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College Football's 4-Team Playoff Is Already Looking Outdated

Everyone who cares about college football seems to be in agreement that this season’s four-team playoff is a good thing. A great thing, actually.

But guess what? It’s already outdated, and it’s only a matter of time before the clamoring for a six- or eight-team playoff begins. The widespread upsets of the last two weeks guarantee it.

College football can’t match the NFL for parity, but it’s getting closer and closer. And as it does, it gets tougher and tougher to distinguish between the growing flock of once-beaten teams.

There are 15 of them from the power-five conferences right now, all stuck in a pack behind unbeatens Mississippi State, Florida State and Ole Miss.

Yes, there’s a lot of football left to be played, and many of those once-beaten teams will get kicked to the curb shortly.

But some of them will hang around. And I’ll predict that when the 13-member committee announces the final four teams on Dec. 7, the howls of protest are going to be every bit as loud as they were under the old Bowl Championship Series format. Even louder, probably.

The first problem is that at least one of the power-five conferences is guaranteed to get left out of the big show, and that league no doubt will argue vehemently about a lack of equal representation.

A six-team playoff could solve that problem. The top two seeds would get a bye, the big conferences would all be in and Notre Dame would have a convenient slot available to fill.

The second problem is that the Southeastern Conference might have the nation’s two best teams in Mississippi State and Ole Miss, but Georgia, Alabama and Auburn look like they aren’t too far behind. At times, the Bulldogs have seemed even more impressive since losing Heisman front-runner Todd Gurley to a suspension

If the SEC, having won seven of the last eight national championships, doesn’t get two spots this season, the South is certain to rise up in anger. And if it does get two spots that means there will be two power-five conferences grumbling instead of just one.

This season, it’s looking like the SEC West Division alone will have four playoff-worthy teams. The two Mississippi schools have already passed acid tests, Alabama shut up its doubters with its 59-0 thumping of Texas A&M and Auburn is also clinging to a once-beaten record.

Meantime:

Florida State has a clear path to another undefeated regular season after escaping against Notre Dame.

In the Big Ten the winner of the Nov. 8 Ohio State-Michigan State showdown will be able to make a strong case for the playoffs.

Out west, Oregon appears to have rebounded nicely after getting upset by Arizona.

Confounding the situation is the Big 12, which doesn’t have a conference championship game. TCU can claim that losing a 61-58 shootout at Baylor was a much more honorable defeat than the 41-27 clobbering Baylor just suffered at West Virginia. And what if once-beaten Kansas State splits its games with TCU and Baylor?

Confusion will reign, and Big 12 advocates will be quick to remind everyone that last season, Oklahoma dismantled Alabama by the count of 45-31 in the Sugar Bowl, so maybe the SEC isn’t quite as great as many think.

Notre Dame creates another problem. The Fighting Irish are television-ratings gold, and with ESPN paying nearly $500 million a year for playoff rights, it won’t be happy if Notre Dame keeps winding up on the playoff bubble.

Despite the Notre Dame loss to Florida State on Saturday night, I think the Irish remain very alive in the playoff conversation. The nation saw them lose in prime time when a controversial call negated what would have been the winning touchdown, and it was a road game for the Irish.

Likewise, eight teams from power-five conferences can point out that their lone defeat came on the road: Alabama, Auburn, Baylor, Duke, Georgia, Michigan State, Nebraska and Texas Christian.

There are dozens of arguments to be made, only four playoff spots to be awarded and no way to settle all of the disputes without expanding the postseason.

Also hanging around are 5-1 East Carolina and the 7-0 Marshall Thundering Herd, which has yet to be held under 42 points. It’s easy to write off those two teams since they dwell respectively in the American Athletic Conference and Conference-USA. But hey, in basketball, didn’t little Butler make it all the way to the Final Four championship in 2010 and lose by two points, and then show up again in the 2011 title game?

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is one more problem for football’s four-team playoff. Every year it provides evidence of schools that belong right alongside the big boys even though they were disregarded by the rankings. Fans are going to argue that surely there’s room for an eight-team football playoff if March Madness can handle 68.

And the ones that will scream loudest will be from the inevitable collection of schools that believe they got robbed this season.

 

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

 

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Bowl Predictions 2014: Latest Playoff Projections After Week 8

There has been little rhyme or reason to the 2014 college football season, making the task of crafting bowl predictions in the nascent College Football Playoff era an admittedly dicey proposition.

Every single week, a hot new contender takes hold in the minds of college football fans. Perhaps it's a result of the fact that every single week, one of the top teams takes a loss.

No. 4-ranked Baylor's 41-27 loss in Week 8 to unranked West Virginia drops the team's stock dramatically, although a strong finish and a Big 12 title could put the Bears back in the hunt if the SEC West contenders eat each other alive.

After eight weeks of college football action that's seen more than its fair share of upsets, it's clear there is no such thing as a sure thing in FBS play. Still, one can make a reasonable prediction for the College Football Playoff by looking at the best teams' remaining schedules and deciphering which programs have the best chance of escaping the trap games and toppling the pushovers.

Let's take a look at some projections for the College Football Playoff.

 

Playoff Projections

Sugar Bowl: Florida State vs. Ole Miss

Rose Bowl: Alabama vs. Michigan State

Championship Bowl: Alabama vs. Ole Miss

National Champion: Ole Miss

 

Florida State's Path to the Playoff

After defeating Notre Dame 31-27 in Week 8, the Seminoles should make it through the rest of their schedule unscathed. They have one truly tough opponent remaining in ACC-rival Louisville, a 6-2 team with a stifling defense and a mediocre offense.

The Cardinals have given up just 5.12 passing yards per attempt this season, per NCAA.com. Teams are converting just 21.5 percent of their third downs against Louisville's D, the lowest rate in the FBS.

WDRB's Eric Crawford noted in Week 7 how it seems the defense only relents and gives up a touchdown when luck dons the opposing team's colors:

Louisville has the ability to smother Jameis Winston's options and force him into making throws on the run, a scenario which led to an early pick in the 'Noles' win over the Fighting Irish.

Still, Florida State's own defense—which has held four opponents to 20 points or fewer this year—should be strong enough to stifle the Cardinals' attack and eke out a victory.

After that, it's a slate of games that includes the likes of Virginia, Florida and Boston College, none of whom have impressed up to this point in the season.

There is still a chance that one of these opponents will rise to the occasion and trip up Florida State, but it would be highly unlikely after a confidence-boosting win over the Cardinals.

At this point, even a late-season loss for the 'Noles—so long as it's close—might not be enough to derail a chance at a second consecutive national championship.

 

Alabama's Path to the Playoff

Alabama crushed No. 21-ranked Texas A&M by a score of 59-0 in Week 8 and once again, the college football world is on notice. The resounding victory and head coach Nick Saban's insatiable quest for perfection should have the remaining teams on the schedule fearful of getting swept away by the Crimson Tide. 

"I think this is as close as we can get to the Alabama football that we want to try to get from our players in terms of effort, toughness, emotional excitement and execution that we got throughout the game," Saban said, via the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com).

Alabama has to remain perfect the rest of the way to advance to the playoffs, which means defeating Mississippi State on Nov. 15. Fortunately, 'Bama has the home-field advantage in that game, and the crowd should be especially lively knowing that a spot in the playoffs will likely be on the line.

The Bulldogs have forced 16 turnovers this season, but Saban has his team whipped back into shape after disjointed performances against Arkansas and Ole Miss. 

Quarterback Blake Sims will have to play like he did against the Aggies for the Crimson Tide to overcome Dak Prescott and company. Sims tossed three touchdowns against Texas A&M and picked up another score with his legs.

LSU is a possible trap game for the Crimson Tide, but Alabama's defense should be able to slowly squeeze the life out of the Tigers' middling passing attack, forcing Leonard Fournette and Kenny Hilliard to outperform the likes of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry.

A rational being would take the latter two backs—and by extension, Alabama—in that situation.

 

Michigan State's Path to the Playoff

The Spartans dominated Indiana in Week 8, rolling to a 56-17 win behind three scoring passes from quarterback Connor Cook and three rushing touchdowns from running back Jeremy Langford. With the offense performing well, Michigan State is looking mighty dangerous on both sides of the ball at just the right time of year.

The Spartans' defense, led by defensive end Shilique Calhoun (five sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss) and linebacker Ed Davis (six sacks, eight TFL), has been absolutely monstrous this season, save for a down performance against the high-powered Oregon offense.

The unit as a whole should be able to stymie the rushing attacks of its future opponents and provide the offense with a big cushion in most games.

The Spartans still have their doubters, though. NFL.com's Bryan Fischer isn't looking forward to seeing them (possibly) inch up the polls after Week 8:

The emergence of Langford and running back Nick Hill as a dynamic tandem out of the backfield should provide Cook with plenty of support and allow him to take advantage of weary defenses down the stretch. He's been reliable all season long, tossing 16 touchdowns against just five interceptions.

