NCAA Football

Why SEC Needs Florida to Make Conference Championship Game

If the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 5 at the Georgia Dome is going to be more of a competition than a coronation, we all better hop back on board the Florida Gators bandwagon.

The Gators are the key to making the SEC Championship Game a de facto national quarterfinal in 2015.

Despite losing their last game 35-28 against the LSU Tigers two weeks ago, the Gators have to feel good about where they sit after all they've gone through this year.

Will Grier ascended to the starting quarterback position and threw 10 touchdowns and only three picks through six games, but he was suspended for a year for violating the NCAA's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. 

For most teams, that would be a season-killer.

Not for the "quarterback whisperer," first-year head coach Jim McElwain.

All backup dual-threat quarterback Treon Harris did in a pinch was pass for 271 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions and rush for 20 yards in the loss in Death Valley two weeks ago.

"He was able to see some really good things from the video that I'm sure he wants back," McElwain said. "But at the same time, I was happy with how he handled the environment. He made some plays that were big for us, and I look forward to having him get a little bit better (during the bye week). There were some things that we could get better at from that ball game, and we're not going to hang our heads."

Couple Harris' ability to not only play within the pro-style offense that McElwain was able to establish with Grier prior to his suspension with his own ability to kick-start the running game, and you have a recipe for success for the Florida Gators.

The running game has been stagnant for the majority of the season. McElwain's crew ranks 13th in the SEC in rushing offense (126.71 yards per game), averages only 99.4 rushing yards per game versus conference foes and picks up a minuscule 3.51 yards per carry.

"It's huge," McElwain said. "All great teams are built on being able to run the football and being able to stop the run defensively. We need to continue to get better at that. We had some opportunities in the last ball game, but they've got really good players."

The bye week comes at the perfect time for the Gators, as they head into the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party with the Georgia Bulldogs knowing Harris can thrive in the offense as a passer and with time to add some spice to it with more of a role for their new starter as a runner.

If they can dispatch their border rival to the north this weekend, it's smooth sailing all the way to rivalry weekend.

Vanderbilt got a conference win last week versus Missouri, but that offense is impossible to trust. South Carolina is tricky on the road, but it's not like the Gamecocks offense is a juggernaut either. Florida Atlantic should be a breeze. 

Florida State could present a problem, but it just lost to a Georgia Tech team that was reeling, quarterback Everett Golson looked shaky for the first time all year and the offensive line—while better than expected—is still average at best for the boys in Tallahassee.

Could Florida head to Atlanta 11-1 with not only a chance to win the SEC, but also a chance to earn its way into the College Football Playoff? At this point, it's not just a possibility, it's a probability.

The Gators have the best chances in the SEC to win the conference, according to ESPN's Football Power Index, at 28.7 percent. On top of that, they have the 27th-best shot in the country to win out at 10.4 percent, according to the same metric, which is based on 10,000 simulations that factor in results and future schedule.

That figure might not seem all that high, but it factors in the potential SEC Championship Game matchup with an SEC West team and is the fourth-highest in the SEC behind Tennessee (50.9 percent), Alabama (18.4 percent) and Texas A&M (13.6 percent). 

For the SEC, imagine how big that would be.

Florida with legit playoff hopes in a magical year for first-year head coach McElwain squaring off against LSU or Alabama with the same hopes, or against a two-loss Ole Miss that needs to make a major statement to make up for that road loss to Memphis.

Can you say "ratings bonanza"?

That wouldn't be a departure from the norm for the SEC Championship Game, but to be at its best on a day that also includes the other conference title games, serving as a play-in to to the playoff is paramount.

Don't sleep on Florida. 

It's not even close to being out of the race for the Playoff and is the key to making the SEC Championship Game the college football game of the season prior to the playoff.

 

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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The Death Spiral of Miami Football Continues with Al Golden Firing

They say Al Golden is a man of class and integrity. He comes off as a nice, standup, straight-laced guy in a tie.

They surely knew those things at Miami before they brought him in. So they have no one else to blame for hiring him in the first place.

"Class and integrity" aren't going to work at Miami. And that's why he was fired Sunday.

The 58-0 loss to Clemson on Saturday didn't help, and clearly Miami had come to realize that it had an inflated view of his resume when he was hired from Temple five years ago.

But the main problem with Golden and Miami was a matter of identity and personality.

You have one, and only one. You have to know who you are because that's what drives you through the hard work and gets you through the rough moments. It's what you rely on when you're in trouble.

Miami is The U. That's why it garners more loyalty possibly than any other school in the country. Its personality was built on playing loose and free on the field and with the rules. That's what made the Hurricanes the team of the '80s with three national championships. It's what got them another title in 2001 with what might have been the best team ever.

It is unbelievable how far and how fast Miami has fallen since then. Golden didn't bring it down, though. The Hurricanes were already crashing under previous coach Randy Shannon, who took players' names off the jerseys to de-emphasize individuals.

Can U imagine?

Miami has to be The U, no matter what people think of that. It wasn't an accident that the program developed that personality. It was Miami and South Beach, mixed with a university, mixed with what football meant to it all the way down to when they were playing youth ball.

The problem with Miami is that it would like to stop cheating. No more improper benefits and Pell Grant manipulation and Nevin Shapiro. That's admirable. But the balancing act in finding a coach, then, is to get one who screams "big-name hire" but at the same time sticks within the rules, at least barely, and polices away all the dangerous elements.

That's the change Miami has to make. I think it's possible.

But it doesn't come from hiring one of Joe Paterno's former players and assistants. For Pete's sake, it was Paterno's guys showing up at the 1987 Fiesta Bowl for the national championship in suits, while Miami's guys were in fatigues, and the country went "tsk, tsk" over Miami's rogue attitude and held Paterno up with the gods.

So, was the idea in hiring Golden to try to capture whatever it was that Paterno had?

Back then, they called that game Good vs. Evil, and neither one was true. It is not evil to be The U. It's just that there is nothing there to stop evil elements from creeping in.

At this point, The U is dead. It just isn't suited for the modern era where palaces are being constructed as football buildings. It can't win enough games, and it doesn't have enough money to pay a top coach. And it also doesn't have a personality.

But the problem with pointing at some of those things is that Miami played in a rickety Orange Bowl when it was The U and didn't always have the most packed stadiums then, either. Not to mention, the other facilities were lacking.

The top high school players there still want to play for Miami, so resurrecting The U is possible. It's just going to take the right coach.

There is just such a feast-or-famine nature to the whole place, and this is a time of famine. There is no in-between, and that goes for the fans, too, who were willing to spend more money on airplanes flying over the game with nasty statements calling for Golden to be fired than game tickets. Miami was terrible and then great and then bad again, and then maybe the best ever. Now it's bad again.

It is a pro town with a pro sports feel to it. That's how The U functions; those teams acted and played with a pro attitude, and it's going to have to do that again. The place needs a big-name coach who will run a program within the rules, but just barely, and come in with the mindset that he will create stars who everyone knows before they go pro.

You go to a recruit and say, "You want to be a superstar? Here's how it happens." And that's not going to work with rah-rah college guys such as Golden.

The only people who make it work are NFL guys. Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, even Butch Davis and Dennis Erickson coached in the NFL.

That might mean Greg Schiano, former Miami defensive coordinator and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach. Or it might mean someone who would just fit in in the NFL. Too bad Steve Spurrier is done coaching college. He seems to be a good guy with an outlaw mentality.

It's not that Golden wasn't a good coach with good intentions. But a big problem with him is this:

Who is Al Golden?

Miami didn't want him in the first place, but wanted a bigger name. He was a young up-and-coming coach who helped Temple to win when it was in the MAC. Temple had a bigger athletic program than most MAC schools. Golden was set up to win there, unlike at Miami.

Before Golden arrived at Miami, Shannon's recruiting had dropped off. Then, the NCAA went through a lengthy, public and painful investigation into Miami, which had nothing to do with Golden—or Shannon—but did make life hard on him.

He handled it with grace. But while Miami kept pumping players into the NFL, it also kept losing. That was about being out of character.

It's hard to change who you are, but it's next to impossible to win as someone else.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.

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7-Step Drop: Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for the College Football Playoff

If last week was some sort of Separation Saturday, a wild and wacky Week 8 served to further clarify the race for the national title even if it may not have been the best slate of games on the schedule.

