NCAA Football News
As good as the talent has been in the state of Tennessee over the past few years, the Volunteers have had to go to battle with several teams—including in-state rival Vanderbilt—to lure top prospects.
Several of the biggest playmakers on UT's resurgent roster considered the Commodores deep in the recruiting process. Tennessee's leading tackler, top rusher and best offensive lineman (among others) all considered Vanderbilt, especially when current Penn State coach James Franklin was at the helm in Nashville.
A couple were even committed to Vandy. Still others, like Josh Malone and Jack Jones, had the Commodores on their recruiting lists, but VU wasn't among their finalists when they chose to come to Knoxville.
Many of those guys came from the middle Tennessee area, where UT has thrived since coach Butch Jones took over.
"At one point it was a nice area to go in and get one or two players out of, but all of a sudden, it's really been a battleground that's important particularly for Tennessee and Vanderbilt to have a firm control over," 247Sports national director of scouting Barton Simmons told the Associated Press' Steve Megargee. "I think the talent level right now in middle Tennessee is unprecedented relative to its history."
Part of the fun of Rivalry Week is that a lot of guys know each other, talk trash and became friends while visiting schools throughout the process. It's the same story between Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
Vandy coach Derek Mason himself even talked some smack about the Vols back when he was hired, telling a crowd at a Tennessee-Vanderbilt basketball game, "for the upside-down T, we'll see you, too," according to the Tennessean's Jeff Lockridge.
There's no love lost between the two programs, and Vanderbilt especially hates Tennessee because of the dominance UT has enjoyed in the series. State ownership, bragging rights and more are up for grabs when the two teams get together in Knoxville this weekend.
The chattiness began from Mason's players way back in the summer, such as Caleb Azubike's jawing, so the Vols would love nothing more than to shut him and the Commodores up with their play on the field.
Though Mason isn't winning many recruiting battles versus the Vols, it's always important for UT to beat the Commodores for prospects purposes. And Jones is always thinking about recruiting.
Let's take a look at some Vols who may be major difference-makers this weekend who could have just as easily been wearing black and gold.
Derek Barnett: 6'3", 257-Pound Sophomore Defensive End
Tennessee's most disruptive defender burst onto the college football scene last year with 72 tackles, including 20.5 for a loss and 10 sacks. Though those numbers have taken a minor dip this season, Barnett is still putting up all-conference-caliber stats.
He could have been doing it for coach Mason's 'Dores.
Back when Barnett was a terrorizing 4-star defensive end for Brentwood Academy, he had several suitors, including Missouri, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss. Because of his scholastic prowess, Barnett strongly considered the Commodores, and early in the process, UT feared Franklin would land him.
Early in the recruiting process, it was all Vols and Vandy, and the two teams stayed on Barnett's mind until the end, when they were both finalists for his services. He told Simmons back in 2013: "Vandy and UT are sticking out."
Then, later, while discussing Vanderbilt: "I talk to Coach (John) Donovan and Coach (James) Franklin and they’re just on the up rise. They're doing better every year and they're going to bowl games and you get good academics so it's a win-win. You go there and you don’t go to the NFL, you still get good academics."
Where would the Vols be without one of the best defensive ends in the country? It's a cringe-worthy thought for UT fans. But there was a time when he was dreaming in black and gold.
Malik Foreman: 5'10", 178-Pound Junior Nickelback
The Kingsport native has experienced plenty of ups and downs in this three-year career as well as this season, but the past few games, UT's starting nickel is playing at a very high level.
The Vols defense is improving because of it.
Though Foreman wasn't meant to be a starter this year, he was thrust into the lineup when Rashaan Gaulden was lost for the season back in August. The more the speedy junior has played, the better he's gotten.
Back in 2012, when Foreman was going through the recruiting process, he'd already made his mind up to go from his East Tennessee home to play for Franklin at Vanderbilt. For two months, he was heading to VU. But when Jones took over in Knoxville, he made Foreman a priority.
He wound up landing him along with Dobyns-Bennett High School teammate Devaun Swafford. Jones flipped him to become part of his first class in Knoxville.
"Me and my mom talked about it and I prayed about it and I've liked UT ever since growing up and it was just a dream come true," Foreman told Daniel Lewis, who then reported for Nooga.com. "Then they offered my friend, so that was another plus—that’s what led me to make the decision to switch."
Though it took some time for Foreman to develop, it wound up being a good move for UT.
Jalen Hurd: 6'4", 240-Pound Sophomore Running Back
The nation's top teams coveted Hurd, who was among the top running backs in the nation when he played for Beech High School.
Ohio State, Florida, Alabama, USC and others made the trip to the Nashville area to try to lure Hurd to their schools. Though he ended the recruiting process extremely early when he committed to Jones in March 2013 more than a year before he'd sign, he was giving strong consideration to Vanderbilt.
When Hurd shocked a lot of folks by committing to Tennessee, then-VU coach Franklin took to Twitter following Hurd's verbal pledge.
That was vintage Franklin during his tenure at VU, routinely taking to social media to voice his opinions about players who picked or failed to pick the Commodores. That little outburst drew scrutiny from several media members and many more Vols fans, according to GoVolsXtra's Evan Woodbery.
Franklin told SBNation's Steven Godfrey that "this is another instance of people trying to make a controversy where there isn't one. That wasn't related to a specific recruit." But it was just a little too much of a coincidence to be otherwise.
Regardless, that's all ancient history now. Hurd is ripping off runs and is the offensive centerpiece and workhorse for the Vols. He's coming off his career-high in carries and yards against Mizzou, and he already has more than 1,000 yards this season.
After suffering an early injury last year against VU, he's geared up to have a big night. Nothing would be better for him than lighting up his hometown team.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin: 6'0", 225-Pound Junior Outside Linebacker
Tennessee's other Jalen is a middle-Tennessee boy who was hotly coveted by Franklin as well. Back when he was a midterm enrollee out of Clarksville's Northeast High School, Reeves-Maybin chose Tennessee over a host of other finalists, including VU.
That was back when Derek Dooley was coaching Tennessee, and Reeves-Maybin represents one of the former UT coach's recruiting wins that actually wound up working out well for the Vols.
Last season, Reeves-Maybin tied for the team lead with A.J. Johnson in tackles, and as a speedy, playmaking outside linebacker, he's all over the field after spending his freshman year as a special teams dynamo. This year, he has UT's tackle lead all to himself, and he's a legit NFL prospect.
Back when Reeves-Maybin was a jumbo safety as well as a high school quarterback, his athleticism was evident. It wasn't by accident that he was a player that both SEC in-state schools wanted. He was a 4-star, and he's played up to that ranking.
Going through the recruiting process, Reeves-Maybin was a "high priority" for Vanderbilt, according to the City Paper's James Boettcher. Instead, he wound up in orange and white, and rather than playing for the Commodores on Saturday, he'll be trying to tackle them.
Jashon Robertson: 6'3", 315-Pound Sophomore Offensive Guard
Finally, one of Tennessee's most surprising stars nearly played alongside Foreman in Nashville, where he may have been on the opposite side of the trench.
Back when he played for Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Robertson was a two-way lineman who had pledged to Franklin for more than six months to play defensive tackle.
When Franklin left, he opened his recruitment back up and ultimately joined youth football teammate Hurd in Knoxville. He told GoVols247's Wes Rucker after flipping to UT:
I've always kind of believed that things happen for a reason, and I kind of try to take everything I can from experiences. The process just showed me…it just kind of showed how you have to pick a place over a coach. It really just revealed how special a place Tennessee is. I just think that I’ll love being there regardless of what happens. Tennessee's just a special place—a really special place.
After spending roughly a week on the defensive side of the ball once he got to Knoxville, Robertson flipped over to offensive guard where he was an almost immediate starter.
Nearly two years later, he's Tennessee's most talented and strongest offensive lineman. Though he's spent much of the season banged-up, he returned for the Missouri game, and it's no coincidence the Vols offensive front played its best game of the season.
