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Top Scenarios for CFB Playoff Contenders Heading into Rivalry Week

The road to the College Football Playoff isn't the same for every contender.

While some top teams seem to have a straight shot at the final four this season, others are locked into a dead heat with each other—a race that could come down to a photo finish, so to speak.

Then there are the teams in the back of the pack who aren't eliminated just yet, but they need some big-time boosts down the stretch and maybe a crash or two in front of them.

As we head into rivalry weekend, it's time to pull out the road maps and outline each contender's journey to the College Football Playoff. These teams have been put into several tiers, based on projected rankings, remaining opponents and overall resumes.

Here's where the top undefeated and one-loss teams from the Power Five conferences stand in the playoff picture heading into the final week of the regular season.


Win and they're in


As the higher ranked of the undefeated teams heading into Week 12, Clemson's grip on the No. 1 spot in the College Football Playoff committee rankings should have tightened with Ohio State's and Oklahoma State's losses on Saturday.

Clemson closes out its regular season with a road matchup against rival South Carolina, which has an interim head coach and is coming off a loss to FCS opponent The Citadel. After taking care of business in Columbia, the Tigers will face currently one-loss North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game.

This scenario is as straightforward as it comes. If the nation's top-ranked team wins out and grabs its conference title, it would be a lock for the playoff and is almost guaranteed the coveted No. 1 seed.



Alabama's early home loss to Ole Miss has been ancient history for the playoff committee this season. The Tide were ranked higher than a pair of undefeated teams before this past weekend's action, and they'll stay in the final four with a couple more wins.

Head coach Nick Saban's team visits 6-5 rival Auburn this weekend, and it's a solid 13- to 14-point road favorite for the matchup against the up-and-down Tigers, per Odds Shark. According to RJ Bell of Pregame.com, Alabama would also be favored by double digits against Florida in the SEC Championship Game a week later.

Alabama has been a dominant, championship-caliber force—especially on defense—for most of its games since losing to the Rebels back in September. The Tide's strength of schedule, which is ranked No. 8 by Jeff Sagarin, should have them rolling into the playoff with two more wins.



It's late November, and the Iowa Hawkeyes are one of two undefeated teams in college football. And, at this point in the season, we're now looking at Iowa as a team that controls its own playoff destiny. A hypothetical win in the Big Ten Championship Game over Ohio State would have put Iowa in the top four—now, the Hawkeyes will most likely have that spot already heading into rivalry weekend.

Iowa has a quicker turnaround this week as it faces Nebraska on Friday. The Huskers are coming off a bye week and back-to-back victories over Michigan State and Rutgers, and they'll also have home-field advantage in this one. 

Still, Iowa is currently favored by three points, per Odds Shark, and will have plenty of momentum heading into Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game with another victory. With only two undefeated teams left, there's no way Iowa is out if it takes care of business at Nebraska and takes home the conference title next week.


Michigan State

Michigan State jumped right back into the thick of the playoff race this weekend with a road upset over Ohio State. If the Spartans defeat Penn State at home this weekend, they're headed to the Big Ten Championship Game to face Iowa in what should be a play-in game.

Sure, the controversial loss at 5-6 Nebraska isn't as "good" as Notre Dame's loss at undefeated Clemson, but Sparty still grabbed plentyofplayoffprojections this weekend. Its resume continues to strengthen with the continued rise of Oregon and road victories over both Michigan and Ohio State. A win over undefeated Iowa should catapult the Spartans into the top four.

Of course, losses for any other contender would help Michigan State's case, but it doesn't desperately need those. After this past weekend's chaos, Michigan State appears to be in control of its own destiny, just like the Tigers, Tide and Hawkeyes.


The great debate

Notre Dame

According to the projected playoff rankings from Bleacher Report's Ed Feng, Notre Dame should move up from No. 4 to No. 3 on Tuesday night after Ohio State's loss to Michigan State. The committee has been in favor of Notre Dame's full body of work from the first set of rankings—no one has a better loss than the Irish—and a win against Stanford would provide another boost to that resume.

But would Notre Dame be completely locked in if it's victorious on the Farm this weekend? If Iowa wins the Big Ten with an undefeated record, there's a great chance the Irish get jumped by the Hawkeyes, who already moved ahead in the AP poll. Michigan State could snatch that No. 3 spot as well if it wins out.

Could Oklahoma jump the Irish as early as this week? It's possible. Oklahoma held off a banged-up, one-loss TCU team one week after knocking off Baylor on the road, and Notre Dame failed to impress against Boston College. The best playoff scenario for Notre Dame is a win at Stanford and an Oklahoma loss in Bedlam this weekend. If that happens, it'll be hard to lodge ND out of the top four.



How the committee positions the one-loss brigade of Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Michigan State on Tuesday night will be important moving forward. While the Spartans have two more possible wins left, Oklahoma and Notre Dame only have one.

The big debate right now is between Oklahoma and Notre Dame for the fourth slot—behind the ACC, SEC and Big Ten champion. Considering the quality of its loss to Texas compared to Notre Dame's loss to No. 1 Clemson, Oklahoma probably needs a second Irish "L" this weekend more than the Irish need one from the Sooners. However, Oklahoma will be able to flash its outright conference championship with a win this weekend, which is high up on the committee's criteria.

As Bleacher Report's Bryan Fischer wrote this weekend, head coach Bob Stoops' squad is one of the few complete teams in the country and is arguably the hottest one right now. If they win in Stillwater, the Sooners will have knocked off three undefeated or one-loss teams in three straight weeks. A Bedlam win and a ND loss this weekend is the easiest path for OU, and it might have enough to get in without the latter.


Cheering for chaos


The Bears aren't dead in the playoff race, as they showed Saturday night with a big win at Oklahoma State. In order to take home the outright Big 12 title, Baylor needs to win out and have Oklahoma drop to two losses with a defeat this weekend.

"The Bears could make an argument to pass Oklahoma, even though they lost head to head, because their only loss of the season came against a playoff contender, while Oklahoma dropped a game to non-contender Texas," Bleacher Report's Brian Leigh wrote. "The problem is Baylor can't really make that argument after last year, when in order to pass TCU it argued the opposite."

Even if Oklahoma State wins in Stillwater on Saturday, Baylor will probably need another domino to fall. A Notre Dame team with a lone loss to No. 1 Clemson was ahead of undefeated Baylor in the rankings a couple of weeks ago, and the Irish would most likely stay out in front if they defeated Stanford this weekend. In order to realistically get into No. 4, Baylor needs to win out in style and get a decent bit of help.


Oklahoma State

While Baylor needs an Oklahoma State win to pick up the Big 12 championship, Oklahoma State needs Baylor to slip up one more time, either to TCU or Texas. The Cowboys entered Week 12 as the No. 6 team in the eyes of the committee, and they blew a big chance to move up by losing to Baylor.

Oklahoma State would also love for Stanford to knock off Notre Dame this weekend, as it would swing the door open for a one-loss Big 12 champion to slide into the No. 4 slot.

Oklahoma State's title hopes may have been written off with Saturday night's loss, but some good, old-fashioned chaos could rope the Cowboys back into the mix. They need to cool off a red-hot Oklahoma team and hope for an upset from a team it has already beaten this season—the Horned Frogs or the Longhorns.


Ohio State

Ohio State failed its first test against a ranked opponent this season with the home loss to Michigan State last Saturday. While the Buckeyes seem to have more problems than just getting back into the playoff picture, Ohio State isn't out of it just yet.

In order to have a clear shot at a title defense, the Buckeyes would need Penn State to beat Michigan State this weekend. Ohio State would advance to the Big Ten title game with a win over Michigan, and a win there over Iowa would make them a strong one-loss conference champion.

Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com also suggested a scenario where Michigan State and Ohio State would both make the playoff—one that involves a Notre Dame loss and a couple of big losses in the Big 12. The Buckeyes' paths are far from straightforward after their loss to the Spartans, but they still exist right now.


Creating their own chaos


These last two contenders will need to create some large-scale chaos of their own in conference championship week and maybe even get one or two more one-loss teams to slip up in the process.

One-loss Florida, fresh off an ugly overtime victory over two-win Florida Atlantic, needs to defeat rival Florida State this weekend and then pull off a major upset of Alabama in the Georgia Dome. Those wins alone may not get the Gators into the playoff, but they'd have to make a big jump—Feng projected Florida to land at No. 10 in the next playoff rankings. Would they leapfrog, say, a one-loss Notre Dame team?

