NCAA Football

College Football Playoff 2014: Final Four Predictions After 3rd Top 25 Rankings

Another week, another shakeup in the College Football Playoff rankings with yet another loss for a top team. Auburn fumbled away a golden chance to make the playoff—twice—and subsequently dropped out of the top four.

In the Tigers' place, TCU moved into the playoff picture for the first time this season. Meanwhile, Mississippi State, Florida State and Oregon all remain in the top four with the Ducks moving up two spots and knocking the Seminoles down a peg.  

Several weeks still lie ahead, so there's no telling how the final rankings will look. The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide battle this weekend in a highly critical showdown, and the outcome will have a major impact on the rankings.

Prior to another huge weekend of games, here's a look at the latest College Football Playoff rankings and projections for the final bracket.



It may not have been billed as a huge matchup prior to the season, but Mississippi State at Alabama already looks like the biggest game of the year.     

Coming into the contest, the Bulldogs are the unanimous No. 1 across all polls and the only undefeated team in the SEC. The Tide roll in after their final road test with a 20-13 win over LSU in overtime, solidifying their place as one of the best in the country.  

Both programs have endured the toughest schedules to this point, as ESPN Stats & Info notes:

Throughout the last several weeks, I've projected that Mississippi State will go in as the No. 4 seed and Bama as No. 2 overall. That's been contingent on this game. Suffice it to say, there's a lot on the line in Tuscaloosa this weekend.

Outside of the SEC, potentially the biggest game is taking place in Coral Gables, Florida. Miami might not come in as a ranked team, but the Hurricanes come in with three straight wins by an average of 24 points.

Florida State enters with an unblemished record but has narrowly escaped games against Notre Dame and Louisville. Miami coach Al Golden still knows taking down the Seminoles will require near perfection, per Christina De Nicola of Fox Sports:

This is obviously a team that's executing at a high level that we're going against that's 25 straight now. That's elite. You've got to execute at a high level, and (it) really doesn't matter whom you grew up with or whom you played high school with. You've got to get the job done, and that's what our guys have to stay focused on this week.

On the West Coast, Oregon has emerged as the class of the Pac-12 after a convincing win over Utah.

The Ducks have taken down some of the top teams this season with one of the best offenses in the country. Scoring the fourth-most points (46 per game) and ranking inside the top 25 in both rushing (22nd) and passing (18th), Oregon has rolled since losing to Arizona.

Kevin McGuire of NBC Sports points out how dominant the Ducks have been against notable defenses:

Marcus Mariota continues to shine under center, combining for 38 total touchdowns and just two interceptions. Even with Pharaoh Brown now out for the season, per Kevin Gemmell of, Mariota's legs along with Byron Marshall and Devon Allen can carry the team.

Unlike some quarterbacks who struggle under pressure, Mariota has been one of the best on the road. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports notes how well Mariota has played away from Autzen Stadium:

Meanwhile, other teams like TCU and Arizona State loom with hopes of taking one of the final spots. If the Tide, Ducks or Seminoles drop a game, it would leave an opportunity for either of those two programs to step up.

College GameDay passes along a look at the chances for several one-loss teams to win the rest of the way:

The weeks left of the regular season in college football can be counted on one hand, so a lot can change before the playoff.

Even with one loss, it appears Mississippi State might have built a strong enough resume to make the final cut. Having one of the best measuring sticks this weekend in Tuscaloosa, the Bulldogs might also solidify their spot.


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College Football Playoff 2014: Official Selection Committee Rankings for Week 12

Down goes Auburn, and with its fall comes some clarity atop the College Football Playoff rankings. After a week that saw Texas A&M pull off a surprising upset of the third-ranked Tigers and six different matchups between Top 25 teams, we're finally beginning to cross schools out of playoff contention.

Mississippi State, Oregon and Florida State, playoff teams a week ago, stay as such in the latest committee rankings—albeit with one major change. The 9-1 Ducks, despite having a loss, leapfrogged the undefeated Seminoles (9-0) to take the second spot. The question coming into Tuesday night, though, was whether Alabama or TCU would occupy the fourth and final spot.

The Crimson Tide and Horned Frogs each earned impressive wins over ranked opponents, with Alabama needing overtime to take down LSU while TCU went all scorched-earth on Kansas State. In the end, the 12-person committee went with the more impressive victory. TCU was named as the fourth would-be finalist, with Alabama rounding out the Top Five.

Here's a look at how the rest of the Top 25 played out:

Given the number of high-profile games on the schedule, it's no surprise changes abound. Alabama earned its stripes with a hard-fought 20-13 victory over LSU, as the Tide needed multiple big plays to stay alive. Blake Sims, who struggled mightily for most of regulation, led a 55-yard drive in 50 seconds to set up a 27-yard Adam Griffith field goal that sent the game to overtime.

In the extra period, Sims hit DeAndrew White from six yards out to put Alabama ahead for good. The senior finished with 209 yards and two touchdowns but completed only 20 of 45 passes.

"He didn't have one of his better games. It was tough," Alabama coach Nick Saban told reporters. "He hung in there. He made some great plays when he had to...I'm really, really proud of way he hung in there."

TCU's triumph over Kansas State involved much less stress. Trevone Boykin accounted for 342 total yards and four touchdowns as TCU scored the first two touchdowns and never trailed in a 41-20 victory. The Horned Frogs have gone 5-1 in a six-game stretch playing five ranked opponents, with their only loss coming in heartbreaking fashion to Baylor.

The Bears got their own resume-affirming win Saturday, unloading a 48-14 walloping on Oklahoma in Norman. Corey Coleman made 15 receptions for 224 yards and had two touchdowns (one rushing), helping Baylor score the game's final 45 points. It was an exclamation-point loss for Oklahoma, which came into the season with national title hopes and is now 6-3.