Oregon is perhaps the biggest threat to take the Spartans' spot, followed by a Georgia squad that continues to make strides—with most of them coming from freshman tailback Nick Chubb—despite losing the sensational Todd Gurley to an indefinite suspension

It's tough to imagine the Ducks' offensive line protecting Marcus Mariota well enough to pull off victories over Stanford and Utah in back-to-back weeks, let alone win the Pac-12 title outright.

The Big 10 has lost some of its luster in recent seasons, but it will send a surprise representative to the College Football Playoff when the remaining fringe contenders stumble.

 

Ole Miss' Path to the Playoff

This spot could just as easily go to Mississippi State, but Ole Miss should have the edge in the Egg Bowl, especially if the Bulldogs' psyche is shot after a loss to an Alabama team that was nearly left for dead in the SEC West.

That being said, Ole Miss can't gaze ahead to the end of the season; it must first get past SEC-rival Auburn on Nov. 1.

Quarterback Nick Marshall is the kind of dual-threat quarterback that can give any defense fits, and running back Cameron Artis-Payne is exceedingly tough to bring down, averaging 5.3 yards per carry on the season.

The momentum from wins over Tennessee and (potentially) LSU should carry the Rebels through this contest, leaving the aforementioned rivalry showdown on Nov. 29 against Mississippi State as the biggest roadblock to a playoff spot. 

Quarterback Bo Wallace has pretty much been money after a three-interception game against Boise State to start the season. His ability to limit mistakes and hold onto the ball should give Ole Miss ample opportunities to win the remainder of its games.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Predicting the Top 25 After Week 8

Week 8 was highlighted by a Top Five matchup between Notre Dame and Florida State that lived up to its billing and was probably the best game of the season.

Based on that alone, the week was a success.

The rest of the schedule featured a disproportionate amount of blowouts, but enough important things happened that FSU-Notre Dame did not have to do the entirety of the lifting. Especially in the Big 12, where both of the (heavy, heavy) preseason favorites went down, chaos ruled the day once again.

But how will the wreckage be sorted when the Week 9 Associated Press poll is released Sunday afternoon?

Let's take a shot in the dark:

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

 

Biggest Risers

West Virginia

West Virginia finally got over the hump after close losses against Alabama and Oklahoma, beating Baylor in Morgantown, 41-27.

The Mountaineers defense has been slowly improving all season and played perhaps its best game of the Dana Holgorsen era Saturday, holding Baylor to 27 points and 318 yards of offense one week after it scored 61 points and gained 782 yards of offense against TCU.

Receiver Kevin White continued to play like an All-American, catching eight passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns. One of those touchdowns was a ridiculous one-handed grab in the fourth quarter that would prove to be the game-winning score.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, White joined Michael Crabtree in 2007 and Justin Blackmon in 2010 as the third receiver in the last 15 years to post 100 receiving yards in his team's first seven games. Crabtree and Blackmon both won the Biletnikoff Award that season.

White could make it three in a row. 

 

Alabama

Alabama beat the stuffing out of Texas A&M, outgaining the Aggies 560 yards to 50 before taking its foot off the gas in a 59-0 win.

Nick Saban and Kirby Smart adjusted well after getting torched by A&M's offense last season, proving once and (one would think) for all that they are not allergic to defending the high-tempo spread. Kevin Sumlin had never before this game been shut out as a head coach.

Now he needs to start a new streak.

But the Crimson Tide offense was every bit as impressive as their defense. Blake Sims, T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper all played well, and the offensive line had its best overall showing of the year.

After losing at Ole Miss and barely edging past Arkansas, Alabama righted the ship in a big way. It once again looks like a favorite to make and win the College Football Playoff. 

 

Biggest Fallers

Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State played Florida State close in Week 1 but hadn't proved much of anything in the subsequent five games. It sort of just rose up the rankings to No. 15 as other teams around it lost. It got exposed, though, in a brutally lopsided 42-9 loss at TCU in which it was outgained by more than 400 yards. In hindsight, the Cowboys barely beating Kansas last week makes a lot more sense.

"We just got our butts kicked. There's really not anything else I can say," admitted head coach Mike Gundy, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "We gave up two big plays in the first quarter. Offensively, we couldn't make plays. ... We never could get out of a jam after we got behind."

Gundy's team will try to rebound—and to avenge what happened in 2013—against West Virginia next weekend.

 

Oklahoma

It was not a good week for the Sooner State.

Just like its rivals from Stillwater, Oklahoma lost Saturday. Unlike its rivals from Stillwater, it lost on its home field.

That is a rare occurrence for the Sooners under head coach Bob Stoops, who is normally a sure thing in Norman. But Stoops' former mentor, Bill Snyder, had Kansas State ready to play with a smart game plan and a bye the week before to prepare.

Oklahoma is 5-2 but came dangerously close to losing against Texas last weekend—a game in which it was outgained by 250 yards and needed a pair of non-offensive touchdowns to win. If not for those non-offensive touchdowns, the Sooners would be riding a three-game losing streak.

(At least I got something right during the preseason.)

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Florida State's Defense Proves It Still Has Championship Clutch Factor

Florida State's defense is a far cry from the 2013 group. The Seminoles have bent, not dominated. They have given up an average of 23 points per game, and a few times put the team on the brink of a loss.

But, just when the doubts arise again, the defense turns in its best football. With the Seminoles on the ropes in the final seconds on Saturday night, the defense came through with a goal-line stand, proving they still have the championship clutch factor that won them the 2013 national championship. 

It wasn't the dominating performance of old, but the bottom line is the Seminoles defense refused to lose.  The Irish made it very interesting, as they ran 13 plays on FSU's side of the 50 in the closing minutes of the game. But the Seminoles kept making stops, getting new life after a penalty nullified a touchdown, and sealed the win with an interception in the end zone with six seconds to go.

"That fourth-down stop was big-time," FSU linebacker Terrance Smith said. "As long as you find ways to win, that's what this game is all about."

Technically, Notre Dame found the end zone with 13 seconds to go. Quarterback Everett Golson connected with Corey Robinson, who was wide open and walked into the end zone. But the referees called another Notre Dame receiver, C.J. Prosise, for offensive pass interference.

P.J. Williams was supposed to cover Robinson on the play.

"It was a long 20 seconds man," Williams said.  "I saw him catch the ball, my head went down a little bit. After I saw the flag, I knew we were good and everything was going to be alright."

Pretty it is not. But FSU's defense simply has a clutch gene in 2014.  

In the opener against Oklahoma State, Williams forced quarterback J.W. Walsh to fumble in the fourth quarter. Two weeks later, FSU stopped Clemson in the fourth quarter, halting a drive deep into Seminoles territory, and also stuffed the Tigers on four downs in overtime. Then there was the win over North Carolina State despite allowing a school-record 24 points in the first quarter (FSU held the Wolfpack to 17 points in the final three quarters). And against Syracuse last week, FSU held the Orange to just six points on four red-zone trips in the first half.

"It's just a testament to who we are on defense," defensive tackle Derrick Mitchell said. "We wouldn't want it any other way."

FSU simply shut offenses down in 2013. The Seminoles had future NFL players like Timmy Jernigan, Telvin Smith, Christian Jones, Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks. This year's defense has had to fight—not just to win games but to keep key players healthy. Tackle Eddie Goldman battled an ankle injury earlier this year. End Mario Edwards Jr. missed a game with a concussion. Williams and corner Ronald Darby have been slowed by hamstring injuries.

However, through it all they have been able to do enough to keep the Noles' unbeaten streak alive. Great defenses don't have to dominate all the time, but they always get stops when they need them.  The 2014 Noles have proved time and again that they can do just that. 

"We got people accustomed to us blowing people out last year," Smith said. "When we win in the ways we do this year, people are never really satisfied. Wins don't come easy but we find a way to keep getting them."

With the win, FSU may have made enough of an argument to retake the No. 1 spot in the polls. FSU's resume looks very good with a win over a Top Five team (Notre Dame) as well as a pair of Top 25 teams (Oklahoma State and Clemson).

"Hopefully we can get that No. 1 spot back," Mitchell said. "I feel like they took it from us and we had to go out there and win that game."

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All stats courtesy of seminoles.com.

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Florida State vs. Notre Dame Was College Football's Game of the Year

​Florida State against Notre Dame on Saturday night was more than a matchup of Top Five teams. Much more.

This was a game that matched two storied teams that are operating under dark clouds. Two programs with Everest-like profiles that, by virtue of colliding on the field, also brought more attention and hype to each other’s flaws.

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is under scrutiny regarding whether he was paid for autographing more than 2,000 items that showed up for sale on a website. And also for the rape accusation that was leveled against him last year, with no charges filed. And the memory is still fresh of the profanity-laced rant in public on campus that got him suspended for one game.

Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson is back in the Fighting Irish huddle this season after sitting out last year because of academic fraud. That’s the same misdeed that that led to the suspension of several Notre Dame players this season while an investigation continues.

