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How Miami's Recruiting Is Impacted by Firing Al Golden

The Miami Hurricanes opted to make a dramatic midseason move Sunday after an embarrassing 58-0 loss to Clemson, firing head coach Al Golden.

Golden, who arrived in Coral Gables from Temple University in 2010, finished above .500 twice in four full seasons with the school. He lost more matchups than he won against ACC opponents, capped off by Saturday's devastating defeat. 

Miami Director of Athletics Blake James released a public statement shortly after the decision to name assistant Larry Scott interim head coach.

"We have a proud tradition of excellence at Miami, not just in football but in all sports, and we want to compete for ACC and national championships," James said. "I simply believe that now is the time to bring the Hurricane Family together and rally behind our young men.”

It's been a while since Miami legitimately joined the national championship chase. The Hurricanes haven't claimed a conference title since leaving the Big East in 2004, finishing no better than 9-3 during the past decade.

Clearly, this a program at a crossroads right now. You can be sure that's weighed heavily on recruiting efforts.

Doubt has swirled around Golden's regime for years now, and a 6-7 result last season created more speculation than ever. Despite ever-present rumblings about Miami's future, both in the short and long term, the Hurricanes managed to maintain solid momentum with prospects.

Golden signed the ACC's third-best recruiting class last February and actually held the top overall spot in national 2016 composite class rankings for a significant stretch of this cycle (it now rates 11th). Miami reached 20 commitments well before other programs, though the quality-vs.-quantity argument certainly came into play for a group loaded with 3-star recruits. 

Repercussions of the coaching change reverberated immediately on the recruiting trail.

Longtime Hurricanes wide receiver commit Ahmmon Richards, who has 37 touchdown receptions since 2014, per MaxPreps, backed off his verbal pledge Sunday:

Other Miami commits, such as prized in-state wide receiver Sam Bruce, rallied around the program.

"I didn't commit to no damn coach! I committed to the U," he tweeted, per CanesWarning.com.

While the Miami brand still resonates with recruits, it's undoubtedly lost some of the luster that once shined bright a decade ago. The program is just 60-47 since Larry Coker lost his job, failing to win a single bowl game under the direction of Golden and Randy Shannon, who is now a Florida Gators assistant.

The challenge is twofold for Miami. The Hurricanes must convince prospects to trust in this process moving forward, even though the man who will provide that sales pitch probably isn't on campus yet.

For his faults as a game-day coach, Golden at least held accountability on the recruiting trail. His staff is still in place for now, but rapport between the team and young targets will be tested in the months before national signing day, especially as assistants continue their careers elsewhere:

Bruce, who tweeted the message above, also shifted attention to how Miami will handle holdovers during an expansive program change. He seemed to stress the importance that Hurricanes wide receivers coach Kevin Beard carried in his recruitment process:

The pressure is on Miami to hit a home run with its next hire following two lackluster tenures. For recruits who plan to arrive on campus in January, it's pivotal for administrators to find the right fit fast.

"I'm just curious really to see who they bring in and how they change things. I only have a few months to make a final decision since I'm graduating early, so I'm hoping my questions are answered soon," Hurricanes linebacker commit Zach McCloud told Corey Bender of Scout.com.

The waiting game will likely inspire multiple Miami pledges to explore alternative collegiate options and line up campus visits. Prospects would be wise to at least develop a firm Plan B in case they aren't on the same page with whichever coach takes over. 

Indianapolis Colts assistant Rob Chudzinski, Memphis head coach Justin Fuente and former Miami head coach Butch Davis are among the names being floated around early as possible candidates. Plenty others, outlandish and realistic alike, will certainly emerge as things evolve.

Michigan's quick ascension under Jim Harbaugh has translated into a top-10 class on the 2016 recruiting trail, so don't underestimate the potential for immediate results if Miami locates its ideal new leader. 

The Hurricanes are centrally located in one of America's most fertile recruiting regions, which makes this job an attractive opportunity for any coach who appreciates the perks of capitalizing on an excellent local talent base.

High school standouts were barely through kindergarten when Miami last enjoyed glory on a national stage. The goal of returning to prominence has fallen far short under the past two coaching staffs, pushing those successes further distant in the rearview mirror.

Miami's new coach must do more than improve the fortunes of a football team. He'll need to change the narrative with recruits, offering opportunities to become building blocks for a proud program that is forced to start from scratch once again.

 

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

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Week 9 Will Be True Test of Jim Harbaugh's Leadership at Michigan

Asked at his Monday press conference about the controversial ejection of linebacker Joe Bolden for targeting that preceded Michigan State's improbable win over his team the last time it played, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh opted for a unique analogy.

"Not into the 'if this, if that' type of scenarios," Harbaugh said. "If worms had machine guns, then birds wouldn’t be scared of them."

Harbaugh couldn't recall whether he got the line from a book, a movie or, what's most likely, his own imagination. But regardless of where the unlikely comparison came from, it's served as an overriding message to the Wolverines heading into this weekend's crucial matchup with Minnesota, which will play a large role in defining the trajectory of the remainder of Michigan's season.

Because for as heartbreaking as the Wolverines' loss to the Spartans was, with Jalen Watts-Jackson returning a fumbled punt as time expired to give Michigan State a 27-23 victory in a game that was seemingly all but over, Michigan still has—at least—five games left in the 2015 season, and potentially plenty to play for.

And while Harbaugh may not be into "if this, if that" hypotheticals, it's not hard to imagine the path these Wolverines would be following if they were still under the direction their past leadership. In each of the last two years with former head coach Brady Hoke at the helm, Michigan's seasons were marked with obvious turning points, each of which resulted in apparent tailspins, as evidenced by the ensuing results.

Two years ago, it came by way of a 43-40 overtime loss to Penn State after what was an otherwise promising 5-0 start to the 2013 campaign. Those Wolverines, however, responded by losing five of their final seven games to close the season, including a 31-14 drubbing by Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to seal a 7-6 record on the year.

In 2014, Michigan's first speed bump came much sooner, with the Wolverines getting shut out by Notre Dame in a 31-0 blowout in just the second week of the season. Michigan never truly bounced back, losing three of its next four games and three of its final five, including back-to-back losses to Maryland and Ohio State to close its 5-7 season—Hoke's last in Ann Arbor.

With the dramatic fashion in which the Wolverines lost to Michigan State two weeks ago—which was followed by either a timely or untimely bye week depending on your point of view—Michigan could once again see its season take one of two paths.

Under Harbaugh, however, the Wolverines' prospects are much more promising than they were with Hoke, and the first-year Michigan head coach said he liked what he saw from his team in practice during last week's bye.

"It was very sharp and guys were mellowing out," Harbaugh said. "Felt like we improved from where we were on Tuesday and Wednesday."

Not that Harbaugh would state it publicly if the case was otherwise, but at the very least, the former Stanford and San Francisco 49ers head coach has a track record when it comes to his teams bouncing back. In Harbaugh's first three seasons with the 49ers from 2011-2013, his teams lost consecutive games just twice, with San Francisco's 8-8 campaign—which included four losses in its final five games—in 2014 looking more like an outlier than anything else.

But while the NFL game is different from the college one, Harbaugh's resume with the Cardinal also speaks for itself, as his teams lost consecutive games just once in his final two seasons in Palo Alto. In perhaps the most analogous situation to where the Wolverines currently find themselves, Harbaugh's last Stanford team responded to losing a Top 10 matchup to Oregon in the fifth week of the season by reeling off wins in its final eight games, closing the 2010 campaign with a 12-1 record and a victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

It may not be an apples-to-apples comparison, but this Michigan team certainly has a lot left to play for, and despite already having two losses on its record, the team isn't necessarily out of the picture for the College Football Playoff.

Harbaugh, however, isn't concerning himself with what remains past this weekend's go-round with the Golden Gophers and the battle for the Little Brown Jug, which Harbaugh remembers well from his playing days as a quarterback with the Wolverines.

"One of the great trophies," Harbaugh said of the reward for the annual meeting between Michigan and Minnesota. "I've always remembered it that way and we'll approach it the same way—that we want it."

Should Michigan—which still possesses the nation's top-ranked defense—beat the Gophers, it could be accomplishing more than obtaining a trophy and ridding itself of the sour taste of its loss to the Spartans. With Big Ten East front-runners Ohio State and Michigan State still yet to play one another and the Wolverines' annual battle with the Buckeyes still ahead, Michigan still has a chance to play itself into conference championship contention.

"We’re looking to define our season over the next number of games that we play," Harbaugh said.

The opportunity to do just that starts Saturday.

If Michigan win out—well, let's stop right there. After all, we already know how Harbaugh feels about hypotheticals.

