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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. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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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Miami Head Coach Search: Latest News, Rumors After Al Golden's Firing

The Miami Hurricanes fired head coach Al Golden on Sunday after the team's 58-0 loss to Clemson on Saturday and a 4-3 start to the season. While Larry Scott is currently the team's interim coach, the program is now searching in earnest for its next head coach.

Continue for updates.

Reed Comments on Miami Vacancy Monday, Oct. 26

Former Miami standout Ed Reed said he "would entertain a call" from the Hurricanes regarding the head coaching position, via Chris Law of The Rich Eisen Show.

Butch Davis Comments on Miami Job Monday, Oct. 26

"I'd love to be considered," Davis, the former Miami and North Carolina coach said, via sportswriter Tim Reynolds.

"The most important thing is to rally the family," Davis continued as he made his case for the job, per Reynolds.

Strong Denies Interest in Miami Monday, Oct. 26

ESPN's Brett McMurphy (via Dan Lyons of College Spun) reported that Texas head coach Charlie Strong "would listen to Miami" if the school approached him about the head coaching position. 

Strong seemed to deny any interest in the Miami gig Monday, however, per Anwar Richardson of OrangeBloods.com:

While it seems like a long shot that he would leave Texas after just two years, it would be the sort of splashy hiring that Miami desperately needs to rejuvenate its football program.

Kiffin Linked to Miami Job Monday, Oct. 26

Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report spoke about Lane Kiffin's chances of landing the position:

Holgorsen Refuses to Speak on Miami Vacancy Monday, Oct. 26

One coach who can probably be taken off the candidates list, though, is West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen, who, when asked about Miami's vacancy, simply replied, "I love it in Morgantown," per Jake Trotter of ESPN.

Miami Still Enticing Position Despite Decline

While Miami isn't the powerhouse of years past, its head coaching position is still one of the more prestigious gigs in college football. There will be difficulties, as the team remains on probation through the 2016 season. But for whoever is hired, the task will be revitalizing a program that hasn't won an ACC title since joining the conference in 2004 and didn't participate in a BCS bowl after the 2004 Orange Bowl.

For a program with five national titles between 1983 and 2001, that's simply unacceptable.

 

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Why SEC Needs Florida to Make Conference Championship Game

If the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 5 at the Georgia Dome is going to be more of a competition than a coronation, we all better hop back on board the Florida Gators bandwagon.

The Gators are the key to making the SEC Championship Game a de facto national quarterfinal in 2015.

Despite losing their last game 35-28 against the LSU Tigers two weeks ago, the Gators have to feel good about where they sit after all they've gone through this year.

Will Grier ascended to the starting quarterback position and threw 10 touchdowns and only three picks through six games, but he was suspended for a year for violating the NCAA's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. 

For most teams, that would be a season-killer.

Not for the "quarterback whisperer," first-year head coach Jim McElwain.

All backup dual-threat quarterback Treon Harris did in a pinch was pass for 271 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions and rush for 20 yards in the loss in Death Valley two weeks ago.

"He was able to see some really good things from the video that I'm sure he wants back," McElwain said. "But at the same time, I was happy with how he handled the environment. He made some plays that were big for us, and I look forward to having him get a little bit better (during the bye week). There were some things that we could get better at from that ball game, and we're not going to hang our heads."

Couple Harris' ability to not only play within the pro-style offense that McElwain was able to establish with Grier prior to his suspension with his own ability to kick-start the running game, and you have a recipe for success for the Florida Gators.

The running game has been stagnant for the majority of the season. McElwain's crew ranks 13th in the SEC in rushing offense (126.71 yards per game), averages only 99.4 rushing yards per game versus conference foes and picks up a minuscule 3.51 yards per carry.

"It's huge," McElwain said. "All great teams are built on being able to run the football and being able to stop the run defensively. We need to continue to get better at that. We had some opportunities in the last ball game, but they've got really good players."

