NCAA Football News

SEC Football Q&A: What's More Likely, 2 SEC Playoff Teams or Zero?

The biggest game in Mississippi State history didn't go the way head coach Dan Mullen expected, as the previously No. 1 Bulldogs fell to Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Saturday 25-20 and lost control of their own SEC West destiny.

What about their playoff destiny, though?

Whether they're in or out of the Top Four this week in the College Football Playoff rankings, the 9-1 Bulldogs have a pretty strong case to make for the inaugural event. 

If both Alabama and Mississippi State win out, will both make it? Will chaos continue and zero teams make it? That question, plus a look at a Georgia freshman sensation and an SEC Championship Game prediction are in this week's SEC Q&A.

 

Without question, it's more likely that zero SEC teams are in the College Football Playoff than it is that two get in.

It doesn't really matter where they're ranked midseason. One of the stated points of emphasis of the selection committee is conference championships, and those simply won't exist until championship Saturday. How important will they be?

"All I heard about before this thing got started was the commissioners—the only reason they agreed to this—is if the conference champion...'the only way we agree to this is if the conference champions were going to be recognized and honored by having a chance to get in there,'" ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit told B/R during his tour promoting the Allstate VIP "It's Good" sweepstakes . "I didn't just hear that one or two times, I heard that repeatedly."

That should terrify Mississippi State fans because there will be one-loss teams with conference titles to boast on "Selection Sunday," and if Mississippi State isn't one of them, it runs the risk of getting jumped despite a resume that might be stronger than some conference champions.

Zero SEC teams in the College Football Playoff? That could happen. If Missouri or Georgia beats the SEC West contender in the SEC Championship Game, neither would be a lock for a playoff spot. Missouri has an ugly home loss to Indiana on its resume, and Georgia's losses to South Carolina and Florida won't sit well with the selection committee, either.

If chalk holds around the country and Florida State, Oregon, TCU/Baylor and Ohio State all don't lose, I don't see either of those SEC East teams getting in.

 

Oh, without a doubt.

What Nick Chubb has done this season has been nothing short of remarkable. During incredibly trying and unexpected times, he stepped in for superstar Todd Gurley during his suspension, and the offense didn't miss a beat.

For a true freshman to step in and rush for 1,039 yards on 152 carries and score nine touchdowns is impressive regardless of the situation. But to do it in the middle of a division title race in place of a superstar who is unexpectedly absent makes him one of the—if not the—most valuable players on Georgia's roster.

With that said, though, it's going to be very difficult for Chubb—or any running back—to win the Heisman Trophy. Only two non-quarterbacks have won it since 2000, and one of those was former USC star Reggie Bush, who returned it after the NCAA came calling.

Chubb will be in the mix and a big part of Georgia's offense next year, especially considering it'll be breaking in a new starting quarterback. But he might have to have a Melvin Gordon-like season to have a legitimate chance at winning.

 

After the way Auburn looked against Georgia—with literally nothing going right—it's hard to imagine the Tigers rolling into Tuscaloosa and upsetting the Alabama Crimson Tide in two weeks. So I'll switch my pick and say Alabama now.

In the East, I'll go with Georgia.

The Bulldogs are in the clubhouse with a 6-2 conference record and need Missouri to lose one of its final two games—at Tennessee and vs. Arkansas—to go to Atlanta. Not only will Missouri lose this weekend to the Vols, it'll lose both.

Tennessee has found a spark in quarterback Joshua Dobbs, and its defense should be able to rattle Tigers quarterback Maty Mauk, who has thrown 10 picks and is ninth in the SEC in passer rating (118.56). Arkansas' defense found some life last week in the shutout over LSU and, now that it knows what it takes to win in the SEC, will be difficult for anyone to stop moving forward.

If it's Alabama vs. Georgia in Atlanta, it would be a rematch of the 2012 classic that saw Georgia fall five yards short of winning the SEC and advancing to the BCS National Championship Game. That would make for quite a matchup.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Todd Gurley's Legacy Will Go Down as the Best Big-Play RB in Georgia History

Barring an unlikely decision to return for his senior season, Georgia running back Todd Gurley’s collegiate career has ended.

Gurley’s time as a Bulldog ends without a Heisman Trophy and (as of this moment) without an SEC Championship.  He’ll go down as second in Georgia history in a host of statistical categories—rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, all-purpose yards, total touchdowns, etc.  But his legacy as the greatest big-play running back in Georgia history is what cements him as one of college football’s all-time greats.

On paper, Gurley shouldn’t be in such high-profile conversations.  Coming out of high school, Gurley was not even the most celebrated running back recruit of Georgia’s 2012 class.  According to ESPN, Scout and 247Sports, that distinction belonged to fellow North Carolina native Keith Marshall.  Of the major recruiting services, only Rivals listed Gurley ahead of Marshall.  To be sure, his commitment was celebrated, but Marshall was the running back of the future.

Once he arrived on campus and former SEC Freshman of the Year Isaiah Crowell departed, that story changed.  But even with Gurley’s rapid and unexpected (if not downright shocking) rise to stardom, his overall output still exceeds what seems feasible given his input.  Put more bluntly: Todd Gurley didn’t play all that much football at the University of Georgia.

As a freshman, Gurley played in all 14 of Georgia’s contests, but his playing time diminished in 2013 and 2014. His sophomore year was plagued by leg injuries and as a result he missed large chunks of the Clemson and LSU games and the entirety of three midseason conference games.  This year, Gurley played just one offensive series as Georgia dismantled Troy, and he famously missed four games due to suspension.  Now, he’ll miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury.

Though the Bulldogs currently trail Missouri in SEC East standings, there’s still a hope for Georgia to sneak into the SEC Championship Game.  If that scenario comes to fruition the Dawgs will play 14 games this season, which means Gurley will have appeared in just 30 of 41 possible games over the course of his three-year career.  But despite that low appearance rate, he’s fully worthy of comparison to the greatest running backs in college football history if for no other reason than his ability to make big plays in big games.

Saying that Gurley burst onto the scene in 2012 would be giving bursts too much credit. 

In his first career game against Buffalo, Gurley came off the bench (Ken Malcome, now with Southern Illinois, started) and turned eight carries into 100 yards and two touchdowns while adding a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.  By comparison and in hindsight, Buffalo was hardly a big game for the Bulldogs.  But that type of performance in a significant game for a true freshman set the tone for Gurley’s career.

Later that season he gashed Tennessee for 130 yards and three scores in a 51-44 shootout.  He topped the 100-yard marker against Florida and in doing so helped Georgia win consecutive games against the Gators for the first time since the 1980s. 

In his inaugural appearance in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, he ran for 116 yards on just 11 carries against Auburn.  Later, in the SEC Championship Game he ran for 122 yards, the highest total surrendered by the Alabama Crimson Tide all season.  True to big-game form, Gurley ran for 125 yards in a bowl game victory over Nebraska.

His sophomore campaign, injury-riddled as it may have been, was still defined by big plays against big competition.