Both teams entered undefeated but also were perceived to be battling some on-field flaws, too.

Florida State already had trailed at halftime in two games, indicating a big drop in talent by the defending national champions. And it would trail at halftime again.

With a schedule that has the toughest games backloaded, Notre Dame had yet to be overly impressive. It needed a last-minute touchdown to beat Stanford, and its reputation for defense was seriously harmed last week after giving up 43 points to North Carolina.

So yes, the No. 2 Seminoles and the No. 5 Fighting Irish really needed a game Saturday night that put the emphasis back on how their football teams perform on the field.

They got it and then some during the 31-27 Florida State victory that gave the Seminoles their 23rd consecutive win.

This one came down to the final minute. It will be remembered as a duel between two quarterbacks who, despite their issues, still could finish 1-2 in the Heisman voting.

Notre Dame’s final march had luck of the Irish written all over it, but that script was undone by an offensive pass interference call that negated what would have been the winning touchdown.

Even so, a game-changing call by the refs didn’t undo all the drama that these two teams built for 60 minutes.

Notre Dame’s final drive included Golson improvising with a mad scramble and clutch completion to convert on 4th-and-18 to stay alive.

Winston thrust himself back into the Heisman conversation with a near-perfect second half in which he was 15-for-16 for 181 yards while leading three touchdown drives.

The sophomore spent all night dragging his team out of the ditch as Notre Dame grabbed leads on four occasions, only to see Winston rally FSU to tie three times before taking ultimate control in the fourth quarter.

Having already lost its No. 1 perch in the polls, FSU was in danger of tumbling out of the College Football Playoff picture. It doesn’t wipe away Winston’s autograph controversy, but it does give the kid a signature victory.

Golson also may have seen his brand rise nationally, even if his desperate final toss of the night ended up in Seminole hands.

On a final drive that began with 2:53 left, he took his team inside the FSU 10 with 46 seconds remaining. The hope-killing penalty was called with 11 seconds left, but Golson still had reason to leave with his head held high.

He finished with 313 passing yards to Winston’s 273 and took an upstart team that was expected to be overwhelmed to the threshold of a major upset.

Both quarterbacks faced their share of adversity.

Winston ended the game thriving, but he spent most of the first half just surviving amid constant breakdowns by the FSU offensive line. The Irish blitzed from every direction and clearly had the FSU offense confused.

Trailing 17-10 at the half, the Seminoles had rushed for a mere 19 yards, and their final total of 50 wasn’t much better.

Yet they overcame a 470-323 deficit in total yards because of Winston’s pinpoint passing in the second half.

Golson disappeared into the locker room during the third quarter, no doubt stressing Irish fans to the maximum. But he soon came sprinting back and fought off leg cramps the rest of the way.

Notre Dame now joins the ever-growing ranks of elite but once-beaten teams, but it may have seen its stature grow by taking FSU down to the wire, on the road.

The nation also got a prime-time introduction to Corey Robinson, son of NBA great David Robinson. The younger Robinson hauled in a pair of touchdown catches and also was on the receiving end of that 4th-and-18 conversion.

The final bit of drama came when FSU coach Jimbo Fisher embraced Winston amid the celebration and turned quarterback whisperer while softly telling his player, "Don't give them that over-exuberant look. Act very passive right here and get people back on your side. You understand what I'm telling you? Humble. Humble pie.” 

We’ll see if that advice sinks in.

Meantime, like a great showdown between heavyweights, this one instantly begs for a rematch. It’s not unthinkable that could happen in the playoffs, given the way top teams have been falling the last two weeks.

And if it does, just imagine the hype we’ll have the next time around.


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

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College Football Rankings Week 9: B/R's Official Top 25

And then there were three. And we don't just mean undefeated teams from the power conferences, but also schools fighting for the top spot in the Bleacher Report rankings after another great weekend of action.

Week 8 saw two more perfect teams go down, including Notre Dame after falling 31-27 at defending national champion Florida State in a thrilling game in Tallahassee. Great results across the country led to yet another week of movement in our rankings, with three new teams moving into the top 25.

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

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

Check out Bleacher Report's Week 9 poll, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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Stanford vs. ASU: Score and Twitter Reaction

The legend of Mike Bercovici grows. The disparity between ASU leader Taylor Kelly and his backup becomes increasingly small with each major victory.

The junior quarterback, who stepped in for an injured Kelly in a 62-27 loss to UCLA on Sept. 25, picked up his second victory in a row and ASU's fifth win of the year, with the 17th-ranked Sun Devils knocking off the No. 23 Stanford Cardinal, 26-10, at home on Saturday night.

"Going into the UCLA game, a lot of guys hadn't really seen me," Bercovici said before the game, per Evan Webeck of The State Press. "They'd seen me in practice but not really underneath the lights. More than ever, now, I feel like I'm getting a lot of respect."

He didn't post the video game-like numbers that he had against the Bruins and USC Trojans, but he was efficient with his throws and moved the ball against a talented Cardinal defense, which is no easy feat. Coming into the game, Stanford ranked fourth in pass defense (138.2 YPG) and second in total defense (238 YPG).

Bercovici ended up 23-of-33 for 245 yards and a touchdown. Doug Haller of AZCentral.com was impressed with how even-keeled the signal-caller remained:

Junior wide receiver Jaelen Strong was Bercovici's favorite target, catching eight passes for 75 yards and a touchdown.

The running back combo of Deantre Lewis and D.J. Foster wasn't prolific, but the two combined to rush for 105 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries to take some pressure off Bercovici and the passing game. Foster also added seven receptions and 92 yards receiving.

The story of Stanford's season is that its somewhat pedestrian offense has held back its outstanding defense. The Cardinal were 81st in total offense (389.3 YPG) and tied for 86th in scoring (26.3 PPG) before Saturday's game.

Senior quarterback Kevin Hogan had a particularly rough day, going 19-of-39 for 212 yards. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News thought ASU head coach Todd Graham and defensive coordinator Keith Patterson did a great job of mixing up the Sun Devils' defensive looks:

Hogan didn't receive much help from the running game, with Stanford amassing 288 yards as a team.

Sports On Earth's Matt Brown alluded to the fact that a defense that was ripped apart by UCLA was completely shutting down the Cardinal:

Defense hasn't exactly been a calling card for Arizona State, so if the Sun Devils can carry this kind of performance into what is a brutal stretch of games to come, they could position themselves as the cream of the crop in the wide open Pac-12 South.

With the way that Bercovici has the offense playing, ASU will be in every game it has left.

After a scoreless first quarter, the Sun Devils took a 7-0 lead with 8:28 left in the first half following a 13-play, 81-yard drive that ate nearly five minutes off the clock. Foster ran it in from a yard out to cap off the impressive march.

Bercovici doubled the lead with a three-yard touchdown pass to Strong (via Pac-12 Networks):

Arizona State only needed to move the ball 12 yards in order to go ahead 14-0 after Stanford return man Ty Montgomery fumbled a punt. Rob Schumacher of The Arizona Republic caught the moment when the ball bounced out of Montgomery's grasp:

The turnover was an uncharacteristic mistake from the senior wideout/return man. He'd previously been a thorn in Arizona State's side, recording nine receptions for 131 yards and three touchdowns in addition to 140 kick-return yards on five attempts.

Stanford was forced to wait until the second half before getting its first points of the game. Jordan Williamson knocked home a 40-yard field goal to on the first drive of the third quarter to cut Arizona State's lead to 11 points, 14-3.

However, Zane Gonzalez answered back with two field goals of his own, connecting first from 25 yards and then 47 yards out to put ASU ahead 20-3 with 12:50 to play.

Fullback Patrick Skov handed the Cardinal their first touchdown of the game after a one-yard run with 11:23 left in the game:

His TD was quickly negated by two more field goals from Gonzalez in the fourth quarter to put ASU ahead by 16 points, 26-10, with 3:29 left, which put the game out of reach for Stanford.

The Cardinal will look to recover against the Oregon State Beavers next Saturday. After that, they play No. 9 Oregon and No. 20 Utah, so the road doesn't get any easier.

Arizona State goes on the road next week to play Washington, and then it's the Utes followed by No. 5 Notre Dame. Those latter two games will whether the last two weeks have been an aberration for the Sun Devils or a sign that they're truly for real.

 

Note: All team stats are courtesy of NCAA.com.

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College Football Scores 2014: Week 8 Results and Top Stars for Top 25 Teams

The wild and wacky world of college football added another chapter on Saturday as more playoff hopefuls suffered crushing defeats. At this rate, it's hard to know which four teams will wind up with a chance to win it all in the gridiron's version of the final four.

Here's a look at the highlights of Week 8's calamity.

 

The Noles Survive

Critics can say what they want about Jameis Winston and the Florida State program, but this team has heart. It came back from a 17-10 halftime deficit to win a thriller 31-27 over the No. 5-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Despite a spirited effort from Notre Dame's Everett Golson, the Noles simply outplayed their opponents in the second half. The Fighting Irish had a chance to win late, and it looked as if they scored the game-winning touchdown, but Golson's bootleg pass to Corey Robinson in the end zone was called back because of a blatant offensive pass interference.