As we continue the descent to the postseason and enter the final weekend without any College Football Playoff Selection Committee rankings, 7-Step Drop decided to hit the pause button and figure out what could be the best- and worst-case scenarios for each conference. Somebody is getting left out, but who will it be?

It’s too hard to tell at this point, but one can certainly see one of these scenarios playing out.

 

American Athletic Conference

Contenders: Temple, Houston, Memphis

Best case: The AAC is at the very least the front-runner for the Group of Five spot and will be enjoying a nice payday as a result at a minimum. A spot in the playoff is a long shot, but the door is slightly open for Memphis and even Temple.

In an ideal scenario, the Tigers run the table with emphatic victories over Houston, Navy and an undefeated Temple (who would beat Notre Dame this week) in the conference title game and then see Ole Miss win out and capture the SEC. Sitting with a perfect record and a win over the SEC champs, Justin Fuente’s squad could sneak into the No. 4 spot in the playoff.

One could also see the Owls running the table (with wins over Notre Dame and undefeated Memphis/Houston the rest of the way) and having a little chaos happen to the point where they sneak in, but that’s not quite as believable as a perfect Memphis squad getting the bid.

Worst case: Memphis, Houston and Temple all beat each other up while Toledo runs the table and thrashes everybody in their way. That gives the Group of Five bid to the Rockets and sees the AAC miss out on a nice check from the playoff.

 

Atlantic Coast Conference

Contenders: Clemson

Best case: The best and worst case are pretty much down to one thing and one thing only: Clemson running the table. That’s it, thanks to Georgia Tech’s upset of Florida State on Saturday. In a perfect world for the ACC, the Tigers go to 13-0 (very much a possibility) and earn the No. 2 seed to get a date at the Orange Bowl in the semifinal.

Worst case: One of Florida State, NC State, South Carolina or the ACC Coastal champion upset Clemson and they wind up as the only ACC representative in the New Year’s Six bowls with a disappointing Peach Bowl bid.

 

Big 12

Contenders: Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State

Best case: After getting left out last year, the Big 12 sees chaos all around it with two-loss champions in the Pac-12 and SEC while Ohio State gets upset in the Big Ten title game. Combine that with Clemson suffering a loss and a one-point loss between Baylor and TCU. Then, the Big 12 goes from no teams in the playoff to two as the committee selects both the Horned Frogs and Bears
to make it to the semifinals.

A more realistic scenario is TCU/Baylor remain undefeated until their post-Thanksgiving matchup and the winner gets a top-two seed and a date at the Cotton Bowl.

Worst case: Oklahoma wins against a beat-up TCU team, then loses to Baylor. Oklahoma State upsets the Bears but loses to Oklahoma in the Bedlam game. Then Baylor tops TCU but the committee punishes their strength of schedule again. The result is another year on the outside of the playoff looking in.

 

Big Ten

Contenders: Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa

Best case: The Buckeyes stay undefeated and do enough in the final month of the regular season to earn the No. 1 seed in the playoff. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Michigan State also wins out and beats an undefeated Iowa team to get into the final four. The Hawkeyes, too, would have a great case if they are perfect and holding up the Big Ten trophy at the end of the year. There are a lot of good options in the B1G when it comes to making the playoff.

Worst case: Michigan State beats Ohio State to get to Indianapolis for the conference title game, where they’re upset by an Iowa team that has two losses. Combined with undefeated Clemson and the Big 12 champion, the Big Ten gets left out in favor of a one-loss Notre Dame/SEC champion/Pac-12 winner.

 

Independents

Contender: Notre Dame

Best case: Temple, Pitt and USC all wind up back in the Top 25 by the end of the year despite losses to the Irish, with the Owls winning the AAC and getting the Group of Five spot to boot. The Stanford game at the end of the year serves as a de facto play-in game to the final four as a result of the Cardinal winning the Pac-12 and Notre Dame looking like a complete team. The committee then gives an 11-1 Irish squad a top four spot since they’re playing at that level and the only blemish on their resume is to an undefeated Clemson team that was a close one on the road in the middle of a monsoon. 

Worst case: Injuries continue to mount in South Bend and Notre Dame loses one or two more times and even misses out on a New Year’s Six bowl game. A spot in the Russell Athletic Bowl isn’t a bad finish considering how many key players have been lost for Brian Kelly, but it’s a little disappointing considering they’re right on the fringe of playoff contention right now.

 

Mid-American Conference

Contenders: Toledo

Best case: The Rockets run the table, and the AAC beats itself up, giving Toledo the Group of Five spot and a chance to upset Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Even with two Power Five wins and a perfect record, it still seems unlikely they get the nod over the AAC champ when it comes to the Group of Five bid without any help.

Worst case: Bowling Green upsets Toledo and the Rockets wind up in the GoDaddy Bowl while Matt Campbell gets hired away by Maryland before the MAC title game.

 

Pac-12

Contenders: Stanford, Utah

Best case: The Cardinal continue to blow out their competition and look like the team in the Top 10 that is playing the best. They end their season with wins over one-loss Notre Dame and Utah to earn a spot in the top four no matter what the SEC or other conferences do.

On the flip side, for the South Division representative, Utah runs the table and responds to their loss at USC by throttling the rest of their schedule, including UCLA with all eyes on Salt Lake City in November. They then beat a Stanford team that had just topped Notre Dame in the Pac-12 title game and see Michigan upset Ohio State and eventually win the Big Ten. That gets the Utes in over… Alabama.

Worst case: Notre Dame beats Stanford, who then loses to two-loss Utah in the Pac-12 title game. That sends the Utes to the Rose Bowl but keeps the Pac-12 out of the Playoff and the rest of the New Year’s Six bowls.

 

Southeastern Conference

Contenders: Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss, Florida

Best case: Alabama or LSU run the table and get a shot at redemption against Ohio State in a playoff semifinal. Ole Miss and Florida could also win out to get into the final four, but both present their own pitfalls.

Worst case: Alabama loses to LSU at home. The Tigers lose to both Ole Miss and Texas A&M. The Rebels barely win the league (over a two-loss Georgia) and the entire SEC melts down as Memphis gets into the playoff over one of their teams.

On the plus side, a Stanford/Memphis title game sends Finebaum ratings into the stratosphere. Even Alabama or Ole Miss winning out could realistically see the SEC on the outside looking in if there are three undefeated teams and those two teams' resumes don’t stack up to Stanford/Utah/Notre Dame.

 

Stats of the Week

- Washington State has a three-game conference win streak for the first time since 2003 and has scored 40-plus in three straight for the first time since 2001.

- Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes had six interceptions in 307 throws prior to the Oklahoma game, where he had four picks in 40 throws.

- Christian Hackenberg became Penn State’s all-time passing-yardage leader and completions leader against Maryland.

- A win over Rutgers was Urban Meyer’s 150th of his career. According to the school, he is undefeated in games played in October (14-0) and November (12-0) while at Ohio State. The Buckeyes also moved to within one game of the NCAA record for conference victories with their 28th straight Big Ten regular-season win. The record is 1992-1995 Florida State with 29 straight ACC wins.

- Florida State, meanwhile, fell short of their own NCAA record with a streak of 28 straight ACC games over the past three seasons getting snapped by Georgia Tech.

- Duke/Virginia Tech was the ACC’s first ever four-overtime game.

- Clemson’s 58-0 win over Miami was the worst in the Hurricanes’ record books.

- Temple has outscored its opponents 137-29 in the second half this year.

 

Quote of the Week

“It was crazy because we blocked it and I see it run across the line. I go from yelling ‘Get away from it’ to ‘run, run, run.’” - Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson on the last-second blocked field goal to beat Florida State.

 

Tweet of the Week

 

Play of the Week/Sound from Saturday

 

Pre-Snap Reads

Stanford at Washington State

Strange things could be in the cards in Pullman on Halloween night with some #Pac12AfterDark action going a number of different ways. The Cardinal are playing as well as anybody, but their young secondary will have their hands full with Luke Falk and the Cougars terrific receivers. This one will be close for three quarters before Christian McCaffrey scores twice late to provide a nice margin for Stanford.

 

Notre Dame at Temple

The Irish are for real but face the first of their tough late-season tests with a visit to undefeated Temple. This one all comes down to who can stop the run best, no easy task with some quarterbacks who can create with their feet. Notre Dame gets the edge but this one will be closer than expected for many considering the names on the front of the jerseys.