The bye week comes at the perfect time for the Gators, as they head into the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party with the Georgia Bulldogs knowing Harris can thrive in the offense as a passer and with time to add some spice to it with more of a role for their new starter as a runner.

If they can dispatch their border rival to the north this weekend, it's smooth sailing all the way to rivalry weekend.

Vanderbilt got a conference win last week versus Missouri, but that offense is impossible to trust. South Carolina is tricky on the road, but it's not like the Gamecocks offense is a juggernaut either. Florida Atlantic should be a breeze. 

Florida State could present a problem, but it just lost to a Georgia Tech team that was reeling, quarterback Everett Golson looked shaky for the first time all year and the offensive line—while better than expected—is still average at best for the boys in Tallahassee.

Could Florida head to Atlanta 11-1 with not only a chance to win the SEC, but also a chance to earn its way into the College Football Playoff? At this point, it's not just a possibility, it's a probability.

The Gators have the best chances in the SEC to win the conference, according to ESPN's Football Power Index, at 28.7 percent. On top of that, they have the 27th-best shot in the country to win out at 10.4 percent, according to the same metric, which is based on 10,000 simulations that factor in results and future schedule.

That figure might not seem all that high, but it factors in the potential SEC Championship Game matchup with an SEC West team and is the fourth-highest in the SEC behind Tennessee (50.9 percent), Alabama (18.4 percent) and Texas A&M (13.6 percent). 

For the SEC, imagine how big that would be.

Florida with legit playoff hopes in a magical year for first-year head coach McElwain squaring off against LSU or Alabama with the same hopes, or against a two-loss Ole Miss that needs to make a major statement to make up for that road loss to Memphis.

Can you say "ratings bonanza"?

That wouldn't be a departure from the norm for the SEC Championship Game, but to be at its best on a day that also includes the other conference title games, serving as a play-in to to the playoff is paramount.

Don't sleep on Florida. 

It's not even close to being out of the race for the Playoff and is the key to making the SEC Championship Game the college football game of the season prior to the playoff.

 

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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The Death Spiral of Miami Football Continues with Al Golden Firing

They say Al Golden is a man of class and integrity. He comes off as a nice, standup, straight-laced guy in a tie.

They surely knew those things at Miami before they brought him in. So they have no one else to blame for hiring him in the first place.

"Class and integrity" aren't going to work at Miami. And that's why he was fired Sunday.

The 58-0 loss to Clemson on Saturday didn't help, and clearly Miami had come to realize that it had an inflated view of his resume when he was hired from Temple five years ago.

But the main problem with Golden and Miami was a matter of identity and personality.

You have one, and only one. You have to know who you are because that's what drives you through the hard work and gets you through the rough moments. It's what you rely on when you're in trouble.

Miami is The U. That's why it garners more loyalty possibly than any other school in the country. Its personality was built on playing loose and free on the field and with the rules. That's what made the Hurricanes the team of the '80s with three national championships. It's what got them another title in 2001 with what might have been the best team ever.

It is unbelievable how far and how fast Miami has fallen since then. Golden didn't bring it down, though. The Hurricanes were already crashing under previous coach Randy Shannon, who took players' names off the jerseys to de-emphasize individuals.

Can U imagine?

Miami has to be The U, no matter what people think of that. It wasn't an accident that the program developed that personality. It was Miami and South Beach, mixed with a university, mixed with what football meant to it all the way down to when they were playing youth ball.

The problem with Miami is that it would like to stop cheating. No more improper benefits and Pell Grant manipulation and Nevin Shapiro. That's admirable. But the balancing act in finding a coach, then, is to get one who screams "big-name hire" but at the same time sticks within the rules, at least barely, and polices away all the dangerous elements.

That's the change Miami has to make. I think it's possible.

But it doesn't come from hiring one of Joe Paterno's former players and assistants. For Pete's sake, it was Paterno's guys showing up at the 1987 Fiesta Bowl for the national championship in suits, while Miami's guys were in fatigues, and the country went "tsk, tsk" over Miami's rogue attitude and held Paterno up with the gods.

