NCAA Football

Teams Most Likely to Pursue Lane Kiffin for Head Coaching Job

As we hurtle toward the midpoint of the 2014 college football season, we’re coming up on the sweet spot of another intriguing season: the hot-seat season.

With just under two months left in the season, athletic directors across America are doing the math on contract buyouts and diving into their iPhone contacts and Rolodexes to gauge what might happen if they fire a coach. SB Nation's Adam Jacobi says a number of coaches are already on the hot seat. 

Two programs have already joined the hunt: SMU’s June Jones resigned following a disastrous start, and Kansas canned Charlie Weis following two-plus unspectacular seasons. By late December, many more will have joined their ranks, looking for the candidate who’ll elevate their program among the college football elite.

One of the most intriguing potential candidates? Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Following his public flameout at Southern California, the controversial Kiffin has begun rehabbing his image as Nick Saban’s offensive play-caller.

Although last week’s 23-17 loss at Ole Miss was a setback, the Crimson Tide’s offense has been impressively balanced with a solid downfield passing element. Alabama averages 314.2 passing yards per game (No. 24 nationally) and 240.4 rushing yards per game (No. 22 nationally).

If Alabama continues on this trajectory, Kiffin will receive some interest in his services this winter. If he’s interested in leaving Tuscaloosa after one season, here are some programs who’ll be interested in his services.

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How Will Heisman Front-Runner Dak Prescott's Game Translate to the NFL?

Dak Prescott has taken the college football world by storm. There are a lot of questions about how and if his abilities will translate to the NFL.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder and NFL National Columnist Matt Miller discuss how well Dak Prescott could do in the NFL.

Would Dak Prescott be the first QB selected if he came out this year?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Notre Dame Football: Reassessing North Carolina as a Trap Game

Back in the dog days of summer, I discussed possible trap games on Notre Dame’s 2014 schedule. There were multiple options that met most of the criteria, but nearly every sign pointed to Saturday’s home game with North Carolina (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC) as a game where the Irish could get caught in a lack of focus.

Last week’s opponent, Stanford, was expected to physically test the Irish. It did.

Next week’s opponent, Florida State, was expected to be undefeated and ranked No. 1. It is.

So yes, the Fighting Irish are vulnerable Saturday afternoon. Of course, there are two sides to every story. Is North Carolina (2-3, 0-2 ACC) good enough to push Notre Dame in South Bend?

For a preseason Top 25 team, North Carolina has severely underachieved in the first half of the season. The Tar Heels won their first two games but were taken to the wire by San Diego State, an average Mountain West team. They’ve been non-competitive in their three defeats, losing by an average of 20 points to East Carolina, Clemson and Virginia Tech.

Their uptempo spread offense, for which head coach Larry Fedora was hired three years ago, has been highly inconsistent. A fast, athletic defense has been shredded for 50 points twice in the past three weeks.

Fedora can’t decide on a quarterback, as junior Marquise Williams and freshman Mitch Trubisky are again expected to both see the field this week. They've combined for 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing just 59 percent of their pass attempts.

But, we were saying similar things about the Tar Heels last year, when they were sitting at 1-5. By season’s end, they had won six of seven games and routed Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. They could’ve called it a season in mid-October, but they battled back and finished respectably.

As I explained before the Purdue-Notre Dame game, when the Irish were four-touchdown favorites after defeating Michigan but trailed late in the first half, we’ve seen this time and time again with Brian Kelly’s teams. A big win leads to a slow start the following week, regardless of opponent.

It’s a habit that, while not unique to Notre Dame, the Irish have struggled to kick. Any coach will tell you that he can’t get the identical level of effort out of his team for 12 straight games. Unlike most teams, however, Notre Dame rarely plays a team that is simply overmatched from the start.

That’s one of many challenges that Kelly has taken on at Notre Dame that he could avoid elsewhere. He’s been able to navigate those waters in terms of end result, but not without some significant scares (see 2012 BYU and Pittsburgh).

Despite a 17-point spread, North Carolina is capable of competing and perhaps even winning in South Bend. It probably won’t happen, but a quick study of both history and human psychology will tell you that the Irish will likely find themselves in a battle for much of Saturday’s game.

Notre Dame could render its magical escape against Stanford insignificant with a poor performance a week later, and it would certainly take much of the luster off of next week’s trip to Tallahassee.

But that’s the challenge in a sport that doesn’t allow for an off game, especially at Notre Dame. Don’t be fooled by North Carolina’s play leading up to Saturday. An Irish team with even the slightest absence of focus could find itself unexpectedly needing a second straight week of Notre Dame Stadium magic.

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College Football Picks Week 7: Odds and Spread Predictions for Top 25 Teams

After a chaotic Week 6 turned the world of college football upside down, Week 7 might just provide an encore. 

A number of high-profile matchups line the docket, and while this is great for fans, the same cannot be said for bettors who want to make some coin while enjoying the games. In the SEC alone, tough calls in the form of several SEC West bouts and an encounter between the top two teams in the East make for a crop of lines best resembling a minefield.

Again, that is just in the SEC. For fans brave enough to wager money on the outcomes, at least do so armed with knowledge. Below is a look at the full slate with a few highlights after the jump.

 

Week 7 Top 25 Schedule Projections

Note: All odds, updated as of 8 p.m. ET on Oct. 9, are courtesy of Odds Shark. 

 

Upset Pick of the Week: No. 10 Arizona (+3) over USC

This sounds like a favorite, right?

  • The home team.
  • Undefeated.
  • Went to Eugene and took down Marcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks a week ago.
  • Is the No. 10 team in the nation.

Well, that would be the No. 10 Arizona Wildcats, the underdog at home in a matchup this weekend against the 3-2 USC Trojans.

Alright then.

Arizona averages 39.8 points per game, good for the No. 21 overall rank, behind the arm of freshman quarterback Anu Solomon (1,741 yards and 14 touchdowns to four interceptions) and the legs of freshman tailback Nick Wilson (574 yards and six scores).

The mastermind who brings it all together, though, is head coach Rich Rodriguez, a pioneer of the quick-twitch, spread-them-out attacks.

Rodriguez's offense specializes in big plays, while USC's defense specializes in surrendering them. 

Really, revealing that the Trojans just lost to unranked Arizona State and backup quarterback Mike Bercovici—who threw for an eye-popping 510 yards and five scores—on a 46-yard Hail Mary attempt at the end of regulation would be enough.

But take it a step further. In that game alone, the Trojans defense also allowed plays of 21, 77 and 73 yards.

"You learn the hard way in games like this," coach Steve Sarkisian said, per STATS LLC, via ESPN.com. "I feel bad for our kids, I thought they fought hard, competed well and gave amazing effort. But we didn't get it done in the end."

USC can be perceived as dangerous with a potential .500 mark all but ruining the season, but at the same time, the Wildcats have been the definition of dangerous all year long. The defense will do just enough while the offense hits on a few key plays in front of a friendly crowd to pull off the "upset."

Prediction: Arizona 28, USC 24

 

Spread to Avoid: No. 7 Alabama (-9) vs. Arkansas 

Something has to give when the No. 7 Alabama Crimson Tide travels to Fayetteville for a showdown with the surging Arkansas Razorbacks.

College GameDay sums up the war of attrition nicely:

Alabama is reeling after an upset at the hands of then-ranked No. 11 Ole Miss last week, where quarterback Blake Sims finally had a letdown performance with just 228 yards and one interception.