 

UNC at Pitt

How about this ACC Coastal matchup…being for the division? It’s not out of the realm of possibility. Pitt has played quite well and is close to being undefeated. UNC rolled off a bunch of wins after its season opener but came back down to reality a bit last week. We’ll roll with the home team in this one, but it’s pretty much a tossup.

Bryan Fischer covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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Is Michigan State QB Connor Cook Playing His Way to Top-10 NFL Draft Pick?

After Connor Cook's 398 yards and four touchdowns led Michigan State to an otherwise uninspiring 52-26 victory over Indiana on Saturday, it left many wondering whether the Spartans quarterback belonged in this season's Heisman Trophy conversation.

But while college pundits just now find themselves debating the merits of a Cook campaign, conversations about the Michigan State signal-caller's future at the next level have already existed for quite some time.

There may not be a more polarizing prospect in the 2016 NFL draft—at least as far as quarterbacks are concerned—than Cook, who seemingly has all the physical tools of being a franchise player at the sport's most important position. At 6'4" and 220 pounds, the Hinckley, Ohio, native certainly possesses the size of a prototypical professional passer and a three-year resume that proves he could ace more than just the looks test in the NFL.

"He's the kind of guy, with his size and his arm, he can make all the throws," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said during a conference call following the 2014 season, after Cook announced his intentions of returning to East Lansing for his senior year. "He can beat you from the pocket very effectively.

"He has a chance to be the first or second quarterback off the board next year."

Through the first eight games of the 2015 season, Cook has already lived up to those expectations and then some while leading Michigan State to an 8-0 record and a No. 6 ranking in the most recent AP Top 25 poll following the Spartans' victory over the Hoosiers on Saturday. The senior signal-caller leads the Big Ten in passing yards (2,020) and touchdown passes (17), and he ranks third in the conference in quarterback rating (146.5), all while having thrown just two interceptions heading into MSU's bye week.

But while Cook has looked the part of high first-round pick statistically, questions about his intangibles have persisted. Particularly after the Spartans quarterback was suspiciously not voted a captain by teammates prior to the start of his senior season, despite being the face of the Michigan State offense for the past three years.

"I for sure want to be captain, but it's not gonna limit me from leading," Cook said in September after it was revealed that defensive end Shilique Calhoun, offensive lineman Jack Allen and linebacker Darien Harris would serve as the Spartans captains this season. "I think for the position that I'm in, being a quarterback here, that's already assumed."

Teammates have backed up that sentiment, insisting that while he may not hold the official title of captain, doing so would be more of a formality for Cook than anything else.

"I would say that Connor is a captain," Calhoun said, per MLive.com. "It's not always about the title with us, it's about going out there and performing and trying to help your team and I think Connor has done that and I think he'll keep doing that."

While his fellow Spartans have downplayed Cook not being one of Michigan State's captains, it's hard to imagine NFL scouts and executives won't raise their eyebrows when it comes to his omission, even as Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio has remained steadfast in selecting just three captains each season. If a quarterback can't be trusted to be a captain of his college team, how can he do the same in the pros, where even more of a premium is placed on leadership at the position?

That—as well as questions about his accuracy—seems to be one of the biggest reasons why opinions on Cook still appear to be split.

In his latest mock draft released on Oct. 5, Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller projected Cook to be an early second-round pick and the third quarterback to be picked in the draft behind California's Jared Goff and Penn State's Christian Hackenberg. ESPN's Todd McShay, meanwhile, slotted Cook as the No. 2 overall pick in his way-too-early mock draft for 2016 released last May.

With the way he's been playing lately, Cook could be coming closer to living up to McShay's lofty expectation.

In the three games played since Miller released his last mock draft, which followed consecutive weeks of throwing for fewer than 200 yards against Central Michigan and Purdue, Cook has shined statistically, throwing for 300 or more yards in games against Rutgers, Michigan and Indiana. In that span, the former 247Sports 3-star prospect has tallied 1,093 yards, seven touchdowns, a quarterback rating of 141.7 and just one interception, despite facing the Wolverines' top-ranked defense.

But perhaps more impressive, at least as far as the perception of Cook's intangibles are concerned, has been that aside from Jalen Watts-Jackson's improbable touchdown return to secure the Spartans' victory over Michigan a week ago, Michigan State's quarterback has been the biggest reason why it has remained undefeated and in the thick of the College Football Playoff hunt this season. While the Spartans defense has ranked 37th nationally and MSU's offensive line has remained makeshift due to a plethora of injuries, Cook has been nothing short of spectacular for the better part of the past month.

And if any concerns about his leadership have persisted, they were quieted on Saturday, when Cook helped turn what entered the fourth quarter as a five-point game into a Michigan State blowout.

"He's a gamer. He's able to put the ball right on the money," Dantonio said of Cook following the Spartans' win over Indiana. "He's got that 'X-factor' a little bit. The biggest thing I can tell you is when there's something that goes wrong, he gets sacked or he doesn't make the throw, he's able to bounce back and make the plays and make the throws. I think that's a credit to him."

With four games left in the regular season—including a highly anticipated Nov. 21 date with Ohio State—and whatever type of postseason Michigan State takes part in after that, a lot can change between now and when Cook begins to take part in the draft process.

But it's not hard to see that the Spartans signal-caller is on an upward trajectory, which could ultimately lead to Cook hearing his name called sooner rather than later next spring.

 

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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Inside the Making of Showtime's 'A Season With Notre Dame Football'

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame football running back C.J. Prosise was trying to focus on a big game. And he had to deal with cameras and questions.

But no, this wasn’t his 198-yard, three-touchdown effort against Georgia Tech, or either of his multi-score outings against UMass, Navy or USC. This was serious.

With some downtime before Notre Dame’s Week 2 matchup against Virginia, Prosise and his roommate, Irish receiver Chris Brown, settled in for a showdown in FIFA on Xbox in their off-campus apartment. And as has been the case all season, the cameras and questions from Showtime’s A Season With Notre Dame Football, the season-long documentary series chronicling the Irish program, followed.

“What made me upset about that was that when we were playing, they were talking to me and asking me questions while I was playing,” Prosise said. “So of course while I’m answering questions, Chris scores.”

Brown, playing as the German side Borussia Dortmund, held on for the 1-0 win over Prosise, playing with Juventus of Serie A in Italy.

“Now Chris can talk all this trash saying that he’s beating me,” Prosise said with a laugh. “But, really, I was distracted the whole time.”

Outside of a crushing video game loss, the distractions have been kept to a minimum, according to those involved with the unique partnership between Notre Dame and Showtime, which is documenting the 2015 season with weekly episodes that began Sept. 8, three days after Notre Dame’s season-opening win over Texas.

“Our Showtime team is embedded with their team,” said Jason Sciavicco, the showrunner and one of the executive producers for the series. “We are almost one now. It’s more of a distraction when we’re not there at this point because they’re so used to us being there.”

“I’ve gotten used to it, them just being around,” Irish star wide receiver Will Fuller said. “It’s like they’re part of the team now.”

“It was a difficult transition early on,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said, adding that it’s now become a way of life for his team. “There’s just been really good dialogue and communication between the football staff and Showtime, and it’s making it work on a day-to-day basis.”

It’s that continuation in dialogue that has bred a smooth working relationship between the 100-plus-member football team and the Showtime staff, which regularly has between 30 and 35 people on the ground in South Bend.

The conversation began two years ago, when Scott Stone, one of the show’s other executive producers, approached Sciavicco with the idea for a show chronicling a major college football program.

“It’s actually never been done on any major level for the entire season,” Sciavicco points out, noting the short length of HBO’s Hard Knocks.

Sciavicco, who had produced other reality-type football shows such as Friday Night Tykes (Esquire), Two-A-Days (MTV) and Varsity Inc. (ESPN2), met with Stone, discussed their vision for the show and agreed to move forward.

The next two years, however, were spent locking up a football program to document. Sciavicco said they spoke with “several different schools” and were “down the road very far” with a few different programs. Meetings with various head coaches ran upwards of two hours.

“For a major university and a major college football program, opening up your doors 100 percent is not the easiest thing for them to commit to,” Sciavicco said. “But for us to feel like we could produce the kind of show that we’re producing, that’s what we needed. We needed access to position meetings, team meetings. We needed to be in the locker room—win or lose. We needed to be there for every team meeting and the ups and downs throughout a season.”

Sciavicco said both sides grew comfortable through several conversations and have now formed “a great partnership.” Kelly has enlisted three staff members—sports information director Michael Bertsch, special assistant Bob Elliott and director of football administration Beth Rex—to meet daily with Showtime in South Bend to discuss stories, scheduling and access. Sciavicco said he could not be happier with the access his group has received.

