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College Football Rankings 2014: Twitter Reacts to AP and Amway Week 10 Polls

In anticipation of the first College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday, the Associated Press and Amway polls were announced on Sunday. One huge upset on Saturday changed the landscape for all of the rankings. 

Ole Miss was shut out for the final three quarters in Baton Rouge as LSU held on late for a 10-7 win. But with the SEC West still loaded with talent, three teams still remain in the top four of both polls.

The relevance of each poll will be lessened dramatically on Tuesday, but for now fans can debate where their program should be ranked. Michigan State and Oregon fans have reason for optimism with one loss, but still haven't gained the same respect as the SEC teams.

Ahead of the first official poll on Tuesday, here's a look at the latest Associated PressCoaches and Bleacher Report polls along with reaction.

 

Reaction

In the strange and ever-changing world of college football, no team is safe after a loss. For Mississippi State—the lone undefeated SEC team—it nearly felt the crippling result of a defeat against Kentucky.

Ahead of the first CFP poll coming out this week, the Bulldogs struggled to put away the lowly Wildcats. Dan Wolken of USA Today offered his take on the pressure of being the No. 1 team in the country:

Despite the close contest, the Bulldogs remain atop each poll after nine weeks of the season. However, a daunting upcoming schedule including Arkansas, Alabama and the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss, the Bulldogs are far from being in the clear.

Still, with the win Mississippi State deserves to be No. 1 in the CFP poll as well. It's certainly not the way anyone envisioned the first poll when the season started, as Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report points out:

Even with the hot start by the Bulldogs and others, Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press still believes in his initial four teams:

While some are pondering Mississippi State making the first ever College Football Playoff, it's clear Alabama is also making its case. Nick Saban's program has fully recovered from an Ole Miss loss with two straight blowouts.

Victories over Texas A&M and Tennessee by a combined 73 points leaves the Crimson Tide at No. 3 in both polls. But as Pete Prisco of CBS Sports and Adam Gorney of Rivals.com note, Bama might not be deserving of being higher than the Rebels:

A six-point win over the Tide clearly hasn't stuck around in voters' minds as the Rebels fell behind. That brought up an interesting question raised by Wolken:

Luckily for the Ole Miss and Oregon, the first playoff poll might bring more optimism for change.

Neither team is ahead of the top programs they defeated, with the Ducks still trailing Michigan State in the polls. Oregon rattled off three consecutive double-digit wins against Pac-12 opponents, but the loss to Arizona still appears to weigh heavily for voters.

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports and George Schroeder of USA Today passed along their thoughts on the two situations:

An enthralling season will no doubt continue to shake up the polls as several huge matchups loom. Florida State faces another test Thursday against Louisville while Ole Miss will look to move back up the polls against Auburn.

Mississippi State will host Arkansas while Oregon tries to avoid an upset against Stanford. With another full slate of intriguing showdowns, expect even more shifts in the polls as the end of the season nears.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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AP College Football Poll 2014: Complete Week 10 Rankings Released

And then there were two. Another landscape-altering week of college football leaves Florida State and Mississippi State as the only remaining undefeated teams from Power Five conferences, with Ole Miss' loss to LSU serving to further muddy the Top 25 waters. 

The Bulldogs, who had their own scare against Kentucky, and the idle Seminoles remain atop the latest Associated Press rankings. But LSU's upset opens the door for its SEC rivals, as No. 3 Alabama and No. 4 Auburn move into positions of power before the first College Football Playoff rankings are released. Oregon rounds out the Top Five, and the remainder of the Top 10 stayed the same, only with reshuffled numbers next to their names.

Here is a look at how the AP poll played out, along with the B/R Top 25:

Ole Miss' drop to No. 7 can at least be partially attributed to poor late-game management. Down 10-7 with the ball at the LSU 25-yard line, Rebels coach Hugh Freeze made the decision to kick a 42-yard field goal too late to cause a delay of game penalty. After LSU called a timeout to ice kicker Gary Wunderlich, Freeze made another curious decision, pulling his special teams unit off the field to run a final offensive play.

Bo Wallace forced a wounded duck into double coverage, and LSU safety Ronald Martin picked the ball off to end the game. While no one will ever know whether Wunderlich would have made the field goal, or even if Ole Miss would have won in overtime, it's a decision all involved regret.

"I thought we were plenty clear we were either going to take the flat throw or throw it out of bounds, and then try the field goal," Freeze told reporters. "He must have felt like he had a shot at the touchdown play there...I wish I could do that over, for sure."

LSU, which opened its conference slate with consecutive losses, has now won three straight heading into a Nov. 8 game against Alabama. The third-ranked Crimson Tide are also off next week, but it'll be interesting to see if the transitive property applies when they visit Tiger Stadium.

A majority of the other notable outcomes for Top 25 teams Saturday involved near-upsets. Ohio State needed two overtimes in Happy Valley to take down Penn State, as Joey Bosa sacked Christian Hackenberg on 4th-and-5 to give the Buckeyes their fifth straight win. The struggles against Penn State were a bit of a surprise after Ohio State scored 50-plus points in four consecutive games, but Urban Meyer's team is rounding into form at the right time.

Freshman J.T. Barrett, taking over after Braxton Miller's season-ending injury, has 27 total touchdowns and has quietly been among the nation's best quarterbacks. Barrett struggled at times against a game Nittany Lions secondary but scored twice on the ground in overtime to help seal the deal.

"It's not luck. It was a tough game," Meyer told reporters. "Penn State is a very rugged defensive unit. They play hard. "If we would have not turned the ball over and took care of business, then we'd see what would happen. But that's part of the game."

A similar story played out in Boulder, where No. 25 UCLA narrowly avoided giving Colorado its first Pac-12 win of the season. Brett Hundley scampered in from eight yards out in the second overtime, helping the Bruins escape with a 40-37 triumph.

Viewed as a potential conference titlist in the preseason, UCLA has proved to be a much shakier team than expected. Six of the Bruins' eight games have been decided by one possession, a disconcerting sign given the real bulk of their Pac-12 schedule is upcoming.

"One thing we're really good at is being resilient," Hundley told reporters.

Writer Dexter Fishmore commented on UCLA's topsy-turvy season:

The Pac-12 as a whole helped stave off what could have otherwise been viewed as a monotonous week. Utah quarterback Travis Wilson's one-yard touchdown pass with eight seconds remaining gave the Utes a 24-21 win over USC. The closely contested game never saw either side have a two-possession lead, and the teams were never separated by more than four points for the final 50 minutes.

In its fourth Pac-12 season, Kyle Whittingham's team finally appears ready to play with the big boys. Utah is a one-point home loss against Washington State away from being undefeated and may enter the College Football Playoff conversation if it can keep the good times rolling. The Utes play at Arizona State before hosting Oregon, so we'll get a good idea of where they stand on the national hierarchy soon.

Either way, at 6-1, Utah is bowl-eligible for the first time since 2011. It's been a long road for Whittingham to get Utah back at national prominence, including back-to-back 5-7 seasons. To say it's heady times now in Salt Lake City would be an understatement.

USC and Ole Miss were the only Top 25 teams to lose Saturday, and they did so against fellow ranked opponents. While categorized as mini-upsets, it's hard to get worked up over two very good teams holding fort at home.

Perhaps more interesting was Marshall's move to 8-0, which puts the Thundering Herd in position to possibly play the spoiler. Stealth Heisman candidate Rakeem Cato threw a touchdown for his 40th consecutive game but played a background role to Devon Johnson in the 35-16 win over Florida Atlantic. Johnson rushed for 272 yards and four touchdowns.

Sitting at No. 23, Marshall will need some help to make a significant leap in the standings but looks like a good bet to go undefeated. The Herd do not have a Top 25 team on their schedule, and their toughest remaining regular-season game is a road tilt with UAB. Only a potential Conference USA championship game against Louisiana Tech stands in their way of a 13-0 record.

It'll be interesting to see how reticent the selection committee is to ranking Marshall high given its schedule strength.

This week's win wasn't enough to move Marshall up a single spot. The only Top 25 team that made a major leap was LSU, which ascended eight spots to No. 16. Duke, which enters the rankings at No. 24, is the only new entry, having replaced USC.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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Michigan Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for the Month of November

This past Saturday’s 35-11 loss to Michigan State proved one thing: Michigan isn’t going to catch any breaks; it’s going to break.

