NCAA Football News

College Football Picks Week 14: B/R's Expert Predictions for Top 6 Games

Rivalry Week is finally here!

The season is winding down, which means we're inching closer and closer to the College Football Playoff.

Several games this weekend have major playoff implications, but none is bigger than the 2014 Iron Bowl. Will Alabama get revenge from the crushing defeat a season ago, or can Auburn build a win streak over Nick Saban and Co.?

Another top SEC showdown this Saturday is the 2014 Egg Bowl. Ole Miss was shut out a week ago versus Arkansas, so look for the Rebels offense to try to bounce back in this heated rivalry game. Can Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen make it two years in a row with a victory over the in-state rival Rebels?

Georgia Tech hasn't beaten in-state rival Georgia since 2008, but this weekend, the Yellow Jackets have a great opportunity to show the committee they're a legitimate playoff dark-horse team. With a win over the Bulldogs and a win in the ACC title game against Florida State, the Yellow Jackets would have an outside shot to sneak into the Top Four.

Speaking of FSU, the Seminoles need a great four-quarter showing against in-state rival Florida. Jimbo Fisher’s squad has struggled to start games strong, but it certainly knows how to finish, as evidence by its undefeated record.

And the final two rivalry games our experts will pick this week are two of the best in the sport. Notre Dame vs. USC and Michigan vs. Ohio State have played some of the greatest games in college football history. While this year’s games don't have as much hype as previous seasons, they are still intense rivalries, so expect a good fight.

Ben Kercheval remains the leader among our experts, but rivalry week could change all of that. Who will come out on top?

Let us know your picks in the comments below!

 

Reminder: Our experts are picking the top Saturday games against the spread.

Odds via opening lines at Odds Shark.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida Gators vs. Florida State Seminoles Betting Odds, Analysis, Pick

The Florida State Seminoles will put their 27-game winning streak on the line when they host the Florida Gators in their annual intrastate rivalry game Saturday.

The Seminoles continue to find ways to win after they pulled off a 20-17 victory against the Boston College Eagles in the final seconds last week yet failed to cover the spread for the ninth time in 12 games as 16.5-point favorites.

 

Point spread: Seminoles opened as 10-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 40.0-31.3 Gators

 

Why the Florida Gators can cover the spread

The Gators have played fairly well lately outside of a surprising 23-20 loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks and former head coach Steve Spurrier as 6.5-point home favorites two weeks ago. They are 3-0 straight up and against the spread in three other games over the past four weeks, including a 52-3 rout of the Eastern Kentucky Colonels last Saturday as 30.5-point favorites.

Let’s be honest, covering the spread against Florida State has not been terribly difficult this season as Boston College proved last week. The Seminoles play to the level of their competition and might be overlooking Florida here.

 

Why the Florida State Seminoles can cover the spread

Florida State has not covered many games this year, but when motivated, this is a team that can certainly turn it on. The last seven meetings between these rivals have all been decided by double digits, with 14 points the smallest margin of victory during that stretch.

The Seminoles have won three of the last four games against the Gators both SU and ATS, and six of their 11 wins this season have been decided by 11 points or more. While that might not sound like a lot, it backs up the point that Florida State is still capable of winning big when needed, and this might be one of those games.

 

Smart pick

Has Florida been playing hard for outgoing head coach Will Muschamp down the stretch? That argument may have been a bit more valid had the Gators beaten the Gamecocks and entered this matchup on a four-game winning streak. Instead, you could argue the only impressive win they have all season came against the Georgia Bulldogs, which happened two weeks before Muschamp was fired.

In other words, that theory does not hold true. Ironically, losing at home to their former coach was the final straw, and now Florida is just riding it out. The Seminoles cannot afford to mess up here and could use an impressive victory. Bet on Florida State to cover this one easily.

 

Betting trends

  • Florida is 4-1 ATS in its last five games on the road
  • Florida State is 3-9 ATS in its last 12 games

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Heisman Watch 2014: Exploring Latest Twitter Buzz and Speculation on Race

Who will be crowned college football's greatest player when the Heisman Trophy winner is announced in New York? Everyone around the Web has an opinion on the matter, and with the regular season winding down, the race's front-runners are beginning to emerge.

So, here are the burning questions. How do expert rankings look heading into Week 14? Who is garnering the most buzz? Are there any dark horses who might be considered? These are all legitimate questions. They're also easily answered with a quick glance around the Internet.

Let's take a look at some recent buzz and speculation surrounding the Heisman race by providing answers to those three aforementioned inquiries.

 

Expert Rankings

What would expert rankings be without Bleacher Report's own Barrett Sallee's opinion? The college football guru recently released his updated top five following Week 13. Here's a look at his selections:

While Sallee's top two selections, Marcus Mariota and Melvin Gordon, are expected, his No. 3 pick is rather intriguing.

TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin has been very good this season, especially considering his seven-touchdown performance against Texas Tech; however, he's been average over the last three weeks. If he's going to have any shot in New York, Boykin will need a huge game against Texas this week.

Six CBS Sports experts weighed in with their Heisman thoughts following Week 13. Unsurprisingly, all six ranked Mariota first; however, Dennis Dodd pegged Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett as his No. 2 selection over Gordon. Here's a look at their consensus rankings:

Finally, we have ESPN's rankings, via ESPN College Football:

ESPN goes a little more in-depth with its rankings, as every expert selects five players in order. Those votes are tallied, and a top-10 list is created as a result. This list is intriguing simply because of its depth. After Week 13, there's even a defensive player on the board. Take a look:

Mariota and Gordon are within just four votes of each other, making Week 14 very interesting.

 

Garnering Buzz

Of course, Mariota is the talk of the town right now—he has been all season. Recently, analysts have been tweeting about some of the incredible numbers posted by the quarterback, which we could certainly deem Heisman-worthy.

The Oregon quarterback has been tremendously efficient this season, completing 68.0 percent of his passes for 3,103 yards and 32 touchdowns while throwing just two interceptions. Those stats become even more impressive when you factor in his 597 rushing yards and nine scores.

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports tweeted about Mariota's torrid pace over the last two seasons:

Gordon is setting impressive marks of his own. ESPN Stats & Info tweeted a telling statistic regarding Wisconsin's running back:

If we're calling Mariota an efficient quarterback, we better be calling Gordon an efficient ball-carrier as well.

Ohio State's Barrett has been the talk of the town in recent weeks. He's setting all sorts of school records, and ESPN College Football tweeted a summary of what he's done so far this season:

Some of the school's broken records were formerly owned by Heisman-winning quarterback Troy Smith. Well, Smith likes what he sees in Barrett, according to ESPN Big Ten:

While Barrett is a long shot to win the prestigious award this season, he's only a freshman. Expect to hear his name mentioned in Heisman circles for a couple of years to come.

 

Dark Horse

There's one dark horse who has popped up on several expert rankings recently: Indiana running back Tevin Coleman. The junior ball-carrier is putting up some monster numbers with the Hoosiers, rushing for 1,906 yards on 241 carries—an average of 7.9 yards per rush—and scoring 15 touchdowns.

Unfortunately, he isn't being considered as much as he should be, due to the Hoosiers' lackluster 3-8 record. If the school isn't producing wins and Coleman isn't displaying his prowess in front of a larger audience, votes will be tough to come by.

