NCAA Football

Washington Huskies vs. Oregon Ducks Complete Game Preview

The Oregon Ducks (5-1, 2-1) are coming off their best road victory of the season, but there’s no time to relax as the rival Washington Huskies (5-1, 1-1) come roaring into Eugene on Saturday. 

Oregon, ranked No. 9 in the latest Associated Press poll, has earned a victory in its last 10 meetings against the Huskies—a fact that doesn't sit well with Washington fans. However, this will be the first time that Oregon gets to face Washington’s new head coach Chris Petersen.

Duck fans remember Petersen well from his time at Boise State. With Petersen at the helm, the Broncos defeated the Ducks in 2008 and 2009.

The Huskies are still getting their feet wet under their new head coach but are coming off their most convincing win of the year—a 31-7 destruction of California in Berkeley.

There will be a lot on the line come Saturday at Autzen. Pac-12 North standings will take a back seat to this heated rivalry. This isn’t just another game for fans of the Ducks and Huskies. This is a border war and a fiery one at that.

Here's what you need to know:  

Date: Saturday, Oct. 18

Time: 5 p.m. Pacific Time

Place: Autzen Stadium (Eugene, Ore.)

TV: Fox Sports 1

Spread: Oregon -19, according to OddsShark.com.

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Washington Huskies vs. Oregon Ducks Complete Game Preview

The Oregon Ducks (5-1, 2-1) are coming off their best road victory of the season, but there’s no time to relax as the rival Washington Huskies (5-1, 1-1) come roaring into Eugene on Saturday...

Begin Slideshow

Watch Alabama Commit Blake Barnett Light It Up with 6-Touchdown Performance

Top Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback commit Blake Barnett had himself a day vs. Corona High School in California. The senior signal-caller accounted for six touchdowns while throwing for 253 yards in the 57-25 romp. 

Can this performance be topped this season?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan-Ohio State Rivalry Leads to Ann Arbor Bank Staying Open on Columbus Day

The Michigan-Ohio State rivalry never rests. Even on holidays.

Columbus Day is celebrated on the second Monday of October each year. However, the employees at the Bank of Ann Arbor aren't getting the day off. Why not? It's because Columbus, Ohio, is home to the Michigan Wolverines' biggest rival, the Ohio State Buckeyes.

This is certainly not the first trivial act in the rivalry's recent history. Back in early September, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer had ESPN's Brad Nessler and Todd Blackledge change into Buckeyes attire after they showed up to practice wearing blue shirts.

And there is still plenty of time for both schools to heat up the rivalry between now and the big game. The Wolverines and Buckeyes don't face off until Nov. 29 in Columbus.

In a season in which Michigan can't beat Minnesota or Rutgers, Wolverines fans are still focused on the No. 13 Buckeyes. That's what makes this rivalry so great.

[Bank of Ann Arbor]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: Steps Wolverines Secondary Must Take to Improve

Michigan’s secondary hasn’t always lived up to the hype this season.

But on Saturday, the Wolverines defensive backs did enough to momentarily quiet their critics.

Two weeks ago, Team 135’s backfield was shredded by Rutgers’ Gary Nova, who threw for 404 yards and three touchdowns. This past Saturday, Penn State’s sophomore star Christian Hackenberg was supposed to carve another chunk from DB coach Curt Mallory’s stock.

But he didn’t.

In fact, he looked incredibly average, passing for just 160 yards and a touchdown. Furthermore, his lone interception proved to be quite costly, as Jourdan Lewis plucked the pass late in the third quarter to set up Matt Wile’s game-tying, 42-yard field goal (13-13).  

From top to bottom, quarter to quarter, Saturday was one of the better efforts by the DBs.

“[The momentum and energy] started from this whole week—we had a great week in practice, and this whole week it just carried over to Saturday,” said the 5’10”, 175-pound sophomore corner. “We just unleashed on the field.”

Lewis was proud of the way his teammates responded to Hackenberg, who opened the game with four completions for more than 10 yards. The Wolverines executed strategy, learned from past mistakes and pieced together and entire game, which is always the goal.

“Always,” he said. “That’s our plan, every game—and that’s exactly what coach [defensive coordinator Greg] Mattison wants [is for] us to play four quarters and finish.

“And that’s what we did.”

While the win came at a great time—just two weeks before Michigan (3-4, 1-1) heads to No. 8-ranked Michigan State (6-1, 2-0)—it can’t be overblown. Sure, it was important for the sake of winning, but it doesn’t erase the rest of the mess that’s become 2014.

The offense is slowly but surely churning. There could be more, and better, production on the horizon. They key word is "could." 

The run defense has been more than reliable. That’s an understatement, actually. It’s been the backbone of Greg Mattison’s No. 9-ranked total defense.

Now it’s the secondary’s turn to tighten up on all fronts.

