NCAA Football News

College Football Playoff Standings: Week 12 Rankings and Bowl Game Projections

Week 11 provided some clarity as far as the playoff picture is concerned. The overall bowl picture, though? Well, it's still a work in progress.

But bowl projections are back, and we're here to give the postseason our best guess. 

Here's how the two major Top 25 polls looked after Week 11. The following slides contain bowl projections heading into Week 12. Click on the links below to view the latest College Football Playoff, Associated Press and USA Today Top 25 polls.

College Football Playoff 

Associated Press

USA Today Amway Coaches Poll

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What Auburn Must Do to Stop Georgia's Strong Rushing Attack

AUBURN, Ala. — To Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, Todd Gurley is a time bomb.

And for the last several weeks, due to an NCAA-mandated suspension, the superstar Georgia running back has been steadily ticking off the field, waiting for his chance to explode again.

"When is he going to get that 95-yard kickoff?" Johnson said. "When is he going to hit that 40-yard run? When is he going to catch that 35-yard screen pass?"

Following three straight weekends of lackluster defensive play, Johnson and his staff now turn their attention to containing Gurley and limiting the running game's devastation.

Georgia currently has the second-best rushing attack in the SEC, behind Auburn—and the Bulldogs have the advantage in yards per carry:

To make matters even tougher for the veteran coach, Gurley is not alone. While the former Heisman contender was held off the field, freshman running back Nick Chubb ran for 140 or more yards in four consecutive games.

"First of all, they’ve got freshman running backs that are extremely talented, and you can definitely see that they’ve been effective," head coach Gus Malzahn said. "They have a lot of good experience this year. Of course when you add (Todd) Gurley in, he’s one of the better individual players at any position."

Here are three main areas of emphasis for the Auburn defense as it faces Gurley, Chubb and an explosive Georgia offense focused on revenge from last season's unbelievable outcome in this long rivalry:

 

Drastically Improve Tackling

Missed tackles have been an issue on the Plains for the last several seasons, and they have crept back after what had been a strong start to the 2014 season for the Auburn defense.

The epidemic reached a critical point in the Tigers' 41-38 upset loss to Texas A&M last weekend, a game in which the Aggies were able to turn short plays into monster gains thanks to all of Auburn's whiffs.

"I think we had 11 [missed tackles] after contact that added up to 114 yards, something of that nature, and that’s a lot of yardage," Johnson said. "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."

After giving up so many yards on missed tackles to what had been a struggling Texas A&M offense, one of the nation's most explosive players is up next.

"You have got to be exactly right on him every time because he's either going to break the physical tackle, or he’s going to out run the space tackle," Johnson said. "He’s a specimen." 

According to Auburn's defenders, tackling will be far and away the most important aspect of Auburn's defensive performance against Georgia.

"It's going to be key," senior cornerback Jonathon Mincy said. "That's going to be the main thing we have to come to the game ready to do. We just have to swarm on him. One person gets there, the rest of the team's got to fly around."

 

Cut Down on Blown Assignments

During Auburn's current slide in defensive production, players and coaches have repeatedly said their opponents' explosive plays are coming off of blown assignments.

While a lot of these miscues have come on passing plays, teams have also been able to move the ball more effectively in the running game. Texas A&M, for instance, averaged five yards per carry against Auburn.

Johnson claims the Tigers aren't making as many of these mistakes nine games into the season as they did at the beginning, but these later misses are being magnified in the box score.

"That’s the thing that’s been so frustrating," Johnson said. "The missed assignments have come down, but they always seem to be real glaring—turn a man loose in man coverage, hit a blitz and hit the wrong gap, trip up another guy, don’t get the pressure on a guy."

Gurley and Chubb are two types of players that will feast on bad assignment play by taking a small hole and turning it into a large one.

In a hostile road environment, communication and execution will be crucial for the Auburn defense.

"You kind of break it down to discipline," Mincy said. "Everybody's got to lock down on their keys. If you have man, play your man. The guys that have to be in the run fit, be in the run fit and just do your assignment."

 

Get off to a Good Start

After an abysmal start against Texas A&M, Auburn's defense held the Aggies to just two field goals in the second half of last Saturday's contest.

The game continued what has been an alarming trend for the Tigers, who excel at making halftime adjustments but constantly come out flat defensively.