 

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

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5-Star Isaac Nauta Discusses Official Visits, Criteria for Making Final Decision

BRADENTON, Fla. — With a little more than two months left before he will enroll early at the school of his choice, 5-star tight end Isaac Nauta is still sorting through his options.

He’s already taken official visits to Georgia, Michigan and Ole Miss. He's slated to visit both Alabama and TCU next month. His decision will seemingly come down to those five schools.

Coaches from four of his five favorites—all except TCU—were in attendance for IMG Academy's 28-20 win over Paramus Catholic (New Jersey) last weekend.

The 6’4”, 237-pounder admits his decision will be tough, but he’s identified a couple of factors that will be critical in picking the best school for him.

“I just try to break it down to two simple things. It’s where I get a gut feeling and then the other one is just being around good people,” Nauta told Bleacher Report. “Every school has good facilities and good coaches. It’s being around good people, that’s what makes college fun. I’d like to go to a place where they win a little bit too.”

One thing he’s paid close attention to on his visits is how each school is using the tight end.

“I just want to see what they do with the tight end,” Nauta said. “No matter what [coaches] tell you, coaches aren’t going to change their scheme for you. If they tell me they are going to use the tight end, I’d love to see it on the field.”

In the offseason, the ninth-ranked player in the 2016 recruiting class left his home state of Georgia prior to transferring to Florida powerhouse IMG Academy. The Bulldogs have been the perceived leaders since he backed off an early pledge to Florida State in the summer.

He was in attendance for the Bulldogs’ home loss to Alabama. While the Bulldogs have faded after a strong start, he admits that he’s very comfortable with the staff and the direction the program is headed in.

“Obviously, for them, after that Alabama game it’s been a little bit of a struggle,” Nauta explained. "They had a chance to tie it up with Tennessee, but they couldn’t make a play at the end. They are struggling a little bit, but overall, I like the program. I like the coaching staff over there. I think they have a good plan, but it’s just a matter of getting the guys.”

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh—who was present during last weekend's game between IMG and Paramus—has made Nauta a priority in this cycle. While Nauta saw the Wolverines' shocking loss to rival Michigan State in person, he likes Harbaugh’s history of using the tight end as a featured option in his offense.

“Coach Harbaugh, he’s really big on using the tight end,” Nauta said. “He’s proven it everywhere he’s been, whether that was in the NFL or at Stanford. He’s always used the tight end and it’s a pro scheme too, so that will prepare you for the league.”

He also admits that the visit to Ann Arbor exceeded his expectations.

“Besides [the loss], it was a great visit,” Nauta said. “They showed me a really good time. I knew I would like it up there, but I didn’t think I would like it as much as I did.”

One lure to Ole Miss is the fact that he’s currently playing with 5-star quarterback and current Rebels pledge Shea Patterson, who has been in his ear about teaming up again at the next level.

“I’ve gotten to build a little bit of chemistry with [4-star receiver] Drake [Davis] and Isaac over the summer and the other guys since I’ve been here,” Patterson said. “It’s been cool really. I just try to have fun with it. Recruiting can be stressful, so I think it’s important to keep that levity with it when we joke around about it.”

Nauta is also looking forward to his final two visits to Alabama and TCU.

“With Alabama, I’ve never been there for a game,” Nauta said. “I just want to see the game-day atmosphere there. I want to see if it’s a place I could live for four years. I do know that they use their tight end, just because of what they have done in the past with them. Obviously, their offense hasn’t changed with [head coach Nick] Saban being there. With TCU, that’s a potent offense, so I just want to see how they would use the tight end if I were to go there.”

Nauta also noted that the official visits are critical in helping him make his final decision—which is scheduled to come during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January.

With only a few games left in his high school career, he also notes how his offseason transfer to IMG is preparing him for the jump that awaits him in a few months.

“It’s been great to go against all of these guys on a daily basis,” Nauta said. “Sometimes we will score in two plays, and the windows for opportunity are so small because we’ve got so many good guys. But that makes it more challenging and more competitive, and that’s the way it’s going to be in college.”

 

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

 

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Meet Baylor's New Playoff Hope, Quarterback Jarrett Stidham

Back in February 2015, as a part of Baylor's national signing day, head coach Art Briles described Jarrett Stidham with a few adjectives.

Dependable. Accurate. Intelligent. Competitive. Great words to follow any quarterback, let alone an incoming freshman.

Eight months later, that dependable, accurate, intelligent, competitive quarterback Briles recruited officially will take over starting duties for the No. 2-ranked Bears. As Seth Russell prepares to sit out with a season-ending neck injury, Baylor's offense is now in the hands of a 19-year-old true freshman.

A 19-year-old true freshman who the people around him say was built for this very moment.

"Everybody's talking about it here," said Ryan Cox, assistant director of athletic communications at Tarleton State University, located in Stidham's hometown of Stephenville, Texas. "We were at a local diner, and Baylor was playing on TV, but somebody wanted to watch something different. You don't watch anything else when Baylor's playing, especially when Jarrett's playing.

"Everybody here is rooting for him. We know what he can do. There's not a better situation in the country where a top-five team can have a backup come in and won't lose a step."

On Nov. 5, let the games—and the run for a national championship with a young upstart calling plays—officially begin.

 

'He's ready'

Russell's injury was one that hit Baylor hard, as he was the leader of an offense that has scored at least 45 points in all seven games and 60 or more points five times this season. Russell threw for 2,104 yards and 29 touchdowns and also rushed for 402 yards and six scores this season. Baylor's offense produced mind-boggling numbers under Russell, averaging 686.1 yards and 61.1 points per game.

And now with Russell sidelined, the torch has been passed slightly prematurely. The good news for Baylor: Stidham's stats as a freshman during mop time have been phenomenal. Stidham, who has appeared in all seven games, has completed 24 of 28 passes (86 percent) for 331 yards and six touchdowns.

Dependable. Accurate. Intelligent. Competitive.

"The thing about it, he's a capable player," Briles said in a Monday conference call. "He's ready."

Stidham's high school resume tells a lot. He was the nation's No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the 2015 class behind Texas A&M's Kyler Murray. He accounted for 3,903 total yards (2,934 passing) and 50 touchdowns (35 passing) in a shortened senior season and for 3,434 total yards (2,613 passing) and 44 touchdowns (30 passing) as a junior at Stephenville.

As a sophomore, Stidham backed up current Texas State quarterback Tyler Jones and spent most of his time at wide receiver. He caught 11 touchdowns and helped Stephenville win a state championship under Joseph Gillespie, who now coaches linebackers at Tulsa.

Playing receiver early in his high school varsity career may have been one of the best things for Stidham. It's his ability to learn the receiver position that may serve as a huge advantage to connect with Baylor's star-studded receiver group, consisting of Corey Coleman, KD Cannon and Jay Lee.

There's chemistry with Stidham and his receivers. He showed what he could do during the summer of 2014, when he—then a Texas Tech commit—competed in the Elite 11 finals and not only dazzled those in attendance, but also pushed for Elite 11 MVP honors.

"Jarrett was a huge favorite of the staff last year," said Brian Stumpf, vice president of football events for Student Sports and one of the leaders of the Elite 11. "He has tremendous makeup in terms of composure, disposition, competitive nature and a feel for the position.

"Coming out of the [Elite 11], you looked at Jarrett as a kid who, if he continues to mature and fill out physically and avoids major injury or non-football issues, he has a chance to be as good as anyone in that class."

That chance now comes in a matter of days, on the road against Kansas State.

 

Competitive, yet collected

Exactly one year ago, Stidham had successful surgery on a broken throwing hand. He made a full recovery in time to join Baylor for spring workouts after graduating high school in December 2014.

Nothing seems to stop Stidham when he's on a mission to achieve a goal. That was the attitude he built with his teammates at Stephenville, according to 2017 running back Kaegun Williams, the nation's No. 5 all-purpose back who played two seasons with Stidham before he transferred to Cedar Hill (Texas) High School.

"He was a really fierce competitor," Williams said. "He tried to do whatever it took to get the win. The year he hurt his hand, you could tell he tried to play through the pain. He never wore it on his face, but I think he started to realize if he kept on playing, he could hurt the team more. He didn't want to do that."

His competitive nature is one of the reasons why he attracted more than 20 offers. Cox, who covered Stidham's games as a freelance writer before accepting the Tarleton State position, said it'll be the "three C's" that'll keep him in the limelight at Baylor.

"He's calm, cool and collected," Cox said. "He never gets too high or low; he's always on an even level. He knows what he's supposed to do on the field, and he goes out and executes."

