NCAA Football News

Tennessee Football: OL Jacob Gilliam Is College Football's Ultimate Warrior

The story of Tennessee offensive lineman Jacob Gilliam could best be described as one of improbability. But after everything he's endured, that word isn't in his vocabulary.

A collegiate career that began as a 250-pound invited walk-on, featured playing for three offensive line coaches (as well as two head coaches) and culminated with him earning a starting left tackle spot as a fifth-year senior on scholarship leaves little room for incredulity.

But playing on a torn anterior cruciate ligament just 49 days after suffering the injury pushes the boundaries of belief.

Yet, that's just what Gilliam did on Oct. 18 at No. 3 Ole Miss. Then in last week's game against UT's biggest rival, Alabama, Gilliam started, anchoring his 6'4", 297-pound body on that detached knee ligament, play after play.

"He's a warrior," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said, according to Knoxville's WVLT.com.

Strengthened by faith and insistent that he's shielded by a higher power, Gilliam is not just playing pain-free on an injury that routinely keeps players out more than a year.

He's thriving.

"That's one of the things that's really been a blessing to me, I haven't felt any pain," Gilliam said. "Obviously, I got to play the whole game against Alabama, and the only thing I kind of felt was a little weakness here and there, but that went away really quick, and it really didn't last more than a play or two.

"I've been blessed with a lot of strength and stability in my knee."

Remarkable, yes. Unexpected? Not for somebody who has battled seemingly every second since taking his first breath.

"Jacob was born premature, five-and-a-half weeks early," said his father, David, from the family's Farragut home outside Knoxville.

When his mother, Michelle, went in for a routine checkup, the doctor realized there was something wrong. An emergency delivery revealed Jacob's umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. He spent his first two days in this world hooked up to a ventilator. 

"He's been a fighter ever since," David Gilliam said.

 

A Humble Start

Undersized offensive linemen don't get football scholarships to Tennessee.

So a dream that began when seven-year-old Jacob stood among Neyland Stadium's sea of orange and watched the Vols play the Houston Cougars looked as if it would fall by the wayside.

After a senior year at Farragut High School, Gilliam was all set to head to UT Chattanooga or perhaps Middle Tennessee State to play college ball. Then a phone call at an all-star game changed everything.

Then-UT coach Lane Kiffin's offensive line coach James Cregg was on the other end, asking Gilliam if he wanted to be a preferred walk-on for the Vols. A visit and some quick mulling-over later led to an easy choice.

"It was one of those things where I had to make a decision whether I wanted to play in a small pond or a big pond, is how my dad phrased it to me," Gilliam said. "It was a good time for me to go to UT. They were missing some linemen, and it would be a good chance for me to play at the highest level."

Competitive by nature, Gilliam had few doubts and high aspirations. Little did he know he was going to be blindsided by the fallout from a football program in shambles to go along with the thankless task of being a no-name scout-teamer.

A few weeks after Gilliam chose UT, Cregg left with Kiffin for USC. When Derek Dooley took over, new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand honored Gilliam's preferred walk-on status.

Gilliam's reward was day after day of getting battered and bruised by players like NFL defensive tackle Montori Hughes and former 5-star Chris Walker.

"That first summer," David Gilliam recalled of his son, "he'd leave the house at 5:10 every morning, go down there basically to get killed."

After thoughts of quitting and more pancakes than a Sunday morning at IHOP, Gilliam grew. By the season opener against UT-Martin, Gilliam dressed. Then, he did again against Oregon and for most of UT's home games during his freshman year.

Hiestand (now Notre Dame's offensive line coach) liked Gilliam's work ethic, and he was going to eventually get his chance.

"Being 250, 260, you really had to have good technique," he said. "I really credit being undersized as reasons why my feet and hands really improved. If I didn't have that, I'd have been thrown around like a rag doll. I was forced by survival into being technically sound."

But all Gilliam's hard work was about to become a casualty of the cruel world of college football.

Under fire from a rash of losing and poor line play, Dooley let Hiestand go and hired Sam Pittman. Gilliam had to start fresh.

Then Dooley and Pittman were fired the very next year in favor of Jones and Don Mahoney. Again, Gilliam was forced to prove himself all over again. He was forgotten, appearing in just three games in his first three seasons.

As Tennessee's offensive line blossomed into a talent-rich unit that featured three current NFL rookie starters, Gilliam settled into the shadows.

 

A Dark Hour and Ray of Light

Tennessee may have forgotten about Gilliam, but he never went away.

When UT lost its entire line to graduation or the NFL after last season, opportunity abounded. Every spot was up for grabs.

Even though recruitniks and experts alike anointed 4-star junior college lineman Dontavius Blair as UT's savior at left tackle, Gilliam battled. Coaches opened spring practice with Blair as the starter, but it didn't take long for Gilliam to beat him out and secure the spot.

Not long after spring drills were over, he was awarded a scholarship for his final season, an achievement Gilliam did not take lightly.

"It was really satisfying," he said. "When I got that scholarship, it meant a lot to me, but it also meant a lot to a lot of other guys I was representing who I had walked on with and who had been there with me the whole time.

"So, every time I play this year, I've got those guys in the back of my mind thinking what I do is not only for me, for my family and for this university, it's also for all those guys I bled and sweat with all those years who didn't get any recognition."

That humility remained through fall drills when he held off a much-improved Blair to keep the job. And when he started that season opener against Utah State and was playing extremely well, the potential for a storybook senior season loomed.

But football, like life, is rarely fair. 

As Gilliam set to push the Aggies defensive end to the outside of quarterback Justin Worley on a third-quarter play, UT left guard Marcus Jackson threw his man into the back of Gilliam's knee. It caved, and though he was in pain and hobbled off, he thought it was just hyperextended.

An MRI the following Sunday revealed the bad news.

"Obviously, it was heartbreaking," David Gilliam recalled. "He called me crying and said, 'My career is over.' I said, 'No, it's not, son. We're going to come down there and pray and ask God to heal you.'"

So, off they went—David, Michelle and brothers, Nathan and Alex—driving 25 minutes to be by Jacob's side, lay their hands on his knee and pray for a miracle.

After "about an hour" of woe-is-me, according to Jacob, he moved on. There was a slim hope he could play, and he wanted to exercise his options. Once he found that out, he immediately began rehabilitation.

It's not unprecedented to play on torn ACLs, though it's rare. New England Patriots guard Logan Mankins played the entire 2011 season at a high level on a torn ACL that had gone undiagnosed.

The feat is impressive, but Dr. Ron Noy, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at Prestige Sports Medicine, told Deadspin.com's Samer Kalaf: "[Playing with a torn ACL] does put him at a higher risk of further injury." 

Gilliam knows the ramifications, but he said his faith played a key role in his ultimate decision to play.

"The doctors told me, 'Here's what could happen,'" Gilliam said. "I weighed it all and talked to my parents and brothers, but I believe I'm protected. That really made my decision for me. I thought, 'Hey, I'm protected. Nothing's going to happen to me, and that's what I'm relying on."

Weeks of exercising, building up his hamstrings and quads to help keep the knee in place, followed the injury. He eschewed surgery and wound up playing without pain less than a month and a half later.

Perhaps it's not a coincidence that in Gilliam's return to the starting lineup, a UT offensive line that had allowed 30 sacks through its first seven games held an excellent Alabama defense to two.

The Vols also ran for 181 yards against the nation's second-ranked rush defense.

There were several factors, but Gilliam was certainly one. He has the type of leadership mentality that permeates his play, and it stems from always setting goals, no matter who was watching.

