NCAA Football News

College Football Playoff 2015: Final Four Predictions After 1st Top 25 Rankings

The first College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday in what amounted to great theater among the social realms, as the Top Four are in a completely different order from the Associated Press Top 25 and Amway Coaches Poll

Not to much surprise, Clemson and LSU swept the top two spots. Both Tigers teams are arguably the most complete in college football and have meaningful wins to show for it, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Most dramatic in Tuesday's revealings were one-loss Alabama and Notre Dame exceeding eight unbeatens, coming in fourth and fifth, respectively. Baylor is sixth despite ranking No. 2 in the current AP poll with its FBS-best 61.1 points per game. But the committee sent a meaningful message that strength of schedule has and will continue to be the chief determining factor. 

Here is a look at the full CFP rankings:

CFP chair Jeff Long told the ESPN panel during Tuesday’s telecast the toughest teams to decipher were two from the Big 12:    

It’s Baylor and it’s TCU because of their strength of schedule and who they played thus far. I think those teams, particularly Baylor, has an explosive offense and we’ve seen that. But I think their strength of schedule has left us uncertain of their true strength. 

Really, it came down to evaluating their résumés, what they’ve done, who they’ve beaten and how they played in those games.

The AP’s Jay Cohen was among those not thrilled with the pecking order:

It’s important to keep the initial rankings in perspective—eight of the CFP Top 11 still play opponents among those ranks before the final rankings release. ESPN host Rece Davis offered reassurance to those voicing frustration in the social realms:

With the playoff picture starting to mold, here are projections for the New Year's Eve semifinal games.

 

PROJECTION: Cotton Bowl – No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State

Of the current Top Four, Clemson has the easiest road to the playoff. The Tigers play No. 16 Florida State in Week 10, three unranked teams after and then an ACC title game, likely against North Carolina. 

The Tigers rank fifth in total defense (278 yards per game) and 11th in scoring offense (40.6 points), creating a balance that's catapulted Clemson to outscore opponents, 355-141. 

Long gave conviction why Clemson was the committee’s top choice, per Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports:

The Buckeyes have had a cakewalk thus far, leaving their fate to the back end of their schedule with road games against No. 7 Michigan State and No. 17 Michigan to finish the regular season. It’s difficult to imagine winning both, and losing to the Spartans could squander their hopes of playing for the Big 10 championship. 

A rugged win in East Lansing will cripple the Buckeyes the following week in Ann Arbor, but Ohio State will rebound to win the conference crown, likely against No. 9 Iowa. The respectable finish coupled with a status as defending champs with much of its 2014 roster still in tact will narrowly send the Buckeyes to their second straight playoff as the lowest seed. Mark Schlabach of ESPN agreed:

Some have criticized Ohio State for not blowing out teams the way it's supposed to, but a closer look at the numbers says otherwise. The Buckeyes have outscored opponents 308-121 or 38.5-15.1 per game. Wins by an average of 23 points—up from their 22.25 margin in 2014—are impressive, particularly given a quarterback carousel between Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett.

The Buckeyes will be without Barrett in Week 10 vs. Minnesota after the sophomore was suspended one game for an arrest for operating a motor vehicle while impaired. They should be fine with Jones, who is 10-0 as a starter, including last year's title run.

 

PROJECTION: Orange Bowl – No. 4 Alabama vs. No. 6 Baylor

There was uproar at the committee including Alabama among the initial Top Four, but the Crimson Tide will prove why the committee ranked them there. 

After an early hiccup to No. 18 Ole Miss, Alabama has churned out five straight wins and is hitting championship form—typical of a Nick Saban-coached team in November. Up next: a colossal game against fellow playoff contender LSU in what will likely determine the SEC West—as it has in nine of the last 15 seasons. The SEC Network shared the added emphasis for Saturday's game:

In a squeaker, Alabama will get its fifth straight win over LSU in what’s become one of college football’s greatest rivalries from a sheer standpoint of championship implications. 

Tigers Heisman Trophy front-runner Leonard Fournette has been sensational—an FBS-best 1,352 rush yards and 15 touchdowns—but he'll be limited against the SEC’s best run-defense, putting pressure on quarterback Brandon Harris and LSU’s aerial attack, which ranks last in the conference. 

Harris has improved in his last three starts—716 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions—but the Tigers still rank dead last in SEC passing defense. 

Alabama will be LSU’s only hiccup, but it’ll be costly. Despite what ESPN’s Football Power Index indicated as the most difficult remaining schedule, according to David Ching of ESPN, the Tigers should run the table the rest of the way. But so should the Crimson Tide, who as a one-loss SEC champion will reach their second straight playoff. 

Despite being left out, Baylor still has the chance to woo the 12-person committee against No. 8 TCU on Nov. 27. The Bears will run the table and continue to put up points, while the rest of those ahead in the rankings will tumble, giving Baylor a narrow nod to reach, per Schlabach:

The Bears will be without starting quarterback and offensive catalyst Seth Russell, whom they lost for the season to a neck fracture. But Baylor should be in good shape with backup true freshman Jarrett Stidham, per Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com:

Six coaches who recruited Stidham or have watched tape of him in games this season weighed in anonymously on Baylor's new signal-caller, his prodigious potential and what to watch as he takes the reins later this week. Their overwhelming sentiment: The Bears should be just fine.

The Bears are just the second team in the modern era to score at least 50 in five straight games, according to ESPN.com, and their average of 61.1 points per game will be too remarkable to ignore.

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Bleacher Report's Week 10 College Football Playoff Predictions

Will your team make the College Football Playoff?

Unlike most media outlets, Bleacher Report doesn't give you a yes-or-no answer. Instead, this playoff committee uses analytics to assign your team a probability of making the playoff.

The sortable table shows the results, while you can find more information on the simulation methods at The Power Rank.

With the first committee rankings having been released Tuesday evening, we can now identify groups of teams that will play one another in the upcoming weeks. These contests are essentially elimination games to make the final four teams on December 6.

Here, we'll examine four of these groups as well as identify a sleeper team no one is talking about.

 

Top-ranked Clemson faces immediate test vs. FSU

Clemson certainly deserved the top spot in the committee's rankings. It destroyed Miami so badly that Hurricanes head coach Al Golden got fired. The Tigers also have a marquee win over Notre Dame, although the Fighting Irish did manage two critical fumbles in a close game.

Clemson faces its stiffest test over the remainder of the season this weekend against Florida State.

My numbers give Clemson a 68 percent chance to win this game, although this win probability should be higher due to injuries. Florida State quarterback Everett Golson and standout running back Dalvin Cook are dealing with a concussion and ankle injury, respectively.

 

Alabama-LSU showdown will turn rankings on their head early

In its first rankings last year, the committee sorted teams by losses. Undefeated teams, then one-loss teams and so on.

The committee made a big departure from this simple math this year. It ranked one-loss Alabama fourth, ahead of five undefeated teams from Power Five conferences.

Alabama has a 37 percent chance to make the playoff, which is greater than the 24 percent chance of the LSU team ranked ahead of the Crimson Tide. A big reason for Alabama's higher probability is that it gets LSU at home this weekend.

Alabama has allowed 3.67 yards per carry, which ranks eighth in the nation (numbers do not include sacks). With arguably the best front seven in college football, the defense should be able to at least slow down Leonard Fournette—no one is going to stop him outright—and win the game.

However, the winner of this elimination game still has a tough road to winning the SEC West. Alabama has a road game against Mississippi State and veteran signal-caller Dak Prescott. LSU travels to Ole Miss to face an elite defense led by Robert Nkemdiche.

Let's not pencil the winner of this game into the playoff just yet.

If Clemson beats Florida State, its playoff probability will shoot even higher than the 61 percent from this week's calculation. Should Clemson stumble, Florida State suddenly becomes the favorite to win the ACC.  While the Seminoles are currently 16th in the committee's rankings, they would have an outside shot to make the playoff with a big win over the top-ranked Tigers.

