NCAA Football News

Michigan Football: 5 Wolverines Players Who Must Improve Down the Stretch

The Michigan football team has a bit of renewed hope for the final month of the 2015 season, but a few Wolverines need to improve down the stretch.

A few players put together outstanding starts in September but have since trailed off. Michigan needs them to reclaim that early effectiveness.

Meanwhile, some Wolverines must keep working to prepare for a pivotal matchup to end the regular season.

Michigan isn't a perfect team, but improvement from the following five players will help the Wolverines finish strong—maybe even with three straight wins.

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Bowl Predictions 2015: CFP Projections for Top Teams at Season's End

The latest College Football Playoff rankings have been released, mostly recapping what has happened to this point. While this has created plenty of debate, the real question is: What will happen going forward?

Big 12 fans have been upset to see none of their teams in the Top Five, although one squad could easily play itself into the conversation by winning out. Iowa made a big jump to No. 5, but winning the Big Ten could be a challenge.

There are a lot of factors still to be decided that will make a major impact on the final rankings on Dec. 6. With that in mind, here is a look at the Week 10 rankings, followed by a breakdown of predictions for the Top Four at the end of the year.

 

Predicted Finish

1. Alabama

The playoff committee already showed it doesn't care much about Alabama's loss to Ole Miss earlier in the year, and by season's end, the squad should have the best wins in the country.

Road games against Mississippi State and Auburn to end the season are tough but winnable, as well as a potential SEC Championship Game matchup against Florida. If the Crimson Tide make it out of this stretch with just the one loss and an SEC title, they would have a strong argument as the best team in the nation.

According to Team Rankings, Alabama is tied with Tennessee for the toughest schedule in the nation, and the squad will have made it through with just a reasonable defeat in a wild game.

Meanwhile, it's important not to overlook the fact that this team is also really good. The Tide handily defeated LSU, which was previously No. 2 in the rankings. Leonard Fournette was a favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and couldn't do anything, yet Pro Football Focus noted it wasn't even his fault:

The defense is back to the standard Nick Saban has set in recent years, while Derrick Henry has been a monster running the ball. No one should stand in this team's way of making the playoffs.

 

2. Clemson

If you had to place a bet for one team to make the playoffs, Clemson would probably be the smartest pick. The current No. 1 squad has already proven it can beat good teams with wins over Notre Dame and Florida State, and the remaining schedule is a cakewalk. 

The final three games of the regular season come against Wake Forest, Syracuse and South Carolina, none of them currently having more than three wins. Even the ACC Championship Game shouldn't be much trouble for the Tigers.

ESPN's Football Power Index gives Clemson a 54.1 percent chance of winning out, the best among all contenders. FiveThirtyEight also believes this team is the most likely to reach the playoffs:

Although the strength of schedule is certain to drop in coming weeks, the Tigers should be able to take care of business and stay in the Top Four.

 

3. Ohio State

Based on the qualifications the CFP committee provided, Ohio State shouldn't really be in the Top Four at the moment. The squad has no good wins and has struggled against some of its weaker competition.

Committee chairman Jeff Long explained his reasoning for the No. 3 slot:

This shouldn't justify its positioning at Week 10, but it is a big reason why the Buckeyes should be there at the end of the season. Winning last year's national championship was not an accident, and many of the key players have returned for more.

With an improved defense over the past few weeks and the quarterback situation hopefully sorted out, Ohio State has the talent to go on another run and show why it was named preseason No. 1.

The end of the season features some tough games at home against Michigan State and at Michigan, but the Buckeyes should be able to pull out wins, boosting their strength of schedule in the process.

This will leave a Big Ten Championship Game matchup against Iowa, which could end up being a play-in for a spot in the national semifinals. Although the Hawkeyes have a legitimate right to be in the CFP conversation, Ohio State should pull out a close win to seal a spot in the playoffs.

 

4. Stanford

Notre Dame jumped into the Top Four, while Iowa and Oklahoma State each received a big boost from the initial rankings to the second set, but no team had a more important jump than Stanford. The Cardinal went from No. 11 to No. 7, putting them in great position for a stretch run.

While it is tough to imagine a blowout win over Colorado really did that much to convince the committee, Long explained there was a deeper look at the team's loss, per Dan Wolken of USA Today:

The 16-6 loss to Northwestern was certainly a disappointing one, but it was the first game of the season, and the Wildcats ended up playing well following that win, posting a 7-2 record (compared to Alabama's loss to currently 7-3 Ole Miss).

Most importantly, Stanford's latest win over Colorado was the last true road game of the season. The squad has home matchups against Oregon and California before hosting Notre Dame in what should be an extremely important battle. With the way the Cardinal can run the ball, they should be able to pull out a win at home.

Add in a potential win over Utah in the Pac-12 title game, and Stanford should have a legitimate case for the playoffs.

As for the Big 12, one of the problems that could occur is if the teams beat each other, which is possible. TCU hosts Baylor in the last game of the year with revenge on its mind. Oklahoma State will have to go through both Baylor and Oklahoma, a difficult task even at home.

An undefeated winner in this conference will likely get a spot in the playoffs, but all ending up with at least one loss appears more likely.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for year-round sports analysis.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What It Was Like to Witness Change on the University of Missouri Campus

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Mornings are usually pretty quiet on Carnahan Quad, the open field separating the Missouri School of Law and the Trulaske College of Business. Monday morning, the tiger statue at the south end of the quad watched as a crowd of hundreds roared. They wanted action, and answers.

Saturday, players on the Mizzou football team announced via Twitter that they were standing in solidarity with graduate student Jonathan Butler and his hunger strike against UM System President Tim Wolfe. The team would not be participating in any football-related activities until Butler was able to eat again.

Sunday, head coach Gary Pinkel tweeted his support. There would be no more practices for his Tigers. The noise—on the quad and throughout campus—got louder and louder.

It was the most tension-filled moment on a campus where tensions have been steadily rising for weeks.

On October 5, the Legion of Black Collegians was rehearsing for a homecoming celebration when a man talking loudly on his phone approached the members and was politely asked to leave. As he was leaving, the group said, he used a racial slur. The group released a letter via its Twitter account, detailing the events and calling for action from the University of Missouri.

On October 21, Concerned Student 1950—named after the year the first African American student was admitted to the University of Missouri—released a list of eight demands for change, per Ruth Serven of the Missourian. Among those demands was a call for a change in the school administration, specifically requesting Wolfe's resignation over feelings of insufficient action on issues of racial equality.

The conflict between MU and Concerned Student 1950 finally reached its apex Monday morning. Shortly before 10 a.m., I was walking along the quad, where members of Concerned Student 1950 had set up their camp. It looked like there were at least 500 students there, chanting, cheering and calling for answers.

Then, all of a sudden, came the announcement that Wolfe was resigning.

Cheers erupted from the crowd that had gathered steadily throughout the morning. I watched as the 11 original leaders of Concerned Student 1950, who were at the center of it all, immediately broke down in tears, entered into prayer and joined together to sing hymns.