"He's been an underdog since he got over there," father David Gilliam said. "It's definitely provided extra motivation."

 

A Fighter's Chance

When the topic turns to leaving a legacy, Gilliam gets quiet. The prevailing feeling is anything remotely self-serving is alien to him, and he's reluctant to say anything that sounds like pride.

Sure, he's proud of how far he's come, how he endured through frustrating, bowl-less seasons, how he impressed multiple coaches, earned a scholarship, earned a starting role and is playing despite what should be a career-ending injury. 

But beyond giving God the glory and his team praise, he won't budge on anything else.

"There’s an element of pride, but I know where I come from and I know what's really happening," he said. "I try to off-put that as much as possible."

Perpetuating the ultimate warrior propaganda is for his brothers, who look up to him and help him realize that what he has accomplished at UT is incredible and what he's doing now is not normal.

It's special to his little brother, Nathan, a 3-star 6'5", 270-pound class of 2015 offensive tackle who's currently committed to Wake Forest, to be able to witness what Jacob has done and to be bend his ear for tips and advice.

"I've grown really close to him through this past experience that happened to him and how far he's come," Nathan said. "It woke me up some, and I learned not to take this game for granted.

"One word you can use to describe him is a fighter. Since day one he has been on campus, he's always tried to prove he's better than the guy in front of him. When I get that opportunity next year, I'm going to try to do the same thing as Jacob and prove that the Gilliam family is a bunch of fighters."

There's one more fight to finish that Jacob discusses fervently. For a young man who bled orange, battled through impossible odds to reach the field and is making considerable sacrifices to stay on it, having a part in the program's resurrection would be extremely meaningful.

Gilliam has unfinished business, and it's what he's trotting out on a bum knee to attain.

"I'm not too big on personal achievements," he said. "I want everybody to remember this team as the one that changed the culture here at Tennessee and got us back to what we were.

"I think going to a bowl game, that's what’s going to put that mark on it. We're all fighting to go 4-0 here."

Like it has been the case throughout his entire career, nobody is fighting harder than Gilliam.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. All stats and information taken from UTSports.com, and all recruiting information gathered from 247Sports.com.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Football: Bulldogs' Road to Making the College Football Playoff

Georgia may be down—ever so slightly—in the first ever College Football Playoff committee rankings, but the Bulldogs aren't out by a long shot.  

And given what these Dawgs have endured over the preceding weeks, it's hard to think a No. 11 ranking will prove any more than a road bump.  After all, Georgia's last two wins came on the road against SEC opponents without the nation's best running back, Todd Gurley.

This team has survived more dire circumstances and with a generally favorable schedule ahead, the Bulldogs are in prime position to climb the inaugural rankings' ladder.

 

Biggest Obstacles to Playoff Berth

With three teams in the projected playoff hailing from the SEC West, it's fair to say that division stands in everyone's way.  The Bulldogs aren't an exception in that regard.

Getting to the College Football Playoff will require perfection from Georgia henceforth.  And while Florida (who the Dawgs play this week) is always a tough out, Kentucky is much improved and Georgia Tech has shown flashes of relevancy, the Bulldogs' most blatant opposition will come from the SEC West.

Extenuating circumstances not withstanding, a November 15 game with the Auburn Tigers could prove to be an elimination game for either team.  Though the Tigers are the reigning conference champions and have looked dominant at times this season, there are still three reasons to think Georgia could win this game:

  • For the first time since 2011, this annual rivalry game is being played in Athens, Georgia.
  • Georgia played Auburn tremendously close on the road in 2013.  Georgia has likely progressed more as a team over the past 12 months than Auburn.
  • Despite a loss last season, the Bulldogs have won six of the last matchups with the Tigers.

Additionally, if all goes to plan, Georgia will run into another hurdle from the SEC West in the conference championship game.  Though both divisions are up in the air, Georgia seems likely to face Auburn (again), Alabama, Mississippi State or Ole Miss.  

Three of those teams (Mississippi State at No. 1, Auburn at No. 3 and Ole Miss at No. 4) are currently projected to make the playoff, and the fourth team (Alabama) is playing as well as any team in the conference.

Reaching Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game won't be enough to get Georgia into the playoff.  The Bulldogs will need to claim the conference title and run through the SEC West again.

 

Help Needed

The most favorable part of Georgia's road to the playoff has nothing to do with Georgia and everything to do with the teams ranked ahead of the Bulldogs.  Beyond games in Georgia's control (such as Auburn and a potential SEC Championship Game), several teams may soon drop below the Bulldogs as a factor of head-to-head losses.

  • Mississippi State still has Alabama and Ole Miss on its schedule.  All three of those teams are ranked ahead of Georgia, and only Mississippi State is currently undefeated.  In other words, some team(s) will soon decline.
  • In addition to the trip to Georgia, Auburn still must play Alabama and Ole Miss.  Accordingly, at least two of those teams are destined to have two regular-season losses.
  • TCU and Kansas State must play head-to-head as well.

In total, five teams currently ranked ahead of Georgia in the playoff rankings will lose at least one more game by virtue of matchups with other Top 10 teams.  Additionally, Georgia can hand out two more losses (one to Auburn and one to the SEC West champion) to such teams.

In light of that, Georgia doesn't really need all that much help.  The Bulldogs just need these games to happen, and Georgia needs to win.

 

Prediction

The remainder of Georgia's season will be defined by two factors:

  1. A relatively navigable remaining schedule.
  2. The return of Todd Gurley.

If the schedule shakes out the way it should (Remember: Teams can still improve dramatically—even this late in the season) and Todd Gurley does in fact get back on the field in time for the Auburn game, Georgia will finish the regular season with an 11-1 record.

At that point, Georgia will likely be ranked between No. 3 and No. 6 depending on how Auburn (who is presumed to lose to Georgia in this scenario) holds up in its other games against Ole Miss and Alabama.

Therefore, Georgia's national championship aspirations will once again fall squarely on the SEC Championship Game, just like they did in 2012.  The Bulldogs' odds of victory in that game will depend directly on the opposition.  

Unfortunately for Georgia fans, this game is shaping up to be a rematch of that 2012 game.  Like Georgia, Alabama is in a position to control its own destiny.  And like Georgia, Alabama is playing great football right now.  Expect Alabama to survive against Mississippi State and Auburn, and meet the Bulldogs back in the Georgia Dome.

Given where things stand today, that game would go the Crimson Tide's way and thus eliminate Georgia from the playoff picture.  But this Georgia team's calling card has been ongoing improvement.  

There's still plenty of time for that.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Week 10 Schedule: TV and Live Stream Info for Every Game

The first-ever College Football Playoff rankings are out entering Week 10, but they're guaranteed to look drastically different once the upcoming weekend slate concludes.

With more than a couple of tough tests for Top 25 teams on tap, we could be in for more of the upsets viewers have become accustomed to this season. Add a handful of those enticing affairs to one matchup between two current CFP Top Four teams, and it's apparent Week 10 boasts some of the biggest matchups of the season.

You won't want to miss out on all of the action, so take a look below at everything you need to know about every matchup for Week 10.

Note: Week 10 schedule courtesy of ESPN.com

 

Live Stream Note

More college football live streams are available at the following websites (subscription may be required):

WatchESPN.com

CBSSports.com

BTN2Go.com

Pac-12.com

NBC Live Extra

ABC Live

Fox Sports Go

 

Game of the Week

No. 4 Auburn at No. 7 Ole Miss

Ending their undefeated hopes in Death Valley was a tough pill to swallow, but the Ole Miss Rebels better be ready to bounce back with Auburn preparing for a trip to Oxford.

