NCAA Football

Georgia QB Hutson Mason Is Getting Hot at the Right Time

A month ago, Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason was viewed more as a liability than a weapon. Over the last month, though, the redshirt senior signal-caller for the Bulldogs has caught fire during an important time in his one and only season as Georgia's starting quarterback.

My, how things have changed.

Mason has completed 68.4 percent of his passes this season (160-of-234) for 1,825 yards, 19 touchdowns and only three interceptions—with his last pick coming on Oct. 4 in a win over Vanderbilt.

He has thrown nine touchdowns in the month of November and has averaged more than 10 yards per attempt in three of the last five games.

He's not a game manager anymore. He's a difference-maker.

He showed it early and often against Charleston Southern on Saturday, throwing for 187 yards and three touchdowns on only 12 attempts.

"I'm not trying to go for big stats or anything," Mason said in quotes released by Georgia. "As long as we get it done then it feels good. I just try my best to operate and get it done with the play that's called."

As Radi Nabulsi of UGASports.com points out, Mason's season is comparable to that of Heisman Trophy front-runner Marcus Mariota of Oregon in some aspects:

Is Mason going to join the Heisman discussion? Of course not.

But he is getting hot at the right time for a Georgia team with at least a small glimmer of hope in the race for the inaugural College Football Playoff.

That's important, because while Georgia had always planned on being a run-first team—whether that was with Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb or somebody else—Mason needed to establish a threat downfield in order for the Bulldogs to truly ascend to contender status.

Now he has.

Earlier in the year, Mason seemed reluctant to throw deep. When he did, the passes didn't have the zip on them that they had Saturday.

Take the first touchdown of the game, for example. Not only were the Charleston Southern linebackers and safeties sucked in by the play action, but Mason delivered the ball deep downfield with authority and hit Chris Conley in stride for the score:

He's going to need to do more of that down the stretch because style points can be had against a Georgia Tech pass defense that is giving up 223.3 yards per game and 7.2 yards per attempt through the air.

The same can be said if the Bulldogs get to the SEC Championship Game against a Mississippi State crew that ranks last in the SEC in pass defense (281.4 YPG). If it's Alabama instead, well, the game probably will fall on Mason's shoulders.

Mason's success, combined with the presence of veteran receivers Conley and Michael Bennett, the return of Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell and the emergence of Jonathon Rumph, has transformed Georgia's offense into a force to be reckoned with.

If Missouri falls to Arkansas on Black Friday, which would allow Georgia to waltz into the Georgia Dome, don't be surprised if the Bulldogs make some noise.

Mason is a difference-maker now, and that could cause more college football chaos if he gets hot in the Georgia Dome.

 

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

College Football Playoff 2014: Latest NCAA Predictions After Week 13 Standings

The warpath to the inaugural College Football Playoff came to a screeching halt in Week 13.

Weeks of upsets, intrigue and tough tasks placed on the shoulders of pollsters everywhere evaporated as the top four teams in the nation took care of business in the face of various levels of competition to stay the course in the CFP race.

There are still plenty of one-loss teams in the hunt sure to move up in the coming weeks should any of the top names suffer a setback. But for now things seem to be in a holding pattern.

It might just be the calm before the storm.

 

College Football Playoff Predictions

1. Alabama

Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Ride had it the easiest in Week 13.

Call it a well-earned rest, too.

One week removed from upending Mississippi State, then the No. 1 team in the land, Saban's squad got a rest with a matchup against Western Carolina. There, Blake Sims threw for a pair of scores, Derrick Henry rushed for two and Chris Black went for more than 100 yards receiving.

To be fair, though, the Crimson Tide were a bit sloppy in the early goings of the eventual 48-14 win, as ESPN Stats & Info points out:

It is hard to fault the Crimson Tide too much, though. The team was coming off a major upset and surely already has its eyes set on the Iron Bowl against Auburn to close the season.

Given what happened in the same scenario a season ago, the team can be forgiven for overlooking the Catamounts in the early goings of Saturday's contest.

 

2. Oregon

One week removed from a bye, the Oregon Ducks took care of business in emphatic fashion to play their part in this week's holding pattern in regard to the CFP.

Marcus Mariota and Co. welcomed Colorado to town Saturday and scored a 44-10 victory on the back of the Heisman contender's 323 passing yards and three scores.

As SportsCenter points out, it was a record-breaking day for Mariota:

"I couldn't have done it without all those guys in the locker room," Mariota said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "To me, it is what it is—a number. I'm sure another guy will come around in the next couple of years and break it."

So long as Mariota stays healthy, the Ducks can play with any team in the nation. There has been no November slump this time around. The Ducks got past Stanford and then took down Utah, a team that is more Stanford than Stanford this year, anyway. This is also the same team that easily moved past Michigan State back in early September.

The CFP spot for the Ducks has never really been questioned.

 

3. Florida State

For one reason or another, the Florida State Seminoles love to live on the edge. 

Just take a moment to digest an eye-popping number provided by ESPN Stats & Info:

This time the opponent was Boston College. Jameis Winston threw for just 281 yards with a touchdown and an interception while the backfield behind him managed just 3.8 yards per carry.

As a result, the Seminoles needed a field goal from Roberto Aguayo with three seconds left in regulation to pull out the 20-17 win.

To be blunt, the Seminoles are an ugly team this year. The defense continues to give up in the neighborhood of 22 points per game, and the offense sputters based on the level of competition it encounters.

NC State, Notre Dame, Louisville, Miami and Boston College have all given the Seminoles problems this year. It stands to reason, then, that the Seminoles may struggle against others that qualify for the CFP.

Given the way the team continues to pull out wins, though, they should not be discredited. As far as CFP resumes go to get that foot in the inaugural door, the Seminoles are pristine.

 

4. Mississippi State

A matchup with one of the bottom-feeders in the SEC was a good way for Dak Prescott and the Bulldogs to get back on track after that aforementioned upset at the hands of Alabama.

On the way to the effortless 51-0 victory over Vanderbilt, Prescott was back in Heisman form, throwing for 193 yards and three scores with another 30 yards and a score on the ground.

All the Bulldogs had to do after the loss to Alabama to make the CFP was win the rest of their games. A win over Vanderbilt was a given, which leaves the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss to close the season. 

While that will prove no easy task, the Rebels did just suffer a shutout loss at the hands of Arkansas. Then again, everything goes out the window when it comes to the in-state rivalry, so the Bulldogs' season will very much be on the line next Saturday. 

A seemingly countless number of one-loss teams will be watching. 

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Projections 2014: Latest Playoff Predictions Before Critical Week 14

It’s finally here.

Week 14 could otherwise be known as rivalry week in the race to the College Football Playoff, as some of the country’s most famous and heated showdowns will go a long way toward determining the four postseason spots up for grabs. 

With that in mind, here is a look at the latest playoff projections heading into a crucial Week 14.

 

Playoff Projections

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Baylor

Rose Bowl: No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 3 Oregon 

Championship Bowl (in Arlington, Texas): TBD (semifinal winners)

 

Week 14 Look Ahead for Playoff Contenders

Don’t have too much tryptophan on Thanksgiving, because TCU faces off with in-state rival Texas on Thursday evening.

The Horned Frogs will certainly be favored as a serious playoff contender, but the Longhorns have recently turned the corner and won three games in a row in dominating fashion. Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes is fresh off a 305-yard throwing performance against Oklahoma State and could give a TCU defense that struggled to contain Kansas’ attack some trouble.

On Saturday, Michigan will travel to Ohio State for the 2014 edition of The Game.

Get ready to hear the cliche “throw the records out when these two teams play” all week, especially since Michigan only lost to the favored Buckeyes by a single point last year. Still, the Buckeyes have won nine of 10 games in this rivalry and have much more at stake than the Wolverines at this point of the season.

That doesn’t seem to faze Michigan center Jack Miller, via Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News:

We're not playing for a whole lot like they are. They're trying to get a bid into the playoff. Games like this is what this rivalry is built on when one team is going to be a big underdog going in, and all three kids in here (the postgame interview) are Ohio kids, and I can tell you it would be pretty sweet to go in their backyard and get a win.

