NCAA Football News

College Football Week 12: Top 25 Upset Alert

Believe it or not, Week 12 is upon us. As we inch closer to December, each game becomes important. That means potential upsets hold even more significance. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer blows the whistle and addresses which ranked teams are on upset alert. 

Which top team will fall this weekend?

Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU vs. Arkansas: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

The LSU Tigers and Arkansas Razorbacks will have a lot in common when the two meet in Fayetteville for what is sure to be a brutal SEC encounter.

Both programs tout similar philosophies: run the ball and play great defense. LSU enters after a crushing overtime loss to Alabama at home, but Arkansas surely understands that feeling—last time out for the Razorbacks, they fell narrowly 17-10 to No. 1 Mississippi State.

With inclement weather inbound, the run and overall physical nature of these two programs will put on a violent affair Saturday night as they vent their frustrations with how the season has unfolded.

Traditional, conquer-the-environment football is on the slate. Bask in the rare occurrence.

 

War of Attrition

LSU prides itself on its ability to run the football. Even though Les Miles sounds somewhat disheartened by a miserable forecast that calls for temperatures in the 20s and snow, one could bet the coach would have it no other way.

"Obviously, the weather is what it is," Miles said, per Mike Herndon of AL.com. "When you get there, you're going to have to make adjustments in the things that you're willing to or want to do, or you're not. We're both suited, I would guess, for what could be the possibility of bad weather. It might end up being 50 runs a team."

LSU has a three-headed monster at tailback that masks the up-and-down play the Tigers continue to get from under center:

Impressive, right? Arkansas does the same exact thing:

As one can imagine, the two are pretty close in the ranks. Arkansas comes in at No. 17 with an average of 248.2 rushing yards per game. LSU is 29th at 221.4.

Both defenses are predictably well-equipped to stop the run, too. LSU ranks fifth in the nation with just 16.3 points allowed per game on average. Arkansas has worse luck in that area, but keep in mind it is the same unit that held Alabama to 66 rushing yards earlier this season.

It should come as no surprise that the two annually put on close affairs, as LSU's sports information director Michael Bonnette details:

Saturday night may not have wide-ranging implications like some of the earlier games do, but LSU and Arkansas might just put on a classic, anyway.

 

One Play...

...Changes everything between these two.

Just look at last year when a deep ball from Anthony Jennings to Travin Dural allowed LSU to overcome Arkansas.

That would be the heart of the problem for Bret Bielema's team once again this season. The Razorbacks allow 10.5 yards per passing attempt against SEC opponents this season. Even Georgia's Hutson Mason looked solid against the up-and-down Arkansas secondary.

Thus far, Jennings has completed a miserable 47.1 percent of his passes this year with nine touchdowns to six interceptions. But he has a superb cast of talent to hit on each down, ranging from Dural (701 yards, seven touchdowns) to Malachi Dupre (271 and five) and beyond.

Should the Razorbacks get lulled to sleep in the sloppy conditions and Jennings heave a clunker deep, it may decide the game outright.

 

When: Saturday, November 15, 8 p.m. ET

Where: Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Television: ESPN2

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 47.5
  • Spread: Arkansas (-2)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

It is hard to trust LSU heading into a hostile environment after a gut-wrenching loss.

Sometimes Las Vegas is just right, no matter how silly the lines seem. The Tigers have a stable of talented backs but encounter an elite run defense and may struggle to get anything going through the air.

Conversely, Arkansas comes off a bye both rested and armed with an extra week of preparation for this very contest. It is a scary concoction that suggests the Razorbacks can pull off the upset in what is a traditionally close encounter.

Prediction: Razorbacks 24, Tigers 20

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Northwestern vs. Notre Dame: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Old rivals Northwestern and Notre Dame could share horror stories about events suffered in the last week—or month—when they meet Saturday.

The 3-6 Wildcats enter riding a four-game skid capped off by a decision from coach Pat Fitzgerald last week to attempt a two-point conversion rather than kick an extra point to go to overtime. Michigan was awarded the 10-9 victory as a result.

Notre Dame has lost two of its last three, highlighted by fumbling away an opportunity in the desert to upend Arizona State and keep its College Football Playoff hopes alive.

A clean game from either team Saturday would be nice. A win over a rival would do wonders for morale as both programs begin to eye next season. 

 

Fighting for the Future

Notre Dame needs to rally around senior quarterback Everett Golson before it is too late.

Golson put on another dud of a performance last week in the 55-31 loss to the Sun Devils, as an illustration from ESPN CollegeFootball shows:

Brian Kelly's quarterback now has 15 turnovers in his last six games after none in his first three. Golson has as many fumbles in that span as games played. He has tossed 17 interceptions overall, a mark 87 teams have either matched or not reached.

Kelly is adamant, though, that his quarterback is not the only person to blame for the issues.

"There are 10 other guys that have a lot to do with those turnovers," Kelly said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "He's got 10 other players that have to do their job, and they've got to do their job better."

Fair enough. Last week two batted passes led to picks and Golson was sacked seven times. The offensive line certainly gets some blame. Regardless of where the finger points, it is imperative that things improve against a stingy Northwestern defense looking for a turnaround of its own.

 

Rekindling the Magic

Expect Fitzgerald and his staff to pull out all the stops defensively to rattle the Fighting Irish, just as the Wildcats did back in 1995 en route to a shocking upset. 

Notre Dame has already shown it can be upended as Golson and his unit succumb to pressure. In that same vein, the Wildcats have already toppled elite offenses this season.

Think back to early October when the Wildcats welcomed then-No. 17 Wisconsin to town—the same Wisconsin that still averages 36.8 points per game and ranks No. 5 in the nation in rushing. That offense struggled on the way to a total of 14 points and Badgers quarterback Joel Stave tossing a trio of interceptions.

