NCAA Football News

Is Florida Still a Lock to Win SEC East?

It took the Mad Hatter himself to set Florida's dream season back ever so slightly. It took a kicker, whose bio lists him at 170 pounds—and that's probably with his pads—to hand the Gators their first loss of the year. 

In other words, LSU was LSU, Les Miles was Les Miles and a fake field goal was the difference in the Tigers' 35-28 win over Florida. 

That doesn't mean, though, that Florida's magical season has come to a grinding halt. It doesn't mean that Jim McElwain's team will lose the rest of its games or somehow come back down to reality. LSU needed to reach into its bag of tricks to beat the Gators, who were playing their second-string quarterback, Treon Harris.

That's not a criticism, by the way. LSU could very well be on its way to a playoff appearance, and sometimes, you have to pull out some trickery along the way.

Before that, Florida had overcome two double-digit deficits in one of the toughest environments in college football. The defense slowed LSU running back Leonard Fournette as much as any team possibly could. The Heisman front-runner rushed for 180 yards and two touchdowns but averaged 5.81 yards per carry. For context, that was his second-lowest total of the year. 

If anything, Saturday's loss was the most telling game about Florida under McElwain. 

Now, it's time for McElwain to refocus. The Gators' path to winning the SEC East, which would have been nearly unthinkable six weeks ago, is still clear. Is Florida a lock to win the East? If this season has proven anything, nothing is a lock, not even handling a punt, but the hurdles are few.

As McElwain said after the LSU game, the Gators are still in control of their own divisional destiny: 

The East title race could very well come down to the Halloween game against Georgia. Both teams have a bye before meeting in Jacksonville, Florida, for the annual rivalry. Without Nick Chubb, however, Georgia's offense has taken a noticeable step back. In its first game without Chubb, who has a season-ending knee injury, the Bulldogs rushed for 2.7 yards per carry in a 9-6 win over Missouri. 

It might not be realistic to think that Georgia's running game will be stuffed forever, but there are bigger-picture concerns, as B/R colleague Barrett Sallee noted: 

Georgia currently ranks 12th in the SEC in red-zone scoring percentage (80.77 percent), 10th in red-zone touchdown percentage (50 percent) and 12th in third-down conversion percentage (33.33 percent).

...

[Quarterback Greyson] Lambert is currently 10th in the SEC in passing yards per game (182.3) and tied for ninth with six passing plays of 30 or more yards with Florida's Treon Harris and South Carolina's Perry Orth—both of whom started the season as backups and have been thrust into action due to starters being out of the lineup.

Georgia's offense hasn't taken off under first-year offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Florida's offense, meanwhile, has improved dramatically under McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Inserting Harris back into the starting lineup—Will Grier will miss the year for a positive PED test—leaves some question marks, but there's no doubt that this team is getting coached up. One of the best examples of this is along the offensive line, a dangerously thin and inexperienced group: 

Keep in mind, too, the strength of this Florida team still resides on defense. So long as Harris can keep the offense moving, the drop-off from Grier shouldn't be that dramatic. 

If the Gators can get past Georgia, their path to Atlanta becomes even clearer. All that would remain are games against Vanderbilt and a road trip to South Carolina. However, the Commodores can be tricky because of their defense, and you never know if or how a coaching change can invigorate a team like the Gamecocks. 

The point being, there are some potential challenges to consider, but Florida should be in a position to get past all of them. Any one of three, or even four, teams could realistically still win the East mathematically speaking, but Florida has shown the most and has the best remaining path. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

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Newsman Says Michigan Beat Michigan State While Reporting Outside the Big House

Anybody who turned off the Michigan State-Michigan game a minute or two early probably thought the Wolverines had wrapped up a win.

But as we saw, the game isn't over until the final whistle blows.

Michigan State pulled out an unbelievable 27-23 victory when Michigan punter Blake O'Neill was unable to handle a long snap and fumbled at his own 38-yard line on the final play of the game. The Spartans' Jalen Watts-Jackson was in position to grab the football and run to the end zone for a walk-off touchdown.

It was as stunning a finish as you will ever see.

That wild ending led to an unfortunate moment for one Michigan reporter. After the game, Jamal Spencer of Grand Rapids' WZZM 13 was reporting from outside the Big House. On live TV, Spencer said the Wolverines had beaten the Spartans—which, of course, they had not.

To his credit, Spencer—a Michigan State alum—owned up to his mistake:

It was an embarrassing error, no doubt. However, mistakes happen. Spencer took responsibility for his, and WZZM 13 even acknowledged the error. Now, everyone involved can chalk it up as a learning experience.

[vidme, Twitter; h/t Deadspin]

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Michigan Football: How Wolverines' Top Commits Performed This Weekend

The third weekend of October 2015 is one Michigan Wolverines fans will never forget or fondly recall. 

