NCAA Football

Will Auburn Spoil Alabama's Championship Hopes Once Again in 2014 Iron Bowl?

The best game of the 2013 season was the Alabama vs. Auburn game, which had one of the craziest endings to a college football matchup in recent memory.

This season's version of the Iron Bowl is sure to be another classic.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss who will be victorious in the 2014 edition.

Who do you think will win?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Arkansas Got That Elusive SEC Win, but Can It Play Spoiler vs. Ole Miss?

It took a long time, but Arkansas got off the schneid in a big way on Saturday, shutting out LSU 17-0 to earn its first SEC win since Oct. 13, 2012. 

What's next for head coach Bret Bielema's Razorbacks? Could it be a—gasp—winning streak?

The 5-5 Hogs are only 3.5-point underdogs at home to No. 8 Ole Miss on Saturday afternoon, per Odds Shark, as they look to put an end to the Rebels' faint SEC West title hopes. If the Rebels win out and Auburn beats Alabama next weekend, the Rebels would advance to the SEC Championship Game for the first time in program history.

It isn't just Arkansas' bruising running game that's standing in the way of Ole Miss' run to Atlanta, it's the Hogs defense.

In his first year as defensive coordinator in Fayetteville, Robb Smith's defense is giving up just 340.6 yards per game and only 291.0 per game in November, as the Hogs have played Mississippi State close and then shut down the Tigers.

Meanwhile, what is Ole Miss' offense now?

It seems like months ago when wide receiver Laquon Treadwell went out with a season-ending ankle injury, but since then, the Rebels have cruised past Presbyterian and had a bye week. It'll be a whole new ball game for the Rebels, and head coach Hugh Freeze will need receivers like Vince Sanders, Cody Core and Quincy Adeboyejo to step up.

More importantly, though, the Rebels need to find a way to run the ball. They currently rank 10th in the SEC in rushing yards per game (174.4) and have struggled to find running room between the tackles. Against a very good front four, Freeze knows his offense has its work cut out for it.

"When you watch their cut-ups, the first thing you see is that nobody is out of position," Freeze said in this week's SEC coaches teleconference. "They do what they do. They're not some sophisticated scheme, they just line up in the right spot, they correct tackles, you don't get them out of position and they have a really talented defensive front. You don't see a lot of runs even get to the second level."

While the defense has been underrated, the unquestioned strength of this Hogs team is the running game. Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins have combined to produce the conference's fourth-best ground attack (232.9 YPG) and, more importantly, can control the clock and shorten the game.

"The games that you watch on tape, when they are able to manage the early going and stay in it, that game gets short in a hurry," Freeze said. "It would be very beneficial for us to get out to a fast start, for sure."

Ole Miss is walking into a trap.

This is a hot Arkansas team that, suddenly, knows what it takes to win in the SEC. It has been building momentum throughout the season would love nothing more than to close strong, get to a bowl game and keep that momentum building through the offseason.

Meanwhile, Ole Miss' annual Egg Bowl showdown with No. 4 Mississippi State is looming around the corner. 

Trap game?

You bet this is a trap game for Ole Miss.

Arkansas has nothing to lose and everything to gain, is carrying momentum and will be facing an Ole Miss team with an offense that's averaging 55.2 fewer yards per game on the road and at neutral sites.

It may seem like Week 13 in the SEC is a snoozefest, but this is going to be a four-quarter battle between two fun football teams. I picked Ole Miss in our B/R expert picks thanks to quarterback Bo Wallace being more "good Bo" than "bad Bo" this year, but it won't be by much. 

This will be a barn-burner.

 

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.

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College Football Week 13: Top 25 Upset Alert

Heading into Week 13, not all top teams have cupcake games. In fact, some of them should be very worried because they are playing tough opponents.

Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer gives you the Top 25 teams he is putting on upset alert for Week 13.

Which Top 25 team will be upset this weekend?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 Biggest Questions Facing Top 25 Teams Heading into Week 13

Week 13 is a lull in the action-packed month of November. Between late-season nonconference cupcakes and lopsided matchups, it's a relatively quiet weekend. 

Thanksgiving weekend should be another story, with the College Football Playoff final four coming closer to fruition. 

Still, there are storylines to cover. From a rivalry in Los Angeles to some key Big Ten conference games, it's time to find out which games are the ones to watch. 

The only criterion here is that teams mentioned have to be in the latest CFP Top 25.

Begin Slideshow

Georgia Football: Burning Questions for the Bulldogs as Season Winds Down

The Georgia Bulldogs are in a very unique position. If they win out, make it to the SEC Championship and win that game, they have the resume to be one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff. But because of the losses to Florida and South Carolina, that could very well keep them out of the final four also.

The only thing the Bulldogs can do is win, and the rest will take care of itself. Even if they don’t reach the SEC Championship, the Bulldogs still have a lot to play for such as beating Georgia Tech for the sixth straight year and earning 10 wins for the third time in four seasons.

But there some burning questions for the Bulldogs the need to be answered as the season winds down.

Begin Slideshow

Bowl Projections 2014: Updated College Playoff Predictions Before Week 13

If you think political arguments around elections get heated, just wait until the final College Football Playoff poll is released.

