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Bowl Projections 2014: Predicting Final College Football Playoff Picture

The 2014 College Football Playoff picture is murky at best, with three editions of the selection committee's rankings released to date. A convoluted Big 12 combined with a one-loss Oregon leapfrogging reigning champion Florida State makes matters all the more complicated.

One could argue that it's too early to look ahead at what the final Top Four will look like. Alas, that's precisely what is happening now.

Ahead of the final stretch of the regular season, a crossroads showdown between two SEC foes in Mississippi State and Alabama will go a long way in determining how everything shakes out.

Below are predictions for which teams will square off in the Sugar and Rose Bowls and a preview of those potential matchups, along with a breakdown of the prospective championship game.

 

Sugar Bowl: Florida State (1) vs. TCU (4)

The high-octane Horned Frogs offense will keep them just inside the Top Four. Baylor will have a chance to prove itself as playoff-worthy in the season finale, but slotting TCU here means that the Bears fall at home in a pressure-packed game against Kansas State.

Meanwhile, thanks to a rather generous ACC schedule, Florida State continues to claw its way to victories and preserve its perfect record, poising itself to enter the postseason as the top-ranked team in the country.

TCU will not have faced a cornerback tandem quite as formidable as the Seminoles' P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby. Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller succinctly explains:

Although the FSU secondary has been a bit leakier than expected in 2014, the defensive backfield will have something to prove against a talented but imprecise passer in Horned Frogs star Trevone Boykin. The playmaking signal-caller completes just 58 percent of his throws.

The experience Florida State has would give it the edge here. Last year's Heisman winner, Jameis Winston, had to overcome poor play early in the national title game to lead the Seminoles to a comeback victory as a freshman.

Although his play has dipped in his past two starts, which have featured five total interceptions, Winston has sparked a rally each time, keeping Florida State undefeated regardless of the circumstances.

That's going to count for something once the Seminoles run the regular-season table and set themselves up for another national championship game.

Prediction: Florida State 27, TCU 21

 

Rose Bowl: Alabama (2) vs. Oregon (3)

This leap by the Crimson Tide obviously comes with the expectation that they topple the College Football Playoff's only No. 1 team in history thus far, Mississippi State, at home this next Saturday.

Alabama can defend the run as well as anyone in the nation and should confine Bulldogs QB Dak Prescott to the pocket, where he'll make mistakes that his counterpart, Blake Sims, won't in Tuscaloosa.

The presence of Prescott will undoubtedly help, but the Tide appear to have his team's number, per ESPN's College GameDay:

As for a potential showdown with the Ducks, Alabama may have more trouble defending the fleeter-of-foot Marcus Mariota, whose dual-threat quarterbacking capabilities are among the best ever seen.

John Middlekauff of Comcast SportsNet is intrigued by Mariota matching wits with Alabama:

The uptempo, balanced attack Oregon throws at opponents is a strong contrast to the Tide's penchant for pounding the rock and wearing their adversaries down. If the Ducks were to strike early and often, it would put Sims in a position in which he'd have to pass often.

Should the likes of Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and others get the chance to pin their ears back and pressure the pocket, Sims and Alabama would be in serious trouble.

Mariota would prove too much to handle even for Nick Saban's vaunted defense, as the potential top signal-caller in the 2015 NFL draft class is likely determined to end his career in Eugene on a high note.

Prediction: Oregon 35, Alabama 24

 

Championship Bowl: Florida State vs. Oregon

With how important the quarterback position is at all levels of football, what better way to decide this inaugural title format than by having the two best in the country duel it out?

Winston and Mariota are two of the most compelling figures in recent college football history, and it would only be fitting if they were to square off in the Championship Bowl.

Both QBs have overcome issues on the offensive line to still produce on a weekly basis and have shown extraordinary on-field leadership, but they have starkly different playing styles.

While Mariota runs a quick-strike spread attack, Winston is well-versed in pro-style principles and has a lot more responsibility due to the complexity of the Seminoles offense.