Had Franklin stayed at VU, Robertson would be on the other side of the ball getting ready to play the hated Vols. Instead, he'll probably be announcing UT as his alma mater when he's playing in the NFL in a couple of years.
Tennessee has won many more battles than it's lost over Vanderbilt in recruiting battles the past few years, just as it has historically on the field. This Saturday, some of those head-to-head tussles for letters of intent will manifest themselves as players who have turned the Vols program around on the field.
All stats gathered from UTSports.com unless otherwise noted. All quotes and information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.
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It's not the Thanksgiving rivalry we're used to, but it's the one we'll get when Texas tries to hang onto the Chancellor's Spurs on Thursday against Texas Tech.
In lieu of a matchup with Texas A&M, the 4-6 Longhorns will host Texas Tech in the 19th iteration of the Battle for the Chancellor's Spurs. Since 1996, the Horns have won the matchup 15 times, including the last six in a row.
The biggest moment in the series obviously belongs to the Red Raiders, who crushed Texas' title hopes in 2008 with Michael Crabtree's last-second touchdown. But the Longhorns have had their fair share of big moments in the series, including Vince Young's first superstar performance and Chance Mock's game-winner in 2003.
In small doses, college football treasures its underdogs. There’s nothing quite like watching a full-bodied favorite come undone at the hands of an underestimated, undeserving challenger.
These moments of chaos are celebrated in mass. They power our week-to-week DeLorean. But our interest in the underdog usually fades right then and there, once all fans have been cleared from field.
One more week? Sure, little guy, have a blast. Win that next game. Two more weeks? Why not, buddy. You earned it.
Anything beyond that, however, and euphoria seamlessly morphs into agitation. The little engine that could quickly becomes an annoyance. Once the College Football Playoff becomes a potential reality, the darling is no longer the darling—at least for those not comfortably underneath the rooting interest umbrella..
That leads me to the Iowa Hawkeyes, the selection committee’s No. 4 team in the latest College Football Playoff standings. This is indeed a brave new world.
With debate swirling, Iowa finds itself in a delightful position. If the Hawkeyes beat Nebraska and a team to be determined in the Big Ten Championship Game, they’re in the playoff. There will be no debate. There will be no second thoughts.
There will be outrage, certainly, but that won’t change a discomforting reality—not for all, but for many.
While college basketball seems to embrace these unlikely bracket voyages, this is different. In football, instead of celebrating this unlikely scenario, these teams are greeted with pitchforks. Instead of rallying to the weird, we dissect schedules and scream about the lack of Top 25 wins from the highest mountaintops.
Instead of appreciating something truly rare—and seeing Iowa check in at No. 4 during Thanksgiving week would most certainly qualify—most fight its very existence.
The assumption, of course, is that Iowa doesn’t belong. Perhaps there is some truth to that. If Iowa had Michigan State’s schedule, chances are it wouldn’t be in this spot. But saying this team doesn’t belong in the Top Four given what it has accomplished and what others have not, at this point, is a complete falsehood.
Still, many are impatiently tapping their foot, waiting for Iowa's carriage to turn into a pumpkin.
Let the regulars in. That’s how it’s always been.
Iowa still has much work to do. The Hawkeyes could most certainly lose to rested Nebraska on Friday. And even if they get past the Cornhuskers, Kirk Ferentz’s team will likely still be an underdog to Michigan State, Michigan or Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.
Winning the next two games will be no small task, even for a team that has showed a great deal of resiliency over the course of the year. But the opportunity is there. The situation, as alarming as it is to some, is very real.
And if push comes to shove and Iowa plays itself into college football’s most exclusive tournament, what will the reaction be? I suppose that depends.
We’re on the verge of finding out. Best prepare yourself now mentally and emotionally, just in case.
As for other thoughts on the latest College Football Playoff standings, let’s dive right in.
Questions Remain, But This Was a Wonderful Week For the Big 12
Oklahoma’s rise to No. 3 in the latest College Football Playoff standings was, without an ounce of doubt, the most noteworthy rise since the release show kicked into gear. It was only two spots, but it was so much more.
With one game remaining against Oklahoma State, the Sooners suddenly feel like they are on the verge of making the postseason with a win over their rival. A favorable situation is now a position of strength.
Win, and they’re (almost) in.
Despite the fact that Oklahoma nearly fell to TCU last week with starting quarterback Baker Mayfield out with an injury, it was not penalized. And that Texas loss? Well, that was a long time ago, friend.
“I think it's more a function of how Oklahoma has performed since that loss,” selection committee chairman Jeff Long said on ESPN. “They have performed at a high level since then, so they've overcome that loss with their play on the field and the success they've had and the wins they've accumulated, with now six wins over teams with .500 or better records.”
Baylor also enjoyed a boost this week, checking at No. 7 after taking down Oklahoma State in its own building. With two games remaining and a chance to win the Big 12 with an Oklahoma loss this weekend, the Bears are not out of it yet.
The path to the playoff isn’t as simple for the Bears as it is for Oklahoma. For starters, Baylor needs another team to lose and maybe a few more. But the Big 12, after so much debate, should be cautiously optimistic entering Week 13.
Up until this week, we docked the league for its lack of early scheduling. We pontificated that a lack of a championship game could once again doom the conference. This could still be the case, although things are coming together at just the right time.
Has the Selection Committee Cooled on Notre Dame?
On the other end of the optimism spectrum, I present Notre Dame—fresh off an ugly five-turnover, three-point victory over Boston College in Fenway Park.
After the selection committee showed the Irish plenty of love the last few weeks, leaving them comfortably in the No. 4 spot, Notre Dame fell to No. 6 this week. While there were bigger drops for victorious teams—looking at you, Florida—no drop was more significant.
With only one game remaining on its schedule, Brian Kelly’s squad suddenly doesn’t feel to have the stranglehold it once did. In moving Oklahoma and Michigan State above the Irish, the selection committee made a very clear statement whether it meant to or not.
Now, the good news for Notre Dame is that it has a chance to showcase its worth against Stanford this weekend. The bad news is that an already injury-riddled team will be without cornerback KeiVarae Russell and potentially without running back C.J. Prosise.
The worse news is that Notre Dame’s primary competition for a playoff spot, at least momentarily, will also have a chance to prove their worth against quality opponents.
All was not lost, but Tuesday night was not kind.
Does a Two-Loss Team Have a Shot at the Playoff?
Even though there are only two weeks remaining, there's still a long way to go.
While it is unlikely that a two-loss team crashes the College Football Playoff, things can change quickly. Just look at the last few weeks. And with potential opportunities ahead, both No. 9 Stanford and No. 10 Michigan should still be considered threats to surge to the Top Four if things turn strange.
Stanford, of course, could significantly boost its resume with a win over Notre Dame. Losses from Iowa, Michigan State and Baylor this weekend wouldn’t hurt, either. While it’s unlikely that all three teams all fall, there are losable games on the docket for teams ranked higher than the Cardinal. A Pac-12 championship would also add a significant boost.
Michigan needs a bit more help. For starters, the Wolverines need to beat Ohio State and have Michigan State fall to Penn State this weekend. Without that, the plot ends. But if those two things happen—and they very well could happen—look out.
Sticking with the hypothetical, if Michigan were to beat unbeaten Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game, that would push matters even further.
Although both teams should be viewed as dark horses to sneak into the Top Four, opportunities to impress exist. That's all they can ask for at this point. And if enough carnage does take place, these two are in a position to take advantage.
The Destiny Club
With two weekends of games left on the docket, the teams in control of their playoff fate are limited. You can count them on one hand and still give a thumbs up.
At the moment, Clemson, Alabama, Iowa and Michigan State are the only four that are locks to make the playoff if they win out.
While Michigan State is outside the Top Four presently, a win over Penn State and Iowa would be more than enough to change that. The Spartans’ resume, especially with Oregon’s sudden rise, has come together brilliantly.