Just one week after falling at LSU, Ole Miss looks to recover at home against the fourth-ranked Tigers in a game that is looking more and more like an elimination game as far as the CFP goes.

As for right now, Ole Miss and Auburn are still sitting pretty as two of the four teams in the playoff, per ESPN's College GameDay:

However, neither team is feeling safe entering Saturday—and rightfully so. Whichever team falls in this matchup will suffer its second defeat, all but closing the door on a CFP berth and a shot at the SEC West crown.

On the other hand, both teams still have their rivals to play in the Egg Bowl and the Iron Bowl, respectively. So a victory would keep things very much alive for the winner in the divisional race.

As for how the two teams match up, the most intriguing battle figures to be when Auburn's potent offense matches up against Ole Miss' stingy defense. The Tigers top the SEC with 281 rush yards per game, while Ole Miss has the best scoring defense—10.5 points conceded per game—in the conference.

The Rebels defense is among the best in the country, but the same can be said of Auburn's offensive efficiency over the last few years. That makes quite the matchup on one side of the ball, per AL.com's Creg Stephenson:

The Ole Miss offense is looking to bounce back from a dreadful seven-point outing at LSU and give its defense something to work with. That will require a much better game from Bo Wallace, who thew a game-ending interception while in game-tying field-goal range against LSU.

The Rebels will need to put up the points to match Auburn in this one, and Wallace seems to know that entering Saturday's game.

"We have to get back to throwing the ball on first and second downs and making plays like we did earlier in the season," Wallace told The Clarion-Ledger's Hugh Kellenberger. "That's on the coaches and what they call and things like that. Hopefully, we can be more aggressive (than) last week, but I'm going to run the plays that are called and that's all I can do."

A sense of urgency from the Ole Miss offense should be expected, especially after South Carolina's Dylan Thompson threw for 402 yards and put up 35 points against this same Tigers team a week ago. It hasn't been clicking lately, but Wallace has the downfield weapons capable of gashing Auburn's secondary.

Ole Miss found itself in a low-scoring dogfight at LSU a week ago, but it will be a very different ballgame at home against Auburn. 

 

Stats courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.

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Wisconsin Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for the Month of November

Heading into the final month of the season, the Wisconsin football team finds itself right in the thick of the Big Ten West Division race. At 5-2 overall and 2-1 in Big Ten play, the Badgers are one of four teams in the Big Ten West with one loss.

Sitting half a game behind Nebraska and Minnesota and tied with Iowa, all four teams have a legitimate shot at making it to Indianapolis to represent the West Division in the Big Ten Championship Game.

The representative will likely play the winner of the Michigan State vs. Ohio State game on Nov. 8 in East Lansing, Michigan.

The Badgers play five games in this final month, having gone past both of their bye weeks. They are able to field a mostly healthy roster for the first time since opening day, too, with the return of senior defensive end/nose guard Warren Herring and fullback Derek Watt.

With two games against teams toward the cellar of the conference on the road to open up the month before finishing against their three biggest Big Ten West adversaries in consecutive weeks, the Badgers control their own destiny, knowing they will likely need to win out to ensure their spot in Indianapolis.

Without further ado, let's take a look at each of the Badgers' five November matchups with predictions and plenty of #MelvinMoments to go around for all.

Begin Slideshow

The 10 Most Terrifying Players in College Football Today

When college football coaches game-plan, they watch an inordinate amount of film. Day and night, coaches and their players pore over game film, looking for that one edge, that one critical factor that could make the difference on Saturday afternoon.

Coaches like to say that players “jump off film” at them, standing out from the clutter and organized chaos that is an average football play. These are the guys that keep opponents up at night, wondering what lies ahead when they finally get on the field for 60 minutes of highly scrutinized competition.

They’re the most terrifying players in college football today. They might not all be the biggest players or the strongest, but they’re frightening in their own ways, for what they can do to change a game with a single play or a handful of them.

They were chosen for their presence, the way they can impact a game and how they’re viewed across college football.  Stats were taken from ESPN.com and individual schools’ websites.

 

Begin Slideshow

Carlos Strickland to Texas Tech: Red Raiders Land 4-Star WR Prospect

Carlos Strickland, one of the top pass-catchers in the country, has made Red Raiders fans very happy, but he has also broken a lot of hearts in the process by announcing that he will attend Texas Tech.

247Sports' Ryan Bartow reported the news:

Wide receiver Carlos Strickland (Dallas/Skyline) just verbally committed to Texas Tech according to Skyline assistant coach Eric Mims.

"WreckEm," Strickland said.

Strickland chose the Red Raiders over Cal, TCU and UCLA.

Playing at Dallas' Skyline High School, which also produced another elite 2015 recruit in linebacker Anthony Wheeler, Strickland has developed nicely during his time in high school. He caught just 10 passes in 2012 and jumped up to 33 catches for 719 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. 

Combine the improved performance with a 6'5", 194-pound frame with room to grow, and suddenly Strickland looks like one of the more underrated gems as a 4-star wide receiver. He ranks as the No. 15 wideout and No. 138 overall recruit in the 2015 class, per 247Sports' composite ratings.

It's no wonder, then, that Strickland was getting hounded, in a good way, by LSU to join the Tigers for 2015, according to a report from Shea Dixon of 247Sports, as well as offers from major programs like Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, among others.

The Dallas Morning News provided some analysis on Strickland and highlighted some of his biggest strengths as a prospect:

Carlos Strickland is the all-purpose big play receiver. His 21.8 yards per catch last year had him among the area's best and while he only had 33 catches, 10 were for touchdowns. He has a nose for the end zone and can be an instant game changer when he's on the field.

When you have that kind of raw ability start to actualize on the football field while playing in a talent hotbed like Texas, it's no wonder so many high-profile schools were all over Strickland during the recruiting process. 

Making Strickland even more enticing is the way he will continue to evolve. No one expects a high school star to stop growing and filling out, but we haven't seen what the Texas native is capable of doing between the lines because he has so much physical projection left. 

Football has turned into a sport of quarterbacks and quick scores, so for teams to keep up with the frenetic pace, finding wide receivers who can stretch the field is imperative. Strickland is proving capable of doing that already with more room to get better. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 


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LSU Football: Tigers' Road to Making the College Football Playoff

LSU has a chance, albeit slight, to make the College Football Playoff. 

Despite the Tigers' losses against Mississippi State and Auburn, they can still go unbeaten the rest of the way and have a shot at making the top four. But that is only if LSU gets plenty of help elsewhere.

The first set of rankings from the College Football Playoff Committee were announced Tuesday night. Three SEC teams were controversially included in the top four, all of which the Tigers have played. 

#CFBPlayoff Rankings Top 4: 1. Mississippi State 2. Florida State 3. Auburn 4. Ole Miss pic.twitter.com/nmBpfaLM6U

— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) October 28, 2014

LSU was ranked No. 19 by the committee after its upset over Ole Miss. 

The high number of one-loss teams hurt the Tigers, but that number will change in the coming weeks. Billy Liucci believes the Tigers should be ahead of Oklahoma in the standings. 

Can someone logically explain to me how 2-loss OU rates ahead of 2-loss LSU?

— Billy Liucci (@billyliucci) October 28, 2014

OU lost to #7 TCU, #9 KSU...LSU to #1 MSU, #3 Auburn. OU beat #20 WVU while LSU beat #3 Ole Miss, Wisconsin #SECbias! #kannelling

— Billy Liucci (@billyliucci) October 28, 2014

Liucci's argument is logical and sound. The Tigers are also the top-ranked two-loss team in the AP Top 25 and Amway Coaches Poll.