Another nationally relevant rivalry clash is the one between Auburn and Alabama.

This year, it is the Crimson Tide going for the national championship, while Auburn will have to play spoiler. The Tigers won on one of the most incredible plays in the history of college football last season when they returned a missed field goal the distance of the field in the final seconds, but the Crimson Tide will certainly be out for revenge at home.

Elsewhere, Oregon has to travel to Oregon State and needs to beware of a Beavers squad that knocked off Arizona State in Corvallis, and Florida State takes on a Florida team that features a stingy defense. In fact, the Gators give up fewer than 21 points a game and will try to prevent Jameis Winston from orchestrating yet another second-half comeback.

One game that Ohio State, Baylor and TCU will pay close attention to is Mississippi State’s trip to Ole Miss. 

Assuming Alabama, Oregon and Florida State have a stranglehold on the top three spots if they all win out, it is between the Buckeyes, Bears, Horned Frogs and Bulldogs for the final seed. Even if Mississippi State beats its rival, Ole Miss’ loss on Saturday to Arkansas could be a problem for the Bulldogs, via Bleacher Report’s Barrett Sallee:

Finally, the Bears have to travel to Texas Tech, but the Red Raiders are an abysmal 4-7 this year. It is difficult to envision Texas Tech slowing down Baylor’s high-octane offense. 

Expect plenty of debate and posturing for those four spots if all the playoff contenders win, but beating a rival is often easier said than done. Buckle up for the best week on the college football schedule.

 

Follow me on Twitter:

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Is Florida State Really 1 of the 4 Best Teams in College Football?

You're not going to believe this, but Florida State barely won a game on Saturday. 

Surviving and advancing is something Florida State has done all season. Clemson, Louisville, North Carolina State and Miami have all jumped out to leads against the Seminoles, sometimes by double digits, but failed to hold on against a team that hasn't lost in two years.  

On Saturday, the Seminoles extended their winning streak to 27 games in the rain against Boston College, 20-17, thanks to a game-winning Roberto Aguayo field goal. It was a game of mistakes, questionable officiating and awkward, literal run-ins with said officials. 

It was also a game in which the zombie Seminoles rose from the dead—again. After 55 minutes of neck-and-neck football, Florida State did what it absolutely had to do: be better than the Eagles for 12 plays, 66 yards and 4:34. 

It wasn't a dominating performance, but it rarely has been this season. Besides, a win is a win, right? 

Or is it? Is Florida State truly one of the four best teams in the country? The College Football Playoff selection committee has already knocked the only undefeated power-five team down to the No. 3 spot in the rankings as of last week and appears ready to drop the Seminoles like a stone at the first loss. 

To the committee's credit, not all wins or resumes are created equally. It is possible for a one-loss team to be better than an undefeated team. Whether Alabama and Oregon are better than Florida State is a conversation for another day, though. What matters is whether Florida State is playoff-caliber. 

The answer is unequivocally yes. 

There are no great teams in college football this year. That's part of what has made this regular season so fun, not necessarily the playoff format itself. The idea that any team could lose on any given week makes for compelling television, even with yawn-worthy slates like Week 13

It also makes Florida State's case for the playoff stronger. As of last Tuesday evening, Alabama was considered the best team in the country, but 'Bama couldn't finish against Ole Miss. Oregon was considered the second-best team, but the Ducks couldn't finish against Arizona.

Those losses aren't the end of the world. The difficulty of navigating through conference play, where teams know each other well, is undervalued. Come this Tuesday, Ole Miss and Arizona should still be Top 25 teams. Furthermore, the identity of a team in October isn't always the same as it is in November. Teams grow and develop together.

You can say the same thing about Florida State and its ability to close out games. As head coach Jimbo Fisher pointed out to Heather Dinich of ESPN.com, his team has finished where others have not:  

Let me ask you this: How about the way everybody else hasn't finished?. Our team has never not finished. The game is 60 minutes. This team hasn't lost in over two years. Everybody says 'game control.' That's something made up. As a coach, you talk about one thing: Finish. Get it done. This team wins in every way, shape and form you can win. Everybody else has failed at least once, no matter what you look at, and some of those teams have lost when they were over 20-point favorites.

Granted, it's been frustrating to watch, especially considering that a year ago the Seminoles were blasting the doors off opponents on a regular basis. If the committee isn't taking last year into consideration, though—and rightfully so—then holding the Seminoles to the same standard isn't right, either.  

There's also this: Florida State is unpopular. For fans to cheer for Notre Dame, Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino and Miami to beat the Seminoles in the same year should tell you everything you need to know about this team's popularity. 

But lost in the outrage about quarterback Jameis Winston's character, the culture of Florida State athletics, Tallahassee and its shady police department is the fact that Florida State, the football team, can straight-up play ball—when it has its act together. 

Secondary is the credit Winston actually deserves for being perhaps the best field general in college football. Not talked about enough is the fact that defensive back Jalen Ramsey is everywhere, including your nightmares. And while he might not be the most physically gifted player on the field, receiver Rashad Greene is good for eight catches and 106 yards with one good arm, breaking school records along the way

Not enough is made about Fisher and his second-half adjustments. Every week, Florida State gets every opponent's best shot. While the 'Noles may not have played any great teams, they're not playing a schedule of only scrubs, either. 

It may not be what everyone wants, but it's what they're getting. 

Is this model sustainable? It feels like Florida State's close calls are bound to catch up to it eventually. It's not far-fetched to think all of this comes back to bite this team in either the ACC championship game against Georgia Tech or the playoff.  

But the committee can't make decisions based on what might happen or what hasn't happened. Winning one's conference hasn't been taken into consideration yet because, well, it hasn't happened yet. If Florida State wins out and wins the ACC, it's in the playoff.

If it's not, what was the point of the regular season? All of the games count, even the close ones. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football.   

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Week 14 Standings for College's Top 25 Teams

Week 13 produced the first Saturday in which a Top Four team didn't lose since the College Football Playoff rankings were released for the first time on October 28. That statement alone is a testament to how wild of a season we've had to this point.

Still, while those top teams all produced wins, there were plenty of unexpected results across the nation.

Once again, many Top 25 squads either lost or were severely tested, and we should expect the Week 14 polls to adjust accordingly. After all, many of these games were supposed to be highly contested, but some produced downright ridiculous results. Here's a perfect example, via ESPN Stats & Info:

Yes, that actually happened. So, what else transpired in the penultimate week of the 2014 college football regular season? Here's a look at the Top 25 results from Week 13, followed by a breakdown of the week's action.

Updated college football standings can be viewed at ESPN.com.

 

Breakdown

Alabama did exactly what it was supposed to do Saturday. The Crimson Tide easily disposed of Western Carolina, winning 48-14 despite using plenty of reserve players in the process. A pivotal clash against Auburn in Week 14 will determine the fate of the nation's top-ranked squad.

Oregon performed in similar fashion, defeating Colorado 44-10 on the heels of another Heisman-like performance from Marcus Mariota, who completed 24 of his 32 passing attempts for 323 yards and three touchdowns, adding 73 rushing yards and another score.

It was a bit of a different story for Florida State. The Seminoles continued their trend of close calls, defeating Boston College 20-17 on a last-second field goal. Here's a look at Florida State's recent shaky track record, via ESPN Stats & Info:

These unspectacular wins may be enough to get this team into the College Football Playoff, but it won't hold up against better opposition.

It should be safe to say Mississippi State wasn't too happy about losing their No. 1 ranking to Alabama. The Bulldogs came back with a vengeance Saturday, hammering Vanderbilt to the tune of 51-0. That kind of performance will ensure this team gets a berth in the playoff.

With TCU on a bye week, Ohio State had a great chance to gain some ground and get closer to the Top Four. While the Buckeyes did win by a decent margin, they had to come from behind in the third quarter against a very inferior team. That may not sit well with the selection committee.

The same can be said for Baylor. The Bears also had a great shot to make up some ground, but they gave up 28 points to a struggling Oklahoma State team, winning in less-than-convincing fashion. Gaining ground after that performance is highly unlikely.

