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Big Ten Championship Game 2015: Preview, Prediction for Michigan State vs. Iowa

The Big Ten title is on the line when once-beaten Michigan State (11-1) faces undefeated Iowa (12-0) Saturday in the conference's championship game, but that's not the only prize that is up for grabs.

When the two teams meet at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, they will also be competing for a likely spot in the second edition of the College Football Playoff.


Date: Saturday, Dec. 5

Kickoff Time (ET):  8:17 p.m.

Location: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis

TV: Fox

Live Stream: Fox Sports Go


Nothing is guaranteed to the winner, but Iowa is the fourth-ranked team in the current rankings and Michigan State is fifth. Since Big Ten representative Ohio State won the first national championship during the playoff era, it seems almost certain that a qualified Big Ten representative will get a chance to enter the fray once again. 

Both Michigan State and Iowa are qualified.

The Spartans and head coach Mark Dantonio were highly thought of prior to the start of the season, and they validated the faith their supporters had in them when they defeated Oregon in September. They also had season-defining wins at Michigan and Ohio State before clinching the Big Ten East division with a 55-16 win against Penn State.

Their only loss was a head-slapping defeat at Nebraska.

Iowa was just another team at the start of the season, and few expected the Hawkeyes to win the Big Ten West, let alone do it in undefeated fashion. Iowa did not face the same kind of challenging schedule as the Spartans, but it did beat Pittsburgh, Wisconsin and Northwestern.

Iowa beats Nebraska 28-20, stands a win away from a playoff spot https://t.co/vnOeU8LtbEpic.twitter.com/04ZsNjzWP7

— CBS Sports CFB (@CBSSportsCFB) November 28, 2015

Michigan State has an explosive offense led by senior quarterback Connor Cook, who injured his shoulder late in the season and could not play in the upset win at Ohio State. However, he returned to play against Penn State in the final regular-season game, and he was on target as he completed 19 of 26 passes for 248 yards with three TDs and no interceptions

Cook has completed 194 of 337 passes for 2,730 yards with 24 TD passes and just four interceptions for the season. Cook is one of the most highly ranked quarterbacks in college football and appears to have an excellent chance to be selected in one of the first two rounds of next year's draft.

Connor Cook is now MSU's all-time leader in total offense. Just passed Kirk Cousins.

— Joe Rexrode (@joerexrode) November 28, 2015

He has an excellent crew of receivers in Aaron Burbridge, Macgarrett Kings and R.J. Shelton. Burbridge is the home run hitter of the group after catching 75 passes for 1,158 yards and seven touchdowns. Burbridge's best characteristic is his ability to make the clutch catch in traffic. He also excels at picking up yards after the catch.

L.J. Scott and Gerald Holmes give the Spartans a competent ground game. The two have combined for 1,139 yards and 18 touchdowns.

The Hawkeyes don't have the big-name stars as some of the more highly ranked teams, but quarterback C.J. Beathard is an impressive leader who completed more than 60 percent of his passes this year.

Beathard has completed 184 of 303 passes for 2,354 yards with 14 TDs and three interceptions. He has shown excellent leadership ability and has remained focused for 12 games.

The Hawks feature a productive running game, featuring the explosive Jordan Canzeri. He has carried the ball 176 times for 964 yards and 12 touchdowns, and he has shown he can hit the home run on occasion. Fellow running backs LeShun Daniels Jr. and Akrum Wadley have also been productive.

Matt VandeBerg is Iowa's best receiver with 59 catches for 625 yards and three touchdowns.


Prediction: Michigan State 38, Iowa 27

The Spartans simply have too many offensive weapons and have been there before. Their signature wins over Oregon, Michigan and Ohio State should provide the confidence needed to win the Big Ten title game and earn a spot in the College Football Playoffs.



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NCAA Football Rankings 2015: Predicting Week 14 AP Poll Post-Week 13 Results

We're just one week away from college football's bowl selection weekend, and much has yet to be decided. 

Week 13 provided some dramatic shakeup, with four of the AP Top 10 teams suffering losses. 

While the top of the poll will remain relatively unchanged, positions five through 10 will look dramatically different in Week 14. 

The following is a prediction of what the AP poll will look like when released on Sunday afternoon. 


Notable Teams


The Hawkeyes wrapped up a perfect regular season with a 28-20 victory over Nebraska on Friday and are now one win away from their first outright Big Ten title since 1985

Despite ongoing criticism of Iowa's schedule, the Hawkeyes have steadily risen in the rankings and now appear to be in position to either advance to the playoffs or earn an invitation to one of the New Year's Six bowl games. 

While Iowa fans would undoubtedly be disappointed by a loss in the Big Ten title game against Michigan State, the possibility of a Rose Bowl berth would still be an exciting finish to one of the most memorable seasons in school history. 

Iowa hasn't represented the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl since 1990 and hasn't won the game since 1958. 

Assuming the Big Ten champion is selected to the playoffs, the committee will select the next-highest-ranked Big Ten team to replace them in the Rose Bowl. That team will either be Ohio State or the loser of the Big Ten title game.


Ohio State

Buckeyes fans hoped for more from this season, but another dominant victory over Michigan—their 13th in the last 15 seasons—eases their pain. 

While Ohio State is likely headed to one of the New Year's Six bowl games, it's worth noting that the final nail hasn't quite been hammered into the Buckeyes' playoff coffin just yet. 

There are multiple chaos scenarios, but the most simplistic would be for USC to upset Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game and Florida to knock off Alabama in the SEC title game. 

Those two upsets would likely eliminate the SEC and Pac-12 from playoff conversation, opening up a spot for another one-loss team from the Big Ten or Big 12. 

If the final weekend passes without any major upsets, Ohio State would likely represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl.


North Carolina

The Tar Heels have been the forgotten team in the playoff discussion this year, seemingly disrespected by the committee as the lowest-ranked one-loss team from a Power Five school. 

But Larry Fedora's squad finally has its chance to earn the respect it's been craving. 

With its first ACC Coastal Division championship in school history, the Tar Heels will face Clemson in the conference title game on Saturday. 

The Tar Heels will be seeking their first ACC title since 1980, when head coach Dick Crum led them to an 11-1 season. 

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ACC Championship Game 2015: Early Preview, Predictions for UNC vs. Clemson

For the Clemson Tigers, it's about a spot in the Final Four.

The North Carolina Tar Heels are trying to play spoiler.

The last hurdle standing in Clemson's way from a spot in the College Football Playoff and a chance to play for a national championship is a talented North Carolina squad that has ran the table since its opening week stumble against the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Clemson hasn't won an ACC Championship since 2011. It's been 35 years since the Tar Heels were crowned kings of the ACC. Let's preview the 2015 ACC Championship Game.


Clemson vs. North Carolina: How To Watch

Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina

When: Saturday, Dec. 5

Time: 7:45 p.m. ET or 8 p.m. ET



What's on the line for Clemson?

The obvious answer is the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff, but there's much more at stake for Clemson.

The Tigers are looking to continue their push to their first undefeated season since 1981, when they went 12-0 and won the national championship. Deshaun Watson could use one more stellar performance to sway Heisman voters his way, and a great game against a North Carolina defense that allows only 19.5 points per game would be a good start.

There's also a possible $500,000 bonus in Dabo Swinney's future if he gets the Tigers to the College Football Playoff. 


What's on the line for North Carolina?

The Tar Heels have not won an ACC Championship since Jimmy Carter was in office. A win would mean their first 11-win season since 1997 when Mack Brown was the head coach.

An upset win over the No. 1-ranked Tigers would also mean bowl season gets flipped upside down. Clemson more than likely gets knocked out of the Final Four, and quite possibly, out of a Selection Committee Bowl. That would be a long shot, but an even longer shot would be two ACC teams playing in a Committee game.

If North Carolina wins, the Peach Bowl may be the likeliest destination. However, thanks to Notre Dame losing to Stanford, a win for the Tar Heels could open the door for a huge jump in the CFP rankings, as Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports noted:

As for Clemson, who knows where they would end up?


Key Matchup

This game is going to come down to Deshaun Watson cracking the code that is North Carolina's defense. 

