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College Football Playoff 2014: Final Four Predictions After 5th Top 25 Rankings

Many of the best college football teams took a trip to cupcake city in Week 13 of the season, with three of the previous Top Four teams earning comfortable wins. The outsider, of course, was Florida State, who narrowly pulled out a win over Boston College.   

As a result, there wasn't a huge amount of change at the top of the rankings. Alabama remained at the top with Oregon, Florida State and Mississippi State still rounding out the Top Four.

Those programs might see a shakeup this weekend with the intriguing slate on Saturday. Each team will face a rival, with the Iron Bowl and Egg Bowl offering the biggest opportunities for upsets. Meanwhile, TCU faces Texas with hopes that it can climb up the poll with a victory.

Ahead of the critical weekend, here is a look at the latest College Football Playoff committee rankings and predictions for the playoff bracket.

 

Analysis

Few would have predicted any of the previous Top Four teams would have fallen and many weren't even close. However, Florida State certainly didn't do itself any favors with a close contest at home against Boston College.

The Seminoles have reached the 11-win mark for the third straight season but have been questioned every game along the way. Much of those queries stem from come-from-behind wins against lesser opponents such as Oklahoma State and N.C. State.

ESPN Stats & Info points out a staggering statistic about the Noles' victories:

Jameis Winston will look to change that pattern against a Florida team that comes into Tallahassee at 6-4 on the season. The Gators are looking for a signature win in the midst of an otherwise horrid season. Upending the rival Noles would be a great way to lift the spirits in Gainesville.

Meanwhile in Eugene, Oregon and Oregon State will battle in another rivalry game that appears to be one-sided. The Ducks are currently flying high while the Beavers have lost six of their last eight. Let's just say Oregon seems like the most likely program to remain in the Top Four with a decisive win.

Back on the East Coast, two of the biggest rivalry games are set to take place. Between the Egg Bowl and the Iron Bowl, two National Championship contenders will be competing for their chance at the playoff.

In recent years, the Iron Bowl has been one of the most intense in college football. Not only is a lot on the line for both teams in the SEC West, but College GameDay also notes why it has typically had implications for the Championship Game:

The Crimson Tide come in as the higher-ranked program after the Tigers experienced a few hiccups recently against Texas A&M and Georgia. Then again, anything is possible when these two rivals meet.

Outside of the Iron Bowl, Mississippi State will be looking to do everything it can to clinch a berth with a win over Ole Miss. Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen spoke about the heated rivalry, via Michael Bonner of The Clarion-Ledger:

Every one of these (Egg Bowl games) are important. This is my sixth time playing in this game, I view the other five as equally as important. ...

You work year round for this type of game. It'll be fun. I know we'll be going into a hostile environment. Tough place to go play. I don't think they are big fans of mine up in that part of the state.

If both Alabama and Ole Miss win, only the Tide would roll into the SEC Championship Game. That puts even more pressure on the Bulldogs to win decisively to convince voters they deserve a spot over programs playing for a conference title.

I have both the Bulldogs and Tide playing in the semifinals. After the blowout loss to Arkansas for Ole Miss, expect a lopsided win for Dak Prescott and Mississippi State.

Though the regular season is winding down, there is still a lot left to unfold before the final bracket is set. Given the tremendous amount of change already over the first five polls, there is bound to be even more developments down the stretch.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff Rankings 2014: Selection Committee Top 25 for Week 14

After weeks of strife and hand-wringing about the direction of the College Football Playoff poll, Week 14 entered as one of expected inertia. With three of the nation's four top-ranked teams thumping cupcakes in expert fashion and Florida State unveiling its latest Houdini act—thus changing nothing about the preceding Saturdays—we for once felt as if we had a grip on the outlook.

The only remaining questions were the teams after the Top Four. TCU's absence from the slate was rendered moot by two less-than-impressive performances from Ohio State and Baylor, leaving the Horned Frogs looking stronger than ever in their next-man-up standing.

As for the Buckeyes and Bears, here is how theirs and the rest of the country's outlook turned out following Tuesday's announcement show:

That the playoff teams remain in place should come as a surprise to exactly no one. Alabama, Oregon and Mississippi State defeated Western Carolina, Colorado and Vanderbilt, respectively, by a combined average of 39.7 points.

The Crimson Tide survived a shaky first 20 minutes to score the game's final 31 points against FCS outfit Western Carolina. Most of Alabama's starters sat a majority of the second half to stay fresh for Saturday's Iron Bowl matchup with Auburn.

While the Tigers' three losses keep them well outside the playoff picture, Alabama enters in an eerily similar situation to the one it inhabited a year ago: sitting at the top of the rankings with only its bitter rival and a potential SEC Championship Game clash holding it back for playing for a national title. Head coach Nick Saban, usually the first to downplay everything, said the Tide's heartbreaking loss in last year's Iron Bowl still weighs on his mind. 

