NCAA Football

Pac-12 Football: Ranking the Most Dynamic Defensive Players so Far This Year

It should come as no surprise that Pac -12 offenses are soaring once again in 2014 behind dynamic quarterbacks, breakthrough running backs and a host of other points-scoring weapons...

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Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Wisconsin Badgers Complete Game Preview

Since the beginning of the season, Wisconsin football fans have circled the Nov. 15 Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Wisconsin Badgers game as the de facto Big Ten West championship game (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC).  With three Big Ten games left for both teams, they both sit at 4-1, tied for the lead of the division.  

If this isn't exactly what fans expected, then I don't know what is.

While both teams are tied for the lead of the Big Ten, both have taken rather circuitous paths to this spot.  The Badgers lost on opening day to LSU and inexplicably lost at Northwestern in one of the sloppiest games on record.

The Cornhuskers didn't exactly roll through their fairly weak nonconference slate, needing some late-game heroics from star tailback Ameer Abdullah to put away FCS McNeese State.  The Cornhuskers' only loss came to Michigan State in East Lansing, a game where they looked terrible for 50 or so minutes before cutting the deficit at the end.

Both teams have some real strengths, particularly in their ability to get to the quarterback and running the ball; however, both teams have seen wild inconsistency in the passing game.

With these teams playing for the first Freedom Trophy because the Big Ten needs another trophy game, let's take a look at the keys to success and players to watch for each team.  We'll also take a look at what the coaches and players are saying for each team and make a prediction.

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ASU's Todd Graham: The Smartest Bad Hire in College Football History

Everybody knows that when it comes to college football, even the gods choose sides. There are Winners and Losers, by divine right.

Nobody considers Todd Graham to be a holy figure. But he was brought in to change the gods' minds about Arizona State football, a team whose place has been to get to the Big Game and then to blow it, to get its fingertips to the mountaintop before someone stomps on them.

When Arizona State hired him three years ago, it was a perfect match of a bumbling athletic department and carpetbagging coach. They would both get what they deserved. Somehow, that turned out to be a perfect fit. The gods? Well, this year Arizona State beat USC on, yes, a Hail Mary. It beat Utah when a top kicker missed a short field goal in overtime. And now, it crushed God's team, Notre Dame, 55-31 on Saturday.

It was like Lucy trying to pull back on the football and Charlie Brown drilling a 50-yard field goal anyway. It was the Chicago Cubs beating the New York Yankees in a big moment, if you can imagine it. (As a Chicagoan, I can't).

ASU figures to be ranked seventh or eighth in the College Football Playoff poll Tuesday and is suddenly in the national championship conversation. Is this a great moment for an I-told-you-so from Graham?

"How the search went here, the expectations of who they were going to hire … (fans thought) 'Who did we hire?' " Graham said last week on the Pac-12 coaches teleconference. "They really didn't know who I was. Didn't know much about me. It just wasn't a lot of positives."

Arizona State thought it was going to get June Jones, or possibly Kevin Sumlin. Somehow, those deals fell through. Even more amazing is that school officials, being publicly ridiculed during the search, landed on Graham.

Just five years earlier, Graham quit his job at Rice after just one season. He was named Conference USA Coach of the Year, signed a contract extension and then…left for Tulsa. Rice was so angry that its band put together a performance called Todd Graham's Inferno the next year when Tulsa, and Graham, came to town. Yes, that was a reference to Dante's Inferno, and Dante's trip to the pit of hell.

He later left Tulsa for Pitt, where he stayed—again—one year before going to Arizona State. He literally slipped out of Pittsburgh in the middle of the night, only telling his players he was gone with a text that said (via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), "The timing of the circumstances have prohibited me from telling you directly…"

Graham is not a study in disloyalty or anti-commitment as people have labeled. Sure, he has done some sneaky things, treated his players poorly. But coaches shouldn't be expected to stick around in any job longer than they want, longer than it seems like the right place to be.

He isn't even a symbol of the greed of college football, as people have also portrayed Graham. He is just a guy who has left a job as soon as a better one came along. Be honest: You would do the same thing. You know, too, that loyalty from your employer lasts until roughly .05 seconds after an investor starts getting nervous. And one-sided loyalty just makes you a sucker.

Understandably, Arizona State has been an I'll-believe-it-when-you-prove it football fan base. That's fair. Why shouldn't it be? The point is: It is safe to buy in now. A piano is not about to drop out of the sky.

ASU was 5-40 against teams ranked in the Associated Press poll in the 14 years before Graham arrived. Under Graham, it is 7-6, including 7-3 the past two years.

