NCAA Football

Tennessee Football: Biggest X-Factors for Vols vs. Missouri

A trying week for Tennessee's football team will end when a tough opponent comes to town Saturday night, and several key things must happen in order for the Volunteers to keep this late-season surge going.

At this point, it would be a monumental surprise if senior middle linebacker and emotional leader A.J. Johnson played against Missouri in the midst of a sexual assault investigation. The same goes for sophomore cornerback Michael Williams, who is also allegedly involved.

Throw in junior safety Brian Randolph's first-half suspension following a targeting call against Kentucky, and the Vols just got a whole lot more inexperienced against a Tigers offense that finally broke through against Texas A&M.

The investigation is unfortunate on so many levels more important than football. But even if the best happens and Johnson's name is cleared and legacy kept intact, it likely won't help the Vols on the football field Saturday in an extremely important game.

So many things are on the line versus Mizzou:

A bowl berth. Payback from the Tigers' current two-game winning streak over UT. National perception. An escalated program turnaround.

All those things can be attained with a win and by finishing the deal at Vanderbilt a week later. But this week poses the biggest remaining test.

Let's take a look at the X-factors for the Vols entering a crucial SEC East showdown.

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Duke Football Assistant Loses His Mind in Locker Room Before Game vs. UNC

You don't have to be playing in a college football rivalry game to get fired up for it.

Before their game against the North Carolina Tar Heels, Duke Blue Devils assistant Chris Hoover went nuts trying to energize his the team in the locker room, screaming and throwing a chair.

Someone get that guy some pads.

[Vine, h/t SB Nation]

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5 Most Important College Football Recruiting Visits of Week 13

The college football season has reached its final stretch. Aside from pivotal postseason ramifications, there is increased emphasis on rounding out recruiting classes during this time of year.

Those efforts include campus visits that could determine the final decisions of several high-profile recruits. Here's our latest look at top prospects who will be on the move in upcoming days.

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UNC vs. Duke : Live Score and Highlights

North Carolina 28, Duke 7—Early 2nd Quarter

It might not garner the attention of the hardwood edition, but a football game between archrivals North Carolina and Duke these days has much more at stake than bragging rights in North Carolina.

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College Football Playoff Rankings 2014: Breaking Down Top Team's Key Matchups

It has taken 12 weeks and a lot of analysis, but the College Football Playoff standings are coming into focus. There's a clear trio at the top with Alabama, Oregon and Florida State, followed by all the chaos and uncertainty we have come to expect from the sport at this time of year. 

The BCS may be dead, but the arguments for which schools should be invited to the playoff party are still very much alive. It's funny how things try to change, yet when you get to the end of the year everything is the same as it ever was. 

Going over the latest rankings released by the selection committee, the first thing that jumps out is the various scenarios in which the standings can fall apart because of how the schedule works out. For a sport where teams have so much control over their schedule, it's amazing how things fall into place for drama in the final weeks. 

Here's a look at the key games left on the schedule for teams in the playoff race. Conference title games are not included since they haven't been set as of this writing. 


No. 1 Alabama: Key Game vs. No. 14 Auburn (Nov. 29)

The Iron Bowl has lost some of its luster thanks to Auburn losing back-to-back games against Texas A&M and Georgia, but it's still going to have huge playoff ramifications, assuming Western Carolina doesn't pull off the biggest upset in history against Alabama on Saturday. 

It's clear the selection committee loves Nick Saban's team, thanks in large part to wins over Texas A&M, LSU and Mississippi State. The last win was the biggest, as the Bulldogs were the No. 1 team at the time of the game. 

Another place that loves Alabama is Las Vegas. According to betting expert R.J. Bell of, the Crimson Tide would be given the edge against any other team in the country:

Even though the committee isn't supposed to be influenced by past results, it's hard not to take notice of what Saban has built with this program over the last seven years. 

Unlike last year's Iron Bowl, which turned into one of the most memorable games ever, everything is set up for Alabama to be in the Final Four. The game is played in Tuscaloosa against an Auburn defense that's allowed 35.8 points per game in its last five SEC contests. 

That's not a good trend when you are going up against the nation's most explosive wide receiver, as ESPN's College GameDay tweeted:

Unless Alabama starts beating itself, or the defense collapses for some unknown reason, it's hard to envision a scenario where it isn't playing in the College Football Playoff. Rivalry games are tricky, so don't dismiss Auburn completely in this spot. It just doesn't look good right now. 


No. 3 Florida State: Key Game vs. Florida (Nov. 29)

It's been a long time since an undefeated defending national champion has drawn as much skepticism as Florida State. It's certainly not unwarranted, as the Seminoles have been flirting with disaster all year dating back to the season opener against Oklahoma State. 

Somehow, Jameis Winston and Co. keep finding ways to win games, and that's all that matters. It may not be enough to push the team up to No. 1 in the eyes of the selection committee, but they won't fall out of the top four if things keep going this way. 

Matt Leinart, who led a USC team that was trying to repeat as BCS champions in 2005, made a great point about anyone trying to dismiss Florida State in a post on

I'd say the biggest difference between winning a first title and going for a second or third is the intense outside pressure from media and fans and the pressure you put on yourself to be perfect because that's the expectation that is set now. You can sneak up on a lot of people when you win your first title.

The Seminoles have been under a microscope all year and haven't blinked. It helps that the ACC lacks quality depth, but that's not something they can control. 

J.A. Adande of noted the dichotomy of this Florida State team in a pointed tweet during its comeback win against Miami:

There's going to come a time when these bad starts come back to bite Florida State. It may not come until the College Football Playoff because the schedule lacks quality. 