The worst-case scenario for Brady Hoke's reeling Wolverines played out in East Lansing; they were tossed, bagged, sacked and pummeled by their bitter rivals for the sixth time in seven years. It was Hoke’s third loss in four meetings with Mark Dantonio, and it was Team 135’s fifth setback of the season (3-5, 1-3).

Needless to say, October didn’t end on a high note. As a matter of fact, the entire month yielded one victory in three attempts, an 18-13 nail-biter Oct. 11 versus Penn State—and November doesn’t look like it’ll be much better.

The Wolverines close the season—thankfully—on Nov. 29 in Columbus. Despite struggling Saturday night with the Nittany Lions, needing double overtime to escape 31-24, Ohio State holds steady as one of the Big Ten’s best.

That won’t be a pretty finale.

However, before closing the book of 2014 against its most hated foe, Michigan must play Indiana, Northwestern and Maryland.

In years past, that would have been a relatively easy task.

Not this year.

 

Welcome Home?

Here’s the schedule, via MGoBlue. Kickoff’s at approximately 3:30 ET.

Well, it turns out that Michigan isn’t the worst team in the Big Ten East division (that’s debatable). Record-wise, that woeful distinction belongs to the Hoosiers (3-4, 0-3), who are in last placeone spot below Team 135.

Consider Michigan’s advantage in the standings as the only “positive” heading into this one.

The Wolverines have struggled with top-tier running backs: Minnesota’s David Cobb carved Greg Mattison’s defense for a season-high 183 yards; Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford racked up 177.

In terms of yardage, Cobb’s the No. 4-ranked back in the Big Ten; Langford’s No. 5.

Hoosiers star Tevin Coleman is No. 1, leading the way with 1,192 yards; his 11 touchdowns are No. 4 in the league. There’s a strong chance that he’ll join Cobb and Langford in the “We Ran over Michigan Club.”

As for the score, well, it gets tricky. Indiana scored against Iowa, but lost 45-29. It also put up points during a 31-24 loss to Missouri, which is certainly a better team than Michigan.

However, the Hoosiers also lost 37-15 to Maryland, a team that Michigan can beat. But keeping with the trend, predicting a Wolverines loss Nov. 1 is only right.

Score: Hoosiers 27, Wolverines 14

Stats: Michigan gives up more than 100 to Coleman. Devin Gardner hands over the ball at least thrice, and the Wolverines will yet again fail to establish any rhythm on the ground or through the air.

And don’t plan on seeing Jabrill Peppers, who hasn’t played in eons. He sat out Saturday’s game versus Michigan State with a lower-body injury. He could be done for the year. There’s no sense in playing him now anyway.

Lunge a stake into 2014. It’s over.

 

Southward Skid Continues at Northwestern

Game time is TBD

By the time Nov. 8 rolls around, Michigan’s record should be 3-6, 1-4, and the heat underneath Hoke’s seat should be at inferno levels. That said, this one seems easy to predict. Northwestern (2-2, 3-4 as of Oct. 26) is always a pesky bunch, regardless of record.

Ask Wisconsin, one of the Big Ten’s leaders, about its meeting Oct. 4 with Northwestern. The Wildcats pulled off a huge upset by winning 20-14. The week prior, they creamed Penn State, 29-6.

In 2013, Michigan needed three overtimes to upend the Wildcats, 27-19. In 2014, a similar score could hold true for the home team—which happens to be Northwestern.

Score: Wildcats 28, Wolverines 13

Stats: Again, recent trends suggest a meltdown on the road for Team 135, which hasn’t won away from Ann Arbor all season.

Gardner will likely struggle—he has zero passing touchdowns during road games, but he’s thrown six picks in those three games. His average of 5.95 yards per attempt away from The Big House speaks volumes. 

And, of course, running the ball will probably be akin to pulling teeth, as De’Veon Smith’s average of 3.9 yards per carry away from home is, well, average.

 

Michigan Can Beat Maryland

Game time is TBD

The Wolverines will have an extra week to prepare for Maryland, which was abused this past Saturday by Wisconsin, 52-7, and shelled three weeks ago by Ohio State, 52-24.

But if there’s a winnable game on the schedule, it’s this one.

Maryland is in the midst of its first season in the Big Ten—it’s taking its lumps on a regular basis. However, it beat Iowa, 38-31, two weeks ago. But being at The Big House can be intimidating, making it easy to predict a victory for Team 135.

Score: Wolverines 31, Terps 24

Stats: This could end up being Michigan’s best game of the season. Gardner, for a change, could come out firing and deliver a gutsy, fifth-year-senior performance. Forecasting a season-high in passing yardage seems right.

The same goes for rushing, as Maryland has the Big Ten’s No. 13-ranked rushing defense (212.4 YPG), surpassed only by Illinois’ downtrodden defense.

The Terps get sacked a lot. As of Oct. 26, their quarterback had been nailed in the backfield 19 times. Only Illinois and Penn State, each with 25, have been worse in the department. Projecting a couple for Frank Clark, Brennen Beyer and Joe Bolden is a must.

 

Time to Take a Beating in Ohio

Funeral time is TBD

Nov. 29 is the day that Michigan’s season will be put to rest. Forget the Buckeyes’ difficulty with Penn State—that won’t mean a thing when it’s time for “The Game.” And imagine if the Spartans beat Ohio State—that’ll make Urban Meyer’s boys very angry.

Michigan doesn’t want an angry Joey Bosa, who is one of the top defensive linemen in the country. His game-ending sack of Nittany Lions quarterback Christian Hackenberg this past Saturday proves that much. The 6’5”, 285-pound sophomore won’t show any mercy for Gardner, who might want to invest in one of those protective bubble things.

Just a thought.

Score: Buckeyes 45, Wolverines 17

Stats: It’s taken Michigan more than two full seasons to mold Gardner into a solid starting quarterback, which doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen. Why? He doesn’t have any more eligibility. That’s why.

Bosa will frequently meet Gardner, who’ll probably be pulled at some point—either due to a safety concern or because he just can’t get the job done. Then it’ll be Shane Morris’ turn to face the fire. He isn’t ready for that, either.

On the other hand, it’s taken Ohio State less than two years to prep a backup, redshirt freshman into a star-caliber player; J.T. Barrett, despite struggling versus Penn State, has been incredible this season.

He’ll probably lead the charge with four touchdowns or so, two through the air and two on the ground, and give way to the next guy sometime in the fourth quarter.

What does all of this mean? It means that Michigan will likely finish with a 4-8, 2-6 record, that's what. 

 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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ESPN College GameDay to Headed to Morgantown for TCU vs West Virginia in Week 10

Batten down your couches, folks. ESPN's College GameDay is heading to Morgantown, West Virginia, in Week 10.

Chris, Lee, Herbie and the crew will make the trek out to the Mountain State to watch Dana Holgorsen's West Virginia Mountaineers take on Gary Patterson's TCU Horned Frogs, the show's official Twitter account announced Sunday morning:

TCU and West Virginia have taken near-identical paths to this point.

Both teams graduated to the Big 12 two seasons ago after finding success in "lesser" conferences. Both teams went 7-6 and 4-5 in conference play in 2012 and 4-8 and 2-7 in conference play in 2013. And both teams entered 2014 with modulated expectations because of it.

But both teams have defied those expectations through nine weeks, combining to win 12 of 15 games. TCU's only loss came on the road at Baylor, and West Virginia's only losses came at home to Oklahoma and on a neutral field against Alabama.

All three of those teams are pretty good.

In contrast to Week 9's GameDay game—LSU 10, Ole Miss 7—TCU-West Virginia should be a high-scoring affair. TCU ranks first in the country with 50.4 points per game, most recently pasting Texas Tech 82-27 in Week 9. West Virginia is averaging 40.3 points per game at home.

"They play very well there," Patterson said of the Mountaineers in Milan Puskar Stadium. "We have to get ready."

West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett and receiver Kevin White are two of the breakout stars of the season. The same can be said, however, about TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin and receiver Josh Doctson.

When these teams met last season, Boykin was playing receiver and led TCU with 11 catches for 100 yards, but West Virginia won the game 30-27 on a field goal by Josh Lambert in overtime.

ABC will air the game at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Amway College Football Poll 2014: Complete Week 10 Rankings Released

One loss. It once was a death sentence in college football, a reminder that your school of choice was unlikely to reach the national championship or, at the very least, was going to need some good fortune to get there. 

No more. These days, a loss just means you join a select group of talented, deserving teams all hoping to prove they are worthy of college football's four-team playoff. Sure, going undefeated in a major conference is still a guarantee, but no longer does a solitary loss bring so much doom. 