A stunning last-second loss to Michigan State in Ann Arbor is bound to sting for a long time, immediately assuming a significant spot in the history of this heated rivalry. For Wolverines fans, a slight silver lining can be found while taking a look at prospects who will someday attempt to help Michigan exact revenge against the Spartans. 

High school action across America further illustrated the level of talent head coach Jim Harbaugh has assembled in a 2016 recruiting class that rates ninth overall nationally in composite rankings. Several members of an impressive haul headlined weekend action, delivering tremendous efforts for their respective squads.

Brandon Peters, a 6'5", 205-pound passer from Avon High School in Indiana, continues to decimate defenses on his way to career-best single-season statistical totals.

The Elite 11 finalist tossed two more touchdowns Friday night in a 46-14 victory over Noblesville, per Brian Stumpf of Student Sports. He's led Avon to six consecutive wins, suffering his last loss Sept. 4.

Peters, rated seventh nationally among pro-style quarterbacks in composite rankings, enjoyed a multi-score game each week throughout this streak. He's thrown for 19 touchdowns during the stretch, pushing his senior season total to 29 scores through the air, per MaxPreps.

It's quite a spike in production for Peters, who committed to Michigan in April while on campus, after tossing 21 touchdowns in each of his past two seasons. This improvement is further indication of the work he put in during Elite 11 action and throughout an eventful offseason.

"My focus is on getting better in every phase of the game," Peters told Bleacher Report this summer. "By the time I get to Michigan, I want to be prepared to compete."

Ahmir Mitchell also represented the Wolverines' 2016 class in quality fashion. The 6'3", 206-pound New Jersey product secured six receptions for 130 yards Friday night in a 40-14 victory over Oakcrest High School, per Mike McGarry of the Atlantic City Press.

The 4-star Cedar Creek High School standout has dealt with constant defensive schemes geared toward slowing him down this season. Mitchell, who could compete at wide receiver or safety in college, took advantage of his latest opportunity to wreak havoc.

"Throughout the week coach focused on getting me the ball a little bit more and putting me in the action," Mitchell told McGarry. "Some of the defenses (in past games) played triple coverage and double coverage. (Oakcrest) didn't play over the top of me so much, so I was able to open up a little bit."

Among the most vocal members of this Wolverines class, Mitchell is an ardent peer-recruiter. He's pushing for other players from the Garden State to join him in Ann Arbor, including top-ranked running back and Ohio State commit Kareem Walker:

He's also focused on fellow New Jersey stars Jordan Fuller, a two-way talent, and Rashan Gary, a defensive tackle who is the nation No. 1 overall prospect:

Mitchell is building off a junior campaign that included 1,419 all-purpose yards, 37 tackles and 20 touchdowns, per MaxPreps.

"Ahmir is a very aggressive player and one of those dogs I'm really glad we've got in our class," 4-star Michigan defensive end commit Ron Johnson told Bleacher Report last week. "He does some really good stuff at receiver, but I also think he can be a special guy on defense."

Johnson's Camden High School (New Jersey) teammate, wide receiver Brad Hawkins, is another Wolverines pledge who excelled during the weekend. He reeled in a touchdown toss and also picked off an opponent's pass for his fourth interception since 2014, per Bill Evans of NJ.com.

Hawkins now has 28 touchdown receptions since his sophomore season.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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Georgia's Offensive Mess More Than Just Nick Chubb's Absence

It'd be easy to look at last night's 9-6 win over Missouri, see the absence of an offensive touchdown for the first time since its Liberty Bowl loss to UCF following the 2010, see its first win without a touchdown since beating Kentucky 12-3 in 1995 and assume that Georgia misses running back Nick Chubb badly.

That's only half-true.

Chubb, who injured his knee on the first play from scrimmage in the loss to Tennessee the previous week, is not easily replaced. Fellow sophomore Sony Michel did his best to carry the load for the 5'10", 220-pounder, rushing for 87 yards on a career-high 26 carries. 

"It's not going to be pretty all the time, but the victory is pretty," head coach Mark Richt said according to Georgia's official site. "The bottom line is everyone kept battling, kept fighting, kept believing. I'm just really proud of the job everybody did. Sometimes the toughest ones are the best ones."

Chubb's absence is only one piece of a more concerning puzzle for Richt and first-year offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

Georgia currently ranks 12th in the SEC in red-zone scoring percentage (80.77 percent), 10th in red-zone touchdown percentage (50 percent) and 12th in third-down conversion percentage (33.33 percent).

Chubb still played in four full games, the offensive line is still one of the best in the nation when it comes to run-blocking, and there are plenty of talented backs like Michel and Keith Marshall behind Chubb to pick up the slack.

Numbers like that should not exist for this Georgia team. Not this deep into the season.