Let's look to the SEC for Florida State's last great test before figuring out if it will have a chance to repeat as champions. Florida has had its own difficulty this season, resulting in Will Muschampstepping down as head coach after the Gators' final game.

Muschamp has a chance to go out with a bang, knocking off Florida State in the regular-season finale for both teams. The Gators have already pulled off one shocker this year, defeating Georgia by running for 418 yards in a 38-20 romp. 

This isn't a great stylistic matchup for the Seminoles. Florida's defense has been solid all year, allowing 22.9 points per game, and Florida State has given up at least 26 points in three of its last four games. 

Florida State should run through the next two games against Boston College and Florida. At least one of those games will be closer than you think, though the Seminoles will keep walking the tightrope of success. 


No. 4 Mississippi State: Key Game at No. 8 Mississippi (Nov. 29)

The most fascinating game left on the schedule is the Egg Bowl between Mississippi State and Mississippi, though a lot depends on what Ole Miss does against Arkansas this week. If the Rebels take care of business on Saturday, it will give the Bulldogs one more chance to get a true marquee win. 

Looking over Mississippi State's schedule now, it doesn't look as good as it once did. At the time, the Bulldogs could boast about having three straight wins over Top 10 teams (LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn). Now, those three teams have combined to lose 11 games and only Auburn is in the Top 25. 

There's also a chance that Mississippi can still sneak back into the top four if it takes care of business against Arkansas and Mississippi State.

The Rebels are still ranked eighth; TCU and Baylor do not have a quality opponent remaining on the schedule, while Ohio State has a potentially difficult matchup with Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. 

However, if you look at a head-to-head win over Wisconsin or Mississippi State, which team would have the better argument to move into the No. 4 spot if things break that way?

The Bulldogs are in a tenuous spot, though it's not just because of their ranking. Dak Prescott's Heisman campaign collapsed against Alabama by getting picked off three times, including twice in the red zone, via SportsCenter:

The Alabama game was just the tip of the iceberg for Prescott, who has thrown eight of his 10 interceptions in the Bulldogs' last four SEC games. His next challenge, assuming Vanderbilt doesn't get him this week, comes against the nation's top-ranked scoring defense. 

Like Florida State, Mississippi State was living on the edge with close calls against Kentucky and Arkansas. Unlike the Seminoles, Dan Mullen's team found the banana peel on the biggest stage. 

One thing the Bulldogs have going for them in the Egg Bowl is Mississippi's loss against Auburn. The Tigers run a read-option offense that confused the Rebels en route to putting up 35 points and 502 yards. 

Mississippi State doesn't live by the read-option, though it is an element of the offense. Prescott is at his best when teams are forced to stop him from running, opening up huge passing lanes when he does decide to throw the ball. 

Given all the problems Prescott has had in recent weeks, look for Mississippi to pull off the slight upset to get back in the playoff conversation. 


If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 

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Kansas State vs. West Virginia: Live Score and Highlights

No. 12 Kansas State Wildcats vs. West Virginia Mountaineers

Time: 7 p.m. ET

TV: Fox Sports 1


Both the K-State Wildcats and WVU Mountaineers are coming off byes following disappointing losses. 

The Wildcats were upended on the road by TCU in blowout fashion, while the Mountaineers were stunned by the the Texas Longhorns. 

Who will be the one to bounce back in Morgantown, Bill Snyder and Co. or Clint Trickett and Co.? 

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Which College Football Coaches Are Most Likely to Bolt for the NFL?

Much like an actual carousel has both horses and benches for patrons to ride on, the coaching carousel that's already in motion for college football extends beyond just filling head and assistant positions at the collegiate level.

We can't forget about the pro route, not when seemingly every offseason features a college head coach jumping to the pros. Penn State's Bill O'Brien left after last season to coach the Houston Texans, and in 2013 we lost Syracuse's Doug Marrone to the Buffalo Bills and Oregon's Chip Kelly to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Who's next?

We won't see any upward movement for several weeks, since the NFL regular season doesn't end until Dec. 28. But that doesn't mean the speculation hasn't already started regarding who might bolt for the NFL, either after this season or sometime in the future.

Here's our look at the college coaches most likely to be in the pros next season, listed alphabetically.

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Throwback Thursday: Ohio State's Devin Smith Makes Ridiculous 1-Handed TD Catch

Now that the Ohio State Buckeyes have crept back into the College Football Playoff picture, it's time to take a trip down memory lane to see just how talented one of their best playmakers was early in his career.

In the opening game of the 2012 season against the Miami Redhawks, Ohio State sophomore receiver Devin Smith made a ridiculous one-handed touchdown catch. The 23-yard touchdown was only worth six points in the game, but it's a highlight that will live on forever.

This was also the first touchdown of the Urban Meyer era in Columbus.

Smith—now wearing No. 9—has turned into the Buckeyes' playmaker at receiver. The senior wideout has 564 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on just 22 catches this season.


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Why Alabama Is Ready to Stop Auburn's Tempo in 2014

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Don’t tell Nick Saban, but we’re going to take a peek ahead before Alabama hosts Western Carolina in what should be a stinker of a football game.

Fans of the No. 1 Crimson Tide are already looking ahead, too, at a chance for revenge over Auburn for last season’s stunning 34-28 win. The team is also looking to keep its national title hopes alive.

One storyline that Alabama and Saban seemingly can’t escape is the defense against uptempo teams, especially Auburn.

Last season, Alabama held Auburn to roughly 100 yards below the Tigers’ season average but gave up big plays at inopportune times when Auburn went tempo.

Nick Marshall scored on a 45-yard run in the first quarter and hit Sammie Coates in the game’s final seconds for a 39-yard touchdown pass that tied the game.