“We all kinda remember what happened,” Saban told reporters Monday. “I think that it was very, very disappointing to all of us here. Not just the last play, but the last five minutes of the game that we never really ever finished the game like we needed to. It was a tough way to lose a game and I’m sure that everybody sort of has that in mind.”

Also headed toward a rivalry game but in much less control of its destiny is Mississippi State. The Bulldogs, who still have a chance of winning the SEC West if Alabama goes down, travel to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday for a game against 18th-ranked Ole Miss.

"You work year round for this type of game. It'll be fun," Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen told reporters Monday. "I know we'll be going into a hostile environment. Tough place to go play. I don't think they are big fans of mine up in that part of the state."

Of course, the trip looked a whole lot more daunting a week ago. The Rebels' 30-0 loss to unranked Arkansas gave them three defeats in their last four games. In the event Mississippi State defeats Ole Miss and Alabama takes down Auburn, the Bulldogs' best victories will be against teams with four losses.

That could be a big deal when the committee sits down for its final deliberations. Conference championships are one of the four major pillars the committee touted when the playoff was announced, which puts TCU and Mississippi State in precarious positions.

Despite their up-and-down play in Week 13, Baylor and Ohio State control their own destinies in their respective conferences. The Bears defeated TCU in a head-to-head thriller and have a resume-solidifying game against Kansas State to close their season in two weeks.

The Buckeyes should thrash depleted rival Michigan on Saturday, but their likely Big Ten Championship Game matchup with Wisconsin looks better by the week. Melvin Gordon has rushed his way toward the top of the Heisman race, and the Badgers have reeled off six straight wins since their shaky start.

Add a schedule-strengthening statement win over a ranked opponent and a conference championship to the mix, and suddenly Baylor and Ohio State look a lot stronger in the playoff race.

All of this speculation has led some to wonder whether we're barreling straight ahead toward a late-season controversy—the type of thing this playoff was explicitly created to eliminate. ACC Commissioner John Swofford has already been on record suggesting the NCAA should expand the four-team playoff to eight. 

“I don’t think all the controversy’s going to go away,” Swofford said last Wednesday, per Shawn Krest of The Herald-Sun. “You have four teams that get a chance to play for the national championship, which is twice as many as before, but whoever’s fifth or sixth is not going to be happy. There will be some conferences that won’t have a team in the playoff.”

You can see Swofford's point of view. It seems feasible that a one-loss SEC team—an SEC West team, no less—could be on the outside looking in. But it's also patently unfair to hold out conference champions who did everything they possibly could. It's easy to forget now that Ohio State's lone loss came nearly three months ago in J.T. Barrett's second career start.

Might an eight-team playoff, where the champions of the five power conferences get an automatic berth and there are three wild cards, create less controversy? Perhaps. 

But for now, barring a barrage of upsets, it's looking like the College Football Playoff Selection Committee has its work cut out paring this seven-team jumble to four in the next few weeks.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why 5-Star 2015 Recruit Trent Thompson Will Make Biggest Impact as a Freshman

The high school football fields of South Georgia are where Trent Thompson crafted a resume that vaulted him into being rated as the nation's top defensive tackle in the 2015 class.

The 5-star phenom, who committed to Georgia in August, is now primed to wreak havoc as a freshman in the SEC next fall. 

According to MaxPreps, Thompson racked up 88 tackles for loss and recorded 21 sacks during his prep career at Westover High School in Albany, Georgia.

But what makes him a candidate to become a household name as an impact freshman next fall?

For starters, he's the nation's best talent at his position who steps into a situation of need in Athens.

Per Ourlads, the Bulldogs' top two defensive tackles, Mike Thornton and Toby Johnson, are seniors and will leave a void in the middle of the defensive line. 

He was simply a man among boys at the high school level—a point that was illustrated by Cairo (Georgia) High School head coach Tom Fallaw, who faced Thompson the last four seasons. 

"He's a kid that who is big, athletic and uses his size well," Fallaw told Bleacher Report before the season. "He can move. He's just one of those kids where after you look at him, it's a no-brainer that he can play at the next level."

Additionally, he could prove to be the missing link in defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's defense in Athens.

The Bulldogs are ranked No. 54 nationally against the run this year, per CFBstats.com. That number is far below the units Pruitt coached at Florida State last season and as an assistant at Alabama in the previous two seasons.

Those units had dominant defensive tackles plugging the middle such as Timmy Jernigan at FSU and Josh Chapman and Jesse Williams at Alabama.

Considering that Thompson recorded 74 tackles for loss over the last two seasons, he's displayed a tendency to get penetration and control the point of attack despite constant double teams.

His prep sack total also displays his versatility, which suggests that he can prove to be an effective pass-rusher in obvious passing downs on the next level.

After a year of ups and downs, Pruitt's defense figures to improve vastly in his second season. The 'Dawgs are scheduled to return six starters on defense, including young emerging players such as linebacker Lorenzo Carter and safety Dominick Sanders.