It helps having Art Briles and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles in Stidham's corner. All three have ties to the city of Stephenville. Art Briles was the head coach at Stephenville High School from 1988-99, where he won four state championships. Kendal Briles was the starting quarterback for Stephenville's 1999 state-champion team.

"I think with Art Briles being a Stephenville guy, they had connections already," Cox said. "Art's going to help him along the way. It's a big situation for [Stidham], but with all of the support around him, he'll be just fine."

Stidham's early graduation proved to be a blessing in disguise, as he learned the system during spring workouts. Stidham's performance against Kansas showed that if pushed into the starting spot, he'd be ready. He completed nine of 10 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns in a 66-7 win. His first pass as a college quarterback came in the season opener against SMU, and it went for a 42-yard touchdown to Chris Platt.

In short, Stidham may have some bumps early, but he's ready for the challenge overall. And there's a ton of confidence in the freshman among the coaching staff.

"He's beyond years, maturity wise," Art Briles said. "He doesn't seem like a freshman, act like a freshman or perform like a freshman. He's a guy who's instinctively and athletically ready to work.

"Any time you can step on the field in game situations, it certainly gives you some comfort. He's a guy we felt all along would be in line to be a productive player for us. If it's time to help the team right now for him, then that's what he's ready to do, and that's what our team will rally around."

 

Developing cohesiveness

Williams describes Stidham as a "very strong leader," someone who won't have a problem garnering respect from the upperclassmen.

"He's a leader vocally, and he shows it through his game," Williams said. "He took me under his wing and helped me to get established into the offense. He made our group successful, and I think he can contribute to the team by doing the same for Baylor."

Having the bye week to prepare for Kansas State will be huge for Stidham. Art Briles said the extra time will allow Stidham to get extra reps with center Kyle Fuller, and the line will experience a chance in play-calling cadence.

To add, Stidham will have more opportunity to throw with the first-team offense. He's been used to throwing with the second team. Developing cohesiveness with a new group of receivers, running backs and offensive linemen could mean the difference in Baylor remaining a national title contender or a team fighting to stay in the Top 25 poll.

"It makes all the difference in the world, especially with the offensive line we have and the dynamic skill people involved," Art Briles said. "It certainly takes a lot of pressure off that position."

Stumpf doesn't expect a major dropoff with Stidham taking over starting duties. He felt that Stidham had a chance to finish his career statistically as "an all-time NCAA great" if he was put into a starting role early.

"He's underrated athletically," Stumpf said, "and having played wide receiver as a sophomore, he is a kid who you can call a football player, not just a quarterback."

If Stidham can be that go-to playmaker for Baylor that he was at Stephenville, the Bears will stay in contention for a national championship. It's his time to either sink or swim.

And many aren't expecting him to sink.

"You're never concerned with a player like Jarrett," Cox said. "He's got the full package from ability to mindset to leadership. He makes players better around him.

"This is his time. The people in Stephenville know he'll be ready."

 

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

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SEC Football Q&A: Is Mark Richt Really a Possibility at Miami?

The coaching silly season in college football has been accelerated this year, thanks to the sudden dismissal of former USC head coach Steve Sarkisian, the resignation of South Carolina legend Steve Spurrier and the recent departure of former Miami head coach Al Golden.

Those three rather high-profile jobs opening up, along with Maryland, Illinois and a high-upside group of five job in UCF has made late October feel like mid-December in the coaching speculation business.

Where will Miami turn? That question along with the prospect of the SEC being left out of the College Football Playoff are addressed in Bleacher Report's weekly SEC Q&A.

 

While this may get confused with the asinine "Mark Richt is on the hot seat" talk, let's first try to separate the two conversations.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt isn't on the hot seat, isn't getting fired and isn't coaching for his job down the stretch in 2015. He just got raises for himself and his staff, completed the tough task of getting an indoor practice facility approved and, while not a national championship contender, is still in the conversation in the SEC East.

He is a former Miami player, though, and knows the sunshine state quite well after working on the Florida State staff from 1990-2000.

Because of that, his name has been bandied about in the Miami talk, including from USA Today's Dan Wolken.

Unless some serious tension arises between himself and the Georgia administration—you know, like last winter when he played hardball and won in the days leading up to the Belk Bowl win over Louisville—there's no reason to think he becomes so unhappy that he takes a step down to a lesser job like Miami.

Make no mistake, that's what Miami is.

The Hurricanes haven't won 10 or more games in a season since joining the ACC in 2004, don't have facilities comparable to Georgia and whoever takes the job will have similar pressure to what currently exists in Athens.

Why would he move?

Richt is going to be mentioned because of his ties. But as Wolken mentioned in his list of candidates, that's about the only reason to consider him a candidate.

 

I generally don't like to speculate about specific College Football Playoff scenarios because it's almost impossible to know the landscape of the sport once the season wraps up.

But this is a rather simple one.

Yes, one-loss Notre Dame would get the nod over a two-loss SEC champion seven days a week and twice on Sunday.

Think about all Notre Dame has gone through this year. They lost running back Greg Bryant to academics before the season, lost his replacement Tarean Folston to injury during the season, moved C.J. Prosise to full-time running back and all he's done is rush for 922 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Malik Zaire out? No problem. All sophomore DeShone Kizer has done is throw 10 touchdowns and only four picks in a pinch while keeping the Irish in the mix.

Those are just a few of the six season-ending injuries suffered by Fighting Irish players this year. Through it all, they're still 6-1 with a close road loss to undefeated Clemson on its resume, has a solid win over USC and would need to get by ranked foes Temple, Pitt and Stanford to finish as a one-loss team.

Would a two-loss SEC champ have a tougher schedule? I'm not even sure at this point based on the inconsistent nature of some of the middle-of-the-pack teams in the conference like Tennessee, Georgia, Texas A&M and Arkansas. 

Even if the hypothetical two-loss SEC champ's schedule is tougher, it's not nearly enough to make up for that second loss—which wouldn't be on Notre Dame's resume.

 

Definitely Auburn.

Texas A&M (5-2) and Kentucky (4-3) should go to bowl games based on their future schedules. The only sure-fire win left on the docket for Auburn (4-3) is a home tilt with Idaho during the next-to-last week of the season.

Could the Tigers upset the Aggies, Georgia or Ole Miss this weekend? Sure. 

The offense looks much better with Sean White at quarterback. As long as the wide receivers hold on to the football—which evidently is a lot to ask after last week's performance vs. Arkansas—they should at least be competitive in those games.

Make no mistake, though. They would be upsets.

The good news for the Tigers is that "Buck" Carl Lawson, who has been out ever since the second quarter of the season opener vs. Louisville, could be back soon to help boost a defense that's been horrendous this season, per Tiger Talk (h/t AL.com). The Tigers rank last in the SEC in total defense (430.6 YPG), third-down defense (47.42 percent) and red-zone touchdowns allowed (21).

Head coach Gus Malzahn's crew needs a win to earn a bowl game and, more importantly, bowl practices. This week for Ole Miss would be a good time to do it, so that it can also gain a little momentum for the stretch run in November.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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College Football Playoff Notebook: The Calm Before the Storm

This seems like the appropriate time to remind you that the College Football Playoff selection committee despises your favorite college football team. 

It’s the lack of quality wins, the lack of defense, the lack of offense, the turnover differential, the analytics it probably made up an hour ago on a cocktail napkin, the uniforms and the way the mascot carries himself or herself on the sidelines. All of it.

And so, when you settle into your favorite chair next Tuesday evening for the reveal of the selection committee’s first Top 25 of the year, with your cold beverage in one hand and your outrage cannon in the other, just know that this is personal. This can be the only explanation.

Well, that or the reality that picking a College Football Playoff at the end of October is an impossible task.

In fact, as the selection committee revs its engines on another season, keep in mind what next Tuesday evening’s broadcast is all about: Money. Lots and lots of money. 

It’s about generating interest in college football’s still-new postseason, which it will most certainly do. It’s about selling ad space on ESPN, which it will most certainly do. It’s about generating just enough controversy to spike storylines that can carry us through Thanksgiving, all the way until early December, when the actual College Football Playoff is revealed.

Oh, it will do that.

With these simple truths fully accounted for, it is impossible not to be supercharged for the playoff reboot. This process—for all of its faults and the unknown—is still wildly exciting. Despite knowing the distance still to travel, each and every Top 25 released—starting on November 3—will be required viewing. It’s intoxicating.

Deep down, we know a ranking this far in advance means little to nothing—and yet we can’t stay away. Slowly but surely, the interest will amplify. November will somehow morph into December, and these money-grabs—I mean early rankings, sorry—will mean everything.

It will be heartbreaking for some. Infuriating for others. A tease for most. For a small number of fanbases six weeks from now, it will be pure joy. 

And it all starts next Tuesday. See you then.

