked to GoVols247's Wes Rucker before the Kentucky game about his emergence. Then, he went out against the Wildcats and got an interception and 26-yard return.

A lot of my film study, a lot of study of the back end and knowing really my responsibility in coverage as well as up front, and learning what everybody else has to do, instead of just myself, that’s really helped me find my place throughout the defense and make more plays that way. Really just my mental focus, my mental capacity of the game, understanding the game and a lot bigger overview. I’m taking my preparation throughout the week a lot more serious, and that’s helped me prepare for the bigger teams we’ve played.

Kirkland has played against better opponents than what remains on UT's schedule, but he's going to be a major part that determines whether the Vols can finish undefeated. 

 

Chance Hall

The Vols recruited players in the 2015 class they feel will be the bookend offensive tackles of the future.

One of them—6'4", 318-pound true freshman right tackle Hall—is a bookend offensive tackle of the present. Though star recruit Drew Richmond has yet to find the field, he'll be relied upon to start next year. But Hall developed a little more quickly.

All he's done since taking over for the injured Brett Kendrick in the Georgia game is impress everybody.

Yes, he got beat by Alabama's Ryan Anderson on the Crimson Tide's game-clinching sack-fumble, but those are the lumps you take playing a true freshman. For the most part, Hall has been solid. At times, he's been spectacular.

Blessed with ideal size and athleticism to play the position in a zone-blocking scheme, Hall recovered from a torn Achilles suffered during his senior year of high school in time to play right away at UT. The Vols got a steal when they lured the 3-star prospect and 75th-ranked tackle from the Washington, D.C. area.

Now, it looks like he'll be an anchor on a surprisingly stellar offensive front for the next few years. He should stay in the starting lineup for the rest of the year.

 

Justin Martin

Perhaps no Vol has made as big of an impact once he got onto the field as a starter as the junior college transfer cornerback.

With incumbent starter Emmanuel Moseley's surprising, season-long struggles in man coverage killing Tennessee on the back end, the Vols needed a defensive savior. They inserted the talented Martin, and he has provided instant-impact improvement.

Nearly everybody in the SEC coveted the 6'1", 183-pound sophomore defensive back, and he came to Knoxville, staying close to his Antioch, Tennessee, home. He was injured in fall camp and missed some significant time, but since starting against Alabama, he's played extremely well.

In that game, he wound up with seven tackles, and though he made some mistakes, he also made some big plays, including breaking up a two-point conversion attempt from Jake Coker.

"He did great," Randolph told the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown after the Alabama game. "He earned those reps. He earned them in practice. He got hurt early in camp, so that kind of set him back a little bit. But he's been showing up every day in practice, knowing the game plan. (He's) very smart so he picked up the defense very fast, so that's probably why he got more reps today."

Against Kentucky, he was in lockdown mode. The Wildcats couldn't get anything past him, as he played on an extremely high level. For now, Martin has a corner spot locked down. With his size and athleticism, it may be difficult to pry it away.

 

Josh Malone

So, this is what all the fuss was about.

A season ago, the 6'3", 197-pound receiver who was Tennessee's highest-rated commitment in the 2014 recruiting class really struggled when he was on the field. He hit the proverbial freshman wall, and on a receiving corps full of injuries, he was a nonfactor down the stretch.

While adjusting to the college game, Malone played too soft at times. At others, he simply struggled to consistently run routes and catch passes.

The majority of those struggles are now in the rear-view mirror. He leads the Vols with 23 catches for 315 yards and two touchdowns this year. He became the only UT receiver with more than 100 yards in a game with his performance against Kentucky.

Though the numbers are far from eye-popping, Malone has become Tennessee's most consistent target, and his relationship with Dobbs is really paying off.

With Kentucky leading 14-10 in the second quarter, Malone and Dobbs may have made the play that saved UT's season with a 75-yard scoring strike that flipped the momentum for good.

"It was a huge momentum turn," Tennessee senior offensive tackle Kyler Kerbyson told Rucker. "That really just turned the whole game around for us. It was really huge."

It's even bigger that Malone is becoming reliable. If the Vols start having some receivers live up to their massive potential, this offense can really thrive.

 

Micah Abernathy

This is a bit of a wild card to put on the list, but after his performance against Kentucky, the true freshman could start to see increased reps at nickelback.

Junior Malik Foreman's inconsistent play all year has opened a door. The former 6'0", 193-pound 4-star Abernathy looks prepared to burst through it and bust that door off the hinges.

He's an extremely athletic and versatile player who could wind up growing into a safety down the road, or he also could move out to the boundary once Sutton goes pro. For now, he may wind up being UT's answer down the stretch at a very important position.

Jones was really impressed by what Abernathy did against Kentucky and how he's come on throughout the year, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel's Troy Provost-Heron

Micah Abernathy is one of those freshman that has continued to get better and better and better and you can see it in his style of play. You can really see it in his overall playing speed. We always talk about not letting the mind tie the feet up, and he’s becoming more and more comfortable. I’ve been really, really proud of him and his continued growth and development. Just like every week, he’ll compete with Malik for the nickel spot and we’ll see how that goes.

That doesn't sound like words reserved for a player destined for mop-up duty. 

Ever since the preseason injury to starting nickelback Rashaan Gaulden ended his season, the Vols were left with a major void at the position. Foreman hasn't been bad, but he also has given up some plays. Abernathy's ceiling is higher, and UT may give him an extended look.