"Not getting off to a good start has been the thing that we’ve got to fix," Malzahn said. "Once we get into the game, especially in the second half, our guys are playing better. They’re settling down, but we’ve got to get off to a better start defensively earlier in the game."

With the way Georgia's Gurley-less offense has played recently, the Tigers must avoid falling into a big hole or letting the Bulldogs string together big plays.

For Johnson, that means eliminating the early mistakes that good offenses turn into points.

"They’re trying hard, they’re practicing hard," Johnson said. "We’re just making some mistakes sometimes that are uncharacteristic. We need to find an answer to that. We need to coach better, play a little harder, coach smarter, something. We’ve got to eliminate those six or eight plays a game where we just don’t make them earn it."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Utah Utes vs. Stanford Cardinal: Betting Odds, Analysis, College Football Pick

The Utah Utes will look to snap a two-game skid when they visit the Stanford Cardinal in a Pac-12 matchup on Saturday.

The Utes are coming off a 51-27 home loss to the Oregon Ducks as 9.5-point underdogs, while the Cardinal knows how that feels after being on the wrong end of a 45-16 rout in Eugene two weeks ago before their bye as a seven-point dog.

 

Point spread: Cardinal opened as 7.5-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 39.1-32.6 Cardinal

 

Why the Utah Utes can cover the spread

Utah is 3-0 against the spread in its last three road games vs. Pac-12 opponents and had covered its previous four games overall before getting blown out by the Ducks at home last week. The Utes were actually one of the best teams in the country against the number at 7-1 before losing badly against Oregon, as their previous five games were all decided by six points or fewer.

Playing a defensive-minded Stanford team favors Utah’s style of play, with the under cashing in the team’s previous six games and the Utes going 5-1 straight up and ATS during that stretch.

 

Why the Stanford Cardinal can cover the spread

Three of the Cardinal’s four losses have come on the road this year, and they are 13-1 SU in their past 14 home games against conference foes. The exception came in a 13-10 loss to the USC Trojans in their second game of the season as a three-point favorite. Since then, Stanford has gone 3-0 at home with a 2-0-1 mark vs. the line.

This is the team’s last home game before wrapping up the schedule with trips to California and UCLA, so you can bet the Cardinal will be fired up to finish things up on a positive note at Stanford Stadium before hitting the road.

 

Smart Pick

Stanford has the advantage of a week off to prepare for Utah, which should make a big difference here. The Cardinal are 4-1 ATS in their past five home games after a bye and also 4-1-1 vs. the line in their last six at home against Pac-12 teams.

The Cardinal have had enough time to recover from the loss at Oregon, while the Utes are not as fortunate after losing to the Ducks last Saturday and must try to regroup quickly for this road game.

There is some extra motivation for Stanford too, as the team is trying to become bowl eligible with one more victory, something Utah has already accomplished.

 

Betting Trends

  • Utah is 4-1 ATS in its last five games
  • Stanford is 21-2 SU in its last 23 games at home

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark; all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

TCU Horned Frogs vs. Kansas Jayhawks: Odds, Analysis, College Football Pick

TCU is coming off a big win over Kansas State and still has a shot at both the Big 12 title and a spot in the upcoming College Football Playoff. But the Horned Frogs must now hit the road and play as a favorite, a spot in which they're just 1-6 against the spread in their last seven tries. TCU visits Kansas Saturday afternoon.

 

Point spread: Horned Frogs opened as 24.5-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 39.4-17.7 Horned Frogs

 

Why the TCU Horned Frogs can cover the spread

The Frogs are 8-1 both straight up and ATS this season, after kicking Kansas State last week 41-20, covering as six-point favorites. TCU piled up 553 yards of offense against the Wildcats, 334 on the ground, and held the ball for over 35 minutes.

So since blowing that late lead and losing at Baylor, the Frogs are 4-0 SU and 3-1 ATS, outgaining their last four foes by 233 yards per game and outrushing them by 168 yards per contest.

TCU has beaten Kansas each of the last two seasons, holding the Jayhawks to 12 points and 61 yards rushing per game.

