NCAA Football

The 3 Biggest X-Factors for Notre Dame vs. Northwestern

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Maybe mercifully, Notre Dame football can put Saturday’s loss to Arizona State—which Irish head coach Brian Kellycalled “the Debacle in the Desert”—behind it and shift gears toward Northwestern.

Effectively removed from the College Football Playoff hunt, the Irish still have plenty left to play for. The final quarter of the regular season—games against the Wildcats, Louisville and USC—begins Saturday in South Bend.

So, what are the biggest X-factors for Saturday’s regional matchup?

 

Everett Golson’s Ball Security

This one is obvious.

Quarterback Everett Golson committed five turnovers against the Sun Devils on Saturday in Notre Dame’s 55-31 loss. Arizona State ripped off two interception returns for touchdowns and scored 28 total points off Irish turnovers.

“We get really great batches of work,” Kelly said of Golson on Sunday. “It's really gaining that consistency for four quarters. So my eyes tell me the body of work just needs to be more consistent.”

The only constant in Golson’s play of late has been the miscues. After a secure start to the season, Golson has continually coughed up the ball, routinely giving opponents short fields with which to work.

Obviously, similar performances won’t get the job done down the stretch, even if Northwestern is far less daunting an opponent than Arizona State. For the Irish to get their eighth win and Golson to gain some trust back from Kelly and the Notre Dame fanbase, the quarterback will need to play clean football on Saturday.

 

Irish Offensive Line

Though the bulk of the blame falls on Golson’s broad shoulders, the offensive line did him no favors Saturday against the Sun Devils.

Golson was under constant pressure from the get-go, and Arizona State notched seven sacks. Notre Dame, by the way, allowed just eight sacks all of last season.

Now things are bound to lighten up this weekend when the Wildcats come to town, if only because not many teams blitz as much as Arizona State.

Through nine games, Northwestern has compiled just 14 sacks this season, which cfbstats.com indicates is tied for 105th in the country.

But if other teams catch on, start pinning their ears back and bring heavy pressure, things could get murky for Notre Dame again.

 

Trevor Siemian

The Northwestern quarterback has had his share of struggles this season, but the redshirt senior posted a solid performance in Saturday’s 10-9 loss to Michigan. Siemian completed 32 of 49 passes for 273 yards and one touchdown.

He was, however, sacked five times and did toss two interceptions.

Maybe even more important than the overall stat line, though, were the final two drives by the Northwestern offense.

Siemian spearheaded a 19-play, 95-yard possession to spur the Wildcats to a field goal and followed that up with a 14-play, 74-yard jaunt that put Northwestern in position to tie the game in the final seconds.

On a day when the Northwestern defense handled its business, Siemian and the Wildcat offense started doing its job in the fourth quarter.

Facing Golson and the Irish, the Northwestern defense will have its hands full. But if Siemian and company can’t move the ball with any degree of success, it won’t matter much how stingy the Northwestern defense plays.

 

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 12 Projections

One of the most unpredictable college football seasons in recent memory kept on delivering in Week 11. The wreckage of a stacked slate of games left the Associated Press voters (and ultimately the College Football Playoff Committee) with some difficult teams to assess before Week 12. 

Baylor, Ohio State and Arizona State all scored massive wins that saw them shoot up the polls. The Bears' dismantling of Oklahoma resonated with the voters, as they escalated to No. 6 in the new AP poll. Meanwhile, Ohio State and Arizona State took huge strides toward erasing embarrassing losses early in the season with wins over Michigan State and Notre Dame, respectively. 

Those weren't the only teams that were shifted around in the latest rankings. Here's a look at how each team stacks up according to the most recent poll, along with a look ahead to Week 12's marquee games. 

Odds via OddsShark.com as of Sunday, Nov. 9 at 9 p.m. ET.

 

Storylines to Watch

Can Mississippi State Hold on to No. 1 Ranking vs. Alabama?

Through nine games, the Mississippi State Bulldogs have proved they deserve the No. 1 ranking. Three wins over ranked opponents and a knack for game control have put them at the forefront of the college football landscape in 2014. 

However, the Bulldogs' greatest challenge just might come in Week 12. A trip to Tuscaloosa looms large as Dan Mullen and Co. look to secure a berth in the first-ever College Football Playoff. 