Kelly is well aware of the challenge the Wildcats present, as captured by Douglas Farmer of Blue and Gold News:

In total, the Wildcats surrender just 22.3 points per game on average, although two of their four recent losses have seen opponents score 38 or more.

Still, the recipe for upending Notre Dame is quite apparent and is something the Wildcats have already used to great success this season. Should the stars align, Saturday may be 1995 all over again.

 

When: Saturday, November 15, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, Indiana

Television: NBC

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 50.5
  • Spread: Notre Dame (-17.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

A return home for the Fighting Irish is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Golson is sure to make his mistakes as Northwestern gets plenty of pressure against a shaky line. But taking advantage of it is another thing entirely considering the Wildcats average just 18.0 points per game, good for No. 122 in the nation.

Wildcats quarterback Trevor Siemian has just five touchdowns to eight interceptions, and lead back Justin Jackson has found the end zone just five times.

In short, Northwestern is no Arizona State in that it will not be able to take advantage of the surefire Notre Dame mistakes. As a result, the Fighting Irish will avoid back-to-back losses.

Prediction: Fighting Irish 36, Wildcats 17

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Mississippi State vs. Alabama: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time, More

The lone SEC powers that control their own inaugural College Football Playoff fates meet in Tuscaloosa Saturday in what has the look of the game of the year.

Mississippi State leads the way in the CFP Poll with a 9-0 mark, while Alabama comes in at No. 5 thanks to four consecutive wins after an early October upset at the hands of another team from the state of Mississippi, Ole Miss.

Given the wealth of implications for the conference and beyond, College GameDay will be present in Tuscaloosa:

Dak Prescott is on the hunt for a Heisman moment in Tuscaloosa akin to those before him such as Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel. If he fails, there is an outside chance the SEC misses out on the CFP. Catch this one at all costs.

 

SEC-Style Staring Contest

The quarterback that blinks first Saturday will doom his team. 

On one side is Prescott, arguably the top dual-threat quarterback in the nation. The junior reminds plenty of Tim Tebow, as he is potent through the air (2,231 yards and 18 touchdowns) and brutal on the ground (779 yards, 11 touchdowns).

For Prescott, the base numbers do not do his abilities justice. The same goes for the Alabama defense, though, which ranks No. 2 in the nation with just 13.9 points surrendered per game on average. A breakdown from Sharon Katz of ESPN.com speaks volumes as to the heavyweight struggle set to unfold:

Prescott has an SEC-high 45 plays, including 15 touchdowns, of 20 yards or longer. He has at least three plays of 20-plus yards in every game this season, including 17 against three ranked opponents. Alabama has allowed an SEC-low 25 plays (three touchdowns) of 20 yards or longer. The Tide have held their opponents to fewer than three 20-yards plays in four of nine games.

Alabama trots out Blake Sims under center, who has had his fair share of struggles in his first year as starter. That said, the senior has improved after the loss to the Rebels, throwing nine touchdowns to no interceptions in the four games since. That said, he did complete just 44.4 percent of his passes last week against LSU.

Sims is less of a dual-threat option than Prescott but can do so when asked, hence his two rushing scores in that same span.

One area Sims beats out Prescott is sheer talent around him. He has the luxury of leaning on Amari Cooper, who has 79 grabs for 1,215 yards and 10 scores this season as he makes a serious bid for the Heisman, too.

In a contest that will see the smallest of mistakes magnified, whichever quarterback commits the first error will put his team at a serious disadvantage.

 

Wire to Wire

This one seems destined to come down to the wire.

With that in mind, one has to only look back to Alabama's loss to Ole Miss for a cause of concern. There are times when the Crimson Tide look shaky down the stretch. In that contest, Saban's team was outworked in the halftime-adjustments department and scored just three points in the second half en route to the loss.

Just last week it was much of the same for the Crimson Tide in Death Valley. They mustered just three points in the second half, the field goal coming with three seconds left in regulation before the eventual win in overtime.

It appears this version of Saban's team struggles in big games to keep things going for a full four frames. One only has to recall the erratic play in a 14-13 win over Arkansas to point out that it can happen any week.

The visitors have had no such issues so far. The Bulldogs routinely blow the hinges off in the early goings and never look back, such as a 21-point first quarter a while back to take down Auburn. Prescott and Co. sound ready to do the same Saturday.

"It means everything," Prescott said, per ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough. "Playing big time games in November, that means you’re playing for championships. To go into [Tuscaloosa] and being the hunted going in there, that’s a challenge we’re willing to take."

It has been a trying season for the Crimson Tide. Should any of their consistency issues to date crop up again, the Bulldogs can and will make them pay, road game or not.

 

When: Saturday, November 15, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Television: CBS

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 52
  • Spread: Alabama (-8)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

If there is one player in the nation who could single-handedly take down the superb Crimson Tide defense, it is Prescott. 

No defense to date has been able to slow Prescott, including great units such as the LSU defense. His ability to make plays with his arm or keep it and gain effective yards between the tackles—not to mention his penchant for big plays when his team needs them most—give the Bulldogs a serious edge.

Alabama's consistency issues and Sims under center are liabilities that will shine through against an elite team, just as they did earlier this season in the loss to Ole Miss.

Mississippi State gets the win in Tuscaloosa and Prescott gets his Heisman moment.

Prediction: Bulldogs 28, Crimson Tide 24

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn vs. Georgia: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

While not as high stakes as it appeared about a month ago, Saturday's encounter between the Auburn Tigers and Georgia Bulldogs will have explosive implications.