So, was the idea in hiring Golden to try to capture whatever it was that Paterno had?

Back then, they called that game Good vs. Evil, and neither one was true. It is not evil to be The U. It's just that there is nothing there to stop evil elements from creeping in.

At this point, The U is dead. It just isn't suited for the modern era where palaces are being constructed as football buildings. It can't win enough games, and it doesn't have enough money to pay a top coach. And it also doesn't have a personality.

But the problem with pointing at some of those things is that Miami played in a rickety Orange Bowl when it was The U and didn't always have the most packed stadiums then, either. Not to mention, the other facilities were lacking.

The top high school players there still want to play for Miami, so resurrecting The U is possible. It's just going to take the right coach.

There is just such a feast-or-famine nature to the whole place, and this is a time of famine. There is no in-between, and that goes for the fans, too, who were willing to spend more money on airplanes flying over the game with nasty statements calling for Golden to be fired than game tickets. Miami was terrible and then great and then bad again, and then maybe the best ever. Now it's bad again.

It is a pro town with a pro sports feel to it. That's how The U functions; those teams acted and played with a pro attitude, and it's going to have to do that again. The place needs a big-name coach who will run a program within the rules, but just barely, and come in with the mindset that he will create stars who everyone knows before they go pro.

You go to a recruit and say, "You want to be a superstar? Here's how it happens." And that's not going to work with rah-rah college guys such as Golden.

The only people who make it work are NFL guys. Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, even Butch Davis and Dennis Erickson coached in the NFL.

That might mean Greg Schiano, former Miami defensive coordinator and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach. Or it might mean someone who would just fit in in the NFL. Too bad Steve Spurrier is done coaching college. He seems to be a good guy with an outlaw mentality.

It's not that Golden wasn't a good coach with good intentions. But a big problem with him is this:

Who is Al Golden?

Miami didn't want him in the first place, but wanted a bigger name. He was a young up-and-coming coach who helped Temple to win when it was in the MAC. Temple had a bigger athletic program than most MAC schools. Golden was set up to win there, unlike at Miami.

Before Golden arrived at Miami, Shannon's recruiting had dropped off. Then, the NCAA went through a lengthy, public and painful investigation into Miami, which had nothing to do with Golden—or Shannon—but did make life hard on him.

He handled it with grace. But while Miami kept pumping players into the NFL, it also kept losing. That was about being out of character.

It's hard to change who you are, but it's next to impossible to win as someone else.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.

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7-Step Drop: Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for the College Football Playoff

If last week was some sort of Separation Saturday, a wild and wacky Week 8 served to further clarify the race for the national title even if it may not have been the best slate of games on the schedule.

As we continue the descent to the postseason and enter the final weekend without any College Football Playoff Selection Committee rankings, 7-Step Drop decided to hit the pause button and figure out what could be the best- and worst-case scenarios for each conference. Somebody is getting left out, but who will it be?

It’s too hard to tell at this point, but one can certainly see one of these scenarios playing out.

 

American Athletic Conference

Contenders: Temple, Houston, Memphis

Best case: The AAC is at the very least the front-runner for the Group of Five spot and will be enjoying a nice payday as a result at a minimum. A spot in the playoff is a long shot, but the door is slightly open for Memphis and even Temple.

In an ideal scenario, the Tigers run the table with emphatic victories over Houston, Navy and an undefeated Temple (who would beat Notre Dame this week) in the conference title game and then see Ole Miss win out and capture the SEC. Sitting with a perfect record and a win over the SEC champs, Justin Fuente’s squad could sneak into the No. 4 spot in the playoff.

One could also see the Owls running the table (with wins over Notre Dame and undefeated Memphis/Houston the rest of the way) and having a little chaos happen to the point where they sneak in, but that’s not quite as believable as a perfect Memphis squad getting the bid.