Mullen has taken the Bulldogs from a team that was 4-5 at this point in the season last year to one who is fighting to remain one of two undefeated teams in the power-five conferences. That being said, the Bulldogs have still shown some weaknesses on the defensive side of the ball, and Mullen acknowledges, via David Brandt of The Associated Press: "I give our guys credit, we're finding ways to make plays, we're finding ways to win the game, even though we're doing a lot of things that you can't do to win games."

Those things that Mullen might be referring to include failing to get the Arkansas Razorbacks offense off the field two weeks ago. Led by Alex Collins on the ground, Bret Bielema's team was able to hold a 38:35 to 21:16 advantage in time of possession, per ESPN.com

That's something that will need to be fixed, as Alabama's ground game is potent as usual. Here's a look at how the two teams break down offensively and defensively:

The difference in Mississippi State's 17-10 victory over Arkansas was Dak Prescott. The star quarterback was inconsistent early on, but he delivered in a big way when it mattered most and threw for more than 300 yards. Putting up those kind of numbers will be considerably more difficult against an Alabama defense that has been strong against the pass since giving up 365 passing yards to Clint Trickett in Week 1. 

 

Should Florida State Be on Upset Alert?

Moving right down the poll, the No. 2 Florida State Seminoles might not be taking on a ranked opponent, but some seem to have concern the Noles may find trouble in Coral Gables. 

Jameis Winston's team will hit the road to renew its rivalry with Miami on Saturday night, and oddsmakers have it pegged as a tough game for the defending national champions. Looking at the odds this week, it wouldn't be a surprise if you had to do a double-take when you saw the Hurricanes are just a 2.5-point underdog. 

However, as Clay Travis of Fox Sports points out, the Seminoles haven't been good against the spread this season:

Anyone who has followed point spreads for any length of time knows this—when something appears to be to be too good to be true, there's usually a reason. In this case, a look at the advanced metrics might present a clear picture. 

In Football Outsiders' latest batch of FEI-plus numbers, Florida State is eighth overall, while the Canes are not far behind at No. 12. That places Miami as the top three-loss team in the country by that measure. It also doesn't hurt that the 'Canes have played one of the toughest schedules in the country, per Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press:

On paper, this might look like another Florida State blowout. Jimbo Fisher has not lost to Miami as head coach, and the games haven't been close. However, the Hurricanes are undefeated at home this season and just explosive enough on offense to give the Noles a scare. 

 

Which Big Ten West Team Will Make a Statement?

Ohio State was the biggest winner in the Big Ten in Week 11. It took full control of the newly minted East Division with an impressive performance against the Michigan State Spartans. 

Now it's the West Division's turn to have the marquee matchup. Nebraska will travel to Wisconsin in a battle of Top 25 teams at the top of the division standings. 

The Badgers opened up as a four-point favorite and have since seen the odds only go up in their favor, but Nebraska is the team with a little more on the line. With just a five-point road loss to Michigan State, a final resume that includes a road win over Wisconsin and a win over Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game might be enough to squeak into the College Football Playoff. 

It isn't likely. And that's far from a prediction. However, with the way this college football season has played out thus far, it's not completely out of the question. With Ameer Abdullah expected to play after missing most of the game against Purdue, the Huskers will have the current conference leader in total yards per game:

Wisconsin's offense, of course, boasts one of college football's brightest stars in Melvin Gordon, so what will be the deciding factor in this one? It could come down to who is able to make more plays in special teams. That would likely be Nebraska. According to FEI-plus numbers, the Huskers have the seventh-best special teams in the country. Wisconsin is ranked No. 81. 

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College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

Two years ago, Hugh Freeze and the Ole Miss Rebels shocked the recruiting world by landing a star-studded 2013 class that would finish as the nation’s No. 8 class overall.

With standouts such as Robert Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil and Laquon Treadwell spearheading the Rebels' rise, Freeze and his staff are out to capitalize on the buzz they've gained with their play on the field this season.

Their recruiting mission includes branching out and hitting territories outside of the southeast in their search for top talent.

Last week, the Rebels went to the state of New Jersey to offer two of the state’s top three prospects in the 2016 cycle, 5-star defensive tackle Rashan Gary and 4-star quarterback Jarrett Guarantano.

The 6’4”, 285-pound Gary is the nation’s top junior defensive tackle prospect and the No. 3 player overall in the 2016 class.