 

Why the Kansas Jayhawks can cover the spread

The Jayhawks dumped coach Charlie Weis after that 23-0 loss to Texas back in September but are actually 3-2 ATS since then; they just picked up their first Big 12 victory of the season, beating Iowa State last week 34-14 as two-point home dogs. Kansas jumped out to a 24-0 lead and held on from there, accumulating 514 yards of offense, including 228 yards on the ground, as both freshman Corey Avery and senior Tony Pierson hit the century mark.

And quarterback Michael Cummings threw a touchdown pass, improving his touchdown-to-interception ratio to 5/1 over his last three games. Finally, while the Jayhawks have lost to TCU each of the last two seasons, they covered both those spreads, staying within 20-6 as 18-point dogs and 27-17 as 24-point dogs.

 

Smart Pick

TCU is rolling, putting up huge numbers on offense as it plays to impress the playoff committee. But Kansas hasn't been terrible of late, and might actually come into this game with some momentum after last week's victory.

Also, the Jayhawks have given the Frogs tough games the last two years. So the smart money here resides with the home dog.

 

Betting Trends

  • TCU is 17-8 SU in its last 25 games on the road
  • The total has gone under in five of Kansas' last six games at home

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark; all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line-movement updates and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Northwestern Wildcats vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Betting Odds, Analysis

Notre Dame is 6-3-1 against the spread in its last 10 home games against the Big Ten. Northwestern, despite a reputation as a feisty underdog, is just 4-15 ATS over its last 19 games. Two teams coming off disheartening losses meet when the Irish host the Wildcats Saturday afternoon.

 

Point spread: Fighting Irish opened as 16.5-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (Line updates and matchup report).

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 32.2-17.9 Fighting Irish

 

Why the Northwestern Wildcats can cover the spread

The Wildcats had a chance to snap a three-game losing streak last week against Michigan, scoring with three seconds to get within 10-9, but they botched a two-point conversion attempt and lost. They did, however, cover the spread as two-point home dogs.

Northwestern out-gained the Wolverines 264-256, held the ball for almost 32 minutes and went 10-of-20 on third-down conversions, but its three turnovers proved costly. Earlier this year the Wildcats beat Penn State on the road and Wisconsin at home, and lost a tough game at Minnesota, so they are capable of competing. Eliminating the turnovers would help.

 

Why the Notre Dame Fighting Irish can cover the spread

The Irish suffered a meltdown last week against Arizona State, committing five turnovers, two of which were returned for Sun Devils touchdowns, in a 55-31 defeat. Notre Dame actually out-gained ASU 487-412, and after trailing 34-3, they pulled to within 34-31 with six minutes to go. But the rally died when the Devils drove for an insurance score, then tacked on another defensive touchdown for the icing.

The Irish have out-gained seven of nine opponents this season, including their last three foes, yet they've lost two of their last three games. Of course, one of those defeats came thanks to that questionable pass interference penalty in the waning moments against Florida State.

 

Smart Pick

The Irish are the better team but is Northwestern really that bad? Before the season started many people thought the Wildcats had a chance to win the Big Ten's West Division. And with this game being played in South Bend, the spread is probably a bit inflated toward the home team. So the smart choice here resides with Northwestern, plus the points.

 

Betting Trends

  • The total has gone under in five of Northwestern's last seven games on the road
  • The total has gone under in five of Notre Dame's last seven games at home

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Wisconsin Badgers: Betting Odds, College Football Pick

The Wisconsin Badgers will go for their fifth straight win Saturday when they host the Nebraska Cornhuskers in a key Big Ten matchup. Wisconsin and Nebraska are currently in a three-way tie atop the conference’s West Division with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, and both of them beat the Purdue Boilermakers in their last games as double-digit favorites.

 

Point spread: The Badgers opened as four-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (Line updates and matchup report).

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 32.2-31.9 Badgers

 

Why the Nebraska Cornhuskers can cover the spread

The Cornhuskers beat Purdue 35-14 two weeks ago as 21-point home favorites, the team’s third win in a row since losing 27-22 to the Michigan State Spartans as 8.5-point road underdogs. That is the only blemish for Nebraska this season, and it will be out to keep it that way with an outside shot of making the College Football Playoff if it can win the rest of its games.

Beating Wisconsin is first and foremost on Nebraska’s list of what needs to be done to improve the team’s chances, as a home game against Minnesota and a road meeting with Iowa still remain in the final two regular-season games before a potential Big Ten Championship Game matchup down the road.