While Auburn has taken a small step back offensively this season, it is still a force to be reckoned with. But this year, Alabama is ready to slow down that tempo offense even more and come away with a win in the regular-season finale.

It starts, as it always does, up front.

Alabama’s defensive line is incredibly deep this season. It has regularly used five and six defensive linemen in a rotation, keeping guys fresh as the game goes on.

And that group is playing with a mean streak. The line has looked more explosive off the ball.

“Striking. Come out of our hips. Stay in our gaps. Pushing, knocking the line back,” defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson said when asked what’s made them so good in rush defense. “I feel that’s pretty much what a defense has to do to be successful.”

All of that has been evident this season, as you can see here in a play against LSU’s Leonard Fournette:

But the biggest difference for Alabama has been behind those defensive linemen.

The Crimson Tide’s linebacking corps is much improved from last season and much more suited to stop hurry-up and spread offenses.

Reggie Ragland is a big reason for that and is Alabama’s most improved defender this season. He’s turned into an alpha dog as the season has worn on and is excellent at playing in space.

Take this play from Alabama’s win over Tennessee (2:17 mark):

Ragland tracks Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs, an athletic runner in open space, the whole way. He closes in, makes a play and jars the ball loose.

He’s also incredibly athletic, as he showed with this interception against Texas A&M:

On the edge, Alabama has been much better at getting to the quarterback.

The Crimson Tide are already ahead of last season’s sack total. They’ve been led by two outside linebackers who didn’t play much last season.

Xzavier Dickson leads the team with seven sacks, while Ryan Anderson is tied for second with three. The pair is a much more athletic upgrade over Adrian Hubbard and Denzel Devall, Alabama’s two starting outside linebackers last season.

The secondary is Alabama’s most improved unit on the team as a whole.

Cyrus Jones locked down a cornerback spot, while Eddie Jackson has played well opposite him and seems to have taken control of the No. 2 spot. Landon Collins might be the best defensive player in the country at strong safety, and Nick Perry is coming into his own next to him at free safety.

Jones, in particular, has been a welcome surprise. Last week, the 5’10” converted wide receiver was matched up with the 6’5” De’Runnya Wilson of Mississippi State. He held his own, despite giving up a few inches in height.

“They see the film and know I don't shy away from contact,” Jones said. “Definitely, earlier they probably looked at my size and manhandle me and push me around. That's something I pride myself on, being physical. I think when you are my size or smaller, you have to be even more physical because you are not intimidating anyone with your size. It's just going out there and be scrappy, especially with the big receivers.”

His play culminated with this interception late in the third quarter, when he tracked the ball in the end zone and made a play:

That’s a good sign, considering Auburn has two of the most physical receivers in the country. Sammie Coates and D’haquille Williams, who both check in at 6’2”, are the kinds of receivers that have given Alabama problems. But Alabama has shown this year that size won’t be an issue at receiver.

It all should be a recipe for a success against an offense that has given Alabama fits in the past.


Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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There's No Room for Cinderella Teams in New College Football Playoff

You are invited to the biggest party of the year on the condition that you sit in the corner the whole time and don't bring any of your friends. That's the deal. Take it or leave it.

And that's roughly what happened behind closed doors in the making of the College Football Playoff. It's why we are where we are now, with five conferences (SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12, ACC) holding all the power and five known as the Group of Five (Mountain West, Sun Belt, American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American) not whining because they're just happy to be invited, sort of.

It's the dysfunction that explains why we have two undefeated teams: One is Florida State, the defending national champs, ranked No. 3, and likely headed to this year's playoff. The other is Marshall, unranked, with zero chance of getting into the playoff. It also had zero chance before the season even started.

It explains how college football has killed Cinderella.

"We try to eliminate all the noise,'' Marshall coach Doc Holliday told Bleacher Report, "and not get hung up in where we are and what people think about us.''

Ah yes, coach-speak. But did you have a fair chance from the start?

"There's a lot of football to be played,'' he said. "Three weeks left. Maybe we can have this conversation three weeks from now. Ask me about it then.''

This is the no-whining part of the deal. You can argue that Marshall—and Colorado State or Boise State, for that matter—is, in fact, getting all that it deserves. Or you can argue that it isn't. That's not the point.

Look, everyone loves the first week of the NCAA Tournament, mostly because the little guy gets a chance against the big boys (at no risk to your bracket). Butler, George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth, Valparaiso. You can name a dozen of them or more.

"What's better than that?" Holliday said. "It's what college is all about."

The truth is, those teams don't bring in big TV ratings all year, don't fill big stadiums. They also don't win the national championship. But they have a fair chance, a ticket into the party as a full guest. It's something about fair play and opportunity.

Marshall could fit that perfectly in college football now.   

"At least people are talking about us now," Holliday said. "The last couple years, nobody knew who we were."

College football has never really been about the little guy. But in the past few years, we've seen Utah, from the Mountain West Conference, crush Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. TCU, back when it was in the Mountain West, beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Boise State beat Oklahoma. In fact, of the 13 non-big time teams that got to play a big-timer in the major bowls under the old BCS, the non-big-timers won seven and lost six.

Now, under the new system, they are being left out. I'm not saying that Marshall deserves a spot in the top four and to play for the championship. But it deserved a chance to get there.

Marshall has beaten just one team with a winning record, Rice. But its conference, Conference USA, is in the same major college category as, say, the Big Ten. And if it runs through a major conference undefeated and can't even get someone to look at it, was it really involved in the playoff at all?

The Associated Press has Marshall at No. 18 and Colorado State, which has lost once, is No. 22. The coaches' poll has Marshall 18 and CSU 23.

The playoff poll?

Both are unranked. Minnesota, with three losses, is No. 25.