Baylor, meanwhile, got the performance everyone has been waiting for. The committee still prefers TCU's overall resume, but it'll be interesting to see how much that head-to-head win for Baylor plays a difference down the stretch. 

"The only thing we can control is to try to win out, be 11-1 and have an opportunity to be (Big 12) co-champions," TCU coach Gary Patterson told Stephen Hawkins of The Associated Press. "Just how we play, and what the general public and the committee think about us when we get done...we've just got to control our own destiny."

Resume affirmation also came for Arizona State and Ohio State, which each have legitimate claims for a Top Five spot. The Buckeyes, who were behind two-loss Ole Miss a week ago, went to East Lansing and earned a 49-37 win over Michigan State that was stronger than the final score indicates. They punted only twice, converting 10 of 14 third downs and putting up 568 yards of total offense.

J.T. Barrett accounted for five touchdowns and 386 total yards, continuing his emergence as one of college football's best quarterbacks.

"I think it is, because I love my team and I don't know enough," Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer told reporters when asked if Ohio State is a playoff team. "I haven't studied the other teams really. If I have to go fight for this team, what they've done—very impressive. That darn loss the second game, if that hurts us, I'll take the hit for that."

The loss to which Meyer refers was against Virginia Tech in Barrett's second game under center. The freshman threw three interceptions and generally looked like a mess, with it appearing that Ohio State's season was already over. Barrett has responded with a rapid improvement, throwing three interceptions total during the Buckeyes' seven-game winning streak.

No improvements under center have been needed for Arizona State, which continues to get sterling performances from its defense. The Sun Devils picked off Notre Dame's Everett Golson four times, returning two for touchdowns in a 55-31 romp. Taylor Kelly added four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing) and D.J. Foster rushed for 120 yards in a strong all-around performance.

A visit to rival Arizona is the only remaining challenge on Arizona State's schedule, leaving open the Pac-12 Championship Game as a potential de facto playoff game. Second-ranked Oregon finishes with relative cakewalks against Colorado and Oregon State, and the Ducks earned more respect from the committee with a 51-27 win over Utah.

Marcus Mariota very likely supplanted Dak Prescott as the Heisman favorite with his third straight game with at least four total touchdowns.

In all, we're down to just 10 teams with zero or one loss and thus a legitimate playoff shot. The most surprising of those is No. 21 Duke, which finishes its regular season with three straight home games against Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Wake Forest. It's possible the Blue Devils are 11-1 heading into an ACC Championship Game matchup with Florida State.   

In other words: Just when you think the college football hierarchy is sussing itself out, things get weird. 


Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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USC Practice Notebook: Cody Kessler vs. Jared Goff, Winning the Turnover Battle

LOS ANGELES — Turnovers will be in limited supply Thursday when USC hosts Cal, assuming the two teams follow season-long trends. 

When a takeaway comes along, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said it's crucial the Trojans parlay it into points. 

"We need to capitalize on turnovers," he said, speaking after practice Tuesday at Howard Jones-Brian Kennedy Field. "We need to take advantage of maybe creating some short fields for ourselves and then maintaining taking care of the football offensively to make them work their way down the field.

"We can't give an offense like that short fields," Sarkisian added. 

The Trojans coach cited USC's plus-nine turnover margin to Cal's even ratio. In terms of actually giving up the ball, however, the two teams have been considerably more comparable. 

Cal ranks No. 38 in the Football Bowl Subdivision with just 13 turnovers lost. USC is even better, having given away just eight possessions to rank sixth nationally. 

Both can thank the steady play of their quarterbacks. USC's Cody Kessler and Cal's Jared Goff are among the most prolific scorers in the nation with 25 and 27 touchdown passes apiece, respectively, but their lofty numbers are not the result of high-risk, high-reward mentalities. 

As good as each is at getting his team in the end zone, both Kessler and Goff are equally adept at maintaining their squad's possessions.  

Goff has thrown just four interceptions in 372 attempts—one every 93 passes. Kessler has been picked off twice in 297 passes, or once every 148.5 attempts. 

Cal head coach Sonny Dykes credited Goff's improved ball protection to the Golden Bears starting stronger this season than in the quarterback's freshman campaign when he threw 10 interceptions.

"The biggest thing is his comfort level and the understanding of the offense," Dykes said. "He has a better anticipation, a better sense for what's going on.

"The most important attribute that good quarterbacks have is confidence," Dykes added. "He's starting to play with a lot of confidence."  

In turn, the Golden Bears in general are more confident, and the result is a 41.9 point-per-game average. 

Sarkisian's taken notice. He said the Trojans must score at least 35 points to win. 

That's a number USC has hit in three of its last four wins. And in those three victories, Kessler has a remarkable 14 touchdown passes with no interceptions. 

In his last outing against Washington State, Kessler went 21-of-32 for 400 yards and five scores. That got the attention of Cougars head coach Mike Leach, who commented on Kessler's play Tuesday on the coaches teleconference. 

"He doesn't take any chances. That's the biggest thing," Leach said of Kessler. "They do a lot of things to make sure he's successful."  

Those "things," according to Leach, include using play-action fakes to "bait" defenders, then "he does a good job throwing to the open man." 

It's a very simple formula, albeit one that could dictate the outcome of Thursday's game. 


To Blitz or Not to Blitz  

Don't expect USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to call for many blitzes against Cal. The Trojans have run the fewest blitzes of any team in the power-five conferences. 

More specifically, USC's two games with the lowest percentage of blitzes called, per's Ryan Abraham, were against Boston College and Washington State. 

Cal's offense bears similarities to that of Washington State, as Dykes is a branch off the Leach coaching tree. Dykes also uses backup quarterback Luke Rubenzer for zone-read plays in the same vein as Boston College's Tyler Murphy.

According to Sarkisian, that's unlikely to change based on what he described as play-calling to the team's strengths. 