Among those 11 original leaders was Butler, the grad student whose hunger strike grabbed national headlines. One week into his hunger strike, he needed people on either side of him to help him stand. He raised his right fist up in the air and mouthed "thank you" to the members of the crowd.

That moment was roaring with emotion. What they had been fighting for had happened. They got their answer.

A feeling of relief seemed to overcome the crowd. They hugged one another and wiped away each other's tears—tears of joy.

Then a chant broke out: "I believe that we will win. I believe that we will win."

Students flocked to the quad from every direction, joining their fellow classmates arm in arm to support the change that is occurring on this campus. It wasn't just African-American students. It was white students, African-American faculty, white faculty, Latinos, Asians.

Current and former Mizzou football players, including Michael Sam, came to join in the celebration on the quad.

Student leaders ran around inside the circle of students who had linked arms around them, singing and dancing.

This was the moment the campus came together in support of the quest for change largely inspired by Butler, Concerned Student 1950 and the players on the Mizzou football team.

MU had been pushing this idea of "One Mizzou" since it mobilized to help victims of the Joplin tornado in 2011. Monday, it felt like it really was one Mizzou in Columbia.  

But the reality is Wolfe's resignation is only one step in the march toward change.  

There is much more work to be done.

Jason Boatright is a junior at the University of Missouri, majoring in convergence journalism and minoring in political science.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ref Stops Game, Says Central Michigan Band and Cheerleaders Are Being Too Loud

So this is a new one, or at least a new one for me.

An official working Tuesday night's MACtion tilt between Toledo and Central Michigan did a curious thing when he stopped the game briefly for a little chat with members of the crowd—specifically, the Chippewas band and cheerleaders.

Barstool Sports' Dan Katz posted a Vine of the stoppage:




Apparently, the students who spend most of their college life perfecting the art of organized hubbub...were making too much hubbub.

Toledo would go on to win 28-23, presumably because Central Michigan's coaches were asked to use smoke signals to relay play calls.

I don't know about this one, guys. If I were a person in charge of football stuff, I'd think long and hard before asking the only people at the games who are supposed to be loud at all times to pipe down.

But maybe I'm just old-fashioned.


Dan is on Twitter. Pipe down, kids. The MAC is playing.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Bulldogs vs. Auburn Tigers Complete Game Preview

The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry will take place in Auburn, Alabama on Saturday as the Georgia Bulldogs will face the Auburn Tigers.

Before the season began, this game was thought to be a preview of the SEC Championship Game. Georgia was picked to win the SEC East, and Auburn was picked to win the conference during SEC media days. However, due to inconsistent quarterback play for both teams, this game is just another SEC contest where both Georgia and Auburn are trying to either qualify for a bowl game or better their chances of making a bowl game on New Year’s Day.

As frustrating as it has been for both teams, this will still be a compelling game because of the history of this series. In fact, this series is tied, with both teams winning 55 games each.

So it might not be a preview of the SEC Championship Game, but a lot is at stake for Georgia and Auburn in this nationally televised contest.

 

Date: Nov. 14, 2015

Time: Noon ET

Place: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.

TV: CBS

Radio: Georgia Bulldog Sports Network, Auburn IMG Sports Network, Sirius/XM 81

Odds: Auburn is favored by 1.5 points according to Odds Shark.

 

When Georgia Has the Ball

The quarterback battle continues at Georgia, as both Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey got significant snaps last week against Kentucky. Lambert was 6-of-13 for 64 yards and one touchdown, while Ramsey was 4-of-6 for 24 yards.

But the Bulldogs had another quarterback in the mix, as Terry Godwin ran the position when the Bulldogs where in their Wild Dog formation. And it worked, as Godwin recorded four carries for 36 yards and one touchdown. The touchdown came in the first quarter, and it was the first time in nine quarters the Bulldogs scored a touchdown; they did not score one in the last two games.

The first career touchdown for @TerryGodwin_4 at @FootballUGA, @CallawayHoops alum @libby141#Dawgspic.twitter.com/0fcGGmAUGh

— Dayne Young (@dayneyoung) November 7, 2015

The Wild Dog formation also led to a big day for Sony Michel, as he ran for 165 yards and one score.

The Bulldogs are facing an Auburn defense that is coming off one of its best performances of the season. They allowed Texas A&M to score 10 points and garner 303 total yards. The Tigers also forced three interceptions.

Cassanova McKinzy has been the leader of the defense, recording six tackles and one tackle for loss against the Aggies. He now has 59 tackles and four sacks on the year. But Jonathan Ford has been all over the field for the Tigers this season. He is second in the SEC with 96 tackles, and he was the only player on the roster last week to record at least 10 tackles.

 

When Auburn Has the Ball

Like Georgia, the quarterback situation in Auburn has been up in the air since the start of the season. Jeremy Johnson was the starter to begin the year, then he was replaced by Sean White, who has been solid.

However, Johnson played in the game against the Aggies last week due to an injury to White, and Johnson completed 13 of his 17 passes for 132 yards and one score in the win.

According to Matthew Stevens of the Montgomery Advisor (via the Anniston Star), Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn is not sure which quarterback will play on Saturday, but he’s confident that both guys can get the job done.

The Tigers are facing a Bulldogs defense that allowed only three points against Kentucky last week. The Georgia defense has had their issues, but overall they have been solid, as they rank fourth in the conference in total defense and first in the SEC in passing defense.

Jake Ganus has been the steady hand for the Bulldogs, tallying nine tackles last week. Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins have not lived up to expectations, as they have only a combined 6.5 sacks, but they are still fundamentally sound linebackers who can make plays.

 

Player to Watch for Georgia: Dominick Sanders

The Georgia pass defense ranks first in the SEC, and Dominick Sanders is a big reason why.

The sophomore defensive back has four interceptions, which ties him for third in the SEC. He also has nine passes defensed, which puts him at fourth in the conference.

Sanders’ first interception of the season was against Vanderbilt, and he was able to return that for an 88-yard touchdown to help the Bulldogs pull away from the Commodores. And last week, Sanders notched two interceptions to help the Bulldogs have their best defensive performance of the year.

Since 2014, Sanders has notched seven interceptions. He also has 17 passes defensed during that span. So whoever is at quarterback for Auburn needs to keep an eye out for Sanders every time when they decide to throw the football.

 

Player to Watch for Auburn: Peyton Barber

The Auburn offense has struggled this season, averaging 27 points per game, which ranks 10th in the SEC. But if there is one player to watch on Saturday, it's Peyton Barber.

The sophomore running back is having a very productive season, rushing for 828 yards and 12 touchdowns. He is fourth in the SEC in both categories.

I liked a @YouTube video http://t.co/vv4vQktEha Auburn - Peyton Barber - TD

— Garrett (@AnimatedGamers1) October 4, 2015

However, the punishment his body has taken over the season is starting to get to him. Barber averages 21 carries per game but has carried the ball only 21 times the last two games.