With teams jostling for style points and strength-of-schedule boosts, the final few weeks of the 2014 season are bound to be entertaining and packed with thrilling action. Week 13 is light on marquee matchups, but Week 14 and the conference-championship showdowns are bound to shed some light on which teams are the best four in the nation. 

With that in mind, here is a look at some updated playoff projections before getting into a discussion about the latest College Football Playoff Top 25 poll.

 

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)

 

Looking at Latest College Football Playoff Poll

Perhaps the first thing that jumps out about the College Football Playoff poll released on Tuesday is that one-loss Oregon is ahead of undefeated Florida State.

This is not a new development (we saw it in the previous rankings as well), but it is certainly a noteworthy change from years past of favoring undefeated teams over those with blemishes. It is a testament to the lack of respect for the ACC as a whole as the perceived worst power-five conference.

Of course, you could make the point that Oregon’s loss to Arizona was not as great as the Wildcats’ No. 15 mark would indicate since they narrowly escaped games against Washington, California, Nevada and Texas-San Antonio with dramatic wins, but that would be overlooking Oregon’s wins.

The Ducks beat Michigan State, UCLA, Stanford and Utah, which is a far more impressive collection of wins than anything on Florida State’s resume.

Ultimately, fans are arguing over semantics here if both teams get in as the Nos. 2 and 3 teams, but which squad you rank higher depends on how much you value the zero in the loss column for Florida State compared to the quality wins Oregon has racked up.

Of far more immediate interest is the battle for the No. 4 spot. It seems more apparent every week that Alabama, Florida State and Oregon are going to the playoffs, barring an unforeseen upset, so Ohio State, Mississippi State, Baylor and TCU are all campaigning for one position.

The Buckeyes are the red-hot candidate that nobody wants to play, but they still have that ugly loss to Virginia Tech on their resume. Baylor boasts the head-to-head win over TCU, while Mississippi State is getting a lot of credit by association because it is in the SEC, even though wins over Auburn and LSU look much less impressive after this past Saturday’s results.

TCU does have that loss to Baylor, but it beat Oklahoma, Kansas State, West Virginia and Minnesota. Eventually, that head-to-head win Baylor has over TCU will likely come into play for the Bears vs. Horned Frogs debate from the Big 12, but Baylor has to beat Kansas State first.

In these bowl projections, the Bears knock off the Wildcats and claim that final spot.

For what it’s worth, Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott believes his team belongs in the field even after losing to Alabama, via Drew Champlin of Al.com: "I still think we're one of the best four teams in the country. We just played one of the other best four teams in the country. It was a playoff game in my mind."

One thing fans should not overlook is the conference-championship-game factor that will likely work in the Buckeyes’ favor.

Mississippi State will be on the outside of the SEC title game looking in as long as Alabama wins out, so it won’t even be a division winner. TCU and Baylor play in the Big 12, which is the one power-five conference that does not feature a league championship game. From a perception standpoint, that could matter to the selection committee because that is one less quality game on the Big 12 schedule.

It would be unfair if the lack of a Big 12 title game didn’t come into play, since teams like Ohio State, Oregon, Alabama and Florida State all have to play and beat another quality opponent.

The Buckeyes could be looking at the dynamic Melvin Gordon and Wisconsin on the fast turf in Indianapolis in that final matchup. A win there would likely leave quite the final impression on the selection committee.

David M. Hale of ESPN.com made a case for the Buckeyes:

If the goal is to put the best teams into the playoff, Ohio State’s case is sound. In fact, there may not be a team in the country playing better football right now than the Buckeyes. [J.T.] Barrett has gone from a deer in headlights to a Heisman candidate. The offensive line has allowed just 10 sacks in the last eight games. The defense is light-years ahead of Oregon by virtually every metric. 

There are so many factors in play here, from the subjective eye test to strength of schedule (that is also largely preordained by subjective preseason rankings that frame the context of discussion about every game the rest of the season).

One thing is for sure, though—college football fans are bound to argue about it well after the final poll is released.

 

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Oklahoma State vs. Baylor: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

How the Baylor Bears perform Saturday night against the Oklahoma State Cowboys will decide much about the race to the inaugural College Football Playoff.

The Bears have just one loss this season, but a mostly cupcake schedule has done little to separate Art Briles' team from the flock of hopefuls in the same situation. Still, the Bears are fresh off a bye that came after a 48-14 public dissection of Oklahoma, so they might just control their own fate at this point.

Things are a tad gloomier for the .500 Cowboys, a team that enters Saturday riding a four-game losing streak and a 3-4 mark in the Big 12. Bowl eligibility and the chance to play the spoiler can be quite the motivating factors, though.

With the pressure on against a team with nothing to lose, Baylor might just stumble and ruin everything. Or not, which is the beauty of this time of year—every game matters.

 

Something to Prove

Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty understands what is on the line Saturday night.

"Each week, we have to go and prove ourselves," Petty said, per STATS LLC, via ESPN.com. "You can't get into the playoffs if you don't win, so these next three games are huge for us."

In other words, the Bears want to put on an offensive fireworks show against the Cowboys to demand the attention of the committee that decides the four teams that will play in the CFP.