As for other observations on the playoff, here is the final notebook before we do it live.

 

Arrow Pointing Up: Clemson

In all of my years watching football, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more lopsided game between two conference foes than what unfolded between Clemson and Miami. That was demolition at its finest. It cost Al Golden his job.

For Clemson, this colossal drubbing was a statement of sorts. And with the selection committee readying its rankings, the Tigers showcased talent, depth and, above all, balance.

Granted, burying this Miami team in a pile of points isn’t exactly the ultimate resume boost. But the way they went about it was. This was a clinic. 

With the ACC’s strength suddenly in question—and Florida State’s loss to Georgia Tech did not help matters on Saturday—these style points won’t hurt in the eyes of the committee. If the Tigers keep this up, there will be zero questions about resume or whether they belong in college football’s top four regardless of what its primary competition does next.

 

Arrow Pointing Down: Utah

The Utes’ College Football Playoff hopes did not die in Los Angeles. But, in falling 42-24 to USC, the caravan hit a flat tire. Well, maybe four flat tires. And the bumper fell off.

While the hype is not nearly as popular as it was a week ago, don’t jump off just yet.

The good news for Utah is that there is still ample time to repair matters. The other bit of good news is that Kyle Whittingham’s team is still a game clear of UCLA in the Pac-12 South. With games against Oregon State, Washington, Arizona, UCLA and Colorado remaining, Utah is poised to run the table until the Pac-12 Championship Game.

The problem now, however, is that the room for error is essentially erased. And perhaps the other unfair reality is that Utah simply does not have the brand recognition to get the benefit of the doubt. I hate this part of this exercise, but it’s undeniable.

 

Updated College Football Playoff Projection

You don't have to wait until next Tuesday to be outraged. Here is my updated College Football Playoff projection, here for all your outrage needs.

For the record, Stanford is giving me the most fits not being involved. If David Shaw's team finishes out without another loss, it will have a fascinating case in the current climate. Heck, given the chaos still to come, the Cardinal could be near the top by the time the dust clears. For now, however, Stanford is on the outside.

LSU is also very much in the mix as well, of course. A win over Alabama on the road in Week 10 would change everything.

Let the outrage commence.

  1. Ohio State
  2. Baylor
  3. Clemson
  4. Alabama

 

The Seth Russell Effect: Now What for Baylor?

On Monday, Baylor announced that starting quarterback Seth Russell would miss the rest of the season. Russell suffered a neck injury on Saturday, and it will require season-ending surgery.

“Seth exemplifies the spirit and will of our football team,” Baylor head coach Art Briles said of Russell in a release, “and through this our team will keep that spirit alive and well for him.”

Russell has been nothing short of brilliant. He leads the nation in pass efficiency and total touchdowns, and he is essentially at or near the top of every major QB statistic. 

The loss is enormous—the latest in a brutal year for injuries. On that note, we wish him a full recovery.

However, the show must go on for Baylor.

The conductor of this show will be none other than Jarrett Stidham, one of the nation’s elite quarterback recruits from the past class. Stidham has looked fabulous in his limited action for Baylor. Thus far, he has more touchdowns than incompletions. Briles has also been unwavering in his confidence of the frosh from the day he stepped foot on campus. 

(Translation: This is very unfortunate news to stomach, but not many teams have this kind of luxury as a contingency plan.)

In terms of the impact this has on the playoff, it’s significant. Although parallels will be drawn to J.T. Barrett’s injury last season, the circumstances between Ohio State and Baylor, at least momentarily, are drastically different. 

If Baylor wins out under Stidham—regardless of how he plays—it will be in the playoff. Plain and simple. That was not the case for the Buckeyes last year as they attempted to rebound under Cardale Jones. They needed style points in the worst way and found it in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Baylor doesn’t need style points. It just needs to win.

The Big 12’s back-loaded schedule will make for a wild November. After a bye, Baylor will play three Top-15 teams including Oklahoma, at Oklahoma State and at TCU. That’s a lot to ask out of a true freshman, although he will not be going it alone.

With so many weapons at his disposal, Baylor should still be considered a threat to win the whole thing. And although the first ranking means very little, it will be fascinating to see how the selection committee views Baylor this week after a bye.

So stay tuned. All hope is not lost by any means. But we have much to learn.

 

What Is the Value of Being Undefeated?

Since the format of the College Football Playoff was first announced, I’ve had my eyes on one specific chaos scenario: How would the selection committee view an undefeated team with a far less impressive strength of schedule over a one-loss team that powered through a gauntlet of a season?

More significantly, would the committee have the public courage to omit a team without a loss for a program with a blemish?

It’s hard to say, really. Florida State, despite unimpressive results week after week last season, still managed to stay undefeated and was eventually deemed playoff-worthy. Although the committee moved Seminoles up and down throughout the top four, it never felt at risk of missing the playoff. And despite strong pushes from both Baylor and TCU, FSU never felt as though it was on the verge of missing out. 

If an undefeated Power Five program is left out of the playoff, just imagine the backlash.

There’s still a long way to go for this potential to be realized this season, although the potential is there. Alabama, Stanford and Notre Dame could be extremely appealing one-loss options if they close out the rest of the season without a loss.

The Irish and Cardinal will play later this year, meaning one of those programs will fall out, although the winning team will certainly enjoy a boost. And if the committee ultimately had to choose between a team like Iowa or Memphis—the best chaos candidates right now—versus a one-loss team with a better resume, would it actually leave the team with a perfect record out?

Memphis seems likely. Iowa is a bit more tricky.

Ultimately, as unfair as it may seem, it likely boils back to brand power. The logo on the helmet matters. An unbeaten Iowa and an unbeaten Ohio State—resumes being equal—are vastly different. And while we seem likely to avoid this quandary for another year given the dwindling candidates, it will enter the spotlight at some point. 

When it does, good luck.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings 2015: NCAA Week 9 Polls and Standings Projections

Half of the Associated Press Top 10 is on a Week 9 hiatus, but if last Saturday proved anything, it's that no one should look away.

Week 8 featured just one matchup of Top 25 teams, but there was no shortage of drama. Unbeaten Florida State and Utah were each humbled by unranked foes on the road, while No. 7 Alabama narrowly survived a fourth-quarter scare from Tennessee. Oh, and there were also a pair of four-overtime games. 

Week 9 again features just one Top 25 matchup—No. 9 Notre Dame at No. 21 Temple—and Ohio State, Baylor, LSU, Alabama and Michigan State are all at home Saturday. But by no means does that mean there will be a falloff of spectacle.

With just one week until the first rankings from the College Football Playoff committee, here is a look at the AP Top 25 and a few notable teams in the hunt for the final four:

 

Notable Teams

No. 3 Clemson Tigers

Clemson steamrolled Miami 58-0 in what wound up being Al Golden's final game as Hurricanes head coach.

The Tigers appear to have the clearest path to the playoff, with a Week 10 hosting of Florida State being the only true threat remaining. As ESPN Stats & Info indicated, Clemson has the best shot to lock up the ACC sacrificing few, if any, blemishes:

This year's Tigers are toppling opponents with dominant defense. Only three teams rank higher in total defense among the FBS, and it just so happens one of those is Clemson's Week 9 opponent: the North Carolina State Wolfpack, ranked third in the category.

The Tigers will extend a rude awakening to the unranked Wolfpack, though. NC State hasn't seen any quarterback the likes of Deshaun Watson, who's carved up defenses to the tune of 1,553 yards with an ACC-high 15 touchdowns and 69.3 completion percentage. 

Aligning with Clemson's upward trend is Watson's stock for the Heisman Trophy; he recently ranked fourth among candidates by Zac Ellis of Sports Illustrated for college football's most prestigious award:

He won't put up the numbers that, say, Trevone Boykin will at TCU. ... Plus, few teams in college football look more dangerous than Clemson right now. That's why winning the Heisman may not require Watson to record insane statistics. He might simply need to maintain the status quo.

Clemson has been climbing all season, starting at No. 12 and now firmly in the playoff mold. It has outscored opponents 269-100, and there's no indication its torrid pace will slow. One could argue, such as Tyler Duke of Fox Sports, that Clemson is the most complete team in college football.

Will Clemson make the playoff? Yes

 

No. 8 Stanford Cardinal

With Utah's loss to Southern California, Stanford emerged as the highest-ranked Pac-12 team in the Week 9 AP poll. The Cardinal may have been the better team all along. 

Stanford is averaging 37.4 points per game to Utah's 34.7 and has outproduced the Utes, 454.7 yards to 390.1 in total offense. The Cardinal are coming off a 31-14 drubbing of Washington, which entered the game as the Pac-12 leader in total and scoring defense.