Nevertheless, any spot outside of the top four is meaningless. The Tigers must win to have a chance of making the College Football Playoff.  

 

Biggest Obstacles to Playoff Berth

LSU must defeat Alabama on November 8 to keep its slim playoff hopes alive. The Crimson Tide are No. 6 in the inaugural playoff rankings, so they also have work to do if they want to crack the top four. 

LSU head coach Les Miles has lost his last three games against Nick Saban's Crimson Tide. The Tigers will have a much-needed bye week to rest up after nine straight weeks of play, so they should be fresh when Alabama arrives in Baton Rouge. 

The Crimson Tide's rush defense is best in the SEC, which means LSU's hot offensive line and stable of running backs will be tested. Quarterback Anthony Jennings' struggles as a passer could be magnified against Saban's schemes.

Alabama's offense is balanced, led by Heisman hopeful receiver Amari Cooper. The Tigers defense, which has only allowed 10 points combined in their last two SEC games, must be prepared for offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin's diverse play-calling. 

LSU will play Arkansas and Texas A&M after Alabama, both of which will be on the road. The Razorbacks and Aggies are at the bottom of the SEC West standings, but beating them at their place will not be easy. 

 

Help Needed 

After LSU's triumph over Ole Miss, there could possibly be a five-way tie in the SEC West at the end of the season between the Tigers, Rebels, Alabama, Mississippi State and Auburn, per The Solid Verbal:

Verballer Benjamin writes in with this scenario, which would be NUTS: pic.twitter.com/AMlIqWJUQy

— The Solid Verbal (@SolidVerbal) October 26, 2014

LSU could also make it if the other four teams atop the SEC West collapse. Even if that were to happen, some of the one-loss teams from other conferences, such as TCU, Oregon, Michigan State and Kansas State, would have to fall as well. 

The Tigers could raise some eyebrows if they remain unbeaten the rest of the way. There is no official set of criteria for the committee, which makes this a subjective selection process.

The SEC West has proven to be the best division in the country in the minds of the committee, which means two teams from the division could make it. If the Tigers remain hot, they could be the second of two teams from the SEC West to play for it all.  

 

Prediction

LSU fans should never give up hope, as anything can happen in the wild SEC West. But the harsh reality is that the Tigers will fall short of the College Football Playoff. 

The Tigers could still finish with a respectable 10 wins, which would mark the fifth straight season Miles has reached a double-digit victory total. That would be a remarkable feat considering the Tigers' slow start. 

Sports Illustrated's Zac Ellis projects LSU returning to the Outback Bowl for a heavyweight matchup against Ohio State on New Years Day. Saturday Down South's Brad Crawford sees the Tigers there as well but playing Nebraska. National Football Post's Dave Miller believes the Tigers will play a day later in the TaxSlayer Bowl against Maryland. 

Bowl projections are an inexact science. Where LSU goes bowling will hinge heavily on the Alabama game. But whichever way that matchup plays out, the Tigers could still defeat Arkansas and Texas A&M and still make a New Year's Day bowl game. 

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by CFBStats.com, ESPN.com and LSU Sports Information. Recruiting information provided by 247Sports.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff Notebook: Don't Panic, That's Just What They Want

Have you thrown your computer through the nearest window yet? If so, that’s tremendous passion and dedication you’ve got there. If not, congratulations: you’ve made it through the very first week of the College Football Playoff era without obliterating one of your dearest electronic friends.

The 12-person College Football Playoff selection committee has spoken, revealing its first-ever Top 25 before Week 10 officially kicked off. 

Yes, if the College Football Playoff started today—and thank goodness it does not—Mississippi State would play Ole Miss in the No. 1 vs. No 4 matchup, causing the state of Mississippi to combust. The other semifinal would feature No. 2 Florida State and No. 3 Auburn, which might sound familiar if you’ve been paying attention over the past year.

This is the part, however, where we are reminded that Week 9 of this season just took place. This also seems like the time to remind you that last year at this time, when it was the computer-charged BCS tormenting our emotions, Michigan State was outside of the Top 25 and Auburn was outside of the Top 10. 

Translation? Relax.

Take a big deep breath as you mutter obscenities over your displeasure. Unless, of course, you’re one of the few puffy chested fan bases enjoying the 30-minute ego massage. If that’s the case, puff that chest out and enjoy it while you can. 

Revealing a Top 25 before we officially hit November is a decision based off financial gain. Really, it’s that simple. It’s a spectacle, an enormous network cash grab and a ingenious way to generate interest in a fresh new postseason. It will be remarkably effective in doing so, generating chaos, controversy and enormous ratings well before any of this truly matters. 

After all, we just can’t help ourselves.

The reality, however, is that we’re just getting to know one another. Jeff Long, the selection committee chairman, admitted just that following the live television announcement.

Jeff Long: “The bottom line is it's early, it's close and it's going to change.”

— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) October 28, 2014

So sit back, embrace the anarchy, and keep your eyes on the journey ahead rather the decisions being made. If you do that, your computer should stay safe, at least for one more week.

As for other observations on the initial release, here are a few items that stuck out.

 

Your Early Winners: TCU, Oregon and Ole Miss

Being deemed a “winner” at this point in the process means little, although the first ranking provides perspective on the selection committee’s thought process, at least in the infant stage of this concoction.

When it comes to TCU, even with the meltdown loss at Baylor, it’s clear the room of 12 football minds value the overall season for the Horned Frogs up until this point. And the No. 7 ranking, behind five SEC teams that will clash is significant because they’re ahead of the game, and more importantly, other teams in the Big 12.

The same could be said about Oregon, especially after losing to Arizona at home. The Ducks debuted at No. 5—the first team out of the mix—and they’re not far from moving up according to Long.

Jeff Long says gap between Ole Miss, Oregon and Alabama is “paper thin."

— George Schroeder (@GeorgeSchroeder) October 28, 2014

And finally, Ole Miss should also be encouraged. Coming directly off a loss to LSU, the Rebels managed to stay in the playoff mix. It speaks volumes to the difficulty of their schedule and path up to this point, but it also puts them in the driver’s seat with difficult games on the horizon.

 

Enjoy the SEC Dominance While it Lasts 

The transition into this next point is obvious. Although SEC fans will undoubtedly enjoy having three teams in the top four, it’s a position that won’t last long. In fact, with Auburn headed to Ole Miss this weekend, this playoff dominance might be very short lived.

That’s not to say that relative dominance is out of the equation. With Alabama directly below Oregon at No. 6 and Georgia creeping in the distance at No. 11, the scenario where two SEC teams get into the playoff is very real.

But with Alabama and Ole Miss still on Mississippi State’s schedule, Alabama-Auburn still to play, and many meaningful—and challenging—conference games still to be played over the next six weeks, this pace won’t hold up for long.

Mark your calendars: Nov. 1: AU at Ole Miss Nov. 8: Bama at LSU Nov. 15: MSU at Bama; AU at UGA Nov. 29: AU at Bama; MSU at Ole Miss.

— Tony Barnhart (@MrCFB) October 29, 2014

The SEC isn’t going away, but the landscape will shift greatly. (Still, let's hear those "S-E-C" chants anyway.)

 

There is No Such Thing as a Good Loss, Notre Dame

Perhaps the most interesting development of the Top 25 came when Notre Dame appeared on our televisions earlier than anticipated. The Irish, coming off a close, controversial loss at Florida State, checked at No. 10, which was further down the list than many thought they’d be.

