NCAA Football News

What It's Really Like to Be a Notre Dame Student-Athlete

After months of official investigations, Honor Code hearings, student appeals, and university "no comments," Notre Dame's football team appears that it'll officially move on without its five players.

Last week, star cornerback KeiVarae Russell acknowledged he won't play this season, though plans to return in 2015. Tuesday morning, Phillip Daniels took to Twitter to announce that his son DaVaris, the Irish's leading returning wide receiver, won't play this season and will move on from Notre Dame. 

In his Tuesday morning press conference, head coach Brian Kelly acknowledged that he spoke with defensive end Ishaq Williams, who shared with his head coach that he won't return this season, but hopes to play out his eligibility in 2015. 

While no official word has come from reserve safety Eilar Hardy or backup linebacker Kendall Moore, both the Chicago Tribune and Irish Illustrated have previously reported that all five are unlikely to play this season, a finality that seems all but assured. 

The five Notre Dame football players become the latest in streak of high-profile academic blemishes that in the last 18 months have taken stars from the football (Everett Golson), basketball (Jerian Grant) and hockey (Robbie Russo) teams out of uniform.

These high-profile academic failures at a university that proudly trumpets their elite status both on the field and in the classroom, has turned Notre Dame into an easy target. What isn't publicized is just how difficult the daily grind both academically and athletically in South Bend. 

***

"Notre Dame is not for everybody," former linebacker Danny Spond told me. "It's not. It's plain and simple. Doing everything and anything to uphold that standard is very difficult. So you need help. You need help to get it done. Not to do your work, but to get it done."

That's where the office of Academic Services for Student Athletes (ASSA) comes in. Tucked inside the Coleman-Morse Center on the campus's South Quad, ASSA supports every student-athlete in Notre Dame's 26 varsity sports. If you want to know what it's really like to be a Notre Dame student-athlete, your journey should begin here. 

Open seven days a week, ASSA is a huge part of life for many student-athletes. Open before class and until midnight five nights a week, the office's stated mission provides "a wide range of services including general academic support, tutoring, monitoring of academic performance, team orientation, time management assistant, information about post-graduate and scholarship opportunities and academic recognition." 

 

Put into simple terms, the full-time staff often times serves as your head coach away from sports. And if you thought Brian Kelly was tough, you haven't met Adam Sargent. 

Sargent serves as the Associate Director of Academic Services. Along with Colleen Ingelsby, the duo works solely with the football team, making sure everybody on the roster is succeeding in the classroom, staying up to speed with their work, and doing everything they can do to continue the Irish's success both on and off the field. 

A former Notre Dame lacrosse player, Sargent's career as an athlete was cut short after a car accident nearly killed him and forced him into a wheelchair for the rest of his life. But unwilling to be defined by the accident, Sargent credited his development as a student-athlete at Notre Dame for his transition to life after the accident. He not only returned to campus and finished his degree, but he decided to never leave, transferring his passion to the student-athletes he now helps. 

 "Because I made the decision to come to Notre Dame, a school that I probably would not have been accepted to without my sport. Because I was challenged and supported by my coaches, by my faculty members, by people in this office, when I had my car accident, and I was recovering and recognizing that the outlets and options that I could engage in for the rest of my life had been reduced significantly because of my physical disability," Sargent said during a WatchND profile.  

"It was a source of comfort, a source of reassurance that I had developed more than I think I would have at many other places. That my intellectual capacity, that my interpersonal skill set, all of those things really were farther along than I think they would have been had I been at some place else. Because of that, I was well equipped to one, finish my degree, and two, find an outlet and profession that I could engage in, feel passionate about and do at a high level in spite of the physical disabilities that resulted from the injury and that was a great thing."    

The respect Sargent garners from players and coaches alike is universal. In a feature written during Notre Dame's BCS run, Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel put a well-deserved spotlight on a man who does his best to shy away from it. 

But former Irish All-American Manti Te'o was just one of many Irish players who was unequivocal in his praise. 

"Without Adam Sargent, there would be no Notre Dame football," Te'o told Thamel. 

***

Of course, respecting Adam Sargent and wanting to be around Sargent are two very different things. If you are doing things right, you spend as little time with Sargent and his team as possible. But for some Irish football players struggling with the very stark transition to life at Notre Dame, the academic services program became a safe haven. 

Former offensive lineman Chris Stewart serves as a recent role model for success both on and off the field for Irish football players. Currently in his final year of law school at Notre Dame, Stewart spent time with both the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals organization before getting on with life after football. 

But before he was the first student-athlete to ever enroll in law school while playing for the Irish, he was a home-sick football player frustrated with life both on and off the field. 

“It all came kind of socially into a perfect storm," Stewart recalled. "It was freezing cold. I was trying to do all these things with football. I made some good friends, but it was just a little bit different. Everything was different.

"I think that’s all part of broadening your horizons. The world that we’re all going to go into is hopefully, if you are doing it the right way, should be starkly different than the world you’re growing up in."

Frustrated after almost two years of being buried on the depth chart, Stewart remembers a time where he sought out time with his academic team, looking for a Saturday morning study session to remove the frustration of not traveling with the team. 

"They probably thought I was a terrible nerd," Stewart said with a laugh. 

But things turned around for Stewart on the field. After seriously considering leaving the program, Stewart won a starting job in 2008, starting 10 games for the Irish at guard. As a senior, he started all 12 games as well, with some NFL advisors believing that the 6'5", 351-pounder could be a third or fourth-round draft pick. 

But Stewart decided to play out his eligibility. And while some fifth-year college football players earn notoriety for taking ball room dancing class or other cushy electives, Stewart became a trailblazer almost by accident. 

"I graduated early and here I am with a fifth year and part of the year left," Stewart said. "So basically a year and a half of education. I graduated and knew I wanted to do something. A lot of programs wouldn't accept me, just thinking I couldn't handle the workload. 

"The ironic twist to the story is that I have [former Notre Dame All-American] Chris Zorich and a number of people taking me around, wondering what they can get this kid. We happen upon the law school and the dean says if you can do the work, we'll give you a shot. So lo and behold, I'm the first kid to do law school and football. 

"Family, faith, the Notre Dame family and blind luck." 

***

"Make the 40-year decision, not the four-year decision." 

For outsiders, the recruiting pitch Brian Kelly often sells carries the same type of boastful pride that makes Notre Dame one of the most polarizing schools in college sports. But with the university's First Year of Studies program putting student-athletes into an academic course load that's no different than the rest of the student body, the Irish staff sells the academic challenges as a positive. 

"I think one of the greatest things that I ever heard, that really drew me in during recruiting was remembering what Coach [Tony] Alford said to me sitting in my living room," Spond recalled. "Notre Dame is not for everyone. For a coach to tell you that and be honest with you, that speaks volumes."

 

If ever there was a player who embodied the 40-year decision, it's Spond. A starting linebacker on Notre Dame's 2012 defense, debilitating migraine headaches ended Spond's career during 2013's preseason camp. That forced him to get a jump-start on life after football, transitioning his competitive nature from the football field to the health care industry, where he's now living and working in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

So while Spond's dreams of finishing his football career on his own accord didn't happen, the habits he learned at Notre Dame have continued to guide him. It's part of why he doesn't blink at 12 to 14-hour days. He was working them in college. 