Against two powers from the Palmetto State, Clemson and South Carolina, Gurley combined for 295 yards of offense and four touchdowns.  Against highly ranked LSU he racked up 86 yards of offense on just nine touches before going down with injury. 

His huge first-half performance against Florida propelled Georgia to victory and his 156-yard offensive output against Auburn kept the Dawgs in the game.  In a 41-34 victory over Georgia Tech, Gurley accounted for both scores and all 50 yards of offense in the two overtime periods.

Even in his ill-fated junior campaign, Gurley provided enough highlights to hide the darkness of his suspension and injury.

He set a school record for all-purpose yardage and notched four touchdowns in the season opener against Clemson.  He ran resiliently in defeat against South Carolina.  He took over the Tennessee game late with 129 yards, five first downs and a touchdown in the fourth quarter alone as Georgia held on for a 35-32 victory. 

Even in a blowout win over Vanderbilt, Gurley stood out thanks in no small part to a 50-yard completed pass to tight end Jeb Blazevich (to date, the longest pass of the season for Georgia).

As fans, particularly college football fans, we know all too well that all good things come to an end.  But Todd Gurley wasn’t a good thing; he was a great thing.  In some regards, that greatness is magnified by the unaligned way with which his fantastic career came to such a heart-wrenchingly ugly end.

As news of Gurley’s ACL tear spread this week, Georgia head coach Mark Richt told Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Gurley was a pleasure to coach.  “Todd has been fantastic,” he said.  “Without a doubt one of the best running backs I’ve ever seen or ever coached.  Practiced hard, played hard, loved the big games and played his heart out for Georgia.”

Richt poignantly encapsulated this intricately brilliant career in just a few short words.  Gurley practiced hard.  He played hard.  He was one of the best.  But no one so consistently provided big plays in the biggest moments. That’s what Todd Gurley will be remembered for at the collegiate level, and that’s what he’ll do as a professional.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all stats courtesy of sports-reference.com.

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Which Elite 2015 Recruits Have the Attributes to Make the Ultimate CB?

A college cornerback must possess many attributes, including ball skills, physicality, speed and vision. Each cornerback recruit excels in different areas, but we have combined them to make the ultimate cornerback recruit for the 2015 class.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down the attributes to make the ultimate 2015 cornerback recruit. 

What do you think makes a good cornerback?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Sheldon Day Injury: Updates on Notre Dame Star's Knee and Return

Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive lineman Sheldon Day has an MCL sprain and will miss Saturday’s game against the Louisville Cardinals at home, according to Douglas Farmer of 247Sports:

Day, a junior, has seen extensive action for the Irish since his freshman season and is a valuable presence up front.   

He has amassed 38 combined tackles in his 10 games this season. He earned his first sack of the year against Northwestern last week. The Fighting Irish are 7-3 with Day in the lineup.

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

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Watch High School Onside Kick Go Terribly Wrong

Trickery can be a useful tool in sports, unless you're playing Hugh Cade of Buchtel High School (Akron, Ohio), who will have none of it. Watch as a team tries a surprise onside kick, and then watch what Cade does. 

Have you ever seen a worse onside kick attempt?

Watch the video and let us know!

Highlights courtesy of Hudl.

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Michigan Wolverines vs. Maryland Terrapins Complete Game Preview

Michigan (5-5, 3-3 Big Ten) has bounced back with two consecutive victories after being thrashed by instate rival Michigan State, 35-11, at the end of last month. The victories have kept bowl hopes alive, but Brady Hoke needs another win to extend Michigan’s season.

Michigan returns home to face Maryland (6-4, 3-3 Big Ten) for senior day, where 12 players will have their last game at Michigan Stadium. But defensive end Frank Clark will not be among them after being dismissed from the program following an arrest for domestic violence.

Clark’s dismissal was only part of the drama for Hoke during Michigan’s bye week. University president Mark Schlissel was forced to backtrack after launching a verbal assault on the academic integrity of the Michigan football program. Hoke accepted Schlissel’s apology while citing statistics that every football player who stayed through their senior season (69) had graduated during his tenure.

Turmoil continues to swirl around the football program as Michigan looks to seal a bowl bid with a victory in its home finale. The early onset of wintery weather in Michigan coupled with a 3:30 p.m. start time promises sparse attendance (at least by Michigan’s standards) for what may be Brady Hoke’s swan song as head coach.


Date: Saturday, November 22, 2014

Time: 3:30 p.m. EDT

Place: Michigan Stadium (109,901), Ann Arbor, Mich.

Series vs. Maryland: Michigan leads series 3-0

Television: BTN

Radio: Michigan Sports Network, Sirius (113), XM (195)

Spread: Michigan by 3 via Odds Shark

Live Stats: University of Michigan Statbroadcast

Last Meeting vs. Maryland:

Maryland suffered a 45-17 loss at Michigan Stadium in 1990. Michigan (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten) went on to finish the season No. 7 in the AP poll after defeating Ole Miss 35-3 in the Gator Bowl. Maryland finished 6-5-1 (4-3 ACC) and tied Louisiana Tech 34-34 in the Independence Bowl.


*Information according to University of Michigan Wolverine Football game notes.

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Why Texas Is the Team No College Football Team Wants to Face in a Bowl Game

Charlie Strong's Texas Longhorns are bowl-eligible. That could be bad news for whichever team gets matched up against them in the postseason. 

A convincing 28-7 rout at Oklahoma State in Week 12 marked the third straight win for Texas—and the fourth in the past five games—after it began the season 2-4. David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest calls Texas the most improved team in the Big 12 from the start of conference play to now. 

It started with changing the mentality and honoring Strong's core values: honesty, treating women with respect, and no drugs, stealing or guns. 

By the time Texas took the field against Oklahoma State, Strong was convincing his players that the outside temperature was just a number. 

To be clear, the Longhorns aren't college football's most dangerous team. They're not going to be playing in a College Football Playoff semifinal, and there's only a thin chance they'll actually win the Big 12.

Still, the turnaround in Austin appears to have started. Here's how it happened. 

 

Growing Pains and Buying In

It helps that the Horns have been able to improve against the softer part of their schedule. Even before the season began, the first six games—which included BYU, UCLA, Baylor and Oklahoma—looked daunting. Then came the attrition through injuries, suspensions and dismissals.

Texas lost its two most valuable offensive players, center Dominic Espinosa and quarterback David Ash, to season- and career-ending injuries, respectively, in early September. The O-line was one of the least experienced groups in major college football, and backup quarterback Tyrone Swoopes was thrust into the starting job. 

On top of that, starting cornerback Quandre Diggs, an outspoken leader of the team, told Max Olson of ESPN.com in July that there were players on the roster who weren't going to last: 

I told Coach Strong that I just feel like we had guys on the team that just didn't love football the way they should. That's something that I've always sensed since I've been here: We had guys that just didn't love football. If you don't love football, you don't need to be a part of this university or a part of this team. That's just something I feel greatly and strong about.

Combine the attrition and inexperience, and there were going to be growing pains. 

