NCAA Football

Seminoles Open as Heavy Favorites over Irish in Week 8 Marquee Matchup

After being knocked from their familiar perch atop the Associated Press Top 25 by the Mississippi State Bulldogs, the No. 2 Florida State Seminoles opened as 13.5-point home favorites over the No. 5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish for their matchup on Saturday night this week.

The 6-0 Seminoles head into Week 8 riding a 22-game unbeaten streak straight up, but they have been a major disappointment to bettors, posting a 1-6 record against the spread dating back to their national championship victory in early January.

The 6-0 Fighting Irish have been a more reliable bet, going 4-2 ATS, and they have thrived as underdogs, going 4-0 ATS in their last four games as dogs and 3-1 SU, including a 17-14 outright win over Stanford as three-point underdogs in Week 6.

Saturday night’s Florida State vs. Notre Dame matchup is the first between the two squads since 2011, when the Seminoles posted an 18-14 home win over the Irish, covering a three-point spread.

The No. 3 Ole Miss Rebels, who will be looking to build on a pair of stunning wins over Alabama and Texas A&M, open as 17-point favorites over the 3-3 Tennessee Volunteers at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark.

Mississippi was pegged as the underdog in its recent victories, extending its winning streak to seven, both straight up and against the spread, ahead of the Volunteers vs. Bulldogs matchup at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday night.

Tennessee has struggled with consistency since dominating the Utah State Aggies 38-7 in its season opener. The Volunteers are just 2-3 ATS in their last five games but are 4-1 ATS in their last five games against the Rebels.

The No. 4 Baylor Bears will face a tough test Saturday afternoon when they take on the 4-2 West Virginia Mountaineers. The 6-0 Bears opened as 9.5-point road favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark, against a Mountaineers club that scored 17 points in the last six minutes of its matchup against the Texas Tech Red Raiders to eke out a 37-34 victory.

Led by quarterback Clint Trickett, the Mountaineers own the seventh-ranked passing game in the nation but are 0-3 ATS in their last three games.

Baylor needed a little comeback magic of its own last weekend, scoring an incredible 24 unanswered points in the final 11 minutes to capture a 61-58 victory over the TCU Horned Frogs, ending the Bears' five-game ATS winning streak.

In other college football betting action, the No. 8 Michigan State Spartans opened as 14-point favorites over the Indiana Hoosiers. The No. 9 Oregon Ducks are favored by 19 over the Washington Huskies, and the No. 10 Georgia Bulldogs are pegged as early three-point road favorites over the Arkansas Razorbacks.

TeamsLineTotal Louisiana-Lafayette at Texas State -1 63 Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh 2.5 47 Utah at Oregon State -1.5 57 Fresno State at Boise State -16 61 Temple at Houston -9 50 Baylor at West Virginia 9.5   Furman at South Carolina OFF   South Florida at Tulsa PK   Syracuse at Wake Forest 4   Western Kentucky at Florida Atlantic 3   UTSA at Louisiana Tech -6.5   Tulane at Central Florida -19   Iowa at Maryland -2.5   Kansas State at Oklahoma -12   Purdue at Minnesota -15   Virginia at Duke -5   Western Michigan at Bowling Green -2.5   Akron at Ohio 4   Eastern Michigan at Massachusetts -12   Appalachian State at Troy -6   North Carolina State at Louisville -15   Cincinnati at Southern Methodist 14.5   UAB at Middle Tennessee -2   Rutgers at Ohio State -20   Army at Kent State 5.5   UCLA at California 8   Clemson at Boston College 7.5   Texas A&M at Alabama -12   Michigan State at Indiana 14   New Mexico at Air Force -12   Kansas at Texas Tech -14   Ball State at Central Michigan -6.5   San Jose State at Wyoming -1.5   Georgia at Arkansas 3   Oklahoma State at TCU -10   New Mexico State at Idaho -4   Miami (Ohio) at Northern Illinois -15   Marshall at Florida International 21   Colorado at Southern Cal -21   Georgia Tech at North Carolina PK   Utah State at Colorado State -5.5   Tennessee at Mississippi -17   Southern Miss at North Texas -11   Missouri at Florida -3   Kentucky at LSU -11   Nebraska at Northwestern 6.5   Georgia State at South Alabama -17   Notre Dame at Florida State -14   Iowa State at Texas -11   Washington at Oregon -19   Nevada at BYU -12   Hawaii at San Diego State -11   Stanford at Arizona State 4.5  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings 2014: Week 8 Standings and Top 25 Team Records

Despite the undefeated record, Florida State is no longer on top of the polls thanks to the impressive effort of Mississippi State the past few weeks. The Bulldogs have jumped the defending national champions and are now the No. 1 team in the country.

Mississippi State was unranked just a few weeks ago, but consecutive wins over LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn have changed the way the nation looks at this talented squad. The Seminoles dropped just one spot but are still in good position to reach the College Football Playoff—as long as they avoid any mistakes for the rest of the year.

Meanwhile, the number of undefeated squads throughout the country is slowly declining, which is certain to make things interesting from here on out.

Here is a look at the complete AP poll as well as Bleacher Report's Top 25 with a complete breakdown of the top teams on the list.

 

Top Teams

No. 1 Mississippi State

Very few people outside the Mississippi State locker room would have predicted this scenario earlier in the season, but the 6-0 squad is now the No. 1 team in the nation. ESPN's Paul Finebaum noted how well the team has exceeded expectations:

The Bulldogs had a matchup against Auburn, a squad playing as well as any in the nation to that point, and went up 21-0 before holding on for an impressive win.

The amazing thing is the team did not even play that well, giving up four turnovers and allowing the Tigers to total 441 yards of offense. Despite this, they made big plays when needed, including quarterback Dak Prescott, who now is leading many Heisman Trophy lists, according to CBS Sports:

Prescott has made impressive plays throughout the season and now has 14 passing touchdowns to go with eight rushing touchdowns. He also ranks fifth in the nation in Total QBR with a mark of 84.9. Even when he makes mistakes, he plays through them and remains a leader for this team.