"After two straight seasons without a major bowl win and an SEC East that looks like a joke, I'm not sure Florida will get that benefit of the doubt [over Notre Dame]," Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee wrote. "The dominoes have relegated Florida to at or near the back of the one-loss pecking order, and it needs a miracle to win out."


North Carolina

North Carolina hasn't been winning as ugly as Florida recently, but the Tar Heels have the worst loss of anyone in playoff contention. UNC dropped a turnover-filled Week 1 decision to South Carolina, which is now 3-8 after its loss to an FCS school.

However, North Carolina has been racking up style points for most of the season, winning seven games by double digits. If they grabbed another one of those against NC State and then pulled off the shocker against Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, they might sneak into the top four.

The playoff committee hasn't been a big fan of the Heels so far this season, as they weren't mentioned at all in the first set of rankings and entered Week 12 at No. 17 behind several two-loss schools. UNC would benefit the most from some more one-loss teams falling these next two weeks in addition to a huge upset over the No. 1 team in the country.


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

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Bowl Projections 2015: Predicting Playoff Standings and Bowl Games Post-Week 12

At the start of the season, many assumed Ohio State was all but a lock to reach the College Football Playoff in order to defend its crown.

Sure, an Alabama or a Clemson could still beat the talented Buckeyes in a close semifinal game, the reasoning went, but even with tough contests against Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa to end the season, Urban Meyer would get Ohio State to return to form and wind up with a top seed thanks to the sheer amount of talent in scarlet and gray.

Well, scratch that line of thinking after Week 12 thanks to Mark Dantonio's Spartans. A remarkable win, in Columbus no less, suddenly puts Michigan State in the driver's seat for one of the four spots in the playoff. Just as impressive, its resume suddenly looks like one of the best around with wins over surging Oregon in the nonconference slate and the number of Top 10 wins they can capture in November.

Combined with Iowa being one of only two undefeated teams left in the country, the Big Ten's outlook when it comes to the playoff hasn't changed at all, but the teams still in the mix has quite a bit. While Ohio State isn't completely dead (and neither is Michigan), a chance to defend their crown is suddenly very dim after Saturday despite it having just one close loss to a top team.

Elsewhere around the country, the only thing left for the committee to determine may be the impending Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma question (if each wins this weekend). Should that happen, the College Football Playoff picture will come into focus and the lobbying for the final spots will commence in both Norman and South Bend.

The thing is, there's plenty of college football left and rivalry week has a history of messing with the postseason in unforeseen ways. That's why we all love this sport, but it certainly makes projecting every bowl game a bit more difficult. 

Still, this postseason snapshot is as solid as they come…until next week, that is. For now, though, this is how the bowl picture looks. A hearty disclaimer that these are projecting the rest of the season and, as such, are not completely reflective of the state of college football at the moment.

  • Here are the full Top 25 rankings. The College Football Playoff selection committee will release its second set of rankings on Tuesday, Nov. 24, at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.
  • Obviously the big news is Ohio State tumbling out of the projected No. 1 seed to out of the final four. But with that door closed, another is opened for Michigan State to return to the Cotton Bowl to face Alabama. In addition to pitting two similar style teams against each other in yet another Big Ten/SEC semifinal, the chance for former Nick Saban assistant Mark Dantonio to upset his old boss would be an enticing storyline.
  • On the opposite side of the bracket, we have a chance for Oklahoma to extract some revenge against Clemson for the beating the Tigers laid on the Sooners two years ago in their bowl game. That capped a miserable 8-5 season for Bob Stoops that prompted a number of wholesale staff changes, which in many ways is the reason they're in the playoff conversation to begin with. It's also good news for Tigers fans hoping for a trip to the Orange Bowl over a longer trek to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl semifinal.
  • We've long maintained that Houston was the pick to be the Group of Five selection for the New Year's Six, but that thinking changed thanks not because of the Cougars loss to UConn, but the fact that they're banged up and will now face a Navy team that is firing on all fronts. The game is in Houston, but that might not be enough to help against Keenan Reynolds and Co.
  • The Midshipmen's opponent in the postseason could be Florida State, a team that has been helped by a soft schedule but could certainly return to a big-time bowl game this year with a win over Florida this week. Beat the Gators and it may be tough for the committee to put anybody else in that spot but the Seminoles.
  • A scenario still exists where the Big 12 has three 10-2 teams fighting for a berth in the Sugar Bowl and the tiebreaker comes down to point differential. Yep. If TCU beats a beat-up Baylor team as revenge for last season, that very well may be what happens.
  • Ohio State's loss may present the opportunity for us to get a mega-matchup with Notre Dame in the Peach Bowl. The Irish, win or lose against Stanford on Saturday, seem pretty much set for one of the at-large spots in the New Year's Six.
  • The NCAA is deciding on Monday as to what the procedure will be if 5-7 teams are needed to fill bowl slots, but we're looking at exactly the right number of qualified teams should some upsets happen this week (Nebraska over Iowa, Minnesota over Wisconsin among them).
  • Keep an eye out for the ACC bowl picture to be quite fluid given the number of average 6-6/7-5 teams and the chance that some bowl quickly goes for the Frank Beamer retirement tour ahead of other conference teams with a better record. Right now the Hokies are slotted to the Military Bowl, but they could wind up anywhere, including some place like the Belk Bowl, depending on what the final records are for everybody.
  • Hard to imagine anything but cheers for the Russell Athletic Bowl selection committee. They will essentially get either Florida State or the very entertaining North Carolina offense against TCU/Oklahoma State/Baylor. Among the non-New Year's Six games, it's one to watch.
  • The Pac-12 will have more teams than slots and considering where some teams might finish record-wise, there are a ton of possibilities for everybody not named Stanford. 
  • Rich Rodriguez complained about playing 12 straight games this season and having to do so with many night games, so his reward this postseason can be to stay home and play at Arizona Stadium in the Arizona Bowl. 
  • Freshly bowl eligible UConn and soon-to-be-eligible Buffalo have to love the prospect at spending part of December in sunny Orlando for the Cure Bowl.


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

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Is LSU's No. 1 Recruiting Class in Danger If the Tigers Fire Les Miles?

As the smoke cleared early Monday afternoon, Les Miles still has a job as the head football coach at LSU.

Three weeks ago, the Tigers were seen as a national-title contender. LSU as a unit was viewed as the dominant team in what some consider the dominant conference of college football. And, perhaps more importantly for Monday, Miles was a coach of the year candidate.

As November prepares to close, the Tigers are now on a three-game skid and haven't scored more than 17 points in a game this month. And Miles has had to answer questions—the latest coming during a Monday press conference that had some wondering if he would address questions regarding reports of him and LSU parting ways.

For now, Miles isn't going anywhere. Nor is he planning to. Ask him, and he'll tell you that, despite the reports, he has work to do.

"I can tell you that I don't know anything other than, let's go to work, let's rally the troops, let's enjoy the men I've hired and the young men I've recruited," Miles said during the press conference. "Let's coach them hard. Let's go with victory. It's just that simple."

Miles is still the head coach—despite additional reports of Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher being a lead candidate to take over duties at LSU—and he's still the lead guy for an outstanding 2016 recruiting class. LSU has the top-ranked 2016 class nationally, according to the 247Sports team rankings. The Tigers have 19 commits, including two 5-star players in cornerback Saivion Smith and safety Eric Monroe and a handful of 4-star players.

Maintaining the nucleus of the class is the objective for the Tigers, and that should happen whether or not Miles is let go. With assistant coaches like defensive backs coach Corey Raymond, defensive line coach Ed Orgeron and several others, expect most of the LSU commits to stay committed as long as those coaches stay put.

And if Miles' time does come to a conclusion at the end of the year, you can bet that nucleus will monitor the coaching situation closely. It's almost a given that a big-name head coach—or a well-liked, well-established assistant—likely would take over the program.

The talk of a new head coach is still somewhat premature, at least in Miles' eyes, as he prepares his team for Saturday's regular-season finale against Texas A&M. A win could silence a lot of the hearsay and replacement chatter. It'll put LSU on pace for a nine-win season, counting a potential bowl victory, and Miles has led the Tigers to a bowl game every year since he took over the program in 2005.

The biggest question for the recruiting class right now involves the commitment status of 4-star quarterback Feleipe Franks, who has made two November trips to Florida.

