NCAA Football

Super 16 Poll Week 11: Complete Rankings Released for 2014 Season

Every week in college football, dreams are broken. When only four teams can reach the College Football Playoff, well, a single play can end a season. 

But what if that wasn't the case? What if 16 teams had the chance to get in?

Those are the questions the voters for the Super 16 Poll ask each week, as they base their rankings on a theoretical 16-team playoff system. It's a bit of fun and, more importantly, it offers a new slant on every college football fan's favorite pastime: debate. 

Let's take a look at how their poll shaped up this week along with Bleacher Report's official Top 25.

 

Rankings

  

Analysis

In a 16-team playoff system, teams like Ole Miss, Georgia and Arizona would have a great chance of either keeping themselves in the postseason or fighting their way back into the top 16. In the current four-team postseason, however, each team is likely done and dusted. 

In a sense, that's both the greatest strength and weakness of the current format. With so few teams having a shot at a national championship, every week is essentially a playoff game. That was the prevailing strength of the BCS system, and it has carried over to the four-team playoff system. In fact, it might be even more pronounced. 

The weakness, of course, is that Ole Miss can see its hopes for the season dashed in two weeks, an away loss to a tough LSU team and a home loss to Auburn on a brutal play where the Rebels thought they had scored a touchdown but instead saw it ruled a fumble and a touchback for Auburn.

Add in a season-ending broken leg to receiver Laquon Treadwell on the day, per The Associated Press, via NCAA.com, and you have one of the most devastating moments in the history of Ole Miss football. Maybe the most devastating moment.

And the end of their postseason hopes it would seem, too.

After the incident, Treadwell posted the following picture on Instagram:

The caption reads:

Not everything in life is set out to be easy, & not every plan we have for ourselves work out in our favor. Even the greatest & most powerful people we praise or look up to have huge downfalls, but it takes a strong person & an even stronger mindset to prepare for that major come back. It didn't kill me, so watch as I become stronger. Thanks for the prayers everyone, God bless.

One imagines Ole Miss will try to embrace that perspective as well.

Of course, the other flaw of the four-team system is that, well, we only get to see four teams go at it in the postseason, leaving us with trivial—and admittedly compelling and addictive—debates over whether Alabama or Oregon should be No. 4. Or TCU. Or Michigan State. Or Notre Dame. Or...

Sure, it's fun to point out that Alabama lacks a signature win, or to question Oregon's defense, or to wonder whether Notre Dame can finish with a strong enough strength of schedule to crack the top four if it wins out (the Irish will be hanging their hats on wins over Stanford, Arizona State, Louisville and USC if they win out, a resume that appears as though it won't stack up to any SEC West school, for example).

But what if they just all played one another? Wouldn't that be even more fun?

Well, we can dream, right? Until then, we debate. That's the beauty of college football—either way, we're all having a blast. 

 

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WSU's Connor Halliday Sends out Heartbreaking Tweet After Breaking Leg

Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday has dedicated his entire life to making it to the NFL, but the fifth-year senior's hopes of being selected in the 2015 NFL draft took a serious blow this past weekend.

Halliday broke his leg in the first quarter of Saturday's game against USC, which not only ended his season but also his career at Washington State.

In 2014, Halliday was leading the nation in passing yards (3,873) and passing touchdowns (32). He finished his career with 11,308 yards, 90 touchdowns and 50 interceptions.

The 6'4", 201-pound signal-caller has put together plenty of film for NFL scouts to dissect, but he knows that he may not be able to recover in time to work out for teams in person before the draft arrives.

Check out this heartbreaking tweet that Halliday sent out on Sunday:

It's tough not to feel for a player who has worked so hard to get an opportunity to realize his dream only for something to go horribly wrong at the last minute.

Halliday has a long road ahead of him, but hopefully some NFL franchise will give him a chance to show what he's capable of once he recovers from this devastating injury.

[NCAA, Twitter; h/t NFL.com]

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Clemson Tigers vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons Complete Game Preview

The Clemson Tigers and Wake Forest Demon Deacons will face off Thursday night under the lights in a nationally televised game on ESPN. That unfortunately means three hours of Jesse Palmer, but there’s some good in it too for Tigers fans.

The game will be a chance for the Tigers to show off their stingy defense to the rest of the country. After Saturday’s slate of games, the Tigers now rank No. 2 nationally in total defense.