Both teams dropped recent encounters they were supposed to win, and that has dampened this matchup. Auburn, ranked No. 9 in the College Football Playoff rankings, dropped a three-point decision to Texas A&M last week. Georgia, No. 15, was blown away by unranked Florida recently.

Despite recent missteps, these two offensive-minded squads are sure to engage in one of the season's best shootouts, especially with the Bulldogs' Todd Gurley returning just in time to help his team push for an SEC East crown.

It is certainly no longer the biggest matchup of the weekend, but it's one that can have far-reaching implications depending on who emerges from the offensive war.

 

Riding the Workhorses

Gurley is back, but understand that a good problem spanning back to the start of the season is very much alive in Athens—the Bulldogs have a hard time getting a number of talented backs enough carries.

Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus puts it best:

All Nick Chubb did in Gurley's absence was post staggering numbers against credible opposition, win or lose:

Keep in mind that talented freshman Sony Michel is back in action one game removed from rushing 16 times for 84 yards and a score. Still, Bulldogs coach Mark Richt seems open to the idea of letting Gurley handle the bulk of the work, per Athens Banner-Herald's Marc Weiszer:

He's definitely got fresh legs. I think he stayed in really good condition during the time that he wasn't playing. I don't think you forget how to play football in five weeks or forget how to run the ball the way he runs it and the way he pass protects and catches the ball out of the backfield and all that. I think it'll come back to him pretty quick.

Regardless of who gets the carries, the talented backfield will look to make headway against a sometimes shaky Auburn defense that allows 24.1 points per game on average, good for the No. 46 mark in the nation. 

Then again, the Tigers make no efforts to hide what they will do on the ground—senior back Cameron Artis-Payne is the workhorse, and quarterback Nick Marshall is the wild card.

Artis-Payne is averaging 5.7 yards per carry on the ground this year and has 1,190 yards and nine scores. Marshall is an improved passer this season (1,576 yards, 14 touchdowns to four interceptions) but helps to add versatility to the offense thanks to his 698 yards and 11 scores on the ground.

Neither offense is going to sugarcoat the approach Saturday night. A bigger gut-check game for either side will be quite difficult to name.

 

Jumping Out and Staying Out

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn receives a ton of credit for his offense—rightfully so—but even he has to know that the Tigers need to be quicker out of the gate.

The Tigers have become victims to the same thing in both of their losses. An eventual 38-23 shellacking at the hands of Mississippi State was the byproduct of falling behind 21-0 after the first quarter. Last week in the loss to the Aggies, the Tigers fell behind 14-0 and recovered but never truly overcame the deficit.

Defense would be the problem for the Tigers. For an elite offense, falling behind is not so bad, but it puts an up-and-down defense in a precarious position. As defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson noted, his unit's sloppy tackling habits played a major role in the team's loss to A&M, per Justin Ferguson of the Ledger-Enquirer:

I think we had 11 (missed tackles) that added up to 114 yards, something of that nature, and that’s a lot of yardage. Of course, you're going to miss some on great players. But if you eliminate half of that, it will get you off the field quicker, get your offense the ball quicker, helps field position and everything.

Sprinkle in a few turnovers by Marshall and the offense, and the Tigers seem to get in their own way more than any opponent does.

It should go without saying, then, that the key for an Auburn road win Saturday is to grab an early lead and never let off the gas. This will force Georgia to go to the air more and take the ball out of the hands of a talented backfield.

The inverse also holds true. Should Georgia get out to an early advantage, killing the clock and keeping the ball out of Marshall's hands is a path to victory. 

 

When: Saturday, November 15, 7:15 p.m. ET

Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Georgia

Television: ESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 68.5
  • Spread: Georgia (-2)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

Georgia at home is quite the dangerous team, especially with a fresh Gurley back in the fold. 

The Bulldogs have a perceived weakness with senior quarterback Hutson Mason under center, but he has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes this season and should have few issues taking advantage of Auburn's No. 102 pass defense that gets torched time and again on short passes.

As long as Mason takes care of the football, the talent around him will do the rest. The receivers can take short grabs for big yardage against a struggling defense while Gurley and Co. control the tempo.

A few big plays define a game like this. Auburn's defense will once again yield those.

Prediction: Georgia 40, Auburn 38

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

FSU vs. Miami: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Florida State-Miami is back for a 59th time to define what college football is all about.

The two in-state rivals have been on a violent warpath toward one another all season long, but the 6-3 Hurricanes—losers of four straight and lacking a home win since 2004 in the rivalry—have improved dramatically in the weeks leading up to Saturday.

All Florida State has done to prepare is ride a 25-game winning streak, the longest streak since the Hurricanes won 34 straight beginning back in 2000.

The latest encounter comes Saturday and might prove to be one of the biggest games in recent history. Should Florida State take a dive on the road, well, good luck figuring out what happens with the inaugural College Football Playoff once more than 10 teams can rush through the door.

Be there Saturday for one of the sporting world's most important rivalries.

 

Rising to the Occasion

Most know that this iteration of the Seminoles-Hurricanes epic series would hinge on quarterback play. Jameis Winston, last year's Heisman winner, is still under center for the former, after all.

But what most do not know is that the ACC leader in touchdowns, yards per attempt and yards per completion will be in attendance, and his name is not Winston.

Meet Hurricanes freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, who has completed 61.8 percent of his passes this year for 2,087 yards and 20 touchdowns to nine interceptions. Over the course of his team's recent three-game winning streak, he has totaled seven touchdowns and no interceptions.

The impending shattered records, as illustrated by Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press, are staggering:

"It's an enormous opportunity to prove something to the world," Kaaya said, per the AP, via ESPN.com. "A lot of people doubted us, I'm sure a lot of people still continue to and they have good reason to. We just have to keep progressing as a team."

