NCAA Football News

Is Alabama Really the Best Team in the Country?

The Alabama Crimson Tide are sitting pretty at No. 1 in the latest edition of the College Football Playoff committee's official rankings

Bleacher Report college football analysts Adam Kramer and Michael Felder debate whether the Crimson Tide are the best team in the country.

Is Alabama deserving of the No. 1 ranking? 

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Is the CFP Committee Finally Respecting the Ohio State Buckeyes?

The Ohio State Buckeyes made a nice jump to No. 6 in the latest version of the College Football Playoff committee's rankings. 

Bleacher Report college football analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer discuss whether or not the Buckeyes are finally getting the proper respect.

Do the Ohio State Buckeyes belong at No. 6?

Watch the video, and let us know! 

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5 Things We Learned from College Football Playoff Committee's Week 13 Rankings

Are you happy now?

For those who clamored for the BCS' demise and the birth of a playoff system, Tuesday night's rankings could not have brought smiles to their faces. In short, the committee's choices actually made the polls look good by comparison.

It's as if the selection committee's 12 members are waging war on logic. Strength of schedule is important, only when it's not. Head-to-head matters, except when it doesn't. 

And if you're not a member of the Power Five conferences, you should just tune in on Dec. 7 when the committee reveals who will get that guaranteed slot in a New Year's Six bowl. Your resume and body of work clearly do not measure up to the big boys, no matter what you do.

So what can we take away from this week's rankings? You mean other than that the committee should be immediately disbanded in favor of an improved BCS formula?

OK, let's try these five:

 

1. The eyeball test trumps all

Alabama is ranked No. 1 because it apparently looks better "on offense, defense and special teams" than everyone else, according to chairman Jeff Long, who spoke on ESPN's broadcast. The committee is untroubled that Alabama has beaten just one of its own Top 25 teams (Mississippi State) while No. 2 Oregon has beaten three (UCLA, Michigan State and Utah) and No. 3 Florida State two (Clemson and Louisville) while staying undefeated.

 

2. Maybe the problem is those lying eyes

Former No. 1 Mississippi State only dropped to No. 4 after losing to Alabama because Long said the Bulldogs lost by only five to the Tide and were never out of the game. Maybe that's the biggest problem with item No. 1—the committee members need to have their eyes examined.

The Bulldogs were never in that game, all the way to the concession TD that made the final score of 25-20 deceptively close. This "good loss," however, was enough to keep MSU in the playoff field despite the fact that, like the Tide, it's beaten just one currently ranked team (Auburn).

 

3. Strength of schedule for me, not for thee

And whereas Baylor is ostensibly still punished for its terrible nonconference schedule, the same does not apply to Mississippi State, which actually played four non-Power Five opponents as compared to Baylor's three.

The Bulldogs beat Southern Miss (3-8), UAB (5-5), South Alabama (6-4) and Tennessee-Martin (FCS, 5-6) and that's good enough to trump TCU, which actually beat three currently ranked teams and played two more Power Five opponents than MSU did.

 

4. Ohio State looks to be DOA

The Buckeyes are No. 6 and probably as good as dead when it comes to the playoff, unless they get some kind of divine intervention. There are not enough good opponents left on their schedule that will provide them with a significant lift to jump teams like Mississippi State and TCU.

And Baylor, one spot behind now, is poised to perhaps snatch the final playoff spot if it can defeat Kansas State on the final day of the regular season to claim the Big 12 title.

 

5. Group of Five? What Group of Five?

For the third week in a row, no team outside of the Power Five conferences (and Notre Dame) was in the rankings. Of the 27 Power Five teams with three or fewer losses, only Duke and Iowa are not ranked.

The committee clearly takes strength of schedule seriously when it comes to Group of Five teams. It's still very much anybody's guess which team among Marshall, Colorado State and Boise State is considered the best in the (possibly faulty) eyes of the committee.

 

The rankings

 

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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Blueprint for How Ohio State Can Crash the College Football Playoff

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Win and you're in?

When it comes to Ohio State's chances of making the first-ever College Football Playoff, it may be that simple.

For the third consecutive week, the Buckeyes moved up in the selection committee's poll on Tuesday, jumping from No. 8 to No. 6 following their 31-24 win over No. 25 Minnesota last weekend. Three weeks ago, Ohio State found itself 16th and an apparent long shot in the committee's initial poll before jumping to the edge of the all-important top four.

And while on the surface it may appear as though the Buckeyes still need help to earn a coveted top-four spot and subsequent chance at the national championship, that might not necessarily be the case.

Because of the teams who don't appear to control their own fates, Ohio State has the best chance to make a final definitive statement. With their road wins over Michigan State and the Golden Gophers enhancing their resume in the past two weeks, the Buckeyes will have a chance to add to it in the Big Ten Championship Game should No. 16 Wisconsin wind up representing the conference's West division.

That's more than at least two of the teams currently ranked ahead of them can say.

Assuming each team ranked in the top seven wins out through the remainder of its schedule, that would likely guarantee No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Florida State spots in the top three in some order. That would leave No. 4 Mississippi State, No. 5 TCU, Ohio State and No. 7 Baylor vying for the fourth and final spot, with the Buckeyes possibly possessing the inside track.

It may not seem that way now with both the Bulldogs and Horned Frogs ranked ahead of OSU. But Mississippi State currently trails Alabama in the SEC West and thus would be left out of the SEC Championship Game. And the Big 12 doesn't have a league title game for TCU to play in.

Moreover, TCU only has 6-5 Texas and 2-6 Iowa State remaining on its slate, hardly opportunities to make a final pitch to the playoff committee.