Worst case: Memphis, Houston and Temple all beat each other up while Toledo runs the table and thrashes everybody in their way. That gives the Group of Five bid to the Rockets and sees the AAC miss out on a nice check from the playoff.

 

Atlantic Coast Conference

Contenders: Clemson

Best case: The best and worst case are pretty much down to one thing and one thing only: Clemson running the table. That’s it, thanks to Georgia Tech’s upset of Florida State on Saturday. In a perfect world for the ACC, the Tigers go to 13-0 (very much a possibility) and earn the No. 2 seed to get a date at the Orange Bowl in the semifinal.

Worst case: One of Florida State, NC State, South Carolina or the ACC Coastal champion upset Clemson and they wind up as the only ACC representative in the New Year’s Six bowls with a disappointing Peach Bowl bid.

 

Big 12

Contenders: Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State

Best case: After getting left out last year, the Big 12 sees chaos all around it with two-loss champions in the Pac-12 and SEC while Ohio State gets upset in the Big Ten title game. Combine that with Clemson suffering a loss and a one-point loss between Baylor and TCU. Then, the Big 12 goes from no teams in the playoff to two as the committee selects both the Horned Frogs and Bears
to make it to the semifinals.

A more realistic scenario is TCU/Baylor remain undefeated until their post-Thanksgiving matchup and the winner gets a top-two seed and a date at the Cotton Bowl.

Worst case: Oklahoma wins against a beat-up TCU team, then loses to Baylor. Oklahoma State upsets the Bears but loses to Oklahoma in the Bedlam game. Then Baylor tops TCU but the committee punishes their strength of schedule again. The result is another year on the outside of the playoff looking in.

 

Big Ten

Contenders: Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa

Best case: The Buckeyes stay undefeated and do enough in the final month of the regular season to earn the No. 1 seed in the playoff. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Michigan State also wins out and beats an undefeated Iowa team to get into the final four. The Hawkeyes, too, would have a great case if they are perfect and holding up the Big Ten trophy at the end of the year. There are a lot of good options in the B1G when it comes to making the playoff.

Worst case: Michigan State beats Ohio State to get to Indianapolis for the conference title game, where they’re upset by an Iowa team that has two losses. Combined with undefeated Clemson and the Big 12 champion, the Big Ten gets left out in favor of a one-loss Notre Dame/SEC champion/Pac-12 winner.

 

Independents

Contender: Notre Dame

Best case: Temple, Pitt and USC all wind up back in the Top 25 by the end of the year despite losses to the Irish, with the Owls winning the AAC and getting the Group of Five spot to boot. The Stanford game at the end of the year serves as a de facto play-in game to the final four as a result of the Cardinal winning the Pac-12 and Notre Dame looking like a complete team. The committee then gives an 11-1 Irish squad a top four spot since they’re playing at that level and the only blemish on their resume is to an undefeated Clemson team that was a close one on the road in the middle of a monsoon. 

Worst case: Injuries continue to mount in South Bend and Notre Dame loses one or two more times and even misses out on a New Year’s Six bowl game. A spot in the Russell Athletic Bowl isn’t a bad finish considering how many key players have been lost for Brian Kelly, but it’s a little disappointing considering they’re right on the fringe of playoff contention right now.

 

Mid-American Conference

Contenders: Toledo

Best case: The Rockets run the table, and the AAC beats itself up, giving Toledo the Group of Five spot and a chance to upset Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Even with two Power Five wins and a perfect record, it still seems unlikely they get the nod over the AAC champ when it comes to the Group of Five bid without any help.

Worst case: Bowling Green upsets Toledo and the Rockets wind up in the GoDaddy Bowl while Matt Campbell gets hired away by Maryland before the MAC title game.

 

Pac-12

Contenders: Stanford, Utah

Best case: The Cardinal continue to blow out their competition and look like the team in the Top 10 that is playing the best. They end their season with wins over one-loss Notre Dame and Utah to earn a spot in the top four no matter what the SEC or other conferences do.