Texas' talented defense, which includes players such as Diggs and defensive tackle Malcolm Brown, has usually played well enough to win. On the season, the Horns have given up just 21 points per game, 19th in the country, and 4.59 yards per play. In short, the defense did what it could, but it didn't get help from the offense until recently. 

Sure enough, close games resulted in losses. In three of Texas' five losses, the Longhorns trailed by only one possession at halftime. Only Kansas State led by two, and the Horns actually led UCLA at the half. 

Texas has been an awful second-half team, specifically in the third quarter, when the offense usually came out flat. In third quarters, Texas averages just under 3.6 yards per carry on the ground—nearly a full yard less than in the first half. On the season, Texas has scored just two touchdowns in the third quarter. 

That's not helping the defense, and the results showed. In the second half of games this season, the Longhorns have given up nearly double the rush yards (2.89 in the first half versus 4.79 in the second), though they remain consistent against the pass (about 5.5 yards per attempt given up per game). 

Once the offense got going, things changed for the better. 

 

An Offensive Revival 

Now that the offense has picked up and scored 31.7 points per game in the month of November, Texas is looking like a team that can cause headaches for opponents. 

Texas is not a high-powered offense. The Horns run about 71 plays per game and aren't very explosive, but the offense is becoming more effective. In the last five games, Swoopes has thrown for at least 200 yards three times and has five touchdowns to just two interceptions. 

Swoopes has been and continues to be a work in progress. He takes three steps forward, two steps back and so on, but he easily had his best game of the season against the Cowboys. With the one-two punch of Johnathan Gray and Brown at running back, it's a pick-your-poison type of backfield. In two of the past three games, Gray or Brown has eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark.

That also says a lot about how the offensive line has come together. 

It's not an offense to be compared to the likes of Baylor or TCU, but it works for a defensive-minded coach like Strong. Over the past three games, Texas has exerted dominance over middle-of-the-road Big 12 teams. 

It's not a narrative-driven Big 12 offense that runs 100 plays and scores 50 points a game, but that was never going to be Strong's modus operandi. Rather, it's a slow, gradual tightening of the noose that's never truly a blowout but never in doubt either. 

Whether that formula works in Texas' season-ending game against TCU (Nov. 27) remains to be seen. The Frogs are on a path to at least a share of the Big 12 title and could be a playoff team. The difference in offensive production from a year ago to now for TCU might be the most dramatic in the country. 

Certainly, it could be Texas' toughest challenge to date. Win or lose, making TCU work for everything, like the Longhorns have made other teams do all year, would be a sign that the Longhorns are still improving. 

One benefit of going to a bowl is the extra practice, which Texas badly needs. Every chance for Swoopes to improve, for the offensive line to play together, for the team to continue to grow is valuable.  

With as many as 15 more practices under Texas' belt, the Longhorns could be the team no opponent wants to play in bowl season. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com 

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Florida Shouldn't Be Scared of Hiring a Coordinator as Its New Head Coach

The coaching silly season got off to a quick start in mid-November, when Florida announced that head coach Will Muschamp will be stepping down at the end of the season after four years in Gainesville.

So where does Florida go from here?

Athletic director Jeremy Foley shed some light into what specifically he's looking for on Monday.

"We would obviously like an individual that's been successful on the offensive side of the ball, I think obviously that's what the Gator Nation wants and we see that and that's what we're certainly going to try to provide for them," he said in quotes emailed by Florida.

So does that eliminate coordinators from consideration?

Muschamp got the role with no previous experience as a head coach, and the idea of going the coordinator route again might not sit well with the fanbase. When asked specifically if the new coach has to have head coaching experience, Foley dodged the question like Peter La Fleur in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.

"I commented I'm not going to get into the specifics of what we're looking for," he said.

If recent trends matter, though, it's likely that Florida's new direction will include a move to a more potent offense with a leader who knows what he's doing.

"Lee Corso taught me this long ago," ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit told Bleacher Report as part of his tour promoting the AllState VIP "It's Good" sweepstakes. "He said 'Watch when it comes to coaching. Whoever they fire, they'll bring in the complete opposite.' So, Will Muschamp—a coordinator and he's never been a head coach. They're going to go out and get an established head coach. Will Muschamp, defensive-oriented coach. They're going to go out and hire an offensive-minded head coach."

Florida shouldn't be scared to go the coordinator route again.

Sure, if candidates like Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain or Marshall's Doc Holliday are interested, they'd certainly be fantastic hires.

Would they be better than Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, a coach who has proven that—with a quarterback who fits his offense—he can produce at an elite level?

That's in the eye of the beholder.

First and foremost, Florida needs an offensive innovator. Whether he's an offensive innovator who has head coaching experience or has gotten the job done as an assistant, it doesn't matter.

Florida ranks 12th in total offense this season (373.3 YPG), has finished 10th or worse in the SEC in total offense in every season under Muschamp and five straight counting back to Urban Meyer's last season in Gainesville.

Finding a coach who can fix that is job No. 1.

Does Holliday's success at Marshall prove that he can run a program that can win in the SEC? How about McElwain?

The risk by going the coordinator route is there, but it isn't much different than if Florida goes with a coach with head coaching experience at smaller programs. They still have to adjust to the talent level, hire a staff that knows the recruiting territory and learn what it takes to win at the highest level of college football.

Besides, as Andrew Spivey of GatorCountry.com points out, sometimes coordinators—like Morris—haven't taken big jobs for a very specific reason:

That's a good thing. That should tell Foley that, while Morris may not have the experience on his resume that Gator Nation wants, he knows that it takes to build a successful staff within the SEC.

If Florida can pony up that money—and there's nothing to suggest that it can't—the mere fact that Morris is currently a coordinator should have no bearing on Foley's decision-making.

Just because a coach is similar in experience to Muschamp doesn't mean he will suffer the same fate.

A hire is a risk, and sometimes the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward in the end.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Full List of Week 13 College Standings and Polls

It is becoming increasingly more difficult to recognize the college football polls on a week-to-week basis.

Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles have reclaimed the throne in the minds of most, but not that they really earned it in Week 12 by way of a near upset at the hands of Miami.

Instead, the Seminoles have to thank Alabama for topping Mississippi State, Oregon being on a bye and TCU and others looking shaky in high-profile contests.

That was just one week of action at the top of the polls. It was not as if it was an isolated incident, either, as the shenanigans when it comes to morph-happy polls has shown no signs of slowing.

For a brief few days, the college football hierarchy stacks up like so.

 

Week 13 College Football Polls

 

Breaking Down Notable Risers and Fallers

Riser: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Say hello to the team that occupies first place in the ACC Coastal division.

The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are a team that could ruin everything this season at this pace, which is nothing but a good thing to the naked eye. Seminoles supporters are just one group of fans that continues to pray for a Georgia Tech downfall, as illustrated by ESPN.com's David Hale:

Paul Johnson's team most recently bowled over a ranked Clemson team 28-6 that had not lost since mid-September. Were it not for a six-point loss to Duke and a five-point loss to North Carolina, the surging Yellow Jackets would be undefeated at the moment.