Meanwhile, the Buckeyes are currently on track to represent the East division in the Big Ten Championship Game, with only 3-7 Indiana and 5-5 Michigan standing in their way. Should Wisconsin win out—the Badgers have 7-3 Iowa and 7-3 Minnesota left on their schedule—it could very well find itself in or near the committee's top 10, giving the Buckeyes another opportunity to pick up an all-important quality win.

"Ohio State has had two impressive road wins in the Big Ten," committee chair and Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said on ESPN's Tuesday night rankings reveal. "Those were statements that they made on the road in the Big Ten against ranked teams. That made a very positive statement about Ohio State and allowed them to move to the level that they did."

One would imagine that adding another such victory, albeit at a neutral site, would only increase the Buckeyes' standing with the committee, possibly placing them in the top four without any outside help.

Mississippi State does make for a potentially formidable foe given that its lone loss came to the current No. 1 team in the country and it still has No. 8 Ole Miss remaining on its schedule. But the CFP's website lists conference championships as its top criteria for differentiating comparable teams, and the Bulldogs won't even own a division title in the event that Alabama wins out.

As for No. 7 Baylor—who Ohio State jumped this week while the Bears were on a bye—like TCU, it doesn't have a conference championship game to potentially make a final statement in. But Baylor does have a Dec. 6 date with No. 12 Kansas State left on its slate, which could give the Bears one last quality win on a resume that already includes a victory over TCU.

It's unlikely that would be enough for Baylor to jump back over Ohio State, but in this first year of the playoff, everything is unprecedented. There's simply no guaranteeing that a Big Ten championship would be enough for the Buckeyes solidify a top-four spot, but the more this season plays out, the more likely it seems.

That is perhaps why Urban Meyer declined comment when asked on Monday whether his team belonged in the playoff. Ohio State may not control its own destiny—at least not to its knowledge—but the Buckeyes are trending upward with one last potential statement left to be made.

"That's not even going to be addressed," Meyer insisted. "We wake up every day to compete for championships in November. It's at the doorstep now."

 

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

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Hits and Misses of the CFP Committee's Top 25 Poll After Week 12

The College Football Playoff selection committee came out with its Top 25 ranking Tuesday, and much like with the previous system, there's bound to be debate.

Bleacher Report college football analysts Adam Kramer and Michael Felder break down the hits and misses from the committee poll.

Which schools do you think deserve to be in the CFP?

Check out the video, and let us know!

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College Football Playoff Rankings 2014: Twitter Reacts to Week 13 Top 25 Reveal

For the first time since the College Football Playoff rankings were introduced this year, the Mississippi State Bulldogs are not the top-ranked team in the country.   

The Alabama Crimson Tide, lurking on the edge of the postseason picture until Tuesday's reveal, made their way to the top of the rankings and bumped the Bulldogs to No. 4 thanks to a 25-20 victory on Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

Here is an overview of the rest of the Top 25 standings:

Committee chairman Jeff Long justified boosting Alabama so far in the hierarchy, per ESPN CollegeFootball:

The only team in the championship picture to avoid a loss thus far are the Florida State Seminoles. Although they haven't gotten a lot of style points in grinding to a perfect 10-0 record, there's no denying the reigning national champions have what it takes to repeat at this point.  

A tough ACC test nearly derailed the Seminoles, yet quarterback Jameis Winston and Co. made enough plays to win a tight one, 30-26. Controversy is sure to swirl since Florida State is below two one-loss teams, though, especially since Oregon was idle last week.

Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde had no issue with the committee's first four this week:

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee noted how Louisville's presence among the nation's top teams aids FSU's cause, as the Seminoles mounted a comeback win on the road against the Cardinals earlier in the year:

Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports made a keen observation about Florida State's circumstances:

ESPN's Robert Smith hinted at some SEC bias in the rankings from the 12-person selection committee in light of Auburn's modest drop following a 34-7 blowout loss to Georgia:

Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor believes Mississippi State and Alabama are indeed deserving of top-four spots given their brutal conference schedules:

There is merit to that notion, in light of the top quality wins the undefeated Seminoles have had to date, per Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman:

Scott Van Pelt of ESPN feels that the Ohio State Buckeyes are playing as well as any team in the nation at the moment, via ESPN College Football:

A meager out-of-conference schedule continues to plague Baylor in the committee's eyes, and ESPN's Joe Schad weighed in on that subplot:

As for what lies ahead, it will be interesting to see whether Ohio State can run the table, win the Big Ten championship and insert itself into the top-four discussion. That conference doesn't have the same reputation as the SEC, yet the Buckeyes are still playing excellent football, with a formidable front seven on defense and a prolific QB in J.T. Barrett.

The Horned Frogs will also seek to do whatever they can to climb back into the top four. It appears the SEC may very well have two participants in the College Football Playoff, which could leave both TCU and Ohio State as the odd teams out.

But considering there are so few one-loss teams remaining, never mind undefeated, there is still enough football to be played for the postseason hierarchy to undergo a significant shift.

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College Football Playoff Rankings 2014: Selection Committee Top 25 for Week 13

Predicting the four teams sitting atop the Week 13 College Football Playoff poll was rather self-explanatory.

Oregon, by virtue of kicking back with its feet up in Eugene on Saturday, was a shoo-in. So were Florida State and Alabama, the former again narrowly escaping its first loss and the latter taking down the No. 1 team in the country. Most assumed Mississippi State, having survived the SEC West gauntlet and losing its only game to a playoff contender, would stick around.

All that remained was finding out the order. How far would the Bulldogs slide? Would the Seminoles fall behind multiple one-loss teams? Do the Ducks ascend to the top spot despite being inactive this week?

Here is a look at the answers to those questions and how the entire Top 25 panned out:

Mississippi State's descent is certainly the biggest takeaway, as the Bulldogs' comeback effort against Alabama fell short.

