NCAA Football

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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Winners & Losers of College Football Playoff Committee's First Rankings of 2015

The College Football Playoff is rapidly approaching, and it crept a bit closer Tuesday with the release of the first College Football Playoff committee rankings of the season. 

Which teams landed in the initial Top Four? Which didn't make the cut?

Find out in the video above as Bleacher Report college football analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer discuss the CFP committee's initial rankings.

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TCU Football: Horned Frogs' Road to College Football Playoff

Unlike 2014, the TCU Horned Frogs entered this season with high expectations. Despite numerous injuries and attrition, especially on defense, the Frogs have been able to remain undefeated.

Not surprisingly, TCU is ranked in the top 10 of the College Football Playoff selection committee's first poll for 2015. However, the committee views TCU as the second-best team in the Big 12 and, if the season ended today, not playoff worthy.

The good news for TCU is there's already been a precedent set of teams shooting up the rankings in the final weeks (i.e. Ohio State, which started No. 16 in last year's rankings).

Here's how the Horned Frogs can get to the playoff. 

 

Where the Horned Frogs Stand

TCU came in ranked No. 8 in the first standings, but this team certainly isn't in bad shape. In fact, the Frogs are ranked just one spot lower than where they were in the initial playoff rankings from a year ago.

The ranking is ultimately meaningless, but it is a peek into the process by which TCU was judged. TCU's strength of schedule is far better than Baylor's, but it's clear the committee has valued how the the Horned Frogs have looked. At home, TCU is beating teams by an average of 38.7 points per game. On the road, that number shrinks to just 10 points per game. 

In short, the committee is taking a more "wait-and-see" approach with TCU than it is with Baylor, even though neither made the first top four. However, it is interesting to note that folks in Vegas think more highly of TCU than the committee does: 

 

Help Needed

Technically, yes, but it's not that much. 

TCU will help itself tremendously if it wins out. Like the rest of the Big 12's top four teams, the Frogs have a remarkably back-loaded schedule. All its quality wins will come in the month of November. 

If TCU goes 12-0 it is likely in the field. The only thing left to determine would be seeding. If TCU loses a game, though, its chances are in jeopardy. By ranking Alabama No. 4, the committee sent a strong message that a one-loss SEC team could have an inside track to the field of four if things get a little chaotic. One-loss Notre Dame is also getting serious consideration. 

That would be bad news for the Big 12 if its champion had a loss. 

In summary, an undefeated Big 12 champion likely wouldn't need help to get into the playoff field, but a one-loss champion absolutely would. 

 

Final Bowl Prediction

Everybody knows about TCU's offense, quarterback Trevone Boykin and receiver Josh Doctson. They're the stars and they will always be the stars. 

Quietly, though, TCU's new-look defense has steadily improved. The Frogs ranked second in the Big 12 in yards-per-play allowed (4.76) for the month of October. Granted, the likes of Texas and West Virginia aren't offensive juggernauts, but those are the types of games in which TCU can build up confidence on defense. 

TCU will need to get the most out of that defense for the tough road ahead, but the fact this short-handed group is improving is a positive sign. Things could get chaotic between now and then, but the Nov. 27 game against Baylor is still shaping up to have major implications. The winner of that game could be playoff bound, with the loser going to the Sugar Bowl.

Prediction: Cotton Bowl  

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

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Brian Kelly Comments on Sideline Altercation with Assistant Coach David Grimes

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly apologized Tuesday following his physical confrontation with David Grimes, the team's assistant strength and conditioning coach, during the Fighting Irish's 24-20 win over Temple on Saturday.

"I wish the situation never occurred," Kelly said, per JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago. "I regret that it happened. David and I have met. We have met about the situation. We've moved past it."

Business Insider's Cork Gaines shared a Vine of the incident:

Kelly went on to explain why he shoved Grimes away from an official.

"I'm responsible for the sideline. Our sideline was not where it needed to be," he said, per Stankevitz. "There were some things going on on the sideline that were unacceptable. It falls on my shoulders. If we were to get a penalty in that time of the game, it would have fell on me as being somebody that can't control the sideline."     

Kelly is known for his fiery temper on the sideline, and ESPN's Bomani Jones wondered if it's time to change that:

Bleacher Report's Bryan Fischer also believed Kelly's actions over the weekend were unacceptable:

That's what rankled me Saturday and has ever since. This isn't the first time we've seen Kelly screaming and yelling and turning a shade of red reminiscent of a tomato. In fact, there's been an incident similar to Saturday's nearly every other year during Kelly's tenure in South Bend and even the seasons before.

[...] Kelly's role as head coach of a program like Notre Dame means he knows exactly what to say nearly every time, but it's pretty apparent that, at times, he gets a little heated and doesn't say it in the right manner.

The concerning thing is that's always been the case, and he has lost his cool on the sidelines repeatedly. At some point, we need to realize these aren't isolated incidents, but a trend.

There's nothing wrong with showing passion on the sideline, and with that passion will sometimes come anger. Especially given the stakes of every game at a program like Notre Dame, it's only natural for a head coach like Kelly to become agitated when things aren't going according to plan.

But a head coach putting his hands on an assistant or player is inappropriate when it comes in the manner of Kelly's interaction with Grimes.

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College Football Playoff Rankings 2015: Twitter Reacts to Week 10 Top 25 Reveal

So long, Associated Press poll. Goodbye, Amway Coaches Poll. The only thing that truly matters in the race to the national championship is the College Football Playoff rankings, which were released Tuesday for the first time this season.

Here is a look at those initial rankings:    

It cannot be stressed enough how fluid these standings are given how things played out last season.

Of the teams ranked in the top four of last year's initial College Football Playoff rankings, only Florida State reached the playoff. Ohio State, which won the national championship, was all the way down at No. 16 with an ugly loss to Virginia Tech on its resume.