Franks told Shea Dixon of 247Sports.com that he is "taking it day by day" and is making trips simply to "check out the atmospheres." Because of his ventures to Gainesville, prognosticators participating in Franks' 247Sports Crystal Ball have made the Gators the new leader in where he'll sign in February. In fact, every November prediction sides with Florida.

Franks' interest in other programs doesn't appear to have anything to do with Miles. And with that said, don't expect a mass exit of star LSU commits if Miles is relieved of his head coaching duties.

In fact, look for a few players to continue recruiting for the class. Smith has been a solid player recruiter in trying to land high school teammate Shavar Manuel, a 5-star defensive tackle.

"I'm trying to get Shavar to come with me," Smith told Bleacher Report in August. "I feel pretty confident with him."

Other 5-star targets LSU is hoping to land include defensive tackle Rashan Gary and offensive tackle Greg Little, the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 player, respectively. Brandon Jones, the nation's top-ranked safety, also is an LSU target.

Don't expect LSU to lose major ground in recruiting if Miles is fired. There's still a lot of talent in Baton Rouge. And there's still a lot of young talent around the country wanting to be a part of that after high school.


Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

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Ohio State Has Bigger Issues Than Ezekiel Elliott Distraction

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer's most impressive job as a head coach in the 2015 season has had nothing to do with his handling of his team's complicated quarterback conundrum or preparing for one of Ohio State's tougher opponents on its schedule.

In fact, following the Buckeyes' 17-14 loss to a Connor Cook-less Michigan State on Saturday, one could argue that Meyer has fallen short when it's come to both.

But when backed into a corner and put into a no-win situation by star running back Ezekiel Elliott, who blasted the coaching staff's play-calling following this past weekend's defeat, Meyer somehow found his way out.

Without either punishing or seemingly putting one player above the team, the fourth-year Buckeyes head coach moved on from the situation on Monday with his level-headed explanation of Elliott's outburst.

"Zeke has always been [an] extremely loyal person, a great competitor," Meyer said at his weekly press conference. "We do not condone that and encourage that. Our rule is always talk about your teammates and move on. And he came to see me. We had a very long discussion—he's great—and he apologized...we squashed it as a team. We squashed it with Zeke.

"Zeke has been a good student student, very loyal, incredible football player. Most selfless player—one of the most selfless players I've ever coached and been around."

Elliott also took to Twitter on Monday morning to issue a public apology and explanation of his own.

But while Meyer and his team may claim to have put an admitted distraction—Elliott's comments led multiple national television and sports radio shows on Monday—behind them, glaring issues still loom for this Ohio State team.

Now at 10-1 on the season and no longer in control of its fate in the races for the Big Ten title or College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes head to Ann Arbor with a sense of uncertainty hanging over their program—some of which was alluded to in Elliott's well-publicized criticism.

Particularly when it comes to Ohio State's play-calling, which resulted in just 12 carries for Elliott, who entered the weekend as the nation's third-leading rusher.

While he didn't agree with the forum in which it came, Meyer said he didn't dispute the content of his star player's message, revealing that he would be taking a more active role in the Buckeyes' play-selection process moving forward.

"I couldn't disagree with him—his comments that he should have got the ball a little bit more," Meyer said. "[In] hindsight, feed him. He has a way of making yards."

It's one thing to adjust your strategy with one game left in the regular season.

But to overhaul your play-calling process, something Ohio State already did earlier this season when Meyer shifted more responsibility from offensive coordinator Ed Warinner to co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tim Beck, suggests a larger issue that exists when it comes to the Buckeyes offense following the offseason departure of former offensive coordinator Tom Herman, now the head coach at Houston.

If Meyer's newfound reluctance to delegate proves ineffective—or only harms the Ohio State offense further—it could make for a long day in Ann Arbor, with Michigan currently laying claim to the nation's second-ranked defense.

And even if Meyer's increased presence in the Buckeyes' huddle proves to be a positive, it may not be enough.

Especially considering the apparent deflated nature of both Meyer and the Ohio State players on Monday, following what was the Buckeyes' first loss in 24 games.

With such a long winning streak snapped—and so much taken out of Ohio State's control in the process—it's natural for there to be a sense of a letdown, as evidenced by both players and coaches referring to enduring "sleepless nights" in the past couple of days.

At the same time, it's also natural to ask whether that disappointment will carry over to Saturday, with such a short time between games against formidable foes.

The stock answer for the Buckeyes players has been that the rivalry with Michigan is motivation enough to move on from last weekend's defeat. "We'll go out tomorrow ready to roll in practice and ready to start a new game plan and really put in the work for this week," Ohio State linebacker Joshua Perry said.

But the Buckeyes' body language tells another story, as do additional comments Elliott made on Saturday.

Defiantly declaring for the draft following his criticisms of the play-calling, the true junior made it clear that there's "no chance" that he'll be returning to Columbus in 2016.

In addition to defensive end Joey Bosa and backup quarterback Cardale Jones, that makes three Ohio State players who have already revealed that they're leaning toward entering next spring's draft, with one game still remaining in the regular season.

Meyer admitted on Monday that players looking ahead to the pros could be a distraction but didn't feel that was currently the case in Columbus.

"The names you just mentioned are wonderful, loyal kids to this program, have done probably about—you know, there's some great historians of this program that could tell you more, but I can't imagine those names that you just mentioned have done much more," Meyer answered when asked about Elliott, Bosa and Jones' intentions. "I got to make sure we're doing this so we can get the laser lights [focus] that's on our preparation."

Whether or not the Buckeyes will do just that this weekend against a Wolverines team with plenty on the line as well remains to be seen. But even with Meyer having seemingly escaped the cloud of Elliott's comments, distractions still persist and even he knows there's only one way they will dissipate.

"If we find a way to win this game, I imagine we won't be talking about this much longer," Meyer said.

That line of thinking, however, works both ways. Because if Ohio State loses for the second time in as many games this weekend, there will be no shortage of topics to talk about when it comes to the Buckeyes.


Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Why Alabama Should Now Be Favorite to Win National Championship

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Back at the beginning of training camp, University of Alabama senior linebacker Reggie Ragland gave Cyrus Jones a goal to shoot for on punt returns this season: eight touchdowns.

Jones pretty much said “OK,” only now Ragland is looking for him to make good on it. He notched two on Saturday against Charleston Southern, making him the first player to do so since Alabama started keeping track in 1944. His season total of three leads the nation.

“He’s starting to get into a groove,” Ragland said.

The same could be said of the No. 2-ranked Crimson Tide (10-1) as a whole. The offense has the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy, the defense might be the best in college football and now even special teams are finding the end zone as well.

In short, Alabama is peaking at the right time and doesn’t feel like it’s played its best game yet heading into the annual regular-season finale at Auburn (Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CBS).

“You’re only as good as your last play,” head coach Nick Saban said. “I like the progress of the team, but we’ve got to continue to be able to execute and play with consistency.”

Nevertheless, even though this team hasn’t won anything yet—not even a division title—it’s pretty obvious that Alabama is once again considered the team to beat.

Undefeated Clemson might top the polls, but Alabama receiving first-place votes is a strong indication that it would be favored in a neutral setting.

Ohio State might have been the exception to that considering last year’s game at the Sugar Bowl, but after losing to its first ranked opponent (Michigan State), the Buckeyes are now a long shot to return to the playoffs.

“It would have been cool to play them again, but I don’t think we really care who we would play, we just want to make sure that we’re in the conversation at the end of the year in the top four,” Jones said about the Ohio State loss. “If we’re in a position to win, we’re fine no matter who we would play.”

Overall, Alabama’s played the toughest schedule, has the most overall talent, the most depth, the most proven coaching staff and experience. It’s won at least 10 games in eight straight seasons, the third-longest streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision since 1937, and only three of its games since 2008 haven’t had national championship implications (all during the 2010 season). 

It rebounded by destroying Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl 49-7 and used that to launch its successful national championship runs in 2011 and 2012.

Consequently, except for the junior college and fifth-year transfers, the current seniors have at least one of those rings.

Now they just need to lead a title run themselves.

"It's very different,” Ragland said about the team’s focus. “I was just telling them yesterday we're [hitting] our strength and stride. It's one of the best feelings I've had in a long time about a team, since my freshman year.