Dak Prescott probably played himself out of the Heisman running with three interceptions, each coming deep inside Crimson Tide territory. While none of those turnovers directly led to points for Alabama, they stopped Mississippi State in its tracks as it attempted to mount a comeback from a first-half deficit that stretched to 19 points.

"It was very disappointing," Prescott told reporters. "We squandered a lot of points. We lost focus in the game. You have to win in the red zone, but we squandered our chances. Alabama is a great team. They did a good job (with defensive) scheming, but I think it was on us."

Alabama's path to the CFP has been evident for weeks. The Tide have successfully completed the first two legs of their late-season gauntlet, defeating LSU in Baton Rouge and taking down Mississippi State. They'll have to atone for their heartbreaking 2013 loss to Auburn in two weeks and win the SEC championship—most likely against Missouri—to stay alive.

"It's just like the playoffs now," Alabama coach Nick Sabantold reporters. "You can't afford to lose."

Florida State also knows it can't lose. The Seminoles have not defeated a team currently ranked inside The Associated Press Top 25 and have built their resume on a series of nail-biters. The defending champs earned their third victory of the season after trailing by 15 or more points, overcoming two separate 16-point deficits in their 30-26 win over Miami.

Jameis Winston threw for 304 yards and Dalvin Cook gained 92 on only seven carries, adding two critical touchdowns. Cook's 44-yard score in the second quarter helped stop the bleeding after the Hurricanes scored the game's first 16 points, and his 26-yard scamper with 3:05 remaining capped off the comeback.

"They love each other and it gets down to that," Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher told reporters. "They play for each other. They don't panic. This is a heck of a Miami football team. Give them credit...but our kids just execute when they have to."

Florida State finishes the regular season with home games against Boston College and Florida. By all accounts, the Seminoles should skate through rather easily to a 12-0 finish. Boston College is a 6-4 team coming off a drubbing against Louisville, and Florida, despite being a rival, is playing out its season with a lame-duck coach. These are games elite teams—even ones as flawed as these Seminoles—should pull off without much issue. Looking ahead, the Seminoles should expect to face either Duke or Georgia Tech in the ACC championship.

It'll be interesting to see how the committee reacts if Florida State comes close to losing either contest. None of the remaining power-five teams with zero or one loss play another the rest of the way. It's possible, albeit unlikely, that all seven head into the final rankings unscathed over the last few weeks.

The two SEC teams, Alabama and Mississippi State, seem like mortal locks if they finish with one loss. Both have at least one more game against a ranked opponent, and getting through the SEC West with one loss is a feat that's virtually unparalleled.

Oregon, which has relative gimmes against Colorado and Oregon State remaining, has been a committee favorite throughout the process. Add in a Pac-12 Championship Game matchup against a team that will very likely be ranked, and the Ducks aren't likely to find themselves on the outside looking in.

That could leave TCU, Baylor and Ohio State standing in the cold. The Horned Frogs blemished their resume over the weekend by falling 10 points behind Kansas in the second half before righting the ship. 

"This was not going to get any style points," TCU coach Gary Patterson told ESPN.com's Jake Trotter. "I know it'll probably hurt us. But the biggest thing is we got to 9-1. We found a way to win on the road, with some bounces that didn't go our way. A lot of teams would have lost this game." 

Baylor, which still owns the head-to-head advantage against TCU, is home for its last three games. The Bears will most likely be Kansas State's biggest fans down the stretch, as the Wildcats remain their greatest chance to play a ranked opponent.

Ohio State might be playing the best football of the trio after consecutive road wins against ranked opponents but has nothing of substance remaining before the Big Ten Championship Game. Indiana and rival Michigan should be pushovers; the Buckeyes' only hope is that Wisconsin is rolling as a Top 10 team by the time the likely opponents meet.

In a nutshell: Everything and nothing is settled. Should everyone win out, it's likely we're looking at the nation's top four teams heading into the playoff. That said, we're about one upset loss away from total chaos.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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College Football Playoff 2014: Final Four Predictions After 4th Top 25 Rankings

There was sure to be a shakeup in the rankings with Mississippi State falling to Alabama. Following the upset, the biggest questions were where both programs would land and how the rest of the top four would look.

With the fourth poll being released, Alabama takes the top spot for the first time following the victory. Behind the Tide sit Oregon, Florida State and Mississippi State with TCU being knocked out of the playoff picture.

All four teams have easy opponents this weekend, so there isn't likely to be much change at the top. However, the rest of the season leaves plenty of room for change at the top prior to the College Football Playoff.   

Below is a look at the latest CFP committee rankings and predictions for the playoff bracket.

 

Analysis

Don't look now, but Alabama might finally be the program most believed it would be prior to the season.

The Crimson Tide are firing on all cylinders behind a high-powered offense. Blake Sims has been playing great under center but has been helped quite a bit by the athleticism of Amari Cooper.

Thanks to his outstanding play this season, Cooper has earned a fair share of Heisman attention. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports and Bryan Fischer of NFL.com provide their take on the dynamic receiver:

Cooper has averaged 130.3 yards and 1.1 touchdowns per game this season. He's also hauled in 47.5 percent of the receiving yards and has nearly three times as many receptions as DeAndrew White. If the Tide reach the playoff, it will be on the shoulders of Sims and Cooper.

Twenty-six games. That's how long the winning streak for Florida State has lasted despite some of the tightest matchups all season.

The Seminoles once again survived another game where they trailed by a large margin against Miami and responded with a massive comeback. However, doubt never creeps into the minds of FSU players, as defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. told Jared Shanker of ESPN.com.

"Not for one second did we think because they jumped out that we were going to lose," Edwards Jr. said. "If we calm down and play the way we're supposed to play we knew that we would come back and win the game."