But that isn't to say that Mariota isn't smart or a good decision-maker. In fact, he's probably better than Winston in that regard, evident in Winston's 11 interceptions to Mariota's phenomenal 29-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich noted how well the Ducks have responded since Mariota became more of a vocal leader this year, per The Associated Press' Ralph D. Russo, via NCAA.com:

After every play he had to say something to somebody. Great snap. Great route. We did that with Marcus just to get everything going. He is such a good guy it was vastly positive. And it grew into where he could push guys and subtly demand things in a great way. His credibility as a leader in our program is awesome.

In what would likely be a shootout for the ages, Florida State's epic winning streak would finally come to an end, thanks to Mariota, rather than Winston, taking center stage for late-game heroics.

The superiority of Oregon's ground game, combined with cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu doing a passable-enough job on senior Seminoles star receiver Rashad Greene, will be enough to deliver the national championship to the Ducks.

Prediction: Oregon 42, Florida State 38

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Clemson Football: Ranking the Top 5 Freshman Seasons in Tigers History

We are a few days away from the return of Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, but let’s first take a step back and examine the best freshman seasons in school history. Does Watson—who has 12 touchdowns despite missing almost four games—have the numbers to make an argument for one of the best freshman seasons?

I have put together a list of five Tigers who were impressive in their freshman seasons, ranked from least impressive to most impressive. Let’s start the list.

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Everett Golson Finally Feeling the Pressure of Being Notre Dame Quarterback

Welcome to Notre Dame, Everett Golson.

That's likely what this week feels like for Notre Dame's senior quarterback. And while Golson has been in South Bend for a long time—a redshirt season after enrolling early in 2011, a national title game run in 2012 and the much-discussed academic sabbatical in 2013—only now, after his recent struggles, does Golson really know what it feels like to be the quarterback at Notre Dame. 

Never mind that Golson's second year as a starting quarterback is actually one of the more statistically impressive seasons in the country. Sure, he's ninth in the country in total offense and fourth in points responsible for. But nobody cares about that. 

Not when all people can talk about is his 17 turnovers in the past five games, with the Irish quarterback rightfully wearing the collar for Notre Dame's "Debacle in the Desert," a five-turnover nightmare that saw the Irish give up 28 straight points in just under eight dubious first-half minutes to fall into a 31-3 hole they could never dig out from. 

Even with a gaudy 17-3 record as a starting quarterback, Golson finally now knows what it feels like to be in a doghouse that's been custom-built by Irish fans for the team's starting quarterback.

After housing Tommy Rees the past three seasons and Dayne Crist before that, perhaps Golson can now carve his name into the wooden beam (like Brooks and Red in The Shawshank Redemption), joining names like Jimmy Clausen, Brady Quinn, Carlyle Holiday, Gary Godsey, Matt LoVecchio and Jarious Jackson, ad infinitum. 

That's playing quarterback for the Irish. And it's something I asked Rees about on Wednesday. 

"You know what you’re getting into when you’re the quarterback at Notre Dame," Rees said. "You get a lot of praise, but you also get a lot of scrutiny, right or wrong, that's just the way it is."

Golson has handled that scrutiny like a leader, taking difficult questions after every game as the turnovers piled up. He did the same thing after the loss to Arizona State, the last player to take questions from press looking for an answer, when the rest of the team was looking to get on a plane and escape a nightmare of an afternoon. 

Honestly, I think it’s all on me," Golson said after the game. "You play with fire as much as I did today, you know you are going to get burnt eventually. I’ve go to practice to get better, got to clean up in practice. I think that’s where it really starts, in practice."

Tuesday afternoon, Brian Kelly talked about the team putting the Arizona State game behind itself, something his quarterback needs to do. And after openly acknowledging Golson's mistakes in his postgame recap in Tempe, Kelly was proud of the way his quarterback has handled things. 