Their main priority over the offseason will be retooling the defensive line, and that's where Thompson—who is one of seven defensive linemen committed in the 2015 class—will be counted on.

Competing as a true freshman in the trenches of the SEC may seem like a daunting task.

However, in class loaded with a number of top defensive tackle prospects, expect Thompson to be one of the rare specimens capable of meeting that challenge.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Case for Brian Kelly to Leave Notre Dame

It is time for Brian Kelly to take a long, hard look at Notre Dame, at where it is and where it will be next year. He needs to take a look at himself, too. And then, he should do one thing:    

Run. Now. Claim victory, then RUUUUUNNNN to the NFL.

To this point, even while Notre Dame's season falls off a cliff, Kelly has kept his reputation as the guy who stabilized the Irish after the Charlie Weis disaster, and the guy who took them to the national championship game.

That makes him a viable NFL coaching candidate, and at the end of the year, the there will be a number of those jobs available, potentially Atlanta, Chicago, New York Jets, Oakland and San Francisco. Maybe Miami, too.

Kelly interviewed at Philadelphia in January of 2013, a few days after Notre Dame lost to Alabama in the BCS title game. Later, he told WNDU TV in South Bend, Ind. that he wasn't destined for the NFL:

"We're going to continue to win and I'm going to continue to get inquiries from the NFL. … Going through this process really helped clear my eyes why I'm here and why I want to be at Notre Dame.''

That's easy to say coming off a run to the championship game. But the winning isn't continuing and Kelly should jump while the inquiries still are. Those things run hand-in-hand. The Teflon on him is amazing, but it won't last forever.

The first half of Notre Dame's season was defined by another academic cheating scandal and a prolonged investigation into five players. A fast start wiped away the image of the cheating scandal somehow, but the second half has been defined by an on-field collapse. Notre Dame has lost four of its past five games, and going into the rivalry game at USC this weekend, Irish fans are in too much shock to process what's happening.

Soon—and this is just a gut feeling—they're going to start pointing fingers at Kelly.

Just run.

Honestly, Kelly should be an NFL coach anyway, where he can worry about football, focus on strategy and game film and let someone else deal with the other stuff, like developing young men. That probably sounds like an insult, but it isn't meant to be one.

Kelly is an excellent college coach. But college football is a different animal than the NFL. College coaches have way too many things to do, all while keeping the pretense that football isn't the most important thing in the world.

But Kelly has a bigger problem: Everett Golson.

A coach's reputation is tied to his quarterback. In college, it's about how much that QB has developed. At Notre Dame, it's also about how many championships they won together.

Golson isn't getting any better. He's getting worse. He has committed 21 turnovers in the past eight games. That included six in the loss at Arizona State.

A reporter asked Kelly in his postgame press conference about Golson, suggesting that he wasn't responsible for all of the turnovers.

"Why aren't they all on Golson?" Kelly asked. "We've been working with him. … Sooner or later he's got to take it on himself to take care of the football. I don't know what else to do."

Well, one thing he could do, but never considers, is benching Golson. But no, Kelly is too wrapped up in Golson to do anything about it now.

Golson started the year as a feel-good story, a Heisman candidate. But he has fallen apart, lost his confidence. He fumbled Saturday and then moped on the field while his teammates tried to get the ball back.

On Sunday, in Kelly's weekly press conference, he talked about Golson's development and potential. Someone asked Kelly if he thought Golson could be one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the country

"I think there's got to be more growth there, absolutely," Kelly said. "There is a higher ceiling for him. He's not been tapped out in the sense that it's as good as he can play.

"I think there's a lot of room for development. … So in answering your question, yeah I believe that he could be one of the top quarterbacks in the country, no question."

Kelly came to Notre Dame known for developing players, particularly quarterbacks. It just isn't working out with Golson. That's a continuing hit to Kelly's reputation, if he stays.

When you're coaching in the NFL, you don't have to worry about whether your quarterback is developing, or your players are breaking laws or rules. That stuff is on the general manager.

I said this in 2012, but Kelly should be the coach of the Chicago Bears. Instead, the Bears hired Marc Trestman for his offensive genius. It hasn't worked out, and the Bears are likely to have another coaching opening at the end of the season. Kelly is fiery and has had tough defenses at Notre Dame. It's a fit.

But he would be fine with most NFL teams.

Kelly brought back Notre Dame's aura, and while Irish fans might not realize it yet, that's about gone again. The lawyers and power boys that serve as Notre Dame's power aren't going to put up with this for long.

Kelly can make a run now to protect his own legacy.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report. He also writes for The New York Times and was formerly a scribe for FoxSports.com and the Chicago Sun-Times. Follow him on Twitter @gregcouch.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bold Predictions for Top College Football Rivalry Games in Week 14

From the Territorial Cup to the Egg Bowl to the Iron Bowl, Week 14 of the 2014 college football season is filled with rivalry games.