Or at least that's what Ole Miss fans are telling themselves this morning. And they aren't the first fans to seek that consolation this year, either. As the Amway Coaches Poll will reveal, more than a few teams have suffered a loss but remain in the running for the top four, or at least should once the selection committee reveals their rankings.

Let's see how the coaches see things first.

 

Rankings

 

Analysis

And then there were two. 

With apologies to Marshall, Mississippi State and Florida State were left as the only two undefeated teams in the playoff hunt after Saturday's action concluded. While Florida State was off in preparation for a tough matchup against Louisville on Thursday, Mississippi State had to overcome a tough battle against a pesky Kentucky team.

The Bulldogs survived the shootout, winning 45-31 and never trailing in the contest. But after conceding that many points to Kentucky, well, there are bound to be some questions about the team's defense. 

There can be fewer questions about quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Josh Robinson, as the pair combined for 502 yards from scrimmage. As Gil Brandt of NFL.com tweeted, Prescott continues to impress and deserves consideration as the country's top player this year:

While Mississippi State survived—as did teams like Auburn and Ohio State, as both narrowly kept their playoff hopes alive—former No. 3 Ole Miss couldn't get past LSU in a 10-7 defensive showdown. Ole Miss certainly had their chances, especially late, but an ill-timed thrown by Bo Wallace with time winding down and ultimate interception cost the Rebels a shot at the game-tying field goal.

"I thought we were plenty clear we were either going to take the flat throw or throw it out of bounds, and then try the field goal," head coach Hugh Freeze said of the play after the game, per ESPN. "He must have felt like he had a shot at the touchdown play there. ... I wish I could do that over, for sure."

In the end, LSU won the way they normally win—by playing excellent defense, holding Ole Miss to 313 total yards, and by pounding the rock (264 rushing yards).

All is not lost for Ole Miss, of course. While Mississippi State and Florida State are the frontrunners for the playoff, about 16 teams will have the opportunity down the stretch to prove they are worthy of being considered a top-four team. Ole Miss is certainly one of them, and with games against Auburn and Mississippi State remaining, the Rebels are far from removed from the national championship discussion. 

Still, teams like Auburn, Alabama, Oregon and Michigan State have to feel like their chances of reaching the playoff improved just a little bit with Ole Miss' loss on Saturday. Last year, we would only be talking about Mississippi State and Florida State. Now, college football's postseason format has left a bevy of teams still in the running. 

 

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College Football Playoff Rankings 2014: Predictions for Week 10

With literally no precedent for a selection committee that will ultimately be awarding four teams the chance to play in a postseason playoff at the end of the year, trying to figure out how the group of folks assigned that very role will break down its first-ever rankings is a bit tricky.

Still, speculating is the fun part, and coming into the first rankings, we have a pretty good idea of what is likely to happen. Or what could happen. Or what might happen. Or...well, you get the point.

Let's break down my predictions for the Top Four teams in the country.

 

The No-Brainers: Mississippi State and Florida State

Mississippi State has answered every question sent its way thus far. On the road against LSU? Check. A tough matchup two weeks later against Texas A&M? Check. Somehow following that up with another huge win over Auburn? Check. Avoiding the inevitable surprise upset that plagues so many top teams by beating a tough Kentucky team on the road?

Check.

Things will get real in mid-November, however, as the Bulldogs travel to Alabama on November 15 and then go on the road to Ole Miss on November 29. Win those two games and it shouldn't matter what happens in the SEC title game, as Mississippi State will have locked up a spot in the playoff. But there's a lot of football to be played yet.

And then there's Florida State, it of the 23 straight victories. Thursday night's game against Louisville will be no easy task, but the path to the playoff looks pretty clear for the Seminoles. They've answered every question presented to them thus far this year, with victories over Oklahoma State, Clemson and Notre Dame. 

The committee might look at them and question just how good they are, but it's hard to see it putting them anywhere lower than No. 2. Wins are wins are wins, and Florida State continues to find ways to get them.

 

The Second Tier: Alabama, Auburn, Notre Dame, Oregon, Ole Miss and Michigan State

This is where things get interesting. 

Despite losing to LSU, will Ole Miss be ranked lower than Alabama, a team it beat? Will Oregon be ranked lower than Michigan State, a team it beat? Where exactly does Auburn fit into this picture?

Personally, I don't believe Ole Miss should be punished for losing after Alabama and Auburn lost. And I especially don't think it should be dinged for losing by three points at LSU, a very good team despite its two losses.

"This league is brutal," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said after the game, via Trey Iles of NOLA.com. "It's difficult. Each Saturday it's hard to win football games particularly when you may not play your best and you suffer some injuries that you're not used to having. That's the first time that's happened to us this year."

Still, it's hard to ignore that Auburn not only smoked LSU, 41-7, but it also beat Kansas State on the road, 20-14. Plus, Auburn's only loss was on the road against Mississippi State, the team likely to be No. 1 when the selection committee releases its first rankings. To me, that resume leaves Auburn as the deserving No. 3.

So, who is No. 4?

I don't think Ole Miss will drop far in the eyes of the selection committee. Its best win (beating Alabama) is better than any win Notre Dame, Alabama, Oregon or Michigan State can boast, though Oregon's win over Michigan State was impressive and the Ducks are really cooking with fire now that the offensive line is starting to get healthy, led by Jake Fisher. 

Still, add in a road victory over Texas A&M, and Ole Miss' resume is strong. Strong than Oregon's, in my opinion, so I'm sticking with the Rebels at No. 4. Not everybody is as optimistic about Ole Miss remaining in the Top Four, however, like Pete Prisco of CBS Sports:

Yes, the past in college football rankings has left us all a little jaded. Maybe the selection committee will make things right.

Here's the question the committee will have to ask: If two teams didn't already play, who would you take in a neutral environment?

I would take Alabama over Notre Dame and Oregon, so it's my No. 5, with Oregon coming in at No. 6, Notre Dame at No. 7 (yes, the Irish nearly beat Florida State on the road, but no, they don't really have a signature win) and Michigan State coming in at No. 8. We'll see if the committee agrees.

 

The Best of the Rest: Georgia, TCU, Kansas State, Ohio State, Baylor, Arizona State, Arizona, Nebraska

Georgia and TCU are the really intriguing teams here. Georgia's win over Clemson was impressive, though its loss against South Carolina really hurts the team. TCU's loss was better, as the team put 58 on Baylor and still couldn't come away with the win on the road, and it has wins over Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. 

Still, the game against Kansas State will likely decide which of those teams has a shot at the playoff.

Most of these teams have an outside shot of making the playoff and need to win out and hope for help, one would guess. Still, there is likely to be a conference champion or two out of this bunch, so don't sleep on these teams, either.

 

Prediction

Mississippi State and Florida State are the top two teams in the country at the moment, and they deserve to be sitting atop the rankings. It's hard to see the selection committee disagreeing with that. 

Auburn not only has impressive wins, but its only loss was on the road against the top team in the country. And Ole Miss has knocked off Alabama and Texas A&M and nearly beat LSU on the road.

Those are the teams I believe will be the Top Four in the first set of rankings released by the selection committee, with Alabama and Oregon nipping at their heels. It will be fascinating to see how the committee views the college football landscape.

 

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NCAA Football Playoff 2014: Latest Predictions After Week 9 Standings

Remember when the 2014 college football season's preseason polls didn't include Mississippi State? Well, through nine weeks of regular-season action, the Bulldogs remain the No. 1 seed. Will they retain that position through the remaining schedule?

At this point in the season, each team in the nation is beginning to show its true colors. We have a very good idea of which contenders are for real and which simply put on a good facade for a while. As the upsets continue to pile up each week, the College Football Playoff's outlook shifts as a direct result. We should expect more adjustments before the season's over.

So, which four teams will finish atop the rankings and earn berths in the semifinal bowl games? Based on recent performances and remaining schedules, let's predict which four squads will comprise the Top Four when the regular season comes to an end.

 

College Football Playoff Predictions

1. Mississippi State

The Bulldogs almost did enough to drop themselves out of contention in Week 9. Mississippi State was entrenched in a nail-biter against unranked Kentucky in a game that came down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs notched the win, but it wasn't in impressive fashion.

Quarterback Dak Prescott continues to lead this exciting offense. He wasn't entirely efficient through the air on Saturday, completing 18 of his 33 passing attempts for 216 yards, one touchdown and one interception, but he made up for it with 88 rushing yards and two more scores.