Then we get to the curious case of Bo Wallace and Ole Miss. Wallace was terrible Saturday, throwing two picks in a shutout loss to Arkansas. Some folks weren't too pleased with the quarterback's performance, and they took to Twitter to express their frustration, via Saturday Down South:

This Rebels team is not as good as we previously thought, and they are now officially out of the playoff picture.

One team that made a nice move was UCLA. The Bruins put on a show against USC, winning 38-20 and moving to 9-2 on the season. While UCLA may not be a playoff contender, it will be considered for some very prestigious bowl games. The same cannot be said for the Trojans after losing their fourth game of the season.

Nick Chubb received only nine carries Saturday against Charleston Southern, but the talented running back sure made them count. He rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns before handing the reins to Brendan Douglas.

Here's a look at Chubb's big run of the day, courtesy of ESPN:

Georgia sure does know how to produce running backs.

Michigan State continued its winning ways, stifling Rutgers for a 45-3 victory. Arizona State put up 52 points on Washington State, but not before the Sun Devils trailed 24-21 at halftime. Auburn bounced back with a much-needed 31-7 victory over Samford.

One of the big surprises of the afternoon came from Arizona. The Wildcats torched a stout Utah defense, racking up 298 rushing yards and four touchdowns in a 42-10 romp. Arizona had been highly inconsistent this season, but it is sure capable of lighting up the scoreboard when firing on all cylinders.

Wisconsin barely escaped Iowa, winning 26-24 thanks to a solid day from running back Melvin Gordon. Still, the game ball of the day went to Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine, who rushed for 427 yards and five touchdowns, breaking Gordon's week-old NCAA record in the Sooners' victory over Kansas, via SportsCenter:

Rounding out the Top 25, Clemson took care of Georgia Southern 28-0, Nebraska fell to Minnesota 28-24 in a highly contested matchup and Louisville defeated Notre Dame following a missed field goal by the Irish in the waning seconds of the game.

What a day. We will most certainly be seeing a new pecking order when the Week 14 polls are released.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff Predictions 2014: Projecting NCAA Field After Week 13

Week 13 was supposed to be the calm before the proverbial college football storm. Instead, several of college football's top teams found themselves riding the waves to survive. 

Florida State once again showed that their ability to slide through the first three quarters of games is unparalleled. Just one week after needing every minute of game time to come back on the road against Miami, the Noles beat the Boston College Eagles on a last-second field goal to remain undefeated on the season. 

They weren't the only team who didn't quite live up to expectations, though. Ohio State was a massive favorite over Indiana, but you wouldn't have known it by watching the game. Crucial mistakes and turnovers kept Indiana in the game before the Buckeyes were able to pull away in the end. 

However, college football is truly a game of survive and advance. When it was all said and done, there was very little impact made on the projected field. Here's a complete look at the projections based on current rankings, the schedule that lies ahead for these teams and current level of play:

 

The Locks: Oregon and Alabama

It's difficult to call anything in college football a lock. A quick look at the scores across the country could tell you that.

But it would be shocking to see any of these three teams on the outside looking in when the committee makes the final decision on the first-ever playoff field.

Both Alabama and Oregon have shone in conferences that have been known for tightly contested games this season. As Bryan Fischer notes, the two conferences have the most games decided by a touchdown or less all season:

Yet, in leagues full of parity, both teams have stood out. Their wins have been impressive. Their losses have been "excusable." In terms of dominance, the metrics love them. Alabama and Oregon are Nos. 1 and 2 respectively, according to Football Outsiders' FEI-plus metric. 

Add in the fact that both teams still have big games in which they can prove themselves, and it wouldn't be shocking to see them end the season as the nation's top two teams. 

 

Most Likely in Next: Florida State and Ohio State

For Florida State, it's simple. There's no way the committee won't allow an undefeated defending champion in the first playoff. It doesn't matter how poor the schedule or how close the games are. It doesn't even matter what the metrics say (the Noles aren't doing so well on Ed Feng's Power Rank Metric). All Florida State has to do is beat Florida and win the ACC Championship Game to get in. 

Ohio State, on the other hand, isn't as sure a thing as the Noles, but it's getting closer. A 14-point loss to Virginia Tech at home looms large, but fewer teams have exerted as much "game control" throughout the season as the Buckeyes since then. 

According to FiveThirtyEight, the Buckeyes are now statistically the most likely team to nab that fourth seed:

Of course, all of that is dependent on beating Michigan in the upcoming rivalry game and winning the Big Ten title game, most likely against Wisconsin. Urban Meyer won't let his players look ahead, telling The Associated Press via ESPN: "We're conference division champions, we've won a bunch of games (nine) in a row... We have some work to do. Sometimes in college football, things don't go exactly as scripted."

Things may not always go exactly as scripted, but if they do, the conference title game could be the difference. Neither Mississippi State, TCU nor Baylor will have the advantage of participating in one. 

 

On the Bubble: Mississippi State, TCU and Baylor

Yes, Mississippi State and TCU are currently ranked ahead of projected four seed Ohio State. But, as mentioned previously, the major difference could come down to the lack of a conference championship game appearance for both schools. 

TCU has a little less control over that. The Big 12 can't have one because it doesn't have 12 teams. However, Mississippi State will most likely be held out of its conference title game due to its loss to Alabama. 

The problem for both teams—and Baylor by extension—is a lack of opportunities to make yet another statement. 

TCU has Texas next on the docket. Unfortunately, Texas' reputation hasn't caught up with how well it's been playing recently. The Longhorns are unranked but are riding a three-game winning streak into the game, with all three wins coming by two scores or more. The Frogs then finish out with Iowa State. 

Baylor and Mississippi State both watched their "statement" games take a hit in recent weeks. Kansas State lost big against TCU, while Ole Miss laid an egg against 6-5 Arkansas. 

Regardless of what system college football uses to crown its champion, there's always going to be some recency bias. Unfortunately for Mississippi State, TCU and Baylor, their schedule isn't going to give them the opportunity to sprint to the finish line. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Heisman Watch 2014: Analyzing Top Contenders in Race After Week 13

An absence of massive upsets created rare stability in the college football rankings. As a result, the race for the Heisman Trophy remained relatively unchanged.

The top contenders either bolstered their respective stocks with stellar outings or did little to hurt their chances to walk away with the college game's most celebrated individual accolade.

Since quarterbacks have won the award 12 of the last 14 times, it only makes sense that the leader in the clubhouse is a signal-caller. That distinction belongs to Oregon's Marcus Mariota, but two offensive playmakers at other positions have shots of their own to hoist the Heisman.

 

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

Mariota isn't one to play down to the level of his competition. He proved that in a magnificent display Saturday in the Ducks' 44-10 victory over Colorado, accounting for four total touchdowns.

ESPN Stats & Info accentuated the impact Mariota has had at the helm of Oregon's uptempo, explosive offense in a historic 2014 season:

Since the Ducks are also inside the Top Four of the College Football Playoff picture, there is no reason Mariota shouldn't garner serious consideration for the Heisman—if he isn't already the prohibitive favorite.

Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel hinted at how Mariota has created such high expectations and continued to meet them:

Football is a quarterback-driven sport, and Mariota has handled the spotlight and performed so consistently well that he deserves to become the fresh face of college football.

As system-driven as critics may view Oregon's offense to be, they shouldn't be offended when Mariota tunes that sort of talk out.

"That's other people's opinions," said Mariota, per the New York Post's Steve Serby. "I'm not gonna let that affect how I play or how I play as an individual player. I'm just gonna continue to do what I feel is best for the team and find ways to win."

The Ducks wouldn't be where they are now without Mariota's talents. Heisman voters should know that. Nothing that happened in Week 13 suggested he belongs anywhere but the top of the Heisman conversation.

 

2. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama 

Scary stuff for the Crimson Tide in Week 13, when Cooper left an otherwise stress-free win over Western Carolina in the first quarter with a knee injury.

Cecil Hurt of TheTuscaloosa News relayed an encouraging update on Cooper's status after the game from Alabama head coach Nick Saban:

Before exiting the field, Cooper still managed three receptions for 46 yards. To say he has been fifth-year senior QB Blake Sims' go-to guy is an understatement of stupendous proportions.