According to MaxPreps, through eight games this season, Gary has recorded 39 tackles—including 10 sacks and 20 quarterback hurries.

Gary holds offers from top programs across the country, including fellow SEC powers Alabama, Auburn, Florida and South Carolina, among others.

Meanwhile, Guarantano is the No. 6 pro-style passer and the No. 95 player overall among juniors.

Alabama and Tennessee are two SEC schools that join Ole Miss in the running for the 6’4” 200-pounder. 

With the Rebels finding success on the field and broadening their focus on the recruiting trail, top recruits such as Gary and Guarantano are likely to be more receptive to the thought of heading to Oxford.

 

Top 2016 TE Nets Two Big Offers

Even though 4-star Georgia product Isaac Nauta is set to commit little more than a month from now, offers are still rolling in for the nation’s top tight end prospect in 2016.

ESPN’s Gerry Hamilton notes that Nauta was offered by Oregon and Louisville last week. 

According to Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports (subscription required), Nauta has stated that his top four schools are Florida State, Georgia, Ole Miss and South Carolina.

The 6’5” 240-pounder also recently announced that he will be moving to Florida next year and will play his senior season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

 

2016 Michigan DE Racking Up Offers

Every week, there seems to be a player who goes on an offer-collecting spree. 

Last week’s honoree had to be 2016 4-star defensive end Khalid Kareem.

The 6’4” 240-pounder from Farmington Hills, Michigan, was offered by Duke, Louisville, Vanderbilt, Pittsburgh, California, Iowa, Wake Forest and Miami

While in-state powers Michigan and Michigan State have yet to offer, Kareem believes an offer could be coming from the Spartans, according to SpartanTailgate (subscription required). 

“The Michigan State coaches basically told me they were very close to offering me,” Kareem told SpartanTailgate earlier this year. “Coach Dantonio told me he’s coming to see me play. I have a great relationship with coach Dantonio, coach (Ron) Burton and coach (Brad) Salem. Probably the relationship with Michigan State is better than all the other schools that are recruiting me.”

With other top programs coming after Kareem, both the Wolverines and the Spartans are on the clock in terms of pursuing the talented pass-rusher.

 

2016 Florida Receiver Nets Two Out-of-State Offers

It’s no secret that the top prospects in the state of Florida usually become national recruits who earn offers from programs across the country.

One such player in the 2016 class is 4-star wide receiver Eli Stove.

According to Woody Wommack of Rivals.com, Notre Dame joined the race for the 6’1”, 178-pound pass-catcher.

Shortly after, the nation’s No. 1 team, Mississippi State, jumped in to tender Stove, per Corey Bender of Scout.com.

Stove, who racked up 706 yards of total offense and eight touchdowns as a sophomore, is a smooth receiver whose stock should continue to rise in the near future.

 

Best of the Rest

  

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Ohio State Regains Confidence as It Gets Revenge Against Michigan State

When Ohio State invaded East Lansing and came away with a 49-37 victory against Michigan State on Saturday night, it did more than just redeem last year's devastating loss in the Big Ten title game. The No. 8 Buckeyes (8-1) also regained their confidence after finally coming up with a big win. 

Ohio State, which became an afterthought in the College Football Playoff race when it fell to Virginia Tech in Week 2, has now won seven consecutive games and is shooting up the rankings. But none of those wins did more for Urban Meyer's squad than beating the Spartans, because it made the Buckeyes believers in themselves. 

“I just think we earned back our confidence," offensive line coach Ed Warinner said, according to Patrick Maks of Eleven Warriors. "I think we just earned back the belief our players have, a belief in our program, belief in how we do things at Ohio State, how Coach Meyer runs his program and we just got our confidence back that we can win a big game.”

The Buckeyes didn't just win a big game—they also proved that they have a budding superstar at quarterback in J.T. Barrett and that their high-flying offense is as explosive as it is efficient. 

Against a Michigan State team that came into the game boasting the nation's fifth-ranked total defense, the Buckeyes piled up 49 points and 568 total yards of offense—which were season highs allowed by the Spartans. Michigan State did force a pair of turnovers, but both came via special teams while Barrett was waiting on the sideline.

When the redshirt freshman was on the field, he was sensational, completing 61.5 percent of his passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns. Barrett was also effective on the ground, running for 86 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. 