MSU Football tweeted Prescott's ongoing streak of touchdowns:

Running back Josh Robinson only seems to get more dangerous by the week. He rattled off 198 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries against the Wildcats and showed no signs of slowing down in any point of the game. His effort propelled the Bulldogs to a total of 326 yards on the ground.

This team's defense is a slight cause for concern. It allowed 390 passing yards and two touchdowns to Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles, 504 total yards of offense and 31 points. This unit will absolutely give up points to a better team, forcing Prescott and Co. to really light up the scoreboard to accumulate a win.

For now, this team's offense looks good enough to get through the regular season unscathed.

 

2. Florida State

The Seminoles are a perfect 7-0, and when looking at their remaining schedule—there are no ranked teams on Florida State's upcoming slate of games—it's clear they'll end the season with a blemish-free record.

Florida State wasn't overly impressive against Notre Dame in Week 8, but it did show a great amount of resilience. The Fighting Irish didn't allow any kind of running room for the Seminoles, so quarterback Jameis Winston took matters into his own hands.

Winston finished the game completing 23 of his 31 passing attempts for 273 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He was the team's only source of offense, and he was at his best when he was under the gun in the game's final quarter.

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports tweeted Winston's excellent stats in the game's second half:

The Seminoles proved they are worthy of their No. 2 standing, and without any threatening teams residing on their regular-season schedule, that's exactly where they'll stay until the end of the season.

 

3. Oregon

If we know anything about the Oregon Ducks, it's this: Quarterback Marcus Mariota and the team's offense really know how to light up a scoreboard. That was the case on Saturday when the team put up 59 points in a win over California.

Mariota showed why he continues to be a coveted NFL prospect, completing 18 of his 30 passing attempts for 326 yards and throwing five touchdown passes. Royce Freeman shouldered the brunt of the workload out of the backfield, accumulating 112 yards and two touchdowns, while the speedy Byron Marshall went for 133 yards and a score on just four receptions.

Here's a look at how dominant Mariota has been this season, via ESPN College Football:

That offensive clinic netted an astounding 590 yards, proving once again why the Ducks own one of the nation's most feared offenses.

Like Mississippi State, this team's weakness resides on the defensive side of the ball. The Ducks gave up 360 yards and two scores to quarterback Jared Goff, along with 193 rushing yards and four scores to ball-carriers, en route to a 560-yard, 41-point performance by the Golden Bears offense.

Oregon's defense could get this team in trouble due to its tendency of allowing teams to stick around. However, with Utah remaining as the team's only ranked opponent for the remainder of the season, chances of the Ducks winning out are very good.

 

4. Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish proved they still belong in the College Football Playoff discussion despite losing to Florida State in Week 8. Notre Dame got out in front early and held at least a share of the lead until the Seminoles took over for good with just 7:39 remaining in the game.

Everett Golson may warrant some Heisman consideration following his performance against one of the nation's best teams. He accumulated 313 yards through the air and tossed all three of the team's touchdowns. With the talented Corey Robinson, William Fuller and Tarean Folston at Golson's disposal, Notre Dame's offense can be quite dynamic.

Chris B. Brown of Smart Football tweeted his thoughts on the quarterback:

The impressive aspect of this team is its balanced nature—the team's defense has played just as well this season. The Fighting Irish held the Seminoles to average a measly 1.9 yards per rush while limiting Florida State to just 323 total yards of offense.

Notre Dame's ability to get it done on both sides of the ball is the reason why this team will have no trouble winning its remaining games—including contests against Arizona State and USC—en route to an 11-1 record and No. 4 seed by the end of the season.

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College Football Freshman Power Rankings of the Month

October is close to turning into November. Just as quickly as it began, the college football season is nearing its final stretch. Freshmen who were making their first career starts or appearances just a month ago are a little more seasoned now. 

With that, it's time to look back at which freshmen have stood out over the past several weeks. 

The freshmen on this list didn't technically have to start—as in, they didn't have to be the first player on the field at their respective position—but they did have to play at least a complementary or rotational role with at least one recordable stat.  

So which freshmen stood out in the month of October? Which ones had the most jaw-dropping highlights? Which ones underwhelmed? The answers are in the list below.

 

The Standout

This one is tough and basically a tie between Oregon running back Royce Freeman and Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett. Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett and defensive back Armani Watts get some consideration as well.  

Freeman is the frosh who has been the biggest part of his team's game plan without touching the ball every time. Through eight games, he leads the Ducks with 748 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns. A little more than half of those yards have come in the last three games. 

However, no one has improved quite as much over the past several weeks like Barrett has. From the Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech to reeling off five straight wins, Barrett has epitomized Ohio State's turnaround. 

"He's saved our bacon a few times," head coach Urban Meyer said, via Bill Landis of Cleveland.com. "I think having that kind of player, we've made the decision we can't not have that kind of player. You don't have to be 4.3 (in the 40-yard dash), which J.T. is not, but you have to be a tough guy and be willing to get some yards. J.T. has done a good job of that."

Barrett gets the edge, but it was a close one. 

 

Best Highlight

USC do-it-all weapon Adoree' Jackson had a big moment in the Trojans' 24-21 loss to Utah on Saturday. The freshman had a nice forced fumble and recovery, but also returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown.

The loss stings, but Jackson had a great night on special teams and defense. 

 

Who’s Rising?

He got off to a bit of a slow start, but LSU running back Leonard Fournette has turned it on the past few weeks. He has averaged at least four yards per carry in all but two games, and two of his three 100-yard games have come against SEC opponents (Florida and Ole Miss).

His 23-carry, 113-yard performance against Ole Miss was especially impressive considering how good the Rebels defense has been. He also caught two passes for 40 yards, all of which came on one beautiful throw from quarterback Anthony Jennings. 

And don't even think for a minute Fournette needs to play with a facemask, either. 

The Tigers have won three straight and might be turning the corner after a disappointing start. Fournette has been part of that resurrection. 

 

Who’s Falling?

North Carolina running back Elijah Hood had a few big moments during the month of September. However, he's missed the past two games with an undisclosed injury, per UNC's injury report (h/t John Taylor of College Football Talk). 

For the month of October, Hood has 20 carries for just 36 yards, though he does have a pair of touchdowns. The touted freshman has 199 yards on the season and four touchdowns. Those numbers were best on the team until quarterback Marquise Williams surpassed them. 

The Tar Heels are 2-0 without Hood, but here's hoping he gets healthy and back on the field soon. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Week 10 Standings for College's Top 25 Teams

College football really is the gift that keeps on giving, and fans were not disappointed during the evening slate of games in Week 9.

LSU provided our only real stunning result of the day with an upset of No. 3 Ole Miss (try explaining that sentence to someone who last watched college football in 2010), but Utah pulled out a thrilling win in the final seconds against USC, Arizona State ran back a game-clinching pick-six against Washington and Ohio State persevered in front of 107,000 rabid Penn State fans in double overtime.

As if that wasn’t enough, Auburn outlasted South Carolina 42-35 in an entertaining shootout that featured five fourth-down conversions and a surprise onside kick that almost turned the game South Carolina’s way.

If nothing else, it gave remote controls across the country quite the workout. 

Here is a look at how the Top 25 teams in the Associated Press poll all fared in Week 9.

 

Breakdown

As mentioned, the most important result of the night was LSU’s win over Ole Miss in Death Valley.

The Tigers won 10-7 in a hard-hitting slugfest by making a game-winning interception in the final seconds. Instead of kicking a potential game-tying field goal and forcing overtime, the Rebels elected to heave the ball deep, which ultimately cost them the game and their undefeated record.

Head coach Hugh Freeze discussed Bo Wallace’s decision on the pass, via ESPN.com: "I thought we were plenty clear we were either going to take the flat throw or throw it out of bounds, and then try the field goal. He must have felt like he had a shot at the touchdown play there. ... I wish I could do that over, for sure."

Ole Miss’ first loss certainly threw a bit of a curveball into an SEC West race that features one-loss Alabama (who easily handled Tennessee), one-loss Auburn (who outlasted South Carolina in a shootout) and undefeated Mississippi State. Things weren’t exactly easy for the Bulldogs either in a 45-31 win at Kentucky, but this is the time of year when wins are what matters most, especially in this conference.

As of now, it feels like at least one team is making the playoffs from the SEC West, if not more.