"We've got a really good front seven," Sarkisian said. "We take pride in our front four and what they can do. Also, we understand that we have some youth in the secondary. We need to take care of those guys to make sure we're minimizing the big [pass] play." 

Minimize those plays the Trojans have. Opponents have completed 22 passes of 20 yards or more against USC, 20th best in the nation. The Trojans have allowed just five pass plays of 30 yards or more, which ties Alabama for third best in the country.  

Conversely, Cal is one of the best teams in the FBS at producing explosive pass plays. One reason, according to Dykes, is Goff's ability to turn blitzing situations into opportunities. 

While USC's limited blitzing is a safeguard against the pass, Sarkisian does not see it negatively impacting the Trojans' run defense. 

"Even though we haven't blitzed as much, our run numbers have been fantastic," Sarkisian said. USC is allowing 138.4 rushing yards per game and just four yards an attempt. "We haven't had to devote an extra defender to the box, which in turn has helped us in our pass coverage." 


Lobendahn Holding Off Walker at Tackle 

Aundrey Walker initially filled in at left tackle for starter Chad Wheeler, who tore his ACL in the Oct. 25 loss at Utah. 

Sarkisian hinted Walker would remain in the position, but freshman Toa Lobendahn moved from the interior to left tackle in the week before the Trojans faced Washington State. 

"Toa beat him out," Sarkisian said. "We're going to play the best players that give us the best opportunity to be successful, and that's what happened." 


Injuries and Energy After Bye Week 

Sarkisian said on his Nov. 2 conference call that USC's bye week "couldn't come at a better time."

The Trojans used their additional week leading up to Thursday's game to recuperate from the collective injuries that piled up throughout Pac-12 play, and the strategy should pay off.

Linebacker-safety hybrid Su'a Cravens will be in the lineup after suffering a knee injury at Washington State.

On Tuesday, Sarkisian said fullback Soma Vainuku was looking good. Freshman defensive back John Plattenburg is day-to-day with a thigh bruise. 

In addition to healing, the bye week afforded USC an opportunity to re-energize. Sarkisian said he has seen that manifest in practices, which resumed on Saturday.  

"This is our Thursday...for a 'Thursday' practice, I thought our energy was fantastic," he said. "I had to tell them to slow down, which is a great place to be. [It] means we're energized and fresh. They're in tune to the details of the game plan, and Thursday night, we're going to put it all together."  


Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics via

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USC Practice Notebook: Cody Kessler vs. Jared Goff, Winning the Turnover Battle

LOS ANGELES — Turnovers will be in limited supply Thursday when USC hosts Cal, assuming the two teams follow season-long trends...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

2015 Wide Receiver Recruits Who Are Matchup Nightmares

Collegiate offenses rely on field-stretching wide receivers to enhance vertical efforts and exploit pass defenders dealing with a heightened prevalence of penalties. These elite pass-catchers can make the difference between an average downfield attack and one capable of routinely taking the top off of defenses. 

We continue to see premier prospects become effective weapons as freshmen—2014 5-star recruit KD Cannon has 38 receptions for 731 yards this season—so members of this recruiting cycle are destined to make an impact as early as next fall. 

Here's a look at several young receivers capable of creating matchup issues for opponents throughout their college careers. Each will be counted on to elevate offenses at the next level.

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Former LSU Player Explains Why Tigers Defense Is the Future in Baton Rouge

The LSU Tigers have had an up-and-down season. Their heartbreaking loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide all but crushed their hopes for the College Football Playoff. But hope still remains in Baton Rouge. 

Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson is joined by T-Bob Hebert to discuss the young Tigers on defense.

Which young defender has played the best this season?

Check out the video, and let us know!  

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5 2015 Recruits with the Most Riding on the Auburn vs. Georgia Game

There will be huge stakes on the line when Auburn meets Georgia this weekend in the 118th edition of The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.

On the field, a win by the Bulldogs would even the series record at 55-55-8. However, the bigger battles are likely to be fought on the recruiting trail, where the longtime rivals have gone head-to-head for a number of talented prospects in recent years.

Both schools are among the Top 10 classes in 2015, according to the 247Sports Team Rankings.

With the 2015 recruiting cycle less than two months away from its conclusion, the Tigers and Bulldogs have a handful of prospects who are seriously considering both schools.

Which 2015 prospects will be paying close attention to the happenings between Auburn and Georgia this weekend? 

*Players listed in alphabetical order

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Alabama Can't Afford Post-LSU Hangover Against No. 1 Mississippi State

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Most years, Alabama’s game against Mississippi State comes at just the right time.

The Crimson Tide are emotionally and physically drained from playing LSU. The Tigers give Alabama everything they have and, win or lose, it takes a toll.

So playing what is usually an average or below-average Mississippi State team works out, since Alabama can afford a little bit of a sloppy game and still come out on top before resting up for the Iron Bowl.

Not this year.

At least for now, Mississippi State is the king of the SEC, the conference’s only undefeated team and one of just two among all power-five programs.

It’s beaten LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn, putting the three away with relative ease. Its quarterback, Dak Prescott, is a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender and its defense is salty up front.

Simply put: Alabama can’t afford its traditional post-LSU hangover this year.

The LSU letdown is very real. Andrew Gribble of provided some context:

A closer look at the numbers shows a similar pattern. At least on offense, Alabama struggles out of the gate the week after facing LSU.

This occurs for a variety of reasons. When asked how he felt after Saturday’s win, right tackle Austin Shepherd’s answer was simple. “Like you were hit by a Mack truck,” he said. “Sore everywhere.”

LSU’s defense matched Alabama pound for pound up front and in the secondary, giving the Crimson Tide little room to operate. LSU held Alabama to its lowest yards-per-play output of the year at 4.2.

It’s always a physical fight that wears on the players.