Really, that has been the main cause for concern for the Crimson Tide since the season even began, and while Arkansas does not exactly tout an elite defense, the Razorbacks do have a stable of backs that is unmatched in depth.

The No. 7 rushing offense in the land (316.6 yards per game) and No. 7 scoring offense (44.6) is spearheaded by no one back in particular:

It is easy to see, then, why bettors may want to steer clear of this one.

While Alabama is the better team on paper, the same could have been said last week against Ole Miss before quarterback Bo Wallace tossed three touchdowns. Brandon Allen (751 yards, nine touchdowns, one interception) is no slouch under center for the Razorbacks, either, should coach Bret Bielema call his number frequently Saturday. 

In the end, Nick Saban's team will likely overpower the not-quite-there-yet Razorbacks, but a spread of more than a touchdown does a disservice to the renaissance in Fayetteville. Truthfully, this one could swing either way.

Prediction: Alabama 35, Arkansas 27

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified. AP poll via The Associated Press.

 

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ESPN College Gameday 2014: Week 7 Schedule, Location, Predictions and More

The SEC is the place to be for the second straight week as it pertains to the ESPN College GameDay crew. A week after visiting Oxford, Mississippi ahead of Ole Miss' big win over Alabama, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso and Rece Davis will visit the campus of the other Mississippi school that came up with a huge victory in Week 6.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs stifled Kenny Hill and the Texas A&M Aggies en route to a 48-31 win that further legitimized the squad in the eyes of America, and the pollsters. The win gave the Bulldogs back-to-back wins over top-10-ranked opponents, and it also vaulted the team into the third spot in the AP Top 25, per ESPN.com.

Games don't get much bigger than a matchup between the No. 2 team and the No. 3 squad. The fact that both are SEC programs only adds to the intrigue.

Here's the schedule for the show and the game.

 

When: Saturday, Oct. 11 at 9 a.m. for GameDay and 3:30 p.m. for game.

Where: Starkville, Mississippi

TV: ESPN for GameDay and CBS Sports for the game.

 

Nick Marshall Will Lead Auburn to Huge Win and No. 1 Spot in Polls

Backing Mississippi State in this one is the trendy thing to do, but Auburn's dual-threat quarterback and overall studly running game will lead it to the biggest win of the college football season.

Marshall is hitting his stride and beginning to look like a real Heisman Trophy candidate.

He accounted for 326 total yards and four touchdowns in last week's win over the LSU Tigers. For the season, Marshall has 1,147 yards, 12 scores and just one interception. Perhaps most importantly, he and a good number of his Tigers teammates have an abundance of experience in huge games.

Last year's national championship is the biggest example, and the huge meeting with Alabama in the 2013 Iron Bowl is another.

As good as the Bulldogs have looked this season, this is the first time quarterback Dak Prescott and Co. have been on this big of a stage. Yes, the Bulldogs are at home, but Marshall, senior running back Cameron Artis-Payne and others have proven they can win on the road.

Earlier this season, the Tigers pulled out a tough one on the road against a pesky Kansas State Wildcats team. In that game, Marshall had to prove he could win a game for his team with his arm and not just his legs.

He answered the challenge by tossing two touchdown passes. The Tigers' run game was held to a human 123 yards in that contest, so it was a great test and confidence booster for Marshall as a quarterback.

Since then, he's gotten better. He has completed over 60 percent of his passes, thrown for five touchdowns, no interceptions and he's run for four scores.

Mississippi State's offense is explosive. It has averaged 42.6 points per game. However, the Bulldogs haven't faced a defense as talented as Auburn's. The Tigers have only allowed one opponent to reach the 20-point mark this season. That includes holding the LSU Tigers to just seven points last week.

Auburn will run the ball effectively and Marshall will make enough plays for his team to win. No matter what No. 1 Florida State does against the Syracuse Orange, it won't be enough to hold off Auburn after this big victory.

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Mark Blaudschun's Blitz: Beware of the Sleeping Tigers of LSU

They lost a game to Mississippi State and the entire state went viral. They lost another game at Auburn and people started preparing eulogies for a program that appeared to be heading south.

The mighty SEC again occupies the prime real estate in the AP Top 25—three of the top four spots amid a total of seven ranked teams this week—but a familiar name is missing: LSU.

A 41-7 loss to Auburn last week dropped Les Miles' Tigers out of the rankings for the first time since November 2008, a run of 87 consecutive weeks. LSU is 0-2 in the SEC, which hasn’t happened since 2001. The once impenetrable John Chavis-coached defense, a cornerstone for LSU’s championship contending teams, was punctured for a combined 1,136 yards in the losses to Mississippi State and Auburn, part of the price of losing half of last year’s defensive line to the NFL.

LSU’s critics—just check the message boards on TigerDroppings.com—are saying that even becoming bowl eligible (six wins) might be a tough fight, considering the back half of the schedule includes games against No. 3 Ole Miss, No. 7 Alabama and No. 14 Texas A&M.

So have LSU and Miles, the Mad Hatter himself, lost their magic touch?

Nope.

This downturn will be a one-year blip, if that, on the radar screen, and Mike the Tiger and his streak will soon be on the prowl again in Tiger Stadium.

Here's why:

The problem for LSU is not talent-related. The Tigers had the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class last year and No. 6 class the year before, according to Rivals.

But the young Tigers—especially those playing key roles in the skill positions—have had some growing pains that have left LSU slow to replace the program’s numerous departed stars.

Freshman quarterback Brandon Harris, who is battling with sophomore Anthony Jennings for the starting nod against Florida this week, was a 4-star recruit, but his starting debut against Auburn was a wash out. The freshman finished just 3-of-14 passing against a team which played for the national championship a year ago and had six defensive starters returning.

Running back Leonard Fournette and wide receiver Malachi Dupre, both 5-star recruits, have also had bumpy starts.

"It's awfully tough to win in that competition with a freshman QB,'' a Miles confidant told Bleacher Report. "There's no question they will be back. Les gets talent every year and he coaches them up well enough to get to the NFL.''

Admittedly, the bar is high at LSU. Since 2010, the Tigers have posted an overall record of 48-10. In the past 12 years, they have played in three BCS title games and won two national championships.

Lately the talent has been so good that it has moved through the system quicker than expected. In the past two years, 18 LSU players have left early for the NFL draft. Two years ago, 11 Tigers jumped to the NFL.

"We led college football in three-and-outs,'' said Miles at the SEC media days this summer. "It's a real challenge for any program to lose junior and senior classes.''

So the coach knew he faced an uphill battle this season, well before the loss to Mississippi State that surprised so many.

This week, Miles was asked if he knew how difficult it would be to maintain LSU's status with a continuing flow of new talent. "In other situations, I would think it would be very difficult,” he said at his press briefing. “But at LSU, I think we would have great opportunities. I think that we have quality personnel and I think that's the difference. It's just (a matter of) making that adjustment.''

Yes, the "adjustment'' has been painful.

A year ago, the Tigers dealt with a huge defensive rebuilding because of NFL attrition, but they had offensive veterans such as quarterback Zach Mettenberger and wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to fight back. LSU won by outscoring everyone. Not this year.

These Tigers are aware of the criticism. On Monday, they held a "players’ only" meeting, where they took full responsibility. "It's one of those meetings that we can decide our own destiny,” defensive end Danielle Hunter told the New Orleans Times Picayune. "It's either step up now or keep going down the drain.''

Added Dupre: "I just think we need to grow as a team in all phases of the game and just get better because the games won't get any easier for us.”