It would not be a surprise if Barber get at least 20 carries on Saturday against the Georgia run defense that ranks eighth in the SEC. If he gets to 20 carries or more, then the Tigers will have a very good chance of winning their sixth game of the year.

 

Final Prediction: Georgia 27, Auburn 24

This is really a coin-flip game, as both teams have inconsistencies at quarterback. However, the Bulldogs do have the edge, because their defense is better than the Tigers defense, which ranks last in the conference in total defense.

With the Bulldogs adding the Wild Dog to their offense, it should give the Tigers fits because they have to watch for Sony Michel and Godwin in terms of who will get the football.

That said, either Lambert or Ramsey will have to make plays in the passing game if Georgia wants to beat Auburn. They don’t have to light up the stat sheet, but they need to be efficient.

And Auburn will need to run at Georgia in order to wear the defense down and keep the Bulldogs offense off the field. This game will come down to who has the ball last, and I think the Bulldogs will make one more play than the Tigers and come away with their fifth conference win of the season.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings 2015: Full Playoff Standings and Week 11 Outlook

A shake-up in the College Football Playoff rankings was guaranteed heading into Week 11 with two of the Top Four facing off last weekend, but the CFP committee still gave folks plenty to chew on heading down the stretch in November.

Three of the four teams remain the same in the second installment of the CFP rankings, but there was still plenty of movement to dissect as a few teams leapfrogged others in the standings. Take a look below, and then keep reading for a close look into each of the four teams atop the rankings.

 

No. 1 Clemson

The top-ranked Clemson Tigers overcame what looked to be their last true tough test of the season Saturday against Florida State, and they appear ready to cruise their way down the November stretch.

As the lone unbeaten team among the Top Four, there's not a whole lot folks can argue against when it comes to placing Clemson at the top of the list. After all, their strength of schedule is by far the best out of the remaining undefeated schools, ESPN Stats & Info noted:

The Tigers' remaining regular-season schedule is as simple as it comes, with three games left against Syracuse, Wake Forest and South Carolina—teams combining for a 9-18 record to this point. Unless Clemson finds a way to slip up in the ACC title game, expect it to assume the top spot heading into the national semifinal.

 

No. 2 Alabama

There was plenty of disagreement and debate regarding Alabama's inclusion in the initial CFP rankings. After its convincing win over previous No. 2 squad LSU, there's no such argument this time around.

That's showcased in the Crimson Tide skyrocketing from the No. 4 spot all the way to second in the CFP standings, after running back Derrick Henry rushed 38 times for more than 200 yards in Alabama's win over LSU. They slipped up at home earlier in the season to Ole Miss, but they appear leaps and bounds better than they showed in that five-turnover nightmare.

Firmly in the driver's seat of the SEC West, Alabama should punch its ticket into the CFP for the second straight year. 

 

No. 3 Ohio State

Ohio State's toughest tests still remain ahead in its schedule, unlike most of the teams that join the Buckeyes in the Top Four. 

Urban Meyer's squad has seen its status as the top-ranked team fall to the wayside, but they're likely not sweating it, as the Buckeyes are still firmly in the mix. They still have to face both Michigan State and Michigan down the stretch, games that will surely prove one way or another whether they belong in the field.

 

No. 4 Notre Dame

Much to the chagrin of unbeaten teams Iowa, Baylor and Oklahoma State, the CFP committee rewarded Notre Dame's tough schedule by giving the Fighting Irish the nod in cracking the Top Four.

When it comes down to it, the only blemish that Notre Dame has on its schedule is a close loss to the top-ranked Clemson Tigers. That speaks for itself, as Sports Illustrated's Zac Ellis noted:

There's still a chance that the Fighting Irish could be left out even if they don't lose a game down the stretch, but that will likely only come if one of the unbeatens below them rattles off a perfect ending to the season and does so in very impressive fashion. 

Meanwhile, Notre Dame has enough to worry about with an end-of-season clash with Stanford looming.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tracy Claeys Named Minnesota Head Coach: Latest Comments and Reaction

Minnesota announced Wednesday that Tracy Claeys signed a three-year contract to become the Golden Gophers head coach after serving in an interim role following the retirement of Jerry Kill.  

Ryan Burns of Scout.com noted the players were informed of the decision at a team meeting Wednesday morning. Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune reported Claeys, 46, will make $1.4 million next season in the first year of the deal and then receive a $100,000 raise in each of the final two years of the contract.

Claeys said the following in a program release:

I want to thank President Eric Kaler, Interim Athletic Director Beth Goetz, the Board of Regents and the University for believing in me and providing me with this opportunity. The circumstances of the past few weeks have been unpredictable. This certainly is not the way anyone wants to become a head coach. Coach Kill is one of my best friends and I am thankful that he took a chance on me 21 years ago. I am looking forward to continuing what we have built at Minnesota, but will do so in my own way. One thing that won’t change will be our relentless pursuit to field a team that will make the state of Minnesota proud. We have tremendous fans and they deserve a highly competitive football team. Our student-athletes will play smart, tough and accountable football and will be held to the highest standards on and off the field.

Minnesota interim athletic director Beth Goetz cited "improvement of this program, both academically and athletically, and coach Claeys' integral leadership role" as reasons for the hiring, according to Marcus R. Fuller of the Pioneer Press.

Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press noted that the new head coach, who arrived at the school as a defensive coordinator in 2011, stated Tuesday that he was hopeful this would happen soon so the focus could shift to other matters.

First and foremost is the battle for the Floyd of Rosedale trophy against Iowa on Saturday. Then, there's the recruiting work, which he mentioned on his radio show last week would be impacted without a coach locked in, per Greder: "If it gets past the middle of November, I think you are going to start to see some problems."

He got his wish, and now, the real work begins.

The Gophers currently sit at 4-5 with a 1-4 mark in Big Ten play. There's no doubt they have played hard under Claeys' leadership, losing to Michigan and Ohio State by just 17 combined points over the past two games, but there's still a lot of work to do.

Beating the Hawkeyes this week would be quite a statement in Claeys' first game as full-time head coach. Not only would it shake up the College Football Playoff race, but it would also provide a nice recruiting boost as the coaching staff ramps up those efforts with more stability in place.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Week 11 Schedule: Live Stream, TV Coverage for Top 25 Games

The lack of separation atop the college football rankings continues to create plenty of intrigue as teams head into the final stretch of the regular season. There are still numerous squads with a realistic chance of earning one of those four coveted berths in the playoff heading into Week 11.

Since there's so little margin for error, it's going to give virtually every game involving a contender a must-win feel. That should also improve the playoff because the teams that qualify once the dust settles will have earned the opportunity and will already be battle-tested.

Of course, one "Upset Saturday" could change the entire outlook. So let's check out all of the key viewing information for this week's Top 25 games. That's followed by a preview and prediction for a trio of marquee matchups.

 

Week 11 Schedule

 

Top Games to Watch

Alabama vs. Mississippi State

The Crimson Tide have faced three teams ranked in the top 10 at the time of the game over the past six weeks. They won all three contests by an average of 20 points, including Saturday's 14-point triumph over fellow playoff contender and SEC rival LSU.

