NCAA Football News

Michigan Football: Midseason Grades for Each Wolverines Positional Unit

Seven games into the 2015 season, all of the Michigan Wolverines positional units have largely succeeded—especially compared to the previous campaign.

Michigan has a balanced team that is consistently playing well all over the field, but one group sticks out above a slew of slightly above-average units.

The offense remains a work in progress, and the defense has established itself as one of the best in the nation, but identifying the strengths and weaknesses of their parts provides further insight into the Wolverines' performance.

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Midterm Grades for Every College Football Playoff Contender

At the beginning of the 2015 college football season, just about everybody could lay claim to being a playoff contender. That's the benefit of being 0-0. 

Through seven weeks, however, that list has realistically narrowed to a series of undefeated and one-loss teams making up the Top 25 polls. From perennial powers like Alabama and Ohio State, to surprises like Utah and Iowa, the list of playoff contenders is still wide open enough to provide intrigue, but narrow enough to create focus.

Not all of these teams are created equally, though. Some, like Stanford, are playing their best football now. Others are recently coming off loses and hoping to rebound before the playoff hopes are gone for good. With that in mind, we're checking in on teams ranked in and around the Associated Press Top 15 with a chance to win their conference title. Midseason grades are based on performances, signatures wins, injury problems and depth/key position concerns. Additionally, we look at how things could shape up in the second half of the year. 

Teams are ordered alphabetically. 

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Georgia Football: What the Bulldogs Must Fix During Bye Week

The Georgia Bulldogs are at the midway point of the season, and after losses to Alabama and Tennessee, they are still in the thick of the SEC East race.

What makes things even better is they are on a bye this week, so they have extra time to get ready for the Florida Gators.

Most people would say the win against Missouri last week was ugly because the Bulldogs did not score a touchdown. However, they were able to do some good things as well. They did not allow a touchdown on defense and made some plays on special teams, as Marshall Morgan kicked the game-winning field goal.

With that said, if the Bulldogs want to beat Florida and win the SEC East, there are a few things they need to fix during the time off.


Convert 3rd Downs

The offense has been inconsistent because it has not been able to convert third downs. The Bulldogs did convert nine of 19 third-down attempts last week, which is good, but overall they rank 12th in the conference with a 33.3 percent third-down conversion rate.

In the losses to Alabama and Tennessee, the Bulldogs only converted 23 percent of their third downs. In the wins, the Bulldogs converted 40 percent of them.

This falls on the lap of quarterback Greyson Lambert. He has to be more consistent when it comes to making plays in the passing game. It’s more difficult with Nick Chubb out for the season, but Lambert will have to use all his skill players to make up for Chubb’s loss.


The Passing Game

Speaking of Lambert, he needs to find a way to make plays down the field and be more accurate.

Looking back at the Missouri game, Lambert was able to complete 71.9 percent of his passes. However, he threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage, and some of his incomplete passes were close to being picked off.

It the last three games, Lambert threw two touchdown passes and two interceptions. In the first four games, Lambert threw seven touchdown passes and zero interceptions.

As the competition gets tougher, Lambert is feeling the pressure. He has to be more poised in the pocket and have more confidence in his throws.

Greyson Lambert hits Reggie Davis on bomb for TD #UGAvsTenn

— The Student Section (@TheStudentSect) October 10, 2015

According to Seth Emerson of DawgNation, Lambert recently discussed where he needs to improve:

I’m still kinda focusing, like I did this past week, in what coach Schotty was saying with streaks of completions, and check-downs, getting the ball—whether it’s down the field or short—allowing them to have a shot to make a play. Continuing to get that mindset that it’s not all-or-nothing on each pass.


Spread the Run Game

Sony Michel had a strong performance in the game against Tennessee, rushing for 145 yards on 22 carries. However, he did not have much success running the ball in the Missouri game, gaining 87 yards on 26 carries.

With Chubb gone for the season, Michel has been thrown into the starting role.

But based on what he’s done in the first four games of the year when he was a backup, the Bulldogs might be better off utilizing all their running backs on the roster.

Michel scored six total touchdowns in the Bulldogs' first four games of the season and only carried the ball 32 times. Because of the Bulldogs being down a running back, they have to be careful with Michel—especially with him having injury issues last season.

#Dawgs Relive the magic. Sony Michel touchdown #2

— GATA Dawgs (@BassinDawg) September 22, 2015

By the looks of things, Keith Marshall looks healthy and has been effective in the limited action he’s seen this year. Marshall has rushed for 179 yards on 33 carries and scored three times. Brendan Douglas is another back who has looked sharp in limited snaps, rushing for 84 yards on 19 carries.

And what about A.J. Turman?

According to Emerson, head coach Mark Richt said that Turman is doing good work in practice and has been getting a lot of snaps with the scout team. It doesn’t seem like Turman will be elevated to the rotation, but the Bulldogs have options.

Losing Chubb hurts, but they can make up for it by using all their running backs in an equal capacity over the rest of the year.

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What Cardale Jones' Benching Means for QB's NFL Draft Stock

COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Urban Meyer announced on Tuesday that he was promoting J.T. Barrett to the Ohio State starting lineup, he did so in hopes of providing the Buckeyes with a sense of stability that had been missing from their quarterback position through the first seven weeks of the 2015 season.

But for the signal-caller Barrett will be replacing, the future has never been more uncertain than it is now.

And after quickly processing what Barrett's return as Ohio State's starter would mean for the Buckeyes moving forward, Meyer's move left many contemplating the same thought: What's next for Cardale Jones?

In what marks just the latest chapter in Jones' already bizarre college career, the redshirt junior quarterback now finds himself returning to the same bench that he occupied for the better part of the previous three seasons. That, of course, was before Barrett's broken ankle in last year's regular-season finale opened the door for Jones to start in three postseason games, with the 6'5", 250-pounder leading the Buckeyes to the first-ever College Football Playoff championship.

Jones played so well, in fact, that despite having just three starts to his credit, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he would be entering the 2015 NFL draft.

"He would have easily been the third QB drafted," Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Analyst Matt Miller said of Jones' prospects in a draft that ultimately saw quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota selected first and second overall, and no other quarterback picked until the third round.

Only Jones never entered that draft, opting rather to return to Ohio State for one last season, in hopes of both obtaining his degree and improving his draft stock. As of the summer, the Cleveland, Ohio, native was still on track to accomplish the former at the end of Ohio State's fall semester in December.

With Tuesday's development, the latter now finds itself more in flux.

After all, save for the New England Patriots selecting Matt Cassel in the seventh round of the 2005 draft, it's hard to find examples of teams picking players who were backup quarterbacks during the final seasons of their college careers. The draft picks and roster spots in the NFL are just too valuable to be used on players who weren't perceived as good enough to be starting on their own college teams.

Given the circumstances surrounding his recent benching, Jones, however, could qualify as the exception. 