Pushed back to the 17-yard line, Golson's desperation heave was picked off.

Jameis Winston was sharp as a tack in the second half. He completed 15 of 16 pass attempts and threw for a score to lead the comeback. Florida State's defense deserves a ton of credit for the win as well. 

They got consistent pressure on Golson and forced him into two interceptions on the night. The second one ended the game on the definitive 4th-and-goal play. 

 

Baylor Upset by West Virginia

Some losses are too big to recover from. That may be the theme for the Baylor Bears' 41-27 setback on Saturday against the West Virginia Mountaineers. It's tough enough when the No. 4 team in the country loses to an unranked opponent, but when the favorite's Heisman Trophy candidate is outplayed by his counterpart, it makes things all the more embarrassing.

Former Florida State quarterback Clint Trickett has found a home with West Virginia. He completely outshone the more celebrated Bryce Petty in leading the Mountaineers to the big win.

Trickett threw for 322 yards and three scores in a game that came down to the production from the signal-callers. Neither team averaged as much as three yards per carry on the ground, so the fact that Petty only threw for 223 yards in a losing effort stands out.

Somehow, the Mountaineers overcame a minus-3 in the turnover differential to win. Third-down efficiency is one major stat to look to for an explanation. The Bears converted just three of 16 attempts on third down.

It's hard to win that way, even when the other team turns it over three times. Fair or not, much of the blame for the lack of execution will fall on Petty's shoulders. This loss will drop Baylor significantly in the polls, and push Petty just about out of the running for the Heisman Trophy.

 

Kansas State Nips Oklahoma

Oklahoma Sooners kicker Michael Hunnicutt had a rough day. He had an extra point blocked that would have tied the game in the fourth quarter, and then missed a 19-yarder that would have given his team the lead with 5:39 remaining.

The senior would surely have better days than this moving forward.

You can't call the No. 11 Oklahoma Sooners' 31-30 loss to the No. 14 Kansas State Wildcats a major upset because they are ranked so closely. However, because the win came on the road, it's a significant result for both teams.

The loss likely kills the Sooners' realistic chances of reaching the College Football Playoff.

With two losses, it seems near impossible the Sooners will find themselves in the final four come season's end. In the next rankings, they may very well switch places with Kansas State. The Wildcats have established themselves as sleepers for a playoff spot with the win.

They have just one loss, and it was a respectable defeat at the hands of the Auburn Tigers in Week 3. There's still a tough road ahead with games against Oklahoma State, Baylor, TCU and West Virginia, but if they were to run the table, the Wildcats would deserve a chance to play for the national championship. 

Now let's look at how all of the Top 25 teams did this week.

 

Top Stars from Top 25 Teams

J.T. Barrett Explodes on Rutgers

Anytime a player accounts for 368 total yards and five touchdowns, he deserves to be acknowledged as a top star. J.T. Barrett did everything for the Ohio State Buckeyes on offense on Saturday, and the defense stifled the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

Barrett needed just seven carries to reach 107 yards on the ground. He had scoring runs of 33 and seven yards. The freshman didn't turn the ball over all game, and he was the biggest key in the game.

 

Chubb Rock

Not many people expected Nick Chubb to play a major role for the Georgia Bulldogs offense, but thanks to the suspension of Todd Gurley, the freshman has become "The One." The young man's performance was enough to inspire references to good old-school hip-hop.

On Saturday, Chubb blasted through Arkansas for 222 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-32 win. He now has 345 yards on the ground in the last two games.

It can't be overstated how big Chubb's production has been. For a freshman to play this way in the midst of the SEC is beyond impressive. 

 

Doctsons Are Really Fast

Something tells me TCU Horned Frogs wide receiver Josh Doctson has drastically improved his draft stock over the last two games. A week after having the play of the day with a sparkling one-handed touchdown catch, Doctson put up 227 yards and two more receiving touchdowns.

In the first quarter, Doctson had touchdown receptions of 84 and 77 yards to help the TCU blast Oklahoma State 42-9.

At 6'4" 190 pounds with obvious speed and leaping gifts, Doctson looks the part of an NFL receiver.

 

Watch My Feet

The Alabama Crimson Tide destroyed Texas A&M in every facet during its 59-0 win. T.J. Yeldon used the game to show off his power and amazing feet in traffic. 

On several plays, Yeldon's footwork and ability to change direction to elude tacklers was quite impressive. He only had 13 rushes, but he finished with 114 yards on the ground and two scores. He may not have the stats, but when his Bama career is over, he might be the most-skilled back to come from the school during the Nick Saban era.

 

Seven Up 

Cody Kessler didn't throw for a ton of yards, but he had the Midas touch when it came to touchdown passes. The junior quarterback had seven touchdown scores in USC's 56-28 win over Colorado on Saturday. He had four in the first quarter. His performance set a single-game record for the program.

Three of the scores went to Kessler's favorite target, Nelson Agholor. For the day, Kessler threw for 319 yards on just 19 completions. It's hard to be more efficient than that.

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Love Him or Hate Him, Jameis Winston May Still Be the Best Player in the Country

Jameis Winston is as polarizing as they come. 

There are times when he is easy to root for. There are times when doing so would be impossible. But when he's on, as he was in the second half of Florida State's manic 31-27 win over Notre Dame, there is no denying Winston for what he is:

One of the best college football players we have ever seen.

And maybe still the best player in the country.

By beating the Irish on Saturday, Winston led the Seminoles to their 23rd consecutive win, 21 of which have come since his first start as a redshirt freshman last season. He advanced to 20-0 as a starter (having missed this year's Clemson game with a suspension) and 18-0 in the regular season. Winston did it against a foil, Everett Golson, who had also never lost a regular-season game.

The phrasing of "Winston led…" in the above paragraph is important. His team did not just win this game; Winston willed his team to win this game. After struggling to move the ball in the first two quarters, he played a near-perfect second half, marching FSU down the field for three touchdowns on its first four possessions.

Notre Dame led by five different scores on the evening: 7-0, 14-7, 17-10, 24-17 and 27-24. Notice any trends in that progression? 

Every time the first number goes up, so does the second.

Not once did the Irish score consecutively against the Seminoles. Every time Golson landed a punch, Winston landed a counter. In the end, Golson came up just one counterpunch short.

Winston won the Heisman Trophy last season but entered this week the No. 7 favorite to repeat, per Odds Shark.

That valuation seems fair—or at least it did before Saturday's game—because of the politicking that goes into the Heisman-voting process. Winston's off-field problems will cost him votes. So will the fact that he won the award last season. Chris Huston of Heisman Pundit wrote that Winston would not repeat all the way back in August.

But a valuation of Winston as the seventh-best player in college football—politicking and award considerations aside?

Poppycock.

Earlier this month, I ranked the top 10 players in the country, slotting Winston in at No. 3 behind Georgia running back Todd Gurley and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

With Gurley suspended for allegedly selling autographs, Winston and Mariota are the two best active players and the only two viable candidates for the title of "best player in America."

When I wrote that piece, putting Mariota ahead of Winston was easy. Winston is great, but Mariota does more with less protection. He makes more things happen. He doesn't cause a headache for his teammates.

But now? You might as well just leave it to a coin flip. Mariota lost his fourth game as a starter against Arizona two weeks ago. Winston still has that goose egg going strong.

We can cherry-pick stats until the cows come home, but isn't winning what matters most?

"These kids know how to win," Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher said of his team after the game, per Matt Hayes of Sporting News. "It’s not what we do, it’s who we are."

But the "we" in this case is an extension of an "I." Rather, an extension of a "QB." Winston knows how to win better than any other player in the country. There's a reason he keeps on doing it.

And provided he can stay on the field this season, there's a reason you shouldn't bet on him to stop.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Heisman Watch 2014: Top 5 Rankings for Week 8

With another exciting week of college football in the books, it's time to take a look at the updated Heisman Trophy rankings. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder lists his top contenders for the prestigious award. 

Who is your Heisman winner right now?

Watch the video and let us know! 

 

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Notre Dame's Playoff Hopes Should Still Be Very High After Loss to Florida State

The wound is still open, a heart still flat-lined after a controversial yellow flag ripped a victory from Notre Dame in the most dramatic of fashions. But while it's far too soon to take any solace, the Irish's performance in Tallahassee, Florida, did nothing to derail their chances of making it to college football's ultimate stage. 

No, you don't want to hear it yet. You'd rather talk about the obvious. Or point out the half-dozen missed holding calls on Sheldon Day and Notre Dame's defensive line.

Or the broken coverage by the Seminoles on the game's deciding play. Or that even Reggie Bush—the guy who broke Notre Dame's heart the last time the Irish had their shot at dethroning the champs in 2005—was questioning whether a flag should've been thrown for offensive pass interference. 

But that's not going to help. 