On the flip side, for the South Division representative, Utah runs the table and responds to their loss at USC by throttling the rest of their schedule, including UCLA with all eyes on Salt Lake City in November. They then beat a Stanford team that had just topped Notre Dame in the Pac-12 title game and see Michigan upset Ohio State and eventually win the Big Ten. That gets the Utes in over… Alabama.

Worst case: Notre Dame beats Stanford, who then loses to two-loss Utah in the Pac-12 title game. That sends the Utes to the Rose Bowl but keeps the Pac-12 out of the Playoff and the rest of the New Year’s Six bowls.

 

Southeastern Conference

Contenders: Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss, Florida

Best case: Alabama or LSU run the table and get a shot at redemption against Ohio State in a playoff semifinal. Ole Miss and Florida could also win out to get into the final four, but both present their own pitfalls.

Worst case: Alabama loses to LSU at home. The Tigers lose to both Ole Miss and Texas A&M. The Rebels barely win the league (over a two-loss Georgia) and the entire SEC melts down as Memphis gets into the playoff over one of their teams.

On the plus side, a Stanford/Memphis title game sends Finebaum ratings into the stratosphere. Even Alabama or Ole Miss winning out could realistically see the SEC on the outside looking in if there are three undefeated teams and those two teams' resumes don’t stack up to Stanford/Utah/Notre Dame.

 

Stats of the Week

- Washington State has a three-game conference win streak for the first time since 2003 and has scored 40-plus in three straight for the first time since 2001.

- Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes had six interceptions in 307 throws prior to the Oklahoma game, where he had four picks in 40 throws.

- Christian Hackenberg became Penn State’s all-time passing-yardage leader and completions leader against Maryland.

- A win over Rutgers was Urban Meyer’s 150th of his career. According to the school, he is undefeated in games played in October (14-0) and November (12-0) while at Ohio State. The Buckeyes also moved to within one game of the NCAA record for conference victories with their 28th straight Big Ten regular-season win. The record is 1992-1995 Florida State with 29 straight ACC wins.

- Florida State, meanwhile, fell short of their own NCAA record with a streak of 28 straight ACC games over the past three seasons getting snapped by Georgia Tech.

- Duke/Virginia Tech was the ACC’s first ever four-overtime game.

- Clemson’s 58-0 win over Miami was the worst in the Hurricanes’ record books.

- Temple has outscored its opponents 137-29 in the second half this year.

 

Quote of the Week

“It was crazy because we blocked it and I see it run across the line. I go from yelling ‘Get away from it’ to ‘run, run, run.’” - Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson on the last-second blocked field goal to beat Florida State.

 

Tweet of the Week

 

Play of the Week/Sound from Saturday

 

Pre-Snap Reads

Stanford at Washington State

Strange things could be in the cards in Pullman on Halloween night with some #Pac12AfterDark action going a number of different ways. The Cardinal are playing as well as anybody, but their young secondary will have their hands full with Luke Falk and the Cougars terrific receivers. This one will be close for three quarters before Christian McCaffrey scores twice late to provide a nice margin for Stanford.

 

Notre Dame at Temple

The Irish are for real but face the first of their tough late-season tests with a visit to undefeated Temple. This one all comes down to who can stop the run best, no easy task with some quarterbacks who can create with their feet. Notre Dame gets the edge but this one will be closer than expected for many considering the names on the front of the jerseys.

 

UNC at Pitt

How about this ACC Coastal matchup…being for the division? It’s not out of the realm of possibility. Pitt has played quite well and is close to being undefeated. UNC rolled off a bunch of wins after its season opener but came back down to reality a bit last week. We’ll roll with the home team in this one, but it’s pretty much a tossup.

Bryan Fischer covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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Is Michigan State QB Connor Cook Playing His Way to Top-10 NFL Draft Pick?

After Connor Cook's 398 yards and four touchdowns led Michigan State to an otherwise uninspiring 52-26 victory over Indiana on Saturday, it left many wondering whether the Spartans quarterback belonged in this season's Heisman Trophy conversation.