Outside of the SEC, the Pac-12 provided the usual slate of thrilling contests.

Oregon kicked it off with a 59-41 win over California on Friday night that certainly looked good for Marcus Mariota and the offense, but not so much for the defense. UCLA survived Colorado in double overtime, both Arizona schools won and Utah put together an incredible 73-yard drive in the final two minutes to beat USC, 24-21.

The Ducks and (to a lesser extent) the Arizona schools and Utah are still alive in the College Football Playoff race with only one loss apiece. With showdowns between Arizona and Arizona State, Utah and Arizona, Arizona State and Notre Dame, Arizona State and Utah and Utah and Oregon still on the schedule, the Pac-12 will undoubtedly have a say in the race for the postseason. 

Jon Solomon of CBS passed along a head-turning stat from out west:

If the race to the playoffs is a beauty pageant, nobody looked better than TCU in Week 9. The Horned Frogs dropped an astounding 82 points on Texas Tech and let the nation know that they will still be heard from down the stretch even after a heartbreaking loss to Baylor.

Finally, there were two results of note in the Big Ten. 

Michigan State absolutely annihilated rival Michigan 35-11 in a game that wasn’t even as close as the scoreboard indicated. At least the Wolverines did whatever this is, via Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports:

Elsewhere, the Buckeyes survived a stiff test in Happy Valley in double overtime behind an excellent day from defensive lineman Joey Bosa. Quarterback J.T. Barrett was clearly banged up late in the game but picked up two critical touchdown drives in the extra periods to overcome what was a lackluster game.

Todd Porter of The Repository noted that the outcome was never in doubt for Ohio State when considering recent history:

Mandel also had an interesting opinion when all was said and done:

The College Football Playoff selection committee will put out its first official poll before Week 10 kicks off.

While there are bound to be countless changes between those initial rankings and the actual playoff, fans and commentators alike will likely dive into debates and hypothetical situations right away.

Questions including how many SEC teams belong in the field of four, whether Oregon should be penalized for giving up 41 points to California, whether the Big Ten teams still have a shot at a playoff spot and where Notre Dame fits in the national picture will all be thrown around.

While those are all worthwhile discussions that will only pick up steam as the season continues, don’t let them take away from the product on the field. 

College football truly is a playoff every single week.

 

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SEC Chaos Ushering Notre Dame Closer to the College Football Playoff

It seems likely the College Football Playoff committee breathed a collective sigh of relief about Saturday’s outcomes in the Southeastern Conference. And we’ll have to wait until Tuesday’s first playoff rankings to know for sure, but it seems like the biggest beneficiary of Ole Miss’ first loss will be the school that so often leads the nation in good luck, Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish figure to rise for playoff consideration even though they didn’t play Saturday and are coming off a heartbreaking loss to Florida State. But they have key factors working in their favor as the playoff picture comes into sharper focus.

First and foremost, the path of 6-1 Notre Dame doesn’t have as many potholes as most other playoff contenders, particularly the SEC teams. The biggest challenges are a Nov. 8 date at 6-1 Arizona State, and a season-ending tilt at Southern Cal, where the Trojans are looking more and more beatable after taking their third loss on Saturday.

Plus, being an independent means the Irish won’t face the emotions of an all-or-nothing conference championship game on neutral turf, which is a huge advantage over the SEC, Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 schools.

Meantime, Notre Dame will be rooting hard for Florida State to remain undefeated. The Irish loss to FSU is actually one of the best things on its record, since it came on the road against the defending national champion and was one pass-interference call away from being an upset victory.

Look for Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly to play that card deftly the rest of the way as his team strives to finish 11-1.

“Look, they were on a national stage, and they showed everybody what kind of football team they were,” Kelly reminded reporters at last week's press conference.

But what possibly will surface as even bigger edge for the Irish is the thought process of the College Football Playoff committee.

The committee has made public a very lengthy protocol for its selection process. But my gut feeling is that one thing that has been left out is that the 12 voters will strive to pick a four-team field that’s representative of all of college football. I think they’ll want four teams that have a good geographical spread, a group that limits the provincial belly-aching or claims of bias.

They’ll want this first playoff to be popular make a feel-good impression with as much of the nation as possible.

No college football team has a bigger national following than Notre Dame. The Irish fanbase is spread from coast to coast, which is why the television network executives love them and their ratings appeal so much. And if you don’t think TV is a factor, you don’t realize who’s paying the bills.

For all the promises that committee members will recuse themselves from discussions about schools where they have financial ties, let’s remember two things about the committee members: 1) They’re human. 2) They’re football fans.

So if Notre Dame is on the bubble, it’s conceivable that committee member Condoleezza Rice, a Notre Dame alum, would invoke some of the diplomatic skills she culled as the U.S. Secretary of State on behalf of the Fighting Irish. (Rice also was born in Alabama, so she may have some very sleepless nights coming up.)

But Rice or any other potential Notre Dame advocate may have their work done for them by the SEC meat grinder that’s heating up. (And it might hurt the SEC that Archie Manning's knee problems have caused the former Ole Miss quarterback to resign from the playoff committee.) 

Seeing LSU make Ole Miss look so overrated doesn't help the SEC make a case for two playoff spots, and one glance at what’s left of the SEC schedule makes it obvious that some of the conference’s elite teams will suffer a second defeat in November. The SEC probably still has to of the best four teams in the nation, but it will be tough to justify giving a playoff spot to any team with two defeats.

Auburn faces a brutal gauntlet, with road games at Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama. That uphill climb starts Saturday at Ole Miss, where the Rebels no doubt will be in a mood to avenge the loss at LSU.

Alabama finally has its offense rolling, but a Nov. 8 date at LSU will land the Crimson Tide in the same Death Valley atmosphere that Bo Wallace described as "the craziest place I've played" after Saturday's loss.

Undefeated Mississippi State showed vulnerability while surviving at Kentucky despite Patrick Towles' 390 passing yards on Saturday, but the Bulldogs have much tougher days ahead. Alabama comes to Starkville on Nov. 15, and the Nov. 29 trip to Ole Miss looms as the most meaningful game in the history of the Egg Bowl.

Whichever SEC West team survives those showdowns will have to get right back on the field for one more test the Saturday after its rivalry game, for the conference championship. The likely opponent will be Georgia, in the Georgia Dome, and by then the Bulldogs might have a vengeful Todd Gurley back in the lineup, ready to put his rested legs to work after serving an NCAA suspension.

And Notre Dame will be able to just sit back and enjoy the carnage.

 

Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.

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Bowl Predictions 2014: College Football Playoff Projections Following Week 9

The 2014 college football season has been complete madness through nine weeks of action. Upset victories have become a common trend while preseason polls seem like a distant memory, as previously unranked teams currently stand tall over the rest of the nation. And there's still plenty of time for even more changes before the College Football Playoff.

While there is a clear-cut Top Four following Saturday's action, chances are some of those teams won't be in the playoff discussion when the regular season comes to a close. Due to some very tough remaining schedules for top squads and other surging, lower-ranked teams climbing up the standings, we should expect continued movement in the rankings. This is where speculation comes into play.

Based on the current standings, recent on-field performances and impending matchups, here's a prediction of college football's Top Four teams following the conclusion of the regular season and their corresponding bowl games.

 

Bowl Predictions

Sugar Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Notre Dame

Rose Bowl: Florida State vs. Oregon

 

Final Rankings

1. Mississippi State

The Bulldogs remained unbeaten through Week 9, but it wasn't by the prettiest of performances.

Quarterback Dak Prescott moved the offense well enough to notch the win, but his efficiency wasn't up to par. He completed 18 of his 33 passing attempts for 216 yards, one touchdown and one interception against Kentucky's secondary. Luckily, Mississippi State's offense fared far better on the ground.

Running back Josh Robinson was fantastic, carrying 23 times for 198 yards and two touchdowns. Prescott carried 18 times for 88 yards and two scores of his own. Sports Illustrated tweeted Robinson's most ridiculous run of the day:

The team accumulated 326 yards on the ground; there's no reason to dispute that this is one of the nation's juggernaut offenses.

Defense is a whole different story.

Kentucky's Patrick Towles threw for 390 yards and two touchdowns as the Wildcats accumulated 504 yards of offense and 31 points. That's not a good sign due to the fact that the Bulldogs still must face the prolific offenses of Alabama and Ole Miss later this season.

Still, Mississippi State will retain the No. 1 spot with continued stellar offensive output, finishing the season undefeated.