If Watson can have one more efficient, impressive match against a very game Tar Heels team, his Heisman consideration has to go up. But, by all accounts, Watson is already getting some Heisman love, like from NBC Sports' Ross Tucker, for example:

The one way that Watson can attack this North Carolina defense is with the big play. Pro Football Focus' Gordon McGuinness noted that Watson is 13-of-31 on passes further than 20 yards with seven touchdowns. He's completed 79.5 percent of his passes over the last month, in which he's continued to evolve into one of the best quarterbacks in the country, per McGuinness:

Now, with a bit more experience under his belt, we’ve seen Watson transform from a player who was a solid young quarterback with a lot of potential, into one of the best quarterbacks in the country. His big arm is powering the Clemson offense towards a potential national championship this season, and with the Heisman race still wide open there’s every chance that there’s an individual award in Watson’s future too.

Watson also showed that he's capable of making the big play when it counts, even though the South Carolina Gamecocks have been anything but great this season. A rivalry game needed someone to take over and make the game-deciding plays, and that's what Watson did, per freelance journalist David Ubben:

North Carolina's offense may be able to match Clemson point-for-point, but there's more pressure on Clemson to perform because of what's at stake.



This is going to be the most entertaining game on the conference championship schedule. It seems like this would be the time for a Top 4 upset, and North Carolina pulling out the win.

But Clemson is at this point for a reason. The Tigers are good. Watson should be the leader in the Heisman race, but that's not the case. One big performance against North Carolina would make that a reality.

Clemson wins, in a nail biter, and it will enter the playoffs with the No. 1 seed.

Score: Clemson 27, North Carolina 24

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Pac 12 Championship Game 2015: Early Preview, Predictions for Stanford vs. USC

The Pac-12 may be eliminated from the College Football Playoff party, but there's still plenty on the line when USC (8-4) and Stanford (10-2) meet on Dec. 5 to determine the conference champion. 

For Stanford, it's the opportunity to claim dominance over the conference. A win in this game would give the Cardinal three of the last four conference championships with a Pac-12 title game appearance in all but one of David Shaw's five seasons as head coach. 

For USC, this is an opportunity to officially announce the return of the Trojans as the top team in the conference. The Men of Troy haven't won a conference title since 2008—a long stretch for a program with the most conference championships with 21 (UCLA is second with 17). 

Then, of course, there's the matter of the Rose Bowl—you know, one of college football's most historic bowl games and the top destination for any Pac-12 team that isn't playing for national title. 

The winner gets to represent the conference in the Rose Bowl, while the other team most likely goes to the Foster Farms Bowl. So there's that. 

Here's a look at how these two teams match up for this championship rematch. 


This Will Be a Shootout...Again

The first time these two schools met this season, they gave the scoreboard operator arthritis. They combined for 72 points, 46 first downs and 901 total yards. This time, it could be even more electric. 

The defensive woes for both teams portended struggles for the rest of the season. Those struggles have come to fruition. Stanford is 60th in the country in yards allowed per play (5.48), while USC is even worse at No. 79 (5.69). 

The offenses—on the other hand—are still dynamic. 

USC is 20th in offensive yards per play (6.55), while Stanford is 22nd in that metric (6.48). 

What that spells is a game that's going to see plenty of points as neither defense is adept at lining it up and getting stops. Both defenses will need some turnovers to put in a good performance. 


USC Will Run for More than 155 Yards This Time

When the Trojans lost 41-31 to the Cardinal the first time around, they ran the ball 28 times for 155 yards. That's not bad, but it wasn't enough to control the game. 

In their most recent game against UCLA, they ran the ball 59 times for 235 yards. Now that's inflicting some game control on the opposition. 

Conversely, the Stanford run defense appears to be showing some cracks as the season progresses. In Stanford's loss to Oregon two weeks ago, it allowed 231 rushing yards on 36 carries. 

As Notre Dame Football noted, the Irish only needed three quarters to best that number. They finished with 299 on 35 carries. 

It would be shocking if the Trojans didn't come out and try to utilize Ronald Jones and Justin Davis to establish the run game early and often. 


Stanford Will Win a Close One

Even though it shows up as a 10-point win on the schedule, it isn't as though Stanford dominated the first game between these two from start to finish. The Cardinal only took a three-point lead into the fourth quarter, before a 46-yard field goal with a little under seven minutes left gave us the 41-31 final score. 

After that game, Shaw attributed his team's big-game experience for the win. 

"Our guys are used to playing in big games," Shaw said, according to ESPN.com. "We need to act like it."

Fast-forward through eight more wins and a heart-breaking loss to Oregon, and Shaw is still preaching a message of belief to his team. 

“Our big thing that we talked about earlier today was belief,’’ Shaw said, according to Jon Wilner of the Bay Area News Group. “Belief in the work we put in, belief in our preparation, belief in our struggles—belief that our struggles helped us to be a better team."

In this big game, Stanford has two things going for it. First, it has the best player in the game. Christian McCaffrey reached rarefied company against Notre Dame, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Second, the Cardinal have been in this spot more recently than USC as a program. Shaw has done a tremendous job of carrying the momentum that Jim Harbaugh created to the next level. 

With the game on the line in a shootout, Stanford is the more trustworthy team. The belief that Shaw has instilled in his team was on full display against Notre Dame and will carry through right into the championship game. 

Prediction: Stanford 45, USC 38


Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com.

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Pac 12 Championship Game 2015: Early Preview, Predictions for Stanford vs. USC

The Pac-12 may be eliminated from the College Football Playoff party, but there's still plenty on the line when USC (8-4) and Stanford (10-2) meet on Dec. 5 to determine the conference champion...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

SEC Championship Game 2015: Early Preview, Predictions for Alabama vs. Florida

The SEC carries with it a reputation for great defense. 

That's why it's no surprise that it will be the Florida Gators and the Alabama Crimson Tide playing in the conference's 2015 championship game.

Regardless of what metric you like to use to judge defenses, these two squads are at or near the top of the list. Regardless of what both teams have done on the offensive side of the ball, both teams have defenses that have carried them to double-digit win seasons. 

Now, they'll see which team can declare Southeastern supremacy and a possible spot in the College Football Playoff. Here are some predictions for how this game will play out in Atlanta. 


Points Will Be Hard to Come By

If you're a fan of offensive football, this might be a good time to take a walk, do the crossword or watch some basketball. This has all the makings of a slugfest. 

As previously mentioned, these defenses have both played at extremely high levels all season. Here's how they match up in metrics like Football Outsiders' FEI and S&P+ along with more traditional stats:

The proficiency of Alabama's defense is especially troubling news for the Gators. Treon Harris and Co. aren't exactly dynamic on offense. They're ranked 12th in the conference in yards per play at just 5.09 in SEC play. 

With the Tide's defense being the best among the units they've played thus far, a Gator touchdown will be a rare sight. If it even occurs at all. 


Derrick Henry Will Still Go over 150 Yards

The Gators defense will be the most talented defense the Tide have seen. But if there's one offensive player to bet on in this game despite the difficult matchup, it's Derrick Henry. 

No one is playing better than Henry right now. His 200-yard performance against Auburn marked his fourth on the season and set multiple SEC records, as noted by the conference's Twitter account:

Helping Henry's case is that if there's a way to beat Florida's defense, it's to run right at it. Here's a look at how Florida has fared against teams who were committed to running right at them this season:

It won't be easy sledding for Henry, but a big game is still in his reach. Tennessee nearly upset Florida earlier in the season with a strong rushing attack. LSU's Leonard Fournette had a nice outing against the Gators. He led the Tigers to a 35-28 win on the strength of his 31 carries, 180 yards and two rushing touchdowns.  

Given Henry's 46 carries against Auburn, Nick Saban isn't afraid to let his workhorse carry the load. Saban explained his philosophy on giving him the ball that many times in one game, per RollTide.com:

We'd really like for someone else to run the ball, but it got tough to take him out and he seemed to get stronger as the game goes on. It's hard to take him out at the end of the game. He's the go-to guy and he didn't want to come out. He wanted to go and said that he could, and certainly finished the game like we needed to today. My hat is off to him as a competitor, and he really inspires everybody on our team in the way he competes, plays and the toughness that he runs with. What a spirit.