In addition to meetings with the Notre Dame side, Sciavicco has daily conference calls with other producers and associate producers about each episode’s content and the storylines.

“My philosophy is always what’s best is what’s real,” Sciavicco said. “And when you see real, raw emotions, you know it. You see it on the screen. You can feel it. … It’s just being in the right place at the right time, making sure that the players and the coaches are all comfortable with you.”

It helps to have the resources Showtime has allowed for the series. Between camera operators, audio technicians, producers, associate producers, production assistants and production managers, for example, there are 30-35 members of the Showtime staff working in South Bend, 95 percent of whom have been brought in from outside the Indiana area.

There are roughly another 35 people working on the show’s post-production in California, where all the editing occurs. Sciavicco’s staff in South Bend will send its high-resolution footage to California two to four times per day, allowing editors to work on material that was shot as recently as five hours ago on campus, for instance.

Stone oversees the post-production component along with Tom Cappello, among others. Sciavicco said they speak 15 times per day. On his last cell-phone bill, Sciavicco ran up 7,200 minutes.

“We did the sad calculation; and that’s being on the phone for five consecutive days in one month,” Sciavicco quipped.

Three to five camera crews—each working 12- to 18-hour days—capture roughly 180 hours of footage each week, which gets slashed into 30 minutes for each Tuesday night, when the episodes air at 10 p.m. ET. The crews have been around for everything from team meetings and practice to classes and meals, following players and coaches to apartments, houses and hotel rooms since fall camp began in August.

“[Kelly] just said the cameras are gonna be here, don’t look at them, just act the way you usually would act because they’re going to be here all year,” Prosise said.

“It’s definitely weird just knowing that everything you do and say is on camera,” senior defensive end Romeo Okwara added. “So you definitely have to watch what you say sometimes for sure. It’s just something you have to get used to.”

“I don’t make it bigger than what it is,” outgoing and confident senior cornerback KeiVarae Russell said. “If I’m eating and they’re watching me, I just eat. I just eat. I’m not trying to eat a certain way. I’m being me. I’m just gonna eat regular. I’m just gonna do what I would do if they weren’t there.”

Like many of the Irish players, Fuller has had cameras trail him in multiple classes, including those in small classroom settings.

“In the classroom it’s real weird because you’ve got the students and the cameras are all on you and you’re looking around and you don’t know what to do, paying attention to the teacher, students looking at you, it’s real awkward,” Fuller said.

The players, though, are provided with access to watch the episodes and certainly don’t mind the finished product.

“It’s pretty cool. They make us look real good,” Fuller said.

“At times it can be a little much and be a little bit of a hassle. But it’s kind of cool to say you’re on a TV show and part of a TV show,” Prosise added.

All that footage and all those camera crews pay off, though, for Showtime when in the right spot. Sciavicco highlighted a scene from the show’s third episode, when quarterback DeShone Kizer candidly reflected on his path to the starting quarterback job, including when he “hit rock bottom” going into the summer and asked himself if he was playing the right sport.

“It was as real as real gets,” Sciavicco said. “That’s a kid just opening up his heart and his feelings and just giving you his real feelings at that time. That was cool to capture. … He didn’t have to be open like that in front of us.”

Similarly, Sciavicco said Showtime has not been shut out from any of Notre Dame’s myriad injuries, which he called “delicate moments.” And when the Irish suffered a heartbreaking two-point loss to Clemson on the road, Showtime was still there in the locker room.

“We had to earn the trust from Coach Kelly and his staff,” Sciavicco said. “I think we’ve done a good job of that. And I think the relationship has shown that on the screen.”

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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Uber Offering UCF Fans Free Rides Until Knights Win a Football Game

Although the University of Central Florida football team is 0-8, this season hasn't been a total loss for Knights fans.

They are at least getting some perks out of their team's poor performance.

Earlier this year, a bar in Orlando, Florida, made the bold move of offering free beer during UCF games until the Knights won a game—because they needed a reason to get excited about game day. Now, another company is taking the initiative to help out Knights fans during a tough time.

Uber is offering new riders—presumably within a certain radius of the UCF campus—a free first ride with the service until the Knights win a game:

Deals like this should help ease fans' pain as the losses pile up.

Central Florida suffered two one-point defeats in its first three games of the season. Since then, the Knights have not had a game closer than 14 points. After the latest defeat, a 59-10 blowout loss against Houston, coach George O'Leary retired:

The Knights' rough season comes just one year after they won a share of the American Athletic Conference title in a 9-3 regular season, which led to an appearance in a bowl game.

UCF will have four more chances to break into the win column this season. If the team continues to lose, at least the fans will keep winning.

 

[Twitter, h/t Darren Rovell]

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Michigan's Future Backfield Dominating High School Football

The Michigan Wolverines are enjoying a strong first year under head coach Jim Harbaugh, who has already matched his alma mater's 2014 win total.

Despite a heartbreaking loss to Michigan State in its most recent matchup, Michigan is clearly a program on the rise. A trio of consecutive shutout victories provide plenty of indication, but strides beyond the playing field also command attention.

The Wolverines currently carry a top-10 recruiting class in the 2016 cycle after finishing 37th overall in composite rankings last national signing day. This group still has plenty of room for improvement, as Michigan seems to be in the mix for more elite uncommitted prospects than most teams in America. 

A few key members of this class are expected to someday comprise an explosive offensive backfield in Ann Arbor. Indiana products Brandon PetersKiante Enis and Chris Evans have routinely put their skills on display as senior high school standouts in the Hoosier State, creating even more buzz about their potential impact on the Wolverines attack.

Peters, a 6'5", 205-pound quarterback from Avon High School, captured national attention this summer when he earned recognition as an Elite 11 inductee. He thrived during the annual July passing showcase held at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.

It appears he's carried that experience into his senior campaign. Peters has posted career-best statistics this season, leading Avon to an 8-2 record and a state playoff appearance. 

His most recent performance—a 260-yard, three-touchdown effort in the postseason opener, per MaxPreps—occurred in a head-to-head matchup with top-rated 2017 quarterback and Tennessee commit Hunter Johnson

Peters is completing 64 percent of pass attempts through 10 games this fall, resulting in 2,441 yards and 33 touchdowns through the air. He's lost just four interceptions among 246 total tosses, throwing just two picks since the start of September. 

Those totals provide proof of continued progression following a junior season that featured a 56 percent completion rate, 1,876 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and six interceptions. 

Harbaugh has heaped plenty of praise toward Peters during their discussions. He compared the young gunslinger to his famous former Stanford pupil prior to picking up his pledge in April.

"He compared me to Andrew Luck," Peters told Bleacher Report after making his commitment public. "It's a similar situation to what he had at Stanford, with Luck being the first quarterback recruit he brought in [with a full cycle]. He thinks I'm a really good fit for him at Michigan like Luck was for him there."

A quarterback always benefits when he's surrounded by capable playmakers who can create opportunities for the entire offense. Peters is set to arrive at campus next year with at least two impressive running backs in fellow Indiana athletes Evans and Enis. 

Evans and Indianapolis powerhouse Ben Davis High School actually face Peters' program in the next round of postseason action. The 5'11", 186-pound prospect is just as pivotal to his team's success as the quarterback. 

He rushed for 218 yards and four scores on 28 carries in a first-round victory, according to Paul Shepherd of the Indianapolis Star. It was Evans' third game this season with at least 150 yards on the ground, per MaxPreps.

Though he's shown the ability to carry a large load as a runner with 2,500 rushing yards since 2013, it's Evans' versatility that excites most. He projects to possibly contribute as both a rusher and slot receiver in college.

The 126 receptions since his sophomore year indicate adeptness in the passing game. Evans has turned those opportunities into 1,611 receiving yards (12.8 per catch) and 19 touchdowns, setting the stage for an eventual full-time switch to receiver at Michigan if roster depth eventually necessitates it.

Evans could someday create a formidable and dynamic one-two punch with Enis, a punishing 6'1", 200-pound back from Winchester Community High School. This season has been a personal tour de force for the powerful runner. 

Enis established a new school record by scoring seven times on the ground Friday night in state sectional action, according to the Palladium-Item. He rumbled for 381 yards on 22 rushing attempts, per MaxPreps.