It's not easy to just start believing. Earlier this season, quarterback Taylor Kelly injured his foot. And in the first game without him, ASU was humiliated at home by UCLA. The gods! Nope, that was ASU's only loss. Now, Kelly is back. And the defense was harassing Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson all night.

So it's time to loosen up, Arizona State fans. College football is built on passion. The ABCs of the sport are Argument, Bias and Chaos. And those things are exactly the reason people were wrong in thinking that the school had made the wrong hire in Graham.

The guy wins everywhere he goes. He just happens to go as soon as he wins. That's OK. Loyalty and longevity are not required to make for a highly successful coach, or program, anymore.

According to The Seattle Times' Bud Withers, his paper ran a poll a few years ago asking readers which Pac-12 school had made the best coaching hire: Washington State (Mike Leach), UCLA (Jim Mora), Arizona (Rich Rodriguez) or Arizona State. Graham pulled in 2.39 percent of the vote.

Graham said he left Pittsburgh because his family never fit in well there. That tells Arizona State fans they are his family now, which suggests long-term loyalty. The problem with that point is back to the ABCs of college football. In a sport built on passion, players and fans think of the program and its coach as part of a family (until he loses). So a winning coach cannot leave to help his family, as if his family is some other entity.

When recruiting, coaches tell parents that the team will be a second family. The coach is the second father. People buy into that. It's mostly just a sales pitch, but coaches believe it when they say it. Then something better comes along. Another family.

So it's time now for the college football world to admit it was wrong about Graham and Arizona State, whether their fit was genius or merely a happy accident. And it's time, too, for ASU fans to see that Graham was the right guy.

That means they'll buy into the ABCs. The irony is that Graham can't hurt you until you buy in. But that's OK. Have fun today and worry about that tomorrow. The long term doesn't apply anymore.

For now, Graham is a loyal member of the family. He is a Sun, well, Devil.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report. He also writes for The New York Times and was formerly a scribe for FoxSports.com and the Chicago Sun-Times.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Virginia Tech vs. Duke Complete Game Preview

The Virginia Tech Hokies return to the field on Saturday as they head to Durham, North Carolina, to face No. 19 Duke.

The Hokies (4-5, 1-4 in conference play) are coming off three straight losses and are in danger of missing a bowl game for the first time since the 1992 season. 

The Blue Devils (8-1, 4-1 in conference play), the defending Coastal Division champions, appear poised to repeat last year's success.

Duke won last year's meeting, 13-10, thanks to several Virginia Tech turnovers. The Hokies won the previous 12 meetings and lead the all-time series, 13-8. 

  • When: Saturday, November 15, 2014
  • Where: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, North Carolina
  • Time: Noon ET
  • TV: ESPNU
  • Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network. Here is a complete list of stations by area.
  • Spread: The Blue Devils are presently six-point favorites, via Odds Shark.

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Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Wisconsin Badgers Complete Game Preview

It's been three years since Nebraska visited Madison, Wisconsin. During that trip, the Huskers fell to the Badgers 48-17. In 2012, Nebraska was able to redeem that loss with a 30-27 win over the Badgers at home, only to receive another big loss at the hands of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship.

Having only met eight times total, the series is currently tied at four wins apiece. Wisconsin is 7-2 overall this season, while Nebraska is 8-1.

A lot is on the line for this particular matchup. What makes this one different than before is that the two are now in the same division of the Big Ten conference. Whoever wins will likely head to Indianapolis in December for the championship game.

To mark the beginning of what's hoped to be a big rivalry, the two programs will now play for the Freedom Trophy. “Trophy games are part of the tradition of college football, and I’m thrilled that we’re going to be introducing one into our rivalry with Nebraska,” Wisconsin Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez said, per Huskers.com.

With so much on the line, can Nebraska escape Madison with a win and keep the dream of a conference title alive?

 

Where: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wisconsin

When: Saturday, November 15, at 3:30 p.m. ET

Watch: ABC

Listen: Husker Sports Network or Sirius Channel 91, XM 91

Betting Line via Odds Shark: Nebraska (+6)

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Oregon Football: What Ducks Must Accomplish During 2nd Bye Week

A bye week is exactly what the doctor ordered for the third-ranked Oregon Ducks, who are coming off of a brutal conference road victory over the Utah Utes.

While the Ducks (9-1, 6-1) came away with a 24-point win against the former No. 17-ranked team in the country, they paid a high price for the victory.

Oregon lost tight end Pharaoh Brown to a season-ending knee injury, All-Pac-12 center Hroniss Grasu to a knee injury and All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu to a toe injury.