 

Baylor, TCU on collision course for Thanksgiving weekend 

The committee tipped its hat to Baylor for winning its games by big margins. The undefeated Bears have won each of their games by 18 or more points.

Despite an incredibly weak out-of-conference schedule, the committee ranked Baylor sixth.

TCU is also undefeated. However, it needed a tipped-pass miracle to beat Texas Tech by three points and also needed a comeback from a big second-half deficit against Kansas State.

One could argue that TCU should be ahead of Baylor for beating a decent Minnesota team out of conference. The committee didn't see it this way, putting TCU at eighth, two spots below Baylor.

Baylor travels to TCU on Thanksgiving weekend for one of the most anticipated games of the year. The numbers give TCU a 60 percent win probability mostly due to the home-field advantage. However, I may adjust this number based on how quarterback Jarrett Stidham performs as a replacement for the injured Seth Russell.

But there is a team lurking that could wreck the playoff hopes of both Texas teams.

 

Don't count out Oklahoma

In one of the most inexplicable games of the season, Texas beat Oklahoma in the Red River Showdown.  The loss has a strong Oklahoma team at 15th in the committee's rankings.

However, don't count out the Sooners. They've been fantastic on both sides of the ball. The offense has gained 6.9 yards per play (ninth-best in the nation) under new coordinator Lincoln Riley. The defense has allowed 4.3 yards per play (sixth-best).

Oklahoma gets TCU at home, and the numbers give the Sooners a 49 percent chance to pull off the upset. 

Oklahoma also travels to Baylor. If it wins both games, the Sooners could fulfill their 11 percent chance to make the playoff.

 

Possible Stanford-Notre Dame elimination game looming

Washington State kicker Erik Powell saved the Pac-12's playoff hopes last week when his game-winning 43-yard field goal attempt sailed wide as time expired, allowing Stanford to hold on for a two-point win in Pullman, Washington.

A second loss for Stanford would have made it very difficult to make the playoff. Instead, Stanford keeps hope alive for the Pac-12 with a 24 percent playoff probability. The numbers don't like Utah, giving the Utes only a 6 percent playoff chance despite being ranked one spot below Stanford.

Stanford has a unique opportunity to impress the committee when fifth-ranked Notre Dame visits on Thanksgiving weekend. The contest is essentially an elimination game for both teams.

Notre Dame at Stanford should feature a lot of points, as both offenses have been explosive this season.  The numbers see two evenly matched teams and give the advantage to Stanford based on home-field advantage.

 

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

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Kareem Walker Decommits from OSU: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

The defending national champion Ohio State Buckeyes saw their grasp on the No. 1 spot disappear when they were named No. 3 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings, but that was far from the only loss they took Tuesday. 

Kareem Walker, who is the nation’s No. 1-ranked running back in the class of 2016 on 247Sports’ composite rankings, decided to decommit from the Buckeyes. He shared the news on his Twitter account:

This decision comes shortly after Walker appeared on the Lemming Report on CBS Sports Network Friday and said he is “solidly committed to Ohio State,” per the show’s host, Tom Lemming.

As if the decommitment wasn’t enough for Buckeyes fans, Walker already visited Michigan and could very well end up in Jim Harbaugh’s class. That would mean the Scarlet and Gray lost out on a dynamic playmaker who could consistently rack up 1,000-yard campaigns at the next level to their hated rivals a year after Harbaugh took the job.

Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports provided some consolation for Buckeyes fans when he noted Urban Meyer and company landed 4-star running back Antonio Williams in October after Walker began to look elsewhere in his recruitment process. What’s more, Wiltfong added Ohio State has a verbal pledge from the nation’s No. 2-ranked running back, Demario McCall.

There are backup plans in place in Columbus, but this is just the latest blow for the Buckeyes in a difficult week that saw starting quarterback J.T. Barrett get suspended one game for an OVI citation and incoming recruit Nick Bosa (Joey Bosa’s brother) tear his ACL, per Eleven Warriors. It was even announced basketball player Mickey Mitchell has not yet been cleared to play in games by the NCAA, per Eleven Warriors.

At least the football team is still undefeated.

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Everyone Relax, College Football Playoff Confusion Will Sort Itself out Soon

Before you are overtaken with College Football Playoff outrage; before you flood selection committee chairman Jeff Long's Twitter mentions with deafening atrocities; before you demand an eight-team playoff at this very instant—take a deep November breath. Exhale.

Feels good, doesn't it? Don't be irate. Not yet, at least. 

The release of the first College Football Playoff rankings is the very beginning of a long process. The selection committee has had its say, although it is operating without the full script.

Many, regardless of circumstances or timing, won't be happy.

But undefeated teams will inevitably fall, starting on Saturday. Upsets will happen before our eyes. November will have its say.

This feels like the opportune time to remind you that Mississippi State was the selection committee's No. 1 overall seed out of the gate last year. Ohio State, for those who might be curious, debuted at No. 16.

That doesn't mean that Clemson, this year's debut No. 1, won't go the distance. It also doesn't guarantee that a team outside the top 15 will win the national championship.

It's simply a reminder that things will look drastically different than they do right now once December hits. The November schedule is one enormous land mine, each week after the next.

"I know there is a lot of football left to be played," Long told Bleacher Report last week. "There are a lot of matchups still to happen. There are a few wrinkles, and every year will have its own controversy."

We won't have to wait long. LSU and Alabama, the committee's No. 2 and No. 4 teams, will clash on Saturday. No. 8 TCU and No. 14 Oklahoma State, both undefeated, will also touch gloves.

A dramatic shakeup isn't just likely; it's inevitable. It starts now.

So as you scream at your television or computer screen, demanding different results; as you tell your golden retriever all about the committee's blatant SEC bias; as you cry for a system that is far less human and far more to your liking—do so with both eyes on the calendar.

The real outage is a month away. Don't waste those emotions, friend. 

As for other observations regarding the first College Football Playoff rankings of the year, here are some thoughts.

 

The Committee Takes an Early Stand on Strength of Schedule 

Now is the perfect time for the selection committee to flex its muscle. And flex it did. What became abundantly clear, for the second consecutive year, is that strength of schedule will play an enormous role in shaping the playoff.

It's not just the matter of putting Clemson at No. 1 or placing LSU at No. 2. Both teams have navigated quality competition to stay undefeated thus far.

The intrigue exists at the No. 4 spot, where Alabama was selected over a slew of Power Five undefeateds, thanks in large part to a schedule the committee liked. With wins over Wisconsin and Texas A&M, the Crimson Tide were rewarded. A loss to Ole Miss, the No. 18 team, didn't diminish the resume.

The same can be said about Notre Dame. The Irish stand at No. 5 in the initial rankings, which was slightly higher than most anticipated. With wins over Temple, USC, Navy and Georgia Tech, Brian Kelly's team was rewarded. And at this point, a two-point loss in a downpour at Clemson doesn't look so bad, either.

Consider it an early pat on the back for taking a tougher road than most. It's an advantage, although others will soon be able to close the gap.

On that note...

 

Baylor and TCU Need Not Worry…Yet

Despite having two of the nation's most diabolical offenses and three notable unbeatens, the Big 12 was left out of the top five of the committee's rankings. Baylor and TCU both cracked the top 10, although they were slightly lower than most supporters of these Texas schools would have liked. 

At this moment in time, the No. 6 Bears' best win is over three-win West Virginia. One could argue that the Mountaineers are the No. 8 Horned Frogs' top victory as well—them or Minnesota. TCU also narrowly escaped losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State. They were penalized for that.

And quite frankly, as we stand here right now, it means absolutely nothing. 

The Big 12's November schedule is a gauntlet. It's relentless. It will reshape everything we think we know about the conference.

With four teams ranked in the top 15—the No. 14 Cowboys and No. 15 Oklahoma are the other two—the league's strength of schedule will amp up mightily.

If Baylor, TCU or Oklahoma State finishes the season without a loss, it will be in the playoff. The lack of a conference championship game will not matter. It's that simple. Even the Sooners, still cruising along with only one loss, should be considered a threat.