So when the pain wears off and the dust settles, the truth will at least be moderately comforting. Notre Dame's playoff hopes are alive and well. So, if there's anything positive to take away from a soul-crushing defeat, it's that the Irish's goals are still intact after a showdown with the defending champs. 

With the Irish off next weekend, Brian Kelly and his team will have an extra few days to try to shake the defeat. And while they'll look back on other missed opportunities, they'll get past the controversial fourth-down interference penalty that all but shut down the Internet on Saturday night, too. 

Because with five regular-season games remaining, Kelly won't struggle to refocus his team. Because unlike in years past where the Irish likely needed an undefeated regular season to be considered for the BCS title game, they're still in the thick of a playoff race that could shine kindly on Notre Dame, especially after going toe-to-toe with Florida State. 

Baylor's Saturday loss to unranked West Virginia drops another undefeated team from the top of the rankings. And it won't likely take until the Egg Bowl to see one of the two unbeaten Mississippi teams fall. The Bulldogs still have to face Alabama. Ole Miss needs to get through Auburn. Add a second loss and they're not getting in before the Irish. 

Without a ranked opponent left on Florida State's schedule, it'd be shocking if the Seminoles didn't run the table, especially if Jameis Winston can keep Florida State's disciplinary committee at bay. That could end up being the best thing to happen to Notre Dame in the eyes of the selection committee, setting up a potential rematch that just about every college football fan would sign up for, even if it meant another week of nonstop SportsCenter overkill. 

Notre Dame will be tested down the stretch. A date in Tempe against an Arizona State team that should be ranked will be a challenge. So will the season finale at Southern Cal.

And while you can't call games against Navy, Northwestern and Louisville gimmes, if the Irish run the table and finish 11-1, try to tell me that a team that came within one questionable flag against the defending champs isn't in the Final Four. 

That doesn't help Brian Kelly or the Irish now. And it won't remove this loss from that unmentionable page of the Notre Dame history book, the one that can't erase moments like the Bush Push or the phantom flag dropped during Rocket's Orange Bowl punt return. 

But even if it hurts, Notre Dame's playoff hopes are alive and well. 

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Updated College Football Playoff Predictions After Week 8

Some big-time matchups took place in Week 8, most notably No. 2 Florida State defeating No. 5 Notre Dame in Tallahassee.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder gives his updated prediction for the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Which teams do you think should be in the mix to play for the national championship?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Iowa State vs. Texas: Game Grades, Analysis for the Longhorns

Thanks to some huge plays from quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, the Texas Longhorns were able to hold off Iowa State by a 48-45 margin.

Flipping the script on itself, Texas relied on its offense to bail out a defense that struggled to contain the Cyclones' all-around attack. Iowa State quarterback Sam Richardson threw for 335 yards and three touchdowns on the night, needing only 51 seconds to lead a 75-yard drive to tie the game late in the contest.

But Swoopes had every answer, especially in the fourth quarter. The big sophomore led consecutive scoring drives on Texas' final two possessions, lacing back-to-back throws down the sideline to set up a game-winning field goal from Nick Rose.

Even though we're still waiting on a complete effort from this team, it's apparent that Swoopes and the offense can pull their weight.

 

Game Grades for the Longhorns

Passing Offense

Swoopes came out dealing, hitting Marcus Johnson and John Harris for big plays early. He was obviously confident, which came back to bite him on an inexcusable interception in the red zone. Between that throw and the fourth quarter, Swoopes offset nice plays with poor decisions. He could have easily tossed one or two more picks but kept doing enough to put up points.

That said, the final two drives are the reason you can forgive Swoopes for his mistakes. The sophomore locked in when Texas needed him most, turning in the best late-game performance the Horns have enjoyed in at least five seasons.

The throws for 39 and then 29 down the sideline to set up the winning score were picture perfect. He was the difference in this game.

 

Rushing Offense

Texas averaged 4.9 yards per carry as a team, getting four touchdowns from ball-carriers Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray and Swoopes

Swoopes led the way with 95 yards on 14 carries, running the zone read with confidence late in the game. Brown and Gray were both effective from the onset, and Texas probably could have milked that more when drives were stalling.

Aside from John Harris' fumble on a jet sweep, this was the best all-around effort we have seen all season.

 

Passing Defense

Had Texas lost, this group would shoulder most of the blame, even when you consider Dylan Haines' pick-six and Duke Thomas' second-half pickoff.

Richardson averaged only 6.27 yards per attempt, but it felt like much more. And it should have been, because he missed open receivers and his receivers committed some key drops.

Mykkele Thompson was abused all night, and Cedric Reed is invisible aside from when he's giving the opponent 15 penalty yards. The pass rush did get home in some key spots during the second half, but it never delivered the knockout punch.

 

Rushing Defense

It's tough to figure out where Jason Hall's absence was felt the most, because the defense was much worse without him.

The safe bet is against the run, where Texas relies on the violent safety to come down and end plays that reach the second level. Aaron Wimberly had a field day in the second half, slicing and dicing his way to 110 yards on just 14 carries.

Iowa State wore out the Texas front by running 93 plays, and it showed late.

 

Special Teams

For once, Texas' special teams avoided the big mistake as a positive for this team. Rose drilled a career-long field goal from 45 yards out, as well as the 21-yard game-winner. 

Wimberly had one big punt return in the fourth, but the defense erased the mistake with a stop.

 

Coaching

Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline deserve a lot of credit for what we saw from the offense. The line consistently opened up big running lanes and kept Swoopes clean throughout the night. Watson also showed a ton of guts by letting Swoopes take his shots on the winning drive.

The defense was shaky, and this team still makes dumb mistakes, but the arrow is pointing up.

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Notre Dame vs. Florida State: Game Grades, Analysis for Irish and Seminoles

True to historical form, Notre Dame and Florida State put on one heckuva show for the college football world on Saturday night.  Despite being a double-digit underdog, Notre Dame came out swinging and took a seven-point lead into the locker room.  Florida State, with a marvelous second half by superstar Jameis Winston, battled back and took a late lead before securing the 31-27 victory.

Both teams can clearly count themselves among the nation's elite programs, and we can only hope that we'll see more great games like this in the future.  With Notre Dame's agreement to play five ACC programs each season, that's looking fairly likely moving forward.

In the meantime, there's plenty to break down, so let's take a look at the report cards for the Fighting Irish and Seminoles.

Box score via NCAA.com

 

 

Notre Dame Pass Offense

Everett Golson started the evening with a 15-of-26 mark in the first half, amassing 139 yards and two touchdowns (and a pick).  Corey Robinson (eight catches for 99 yards and two touchdowns) and Will Fuller (eight catches for 79 yards and a score) emerged as favorite targets, and the Irish took a seven-point lead into halftime, thanks in large part to some timely passing.

Golson's completion ration held steady throughout the second half, and he finished 31-of-52 for 313 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.  The passing game did all it could to keep the Irish in the game, but as the game wore on, protecting Golson in the pocket became increasingly difficult.

Still, Golson avoided some of the head-scratching mistakes that has plagued him throughout 2014, so we're comfortable giving the Notre Dame passing game a "B+" across the board.

 

Notre Dame Run Offense

Notre Dame ran the ball 24 times in the first half, putting up 115 yards on the Seminoles defense.  The runs were pretty successful, with Tarean Folston eclipsing the 100-yard mark fairly early.

After halftime, however, Notre Dame abandoned the run to an extent, and the team finished with only an additional 42 yards on the ground.

Overall, not a bad night, with Folston leading the way with 120 yards on 21 carries.  Golson also added 33 yards on 11 credited carries.  But we can't look past the lack of production in the second half, or the fact that Notre Dame failed to get into the end zone even once via the ground game in Tallahassee.

 

Notre Dame Pass Defense

Talk about a tale of two halves...

We were all set to laud Notre Dame's suffocating pass defense after the first half.  The Irish had essentially shut down Jameis Winston as they continued to flummox the offensive line and get pressure up the middle, around the edge, and everywhere in between.

The Irish held Florida State to just 92 first-half passing yards, and Winston was forced into one of his trademark ill-advised pressured throws over the middle, which resulted in an interception for Notre Dame.

But then came the second half.  After some great adjustments by FSU, Winston picked apart the Notre Dame secondary to tune of 273 yards.  That put the Seminoles in a position to also add more of a running dimension to the attack, and the Irish couldn't contain Florida State for much longer.

We dropped a first-half "A-" to a final "C+" after the Irish's inability to adjust to the newfound (or, once-again-found) lethal nature of the Noles' passing game.

 

Notre Dame Run Defense

The true genius of Notre Dame's first-half defensive onslaught was the crushing run defense.  Florida State's inability to penetrate the Irish front seven led to a pass-only option for much of the first two quarters.  Like the pass defense, however, things changed after halftime.

It wasn't quite the sea-change we saw in the passing attack, but after halftime, the Seminoles were able to find more holes through the Irish run barrier to open up the passing game a little more.  Despite being held to just 19 rushing yards in the first half, the Noles finished with 53 rushing yards.