While it's Jones' big arm and size that NFL scouts were drooling over last winter, the strong-armed signal-caller has never seemed like a perfect fit in Meyer's spread offense. It was telling that in explaining Barrett's increased playing time in recent weeks, Meyer often cited his mobility, which is shiftier than Jones' power running style.

Ten months ago, that didn't seem like an issue when the Buckeyes were beating Wisconsin, Alabama and Wisconsin en route to winning the national title. But with more film of Jones on tape, opponents have had more to study and, consequently, plan for.

"He looks really disjointed. I think that's the best word for it. I don't think he's a good fit in that offense," Miller said. "Last year it was so simple—throw it deep to Devin Smith—and he was allowed to 'just play.' Now teams are game-planning for him, and he's asked to do more in the offense."

That's resulted in a seven-game stat line that's included 1,242 passing yards, seven touchdowns, five interceptions and a 62.4 percent completion percentage while having connected on just three passes of 40 or more yards. But not all of Jones' struggles can be attributed to his fit in Meyer's spread system, as Miller admitted that the player he once projected to be the No. 3 pick in the 2016 draft no longer looks worthy of a first-round selection.

"His decision-making hasn't been fast enough or accurate enough," Miller said. "I had moved him out of my Top 100 prior to the benching, so I think that's a starting point...he won't get back to [the first round] on my board."

The good news for Jones is that even if he doesn't play another snap for Ohio State this season, he still has plenty of opportunities remaining to re-prove himself to NFL front offices. Assuming he gradates in December as planned, Jones would be eligible to participate in the Senior Bowl, where he'd undoubtedly receive an invitation as a big-name prospect.

That could be Jones' best opportunity to show off his skills in a game setting, in advance of the predraft combine and workout circuit.

"That's a must in my opinion," Miller said of the Senior Bowl. "He has to get on a stage to show his talent."

Miller went on to point out that former Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel parlayed a strong Senior Bowl showing into a first-round selection in 2013, despite having entered the draft process as a projected third-round pick. That's the type of uphill climb Jones could now find himself facing—a far cry from the #FailForCardale social media campaign NFL fans started earlier this season when Jones still looked more the part of franchise savior than college clipboard holder.

"If he interviewed well, I think he's still drafted," Miller said. "But he's a project based on potential, and not being able to show that potential makes him a Day 3 [rounds 4-7] guy."

Six months still stand between Jones and the NFL draft, and as we saw at the end of last season, plenty can change between now and then. In the meantime, Jones can still improve—or further worsen—his draft stock based on how he handles his recent benching, which will be especially important for a player who's had issues with immaturity in the past.

"You always want to see a prospect in an uncomfortable situation," Miller said.

Certainly, this would qualify as such. It's not the first, and it likely won't be the last that Jones finds himself in, given all that he's already been through in his college career.

But while he'll now find himself standing on the Ohio State sideline for the foreseeable future, don't expect to have heard the last of Jones.

That much—if nothing else right now for him—is certain. 


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

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Is the Will Muschamp Experiment at Auburn an Early Bust?

Remember last offseason when first-year Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was supposed to be the magic elixir that transformed Auburn's defense from punchline to power and join head coach Gus Malzahn to create one of the most feared coaching forces in college football?

So far, not so good.

The Tigers rank last in the SEC in total defense (426.2 YPG), 11th in yards per play (5.75), 13th in rush defense (197.67 YPG), 11th in pass defense (228.5 YPG) and tied for 12th in scoring defense (25.7 PPG). 

Six games into the season, is it time to call the Muschamp experiment a bust at Auburn?

Early on, yes.

While the offense has taken the brunt of the criticism due to the ineffectiveness of former starting quarterback Jeremy Johnson, the dismissal of wide receiver "Duke" Williams and an identity that was missing in action for the majority of the first half of the season, the defense has been par for the course for Auburn...and that's bad.

The Tigers haven't finished in the top half of the SEC in total defense since 2007, which was the last year of Muschamp's first stint as the defensive coordinator on the Plains. With the talent Auburn has on its roster, there's no reason why a somewhat adequate defense shouldn't be attainable.

Sure, the loss of "Buck" Carl Lawson in the first half of the first game hurts, but with players like Montravius Adams, Kris Frost, Cassanova McKinzy, Byron Cowart and others in the front seven, one player shouldn't make that much of a difference—even in a transition year.

Even a player as talented as Lawson.

The early returns on the Muschamp era at Auburn have it looking more like his head coaching career at Florida rather than his work as a coordinator at Texas and Auburn in the 2000s that made him one of the hottest coordinators in the country.

But there is reason for hope. 

With Auburn up three and reeling defensively late in last week's game versus Kentucky, Malzahn was faced with a 4th-and-1 from his own 47-yard line with 2:19 to play. After thinking about going for it when one first down would ice away the game, he punted and handed the game to Muschamp and his defense—which had already given up 458 yards on the night.

It worked.

Muschamp's defense held Kentucky on 4th-and-3 at the Tiger 44-yard line and escaped Lexington with its first conference win of the year.

Will that matter moving forward?

The Tigers travel to Arkansas this week to take on a Razorback offense that's loaded up front with a massive offensive line, a talented running back in Alex Collins, a veteran quarterback in Brandon Allen and a unit that is achieving much more balance than it has in years past.

"As a linebacker, you have to enjoy contact," linebacker Tre' Williams said, according to Wesley Sinor of "With Arkansas, you're going to come out of this game pretty sore. You have to get your mind right from Day 1. We knew what we were getting into ever since the beginning of the season... It's going to be a big one and it's a must-win, so we're going to do whatever we can do to get that W."

After that, Ole Miss comes to town and the Tigers will travel to Texas A&M—both of which can move the ball up and down the field. 

Good luck, Muschamp.

The defense is a bust as of now. There's far too much talent on Auburn's roster to regress further from last year's group, especially since Muschamp's presence was supposed to make an immediate impact on the Plains.

But the close to the Kentucky game and Malzahn's willingness to put the game in the hands of Muschamp at least provided a small spark.

If Muschamp can transform that into a fire during the little bit of extra time he received following last Thursday's game against momentum, he can change the narrative of Auburn's defense down the stretch.


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

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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Texas A&M vs. Ole Miss Complete Game Preview

What looked last week like one of the marquee games of the season has instead taken a much different tone.

After Texas A&M lost to Alabama and Ole Miss lost to Memphis, the Week 8 matchup between the Aggies and the Rebels is no longer a critical College Football Playoff qualifier; it's a game in which the loser leaves town. 

Both teams are still ranked in the Associated Press poll—Texas A&M at No. 15, Ole Miss at No. 24—but whoever loses Saturday will likely drop out. Ole Miss won last year's meeting 35-20, but that was with a far better defense and against former Aggies quarterback Kenny Hill.

Presumably, Kyle Allen is an upgrade from Hill, but he looked worse against the Crimson Tide last weekend. Kevin Sumlin's team played careless, sloppy football, but if it rectifies those issues against the Rebels, it still has a clear path toward a playoff berth.

It just no longer has a margin for error.