The biggest concern for the Big 12 isn't the committee. The respect is around the corner. No, the biggest concern should be the possibility that these programs find a way to cannibalize themselves out of the playoff entirely. It happened last year. It could happen this year as well. What a month it will be.

 

The Pac-12's Room For Error is Minimal 

We learned our lesson last year. When Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech, the national media gladly tossed dirt on the grave of the Big Ten and declared it out of the College Football Playoff before the month of October. 

Such proclamations are now off limits, at least for another year. With that acknowledged and history appreciated, the Pac-12 is not exactly in an ideal spot heading into the homestretch. It's not dead by any means, but this is not optimal.

Oh, it has horses. Make no mistake about it. Stanford and Utah—at No. 11 and No. 12 in the current rankings—are very much in the conversation with only a loss apiece. Each can continue to climb.

If all goes well, those two squads could meet in the Pac-12 Championship Game with a spot in the playoff on the line. The Cardinal also has a game left against Notre Dame. A win against the Irish, a team the committee loves, would serve as an enormous resume booster.

But No. 23 UCLA is the only other Pac-12 team in the rankings. And while anything is possible, it seems unlikely that the Bruins will climb to the upper echelon, even with a Pac-12 championship still possible.

So, until further notice, Stanford and Utah are the conference's best and only shots. It can be done, certainly, but a loss for either will be an enormous hit for both. And a loss for both will, well, we can probably get back to dumping that dirt with a bit more confidence.

 

Memphis is College Football's First Potential Cinderella 

It will take chaos of the highest order for their potential to be realized, but the Memphis Tigers—currently No. 13 in the selection committee's first rankings—at least have a chance to crash the playoff party.

Mind you, they are still a tremendous long shot. It's also a drastic departure from where we were a season ago. 

Oh, the selection committee did not care for Group of Five teams early on in 2014. We saw that firsthand when it skipped over Marshall time and time again. But with their win over Ole Miss, the Tigers feel a bit different. 

They already have a quality win. They have Justin Fuente, the hottest young coach in the nation. They have Paxton Lynch, one of the hottest young quarterbacks in the nation. The recipe is there. There is also some national sex appeal brewing, which, like it or not, plays an enormous role.

And their schedule doesn't ease up, either, which is a good thing for Memphis. Over the next three weeks, the Tigers will play Navy, No. 25 Houston and No. 22 Temple. Through nine weeks, those teams have a combined record of 21-2. Finishing that stretch unbeaten is not a given, but it will be celebrated if it happens.

Just how much the committee awards Memphis if that scenario plays out is another debate entirely.

Can the Tigers really climb all the way near the top? It still feels like a bit of a stretch right now. But then again, a little madness can go a long way.

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Notre Dame Football: Irish's Road to College Football Playoff

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Just like everyone expected, Notre Dame Fighting Irish football checked in fifth in the initial College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday night.

Right?

The Irish are ahead of undefeated Baylor (7-0), Michigan State (8-0), TCU (8-0) and Iowa (8-0), plus one-loss Florida (7-1) and Stanford (7-1).

The rankings can change weekly based on win quality, not just the bottom-line result. But the Irish are in a strong position with four regular-season games remaining.

 

Where Notre Dame Stands

The Irish are the second-highest-ranked one-loss team, trailing just No. 4 Alabama (7-1). The Crimson Tide have defeated Wisconsin (7-2 record), Georgia (5-3) and Texas A&M (6-2), among others. None of their wins have come against teams in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, has topped Navy (6-1), USC (5-3) and Temple (7-1). The Owls earned the No. 22 spot in this week’s playoff poll. Alabama lost by six points at home to No. 18 Ole Miss, while the only blemish for the Irish is a two-point loss to No. 1 Clemson on the road.

The Tigers (8-0) top the poll, while LSU (7-0) and Ohio State (8-0) round out the top three.

 

Help Needed

First and foremost, Notre Dame needs to take care of business over its final four games to lock up a spot in the College Football Playoff.

The Irish still must deal with Pitt (6-2), Wake Forest (3-6), Boston College (3-6) and Stanford down the stretch. And as we learned in last year’s inaugural playoff structure, wins don’t mean everything. A monster win, like a 59-0 drubbing in a conference title game (looking at you, Ohio State), can vault one team past another and leave some squads on the outside looking in.

That being said, four wins in these final four games will leave Notre Dame in outstanding shape. Two of the four teams ahead of the Irish (LSU and Alabama) meet Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, which will help Notre Dame in some way (if the Irish topple Pitt, of course).

LSU also faces No. 18 Ole Miss and Texas A&M to conclude its regular season, while Alabama still has No. 20 Mississippi State in mid-November. Clemson’s biggest remaining opportunity to strengthen its resume—and also the best chance for the Irish to receive some Clemson-related help—is this weekend when it hosts No. 16 Florida State.

No. 6 Baylor still has the resume-boosting opportunities it has so far lacked with November matchups against No. 15 Oklahoma, No. 14 Oklahoma State and No. 8 TCU. No. 7 Michigan State gets a crack at No. 3 Ohio State in Columbus on Nov. 21, while the Horned Frogs still have Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, too, plus Baylor in their regular-season finale.

No. 9 Iowa (remaining opponents: Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue and Nebraska) lacks big games in November, and No. 10 Florida’s only marquee game is against No. 16 Florida State on Nov. 28.

As long as Notre Dame handles its own business, the Irish likely won’t need too much assistance. Asked Tuesday (before the rankings were announced) how much he considers the help his team might need, Irish head coach Brian Kelly reframed the question.

“We won't think much about it at all, other than talking about what we need to do, what we need to do better as a football team,” Kelly said. “There are a lot of areas within each group that we felt like after the Temple game that we've got to focus all of our time and energy on if we want to be in this conversation next week and then the week after.”

 

Final Bowl Prediction

Notre Dame is certainly capable of winning its final four regular-season games. In fact, the Irish could even be favored in all four tilts, though a one-loss Stanford team at home likely holds the edge.

Notre Dame shouldn’t have much trouble with Wake Forest and Boston College in a pair of home environments. Pittsburgh does present a trap-game possibility, but we expect Notre Dame to improve to 8-1 come Saturday evening.

So it all comes down to Stanford. The Irish already went into one raucous road environment this season against a highly ranked opponent and nearly came away with a victory. Right now, we see Notre Dame, with its veteran leadership, prevailing in a potential play-in game.

The last question in this hypothetical, then, is could the Irish get jumped? It’s possible. But at No. 5 in the first poll with two-thirds of the season finished, Notre Dame is in good shape.

Prediction: Top 4

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand and all stats courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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CFP Committee Shows Group of 5 Teams Love, but Still an Uphill Climb to Playoff

We had to wait a little longer than last year for our first set of rankings from the College Football Playoff selection committee but Tuesday still felt a little like Christmas morning.

Unlike December 25 though, there were no shouts of joy. Instead, for most fans, there were screams of anger.

Alabama was too high, Baylor too low and, of course, there was obvious bias by the committee against (insert your favorite conference here).

But lost among the hemming and the hawing over the committee’s top 25 on all forms of media, lies the simple fact the underdogs had a banner night.

Memphis checked in at No. 13, Temple is No. 22, Toledo at No. 24, and Houston rounded things out at No. 25. In the first poll of 2015, the Group of Five had one more team than they did all of last season.

That’s an encouraging start for the Group of Five when it comes to impressing the committee with their strength on the field (and probably speaks a bit to the general mediocrity of some Power Five leagues). Last year, Boise State led all teams by appearing in three sets of rankings. East Carolina and Marshall also had one appearance each in 2014. Add it all up and that’s five appearances in the poll, a feat that will easily be surpassed by the committee’s second top 25 this year.