Expect one more Heisman-worthy performance from the big fella against the Gators. 


Neither Quarterback Will Go over 150 Yards Passing

The Crimson Tide will need Henry to carry the offense. This won't be a game for quarterbacks to enjoy much success. 

Jacob Coker has been the prototypical Alabama quarterback to this point this season. His numbers aren't gaudy. He's thrown for 2,106 yards with 14 touchdowns. However, he takes care of the ball and makes plays when Alabama needs them. 

Against Florida, that will be a little more difficult. 

Coker is completing 65 percent of his passes this season. The only teams who hit that mark against Florida this season were Mississippi State with Dak Prescott and East Carolina way back in September. 

Harris isn't likely to find much success in the air as Coker's counterpart. The Tide's pass defense is on par with the Gators', and Harris isn't nearly as prolific as Coker to begin with. In four November games, Harris is 58-of-112 (51.7 percent) with three touchdowns and four interceptions. 

That isn't going to breed much confidence for an anemic Gator passing game going forward. 


Alabama Will Punch Its Ticket to the College Football Playoff

Breaking down these two teams, this game comes down to a simple truth: Alabama is more complete than Florida at this point. 

The Tide might not be the most dynamic team on offense, but by virtue of having an offense, they are more qualified to win a football game. Jim McElwain should be praised for winning the SEC East in his first season as coach of the Gators, but there's still work to be done before they can win the conference. 

This should be a positive experience for his program to be involved in this game, but it would take some true chaos for Florida to pull off the upset. 

A win for Alabama—which came in at No. 2 in the College Football Playoff Committee's last rankings—will set them up to once again play in college football's Final Four. 

Prediction: Alabama 27, Florida 3


Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com.


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SEC Football: Best Performances from Week 13

It seems like only yesterday that the assembled members of the media gathered in Hoover, Alabama, for media days, and here we are in late November with rivalry week in the books.

During the final weekend of the regular season, one star running back made his Heisman Trophy case, another wrapped up his regular season in style and bragging rights were earned throughout the region.

Who had the best performances of Week 13?

Our picks based on statistical output, importance to the outcome of games and individual effort are in this slideshow.

Begin Slideshow

Alabama vs. Florida: Predictions for SEC Championship Game 2015

The Florida Gators will limp into the SEC Championship Game on Saturday, December 5 against the Alabama Crimson Tide, and they'll be battered again in what will prove to be a lopsided contest.

On Saturday, the Gators were completely stifled by the Florida State Seminoles in a 27-2 defeat. The Gators offense is averaging just 13.75 points per game in its last four contests. There's plenty of reasons the offense is struggling, but like any football team that struggles to score points, the quarterback will shoulder much of the blame.

Florida signal-caller Treon Harris is getting his share of criticism. Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports talked about the sophomore's inability to read and react to during the team's loss to the Seminoles on Saturday night:

This is not a good look heading into a battle with Alabama.

The Crimson Tide pounded the Auburn Tigers 29-13 on Saturday behind a relentless rushing attack. Running back Derrick Henry ran the ball a school-record 46 times for 271 yards. Meanwhile, Alabama's defense continued its stellar play of late.

Over the last three games, Bama has allowed a combined 25 points to its opponents.

When you match that level of play on the defensive side of the ball against Florida's struggles to score, it's not hard to see which team will have the huge advantage. 

In order for Florida to pull off the improbable win, they will first have to find a way to slow down Alabama's run game. That may not be the toughest task the Gators face. The strength of their team is the defense.

That said, even a defense as good as Florida's will break down if the offense is constantly going three-and-out with their possessions. Therein lies Florida's problem. 

It's difficult to see Harris making enough plays to keep drives going. If he can have the game of his short collegiate career, he'll give the defense the blow it needs to keep the game close. 

Without this improbable scenario, this game could get ugly at halftime. Look for Alabama to win by three touchdowns as it marches into the College Football Playoff as the first or second seed.

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Bowl Predictions 2015: Projections for College Football Playoff

The college football regular season has wrapped up for the elite teams in playoff contention, but much has yet to be decided. 

The top teams in the rankings all held serve on Saturday, setting up multiple win-and-you're-in scenarios for the conference championship games. 

Even though the scenarios appear to be fairly basic for the teams below, the wild world of college football likely has an upset or two in store for us in the final weekend. 

Based on the current standings and the championship game matchups, here's a look at the projected College Football Playoff seeds.


1. Clemson 

Rival South Carolina gave the Tigers a scare on Saturday, but Clemson was able to hold on 37-32.

While it wasn't the Tigers' most impressive victory of the season, as the only potential undefeated conference champ, Clemson remains the heavy favorite to earn the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff. 

The Tigers' final test will come on Saturday in the ACC Championship Game against North Carolina. 

While Clemson is certainly the favorite, the Tar Heels might provide the Clemson defense with its toughest challenge of the season. 

Tar Heels' quarterback Marquise Williams has been red hot over the last month, accounting for 14 touchdowns while throwing just one interception in North Carolina's last five games

In 2014, Williams threw for 345 yards and four touchdowns against the Tigers in 50-35 Clemson victory

Given the way both offenses have been clicking this season, another shootout on Saturday is a strong possibility.


2. Alabama

Nick Saban continues to ride the Derrick Henry train, and he appears to have the Tide rolling into the playoff. 

Auburn managed to keep it close in the Iron Bowl, but with a whopping 46 carries and 271 yards, Henry eventually wore down the Tigers defense. 

With a victory over Florida in the SEC Championship Game, Alabama will wrap up no worse than the No. 2 seed in the playoff. If Clemson were to lose, the Tide would likely rise to No. 1. 

While anything can happen in college football, it's difficult to envision a scenario in which Henry doesn't continue his torrid streak and carry Alabama past Florida. 

The Gators have narrowly escaped with victories against lowly Vanderbilt and Florida Atlantic in recent weeks and appear to be limping into the SEC title game after a blowout loss at the hands of Florida State. 


3. Michigan State

After knocking off Ohio State without starting quarterback Connor Cook and dominating Penn State to wrap up the season, the Spartans should be considered the Big Ten favorites heading into the conference title game against Iowa. 

While Iowa will likely occupy a Top Four spot in this week's rankings, the Spartans will jump into playoff position with a victory over the Hawkeyes. 

Michigan State's loss to Nebraska in early November may end up being a worse loss than some of the one-loss teams behind the Spartans. However, last year the committee emphasized the way in which teams close out the season by selecting Ohio State as the No. 4 seed. 

Like Michigan State, the Buckeyes had a confusing loss (to Virginia Tech), but after blowing out Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, the Buckeyes had built enough momentum to sneak in. 

The Spartans will be in a similar position with a win over Iowa and are a safe bet to advance to the playoff with a victory.


4. Oklahoma

The selection committee left the Big 12 out of the inaugural playoff in 2014, but the lack of an undisputed conference champion appeared to play a role in that decision. 

This season, the committee can't use that as an excuse to snub the Big 12. 

By defeating Oklahoma State in the Bedlam Series, the Sooners are the undisputed Big 12 champs as the lone one-loss team in the conference. 

Based on this fact, we'll now learn just how much the committee values conference championship games. 

If Oklahoma were unexpectedly left out of the playoff, the committee would be sending a strong message to the Big 12 that it must expand in order to earn serious consideration for playoff bid. 

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Ed Feng's Week 14 College Football Playoff Standings Predictions

How will the College Football Playoff selection committee rank teams Tuesday?

We use analytics to make an educated guess. My algorithm starts with the previous week's committee rankings and adjusts teams based on their most recent opponent and margin of victory.

Teams that win keep their place unless they barely squeak by a three-win South Carolina team. Teams that lose drop—but not much if they lose to a Top 10 team. You get the idea.

Let's look at the most important movers from Week 13.


Oklahoma locks down playoff spot with dominant Bedlam win

At the beginning of the second quarter, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield knocked over an Oklahoma State defender to help spring Joe Mixon on a 66-yard touchdown run. It was that kind of day for the Cowboys, as the Sooners stormed to a 44-20 halftime lead en route to a 58-23 win.