Each program will unleash gadget plays, new blitzes or unknown weapons, searching for both bragging rights and a victory over its most hated school.

While the teams prepare their audacious moves, these equally bold predictions will maintain a realistic nature. However, some may appear outlandish, because safe isn't fun—nor is it bold.

The predictions are organized by kickoff time, not necessarily the confidence level or adventurousness of the prophecy.

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Top Recruits Who Will Be Impacted by Result of the Ohio State-Michigan Game

It may lack much of the luster that defined rivalry matchups of the past, but when Michigan and Ohio State battle, there are always plenty of storylines to monitor. Most of the attention Saturday will center on the Buckeyes' playoff chances and Brady Hoke's job security.

However, there's always another element worth monitoring when these teams meet. The storied programs routinely clash on the recruiting trail while chasing common prospects, and those skirmishes become more noteworthy as national signing day nears. 

This 2015 cycle is no different, as several top-tier talents will be watching closely to see how the Buckeyes and Wolverines fare when action kicks off in Columbus. Here's a look at recruits who could ultimately be influenced by the outcome.

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Alabama out for Ultimate Revenge vs. Auburn in Iron Bowl

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It wasn’t supposed to happen that way.

Alabama was either going to end the “Mother Of All Iron Bowls” with a field goal or test its luck in overtime. Black and white, one or the other. Right?

Auburn’s Chris Davis had other ideas. You know the rest of the story.

As the Crimson Tide get ready to step on the field with the Tigers again for the first time since that November night in Jordan-Hare Stadium, they will do so behind the backdrop of that play.

Alabama is the No. 1 team in the country and a 9.5-point favorite to topple the Tigers, yet it can’t seem to shake that feeling that hung around after last season’s stunning ending.

“We’re still reliving that moment,” Alabama safety Landon Collins told reporters after the Western Carolina game. “It shows up on the TV every now and again. It just breaks our heart every time. That one second took our whole chance away of winning anything.

“Definitely it rewinds in my head. It’s definitely going to be rewinding in our head constantly throughout this week when we prepare for them.”

If the team feels the same way as Collins, it’s doing a good job of hiding it.

“I could really care less about last year. That was a completely different team. It’s a new team," said right tackle Austin Shepherd. "We have a great opportunity. We’ve set ourselves up for success, so we’ve just got to go out there and finish the season off.”

“We haven’t really been thinking about last year. We’ve really just been focused on what we can handle this year—what we can be talking about for the next 365 days and going in and just handling what we can do and let the past be the past and let’s control the future,” said quarterback Blake Sims.

The team is more or less sticking to the party line during this week of practice.

Still, as anyone who has watched TV in the last year knows, it’s not like you can exactly ignore Davis’ 109-yard missed-field-goal return for a touchdown at the end of regulation.

It’s been played constantly on highlight shows. It won the 2013 ESPY for Play of the Year. ESPN is featuring it heavily in promotions for this year’s Iron Bowl.

“We all kind of remember what happened,” head coach Nick Saban said. “It was very, very disappointing to all of us here. Not just the last play but the last five minutes of the game that we never really ever finished the game like we needed to. It was a tough way to lose a game, and I'm sure everybody sort of has that in mind.”

Collins estimates that he’s seen the play “maybe over 200 times.”

“I get asked about it constantly,” he said. “Last year we saw it too many times. I mean it’s just a constant thing that goes around and we can’t think about it now. It’s never going to leave until we do something about it.”

That makes this year about revenge.

Only a handful of redshirt seniors on this year’s team were around for the 2010 comeback in Bryant-Denny Stadium. A lot more, though, were on the sidelines for the Kick Six.

So while Alabama has a lot to lose in this game—the SEC West, a shot at the league title and a berth in the playoff—it’s looking at revenge as a motivating factor.

“I mean, I wouldn’t try to avoid it, but I wouldn’t try to watch it as well,” defensive end Jonathan Allen said. “I just view it was more motivation for me throughout the whole offseason.”

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Betting information courtesy of Odds Shark.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What to Make of No. 1 Recruit Josh Sweat Making Virginia Tech His Final Visit

An official visit to Virginia Tech this weekend is the last major landmark in the recruiting process of 5-star defensive end Josh Sweat—the nation’s top overall prospect in the 2015 class.

According to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports (subscription required), Sweat—who will enroll at his school of choice in January—will shut things down and then have a decision within a week or two following his trip to Blacksburg. 

The Hokies will get the last crack at Sweat, who took previous officials to schools among his final group including Ohio State, Georgia and Florida State. 

But does that mean they are the prohibitive favorite to land the impact pass-rusher?

Sweat has played his recruitment close to the vest, so it’s hard to tell if the Hokies are trending in their quest to keep the state’s top prospect close to home.