The attention will naturally gravitate to the Tigers, who now hold the title of highest ranked Group of Five team in the short history of the College Football Playoff. They’re undefeated and have a valuable win over No. 18 Ole Miss, a squad that controls its own destiny when it comes to winning the powerful SEC. Quarterback Paxton Lynch is already drawing Heisman Trophy praise and head coach Justin Fuente is being mentioned for every major open job in the country (and even some that are not).

Memphis is good, and college football fans far away from the Mississippi River have noticed. The committee agrees and for the first time provided some insight on just how well they’ll treat an undefeated Group of Five team with good wins on their resume.

Some will likely raise their fists that Memphis isn’t high enough and they would have an argument. The Tigers have a pair of wins over Power Five teams, with a trump card on just about everybody (outside of maybe Clemson) being that one of those wins was over a Rebels team fresh off a victory at Alabama. Memphis has also dispatched the preseason favorite in the American — Cincinnati — and may also wind up with a win over the eventual MAC champion in Bowling Green. At this point, Memphis is the trendy team and have an edge over compatriots Temple, Houston and Toledo.

But there’s still a long and treacherous climb for Memphis to prove to everybody that they are worthy of making the final four.

While they did check in ahead of Ohio State’s debut spot last year (No. 16 in the first poll in 2014), it’s not so much what is ahead of them on their own schedule as that of the teams ahead of them in the rankings.

No. 9 Iowa, No. 7 Michigan State and the third-ranked Buckeyes will all likely play each other (the latter two for sure). But that also means one to two more top-15 wins for whoever emerges out of the Big Ten. That’s not mentioning beating Michigan (which the Spartans have already done), a squad the committee deemed ever so slightly worse than Memphis in their first top 25.

Then there’s the SEC, which placed two teams in the top four, and the Big 12 duo of Baylor and TCU sitting in the top 10. That’s three conferences who have a very favorable path of placing at least one team in the playoff without even mentioning No. 1 Clemson out of the ACC.

As a result, Memphis is rooting for Ole Miss to win the SEC and hope for some chaos elsewhere. That includes in the Pac-12, ACC and with Notre Dame, who was ranked No. 8 and has seemingly gotten strong each week despite injury after injury.

It’s a tall task to overcome all that and still make the final four. It’s not impossible, mind you, but a tall task nevertheless.

Houston, Temple and Toledo don’t come close to Memphis’ resume so all three have their sights on a Fiesta Bowl bid as the Group of Five representative and nothing more. The Tigers are aiming a little higher at this point, even if there’s a steep hill to climb.

We still have more than a month of college football left to play this year and absolutely anything can happen. So celebrate the success of the Group of Five so far this season, but just remember that they’re still on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff itself.

Bryan Fischer is a national college football columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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Ohio State Doesn't Get Champions Benefit of the Doubt in Initial Rankings

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A year ago, the Ohio State Buckeyes' path to the College Football Playoff set many precedents for the sport's new postseason process, many of which benefited the Buckeyes in their quest to capture the national championship.

In its attempt at defending its crown, Ohio State set another standard in the playoff process on Tuesday night.

That's when the first College Football Playoff rankings of the 2015 season were released, with the selection committee having to take into account the merits of a defending playoff championship for the first time. If Tuesday's rankings were any indication, the Buckeyes won't be receiving the benefit of the doubt based on last season's accomplishments, as the top-ranked team in The Associated Press Top 25 and Amway Coaches Poll found itself slotted third in the playoff's premiere rankings of the 2015 campaign.

Ohio State trailed No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 LSU, while being ranked ahead of No. 4 Alabama in the initial rankings release.

As committee chair and Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long explained on the ESPN broadcast of the reveal, Clemson topping the Buckeyes as the top-ranked team came as a result of the Tigers possessing more quality wins than Ohio State at the moment.

"I think the quality of their victories and certainly the Notre Dame victory at home," Long answered when asked what qualified Clemson as the No. 1 team. "They have four teams that have better than a .500 [winning percentage] record that they defeated. That, combined, really with an offense and a defense that are strong on both sides of the ball. I think that's what won the day in the committee's eyes for the No. 1 ranking."

The Buckeyes, meanwhile, have three wins over teams with records over .500 this season, but no victories over opponents currently ranked in the playoff committee's top 25. Unlike in the AP Top 25 or coaches poll, Ohio State's standing as defending champion didn't secure its status as the top-ranked team, a departure from the way the traditional polls have typically been put together in the past.

"Really it came down to evaluating their resumes, what they've done, who they've beaten and how they've played in those games," Long said of the committee's process.

The good news for the Buckeyes is the position they find themselves in at the moment is actually more favorable than it was a year ago. Despite suffering a loss to Virginia Tech in the second week of the season in 2014, Ohio State climbed from No. 16 in the first rankings reveal to No. 4 in the matter of six weeks, before beating No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon en route to capturing the national title.

This season, the Buckeyes know they control their own destiny when it comes to the College Football Playoff. While it may not be the first or even second-ranked team at the moment, the heart of Ohio State's schedule remains ahead of it, with season-defining games against No. 7 Michigan State and No. 17 Michigan still around the corner.

And as Buckeyes fans learned last season, earning those quality wins—and a subsequent Big Ten championship—will be what matters most to the selection committee.

Because while last year's Ohio State squad seemed to be getting better with each passing week, it wasn't until it picked up a road win over No. 8 Michigan State that it was considered a serious threat to make the playoff. The Buckeyes then bolstered their resume with a 59-0 win over No. 13 Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, giving Urban Meyer's team arguably the key piece to its playoff berth—an outright conference championship.

That turned out to be the deciding factor for Ohio State when it came to making the inaugural playoff, with the Buckeyes edging out Big 12 co-champions TCU and Baylor for the fourth and final spot. While he declined to get into specifics, Long indicated that Ohio State benefited from its status as an undisputed conference champion.

"We were presented with co-champions," Long said at the time. "In the other situations, we had definitive champions for that conference."

It's also not a coincidence that with all factors being equal, it's "championships won" that the committee lists as its first piece of criteria when it comes to determining who will make the playoff.

For the Buckeyes, that means that winning out in the regular season before capturing a conference title would undoubtedly be enough to play for the right to defend their playoff championship. It also wouldn't hurt that a win in the Big Ten title game would most likely add another quality win to their schedule, with Big Ten West teams Iowa and Northwestern ranking ninth and 21st, respectively, in Tuesday's rankings reveal.

Whether that—in addition to potential wins over the Spartans and Wolverines in the weeks leading up to it—would be enough to give Ohio State a top-two ranking and more favorable semifinals matchup and/or location remains to be seen, and would most likely be dependent on how the Buckeyes perform on the field from here on out.

But unlike last year, the Buckeyes know exactly what they need to do to get to where they need to be, thanks in large part to the precedents they helped set a season ago.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Odds provided by Odds Shark. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Winners & Losers of College Football Playoff Committee's First Rankings of 2015

The College Football Playoff is rapidly approaching, and it crept a bit closer Tuesday with the release of the first College Football Playoff committee rankings of the season. 

Which teams landed in the initial Top Four? Which didn't make the cut?

Find out in the video above as Bleacher Report college football analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer discuss the CFP committee's initial rankings.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

TCU Football: Horned Frogs' Road to College Football Playoff

Unlike 2014, the TCU Horned Frogs entered this season with high expectations. Despite numerous injuries and attrition, especially on defense, the Frogs have been able to remain undefeated.

Not surprisingly, TCU is ranked in the top 10 of the College Football Playoff selection committee's first poll for 2015. However, the committee views TCU as the second-best team in the Big 12 and, if the season ended today, not playoff worthy.

The good news for TCU is there's already been a precedent set of teams shooting up the rankings in the final weeks (i.e. Ohio State, which started No. 16 in last year's rankings).

Here's how the Horned Frogs can get to the playoff. 

 

Where the Horned Frogs Stand

TCU came in ranked No. 8 in the first standings, but this team certainly isn't in bad shape. In fact, the Frogs are ranked just one spot lower than where they were in the initial playoff rankings from a year ago.