It was his second 300-yard game of the season, adding to a 341-yard outburst in the season opener. Enis has gained at least 100 rushing yards in nine of 10 games this fall, surpassing 200 yards on four occasions. 

He's also shown the ability to contribute as a receiver when called upon. Enis has added 241 yards and two scores through the air this season, though it's his rushing totals that steal the spotlight.

Since the start of his sophomore season, he's racked up 6,618 yards and 93 touchdowns as a ball-carrier. He's averaged 10.1 yards per rushing attempt on 654 carries during that span. 

Enis is the nephew of former college star Curtis Enis, an All-American running back at Penn State who became the fifth overall NFL draft pick in 1998. He also warrants consideration as a defensive back. 

Beyond Indiana, Wolverines fans should be focused on Alabama rusher Kingston Davis. The nation's top-ranked fullback serves as a 6'1", 225-pound battering ram at Prattville High School. 

He's carried the ball 219 times through nine games this season, per MaxPreps, gaining 1,471 yards en route to 16 scores. This production gives him 3,440 rushing yards and 31 total touchdowns as an upperclassman.

Davis drew rave reveiws from 5-star linebacker Lyndell "Mack" Wilson earlier this fall following a matchip between the two Alabama talents.

"Kingston is an outstanding back and a bruiser," Wilson told Steve Lorenz of 247Sports. "He's explosive for his size and makes big time plays when his team needs him to. He's going to be an outstanding player in college wherever a team lines him up. He's the kind of player that will make your team better when he's on the field."

Harbaugh and his staff still aim to add more impactful pieces to Michigan's recruiting haul, including top-ranked running back and longtime Ohio State commit Kareem Walker.

Even if the Wolverines ultimately fail to flip the coveted New Jersey recruit, it's clear Harbaugh has the components for a scintillating young offensive backfield in coming seasons. Dominant senior seasons for Peters, Davis, Evans and Enis further enforce the confidence Michigan displayed in each prospect earlier in this process.

 

Tyler Donohue is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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B/R Recruiting Notebook: 4-Star Talks Visits, Sleeper QB Throws 9 TDs

Two official visits are in the books for Fort Lauderdale, Florida, wide receiver Binjimen Victor. As the nation's No. 7 receiver, and someone with 42 reported offers, Victor enjoyed a visit to West Virginia last month and then took in Ohio State the weekend of Oct. 17—a trip that, on a scale of 1-10, he gave "a 9" because of the game atmosphere.

What's next for Victor? That seems to be the big question, as the 6'4", 170-pound receiver said he's continuing to weigh all options—and do so at a relaxed tempo—within his process. His 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions lean to him staying in state and committing to Florida, but he said no schools are ahead of one another, and he's making sure proper research is done.

"I'm basically wide-open," he said. "There are few schools I'm interested in, and I'm looking at those five or six that I feel will fit me best. I'm looking for a place where I feel can develop me and get me to the next level."

Victor said schools like Auburn, Louisville, Tennessee, Ohio State and Florida are among the ones still alive in the recruiting race. He values the fact that they've been the schools to keep in contact the most consistently.

A final decision, Victor said, will come at the U.S. Army All-American Game in January. He said he is looking at one other official visit—a Nov. 28 venture to Florida—but isn't ruling out officials before or after that.

One thing's for certain: Victor has a solid idea of what he wants in a winner.

"You know, they have a saying that coaches never stay, but to me, it's important to have that relationship with your position coach," he said. "He'll be the one with you every day. That's a big factor to me.

"Plus, certain schools say certain things. Some say I've got to come in and work my butt off to get a starting spot. I like that. I know with academics, every school's going to give you a chance to get your education, but on the field, I know I'll have to come in and work hard. If I do that, I'll be fine."

 

Another recruiting X-factor for DT Gary

Paramus, New Jersey, defensive tackle Rashan Gary, the nation's top-ranked player in the 2016 class, has 30 reported offers to choose from. Michigan, Alabama, Ohio State, Auburn, Clemson, Ole Miss and LSU are among the many schools still in the running.

The comfort level on the football field and the player-coach relationships obviously are X-factors in choosing a final destination, but for Gary, life after football matters just as much. And when discussing life after football, Gary wants to one day live as relaxed of a life as possible.

"I don't know how to describe it; I want to be that guy just laying on the beach and making my money and making it work for me," Gary said, according to Bleacher Report's Sanjay Kirpalani. "I'm trying to find a way to do that."

Gary, who is considering announcing his verbal commitment either at the Under Armour All-America Game in January or on national signing day in February, said he is interested in pursuing a business degree.

 

QB Patterson: Different pitches for Ole Miss targets

With November rapidly approaching, recruiting becomes more and more of a priority for college coaches. And college coaches will be the first to admit that a good player-recruiter is key in landing talent.

Shea Patterson is Ole Miss' ace player-recruiter. A 5-star talent and the nation's top-ranked pro-style quarterback in the 2016 class, Patterson told Bleacher Report's Sanjay Kirpalani that he has a different recruiting pitch for every athlete, depending on how he gauges the athlete's interest in his future college home.

The common denominator with every pitch: keeping the conversations as light as possible.

"I just try to speak with some of the guys who are interested in Ole Miss. It's been cool; I just try to have fun with it," Patterson said. "Recruiting can be stressful, so I think it's important to keep that levity with it when we joke around about it."

Patterson has been committed to Ole Miss since Feb. 17. Since his pledge, 11 players have committed to the Rebels, including the 4-star duo of running back Justin Connor and offensive tackle Bryce Mathews.

Ole Miss has 19 commitments, but Patterson said he has a few targets between now and February. Among them are IMG Academy teammates in 5-star Isaac Nauta and 4-star receiver Drake Davis.

 

Can Tulane hold off Pac-12 for QB Abraham?

For those following the recruitment of Oxford, Mississippi's Jack Abraham, the question still remains: How is Tulane managing to keep the 3-star quarterback committed?

With schools like UCLA and Cal looking to steal away a pro-style quarterback commit, Abraham on Sunday said he is still happy with Tulane and what it has to offer. The 6'0", 195-pound quarterback said Tulane offers a great academic plan and the possibility for early playing time once he arrives on campus.

And while he is quite comfortable with what Tulane brings to the table, the idea of potentially playing on the West Coast intrigues him. Both Cal and UCLA have quarterback pledges, but Abraham is still a candidate to keep an eye on for the Pac-12 programs.

UCLA, in particular, is a school to watch from now until February's national signing day.

"I've got good relationships with the coaches there. [Offensive coordinator] Coach [Noel] Mazzone is pretty good friends with my head coach and has been around in the football world," Abraham said. "They have good academics there, and I know they have [Josh] Rosen right now, but I don't know if there's anyone behind him. It makes for a chance to compete."

Abraham said distance won't play a factor in his final decision. Louisiana Tech and South Alabama are two other FBS programs to offer. He said he is considering an unofficial visit to Louisiana Tech in November, followed by a potential official there later in the year. But for now, Abraham said he's still a Tulane pledge.

"Having great academics is huge for me," he said. "You want to know you have something after football. Having a degree from Tulane is top-notch. From a football standpoint, I like the coaching staff, and I know I'll fit there."

 

Sleeper alert: South Carolina QB throws for 9 TDs

Spartanburg, South Carolina, gets plenty of recruiting love thanks to 5-star Clemson running back Tavien Feaster. The guy who gives Feaster the ball reminded everyone on Friday why he deserves face time, as well.

2016 quarterback Austin Scott put up ridiculous numbers in Spartanburg's 76-34 win against Wade Hampton High School out of Greenville, South Carolina. On a team with a high-powered back in Feaster, Scott threw for 686 yards and nine touchdowns in the victory. He threw touchdown passes of 34, 23, 26, 22, 5, 60, 33, 11 and 61 yards—all in the first three quarters of play—according to statistics provided by Spartanburg sports information director Zach Johnson.

The nine touchdowns tied a South Carolina state mark set by Old Dominion redshirt freshman Shuler Bentley, who threw for nine touchdowns in a 2013 game against Woodruff High School as the quarterback of Byrnes High School in Duncan.

Impressive stats for an unrated quarterback who is still looking for his first Power Five offer. Scott has four reported offers from Old Dominion, Newberry, South Carolina State and Elon. He has FBS interest from schools such as North Carolina, Kentucky, Wake Forest and Purdue.

 

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

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Michigan vs. Minnesota: Complete Game Preview

The No. 15 Michigan Wolverines will look to bounce back from a deflating loss when they challenge the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Saturday, Oct. 31 in Minneapolis.