The Ducks have two weeks to prepare for a lowly Colorado team that is 2-8 on the season and 4-30 against Pac-12 opponents since it joined the conference in 2011.

Oregon shouldn’t completely overlook the Buffaloes. However, the Ducks will essentially have a bye week and a preseason game to get the injury replacements up to speed and ready for Oregon State and the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 5.

Oregon left the field at Rice-Eccles stadium battered, bruised and in need of a break in the schedule. Thankfully, the schedule broke in its favor this season. The program needs to take full advantage of its second hiatus of the season and get all its ducks in a row, so to speak.

Here’s what the Ducks need to accomplish during their second bye week of the season.

 

Brenner-to-Mariota Connection 

It stands to reason that center Doug Brenner will be starting for the Ducks come Nov. 22 against Colorado.

While it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Grasu could return, it seems unlikely considering the opponent and the condition Grasu left the field in on Nov. 8—though the program does not release injury updates.

Though Brenner struggled a bit with low snaps against Utah, he generally played well in relief of Grasu. Head coach Mark Helfrich told Andrew Greif of The Oregonian that he and the team have a ton of confidence in Brenner:

Doug played really well. He had a couple low snaps. That one snap that got away from Marcus, Marcus just kind of -- that's one of the hardest things about our offense. You're thinking about seven different things and oh by the way you have to see the ball into my hands just like a receiver and it just went right through his hands. He was trying to get the ball out quickly and just missed it. Again, a ton of confidence in Doug. He played really well with the exception of the low snaps against a very, very good front.

Any time a program loses a center, it can be devastating to an offensive line. When that center is a fifth-year senior who had started 50 consecutive games dating back to 2011, it’s a whole different beast. 

However, the Ducks have survived a ton of injuries along the offensive line and the reserves have done an admirable job so far—even though they’ve allowed quarter Marcus Mariota to be sacked a career-high 23 times so far this season.

The only center Mariota has ever known is Grasu, so bringing in Brenner on a full-time basis—even if it’s only for one or two games—will be an adjustment and it’s likely there will be growing pains.

Fortunately for the Ducks, their remaining opponents on the regular-season schedule aren’t exactly the 1985 Chicago Bears.

Colorado and Oregon State are ranked No. 74 and No. 50, respectively, in the country in sacks this season. Moreover, the Buffaloes are ranked No. 120 in the country in scoring defense, while the Beavers are ranked No. 87 in the same category.

The Ducks should be able to score at will on both Colorado and Oregon State. The hope is that Oregon will have Grasu back by the time it plays in the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 5 at Levi’s Stadium.

If that doesn’t happen, at least Brenner will have two games under his belt at center and a minimum of four weeks of practice time with Mariota before that championship game.

While the Grasu injury is troublesome, there is speculation within the program that starting tackle Andre Yruretagoyena is making progress and may be able to play at some point before the end of the regular season.

Yruretagoyena is practicing with the team and recently told Ryan Thorburn of The Register-Guard, “I'm doing really well, just a little bit of this, a little bit of that in practice."

 

The Replacements 

The most important thing the Oregon coaches and players can do during the next two weeks is get reserve players up to speed and ready to start against Colorado.

Let’s start with the cornerback position. While senior corner Ekpre-Olomu says he will “definitely” be ready to go against Colorado, according to The Oregonian's Greif, Ducks coaches should be preparing redshirt freshman cornerback Chris Seisay just in case.

According to Ekpre-Olumu, he injured his big toe on his left foot but says he’s not too concerned about it.

"I'm not really too concerned, especially having an extra week off, but I think I'll be all right," said Ekpre-Olomu. "I've been dealing with a lot of different foot injuries on this same foot but I'm all right. I just tweaked my toe, my big toe.”

The Ducks are going to need Ekpre-Olomu’s presence—if healthy—because Colorado features one of the most dynamic wide receivers in the entire country in Nelson Spruce.

Spruce, a junior, is averaging 109.1 yards per game this season and has caught 11 touchdowns, which ranks second in the country. Spruce also leads the nation in catches with 99 through 10 games this season.

If Oregon is without the services of its leading cornerback, it'll have to depend on a combination of Dior Mathis, Troy Hill and Seisay. All three have played a significant amount this season, but it’s clear that Seisay will be the one who will have to step up if Ekpre-Olomu is not ready to go.

On the season, Seisay has played in eight games and has 16 tackles and two passes defended. He has also forced a fumble.

Going from a reserve role to facing one of the best wide receivers in college football is a daunting task, but it’s one the 6’1”, 187-pound corner should be ready for by Nov. 22.