What became clear, even in this limited sample size, is that the committee values quality wins over quality losses. That might seem like an obvious point to establish, although we learned more about Notre Dame in Tallahassee than we did in any prior game this year. 

When it comes down to it, Brian Kelly’s best win, as it stands, came against a three-loss Stanford team. Outside of this South Bend victory, the resume isn't exactly jaw-dropping. As a result, Notre Dame was punished out of the gate. 

With games at Arizona State, at USC and against Louisville still looming, however, there is still ample time to make an impression. This initial release was a setback, but there’s still so much resume left to create.

 

No Love for Marshall

On the topic of schedules, no absence from the Top 25 was more noticeable than Marshall’s. The Thundering Herd enter Week 10 undefeated and No. 23 in the AP Poll. The weak path up until this point, however, was clearly penalized by the committee.

While an undefeated Marshall team won’t sniff the College Football Playoff, this early reveal is significant. One non-Power Five team will be chosen to play in one of the “major” bowl games.

East Carolina would appear to have the upper hand right now, debuting at No. 23 despite losing early at South Carolina. The Pirates still have losable games, which could change this picture entirely.

Marshall’s schedule doesn’t exactly beef up, although the evaluation on this team will remain a work in progress. If Doc Holliday’s team continues to blowout inferior opponents, the committee will eventually take note. As a result, expect these scores and quarterback Rakeem Cato’s stats to reflect such efforts moving forward.

Basically, if you're playing Marshall, take cover.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Post-Week 9 College Football Playoff Projections from Analytics Guru, Ed Feng

After ESPN aired the release of the inaugural College Football Playoff poll on Tuesday, the question on everybody's minds was: What will the rankings look like when they matter on Dec. 7?

My algorithm projects just that.  Allow me to explain my rankings...


Why is Oregon No. 1?

While Oregon finds itself in the dreaded No. 5 position in the first committee rankings, our calculations give the Ducks the best odds to finish in the top four. 

In their remaining regular-season games, their lowest win probability is 68.2 percent against Stanford in Eugene this Saturday. The numbers would also heavily favor Oregon against any Pac-12 South opponent in the conference championship game. Oregon also features the top-ranked offense in the nation by yards per play adjusted for strength of schedule.


Mississippi State is No. 8? You must be kidding.

Quarterback Dak Prescott and Mississippi State have had a dream season. They have earned the committee's top spot with their unblemished record in the SEC West.  

However, according to my projections, the Bulldogs won't stay there for long; Mississippi State will likely finish the year with two losses and watch the playoff from home.

The losses will come Nov. 15 when it travels to Alabama (27 percent win probability) and Nov. 29 when it visits Mississippi (40 percent win probability). Overall, Mississippi State has a 22 percent chance to make the playoff, eighth best in our calculation.


No love for Florida State

Florida State has slipped significantly from last year's juggernaut. The Seminoles had to rally from a 17-point deficit to beat North Carolina State, went to overtime with Clemson and needed a late goal-line stand to defeat Notre Dame. Florida State is 20th in The Power Rank, a computer ranking that adjusts margin of victory for strength of schedule.

This hurts FSU in my algorithm. 

The main culprit in Florida State's decline is the defense. After two years as a top-five unit, Florida State has dropped to 60th in yards per play adjusted for strength of schedule. The gambling markets know this, as the Seminoles went from an 8.5- to a four-point favorite at Louisville on Thursday, per Odds Shark.

If it survives that game, Florida State should expect an even tougher test at Miami (37 percent win probability).


The curious case of the Big 12

The committee seems down on the Big 12, with TCU the conference's highest-ranked team at No. 7. However, the numbers suggest these teams will rise before Dec. 7.

TCU faces its toughest remaining competition at West Virginia (45 percent) and against Kansas State (61 percent) in its next two games.

If they win these games, the Horned Frogs should have a very good chance to finish in the top four, with Kansas, Texas and Iowa State ahead on the schedule and no championship game. 

Oklahoma resides in committee purgatory at No. 18  in the first rankings. However, the numbers give the Sooners a 65 percent win probability in their toughest remaining game, a home tilt against Baylor. Oklahoma, like TCU, also has the luxury of playing Kansas and Iowa State late in the season.  

Oklahoma may not make the playoff, but it will rise as other contenders fall. 


What to make of the Irish

The committee probably bickered the most over Notre Dame. On one hand, its only loss came in a close affair against Florida State. On the other, analytics despises the Fighting Irish. They have an average margin of victory of 14.3, only 23rd-best in the nation. After adjustments for schedule, computer rankings such as The Power Rank (27th) and Sagarin (14th) don't consider them a top 10 team.

The committee settled on No. 10 for Notre Dame, which seems like a fair balance between wins and analytics.

The simulation only gives the Fighting Irish the 14th-best odds to make the playoff (5.5 percent), as they face tough games at Arizona State (36.4 percent win probability) and against Louisville (54.5 percent win probability).


Ed Feng founded The Power Rank and has also written for Grantland and Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter @thepowerrank.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: How Can Tide Overcome Former 5-Star Cam Robinson's Injury?

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama will likely be without its top offensive lineman when it travels to Baton Rouge to face LSU and possibly even longer.

Nick Saban on Tuesday announced that freshman left tackle Cam Robinson, who has started every game there this season, "is probably going to be out for at least two weeks" with "a high ankle sprain."

The former 5-star from West Monroe, Louisiana, likely won’t get a chance to go home to face the team that almost got his signature.

It’s a huge blow to an Alabama offensive line that was really starting to hit its stride, especially in a big road game that will have massive College Football Playoff implications.

Robinson had been a starter from day one, even in fall camp. After enrolling early in the spring, Saban noted several times how game-ready he was and how much improvement he had made.

Once the season started, people saw just what he meant.

On an offensive line that had often lacked that grit and tenacity that previous lines before it had so much of, Robinson was a mauler in run blocking and rock solid in pass protection.

In the Florida game, when Alabama needed to run the ball, it buckled down and did so almost exclusively to the left side. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Robinson has been Alabama’s best offensive lineman so far this season.

So where does Alabama go from here? What can the Crimson Tide do to make sure their playoff hopes aren’t ruined by a key piece of its offensive line?

Saban and offensive line coach Mario Cristobal have a couple of choices personnel-wise.

In an on-the-fly move when Robinson went down during Alabama’s game against Tennessee on Saturday, the Crimson Tide pulled a double switch. Right guard Leon Brown moved to left tackle, while Bradley Bozeman, who had started two games at center in Ryan Kelly’s absence, came in at right guard.

Brown was actually recruited as a tackle and had played there before. This year, he filled a need at guard, which is where he’s played up until that Tennessee game.

The other option would be to move right tackle Austin Shepherd to the left side and bring in Grant Hill, a former 4-star, on the right side. Hill has gotten a lot of playing time in mop-up duty on that right side and is one of the Crimson Tide’s promising youngsters up front.

That's how Alabama lined up during the media viewing period of Tuesday's practice. And it sounds like that’s the plan Saban hopes comes to fruition.

“If it works out, those two guys could be the tackles,” he said. “Whichever one plays right and whichever one plays left would be one option, and leave Leon where he is, or move Leon and play somebody else at guard.

“But I really do think that Grant Hill played pretty well when he's had to play this year so far, is a guy that we'll give an opportunity to at least in practice and see how he does. If it works out, those two guys will be the tackles.”

Shepherd said this kind of situation was expected.

“I just think it’s time for someone to step up,” he said. “It happens every year, people get hurt, someone has to step up.”

Alabama certainly has options of what it could do here. It has a stockpile of offensive line talent from which to choose replacements or do additional shuffling among the starters.