College Football 24/7 tweeted that he should be considered in the Heisman race due to the lack of top-notch talent around him:

Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer weighed in on the running back:

Mike Wells of ESPN may have summed it up best:

We can consider Coleman a dark horse for the Heisman simply because analysts are really beginning to take notice. Unfortunately, it's probably a little too late. However, all is not lost for the junior running back, as this late attention will surely be noticed by NFL scouts.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan vs. Ohio State: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

The Game projects to be not much of one at all this season.

Ohio State is 10-1, has won nine in a row, replaced a Heisman-contending quarterback with another and is a serious threat to spoil the party that is the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Michigan is 5-6, has no offense, enters Saturday off a loss and coach Brady Hoke's hot seat is in ashes.

Yet, this was the tune similar to last year's encounter, one that Michigan lost by a single point after a failed two-point conversion.

Things look lopsided this year, but try not to take it for granted. The Game has a way of birthing something special no matter what.

 

Keeping Cool

A favorite that buys into its own hype is dangerous to itself more than anything else.

J.T. Barrett looks great. The freshman has 2,658 yards and 33 touchdowns to 10 interceptions with another 849 yards and nine scores on the ground. His complement in the backfield, Ezekiel Elliott, averages 5.9 yards per carry and has 1,061 yards and eight scores as a result.

Should Urban Meyer's impressive offense jump out to an early lead, Michigan likely cannot keep up. That said, an early lead must come against what is a very underrated Wolverines defense that even held Penn State to 18 points, a team that scored 24 on Ohio State in double overtime.

Meyer is stressing this cool-headed approach in more than one way, though. After last year's game saw fights get some of his players ejected and miss the Big Ten championship, Meyer is taking a zero-tolerance policy toward that same behavior this year.

"He wants the game to be very intense, but if anybody throws any punches this year, we're dismissed," linebacker Curtis Grant said, per Austin Ward of ESPN.com. "You know he pretty much put it out there [Sunday], so there's no telling what will happen if you get into a fight this year. We've got to be on our best behavior."

As trivial as it sounds in comparison, keep in mind that undisciplined football in the heat of a rivalry game breeds unnecessary flags on the field. This impedes an offense in the face of a quality defense or gives Michigan more opportunities to stay in the game. 

In more ways than one, the Buckeyes need to take care of business in a calm manner. If not, well, Michigan has nothing to lose.

 

The X-Factor

Remember Devin Gardner?

Michigan's senior quarterback has taken a nosedive in play this season. A measly 1,663 yards and eight touchdowns to 14 interceptions can attest to that. Another 237 yards and four scores on the ground does not make up the difference, either.

But recall that Gardner is the guy who carried the Wolverines on his back last year. Not only that, he threw for 451 yards and accounted for five total touchdowns in The Game last season.

A jarring note from Nick Baumgardner of MLive Media Group really puts things into perspective:

As unlikely as it is, a return to form for Gardner could propel the Wolverines.

That is obviously a big "if." After all, a touchdown pass by Gardner Saturday would mark the first time he has thrown for a score on the road all season long.

Against a defense that has allowed seven opponents to score 24 or more points this season, anything is possible. Crazier things have happened. Crazier things will happen. Especially in The Game.

 

When: Saturday, November 29, Noon ET

Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio

Television: ABC

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 52.5
  • Spread: Ohio State (-21)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

One of the sporting world's most prolific rivalries will continue to suffer Saturday.

Make no mistake, Michigan is going to put up a much better fight than most would predict. Gardner might just bust out for his best game of the season and his defense will not simply break time after time.

But by the time four frames have come to pass, Barrett and Co. will have distanced themselves enough to send the Michigan program back to the drawing board in the hopes of a fresh start.

Prediction: Buckeyes 38, Wolverines 28

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Tech vs. Georgia: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate has never looked so great.

The Georgia Bulldogs predictably enter the 2014 edition of the instate rivalry with a 9-2 mark and dreams of an SEC East title. As an added bonus, the Bulldogs have won the last five games in this particular series.

The Yellow Jackets are more game than usual, though. Paul Johnson's team is ranked and touts the same record with an ACC Coastal title within grasp.

Not that either team needs motivation to play one another, but both enter on lengthy winning streaks with plenty to lose.

Rivalry week to close the season could not start on a better note.

 

Brute-Force Tactics

There is no sugar coating what the Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets do offensively.

The Bulldogs have a top-15 rushing attack thanks to the duo of Nick Chubb and Todd Gurley. Of course, the latter will be missing in action due to a knee injury, but the freshman Chubb has stepped up big this season when called upon with 1,152 yards and 11 touchdowns on a 7.2 per-carry average.

As ESPN CollegeFootball illustrates, Chubb has been good enough to hear his name whispered when it comes to a certain individual award:

The Yellow Jackets are much of the same and actually rank better than the Bulldogs this season thanks to a bevy of names that are proficient with the ball in their hands, including starting quarterback Justin Thomas:

To be blunt, there seems to be no stopping the Georgia Tech option attack.

Even in losses the offense puts up gaudy numbers. In a 48-43 loss to North Carolina, the team still rumbled for 376 yards and three scores on the ground. A 31-25 loss to Duke still birthed 282 yards and three scores.

Georgia does seem perfectly built to counter this attack, though.

The Bulldogs allow just 20.5 points per game on average, good for 18th in the nation. Chubb and a number of other backs can help the team grab the lead and keep the complementary defense off the field.

This, of course, relies on the notion that the Bulldogs can get out to an early lead.

 

Surprise Flights

The aforementioned Thomas in no way gets the respect he deserves as a passer.

Those 827 yards and five scores on the ground are nice, but the sophomore has shocked the globe this year with his 1,396 yards and 15 scores to four interceptions through the air.

Even Johnson admits that there was a time he considered getting Thomas off the bench as far back as last season, as captured by ESPN.com's Matt Fortuna:

We did but he wasn’t quite ready I don’t think. He’s gotten better as the year has gone on, too. He’s more confident. He’s starting to get a really good understanding of what we’re trying to do. Just like (against Clemson), he came over and before I even talked to him and he told me exactly what they were trying to do to him on the option. He’s got a pretty good understanding, pretty calm. He’s a good leader.

Thomas has the arm to go over the top of defenses focused on the run and do major damage.

Some of his success can certainly be accredited to leading wideout DeAndre Smelter, who has 671 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Mired in a run-first attack, those are great numbers.

Smelter torched the Bulldogs in an overtime loss last year to the tune of two grabs for 33 yards and a pair of touchdowns, a clear signal that the deep ball can and will catch the Bulldogs off guard with Thomas under center.

 

When: Saturday, November 29, Noon ET

Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Georgia

Television: SEC Network

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 65.5
  • Spread: Georgia (-13)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

Georgia is more than ready for the challenge its instate rival presents. 

This is a Bulldogs team that silenced an elite Auburn attack a few weeks back, holding the Tigers to seven points and 292 total yards.

Last year in this scenario, the Bulldogs fell behind by 20 on the road with Hutson Mason getting his first start in the rivalry and still won. It would be unwise to expect this one to be as close thanks to Chubb's emergence and an elite defense firing on all cylinders.

Prediction: Bulldogs 34, Yellow Jackets 24

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

Notre Dame and USC have one last chance to end things in a positive light.

It has been a trying season for both programs, to say the least. The Fighting Irish cannot help but shoot themselves in the foot each week and rest at 7-4 and losers of three straight.