It will be a tough fight to get the Tigers back into the attack mode and quieten their disgruntled fans. But they also know they are in almost a "must-win" situation each week, starting Saturday at The Swamp.

They are talented enough and each SEC game is like dog years in terms of experience. They are growing up quickly.

Nap time for these Tigers is over.

 

Just Asking

1. Will Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott make it to New York as a Heisman finalist?

Absolutely. Everything is in place. A repeat of last week's efforts in the win over Texas A&M (five TDs) will push him that much closer. As Prescott said of the victory, "It was a Mississippi State-ment.” Prescott has the exposure necessary. He is playing on a Top 5 team and he has the numbers—13 TD passes, six rushing TDs, 1,687 total yards. A big win over Auburn would do much to seal the deal as a Heisman front-runner.

 

2. Will Arizona play like a national contender or a Pac-12 team?

A Pac-12 team. That means they will find a way to lose a game people think they should win. The unbeaten Wildcats went from unranked to No. 10 in one week thanks to their 31-24 road win over then No. 2 Oregon. Next up is 3-2 USC. Warning. The unranked Trojans visit Tucson on Saturday and are favored. What's with the Pac-12 teams not closing the deal in big games? Last week, four ranked or favored Pac-12 teams all lost, killing the NCAA title chances of USC and Stanford, and hurting those of Oregon and UCLA. Let's see if the Wildcats can escape that trend this week. But even if they can’t, don't count on a Pac-12 team making it to the Final Four.

 

3. Will Michigan State’s close call against Nebraska hurt the Spartans’ playoff hopes?

On the surface it might seem that way. Nearly blowing a 24-point fourth-quarter lead at home is not the way to gain confidence with the selection committee. But at second glance, it probably wouldn't be a deal breaker. Michigan State needs to win out—including the Big Ten East showdown with Ohio State and the Big Ten championship game, a possible rematch with Nebraska. At 12-1, the Spartans should be in the playoff discussion. Two wins over Nebraska and a win over Ohio State would be solid credentials. The loss to Oregon didn't look that bad until the Ducks lost last week. But an Oregon loss to UCLA on Saturday would also hurt the Spartans.

 

4. How long will Florida State maintain its No. 1 ranking?

The obvious answer is until someone beats them. And someone will beat the Seminoles. Clemson had them beat until the final seconds of regulation time. North Carolina State had a fourth-quarter lead. But the Seminoles found a way to win both times. Last season's team beat everyone but Boston College by an average of 45 points per game until the BCS title game when they had to come from behind to beat Auburn. So where will the stumble come this year? I say it comes on a Thursday night (Halloween weekend) in Louisville on Oct. 30.

 

5. Could Baylor go 12-0 and not make the College Football Playoff?

Yes, it could. The Bears have no equity with the selection committee. Look at their non-conference schedule. SMU, FCS Northwestern State and Buffalo. Beating Oklahoma and TCU would be nice wins, but that doesn't compare with a couple of SEC one-loss teams that could emerge, an unbeaten or a one loss Notre Dame, an unbeaten or once beaten Pac-12 team or even a one-loss Big Ten team. It's also a matter of math. Four spots and five power conference leagues, plus Notre Dame. Baylor comes up short in the measurable—strength of schedule—and probably in the eye test. The Bears need to take care of business on Saturday against TCU but they also need to pray for some more upsets involving teams like Notre Dame, Michigan State, Ohio State and Alabama.

 

Picking the Playoff Teams

My Final Four ...

1. Auburn: Same script for the Tigers as last season's run to the title game?

2. Florida State: The ‘Noles will go as far as Jameis can carry them.

3. Mississippi State: Beating Auburn will create another Cow Bell symphony in Starkville.

4. Mississippi: The starters are good enough, but can they overcome A&M and its 12th Man in College Station?

 

On the Outside Looking in ...

5. Baylor: Who would have thought a game in Waco vs. TCU would be bigger than Texas vs. OU in Dallas?

6. Notre Dame: Will academic fraud issues be discussed at halftime of the UNC game?

7. Michigan State: Biding their time until Big Ten East showdown with Ohio State in November.

8. Alabama: The loss to Mississippi State hurt; seeing Auburn move ahead of them in the polls is even more painful.

 

People of Interest

 1. Jeff Driskel: With Treon Harris' suspension, embattled Florida QB gets another chance to save his job against LSU.

2. Todd Gurley: Heisman talk is replaced by media firestorm surrounding Georgia back’s suspension, the team confirmed.

3. Marcus Mariota: The quarterback’s Heisman bid and the Ducks’ playoff hopes require him to have his game face on against UCLA.

4. DeShaun Watson: If Clemson’s freshman QB had started against Florida State, the Seminoles wouldn't be No. 1 right now.

5. Brady Hoke: Another loss could seal the deal on the coach’s future at Michigan.

 

Weekend Predictions

1. Stanford will need to score more than 30 points to beat Washington State.

2. No Top 10 team will lose to a lower ranked team this week.

3. Northwestern will continue to lead the Big Ten West, Cal will continue to lead the Pac-12 North and Missouri will continue to lead the SEC East.

4. East Carolina QB Shane Carden will run his string of 400-yard plus passing games to four against South Florida.

5. Oklahoma will leave Texas with an 0-2 record in games played in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex region.

 

Mark Blaudschun covers college football as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has more than three decades of experience covering sports at a variety of newspapers in New Jersey, The Dallas Morning News and The Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @blauds.

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Ohio State Buckeyes Are Still a Long Shot to Make the College Football Playoff

In college football, a team is only as good as its last win. Fresh of its 52-24 victory at Maryland last Saturday, Ohio State is looking pretty good heading into its second bye week.

The renewed sense of optimism in Central Ohio is palpable. Three dominating wins in a row will do that. Buckeye Nation is back to thumping its chest. While laudable, there is considerable work remaining to be done. Demanding respect in the polls is a little premature.

The good news is the carnage in the Top 10 last weekend has the Buckeyes poised to climb back into the College Football Playoff picture. The bad news is they have no room for error. They also need help from a lot of teams in front of them. Chances are still slim that they make it into the selection committee’s top four. Here are three reasons why.

 

Must Finish 12-1

The Buckeyes need to win the rest of their games to have any chance at making the playoff. The schedule is certainly favorable considering how ordinary the Big Ten is this year, but the trip to East Lansing on November 8 is still looming. Are the Buckeyes good enough to beat the Spartans? Not yet.  

Ohio State’s offensive production over the last three games has been remarkable, but the reality is it was playing against pathetic defenses. Kent State’s defense is allowing 462.2 yards and 33.6 points per game, Cincinnati is giving up 561.8 yards and 37.3 points per game and Maryland is yielding 451.2 yards and 25.2 per game. Granted, the offense could have struggled to move the ball or put up points. Instead it was in command in all three games.

Head coach Urban Meyer’s young offense is beginning to find its rhythm and is playing with increasing confidence. Momentum is building, but the offense still needs to show that it can execute against a formidable defense before any real assessment can be made.

Rutgers and Penn State will provide reasonable tests for Ohio State over the next three weeks. Both teams have good defenses. They’re not as stout as Michigan State’s defense, but they are definitely better than the doormats the Buckeyes have been playing lately. These games will measure whether or not they are capable of scoring a lot of points against the Spartans.

Michigan State’s defense certainly grabs most of the headlines, but its offense is dangerous too. The Buckeyes defense will have its hands full the entire game. Evidence is starting to mount that it is able to handle the challenge.