He's the kind of player that can be valuable at several different positions throughout his career.

 

Kahlil McKenzie

Tennessee's most touted freshman hasn't been the most impressive on the field this year for the Vols, as he's had to get adjusted to the college game.

McKenzie sat out his senior season of high school, and he had some conditioning issues once he got to Knoxville, but now that he's getting on the field more, he's made an impact in several contests.

Though the 6'3", 344-pound defensive tackle has yet to become an every-down lineman, he's beginning to be relied upon more and more. UT needs to get him some more reps in the remaining games. His sheer size and brute force can help him be a major force against the run.

"Kahlil's making plays," UT defensive line coach Steve Stripling told Brown a couple of weeks ago. "It's a funny thing about D-linemen. Sometimes they'll get a lot of snaps and make no plays, and sometimes a guy will go in there for 30 snaps and get five tackles. That's what I like about him. He ends up being around the football."

Still, how many plays McKenzie is on the field is normally dictated by what UT wants to do defensively. Against Alabama and Kentucky, UT employed more of a "rabbit package," where it tried to get smaller, quicker linemen on the field.

When that happens, obviously McKenzie stays on the sideline. But that shouldn't impede his progress or his long-term prognosis for this defense. He's expected to be the centerpiece of that line for the next couple of years.

It wouldn't be surprising at all to see him have a breakout game sooner rather than later.

 

All stats gathered from UTSports.com unless otherwise noted. All quotes gathered firsthand 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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Hawaii Head Coach Search: Latest News, Rumors After Norm Chow's Firing

The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors fired head football coach Norm Chow after they dropped their sixth straight game to fall to 2-7 on the season. An old program leader is reportedly interested in the opening.

Continue for updates.

June Jones to Apply for Head Coaching Position  Wednesday, Nov. 4

According to Dave Reardon of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the winningest coach in school history wants to become the head coach once again. Jones said he would apply for the opening, although he didn’t offer much else, per Reardon: “I don’t want to comment further at this time because the attention should stay on the team now, and hopefully (interim coach) Chris (Naeole) can lead them to some wins down the stretch.”

Jones coached at Hawaii for nine seasons and led the Rainbow Warriors to seven winning campaigns. In total, Hawaii went 76-41 during Jones’ tenure and made the Sugar Bowl following a perfect 12-0 season in 2007. Although his team lost to Georgia in that contest, it was a monumental moment for the program. 

Based on that success, Lindsay Schnell of Sports Illustrated thinks Jones could be the future coach in Hawaii:

Jones’ dynamic, pass-first offenses were a large reason for the success while he was in charge of the program. Quarterback Colt Brennan finished sixth in Heisman Trophy voting in 2006 and third in 2007 and threw for an incredible 14,193 yards and 131 touchdowns in three seasons.

The Rainbow Warriors could use an offensive boost like that moving forward considering they have already been shut out three times this season.

Jones ultimately took the SMU job after that Sugar Bowl loss and struggled with a 36-53 record from 2008-14. However, the team did make four consecutive bowl games from 2009-12, which marked its first bowl appearances since the 1985 “death penalty.”

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Ohio State Football: Buckeyes' Road to College Football Playoff

The Ohio State Buckeyes aren't the top-ranked team in the country anymore, but they're in prime position to make another run at the College Football Playoff.

The Buckeyes have owned the No. 1 spot in the AP and Coaches polls every week since the preseason, but the 12-member selection committee slotted Urban Meyer's squad at No. 3 in the first official playoff rankings Tuesday night. 

What does that mean for Ohio State and its quest to repeat as national champions?

 

Where Ohio State Stands

Those familiar with the logic behind the College Football Playoff standings weren't surprised by Ohio State's No. 3 ranking.

The selection committee doesn't factor in a team's potential or future opponents—it compiles the ranking based on past performances and strength of schedule. That's why the Buckeyes were slated behind No. 1 Clemson, which has the country's best victory over fifth-ranked Notre Dame, and No. 2 LSU, which boasts wins over No. 20 Mississippi State and No. 10 Florida.

At No. 3, the Buckeyes are in excellent position to make it into the final four. They're still the odds-on favorite to win the title (h/t DJ Byrnes of Eleven Warriors), and they're comfortably ahead of title contenders with Alabama at No. 4, Notre Dame at No. 5, Baylor at No. 6, Michigan State at No. 7, TCU at No. 8, Iowa at No. 9 and Florida, which rounds out the top 10. 

 

Help Needed

If the Buckeyes take care of their business, they won't need any help getting into the playoff.

That wasn't the case last year, when they premiered at No. 16 in the first College Football Playoff ranking. The Buckeyes used impressive victories over Michigan State and Michigan to climb the rankings before breaking through with a 59-0 rout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.

This year, Ohio State will have the same opportunities against Michigan State and Michigan, in addition to a potential berth in the conference title game. But this time around, those games will give the Buckeyes a chance to earn the No. 1 overall seed in this year's playoff. 

Committee chairman Jeff Long spoke highly of the Buckeyes when ESPN revealed the rankings Tuesday night. 

"Ohio State is strong," Long said, via Eric Seger of Eleven Warriors. "The Buckeyes are undefeated and they have three wins against teams with better than .500 records."