Spond graduated with a degree in Political Science. He took classes in Portuguese. And while the recent suspensions have some outsiders calling for relaxed standards or easier majors, from the inside Spond doesn't see any of those suggestions as anything more than excuses. 

"Notre Dame recruits a certain type of guy. He's the type of guy that can perform at a high level on the field and off the field," Spond said. "When we've had former teammates of mine and guys come in that can't make it in the classroom, a lot of them, and I'll speak very honestly and it might not sit well with people but it's true, a lot of it comes down to effort. 

"If you're willing to give the effort and you're willing to work with professors and put in the time, you can do it. There are thousands and thousands of examples across all sports that have made it happen. I was not the smartest person in my class. I would not have been at Notre Dame if it weren't for my athletic ability. But I put in the effort and I put in the time and I was able to get it done.

"It's not about the academics. It's not the intelligence level of the people being recruited. Let's figure out instead how to change their motivations and work ethic. Let's focus their time on something more productive." 

For Stewart, the issue is viewed the same way. And it's why he serves as a Student Representative on the Faculty Board of Athletics. It's also why he has a hard time seeing former teammates and friends become the unflattering face of an issue that doesn't exist in most athletic departments around the country. 

"I'm friends with some of the guys that are suspended right now," Stewart said. "It's a difficult thing. It's not something pretty for the university, it's not something good for their careers. But to say that the school should be more lacks in its academic pursuits, I don't think that's the right answer.

"The better answer is to say, 'Are we doing everything we can as a university to give our athletes the ability to succeed?' If the answer to that is truly yes, and that's part of your mission, then we need to uphold it.

"But it still doesn't remove the emotional part of it."

***

Notre Dame's official statement about the five players is no official statement at all. While that's made for some uncomfortable weeks for head coach Brian Kelly, the university considers this an academic matter, a process that will remain confidential and a part of the Honor Code process. 

The uproar that came along with months of uncertainty for the five players awaiting their fate will die out. And while there are certainly improvements that need to be made, both the university and the athletic department will move on, assuredly a little worse for the wear, but with their integrity intact. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. Keith Arnold is a lead writer for Bleacher Report, covers Notre Dame football for NBCSports.com and was also a former student-athlete at Notre Dame. 

 

 

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Oregon Ducks to Wear Throwback Uniforms to Honor 20th Anniversary of 'The Pick'

The Oregon Ducks have been a step ahead of the rest of the college football world when it comes to uniforms in recent years. However, this weekend, the Ducks will be kicking it old school in order to pay tribute to a play that changed the program forever.

On Oct. 22, 1994, Oregon knocked off No. 9 Washington, 31-20. The play of the game: "The Pick."

With the Ducks leading 24-20 late in the fourth quarter, the Huskies were driving and looking to take the lead. That's when Oregon's Kenny Wheaton stepped up and returned an interception 97 yards for the game-sealing touchdown. 

Oregon pulled out a 31-20 victory over Washington and went on to win its first conference title since 1957. The Ducks have won six conference titles since 1994.

With the Huskies in town this Saturday, the Ducks will be honoring the 20th anniversary of "The Pick" by wearing these throwback uniforms.

[Nike, GoDucksdotcom]

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The 3 Biggest X-Factors for Tennessee Volunteers vs. Ole Miss Rebels

The Tennessee Volunteers will travel to Oxford, Mississippi, on Saturday to take on the No. 3 Ole Miss Rebels.

On paper, this game is all Ole Miss—which explains the Rebels being favored by nearly three touchdowns. But Tennessee may have a few tricks up its sleeves to keep this one close heading into the fourth quarter.

Along with in-state rival Mississippi State, Ole Miss is the biggest surprise in the college football world this season, as it knocked off No. 1 Alabama in Oxford and blasted No. 14 Texas A&M at Kyle Field.

The Vols, on the other hand, appear much improved on defense, but a shaky offensive line means the team is still forced to settle for moral victories and close defeats against opponents like Oklahoma, Georgia and Florida.

If there's one aspect of the game to watch on Saturday, it's the Rebels defensive line versus the Vols offensive line. Ole Miss has one of the best pass rushes in all of college football, while Tennessee may have the worst offensive line in the SEC. 

Quarterback Justin Worley will get sacked and have to run for his life more often than not, but that doesn't necessarily mean the Vols don't stand a chance in this game. 

Here are the three biggest X-factors heading into Saturday's matchup with Ole Miss that could keep the Vols within striking distance for all four quarters. 

 

Jalen Hurd

It's a harsh assessment to say that Jalen Hurd is being wasted behind Tennessee's offensive line this season, but that's close to the reality of the situation. Hurd is clearly Tennessee's most talented tailback in a decade or more, but even Jamal Lewis would put up pedestrian stats when there's simply no room to run.

Despite the lack of a push up front, Hurd is making the best of his debut season, rushing for 374 yards and two touchdowns for an average of 4.5 yards per carry.

Hurd's biggest strength is his ability to power through what appear to be run-stopping tackles and push forward to gain an extra yard or two. Those hard runs help turn what would be 3rd-and-5 into 3rd-and-1, making offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian's job much easier when it comes to moving the chains and keeping the offense on the field.

After suffering a shoulder injury against Florida and re-aggravating it against Chattanooga, Hurd should be fully healthy for Saturday's game, as reported by The Tennessean's Matt Slovin. 

Along with fellow freshman Derrell Scott, Hurd must continue to average somewhere in the realm of four yards per carry to keep Ole Miss's defense keyed in on the run. That will give Justin Worley some time in the pocket and allow Tennessee's receivers time to get separation. 

 

Derek Barnett

Ole Miss' quarterback Bo Wallace isn't elite, but he's good enough to make defenses pay when he has enough time in the pocket. That's why it's vital for freshman phenom Derek Barnett to live in the Rebels backfield Saturday and force Wallace out of the pocket and into making bad decisions with the football.

Although he's only a freshman, Barnett is already the team's best pass-rusher and seems to be improving each week. 

It's up to Barnett to stop Wallace from maintaining his season average of 68.5 percent completions and a whopping 283.3 passing yards per game. 

If Barnett can get his hands on Wallace early, the Tennessee defense can start setting the tone for the game, as defensive backs Cam Sutton, Justin Coleman and Todd Kelly Jr. will be ready to capitalize on any errant throws from the Rebels quarterback. 

 

Von Pearson

Since suffering an ankle injury against Arkansas State on Sept. 6, Von Pearson has only caught three passes—two against Florida and one against Chattanooga. 

Through the first two games of the year, it looked like Pearson was on his way to becoming one of the Vols' top receivers, but his injury has caused him to essentially miss one-third of his debut season on Rocky Top.

Pearson is mostly recovered from his injury and will play against Ole Miss, but it remains to be seen if he's back to 100 percent yet. 

His limited action in Tennessee's previous two games suggests he may still be playing hurt, but even a slightly banged up Pearson is better than no Pearson at all—especially with sophomore wide receiver Josh Smith still on the sidelines recovering from an ankle injury of his own.