Even without Ekpre-Olomu, the Ducks' secondary should play well against Colorado and Oregon State.

The position the Oregon coaches quickly need to find a fix for is tight end.

Greif reported that Brown is out for the season. Here is part of Helfrich's statement regarding Brown’s injury:

Due to the nature and significance of his situation definitely going to comment on that. Pharoah didn't travel with the team, he wasn't allowed to travel just due to the nature of the injury. He's in Salt Lake City still, we don't know exactly how long that's gonna take. He needs to go through a couple of procedures here in the next, again in it's a generalized three-to-seven days approximately to get as best a foundation as can be had going forward for his long-term prognosis which we don't know at this point at all. He's out for the season.

It’s a huge blow to the program and devastating news for a young man who was really coming along as a student-athlete. Injuries happen in sports and the Ducks know they must move on and try to find a suitable replacement for a player who ranked second in the nation in touchdowns by a tight end.

The obvious candidate to replace Brown is sophomore tight end Johnny Mundt. As a true freshman in 2013, Mundt burst onto the scene against Tennessee with five catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns.

However, Brown has clearly overshadowed him since then and Mundt has only caught two passes for 29 yards so far this season.

Oregon has two other options at tight end with Evan Baylis and Koa Ka’ai. Baylis, a redshit sophomore, has caught one pass this season for eight yards. Ka’ai, a redshirt junior, has yet to make a reception.

When asked about the options at tight end, Helfrich told Greif he will evaluate who should be the guy going forward over the next two weeks:

Whoever is next will be ready to roll and obviously over the next two weeks we'll kind of evaluate what the best deal is going forward, whether it's one or two tight ends, one or two receivers here and there. But we have a ton of confidence in those guys. They've played, between those two and Koa Ka'ai, they've played a lot and we'll be ready to rock come Colorado.

Whoever it is at tight end—whether it be Mundt, Baylis or Ka’ai—is going to be very involved in the offense going forward and will be expected to pick up right where Brown left off.

While the Ducks will certainly expect their new tight end to be a downfield threat, their most important duties will be as a blocker for running backs Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner, as well as Mariota when he decides to scramble.

If the new tight end can come in and be a competent blocker, the Ducks will feel much better about their chances at succeeding offensively without the presence of Brown.

It’s imperative that the Ducks are ready to go against Colorado on Nov. 22. If the Ducks' season were a Broadway play, they would be entering the third act. The first act ended in a loss, the second act ended with injuries. The Ducks are hoping the third act ends in a celebration on the field at Levi’s Stadium.

The Oregon program is three wins shy of a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff. It must be rested, healthy and focused in order to get there.

This precious bye week affords the team the opportunity to do all three. The Ducks must take advantage of it.

 

Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise stated. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.

Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Football: What Ducks Must Accomplish During 2nd Bye Week

A bye week is exactly what the doctor ordered for the third-ranked Oregon Ducks, who are coming off of a brutal conference road victory over the Utah Utes. While the Ducks (9-1, 6-1) came away with a 24-point win against the former No...

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Nebraska Football: The 3 Biggest X-Factors for Nebraska vs. Wisconsin

Nebraska football fans well remember the Huskers’ last trip to Madison, which resulted in a 48-17 shellacking at the hands of the Badgers.

So as they prepare for the return trip (with echoes of Wisconsin’s 70-31 humiliation of Nebraska in the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game still ringing in their ears), Nebraska fans will be looking to see how their team can win on Saturday and stay on track for a return trip to Indianapolis.

Here are three X-factors fans should be looking for to key a Nebraska victory on Saturday.

 

Ameer Abdullah

According to Steven Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star, Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said he “anticipates” I-back Ameer Abdullah to play against Wisconsin, although he also said Abdullah did not practice with the team during the week. That’s far less definitive than Pelini was earlier, when he said he anticipated Abdullah to be close to 100 percent for the Wisconsin game.

So what does that mean? The likelihood is that Abdullah is going to be limited by the knee injury that kept him out of the game against Purdue two weeks ago. How limited? That’s the big question. If he is significantly limited, then we saw a glimpse of what Nebraska’s offense looks like sans Abdullah.

If he is able to provide something close to full fitness, though (or if Pelini is playing games with Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen), then Abdullah has the chance to be the difference in the game on Saturday.

 

Cethan Carter

Pelini has been optimistic that tight end Cethan Carter would be back for the Wisconsin game, according to Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal-Star. Even though his contributions offensively have been sparse (two catches for 25 yards and one touchdown), Carter’s presence provides Nebraska with a downfield threat that no other tight end on the roster can give.