That run of success has allowed Alabama to skyrocket up the rankings after an early loss to Ole Miss. It certainly isn't out of the woods yet, though. Mississippi State is a dangerous team to face after Bama's emotional victory last week, and Saban is making that clear, according to the program's official site.

"Any time you have an emotional win you have to get your team ready to respond the right way and make sure they're focused on what they need to do just as well the next week—or better—against a very good Mississippi State team that's ranked and is a very, very good team," Saban said.

Senior quarterback Dak Prescott is the main reason the Bulldogs represent a tricky test for the Tide. He's tossed 18 touchdowns with just one interception while also tallying 418 yards and seven TDs on the ground. It makes him one of the nation's most important players.

Alabama faced another player in that category last week in LSU running back Leonard Fournette. The Tide defense held him to 31 yards on 19 carries. If the unit can slow down Prescott, it should result in another comfortable win. If he finds a rhythm early, however, Bama will be in for a battle.

 

Oregon vs. Stanford

Stanford has quietly worked its way back into the playoff mix after dropping off the radar for a while following its season-opening loss to Northwestern. Eight straight victories, all but one of which came by double digits, have made quite a statement.

The Cardinal have a matchup with Notre Dame looming at month's end that could go a long way in building that final resume. That said, they can't afford to look past the Ducks, which still have a lot of talent despite failing to live up to expectations.

What makes Stanford so tough is its balance. It's not overly reliant on any one aspect of the game, which allows for much easier in-game adjustments when things aren't working. That's allowed the Cardinal to post some impressive numbers, as noted by David Lombardi of ESPN:

They also lead the nation in average time of possession. Controlling the pace will be especially important against the high-scoring Ducks. As long as Stanford doesn't get forced into a one-dimensional passing offense, it should keep pace in the playoff chase.

 

Oklahoma vs. Baylor

This is a matchup that starts an incredibly difficult stretch for both teams. They will each face Oklahoma State and TCU over the next few weeks. While they would probably prefer to spread out the key matchups, it does present an opportunity to make up a lot of ground in a short period of time.

The Bears are coming off a close call against Kansas State. They had a mental lapse in the fourth quarter, and the Wildcats stormed back within seven. Since Baylor survived, it was a good learning experience about playing the full 60 minutes, and it will need a far more complete performance this week.

Oklahoma is a tough team to read because its level of competition has been subpar. Tennessee and West Virginia represent its most impressive wins, and it owns a lackluster loss to Texas. But senior center Ty Darlington is excited by the prospect of the next three games, per Cliff Brunt of the Associated Press.

"This is what you live for," Darlington said. "This is what you play for right here. I feel like I'm back in high school, and it's one at a time. The next one doesn't matter without the first one, and we can't look past or look ahead to anything."

Given the logjam atop the Big 12 standings, having the top teams to face off frequently end the near of the campaign should allow things to work themselves out in the coming weeks. For Oklahoma and Baylor, this week's game is a crucial first step.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: 5 Volunteers Who Must Improve Down the Stretch

As Tennessee uses this weekend against North Texas as a tuneup for the season's remaining two games and subsequent bowl, the Volunteers will be looking for several players to take things up a notch.

With rugged battles against defensive-minded Missouri and Vanderbilt coming up, the microscope will focus even more closely on the offense. But several Vols all over the field must kick it into high gear if UT is going to close out an eight-win season.

Plenty remains for which to play.

Since a well-traveled fanbase has waited to return to national respectability for nearly a decade, good bowl games want to pluck Tennessee for ticket sales. Because of that, the Outback Bowl is still a possibility, and there may even be an outside shot at the Citrus.

Lesser bowls remain more realistic prospects, but Tennessee will open up a whole new and exciting world of possibilities if coach Butch Jones' team takes care of business the rest of the way.

After a fortunate but forgettable showing at home against South Carolina in which the Vols had to force a last-minute fumble to escape with a 27-24 win, it's obvious they'll need better play in several areas.

While everybody needs to elevate their play, let's take a look at five particular players who need to become more dependable for the Vols down the stretch.

Begin Slideshow

Ranking the Best SEC Matchups of Week 11

Week 10's marquee matchup between Alabama and LSU disappeared along with Tigers star running back Leonard Fournette in a sea of crimson jerseys.

But just because the Crimson Tide rolled doesn't mean last Saturday was devoid of drama. The Tennessee-South Carolina game came down to a final, frantic possession where the Vols punched out a fumble to win the game. Florida had to bomb a long-range field goal to finally oust Vanderbilt.

And, by now, everybody has seen Hunter Henry's desperation lateral that somehow wound up in Alex Collins' hands in what eventually became an overtime classic victory for Arkansas over Ole Miss.

It was an awesome week for SEC football, and Week 11 has several quality matchups on tap, too.

BYU travels to Columbia to take on a Missouri team that is fresh off a football strike that made national headlines. Florida now has to travel to a suddenly dangerous South Carolina team a week after nearly blowing a strong season with a narrow home win over Vanderbilt.

Alabama now gets to face surging Dak Prescott and Mississippi State, and Georgia and Auburn will renew one of the South's oldest rivalries.

Arkansas will try to mirror last year's late-season run as it goes to Death Valley to take on an LSU team that must be reeling after the one-sided loss to Bama.

It should be another fun weekend. So, let's rank them bottom to top.

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Bleacher Report's Week 11 College Football Playoff Predictions


Will your team make the college football playoff?

Unlike most media sites, Bleacher Report doesn't give you a yes or no answer.  Instead, we use the playoff committee rankings and analytics to assign your team a probability of making the playoff.

The sortable table shows the results, while you can find more information on the simulation methods here. After a wild Week 10 that saw five unbeaten teams lose, let's look at the biggest stories in these numbers in the latest playoff projection.

One-loss Notre Dame makes top four over notable unbeatens

As predicted on Saturday, a one-loss Notre Dame took the last of the four playoff spots, essentially replacing LSU, which lost to Alabama.  The committee put the Fighting Irish ahead of undefeated Iowa and Baylor. The committee is giving Notre Dame credit for a close loss to top-ranked Clemson.  Notre Dame lost by two points when a two-point conversion failed in the waning seconds of the game.

Notre Dame actually played quite well against Clemson, as it won the yardage battle 437 to 296.  However, the Fighting Irish couldn't overcome four turnovers, one of which prevented a score deep in Clemson territory.

The Irish have one more big opportunity to impress the committee: a Thanksgiving weekend date at Stanford.  However, there's still uncertainty for the Notre Dame even if it wins out, depending on what the rest of the field does.

For example, Baylor has Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU left in consecutive weeks.  If the Bears have a string of impressive wins, would the committee be bold enough to leave them out in lieu of Notre Dame on December 6th?

