NCAA Football News

College Football Week 14: Picking the CFP Top 25 Games Against the Spread

As rivalry week approaches, the end of college football season beckons. This is the last full slate of games until September 2015. And we'd better find a way to make it count.

Fortunately, I am coming to you on a hot streak, having just gone 12-4 against the spread with my Week 13 picks. The professional thing to do would be to act like I have been here before. No biggie…I always cash at 80 percent. Just toss the ball back to the referee.

Whatever. Professionalism is overrated.

Seriously, though, I saw the board well last week and think I have a similar read on the rivalry games. Typically, that means it might be time to fade me. Statistically, that means it's definitely time to fade me. Heed this advice at your own, readily assumed risk.

But don't come crying to me if you fade these and end up 4-12.

 

All spreads courtesy of Odds Shark unless noted otherwise.

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Wisconsin and Minnesota Mascots Roast Each Other on Twitter During Rivalry Week

No. 18 Minnesota and No. 14 Wisconsin will battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday. With the rivalry game looming, Goldy Gopher and Bucky Badger have been exchanging jabs on Twitter.

Things started slowly on Monday.

However, both mascots—and the University of Wisconsin-Madison—have increased the heat in the days leading up to the matchup.

The Badgers appear to have won the battle.

Minnesota has lost 10 straight meetings, with its last win in the series back in 2003.

Rivalry week has always been great. Thanks to Twitter, it's even better these days.

[Twitter]

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Michal Menet Names Top 5: Which Program Is Best Fit for 2016 4-Star?

Prized Pennsylvania offensive lineman Michal Menet may still be more than a year away from signing with any college program, but he's already developed a list of top contenders. The 4-star recruit tweeted his top five Tuesday, pointed out by Greg Pickel of Scout.com:

Menet, a 6'5", 250-pound junior at Exeter Township High School in Reading, has a trio of Big Ten programs in the picture. Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State are caught up in another conference power struggle, while Duke and Florida State offer ACC opportunities.

The athletic lineman is rated ninth among offensive tackles in 247Sports' composite rankings and possesses a physical frame equipped to pack on pounds as he matures. Menet holds the top overall ranking when it comes to 2016 prospects in Pennsylvania, a state that perennially produces elite difference-makers.

He already holds invitations to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and Under Armour All-America Game, both scheduled for January 2016.

Now that Menet has provided a glimpse into his thought process toward particular programs, let's break down each favorite in search of an ideal fit.

 

Duke

The Blue Devils have quietly emerged as an ACC contender in recent years, and on-field success has carried over into the recruiting spectrum. Head coach David Cutcliffe will lead the team into its third straight bowl game this winter and could enter unchartered territory with a top-30 recruiting class in February.

The university's reputation as a globally respected academic institution enhances the sales pitch and attracts players from across the country who've noted that football is on the rise in Durham. Duke's 2015 class features prospects from eight states, including a pair of California 4-stars.

The Blue Devils' 2016 class is on pace to be its best ever based on a strong start. It already features three 4-star recruits, and Menet would provide further clout.

Duke offers him an opportunity to become the team's most heralded incoming lineman in recent memory. He could quickly become an anchor up front for a program with 18 regular-season wins since 2013.

 

Florida State

The Seminoles are certainly far more established than conference counterpart Duke. Florida State is unbeaten during the past two seasons, and there's plenty of promise for further success in a post-Jameis Winston world.

Head coach Jimbo Fisher has compiled the makings of a formidable rushing attack that could shred defenses for years to come. Dalvin Cook, a 5-star 2014 signee, is gaining steam during the final stretch of his senior season, and more elite backfield help is on the way.

Jacques Patrick and Johnny Frasier—both rated among the top five running backs in 247Sports' composite rankings—are committed to the Seminoles. Even with three quarterback pledges in this class, the future of Florida State's offensive attack appears to be run-heavy.

Just about every elite offensive lineman will tell you he prefers to block downfield, and, judging by his game film, Menet is no exception. Fisher holds just three total offensive line commits in the 2015 and 2016 classes combined.

He'll look to load up on linemen before next signing day and waited only until April to extend an offer to Menet, who would be counted on to keep top-ranked junior quarterback Malik Henry upright for years to come in a talent-laden offense.

 

Michigan State

The Spartans were among the first teams to offer Menet, pulling the trigger on a scholarship last December. He visited the campus in April, developing a strong rapport with offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Mark Staten along the way.

Michigan State identified Menet as a key target early in the 2016 evaluation process. The team could use a "franchise" tackle who can dominate for multiple seasons and managed to secure just one 4-star recruit at the position during the past three cycles.

The Spartans signed 4-star Pennsylvania defensive back Montae Nicholson in February, and top-rated 2015 pledge Larry Scott is an Ohio product. In order to land Menet, Michigan State would again need to reach into a Big Ten foe's backyard.

 

Ohio State

Head coach Urban Meyer has made it clear he's capable of securing commitments from every corner of the country during tenures at Ohio State and Florida. Now he'll go toe-to-toe with Penn State coach James Franklin for homegrown Pennsylvania talent.

The Buckeyes beat out Penn State for common 4-star lineman targets Jashon Cornell and Matthew Burrell earlier in the 2015 recruiting cycle, and an ongoing battle carries into the next class. Ohio State has loaded up at offensive skill positions but could still use some more beef up front to protect a collection of quality quarterbacks.

Ohio State swung and missed on Tennessee offensive tackle Drew Richmond in September but made up for it by landing Burrell. The team also holds commitments from several 3-star offensive linemen in the 2015 class, including 6'9", 305-pound New Jersey mauler Kevin Feder.