Carter’s absence (along with the injury to Kenny Bell early in the first quarter) may have been a big part of Nebraska’s offensive struggles against Michigan State. If Carter is back, Nebraska may have an unexpected weapon added to its arsenal as it travels to Madison.

 

Tim Beck

Against Purdue, offensive coordinator Tim Beck said he made the same mistake he made against Michigan State by overloading and over-complicating the offensive game plan. Nebraska’s offense has demonstrated the ability to be very effective against elite-level athletes, putting up 41 points and 456 yards against Miami.

Wisconsin’s defense is No. 5 nationally in rush defense and No. 3 nationally in pass defense. If Nebraska is going to beat the Badgers in Madison, Beck’s game plan and preparation will have to be top notch to get UN over the hump and stay on top of the Big Ten West.

 

Stats gathered from CFBStats.com.

For a different look at Nebraska football, check out The Double Extra Point.

Or you can use the Twitter machine to follow @DblExtraPoint.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings 2014: Power Ranking All 128 Teams for Week 12

Now that the College Football Playoff selection committee has begun releasing its weekly rankings, it's become the most important Top 25 in the country. This isn't up for debate.

But when it comes to the most comprehensive ranking of all 128 FBS programs, look no further than Bleacher Report's weekly power rankings.

The rankings are comprised of an average of five ratings: The Associated Press media and Amway Coaches polls, Bleacher Report's Top 25, ratings guru Jeff Sagarin's computer ratings and my personal ranking.

Take a look at how the 128 FBS teams are ranked heading into Week 12 and then give us your take in the comments section.

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Clemson Tigers vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Complete Game Preview

The Clemson Tigers are in position to get out of their offensive slump this week, as they get back starting quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Georgia Tech—who has defeated Clemson four straight times in Atlanta—will look to move to 9-2 and keep itself in contention for the ACC Coastal title.

Clemson has won all three starts since Cole Stoudt took over at quarterback, but none of the three wins have been pretty. The Tigers defeated an overmatched Wake Forest team 34-20 last Thursday, but they will have to play much better against Georgia Tech this weekend.

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Super 16 Poll Week 12: Complete Rankings Released for 2014 Season

The four-team playoff system isn't even a year old, and already you can see the complaints coming a mile away. Very deserving teams seem bound to be left out, the selection committee's criteria is going to be dissected and probed and second-guessed and, as always, someone is going to just be unhappy with everything.

That's life. But could it be a bit better?    

The Super 16 Poll thinks so. Each week, its group of voters rank the top 16 teams in the nation, acting as a selection committee for a theoretical 16-team playoff. Below, you'll find the full poll along with Bleacher Report's official Top 25 and a closer look at the college football landscape.

Just about everything in college football hinges on the matchup between Alabama and Mississippi State this week, so this week's polls and rankings almost feel irrelevant. Win and Mississippi State is all but in, even if it loses to Ole Miss. But lose and Alabama is suddenly in the driver's seat, though the Iron Bowl still looms large.

Of course, the worst possible scenario for the rest of college football might just be Alabama winning out, Mississippi State only losing to Alabama (which would be one heck of a road loss, keep in mind), and the SEC West still potentially getting two teams in the four-team playoff. 

The winners of the Pac-12, Big Ten and Big 12 would probably cry foul if a non-conference champion like Mississippi State vaulted ahead of them in the rankings. But at the end of the day we want the four best teams in college football, right? 

One of the above teams that probably wouldn't have to worry about much is Oregon. The Ducks are red hot right now and, should they win out, would likely be looking at a resume that would include wins over Michigan State, UCLA, Stanford, Utah and Arizona State (the likely Pac-12 title game).

There's no way they won't be ranked in the top four if that happens.

Of course, they have to get through Arizona State first, a team that introduced itself to the country with a definitive win over Notre Dame on Saturday.

"I think that we knew that this was the hump we needed to get over," Sun Devils running back D.J. Foster told Ted Miller of ESPN.com after the game. "At the end of the day, it was just another game for us. But we knew that we had to get this win to impress some people." 

But man, wouldn't it be fun if we could just see all of these teams play? After all, how many really, really good two-loss teams are out there right now?

Auburn, on any given night, can beat any team in the country. Ole Miss and Notre Dame can probably do the same. Michigan State has lost to two very good teams in Oregon and Ohio State. Kansas State has lost versus two very good teams in Auburn and TCU. UCLA has handed Arizona State its only loss and was probably a late Utah field goal away from still being in the playoff conversation.