Winston is sure to take a similar stance, just without the expected gaudy numbers his freshman counterpart rides into the encounter. 

From a statistical standpoint in some ways, Winston has hit a bit of a sophomore slump. He has still completed better than 66 percent of his passes but has just 2,540 yards and 17 touchdowns to 11 interceptions.

His team continues to win, but Winston's six interceptions in his last three games is certainly a cause for concern—especially against a Miami defense that ranks 26th in the land with an average of just 21.9 points surrendered per game.

Big-game experience favors Winston, but recent trends suggest this quarterback battle could swing either way.

 

Stopping the Duke

Kaaya has been great, but he sure has some help.

Junior back Duke Johnson may quietly be the best in the country at this point. Downright explosive in every sense of the word, Johnson has also turned his game up a notch in recent weeks, although his entire body of work is downright incredible:

Understand that Johnson is—just like his shot at postseason accolades and NFL draft stock—quietly the key to the game. The man averages 7.68 yards per carry and now gets to encounter a Florida State run defense that ranks 35th in the nation against the rush.

There is really no comparison between the two teams in this regard, either. The Seminoles average just 129.89 rushing yards per game, good for rank No. 101. If Florida State wants to keep Johnson in check, it is the defense that will need to man up and clog the lanes.

Key leaders on the defensive side of things understand this, as captured by Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post:

There is a symbiotic relationship between Johnson's talents on the ground and Kaaya's evolving skills through the air. Shutting down one is not enough for the Seminoles, especially on the road.

But it starts and ends with Johnson, who can control a game on his own when asked.

 

When: Saturday, November 15, 8 p.m. ET

Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida

Television: ABC

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 62
  • Spread: Florida State (-3)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

Las Vegas is shaky on this one for good reason.

Johnson's ability to torch defenses on his lonesome makes the job of his inexperienced quarterback easier. That alone can keep Winston off the field and exploit a relatively struggling defense at the same time.

That said, this game will come down to whether or not Winston can make the most of every opportunity he has with the ball. As long as he can limit turnovers, the Seminoles still have the better roster and can grind this one out.

Miami is close, but more experience is needed to topple the Seminoles.

Prediction: Florida State 35, Hurricanes 30

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Missouri vs. Texas A&M: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

The Texas A&M Aggies have a new quarterback and swagger as they look to spoil the happenings in the SEC East with the Missouri Tigers in town Saturday.

Kevin Sumlin's Aggies hit rock bottom over the course of a three-game skid capped by a 59-0 thrashing at the hands of Alabama, but they return to College Station with more fight than ever after a 41-38 upset of Auburn last weekend.

Standing in the way of the Aggies' potent attack is an elite Missouri defense that might just carry the Tigers to the SEC title game like it did one year ago after a win over these same Aggies.

With the Aggies in the role of the spoiler again and the Tigers on the hunt for a conference title, one of what is a chaotic week's most underrated matchups goes down late Saturday in College Station. 

 

Forced Flight

Both defenses in Saturday's encounter would prefer if things took to the air, but for very different reasons.

Texas A&M's standpoint is rather simplistic—the defense has struggled all season long and ranks 70th nationally with an average of 27.1 points allowed per game. Missouri does the wealth of its offensive damage on the ground by way of two talented backs:

Mostly, though, the Aggies will want to shut down the two above names to get the ball into the hands of Tigers quarterback Maty Mauk. Once there, things might just improve for the Aggies defense considering the sophomore has completed just 52.4 percent of his passes this season for 1,532 yards and 18 touchdowns to nine interceptions.

On the flip side, though, Missouri certainly wants to get the ball into the hands of Aggies freshman signal-caller Kyle Allen.

While true that the Aggies average 36.9 points per game primarily through an aerial attack that ranks seventh in the nation, the Tigers are most comfortable when pinning their ears back and rushing the passer.

Defensive end Shane Ray and his unit have forced 30 sacks this season. Sumlin recently stressed the importance of understanding that Ray is not doing it all by himself, per Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

When an offense is forced to the air while under consistent pressure, mistakes tend to be made. This is especially true with a freshman making his third start under center.

Speaking of that, a bit of a quarterback controversy could cause some issues in College Station.

 

Taking Over

After Kenny Hill was hit with a two-game suspension, things were placed in the hands of Allen.

The freshman's ability to get his wits about him on short notice is admirable, especially given the level of competition in each of his two starts:

Hill is available Saturday, but Sumlin and his staff are so impressed with Allen's talent that he will once again be the starter.

"I don't know why he wouldn't start, since he was named the starter two weeks ago," Sumlin said, per his meet with the media, via Chip Patterson of CBSSports.com.

For his part, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel is more worried about the Texas A&M scheme than the actual name under center.

"They're very unique (offensively), and they have a lot of different things that they do," said Pinkel, per Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle (subscription required). "It's a very good system, no matter the quarterback running their plays. What we try to do is find out if they do certain things with one quarterback that they don't do with another." 

Still, one has to wonder how Allen will hold up in the face of an elite rush. It was a mere few weeks ago that he struggled mightily with Louisiana-Monroe. Sumlin is clearly a believer that spots on the depth chart should be solved through competition, but hindsight may not prove so kind in this case if Ray and Co. get consistent pressure and force mistakes.

 

When: Saturday, November 15, 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: Kyle Field, College Station, Texas

Television: SEC Network

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 58.5
  • Spread: Texas A&M (-4.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

The Missouri defense is not going to make this easy on Allen. 

Both teams have certainly had up-and-down performances this season, but Ray and Co. will make life easier on a shaky secondary. Allen will commit a few mistakes that keep things close.