That’s where Mississippi State, in the past, has come in.

Alabama has played the Bulldogs following LSU in all but one year under Saban. Only once has Mississippi State been ranked at the time the two met. It’s given Alabama a little bit of leeway to have an off game.

It can’t afford that this year and will have to bounce back quickly. That’s where the mental part comes in.

“Of course it was a hard-fought game, a hard, tough, physical game,” wide receiver DeAndrew White said. “Everybody is sore from that game. I say we’ve got to bounce back mentally from our body being sore, don’t want to practice and stuff like that. We’ve got to have a great week of practice and preparation for this game.”

A classic LSU letdown could spell bad news against a very good and dangerous Mississippi State team.

That’s why Alabama coach Nick Saban didn’t want to talk about any kind of rest in the lead-up to a huge game in the Crimson Tide’s season.

“We have a tough game coming up, so we need to be thinking about what we need to do to beat this team,” Saban said. “They do a lot of things differently. This is a tough preparation based on what they do as a defense and as an offense. I think our players have to focus on, this is going to be a tough game and I don't know that you can prepare for a tough game by worrying about—you've got to have some tough practice because that's how you play well against those kind of teams.

“We had a bye week and we just played a game and we're going to have to bounce back and respond and get ready to play probably the most physical game we've played all year.”


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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Insider Buzz: Which Top Team Will Land No. 1 2016 CB Saivion Smith?

2016 5-star CB Saivion Smith has had offers from some powerhouse college football programs. The talented junior still has some time to decide. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder is joined by National Recruiting Analyst Sanjay Kirpalani to predict where Smith will land. 

Where will  Smith play his college football?

Check out the video and let us know! 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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5-Star Ole Miss Commit Discusses Relationship with Calvin Johnson, the Grove

DeKaylin Metcalf is a 5-star 2016 Ole Miss wide receiver commit from Oxford, Mississippi. DeKaylin took some time to sit down with Bleacher Report and discuss his relationship with his cousin, Calvin Johnson, as well as his favorite part of the Ole Miss game day traditions. 

What sort of impact can Metcalf have on the Ole Miss Rebels?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Will Gardner Injury: Updates on Louisville QB's Knee and Recovery

Louisville sophomore quarterback Will Gardner is expected to miss the remainder of the 2014 campaign due to a knee injury suffered in the team's win over Boston College.    

Brett McMurphy of ESPN broke the news:

Gardner later commented on the news via his Twitter account:

Gardner played a key role in helping the Cardinals to a 7-3 record. He had 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions in eight games played. Reggie Bonnafon, a freshman who previously led the team to wins over Wake Forest and Syracuse, will likely assume the reigns once again.

Bonnafon had two touchdowns on five throws in relief of Gardner last week.


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The 3 Biggest X-Factors for Missouri at Texas A&M

The Texas A&M football team will play Missouri at Kyle Field on Saturday. There is a small group of players who will have a significant impact on the game. 

The Aggies are 7-3 on the season with a 3-3 record in the SEC. They are coming off a 41-38 victory at Auburn. Missouri is 7-2 on the season with a 4-1 record in the SEC. They are coming off a bye week.

This game will have a huge impact on the standings in the SEC East and on positioning in the bowl pecking order for the Aggies. Missouri is still fighting to get into the SEC Championship Game, and a loss to the Aggies would likely take them out of the running. 

This is a look at some of the impact players who will compete in the game on Saturday.

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SEC Football Q&A: Would Loss to Alabama End Mississippi State's Playoff Hopes?

It's mid-November, and here we are with only two SEC teams with fewer than two losses.

That may change on Saturday, as No. 1 Mississippi State (9-0) will travel across the border to take on No. 4 Alabama (8-1) in a game that will serve as an elimination game for the Crimson Tide and further define the evolving College Football Playoff picture.

Is it also an elimination game for the top-ranked Bulldogs? Would a two-loss SEC champion have a shot at the four-team tournament? Just how good is Texas A&M? 

Those questions are answered in this week's SEC Q&A: 


It depends on how things shake out around the country. If the chalk holds, yes, it will eliminate Mississippi State from Playoff contention.

Judging from their first two weeks of rankings, the only way that I thought the selection committee would take two teams from the SEC is if Mississippi State and Auburn both won out. That would have put Mississippi State in the No. 1 slot and Auburn, which would have had to run a gauntlet of its own, no worse than No. 3.

Auburn's 41-38 loss to Texas A&M last week allows the committee to hit the reset button—and do so with teams from various conferences from around the country. 

If Alabama beats the Bulldogs, the Crimson Tide would be No. 1 or No. 2 next week along with Florida State, Oregon and TCU or Baylor in the four-team bracket assuming no upsets happen this weekend. Those are four teams from four different conferences not including Ohio State, which has a relatively clear path to the Big Ten championship. Conference titles are a point of emphasis for the committee, and we won't know how much until Selection Sunday.

My gut feeling is that the Bulldogs would be behind the Buckeyes in the Playoff pecking order assuming the chalk holds. That shouldn't be the case because winning a conference title only has a loose correlation to being an elite football team—especially since all conferences aren't created equal.

An increased emphasis on conference championships does correlate with expanding Playoff fields. That could lead to a devastating case of Playoff buyer's remorse in Starkville.

Of course, it might not matter. Mississippi State could still win out and, if Auburn beats Alabama in the Iron Bowl, would still go to Atlanta.


It's certainly possible. It may be one of those Lloyd Christmas "one in a million" shots from Dumb & Dumber, but it's possible nonetheless.

If that SEC team is Georgia, Auburn or Ole Miss—all of which still have an outside shot of making it to Atlanta—it'd have a reasonably strong case to be the top two-loss team in the country. That'd place it behind Florida State, Oregon/Arizona State, TCU, Baylor and Ohio State if those teams win out, but it wouldn't take too many dominoes to fall for a two-loss team to get into the mix.