 

Doing the Job

With just three interceptions on the season, it’s a wonder that the Wolverines have the Big Ten’s No. 4-ranked pass defense (207.4 YPG, 6.7 YPC). Imagine what a few friendly bounces could do for the corners and safeties. Bad luck and tough breaks have been the case all year, evidenced by Delonte Hollowell’s almost-touchdown versus Penn State.

Had there been a fumble, Hollowell’s recovery for six points would have stood. Instead, it was ruled as an incomplete pass, which it clearly was. But that doesn’t mean that Hollowell shouldn’t be praised for the instinctual move.

The defensive backs still have “it.” But “it” isn’t as consistent as it needs to be.

Blake Countess, a 5’10”, 185-pound redshirt junior, must regain his bearings or risk seeing more time on the bench. He was absent for stretches during the second half against Penn State. Was it based on play? Or was he hurt?

Only Countess and the coaching staff know for sure.

But one thing is certain: If the preseason Jim Thorpe Award candidate doesn’t rebound, the defense will be in for a long fall. His coverage against Rutgers was far below his normal standard. He wasn’t incredible versus the Nittany Lions, either.

Michigan’s secondary won’t reach its peak if Countess remains in a lull.

 

Getting Rest

During Saturday’s postgame presser, one of the better questions was asked by John Borton of The Wolverine. Injuries aside, he wanted to know if Hoke thought now was a good time for a bye.

“[Sips water] That’s a very good question, John. Yes, it is [media laughs],” Hoke said with a smile. “Believe me. It’s happening at a good time as far as we get some rest, and the guys get away from us a little bit—which is always positive.

“Probably more positive for them than me because I’ll worry about them. I think it’s good that we have a chance for them to get rested up a little bit.”

Due to a leg injury, Delano Hill’s out for the rest of the year. Five-star sensation Jabrill Peppers isn’t playing for whatever reason. Hoke won’t say if he’s injured, so don’t bother asking. The rest of the stable—Channing Stribling, Dymonte Thomas, Reon Dawson, Terry Richardson and Brandon Watson, to name a few—must stand on guard in the event something happens to Ray Taylor, Jarrod Wilson or Lewis.

Preparation and readiness are key.

With that said, Michigan will likely spend part of its Saturday watching the Spartans, who travel to Bloomington to take on Indiana. As of now, Michigan State has the No. 6-ranked passing offense (254 YPG) in the Big Ten, which is a modest stat for a team that’s capable of piling on points through the air.

However, all stats aren’t created equal. And some don’t tell the entire story. At No. 3, the Spartans have one of the league’s—and the country’s—most efficient passing attacks. Their quarterbacks have been picked just five times this year, contributing to an impressive efficiency rating of 156.

This season isn't over, but it's close. A loss to Michigan State wouldn't shock anyone. However, the secondary can play a major factor in the potential upset in East Lansing. 

It's easier said than done, but that's about all the hope that remains for a team that was supposed to be in line for a Big Ten championship. 

 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Unless otherwise noted, quotes and references to were obtained firsthand by the writer. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC vs. Colorado Complete Game Preview

No. 22-ranked USC can extend its lead atop the Pac-12 South win column Saturday against an opponent the Trojans have beaten by an average of 29 points per game over the last three seasons: Colorado.

The Buffaloes' futility since joining the Pac-12 in 2011 is well-documented. They have just three conference wins in that time, and last year's four-win campaign was the program's best since coming over from the Big 12.

Still, Colorado has made strides in head coach Mike MacIntyre's second season. The Buffs play an uptempo, pass-happy offensive style that has helped produce monster numbers for one of the nation's leading receivers, Nelson Spruce.

There's virtually no bigger splash Colorado can make than spoiling the homecoming game for a nationally ranked opponent that also happens to be the Pac-12's most iconic program. 

Avoiding the letdown after a marquee win at Arizona is critical for USC to keep its hope of a Pac-12 championship intact.

When: Saturday, Oct. 18; 6 p.m. ET 

Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

TV: Pac-12 Networks

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USC vs. Colorado Complete Game Preview

No. 22-ranked USC can extend its lead atop the Pac-12 South win column Saturday against an opponent the Trojans have beaten by an average of 29 points per game over the last three seasons: Colorado...

Begin Slideshow

Amari Cooper Injury: Updates on Alabama Star's Status and Return

Last season, we saw that injuries are one of the few things capable of slowing down Amari Cooper. Unfortunately, we may be getting another example of that claim. 

Cooper hasn't missed any game action as of yet, but according to AL.com's Andrew Gribble, Cooper's status is in question for the Crimson Tide's game against Texas A&M:

Alabama star receiver Amari Cooper was hampered by injuries throughout Saturday's win at Arkansas, but it doesn't appear his ability to play against Texas A&M is at risk.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said there were no significant injuries to report during his opening statement at Monday's press conference, but he indicated Cooper and defensive end D.J. Pettway would be limited at practice to start the week.