The problem is, quick-hitting plays to combat the rush will eventually put the Aggies ahead. Forced to take to the air, Mauk is too much of a liability to keep pace.

Texas A&M makes it two in a row, and things get a whole lot more interesting in the SEC race as a result.

Prediction: Aggies 30, Tigers 28

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Projections 2014: Updated College Playoff Predictions Before Week 12

Alabama has a golden chance to shake up the College Football Playoff rankings by topping No. 1 Mississippi State on Saturday.

Although placed inside the Top Four by The Associated Press and USA Today, the Crimson Tide sit just outside the edge of one of four playoff nods. If they can follow up an overtime win over LSU with another SEC triumph over the No. 1 Bulldogs, they'll certainly zoom up the leaderboard.

Only three weeks remain this season before the new playoff experiment rises to life. Along with that crucial SEC battle in Tuscaloosa, the other premier squads must handle more manageable opponents to maintain first-class seating in the ranks.

Let's take a look at the CFB rankings heading into Week 12, along with updated predictions for post-week projections.

 

College Football Playoff Outlook

As the SEC clashes in-house, Oregon, Florida State and TCU all face unranked opponents this weekend and throughout the rest of the season. 

The Horned Frogs don't play another winning team this season, but they knocked off three then-ranked adversaries (Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Kansas State) during the past four weeks. ESPN College Football showed how well they fare against stout competition.

A surging offense that has posted 47.2 points per game is well positioned to remain in the voters' good graces. To maintain its surprising No. 4 seed, however, TCU should root for Mississippi State to take Nick Saban's team down a peg.

For that to happen, Heisman hopeful Dak Prescott must triumph against a passing defense that has allowed 185.6 yards per game on 5.7 yards per attempt. As illuminated by College GameDay, each side's strength will collide at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The Crimson Tide have struggled when facing dual-threat quarterbacks in the past, particularly against Ole Miss' Bo Wallace during their only loss of the season. Saban acknowledged to ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough the challenges Prescott creates as an all-around playmaker.

He’s one of the best passing quarterbacks that we’ve played against all year, probably one of the best in the country. It’s a difficult combination when you have a guy that is big and physical and has the ability to run the ball on quarterback runs, which creates another gap, another responsibility, another key. It limits what you can do defensively to try and make sure you’re sound against him running the ball.

As a pure passer, however, the junior has faltered lately. In the past four games, he has accrued a 58.1 completion percentage with five interceptions. Such middling production won't cut it against Alabama, which has allowed 13.9 points per game while not yielding more than 23 in a single contest.

Throw in a tough road environment for a team that has played six of nine games at home, and Mississippi State's undefeated run comes to an end on Saturday afternoon. While a loss buries Alabama's CFB hopes, a defeat drops the Bulldogs to 9-1 with three wins over ranked SEC foes.

So long as they can finish off the campaign with triumphs over Vanderbilt and Ole Miss, they'll remain in the playoff picture. In fact, they can fall short against the Crimson Tide and still top them in the rankings.

To the dismay of some fans and the delight of others, the playoff voters showed that they will not overplay the importance of head-to-head matchups. Although TCU lost a 61-58 shootout to Baylor, it remains ahead of its conference rival boasting an identical 8-1 record.

A lopsided contest would dispel that notion, but look for Mississippi State to play tough in defeat. Such an outcome will have both SEC players vying for a championship this winter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pac-12 Football: The Most Impactful Injuries so Far This Season

Injuries are an unfortunate yet inevitable part of football, and the Pac-12 has seen some key players go down during critical moments in the 2014 season.

Some will point to the fact that almost every team has to weather the injury bug, and how you employ the "next man up" attitude will determine how successful a season is.

On the other hand, some injuries have devastating consequences regardless of how well a team may be prepared to handle them.

Nobody is deep at every position across the board, and losing one or two players—even for a lone game—can result in a loss. The most impactful injuries are often those that affect teams at positions of little depth.

Washington State's Connor Halliday is one of the premier quarterbacks in the country, yet his replacement Luke Falk has proven to be more than capable of running Mike Leach's offense.

At the end of the day, we all hope that every player injured will go through a speedy and easy recovery to full health. That's goal No. 1 before everything else.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the most impactful injuries so far this season from an on-the-field standpoint.

 

All stats via CFBStats.com.

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College Football Picks: Week 12 Predictions for Every Game

Depending on what situation a college football team is in, the 2014 season is either running out of opportunities or can't end soon enough.

Entering the 12th week of the season, 52 schools have reached bowl eligibility, while another 25 are guaranteed to have their years end without an extra game in a far-off locale. The rest in the middle are still battling, either to lock up a shot at a bowl or stave off elimination.

For those near the top of the heap, it's more a matter of getting into (or staying in) position for a major postseason game, possibly a spot in the first ever College Football Playoff. Overall, nearly every game this week has a bearing on one team's season or another.

Take a look at our Week 12 predictions, as well as our experts' picks on the top games, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

Last week: 38-12 (.760)

Season: 491-157 (.758)

 

NOTE: Rankings used for teams are from the College Football Playoff poll.

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As Florida State Win Streak Hits 25, How Much Longer Can 'Noles Keep It Going?

Florida State is preparing for a rivalry game with Miami while in the middle of an attempt at a third straight ACC title and a shot in the College Football Playoff, where the No. 3 Seminoles will try to repeat as national champions.

So there's little time to reflect on a winning streak that has now hit 25 games.

FSU's last loss came on Nov. 22, 2012 at home to Florida. A week later, FSU won the ACC championship game and hasn't looked back.

Through it all—an Orange Bowl win on New Year's Day 2013, a dominating national title run last season and nine (often) close wins in 2014—the Seminoles have won games.