Jameis Winston continued an up-and-down season with another strong second half, proving again that this program has confidence to accomplish nearly anything. ESPN Stats & Info points out just how different the two halves have been for Winston:

But will that hold up against Florida and a Coastal team in the ACC Championship? That's the question leading up to the CFP for voters. If it does, the 'Noles will be a no-brainer for the playoff and competing for a second straight title.

While FSU is leaving some doubt about its future, Oregon had a bye to regroup ahead of playing Colorado. Meanwhile, the No. 4 spot has become a hot commodity between several deserving teams.

The USA Today panel projects Mississippi State as the No. 4 team currently for the playoff, but it was an arduous task getting to that point. Background on the selection was provided by Daniel Uthman of USA Today:

The difference between No. 4 and 5 in this week's committee voting was smaller than it has been all season. In fact, Mississippi State and TCU tied at 28 voting points. The Bulldogs earned the No. 4 seed by being ranked higher than TCU on eight of the 13 individual panelists' ballots. [...]

Perhaps it is because the Bulldogs were joining the ranks of one-loss teams, or maybe it's because the Bulldogs' first loss came at Alabama.

Another loss for Mississippi State would change the entire landscape again, but it is certainly deserving of a top-four slot. The Ducks may change some voters' minds if they win the Pac-12, but a win in the Egg Bowl should be enough to solidify a spot for the Bulldogs.

Needless to say, nothing is set at this point for any of the programs listed above. As the weeks continue to wind down in the college football season, all eyes will continue to remain focused on the playoff bracket.

After all, there's no prize for finishing fifth this season, regardless of how many teams might deserve it.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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The Most Important Florida State Football Players for the Rest of the Year

No. 1 Florida State has proved through 10 games that it needs production out of each and every one of its players if its national title dreams are going to remain intact.

But on a roster jam-packed full of talent expected to make an impact, there are a handful of players who are on another level when it comes to their importance to the Seminoles the rest of the season.

Let's take a look at those players, as their production will very likely determine whether the 'Noles remain in the College Football Playoff picture.

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The Most Important Tennessee Volunteers Players for the Rest of the Year

After dismantling the Kentucky Wildcats 50-16 on Saturday, the Tennessee Volunteers are just one win away from bowl eligibility and three SEC wins—the most the team has seen since 2010. 

With star senior linebacker and team captain A.J. Johnson and redshirt sophomore defensive back Michael Williams currently suspended due to a sexual assault investigation, the Vols need their younger players to step up now more than ever to continue building momentum and establishing Tennessee as an SEC team on the rise.

Saturday's matchup against the Missouri Tigers will be one of Tennessee's most important games of the season, as it gives the team a chance for redemption after it allowed the Florida Gators to escape Neyland Stadium with a win two months ago.

The Tigers control their own destiny to make it to Atlanta for their second SEC Championship appearance in a row, but the Vols can spoil their dreams if the team's outstanding new players continue to progress and improve.

In addition, with depth becoming a critical issue for Tennessee late in the season, the Vols must be careful to not take even a struggling Vanderbilt team for granted to close out the year, as the Commodores would love nothing more than to keep their in-state rival home for Christmas once again. 

For Tennessee to have a chance at winning out and reclaiming the state championship, here are five players who will be asked to play big roles down the stretch. 

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Steve Sarkisian, Jim Mora Reshaping USC-UCLA Rivalry

Jim Mora and Steve Sarkisian were neighbors in the Seattle area just a few years ago. The two head coaches are neighbors of a different kind now, sharing Los Angeles on opposite sides of the USC-UCLA rivalry.

The two were acquainted while living in the same neighborhood when Sarkisian was head coach of the Washington Huskies and Mora worked for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.

In 2011, while he was out of coaching, Mora injured a knee skiing. Washington athletic director Scott Woodward invited Mora to rehabilitate at the university's facilities, where the longtime NFL coach gained exposure to college athletics.

On a November 2013 conference call, Mora said his rehab stint at Washington gave him "a hunger for this level."

Mora's presence at Washington was an opportunity for Sarkisian to bounce ideas off another head coach. "It was a chance for both of us to share ideas, thoughts schematically [and] philosophically," Sarkisian said.

Thus, indirectly, UCLA fans have USC's head coach to thank for the Bruins' successful head coach. If that sentence makes you recoil, you probably are already well-versed in the rivalry.

So, too, are Mora and Sarkisian, even if Saturday marks their first time meeting each other as a Bruin and Trojan.

Mora is leading No. 9-ranked UCLA into the Crosstown Showdown for the third time and looking to remain perfect. For Sarkisian, Saturday is his eighth installment since 2001 and first as the No. 19-ranked Trojans' head coach.

Neither needs a reminder of how much winning this game, and by extension the Victory Bell, means to the fanbase of both teams. After all, as Mora pointed out, it's tough to forget when sharing a city with a rival.

"It's different [from other rivalries] because the schools sit so close in proximity," he said. "You kind of live it every day."

Surely, the intermingling of Bruins and Trojans with the two campuses just 13 miles apart adds fuel to the competitive fire.

But with Mora and Sarkisian at the helm of each program, the USC-UCLA rivalry takes on less of a Hatfield-McCoy vibe and looks a bit friendlier.

"I've got a great deal of respect for Jim," Sarkisisan said. "I think there's a great deal of respect in both directions."

That mutual respect between coaches should be reflected among the players.

"They're another great team that has great athletes," UCLA wide receiver Jordan Payton said. "They recruit the best of them."

With both sides holding esteem for the other, it's unlikely that Saturday will produce a retread of the 2008 fight:

Or another instance of unnecessary timeouts and touchdowns in the closing seconds, similar to those that capped the 2009 matchup:

But that doesn't mean the two sides will be circled around the campfire signing folk tunes, either, because the rivalry game still weighs heavily on the long-term goals of both programs.