Michigan (5-2) lost to Michigan State on the final play of the game, but head coach Jim Harbaugh will attempt to right the Wolverines before the battle for the Little Brown Jug. Michigan holds a 73-25-3 advantage in the series.

However, Minnesota (4-3) is currently in possession of the trophy, since the Gophers limited the Maize and Blue to 171 offensive yards and earned a 30-14 victory in Ann Arbor last season.

According to Odds Shark, Michigan is a 13.5-point favorite. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET and the game will be televised on ESPN.

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Ole Miss Removes Mississippi Flag from Campus

The University of Mississippi removed the state's flag from its campus Monday because of its use of the Confederate flag emblem.

“The University of Mississippi community came to the realization years ago that the Confederate battle flag did not represent many of our core values, such as civility and respect for others,” Interim Chancellor Morris Stocks said in a statement last June. “Since that time, we have become a stronger and better university. We join other leaders in our state who are calling for a change in the state flag.”

The removal comes less than a week after the university's student senate voted for the flag's removal. For many, including a number of students who attended a rally to support the decision, Mississippi's state flag has become a symbol supporting racial inequality with its use of the Confederate flag. 

“As Mississippi’s flagship university, we have a deep love and respect for our state,” Stocks said this month. “Because the flag remains Mississippi’s official banner, this was a hard decision. I understand the flag represents tradition and honor to some. But to others, the flag means that some members of the Ole Miss family are not welcomed or valued. That is why the university faculty, staff and leadership have united behind this student-led initiative.”

The association with the Confederate flag and its controversy is not new. Ole Miss' sports teams are nicknamed the Rebels, a nickname also given to the states that seceded from the Union in an attempt to continue slavery. The school's colors are the ones used on the Confederate flag.

"We can't recruit against the Confederate flag," former Ole Miss head coach Tommy Tuberville famously said in 1996, per Mike Herndon of AL.com.

Tuberville's quote, which came in a conversation with then-Ole Miss chancellor Robert Khayat, led to the university's controversial ban of flying the Confederate flag at football games. The university's decision to remove the state flag itself will polarize the fanbase but may go a long way in helping Ole Miss move on from its past.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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AP College Football Poll 2015: Projections for Week 9 Top 25 Rankings

Last week was considered a slow week in terms of high-profile matches—even though it ended up as another defining week in the race for the playoffs—but Week 9 might be one of the weakest of the season.

With five of the Top 7 in the AP poll on a bye week this week—only No. 3 Clemson and No. 5 TCU are scheduled to play this weekend—it will be a chance for some of the teams lower in the polls to show they are worthy of joining the discussion for the playoffs.

Once again, there is only one ranked matchup on the docket, with No. 9 Notre Dame traveling to take on No. 21 Temple, but there are still a fair number of games that have a direct impact on the title picture and the conference races.

Let’s predict the winners of each AP Top 25 game this week and preview some of the weekend’s biggest matchups:

 

No. 21 Temple vs. No. 9 Notre Dame

There has been a lot of bandwidth spent on the rise of the American Athletic Conference in recent weeks. Houston rising up the polls under former Ohio State assistant Tom Herman and Memphis taking down Ole Miss have been headline-stealing events in this topsy-turvy season.

But while the Tigers and Cougars feel validated in their Top 25 rankings, there are still those wondering about the Temple Owls. A season-opening win against Penn State was impressive, but a number of close wins have people wondering if Temple can keep it up for the rest of the season.

After this weekend, though, everyone will know where Temple stands in college football’s power structure. With a prime-time matchup in Philadelphia with a perennial powerhouse coming this week, the Owls will either validate their status or fall back in with the rank and file.

This season, Temple's strength has been on defense, holding its opponents to just 307.7 yards per game, while the offense has struggled at times to put up consistent numbers, which isn’t a good sign against a high-scoring Notre Dame squad.

If Temple can capitalize on early adrenaline and take an early lead, or at least keep up with the Irish through the first half, there could be an upset in the cards. But Notre Dame won’t give the underdog the chance to keep things close, pulling away early en route to a big win.

Prediction: No. 9 Notre Dame 38, No. 21 Temple 21

 

Washington State vs. No. 8 Stanford

Just a quick recap about Washington State’s up-and-down season. The Cougars started the year off with a loss to Portland State, an FCS school, and barely beat a weak Rutgers side 37-34 on the road.

Since then, though, Washington State has won four of five games, with victories against Arizona and Oregon in that span, and barely lost to a ranked California team 34-28 on the road. This run in form has the Cougars up to second place in the Pac-12 North and a win away this weekend from taking the division lead.

Unfortunately for Washington State, its opponent is the No. 8 Stanford Cardinal, who have been one of the country's best teams since an upset loss to Northwestern in the season’s opening fixture.

Following the loss, Stanford has won six straight games, all by at least 10 points, and looks comfortable atop a disappointing Pac-12 North. With an offense in the top 25 in points per game and a defense in the top 35 this season, the Cardinal are one of the most balanced teams in the nation and don’t appear to have any glaring weaknesses.

The run by the Cougars to a point of contention has to be respected and enjoyed while it can, but Stanford will prove too talented to fall to Washington State Saturday and will solidify its spot in the Pac-12 with a big victory.

Prediction: No. 8 Stanford 42, Washington State 17

 

Texas Tech vs. No. 12 Oklahoma State

It might sound a little bit disrespectful to Kliff Kingsbury’s squad but so far this season, Texas Tech has been the Big 12’s equivalent of a midcard jobber in WWE: good enough to test the main event stars, but not quite good enough to be one itself.

This season, the Red Raiders are 5-3, with all of their losses coming against the top teams in the conference. A 55-52 loss to TCU, a 63-35 loss to Baylor and most recently a 63-27 loss to Oklahoma last week are the only times this year Texas Tech has found itself in the loser’s column.

Coming up this week, an undefeated and scrappy Oklahoma State team has to travel to Lubbock, Texas, and prove that it deserves to be considered one of the best teams in the Big 12.

The Cowboys haven’t been blowing out their opponents like some of their conference brethren have been all season, but starting 7-0 has Oklahoma State up to No. 12 in the AP poll and on the verge of breaking into the Big 12’s top tier with Oklahoma, TCU and Baylor.

But after an incredibly emotionally charged game in Stillwater, Oklahoma, last weekend, can the Cowboys continue their surprising undefeated run against one of the best offenses in the country? It should be close, especially if the Red Raiders don’t offer up any resistance on defense, but Texas Tech has been close to pulling the upset this season and looks poised to do so this weekend against Oklahoma State.

Prediction: Texas Tech 56, No. 12 Oklahoma State 45

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AP College Football Poll 2015: Projections for Week 9 Top 25 Rankings

Last week was considered a slow week in terms of high-profile matches—even though it ended up as another defining week in the race for the playoffs—but Week 9 might be one of the weakest of the season...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

No. 1 Recruit Rashan Gary Breaks Down Recruitment, Decision Timeline

BRADENTON, Fla. – With coaches from five of the schools he’s considering present at his last game, 5-star defensive tackle Rashan Gary—who is the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2016 class—caught a brief glimpse of what his future holds in the next few months.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, as well as assistants from Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Ole Miss, were on hand to see the 6’5”, 293-pound New Jersey native match up against Florida powerhouse IMG Academy.

However, Gary took the scenery in stride, noting how the attention on him could ultimately benefit his teammates.

“It means a lot [seeing college coaches],” Gary told Bleacher Report. “It’s me helping to give that opportunity to my teammates to have a good game and get on that board. So that’s all my goal is.”

Gary, who took a visit to Michigan last month, still has four official visits left—with Auburn on Nov. 28 being the only one locked in on his schedule.

He admits he wants to focus on the rest of his senior season at Paramus Catholic before turning his attention toward recruiting. The rest of his visit schedule will take place either in December or January.

“Ole Miss, Georgia, LSU, Clemson, Notre Dame, USC and a couple of schools like that,” Gary said of the schools in the running for his remaining officials.

Of course, the Wolverines have plenty of connections with Gary. Former Paramus head coach Chris Partridge is on Harbaugh’s staff, and a couple of former teammates are enjoying their careers to date in Ann Arbor.

“Michigan is cool. I got Jabrill Peppers and Juwann Bushell-Beatty there and they went to PC,” Gary said. “My old coach, Chris Partridge, is there so I have a good connection there. It makes me feel like home because I’m around those guys.”