Oklahoma dominated the game on the ground, rushing for 344 yards on 8.2 yards per carry. That's an insane rate, considering that the Sooners ran on 62.7 percent of their plays.

Oklahoma stays at third in my projection of the committee rankings. Unlike years past, the lack of a Big 12 championship game helps the conference this season. In 2014, neither TCU nor Baylor had a final chance to impress the committee during championship week. In the Sooners' case, they have no chance to lose ground because of an unexpected loss, which will make it difficult, if not impossible, for the committee to drop the Big 12 champion out of the top four this season.


Stanford beats Notre Dame to stay on playoff life support

Notre Dame looked poised for a big win over Stanford after quarterback DeShone Kizer's touchdown run with 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter gave the Irish a one-point lead. Unfortunately, they left too much time on the clock.

Quarterback Kevin Hogan led the Cardinal on a five-play, 45-yard drive, which culminated in Conrad Ukropina's 45-yard field for a signature 38-36 win.

With the victory, Stanford moves to seventh in the committee rankings, one spot behind Ohio State. The Cardinal play USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game next week, and a win could push them past the idle Buckeyes. Stanford, however, still needs other teams—namely Clemson and Alabama—to lose next weekend to make the playoff.

Notre Dame is no longer in contention for the playoff, but the Fighting Irish had a terrific 10-2 campaign despite a rash of season-ending injuries. They will most likely get a New Year's Six bowl as a consolation prize.


Baylor, Florida eliminated from playoff contention

In addition to Notre Dame, two other teams had their playoff dreams go up in smoke this weekend.

Up until Friday night, Baylor had survived season-ending injuries to two quarterbacks. Art Briles looked like a genius, as third-string quarterback Chris Johnson threw two long touchdown passes in a victory over Oklahoma State last week. However, the moment—and the weather—proved to be too much for Johnson against TCU on a cold, rainy night in Fort Worth, Texas. In the second half and two overtime periods, Johnson completed only one of his 11 passes, and the Bears lost to the Horned Frogs 28-21.

Florida's playoff hopes also ended this weekend with a 27-2 loss to rival Florida State. The Gators defense allowed Dalvin Cook to run for 183 yards and two touchdowns on seven yards per carry. However, the defense wasn't Florida's problem this season. The offense is what held this team back. It rushed for 3.6 yards per carry, an awful 117th in the nation. While the Gators still have the SEC Championship Game and a bowl game to compete in, first-year coach Jim McElwain has a clear route to improvement for next season.

With their losses, Baylor and Florida drop to 11th and 22nd, respectively, in my projected committee rankings.


Ed Feng has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Stanford and runs the sports analytics site The Power Rank. You can find him on Twitter @thepowerrank.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2015: Predicting the AP Top 25 After Week 13

Rivalry weekend never seems to disappoint.

Week 13 of the 2015 season had everything—close calls, upsets, last-second victories and a 296-pound offensive lineman rumbling in for a decent-sized touchdown run.

In the end, one Top 5 team in the Associated Press poll fell in heartbreaking fashion, while another scooped up a massive blowout victory over its in-state rival. Two other Top 10 teams went down swinging, and the bottom portion of the ranking went through yet another upheaval.

As we always do at this time, here is the latest projection of the AP Top 25, which will be released Sunday afternoon. Remember, these are not the College Football Playoff committee rankings.

This is the predicted media poll, which usually is a good barometer of what will happen Tuesday night in the important Top 25, along with a few spotlighted teams that moved up and fell down this weekend.



Moving up

Oklahoma and Michigan State

Oklahoma most likely nailed down a College Football Playoff spot Saturday night, and it did it in style. The Sooners threw up 44 points on one-loss Oklahoma State before halftime and won by five touchdowns.

When other teams struggled away from home Saturday against less-than-stellar opposition, the Sooners hammered their ranked rivals, who were also trying to stay in the playoff picture. Since the surprise loss to Texas, Oklahoma has played like one of the most talented and balanced teams in the country, and now it has an outright Big 12 title.

Michigan State still has a shot at grabbing a place in the final four, too, after throttling Penn State by a score of 55-16 on Saturday in East Lansing. The Spartans, winners of the Big Ten East, will now face undefeated Iowa in a title matchup that should be a guaranteed play-in game for the playoff.

There was some debate over Oklahoma and Michigan State's AP poll order heading into Week 13, with the Sooners only holding a tiny nine-point advantage over the Spartans. While MSU may have the more acceptable loss this season, OU's 35-point win this weekend came on the road. The Sooners should stay ahead again.


North Carolina and Stanford

Joining one-loss Ohio State as longer shots for the College Football Playoff are North Carolina and Stanford, who will get rankings bumps heading into their respective conference championship games.

North Carolina had an easier time with NC State than it had with Virginia Tech last weekend, throwing up 31 points on the Wolfpack in the first quarter on Saturday. The Tar Heels and their high-powered offense are just a couple of bad Week 1 throws away from being a serious playoff contender, but they'll get a shot next week at No. 1 Clemson.

Stanford snatched a home victory over playoff-hopeful Notre Dame in dramatic fashion Saturday night, with Conrad Ukropina hitting a game-winning, 45-yard field goal after quarterback Kevin Hogan got the Cardinal in position with less than a minute remaining. Even as a two-loss team, the Cardinal could sneak back in with a Pac-12 title win and some more chaos in Week 14.

One area to watch here is if the AP poll follows the committee's lead and puts Stanford ahead of North Carolina this week. UNC had the advantage with the AP last week but was five spots behind Stanford in the CFP rankings. Here, I'll stick with the Heels and their one-loss record over the Cardinal.


Houston and Western Kentucky

Just one week after losing to UConn in a heartbreaker away from home, Houston took hold of the American Athletic Conference's Western Division and the Group of Five's New Year's Six berth with a 52-31 win over Navy.

Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. looked healthy again with 391 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns, and he outgunned Navy star Keenan Reynolds in a Friday free-for-all. When the final whistle sounded, the Cougars had cooled off one of the nation's hottest teams.

Houston will now face Temple in the AAC title game next weekend, and it should receive a decent-sized rankings spike Sunday afternoon. This projection has Houston nestled ahead of the three-loss teams that were also victorious this weekend. Beating Navy by 21 should carry some decent weight.

Rounding out the Top 25 this week is another Group of Five member—the Conference USA's Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers edged four-loss USC in this week's projection, as they've dominated their conference foes this season and only have losses at Indiana and LSU to their name. USC might snatch the spot, but the pollsters should give some credit to a two-loss G5 power.


Moving down

Notre Dame

The resilient Fighting Irish battled through quite a bit this season, and it still had a chance to stay in the College Football Playoff race with just seconds remaining on the clock at Stanford.

But Stanford head coach David Shaw's decision to save his timeouts worked, and the Cardinal knocked off Notre Dame at home. The Irish's second loss of the season ended their playoff hopes, as they already had a slim margin for error as an independent.

"If the Irish were an ACC member, they could be looking to a rematch with No. 1 Clemson in next week’s ACC Championship Game—and would still have CFP hopes," Matt Hayes of the Sporting News wrote. "Instead Notre Dame has its independent status and the growing uncertainty in how it will impact the future."

Even with the loss, Notre Dame should still have a shot at a New Year's Six bowl game. I'm projecting that Notre Dame will stay in the Top 10—just behind Stanford—after its second gut-punch loss of 2015.


Oklahoma State and Florida

For the second week in a row, Oklahoma State couldn't make its favorable home schedule in the Big 12 count. The Cowboys were on the wrong end of a lopsided score in Bedlam, and now their biggest rivals will be dancing their way to the final four.

Oklahoma State's biggest issue down the stretch of the season was the ground game. According to Jake Trotter of ESPN.com, Oklahoma State was "outgained on the ground 648 yards to 140" in losses to both Baylor and Oklahoma. Luckily for the Pokes, a couple more teams below them lost this weekend, cushioning their fall down the Top 25.

Florida's lackluster play on offense finally caught up to it Saturday night in a rough 27-2 loss in the Swamp to rival Florida State. As the Seminoles look set to take their spot in the Top 10, the Gators have to regroup in a major way before facing No. 2 Alabama next weekend.

As I said last weekend, Jim McElwain's team is ahead of schedule in terms of contention on a national level. However, Florida just hasn't looked the same since the suspension of quarterback Will Grier, and it has ultimately cost it style points and poll positions down the stretch. Now the Gators need a miracle.



Jim Harbaugh's first "Big Game in the Big House" turned out to be a big disappointment for Wolverines everywhere. Michigan lost its third game of the season, and Ohio State might have saved its long shot at a playoff berth.

Ohio State outgained Michigan 369-57 on the ground, dominating the line of scrimmage en route to a huge win away from home. Michigan's excellent defense was picked apart by an Ohio State offense that had major problems last weekend against Michigan State.

"Harbaugh vs. [Urban] Meyer could be a worthy successor to the famed 10-Year War, which pitted Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes,. But Michigan will have to show it can be a serious threat to Ohio State first," Bleacher Report's Greg Wallace wrote. "Saturday, that didn’t happen, and that’ll leave a bitter taste in Wolverine fans’ mouths for the next 365 days."

After two tough losses earlier in the season, Michigan came crashing back down to Earth on Saturday with its first bad defeat of the Harbaugh era. The margin of victory will keep the Wolverines from staying ahead of other three-loss teams like Oregon and Ole Miss, who won this weekend.


Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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Oklahoma Leaves No Doubt About Playoff Spot with Bedlam Beatdown

STILLWATER, Okla. – One is the loneliest, but best, number everywhere in college football but Big 12 territory.

For a full offseason and well into this one, all that Big 12 coaches, administrators, players and fans had to hear from the rest of the country was how the league slogan of "One True Champion" was nothing more than a punchline. There was, though, no singular champion or even a team in the first-ever College Football Playoff.

Like many of its member states, the Big 12 was simply a fly-over part of the college football season that took place before the real action occurred elsewhere.

On a bitter cold Saturday night at Boone Pickens Stadium, however, the script was flipped and "One True Champion" went from laughingstock to reality. The Oklahoma Sooners not only throttled their rival Oklahoma State Cowboys 58-23 in the 110th meeting of Bedlam, they beat them down.

One true champion begat one emphatic statement.

“I had a talk with the offense before the game, and I told them how I came in wanting to win a title,” receiver Sterling Shepard said. “At the beginning of the game, we were ready to do this thing. Everybody bought in.”

The Sooners laid waste to their opponents once again to secure that title—despite the inclement conditions and hostile crowd—continuing to look like a runaway train ever since suffering their early-season loss to Texas in October. Some of the statistics they racked up against the Cowboys—7.8 yards per play, 8-of-14 on third down, two forced turnovers—were impressive but still paled in comparison to other recent outings considering how well they’ve been playing of late.

“Nobody knows you’re going to win it back in January or in the start of September,” head coach Bob Stoops said. “But I knew we were going to have a good football team, and it was going to be better than people thought.”

Even beyond the box score, this was an undressing of a top 10 team that was over almost as soon as it began. Oklahoma found the end zone eight times on Saturday, including a string of five trips there and a late field goal for good measure before halftime. That was mostly clustered in the 30-point barrage during the second quarter in which the team did whatever it wanted through the air or on the ground. 

Case in point was the bang, bang, bang stretch in which they ended all hope for the 58,321 in attendance who wore orange and black.

Following a three-and-out forced by the Sooners defense, tailback Samaje Perine took a handoff off tackle and went untouched for 68 yards for a score. Sensing a chance to say "anything you can do, I can do better," fellow running back Joe Mixon spun in place out of a tackle and then reversed 66 yards for a touchdown, thanks, in part, to a key block from quarterback Baker Mayfield.

Not wanting to be left out, Mayfield later tossed a beautiful five-yard strike to Dimitri Flowers on the ensuing offensive possession to cap an 80-yard drive.

In doing so during the de facto Big 12 championship game, Oklahoma erased any doubt that it would make this year’s College Football Playoff. In fact, the Sooners played so well over the closing stretch of the season, they didn’t even need any help from others around the country.

“Oh I didn’t know Notre Dame lost,” Stoops said, with little surprise in his voice. “You just figure, if you’re third and you go to a championship game away from home to the No. 9 team in the country and win by 30-something points, you can only move up possibly. You sure wouldn’t move back.”

While he certainly didn’t plan on it, perhaps it was a cosmic coincidence that Stoops called a timeout in the third quarter with 4:48 left on the clock on a third down to think things over. Just a few seconds later, Stanford’s last-second field goal sailed through the uprights to topple the Irish and eliminate what little controversy the selection committee may have been forced to deal with. 

Oh by the way, Mayfield scored on a quarterback draw the very next play to hit half-a-100 on the scoreboard. It was a fitting way to punch one’s ticket to the postseason title chase and another reminder that there was no team in the country playing as well as the Sooners are.

 “Our standards are excessively high. If you come to Oklahoma, hopefully you have those same standards,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops remarked. “Nine (Big 12) championships in 17 years. I don’t know of many people that have done that. We are held to a different standard. The media holds us to a different standard and that’s how it is. And that’s OK because we are Oklahoma.”

And the Sooners are back in a familiar perch, not only winning yet another ring for their veteran head coach, but once again carrying the water for the rest of the Big 12 when it comes to national perception.

But first, the Sooners will no doubt celebrate their place in the conference pecking order and their new Big 12 trophy over the coming days. As they hugged and hooped and hollered on the field to the background music of their fight song, there was a visible sense of astonishment.

Despite the ugliest loss of any playoff contender (and to its bitter rival to the South no less) and one that prompted fresh fears of another 8-5 season, there Oklahoma stood with Golden Ticket in hand and trophy for the mantle.

“I was out there talking to coach (Stoops) and to think, he’s won nine of these. This one was hard as hell, and he won nine. I can’t even imagine that,” offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “I was in this league on the opposite side of it for a long time, and I knew there was a championship DNA and I knew that hadn’t changed.” 

Perhaps nowhere was that more evident than in Riley’s protege, the gunslinging Mayfield. A Sooners fan in his youth, the junior may have taken the most roundabout path to Oklahoma stardom after first walking on at Texas Tech and then earning Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year in 2013. Following a transfer saga that landed him in Norman, Mayfield turned into the missing piece for a program that was searching to find itself following a few subpar (by its standards) seasons.

In doing so, he may also have secured a ticket to New York City for the Heisman ceremony, thanks to his play, statistics and all-around leadership that has turned Oklahoma into the team nobody wants to face.

“It’s like a dream come true. I never would have thought it,” Mayfield said. “My journey here has been a crazy ride, but to end up here in Stillwater and win a Big 12 championship, it’s pretty crazy. But I couldn’t have drawn it up any better.”

Now a date in the playoff awaits. 

It could be Alabama, the same team Oklahoma beat in the Sugar Bowl two seasons ago to raise expectations to an unhealthy level in Norman. It could also be Clemson, the program that throttled the Sooners in the Russell Athletic Bowl to put the finishing touches on a miserable 2014 season. 

“I don’t care,” Mayfield said, before quickly recalling past history. “But after watching us lose to Clemson last year, I’d love to get a piece of them. I know they’d love to get a piece of us again. I think we’ll play them either way. We’ll see.”

As he was running off the field to chants of "Heisman" and "Shake 'n Bake" from the energetic Sooners fans still around after the game, Mayfield’s favorite target caught up with him and put his hands around the quarterback’s pads.

“Let’s go finish it,” senior Sterling Shepard yelled.

They didn’t have to utter what that was, but for Oklahoma, it’s clear there’s only one thing left to do now.

Bryan Fischer is a national college football columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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Everything You Need to Know About College Football Week 13 in 60 Seconds

Rivalry weekend of the college football season is never short of high drama, and with Week 13 coming to a close, we have all the best action covered in just 60 seconds.

Is head coach Les Miles in or out at LSU? Did Alabama running back Derrick Henry impress enough to lock up the Heisman Trophy with his performance this week?

Watch in the video above as Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down all the best action.

