NCAA Football

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

How Todd Gurley's Suspension Will Impact 2014 Heisman Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The difference was in the delivery.

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

Which brings us back to the motivational aspect.

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

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

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

There is also value in simply remaining silent.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

7 Most Important Recruiting Visits of Week 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How Pac-12 South Compares to SEC West Division

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: What Bruins Must Do to Beat Oregon

The UCLA football team has a tough task ahead this coming weekend, as it hosts the explosive No. 12 Oregon Ducks and star quarterback Marcus Mariota. 

This could ultimately be a must-win game for both teams. UCLA is coming off a tough two-point loss at home to the Utah Utes. Oregon also was defeated at home by the upstart Arizona Wildcats. To this point in the season, neither team has played its best football. 

This piece will look at specific principles the Bruins can use in order to beat the Ducks. 

 

Protect Brett Hundley

This should go without saying. UCLA has given up 23 sacks on the season, which ranks the team near the very bottom of all Division I in the category. 

There comes a point when one has to wonder whether or not Hundley will get seriously hurt due to the lack of protection. Last week against Utah, the quarterback was sacked 10 times. This statistic doesn't include hurries or even hits. 

There are ways in which UCLA could opt to lessen the pressure from the opposition. For one, a heavy diet of screens, misdirections in the run game, quick passes (such as slants or bubble screens) and rollouts would help. Oftentimes in the Utah game, Hundley was essentially nailed-down inside of the pocket.

Rarely did offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone move the launch point. Conventional wisdom also suggests less of an emphasis on five- or seven-step drops—opting instead for three-step drops. 

In terms of helping out on blocking assignments off the edge, a running back could possibly be used to "chip" the defensive end. An extra blocker next to the tackle could also work. Running the football with regularity also helps in this capacity. 

Versus Oregon, UCLA will be facing a very good lineman in defensive end DeForest Buckner. The Hawaii native is an extremely active and athletic player and could pose problems in passing downs.

The other talented defensive lineman for the Ducks—Arik Armstead—is questionable after suffering an ankle injury versus Arizona. According to Ryan Thorburn of The Register-Guard, Armstead has participated in practice this week. His health is a question mark, but a potential return would be a big boost for Oregon. 

Oregon's defense as a whole is mobile. The linebackers in particular are adept at bursting through run gaps and making plays in the backfield. As a result, the play-calling needs to be altered as a means to combat the expected pressure Oregon will likely bring. 

 

Win the Battle Up Front

While UCLA's offensive line has had problems, the Oregon front has faced similar difficulties. In the last two contests, Oregon's offensive line has given up 12 sacks. On the season, the Ducks rank No. 110 overall in sacks allowed. 

Injuries have ravaged the overall depth of the Oregon offensive line group. Projected starter (and best lineman) Tyler Johnstone is out for the entire season.

Starting tackle Jake Fisher has been nursing a lower-leg injury for the past few weeks. Reserve linemen Andre Yruretagoyena and Haniteli Lousi have also been out for multiple weeks. According to Dane Brugler of CBS Sports, Fisher will be a game-time decision for this weekend's contest. 

As a result, Oregon starts a true freshman (Tyrell Crosby) and a walk-on (Matt Pierson) at both tackle spots.  

UCLA needs to take advantage of these matchups and get after Mariota with pressure. Pierson in particular has struggled versus the speed-rush. Deon Hollins could be a huge factor in this ballgame with his ability to utilize his quickness and speed off the edge. Dually, Crosby will likely be going up against a 5th-year senior in Owamagbe Odighizuwa. 

The Bruins need to win the battle up front with their defensive line against Oregon's group. 

 

Keep Containment

Utah killed UCLA last week with the zone-read element. Utes quarterback Kendal Thompson was effective running the football in large part because of UCLA's failure in keeping containment on the edge. 

Against Oregon, this is a must. The defensive end must stay home and not crash down too hard on the tailback. Should this scenario continue on Saturday, Mariota will have a field-day rushing for yardage. 

If anything, last week may have provided UCLA with good practice for what it'll see on Saturday. Regardless, the defense will have to stay disciplined. It also has to tackle well in space against the vast array of skill position talent Oregon possesses. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: What Bruins Must Do to Beat Oregon

The UCLA football team has a tough task ahead this coming weekend, as it hosts the explosive No. 12 Oregon Ducks and star quarterback Marcus Mariota . This could ultimately be a must-win game for both teams...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Buying or Selling Every Top 10 Team as Playoff Championship Contender

If college football were a stock market, this past weekend would have resulted in record trading.

With seven unbeaten teams and 11 ranked schools losing last week, the likelihood of having four clear contenders for the national title is dwindling. The College Football Playoff selection committee is going to have its hands full trying to sift through what is shaping up to be a long list of worthy candidates for the semifinal bowl games.

A smart investor knows not to make impulse transactions, but as things stand now, it's time to take a look at the teams currently occupying the top 10 spots in the Associated Press poll to see whether they really stack up as championship contenders or pretenders.

Follow along to see whether it's smart to buy low or sell high.

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