As Bartow notes, one interesting detail is that Sweat will have seven members of his family joining him for this weekend’s trip—which can’t hurt the Hokies' chances. 

By contrast, he was alone when he went to Tallahassee last weekend, and only his mother and sister joined him in Athens two weeks ago.

That could be significant, or it could be nothing.

“It’s not like I can bring all of them when I go to school,” Sweat told Bartow. “If it was up to me, I would go on all of the visits by myself.”

Regardless of whether or not family and location will play a role in his final choice, Virginia Tech will be tasked with showing Sweat that the future in Blacksburg is equally as bright as it is at Georgia, FSU and Ohio State.

All three of those programs occupy spots in the Top 10 of the rankings (via ESPN) and possess classes that rank among the top five in the country.

Meanwhile, Beamer’s Hokies limp into the finale against Virginia having lost six of their last nine games—including an ugly 6-3 loss in double overtime to hapless Wake Forest last weekend. Their recruiting efforts are also pedestrian in comparison to Sweat’s other finalists, as their class is rated fifth-best in the ACC and No. 28 nationally.

On the flip side, Sweat was in attendance at Ohio State when the Hokies defeated the Buckeyes in impressive fashion. However, the luster from that big win has worn off and given way to talk of Beamer being on the proverbial hot seat, as noted by Bill Bender of Sporting News.

Despite the issues surrounding the program, the 6’5”, 240-pound pass-rusher is giving the home state school every chance to convince him that it can provide the best opportunity for him to be successful in college.

It will be up to Beamer and his staff to convince Sweat that he isn’t going anywhere and, more importantly, that there is a viable plan in place to help get the Hokies back to the top of the ACC.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Buckeyes on Cusp of Special Season Entering Game Against Michigan

Michigan week has arrived, and it could not come at a better time for Ohio State.

Back-to-back closer-than-expected games against Indiana and Minnesota might have some wondering if the team is distracted by all the talk about playoffs, J.T. Barrett's Heisman chances and whether Braxton Miller will return next season. For one week at least, the sole focus is on beating the team up North.

Despite some grumblings among fans about what is wrong, the problem is not a lack of talent or coaching. This team is littered with elite-level players. It also has some of the best coaches in the business.

I would argue that if the Buckeyes win the Big Ten, this will be considered Urban Meyer’s greatest coaching performance of his tremendous career. That is a testament to all of his assistant coaches, including public enemy No. 1, defensive co-coordinator Luke Fickell.

Regardless, there is no doubt that the defense has looked vulnerable, especially against the run. Turnovers and special teams miscues are also impacting momentum during key parts of the game.

All things considered, the issues are not huge problems. Every team has flaws this season, and since the meltdown against Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes have taken care of business. Expecting perfection is unrealistic, but who says anyone in Buckeye Nation is reasonable?

Most fans want championships, and Meyer is paid to win them.  Ohio State is on the brink of accomplishing something really special. Pressure is mounting to finish the job the team failed to do last year. It is time to earn the paycheck.

Here are three reasons why the Buckeyes will beat Michigan and win the Big Ten title next week.

 

Leadership

The reality is the recent breakdowns are a result of a lack of discipline, which is what you would expect from a young team. It plays well for a stretch of time and then falls apart for a few series.

Fortunately, discipline issues are solved by having great leaders. Every championship team has a band of players at its heart and soul. These players are the glue that binds the team in crunch time. They drive the team through adversity and will the team to victory.

This is the foundation of Meyer’s coaching philosophy which he described to reporters in his post-hiring press conference: "Talent will get you about seven or eight wins. Discipline will start pushing that to nine. Then when you get leadership that's when magic starts happening. It's when you start getting rings and some really cool things are happening to your team."

Every player must do his part over the next two games, but there will be moments when special plays are needed to seize control of the games. This is when the leaders will shine.

Which Buckeyes will step up when called? Odds are Vonn Bell, Michael Bennett, Jeff Heuerman, Devin Smith and Joshua Perry will. Whether it is an interception, a sack, a key reception, a touchdown or a combination, one or all of these players will rise to the occasion.

 

Avoiding Turnovers

On the season, Ohio State is plus-3 in turnover margin, which is abysmal. The Buckeyes’ turnovers have been daggers, killing momentum and putting unneeded pressure on the defense. The turnovers have also allowed inferior teams like Indiana and Penn State to compete with the Buckeyes when they should have had a minimal shot at winning.

Just as Jalin Marshall improved his performance last week, expect Barrett and the rest of the offensive weapons to do a much better job at protecting the ball over the next two games.

Helping their cause is that Michigan and Wisconsin are not very good at taking the ball away. The Wolverines are plus-14 in turnover margin, and the Badgers are minus-2. Minnesota is plus-11, so should it make the Big Ten Championship, Ohio State needs to hold on to the ball better than it did in Minneapolis on November 15.