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The Unbelievable True Story of How Les Miles Kept His Job

They carried the dead-coach-walking off the field like a king, an action that was as symbolic as it was powerful. As they lifted this living, breathing trophy to the sky—a man who looked defeated and demoralized just hours earlier—the chants rained down. 

Les Miles,” Tiger Stadium yelled following LSU’s sloppy 19-7 win over Texas A&M on Saturday. That victory didn’t matter at the moment. Neither did the losses or the jumbled expectations, for that matter. 

At the moment, as Miles was grabbed by his players, all that mattered was the LSU fight song and each other. Together they sang, and suddenly everything felt different. A strange and turbulent week drifted away.

After the game, something strange happened. LSU announced, in a surprise, that it was keeping its successful head coach around a little while longer.

"I want to make it very clear that Les Miles is our football coach and will continue to be our football coach," LSU athletic director athletic Joe Alleva told reporters following the win.


Consider the week that was. Media outlets, including this one, lined up to discuss Miles’ impending firing or “resignation” at LSU almost hourly. The leaks within the program were loud and clear. 

The response from LSU denying these rumors—something the school could have provided a week ago had it wished to do so—was nonexistent. For all intents and purposes, this was happening.

So things snowballed. Talks of Miles’ removal, as strange as they seemed even at the onset, evolved into something more as additional outlets and “sources” chimed in. By the time Thanksgiving arrived, it seemed like Miles’ departure was a foregone conclusion. 

Still, the coach refused to give in. He took the high road throughout. Finally, once the final game had been decided and the news had been released, Miles uncorked a moment of honesty.

“There's probably a guy or two I'd like to meet in an alley and have a little straight-talk with," Miles told reporters after the game, the furthest he would allow his frustration to go. "But I'm not built that way.”

According to ESPN's Joe Schad, “pressure” and “sentiment” were key factors in LSU's decision to keep Miles.

Perhaps even more perplexing is the fact that LSU, according to Schad once again, made the final decision to retain Miles in the third quarter of a meaningless game.

Decision to retain Les Miles was made in meeting of LSU decision makers during 3rd quarter of tonight’s game, per source

— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) November 29, 2015

As strange as this seems—and goodness, think about this sequence of events for a moment—it makes quite a bit of sense. Watching the game live, you could feel it. There was an energy, some sort of new coach elixir, in the air.

Miles’ introduction to the crowd was an event that captured the full applause of the stadium. It was passed around through social media. As LSU took control of a contest that tumbled along, it built up a bit more. 

By the time the clock had drained and those in the stands poured their hearts and souls into the air, and the players grabbed their head coach like they had just clinched a College Football Playoff berth, it all made sense. 

Earlier in the week, I spoke with former LSU running back Jacob Hester. Although Hester is years removed from the program, he has stayed close with Miles. Through his time in the NFL and now his new life covering the LSU football team, Hester has always held a special place for Miles in his heart. So much so that the former player plans to give his next-born son the middle name “Miles.”

“To me Coach Miles is another father figure in my life,” Hester said. “I’m many years removed from LSU, and he knows my wife’s name, my kids’ names, my brother’s name, my mom and dad, and he asks how those people are doing every time I see him. He was the first person that called me when I got drafted. He was the first person to call me when I was released.” 

Hester, having spoken to more than 10 players over the past week, still couldn’t process the possibility of Miles leaving now. Neither could many others he spoke with, including former LSU quarterback Matt Flynn and former safety Craig Steltz—two fixtures of successful eras. 

This, in some ways, was personal for them. It would be different if Miles had bottomed out in Baton Rouge, although that wasn’t the case. While the program has fallen short of matching incredible expectations—expectations that the coach himself helped create—there were still plenty of reasons to be optimistic.

And above all, there was Les. The personal side to this unexpected revival cannot be overstated.

Former LSU lineman T-Bob Hebert shared a similar sentiment. When asked about the possibility of Miles being removed last week, with rumors swirling, Hebert reflected on his relationship with the head coach.

“I got a DWI during my time in college, and he wasn’t coddling,” Herbert said. “He punished me and rightfully so. He made me realized that the punishment was needed in order to avoid making the same mistakes. It was not a lovey-dovey relationship, but he was very positive in my life. I have no regrets about going to LSU and playing for Les Miles.”

There are hundreds of these stories—former players with wonderful individual anecdotes about a head coach with a big heart and big eccentrics. 

Over time, Miles has accumulated plenty of good faith with his players. And yes, despite the fact that he has been unable to win more than one national championship, fans share a similar relationship with the head coach. In many ways, this extends to the media as well. 

Rarely does an emotional attachment get in the way of business, but this was different. What became clear from the onset of this strange, twisting journey was that the money behind the program—the boosters tired of losing to Nick Saban—wanted something new. Others, many, many others, felt otherwise. 

Perhaps that something (or someone) new was Jimbo Fisher. Maybe over the course of the last 48 hours, it was someone else. No one will ever know exactly what went on behind the curtain at LSU to prompt the apparent change of heart, but we now know the immediate, end result.

The coach who has won 111 of his last 143 games gets to keep his job. The coach with the No. 2 recruiting class in the country, as rated by 247Sports, will have an opportunity to keep this class together, as it was on the verge of falling apart.

Had Fisher said yes to LSU’s alleged interest, perhaps this would be different. Had LSU lost an ugly game in ugly fashion Saturday night—and for the majority of the game it felt like it was coming—perhaps the administration would have found a window to make a change. 

Firing a head coach normally comes somewhat easy. That’s not to say it’s ever easy on a personal level, but more times than not we know when it’s coming. You can sense it. This, however, was different. It came from nowhere and grew from nowhere.

And then, without an ounce of warning, momentum in Miles’ favor bubbled over as the coach graced the sideline. Business, for once, was outdone by something else—a movement that is hard to define.

After Miles was left drifting in the middle of the ocean without a life jacket, LSU was suddenly backed into a corner. Having seemingly lost the battle internally and with PR, it altered course. 

Alive and well, Miles will have the opportunity to right the ship that many assumed was broken beyond repair. Having come so close to a different result—a life on television or a different city entirely—LSU’s head coach, having been carried by his young team that will be expected to win bigger for him next year, will entertain us at least awhile longer. 

Following the game, Miles was asked little about the ugly football contest that might have saved his job. But when asked about the feeling of being carried off the field by his players—players who will carry with them magnificent stories of their head coach for decades—he found his stride once more. 

“When you’re sitting up there, I know now what it’s like to ride an elephant,” Miles said in his press conference. “It scares you to death, and you pray you can hang on to the ears, because there’s not much to hang on to. I was thrilled. I was touched.”

It’s good, again, to be king.


Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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College Football Rankings: Bleacher Report's Week 14 Top 25

Thirteen weeks of college football have come and gone, with the 2015 regular season over for a handful of teams. Yet so much more can still happen thanks to the remaining conference championship games, which will help finalize the lineup for the playoffs as well as all 40 postseason bowl games.

For now, though, we've got another edition of the Bleacher Report Top 25 that features plenty of movement thanks to a weekend of games that saw playoff hopefuls slip and late-charging teams climb up.

Twenty-one members of our college football staff voted in this week's Top 25: writers Ben Axelrod, Greg Couch, Ed Feng, Justin Ferguson, Bryan Fischer, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Mike Monaco, Brian Pedersen, David Regimbal, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Greg Wallace and Christopher Walsh; video experts Michael Felder and Sean McManus; and editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Eric Yates.

First-place votes were worth 25 points, with each subsequent rank worth one fewer point, all the way down to one for 25th place. The 25 highest vote-getters made our list, with the rest falling into the "others receiving votes" category.

See where everyone falls after the final full week of the regular season, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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College Football Playoff Rankings: Biggest Takeaways from Week 13

Week 13 delivered on its annual promise, shining clarity on the College Football Playoff picture while leaving hints of intrigue for next week's conference championship games.

We didn't see an upset as big as Texas over Oklahoma, but rivalries across the country gave underdogs a chance to compete, and highly ranked matchups had inevitable playoff implications.

The CFP picture has crept into focus, and although most lines are still blurry, the shape is starting to become recognizable.