It sounds mean, but that may not prove too difficult. Petty leads the nation's No. 1 scoring offense, which averages 50.1 points per game thanks to his 2,421 yards and 21 touchdowns to three interceptions. He is flanked by a number of talented rushers who post gaudy numbers when given the chance:

Now contrast that with the Cowboys, a team that ranks 91st in total defense with an average of 30.0 points allowed per game. Things have been especially bad in recent weeks thanks to a tough schedule that has seen the defense allow a minimum of 28 points in four consecutive losses.

"You can come up on them and try to stop them in the flats, but then they'll throw it over your head," Cowboys Mike Gundy said, per STATS LLC. "If you stay off of them, they'll throw it in the flat. If you throw too many people back in coverage, they'll try to run the ball on you."

The conundrum in front of the Cowboys is a perplexing one, clearly. Then again, a team with its back against the wall and nothing to lose can pull off some pretty lofty feats, so if the Cowboys come out fired up, all numbers may very well go out the window.

 

Crisis and Hope

Things continue to go from bad to worse for the Cowboys.

Starting quarterback J.W. Walsh was lost for the season earlier this year. Now the Cowboys are in jeopardy of missing a bowl game for the first time in almost a decade with matchups against Baylor and Oklahoma to close the season—and they might have just lost another starting quarterback.

This time it is Daxx Garman, who apparently suffered an injury last week, per Bill Haisten of the Tulsa World.

In other words, the Cowboys may be forced into starting freshman Mason Rudolph. So it goes for a team in shambles at the moment, although there is reason for the reeling Cowboys to have some faith.

This is a road game and the team is down some key players, but think back to last year when the Cowboys took down the Bears, 49-17. The Bears so far since their return to relevance have seemed due for a letdown each November.

In fact, the team has had three serious tests this year. One was a close 61-58 win over TCU. One was the blowout of Oklahoma. The last was a 41-27 loss to West Virginia. For a Cowboys team with nothing to lose, there is solace in the fact that the Bears are nowhere near perfect—they have recent first-hand proof.

 

When: Saturday, November 22, 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: McLane Stadium, Waco, Texas

Television: Fox

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 68.5
  • Spread: Baylor (-28)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

A sloppy outing from the Bears, such as the one against the Mountaineers in which they went just 3-of-16 on third down, can doom them Saturday, even against these Cowboys.

Luckily for the program, Petty is not the type of leader who will let something like that happen again.

The Bears have a prolific offense and will feast on weak opposition. Oklahoma State is going to bring a ton of pressure and get in Petty's face, but the attack is too dynamic for the Cowboys to fully halt in any significant manner.

A statement will be heard loud and clear Saturday night, with Petty and other starters likely not playing a full four frames.

Prediction: Bears 42, Cowboys 23

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

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Ole Miss vs. Arkansas: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

In a bit of a strange role reversal, it is the Arkansas Razorbacks that ride an SEC winning streak going into Saturday's showdown with the Ole Miss Rebels.

Bret Bielema's team finally broke through last week with a stunning 17-0 upset of LSU after being one of the nation's most underrated teams all season long with near-upsets of Texas A&M, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi State.

The 8-2 Rebels are not entirely out of the running for the inaugural College Football Playoff, but a two-game skid against the SEC by way of losses to LSU and Auburn dramatically ended an undefeated run for Hugh Freeze's side.

What Saturday presents is a game with a traditional SEC outlook as well as long-reaching implications for all involved and beyond.

 

Strength vs. Strength Mismatch

On paper, this one is a dream matchup.

The Razorbacks are that smashmouth team nobody wants to play. Bielema disguises little, instead just opting to rush the ball down the opposition's throat or lose trying. As a result, the team ranks 22nd in the nation with 232.9 rushing yards per game on average.

Viewed as a whole, the production from the bevy of rushers is staggering:

The opposite end of the spectrum is the greatest strength Ole Miss touts—the No. 1 defense in the land, which holds opponents to just 11.9 points on average.

Now for the curveball—that number may turn out to mean little Saturday.

That elite defense from a statistical standpoint has caved in the face of great rushing attacks similar to the one the Razorbacks employ. Against LSU, the Rebels allowed 264 yards on the ground. In the loss to Auburn, it was 248.

Ole Miss is not built to play from behind, so when it does fall behind to a team that is built in a similar fashion, the team has to lean on the sometimes-erratic Bo Wallace under center (2,554 yards, 22 touchdowns, eight interceptions) for a comeback on limited opportunities.

"I guess, just looking at what has occurred, you would have to say that this may not be our best matchup," Freeze said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "But we've got to play it, and we've got to find a plan to get our kids in the right spot. Hopefully we learned something."

Try not to be shocked if Arkansas has its way on the ground. It usually does, especially against teams with limited encounters with similar attacks.

 

Chasing Destiny

Ole Miss is still alive. 

Last week's chaotic results, such as Mississippi State and Auburn taking dives, have kept the Rebels afloat in pursuit of the CFP although the team will have to win out to stand a chance.

Not only does this mean overcoming Arkansas, it means not overlooking the Razorbacks with a showdown against the Mississippi State Bulldogs on the slate to close the season. The Egg Bowl is important, but so is Saturday.

"We've preached to our kids all along—you play until the end and see what happens," said Freeze, per the AP. "There's just so much football left to be played. The results (from last weekend) certainly kept us alive with some very important, lofty things that we could accomplish."