"I think what's been talked about, the buck stops with the quarterback, right? I think Everett made that pretty clear," Kelly said. "I think he took full responsibility for what needs to happen at that position. I think that's really the most important thing."  

Cleaning up his game is the next step. Against a Northwestern defense that's given up just 210 passing yards a game, Golson may be facing a struggling Wildcat team but one that's strength will match up head-to-head with the Irish passing attack. 

After seeing his first true on-field adversity, now Golson's job is to turn things around. Rees went through similar situations in his sometimes rocky career in South Bend. And he thinks Golson will come out of it just fine. 

"I believed in my ability, believed in the process, and leaned on my teammates and just dove further into football," Rees said. "Ev will handle it fine. Confidence is no issue for him, he’ll bounce back strong." 

That's life as Notre Dame's quarterback. And even if Notre Dame's disappointing removal from the College Football Playoff isn't all Golson's fault, it all comes back to the man in the middle of the offense. 

"I'm proud of the way he's handled the scrutiny of being under the bright lights of the turnovers," Kelly said. "I said that in the press conference he's responsible for all the turnovers. But that's not to mean that he's to be blamed for all of the turnovers."

A closer look will implicate guys like Ronnie Stanley and Christian Lombard—two veteran offensive linemen who failed to execute blocks on Arizona State's offensive linemen and to turn batted passes into interceptions—or senior tight end Ben Koyack, who has played a lot of good snaps this season but quite a few bad ones last Saturday. 

But you don't read cries for Hunter Bivin or Mike McGlinchey taking over the Internet or reasons for Durham Smythe and Tyler Luatua to get a jump-start on their careers now. 

The last Notre Dame quarterback to get out of South Bend unscathed will be the first one. So welcome to the club, Everett Golson. 

Now get back to winning football games. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 Biggest Questions Facing Top 25 Teams Heading into Week 12

The most anticipated weekend of college football came and went last Saturday, but don't think for a second that things are about to slow down.

With one-loss Oregon jumping undefeated Florida State in the latest College Football Playoff poll, the selection committee has shown it's not going to follow the same old formula. In other words, every game is a chance to impress, even if a team has one or two losses. 

From Mississippi State's showdown with Alabama to a pair of critical Big Ten battles, there's a lot happening in Week 12. Which storylines are the ones to watch? The answers are in the following slides. 

The only criteria here is that teams mentioned have to be in the latest CFP Top 25.

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College Football Picks Week 12: B/R's Expert Predictions for Top 5 Games

While the top two games of Week 12 involve the SEC, that doesn’t mean there aren’t exciting matchups elsewhere across the college football landscape.

Anything can happen on any given Saturday. And as the playoff looms, every game is important.

No. 1 Mississippi State hits the road to take on No. 5 Alabama in a much-anticipated matchup. Dan Mullen has never beaten Nick Saban as head coach of the Bulldogs. Will 2014 be the year he gets revenge thanks to Dak Prescott?

The other major Saturday SEC showdown is the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry, as No. 15 Georgia hosts No. 9 Auburn. The game marks Todd Gurley's return, which could mean bad news for the Tigers. Of course, that’s contingent on the Bulldogs being able to stop Nick Marshall and Co.

In the Big Ten, No. 16 Nebraska looks to gain some respect from the playoff selection committee when the Huskers battle No. 20 Wisconsin. Which Heisman contender will lead his team to victory: Ameer Abdullah or Melvin Gordon?

And in the ACC, two key matchups take place on Saturday. In the afternoon, No. 22 Georgia Tech will host No. 19 Clemson, and at night, No. 3 Florida State hits the road to challenge an unranked Miami (Florida) team hungry to prove its worth with the national spotlight thrust upon it.

Ben Kercheval took back full control of his lead among our experts. What will Week 12 have in store? Who will come out on top?

Let us know your picks in the comments below!

Reminder: Our experts are picking the top five Saturday games against the spread.

Odds via opening lines at Odds Shark.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Report Card Grades for Top 10 College Football Freshmen Post Week 11

Now more than two-thirds of the way through the regular season, enough time has passed that we can give fair grades to the top 10 players from the 2014 recruiting class.