A two-loss Missouri team wouldn't get the same benefit of the doubt, though. The Tigers are currently unranked, and games vs. Texas A&M, Tennessee and Arkansas won't move the meter with the selection committee all that much. Toss in a home loss to Indiana on the resume, and the Tigers are out.

We've seen chaos happen down the stretch several times, including last season when Michigan State's upset of Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game cleared the road for Auburn to head to Pasadena for the BCS National Championship Game. 

If one or two dominoes fall, a two-loss SEC champ could follow in its footsteps. Now, a real curveball would be if a two-loss SEC East team wins the SEC title over Alabama, and one-loss Mississippi State is sitting there waiting.

Good luck with that scenario, selection committee.


No, not a chance.

The Auburn win was impressive, no doubt. And as I wrote earlier in the week, the future looks very bright in College Station.

But the 59-0 Alabama loss is still something that won't sit well with the selection committee, the team was wildly uncompetitive during the three-game SEC losing streak, and it isn't like the Aggies earned style points in the Louisiana-Monroe win.

Will Texas A&M be ranked in the Top 25 by the committee at the end of the season? Absolutely. It should take care of Missouri and LSU at home to close the season and slide into the bottom of the rankings.

That'd be a huge step forward for a program that looked lost just one week ago, give the youngsters confidence heading into bowl practice and give the program a ton of momentum heading into a big offseason.


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

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

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The Pac-12's Surprise Best Coach​, Oregon on the Rise

They arrived with fanfare and credentials: Jim Mora from the NFL, Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach intent on repeating their respective program-building from West Virginia and Texas Tech and Sonny Dykes bringing his uptempo offense from Louisiana Tech.

When Todd Graham arrived at Arizona State, it was under a cloud. He was a winner—at Rice, Tulsa and Pitt. But leaving Pitt as a one-and-done head coach created a ton of hard feelings. Thus Graham arrived in Tempe and was seen as a job-hopper.

Fast-forward three seasons, and the label that must stick to Graham is "winner." Arizona State should take the field in Tucson on November 28 needing a win to clinch a second consecutive Pac-12 South title. 

This is the division of Brett Hundley, USC, Utah's rugged defense and Rich Rod's pioneering spread offense. This was supposed to be UCLA's year, with Hundley making a Heisman run. Having lost nine starters on defense, the Sun Devils were expected to struggle against a quarterback-heavy conference.

The “first” new defense took a second-half pummeling from UCLA and Hundley. So Graham rebuilt on the fly, inserting experienced players who had not been starters. ASU’s defense has since shown marked improvement.

Graham’s defensive identity? Aggression. On Notre Dame’s first drive, ASU rushed five or more defenders on nine of 13 plays, even if the Irish ran the ball. By day’s end, that pressure wore down Notre Dame and created five takeaways. 

Arizona State has won with an overlooked quarterback. The publicity machine has missed Taylor Kelly. But when he regained his health following a September foot injury, Graham went to him without hesitation, knowing he needed Kelly’s experience for a tough November stretch. 

These Sun Devils have found a way to win games.

They have won with their backup QB (Mike Bercovici), they have won when the opponent didn’t defend a Hail Mary (the stunner to Jaelen Strong against USC), they have won when the opposing kicker fails in OT (Utah's standout Andy Phillips) and they have won when the opposing QB throws for over 400 yards (Notre Dame's Everett Golson.)

In their biggest wins, there was a fourth-quarter response. After a furious rally pulled Notre Dame within three points at 34-31, the Sun Devils had a reply: five plays, 75 yards and a touchdown. Kelly’s lone pass was a patient 40-yard throw to freshman running back Demario Richard on a wheel route.

That drive reflected Graham’s impact on Arizona State football.

He inherited a program with a well-earned reputation for underachievement. Dennis Erickson’s teams were loaded with players bound for the NFL, but none of those teams ended with a sum equal to their parts.

Now, Arizona State wins with fewer individual stars but with a collective will that shines. The Sun Devils will be heavy favorites in their next two games at Oregon State and home against Washington State. Win those, and the rivalry game with Arizona will have national implications. Win those, and in a conference filled with fine coaches, Todd Graham will be the best of 2014.


The best Pac-12 player of 2014, Marcus Mariota, has avoided the off-game that costs Heisman contenders. No disasters like Auburn's Nick Marshall's late fumbles against Texas A&M. When Utah made a fourth-quarter push to within three points of Oregon, Mariota needed little time to extinguish upset dreams.

Mariota led the Ducks on a 75-yard drive in stunningly quick fashion. There were successful runs and a dash of speed on a screen to wide receiver Devon Allen, but Mariota’s moment arrived after an injury to starting center Hroniss Grasu stopped the game late in the drive.

Mariota watched his friend be helped off the field and then prepared to receive shotgun snaps from Grasu’s replacement, Doug Brenner. From the Utah 34-yard line, Mariota fielded a snap off his ankles, straightened up and quickly flipped a pass straight up the field to Dwayne Stanford.

The hastily thrown ball was slightly behind Stanford, but the receiver twisted to catch the ball and finish a catch-and-run touchdown—a play that displayed the poise and presence of a premier college player.


The most disappointing individual moment of the weekend was when Utah's Kaelin Clay lost a sure touchdown in a poor attempt at subtle celebration. Clay’s drop of the ball at the Oregon 1-yard line cost the Utes a 14-0 lead in the early second quarter—no guarantee of victory, but a lost window to command the way in which the game would be played.

Credit must go to the Pac-12 officials who never took their eyes off the play. While the Utes celebrated and the ESPN director cut to crowd and sideline camera shots, the game officials never signaled a touchdown. They never blew a whistle.