If the SEC is the gold competitive standard for evaluating how a player performs and putting his numbers into context, the following tweet from Fox Sports' Knox Bardeen speaks for itself:

Considering the Tide's penchant for running the ball under Saban, it's amazing that Cooper has been able to light it up as he has, especially since Sims locks onto him so often.

If Oregon suffers an upset and Mariota plays poorly, at this late juncture, Cooper appears to be the only Heisman candidate capable of leapfrogging the Ducks star to seize the trophy.

 

3. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

The only reason Gordon is slotted this low is because his team isn't in playoff contention, unlike those of Mariota and Cooper. But that might make his sensational season all the more special.

Even with horrific quarterback play from the likes of a regressed Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy, who might be the worst passing QB to merit a major scholarship, Gordon has thrived.

After he set an NCAA single-game record with 408 yards against Nebraska (only for it to be broken this week), he followed it up with 200 yards and two TDs in a 26-24 win over Iowa.

NFL Network's Albert Breer noted how Gordon's work may be far from done too:

NFL.com's Gil Brandt observed the significance of Gordon's prolific production:

And look how Gordon made it to the coveted 2,000-yard mark, courtesy of College GameDay:

Even though he's third in the Heisman race and will garner an invitation to the ceremony in New York City, it's a long shot Gordon will win. As a consolation prize of sorts, he has a magnificent opportunity ahead of him in the NFL.

While Mariota should be the first QB selected in the 2015 NFL draft and Cooper the first wideout should both choose to come out, running back has become a far more volatile position. Should Gordon stay healthy and continue putting up such mind-boggling numbers, there is a strong chance he becomes the first player at his position to be chosen in the first round since 2012.

But first, it's important to enjoy the likes of Gordon, Cooper and Mariota regardless of their finish in the Heisman race. They will likely headline what should be a magnificent pool of pro prospects before long.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff Rankings 2014: Predictions for Week 14

For seemingly the first time since the College Football Playoff rankings were unveiled, the committee might not have a reason to change its Top Four from one week to the next.

That obviously remains to be seen until the Week 14 rankings are released Tuesday night, but all of the four teams—Alabama, Florida State, Oregon and Mississippi State—took care of business in Week 13. If the committee shakes things up, it means it was wooed by an outside challenger enough to supplant one of the top teams.

Will that happen? It's hard to say, but other than Florida State—who beat Boston College on a last-second field goal—each of the Top Four squads won in convincing fashion. 

Take a look at the Week 13 playoff rankings, then glance lower for updated predictions as to how the Top Four should look in Week 14.

 

Week 14 CFP Predictions

1. Alabama

Alabama is far from a consensus No. 1, as told by their No. 2 Associated Press ranking. But unless the Crimson Tide fall to Auburn or in the SEC title game, they'll be strolling into the CFP with the top seed.

They took care of Western Carolina 48-14 Saturday to move to 10-1, although a slow start had ESPN's David Hale wondering if they were as in control of games as they have recently let on:

Alabama has rolled at home this season, and it's likely to do the same in next weekend's Iron Bowl against Auburn—who struggled with Samford Saturday.

Once dogged for failing to notch a quality win, the Crimson Tide have put that critique to bed with an overtime victory at LSU and a five-point win over the nation's top team. Few can doubt anymore that Alabama is as complete a team as there is in college football, just based off their formidability on all three phases—offense, defense and special teams.

This isn't the unstoppable force that Alabama was a few years ago, but they're undoubtedly better than anyone else in this wide-open 2014 season. 

 

2. Oregon

It's technically not a tuneup for a rivalry game if you're facing a conference foe, but don't tell that to Oregon. The second-ranked Ducks throttled Colorado at home for Senior Day, 44-10.

Pac-12 Networks capped the result:

A convincing win over Utah two weeks prior was enough to bump Oregon up from third to second—jumping Florida State—in the CFP rankings. The Ducks don't look like they've missed a beat since then, as Marcus Mariota added to his Heisman Trophy campaign with four touchdowns against Colorado Saturday.

The CFP committee made a statement with their moving Oregon to No. 2 last week—if the Ducks win out against Oregon State and in the Pac-12 title game, they're comfortably in. Now, it's just up to Oregon—and those two prospective teams—to decide its fate. 

 

3. Florida State

Before too long, Florida State is going to trademark this type of winning. 

Revered for blowing virtually everyone out last season, the Seminoles have made their name this year by coming as close as possible to losing. It was never on better display than Saturday at home, facing an overmatched Boston College team that they only beat 20-17 on a last-second field goal.

Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports capped up the thoughts of pretty much anyone who has closely followed Florida State in 2014:

Honestly, Florida State's dramatic victory was the only impactful moment among the Top Four Saturday. Alabama, Oregon and Mississippi State all crushed their competition in similarly convincing fashion, but the Seminoles' close win gives the committee something to dissect. And not in a good way.

The dreaded game-control factor will hang over Florida State more than ever following another apathetic victory, and it's hard to argue that it shouldn't at this point. Even with losses, Alabama and Oregon—and maybe even Mississippi State—have shown more formidability than the reigning champs week in and week out.

They don't face murderer's row down the stretch with games against Florida and Georgia Tech, but the 'Noles will have to prove twice more that they can truly win ugly.

 

4. Mississippi State

It's going to take perfection down the stretch (and maybe some style points) for Mississippi State to make the CFP after its loss at Alabama last week. 

But it took a big first step in that direction Saturday, toppling Vanderbilt 51-0 at home to send the seniors out with a win. Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott threw for three touchdowns and ran for a fourth.

A wealth of possibilities are open for Mississippi State, even though there's only one game left—the Egg Bowl at Ole Miss. Alabama losing against Auburn would put the Bulldogs in the SEC title game, but a Bulldogs win against their biggest rivals would be a big statement to close out the year either way.

Enough to keep Mississippi State at No. 4? That remains to be seen. TCU, Baylor and Ohio State all would make for a convincing case to jump them if one wins its conference title.

But the Bulldogs' big wins earlier in the season and a close loss to Alabama may be enough to get Dan Mullen's crew in regardless.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Predictions 2014: Updated Playoff Projections After Week 13 Results

The more things change, the more they stay the same in college football. Every playoff contender won on Saturday, although some made it look a lot easier than others.

Alabama handled its business against lowly Western Carolina, Oregon destroyed Colorado, Baylor pulled away from Oklahoma State, Mississippi State crushed Vanderbilt, Ohio State needed an impressive fourth quarter to beat Indiana and Florida State once again squeaked by, this time against Boston College.

Here is a look at the updated playoff projections after the Week 13 results.

 

Playoff Projections

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Baylor

Rose Bowl: No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 3 Oregon   

Championship Bowl (in Arlington, Texas): TBD (semifinal winners)

 

Week 13 Twitter Reaction for Playoff Contenders

Call it luck all you want, but at some point Florida State deserves credit for finding a way to win every single time in the final minutes. It did so again on Saturday against Boston College when it won 20-17 on a field goal in the final seconds.

ESPN Stats & Info noted that it was business as usual for the Seminoles, while Paul Myerberg of USA Today pointed out the most important stat of all:

Alok Pattani of  ESPN Stats & Info acknowledged that the Seminoles may not have been as close to losing as it appeared, while Chantel Jennings of ESPN.com took the subjective point of view (that is hard to argue against):

Another playoff contender that struggled in the first three quarters of its game was Ohio State, but the Buckeyes did dominate the fourth quarter against Indiana on the way to a 42-27 victory. J.T. Barrett broke some records along the way, although he didn’t seem too excited about it in the aftermath and was more focused on the task at hand, via Jeff Svoboda of Buckeye Sports Bulletin:

Despite the close win, Bleacher Report’s Ben Axelrod believes that the Buckeyes control their own destiny, as long as Wisconsin is the opponent in the Big Ten Championship Game:

The team right behind Ohio State in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings was Baylor, and it looked impressive in a dominating 49-28 win over Oklahoma State. Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News acknowledged how unstoppable the offense was all game:

Another high-octane offense, Oregon, destroyed Colorado’s overmatched defense and won 44-10. SportsCenter pointed out that quarterback Marcus Mariota set some records, while Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com passed along the Heisman Trophy contender’s quote after the game:

Elsewhere, ESPN Stats & Info noted how helpless Vanderbilt was against Mississippi State:

The Week 13 prime-time matchup featured UCLA crushing its crosstown rival USC, 38-20. Arash Markazi of ESPN pointed out that the tide has turned in this showdown, while Lindsey Thiry of the Los Angeles Times noticed that the Bruins fans were having some fun in the fourth quarter:

Danny Kannell of ESPN gave some credit to the Bruins for the victory:

One team that will not be making the College Football Playoff is Michigan, which lost again on Saturday, this time to Maryland. It inspired a response from Michigan congressman John Dingell:

The next step in the race for the playoffs is the release of the new rankings on Tuesday.