 

Run Defense

The Buckeyes’ run defense was torched by Jeremy Langford, David Cobb and Tevin Coleman, who rushed for a combined 510 yards and nine touchdowns. All three of these backs are good, but giving up that kind of production is inexcusable.

Expect the coaches to have the defense playing at a much higher level against the run over the next two games.  At the very least, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota will make it easier on them since all three teams are taking passing to new lows this season. The chart below highlights how bad these teams are in the air:

Team Passing Yards Per Game FBS ranking Michigan 162.8 113 Wisconsin 141.7 119 Minnesota 134.2 121

The formula for success against the run is not overly complicated. Ohio State should just load up the box and sell out to stop the run. The defensive line needs to clog the line of scrimmage and keep the big offensive linemen off the linebackers so they can make plays.

There also needs to be containment on the edges to force the runners back into the middle of the field. When this happens, Perry, Curtis Grant, Darron Lee and Raekwon McMillan need to shed their blockers and tackle well. If the defense does this effectively, the Buckeyes will comfortably win both games.

 

Analysis

When the College Football Playoff committee releases its rankings later today, Ohio State should remain No. 6.

Not many expected the team to be in this position after the loss to Virginia Tech, but now it is easy to understand why Meyer told reporters in a press conference on August 11: "If you had to say what's the difference between this team and last year's team, we're faster. It does have the feel of a very good team."

The Buckeyes are good, and this is now a two-game season for them. They must beat Michigan on Saturday and win the Big Ten championship next week against Wisconsin or Minnesota.

Nothing else matters.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Football: What the Aggies Should Be Thankful for in 2014

The Texas A&M football team is experiencing a season of transition as its young players gain experience. The Aggies still have a lot to be thankful for during the 2014 season. 

The Aggies are 7-4 during the regular season with a 3-4 record in the SEC. They have one game left in the regular season, which is against LSU on Thanksgiving Day. 

The game against LSU will help determine which bowl game the Aggies play in. With seven wins, they are bowl-eligible for the sixth season in a row. 

This is a look at a few things that the Aggies should be thankful for during this holiday season. 

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Jean Delance Commits to Oklahoma: What 4-Star 2016 Recruit Brings to Sooners

Just three days after receiving an offer from Oklahoma, rising Texas offensive lineman Jean Delance has committed to the Sooners. Head coach Bob Stoops secured a key commitment from the 2016 Lone Star State standout Tuesday, per Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.

The 6'5", 270-pound North Mesquite High School junior also holds offers from Baylor, Mississippi State, Ohio State, TCU, Texas Tech and others. He becomes the first member of Oklahoma's 2016 recruiting class, providing a blue-chip building block at its foundation.

Delance, a 4-star prospect rated 27th nationally among 2016 offensive tackles in 247Sports' composite rankings, picked up a Sooners scholarship offer Saturday while attending the team's 44-7 route of Kansas.

Oklahoma's rushing prowess was on full display throughout the matchup, as freshman running back Samaje Perine established a new NCAA all-time single-game rushing record with 427 yards on the ground.

The performance probably provided some extra incentive for Delance to pull the trigger on an early decision. The versatile lineman is an impressive athlete who clearly loves blocking downfield and should be able to comfortably approach 300 pounds by the time he hits the field in Norman.

Delance displays solid technique against pass-rushers but is largely more evolved as run-blocker. Elite reach and developing footwork offer evidence of top-level promise.

He spearheaded a North Mesquite offense that averaged nearly 240 rushing yards per game this fall, per Gabe Brooks of Scout.com.

In his own words, Delance brings plenty of potential to the table.

"A guy with good athleticism, upside, good attitude, good personality and all my best football is years down the road," he told Bartow.

His pledge provides a solid start for the Sooners' 2016 recruiting efforts. The team is set to welcome fellow Texas offensive tackle Bobby Evans to campus next year and appears to be piecing together the makings of a formidable offensive front for years to come.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Wolverines vs. Ohio State Buckeyes Complete Game Preview

Last week Michigan (5-6, 3-4 Big Ten) entered the fourth quarter leading 16-9 at home versus Maryland. It appeared that Brady Hoke had his team on track to win its third straight game and clinch a bowl berth. But Maryland (7-4, 4-3) rallied to score two touchdowns and prevailed 23-16.

The loss dropped Michigan below .500 with only one game left to play. Michigan heads to Columbus and needs to beat Ohio State (10-1, 7-0 Big Ten) to go bowling. Michigan’s season will end if Ohio State wins, and Hoke will most likely be fired shortly thereafter. A Michigan victory would extend its season and allow the team valuable practice time it desperately needs to prepare for next season—no matter who the coach is.

Michigan will face a motivated Ohio State team. Coach Urban Meyer needs a big victory to put the Buckeyes in position to make the inaugural College Football Playoff. Winning isn't enough; Ohio State needs to dominate with style and put lots of points on the scoreboard to impress the playoff committee.

A Michigan victory would reignite a rivalry that has grown dormant in recent years (since 2001, OSU is 10-2).