The first year under the guidance of Steve Sarkisian has been and up-and-down affair that has the Trojans at the same mark and coming off a blowout at the hands of UCLA. 

Saturday, outside of being a notable rivalry, is a battle of pride and bowl positioning as two programs begin to turn an eye toward the future.

 

Grounded to Reality

The play for both teams as of late reflects the state of the programs from start to finish this year.

USC has suddenly been unable to rush the football despite the presence of tailback Javorius Allen. The junior has 1,244 yards and nine scores on the season but has broken the 100-yard mark just once in his last three outings and has one total touchdown.

That speaks well to how much the Trojans have struggled on the ground in that span, rushing for 127, 79 and 62 yards.

If there is going to be a turnaround, though, it will come against Notre Dame.

Brian Kelly's defense has careened off the side of a cliff along with the team's fortunes. Things looked great for just a second as the unit held Florida State to just 50 rushing yards in a 31-27 loss.

Fast forward one week, and there was Navy rushing for 336 yards as the Fighting Irish held on for a 10-point win. Arizona State rushed for 188 the week after in a rout. Northwestern won by three in overtime after that with 263 yards on the ground. Last week Louisville found room for 229.

USC finds itself in a situation to get back to that ground-based attack that gave defenses fits earlier in the season. Remember, it was not too long ago that the Trojans went to Stanford and downed an elite Cardinal defense by way of 156 yards and a score on the ground.

On the flip side, Notre Dame finds itself in a position to thump its chest one last time and prove it has not thrown in the towel.

 

Self-Inflicted Wounds

The above has been the name of the game for both programs this season.

USC is just not winning at the point of attack. In the embarrassing loss to the Bruins a week ago, quarterback Cody Kessler (3,133 yards, 30 touchdowns, four interceptions) took six sacks. Even he admits a handful of those were on him, not the line.

"Some of the sacks, I was trying to hold the ball a little longer, make things happen because we were down,” Kessler said, per Michael Lev of theOrange County Register. “My competitive spirit took over.”

Everett Golson and the Fighting Irish are no strangers to such problems. 

For as great as Golson was to start the season, he has now thrown 13 interceptions this year with plenty of fumbles to boot. Nine of his picks have come over the course of the team's last five games, including a dumbfounding four in the loss at Arizona State.

The issues are certainly not enough to get Golson benched at this point, though.

“There’s a lot of room for development, and we hope that his experience that he got this year and going into USC and in a bowl game that we continue to see development,” Kelly said, per Douglas Farmer of 247Sports. “He could be one of the top quarterbacks in the country, no question.”

How great the Fighting Irish can truly be is hard to discern with so many issues as Golson and the team continue to develop.

 

When: Saturday, November 29, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, California

Television: Fox

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 62.5
  • Spread: USC (-7)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

It is quite apparent that Notre Dame is a work in progress at this point. 

The Fighting Irish are at the lowest point of the season right now. Not much works offensively and the defense continues to see young players struggle to wrap up and make plays. 

In other words, Allen and the Trojans are going to have plenty of room to operate on the ground at home. 

One of Notre Dame's biggest faults this season has been its propensity to stumble out of the gates and never recover, which sounds about right after traveling across the country to face a strong offense. 

Prediction: Trojans 34, Fighting Irish 24

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss: 2014 Egg Bowl TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates

While no longer the biggest game of the weekend, the 2014 iteration of the Egg Bowl between the Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Ole Miss Rebels has national championship implications swinging in the balance.

Dak Prescott and the Bulldogs are 10-1 and hanging by a thread in the race to the College Football Playoff. A loss at Ole Miss ruins everything, as may an iffy performance in tandem with another contender winning a conference championship.

As ESPN Stats & Info reveals, other things outside of postseason implications make this a historic moment for the epic rivalry:

Ole Miss is ranked, but things have come fully unraveled, as the team has lost three of its last four. Saturday is a chance to play the spoiler in the greatest way imaginable, though—against an in-state rival.

 

Strengths Collide

This one has a different feel to it than in past years. As ESPN CollegeFootball illustrates, the last five meetings have been mostly comfortable final margins:

At face value, another large victory seems likely for the Bulldogs.

After all, the Rebels have the look of an absolute mess as of late. Mississippi State is still led by Dak Prescott, who owns 2,714 yards and 23 touchdowns through the air and another 891 yards and 12 scores on the ground.

Somewhat lost from the spotlight is junior back Josh Robinson, who has 1,084 yards and 11 touchdowns on a smooth 6.6 per-carry average.

Despite gaudy numbers, recent success and the reeling nature of the opposition, Prescott is not one to take his rivals lightly.

"They're good up front and they're good all the way around," Prescott said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "We just have to worry about staying sound on offense and taking care of what we've got to do."

It is quite the sage approach. For all of its faults and negative publicity as of late, the Ole Miss defense still ranks tops in the nation with an average of just 13.5 points allowed per game. 

A loss to LSU in Death Valley hurt, but the unit gave up just 10 points. A four-point loss to Auburn is rough but understandable given the level of competition. The only real major complaint on the resume is a 30-0 loss to Arkansas last time out, but the Razorbacks are quietly one of the best teams in the conference.

Really, the struggles of the defense are overexaggerated at best, and it can certainly keep pace with Prescott. In fact, the common theme that should have stuck out more than anything was offensive woes against top competition.

 

Counterpunch with Efficiency

Those woes fall directly on the shoulders of senior quarterback Bo Wallace.

Wallace has completed a career-low 62.8 percent of his passes this year with 22 scores to 10 picks. When he is off, though, it is quite difficult for the Rebels to overcome it.

Take last week's loss to Arkansas for example. Wallace went 16-of-31 for 235 yards and two picks. Really, think back to last year's overtime loss to these very same Bulldogs, when Wallace went 26-of-40 for 182 yards and a trio of interceptions.

Feel free to sprinkle in the fact that Wallace is dealing with an injury to boot, although it sounds as if he will play Saturday regardless, as captured by Hugh Kellenberger of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger:

Wallace has yet to truly overcome the loss of top wideout Laquon Treadwell. Since the season-ending injury to the offense's top weapon, running gaps have shrunk in size and passing lanes have been more clogged with defenses free to apply more resources throughout the field.

The Bulldogs certainly have the talent to make Wallace's life miserable, too. Not only does the defensive unit allow just 18.4 points on average, it has looked great against some of the SEC's best, including limiting Auburn to 23 points and Alabama to 25.

If Wallace is to have a defining moment, it will need to come in the face of unfavorable odds.

 

When: Saturday, November 29, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at Hollingsworth Field, Oxford, Mississippi

Television: CBS

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 49.5
  • Spread: Mississippi State (-3)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

Normally, it is safe to say prior performances, ranks and the like go out the window in a rivalry such as this.

But right now, it is just too difficult to ignore how much Ole Miss continues to struggle in all facets.

If a defense that was exploited on the ground one week ago cannot forget in a hurry, Prescott, Robinson and others are going to run wild in Oxford. Wallace is not a quarterback the Rebels want to ask to play from behind at the moment, either.

Look for Prescott to get his team an early advantage and then grind this one out. Were the Ole Miss offense fully healthy, this would be a different story. But teams have figured out how to make the Rebels a non-factor with the ball in their hands. Really, the Bulldogs got that started one year ago.

Prediction: Bulldogs 23, Rebels 17

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida vs. FSU: 2014 Florida Cup TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Time and More

Saturday's showdown between the Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles has wildly different implications for both sides. 