"Like anything, we're both really good competitors," Sarkisian said. "We'll want to win on the football field and in recruiting."

For Sarkisian's Trojans, two straight losses in the series represent added motivation to win this time around.

"You never want to lose to your rival, even if it's one game in a row," USC quarterback Cody Kessler said. "It's something we're going to take personal and everyone on this team will tell you that."

Meanwhile, Pac-12 Championship implications are on the line for both teams.

UCLA would book its ticket to the conference title game with wins in its final two contests, while USC needs to beat the Bruins and get help from either Washington State or Arizona against Arizona State.

What the rivalry may lack in pure vitriol emanating from the top is compensated for by the stakes involved.

Mora has UCLA positioned as a perennial Pac-12 contender in pursuit of its second title-game appearance in three seasons, and his staff's work on the recruiting trail should keep the Bruins in the hunt for years to come.

Sarkisian was tasked with restoring USC to its past glory, and while his debut season has had its disappointments, the Trojans have the pieces in place to again compete for championships.

The rivalry of Los Angeles neighbors will be no less intense because of the coaches' preexisting relationship. On the contrary, the championship element promises to take the series to another level.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited.

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4-Star HS Recruit Says Meeting Nick Saban Was 'Almost Like Talking to God'

The Father, the Son and the Holy Saban are recognized divinities in the state of Alabama.

Nick Saban is everywhere at all times, watching over you, and according to one Alabama high school football prospect, his very presence feels like a religious experience.

AL.com’s John Talty brings us the story of P.J. Blue, a 4-star linebacker recruit at Jemison High School (Ala.) who traveled to Tuscaloosa on Saturday to watch the Crimson Tide roll over Mississippi State.

Blue returned from his pilgrimage with nothing but praise for Saban, claiming that his chat with Alabama football’s head coach felt like speaking to a higher power.

“It was almost like talking to God,” Blue told Talty.

The 6’2,” 195-pound junior says he grew up an Alabama fan, which made the encounter even more surreal.

He also told Talty that Alabama's facilities are an athletic Eden.

“Alabama has great facilities and it makes you want to go there instantly,” Blue said. “But there’s more to it than just facilities and I’m going to have to look at it more.”

Saban is interested in Blue, but the program wants him to put on more weight before offering a scholarship. His recruitment is just starting to heat up, but Blue already has offers from Clemson and UAB. He "plans to take his time" with a commitment, per Talty.

As for Saban, it must get tiring going to bed each night with Phyllis from Mulga and the collective prayers of the Crimson Tide fanbase flooding into his mind.

 

Unless otherwise noted, recruit information courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture filigree.

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Texas A&M Football: Best Bowl Game Options for the Aggies

The Texas A&M football team is 7-4 on the season and bowl-eligible for the sixth year in a row. With one game left in the regular season, the Aggies are facing a variety of bowl possibilities. 

The 2014 season is the first year for the College Football Playoff. The top four teams in the country will enter the Playoff, and the rest enter the bowl hierarchy due to their conference affiliation. 

If the Aggies beat LSU on Thanksgiving Day, they will move up in the bowl selection. If not, then their 7-5 record will still guarantee a bowl selection. The extra practices a team gets before a bowl game will be especially beneficial to the Aggies' young roster. 

This is a look at the best bowl options for the Texas A&M football team. 

 

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College Football Picks Week 13: B/R's Expert Predictions for Top 5 Games

Week 13 of the 2014 college football season has the feeling of the calm before the storm (aka rivalry weekend).

But as any true college football fan knows, anything can happen on any given Saturday.

Will the top teams be caught looking ahead to next week, resulting in another weekend of upsets?

Next week gets all the praise for rivalry games, but thankfully we’ve got one slated for this Saturday. USC and UCLA will duke it out in the battle of LA. Both teams are still in the race for the Pac-12 South title, which makes this game all the more exciting.

Speaking of the South Division in the Pac-12, Arizona looks to gain ground with a win over Utah this weekend. Both teams are coming off very close wins, so expect this to be another close contest.

Notre Dame looks to rebound after an overtime loss to Northwestern last week when it plays host to Louisville. Will the Irish stumble for the third straight week or can they finally right the ship?

And in the SEC, Tennessee has the chance to spoil Missouri’s dream of repeating as SEC East champs. Knoxville is a tough place to play, but the Tigers are riding high after a road victory against Texas A&M. Can they do it again? 

Arkansas is fresh off its first SEC win under Bret Bielema. Will that momentum carry over to an Ole Miss squad that’s fresh off a bye week?

Barrett Sallee jumped back into a tie for the lead with Ben Kercheval. There won’t be a tie next week as both have taken different sides in the battle of LA.

Who will come out on top?

Let us know your picks in the comments below!

Reminder that our experts are picking the top five Saturday games against the spread.

Odds via opening lines at Odds Shark

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Pac-12 Football: 5 Things USC Must Do to Reclaim Its Place Atop the Conference

All signs point toward USC football slowly working its way back to the top of the Pac-12 football mountain, but it won't simply happen unless the Trojans continue to make steps in the right direction.

Heading into 2015, the team will have a full complement of players at its disposal, which means better depth, better ability to weather injuries and even more talent at key positions.

But even before the NCAA sanctions hit, the Trojans were starting to slip off the ledge. From 2003-2005, this was the premier college football program in the country. From 2006-2008, it was an elite team that couldn't quite get over the hump. Think of those teams as similar to what Oregon has been in recent years.

Since 2009, however, more than a few pieces have been missing in the championship formula, and simply adding more players won't necessarily change that.