Cooper took a hard hit during Saturday's second quarter but returned for the second half.

Saban did not specify what was ailing Cooper.

After one of the best freshman seasons in school history (59 catches, 1,000 yards, 11 touchdowns), Cooper caught just 45 balls for 736 yards and four scores in 2013. A foot injury was the main culprit, as he missed two games and was at less than 100 percent for several others before finally looking like himself late in the season. 

Nick Saban and Co. will be hoping this newest malady doesn't have the same long-lasting effect. 

Cooper, regarded by many as the best wide receiver in the country, has good hands and is unbelievably explosive. Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer put it simply after Cooper torched West Virginia for 12 catches and 130 yards in the Crimson Tide's 2014 opener:

"He's one of the best receivers I've seen, and I've been here for five years," senior safety Nick Perry told Gribble. "I've practiced against Julio (Jones), practiced against (Marquis) Maze. Coop is just a different breed."

The Jones comparison is especially lofty, but Cooper has shown that when he's healthy, he can do some truly special things on the football field. 

Alabama has another talented receiver in DeAndrew White, a playmaker in Christion Jones and a dominant rushing attack led by T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, so the cupboard on offense isn't exactly bare.

But a healthy Cooper makes it a lot easier to win games. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Watch the Monster Hit That Knocked the Helmet Clean off a High School Receiver

Meet Dilan Thomas, cornerback at American Heritage High School in Plantation, Florida. The 2015 graduate absolutely lays down a monster hit, causing his opponent to lose his helmet. 

Is this the biggest hit you've seen on the high school level?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

No. 1 Recruit Josh Sweat Changes Official Visits Plan

The No. 1 prospect in the 2015 recruiting class, Josh Sweat, has rearranged the schedule by which he will visit colleges.

Sweat is a 6'5", 240-pound defensive end from Chesapeake, Virginia, who dislocated his left knee in September and will miss the rest of his senior season to recover. According to his 247Sports timeline, he was previously scheduled to visit Virginia Tech Sept. 20, Georgia Oct. 4, Florida State Oct. 17 and Oregon Nov. 1., but the injury forced him to change things up.

Per Evan Watkins of 247Sports, Sweat's new schedule, which no longer includes a trip to Oregon, looks like this:

Sweat is not a heavy favorite to land at any one school. His predictions fall across the board on the 247Sports "Crystal Ball," with Florida State (41 percent) and Virginia Tech (38 percent) sitting a few lengths ahead of Ohio State and Georgia (nine percent apiece).

Sweat saw Virginia Tech beat Ohio State on his official visit to Columbus in Week 2 and has an obvious tie to his home-state school. The Hokies were once a massive favorite to land him, and although things have gotten ambiguous these past six months, the fact that they are now Sweat's last official visit might prove beneficial.

In the past three recruiting classes, three defensive ends have ranked No. 1 or No. 2 on the 247Sports Composite rankings.

The first of those players was Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. The second of those players was Robert Nkemdiche, who is well on his way to an All-American season for Ole Miss. And the third of those players was Myles Garrett, who ranks No. 4 in the country with 7.5 sacks as a true freshman at Texas A&M.

To wit, there's a reason people are obsessing over Sweat's recruitment. He looked like a man among boys at Nike's "The Opening" this summer, clocking a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash. Defensive players as big and strong as Sweat are not supposed to be able to do that.

"I thought I could have jumped a little higher," Sweat told MaxPreps host Chris Stonebraker after posting a 39-inch vertical and finishing second in the SPARQ National Championship. He's a player for whom second-best will never be enough. Combining such an attitude with Clowney-esque physical tools is rare and, admittedly, terrifying.

Chime in below and let us know where you think Sweat should play.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame vs. FSU: Which Heisman Contender QB Will Lead Their Team to Victory?

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish travel to Tallahassee, Florida, for their first true road game of the season when they take on the reigning national champions, the Florida State Seminoles.

Not only does this game feature two Heisman Trophy contenders, but it has major implications on the College Football Playoff picture.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer break down the important matchup of the two superpowers.

Who will come out on top? Watch the video and let us know!  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Watch the Best Tip-Drill Catch You'll See All Week

At Dallas Christian High School in Dallas, Texas, junior wide receiver Jacob Yarbrough makes an improbable catch off a ball that was tipped up by the defender. Watch this incredible play! 

Was this the best high school catch you've seen this year?

Watch the video and let us know!

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nate Sudfeld Injury: Updates on Indiana QB's Shoulder and Recovery

Indiana's season took a turn for the worse on Monday, as quarterback Nate Sudfeld has been lost for the season.