Tennessee's wide receiver corps is stacked to the brim with talent and experience, and Pearson's presence makes it even more of an unfair matchup with Ole Miss's secondary.

If Worley can efficiently distribute the ball on Saturday, Pearson should have several opportunities to display his elite catching ability and shiftiness. 

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SEC Football Q&A: Will Tennessee Spoil Ole Miss' Dream Season?

Here we are just past the midway point of the season, and the eyes of the college football world are squarely on the state of Mississippi.

Just as we all planned in August, right?

Ole Miss and Mississippi State have vaulted to the top of the SEC pack, posting 6-0 records and jumping feetfirst into the inaugural College Football Playoff discussion.

Will the Rebels' dream season come crashing down this weekend when the Tennessee Volunteers roll into Oxford? What will Arkansas' offensive line do to Georgia's front seven? Are we headed for chaos in Atlanta?

Those questions are answered in this week's SEC Q&A.

 

I don't.

It's been a crazy season, sure. The SEC is still a line-of-scrimmage conference, and Ole Miss' front four will have a field day with a Tennessee offensive line that has been searching for answers all season.

The Vols rank last in the SEC with 23 sacks allowed and 48 tackles for loss allowed while Ole Miss' front four—led by defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche—has been not only paying rent in opposing backfields, but owning real estate.

"[Ole Miss is] No. 2 in the country in defensive scoring, they have only given up six offensive touchdowns all year, a number of those have come at the end of game situations," Vols head coach Butch Jones said in quotes emailed by Tennessee. "[Ole Miss's defense is] 32 percent on third-down efficiency and very explosive. Again, I think it is a byproduct of depth, and it is a byproduct of experience."

The combination of pressure up front and back-end talent in Ole Miss' defense will make Vols quarterback Justin Worley's head spin. Worley has been good this year given the uncertainty up front, but he hasn't seen anything like this Rebels secondary.

Not only will Ole Miss avoid the upset, but it won't even be close by the start of the fourth quarter.

 

It's a problem for sure, and it will put a ton of pressure on Georgia's four linebackers.

Arkansas' offensive line averages 328.4 pounds per player, and when those boys get on you, they're moving you. It's a big challenge for Georgia's defensive line, which averages 294.8 pounds on its two-deep.

The holes will be there for Razorbacks running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, and it'll be up to Georgia's linebackers to fill those holes and shut down the Hogs rushing attack. Can they do it? Highly decorated inside linebacker Ramik Wilson is a star, but his speed has been used against him at times this year. He has to play with discipline, otherwise Arkansas' running backs will turn five- or six-yard gains into game-changers.

Georgia's defense looked great in the shutout of Missouri when it only allowed the Tigers to run four plays inside Georgia territory—three of which were turnovers. Was that an anomaly created by Tigers quarterback Maty Mauk essentially handing the ball to the Georgia defense repeatedly? 

We'll find out this weekend in Little Rock. My gut tells me that Georgia will find a way to slow down Arkansas enough to give its offense a chance, and it'll be up to quarterback Hutson Mason and the rest of the Georgia offense—which may or may not be with running back Todd Gurley—to get a big road win.

 

An underdog winning the SEC Championship Game and ruining the favorite's national title hopes has been a concern ever since the inaugural conference title game in Birmingham in 1992. The conference has 11 national titles since then, and a true contender has only fallen once—when BCS No. 2 Tennessee fell 31-20 to BCS unranked LSU in 2001, allowing Nebraska to slide into the title game at the Rose Bowl.

It's a legitimate concern this season, though.

No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 3 Ole Miss are cruising along at 6-0 with one-loss powers Auburn and Alabama lurking right behind them. Whoever gets to the SEC Championship Game will likely be a heavy favorite even against a team like Georgia that could be getting things figured out defensively midseason.

Would an upset in the Georgia Dome knock the SEC out of the College Football Playoff?

It's hard to tell without knowing the specific scenario. With six unbeaten teams left and a max of four at the end of the season (including Marshall), if that SEC Championship Game loser is either Mississippi State or Ole Miss, it's hard to imagine a scenario where Marshall jumps them.

Now, if a loss in the SEC Championship Game is a team's second loss, then it very well could prevent the SEC from getting a team in depending on what the rest of the college football landscape looks like.

 

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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This Is the One Weekend We Should All Be Notre Dame Fans

So wrap your arms around this for the next few days:     

Notre Dame as the vanquisher. Notre Dame as the redeemer. Notre Dame as the deliverer over Florida State.

I know, you would rather kiss a hot iron than root for the Irish. It's like rooting for the Yankees or Wal-Mart.

I am old enough to recall the Cold War bromide. "If the Russians were playing Notre Dame, I'd root for the Russians."

Notre Dame became too mighty back in the day and the scorn was born. They played for a tie almost 50 years ago against Michigan State, which really got people in Alabama aggravated. The Irish have been an Independent for the longest time, thus too good for the rest of us. Then they got their own TV deal and raked in cash (which everybody else wishes they would have thought of first).

They are Catholic and had the Pope on their side and just seemed so sanctimonious. I'm sure religious bigotry figures in this. I am also sure the phrase "Holier than thou" started with Knute Rockne.

It is a great school academically, a special place, and turns out CEOs, Nobel Laureates, Generals, Astronauts and Regis Philbin.

But this is football.

We usually treat the Irish with disdain when it comes to football.

Not this week.

Notre Dame is playing Florida State this Saturday night, and the national mood is that we have had enough of Florida State because of this Jameis Winston affair. FSU's handling of Winston has been abominable. The Tallahassee Police Department did a lot of harm to the FSU players and the school's reputation with the handling of the case. The school did a lot of harm itself.

The Seminoles are more unlikeable than Notre Dame.

Fox reported, with substantial evidence, that the Tally police contacted the school, and that the police report made its way into the hands of Winston's lawyer, before they notified the prosecutor of the allegation of sexual assault.

The whole affair was made worse last week with the statement the school released defending itself in the Winston saga. It was not believable.

It is not just the Winston affair driving the public to the Notre Dame side of the field. It is the College Football Playoff. We are suspicious of the Seminoles because they play in the ACC. How do they get to skate like this? They trampled the ACC in 2013 and got into a tough game with Auburn of the SEC in the national championship game and nearly lost. If not for two defenders colliding with one another on the last FSU drive, Auburn would have won.

The ACC is better this season, much better. Boston College took down Southern Cal. Virginia went toe-to-toe with BYU on the road when the Cougars were full strength. Louisville isn’t bad. There is an impressive list of ACC players who go on to the NFL. But the ACC is still seen as inferior to the Big 12, Pac 12, and certainly the SEC.

Why should everyone else have a gauntlet and the 'Noles stroll easy street?

So we cheer, even for Notre Dame. If we must.

Notre Dame vs. Florida State is not "Catholics vs. Convicts", the 1988 epic between Notre Dame and Miami, which the Irish won, 31-30. But we want it to be. A Notre Dame student coined the phrase and soon a t-shirt followed. There was real bitterness between the two teams, who scuffled in the tunnel before the game.