Who has lived up to expectations? Who has surpassed them? Who has not had the season we all had hoped?

To be clear: This article is grading the top 10 prospects from the 247Sports composite rankingsIt is not my own subjective ranking of the 10 best freshmen in the country. Grading the 10 best freshmen would be asinine, since all of them—by definition—have been great.

Instead, this piece is looking back at the 10 freshmen with the highest ratings before the season and grading how they've fared in Year 1. The grades were based on production and how they've looked on film and did not give weight to the size of preseason expectations.

Sound off below to let us know which top-10 freshman has had the best debut season.

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Jameis Winston's Student Conduct Hearing Postponed: Latest Details and Reaction

The saga of Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston took another turn Wednesday, as his previously scheduled student code of conduct hearing has been postponed.   

The news was initially reported by Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times:

Rachel Axon of USA Today breaks down how Winston will likely be able to avoid the hearing until after Florida State's football season concludes:

The hearing relates to allegations that Winston sexually assaulted an FSU student in 2012. Although the star signal-caller was not charged with a crime, he was set to face university officials the week of Nov. 17.

According to ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach, the postponement was requested by the Heisman Trophy winner's attorney:

The reason given was so that Winston and his legal team would have more time to prepare, per Baker:

Pushing the hearing back certainly increases the chances of Winston completing the 2014 season.

The Seminoles have just three regular-season games remaining, and they are currently in position to qualify for the College Football Playoff with a record of 9-0.

Florida State could play as many as three postseason games, including the ACC Championship Game and two potential CFP contests.

Discipline against Winston before the end of the season is still possible if he is found to be in violation of the code of conduct when the hearing ultimately does take place, though that remains to be seen.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Chaotic 2014 Season Could Be Killing SEC's Reputation

The SEC has some explaining to do.

If it's such a good conference, why the disjointed play this month? Where is the great team? Where is Goliath?    

Auburn was just taken down at home by a Texas A&M team that previously lost a game 59-0. Alabama had a fitful night on offense in an overtime victory over LSU. Georgia scored 20 in a loss to Florida two weeks ago. SEC East-leading Missouri was shut out at home and has a loss to Indiana, which is winless in the Big Ten.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is licking his wounds from yet another loss, but he might just be waiting for someone to ask him about the "myth" of the SEC so he can make himself feel better.

This should make Stoops feel better. TCU, a one-loss Big 12 team with weaker non-conference wins than one-loss Alabama’s victory over West Virginia, slid past the Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff Committee rankings.

The SEC might have a great team if Mississippi State has developed a champion’s DNA to go with its superb quarterback and chemistry. We’ll see Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

For now, the SEC looks like a bunch of good teams.

 

There were signs

You could see this 2014 letdown coming when the SEC lost its veteran quarterbacks all at once, not to mention a bundle of junior talent to the NFL draft. A.J. McCarron, Johnny Manziel, Zach Mettenberger, Aaron Murray, Connor Shaw and James Franklin exited after 2013, and you can look bad in the SEC being a one-dimensional run team.

The SEC also lost 29 juniors to NFL draft declarations in January 2014. The Big 12, with four fewer teams, lost three juniors. The Pac-12 lost 25, but six were from Cal, which had just finished a 1-11 season. The ACC lost 13.

"Junior defections have brought the elite, national championship programs back to the field (FSU, Alabama, Auburn, LSU) and allowed other parts of the country to catch up with veteran, more experienced talent," Senior Bowl CEO Phil Savage wrote in an e-mail. "We have 'one-and-done' in basketball, this is 'three-and-done' in football, same concept. Butler, Wichita State, George Mason, etc, every March."

Savage has just 20 SEC seniors committed so far to his game January 25, compared to 32 in 2012.