While there is a lot of season left to be played and tough road games against Alabama and Ole Miss still ahead, Mississippi State deserves the top spot in the polls after earning the most impressive wins of the year.

 

No. 2 Florida State

Jameis Winston remains one of the most talented players in the country, but this year has seemed to be one problem after another.

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner was suspended for the team's game against Clemson for inappropriate conduct, and he now faces a disciplinary hearing for alleged sexual assault last year. 

Despite the off-field problems, Winston does not believe the distractions are an issue, via Josh Moyer of ESPN.com:

It's not about distractions—it's about playing Florida State football. It's about going out there every day in practice, doing our school work, making sure we're being a great student-athlete. And like I said, being on the field, it's a sanctuary. You get between those lines, all the cameras are on you, and we're out there playing football.

The good news is that when he plays, things go well. Winston completed 30 of his 36 attempts against Syracuse for 317 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. The passing game is as good as ever with a healthy Rashad Greene, who is now in the school's record books, per ESPN's College GameDay:

In reality, the Seminoles only have one more difficult game on the schedule, and that comes on Saturday with a matchup against No. 5 Notre Dame. Winston needs to be able to outplay Everett Golson and avoid mistakes against a very good defense.

If Florida State can come out with a win, the squad becomes a borderline lock for the College Football Playoff.

 

No. 3 Ole Miss

While Mississippi State is getting all the publicity this week, it is important not to overlook what Ole Miss has done lately, earning wins over Alabama and Texas A&M to move to 6-0 on the year.

ESPN's Peter Burns joked about how well the two schools have played so far:

Although fans will complain about the Rebels being two spots behind their rivals, they might be better set up for a run to the playoffs.

First, this team has a defense that can win it a championship, currently ranking second in the country with just 11.8 points allowed per game. Before Saturday, the Aggies had scored at least 30 points in every game and were averaging over 40 per game, but they were held to just 20 points against Ole Miss.

Jon Solomon of CBS Sports gave his opinion on this unit:

Most importantly, the schedule breaks favorably for the Rebels with home games against Auburn and Mississippi State. The only road games remaining are against LSU and Arkansas, which are a combined 1-5 in the SEC.

Rankings in the middle of the season are fun to discuss, but they do not matter too much. Ole Miss does not have to worry about the number next to its name and instead focus on continually winning.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: Adjustments Wolverines Must Make on Bye Week

Brady Hoke has survived a month of national criticism that reached a blistering crescendo after the mishandling of Shane Morris’ head injury.

Michigan miraculously rebounded under the lights vs. Penn State and now heads into a much-needed bye week to prepare for a key rivalry game on the road against Michigan State.

For years, the Spartans had been on the losing end of this rivalry, but things have dramatically changed. As Michigan has fallen on hard times, Michigan State has risen to be a national power, winning five of the last six meetings.

Hoke should be lauded for holding his team together under the intense scrutiny, but it will be a monumental challenge to beat Michigan State.

Here are the adjustments Hoke will need to make to get his team ready for Oct. 25.


Take a Break

Wave upon wave threatened to crush Michigan while it was stuck on the shoals of an 0-3 run that included losses to Utah, Minnesota and Rutgers. The pressure was intense as Michigan struggled to save its season. The first thing Hoke needs to do is give his team a much-needed break.

He acknowledged the pressure during the Penn State postgame press conference: "…I don’t [know] if many football teams could…persevere like they have and stay together like they have, and so I give those kids a lot of credit in that locker room."

Hoke said that the team will return to practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, but "most of it will be getting back to fundamentals and techniques."

A few light practices would give his team an important mental and physical break to prepare for Michigan State.


Heal

Michigan has been hammered by the injuries this season. Hoke won’t talk about it directly, dodging injury questions unless someone is out for the entire season, like in the case of running back Derrick Green.

Players out for an indeterminate amount of time include defensive back Jabrill Peppers, defensive tackle Willie Henry, offensive lineman Erik Magnuson, linebacker Desmond Morgan, defensive tackle Ondre Pipkins, receiver Jehu Chesson and probably Morris.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see one or more of these players back for Michigan State. Hoke needs all the healthy players on deck for his team’s biggest challenge of the season.

And then there’s the leg injury that quarterback Devin Gardner suffered vs. Penn State. He returned to the game and said afterward that he’d be ready for Michigan State but left the stadium in a walking boot.

Gardner clearly is the only hope at quarterback this season—his backups have played poorly. Although at least this week Russell Bellomy was able to find his helmet when summoned to go in the game for Gardner. 


Position Changes

Michigan is in desperate need of help at running back and receiver.

Green's injury has left De’Veon Smith as the primary back on offense, and the results against Penn State were underwhelming: 12 carries for 24 yards.

Justice Hayes has been plugging away as the third-down back, but the team needs some help for Smith on the earlier downs. The best option is to switch Dennis Norfleet to running back.

Receiver is a harder position to fill. The answer may not be to change players but more of a switch where the current players are lining up.

Devin Funchess and Jake Butt could both be moved inside to try and create matchup problems. Either Michigan State double-teams one or the other, leaving Michigan with a good matchup on the outside for Amara Darboh or Freddy Canteen.


Trickeration

Struggling teams need trick plays to overcome superior opponents. It’s time for offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to embrace Michigan’s underdog status (3-4) and go for broke.

The Spartans have been known for trick plays under coach Mark Dantonio, but now Michigan needs to turn the tables on its in-state rival.

Maybe there’s a reason that Hoke banishes the media from practice. Perhaps he has something cooking for when his team visits East Lansing. It’s been a while (2007) since the Wolverines brought back the Paul Bunyan Trophy from a trip to East Lansing.

The Spartans are in the hunt for a national championship—they have no time to trifle with a 3-4 Michigan team. Michigan State wants to deliver a beatdown that knocks the Wolverines out by halftime and makes a national statement for the polls.

Hoke will need to dig deep into the playbook to keep the Spartans from running away with this one.


Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand.

Follow @PSCallihan

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

11 Most Interesting Stats at the Halfway Point of the 2014 CFB Season

Did you know that there is one power-five team that hasn’t given up a single point in the third quarter this season?

And have you heard about the running back who leads the nation in scoring, as a true freshman?

Both are statistical gems in a mine overflowing with numbers, rare jewels nestled among a stockpile of useless, repetitive digits.

Of the literally thousands of stats pumped out through seven weeks of college football, here are 11 worth knowing more about.

Begin Slideshow

College Football: Week 7 Recap and Top 5 Games Pick Results

We now have a new No. 1 ranked team in the country, and highly ranked teams continued to beat up on each other in Week 7 of the 2014 college football season. 

The state of Mississippi had another impressive week, with both schools knocking off ranked opponents and staying undefeated. 

Dak Prescott and No. 3 Mississippi State jumped out early on then-No. 2 Auburn 21-0 in the first quarter, after the Tigers turned the ball over on the first play of their first two possessions. The Bulldogs never looked back in a convincing 38-23 win, where Prescott threw for 246 yards, rushed for 121 yards and scored three total touchdowns. With their second win over Auburn in three years, the Bulldogs jumped Florida State to overtake the No. 1 spot in the AP poll for the first time in school history. 

No. 3 Ole Miss picked up where it had left off just a week before, with a dominating performance in front of an SEC-record crowd of 110,633 at Texas A&M. The Rebels, like their in-state rival Mississippi State, quickly jumped on the Aggies with a 21-0 lead heading into halftime. Quarterback Bo Wallace had another solid effort Saturday night with 178 passing yards, three total touchdowns and no interceptions. 

With the Ole Miss defense holding the Aggies to just 54 rushing yards and intercepting two Kenny Hill passes, the Rebels won 35-20 and are currently 6-0 for the first time since 1962. 

While there was success for the Magnolia State on Saturday, the SEC had two more unexpected outcomes.

After Alabama suffered a heartbreaking loss at Ole Miss just a week prior, it almost happened again. If not for an Arkansas fumble that went through the end zone for a touchback early in the first quarter, along with a blocked extra point by the Crimson Tide late in the second quarter, Alabama wouldn’t have survived its 14-13 victory.

In Columbia, Missouri, a Georgia squad, which was was without running back Todd Gurley, proved itself with an impressive 34-0 shutout win over Missouri. 

The wildest game of the day, which turned into an expected shootout, was between highly ranked Big 12 foes TCU and Baylor. The No. 9 Horned Frogs built a 58-37 lead early in the fourth quarter on a Marcus Mallet 49-yard interception touchdown return, but the No. 5 Bears battled back. Twenty-one unanswered points with the help from quarterback Bryce Petty, who finished with a career-high 510 passing yards and six touchdowns, knotted things up at 58. 

With TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin unable to complete a pass on 4th-and-3 on Baylor’s 45-yard line with 1:11 remaining in regulation, the Bears took advantage of good field position, and Chris Callahan kicked a game-winning 28-yard field goal as time expired to earn a 61-58 victory. 

In the wild, wild West of the Pac-12, No. 12 Oregon bounced back at No. 18 UCLA with a 42-30 win, despite being outgained on offense 553-468. Quarterback Marcus Mariota received more protection with the return of left tackle Jake Fisher and had a stellar performance with 210 passing yards and four total touchdowns. 

No. 10 Arizona and then-unranked USC battled until the very end in Tucson late Saturday night. The Wildcats clawed their way back into the game with a late fourth-quarter touchdown but failed on a two-point conversion, leaving the Trojans with a two-point lead with 1:07 remaining.

Arizona went on to recover an onside kick, though, giving it a chance to pull off the improbable win with a game-winning field goal. Unfortunately, placekicker Casey Skowron wasn’t able to convert on a 36-yard field goal. It was his third missed field goal of the game and helped give the Trojans a much-needed 26-24 road win. 

 

Pick Results

Overall Record: 22-13

Week 7 Record: 2-3

Note: Team in bold indicates author’s pick

 

Prediction: Missouri 35, Georgia 30

Result: Georgia 34, Missouri 0

 

Prediction: Auburn 42, Mississippi State 31

Result: Mississippi State 38, Auburn 23

 

Prediction: Oregon 38, UCLA 33

Result: Oregon 42, UCLA 30

 

Prediction: Baylor 45, TCU 38

Result: Baylor 61, TCU 58

 

Prediction: Texas A&M 34, Ole Miss 28

Result: Ole Miss 35, Texas A&M 20

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pac-12 Football: Possible Trap Games for Each Ranked Team

Is there such thing as a trap game anymore in the Pac -12? Outside of Colorado, every team can win on any given Saturday against any opponent...

Begin Slideshow

Boston College Eagles vs. Clemson Tigers Complete Game Preview

Although it wasn’t the prettiest win of the season, the Clemson Tigers were able to come away victorious against the Louisville Cardinals. After three straight home games, the Tigers will pack their bags and head up north to take on Boston College.

The Eagles—who upset Southern California earlier this season—are fresh off a 30-14 rout of North Carolina State this past Saturday.

This series has featured some great games over the last decade, so expect another great finish Saturday.

Begin Slideshow

Solutions Needed for Notre Dame's Defensive Struggles

On Saturday afternoon, North Carolina's up-tempo offense took the air out of the high-flying Notre Dame defense. Literally. After being on the field for 91 plays, the Irish defense could've used a respirator. 

Seizing on a hot start, Larry Fedora's offense laid the blueprint for beating the Irish defense. Utilizing a hurry-up, no-huddle system, Fedora had the Irish on their heels all afternoon, mixing a herculean effort by quarterback Marquise Williams with a rock-solid game plan, nearly pulling off the upset in a 50-43 loss.

"I just left a team whose guts are ripped out of 'em right now," Fedora said after the game.