 

2. Florida State

The Seminoles were inactive Saturday during their bye week and remain in the No. 2 spot. Defeating Notre Dame proved two things about Florida State in Week 8: that this team can step up against the nation's best, and that Jameis Winston is a resilient quarterback who flourishes in the face of adversity.

College GameDay tweeted Winston's impressive home winning streak:

Florida State didn't have a lead against the Fighting Irish until the final score of the game with 7:31 remaining in the fourth quarter. This team proved it is comprised of fighters on both sides of the ball, which will lead to an undefeated season when combined with a very easy remaining schedule.

Without a single ranked opponent left on the Seminoles' slate this season, expect five more convincing wins to hold this squad in position as the nation's second-ranked team.

 

3. Oregon

Oregon has virtually the same story as Mississippi State: This team has a prolific offense but is really lacking on the defensive side of the ball.

Marcus Mariota may be the best quarterback in the nation right now and was dynamic on Saturday against California, passing for 326 yards and five touchdowns. The signal-caller has plenty of weapons at his disposal as well: Royce Freeman and Byron Marshall have been creating matchup nightmares for opposing defenses all year.

Here's a look at how dominant Mariota has been this season, via ESPN College Football:

Defensively, the Ducks could improve. On Saturday, they allowed quarterback Jared Goff to throw for 360 yards and two touchdowns while allowing the Golden Bears to score four times on the ground. Giving up 41 points to a .500 team isn't a great sign for this defense going forward.

Luckily for the Ducks, they have an offense that is virtually unrivaled. This team thrives by simply outscoring its opponents and is very good at doing so. With Utah being the only ranked team remaining on Oregon's schedule, it's easy to see the Ducks winning out and moving up into the nation's top-ranked one-loss team.

 

4. Notre Dame

With a one-loss team taking up the No. 3 spot in the rankings, the Fighting Irish have a great chance to move into No. 4. A last-second loss against the nation's second-ranked team gives Notre Dame a certified "quality loss" in the eyes of voters.

The Fighting Irish took a small fall down the standings after facing Florida State; however, the drop was limited due to the impressive performance displayed by quarterback Everett Golson and his supporting cast. Notre Dame's offense exceeded expectations, putting up a total of 470 yards on the road in a loud, hostile environment.

Dane Brugler of CBS Sports tweeted his thoughts on the Notre Dame offense:

On the defensive side of the ball, Notre Dame won in the trenches, allowing just 1.9 yards per carry to the Seminoles and forcing Winston to win the game with his arm. After watching that performance, the Fighting Irish should have no trouble winning out against the likes of Arizona State and USC.

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Southern Cal vs. Utah: Game Grades, Analysis for Trojans, Utes

In a thrilling Pac-12 South Division showdown, the Utah Utes were able to come away with a slim 24-21 victory over the visiting Southern Cal Trojans.

Utah signal-caller Travis Wilson was sensational on the game-winning drive. A 19-yard scramble helped to set up the go-ahead 1-yard touchdown throw to Kaelin Clay with 0:08 remaining in the contest. Devontae Booker also had a hand in the victory—rushing for 102 yards and a touchdown. 

It was a very tough defeat for the Trojans. The defense for the most part did a very good job of bottling up the second-leading rusher in the Pac-12. Cody Kessler displayed considerable grit throughout the night, and made some big plays. 

However, two turnovers led to touchdowns by the Utes. Questionable decision-making and play-calling by the staff also didn't help matters much. 

A full box score can be found here, courtesy of NCAA.com. Check out first-half grades and final grades for both the Trojans and Utes. Additional analysis for positional units will also be addressed. 

 

USC Trojans Game Analysis

Passing Offense

The opening play was strange, to say the least. Whether it was a misunderstanding between quarterback and receiver, it resulted in a touchdown for Utah nonetheless. 

In terms of Kessler's play, he was very good. His awareness in the pocket was on full display, as he was able to step up to evade pressure and make throws down the field. Aside from one poorly thrown ball to Nelson Agholor, he was one of the better players for the Trojans on the night. For the game, Kessler went 24-of-32 for 264 yards and a touchdown. 

In terms of pass protection, the unit did well despite the injury to starting left tackle Chad Wheeler. 

Utah led the nation in sacks per game heading into tonight's contest, and it finished below their season average of six. 

 

Pass Defense

Adoree' Jackson in particular was very good in coverage. He battled immensely hard, and even forced a fumble. The longest pass play of the evening went for only 18 yards. SC's secondary competed hard at the line of scrimmage, and it was able to neutralize Dres Anderson effectively. 

 

Rushing Offense

The vaunted SC ground game never fully got into a rhythm. Credit Utah's defensive front for plugging the holes up front, but the Trojans offensive line seemed to have poor get-off when it came to run blocking. 

Buck Allen finished with only 101 yards on 27 carries. Congratulations are in order to him, as he went over the 1,000-yard mark for the year. 

 

Rush Defense

In the first half, the Trojans held the second-leading rusher in the conference to 32 yards. The defensive front was winning the battle at the line of scrimmage, and even forced three fumbles (two of which came from Devontae Booker). 

In the second half, Booker came alive and ran with more effectiveness. Despite the Utah tailback accruing over 100 yards on the evening, USC made him work for every yard. It was a very strong performance by the front seven. 

 

Special Teams

Jackson displayed why he was regarded as one of the top recruits in the country coming out of high school. Based on his electric kickoff return for a touchdown, USC should look to get the ball in his hands more. 

The only blemish on the evening came from the big 54-yard punt return by Kaelin Clay, which helped to give Utah great field position. 

 

Coaching

The decision on the fourth-down try late in the game will be a huge talking point in Los Angeles this week for the media. Steve Sarkisian will be questioned for not attempting a field goal, but also for calling a pitch option to a wide receiver.

Although Allen hadn't been running with tremendous effectiveness, he's your best option in a short-yardage situation. Defensively, there was seemingly a reluctance to blitz Wilson—especially in the second half. As the old adage says, "prevent defense prevents you from winning."

 

Utah Utes Game Analysis

Passing Offense

Wilson was efficient on the night. He wasn't asked to make many throws down the field. In fact, Utah's longest pass play went for 18 yards. This was by design, in order to accentuate Wilson's strengths. The underneath routes to Westlee Tonga were effective. 

However, there wasn't an attempt to stretch the field vertically with Anderson or Kenneth Scott. Utah could afford to at least give the opposition the threat of throwing deep. Regardless, Wilson did not turn the ball over. He finished 18-of-32 for 193 yards and a touchdown.

 

Pass Defense

In the first half, USC was gashing Utah with crossing routes and throws underneath. The Trojans did a nice job of attacking the Utes when they brought pressure. 

In the second half, a minor adjustment was made. Utah opted to play more zone in order to compensate for the speed of USC's skill players. Although Kessler threw for 264 yards, the longest pass play for the Trojans went 28 yards. Utah did a nice job of not allowing USC to beat it deep for a big play. 

 

 

Rushing Offense

Credit USC's defense for stonewalling Booker in the first half. Much like USC's offensive line, Utah's group was unable to open up holes in the ground game. Utah averaged only 3.3 yards per carry on the night. 

It did a nice job of protecting Wilson on passing situations, but the run game as a whole ran for only 137 yards on 42 carries. 

 

Rush Defense

The front seven did a terrific job of plugging the gaps and virtually living in the backfield. Blitzes came from all angles and really clogged things up front. In particular, Jason Fanaika and Jared Norris were extremely active. 

Utah held the Pac-12 leading rusher to only 101 yards on 27 carries. This equates out to a paltry 3.7 yards per carry average. 

 

Special Teams

The kickoff return for a touchdown by Jackson was very un-Utah-like. However, the electric punt return by Clay helped to give Utah great field position. 

Andy Phillips connected on his only field-goal attempt, and punter Tom Hackett was strong—averaging over 46 yards per punt. 

 

Coaching

Offensively, the play-calling was a bit conservative. There wasn't a whole lot of faith in Wilson delivering the ball down the field vertically. The reemergence of the run game in the second half enabled offensive coordinator Dave Christensen to be more creative. If anything, the play-calling did cater to Wilson's strengths as a player. This was particularly true when Wilson would roll out and take advantage of his mobility.

Defensively, the unit played more zone in the second half. It shrunk the field—cutting off some of the underneath routes SC exploited in the first half. Utah also devised a great scheme versus SC's elite running back. 