But most importantly, Florida State added two ground scores in the second half—which clearly made the difference in the game.

Still, holding any team to under 55 rushing yards in an accomplishment.  Holding the No. 2 team in the nation to such an anemic number is worthy of recognition.

 

Notre Dame Special Teams

As per the norm, we don't have any complaints about Notre Dame's special teams.  Kyle Brindza was his usual, efficient self, converting both field-goal attempts and all three extra points.

He also averaged 43.7 yards on his three punts, two of which were downed inside the FSU 20.

The scant 16.8 yards per kick return (on four returns) keeps us from handing out a perfect report card for the special teams, but coaches would much rather have the kind of special teams Brian Kelly and Jimbo Fisher have than not.

 

Notre Dame Coaching

Brian Kelly wanted to come out aggressive against Florida State, and that was evident right from the start.  Notre Dame won the opening toss, and instead of deferring the choice to the second half (as Kelly does, and most other coaches do), Notre Dame took the football to get things going early.

Kelly also opted for several fourth-down conversions (finishing 2-of-5 on the night, including the last meaningful play of the game), and it seemed to pay off early.

Notre Dame may not have been able to pull this one out, but it wasn't for lack of a winning formula put in place by the coaching staff.  Sometimes the breaks don't go your way, and sometimes the plays aren't executed as well as coaches would like.  Notre Dame was bitten by a little of both, but we're still satisfied with the job Kelly and his staff did to prepare the team for this game.

Had the second-half adjustments been better able to contain Florida State, Kelly and company would see a much higher grade.  But as it stands, this performance really shouldn't keep them up nights.

 

 

Florida State Pass Offense

We've said it before, and we'll say it again (last time, we promise).  This is a tale of two halves.

To start, Winston looked as if he was going to be running for his life all evening long.  After a first half that amounted to just 92 yards on an 8-of-15 performance form Winston (which included one touchdown and one interception), we were wondering if the Noles might suffer through their first failing grade of the season.

The midterm grade isn't great, but the second half more than made up for any shortcomings.

Winston finished 23-of-31 for 273 yards and two touchdowns, and his composure and accuracy in the second half were impressive to watch (he was perfect in the passing game through all of the third quarter and much of the fourth before finally tossing an incompletion).

We were also impressed with Travis Rudolph's breakout 80-yard performance which included a touchdown.

While we still have concerns about Winston's penchant for tossing errant balls over the middle when under duress, the recovery was enough to ensure the Florida State passing game finished nowhere near a failing mark in this victorious effort.

 

Florida State Run Offense

The Seminoles were abysmal in the first half running the ball, gaining just 19 yards on nine attempts.  Things didn't get a ton better in the second half, but better, nonetheless.

As a team, FSU finished with 53 rushing yards on the night.  Not exactly something of which one should be proud, but the two second-half touchdown runs were enough to not only bail out the run game as a whole, but also secure a Florida State victory (and possible berth in the College Football Playoff).

Karlos Williams led the way, if you can really call it leading, with 25 yards on eight carries.  He also gets the top mention because of his two rushing touchdowns on the night—FSU's only two ground scores.

Dalvin Cook carried the ball a team-high 12 times but only netted 20 yards (a paltry 1.7 yards per rush).

 

Florida State Pass Defense

Notre Dame held a steady pass attack through both the first and second halves, but it was the big plays late in the game, including some crucial knock-downs late that secured the win for Florida State.

What might be most impressive about the pass defense, however, was the defensive line's ability to get hands into the passing lanes of Everett Golson.  Would-be completions for big yardage and first downs were swatted down before ever allowing an Irish receiver to make a play for the ball, and Notre Dame wasn't able to adjust to the second half pressure Florida State was dialing up.

Golson looked uncomfortable and was under almost constant pressure in the fourth quarter, and that, as much as anything else, gave the Noles the opportunity to come back in the fourth quarter and win the football game.

Hats off to the big guys on the D-line for this performance.

Still, we're not going to go too nuts here.  The Noles did give up more than 300 passing yards and a trio of touchdowns through the air.

 

Florida State Run Defense

The Seminoles "held" Notre Dame to 4.5 yards per carry on 35 attempts.  Notre Dame's Tarean Folston had 120 yards.  Not great.

The Seminoles held Notre Dame to zero rushing touchdowns on the evening.  Yes, great.

Whether by design or through the circumstances of the game, Notre Dame began to abandon the run in the second half.  Florida State had been giving up some decent yardage early on to the Irish's ground assault, but as the evening turned more towards the passing game, Florida State did what it had to in order to keep the Irish in check on the ground.

Unfortunately for those looking for an elevated grade in the run-defense category, the Seminoles didn't do anything more than that.

 

Florida State Special Teams

Like Notre Dame, Florida State has one of the most solid special teams units in the nation.  Roberto Aguayo is second to none, and he was perfect (as usual) on the evening.

The Noles also did a nice job on both kick returns (21.3-yard average on three returns) and their lone punt return (17 yards).  Is there any reason we wouldn't give the Seminoles an "A" here?

 

Florida State Coaching

If you ever wondered how a coach really affects the game, watch this game over again.  Notre Dame seemed to have Florida State's number in the first half.  The Irish were moving the ball almost at will and the Noles struggled under the most benign of circumstances during the first 30 minutes.

After halftime, Florida State looked like a team possessed.  The play-calling changed, offensive line protections changed, defensive scheming changed, and it all resulted in Florida State outscoring Notre Dame 21-10 after halftime.

What's more, Jimbo Fisher had the presence of mind to seek out his oft-troubled quarterback after the game in order to give him some sage advice about how to not act in the wake of the victory.

If there's anyone left in the nation who doubts Fisher's status as one of the truly elite coaches in college football, they're simply not paying attention.  It appears Nick Saban isn't the only Nick Saban in the college football world, after all.

 

Unless otherwise noted, quotes or references to quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.

Follow Bleacher Report's National College Football Featured Columnist David Luther on Twitter!

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Improved Oregon Defense Reestablishes Ducks as Pac-12 Title Favorite

Thought the Ducks decade of dominance over Washington was coming to an end this year?

Not a chance.

Oregon (6-1, 3-1) not only reestablished itself as Pac-12 title favorites after demolishing the Huskies 45-20, the Ducks finally put together an entire game on both sides of the ball and looked like the Oregon team we expected to see heading into the season.

How did the Ducks dominate and, in so doing, extend their winning streak over Washington (5-2, 1-2) to 11 straight games? It’s simple. The Oregon defense played its best game of the season and true freshman running back Royce Freeman was terrific from start to finish.

 

Improved Defense

The Ducks defense has been much maligned for most of the season. However, against Washington the unit had its finest performance of the year. Oregon forced Washington quarterback Cyler Miles into two turnovers—an interception by safety Erick Dargan and a fumble recovery by Tui Talia—and held the Huskies to a grand total of 317 yards.

Before the game the Huskies were ranked No. 1 in the country in turnover margin, having forced 15 and committing only one. The Huskies had also yet to throw an interception this season.

However, the Ducks dominated Miles and the Washington offense until late in the third quarter when Oregon let off the gas a bit. All in all, the Ducks allowed 184 yards passing and gave up 133 yards on the ground on 36 attempts—an average of 3.7 yards per carry.

The Ducks—ranked No. 5 in turnover margin—finally put together a full game on the defensive side of the ball. Though we had seen flashes of a competent defense this season, Oregon had failed to lock down potent aerial attacks and hadn’t been able to get consistent pressure on the quarterback.

That all changed against the Huskies.

Oregon’s defense not only applied significant pressure on Cyler Miles throughout the game, it also prevented Washington from getting into a rhythm. Duck defenders also consistently made open field tackles. On the night, the Huskies averaged 4.28 yards per play and just 4.84 yards per pass attempt.

Needless to say, those are outstanding numbers for a Ducks defense that had been allowing 470.3 yards per game this season, ranked No. 106 in the country.

As for the defensive game plan, Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said that getting pressure on Miles was a key to the defense's success. "We wanted to put a ton on a young quarterback and force him to beat us," said Helfrich, according to Joseph Hoyt of the Daily Emerald. 

While the final score will show that the Ducks allowed 20 points to Washington, 14 of those points came after the game was well in hand. The Ducks allowed six points in the first 41 minutes of the game.

The Ducks allowed field goals to Washington on the Huskies' first two possessions—the last coming with 6:21 left in the first quarter. However, after the second field goal, the Ducks held Washington scoreless until the 4:45 mark in the third quarter—a 32-minute scoreless drought for Washington.

In short, this was the Ducks’ best defensive performance of the season—and it’s not particularly close. Yes, the Ducks only allowed three points in the second half to Michigan State. However, from start to finish the Ducks defense dominated Washington, and we hadn't seen that kind of wire-to-wire performance all season. 

If Oregon’s defense can perform as well as it did tonight for the rest of the season, the Ducks will likely find themselves competing in the College Football Playoff.