They threw a beanbag alertly recognized by Ducks players as a sign the ball was live. They never flinched when Oregon fielded the ball. They properly allowed the play to continue after the first Duck, Erick Dargan, fumbled and a second, Joe Walker, picked up the ball and ran the length of the field.

They were right. That should be acknowledged in a season that has seen the resignation of supervisor Tony Corrente, also an NFL referee.

Corrente resigned because he felt the conference was going a bit overboard defending the complaints from coaches. And Corrente probably went a bit too far defending his officials.     

The crew in Utah functioned perfectly on a game-altering play.  

Mariota is the best player in the conference but must bow to a teammate for the title of Most Important Player. Royce Freeman is neither the best nor most valuable, but for Oregon’s national title hopes, no Duck is more vital.

Listen to an NFL coach who requested anonymity on the Pac-12 running games: "Watch running backs to see how many extra yards they gain. If a play is blocked for four yards, does the back get tackled at four? Or does he gain more?

Stanford's running game this year has gained exactly the yards that are blocked. Freeman is the other extreme, the "best back for Oregon since (Jonathan) Stewart." An NFL executive simply replied to me about Freeman, "He's for real."

On Oregon’s fourth-quarter drive referenced above, the first play was a right-side run by Freeman. Two Utah defenders contacted him three yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Freeman drove through them and gained 12 additional yards. Two plays later, he stiff-armed Utah safety Brian Blechen to tack on five yards at the end of a run.

If Oregon doesn't stumble late (their rivalry game shouldn’t pose the usual challenge given Oregon State’s poor season), Freeman gets at least two games on the national stage, the Pac-12 Championship and a potential playoff spot—the chance to be the special ingredient that lifts the Ducks to a first national title.

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.  

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The Pac-12's Surprise Best Coach​, Oregon on the Rise

They arrived with fanfare and credentials: Jim Mora from the NFL, Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach intent on repeating their respective program-building from West Virginia and Texas Tech and Sonny Dykes bringing his uptempo offense from Louisiana Tech...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Ohio State Football: Urban Meyer's Plea to College Football Playoff Committee

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Election Day was last Tuesday. But for Urban Meyer, campaign season is just getting underway.

That's nothing new for the Ohio State head coach, who is a decade removed from having to fight to get his undefeated Utah squad into a coveted BCS bowl. Two years later, Meyer would again campaign—successfully—to land Florida in the national title game, and even last year he found himself arguing the Buckeyes' national championship game worthiness, before Michigan State made it a moot point.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that as we head down the homestretch and toward the first ever College Football Playoff, Meyer again finds himself at the center of controversy. With the selection of the playoff's field of four fewer than four weeks away, there may not be a team with a more interesting resume than Ohio State—especially after last weekend's big win over Michigan State.

Meyer knows that his team's most impressive win—maybe the most impressive of all of the teams remaining in the playoff field—will be weighed against Ohio State's albatross of a loss to Virginia Tech in the second week of the season. Which is why, when asked about the subject on Monday, the third-year Buckeyes coach was prepared.

"I don't want to act like it's rehearsed—but it's rehearsed because I tend to say stupid things sometimes," Meyer said, drawing on his previous campaign experiences. "That early in the season we were not a great team. We had a quarterback that was a quarterback for about two weeks and did not play very well. We had an offensive line that played horrible that game and a group of receivers that were not ready to play.

"This is the most improved team that I've been a part of."

The numbers back up Meyer's assessment.

Since suffering that early-season defeat at the hands of the Hokies—who have compiled just a 4-5 record on the season—the Buckeyes have reeled off seven consecutive wins, concluding with last weekend's road win over the Spartans. Ohio State has looked far from the team that completed just nine of 29 pass attempts against Virginia Tech, ranking 10th in total offense (512.1 yards per game) and fourth in points per game (46).

A big part of that has been the improved play of freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, who saw his Heisman Trophy odds increase to 20-1, per Odds Shark, following his 386-yard, five-touchdown performance against Michigan State. But that's just been a part of the story of the Buckeyes' improvement, as Ohio State's wide receivers, offensive line and even defense have each played noticeably better in the past two months, as well.

That trajectory, to Meyer, is the sign of a championship-quality team, something that he knows a thing or two about.

"I've been fortunate to be around some championship-level teams," said Meyer, who captured national titles with the Gators in 2006 and 2008. "They have a common characteristic and they're grinders. And they get better each week. Those are championship-level teams."

The problem for Meyer and the Buckeyes, however, is that at this point in the season, they aren't the only one.

In fact, it's only been after Ohio State's signature victory over the Spartans that it's catapulted back into the playoff discussion, the Buckeyes' odds shifting from 14-1 to 8-1, per Bovada. In the first two weeks of the College Football Playoff rankings, Ohio State measured in at No. 16 and No. 14, respectively, with the committee explaining that the Buckeyes lacked victories impressive enough to justify otherwise.

"We're still early in this process and while I wouldn't get that excited about Ohio State's placement, we do think that based on the other teams that they've played to this point in the schedule, this is where they deserve to be ranked," committee chair and Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said after the first batch of rankings were released. "Ohio State has opportunities on their schedule to play up, as many of these teams do."

It remains to be seen how far the Buckeyes played themselves up this past weekend—we'll find that out Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. ET—but if the latest AP Top 25 and USA Today Coaches' Polls are any indication, Ohio State should land at No. 7 or No. 8. That would put the Buckeyes on the outside looking in at the playoff field, behind the likes of Mississippi State, Florida State, Alabama, Oregon, TCU, Baylor and potentially Arizona State.

Of course, there's a lot of football left to be played between now and the playoff committee's final selection show, and at least one of those teams will pick up an additional loss with Mississippi State and Alabama squaring off this weekend.

A likely trip to the Big Ten Championship Game will provide the opportunity for the Buckeyes to add another potential quality win to their resume, but even then, that pesky Virginia Tech loss still looms.