“These guys, everybody's just communicating. Every time you walk into the locker room, you just feel at home and at peace. It ain't no animosity, anything like that. I just feel great about this team, man. If everybody keeps doing their job, we'll be where we want to be at the end of the year."

The players say that’s different from the past two years, when Alabama was in the same situation and fell short.

“This team is way more focused than we were in 2013 when we were heading down [to Auburn], and even last year at this point,” Jones said. “I think it's a much more tight-knit locker room. Everybody has the same goals. No big egos on the team.

“It's just less distractions. You can just sense it, and you can see it by people's actions. Less selfishness on the team. Everybody is focused on the team goals instead of their own personal aspirations and things they want to accomplish. Whether it's winning awards or what their stats are or with the older players, what their draft stock is and different things like that. Everybody is just focused on this team and just winning games and reaching our ultimate goal.”

It’s not too difficult to see where it stems from. Ragland and senior center Ryan Kelly are likely to be voted team captains, and junior running back Derrick Henry went and hugged all the seniors after their final home game on Saturday.

“Those guys do a lot for this program,” Henry said. “They put in a lot of time and hours in. I just wanted to say, 'thank you' and I appreciate them.”

“You’ve got guys like Derrick and Reggie who you know are first-round, second-round picks,” senior safety Geno Matias-Smith said. “When it means so much to them to go out each week and focus on the season, not after the season, and pick the guys up...”

This isn’t to say that Auburn can’t beat Alabama, because we’ve all seen too many Iron Bowls to know otherwise. The same goes for Florida and whatever team(s) it might face in the playoffs should it continue to win.

But all indicators are pointing toward a strong finish for the Crimson Tide.

The swarming defense is being compared to the 2011 unit that was just the second in history to finish No. 1 nationally in all four key defensive categories (Oklahoma 1986). Since 2009, Alabama has given up 135 touchdowns over 91 games, 39 fewer than the next best team (Florida with 174).

It’s scored eight non-offensive touchdowns, more than any of the three national title teams under Saban, and there are still signs of improvement.

For example, after having nine penalties against LSU and averaging 7.0 through its first nine games, Alabama had four at Mississippi State and just two against Charleston Southern.

“We were on the wrong track for a while,” Kelly said. “We were kind of increasing penalties week in, week out. Coach Saban came into the offensive room one day and was like, ‘This is a big problem.’ He kept adding up all the yards that we keep losing just based on shooting ourselves in the foot, penalties like offsides, wrong formations and it’s stuff we do in practice. So it’s been one of our biggest points trying to clean up [in] practice.

“A lot of guys who did have penalties aren’t getting them anymore.”

The offense is also committing fewer turnovers. Freshman wide receiver Calvin Ridley is second in receptions in SEC games. Ragland was named a finalist for the Butkus Award on Monday.

As for Jones, five more punt returns for a touchdown may be asking a lot, but with the way he’s playing, he’s not going to rule anything out with potentially four games remaining.

“I’m excited about the opportunity that we have,” Saban said.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

It’s usually a tough task for out-of-state schools to come into Alabama and find success on the recruiting trail.

In-state powers Alabama and Auburn usually rack up the top talent within state borders.

However, one school that has found success there in the 2016 cycle is the Florida Gators.

Head coach Jim McElwain and his staff have already landed three commitments, and they are heavily involved with the state’s top prospect—5-star linebacker Lyndell Wilson.

According to GatorBait’s Luke Stampini, the Gators offered Wilson’s prep teammate at Carver (Alabama) High School—corner Antonio Nelson.

The 6’2”, 175-pounder also has offers from Grambling State, South Alabama, Troy and Western Kentucky, but he admits the tender from the SEC power has vaulted them to the top of his list.

“Florida is No. 1 right now,” Nelson told Stampini. “It’s the biggest offer I got, and I really didn’t expect to be a person to gets one of those, a big SEC school like that.”

Nelson visited Gainesville in August and has plans on returning for the Gators’ home finale this weekend against rival Florida State.

If the Gators are able to land Nelson, things could get really interesting with Wilson as well.


Texas Offers 2 of Motown’s Finest

With one of the largest bases for talent in its backyard, Texas is a school that has the luxury of recruiting nationally on a limited basis.

However, head coach Charlie Strong and his staff ventured into Michigan last week to offer two of Detroit’s top prospects in the 2016 class. 

The Longhorns offered King High School teammates in 4-star receiver Donnie Corley and 4-star corner and current Penn State pledge Lavert Hill.

Corley, who is set to announce his commitment on Dec. 8, is considering schools such as Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Tennessee.

While Hill is committed to the Nittany Lions, the Wolverines lead a pack of schools hoping to flip his pledge.

The Longhorns have an uphill battle in trying to land either prospect, but things could get interesting if either player makes a visit to Austin in the coming weeks.


Clemson Offers Top 2017 Center

Clemson is one program that has found success recruiting the talent-rich state of Florida.

Last week, head coach Dabo Swinney and his staff were active in the Sunshine State, as they offered 4-star offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz.

The 6’4”, 290-pounder, who rates as the top center prospect in the 2017 cycle, has also received offers from schools such as Alabama, Arizona State, Auburn and Michigan.

However, the Tigers could become a bigger player for Ruiz moving forward.


UCLA Offers Rising 2018 QBs

UCLA struck gold in the 2015 class in landing current starting quarterback Josh Rosen.

Bruins head coach Jim Mora Jr. and his staff are actively looking for other touted quarterback prospects.

Last week, the Bruins offered a touted passer in quarterback Connor Noland. Adam Friedman of Rivals reports the Bruins offered another future stud in quarterback Phil Jurkovec.

Noland has another offer from Arkansas State while Jurkovec holds early offers from Michigan State, Notre Dame, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Temple and Wisconsin. 

Given Rosen’s success in Westwood, the Bruins could prove to be an attractive option for rising signal-callers such as Noland and Jurkovec.

Best of the Rest









Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Florida State Seminoles vs. Florida Gators Betting Odds, College Football Pick

Not too long ago, Florida beat in-state rival Florida State six times in a row, but the Seminoles have turned the worm and taken four of the last five meetings, going 3-2 against the spread. The Gators and Florida State meet for the 60th time Saturday night at the Swamp.


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

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 31.0-26.5 Seminoles


Why the Florida State Seminoles can cover the spread

FSU fell out of the running for anything of substance with two losses in three weeks a while back, but has won two games in a row and covered four spreads in a row, after dispatching of Chattanooga last week 52-13 and covering as a four-touchdown favorite. The Seminoles only led the Mocs 7-6 early in the second quarter, then scored the next 38 points to pull away.

Florida State later let UTC get within one score of the cover early in the fourth quarter, but promptly boosted the lead back to a safe margin by immediately driving for another touchdown of its own.

On the night, the Noles outgained the Mocs 428-273. Backup quarterback Sean Maguire threw for 152 yards and two scores, without an interception, running back Dalvin Cook ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns and wide receiver Kermit Whitfield caught five balls for 91 yards and two scores.

Two weeks ago, Florida State beat North Carolina State 34-17, covering seven points. Just before that the Seminoles lost at Clemson 23-13, but covered 12 points. And before that, they beat Syracuse 45-21, covering 17 points. So despite its status as a public betting favorite, FSU is still making money.


Why the Florida Gators can cover the spread

It didn't come easy, but the Gators moved to 10-1 last week with a 20-14 overtime victory over Florida Atlantic. Florida led 14-0 late into the third quarter, allowed the Owls to tie the score at 14-14 on a fumble in the end zone, took the early lead in the first overtime, then survived a fourth-down near-catch on FAU's final possession to escape the upset bid.

Two weeks ago, the Gators clinched the SEC's East Division title by beating South Carolina 24-14, covering as a seven-point favorite on the road. So Florida is 4-0 since losing that tough game at LSU, allowing a total of just 38 points over that span.

The Gators actually retain an outside chance of making the College Football Playoff. With a win over the Noles and a victory in the SEC title game—likely against Alabama—the Gators might just sneak in.


Smart pick

As the spread on this game indicates, these two teams are evenly matched. Florida State owns an edge on offense, but Florida owns an edge on defense. Ultimately, over the last five meetings in this series Florida State has outscored Florida by an average score of 28-15, perhaps an indication of the overall talent level. The smart money here sides with the Seminoles.


Betting trends

The favored team is 13-4 ATS in its last 17 games in this matchup.