That is to say: Don't worry too much if your team isn't on the inside track in this first batch of rankings, especially since so many of the top squads still have to play each other (such as the Buckeyes and Michigan State, Baylor and TCU, and LSU and Alabama).

Naturally, the Twitter world reacted to the selection committee's first rankings.

ESPN provided a glance at what the playoff would look like if it started today:

Clemson at No. 1—ahead of undefeated LSU from the SEC and undefeated and defending champion Ohio State—may stand out to some. However, the Tigers beat No. 5 Notre Dame, and ESPN Stats & Info put their resume in perspective:

Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports shared some insight from selection committee member Jeff Long regarding Clemson's No. 1 ranking:

As for the Buckeyes, the third spot is much better than the No. 16 ranking they had last year. Ohio State doesn't have many quality wins on its schedule, but it does face No. 7 Michigan State and No. 17 Michigan at the end of the season, and Ben Axelrod of Bleacher Report noted it received some favor in these rankings:

As for the Spartans, Axelrod said they were ranked too low and provided this rationalization:

Another team that has an argument with its initial ranking is undefeated TCU. Paul Myerberg of USA Today weighed in on the Horned Frogs and gave their fans some hope for the future:

Mandel was not surprised with TCU's ranking:

The Big 12 let everyone know just how much of a factor it will be the rest of the season, despite lower rankings than expected from TCU and Baylor:

From a conference perspective, the Pac-12 is on the outside looking in. That is partially because teams such as Oregon and UCLA have underperformed, but Mandel noted the panic likely coming from the West Coast:

ESPN's Danny Kanell believed Stanford deserved a better ranking given its on-field dominance—including double-digit victories over USC and UCLA—following a season-opening loss at Northwestern:

Kanell also appeared to have a problem with two SEC teams in the top four:

Part of the issue with Alabama at No. 4 is the fact it lost to Ole Miss. Sam Vecenie of CBS Sports wondered why the Crimson Tide received the benefit of the doubt:

Luke Zimmermann of SB Nation had a response to the Alabama outcry:

While the SEC may be in prime position now, LSU and Alabama play each other Saturday. That gives other teams, like No. 16 Florida State, an opportunity to move up if they take care of business. The Seminoles play the No. 1 Clemson Tigers on Saturday with a chance to make a profound statement.

Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press noted Florida State is in the same spot Ohio State was in last season:

The other intriguing storyline is the race for a New Year's Six bowl for teams outside the Power Five conferences. Undefeated Memphis has a win over No. 18 Ole Miss and checked in at No. 13. The Tigers are ahead of No. 22 Temple, No. 24 Toledo and No. 25 Houston.

Myerberg seemed to think there is even a slight chance Memphis could jump into the top four:

Even in a sport filled with as many twists and turns as college football, that would be a major shock.

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Baylor Football: Bears' Road to College Football Playoff

Let the controversy begin.

Tuesday evening, the College Football Playoff released its first Top 25 of 2015, and the Big 12 is well-represented in the top 15. Leading the pack is Baylor at No. 6., TCU is No. 8, Oklahoma State is No. 14, and Oklahoma is No. 15. 

What do the initial rankings say about the Bears and their path to the playoff? It's probably about what most expected. Baylor has dominated its less than stellar schedule, winning games by an average of 36 points per game, but it's also been slightly punished for lacking a marquee win. 

But November gets dicey not just for Baylor but for the entire top of the Big 12. Here's how Baylor's path to the playoff shakes out. 

 

Where the Bears Stand

ESPN.com's Heather Dinich proved to be correct when she anticipated zero Big 12 teams would make the initial top four. 

The good news for Baylor is it's already a step ahead of where it was this time last year. When the inaugural playoff rankings were released in 2014, the Bears were 13th thanks to a loss at West Virginia. While Baylor was able to creep its way up the CFP standings throughout November, a weak nonconference schedule prevented it from cracking the top four. 

Despite a similar schedule so far this year, the Bears are just outside the top four, squeezed between one-loss Notre Dame and undefeated Michigan State. If the committee did punish the Bears for being without injured star quarterback Seth Russell, it didn't show up much at all. 

It's also understood Baylor's toughest stretch lies ahead, so it's not a huge deal that the strength of schedule is rated so low, according to Sagarin. It's going to improve, quickly and drastically. In a 13-day span, Baylor plays Oklahoma and then travels to Oklahoma State—where it hasn't won since 1939—before heading to TCU on a short week. Those teams are a combined 23-1. If Baylor wins those games, the committee will forget about teams such as SMU and Lamar. 

  

Help Needed

As ESPN's Mark Schalbach tweeted, if Baylor is able to win out, it should be able to rise two spots. Why? No other team in college football has a harder November than the Bears.

And, ultimately, rising two spots is all that matters. In a year when there are no great teams in college football, just get to No. 4. That's something Ohio State was able to prove last year. 

Baylor is in good position to do just that. 

What remains to be seen is if Baylor somehow gets hurt by 1) a nonconference slate that featured a bunch of nobodies and/or 2) the lack of a 13th game in a conference championship that would, presumably, add one more quality win to the resume. 

If Baylor wins out, it may not be ranked ahead of an undefeated LSU or undefeated Clemson, assuming both of those things pan out, but it should have done enough in November to get to No. 4. 

 

Final Bowl Prediction

Baylor has been the most impressive Big 12 team, but it also has the toughest road to the playoff—and not just in the conference but in major college football. 

The reaction to true freshman Jarrett Stidham's taking over at quarterback has been overwhelmingly positive. And why not, right? Stidham immediately ascended up the depth chart and has looked good in mop-up duty. Plus, Baylor's offense is quarterback-friendly, and few programs have shown the capacity to plug-and-play like this one. The supporting cast is excellent, too. 