Their resume would be rock solid if they can get wins over No. 7 Michigan State and No. 17 Michigan. And if the Buckeyes draw an undefeated Iowa team (that currently checks in at No. 9) in the Big Ten title game and come up with a victory, the Buckeyes would be a near lock for the No. 1 seed.

 

Final Bowl Prediction

Ohio State will narrowly beat Michigan State and Michigan to cap a perfect regular season before cruising to the Big Ten title game and routing an undefeated Iowa team.

That three-game stretch will put a 13-0 Ohio State team at No. 1 in the final College Football Playoff standings, which will pin the Buckeyes against an undefeated No. 4 TCU squad in the Orange Bowl. No. 2 Alabama (12-1) will be matched up against an unbeaten and No. 3 Clemson team in the Cotton Bowl. 

The Buckeyes will win a 45-38 shootout against the Horned Frogs, and the Tide will bowl over the Tigers 27-16, setting up a rematch of last year's thrilling Sugar Bowl between Ohio State and Alabama for the national title. 

 

David Regimbal is the Ohio State football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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College Football Playoff 2015: Final Four Predictions After 1st Top 25 Rankings

The first College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday in what amounted to great theater among the social realms, as the Top Four are in a completely different order from the Associated Press Top 25 and Amway Coaches Poll

Not to much surprise, Clemson and LSU swept the top two spots. Both Tigers teams are arguably the most complete in college football and have meaningful wins to show for it, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Most dramatic in Tuesday's revealings were one-loss Alabama and Notre Dame exceeding eight unbeatens, coming in fourth and fifth, respectively. Baylor is sixth despite ranking No. 2 in the current AP poll with its FBS-best 61.1 points per game. But the committee sent a meaningful message that strength of schedule has and will continue to be the chief determining factor. 

Here is a look at the full CFP rankings:

CFP chair Jeff Long told the ESPN panel during Tuesday’s telecast the toughest teams to decipher were two from the Big 12:    

It’s Baylor and it’s TCU because of their strength of schedule and who they played thus far. I think those teams, particularly Baylor, has an explosive offense and we’ve seen that. But I think their strength of schedule has left us uncertain of their true strength. 

Really, it came down to evaluating their résumés, what they’ve done, who they’ve beaten and how they played in those games.

The AP’s Jay Cohen was among those not thrilled with the pecking order:

It’s important to keep the initial rankings in perspective—eight of the CFP Top 11 still play opponents among those ranks before the final rankings release. ESPN host Rece Davis offered reassurance to those voicing frustration in the social realms:

With the playoff picture starting to mold, here are projections for the New Year's Eve semifinal games.

 

PROJECTION: Cotton Bowl – No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State

Of the current Top Four, Clemson has the easiest road to the playoff. The Tigers play No. 16 Florida State in Week 10, three unranked teams after and then an ACC title game, likely against North Carolina. 

The Tigers rank fifth in total defense (278 yards per game) and 11th in scoring offense (40.6 points), creating a balance that's catapulted Clemson to outscore opponents, 355-141. 

Long gave conviction why Clemson was the committee’s top choice, per Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports:

The Buckeyes have had a cakewalk thus far, leaving their fate to the back end of their schedule with road games against No. 7 Michigan State and No. 17 Michigan to finish the regular season. It’s difficult to imagine winning both, and losing to the Spartans could squander their hopes of playing for the Big 10 championship. 

A rugged win in East Lansing will cripple the Buckeyes the following week in Ann Arbor, but Ohio State will rebound to win the conference crown, likely against No. 9 Iowa. The respectable finish coupled with a status as defending champs with much of its 2014 roster still in tact will narrowly send the Buckeyes to their second straight playoff as the lowest seed. Mark Schlabach of ESPN agreed:

Some have criticized Ohio State for not blowing out teams the way it's supposed to, but a closer look at the numbers says otherwise. The Buckeyes have outscored opponents 308-121 or 38.5-15.1 per game. Wins by an average of 23 points—up from their 22.25 margin in 2014—are impressive, particularly given a quarterback carousel between Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett.

The Buckeyes will be without Barrett in Week 10 vs. Minnesota after the sophomore was suspended one game for an arrest for operating a motor vehicle while impaired. They should be fine with Jones, who is 10-0 as a starter, including last year's title run.

 

PROJECTION: Orange Bowl – No. 4 Alabama vs. No. 6 Baylor

There was uproar at the committee including Alabama among the initial Top Four, but the Crimson Tide will prove why the committee ranked them there. 

After an early hiccup to No. 18 Ole Miss, Alabama has churned out five straight wins and is hitting championship form—typical of a Nick Saban-coached team in November. Up next: a colossal game against fellow playoff contender LSU in what will likely determine the SEC West—as it has in nine of the last 15 seasons. The SEC Network shared the added emphasis for Saturday's game:

In a squeaker, Alabama will get its fifth straight win over LSU in what’s become one of college football’s greatest rivalries from a sheer standpoint of championship implications. 

Tigers Heisman Trophy front-runner Leonard Fournette has been sensational—an FBS-best 1,352 rush yards and 15 touchdowns—but he'll be limited against the SEC’s best run-defense, putting pressure on quarterback Brandon Harris and LSU’s aerial attack, which ranks last in the conference. 

Harris has improved in his last three starts—716 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions—but the Tigers still rank dead last in SEC passing defense. 