Florida is 1-12-1 ATS in its last 14 games at home in November.

Florida State is 2-7 ATS in its last nine games after consecutive wins.


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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The College Football Week 12 All-Heart Team

This close to the end of the college football season, the fine margins between winning and losing could be the difference between competing for a championship and settling for a standard bowl game—or the difference between becoming eligible for the postseason and staying at home for the holidays.

This week's All-Heart team highlights those players, units and teams who refused to take a loss on a wild Saturday.

Some of them had to battle through adversity and underwhelming starts, while others had to adjust to new positions and roles in order to earn their victories. A few had to lay it all on the line and make the crucial hustle plays in the dying moments of the game. 

In the end, everyone on the following slides showed tremendous heart to put their teams in the win column for Week 12.

As always, an entire weekend's worth of heart and hustle couldn't be limited to just a handful of players and teams. Tell us who you think showed the most heart in Week 12 in the comments section below.

Begin Slideshow

B/R Recruiting Notebook: 4-Star Looking Forward to Iron Bowl Visit

The Iron Bowl is expected to attract a large number of recruiting targets this weekend, and 4-star Hudson, North Carolina, offensive lineman Landon Dickerson will be one of the athletes in attendance. Dickerson, the nation's No. 7 offensive tackle in the 2016 class, will make an official visit to Auburn and has both Auburn and Alabama high on his list as he inches closer to finalizing his college plans.

Five schools are in good positions to land Dickerson: Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, Florida State and Tennessee. He took an official visit to Florida State last month, and January officials to Georgia (weekend of Jan. 16) and Alabama (Jan. 23) are scheduled. An official visit to Tennessee is still up in the air, as he's visited the campus multiple times.

Decisions will need to be made soon, but don't expect Dickerson to feel the pressure.

"I've been really trying to enjoy the process, because you only get to go through it once," Dickerson said. "I've been more worried about my team than recruiting. I've come to the conclusion that no matter where I go, I'm going to be happy. I'll have the best opportunities around me.

Dickerson's high school team, South Caldwell, advanced to the third round of the North Carolina Class 4A state playoffs with a win over A.L. Brown on Friday. Winning a state title is priority No. 1 for Dickerson, but he hasn't put recruiting on the back burner. In fact, he knows what he wants in his upcoming visits.

"It varies between schools," he said. "I've been to Auburn a few times now. For Auburn, it's really about watching a game and seeing what it's like to play in that game atmosphere. I didn't get a chance to go to Alabama and watch them play, I'll get to do that and also catch up with the coaches and getting my parents there.

"With Georgia, it's going to be more of the UGA experience. I've been around the game environment and athletic facilities. I have really seen the academic side of things and what else it has to offer."

Dickerson said he'll later determine if his fifth and final visit will go to Tennessee or a school that comes into the picture late. He said he's been to Tennessee "about seven or eight times already," and the open official may be better suited for a school he knows little about. Dickerson added that he may choose against taking the fifth visit altogether.


Notre Dame or UCLA for 4-star APB Alloway?

Fontana, California, 4-star all-purpose back Damian Alloway admittedly is in the home stretch of knowing where he wants to continue his football career.

Alloway has schools like Notre Dame, UCLA and Oregon on his list, and Notre Dame is a team to watch after he took a productive official visit there last week. It was a visit that received very high marks from Alloway, the nation's No. 4 all-purpose back.

"They really pulled the red carpet out," said Alloway, who had freshman receiver C.J. Sanders as a player host. "As soon as I got there, I got to see the player walk and saw how cool all the fans were. I saw all the traditions and all the things you do when you score and the plays in between. It was real cool."

Notre Dame's top competition for Alloway is UCLA, and Alloway said he plans on taking an official visit to UCLA after his high school season concludes. Summit High School is two wins away from a California Interscholastic Federation Central Division championship. Summit beat Chino, 13-9, on Friday in a game where Alloway—also a solid defensive back—recorded an interception in a defensive-heavy contest.

The visit to UCLA could tell a lot as Alloway prepares to end his recruitment. He said he wants to announce either on his birthday, Dec. 19, or on national signing day, depending on how sold he is on a winning program.

"UCLA was kind of like my favorite school growing up," he said. "They were one of my first offers. I've known the coaches for two years and built relationships with them that I don't have with a lot of other coaches."


Texas A&M pledge considering official visit to rival

New Orleans 3-star tight end Irvin Smith Jr. committed to Texas A&M in June and has been very happy with where he is from a recruiting standpoint.

On Sunday, the Brother Martin High School standout said he's strongly considering taking an official visit in December to one of the last places Aggies fans want to hear about.

"I think I'm going to Texas Dec. 12," Smith said. "One of my teammates [3-star tight end Peyton Aucoin] is committed there, and I want to see what it's like. I'm still committed [to Texas A&M], but I want to see what it's all about [at Texas]."

Smith, at 6'4" and 236 pounds, said he and Aucoin "complement each other" on the field. Both are listed as tight ends, but while Aucoin is more of the traditional blocking athlete, Smith is more of a versatile option who could line up at a few positions, including tight end on the line, wide receiver spread deep, H-back and fullback.

Smith added that a couple other schools are still being considered as national signing day approaches.

"I've been talking to LSU a bunch," said Smith, who has 26 reported offers. "They're still in my top schools I'm considering. I don't know if I'll take an official [visit] there. Other schools are Alabama, Mississippi State and Florida."


Iowa State's top pledge comments on Rhoads' firing

With the news of Iowa State Paul Rhoads losing his job on Sunday, Lawrence White, the team's top-ranked commit, said he has some things to think about.

White, a 3-star athlete from Bakersfield, California, said he was shocked to hear of Rhoads' termination but said he isn't making any immediate decisions on his future. Rhoads' attitude and passion for the game was key in White choosing Iowa State.

"Right now, I'm still with Iowa State, but I am open to other schools right now," White said. "I was bummed out; I hate to see a good coach like Rhoads get let go. He was a really great person outside of coaching, too."

White has only taken one official visit so far, which was to Iowa State back in September. The 6'0", 170-pound athlete, whose college future may be at cornerback, has additional offers from Washington State, Fresno State, New Mexico and Eastern Washington.

"I might be taking official visits to those four," he said.


Sleeper alert: Versatile ATH getting it done both ways

Arroyo Grande, California, athlete Bradley Mickey has fans paying attention to what he does regardless of where he ultimately lines up on the football field.

Mickey can play safety, cornerback and wide receiver. The 5'11", 180-pound athlete, according to MaxPreps.com, has 61 tackles, six interceptions and five pass deflections as a defensive back. Offensively, he leads Arroyo Grande with 890 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns and also has 17 receptions for 383 yards and three touchdowns.

Mickey, who has 21 interceptions for his high school career, has Arroyo Grande in the hunt for a CIF-Southern Section championship. He has interest from San Diego and Cal Poly but is still looking for his first offer.

"In a region known for sleeper talent, and at a school that once produced Oklahoma State linebacker Seth Jacobs, Mickey is definitely a hidden gem in California," said Lorenzo Reyna, blogger and talent evaluator for Cali Gold Mine. "He's the guy Arroyo Grande looks to for a breakout run or when it needs a crucial takeaway. His big plays on both sides of the ball have kept the Eagles' chances of a Southern Section title alive."


Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

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Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Michigan Wolverines Betting Odds, College Football Pick

Ohio State owns the recent rivalry with Michigan, winning 10 of the last 11 meetings straight up, going 8-3 against the spread. But the Wolverines have covered the last two and now shoot for an outright victory, and perhaps more, when they battle the Buckeyes at the Big House Saturday afternoon.


Point spread: The Buckeyes opened as 2.5-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 32.2-31.2 Buckeyes


Why the Ohio State Buckeyes can cover the spread

OSU started 10-0 this season and appeared on its way to another conference championship and berth in the College Football Playoff but lost last week at home to Michigan State 17-14 on a field goal at the buzzer. The Buckeyes led the Spartans 14-7 into the fourth quarter but gave up the last 10 points of the game.

It was the first time this season Ohio State had been outgained.

Despite the defeat, the Buckeyes aren't quite dead yet. With a win over Michigan, and help from Penn State in the form of an upset victory over the Spartans, Ohio State would find itself back in the Big 10 Championship Game and probably a victory away from the playoff.