 

 

Iowa mysteriously vaults to fifth spot

Last Saturday, Iowa beat Indiana on the road by eight,  while two days earlier Baylor traveled to Kansas State for a seven point win.  Since Kansas State is a better team than Indiana, one could reason that Baylor should have stayed ahead of Iowa in this week's committee rankings.

Nah.  The committee jumped Iowa over Baylor and into the fifth position this week, probably to further punish the Bears for scheduling SMU, Lamar and Rice. Iowa also stayed ahead of unbeaten Oklahoma State, a team that now has a marquee win over TCU on its resume.

However, Iowa has a much lower playoff probability (13.4 percent) than both Baylor (26.4 percent) and Oklahoma State (19.4 percent).  On Saturday, the Hawkeyes play a fired up Minnesota team that has yet to win a game for recently-retired coach Jerry Kill.  They also travel to Nebraska to end the regular season, and my numbers give Iowa a 48 percent chance to win that game.

In the Big Ten championship game, Iowa would be an underdog to whomever they play.  This table shows the three most likely opponents, along with the probability for each to make the championship game and an expected point spread over the Hawkeyes.

The rest of the regular season should be no problem for Iowa. But no matter how you slice it, making the playoff will be an uphill climb for the Hawkeyes. 

 

 

Does new QB Jarrett Stidham change Baylor's odds?

Maybe Baylor got better when Jarrett Stidham replaced Seth Russell at quarterback.  In his first start, the true freshman threw for 406 yards on 11.3 yards per attempt against Kansas State.  His throws for the most part caught his receivers in stride for big plays.

Moreover, Baylor went against their usual run-first tendencies.  The Bears have run on 58 percent of plays this season (although part of this tendency comes from their having big leads in most games).  Against Kansas State however,  Stidham thew of 36 of 67 plays, despite never trailing in the game.  Coach Art Briles seems to have confidence in his young quarterback.

When a quarterback on an elite offense goes down, you often have to adjust the numbers to make accurate predictions going forward.  However, no adjustments seem necessary for Baylor... yet.

This weekend, Stidham will get tested against Oklahoma, by far the best defense he'll see the remainder of the regular season.  Oklahoma has allowed 4.2 yards per pass attempt this year, second best in the nation (numbers include sacks).

 

Stanford faces stiff test in familiar foe Oregon

Stanford jumped up to 7th in the committee rankings following its 41-10 win in Boulder.  The Cardinal must feel good about its 31.7 percent chance to make the playoff, currently 4th best in the nation.  

To add to the joy, they launched a slick new site for Christian McCaffery's Heisman campaign.  All is good in Palo Alto. Bring on Notre Dame.

Not so fast. Oregon comes to town this weekend and presents a stiff test for the Cardinal.  While most people have forgotten about Oregon after its 62-20 debacle of a loss against Utah, the Ducks can still score points, and are led by running back Royce Freeman, who has run for 6.6 yards per carry this season.

In 2012, Stanford beat Oregon 17-14 in Eugene to wreck the national title hopes of the Ducks, giving them their only loss of the season. The next season, it turned the trick again, beating Oregon 26-20 and knocking the Ducks from the ranks of the unbeaten.  

If Stanford wants to avoid payback, they can't overlook Oregon on Saturday.  

The Cardinal have the better defense in a game of two explosive offenses.  However, to win this game and keep its playoff hopes alive, the offense can't lay an egg like they did at Northwestern to open the year.

 

Ed Feng has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Stanford and runs sports analytics site The Power Rank. You can find him on Twitter @thepowerrank.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Path Is Clear for Committee's Dream College Football Playoff

Behind giant boardroom doors and in front of family-room flatscreens, the silent puppeteers of the College Football Playoff let loose a cartoonish smile Tuesday evening. They couldn't hold back.

If it were up to the engineers behind the postseason—the suits interested in monetizing eyeballs and interest—the playoff would start next Saturday. No more games. No more upsets. No more movement.

The latest Top Four in the College Football Playoff rankings—a collection of power brands, power coaches and star power—would be perfect companions this New Year's Eve, at least in their eyes.

No. 1 Clemson? Oh, the dancing coach and the magnificent young quarterback—maybe the Heisman Trophy winner—would play well with a national audience.

No. 2 Alabama? No team draws a crowd quite like the Tide in 2015. Those not rooting for them would tune in just to see them fall short. They are the ratings Holy Grail.

No. 3 Ohio State? You watched last year, yes? Best coach in the country, quarterbacks for days, ravenous fanbase and the potential No. 1  pick in the NFL draft. What else do you need?

And No. 4 Notre Dame? Well, the Irish are just the cherry on top. The masses will flock to their televisions desperately hoping to see if they win or lose. It will be one or the other. Eyeballs galore.

This is how the playoff sits right now: four vacancies filled with four programs that would generate enormous viewership.

That part matters. It may not matter to the selection committee's final decision, although conspiracy theories will rain down regardless. And while ESPN won't openly express concern about competing with your New Year's Eve plans, it's not exactly shying away from it, either.

What's the perfect product to counter a busy night? Well, compelling storylines, of course.

The likelihood of the Top Four on Nov. 10 being in the final College Football Playoff contingent is remote. But right now, those invested in this giant circus would hit the pause button if they were allowed.

Thankfully for us—and for the likely madness that lies ahead—this is not the case. Let's continue.

As for other observations about the selection committee's second College Football Playoff Top 25, let's dive right in.

 

Iowa and Oklahoma State are No Longer Potential 'Chaos' Teams

They were fun stories a few weeks ago. We laughed about the potential and patted these teams on the head. Now, only two weeks into the selection committee's master reveals, Iowa and Oklahoma State look like genuine threats to destroy the dream scenario outlined above.

Following the Hawkeyes' win over Indiana, the selection committee bumped them up from No. 9 to No. 5. Iowa is the team suddenly swinging a bat in the on-deck circle. Losses by TCU and Michigan State certainly helped this, though the committee also seemed to have a newfound appreciation for the Hawkeyes.

"Iowa has shown consistent improvement, consistency on both sides of the ball," selection committee chair Jeff Long said on ESPN. "While they haven't been flashy, they've been solid."

Following a dominating win over the Horned Frogs, the Cowboys also watched their playoff stock soar. Positioned at No. 14 in the debut Top 25, the Pokes checked in at No. 8 a week later. With games against Baylor and Oklahoma still on tap, Mike Gundy's team has the opportunity to climb even higher.

Iowa is in complete control of its season—a phrase that will make most of the state's residents woozy. Although its remaining regular season opponents leave much to be desired, a potential tussle against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game looms. 

And while Oklahoma State might not be in as favorable a situation, that could change quickly. Take both teams very seriously.

 

North Carolina Is Lurking

After a week on the sideline, North Carolina has been allowed into the party. The playoff bouncer didn't say a word. The Tar Heels are now No. 23 in the rankings, and quite frankly, that's not high enough.

A Week 1 loss may haunt them. Losing to South Carolina after a handful of disastrous red-zone plays—essentially a collection of YouTube fail videos—might ultimately seal North Carolina's fate as a playoff outsider. But for now, few teams are playing better.