Until the second half of the Cincinnati game, there was cause for concern because the secondary looked like it was going to be a serious problem again this year. For the last six quarters, the back seven has played well. They are maturing and beginning to demonstrate just how dominant they can be. This growth needs to continue for the Buckeyes to have a shot at winning a night game against a highly motivated Michigan State team.  

 

One Major Conference Champion, and Notre Dame Must have Two Losses

With just four spots to spread among the champions from the five major conferences and Notre Dame, the Buckeyes will need one conference champion and Notre Dame to have at least two losses for them to make into the playoff.

For argument’s sake, let’s say all of the conference champions finish with one loss. The SEC and Pac-12 champions are in because these conferences are clearly the best this season. This leaves two spots for the Big 12, Big 10, ACC and the Fighting Irish.

Barring a complete meltdown, the Seminoles will win the lowly ACC. Despite being even weaker than the Big Ten, the likelihood is minimal that the committee would deny a one-loss Florida State team the chance to defend its national championship.

This leaves one spot for the Big 12, Big Ten and Notre Dame should it stay in the hunt.

Ohio State would probably get picked over a one-loss Baylor and TCU, but edging out a one-loss Oklahoma or Notre Dame is questionable. The Big 12 is better than the Big 10 this year, and it would be tough for the committee to select the Buckeyes over the Sooners.

Presuming Notre Dame’s one loss is against Florida State, it would still have wins over Michigan, Purdue, Northwestern, Navy, Arizona State, Stanford, Louisville and USC. Even the most diehard Buckeye fan would have to admit that this resume would trump Ohio State’s resume if the fourth spot comes down to these two teams.

Like it or not, the perception around the country is the Big Ten is weak. The Buckeyes can win the Big Ten, finish 12-1 and still not get selected if several other high-quality teams finish with just one loss too. Ohio State will need significant help to get into the selection committee’s top four. A few additional losses by some of the remaining favorites would do it.

 

Lack of Chances to Earn Style Points

Unlike all of the remaining contenders who have several games to prove they are one of the four best teams, Ohio State’s remaining opportunity to earn credible style points is the game at Michigan State. A potential game against Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship Game would help a little, but the only game with legitimate flare is against the Spartans.

To counter, the Buckeyes must run up the score on every team and soundly beat the Spartans. They cannot afford any close games or scares against inferior opponents. Ohio State must continue to show that the loss to Virginia Tech in Week 2 was a minor setback caused more by the loss of Braxton Miller than any systemic flaw in the team.

 

Analysis

Ohio State can only control how it plays. The early-season loss to the Hokies may be forgiven as long as the rest of the body of work is extraordinarily impressive. Anything less is a knockout punch.

The Buckeyes' best hope is a continuation of chaos. Working in their favor is there seems to be a lack of dominant teams in college football this season. Many of the preseason favorites have already lost a game, and Florida State has looked vulnerable in several games. More upsets are likely.

Expectations are that the committee will select conference winners. The Pac-12 and SEC champions are in unless there is complete pandemonium in conference play. Despite its flaws, Florida State will find a way to remain unbeaten and make it. This means it is time for the Buckeyes to root against the Big 12 and Notre Dame. They are the primary roadblocks if the Buckeyes take care of their business.

A month ago, Ohio State looked lost, but Meyer has held the ship together and weathered the storm. The tide is slowly turning in their favor. With eight more wins and a little luck, the Buckeyes might get selected for the inaugural playoff. Odds are long, but that will make the journey much more interesting.

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Georgia Football: How Bulldogs Offense Must Respond Without Todd Gurley

The Georgia Bulldogs' pivotal game against Missouri—and the rest of their remaining slate—got a little more difficult on Thursday evening when the university announced the indefinite suspension of star running back Todd Gurley.

Now, Georgia's offense, which to date has depended heavily on a stout running game, is left to reorganize while the junior Heisman Trophy candidate is removed from play.  Though the length of his suspension remains to be seen, the potential impact is both known and feared.

Without Gurley, the Bulldog offense will be without the SEC's leading rusher and one of the most versatile weapons in the country.  Over the course of his career, Gurley has rushed for over 3,100 yards, returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and accounted for 611 receiving yards.  Just last week he completed a 50-yard pass against Vanderbilt.

Georgia must respond offensively with a quick-striking passing attack and creative use of personnel.

 

Get the Ball Out

Though quarterback Hutson Mason has drawn the ire of a portion of the Georgia faithful as of late, the fifth-year senior has not justified that overt negativity.  To be sure, Mason is quite a departure from record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray, but given his lack of in-game experience and the rise of Gurley, that much should be expected—at least statistically.

Nonetheless, Mason has performed adequately within offensive coordinator Mike Bobo's system.  Case in point:  In five starts this season he has completed more than 68 percent of his passes.  With Gurley out, that statistic matters more so than any other.  After all, a diminished ground attack will necessitate more passing but not necessarily deeper passing, which has been a shortcoming for Mason this year.

If Georgia can get star wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley back from injury and fully functional, this passing attack could still be formidable—with or without Gurley.  The key will be getting the ball out quickly and letting receivers go to work.

Mitchell is certainly capable of making plays in space, and sure-handed targets like Michael Bennett and Chris Conley have always excelled in the short- to mid-range passing game.  An emphasis on getting the ball to elusive threats like speedsters Isaiah McKenzie and Reggie Davis could also benefit the Dawgs.

Bobo knows his weapons, and he knows his quarterback.  Mason is not going to win games with slow developing play-action bombs or deep back-shoulder fades.  But he can have success with precisely timed patterns that eat up eight or 10 yards at a time.

 

Get Creative 

One could argue that this season has been Bobo's most creative as a play-caller, and that's not a bad thing.  Already Mason and two other passers (Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta) have received playing time.  Ramsey has even played select situations early in games.  

Bobo must recognize the three passers' unique skill sets and utilize them accordingly.  Mason is the most experienced and the most knowledgeable of the playbook.  Ramsey has the biggest arm.  Bauta is the most capable as a runner.  All three of those components will prove valuable at some point and could create an advantage for Georgia.

Getting athletes involved in a variety of ways should also be paramount.  Though he's currently out with injury, Sony Michel was a tremendous threat in the passing game.  Conversely, McKenzie has been a threat in the running game from his wide receiver spot.  With the best athlete on the team out, getting the ball into the hands of the most explosive remaining playmakers must take precedent.

And of course, the talented remaining running backs should not be forgotten.  Brendan Douglas was stellar as a true freshman last season when Gurley and Keith Marshall were out with injury.  True freshman Nick Chubb has already impressed this season.  

Perhaps the most creative use of these talents is an overly stacked backfield with tight end Jeb Blazevich as an extra blocker and fullback Quayvon Hicks paving the way.  Though such a formation is a far cry from innovative, it is somewhat abnormal relative to today's spread-out offensive formations.

Against a team like Missouri, which boasts a host of explosive outside pass-rushers, churning out yardage up the middle could be a potent antidote.

Todd Gurley was the best player on Georgia's football team; that much is indisputable.  But that's a credit to Gurley, not necessarily an indictment of his teammates.

Of Gurley's suspension, Richt told GeorgiaDogs.com that he was "disappointed," and to an extent he spoke for the entire team, the university and Bulldog Nation.

But there's a difference between being down and being out.  Which descriptor most accurately defines Georgia's offense remains to be seen.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

1 Key Stat Each Undefeated Team Should Know to Avoid Upset This Week

Did you know that Alabama was ranked No. 106 in turnover margin coming into last Saturday’s game with Ole Miss?