 

The Ground Game

Oregon’s true freshman running back Royce Freeman had a day that won’t soon be forgotten.

On the night, Freeman ran for 169 yards—his second consecutive 100-yard performance—on 29 carries. More importantly, Freeman fought for the tough yards in the red zone and scored four touchdowns. 

Freeman now leads Pac-12 running backs with 11 touchdowns, and he has rushed for 636 yards on the season.

Head coach Mark Helfrich has been impressed with his young running back and believes his elusiveness was evident against Washington. "You saw some of his elusiveness that was legendary in fall camp…he's starting to play free," said Helfrich, according to Hoyt.

Coming into the game the Ducks were 57-0 since 2007 when rushing for more than 240 yards in a game. While they rushed for "just" 218 yards against Washington, the Ducks moved the ball effectively on the ground all night long.

The Huskies were ranked No. 28 in the country against the run coming into the game and figured to provide the Ducks defense with one of its stiffest tests of the season. Royce Freeman would have none of that.

In Oregon’s first two conference games, against Washington State and Arizona, the Ducks rushed for a total of 311 yards. Both of those games were tightly contested. However, since left tackle Jake Fisher returned against UCLA, the Ducks have rushed for 476 yards.

It should come as no surprise that Oregon has come away with easy victories in both games since Fisher’s return. The Ducks O-line, despite missing left guard Hamani Stevens for part of the game against Washington (he later returned), is now mostly healthy and has not only done a good job of protecting quarterback Marcus Mariota, but they’ve also been able to create holes for Freeman, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner.

When Oregon is able to run the ball at will, as they have against UCLA and Washington, they’re nearly unstoppably offensively. “When you can run the ball you can do anything,” stated Helfrich, according to Justin Wise of the Daily EmeraldCouldn't have said it better myself.

If the Ducks able to continue to pound the rock and Royce Freeman continues to mature, the Ducks offense should be able to carry them to a Pac-12 North title and a spot in the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 5.

 

Pac-12 Title Favorites

Despite dropping a game to Arizona, the Ducks control their own destiny in the Pac-12 North and currently lead the division.

While there are still concerns about the Ducks, they are without question the team to beat in the conference. The defense seems to be coming around—it has played two solid games in a row—and the O-line is healthy, which has led to Oregon’s offensive explosions against the Bruins and Huskies.

The Ducks are still committing penalties at an alarming rate. Against Washington they Ducks racked up six penalties for 80 yards in the first half alone and committed seven penalties for 90 yards on the night.

However, after their complete performance against Washington and with Marcus Mariota, who was 24-of-33 for 336 yards and two touchdowns, steering the ship, the Ducks are ready to take on the rest of the Pac-12 and make a statement to the College Football Playoff committee.

That statement should be this: No playoff will be complete without the inclusion of the Ducks.

In order to make that statement, the Ducks will need to first beat Cal next Friday and prepare to take on their Achilles' heel: Stanford. While the Ducks have dropped their last two games to Stanford, the Cardinal have already dropped three games this season after losing to Arizona State, 26-10, on Saturday night. The 4-3 Cardinal have proven to be beatable this season, and it's Oregon last true opportunity to shine on a national stage.

The Ducks have five regular-season games left to leave an impression with the committee. They better make those five games count.

The Ducks are hitting their stride right now on both sides of the ball and are the clear Pac-12 favorites. They’ve proven to the conference that they’re a complete team capable of destroying very talented teams, such as UCLA and Washington. 

But this is the Pac-12 conference and crazy things tend to happen from week to week. The Ducks need to be on high alert in each and every game. One slip and their postseason aspirations will be laid to rest.

But for now, through seven games, the Ducks have the look of a conference champion.

 

Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.

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Improved Oregon Defense Reestablishes Ducks as Pac-12 Title Favorite

Thought the Ducks decade of dominance over Washington was coming to an end this year? Not a chance. Oregon (6-1, 3-1) not only reestablished itself as Pac -12 title favorites ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Notre Dame Didn't Blow Playoff Shot, Irish's Roadmap Back

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish dropped a tough game to the Florida State Seminoles, 31-27 in Tallahassee, FL. 

Despite the loss, the Irish can work their way back into the College Football Playoff picture. 

Bleacher Report college football analyst Michael Felder tells you how Notre Dame can make it back to the promised land. 

Can the Irish make it back?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Is Big 12 Playing Itself out of the Playoff Picture?

At one point or another this season, half of the Big 12 has controlled its destiny to a conference title and likely a playoff berth.

So that begs the question: Will there be a best man standing come season's end, or will the Big 12 implode on itself enough to cost the league a spot in the coveted final four?

At this point in the 2014-15 campaign, there are six teams that, if they win out, would not only win the Big 12 but would finish the season with, at most, two losses and be in the conversation for a playoff berth. 

Those teams are Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and West Virginia. 

Currently, the only undefeated team in conference play left is the Wildcats, who upended Oklahoma on Saturday. But the Bears, Cowboys, Horned Frogs and Mountaineers each have one loss—and each still have a matchup with K-State left on the docket. 

Five of those squads, the exception being the Cowboys, have at least one win over another team on that list, making the Big 12 impossible to prognosticate halfway through the year. 

Here's a breakdown of all the head-to-head matchups between these six teams from now until the regular season ends. 

Now let's take a look at all six teams' prognoses for the rest of the season. 

 

Baylor Bears

The Bears are hoping that a loss in Morgantown doesn't doom themselves like it did to the Cowboys last year, where an early-season loss to the Mountaineers ended up effectively costing Oklahoma State a Big 12 title.

Still, Saturday's upset loss is still the only black mark on their record, and it came to a team whose only losses are to Alabama and Oklahoma.

Baylor will also have plenty of chances to regroup at home, with Waco matchups against Oklahoma State and K-State. Plus, the Bears already have a win over TCU notched. 

The biggest question mark left on the schedule is a road trip to Norman on Nov. 8. The Sooners will be hungry to earn a marquis win to get back on track after a disastrous October, and the Bears could be the victims that Bob Stoops is looking for. 

 

Kansas State

Halfway through the season, it's the Wildcats that stand atop the Big 12 standings. All it'll take for them to represent the Big 12 as its champions in the playoffs is to win. 

But the schedule-makers didn't do Bill Snyder any favors. They still have to face the four teams in the conference with just one loss in league play, with only Oklahoma State being at home. 

So that creates a double-edged sword for K-State. Wins at Waco, Morgantown and Ft. Worth almost assure the Wildcats a conference championship, if not a playoff berth. But K-State could also very conceivably lose those three games and all but fall off the face of the college football map. 

 

Oklahoma

Until three weeks ago, nobody could get enough of the Oklahoma Sooners. They were the darlings of the Big 12, sitting undefeated and seemingly on a victory lap en route to the playoffs. 

But then TCU and K-State happened, and now the Sooners' playoff hopes are all but demolished. 

If the Sooners win out, they still won't be guaranteed a Big 12 title. But that'll give them wins over Baylor and Oklahoma State, which should look good on a resume. 

A two-loss team getting into the playoffs is a long shot, and in the Sooners' case, it'll take a miracle for them to get in. 

 

Oklahoma State

While the Cowboys are in the same boat as their Bedlam brothers with two losses, their prognosis is actually healthier for a Big 12 title and playoff berth because of who they've played, and who's still left. 

The only two losses for Oklahoma State are outside of Stillwater to Florida State and TCU. 

So the Cowboys still control their own destiny to a Big 12 title. Like K-State though, their toughest games are all on the road, as they travel to Manhattan, Norman and Waco. 

Also, next week's matchup against WVU will likely kill the conference-title and playoff hopes of the loser. 

 

TCU

Behind Baylor and K-State, TCU holds the most control over how their season will finish, and whether they make the playoffs. 

Saturday's drubbing of Oklahoma State could very well have righted the ship after last week's fourth-quarter collapse to Baylor. 

TCU also has arguably the easiest schedule left, with WVU and K-State being the only contenders left. And they get the Wildcats at home. 

The Horned Frogs survived far and away the hardest part of their schedule with just one loss. Now it's up to them to finish the job. 

 

WVU

West Virginia's situation is very much tantamount to Oklahoma State's, and sure enough, they play each other next week. 

The Mountaineers have two losses, but they came against Alabama and Oklahoma. So winning out their schedule would guarantee WVU, who just upset Baylor, a Big 12 title with wins over Oklahoma State, K-State and TCU. 

WVU's next two weeks will define them, as they travel to Stillwater then host TCU. 

If they somehow survive that, they get the privilege of getting to host the Wildcats. But the Mountaineers have to win out to even dream of a chance of making the playoffs.

 

Prediction

Although K-State is the last unscathed team in the Big 12, there's another squad who's road leads to the playoffs, and it's TCU. 

With the hardest chunk of their schedule out of the way, the Horned Frogs just have to knock off K-State at home to all but secure the inside track to the conference title and the playoffs. 