The pain the Tar Heels felt on Saturday evening likely works to the benefit of future Notre Dame opponents. And after watching Williams play like Superman on Saturday—passing for two touchdowns, while running and catching two more—Brian VanGorder and his defensive coaches have to be grinding hard as they prepare for Jameis Winston, the defending Heisman Trophy winner. 

After five games of confusing and shutting down opposing offensive coordinators, VanGorder and the Irish defensive staff seemed to get one-upped by Fedora and the Tar Heels offense. Expect Jimbo Fisher and co-offensive coordinators Lawrence Dawsey and Randy Sanders to take notice. 

Saying last Saturday exposed a few weaknesses in the Irish defense isn't exactly fair. They've been there all along, but Fedora and the Tar Heels reminded us that the young Irish defense is still a work in progress.

That progress was halted when VanGorder wasn't able to substitute in his third-down packages, something he's done effectively this year. And with the Tar Heels able to convert nine of 17 third downs, it kept the Irish on the field and allowed North Carolina to pile up the points, something Kelly alluded to earlier in the week. 

Look, we're inexperienced in a number of areas, and if the circumstances played out, we could be put into that kind of situation," Kelly said, when asked about his shootout prediction. "Here are the ingredients for that. A team that runs an up‑tempo offense that can run up to 100 plays. I think they had 91 [84 official and seven penalties].

We're very thin on the back end, as evidenced late in the game. We were tired and tackled poorly. That's something that concerns us. Playing very fast with some young kids, not being able to get off the field on third down with our base personnel. We weren't able to situational substitute, so we weren't as good on third down, another key ingredient with playing a team like North Carolina. And then turning the football over on offense, which happens.

The Irish offense should take its share of the blame as well. This football game isn't all that close if Everett Golson doesn't essentially spot North Carolina 14 early points. The quarterback's three turnovers are a huge concern heading into Florida State and will need to be addressed immediately. 

"We gave them three touchdowns on offense," Kelly said. "If you take the three touchdowns that we gave them off the board, it's 50‑20 whatever, and everyone is going, 'Wow, that's a pretty nice game, wow, nice job.' North Carolina has got a pretty good offense."

Situations aside, the checklist for Notre Dame's defense this week is fairly simple. And it starts on the back end of the defense, where Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield are again without senior captain Austin Collinsworth. That duo has played solid football, but it's also struggled with communication, something that'll be critical in Doak Campbell Stadium against an offense with quite a bit of firepower. 

Depth in the secondary is also teetering on the edge. Senior cornerback Cody Riggs missed some time with an ankle sprain, and the Tar Heels hit backup Devin Butler on a trick-play touchdown pass that got behind him. After opening the season with better depth than probably any other spot on the roster, the numbers at cornerback are thin, and the depth at safety is even worse. Without Collinsworth, Nicky Baratti and the suspended Eilar Hardy, it's freshman Drue Tranquill or bust as the third man in. 

Heading into the North Carolina game, the Irish hadn't faced more than 68 plays on a Saturday, a number matched by Syracuse and Stanford. While the Seminoles have the ability to move with pace, they're averaging 70 plays a game, a number only marginally quicker than the Irish's other opponents. 

That should help with the relative lack of depth. But it won't help make tackles, something the Irish defense didn't do very well last Saturday. 

Against Winston, the Irish will face another electric athlete who can beat you with his feet. He's also an incredibly accurate thrower, completing 68 percent of his throws over two seasons. Armed with personnel better than any Notre Dame has faced thus far, it's a rather obvious statement to say that the Irish will need to play their best to win. 

Rattling Winston will be key. A week after the Irish let Williams escape any time they came close to getting a sack, capitalizing on those opportunities will be critical. Close won't cut it for Sheldon Day, especially with Seminoles center Austin Barron out with a broken arm. 

The Irish head to Tallahassee nearly two-touchdown underdogs, a number that's inching down as the game gets closer. After not looking their best in their last three victories, the Irish's first true road test of the season makes their margin for error even thinner. 

But Kelly believes his defense will be ready. But they'll need to learn from their mistakes against North Carolina first. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.   

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Blocked Extra Point Turns into Crazy Play That Falls Just Short in FCS Matchup

The Northern Colorado Bears get an A for effort on this play from Saturday's game against the Sacramento State Hornets, but it still didn't count for any points.

After blocking an extra point, the Bears tossed the ball around trying to score on the other side, but fell just short when UNC linebacker Dominick Sierra was pushed out right in front of the end zone.

The Hornets still ended up winning, taking the 43-38 victory.

[YouTube, h/t NFL.com and Twitter]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Dayton Kicker William Will Ends Up Scoring on Own Kickoff vs. Marist

The Dayton Flyers got a 31-21 win over Marist on Saturday, and the play of the game came from kicker William Will.

In the second quarter, Will kicked the ball off to the Red Foxes, then somehow came up with the football on a fumble, running it all the way in for a touchdown.

Sure, kickers score points, but rarely do they get to enjoy the satisfaction of running into the end zone for a touchdown, so Will can go ahead and celebrate.

[YouTube, h/t Deadspin]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama TE Kurt Freitag's Room Yields 112 Grams of Marijuana, $4,600 in Search

Alabama Crimson Tide sophomore tight end Kurt Freitag had his dorm room searched last Tuesday, where the West Alabama Narcotics Task Force discovered 112 grams of marijuana and $4,661 in cash, according to court records. 

AL.com's Stephen Dethrage reported the news Monday, noting that a confidential informant tipped task force agents that Freitag would be involved in a drug deal last week. Freitag granted the agents permission to looked around his room.   

The report links to the full filed complaint, which can be read in its entirety courtesy of Scribd.com's Jeremy W. Gray.

According to court documents, no charges have been filed against Freitag, though the cash and marijuana were seized at his Bryant Hall dormitory.

Freitag, a native of Buford, Georgia, is listed at 6'4" and 255 pounds. He had one reception for 11 yards in two games last season and hasn't gotten on the stat sheet in 2014 for the No. 7 Crimson Tide.