But while college pundits just now find themselves debating the merits of a Cook campaign, conversations about the Michigan State signal-caller's future at the next level have already existed for quite some time.

There may not be a more polarizing prospect in the 2016 NFL draft—at least as far as quarterbacks are concerned—than Cook, who seemingly has all the physical tools of being a franchise player at the sport's most important position. At 6'4" and 220 pounds, the Hinckley, Ohio, native certainly possesses the size of a prototypical professional passer and a three-year resume that proves he could ace more than just the looks test in the NFL.

"He's the kind of guy, with his size and his arm, he can make all the throws," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said during a conference call following the 2014 season, after Cook announced his intentions of returning to East Lansing for his senior year. "He can beat you from the pocket very effectively.

"He has a chance to be the first or second quarterback off the board next year."

Through the first eight games of the 2015 season, Cook has already lived up to those expectations and then some while leading Michigan State to an 8-0 record and a No. 6 ranking in the most recent AP Top 25 poll following the Spartans' victory over the Hoosiers on Saturday. The senior signal-caller leads the Big Ten in passing yards (2,020) and touchdown passes (17), and he ranks third in the conference in quarterback rating (146.5), all while having thrown just two interceptions heading into MSU's bye week.

But while Cook has looked the part of high first-round pick statistically, questions about his intangibles have persisted. Particularly after the Spartans quarterback was suspiciously not voted a captain by teammates prior to the start of his senior season, despite being the face of the Michigan State offense for the past three years.

"I for sure want to be captain, but it's not gonna limit me from leading," Cook said in September after it was revealed that defensive end Shilique Calhoun, offensive lineman Jack Allen and linebacker Darien Harris would serve as the Spartans captains this season. "I think for the position that I'm in, being a quarterback here, that's already assumed."

Teammates have backed up that sentiment, insisting that while he may not hold the official title of captain, doing so would be more of a formality for Cook than anything else.

"I would say that Connor is a captain," Calhoun said, per MLive.com. "It's not always about the title with us, it's about going out there and performing and trying to help your team and I think Connor has done that and I think he'll keep doing that."

While his fellow Spartans have downplayed Cook not being one of Michigan State's captains, it's hard to imagine NFL scouts and executives won't raise their eyebrows when it comes to his omission, even as Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio has remained steadfast in selecting just three captains each season. If a quarterback can't be trusted to be a captain of his college team, how can he do the same in the pros, where even more of a premium is placed on leadership at the position?

That—as well as questions about his accuracy—seems to be one of the biggest reasons why opinions on Cook still appear to be split.

In his latest mock draft released on Oct. 5, Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller projected Cook to be an early second-round pick and the third quarterback to be picked in the draft behind California's Jared Goff and Penn State's Christian Hackenberg. ESPN's Todd McShay, meanwhile, slotted Cook as the No. 2 overall pick in his way-too-early mock draft for 2016 released last May.

With the way he's been playing lately, Cook could be coming closer to living up to McShay's lofty expectation.

In the three games played since Miller released his last mock draft, which followed consecutive weeks of throwing for fewer than 200 yards against Central Michigan and Purdue, Cook has shined statistically, throwing for 300 or more yards in games against Rutgers, Michigan and Indiana. In that span, the former 247Sports 3-star prospect has tallied 1,093 yards, seven touchdowns, a quarterback rating of 141.7 and just one interception, despite facing the Wolverines' top-ranked defense.

But perhaps more impressive, at least as far as the perception of Cook's intangibles are concerned, has been that aside from Jalen Watts-Jackson's improbable touchdown return to secure the Spartans' victory over Michigan a week ago, Michigan State's quarterback has been the biggest reason why it has remained undefeated and in the thick of the College Football Playoff hunt this season. While the Spartans defense has ranked 37th nationally and MSU's offensive line has remained makeshift due to a plethora of injuries, Cook has been nothing short of spectacular for the better part of the past month.