We're talking about 18-to-22-year-old kids, and you don't want to make it too personal, but the Florida State administration has made the Seminoles unlovable. It should not have taken public pressure raising a stink about their star quarterback's alleged behavior for the school to get busy with a Title IX complaint. It's too bad the FSU players, who are students, that they have to be a part of the school's humiliation.

You don't think there is backlash already on Florida State?

I watched Mississippi State play an uneven, sloppy game against Auburn on Saturday, when quarterback Dak Prescott tried to take himself out of the mix for the Heisman Trophy. He threw two interceptions and the Bulldogs had four turnovers.

State still jumped the Seminoles in the polls, AP and Coaches. Maybe some of that has to do with the fact FSU is still playing in the ACC, which is regarded as vastly inferior to the SEC. State, which plays in the SEC, did defeat three top 10 teams in a row (though LSU never belonged there).

Many want FSU to just go away. All it will take is one loss. If the FSU administration won't punish Winston (for something he was never charged with doing), maybe the College Football Playoff Committee will.

So, this is where we are. Many fans will root for Notre Dame from all corners of the football landscape Saturday night. The SEC, the Pac-12, the Big 12, the Big Ten. One loss and FSU will tumble down the rankings in free fall behind Michigan State, behind Alabama, behind Oregon, behind Oklahoma.

Notre Dame has had its own scandal. There was the academic fraud of quarterback Everett Golson (he has redeemed himself). There is the on-going issue involving rule-breaking by five players. Then you look on the sidelines and see the snarling coach Brian Kelly and his behavior and you go, "Really, we have to root for these guys?"

Meanwhile, the Florida State administration is still in denial over the Winston episode. This is part of a statement the school released last week defending its handling of the matter: 

The first time anyone at FSU outside the campus police and Victim Advocate Program learned about the alleged sexual assault was in January 2013, when a Tallahassee PD detective called the athlete on his cellphone. The athlete immediately notified the Athletics Department, where officials referred him and his family to a Tallahassee attorney.

Who else has a hard time believing that?

A source close to the team said news of the Winston incident spread through the locker room in the days after the December 2012 alleged assault. That is a lot of football players talking among themselves, including the team's senior leadership. Coaches didn't know?

Here is something else. FSU is not going to gain sympathy in the media when, according to the Fox report, the school looked into the background of a reporter who was trying to get the police report of the Winston incident. What was the purpose of providing the FSU "fixer" a copy of the reporter's resume? To find out if the reporter would back down with spin or intimidation?

The alleged sexual assault, the BB Guns, the crab legs, yelling a vulgarity in the middle of campus. Winston has brought a lot scorn on FSU. He has made many who scorned Notre Dame suddenly become fans of the Irish.

Be careful what you wish for, though. If Notre Dame wins it will be among the top four for the College Football Playoff with the Mississippi’s and Baylor. Then what are you going to say about our new heroes in the gold helmets?

 

Ray Glier covers college football for Bleacher Report. He has covered college football and various other sports for 20 years. His work has appeared in USA Today, The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post and Al Jazeera America. He is the author of How the SEC Became Goliath (Howard/Simon & Schuster, 2013).

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Meet Logan Routt: The Tallest Quarterback Ever

Playing quarterback is not usually something you associate with extremely tall players. However, at Cameron High School in West Virginia, starting QB Logan Routt is 6'11". Bleacher Report sat down with Logan and discussed what it's like to be the tallest QB in the world.

Do you think he can dunk on the goal post?

Watch the video, and let us know!

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Will the Alabama Crimson Tide Keep Playoff Hopes Alive vs. Texas A&M Aggies?

Alabama's struggles have been well documented. The Crimson Tide lost to Ole Miss and then narrowly defeated Arkansas.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer discuss whether Alabama can get back on track and be a dominant team once again.

Will Alabama make the College Football Playoff?

Watch the video and let us know.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Full List of Week 8 College Standings and Polls

Remember when Week 6 of the 2014 college football season began with Arizona upsetting Oregon, and that led to huge shifts within the nation's Top 25 teams? Well, while it wasn't as monumental of an upset, Week 7 started out the same way when UCF defeated BYU.

What followed was more madness.

While Mississippi State's defeat of Auburn and Arizona's home loss to USC were the only upsets with any kind of significance, several other top teams were given huge scares, winning by one-score margins to unranked opponents.

In the wake of another turbulent week of college football, here's a look at how the current polls have since shifted entering Week 8.

Full FBS standings can be viewed at ESPN.com.

 

Notable Movers

Mississippi State

Don't look now, but the Bulldogs officially reside as the nation's top-ranked team following their defeat of Auburn on Saturday.

Mississippi State is now 6-0 on the season after taking care of business against the Tigers in a rain-soaked, turbulent contest. The win may not have been pretty, as both teams combined for eight turnovers, but it did mark the Bulldogs' third straight against SEC opponents. Chuck Dunlap of SEC Football tweeted the historical feat accomplished by the team:

Dak Prescott appears to have a complete skill set for a quarterback coveted by every college team. On Saturday, he showed accuracy, arm strength, the ability to make plays with his feet and the resilience to continue playing at a high level after a mistake.

Accompanied by bruising running back Josh Robinson and a strong wide receiver corps, the Bulldogs may have the most feared offense in the nation.

 

Florida State

Yes, Florida State won again and still managed to drop out of the nation's No. 1 spot. However, after watching this team perform over the past several weeks, this fall could have been easily anticipated.

With quarterback Jameis Winston suspended, the Seminoles were taken to overtime by Clemson. They followed that close win by allowing North Carolina State to hang around the following week, notching another less-than-stunning victory. In Week 7, Florida State was at it again, as it allowed Syracuse to climb back into the game late.

Winston looked as efficient as ever, completing 30 of his 36 passing attempts for 317 yards and three touchdowns, while Dalvin Cook rushed for over 100 yards on the ground and Rashad Greene tallied over 100 yards receiving.

Although, the team's quarterback has been surrounded by controversy for quite some time, and ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted this on Monday:

While that report is concerning, so is the Seminoles defense. This unit has been nowhere near as solid as it was in 2013, and that was clearly the case on Saturday after the 2-4 Orange tallied 412 yards of offense. An effort like that won't fly against higher-ranked opponents.

We'll find out what this Florida State defense is truly made of in Week 8 when it faces a Notre Dame offense coming off a 50-point performance.

 

Marshall

Let's go ahead and officially welcome the Thundering Herd into the nation's Top 25. Marshall may not have a difficult schedule in Conference USA, but it is certainly winning by decisive margins. Through six games this season, Marshall hasn't scored any less than 42 points in a single contest and hasn't given up any more than 27 points to an opponent. That sure translates to wins.

The team's most recent victory came in Week 7 against Middle Tennessee. Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato and running back Devon Johnson form a dynamic duo, combining for 471 yards and six touchdowns in the Thundering Herd's 49-24 drubbing of the Blue Raiders.