It’s a statistic that makes the 23-17 upset loss more understandable, especially since the game ended with Alabama quarterback Blake Sims throwing an interception on the Ole Miss 32-yard line with two minutes remaining.

The Tide’s tale of woe reminds us that each of the 10 programs which have survived to Week 7 without a loss have a weakness, something that’s just waiting to be exposed.

It’s there, no matter how invincible a team may look on the surface.

Here’s a look at a simple number for each perfect program, a telling statistic that could become the foreshadowing we should have been looking for in the first place. 

Begin Slideshow

The Domino Effect of Todd Gurley's Suspension

Georgia had been preparing for this weekend's showdown with Missouri in Columbia with an uncertain defense and a passing game that has been far from explosive, but at least it had Todd Gurley.

Well, it had Todd Gurley.

The school announced on Thursday that the junior running back has been suspended indefinitely due to an alleged violation of NCAA rules.

"I'm obviously very disappointed," said head coach Mark Richt in a statement. "The important thing for our team is to turn all our attention toward preparation for Missouri."

FoxSports.com's Bruce Feldman reported that the violation stems from Gurley's involvement with memorabilia brokers.

SI.com's Andy Staples reported Thursday evening that Gurley was suspended, in part, after a person told Georgia's compliance department this week that he paid Gurley $400 to sign 80 items this spring. ESPN.com's Darren Rovell tracked down someone who claims to have sold Gurley memorabilia, including authenticated autographed gloves.

The Athens (Georgia) Banner-Heraldreported that 248 items turned up in a search for "Todd Gurley signed" on eBay and tracked down one broker who wasn't shocked at the news.

The unnamed source said:

It doesn’t shock me, ... When you see that kind of volume from one person it probably raises some red flags. I doubt it’s like a major guy, but there’s people on the market that have a website, but don’t have a storefront. [Those brokers] get these guys when they are in college and pay them way under what they’d have to pay them when they come out and they end up getting caught for it. If I had to imagine it’s probably something similar to the Johnny Manziel crap.

What does this mean for the Bulldogs moving forward?

According to 247Sports.com's Gentry Estes, $400 worth of memorabilia would cost Gurley one game, although a TMZ report late Thursday stated that Gurley was paid nearly $2,000 for two signing sessions.

 

Unlike the autograph scandal that surrounded former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and cost him the first half of last year's season opener, this one hits at a terrible time for Gurley and the Bulldogs.

Could he be declared ineligible and be reinstated within a 24-hour period like former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton? Theoretically, yes, but this tweet from Rivals.com's Anthony Dasher doesn't make the situation look too promising.

So where do Georgia and Gurley go from here?

 

Offensive Changes

Gurley's suspension couldn't come at a worse time for this Georgia team. 

Fellow junior Keith Marshall came back from last season's torn ACL only to suffer a knee and ankle injury against Troy on Sept. 20. He is still a week away from returning, according to Chip Towers of the The Atlanta Journal-Constitutionwith freshman Sony Michel being about a month away from returning from his broken shoulder blade.

Nick Chubb, it's on you.

The 5'10", 228-pound freshman is second on the team with 31 carries for 224 yards and two touchdowns.

He's the future between the hedges, but Gurley's suspension, coupled with injuries to the rest of the receiving corps, forces Chubb to be the present.

The next, obvious question is: Why can't Georgia just open it up in the passing game?

Can it?

Quarterback Hutson Mason has been far from effective this season, throwing for 137.4 yards per game—the worst mark in the conference among quarterbacks who have started every game. Richt stated this week, via Seth Emerson of The Macon Telegraph, that backup Brice Ramsey will see situational snaps in a similar fashion as the Vanderbilt game, when Ramsey came in for the third series of the contest.

Injured wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley could join Michael Bennett and Chris Conley in the receiving corps this week, which could kick-start that passing game.

That might not be enough, though.

Without Gurley, they better provide some high-octane-fuel additive, otherwise Georgia's offense will struggle mightily.

 

SEC East Slipping Through Its Fingers

There's no timetable for Gurley's return, and he could be back sooner rather than later. For this weekend's game at Missouri, though, his presence doesn't seem likely.

That may be all Missouri needs to spring the home upset and take control of the SEC East.

Richt commented on the importance of this game earlier this week.

"If we lose, we're, in essence, three games behind Missouri," he said on Tuesday. "That's pretty tough to overcome. They'd have to lose three times to give us a chance. We don't want to think about that. We want to try to get this thing and not have to worry about somebody getting beat."

Three games back with a game vs. defending SEC champ Auburn still on the docket in addition to the rest of the uncertain SEC East? Perhaps without college football's best player?

Nope.

The Georgia Dome may only be 68.7 miles away from Athens, but the Bulldogs playing in it in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 6 would seem like it's in a different hemisphere.

No Todd Gurley, no SEC East title for Georgia. It's that simple.

 

Heisman Fallout

"The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence."

That's the first sentence of the Heisman Trust's mission statement. It's a change from years past because "with integrity" used to be the final two words of that opening sentence.

If integrity and character factored in to how voters operated before, it likely won't change. If Gurley's suspension does stem from accepting benefits for his likeness, the same folks who used it against former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel last year will use it again. 

In 2013, Manziel—who was embroiled in a similar situation in August of that year—was left off 642 of the 900 ballots, according to Sports-Reference.com and TomahawkNation.com.

Were all of those specifically due to his autograph scandal? 

Probably not. Considering everything else that transpired in the "Offseason of Manziel," it was more likely to be the straw that broke the camel's back than the issue that caused all of those omissions.

It played a part, though.

That's sad, because part of the ongoing push for NCAA reform includes more benefits for players, including different methods to get paid legally.

Rules are rules, though, and whether it's an outdated rule or not, it's still reckless for Gurley to break it if indeed he did. 

Heisman voters won't let him forget it.

This is a massive suspension that will make waves throughout the college football world.

Gurley missing this game—one that will define the landscape of the SEC East—hurts his offense, his team's division-title hopes and his own Heisman hopes.

It couldn't come at a worse time.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Remember When Everett Golson Flipped from North Carolina to Notre Dame?

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Everett Golson wasn't initially slated to go to Notre Dame. Before he even visited South Bend, Golson was committed to Butch Davis and the University of North Carolina.

“That had always kind of been his dream school,” Myrtle Beach High School head football coach Mickey Wilson said. “He grew up a Tar Heels fan and a big basketball Tar Heels fan.”

Two days after national signing day in 2010—while Golson was still a high school junior—the South Carolina native committed to play for the Tar Heels.

Golson said Wednesday he “most likely” would have played basketball for Roy Williams as well. But during the 2010 summer and into the fall, the NCAA began investigating the North Carolina football program for academic misconduct and improper benefits.

“We got in a situation where we felt like there was maybe going to be some trouble there,” Wilson said.

So Wilson and Golson reopened the quarterback’s recruitment during his senior football season. But Notre Dame—in the midst of an 8-5 season in Brian Kelly’s first year in South Bend—didn’t come calling right away. Kelly said Tuesday some coaches in the Myrtle Beach area had contacted the Irish staff about Golson—not the other way around.

“We did not have a personal contact with anybody,” Kelly said. “There was somebody in the school that was looking out for Notre Dame that contacted us, and that's kind of what got us involved there.”

The way Wilson remembers it, a good friend of his who was a prominent member of the booster club in Myrtle Beach had just gone to Notre Dame and watched the Irish lose 37-14 to Stanford.

“When he got back, he called me and said, ‘Look man, Notre Dame—and I don’t mean this bad—Notre Dame needs a quarterback,’” Wilson recalled.