David Woods of The Indianapolis Star passed along the following update from coach Kevin Wilson:

Pete DiPrimio of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel has more:

Sudfeld was having a solid season, having thrown for 1,151 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions, while also rushing for 98 yards and two scores. It's a disappointing turn for the junior, who was developing nicely but will now have to wait until his senior season to get back onto the field.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Which LSU Legend Does 5-Star WR Tyron Johnson Resemble?

Tyron Johnson—a 5-star wide receiver, per the 247Sports composite rankings—is an amazing athlete.

With so many schools campaigning for Johnson's services, Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder takes a look at which former LSU WR most closely resembles Johnson's game.

How well would Johnson fit in with the LSU offense?

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What's Wrong with Lane Kiffin's Alabama Offense?

First-year Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin was the talk of T-Town during the first month of the season, as his offense—with first-year starter Blake Sims at quarterback—gained more than 530 yards in each of the first four games of the year.

Now? Not so much.

The Crimson Tide have managed just 623 total yards over the last two games, a 23-17 loss at Ole Miss and Saturday's 14-13 win at Arkansas.

The offensive problems have spawned fantastic images of Kiffin and head coach Nick Saban on the sideline, like this one from Saturday:

What's the problem with Kiffin's offense?

 

Offensive Line Woes

Alabama's offensive line is a far cry from the one in 2012 that plowed the road for running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon.

There's no guard who can plow the road like Chance Warmack did for the 2012 Tide. Leon Brown, Alphonse Taylor and Arie Kouandjio, in fact, have been liabilities in the running game, missing assignments and committing too many false start penalties.

Prior to the Arkansas game, SEC Network's Joe Tessitore (h/t Bo Mattingly of Sports Talk with Bo) commented on just how this offensive line stacks up to those of the past:

Junior center Ryan Kelly's absence last week due to a sprained ankle only contributed to the line's inconsistencies. As the "quarterback" of the offensive line, it's Kelly's job to get the line on the same page at the line of scrimmage.

It wasn't last week, which is big reason why the Crimson Tide managed just 66 rushing yards against an Arkansas defense that gave up 137 or more in each of its two previous conference games.

Alabama's offense has committed 39 penalties this year. Based on AL.com's count of the first four games and Alabama's play-by-play of the last two, 17 of those are on the offensive line or tight ends who stayed in as blockers.

The lack of communication and discipline of the offensive line has been setting the offense back and forcing Kiffin and Sims to be more predictable.

A predictable offense is a stagnant offense, which has been a big problem for 'Bama over the last two weeks.

 

Absence of a True Weapon Not Named Amari Cooper

If there was a real criticism of Sims over the first four weeks, it's that he didn't develop a chemistry with a receiver other than star junior Amari Cooper. Cooper averaged 10.75 receptions per game over the first four weeks, topping the 130-yard mark in each of those contests.

He has only—which is a relative term considering how good Cooper is—managed 11 total catches and 113 yards combined in the two games since then.

Ole Miss' secondary was talented enough to take away the threat of Cooper getting loose deep and fundamentally sound enough to prevent those yards after catch that Cooper has become known for.

Against Arkansas, Cooper only caught two passes and was in and out of the game with a shoulder injury, according to AL.com's Michael Casagrande.

Part of the reason for Sims not connecting with another option outside was the shoulder injury to DeAndrew White, who went out during the season opener vs. West Virginia and missed the next two games. White caught a team-high four passes for 33 yards and a touchdown against the Hogs, which was a game played in rainy conditions in Fayetteville.

Sims, Kiffin and the rest of the offense certainly didn't benefit from White being out during games against Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss, which would've been the perfect time for White and Sims to gel and take some pressure off Cooper.

 

Keeping It Simple

The biggest problem that Kiffin's offense has faced over these last two weeks has been expectations.

During the first three weeks of the season, he employed a rather conservative game plan as Sims got his feet wet as the starting quarterback in Tuscaloosa. In the fourth game, Sims and Kiffin let things fly.

Sims threw for 445 yards and four touchdowns, and the Crimson Tide amassed 672 yards and 7.72 yards per play against what typically is a stout Gator defense. Florida had some personnel issues in the secondary at the time, but that game opened the eyes of Kiffin, Saban and the rest of 'Bama nation during the bye week.

The conservative game plan came back against Ole Miss and Arkansas, which might have come as a shock.

It shouldn't have.

Sims was making his first true road start against the Rebels, who—statistics aside—should be considered one of the best defenses in the entire country. Going conservative wasn't the worst idea. It just might have been a little too conservative, which allowed Ole Miss to hang around and ultimately spring the upset.

Arkansas has been susceptible to the pass, but considering Cooper got banged up and the weather wasn't great, a sloppy game shouldn't be the most concerning thing in the world.

The bottom line is the Tide went in, did what they needed to do and got the win.