"Winning is hard," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "Don't ever take it for granted."

But it also begs the obvious question: How much longer can the 'Noles keep it going?

The last three games of the regular season won't be easy, but they're all against unranked teams. FSU plays at Miami (6-3) on Saturday before returning back home to face Boston College (6-4) and finishing with Florida (5-3).

If FSU finishes the regular season perfect, the Seminoles could face a Coastal champion that would be ranked—possibly No. 19 Duke (8-1) or No. 24 Georgia Tech (8-2).

All of FSU's opponents down the stretch have shown improvement. But Miami has been inconsistent on defense and starts a true freshman in quarterback Brad Kaaya.

Boston College matches up well against FSU and is physical on both the offensive and defensive line, but the Seminoles' speed has usually been tough for the Eagles to contend with.

Florida again has a strong defense but has been shaky on offense, although things have turned around under true freshman Treon Harris.

Of those three opponents, Miami has the best chance to pull off the upset with a talented tailback in Duke Johnson and a massive offensive line.

Any of the three could win, but FSU will more than likely be moving toward the ACC championship game 12-0 (and pushing the winning streak up to 28 games).

The ACC's Coastal Division isn't settled yet, but Georgia Tech or Duke would be difficult matchups. Georgia Tech's triple-option offense is a challenge to prepare for in just one week, and the Yellow Jackets are averaging 38 points per game.

Duke is averaging 34 points per game, and coach David Cutcliffe is a creative offensive mind. But another win would give FSU No. 29.

After that? It's too tough to predict how the top four of the playoff will shake out on Dec. 7. But Mississippi State, Oregon, Alabama, Baylor or TCU would be the toughest team FSU has faced.

There aren't enough common opponents for comparison, either. TCU demolished Oklahoma State 42-9 on Oct. 18, while FSU opened the season with a narrow 37-31 win over the Cowboys.

That could be an indication of TCU's strength, but it can also be rationalized that Oklahoma State isn't as good since quarterback J.W. Walsh went down for the season with an injury, or that FSU was still adjusting in Week 1 with five new defensive starters.

Will the streak be a burden to FSU? Larry Coker, who won 24 straight games at Miami from 2001-02, said he doesn't think so.

"I wouldn't say that the team really felt that much pressure on a week-to-week basis," said Coker, now the coach at Texas-San Antonio. "It was more the fact that the players did a great job having the mindset each week that they felt like they couldn't be beaten."

Each week, FSU players insist they have focused on the opponent and are not necessarily playing to extend a streak. But what they've done isn't lost on a senior like left tackle Cameron Erving.

Erving played for Moultrie (Georgia) Colquitt County, a program that he said had losing seasons until his senior year in 2009. Once the winning began, Erving loved it. And he didn't want to go back to losing, of course.

"Then I got here and we lost four games (in 2010)," Erving said of his redshirt season. "Since I've been here, I've lost 10 games. So I don't want to go back to doing that. I don't want to go back to mediocrity."

 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All stats courtesy of Seminoles.com and NCAA.org.

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Nebraska Rivalry with Wisconsin Must Happen over Time, Not Be Forced

Ask any Nebraska fan who the Huskers' true rival is. I'd be willing to bet that nine out of 10 would say Oklahoma. If you're not familiar with the history of Nebraska and Oklahoma, that may seem like an odd answer.

After all, the two programs stopped meeting annually after the Big Eight became the Big 12 in 1996. After that, the two were scheduled to play twice every two years. It just never was the same.

Since then, Nebraska has been seeking its next rival. While in the Big 12, Colorado was the likely replacement for Oklahoma, but it never felt the same as when the Huskers faced the Sooners. But Nebraska is now a member of the Big Ten, meaning the search for another rival has started all over again.

Finding that rivalry can't be forced, though. That's what made the announcement of the new Freedom Trophy Nebraska and Wisconsin will play for so interesting. Even more interesting was what Wisconsin director of athletics Barry Alvarez had to say about the trophy.

"Trophy games are part of the tradition of college football, and I’m thrilled that we’re going to be introducing one into our rivalry with Nebraska,” Alvarez said, per Huskers.com.

Hearing the word "rival" from Alvarez made many question whether or not it truly was one. Twitter was filled with fans wondering just that.

So, are Nebraska and Wisconsin rivals? The answer is not yet. However, with time, it's possible.

First and foremost, having both programs in the West Division of the Big Ten helps. Playing every year will benefit a potential rivalry. Even former Nebraska head coach and athletic director Tom Osborne acknowledged that.

“If you don't play every year, you probably don't have a true rivalry," Osborne said, per KETV.

And that's not the first time Osborne has been vocal about rivalries. When Nebraska first joined the Big Ten, many assumed Iowa would be the natural rival for the Huskers. Osborne felt it wasn't that easy.

"As far as rivalry, it seems like a lot of people are saying [Iowa] will be a rivalry, this is natural and so on," Osborne said, per The Gazette. "But rivalries usually occur when you don't declare them rivalries. They occur over time."

Time truly is essential. After all, Nebraska and Oklahoma had met for 71 straight years. Within that time frame, some of the biggest games took place, including the "Game of the Century."

It's not just history, either. Both teams in the matchup do have to live up to certain expectations. If one team is constantly better than the other, a true rivalry will be hard to come by.

"There has to be a certain level of excellence on both sides," Osborne said about Iowa, per The Gazette. However, that statement also relates to Nebraska and Wisconsin.

