NCAA Football News

ESPN College GameDay Headed to Tallahassee for Notre Dame vs. Florida State

ESPN's College GameDay will be in Tallahassee next week to watch the reigning national champion, Florida State, host the 2012 national runner-up, Notre Dame.

The Seminoles and the Fighting Irish are both undefeated on the season, making this the third consecutive GameDay game between undefeated teams. Before this, it was Ole Miss vs. Alabama in Week 6 and Mississippi State vs. Auburn in Week 7.

The show's official Twitter account announced the news Sunday:

Notre Dame is playing Florida State as part of its partial-ACC membership. It beat Syracuse is Week 5 and North Carolina in Week 7, starting its pseudo-ACC season with a 2-0 record, but it didn't look especially impressive in either of those wins.

Florida State, meanwhile, hasn't looked especially impressive in any of its games this season. After a year in which it dominated most opponents, it has struggled to beat Oklahoma State on a neutral field—another game GameDay was in attendance for—Clemson in Tallahassee and North Carolina State in Raleigh.

The Clemson game went to overtime and is best known as the game Jameis Winston missed during his one-game suspension for screaming obscenities on campus. The sophomore quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner has since been reinstated to the team but is now dealing with a school-imposed disciplinary hearing that concerns the sexual assault investigation that took place last season.

In light of this most recent development, sports law expert Michael McCann wrote a fascinating piece for SI.com, suggesting that Winston's best recourse might be dropping out of school. But Winston does not want to talk about anything other than the season at hand.

"It's not about distractions," he told reporters after Saturday's 38-20 win at Syracuse, per Mike Huguenin of NFL.com. "It's about Florida State football."

Notre Dame counters Winston with its own Heisman-contending quarterback, Everett Golson. And like Winston, Golson is no stranger to off-field imbroglios. After leading Notre Dame to the national title game as a redshirt freshman in 2012, he missed all of last season with a university-imposed suspension for academic impropriety.

Golson has struggled with turnovers the past few games, but he has made the necessary plays to keep Notre Dame undefeated, most notably a game-winning fourth-down touchdown pass to tight end Ben Koyack in the final minute against Stanford two weeks ago.

Neither Golson nor Winston has ever lost a regular-season game as a college quarterback.

That is guaranteed to change in Week 8.

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Amway College Football Poll 2014: Complete Week 8 Rankings Released

Week 7 of the 2014 college football season was not as wild as the previous weekend’s action, but there were still several ranked programs that fell in heated matchups.

With Mississippi State beating Auburn, Ole Miss handing Texas A&M another loss and Baylor holding on against TCU, the latest college football polls have been shifted once again as the cream continues rising to the top.

Here are the full Amway Coaches and Bleacher Report Top 25 polls and a breakdown of Week 7.

 

Breaking Down Week 7 

While there has been turnover at the top of the polls on several different occasions this season, one of the only consistencies has been the undefeated play of the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles.

Still, that wasn't enough to keep the Seminoles at the top spot.

There is no doubt that quarterback Jameis Winston hasn't been as dangerous as he was when he won the Heisman Trophy last year, but the team is still winning games consistently. Add in the team’s favorable schedule, and Florida State should easily make the College Football Playoff.

The toughest remaining game comes next Saturday against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. After watching Notre Dame barely pull out a win over North Carolina in Week 7, the Seminoles should be victorious and maintain their position as viable championship contenders.

Despite several off-field distractions, Winston has found solace playing on Saturdays, telling Josh Moyer of ESPN.com about what football has meant to him during this period of his career:

It's not about distractions -- it's about playing Florida State football. It's about going out there every day in practice, doing our school work, making sure we're being a great student-athlete. And like I said, being on the field, it's a sanctuary. You get between those lines, all the cameras are on you, and we're out there playing football.

The biggest news of the weekend was Mississippi State beating Auburn. The Tigers were ranked second in the Amway Poll last week and the Bulldogs were sixth overall, but it was Mississippi State that looked far superior in this matchup. The Bulldogs scored the first three touchdowns of the game and won by a score of 38-23.

Mississippi State is now No. 1 overall in the latest rankings.   

It was a good day to be a college football fan from Mississippi, as Ole Miss also managed to beat its ranked opponent on Saturday. Texas A&M was coming off a loss to Mississippi State, and the Rebels only made the situation worse for the Aggies by scoring early and taking the victory on the road.