There probably won’t be much movement in the top seven considering all the playoff contenders won except TCU, which had a bye week, although there is a chance Baylor could move up after an impressive showing. While Ohio State didn’t look as dominant against Indiana, Minnesota’s victory over Nebraska should help the Buckeyes’ cause since the Golden Gophers are one of their marquee wins.

UCLA could move up from its No. 9 spot since No. 8 Ole Miss lost in convincing fashion against Arkansas on Saturday.

With rivalry showdowns and conference championships on the horizon, the most important thing moving forward will be simply winning games. That is the only way to get into the playoffs at this point.

 

Follow me on Twitter:

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Predicting the Top 25 After Week 13

Compared to some previous weeks this season, Week 13 was relatively timid in terms of the ranked teams falling.

Florida State survived a tough test against Boston College, and Ole Miss was shut out by Arkansas. Beyond those two games, nobody in the top 15 was tested. Five ranked teams lost in Week 13, but four of the five were ranked No. 20 or lower in the AP Poll.

While there won't be too much shakeup in the top half, let's predict what the AP Poll will look like on Sunday. 

Note: Rankings reflect a prediction of the Week 12 AP poll—not how the author would rank the teams himself.  

 

Biggest Risers

Minnesota

One week after giving Ohio State a run for its money, the Minnesota Golden Gophers delivered a crushing blow to a fledgling Nebraska Cornhuskers team, winning 28-24 despite falling behind 21-7.

Quarterback Mitch Leidner, who filled the void for an injured David Cobb, rallied the Gophers to the tune of 111 yards through the air and two touchdowns. More importantly, the win now gives the Gophers a chance to knock off Wisconsin next week for a chance to earn a bid to the Big Ten title game against Ohio State.

 

Louisville

Whenever you upend the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, regardless of whether or not they're reeling, you'll get noticed. The Cardinals defeated the Irish 31-28 on Saturday and have very quietly become an eight-win team with a chance at a prime-time bowl game. The Cardinals have Kentucky on their docket to finish the regular season next week, so a win over an SEC team could very much boost their resume.

 

Biggest Fallers

Ole Miss

It truly seems like ages ago when Ole Miss upset Alabama. Now the Rebels are 8-3 after getting shut out 30-0 to Arkansas on Saturday and quickly falling out of relevancy. A loss in the Egg Bowl next week could very well see the Rebels, after such a hot start to the year, miss out on a late December bowl game.

As a whole, Ole Miss has lost three of its last four, with the only victory coming against lowly Presbyterian. Now, an upset in the Egg Bowl over Mississippi State would create some cool playoff chaos.

 

Nebraska

After giving up a 17-3 lead to Wisconsin last week, the Nebraska Cornhuskers fell to Minnesota 28-24 in Week 13. Now at 8-3 and out of the hunt for the Big Ten title game, Nebraska will hope to salvage a win next week against Iowa to have an outside chance at a decent bowl game. But for now, Bo Pelini's seat is starting to warm up and the Huskers should fall out of the rankings altogether.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings Week 14: B/R's Official Top 25

On paper, this past weekend of college football wasn't one to get too excited about. Certainly not in comparison to some of the previous slates, or what's in store next weekend. But paper can only tell us so much, as there were a number of surprising results from Thursday through Saturday that impacted playoff chances and our rankings.

The Bleacher Report Top 25 is voted on by 18 members of our college football team: writers Keith Arnold, Ben Axelrod, Phil Callihan, Michael Felder, Justin Ferguson, Andrew Hall, Kyle Kensing, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Pedersen, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Erin Sorensen and Greg Wallace, as well as editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Max Rausch.

Each voter submits their ballots based on observations made during the just-completed week's games. Teams receive 25 points for a first-place vote, all the way down to one point for being ranked 25th, and then the top 25 vote-getters are ranked in order of their point totals.

Check out B/R's Week 14 poll, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

Begin Slideshow

Brett Hundley's Dominance over USC Keeps Bruins on Track for Pac-12 South Title

PASADENA, Calif. — If Brett Hundley was playing his last career game as No. 9 UCLA’s quarterback against crosstown rival and No. 19-ranked USC, the redshirt junior made Saturday’s 38-20 win one to remember.

Hundley’s 326 yards passing elevated him past Cade McNown as the program’s all-time career leader in total yardage.

As for Hundley’s effort on the night, he passed for three touchdowns and ran for another, officially ending the night with four touchdowns—though he was involved in five, surrendering a pick-six to USC linebacker Anthony Sarao on UCLA’s opening possession.

“To be honest, after that happened, I was the calmest I was all game,” Hundley said. “We didn’t panic, and when stuff like that happens, you can’t panic.”

He added: “You can’t be afraid to make mistakes.”

The play became a microcosm for UCLA’s season: a slow start with a torrid finish.

The Bruins broke a 14-14 tie in the second quarter with 24 straight points that put an emphatic punctuation mark on the current era of the USC-UCLA rivalry.

“UCLA runs L.A.,” Hundley said matter-of-factly. “If you didn’t hear it last year, I think this year sort of made the stomp to express that.”

Hundley’s comment isn’t without support. He’s undefeated against USC in his three seasons as the Bruins’ starting quarterback.

UCLA’s run in the rivalry also coincides with Jim Mora’s arrival as head coach, but Mora was reserved in his assessment of the Bruins running the city.

He’s more focused on them running the Pac-12.

“Can’t sit here and gloat,” he said. “Got to move on, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

UCLA’s win was its fifth straight and keeps the Bruins in control of the Pac-12 South with one game to play.

A Bruins win Friday at home vs. Stanford sends them to Levi’s Stadium and the conference title game for a rematch with No. 2 Oregon.

The Ducks handed UCLA its last loss, 42-30, at the Rose Bowl on Oct. 11.

Hundley is winless against Oregon in his UCLA career at 0-2. Getting another crack at the Ducks also means scoring his first career victory against Stanford.

The Cardinal beat the Bruins last season and twice in 2012, including in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Snapping that skid against Stanford is UCLA’s next mission. For the next few hours, however, the team can revel in another rivalry win—particularly for seniors like linebacker Eric Kendricks, who were part of the 50-0 USC victory in 2011.

“My first start as a Bruin was in the 50-0 loss,” Kendricks said. “I told myself I was never going to go out like that again.”

Kendricks did his part to ensure UCLA wouldn’t go out on the losing end, intercepting a pass in the first half on a diving play along the sideline.

Kendricks helped key a defense that held USC to just 62 rushing yards. And the Hundley-led offense took advantage on the other end, beating the Trojans where they’d excelled most heading into Saturday.

USC entered with the best red-zone defense in the Pac-12 and seventh best in the nation. But UCLA, the most effective red-zone offense in college football, won that battle.

The Bruins capitalized on five of six red-zone opportunities, four of which culminated in touchdowns.

Perhaps the biggest of those possessions came just before halftime when Hundley found Eldridge Massington in traffic for the quarterback’s third touchdown of the first half with just 14 seconds remaining before intermission.

For the Trojans, a field goal was the difference between a six-point halftime deficit and two-possession disadvantage to open the back half. And USC never quite recovered.