Meyer's 2016 class features four players, each from Ohio. Buckeyes pledge Tyler Gerald may be the top guard prospect in the cycle and could ultimately line up at tackle.

Menet visited Columbus for a game in September. He landed his Ohio State offer during an April campus trip and will assuredly be on campus again before a decision is made.

 

Penn State

The prohibitive favorite in this race due to proximity and program familiarity, Penn State hopes to add to the stockpile of offensive linemen Franklin has acquired since taking the job. The offensive front is in good shape moving forward, which is key considering past scholarship sanctions at the school.

Unlike some teams in his top group, Penn State is preparing for an influx of impact offensive linemen next year. Sterling Jenkins, Steven Gonzalez and Ryan Bates are 4-star recruits capable of contributing early in Happy Valley.

Penn State extended a scholarship at the start of Menet's sophomore season, shortly after Rutgers and Temple became the first options on his list. The coaching regime has changed since, but you better believe he remains a centerpiece on the program's 2016 recruiting board.

The Nittany Lions hosted Menet on campus this summer for camp, and he returned for a game last month. Penn State is still looking for offensive line talent in the 2016 class, but an impressive 2015 haul could potentially create a logjam at tackle.

 

The Verdict

Expect Penn State to remain a mainstay on his list through the conclusion of this recruitment. However, when faced with finding the best fit, our gaze shifts away from Menet's home state.

The opportunity to fill an immediate need at offensive tackle in Tallahassee is tough to pass up. Florida State has as stable a coaching situation as any university in America and will continue to contend for titles with the recruiting classes Fisher has assembled.

Menet would lead the way for a trio of running backs that could become college football's best backfield. He would also serve as part of the foundation for a 2016 class that already includes a blue-chip quarterback commit who was coveted across the country.

As an offensive lineman, there's a lot to like about a potential role with the Seminoles. That allure leads Florida State to the top of this list.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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10 Biggest Questions Facing Top 25 Teams Heading into Week 14

Here we are. For many teams, Week 14 marks the end of the regular season. Next week, the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC will hold their conference championships. 

The latest College Football Playoff rankings showed no movement among the Top Seven spots. Those are considered to be the teams with the most realistic shot of getting in the playoff. But with rivalry week upon us, there are several opportunities for chaos to ensue. 

Which storylines are worth following this Thanksgiving weekend? The answers are in the following slides. 

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

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Watch Crushing Blows and Diving TD Catch in Our Craziest Plays of the Week

Watch the craziest plays of the week in high school football.

The season is winding down, but it's not too late to create highlights and remember your big games. Log in to Hudl and highlight any plays from your past games that you want to appear on your athlete profile. Once they're saved, you can share them with family, friends and recruiters.

Which play did you think was the best?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Inside Urban Meyer's Approach to the Ohio State-Michigan Rivalry

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In Urban Meyer's postgame press conference following Ohio State's 42-27 win over Indiana last Saturday, questions predictably focused on the Buckeyes' future opponent more than their most recent one.

"How does the pace for next week change around the Woody [Hayes Athletic Center]?" one reporter asked in reference to Ohio State turning its attention from the Hoosiers and toward archrival Michigan.

"Big time," Meyer answered. "Players will get tired of hearing the song I always play. It's nuts. Insane."

"The fight song?" the reporter inquired.

"No," Meyer said with a smirk. "It's another song."

That song, it turns out, is the 2008 LL Cool J anthem "It's Time For War." Not that Meyer could tell you where to find it on iTunes. He just likes the message that the song sends.

"LL Cool J?" the third-year Ohio State head coach responded when asked about the Buckeyes' soundtrack for the week. "I just know the song's name. He's really good at it. It's a good song."

While Meyer claims that he can't remember exactly how he stumbled upon the repetitive, bass-heavy banger—he claims it may have once been included in an OSU highlight reel—it seems to encapsulate everything that this week means to him. A native of Ashtabula, Ohio, Meyer grew up entrenched in "The Ten Year War," idolizing Woody Hayes and rooting on beloved Buckeyes Archie Griffin and Cornelius Greene against "That Team Up North."

"When I was real young I couldn't understand it, but my mother grabbed me, said we have to go run an errand or something. I looked at her like she was out of her mind," Meyer recalled. "We went to some outdoor area. It was an outdoor-like mall. They were playing the game over the loud speakers. I'll never forget that as long as I live."

Meyer's fascination with The Game would only increase in the late-1980s, when he found himself a part of one its most memorable editions.

A graduate assistant under former Buckeyes coach Earle Bruce, Meyer was a member of the Ohio State staff that was fired six days before the Buckeyes' 1987 clash with the Wolverines. Still permitted to take part in The Game, Meyer found himself standing outside of Ohio State's locker room, where another Michigan memory was soon made.

"I happened to be the guy at the door, I was just a G.A. so I had no impact—I was just a guy that made coffee—and coach Bruce says a few words to the team and it is freezing cold and I opened the tunnel doors, and their locker room’s right across," Meyer said. "There’s standing Bo Schembechler and a bunch of big players right behind him. I just remember I turned around—you know here’s a guy who grew up with the rivalry, 21 years old. I just kind of froze.

"I’m six feet away from coach Schembechler and I remember that very well. I mean, it was one of those moments.” 

The Buckeyes would go on to beat the Wolverines 23-20 that day, with the Ohio State players carrying Bruce off the field to create one of the rivalry's most powerful images. Meyer would go on to continue his career as an assistant at Colorado State and Notre Dame, before landing the head-coaching job at Bowling Green in 2001.