 

Why the Wisconsin Badgers can cover the spread

The Badgers are 15-5 against the spread (ATS) in their last 20 home games against Big Ten opponents and have gone 3-0 vs. the line in the past three meetings between the teams. Two of those meetings were in Madison, where Wisconsin crushed the Cornhuskers by a combined 70 points.

The Badgers are coming off a 34-16 victory against the Boilermakers last week as 16.5-point road chalk, just beating the spread to improve to 3-0 ATS in their past three games. Wisconsin’s only loss in its last eight games came on the road against the Northwestern Wildcats 20-14 as a 7.5-point road favorite, and the team has won 11 of its past 12 at home overall, going 8-4 ATS.

 

Smart Pick

It looks easy to take the Badgers at home in this game, but Nebraska is the real deal and should be able to hang around and stay close to or within the number. The better bet though is to go over the total in what has been a high-scoring matchup, going 3-0 in the last three meetings with an average of 74.3 points per game.

The last meeting two years ago saw a whopping 101 points scored in a 70-31 Wisconsin victory, and the over is also 14-4-1 in the team’s past 19 home games vs. Big Ten foes.

Keep in mind, the Badgers were three-point home underdogs in that last meeting and saw three of their running backs rush for a combined 527 yards and eight touchdowns. That just proves how a powerful running game can push the game over. In this game, there are two.

 

Betting Trends

  • Nebraska is 9-1 straight up in its last 10 games.
  • The total has gone under in four of Wisconsin's last six games.

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark; all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line-movement updates, and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. Alabama Crimson Tide Betting Odds, Analysis

The Alabama Crimson Tide will get their chance to take down the top team in the country on Saturday when they host the Mississippi State Bulldogs in arguably the biggest SEC game of the year. The Crimson Tide have won 11 of the last 13 meetings with the Bulldogs, including the last six, and they are a perfect 7-0 straight up and against the spread in their past seven home games vs. SEC opponents.

 

Point spread: The Crimson Tide opened as 6.5-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 27.3-25.4 Bulldogs

 

Why the Mississippi State Bulldogs can cover the spread

Mississippi State is still unbeaten for a reason, going 12-0 in their last 12 games dating back to 2013. This is obviously the toughest test of the season for the Bulldogs, but they have managed to come through in their biggest games all year.

They are also 10-4 ATS in their past 14 dating back to last season, although they have failed to cover three straight. To be fair, Mississippi State’s past three games have come against weak competition, with the team favored by double digits in all of them.

The Bulldogs started the season 5-1 against the number, capped by a 38-23 rout of Auburn as 2.5-point home underdogs. That victory was so impressive it made Mississippi State the No. 1 team in the country, and the school has stayed there ever since.

 

Why the Alabama Crimson Tide can cover the spread

Alabama has been looking forward to this game on its schedule for a while now and done a good job of not overlooking opponents along the way. The road has not been easy, but the Crimson Tide are right where they want and need to be, knowing that a victory here against the nation’s top-ranked team will not only knock the Bulldogs from the top spot but also probably put the Tide into the top four.

Granted, Alabama still has to beat Auburn and then win the SEC Championship Game, but past history certainly suggests a win over Mississippi State is likely. In addition to favorable series trends, the Crimson Tide are 6-2 ATS in their past eight games as a home favorite.

 

Smart pick

The timing of this game is not great for the Bulldogs, but this is when you need to win in order to earn your way into national championship consideration. Losing a game now is far more devastating than earlier in the season, and Alabama knows that. Fair or unfair, the Crimson Tide’s lone setback of the season at Ole Miss is all but forgotten, and beating Mississippi State is all that matters.

The Bulldogs are just 2-10 SU in their last 12 games as road underdogs, including 1-8 in their past nine. They have also dropped six of their last nine SEC road games, although two of the three wins during that stretch have taken place this season.

The bottom line is Alabama has been ramping up its schedule with tougher games lately while Mississippi State has not. That puts the Tide in perfect position to hand the Bulldogs their first loss and cover the spread.

 

Betting trends

  • Mississippi State is 5-1 ATS in its last six games on the road.
  • The total has gone under in four of Alabama's last five games.

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates and get the free odds-tracker app.