He had been dealing with a turf toe injury before the current season began, which hurt his chances to see the field as it was on a roster loaded with talent.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What Beating Notre Dame Would Mean for Florida State's Playoff Chances

At the season's midpoint, the Florida State football team is one of five unbeaten teams. And the schedule affords a perfect opportunity for the Seminoles (6-0) to improve their playoff chances with a win over No. 5 Notre Dame Saturday night.

FSU won the 2013 national title and has claimed 22 straight wins. It's clear that the Seminoles are one of the top teams in the nation, even if Mississippi State vaulted in front of FSU in the AP and coaches polls Sunday.

But FSU still needs to build—and strengthen—its resume in 2014. While the defense was maligned for allowing 41 points in a win over North Carolina State, FSU has shown its fight in scoring 39 points per game and has won its last three games by 15 points or more.

An FSU win over a Top Five team would give the Seminoles a signature win on a national stage, a day that will begin with ESPN's "GameDay" in the shadows of Doak Campbell Stadium and end with the national broadcast on ABC.

Yes, many coaches and writers will be watching. But so too will the members of the College Football Playoff selection committee, who will release their first standings on Oct. 28.

The FSU-Notre Dame winner is almost assured of having a spot in the top four in the initial standings. Both teams have a bye following the game (FSU plays at Louisville on Oct. 30 and Notre Dame faces Navy on Nov. 1).

If FSU were to beat Notre Dame, the Seminoles would have three wins over ranked teams in seven games. FSU can claim a season-opening win over Oklahoma State, which is now No. 15. And the Cowboys have rattled off five straight wins since that loss to FSU. The Seminoles defeated Clemson in overtime, with a suspended Jameis Winston on the sideline. The Tigers are ranked 22nd in the AP poll.

Critics of FSU will argue that the Seminoles defeated Clemson and Oklahoma State by just six points. But FSU should be given credit for battling and winning.

FSU's schedule in the offseason was considered one of the 10 toughest paths to the College Football Playoff by FOXSports.com's Bruce Feldman. The Seminoles have completed the first half unscathed.

Notre Dame is by far the toughest game FSU will play in the second half of the season. Games against Louisville, Virginia, Miami, Boston College and Florida await, but none of the teams are ranked.

A win over Notre Dame puts FSU in the driver's seat for the final five games. FSU is firmly in control of the Atlantic Division with its win over Clemson and would then play in the ACC championship game.

There's plenty of football left, but, barring injury, FSU appears poised to secure a spot in the four-team playoff if the Seminoles knock off Notre Dame.

 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, all quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Stats courtesy of seminoles.com. Follow Bob on Twitter. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Reaction to Arkansas Win Shows Nick Saban Has Hardest Job in College Football

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If you felt a slight breeze after defensive back Landon Collins' interception late against Arkansas, chances are it was the collective sigh of relief coming from the state of Alabama.

Collins' interception, which all but sealed the Crimson Tide's victory over Arkansas, elicited a roar from the Alabama sideline, with players spilling onto the field in celebration. Alabama coach Nick Saban noted that "I hadn't seen that much emotion out of our team for a long time."

But it was a different response among the fanbase.

Message boards were on fire Saturday night and into Monday morning with all sorts of critiques of a one-point win against an Arkansas team that is still perceived as weak by SEC West standards.

That led Saban, largely unprompted, to launch briefly into a full-blown rant about unfair expectations that have been built up for Alabama.

"Everybody's got such a high expectation for what our team should be," Saban said, throwing his hands in the air. "I was just happy to see our players be happy about playing a game and winning. And it really, sort of, if you want to know the truth about it, pisses me off when I talk to people that have this expectation like they are disappointed that we only won the game 14-13 and in the way we played. Really, that's frustrating. You want to talk something that's frustrating, that's frustrating, to me, for our players, who play with a lot of heart in the game."

It was a breaking point of sorts for the Alabama coach who is no longer—and hasn't been for a long time—just coaching against the team on the other side of the ball. Three BCS championships in four years have swelled expectations to unrealistic levels and beyond.

It's not enough to just win. Wins are judged against other wins. And losses are reason for full-on meltdowns.

So it's easy to feel Saban's frustrations when a close road win in the SEC has brought with it an immense amount of criticism.

It's also why, right now, Nick Saban has the hardest job in college football.

Those expectations trickle down to the players. They feel the pressure to play a perfect game every time out from friends, classmates and fans on social media.

"Everyone wants us to win 60-0, and that's just not possible," fifth-year senior right tackle Austin Shepherd said. "Arkansas is really, really good. They're probably the team that's gotten the best out of this league. I mean, everyone should be happy with a win, and you can't win every game by 100 points, so you've just got to be happy with this one."

That mindset leads to playing scared instead of playing hard and fast like Saban wants them to play. Fullback Jalston Fowler noted that reaction after Alabama's close loss to Ole Miss.

"It's like we were scared to lose," Fowler said. "Everybody wasn't playing their A-Game, they were just 'Oh, if we escape with a win, we'll be all right.'"

In a way, a change in mindset helped Alabama finish off the Razorbacks.

Four fumbles on special teams put Alabama well behind the eight ball. The Crimson Tide were outgained in total yards, 335 to 227.

But when it came to crunch time, Alabama rallied. And that was encouraging to Saban.

"I was really pleased, Blake didn't do the quarterback sneak right. I really saw our players help him and support him," Saban said. "He made a mistake. That was good. We needed that on our team. That's been missing on our team."

The Collins interception was an emotional release for a team that, up to this point, hasn't really played with much.

"It was the most emotion we've shown all year," defensive end Jonathan Allen said. "I think we need more of that. A team that is emotionally attached to one another will play harder for one another. Now I feel like that's a big key of playing defense."

But the perception from the outside has been markedly different from that kind of reaction on the inside.

A 14-13 win over Arkansas, no matter how improved the Razorbacks are, doesn't look as good as the 52-0 beatings the Crimson Tide had put on them in the two seasons prior. So while the team sees the victory as a step in the right direction, it's otherwise looked at as a cause for concern.