 

The fallout

Oregon, which was No. 5 in the Associated Press Top 25 in Week 11, moved past Alabama into the 4-hole in Week 12 with a road win at Utah. The Ducks are now No. 2 in the CFP rankings. It got worse for the SEC’s cred Tuesday night when the CFP Committee chose TCU as No. 4 ahead of Alabama, which was left at No. 5.

College football has become a quarterback-centric, points-driven game, and Alabama has to live in it. Blake Sims, its senior quarterback, was too stubborn against LSU, taking shot after shot downfield in the passing game against bump-and-run coverage. He was poised in the last 50 seconds against a defense that has become one of the best in the country in front of the throng of LSU fans in Tiger Stadium, and he got his team down the field for the tying field goal at the end of regulation. But the CFP is style-driven and resume-driven, and the Sims/Alabama resume now has some smudges after his 20-for-45 passing line.

I asked Nick Saban in the postgame press conference if the rest of the country can appreciate maulers like Alabama and LSU. He said, "I love it, I love it. Nothing spread about that." Can others appreciate it, though? It doesn’t appear so with offense-first Oregon jumping the Tide in the AP and offense-first TCU jumping the Tide in the CFP.

Charles Davis, the Fox college football analyst, is not worried about the SEC’s reputation.

"The last time we had a game that looked like Alabama-LSU on Saturday night was that 9-6 game between LSU-Alabama (2011), and who ended up playing for the national championship? The same two teams," said Davis who, incidentally, played at Tennessee. "People may not appreciate that style, but I don’t think it should hurt Alabama in the polls."

Added Davis, "I think a lot of people don’t like that style of football because we’re playing racehorse everywhere else."

Davis doesn’t believe the SEC’s honor is in peril at all.

"If Alabama does beat Mississippi State Saturday, and then Bama and State win out and Bama wins the SEC championship, the SEC has a heck of a case for getting two in the playoff," Davis said.

I have my doubts about two-in after the SEC was put down Monday in the AP and Tuesday by the CFP. Who is to say the same putdown can’t happen next week if Alabama gets in another slugfest, this time with Mississippi State, and squeaks out a 13-10 win? Might it be Mississippi State’s turn to drop behind the offense schools—Florida State, Oregon, TCU and maybe even behind Ohio State and Baylor?

The national media narrative is that "TCU looked good" in its win over K-State, while Alabama "won ugly." It’s not all Wins, Losses and Resume. It’s style. It’s the flash on the screen.

Here is the other side of it. TCU scored 41 points against a Kansas State defense that surrendered just 20 points to Auburn. Oregon went for 51 points in the high-altitude of Utah when the climate was supposed to slow down the Ducks.

Here is the really important other side of it. The old mantra of "defense wins championships" just might be dead after this season. Coaches are putting their best athletes on offense. That’s what it seems like, at least. The SEC had better go find and develop some quarterbacks and score points with style.

After Auburn’s dreadful loss to Texas A&M and Alabama’s fitful win over LSU, the SEC might need a PR job to smooth the rough edges of its resume. There really could be a lot of explaining to do on December 7 when the Final Four is announced.

 

Ray Glier covers college football for Bleacher Report. He has covered college football and various other sports for 20 years. His work has appeared in USA Today, The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post and Al Jazeera America. He is the author of How the SEC Became Goliath (Howard/Simon & Schuster, 2013). All quotations were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.  

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College Football Week 12: Favorites Who Will Cover the Spread

Entering the closing stretch of the 2014 college football season, you've seen your share of favorites disappoint and ruin your betting tickets.

Don't let these losses deter you, though. College football's Week 12 slate of games has some favorites that are locks to cover the spread.

Who are they, you ask? Let's find out.

 

Florida State (-2) at Miami

The Florida State Seminoles may be riding a 25-game winning streak into their matchup with the Miami Hurricanes, but the team has ample losses on its resume when it comes to covering the spread.

With the exception being its outings against Wake Forest and Louisville—and even that was in doubt until late—Florida State has failed to cover the spread in seven of its nine games this season.