The same applies to the Razorbacks. At 5-5, Bielema and Co. desperately need to grab a win to go bowling. As Chuck Dunlap of SECSports.com notes, the Razorbacks can make some history Saturday:

Getting a win over Missouri to close the season and accomplish the feat is fine, but playing the spoiler to a heated divisional rival Saturday is even better.

The spotlight may fall on bigger games this weekend, but for two teams hanging by a thread in various capacities, few loom larger when it comes to wide-reaching consequences.

 

When: Saturday, November 22, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Television: CBS

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 45.5
  • Spread: Ole Miss (-3.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

Ole Miss is well-rested after a bye week, but this has upset written all over it. 

The Rebels play has been anything but encouraging as of late, and no, a 48-0 drubbing of Presbyterian before the break is not something that inspires confidence. This is especially the case on the road against a red-hot team perfectly equipped to slice through a formidable defense.

Look for Alex Collins and the Razorbacks to grind out the gritty yards in this contest and jump out to an early lead. From there, a few mistakes by Wallace and tempo control from Arkansas will lead to a close win.

Prediction: Razorbacks 24, Rebels 20

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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USC vs. UCLA: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

USC-UCLA week holds the globe hostage each year, but especially this Saturday as the two jockey for Pac-12 positioning and much more.

The 7-3 Trojans enter on a two-game winning streak, but a two-game losing streak in the historic rivalry as the program has suffered from sanctions and the like while the Bruins have ascended the collegiate hierarchy.

Led by Brett Hundley, the Bruins are 8-2 and winners of four straight. Those two losses have been of the respectable variety, too. One came against Oregon, the other at the hands of an upstart Utah program that also took down the Trojans.

Really, this one needs no selling. History calls Saturday night between old rivals.

 

Man of the State 

Hundley is the main star of Saturday night's marquee event, and for good reason as the junior has turned up his play a notch in recent weeks.

Over the course of his past four games, Hundley has thrown six touchdowns to just one interception. A major reason for the improvement in play as the season has worn on falls on the shoulders of those around him, as explained by Michael Lev of the Orange County Register:

Hundley now sits with a gaudy 72.1 completion percentage with 2,547 yards and 17 touchdowns to four interceptions. He keeps defenses honest thanks to his ability on the ground, too, having torched most opponents on the way to 564 yards and seven scores.

Now on the hunt to make it three in a row against the Trojans, a note provided by Max Meyer of Neontommy.com also touches on the wild state of USC over the course of the past few years:

For Hundley, an important part of the legacy-building process pertains to his ability to take down the Trojans one last time, as captured by Jack Wang of the L.A. Daily News:

The Trojans have not exactly been world beaters this season, but Steve Sarkisian's team does rank 38th in the nation with just 23.3 points allowed per game on average.

For Hundley, Saturday presents him with one of the biggest hurdles of his season, not to mention of his career. He will need to be at his best through the air and on the ground in the face of a strong rush for him and his team to prevail.

 

First Out of the Gates

It would be silly to suggest that the first team to score wins Saturday night, but for the Trojans, that might just be the key to success. 

It sure has been this season. The Trojans run away from most opposition early and often, outscoring adversaries 129-22 in the first frames this year.

Now, two of the team's three losses have seen the Trojans lead after the first frame anyway, but here is a critical detail—for all of their explosiveness with Hundley, the Bruins struggle when it comes to playing from behind.

Case in point, both of the Bruins losses this season. The team trailed by eight after one quarter against Oregon and never recovered. The deficit was seven after the opening frame against Utah on the way to the same result.

In other words, quarterback Cody Kessler (2,919 yards, 29 touchdowns to three interceptions) and lead back Javorius Allen (1,184 yards and eight scores) need to come firing out of the gates and never let off the pedal. 

In theory that should not be wildly difficult, either, as the Bruins defense ranks 79th in terms of points allowed this season. If Sarkisian's attack can draw first blood, it may turn out to be a very long night for UCLA.

 

When: Saturday, November 22, 8 p.m. ET

Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

Television: ABC

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 61
  • Spread: UCLA (-3.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

The problem with this contest is that it reflects the overarching narratives of the two programs as of late. 

USC has remained relatively the same all season—erratic. Since mid-October, the Bruins have looked the part of a title contender most figured they would before a rocky start to the season.

A player such as Hundley dictates the outcome of a game such as this. So long as he remains in a clean pocket and turns the rare collapses into gains on the ground, USC may have a hard time keeping the Bruins in check.

This one is going to be grittier than most would expect. Both programs dearly need the win, but right now the Bruins have the offensive firepower to outgun the Trojans with everything on the line.

Prediction: Bruins 34, Trojans 30

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Arizona vs. Utah: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

The Arizona Wildcats approach Saturday still alive in the minefield that is the Pac-12 South, as do the Utah Utes. The two familiar foes collide in Salt Lake City in what amounts to an elimination showdown.

Arizona enters with two wins under its belt in as many weeks, barely scraping by last week against Washington 27-26. The Wildcats need to win out and get a bit of help to squeak by and contend for the title.

Utah finally got back on a winning track last week with a double-overtime win against Stanford, but it needs the dominoes to fall perfectly in place while it continues to win.

The stakes are high Saturday in what might just turn into a shootout.