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2015 Linebacker Recruits Who Will Be Tackling Machines for Their Future Teams

With offenses tending to move toward creating matchups in space, the responsibilities of the linebacker position have changed in recent years.

However, one duty that never changes for defenders in the middle level is their job of racking up tackles. 

The 2015 class has a handful of standout linebackers who have proven their ability to wreak havoc on the prep level. 

Which senior linebackers are primed to become tackling machines on the college level?

 

Players listed in alphabetical order.

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Ohio State Football: Can Minnesota Spoil the Buckeyes' Playoff Hopes?

After Ohio State fell to Virginia Tech in Week 2, it took two months, a handful of blowouts and a convincing victory over Michigan State for Urban Meyer's squad to truly reenter the College Football Playoff race.

The Buckeyes, who ascended six spots to No. 8 in this week's rankings, will need to bring their best to Minneapolis this weekend to keep pace in an ever-narrowing sprint to the finish line.

What's waiting for them this Saturday is a feisty Minnesota team coming off its best performance of the year—a 51-14 demolition of the surging Iowa Hawkeyes. The Gophers, now 7-2 on the year, are hoping to derail Ohio State just a week after it got back on track. 

Are the Buckeyes destined for a dreaded hangover game after avenging last year's loss to the Spartans? Meyer is working hard to prevent that.

"We spend every second of our day on trying to make sure that [a hangover] doesn't happen," Meyer said, according to Tim Shoemaker of Eleven Warriors. "You watch the video tape, and here's a team that's won a bunch of games, and their last game was their best game against Iowa." 

They looked so good against the Hawkeyes, in fact, that the Gophers popped up in this week's playoff rankings, coming in at No. 25. This is certainly a team that has improved drastically since the Buckeyes last saw it in 2008, when they cruised to an easy 38-7 victory in Columbus.

So how did Minnesota emerge from a bottom-dwelling Big Ten team to a legitimate threat? Credit for that belongs to head coach Jerry Kill, who took over in 2011 and improved the program incrementally during his tenure. The Gophers won just three games in his first season, but they registered six victories in 2012 and broke out for eight in 2013. 

Saturday, they'll be looking for a program-defining win over Ohio State. The Gophers will lean on their 21st-ranked defense and a strong running game fueled by running back David Cobb—who ranks eighth nationally with 1,205 rushing yards—to pull the upset. But will they have enough firepower to keep pace with a Buckeyes team that is hitting on all cylinders?

The good folks in Las Vegas don't think so. According to Odds Shark, Ohio State will enter Saturday's contest as 12.5-point favorites, but that line has moved down two points since Sunday.

When conference play kicked off, the Michigan State game looked like Ohio State's only opportunity to really impress pollsters before a potential trip to the Big Ten title game. But with Minnesota's emergence, the Buckeyes will have another national audience (ABC, noon ET) to put on a show against a quality opponent. And with just three games remaining in the regular season, Meyer's squad needs to take advantage and prove it's worthy of a playoff spot with an impressive showing.

Can the Buckeyes do that against a Minnesota team that likes to play ugly, defense-first football? That's something the selection committee will be interested in finding out because this same Gophers team was blasted 30-7 by TCU earlier this season. The Horned Frogs, who rank No. 4 in this week's standings, would indirectly receive a boost if the Buckeyes struggle this Saturday.

That's why it's so important for Ohio State to put on a show against Minnesota. If it struggles in what should be frigid conditions on the road, the Buckeyes' playoff hopes would crash before they even had a chance to take off.

 

All stats via NCAA.com.

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

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Michigan State Spartans vs. Maryland Terrapins: Betting Odds and Pick

Michigan State has been a moneymaker on the road recently, going 14-3 against the spread in its last 17 spots as a road favorite and 8-1 ATS in its last nine Big Ten road contests. The Spartans will try to shake off last week's loss to Ohio State when they visit College Park to take on Maryland Saturday night.

 

Point spread: Spartans opened as 10.5-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 38.9-26.1 Spartans

 

Why the Michigan State Spartans can cover the spread

The Spartans had won six games in a row while going 4-2 ATS until running into a buzz saw in a 49-37 loss to the Buckeyes last week. Sparty led that game 21-14 late in the second quarter but gave up two long J.T. Barrett touchdown passes before the half, totally turning the momentum toward OSU.