Why the Michigan Wolverines can cover the spread

The Wolverines ride a four-game winning streak into this classic rivalry battle after beating Penn State in Happy Valley last week 28-16. Michigan trailed the Nittany Lions 10-7 late into the second quarter but outscored them from there 21-6 on its way to the victory and the cover as a three-point road favorite.

On the day, the Wolves outgained Penn State 343-207 and went 7-of-14 on third-down conversions, helping negate 13 penalties called against them. Michigan has now outgained nine of 11 opponents this season.

The Wolverines, like Ohio State, need a win Saturday and help from Penn State to claim the conference championship. They would control their own destiny if their punter hadn't botched that snap against the Spartans six weeks ago.


Smart pick

The Buckeyes never played up to expectations this season, and it finally caught up to them last week. Can the Ohio State bounce back? It's difficult after having your heart ripped out; look at what's happened to LSU since its loss to Alabama. Michigan, meanwhile, is playing with verve under new head coach Jim Harbaugh and would love nothing more than to add to Ohio State's misery.

Take the Wolverines, the team with the better attitude.


Betting trends

Ohio State is 4-1 SU and ATS in its last five games on the road against Michigan.

Michigan is 5-12 ATS in its last 17 games at home in November.

Ohio State is 10-3 ATS in its last 13 games after a loss.


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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Ezekiel Elliott Apologized to Urban Meyer for Criticism, Will Not Be Suspended

Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott apologized to head coach Urban Meyer for publicly venting his frustration about his lack of touches in Saturday's 17-14 loss to Michigan State.

Meyer addressed the situation Monday and indicated Elliott won't face a suspension, per Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel. Ohio State on BTN had video of Meyer addressing the media:

"He came to see me. He's great and he apologized," said Meyer, per Thamel, adding, "He's been a good student, loyal. Selfless.

"Just an emotional week.... Obviously we don't condone that and encourage it," added Meyer in speaking of Elliott's postgame rant, per Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod.

Elliott also wrote about the incident Monday on Twitter, expressing excitement for the Buckeyes' regular-season finale and apologizing for declaring his intentions to leave Columbus for the NFL when he did:

While he had run for over 100 yards in every contest of the season, Elliott was limited to 33 yards rushing against the Spartans on 12 carries—and he only had two rushing attempts in the second half.

Following the game, Elliott was blunt in his assessment, saying, "I deserve more than 11 carries," per Dan Wolken of USA Today. "I really do. I can't speak for the play-caller. I don't know what was going on."

Elliott continued, saying the "coaching staff didn't put us in position to win," via Rick Pizzo of the Big Ten Network. "That's a team [Michigan State] we should beat."

SportsCenter provided more of Elliott's comments:

Although he took issue with how the sophomore handled the problem initially, Meyer saw where the 20-year-old was coming from, saying, per Thamel,"I couldn't disagree with him. His comments. He should have gotten the ball a little bit more."

The quarterback situation that was supposed to be so advantageous for Ohio State has actually contributed most to its offensive woes. Instead of leaning heavily on Elliott as they have all season, the Buckeyes attempted to run QB J.T. Barrett more often and couldn't get a perpetually stagnant passing attack rolling.

Neither Barrett nor Cardale Jones has played at a consistently high level in 2015, leading to turbulence rather than dominance at the most important position.

Devastating as the loss to Sparty was for OSU, it at least won't make the mistake of not feeding Elliott again. Its next contest is this Saturday against a stout Michigan defense, and to set the tone in Ann Arbor, the Buckeyes would do well to let Elliott chip away at the Wolverines.

Elliott has been the primary reason Ohio State is 10-1 at the moment. The team got away from its Heisman Trophy contender and wound up losing to a backup QB at home. The Buckeyes may as well get the most they can out of Elliott since he likely only has two games left in a scarlet and grey uniform.

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College Football Playoff 2015: Date, Start Time, TV Schedule for 4th Rankings

Only rivalry weekend and conference championships stand between the culminating College Football Playoff rankings, which will set the Top Four for the second annual postseason tournament.

When: Tuesday, Nov. 24, 7 p.m. ET


Tuesday’s release will be the CFP committee’s fourth round of rankings, and as season’s end inches closer, the true colors of the 12-person panel are coming into clear picture.

Like last year, much emphasis has been placed on strength of schedule and record, which is shaping up for a tasty argument between independent Notre Dame, last week’s No. 4, and upward Oklahoma, which can win the Big 12 this weekend.

Undefeated Iowa is expected to crack the Top Four, and its probable opponent in the Big Ten Championship Game, Michigan State, should make a stir following its upset of defending national champion Ohio State last weekend.

Iowa’s season-long ascension in the AP poll has largely run akin to its ranks among the CFP committee, and SportsCenter shared a graphic on the Hawkeyes' continued rise:

The Hawkeyes jumped three spots to No. 3 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 and coaches poll released Sunday. As one of just two remaining unbeatens, along with No. 1 Clemson, Iowa seems all but assured to be included among the committee’s projected four this week.

Where it’ll get interesting is if Iowa jumps Notre Dame in the process, as it did in Sunday’s inconsequential polls.

Notre Dame, blemished by a respectable 24-22 loss at Clemson in Week 5, is believed not to control its own destiny, as JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago speculated on the committee’s ultimate decision:

The worry for Notre Dame still surrounds Oklahoma. Yes, they lost to Texas, a team Notre Dame throttled by 35. But selection committee chairman Jeff Long has teased the Big 12’s impressive strength of schedule down the stretch as potentially altering the rankings ...

Plus, if Oklahoma is the clear-cut Big 12 champion, that could negate Notre Dame’s common opponent advantage. That common opponent vs. conference champion vs. strong finish question is a precedent that has not been set by the committee in only Year 2 of the playoff.

Oklahoma remains the big question mark. The Sooners can win the Big 12 with a road triumph over AP No. 9 Oklahoma State this weekend, which would cap three straight wins over ranked teams within their conference. 

FiveThirtyEight, driven by non-biased statistics, likes the Sooners’ chances and gave them a 55 percent shot of reaching the Final Four and a 22 percent chance to win it all, tied with Alabama as the favorite.

The Big 12 was snubbed last year for weak nonconference scheduling and lack of a conference title game when then-No. 3 TCU dropped to fifth in the final week to make room for Ohio State, which won the Big Ten title game 59-0 over Wisconsin. 

The early CFP polls indicated the Big 12 was en route to another similar outcome when one-loss Alabama was included in the initial four ahead of Baylor and TCU, both unbeaten and at the time with the nation's top-ranked offenses. It was a clear message from the committee regarding strength of schedule that will likely be heeded by the Big 12 moving forward. 

Teams that control their own destiny are Clemson, Alabama, Iowa and Michigan State. Florida fans will argue should a one-loss Gators team defeat Florida State and Alabama in consecutive weeks, winning the SEC crown in the process, it would deserve a spot. 

But that all seems a tall task given head coach Jim McElwain likened his team’s energy to “dead fish” following Florida’s 20-14 overtime win over 2-9 Florida Atlantic in Week 12. And, as Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com noted, the committee won’t take kindly to such a narrow win in a proverbial cupcake game:

There’s been no shortage of intrigue along the way, and Tuesday should be no different. 

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Syracuse Head Coach Search: Latest News, Rumors After Scott Shafer's Firing

Syracuse announced on Monday that head coach Scott Shafer has been fired, though he will coach the team's final game of the season against Boston College, per Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans of Sports Illustrated. Now, the program will begin its search for a replacement.

Continue for updates.

Syracuse Expected to Target a 'Hot' Offensive Head Coach Monday, Nov. 23

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports reported on Monday that the program would likely target an up-and-coming offensive coordinator for the head-coaching position:

Don’t be surprised if new Syracuse AD Mark Coyle targets a “hot” offensive guy to try and give his program a much-needed jolt. The two names that are likely to get a long look from Coyle: former Boise State OC Mike Sanford, now the offensive coordinator and QB coach at Notre Dame and Oregon OC Scott Frost, who actually interviewed for the Boise State head coaching job when Bryan Harsin got it.

Syracuse certainly needs that "jolt." The team has lost eight straight games and has gone 13–23 in Shafer's three years as head coach. 

Both Sanford and Frost would likely provide one. Sanford has Notre Dame averaging 466 yards and 34.6 points per game, while Frost's offense at Oregon is averaging 537 yards and 42.4 points per contest. Contrast that to Syracuse, which is putting up 327 yards and 27.9 points per game.