A few weeks ago, the talk was whether the College Football Playoff selection committee would be biased toward the SEC, partly because of the influence of ESPN, which basically funds the playoff and also owns the SEC network. Even Nebraska coach Bo Pelini told Bleacher Report he wondered the same thing.

The real bias is against the Group of Five. There are five active athletic directors on the selection committee. All of them come from Power Five conferences. Those conferences get big bucks when one of its teams get into the playoff. And the committee chooses, with whatever standards it wants, which four teams get in.

Holliday says that at least things are better for the Group of Five now than they were under the BCS, when a team had to be ranked in the top 12 to get a spot in one of the major bowls. Now, the top team in the Group of Five automatically gets one of the bowl games right beneath the playoff.

Improvement, Holliday calls it. You might call it hush money, actually.

See, a few years ago, when Utah was undefeated and not getting a shot at the title game, antitrust rumblings started threatening the Power Five. Some politicians argued that you can't call it a national championship if everyone doesn't have a fair shot at it.

Note that the College Football Playoff is not called the College Football National Championship.

The Power Five voted for autonomy, and soon will surely be paying players, something the Group of Five won't be able to afford. But in the making of the College Football Playoff, the Power Five included the Group of Five. Why? Mostly to avoid antitrust issues.

The deal, basically, was this: We'll give you a spot in one of the bowls. You don't sue us. And you'll get a little additional slice of the enormous pie we're about to split up. Deal?

Deal. Commissioners of all 10 conferences voted to approve of the playoff.

I saw Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson at the BCS meetings last year, and he was thrilled just to be included, though he acknowledged the playing field was just slanted even more against him.

Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson looks at it more optimistically. He argues that with conference realignment finally done—he lost TCU and Utah—his conference can now start building toward getting into consideration for the playoff. With the selection made this year on Dec. 7, Mountain West officials point out that on that date in 2004, Utah was ranked No. 5; in 2009, TCU was No. 3; in 2010, TCU was No. 3 again.

Today, that would be put the Mountain West in discussion for the playoff.

Holliday feels Marshall has a strong case, noting that it ranks in the top 10 in the county in scoring offense and in scoring defense.

"We don't want anything just given to us," he said. "But there are teams out there (in the Group of Five) that can play really good football."

Sure, and the best one will be able to celebrate that fact quietly, in the corner.


Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report. He also writes for The New York Times and was formerly a scribe for and the Chicago Sun-Times. Follow him on Twitter @gregcouch.


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SEC Football: Power Ranking Each Team Based on NFL Talent

When NFL scouts head out each Saturday in search of future talent, the stadiums of the SEC are tops on the list.

Last year the conference saw 49 players taken in the 2014 NFL draft, the most of any FBS league. That followed a record 63 SEC players drafted the year before.

Projections by CBS Sports and NFL Draft Scout list more than 60 potential draft picks from the SEC, which shouldn't be surprising considering how dominant the league's teams have been on the field this season.

How does that pro talent break down, team by team? Check out our power ranking of SEC football teams, based on NFL-level players.

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Beast of the Week: Watch 5-Star LB Malik Jefferson Score Two Impressive TDs

There is a reason Malik Jefferson (Mesquite Poteet HS, Mesquite, TX) is a 5-star OLB—per—and the No.1 ranked outside linebacker in the country. Check out his stat line from Mesquite's 36-0 win over Woodrow Wilson HS: five tackles, one for a loss, fumble recovery, caused safety, 15-yard blocked punt return for TD and 41-yard fumble return for TD. 

That was enough for him to earn him our Beast of the Week honors. 

Where will Jefferson play his college ball?

Check out the video and let us know! 

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Biggest Position Need for James Franklin and Penn State's 2015 Recruiting Class

James Franklin and the Penn State Nittany Lions have been hitting the recruiting trail hard addressing their biggest need—bolstering the offensive line. 

Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses some of the key recruits Penn State is planning to bring in next season. 

Has Penn State done enough to get back to the elite level?

Check out the video and let us know! 

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NCAA Football Rankings: Breaking Down Week 13 College Football Playoff Poll

The Week 13 College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday, and the Alabama Crimson Tide jumped the undefeated Florida State Seminoles in the Top 25 poll.

There are many college football fans who believe Florida State deserves to be No. 1 overall (currently the top-ranked team in the Associated Press poll), but Alabama’s victory over Mississippi State was enough to make the jump to the top.

Here are the Week 13 College Football Playoff rankings and a breakdown of the top teams in the nation.



Breaking Down the Top Four Teams

After a wild weekend, the College Football Playoff committee made wholesale changes to the top four teams, launching Alabama to No. 1, keeping Oregon and Florida State at No. 2 and No. 3 respectively and sliding Mississippi State to No. 4.

The Crimson Tide beat former top-ranked Mississippi State last week, 25-20, and earned respect in the minds of those in the voting committee. Using one of the nation’s toughest defenses (second overall in points allowed per game), Alabama proved once again that it is a National Championship favorite.

Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban is not looking too far ahead, but still managed to take a subtle jab at his team’s next opponent in an interview with Andrew Gribble of

This is a good little team that we're playing. They've won seven games this year, so it gives us an opportunity to really try to execute against a team that does a lot of things very similar to some of the teams we're going to play here in the future. The challenge is, it's about us and what we do and how we get better.

The good little team Saban is referencing is Western Carolina. While Alabama should run through the Catamounts, the final game of the regular season will be an Iron Bowl battle against Auburn. If Alabama beats Auburn, the SEC Championship Game awaits.

Getting to No. 1 overall was tough. Staying at No. 1 overall will be even tougher.

Another team ranked higher than the undefeated Seminoles in the standings was the Oregon Ducks. With a 9-1 record and wins over Michigan State, UCLA and Utah, Oregon has played their way into the top four and looks to hold onto the spot for the remainder of the season.