After absolutely dismantling Duke in Week 10, UNC earned the committee's attention. With games against Miami, Virginia Tech and North Carolina State on tap, the possibility exists that the one-loss Tar Heels could play No. 1 Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.

While assuming victory in that matchup is premature, there is no question that North Carolina would present the biggest threat to the Tigers' undefeated season. And if UNC happened to come out on top in that game, how would the committee view the one-loss ACC champion? 

The Tar Heels would still likely need help to crash that next party. But for a team situated not far from the floor of the Top 25, North Carolina feels dangerous. Keep an eye out.

 

It's Not Time for the Big 12 to Panic, But Do Take Note

Fear not, Big 12 fans. All is not lost.

Oklahoma State, as mentioned above, is in fine shape to carry the playoff banner. Other possibilities, headlined by Baylor and Oklahoma, exist as well.

With that being said, it appears the selection committee is struggling to evaluate the conference. When asked, the committee chair acknowledged just that.

"The committee has a difficult time evaluating teams that haven't had significant victories," Long said on ESPN.

Much has been made about the Big 12's back-loaded schedule, which kicked into motion Saturday. There is still time for resumes to grow stronger, which is precisely why the Cowboys are moving up fast.

But one can't ignore TCU's dramatic drop. After losing to Oklahoma State, the Horned Frogs fell from No. 8 to No. 15. That's enormous. It is the most notable plunge to date.

Gary Patterson's team has ample time to repair its reputation, but this tumble does not help the other teams lining up to play TCU, hoping for a boost with a victory.

An undefeated Big 12 team will have a tremendous case for the playoff; there is no denying that. But the early returns from the selection committee are not optimal.

 

Beware the Group of Five

The unlikely possibility of a Group of Five team making the College Football Playoff went up in flames when Memphis lost to Navy on Saturday. That chaos dream is dead; may it rest in peace.

Still, one can't help but admire the respect teams outside major conferences are receiving this season. Entering Week 11, the American Athletic Conference has as many teams in the selection committee's Top 25 as...wait for it...the SEC. No, really.

(This is not exactly a development we anticipated. What do we do with our hands?)

After their victory, the Midshipmen are the highest-rated Group of Five team at No. 20. Memphis is at No. 21, followed by Temple at No. 22 and Houston at No. 24.

With the Tigers and Cougars teeing it up Saturday, things won't stay stagnant for long. The movement will continue.

What does it all mean? In terms of the actual playoff and your New Year's Eve plans, not a great deal. 

But the race for a marquee bowl game will be absolutely riveting down the stretch. And given the fact that the selection committee had zero Group of Five teams in its Top 25 at this point last year, the transformation from one year to the next is remarkable.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech: Complete Game Preview

The Virginia Tech Hokies (4-5, 2-3) return to the field on Thursday after an emotional week off. Last week, legendary head coach Frank Beamer announced his retirement at the conclusion of the 2015 season.

The Hokies' opponent this week: the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (3-6, 1-5).

Heading into the season, most believed it would be the Hokies or Yellow Jackets battling it out for ACC Coastal Division supremacy. In 10 years of the ACC title game, either Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech has represented the Coastal in all but one year. 

The Jackets have won the division in two of the last three years.

Virginia Tech leads the all-time series 8-4, and it has won four of the past five meetings. Georgia Tech defeated the Hokies last season 27-24 in a thriller.

  • When: Thursday, November 12, 2015
  • Where: Bobby Dodd Stadium; Atlanta, Georgia
  • Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
  • TV: ESPN
  • Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network. Here is a complete list of stations by area.
  • Spread: The Yellow Jackets are currently 3.5-point favorites, per Odds Shark.

Begin Slideshow

College Football Playoff Rankings 2015: Week 11 Top 25 Poll Twitter Reaction

Let the debating commence.

The College Football Playoff committee released its second poll on Tuesday night after a Week 10 of big-time matchups and stunning upsets as the sport inches closer to a clear postseason picture. 

Here is a look at the new CFP Week 11 rankings:

After defeating No. 17 Florida State on Saturday, No. 1 Clemson retained its top spot on Tuesday night and looks to have a fairly easy path to the postseason after hurdling the Seminoles. 

College GameDay sent out this tweet upon the rankings' release:

The Tigers deserve to stay there too, as ESPN Stats & Info pointed out:

To get to No. 2, Alabama had to beat Week 10's No. 2 in LSU, as the Crimson Tide made the jump from fourth to second this week. 

BuckeyesNews wasn't too pleased that one-loss Alabama made the jump:

Yet TomahawkNation.com's Bud Elliott thinks they should be at No. 2:

Ohio State's ugly win over Minnesota didn't hurt it, as it remains in third as it approaches its toughest part of the schedule. 

Even with games against Michigan and Michigan State looming, ESPN Stats & Info reported that Ohio State, along with Alabama, is a favorite to win it all:

With LSU's loss, the vacant spot in the Top Four was taken by Notre Dame, who was the first out last week.

USA Today Sports' Dan Wolken thinks things are looking pretty good for the Irish:

USA Today Sports' Nicole Auerbach isn't too keen on the Irish being in:

Iowa takes Notre Dame's first out spot, while Baylor remains at No. 6 this week. Both teams are undefeated as they are on the outside looking at a pair of one-loss teams in Notre Dame and Alabama. 

An account dedicated to Baylor reminded everyone again that the Bears are undefeated:

But Baylor head coach Art Briles told ESPN (h/t San Antonio Express-News' Tim Griffin) that he isn't panicking:

Scout.com's Brian Snow wants to let everyone know that Alabama and Iowa aren't too different:

Oklahoma State, who was 14th last week, moves up to eighth after a convincing win over No. 8 TCU, who dropped to 15th. 

Some thought it should be higher, such as ESPN's Jake Trotter:

For the Charleston Post and Courier's Gene Sapakoff, the committee got things spot-on:

The regular season is far from over, though. And with some of the top teams preparing to take on some of their stiffest competition of the year, it's very likely there is still plenty of movement left among the top six teams. 

After all, the only rankings that matter are the ones released on Dec. 7. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Naquan Jones Decommits from Michigan State: Latest Details, Comments, Reaction

Class of 2016 defensive tackle Naquan Jones decommitted from the Michigan State Spartans on Tuesday.

Jones took to Twitter to announce he would keep his college options open (h/t the Detroit News):

After speaking with my family and my mentor, I would like to thank everyone at Michigan State University. To the coaches and fans I am extremely appreciative for the great opportunity of part of the Spartan family. With that being said after much thought I've decided to reopen my recruiting.

The 4-star product of Evanston Township High School in Illinois is the No. 22 DT prospect in the country, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

Listed at 6'4" and 283 pounds, Jones has tremendous physical attributes and athleticism. Other standout qualities from Jones' senior Hudl film are his quickness off the ball, a knack for disengaging blockers and diagnosing a play as well as the versatility to line up on the outside or inside of the defensive line.