On the Bruins’ first drive out of the locker room, Hundley took a big hit on a blitz up the gut—but not before delivering a perfectly placed ball to Thomas Duarte for 38 yards.

“We saw inexperience in their back end,” Duarte said. “We saw some things we could take advantage [of], and we did.”

That pass, leading to a 10-yard Paul Perkins touchdown run, was the second of two game-breaking connections between Hundley and Duarte.

The duo hooked up on a routine slant pattern in the first quarter that Duarte took 57 yards for a touchdown after shaking safety Leon McQuay III on a cutback.

“I came to the sideline and told Brett and [offensive coordinator Noel] Mazzone, ‘Hey, we’ve got to look for this. They’re going to split safeties and they’re leaving me wide open,’” Duarte said. “Sure enough, we came back to it and it was a touchdown.”

For Hundley, such moments have helped define a record-setting career.

“It’s truly a blessing to now be able to now hold the career passing touchdown, career total offense,” he said. “To think of Pop Warner days, to high school, nobody dreams about doing things like this. Now it’s a reality with hard work.”

And with a little more hard work, Hundley and the Bruins can add another notable record to a growing list of accomplishments: a Pac-12 championship.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of the UCLA athletic department.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Brett Hundley's Dominance over USC Keeps Bruins on Track for Pac-12 South Title

PASADENA, Calif. — If Brett Hundley was playing his last career game as No. 9 UCLA’s quarterback against crosstown rival and No. 19-ranked USC, the redshirt junior made Saturday’s 38-20 win one to remember...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

After Poor Offensive Showing, Tennessee Looks to Get Back on Track vs Vanderbilt

In the wake of a buzz-killing 29-21 loss to Missouri, the Tennessee Volunteers were left with a once-potent offense tattered by the Tigers' dominant defense and searching for answers.

Now with a must-win situation facing them next week at Vanderbilt, UT must get that unit on track or the Vols will be home for the holidays. 

Coach Butch Jones bluntly summed up what's left of a Vols season that has been reduced to a do-or-die atmosphere in Nashville.

Another performance like Saturday night's could make a probable win against the Commodores an uncertainty. After two weeks of riding the wave of excitement quarterback Joshua Dobbs brought to the starting lineup, UT reverted to its struggles of old.

Drives stalled quickly and fruitlessly as the Vols failed to take advantage of field position all night. As was the case for most of the season, the majority of offensive issues can be traced back to the struggles of the offensive line.

The front five was awful, reverting to old form and allowing Dobbs to get pummeled throughout the game.

Most importantly, costly mistakes abounded. Trailing just 16-13, Dobbs turned the football over on consecutive possessions. The first of those was a fumble when he was trying to make something happen against Mizzou's torrid pass rush.

Then, the blunder of the game came just when it looked like the Vols were going to tie or take the lead. On a first-down play from the Tigers 29-yard line, Dobbs fired a dart to freshman receiver Josh Malone. The ball caromed off his hands and into those of Kenya Dennis.

Three plays later, Maty Mauk hit Jimmy Hunt on a 73-yard touchdown pass to break Tennessee's heart.

That machine-gun momentum swing crushed the Vols, but that was just the culmination of a night full of frustration. 

Jalen Hurd could never get going on the ground, and a strong Mizzou defense determined not to let Dobbs freelance with his feet kept him in the pocket and put him on the ground.

An offense missing its biggest weapon in receiver Marquez North and its offensive line leader in center Mack Crowder lacked the pizzazz from previous weeks.

There was no downfield passing game, and UT's offense looked scarily like it did during the season's first seven weeks before Dobbs breathed new life into it. 

They'll have to find a way to generate yardage vertically without North. Jones dropped the bomb after the game that he's lost for the season.

The Tigers defensive front is the best the Vols have faced all season, and Vanderbilt isn't even in the same league.

But with so much riding on next week's game for UT and the Commodores wanting nothing more than to end a miserable season by ending Tennessee's, the Vols can't afford the same issues.

After all the mistakes by the offense and a pair of big ones on defense, the game ended in controversy and derailed another comeback effort by the Vols.

Mizzou's lead swelled to 29-13 when Tennessee's offense finally struck with its first touchdown of the night. Dobbs hit Jason Croom on a fade before going airborne for a two-point conversion to cut the lead to eight.

That's where things got, shall we say, interesting.

Needing an onside kick, another touchdown and two-point conversion with less than two minutes remaining, UT recovered two kicks. But on the first one, the Vols were called offside. Since Mizzou touched the ball, however, the Vols had to rekick.

The offside call was borderline, and it didn't go UT's way.

Then, when it looked like the Vols would get the football back after Coleman recovered the second one, replays clearly showed the ball traveled just nine yards. But Jones inexplicably called his second timeout to challenge the call, which was upheld, and Mizzou wound up running out the clock.

It was a frustrating finish to to a frustrating game. But the season's not finished.

Much like last year, Tennessee enters the VU game in a must-win situation. Unlike last season, the Commodores are struggling mightily, sitting at 3-8, winless in the conference and fresh off getting obliterated 51-0 by Mississippi State. 

The Vols entered Saturday's game as the heavy favorites in Vegas, carrying tons of momentum and an offense that looked capable of shredding opponents at will with Dobbs at the helm. After getting dragged down to Earth by Mizzou, only one of those things remain.

Tennessee will be big favorites next week, but the momentum is squashed, and an offense that spent much of this game searching for answers desperately needs to re-find them this week. 

Tonight, that once-excellent opportunity for a bowl game feels just a bit farther from reach.

 

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn Takes Care of Business on Senior Night, Turns Focus to Upsetting Alabama

AUBURN, Ala.—Instead of being a memorable game for the senior players and their families, Senior Night was shaping up to be one to forget for Auburn after one quarter.

Auburn's once-potent offense was averaging 1.8 yards per play. Quarterback Nick Marshall fired a bad interception that forced the Tigers' defense to make a fourth-down stop. Flags continued to mount for the SEC's most-penalized team.

Oh, and Auburn was playing an FCS opponent—the 7-3 Samford Bulldogs.

After Samford went up 7-0 midway through the second quarter, Auburn snapped into action thanks to its seniors.

"Mainly it was just us hurting ourselves," senior tight end C.J. Uzomah said. "It took Samford scoring for us to realize that we needed to get our crap together, really."

Marshall found wide receiver Sammie Coates on a 49-yard pass and senior wide receiver Quan Bray found the end zone two plays later on a 23-yard run.

The lightning-fast, three-play drive energized an entire team and a sleepy Jordan-Hare Stadium en route to a 31-7 victory.

"We just came out not ready to play at the beginning of the game," Marshall said. "But as the game got going, we got back to playing Auburn football."

Although the road to the final whistle Saturday night wasn't entirely smooth, "Auburn football" returned for a team that desperately needed a jolt after back-to-back losses and before a trip to Tuscaloosa next Saturday to take on No. 1 Alabama.

"You know, coming off the last two weeks with two losses, it was about getting the bad taste out of our mouth," senior running back Corey Grant said. "It important for us to get this win, especially for next week when we play our big rivalry. It is going to be a big game, and it was good to actually get a win tonight and get that good feeling back."

The focus on the Plains immediately turned to Tuscaloosa, even for a group of seniors just minutes removed from their final game at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

"It's going to be a hostile environment," said Bray, who became the first player in school history to have a rushing, a receiving and a punt return touchdown in the same season. "We know that. We'll come out tomorrow and get the things we need to correct down, and then we'll go to Tuscaloosa and handle business."

For the Tigers' offense, preparing for the Crimson Tide and one of the nation's toughest defenses comes down to avoiding the slow starts that have plagued them in games big and small this season.

Auburn's scoring drought reached more than 75 minutes of game time, stretching back to the second drive of a blowout loss to Georgia, before Bray found the end zone in the second quarter:

"We just came out flat," Bray said. "We went three-and-out, and we weren't getting nothing going. Once we got things going, that's when we were at our best."

Now that the team has gone from being a national title contender to just a potential spoiler with hopes of a mid-tier bowl, Auburn defensive tackle Gabe Wright claimed the disappointments started to wear down on the Tigers.