But it was the big plays he triggered that pushed Ohio State over the hump. 

On 3rd-and-22 early in the second quarter, Barrett placed a perfect pass to Devin Smith for a 43-yard gain. Later, the quarterback would run it in from one yard out to tie the game at 14. On Ohio State's next drive, Barrett connected with Michael Thomas on a quick slant, and the sophomore wideout raced 79 yards for a score. 

It was like that all night—a 47-yard run from Ezekiel Elliott early in the first quarter, a 44-yard touchdown pass to Smith in the second, a 55-yard run from Barrett in the fourth to help seal the game. The Buckeyes consistently came up big against one of the country's strongest defenses. 

It was a surprising outburst, but from the moment the Buckeyes stepped on the field, they knew they were the better team.

"No disrespect to [Michigan State], but I felt all night they couldn't hang with us," Smith told reporters after the game. "I told coach that all night."

It turned out to be true.

Connor Cook and the Spartans offense gave Ohio State their best shot, but it just wasn't good enough. Michigan State amassed 37 points and 536 total yards of offense, which is usually more than enough for the Spartans to secure an easy victory, but that effort couldn't keep them within 12 points of the Buckeyes.

Ohio State's unwavering focus broke Michigan State's will. The Buckeyes scored touchdowns on seven of their final eight possessions before going into clock-killing mode. 

That performance on a national stage had Meyer smiling in the postgame press conference.

"I'm glad everybody got to see the Ohio State Buckeyes," Meyer said. "Because this is a different Buckeye team than it was early in the season."

It most certainly is, and the selection committee in charge of picking this year's title contenders should take note. 

Meyer has his Ohio State Buckeyes playing at a high level. After beating Michigan State, they have their confidence back. And a confident Meyer-led team can be very dangerous.

 

All stats via NCAA.com.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Tennessee Volunteers vs. Kentucky Wildcats Complete Game Preview

One thing that has grown to be counted on every November is Tennessee beating Kentucky in college football.

That's happened in 28 of the past 29 years.

No matter how bad the Volunteers have been recently (other than 2011, when UK beat the Vols with a receiver at quarterback), they've always handled their neighbors to the north. 

This year, that isn't going to be as easy. UK second-year coach Mark Stoops has his team on the cusp of bowl eligibility. The Wildcats need to beat either the Vols or Louisville to get into the postseason.

The Vols, on the other hand, need to beat two of their final three opponents: Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs has breathed new life into a stagnant offense, and UT is coming off an overtime upset of South Carolina.

After a much-needed bye week, the Vols should be fresher on both sides of the ball, which will help in a particularly thin defense. This game has major ramifications for both rebuilding programs.

Here's everything you need to know about the rivalry that used to be known as the "Battle for the Beer Barrel."

 

Date: Saturday, Nov. 15

Time: 4 p.m. ET

Place: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tennessee

TV: SEC Network

Radio: Vol Network, Kentucky IMG Sports Network

Spread: Tennessee by 7.5 points, according to Oddsshark.com.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Week 12 Standings and Analysis for Latest Polls

Let the arguing begin.

With two undefeated teams and eight one-loss squads in college football’s power-five conferences and only four College Football Playoff spots to go around, there is sure to be plenty of debate and posturing between Week 12 and the end of the season.

The best way to make a statement is with an impressive performance on the field, and we saw that from the likes of TCU, Ohio State, Oregon, Baylor and Arizona State, among others, in Week 11.

With that in mind, here is a look at the Amway Coaches and the Associated Press polls, as well as Bleacher Report's official Top 25 entering Week 12.

 

Analysis

While these polls are certainly worthwhile in terms of generating discussion and arguments, they are ultimately meaningless in the playoff picture. The selection committee will release its updated rankings Tuesday, which will give fans a better picture of where their teams stand.

However, the argument can be made that these polls are something of a teaser as to what the official rankings will look like.

The SEC may be the most talked-about conference in all of college football, but the most interesting dilemma is in the Big 12. TCU is ranked one spot ahead of Baylor in the AP Poll even though both teams have one loss and the Bears beat the Horned Frogs in their head-to-head showdown. 

Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports had some interesting clarifications from the conference:

Could the Big 12 be the conference to get two teams into the playoffs instead of the SEC? How much weight will the head-to-head victory carry for Baylor?