Matchups against Colorado and Oregon State set up perfectly for the Ducks, and if the team wins out for the remainder of the regular season, a Pac 12 Championship is almost a foregone conclusion. As long as quarterback Marcus Mariota continues to play well, Oregon will be a serious threat to win the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Finally, coming in at No. 3 is Florida State. Quarterback Jameis Winston and the Seminoles have taken down every team they have played this season, but there have been several come-from-behind wins and inconsistency throughout the year.

With all of that said, Florida State is the defending national champion and has not been defeated this season. There is a case to be made that the Seminoles deserve the top spot in the nation, but the voters don’t agree. The team must win big against Boston College and Florida to make a lasting impression on the College Football Playoff committee.

The fourth team in the rankings in Week 13 is Mississippi State. After a heart-breaking loss to Alabama, the Bulldogs are still one of the best teams in the country, boasting wins over LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn.

Mississippi State has a game against Vanderbilt Saturday and a regular-season finale against the Ole Miss Rebels, and the team will have to earn its spot in the top four over the next two weeks with decisive victories.

The loss to Alabama will be tough to swallow, but as long as the Bulldogs can focus on the next two games, there is little doubt that a one-loss Mississippi State program deserves to be in the top four at the end of the season.

There were many questions about which four teams deserved to be in the Playoff, but the voting committee has found the programs that are the best in the nation. If all four teams win out, these will be the teams that make the Playoff.


*Stats via

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USC Football: Will Trojans Finally Stop Nemesis Brett Hundley?

Perhaps no other player is as synonymous with No. 9-ranked UCLA’s rise than quarterback Brett Hundley, which No. 19 USC is quite familiar with.

Hundley has started every game of head coach Jim Mora’s three-season tenure, leading the Bruins to a 27-10 record in that time.

“He’s won a lot of football games for us here,” UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said.

Two of those wins came at USC’s expense and produced signature moments from Hundley.

In 2012, he completed 22 of 30 pass attempts with a touchdown and rushed for another two scores. Last season, Hundley tacked on two more rushing touchdowns against the Trojans.

Unless the Trojans can find a way to contain the dual-threat playmaker Saturday in the Rose Bowl, Hundley will add a third victory over the Bruins’ rival to his impressive resume.

USC linebacker Scott Felix doesn’t need a reminder.

“We always keep UCLA in our mind, and I’m sure they do the same thing with us,” he said. “[UCLA and USC] don’t like each other.”

Obviously, motivation is of no concern, but such is the case for both teams. Execution of strategy will determine Saturday’s winner, and USC may have no strategy more important than its plan to limit Hundley.


Pick Your Poison

This season’s matchup with UCLA is USC’s first with head coach Steve Sarkisian on the sideline. Though Sarkisian was not involved in those losses, he’s all too familiar with the damage Hundley can do either as a passer or ball-carrier.

“Brett presents some interesting problems for a defense,” Sarkisian said. “One: He can make every throw. It’s not like you’re going to take something away in hopes he can’t do something else.”

Hundley’s ability to move the ball around the field is reflected both in his completion percentage, which leads the nation at 72.1, and the numbers UCLA wide receivers are putting up.

Six Bruins have at least 21 catches on the year, and the same number of players have caught multiple touchdown passes.

The return of previously suspended cornerback Josh Shaw gives a thin USC secondary much-needed support at an opportune time.

But where USC struggled with containing Hundley in the past was via the second of his skills Sarkisian spotlighted.

“The athleticism kicks in, especially on third down,” Sarkisian said. “You look at their conversion rate on third down (42 percent), you look at how efficient they are in the red zone (97.4 percent, No. 1 in the nation).

“Those are really all a byproduct of his athleticism, his ability when things aren’t there to pull the ball down and run and convert third downs and get touchdowns in the red zone,” Sarkisian added.

Bad news for the Trojans is that Hundley is running with the most confidence he’s exhibited this season during the Bruins’ ongoing four-game win streak.

He has games of 94, 110 and 131 rushing yards over UCLA’s last four and has scored four of his seven rushing touchdowns in that same stretch.


Protecting Hundley

Opponents had a clear-cut strategy for containing Hundley in each of the Bruins’ two losses this season, and it’s a blueprint Felix said the Trojans plan to follow.

"We're going to be trying to get Hundley as much as we can," he said.

On Oct. 4, Utah brought Hundley down for 10 sacks. Oregon got to him just twice, but one resulted in a fumble that set up the Ducks in the red zone.

USC has not been a blitzing team this season—prior to facing Cal last week,'s Ryan Abraham examined how the Trojans blitzed the least of any team in the power-five conferences—but defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox cranked up the heat on Golden Bears quarterback Jared Goff.

The result: four sacks and seven tackles for loss.

Continuing to apply pressure would seemingly be a recipe for USC’s success, but UCLA has made considerable strides in the back half of the campaign.

Since a rocky start in which defenses racked up 23 sacks against the Bruins, they've allowed just six through the last four games.

“If you take a snapshot of where we are right now, where you really see it pay dividends is how much better our pass protection is,” Mazzone said.

He credited the Bruins’ corps of running backs for stepping up in that regard, but also praised Hundley for exhibiting better awareness while under pressure.

“That’s another thing Brett’s gotten better at, too,” Mazzone said.



Countering athleticism with athleticism may prove vital to USC’s defensive strategy. It’s fortunate for the Trojans, then, that they have two of the Pac-12’s most athletic playmakers on that side of the ball.

One is sophomore Su’a Cravens, the hybrid safety-linebacker who has done a little bit for everything for USC this season.