Here are five things the USC must do if it hopes to become a regular national championship contender once again and wreak havoc on an improved Pac-12 conference.

 

 

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Ohio State's Surge Should Put Them in the College Football Playoff

With a crucial 31-24 win over Minnesota last Saturday, Ohio State is no longer on the outside hoping to be selected to play in the inaugural College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes are now a legitimate contender, if not favorite, among the one-loss teams.

If the committee remains consistent in looking favorably at road wins against Top 25 opponents, the Buckeyes should rise to No. 5 when the Week 3 college football playoff rankings are released later today.

Over the next few weeks, the committee’s task of selecting the four best teams will be increasingly intense as it tries to sort through the myriad of one-loss teams. Oregon and Alabama are locks if they finish with one loss. It feels like Florida State should have about four losses, but like any great champion the Seminoles are refusing to go down. They are in unless they finally collapse.

Preferably the debate gets settled on the field, but rarely has college football been that simple and clean.

All things being relatively equal, the interesting question is whether or not the committee will place more value on how teams are playing now versus September. Mississippi State and TCU have fallen off a bit and Baylor and Ohio State appear to be peaking.

All four teams can make a case to be included in the playoff. How does Ohio State stack up against the other one-loss teams? Pretty favorably when you compare the results.

 

Team Key Wins Losses Opponents' Record Non-Conference Opponents Remaining Games Baylor TCU, Oklahoma WVU 44-47 SMU, Northwestern State, Buffalo Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Kansas State Mississippi State Auburn, LSU Alabama 59-46 SMU, South Alabama, UAB, UT-Martin Vanderbilt, Mississippi, *SEC Championship Ohio State Michigan State, Minnesota Virginia Tech 54-45 Navy, Virginia Tech, Kent State, Cincinnati Indiana, Michigan, *Big Ten Football Championship TCU Minnesota, WVU Baylor 53-44 Samford, Minnesota, SMU Texas, Iowa State

*Mississippi State will play in the SEC Championship game if it beats Ole Miss and Alabama loses to Auburn.  Ohio State will play in the Big Ten Football Championship if it beats Indiana this Saturday.  

Beyond winning out, here are other factors that the committee will use to evaluate the Buckeyes against the other teams.

 

Eye Test

The Buckeyes' win over the Golden Gophers was a little too close for comfort, mainly because of two turnovers. No team is perfect, so punishing the Buckeyes for a few mistakes is hardly warranted. But protecting the ball and playing better against the run is critical if they want to pass the committee’s eye test.

The expectation is Ohio State should not be tested by Indiana or Michigan the next two weeks. Anything less than comfortable wins will damage their chances of winning style points.

 

Bowl Eligible Non-Conference Opponents

Few would argue that Ohio State’s non-conference schedule was challenging, but it was certainly better than TCU’s, Mississippi State’s and Baylor’s schedule.

Virginia Tech and Navy can both finish 7-5 and Cincinnati can finish 9-3. If this happens, the Buckeyes will have played three bowl-eligible teams. They also avoided playing any FCS teams and that needs to be factored into the comparison.

The Horned Frogs' non-conference schedule will include one bowl-eligible team, Minnesota. The Buckeyes also beat the Golden Gophers on the road in miserable conditions, so at best this is a split. Advantage Ohio State.

Baylor’s non-conference schedule will include one bowl-eligible team if Buffalo wins its final two games. Advantage goes to Ohio State.

Mississippi State’s non-conference schedule might include two bowl eligible teams if UAB wins another game. South Alabama is already eligible. Advantage, again, Ohio State.

 

Analysis

The one-loss teams all have a black eye. The Buckeyes' loss to the Hokies, while not good, should no longer be an anchor holding back the perception of this team.

If this loss continues to be an issue for the committee, then it should also diminish Mississippi’s State’s artificially enhanced strength of schedule that was produced by racking up early wins against vastly over-rated teams like Texas A&M and LSU.

Regardless, the perception of the SEC West's dominance has been exposed over the last few weeks. That alone should kill the idea that two teams from the SEC deserve to be in the playoff. At this point, it would be shocking and reprehensible if the committee selected Alabama and Mississippi State.

I would also contend that TCU and Baylor allowing 61 and 58 points in a game against each other hardly reflects the qualities of championship-caliber teams. If Florida State gets penalized for starting slow, Baylor should too. TCU should also be penalized for ending this game badly

The lack of a championship game will hurt the Big 12 champion. Mississippi State's chances will be diminished should it fail to play in the SEC Championship. The Big Ten Football Championship will give the committee one last chance to assess the Buckeyes against a highly ranked opponent. If Ohio State redeems itself and wins the championship this season, it has the strongest case for making the playoff.

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Jaelen Strong Injury: Updates on Arizona State Star's Concussion and Return

As the Arizona State Sun Devils make their push for the Pac-12 Championship Game, they may be without leading wide receiver Jaelen Strong.

According to Doug Haller of AZ Central, Strong suffered a concussion in ASU's heartbreaking loss to Oregon State on Saturday. 

Strong, who came down hard while going up for a pass late during ASU's attempted comeback, was removed from the game and did not return. AZ Central provides a photo of him attempting to get back on the field, though the team rightfully kept him out of play due to his head injury.

The Sun Devils may now need to take on Washington State without their best player. Though they will be heavily favored against the Cougars, the loss last week has taught ASU not to take conference opponents lightly.

Strong had a historically strong season in his first year at ASU. His 75 receptions for 1,122 yards are fifth and sixth, respectively, in the school's record book.

Coming off a campaign like that, much was expected of Strong in 2014. ESPN.com listed him on its preseason All-Pac-12 team, calling him "one of the conference’s best and a future pro."