The ranking is ultimately meaningless, but it is a peek into the process by which TCU was judged. TCU's strength of schedule is far better than Baylor's, but it's clear the committee has valued how the the Horned Frogs have looked. At home, TCU is beating teams by an average of 38.7 points per game. On the road, that number shrinks to just 10 points per game. 

In short, the committee is taking a more "wait-and-see" approach with TCU than it is with Baylor, even though neither made the first top four. However, it is interesting to note that folks in Vegas think more highly of TCU than the committee does: 

 

Help Needed

Technically, yes, but it's not that much. 

TCU will help itself tremendously if it wins out. Like the rest of the Big 12's top four teams, the Frogs have a remarkably back-loaded schedule. All its quality wins will come in the month of November. 

If TCU goes 12-0 it is likely in the field. The only thing left to determine would be seeding. If TCU loses a game, though, its chances are in jeopardy. By ranking Alabama No. 4, the committee sent a strong message that a one-loss SEC team could have an inside track to the field of four if things get a little chaotic. One-loss Notre Dame is also getting serious consideration. 

That would be bad news for the Big 12 if its champion had a loss. 

In summary, an undefeated Big 12 champion likely wouldn't need help to get into the playoff field, but a one-loss champion absolutely would. 

 

Final Bowl Prediction

Everybody knows about TCU's offense, quarterback Trevone Boykin and receiver Josh Doctson. They're the stars and they will always be the stars. 

Quietly, though, TCU's new-look defense has steadily improved. The Frogs ranked second in the Big 12 in yards-per-play allowed (4.76) for the month of October. Granted, the likes of Texas and West Virginia aren't offensive juggernauts, but those are the types of games in which TCU can build up confidence on defense. 

TCU will need to get the most out of that defense for the tough road ahead, but the fact this short-handed group is improving is a positive sign. Things could get chaotic between now and then, but the Nov. 27 game against Baylor is still shaping up to have major implications. The winner of that game could be playoff bound, with the loser going to the Sugar Bowl.

Prediction: Cotton Bowl  

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

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Brian Kelly Comments on Sideline Altercation with Assistant Coach David Grimes

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly apologized Tuesday following his physical confrontation with David Grimes, the team's assistant strength and conditioning coach, during the Fighting Irish's 24-20 win over Temple on Saturday.

"I wish the situation never occurred," Kelly said, per JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago. "I regret that it happened. David and I have met. We have met about the situation. We've moved past it."

Business Insider's Cork Gaines shared a Vine of the incident:

Kelly went on to explain why he shoved Grimes away from an official.

"I'm responsible for the sideline. Our sideline was not where it needed to be," he said, per Stankevitz. "There were some things going on on the sideline that were unacceptable. It falls on my shoulders. If we were to get a penalty in that time of the game, it would have fell on me as being somebody that can't control the sideline."     

Kelly is known for his fiery temper on the sideline, and ESPN's Bomani Jones wondered if it's time to change that:

Bleacher Report's Bryan Fischer also believed Kelly's actions over the weekend were unacceptable:

That's what rankled me Saturday and has ever since. This isn't the first time we've seen Kelly screaming and yelling and turning a shade of red reminiscent of a tomato. In fact, there's been an incident similar to Saturday's nearly every other year during Kelly's tenure in South Bend and even the seasons before.

[...] Kelly's role as head coach of a program like Notre Dame means he knows exactly what to say nearly every time, but it's pretty apparent that, at times, he gets a little heated and doesn't say it in the right manner.

The concerning thing is that's always been the case, and he has lost his cool on the sidelines repeatedly. At some point, we need to realize these aren't isolated incidents, but a trend.

There's nothing wrong with showing passion on the sideline, and with that passion will sometimes come anger. Especially given the stakes of every game at a program like Notre Dame, it's only natural for a head coach like Kelly to become agitated when things aren't going according to plan.

But a head coach putting his hands on an assistant or player is inappropriate when it comes in the manner of Kelly's interaction with Grimes.

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College Football Playoff Rankings 2015: Twitter Reacts to Week 10 Top 25 Reveal

So long, Associated Press poll. Goodbye, Amway Coaches Poll. The only thing that truly matters in the race to the national championship is the College Football Playoff rankings, which were released Tuesday for the first time this season.

Here is a look at those initial rankings:    

It cannot be stressed enough how fluid these standings are given how things played out last season.

Of the teams ranked in the top four of last year's initial College Football Playoff rankings, only Florida State reached the playoff. Ohio State, which won the national championship, was all the way down at No. 16 with an ugly loss to Virginia Tech on its resume.

That is to say: Don't worry too much if your team isn't on the inside track in this first batch of rankings, especially since so many of the top squads still have to play each other (such as the Buckeyes and Michigan State, Baylor and TCU, and LSU and Alabama).

Naturally, the Twitter world reacted to the selection committee's first rankings.

ESPN provided a glance at what the playoff would look like if it started today:

Clemson at No. 1—ahead of undefeated LSU from the SEC and undefeated and defending champion Ohio State—may stand out to some. However, the Tigers beat No. 5 Notre Dame, and ESPN Stats & Info put their resume in perspective:

Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports shared some insight from selection committee member Jeff Long regarding Clemson's No. 1 ranking:

As for the Buckeyes, the third spot is much better than the No. 16 ranking they had last year. Ohio State doesn't have many quality wins on its schedule, but it does face No. 7 Michigan State and No. 17 Michigan at the end of the season, and Ben Axelrod of Bleacher Report noted it received some favor in these rankings:

As for the Spartans, Axelrod said they were ranked too low and provided this rationalization:

Another team that has an argument with its initial ranking is undefeated TCU. Paul Myerberg of USA Today weighed in on the Horned Frogs and gave their fans some hope for the future:

Mandel was not surprised with TCU's ranking:

The Big 12 let everyone know just how much of a factor it will be the rest of the season, despite lower rankings than expected from TCU and Baylor:

From a conference perspective, the Pac-12 is on the outside looking in. That is partially because teams such as Oregon and UCLA have underperformed, but Mandel noted the panic likely coming from the West Coast:

ESPN's Danny Kanell believed Stanford deserved a better ranking given its on-field dominance—including double-digit victories over USC and UCLA—following a season-opening loss at Northwestern:

Kanell also appeared to have a problem with two SEC teams in the top four:

Part of the issue with Alabama at No. 4 is the fact it lost to Ole Miss. Sam Vecenie of CBS Sports wondered why the Crimson Tide received the benefit of the doubt:

Luke Zimmermann of SB Nation had a response to the Alabama outcry:

While the SEC may be in prime position now, LSU and Alabama play each other Saturday. That gives other teams, like No. 16 Florida State, an opportunity to move up if they take care of business. The Seminoles play the No. 1 Clemson Tigers on Saturday with a chance to make a profound statement.

Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press noted Florida State is in the same spot Ohio State was in last season:

The other intriguing storyline is the race for a New Year's Six bowl for teams outside the Power Five conferences. Undefeated Memphis has a win over No. 18 Ole Miss and checked in at No. 13. The Tigers are ahead of No. 22 Temple, No. 24 Toledo and No. 25 Houston.

Myerberg seemed to think there is even a slight chance Memphis could jump into the top four:

Even in a sport filled with as many twists and turns as college football, that would be a major shock.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Baylor Football: Bears' Road to College Football Playoff

Let the controversy begin.

Tuesday evening, the College Football Playoff released its first Top 25 of 2015, and the Big 12 is well-represented in the top 15. Leading the pack is Baylor at No. 6., TCU is No. 8, Oklahoma State is No. 14, and Oklahoma is No. 15. 

What do the initial rankings say about the Bears and their path to the playoff? It's probably about what most expected. Baylor has dominated its less than stellar schedule, winning games by an average of 36 points per game, but it's also been slightly punished for lacking a marquee win. 

But November gets dicey not just for Baylor but for the entire top of the Big 12. Here's how Baylor's path to the playoff shakes out. 

 

Where the Bears Stand

ESPN.com's Heather Dinich proved to be correct when she anticipated zero Big 12 teams would make the initial top four. 