Former Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard talked about the state of Mississippi dominating Week 7:

The most thrilling game of the weekend was the Big 12 battle between Baylor and TCU. After entering the fourth quarter trailing by 14, the Bears managed to score 24 points in the final 15 minutes of the game and beat the Horned Frogs, 61-58. The high-scoring game proved that both programs have the offensive firepower and tenacity to be top teams in the nation.

As great as the wins for Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Baylor were, the wheels are starting to come off for several other top programs. After losing to the Rebels last Saturday, the Alabama Crimson Tide bounced back with a lackluster 14-13 win over Arkansas. If the Crimson Tide want to return to prominence, they will have to develop chemistry on offense as soon as possible.

Alabama wasn’t the only team that disappointed, though, as the Arizona Wildcats failed to capitalize on the momentum from a victory over Oregon and were defeated by USC. The Ducks may have beaten the UCLA Bruins in Week 7, but Arizona’s loss further discounts Oregon's championship hopes. 

Other teams like Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were involved in games that were much closer than fans expected (all managed to win), but programs like Georgia and East Carolina continued playing well.

The 2014 college football season was expected to be a wild ride leading into the inaugural four-team playoff, but few experts predicted this kind of turnover in the polls from week to week.

It’s an exciting time to be a fan of the sport.

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

 

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Ranking the Top 10 Coaches with Which to Start a College Football Program

It is a very difficult task to rank the best college football coaches, so I'm going to try to do it with this question in mind:

If you were starting a college football program from scratch, who would you want to coach the team?

I will take into account win-loss records, past experience resurrecting a program, recruiting ability and innovation into this ranking.

It was nearly impossible to trim the list down to 10, but I would feel pretty confident with any one of these coaches pacing the sideline for my team.

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The Best Big Ten Team Nobody Knows Anything About

The Big Ten game of the year still appears on the surface to be the Nov. 8 meeting between Ohio State and Michigan State in East Lansing. The conference's playoff hopes may very well be influenced by its outcome. 

But quietly—as under-the-radar teams in forgotten conferences tend to do—Minnesota has a potentially meaningful game the same day with Iowa with Big Ten West implications. 

The Golden Gophers have put together a 5-1 record and lead the West Division. The only loss: 30-7 to TCU in Week 3, which, in hindsight, isn't the worst loss a team could suffer. The Frogs were unable to hold on to a lead in a shootout Saturday against Baylor but remain a formidable team in the Big 12.

Of course, leading the Big Ten West isn't the same statement as leading, say, the SEC West. There aren't many quality wins in that part of the Big Ten. Still, the Gophers have steadily improved under fourth-year head coach Jerry Kill. Minnesota's win total under Kill has gone up each year, but this is his best start to date in Minneapolis through six games. 

As Tom Dienhart of BTN.com explains, 2014 has a history-making feel for Minnesota: 

But know this: Minnesota is 2-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since 2004 and just the third time since 1990. And there’s a good chance the Gophers could push that to 4-0 with games coming up vs. Purdue and at Illinois to close October. Then, the lifting gets heavy in November. In fact, no Big Ten school may have a more difficult closing month: Iowa; Ohio State; at Nebraska; at Wisconsin.

The amazing thing about this 5-1 team is that there's only a little bit of star power. Tight end Maxx Williams (12 receptions, 225 yards, three touchdowns) is the most well-known face on this team. 

The only other player who's receiving any kind of national recognition is running back David Cobb, who ranks eighth nationally with 136.5 rushing yards per game, per cfbstats.com. But he's still overshadowed by two other running backs in the Big Ten: Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon. 

(Another Big Ten back, Indiana's Tevin Coleman, is being overlooked as well. But that's a different subject for a different day.) 

Of course, quarterback turnover hasn't helped offensive production. From MarQueis Gray to Max Shortell to Philip Nelson and now Mitch Leidner, there hasn't been a consistent guy under center for a couple of years. 

But the heart and soul of Minnesota under Kill has been the defense. From giving up 32 points a game in Kill's first season in 2011 to being a top-four scoring defense in the Big Ten in 2013, the Gophers have steadily improved on that side of the ball while the offense has tried to catch up. 