As for everyone else, well, it’s complicated. And until that final conference championship is decided, it will remain complicated.
While Florida was teetering with this label entering Week 12, the Gators’ tumble to the No. 12 position, even with only one loss, takes them out of the conversation for now.
If the offense somehow kicks into gear and Florida finds a way to take down Florida State and Alabama in consecutive weeks, it will most certainly state a compelling case. But after barely inching past FAU, all talks of destiny have been put on hold.
Oklahoma at No. 3 is suddenly in an unexpected gray area. After Tuesday night, it feels like a win on Saturday might be enough to propel the Sooners into the playoff. And yet, I’m not comfortable making that proclamation just yet, even with a massive move in a critical week.
It’s getting close, though. Real close.
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From clinching national title berths to Heisman Trophy-winning performances, Ohio State has enjoyed some memorable moments against its most hated rival in Michigan.
There's been no shortage of big moments between the Buckeyes and the Wolverines, who first met in October of 1897. Michigan blanked Ohio State 34-0 in that inaugural matchup and holds an edge in the all-time series record at 58-46-6, but the Buckeyes have dominated since the turn of the century, winning 12 of the last 14 meetings (although the 2010 victory was later vacated).
With more than a century of history to sift through, here's a look at the five moments that shaped one of the greatest rivalries on all of sports.
This feels like it’s straight out of a movie.
Harbaugh then smashed an actual buckeye in front of Bo Schembechler's grave.
Saturday should be fun.
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Welcome to chaos season.
On Saturday, Michigan State shocked the defending national champion Ohio State Buckeyes on the road. Baylor handed Oklahoma State its first loss of the season. Oklahoma needed a stop on a two-point conversion to hold off TCU and keep its playoff hopes alive. And Florida survived an overtime scare against Florida Atlantic.
Just another day in college football.
The selection committee released its latest rankings Tuesday after the carnage, and time is running out for teams to make statements with postseason spots on the line. With that in mind, here is a look at the College Football Playoff rankings and projections for the four squads who will seize the coveted top four slots at the end of the year.
Clemson is in the driver’s seat at No. 1, and it is difficult to envision anything but an undefeated finish and top seed for the Tigers.
As long as head coach Dabo Swinney’s team knocks off South Carolina (which just lost to The Citadel on Saturday) and wins the ACC Championship Game against North Carolina, it will be in the postseason.
However, North Carolina is a legitimate threat in that ACC showdown, especially with an offense that features dual-threat quarterback Marquise Williams and running back Elijah Hood. The Tar Heels are 10th in the nation in points scored per game and will challenge Clemson from the opening kick.
Still, North Carolina needed overtime to get past a 5-6 Virginia Tech team Saturday and doesn’t have the defense necessary to slow down the explosive Clemson attack for an entire four quarters. Deshaun Watson is a Heisman Trophy candidate and already beat Notre Dame and Florida State.
The Tar Heels won’t stand in his way with a playoff spot on the line.
Despite the one loss to Ole Miss, Alabama is in a win-and-in position with two games remaining.
The Crimson Tide don’t have a lot of ranked victories, but there are a number of solid opponents on the schedule. ESPN Stats & Info illustrated just how difficult it would be for most teams to match Alabama’s record at this point of the season:
That means Alabama doesn’t have to worry about what happens across the nation as long as it takes care of business. It will do exactly that.
Analysts can use the cliche of “throwing out the records” during rivalry games for the Auburn showdown Saturday, but this year’s Tigers team is 6-5 with one win in the SEC against an opponent not named Kentucky. It isn't beating the Crimson Tide.
Alabama is also not going to lose to a Florida squad that needed overtime just to get past Florida Atlantic and a field goal in the final seconds to beat Vanderbilt. The Crimson Tide are too strong on the defensive side (third in the nation in yards and points allowed per game) for the Gators and have running back Derrick Henry to set the tone on offense.
Dane Brugler of CBS Sports commented on the overall talent on the roster:
Alabama will be in the playoff with so much skill across the board.
Michigan State made a statement to the rest of the country Saturday with its road victory over the defending champion Buckeyes. Now all it has to do is knock off Penn State and beat undefeated Iowa, and it will be in the playoff.
The defense that held Ezekiel Elliott, J.T. Barrett, Michael Thomas, Braxton Miller and the rest of the loaded Buckeyes to 14 points and 132 total yards will do just that.
When Michigan State wins out, it will have a Big Ten title to go along with victories over a resurgent Oregon team, Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa. Loss or not, that resume is not getting left out of the College Football Playoff.
Head coach Mark Dantonio was more interested in what his team can control in his press conference, per MSUSpartans.com:
I think that first of all, I'll be at meetings and somebody will walk down and say this is where we're at. That's what I think will happen. Because I'm going to concentrate on what we can do. The best thing that we can do right now is focus on Penn State. Then everything else to me sort of works out. Just do what you do, and good things happen. That's usually been the best way that I've tried to approach things and let other people do their job.
As long as the Spartans heed their coach’s words, they will be in the Top Four come season's end.
Oklahoma was the big winner with Tuesday’s poll and jumped all the way to No. 3 in the rankings.
That won’t mean anything if the Sooners can’t beat their rivals, Oklahoma State, but they will do just that because they are the most complete team in the offense-happy Big 12. A win over the Cowboys would also mean head coach Bob Stoops’ team has quality victories over Baylor, Oklahoma State and TCU on its resume, which is enough to overcome the ugly loss to Texas from earlier in the season.
That string of impressive wins will propel the Sooners into the playoff, especially after Notre Dame loses to Stanford on Saturday.
Baker Mayfield is a Heisman Trophy candidate leading the offense alongside running back Samaje Perine, who already topped 1,100 rushing yards for the second straight season. The defense is also in the top 25 of the country in points allowed per game, which makes it the only team in the conference in the top 50 of that statistic.
Oklahoma will get a shot at some of the other complete teams across the nation with the playoff berth.
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One Big Ten team out, another one in for the latest College Football Playoff rankings. After moving to 11-0 with a 40-20 win over Purdue on Saturday, Iowa slid into the No. 4 spot in the selection committee's poll, following mainstays Clemson and Alabama and surprise No. 3 entry Oklahoma.
Joe Schad of ESPN seems in agreement with the committee:
Notre Dame, which had hung on to the No. 4 ranking heading into this week, dropped all the way to No. 6 despite beating Boston College. Michigan State is the first team out after taking care of business in an upset win over Ohio State.
Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated pointed out one way Notre Dame could get back in the committee's good graces:
Oklahoma moved ahead of Notre Dame among the one-loss teams despite nearly blowing a three-score lead against TCU. The Horned Frogs' polarizing decision to go for two after scoring a potential game-tying touchdown with under a minute left ultimately saved the Sooners from at the very worst a nail-biting overtime.
Peter Berkes of SB Nation made light of Oklahoma's still being in the Top Four despite losing to a bad Texas team:
Dan Wolken of USA Today didn't love the decision, though he later clarified:
Perhaps the team with the biggest gripe is Michigan State, which has a better loss (against Nebraska) and arguably topped Oklahoma's best win this weekend by taking down Ohio State. Michael Geiger kicked a 41-yard field goal as time expired to give the Spartans a 17-14 win in Columbus. They held the Buckeyes to just 132 yards and got just enough from an offense lacking star quarterback Connor Cook.
Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports is on board with the Spartans:
Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel made a salient point for those upset about Michigan State being fifth:
Perhaps making the Spartans' win all the more impressive is how Vegas views Ohio State, as noted by gambling expert R.J. Bell:
Among one-loss teams, it was a difficult week to be a Cowboy, Gator or Tar Heel. Oklahoma State, Florida and North Carolina are all sitting behind two-loss teams in the rankings despite being Power Five teams themselves. The Cowboys descended to No. 11 after being taken out by Baylor, while North Carolina and Florida hang around in the Top 15 despite some less than stellar wins over unranked opponents.