Whether or not quarterback Deshaun Watson plays in this game will also be something to watch, as we have seen much better offensive production with him in the game.

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Maryland Fined $10K, Stefon Diggs Suspended 1 Game by Big Ten

Unorthodox pregame tactics by Maryland's football captains have resulted in the Terrapins being fined $10,000 by the Big Ten and a one-game suspension for star receiver Stefon Diggs.    

Brett McMurphy of ESPN reported the news Monday:

Diggs leads Maryland with 654 yards and five touchdowns receiving this season. He is one of the three captains who refused to shake hands with Penn State during Saturday's opening coin toss.

The Terrapins, who also got into a skirmish with the Nittany Lions before kickoff, went on to win the game 20-19, but the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty they drew after the coin toss came back to haunt them.

The following excerpts from the Big Ten's official release on the matter provides further insight into the reasoning behind the conference's actions:

The Big Ten determined that [coach Randy] Edsall failed to control his team prior to the game when Maryland players initiated a confrontation with Penn State players. The officials did a good job of containing the situation once it started, and fortunately the incident did not escalate any further. In addition to Edsall's public reprimand, the conference announced that the institution has been fined $10,000 as a result of the violation.

[...] Big Ten Conference Agreement 10.01 states in part that 'The Big Ten Conference expects all contests involving a member institution to be conducted without compromise to any fundamental element of sportsmanship. Such fundamental elements include integrity of the competition, civility toward all, and respect, particularly toward opponents and officials.'

Matt Zenitz of the Baltimore Sun Media Groups documented what Maryland head coach Randy Edsall had to say about Monday's disciplinary action:

Diggs also weighed in on his temporary banishment ahead of the Terrapins' Nov. 15 matchup with the mighty Michigan State Spartans:

The showdown with Sparty represents a great opportunity for Maryland to make an impression in the Big Ten. Unfortunately, the actions the Terrapins took in the Penn State game will somewhat overshadow and scar that ongoing effort.

The task of pulling off a monumental upset will become all the more mountainous, too, without a playmaker like Diggs in the lineup.

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Where LSU and Miami Turn After 4-Star QB Torrance Gibson Commits to Ohio State

The whirlwind recruitment of Florida quarterback Torrance Gibson reached its climax Monday afternoon when the American Heritage High School star committed to Ohio State. The Buckeyes add a dynamic athlete who commanded attention from a vast collection of collegiate programs:

The twists and turns of Gibson's decision-making process gave some fanbases hope while frustrating others. He initially seemed torn between Tennessee and Auburn, but neither team looked like a legitimate contender during the final stretch toward an announcement. 

Gibson, who helped lead American Heritage to a state title in 2013, has drawn interest at both quarterback and wide receiver but never wanted to abandon his high school position. 

"Ohio State is my clear leader," Gibson told Bleacher Report's Kynon Codrington earlier this season. "I like the offense they run, I really like everything. I know it's cold, but it's cold in the NFL, too. The most important thing is they want me at quarterback, not athlete."

Among a long list of teams left on the outside looking in, Miami and LSU were viewed as viable destinations during portions of the process. Both squads currently start true freshman quarterbacks but pursued Gibson, who is still three months away from signing his national letter of intent to Ohio State.

Miami, now 28-18 in four seasons under the direction of head coach Al Golden, has to be predominately pleased with the performance of first-year quarterback Brad Kaaya. The California product has quickly made an impact since signing with the Hurricanes as a 4-star recruit. 

Kaaya is completing 62 percent of his pass attempts for 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season. His evolution indicates the Hurricanes have found a long-term answer at the position. 

However, there's always a forward focus in college recruiting departments. Miami holds a pledge from 4-star Tampa quarterback Dwayne Lawson and already landed Jack Allison, a top-10 passer in the 2016 class.

In short, although Miami missed out on a top-tier athlete with compelling potential at quarterback, Golden and his staff have managed to assemble an impressive stockpile of young prospects. 

LSU is in a similar situation.

Brandon Harris has been hot and cold during his first campaign in Baton Rouge. Head coach Les Miles remains hesitant to give him a long leash, limiting the freshman to 45 pass attempts as Anthony Jennings receives the bulk of snaps.

It remains to be seen if either Harris or Jennings is a solution at LSU. Gibson would've provided an intriguing addition to the equation, flashing arm strength that fits offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's vertical attack.