Stanford's surprise has been all-purpose sensation Christian McCaffrey, who's racked up at least 300 total yards in consecutive games and emerged as a dark horse for the Heisman, per college football analyst Phil Steele:

Stanford plays Washington State this weekend before contests against downward-trending Oregon and Cal to finish its Pac-12 slate. A looming season finale against No. 9 Notre Dame will present a revealing clash between playoff hopefuls. 

If the Cardinal run the table, they'll have a conference title and another respectable win on their resume, which could catapult them to the final four. The Top 10 is crowded with seven unbeatens, but many still play each other—No. 4 LSU at No. 7 Alabama on Nov. 7, No. 1 Ohio State at No. 6 Michigan State on Nov. 21 and No. 2 Baylor at No. 5 TCU on Nov. 27.

With the potential to keep climbing, Stanford is still very much a playoff contender. 

Will Stanford make the playoff? No

 

No. 11 Florida Gators

Florida marches to into its neutral-site rivalry tilt with Georgia coming off a bye and respectable 35-28 loss to LSU in hostile Death Valley. The Gators sit atop the SEC East and could put a serious blow to the rest of the division's hopes with a win over the beleaguered Bulldogs, losers of two of their last three.

Despite playing under new head coach Jim McElwain and a suspension to starting quarterback Will Grier, the Gators head into the final week of October with all their goals intact. 

Backup quarterback Treon Harris threw for a respectable 271 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions against LSU but was marred by three scoreless drives to end the game. Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com noted there is still much work to be done for Harris to lead the Gators to their first SEC title game since 2009 but that Harris is capable:

If you checked out any Florida-inspired message boards or social media, you'd have thought Harris drug Florida's offense back into the abyss it called home for the past five years. Harris' final acts weren't great on Saturday, but his overall performance should give Florida's staff, players and fans hope for a run to the SEC championship.

Harris helped lead Florida to an upset 38-20 win over then-No. 9 Georgia last year, throwing three passes for 27 yards while rushing for another 31. 

After Week 9, Florida only has Vanderbilt and South Carolina on its division schedule. A loss to Georgia would shift the Bulldogs back atop the SEC East, but that seems unlikely given Florida's offensive superiority. The Gators are also winners of nine in 14 attempts against Georgia head coach Mark Richt.

If Florida can reach the SEC title game, it'll likely face the Alabama-LSU winner in what seems like an incredibly daunting foe. But there's still plenty of time for Harris and the Gators to steadily improve on what's already been a remarkable and sooner-than-expected performance this year. 

Will Florida make the playoff? No

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Week 9 Predictions: Picking Top 25 Games Against the Spread

Another winning week has me creeping toward .500, the Mendoza Line of picks against the spread.

My record for the year (68-70-2) is still a notch below that number, and well below my goal of 57 percent, but the past three weeks have seen a mild turnaround. Another solid showing in Week 9 might help me pull my own backdoor cover. 

As always, feel free to chime in below with your opinions or questions about the picks. I'll explain my rationale beneath each game, but of course we can always dive deeper. Just remember to keep it civil and that no one here hates your team.

The line is our only enemy.

Begin Slideshow

College Football Rankings 2015: Power Ranking All 128 Teams for Week 9

What was supposed to be a relatively uneventful week of college football once again proved that the worst schedules can produce some of the craziest results. We lost a pair of unbeaten teams—as well as two more head coaches, bringing the total to seven FBS jobs that have opened up this season—and also had a pair of games require four overtimes to decide a winner.

We also have a new set of Bleacher Report power rankings, which have been impacted by this past weekend's weirdness.

Bleacher Report's power rankings are comprised of an average of five sources: B/R's weekly Top 25, the Associated Press Top 25, the Amway Coaches Poll, ratings guru Jeff Sagarin's computer rankings and the author's personal rankings for every FBS school. The top 50 teams are broken down individually, while the rest of the 128 FBS teams are summarized in a few easy-to-digest chunks.

Check out where everyone ranks after eight weeks, and then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

Begin Slideshow

Texas vs. Iowa State Complete Game Preview

Looking for their third straight win, the Texas Longhorns travel to Iowa State to take on the struggling Cyclones on Saturday. 

Charlie Strong's team seems to have finally found its offensive identity. Two weeks after running for 313 yards in 24-17 win over Oklahoma, Jerrod Heard and the offense ripped off another 274 yards on Kansas State in a 23-9 win. Two of the Big 12's better defenses have had no answer for the Texas ground attack.

The offense isn't the only story in Austin. The defense has also buckled down of late, holding both the Sooners and Wildcats to less than 300 yards of offense.

While things couldn't be going much better for Strong, things are getting ugly in Ames. On Monday, head coach Paul Rhoads fired offensive coordinator Mark Mangino following a 45-27 loss to Baylor and now looks to be coaching for his job.

On the positive side, Rhoads also announced the promotion of sophomore Joel Lanning to the starting quarterback spot. He threw three touchdowns in the loss to the Bears, and the Cyclones hope he can spark an upset at home.

 

Date: Saturday, October 31

Time: 6 p.m. ET

Location: Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, Iowa

TV: Fox Sports 1

Line: Texas -6.5, according to Odds Shark

Begin Slideshow

Virginia Tech vs. Boston College: Complete Game Preview

Another week and another disappointing loss for Virginia Tech, as the Hokies lost a 45-43 heartbreaker to Duke and fell to 3-5 (1-3) on the season.

Up next for the Hokies: a Boston College team that has beaten Tech in each of the last two seasons.

Could things get even worse for Virginia Tech?

Well, the Hokies' bowl streak could be in serious jeopardy. With four games remaining, VT needs to win at least three in order to go bowling for the 23rd consecutive season.

Boston College enters this weekend's game with an identical 3-5 record, although the Eagles are 0-5 in ACC play. BC has lost its last four games.

The Hokies lead the all-time series 15-8.

  • When: Saturday, October 31, 2015
  • Where: Alumni Stadium, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
  • Time: 12:30 p.m. ET
  • TV: ACC Network
  • Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network. Here is a complete list of stations by area.
  • Spread: The Hokies are presently 2.5-point favorites, according to Odds Shark.

Begin Slideshow

Bowl Projections 2015: Predicting Playoff Standings and Bowl Games Post Week 8

There was only one game between two Top 25 teams on Saturday but a number of somewhat major upsets was still enough to cause some shuffling to the postseason outlook.

First, Georgia Tech finally looked like the preseason ACC Coastal favorite by pulling off the shocker and beating Florida State on a last-minute blocked field goal that few could have seen coming. That the Yellow Jackets were even in that game based on how they played in the first half of the season was surprising enough, but to beat the winners of 28 straight ACC games with such a memorable play added even more to the ending in Atlanta.

Out west in another shocking turn of events, USC throttled Utah at the Coliseum to show once again the Trojans are talented enough to beat anybody (and, as we’ve also seen, lose to anybody too). That changed the dynamic a bit in the Pac-12 race and certainly altered the perception of the Utes for the vast majority of the country as well.

But those two results don’t have quite the effect on the postseason picture of something that happened on Monday. While it appeared on Sunday that there would be only a few minor changes to the New Year’s Six picture with the Utah/Florida State losses, the projected College Football Playoff final four was expected to remain intact as it had been last week.

Then Baylor announced on Monday afternoon that quarterback Seth Russell was lost for the season and would undergo surgery to repair damage to his neck. In will step true freshman signal-caller Jarrett Stidham for the Bears.

To be fair, it remains completely feasible for Baylor to still run the table in the Big 12 and make the playoff. But we’re in the business of projecting the rest of the season and figuring out what postseason partners will make of things. Russell only led the country in five categories and was a legitimate contender for the Heisman Trophy. Now, a young and inexperienced quarterback will take over for him with five of the season’s six toughest games left on the schedule. That includes trips to both undefeated Oklahoma State and TCU.

There was bound to be a drop-off in the team’s production due simply to the opposition. Factoring in losing the starting quarterback only magnifies things. Stidham is a really good prospect, but he’ll be put in the tough position of having to live up to Cardale Jones-sized expectations now.

Get mad all you want, Bears fans. But until proved otherwise, the team has gone from playoff front-runners and likely Big 12 champs to simply another flawed but good team in a season full of them.

With that said, on to the bowl projections. A hearty disclaimer that these are projecting out the rest of the season and as such are not completely reflective of the state of college football at the moment.