The answers to those questions from the selection committee could shape the entire landscape of the playoff race.

One conference that is fairly straightforward is the Pac-12. It appears that we are headed toward a clash between Oregon and Arizona State in the conference title game, and the winner will almost assuredly reach the College Football Playoff. The Sun Devils were impressive Saturday against Notre Dame, and the Ducks are hitting on all cylinders behind Marcus Mariota and the high-octane offense. 

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports and Cecil Hurt of The Tuscaloosa News provided some positive updates for the Ducks after Week 11:

Elsewhere, it is a somewhat popular notion that the Big Ten is out of the playoff race now that Michigan State has two losses, but the Ohio State Buckeyes are hanging around. Kirk Herbstreit and Mike Greenberg of ESPN both noted that the Buckeyes were very impressive in their victory on the road against the Spartans on Saturday:

The problem with Ohio State’s playoff chances is the inexplicable home loss it suffered early in the season to Virginia Tech. Yes, that was only J.T. Barrett’s second career start behind an inexperienced offensive line, but the Hokies are in last place in the ACC Coastal Division.

Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch described the paradox that comes with voting for the Buckeyes:

Then there is the SEC. 

Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal presented the doomsday scenario for the conference:

The SEC West has so many dangerous teams that it is not that difficult to envision a scenario where everyone has two losses. There is also the possibility that Missouri wins the conference championship against the SEC West representative, which would be an absolute disaster for the league’s playoff hopes since the Tigers lost to Indiana.

As long as the Bulldogs continue to win, though, the SEC will have at least one representative. Quarterback Dak Prescott knows that style points don’t matter nearly as much as winning, via Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com: “A win is a win. I don’t care. I don’t care if it’s by one point of whatever, it doesn’t matter to me as long as we’re winning.” 

It's hard to argue with that.

 

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College Football Playoff 2014: Top 25 Predictions After Week 12 AP Rankings

The 2014 regular season has been genuinely entertaining, but the mad rush toward the College Football Playoff has everyone trying to predict where the top programs in the nation will land on the Week 12 poll.

The Associated Press Top 25 rankings are a good barometer for how the Playoff selection committee will vote, but as proven through the first two weeks of the process, there are typically distinct differences.

Here are the predicted Week 12 College Football Playoff rankings, the Associated Press and Bleacher Report Top 25 polls and a breakdown of Week 11’s biggest winner.

 

 

Week 11’s Biggest Winner

After Auburn’s loss to Texas A&M Saturday, the biggest winner in the hunt to make the College Football Playoff was the Alabama Crimson Tide, who held on to beat LSU in a thrilling overtime game.

Coming into Week 11, Alabama was ranked fifth overall and was on the outside of the Playoffs looking in. While a matchup against another ranked program in the LSU Tigers was a serious test for the Crimson Tide, the team pulled out a huge victory.

LSU gave Alabama a fight, forcing the game into overtime, but the Crimson Tide scored a touchdown and earned the 20-13 win. With Auburn losing to Texas A&M in a stunning result Saturday as well, there is no doubt that Alabama deserves a spot in the top four now.

After the win over LSU, Alabama head coach Nick Saban spoke to Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com, “It was tough down there, and I’m really, really proud of our players for finishing the game the way they did. Great win. Great win for Alabama, and I’m really proud of our players.”

Unfortunately for Crimson Tide nation, the time spent in Playoff contention could be short-lived.

As if a final-week matchup against Auburn wasn’t tough enough, Alabama hosts the No. 1 Mississippi State Bulldogs in Week 12. While a victory for the Crimson Tide would catapult them into the conversation for No. 1 overall, a loss would send the team out of Playoff contention.

Alabama could regain some momentum if the program were to beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl, but the losses to Ole Miss and possibly Mississippi State would likely result in the Crimson Tide being pushed out of the top four for the remainder of the season.

At least for this week, Alabama is Playoff-worthy.

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

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Auburn vs. Georgia: Complete Game Preview

Though both teams may be saddled with two losses, Saturday's game between the Auburn Tigers and the Georgia Bulldogs still carries conference implications galore.

Auburn (7-2 overall, 4-2 in the conference) currently sits fourth in the SEC West but remains very much in the division race thanks to a tiebreaker over Ole Miss and the ability to garner a tiebreaker over Alabama with an Iron Bowl win to close out the season.  Of course, even the best-laid plans and loftiest of hopes mean nothing if the Tigers can't first get by the Bulldogs this weekend.