Matt Hayes of Sporting News answered this question simply:
Overall, despite some confusion about the timing, the general sense is that the committee got the Top Four right. Iowa deserves its moment in the sun for being undefeated and will get a chance to prove itself to the world when it plays in the Big Ten Championship Game. Perhaps the only real loser here is Notre Dame, which will probably need losses from two of the five teams ahead of it to make any real headway.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.
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With another week of the college football season gone by, we are inching closer and closer to the College Football Playoff. After a wild week 12 headlined by then-No. 3 Ohio State falling 17-14 at home to Michigan State, the College Football Playoff committee's rankings were bound to change up this week.
Where did the committee rank the Spartans? Just how high did the previously No. 8 Oklahoma Sooners jump after their win over TCU?
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While the focus of college football fans shifts toward playoff positioning, coaching staffs are also determined to finish this recruiting cycle strong. National signing day, looming large Feb. 3, is now just 10 weeks away.
Intrigue abounds, as more than half of America's 5-star prospects remain uncommitted and several premier programs are facing crossroads at leadership positions. Developments during these next two-and-a-half months may ultimately determine which teams contend for titles in 2016 and beyond.
With the countdown toward signing day well underway, we examine 10 questions that take precedence in the recruiting spectrum.
The race to the College Football Playoff is nearing the homestretch.
The selection committee released its poll Tuesday heading into Week 13, which will be the final rankings before the conference title game matchups are set. There is no longer plenty of time to play spoiler and climb up the rankings with quality wins. In fact, the scenarios for the four postseason positions are largely straightforward at this point.
Still, this is college football. It would be surprising if chaos didn’t happen, even with a limited amount of games remaining on the schedule.
With that in mind, here is a look at the latest poll as well as a conference-by-conference look at the race to the College Football Playoff.
The path to the playoff is clear for the undefeated Clemson Tigers. As long as they knock off South Carolina—which lost to The Citadel on Saturday—and then win the ACC Championship Game against North Carolina, they are in the playoff.
It is not quite as simple for North Carolina, especially after the Tar Heels needed overtime to get past Virginia Tech on Saturday and still have that ugly loss to South Carolina on their resume. If they beat North Carolina State in the season finale and Clemson in the conference title game, then the Tar Heels will have a solid case but may still need some upsets around the nation to get into the Top Four.
Perhaps the selection committee would look past the ugly loss at the start of the year, as David M. Hale of ESPN.com suggested:
If North Carolina wins out, its resume will include a conference title, 12 straight wins—with potentially seven coming against bowl-eligible teams—and a victory over the nation’s top team. That should fit pretty well with the committee’s priorities of selecting teams with big wins and conference championships that are peaking at year’s end.
Michigan State’s road victory over Ohio State was the most important result of the Week 12 slate. It ended the Buckeyes' 23-game winning streak and signaled at least a temporary changing of the guard in the Big Ten, with Michigan State and Iowa having the league’s best chances at the playoff.
It also means we will have a new national champion this season as long as the Spartans beat Penn State and clinch a spot in the conference title game.
If Michigan State wins out, it will have quality victories against Oregon (who is suddenly on a roll and climbing the rankings), Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa in the Big Ten championship. Even with the ugly loss to Nebraska, the Spartans will likely be in the playoff in that scenario.
As for Iowa, as long as it still has a zero in the loss column, it will be in the thick of the playoff chase. The selection committee isn’t going to leave an undefeated power-conference champion out, especially if the Hawkeyes beat the same Spartans team that knocked off Ohio State in Columbus.
Elsewhere, the winner of the Ohio State and Michigan rivalry clash needs Penn State to upset the Spartans to remain in the Big Ten championship picture. It is difficult to envision a team from the Big Ten (or any conference) making the playoff without a conference title, even if it is a squad loaded with future first-round picks such as the Buckeyes.
Frankly, the Big 12 is something of a mess near the top since there is no conference championship game to provide clarity. Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State all have one loss, while TCU is essentially out of the picture after losing its second game in three tries.
The Sooners and Cowboys play each other Saturday, which will create some separation. If Oklahoma wins, it will likely be considered the de facto Big 12 champion with head-to-head victories over Baylor, Oklahoma State and TCU, even if there isn’t a title game at the end. However, if Oklahoma State wins, it would be in a battle with a Baylor team that already beat the Cowboys.
Oklahoma State would likely need the Bears to lose to either TCU or Texas in their final two games—otherwise, Baylor’s head-to-head victory will prove critical.
The Pac-12 is arguably the strongest conference from top to bottom, especially with how vulnerable the SEC East teams looked Saturday (South Carolina lost to The Citadel, Florida needed overtime to beat Florida Atlantic and Georgia needed overtime to beat Georgia Southern).
Still, it looks like a long shot for the Pac-12 to reach the playoff after its teams beat each other up all year.
Stanford (9-2) has a golden opportunity to add a quality victory to its resume with Saturday’s showdown against Notre Dame, but it still needs to win the conference title and receive some help around the nation to remain in the discussion.
Head coach David Shaw is more focused on what he can control, per David Lombardi of ESPN.com: “Instead of spending my time trying to guess what’s going to happen, I’d rather just play our games and see what happens.”
This may be a year when the Pac-12 focuses on beating quality opponents in its bowl games as a way of making its case as the nation's best conference.
The SEC is straightforward, as long as Alabama takes care of business against Auburn and Florida handles Florida State. Those two teams would play each other in the conference title game, and the winner would only have one loss in that scenario and essentially clinch a playoff spot.
Even if it is much harder to find currently ranked opponents the Crimson Tide defeated this season than SEC fans would have you believe, it is hard to argue with the sheer number of solid teams on Alabama’s (and Florida’s) resume.
It becomes trickier if Florida loses to Florida State, which is very possible considering how vulnerable the Gators recently looked against Florida Atlantic and Vanderbilt, and manages to beat Alabama in the SEC title game. That would mean the conference champion had two losses and would need help from other leagues around the country, even with the SEC perception boost.
Notre Dame (10-1) is still in striking distance of the Top Four heading into its final contest of the season, especially since it is against a quality opponent at Stanford. If the Fighting Irish lose, they can kiss their postseason hopes goodbye, but they need to cheer for chaos across the country in other games if they win.
If Clemson wins the ACC without a loss, Alabama or Florida wins the SEC with one loss, an undefeated Iowa or one-loss Michigan State wins the Big Ten and Oklahoma, Baylor or Oklahoma State wins the Big 12 with only one loss, Notre Dame would need to rely on the selection committee to reward it with a playoff spot without a conference title over another team that has one.
That looks far less likely now that Oklahoma jumped to No. 3 in Tuesday's rankings.
Let the politicking begin.
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The NCAA is running into problems finding enough bowl-eligible teams for each and every one of the 40 bowl games ahead in the coming weeks. The California Golden Bears are doing their part to ease the NCAA's burden.
According to USA Today's Steve Berkowitz, Cal is asking the NCAA Football Oversight Committee to count its 73-14 victory over Grambling State toward the win total necessary for bowl eligibility. Berkowitz explained why the Golden Bears may need the NCAA to make an exception in this case:
Under NCAA rules, FBS schools generally can count one win against an FCS team per season toward the six needed for bowl eligibility. However, for the game to count without a waiver, the FCS school needs to have awarded — on average — at least 90% of the 63 scholarships allowed under FCS rules during a rolling two-year period.
Grambling officials have not yet determined whether that was the case, [Cal athletics spokesman Wes Mallette] said.
Cal may ultimately have no need for the waiver.
"Grambling has told us and we believe strongly that the requirement has been met and this will not be an issue," said Mallette.
The Golden Bears also have one more game left in the season. They play Arizona State on Saturday, and a win over the Sun Devils would give Cal the adequate number of victories to qualify for bowl season.