Nonetheless, the reality is, with just a two-point spread, all the Seminoles have to do is win for you to rake in the cash. Florida State's lowest margin of victory during its winning streak is three points, which came in the national title game against Auburn last season.

And let's be clear: Miami certainly doesn't sport a team of that caliber. At 6-3, the chief win on the Hurricanes' resume came against Duke.

In more high-profile matchups with Louisville, Georgia Tech and Nebraska, Miami was outscored 100-61. Because of these losses, the Canes are 0-3 against the spread (ATS) as underdogs in 2014. So, in other words, this isn't a team that exactly plays up to its competition.

Delving into the team's history against Florida State under Al Golden, Miami again comes up short. Golden's average margin of defeat in three games against the Seminoles is north of 14 points. With that said, look for Florida State to win this one by a comfortable margin.

Prediction: Florida State 34, Miami 21

 

Michigan State (-12) at Maryland

Don't jump off the Spartans bandwagon just yet. While Michigan State was thoroughly dominated by Ohio State—and most importantly, didn't cover the spread—this team has been rather consistent on the gambling front.

When the Spartans face a ranked opponent, it's simple: Don't bet on them. Of their four losses ATS on the season, three have come against such opponents. But with Maryland just being another run-of-the-mill Big Ten team, you have the green light to take Michigan State this week.

If that's not enough for you to take the plunge, though, then take a peep at the Terrapins' track record at home. In Maryland's past seven home games, it has covered the spread just two times. Factor in the Spartans' 6-1 record ATS in their last seven Big Ten road games, and the pick here is an easy one.

Prediction: Michigan State 37, Maryland 17

 

Kentucky at Tennessee (-8.5)

It's not the SEC matchup that will draw the most attention, but if history is any indicator, it's certainly the best contest to bet on in Week 12.

Since 2007, the Volunteers are 6-1 ATS when facing Kentucky. On the opposing side, the Wildcats are 3-7 ATS in their last 10 SEC road games.

Coming off a 45-42 victory over South Carolina, momentum is also on Tennessee's side. With Joshua Dobbs under center in place of the injured Justin Worley, the Volunteers added another dimension to their offense.

In his first career start, Dobbs set the school mark for rushing yards in a game by a quarterback, with 166 yards. Already giving up nearly 200 yards per game on the ground, this development doesn't bode well for Kentucky's defense.

With an average margin of victory of 16 points in its last three home games with the Wildcats, the pick here is Tennessee. 

Prediction: Kentucky 17, Tennessee 30

 

All lines and betting information are courtesy of Oddsshark.com, as of 4 p.m. ET.

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LSU vs. Arkansas: Why Isn't This a Bigger Rivalry Game in SEC?

Some things do not make sense. 

LSU's clash with Arkansas is an annual thriller. Eight of the last nine battles have been decided by one possession. Major bowl berths have almost always been at stake on the last week of the season in this game.

The "rivalry" between the Tigers and the Razorbacks had become a Thanksgiving tradition. The game, more often than not, has been played on the Friday after Turkey Day to close out each team's regular season. Fans always knew they would be in for a treat. 

But "The Battle of the Golden Boot" got booted.

Saturday's game will not be played on the week of Thanksgiving for the first time in the Golden Boot era. LSU's annual Thanksgiving week clash is now with Texas A&M, while the Hogs replaced the Bayou Bengals with Missouri. 

Texas A&M and LSU have some history. The potential is there for the game to become something special, especially since the Aggies will not play Texas anytime soon. Nevertheless, the Longhorns will always be their top rival. 

The Tigers and Aggies were both instrumental in making each other a traditional Thanksgiving opponent, per Robbie Neiswanger of ArkansasNews.com. The switch was done much to the dismay of Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long and head coach Bret Bielema.

I don’t want to dramatize it, but I certainly made my feelings known strongly and in an appropriate manner within the conference,” said Long in 2013, per Neiswanger. “So they knew where I stood clearly on it. But at the same time you understand that it is a conference of 14 and the SEC has a number of objectives they have to try to meet in that schedule and very disappointingly and unfortunately for us, a game that has developed into a rivalry at the end of the season won’t be there. 