Whatever happens, the Crimson Tide will begin a critical stretch of the season without one of their best players.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All stats come from cfbstats.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Did CFP Committee Screw the Alabama Crimson Tide by Leaving Them out of Top 4?

The College Football Playoff selection committee came out with their first ever Top 25 ranking. The Alabama Crimson Tide were left out of the playoff picture, leaving many to question if they should be in one of the top four spots.

Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee break down if Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide deserve to be in the playoffs.

Do you think Alabama deserves to be in the CFB Playoffs?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

BCS vs. College Football Committee Rankings Comparison

The College Football Playoff selection committee unveiled its first rankings Tuesday night, and they are, in fact, spot-on.

Based on these rankings, we can easily deduce that strength of schedule is of paramount importance to the committee, and head-to-head results are fastidiously considered. Their rankings are more logical and consistent than the two polls, particularly the Amway Coaches Poll, which should now be thoroughly discredited.

The CFP rankings also vary slightly from what the BCS standings would've looked like. The reason for that is rather obvious: the influence of the polls. In the BCS standings used from 2004-2013, the polls accounted for two-thirds of rankings. That element has been completely suppressed as the committee's list bears much more of a resemblance to computer rankings.

Here are the committee's Top 25 teams, as compared to a facsimile of the old BCS standings, our CFP mock standings and the two major polls:

 

Explanations of Rankings

BCS rankings are a simulation of the BCS formula used from 2004-2013 with two exceptions: 1. The AP poll is used in place of the Harris Poll; 2) Sagarin and Massey rankings are their native systems instead of the non-MOV version used for the BCS.

CFP mock rankings are published weekly at Bleacher Report, with components including polls, computers, strength of schedule and conference championships. The full rankings are here.

 

A few highlights, thoughts from committee's first rankings

Committee's rankings don't behave like polls 

That is a good thing—a very good thing. The biggest problem with the BCS in its latter years was that the polls were weighted disproportionately. One of the major beneficiaries of this has been Alabama, which always seems to get more support in the polls than it deserves. The Tide, ranked No. 3 in both polls as well as the would-be BCS standings, are much more accurately placed by the committee at No. 6.

 

Strength of schedule matters, a lot

The Big Ten is being punished as a weak conference, as Michigan State might not be able to play its way into the playoff even if it wins out. Ohio State, at No. 16, virtually has no chance. The committee also is making an example out of Baylor, which is several spots behind its Big 12 rivals with identical records, because of its pathetic nonconference slate.

 

Where's Marshall?

The only team that's in the Top 25 in both polls and would-be BCS standings but omitted by the committee is Marshall, the only other undefeated team besides Mississippi State and Florida State in its rankings. The Thundering Herd have won their eight games by an average of nearly 30 points, but their weak schedule clearly has been a huge detriment.

As of now, East Carolina is the only team from the group-of-five conferences in the rankings.

 

The tournament starts now

Don't be fooled by the bracket that's being put out on TV (and everywhere else). Though there are four SEC West teams in the Top Six, there are four guaranteed losses among those teams as they still have to face each other multiple times. Essentially, eight of the top nine teams—except Michigan State—have a chance to play their way into the playoff, which leaves us with the one real surprise...

 

No luck of the Irish

Despite three members with ties to the school (and are not covered under the recusal policy)—Condoleezza Rice, Ty Willingham and Pat Haden—Notre Dame did not get much love from the committee.

At No. 10, the Irish need some help to get into the playoff field even if they finish 11-1. It's a clear indication that the committee isn't fond of horseshoes or hand grenades: Notre Dame's close loss at Florida State doesn't count for much.

 

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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Florida State Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for the Month of November

No. 2 Florida State caps off the month of October Thursday night at Louisville, and a victory on the road over the Cardinals would be the ideal way for the Seminoles to kick off the final month of the regular season.

November is more than favorable for an FSU team with hopes of hanging on to its undefeated record. Three of the Seminoles’ four games are at home, and the lone road contest is against a Miami team they have defeated in seven of the last nine meetings.

Needless to say, Thursday’s game at Louisville very well could be FSU’s final test before postseason action begins. 

Here are the game-by-game predictions for the month of November.

Begin Slideshow

Do the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Deserve to Be in the Top 4?

The College Football Playoff Committee came out with its first Top 25 ranking Tuesday, and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish were left out of the playoff picture by a wide margin.

Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee break down whether head coach Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish deserve to be in one of the top four spots.

Do you think Notre Dame deserves to be in the CFP?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Hits and Misses of the College Football Playoff Committee's 1st Top 25 Poll

The College Football Playoff selection committee came out with its first Top 25 ranking Tuesday, and much like with the previous system, there's bound to be debate.

Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee break down the hits and misses from the debut committee poll.

Which schools do you think deserved to be in the CFP?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff Rankings 2014: Twitter Reacts to Week 10 Reveal

The first rankings for the 2014 College Football Playoff were released Tuesday night. With how much controversy the BCS standings have generated in the past, it was going to be fascinating to see what the new system's 12-person selection committee produced.      

Here is a look at the hierarchy in the eyes of those who will judge the four postseason participants worthy of battling for the national championship:

To the surprise of very few, Mississippi State reigns supreme as the No. 1 team, a status the Bulldogs hold in both the Associated Press and USA Today polls. The reigning national champion Florida State Seminoles, the only marquee program with an undefeated record, rightly sits No. 2.

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports weighed in on the grueling process the committee underwent to determine its top 25 teams:

Now, let's get on to some of the reaction from Tuesday's rankings.

The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre was right in line with the selection committee's top four:

Critics may say that SEC bias played a factor, in light of this observation from ESPN Stats & Info:

ESPN's Max Bretos hinted at that phenomenon:

NOLA.com's Jeff Duncan captured a unique illustration of college football's current powerhouses:

Former Alabama quarterback and current SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy presented his perspective:

Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus offered his take:

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee was a bit surprised by Notre Dame's modest ranking of 10th:

Fox Sports' Joel Klatt felt the Fighting Irish and Alabama were in their proper slots:

With the amount of SEC flavor that occupied the top of the rankings, the Pac-12 Conference noticed its representatives were held in high esteem:

Before the unveiling, Alabama head coach Nick Saban didn't feel the unveiling bore much significance, via The Tuscaloosa News' Aaron Suttles:

And Saban may have a point in that there is so much more football to be played before anything definitive is decided in terms of the playoff picture.

That holds true for the Crimson Tide, as SportsNation suggested:

Alabama might be disappointed to be in sixth in light of its third-place standing in the two other major polls, whether Saban and his team acknowledges it or not.

Mississippi State still has to face the likes of both Alabama and Ole Miss on the road in two of its final three games, so the Bulldogs are far from a lock to remain at the top. A foundation of confidence has been groomed with wins over LSU and Auburn already, though.

The SEC appears to be both top-heavy and deep as the nation's best football conference yet again. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the national champion emerge from that formidable group.

However, the fact that all these big-time programs beat each other up amid heated competition could lead to a different school seizing ultimate glory. The following quote from ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit is fitting:

Non-SEC squads still in the mix, other than the obvious Seminoles, are Oregon and Notre Dame. They have playmaking, dual-threat QBs in Marcus Mariota and Everett Golson respectively to give them a puncher's chance at the playoffs.

So many one-loss teams are jockeying for position, though, so it's nearly impossible to determine what will happen from here. Whether the College Football Playoff is considered an improvement over the BCS is also yet to be seen.

With the inaugural release of these rankings, at least the road to crowning a champion is becoming clearer.