For the 6-4 Gators this is about pride. The final game of the season and final send-off for coach Will Muschamp gives the team a chance to ruin an in-state rival's perfect season and national title aspirations.

Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles are at a point in the season where anything less than outright wins may very well send them careening out of the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Both teams have been down as of late, but the stakes could not be higher Saturday afternoon in the battle for the Florida Cup.

 

The Ground Grind

Florida makes no attempt to hide what it wants to do—the Gators want to cram the ball down a defense's throat and play great defense.

The Seminoles know this is coming. Florida touts a stable of impressive runners, which includes a pair of quarterbacks at the end of the list:

Speaking of quarterbacks, Florida will trot out freshman Treon Harris once again despite a slight injury scare last week in a rout over Eastern Kentucky. Clearly Harris is a talented runner, but he also takes good care of the football and has six touchdown passes to one interception on the season.

Still, the problems for the Seminoles come on the ground.

The fact the Gators rush for almost 200 yards per game on the ground is of concern for a Seminoles defense that most recently allowed Boston College to turn 51 carries into 240 yards and a score on a 4.7 per-carry average.

In that contest, Tyler Murphy did much of what Harris will do Saturday by way of being a serious dual-threat that gives the Seminoles fits. The Seminoles allowed him to throw for 73 yards and a score and rush for 48 and another score.

If Florida State does not shore up its defense in the face of a great rushing team, championship aspirations may fade in a hurry. A lack of discipline and physicality against the rush is why the Seminoles have been living on the edge as of late—and the Gators know it.

 

Getting Dramatic

Jameis Winston and the Seminoles sure love to put on a show. 

Winston has struggled at times to look like the player that took home the Heisman last season. He has completed 66.0 percent of his passes for 3,125 yards and 19 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, but time after time has needed late-game heroics for his team to win.

Fisher at least attributes part of this to the fact his team gets every opponent's absolute best shot.

"We're going into battle," Fisher said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "These games are going to be dogfights. People are going to try and be the one that knocks us out, knocks us off, got nothing to lose."

Not only is this a rivalry with all of the aforementioned implications, but these two simply have a habit of making things closer than they need to be. Just ponder a note from Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel:

Each and every possession is going to count Saturday. So is every time the chains actually move.

With Florida State's inability to get off the field, the few times Winston actually has the ball in his hands are going to decide the game.

So far this has worked out fine for the Seminoles. So far.

 

When: Saturday, November 29, 3:30 p.m. ET

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

Television: ESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 53
  • Spread: Florida State (-7.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

The Seminoles are better than the Gators at most positions, but there is a big difference between talent and execution. 

It falls on the shoulders of the defense Saturday. So long as the unit can actually get a few stops and halt an elite rushing attack, Winston will once again be able to will his team to a win.

Look for this one to be close until the final frame. At home, Winston will be able to pull off a definitive drive late in the contest against a defense that is strong but certainly susceptible to exploitation through the air.

Prediction: Seminoles 24, Gators 20

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Predictions 2014: Updated College Playoff Projections Before Week 14

We are in unprecedented territory in college football, and the initial College Football Playoff is the overarching storyline hovering over every single game.

Questions about style points, strength of schedule, quality losses, the value of conference championships and more have framed the overall discussion about where teams should be ranked and when they should make a jump or take a fall. 

Now all that is left for playoff contenders is winning one or two more games before the real campaigning begins. With that in mind, read on for a look at the latest playoff projections from StatMilk, the updated national championship chances from Odds Shark and my own playoff picks before digging a bit deeper into the latest poll release.

(Note: As the table header indicates, the logo shown at the far right of each team's row is for that team's next opponent and not for the ranked team itself.)

 

StatMilk and Odds Shark Playoff Projections and Odds

*Odds to win national championship courtesy of Odds Shark, as of Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. ET.

 

Scott Polacek Playoff Projections

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State

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

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

 

Poll Breakdown

The new College Football Playoff poll was released on Tuesday, and the top seven remained unchanged.

One thing is abundantly clear, though. Alabama, Florida State and Oregon are all heading to the playoffs if they win their remaining games. It is also fairly clear that the Ducks and Seminoles are going to play each other in the semifinals in that scenario because the Crimson Tide aren’t giving up their death grip on that No. 1 seed if they win the SEC.

There was an important development lower in the poll when Ole Miss dropped all the way to No. 19. The Rebels are out of the playoff race, but they represent Mississippi State’s final opponent and a chance at securing a marquee win.

However, teams like Kansas State (No. 12), Michigan State (No. 10), Wisconsin (No. 14) and even Minnesota (No. 18) continue to rise in the rankings, which bolsters the chances of the other contenders for the No. 4 seed.

Kansas State is the carrot dangling at the end of the Baylor schedule, Michigan State is Ohio State’s best win (the argument can be made that is the best win for anyone in the country considering it came on the road at night by a multi-score margin) and Minnesota lost to both TCU and Ohio State.

What’s more, Wisconsin and Minnesota are even more important because one of those teams will be Ohio State’s opponent in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Meanwhile, Mississippi State will be left on the outside looking in at the SEC Championship Game, and that final potential win over Ole Miss will not look nearly as good as it would have earlier in the season. The Rebels have lost three SEC games, and that would mark four in this hypothetical.

To make matters worse, other marquee Mississippi State wins like Auburn (No. 15 now and will be lower after it loses to Alabama) and LSU (unranked) have lost much of their steam. In fact, both Tigers teams have lost their last four combined SEC games.

Despite the current No. 4 position, Mississippi State could be in the worst spot of all the contenders except TCU since the Buckeyes have the chance to be Big Ten outright champs, and the Bears have that game with Kansas State on the horizon and the head-to-head win over the Horned Frogs in their back pocket.

Future projections are more important than the current polls, and Jeff Long (chairman of the selection committee) hinted at that, via Ben Axelrod of Bleacher Report: "We try not to look into the future, but we've always said that championships won on selection weekend will have an impact. It will certainly add to [Ohio State's] body of work if they have that Big Ten championship."

Something else to watch out for on the bottom of the poll is the race between Marshall (No. 24) and Boise State (No. 23) for the designation as the highest-ranked team outside of the Power Five conferences. There is an automatic bid into a selection committee bowl game waiting for the highest one at end of season, and the two-loss Broncos are in an ideal spot.

Boise State lost to Air Force and Ole Miss but has been rewarded for playing a more difficult schedule than the undefeated Thundering Herd.

Another interesting development in the poll is the status of UCLA as the playoff dark horse. The Bruins are No. 8 and the highest-ranked of the two-loss teams, largely because of their schedule, as ESPN Stats & Info noted:

If the Bruins win out, that would mean a monster victory over Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. Depending on what happens with the rest of the one-loss squads, the Bruins could position themselves nicely for a playoff spot with wins over Oregon, USC, Arizona and Arizona State, and the boost that comes with being a major conference champion. 

It is not that difficult to envision a Kansas State win over Baylor, a Wisconsin win over Ohio State or even a Georgia Tech win over Florida State. If any of that happened, the playoffs could have a Los Angeles flavor at the end of the season.

 

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Oregon vs. Oregon State: 2014 Civil War TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates and Time

The 2014 Civil War between the Oregon Ducks and Oregon State Beavers in Corvallis Saturday does not look like much on paper.