Long is right; the game has developed into a heavily anticipated matchup for Arkansas fans. But has it translated to the people of Louisiana? The answer is cloudier than one might think.  

Most LSU fans look forward to Auburn, Alabama and Florida more than they do Arkansas. This is partially because they do not view the Razorbacks as a championship-level program.

Arkansas does not have the same national brand name as some of the other schools in the SEC West. That does come as a surprise, though, as the Razorbacks have a famous and diverse group of supporters, including Bill Clinton, Jerry Jones and Bobby Bones. Also, the Hogs' athletic department was 14th in the country in revenue generated last season, per USA Today.  

But why should anyone care if the Razorbacks have a mediocre national reputation? They are the Tigers' best-suited rival.

LSU and Arkansas are the only Power Five conference teams in their respective states. Though the two universities are a lengthy 10-hour drive from one another, the two states share a border where fans of each team bleed over. They already have a cool trophy and a catchy name. 

What else does there need to be?

The Battle of the Golden Boot has been undoubtedly overshadowed by the prestige and history of Alabama and Auburn's Iron Bowl and Mississippi State and Ole Miss' Egg Bowl. LSU wants to have what those schools have. Unfortunately, Arkansas, not Texas A&M, gave the Tigers the best chance of achieving that. 

LSU's yearly matchup against Arkansas will still be special for years to come, though at a different time of the year. The Hogs are a slight favorite over the Tigers on Saturday, per OddsShark.com. So expect another closely contested, smashmouth slobber-knocker that will be decided in the fourth quarter.

Unfortunately, the Golden Boot will not have that same feel as it once did. It is a hotly contested rivalry game not played on rivalry weekend. 

And that is a shame. 

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.comESPN.com and LSU Sports Information. Recruiting information provided by 247Sports.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State's Confusing Quarterback Controversy

COLUMBUS, Ohio — September 29 of this year marked the first time that Urban Meyer was asked about his quarterback situation. As it turns out, the Ohio State head coach's answer at the time was somewhat significant.

Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett had just totaled 409 yards of total offense and four touchdowns in his fourth start since taking over for Braxton Miller two weeks prior to the start of the season. When broached with the idea of an impending quarterback controversy, Meyer opted to stand by his injured senior.

“Braxton is our quarterback," Meyer stated. "To be fair to Braxton, [he’s the] Big Ten Player of the Year. It’s good to know we’ve got both of them.”

One-third of the way into the Ohio State's season may have been too early for the question to have even been asked.

The same could be said about Meyer's answer.

In the six weeks since Meyer made his commitment to Miller, something has changed. That was evident on Monday, when the third-year Buckeyes head coach was approached the topic once more following Barrett's 386-yard, five-touchdown performance in Ohio State's monumental win over Michigan State.

This time, Meyer sang a different tune.

"Competition brings out the best," Meyer stated. "And I'm really excited to have two really good quarterbacks next year, if that's the plan."

According to Buckeyes offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman, that is still the plan, although it remains to be seen whether Meyer reneging on his public pledge to Miller will affect his future.

While the two-time Big Ten MVP has one season of eligibility remaining as he redshirts this season due to a torn labrum, he does possess the ability to either declare for the NFL draft or play at another school immediately as a graduate transfer.

Herman dismissed that possibility. "I can't even imagine that," he said.

Miller's anticipated 12-month recovery from his August surgery leaves his prospects as a pro up in the air. So in the meantime, despite still being in the hunt for a playoff spot in 2014, Ohio State already has a quarterback controversy on its hands for 2015.

Perhaps that last sentence highlights the absurdity of all of this, proving that it's way too soon to even talk about what could be when what's actually happening merits enough conversation of its own.

But it's undeniable that the Buckeyes could have an unprecedented situation on their hands, with two signal-callers of Miller and Barrett's caliber potentially competing for the starting job.