Here are the biggest takeaways from rivalry week.


Oklahoma Punches First Ticket

Oklahoma won the Big 12 in dominant fashion, scoring 44 points in the first half of Bedlam and beating Oklahoma State 58-23.

The Sooners have rebounded from an ugly loss to Texas in October and punched the first unofficial ticket to the Final Four.

Clemson, Alabama and whoever wins the Big Ten title can punch tickets next weekend (more on that below), but Oklahoma clinched before them thanks to the lack of a Big 12 Championship Game, which gives the Sooners one fewer hurdle to clear.

Last year's Big 12 co-champions, TCU and Baylor, missed the playoff in part because the conference has no title game. It's more than a little ironic for that feature to prove beneficial the following season.

The Sooners and Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby are two of the weekend's biggest winners.

On to the national semis!


Notre Dame Falls Short

Injuries finally caught up with Notre Dame, which lost its second game of the season—and first against an opponent ranked lower than No. 1 in the current polls—on a last-second field goal at Stanford.

The Irish scored what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown with 30 seconds to play, but Stanford drove 45 yards on five plays to set up the game-winning kick by senior Conrad Ukropina:

The loss of starting cornerback KeiVarae Russell, who broke his tibia last week against Boston College, proved one too many for Notre Dame's depleted pass defense. Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan completed 17 of 21 passes for 269 yards and four touchdowns in the win.

The loss eliminates Notre Dame from reasonable playoff contention, although it's still likely to land in a New Year's Six bowl game. But that feels like a letdown for a team that head coach Brian Kelly said he would still put up against anyone, per Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated:

But bad news for the Irish spells good news for the playoff committee…


There Might Not Be a Controversy

Had Notre Dame beaten Stanford, there would have been another controversy on par with Ohio State over Baylor and TCU.

But Stanford's win over Notre Dame, along with the following results, keeps a fairly straightforward playoff in play:

  1. Iowa 28, Nebraska 20
  2. North Carolina 45, North Carolina State 34
  3. Oklahoma 58, Oklahoma State 23
  4. Michigan State 55, Penn State 16

As long as Alabama beats Florida in the SEC Championship Game—which seems likely based on Florida's 27-2 loss to Florida State—the playoff committee should have no trouble picking four teams.

Those four teams will be:

  • Alabama (one-loss SEC champion)
  • Oklahoma (one-loss Big 12 champion)
  • Clemson/North Carolina (zero-loss/one-loss ACC champion)
  • Iowa/Michigan State (0-loss/1-loss Big Ten champion)

If North Carolina beats Clemson, there's a chance 11-1 Ohio State, whose only loss came against Michigan State, could sneak in over the Tar Heels and ruin that projected foursome. But taking two teams from the Big Ten—even if one is the defending national champion—seems unlikely when there's a one-loss ACC champion who just (in this hypothetical) upset the No. 1 team in the country on a neutral field.

Respecting conference champions is how the committee took Ohio State last year. It's written right into its official selection criteria: "[The committee] will be instructed to place an emphasis on winning conference championships, strength of schedule and head-to-head competition when comparing teams with similar records and pedigree (treat final determination like a tie-breaker; apply specific guidelines)."

As long as Alabama beats Florida, expect the playoff to turn out as stated above. A Crimson Tide win would turn Clemson-North Carolina and Iowa-Michigan State into CFP quarterfinals.

Or at least it would for all intents and purposes. 


Craziest Playoff That's Still Possible

This one's for #TeamChaos.

The craziest playoff that's still realistically possible is:

  1. Iowa
  2. Oklahoma
  3. North Carolina
  4. Stanford

We get there with the above four teams winning their respective conference championship games, plus Florida beating Alabama.

The fourth spot would come down to Stanford and Ohio State, with the Buckeyes lobbying on the platform of having one loss to Stanford's two. But again, as mentioned above, Stanford's winning a Power Five conference would give it a massive leg up on OSU.

Either way, all chaos scenarios revolve around Florida beating Alabama. But don't hold your breath on that happening.

The Gators needed a safety to avoid getting shut out by Florida State.

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Matt Campbell to Iowa State: Latest Contract Details, Comments and Reaction

According to the Toledo Blade's Nicholas Piotrowicz, the Iowa State Cyclones hired former Toledo Rockets football head coach Matt Campbell to the same position early Sunday morning.

The team has not disclosed the contract figures.

The hiring comes less than a week after the Cyclones fired former head coach Paul Rhoads, who had been at the position for seven years. Rhoads coached Iowa State to losing seasons in six of those seven years. 

At Toledo, the 36-year-old Campbell led the Rockets to winning seasons in each of his four full years and won a pair of bowl games with the MAC school, compiling a 35-15 record. 

Toledo offered Campbell a contract that would have made him the highest-paid coach in the MAC on Saturday, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). 

Piotrowicz described the kind of coach Iowa State is getting:

To his players, he's very, very honest. Every player in his program knows where he stands, good or bad. He does not shortcut. He'll recruit above his weight class and the kids will get better under his program. He inspires a lot of loyalty from the people he's around. He's not always forthcoming with media, but I've always believed him a good man.

Per Piotrowicz, Campbell will be in Iowa on Sunday. 

Iowa State, which has struggled to be relevant in the Big 12 for much of its existence, needed a change. The Cyclones haven't won more than six games in any of the last six seasons, and they haven't been bowl-eligible since 2012.

Bringing Campbell into a power conference, Iowa State looks as though it is confident that he can help turn things around.


Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

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Texas A&M vs. LSU: Game Grades, Analysis for Aggies and Tigers

Following a gritty battle in a hostile Death Valley, a streaking LSU squad was able to grind out a 19-7 victory over border rival Texas A&M and enter the bowl season off a win. After weeks of speculation swirling around the job security of head coach Les Miles, the Tigers' tenacious style of football shined through under the lights in what may be the Mad Hatter's final game at Baton Rouge. 

Up next, bowl season approaches with both A&M and LSU primed to jump into postseason competition. With the win, the Tigers should see their stock rise relative to fellow SEC West rivals Texas A&M and Mississippi State, while the Aggies will once again see their standing crumble after midseason woes derailed the squad. 

Pass Offense: Brandon Harris and the passing attack failed to gain much traction against the A&M secondary, as he totaled just 83 total yards through the air with one interception. 

Rush Offense: While the passing game struggled, sophomore running back Leonard Fournette and freshman Derrius Guice utilized the ground-and-pound system to eventually break through the Aggies defense. Fournette and Guice combined for 232 yards and two scores, working together on the back-breaking final scoring drive in the fourth quarter. 

Pass Defense: Even though Kyle Allen and Co. were relatively dangerous on occasion, the LSU secondary limited the Aggies signal-caller to just one score and 161 yards passing. The late interception helped seal the victory, and a constant pass rush kept the young quarterback rattled. 

Rush Defense: The combined onslaught of both Tra Carson and James White was nowhere near as deadly as Fournette and Guice, with both Aggies combining for 95 yards and no scores. A&M's dedication to its ground game proved fatal, as the LSU defense swarmed the rushing attack throughout the game. 

Special Teams: While the two Trent Domingue field goals proved crucial down the stretch, the three misses were certainly a downer throughout the game for the special teams. However, a recovered fumble on a kickoff helped LSU get off to a quick start, and Guice had a brilliant kickoff return to start the second half. 

Coaching: With rumors regarding Les Miles' job security choking up the media for the past few weeks, focusing on A&M must have been difficult. However, LSU played its game, pounding the ball and attacking opposing offenses. 

Pass Offense: Pitiful may be one word to describe it, especially considering how explosive this air raid was supposed to evolve into down the road. Kyle Allen and his receivers were only able to compile a despondent 161 yards and a single score, allowing the Tigers secondary to contain most threats throughout the game. 

Rush Offense: A tough night for the passing game led to a dismal night on the ground, as Carson and White worked for every inch of the 95 yards they gained. At some point, the play-action pass became a formality, with the LSU defense expecting air raid on nearly every down. 