Cato is on a very impressive streak right now, and he's currently being compared to a certain Super Bowl-winning quarterback, via ESPN Stats & Info:

It's been the same story all season long for Marshall. This team can rack up the points as well as anyone, as a run-heavy offense leads to some wide-open passing lanes for its signal-caller. This well-balanced attack has led the team to a 6-0 record, and without a ranked opponent on Marshall's schedule, we should expect to see its name among the nation's elite for quite some time.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Which Power-5 Conference Will Be Left Out of the College Football Playoff?

Only four teams can qualify for the College Football Playoff. That means some deserving teams from the power conferences will be left in the dust.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer debate which big-time conference could be missing a participant in the playoff.

Which conference will be shut out?

Watch the video, and let us know!  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Pittsburgh Panthers: Odds, Analysis and Prediction

The Pittsburgh Panthers will look to beat the Virginia Tech Hokies for the seventh time in eight meetings when they square off in an ACC Coastal Division matchup Thursday night. The Panthers are also trying to end a three-game losing streak overall following a 24-19 setback at Virginia two weeks ago that they still covered as 5.5-point underdogs.

 

Point spread: Hokies opened as 2.5-point favorites at Heinz Field, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

College football pick via Odds Shark computer: 24.2-23.3 Hokies

 

Why the Virginia Tech Hokies can cover the spread

The Hokies have won their last four road games, going 3-1 against the spread. They are also 5-1 straight up in their past six road games vs. ACC opponents. Virginia Tech quietly won its last two games before the bye week after dropping two in a row at home.

The Hokies are coming off a 34-17 road win at North Carolina as 2.5-point favorites, ending a three-game skid ATS. In that game, Virginia Tech jumped out to a 24-3 halftime lead before getting outscored 14-10 in the fourth quarter.

The team had a similar start last year against Pitt, leading 10-0 at the end of the first quarter and 16-3 at the end of the third en route to a 19-9 home win over the Panthers as seven-point favorites.

 

Why the Pittsburgh Panthers can cover the spread

The underdog is 5-1 ATS in the last six meetings, and Pittsburgh has taken full advantage of that trend against Virginia Tech outside of last year’s loss. The Panthers are 4-1 SU in the last five meetings with the Hokies and 6-1 ATS in the past seven games between the teams. Pitt just needs to forget about its poor recent play and focus on closing the season strong instead.

After this game, the Panthers host Georgia Tech and Duke as part of a five-game stretch that sees them play four at home. If they can get a victory here, there’s still enough time to turn things around and make a run at a bowl game.

 

Smart pick

One of Pittsburgh’s main problems recently has been defending its home field, with the road team winning four of the last five at Heinz Field both SU and ATS. Combine that with Virginia Tech’s road success lately, and it’s hard to back the home team in this spot.

The Panthers failed to cover their previous three games before their most recent loss to the Cavaliers, and they have not managed to score more than 20 points in their past three.

Their current form simply does not merit backing them, while Virginia Tech seems to be headed in the opposite direction. That’s why the Hokies are the play.

 

Betting trends

  • Virginia Tech is 4-10 ATS in its last 14 games on the road
  • Pittsburgh is 4-1 SU in its last five games when playing Virginia Tech

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Aggies vs. Alabama Crimson Tide: Betting Odds, Analysis, Prediction

The Texas A&M Aggies will try to break a two-game skid Saturday when they visit the Alabama Crimson Tide in a key SEC matchup. The Aggies have lost their last two games to Ole Miss and Mississippi State, but they have covered the spread in the past two meetings with Alabama, including last year’s 49-42 home loss as 8.5-point underdogs.

 

Point spread: The Crimson Tide opened as 12-point favorites at Bryant-Denny Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (Line updates and matchup report).

 

College football pick via Odds Shark computer: 40.2-22.7 Crimson Tide

 

Why the Texas A&M Aggies can cover the spread

Texas A&M is obviously not facing another team from the state of Mississippi here and was 5-0 before dropping two in a row. The Aggies were also underdogs in each of the previous two meetings with the Crimson Tide and played well in both of them behind former quarterback Johnny Manziel, winning the last road matchup 29-24 two years ago.

The Aggies now have a different quarterback under center in Kenny Hill, who won 52-28 at South Carolina in the season opener and has gone 2-1 straight up (SU) and against the spread (ATS) in three road starts. Hill threw for 401 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions last week in a 35-20 home loss to Ole Miss, and he has 365 passing yards or more in three straight games.

 

Why the Alabama Crimson Tide can cover the spread

Alabama is 6-0 ATS in its last six home games against SEC opponents and needs a strong finish to get back into the race for one of the four playoff spots that will determine the national champion. The Crimson Tide are coming off a 14-13 win at Arkansas last week, failing to cover as a nine-point favorite. But in their previous SEC home game before the bye week, they crushed Florida 42-21 as 14-point chalk.

Alabama’s defense has not given up more than 23 points in any game so far this season and faces a Texas A&M team that just posted a season-low point total. The Tide are also 5-2 ATS in their past seven games as a home favorite.

 

Smart Pick

The Aggies may be 2-0 ATS in the last two meetings with Alabama, but they are just 1-5 vs. the line in their past six road games against SEC opponents. They are also 2-6 ATS in their last eight games as road underdogs and will visit a very good Alabama team that knows exactly what is at stake here. Lose, and the Crimson Tide are knocked out of the national title picture. Win, and the team could run the table with road games at Tennessee and LSU on deck in two of the next three weeks.

Because Texas A&M already has two losses, the team is likely already out of the national championship hunt. This is simply a bigger game for Alabama, and the Tide should roll over the Aggies.

 

Betting trends

  • Texas A&M is 19-6 SU in its last 25 games.
  • Alabama is 20-3 SU in its last 23 games.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Stanford Cardinal vs. Arizona State Sun Devils: Betting Odds and Prediction

Stanford owns the rivalry with Arizona State as of late, winning the last four meetings—including last year's Pac-12 Championship Game—and going 3-0-1 against the spread in the process. The Cardinal will try to keep that run going when they visit Tempe to take on the Sun Devils in a key Pac-12 battle Saturday night.

 

Point Spread: The Cardinal opened as 4.5-point favorites at Sun Devil Stadium.

Odds Shark Computer Pick: Sun Devils 37.8, Cardinal 36.1

 

Why the Stanford Cardinal Can Cover the Spread

The Cardinal bounced back after the tough loss at Notre Dame to beat Washington State last Friday 34-17, sneaking out a cover as 16.5-point favorites by scoring one last touchdown with just under two minutes to go.

Stanford, now 4-2 overall, 2-1 and tied for the lead in the Pac-12 North, gained 477 yards to the Cougars' 266 and ran for 193 yards. Quarterback Kevin Hogan had one of his better days of late, throwing three touchdown passes and zero interceptions.

On the season, the Cardinal rank second in the nation in total defense, allowing just 238 yards per game, and first in points allowed at just 10 per game.

 

Why the Arizona State Sun Devils Can Cover the Spread

The Sun Devils also bounced back from defeat their last time out, following up that debacle against UCLA with a near-miracle 38-34 victory at USC two weeks ago.

ASU then had last week off. The Devils trailed the Trojans by nine points with three minutes to go, but scored twice on Mike Bercovici touchdown passes—the second a 46-yard connection with Jaelen Strong on the final play of the game, stunning the crowd at the Coliseum.