A 16-team playoff might never happen—it's certainly not coming anytime soon—but this year is such a perfect example of how epic it would truly be. Life is many things, but fair generally isn't one of them.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How Would Florida State Fare If 2014 'Noles Played in SEC?

Playing in the ACC has been a great and awful thing for Florida State this season: great because teams like Louisville and NC State are flawed enough to surrender huge first-half leads, but awful because it keeps us from #TalkinBoutTheNoles as often as we probably should (26 hours a day, give or take).

The defending national champion is No. 2 in the College Football Playoff standings despite having not lost a game in 717 days. The only team ahead of it is Mississippi State, which began the year unranked but climbed ahead of FSU, ostensibly, because going 9-0 in the SEC is perceived as more difficult than going 9-0 in any other league.

The 'Noles have yet to play an SEC team this season. The only team they've played that has crossed over into the SEC is Clemson, which lost to Georgia (45-21) much more thoroughly than it lost to Florida State (23-17 in overtime) but didn't have to face Jameis Winston.

We'll learn more about Florida State vis-a-vis the SEC when it hosts Florida November 29. But until then, all we can do is speculate.

How might the 'Noles have fared in the "best" conference in America?

A pro-Florida State argument would point to last year's BCS National Championship Game, when the Seminoles beat SEC champion Auburn 34-31 on a touchdown in the final 13 seconds.

But it's specious to equate 2013 Florida State with 2014 Florida State. This is not the same team as last year. Last year's team was No. 1 in the F/+ ratings at Football Outsiders for the better part of the season, finishing with an overall efficiency of 49.2 percent.

This year's team has been worse across the board:

The most obvious decline has been on defense, where a unit that last year led the country now barely cracks the top 30. That would give FSU the No. 7 defense in the SEC (with Florida not far behind).

The defense doesn't do a single thing well according to the more specialized S&P+ ratings at Football Outsiders, ranking No. 91 against the run and No. 70 against the pass. The best thing it does is prevent teams from finishing drives based on field position.

In a more traditional context, these struggles can be seen in the way FSU's defense performed against teams like Syracuse (5.03 yards per rush) and Louisville (8.70 yards per pass). The Orange have averaged 4.22 yards per rush in their other nine games, and the Cardinals have averaged 7.11 yards per pass.

"I've never been a part of any team where we missed that many tackles," safety Tyler Hunter said after a 56-41 win at NC State, per Bob Ferrante of Bleacher Report. "You're in college now, so you should know how to tackle."

In the SEC, tackling is not optional.

Auburn gained 449 yards on Florida State's No. 1-ranked defense in the national title game and actually ranks higher in offensive F/+ this season (22.6 percent) than last (19.5 percent). Dak Prescott and Josh Robinson are broken-tackle machines at Mississippi State, Todd Gurley is about to return at Georgia and Amari Cooper catches and breaks an average of roughly 1,000 bubble screens per game at Alabama.

Even unranked teams like Texas A&M and Arkansas have offenses that could hold off Florida State if the Seminoles spotted them one of their patented big deficits. The Aggies did precisely that after taking an early lead at Auburn this past weekend. They scored enough that Auburn could not claw its way into the win the column.

That is the difference between the lower-tier teams of the SEC and the NC States, Virginias and Syracuses that populate the ACC.

In the video toward the top of this article (linked again here), Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee indulged a similar FSU-to-the-SEC hypothetical, saying the 'Noles would have one loss if they played LSU's schedule. To me, that seems like a pretty fair assessment.

But it's fair in that it assumes a better version of the current Florida State team. In other words: The Florida State team that has showed up every week in ACC play would not have only one loss in SEC play. It would not have been able to overcome the slow starts it had against lesser competition against better-than-lesser competition.

Still, the offense has been good enough in the second halves of games, and Winston has been magical enough at quarterback, that this team, when focused, would have a chance to win the SEC. It wouldn't be undefeated, but it might be pretty close.

The four SEC teams ahead of Florida State on the F/+ rankings range from having no losses (Mississippi State) to one loss (Alabama) and two losses (Ole Miss and Auburn). The one SEC team directly behind it has three losses (LSU). 

Split those numbers up and account for the way FSU has been playing, and the data says it would likely be 7-2 through nine weeks.

It would be contending for an SEC West title, but it wouldn't be the favorite.

Not in 2014.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs Complete Game Preview

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — There’s no time off for Alabama.

Fresh off a thrilling 20-13 overtime victory at LSU, the Crimson Tide have to turn around and host the No. 1 team in the country in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

It usually works out in Alabama’s favor to play what is usually a middling Mississippi State team after a physical battle against LSU. This year, though, the Bulldogs are the best team in the nation and the surprise team of the year.