Wilson remembered watching Kelly’s Cincinnati offenses and saw similarities between Kelly’s spread structure and Wilson’s Myrtle Beach attack.

“After we watched some film and did some evaluation, he clearly fit the kind of quarterback that we were looking for our offense,” Kelly agreed.

Soon enough, Golson was on campus for a mid-November visit.

“I think once Everett went on his visit, he was sold,” Wilson said. “I remember him coming back from that weekend trip and he said, ‘Coach I want to go to Notre Dame.’”

Wilson advised taking some time with the decision, especially considering that the Seattle Seahawks were in the middle of the playoffs.

At the beginning of December, Golson made up his mind. Wilson and Golson called Irish assistant coach Tony Alford—who had handled Golson’s recruitment—and Golson gave his verbal commitment just days before he led Myrtle Beach to the South Carolina Class AAA state championship with three touchdown passes.

“North Carolina wasn’t too happy,” Wilson said with a laugh. “It is what it is.”

“It definitely was [difficult],” Golson said Wednesday. “For me I kind of had to struggle with my first love being basketball and going and focusing on football and things like that. It was definitely hard for me, going away from home, all those types of things, you think about.”

Golson kept thinking about basketball during his freshman season—a redshirt year—at Notre Dame. Kelly said Golson was a “handful” and needed to be “settled down” and “scolded” for playing so much basketball on his own.

“I had hoped to be on the actual team, but I was definitely playing a lot of ball for sure,” Golson said. “I don’t think I really wanted to give it up yet.”

Golson can dunk, says he’s the best basketball player on the football team and allows he still gets “hyped” just talking about basketball. But the most basketball he plays nowadays is on the “Pop-A-Shot.”

Football, naturally, is the primary focus. Wilson, who visited Golson on campus for the Rice game earlier this season, said he has seen Golson grow in his second season as the starter with a greater understanding of the offense.

And, of course, he still has the same big-play ability with his arm. Wilson doesn’t completely buy into Golson being labeled a dual-threat quarterback. He said Golson has always had the ability to extend plays, get outside the pocket, keep his eyes downfield and deliver with his arm.

“People in high school stopped blitzing us because they were scared that he was going to get outside the pocket and make some dynamic plays with his arm, not necessarily his feet,” Wilson said. “So people were just rushing three and dropping eight in coverage a lot toward the end there.”

And, still, Golson would throw. During his national signing day press conference in 2010, Kelly likened Golson to, yes, a point guard in basketball.

“[He’s] always looking for that pass,” Kelly said in 2010. “Not necessarily the next shot, but he's got to keep his head up. What you'll see about Everett he plays the game of football the same way. Eyes always downfield. Always looking to throw the football and make that play.”

Golson has already tossed 13 touchdown passes this season and has carved out a legitimate spot in the Heisman Trophy discussion. On Saturday he’ll face North Carolina and its porous defense looking to vault the Irish to 6-0. Instead of an "N" with an interlocking "C," Golson will have the interlocking "ND" stitched on his uniform.

“[I] just prayed about it and it turned out to be the right choice for me,” Golson said.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Fans Create Petition to White House to Lift Todd Gurley's Suspension

The college football world was surprised by Thursday night's news that Georgia Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley had been suspended indefinitely, the school announced in a press release (h/t ESPN.com).

Not long after the announcement, Georgia fans quickly began signing a White House petition to immediately lift the Heisman front-runner's suspension. 

It is unclear how long Gurley will be gone, but this petition most likely won't help him come back.

[Twitter]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Would a Loss to UCLA Destroy Oregon's Playoff Dreams?

The college football world was flipped upside down last weekend, and it seems that every one-loss team in the country still has a legitimate shot at earning a spot in the new College Football Playoff.

But is it possible for a two-loss team from a power-five conference to grab one of those four precious spots? Yes.

With only 10 undefeated teams left in the FBS, it seems likely that that playoff will featured multiple teams with one loss, and depending on how the season goes, we could be looking at a two-loss team in the playoff as well.

According to ESPN’s Rece Davis, he would be surprised if there wasn’t a two-loss team in the playoff.

“I would be almost more surprised if there aren’t two-loss teams in the four-team College Football Playoff,” Davis said to Matt Murschel of the Orlando Sentinel.

However, is it possible for a team that loses consecutive conference games to grab a spot in the playoff?

No.

Is it within the realm of possibilities? Sure. But only for an SEC West team. Based on what we know right now, it would be almost impossible for a team in any other conference to send a team to the playoff after the team had lost two consecutive games in conference play.

That means when Oregon takes the field against UCLA both teams will be fighting for their postseason lives. This is the Pac-12’s first “elimination” game. Heck, it may be the first one in the entire country.

With a win over UCLA, the Ducks likely will vault themselves right back into playoff contention and to the top of the Pac-12 power rankings. However, with a loss to the Bruins the Ducks' shot at reaching the playoff will be over. It’s that simple.

There’s not a whole lot we know about the College Football Playoff and how the 13-person committee will decide which four teams earn a bid. All we have is its website, which says, “The selection committee will choose the four teams for the playoff based on strength of schedule, head-to-head results, comparison of results against common opponents, championships won and other factors.”

That’s all we have so far. The committee will use strength of schedule, head-to-head results, common opponents, championships won and other factors, which will likely be its own opinion on the difficulty of individual conferences, television ratings, star players and more.

Really, figuring out if a two-loss team can reach the College Football Playoff is a math question. ESPN’s Football Power Index only projects three teams to finish with less than two losses: Florida State, Baylor and Marshall. However, Marshall has almost no shot grabbing a spot in the College Football Playoff based on its strength of schedule and conference.

According to ESPN’s Davis, who also used the Power Index for his calculations, it seems likely that multiple two-loss teams will make the postseason playoff this year.

“So by mathematical definition, that would give you two teams with two losses in the playoff,” Davis said to the Orlando Sentinel. “And I think it’s far more likely that we will have one two-loss team in the playoff than there is that we would have one undefeated team.”

I know what you’re thinking: Even if Oregon loses to UCLA, the Ducks will still have a shot at advancing to the College Football Playoff if they win out.

While it wouldn’t be an impossible feat, the Ducks would need a magical combination of events to occur. First, the Ducks would need to win the Pac-12 North and subsequently win the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 5. Second, the Ducks would need every one of the power-five conference champions to have at least one loss and would probably need at least three of those champions to have two losses.

The problem here for the Ducks is numbers. The SEC, based on its performance as a whole so far this year, is likely to enter at least two teams into the College Football Playoff. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine three SEC teams making it to the playoff.

If the season ended right now the four-team playoff would consist of Florida State, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Right now three SEC West teams would reach the playoff, along with ACC power FSU.

While it would seem unlikely that three teams from the same division of the SEC would make it to the postseason dance, it’s a real possibility this year. Five of the six schools in the SEC West are ranked within the top 14 of the AP Poll this week, including four of the top seven teams in the country—Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

Let’s assume that two teams from the SEC West make the playoff. That leaves the Pac-12, ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 fighting for two playoff spots. That means you’re likely going to have four conference champions competing for final two spots.

While a two-loss conference champion may be able to snag a spot in the playoff, it seems highly unlikely from our current vantage point that a conference champion that suffered two consecutive conference losses would be able to recover and reach the playoff.

The key for a two-loss team making it to the College Football Playoff is to essentially limit the strikes against your team. That means only losing to big-name opponents in extremely close games, preferably on the road. It also means not losing consecutive games to opponents that you’re favored against.