  • Here are the full Top 25 rankings. The College Football Playoff selection committee will release its first set of rankings NEXT Tuesday, on Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.
  • Given how tough the Big 12 will be in November, we’re anticipating that both TCU and Baylor lose at least once along the way to the postseason. Both will remain good enough to earn a New Year’s Six bowl game but once again can’t do enough to justify a spot in the playoff. Getting left out two years in a row from the final four may cause a fit in the league offices but at least it forces Big 12 teams to significantly bump up their nonconference schedules in the future.
  • The biggest beneficiary to the Baylor news may very well be Alabama. The Tide sneaked by Tennessee at home and still have a dicey path to another SEC title but at this point, they’re probably the team you can trust the most in that conference due to Nick Saban and the overall talent level in Tuscaloosa. They can’t afford a loss, though, that’s for sure.
  • Dabo Swinney could face his alma mater in a semifinal pitting Clemson against Alabama. He's long been mentioned as a replacement once Saban decides to retire and this game could help lend legitimacy to that. If nothing else, it's a fun sub-plot to the game.
  • The Cotton Bowl is technically a few miles closer to Columbus than the Orange Bowl, but the committee will likely give top-seeded Ohio State its semifinal in South Florida as a way to give it an actual geographic advantage like it should. For one, it keeps it in the Eastern time zone and plays on the fact that the Orange Bowl has a past relationship with the Big Ten and Ohio State. Plus it forces No. 4 seed Stanford to travel across the country at the same time. That gives the Buckeyes a nod over Clemson when it comes to semifinal sites.
  • From a bowl committee’s perspective, it's a tough swing for the Fiesta Bowl, which went from hosting Notre Dame last week to featuring an old SWC matchup between small fanbases in Baylor and Houston. At least it’ll get plenty of points in that contest.
  • NFL scouts have to love a potential Sugar Bowl between TCU receiver Josh Doctson and Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves.
  • We’ll get a great glimpse as to what the committee thinks about the "Group of Five" race when it releases its standings next Tuesday but for now, Houston remains the pick to get the bid out of the AAC in part because of its schedule. It’ll host Memphis at home off a bye while the Tigers have to play Navy the week before they play the Cougars. Then Justin Fuente’s team has to travel to Temple. That’s three tough games right in a row.
  • Miami has the talent to finish better than 6-6 this year, but it could still get left behind when it comes to the ACC bowl order thanks to having an apathetic fanbase and an interim head coach. If you want to know why it winds up in Orlando and the Cure Bowl instead of a better game, that would be some of the factors.
  • There are a couple of interesting matchups in non-NY6 bowl games. Those include a good Oklahoma team against UCLA in the Alamo, Leonard Fournette and LSU taking on Michigan’s stiff defense in the Citrus Bowl and a cool meeting of resurgent academic powers Duke and Cal in the Sun Bowl.
  • We’re bound to get a few sneaky good (i.e wild) games in the Bahamas Bowl and GoDaddy Bowl with some potential New Year’s Six contenders falling to those spots. Bowling Green/Western Kentucky will feature a pair of promising head coaches with exciting offenses while Toledo/Georgia Southern will do the same. The brand names may not be much, but real college football fans should be excited over the prospect of these four teams hooking up in the postseason.
  • Speaking of head coaching searches, could Virginia Tech’s date at the Independence Bowl be the last game for Frank Beamer? And could it serve as an audition for Rich Rodriguez to take over in Blacksburg? Yes, it certainly could.
  • FIU, Southern Miss and Buffalo in bowl games are proof you can go from awful to the postseason in two years or less.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Is Baylor Still a Playoff Contender Without Seth Russell?

Baylor starting quarterback Seth Russell has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a neck injury.

Can the Bears still make it to the College Football Playoff?

Watch as Barrett Sallee examines Baylor in the video above.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama-LSU Showdown Could Once Again Decide the SEC West

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — One gets the feeling that if Marcus Spears could come back and play one more game at the collegiate level it would be the next one on his alma mater’s schedule.

LSU vs. Alabama remains the pinnacle when you’re talking about physical football.

“This is my type of game,” the analyst for SEC Nation said. “Bloody nose, snot running down your mouth, all kind of stuff going haywire.

“It’s really going to come down to what it’s come down to in recent years. Playmakers are going to step up and make their key play late in the game, or who’s going to get an extra possession in the game to get the W.”

Welcome to the latest chapter in the still-evolving Alabama-LSU rivalry, what some call “The Saban Bowl.” Even though the last four games have all been won by the Crimson Tide, the matchup has arguably been the most important in college football since Nick Saban took over at Alabama in 2007.

This year will be no exception, especially with the ways the teams match up. Although Ole Miss is still with them in the Southeastern Conference’s West division standings, the Alabama-LSU winner will at minimum have the inside track on the bigger prize, a spot in the playoffs for the national championship.

“It’s huge. It’s always a fun game. It’s been for the West pretty much for the past few years,” former Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones said. “It’s always the game you’re the most sore after.”

Although this will be the 80th meeting in the series—Alabama and LSU have been playing since 1895 (the Crimson Tide lead 49-25-5)—the intensity dramatically picked up when Saban landed in Tuscaloosa.

The games have only followed suit and in each case at least one of the teams was ranked in the Top 5 of the Associated Press poll. They met twice as the top two teams in the rankings in 2011, the second being in the BCS National Championship, and only once the winner didn’t end up at last tied for the division title.

It’s also been the premier game of future National Football League talent.

Since 2010, Alabama has had 44 players drafted while LSU has had 39. A total of 45 players from the 2011 games went on to be selected in the NFL draft, including 14 first-round picks.

When the NFL did its annual roster breakdown for opening weekend last month, LSU had the most players on active NFL rosters with 40, while Alabama was tied for fourth at 34. At one point during the 2014 season, though, Alabama had the most players with 42.

There really are no better football factories, especially since they play the same style as most NFL teams, and place a premium on strong defensive play.

“They always have good defense,” Jones said about LSU. “They always play hard and try and run the football.

“They don’t really try and hide like some of these other teams do. They come out and try and hit you in the mouth better than you hit them in the mouth. We’ve always respected that.”

The same could be said about Alabama by LSU.

"They're better than six defenses in the NFL right now,” said Spears, a Baton Rouge native who played for Saban at LSU from 2001-04 and went from tight end to fullback and defensive end before being a first-round draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys.

“It's been a joy to watch.”

While a lot of the pregame hype for the Nov. 7 meeting at Bryant-Denny Stadium (7 p.m. CT, CBS) will be about the running backs, as Leonard Fournette is already considered a heavy favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and Derrick Henry might be the only other SEC player with a shot, Spears is eager to see how the lines fare.

For example, Alabama’s defensive line goes at least nine deep even without the linebackers who pass rush, and rotates heavily.

LSU’s veteran offense line has been as good as hoped as well, with Spears calling it one of the best three in the nation.

“We’ve had so much hype about Leonard Fournette—I love him, you guys know I’m an LSU fan after I get done doing my job—but the guy has 748 yards before he’s even touched,” Spears said before LSU hosted Western Kentucky in the rain on Saturday. “That says a lot about the guys up front.

“Matchup-wise, when you talk about physical ability, big on big, good on good, LSU’s offensive line is probably best suited to try and block Alabama’s defensive line.”

So even though both teams are on a bye this week, let the hype for No. 4 LSU at No. 7 Alabama begin, as it’ll again be the game of the year in the SEC. In may ways it's the best college football has to offer nowadays, and what LSU head coach Les Miles calls “big boy football.”

"It's going to be crazy,” Spears said. “I look at both of those teams, and if Alabama is better than LSU, it's 51-49. There's not really a glaring difference now."

  

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Blind Resumes for Top College Football Playoff Contenders

Next week, the College Football Playoff committee will unveil its first rankings of the 2015 season.

By that point, two-thirds of the schedule will be complete, and we'll start to get a peek at how the members of the committee have made sense of the season so far.

Is Ohio State still No. 1 with that schedule? Was Baylor's rampage through a weak list of opponents impressive at all? Which one-loss teams still deserve the most consideration for a playoff spot?

Also, can the committee explain what is exactly happening in Iowa?

In a college football landscape that features constant debate over biases in polls—whether they be toward a certain conference or a particular team—one would hope those in charge of picking the four teams for the playoff will be as objective as humanly possible.

One great way to strip away biases is the use of blind resumes, which rely solely on what has happened on the field without any influence of human rankings.

Blind resumes aren't perfect by any means, but they can provide a fresh and more complete look at the top contenders in college football.

To do this, I assigned a random letter, A through K, to the eight undefeated Power Five teams and the three one-loss teams currently inside the Top 10 of both the major polls. (Teams such as Utah, Oklahoma, Florida and Florida State still have an outside shot at the playoff, but they just missed out here.)

I then did a full statistical profile on each team, which is shown in the table below. These profiles include average points and yardage margins—or how much each team outscores and outgains its opponents per game—similar to what B/R colleague Brian Leigh did in his blind resumes last season.