Alabama will be LSU’s only hiccup, but it’ll be costly. Despite what ESPN’s Football Power Index indicated as the most difficult remaining schedule, according to David Ching of ESPN, the Tigers should run the table the rest of the way. But so should the Crimson Tide, who as a one-loss SEC champion will reach their second straight playoff. 

Despite being left out, Baylor still has the chance to woo the 12-person committee against No. 8 TCU on Nov. 27. The Bears will run the table and continue to put up points, while the rest of those ahead in the rankings will tumble, giving Baylor a narrow nod to reach, per Schlabach:

The Bears will be without starting quarterback and offensive catalyst Seth Russell, whom they lost for the season to a neck fracture. But Baylor should be in good shape with backup true freshman Jarrett Stidham, per Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com:

Six coaches who recruited Stidham or have watched tape of him in games this season weighed in anonymously on Baylor's new signal-caller, his prodigious potential and what to watch as he takes the reins later this week. Their overwhelming sentiment: The Bears should be just fine.

The Bears are just the second team in the modern era to score at least 50 in five straight games, according to ESPN.com, and their average of 61.1 points per game will be too remarkable to ignore.

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Bleacher Report's Week 10 College Football Playoff Predictions

Will your team make the College Football Playoff?

Unlike most media outlets, Bleacher Report doesn't give you a yes-or-no answer. Instead, this playoff committee uses analytics to assign your team a probability of making the playoff.

The sortable table shows the results, while you can find more information on the simulation methods at The Power Rank.

With the first committee rankings having been released Tuesday evening, we can now identify groups of teams that will play one another in the upcoming weeks. These contests are essentially elimination games to make the final four teams on December 6.

Here, we'll examine four of these groups as well as identify a sleeper team no one is talking about.

 

Top-ranked Clemson faces immediate test vs. FSU

Clemson certainly deserved the top spot in the committee's rankings. It destroyed Miami so badly that Hurricanes head coach Al Golden got fired. The Tigers also have a marquee win over Notre Dame, although the Fighting Irish did manage two critical fumbles in a close game.

Clemson faces its stiffest test over the remainder of the season this weekend against Florida State.

My numbers give Clemson a 68 percent chance to win this game, although this win probability should be higher due to injuries. Florida State quarterback Everett Golson and standout running back Dalvin Cook are dealing with a concussion and ankle injury, respectively.

 

Alabama-LSU showdown will turn rankings on their head early

In its first rankings last year, the committee sorted teams by losses. Undefeated teams, then one-loss teams and so on.

The committee made a big departure from this simple math this year. It ranked one-loss Alabama fourth, ahead of five undefeated teams from Power Five conferences.

Alabama has a 37 percent chance to make the playoff, which is greater than the 24 percent chance of the LSU team ranked ahead of the Crimson Tide. A big reason for Alabama's higher probability is that it gets LSU at home this weekend.

Alabama has allowed 3.67 yards per carry, which ranks eighth in the nation (numbers do not include sacks). With arguably the best front seven in college football, the defense should be able to at least slow down Leonard Fournette—no one is going to stop him outright—and win the game.

However, the winner of this elimination game still has a tough road to winning the SEC West. Alabama has a road game against Mississippi State and veteran signal-caller Dak Prescott. LSU travels to Ole Miss to face an elite defense led by Robert Nkemdiche.

Let's not pencil the winner of this game into the playoff just yet.

If Clemson beats Florida State, its playoff probability will shoot even higher than the 61 percent from this week's calculation. Should Clemson stumble, Florida State suddenly becomes the favorite to win the ACC.  While the Seminoles are currently 16th in the committee's rankings, they would have an outside shot to make the playoff with a big win over the top-ranked Tigers.

 

Baylor, TCU on collision course for Thanksgiving weekend 

The committee tipped its hat to Baylor for winning its games by big margins. The undefeated Bears have won each of their games by 18 or more points.

Despite an incredibly weak out-of-conference schedule, the committee ranked Baylor sixth.

TCU is also undefeated. However, it needed a tipped-pass miracle to beat Texas Tech by three points and also needed a comeback from a big second-half deficit against Kansas State.

One could argue that TCU should be ahead of Baylor for beating a decent Minnesota team out of conference. The committee didn't see it this way, putting TCU at eighth, two spots below Baylor.

Baylor travels to TCU on Thanksgiving weekend for one of the most anticipated games of the year. The numbers give TCU a 60 percent win probability mostly due to the home-field advantage. However, I may adjust this number based on how quarterback Jarrett Stidham performs as a replacement for the injured Seth Russell.

But there is a team lurking that could wreck the playoff hopes of both Texas teams.

 

Don't count out Oklahoma

In one of the most inexplicable games of the season, Texas beat Oklahoma in the Red River Showdown.  The loss has a strong Oklahoma team at 15th in the committee's rankings.

However, don't count out the Sooners. They've been fantastic on both sides of the ball. The offense has gained 6.9 yards per play (ninth-best in the nation) under new coordinator Lincoln Riley. The defense has allowed 4.3 yards per play (sixth-best).

Oklahoma gets TCU at home, and the numbers give the Sooners a 49 percent chance to pull off the upset. 

Oklahoma also travels to Baylor. If it wins both games, the Sooners could fulfill their 11 percent chance to make the playoff.