Saban will face those same kinds of pressures against Texas A&M, Tennessee, and on and on through the rest of the season. Where once winning was the only goal, success has bred much higher expectations. Wins are the bare minimum.

It's the reality that Saban is facing, and it's rightfully frustrating. It's not going away anytime soon.

And it's not an enviable position to be in at all.

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

8 College Football Recruits Who Had an Explosive Week

Playoff positioning is up for grabs in high school football conferences across the country, as many squads are at least midway through this regular season. It's the time of year when premier players rise up to deliver their teams to victory in pressure-packed situations.

Several collegiate prospects changed the complexion of games with prime-time performances this past weekend. Every Monday on Bleacher Report, we recap the efforts that stole headlines and commanded praise.

Here's our latest look across the nation at athletes who dominated game action.

 

5-star defensive back Kevin Toliver, Trinity Christian Academy (Jacksonville, Florida)

Toliver attained early national recruiting notoriety for his promise at cornerback but continues to prove he's a two-way threat for defending state champion Trinity Christian. The 6'2", 185-pound playmaker helped his squad avenge its lone 2013 loss by rumbling over and around Godby High School defenders.

He gained 183 yards on the ground, scoring twice in a 28-13 victory, per Clayton Freeman of Jacksonville.com. Toliver tallied touchdown runs of 77 and six yards, the latter putting Godby out of reach.

"He’s special,” head coach Verlon Dorminey told Freeman. “There’s a reason he’s the No. 1 corner in the nation. He’s an athlete and it’s great to have him.”

Toliver, regarded among the top defenders in America, leads the team in rushing with 325 yards and five touchdowns through five games. He averages nearly 11 yards per carry.

A longtime LSU commit, Toliver continues to explore other options. Recent official visits to Virginia Tech, Ohio State and Florida State suggest this recruitment could continue toward national signing day.

 

5-star quarterback Jarrett Stidham, Stephenville High School (Stephenville, Texas)

The Texas Tech commit continues to prove he's capable of carrying an offensive attack to elite levels. Stidham, an Elite 11 finalist, was unstoppable throughout a 40-21 victory over Brownwood High School.

He completed 20 of 25 pass attempts for 378 yards and three touchdowns, per Brian Perroni of 247Sports. The 6'3.5", 190-pound standout converted from wide receiver last season and has lit up opponents ever since. 

"I feel more comfortable right now than ever before," Stidham told me prior to the season.

Rated second nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings, he also did damage with his feet. Stidham picked up 84 yards on 14 carries in the contest.

His commitment to the Red Raiders occurred in March after he also considered offers from Alabama, Baylor, Arizona State and Auburn, among others.

 

4-star running back Nyheim Hines, Garner High School (Garner, North Carolina)

Hines, already over 20 rushing touchdowns this season, set the tone early Friday night and eventually buried Clayton High School in a 63-10 win. The 5'9", 187-pound back bullied defenders and exploited rushing lanes en route to 147 yards and four touchdowns on just 14 carries, per D. Clay Best of the News Observer.

Hines, rated third nationally among all-purpose running backs, led Garner to its sixth straight victory with his latest commanding performance. His effort featured scoring runs of 42 and 65 yards. 

"Football’s a game of opportunity,” Hines told Best. “It’s all about taking advantage of the situations you find yourself in and executing.”

He followed up the dominant effort with an official visit to North Carolina State. The Wolfpack are among several programs jockeying for position in his recruitment process, including Ohio State, Georgia, Florida and Duke.

 

3-star defensive back Tyler Phillips, North Little Rock High School (North Little Rock, Arkansas)

The 6'1.5", 206-pound defender projects as a college player who can make an impact at either outside linebacker or safety. Phillips flashed his versatility Friday during a 56-28 win at Jonesboro High School.

He tallied 15 total tackles, including five for loss, and broke up a pair of passes, per Richard Davenport of the Arkansas Democrat-GazettePhillips wreaked havoc in the offensive backfield throughout the game, racking up three sacks.

Despite consistent production and quality size, Phillips remains largely under the national radar as a recruit. His offer list includes Campbell and Air Force, though he spent time at Ohio State and Arkansas earlier this year.

 

5-star quarterback Blake Barnett, Santiago High School (Corona, California)

The 2014 Elite 11 MVP showcased his array of skills in a crosstown rivalry victory over Corona High School. Barnett was devastatingly precise throughout the evening, completing 14 of 17 passes in a 57-25 win.

He collected 256 yards and five touchdowns through the air, per Drew Champlin of AL.com. Barnett went over 200 passing yards in the first half, enabling Santiago to establish a comfortable cushion.

His rushing skills should never be overlooked, and the 6'4.5", 200-pound prospect again showed why with a 79-yard scoring sprint to start second-half action. You can see each of Barnett's six touchdown plays in this highlight film:

Barnett, who flipped from Notre Dame to Alabama in June, is rated No. 1 nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks. He's thrown for 1,597 yards and 13 touchdowns through six games, adding another 370 yards and four scores on the ground.

Barnett is expected to visit Alabama this weekend for the team's game against Texas A&M. 

 

3-star running back RyQuell Armstead, Millville High School (Millville, New Jersey)

The 6'0", 200-pound southern New Jersey running back set a new school record Friday night. Armstead dismantled the Absegami High School defense on his way to a program-best 337 yards on 29 rushing attempts, per David Weinberg of the Press of Atlantic City.

He sprinted for scores of 15 and 55 yards in the first quarter of a 48-13 win. Armstead finished the contest with five total touchdowns.

"RyQuell is an elite back," Millville head coach Jason Durham told Weinberg. "He's definitely capable of carrying us."

That's precisely what Armstead did Friday. He committed to Temple over Old Dominion and Virginia in June.