Brady Hoke will need the absolute best that his Michigan Men can muster to have any chance to prevail.

 

Date: Saturday, November 29, 2014

Time: Noon ET

Place: Ohio Stadium (104,944) Columbus, Ohio

Series vs. Ohio State: Michigan leads series 58-46-6

Television: ABC

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

Spread: Ohio State by 20 via Odds Shark

Live Stats:Gametracker

 

Last Meeting vs. Ohio State

Last season, after three quarters Michigan trailed Ohio State 35-21 before quarterback Devin Gardner engineered an epic fourth-quarter comeback at Michigan Stadium. Michigan scored 20 fourth-quarter points before failing on a two-point conversion attempt that would have put the Wolverines ahead with 32 seconds to play.

Gardner played with a foot injury that would force him to miss the team's bowl game. The 42-41 loss capped a disappointing 1-4 month of November for Michigan and was the beginning of a collapse that has continued through this season.


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

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Which 2015 Miami Commits Will Make Huge Impact in Backfield with Yearby?

The Miami Hurricanes have always been a powerhouse in college football, and they are looking to get back to their roots. With the emergence of stud freshman running back Joseph Yearby, the Canes are trying to add more weapons to help him next season.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder highlights the incoming class of running backs for the Hurricanes.

What kind of impact can these freshmen have next season?

Watch the video, and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. USC Trojans Complete Game Preview

The greatest intersectional rivalry in college football lost some luster last week, when both Notre Dame and USC dropped critical football games. For Brian Kelly's Irish, a third straight defeat came on senior day in Notre Dame Stadium. For Steve Sarkisian's Trojans, it came at the hands of their crosstown rivals, with UCLA trouncing USC, their third straight loss in the all-important matchup.

But there's no time for either team to dwell on a difficult defeat. Not when they're playing for the Jeweled Shillelagh. For the 86th time, Notre Dame and USC will battle, in a rivalry that's swung like a pendulum over the past 50 years. 

After two consecutive ties to close out the 1960s, the Trojans dominated the next decade and change, winning 11 of 13 games. But the Irish struck back, winning 11 straight between 1983 and 1993, before a 17-17 tie in 1994 rebooted the series. 

From there, the Trojans and Irish traded three-game winning streaks, before the Pete Carroll era took hold. USC won the next eight games, blowing out the Irish in 2002 in a battle of Top 10 teams. Outside of two one-score games (none more memorable than the Irish's 34-31 loss in 2005), this series served as a stark reminder that the Trojans were an elite program and Notre Dame was not. The Trojans blew out Notre Dame in six of eight games by 20 points or more, with five coming by 30 or more. 

But that all changed when Brian Kelly took over the Irish. With Pete Carroll in Seattle before the NCAA came down hard on the USC football program for improper benefits, Notre Dame did its best to flip the rivalry again, winning in the Coliseum for the first time in a decade on a rainy night in 2010. 

Kelly has now won three of his four meetings with USC. Saturday he'll meet Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian for the first time, in a game both teams need to help salvage a season. 

Let's get you ready for rivalry weekend. 

 

Date: Saturday, November 29

Time: 3:30 p.m. ET

Place: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

TV: FOX

Radio: IMG College Sports, SiriusXM Channel 129

Spread: USC by 7, according to Odds Shark.

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.  

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An Iron Bowl Friendship That Will Warm Your Heart

Meet Kayla and Corbyn, two friends on either side of a bitter rivalry between Auburn and Alabama who have been brought together by their struggles. Despite their battles with cancer, both Kayla and Corbyn have been fulfilling their dreams of attending their respective schools. 

Watch to hear their brave story and to see them receive a surprise gift.

Please help support their foundation, Open Hands Overflowing Hearts, which works to raise money toward research to help the fight against pediatric cancer. Open Hands Overflowing Hearts is holding a fundraising event on December 7, entitled "Answer to Cancer." There is also a competition between Auburn and Alabama to determine which university can raise the most money for pediatric cancer research.

For more information, please visit the Open Hands Overflowing Hearts website.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: What the Trojans Should Be Thankful for in 2014

Just one game remains in USC football's first season under head coach Steve Sarkisian, and this inaugural campaign of a new era has not been without its trials. 

But amid the disappointment of some heartbreaking losses and a rivalry-game defeat, the Trojans have plenty for which to be thankful in this past season.

USC is approaching an important crossroads in the program's path back to the Pac-12's pinnacle. A bevy of young talent already in the fold, combined with a new wave of highly touted additions on deck, has USC positioned for a rebound.   

 

The End of NCAA Sanctions

The most severe NCAA sanctions levied against any football program since Auburn in the early 1990s officially ended on June 10—and not a moment too soon.

The full burden of three recruiting cycles with just 15 scholarships fell on the 2014 roster. USC spent much of the season hovering below 50 available scholarship players. 