Alabama's offense is not going to be wide open all the time. Former quarterback AJ McCarron told Tide 99.1 FM last week that Saban "handcuffs" his offensive coordinators, which is a poor choice of words. He does, however, want to play a more conservative brand of football when appropriate, and it was appropriate vs. the Rebels and Hogs for two different reasons.

Sometimes it's better to go old school, as D.C. Reeves of TideSports.com notes:

It isn't permanent.

Alabama plays Texas A&M this week, and that Aggie pass defense (222.1 yards allowed per game) isn't exactly the most feared group in the SEC. What's more, Texas A&M has the weapons on offense to put pressure on Alabama's cornerbacks and force this game into a shootout.

If that happens, Kiffin will be just fine. He's done it before and he'll do it again—just not as often as he'd probably like.

 

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

Samuel Chi's Mock College Football Playoff Standings: Week 8

One Mississippi. Two Mississippi.

For the first time since...well, ever, the state of Mississippi is the epicenter of college football. In the latest AP poll, Mississippi State is No. 1 while Ole Miss checks in at No. 3, trailing defending national champion Florida State by just 2 points.

In the latest mock College Football Playoff standings, the two Mississippi teams have distanced themselves from the rest. The possibility exists now that half of the inaugural playoff field will be taken by the teams from the Magnolia State.

The SEC West continues to dominate the standings, with the top three spots all taken by teams from that division and also four of the top six. While the battle of attrition will continue, the teams from the states of Mississippi and Alabama have now separated themselves from the others. But against teams from outside of the division, the SEC West maintains a perfect 26-0 record.

In two weeks, the selection committee will unveil its first-ever rankings. What exactly that will look like will be anyone's guess. But it should not be surprising that it will bear a striking resemblance to our mock standings.

 

The Rankings

(See methodology of standings)

 

The Playoff Teams

1. Mississippi State

The Bulldogs defeated last week's No. 1 Auburn to ascend to the top of the standings, and it looks like they may stay there for a bit. While its schedule doesn't get considerably easier, its next real test likely won't come until Nov. 15 at Alabama.

Projected bowl: Playoff at Sugar Bowl

 

4. Florida State

Just like last season, the Seminoles are cruising through the ACC while teams in other conferences begin to kill each other off. But this week they'll meet their stiffest challenge and one team that might torpedo their chances of repeating as national champs. Notre Dame arrives in Tallahassee undefeated, with hopes of repeating its own dream season of 2012.

Projected bowl: Playoff at Rose Bowl

 

2. Ole Miss

Unlike their intrastate rivals, the Rebels won't have much of a breather in October, especially with a visit to Death Valley and then a visit from Auburn in back-to-back weeks. But if Ole Miss can get through these hurdles, it has a much more benign November schedule before hosting the all-important Egg Bowl.

Projected bowl: Playoff at Rose Bowl

 

5. Baylor 

On the brink of being eliminated from playoff contention, the Bears mounted a furious 24-point rally to defeat TCU. Baylor's lackluster nonconference resume, combined with a seemingly blowout loss at home, would've been enough to send it tumbling down the rankings. The Bears still have the weakest strength of schedule among top teams, but that will matter less as long as they can continue to defeat their Big 12 foes.

Projected bowl: Playoff at Sugar Bowl

 

 

First Four Out

3. Auburn

The Tigers' loss at Mississippi State isn't a deal-breaker, as they still have a chance to play their way back into the playoff field. The problem is that their schedule simply doesn't let up. After a bye week, they'll face South Carolina, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Georgia in consecutive weeks, with the latter three ranked in the Top 13 of our standings. And then there's the pesky little game called the Iron Bowl after all that.

Projected bowl: Orange Bowl

 

6. Alabama

The Crimson Tide barely escaped Arkansas, needing a blocked PAT to squeeze out a 1-point win over the Hogs. Shockingly (but unsurprising for those who have followed the polls for years), they were not punished at all by the voters. Alabama is very much trading on its reputation at the point, as it has beaten zero ranked teams so far.

Projected bowl: Cotton Bowl

 

7. Notre Dame

The Irish survived a sloppy game against North Carolina and now have grand hopes of pulling off an upset in Tallahassee to get into the College Football Playoff field. One word of caution, though: The visit to Doak Campbell will be its first true road game of the season, as Notre Dame's previous two games away from South Bend were played at neutral sites. 

Projected bowl: Peach Bowl

 

8. Oklahoma

Baylor's comeback win over TCU gave Oklahoma a reprieve, as it can now win the Big 12 without any outside help. The Sooners have the schedule on their side, as their toughest opponents—Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State—will all have to visit Norman.

Projected bowl: Cotton Bowl

 

Other Fun Facts

* Inexplicably, Michigan State is still ranked ahead of Oregon in both polls despite both teams being 5-1 and Oregon having soundly defeated MSU 46-27 earlier in the season. If the selection committee is worth its salt, its rankings should be radically different from the polls. The Ducks should be in a better position to enter the playoff field if those two teams finish the season with identical records while winning their respective conference titles.