Arizona State, now 4-1 straight up, 2-1 and tied for second place in the Pac-12 South, rushed for 31 yards to USC's 220, but Bercovici threw for 510 yards, five touchdowns and no picks in just his second career start.

On the season, the Sun Devils rank seventh in the country in total offense at 557 yards per game.

 

Smart Pick

The Cardinal have been a great conference road bet lately, going 12-4-1 ATS in their last 17 Pac-12 road contests.

Also, the last time these teams met, last December at Sun Devil Stadium, Stanford dominated from the start, eventually gaining 517 yards to ASU's 311 on its way to a 38-14 conference championship game victory.

In battles between great offenses and great defenses, smart money resides with the defense. So the pick here goes with the Cardinal, minus the points.

 

Betting Trends

  • Stanford is 2-4 SU in its last six games when playing on the road against Arizona State.
  • Arizona State is 4-2 SU in its last six games when playing at home against Stanford.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Rutgers Scarlet Knights vs. Ohio State Buckeyes Betting Odds and Prediction

With a pair of road upsets to their credit already this season, the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers are now 7-2 against the spread in their last nine games as road dogs. They'll put that trend on the line when they venture into unknown territory to provide the opposition for homecoming at the Horseshoe against Ohio State Saturday afternoon.

 

Point spread: The Buckeyes opened as 19.5-point favorites at Ohio Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

College football pick via Odds Shark computer: 40.3-23.1 Buckeyes

 

Why the Rutgers Scarlet Knights can cover the spread

The Knights are 5-1 straight up, 4-2 ATS and 1-1 in Big Ten play this season after beating Michigan 26-24 two weeks ago. They then had last week off. Rutgers outgained the Wolverines 476-336 and converted eight of 16 third downs into first downs with help from a career day from senior quarterback Gary Nova, who threw for 404 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions.

The Knights could have been 6-0 on the season; their only loss so far was a 13-10 decision to Penn State in a game they led 10-0 at the half.

 

Why the Ohio State Buckeyes can cover the spread

Despite losing quarterback Braxton Miller before the season even started, the Buckeyes are off to a 4-1 start, and 4-1 ATS, after winning at Maryland two weeks ago 52-24, easily covering the spread as seven-point road favorites. OSU outgained the Terrapins 533-310, outrushed them 269-66, held the ball for almost 37 minutes and picked off Terps quarterbacks four times.

The Buckeyes also got 139 yards rushing from Ezekiel Elliott and four touchdown passes from J.T. Barrett. Ohio State has scored 168 points over its last three games; who needs Braxton Miller when you're putting up numbers like that?

 

Smart pick

Ohio State is probably going to win this game, but Rutgers just might have enough talent and experience to keep this one close. The Knights will have to do a better job of running the ball than they did against Michigan, but even just 120-130 yards might be enough to cover the spread. Rutgers is also 3-1 ATS as a double-digit dog under coach Kyle Flood.

And should the Buckeyes build a lead, coach Urban Meyer might be tempted to empty the bench, being homecoming and all. So the pick here goes with the underdog Knights, plus the points.

 

Betting trends

  • Rutgers is 3-7 SU in its last 10 games on the road
  • Ohio State is 22-3 SU in its last 25 games

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. TCU Horned Frogs: Betting Odds, Analysis, Prediction

The TCU Horned Frogs will look to end a five-game winning streak for the Oklahoma State Cowboys when they meet Saturday in a key Big 12 matchup. The Horned Frogs are coming off a tough 61-58 loss at Baylor last week and have dropped the last two meetings with Oklahoma State both straight up (SU) and against the spread (ATS).

 

Point spread: The Horned Frogs opened as 10-point favorites at Amon G. Carter Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (Line updates and matchup report).

 

College football pick via Odds Shark computer: 39.6-32.1 Horned Frogs

 

Why the Oklahoma State Cowboys can cover the spread

The Cowboys have been on a roll since losing to defending national champion Florida State 37-31 in the season opener. They will be playing just their second true road game of the season after winning 27-20 at Kansas last week. They failed to cover the spread as 20-point favorites.

However, four of the team’s other games during the winning streak have been decided by 10 points or more. Oklahoma State is 3-1 ATS in its last four games as a road underdog and 3-1 vs. the line in its past four road games against Big 12 opponents. The Cowboys will also be facing a TCU team that is just 2-7 ATS in its last nine home games against conference foes.

 

Why the TCU Horned Frogs can cover the spread

The Horned Frogs may find it difficult to get over last Saturday’s loss to the Bears since they blew a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter. They led 58-37 with 11:38 remaining but saw Baylor storm back with 24 unanswered points to close out the game. Still, TCU covered the seven-point spread and has gone 7-0 ATS in its last seven games dating back to last season.

Oklahoma State is not the same caliber of opponent as the Bears, and that close loss for the Horned Frogs may actually help give them some extra confidence in this one. TCU had won its previous four games, including a 37-33 win over Oklahoma two weeks ago as a 3.5-point home underdog.

 

Smart pick

Whoever drops this game will have two losses with the winner staying alive in the hunt for the Big 12 title. The Cowboys are still unbeaten in conference play at 3-0 but have a tough schedule ahead of them with four of their last six games away from home.

This meeting with the Horned Frogs begins that stretch, and all four road opponents are ranked within the Top 15. In fact, the only ranked opponent Oklahoma State has faced this year is the Seminoles in the season opener. A big step up in competition will hurt the Cowboys here in this spot as TCU covers its eighth straight game.

 

Betting trends

  • Oklahoma State is 4-1 SU in its last five games on the road.
  • TCU is 5-0 ATS in its last five games.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Florida State Seminoles Odds and Prediction

The Florida State Seminoles take a 22-game winning streak into arguably their toughest matchup of the season Saturday when they host the unbeaten Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The defending national champion Seminoles have struggled to stay motivated in trying to repeat this year, failing to cover the spread in six of their last seven games.

 

Point spread: The Seminoles opened as 13.5-point favorites at Doak Campbell Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

College football pick via Odds Shark computer: 42.0-26.8 Seminoles

 

Why the Notre Dame Fighting Irish can cover the spread

Notre Dame is a talented offensive team that can test Florida State’s defense more than most of the team’s previous opponents. The Fighting Irish have scored 30 points or more in five of their six games this season, the exception being a 17-14 home win over a Stanford squad that has not allowed more than 17 points to any foe in 2014.

They were three-point underdogs in that game and are coming off a 50-43 victory against North Carolina last Saturday. Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson threw for 300 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in the latest win and will be the key against the Seminoles.

 

Why the Florida State Seminoles can cover the spread

Florida State certainly seems to play to the level of its competition, and hosting a top team could be exactly the type of motivation the team needs right now. The Seminoles also fell from the top spot in the polls for the first time this season despite taking care of business in a 38-20 road win at Syracuse last week, which could motivate them even more.