He’s also taking notice of how well the Wolverines are recruiting the state of New Jersey in 2016. Harbaugh and his staff already have three pledges from the Garden State, hope to land Gary and potentially flip 4-star running back and current Ohio State pledge Kareem Walker.

“A lot of kids [from New Jersey] are believing in the program,” Gary explained. “[Michigan] should be a problem in a couple of years."

Additionally, his mom accompanied him for his trip on Sept. 25 for the Wolverines’ impressive win over BYU.

“The food, education and the family atmosphere,” Gary noted of the things that impressed him on his visit to Michigan. “My mom got a chance to walk on campus by herself and everybody was friendly and everybody likes to talk. Up in [New] Jersey, you don’t get a lot of 'hi’s.' So everybody there was really friendly and answering her questions. They are very nice up there.”

Another school who has put the full-court press on Gary is LSU. Tigers defensive line coach Ed Orgeron is spearheading the charge, with Gary taking two trips to Baton Rouge during the summer. Orgeron and secondary coach Corey Raymond were on hand to see Gary vs. IMG.

“Seeing Coach O, it just shows that he has a lot of love for me,” Gary said. “Him coming to watch me play means he has a lot of care for me.”

Auburn is also on his list, and Gary admits he’s looking forward to his return to the Plains next month for the Iron Bowl. Gary, who plans to choose a major in the business field, said a few things stood out to him on his first visit to Auburn.

“The defense, and then when I went down there, the food because I like to eat,” Gary said. “Just the academics, my mom felt comfortable with me being there more as a student than as an athlete. That’s very key in my decision-making process.”

Gary said he hopes to make a decision at the Under Armour All-American Game in January. However, if he’s not ready to decide, he will push his announcement back to national signing day.

“It’s going to come down to how I feel like I can develop at that school, how close it is, how my mom feels and the food,” Gary said.

 

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

Power Ranking College Football's Best 1-Loss Teams

On paper, Week 8 looked like a bit of a break in the 2015 college football season. There was only one matchup of teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, with No. 15 Texas A&M traveling to No. 24 Ole Miss. But as we’ve come to realize, some of the best action happens when you least expect it in this game.

By night’s end, a pair of Top 10 teams (No. 3 Utah and No. 9 Florida State) tumbled from the ranks of the unbeaten, with the Seminoles watching their 28-game ACC winning streak end on a final-play blocked field goal returned for a touchdown by Georgia Tech.

As we approach the final month of the regular season, more wild times are certainly ahead, and while we still have 12 unbeaten teams left in the FBS, there is a group just behind them poised to strike should they stumble. A year ago, only Florida State reached the College Football Playoff unbeaten, and expect similar chaos before the second CFP field is revealed in early December.

If you have one loss, you’re not out of the playoff conversation yet. Not at all. As we roll into the final month of the regular season, 13 FBS teams have one loss, including 10 Power Five schools. Let’s take a look at those 10. This is how we see them stacking up.

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B/R CFB Committee: Playoff Predictions Heading into Week 9

Week 8 of the college football season brought even more upsets to complicate the playoff picture.

Who is the top team in the country? Which teams will fill the other three spots in the College Football Playoff?

Watch as Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee, Adam Kramer and Michael Felder examine the potential playoff scenarios heading into Week 9 in the video above.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2015: Early Predictions for Week 9 College Polls

After another thrilling week of close games, surprising upsets and shuffle among the rankings, the College Football Playoff picture is taking a more definitive form. This week's games will be the last before the playoff committee’s first rankings will be released, giving a true gauge of contenders and pretenders. 

The Florida State Seminoles and Utah Utes were the latest undefeated teams to fall, leaving seven unbeatens among the Associated Press Top 10 and nearly no wiggle room for error:

With just five weeks remaining in the regular season, here's a look at a few key matchups and storylines heading into the final week of October: 

 

Georgia Bulldogs vs. No. 11 Florida Gators

No. 11 Florida has been arguably the biggest surprise this season under first-year coach Jim McElwain, who has the Gators poised to reach the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2009.

Florida takes on a beleaguered Georgia Bulldogs bunch that hobbles into this neutral-site game on a two-game skid and with its best player, Nick Chubb, lost for the season with a knee injury.

Georgia, the preseason favorite to win the SEC East, was spanked at home 38-10 by No. 7 Alabama, then blew a 21-point lead in a 38-31 loss to Tennessee a week later. Florida is coming off a late, but respectable 35-28 loss to No. 4 LSU, which should by no means hinder morale, per Tony Barnhart of CBS Sports: 

Florida has won 19 of the past 25 meetings between the two, including last year’s dominating upset over the then-No. 9 Bulldogs. There’s no reason to think things will change.

Georgia suffers from a lack of offensive identity now without Chubb and behind struggling quarterback Greyson Lambert, whose numbers—1,276 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions—don’t accurately tell his story. Lambert has been relieved for backup Brice Ramsey twice in close games this season (though every time he went on to relieve Ramsey after the backup struggled).

Florida should roll again in Week 9 and then has only to get by Vanderbilt and South Carolina to reach the conference title game in what could be an anticipated rematch against LSU.

Prediction: Florida 31, Georgia 13

 

No. 9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish at No. 21 Temple Owls

The Gators are only a surprise because they returned to relevance sooner than expected. The Temple Owls, however, have emerged as the marvel among non-Power Five conferences.  

No. 21 Temple is 7-0 for the first time in school history, yet it trails the No. 16 Memphis Tigers and No. 18 Houston Cougars in the upward-trending American Athletic Conference. The Owls will face their biggest test yet in what should be a revealing game when the No. 9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish visit in Week 9. 

Temple may be a very long shot at the playoff, but a win over Notre Dame will certainly catch the committee’s attention. The Fighting Irish are 6-1 with a lone loss to the red-hot No. 3 Clemson Tigers, narrowly falling 24-22 in Week 5. 

It’s a juicy matchup between Temple’s 14th-ranked defense (307.7 yards per game) against Notre Dame’s high-scoring offense (38.3 points per game). But despite what may look like a showdown on paper, Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated thinks otherwise:

Notre Dame is still in the hunt for the final four, with three games against ranked opponents remaining, including in Week 9. The Fighting Irish play the No. 23 Pittsburgh Panthers in Week 10 and finish the regular season against the No. 8 Stanford Cardinal. 

If the Fighting Irish run the table—particularly with what would be formidable wins and a respectable loss—the committee will be hard-pressed to keep them out. 

Prediction: Notre Dame 45, Temple 21

 

Byes for four Top 10 teams

Week 9 may be the final (somewhat) quiet slate among playoff hopefuls, as a quartet of Top 10 teams are on a bye—the No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes, the No. 4 LSU Tigers, the No. 6 Michigan State Spartans and the No. 7 Alabama Crimson Tide. 

But the drama among these four is coming.

Alabama and LSU meet in Week 10 in what will likely determine the fate of the SEC West. These two have accounted for five of the last 10 division titles in the nation’s toughest conference. 

The Crimson Tide and Tigers, respectively, rank third and fourth in SEC total offense and reached those marks through outstanding rush attacks. Tigers tailback Leonard Fournette is the Heisman Trophy front-runner with an FBS-high 1,352 yards and 15 touchdowns. But Alabama’s Derrick Henry has been nearly as impressive, churning out 1,044 yards and 14 touchdowns. The tasty matchup was highlighted by Gil Brandt of NFL.com:

Ohio State and Michigan State meet in Week 12 in what will likely amount to a Big 10 East division championship game. Both teams are 4-0 in conference play with a one-game lead over the Penn State Nittany Lions. 

The Spartans opened the season ranked fifth, but they have slipped in light of less-than-spectacular wins much closer than they should’ve been. Ohio State has also fielded criticism for not blowing out teams as forecasted with their high-powered offensive arsenal. 

The Buckeyes in Week 8 shifted to J.T. Barrett as their starting quarterback and dominated Rutgers 49-7. The same day, the Spartans were trailing unranked Indiana at halftime before winning 52-26. 

Michigan State won a miraculous game against the Michigan Wolverines to keep its playoff hopes alive, but it must stay disciplined against the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Maryland Terrapins before their showdown against Ohio State. 

In the interim, there may not be much shuffling among the Top 10 in Week 9, but with four of the Top 10 away this week, there's room for others to make their mark and catapult for consideration.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Breaking Down the Race for First-Team All-SEC QB

The race to become the SEC's first-team All-SEC quarterback this year has been the college football equivalent of a roller coaster.