 

3-star 2016 wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe, North Gwinnett High School (Suwanee, Georgia)

The junior standout stole the spotlight early as North Gwinnett pounced on Peachtree Ridge High School in the opening quarter. He scored the team's first two touchdowns to set the stage for an impressive 51-24 win, per The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Imatorbhebhe collected eight receptions in the contest and continues to look like one of the top 2016 playmakers in talent-packed Georgia. He leads the team in every receiving category with 47 catches for 758 yards and nine touchdowns, per MaxPreps.

Vanderbilt will host him on campus this upcoming weekend, according to Chris Smith of 247Sports. The Commodores are contending with a lengthy list of teams for his commitment, including Michigan, Missouri, Cal, Boston College, Florida and Ohio State.

 

4-star running back Soso Jamabo, Plano West High School (Plano, Texas)

Jamabo is no stranger to this list, as he's enjoyed a dominant senior season that qualifies him as a national offensive MVP candidate. The 6'2.5", 210-pound prospect churned up another incredible amount of yardage in Plano West's latest win over Marcus High School.

He rushed for 322 yards and four touchdowns in a 54-32 victory, per Mark Buford of The Dallas Morning News. Jamabo erupted for scoring bursts of 45, 59, 67 and 69 yards, providing further evidence of his explosiveness.

His top collegiate suitors include Oklahoma, Notre Dame, UCLA and Texas A&M.

 

Recruit rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jameis Winston Reportedly Facing Investigation over Signing Autographs for Money

Florida State is currently investigating how an autograph distributor—the same one linked to recently-suspended Georgia running back Todd Gurley—has acquired over 300 authenticated signatures from quarterback Jameis Winston.    

ESPN's Adam Schefter, citing a report from ESPN's Darren Rovell and Mark Schlabach, has the latest, via his Facebook page:

Florida State's compliance department is looking into whether Jameis Winston signed more than 340 items for an autograph authentication company linked to suspended Georgia running back Todd Gurley. A source tells ESPN's Darren Rovell and Mark Schlabach that Winston told Florida State HC Jimbo Fisher he did not sign items for money. But a search of James Spence Authentication's website revealed more than 340 certified Winston autographs. The same company certified more than 500 of Gurley's autographs. The source says Florida State is investigating how the company received such a large number of Winston signatures.

Rovell offered some more details:

Signing your name, of course, isn't against any rules. Doing so for money, on the other hand, is. Gurley, who was among the front-runners to succeed Winston as the Heisman Trophy winner, was recently suspended indefinitely by the Bulldogs for receiving compensation for autographs and memorabilia.

Despite the connection to the authenticator, FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher is confident his QB didn't sign anything for money, via Rovell and Schlabach:

Kids sign things all the time. So, what do you want them to do, stop signing stuff? We could make them not have any fans from that standpoint and not sign for anybody. That's what it's going to come to, and that's a shame for college football, that somebody exploits a kid. Now, if they're getting paid for it, then I don't have any knowledge of that. I don't believe Jameis did.

It would appear the Seminoles athletic department is simply covering all the bases and playing it safe, but considering Winston's importance to the team, this is obviously something to keep an eye on.

As ESPN's Travis Haney noted, this could be a troubling development for Winston and the 'Noles:

The ultra-talented sophomore has completed 70.0 percent of his passes for 1,605 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions this season. When he was suspended against Clemson earlier in the year, the defending national champions needed a late takeaway and overtime to stay undefeated.

If the No. 2 Seminoles are going to remain on pace to crack the College Football Playoff, he'll need to be on the field—especially on Saturday against No. 5 Notre Dame.

Winston, who has found himself on the wrong end of several headlines over the past few months, will also face a disciplinary hearing stemming from an alleged sexual assault in 2012, but he is expected to play against the Irish.

We'll have to see if this newest wrinkle changes that status.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Officials Admit to Clock Error in Final Possession of Alabama vs. Arkansas

A false start penalty on the Alabama Crimson Tide with approximately one minute remaining in Saturday's 14-13 win over Arkansas cost the hosting Razorbacks a potential chance at another possession.

By rule, the clock should have stopped with under five minutes to go in the game, and the Southeastern Conference acknowledged the miscue Monday.   

Robbie Neiswanger of ArkansasNews.com (h/t CBSSports.com's Jerry Hinnen) posted an email from SEC spokesperson Chuck Dunlap, who explained the situation:

During the normal course of a game, when the clock is running and there is a false start, the game clock will restart on the referee's signal after enforcement of the penalty...However, inside five minutes left in the game, rule 3-4-3 should apply, which includes starting the game clock on the snap "if the foul is by the team ahead in the score." After the Alabama false start late in the Alabama-Arkansas game, the referee started the clock on his signal rather than on the snap.

The infraction pushed Alabama into a longer third down, and although Arkansas stopped the Tide, they didn't get a chance to get the ball back on what would have likely been a punt on fourth down.

Neiswanger documented what Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema had to say regarding the improper call by the officiating crew that denied him a potential landmark win:

Odds of a comeback at such a late juncture of the game were rather slim, but it did seem the Tide caught quite a break in Fayetteville. ESPN Stats & Info noted how slow of a start Alabama's offense got off to:

Coach Nick Saban's powerhouse program was lucky to escape Razorback Stadium with a victory after losing the prior contest to Ole Miss. To the Tide's credit, their defense stepped up and held a potent Arkansas rushing attack to under 100 yards in a hard-fought conference battle.

Coming off close losses to both Texas A&M and Alabama, the Razorbacks are competing hard, yet are still 0-3 in the SEC. They will have a tall task ahead in taking on 10th-ranked Georgia on Saturday.

The ineffectiveness of the Tide offense, led by fifth-year senior quarterback Blake Sims, left Alabama in a vulnerable position for this rules controversy to bear significance. Sims and Co. will have to find a way to get back on track quickly ahead of an upcoming showdown with the Aggies.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights Complete Game Preview

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A week after enjoying—or perhaps enduring—its second bye in the past four weeks, the Ohio State football team will return to action on Saturday when the Buckeyes host Rutgers at Ohio Stadium.