They have risen to the occasion whenever needed this year, and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston had maybe his best game of the season against the Orange with 317 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

 

Smart Pick

The Fighting Irish have seen Golson lead them to 18 wins in his last 19 games, with the lone loss during that stretch coming against Alabama in the BCS Championship Game two years ago. Golson missed all of last season due to an academic suspension and will go head-to-head with Winston in a Heisman showcase game. Notre Dame has gone 4-0 against the spread in its last four games as an underdog, winning three of them straight up.

While the Irish may find it tough to end Florida State’s winning streak on the road, double digits is a lot to lay with a Seminoles team that only covered the spread this year in a 43-3 rout of Wake Forest two weeks ago. Oddsmakers continue to give the defending national champs too much respect, and that will show again here.

 

Betting trends

  • Notre Dame is 8-3 SU in its last 11 games on the road.
  • The total has gone under in six of Florida State's last nine games.

 

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

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Kansas State Wildcats vs. Oklahoma Sooners Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

One of the great victories in Kansas State football history, and the game that validated Bill Snyder as one of the best coaches in the business, came in the 2003 Big 12 Championship Game—a stunning 35-7 rout of Oklahoma. However, since that game, the Wildcats have lost six of seven meetings with the Sooners, going 3-4 against the spread. Kansas State will try to turn around that trend when the teams meet again Saturday afternoon in Norman.

 

Point spread: Sooners opened as 12-point favorites at Memorial Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).

 

College football pick via Odds Shark computer: 39.3-24.3 Sooners

 

Why the Kansas State Wildcats can cover the spread

The Wildcats are 3-0 against the spread in their last three games after beating Texas Tech 45-13 two weeks ago, covering as two-touchdown favorites.

Kansas State then had last week off. The Wildcats, 4-1 overall and 2-0 in Big 12 play, grabbed an early 17-0 lead over the Red Raiders and then coasted home from there, eventually outgaining Tech 535-347, holding the ball for 40 minutes and picking off Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb four times.

Meanwhile, Wildcats quarterback Jake Waters threw for 290 yards and four scores and ran for 105 yards and another touchdown. On the season, Kansas State is averaging 189 yards on the ground while allowing just 81.

 

Why the Oklahoma Sooners can cover the spread

The Sooners recovered from a loss to TCU two weeks ago to beat Texas 31-26 in the Red River Shootout last week. Oklahoma had an off day offensively, garnering only 232 yards, but returned both a kickoff and an interception for touchdowns.

The Sooners haven't lost two games in a row since 2000. For the season, Oklahoma—now 5-1 overall and 2-1 and tied for fourth place in the Big 12—is outrushing foes by a margin of 191-116 yards per game while averaging 41 points per game.

 

Smart pick

Over the last 10 seasons, including the 2003 conference championship game, Oklahoma has been favored over Kansas State by double digits six times. The Wildcats covered that number in four of those games. Kansas State is also 12-1 ATS the last 13 times it's been dogged on the road, so the smart money here is with the underdog Wildcats.

 

Betting trends

  • Kansas State is 2-4 straight up in its last six games when playing on the road against Oklahoma.
  • Oklahoma is 7-3 ATS in its last 10 games.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Bulldogs vs. Arkansas Razorbacks Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

Even though they just came up with an impressive victory at Missouri, the Georgia Bulldogs are only 2-5 against the spread in their last seven road games, and 1-4 ATS in their last five SEC road bouts. The Arkansas Razorbacks, on the other hand, are 3-0 ATS in their last three home games, including a near-upset of Alabama last week. The 'Dawgs and the Hogs get it on Saturday afternoon in Little Rock.

 

Point spread: Bulldogs opened as three-point favorites at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

College football pick via Odds Shark computer: 31.2-26.9 Bulldogs

 

Why the Georgia Bulldogs can cover the spread

If the Bulldogs can beat Missouri in Columbia 34-0 without running back Todd Gurley, why couldn't they beat the Razorbacks in Little Rock? Georgia outgained Mizzou last week 379-147, racked up 210 yards on the ground, held the Tigers to 50 yards rushing, won the time of possession by a lopsided 42-18 margin and forced five turnovers.

That's how you win games and cover spreads. In place of Gurley freshman Nick Chubb ran 38 times for 143 yards and a touchdown. On the season the Bulldogs, now 5-1 overall, 3-1 and in first place in the SEC East, rank 12th in the nation in both rushing at 276 yards per game and in run defense, allowing just 102 yards per game.

 

Why the Arkansas Razorbacks can cover the spread

The Razorbacks seem to be making progress under Coach Bielema, considering last year they lost to Alabama 52-0 but just lost to the Tide by a 14-13 score last week. Arkansas actually outgained 'Bama 335-227 and won time of possession by a 34-26 margin, but the Razorbacks committed three turnovers and had an extra-point attempt blocked.

The Hogs, now 3-3 SU, 5-1 ATS on the season, have outrushed opponents by a 279-127 yards-per-game margin. They've also covered the spread in each game in which they've outrushed foes.

 

Smart Pick

Arkansas is still winless in 11 SEC games under Coach Bielema, but it's getting closer to snapping that streak. The Hogs played Auburn to a tie into halftime in this year's SEC opener, took Texas A&M to overtime before losing and lost by a point to Alabama. Georgia owns an edge on defense, but it's about time Arkansas broke through. So the pick here goes with the home-dog Hogs.

 

Betting trends

  • Georgia is 2-5-1 ATS in its last eight games on the road.
  • Arkansas is 3-12 SU in its last 15 games.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Fresno State Bulldogs vs. Boise State Broncos: Odds, Analysis and Prediction

The Boise State Broncos hope to continue their success against the Fresno State Bulldogs when they meet Friday night in a Mountain West Conference matchup.

The Broncos are a remarkable 12-1 against the spread in the last 13 meetings with the Bulldogs despite going just 3-13 ATS in their past 16 home games against conference opponents.

 

Point Spread: The Broncos opened as 16-point favorites at Bronco Stadium.

Odds Shark Computer Pick: Broncos 42.4, Bulldogs 31.1

 

Why the Fresno State Bulldogs Can Cover the Spread

Fresno State is 6-2 ATS in its last eight road games against Mountain West foes, and one of the losses came at UNLV last Saturday. The Bulldogs lost to the Rebels 30-27 in overtime but nearly rallied back for a victory with a strong second half that saw them outscore the home team 27-10 after the intermission.

Fresno State quarterback Brian Burrell had one of his best games of the season in defeat, throwing for 310 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.

The Bulldogs had won their previous three games both SU and ATS after starting the season 0-3 straight up and ATS.

 

Why the Boise State Broncos Can Cover the Spread

Boise State has dominated Fresno State at home, but the team has had trouble covering the spread against other Mountain West teams. The Broncos have gone 3-1 ATS in their last four home games overall but have not played there since beating Louisiana-Lafayette 34-9 a month ago as 17.5-point favorites.

Three of their past four games have been on the road, including a 51-46 victory at Nevada last week as three-point favorites.

Boise State quarterback Grant Hedrick threw for 346 yards against the Wolf Pack with two touchdowns and one interception. Meanwhile, running back Jay Ajayi totaled 152 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

 

Smart Pick

With two high-scoring teams, bettors might assume the over is the play. However, the betting trends favor the under with what could be a big number on the total.

The under has cashed in the last three games for the Bulldogs, who have played better defense following a rough start to the season.