Baylor has every reason to be confident it can win with Stidham, and it may in fact keep on winning. However, the idea of starting a true freshman quarterback in the toughest part of the schedule with so much on the line can't be dismissed as nothing, either. How does he respond if things don't go as perfectly right away? This can be the difference between someone who's been in the program for multiple years and someone who's still in his first year. 

The possibility of Baylor's slipping up somewhere in the next five games is real. It doesn't mean it'll happen for sure, but know this: The margin for error is zero. 

Prediction: Sugar Bowl

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

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College Football Playoff 2015: Official Committee Rankings Ahead of Week 10

The first release of the 2015 College Football Playoff rankings came during Tuesday evening's ESPN telecast, with the Clemson Tigers debuting at No. 1.

Since the Ohio State Buckeyes are atop the Associated Press Top 25 and Amway Coaches Poll, it's quite a surprise to see the defending national champions check in at No. 3—behind Clemson and LSU. The last team in the Top Four is Alabama, which has benefited from a stout strength of schedule.

Check out the complete CFP Top 25 below, as Notre Dame and Baylor are the first two teams out right now:

Ohio State has been indecisive at the most important position and hasn't really registered a signature win to date.

Sophomore quarterback and team captain J.T. Barrett had seized the job temporarily but is suspended for this Saturday's game against Minnesota for an arrest because of operating a vehicle while impaired. Cardale Jones has a new lease on life under center in Columbus for the time being.

Thanks to a loaded defense and a rushing attack spearheaded by Ezekiel Elliott, OSU has remained undefeated and is thus still the team to beat. Its schedule gets tougher down the stretch with Michigan State and Michigan to close the regular season.

Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports noted how teams who are well outside of contention or are lower than expected at the moment shouldn't be devastated about Tuesday's release:

At least one big shift promises to happen at the top of the current CFP picture late in the year when TCU plays host to Baylor in the Horned Frogs' regular-season finale. TCU checked in at No. 8, which was surprisingly low considering its rank of No. 3 in the Amway poll.

Sharon Katz of ESPN Stats & Info highlighted one key factor as to why Baylor was rated sixth:

Since the Bears are without starting quarterback Seth Russell for the year because of his neck injury, it stands to reason the dynamic passing combination of Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson will be enough to challenge Baylor for a slot in the postseason Top Four.

Playoff committee chairman Jeff Long explained why the powers that be decided to slot the Big 12 rivals where they are, per Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

The following quote from TCU head coach Gary Patterson prior to the rankings' release was incredibly prescient.

"I think we're going to be wishing that it's an eight-team playoff, not a four," said Patterson, per the Dallas Morning News' Chuck Carlton.

There is still plenty of football to be played between now and the TCU-Baylor showdown. Ohio State has difficult hurdles to clear in the Big Ten; the same goes for LSU in the extremely difficult SEC.

Of more importance this weekend, the Tigers may well fall in the next edition of the rankings if they can't go to Tuscaloosa on Saturday and grind out a victory over Alabama. Heisman Trophy front-runner Leonard Fournette is the foundation of LSU's success and must keep running the ball at his current pace to ensure the victories continue coming.

ESPN Stats & Info illustrated how Alabama sports a stout CFP resume despite losing to Ole Miss earlier in the season:

The Crimson Tide have the means to catch anyone ranked ahead of them, even if those teams run the table. Not everyone agrees with Alabama's gaudy standing, though, including CBS Sports' Gary Parrish:

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee raised a fair point about Alabama as well:

Although some may believe name recognition may be a point of bias in the committee's decision regarding the Tide, that isn't the case with regard to Memphis. Led by QB Paxton Lynch, the relatively unheralded program is all the way up to 13th. ESPN's Brett McMurphy alluded to the significance of Memphis' ranking:

To circle back to the teams at the top, what's encouraging for both LSU and Clemson is the development of their sophomore signal-callers in Brandon Harris and Deshaun Watson, respectively. Harris has the luxury of Fournette to complement him but does have a cannon for an arm and has yet to throw an interception in 2015.

Long also outlined why Clemson opened ahead of Ohio State and every other team in the country, per Mandel:

Strong performances against the stout defenses of Boston College and NC State in recent weeks suggest Watson can handle the big stage and make enough plays to boost Clemson to the College Football Playoff. The ACC isn't quite as difficult to run the table in, though the Tigers have a huge home game this Saturday against Florida State.

Mississippi State opened atop the inaugural College Football Playoff rankings last year but couldn't stay there. The current college football hierarchy is not set in stone by any means, and with the tough tests LSU and Clemson face this weekend, a huge shakeup could be in store in the imminent future.

 

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LSU Football: Tigers' Road to College Football Playoff

November is here, which means it's time for LSU fans to find out where they stand.

The Tigers (7-0, 4-0 SEC) travel to Tuscaloosa to square off against Alabama (7-1, 4-1 SEC) in a game that will define the landscape of the SEC in the month of November.

When they enter Bryant-Denny Stadium, they will have a playoff spot to lose. 

The Tigers chimed in at the No. 2 spot in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the 2015 season, behind only top-ranked Clemson.

 

Where LSU Stands  

While LSU isn't atop the standings, head coach Les Miles' crew is sitting pretty in the second spot. A win over Alabama will sit well in the eyes of selection committee members, and the Tigers are currently in control of their SEC West and College Football Playoff destiny.

When it comes to contenders, Clemson landed in the 28th spot on Jeff Sagarin's strength of schedule rankings (via: USA Today), while Baylor has the 104th easiest schedule, TCU 58th, Michigan State 59th and Ohio State 68th.

That schedule will be ratcheted up down the stretch for the Tigers, who play at No. 4 Alabama, Arkansas, at No. 18 Ole Miss and No. 19 Texas A&M to close out the season.

 

Help Needed  

In terms of help, LSU doesn't need any. If the Tigers win out, they're in, plain and simple. 

The only question would be seeding. 

With everybody in the Pac-12 having already suffered one loss, the only undefeated teams that could mount a challenge for the No. 1 spot would be Clemson, the eventual Big 12 champion and either No. 3 Ohio State or No. 7 Michigan State.