If nothing else, just listening to the players speak proves the Huskers and Badgers aren't rivals just yet. When asked about this very topic, sophomore safety Nate Gerry turned down the idea, per Huskers.com:

I personally don’t see any game as a rivalry game. Eleven people are lining up against another 11 people. You just play football. If we put our mind right and apply our rules to what we have to do it will be a good football game. I don’t really see any game as a bigger game than the other.

Time and excellence can change that perception. Now that Nebraska and Wisconsin will face off every single year, the likelihood the two will begin building a rivalry is good. However, it's not something that can be forced.

After all, the best rivalries in sports have never been declared. They've been built.

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BYU Cougars vs. UNLV Rebels: Complete Game Preview

After a two-game road swing, BYU is back at home this weekend to host UNLV. The Cougars beat the Rebels in 2010, 55-7, which was the last meeting between the two teams.

BYU had a bye week after its win over Middle Tennessee, its first victory since September 20th. UNLV comes into this Saturday's game on a three-game losing skid and boasts a 2-8 record on the season.

The Cougars will be bowl eligible if they win this weekend, but what will it take to beat their former Mountain West partner? Read on to find out.

Date: Saturday, November 15

Time: 5 p.m. MDT

Place: LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo, UT

TV: ESPNU

Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM)

Spread: BYU, -23.5 (via OddsShark.com)

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Texas Football: Longhorns Learning to Buy into Charlie Strong's Way

Texas head coach Charlie Strong has been labeled as a disciplinarian. Critics have questioned if he's too strong for Texas and if his approach will cause him to lose his locker room.

Those critics were silenced when a locker room video hit social media following the Longhorns' 33-16 win over then-No. 23 West Virginia.

The video showed the Longhorns lifting their head coach in the air and Strong crowd surfing after the upset win over the Mountaineers:

"I just walked in there and they just grabbed me," Strong said of the impromptu celebration.

But what was seen in the video was something more than a team pumped up about a win. It was visible proof that the Longhorns have bought into their leader.

"It was fun to see," senior wide receiver John Harris said. "You don’t really see too many coaches get lifted up by their players. It shows the level of respect we have for him and how much of a player’s coach he is.”

People have to earn the respect of others, and it typically does not happen overnight. It may have taken several months for the Longhorns to embrace Strong's tactics, but his work is gradually paying off.

Strong wants his players to succeed both on and off of the football field. Education is a priority for the coach.

He requires the Longhorns to attend every class and sit in the front two rows. If a player were caught skipping class, punishment from strength and conditioning coach Pat Moorer would follow.

Moorer is one of the more intimidating people in Austin and there's a good possibility that a lot of the team does not want to be on his bad side. However, players have started to recognize the positive benefits that have come from Strong's rule of being attentive in class.

"I feel like Coach Strong has changed my life," senior linebacker Steve Edmond said. "I really never cared much about school, but ever since he got here, my grades have been coming up. He made me feel more like a man rather than a kid. Coach Strong will make you grow up, make you accountable and he's going to make sure you do everything right."

In terms of success on the football field, Strong believes team chemistry is a major component in winning games. For that reason, the team, assistant coaches and Strong moved into the dorms during fall training camp.

"I didn't like it," senior cornerback Quandre Diggs said of the dorm life. "But at the same time, it was something Coach Strong felt was right."

One could assume Diggs was not the only player to feel this way, but the Longhorns are now seeing the rewards that came from being confined in the dorms with their teammates.

“Moving us in the dorms for training camp and having us around each other more helped," senior safety Mykkele Thompson said. "I don’t want to sound cliche, but it’s like a brotherhood. We really care about each other. When you know someone cares about you on the field, it makes you want to play even harder."

Strong's first year has had its ups and downs. The Longhorns have lost a handful of key starters to season-ending injuries, have a lot of inexperience on the offensive side of the ball and are .500 with only two games remaining in the regular season.

But the team has continued to fight through adversity and has shown gradual progress every week.

"The guys have hung in there. We've made our way through some difficult times. I think what happens is you grow together, character begins to grow, you get an attitude and a chemistry amongst the team and everybody's there for each other," quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson said. "You just find ways to win football games and keep working and keep growing. They understand we're in a process. The seniors have been excellent in leading us and the younger players are following."

Strong's short tenure at Texas has been defined by a strict culture change. The first-year head coach is often labeled as a "my way or the highway" type of coach, and the dismissals of nine players for violating his rules only add to that image.

But there is a method to his madness, and the Longhorns are finally rallying around their head coach.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter @Taylor_Gaspar.

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Oregon Football: Updating Marcus Mariota's Heisman Chances Post-Week 11

If the college football season ended today, there is no doubt that Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota would win the Heisman Trophy. Not only is Mariota tearing apart the Pac-12 with his arm and legs, but he’s carrying the Ducks toward a sport in the inaugural College Football Playoff. 

The question right now isn’t whether Marcus Mariota is the Heisman Trophy front-runner at this point of the season, but rather can anybody catch him?

According to Bovada (via Odds Shark), Mariota is currently a 1-5 favorite to win the Heisman. To put that into context, the odds of the second player on the list, Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, are 13-2. In short, the bookmakers believe that Mariota is far and away the best player in the country and will win the award.

Can Mariota finish the job and lead his second-ranked Ducks to a Pac-12 title and a spot in the CFP? Let’s take a look at his season so far and analyze what he needs to do from here on out to win the award.

 

A Review 

After Mariota and the Ducks took down Michigan State 46-27 in the season's second week, it was clear that the Oregon quarterback was a lock to get an invite to New York, at the very least, as long as he stayed healthy. Regardless, there were a couple things that he needed to accomplish in order to secure an invite, as I chronicled back in September.