Michigan State eventually racked up 536 yards of offense but just didn't have an answer for Barrett, who scalded the Spartans for almost 400 yards from scrimmage and five scores. Fortunately for State, the Terrapins don't have anybody like Barrett.

 

Why the Maryland Terrapins can cover the spread

The Terps have had their ups and down this season, but after winning at Penn State 20-19 on Nov. 1 as three-point underdogs, they're now 3-2 both straight-up and ATS in Big Ten play. Maryland only managed 194 yards of offense but held the Nittany Lions to just 219 yards and forced four turnovers. So at 6-3 SU and 5-4 ATS, Maryland is already bowl-eligible for the second season in a row.

Despite moving to a new conference, the Terps had some high hopes for this season, but injuries have once again taken a toll on this team. However, they have won and covered two of their last three outings.

 

Smart Pick

Michigan State might have a tough time getting up for this game initially, but with its running game and defense, it should be able to pull away from a Maryland team that lost 52-24 to Ohio State and 52-7 to Wisconsin. So the smart money here resides with the Spartans, on the road, at the more manageable spread.

 

Betting Trends

  • The total has gone over in 10 of Michigan State's last 11 games.
  • The total has gone over in five of Maryland's last six games at home.

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates, and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Tigers vs. Arkansas Razorbacks Betting Odds, Analysis, College Football Pick

The Arkansas Razorbacks still haven't won an SEC game under head coach Bret Bielema, losing 17 straight conference games overall and going 7-10 against the spread. The Hogs take another shot at snapping that inglorious streak when they host the Tigers of LSU on Saturday night in Fayetteville.

 

Point spread: The Razorbacks opened as 1.5-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 26.9-25.7 Razorbacks

 

Why the LSU Tigers can cover the spread

The Tigers had won and covered three games in a row until a tough 20-13 overtime loss at home to Alabama last week. LSU kicked a field goal to take a 13-10 lead with less than a minute to go but allowed the Tide to drive for a game-tying field goal of their own and then lost in the first overtime period.

The Tigers outrushed 'Bama 183-106 and held the ball for over 38 minutes but missed a chance at the victory in regulation when they couldn't do anything with a 1st-and-goal from the Tide 6-yard line in the final minutes. Still, LSU is 7-3 ATS on the season and owns a three-game winning streak against Arkansas.

 

Why the Arkansas Razorbacks can cover the spread

The Razorbacks are still winless in SEC play under Bielema, but they've come close to snapping that skid several times already this season.

In the season opener, they played Auburn to a 21-21 halftime tie before running out of gas in the second half. Later, they blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead and lost to Texas A&M 35-28 in overtime. Then, they lost to Alabama 14-13 thanks in part to a missed extra point. Last week, Arkansas led top-ranked Mississippi State in Starkville 10-0 in the second quarter but came up empty from there and lost 17-10.

Still, the Hogs are 7-2 ATS on the season, and they're 6-1 ATS in their last seven meetings with LSU.

 

Smart pick

Both teams are coming off tough losses, so they're in the same boat emotionally. Arkansas owns the edge on offense, averaging 452 yards per game, but LSU has the edge on defense, holding foes to 318 yards per game. In close calls like this, the smart money should go with the better defense, so the Tigers are the pick, plus the points.

 

Betting trends

  • LSU is 7-2-1 ATS in its last 10 games.
  • Arkansas is 1-4 SU in its last five games.

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line-movement updates, and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee vs. Kentucky Won't Be an Easy Win for Vols Like in the Past

The earlier date on the schedule isn't the only thing different about Tennessee's annual football game with Kentucky this year. 

The Wildcats are no longer doormats. So, when the Volunteers meet their next-door neighbors in Neyland Stadium on Saturday afternoon—a couple of weeks earlier in November than usual—it really will be a playoff-type atmosphere.

Head coach Mark Stoops' Cats need one more win to become bowl-eligible. Butch Jones' Vols need two.

Though Tennessee is favored by a little more than a touchdown on OddsShark.com this week, it's anybody's game.

That's a far cry from a series that has laughed in the face of the word "rivalry" in recent years. Though the two schools are just 173 miles apart, the gulf between the football programs has been much wider, as UT has won 28 of the past 29 by an average of 20 points.