Few teams look forward to an encounter with Johnson's triple-option attack. Led by quarterback Justin Thomas, the Yellow Jackets rank fourth nationally in rushing and tout a list of strong runners that is quite exhaustive:

The Yellow Jackets subsequently rank 14th nationally with an average of 37.8 points scored per game, while a stingy defense surrenders just 24.1. 

All Georgia Tech has to do in the coming weeks is upend Georgia in Athens. Obviously this is no easy feat, but a contest that features two rush-heavy attacks and underrated defenses could go either way. After that, the Yellow Jackets just have to hope Duke drops another game thanks to their head-to-head result earlier this season.

Right now, though, Georgia Tech is on a meteoric rise up the ranks. For good reason, too.

 

Faller: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Many will point out that Mississippi State is deserving of a nod as a notable faller, but the reality is that the Bulldogs are still right on track for the College Football Playoff, so long as Dak Prescott and Co. overcome Ole Miss to close the season. 

The same certainly cannot be said for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, though.

A 59-24 loss sort of does that to a team. So does surrendering 581 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. A whopping 408 and four went to Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon all by his lonesome.

Bo Pelini was fully in defense mode after the debacle last weekend.

"What we came to do is win a conference championship and win a national championship. We're going to fight tooth and nail to keep trying to get that done," Pelini said, per Jon Nyatawa of Omaha.com. "The time I start apologizing is when I stop working. I believe the program's on a good track, is on the right track."

To be fair, Pelini's team is not that bad. The Cornhuskers have just a five-point loss to Michigan State on the road and tout wins over Miami (Florida) and Northwestern, among others. The team still ranks 10th nationally in rushing and 12th in scoring on the legs of Ameer Abdullah (1,319 yards, 17 touchdowns, 6.5 per-carry average).

What needs to be observed now is how the Cornhuskers respond to the blowout. They are now sandwiched between Wisconsin and Minnesota in the Big Ten West, the latter of which is the team's opponent next weekend and ranked after playing Ohio State tough in a loss.

With their backs against the wall, how the Cornhuskers respond will define this year's campaign.

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

 

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Wisconsin Badgers vs. Iowa Hawkeyes: Odds, Analysis and College Football Pick

Wisconsin just blew out Nebraska to take over sole possession of first place in the Big Ten's West Division. The Badgers have now won five games in a row and four in a row against the spread. Wisconsin controls its own destiny; two more wins earns it a trip back to the Big Ten Championship Game. The Badgers will try to take care of the first of those victories when they battle rival Iowa Saturday afternoon in Iowa City.

 

Point spread: Badgers opened as 8.5-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 34.2-17.3 Badgers

 

Why the Wisconsin Badgers can cover the spread

The Badgers spotted the 'Huskers an early 17-3 lead last week, then roared back behind a record-setting performance from running back Melvin Gordon to win 59-24, picking up an easy cover as six-point favorites. Wisconsin outgained Nebraska 627-180 and ran the ball for 581 yards, 408 on just 25 carries by Gordon.

So the Badgers now lead the Big Ten West by a game over Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota. Wisconsin started a little slow this season, losing two of its first five games, but it has won its last five in a row by an average score of 44-15.

 

Why the Iowa Hawkeyes can cover the spread

The Hawkeyes stayed within a game of the lead in the West with a 30-14 victory over Illinois last week, covering as six-point road favorites. Iowa outgained the Illini 551-235, outrushed them 268-88 and held the ball for almost 36 minutes. That's how you win games and cover spreads in the Big Ten.

Running back Mark Weisman had his best game of the season, rushing for 134 yards, and quarterback Jake Rudock improved his touchdown-to-interception ratio to 12-4 with a pair of scoring tosses. Offensively, the Hawkeyes don't scare anybody, but their defense ranks 18th in the country, allowing just 325 yards per game.

 

Smart pick

Wisconsin won in Iowa City last year 28-9, and with the way the Badgers are playing, that final margin looks about right for Saturday. Iowa has been outrushed in three of its last five games and gave up 291 yards on the ground against Minnesota a couple weeks ago. As long as Wisconsin hangs on to the ball, it should win this game, with room enough for the cover.

 

Betting trends

  • Wisconsin is 3-7 ATS in its last 10 games when playing Iowa.
  • Iowa is 5-2 straight up in its last seven 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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Vanderbilt Commodores vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs: Analysis and Pick

Mississippi State started the season 5-1 against the spread, seemingly underrated on the betting lines, but the Bulldogs have now gone 1-3 ATS over their past four games. MSU will try to bounce back after suffering its first loss of the season when it hosts 3-7 Vanderbilt on Saturday night in Starkville.

 

Point spread: The Bulldogs opened as 30.5-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 39.6-15.9 Bulldogs

 

Why the Vanderbilt Commodores can cover the spread

The Commodores started slowly this season, losing five of their first six games and starting 0-3 ATS. But then Vandy's lines got a little out of whack, and it has gone 5-2 ATS over its last seven games. Last time out, the Commodores lost to Florida 34-10, missing the cover as 14-point home dogs, but they had that spread covered heading into the fourth quarter before running out of gas.

Vandy also covered earlier this season as a 16-point dog at Kentucky, a 33-point dog at Georgia and a 22-point dog at Missouri. Finally, the Commodores are 8-1 ATS in their last nine games as road dogs and 9-1 ATS in their last 10 SEC road games. Perhaps they can catch the Bulldogs on an emotional downswing.

 

Why the Mississippi State Bulldogs can cover the spread

The Bulldogs had their hopes of a perfect season spoiled by a 25-20 loss at Alabama, but they're not out the running for a spot in the College Football Playoff, so this is no time for a letdown. Mississippi State outgained the Tide 428-335, but three turnovers, all in Alabama territory, spelled doom.

MSU garnered a back-door cover as a 10-point road dog. For the season, the Bulldogs rank 20th in the country in rushing at 243 yards per game and 21st against the run, allowing just 126 yards per game. Numbers like those are usually conducive to winning games and covering spreads in college football.

 

Smart pick

Mississippi State is probably going to win this game; it's just a matter of the final tally. But while the Bulldogs are 2-4 ATS this season as double-digit favorites, the Commodores are 4-2 ATS as double-digit dogs. So the smart choice here is with Vandy and the points.

 

Betting trends

  • Vanderbilt is 1-5 SU in its last six games when playing Mississippi State.
  • Mississippi State is 12-1 SU in its last 13 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

USC Trojans vs. UCLA Bruins Betting Odds, Analysis, College Football Pick

Not too long ago, USC dominated its rivalry with UCLA, winning 12 of 13 meetings through 2011, covering the spread three times in a row. But the Bruins are working on turning the tables on the Trojans, winning and covering the last two meetings. In a big game out in the Pac-12 South, USC and UCLA bang heads Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.