"I'd say we had a really good week of practice," Wright said. "But I'd be a liar if I said the high expectations and goals we had set being diminished over the past couple of weeks didn’t have an effect on us."

For Wright, Samford's lone touchdown was a wake-up call for a team that was struggling to stay motivated.

"Coming off a loss we know that we’ve got to get [momentum] back, but I feel like we did a good job this week," Wright said. "Of course, the goal this week was to beat Samford, but also to get Auburn back to the playing level we want to be. After they scored, that really rose the bar."

Motivation won't be a problem, though, heading into next weekend's massive rivalry clash in a hostile environment.

"It's probably going to be one of the funnest games I've ever played in," Uzomah said. "Obviously, the Alabama game last year was the height of my football career, but this is going to be up there. Their fans are going to be nasty.

"I don't know what they're going to be saying or doing—I know little kids flick you off sometimes. I'm looking forward to it."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC vs. UCLA: Game Grades, Analysis for Trojans and Bruins

Brett Hundley and No. 9 UCLA reestablished their dominance over No. 19 USC Saturday night, with the Bruins pounding their way on both sides of the ball to a dominant 38-20 victory under the lights in the Rose Bowl.

The Bruins (9-2) manhandled the Trojans (7-4), outgaining them by 186 yards in the 18-point victory. Jim Mora's squad needs one more victory (against Stanford next week) to clinch the Pac-12 South. If it can do that, the team will book a trip to the conference championship game for a rematch against Oregon.

For now, though, UCLA gets to enjoy its third consecutive victory over its crosstown rival.

How did the Trojans and the Bruins grade out from an entertaining game Saturday night?

 

USC Trojans Grade Analysis

Pass Offense: Most of USC's success has come through the air offensively this year, but that wasn't the case against UCLA. Cody Kessler, who came into the game as the nation's 12th-ranked passer, managed just 214 yards and one touchdown against the Bruins. Kessler threw a bad interception and failed to get anything going down the field past UCLA's secondary.

Nelson Agholor, coming off a career performance against Cal last week, hauled in just three passes for 24 yards.

Run Offense: Kessler was under constant fire all night, which hurt USC's run offense in a big way, but the Trojans running backs failed to get anything going. Javorius Allen gained just 59 yards on 14 carries—averaging a modest 4.2 yards per carry—and Justin Davis chipped in 37 yards on nine attempts. The Trojans failed to generate any big plays on the ground, as their long carry on the night went for just 12 yards.

Pass Defense: USC's pass defense got off to a great start when Anthony Sarao picked off a Brett Hundley pass and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown on UCLA’s first drive. But things turned quickly for the Trojans when Hundley found a groove. The Bruins had no trouble poking holes in USC's secondary as they finished with 326 passing yards on the night. 

Run Defense: UCLA had a tough time finding holes in USC's defense early, finishing with minus-seven yards in the first quarter. USC was keyed in on Hundley as a runner, which was a big reason why UCLA only had 45 rushing yards at halftime.

That changed a bit after the break when UCLA's star quarterback broke free for a 15-yard touchdown run. But that was the biggest play the Trojans allowed on the ground, as they only gave up an average of 3.1 yards per carry to the Bruins. 

Special Teams: Things got off to a bad start for USC’s special teams when Agholor muffed a punt early in the first quarter, which set UCLA up inside the 10 for an easy touchdown drive. That was the only notable special teams play from the Trojans, which is as bad as it sounds. With UCLA shutting down the offense, USC could have used a big play in the kicking game to provide a spark.

Coaching: Steve Sarkisian made some curious calls in the first half, most notably in short down-and-distance situations. He called for a fullback dive and a zone-read run when USC needed just two yards on separate, critical situations—both of which resulted in lost yards. The Trojans left valuable points on the board when they went for it on fourth down instead of kicking a chip-shot field goal late in the first quarter.

After falling behind by 10 at the break, USC didn't make any adjustments to slow down UCLA's ferocious pass rush. There were no quick screens to punish the attacking defense, and Agholor was horrendously underutilized throughout the night. 

 

UCLA Bruins Grade Analysis

Pass Offense: Hundley’s night got off to a rough start with the pick-six, but he bounced back in a big way. He finished the first half completing 78.9 percent of his passes for 202 yards and three touchdowns. The junior signal-caller spread it around, too, finding nine different receivers in the first two quarters.

With the blowout nature of the game, Hundley wasn't asked to do much in the second half. He still finished with 326 passing yards and three touchdowns. Wideout Thomas Duarte was explosive, leading all receivers with 95 receiving yards (and a touchdown) on just two receptions.

Run Offense: The Bruins boast a potent rushing attack because Hundley is such a dangerous threat on the ground. The quarterback came into the game with 564 rushing yards, but he only managed two yards against the Trojans. 

That was a big reason for UCLA's struggles on the ground. The Bruins gained just 135 rushing yards Saturday night, which was 80 yards shy of their season average. 

Pass Defense: UCLA's secondary had a tough task in stopping Kessler, Agholor and a surging Trojans passing attack, but that’s exactly what it did Saturday night. The secondary got a big boost from an inspired defensive front. UCLA came into the night averaging just 1.6 sacks per game, but it registered six against Kessler and the Trojans. That disrupted everything USC tried to establish offensively, which was a huge key to the victory. 

Run Defense: USC aims to establish balance offensively, but UCLA eliminated that possibility when it raced out to a big lead early in the third quarter. That's a big reason why the Bruins were able to limit the Trojans to just eight rushing yards in the second half. Of course, that low total was as much the result of UCLA's pass rush as it was its run defense, but it was still an incredible performance from a fired-up defense. USC finished with just 61 rushing yards on 33 carries. 

Special Teams: It was a quiet night for UCLA's special teams as they failed to make any big plays, but they also didn't make any huge mistakes. The Bruins did come up with Agholor's muffed punt in the first quarter, but otherwise, it was a forgettable night. Matt Mengel averaged just 33 yards on his six punts. Ka'imi Fairbairn connected on his only field-goal attempt (a 32-yard chip shot) and accounted for just 52 yards on four kick returns.

Coaching: Mora knew that he could outman and outgun USC, and he executed his game plan perfectly Saturday night. The Bruins raced out to a comfortable lead early in the third quarter and then went to work grinding out the game against an overmatched defense. He established complete control over USC with a third consecutive victory over his biggest rival.

 

All stats via NCAA.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Heisman Watch 2014: Top 5 Rankings After Week 13

The Heisman hopefuls really showed up in their respective games on Saturday. This week, the list of Heisman favorites changes, as a former winner is left out of our top five.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee gives you his updated top five finalists for the Heisman Trophy.

Who is your favorite to win the 2014 Heisman?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Missouri vs. Tennessee: Game Grades, Analysis for Tigers and Vols

The Missouri Tigers rode their defensive line and a big second half by Maty Mauk to a 29-21 road win over the Tennessee Volunteers.

Mizzou's defense sacked Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs six times on the night, keeping the Vols offense out of the end zone until late in the fourth quarter. Mauk did the rest, throwing for two touchdowns and 152 yards in the final two frames.

With this victory, the Tigers are only a home victory over Arkansas away from the SEC East title.

 

Game Grades for the Tigers

Passing Offense

Mauk just could not connect in the first half, going 6-of-15 and 78 yards as his receivers dropped a lot of catchable balls. Everyone flipped the switch after halftime, allowing Mauk to throw both of his touchdowns to put the game out of reach.

Jimmie Hunt turned in a spectacular effort on his 73-yard touchdown, while Bud Sasser recovered from a case of the drops to catch his touchdown. The big duo combined for seven catches, 182 yards and two scores.

 

Rushing Offense

The ground game was solid throughout, slowing down a very strong Tennessee pass rush. Marcus Murphy led the way with 82 yards and two scores, with Mauk and Russell Hansbrough contributing another 99 yards.

 

Passing Defense

The defensive line absolutely dominated this game, sacking Dobbs six times before it was all said and done. Tennessee's quarterback did lead an impressive fourth-quarter drive to make things interesting, but you'll always live with 5.3 yards per attempt as a defense.