And once he did, it didn't take long for Meyer to prove how much the importance of rivalries had stuck with him.

Embracing the Falcons' in-town rivalry with Toledo, Meyer made the most of the battle for the Peace Pipe Trophy, referring to the Rockets as "That (Other) School Up North." Meyer brought that same attitude to Utah's rivalry with Utah State ("That Team Down South"), and to Gainesville, where Florida lays claim to three primary foes.

"It's interesting at Florida you have three of them," Meyer said. "You have Tennessee early in the year. You have Georgia and you have 'The Team Out West' [Florida State]."

All together, Meyer has amassed a 22-3 record in rivalry games throughout his career as a head coach, including a 2-0 record against Michigan in his first two seasons at Ohio State. Of course, it's helped that the Wolverines have amassed a combined 15-11 record in the past two years, while the Buckeyes' win in last year's matchup marked their program's 24th straight victory.

But even if the two teams have been mismatched since he arrived in Columbus, that hasn't prevented Meyer from milking Ohio State's rivalry with Michigan for all it's worth. All across campus, the letter "M" has been crossed off of building signs and businesses, the color blue banned in a callback to Meyer's time as a G.A. nearly 30 years ago.

"It's always been that way. I remember that 1986, my first year here, driving in to work and sheets hanging outside the dorm. 'Muck Fichigan,'" Meyer recalled with a smile. "I thought that was really neat. Then they flipped the 'M' and the 'F' on Friday. It didn't stay up very long, but I did see it."

That may seem like fun and games, but to Meyer, it's anything but.

With the Buckeyes still in the hunt for a potential playoff spot, 5-6 Michigan again stands in the way of Ohio State having everything on the line that it can in the following week's Big Ten Championship Game. But to Meyer, the immediate implications of winning another rivalry game take a back seat, as he knows that there's only one way to validate this week's enhanced preparation.

"As long as I can remember, this game has been The Game," Meyer said. "When you say have fun, I'm not sure how to have fun. How to have fun is sing the fight song in the locker room after a win against your rival. That's how you have fun."

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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On the Field, Auburn Has Moved on from "The Kick-6"

AUBURN, Ala. — It's hard to find a part of Auburn that hasn't been influenced by the ending to the 2013 Iron Bowl.

Former Tigers cornerback Chris Davis' game-winning, literally last-second, 109-yard field goal return to knock off No. 1 Alabama and send Auburn to the SEC Championship Game—more commonly known as "The Kick-Six"—is everywhere.

Just inside the Auburn Athletics Complex, which overlooks the side of Jordan-Hare Stadium where Davis first took the ball out of the end zone, the entire left side of the atrium is covered with an oversized photo of the postgame celebration:

Right before the kickoff of each home game this season, Auburn's hype video has started with an exaggerated clock countdown that stops at "0:01" and then launches into Davis' return:

Even Auburn University's commercial for 2014 is based on the play and the commencement speech from Stan White, the former Tigers quarterback who interjects alongside play-by-play man Rod Bramblett as Auburn's radio color commentator:

The team made news earlier this year when it painted Davis' path on the famous play onto Pat Dye Field for "Big Cat Weekend," its biggest recruiting event: 

"The Kick-Six" has surrounded everything Auburn football for the last year, and that's not counting the countless replays on television and online.

"I've seen it a couple times," senior wide receiver Quan Bray said Sunday night.

After a short pause, he quickly clarified.

"A couple hundred, seems like," Bray said with a laugh. "It shows everywhere, and that was a great play. It's going to be in history forever."

But even with all the hype surrounding the play and the amount of emphasis the university—and even the team—has put on it this season, Auburn's players and coaches want to make one thing clear.

“We’re not going to bring it up or talk about it, because it can’t help us this year," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. "That was last year. This year is completely different, and we’re going to have to play even better this year."

Even though Auburn will enter Saturday night's contest as two-score underdogs to Alabama, just like it was in last year's meeting, the Tigers have no plans to revisit the ever-present play as motivation to pull off another upset.

"It’s a new year," head coach Gus Malzahn said. "This is a new team, just like theirs is a new team. There are players who have overlapped that played in it, but this is a new year and a new game."

In fact, Auburn is looking at last year's game-winner, which was perhaps the most dramatic moment in the program's long history, as a potential distraction.

That's right—the play that helped send Auburn to Atlanta and Pasadena is somewhat of a problem this season.

"It’s one of those things you’ve got to deal with," Lashlee said. "Both sides have to deal with it because it’s kind of what comes with the week, just normal distractions and things that are out there. I don’t think it will bother our guys."

Senior center Reese Dismukes said the constant replays haven't affected him, even though there are constant references to it on social media this week.

"I haven't really noticed much of that," Dismukes said. "I try not to read everything I see on Twitter. I haven't really seen it that much. Obviously on the little highlight reel, the one ESPN is doing, it has it from last year."

The stance of avoidance that Auburn is taking this week comes in the midst of a disappointing second half to the 2014 season, one that started with dreams of another conference title and another shot at the national championship.

Losses to Texas A&M and Georgia mathematically put the Tigers out of contention for both of those trophies, meaning that Saturday's game will be about being the spoiler instead of fighting for a semifinal spot.

"I think it’s the greatest college rivalry in football, and it will be hyped up," defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said. "If we’d played a little bit better in two or three games this year, it’d be an even bigger one. Last year everybody had a stake in it. It was going to be huge. This year, we’re kind of the spoilers."

Although "The Kick-Six" has and will continue to be replayed everywhere during Iron Bowl week, Auburn players say they know this is a completely different team and a completely different situation.

Because of that, there's no reason to look back.

"I think that's way behind us," Dismukes said. "We're way ahead of that now. Our main focus is this year and going in there and doing what we've got to do."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

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SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Alabama and Auburn Ignoring Last Year

"Kick-Six?" What's that?

It's hard to go anywhere this week without seeing former Auburn defensive back Chris Davis running 109 yards at the end of last year's Iron Bowl and into college football history. 

ESPN's promo, stories on what that game meant to the rivalry's history and what it means as motivation to this year's Alabama squad are all dominant storylines during rivalry week.

Just don't tell Alabama head coach Nick Saban or Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn that, because neither is very interested in discussing it. 

For Alabama, the leadup to this week is more about remembering what happened but not dwelling on the past.

Coach speak? Of course it is.

But this while the rest of the world focuses on the revenge factor, Alabama has bigger fish to fry. It has to win to claim the SEC West title and keep its national-championship hopes alive. Yes, revenge is important, but that would only serve as a byproduct of Alabama reaching its ultimate goal anyway.

For Auburn, this game is about playing spoiler to its intra-state rival and not proving that last year was legit, but establishing a legacy of dominance. It's about taking control of the game with more than just one second left and proving that it can do it without the benefit of one of the most remarkable plays in college football history. It's about putting the month of November behind them and building some momentum heading into bowl season.

The "Kick-Six" was great, and as we point out in the video below, it was one of the most remarkable sporting events in American sports history. But once the Tigers and Tide step between the white lines, it will be as far away from the minds of the players and coaches as "Punt, Bama, Punt," "The Kick," "Bo Over The Top" and all of the other great games between the two programs.

It'll be history.

 

A Unique Challenge

The words "discipline" and "defense" used to go together at Georgia like—to steal a phrase from Big Daddy—"lamb and tuna fish." 

Then the Auburn game happened, and the entire perception of the Georgia defense changed. 

The Bulldogs held the potent Auburn offense that is loaded with eye candy and multiple options off of every play to just 292 total yards in only seven points—the first time in Gus Malzahn's Auburn head coaching career that he's been held to single digits.

This week, there's a similar challenge in store for the Bulldogs. The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets will roll into Athens looking to unleash their triple-option offense and force a Georgia team that still has outside hopes of earning a College Football Playoff berth to stay disciplined.

"That's a good way of putting it, 'forcing discipline' on a defensive team," Richt said on Wednesday's teleconference. "If you don't have the discipline to have your eyes where they belong and to handle the gaps and responsibilities that you're assigned to and if you don't play fundamental football, you can't win one-to-one."

The last two games for Georgia are important. While Auburn and Charleston Southern run different schemes and neither mirrors the triple-option attack of the Yellow Jackets, similar principles are in play.

"Those things were crucially important in that game, and even our last game against Charleston Southern," Richt said. "They run a lot of option principles out of the gun. It's the same types of things that you have to get your mind right for. Hopefully it'll help us, it's just really difficult to simulate what Georgia Tech does on offense with our scout team."

A month ago, this Yellow Jackets offense would seem like a major problem to a defense that struggled with offenses as vanilla as Florida. Now? Not so much.

The ninth-ranked Bulldogs know that style points are important now that two-loss UCLA is one spot above them in the new playoff rankings. They have had Tech's number since Paul Johnson's second year in 2009 and have some much-needed defensive momentum.

Can you say blowout?

 

A Key Injury?

Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace injured his ankle in the first half of the 30-0 loss to Arkansas last week, but he came back to try to lead the Rebels back to no avail.

That injury may linger into the Egg Bowl.

Wallace has been practicing this week, but he is not at full strength heading into a critical intra-state rivalry with No. 4 Mississippi State in Oxford.

"He's been limited some, but you'd have to chain him down to keep him from going in this game so I anticipate him being ready to go," Freeze said.

Wallace's injury should concern Ole Miss fans. The Rebels offense clearly doesn't have an identity without star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and has struggled to run the ball all year, and now its quarterback—who is known for being good or bad with nothing in between—is ailing.

Uh-oh.

Mississippi State needs style points in what might be the last chance it has to impress the selection committee, and shutting down a reeling Rebels offense would be just what the doctor ordered.

 

A "Big" Challenge

Everybody has an opinion of Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, and on the field, Florida head coach Will Muschamp has high praise for the redshirt sophomore and defending Heisman Trophy winner. 

Muschamp compared Winston to Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger due to his size and ability to keep plays alive.

"A big guy who is very difficult to get down," Muschamp said on Wednesday's teleconference. "You have to tackle him high. He's got 280- or 300-pounders hanging around him and he still delivers it 30 or 40 yards downfield. The play is never over when he drops back." 

Muschamp's Gators certainly have the personnel to get the job done, though. The Gators have 25 sacks on the year, a front seven that is known for getting after the quarterback and a secondary that pounces on mistakes created by pressure.

Winston has shown that he can be rattled this year, and if the Gators are able to do that and put a dent in the scoreboard early, it could be the team that ends Florida State's two-year winning streak.

 

Quick Outs

  • No jabs from South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier in the direction of Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney. That's disappointing. What's rivalry week without a good Palmetto State war of words?
  • Georgia head coach Mark Richt said his team won't be watching the Arkansas/Missouri game on Friday. A Missouri loss would send the Bulldogs to the SEC Championship Game for the third time in four years. "We are not going to be doing anything but focusing on these gentlemen from Atlanta," Richt said. Yeah...right.
  • Tennessee could get bowl-eligible with a win over Vanderbilt in Nashville, and head coach Butch Jones knows how important it would be for his young team to earn those 15 bowl practices and find success in what has been an up-and-down season. "We've gone through the natural adversity that going through a football season presents," he said. "Our leadership has continued to grow. I think we have great competitive character in our program and understand where the program is going."
  • College Football Playoff chairman Jeff Long said Tuesday that where a team was ranked at the time of the game is being discussed. "We certainly discuss and know when a team was previously ranked in the Top 25," he said in quotes emailed by the CFP. That's not just a slippery slope, it's a vertical drop. Should Florida State be credited for a big win over Notre Dame? Mississippi State given a boost for a win over an average-at-best LSU team? Of course not. I miss you, BCS.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Predicting College Football's Biggest Headlines for Week 14

With Week 14 upon us, it's time to take a look at what everyone will be talking about during rivalry week. Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer discuss the biggest headlines for the upcoming football week.

Will Florida State remain unbeaten after rivalry week?

Watch the video and let us know!

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College Football Rankings 2014: Top 25 NCAA Playoff Standings for Week 14

Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Mississippi State all won their respective matchups Saturday, and for the first time in weeks, there wasn’t a complete upheaval of the Week 14 College Football Playoff Top 25 rankings.

Despite the Associated Press ranking the Seminoles as the No. 1 team in the nation and the Amway Coaches Poll tabbing them at No. 2, the College Football Playoff voting committee still has FSU listed at No. 3 overall.

Let the debate continue.

Here are the Week 14 College Football Playoff, Associated Press and Bleacher Report Top 25 polls and a preview of this week’s most important matchup.

 

Week 14’s Most Important Matchup

While Alabama is playing Auburn in the Iron Bowl, Oregon is squaring off against a tough Oregon State team and Florida State is taking on in-state rival Florida, the biggest game of the weekend will be the Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. the Ole Miss Rebels.

The Egg Bowl.

The top three ranked teams in the nation should win their matchups with relative ease, but Mississippi State has a tough test against Ole Miss in a crucial matchup. With the Bulldogs' playoff hopes on the line, quarterback Dak Prescott and the entire roster must come prepared for a battle.

The Rebels and the Bulldogs have a long and storied history against each other, but there have been few times in the past that there has been more on the line. Mississippi State enters the game as the No. 4-ranked team in college football, and Ole Miss is currently ranked 19th overall.

Ole Miss is 18th on the Week 14 Associated Press Top 25 poll:

Regardless of where the Rebels are ranked, the team still has an immense amount of talent on both sides of the ball and will give the Bulldogs a serious challenge. Not only is Ole Miss hosting the game, but the Rebels also were victorious the last time the teams played at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Ole Miss has lost three of its last four games, but the competition in the SEC is incredible. After beating Alabama and Texas A&M, the Rebels lost to LSU, Auburn and Arkansas, the latter loss being a 30-0 upset in Week 13.

On the other hand, Ole Miss has the top-ranked defensive unit in the nation in terms of points allowed per game with 13.5. The Bulldogs will have a tough time breaking through the Rebels defense.

Here is Bleacher Report’s Week 14 rankings:

Mississippi State has an elite defense as well. The unit is ranked 11th in the sport and is only allowing an average of 18.4 points per game. After watching the Rebels get shut out by Arkansas last week, the Bulldogs defenders can’t wait to get on the field against Ole Miss.

The real strength of Mississippi State is the offensive unit.

Led by Prescott, the Bulldogs have the 40th-ranked passing attack (264.9 yards per game) and the 19th-ranked ground game, averaging an impressive 246.8 rushing yards per game. After a heartbreaking loss to the Crimson Tide in Week 12, Mississippi State bounced back with a 51-0 beating on Vanderbilt.

With the Bulldogs understanding the magnitude of the situation, the team will bring its best on the road and hand Ole Miss another heartbreaking loss. Mississippi State will be playoff bound with a victory Saturday, and the program deserves it after a great 2014 season.

Predicted Final Score: Mississippi State 30, Ole Miss 20

 

Stats via ESPN.com.

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Georgia Football: Is Georgia Tech a Worthwhile Foe in the CFB Playoff Era?

Affectionately known by the moniker Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate, the rivalry between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets is one of the South’s oldest (and once, one of the bitterest) in-state rivalries. 

But despite meeting more than 100 times on the gridiron, this matchup will not remain viable for the Dawgs in the College Football Playoff era.

Not too long ago, Georgia Tech boasted one of the proudest programs in college football.  National championships in 1917, 1928, 1952 and 1990 made the Yellow Jackets a program worth envying.  As such, they were an ideal rival for the Bulldogs. 

As of late, however, the disparity between the ACC and the SEC and a current reign of Georgia dominance has brought the merits of this late-season game into question—especially within the context of the new College Football Playoff.

 

Conference Separation

South Carolina head coach and quote-machine Steve Spurrier once said (per Mike Herndon of AL.com) that Georgia had more rivals than any team in the nation. "Georgia has so many rivals," he insisted.  "It's difficult for them to have a big rivalry game every week."

Spurrier’s commentary was somewhat in jest (he listed Vanderbilt as one of the Bulldogs’ greater enemies), but there was truth in his statement. 

Georgia and Florida have been bitter SEC rivals for decades.  Georgia and Auburn lay claim to being the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.  The Georgia vs. Clemson game was instrumental in shaping the college football landscape for much of the 1970s and 1980s. 

Now, the Bulldogs and Spurrier’s Gamecocks tend to have epic divisional battles.  And even as the Tennessee Volunteers program has struggled in recent years, there’s been no love lost between the Vols and the Dawgs.

In light of that superfluous set of rivalries, Georgia Tech is easy to miss.  Though games with Clemson are now intermittent, the rest of the Bulldogs’ most hated foes present much more meaningful opposition, if for no other reason than conference allegiance. 

The Gators, Gamecocks and Volunteers hail from neighboring states in important recruiting grounds and compete for the same division crown as the Bulldogs every year.  As this weekend perfectly demonstrates, a win (or a loss) to Georgia Tech does nothing for Georgia’s chances within the Southeastern Conference.

And Auburn, Georgia’s permanent cross-division opposition, is meaningful as a conference game and also as a grudge match between the SEC East and the SEC West.

At best, a victory over Georgia Tech gives the Bulldogs an opportunity to conquer an ACC team, but given the recent trajectories of both conferences, that is hardly meritorious.  By any measure of ranking, the SEC is deeper than the ACC and presents a better product.

 

Lopsided Rivalry

Even in-state bragging rights have fallen by the wayside over the preceding decades.  It’s easy to note Georgia’s 12 wins over Georgia Tech over the past 13 seasons, but although that streak is strong, it’s not an outlier.

Dating back to 1957, Georgia has completely dominated this series.

And while both schools share—in theory—the same recruiting territory, the combination of Georgia’s dominance in the rivalry and Georgia Tech’s option-specific offense keeps the Yellow Jackets from ever truly competing with the Bulldogs' ability to sign elite prospects.

Ultimately, wins are expected for Georgia in this rivalry.  Losses are bound to happen—and to be clear, one could occur this year—but they’re viewed more as frustrating missteps than disappointing indictments of the state of both programs. 

A Georgia loss to Georgia Tech is perceived as both an upset and—for Georgia fans at least—a reflection of a lack of diligence by the better team.

 

Indifference

That trend manifests itself, for better or worse, in a general indifference from many of the Bulldog faithful. 

To be sure, most Dawg fans want to beat Georgia Tech.  But they also want to beat everyone on the schedule.  And for the majority of Georgia fans, Tech is no longer the most significant rival of the Bulldogs. 

A recent poll conducted by 247Sports illustrates this point clearly.  At the time of publishing, 53 percent of voters tabbed Florida as Georgia’s biggest rival.  Georgia Tech raked in less than 23 percent of the votes.

For Georgia, fans’ indifference may be reflective of a threat greater than an actual loss to Georgia Tech: the threat of committee indifference.

Currently, Georgia Tech is positioned 16th in the College Football Playoff rankings.  Accordingly, a convincing win over the Yellow Jackets could propel the Bulldogs forward. 

But such high polling position is not necessarily the norm for Georgia Tech. 

Over the preceding five years, Georgia Tech has been ranked (by the Associated Press) only twice at the time of this season-ending matchup.  And the Yellow Jackets were ranked higher than the Bulldogs at kickoff just twice from 2004-13.

This year, a win over Georgia Tech could prove beneficial.  But it’s not hard to picture a scenario in which a game—even a win—against the Yellow Jackets could negatively impact the Bulldogs’ playoff scenarios. 

In fact, combining this year’s SEC scenarios with last year’s edition of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate paints such a picture.

If Missouri loses to Arkansas, Georgia will advance to the 2014 SEC Championship Game.  Hypothetically, the Dawgs could upset an opponent from the SEC West and still be on the outside looking in as far as the CFP is concerned—regardless of the status of Georgia Tech. 

But a game like last year’s—a double-overtime victory over an unranked Georgia Tech squad—would certainly hurt the Bulldogs from the perspective of committee sentiment.

In light of that, reexamining the validity of this annual rivalry could be a prudent move.  After all, the positives of a win over Georgia Tech now might be outweighed by the potential negatives of the game—regardless of the outcome.

 

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

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Top Recruits Who Will Be Impacted by Result of the Florida-Florida State Game

While rivalries are always hotly contested among fanbases, most prospective recruits don’t share the same fervor until they actually pick a school. 

For example, there will be a number of recruits at this weekend’s matchup between Florida State and Florida who are considering both schools. 

Both schools will fight desperately to earn a victory over their hated rival, but for most recruits, the final score will have a minimal moment on their final decision.

However, that’s not to say the result can’t have an impact.

A win by Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles would reinforce their standing as the most dominant program in the state.

On the other hand, the Gators—who were the last team to defeat the ‘Noles back in 2012—will look to erase the frustration of a two-year spell filled with disappointment by sending outgoing coach Will Muschamp off with a victory.

Which top recruits will be watching the action between the Seminoles and the Gators closely?

*Recruits listed in alphabetical order. 

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For Jalen Hurd, Tennessee, Anything Less Than a Bowl Game Is a Disappointment

Tennessee breakout star freshman running back Jalen Hurd is seeking more.

Never mind that the Vols are one of the nation's youngest teams, having played 24 freshmen, or the fact that they've navigated one of the toughest schedules. All that matters is if they beat lowly instate rival Vanderbilt this weekend in Nashville, they'll make the program's first bowl game since 2010.

That game will essentially be Hurd's homecoming. The Hendersonville native is jacked up about the possibility of getting a program-projecting win in his backyard.

"It’s everything for us; it's a live-or-die situation," Hurd told Bleacher Report on Tuesday evening after practice. "Especially with it just being at home, it makes it something else. It’s amazing.

"All we're thinking about is that sixth win. So, whoever's in our way is what we're focusing on right now. That sixth win means everything. We're trying to get Tennessee back to a bowl game, which is where they should be. So every day we’re preparing to get that win."

If the Vols don't win, well, that's going to be catastrophic. It will mean they've failed to go to a bowl game yet again and ultimately finished with a sideways step from a season ago.

Simply put, it's unacceptable to everybody. 

For a player with the drive and motivation of Hurd, this season already has fallen short of his own immense expectations, and by association, those of the team he expects to put on his young shoulders.

From a personal perspective, regardless of whether Hurd views this year as a success or not, it has been. Despite starting just seven games, he has 756 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. He's also the team's second-leading receiver with 33 catches for 217 yards and two more touchdowns.

Tennessee's offense flows directly through the 6'3", 228-pound goliath of a runner, and more often than not, he produces. How he goes, the offense goes.

At times such as the fourth quarter against South Carolina when the Vols needed a big play, they leaned on Hurd. He took a screen pass, broke two tackles and sprinted 21 yards for a touchdown on a fourth-down play that ultimately provided the catalyst for a comeback win.

He's that kind of player, and he already is a leader and a monster talent.

Kentucky's coach Mark Stoops compared him to Adrian Peterson. During ESPN's telecast of the Missouri game, analyst Kirk Herbstreit likened him to Hurd's childhood idol, Eddie George.

Despite the personal accolades, Hurd doesn't dish much on goals, but there is a huge one remaining.

"My expectations were more than what I've done so far," he said. "I definitely expected to do more and to do more as a team, but you just adjust to what you have. But one of my biggest goals was to go to a bowl game. This game means everything for us. This team [Vanderbilt] is what’s standing in our way, and we have to get this win."

Though Hurd and others shrugged off any extra motivation with this game being back in their old stomping grounds, UT coach Butch Jones acknowledged there may be a little something extra.

Said Jones, according to UTSports.com:

The great thing about staying at home and representing your home state institution is you play in front of your family and friends every home game in Neyland Stadium in 102,455. But I know it will be special, they get to go back to Nashville. But again, they are very, very mature, a lot of them have played [there] before in high school, so I don't see that being any clutter or any distractions at all.

Hurd is used to tuning out distractions. His even-keeled demeanor off the field contrasts drastically with his violent running style. Even during a recruitment where everybody in the nation wanted him, Hurd ended things early by pledging to UT in March of 2013 before signing 11 months later.

He never wavered; he just wasn't one who lived for the drama.

Hurd believed in Jones, wanted to be part of the program and became the jewel of a top-notch recruiting class and a recruiter that pulled together a star-studded group. Hurd reached iconic status before he ever arrived in Knoxville, and he has lived up to the massive hype.

"Definitely I was a fan of Tennessee growing up," Hurd recalled. "My grandparents followed it very hard. They're diehard UT fans. They've always supported me, anywhere I wanted to go, but when I finally came here, they were ecstatic. It’s crazy just being here with all my hometown friends in the state I grew up in. It's amazing representing them every day."

Several of his classmates from the same area felt the same way. Defensive end Derek Barnett and wide receiver Josh Malone (among others) all hail from the Midstate.

Jones again is recruiting well in Nashville, Murfreesboro and the corridor between the two cities. That talent-rich area was largely ignored by Derek Dooley, but Jones made it a priority. It's returning players who are providing the program's backbone.

Hurd already is looked upon by Vols fans as a trailblazer who believed in Jones before there was any tangible proof of something to believe in. He's perhaps the most beloved Vol already, and he is blossoming into a star.

"It's a blessing just being here," Hurd said, "and even being on a pedestal...you’ve just got to take a step back and look at it that way and know that you're working hard for family, for your coaches, for everybody here and for your teammates."

The fruits of that hard work are hard-earned wins, and they've been hard to come by this year. The Vols need one more for all the struggles to pay off. Even if Hurd has bigger aspirations for his days at UT than just making a bowl game, getting to the postseason is the first step.

After that? Well, Hurd doesn't talk too much about personal goals, but he's got an ultimate vision for this program. 

"I can't speak too much on goals, but all I know is I'm going to put everything I have into this program and try to get this team to a national championship," he said. "I'm going to do everything I can do."

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats gathered from UTSports.com, unless otherwise noted.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rivalry Games with Biggest Heisman Implications

Welcome to crunch time.

With just two weeks remaining in the 2014 college football regular season, we’ve reached the point where awards are won and postseason berths are earned. From now until Dec. 6, every FBS program gets one last chance to make the most of its season, and players get a final shot at impressing voters.

The nation’s focus will be trained on the chase for the four College Football Playoff berths, which will be awarded Dec. 7. The Heisman Trophy race is also tightly contested: Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon lead the field in the race to pick up the stiff-arm trophy on Dec. 13. Final votes are due Dec. 9, but this week, the final full week of the regular season, will be important, too.

Rivalry games abound across the map, with teams who just plain don’t like each other facing off for bragging rights and playoff positioning. They also have the potential to affect the Heisman race. Here’s a look at this weekend’s games which could impact the chase for the Heisman Trophy. The players spotlighted are all included in ESPN's Heisman Watch and will play big roles in their rivalry games.

 

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After Clutch 5-Star Commit, Which Top Targets Should UCLA Push for Next?

UCLA just signed Keisean Lucier-South, a 5-Star defensive end, as per 247sports. The Bruins class is shaping up to be a dandy with several top prospects leaning towards UCLA.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses how Jim Mora can round out his already stellar recruiting class.

How good can the Bruins be next season?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

More Than Just the Kick-6: Relive the Greatest Iron Bowl Ever

The 2013 Iron Bowl was arguably the best edition in its long, storied history. From the national-championship implications and the back-and-forth scoring to the wild finish, this game had it all.

Bleacher Report caught up with key media members and officials as they told the story of the game from their perspective.

Was this the best college football game of all time?

Check out the video and let us know!  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame vs. USC: Which Team Will Rebound and Build Momentum for 2015?

One of the best cross-country rivalries takes place in Week 14: Notre Dame vs. USC. With both teams not in the championship picture, they now shift their focus to the future. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer debate which program has a brighter future.

Which team is better equipped for 2015?

Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff Standings: Week 13 Rankings and Bowl Game Projections

Just like that, there are two weeks left in the 2014 college football season. The postseason picture is becoming clearer as November begins to fold into December. While the playoff field still has to be figured out, bowl pictures are starting to take form. 

Here's how the two major Top 25 polls looked after Week 13. The following slides contain bowl projections heading into Week 14. Click on the links below to view the latest College Football Playoff, Associated Press and USA Today Top 25 polls.

College Football Playoff 

Associated Press

USA Today Amway Coaches Poll

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The Best 'Do-Over' Games for Top 10 College Football Teams

What if each college football team got a mulligan?

Imagine Nick Saban, standing on the sixth tee box (the one at Ole Miss) and snap-hooking his drive out of bounds (aka Blake Sims throwing an interception on the final drive versus the Rebels). Instead of dropping and taking a penalty stroke, he looks back at Hugh Freeze and says, “I’ll take a mulligan here.”

Smiling slyly, he re-tees his ball, spanks it right down the middle (erasing the pick, resulting in a Tide score three plays later) and walks down the fairway, ultimately scoring a birdie and his third consecutive win over Freeze.

In this alternate universe, one-loss teams become the undefeated and two-loss teams magically have only one loss.

Here’s a look at when each top-ranked team would have used its mulligan this season. Just as important as the timing is the reason why the do-over is necessary, common threads that tell us as much about the future as they do about the past.

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Auburn vs. Alabama: Assessing Each Team's Key to Victory in 2014 Iron Bowl

How many times have you watched the replay of Auburn's Chris Davis' game-winning return of an Alabama missed field goal to secure a 2013 Iron Bowl victory this week? Ten? Twenty? Well, there's a reason for all of that reminiscing—this is one of the most exciting college football games every year, and there will be no exception in 2014.

You aren't fired up yet? Well, maybe this will help:

Last year, the Tigers took down the No. 1 Crimson Tide, ending their hopes of a BCS title. This year, Alabama is the nation's top-ranked squad once again, and a win could propel the team into the first-ever College Football Playoff. Will Auburn play spoiler once more?

Before Auburn attempts to repeat history and Alabama gets a shot at redemption on Saturday, here's a look at the biggest key to victory for each team in this year's Iron Bowl.

 

Alabama: Get out of the Gate Quickly

The Crimson Tide's offense was a work in progress early in the season, but quarterback Blake Sims really came into his own, and Alabama is averaging 35.0 points per game as a result. However, Sims and Co. need a quick start to gain an early lead on the Tigers, forcing them to play from behind.

When Alabama has trailed early in conference games this season, results haven't been good. Ole Miss was the first to get on the board against the Crimson Tide, and the Rebels went on to win that game. Later in the season, LSU jumped out in front early. While Alabama won that game, it was forced to do so in overtime.

In both of those instances, Alabama didn't score until the second quarter. That cannot be the case against a dangerous Auburn offense on Saturday.

The Tigers are a run-first team. When they fall behind, they are taken out of their comfort zone. That was the case earlier this season when Dak Prescott got Mississippi State out to an early lead against Auburn. It forced the Tigers to pass more frequently, and the end result was Nick Marshall completing 17 of his 35 passing attempts for two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Mississippi State won that game handily by clamping down on defense after gaining that early lead, and Alabama is built to do the same.

This shouldn't be an issue for Sims in the Iron Bowl. Of his 19 touchdown passes this season, eight have come in the first quarter. He's also completing 67.7 percent of his passes in the opening quarter of games this year, over 7 percent more than any of the other three.

 

Auburn: Fire Up the Defense

Auburn isn't exactly the team you think of in terms of defense; however, that's going to have to change for the Tigers if they are to take down Alabama yet again.

This season, Auburn's defense can be described as porous. The Tigers are ranked 40th in scoring defense, 74th against the pass, 38th against the run and 52nd in total defense. Those aren't good numbers to begin with, but the problem here is that they've been worse against SEC opponents.

Over their last five conference games, the Tigers have allowed at least 31 points in each. If Auburn gives up that many points to Alabama, a victory will be practically out of reach against a Crimson Tide defense ranked second in the nation, allowing an average of just 14.5 points per game.

One big way to slow Alabama down will be to contain wide receiver Amari Cooper. Tigers defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson spoke with Joel A. Erickson of AL.com about the team's plans to double-cover the prolific wideout.

"We'll do it some, absolutely," said Johnson. "Of course, there's a lot of different ways you do it. What everybody calls double-zone, just two deep, try to have somebody over the top, try to disguise what you're doing."

Keeping Alabama's offense from lighting up the scoreboard will work in similar fashion to how Auburn took down Ole Miss and its stout defense. While the Rebels did put up 31, the points were spread out over the course of the game, allowing the Tigers to continue running the ball, racking up 248 yards and three touchdowns on 46 carries and coming away with a win.

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