Two players off of the 2013 defense, safety Brock Vereen and defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, became the first Gophers to be drafted since 2010. 

Minnesota has been opportunistic in other ways, however, scoring three touchdowns on kick returns since Kill's arrival, including one yesterday in a 24-17 win over Northwestern. 

Looking ahead, everything Minnesota has built could come down to a crucial stretch in November. In addition to playing host to the Hawkeyes on Nov. 8, Minnesota gets Ohio State at home the following week before heading to Nebraska and Wisconsin. 

Against some of the best players in the Big Ten—Abdullah, Gordon and Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett—Minnesota will have more than enough opportunities to prove its worth. 

For a team that was scarcely represented on preseason Big Ten superlative lists, winning the Big Ten West would be a major accomplishment. But given Kill's history of building programs at Northern Illinois and Southern Illinois, it's not out of the realm of possibility. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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NCAA Football Playoff 2014: Latest Predictions After Week 7 Standings

Although Week 7 of the college football season couldn't possibly have matched Week 6's unpredictability and excitement, it did help bring into focus the four teams best positioned for the final playoff at the moment.

Of course, last week is evidence of how quickly things can change across the college football landscape, so expecting the most recent playoff projections to hold until the end of the season would be a fool's errand.

That doesn't mean it isn't fun to imagine how the top four would shake out if the season ended right now. The cream is certainly rising to the top already.

 

The King Stays the King

Simply put, Florida State entered the week ranked No. 1 overall in both The Associated Press and USA Today Polls, and it should stay there. The Seminoles beat Syracuse 38-20 and never really looked threatened.

They're the defending national champion and one of the few teams continuing to consistently look like a great team with few flaws.

The 'Noles are also riding a 22-game winning streak, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Florida State hasn't really done anything to not be ranked No. 1. FSU left it late against Oklahoma State and Clemson. The Cowboys are 5-1 and ranked 16th in the country, while the Tigers' two losses have come against Top 25 opponents, not to mention that Jameis Winston was suspended for that game.

Beating those two teams close isn't really a knock on the 'Noles.

You could make strong cases for both Ole Miss and Mississippi State to be the top teams in the country, but at least for now, FSU continues to hold on to its ranking.

 

Mississippi Becomes the Epicenter of College Football

It's a shame that Ole Miss and Mississippi State don't play one another until Nov. 29. That's the kind of gigantic battle college football fans want to see right now in order to determine whether the Rebels or the Bulldogs are the better team.

The Bulldogs are coming off a 38-23 win over No. 2 Auburn. Quarterback Dak Prescott amassed 367 total yards and three total touchdowns, and the defense forced four turnovers. The Tigers got to within eight points on two occasions in the second half, but the Bulldogs answered the call and secured the victory.

"Every time we needed to make a play, a guy stepped up and made a play," said Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen after the game, per The AP, via ESPN.com. "We always wondered how to take the next step in this league ... that's it."

You can't find too many holes in the Bulldogs. They have a dynamic QB in Prescott who possesses enough offensive weapons to beat anybody, and the defense is opportunistic enough to force turnovers and change the game.

With all of that said, Ole Miss gets the slight edge for one reason: defense. The Rebels look to have the best defense in the country, even better than Mississippi State's.

Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche is establishing himself as one of the premier players in the country at any position. ESPN.com's Travis Haney is already broaching the idea of Nkemdiche entering the Heisman Trophy discussion:

The Ole Miss defense accounted for two touchdowns in the 35-20 win over Texas A&M and held a Kevin Sumlin-coached team scoreless in the first half for the first time in his career, per Hugh Kellenberger of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi:

What should encourage Ole Miss fans is the fact that Bo Wallace looked good for the second week in a row. He threw for only 178 yards and a touchdown, but his decision-making was good and he didn't have the kind of mental mistakes that have plagued his performances in the past.

As long as Wallace doesn't shoot himself in the foot, the Rebels defense is good enough to take the team to the promised land.

 

Baylor Distances Itself from Competition

With a 61-58 win over No. 9 TCU, Baylor demonstrated that it's deserving of the fourth and final playoff spot. The fifth-ranked Bears came back from a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter to upend the Horned Frogs on a last-second field goal.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Baylor had a 1.9-percent chance of winning after going down 58-37 with 11:38 to play:

Quarterback Bryce Petty threw for a career-high 510 yards and six touchdowns. He said after the game that the win proved the Bears are for real, per Baylor Football:

This game not only established the Bears as the team to beat in the Big 12, but it also decidedly elevated them ahead of Notre Dame and Michigan State, both of whom could've laid a claim on the fourth spot last week.