I have a hard time believing that either Clemson or a Big 12 champion would be considered better than an unblemished LSU, so Ohio State or Michigan State would be the only real challenger to the top spot in the standings if LSU wins out.

Ohio State has a title to boast, so the Buckeyes might get an edge on the Tigers. Michigan State has been sluggish all season long, and I'm not sure an undefeated Spartans team would be ranked above LSU—even if it ends up producing a heads-up win over the Buckeyes and a Big Ten title.



Final Bowl Prediction 

LSU has to get by Alabama this weekend, and I don't see that happening.

The Crimson Tide front seven is the best in the country and has already proved it can shut down elite running backs when it held Georgia's Nick Chubb in check until the game got way out of hand. Head coach Nick Saban's crew will slow down Leonard Fournette enough to put the game in the hands of quarterback Brandon Harris, and while he's thrown for over 200 yards in three straight games, asking him to go win a game against an elite defense on the road is too much to ask.

It will be the only loss of the season for the Tigers, and they'll still make a "New Year's Six" bowl.

Prediction: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.

 

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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Alabama Football: Crimson Tide's Road to College Football Playoff

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — With the first of its six rankings, the College Football Playoff selection committee essentially confirmed that the University of Alabama is one of the few teams that controls its postseason destiny this season.

The committee had the Crimson Tide fourth in its initial rankings behind Clemson, LSU and Ohio State, and ahead of Notre Dame and Baylor.

Here’s a breakdown of the Crimson Tide’s playoff status.

 

Where Alabama Stands

The committee was obviously impressed with the Crimson Tide’s (7-1, 4-1 SEC) schedule, including road wins at No. 8 (at the time) Georgia, No. 9 Texas A&M and versus No. 20 Wisconsin in a neutral setting.

“There were a number of discussions about those undefeated teams and whether a one-loss team should be ranked ahead of them,” committee chairman Jeff Long said during the ESPN broadcast.

Specific to the difference between No. 4 Alabama and No. 10 Florida, he responded:

Alabama has a quality victory more than Florida than our eyes. They have three wins against teams with .500 or better records, and then Florida has two. I think that was probably the biggest difference. I think they’re actually very close even though they may be separated by so much in our rankings. Those are two teams that we do think are very close.

Meanwhile, Alabama was both seventh in this week’s Associated Press and Amway Coaches polls, but there’s little agreement regarding the Crimson Tide’s standing among the various computer polls, even the ones the BCS used.

One would think that the winner of Saturday’s showdown with No. 2 LSU (7 p.m. CT, CBS) will have the inside track on a playoff spot as long as it wins out. However, even with a win, Alabama still has a tough road to go, with a trip to No. 20 Mississippi State looming next week, rival Auburn on Nov. 28 and then the potential SEC Championship Game—likely against No. 10 Florida.

 

Help Needed

If Alabama wins out, it almost certainly won’t need any help.

If Alabama loses to LSU or anyone else, it’ll need quite a bit, especially with there still being 11 undefeated teams: Baylor, Clemson, Houston, Iowa, LSU, Memphis, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, TCU and Toledo.

Granted, a lot of these teams have each other on the schedule, but the committee would feel a lot of pressure to select another league champion, or even an undefeated Houston or Toledo, over a second SEC team with two losses.

Regardless, Alabama fans are definitely rooting for No. 17 Ole Miss (7-2, 4-1 SEC) to take another loss, as the Rebels have a tie-breaking edge due to the 43-37 victory earlier this season at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

If Ole Miss wins out (it plays Arkansas, finally gets a bye, hosts LSU and closes against rival Mississippi State), it would keep Alabama out of the SEC Championship Game. According to the playoff committee’s protocol:

When circumstances at the margins indicate that teams are comparable, then the following criteria must be considered:

  • Championships won
  • Strength of schedule
  • Head-to-head competition (if it occurred)
  • Comparative outcomes of common opponents (without factoring margin of victory)

 

Final Bowl Prediction

Alabama’s going to be favored in every remaining game, and, considering it probably has the most talent from top to bottom of anyone, it figures to be among the strongest contenders.

One huge advantage Alabama has over the field is that it went through this last year, approaching every game as a must-win after taking a mid-season loss. Although the first playoff rankings were announced earlier in 2014, it was sixth, behind Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn, Ole Miss and Oregon.

The Crimson Tide ran the table and won the SEC Championship to clinch the top seeding before bowing out to Ohio State.

That translates to confidence when the pressure mounts, but it also has the team hungry.

The guess here is that Alabama returns to the semifinals and faces the Big 12 champion in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 31.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida State vs. Clemson Complete Game Preview

Both teams might not be undefeated at this point in the season, but the annual Clemson vs. Florida State clash will have the usual ACC and national championship implications when the two square off Saturday in Death Valley.

This time around, Clemson is the favorite with the perfect record. Dabo Swinney's Tigers are playing some of the best ball of anyone in college football with a high-powered offense led by Heisman candidate Deshaun Watson and a fierce defense that has performed above expectations in 2015. 

The visitors, Florida State, are still quite dangerous—even after their heartbreaking loss to Georgia Tech a couple of weeks ago. Jimbo Fisher's team overcame plenty of injuries to record an impressive bounce-back win over Syracuse that has sparked some quarterback controversy between Everett Golson and Sean Maguire.

The winner of this matchup has gone on to win the ACC Atlantic Division for the last few years, and Clemson is eyeing an end to Florida State's run of dominance atop the conference. One thing is for sure—this game should be one of the best in a weekend filled with top-notch college football.

Here's all the basic info you need to know about this edition of the Clemson-FSU rivalry.