Cravens is as effective when dropping back into pass coverage as he is when blitzing, but his primary role on Saturday could well be as an additional run-stopper against Hundley on zone-read plays.

The other athletic X-factor for USC is defensive tackle Leonard Williams, whom Mazzone called, “one of the best [defensive] linemen in this conference.”

When Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy gashed USC for 181 yards on the ground, the Eagles left Williams unblocked. Murphy dictated his reads based on Williams’ location.

Since that game, however, Williams put together one of his best individual performances of the year in the Trojans’ win at Arizona. He helped negate Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon’s ability to make plays on the ground with eight tackles and two sacks.

Of course, Williams and Cravens are as much constants of the USC defense as Hundley is in the UCLA offense.

Where Saturday’s outcome could be decided is the from contribution of role players—role players like sophomore linebacker Quinton Powell, a revelation for the Trojans’ pass rush in recent weeks.

Powell recorded his first sack of the season against Cal and made his first tackle for loss the previous game at Washington State.

“We’ve adjusted his role some,” Sarkisian explained. “We put him back into a role of what he’s comfortable doing and what he did in high school. That’s rushing the passer. In some of the obvious passing situations, we’re able to get him on the field and he’s been effective.”

Powell and Felix both stepped up with starter J.R. Tavai injured, but Jordan Moore of reports Tavai is set to return to give Wilcox more blitzing options.

And, certainly, the more options USC has on defense, the better. Stopping Hundley is going to require an all-hands-on-deck effort.


Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of

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USC Football: Will Trojans Finally Stop Nemesis Brett Hundley?

Perhaps no other player is as synonymous with No. 9-ranked UCLA’s rise than quarterback Brett Hundley , which No. 19 USC is quite familiar with...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

How 4-Star Javon Patterson's Commitment to Ole Miss Shakes Up SEC Landscape

Ole Miss gained a pivotal pickup for its 2015 recruiting class Thursday morning when in-state standout Javon Patterson pledged to the Rebels. The 4-star offensive lineman selected Ole Miss from a final group of favorites that included Auburn and Mississippi State:

Patterson, a senior at Petal High School, is the 14th commitment for head coach Hugh Freeze. The Rebels have assembled another strong class, one that now rates 19th nationally in 247Sports' composite rankings and still has room to expand.

Considered a blue-chip prospect, Patterson becomes the team's top-rated recruit in a group that features five composite 4-star players. He joins coveted Tennessee offensive tackle Drew Richmond as building blocks for a strong offensive front in Oxford.

Patterson, a U.S. Army All-American Bowl selection, follows the footsteps of top-ranked 2014 guard Roderick Taylor, another in-state standout who signed with the program in February. There are mounting reasons for Rebels fans to be excited about a future rushing attack that's also set to add promising 2015 Georgia running back Eric Swinney.

While Ole Miss moves forward with its new prized pledge, let's take a look at teams left exploring other options. Patterson previously told 247Sports reporter Keith Niebuhr (subscription required) that along with Ole Miss, his top five featured Auburn, Alabama, Mississippi State and Florida.



The Crimson Tide already hold commitments from an impressive collection of 2015 offensive linemen. It became clear in recent months that Auburn was the program most likely to lure Patterson to the state of Alabama.

Nick Saban landed No. 1 overall tackle Cam Robinson last signing day, and he quickly developed into an anchor up front for the team. Tremendous reinforcements are on the way next year.

Lester Cotton, Brandon Kennedy, Richie Petitbon and Dallas Warmack are all 4-star linemen who've committed to the Crimson Tide. Still, Saban remains on the hunt, and 6'7" Maryland product Isaiah Prince may be at the forefront of that charge.



Behind Ole Miss, Auburn was picked most as Patterson's potential landing spot in 247Sports' Crystal Ball projections. He visited campus multiple times throughout the year, including an October trip to watch the Tigers rout LSU.

Auburn doesn't quite have the stockpile of offensive line talent Alabama possesses, but Gus Malzahn has managed to assemble one of the SEC's top groups. He plundered Georgia during earlier stages of this cycle, securing commitments from Peach State prospects Kaleb Kim, Marquel Harrell and Bailey Sharp.

Auburn beat out Alabama in June for 4-star in-state guard Tyler Carr. There's a chance the Tigers would've lost a current lineman commit if Patterson joined the class Thursday.

The team is awaiting a decision from 5-star Florida tackle Martez Ivey, who deserves consideration as the country's top overall recruit. The Gators' dismissal of head coach Will Muschamp should enhance the chances of him landing at Auburn.



Despite a favorable initial outlook, the Gators seemed to fall by the wayside during this pursuit. Muschamp struggled to keep a once-promising class together, as his program sputtered on the field.

Florida, which offered Patterson a scholarship in May, is down to just nine commitments. The group includes four offensive linemen, but none carry a higher distinction than a 3-star rating.

The Gators once appeared to be front-runners for Ivey, but the Florida phenom is now viewed as an Auburn lean. His relationship with Florida is at least in limbo until a new coaching staff is hired.

Another potential target to keep any eye on here is in-state guard Jalen Merrick, who is spending this weekend at Arkansas for an official visit.


Mississippi State

This is where missing on Patterson probably hurts most. The Bulldogs identified him as a top priority early in the process and remained diligent throughout his recruitment.

Dan Mullen and company welcomed Patterson to campus for the season opener against Southern Miss and continued to keep tabs on him through the finish line. A class that currently rates 13th nationally in 247Sports' composite rankings would have been bolstered by an addition like him.

Mississippi State has thrived with in-state recruiting, holding commitments from top talents like defensive back Jamal Peters and receiver Malik Dear. Patterson had the potential to put this group over the top and potentially set the stage for a surprising top-10 class.