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4-Star WR Brandon Burton ​Compares Star​ QBs Ricky Town and Josh Rosen

Brandon Burton is still in the midst of his junior high school season, but the Southern California wide receiver already has experience competing alongside and against some of the country's premier players. Those opportunities helped him become a valued member of the 2016 recruiting class.

"I'm grateful to be in this position," Burton said. "I've been putting in the work, while others have been there to challenge me and force me to become better."

The 6'0", 180-pound playmaker previously encountered a pair of pressure-packed situations any pass-hungry receiver would cherish while competing in the competitive seven-on-seven scene. Burton served as a receiver for 5-star quarterbacks Josh Rosen and Ricky Town.

The celebrated prospects are considered top-tier talents in an impressive 2015 quarterback class and could drastically impact the future Pac-12 football landscape.

Rosen, a defending state champion at St. John Bosco High School, is committed to UCLA. Town, a former Alabama pledge who plays for St. Bonaventure High School, flipped to USC in January. 

Burton, rated ninth nationally among 2016 receivers in 247Sports' composite rankings, holds offers from each Los Angeles program and could potentially reunite with either player at the next level. He spent time with Rosen and Town during different phases of his seven-on-seven ventures and speaks highly of both blue-chippers.

“They’re great leaders and bring an extreme amount of talent to the field," Burton said. "You can't question their arm strength or ability to put the ball where it needs to be. They can both throw receivers open, which is pretty rare at this level."

Though he offered up praise for their physical tools, Burton believes sharp mentalities set the Elite 11 finalists apart.

"They step into a huddle and know exactly what they’re doing. That definitely makes an impact on everyone else," he said. "Once they get up to the line, both can identify whatever the defense is showing and make pre-snap adjustments."

Burton expects Town and Rosen to battle for conference titles in college.

“Right now the USC and UCLA rivalry is already really good, but it’s going to continue to grow because of the coaching staffs at both schools and the kind of players they're bringing in," he said. "I think the quarterbacks could take it to another level in the next few years with Josh Rosen and Ricky Town.”

Burton, who doubles as a defensive back, could become a part of the crosstown clash in coming years if he chooses to sign with either squad. His high school, Junipero Serra, is located in Los Angeles County and has served as a valuable Trojans recruiting pipeline.

Rising NFL receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee starred there before beginning sensational USC careers. Trojans freshman Adoree' Jackson, a 5-star 2014 signee, also hails from Junipero Serra. 

The three-way player has made an immediate impact. He has a touchdown reception and 21 tackles this season, adding a 100-yard kickoff return score last weekend against Utah. 

Jackson, who was the top-ranked cornerback in 247Sports' 2014 composite rankings, made sure Burton brought his best to every practice as an underclassman.

“Adoree’ always had us ready to go," he said. "Who wouldn’t want to compete against the best? That’s exactly what he was—a top-five player in the nation who forced you to get better. I definitely give him some credit for helping me get to where I am now."

So does Burton see himself following the footsteps of past Junipero Serra greats to the Coliseum? 

”It’s a great pipeline and I’m proud to have the option of continuing it," he said. "But right now I’m open to going anywhere in the country. I’m excited about some of the offers I recently received.”

Stanford is one that really stands out. The Cardinal extended a scholarship offer in early October and Burton immediately reciprocated interest.

“It’s a great football program and a great education up there," Burton said. "Stanford offers the best of both worlds and that’s a big deal to me.”

He plans to visit Palo Alto for a game in the coming weeks to get a better feel for what Stanford brings to the table. Burton's other Pac-12 offers include Arizona State, Cal, Colorado and Utah.

Given his willingness to explore options beyond the West Coast, offers from Miami, Florida and Florida State also warrant attention. Burton would like to establish relationships with more SEC programs as things progress, specifically identifying Ole Miss, LSU, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Tennessee as potential fits.

Expect more doors to swing open before long. The next star Junipero Serra recruit has arrived.

“It’s great to be a part of that history," Burton said. "It was a big reason why I decided to attend this high school. It's produced top college prospects for a while and now you’re starting to see them make an impact in the NFL. I'm just trying to live up to what they've done."

 

Recruit quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise note.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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College Football Playoff 2014: Official Selection Committee Rankings for Week 10

As the release of the inaugural College Football Playoff poll was drawing near, speculation about the sport's hierarchy reached a fever pitch. How closely would the 12-person committee's Top 25 resemble the standard-bearing Associated Press and Coaches polls? Would there be a state of inertia that seemingly renders the whole thing moot or would the new voters radicalize the tried and true beyond our comfort?

Tuesday night, the committee unveiled a happy medium.   

As expected, Mississippi State retains across-the-board control of its own destiny by earning the top spot in the poll released during an ESPN special. Dan Mullen's Bulldogs are followed by Florida State, the only other remaining Power Five unbeaten. Immediately following the locks at the top are Auburn and Ole Miss, an interesting deviation from the other polls:

The 12-person selection committee is comprised of an eclectic group of college football experts and surprises. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is the most notable among a group of current athletic directors, former media members and former coaches. Famous football father Oliver Luck, who also serves at the West Virginia athletic director, is also on the committee. 

The group gathered to put their inaugural rankings together Monday at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine, Texas. The lengthy meeting was said to involve multiple votes as the members established their criteria and made their case.

"This is a truly historic day in college football," executive director Bill Hancock said, per Heather Dinich of ESPN.com. "Twenty years from now we will all look back and say we were here on the first meeting of the selection committee. When we took the first vote today, we looked at each other and said we have just taken the first vote in the history of the college football playoff. It was really, really a cool thing."

While only the top four teams matter in the end—all other remaining bowl games are determined by conference affiliation—the committee decided on a Top 25 for the sake of consistency. Conference championships, schedule strength, head-to-head record and common opponents are chief among the criteria used.

It's no surprise, then, that Mississippi State was a no-brainer lock for the No. 1 spot. Led by Heisman contender Dak Prescott, the Bulldogs have reeled off seven straight wins to start the season, three of which came against Top 10 opponents. LSU and (especially) Texas A&M have been outed as being a bit overrated in hindsight, but Mullen's offense is anything but.

Prescott, garnering numerous Tim Tebow comparisons along the way, has compiled 25 total touchdowns (15 passing, 10 rushing) while emerging as perhaps the best player in college football. The junior signal-caller at times struggles with accuracy in the pocket but has come through with massive performances in the season's biggest games.

The second-ranked Seminoles have their own star quarterback in reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston, whose 2014 ebbs and flows have been followed by his team. Florida State is nowhere near as dominant as 2013. After not allowing a team to come closer than two touchdowns last regular season, the Noles have battled through three one-possession games.

Two weeks ago against Notre Dame, Florida State came within a controversial offensive pass interference call of its first loss of the Winston era. If they manage to get past a trip to Louisville Thursday night, Jimbo Fisher and Co. look like a near-lock for the CFP. The defending champs don't have a ranked team remaining on their schedule and have only one road game after their tilt with the Cardinals.

"We don't have anything to prove to anybody," Winston told reporters. "We've just got to keep playing and hopefully things will go our way. But one thing we are consistently proving is that we are winners."

When the College Football Playoff was announced, it looked like a potential Nick Saban playground. Saban's Alabama teams have gone undefeated or had one loss in the regular season four of the last five years, and the Crimson Tide come into each campaign with enough preseason hype to make their one-loss outfit a playoff lock. 

Alabama's loss to Ole Miss coupled with a weak schedule so far seemingly closed the expectations gap. Despite losing last week to LSU, the Rebels snuck in with the final playoff spot—likely boosted in a large way by their win over the Tide. In fact, Saban's team will also have to leapfrog one-loss Oregon to get into the championship game.