Date: Saturday, November 7

Time: 3:30 p.m. ET

Location: Memorial Stadium (Clemson, South Carolina)

TV: ABC

Radio: Seminole IMG Sports Network; Clemson Tigers Sports Network

Line: Clemson -12, according to Odds Shark

Begin Slideshow

LSU vs. Alabama Complete Game Preview

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Every year it seems the coaches come up with a new way of saying what everyone else knows—that whenever Alabama and LSU meet on a football field these days it's a really big game.

In 2012, Les Miles called it “big boy” football, and last year, Nick Saban described it as a “sort of war of the titans.” When it comes to physical football, these are the two schools that have really stood alone for nearly a decade, and thankfully for fans, they’re in the same division and have to play every year.

Since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007, the Tigers have been the one team that has consistently matched up with the Crimson Tide in both size and talent. That’s no disrespect to Auburn, as that rivalry has been outstanding as well during the same time frame but has also included some lopsided scores.

Alabama and LSU like to go toe-to-toe and see who blinks first, and the games usually come down to one possession. The series was even elevated to the BCS National Championship Game, with Alabama winning the 2011 title with a 21-0 victory.

“I think that's what college football is all about, what it’s supposed to be,” said the man who has been on both sidelines at Death Valley.

Last year, this was a No. 4 vs. No. 16 matchup, with LSU the lower-ranked team but with the benefit of playing at home. After a T.J. Yeldon fumble at the Alabama 6-yard line, LSU had first down with one minute and 13 second to go and the scoreboard reading 10-10.

As LSU looked to score, announcements were made during the timeouts that fans not storm the field. But Alabama’s defense held and limited the host team to a field goal.

The Crimson Tide offense subsequently went 55 yards on nine plays for a field goal and then won in overtime. Alabama had more offensive yards on the last-minute drive than the rest of the second half.

Here’s everything you need to know for Saturday’s game:

 

Date: Saturday, November 7

Time: 7 p.m. CT

Place: Bryant-Denny Stadium

TV: CBS 

Radio:Crimson Tide Sports Network, LSU Sports Network, Compass Radio, Sirius 84, XM 84 

Spread: Alabama -6.5,  according to Odds Shark.

Begin Slideshow

Does Florida Have Any Shot at 5-Star Georgia QB Commit Jacob Eason?

SEC rivals Florida and Georgia seem to be headed in different directions in the aftermath of their most recent clash.

The Gators improved to 7-1 with a 27-3 victory over the Bulldogs last Saturday, one win shy of the program's highest win total since 2012. Georgia fell for the third time in four games, leading to a Fox Sports report from Bruce Feldman that states support is waning for head coach Mark Richt among Bulldogs boosters.

"Some of Georgia’s big-dog boosters are asking questions and talking about potentially moving on from Richt unlike ever before in his tenure," Feldman wrote Tuesday.

Whenever we discuss a college coaching staff's uncertainty, the conversation must include recruiting implications. While the situation in Athens isn't on par with what we saw at Miami earlier this season or even in Gainesville last fall, speculation will undoubtedly escalate if the Bulldogs are unable to rebound, beginning this Saturday against Kentucky.

Georgia has a lot to lose should things trend in the wrong direction, starting with an outstanding 2016 recruiting class. The group rates sixth nationally in composite rankings, spearheaded by 5-star quarterback Jacob Eason.

The 6'5", 205-pound prospect pledged to the Bulldogs before the start of his junior season at Lake Stevens High School in Washington. He's maintained that cross-country commitment for 16 months, serving as a catalyst in a class that features fellow offensive standouts Elijah HolyfieldBen Cleveland and Charlie Woerner.

“He’s (Eason) a good guy and a great quarterback," Woerner, a 4-star wide receiver/tight end, told Chris Kirschner of the Atlanta Journal-Consitution. "It definitely does help having him go there.”

Eason is the linchpin of Georgia's 2016 recruiting efforts, at least offensively, and he's on track to enroll early for spring camp. The Bulldogs are nearing the finish line of a lengthy pursuit but may need to evade a familiar foe before bringing Eason to campus. 

Florida, averaging nearly 60 more passing yards per contest than last season, hopes to find a top-tier quarterback during the final stretch of this cycle. According to Luke Stampini of 247Sports, that search extends to the Northwest.

Stampini notes Gators offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier contacted Eason via social media, as the two recently connected on Twitter. Eason followed the veteran play-caller days after Georgia's defeat at Florida.

"You know, he reached out to me, so I followed him, so he could he could communicate. So, that’s about all I want to say about that," Eason told Stampini.

It continues a significant recruiting push for Florida's staff. Head coach Jim McElwain, Nussmeier and company have continued to recruit Elite 11 finalists Feleipe Franks and Dwayne Haskins, despite their existing commitments to LSU and Maryland, respectively.

The Gators failed to sign a passer in the 2015 class, though McElwain can now provide prospects with tangible evidence that he's made offensive improvements. 

McElwain carries a commitment from 3-star Texas quarterback Kyle Trask, though a surprising July offer from Florida was his first from an FBS program. Trask, who rates 91st nationally among pro-style quarterbacks in composite rankings, currently backs up TCU commit D'Eriq King at Manvel High School.

Sooner or later, it seems the Gators will gain a second pledge at the position. 

Aside from Franks, Haskins and Eason, Florida has reciprocated interest from Auburn commit Ervin "Woody" Barrett and Lousiville pledge Tylin Oden, though neither player publicly holds an offer.

A fluid situation at quarterback became even more intriguing when redshirt freshman Will Grier was suspended for the season following a hot start. Sophomore Treon Harris regained the job, tossing three touchdowns and no interceptions in two games.

Signs point toward Eason remaining in Georgia's class, as Stampini acknowledges in his report, but that outcome may ultimately hinge on the future of Richt. If the longtime Bulldogs leader is ousted at season's end, it could mean sweeping changes for this program and its recruiting class. 