The Bulldogs are in solid shape along the offensive line, though this group is a bit top-heavy at skill positions. Tommy Champion is a promising 4-star tackle with a formidable frame, while out-of-state pledges Darryl Williams (Alabama), Trey Derouen (Louisiana) and Harrison Moon (Tennessee) provide immediate depth.

Mullen will aim to further fortify the position by continuing to target other possibilities. The team could look to the junior college route, where tackle Martinas Rankin remains a strong option.


Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Texas A&M Football: Would Will Muschamp Be a Good Fit with Aggies?

The Texas A&M football team will be in the market for a new defensive coordinator after the 2014 season if Mark Snyder is let go as expected, according to Brad Crawford of Saturday Down South. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin should try to get Will Muschamp to accept the position of defensive coordinator in Aggieland. 

Muschamp was recently fired as the head coach of the Florida Gators. Although he was an average head coach at Florida with a 27-20 overall record, Muschamp has always been an excellent defensive coordinator.

He has experience producing elite defenses in college and the NFL. Muschamp is an excellent recruiter who would have no problem adding elite talent to the Texas A&M program.


Elite Defensive Coach

Muschamp was a great defensive coordinator at every stop he made in college. He ran defenses at LSU, Auburn and Texas before he took the head job at Florida.

The LSU Tigers won the national title in 2003 with Muschamp. The Tigers' defense led the nation in total defense and scoring defense.

Muschamp followed Nick Saban to the NFL and coached the Miami Dolphins' defense in 2005. He returned back to the college ranks in 2006 when he took the defensive coordinator position at Auburn.

In 2007, his defense ranked No. 7 in the country in total yardage allowed. He was tapped by Texas and moved to Austin in 2008.

The year before Muschamp took over the defense, the Longhorns allowed 371.2 yards and 25.3 points per game. In his first season in Austin he lowered those numbers to 342.9 yards and 18.8 points per game.

In 2009 Muschamp produced an elite defense. The Longhorns allowed 251.9 yards and 16.7 points per game. They only allowed 2.2 yards per rushing attempt. 

That Longhorn team went 12-1 and advanced to the national title game, where they lost to Alabama. Muschamp has produced two defenses that have helped his teams to national title games. 


Elite Recruiter

Mushcamp is an excellent recruiter. He took over the Florida program in 2011 and signed top-10 recruiting classes in 2012, 2013 and 2014

Defensive recruits from across the country will recognize Muschamp's name, and those who had not previously considered A&M will take a look at the school.

When you replace a coach you always run the risk of losing some of the recruits who have developed a relationship with him. If the Aggies hire Muschamp, his reputation as a defensive coach should limit the defection of any recruits. It should also entice some of the recruits who are on the fence about the current state of affairs on the defensive side of the ball to take the plunge. 

If the Aggies hire an elite defensive coordinator like Muschamp, it should limit any deleterious effects that firing Snyder would have on the 2015 recruiting class. 


Cultural Challenges

There is the question of how well Muschamp would fit into the Texas A&M program and the College Station community. In 2012, Muschamp made a negative comment about College Station that a lot of people have not forgotten about: 

Muschamp is known to be extremely emotional on the sideline during games. It is not clear how well that would go over in Aggieland. Sumlin is as controlled and calm on the sideline as any coach in college football.

It will be interesting to see if Sumlin would be willing to add a coach to his staff who is prone to so many emotional outbursts. The Aggie fans will forgive Muschamp's comments if he puts a championship-caliber defense on the field. 

Staff chemistry is an entirely different issue. Whether or not Muschamp would fit in on Sumlin's staff is a question that only Sumlin can answer.

The Aggies need to have an elite defense if they want to win an SEC championship and compete to be in the College Football Playoff. Muschamp can put an elite defense on the field in College Station and should be at the top of Sumlin's list when he goes looking for a new coordinator.  

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Ohio State Football: JT Barrett's Case for the Heisman Trophy

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Of all of the criteria that a Heisman Trophy winner typically has to meet, J.T. Barrett is missing just one.

And that's quickly changing.

Already a record-setting quarterback at a premier program like Ohio State, Barrett's 9-1 record as the Buckeyes' starter has him on the verge of an invitation to New York as a finalist for college football's most prestigious individual award.

According to Bovada, Barrett currently possesses the third-best odds (15-1) to walk away with this season's Heisman Trophy, trailing only Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota (2-5) and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon (9-4).

While this year's Heisman appears to be Mariota's to lose, there's a compelling case that Barrett deserves to have his name spoken in the same vein.

What Mariota has done and meant for the 9-1 Ducks has been more than impressive, but the redshirt freshman Barrett's numbers have been comparable.

Mariota has compiled more passing yards, a higher passer rating and fewer interceptions than Barrett has through 10 games, but the Buckeyes signal-caller has accounted for more rushing yards and as many total touchdowns as Mariota has, with three games likely remaining on each of their respective schedules.

Those numbers would indicate that Mariota is deserving of his status as the current Heisman front-runner, although perhaps not by as wide of a margin as the Las Vegas odds currently favor him by.

But fair or not, Mariota entered the season as a Heisman contender, while Barrett was Braxton Miller's backup until two weeks prior to the start of the season.

According to one prominent Heisman Trophy analyst, that matters. Whereas Mariota's name has been in the mind of Heisman voters since last season came to a close, Barrett is still in the process of proving that his meteoric rise has been more than just a fluke, only recently entering serious contention for the award.

"If J.T. Barrett's name was Braxton Miller and he had the same stats, he'd probably be the front-runner right now," Heisman Pundit founder and writer Chris Huston told Bleacher Report in October.

As Huston explained at the time, outside of preseason hype, Barrett was already on pace to possess all of the qualities that Heisman voters look for in a winner.