* But outside of Oregon, the Pac-12's prospects of landing a team in the playoff field have dimmed considerably. The conference now has no unbeaten team and only the Ducks in the Top 15 of the rankings. It's likely that the Pac-12 champion will be a two-loss team and that probably won't be good enough to land in the playoff. 

* East Carolina continues to hold the pole position for the group-of-five bid, but a new threat now emerges in Colorado State. Like ECU, the Rams own two victories over power-five teams—against Colorado and at Boston College, the latter something that USC couldn't do. If it can win the Mountain West without another loss, CSU will warrant major consideration. For now, undefeated Marshall is probably the only other team in the conversation.

 

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn Football: Adjustments Tigers Must Make During Their Bye Week

AUBURN, Ala. — When it comes to the SEC and national-championship picture, the Auburn Tigers are down, but they're not out.

Coming off of a 38-23 loss at new No. 1 Mississippi State, Auburn will try to rebound in a similar fashion to its 2013 run to the BCS National Championship Game following a road loss at LSU.

And just like they had last season, the Tigers have an off week to correct their mistakes from the defeat at the hands of the Bulldogs.

"We’re halfway through the season," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said Sunday night. "[The bye week] allows us to slow down really tonight, tomorrow and maybe even some on Tuesday and really look at ourselves... and try to say 'OK, with what we have and the way our team’s kind of forming and becoming, here’s the direction we need to really try to focus on to get the most out of what we have to give us a best chance to win.'"

After Sunday's film session and two coordinator press conferences, here is a look at four adjustments the Tigers' coaching staff will be looking at during the bye week.

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The 3 Biggest X-Factors for Notre Dame vs. Florida State

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The time has finally come for Notre Dame football to face Florida State in one of the biggest regular-season matchups for the Irish in nearly 20 years.

It’s No. 5 Notre Dame traveling to Tallahassee, Florida, to square off with No. 2 Florida State. The Seminoles opened up as 12-point favorites, per Odds Shark, at Doak Campbell Stadium. Let’s take a look at the key factors for the prime-time tilt.

 

Quarterback Showdown

It begins and ends with quarterback play, and Jameis Winston and Everett Golson present a fascinating matchup. Both quarterbacks have experienced remarkable success early in their careers.

Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, is completing 70 percent of his passes and has tossed 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.

“He's a very accurate thrower of the football, doesn't rattle, is an extremely confident player,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Sunday of Winston. “You can see that he's the leader of that offense, and he makes it happen. He's very gifted, and he's a very, very accomplished quarterback in a very, very short period of time.”

Golson, meanwhile, has had an up-and-down stretch recently. On the one hand, his early-season play vaulted him among the top five or so candidates for the Heisman. But nine turnovers over a three-game span have quelled some of the buzz.

“We look at them and we go back to work and find ways to secure the football and do a better job,” Kelly said Sunday of the turnovers.

The game’s outcome won’t rest solely on the quarterbacks’ shoulders, obviously—Notre Dame’s defense will need to be sharp—but Golson cannot continue to cough the ball up. Winston and the Seminoles figure to be quick to translate Irish miscues into easy offense.

 

Notre Dame’s Secondary

As Kelly mentioned Sunday, the Irish were thinned out in the secondary Saturday against North Carolina, and the Tar Heels’ uptempo attack didn’t help. North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams threw for 303 yards and two touchdowns in the losing effort.

“When it's settled down a little bit and these guys can get their eyes on what the formation looks like, they're okay,” Kelly said of the defense after Saturday’s win, per Notre Dame's athletics website. “We got to get better at that. But that's an inexperienced group that you saw out there today and they've got to get better.”

Notre Dame’s secondary will be tested against the Seminoles. In particular, Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and the defensive backs must find a way to contain Florida State star wide receiver Rashad Greene. The senior has snagged 44 receptions for 683 yards and three touchdowns this season.

“Obviously a guy that can stretch the field vertically, and they're not afraid to throw it against anybody,” Kelly said. “Just a great, great weapon.”

Irish cornerbacks Cody Riggs and Cole Luke must be on top of their games against Greene. Riggs, who was banged up briefly Saturday, should be ready for the Seminoles, and Luke has steadily improved through the first half of the season.

Communication from safeties Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate will be important, especially with graduate student captain Austin Collinsworth out with a dislocated shoulder.

 

Special Teams

It sounds simple, but special teams play will be crucial in Tallahassee. Two of the top kickers in the country will have their say in Saturday’s outcome with Notre Dame’s Kyle Brindza opposing Florida State’s Roberto Aguayo, the reigning Lou Groza Award winner.