Florida, diligently surveying the 2016 landscape for elite quarterbacks, likely needs to flip someone's commitment in order to reach signing day with a dynamic passer in place. Flirtations between Eason and the Gators could intensify in coming months, though the more likely scenario sees him someday leading Georgia against Florida as an opponent.

Expectations will be immense for Eason regardless of his collegiate landing spot. He's thrown for 8,136 yards and 84 touchdowns since 2013, according to MaxPreps.

Tyler Donohue is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Tyler via Twitter @TDsTake.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Kyler Murray Named Texas A&M Starting QB: Latest Details, Comments, Reaction

Texas A&M quarterback Kyler Murray lit it up in his first start against South Carolina this past weekend to the point that head coach Kevin Sumlin will move forward with the true freshman as the starter.  

Sumlin made the decision to roll with Murray as the operator of the Aggies' air-raid offense Tuesday, per Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle.

After starting the year splitting time and serving as the backup to Kyle Allen, Murray got his shot to take the reins last Saturday against the Gamecocks and ran with the opportunity. The 18-year-old phenom was 20-of-28 passing for 223 yards and a score, adding 156 yards on the ground and one more touchdown in a 35-28 win.

Wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones had six receptions for 88 yards in the victory and applauded Murray's performance, per ESPN.com's Sam Khan Jr.: "[I saw] poise. The first couple series in the beginning of the game you could tell he was kind of nervous, but then after he sat back and got stable, he let it rip and let it go and made plays."

ESPN Stats & Info provided context for just how good Murray was in his full-time debut:

A 247Sports 5-star recruit and Texas high school football legend, there were still doubts as to how much Murray would contribute in 2015, considering Allen was the incumbent starter. It wasn't a shock to see Allen beat out Murray in a QB competition and build on a decent freshman campaign either.

But Allen's play began to decline in losses to Alabama and Ole Miss, as he was just 32-of-74 passing with 4.74 yards per attempt, one TD and four interceptions.

The Murray era is beginning perhaps sooner than expected, but he was brought to College Station to be the future face of the program. Due to his dual-threat capabilities and diminutive frame, inevitable comparisons have arisen between Murray and former Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

That he has managed to hit the field and thrive in his first year on campus is a testament to Murray's potential and preternatural polish, whereas Manziel needed a redshirt year before taking college football by storm.

One point of concern regarding Murray is how he'll hold up against SEC competition should he choose to run as often as he did against South Carolina. Murray needs to add strength if he's meant to continue taking hits, but he's also a cerebral QB who can win from the pocket and doesn't rely on improvisation as much as Manziel did.

Next up on the Aggies schedule is a showdown against conference rival Auburn. The 2015 campaign has been a struggle for the Tigers, but they have a defensive coordinator in Will Muschamp who can at least provide a challenge to Murray from a schematic standpoint.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn vs. Texas A&M Complete Game Preview

Auburn will head to the Lone Star State this weekend in a position that isn't quite the level of despair from its first SEC meeting with Texas A&M—but it's also nowhere near the heights the Tigers enjoyed when they faced the Aggies these last two seasons.

Gus Malzahn's Auburn (4-4, 1-4 SEC) team visits Kevin Sumlin's Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2 SEC) squad in College Station on Saturday night for a game that won't quite receive the same amount of attention it had in the preseason, when it was hyped as a top-tier matchup between the two biggest coordinator hires in the entire country.

Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is still searching for a good performance from his unit, which played well in some areas but ultimately gave up a season high in yardage during last weekend's 27-19 loss to Ole Miss at home. Malzahn needs to see improvement, too, as the offense he directs fell flat in the red zone against the Rebels.

Texas A&M, on the other hand, has improved its biggest flaw—defense—with former LSU assistant John Chavis this season. The Aggies found their offensive momentum last weekend with true freshman quarterback Kyler Murray taking over for struggling starter Kyle Allen, who torched Auburn last season in his first big start.

Before we break down the fourth SEC meeting between Auburn and Texas A&M, here is all the information you need to know:

Date: Saturday, November 7

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET (6:30 p.m. local time)

Location: Kyle Field (College Station, Texas)

TV: SEC Network

Radio: Auburn IMG Sports Network; Texas A&M Sports Network

Line: Texas A&M -7, according to Odds Shark

Begin Slideshow

Stanford Cardinal vs. Colorado Buffaloes Betting Odds, College Football Pick

Stanford just had a six-game against-the-spread winning streak snapped, while Colorado is 2-0 ATS since snapping a four-game spread losing streak. The championship-minded Cardinal take on the rebuilding Buffaloes Saturday afternoon in Boulder.

 

Point spread: The Cardinal opened as 16-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 37.8-23.4 Cardinal

 

Why the Stanford Cardinal can cover the spread

Stanford increased its lead in the Pac-12 North last week, holding off upset-minded Washington State 30-28 up in rainy Pullman.

The Cardinal fell behind the Cougars 22-10 midway through the third quarter, took a two-point lead with a field goal with two minutes to go, then watched as the Cougars kicker pushed a 43-yard field-goal attempt wide-right at the buzzer.

On the night, Stanford got outgained by Washington State by 130 yards but racked up 226 yards on the ground. Meanwhile the Cardinal defense held the Cougars to a 2-of-14 performance on third downs and stymied a crucial two-point conversion attempt.

Two weeks ago Stanford covered 14 points against Washington; just before that the Cardinal covered at six points over UCLA; just before that they covered 12 points over Arizona; just before that they covered 14 points at Oregon State; just before that they “upset” USC outright as nine-point dogs; and just before that they covered 20 points against Central Florida. So Stanford is on a money-making roll.

 

Why the Colorado Buffaloes can cover the spread

The Buffaloes just lost a tough contest at UCLA last week, 35-31, but covered as three-touchdown dogs.

Colorado spotted the Bruins the first 14 points of the game, later trailed 21-3 and rallied all the way back to take a 31-28 lead early in the fourth quarter but gave up that advantage and came up short on two late drives.