A quarterback on a traditional power who's on track to meet the modern Heisman benchmarks (4,000 total yards, 40 total touchdowns), all Barrett was missing from his resume was a signature victory and the Buckeyes being in national championship contention.

That's all changed in the past two weeks, with Ohio State's Nov. 8 win over eighth-ranked Michigan State coinciding with the sixth-ranked Buckeyes' reinsertion into the College Football Playoff picture.

It also didn't hurt that Barrett's best game came in OSU's showdown with the Spartans, as he tallied 386 total yards (300 passing, 86 rushing) and five touchdowns in the 49-37 Buckeyes victory.

“I don’t know if my endorsement matters, but I do,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said when asked this past Monday if he believes Barrett should be considered for the Heisman. “[I’ve] been fortunate to coach some guys that have been in New York, and he’s a Heisman candidate.”

If not for Barrett's early lack of name recognition, he may be more than that.

After all, if statement games matter—and Johnny Manziel's takedown of Alabama in 2012 proves that, to at least some degree, they do—then Barrett's road triumph over Michigan State trumps anything that Mariota has done in a single game in his junior campaign.

An Oct. 11 road win over No. 18 UCLA was probably Mariota's most comparable big game, taking into account both the opponent's ranking and road atmosphere.

However, Mariota didn't fare as well against the lower-ranked Bruins as Barrett did against the favored Spartans, totaling fewer yards and touchdowns in his statement road game.

It is worth noting that Mariota and Barrett do share a common opponent in Michigan State, with Oregon handing the Spartans a 46-27 defeat in the second week of the season. While the Ducks played that game in Eugene, Mariota's numbers were still less impressive than Barrett's, with the Oregon quarterback totaling 358 yards and three touchdowns against the Spartans.

Though one could argue that while neither of Mariota's two "statement" games stack up to Barrett's, he does have two to his credit, whereas Barrett only has one.

But Barrett's 32 rushing yards and two touchdowns on a sprained MCL in the overtime portion of Ohio State's Oct. 25 road win over Penn State have proven to be a turning point in the Buckeyes' season, erasing what was an otherwise pedestrian day for the redshirt freshman.

More than that, for an award that's supposed to go to college football's most outstanding player, you'd be hard-pressed to find one who has been more outstanding than Barrett.

Reviving the national title hopes of a team that was counted out when Miller went down two weeks before the start of the season, Barrett has proven to be one of the sport's unlikely stars—as exciting to watch as he is efficient.

With three games likely left to make his case—including a potential head-to-head matchup with Gordon in the Big Ten title game—Barrett still has time to add another signature victory to his already impressive resume.

As Ohio State builds a Heisman campaign for its star quarterback, Barrett's name recognition should no longer be lacking, although even he admits that the thought of him as a candidate is somewhat surreal.

“It’s kind of crazy to think about, being that that’s really never on my mind,” Barrett said on Wednesday. “I’m just going out there every Saturday and trying to win football games. I’m grateful that I’m on that list, but like I said, the objective every week is to go out there and win games.”

That's what's gotten Barrett this far. And if he continues to do that, his already strong case will only get stronger.


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

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Should Will Muschamp Try to Find Another Head Coaching Job?

From the moment news broke on Sunday morning that Florida head coach Will Muschamp would be out after the end of the regular season, fanbases around the SEC began chomping at the bit.

Texas A&M, South Carolina and Auburn—three teams who might benefit from a change at defensive coordinator—all took to Twitter to lobby for "Coach Boom" to come to their programs.

Muschamp isn't ready to commit to coaching next season.

"I'd like to, obviously, be working next year," Muschamp said on Wednesday's teleconference. "Certainly after the FSU game, Carol and I are going to take a little time and see what our next step is. I'm looking forward to that next step. What that will be, I have no idea. I haven't put any thought into that."

We even touched on those three programs as possible landing spots for Muschamp on Sunday morning.

Should he become a coordinator, though?

Sure, he could probably cause a bidding war among high-profile programs in search of defensive help and join the small group of assistant coaches who make more than $1 million per year.

Long-term, though, that wouldn't be the best option.

Four years from now, if he's successful, his name will be bandied about in big-time coaching searches. When that happens, if he spends his post-Gainsville career as an assistant, he'd have to answer the question of whether or not he's capable of running a major program as a head coach again.

He should answer that question now.

I tossed out Troy in the slideshow from Sunday simply because the job is open thanks to Larry Blakeney's impending retirement. Whether it's Troy or another small school, finding a home as a head coach would be a much better option for Muschamp if he wants to become a big-time head coach again down the road.

The pay might be the holdup.

Blakeney, for example, makes $518,788 per year according to the recently released USA Today college coaches salary database. That's less than 17 SEC assistants made in 2013, according to the same database

Does money talk?

It might, but Muschamp also has $6 million coming his way from Florida, according to David Jones of Florida Today. That certainly makes the financial aspect of the decision quite different than it would be if that payout wasn't coming.

Muschamp shouldn't go the coordinator route and should find a home as a head coach next season.

If he goes to a smaller school as a head coach, produces a defense at a similar level as those in his Florida days and combines it with an offense that's much more dynamic and spread out, those same big-time opportunities would likely still be attainable three or four years down the road.

Muschamp would be better served to take that risk now rather than leave it hanging for his potential future employer to ponder several years from now.

It was a risk for Florida to hire Muschamp—who came in with no head coaching experience—in the first place. Whoever considers him for head coaching vacancies in the future will have the sour taste of his failed four-year stint in Gainesville to deal with unless he changes the perception of "head coach Will Muschamp."

Doing that at a small school now is the better choice if he wants to get back into the big-time head coaching ranks quickly.


Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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