Dak Prescott is asserting himself as a Heisman front-runner, and Dan Mullen is a head coach on the rise.

There are plenty of storylines to follow for yet another huge game for Alabama this season.

Here’s everything you need to know:

Date: Saturday, November 15

Time: 2:30 p.m. CT

Place: Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

TV: CBS

Radio: Crimson Tide Sports Network, MSU Sports Radio Network

Spread: Alabama by 7, according to OddsShark.com.

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Florida State vs. Miami: Complete Game Preview

Florida State has enjoyed a 4-0 record against Miami in the Jimbo Fisher era. Three of those four games have been double-digit wins.

While many teams have a significant home-field edge in a rivalry game, FSU fans from South Florida have often filled the stands at Dolphins Stadium. An FSU game at Miami more closely resembles a neutral-field contest.

The Seminoles have also won the last four games at Miami, with FSU's last road loss in the series coming in September 2004. If No. 2 FSU (9-0) defeats Miami (6-3) on Saturday, the Seminoles will clinch the Atlantic Coast Conference's Atlantic Division and have a chance to play for a third straight conference championship.

Let's take a look ahead at the FSU-Miami game (8 p.m. ET on ABC).

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FCS Rankings 2014: Week 11 Coaches Poll Standings Revealed

For the first time in over two full years, North Dakota State lost a football game. The Bison were defeated 23-3 by Northern Iowa on Saturday and, as a result, fell out of No. 1 in the latest coaches poll for the first time all season.

Taking over the top spot in place of NDSU was the only 10-0 FCS team in the country in Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers earned 20 first-place votes over New Hampshire and Jacksonville State, who garnered four and two, respectively.

Just weeks ahead of the FCS playoffs, it appears the Chants have a great shot of earning the No. 1 seed. Before Week 12 gets underway, here's a look at the latest FCS rankings. Full rankings and others receiving votes can be found at NCAA.com.

 

Analysis

Despite dropping a 33-game winning streak against UNI, North Dakota State still maintains a Top Five ranking. The outcome was a stunner across the FCS landscape because the Panthers, who moved to 6-4 on the season, had lost three straight to NDSU prior to the game.

FCS Football's official account noted the outcome of the crucial contest:

The Bison still have a shot at going into the playoffs as a high seed thanks to a huge early win against Iowa State and an otherwise great season. However, with the loss coming late in the season, they only have a short window to make up ground.

Coastal Carolina reaps the benefits of North Dakota State falling as it moves into the No. 1 spot for the first time in school history. Starting the season at No. 6 in the poll, the Chants have slowly climbed up thanks to their unblemished record.

Not only was this the first time Coastal moved into the top spot, but it was also a first for the Big South Conference. The Big South's official account noted the news for the conference:

Prior to the poll being released, the Chants had a good idea they would be taking over at No. 1 following their win and subsequent loss by NDSU. Linebacker Quinn Backus spoke about the great start for the team, per Ryan Young of The (Myrtle Beach, South Carolina) Sun News:

It's a great honor. It's a great honor, I can't lie to you. It just shows that [if] you continue to work hard and believe in your coaches, anything is possible. And we're going to continue to work hard and not let this be a stopping point. We're just going to build off of it and be ready to go for next week.

Just behind Coastal stands New Hampshire and Jacksonville State, two teams with only one loss. Rounding out the Top Five is Eastern Washington, who remained in the Top Five for the second straight week.

Leading up to the playoffs, only Monmouth (5-4) and Liberty (7-3) stand in between Coastal and potentially the top seed. With both games at home for the Chants, that possibility looks very realistic.

 

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Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Tigers vs. Arkansas Razorbacks Complete Game Preview

LSU fans are still hurting. 

Head coach Les Miles had Alabama's Nick Saban against the ropes with a 13-10 lead late in the fourth quarter. But the clutch Crimson Tide would score 10 unanswered points to win 20-13 in overtime, making it four straight wins for Saban over Miles. 

Now, the Tigers will have to travel north to play Arkansas, who has had its fair share of heartbreak. The Razorbacks are 0-13 in SEC play under head coach Bret Bielema.

Despite Arkansas' winless record in the conference, it is slightly favored against the Tigers. The Razorbacks are coming off a bye week and have covered the spread in every game they have played in Fayetteville. It will be a frigid Saturday with a chance of rain and snow, per Weather.com

Eight of the last nine matchups between LSU and Arkansas have been decided by one possession or less, though the Tigers have won the last three. It took a magical 99-yard drive led by quarterback Anthony Jennings to defeat Arkansas 31-27 last season. 