 

Fireworks Out West

Both of these teams tout ridiculously good pass-rushers. Utah's Nate Orchard is tied for first nationally with 16.5 sacks, while Arizona's Scooby Wright III is tied for third with 13 of his own.

Yet this one figures to be a high-scoring affair.

Partially thank Wildcats freshman quarterback Anu Solomon for that. The Las Vegas native has completed 58.1 percent of his passes this year for 3,058 yards and 25 touchdowns to seven interceptions, but he keeps defenses honest with his legs and has 307 yards on the ground.

Solomon is flanked by another freshman, running back Nick Wilson. He has turned 160 carries into 867 yards and nine scores this year.

While the spotlight is shared for the Wildcats, the same cannot be said for the Utes. Travis Wilson has thrown for 13 touchdowns to just two interceptions, but the majority of the attention rightfully goes to Devontae Booker, who has rushed for 1,113 yards and eight scores while drawing the eye of the pro game, as illustrated by NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah:

Considering both defenses rank 44th or worse in terms of points scored per game, the conference's next wave of offensive studs certainly has a major stage to shine on come Saturday.

Whichever side prevails will extend its amount of time in the spotlight too.

 

Home Blues

This elimination game features quite the interesting wrinkle—the Wildcats excel where they should not, and the Utes are miserable where they should excel.

See, Arizona is superb on the road. Rich Rodriguez's team has lost just once away from home this season, a dud of a performance against UCLA. But the team has beaten all other opponents in their places of residence, including then-No. 2 Oregon.

On the flip side, Utah struggles at home. Wins over Idaho State and Fresno State are great, but a loss to Washington State, now 3-7, looks horrific. A win over a ranked USC team is great, but it is counteracted by a rough showing at home against Oregon.

Orchard and the Utah defense folded in a hurry in that loss to the Ducks, surrendering 508 total yards, 27 first downs and 51 points. Coach Kyle Whittingham recently noted that his team has consistent issues down the stretch despite belief in a positive outcome, per Stats LLC, via ESPN.com.

"We haven't won every close game," he said. "We know that, but these guys believe that they are going to win every game that they are in. When it comes right down to the wire, there is a lot of belief on our team that they are going to get it done. And they have most weeks."

In perhaps the biggest game of its season, Utah is going to need to stand tall in a place it struggles.

If the trend continues, the Utes will pay by seeing their title hopes go up in flames.

 

When: Saturday, November 22, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah

Television: ESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 54
  • Spread: Utah (-4)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

The explosive Wildcats are surprisingly game in hostile environments for a team led by freshmen at a pair of critical positions. 

That experience, not to mention an offense that averages better than 35 points per game, will survive at Utah through timely forced mistakes by a strong pass rush and capitalization by Solomon. 

Look for Arizona to get an early lead and stand tall on defense. Utah can struggle at times when it gets behind, which plays right into Solomon's hands. The Wildcats live to see another week.

Prediction: Wildcats 28, Utes 23

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Louisville vs. Notre Dame: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Once College Football Playoff contenders, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are now tasked with picking up the pieces against a game Louisville Cardinals team hungry to put an emphatic end to Brain Kelly's team.

A defensive collapse and the usual untimely turnovers have birthed a two-game losing streak for the Fighting Irish, the most recent being a dumbfounding overtime loss to 4-6 Northwestern.

The Cardinals enter freshly rested after a bye week and were last seen upending Boston College, 38-19. One of the league's best defenses and explosive wide receivers create a talented Louisville attack even teams such as Florida State have struggled with this season.

Saturday is not some decisive CFP resume game most thought it would be, nor is it some critical bout the rest of the ACC will watch very closely. That certainly does not prohibit it from being a great game, though.

 

For Pride

That would be all Notre Dame has left at this point.

About a month ago the Fighting Irish were 6-0 and had the globe whispering about a CFP berth, even if a meeting with the Seminoles went bad—which it did, a 31-27 loss that started the serious downward spiral for the program.

It is quite easy to point the finger at senior quarterback Everett Golson. He has completed 60.7 percent of his passes this year for 3,044 yards but has thrown 27 touchdowns to 12 interceptions with a number of costly sacks and fumbles to boot.

In the four-game span that began with the loss to Florida State, Golson has thrown eight interceptions. The blame was shared last week, though, as missed field goals and assignments, silly flags and more created one of the worst losses in recent memory for the program.

"I'm not getting paid to make stupid decisions like that," Kelly said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "But you fall into that, right? And so I can't let our players fall into that. So that's what we talked about this week. We cannot let that affect the way we play. We've got to go play and we can't let those things affect us."

Mistakes need cleansed in a hurry with Louisville having a bye to digest the wealth of issues that plague the Fighting Irish.

Saturday is a way for Notre Dame to get back on track, but habitual, season-long errors have placed the Irish at a serious disadvantage against a Cardinals defense that ranks 10th in the nation with just 17.8 points allowed per game on average.

 

Overcoming Injuries

Louisville has had plenty of time to prepare for this encounter but will do so without starting quarterback Will Gardner, who was lost for the season a few weeks back.