The good news for Baylor is it's already a step ahead of where it was this time last year. When the inaugural playoff rankings were released in 2014, the Bears were 13th thanks to a loss at West Virginia. While Baylor was able to creep its way up the CFP standings throughout November, a weak nonconference schedule prevented it from cracking the top four. 

Despite a similar schedule so far this year, the Bears are just outside the top four, squeezed between one-loss Notre Dame and undefeated Michigan State. If the committee did punish the Bears for being without injured star quarterback Seth Russell, it didn't show up much at all. 

It's also understood Baylor's toughest stretch lies ahead, so it's not a huge deal that the strength of schedule is rated so low, according to Sagarin. It's going to improve, quickly and drastically. In a 13-day span, Baylor plays Oklahoma and then travels to Oklahoma State—where it hasn't won since 1939—before heading to TCU on a short week. Those teams are a combined 23-1. If Baylor wins those games, the committee will forget about teams such as SMU and Lamar. 

  

Help Needed

As ESPN's Mark Schalbach tweeted, if Baylor is able to win out, it should be able to rise two spots. Why? No other team in college football has a harder November than the Bears.

And, ultimately, rising two spots is all that matters. In a year when there are no great teams in college football, just get to No. 4. That's something Ohio State was able to prove last year. 

Baylor is in good position to do just that. 

What remains to be seen is if Baylor somehow gets hurt by 1) a nonconference slate that featured a bunch of nobodies and/or 2) the lack of a 13th game in a conference championship that would, presumably, add one more quality win to the resume. 

If Baylor wins out, it may not be ranked ahead of an undefeated LSU or undefeated Clemson, assuming both of those things pan out, but it should have done enough in November to get to No. 4. 

 

Final Bowl Prediction

Baylor has been the most impressive Big 12 team, but it also has the toughest road to the playoff—and not just in the conference but in major college football. 

The reaction to true freshman Jarrett Stidham's taking over at quarterback has been overwhelmingly positive. And why not, right? Stidham immediately ascended up the depth chart and has looked good in mop-up duty. Plus, Baylor's offense is quarterback-friendly, and few programs have shown the capacity to plug-and-play like this one. The supporting cast is excellent, too. 

Baylor has every reason to be confident it can win with Stidham, and it may in fact keep on winning. However, the idea of starting a true freshman quarterback in the toughest part of the schedule with so much on the line can't be dismissed as nothing, either. How does he respond if things don't go as perfectly right away? This can be the difference between someone who's been in the program for multiple years and someone who's still in his first year. 

The possibility of Baylor's slipping up somewhere in the next five games is real. It doesn't mean it'll happen for sure, but know this: The margin for error is zero. 

Prediction: Sugar Bowl

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff 2015: Official Committee Rankings Ahead of Week 10

The first release of the 2015 College Football Playoff rankings came during Tuesday evening's ESPN telecast, with the Clemson Tigers debuting at No. 1.

Since the Ohio State Buckeyes are atop the Associated Press Top 25 and Amway Coaches Poll, it's quite a surprise to see the defending national champions check in at No. 3—behind Clemson and LSU. The last team in the Top Four is Alabama, which has benefited from a stout strength of schedule.

Check out the complete CFP Top 25 below, as Notre Dame and Baylor are the first two teams out right now:

Ohio State has been indecisive at the most important position and hasn't really registered a signature win to date.

Sophomore quarterback and team captain J.T. Barrett had seized the job temporarily but is suspended for this Saturday's game against Minnesota for an arrest because of operating a vehicle while impaired. Cardale Jones has a new lease on life under center in Columbus for the time being.

Thanks to a loaded defense and a rushing attack spearheaded by Ezekiel Elliott, OSU has remained undefeated and is thus still the team to beat. Its schedule gets tougher down the stretch with Michigan State and Michigan to close the regular season.

Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports noted how teams who are well outside of contention or are lower than expected at the moment shouldn't be devastated about Tuesday's release:

At least one big shift promises to happen at the top of the current CFP picture late in the year when TCU plays host to Baylor in the Horned Frogs' regular-season finale. TCU checked in at No. 8, which was surprisingly low considering its rank of No. 3 in the Amway poll.

Sharon Katz of ESPN Stats & Info highlighted one key factor as to why Baylor was rated sixth:

Since the Bears are without starting quarterback Seth Russell for the year because of his neck injury, it stands to reason the dynamic passing combination of Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson will be enough to challenge Baylor for a slot in the postseason Top Four.

Playoff committee chairman Jeff Long explained why the powers that be decided to slot the Big 12 rivals where they are, per Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

The following quote from TCU head coach Gary Patterson prior to the rankings' release was incredibly prescient.

"I think we're going to be wishing that it's an eight-team playoff, not a four," said Patterson, per the Dallas Morning News' Chuck Carlton.

There is still plenty of football to be played between now and the TCU-Baylor showdown. Ohio State has difficult hurdles to clear in the Big Ten; the same goes for LSU in the extremely difficult SEC.

Of more importance this weekend, the Tigers may well fall in the next edition of the rankings if they can't go to Tuscaloosa on Saturday and grind out a victory over Alabama. Heisman Trophy front-runner Leonard Fournette is the foundation of LSU's success and must keep running the ball at his current pace to ensure the victories continue coming.

ESPN Stats & Info illustrated how Alabama sports a stout CFP resume despite losing to Ole Miss earlier in the season:

The Crimson Tide have the means to catch anyone ranked ahead of them, even if those teams run the table. Not everyone agrees with Alabama's gaudy standing, though, including CBS Sports' Gary Parrish:

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee raised a fair point about Alabama as well:

Although some may believe name recognition may be a point of bias in the committee's decision regarding the Tide, that isn't the case with regard to Memphis. Led by QB Paxton Lynch, the relatively unheralded program is all the way up to 13th. ESPN's Brett McMurphy alluded to the significance of Memphis' ranking:

To circle back to the teams at the top, what's encouraging for both LSU and Clemson is the development of their sophomore signal-callers in Brandon Harris and Deshaun Watson, respectively. Harris has the luxury of Fournette to complement him but does have a cannon for an arm and has yet to throw an interception in 2015.

Long also outlined why Clemson opened ahead of Ohio State and every other team in the country, per Mandel:

Strong performances against the stout defenses of Boston College and NC State in recent weeks suggest Watson can handle the big stage and make enough plays to boost Clemson to the College Football Playoff. The ACC isn't quite as difficult to run the table in, though the Tigers have a huge home game this Saturday against Florida State.

Mississippi State opened atop the inaugural College Football Playoff rankings last year but couldn't stay there. The current college football hierarchy is not set in stone by any means, and with the tough tests LSU and Clemson face this weekend, a huge shakeup could be in store in the imminent future.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Football: Tigers' Road to College Football Playoff

November is here, which means it's time for LSU fans to find out where they stand.

The Tigers (7-0, 4-0 SEC) travel to Tuscaloosa to square off against Alabama (7-1, 4-1 SEC) in a game that will define the landscape of the SEC in the month of November.

When they enter Bryant-Denny Stadium, they will have a playoff spot to lose. 

The Tigers chimed in at the No. 2 spot in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the 2015 season, behind only top-ranked Clemson.

 

Where LSU Stands  

While LSU isn't atop the standings, head coach Les Miles' crew is sitting pretty in the second spot. A win over Alabama will sit well in the eyes of selection committee members, and the Tigers are currently in control of their SEC West and College Football Playoff destiny.

When it comes to contenders, Clemson landed in the 28th spot on Jeff Sagarin's strength of schedule rankings (via: USA Today), while Baylor has the 104th easiest schedule, TCU 58th, Michigan State 59th and Ohio State 68th.

That schedule will be ratcheted up down the stretch for the Tigers, who play at No. 4 Alabama, Arkansas, at No. 18 Ole Miss and No. 19 Texas A&M to close out the season.

 

Help Needed  

In terms of help, LSU doesn't need any. If the Tigers win out, they're in, plain and simple. 