Sarkisian has been adamant that the limited numbers are no excuse for losses—"Our guys are in plenty good shape and condition to play and play at a high level," he said—but USC's had a tendency to wear down in fourth quarters.

Sarkisian and his staff are taking full advantage of the 25-scholarship allotment available to them this year. The Trojans' 2015 signing class is ranked No. 1 among Pac-12 programs and No. 9 nationally

USC has verbal commitments from eight 4-star prospects, including defensive tackle Jacob Daniel, defensive back Isaiah Langley and quarterback Ricky Town.  

The Trojans are also in the mix for more top-tier recruits, including a number of 5-star standouts to join current pledge Chuma Edoga. Among USC's remaining targets are cornerback Iman Marshall, defensive lineman Rasheem Green and wide receiver Christian Kirk.

 

The Many Talents of Su'a Cravens

When a roster is as depleted as USC's, it helps to have players capable of fulfilling multiple roles. Sophomore Su'a Cravens has done just about everything for the Trojans defense this season, barring prepping equipment on game day—and I have no proof he hasn't done that. 

"He's unbelievably valuable," Sarkisian said. "We've got a pretty special guy on our hands in Su'a."

Cravens spent 2013 at safety but this year transitioned to a hybrid role that has him playing "Sam" linebacker and nickelback.

USC loses nothing depending on the spot Cravens is playing, and his statistics reflect that. He has 56 tackles, a team-high 15 tackles for loss, five sacks and a pair of interceptions. 

"One week, he can play the run," Sarkisian said. "Second week, he can be a blitzer coming off the edge. The next week, he's in a nickel role covering slot receivers."

Sarkisian added that recruiting players with similar skill sets is "imperative" in the current landscape of the Pac-12. 

"Every week, you get a new challenge, a different scheme, and you want players that can play and do multiple things," he said. "Su'a is a primary example of that."

 

John "JuJu" Smith and Adoree' Jackson 

The two most highly rated prospects in USC's Pac-12-leading 2014 recruiting class did not disappoint in their debut campaigns. 

John "JuJu" Smith emerged as the Trojans' second receiving option behind star Nelson Agholor and appears ready to take over as the No. 1 target when Agholor leaves for the NFL. 

He's been steady throughout the season, catching four or more passes in nine games, and is showing off more of a big-play ability in the latter half of the season, scoring all five of his touchdowns after the midway point. 

Smith has all the makings of the next great USC receiver.

Fellow freshman Adoree' Jackson has made an immediate impact, playing in all three phases at various times this season.

The bulk of Jackson's responsibility has been on defense, where he stood out as the team's lockdown cornerback for much of the season.  He has a keen nose for the ball and plays a physical style exceeding his 185-pound frame. 

Jackson is also one of the nation's most electrifying kick returners. At 27.7 yards per attempt, he leads the Pac-12. 

Indeed, there's plenty that USC can be thankful for heading into the season finale Saturday against Notre Dame. And this is just the first course—the Trojans could be ready to feast in 2015. 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of CFBstats.com. Recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: What the Trojans Should Be Thankful for in 2014

Just one game remains in USC football's first season under head coach Steve Sarkisian , and this inaugural campaign of a new era has not been without its trials...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Kenny Bell Injury: Updates on Nebraska Star's Head and Return

When Nebraska and Iowa lock horns in a Big Ten clash Friday, the Cornhuskers may very well be without top wide receiver Kenny Bell.    

According to Brian Rosenthal of The Lincoln Journal Star, the senior wideout is questionable for the contest after suffering a head injury:

Per Scott Dochterman of The Gazette, Bell suffered the injury after getting hit during Nebraska's 28-24 loss to Minnesota on Saturday:

The Huskers are a run-first team with running back Ameer Abdullah accounting for most of the offense, but Bell allows them to maintain the threat of throwing down the field.

Bell has 37 catches for 664 yards and three touchdowns on the season.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Updated SEC Power Rankings for Rivalry Week

Rivalry week is upon us, and both divisions in the SEC are still up for grabs.

No. 4 Mississippi State has to beat intra-state rival Ole Miss on Saturday afternoon in Oxford and then hope that No. 1 Alabama falls to Auburn in order to win the SEC West; otherwise, the Crimson Tide will represent the division in the SEC Championship Game next weekend in Atlanta.

In the East, it's simple. If Missouri beats Arkansas on Friday afternoon in Columbia, it will win its second straight division title. If the Hogs stay hot, Georgia will win its third division title in four years.

Before we get to the rivalry week main course, let's get your prepared for the final weekend of the regular season by power ranking the SEC.

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Rapid-Fire Predictions for College Football's Biggest Rivalry Games

It's the most exciting week of the college football season: rivalry week. This is when teams are playing for more than just wins; they're playing for pride and bragging rights. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee give you their picks for who will win their rivalries this weekend.

Which one of these matchups are you most excited to watch?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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