 

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

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 30.0-27.8 Trojans

 

Why the USC Trojans can cover the spread

The Trojans have won five of their last seven games after beating Cal last Thursday 38-30, and both losses in that span came in the final seconds of both contests. USC led Arizona State back in October 34-32 but gave up a Hail Mary on the last play to lose 38-34. And three weeks ago, the Trojans led Utah 21-17 but gave up a score with eight seconds to go to lose 24-21.

Thursday night, USC jumped out to a 31-2 lead over the Bears before taking its foot off the gas and settling for the eight-point victory. And thanks to the Sun Devils' loss at Oregon State Saturday night, the Trojans now lead the Pac-12 South by a half-game over, among others, ASU and the Bruins.

 

Why the UCLA Bruins can cover the spread

The Bruins have won four in a row straight up and two in a row against the spread after a 44-30 victory at Washington two weeks ago, covering as six-point road favorites. UCLA led the Huskies 14-0 early, and 31-10 at the half, and in the end had outgained them 476-366. So at 5-2 in Pac-12 play, the Bruins trail the first-place Trojans by just a half-game in the South Division.

A victory Saturday would give them the inside track on the division race heading into a season finale against Stanford.

 

Smart pick

All signs point to a close contest; UCLA owns a short edge on offense, but USC owns an edge on defense. The Bruins are 4-1 SU and 2-3 ATS against common opponents this season, while the Trojans are 3-2 SU and 2-3 ATS. But USC is little more banged up at the moment than UCLA. So in a tough call, the smart choice here appears to be the Bruins, at the short spread.

 

Betting trends

  • Southern Cal is 5-2 SU in its last seven games when playing on the road against UCLA.
  • UCLA is 2-4 ATS in its 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

North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Duke Blue Devils: Odds and College Football Pick

The Duke Blue Devils will try to rebound from a disappointing home loss when they host the North Carolina Tar Heels Thursday night in an ACC matchup between intrastate rivals. The Blue Devils are coming off a 17-16 setback to Virginia Tech last week as 3.5-point home favorites and need to beat North Carolina in order to keep their hopes of a second straight ACC Coastal Division title alive.

 

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

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 39.5-32.6 Blue Devils

 

Why the North Carolina Tar Heels can cover the spread

The Tar Heels have endured a rough season, as they started out 2-0 but lost four straight before winning three of their past four. They have not lost a game they were supposed to, though, since falling at East Carolina 70-41 as a 1.5-point road favorite back on September 20.

North Carolina has gone 4-1 against the spread in its last five games, with the only straight-up losses during that stretch coming at Notre Dame and Miami. The Tar Heels have lost the last two meetings with Duke but had won 15 of the previous 16, and it would make their season if they could pull off the upset in Durham.

 

Why the Duke Blue Devils can cover the spread

The Blue Devils may have just suffered a tough home loss, but maybe they were caught looking ahead to this game against their rivals from Chapel Hill. They are still 11-2-1 ATS in their last 14 games as home favorites, including that loss to the Hokies, and can win the division with a victory here and another at home against Wake Forest in their regular-season finale.

Duke is also 4-1 versus the line in its past five home games against conference opponents, with the lone loss coming last week against Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils cannot hang their heads over that and should have plenty of motivation left.

 

Smart Pick

Duke has too much to play for here to let last week’s loss hang over Wallace Wade Stadium. The Blue Devils went through the most difficult part of their schedule by playing four times on the road in five games before hosting the Hokies, and they managed to earn wins in four of them. This three-game stretch at home to close out the season was set up for Duke to succeed, and the loss to Virginia Tech was just a bump in the road.

While North Carolina has played better lately, the team has lost 10 of 11 games as a road underdog with a 3-8 mark ATS. The Tar Heels have also failed to cover the spread in three of the past four meetings, so back the Blue Devils here.

 

Betting Trends

  • North Carolina is 16-3 SU in its last 19 games when playing Duke.
  • Duke is 3-16 SU in its last 19 games when playing North Carolina.

 

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 Rebels vs. Arkansas Razorbacks Betting Odds, College Football Pick

The Arkansas Razorbacks hope last week’s big home win carries over to this Saturday, when they host the Ole Miss Rebels in an SEC matchup. The Razorbacks snapped their 17-game losing streak against conference opponents with a 17-0 victory over LSU as 1.5-point home favorites last Saturday, and they will try to make it two SEC wins in a row against an Ole Miss team that has dropped four of five road games in league play.

 

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

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 29.2-26.7 Rebels

 

Why the Mississippi Rebels can cover the spread

The Rebels got a week off to prepare for Arkansas, and you could argue it was more like two weeks, as their previous game was a 48-0 rout of Presbyterian. They had lost two in a row to a pair of Tigers teams in Auburn and LSU before beating the Blue Hose, but those games were decided by a total of seven points.

Even though Arkansas was able to end its SEC drought, the team has dropped seven of eight at home against conference foes. The Razorbacks could still be celebrating the end of that skid to the point that they are not prepared enough to play a talented Ole Miss squad.

 

Why the Arkansas Razorbacks can cover the spread

Arkansas will be riding high following the team’s last victory, which extended its home winning streak against the spread to five games overall at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The Razorbacks are 4-1 straight up in those games, with the lone loss there coming against Alabama by one point, 14-13.

They did lose another home game to Georgia 45-32, but that one took place at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. Arkansas still has a shot to become bowl-eligible despite its 1-5 mark in SEC games this season, so expect head coach Bret Bielema to use that as a rallying cry.

 

Smart pick

The Rebels have enjoyed a fine season, but this is a tough spot for them coming off a bye and facing a pumped-up team that has newfound confidence. They are just 3-7 ATS in their past 10 meetings with the Razorbacks, who not only won but also shut out the Tigers last week in a dominant defensive effort that limited them to 123 yards.

Arkansas is already building for the future, and Bielema’s coaching finally got his team over the hump in that win against LSU. There should not be any more pressure on the Razorbacks to end their SEC losing streak, so they will be able to play looser and have nothing to lose. For that reason, watch for Arkansas to spring the upset in another low-scoring game.

 

Betting trends

  • Mississippi is 3-7 ATS in its last 10 games when playing Arkansas.
  • Arkansas is 4-2 SU in its last six games when playing at home against Mississippi.

 

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

Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers Betting Odds, Analysis, Pick

Minnesota just lost a tough game to Ohio State but covered again; the Golden Gophers are now 5-2 against the spread over their last seven contests. They're also 4-1 ATS in their last five Big Ten road games. Nebraska, meanwhile, just got its butt kicked at Wisconsin, and is just 1-4-1 ATS in its last six Big Ten home games. The Cornhuskers host the Gophers Saturday in Lincoln.

 

Point spread: Cornhuskers opened as 10-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 41.7-33.4 Cornhuskers

 

Why the Minnesota Golden Gophers can cover the spread

The Gophers just lost at home to the Buckeyes, 31-24, but covered as 13-point home dogs. Minnesota trailed early, 14-0, but rallied to tie the score at 14-14. The Gophers then gave up the next 17 points to trail 31-14, but they scored twice to pull within 31-24 and had time on the clock before coming up empty on an onside kick.

Minnesota basically answered every Ohio State score, except one. Two weeks ago, the Gophers ran all over Iowa in a 51-14 blowout victory. Minnesota is averaging 224 yards per game on the ground, and its defense ranks 33rd in the country. Finally, the Gophers had lost back-to-back games to Nebraska in 2011 and 2012 by scores of 41-14 and 38-14 but upset the 'Huskers last year, 34-23.

 

Why the Nebraska Cornhuskers can cover the spread

The 'Huskers will be looking for redemption, after last week's debacle against the Badgers, and for revenge, after last year's loss to the Gophers in Minneapolis. Nebraska had won three games in row, over Northwestern, Rutgers and Purdue, by an average score of 38-18 before losing to Wisconsin. The 'Huskers took advantage of some early Badgers mistakes last week to build a 17-3 lead, but lost control after that.

Still, Nebraska is 8-2 SU, 6-3-1 ATS and not quite dead yet in the Big Ten's West Division race. The 'Huskers are averaging 264 yards per game on the ground, and the Gophers defense just got gouged for 289 by the Buckeyes.

 

Smart Pick

Both these teams are in the same boat, at 4-2 in Big Ten play, and they're built the same way, running a ground-based attack. The spread on this game is more indicative perhaps of reputation, rather than on-field talent. So the smart money here probably lies with Minnesota, plus the points.

 

Betting Trends

  • Minnesota is 7-16 SU in its last 23 games on the road
  • Nebraska is 3-5-1 ATS in its last nine 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

Louisville Cardinals vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Betting Odds, Analysis, Pick

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will look to avoid suffering their third consecutive loss Saturday when they host the Louisville Cardinals. The Fighting Irish are coming off a shocking 43-40 overtime loss at home to Northwestern last week as 17-point favorites, and they have not lost two in a row at Notre Dame Stadium since 2010.

 

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

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 36.5-23.6 Fighting Irish

 

Why the Louisville Cardinals can cover the spread

The Cardinals appear to be building some momentum toward the end of the season despite a couple of tough losses to Clemson and Florida State over the past six weeks. They crushed Boston College on the road Nov. 8 38-19 as three-point favorites behind another dominant performance from wide receiver DeVante Parker, who had eight receptions for 144 yards and his first touchdown of the season.

Even though Parker has scored only once in three games, he has clearly made a positive impact on his team with 490 receiving yards on 25 catches, proving why he was considered a first-round NFL draft pick before the season. Finally healthy, he still might end up going that high.

 

Why the Notre Dame Fighting Irish can cover the spread

Notre Dame is clearly reeling right now, but the odds are against the team losing two straight home games. The Fighting Irish have not had a three-game losing streak since 2010 when they started 1-3.

Defensively, they just need to focus on holding Parker in check and obviously do a much better job than they did in last week’s loss to the Wildcats, who used their running game to overpower them. Notre Dame has had a tendency to play to the level of its competition though, and the team has a 6-1 mark against the spread (ATS) in its past seven games against teams with a winning record.

 

Smart Pick

This has all the makings of a tight matchup decided by a field goal late, which gives Louisville a great opportunity to cover the spread. The Cardinals are a remarkable 12-1 ATS in their last 13 games as road underdogs, including nine straight covers under that scenario. They are also 6-3 straight up (SU) in their past nine as a road dog, so playing the Fighting Irish away from home will not be too big of deal for them.

If anything, Louisville may be extra motivated to beat Notre Dame as many visitors to South Bend are. Just ask Northwestern’s players, who made the most of their first trip there since 1995. Look for the Cardinals to cherish this visit and at least beat the spread in a close game.

 

Betting Trends

  • Louisville is 8-4 ATS in its last 12 games.
  • Notre Dame is 1-4 ATS 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

Kansas State Wildcats vs. West Virginia Mountaineers: Analysis and Pick

The Kansas State Wildcats and the West Virginia Mountaineers are both coming off bye weeks following rough road losses and will meet in Morgantown Thursday night in a key Big 12 matchup. The Wildcats are hoping to rebound from a 41-20 loss at TCU as 6.5-point road underdogs while the Mountaineers are looking to bounce back after falling 33-16 at Texas as three-point favorites.

 

Point spread: This game opened as a pick'em, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (Line updates and matchup report).

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 29.6-28.3 Wildcats

 

Why the Kansas State Wildcats can cover the spread

Despite losing to the Horned Frogs away from home before the bye, Kansas State has been outstanding on the road with a 13-2 mark against the spread (ATS) in its last 15 games as a road underdog. The Wildcats are also 18-6 ATS in their past 24 road games and 17-5-1 vs. the line in their previous 22 games as visitors against conference opponents.

In addition, they beat West Virginia 35-12 at home last year and crushed the Mountaineers 55-14 in their last visit there two years ago, covering the spread in both games with the under going 2-0. In last season’s meeting, Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett was the star, hauling in eight catches for 111 yards and three touchdowns.

 

Why the West Virginia Mountaineers can cover the spread

While West Virginia has lost two games in a row, the team had covered three straight, including a huge 41-27 home victory against Baylor as an eight-point underdog a little more than a month ago. The Mountaineers have proven they can throw the ball effectively against good teams, and that win over the Bears is the perfect example.

They also nearly beat TCU at home November 1 but came up just short in a 31-30 loss. West Virginia quarterback Cole Trickett is coming off his two worst performances of the season in consecutive games with just one touchdown and three interceptions during that stretch. Trickett came up big against Baylor with 322 yards and three touchdowns, and he will want to go out with a bang in his final home game at Mountaineer Field.

 

Smart Pick

The Mountaineers have outperformed preseason expectations this season yet have still not played well at home against Big 12 foes, dropping five of their last seven games there under that scenario both straight up (SU) and ATS.

The Wildcats are the kind of team that gives West Virginia fits, led by head coach Bill Snyder, who has developed the perfect game plan to win the last two meetings. Snyder’s team was simply overmatched by the Horned Frogs but will not face that same situation against the Mountaineers.

Opponents have seemingly figured out Trickett, and Snyder should be able to hold him in check as well. Kansas State’s strong road trends ATS are just too hard to ignore in this spot. Look for the Wildcats to pull off the upset as a small road dog again.

 

Betting Trends

  • Kansas State is 6-1 ATS in its last seven games.
  • West Virginia is 4-2 ATS in its 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

Boston College Eagles vs. Florida State Seminoles: Betting Odds, Analysis, Pick

Florida State just keeps winning, but that hasn't meant it's been a good bet. In fact, the Seminoles are just 3-8 against the spread over their last 11 games and 1-4 ATS in their last five home games. The undefeated 'Noles will be big home chalk when they hit the field at Doak Campbell Saturday against 6-4 Boston College.

 

Point spread: Seminoles opened as 20.5-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 40.3-19.1 Seminoles

 

Why the Boston College Eagles can cover the spread

The Eagles had won back-to-back ACC road games at Wake Forest and Virginia Tech, before losing at home to Louisville two weeks ago, 38-19. BC then had last week off. The Eagles only trailed the Cardinals by five points through three quarters but faded, as BC quarterback Tyler Murphy threw four interceptions, leading directly to 17 Louisville points.

The Eagles have out-rushed eight opponents this season; they're 6-2 both SU and ATS in those games. Finally, BC gave the 'Noles a good battle last year, leading 17-3 before giving way but hanging on for the cover as 23-point home dogs.

 

Why the Florida State Seminoles can cover the spread

The Seminoles have won 26 games in a row after rallying to beat Miami last week, 30-26. FSU trailed the Hurricanes early, 16-0, but as it's done several times previously this season, came from behind for a victory. Jameis Winston threw for 304 yards and one score, running back Dalvin Cook ran for 92 yards on just seven carries and the 'Noles defense held the 'Canes to just three points after halftime.

And because it was only favored by two points, Florida State covered the spread. The Seminoles only rank 43rd in the country in total offense and 58th in total defense; they just keep winning games.

 

Smart Pick

Florida State has won 26 in a row, and there's little reason to believe it won't bump that streak to 27. But as with several games already this season, the Seminoles are probably a bit overrated on the betting line. And Boston College stands a good chance of winning the ground battle in this game, which often leads to covers. So the smart money here resides with the Eagles, plus the points.

 

Betting Trends

  • Boston College is 4-1 SU in its last five games on the road
  • The total has gone under in six of Florida State'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

Arizona Wildcats vs. Utah Utes: Betting Odds, Analysis, College Football Pick

Two Pac-12 teams from the South Division battling for postseason position will meet in Salt Lake City Saturday when the Utah Utes host the Arizona Wildcats. Both Utah and Arizona are already bowl-eligible and coming off wins last week. The Wildcats will be looking for their third straight victory overall and have gone 5-2 against the spread (ATS) in the last seven meetings with the Utes.

 

Point spread: The Utes opened as 3.5-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (Line updates and matchup report).

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 30.2-27.4 Wildcats

 

Why the Arizona Wildcats can cover the spread

Outside of a 17-7 loss November 1 at UCLA, Arizona has won all of its other road games, going 3-0 with a 2-1 mark ATS. The biggest road win for the Wildcats came October 2 at Oregon, as they handed the Ducks their only loss of the season so far 31-24 as 21.5-point underdogs. They also pounded Washington State 59-37 on the road as two-point favorites before losing to the Bruins, which remains their lone setback since losing 28-26 at home October 11 to USC.

Arizona has won the last two meetings with Utah by double digits, including a 34-24 victory at Rice-Eccles Stadium two years ago in a similar spot as a three-point road underdog.

 

Why the Utah Utes can cover the spread

The Utes suffered a 51-27 home loss to Oregon in their last home game two weeks ago as 9.5-point home underdogs, but they bounced back in a big way last Saturday at Stanford with a 20-17 overtime victory as 10-point road dogs.

The win against the Cardinal showed again how much character and heart this Utes team has, as they were able to score more touchdowns in the OT periods (two) than they did in regulation in a game that went to the first extra session tied at 7-7. Utah is 5-1 ATS in its last six games and 8-2 vs. the line overall this season.

 

Smart Pick

The Wildcats and the Utes each have an outside shot at winning the Pac-12 South depending on what happens in Saturday’s USC-UCLA game. A win by the Trojans would give them the division title, but a victory by the Bruins keeps both of them in play for a chance to face the Ducks again in the conference title game.

Utah has beaten both California schools and would love nothing more than to top the Wildcats in its last home game of the season before hitting the road for a matchup with Colorado to end the regular season.

The Utes will treat this as their biggest game of the season while Arizona still has a meeting with intrastate rival Arizona State on deck. Look for the home team to come through in this spot and state its case as the best team in the South.

 

Betting Trends

  • Arizona is 5-2 straight up in its last seven games on the road.
  • The total has gone under in five of Utah's last seven games when playing Arizona.

 

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

College Football Playoff Chairman Jeff Long Embraces His Role as Twitter Pinata

These days, Jeff Long’s Twitter mentions should come with disclaimers. Don’t let your children near them. Latex gloves should be required before scrolling through the endless stream of scorn.

Every week on Tuesday night—right when the Arkansas athletic director and College Football Playoff committee chairman exits his live appearance on ESPN for the Dallas airport—the outrage and passion pour in through an outlet driven by instant access.

Although Long could easily ignore the expletives en masse, the repetitive misuse of “your” and the other personal attacks, he doesn’t shut them out entirely. In fact, Long takes in this feedback—at least to a reasonable threshold—as he winds down after a long couple of days.

“When I’m crawling onto that commercial flight home, I might just flip on Twitter and take a peek to see who’s riled up most,” Long said. “But I really don’t let it affect my outlook on my day job at Arkansas or my job on the committee. I know that fans are passionate and understand. Some of them cross the line with the way they express themselves, but I skip over those pretty quickly.”

@CFBPlayoff@jefflongUA I trust Larry Culpepper more than you snarky tools. ESPN, SEC & you all smack of anti-trust violations & collusion.

— Richard (@stadiumgameday) October 29, 2014

This is the life of the College Football Playoff ambassador: airplanes, obscenities and countless hours of work that will undoubtedly be underappreciated. It requires skin as thick as armor, a wealth of football intellect and the unique ability to establish an opinion and then let go of these strong thoughts when explaining collective reasoning to the football world.

Long makes up only 8 percent of the committee influence—the same as every other member—although his impact on this process is far more significant. He is the face and voice of a new playoff system, delivering weekly joy to four fanbases and serving as the grim reaper for all others.

Anger will no longer be directed at a faceless computer program; it will be sent in bulk to a man who, despite the seemingly impossible task, was constructed to handle it.

 

Part 1: Gathering Intel in a Football Cathedral

The grim reaper just finished explaining his fabulous new football-watching palace. You can hear the joy in his voice as he describes his viewing quarters, a room he perfected knowing just how his Saturdays would be spent.

“I splurged on myself,” Long said. “I have a wife and two daughters and no hobbies, so I typically spend money on them and not myself. But I did splurge back in the summer. I bought three 4K televisions.”

Long’s voice practically beams when he describes in detail the resolution differences between 4K technology and HD. And as he paints a picture of his den—one as clear as the picture in his 65-inch centerpiece and the two 60s surrounding it—you start to see where job and passion collide.

@jefflongUA how drunk were you guys? Notre dame #10 ole miss #4 ??

— Ryan pierce (@thaatguyry) October 29, 2014

On any given Saturday, Long copes with the same eyeball and screen limitations that you do, even while operating with a dream setup. When three televisions won’t cut it, Long will stream another game on his iPad. And if the game streaming on his iPad grows in intrigue and importance, he’ll promote it to one of the larger televisions and reshuffle the entire room, like a bar owner meeting the demands of vocal patrons.

The only demands Long has to meet are his own, which are different from most athletic directors'. He has to see everything, understand everything and, eventually, be able to articulate what he and the committee observed as a collective unit. Thanks to his football-laced background, this task is easier for him than it would be for most.

In his former life—before he had his first administration gig—he was a college football player and then a college football coach. Long played at Ohio Wesleyan and followed up his playing career with coaching stops at Miami of Ohio, North Carolina State and Michigan among others. It was during these coaching days that he learned the nuances of watching film and assessing performances in a different light.

“I am definitely watching football differently than I have in the past and really looking at it more back to my coaching days early in my career where I was looking for how teams were playing, attacking defenses and preparing for offenses,” Long said. “I slipped into being more of a fan over 20 years of not having to coach, so that’s come back out in me watching it more like a coach.”

Before the committee began meeting each Monday and Tuesday, Long was watching roughly 20 hours of football every week. Now that the committee meetings are taking up a good chunk of his time prior to the reveal of the latest College Football Playoff Top 25, Long says his viewing time is down some, although still in the range of 15 hours.

He loads up his DVR, views the coaches’ tapes when they become available and also spends his Saturdays much like you spend yours. If you follow Long on Twitter, you know—despite the intensity of his schedule—he’s up well past midnight with the rest of us football degenerates, waiting until the last meaningful late-night matchup has concluded.

Hey @CFBPlayoff fans, who is still with me?

— Jeff Long (@jefflongUA) November 9, 2014

This isn’t necessarily anything new for Long, though his reasoning behind watching games deep into the night has evolved.

“I was always staying up late to watch Pac-12 games because if my own team was playing that day, I really used it to unwind,” Long said. “I couldn’t go to bed early because I still had the adrenaline rush of my own games on a Saturday, but now I might have three of them up at once.”

 

Part 2: Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

It’s not just the endless hours of tape and live results.

In fact, the actual information-gathering portion is only a small part of the process for Long, who still has to be an athletic director at a major SEC program all while trying to sort through the various quirks of a new playoff system. As a result, his weekly schedule is anything but ordinary.

When the last meaningful game has finally ended somewhere past midnight and into Sunday morning, Long gathers as much sleep as he possibly can—which really isn’t much—before waking up and digging through the DVR and catching up on football action that he might have missed.

Sunday morning is basically an extension of Saturday. Long catches up on relevant football from the previous day, adding notes and details throughout. Once he has consumed all the football time will allow, he crafts his own Top 25 before he heads to the airport.

Late Sunday afternoon, Long leaves for Dallas. Once he arrives, he unpacks his items, reviews his materials once more—ensuring everything is in order for the day to follow—and again tries to stock up on sleep, the most valuable in-season commodity.

The next morning, Long meets with Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff, to cover matters that need to be discussed before the group convenes. At 2 p.m., the College Football Playoff Selection Committee gathers, and the doors close.

“We work typically up until dinner at around 6:30 and we only take about 30 minutes for dinner. Then we go back to the meetings,” Long said. “We might work as late as 10 or get out as early as 7:30.”

What’s on the menu, you ask? Let’s just say the expense reports, as it stands, aren't exactly generating closed-door meetings with the accounting department.

Dinner for the @CFBPlayoff Chair! No 🍟 😄 pic.twitter.com/1L3g3sIBbU

— Jeff Long (@jefflongUA) November 5, 2014

The next day, the committee has breakfast at 8 a.m. before beginning discussions at 8:30. They allocate time until 2 p.m., though the group has finished early on more than one occasion.

Once the final point has been made and all differences have been addressed, the committee’s work for that week is complete. It looks so easy on paper, although the path to this point is anything but.

While the elite teams within and on the outskirts of the first four ultimately suck up the spotlight, a significant portion of the committee’s time is spent on teams you never actually hear about.

“We certainly look at more than 25 teams," Long said. “We stop ranking at 25, but there are a group of others outside that 25 that we’re assessing and evaluating. We probably spent more time on 21 through 25 in our discussions and analysis, which would lead you to believe that we talked a lot about those that didn’t appear in the Top 25.”

When the committee has agreed on all teams in the Top 25—or perhaps "compromised" is the appropriate term—the ranking is sealed and the room disperses. Not Long, though. His most agonizing portion has only just begun.

 

Part 3: Hello, World

This is the part of the job you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. It's where football opinion morphs into football messenger. After all, someone has to deliver the news.

For the remaining portion of Tuesday afternoon, Long has to let go of his own opinions. He has to remove himself from the stances he took just hours earlier. He has to distance himself from the countless hours of football he only just consumed and instead find a different voice entirely, a voice that represents an entire room. 

And, most important to our interests, Long must prepare to justify the latest playoff standings on live television.

@CFBPlayoff@jefflongUA u can all go screw yourselves!!! The fact u have sparty where u do shows u have 0 integrity. GA & ND royally screwed

— Toby Deal (@tdisu19) October 29, 2014

“The rest of the time I spend trying to prepare for the media that evening,” Long said. “I try to get the committee in my mind and get the thoughts of Jeff Long the individual committee member out of my mind. It’s important that I not just represent my view. I have to represent the view of the 11 others in that room. That takes some preparation.”

Although Long isn’t logging hours in front of the cameras—more like minutes—his brief Q&A with ESPN’s Rece Davis on Tuesday night following the release of the Top 25 is significant for many reasons.

For starters, we never were allowed to ask the BCS any questions about why it did certain things. Putting the committee chairman in the spotlight is a welcome change of pace to the process. It doesn’t mean we’ll always hear what we want or expect to hear—depending on the perspective—although this transparency is most appreciated. Better yet, it's entirely new.

“The toughest for me, personally, is sitting there with an earpiece in, staring at a camera lens and talking with Rece Davis,” Long said. “I get a question, and I have to very quickly put it into the context of how the committee would feel about it. Your first reaction is how you as an individual would answer that question. When I may seem unsure or delayed in my answer, it’s only because I’m trying to answer in the voice of the entire committee and not just Jeff Long.”

When the final question has been asked, Long’s work as committee chairman is complete, at least until the next meaningful game is played. He removes his earpiece, takes off his microphone and makes a dash to the airport.

It's at this moment that his job comes full circle with the previous week. Long is able to take off his chairman hat and throw on some more familiar Arkansas-branded apparel, at least until the next meaningful game is played.

“The two days of meetings for the selection committee are full days,” Long said. “They really take me out of the work at the University of Arkansas, and then Wednesday, Thursday and Friday back on campus are much more intense. It’s just much busier because you’re cramming five days of work into three.”

As Long tucks himself into an uncomfortable seat 35,000 feet in the air for the short flight home, he has a few hours to relax before returning to his full-time job and everyday life. It is his routine, although there is nothing routine about it.

Before Long stocks up on a few extra minutes of the season’s most valued commodity, the vocal and visual ambassador of college football's new postseason has one final item to address. 

He cracks open his iPad, although this time he's not watching film. Instead, Long opens up his Twitter mentions to gauge the response, knowing well in advance some of the nastiness that awaits.

 

Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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