The only question would be seeding. 

With everybody in the Pac-12 having already suffered one loss, the only undefeated teams that could mount a challenge for the No. 1 spot would be Clemson, the eventual Big 12 champion and either No. 3 Ohio State or No. 7 Michigan State.

I have a hard time believing that either Clemson or a Big 12 champion would be considered better than an unblemished LSU, so Ohio State or Michigan State would be the only real challenger to the top spot in the standings if LSU wins out.

Ohio State has a title to boast, so the Buckeyes might get an edge on the Tigers. Michigan State has been sluggish all season long, and I'm not sure an undefeated Spartans team would be ranked above LSU—even if it ends up producing a heads-up win over the Buckeyes and a Big Ten title.



Final Bowl Prediction 

LSU has to get by Alabama this weekend, and I don't see that happening.

The Crimson Tide front seven is the best in the country and has already proved it can shut down elite running backs when it held Georgia's Nick Chubb in check until the game got way out of hand. Head coach Nick Saban's crew will slow down Leonard Fournette enough to put the game in the hands of quarterback Brandon Harris, and while he's thrown for over 200 yards in three straight games, asking him to go win a game against an elite defense on the road is too much to ask.

It will be the only loss of the season for the Tigers, and they'll still make a "New Year's Six" bowl.

Prediction: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: Crimson Tide's Road to College Football Playoff

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — With the first of its six rankings, the College Football Playoff selection committee essentially confirmed that the University of Alabama is one of the few teams that controls its postseason destiny this season.

The committee had the Crimson Tide fourth in its initial rankings behind Clemson, LSU and Ohio State, and ahead of Notre Dame and Baylor.

Here’s a breakdown of the Crimson Tide’s playoff status.

 

Where Alabama Stands

The committee was obviously impressed with the Crimson Tide’s (7-1, 4-1 SEC) schedule, including road wins at No. 8 (at the time) Georgia, No. 9 Texas A&M and versus No. 20 Wisconsin in a neutral setting.

“There were a number of discussions about those undefeated teams and whether a one-loss team should be ranked ahead of them,” committee chairman Jeff Long said during the ESPN broadcast.

Specific to the difference between No. 4 Alabama and No. 10 Florida, he responded:

Alabama has a quality victory more than Florida than our eyes. They have three wins against teams with .500 or better records, and then Florida has two. I think that was probably the biggest difference. I think they’re actually very close even though they may be separated by so much in our rankings. Those are two teams that we do think are very close.

Meanwhile, Alabama was both seventh in this week’s Associated Press and Amway Coaches polls, but there’s little agreement regarding the Crimson Tide’s standing among the various computer polls, even the ones the BCS used.

One would think that the winner of Saturday’s showdown with No. 2 LSU (7 p.m. CT, CBS) will have the inside track on a playoff spot as long as it wins out. However, even with a win, Alabama still has a tough road to go, with a trip to No. 20 Mississippi State looming next week, rival Auburn on Nov. 28 and then the potential SEC Championship Game—likely against No. 10 Florida.

 

Help Needed

If Alabama wins out, it almost certainly won’t need any help.

If Alabama loses to LSU or anyone else, it’ll need quite a bit, especially with there still being 11 undefeated teams: Baylor, Clemson, Houston, Iowa, LSU, Memphis, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, TCU and Toledo.

Granted, a lot of these teams have each other on the schedule, but the committee would feel a lot of pressure to select another league champion, or even an undefeated Houston or Toledo, over a second SEC team with two losses.

Regardless, Alabama fans are definitely rooting for No. 17 Ole Miss (7-2, 4-1 SEC) to take another loss, as the Rebels have a tie-breaking edge due to the 43-37 victory earlier this season at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

If Ole Miss wins out (it plays Arkansas, finally gets a bye, hosts LSU and closes against rival Mississippi State), it would keep Alabama out of the SEC Championship Game. According to the playoff committee’s protocol:

When circumstances at the margins indicate that teams are comparable, then the following criteria must be considered:

  • Championships won
  • Strength of schedule
  • Head-to-head competition (if it occurred)
  • Comparative outcomes of common opponents (without factoring margin of victory)

 

Final Bowl Prediction

Alabama’s going to be favored in every remaining game, and, considering it probably has the most talent from top to bottom of anyone, it figures to be among the strongest contenders.

One huge advantage Alabama has over the field is that it went through this last year, approaching every game as a must-win after taking a mid-season loss. Although the first playoff rankings were announced earlier in 2014, it was sixth, behind Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn, Ole Miss and Oregon.

The Crimson Tide ran the table and won the SEC Championship to clinch the top seeding before bowing out to Ohio State.

That translates to confidence when the pressure mounts, but it also has the team hungry.

The guess here is that Alabama returns to the semifinals and faces the Big 12 champion in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 31.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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Florida State vs. Clemson Complete Game Preview

Both teams might not be undefeated at this point in the season, but the annual Clemson vs. Florida State clash will have the usual ACC and national championship implications when the two square off Saturday in Death Valley.

This time around, Clemson is the favorite with the perfect record. Dabo Swinney's Tigers are playing some of the best ball of anyone in college football with a high-powered offense led by Heisman candidate Deshaun Watson and a fierce defense that has performed above expectations in 2015. 

The visitors, Florida State, are still quite dangerous—even after their heartbreaking loss to Georgia Tech a couple of weeks ago. Jimbo Fisher's team overcame plenty of injuries to record an impressive bounce-back win over Syracuse that has sparked some quarterback controversy between Everett Golson and Sean Maguire.

The winner of this matchup has gone on to win the ACC Atlantic Division for the last few years, and Clemson is eyeing an end to Florida State's run of dominance atop the conference. One thing is for sure—this game should be one of the best in a weekend filled with top-notch college football.

Here's all the basic info you need to know about this edition of the Clemson-FSU rivalry.

Date: Saturday, November 7

Time: 3:30 p.m. ET

Location: Memorial Stadium (Clemson, South Carolina)

TV: ABC

Radio: Seminole IMG Sports Network; Clemson Tigers Sports Network

Line: Clemson -12, according to Odds Shark

Begin Slideshow

LSU vs. Alabama Complete Game Preview

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Every year it seems the coaches come up with a new way of saying what everyone else knows—that whenever Alabama and LSU meet on a football field these days it's a really big game.

In 2012, Les Miles called it “big boy” football, and last year, Nick Saban described it as a “sort of war of the titans.” When it comes to physical football, these are the two schools that have really stood alone for nearly a decade, and thankfully for fans, they’re in the same division and have to play every year.

Since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007, the Tigers have been the one team that has consistently matched up with the Crimson Tide in both size and talent. That’s no disrespect to Auburn, as that rivalry has been outstanding as well during the same time frame but has also included some lopsided scores.

Alabama and LSU like to go toe-to-toe and see who blinks first, and the games usually come down to one possession. The series was even elevated to the BCS National Championship Game, with Alabama winning the 2011 title with a 21-0 victory.

“I think that's what college football is all about, what it’s supposed to be,” said the man who has been on both sidelines at Death Valley.

Last year, this was a No. 4 vs. No. 16 matchup, with LSU the lower-ranked team but with the benefit of playing at home. After a T.J. Yeldon fumble at the Alabama 6-yard line, LSU had first down with one minute and 13 second to go and the scoreboard reading 10-10.

As LSU looked to score, announcements were made during the timeouts that fans not storm the field. But Alabama’s defense held and limited the host team to a field goal.

The Crimson Tide offense subsequently went 55 yards on nine plays for a field goal and then won in overtime. Alabama had more offensive yards on the last-minute drive than the rest of the second half.

Here’s everything you need to know for Saturday’s game:

 

Date: Saturday, November 7

Time: 7 p.m. CT

Place: Bryant-Denny Stadium

TV: CBS 

Radio:Crimson Tide Sports Network, LSU Sports Network, Compass Radio, Sirius 84, XM 84 

Spread: Alabama -6.5,  according to Odds Shark.