According to CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd, only 71 teams meet bowl qualifications heading into Week 13, leaving nine spots open. Considering more than half of the FBS teams reach bowl games, it only makes sense the supply would fail to meet the demand.
College football fans love watching more college football, but bowl season may have grown to an extent it dilutes the on-field product. Bowl games featuring 5-7 or even 6-6 teams aren't going to draw a ton of national interest.
At least in the case of Cal, one more game would allow fans to get what is likely the last look at quarterback Jared Goff—whom many expect to leave college early and enter the 2016 NFL draft—at the college level.
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Even though Thanksgiving is Thursday, University of Alabama senior linebacker Reggie Ragland won’t be talking to his brother if he can help it this week. They can catch up some other time.
“Sadly, my brother’s an Auburn fan, but I’m trying to convert him,” Ragland said. “All these years, he just won’t go.
“I try to stay away from him [this week] because he loves to talk trash and all that. Knowing him, he’ll probably call me in the next couple days talking about Auburn or something like that. But I’ll tell him, ‘You’ve got to roll with ’Bama.’”
Ragland hails from Madison, Alabama, and even though it's easy to say that the rivalry game means more to those from the state, it doesn't take the others long to figure it out. For example, the Crimson Tide's offensive line has starters from Louisiana, Iowa, Ohio and California, but they all know that it's not another game.
“It’s always been a big dream of mine,” said senior quarterback Jake Coker, who grew up in Mobile. “Playing in this game means a lot to me.”
“It means a lot to everybody,” senior center and Ohioan Ryan Kelly said.
Here’s everything you need to know about the 80th Iron Bowl. (The Crimson Tide have a 43-35-1 edge in the series):
Date: Saturday, November 28
Time: 2:30 p.m. CT
Place: Jordan-Hare Stadium
Spread: Alabama minus-13, according to OddsShark.com.
It wouldn't be a shocker if the Ohio State fan who wants to be No. 1 in everything—and by everything, I mean everything—gave a thunderous applause when the news broke Monday night of 4-star quarterback Feleipe Franks decommitting from LSU.
Franks' announcement, which he made via Twitter, meant two things. First, it left LSU without a quarterback commit.
And second—probably more important to the Ohio State diehards—the decommitment was just enough to drop LSU from the No. 1 position in the 247Sports team rankings for the 2016 recruiting cycle.
Say hello to the top spot, Buckeyes—at least for now.
Both Ohio State and LSU have 18 commits as of Tuesday afternoon. The difference in the schools is Ohio State has two more 4-star pledges (12) than LSU.
What does this mean now? Honestly, not much. But because rankings are such a high priority of entertainment during each recruiting cycle, the race for the top spot nationally is something that many people will follow.
And, for Ohio State fans, it's a spot they don't want to relinquish.
With December around the corner, look for more schools to prepare their final recruiting pitches to uncommitted stars and the athletes they feel they can flip before February's signing day. The Buckeyes are hoping to add to a stout class that includes the 5-star defensive end duo of Nick Bosa and Jonathon Cooper.
Two 4-star players to keep an eye on are safety Brandon Burton and defensive tackle Antwuan Jackson, two players who were on an official visit to Ohio State over the weekend. Burton told Bill Kurelic of 247Sports that the Buckeyes were definitely in the mix. Kurelic also reported that Jackson had a great time in Columbus with his father present.
Dexter Lawrence is a 5-star defensive tackle who could be a great complement to Bosa and Cooper if he ultimately chooses Ohio State. However, he is thought to be leaning toward Florida, Florida State or Clemson. Wide receiver Binjimen Victor is another 5-star player to watch, as he has Ohio State in the mix, along with Florida, Tennessee, West Virginia and others.
Landing any combination of the aforementioned uncommitted players only strengthens Ohio State's class, and it allows it to have a legitimate shot at maintaining the No. 1 team-rankings spot after signing day. You can believe that LSU, Florida State and Alabama will try to land heavy hitters of their own, so look for head coach Urban Meyer and his staff to ramp up on recruiting in the next few weeks.
Alabama has a good shot at pushing from No. 4 to No. 1, as it's a major contender for a few uncommitted athletes, including the nation's No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 players in defensive tackle Rashan Gary, offensive tackle Greg Little and Lawrence. Alabama has held the national top spot in team rankings since 2011.
LSU still is in the running, despite losing Franks and dealing with the chatter about Les Miles possibly leaving the program, as ESPN.com's Joe Schad noted. The Tigers are hoping to land Gary and 5-star defensive tackle Shavar Manuel and somehow get Alabama residents and 5-star linebackers Lyndell "Mack" Wilson and Ben Davis out of the state.
Florida State is going hard after Lawrence and Manuel, as well as the 4-star tandem of cornerback Trayvon Mullen and wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers. Offensive tackle Landon Dickerson is another 4-star prospect who could really give the Seminoles a boost, as they currently sit in the third spot of the team rankings.
Maintaining the top spot won't be easy for Ohio State, but it is doable. The next few weeks are key if being on top is a priority for the Buckeyes.
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The first hint that Jim Harbaugh might play Jabrill Peppers on offense this season came in July, when the first-year Michigan head coach mentioned the idea of inserting the sophomore safety into the lineup when the Wolverines had the ball.
It made for a fun story and message board fodder, something to keep an eager fanbase occupied during an ensuing fall camp that offered limited media access.
The idea of Peppers, a 5-star talent, with the ball in his hands was certainly intriguing, and the 6'1", 205-pounder already figured to be Michigan's primary punt returner for the 2015 campaign.
But even the most optimistic of Maize and Blue faithful had to take the notoriously secretive Harbaugh's lineup suggestion with a grain of salt. Coaches often talk about getting the ball into the hands of their most skilled athletes but rarely take action when that player's primary position comes on the defensive side of the ball.
With one game left in the regular season and the Wolverines' Big Ten Championship hopes still alive, however, one could argue that Peppers has been Michigan's second-most valuable offensive player behind only emerging quarterback Jake Rudock.
Peppers didn't take his first offensive snaps of the season until the Wolverines' Oct. 17 date with Michigan State, lining up as a wide receiver and catching two passes for 35 yards in what was ultimately a stunning Spartans victory.
Over the course of the season, the New Jersey native's role on offense has evolved from wideout to Wildcat quarterback to running back—all while maintaining his spots as a starting safety and No. 1 punt returner.
"He's such good player. I can think of five different positions he could be really good at in football. Can somebody be the Willie Mays of football? Can somebody be the five-tool player, the five-position player?" Harbaugh asked rhetorically during Tuesday's Big Ten coaches teleconference.
"Maybe. Maybe that'll end up being Jabrill Peppers."
In five games as a part-time offensive player, Peppers' play would suggest that Harbaugh might be right.
Touching the ball in games against MSU, Minnesota, Rutgers, Indiana and Penn State, Peppers has tallied 97 yards of total offense (43 rushing, 54 receiving) and two touchdowns (both rushing) on 17 touches (11 rushes, six receptions). He also ranks fifth in the Big Ten with a punt return average of 11.4 yards.
Defensively, the Garden State product has recorded 40 tackles and defended 10 passes, serving as a key cog in a Wolverines defense that currently ranks second in the nation.
But the numbers—particularly on offense—don't tell the whole story of just how valuable Peppers has been to Harbaugh's first team in Ann Arbor.
Take for example this weekend, when Michigan went to Happy Valley to take on the Nittany Lions with both teams' Big Ten title hopes still alive.
With the Wolverines up 21-16 and taking over at the Penn State 40-yard line in the fourth quarter with a chance to put the game away, Harbaugh opted to run two plays for Peppers, with his five-yard rush setting up a one-yard rushing touchdown for starting running back De'Veon Smith.
Peppers' play may not have been anything spectacular, but it was telling that the Michigan coaching staff opted to trust him with the ball in his hands with the game on the line. Perhaps that—plus his apparent explosiveness—is why Harbaugh said he was considering transitioning Peppers to a full-time running back in the offseason.