The Spartans already have a loss to their name, while the Fighting Irish's best win came in the final minutes over a poor Stanford team.

Notre Dame can climb into the top four with a win over Florida State next week.

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Notre Dame Issues Exposed by UNC Must Be Fixed Before Showdown vs. FSU

As the points piled up, so too did the collective uneasiness of Notre Dame football fans Saturday during the shootout between the Irish and the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Notre Dame prevailed in the 50-43 victory at Notre Dame Stadium, but the Irish weren’t overly convincing ahead of next week’s tilt with No. 1 Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium.

“Lots of points, lots of penalties, lots of turnovers, lots of things to correct,” Irish head coach Brian Kellysaid to reporters after the win.

The Irish will be looking for quick fixes in various areas before facing the Seminoles.

 

Communication

Notre Dame appeared to struggle with communication in a slew of areas Saturday. On multiple occasions, the defense was still shuffling players onto the field or setting up its positioning when North Carolina’s uptempo offense was ready to begin.

Kick returners Cam McDaniel and Amir Carlisle miscommunicated in deciding whether Carlisle should bring a third-quarter kickoff out of the end zone.

In the fourth quarter, Notre Dame sent multiple men in motion across the formation at the same time, and the ball was snapped while they were still moving.

And, of course, the Irish committed two false-start penalties on consecutive plays while preparing to punt on fourth down. Notre Dame had three false starts on the drive.

Taken individually, these aren’t major issues. Taken collectively, however, it’s evident the Irish have plenty to fix here before squaring off with the Seminoles—when the margin for error will be remarkably slim.

 

Turnovers

Notre Dame fans were left scratching their heads again at Everett Golson’s up-and-down performance. On the third play from scrimmage, Golson fumbled in Notre Dame territory, setting up North Carolina’s first touchdown. After a three-and-out, Golson tossed an interception on the second play of Notre Dame’s third possession.

“I got in his face a little bit about the first interception,” Kelly said. “He's above that interception. That's a stick route that he's seen a million times.”

After handing the Tar Heels 14 early points, Golson did settle down—only to fumble again in the third quarter, again deep in Notre Dame’s end of the field. And, again, North Carolina turned the miscue into points.

So what needs to change? Kelly and Golson both said this week how Golson has been working with the running backs on ball security.

“We will just continue to ask him to commit himself during the week,” Kelly said.

Maybe more so than any one week, Golson will need to be committed to taking care of the football with Florida State ready to pounce.

 

Tackling

After a solid week of wrap-up tackling against Stanford, Notre Dame tackled “poorly” against North Carolina, Kelly said.

Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams and running back Elijah Hood, in particular, made Irish tacklers miss and helped North Carolina move the ball. In total, the Tar Heels piled up 510 yards of total offense on 84 plays—good for 6.1 yards per play.

Asked if he believes Notre Dame loses confidence after tackling poorly and turning the ball over, Kelly said no.

“You're going to have some of these games. You shake it off,” Kelly said. “They will be ready to play their very best against Florida State. But the nice part about it is we got great film and great teaching off of another win.”

 

Quarterback Contain

Williams impressed against the Irish defense. He completed 24-of-41 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 132 rushing yards and a score on 18 carries.

On a few different plays, Williams took off right up the middle and gashed the Notre Dame defense. The junior quarterback had rushes of 41, 28 and 11 (twice) yards.

Asked what went wrong defending Williams, Kelly credited the dual-threat signal-caller, who came in as North Carolina’s leading rusher.

“Nothing went wrong, he's pretty good,” Kelly said. “He's difficult to defend. Great runner, threw the ball effectively, we couldn't tackle him. We had him two or three times where we couldn't get him down, missed tackles.”

Kelly said there isn’t a whole lot Notre Dame can take from facing Williams into its preparation for Florida State quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.

“The offense is a totally different situation for us in terms of defending it,” Kelly said. “We tackled poorly. We executed poorly. We got to coach better. We just got to do a better job all the way around.”

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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