Aguayo is a perfect 13-of-13 this season on field goals, and he’s a reliable safety valve for the Florida State offense.

Notre Dame’s return units have stagnated since a startling start against Rice. The Irish rank 108th in the country (out of 128 teams), per CFBStats.com, averaging 18.54 yards per kick return. If the Irish can gain an edge in the field-position battle, it will help take the defense out of “vulnerable positions,” something Kelly talked about as being an issue against the Tar Heels.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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AP College Football Poll 2014: Official Top-25 Rankings and Week 8 Projections

It’s not every day that the No. 1 team in the country wins by three scores and still falls in the Associated Press Poll, but that is exactly what happened in Week 7 of the college football season.

Florida State handled Syracuse, but Mississippi State was more impressive in a critical victory over Auburn. What’s more, Ole Miss controlled its game against Texas A&M and earned the No. 3 spot in that AP Poll.

Here is a look at the latest AP rankings:

You will read plenty of projections on the biggest games on the Week 8 schedule, like Florida State against Notre Dame, so here is a look at some of the under-the-radar contests that could shape the college football narrative moving forward.

 

Week 8 Projections 

Utah at Oregon State

While all the talk about the Pac-12 this season has centered on Oregon, UCLA, USC, Stanford, Arizona and even Arizona State, Utah has quietly played its way into the conference race.

The Utes turned some heads in nonconference play when it completely controlled the game at Michigan and then surprised the league when they walked into UCLA and picked up a dramatic road game.

Now Utah is ranked, but it needs to deliver at Oregon State. This is the second game in a brutal seven-game stretch where the Utes play UCLA, Oregon State, USC, Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford and Arizona all in a row.

The key here will be the balanced offensive attack of Utah going up against a beatable Oregon State defense. The Utes average 217.8 passing yards and 202.2 rushing yards a game and should have their way against a Beavers defense that gave up a combined 66 points the last two weeks to USC and Colorado.

Oregon State also allowed 30 points to Hawaii and won’t get any breaks in the turnover department from Utah, as Adam Rittenberg of ESPN noted:

Oregon State will score some points, but Utah’s offense is simply too much in this one. 

Prediction: Utah 38, Oregon State 28

 

Baylor at West Virginia 

If there was ever a letdown game on the schedule for Baylor, it will be at West Virginia Saturday.

For one, it is almost impossible to expect the Bears to be emotionally ready to go again after their dramatic 21-point comeback against TCU in a top-10 showdown. Baylor is officially in the College Football Playoff discussion, but it has to bring the same intensity every week.

West Virginia is a sneaky team that gave Alabama all it could handle and hung with Oklahoma for four quarters. What’s more, the crowd will be rocking with a top-five opponent in the house and a chance to make an impact in the Big 12 race.

Baylor will get off to a slow start in this one. It is a noon kickoff the week after one of the most important and emotional wins in program history, and it will take a quarter or so to get into the flow.

That alone will keep it close, but the Bears offense will prove to be too much for West Virginia. The Mountaineers are 72nd in the nation in points allowed per game, while Baylor leads the nation in scoring and averages 371 passing yards per game.

It is simply too much to ask of that West Virginia defense to contain the Bears attack for an entire four quarters. This one will be closer than the final score indicates, but Baylor will pick up yet another victory.

Baylor 45, West Virginia 31

 

Washington at Oregon 

Washington and its fans would love nothing more than to knock Oregon out of the College Football Playoff race, and this is the chance.

However, the Huskies’ 5-1 record is a bit misleading, because those victories came against Hawaii, Eastern Washington, Illinois, Georgia State and California. That Eastern Washington game came down to the final moments and finished with a 59-52 score.

If Eastern Washington is putting up 52 points against the Huskies, Marcus Mariota could have himself a day.

Interestingly, Washington coach Chris Petersen and Oregon coach Mark Helfrich were together on Oregon’s staff in 1997. Helfrich discussed their relationship, via Tyson Alger of The Oregonian, "The guy is a lifelong friend of mine and that won't change. I know that's going to make both of our fanbases very unhappy."

Oregon’s fanbase won’t be that unhappy when the Ducks offense carves up Washington’s vulnerable defense.

Oregon has had problems protecting Mariota, but the Huskies are not the team to take advantage of that for an entire four quarters. What’s more, Oregon will be at home, where it rarely ever loses, and still controls its Pac-12 destiny.

This may be a rivalry game, but the Huskies simply don’t have the personnel on defense to contain Oregon’s high-power attack the whole game. 

Prediction: Oregon 41, Washington 24

 

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Bowl Predictions 2014: Updated Projections Following Week 7

Week 7 of the college football season served to highlight one strange truth about 2014—the state of Mississippi is king. 

Just one week after Mississippi State and Ole Miss scored landmark wins, the two Magnolia State schools once again stole the spotlight. Wins over Auburn and Alabama, respectively, officially solidified their status as College Football Playoff contenders.