On the day, the Buffaloes outgained UCLA by 150 yards, outrushed the Bruins 242-139 and won time of possession by a lopsided 41-19 margin. But they gave up a long UCLA defensive touchdown from deep in the Bruins' red zone and missed a very makeable field goal, and that's at least a 13-point swing right there.

Two weeks ago Colorado won at Oregon State 17-13, rushing for 188 yards, taking that game outright as a one-point road dog. And just before that the Buffs lost at home to Arizona 38-31, just missing on the cover as six-point home dogs. So perhaps this program is making some progress in its third season under head coach Mike MacIntyre.

 

Smart pick

Stanford is very likely to win this game, and playing on the road means the spread isn't as bad as it might be if this game were being played elsewhere. Also, Colorado just gave a big effort in coming up short at UCLA and might be ripe for a letdown. Take the Cardinal to take the cash in this spot.

 

Betting trends

Stanford is 7-0 SU and 6-1 ATS in its last seven games.

Stanford is 9-2 SU in its last 11 games on the road in November.

Colorado is 0-6 SU in its last six games in November.

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Stanford Cardinal vs. Colorado Buffaloes Betting Odds, College Football Pick

Stanford just had a six-game against-the-spread winning streak snapped, while Colorado is 2-0 ATS since snapping a four-game spread losing streak. The championship-minded Cardinal take on the rebuilding Buffaloes Saturday afternoon in Boulder...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Ryan Kelley Sets Decision Date: Odds on Where 2017 4-Star QB Lands

Another marquee passer in the 2017 cycle is set to come off the board next week when 4-star quarterback Ryan Kelley will announce his commitment. 

Two weeks ago, the 6’2.5”, 170-pounder announced a top five that included Arizona State, California, Michigan State, Oregon and UCLA.

According to Barton Simmons of 247Sports, Kelley, who has accounted for nearly 3,000 yards of total offense this season, will make his decision next Wednesday.

Regardless of where he lands, the nation’s No. 3 pro-style passer and the No. 65 player overall in the 2017 cycle figures to give that program a huge boost on the recruiting trail.

What are the odds for each of his finalists heading into the final days before his announcement?

Let’s break down each program’s chances with Kelley.

 

California and Michigan State: 15-1

Both Cal and Michigan State offered Kelley in the summer.

Also, in Cal’s Jared Goff and Michigan State’s Connor Cook, both programs have passers who are widely regarded as two of the nation’s elite quarterbacks.

However, neither program has generated much traction recently with Kelley—at least not when compared to his other finalists.

The Spartans do have a pledge from 2017 4-star receiver Hunter Rison—who used to be a teammate of Kelley’s at Basha (Arizona) High School, as noted by Justin Hopkins of Duck Territory.

While that connection is a plus, it appears as if both the Bears and Spartans are on the outside looking in with regard to Kelley’s upcoming decision.

 

UCLA: 10-1

Given the success that current UCLA star freshman quarterback Josh Rosen is having this year, it’s easy to see why the Bruins appeal to touted passers such as Kelley.

Coincidentally, with Rosen seemingly locked in to lead the Bruins for at least the next two years, the Bruins could be searching for his eventual successor in the 2017 class.

Kelley is one of six quarterbacks in the 2017 cycle who have earned an offer from head coach Jim Mora Jr. and his staff.

According to Hopkins, a big reason why the Bruins made the final cut for Kelley is because of his comfort level with Mora and his staff.

Hopkins also notes that he has visited the UCLA campus multiple times—which makes the Bruins a valid dark horse in the race to land Kelley.

 

Arizona State: 7-1

Arizona State began the week by landing the top in-state prospect in the 2016 cycle when 4-star receiver N’keal Harrypledged to the Sun Devils.

Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham and his staff would love to continue their push to keep Arizona’s top recruits close to home by landing Kelley.

While the Sun Devils are the home state school, Kelley told Hopkins that distance isn’t an issue in his decision-making process.

“I have some former teammates at ASU and they tell me great things about it. It's obviously also very close to home, but that's not really a big factor,” Kelly told Hopkins. 

Still, his familiarity with the coaches and the players at Arizona State is a big reason why the Sun Devils have to be considered one of the favorites to land Kelley’s pledge next week.

 

Oregon: 5-1

The Ducks have the benefit of being the program Kelley last visited. As noted by Hopkins, he made a three-day visit in October and was accompanied on the trip by his family.

He got to spend time with the coaches and players and came away with glowing remarks about his trek to Eugene.

"I liked everything about Oregon. The stadium, the tradition, the atmosphere and how the players all got along,” Kelley told Hopkins. “I hung out with coach (Scott) Frost and coach (Mark) Helfrich a lot. They talked about how I fit the offense and they think I have one of the strongest arms in the country. They told me they are going to stay recruiting me until they know if I'm coming or not. They said I'm the guy for them."

The Ducks have clearly identified Kelley as their priority at the quarterback spot in the 2017 cycle—so much so that he’s the only junior quarterback that head coach Mark Helfrich and his staff have offered.

His skill set also appears to be a natural fit for the Ducks uptempo spread attack. 

While it wouldn’t be a complete shock for him to head elsewhere, the Ducks seem to have the most momentum with Kelley heading into his announcement.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Current Undefeated Team Most Likely to Not Make the College Football Playoff

Tuesday night, the College Football Playoff selection committee will reveal its first Top 25 poll of 2015. That's when the real debate will begin.  

The committee's rationale, as explained by chairman Jeff Long, will be especially interesting because there's no explicit formula like there was with the BCS. It's hard to gauge how (or how consistently) the committee will gauge factors like strength of schedule versus the so-called "eye test." As such, it's difficult to say for sure which teams have the inside track. 

The closest thing to guaranteed entrance into the field of four, at least for Power Five schools, is to finish the season undefeated. But which of the remaining unbeaten teams is most likely to lose?