"He’s a darn good running back," Harbaugh said on Monday. "[Next season] may get a little crazy. It may be one of the things we look at."
But before the Wolverines and Peppers can look ahead to 2016, they still have one game left in this year's regular season—Saturday's matchup with rival Ohio State.
If Michigan can beat the Buckeyes and Penn State goes on to beat Michigan State on Saturday, the Wolverines will be playing in the Big Ten Championship Game with a potential spot in the College Football Playoff on the line.
It'd take a lot of work and a little bit of luck, but if Michigan finds itself in that position, it's a safe bet that Peppers will be a big reason why.
As it currently stands, the second-year standout could be an All-Big Ten performer on defense and a strong candidate for the newly announced Rodgers-Dwight Return Specialist of the Year trophy, per the Associated Press (h/t USA Today).
Might an All-Offense honor be on the horizon in Peppers' college career? Harbaugh isn't ruling it out.
"He'll find his absolute best position as you go along," Harbaugh said. "It's interesting to think about and consider the possibilities."
It certainly is.
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.
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Many saw the inception of a four-team playoff as merely a prelude for a more inclusive college football championship tournament, and TCU head coach Gary Patterson made the argument the College Football Playoff should grow to six or eight teams.
"I just don't think you can have five power conferences—I think you need to take the winner of all five and then you have an at-large or you have three more," Patterson said Tuesday, per Travis L. Brown of the Star-Telegram.
Patterson has reason to take umbrage with the current format. His team narrowly missed out on the playoff last year, finishing sixth in the selection committee's final rankings. The Horned Frogs' two losses this year have also eliminated them from Top Four consideration.
On one hand, you can see Patterson's argument, since including all the Power Five conference winners would eliminate the need for a lot of debate regarding the playoff.
Then again, it's not hard to envision a future in which a conference champion has two or three losses and clearly isn't one of the six or eight best teams in the country.
The Bowl Championship Series was an improvement on the old system but still had plenty of flaws. The CFP improved upon the BCS but came with its own problems. No perfect system will ever exist to crown a college football national champion.
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Welcome to rivalry weekend, where the stakes are higher and the point spreads get even tighter.
Last week, I went 11-4 with my Top 25 against-the-spread picks, bringing my two-week total to 23-13 since taking the reins of this weekly column. Keeping up that momentum this weekend, though, will be a challenge.
Week 13 features quite a few road favorites looking to avoid letdowns against their hated rivals. Other games are essentially pick 'ems, with spreads down to the one- to two-point range. Then there are the typical big margins for red-hot teams facing in-state rivals that have had a tough time in the 2015 season, which always make for some interesting calls.
So, without further ado, here are my ATS picks for each game featuring a team in the Top 25 of the latest Associated Press poll. These decisions were made based on some statistical matchups—both basic and advanced—and the betting and straight-up trends for both teams.
And remember, my only rival this week is the line—not your favorite team.
Smith, a current LSU commit, and Craig-Myers are two of the top recruits in the 2016 cycle—each with more than 20 offers to their credit.
Yet last Saturday, just days ahead of Thanksgiving, the pair of prep stars from the Tampa area were part of a group of young student athletes who took part in a drive to feed the community’s homeless.
The event was held at the local Salvation Army and organized by Hopeful Inc. in conjunction with Unsigned Preps—a local nonprofit organization specializing in providing high school football players guidance and assistance along the path toward a college scholarship.
Led by UP founders Ricky Sailor and Romey Battle, the group helped feed more than 250 of the community’s less fortunate residents a meal filled with holiday staples such as turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and pie.
“It means a lot,” Smith told Bleacher Report about his participation in the event. “Just being able to give back to people who need it the most. It’s just one of those things that makes you feel good and it’s something I’m glad to be a part of.”
Craig-Myers echoed those sentiments. The 6’2”, 205-pounder told the Recruitniks podcast recently about his desire to make a difference through community service, and this event was just the latest opportunity for him to lend a helping hand.
“It’s a blessing and I just feel that if I have an opportunity to help the less fortunate. I’m going to do whatever it takes to see a smile on their faces,” Craig-Myers said.
For Battle—who serves as the Director of Student Development for Unsigned Preps—the project holds a special place in his heart.
“[It] is very important to me because my father was homeless for most of my adult life,” he said. “Seeing these young men give back at such a young age is moving.”
One of the mentors involved with Unsigned Preps, Thaddeus Bullard—who is also known as WWE superstar wrestler Titus O’Neil—is a former pro football player who has spoken to the kids in the program about using the platform that sports provides to help the community.
“With Unsigned Preps, we talk to them all the time about being great people and men of character,” Bullard said. “A lot of them come from disadvantaged backgrounds. So for them to be able to go out and perform that kind of service to those in need, it’s great to see. The message is getting received loud and clear that character is more important than just athletic ability alone.”
Having once been in the shoes of touted recruits such as Smith and Craig-Myers, Bullard recognizes the example they are helping to set for their peers and kids who are watching their every move.
“It’s awesome because these kids are getting ready to go off to college and make big names for themselves,” Bullard said. “Some of them are going to have an opportunity to play professional football, but they will always call Tampa home. Therefore, they are already setting a standard as being role models to those that they play with now and their brothers, cousins and those that come after them.”
One of the highlights Bullard recalls was hearing a testimonial from one resident who has battled with drug and alcohol addiction. Despite the path his life has taken, he spoke on how he felt blessed to still be alive and share his story with others in hopes they find an alternate route.
“That helped bring everything in perspective for that day,” Bullard said. “With the Thanksgiving holidays coming up, some people don’t have anything, but they are thankful just to be alive. That’s the message that even hit me.”
Smith recounts seeing a lady in the food line with her two children, which is something he said makes an impact that goes beyond his abilities to make plays on the gridiron.
While the world of recruiting, especially at this time of year, tends to generate headlines that range from negative to ridiculous, Smith credits the figures behind groups such as Unsigned Preps for creating opportunities such as last weekend’s event to show how young athletes can help make a difference.
“It’s not just the kids in the program. It’s really people like Ricky Sailor and Antez Brinson, the guys who go out and get these events organized,” Smith explained. “I think it’s really cool and I was glad to be a part of it.”
The next order of business for the group will be organizing a Christmas event centered around giving toys away for the community’s less fortunate children. As Craig-Myers noted, it’s another opportunity to give back to the community that has supported him in each step of his journey.
“Community service is important to me because I just want to show the people that I’m not just a ball player. I’m also a helping hand,” Craig-Myers explained. “Just having the [community] know about you and seeing the look on their faces when we impact their lives, that’s what it’s all about.”
Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
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Michigan State is only 2-4 against the spread at home this season, and lucky to be that. Meanwhile, Penn State is 0-4 ATS on the road this year. Coming off their big upset of Ohio State the Spartans look to clinch a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game when they entertain the Nittany Lions Saturday in East Lansing.
Point spread: This game was off the board early in the week at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)
College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 30.4-25.8 Nittany Lions
Why the Penn State Nittany Lions can cover the spread
The Lions started this season 7-2—the only losses coming to two pretty good teams in Temple and Ohio State—but have lost their last two games, most recently a 28-16 decision last week to another good team, Michigan. Penn State led the Wolverines late into the second quarter 10-7, fell down 21-10, rallied to within 21-16 midway through the fourth but couldn't quite complete the comeback.
The Nittany Lions had their chances, with three incursions deep into Michigan territory, but had to settle for three very short field goals.
Penn State has struggled on offense this season, no doubt about it, but ranks 14th in the country in total defense and 18th in scoring defense, allowing less than 19 points per game. If they can ugly this game up, the Lions could make things very interesting for Sparty.