Pass Defense: Harris struggled to find any rhythm through the air, as solid secondary play and inaccuracy plagued the Tigers quarterback. Overall, limiting any team to 83 passing yards is a victory, especially considering Harris' success earlier in the year. 

Rush Defense: The combination of Fournette and Guice proved too much for what was initially a stifling A&M defense, as the two halfbacks blew up late for two scores and a powerful 232 total yards. Fournette was particularly deadly, slicing up the Aggies in the final quarter as the Tigers wound down the clock for the victory. 

Special Teams: The missed Taylor Bertolet field goal was the beginning of the end for A&M, as LSU took off after the miss. Further, the fumble on a kickoff return killed early momentum. 

Coaching: After A&M's season-long struggle with an offense that was considered one of the most explosive in the country, some questions must be raised regarding the play-calling decisions of coordinator Jake Spavital. The change on defense to John Chavis has been critical in improvement on that side of the ball, but lackluster offensive production has hurt any chance A&M had to break into the playoff discussion. 

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Ohio State Still Has a Lifeline in Race to Repeat as CFP National Champion

Ohio State fans, welcome to #TeamChaos.

Your Buckeyes' offensive explosion against hated rival Michigan on Saturday afternoon was impressive.

And although Michigan State smacked around Penn State later in the day to clinch the Big Ten East division, the rout of the Wolverines in Jim Harbaugh's first Big Game at the Big House ensured Ohio State still has a chance to repeat as the national champion.

Ohio State entered the weekend at No. 8 in the College Football Playoff committee's rankings. The team directly ahead of it, No. 7 Baylor, lost 28-21 in overtime to TCU in a monsoon Friday night.

The No. 6 team, Notre Dame, lost 38-36 on a last-second field goal by No. 9 Stanford.

Even through some closer-than-expected calls, the rest of the committee's Top Five took care of business Saturday. Barring a surprise shakeup in the rankings, Ohio State will enter Week 14—conference championship week—as the No. 6 team in the country.

No. 3 Iowa and (presumably) No. 4 Michigan State will sort themselves out in Indianapolis next Saturday with a Big Ten Championship Game that should be a playoff play-in game.

That means Ohio State could be in the final top four from the committee with some more chaos, as Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod noted on Twitter:

No. 1 Clemson, which survived a scary road trip against three-win rival South Carolina on Saturday, faces one of the hottest teams in the country next weekend in the ACC Championship Game.

North Carolina entered the weekend No. 14 in the CFP rankings and knocked off NC State by a score of 45-34.

The Tar Heels were ranked second nationally in yards per play heading into Week 13 and have a defense that has mostly excelled throughout the season. If it weren't for a narrow, turnover-filled loss in Week 1 against that same pesky South Carolina team, UNC would be a big-time playoff contender.

If North Carolina defeated Clemson in Charlotte next weekend, that would swing the door open for one of the playoff spots. One-loss North Carolina could climb in there itself with the ACC title, but it would have to make up a lot of ground with the committee.

Another scenario that would free up a spot for Ohio State to slide back into the top four is an upset for Florida, which lost 20-2 on Saturday against Florida State, over No. 2 Alabama.

This chaotic chance seems less likely than a UNC victory over undefeated Clemson. Alabama is playing like one of the best teams in the country at the moment, while Florida looked rough in its three previous wins before falling to Florida State.

But stranger things have happened, and a two-loss Florida team would be a tougher argument to make over Ohio State in the playoff discussion, even with the SEC Championship in its hands.

One of the teams that could join Ohio State in the playoff push with a win for UNC or Florida is none other than two-loss Stanford.

The Cardinal will face USC next weekend in the Pac-12 Championship Game, and they'll have a chance to secure one of those conference championships the committee apparently likes to see from a top-four team.

A Stanford loss, on the other hand, would clear things up for Ohio State. USC would be the Pac-12 champion in that case—with four losses.

If the comparisons came down to one-loss non-champion Ohio State, one-loss ACC champion UNC, a one-loss non-champion Clemson, two-loss SEC champion Florida and two-loss Pac-12 champion Stanford, let's just say that the committee would have a massive headache coming its way.

Ohio State's advantages would be point differential—or average margin of victory—and a huge blowout road victory over a Top 25 team, but the Buckeyes wouldn't have a conference championship. They would need the committee to look favorably upon the close loss to Michigan State and accept a pair of Big Ten teams into the playoff.

That playoff hope might still be a long shot, but it's a lot more than what Ohio State had just one short week ago.

After all, this is the season of last-minute miracles.


Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State: Game Grades and Analysis for Sooners and Cowboys

Riding a balanced attack, the No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners took it the Oklahoma State Cowboys for a Bedlam win.

It was a dominant performance by the Sooners, who left Stillwater with a 58-23 victory. Baker Mayfield accounted for three touchdowns, Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon combined for four more, and the defense forced two turnovers to end this one early.

After giving up a 30-point second quarter, this one will leave a mark for the Cowboys. That 15-minute stretch saw the Sooners stretch their lead out from four points to 27, knocking the Pokes out of Big 12 contention in the blink of an eye.

The win gives Oklahoma its ninth conference title in the Bob Stoops era and likely punches the program's ticket to the College Football Playoff. 

Grade Analysis for the Sooners

Passing Offense: It was an average day for this passing offense, which put up only 180 yards. It should have been more, but drops were an issue for the receivers throughout the game. Mayfield probably needed a bigger day through the air to overtake Alabama's Derrick Henry in the Heisman race. 

Rushing Offense: The Sooners turned 42 carries into 344 yards and five touchdowns, including one from Mayfield. Mixon and Perine each put up at least 131 yards and two touchdowns. The tandem's emergence doesn't get enough credit for what Oklahoma has done over its last seven games.

Passing Defense: Jordan Thomas changed this game with two interceptions, including a pick-six, in the second quarter. From there, it was complete and utter dominance by the Sooners. Eric Striker also had a field day off the edge, making a living in the Cowboys backfield throughout the night. Zack Sanchez had one of his worst days in crimson and cream. James Washington got away with a couple of pushoffs, but he beat the Sooners' best cover man multiple times on jump balls. 

Rushing Defense: J.W. Walsh was the Pokes' only real threat out of the backfield, and the Sooners bottled him up easily. When you go up by almost 30 in the second quarter, the run game pretty much comes off the menu.

Special Teams: Alex Ross finally broke loose for a 90-yard return to set up the Sooners' first touchdown. Austin Seibert missed a field goal. Kick coverage was solid all night.

Coaching: Playing a good team on the road, Bob Stoops and his staff left no doubt. The Sooners mercilessly poured it on in that second quarter and then never let the Pokes feel like they were back in it. This team had to make a lasting impression on the College Football Playoff committee, and it did that with this dominant victory.

Grade Analysis for the Cowboys

Passing Offense: Walsh was solid, going 25-of-42 for 325 yards and two touchdowns. The Sooners were just playing a different game in the first half. Mason Rudolph's pick-six was a back-breaker that put the score out of reach at 34-10.

James Washington had another huge game with seven catches for 169 yards and a touchdown. He's the first Cowboys receiver to go over 1,000 yards since Josh Stewart in 2012, and he'll find himself on some watch lists next season.

Rushing Offense: What rushing offense? Walsh led the team in carries (12) and yardage (50), but he was obviously the only threat. The Pokes must address their deficiency in this phase of the game in the offseason.

Passing Defense: The Pokes weren't bad, but a bevy of Sooners drops also bailed them out. Emmanuel Ogbah was barely heard from in what was probably his final game at Boone Pickens Stadium.

Rushing Defense: Oklahoma literally ran away with this one. The Sooners had two touchdown runs of 66 yards or more, along with another that went for 25 yards. Nobody really seemed interested in tackling, which made it easy for these talented backs to go nuts.

Special Teams: Ben Grogan made all three of his field-goal attempts. Miketavius Jones made a nice effort to keep Ross out of the end zone on his big return, but that's the only nice thing we can say about that play. The Sooners are too balanced on offense to give them field position like that.

Coaching: Tackling was horrible, and you never got the sense that Mike Gundy and his staff had any answers for what was happening. The Sooners are obviously the more talented team, but Oklahoma State has to be better in a rivalry game with such high stakes. 

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