This year, I've added another feature—yards-per-play performances against Top 25 offenses and defenses, which Paul Myerberg of USA Today used in his own blind-resume comparisons last season.

The profiles below also include each team's strength-of-schedule ranking by Jeff Sagarin, which he bases only on the games a team has played so far in 2015.

*Defensive yards per play vs. Top 25 teams for offensive yards per play (number of games)

**Offensive yards per play vs. Top 25 teams for defensive yards per play (number of games)

Each college football writer, analyst and fan has his or her own opinion on what numbers should weigh more when ranking teams. Some favor pure points and yardage, while others lean toward strength of schedule.

Here's how I personally would rank the teams based solely on the numbers above.

  1. Team G
  2. Team D
  3. Team B
  4. Team J
  5. Team A
  6. Team I
  7. Team H
  8. Team E
  9. Team C
  10. Team F
  11. Team K

The above table gives us a sense of the statistical dominance these playoff contenders have through the first eight weeks of the season.

But we need more context. Records are important, and whom exactly these teams won and lost against should matter in any final rankings. The raw data above also doesn't factor in "garbage" points or yardage in blowouts.

In the following table, I've placed every team next to its record and its ranking in the F/+ metric from Football Outsiders

F/+ is a great computer ranking to consider because it combines possession-by-possession and play-by-play data to measure team efficiency, eliminates garbage-time statistics and adjusts for opponent strength. It's a much more advanced way to tackle the numbers and compare them to what we already know.

The last two columns feature each team's key wins and any losses this season. To eliminate any notions of bias from the human polls, the wins and losses are represented by the opponents' current F/+ rankings.

The F/+ rankings and the win-loss breakdown solidified Team G's spot as my No. 1 team, but it caused a shakeup in the next few spots of my second round of personal rankings.

Feel free to share your own blind rankings in the comments below.

  1. Team G
  2. Team A
  3. Team B
  4. Team I
  5. Team E
  6. Team D
  7. Team H
  8. Team J
  9. Team F
  10. Team C
  11. Team K

In this second round, Team A's two wins over Top 20 teams pushed it into the coveted playoff zone, while Team D's loss knocked it down several spots. Team B's weak strength of schedule didn't affect it too much in the F/+ rankings, as they listed B with a win over a Top 25 team.

Now we move on to the big reveal.

For comparative purposes, this last table compares the average of my two sets of rankings to how the teams shake out in the two major human polls—the Associated Press Top 25 and the Amway Coaches Poll. 

I was surprised at my own results from this blind exercise. In my latest ballot for Bleacher Report's Top 25, my top four teams were Baylor, Clemson, Ohio State and TCU. So much for trying to avoid SEC bias.

My blind top four is sure to receive a shakeup in a couple of weeks when Alabama and LSU play each other. Ohio State, the No. 4 on my second set, would hypothetically slide into the combined top four after that game.

Also, per ESPN.com, my No. 3-ranked team announced its star quarterback would miss the rest of the season with injury while I was crunching these numbers. Baylor's phenomenal stats may take a hit against tougher competition without Seth Russell.

There's a lot of football left to be played for each of these contenders, and several will be in action again before the people who actually have control over the playoff release their first rankings.

Who knows? Some of them might be willing to open their eyes to their own biases by using some blind resumes.

 

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

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Seth Russell Injury Update: Baylor QB to Undergo Neck Surgery, out for Season

Baylor Bears quarterback Seth Russell will undergo neck surgery and is out for the remainder of the 2015 season.

A news release through the Bears' official website confirmed the unfortunate news on the star signal-caller. Russell met with a specialist Monday and determined an operation was the proper course of action for the broken bone in his neck.

"Seth exemplifies the spirit and will of our football team," said Baylor head coach Art Briles, "and through this our team will keep that spirit alive and well for him."

Russell's estimated recovery timetable is approximately six months for a cervical vertebra injury he suffered in the fourth quarter of Saturday's win over Iowa State.

The junior put up scoring numbers in Briles' spread offense that most QBs would be proud of for a whole season. In addition to throwing 29 touchdowns to only six interceptions, he racked up 402 yards rushing and another six scores on the ground. His high level of play has helped the Bears become the nation's No. 1 scoring offense at 61 points per game.

True freshman Jarrett Stidham will take over for Russell. Although he hasn't faced the pressure of being a starter yet in Waco, Stidham has excelled in limited action this season, completing 24 of 28 passes for 331 yards, six TDs and zero picks.

Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman is among those not giving up on Baylor despite Russell's season-ending injury:

Taking over for a star like Russell is one thing. With Baylor factoring so heavily in the College Football Playoff picture, ranking second in both major polls, the scrutiny on Stidham will be immense.

Briles' comments about Russell hint at the leadership and tone he set for the entire team. That's an intangible element Stidham will also have to bring to the gridiron and locker room so the Bears can rally around him.

His tenure kicks off the toughest stretch of Baylor's schedule, starting with next Thursday's road trip to take on Kansas State. That's followed by three games against ranked opponents: Oklahoma at home, then Oklahoma State and TCU on the road.

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College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

Dating back to his days at Florida, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has continued to mine the Sunshine State for talent with great frequency and success. 

Last week, Meyer and his staff hosted 3-star corner and current Georgia commit Malek Young on his official visit.

According to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports, Young earned an offer from the Buckeyes before leaving Columbus.  

While he maintains that he is still committed to the Bulldogs, the 5’10”, 175-pounder admitted to Bartow that Meyer’s pitch was impressive: 

He was telling me about their situation and how it is to be on a winning team. He said it's more than football and I can experience things about life there. He kept it real and told me Ohio State is the place to be if I want to win. He told me I have an offer and he wanted me to know that I have an offer from them. He wants me to be part of their team.

As Bartow noted, the Buckeyes are recruiting him to play corner, and they employ a scheme he feels he would thrive in. 

Auburn is another school pushing for Young. He’s scheduled to visit the Tigers for their showdown against in-state rival Alabama on Nov. 28.

However, the Buckeyes have a chance to make this recruitment interesting if they continue to push hard for Young in the coming months.

 

Oregon Offers 4-Star WR

One of the top uncommitted wide receivers in the 2016 cycle is 4-star California product Dylan Crawford

Last week, the 6’1”, 175-pounder received a big offer from Oregon.

Crawford, who rates as the No. 13 pass-catcher and the No. 91 player overall in the 2016 cycle, has schools such as Arizona State, Miami, Michigan and Stanford currently battling it out for his signature on signing day. 

However, with the Ducks entering the picture, they have a chance to become a bigger factor down the stretch of his recruitment.

 

Florida Offers LSU WR Commit

When LSU has its sights set on an in-state target, it’s usually tough for another school to pull that prospect out of the Pelican State.

However, that’s the task in front of Florida head coach Jim McElwain and his staff after the Gators offered 3-star receiver and current LSU pledge Da’Monte Coxie

The 6’3”, 175-pounder has been committed to the Tigers since July, but the Gators have a need at receiver and will make a run at flipping him.

If the Gators can secure a visit from Coxie, things could begin to get interesting with his recruitment.

 

Oklahoma After 2017 Florida WR 

With 25 offers to his credit, one of the most coveted recruits in the 2017 cycle is 4-star Florida native Jerry Jeudy.

The latest powerhouse to jump in the race for the 6’1”, 174-pounder is Oklahoma—who offered him last week. 

Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida and Florida State are among the early schools pushing for Jeudy—who rates as the No. 7 wideout and the No. 34 player overall in the 2017 class. 

Sooners head coach Bob Stoops and his staff are hoping to become a bigger factor with one of the nation’s most explosive playmakers in the 2017 class.

 

Best of the Rest

2016

  • Arkansas offered 3-star linebacker and current Texas Tech commit Jordyn Brooks

 

2017

 

2018

 

2019

 

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

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ESPN's 'College GameDay' Headed to Temple for Week 9 vs. Notre Dame

After an extremely long wait for a couple of fanbases on different sides of the country, ESPN's College GameDay finally announced that it is headed to Philadelphia in Week 9 for undefeated Temple's home game against top-10 foe Notre Dame.

While GameDay normally reveals its next stop late on Saturday night or on Sunday morning, the popular pregame show didn't make the upcoming visit official until Monday.

According to ESPN senior PR director Keri Potts, GameDay will be live from Independence Hall in Philadelphia on Saturday morning. Temple and Notre Dame will square off at Lincoln Financial Field at 8 p.m. ET on ABC later that night.

Over the weekend, the prevailing thought was GameDay had two top choices for its Week 9 stop—Notre Dame vs. Temple or the Pac-12 North showdown between Stanford and Washington State.