Why the Michigan State Spartans can cover the spread
Michigan State, playing without its starting quarterback, pulled off a shocker last week, beating defending national champion Ohio State in Columbus 17-14 on a field goal at the buzzer. The Spartans actually dominated the line of scrimmage all day, but trailed 14-7 heading into the fourth quarter. They then tied the game on a short Gerald Holmes touchdown run with 12 minutes to go and later won it on Michael Geiger's 41-yard kick that hooked through the uprights as the clock ran out.
On the day Michigan State ran the ball 51 times for 203 yards and held the Buckeyes to a measly 132 total yards, winning time of possession by more than 16 minutes and taking that game outright as a two-touchdown underdog.
The victory puts the Spartans in the driver's seat in the Big Ten East; win this game, and it's off to the conference championship game for the third time in five seasons, and perhaps beyond.
Michigan State just knocked off King Buckeye on his home court, but it can be very difficult to get up emotionally two weeks in a row, even for good teams. Also, Penn State has several of the ingredients needed to pull off upsets on the road, such as a veteran quarterback and a good defense. And the Spartans might have to go with their backup quarterback again. Michigan State may very well win this game, but the smart money here lies with the Lions, plus the points.
Michigan State is 3-7 ATS in its last 10 games after a win.
Penn State is 1-8 ATS in its last nine games on the road.
Penn State is 7-3 SU in its last 10 games.
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If there was nothing else at stake—just good ol’ fashion hate, holiday bragging rights and maybe a sixer of a local IPA—this weekend, the last stand for many, would spawn plenty of emotion all by its lonesome.
See, before the College Football Playoff consumed every bit of our attention and turned us all into chaos zombies, there were rivalries. These matchups between two teams, usually tied together geographically—although not always—are the epicenter of our interests. They are essentially why we’re all here.
The first thing one does when he picks a college football team, before butchering the words of the fight song the first few times through, is learn who to hate. It’s on Page 1 of the manual.
Masked deep within this hate, of course, exists a great deal of respect. It’s not a respect you talk about or celebrate, but it’s there. This relationship between two programs is complicated.
Oh, Rivalry Week is indeed special. It doesn’t demand anything more than itself. The hate (and silent respect) is enough to carry us through. It just so happens, however, that this particular Rivalry Week also has so much more.
The suspense that has been building over the course of a wild and unpredictable season ends here, at least for some. And if Rivalry Week wasn’t enough, perhaps playoff and Heisman implications will draw you in.
Here is a look at (gasp!) the final week of college football’s regular season, where rivalry hate isn’t just tolerated; it’s required to gain access to the door.
The Thanksgiving Buffet: Previewing the Top Five Games of Week 13
5. UCLA at USC (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN2)
The victor will play the following weekend; I suppose we should start there. Although the dream seasons for both SoCal teams did not matriculate, winning the Pac-12 South isn’t a bad consolation. And the fact that a rivalry game will also decide the division is also a juicy bit of local drama.
Josh Rosen, presently, loves not throwing interceptions. The true freshman has not thrown the ball to the other team since October 15. While his numbers in Saturday’s victory over Utah weren’t Vernon Adams Jr.-esque, the 17-9 victory against a ranked team worked just fine.
USC allowed just a few more points last week. Well, more than a few. In fact, on the topic of Adams, he totaled six touchdowns against a defense that has been torn apart by injuries. The Trojans lost, 48-28, which is a suboptimal way to transition into a truly meaningful game.
Still, the offense is not without weapons. Despite the lopsided defeat, USC still managed to total 186 yards on the ground. It will no doubt score. But can it stop the other team from scoring more?
We’re about to find out. Regardless, even though other games have greater playoff implications, you’ll want to catch this one.
4. Alabama at Auburn (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Having spent last weekend in Alabama, I can confirm that the Iron Bowl is still rather important these days. That part will never change. Despite the vastly different seasons unfolding, this one is always circled in red pen.
Yes, Alabama is good. Very good, in fact. Nick Saban, a week removed from a splendid rant that involved excrement and a tin horn, has his group looking like a fine misery machine heading into the last regular-season stop.
Derrick Henry didn’t have to do much last week with Charleston Southern on tap, although he still totaled 68 yards and scored twice. That will likely change this week, and the end result, when it’s all said and done, could be a bronze statue.
After looking like it had stabilized matters, Auburn’s loss to Georgia put the climb on hold. The Tigers had no issues with Idaho in Week 12, posting 56 points behind quarterback Jeremy Johnson.
While Jovon Robinson vs. the Alabama front seven won’t garner the same hype that Leonard Fournette received against the defense, it will be one to keep an eye on. Robinson, a physical freak of nature, has emerged in the second half.
Ultimately, it will take a gargantuan effort for Auburn to spring the upset. But given the way this season has gone, nothing should be assumed.
3. Ohio State at Michigan (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET, ABC)
The first round of Urban Meyer vs. Jim Harbaugh suddenly has a little less vigor than it did late last week. That’s not to say this game isn’t A) hugely important or B) loaded with entertainment.
But the stakes have changed. Well, maybe.
In losing to Michigan State, Ohio State didn’t just hurt its own Big Ten Championship hopes. Michigan needed the Buckeyes to win that game, too. Now both need Michigan State to fall to Penn State, which is certainly feasible. That game (more on it in a bit) will take place later in the day.
For Ohio State to rally, the offense needs to find a rhythm. That’s stating the obvious after the Buckeyes finished with just five first downs and 132 total yards in Saturday’s 17-14 loss on Saturday. The running game was absent. The passing game, given limited opportunities, could never get churning in difficult weather.
Making matters even more taxing this week is the nation’s No. 6 scoring defense. Michigan has been superb on that side of the ball, a trend which continued on Saturday. The Wolverines limited Penn State to just 207 yards in their win. On offense, quarterback Jake Rudock continued his excellent play. He’s been on a roll these last three games.
Do yourself a favor and curl up in front of this game with a warm fire. The hate will be real, regardless of what happens next. This could be the start of something special—something that could carry on well beyond December.
2. Notre Dame at Stanford (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX)
It’s hard to know precisely what it on the line here, but it’s safe to say it's a lot. The loser will be removed from College Football Playoff consideration; the winner, especially if that winner is Notre Dame, will add a gold star to its resume.
A few weeks ago, we buried Stanford’s playoff hopes. But then losses happened. Then there were more losses. Now, having taken care of Cal behind the continued Superman (and potential Heisman) efforts of running back Christian McCaffrey—who totaled a school-record 389 all-purpose yards last Saturday— the Cardinal is in a position to storm back with a win against Notre Dame and a Pac-12 Championship.
Stanford’s playoff hopes are still somewhat unlikely, but they are not dead by any means.
The Irish, of course, have become playoff fixtures in the past few weeks. It never truly felt like such hopes would be dashed against Boston College in Fenway Park, although the final 19-16 win didn’t exactly instill confidence during a critical time.
Five Notre Dame turnovers were the story on Saturday. For the Irish to move forward, quarterback DeShone Kizer has to protect the ball.
The health of Notre Dame is also a concern. Cornerback KeiVarae Russell is out, which is an enormous loss. Running back C.J. Prosise is also banged up and unlikely to play. What a year it’s been for injuries in South Bend.
But even with these mounting woes, there is optimism. Notre Dame is supremely talented and on the cusp. Stanford is dangerous and still alive. Let’s do this.
1. Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET, ABC)
The name "Bedlam" seems appropriate this year—perhaps more so than any other in recent memory. By the time Oklahoma and Oklahoma State finish late Saturday night, we might have our first College Football Playoff participant. Or perhaps the Big 12 will have played itself into a mystery position yet again.
Seriously, this is Bedlam in all of its beautiful madness.
It doesn’t have quite the same punch as it did a week ago, when Oklahoma State was heading into its final two games, both at home, undefeated. The Pokes could not withstand Baylor’s offensive surge, despite the fact that they knocked starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham out of the game, prompting the Bears to turn to their third-string QB. It did not matter.