Similarly, Georgia (7-2 overall, 5-2 in conference) is hoping that by winning out and getting help in the form of a loss from Missouri it will sneak back to Atlanta for its third SEC Championship Game appearance in four seasons.  But again, the first step to making that dream a reality is beating Auburn.

Here's what you need to know about this pivotal matchup between two bitter rivals:

  • Date: Saturday, November 15
  • Time: 7:15 p.m. ET
  • Place: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Georgia
  • TV: ESPN
  • Radio: Georgia Bulldogs Radio Network, AU Sports Network
  • Spread: Georgia (-2), per Odds Shark

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all stats accessed via Sports-Reference.com.

 

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Pretenders and Contenders for College Football Playoff After Insane Week 11

After a wild Week 11 that gave us some incredibly close finishes, it's time to decide which teams are for real. Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer debate who is a contender and who are just pretenders.  

Do you think Mississippi State is a contender or pretender?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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College Football Odds: Opening Week 12 Betting Lines and Totals

The Marshall Thundering Herd, looking to improve to a perfect 10-0 this season, have opened as strong 19.5-point favorites over the visiting Rice Owls at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark on the college football betting lines for Week 12.

No. 21 Marshall jumped two positions in the Associated Press Top 25 following its lopsided 63-17 win over Southern Miss on the weekend, easily covering as the 26.5-point favorite. The Herd have been dominant this season, posting each of their nine victories by an average margin of more than 30 points, and they have been a solid bet, going 6-2-1 against the spread this season.

The 6-3 Owls have won their last six games straight up and ATS, improving to 4-1 in conference play to stay in contention in the Conference USA West division,. They trail only Louisiana Tech, which leads the West with a 6-0 record.

Rice topped Marshall in their last meeting, a 41-24 win last season, but the Herd are 3-2 SU in their last five games against Rice, going 3-1-1 ATS.

The Duke Blue Devils will be gunning for their fifth consecutive SU win when they face Virginia Tech in Week 12, opening as seven-point home favorites over the Hokies at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark.

No. 19 Duke posted a decisive 27-10 win over the Syracuse Orange last weekend, covering as the four-point road favorite. The win kept the Blue Devils atop the ACC Coastal division with a record of 4-1 against conference opponents.

The 4-5 Hokies continue to endure a disappointing campaign, losing their third straight game SU and ATS last weekend, a 33-31 decision to visiting Boston College. The loss was Virginia Tech’s fifth in its last six when pegged as the favorite.

The surging Ohio State Buckeyes opened as strong 14.5-point road favorites for their Week 12 matchup with the Minnesota Golden Gophers at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. No. 8 Ohio State catapulted five spots in the AP Top 25 following its dominant 49-37 upset victory over Michigan State last weekend, its seventh straight SU win, 6-1 ATS.

The 7-2 Golden Gophers are 6-0 SU at home this season and 4-2 ATS, and they are deadlocked atop the Big Ten West alongside Nebraska and Wisconsin with a conference record of 4-1.

In other Week 12 college football betting action, the East Carolina Pirates opened as 2.5-point favorites over Cincinnati. The USC Trojans are favored by 12 points over California, and North Carolina opened as a slender 1.5-point favorite over Pittsburgh.

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College Football Picks Week 12: Predictions and Odds for Top 25 Schedule

The minute the clock struck triple zeros in the Oregon and Utah clash in Week 11, college football fans and College Football Playoff hopefuls alike were ready to turn their attention toward Week 12.

After all, every game matters in the race for the final four spots, and there are as many as nine teams with zero losses or one loss with legitimate postseason hopes (sorry, Auburn, losing to the same Texas A&M team that got thumped 59-0 against Alabama and barely escaped UL Monroe is not a good look in November).

With that in mind, here is a look at the Associated Press rankings and then predictions and odds for every Top 25 game on the Week 12 slate. Point spreads are courtesy of Odds Shark as of Sunday evening at 8 p.m. ET.

 

Week 12 Upset Alert: Florida State at Miami

The showdown between Alabama and Mississippi State is the marquee game on the Week 12 calendar, but there is serious upset potential in the rivalry matchup between Florida State and Miami.

The Hurricanes have won their last three games and held opposing rushing attacks to 2.1 yards per carry, but it is the offense that should have the Seminoles on alert. Miami scored at least 30 points in each of those three games, and Duke Johnson is the best player in the country whom nobody is talking about.

Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press noted that Johnson has been racking up incredible numbers even though he hasn’t been on the field throughout the entire year:

Head coach Al Golden commented on the lack of heavy use, via Reynolds:

We want to keep his odometer down. We want to keep the hits off him. That's the biggest thing. His production is up but his overall play count is down. And I think he'd be the first to tell you, I think he's fresh and playing his best football right now.

This is the game the Hurricanes have been saving him for all season.

Johnson has at least 100 rushing yards in each of his last five contests and has scored in every game but the season opener. This prime-time showdown in front of the home fans is the ideal spotlight game for Johnson’s budding Heisman Trophy candidacy.

Johnson will be going for more than just a victory on Saturday. He has 3,080 rushing yards in his career even though he missed the majority of the second half of the 2013 season with injury, and he is nipping at the heels of Ottis Anderson’s Miami running back record of 3,331 career yards.

Florida State has given up more than 150 rushing yards in three of its last four games. Yes, the Seminoles have a strong front seven, but they are vulnerable against a formidable rushing attack, and that is exactly what Miami brings to the table.

The Seminoles have played in close games all season but emerged victorious with impressive second halves (and timely offensive pass interference calls), and that will once again be the case on Saturday.

Ultimately, Jameis Winston and the Florida State offense will make enough plays down the stretch to win yet again, but the Miami rushing attack and a raucous crowd under the lights will pose a serious problem for the majority of the game. 

The Seminoles are officially on upset alert.

Prediction: Florida State 28, Miami 24

 

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College Football Rankings 2014: Latest Standings and Predictions for Week 12

Any fear that the College Football Playoff would devalue the regular season should be long gone. 

Every Saturday is another 14-hour drama that unfolds before the fans’ eyes from the early noon ET kickoffs to the Pac-12 games that thrill us into the wee hours of the morning. Week 11 was certainly no different, as six games featured clashes between ranked teams.

Here is a look at the resultant fallout in the polls, including Bleacher Report’s official Top 25, heading into Week 12.

 

Week 12 Predictions

Alabama Ends Mississippi State’s Undefeated Dream

The SEC is down to one undefeated team, and it is Mississippi State. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the bullies on the SEC block will end that dream on Saturday.

Alabama gets Mississippi State at home and will unleash its dominant defense against Dak Prescott and the Bulldogs offense. The Crimson Tide rank second in the country in points allowed per game at 13.9, and they are fresh off a game-saving defensive performance against LSU in overtime.

The Crimson Tide will win this game by forcing a timely turnover in the second half. Mississippi State had 18 turnovers in its first nine games, and the Crimson Tide bring the best defense it has faced all year to the table.

At least head coach Dan Mullen recognized the problem before the Week 11 game against UT Martin, according to The Associated Press, via Fox Sports: "We take a lot of pride in protecting the football. I am obviously not very happy to have almost two years' worth of turnovers in eight games." 

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Mullen won’t be happy after Saturday’s game either.

 

Florida State Survives Scare

Florida State has followed a familiar pattern all season—let the opponent hang around for the opening half and then do enough to win after intermission.

The Seminoles survived in that fashion against Oklahoma State, North Carolina State, Notre Dame, Louisville and Clemson. You will be able to add archrival Miami to that list after Week 12.

The Hurricanes will be plenty motivated at home to end Florida State’s College Football Playoff hopes behind a balanced offensive attack that averages 33 points a game. Miami comes into this one with a three-game winning streak, and all three of its losses came on the road against quality opponents (Louisville, Georgia Tech and Nebraska). 

The Seminoles allowed at least 20 points in each of the last four games and will struggle to contain Miami’s offense. It will take an impressive second half from Jameis Winston for Florida State to avoid its first loss since 2012.

 

Ohio State Survives Stiff Test From Minnesota

Ohio State made a louder statement than anyone else in the country in Week 11 (outside of perhaps TCU) when it walked into Michigan State and dominated the Spartans from the middle of the second quarter on.

It was a cathartic revenge game for the Buckeyes against the team that knocked them out of the national championship game a season ago. However, their clash at Minnesota is the classic definition of a trap game.