If the Cardinals are to take down the Fighting Irish to grab a marquee win, they will do so behind the arm of freshman Reggie Bonnafon. Coach Bobby Petrino sounds calm with the shift under center, as captured by Jeff Greer of The Courier-Journal:

Bonnafon turned in some iffy performances earlier in the season in spot duty, but Petrino is right to point out that the backup completed 4-of-5 attempts against Boston College for 69 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

It helps, of course, that he has one of the nation's best wideouts in DeVante Parker. The senior has 25 catches for 490 yards and a score in just three games this season and will have few problems torching the Fighting Irish—his three games have read yardage totals of 132, 214 and 144.

Said Notre Dame defense certainly makes Bonnafon's job much easier. The unit allows an average of 27.1 points and has allowed 31 or more in each of its last five games. Add in potential mistakes by Golson and the offense, which will give the Cardinals even more time with the ball, and there is an obvious path to upset in South Bend.

 

When: Saturday, November 22, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, Indiana

Television: NBC

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 52.5
  • Spread: Notre Dame (-3.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

At some point the Fighting Irish will snap out of it.

Senior Day after an embarrassing month and change of football with nothing else to lose seems like the ideal time. The defense is a mess, but it helps that Louisville is starting a freshman in a hostile environment.

If Golson can take care of the football, there is an outside shot he exploits a defense that has padded its numbers with games against Murray State, FIU, Wake Forest and others.

Look for the Fighting Irish to grow up Saturday and steal a late win.

Prediction: Fighting Irish 34, Cardinals 31

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Boston College vs. FSU: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

It has been far from pretty, but the Florida State Seminoles are right where they want to be with two games to go as the Boston College Eagles pay Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium a visit Saturday.

Jameis Winston and the Seminoles are in the driver's seat with the destination the top of the ACC and the inaugural College Football Playoff. That said, last week was the team's biggest scare yet, with another comeback victory—this time against Miami (Fla.). 

The visitors are already bowl-eligible for the second year in a row and have pulled off a number of upsets and played top programs closely thanks to a stingy defense and great production on the ground.

Saturday's stage is a trap game for a Seminoles team that simply has been unable to pull away from teams it should handily defeat. Boston College qualifies, but it has proven more than capable against the Seminoles and other big programs as of late.

 

Under Pressure

It seems each and every week, the globe awaits a gargantuan misstep by Winston and Co. against various opponents.

Each and every week, the Seminoles hold strong. It took 13 points in the final frame and a touchdown with about three minutes left in regulation, but Jimbo Fisher's team survived the Hurricanes last week to keep the winning streak alive.

That said, it has to come to an end at some point, right?

"Pressure breaks pipes ... or it makes diamonds," wideout Rashad Greene said, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "And right now, we're shining. We're able to play with pressure."

As the AP notes, the Seminoles have spent 252 plays trailing this season as opposed to 93 over the course of the entire 2013 campaign. Last week's game was the third time in four outings Winston and Co. needed some late-game magic to win.

Part of the issue is the defense. The unit ranks 34th in the nation with an average of 22.8 points allowed per game. Oklahoma State scored 31 on the unit, NC State posted 41, Notre Dame had 27, and Louisville dropped 31.

The performance of the unit has not made life easier on Winston, either, who has completed 65.8 percent of his passes this season for 2,844 yards but has 18 touchdowns to 12 interceptions.

While the mark of a great team is finding ways to win, Florida State continues to flirt with disaster. Things may come to a head against an underrated Boston College squad.

 

Rekindling the Magic

Steve Addazio's team actually ranks better than the Seminoles defensively, allowing just 21.9 points on average to come in 23rd. That NC State team that dropped 41 on the Seminoles scored 14 on the Eagles. 

But the focal point when it comes to breaking down the Eagles is the offense. Senior quarterback Tyler Murphy is one of the best dual-threat players in the nation. His numbers through the air—1,293 yards, nine touchdowns to 10 interceptions—are passable, but the important note is that he leads a long line of effective rushers:

The team as a whole is battle tested, too. Against then-No. 9 USC back in September, the Eagles got a 37-31 upset thanks to five total rushing touchdowns. Two trends stick out about the Eagles, too—the team is undefeated on the road this season and has yet to lose two games in a row (the Eagles lost last time out at the hands of Louisville).

Keep in mind that these same Eagles jumped out to an early 17-3 advantage over the Seminoles last year, only to wind up losing.

If Boston College can jump out to an early lead against a Seminoles team that continues to struggle out of the gates, Murphy and Co. must put themselves in a position to kill the clock and control the game.

It all combines to one big "if," but the blueprint is certainly there.

 

When: Saturday, November 22, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Florida

Television: ESPN2, ABC

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 56.5
  • Spread: Florida State (-19)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

At this point, the Seminoles are what they are.

They are a team that is worthy of a title shot despite its love for living on the edge. Fisher's team is going to have serious issues halting the run Saturday, but surrendering enough points to lose is another conversation entirely.

It should be no major shock if the Seminoles are playing from behind at some point, but as always seems to be the case, a timely play or two from Winston will put his team ahead.

Like their meeting last season, halftime adjustments and sheer talent will win out in the end.