 

Possible Stanford-Notre Dame elimination game looming

Washington State kicker Erik Powell saved the Pac-12's playoff hopes last week when his game-winning 43-yard field goal attempt sailed wide as time expired, allowing Stanford to hold on for a two-point win in Pullman, Washington.

A second loss for Stanford would have made it very difficult to make the playoff. Instead, Stanford keeps hope alive for the Pac-12 with a 24 percent playoff probability. The numbers don't like Utah, giving the Utes only a 6 percent playoff chance despite being ranked one spot below Stanford.

Stanford has a unique opportunity to impress the committee when fifth-ranked Notre Dame visits on Thanksgiving weekend. The contest is essentially an elimination game for both teams.

Notre Dame at Stanford should feature a lot of points, as both offenses have been explosive this season.  The numbers see two evenly matched teams and give the advantage to Stanford based on home-field advantage.

 

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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Kareem Walker Decommits from OSU: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

The defending national champion Ohio State Buckeyes saw their grasp on the No. 1 spot disappear when they were named No. 3 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings, but that was far from the only loss they took Tuesday. 

Kareem Walker, who is the nation’s No. 1-ranked running back in the class of 2016 on 247Sports’ composite rankings, decided to decommit from the Buckeyes. He shared the news on his Twitter account:

This decision comes shortly after Walker appeared on the Lemming Report on CBS Sports Network Friday and said he is “solidly committed to Ohio State,” per the show’s host, Tom Lemming.

As if the decommitment wasn’t enough for Buckeyes fans, Walker already visited Michigan and could very well end up in Jim Harbaugh’s class. That would mean the Scarlet and Gray lost out on a dynamic playmaker who could consistently rack up 1,000-yard campaigns at the next level to their hated rivals a year after Harbaugh took the job.

Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports provided some consolation for Buckeyes fans when he noted Urban Meyer and company landed 4-star running back Antonio Williams in October after Walker began to look elsewhere in his recruitment process. What’s more, Wiltfong added Ohio State has a verbal pledge from the nation’s No. 2-ranked running back, Demario McCall.

There are backup plans in place in Columbus, but this is just the latest blow for the Buckeyes in a difficult week that saw starting quarterback J.T. Barrett get suspended one game for an OVI citation and incoming recruit Nick Bosa (Joey Bosa’s brother) tear his ACL, per Eleven Warriors. It was even announced basketball player Mickey Mitchell has not yet been cleared to play in games by the NCAA, per Eleven Warriors.

At least the football team is still undefeated.

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Everyone Relax, College Football Playoff Confusion Will Sort Itself out Soon

Before you are overtaken with College Football Playoff outrage; before you flood selection committee chairman Jeff Long's Twitter mentions with deafening atrocities; before you demand an eight-team playoff at this very instant—take a deep November breath. Exhale.

Feels good, doesn't it? Don't be irate. Not yet, at least. 

The release of the first College Football Playoff rankings is the very beginning of a long process. The selection committee has had its say, although it is operating without the full script.

Many, regardless of circumstances or timing, won't be happy.

But undefeated teams will inevitably fall, starting on Saturday. Upsets will happen before our eyes. November will have its say.

This feels like the opportune time to remind you that Mississippi State was the selection committee's No. 1 overall seed out of the gate last year. Ohio State, for those who might be curious, debuted at No. 16.

That doesn't mean that Clemson, this year's debut No. 1, won't go the distance. It also doesn't guarantee that a team outside the top 15 will win the national championship.

It's simply a reminder that things will look drastically different than they do right now once December hits. The November schedule is one enormous land mine, each week after the next.

"I know there is a lot of football left to be played," Long told Bleacher Report last week. "There are a lot of matchups still to happen. There are a few wrinkles, and every year will have its own controversy."

We won't have to wait long. LSU and Alabama, the committee's No. 2 and No. 4 teams, will clash on Saturday. No. 8 TCU and No. 14 Oklahoma State, both undefeated, will also touch gloves.

A dramatic shakeup isn't just likely; it's inevitable. It starts now.

So as you scream at your television or computer screen, demanding different results; as you tell your golden retriever all about the committee's blatant SEC bias; as you cry for a system that is far less human and far more to your liking—do so with both eyes on the calendar.

The real outage is a month away. Don't waste those emotions, friend. 

As for other observations regarding the first College Football Playoff rankings of the year, here are some thoughts.

 

The Committee Takes an Early Stand on Strength of Schedule 

Now is the perfect time for the selection committee to flex its muscle. And flex it did. What became abundantly clear, for the second consecutive year, is that strength of schedule will play an enormous role in shaping the playoff.

It's not just the matter of putting Clemson at No. 1 or placing LSU at No. 2. Both teams have navigated quality competition to stay undefeated thus far.

The intrigue exists at the No. 4 spot, where Alabama was selected over a slew of Power Five undefeateds, thanks in large part to a schedule the committee liked. With wins over Wisconsin and Texas A&M, the Crimson Tide were rewarded. A loss to Ole Miss, the No. 18 team, didn't diminish the resume.

The same can be said about Notre Dame. The Irish stand at No. 5 in the initial rankings, which was slightly higher than most anticipated. With wins over Temple, USC, Navy and Georgia Tech, Brian Kelly's team was rewarded. And at this point, a two-point loss in a downpour at Clemson doesn't look so bad, either.