When he committed to Sparty in June, Jones had turned down offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Penn State. It appears as though Jones has his mind on the SEC rather than the Big Ten, though.

Other schools who previously pursued Jones included his other finalists in Florida and South Carolina. The Gators have shown immense improvement under new coach Jim McElwain and are thought to be a logical suitor, per Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports:

Scout.com's Yancy Porter reported Ole Miss has booked an official visit for Jones, so the Rebels appear to be in the running for his services as well. They managed to lure stud DT prospect Robert Nkemdiche to Oxford, which can't hurt their odds of landing a less hyped recruit in Jones.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Winners & Losers of College Football Playoff Committee's Rankings After Week 10

After another wild week of the college football season, the College Football Playoff Committee returned Tuesday with its Week 10 rankings.

Following a dominating performance by the previously fourth-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide over the then-second-ranked LSU Tigers, among many other big wins and losses, the committee had a great deal to consider before releasing its new rankings.

Did Alabama's win propel it even higher in the rankings? Which new team broke into the Top Four this week?

Find out in the video above as Bleacher Report college football analysts Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder discuss the biggest winners and losers of this week's rankings. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff 2015: Predicting Final Four After Week 11 Rankings

The second edition of the 2015 College Football Playoff rankings dropped during Tuesday evening's ESPN telecast, with the Clemson Tigers remaining at No. 1 in the country.

Clemson defeated ACC rival Florida State 23-13 to merit holding steady atop the college football hierarchy.

After Alabama was a slight surprise to the Top Four in the first rankings release, the Crimson Tide backed it up this past Saturday by defeating SEC rival LSU 30-16. They limited LSU Heisman Trophy contender Leonard Fournette to 31 yards on 19 carries and have gone from fourth to second in the Week 11 rankings.

Here is a full look at the new CFP Top 25:

For all the turbulence and surprises that have occurred in the SEC and throughout college football, the teams most expected to be left standing at season's end have held up well amid enormous expectations. Those powerhouse programs are Alabama and the reigning national champion Ohio State Buckeyes.

While OSU went about its business and secured a 28-14 win over Minnesota, its chief Big Ten challenger, Michigan State, stumbled in an upset defeat at the hands of a losing Nebraska team.

The Spartans weren't the only notable team to take a slide in the rankings. A surprise Memphis team led by quarterback Paxton Lynch was defeated 45-20 at home by Navy, whose only loss this year is to Notre Dame.

In its first game with new QB Jarrett Stidham, Baylor barely escaped a road trip to Kansas State 31-24, while Big 12 rival TCU fell to Oklahoma State 49-29.

Neither the Bears nor the Horned Frogs were in the Top Four last week at sixth and eighth, respectively. TCU gets Baylor at home to close its season, with the chance to foil the Bears' hopes, while Oklahoma State still has to host Baylor and the Oklahoma Sooners.

The Big 12's best may all knock each other out of the CFP picture due to the way the standings are and how the committee perceives the conference, as ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit implied:

Let's take a look at the updated projections for the College Football Playoff based on what's transpired of late and where the best in the country currently stand.

 

Orange Bowl Projection: Ohio State vs. Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish have only lost to Clemson, and after what happened this past weekend, their win over Navy looks a lot better. They face Stanford in a regular-season finale that should send the winner into the Top Four.

A road trip to take on the Cardinal won't be an easy task, but coach Brian Kelly's bunch will rise to the challenge. Its front seven led by Jaylon Smith will make just enough plays to stop Stanford star running back Christian McCaffrey.

Most impressive about Notre Dame's run to 8-1 is its lack of panic over Malik Zaire's injury that thrust DeShone Kizer into action at QB. Kizer has responded well, to say the least, throwing for five touchdowns in a 42-30 road win over Pittsburgh most recently. ESPN's Matt Fortuna provided context for Kizer's performance:

In similar fashion, no matter what adversity the Buckeyes face, they seem equipped to overcome it. Last year's team didn't peak until the end of the season, which is what Ohio State appears to be counting on in 2015.

Buckeyes signal-caller J.T. Barrett was suspended for the Minnesota game, but Cardale Jones kept his undefeated record as a starter under center intact. Now it's up to Barrett to stay on the field and deliver the championship goods this time around.

Sloppy football hasn't cost Ohio State a game yet. It's as though the loaded team has been sleepwalking through games while still taking opponents' best shots and coming away with victories. The final stretch is what matters most, and head coach Urban Meyer will have his team ready for it.

After prospective wins at Michigan State, home against archrival Michigan and in the Big Ten title game, the momentum the Buckeyes will have generated is going to be too much for Notre Dame to stop. OSU's late boost in strength of schedule will also allow the team to ascend to No. 1.

Although the Irish may luck out and escape Stanford with a "W," their 70th-ranked rush defense won't be able to stop both Barrett and Ohio State stud ball-carrier Ezekiel Elliott.

Projected Score: Ohio State 34, Notre Dame 23

 

Cotton Bowl Projection: Alabama vs. Clemson

Saturday's win was a big statement from the Crimson Tide: They are still the class of the SEC, even with a home loss to Ole Miss on their resume.

Florida State was Clemson's most difficult remaining game of the regular season, and the hurdle has been cleared. The Tigers still have a conference championship game to play but should have little trouble therein against North Carolina or whomever the ACC Coastal Division champion is.

Although this seems like a relative mismatch on paper, bear in mind Clemson QB Deshaun Watson lit up the scoreboard against stout defenses in Boston College and N.C. State. Watson also played well versus the Seminoles, accounting for over 400 total yards of offense.

Playing against Alabama's front seven may be a different story, though, based on the following analysis from TideSports.com's Aaron Suttles:

Interesting to note is ESPN analyst Joey Galloway's take in discussing this possible showdown prior to Tuesday's rankings release. Galloway believed Clemson was complete enough to take down the Tide, per his colleague Paul Finebaum:

Despite losing first-round NFL draft picks Vic Beasley and Stephone Anthony from last year's front seven, defense has been a rather surprising strength for the Tigers in 2015. They're yielding just 4.53 yards per play and did well to shut down FSU after Dalvin Cook's 75-yard TD run inside the first minute.

Clemson's inability to contain a back like Cook doesn't bode well for facing a beefy Alabama offensive line and a bruising back in Derrick Henry, though.

Henry just gashed LSU for 210 yards and three scores. The Tide have a speedy changeup back to turn to behind Henry in Kenyan Drake as well. That one-two punch and Alabama's stonewalling of Fournette don't bode well for Watson, who'd likely be forced into obvious passing situations in a prospective Cotton Bowl matchup.

Projected Score: Alabama 21, Clemson 14

 

Note: Stats courtesy of NCAA.com unless otherwise indicated.

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College Football Playoff 2015: Committee Rankings Released Before Week 11

The general response after the College Football Playoff selection committee released its initial poll of the 2015 season was patience. Yes, there were some controversial decisions, and there was plenty to argue about, but it was only the first set of rankings.