And if any concerns about his leadership have persisted, they were quieted on Saturday, when Cook helped turn what entered the fourth quarter as a five-point game into a Michigan State blowout.

"He's a gamer. He's able to put the ball right on the money," Dantonio said of Cook following the Spartans' win over Indiana. "He's got that 'X-factor' a little bit. The biggest thing I can tell you is when there's something that goes wrong, he gets sacked or he doesn't make the throw, he's able to bounce back and make the plays and make the throws. I think that's a credit to him."

With four games left in the regular season—including a highly anticipated Nov. 21 date with Ohio State—and whatever type of postseason Michigan State takes part in after that, a lot can change between now and when Cook begins to take part in the draft process.

But it's not hard to see that the Spartans signal-caller is on an upward trajectory, which could ultimately lead to Cook hearing his name called sooner rather than later next spring.

 

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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Inside the Making of Showtime's 'A Season With Notre Dame Football'

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame football running back C.J. Prosise was trying to focus on a big game. And he had to deal with cameras and questions.

But no, this wasn’t his 198-yard, three-touchdown effort against Georgia Tech, or either of his multi-score outings against UMass, Navy or USC. This was serious.

With some downtime before Notre Dame’s Week 2 matchup against Virginia, Prosise and his roommate, Irish receiver Chris Brown, settled in for a showdown in FIFA on Xbox in their off-campus apartment. And as has been the case all season, the cameras and questions from Showtime’s A Season With Notre Dame Football, the season-long documentary series chronicling the Irish program, followed.

“What made me upset about that was that when we were playing, they were talking to me and asking me questions while I was playing,” Prosise said. “So of course while I’m answering questions, Chris scores.”

Brown, playing as the German side Borussia Dortmund, held on for the 1-0 win over Prosise, playing with Juventus of Serie A in Italy.

“Now Chris can talk all this trash saying that he’s beating me,” Prosise said with a laugh. “But, really, I was distracted the whole time.”

Outside of a crushing video game loss, the distractions have been kept to a minimum, according to those involved with the unique partnership between Notre Dame and Showtime, which is documenting the 2015 season with weekly episodes that began Sept. 8, three days after Notre Dame’s season-opening win over Texas.

“Our Showtime team is embedded with their team,” said Jason Sciavicco, the showrunner and one of the executive producers for the series. “We are almost one now. It’s more of a distraction when we’re not there at this point because they’re so used to us being there.”

“I’ve gotten used to it, them just being around,” Irish star wide receiver Will Fuller said. “It’s like they’re part of the team now.”

“It was a difficult transition early on,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said, adding that it’s now become a way of life for his team. “There’s just been really good dialogue and communication between the football staff and Showtime, and it’s making it work on a day-to-day basis.”

It’s that continuation in dialogue that has bred a smooth working relationship between the 100-plus-member football team and the Showtime staff, which regularly has between 30 and 35 people on the ground in South Bend.

The conversation began two years ago, when Scott Stone, one of the show’s other executive producers, approached Sciavicco with the idea for a show chronicling a major college football program.

“It’s actually never been done on any major level for the entire season,” Sciavicco points out, noting the short length of HBO’s Hard Knocks.

Sciavicco, who had produced other reality-type football shows such as Friday Night Tykes (Esquire), Two-A-Days (MTV) and Varsity Inc. (ESPN2), met with Stone, discussed their vision for the show and agreed to move forward.

The next two years, however, were spent locking up a football program to document. Sciavicco said they spoke with “several different schools” and were “down the road very far” with a few different programs. Meetings with various head coaches ran upwards of two hours.

“For a major university and a major college football program, opening up your doors 100 percent is not the easiest thing for them to commit to,” Sciavicco said. “But for us to feel like we could produce the kind of show that we’re producing, that’s what we needed. We needed access to position meetings, team meetings. We needed to be in the locker room—win or lose. We needed to be there for every team meeting and the ups and downs throughout a season.”