As Nate Scott of For the Win noted, the massive distance between Washington State and the show's Week 8 stop at FCS school James Madison could have played into ESPN's decision to send its crew to Philadelphia:

To pack up the set and get to Pullman, Washington would take 37 hours according to Google Maps, and that’s as long the GameDay trucks don’t hit traffic in Fargo.

On top of that, Kirk Herbstreit is a contributing factor in this. He works on both College GameDay in the morning and in the booth for the Saturday night ABC primetime game, which this week is Notre Dame at Temple. So it always made sense for the show to be in Philadelphia.

On Monday, show producer Lee Fitting said that the call between Temple or Washington State, whose fanbase has famously flown a team flag at 171 straightCollege GameDay shows, was extremely difficult.

This weekend will mark GameDay's first visit to Temple, which is 7-0 for the first time in school history.

Led by All-American candidate Tyler Matakevich, Temple is off to its record start mostly because of its excellent defense, which is ranked 14th nationally in total defense and eighth in scoring defense.

While the No. 21 Owls opened as 10.5-point underdogs to No. 9 Notre Dame, according to Odds Shark, Temple already has experience knocking off a big-name program at home this year.

In its season opener, Temple recorded 10 sacks in a 27-10 victory over Penn State at home. The win snapped a 39-game losing streak against the Nittany Lions.

Now the Owls will face a much stiffer test, especially on the offensive side of the ball, from a Notre Dame team that is looking to stay alive in the race for the College Football Playoff.

The Fighting Irish are fourth nationally in offensive yards per play this season despite an outbreak of injuries to several starters earlier this year.

After its road loss to undefeated Clemson, Notre Dame's offense—featuring star quarterback DeShone Kizer, running back C.J. Prosise and wide receiver Will Fuller—put up 41 points in back-to-back wins over Navy and USC.

A win against Temple would give the Irish even more momentum as they navigate through the back half of their road-heavy schedule, which includes games against one-loss Pittsburgh and Stanford.

A victory for Temple, on the other hand, would give the Owls another serious boost in their chase for the "Group of Five" conferences' spot in the coveted New Year's Six bowl games.

 

Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com.

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

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Ohio State Football: What Buckeyes Must Fix During Bye Week

It may have taken eight weeks, but No. 1 Ohio State is finally starting to look like the dominant team and College Football Playoff favorite that everyone expected to see during the preseason.

The Buckeyes, fresh off a 49-7 rout of Rutgers on Saturday, enter their bye week with few questions to answer.

Head coach Urban Meyer has featured J.T. Barrett in the offense over the last three weeks, and the results have been convincing. The redshirt sophomore scored 12 total touchdowns against Maryland, Penn State and Rutgers—games that Ohio State won by an average of 30.3 points.

With the Buckeyes clicking at their highest level of the season, what do they still need to fix as they approach the home stretch of the conference slate?

 

The Run Defense

Ohio State has been solid defensively this season, ranking 13th nationally in total defense and ninth in scoring defense. But the Buckeyes have been ordinary against the run, allowing 151.9 yards per game on the ground—a mark that ranks 54th in the country.

Leading up the Rutgers game on Saturday, Ohio State's front seven was coming off a pair of horrendous outings.

Two weeks prior, Maryland quarterback Perry Hills gashed the Buckeyes, running for an incredible 170 yards and two touchdowns, fueling a 253-yard outing on the ground for the Terrapins. A week later, Penn State freshman running back Saquon Barkley ran wild for 194 yards on 26 carries.

The Buckeyes only have one team left on its schedule that boasts a top-50 run offense—Michigan checks in at No. 49—but if Meyer expects his team to make a deep postseason run, they'll need to tighten things up in the front seven.

Getting defensive tackle Tommy Schutt healthy has to be the top priority. The senior broke his wrist against Penn State and was expected to miss "a few weeks," according to Eric Seger of Eleven Warriors.

 

The Early Struggles

The Buckeyes got off to a fast start to open the season, scoring touchdowns on their first two drives in the prime-time showdown against Virginia Tech on Labor Day.

But in the last seven weeks, Ohio State has only scored once on its opening drive—a three-play, 65-yard march against Western Michigan. The other six games have started with two turnovers, three three-and-outs and botched field-goal attempt.

If Ohio State had played stiffer competition, these slow starts could have produced a loss, but it was able to bounce back effectively each week. With Michigan State and Michigan on the horizon, though, the Buckeyes have to find a way to come out of the gates swinging.

 

The Offensive Balance

Ohio State is frequently lauded for its array of offensive firepower, but with the struggles at quarterback during the first half of the season, Meyer and the coaching staff have struggled to find balance offensively.

Early in the season, the Buckeyes seemed to be forcing the issue with Cardale Jones at quarterback, which led to a mistrust from the staff to put the ball in the air in crunch-time situations. That was on full display on the road against Indiana, when Ohio State force-fed Ezekiel Elliott despite facing a defense that was loading the box and daring Jones to throw.

With the quarterback switch, the running game is producing explosive plays despite defenses gearing up to stop it. That's a credit to Barrett's mobility and ability to effectively run the zone read.

But for Ohio State's offense to hit the next level, it will have to get more from the passing game.

Saturday's performance against Rutgers was a huge step in the right direction. Barrett completed 77.8 percent of his passes for 223 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions while establishing a solid rhythm with leading wideout Michael Thomas.

However, the Buckeyes only attempted seven passes in the first half and 21 attempts in the whole game against 49 total rushes.

Ohio State has the weapons and skill set to be a dominant offense—it just needs to continue to diversify the passing attack.

 

David Regimbal is the Ohio State football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Schools to Watch After 4-Star LB Vandarius Cowan Decommits from FSU

Florida State suffered a significant recruiting loss Sunday less than 24 hours after experiencing its first defeat of the 2015 season. 

The Seminoles, beaten by Georgia Tech in dramatic fashion Saturday night, lost a verbal pledge from prized in-state linebacker Vandarius Cowan. The Palm Beach Gardens High School junior shared his intentions on Twitter, per Patrick Maks of the Sun Sentinel.

“It was a very hard decision and took a lot of time," wrote Cowan, who initially committed to Florida State in June. 

The 6'3", 221-pound prospect rates seventh nationally among outside linebackers in 2017 composite rankings. An impressive physcal frame provides potential for him to line up at defensive end in college, making Cowan a versatile playmaker off the edge.

He possesses highly valued range in the defensive front seven, so it's no surprise that collegiate programs approached him as an underclassman. Cowan collected scholarship offers from Florida State, Florida, Auburn, Georgia and Notre Dame before the end of his sophomore year.

An early pledge was partially fueled by a lifelong affinity for the Seminoles.

"I always grew up a Florida State fan," Cowan told Chris Nee of 247Sports. "It is just one of those things. It made it better when they offered me. I wasn't expecting it, at so young in high school."

However, his pact with the program ultimately lasted less than five months. Still another high school season away from signing a national letter of intent, Cowan's decommitment is sure to draw expansive attention from coaching staffs across the county.

Miami was the last team to see him in person prior to his change of plans. The Hurrricanes hosted Cowan on campus Saturday for a record-setting loss that led to head coach Al Golden's dismissal. 

Expect Cowan to keep a close eye on how things progress in Coral Gables. Regardless of how many Miami coaches are retained moving forward, the Hurricanes should continue to ardently pursue the local standout under a new regime.

Significant interest from the Florida Gators gives Cowan another in-state option to consider. Defensive assistant Randy Shannon, a former Miami Hurricanes head coach and linebacker, has done an excellent job targeting fertile south Florida recruiting territory during his short tenure in Gainesville. 

The Gators are underway with a solid 2017 class, carrying commitments from 4-star quarterback-receiver duo Jake Allen and Daquon Green. Gaining a pledge from Cowan would give the program a defensive building block in a cycle that should steadily prove positive for Florida as it gains momentum on the field. 

SEC rival Georgia is another university worth noting in this recruitment. The Bulldogs, already holding three 4-star 2017 pledges, previously impressed Cowan as he sorted through possible landing spots.

Cowan listed Georgia as his No. 2 university earlier this month, according to Chris Kirschner of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Bulldogs staff will attempt to line up a campus visit in the near future as he seeks a fresh start.

Notre Dame is another out-of-state school that's maintained its pursuit even while Cowan was committed to Florida State. Those efforts should only intensify now that he's parted ways with the Seminoles.

North Carolina and LSU each extended offers earlier this season, giving him a lengthy list of alternatives to explore as he reopens things. Expect this collection of contenders to grow in the aftermath of his announcement, providing plenty of intrigue for the remainder of a recruiting cycle that's starting to heat up.

 

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

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