Date: Saturday, October 24

Time: 7 p.m. ET

Location: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium; Oxford, Mississippi


Line: Ole Miss -6, according to Odds Shark

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Bleacher Report's College Football Ultimate Guide to Week 8

This is the part of a weekly college football preview where the author tells you how magnificent the next Saturday will be. It’s up to the author—in this exact portion of the piece—to build the appropriate hype for the games ahead, doing so with care and enthusiasm. His editor demands it; otherwise, it will be sent back. 

So allow me to tell you that Week 8 of the college football season is gargantuan in scale. It’s the biggest weekend in the history of sports and life.

Don’t bother hunting down the schedule; we’ll get to that shortly. Just know that this is the greatest lineup of games any sport has ever seen. Now, run right through that screen door and into the sunlight to embrace this magnificent truth. 

Well, perhaps it’s not the best slate of games ever. Perhaps it’s not even the best slate of games of this month. After a loaded Week 7, however, Week 8 seems like one of those Saturdays that could produce unexplainably weird results. The way this season has gone, it seems reasonable.

It may not have the hype or the plethora of Top-25 matchups, but these are often the weekends that provide unexpected, wall-to-wall entertainment. Don’t sleep on college football; you know better.

As for the games to watch, one to avoid, the wide receiver doing wizard things and some thoughts on Ohio State’s rich-program problem, let’s get to it.


The Buffet: Previewing the Top 5 Games of Week 8 

5. Western Kentucky at LSU (Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

If you are at all surprised that Western Kentucky made the buffet, don’t be. That’s not to say that the Hilltoppers are a lock to pull an upset that would result in countless broken Louisiana flat screens, but this team is dangerous. Keep the remote out of reach. 

With one loss on the year, Western Kentucky has found an offense. And if you have not watched quarterback Brandon Doughty work, you have missed out. This season, Doughty has thrown for 24 touchdowns and just four interceptions. The Hilltoppers have won six games thanks in large part to his presence. He can take a game over.

LSU knows all about this. After all, no one takes over a game quite like running back Leonard Fournette. In Week 7, Fournette ran for a ho-hum 180 yards and two touchdowns against an excellent Florida defense. It’s incredible how his absurdity is now almost assumed. 

But LSU also found a bit of a passing game, and Brandon Harris suddenly looks comfortable. If he can continue to grow, the Tigers will continue to be in the playoff conversation. Still, before Alabama, LSU has to get by Western Kentucky.

This may not be the most taxing stop on the schedule, but the Tigers had best be careful.


4. Clemson at Miami (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET, ABC) 

If Al Golden wants to make an emphatic case to keep his job, a win over Clemson won’t hurt that cause. In fact, results like these are precisely what the Hurricanes have lacked since he took over. 

As a result, the weekly banners demanding his firing are flying high. Here was the latest bit of air messaging. 

Today's anti-Al Golden banner courtesy of

— PhillyHokie (@PhillyHokie007) October 17, 2015

In a 30-20 win over Virginia Tech last Saturday, the formula was there. Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya was excellent, throwing for 296 yards and two touchdowns. The Miami defense also forced four turnovers, which would be a solid trend to carry onward. This will be slightly more challenging now that linebacker Raphael Kirby, the team’s leading tackler, is out for the year. 

Clemson, meanwhile, has done exactly what it needs to since beating Notre Dame. The Tigers followed up a win over Georgia Tech with a 34-17 win over Boston College. And while we’ve spent a great deal of time talking about Deshaun Watson and this offense, the Clemson defense has been the key cog. 

This game feels strange. It feels like Miami could surprise. Then again, that feeling has been wrong before. Clemson is the more talented team, but the Hurricanes have the quarterback to make it a game.

Regardless, the banners will be flying high. Seriously, isn’t this getting expensive? I’d love to know their budget.


3. Utah at USC (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX) 

Give USC credit. It has not packed up shop and and looked ahead to being coached by USC savior Jon Gruden. (Please note: This is not actually going to happen, probably. But let’s start the rumor regardless.) 

The Trojans played hard last week; this part is very real. Although they lost to Notre Dame 41-31, the fight was evident. Interim head coach Clay Helton did his best Ed Orgeron impression and pushed the Irish to the brink. He did so thanks in large part to a heavy dose of offense. 

This week, USC comes home to play one of the nation’s elite teams. Utah and Arizona State played close for a while on Saturday, although running back Devontae Booker, having been held in check the entire game, uncorked two long touchdown runs in the fourth to seal it.

Utah finds itself in a wonderful position. Two months into the year, and the Utes—with a manageable schedule laid out before them—are suddenly eyeing the playoff. And yet, this game, like a few other high-profile matchups this week, feels like anything but a given.

USC has absolutely nothing to lose and a wealth of individual talent. It’s a dangerous spot for the opposition. Oh, and Las Vegas has made the Trojans the favorite at bet-taking establishments.

Keep an eye on this one.


2. Texas A&M at Ole Miss (Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN) 

Oh, this one had potential. In an alternate universe, both Texas A&M and Ole Miss won last Saturday, prompting ESPN’s College GameDay to pick up its things and sprint immediately to Oxford, Miss. for one of the games of the year.

But that did not happen. Texas A&M’s undefeated season was undone by Alabama, and more specifically, three passes that Nick Saban’s defense took back the other way for a touchdown.

"It's virtually impossible to win when you are giving away 21 points and four interceptions total," head coach Kevin Sumlin told reporters after the game. "Whatever offense you're running, it's hard to win when you play that way…when you play a quality football team like that, particularly defensively, your mistakes are amplified." 

The Aggies made a push to make it a game before halftime, but the 41-23 score at home certainly was a setback, something Ole Miss knows plenty about following a loss to Memphis as a double-digit favorite.

Defensively, the Rebels were carved apart—especially after the first quarter—allowing the Tigers to total nearly 500 yards. Offensively, quarterback Chad Kelly still played a respectable game minus the two interceptions. The main problem? Ole Miss finished with just 40 rushing yards on 24 carries.

Who can bandage wounds best? The SEC West can still be had with some breaks, although it has to start somewhere. Here, for example.


1. Tennessee at Alabama (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

This was supposed to be the year that this lovely, hate-heavy rivalry got an injection of new energy. A few early losses for Tennessee have tempered that sentiment some, although this game is still extremely meaningful for both. And there’s always that magnificent hate. 

Alabama’s destruction of Texas A&M, as documented above, was another step in the right direction. The secondary is making plays, and running back Derrick Henry has taken to this full-time running back role better than anyone could have anticipated. His 236 yards, many of which came in the first half, changed the perception of the game entirely.

The one major advantage Tennessee has heading into the week is the time off. As has been a theme in recent years, Alabama must play an opponent coming off a bye.

I'm not saying there is a conspiracy in the works, but maybe you should email your local politician regardless, Alabama fans. 

Re: Alabama's schedule. This is pretty remarkable. Note that no other SEC team has more than 10 games.

— Aaron Suttles (@AaronSuttles) October 15, 2015

Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs was brilliant in his team’s win against Georgia, throwing for 312 yards, running for 118 yards and scoring five touchdowns. This brand of quarterbacking has given the Alabama defense fits in recent years; Dobbs certainly is capable of making it another long day in the film room. 

The Vols, however, also have to deal with Henry, which will not be an easy task. This year, they’re allowing more than 170 yards on the ground per game on 4.61 yards per carry.

Tennessee has the offensive formula to push Alabama to the brink. The Crimson Tide has the offensive formula to make sure that doesn’t happen. Should be fun and hate-filled, per usual.


Sad Scoreboard Game of the Week: Missouri at Vanderbilt (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, SEC Network)

If you fancy points being scored in copious amounts, here's a game you should avoid. In fact, even if low-scoring games are your thing, I’m not sure this is the one you want to watch, either.

Just run, friend.

Missouri has scored nine points in the past two games. Vanderbilt has scored a gaudy—well, it is by such reserved standards—27 points the last two times out. Both teams play above-average defense; both offenses have spent much of the season looking like lost puppies.

The only major redeeming quality of this matchup is that it could produce some very odd score. Perhaps a 3-2 game. Or maybe, somehow, both teams will head into overtime tied at 0-0 or 11-11. Things will be undoubtedly strange.

Scratch that. Maybe you should watch this game just to say you actually did.


One-on-One Matchup of the Week: Laremy Tunsil vs. Myles Garrett

There’s a distinct possibility that the next two No. 1 overall picks in the NFL draft are going head-to-head on Saturday. Sure, that’s an ambitious declaration. But do yourself a favor and watch Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil and Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett just in case.

After sitting out seven games because of NCAA matters, Tunsil will make his season debut for a team in desperate need of some offensive line assistance. Even with the injury concerns coming into the year—along with the NCAA stuff—Tunsil is widely regarded at one of the top prospects at the position and one of the nation’s best juniors overall. (Chances are he says goodbye after the season.)

Welcoming him back will be the most destructive force currently operating on the defensive side. Although the Aggies fell to Alabama last Saturday, it was through no fault of their star. Garrett logged another sack, pushing his yearly total to eight-and-a-half, and two tackles for loss.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves, but NFL teams are already salivating over what he can do off the edge.

Oh, this will be fun. It’s wonderful to have Tunsil back on the field. Now we get to watch two of the sport’s great forces literally collide.


A Reminder to Watch Baylor Play Every Week Because Corey Coleman Is a Sorcerer Capable of Magical Powers

A few weeks ago I highlighted Baylor wideout Corey Coleman for his statistical destruction. He has followed that up with, well, more statistical destruction. In six games this season, Coleman has scored 16 touchdowns.

This is a real stat and a single-season record for the Bears. IT'S OCTOBER. HE HAS PLAYED SIX GAMES.

But this young man isn’t about the numbers. In fact, it’s the nuances to his game that make him one of the most exciting players in all of college football. Just look at him last week against West Virginia, creating new science.

Corey Coleman's footwork against WVU was insane. Slowed this clip down, check out the hurdle.

— Max Olson (@max_olson) October 19, 2015

With Baylor playing Iowa State this weekend as an enormous favorite, Coleman will probably score and do something that defies gravity.

Don’t miss it.


Parting Shot: On Ohio State’s First-World Problem and Making the Right Call

Urban Meyer made it official on Tuesday. He announced that he was making a change at quarterback.

Cardale Jones has been benched in favor of J.T. Barrett—the young man many, including myself, thought would start when the season began.

"J.T. has earned the right to start Saturday at Rutgers," Meyer told reporters. "It was a difficult decision."

Think about this for a moment. The nation’s No. 1 team just benched its national championship-winning quarterback who is without a loss in his career. Jones’ next regular-season defeat will be his first. He still has more rings than losses. It's staggering.

And yet, given the way Ohio State’s offense has evolved, struggled and had to absorb losses, the move makes perfect sense. It comes at the perfect time. And as a result, there has not been an ounce of backlash to a historically unprecedented decision. Strangely, it feels right.

When Barrett was in the game against Penn State last week, there was a sense of unpredictability and explosiveness the team has lacked with Jones taking the majority of the snaps. In the red zone, it was even more apparent.

Jones hasn’t played heinous outside of a few wayward throws. The play-calling hasn’t helped him out, either. Given the way the team will rely more on the H-backs and misdirection—and less on downfield passes—this is the move that had to be made.

The role Jones plays moving forward will be fascinating. Meyer will still find ways to get him involved, and just the threat of his arm will keep coordinators in the office after hours. He will play a significant role at some point.

He won’t disappear into the deepest depths of the roster. There is still some flash left in this giant machine. Just watch.

Still, the change was strange news to hear and process. It’s strange to even write about. The Buckeyes just benched the mortar-armed, national championship-winning quarterback two months into an undefeated season ad the No. 1 team. Things like this don't normally happen, and no one's really seems to have noticed.

It’s good to be king.

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Ranking the Best SEC Matchups of Week 8

The slate of games is smaller, and the quality is certainly down compared to the past couple of weeks, but it's still not going to be difficult for SEC football fans to find something entertaining to watch this weekend.

There's only one game involving two ranked conference opponents, and that will take place in Oxford, Mississippi, as the sliding Ole Miss Rebels try to end their recent skid against Texas A&M, which lost its first game of the year in lopsided fashion last week against Alabama.

Those same Crimson Tide players will return home to renew one of the most storied rivalries in all of college football when the Tennessee Volunteers come to Bryant-Denny Stadium for the "Third Saturday in October" showdown on the fourth Saturday of the month.

Kentucky will travel south to take on its second consecutive SEC West opponent, and Auburn will try to capitalize off the momentum of winning in Lexington last week on the road in Starkville.

There's also a defensive struggle shaping up in Nashville between Missouri and Vanderbilt, and LSU must face an upstart out-of-conference opponent.

Some potentially intriguing storylines are possible this weekend, so even though it isn't a banner week for SEC showdowns, there could still be twists and turns. Let's take a look at the top games of the week.

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College Football Week 8 Schedule: TV, Live Stream Details for Top 25 NCAA Games

Reigning champions Ohio State overcame another sluggish start to crush Penn State and retain its spot atop the AP and Coaches polls. At least five teams are receiving first-place votes in both polls, however, which showcases the muddled landscape at this stage of the college football season.

Week 8 could create further havoc in the rankings. That's because 12 of the 19 ranked teams in action are on the road, including Utah, Clemson, Florida State and the Buckeyes from the Top 10. So there should at least be some marquee upset alerts around the country.

Let's check out the complete slate of games involving Top 25 squads along with viewing information for each contest. That's followed by a look at some of the most intriguing matchups on tap.


Week 8 Top 25 Schedule


Top Games to Watch

No. 6 Clemson at Miami (Fla.)

The Tigers have quietly rattled off six straight victories to open the season and moved firmly into the playoff conversation. That said, their only high-profile win so far came over Notre Dame, and that was at home. Facing a talent-laden group from Miami on the road will be a good measuring stick.

While the Hurricanes already have two losses, quarterback Brad Kaaya headlines a roster with plenty of explosive playmakers. They lost by just five on the road against rival Florida State and are 3-0 at home with wins over Nebraska and Virginia Tech.

This matchup has also created some hard-fought battles as of late. Clemson sports information director Tim Bourret provided some interesting notes about the recent series history:

One key question for the Tigers is whether the offense can still produce big numbers if Canes corner Tracy Howard slows down top target Artavis Scott. It should be a terrific battle and, if Howard gets the upper hand, it will put extra pressure on the likes of Deon Cain and Charone Peake.

For Miami, the story remains much the same as the individual talent is in place, but bringing everything together to create a title contender remains elusive. That doesn't make the Hurricanes any less dangerous as they attempt to derail Clemson's push toward the Top Four, though.


No. 15 Texas A&M at No. 24 Ole Miss

Games in which both teams are coming off crucial losses always come with an extra bit of uncertainty. That's the case here, as the Aggies lost a clash with Alabama that could have moved them into the playoff hunt and the Rebels fell short against Memphis, likely ending their playoff dreams this season.

In each case, the defense failed to hold up its end of the bargain. Texas A&M gave up 41 points to Alabama. Ole Miss allowed 37 to Memphis, including 31 straight at one point. The onus is on each of those units to bounce back in a major way this week.

On the offensive side, the Rebels should benefit quite a bit from the return of star lineman Laremy Tunsil after serving a seven-game suspension. Gil Brandt of noted there will be no shortage of people watching his return:

Now, getting back a lineman isn't the same as a star quarterback. That said, Tunsil should provide an immediate boost as the Rebels are forced to deal with Texas A&M edge-rusher Myles Garrett, who already has 8.5 sacks this season.

Both teams are feeling the heat after losing last week, and their margin for error to reach a marquee bowl, or possibly the playoff in Texas A&M's case, is razor-thin. That type of pressure usually showcases what a team is truly made of, and that should make for an entertaining battle.


No. 3 Utah at USC

The outlook is promising for Utah. The Utes already have victories over Oregon, Cal and Michigan on their resume, and the remaining schedule is certainly navigable. They can't afford to overlook an underperforming Trojans squad, though.

USC entered the season as a popular choice to crack the playoff out of the Pac-12. Instead, its lost three of its past four games and dealt with off-field turmoil that led to Steve Sarkisian's exit. But they still have enough ability to rebound and finish the season on a high note.

So Utah, which has survived close calls against Cal and Arizona State in recent weeks, needs to put together a more complete performance Saturday. The silver lining is head coach Kyle Whittingham has been happy with the fight his team has shown in difficult moments, per Kevin Gemmell of ESPN.

"You get an idea going in what type of team you might have and the personality," Whittingham said. "But it really starts to take shape as you hit about midseason, which is now. ... They're a tough group of guys. Very physical. Just warriors."

If the Utes can continue that trend and take down USC, they will have a golden opportunity to run the table. While there are some tests (Washington and Arizona on the road, UCLA at home), it's nothing a championship contender shouldn't overcome.


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Tennessee Football: Midseason Grades for Each Volunteers Positional Unit

Tennessee's top-heavy first half of the football season is over, and after this week's Alabama game, the rest of the year looks manageable.

That would be good news for a fanbase that has been through the emotional roller coaster so far through a 3-3 start.

The Volunteers have endured coaching gaffes, blown leads and a huge comeback in a big win against Georgia. They've almost won national-stage games against Florida and Oklahoma, only to lose in heartbreaking, finger-pointing fashion.

In the midst of the season, the Vols broke in heaps of young, talented players and endured enough season-ending injuries to last a couple of years. It's been a crazy year when positions expected to be weaknesses have emerged as strengths and areas full of talent have become major concerns.

While the win over the Bulldogs entering the bye week has fostered a little bit of goodwill on Rocky Top, there have been rocky moments. And there are plenty of areas for improvement as coach Butch Jones tries to lead his program into another step forward.

An 8-4 (or perhaps even 9-3) season is still possible if UT can reach its talent-filled potential, but in order to do that, the second-half grades for each positional unit need to be better than these.

Given all the hype entering the year, the first part of the season has been below satisfactory, but there's still time for the Vols to bring up their grades. Let's take a look at the position-by-position breakdown.

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Debunking the Chip Kelly-to-USC Rumors

LOS ANGELES — Over the summer prior to the 2015 season, USC updated its longtime practice facility of Howard Jones Field to include some flashy graphics along the sidelines that tell the story of Trojan football.

It includes everything you would expect, from the number of national titles won to how many Heisman Trophies occupy Heritage Hall. The graphics serve as a talking point when potential recruits stroll around and as a reminder of the standard the current players have to live up to.

In addition to the numbers, there are naturally photos of a host of recognizable names immortalized in some form or fashion. While most are players who have earned their place in Trojan lore, there are four coaches imprinted along the edges of the field: Howard Jones, John McKay, John Robinson (from his first stint, it should be noted) and Pete Carroll.

The common thread among all four? They each won a national title in Los Angeles and are in or will soon be in the College Football Hall of Fame. 

As athletic director Pat Haden embarks on the second coaching search of his tenure and the third at USC in the past six seasons, those four title-winning coaches illustrate the standard that the next man to take the job will have to live up to. They also serve as a reminder that whoever takes over will have to appease a fanbase that is desperately yearning to actually meet expectations for a season and not fall short in dramatic fashion. 

“I’ve been here for six years. You know Los Angeles and you know this is USC and you know the expectations are to win,” interim head coach Clay Helton said on Tuesday. “I know exactly what the job entails and what it demands.”

Helton does indeed know that as he continues on his second stint as the Trojans’ interim head coach. He will be given an opportunity to interview for the full-time job with Haden after the season but like Ed Orgeron two years ago, he will remain a long shot of following in Clemson's Dabo Swinney’s shoes by turning a temporary job into a permanent one.

At this point, just eight days after Steve Sarkisian’s contract was terminated, far bigger names than Helton are being mentioned.

At the top of the wish list, for many fans and media members alike, seems to be Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly.

On the surface, it makes some sense why some would connect the two dots. USC is one of the premier college jobs in the country and Kelly had near unprecedented success during his time at Oregon. With the Eagles still struggling despite their win against the New York Giants on Monday night, maybe a return to college could be in the cards at a place where success comes fairly easily.  

"The Eagles coach of course had so much success in college, I am told he would have some interest in the USC job,” NFL Media insider Ian Rapoport said on NFL Network.  “Although a source close to him points out Chip Kelly really likes to be liked and wanted, so that might be driving some of his interest."

Rapoport is burying the real information, however. To put it more bluntly, that latter point is driving all of the conversation around Kelly to USC. 

Kelly’s team is currently tied for first place in the division after Monday night, and he is in the middle of a reported five-year, $32.5 million contract. While USC has deep pockets and can afford to make its next coach one of the highest paid in the country, that would still represent a near doubling what the school has paid its past two head coaches.

USC boosters would no doubt pony up in a heart beat to lure Kelly, but the reclusive New Englander does not appear to be chasing a pay check and has everything he wants in Philadelphia, including being one of the rare NFL coaches to control his own roster. Even more important, he works for a fairly hands-off owner in Jeffrey Lurie who has given Kelly nearly everything he has requested and has proved over the years to have no problem with retaining his football coach even if the team is not quite meeting expectations.

There are few, if any, reasons for Kelly to give up his position to deal with a sometimes headache-inducing one like USC.

And more to the point, while it may be fun to connect the former Oregon coach to the job at USC, there are even fewer indications that Haden himself would be comfortable hiring Kelly in the first place. The latter received a show-cause order as part of NCAA sanctions leveled against the Ducks for actions during his tenure, and Haden has been notoriously straight and narrow when it comes to compliance at USC since he took his current job.

For the Kelly-to-USC rumors to actually have some substance, the two parties would have to have some realistic chance of coming together. At this point, neither appears to be lusting after the other in any shape or form. 

Bleacher Report recently spoke to two sources who worked with Kelly in Eugene and each believed that he would remain in the NFL for the foreseeable future. 

“I can’t see it,” one source said of him going to USC, adding that the reputation the coach earned as being stingy with his time when it came to media obligations and booster functions was accurate.

Kelly donning the cardinal and gold would be a sight for sore eyes for many in the college game with the chance to see his fast-paced system mixed in with the type of athletes the Trojans typically recruit and indeed are already on the roster.

The Kelly talk is indicative of where USC is in the search process, however. Haden, who returned from the team’s loss at Notre Dame after experiencing a small health issue, has barely gotten started on the task of finding a new coach. With Kelly, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh and yes, even Pete Carroll’s names already popping up in the media, it’s fairly obvious that USC boosters are doing what they can to float potential candidates in public. 

"I love USC, its a great place. (I’m) flattered,” Carroll told reporters on Monday. “But that's not happening."

Further complicating matters is Haden’s role in the hiring process. He has the support of university president Max Nikias and appears to have the authority to make a hire, but many influential alumni around the university have questioned whether he should be able to make such a crucial decision given the number of mistakes he has made in the past few years while stewarding the department.

Whether Haden ultimately makes the hire or not, one thing is clear: The Trojans have to nail down a quality head coach who can actually stick around more than three years.

“I think it needs to be someone who creates a family-oriented atmosphere and is consistently even-keeled,” backup quarterback and next year’s presumed starter Max Browne told Bleacher Report. “But that’s (Haden’s) job and it’s on his plate.”

That is a plate that does not include Kelly but could include trendy names like Memphis head coach Justin Fuente, Houston’s Tom Herman, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham and maybe even somebody such as Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.

It’s a critical time at Troy and a precarious hire for one of the top football programs in the country. Whoever winds up accepting the job, they will be reminded every practice of what it will take to even rise to the level of a spot along the wall.


Bryan Fischer is a national college football columnist at Bleacher Report and can be followed on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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Florida State vs. Georgia Tech Complete Game Preview

Heading into the 2015 season, this was supposed to be a massive matchup of ACC heavyweights—perhaps even a preview of the conference championship game in November.

But Saturday's rematch of 2014's title showdown in Charlotte between Florida State (6-0, 4-0 ACC) and Georgia Tech (2-5, 0-4 ACC) doesn't have nearly the same amount of buzz thanks to a miserable losing skid from the Yellow Jackets.

Head coach Paul Johnson's team has fallen in five straight games, with three of them coming by a single possession—including last weekend's loss to Pittsburgh on a long, last-minute field goal. If there's anything sputtering Georgia Tech can take away from its recent woes, it's that the five losses have come to teams who have only lost four games so far in 2015.

Now the Jackets' brutal schedule continues with a home game against Florida State, which is back in the Top 10 after a monster second-half surge against Louisville last Saturday. The Seminoles are starting to hit their stride in a balanced and explosive offense, and the defense continues to stifle opponents on the ground.

Before we break down undefeated Florida State's trip to Atlanta to take on struggling Georgia Tech, here is all the basic info you need to know.

Date: Saturday, October 24

Time: 7 p.m. ET

Location: Bobby Dodd Stadium (Atlanta, Georgia)


Radio: Seminole IMG Sports Network, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network

Line: Florida State -5.5, according to Odds Shark

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The Best Name in College Football Recruiting: Meet 2018 LB Bumper Pool

Lovejoy High School, located in the heart of Collin County, Texas, has its share of college football recruits. Among those in the 2016 class are 3-star wide receiver Aaron Fuller and 3-star quarterback Bowman Sells, who are committed to Washington and Houston, respectively.

When college coaches visited the school during the spring, they were pleasantly surprised to see a linebacker making play after play in practice. The intrigue only heightened when coaches found out the linebacker was only a freshman preparing for his sophomore season.

It was easy to like this linebacker. Now, imagine shaking the hands of the athlete and then doing a double-take after hearing his name.

"Hi, I'm Bumper Pool," he said.

Wait, what?

2018 inside linebacker Bumper Pool has a name that instantly is considered one of the best football names in college football recruiting. Bumper James Morris Pool, as his father indicated, is his full name. At 6'2" and 215 pounds, Pool is an inside linebacker for Lovejoy who has let his game speak louder than his name this season.

"The name causes you not to forget him," Lovejoy head coach Ryan Cox said. "Once you see him play, you'll never doubt his ability."


'It's a football name'

Growing up in Allen, Texas, Pool used to answer a lot of questions about his name. He remembers having teachers assume he was being a class clown when they asked him his first name.

"They always thought I was the kid messing around in class," he said. "I would tell them, 'No, that's my real name,' but they never believed me at first. Whenever I'd go out, and I'm around people I don't know, I'd get it a lot.

"The people I'm around, they don't ask anymore. I know a lot of my friends, when they first met me, will tell their parents, 'I met a kid named Bumper.'"

It's a first name Pool said he never gets tired of explaining. Pool's father, Jeff, said the name was a vision he had while in high school.

Never mind the fact that the first and last name equated to the billiards game with the bumpers in the middle of the table and by the pockets.

"I always said if I had a son, his first name would be Bumper," Jeff Pool said. "It kind of fit as a football name, and when his grandparents were OK with that, I knew we had something."

"I don't get tired of it," Bumper added. "It's a football name. It's a conversation starter, too."

After watching him on the field, it's easy to see why Pool's first name quickly becomes secondary to those interested in him. Pool has been a varsity player since his freshman season. He started 10 of 11 games as a freshman for Cox.

Pool didn't start his first game but was in for Lovejoy's second series. He's been a mainstay ever since.

"We kind of had an idea about him coming out of eighth grade that he could be somebody who will help us out," Cox said. "Going into his freshman year, he didn't have spring football, but he still was able to do what we asked him to by the start of the season and showed us that he could play up." 


No age requirement for playmaking

Oct. 9 proved to be the breakout game for Pool. Against McKinney North High School, Pool led Lovejoy's defense to a win, finishing with a career-high 19 tackles, three of which went for a loss. He also was named Defensive Player of the Week by the Dallas Morning News.

Credit some of his success to his work ethic and overall IQ of the game. Since first playing tackle football at 6, Pool has seen time all over the field, whether it was linebacker, quarterback, defensive end, tight end or running back. He's done it all, and no matter the age, he was always studying his positions.

"He's always loved football," Jeff Pool said. "He was a kid who'd be dressed with his helmet on sitting in the car ready for practice. He was ready to do whatever."

In addition to having a solid work ethic, Pool was a child who wasn't accustomed to losing games. Playing as a child, he suited up for the Allen Hurricanes, a team he said won 59 consecutive games.

Pool plays with a level of confidence that makes him an intriguing player all around the Lovejoy locker room. Despite being 16, he's a leader among all the players.

"Here's a kid who, as young as he is, he's able to command respect of the upperclassmen," Cox said. "It's because of what he does on and off the field. He's still a sophomore, and sophomores make mistakes on the field, but playing at his level—you don't always see in any kid in high school."

Through seven games, Pool has 92 tackles, including 47 unassisted and 11 behind the line of scrimmage. He also has three sacks, four pass breakups, four forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

In short, he's everywhere on the football field—and colleges have been taking notice.


Recruiting on deck, and expectations high

Recruiting recently became a discussion topic with Pool, but it's nothing that he's taking seriously at the moment.

He has early interest from Arkansas, Baylor, Tulsa and SMU, and he's also received correspondence from Boston College. Pool took an unofficial visit to Baylor last weekend.

"It's super early, so I'm still keeping everything open," he said. "The coaches love my size and say they can't wait to see what I do in the future.

"They also love the name, of course."

Pool is expected to add weight to his frame, which would make him a college-ready inside linebacker from the eye test alone. If Pool remains the same size in the next couple of years, don't be surprised if he's moved to the outside linebacker spot because of his quickness and reaction time. He's already a solid tackler and is expected to get even better as he matures.

Jeff Pool said his son's primary objective is to maintain his focus not only on the field but also in the classroom. The opportunities to be successful will be there as long as he keeps his goals in mind.

"His mom and I talk to him all the time about it: Keep enjoying what you're doing, and keep making good decisions," Jeff Pool said. "A lot of kids his age start looking ahead too early. They want to live in the now instead of looking to their futures. There's no doubt that if he keeps doing what he's doing, he'll have every opportunity he wants."

And if all goes as planned, Bumper Pool will be more than just a unique name on the college football circuit.

"I still remember coaches seeing him do the things he does in practice," Cox said. "They asked who he was, and then their jaws dropped when I told them he was just going to be a sophomore.

"Then, when you tell them his name is Bumper Pool...that's going to stick with them."


Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles.

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Bleacher Report's Week 8 College Football Playoff Predictions

Will your team make the College Football Playoff?

Unlike most media sites, Bleacher Report doesn't give you a yes or no answer. Instead, we use analytics and the AP poll as a substitute for committee rankings to assign your team a probability to make the playoff.

The sortable table shows the results, while you can find more information on the methods here. Now let me highlight some key results.


Baylor continues to win big

Baylor won big again, beating Big 12 foe West Virginia 62-38. My numbers give the Bears a 53.8 percent chance to make the playoff, best in the nation.

How can these odds be so high when Baylor hasn't played any elite teams?

Well, Baylor keeps winning by big margins over these inferior opponents. West Virginia actually got within 24 points of beating Baylor, its smallest margin of victory this season.

Margin of victory is a good predictor of future games. Since 2005, the team with the higher average margin of victory before bowl season has won 58.5 percent of bowl games. For comparison, the team favored by the markets have won 61.1 percent. You can make an even better predictor by taking margin of victory and adjusting for strength of schedule. Good computer rankings do this, and it plays a big role in my version.


Alabama finds its groove

In its first four games, Alabama threw on 52 percent of plays. It seemed like an odd choice given the Crimson Tide's traditional run-first tendencies and their question mark at quarterback. In the three games since, Alabama has run the ball on 64 percent of plays, giving opponents a heavy dose of Derrick Henry. The Crimson Tide have won each of these conference games by comfortable margins.

With its 41-23 win over Texas A&M, Alabama's playoff probability rises to 37.1 percent, third in the nation behind Baylor and Ohio State. The Tide will get tested by LSU and Mississippi State, but they look on track to win the division and play in another SEC title game.


Notre Dame continues to roll

Notre Dame's offense racked up 476 yards on 7.9 yards per play in a 41-31 win over USC. This unit continues to impress despite season-ending injuries to a number of starters.

However, the defense is lagging behind the offense as it allowed USC to gain almost 600 yards on 7.7 yards per play. Despite its struggles, Notre Dame has a 19.9 percent chance to make the playoff. The Irish now enter the softer part of their schedule. Over their next four games, their lowest win probability is 67.4 percent at Pittsburgh.

Brian Kelly's team end its regular season at Stanford, and my numbers make the Fighting Irish a small underdog (47.4 percent win probability). If they win that game and end the season 11-1, the committee will have to decide how to treat them. The committee has stressed the importance of a conference championship. Will an 11-1 record with a close loss to Clemson be treated like a conference title? We don't know, and Notre Dame will spend championship weekend hoping a few top teams lose.


Stanford still in running from Pac-12

Stanford scored an emphatic 56-35 win over UCLA on Thursday. Despite a disastrous loss at Northwestern to start the season, the Cardinal have a 17.6 percent chance to make the playoff. 

While all-purpose back Christian McCaffrey gets the headlines, an improved Stanford offensive line also deserves credit, which didn't allow a UCLA defender to touch McCaffrey on a 28-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

However, it's not all roses for Stanford. The defense allowed 506 yards to UCLA at 6.9 yards per play, as the unit has dropped off from the past two seasons. Stanford won by a comfortable margin due to an Alijah Holder interception return for a touchdown and a 96-yard McCaffrey kickoff return that set up the offense near the goal line. An insane catch by Francis Owusu around the body of a UCLA defender helped as well.

With the downfall of Oregon, Stanford has a 81 percent chance to win its division (a cross-division game with Colorado helps these odds). However, even if the Cardinal win the Pac-12 North, they still play Notre Dame and most likely Utah in the Pac-12 championship game. Stanford must win both to assure its spot in the playoff.


Look for Ohio State or Michigan State to win Big Ten, not Iowa

Ohio State and Michigan State entered the season as the favorites to win the Big Ten. Both have had their struggles, but they still find themselves in the thick of the Big Ten race after seven weeks.

Ohio State has a 56.4 percent chance to win the Big Ten East, a big part of its 43.9 percent chance to make the playoff. Who cares who's playing quarterback when you have Ezekiel Elliott, the constant home run threat who's averaging 6.7 yards per carry?

Michigan State has a 31.8 percent chance to win the Big Ten East and a 26.8 percent chance to make the playoff. These numbers would be much smaller without its miracle fumble return to beat Michigan. But as I discussed previously, the Spartans outplayed Michigan in key facets of the game.

Whoever wins the East most likely plays Iowa, an undefeated team with a 88.6 percent chance to win the Big Ten West. The numbers like the East champion to win this title game, as Iowa only has a 14.7 percent chance to make the playoff.

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

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Tennessee at Alabama Complete Game Preview

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It may have been the quickest answer running back Derrick Henry has given since he arrived at the University of Alabama three years ago.

He didn’t even wait for the end of the question, because as soon as the reporter got out “Have you thought about the Heisman,” Henry started repeatedly saying “no.”

“We're not focusing on that,” he said. “That's not our goal. Our goal is to get a team win every Saturday and go from there. We're not worried about that.”

While it sounds like rhetoric, to a man Alabama is claiming that’s been the difference in the Crimson Tide since the team held a players-only meeting following the loss to Ole Miss on Sept. 19.

According to Jonathan Allen, among those who spoke out during the 30-minute session included Reggie Ragland, Jarran Reed, A'Shawn Robinson, Derrick Henry, Eddie Jackson and Cyrus Jones, although the defensive end added that it was more of a team thing than any individual players speaking out.

The message was simple: Stop paying attention to what everyone else was saying, set aside individual concerns and put the team first.

"Can’t worry about accolades and us being No. 1 or No. 2, none of that stuff," Ragland said. "So we just worry about ourselves and trucking along now."

Since then Alabama has knocked off two Top 10 teams on the road and has also notched a shutout. With rival Tennessee visiting on Saturday, the defense has especially been clicking and last week outscored the Texas A&M offense thanks to three interception returns for a touchdown.

"Everybody started making plays out of nowhere," Ragland added. "Everybody was doing their job and everyone really focused and zeroed in the Georgia game, on the defensive side and offensive side."

Here’s everything you need to know for Saturday’s game against Tennessee, a long-standing rivalry known as the "Third Saturday in October."

Date: Saturday, October 24

Time: 2:30 p.m. CT (3:30 p.m. ET)

Place: Bryant-Denny Stadium


Radio:Crimson Tide Sports Network, Vol Network, ESPN Radio, Sirius 84, XM 84

Spread: Alabama -15, according to

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Ohio State QB Battle Is Over: Welcome to the J.T. Barrett Show

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As the cliche goes, hindsight is 20/20. It's easy to look back at events and make sense of them knowing exactly how they played out.

But with the latest development in Ohio State's unprecedented quarterback conundrum-turned-carousel, we finally seem to have reached the conclusion that was always meant to be.

Three days after benching Cardale Jones in favor of J.T. Barrett in the second half of the Buckeyes' 38-10 win over Penn State, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer declared that Barrett will be his team's starting quarterback moving forward. The move was hardly a surprise to anyone who witnessed the No. 1 Buckeyes' beating of the Nittany Lions, which saw Barrett earn co-offensive player of the game honors after tallying 132 total yards (30 passing, 102 rushing) and four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing) in relief of Jones.

After declining to publicly commit to a starter on Monday, Meyer did so on Tuesday's Big Ten coaches teleconference.

"J.T. has earned the right to start Saturday at Rutgers," Meyer said. "It was a difficult decision."

To many, Barrett was the obvious choice—even prior to the season. After all, it was the reigning Big Ten Quarterback and National Freshman of the Year who led the Buckeyes to an 11-1 regular-season record a year ago, before a broken ankle opened the door for Jones to win three postseason games and capture the first-ever College Football Playoff championship.

If you follow the thought process that a player shouldn't lose his starting status because of injury, Barrett never lost his.

Only Meyer was following a different line of logic.

In Meyer's mind, since it was Jones who finished last season wearing college football's crown, he would be the one treated like a championship fighter who needed to be beaten decisively to lose his belt. And while he's denied as much publicly, it'd be understandable if he felt he owed Jones the first crack at starting this season after he opted to return to Ohio State rather than enter the NFL draft last spring.

Thus, it was Jones who started the Buckeyes' season-opening win against Virginia Tech and, despite a pair of in-game benchings in the second and third weeks of the season, continued to keep himself in Ohio State's starting lineup for the first seven weeks. But over the course of the past two weeks, the 6'5", 250-pounder has seen his role decrease—at first subtly and then dramatically—as Barrett became a more active part of the Buckeyes' game plan as a situational signal-caller.

And as opposed to earlier in the season, Barrett has made the most of his opportunities in recent weeks, tallying a total of seven touchdowns (five rushing, two passing) in his limited playing time.

"Sheer production," Meyer said when asked to explain why he was making the switch from Jones to Barrett. "Red-zone production and third-down production were the two areas that made the difference."

While many expected Barrett to beat out Jones for the Buckeyes' starting job this offseason—just as he did when Braxton Miller went down with a season-ending injury two weeks before the start of the 2014 campaign—perhaps they underestimated just how long of a leash Meyer would give Jones. Although his season stat line has been steady—1,242 yards, seven touchdowns, five interceptions on a 62.4 completion percentage—the strong-armed Jones has been ineffective in the downfield passing game, completing just three passes of 40 or more yards through seven games.

With Jones struggling with what was supposed to be his greatest strength and Barrett having seemingly returned to his 2014 form in the past two weeks, the redshirt sophomore now seems like the obvious choice for Meyer. A more mobile quarterback, Barrett provides a dynamic in the Buckeyes' ground game that Jones doesn't, something Meyer sees as essential in his spread offense.

And while Meyer said Tuesday that he hopes to keep Jones active in Ohio State's game plan, he remained unsure of how exactly he would go about doing so. One would imagine, however, that Barrett would now receive a leash as long as Jones did, although the hope for Meyer is that conversation will never have to occur.

Then again, after the ups and downs this quarterback saga has seen in the past year, Meyer knows that there's very little he can count on at this point.

"Not necessarily," Meyer answered when asked if he was at ease with his decision. "I don't know if I'm ever at peace during the course of the season, because there's always stuff going on."

But with the way Barrett has played in the past two weeks, Ohio State's quarterback situation seems as settled as it ever has been. This was the solution all along—it just took longer than anticipated for the Buckeyes to arrive at it.


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

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5 College Football Teams on the Rise in 2016 Recruiting Rankings

With the college football season halfway completed, teams across the nation are hoping to close strong in order to build momentum for the final recruiting push before signing day.

So far, a handful of teams have already made statements on the field that are causing top prospects to take notice.

In other cases, powerhouse programs are hoping to solve their issues by chasing recruits who can step in and provide an immediate boost next fall.

Which schools are poised to make a strong push on the recruiting trail in the coming months?

*Teams listed in alphabetical order.

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