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Southern Cal vs. Utah: Game Grades, Analysis for Trojans, Utes

In a thrilling Pac -12 South Division showdown, the Utah Utes were able to come away with a slim 24-21 victory over the visiting Southern Cal Trojans. Utah signal-caller Travis Wilson was sensational on the game-winning drive...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

USC Falls Short in True Game of Inches, Spoils Chance at Pac-12 Title

No. 20 USC tried to walk the tightrope one too many times in its 24-21 loss at No. 19 Utah Saturday, and falling inches short cost the Trojans immeasurably in the Pac-12 championship race. 

Taking a pitch from quarterback Cody Kessler, wide receiver Nelson Agholor broke up the sideline for a fourth-down run that, if converted, would salt away USC's four-point lead. But Agholor stepped out of bounds just one yard shy of the first-down marker, turning over possession to the Utes for their game-winning drive. 

Consider Agholor's misstep karma for the few inches that broke the Trojans' way earlier. Two Utah drives stalled at the USC one-yard line when the Utes coughed up fumbles. 

One came on a strip made by cornerback Adoree' Jackson, who had nothing but turf 99 yards ahead of him but the play was whistled dead. 

Seeing both the winning and losing ends of that game of inches is nothing new for this USC team. It's been the Trojans' M.O. for much of the Pac-12 season, and head coach Steve Sarkisian even addressed it after their Week 7 win at Arizona when he said they were a Hail Mary against Arizona State away from being a Top Five team.  

True as that may be, USC also benefited from a wayward field-goal attempt in the final seconds at Arizona, as well as repeated red-zone failures by the Stanford offense in Week 2. 

USC surged ahead in the Pac-12 South with wins that were decided by a few feet. Now, the Trojans find themselves looking up at three teams because of a few feet. 

Of course, offensive deficiencies plagued USC well before Agholor stepped out of bounds on a play-call sure to be heavily scrutinized in the coming days. 

After an impressive second drive, which culminated with Kessler finding John "JuJu" Smith for a 10-yard score, the USC offense went stagnant for 45 minutes of game time. 

Smith's touchdown reception and Kessler's four-yard connection with Darreus Rogers in the fourth quarter book-ended a 100-yard kickoff return for a score by Jackson in the second quarter. 

Otherwise, USC's offense was rendered stagnant. That's been a recurring problem for the Trojans in 2014, with their Week 8 rout of Colorado seemingly reigniting that side of the ball. 

But it was abundantly clear Saturday in Rice-Eccles Stadium that Utah isn't Colorado. 

Utah demonstrated why it entered Week 9 with the nation's No. 21-ranked run defense. USC running back Javorius "Buck" Allen went for 101 yards, but he had to work for every bit of it with a 3.7-yard per carry average. 

The USC defense matched Utah blow-for-blow, very nearly making a third stop at the one-yard line to win it.

But after Utah's first play from the goal line failed, quarterback Travis Wilson found Kaelin Clay on a roll-out for the game-winner.  

Two Pac-12 South losses sealed by touchdown passes with zeroes on the clock could be all it takes to keep USC out of the conference title picture. 

The Trojans trail Arizona, Arizona State and Utah, each of which has just one conference game. USC handed Arizona its lone defeat, thus the Trojans just need one more Wildcats loss. 

But by losing to both the Sun Devils and Utes, USC's one-game deficit in the division is more like two. Both hold tiebreakers over the Trojans. 

Now the inches that eluded the Trojans look a lot more like miles in an increasingly contentious Pac-12 South race. 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics via CFBstats.com and USAToday.com 

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USC Falls Short in True Game of Inches, Spoils Chance at Pac-12 Title

No. 20 USC tried to walk the tightrope one too many times in its 24-21 loss at No. 19 Utah Saturday, and falling inches short cost the Trojans immeasurably in the Pac -12 championship race...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football Rankings Week 10: B/R's Official Top 25

With another unbeaten biting the dust, we are down to two power-conference teams without a loss. As a result, figuring out the top two teams in the Bleacher Report Top 25 wasn't hard to accomplish. 

It's much tougher to sift through the growing list of quality one-loss teams to determine who should be third, fourth and beyond. And with the College Football Playoff selection committee releasing its first rankings Tuesday, this was the last chance to make an impression on those decision-makers.

The Bleacher Report Top 25 is voted on by 19 members of Bleacher Report's college football team: writers Keith Arnold, Ben Axelrod, Phil Callihan, Michael Felder, Justin Ferguson, Kyle Kensing, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Brian Pedersen, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Erin Sorensen, Marc Torrence and Greg Wallace, as well as editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Max Rausch.

Each voter submits their ballots based on observations made during the just-completed week's games. Teams receive 25 points for a first-place vote, all the way down to one point for being ranked 25th, and then the top 25 vote-getters are ranked in order of their point totals.

Check out Bleacher Report's Week 10 poll, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Predicting the Top 25 After Week 9

Week 9 of the college football season was highlighted by LSU's 10-7 upset over Ole Miss but otherwise pretty sedate.

Ole Miss and USC were the only two teams in the Top 25 to lose. USC, like Ole Miss, lost to a team, Utah, that was also ranked in the poll. We entered the week guaranteed to see at least two ranked teams go down, and that's exactly how many we saw.  

The effect such a chalky week will have on the Associated Press Poll is likely to be minimal. Near-upsets such as Penn State-Ohio State will inform the rankings and might lead to subtle deviations, but for the most part, things should look close to the same.

Here is one man's (always ill-fated) projection: 

 Note: Rankings reflect a prediction of the Week 9 AP poll—not how the author would rank the teams himself.  

 

Teams Rising

LSU

LSU got revenge on the state of Mississippi, ending Ole Miss' undefeated season roughly a month after getting drilled by Mississippi State.

The formula by which Les Miles' team pulled the upset was a return to the SEC of yore: defense, running the ball and more defense. Never was that more true than on LSU's game-winning touchdown drive, a 13-play masterpiece that included 12 runs to just the one pass (which, of course, was how LSU scored its touchdown).

Anthony Jennings threw a pair of interceptions, and Leonard Fournette fumbled on the goal line, but the offense was propped up by an offensive line that finally performed as well as it was billed in the preseason. The ballyhooed Landsharks defense didn't just not intimidate the Tigers; it actively emboldened them to improve.

LSU might not be dead just yet.

 

Utah

Travis Wilson led Utah to a comeback win over USC, throwing the game-winning touchdown pass to Kaelin Clay with eight seconds left to play.

The Utes are now 6-1 with wins over legacy programs such as Michigan, UCLA and USC. If not for a loss to Washington State, we would be talking about them as a legit playoff contender.

If they win out, that might still be what they are.

Unfortunately, winning out will be highly improbable given who the Utes still have to play. Their next four games are at Arizona State, vs. Oregon, at Stanford and vs. Arizona. (Good luck with that.)

But at least for one night, Utah can sleep easy and feel like its on top of the world. It has qualified for a bowl game for the first time since joining the Pac-12 in 2011. Even if it loses the rest of its games from here, it has earned its way into the postseason from a power conference.

Good on you, Kyle Whittingham.

 

Teams Falling

Ole Miss

Ole Miss lost a close game that easily could have been a not-so-close game at LSU, falling 10-7 despite four LSU turnovers (including one goal-line fumble) and a missed field goal from 28 yards out.

Quarterback Bo Wallace had been unusually mistake-free the previous few weeks but made one of the most curious decisions you'll ever see on the last possession of the game, heaving an interception into double coverage instead of playing it safe so Ole Miss could kick a field goal that might have sent the game to overtime.

"I thought we were pretty clear we would take that flat throw or throw it out of bounds," said Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze, per TJ Werre of of WJTV in Jackson, Mississippi. "[I] wish I could do it over."

 

USC

Poor, USC.

The Trojans have lost two Pac-12 games this season: one on a Hail Mary against Arizona State and now one on what might as well have been a Hail Mary against Utah. If Steve Sarkisian's team knew how to close games, it would be right in the thick of the playoff discussion. Instead, it is dropping out of the poll.

"This USC team is basically just every Sark team ever, yes?" asked Luke Zimmerman of SB Nation. The answer? A resounding and distressing, "uh-huh." Seven-win Steve has made his way to Hollywood.

It's the most depressing script that city has ever seen.

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Chaos Reigns in College Football; Good Luck, Playoff Committee

It has sat idle, waiting for the appropriate time to surface. The College Football Playoff, after plenty of debate, dissection and discussion is suddenly at our doorstep.