Then again, neither did the same showdown with a similar outlook one year ago. There, the Beavers lost by just one point on a touchdown pass from Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota with less than a minute left in regulation.

Still, the 10-1 Ducks are playing the best football of their season and want to rest up before the Pac-12 title game. The 5-6 Beavers are dangerous at home thanks to an explosive offense, though, so anything can and likely will happen once the two step on the field.

 

Aerial Warfare

The globe knows about Mariota but perhaps not so much when it comes to Oregon State senior quarterback Sean Mannion.

As Lindsay Schnell of SI.com breaks down, Saturday will be the most prolific quarterback duel in Civil War history:

Mariota and Mannion are both dramatically different and surprisingly similar. Mariota is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, a player lauded for his ability to keep drives alive and torch defenses with his legs. Mannion, a coach’s son praised for his football IQ and accuracy, is built for pro-style offenses.

Mannion leads the 24th-ranked passing attack in the nation this year. His 3,002 yards and 14 touchdowns to eight interceptions come by way of a 63.5 completion percentage.

Yet that still somehow pales in comparison to Mariota, who has completed 68.0 percent of his passes for 3,103 yards and 32 touchdowns to just two interceptions this year. Sprinkle in 597 rushing yards and nine scores, and it is easy to see why Heisman chatter continues to center on him.

Believe it or not, though, this is the exact game the Beavers want to play.

Mannion is certainly talented enough to enough to take advantage of wobbly pass defenses. The Ducks certainly qualify, ranking No. 117 in the nation against the pass this season.

Now, Oregon has yet to encounter a quarterback who can actually make this matter.

But for comparison's sake, the Ducks got a 42-30 win over UCLA back in mid-October, while allowing Bruins signal-caller Brett Hundley (who leads the 27th-ranked passing attack) to throw for 216 yards and a pair of scores. 

Mannion is certainly capable of similar production, especially at home. If the Ducks defense does not come prepared, this Civil War will prove to be much closer than anticipated.

 

Fast Out the Gates

Oregon wants this game to go away quickly.

No—it needs it to get out of hand fast.

All of the potential opponents for the Ducks in the Pac-12 championship play the day before Mariota and Co. take the field in Corvallis, meaning the opposition will have the upper hand when it comes to preparation.

Getting out to an early lead means allowing freshman back Royce Freeman (1,050 yards, 16 touchdowns) to pound the rock and eat the clock. 

Really, it also means a team that has lost a number of players such as Pharaoh Brown, Hroniss Grasu and Tyler Johnstone, to name a few, can increase the odds it stays healthy if the starters are hanging out on the sidelines while the backups nurse a lead.

Oregon's lone hiccup this season came against Arizona, a team that was able to grab the lead after the first frame and keep the game close before pulling away.

Should the Ducks provide Mannion and Co. that same comfort, there is no telling what the Beavers and a top-flight passing attack can do at home to spoil Oregon's season.

 

When: Saturday, November 29, 8 p.m. ET

Where: Reser Stadium, Corvallis, Oregon

Television: ABC

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 67
  • Spread: Oregon (-20)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

Sometimes games just play out as the numbers say they will. 

That should be the case for the 2014 Civil War. The Ducks are simply too hot at the right time to falter in a trap game against a rival. This is not the same Oregon team that has crumbled with pressure on its shoulders in the past.

Mariota and Co. conquered Stanford. Then took down ranked Utah. Do not forget wins over Michigan State and UCLA, either. The Ducks are going to jump out early, neutralize the crowd and set sights on the title game.

Prediction: Ducks 40, Beavers 28

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn vs. Alabama: 2014 Iron Bowl TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time

The focal point of the Iron Bowl hinges around last year's shocking final moments, but it should be on an Auburn team with nothing to lose and an Alabama team on the hunt for revenge and placement in the College Football Playoff.

Chris Davis single-handedly took things into his own hands last year, which makes this year's rematch in Tuscaloosa the most-anticipated game of the year.

At 8-3, Auburn is not riding the wave of momentum most would have figured going into a game that has seen each of its past five winners play for the national championship. Alabama has not lost since early October, suggesting that two teams headed in different directions will birth a predictable outcome.

If only it were that easy.

 

Dual Threats

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall knows what it takes to upend the Crimson Tide.

Marshall is an elite dual-threat quarterback under center, the exact thing that tends to give Nick Saban-directed defenses fits. This year the senior has 1,859 yards and 15 scores through the air, with another 731 yards and 11 scores on the ground.

Last year he accounted for three total scores in the victory. As Bleacher Report's Marc Torrence captures, Saban is well aware that the versatility of Gus Malzahn's offense means his unit needs to play assignment-based football just about perfectly Saturday:

What makes Marshall even more dangerous is the fact senior back Cameron Artis-Payne (1,405 yards, 11 touchdowns) could break free at any moment for a big gain, too.

But just as Marshall can hurt the Crimson Tide in a number of ways, so too can Blake Sims damage the Tigers.

Saturday is Blake Sims' first foray into the historic rivalry, but as his 2,676 yards and 20 touchdowns through the air and 279 yards and five scores on the ground display, the senior can and will keep the Tigers honest.

"The quarterback doesn't carry it a whole lot, but when he does he's a threat to go the whole way," Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "He's big and fast. He can get the ball outside, whereas that was a play you didn't really worry about (in the past)."

Alabama has averaged 35.0 points per game behind the arms and legs of Sims this season, but the unit has come back down to Earth against top-tier SEC opposition. Sims and Co. did not score more than 25 points in matchups with Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU.

With that in mind, Marshall wants this to be a track meet. Whether he gets it may very well be up to his shaky defense.

 

Halting the Regression

Through the first five games of the season, a strong defense was one of the main reasons many were ready to consider the Tigers serious threats for the CFP.

Then it all fell apart.

The Tigers have allowed a minimum of 31 points in each of their last five SEC games, three of which have wound up as losses. So while many will point out that the team ranks second in red-zone defense in the conference, it means little in the grand scheme of things.

Especially against this Alabama offense that is so much more than just Sims. Backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry both average better than 5.0 yards per carry. Wideout Amari Cooper might just take home the Heisman and has 1,349 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season.

As James Crepea of The Montgomery Advertiser captures, Auburn is well aware of the challenge ahead:

The last time Auburn faced a run-first attack akin to Alabama's, it allowed 289 rushing yards and three scores on the ground in a 34-7 loss to Georgia just two games ago.

If there is not a dramatic turnaround, this one may get ugly on the road.

 

When: Saturday, November 29, 7:45 p.m. ET

Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Television: ESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 54
  • Spread: Alabama (-9.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

At this very moment, Alabama is just too good.

The Crimson Tide have grown up before the eyes of the globe as this season has progressed. Meanwhile, Auburn has swung in the other direction mostly thanks to a defense that simply cannot hold up in the face of top-tier opposition.

Malzahn's offense will give the Crimson Tide plenty of problems, but that being a deciding factor hinges on the defense actually getting enough meaningful stops.

Against this Crimson Tide team, another miracle is a must for Auburn on the road.

Prediction: Crimson Tide 28, Tigers 24

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pac-12 Football: Each Team's Best Prospect for the 2015 NFL Draft

For the next month and a half, all of the focus on the Pac-12 will revolve around rivalry weekend, the conference title game and bowl season. But merely hours after the national champion is decided, that focus will switch to the NFL draft, where the Pac-12 will have a chance to shine brighter than ever.

Every team in the league has players who could go on to star at the next level. It's no coincidence that the current standings reflect which teams will likely have the most players selected and moving on to play in the pros.

There are a couple of ways to look at the best prospects. You could go simply by draft positioning and think of it in terms of who will get picked the highest. You might also consider who will turn out to be the best pro regardless of what round he's picked in, and sometimes the two schools of thought have no correlation.

Using both of those as guidelines, let's take a look at every Pac-12 team's best prospect for the 2015 NFL draft.

Begin Slideshow

Ranking Best Games in Michigan-Ohio State Rivalry

Michigan vs. Ohio State has been called the greatest rivalry in sports, and the teams are meeting for the 97th straight year and 111th time overall. Michigan leads the series (58-46-6), but Ohio State has been on a roll, winning 11 of the last 13 meetings.

“The Game” has been marked by remarkable performances, surprising upsets and great competition. Both teams recruit many of the same players, and those who leave their home state to play for the other team often draw the ire of both family and friends.

The teams even refuse to use the given names of their respective institutions. Michigan is “that school up north,” and Ohio State is simply referred to as “Ohio.”

Here are some of the greatest games in the history of the rivalry.

Begin Slideshow

UCLA Football: How the Bruins Must Attack Stanford's Tough Defense

This upcoming Friday, Jim Mora and the UCLA football team will look to exorcise the proverbial demons as they host the Stanford Cardinal. 

Mora has yet to defeat Stanford during his time in Westwood. The Cardinal's staunch defense has made life very difficult for Brett Hundley and company. 

In the latest installment, the Bruins hope to put up points on the No. 6 defense in the entire country. 

This piece will cover three strategic aspects which will help UCLA to victory. 

Begin Slideshow

Kynon's Korner: Nation's Hottest WR Recaps Wake OV and Previews Ohio State Trip

Last weekend, 3-star wideout Lawrence Cager took an official visit to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for the Wake Forest-Virginia Tech tilt. The game was a defensive slugfest, as neither team scored in regulation. The Demon Deacons eventually topped the Hokies 6-3 in double overtime. 

It's safe to say Wake's offense was more Demon than Deacon. What were Cager's thoughts on the visit? 

"It was a great visit to a great school," explained Cager. "The players are great, and the coaches are good." 

A week ago, Cager raved about his trip to Tuscaloosa for the Alabama-Mississippi State game. Cager told Bleacher Report, "I rate the visit a 10." He later added how impressed he was with Alabama quarterback Blake Sims for watching his highlight tape prior to his arrival. 

This weekend, Cager is off to Columbus for the Ohio State-Michigan game. Although the contest has lost some of its luster on paper, it's still a marquee rivalry game that attracts top recruits. The Buckeyes will look to wow Cager the same way the Crimson Tide did two weeks ago. The Ohio State staff has made Cager a priority, and it starts with head coach Urban Meyer

"My relationship with Coach Meyer is a good one," stated Cager. "I talk to him like once a week, even though my primary recruiter is Larry Johnson."

Meyer is one of the best closers in college football. When he locks in on a recruit, there is a good chance he gets his signature come signing day.

The Buckeyes offense has been on a roll since the September game against Virginia Tech. Quarterback J.T. Barrett set the Ohio State single-season record for total yards and passing touchdowns.

When asked about Barrett's play, Cager simply responded, "J.T. is a beast."

The 6'5", 205-pound receiver will get to see the redshirt freshman up close Saturday, and he could be catching passes from him next season if all goes well for Meyer and Co. when Cager announces at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January 2015.

 

Pair of 2016 Stars Scheduled For Iron Bowl

Alabama will welcome a slew of prospects to Tuscaloosa for the Iron Bowl this Saturday. Cornerback John Broussard and Crimson Tide commit Demetris Robertson have confirmed to Bleacher Report that they will be in attendance for the annual SEC clash. 

This will be Robertson's first game-day action, and the committed target is looking forward to getting on campus. "I've been waiting to get back to T-Town to see coach [Nick] Saban and coach [Kirby] Smart and the other guys," said an excited Robertson.

Florida State and Georgia hosted Robertson earlier this season. The Tide will likely show him the red-carpet treatment. 

According to Broussard, the schools coming after him the hardest are Auburn, Georgia, Kentucky and LSU. Alabama has shown interest, and he went to the Tide's game against the Aggies earlier this fall. Auburn and Alabama are definitely in the mix.

When asked about the Yellowhammer State affair and where he stands with each program, Broussard said, "Yes sir, I'm going to the game. I'm not really sure who will win. Bama hasn't offered me yet, but Auburn has. At Auburn, it's the atmosphere, my relationships with the coaches, and it's just a great place. I get a lot of love when I go there."

The 247Sports Crystal Ball is trending toward Auburn for Broussard. However, if Alabama offers, the Tide could move up to the top spot, setting the stage for another heated recruiting battle for one of the state's top prospects. 

 

4-star WR Set For Return Visit To Tallahassee

St. Petersburg (Florida) Lakewood flanker Ryan Davis will be in Tallahassee for the Florida State-Florida game. Davis is considering both schools, but he said he will be neutral this weekend.

Last month, he attended the Florida State-Notre Dame thriller, and this matchup should include the same excitement despite Florida's 6-4 record. Many players on each roster have played together since high school or earlier.

The 4-star athlete has seen his recruitment heat up over the last couple of weeks. Alabama and Kansas State offered Davis, and the Tide have caught his eye. The speedy playmaker said he will take an official visit to 'Bama after the season. 

 

'Canes Still Coming After Wisconsin Pledge

Dominic Sheppard out of Miami (Florida) Gulliver Prep has been committed to Wisconsin since July, but that hasn't stopped schools from recruiting him. The hard-hitting linebacker checked out the Hurricanes-Seminoles showdown on Saturday, Nov. 15.

Jorge Baez, Miami's assistant director of player personnel, coached Sheppard at Gulliver Prep prior to taking a job on Al Golden's staff in August. "I still like Wisconsin, but having Coach Baez on the UM staff does play a major role," said Sheppard. "Coach [Earl] Sims always speaks highly of Coach Golden." 

Sims played for Golden at the University of Virginia and is the head coach at Gulliver.

Is Sheppard 100 percent committed to Wisconsin despite his local ties to UM? "I am," replied Sheppard. "But I'm still going to take all of my official visits."

The 6'2" 225-pounder has offers from Boston College, Louisville and Vanderbilt, among others.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand. Recruiting information and ratings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Picks: Week 14 Predictions for Every Game

The season's over already?

That's what a lot of college football fans will be saying after this weekend, which marks the final round of games for many FBS teams that won't be playing in bowl games. For others, it will be the last regular-season contest, with all that remains being an invite to a far-off locale against an intriguing opponent in a one-off game sponsored by a relatively obscure advertiser.

And then there are those fighting for the big time, the first-ever four-team playoff, as well as the major bowl games associated with the College Football Playoff system.

A lot is riding on this weekend of action, with almost every game having some impact on the bowl selections and playoff rankings. Heading into Thursday's holiday games, 74 schools have secured bowl eligibility (including two that, as transitioning FBS members, would only get a bid if they're all that remains for bowls to pick from), and another 17 teams are a win away from being bowl-eligible.

Only 78 bowl spots are available.

No week of college football this season has had more intrigue than this one, which would already be a big one because of the many rivalry games. However, it's even more important due to bowl and playoff positioning. But who will win?