Prediction: Seminoles 34, Eagles 24

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC vs. UCLA: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

USC-UCLA week holds the globe hostage each year, but especially this Saturday as the two jockey for Pac -12 positioning and much more...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Arizona vs. Utah: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

The Arizona Wildcats approach Saturday still alive in the minefield that is the Pac -12 South, as do the Utah Utes. The two familiar foes collide in Salt Lake City in what amounts to an elimination showdown...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Pac-12 Football: 10 Players Who Deserve Senior Bowl Invites

The Senior Bowl is a special college football event reserved for — you guess it — seniors who are hoping to impress professional scouts with the talents and skills they've accumulated throughout their careers...

Begin Slideshow

Ranking 5 Best Games in UCLA-USC Football Rivalry

The football history between the UCLA Bruins and the USC Trojans has been fantastic in its entirety. First playing against each other in 1929, the Trojans hold the head-to-head series lead by a standing of 44-30-7.

The series often is cyclical. UCLA holds the longest win streak between the two, winning eight straight games starting in the early 1990s. However, not to be outdone, the Trojans then proceeded to reel off seven wins of their own.

As of now, ahead of Saturday's showdown, the Bruins have won two consecutive matchups. 

Based on the significance of the contests, brilliance on the field by talented (and famous) athletes, as well as sheer excitement, this piece will look at the best five games in the series between the crosstown rivals in ascending order of rank.

Here's a look at the top five games between the UCLA Bruins and the USC Trojans. 

Begin Slideshow

Ranking 5 Best Games in UCLA-USC Football Rivalry

The football history between the UCLA Bruins and the USC Trojans has been fantastic in its entirety. First playing against each other in 1929, the Trojans hold the head-to-head series lead by a standing of 44-30-7...

Begin Slideshow

Next Few Months Crucial for Charlie Strong's 2015 Recruiting Class at Texas

The Texas Longhorns are on a three-game winning streak and have a lot of momentum heading into the final game of the season.

But first-year head coach Charlie Strong needs that same amount of momentum as he prepares to enter the most important recruiting months of the year.

The Longhorns' 2015 recruiting class ranks No. 18, according to Rivals.com, but a number of the nation's top-of-the-line recruits remain uncommitted. And now is the most crucial time for Strong to meet with these recruits face-to-face.

One of the many reasons why college football is so entertaining is teams are constantly cycling through new rosters. With players having only four years of eligibility, college coaches find themselves looking to replace key components of their team with every passing season.

That reality makes the task of being a first-year head coach even more difficult. Strong has to focus not only on the current team, but also on building his team for the future.

It is no secret Strong builds his teams around tough, gritty defense. This has been evident as the Longhorns went from being ranked No. 57 in scoring defense in 2013 to No. 20 in 2014.

The Longhorns defense has upperclassmen starting at eight out of the 11 positions. Strong and staff will need to focus in on some of the state and nation’s top defensive prospects to keep his defense moving in the right direction.

Mesquite Poteet linebacker Malik Jefferson and his athlete teammate DeAndre McNeal are only a couple of the talented prospects Strong and his staff are fighting to sign. They are the type of players who can come in and have an immediate impact on a program.

Jefferson is a name many Texas fans have known for many years. He is the No. 1 prospect in the state of Texas and the No. 1 linebacker in the 2015 recruiting class, according to Rivals.com.

Although the 5-star prospect has kept fairly tight-lipped about his favorites, some people suspect Jefferson's decision will come down to Texas and Texas A&M. 247Sports has Jefferson slightly leaning toward Texas in its Crystal Ball predictions, but the linebacker does not plan on announcing his commitment until Dec. 19.

Jefferson's teammate McNeal also plans on announcing his commitment that same day.

McNeal took an official visit for the Longhorns' upset win over West Virginia, and it appears the game made an impression on the athlete.

Jefferson has attended two games this season, but he has yet to schedule an official visit. Strong getting or not getting Jefferson to take an official visit could make or break the Longhorns' chances of landing the talented linebacker.

If Strong is able to land even one of those recruits, it will help soften the blow of losing players like Jordan Hicks and Quandre Diggs.

But time is working against the Longhorns head coach. Strong and staff are entering the race late on many of the elite 2015 recruits, considering most of the top prospects have been recruited by head coaches around the nation for multiple years.

Strong understands the importance of quickly establishing relationships with these players, and his staff has been on the road recruiting during the bye week.

"Our guys are out recruiting right now," Strong said Monday. "We have some coaches out and we've been targeting a lot of guys, but it's all about making a decision if they want to come here. But we'll be fine in recruiting."

While Strong will have to make up for lost time with recruits, one thing he will have working in his favor is momentum, which can make or break recruiting.

When the Longhorns started the season 3-5, it appeared as if they would be watching bowl games from their couches. This was something Strong was not going to tolerate.

"I told our coaching staff, we're sitting here at 3-5, and we should not be pleased with where we are. I said at the University of Texas that should never happen," said Strong. "Our record of going out and getting five losses, we're not comfortable with that at all. That will never happen within this program again."

Many players credited Strong's message to the team following the shutout against Kansas State as something that ignited a fire under the Longhorns. And the result was seen on the field.

Texas finally started playing like a team, won three straight games and became bowl-eligible.

Recruits went from seeing a frustrated Strong in postgame press conferences to seeing viral videos of him crowd-surfing in his players' arms. This sort of momentum can go a long way in convincing some of the nation's elite to be a part of your program. But it will be up to the coaches to relay the message firsthand.