The Tigers already have 3-star Texas quarterback Justin McMillan in the fold but could be tempted to search elsewhere for a second option. LSU has been patient in extending scholarship offers to 2015 passers, so the plan of action could simply be to move on and wait for a possible change of heart from Gibson.

LSU could be the most likely landing spot if he opts to alter course.

Another reason why Tigers fans shouldn't be too concerned is the presence of Feleipe Franks, rated No. 1 nationally among 2016 dual-threat quarterbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings. He committed to LSU in June and could eventually be joined in the class by 5-star pro-style passer Shea Patterson, a Louisiana standout who has an older brother on the Tigers coaching staff.

Gibson undoubtedly rates among the rarest athletes of this recruiting cycle, but LSU and Miami seem to have enough pieces in place to confidently move forward after missing out on his commitment.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Florida State vs. Virginia Complete Game Preview

The wins have often come by the skin of its teeth, but the Florida State football team keeps piling up victories, now 24 in a row dating back to the 2012 season.

FSU's winning streak has included dominating routs in 2013 but few decisive wins this season. Still, it's a winning streak for the ages, and if FSU hits No. 25 on Saturday night at home against Virginia, it will be one of the top 20 win streaks in college football history.

The Seminoles have had a few extra days' rest following Thursday's nail-biter at Louisville. They needed the time to heal up with injuries taking a toll at linebacker, and quarterback Jameis Winston also played much of the second half with an injured ankle.

Let's take a look at FSU's game on Saturday against Virginia (6:30 p.m. on ESPN).

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Power Ranking Top Playoff Contenders by Their Offenses

Auburn handed Ole Miss its second loss of the season on Saturday, knocking out the last College Football Playoff contender that relied chiefly on its defense to win.

With the Rebels seemingly eliminated from the playoff discussion, its starting to look a lot more likely, if not downright probable, that we get an offensive-centric final four.

But which contender's offense is the best?

To answer that question, this list relied heavily on the S&P+ rankings at Football Outsiders, an opponent-adjusted efficiency metic that weighs myriad factors such as success rate, explosiveness, etc.

But the S&P+ rankings were not adhered to stringently when the eye test or knowledge of injuries came into play. Ultimately, this was a subjective judgement call on which offenses I would prefer. The S&P+ ratings informed but did not dictate that judgement.

Sound off below to let me know where you disagree.

 

Note 1: The 10 teams used for this list were the Top 10 teams from Sam Chi's mock CFP rankings for Bleacher Report

Note 2: All national yardage stats via cfbstats.com

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Which Team Has the Easiest Path to the College Football Playoff?

Much of the SEC will be decided in the coming weeks with matchups of Top 25 teams battling for a spot in the College Football Playoff. However, there are many teams left that have much easier schedules.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer debate which team has the easiest path left to the CFP.

Which team has the easiest path to the College Football Playoff?

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Crimson Tide vs. LSU Tigers Complete Game Preview

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama-LSU has been a massive game every year, since Nick Saban came back to the SEC to coach Alabama after five years in Baton Rouge.

Both teams always seem to be in the thick of the SEC title race, and the game has national implications.

When the Tigers lost two early SEC West games in 2014, it looked like a little bit of the wind would come out of those sails this year.

Not so.

LSU beat Ole Miss two weeks ago, and the Rebels lost to Auburn on Saturday. That breaks the West wide-open again, putting Alabama in control of its own destiny and even opening up a scenario where the West could have a five-way tie that included LSU.

Now, this game is as important as any West game in November.

Here’s everything you need to know:

Date: Saturday, November 8

Time: 7:00 p.m. CT

Place: Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

TV: CBS

Radio: Crimson Tide Sports Network, LSU Sports Radio Network

Spread: Alabama by 6-6.5, according to OddsShark.com.

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LSU Tigers vs. Alabama Crimson Tide Complete Game Preview

LSU head coach Les Miles' early November fixture against Alabama's Nick Saban has become a national treasure. Saturday's matchup should continue what has become the golden standard of physical, ground-and-pound football.  

The Tigers and the Crimson Tide will both enter Saturday's clash in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with three-game winning streaks. They will also both be coming off bye weeks, which they have done before playing each other every season since 2010.