Check out our predictions for Week 14's games, then give us your selections in the comments section.

Last week: 44-13 (.772)

Season: 569-185 (.754)

Begin Slideshow

How Michigan Can Contain Ohio State Stars Joey Bosa and JT Barrett

Believe it or not, Michigan's defense has stood up to some of the best in the Big Ten.

However, on Saturday, it'll face the best against Ohio State at The Shoe in Columbus.

On one hand, a win—accompanied by a few style points—could push the 10-1 and No. 6-ranked Buckeyes closer to the top four and into the national title hunt.

On the other, a victory would make the 5-6 Wolverines even on the year, eligible for the postseason and slightly more confident heading into 2015.

As expected, Urban Meyer's guys are heavy favorites over Brady Hoke's Team 135ers. Odds Shark indicates the Buckeyes are favored by 21 points.

Those numbers are probably right.

If the Wolverines are to have any chance of reversing their ill fortunes in waiting, Greg Mattison's defense has to play at its highest level of the year. All of that starts by containing Heisman Trophy contender J.T. Barrett.

Conversely, if the Wolverines are to have any shot of escaping alive, they'll have to put the brakes on Lombardi Award-worthy defensive end Joey Bosa.

 

Mobile in Red

Barrett is a redshirt freshman who's leading the league's No. 1-ranked scoring offense (44 PPG) and No. 2-ranked total offense (511 YPG) into "The Game," one of the most competitive environments in all of sport. 

Think about that for a second. It takes a special kind of veteran to survive those moments. But the youngster is beyond his years, and his ability to manufacture points and lead drives has to make coordinator Tom Herman and Ed Warriner's job pretty easy.

That, in turn, makes Mattison's job more difficult.

"Barrett is an outstanding quarterback," Mattison said of the 6'2", 225-pounder. "He's very, very talented. He can throw the football. He can run it. He runs that offense very, very well.

We've played against some great quarterbacks, so our guys will be ready. We know what we have to do and we're looking forward to the challenge of doing it."

Considering the circumstances, Mattison's defense has actually limited most quarterbacks. Other than Rutgers' Gary Nova, who threw for 404 yards, there hasn't been one who has really exploited Michigan. The successful ones just continuously pick at the holes, taking what's given on a drive-by-drive basis.

That's how Michigan State's Connor Cook did it—bits here, followed by occasional chunks there—and the same worked this past weekend for Maryland's C.J. Brown.

Barrett can do that, and then some. He's arguably the best quarterback Michigan will have faced this fall.

As always, capping long throws downfield will be important. Keeping Barrett's arm at bay is crucial, but Michigan must start by watching his feet—if Barrett's boxed in, the chances of forcing him into mistakes increases.

"I always look at the next challenge as being the biggest challenge," Mattison said. "This is the next one, so yes it is the biggest challenge. It's the next one—whoever you're playing next, that's the way we look at it and we're excited about it."

 

Joey Boss-a

According to 247Sports, Bosa was the No. 4-ranked strong-side defensive end recruit in 2013. Now a 6'6", 278-pound sophomore, the Buckeyes star has "Sunday" written all over him.

Auburn wanted Bosa. So did Alabama and Florida, among several others.

"I recruited him. I've seen him as a youngster. He's an outstanding football player," Mattison said. "He's like some of our guys. He's a good football player. He's young and does some really good things. You know, it's fun watching him."

How much fun? When asked to elaborate, Mattison rattled off a tongue-twisting homage to the juggernaut of coach Larry Johnson, Luke Fickell and Chris Ash's defense.

"He just plays hard. He plays like...he plays like I expect...he plays like defensive linemen...um, that...play...

I think Willie Henry plays like him. I think Chris Wormley plays like him. I think guys that do a good a good job and do what they're supposed to do, that's how they play. They play hard, they do their technique, they run to the football.

And that's what he does. That's what he's coached to do, and you can see him do that. He plays excited."

So to clarify, Mattison essentially said that Bosa was a force of nature who's capable of snapping the Wolverines' offensive line into pieces. OK, so he didn't exactly say that. But he respects Bosa's ability and likely fears for the safety of Devin Gardner.

That one was a reach, too.

But you get the hint. Bosa is a badass. That's why Mattison recruited him. If Michigan's O-line does one thing—just one thing—on Saturday, it must limit Bosa. That's the mission: Forget about everyone else and focus on No. 97.

He'll move around, playing high in some packages and low in others, but he'll be there. Classic tactics such as running plays away from Bosa's side will only work for so long. He covers a lot of ground and can't be dodged forever.

Now is the time for Wolverines offensive line coach Darrell Funk to have a heart-to-heart with his front five. It's the season finale, it's versus Ohio State—it's gut-check time for Funk's O-line.

 

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and references to were obtained firsthand by the writer.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Projections 2014: Current Playoff Rankings and Predictions Before Week 14

Even though there is something wondrous about the entire bowl season, this year brings something new and different to the table for college football. With the final College Football Playoff standings coming out in just over one week, the final four has never been more in focus. 

Of course, since this is college football we are talking about, crazy things start happening once you think everything is figured out. For instance, a team like Florida State has been flirting with disaster all year. No one would be shocked if the Seminoles found the banana peel before December 7. 

Whatever is in store for the College Football Playoff and the selection committee, it will all be fascinating to watch unfold. Instead of merely waiting around for the games to be played, here's what you should expect to see happen by the time all the games have been played. 

(Note: As the table header indicates, the logo shown at the far right of each team's row is for that team's next opponent and not for the ranked team itself.)

 

College Football Playoff Predictions

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

There's not a lot of mystery involved with this matchup. Oregon and Florida State have already clinched spots in their respective conference championship games and aren't likely to be challenged over the next two weeks. 

The Ducks have a rivalry game with Oregon State on Saturday. It's being played at Reser Stadium and weird things can happen in these games, but the Beavers haven't won in this spot since 2007. They did come close last year, losing by one point, though don't expect another tight battle. 

Oregon State's offense averages 26.3 points per game; Oregon averages 45.8. Oregon State allows 30.2 points per game; Oregon allows 23.6.

The one thing that will give Oregon State a chance in this spot is quarterback Sean Mannion. The senior is completing 63.5 percent of his passes with 3,002 yards. Since the offense around him isn't very good, Mannion has only thrown 14 touchdowns this year. 

Comparing Mannion to Marcus Mariota is like comparing a random Wednesday night dinner to a Thanksgiving meal, as noted by Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

Once Oregon gets past Oregon State, it will have a matchup in the Pac-12 Championship Game with UCLA, Arizona or Arizona State. While Arizona will get mentioned as a potential spoiler because of its head-to-head win over Oregon earlier in the season, it's important to note the Ducks' offensive line has improved dramatically over the last two months. 

Oregon has already blown UCLA out of the water this season and there's no reason to expect anything different. Arizona State would have made an interesting opponent, but its loss against Oregon State and 97 points allowed in the last three games don't paint a pretty picture. 

Florida State has the easiest path of any top contender to get in. The Seminoles have a nonconference showdown with Florida, which is coming into the game with a 6-4 record and only one win against a ranked team (Georgia). 

The ACC Championship Game against Georgia Tech is where the slip-up could happen. The Yellow Jackets are fourth in the nation with 327.9 rushing yards per game and 14th in points per game (37.8).