Luckily, schedule strength should play in the Tide's favor going forward. Idle this Saturday, Alabama closes out its regular-season slate with games against LSU, Mississippi State, Western Carolina and Auburn. Oregon's only comparable game comes when it visits Utah on Nov. 8. 

Perhaps the most interesting ranking outside the Power Five purview was the best team not ranked at all: undefeated Marshall. The Thundering Herd, helmed by stealth Heisman candidate Rakeem Cato, have reeled off eight double-digit wins. Cato and punishing running back Devon Johnson are one of the better one-two punches never mentioned on national programs, which is largely a product of Marshall's residence in the dreadful Conference USA.

No other Conference USA outfit is even within arm's reach of the Top 25. The two best teams other than Marshall (Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee) have matching 5-3 records. Eight of the conference's 13 teams are .500 or below.

Needless to say the Herd aren't getting any points in the strength of schedule criteria. They've failed to make much of an impact in the other major polls, and the selection committee is keeping them at arm's length from the playoff conversation.

“I’m kind of anxious to see how it turns out,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday told reporters. “At this point, you need to worry about where you are five weeks down the road. That’s when it counts. Somebody Auburn, about this time a year ago was 24th in America and ended up playing for the national championship. They say remember what you do in November. That’s kind of when it counts, and at the end of the day you look up and see where you are.”

Of course, Auburn had the benefit of playing top-ranked Alabama. Marshall gets the likes of Southern Miss, Rice and UAB. Not exactly a Sabanesque challenge.

If more Power Fives start falling by the wayside as the Herd stay undefeated, it'll be awfully interesting to see how the selection committee susses out its priorities. Tuesday night made it quite clear they have their work cut out. 

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

 

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College Football Playoff 2014: Final Four Predictions After 1st Rankings

The first College Football Playoff committee poll has been released, and the controversy officially begins.

Sure, everyone expected the likes of Mississippi State and Florida State in the top two. But how the rest of the top programs fell after that was anyone's guess.   

Ultimately, the committee decided that the top four teams currently are Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn and Ole Miss. The shocker was clearly the final team as Ole Miss lost over the weekend to LSU.

Needless to say, head-to-head matters for the committee with Ole Miss defeating Alabama and remaining in the playoff picture. Of course, this is all fluid and quite a bit will change between now and the final rankings.

That may be the way they stand now, but the poll will be constantly changing just like any other rankings system. Following the first official poll release by the committee, here's a full look at the latest College Football Playoff predictions.   

 

 

No. 1: Florida State

When it comes to teams that have a shot at remaining undefeated, Florida State has a much better outlook than Mississippi State. Sorry Marshall, but even remaining unscathed likely won't lead to a bid in the playoff this season.  

The Seminoles are nowhere near the same team they were a year ago, but they have already survived the toughest part of the schedule. An early victory over Oklahoma State and recent win against Notre Dame means the Noles are nearly a lock for the playoff.

In fact, Brad Edwards of ESPN.com (subscription required) notes Florida State only has two relatively difficult games on the schedule:

The FPI gives Miami the best chance to upset FSU (on Nov. 15), but if you believe that the formula for beating the Seminoles is a stout defense and a difference-making crowd, then this Thursday's game at Louisville could be all that realistically stands between Florida State and a spot in the playoff. Either way, the amount of resistance on FSU's path to an unbeaten regular season is far less than what fellow unbeaten Mississippi State faces

Louisville this Thursday night might present a difficult test, but FSU's defense should have no problem shutting down the Cardinals. Then there's the Miami rivalry, which now looks slightly more intriguing with the Hurricanes suddenly surging.

The Canes haven't lost all season at home, but then again, they haven't had any stiff competition. Wins against Cincinnati and Duke look good, but they are nowhere near the caliber of Florida State.

If Jimbo Fisher can keep the team on track and Jameis Winston remains under center, this program is the most likely to make the field. Likely the only undefeated team at the top remaining, FSU will go in as the No. 1 seed as well.

 

No. 2: Alabama

Just when some were doubting Nick Saban and Alabama's dominance, the Crimson Tide are rolling again.

Currently, the Tide should be placed behind undefeated Mississippi State, but they have a chance to take them down at home on Nov. 15. Saban spoke about what it takes to remain one of the top teams in the country, per Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com:

Consistency in performance is what’s going to be key to being successful down the road. That’s something that all of our players need to understand, and I do think they understand that. We have to be able to play Alabama football on a more consistent basis. That’s something that everybody’s got to be committed to.

Recent blowout wins for the Tide have seen them defeat SEC opponents by a combined total of 73 points. Heading into Baton Rouge against LSU, Bama simply needs a win before heading home for the rest of the season.

The Tigers may have knocked off Ole Miss, but Saban's program appears ready and rolling to take them down after the bye. Not only can Bama eventually win the SEC, but it should also get a chance at a top-two seed heading into the first College Football Playoff with wins against Mississippi State and Auburn

 

No. 3: Oregon

Much like Florida State, Oregon heads into Week 10 of the college football season with confidence. The Ducks aren't undefeated due to a loss to Arizona, but they have just one ranked team remaining on the schedule and a chance to secure a bid to the playoff.

That ranked team is Utah, who lost a home game earlier this season to Washington State. The Cougars are currently 2-6 with one win in the Pac-12, and Connor Halliday certainly isn't Marcus Mariota.

The Ducks' junior quarterback has been phenomenal this season, passing for 24 touchdowns and just one interception in the last game against California. His potent offense has mowed over nearly every team this season thanks his consistency, as ESPN Stats & Info points out:

Oregon's train might have hit a small speed bump against the Wildcats, but it doesn't appear to be slowing anytime soon. Equipped with a Heisman contender and playmakers all over the field, look for the Ducks to be one of the final teams in the final four.

 

No. 4: Mississippi State

The second SEC team is none other than Mississippi State—a surprising program that has already made a huge statement with a 7-0 record but still has a long road to make the playoff.

Wins over former Top 10 teams like LSU and Texas A&M put the Bulldogs on the map, but the 15-point dismantling of Auburn was the eye opener. Much of that success is thanks in large part to Heisman hopeful Dak Prescott.

Getting the job done with his arm and legs, Prescott has already amassed 25 total touchdowns compared to just five turnovers during the streak. He's also keeping up with former prolific SEC quarterbacks, as ESPN College Football points out:

The next true test for the Bulldogs awaits them on Nov. 15 in Tuscaloosa. Facing a motivated and surging Alabama team, MSU will need to pull out everything to remain undefeated against the Tide.

Even if Prescott can't lead them over Bama, the Bulldogs still have the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss to redeem themselves. Do that and come away with only one loss in the SEC West, and this team will give FSU a true test for a chance at a national title.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

BYU vs. Middle Tennessee Complete Game Preview

Buried in a four-game losing streak, BYU travels to Middle Tennessee on Saturday. The two teams played last season in Provo, and the Cougars won, 37-10.

Wins have been hard to come by lately for BYU. Despite winning their first four games, the Cougs evened their record at 4-4 after a blowout loss at Boise State. Middle Tennessee, on the other hand, beat UAB last weekend to improve its record to 5-3.

With BYU struggling and MTSU on the rise, it will surely be a good game. Here is a complete preview.

Date: Saturday, November 1

Time: 3:30 p.m. ET

Place: Floyd Stadium, Murfreesboro, TN

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM)

Spread: BYU, -3.5 (via OddsShark.com)

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