For comparison, Georgia's worst red-zone touchdown percentage since 2008 was 61.82 percent (2010 and 2011) and its worst third-down conversion mark over that same time frame was 39.52 percent (2009).

On Saturday against Missouri, Georgia entered the red zone five times and came away with just nine points.

"I felt like we were able to move the ball here and there," quarterback Greyson Lambert said, according to Georgia's official site. "We had some drives that did not end the way we wanted them to. We just were not able to keep them alive. We had a first down here, a first down there, but we just couldn't finish." 

Do you miss former coordinator Mike Bobo yet?

It's not new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's fault that he inherited a mess of a quarterback situation, a wide receiving corps, Chubb got hurt and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley's career is in jeopardy.

It is his fault, though, that the players who are in spots to contribute haven't developed and the play-calling in critical situations is as predictable as the sunrise.

All Georgia needs is a threat in the passing game to make the offense click, and that's on Schottenheimer as well as Lambert.

Whether Lambert can't or Schottenheimer won't let him, it's simply not happening.

Lambert is currently 10th in the SEC in passing yards per game (182.3) and tied for ninth with six passing plays of 30 or more yards with Florida's Treon Harris and South Carolina's Perry Orth—both of whom started the season as backups and have been thrust into action due to starters being out of the lineup.

Chubb or not, there's not even a threat downfield for the Bulldogs—which shouldn't be that hard to accomplish even with roster question marks at key positions thanks to the presence of a stout running game.

Georgia's offense was conservative but effective. Now, it's simply the former, and that was the case even before Chubb's season-ending injury.

That doesn't place Richt on the hot seat, because he has built up enough equity and has been so successful over a prolonged period of time that he has earned the right to fix things.

But as an offensive guy, he'd better step in quickly. Otherwise, all of that equity will go for naught and Georgia's first SEC title since 2005 will be Richt's version of Sasquatch in Athens.

A myth.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com

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

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NCAA Football Rankings 2015: Week 8 College Top 25 Standings Predictions

Another wild week of college football is in the books and some shake-up in the polls is coming. 

Two top-10 teams in the AP Poll went down (Texas A&M and Florida), as well as five others ranked between 10 and 25. 

Even the teams that won won't be easy for the voters to place, as the wild finish in Ann Arbor is sure to spark some interesting debate. 

The following rankings are a projection of how the Week 8 AP Poll will appear when it is released on Sunday afternoon.

 

Noteable Teams

Michigan State

What will the voters make of Michigan State's victory?

A win over a strong Michigan team would normally be enough for Michigan State to hold its ranking, or even rise. But the way in which Michigan State won may cause some voters to overlook the fact that the Spartans now have one of the better road victories on their resume. 

You guys Michigan State didn't lead until there was 0:00 on the clock. Insanity. pic.twitter.com/X87sQw3JC8

— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) October 18, 2015

Since Alabama is likely to rise after another dominant victory, it's possible the Spartans actually drop in the rankings despite the win. 

Voters in the AP poll have dropped Michigan State from No. 2 to No. 7 over the course of the past few weeks, so another fall after a fluke play handed them a victory is certainly possible. 

 

Michigan

The Wolverines are a tough team to predict in the polls, as they will likely have a wide range of placement on the ballots.

On one hand, Michigan only lost due to a punting mishap, which may cause some voters to leave the Wolverines roughly in the same spot as a week ago. 

However, the voters who focus strictly on the resume will be forced to treat Michigan as a two-loss team, which means it should slide to the back end of the Top 25. 

The end result likely has Michigan landing somewhere in the late teens in the poll. 

Fortunately for Michigan, the Wolverines have four games against unranked opponents before the season finale against Ohio State, giving Jim Harbaugh and company plenty of time to regroup. 

 

Stanford

There may not be a hotter team in the country right now than Stanford. 

However, among teams ranked in the the Top 25, few have a worse loss than Stanford's Week 1 disaster at Northwestern.

While Northwestern initially helped out Stanford by rattling off a few wins, the Wildcats have been outscored 78-10 over the past two weeks and are firmly outside the Top 25. 

Notre Dame at Stanford is going to have huge CFP implications

— Chris Fallica (@chrisfallica) October 18, 2015

The good news for Stanford is its ranking doesn't matter. At 4-0 in the Pac-12, the Cardinal sit atop the North Division standings and control their own destiny for a conference championship. By running the table, Stanford would be a likely inclusion in the College Football Playoff.

 

Group of Five schools

The College Football Playoff committee is only obligated to select one team from outside the Power Five conferences for the New Year's Six bowls. But there are multiple teams making a strong case for that honor.

Boise State's loss knocks the Broncos out of the Top 25 and likely out of New Year's Six consideration, but four others remain in the hunt. 

As we all predicted before the season, undefeated Houston, Memphis and Temple are wreaking havoc.

— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) October 17, 2015

Toledo and Houston were ranked a week ago and figure to rise a few slots due to other teams losing ahead of them.

Temple and Memphis, ranked 26th and 27th in Week 7, respectively, are strong candidates to rise, giving us four Group of Five schools in the Top 25. 

At least one of the four will be eliminated in the chase for the New Year's Six selection as Houston hosts Memphis on November 14, but the other three could be battling it out until the end.

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SEC Football: Best Performances from Week 7

Week 7 was billed as "Separation Saturday" thanks to a loaded slate of games.

It didn't disappoint.

Alabama topped Texas A&M 41-23 in College Station, Memphis stunned 13th-ranked Ole Miss 37-24 at the Liberty Bowl, and LSU ended Florida's hopes of a perfect season in Death Valley.

Who were the key players this week?

The best individual performances in the SEC based on production and importance to the team are in this slideshow.

Begin Slideshow

Bowl Predictions 2015: Projecting College Football Playoff Field After Week 7

With five matchups between teams ranked in the AP Top 25, college football had a lot of hype to live up to this weekend. Fortunately for those watching, the sport delivered and then some.

The ending to Michigan-Michigan State was one of the greatest plays in college football history, Alabama and Iowa both secured big victories against ranked opponents and moved closer to a possible spot in the New Year’s Six and LSU handed Florida its first loss of the season.

It has already been one of the most entertaining college football seasons in memory, with no team safe from an unexpected upset and no clear favorite for the title. As the season heads into the second half things don’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

Let’s take a look at the projections for the New Year’s Six Bowls and the teams that will make it to the this season’s College Football Playoff:

 

Notable Performances

Memphis

For those really plugged into college football, Saturday wasn’t too unexpected, but for the more casual fan Memphis taking down Ole Miss in comfortable fashion was unheard of. The Rebels were ranked No. 13 heading into the game and had taken down Alabama a few weeks ago but were now losing at a team from the American.

But Memphis is a part of the new era of the American—which itself is a young conference that used to be the Big East—and Saturday’s result was anything but a fluke.

Scoring 31 consecutive points after falling behind 14-0 at home, the Tigers managed to hold on as Ole Miss battled back into the game late, likely securing a debut in the AP Top 25 poll this coming week. With the highest ranked non-Power 5 team earning a spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl, Memphis looks to be in pole position, but it is a long road ahead.

The Tigers have the strongest non-conference win of any of the teams vying for the top spot, but with both Houston and Temple undefeated in the AAC, as well as Toledo running unchecked through the MAC, Memphis still has plenty of work left to do to if it wants to secure a spot in one of the big bowls.

But for now the Tigers should celebrate. They were the better team against Ole Miss and have come a long way from the program that won just five combined games over a three-year span from 2009 to 2011.

 

Iowa

For the first time this season, it feels like Iowa might actually be capable of pulling off one of the most surprising runs to a New Year’s Six bowl in recent memory. Typically a good not great team, the Hawkeyes dominated No. 20 Northwestern to move to 7-0 on the year and look to have a relatively easy path to an undefeated regular season.

Of the remaining teams none should have Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes truly scared, although a road matchup with Nebraska at the end of the year with a lot on the line could be a dangerous outing for an unprepared squad.

There is no guarantee that this is legitimate yet and Iowa losing out for the rest of the year wouldn’t be the most surprising development, but without Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State on its schedule, Iowa has a pretty good shot at heading to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game with an unblemished record.

Even if the title game turns into a blowout similar to last season when the Buckeyes beat Wisconsin 59-0, it would be nearly impossible for a 12-1 Hawkeye squad with a loss to a top 10 team to fall far enough that it misses out on the New Year’s Six entirely.

Despite some tiring of Ferentz and his approach in the past few seasons, Iowa is only five years removed from an Orange Bowl win over Georgia Tech and could be on the cusp of reaching another big-time bowl this season.

 

Alabama

Last season it was a 59-0 walloping of then-No. 21 Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa, Ala., that got Alabama back on track after some early-season issues. This season in College Station, Texas, the Crimson Tide were much kinder to the Aggies, only winning 41-23.

The Aggies fought back as hard as they could after falling into a big hole, but the turnovers were too much to overcome as Alabama picked off both quarterbacks—taking three back for touchdowns—to beat Texas A&M for the second consecutive year.

Derrick Henry continues to impress as arguably the most underappreciated running back in the country. While all eyes are on Baton Rouge, La., and Leonard Fournette, the Alabama running back has been having a huge season of his own, scoring in every game and going for a career-high 211 yards against the Aggies.

There are clearly some issues on special teams that coach Nick Saban will not be pleased with. But were it not for a five-turnover game against Ole Miss, Alabama would be undefeated and very much in the discussion for the No. 1 spot in the polls.

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