And while Ohio State still has one more month and four more games to prove that it's a different team now than it was back then, that scarlet letter of a defeat is still going to need some explaining. But in the Buckeyes' first game of the season, Meyer may have just that, as Ohio State was tasked with spending a large portion of its summer preparing for Navy's unique triple-option attack.

That might be more than just an excuse for Meyer to use, as well. Navy's opponents have gone a combined 1-7 in the weeks following their matchups with the Midshipmen, proving that preparing for an offense as unique as Navy's can throw a wrench into any team's extended plans.

"I could see that," Meyer responded when presented with that stat on Monday.

Factor in that the Hokies opened the season with I-AA opponent William & Mary and thus essentially had all summer to prepare for Ohio State, and the Buckeyes' lone blemish doesn't appear as big as it might seem. Still, Ohio State is going to need to continue to showcase its growth in the next four weeks if Meyer is going to have any chance at again making good on his campaign-trail promises.

"This could all be gone if we don't go out and continue to do what we do," Meyer said. "But I do know a championship-level team. A team continues to grow like they are, like this, there's no question this is one of them."


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

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Sony Michel Injury: Updates on Georgia Star's Ankle and Return

Just when it seemed like the University of Georgia's running back depth was fully restored, another Bulldogs rusher is potentially back on the shelf.   

According to Seth Emerson of The Macon Telegraph, freshman Sony Michel is questionable for Saturday's clash with Auburn after suffering an ankle injury:

After missing four contests with a broken shoulder blade, Michel returned to action last week against Kentucky. He rushed for 84 yards and a score on 16 totes, and he seemingly added another dimension to Georgia's offense.

As skilled as he is, though, the Bulldogs should be fine if he can't play this weekend. Not only is fellow freshman Nick Chubb just 105 yards short of 1,000 on the ground, but superstar Todd Gurley is also set to return from suspension, per George Schroeder of USA Today:

Many consider Gurley to be the best back in college football, while Chubb has also looked the part in his absence. Having Michel on the field as well can't hurt, but Georgia might be wise to play it safe due to Gurley's imminent return.


Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Texas vs. Oklahoma State Complete Game Preview

The Texas Longhorns will hit the road to Stillwater, Oklahoma, to face 5-4 Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys started the season off strong but have lost the previous three straight games, which is basically the opposite scenario for the Longhorns.

Both teams will be fighting for bowl eligibility in sub-freezing temperatures Saturday.

Will the Longhorns continue the momentum and become bowl eligible over the struggling Cowboys? Let's take a look.


When: Saturday, Nov. 16, 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater, Okla.

TV: Fox

Austin radio: KVET 98.1/1300

SiriusXM satellite radio: XM 202; Sirius 117; Internet 969; Spanish 550

Opening spread: Oklahoma State (-1), per

Begin Slideshow

How Nebraska Became the College Football Playoff's Ultimate Dark Horse

In hindsight, "Don't You (Forget About Me)" by Simple Minds was probably about Nebraska football—even if it was recorded was almost 20 years ago.

That's what the Huskers are saying: Don't you, the College Football Playoff selection committee, forget about them.

The playoff picture is slightly clearer after Week 11, with Auburn, Kansas State, Michigan State and Notre Dame all but officially leaving the conversation. That picture will continue to get clearer as a pivotal month of November rolls on.

But with the committee set to release its latest Top 25 on Tuesday evening, where do the Huskers fit in? Nebraska was on a bye last Saturday yet sits at No. 11 in the latest Associated Press and Amway Coaches polls.

In both instances, the Huskers are one spot ahead of Michigan State, a team they lost to in October.

Not that those polls matter in the playoff conversation, but it gives you an idea that voters around the country think Nebraska is at least on the perimeter of the postseason chatter.

The fact is that Florida State and Mississippi State interchangeably occupy the top two spots as long as they keep winning. It's spots Nos. 3 and 4 that are up for grabs. Oregon, TCU and Alabama are likely the three teams jockeying for those slots. Big wins by Arizona State, Baylor and Ohio State should put those three teams in the discussion as well.

Again, though, what about Nebraska? It seems unconventional for a playoff dark horse to come from a power-five school—you would think that label would belong to a mid-major—but that would be the best way to describe Nebraska at the moment.

The Huskers (8-1) have one loss—a "good" one, if you will—on the road at Michigan State. They also have a solid nonconference win over Miami. That's more than Mississippi State and Ohio State can say.

As Jerry Palm of told Tom Dienhart of, Nebraska could actually be the Big Ten's best chance at a playoff spot:

"I would say their resume would be slightly better than Ohio State’s,” Palm told me this morning. “Because their loss is to Michigan State. They played Miami (Fla.) outside the league. That’s a decent team. If Nebraska has no chance (at the playoffs), then Ohio State has less than no chance. I think 12-1 Nebraska is a better candidate than 12-1 Ohio State—but only slightly."

What has hurt Nebraska, in both perception and reality, is Big Ten conference play. Bo Pelini's team hasn't proved much outside of the Miami win. Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue and Rutgers are a combined 15-22, and the Scarlet Knights are the only one of those four with a winning record.

Then there's the reputation of the Big Ten and Big Ten West, both of which have taken considerable hits this year.

Following a disastrous Week 2 for the Big Ten, Tom Fornelli of declared that the Big Ten West was the worst power-five division in college football. Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer suggested that the Big Ten felt dead on arrival following that week.

Both were accurate assessments at the time. The Big Ten went 8-5 that week but did not beat another team from a power-five conference.

Many of the wins against lesser opponents were closer than they should have been, including Nebraska's escape over McNeese State.

So Nebraska, like the rest of the Big Ten, fell off the map. After all, rankings should be based on what you've done so far, and Nebraska has what amounts to one quality win. 

However, this season has shown that few things are truly off of the table in September or even October. Nebraska can close out the season as strongly as any team in college football.