"There's only a few guys left that have not committed that we're still targeting," Strong said. "We'll continue to recruit them hard and see if we can get the right ones in here to add to the program. We need more players to come and jump on board and help us get it back to where we need to get it back to."

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Picks: Week 13 Predictions for Every Game

If you feel like the last few weeks of the 2014 college football season have been a whirlwind of chaos and mayhem, and you could use a break, this weekend might be a good time to relax.

With many of the top-ranked teams facing lesser competition this week, the overall slate of games isn't as exciting as that of previous weeks. But there are still plenty of good matchups to keep an eye on, and there's always a chance a few of the perceived cupcake games get hairy. Just ask TCU, which trailed by 10 at Kansas last Saturday before rallying to keep its playoff hopes alive, though that did cause the Horned Frogs to fall out of the top four in the College Football Playoff rankings.

Check out our predictions for all of Week 13's games, as well as our experts' picks for the weekend's top contests, then give us your guesses in the comments section.

 

Last week: 34-15 (.694)

Season: 525-172 (.753)

Begin Slideshow

USC vs. UCLA: Positional Breakdown and Predictions for Pac-12 Clash

Any time USC and UCLA collide on the gridiron, it's bound to be a great football game. When both are ranked inside the Top 25 and competing for a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game, it's all the more intriguing.

Jim Mora has his team firing on all cylinders once again and ready to stretch his winning streak to three straight over the Trojans. Prior to Mora's arrival, the Bruins had just one victory since 1998 and were coming off a 50-0 shellacking in 2011.

On the other side, Steve Sarkisian has turned the USC program around in his first year as the head coach. With wins over Stanford and Arizona already this season, taking down UCLA would move the team to 8-3 and 3-1 against Top 25 teams.

Ahead of one of the biggest rivalries in California, here's a look at the full positional breakdown and prediction for USC at UCLA.

 

Offensive Backs: UCLA

This entire category really comes down to what you prefer, but Brett Hundley's athleticism makes the Bruins' backfield more explosive.

Hundley hasn't been as great as expected all season, but he's been a Trojan killer throughout his career. The junior signal-caller has four rushing touchdowns against USC and another passing score during the team's two-game winning streak.

The future NFL quarterback spoke about how important the rivalry is to him, per Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News:

Recently, Hundley has gone back to the dual-threat style that earned him national attention. In the last four games, he's averaging 88.3 rushing yards per game and has four touchdowns over that span.

Max Meyer of Neon Tommy provides a stat that will make USC fans cringe about Hundley:

Outside of Hundley, Paul Perkins has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in six of the Bruins' last eight games. Whether it's on the ground (1,169 yards, six TDs) or through the air (198 yards, two TDs), the sophomore has been dynamic all season.

Javorious Allen has been slightly more effective this season and Cody Kessler has better passing statistics than Hundley. But with the experience that Hundley brings and the recent tear for Perkins, UCLA gets the edge in this category.

 

Wide Receivers: USC

If Nelson Agholor didn't exist, this would be a much closer matchup. Then again, JuJu Smith's playmaking ability might be enough to push the Trojans over the Bruins.

Let's start with Agholor, who has come into his own over the last four games. After failing to reach the 100-yard plateau in the first six games, he's been unstoppable leading up to the huge showdown.

His six touchdowns over the last four matchups have accounted for 22.6 percent of USC's scoring—and he didn't score against Utah. Arash Markazi of ESPN.com also notes how Agholor has changed the Trojans' record books:

That's a lengthy list of great receivers, and Agholor has a chance to continue that record-setting pace against UCLA.

Smith adds to the wide receiving corps and has five touchdowns of his own over the last four games. Though he was limited by California as Agholor exploded, look for Smith to be a huge part of the game plan in his first game against the Bruins.

Jordan Payton is no slouch for UCLA, but the sheer wealth of weapons for USC makes this an easy call. In terms of pure ability, Agholor, Smith and even George Farmer give the Trojans a plethora of options in the passing game.

 

Defense: USC

As with most things in Hollywood, this category goes to pure star ability. Leonard Williams is likely the biggest star that will take the field on Saturday night.

Currently projected as the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NFL draft by Bleacher Report and CBS Sports, Williams has been a monster all season. The athletic lineman has six sacks already this season and has disrupted nearly every running game with his physicality.

Matt Miller of Bleacher Report offered his take on Williams in the team's most recent game against Cal:

Along with Williams, the Trojans also get an important piece in Josh Shaw back from suspension, per Kyle Bonagura of ESPN.com. A captain before the season, Shaw has a chance to make a difference when he's on the field.

Southern Cal has surrendered 22.9 points per game against Pac-12 opponents, but it will have a difficult test against UCLA's potent offense. The Trojans will need Williams to contain Hundley in the running game while the secondary limits him through the air—which is easier said than done.

 

Prediction

Despite USC taking the edge in the positional battle, UCLA's strength in the backfield will be too much.

Hundley's ability to change the game at any moment with his legs or arm makes UCLA more dynamic. Having the ability to hand it off or check down to Perkins gives the Bruins a 1-2 punch that can slowly eat away at the Trojans' defense.

In a game that might ultimately decide who wins the South division, Mora will move to 3-0 against Southern Cal and solidify UCLA's Top-10 status for another week.

 

Predicted finish: UCLA 31, USC 27

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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