Ohio State is fresh off its biggest win in years and now has to motivate itself again for another road contest against a less talented opponent. It probably doesn’t help that the kickoff will be at noon ET, before the entire Minnesota student section even files in. It will certainly have a different feel than the prime-time game at Michigan State. 

The bottom line is, the Buckeyes must avoid overlooking the Gophers, and that will be easier said than done. Jeff Svoboda of Buckeye Sports Bulletin also had an important message for Ohio State fans assuming that this will be an easy victory:

The good news for Buckeyes supporters is that coach Urban Meyer understands that his team cannot overlook the Golden Gophers. At least he does if this quote, via Patrick Maks of Eleven Warriors, is any indication:

Ohio State will do enough to win and stay firmly in the race for one of the four College Football Playoff spots, but we will not see the same intensity we did against Michigan State.

 

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Bowl Predictions 2014: Latest Playoff Projections Before Critical Week 12

Week 11 on the college football schedule was supposed to separate the contenders from the pretenders with six showdowns between ranked teams. 

While we saw some of that when Ohio State handled Michigan State, Arizona State beat Notre Dame, TCU crushed Kansas State, Alabama outlasted LSU and Utah literally dropped the ball against Oregon, the biggest headline was Texas A&M’s shocking upset over Auburn.

Not only did it likely end the Tigers’ playoff hopes, but it put a major dent into the narrative about two SEC teams making the College Football Playoff field. Mississippi State and Alabama are certainly both still contenders, but they play each other in Week 12, and the Bulldogs still have to battle Ole Miss.

With that in mind, here is a look at the latest playoff projections heading into a critical Week 12.

 

Bowl Predictions

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 4 TCU

Rose Bowl: No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 2 Alabama

Championship Bowl (in Arlington, Texas): TBD (Semifinal Winners) 

Florida State and Alabama will clinch the top two spots in the field of four by winning out and capturing their respective conference championships. That would leave the Seminoles undefeated and the Crimson Tide with only one loss and a number of impressive SEC wins.

Oregon now has the inside track at a one-loss season and a Pac-12 title with only one difficult game remaining on the schedule (the Pac-12 Championship Game against the eventual South Division winner). 

TCU will seize the fourth and final spot by winning out against Texas, Iowa State and Kansas. The Horned Frogs may eventually need Baylor to lose since the Bears won their head-to-head showdown, but Kansas State will help TCU out by beating Baylor.

 

Week 12 Sneak Peek

The headliner of the Week 12 schedule and the game with the biggest playoff implications is the showdown between Alabama and Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs may be No. 1 in the country, but this one is in Tuscaloosa against an Alabama team that could be hitting its stride after a narrow win at LSU. A loss would be crippling to Mississippi State’s playoff chances even with an SEC schedule because it still has to play Ole Miss and would likely lose out on the division crown to the Crimson Tide.

That would raise the question of whether a team can really be the best in the country if it isn’t the best team in its own division.

There is also this bit of information, via Brian Bennett of ESPN:

Outside of the SEC West clash, there are two Week 12 games in particular that should have playoff contenders on upset alert.

Florida State has to travel to Miami to take on the motivated and dangerous archrival Hurricanes, while Ohio State has to go to Minnesota and face an underrated Golden Gophers team. The Seminoles continue to win, which is the most important part of the playoff race, but they haven’t looked as dominant as they did a season ago.

Head coach Jimbo Fisher suggested as much after a Week 11 win over Virginia, via CBS Miami: “Winning is hard. There’s no such thing as a bad win. We knew this was going to be a very physical, good football team.”

As for Minnesota, it destroyed a solid Iowa team in Week 11 and could give the Buckeyes serious problems if the latter is still reveling in its impressive win over Michigan State and overlooking a sleepy noon kickoff against the Golden Gophers.

That game could be too close for comfort for many within the borders of Buckeye Nation.

Other games to watch are showdowns featuring Auburn against Georgia and Nebraska against Wisconsin. While the Tigers and Bulldogs clash lost some luster when Auburn lost to Texas A&M, the game between the Cornhuskers and Badgers is critical in the Big Ten’s West Division.

The winner will have the inside track for a spot in the conference championship game against Ohio State in all likelihood, and the Cornhuskers would be very much alive in the playoff race in that scenario. 

Buckle up, because the ride is just getting started.

 

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