The Ducks were favored by 23 points against Arizona last week at home and lost by a touchdown. That's strike one. This week the Ducks are favored by a field goal at UCLA. If the Ducks don't play well and grab a win against the Bruins, it'll likely be strike two and three for the Ducks' playoff hopes this season. 

Even if the Ducks win every game the rest of the season and pick up a Pac-12 title along the way, I think it would be almost impossible for them to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff without a victory over the Bruins this weekend.

Oregon's playoff hopes are on the fence as it is after a loss to Arizona and a disappointing showing against Washington State. Thankfully for the Ducks, they beat a very good Michigan State team—a game that will help their case down the road. 

It's simple for the Ducks—win out and you're almost certainly guaranteed a spot in the College Football Playoff. However, another loss, especially against UCLA this weekend, would spell disaster for Oregon's postseason aspirations. 

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Would a Loss to UCLA Destroy Oregon's Playoff Dreams?

The college football world was flipped upside down last weekend, and it seems that every one-loss team in the country still has a legitimate shot at earning a spot in the new College Football Playoff...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

How Todd Gurley's Suspension Will Impact 2014 Heisman Race

The 2014 Heisman Trophy race has completely changed following the news that Georgia's star running back Todd Gurley has been suspended.

National college sports writer Bryan Fischer reported Thursday that Gurley, who was certainly among the Heisman favorites, is suspended indefinitely:

Head coach Mark Richt commented on the situation, via a University of Georgia release: "I'm obviously very disappointed. The important thing for our team is to turn all our attention toward preparation for Missouri."

Gurley had just catapulted to the top of the 2014 Heisman race after a week of chaos in college football, thanks largely to his 773 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns and kick return touchdown on the season.

He ran for 198 yards and three touchdowns against Clemson, 208 yards and two touchdowns against Tennessee and 163 yards and two touchdowns against Vanderbilt. In fact, the only game in which he failed to reach the triple-digit plateau in rushing yards was against Troy because he was only given six carries in a blowout win (which he turned into 73 yards).

Gurley was among the Heisman front-runners before the season started, and everything he has done on the field since kept him in that discussion.

Before the news of his suspension, six of the seven predictions offered by CBSSports.com on the Heisman race had Gurley on the top, and the other had him in second. ESPN.com's Heisman Watch had him first overall entering Week 7.

This is just the latest in a long list of shakeups to the 2014 Heisman race. It all started when potential Heisman front-runner Braxton Miller went down with a season-ending injury before the year even began. BYU quarterback Taysom Hill was also lost for the year to injury, and the number of upsets and losses we just witnessed in Week 6 certainly changed the discussion as well.

Players like Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Melvin Gordon, Amari Cooper, Kenny Hill and Ameer Abdullah are all coming off losses, some of them in stunning style.

Losing a game is certainly not enough to disqualify any of these talented players from Heisman consideration, especially given the incredible amount of upsets we have already seen in the first half of the season. Gurley’s suspension only reinforces the notion that anything can happen in college football and keeps the door open for someone like Mariota to play his way back to the top of the race.

For now, Gurley’s suspension also opens the door for dark-horse candidates who weren’t on many people’s radars heading into the season.

Dak Prescott has led Mississippi State to the No. 3 position in the Associated Press Poll after dazzling against Texas A&M to the tune of 268 passing yards, 77 rushing yards and five total touchdowns. If he continues to produce in the brutally deep SEC West, Prescott will be among the Heisman favorites.

Everett Golson has his Notre Dame Fighting Irish undefeated after throwing for a fourth-down touchdown pass in the waning minutes of a victory over Stanford. Even Miller’s replacement at Ohio State, J.T. Barrett, is fourth nationally in passing efficiency (186.34) and has thrown for 1,354 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Gurley's suspension opens up another finalist spot in New York, and any of these candidates are capable of playing their way into the discussion.

It may seem strange, but defending Heisman winner Jameis Winston has to be considered a dark horse at best at this point, even with Gurley’s suspension.

Winston himself was suspended for the Clemson game, which certainly didn’t help his case, and only has eight touchdown passes to five interceptions.

Sure, the suspension of the front-runner opens the door for Winston to get back in the race just like everyone else, but he is also fighting voter fatigue and the incredibly high bar he set for himself on the field a year ago. Still, if the Seminoles win out and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff, Winston will be under consideration, especially now that one of his biggest competitors appears to no longer be a viable candidate.

You want the short answer to what Gurley’s suspension does to the Heisman race? 

It makes it as wide open as any in recent memory. Now someone has to go out and win it.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: How Should AJ McCarron Handle Questions About the Tide?

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.—AJ McCarron hasn’t exactly endeared himself to many Alabama fans since leaving Tuscaloosa with three BCS National Championship rings (two of which he won as a starter).

His latest comments came on 99.1 FM in Tuscaloosa on Tuesday, in which he said Alabama lacked “true leaders” on offense and that Saban has “put handcuffs” on the offense in the past.

After Alabama coach Nick Saban responded to those comments, saying they were untrue and that he doesn’t know how McCarron would know about Alabama’s leadership, McCarron went back on the air Wednesday, claiming he was taken out of context and clarifying his remarks.

That has led to a number of negative comments from fans, media and even former teammates.

It’s hard to imagine a bigger fall from grace for a three-time national champion that didn’t involve a major scandal.

So how should McCarron have responded, and what could he do going forward to help his image? That depends on his motivation, according to Dr. Kenon A. Brown, a professor in Alabama’s nationally recognized public relations program.

“I really don’t understand how he could be critical of a team that has supported him, of a fanbase that supported him, and a fanbase that he delivered, as part of a team, two national championships to,” Brown said in an interview with Bleacher Report. “And it seems like since he has left The University of Alabama, he’s taken every chance that he has to, in my opinion, candidly take shots at the program.”

Brown, who specializes in image and reputation management in sports, said that judging by McCarron’s comments, it’s hard to tell just what his motivation is at this point.

“Does he think that this is going to put him in a more positive light?” said Brown, who has published academic papers on Lebron James’ Decision and Michael Vick’s dogfighting scandal and how they subsequently repaired their images.

“Does he think that he maybe will not have a productive NFL career? So he thinks being candid and being controversial is going to propel him to stardom so he can take an anchor job on the SEC Network or something like that? Is he focused on the celebrity nature more than being the quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals? Is he bored because he’s rehabbing his shoulder? I don’t know.”

This isn’t the first time McCarron has made disparaging comments about his alma mater.

It started soon after the Crimson Tide’s Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma, when McCarron was out of Alabama’s protective bubble. He attributed Alabama’s lack of success at the end of the 2013 season to entitlement among young players.

As the NFL Draft process began, reports surfaced that teams weren’t impressed with his interview process. He said he thought he would be drafted in the bottom half of the first round but was eventually taken in the fifth round by the Bengals.

To McCarron’s credit, he largely stayed quiet during the offseason and into the regular season. Tuesday night, he put himself out there once again, and the criticism came back up.

“Maybe he’s showing his true colors now,” Brown said. “If you follow collegiate and professional sports you know that there’s a level of control of the comments that you can make as a collegiate athlete. They have rules, they have regulations, they monitor social media. And then that’s really lifted when you become a professional.”

McCarron shouldn’t necessarily be criticized for having an opinion, though, Brown said. Plenty of players—including McCarron’s predecessor, Greg McElroy, now an analyst with the SEC Network—have offered criticism of the team.

The difference was in the delivery.