Consider it an early pat on the back for taking a tougher road than most. It's an advantage, although others will soon be able to close the gap.

On that note...

 

Baylor and TCU Need Not Worry…Yet

Despite having two of the nation's most diabolical offenses and three notable unbeatens, the Big 12 was left out of the top five of the committee's rankings. Baylor and TCU both cracked the top 10, although they were slightly lower than most supporters of these Texas schools would have liked. 

At this moment in time, the No. 6 Bears' best win is over three-win West Virginia. One could argue that the Mountaineers are the No. 8 Horned Frogs' top victory as well—them or Minnesota. TCU also narrowly escaped losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State. They were penalized for that.

And quite frankly, as we stand here right now, it means absolutely nothing. 

The Big 12's November schedule is a gauntlet. It's relentless. It will reshape everything we think we know about the conference.

With four teams ranked in the top 15—the No. 14 Cowboys and No. 15 Oklahoma are the other two—the league's strength of schedule will amp up mightily.

If Baylor, TCU or Oklahoma State finishes the season without a loss, it will be in the playoff. The lack of a conference championship game will not matter. It's that simple. Even the Sooners, still cruising along with only one loss, should be considered a threat.

The biggest concern for the Big 12 isn't the committee. The respect is around the corner. No, the biggest concern should be the possibility that these programs find a way to cannibalize themselves out of the playoff entirely. It happened last year. It could happen this year as well. What a month it will be.

 

The Pac-12's Room For Error is Minimal 

We learned our lesson last year. When Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech, the national media gladly tossed dirt on the grave of the Big Ten and declared it out of the College Football Playoff before the month of October. 

Such proclamations are now off limits, at least for another year. With that acknowledged and history appreciated, the Pac-12 is not exactly in an ideal spot heading into the homestretch. It's not dead by any means, but this is not optimal.

Oh, it has horses. Make no mistake about it. Stanford and Utah—at No. 11 and No. 12 in the current rankings—are very much in the conversation with only a loss apiece. Each can continue to climb.

If all goes well, those two squads could meet in the Pac-12 Championship Game with a spot in the playoff on the line. The Cardinal also has a game left against Notre Dame. A win against the Irish, a team the committee loves, would serve as an enormous resume booster.

But No. 23 UCLA is the only other Pac-12 team in the rankings. And while anything is possible, it seems unlikely that the Bruins will climb to the upper echelon, even with a Pac-12 championship still possible.

So, until further notice, Stanford and Utah are the conference's best and only shots. It can be done, certainly, but a loss for either will be an enormous hit for both. And a loss for both will, well, we can probably get back to dumping that dirt with a bit more confidence.

 

Memphis is College Football's First Potential Cinderella 

It will take chaos of the highest order for their potential to be realized, but the Memphis Tigers—currently No. 13 in the selection committee's first rankings—at least have a chance to crash the playoff party.

Mind you, they are still a tremendous long shot. It's also a drastic departure from where we were a season ago. 

Oh, the selection committee did not care for Group of Five teams early on in 2014. We saw that firsthand when it skipped over Marshall time and time again. But with their win over Ole Miss, the Tigers feel a bit different. 

They already have a quality win. They have Justin Fuente, the hottest young coach in the nation. They have Paxton Lynch, one of the hottest young quarterbacks in the nation. The recipe is there. There is also some national sex appeal brewing, which, like it or not, plays an enormous role.

And their schedule doesn't ease up, either, which is a good thing for Memphis. Over the next three weeks, the Tigers will play Navy, No. 25 Houston and No. 22 Temple. Through nine weeks, those teams have a combined record of 21-2. Finishing that stretch unbeaten is not a given, but it will be celebrated if it happens.

Just how much the committee awards Memphis if that scenario plays out is another debate entirely.

Can the Tigers really climb all the way near the top? It still feels like a bit of a stretch right now. But then again, a little madness can go a long way.

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Notre Dame Football: Irish's Road to College Football Playoff

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Just like everyone expected, Notre Dame Fighting Irish football checked in fifth in the initial College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday night.

Right?

The Irish are ahead of undefeated Baylor (7-0), Michigan State (8-0), TCU (8-0) and Iowa (8-0), plus one-loss Florida (7-1) and Stanford (7-1).

The rankings can change weekly based on win quality, not just the bottom-line result. But the Irish are in a strong position with four regular-season games remaining.

 

Where Notre Dame Stands

The Irish are the second-highest-ranked one-loss team, trailing just No. 4 Alabama (7-1). The Crimson Tide have defeated Wisconsin (7-2 record), Georgia (5-3) and Texas A&M (6-2), among others. None of their wins have come against teams in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, has topped Navy (6-1), USC (5-3) and Temple (7-1). The Owls earned the No. 22 spot in this week’s playoff poll. Alabama lost by six points at home to No. 18 Ole Miss, while the only blemish for the Irish is a two-point loss to No. 1 Clemson on the road.

The Tigers (8-0) top the poll, while LSU (7-0) and Ohio State (8-0) round out the top three.

 

Help Needed

First and foremost, Notre Dame needs to take care of business over its final four games to lock up a spot in the College Football Playoff.