That's no longer the case. The two programs' seasons are extremely similar. 

The Vols have played a tougher schedule so far and have four wins. The Wildcats' is more back-loaded, and they have five.

Both have a tough road to a bowl. Both upset South Carolina dramatically. Both played Florida extremely close before losing. Both play a lot of youngsters and have second-year coaches.

Though the Wildcats have fallen off and lost four straight after a 5-1 start, they took No. 1 Mississippi State to the brink before getting handled by Missouri and Georgia the past two weeks.

So, why is UK no longer known as the "Mildcats," the team that has beaten UT just seven times since 1959?

Reporter Kyle Tucker of Louisville's The Courier-Journal newspaper told Bleacher Report there are several factors, but it all starts with a Stoops-influenced defense and 6'5", 240-pound redshirt sophomore quarterback Patrick Towles.

"The big difference: a quarterback who can (doesn't always) raise his game to an elite level and make NFL throws and a defense that, while pretty atrocious against the run, can force turnovers," Tucker said. "The Cats only intercepted three passes a year ago; 13 so far this season.

"Yes, [Towles] can take over games, but he's also disappeared some down the stretch here. UK needs the guy back who had 390-plus total yards three times this season, including against Florida and Mississippi State."

Like Tennessee, Kentucky's defense has made some big, pivotal plays. Also like the Vols, they've had lapses where they've played atrociously, allowing 41 points to LSU, 45 to Mississippi State and 63 last week to Georgia.

But having a really good quarterback covers a lot of warts. There have been several games where Towles has picked up his team and carried it on his shoulders with his cannon arm and able legs. He's the best NFL prospect at the position in the league.

Having him directing the opponent makes a really good football game possible on Saturday. It also makes for an intriguing atmosphere that UT quarterback and fellow potential pro prospect Joshua Dobbs told VolQuest.com's John Brice and Rob Lewis (subscription required) will have a do-or-die feel:

Coach Jones has definitely said it's a three-game playoff. We want to win all three games obviously. We have to start with this one. We have to come out Saturday ready to play. Our goal is to get to five wins and they stand in our path. Our goal is to do whatever it takes to move them out of the way, get win number five and then move on from there.

Even in their worst years, that hasn't been too difficult for the Vols. Beating Kentucky is tradition. But it won't be that easy this season, thanks to Stoops. He has recruited some players in there, and it is already paying dividends.

The Wildcats may not always know what they're doing, but they've got athletic freshmen and sophomores all over that defense and have a future offensive star in Boom Williams at running back.

He highlighted a recruiting class in 2014 that was among UK's best ever, ranking 23rd in the country on the 247Sports composite rankings.

"There are four former 4-star recruits in the backfield, led by freshman Stanley 'Boom' Williams, one of just two players in the country with a catch of 25-plus yards, run of 50-plus and kick return of 75-plus," Tucker said. "He's a big-time playmaker, one of just six players with three TD runs of 50 yards or longer, including one last week against UGA.

"Safety A.J. Stamps is a JUCO addition who has made a major difference in the secondary."

Beyond the numbers in the rankings, though, it's obvious that Kentucky now isn't the same as Kentucky of old. Sure, the Wildcats fade in stretches against good teams that are more established, more talented, deeper and have been playing at a higher level longer. 

But those flashes of competitiveness are getting longer and longer.

It's the same frustratingly slow signs of maturity the Vols see when they're looking in the proverbial mirror. These are programs in the pubescent stages of competition, and this is a massive game for the long-term complexion of both.

Whichever team comes out on top will not only have a leg up in making it to a bowl game this year, but they'll hold bragging rights in a series that hasn't meant much in a long time but looks like it's trending in that direction in the future of a wide-open SEC East.

Tennessee may be recruiting the type of talent that can put the Vols back near the top of the league, competing for a spot in the SEC Championship Game.

But Kentucky can't be shrugged off anymore, not with Stoops recruiting in Ohio and Florida the way he is, not with a blossoming star at quarterback and not with some underclassmen who double as playmakers.

The Vols may wind up doing what its fanbase expects and handling the Wildcats yet again on Saturday. But if they do, it'll be another impressive step for the program and a nice encore to the "Comeback in Columbia."

 

All stats and information taken from UTSports.com. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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