Despite a strong effort from Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph—who threw for 430 yards and three touchdowns—the ground game, which totaled just eight yards, did not help matters. The defense, which allowed 700 yards, did not help either.
Oklahoma, meanwhile, barely escaped a TCU squad that is now a shell of its former self because of injuries. The moment Baker Mayfield left the game with an injury, the offense seemed to hit a road block. In many ways, the Sooners were lucky to escape with a 30-29 win. Samaje Perine’s 188 yards didn’t hurt.
The good news for Oklahoma is that Mayfield is likely to play. If that is the case, then the outlook on this game will change. But even if he plays, don’t assume that Oklahoma State won’t up in a tremendous fight. Despite last week’s result, this is still a deeply talented team capable of throwing the conference into a playoff predicament.
Leftovers of Intrigue: Games With Enormous Ramifications
Oh, it doesn’t end with the main course. Part of the joy of this week is eating turkey for every single meal through the weekend. The same theory applies with the football. Let us celebrate the leftovers.
Iowa at Nebraska (Friday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC): What exactly is on the line here? Well, everything. If Iowa wins, it will voyage to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship with a spot in the College Football Playoff on the line. This is a real sentence that many are struggling to come to terms with but might as well start now. Standing in the Hawkeyes way, however, is a team that already derailed one undefeated season. Oh, and Nebraska is coming off a bye and playing for bowl eligibility. This is a delectable Friday matchup.
Penn State at Michigan State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC): The word for this game is “close,” which is appropriate on a variety of fronts. Most significantly, it’s the word Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio used to describe the status of starting quarterback Connor Cook and when he might return. If the Spartans beat Penn State at home, they’re in the Big Ten Championship Game and in prime shape for a spot in the playoff. Ohio State or Michigan will keep close tabs on this one.
Florida State at Florida (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): It has not come easy for Florida, which is a polite thing someone says after a team requires overtime to squeak past Florida Atlantic. Quite frankly, the Gators have looked underwhelming the past three games, especially on offense. And still, strangely, they have just one loss, and the playoffs are something we can still talk about. If Florida can beat its rival—regardless of how it happens—it will keep those peculiar hopes alive. Florida State has others plans in mind.
Thanksgiving Sides Power Ranking: Hot Turkey Takes
There is no bad side on Thanksgiving. That’s important. People enjoy different things for different reasons, which is why this holiday allows us to embrace multiple dishes at once. Still, with so little space on your plate and in your space, there is a clear pecking order of importance.
Consider this a guide. (Please note: Cranberry sauce is not included, because it’s really not great. This concludes my very hot Thanksgiving take.)
1. Stuffing: The Alabama of Thanksgiving sides. When cooked right—hopefully with a cornbread base—it’s nearly impossible to conquer. Even the worst stuffing is capable of dominance.
2. Green Bean Casserole: When done right, it’s pure joy. When done wrong, there could be issues. This is a volatile dish, depending on the quality of the chef, but the good far outweighs the bad.
3. Biscuits: It’s a long day. Carbs are important. And deep down, whether they are homemade or straight from the can, bread is never a bad idea.
4. Mashed Potatoes: It’s always slightly overrated, although it still warrants a spot in the top five. Add garlic, and now we’re talking. Results may vary, depending on the maker.
5. Homemade Apple Sauce: The most underrated and perhaps underutilized dish can add a nice bit of variety to any plate. You won’t find in all kitchens, and perhaps that should change.
Parting Shot (Part 1): On Ezekiel Elliott and Our Quest For Honesty
Following Ohio State’s crushing 17-14 loss to Michigan State on Saturday, Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott—having been shown openly sobbing during the national anthem, knowing precisely what this game meant—let loose a bit of vocal honesty atypical at this level.
"I'm disappointed in the play-calling," an emotional Elliott told reporters after the game. "I feel like we just weren't put in the right opportunity to win this game. We weren't put in the right situations to win this game.”
Elliott provided the cherry on top when asked about his future, confirming the worst-kept secret. “There's no way I'm coming back next year,” he said. Social media went wild.
There are a few layers to this onion, so let’s peel. Blaming a coach in any capacity through the media is not something that should happen. This certainly could have (and should have) been avoided. Elliott has since apologized.
And yes, when it comes to announcing future plans, I suppose Elliott could have waited one week until after Michigan. In reality, however, he was simply confirming what we already knew. We knew this back in January.
But the reaction to this has been astounding. Enormous character assumptions have been established without hesitation. The masses have assumed that Elliott, having said exactly what the entire football world either knew or thought, just lost millions.
In being honest with his remarks, something the media craves and demands, Elliott confirmed the following: Being bland and predictable with the media is a much more desired route. Why on earth would one speak his mind if the product of honesty will be backlash?
I love personalities, and Elliott is one of them. And while one could very easily establish an opinion of his character in a moment that he would like back, watch the way Elliott throws his body around this week while blocking for his quarterback and a few extra yards. There is much more to this young man than a bad microphone visit.
Sure, things could have been handled a bit better. But this is not the doomsday scenario that so many have made it out to be. Elliott will still make millions—as he should—and will likely learn from this.
I imagine the athletes thinking about straying from the “we played hard” script will as well.
Parting Shot (Part 2): Brine Your Turkeys, and Enjoy the Greatest Holiday of the Year
I cannot stress enough how important it is to soak your bird in flavor before you cook it. Please, don’t be one of the lost souls who serve family members dry, tasteless bird. It’s not right. You are better than this.
Brine your turkey, and lives will be changed. Taste buds will be satisfied.
Also, have a wonderful Thanksgiving. There is no holiday that comes close to offering this kind of buffet of riches. I implore you to eat as much as you can, and please don’t blow a hamstring if you play football before watching football.
What a wonderful weekend it will be. See you on the other side.
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Southern Cal beat UCLA 12 out of 13 times earlier this century, but the Bruins are 3-0 both straight up and against the spread in this rivalry since coach Jim Mora took over three seasons ago. In the game that will decide the Pac-12 South title, the Trojans host UCLA for the 85th Battle for Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon at the Coliseum.
Point spread: Trojans opened as 3.5-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)
College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 37.5-33.6 Bruins
Why the UCLA Bruins can cover the spread
The Bruins bounced back from that home defeat to Washington State two weeks ago with a 17-9 victory at Utah last week, keeping their division title hopes alive. UCLA scored a touchdown on the opening drive of the game, led 10-0 after one quarter and allowed the Utes to pull within one point midway through the third quarter, but pushed the lead to eight on a Paul Perkins touchdown run a few minutes later.
They stymied Utah from there, winning a tough game that went off as a pick 'em on the betting line. The Bruins only managed 325 yards of offense, but held the Utes to 307—and won the turnover battle 2-0. UCLA is now 9-1 straight up and 7-3 against the spread over its last 10 Pac-12 road games.
Why the Southern Cal Trojans can cover the spread
Southern Cal had won four games in a row to take control of the Pac-12 South, but ran into a buzz saw last week and lost at Oregon 48-28. That game was tied at 14-14 well into the second quarter before the Trojans gave up a 24-0 Ducks run. USC pulled to within 38-28 with the whole fourth quarter to go, but could get no closer.
On the day the Trojans produced 424 yards of offense, 186 on the ground, and won time of possession by almost 10 minutes, but had no answer for Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams, who threw six touchdown passes.
USC got outgained last week for the first time since the loss to Stanford eight weeks prior.
UCLA just pulled off a nice road upset, but truth be told the Bruins got some help, as Utah fumbled the ball away twice in UCLA territory. Meanwhile, USC had its lunch handed to it last week at Oregon. But college football is a funny game, and those who are up one week often fall down the very next, and vice versa. Take the Trojans.
UCLA is 2-7 ATS in its last nine games on the road against Southern Cal.
UCLA is 4-12 SU in its last 16 games against Southern Cal.
Southern Cal is 11-1 SU in its last 12 games after a loss.
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