First, it was Ole Miss' Chad Kelly jumping to the top of the pack. The junior college transfer threw nine touchdowns and only one pick through the first three games, went on the road to stun Alabama in Tuscaloosa and helped elevate Ole Miss to one of the nation's top teams.

Then Kelly struggled versus Vanderbilt, got blown out at Florida and the early-season shine had worn off before the leaves began to change color.

Next up: Florida's Will Grier.

After not starting the season opener, Grier became Florida's top option on the depth chart in Week 3, led a stunning two-touchdown comeback in the fourth quarter against Tennessee in Week 4, lit up Ole Miss a week later and tossed 10 touchdowns and only three picks in six games.

Then Grier was suspended for a year for violating the NCAA's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, and his magical redshirt freshman season came to a close.

On deck was Texas A&M's Kyle Allen.

After all, he had tossed 13 touchdown passes and just two interceptions heading into the then-undefeated showdown between the Aggies and Alabama two weeks ago. Three pick-sixes against the Crimson Tide and an awful stretch against Ole Miss that included incomplete passes in 20 of 22 attempts later, and Allen's hold on the award became coated with Crisco.

Through it all, Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott has just been hanging out, doing normal "Dak Prescott things" in Starkville.

The dual-threat senior for the Bulldogs has thrown for 2,048 yards and 14 touchdowns, threw his first pick of the season last week versus Kentucky, has rushed for 371 yards and scored seven more touchdowns on the ground. 

In last week's game versus Kentucky, Prescott threw for 348 yards and three touchdowns, rushed for 117 and three more touchdowns and looked exactly like the dual-threat stud that led Mississippi State to the No. 1 ranking last season.

"The guys were giving me running lanes," Prescott said, according to Mississippi State's official site. "It was something I wanted to do. I wanted to take advantage of the lanes they were giving me. It was something I have to do going forward."

If the season ended today, Prescott should be your first-team All-SEC quarterback. 

Does that mean that the roller coaster that is the quarterback position in the SEC won't send him shooting down the wrong track, as it has for virtually every other contender thus far?

No. 

Alabama's Jake Coker appears to have won over the team and is becoming more confident with new younger receivers like Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart. LSU's Brandon Harris has broken the 200-yard mark in three straight games, and he has his team firmly entrenched in the College Football Playoff hunt. Arkansas' Brandon Allen has thrown for 13 touchdowns and has brought balance to the run-based Arkansas offense. Kelly could certainly jump back into the mix after a slight October slide.

But Prescott entered the season as the most known commodity in the conference, and all he has done is pick up right where he left off.

That should be enough to earn him the nod if he closes out his career in a similar fashion, even in a crowded field. In a year in which first-team All-SEC quarterbacks are dwindling faster than presidential candidates, Prescott should be a shoo-in.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The College Football Week 8 All-Heart Team

Heart in college football comes in various shapes and forms, which is why it's so odd that for the second straight week, the signature play came on a last-second special teams miscue.

But even outside of Atlanta, where Georgia Tech upset Florida State in almost the same way Michigan State upset Michigan, players took their effort to another level and registered signature moments.

Priority was given to power-conference players in high-profile games, since part of making this list includes playing well on the big stage. However, if the moment or performance was special enough, players from any FBS school were eligible to make the team.

Sound off below and let us know whom we missed!

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College Football Picks Week 9: Vegas Odds and Predictions for Top-25 Games

For the second consecutive week, the scheduling gods have not been kind to college football fans. 

Only one matchup of ranked opponents is on the schedule for Week 9, and a number of the nation's top teams are on bye weeks.

But as we've seen in recent weeks, what often looks like an ugly slate of games can quickly turn into a fun-filled weekend of upsets. In Week 8, while most teams rolled to easy victories against their unranked opponents, two Top-10 teams fell from the ranks of the undefeated. 

The full Week 9 schedule is below, with against-the-spread predictions for each game and a breakdown of some of the best matchups of the weekend. 

Note: Due to Miami quarterback Brad Kayaa's injury and uncertain status for Week 9, no spread is given for the Miami/Duke game as of Sunday night, according to OddsShark.com. No ATS pick has been made for this game.

 

Notable Games

No. 11 Florida (-3) vs. Georgia in Jacksonville

It's still October, but Florida can effectively clinch a berth in the SEC Championship Game with a victory over Georgia. 

With a win, Florida would hold a two-game lead in the SEC East and own the head-to-head tiebreaker over every other three-loss team in the division with the exception of Vanderbilt. The Gators could then officially clinch the division by beating Vandy the following week in Florida. 

Georgia has controlled this series in recent years, winning three straight from 2011 through 2013, but the Gators got back on the winning track by beating their division rival 38-20 last season. 

For Georgia to have a chance at pulling the upset, it will need to establish the running game early with Sony Michel. 

While Florida's defense has been strong this season, it has struggled against the toughest rushing attacks on their schedule. Tennessee, led by Jalen Hurd, and LSU, led by Leonard Fournette, each racked up more than 200 yards on the ground against the Gators.

Chubb's replacement, Michel, managed just 87 yards on the ground in his first start in Chubb's absence against Missouri. 

Prediction: Florida 28, Georgia 17

 

No. 9 Notre Dame at No. 21 Temple

Before the season started, no one would have imagined Notre Dame and Temple would be the only ranked matchup of the week.

The Owls are ranked for the first time since 1979 and may represent the toughest defensive matchup Notre Dame has seen all season. 

Temple has allowed more than 100 yards on the ground just twice this season, but the Owls haven't exactly faced the toughest schedule. 

The Temple defense shut down Penn State, arguably their toughest opponent, in Week 1, but that was before freshman Saquon Barkley established himself as the workhorse for the Nittany Lions. 

C.J. Prosise's ability to expose the Temple defense could be the key to Notre Dame picking up another victory over a ranked opponent. 

C.J. Prosise is averaging 131.7 Rush YPG, on pace to set the #NotreDame record for a season. (Vagas Ferguson, 130.6 Rush YPG in 1979).

— Matt Fortuna (@Matt_Fortuna) October 18, 2015

Prosise has rushed for more than 100 yards in five of his last six games, with only Clemson holding him under the century mark.

Prediction: Notre Dame 35, Temple 21

 

No. 8 Stanford at Washington State

Of all the Top-10 teams facing unranked opponents, this matchup may be the best chance at an upset. 

After a bizarre opening-season loss to Portland State, Mike Leach has the Cougars' vaunted passing attack back on track. 

While Stanford has been known for its defense in recent years, the Cardinal have been exposed a couple of times this season, allowing both USC and UCLA to rack up yards through the air. 

To pull off the upset, Washington State would need to make a few key plays on defense, and Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan is certainly not immune to mistakes. Hogan has committed at least one turnover in three of his last four games. 

An upset may be a tall task, but Washington State has the explosive offense needed to keep this one close.

Prediction: Stanford 42, Washington State 31

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Volunteers vs. Kentucky Wildcats: Complete Game Preview

The Tennessee-Kentucky football rivalry could reside next to the word "ownership" in the dictionary. 

Even these past couple of years when the game has been played a little earlier in the season than normal, it hasn't changed the outcome. The Volunteers have won 29 of the past 30 meetings.

The only hitch came in 2011 as the first true sign that Derek Dooley's tenure at UT would be short-lived. That year, the Wildcats used wide receiver Matt Roark at quarterback as they stunned the Vols 10-7 to keep them from bowling.

Last year, despite UK's hot start to the season, Tennessee administered a thorough 50-16 thumping to keep coach Mark Stoops' team sliding in a season-ending skid. 

Just as was the case last season, Kentucky got off to another strong start. But the past two weeks, the Wildcats looked average in a home loss to Auburn and a blowout setback to Mississippi State in Starkville.

Tennessee, on the other hand, may be the best 3-4 team in the country, as if that were any solace. The Vols lost 19-14 to Alabama this weekend to keep the run of close losses going. UT's four defeats were by a total of 17 points.

UT has a favorable schedule to close the season, but the biggest test may be Kentucky on the road. Here's everything you need to know about the game.

 

Date: Saturday, Oct. 31

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Place: Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington, Kentucky

TV: SEC Network

Radio: Vol Network, UK Sports Network, Sirius XM 190

Spread: Vols by 7.5, according to Oddshark.

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