Alabama only has one loss and is right in the thick of the College Football Playoff. LSU's two losses have them needing help, but The Daily Reveille has mapped out a scenario of how the Tigers can win the SEC West: 

Here's how #LSU football can still win the #SEC West pic.twitter.com/sXoyevdDTk

— The Daily Reveille (@lsureveille) November 3, 2014

Saban has gotten the better of Miles in recent years with his Crimson Tide winning the past three matchups. Alabama cruised to a victory in last year's game in Tuscaloosa, 38-17. But the last time the two met in Tiger Stadium back in 2012, it took a magical Crimson Tide comeback to win it late in the fourth quarter.

Here is a preview of this week's matchup.

 

What You Need to Know

Time: 7 p.m. CT 

Place: Tiger Stadium; Baton Rouge, Louisiana

TV: CBS

Radio: LSU Sports Radio NetworkCrimson Tide Sports Network

Spread: Alabama by 6; via OddsShark.com 

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Jamaal Williams Injury: Updates on BYU RB's Knee and Recovery

The Brigham Young Cougars offense suffered a big blow amid Saturday's 27-7 victory over Middle Tennessee. Running back Jamaal Williams went down with a right knee injury, and BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said Monday that the ball-carrier would miss the rest of the season.   

"I am not sure even if he thought it was bad, right away," said Mendenhall, per The Salt Lake Tribune's Jay Drew. "He kind of felt like it hyperextended. Again, his first question was, 'did I catch the ball?' ...He took a direct hit right to the knee. I don't think any of us thought it was this severe."

Williams ran for 518 yards on 109 carries and scored four touchdowns this year for the Cougars, who are already without typical starting quarterback Taysom Hill.      

BYU's win versus Middle Tennessee was its first since Hill fractured his left leg in Oct. 3's loss to Utah State.

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Can South Carolina Get Back on Track with These Key D-Line Recruits?

The South Carolina Gamecocks are reeling. After suffering the fourth loss in their last five games, there are more questions than answers in Columbia these days. But could help be on the way?

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses some major defensive recruits on their way to South Carolina.

Can these players impact the Gamecocks defense?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Which Team Gives Big Ten the Best Chance to Win in the College Football Playoff?

The Big Ten has been under much criticism for underperforming in the 2014 season. The lone bright spots in the conference have been the play of Michigan State and Ohio State, who have been playing at a very high level ever since their respective losses. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer debate which team would be the best representation for the Big Ten to get to the playoff.

Which team would get farther in the CFP?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

8 College Football Recruits Who Had an Explosive Week

Halloween weekend provided plenty of thrills on high school football fields across the country. With league titles and playoff positioning hanging in the balance, there was no shortage of sensational performances from America's coveted college prospects.

Each week at Bleacher Report, we delve through the headlines to take you inside these tremendous efforts. Here's our latest look at recruits who flourished.

 

3-star 2015 quarterback Elijah Sindelar, Caldwell County High School (Princeton, Kentucky) 

The senior gunslinger set a state record in a commanding 63-6 victory over Crittenden County. Sindelar, a 6'4", 200-pound passer, completed 10 of 11 attempts for 206 yards and four scores against an overmatched defense, per MaxPreps' Kevin Askeland.

His latest effort moved him past former Cleveland Browns No. 1 overall draft pick Tim Couch, who set the national record for career touchdown passes (133) as a senior in 1995. That total has since been topped multiple times but Couch remained Kentucky's all-time leader—matched in 2008 by Ricky Bowling—until Sindelar secured his spot atop the list.

He has orchestrated the Caldwell County offensive attack since his freshman season, when Sindelar threw for 2,693 and 19 touchdowns. Purdue landed the prolific passer in February, leaving Illinois, Kentucky and Toledo looking elsewhere.

 

4-star 2015 running back Chris Warren, Rockwall High School (Rockwall, Texas) 

The 6'2", 232-pound Rockwall High School playmaker punished opponents throughout a thrilling 61-54 win over Lee High School. He erupted for 471 yards on 34 carries in the victory, according to Michael Florek of The Dallas Morning News.

Warren went the distance on four touchdowns of at least 60 yards and scored six times. His dominance helped Rockwall remain unbeaten through nine games and the 34 rushing attempts were a season high.

"He’s a very humble kid, very unselfish kid," Rockwall coach Rodney Webb told Florek. "It doesn’t matter how many times he touches the ball as long as the team wins. He doesn’t just say that. He really believes it.”

Warren now has 1,879 rushing yards and 29 total touchdowns this fall. He is considering offers from Oklahoma State, Oregon, Texas and Stanford, among others.