It may seem like the season is still young since Tuesday's rankings are only the second set, but there are only three more weeks of games until the conference title contests. The postseason picture is gradually taking shape, and the nation's top teams can ill afford a November loss.

With that in mind, here is a look at the latest College Football Playoff rankings before Week 11:

The rest of the country would gladly trade places with Clemson, which looks like a near lock to make the playoff at this point. On Saturday, it passed the difficult Florida State test for the first time since 2011 to clinch a berth in the ACC Championship Game and now has a clear path to the postseason.

Next up for the Tigers are clashes with Syracuse, Wake Forest and South Carolina—which are a combined 9-18—before the league title contest. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney addressed his team's position, per ESPN.com: "It's good to control our destiny. It's good to be in the driver's seat. We just have to keep our hands on the wheel and not get distracted."

The Tigers may be in the driver's seat, but Alabama notched the most impressive win of Week 10 with a 30-16 blowout of previously unbeaten LSU. The Crimson Tide held presumed Heisman Trophy front-runner Leonard Fournette to 31 yards on 19 carries and dominated the proceedings with an overwhelming front seven.

Zac Ellis of Sports Illustrated described why Alabama head coach Nick Saban's defense was so effective:

The Tide rank [third] nationally in yards per play allowed (4.15). By comparison, the last two Alabama squads to win national titles (in 2011 and '12) allowed yards-per-play averages of 3.32 and 4.18 yards, respectively. That means this season's defense stacks up to units that captured championship rings, and advanced stats back up the Crimson Tide's '15 dominance: Their defense ranks No. 1 in success rate, passing down S&P+ and standard down S&P+, according to Football Outsiders.

The key to that efficiency has been a relentless front seven, one that has helped Alabama rank second in the FBS in rushing defense (2.54 yards per carry allowed). It's a seasoned group of juniors and seniors—all four- and five-star signees—who have combined to form a vaunted defensive line and linebacking corps. As SB Nation's Bud Elliott pointed out, Alabama did nothing fancy to smother a then unbeaten LSU team. It was just that talented and effective on defense.

The Crimson Tide control the SEC West after their win and Arkansas' victory over Ole Miss, and a league title would virtually ensure a playoff spot for the one-loss team.

Clemson and Alabama are trying to supplant defending champion Ohio State, but the Buckeyes are still in the thick of the race as well. They beat Minnesota by 14 on Saturday in a game that wasn't as close as the final score indicated but still had many in the Horseshoe nervous until Cardale Jones scored a rushing touchdown in the final couple of minutes.

Coach Urban Meyer's squad gets J.T. Barrett back from suspension this week and has one more warm-up contest against Illinois before a daunting closing stretch against Michigan State, Michigan and likely Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game—if it gets that far.

As for those Spartans, they were dealt a devastating blow with Saturday's controversial 39-38 loss at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers may be a traditional power in college football, but they are 4-6 this season. Though Michigan State lost in part because of a questionable call, it's going to be difficult to overcome a defeat against a team with a losing record that allowed 55 points to Purdue.

The ACC, SEC and Big Ten are all clearer than the Big 12 heading into Week 10. Oklahoma State welcomed itself to the national title picture with a 49-29 destruction of TCU on Saturday and subsequently made a solid jump in the rankings from its initial spot at No. 14 to No. 8. The move is a testament to the fluidity of the selection committee, which has rewarded teams that add quality victories to their resumes.

The Cowboys still have to play Baylor and Oklahoma, but they have a chance to continue moving up with wins in those contests.

Those Bears and Sooners square off Saturday night in a showdown that feels like an elimination game as the conference enters a round-robin finish with its best teams playing each other down the stretch. Whichever explosive offense comes through with enough plays will be in prime position in the Big 12 race and within striking distance of the playoff committee's top four spots.

Elsewhere, 8-1 Notre Dame is a legitimate contender after its victory over Pittsburgh. It has winnable contests against Wake Forest and Boston College before a showdown at Stanford on Nov. 28. If the Cardinal continue winning in the Pac-12, that contest against the Fighting Irish could be a play-in game for a postseason spot.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Top 2016 Recruits to Watch for in High School Football Playoffs

Postseason action has arrived for high school football programs in several states. Yearlong quests to become champions reach a new chapter as do-or-die playoff matchups command the spotlight.

For members of the 2016 graduating class, this is one final opportunity to compete alongside friends for hometown glory. College recruits considered premier playmakers are asked to bring their best as prep careers come to a close. 

The title chase is underway across America in the coming weeks. Here's a peek at several 2016 prospects who hope to propel their team toward a trophy.

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Dexter Lawrence Sets Decision Date: Which Program Is Best Fit for 5-Star DT?

The race to land 5-star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence is nearing its conclusion as he announced that he will make his commitment on Dec. 14, according to Luke Stampini of GatorBait.

The nation’s No. 3 overall prospect and the No. 2 defensive tackle has taken official visits to Clemson and Florida, with trips to Alabama and Ohio State on deck. He may take his fifth official visit, but that has yet to be planned out.

Those four programs, along with in-state ACC members NC State and North Carolina, are among the schools that are pursuing the 6’5”, 330-pounder from Wake Forest, North Carolina.

With his recruitment beginning to take shape, which program provides the best fit for Lawrence? 

Given his size, power and skill set—Lawrence, who registered 111 tackles and 15 sacks over his last two seasons—would be a welcomed addition for any of those programs.

Alabama presents an intriguing fit schematically, as Lawrence could be an ideal run-stuffer in the middle of head coach Nick Saban’s defensive line. However, the Tide have recruited well over the years and appear to have a budding star in current true freshman nose tackle Daron Payne.

Clemson is in a similar situation with promising young defensive tackles on the roster such as true freshman Christian Wilkins.

As Bill Kurelic of Bucknuts detailed, Lawrence—who is scheduled to visit Columbus for the Buckeyes' showdown against Michigan State on Nov. 21—admits that he’s not as familiar with the Buckeyes program as some of the other schools in his group of leaders. Additionally, Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer signed two defensive tackles in the 2015 cycle and has 4-star Malik Barrow already committed in the current class.

According to Ourlads, the Wolfpack have four underclassmen among their top five defensive tackles. The rival Tar Heels are in a similar position with five of their top six defensive tackles being either freshmen or sophomores.

In terms of fit and opportunity, it’s hard to go against what Florida can offer Lawrence.

The Gators have an appealing depth chart, as displayed by Ourlads. Additionally, the Gators have yet to land a pledge from a defensive tackle in the 2016 cycle.

Lawrence took an official visit to Gainesville in September for the Tennessee game and as Stampini notes, he took notice of what head coach Jim McElwain and his staff were telling him. 

“That [visit] was pretty good,” Lawrence told 247Sports’ Ross Martin [via Stampini]. “They just showed me their plan for the whole football program, the new facilities he’s building, and how they plan to improve each year.”

Add in the tradition in which the Gators have developed with defensive linemen in recent years, and they have a strong pitch that may be too tough for Lawrence to turn down in the end.

 

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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