 

What You Need to Know

Time: 7 p.m. CT 

Place: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Arkansas

TV: ESPN2

Radio: LSU Sports Radio Network, Razorback Sports Network

Spread: Arkansas by 1.5, via OddsShark.com

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Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers Complete Game Preview

One week after picking up its biggest win of the season—and reinserting itself into the College Football Playoff discussion in the process—the Ohio State football team will head to Minnesota for a matchup with the Golden Gophers. 

And while the Buckeyes' big win over Michigan State last weekend garnered national attention, Minnesota is far from a gimme opponent, entering this weekend's contest with a 7-2 record. Ohio State may have the inside track to a second straight Big Ten Championship Game, but the Gophers will present its toughest test until a likely trip to Indianapolis, as Minnesota is coming off a 51-14 beatdown of Iowa.

Will the Buckeyes be able to maintain the momentum they took away from East Lansing, or will the Gophers play spoiler in what could be a potential trap game for Ohio State? We'll find out on Saturday. But until then, here's everything you need to know about this weekend's Big Ten battle:

Date: Saturday, Nov. 15

Time: 12 p.m. ET

Place: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis

TV: ABC

Radio: Ohio State Football Radio NetworkSpartan Sports Network

Spread: Ohio State (-14.5), via Odds Shark 

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Building the Ultimate 2015 Running Back Recruit

The 2015 class has a handful of running backs who are bound for greatness at the collegiate level.

Bleacher Report college football analyst Michael Felder builds his ultimate 2015 running back recruit based on various attributes.

Which running back do you think deserves to be mentioned?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: What Bruins Must Do in Bye Week to Prep for Showdown vs. USC

Jim Mora established himself as the king of Los Angeles' college football scene in his first two years as UCLA football head coach.

Mora and his team have an additional week of preparations for defense of that crown, coming off a four-game win streak with a bye ahead of the annual Crosstown Showdown with USC.  

The Bruins welcome—using the term loosely—the Trojans into the Rose Bowl Nov. 22 with both teams still in the hunt for the Pac-12 South's berth into the conference championship game. However, any hope either has for playing in Levi's Stadium on Dec. 5 disappears with a loss. 

With a potential championship backdrop, the heated rivalry takes on added significance. That extra week probably couldn't come at a better time for the Bruins. 

 

Keep on Building

After kicking off November with a 17-7 defeat of then-No. 12 Arizona, linebacker Deon Hollins said the win "is going to be huge for us."

Scoring a decisive victory against a quality opponent after struggling against Cal and Colorado, and losing to Utah and Oregon, was a building block for something more, according to Hollins.

That rang true Saturday at Washington, where the Bruins asserted their dominance early and cruised to a win that was more lopsided than the final, 44-30 score.  

In a season punctuated with sputtering wins, the Bruins are putting the pieces together at the right time. 

 

Let Hundley Run 

Whether the result of outside pressure of expectations, or the on-field pressure put on him by blitzing defenses, quarterback Brett Hundley looked indecisive at times early through the Bruins' slate. 

Hundley put together one of the best completion percentages in the nation, sure. And he continued to rush for big gains. But in recent weeks, he's done both with much greater confidence. 

One reason is the overall improvement of his offensive line. The Bruins' front has made tremendous strides since allowing 10 sacks in a loss to Utah, most recently holding the nation's No. 2 overall sacking defense, Washington, to just one on Saturday. 

That's allowed Hundley to get passes out quicker. In addition, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is calling more designed runs for his quarterback, which has helped to pull back blitzes. 

USC has had its struggles containing mobile quarterbacks in recent years, including against UCLA. Last year, Hundley went off for 80 yards and two rushing touchdowns. 

Continuing to use Hundley's explosiveness as a ball-carrier in designed packages should be one of the primary points of emphasis for the UCLA offense heading into the USC matchup. 

 

Block out the Noise

An extra week without the distraction of another game lets in the potential distraction of hype for the rivalry. 

Talk about UCLA's newfound place as the leader of the Los Angeles football landscape has permeated ever since the Bruins' first of two straight wins in 2012. Said chatter will reach a crescendo in the days to come, particularly if USC beats Cal on Thursday. 

Mora has preached of blocking out potential distractions throughout this season, and there may be none bigger than the buildup to the Nov. 22 rivalry contest. 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of CFBstats.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: What Bruins Must Do in Bye Week to Prep for Showdown vs. USC

Jim Mora established himself as the king of Los Angeles' college football scene in his first two years as UCLA football head coach...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

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