“I would rather him own up to his opinion and at least try to justify his comments rather than backtracking,” Brown said. “Because then that’s when you look bad. I think when you start backtracking on the comments that you’ve made…now it starts looking like you were just in it to increase ratings, you were just in it to increase your public presence.”

Which brings us back to the motivational aspect.

If McCarron is doing this just to get attention, negative or otherwise, then he is very much succeeding.

But if he still wants to be a representative of the University of Alabama, there could be some fences that need a little bit of mending. That’s why Brown said if he was advising McCarron, he would begin that process as soon as possible.

“The first thing he needs to do is at least contact somebody on the Alabama coaching staff, whether it’s Saban or whoever, and at least attempt to clarify his comments,” Brown said. “The SEC really thrives on tradition. We like bringing our legends back. We like keeping our stars in good graces. Peyton Manning is around [Tennessee] two or three times a year. We like bringing back the people that help us re-live our glory days…It’s less likely for [McCarron] to be in those good graces when he comes back.”

There is also value in simply remaining silent.

“It comes to a point where you just need to keep your mouth shut," Brown said. "You do not have to have the last words at all times. You stated your case. You made your opinions, Saban gave his opinion about your comments. Why couldn’t it just end there?”

McCarron, though, is never going to lose the graces of the entire Alabama fanbase. He was a part of all three national championships under Saban and is one of the most recognizable players in one of the greatest runs in college football history.

Images like “The Drive” against LSU in 2012 or him picking apart the Notre Dame defense in Miami won’t be quick to leave fans’ minds.

That’s why the AJ McCarron debate comes down to what exactly his motivations are, and what he’s trying to accomplish in his post-Alabama life.

“If I’m trying to get him in the spotlight—which, let’s be honest, this is what publicists do—if we’re talking about celebrity status, if you’re trying to become a celebrity, that’s one thing. And maybe this is the right move for him to be this brash, outgoing personality,” Brown said. “But if you’re trying to be a football player, and you’re still trying to be some sort of representative of the University of Alabama, tone it down a little bit. Just a little bit. I’m not saying don’t have an opinion, just tone it down a little bit.”

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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7 Most Important Recruiting Visits of Week 7

Recruits are on the move again this weekend, attending meaningful college football matchups on campuses across the country. We're now less than four months shy of national signing day, placing added pressure on hosts to ensure players and their families enjoy a positive experience.

Games remain the top priority for every coaching staff, but as days dwindle in the regular season and February approaches, the result is a steadily rising sense of urgency in recruiting departments. Several have a chance to make strides with coveted targets in the coming days. 

Each week on Bleacher Report, we roll out a list of the most important campus visits to monitor. Here's our latest breakdown, including a pair of premier committed prospects who are headed to enemy territory.

Begin Slideshow

Todd Gurley Suspended: Best-/Worst-Case Scenarios for Heisman Contender

Georgia running back Todd Gurley has been suspended indefinitely "during an ongoing investigation into an alleged violation of NCAA rules," the school announced.

Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman reported that the NCAA is investigating whether Gurley accepted extra benefits for his likeness.

Bleacher Report college football analyst Michael Felder discusses the current situation for Gurley and the Bulldogs. How will this affect the team? 

Watch the video and let us know! 

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How Pac-12 South Compares to SEC West Division

It has more ranked teams than unranked ones. It features a previously ranked team that just fell out of the poll. And its bottom feeder, while winless at this point, is much improved from a year ago and seems poised to knock someone off sooner rather than later.

Are we talking about the SEC West? Yes. But we're also referring to the Pac-12 South.

There are an uncanny number of similarities between the nation's best division and one that's making a strong case for being the SEC West's understudy. One has five of seven teams currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25; the other has four of six; while the fifth-best club began the season in the rankings and just fell out after a loss on Saturday.

The quality of the teams from top to bottom has made it so that unbeaten teams are underdogs this week despite playing at home, according to Odds Shark, and both divisions are considered so deep that the likelihood of a team coming out of there unblemished seems small.

Since there have been no head-to-head meetings between the divisions, it's hard to really compare them to each other in terms of performance. The chart below lists how each has fared in a handful of quantifiable categories:

Those numbers clearly show the SEC West is the better division, but that's not really in question. The Pac-12's figures are good, too, but despite that and the divisions' other commonalities, there's one place where the SEC West and Pac-12 South differ immensely: the court of public opinion, as Bryan Fischer of NFL.com pointed out earlier this week:

Fischer is referring to the leagues as a whole, but with the majority of each conference's ranked teams in these two divisions (each has two ranked on the other side, and combined make up 52 percent of the AP Top 25), the attention is being placed mostly on the SEC West and Pac-12 South. This was enhanced by last week's results involving Pac-12 schools, with North power Stanford and Oregon both losing.

Oregon's loss came to Arizona, which vaulted the Wildcats into the top 10 after being unranked a week ago. Utah jumped into the rankings as well after beating UCLA, also on the road, while Arizona State moved up (and knocked out USC) by winning in Los Angeles on a Hail Mary.

That kind of cannibalism is similar to what went on in the SEC West and is what will continue throughout the season. Last Saturday saw Ole Miss top Alabama for the first time in a decade, while Mississippi State downed fellow unbeaten Texas A&M and Auburn blew out sliding LSU.

The only teams in those divisions not involved in the chaos last week were their respective cellar dwellers, Arkansas and Colorado. They're a combined 0-5 in league play, but both look much better than they did in 2013 and may very well pick off a ranked opponent very soon.

(Arkansas has a great chance to do so this Saturday, hosting a vulnerable Alabama team.)

It will be more of the same this week, with the Pac-12 South also involved in a huge intra-divisional clash between UCLA and Oregon. Those were the preseason favorites in the conference, but with each heading into the game after a loss it's become an unofficial elimination game for playoff consideration.

"Is all the parity a good thing?," writes George Schroeder of USA Today. "At this point, there doesn't appear to be an elite team in the bunch."

The SEC West faces the same possibility by the time the regular season is done, yet the narrative is more about how such parity means it deserves to land half of the College Football Playoff semifinal berths.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Todd Gurley Suspended for Violation of NCAA Rules: Latest Details and Reaction

The University of Georgia has suspended star running back Todd Gurley indefinitely.

The school didn't go into specifics regarding the suspension but said in a press release that an "ongoing investigation into an alleged violation of NCAA rules" is underway.   

"I'm obviously very disappointed," said Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt. "The important thing for our team is to turn all our attention toward preparation for Missouri."   

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports provides details on Gurley's infractions:

Seth Emerson of The Macon Telegraph confirms the alleged reasoning behind the suspension:

Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples provides more details on a specific incident:

SI.com has learned that a person confirmed to Georgia’s compliance office this week that he paid Gurley $400 to sign 80 items on campus in Athens, Ga., one day this past spring. The person claimed to have a photo and video of Gurley signing the items, but neither the photo nor the video showed money changing hands. NCAA rules require schools to immediately declare a player ineligible if they discover a violation has been committed. Schools may then apply for the player’s reinstatement. Reached by text message on Thursday afternoon, Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity declined comment.

No. 13 Georgia hits the road Saturday to take on the No. 23 Missouri Tigers in a game that could very well decide the outcome of the SEC East. They are the two highest-ranked teams in the division, so the winner of Saturday's contest will have a major advantage in the divisional race. 

Heading into the week, Gurley ranked sixth in the country in rushing yards (773) and tied for seventh in rushing touchdowns (8). ESPN.com currently lists him atop its Heisman Watch for Week 7.

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