When Taylor Kelly was out injured, Strong stepped up in a big way, recording two of his best performances with backup quarterback Mike Bercovici. Although it came in a losing effort, his 12 receptions for 146 against UCLA helped keep the Sun Devils until the third quarter. Two weeks later, his 10 receptions for 202 yards and three touchdowns were the difference in a 38-34 upset of USC.

With the way that Bercovici filled in for Kelly, one could argue that Strong is the most irreplaceable player in the ASU offense.

Arizona State has exceeded expectations in 2014, but in order for the team to make it to the conference championship, it will need Strong lined up out wide.

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4-Star Ohio State Commit Matthew Burrell Bringing Versatility, Recruiting Chops

Ohio State’s 2015 recruiting class netted a huge addition on Monday when 4-star offensive lineman Matthew Burrell committed to the Buckeyes.

Urban Meyer and his staff were able to beat out the likes of Florida State, Penn State, LSU and Tennessee for the 6’5”, 302-pounder’s commitment.

Burrell is the 21st pledge in a class that surged into the No. 5 spot in the 247Sports Team Rankings.

But what are the Buckeyes getting in Burrell, and what were the deciding factors that led him to commit to Meyer? 

According to his offensive line coach at C.D. Hylton High School in Woodbridge, Virginia—John Harris—Meyer and Buckeyes offensive line coach Ed Warinner played a pivotal role in Burrell’s choice.

“Matt’s big thing is relationships,” Harris said. “He’s a kid [who] is going to work very hard and do whatever he’s asked to do. He wanted to make sure that he trusted his head coach, but also that he trusted his position coach. He always had a good relationship with Coach Meyer. The more that [he] and Coach Warinner got to know each other, the more comfortable he felt with his decision.”

The Buckeyes have recruited him persistently since his sophomore season, and the trust factor with Meyer is what helped the Buckeyes stave off late pushes from schools such as Penn State, LSU and Tennessee. 

“He really just believed in what Coach Meyer was saying to him,” Harris said. “Matt is big on that. For him, if he’s going to dedicate the next four or five years of his life to you, he wants to know exactly who you are.”

As far as what they getting on the field with Burrell, Harris said it’s a package of smarts, physical toughness and versatility that made the U.S. Army All-American such a coveted prospect.

According to Barton Simmons of 247Sports, Burrell is a player who has proven to be at his best when competing against elite talents during numerous summer camps and at The Opening.

Harris praised his star pupil for being a punishing blocker with great footwork. But considering that he has a GPA of “a little over 3.5,” what sets Burrell apart is his intelligence and maturity level on and off the field. Those attributes, combined with his ability to play at multiple positions on the line, could help him get on the field early in Columbus.

“I think the thing that will help him the most is that he can play every position on the offensive line. As a young player on the next level, it kind of helps that he won’t be only a tackle or guard or center. That fact that he’s not only physically able to do it, but mentally knows how to play every position, that’s what will help him get on the field faster.

Just because he’s committed doesn’t mean that Burrell is done with the recruiting process. In fact, his next job may be to help the Buckeyes close out the 2015 class with a bang.

According to Harris, that’s a job that he’s more than capable of filling due to his outgoing personality.

“Not only is he a great player, with his personality, he’s going to be a great recruiter for them for years to come,” Harris said. "If I was his coach [at Ohio State], I would tell Matt to get on the bandwagon and start helping them recruit.”

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. 

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The State of the Heisman Trophy: Looking Beyond the Usual Candidates

ATLANTA — It's time to reinvent the Heisman Trophy.   

This is going to read like a putdown of the Heisman. It's not. It is meant as a nudge to restore the credibility that has eroded. A lot of fans watch the ceremony. Many others shrug. They know the winner in advance.

It is a fabulous award, a lifetime achievement for the winner. I know a Heisman winner, personally, and he is a good guy who was rewarded for a great season. If he became governor the first thing someone would say along the inaugural parade route is, "There goes the Heisman Trophy winner"—not, "There goes the guy who is going to fix education in this state."

That said, the voting for the most prestigious individual award in sports is shallow. Shallow as in a shallow pool of candidates and the benchmarks used by voters. Even if the Heisman Trust had its way and could muzzle all voters and polls and stop the vote from being shaped in November, you could pick the winner nine times out of 10 by December 1.

There was a website that predicted the Heisman winner 12 straight years. It doesn't seem to be following the race this year. It must have gotten bored and gone off to predict senate races. That, or the Heisman Trust businessmen got an injunction because the Internet guy killed the suspense.

Here is the winning formula. Don't tell anybody.

A quarterback or running back on a top 5 team with a bundle of yards.

Here is the backup formula.

A quarterback or running back on a team that has two or three losses, and that quarterback or running back has just too many yards to ignore. He's in, too.

There is the stray season, every 50 years or so, when hallowed Notre Dame is undefeated, its offense is merely OK, and somebody has to be in the mix for the Irish. So linebacker Manti Te'o finished second in 2009.

The pool of 11,250 Division I players gets whittled down to six guys pretty quickly with this formula.

You know and I know, Captain Obvious, the best college football player in America is not always a quarterback or running back.

This would be a terrific season to change the picture and find an offensive lineman, defensive lineman or linebacker who should be considered for the award. Front-runners have dropped out and created space. There is room for a wild card.

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is a strong candidate, and right now he is running away with it. Who doesn't like this kid? He might deserve it, but Mariota needs some rightful competition. I would guess that Mariota, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin and Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper will be invited. Tell me I'm wrong.

It's time the voters put more thought behind their ballots. Up until five years ago, it was almost impossible for them to make a case for a linemen or defensive player because you couldn't see them all. You had to go by the stats, or the game on TV, or a really terrific PR campaign, or the local Heisman pundit.

The stats and TV could not have told you that Utah defensive lineman Star Lotulelei, not Te'o, was a much better football players than Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel in 2012. You had to wait for the NFL scouts to tell you with the draft. Utah wasn't on TV much and D-linemen do not rack up big stats.

These days, there is no excuse not to poke around and watch a defensive lineman who rules in the trenches. Every game, it seems, is being taped by a media outlet and available on TV. Every game among the Power 5 is on a screen somewhere. There are rewinds galore available on the Internet.

So I invite the 929 Heisman voters, which include former winners, to go watch some clips of Southern Cal defensive tackle Leonard Williams, or Alabama's A'Shawn Robinson, or Washington outside linebacker/running back Shaq Thompson. See that guy Thompson for yourself. He averaged 7.2 yards per rush in one three-game stretch, yet he is a better linebacker. Who knew?

What about Alabama's Robinson at LSU? It took double teams to move him out of the hole, and the Tigers' fierce rushing game managed less than 4 yards a pop.

Wisconsin's Gordon had a great game against Nebraska. Got all those yards by himself did he? He was not the only guy on the field worth watching.

Why not just look at the Badgers' No. 7 flying around the defense, a marauder. Michael Caputo is a terrific player. He's a strong safety, I think, but hits people like an outside linebacker and goes where he wants to on the field. What about him? Watch him.

What about Wisconsin middle linebacker Marcus Trotter, a former walk-on? Did you see him against Nebraska? He has a made for TV story.

Here is what I know. The guys I go to in a locker room first are usually offensive linemen. The offensive linemen are asked to learn every position along the line in case of injuries. They are regularly tested—sometimes Friday nights before a game—to see if they know the blocking scheme against every defensive front. They have to dissect things. These guys can be pretty smart in front of cameras. Consider them with your Heisman vote.

If I'm building a team, an O-lineman is the first pick, unless Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck are sitting there.

The recent Heisman formula just isn't very complicated. The best quarterback on the best team by December 1 is the winner, or else it's the quarterback with the most sizzle on a team with two losses. Some years, if an undefeated team is dominating, and it has a 1,000-yard rusher, there is your winner. It leaves as a distant fourth the best player in the country in 2009, Nebraska defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, who had 12 tackles and 4.5 sacks in the 2009 Big 12 Championship Game.

It is getting harder and harder to sound a trumpet for another position to win the award because the game has become so quarterback-centric. The QBs just spit the ball out here and there, or they keep it. Their statistics pile up.

Defensive backs have the Lott Award. Linemen have the Outland. They are well-served. Quarterbacks and running backs have their awards, too, so you can't argue the linemen and defensive guys are already taken care of.

The award that counts the most in our college football culture is the Heisman. Make it mean something.

 

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 TodayThe 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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Alabama Football: JK Scott Is the Surprising X-Factor for Fearsome Tide Defense

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When Alabama punter JK Scott jogs off the field after booming another one of his high, arcing punts that pins an opponent deep in their own end, safety Nick Perry gives him a thumbs up. Scott returns the gesture with a salute.

“He thinks he has swag,” Perry says, laughing.

Whatever swag Scott does have is much deserved.

The freshman punter from Denver, who was listed by most recruiting services as a kicker, has come in and immediately become one of Alabama’s most dominant players at his position.

He’s second in the country in punting average (46.84 yards) and tied for first in net punting (43.3 yards). As a true freshman, Scott is a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award.

From his first career punt in the Georgia Dome that traveled 62 yards to his 46-yarder the flipped the field in the fourth quarter against Mississippi State, Scott has almost become the Alabama defense’s secret weapon this season.

“He’s great. He’s great,” defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson said. “He’s a great punter. He does his job well and he counts on us to do our job well.”

Alabama coach Nick Saban can only gush when talking about his punter.

Where he preaches the process and constant improvement with most players, he says that with specialists like Scott, that isn’t the case.

“You know one of the biggest challenges I think for specialists, and we’ve gone through this with several of our guys, sometimes good enough is good enough. You don’t have to keep trying to get better. When you’re kicking every one of them 50 and 55 yards with a 5.0 [second] hangtime, that’s good enough. You don’t really have to try to keep going. And he’s one of those guys who always really wants to try to do a little better and keep going. He’s done a great job for us and certainly changed field position in critical times in several games this year.” 

Stop and think about that for a second. Saban, the ultimate perfectionist, telling a freshman they’re good enough.

The Legend of JK Scott continues to grow each week. It took a major step in Alabama’s win over No. 1 Mississippi State.

There’s an argument to be made that Scott was responsible for the biggest play of the game.

Alabama decided to go for it on 4th-and-4 at the MSU 33-yard line in the first quarter. Freshman left tackle Cam Robinson jumped offside, though, and Saban decided to punt.

Scott sent one 34 yards to the Bulldogs’ 4-yard line. After an incomplete pass, the defense tackled running back Josh Robinson in the end zone for a safety, setting the tone for a dominant defensive performance.

“The MVP of the game is probably Alabama’s punter,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said after the game in quotes emailed by Alabama. “When you’re playing quality teams, it’s hard to just think you’re just going to drive the ball at will on an excellent defense like Alabama. That ended up being a major factor.”

Scott’s defensive teammates agreed.

"He really deserves all the credit for that (safety) and we're glad to have him," defensive end Jonathan Allen told Brad Zimanek of the Montgomery Advertiser. "JK is a great punter. We really feed off him. After he punts, we really go out there excited. You cannot give him enough credit for the success of the defense in this game.

"He's really a part of the defense … a 12th man on the defense."

Scott flipping the field for the Alabama defense has been a major part of that unit's success this season, and it's given a lanky kid from Denver a little big of "swag" on a national title-contending team.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from cfbstats and ESPN. All recruiting information from 247Sports.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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