After bouncing back from its loss to Virginia Tech in the second week of the season, Ohio State has reeled off three consecutive victories and is hoping to maintain the momentum that it found before entering last week's bye.

In the Scarlet Knights, the Buckeyes will be squaring off with a 5-1 squad whose only loss came to Penn State in a 13-10 defeat on Sept. 13. Rutgers is far from a powerhouse, but Kyle Flood's program is enjoying significantly more success than most expected from it in its Big Ten debut season.

Ohio State, meanwhile, appears to have gotten its season back on track following last month's defeat at the hands of the Hokies. But as we've seen lately, a lot can change in college football from week to week, and the Buckeyes will need to prove that not too much has changed in the past two.

Date: Saturday, Oct. 18

Time: 3:30 p.m. ET

Place: Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio

TV: ABC/ESPN 2

Radio: Ohio State Football Radio NetworkMaryland Sports Radio Network

Spread: Ohio State (-19.5), via Odds Shark 

Begin Slideshow

Bowl Projections 2014: Predictions for Selection Committee Games Before Week 8

The college football landscape shifts more every week, with just a handful of teams being able to make the notable bowl games. Only four will be in the first ever College Football Playoff, but eight more make the other historic bowls.

Those include the Cotton, Orange, Fiesta and Peach Bowls, with the Sugar and Rose Bowls serving as semifinals. Several at-large teams will make those games on Dec. 31 or Jan. 1, but the berths are limited with some of the lower conferences likely to miss out.

Programs like Mississippi State and Ole Miss have been proving their cases recently, while Florida State has maintained its position all season. Meanwhile, current outsiders in polls like Notre Dame and Alabama still have a good chance to make the playoff or a noteworthy bowl.

Before Week 8 kicks off, here's a look at the current projections for the biggest bowl games.

 

College Football Playoff Breakdown

It's still extremely early in the process, but a few teams have set themselves apart. Even in a stacked SEC West, both the Rebels and Bulldogs have remained unscathed and deserving of a bid in the College Football Playoff.

The two programs are led by two tremendous quarterbacks who have carried the teams throughout the season. Dak Prescott has received most of the attention as a Heisman candidate, but Bo Wallace has been equally as important to Ole Miss' success.

Below is a look at the two signal-callers' statistics during the 2014 season.

Of course, Prescott has been more effective with his legs, but both can get the job done with their arms.

Unfortunately, the feel-good story in Mississippi will come to a head later this year in the Egg Bowl. Just one team will have a chance to remain undefeated—which isn't promised for either program—but some believe two teams from the SEC West should be in the playoff.

Coach Hugh Freeze believes the division is good enough to have two teams contending for a title, per Hugh Kellenberger of The Clarion-Ledger:

I do think the SEC West deserves two in the playoff. ...

If we got beat tonight it would have been because Texas A&M beat us in their place and they are a good football team. But I never worried about that. Our kids are excited, we enjoyed the win but they'll come back down and get ready.

I agree with Freeze and think it will be his team making the four-team bracket. That other Mississippi team? Yeah, it'll also get in there with Prescott and the stout defense leading the way on the road against Ole Miss.

The Bulldogs will win the SEC with Ole Miss losing the final game and still making it due to the body of work.

As for the remainder of the playoff, Notre Dame will narrowly miss the bracket if it loses to Florida State. If the Seminoles escape a matchup against the Irish with a victory, the remaining schedule offers no real threat to an appearance in the playoff.

That controversial final spot goes to Michigan State, for now. The Spartans have been taking care of business, while Baylor nearly crumbled against TCU. Baylor still has tough tests against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State, and one loss would set it behind Michigan State.

Meanwhile, the Spartans defense remains one of the best in the country, per College GameDay:

If the Spartans simply win out against several Big Ten opponents, they will still need help from other teams losing around them. Due to the way the season has gone thus far, Michigan State will wind up being the fourth team in the playoff.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Texas A&M Aggies Complete Game Preview

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Some would call it a win. Many Alabama fans are treating it like a loss.

The Crimson Tide’s 14-13 win over Arkansas last week isn’t exactly going to inspire many to put a down payment on College Football Playoff tickets, but a win is a win. And in a year where nothing is certain in college football that’s all you can ask for.

Alabama’s next test is Texas A&M, a team that has produced two great games against Alabama in its two years in the SEC.

This time the Aggies are without Johnny Manziel, but quarterback Kenny Hill has been just as prolific throwing the football.

Can Texas A&M pull off the upset in Bryant-Denny Stadium?

Here’s everything you need to know:

Date: Saturday, October 18

Time: 2:30 p.m. CT

Place: Bryant-Denny Stadium

TV: CBS

Radio: Crimson Tide Sports Network, Texas A&M Radio Network

Spread: Alabama by 12 to 12.5, according to OddsShark.com.

Begin Slideshow

UCLA vs. Cal Complete Game Preview

When: Saturday, Oct. 18; 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, California

TV: ABC or ESPN2 

Coming off back-to-back home losses, the UCLA Bruins are in need of a road trip. UCLA can get its season back on course with a win away from the Rose Bowl this week—and road victories have been in ample supply. 

After Week 7 games, visiting teams in Pac-12 Conference games are 14-4. 

The road may be welcoming to Pac-12 teams this season, but Cal's Memorial Stadium has been inhospitable to UCLA teams over recent years. The Bruins have not won there since 1998, and the last outcome decided by single digits was in 2002. 

UCLA's more recent history in Berkeley is no less promising. 

Since head coach Jim Mora arrived in 2012, six of UCLA's 10 losses have come to ranked teams. Two others—Oregon State in 2012 and Utah this season—used defeats of the Bruins to vault into the polls. 

Loss No. 9 was Baylor in the 2012 Holiday Bowl. 

That leaves Cal in Mora's first season as the biggest head-scratcher on the coach's resume. UCLA was leveled 43-17 in that visit. 

With a two-game losing skid on the year and a heap of bad memories of Memorial Stadium, UCLA will not be lacking motivation heading into Saturday's showdown. 

Begin Slideshow

Pages