 

Rushing Defense

There was absolutely nothing happening for the Vols on the ground, netting just 53 yards on 29 attempts. Tennessee got better in the second half, but not by much.

 

Special Teams

This unit is the only reason the Vols even stayed in the game. Andrew Baggett missed two extra points and a 51-yarder, while the field-goal unit allowed an easy fake field goal to go for a 31-yard touchdown.

Even at the end of the game, these guys were trying to give it away. The Volunteers recovered two onside kicks, nullifying both with penalties.

 

Coaching

Gary Pinkel stuck with the plan no matter how close Tennessee was able to keep up. You'd like to see fewer mistakes from special teams, but the rest of the team picked up the slack. His defense allowed one touchdown to an offense that was averaging almost 40 points over its last three games.

 

Game Grades for the Volunteers

Passing Offense

Without center Mack Crowder, the offensive line just had no shot at protecting its quarterback. Dobbs was able to scrape together one scoring drive but had no protection for most of the night.

Pig Howard and Von Pearson each turned in nice efforts, turning in 11 catches for 132 yards.

 

Rushing Offense

The ground game was a disaster from the start. The offensive line couldn't get any push, Dobbs made several bad reads and the end result was 53 yards on 29 attempts.

Jalen Hurd had a couple of nice runs in the second half, but that's about it.

 

Passing Defense

Missouri's butterfingers did this group a lot of favors in the first half. Mauk's receivers dropped a couple of big gainers, but then they were able to turn them into points in the second.

The defensive line, led by Curt Maggitt, got some pressure throughout. It just wasn't enough to keep Mauk from slinging it deep.

 

Rushing Defense

The Tigers rode their ground game to two easy touchdowns in the first half, then they backed off a little as Mauk started hitting the deep balls. Simply put, Mizzou was able to get yardage and extend drives when it needed to.

 

Special Teams

Special teams scored 13 of Tennessee's 22 points on the night and almost returned the ball to the offense on a couple of onside kicks. The 31-yard fake field goal for the score was keyed by a 58-yard kick return by Evan Berry.

 

Coaching

We need a pretty thorough explanation as to why Butch Jones wasted a timeout to challenge an obvious illegal touching penalty. There's a huge difference between having two timeouts left with under two minutes to play and one timeout left with under two minutes to play.

Sure, this staff made a nice call on the fake field goal, but the timeout management was awful, and the offensive line looked totally lost. Jones is better than this.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Mizzou Win Puts It in Driver's Seat for SEC East Title, Dark-Horse Playoff Shot

There's nothing pretty about Missouri this season, but that's fine with the Tigers.

Here they are for the second straight year going into the final week of the season needing to win to claim the SEC East and, as was the case last season, with faint national-title hopes still flickering.

Wait, hold on. Missouri as a College Football Playoff contender?

It seems crazy to say and certainly is bizarre for me to write. After beating Tennessee 29-21 on Saturday night in Knoxville, though, it's time to start at least considering the possibility of Missouri acting as the ultimate late-season College Football Playoff dark horse.

The defense was all over Joshua Dobbs, sacking the sophomore signal-caller five times and forcing two total turnovers (one fumble, one interception).

Head coach Gary Pinkel was pleased with the performance, according to David Morrison of the Columbia Daily Tribune:

This isn't the prettiest team. In fact, for three quarters on Saturday night, it was sometimes ugly. But quarterback Maty Mauk caught fire in the fourth quarter, tossing two touchdown passes to break open a tight game and bring Missouri to the brink of back-to-back East division titles.

So how does Missouri make it to the playoff?

It's a long and winding road that starts with a win over Arkansas in Columbia on Black Friday. After the way Missouri's defensive line has played all year, it's only fitting that it'll have to show out against the biggest offensive line in football—college or NFL—in order to get to Atlanta.

If the Tigers clear that hurdle and get to the Georgia Dome, a highly ranked SEC West contender—either No. 1 Alabama or No. 4 Mississippi State will be waiting for them. A win over either the Crimson Tide or the Bulldogs would be nice, but it'd be really helpful to make it emphatic and make it over No. 1 Alabama.

Call it "game control" if you wish, but a resounding victory in the Georgia Dome over the Crimson Tide would be a nice final statement to the 12 members of the selection committee.

After that, just a few dominoes need to fall. 

And by "a few," I mean a lot.

First thing's first, a TCU loss needs to happen, and the most likely chance for that is Thanksgiving night when the Horned Frogs visit a suddenly resurgent Texas team that's won three straight. That'd solve one Big 12 problem, and Baylor losing to Kansas State on the final week of the season would be a good second step to clear the Big 12 road.

Now that the Big 12 is out of the way, Ohio State needs to go down. The Big 12 Championship Game against Wisconsin or Minnesota is the best place for that. Since Wisconsin is a two-loss team that'll likely be in the Top 15 this week, it'd be helpful if it's a sloppy game on both sides. But if Missouri wins out, that SEC Championship Game win would likely place the Tigers at the top of the two-loss pecking order.

After that, it's a breeze.

Just a Mississippi State loss to Ole Miss to ensure that Missouri is the unquestioned No. 1 in the SEC playoff pecking order and an Oregon and/or Florida State losses over their final two games for insurance purposes.

Missouri in the College Football Playoff? Yeah, it's crazy.

But Indiana winning on the road over the eventual SEC East champ seems crazy too. 

It's not crazy; it's the "SEC Coastal," better known as the SEC East in 2014.

 

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

Don't Blame Everett Golson for Notre Dame's 3rd Straight Loss

As Notre Dame football’s season continues to crumble, this time the story was less about turnovers or sloppy play from quarterback Everett Golson in Louisville’s 31-28 win over the Irish on Saturday.

Sure, Golson’s second-quarter interception came at his own 14-yard line and prompted a Louisville field goal. And yes, his fumble a few drives later resulted in a 32-yard loss. But the damage, in general, was kept to a minimum.

"I think he did some good things," Irish head coach Brian Kellysaid afterward to reporters. "There are some things that we want to do better, but he made some great plays with his feet. It's so hard right after the game to give you a great analysis of it. There are some things that I thought could have gotten the ball out quicker, but I'm not right behind the center."

Golson was 16-of-24 for 236 yards, two touchdowns and the interception, while also scampering in on a two-point conversion to pull Notre Dame within three, 31-28, at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Golson certainly has room for improvement, but the major issues Saturday were mostly on the defensive side of the ball and in the kicking game. For the sixth consecutive game, the Irish surrendered at least 30 points. The Cardinals racked up 409 yards of total offense—229 of which came on the ground.

Entering Saturday, 51% of Notre Dame’s tackles this season came from freshmen and sophomores. Today, 67% came from freshmen/sophomores.

— Mike Monaco (@MikeMonaco_) November 23, 2014

Yet still, with a chance to tie the game, Notre Dame’s field-goal battery of kicker Kyle Brindza, holder Malik Zaire and snapper Scott Daly couldn’t convert from 32 yards out.

WATCH: Kyle Brindza misses the potential game-tying field goal against Louisville http://t.co/bUQTPRRJNv

— Notre Dame on NBC (@NDonNBC) November 23, 2014

Here’s a look at the setup/hold for Kyle Brindza’s final FG try: pic.twitter.com/ryfI45Sphy

— Mike Monaco (@MikeMonaco_) November 23, 2014

"I don’t think it was executed at the level it needed to be," Kelly said. "I didn’t see it. I’ll have to watch it on film, but in talking to Kyle, it did not appear to be handled cleanly."

While the blame game rages on, the simple fact is that Notre Dame could not drill a much-needed kick—again. Asked about the prospects for 2015, Kelly offered a blunt breakdown.

"Well, we've lost back-to-back games because we couldn't put down a ball and kick it 32 yards," he said.

"They know that they easily could win any of the games they've played in," Kelly said later. "A mistake here or there and not executing at the time necessary has been the difference between a win and loss with this team—razor-thin."

Sure, it’s possible to point to a certain play in a certain situation and engage in the "what if" game. But Notre Dame’s issues have been both widespread and continuous.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages