NCAA Football News

Bowl Predictions 2014: Projections for Playoffs and Selection Committee Games

The 2014 college football season is only 11 weeks old, and, while that is a small sample size, it is enough to let us know that the four-team playoff waiting at the end has not devalued the regular season.

Every week brings more thrilling excitement, nail-biting finishes and debates over schedule strength, postseason worthiness and the subjectivity of the rankings. The more things change in college football, the more they stay the same.

Another thing the playoffs will not completely devalue is bowl season. While every team wants to make the four-team postseason, there are four selection committee bowl games that will pit some of the nation’s best squads against each other on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Think of them like the old BCS games. Sure, Florida State and Auburn were the two playing in last season’s national championship, but Michigan State’s win over Stanford in the Rose Bowl and Clemson’s win over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl were still very important for the respective programs.

With that in mind, here is a look at the updated playoff projections and selection committee games heading into a critical Week 12.

 

Under-the-Radar Week 12 Game to Watch: Arizona State at Oregon State

The showdown between Mississippi State and Alabama is the marquee game on the Week 12 schedule, and Ohio State’s test against Minnesota, Florida State’s trip to Miami and Auburn’s game against Georgia also jump off the page.

However, the late-night Pac-12 date between Arizona State and Oregon State is one college football fans should keep an eye on because it has significant playoff implications.

The No. 6-ranked Sun Devils finally captured the nation’s attention in Week 11 when they easily handled Notre Dame, but now they have to go on the road and avoid a trap game against an Oregon State team that loves to air it out. If Arizona State is still reveling in its win over Notre Dame or looking ahead to a future clash with Arizona and potential conference championship game with Oregon, the Beavers could pull an upset.

At least coach Todd Graham seems focused on the task at hand, according to STATS LLC, via ESPN.com:

It definitely has to be right there at the top (of our wins). But our top priority and goal is to win the Pac-12 championship, the Rose Bowl, and then obviously the national championship and we haven't accomplished those goals yet and we have to move on in the locker room and get ready for Oregon State.

Interestingly, Arizona State has lost four consecutive times at Oregon State and has not won in Corvallis since 2005. However, there is plenty of reason for optimism this time around because of the Sun Devils’ offense against what Oregon State calls a defense.

The Beavers allowed 40.7 points per game the last three times they took the field and saw the opposition run for 673 yards during that stretch.

Arizona State’s balanced attack is 26th in passing yards per game and 44th in rushing yards per game with Taylor Kelly slinging it around and D.J. Foster finding holes behind an impressive offensive line. There is little doubt that the Sun Devils will score early and often against the Beavers, much like they did against Notre Dame.

While we know Arizona State will score, the interesting development to watch will be if Oregon State’s offense can keep up.

Quarterback Sean Mannion boasts the all-time Pac-12 record for career passing yards and has thrown for 739 yards the past two games. What’s more, he has been lethal against the blitz in his career, as Ted Miller of ESPN noted:

However, Mannion has also thrown six interceptions this season, and the Sun Devils feasted off turnovers against Notre Dame, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Arizona State will not have to respect the run (Oregon State is 115th in the nation in rushing yards per game), so it will be up to the secondary if the Sun Devils want to stay in the College Football Playoff hunt. Fortunately for the Sun Devils, they are second in the Pac-12 against the pass at 231.2 yards per game.

Oregon State will find a way to score some points with a dynamic quarterback like Mannion, but it won’t be nearly enough to counter the offensive onslaught we will see from the Sun Devils against the Beavers defense.

This one will be over by the middle of the third quarter. 

Prediction: Arizona State 44, Oregon State 27

 

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ESPN College Gameday 2014: Week 12 Schedule, Location, Predictions and More

The SEC is widely heralded as the strongest conference in college football, and Week 12 of the 2014 season brings us a clash between juggernauts Alabama and Mississippi State. Before these teams take the gridiron in Tuscaloosa, the cast of ESPN's College GameDay will be in attendance and ready to fire up the nation:

Will the No. 1 Bulldogs reign supreme, or will the No. 5 Crimson Tide shake up the College Football Playoff picture in a matchup that features extraordinary postseason implications? Be sure to tune in before Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso and the rest of the crew dish out their predictions for the day.

 

ESPN College GameDay Viewing Information

When: Saturday, November 15

Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Time: 9 a.m. - 12 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN 

 

Preview and Prediction

This matchup features a battle of strengths, as a potent Mississippi State offense runs into a sturdy Alabama defense. We all know the age-old adage about a stalemate that occurs between an irresistible force and an immovable object. That will be the theme of Saturday's game.

Mississippi State is already getting hyped for its intense road contest:

The Crimson Tide aren't slouches on the offensive side of the ball; they simply happen to be more prolific on defense. Quarterback Blake Sims has produced some enormous games, but the team's second-ranked scoring defense was the reason for wins against teams like Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU.

The Bulldogs are just the opposite. The team is only allowing 19.7 points against; however, the offense has simply been more consistent this season, putting up at least 34 points in eight of its nine contests. Dual-threat quarterback Dak Prescott has been the catalyst for Mississippi State's 12th-ranked scoring offense.

Here's a look at the tale of the tape between these two squads, giving us a better idea of which team may have the upper hand:

As you can see, the offensive side of the ball hasn't been extremely contrasting between these teams. After all, the Bulldogs are only averaging just about 35 yards more per game. However, scoring is where the difference lies, as Mississippi State is translating that yardage into 5.1 points more per contest than its impending opponents.

Defensively, Alabama has a large advantage. While the Bulldogs are ranked 16th in the nation in points against, they have been tested by ranked teams, giving up at least 23 points to LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn. On the flip side, the Crimson Tide held LSU to 13 points and Texas A&M to zero.

Last season, Mississippi State's Prescott missed his team's 20-7 loss to Alabama. The Bulldogs were absolutely manhandled in that contest, and the quarterback spoke about his feelings regarding that game during an interview with Drew Champlin of AL.com.

Said Prescott, "I wanted to play so badly (last season). They were ranked No. 1 and that was tough being out for that game. Of course I wanted to get out there. Now being able to go to Tuscaloosa and the starter and healthy, I'm very excited." 

This time around, Mississippi State happens to be ranked No. 1 in the nation. However, Alabama is riding an impressive four-game winning streak and hasn't allowed more than 20 points to an opponent in that span. Needless to say, Prescott will have his work cut out for him if he wants to buck this trend:

Expect to see another low-scoring game between these two teams. Prescott may struggle out of the gate against the best defense he's seen all year. Alabama may have trouble moving the ball early as well if a similar game plan to the team's Week 11 showing against LSU that featured a heavy passing game is utilized.

Yards will be tough to come by, and the battle for field position will be extremely important in this decisive game. In this kind of contest, it's better to have a defense that can force mistakes from its opponent. Alabama gets the win, and the College Football Playoff picture will become very interesting.

Prediction: Alabama 27, Mississippi State 24

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College Football Picks Week 12: Odds and Spread Predictions for Top 25 Teams

The top teams in the land are not out of the woods just yet.

With the meat of conference play still underway, the best of the best continue to mow over one another in an effort to reach the inaugural College Football Playoff. For now, the CFP committee sees a clear trio of teams worthy of the honor, with the No. 4 TCU Horned Frogs the final surprise entrant.

Of course, that will all go up in flames in a matter of days when another chaotic week unfolds. The matchups are numerous, entertaining and ripe for savvy financial investment.

 

Week 12 Top 25 Point Spreads and Predictions

Note: All odds, updated as of 3 p.m. ET on Nov. 13, are courtesy of Odds Shark. College Football Playoff Rankings via ESPN.com.

 

Upset Pick of the Week: Arkansas over No. 17 LSU

Perhaps it is too popular a notion that the LSU Tigers are set to take a dive on the road at the hands of the Arkansas Razorbacks. 

After all, Las Vegas gives Bret Bielema's team the nod. So, apparently, does one Kirk Herbstreit:

Popular or not, the notion makes sense, especially when one sprinkles in a little bit of history provided by SEC Network:

LSU is coming off a tough loss at the hands of Alabama. The vaunted Tigers defense, which still ranks fifth in the nation, allowed a field goal with three seconds left in regulation and then proceeded to allow the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

"This football team is made up of quality people and guys with character," LSU coach Les Miles said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "They will be fighters. We will try to improve as a team like always. We want to play ourselves into a (bowl) game of significance. That very next game of significance will be Arkansas in its stadium."

The situation is certainly not as dire for the Razorbacks. Bielema and Co. enter Saturday's contest off a bye week. Before that, they took No. 1 Mississippi State down to the wire on the road.

Arkansas touts the No. 17 rushing offense in the nation thanks to 248.2 yards per game on the ground. The attack is led by Jonathan Williams (877 yards, 10 touchdowns), Alex Collins (840, 10) and a host of others.

The problem for the Tigers is not only the rushing attack but also the fact that if they fall behind on the road, the offense will need to lean on quarterback Anthony Jennings, who has been anything but reliable while completing just 47.1 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and six interceptions.

Quarterback issues, a recent crushing loss and a road affair spell doom for the Tigers. 

Prediction: Razorbacks 24, Tigers 20 

 

Lock of the Week: No. 4 TCU over Kansas

Hats off to TCU, as the program was able to get a cupcake Big 12 showdown lined up right after a brutal stretch.

The Horned Frogs took down West Virginia two weekends ago and then thumped Kansas State 41-20 last week. Right now, it appears as if Gary Patterson's team is on its way to a conference title.

All that stands in TCU's way this week is Kansas.

The Jayhawks are 3-6 this season, with their trio of wins coming against Southeast Missouri State (4-6, OVC), Central Michigan (6-4, MAC) and Iowa State (2-7, Big 12). Clint Bowen's team ranks 121st nationally in scoring at 18.2 points per game and 90th defensively with 30.0 points allowed per game on average.

It sounds bad, but understand that this will not necessarily be a walk in the park for TCU. This Jayhawks team gave the Horned Frogs some serious issues last year before eventually losing by 10.

The Jayhawks, led by quarterback Michael Cummings (1,160 yards, five touchdowns, two interceptions), have been able to hang tough against a number of quality opponents this season, as noted by a 27-20 loss to Oklahoma State in mid-October.

Still, one has to think the Horned Frogs will be gunning to make a statement in order to impress those in charge of the CFP. Baylor is hot on their heels and owns the head-to-head result this season. 

As a result, expect Trevone Boykin (2,691 passing yards, 23 touchdowns, four interceptions, 546 rushing yards, seven touchdowns) and the Horned Frogs to come out firing on all cylinders and never let their foot off the pedal.

Prediction: Horned Frogs 45, Jayhawks 17

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

 

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The 3 Biggest X-Factors for Florida State vs. Miami

The 59th meeting between the rival No. 3 Florida State Seminoles and Miami Hurricanes will be decided by more than their respective superstars.

Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene, Duke Johnson, Denzel Perryman and a handful of other athletes have earned the national attention, but a few X-factors will help provide the winning difference for their respective program.

Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET on Saturday, Nov. 15, and will be broadcast on ABC. Be sure to watch for the following three competitors, because they're each primed to be involved in the game-deciding play.

 

Brad Kaaya, Miami, Quarterback

Following a slow start, Brad Kaaya has only thrown two interceptions over his last five outings compared to 10 touchdowns. Additionally, the freshman has completed 61.2 percent of his attempts, throwing fewer passes into tight coverage and limiting poor decisions.

Yet the Hurricanes' success is still predicated on their running game, which they'll certainly look to establish Saturday. Of course, an offensive focus built around Duke Johnson is like saving 15 percent in 15 minutes: Everybody knows that.

Consequently, Florida State should be ready for the ground attack, so Kaaya must be prepared to pick apart the Seminoles secondary. With P.J. Williams, Jalen Ramsey and Ronald Darby roaming the passing lanes, however, it's easier said than done.

Throughout the rivalry, freshman Miami quarterbacks have struggled against FSU, as noted by Matt Porter of The Palm Beach Post.

Nevertheless, whether it's a play-action or dropback pass, Kaaya will hold an important responsibility all night: protect the football. If he can do that, it means Johnson will receive more carries.

As long as the gunslinger efficiently advances the offense downfield, Miami will have additional opportunities for its star running back. Put simply, that is paramount to springing an upset on the 'Noles.

 

Mario Edwards Jr., FSU, Defensive End/Tackle

It's obvious, but it's true: The easiest way to disrupt Kaaya is to pressure him consistently. Mario Edwards Jr. knows that, and he's quite good at accomplishing it, too.

"Bother him, bother him early," Edwards said, per Dustin Tackett of the Orlando Sentinel. "Hit him, hit him often. That's definitely one of the things that we want to do."

Not only has the junior tallied a team-high 10 tackles for loss and three sacks, he's coming off the best performance of his career. Edwards registered nine stops, four for loss, and one sack against Virginia last weekend.

According to Brendan Sonnone of the Sentinel, FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher is excited to watch his versatile lineman progress.

You know, Mario is in shape. With his conditioning, Mario has a lot of ability to do those things. He's a D-tackle, he's a D-end, he can stand up and blitz as a backer. I mean, he can bring a lot of versatility to the game. That's why I'm really anxious for him to grow as a player. He can cause some havoc.

Alongside Eddie Goldman—who has developed into a beast at tackle—Edwards Jr. will be looking to improve on the two tackles for loss and one sack he managed during the 2013 meeting.

Considering that he contributes at three positions, the 6'3", 294-pounder should be presented with varying opportunities to contain the Miami offense. Capitalizing on those moments may ultimately be the difference between a tackle for loss or a 40-yard gain for the 'Canes.

 

Stacy Coley, Miami, Kick Returner

Nine games into the 2014 campaign, Miami can't possibly be holding a realistic hope for an explosion by talented wideout Stacy Coley. If that breakout performance comes, great, but the Hurricanes cannot depend on him to surprise everyone with his best offensive showing of the season.

But wide receiver isn't his only responsibility: Coley is the team's No. 1 returner.

So far, just 54.5 percent of Roberto Aguayo's kickoffs have resulted in a touchback, which means Coley should have at least three or four opportunities for a return.

Prior to the blowout of North Carolina, per Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald, the sophomore said he's trying to make every touch count.

"Whenever I get another opportunity or just get the ball in my hands I have to try and make something happen," Coley said.

Is it frustrating? "No. Not at all," he said. "I'm just happy the team is winning. I'm a team guy. It's not about me. It's about the team. Whatever I can do to help the team I just do it."

Now, Florida State's coverage unit has only surrendered 18.2 yards per return, so Coley—who has tallied 24.7—and his blockers will undertake a formidable task.

However, if the speedster breaks a couple big-gainers, flips field position and silences the Seminoles fanbase that is sure to travel well, he'll have boosted Miami's special teams. Every advantage the Hurricanes earn, no matter how small, will help Al Golden's team stay competitive for 60 minutes.

Then again, if the 'Noles don't allow Coley free space on returns, it's another critical in-game win for the reigning national champions and another step closer to their fifth consecutive victory over Miami.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of CFBstats.com and B/R research.

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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Nelson Agholor Shows He's Ready for UCLA Game, Cements Place Among Trojan Greats

LOS ANGELES — Wide receiver Nelson Agholor added another chapter to one of the most special individual seasons in USC football history Thursday, leading the Trojans in a 38-30 defeat of Cal.

“He continued to show that he is, in my opinion, one of the best receivers in the country,” quarterback Cody Kessler said. “If not the best.”

Agholor and Kessler hooked up 16 times, a career high for the standout junior, which produced 216 yards and two touchdowns.

“It’s my job to get open,” Agholor said. “[Head] coach [Steve Sarkisian] called great plays and Cody gave me opportunities.”

The duo of Agholor and Kessler would have connected for an additional 78 yards and a third score had it not been for a holding penalty negating a big Agholor run after a screen pass in the third quarter.

Even without that play in the books, Agholor is riding quite of the wave heading into USC’s annual rivalry tilt with crosstown foe UCLA.

On Thursday, he became the first player in Trojans history to record consecutive games of 200-plus yards receiving.

He also caught for 220 yards at Washington State Nov. 1.

Considering the predecessors to come through USC before Agholor, that’s a particularly noteworthy feat. But the achievement was of no concern to the wide receiver—not immediately after the game, anyway.

“I really can’t think about [the record] right now,” Agholor said. “I’m still thinking about the third-down conversion I didn’t catch. That’s what’s on my mind.”

It’s that kind of single-minded pursuit of perfection that allowed Agholor to make USC history and help keep USC in the hunt for the Pac-12 South’s berth into the conference championship game.

The Trojans return to action Nov. 22 for their league finale. While a win over No. 11-ranked UCLA doesn’t guarantee USC’s divisional fate, it does keep hope alive for another week.

The Trojans need South-leading Arizona State to lose to Arizona on Nov. 28, thus forcing a three-way tie at the top. They also require UCLA to finish in fourth place, ahead of Utah.

Whether or not that unfolds is beyond USC’s control. But one thing very much in control heading into the critical rivalry showdown is the Kessler-Agholor connection, fine-tuned over several years.

“Having that connection for three years now, being able to work together…I think it has a lot to do with me and Nelson [having] the same work ethic,” Kessler said.

That work ethic means Agholor won’t be basking in his milestone for the next 24 hours, as Sarkisian explained.

“After the Washington State game, [Agholor] has a great game and the next day…he’s the first guy on the [practice] field,” Sarkisian said.

“When you prepare yourself in practice, and you practice hard, the results show up on game day,” Sarkisian added. “And this guy practices his tail off every time we go out.”

The game-day results are there for Agholor, and the USC record books will now reflect it.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics via the USC athletic department.

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Cal vs. USC: Game Grades, Analysis for Golden Bears, Trojans

Racing out to a 31-2 lead, the Southern Cal Trojans were able to hold on and defeat the California Golden Bears by a score of 38-30.

USC quarterback Cody Kessler ran the show for the Trojans. The signal-caller from Bakersfield went 31-of-42 for 370 and four touchdowns. Much of his production came as a direct result of the time his offensive line gave him to throw the football. 

Receiver Nelson Agholor finished with a career-high 16 catches for 214 yards and two touchdowns. Simply put, he was outstanding.

Credit Cal for fighting back. The Golden Bears outscored the Trojans 21-7 in the second half. Jared Goff finished with 279 yards through the air to go along with three touchdown tosses.

A full box score can be found here, courtesy of NCAA.com.

First-half grades and final grades will be addressed in this piece. Additional analysis for positional units will also be touched upon.

 

Cal Golden Bears Analysis:

Passing Offense

Goff didn't get off to a great start. The pressure up front by USC's defensive line didn't afford him much in the way of time. He was forced to throw many of his attempts underneath.

In total, Cal didn't get many chances at stretching the field vertically.

In the second half, he did get into a much better rhythm. He finished a respectable 29-of-47 for 279 yards and three touchdowns.

 

Pass Defense

To be fair, Cal did what it usually does. The worst-ranked passing defense heading into Thursday night's game had a lot of trouble versus USC's passing game.

The unit allowed 370 yards and four touchdowns through the air.

Tackling was a massive problem on the perimeter, as the cornerbacks didn't get off blocks well on screen passes. Although this was a schematic issue, the corners gave far too big of a cushion to the USC receivers.

 

Rushing Offense

The Bears couldn't sustain anything on the ground in the first half. USC's defensive line did win the line of scrimmage, often driving Cal's offensive linemen into the backfield. Leonard Williams in particular proved to be more than a handful for the group up front.

In the second half, there was more of an emphasis on running the football.

Unsurprisingly, Cal began scoring points when it achieved a semblance of balance. Daniel Lasco broke a few decent runs in the second portion of the contest. He finished with 86 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.

 

Run Defense

The run defense was arguably the best unit all night. It held one of the Pac-12's most talented rushers in Buck Allen to only 60 carries on 21 yards. This amounts to fewer than three yards a carry.

The unit was physical and really did do a nice job of plugging the gaps and stopping the run. As a whole, Southern Cal rushed for only 78 yards on 35 carries.

Cal did struggle when it came to pressuring Kessler. The USC quarterback had all the time in the world to sit in the pocket and make easy throws. In certain instances, he went six seconds without feeling any pressure.

 

Special Teams

The fake punt execution was both horrid and confusing. There's simply nothing else to say. It led to an eventual score for the Trojans.

I don't blame Cole Leininger in the least bit. After all, he is a kicker. However, it appeared as if he had never attempted throwing a football before Thursday night.

 

Coaching

The first half was atrocious for the staff. Defensively, there was nothing in the way of adjustments made to defending the pass. USC shredded Cal constantly—in large part because Cal insisted on playing its corners 10 yards off the line of scrimmage.

The fake punt call in the second quarter was both abysmal and embarrassing. It might've been the strangest attempt I've ever witnessed.

In the second half, both the offense and defense made nice adjustments. Running the ball became more of a priority. As a means to combat SC's pressure up front, Goff got the ball out of his hands quicker with manageable throws.

Unlike in the first half, Cal started to blitz and also press USC's receivers. After producing 31 points in the first half, the Trojans scored only seven after the break.

 

USC Trojans Analysis:

Passing Offense

The Kessler-to-Agholor connection was unstoppable. With Cal unable to pressure the signal-caller, Kessler sat back in the pocket and distributed the ball all over the field with relative ease.

As he's displayed throughout the season, Kessler's pocket presence and moxie separate him from a lot of quarterbacks. He's easily one of the most underrated signal-callers—if not the most underrated—in the country. His numbers, (29 touchdowns, three interceptions) speak for themselves.

There's a whole lot of adjectives I can use to describe Agholor's night. However, I'll put this as simply as I can: The wide receiver finished with 16 catches for 214 yards and two touchdowns.

 

Pass Defense

In the first half, the secondary didn't do a whole lot. Goff was forced to throw short passes in large part due to the pressure applied by USC's front seven. Adoree' Jackson had a very strong game from a coverage standpoint. He broke up numerous passes on the evening.

In the second half, Goff aired it out more. Down a few scores, Cal naturally threw the football. This resulted in the secondary giving up some yardage.

The secondary did do a very nice job of holding Cal from breaking a big play vertically. The longest play of the night went for only 29 yards. It also held Goff below his season average in terms of passing yards per game.

 

Rushing Offense

USC never seemed to get any footing running the football. Cal's defensive line did do a nice job of shooting the gaps and getting consistent penetration.

Also, there really wasn't a need to emphasize the ground game. Kessler was throwing the football exceptionally well. As a result, Allen didn't get into too much of a rhythm. He finished with only 60 yards on 21 carries.

Justin Davis was more effective, getting 44 yards on 11 carries. He also ran for a score.

 

Run Defense

In terms of rushing the quarterback, the Trojans did win the battle up front. Goff was constantly under siege by the talented USC defensive line. It also did a nice job of bottling up Lasco in the first half.

In the second half, the unit began to tire. Goff had more time to throw the football and Lasco did break a few nice runs. On the night, Cal rushed for 105 yards on 31 carries.

 

Special Teams

The special teams unit performed very well. Cal didn't give the Trojans much of a shot at returning punts. The punt team did a nice job of sniffing out the odd fake punt attempt by Cal in the second quarter.

Andre Heidari connected on his only field-goal attempt—a 25-yard conversion.

 

Coaching

Credit Steve Sarkisian for taking what Cal's defense gave the Trojans early. With the huge cushion Cal's secondary gave the SC receivers, Kessler simply executed quick throws to the perimeter. Agholor, George Farmer and JuJu Smith were able to pick up yards in big chunks.

Offensively, the team was functioning at a very high level throughout the first half.

Defensively, Justin Wilcox didn't attempt to reinvent the wheel. He employed a basic strategy, which was effective for the most part.

Although the Golden Bears did score three touchdowns in the second half, the defensive scheme worked overall. It held Cal below its average in points per game.

One qualm on both sides of the ball: When USC got a big lead, both the offense and defense became too vanilla. This enabled Cal to get back into the game.

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Michigan Football: Would Greg Mattison Return if Hoke is Fired?

Brady Hoke probably figured that a bye week preceded by two consecutive wins would give him a break from the constant speculation regarding his job status.

But a public spat with new university president Mark Schlissel has reignited speculation that Hoke’s tenure will be ending sooner rather than later. While various scenarios for the program moving forward are in play, the most interesting conjecture might involve the status of defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.

Mattison has consistently defended Hoke from outside criticism and credits their friendship as the reason he left the NFL to return to Michigan. But the season has taken its toll on both men. During the Utah game cameras captured the two snapping at each other. The team has struggled because of its misfiring offense while the defense has risen to become one of the top-ranked units in the NCAA.

Would Mattison have the option to remain at Michigan under a new coach?

While Rich Rodriguez was fired for his inability to field a competent defense, his offense had won many over. But Rodriguez took his offense with him into exile.

The current situation is different. The defense is getting the job done and is primarily associated with Mattison. It’s conceivable that a new coach could retain Mattison, who has no aspirations to lead the program.

If Hoke is dismissed, Mattison’s decision to stay with the program will depend on who takes over and the rationale used to determine Hoke’s fate.

The week was dominated by a blistering attack on the football program and clumsy apology by Schlissel, followed by Hoke’s measured response. The battle lines are clearly drawn between the two men.

The incident showed that Schlissel has a lot to learn about “sports stuff”—mainly that his every comment on the subject will be parsed and analyzed. It also shows that Hoke is in danger of becoming collateral damage in Schlissel’s campaign to scale back the importance of athletics at Michigan.

If Hoke is dismissed for his performance on the field, Mattison may consider staying with the team to continue working with the players he recruited. The option may even become more likely depending on who replaces Hoke.

He has ties to many of the coaches that are at the top of the wish list for many fans. Mattison’s vast experience at both the collegiate and pro levels makes him a strong candidate to be retained. His presence could help maintain some continuity and encourage players to stay.

But if Hoke is a casualty of the cultural war waged by Schlissel to pare the athletic department down to size, then Mattison is unlikely to stay no matter who takes over. A coaching lifer, he can understand being dismissed for performance, but this week’s incident shows that Schlissel may be working under a different agenda than just judging wins and losses.

His public comments are a puzzling misstep after drawing praise for his handling of David Brandon’s resignation. Schlissel's public admonishment of the football program for academic underachievement (that as Hoke pointed out is statistically unsupported) nonetheless casts a shadow over the search for a permanent athletic director.

Schlissel, who has acknowledged struggling with the scale of Michigan athletics, may have just earned himself 100,000 unhappy fans. The misstep is reminiscent of past president Lee Bollinger, who also struggled to navigate the complex relationship between the university as a whole and the athletic department.

The political intrigue continues to swirl around the Michigan football program as Hoke prepares for the final two games of the season. As the season moves towards a merciful conclusion, the drama off the field appears to be dialing up.


Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand

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Cal vs. USC: Score and Twitter Reaction

What happens when you combine the nation's worst pass defense with an offense getting 280-plus yards through the air? The result is a loss for the California Golden Bears, who fell to the USC Trojans, 38-30, Thursday night in Los Angeles despite a furious second-half comeback.

Cal nearly closed a 29-point second-quarter deficit after outscoring USC 21-7 in the third and fourth quarters. A 29-yard touchdown pass from Jared Goff to Stephen Anderson got the Golden Bears to within a score late in the game. The Golden Bears had to attempt an onside kick to have any chance at a comeback, but USC recovered it to close out the game.

Despite the win, the Trojans' offensive stagnation in the second half will do little to quiet head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff's critics. NFL.com's Bryan Fischer believed that the team's inability to put Cal out for good speaks to a larger issue:

For Cal, it's yet another game in which the offense couldn't do enough to carry the rest of the team. The biggest constant for the Golden Bears this year has been an almost nonexistent defense. Coming into the contest, Cal was surrendering an average of 39.9 points a game (122nd) and 525.9 yards a game (123rd) so far in 2014.

The Trojans don't possess an electric offense, but Cal head coach Sonny Dykes knew that USC presented a matchup nightmare.

"(USC is) an explosive team, a team runs the ball well and can also get the ball down the field in their passing game," he said, per Riley McAtee of The Daily Californian.

Cody Kessler had a brilliant first half but petered out with the rest of the offense in the second half. The junior quarterback threw for 370 yards, four touchdowns and an interception.

The star of the night was junior wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who had 13 receptions for 175 yards and two touchdowns at halftime. He finished the game with 214 yards and the two scores on 16 catches. He was one reception short of setting a school record.

Still, this is the second game in a row Agholor's eclipsed 200-plus receiving yards, making him the first Trojans wideout to do so:

Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman highlighted how much the Golden Bears have struggled to defend talented wideouts:

Javorius Allen didn't have a great night, going for 60 yards on 21 carries, but he eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards for the season, making him and Agholor the first running back-wide receiver teammate combo to go over 1,000 yards rushing and receiving, respectively, in 2014, per Max Meyer:

As a team, USC amassed 448 total yards, compared to 384 for Cal. The Golden Bears offense came in averaging nearly 42 points and 509.1 yards a game offensively, so the Trojans defense deserves credit for slowing down Cal's high-powered attack.

ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel felt that having some extra time off really benefited the Trojans as a whole, given how few scholarship players they have:

Cal's only hope to win this game was Goff somehow keeping pace with the Trojans and turning it into a shootout. The biggest problem for Goff was that the Golden Bears' air attack could hardly get off the ground at times, courtesy of USC defensive end Leonard Williams, as shown by the USC Trojans Twitter account:

Goff wound up with 279 yards and three touchdowns on 29-of-46 passing.

Sarkisian and his staff couldn't have envisioned a better start to the game, with the Trojans holding a 31-2 advantage in the second quarter.

USC jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first after two touchdown passes from Kessler. Cal stopped Justin Davis in the end zone to get the safety and make it a 14-2 game, but Davis immediately responded with a three-yard touchdown run to boost the Trojans' advantage to 19 points, 21-2.

Another Kessler TD pass and a 25-yard field goal put USC ahead 31-2 before Goff threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Chris Harper with nine seconds left in the half.

To understand the gulf between the two teams, one must only look at the first-half drive summaries, courtesy of ESPN.com.

A five-yard touchdown run from Daniel Lasco in the third quarter got the Golden Bears to within two scores, 31-16, which made things a bit interesting. The Trojans offense was largely listless after halftime, which wasn't helped by the volume of flags USC picked up. It was penalized 14 times for 160 yards over the entire night.

A 78-yard touchdown pass to Agholor was wiped off the board after a holding call in the third quarter, per Greg Beacham of The Associated Press:

The flag merely delayed the inevitable, as USC delivered a critical blow to Cal in the fourth quarter courtesy of a 16-yard TD pass to Randall Telfer. That again gave the Trojans a three-score lead, 38-16, with 11:19 to play in the game, which looked insurmountable given Cal's offensive struggles.

Goff picked up his second touchdown throw of the night after finding Bryce Treggs in the end zone from five yards out 6:36 from the final whistle. Then another Goff TD pass made it a one-score game, but it was too little too late for the Golden Bears.

Even with the win, USC still needs some help in order to make the Pac-12 Championship Game. With a 6-2 conference record, the Trojans enjoy a likely brief lead on UCLA, which is 5-2. Arizona State leads the Pac-12 South at 5-1.

Cal was eliminated from the conference championship long ago, but the 5-5 Golden Bears can still go to a postseason bowl game. All they need is one more win, which could be tricky with Stanford and BYU to close out the regular season.

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5 Games That Will Determine Ohio State's Playoff Fate

Urban Meyer and Ohio State surged back into the College Football Playoff race with a convincing 49-37 victory over Michigan State last Saturday, but despite their best efforts, the Buckeyes still need help to make the highly anticipated four-team postseason.

That reality became evident on Tuesday when the latest rankings were released by the selection committee, which slotted Ohio State at No. 8. 

The Buckeyes still have opportunities to impress the pollsters. A road matchup against No. 25 Minnesota will be a tough out this weekend, and if Ohio State can take care of Indiana and Michigan, a trip to the Big Ten title game against a ranked Nebraska or Wisconsin team likely awaits.

But even if the Buckeyes cruise through their remaining schedule and win the conference title game, they'll still need some chaos to make a significant leap in the polls.

With the regular season winding down, which games around the country will impact Ohio State's standing the most? These matchups will be key, because they all involve possible upsets to teams ranked ahead of the Buckeyes. 

 

No. 1 Mississippi State vs. No. 5 Alabama (November 15)

This game should put Ohio State fans in a familiar position—rooting against Alabama and the Crimson Tide.

A second loss for the Tide would almost assuredly push them out of the way, allowing the Buckeyes to move up the rankings. The same, however, can't be said with certainty if Mississippi State were to lose, because the Bulldogs would only have one (very respectable) loss while boasting wins over three teams currently ranked in the Top 25 (Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M).

Ohio State should be cheering hard for Mississippi State to win out. That would ensure at least two losses for every other SEC team, leaving the three remaining playoff spots open for non-SEC teams.

 

No. 3 Florida State vs. Miami (November 15)

Will Florida State finally play a complete game and dominate an overmatched opponent, or will it struggle again this weekend when it travels to play a surging Miami team? 

If the Seminoles come out sluggish as they have numerous times this season, the Hurricanes could be the team that finally makes them pay. Miami has a strong running game led by Duke Johnson—who ranks seventh nationally with 1,213 rushing yards—and the 11th-ranked total defense, which will challenge a Seminoles offense that struggles with consistency. 

 

No. 6 Arizona State vs. No. 14 Arizona (November 28)

Arizona State rocketed up the polls much like Ohio State last weekend thanks to a 55-31 victory over then-10th-ranked Notre Dame.  

The Pac-12 South is absolutely loaded, as four different teams—Arizona State, UCLA, Arizona and Utah—rank inside the Top 25. Ohio State's ideal situation would be for the winner of the Pac-12 South to have two losses and for that team to beat Oregon in the conference title game. That would open the door wide open for the Buckeyes, who currently sit behind two Pac-12 teams in the rankings.

 

No. 9 Auburn vs. No. 5 Alabama or No. 1 Mississippi State vs. No. 10 Ole Miss (November 29)

Ohio State's rooting interests for these huge SEC matchups will be dependent on the outcome of this weekend's showdown between Mississippi State and Alabama. 

The worst-case scenario for the Buckeyes would be for the SEC West to produce two one-loss teams at year's end. If the Bulldogs can beat the Tide this Saturday, it would eliminate that possibility. But if Alabama comes out on top and both it and Mississippi State enter the final week of SEC play with one loss, the Buckeyes should become big fans of Auburn and Ole Miss.

That's because any one-loss SEC team will have a compelling argument to make the playoff over a hypothetical one-loss Buckeyes team. If both Alabama and Mississippi State have a lone blemish at the end of the year, the SEC could send two teams to the playoff.

 

No. 13 Kansas State vs. No. 7 Baylor (December 6)

Perhaps the biggest threat to Ohio State's playoff hopes comes from the pair of one-loss teams in the Big 12. Baylor and TCU have edged Ohio State in the polls, and with no conference title game in the Big 12, the remaining marquee matchups for both teams are very limited. 

That's why the season-ending showdown between Baylor and Kansas State is so important.

The Wildcats have already suffered two losses (Auburn and TCU), so Ohio State will want to see them pull this one out in Waco. It's hard to forecast how the committee will evaluate the Big 12 contenders without a conference title game—whether it will benefit or hurt them—but Ohio State would rather not worry about two one-loss teams from the same conference. 

 

Other Games of Note

  • No. 4 TCU vs. Texas (November 27)
  • Florida vs. No. 3 Florida State (November 29)

It's hard to imagine either TCU or Florida State dropping either of these matchups, but as the saying goes, that's why they play the games.

The Longhorns got off to a slow start this season, losing four of their first six games, but things have started to click for Charlie Strong's squad after back-to-back wins over Texas Tech and No. 23 West Virginia. TCU's remaining schedule includes games against Kansas and Iowa State, so Texas provides the only legitimate chance for the Horned Frogs to fall.

Florida doesn't have the most explosive offense, but it has the kind of defense that could slow down Jameis Winston. And if the Gators' rushing attack continues to surge—they've rushed for an average of 316 yards over the last two games—it could make things interesting in Tallahassee. 

If the Buckeyes don't get the chaos they need from the matchups listed above, they'll have to hope for some major upsets in the conference title games on December 6.

 

All stats via NCAA.com.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Cal Bears Attempt Awful Fake Punt vs. USC Trojans

Trailing the USC Trojans, 28-2, with 7:33 remaining in the second quarter, the California Golden Bears needed a pick-me-up. What better than a fake punt?

It was an especially gutsy call considering Cal was on its own 31-yard line.

The execution was goofy, to say the least, and a total failure. Punter Cole Leininger attempted a pass to junior safety Stefan McClure, but it fell incomplete.

Cal fake punt...fails. https://t.co/O8hV0rjqMv

— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) November 14, 2014

[Twitter]

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Oregon Football: How Ducks Stack Up Against Other Playoff Contenders

Not many college football teams can say they control their own destiny, but the Oregon Ducks can. 

The Ducks (9-1, 6-1) are currently ranked No. 2 in the College Football Playoff poll and have already clinched the Pac-12 North, meaning they’ll be playing in the Pac-12 Title game on Dec. 5.

According to Bleacher Report’s Ed Feng, the Ducks are currently projected to be the No. 1 overall seed in the Playoff and have a 78 percent chance of being chosen as one of the four semifinalists.

With only two regular-season games and the Pac-12 title game remaining, the Ducks have a very realistic shot of making it to the inaugural College Football Playoff. It’s simple for the Ducks. If they win their next three games—against Colorado, Oregon State and the Pac-12 South champion—they’ll be playing at either the Rose Bowl or the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1.

In short, the Ducks control their own fate.

In my mind, there are eight legitimate Playoff contenders, including Oregon. The other seven, in no particular order, are Alabama, Mississippi State, Florida State, TCU, Baylor, Ohio State and Arizona State. Is there a chance a team not on this list can make it into the final four? It’s possible, especially if there’s a two-loss SEC conference champion, but at this point it seems unlikely.

While it may be a bit premature to preview potential semifinal matchups, it’s never too early to take a look at how the Ducks stack up against the seven other Playoff contenders.

 

Offense

There’s no doubt that the Ducks have a significant advantage over every other team in the country on offense due to the play they receive from Heisman Trophy front-runner Marcus Mariota.

There are certainly other talented quarterbacks whose teams are still in Playoff contention. 2013 Heisman winner and national champion Jameis Winston is still one of the premier quarterbacks in the country and is known to step up his play in big games.

Others like TCU’s Trevone Boykin, Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, Baylor’s Bryce Petty and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott are legitimate Heisman contenders and have led their teams to incredible victories all season.

However, Mariota is head and shoulders above the rest of the pack right now. Mariota ranks first in yards per attempt, second in touchdowns, No. 12 in passing yards, No. 10 in interceptions and has the best passer rating in the nation.

Oh yeah, he can also run the ball. The redshirt junior has 524 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns this season. Moreover, Mariota is responsible for the most touchdowns in college football this season with 38—29 passing, eight rushing, one receiving.

While the Ducks only rank fourth in terms of passing yards per game among the top eight teams—behind Baylor, TCU and Florida State—they’ve been by far the most efficient and dynamic. Mariota’s completion percentage of 67.1 and his 29 touchdowns both rank first among quarterbacks on top eight teams.

Oregon’s passing game has been fantastic this year, but its offense is truly predicated on the ability to run the ball. It’s true that the Ducks rushing attack is down a bit this year in terms of overall yards, yet they’re still one of the top-ranked rushing teams in the nation and have the third-best rushing attack among the contenders in terms of yards per game.

The Ducks also have scored the second most touchdowns on the ground among the group of eight.

Mariota may be the star of the show, but the Ducks offense would be in a lot worse shape if it were not for the emergence of true freshman tailback Royce Freeman. Freeman has given Oregon’s offense the ability to run through the tackles and go head-to-head against physical defensive fronts, which is something the program has been unable to do in the past.

On the season, Freeman has rushed for 945 yards—ranked No. 26 in the nation—and has scored 14 touchdowns—an Oregon freshman record and ranked No. 6 in the nation. In terms of running backs among the top eight programs, Freeman ranks second in rushing yards, only trailing Mississippi State junior Josh Robinson.

The Ducks have the fourth-ranked offense in the country in points per game and are fifth in total offense. While TCU and Baylor rank ahead of Oregon in both categories, those two Big 12 teams have yet to face a top-10 defense this year.

Meanwhile, the Ducks have faced Michigan State—ranked No. 10 in total defense—and Stanford—ranked No. 5—and have averaged 508 yards and 45.5 points per game in those two contests.

It’s pretty clear that the Ducks have one of the most dynamic offenses among the eight Playoff contenders and also have the best individual player among those eight teams.

The only questions about Oregon’s offense are the health of its offensive line and the spot left vacant by tight end Pharaoh Brown. Oregon will be without Brown for the rest of the season and the Ducks will ask Johnny Mundt and Evan Baylis to step up in his absence.

Both Mundt and Baylis have played this year. Mundt is more of a pass-catching tight end, while Baylis is Oregon’s best blocking tight end. The Ducks likely won’t be able to replace Brown’s production, but Mundt and Baylis should be able to contribute to Oregon's powerful offense. 

The bigger question revolves around the health of center Hroniss Grasu, who has started 50 consecutive games for Oregon and is the only center Marcus Mariota has really ever worked with. According to Tyson Alger of The Oregonian, offensive line coach Steve Greatwood expects Grasu to miss “a couple of games.”

Yes, the loss of Grasu is huge. However, the Ducks’ schedule from here on out is pretty weak. Oregon’s next two opponents, Colorado and Oregon State, are two of the only three teams in the conference with overall losing records.

If Grasu is able to make it back by the Pac-12 title game, it would be a huge boost to the offense. However, if he’s not able to make it back, at least Mariota and new center Doug Brenner will have had four weeks and two games under their belts together.

No matter how you slice it, the Ducks are well positioned offensively to take on any of the top Playoff contenders. How about defensively? Well, things could get dicey.

 

Defense

While Oregon’s offense is perhaps the best of the Playoff contenders, its defense is one of the worst.

Of the eight contenders, the Ducks rank last in total defense, as they’ve given up an average of 456.7 yards per game. Oregon also ranks last in points per game allowed with 25, though the defense is ranked No. 52 nationally in points per game versus No. 107 in total defense.

The Ducks defense has had some solid performances this year against quality opponents, most notably against UCLA, where they held the Bruins to 10 points before allow 20 points in garbage time, and against Michigan State, where the Ducks held the Spartans to three total points in the first, third and fourth quarters combined (we’ll forget about the Spartans 24-point second quarter).

Despite these minor successes, they’ve often been lackadaisical on third downs, where they rank No. 112 in the nation and have allowed opponents to convert on 45.4 percent of fourth downs this season.

On a more positive note, the Ducks are one of the best teams in the country in terms of turnover margin and have been able to sack opposing quarterbacks 26 times this season—ranked No. 23 in the nation—despite not usually sending more than four men into the backfield. The Ducks rank No. 3 in turnover margin and have forced 22 turnovers this season, including at least two in each of the past nine games.

Of the remaining contenders, only TCU has forced more turnovers and has a better turnover margin.

Dating back to 2008, only one team has won the national championship without being ranked in the top 20 in terms of turnover margin. Unfortunately for the Ducks, it was the Auburn Tigers in 2010 that ranked No. 31.

Of the eight Playoff contenders, only TCU, Oregon, Baylor and Arizona State currently rank within the top 20 in turnover margin.

The Ducks definitely don’t have the strongest defense in the country, but they may just have enough playmakers on that side of the ball to make a difference in a big game.

Not only are the Ducks favored to make it to the College Football Playoff according to the algorithm developed by Bleacher Report’s Ed Feng, but they’re also one of the favorites to win the national championship, according to OddsShark.com. As of right now, the Ducks are 9-2 favorites to win the title, which ranks only behind Alabama at 4-1. 

Moreover, Tony Miller and Aaron Kessler of the Golden Nugget Sportsbook have released potential semifinal or national championship lines, and it appears that Oregon would only be underdogs in a playoff game against Alabama, according to Todd Fuhrman of Fox Sports.

If the Golden Nugget lines hold up, Oregon would be three-point underdogs against Alabama but would be favored by three points against Ohio State and Florida State, by four points against Mississippi State and TCU, by five points over Baylor and by 10 points over Arizona State.

In short, both analytics and bookmakers believe the Ducks should waltz over their next three opponents and would match up well against all of the remaining Playoff contenders.

As long as Marcus Mariota is being protected and Oregon’s defense can force multiple turnovers, the Ducks should be able to compete with any team in the entire country. That’s easier said than done, but the Ducks seem poised to make another run at a national title.

 

Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise stated. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.

Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.

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