Begin Slideshow

Does Florida Have Any Shot at 5-Star Georgia QB Commit Jacob Eason?

SEC rivals Florida and Georgia seem to be headed in different directions in the aftermath of their most recent clash.

The Gators improved to 7-1 with a 27-3 victory over the Bulldogs last Saturday, one win shy of the program's highest win total since 2012. Georgia fell for the third time in four games, leading to a Fox Sports report from Bruce Feldman that states support is waning for head coach Mark Richt among Bulldogs boosters.

"Some of Georgia’s big-dog boosters are asking questions and talking about potentially moving on from Richt unlike ever before in his tenure," Feldman wrote Tuesday.

Whenever we discuss a college coaching staff's uncertainty, the conversation must include recruiting implications. While the situation in Athens isn't on par with what we saw at Miami earlier this season or even in Gainesville last fall, speculation will undoubtedly escalate if the Bulldogs are unable to rebound, beginning this Saturday against Kentucky.

Georgia has a lot to lose should things trend in the wrong direction, starting with an outstanding 2016 recruiting class. The group rates sixth nationally in composite rankings, spearheaded by 5-star quarterback Jacob Eason.

The 6'5", 205-pound prospect pledged to the Bulldogs before the start of his junior season at Lake Stevens High School in Washington. He's maintained that cross-country commitment for 16 months, serving as a catalyst in a class that features fellow offensive standouts Elijah HolyfieldBen Cleveland and Charlie Woerner.

“He’s (Eason) a good guy and a great quarterback," Woerner, a 4-star wide receiver/tight end, told Chris Kirschner of the Atlanta Journal-Consitution. "It definitely does help having him go there.”

Eason is the linchpin of Georgia's 2016 recruiting efforts, at least offensively, and he's on track to enroll early for spring camp. The Bulldogs are nearing the finish line of a lengthy pursuit but may need to evade a familiar foe before bringing Eason to campus. 

Florida, averaging nearly 60 more passing yards per contest than last season, hopes to find a top-tier quarterback during the final stretch of this cycle. According to Luke Stampini of 247Sports, that search extends to the Northwest.

Stampini notes Gators offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier contacted Eason via social media, as the two recently connected on Twitter. Eason followed the veteran play-caller days after Georgia's defeat at Florida.

"You know, he reached out to me, so I followed him, so he could he could communicate. So, that’s about all I want to say about that," Eason told Stampini.

It continues a significant recruiting push for Florida's staff. Head coach Jim McElwain, Nussmeier and company have continued to recruit Elite 11 finalists Feleipe Franks and Dwayne Haskins, despite their existing commitments to LSU and Maryland, respectively.

The Gators failed to sign a passer in the 2015 class, though McElwain can now provide prospects with tangible evidence that he's made offensive improvements. 

McElwain carries a commitment from 3-star Texas quarterback Kyle Trask, though a surprising July offer from Florida was his first from an FBS program. Trask, who rates 91st nationally among pro-style quarterbacks in composite rankings, currently backs up TCU commit D'Eriq King at Manvel High School.

Sooner or later, it seems the Gators will gain a second pledge at the position. 

Aside from Franks, Haskins and Eason, Florida has reciprocated interest from Auburn commit Ervin "Woody" Barrett and Lousiville pledge Tylin Oden, though neither player publicly holds an offer.

A fluid situation at quarterback became even more intriguing when redshirt freshman Will Grier was suspended for the season following a hot start. Sophomore Treon Harris regained the job, tossing three touchdowns and no interceptions in two games.

Signs point toward Eason remaining in Georgia's class, as Stampini acknowledges in his report, but that outcome may ultimately hinge on the future of Richt. If the longtime Bulldogs leader is ousted at season's end, it could mean sweeping changes for this program and its recruiting class. 

Florida, diligently surveying the 2016 landscape for elite quarterbacks, likely needs to flip someone's commitment in order to reach signing day with a dynamic passer in place. Flirtations between Eason and the Gators could intensify in coming months, though the more likely scenario sees him someday leading Georgia against Florida as an opponent.

Expectations will be immense for Eason regardless of his collegiate landing spot. He's thrown for 8,136 yards and 84 touchdowns since 2013, according to MaxPreps.

Tyler Donohue is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Tyler via Twitter @TDsTake.

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Kyler Murray Named Texas A&M Starting QB: Latest Details, Comments, Reaction

Texas A&M quarterback Kyler Murray lit it up in his first start against South Carolina this past weekend to the point that head coach Kevin Sumlin will move forward with the true freshman as the starter.  

Sumlin made the decision to roll with Murray as the operator of the Aggies' air-raid offense Tuesday, per Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle.

After starting the year splitting time and serving as the backup to Kyle Allen, Murray got his shot to take the reins last Saturday against the Gamecocks and ran with the opportunity. The 18-year-old phenom was 20-of-28 passing for 223 yards and a score, adding 156 yards on the ground and one more touchdown in a 35-28 win.

Wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones had six receptions for 88 yards in the victory and applauded Murray's performance, per ESPN.com's Sam Khan Jr.: "[I saw] poise. The first couple series in the beginning of the game you could tell he was kind of nervous, but then after he sat back and got stable, he let it rip and let it go and made plays."

ESPN Stats & Info provided context for just how good Murray was in his full-time debut:

A 247Sports 5-star recruit and Texas high school football legend, there were still doubts as to how much Murray would contribute in 2015, considering Allen was the incumbent starter. It wasn't a shock to see Allen beat out Murray in a QB competition and build on a decent freshman campaign either.

But Allen's play began to decline in losses to Alabama and Ole Miss, as he was just 32-of-74 passing with 4.74 yards per attempt, one TD and four interceptions.

The Murray era is beginning perhaps sooner than expected, but he was brought to College Station to be the future face of the program. Due to his dual-threat capabilities and diminutive frame, inevitable comparisons have arisen between Murray and former Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

That he has managed to hit the field and thrive in his first year on campus is a testament to Murray's potential and preternatural polish, whereas Manziel needed a redshirt year before taking college football by storm.

One point of concern regarding Murray is how he'll hold up against SEC competition should he choose to run as often as he did against South Carolina. Murray needs to add strength if he's meant to continue taking hits, but he's also a cerebral QB who can win from the pocket and doesn't rely on improvisation as much as Manziel did.

Next up on the Aggies schedule is a showdown against conference rival Auburn. The 2015 campaign has been a struggle for the Tigers, but they have a defensive coordinator in Will Muschamp who can at least provide a challenge to Murray from a schematic standpoint.

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Auburn vs. Texas A&M Complete Game Preview

Auburn will head to the Lone Star State this weekend in a position that isn't quite the level of despair from its first SEC meeting with Texas A&M—but it's also nowhere near the heights the Tigers enjoyed when they faced the Aggies these last two seasons.

Gus Malzahn's Auburn (4-4, 1-4 SEC) team visits Kevin Sumlin's Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2 SEC) squad in College Station on Saturday night for a game that won't quite receive the same amount of attention it had in the preseason, when it was hyped as a top-tier matchup between the two biggest coordinator hires in the entire country.

Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is still searching for a good performance from his unit, which played well in some areas but ultimately gave up a season high in yardage during last weekend's 27-19 loss to Ole Miss at home. Malzahn needs to see improvement, too, as the offense he directs fell flat in the red zone against the Rebels.

Texas A&M, on the other hand, has improved its biggest flaw—defense—with former LSU assistant John Chavis this season. The Aggies found their offensive momentum last weekend with true freshman quarterback Kyler Murray taking over for struggling starter Kyle Allen, who torched Auburn last season in his first big start.

Before we break down the fourth SEC meeting between Auburn and Texas A&M, here is all the information you need to know:

Date: Saturday, November 7

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET (6:30 p.m. local time)

Location: Kyle Field (College Station, Texas)

TV: SEC Network

Radio: Auburn IMG Sports Network; Texas A&M Sports Network

Line: Texas A&M -7, according to Odds Shark

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