The short answer is that Baylor, Oklahoma State and TCU are the most at-risk. Of the trio, Baylor has the best chance to stumble, which is ironic given that the Bears have looked the best of any Big 12 team so far. That's not to say Baylor will lose, but it certainly faces the biggest hurdles to keep winning. 

Before diving into why, it helps to know the overall landscape. There are 11 undefeated teams heading into Week 9: Baylor, Clemson, Houston, Iowa, LSU, Memphis, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, TCU and Toledo.

(Frankly, the chances of Houston or Toledo making the playoff are slim, even if both finish undefeated. The strength of schedules for the Cougars and Rockets are 124th and 116th, respectively, according to Sagarin.com. Neither has a signature out-of-conference win, either. That's not going to cut it.)

Through scheduling alone, seven of those undefeated teams are on a path to play another currently undefeated team six times in the regular season. That number increases to eight if Iowa goes through the regular season unbeaten and then faces either an unbeaten Ohio State or Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship game. 

In other words, the math states that even in perfect conditions in which all other games are won, as many as five undefeated teams, including two Big 12 teams, could lose between now and the conference championship weekend.  

Baylor head coach Art Briles remains confident that an undefeated Big 12 team will make the playoff. Though the Big 12 lacks a conference championship game, he's probably not wrong: 

However, what are the odds that a Big 12 team actually makes it through the next five weekends unscathed? Baylor could be the least likely because its two toughest games—Oklahoma State and TCU—are on the road. Oklahoma State, on the other hand, gets all its toughest games at home. Additionally, Bears true freshman quarterback Jarrett Stidham will be starting in place of the injured Seth Russell for the remainder of the year. 

There isn't one great team in college football this year, only ones that are more complete than others. And the Big 12's top three teams all have glaring concerns. As mentioned above, Baylor lost a player (Russell) who accounted for 35 touchdowns. TCU has been ravaged by injuries and is nowhere near the same team on the road as it has been at home. The Frogs outscore teams by nearly 39 points at home and only 10 points on the road. Oklahoma State has won three of its last five games by an average of four points and gave up 53 points to Texas Tech in Week 9.

"We’re not a great team,” Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy told ESPN.com's Max Olson, “but I have a lot of confidence in their willingness to come together.”   

Somewhat lost in the Big 12's November slate is Oklahoma, who could play ultimate spoiler. As Ryan Autullo of the Austin American-Statesman tweeted, the Big 12 could have had four undefeated teams facing off against one another if Oklahoma hadn't lost to Texas. 

And with each passing week, it appears the loss to the Longhorns is more of an anomaly rather than a trend.

Baylor has had Oklahoma's number in recent years, but the fact remains the Bears have to play three currently top-15 opponents as determined by both the Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today coaches poll in 13 days. 

That's a tough stretch for anyone in college football, no matter how good or healthy a team may be. 

The schedules for other playoff contenders could boil down to one game. For Michigan State and Ohio State, the Nov. 21 meeting in Columbus is still paramount despite the sudden rise of Michigan. For Iowa, it could be the Big Ten Championship game. LSU and Memphis have tough remaining stretches, but they're also current clubhouse leaders in their respective conferences. If LSU is able to run over Alabama, there might not be anything it can't do. 

In the Big 12, any one of three undefeated teams has a chance to win the conference. Oklahoma is still in the race, too. No other Power Five conference has that same potential of cannibalizing itself out of the playoff. 

If Baylor does indeed drop a game in that stretch, the lack of a signature non-conference win and 13th game could once again shut the Bears out of the playoff. That would be a shame, considering this is likely Briles' best team ever in Waco. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Pittsburgh Panthers Betting Odds, Football Pick

The Pittsburgh Panthers are one of few teams around that can claim a standoff in their recent rivalry with Notre Dame, splitting the last eight meetings outright, going 5-2-1 against the spread over that span. The Panthers will go off as home dogs when they battle the Irish Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field.

 

Point spread: The Fighting Irish opened as 7.5-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 32.2-21.2 Fighting Irish

 

Why the Notre Dame Fighting Irish can cover the spread

Notre Dame is 7-1 this season, 6-2 ATS, after topping Temple last week 24-20. The Irish trailed the pesky Owls late 20-17 but drove 75 yards to take a final lead, then stopped Temple's last drive with an interception to secure the victory. On the night, Notre Dame outgained the Owls 467-295 and outrushed them 168-107, but a pair of red-zone turnovers played a part in keeping the Irish from covering as 11-point favorites.

Three weeks ago, Notre Dame beat USC 41-31, covering six points, and just before that, it beat Navy 41-24, covering 13 points. And on the season, the Irish have outgained every opponent but one, six of them by at least 120 yards. With just one loss, that coming by two points at still-unbeaten Clemson, Notre Dame still has a shot at a national championship playoff berth.

 

Why the Pittsburgh Panthers can cover the spread

Pitt had won four games in a row but lost last week to North Carolina 26-19. The Panthers fell down 20-3 at the half and pulled to within one score with just under a minute to go but died there. On the night, Pitt played the Heels to a statistical tie, but three big plays went Carolina's way as the Panthers suffered their first conference loss of the season.

Prior to that, Pitt beat Virginia Tech, Virginia, Georgia Tech and Syracuse consecutively, outgaining and outrushing three of them. The Panthers' only previous loss came on a 57-yard field goal at the buzzer at Iowa back in Week 3. And that defeat looks even better now, considering the Hawkeyes are still unbeaten.

 

Smart pick

The Panthers put on a nice little run to insert themselves into the ACC's Coastal Division race, but Notre Dame is the better team here, playing on the road, where the spread is a bit more amenable. Take the Irish, minus the points.

 

Betting trends

Notre Dame is 1-5 straight up and ATS in its last six games against Pittsburgh in November.

Notre Dame is 0-5 ATS in its last five games in November.

Notre Dame is 8-1 SU in its last nine games.

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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