Florida State's run defense has been terrible of late, giving up 240 yards to Boston College and 176 to Miami, yet the team has found a way to win all of its games thus far. 

However, as noted by Heather Dinich of ESPN.com, it's not impossible to see a scenario where Florida State gets left out of the playoff with less-than-impressive wins:

In the court of public opinion. Florida State has won 27 straight games and is the only undefeated Power 5 team remaining, yet the selection committee and seemingly everyone else outside of Tallahassee has pointed to the Noles' slew of close wins as a weakness.

While it's highly unlikely an undefeated team that won the national championship last year would get moved below teams with one loss (Ohio State, TCU, Baylor, Mississippi State), the committee has not hesitated to punish the Seminoles for looking pedestrian. 

Given what we've seen from the Seminoles this year, you can't bet against them to lose before the playoff begins. They will make you look like a fool every time. 

 

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State

Here's where the biggest change from the current rankings comes in. Alabama is pretty self explanatory, being ranked No. 1 already and playing an Auburn team on Saturday that's allowed 179 points in its last five SEC games. 

Assuming the Crimson Tide take care of business at home on Saturday in the Iron Bowl, Missouri or Georgia awaits in the SEC Championship Game. Missouri lost to Indiana and got shut out by Georgia earlier in the season. The Tigers haven't beaten a team currently ranked in the top 25 all year. 

Georgia's offense plays into Nick Saban's hands. The Bulldogs are a run-first team, while the Crimson Tide haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in conference play all year. All you need to know about how well Alabama is playing right now comes courtesy of R.J. Bell from PreGame.com:

The selection committee obviously thinks highly of Alabama, so it would take a massive upset for something to change its collective mind. 

All the chaos comes when you look at the No. 4 spot. Mississippi State occupies the final slot right now, though that could change twice over the next 10 days. If the Bulldogs lose to Mississippi, their title chances are done. 

Even with a win, Mississippi State will need help because Ole Miss doesn't look as good as it once did thanks to three losses in its last four games. Dan Mullen's team also won't have the benefit of a conference title game unless it wins and Alabama loses to Auburn. 

That leaves TCU, Ohio State and Baylor fighting for the fourth spot. Assuming all three teams win this weekend, TCU seems unlikely to stay above Baylor because of Baylor's head-to-head victory. That leaves Baylor and Ohio State still fighting for the final playoff spot. 

Ohio State gets the advantage in this scenario by virtue of having two more games left, including a potential Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin. It's vital the Buckeyes play the Badgers over Minnesota because Urban Meyer's team already defeated the Golden Gophers. 

It would also look better to the selection committee if Ohio State defeated the 14th-ranked team (Wisconsin) instead of a second win over the 18th-ranked team (Minnesota), The elephant in the room, as noted by Doug Lesmerises of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, is figuring out how to judge the Buckeyes:

The greatest debate in college football is the balance between how the Buckeyes are playing in the last two months vs. the Virginia Tech loss vs. the overall strength of their schedule in the Big Ten. Ohio State is the lynchpin of the playoff at the moment. The debate any more really isn't who will be No. 4.

It's whether Ohio State gets in or not.

There's no doubt Virginia Tech is a bad loss for Ohio State, but the committee has already come to accept how much the Buckeyes have grown by putting them sixth in the rankings. One more statement win over Wisconsin should be enough to fill the Buckeyes' resume out as one of the four best teams in the country. 

 

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Nebraska Football: Underclassmen Who Need to Step Up Against Iowa

Against Minnesota, the Nebraska football team took a hit. It wasn't just the loss that stung. It was the injuries to upperclassmen like wide receiver Kenny Bell and center Mark Pelini.

When the Huskers walk into Kinnick Stadium to take on Iowa, underclassmen will be expected to step up. With players like Bell still "50/50," as head coach Bo Pelinitold reporters, younger players will have to make the big plays necessary for Nebraska to win.

Who exactly are those underclassmen?

First, center Ryne Reeves is expected to start in Pelini's absence. However, it won't be the first time he's seen the field this season. As Rich Kaipust of the Omaha World-Herald pointed out, Reeves has had his fair share of snaps over the last 10 football games.

Against Minnesota, for instance, he had 57 snaps alone. That has to make the underclassman feel good about his role for Nebraska against Iowa.

Offensive coordinator Tim Beck is confident Reeves will handle the job just fine:

We’ve been fortunate enough to give him a lot of reps through the course of the season — and he played well. Obviously having a senior like Mark — who’s a veteran player, who’s played in a lot of ball games — (get injured) is a big blow to us. But Ryne is capable of definitely handling the workload.

Reeves will still have to step up and be a leader for Nebraska. With the experience, he's on the right track.

As for the wide receiver position, Bell may not get a chance to play against Iowa. Because of this, there are two underclassmen who will need to fill the void he leaves behind. Those two players are freshman De'Mornay Pierson-El and sophomore Jordan Westerkamp.

Pierson-El has gained more and more playing time as the season has progressed. He had an opportunity to make the game-winning catch against Minnesota, but the Gophers stripped the ball from him and the rest is history.

"They know how hard it is on me," Pierson-El told Huskers.com. "I’m upset with myself and everything, but to know that they’re not upset and for them to come to me in that moment and still have a smile on their face and hug me, it just makes everything a lot easier on me.”

That attitude is a big part of why Pierson-El has earned the playing time he has. He summed up the reason why with a simple answer: “They just trust me more."

Westerkamp, on the other hand, had a stellar start to his season. He had a touchdown catch in the first three games of the year but has only had one against Rutgers since. Westerkamp will need to find his groove again.

With Bell potentially out, Westerkamp is in a position to be the leader the receivers need in his absence. That will require both big and smart plays.

However, to make those plays happen, he'll need to have good communication with a key person—none other than quarterback Tommy Armstrong.

Armstrong's sophomore season has been a rocky one. For fans, it hasn't always been what was wanted. However, Armstrong has had shining moments.

For instance, Armstrong had a good day against Minnesota, despite the loss. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 223 yards and one touchdown. He also rushed for another 45 yards. If he can have a similarly good game against Iowa, he could very well lead the Huskers to a much-needed win.

That's the catch, though. Can Armstrong lead this group after back-to-back losses? The trick will be for him to stay relaxed.

"When he’s just relaxed and being himself back there he is an efficient quarterback," I-back Ameer Abdullah told reporters. "I’m sure this weekend will be another testament of how he is trying to take the pressure off himself and just let things go."

Nebraska is reeling from the losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota. Beyond that, there are serious concerns with the losses of upperclassmen who had led this team for a few years now.

That's why the Huskers will need the underclassmen to step up.

They're not just the future of this program. They're the ones who will determine the outcome against Iowa.

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Randy Gregory Injury: Updates on Nebraska Star's Ankle and Return

Dealing with an ankle sprain, Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory is questionable for Friday's regular-season finale at Iowa.   

Head coach Bo Pelini, via Rivals.com's Robin Washut, confirmed the news regarding the talented junior:

The Pioneer Press' Marcus R. Fuller added some details about the injury, suggesting that it doesn't sound overly serious:

Gregory, a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, has 50 tackles and seven sacks on the season, per Sports-Reference.com.

"(There are) plenty of good pass rushers in the country, but I think he's the best this year," an NFC North scout said earlier this month regarding Gregory, via NFL.com.

While a minor injury isn't going to affect his draft stock, it's undoubtedly a major loss for the Cornhuskers if he isn't available to suit up.

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