Sciavicco said both sides grew comfortable through several conversations and have now formed “a great partnership.” Kelly has enlisted three staff members—sports information director Michael Bertsch, special assistant Bob Elliott and director of football administration Beth Rex—to meet daily with Showtime in South Bend to discuss stories, scheduling and access. Sciavicco said he could not be happier with the access his group has received.

In addition to meetings with the Notre Dame side, Sciavicco has daily conference calls with other producers and associate producers about each episode’s content and the storylines.

“My philosophy is always what’s best is what’s real,” Sciavicco said. “And when you see real, raw emotions, you know it. You see it on the screen. You can feel it. … It’s just being in the right place at the right time, making sure that the players and the coaches are all comfortable with you.”

It helps to have the resources Showtime has allowed for the series. Between camera operators, audio technicians, producers, associate producers, production assistants and production managers, for example, there are 30-35 members of the Showtime staff working in South Bend, 95 percent of whom have been brought in from outside the Indiana area.

There are roughly another 35 people working on the show’s post-production in California, where all the editing occurs. Sciavicco’s staff in South Bend will send its high-resolution footage to California two to four times per day, allowing editors to work on material that was shot as recently as five hours ago on campus, for instance.

Stone oversees the post-production component along with Tom Cappello, among others. Sciavicco said they speak 15 times per day. On his last cell-phone bill, Sciavicco ran up 7,200 minutes.

“We did the sad calculation; and that’s being on the phone for five consecutive days in one month,” Sciavicco quipped.

Three to five camera crews—each working 12- to 18-hour days—capture roughly 180 hours of footage each week, which gets slashed into 30 minutes for each Tuesday night, when the episodes air at 10 p.m. ET. The crews have been around for everything from team meetings and practice to classes and meals, following players and coaches to apartments, houses and hotel rooms since fall camp began in August.

“[Kelly] just said the cameras are gonna be here, don’t look at them, just act the way you usually would act because they’re going to be here all year,” Prosise said.

“It’s definitely weird just knowing that everything you do and say is on camera,” senior defensive end Romeo Okwara added. “So you definitely have to watch what you say sometimes for sure. It’s just something you have to get used to.”

“I don’t make it bigger than what it is,” outgoing and confident senior cornerback KeiVarae Russell said. “If I’m eating and they’re watching me, I just eat. I just eat. I’m not trying to eat a certain way. I’m being me. I’m just gonna eat regular. I’m just gonna do what I would do if they weren’t there.”

Like many of the Irish players, Fuller has had cameras trail him in multiple classes, including those in small classroom settings.

“In the classroom it’s real weird because you’ve got the students and the cameras are all on you and you’re looking around and you don’t know what to do, paying attention to the teacher, students looking at you, it’s real awkward,” Fuller said.

The players, though, are provided with access to watch the episodes and certainly don’t mind the finished product.

“It’s pretty cool. They make us look real good,” Fuller said.

“At times it can be a little much and be a little bit of a hassle. But it’s kind of cool to say you’re on a TV show and part of a TV show,” Prosise added.

All that footage and all those camera crews pay off, though, for Showtime when in the right spot. Sciavicco highlighted a scene from the show’s third episode, when quarterback DeShone Kizer candidly reflected on his path to the starting quarterback job, including when he “hit rock bottom” going into the summer and asked himself if he was playing the right sport.

“It was as real as real gets,” Sciavicco said. “That’s a kid just opening up his heart and his feelings and just giving you his real feelings at that time. That was cool to capture. … He didn’t have to be open like that in front of us.”

Similarly, Sciavicco said Showtime has not been shut out from any of Notre Dame’s myriad injuries, which he called “delicate moments.” And when the Irish suffered a heartbreaking two-point loss to Clemson on the road, Showtime was still there in the locker room.

“We had to earn the trust from Coach Kelly and his staff,” Sciavicco said. “I think we’ve done a good job of that. And I think the relationship has shown that on the screen.”

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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