Baylor still has games against Oklahoma and K-State, and it's unlikely they won't suffer a loss in one of those games. 

The Wildcats also have a brutal schedule left, with road trips to Baylor, WVU and TCU. Again, unlikely they'll survive. 

That leaves TCU as the last team standing. It's no guarantee that a one-loss team, with plenty of SEC and ACC teams still battling it out, will make the playoffs out of the Big 12. But if the league champion ends up surviving one of the wildest years in league history with one loss, the committee will almost have no choice but to put them in. 

If the champion ends up having two losses, the committee's decision on the Big 12 winner will depend on its view of the Big 12 as a whole.

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College Football Playoff Rankings: Biggest Takeaways from Week 8

The king isn't dead. But neither are the Irish.

Florida State and Notre Dame played an epic midseason classic with the defending national champion barely squeezing out a victory as a costly penalty decided things late. But while the Seminoles' 31-27 win kept alive their hopes of making the playoff field, the Irish are far from dead even with the blemish of a loss.

Notre Dame's loss, along with Baylor's earlier in the day, left just three power-five conference teams undefeated. And since Ole Miss and Mississippi State must face each other in the Egg Bowl at the end of the regular season, that means at least half of the playoff field will be filled with teams with one loss or more.

This reality puts every one of the power-five conferences—as well as Notre Dame—in play for the playoff. As we noted earlier in the week, don't be surprised to see a two-loss team (or two) in the inaugural football final four.

 

Teams That Moved Up

SEC West

By Sunday, four of the Top Five teams in the AP Poll will be from this division. Even though both Mississippi State and Auburn were idle this week, losses by Baylor and Notre Dame will bunch these teams near the top of the rankings along with Florida State. It seems inevitable that one of those four teams (Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State) will end up in the playoff. The only question is whether two of them will.

Pac-12

The upset morning in the Big 12 probably benefited the Pac-12 the most. Losses by Baylor and Oklahoma left the Big 12 with no clear front-runner, and Oregon's recovery from its lone loss to Arizona should put it back on track for a playoff berth. The Pac-12 South is also very much in the mix, and what's making the difference right now are two Hail Mary passes—ASU's against USC and Arizona's against Cal. The winner of the Territorial Cup can play its way into the playoff field if it wins out, including the Pac-12 title game.

Georgia

While the battle of attrition goes on in the SEC West, the Bulldogs continue to cruise in the junior circuit that is the SEC East, even without the services of running back Todd Gurley. Should Georgia be able to handle Auburn and then end up winning the conference, it will force its way into the four-team playoff.

Kansas State

If it weren't for their own self-destruction against Auburn at home, the Wildcats would be looking at a Top Five ranking right now. As it is, they should be the highest-ranked Big 12 team in the next poll and control their own destiny in the conference race. If they run the table, it's hard to see the Wildcats not in the playoff field.

Michigan State/Ohio State

Both teams won by the identically dominant scores of 56-17 Saturday and will meet in two weeks in East Lansing, Michigan, to decide the winner of the Big Ten East. The winner of that game likely will end up winning the conference title with a 12-1 record. But the B1G champ might still need a little help from other conference winners and/or Notre Dame. 

 

Teams That Moved Down

Notre Dame

The Irish will drop in the polls, but not much. And due to how closely contested Saturday night's game was, Notre Dame is still in the playoff mix, but now it needs a bit of help. It still has high-profile games against a pair of Pac-12 teams (USC and Arizona State) to impress the selection committee. The loss to FSU just means the Irish will have to do a bit more scoreboard watching.

Big 12

Losses by Baylor and Oklahoma changed the conference's standing in the polls, as its leading team likely will be trailing the top teams in the other four power-five conferences. Because the Big 12 is the only FBS conference that plays a true round-robin, chances are that no dominant team will emerge, thus making the Big 12 the conference left out of the four-team playoff field.

 

Group-of-Five Team in the Best Position

East Carolina was idle this week but maintained its position as the leading team for the Group-of-Five berth. The Pirates' primary challengers remain Colorado State and Marshall. The Rams beat Utah State on a last-second field goal, while Marshall is just one of four unbeaten teams in the FBS. Boise State and UCF are two other teams still with an outside chance to steal this bid.

 

Projected Conference Championship Matchups

ACC: Florida State vs. Duke

Big Ten: Michigan State vs. Minnesota

Pac-12: Oregon vs. Arizona

SEC: Mississippi State vs. Georgia

 

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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Jameis Winston vs. Notre Dame: Stat Line, Heisman Impact and Reaction

Jameis Winston has already proven he can take a beating off the field. Saturday night, Notre Dame found out he can take one on it just fine too.

The reigning Heisman winner threw for 273 yards and two touchdowns, helping catalyze a second-half comeback in Florida State's 31-27 win over Notre Dame. After an up-and-down first half, Winston completed 15 of his 16 passes in the second half to lead the Seminoles to three touchdowns on their five meaningful drives in the final 30 minutes.

Karlos Williams punched in two of those scores from one yard out, but make no mistake about it, Winston was running a one-man show. The running game, led by Williams and Dalvin Cook, combined for 45 yards on 20 carries. Third downs and high-priority situations were all left up to Winston, and time and again he prospered.

Perhaps his best play of the game came on a 15-yard dart he threw to Rashad Greene to set up Williams' game-winning score. Scrambling across his body and falling down, Winston uncorked a strike to Greene on the sideline down to the Notre Dame 3-yard line. Pressure was a constant all game long, as Notre Dame consistently got pressure in both four-man rushes and overload blitzes. 

In the first half, Winston threw what was perhaps the worst interception of his collegiate career in the second quarter, sending a dead-on-arrival floater into the hands of Joe Schmidt as pressure came barreling down. Four of the Seminoles' first five drives finished with either a three-and-out or a turnover.

But on-field perseverance is par for the Winston course. He did it amid a sexual assault investigation during his Heisman-winning campaign, came back strong after a tumultuous offseason and again on Saturday when an off-the-field investigation threatened his future. Winston was so good in the face of pressure that even some repeat talks sprung anew, such as this one from Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports:

Winston's Heisman chances remain shrouded in a cloud of uncertainty, if only because Winston's future is totally uncertain. Florida State is currently investigating whether the Heisman winner was paid for the more than 2,000 items bearing his signature that were authenticated by James Spence Authentication, per ESPN.com's Darren Rovell.

Florida State athletic director Stan Wilcox released a statement Friday, indicating there was no evidence that Winston received payment.

"We have no information indicating that he accepted payment for items reported to bear his signature, thereby compromising his athletics eligibility," Wilcox said, per Sean Rossman of the Tallahassee Democrat. "The fact that items appear on an Internet site bearing the signature of a student-athlete does not singularly determine a violation of NCAA rules."

If he's eventually found guilty of wrongdoing, whatever chance Winston has of winning the Heisman obviously goes out the window—his college career might be out the window. Even if Winston is eventually cleared, the lingering stigma surrounding controversies like these often play a factor come postseason awards time.

Former Heisman winner Hershel Walker appeared on the Paul Finebaum Show Thursday and said he would not vote for Winston "until his act is cleaned up."

"I don't know Coach Fisher. He's probably ready to kick my butt, but I think he is enabling him right now," Walker said, via David Ching of ESPN.com. "Because remember he's putting his reputation—he's a fine coach—he's putting his reputation on Jameis Winston's words saying, 'I did not do that.' Well, he put his reputation when he said he can't be found guilty on these other things, which we know he's guilty of."

When factoring in Winston's other off-the-field transgressions—including notably missing the Seminoles' win over Clemson because of a suspension—the odds of a repeat remain decidedly low.

There is a sect of the Heisman-voting community who will not vote for Winston simply because they feel he does not fit the "excellence with integrity" requirement of the award. It's a treatment similar to the one given to Johnny Manziel by some enterprising writers last season.

Speaking bluntly, I'd bet the tuition of my first born on the field winning over Winston. His numbers are worse in every single major category than his freshman season, even though as Matt Hinton of Grantland pointed out, that's somewhat due to actual improvements he's made as a quarterback.

He is the most polarizing player in the sport—love him, hate him, whatever. Everyone has an opinion on Winston, and that's not the type of player who wins the Heisman.

Heisman winners are the feel-good sort. Manziel won when he was the smiling 21st-century Fran Tarkenton, the boy next door we called Johnny Football—not when he was the dude who hangs out with Drake.

Winston won as the leader of arguably the most dominant team of this century, as the smiling, unflappably confident kid who looked like a lock to be a No. 1 overall pick—not when he's yelling in student unions and being investigated due to an autograph scandal.

Jameis Winston is a spectacularly talented football player. Anyone who tries saying otherwise is deserving of whatever "hater" synonym you'd like to bestow. He might be the best player in college football, the best prospect of the 2015 NFL draft class and the most captivating personality in the sport. 

But if Winston wants another trophy before he takes his talents to Sundays, it'll probably have to be of the team sort. After Saturday, the Seminoles are well on their way.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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