The Huskers, currently atop the Big Ten West, play at No. 22 Wisconsin this Saturday. Whether do-it-all running back Ameer Abdullah is ready to play after suffering an MCL sprain against Purdue remains to be seen, according to's Mitch Sherman.

The game will feature the top two rushing offenses in the Big Ten, per However, Nebraska's offense was sluggish without Abdullah against the Boilermakers, recording a season-low 297 total yards. His return is crucial, to put it lightly.

The Huskers then get Minnesota before closing out the season at Iowa and would presumably meet Ohio State—or possibly Michigan State—in the Big Ten title game. Winning out wouldn't guarantee Nebraska a playoff spot per se, but it would absolutely put the Huskers in the conversation.

At the very least, it feels like a necessity.

It will be interesting to see where the committee puts Nebraska in the latest Top 25. As Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel points out, rankings aren't solely supposed to reflect the win-loss column. It's possible a two-loss Ole Miss, for example, could still be ahead of Nebraska:

That would add more ammo to the dark-horse label for Nebraska. The Huskers aren't the center of the playoff conversation or even in the next group of it.

As Ohio State showed throughout the course of the season, though, staying on the down low isn't necessarily a bad thing, as the outlook can change at a moment's notice.

That moment for Nebraska, the team everyone forgot about, could come with a win over the Badgers.


Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All rankings reflect the latest Associated Press standings unless noted otherwise. 

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Full List of Week 12 College Standings and Polls

Calamity swept through the NCAA football Week 12 rankings and polls.

Everything after the Mississippi State Bulldogs and Florida State Seminoles is an absolute disaster as things hit the fast lane toward the inaugural College Football Playoff.

After the pair of undefeated powerhouses at the top, eight one-loss teams from the power conferences continue to jockey for position in a number of different polls and in the minds of the CFP committee. Speaking of conferences, how some do business and the overall quality top to bottom is playing a major role in the CFP, too.

In a season that has been anything but predictable or calm, it is only fitting that the polls are a mess. Enjoy the chaos, because this was the ultimate goal of the four-team CFP in the first place.


Developments to Watch Moving Forward

Big Ten Eliminated From CFP?

The Ohio State Buckeyes had to go and ruin everything.

In a contest against the dominant then-No. 8 Michigan State Spartans, a team that had only lost to Oregon and seemed bound to make the playoff, the Buckeyes pulled a 49-37 win out of their hat to throw the committee for a loop.

That contest saw upstart Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett throw for 300 yards and a trio of scores while adding another 86 yards and two scores on the ground. As ESPN Stats & Info points out, the Buckeyes offense has slowly morphed into one of the nation's best attacks under the guidance of the freshman:

But keep in mind that if a one-loss Ohio State team stays that way, how in the world is the CFP committee supposed to take on a team that lost to unranked Virginia Tech? Those Hokies are 4-5 and in seventh place in the ACC Coastal division.

Bill Rabinowitz of the Columbus Dispatch describes the convoluted mess:

With winnable contests against Indiana and Michigan on deck, the CFP better hope that a team such as Wisconsin comes along and upends the Buckeyes.

If not, well, that would fit in with the wild season to date quite well.


Big 12 Causing Problems

Thanks to the lack of a proper conference title game, the Big 12 may be the biggest wild card of all when it comes to the CFP.

At this very moment, Baylor and TCU are tied at 8-1 atop the conference.

The programs got there in impressive fashion, too. Baylor absolutely blew away Oklahoma in Norman last week, 48-14, while TCU solved the riddle that was Kansas State's elite defense with a 41-20 thumping of the Wildcats later that night.

As Stewart Mandel of points out, nobody has a clue what will happen with the CFP if the Bears and Horned Frogs both reach 11-1:

Mandel goes on to explain that the CFP committee is in no way bogged down by the rules that govern the Big 12:

The Big 12 uses head-to-head results as its tiebreaker in determining the league’s automatic berth in one of the New Year’s Six bowls, but the committee is not obligated to follow that protocol when producing the order of its final rankings. Head-to-head is one of the factors it’s supposed to consider -- but so are conference championships and overall body of work.

TCU has a cupcake walk to 11-1, too. Kansas, Texas and Iowa State all have fewer than five wins. Minus a hookup with Kansas State, the Bears have a relatively easy walk toward 11 wins as well.

Should both get to the doomsday point, a precedent for all future editions of the CFP may be set. Don't blink when it comes to the Big 12 the rest of the season.


SEC's Doomsday Scenario

A few weeks back, there were rumblings concerning just how many teams the SEC could sneak into the postseason. 

Any general fan could have poked holes in the question, though—the SEC is so great and beats itself up so much that there is an outside chance only one team sneaks into the fray.

Or none at all.

Look at it this way. The SEC East is pretty much a non-factor with only one-loss Missouri at the top of the standings. The SEC West is an absolute mess with Ole Miss and Auburn at two losses apiece.

Next weekend, Alabama is in serious danger of picking up its second loss in a clash with Mississippi State. But the Bulldogs could go down at a very bad time of year, too. Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal puts it best:

Then again, Adam Beasley of The Miami Herald believes that the Bulldogs are still a surefire CFP team even if they do lose to Alabama:

"Absolutely," Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said, per's Alex Scarborough. "Bigtime game this week. This is what you play for. That’s what we want our program to be like, competing in these big games late in the season."

But keep in mind that the major showdown is not the end of the season. Quite the contrary—the Bulldogs, losers or not, will need to play Ole Miss to close the season. The Crimson Tide, potentially with just one loss, will need to overcome Auburn.

If the dominoes fall in the right manner, no SEC team will make the CFP.

Now that is an upset.


Stats and information via unless otherwise specified. AP Poll can be viewed at Amway Poll can be viewed at B/R Poll can be viewed at

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