But the two SEC squads weren't the only ones staking their claim to one of those four precious spots. There was plenty of other action that went down in Week 7 to shake up the title picture. Here's a look at the latest projections for the playoff and other marquee bowls heading into Week 8:

The latest AP Top 25 Poll can be viewed here.

 

The Projected Field

Mississippi State

Mississippi State's meteoric rise sees them atop the college football world. For the third consecutive week, the Bulldogs took on a Top 10 team and came away victorious with their win over Auburn. As ESPN College Football points out, head coach Dan Mullen has led an unprecedented jump up the AP poll in the process:

One win over a Top 10 squad can be labeled a fluke. This is college football, after all. But the way quarterback Dak Prescott and Mississippi State have handled their brutal schedule has been anything but a fluke. With a week to recuperate before taking on Kentucky, Arkansas and UT-Martin, Starkville is only going to keep the hype train rolling as its team clings to that No. 1 ranking. 

 

Florida State  

No, this iteration of the Seminoles isn't the same marauding team we saw in 2014. Close calls against Clemson and NC State proved that. 

But that doesn't mean Florida State won't be making an appearance in the inaugural playoff. It simply means the Seminoles will need to work harder than they did last season to get there. 

With Clemson already out of the way, the Seminoles have no more conference games against opponents who are currently ranked. Yet a marquee matchup in Week 8 provides them the perfect stage to add a signature win to their resume against Notre Dame in Tallahassee. 

And if you don't think that's enough to make their resume strong enough, do you really think the committee will leave an undefeated defending champion on the outside looking in?

 

Baylor

No team outside of Mississippi was a bigger winner in Week 7 than Baylor. Coming into the game with zero signature wins, head coach Art Briles and Co. finally got the chance to prove themselves and came through in a big way against TCU. 

Unlike last year's Bears, this Baylor team has shown early that they can win in multiple ways. With quarterback Bryce Petty and the usually high-octane offense failing against Texas in Week 6, Baylor was able to grind out a 28-7 win thanks to a defense that ranked sixth in FEI defensive efficiency going into Week 7, per Football Outsiders

But against No. 9 TCU, it was back to the air for the Bears, as Petty threw for over 500 yards in an offensive shootout that saw Baylor overcome a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter. College GameDay provided some insight on the team's Big 12 title chances:

As the favorite to win the Big 12, Baylor is now in a great position to be a part of the playoff. It's difficult to envision a scenario in which the champion of the conference is not included in the tournament. 

 

Michigan State

Back when Michigan State lost to Oregon and the rest of the Big 10 subsequently decided to lay a massive egg, it appeared that the storied conference would be left in the cold come January. 

However, those notions may have been a bit premature. Despite the loss in Eugene, Sparty still finds itself at No. 8 in the most recent AP poll

The polls obviously don't officially factor into the selection committee's process. However, the rankings serve as a reminder that the Spartans aren't as far off as some may believe when it comes to getting back in the top four. 

With plenty of weeks left for the teams ahead of Michigan State to fall, all the Spartans have to do is continue to win to rise up the polls. With Ohio State remaining the only ranked team on the schedule, there's a strong chance an 11-1 Michigan State will get a Big 10 Championship Game to prove it belongs in the tournament. 

 

Outside Looking in

Oregon, Notre Dame, Ole Miss and Georgia

Finishing just outside of the projected playoff, this list contains teams that will look to be the first in line should one of the above four teams falter somewhere the rest of the way. 

Headlining this group of course is Mississippi, which currently resides at No. 3 in the AP poll but could be the victim of scheduling. With the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State to close out the regular season, it seems unlikely that both programs would get playoff invitations with one having a loss that late in the season. 

However, one team whose loss might not look that bad is Notre Dame. The Irish haven't blemished their record quite yet, but they are 13.5-point underdogs to Florida State this week, per Oddsshark.com. As long as they play respectably enough to cover that spread and manage a second-half slate that includes USC and Arizona State, they'll have a hard time being denied a playoff berth.

Georgia, on the other hand, will have to rely on the timing of its loss rather than the quality of opponent. South Carolina hasn't looked great since losing to the Dawgs; however, head coach Mark Richt's greatest contender in the SEC East is Kentucky. Let that sink in. 

With a spot in the SEC Championship Game looking like a near lock, it would be silly to count Georgia out just yet. 

Finally, there's Oregon. The Ducks showcased exactly why college football is a sport that can drive prognosticators wild with a convincing 42-30 victory over UCLA. Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports commented on the win's impact in regard to their playoff chances:

A home loss to an Arizona team that lost the next week to USC is a tough one to explain to committee members. But it's important to remember that the Ducks still have a game against Stanford and potential Pac-12 Championship Game to prove themselves. 

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