 

4-star 2015 quarterback Brandon Wimbush, St. Peter's Prep (Jersey City, New Jersey)

The 6'2", 205-pound Notre Dame pledge is enjoying a career-best campaign at the Northern New Jersey powerhouse. Wimbush, who flipped to the Fighting Irish from Penn State in October, provided further evidence of his growth as a passer during a victory over North Bergen High School.

He completed 10 of his 13 pass attempts for 281 yards and two touchdowns in a 69-0 rout, per NJ.com. Wimbush, rated fourth nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings, also sprinted 45 yards for a score in the matchup.

He now has 31 total touchdowns through eight games this season.

 

4-star 2015 running back Jacques Patrick, Timber Creek High School (Orlando, Florida)

The Florida State commit is sure to be remembered in the region for years to come because of performances like the one he provided Friday night. Patrick, rated third nationally among running backs in 247Sports' composite rankings, surpassed 2,000 rushing yards for the third straight season.

He gained 222 yards on the ground in a 28-21 loss to Oviedo High School, per Alicia DelGallo of the Orlando Sentinel. The 6'1.5", 230-pound prospect picked up a pair of rushing scores, giving him 29 this season.

Patrick also passed for a touchdown, accounting for each Timber Creek score. He now ranks fifth all time on the Florida high school rushing list with 7,542 career yards.

Patrick selected the Seminoles last week from a list of finalists that also featured Texas A&M, Florida, Ohio State and Alabama.

 

4-star 2016 quarterback Shane Buechele, Lamar High School (Arlington, Texas)

The son of former Major League Baseball standout Steve Buechele continues to create his own athletic reputation. He's emerged as one of the most coveted quarterback recruits in Texas, thriving in his second full season as a starter at Lamar.

Buechele starred in a 68-14 win over Weatherford on Friday night, completing 25 of 28 pass attempts for 465 yards and seven touchdowns, per The Dallas Morning NewsHe also did damage with his legs, rushing for 43 yards and a score.

The 6'2", 185-pound prospect holds offers from several schools, including Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Texas, Texas Tech and Kentucky. His father attended Stanford, where he lived with eventual NFL Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway.

 

3-star 2015 wide receiver T.J. Rahming, McEachern High School (Powder Springs, Georgia)

The 5'9", 162-pound speedster came up big in a clash with Harrison High School. Rahming collected four total touchdowns in a 41-17 win, per Todd Holcomb of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

He caught three touchdowns in the contest, putting his impressive breakaway quickness on full display. Rahming also returned a punt 74 yards for the fourth score. 

His recruitment came to a close in June when he committed to Duke over Cal, Tennessee and Mississippi State.

 

3-star 2015 defensive back Justin Spencer, Oviedo High School (Oviedo, Florida)

The underrated Sunshine State defender sealed a district title for Oviedo High School with a pair of pivotal plays during the final stages of a matchup against Timber Creek. The 5'10", 180-pound cornerback intercepted two passes within the final five minutes of a 28-21 comeback win. 

His second interception shut the door on a potential game-tying drive for Timber Creek.

"Thank you, Justin Spencer!" Oviedo coach Wes Allen told Alicia DelGallo of the Orlando Sentinel. "A young man's senior night, and he comes up with huge plays for us."

Spencer committed to Western Michigan this summer. His offer list also includes Cincinnati, Connecticut and Mississippi State.

 

5-star 2016 quarterback Josh Rosen, St. John Bosco High School (Bellflower, California)

Rosen, rated No. 1 nationally among quarterbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings, delivered another outstanding performance in a league-clinching victory over Oregon quarterback commit Travis Waller and Servite High School. He led defending state champion St. John Bosco to a 49-26 victory, wrapping up the coveted Trinity League crown yet again.

Rosen was highly efficient, connecting on 10 of his 15 pass attempts for 176 yards and three touchdowns, per Eric Sondheimer of the Los Angles Times. The three-year starter threw a pair of scores from more than 30 yards out to help his squad build its sizable lead.

He committed to UCLA this spring after considering offers from Michigan and Cal.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Does the SEC or Field Have Better Shot at Winning National Championship?

We all know the reputation the SEC brings with it in the college football world. But is there a team out there in one of the other power conferences that could take this season's national championship?

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer discuss whether it's the SEC or the field that will take home the national championship.

Will the SEC or the field win the national championship?

Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA vs. Washington Complete Game Preview

WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 8; 7 p.m. ET 

WHERE: Husky Stadium; Seattle

TV: Fox Sports 1

A week after UCLA's homecoming win over Arizona, Bruins head coach Jim Mora is out for another kind of homecoming victory at Washington. 

Mora leads his UCLA team—ranked No. 18 in the Associated Press Top 25—to face his alma mater in a city he spent three seasons as an NFL coach.

The rumor mill linked Mora to the Washington Huskies a few times in the coach's career, most notably in 2006 when, as head coach of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, he called it a "dream job.

Mora's name was again rumored in association with the position after Steve Sarkisian left for the USC vacancy last December, but he quickly shot down speculation. 

"We’ve only just scratched the surface of our potential, and as a Bruin fan, I’d be champing at the bit just to see what UCLA football is going to do next," Mora said, per Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News

Washington instead hired Chris Petersen, the nation's winningest active head coach through his tenure at Boise State. 

Petersen has found tougher sledding in his first season at Washington. The Huskies endured losses in 3 of 4 Pac-12 Conference games before beating Colorado on the road last week, 38-23.

Another loss would match Petersen's most in a single campaign during his eight-year run with Boise State. He finished the 2013 campaign 8-4 before accepting the Washington vacancy.

UCLA must drop Petersen and the Huskies to that four-loss mark to keep its own Pac-12 championship hopes alive. The Bruins' defeat of Arizona, coupled with Utah's loss at Arizona State, puts UCLA behind only the Sun Devils in the South division's loss column. 

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UCLA vs. Washington Complete Game Preview

WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 8; 7 p.m. ET WHERE: Husky Stadium; Seattle TV: Fox Sports 1 A week after UCLA's homecoming win over Arizona, Bruins head coach Jim Mora is out for another kind of homecoming victory at Washington...

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Projecting Auburn's Offensive Stars' Stats vs. Texas A&M

The Auburn Tigers offense has been rolling in recent weeks, and the Texas A&M Aggies have struggled to stop anyone in the past few weeks. Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder predict how big of a day the Auburn offense stars will have against a struggling Aggies defense.

What sort of day do you think the Auburn stars will have?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Like It or Not, SEC West Is as Good as Advertised

Love it or hate it, the SEC West never disappoints. 

All the division did this past weekend was produce a matchup between No. 3 Auburn and No. 4 Ole Miss that saw both offenses punch and counterpunch for a full four quarters, culminating with a failed hook and ladder from the Rebels that gave the visiting Tigers a 35-31 win.

It was just the latest in a series of games that have come down to the wire, including LSU's win over Ole Miss the previous week, Ole Miss' fourth-quarter comeback over Alabama and Mississippi State's home win over defending SEC champ Auburn.

Five of the seven teams from the West are currently in the AP Top 25, and it's likely that two—Mississippi State and Auburn—will be in the top four when the fresh College Football Playoff rankings are released on Tuesday night.

While the rest of the country is busy complaining over perceived SEC bias, the West is busy taking part in what seems more like the college football version of Fight Club.

"The challenge in the SEC, and especially the West right now which is so challenging, you have to bring your 'A game' every single week if you want an opportunity to win," Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said on last week's coaches teleconference.

What makes the SEC West so great?

 

Diverse, Powerful Styles

There are different ways to skin a cat, but what's great about the SEC West is that the top-tier teams go about their business in different ways to create the same result.

Football is a line-of-scrimmage game, plain and simple.

The offenses in the SEC don't all look the same, but the concepts are. Whether it's the pro-style, power attacks that exist at Alabama and LSU or the power-rushing attack out of the spread that Auburn and Mississippi State make work, you have to win at the point of attack to win in the SEC West.

Now, even the pro-style teams have quarterbacks—Blake Sims and Anthony Jennings, respectively—who present a threat with their legs in addition to playing within the offense.

"Anytime you have an athletic quarterback who's a threat to run, scramble, pull the ball on the zone read, that always is a little bit of an issue for the defense," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said on last week's coaches teleconference. "Sometimes you have to be careful with how you play, because the guy can take off and make plays with his feet."

The common theme is an offensive line that's not only big, but athletic.

LSU thrived against Ole Miss on the ground when its offensive linemen fired off the ball, particularly when guards pulled and got to the second level. That's a staple of Malzahn's offense at Auburn as well, despite the fact that both offenses take different approaches to getting there.

The same rule applies on the defensive side of the ball. It's the key to winning big in the nation's toughest division, and it's no accident that three of the top four teams in B/R's latest SEC power rankings—Alabama, Mississippi State and Auburn—are in the top 26 nationally in rushing defense.

It's a similar formula for each team. All have experience and talent in their respective front sevens, and all rotate fresh bodies through games to make sure they can hold up for a full 60 minutes. 

If you win the line of scrimmage, you win games in the SEC West.

 

Battle-Tested

SEC critics will argue that the path to success isn't much tougher in the SEC than it is in other conferences, but that's just false.

The SEC West is 33-1 against teams not in the SEC West, which includes Auburn's road win over No. 9 Kansas State, LSU's neutral-site win over No. 25 Wisconsin and Alabama's neutral-site win over No. 24 West Virginia.

Just how difficult is it within the division?

Chris Low of ESPN.com put the power of the Worldwide Leader to work to spit out this stat:

Nothing any SEC West team in the College Football Playoff will see will come as a shock.

The speed, power and creativity that each sees within its own division provides plenty of opportunities for players—even young players—to properly prepare themselves for the game's biggest stage long before they ever step foot on it. 

 

Recruiting Success

It's not just the "X's and the O's," it's the "Jimmy's and the Joe's."

The SEC West has been opening the door for Jimmy, Joe, Frank and just about any other blue-chip prospect over the last few years.

SEC West teams routinely land in the top 10 in the recruiting rankings, and even the traditionally lower-tier programs within the division still get athletes on par with middle-to-upper-tier programs from around the country.

Is recruiting the be-all, end-all in college football?

No, of course not. But it's a key ingredient, and the SEC West powerhouses have proved over time that the recipe for success within the division is to make sure the best players in the country get in house out of high school.

 

Willingness to Pour Resources into Coaching

Three of the seven highest-paid coaches in America last season came from the SEC West, according to USA Today's database of head coaching salaries—Alabama's Nick Saban, Arkansas' Bret Bielema and LSU's Les Miles.

After last season, SEC West teams backed up the Brinks truck. Saban got a raise and extension that pays him $6.9 million, Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin joined the $5 million per year club and Auburn's Gus Malzahn got his salary bumped to $3.85 million after leading his Tigers to the SEC title in Year 1.

That's not where the biggest impact is made, though.

To be the best, you have to hire the best. Seven of the highest-paid 23 assistants in the country last season hailed from the SEC West, according to USA Today's annual coaching salary database.

Think about that for a second—30 percent of the richest assistants in the country in 2013 came from a group of seven teams in the southeast, where cost of living isn't the same as it is for other coaches in other parts of the country.

The willingness to pour resources into coaching staffs is a big reason why the best assistants in the country come to the SEC West, stay in the SEC and teams can replace them once they move on.

Coaches want to come to the SEC West to be the best and coach the best, and the athletic directors in the division pour resources into their football programs to make sure that happens.

The West is best, and from the way things look right now, there's a reasonable chance that the seven-team division could produce two College Football Playoff teams in 2014.

Scary.

 

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

Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Arizona State Sun Devils Complete Game Preview

For as important as Saturday afternoon's showdown is for both Notre Dame and Arizona State's playoff resumes, the game between the Irish and the Sun Devils almost didn't happen.

With Notre Dame looking for some scheduling flexibility back in April of 2013, athletic director Jack Swarbrick took to the telephone to try to find a way to solve his scheduling nightmare. Then-Sun Devils athletic director Steve Patterson was less than accommodating. 

With five contracted ACC games topped onto an already complete schedule, Notre Dame was looking to move a game scheduled for Tempe to a later date. That didn't fly with Patterson, who took to the radio waves to cry foul

"At least in the little Catholic town I grew up in—Beaver Dam, Wisconsin—the good nuns wouldn’t have thought that was a very appropriate way to honor your word,” Patterson groused on Phoenix's XTRA Sports 910 AM. 

While Patterson didn't stick around (he took the Texas AD job), the game did. And it's a good thing, it turns out.

If Notre Dame wants to get into the four-team playoff, they need an impressive victory against one of the Pac-12's top teams. 

After beating the Sun Devils last year in the Shamrock Series game played in Dallas, let's get ready for Saturday afternoon's battle in Tempe. 

 

Date: Saturday, November 8

Time: 3:30 p.m. ET

Place: Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona

TV: ABC

Radio: IMG College Sports, SiriusXM Channel 129

Spread: Arizona State by 1, according to Odds Shark.

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