On Tuesday, a room of 12 human beings who have been deemed selection committee-worthy will sift through the carnage to reveal their first Top 25 ranking to the world. Only the top four matter when it comes to the playoff, although this group will also influence marquee bowl games. Plus, at this moment in time, teams well beyond the top four are still integral to the process.

Given everything that’s transpired already this season—and the madness that is certain to follow in the coming weeks—this is not a position to envy. And it never was. The College Football Playoff committee already had an impossible task. Given the results of Week 9 and quirks of this particular CFB chapter, however, the intensity has amplified. The predictable outrage to follow, as a result, will be boisterous and unruly.

With the weeks on the schedule hitting double digits and the committee preparing for its debut, there are certain items of note of as you prep for a new age in college football. Let the real madness begin.

 

What to do with Ole Miss and Others Like It

Following its 10-7 loss to LSU in Week 9, Ole Miss presents a fascinating early predicament for the selection committee. The Rebels, even with a blemish in the loss column, won’t stray too far from the top of the rankings. There’s no shame in losing a game at LSU at night, even when this Tigers team isn't as dominant as usual.

The big question surrounding Ole Miss is quite simple: Will Hugh Freeze’s team be ranked above or below Alabama, a team it beat with a tremendous second half a few short weeks ago?

Both teams have one loss, although the head-to-head matchup should serve as a rather convincing tiebreaker, especially given our still limited sample size. But timing, as it was with the BCS, can often be a critical part of this equation, which is why the Crimson Tide could very well be ranked above the Rebels. In fact, don't be shocked if/when it happens.

This is not just an Ole Miss problem. The same could be said about plenty of other teams, and the issue will only become more glaring as the matchups mount. As we try to understand how the committee works, however, we’ll have a very early look into what exactly they’re seeking—the best team or the most deserving—based on where it ranks two quality playoff contenders that have already played.

 

Where Did We Come From? And How Will This Factor?

With computers and formulas out of the equation, it has been assumed preseason polls no longer matter. We’re about to find out if this is indeed the case.

How much have things changed in nine weeks? Here’s what the AP Top 10 looked like before the season began and what it looked like before Saturdays results. You will notice some familiar faces still very much in the mix and teams that have long departed. 

For Mississippi State, which struggled (at times) with Kentucky in Week 9 before winning 45-31, being ranked outside of the Top 25 was no issue. It beat quality opponents in LSU and Auburn while operating in the nation’s best conference, which was enough to put it on the map and then some.

For a team like Arizona, however, that might not be the case. The Wildcats destroyed Washington State on the road on Saturday, continuing a rather impressive and unexpected regular-season campaign. Having started the season outside the Top 25, Arizona is the lone team to beat Oregon—on the road and off a bye no less—and lost to USC by just two points.

The same could be said about TCU. The Horned Frogs, having dropped a cool 82 points on Texas Tech this week, were 11 minutes away from an unbeaten record. Baylor had other plans. 

While you can't simply ignore TCU’s meltdown against the Bears or Arizona's loss, one has to wonder if expectations before the season began will seep into the selection process with the committee? Stay tuned.

 

The Jake Fisher and J.T. Barrett Effect 

The great unknown when it comes to the selection committee—beyond all strength-of-schedule debates and analytical assessments—is how it plans to deal with injuries, absences and rapid player development. 

Since Jake Fisher returned to Oregon’s offensive line three weeks ago, it has been a different team. This was evident in the Ducks’ 59-41 win over Cal on Friday night, along with wins over UCLA and Washington after Oregon’s only loss against Arizona.

Had Fisher played against the Wildcats, the result could have (and likely would have) been much different. We almost had a similar situation—albeit under very different circumstances—with Florida State and Jameis Winston when he was suspended for the Clemson game. Unlike Oregon, however, the Seminoles squeaked by unbeaten.

How will such losses and near losses be viewed? And will the committee give Oregon an added boost now that it is at full strength?

Ohio State’s sudden playoff life could undergo a much different assessment. At the time of the Buckeyes’ loss to Virginia Tech, quarterback J.T. Barrett was unseasoned and remarkably raw. Although he’s by no means a finished product—as we saw at times in Ohio State’s double-overtime win over Penn State in Week 9—he also flashed moments of brilliance, much like he has done over the past month.

As Virginia Tech—the lone team to beat OSU—continues to crumble, the Buckeyes continue to move up in the ranks thanks in large part to their emerging quarterback. Assessing what feels like ancient history will be another tall order for the committee when it comes to Ohio State and other extreme makeovers.

 

This is Just the Beginning

When the selection committee unveils its initial Top 25 in a few short days, it will do so knowing, thankfully, it still has so much left to learn. Weaknesses will be exposed, teams will develop—some more rapidly than others—and marquee matchups still on the docket will make the committee's task of narrowing an enormous batch of teams down to just four much easier. 

After nine weeks of chaos, there is still plenty brewing on the horizon. Here are the games that will likely have a direct impact on how the committee reacts, although as we’ve seen, it should by no means be limited to just a handful.

Chaos works in mysterious ways.

Auburn at Ole Miss (November 1): There is no time to time to sulk; Ole Miss has the opportunity to boost its playoff resume next week, while Auburn hopes to stay the course.

Stanford at Oregon (November 1): You know the history well. Stanford has the opportunity to once again derail the Ducks’ playoff hopes next weekend.

Ohio State at Michigan State (November 8): The winner will be in the driver’s seat for a Big Ten Championship and will have a relatively clear path to finish out the season with one loss.

Mississippi State at Alabama (November 15): Depending on what happens with Florida State, the winner of this game could vault to the nation’s No. 1.

Mississippi State at Ole Miss (November 29): The Rebels, even with a loss, are very much in the College Football Playoff conversation. The Egg Bowl, depending on how things play out, could serve as an early elimination game. 

Auburn at Alabama (November 29): The Iron Bowl’s importance requires no further justifying. Both teams still have significant matchups before the bitter rivals meet, although this matchup at the back end of the schedule looms. 

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Did LSU Ruin the SEC's Chances at Sending Two Teams to CFB Playoffs?

The LSU Tigers took it to the Ole Miss Rebels in a showdown to the end. This battle in Baton Rouge left many wondering which SEC teams will end up fighting in the CFB playoffs. Bleacher Report's College Football analyst Michael Felder discusses if there is still a possibility for two SEC teams to make the playoffs.

Which SEC programs do you think have a chance to make the playoffs?

Watch the video and let us know!

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USC vs. Utah: Score and Twitter Reaction

Travis Wilson and the No. 19 Utah Utes came up with a thrilling last-second 24-21 victory over No. 20 USC in Salt Lake City on Saturday night. After stifling USC on a fourth-down conversion that would have put the game away with just over two minutes remaining, Wilson led the Utes down the field and to the game-winning touchdown with just eight seconds left in the game.

It looked as if the Utes were out of this one as the Trojans seemed to be running the clock out, but the key fourth-down stop gave Utah a chance.

A huge 18-yard scramble by Wilson to the one-yard line put the Utes on the brink. Wilson again came through with a one-yard touchdown pass to Kaelin Clay that gave Utah the win.

For the game, Wilson completed 18 of 32 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown. Those numbers won't jump out at you, but the way he commanded the offense and showed poise down the stretch was exactly what Utah needed from its quarterback.

The team had been employing a dual-quarterback system with Wilson and Kendal Thompson. On Saturday, Wilson was who Utah needed to get by USC.

Slightly overshadowed by Wilson's exciting finish was the play of running back Devontae Booker. He continues to show consistency as he ran for 102 yards and a score. It was his fourth-straight game with 100 or more yards rushing.

The decision that Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian made to go for it on fourth down will undoubtedly be discussed all week. He didn't have confidence in kicker Andre Heidari's ability to make a 44-yard field goal. Thus on a fourth and two, Sarkisian elected to go with a pitch to Nelson Agholor.

The junior wide receiver appeared to get the first down, but he had stepped out of bounds just beyond the line of scrimmage and USC turned it over on downs. 

The win pushed Utah to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the Pac 12. USC fell to 5-3 and 4-2 in the conference. 

The Trojans wasted a strong performance from Javorious Allen. The junior running back had 101 yards on the ground. It was his seventh 100-yard game of the season.

The Trojans will attempt to rebound next week when they visit the Washington State Cougars in another Pac-12 showdown. The Utes have a major test on the road against the Arizona State Sun Devils.

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