Fresno State had given up an average of more than 55 points during an early three-game losing streak but has allowed fewer than 21 per game over the past four. The under is 4-1 in the last five road games against Mountain West opponents for the Bulldogs and 8-3 in Boise State's last 11 home games vs. conference foes.

The Broncos have also seen the under cash in each of the last two home meetings.

 

Betting Trends

  • Fresno State is 1-7 SU in its last eight games when playing Boise State.
  • Boise State is 5-0 ATS in its last five games when playing at home against Fresno State.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Projections 2014: Updated Predictions for Top 25 Teams Before Week 8

A wacky opening seven weeks of the 2014 college football season have turned bowl predictions upside down as we enter a Week 8 slate that promises to shake things up even more.

SEC powerhouses Auburn and Alabama have plummeted from the summit of the rankings after slip-ups in recent weeks, but they were quickly replaced. Mississippi State has taken a stranglehold of the No. 1 spot after three straight Top 10 wins, while Ole Miss has inserted itself into the College Football Playoff discussion as well.

There is still plenty of time left for things to change from top to bottom, as the meat of the conference slate awaits and some of the biggest tests for these national title contenders have yet to come.

Alas, here's a look at how the bowl schedule—highlighted by four CFP teams—should currently play out.

The Associated Press Top 25 poll is available here.

 

Projected CFP Teams

Mississippi State

Mississippi State had its chance to prove its early-season success wasn't a fluke, and it came on the biggest stage possible. The Bulldogs toppled the reigning SEC champion Auburn Tigers at home—a victory that propelled them to No. 1 in the land.

Just five weeks ago, Dan Mullen's squad didn't even appear in the rankings. Now, there's no one ahead of them. 

Paul Finebaum of ESPN also noted the Bulldogs were picked fifth in a division they now lead:

Dak Prescott didn't have his best game throwing the ball against Auburn, but still catapulted himself to the forefront of the Heisman Trophy conversation. Along with 14 touchdowns through the air, he has 576 rushing yards and eight scores on the ground.

Some of Mississippi State's toughest tests lie ahead. The Bulldogs will go to Alabama on Nov. 15 and play the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss in Oxford to end the season.

The Bulldogs will be able to prove once again in those games that they belong, and if they happen to enter the SEC championship undefeated, even a loss there might not be enough to bounce them from the CFP.

 

Florida State

Without losing a single game over the last two seasons, the Florida State Seminoles have been knocked from their perch of No. 1 with Mississippi State's meteoric rise to stardom.

And that doesn't sit right with ESPN's Joey Galloway, per ESPN College Football:

It's not about what they did last season, but rather what has transpired in 2014. The Seminoles' national title may have carried weight entering the year, but it's a lot harder to put that into account when Florida State has displayed numerous deficiencies throughout the year.

That doesn't change the fact that they're 6-0, however, but it will be easier said than done advancing to 7-0. The Seminoles face their toughest test of the season over the weekend when No. 5 Notre Dame comes to Tallahassee. 

Florida State has shown flashes of the elite play that paved the way to an undefeated season last year, but also plenty of problems in between. Saturday's test against the Fighting Irish should answer most of the questions folks have about Jimbo Fisher's squad.

 

Ole Miss

Not to be outdone by their in-state rivals, the Ole Miss Rebels still find themselves comfortably in position for a spot in the CFP even with Mississippi State one-upping them in the standings.

When you play in the SEC, nothing is ever comfortable. But the Rebels have been defying that as of late, with a road drubbing of Texas A&M coming on the heels of an upset of Alabama—the program's biggest win in decades.

Smart, cerebral play from Bo Wallace has put Ole Miss in great position to move the ball at ease offensively, but a treacherous defensive line has been wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks, as Josh Ward of The Sports Animal noted:

Against Tennessee's youthful offensive line on Saturday, Ole Miss should continue getting after the quarterback and leading the way to wins. The Rebels face LSU and Auburn before the Egg Bowl, so their resolve will be tested once again before going up against their in-state foes.

Until they prove otherwise, though, the Rebels are more than deserving of a CFP spot.

 

Baylor

On the cusp of an embarrassing home defeat to TCU, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty decided an early Big 12 dud wasn't his team's fate. He threw six touchdowns and over 500 yards, coming back from a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the ninth-ranked Horned Frogs.

That win kept Baylor in the CFP's final spot in a season where no one had convincingly made a case for No. 4, but there are still question marks as to how they would perform in the playoff, per Pete Roussel of 247Sports:

It wasn't pretty and there are certainly some defensive woes needing correction, but one of the Bears' biggest tests of the season is behind them. They'll have to face Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State—all currently in the Top 15—before the season is done.

With no championship game in the Big 12, though, the Bears could conceivably lose one of those games and still make the CFP—so long as they can hold off their conference foes in the standings.

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Baylor Bears vs. West Virginia Mountaineers Odds, Analysis and Prediction

Baylor and West Virginia have played two crazy games since the teams became Big 12 rivals a couple of years ago, combining to score an amazing 248 points in two contests. As one might expect, both games flew over their totals. How many points might the Bears and the Mountaineers put up when they meet Saturday afternoon in Morgantown?

 

Point spread: The Bears opened as 9.5-point favorites at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).

 

College football pick via Odds Shark computer: 53.8-31.6 Bears

 

Why the Baylor Bears can cover the spread

The Bears are 6-0 straight up, 4-1-1 against the spread and 3-0 in Big 12 play after rallying to beat TCU last week 61-58. Baylor allowed the Frogs to score touchdowns on both a kickoff return and an interception return and trailed 58-37 with 12 minutes to go. Then, the Bears scored 24 straight points, the last three on a short field goal on the last play of the game to steal the victory.

The Bears racked up 782 yards of offense on what is supposed to be a pretty good TCU defense. Quarterback Bryce Petty, who struggled in the previous game against Texas, threw for 510 yards and six touchdowns. For the season, Baylor still leads the nation in both total offense and scoring and ranks 10th in total defense.

 

Why the West Virginia Mountaineers can cover the spread

The Mountaineers are 4-2 SU, 3-3 ATS, and 2-1 in the Big 12 after coming from behind to beat Texas Tech last week 37-34. West Virginia trailed the Red Raiders 34-20 with seven minutes to go but tied the score with two minutes left and then won it on Josh Lambert's 55-yard field goal at the buzzer.

Led by senior quarterback Clint Trickett, who has completed 69 percent of his passes this year with 12 touchdown throws against four interceptions, the Mountaineers rank eighth in the country in total offense, averaging 552 yards per game. And the West Virginia defense, which allowed 455 yards and 33 points per game last year, is playing 60 yards and six points per game better so far this season.

 

Smart pick

Baylor is moving up in the rankings with its eyes on the prize of not just a repeat Big 12 championship but also a berth in this season's College Football Playoff. And getting a good team on the road at a discounted spread is often a good bet. So the smart money in this spot resides with the Bears, minus the points.

 

Betting trends

  • Baylor is 7-1 SU in its last eight games on the road.
  • West Virginia is 2-5 ATS in its last seven games at home.

 

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

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