The first thing I thought Mariota needed to do to win the 2014 Heisman Trophy was to throw for 3,500 yards and score 35-plus touchdowns. Moreover, based on the averages of the past nine quarterbacks to win the award, Mariota needed to throw 35 touchdowns and run for at least 10 touchdowns. Not only is Mariota on pace to equal those numbers, but he's likely going to surpass them. 

Here are Mariota's stats through 10 games this season:

Here’s a breakdown of the last nine Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks and how Marcus Mariota’s 2014 season would compare based on his projected stats through 13 games.

*Projected stats based on 13-game schedule

While everyone believed that Mariota was a top-flight college quarterback at the start of the season, there were questions about whether he could finally lead the Ducks to a Pac-12 title game. In order to win the Heisman Trophy, Mariota was going to have to be a better player and leader in order to win the most coveted award in college athletics. That meant he had to beat his Achilles’ heel: Stanford.

Mariota emphatically marked Stanford off his Heisman checklist with a resounding 45-16 victory. The redshirt junior quarterback was fantastic as he went 19-of-30 for 258 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for another 85 yards and two more touchdowns.

Mariota took down Stanford, is on pace to match the statistics of past Heisman Trophy winners and has been the leader of a Ducks team that has already clinched the Pac-12 North.

So what else does Mariota need to show the Heisman voters? He needs to show them he can close the door in November and help the Ducks win their last three games of the season—including the Pac-12 championship.

But, for now, Mariota has a sizeable lead in the race. Want proof? We’ve got it.

 

Where Mariota Stands Now

While the bookmakers in Las Vegas are certainly confident that Mariota is going to win the Heisman Trophy, it’s important to look at writers from various sites in order to get a sense of what the Heisman voting community is thinking.

Taking a look at ESPN’s Heisman Watch, it’s clear that the 10-member panel has Marcus Mariota well-ahead of the pack. Mariota received eight of the 10 first-place votes as well as two second-place votes. Out of a possible 50 points, Mariota earned 48.

Coming in second is Dak Prescott who earned the other two first-place votes. He was followed by Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin and Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper.

Zac Ellis ofSports Illustrated mostly agrees with ESPN’s panel, as he also has Marcus Mariota first and Dak Prescott second, but he has Boykin third, Gordon fourth and Cooper fifth.

Graham Watson of Yahoo Sports has the same top-five candidates as ESPN and Sports Illustrated, but he has Mariota first followed by Gordon, Boykin, Prescott and Cooper in that order.

Needless to say, there’s a clear-cut top five, and Marcus Mariota sits atop almost everyone’s poll. However, is there a chance that Dak Prescott could jump Mariota if he plays an outstanding game against Alabama and leads his Bulldogs to victory? Chip Patterson of CBSSports.com wonders the same thing.

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is pulling away in the Heisman Trophy race, if you judge such things by the updated information released by oddsmakers. Mariota's odds moved past even money already and have continued to improve as the Ducks defeated Stanford and Utah in back-to-back weeks. Now listed at 1/5, it seems Bovada agrees with CBSSports.com in Mariota's chances to win the award if Oregon makes the College Football Playoff.

But what about Dak Prescott? Mariota won't have the stage Mississippi State's star quarterback has in the final weeks of the regular season at Alabama and Ole Miss. The type of voters who demand "Heisman moments" will have a close eye on Prescott in each of these contests, hoping for a performance that will solidify their decision. Oregon does not have a game of that magnitude left until the Pac-12 title game but that could be a good thing. As we saw with Everett Golson and Nick Marshall this week, a quarterback's Heisman chances take a sizable hit with a loss of any kind.

As of right now, all six of CBSSports.com's Heisman pundits have Mariota leading their poll. It’s possible those rankings may change if Prescott has the game of his life against Alabama, especially when you consider how dominant the Crimson Tide have been at home this season.

Mariota likely won’t have the chance to make a huge splash on a national stage until the Pac-12 Championship Game. The best-case scenario for Mariota’s Heisman hopes would be for the Ducks to take on No. 6 Arizona State in a clash of one-loss teams.

If both Oregon and Arizona State have one loss coming into the title game, it will essentially act as a College Football Playoff quarterfinal with the winner grabbing a spot in the actual playoff on Jan. 1.

If Mariota is able to put on a show in a game of that magnitude, the trophy is his.

 

Mariota's Trophy to Lose

We’ve established that Marcus Mariota is the Heisman front-runner and that if he’s able to lead the Ducks to victory in their next three games the race will be officially over. But one thing that is often overlooked when considering the Heisman Trophy is the person and not just the player.

The Heisman Trophy “recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work,” according to the Heisman Trust mission statement.

No one has been more superb on the football field this season, but perhaps more importantly, Mariota by all accounts is a sportsman, a good person and a man with integrity.

For a moment this season, the Heisman Trust “erroneously omitted” the words “with integrity” from its mission statement during a redesign of its website, according to Sports Illustrated.

While the words may have been omitted (they’ve since been re-added), there may be no more important words in the Heisman Trust’s mission statement. Moreover, there may not be a player in the country who exemplifies integrity better than Marcus Mariota.

In fact, Bleacher Report’s own Greg Couch says, “Here's the thing: Marcus Mariota can save the Heisman Trophy. He needs to win it. The Heisman, college football and even the NFL need him to win it.”

I don’t know if Marcus Mariota is going to save the Heisman, but if he does win the award as anticipated, he will have certainly earned the award based on his performance on and off the field.

At this point in the season, Mariota is playing the role of Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie Catch Me if You Can. The only difference is there’s no Tom Hanks in this version of the movie to run Mariota down.

Sure, the Ducks could lose, and the dream could go up in smoke. But that’s on the Ducks. No one is going to chase Mariota down for the Heisman Trophy. It’s his to take and his alone.

 

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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