While Syracuse has never been as prominent in football as it is in basketball, the program has plenty of resources at its disposal to improve upon the results from the last three seasons. A splashy hire this offseason would go a long way to restoring the program to respectability. 


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7-Step Drop: Nick Saban Makes Life Miserable Even for Successful Head Coaches

In the waning seconds of Michigan State’s victory over Ohio State on Saturday as Michael Geiger’s kick sailed through the uprights to knock off the previously undefeated Buckeyes, the cameras caught Urban Meyer’s blank stare into the abyss after the clock expired.

This was supposed to be an all-time team that was better equipped than just about anybody to repeat as national champions but here Ohio State was, at home, losing to a team without its starting quarterback.

It gave me flashbacks to January of this year when Meyer was proclaimed by many to have surpassed Alabama’s Nick Saban on the coaching totem pole after first beating him in the Sugar Bowl and then later guiding the Buckeyes to a surprise national title, all with a third-string quarterback no less.

Meyer may still be the top dog in coaching thanks to the sheer number of astounding statistics that relate to how often he wins, but I couldn’t help but think that in the Big Ten he is not viewed as some sort of unstoppable train but mortal once again after running off 30 straight conference victories.

Spartans coach Mark Dantonio clearly has found an answer to Meyer. Many will note this week’s clash between Ohio State and Michigan could mark something of the beginning of another 10 Year’s War between Meyer and Jim Harbaugh. If anything, it’s safe to say the latter is not backing away from the challenge.

That’s why Meyer still has some catching up to do with the only other coach in the country in his stratosphere.

That’s why Saban still remains the king of coaching in college football…at making everybody else, particularly in the SEC, miserable. Even if there is success, it never quite seems good enough because of what is happening in Tuscaloosa year-in and year-out. That somehow doesn’t quite seem the case in Columbus after this week’s loss.

You’ll hear it brought up time after time on nearly every college football broadcast, but the old adage, "Never let a team beat you twice" is applicable more than it should be in the sport nowadays. Saban not only beats teams on the field, but he seems to beat them again by making life more difficult for the rest of his league’s head coaches.

Nowhere is this more readily apparent than at LSU, where the tenure of Les Miles may be quickly reaching a breaking point despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

According to The New Orleans Times-Picayune, a highly ranked source told the paper that Miles may indeed be on the way out of Baton Rouge, and his enormous buyout (in the range of $15 million), would “have no bearing on what we do with him.”

That’s an incredible statement about the willpower of LSU boosters given the cash-strapped nature of the entire state of Louisiana at the moment. It’s an even bigger statement about a man who is 110-32 at the school, has a national title ring while wearing purple and gold and was coach of the No. 2 team in the country earlier this month with the current No. 1-ranked recruiting class, according to 247Sports.

While it’s true Miles’ relationship with athletic director Joe Alleva has been rocky at best over the past few years for a variety of reasons, it says plenty that Tigers fans and administrators are starting to slowly turn their attention from keeping Les to trying to figure out who can replace him.

In many ways this situation derived first because Miles couldn’t beat Saban on the field this season, and then festered because people started to believe LSU should be seeing the same kind of success Alabama has been experiencing every year.

That of course is a bit unrealistic, since sustained success is hard to come by in a league as tough as the SEC, and the fact Saban is doing what he’s doing in Tuscaloosa should be viewed not as normal, but as historical by any measure. Even if LSU wants the same set of circumstances, the Tigers need to realize it’s hard to replicate despite the inherent advantages the school has and the fact they have one of the better coaches in college football at their disposal.

Miles and Mark Richt at Georgia, given that he too could be on the way out, have issues keeping their fanbases happy. They also serve as prime examples as to why it is so difficult to last, and remain happy, in a head coaching job long term.

Many have come to believe a coach shouldn’t stay in his current job, no matter how good, for more than 10 years because of how stale the relationship between him and the fanbase can become. Some have to work so hard to live up to the high standard they established early in their tenures.

The presence of Saban, it seems, simply acts as an accelerant to this process, making whatever short- and long-term success result in restless fans sooner rather than later.

That’s also why Ole Miss fans grew unhappy at Hugh Freeze despite not recognizing their place in the pecking order historically and why there was even talk starting to surface in Arkansas that maybe Bret Bielema’s turnaround was taking a bit too long for some Razorbacks’ liking. Those coaches can thank their enormous salaries for the hot seat talk just as much as the runaway winning machine in Tuscaloosa Saban has built.

That’s not quite the standard yet in the Big Ten, even if Meyer looks perfectly capable of winning the next few league titles in 2016 and beyond. It’s certainly not the case in the cordial Pac-12 without Pete Carroll or Chip Kelly around. The ACC has Jimbo Fisher and Dabo Swinney set at the top, but the jumbled mess behind them keeps things fresh each season. In the SEC though, there’s a different beast and different game altogether.

Never let a team beat you twice, but Saban seems to keep on doing that to teams and coaches.


Stats of the Week

  • Ohio State’s FBS record for consecutive regular season conference victories ended at 30 thanks to Michigan State. It was Urban Meyer’s first Big Ten regular season loss since taking over in Columbus and was the first time he lost a regular season conference game since Nov. 13, 2010 against South Carolina (while at Florida).
  • Incredibly, it was just the eighth time in Meyer’s head coaching career he lost a regular season game to somebody in his own division (three times at UF, four times at Bowling Green and once at Ohio State). Mark Dantonio is just the fifth head coach to beat Meyer twice (joining Saban, Miles, Steve Spurrier and Tommy Tuberville)
  • Good news for the next head coach in Blacksburg as Virginia Tech notes 301 of 325 points (93%) have been scored by players who have eligibility remaining.
  • Great note from Oklahoma SID Mike Houck, the Sooners have won at least 10 games in 13 of 17 seasons under Bob Stoops. This year was the 12th time OU has gone undefeated at home under Stoops.
  • Also of note, Oklahoma ends the season facing the No. 1, No. 6 and No. 7 scoring offenses in FBS and played No. 2 earlier this year. So far the Sooners are 3-0 and their own offense is No. 3. 
  • Under Jim Mora, UCLA is 19-6 in road games and picked up their seventh road win over a Top 25 team  since 2012 against Utah.
  • The SEC East has just one team in the top 50 in scoring offense (No. 48 Tennessee) and two of the three worst teams in all of FBS (Vandy/Mizzou).
  • Texas Tech leads the country in third-down conversion percentage (53.5%) running the Air Raid offense. Navy’s triple option attack is just a tick behind at No. 2 and 52.2%.


Quote of the Week

Via the Detroit Press, Jim Harbaugh was asked if he believes in the theory that not all teams can be "up" for every game and could lay an egg. 

"The egg analogy doesn't resonate with me," Harbaugh said. "I don't really like comparing humans to chickens or any other type of animal."


Tweet of the Week

Play of the Week

If there’s anything that sums up LSU and Les Miles’ week, it’s this.

Sound from Saturday


Pre-Snap Reads

Oklahoma at Oklahoma State

Bedlam for all the marbles? Why not, as a semifinal berth in the Playoff is undoubtedly on the line for the Sooners as they travel up the road to take on their in-state rivals. A lot depends on the status of OU quarterback Baker Mayfield (they can’t win without him) but if he plays, expect Bob Stoops’ team to continue its winning ways even if strange things happen in this rivalry when things are on the line.


Notre Dame at Stanford

Injuries seemingly pop up every week for the Irish and while that may not hurt them against the Boston Colleges and Wake Forests of the world, Stanford is an entirely different ball game. The Cardinal are not perfect and their defense is capable of giving up some big run plays, but this game has stellar defensive effort and a big Christian McCaffrey performance written all over it. More than anything, it would make life for the committee a lot easier.


Ohio State at Michigan

The Wolverines are vastly improved under Jim Harbaugh this season, but quarterback Jake Rudock can still be the team’s Achilles heel if he’s turning over the ball. Given it will be an angry Ohio State defense in a hostile, rivalry environment, here’s to thinking the Buckeyes play like they were supposed to this season and put it on their rivals to the North.


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

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Texas Longhorns' QB Commits Shining Bright in High School Playoff Games

Quarterback play has been a pivotal topic of discussion at Texas since head coach Charlie Strong arrived. The Longhorns produced just 22 passing touchdowns and 16 interceptions during the first 23 games of his tenure, contributing to inconsistencies throughout a 10-13 stretch. 

Redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard, a former 4-star recruit, has two 100-yard rushing games to his credit this season, but aerial success remains elusive. He's tallied three total touchdowns and four interceptions during the past seven contests, surpassing 200 yards through the air once.

Texas' recruiting efforts in the 2016 and 2017 cycles netted Strong a pair of passers who could someday be tasked with turning around an offensive attack currently rated 118th nationally in passing yards per game (153.6). Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger represent the future at quarterback in Austin, and they both continue to validate hype during Lone Star State playoff action. 

Buechele and Ehlinger both led their respective high school squads to postseason wins this past weekend, totaling four touchdowns apiece and displaying dual-threat abilities. 

Buechele, committed to Texas since February, torched El Paso Eastwood High School defenders Friday night. He led Arlington Lamar High School to a 42-35 victory, according to DFW.com, throwing a go-ahead touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.

The 6'2", 185-pound prospect fired two scoring strikes, including a 31-yard dart that created a 35-35 tie. His touchdown tosses came after two earlier rushing scores, as he found the end zone from two and 29 yards out in the first half. 

Buechele, rated No. 2 nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks in 2016 composite class rankings, gained 116 yards on the ground. His performance also included efficient passing (10-of-14 for 129 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions). 

The son of former Texas Rangers third baseman Steve Buechele propelled Lamar to an eighth consecutive win. Buechele leads his 11-1 team into a Nov. 28 matchup against Mansfield High School at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys.

He now has 30 total touchdowns as a senior, per MaxPreps, giving him 83 scores since 2013. Buechele, who also holds scholarship offers from Oklahoma, Kentucky, Stanford and TCU, earned Elite 11 status this summer. 

Ehlinger, a 6'1", 207-pound junior at Westlake High School (Austin), pledged to the Longhorns in July. Texas was among the first FBS programs to formally extend an offer, and he didn't take long to accept it. 

The 3-star prospect, rated No. 9 nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks in 2017 composite rankings, tallied 266 total yards and four scores against The Woodlands High School on Saturday afternoon, according to Jim Mashek of the Courier.

Like Buechele, Ehlinger has his team sitting at 11-1 en route to the third round of Texas' state playoff competition. He did a lot of damage on the ground, rushing for 97 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries. 

Ehlinger now has 941 rushing yards through 12 games, according to MaxPreps. He's scored 17 times as a runner this season, adding to 39 touchdown tosses. 

He sealed the 28-3 victory with a 42-yard score through the air, padding impressive passing totals. Ehlinger has completed 64 percent of attempts for 2,886 yards this fall, firing just two interceptions.

Westlake advances to a Nov. 28 game against North Mesquite High School. Ehlinger will enter next season considered one of the state's premier senior playmakers.

Texas, still struggling to develop rhythm in its downfield attack, should feel increasingly optimistic about the promise of these two young talents. The spotlight will continue to shine brighter on Buechele and Ehlinger as both continue their respective pursuit of state titles.


Tyler Donohue is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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America's Most Talented High School Football Team: IMG Academy

Just south of Tampa and St. Petersburg, Florida, lies a city called Bradenton. It's home to IMG Academy, a private boarding school that also serves as an offseason training facility for some of the top professional athletes, including Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Dez Bryant and Andrew McCutchen, to name a few. 

The academic institution began its high school football program just three years ago. This season, the IMG Ascenders boast the most talented roster in the nation. Six of the top 100 seniors in the country are on the roster, including players from 21 states and six countries. While tuition is high ($70,800), financial assistance is available from lowered tuition to competition fees ($3,750 to $4,500) or a full ride, according to the Jere Longman of the New York Times

Bleacher Report Studios went behind the scenes to witness how America's most talented high school football team was created...and how far it could go.


Note: All player info (national rankings and college recruiting) up to date as of Nov. 23. 

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Oregon Ducks Unveil New Uniforms for Civil War Game vs. Oregon State

The Oregon Ducks are set to host the Oregon State Beavers on Friday for this year's Civil War, and to help get everyone hyped, Oregon has unveiled the uniforms the team will be wearing for the game.

The new uniforms will be quite different from those the Ducks have worn in recent years.

As GoDucks.com puts it, the Oregon 33 uniforms put a "futuristic spin on a traditional camouflage," which perfectly fits the Ducks' style on the field—futuristic and innovative.

Oregon and Oregon State will battle at 1 p.m. PT on Friday.

[Oregon Football]

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Stanford Cardinal Betting Odds, Football Pick

The favorite is 8-2 straight up over the last 10 meetings between Notre Dame and Stanford, but the underdog is 7-3 against the spread during that span, as the teams have played a bunch of close games over recent seasons. The Irish will go off as the underdog for Saturday night's clash with the Cardinal out on the Farm.


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

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 36.8-33.7 Cardinal


Why the Notre Dame Fighting Irish can cover the spread

Notre Dame extended its winning streak to six games with a 19-16 victory over Boston College Saturday night at Fenway Park. The Irish, as two-touchdown favorites, built a 19-3 fourth-quarter lead before allowing the Eagles to score twice, the second time with under a minute to go, to cough up the cash.

On the night Notre Dame outgained Boston College 452-302, and 80 of the Eagles' yards came on one play. The Irish might have really blown Boston College out, but they committed five turnovers, three inside the Eagles' red zone. Notre Dame has now outgained nine of 11 opponents this season, seven of those by at least 120 yards.


Why the Stanford Cardinal can cover the spread

Stanford just clinched its third berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game in the last four seasons with a 35-22 victory in the Big Game over Cal last week, covering 10 points. The Cardinal took a 21-6 lead into halftime, with help from a 98-yard kickoff return for a score by Christian McCaffrey, let the Bears get within 21-16, then put the game and the cash away with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns.

For the game, Stanford ran the ball for 260 yards, as McCaffrey went off for 192, and he also scored on a pass reception. The Cardinal are now 9-0 SU and 8-1 ATS when they've outrushed opponents this season.

Stanford may have two losses, but it still harbors hopes of making the College Football Playoff. It would take an impressive victory over the Irish, and help from elsewhere, but hey, there's still hope.


Smart pick

Stanford has McCaffrey, while Notre Dame will probably play without leading rusher CJ Prosise. Also, the Cardinal are 5-1 ATS at home this season, while the Irish are 2-3 ATS outside of South Bend. Finally, Notre Dame just played in Boston last week and now heads out to the Left Coast for this one. The smart money here sides with Stanford.


Betting trends

Notre Dame is 7-2 ATS in its last nine games on the road against Stanford.

Stanford is 9-1 SU and 8-2 ATS in its last 10 games.

Notre Dame is 6-0 SU in its last six games against the Pac-12.


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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Ohio State vs. Michigan: Complete Game Preview

The 12th-ranked Michigan Wolverines will host the No. 8 Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday for the 2015 edition of "The Game."

Both programs need a victory and are hoping for a little help to reach the Big Ten Championship Game.

Ohio State (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten) could've set up a winner-take-all matchup. But the defending national champs fell to the Michigan State Spartans 17-14 despite Connor Cook being sidelined.

Michigan (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) dispatched Penn State 28-16, inching closer to a 10-win season for only the second time since 2006.

According to Odds Shark, Michigan is a 1.5-point favorite. Kickoff is scheduled for noon ET and will be televised on ABC.

Begin Slideshow

Scott Shafer Fired by Syracuse: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Syracuse head football coach Scott Shafer will be relieved of his duties following the team’s season finale, per Thayer Evans of Sports Illustrated.  

The Orange are 3-8 and riding an eight-game losing streak heading into Week 13 vs. Boston College, and they will miss a bowl game for the second straight season.

Shafer is 13-23 in his three-year tenure since being promoted from defensive coordinator in January 2013. He led the Orange to a 7-6 mark and a Texas Bowl victory over Minnesota in his first season.

The Orange played close games vs. No. 1 Clemson and then-No. 2 LSU this season, losing each by 10 points, but they were ultimately plagued by poor play-calling.

Shafer has one year left on his current contract, and Syracuse isn’t the appealing job it once was. It doesn’t help that there’s an abundance of head coach openings heading into the offseason, as David Hale of ESPN.com noted:

Shafer's final game will be no picnic, either. Boston College boasts the nation's top-ranked defense, and the Orange have the 11th-worst offense.

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