The Irish still must deal with Pitt (6-2), Wake Forest (3-6), Boston College (3-6) and Stanford down the stretch. And as we learned in last year’s inaugural playoff structure, wins don’t mean everything. A monster win, like a 59-0 drubbing in a conference title game (looking at you, Ohio State), can vault one team past another and leave some squads on the outside looking in.

That being said, four wins in these final four games will leave Notre Dame in outstanding shape. Two of the four teams ahead of the Irish (LSU and Alabama) meet Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, which will help Notre Dame in some way (if the Irish topple Pitt, of course).

LSU also faces No. 18 Ole Miss and Texas A&M to conclude its regular season, while Alabama still has No. 20 Mississippi State in mid-November. Clemson’s biggest remaining opportunity to strengthen its resume—and also the best chance for the Irish to receive some Clemson-related help—is this weekend when it hosts No. 16 Florida State.

No. 6 Baylor still has the resume-boosting opportunities it has so far lacked with November matchups against No. 15 Oklahoma, No. 14 Oklahoma State and No. 8 TCU. No. 7 Michigan State gets a crack at No. 3 Ohio State in Columbus on Nov. 21, while the Horned Frogs still have Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, too, plus Baylor in their regular-season finale.

No. 9 Iowa (remaining opponents: Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue and Nebraska) lacks big games in November, and No. 10 Florida’s only marquee game is against No. 16 Florida State on Nov. 28.

As long as Notre Dame handles its own business, the Irish likely won’t need too much assistance. Asked Tuesday (before the rankings were announced) how much he considers the help his team might need, Irish head coach Brian Kelly reframed the question.

“We won't think much about it at all, other than talking about what we need to do, what we need to do better as a football team,” Kelly said. “There are a lot of areas within each group that we felt like after the Temple game that we've got to focus all of our time and energy on if we want to be in this conversation next week and then the week after.”

 

Final Bowl Prediction

Notre Dame is certainly capable of winning its final four regular-season games. In fact, the Irish could even be favored in all four tilts, though a one-loss Stanford team at home likely holds the edge.

Notre Dame shouldn’t have much trouble with Wake Forest and Boston College in a pair of home environments. Pittsburgh does present a trap-game possibility, but we expect Notre Dame to improve to 8-1 come Saturday evening.

So it all comes down to Stanford. The Irish already went into one raucous road environment this season against a highly ranked opponent and nearly came away with a victory. Right now, we see Notre Dame, with its veteran leadership, prevailing in a potential play-in game.

The last question in this hypothetical, then, is could the Irish get jumped? It’s possible. But at No. 5 in the first poll with two-thirds of the season finished, Notre Dame is in good shape.

Prediction: Top 4

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand and all stats courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.

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

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CFP Committee Shows Group of 5 Teams Love, but Still an Uphill Climb to Playoff

We had to wait a little longer than last year for our first set of rankings from the College Football Playoff selection committee but Tuesday still felt a little like Christmas morning.

Unlike December 25 though, there were no shouts of joy. Instead, for most fans, there were screams of anger.

Alabama was too high, Baylor too low and, of course, there was obvious bias by the committee against (insert your favorite conference here).

But lost among the hemming and the hawing over the committee’s top 25 on all forms of media, lies the simple fact the underdogs had a banner night.

Memphis checked in at No. 13, Temple is No. 22, Toledo at No. 24, and Houston rounded things out at No. 25. In the first poll of 2015, the Group of Five had one more team than they did all of last season.

That’s an encouraging start for the Group of Five when it comes to impressing the committee with their strength on the field (and probably speaks a bit to the general mediocrity of some Power Five leagues). Last year, Boise State led all teams by appearing in three sets of rankings. East Carolina and Marshall also had one appearance each in 2014. Add it all up and that’s five appearances in the poll, a feat that will easily be surpassed by the committee’s second top 25 this year.

The attention will naturally gravitate to the Tigers, who now hold the title of highest ranked Group of Five team in the short history of the College Football Playoff. They’re undefeated and have a valuable win over No. 18 Ole Miss, a squad that controls its own destiny when it comes to winning the powerful SEC. Quarterback Paxton Lynch is already drawing Heisman Trophy praise and head coach Justin Fuente is being mentioned for every major open job in the country (and even some that are not).

Memphis is good, and college football fans far away from the Mississippi River have noticed. The committee agrees and for the first time provided some insight on just how well they’ll treat an undefeated Group of Five team with good wins on their resume.

Some will likely raise their fists that Memphis isn’t high enough and they would have an argument. The Tigers have a pair of wins over Power Five teams, with a trump card on just about everybody (outside of maybe Clemson) being that one of those wins was over a Rebels team fresh off a victory at Alabama. Memphis has also dispatched the preseason favorite in the American — Cincinnati — and may also wind up with a win over the eventual MAC champion in Bowling Green. At this point, Memphis is the trendy team and have an edge over compatriots Temple, Houston and Toledo.

But there’s still a long and treacherous climb for Memphis to prove to everybody that they are worthy of making the final four.

While they did check in ahead of Ohio State’s debut spot last year (No. 16 in the first poll in 2014), it’s not so much what is ahead of them on their own schedule as that of the teams ahead of them in the rankings.

No. 9 Iowa, No. 7 Michigan State and the third-ranked Buckeyes will all likely play each other (the latter two for sure). But that also means one to two more top-15 wins for whoever emerges out of the Big Ten. That’s not mentioning beating Michigan (which the Spartans have already done), a squad the committee deemed ever so slightly worse than Memphis in their first top 25.

Then there’s the SEC, which placed two teams in the top four, and the Big 12 duo of Baylor and TCU sitting in the top 10. That’s three conferences who have a very favorable path of placing at least one team in the playoff without even mentioning No. 1 Clemson out of the ACC.

As a result, Memphis is rooting for Ole Miss to win the SEC and hope for some chaos elsewhere. That includes in the Pac-12, ACC and with Notre Dame, who was ranked No. 8 and has seemingly gotten strong each week despite injury after injury.

It’s a tall task to overcome all that and still make the final four. It’s not impossible, mind you, but a tall task nevertheless.

Houston, Temple and Toledo don’t come close to Memphis’ resume so all three have their sights on a Fiesta Bowl bid as the Group of Five representative and nothing more. The Tigers are aiming a little higher at this point, even if there’s a steep hill to climb.

We still have more than a month of college football left to play this year and absolutely anything can happen. So celebrate the success of the Group of Five so far this season, but just remember that they’re still on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff itself.

Bryan Fischer is a national college football columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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Ohio State Doesn't Get Champions Benefit of the Doubt in Initial Rankings

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A year ago, the Ohio State Buckeyes' path to the College Football Playoff set many precedents for the sport's new postseason process, many of which benefited the Buckeyes in their quest to capture the national championship.

In its attempt at defending its crown, Ohio State set another standard in the playoff process on Tuesday night.

That's when the first College Football Playoff rankings of the 2015 season were released, with the selection committee having to take into account the merits of a defending playoff championship for the first time. If Tuesday's rankings were any indication, the Buckeyes won't be receiving the benefit of the doubt based on last season's accomplishments, as the top-ranked team in The Associated Press Top 25 and Amway Coaches Poll found itself slotted third in the playoff's premiere rankings of the 2015 campaign.

Ohio State trailed No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 LSU, while being ranked ahead of No. 4 Alabama in the initial rankings release.

As committee chair and Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long explained on the ESPN broadcast of the reveal, Clemson topping the Buckeyes as the top-ranked team came as a result of the Tigers possessing more quality wins than Ohio State at the moment.

"I think the quality of their victories and certainly the Notre Dame victory at home," Long answered when asked what qualified Clemson as the No. 1 team. "They have four teams that have better than a .500 [winning percentage] record that they defeated. That, combined, really with an offense and a defense that are strong on both sides of the ball. I think that's what won the day in the committee's eyes for the No. 1 ranking."

The Buckeyes, meanwhile, have three wins over teams with records over .500 this season, but no victories over opponents currently ranked in the playoff committee's top 25. Unlike in the AP Top 25 or coaches poll, Ohio State's standing as defending champion didn't secure its status as the top-ranked team, a departure from the way the traditional polls have typically been put together in the past.

"Really it came down to evaluating their resumes, what they've done, who they've beaten and how they've played in those games," Long said of the committee's process.

The good news for the Buckeyes is the position they find themselves in at the moment is actually more favorable than it was a year ago. Despite suffering a loss to Virginia Tech in the second week of the season in 2014, Ohio State climbed from No. 16 in the first rankings reveal to No. 4 in the matter of six weeks, before beating No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon en route to capturing the national title.

This season, the Buckeyes know they control their own destiny when it comes to the College Football Playoff. While it may not be the first or even second-ranked team at the moment, the heart of Ohio State's schedule remains ahead of it, with season-defining games against No. 7 Michigan State and No. 17 Michigan still around the corner.

And as Buckeyes fans learned last season, earning those quality wins—and a subsequent Big Ten championship—will be what matters most to the selection committee.

Because while last year's Ohio State squad seemed to be getting better with each passing week, it wasn't until it picked up a road win over No. 8 Michigan State that it was considered a serious threat to make the playoff. The Buckeyes then bolstered their resume with a 59-0 win over No. 13 Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, giving Urban Meyer's team arguably the key piece to its playoff berth—an outright conference championship.

That turned out to be the deciding factor for Ohio State when it came to making the inaugural playoff, with the Buckeyes edging out Big 12 co-champions TCU and Baylor for the fourth and final spot. While he declined to get into specifics, Long indicated that Ohio State benefited from its status as an undisputed conference champion.

"We were presented with co-champions," Long said at the time. "In the other situations, we had definitive champions for that conference."

It's also not a coincidence that with all factors being equal, it's "championships won" that the committee lists as its first piece of criteria when it comes to determining who will make the playoff.

For the Buckeyes, that means that winning out in the regular season before capturing a conference title would undoubtedly be enough to play for the right to defend their playoff championship. It also wouldn't hurt that a win in the Big Ten title game would most likely add another quality win to their schedule, with Big Ten West teams Iowa and Northwestern ranking ninth and 21st, respectively, in Tuesday's rankings reveal.

Whether that—in addition to potential wins over the Spartans and Wolverines in the weeks leading up to it—would be enough to give Ohio State a top-two ranking and more favorable semifinals matchup and/or location remains to be seen, and would most likely be dependent on how the Buckeyes perform on the field from here on out.

But unlike last year, the Buckeyes know exactly what they need to do to get to where they need to be, thanks in large part to the precedents they helped set a season ago.

 

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 CFBStats.com. Odds provided by Odds Shark. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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