After all, most quarterback controversies don't look like this one could. At least not at the college level, where most quarterback situations involve choosing between the lesser of two evils—an unproven freshman or a maxed-out veteran—or somewhere in between.

That's certainly not the case in Columbus, however, where it's hard to imagine Meyer making a bad choice if Miller comes back healthy.

And that might be the biggest if in all of this, given the severity of Miller's shoulder injury—his second in an eight-month span. When Miller is healthy, there may not be a more exciting player in the country and no one is more capable of putting a team on his back and carrying it to a victory.

That's been reflected in Miller's trophy case, which includes not only a pair of Big Ten MVPs, but two Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year awards, two Big Ten Quarterback of the Year awards, two top-10 Heisman Trophy finishes and a 22-2 record as a starter in the past two seasons.

Should Miller have started this season as planned, he would have rewritten Ohio State's record books and been one of the preseason favorites to win the Heisman.

"I don't even know how much hardware he's won individually," Herman said in August. "All I know is that I've read a couple times that he's the most decorated player in the history of the Big Ten."

But while the expansion of Miller's legacy has been put on hold, Barrett has started one of his own.

In nine weeks as the Buckeyes' starting quarterback, the redshirt freshman has racked up three Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week awards and five conference Freshman of the Week honors.

Currently on pace to break Miller's single-season records for total offense and touchdowns, Barrett possesses 20-1 odds to win the Heisman Trophy, per Bodog (h/t Odds Shark).

Although Barrett's credentials have improved at a record rate, he has more than just his resume going for him at the moment.

While it would be difficult to accurately project how much progress that Miller would have made as a passer in his senior season, there's a compelling case to be made that the Ohio State offense has operated more efficiently under Barrett than it did under his predecessor.

Meyer credited an improved receiving corps and offensive line for his accelerated progress, but he also didn't deny that Barrett's accuracy (64.4 percent completion percentage) and improvisational skills have added new—and perhaps unexpected—elements to the Buckeyes offense.

"J.T.'s made incredible jumps as far as how he handles his business and accuracy of passing," Meyer said. "The one thing that he does well—even better than Braxton—because it happens quite often when something is not there, he puts his foot in the ground and gets us to 2nd-and-4, 2nd-and-5."

Sometimes Barrett does even more than that, as evidenced by his improvised 33-yard touchdown run in a rout of Rutgers and a big 55-yard scramble in the Buckeyes' win over the Spartans last weekend.

But even as Barrett has proven "efficient" as a runner—in the words of Herman—he's still not as dynamic a ball-carrier as Miller, who's rushed for 3,052 yards and 32 touchdowns in his three-year career.

Maybe that would have been the difference in Ohio State's September 6 loss to Virginia Tech, where Barrett rushed for just 70 yards on 24 carries. Or maybe Miller's experience would have paid dividends against the Hokies' unexpected 46 Bear defense, which stifled Barrett into a 9-of-29, three-interception passing performance.

But with how he's progressed since, it's hard to view Barrett's early-season struggles as anything but a distant memory at this point.

And with the trajectory he's currently on, it's also difficult to imagine that Barrett will be making a return to the bench next season—regardless of which other quarterbacks join him on the Buckeyes' roster.

That might be the biggest question in all of this, as it's possible that Miller opts to take his talents elsewhere rather than returning to a school where he's no longer guaranteed a starting spot.

With so many question marks, the only certainty about Ohio State's quarterback situation is that there is now a situation, although Meyer insists that it's not one he minds.

"I don't use the term 'crazy.' I think 'fortunate' and 'blessed,' either one of them, because I think they're both excellent quarterbacks," Meyer said. "And we'll worry about that day when it comes."

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Dear Alabama Fans, Don't Worry About College Football Playoff Committee Snub

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If you are an Alabama fan and watched Tuesday’s College Football Playoff rankings show, you may have been disappointed with the results.

Despite Auburn, previously ranked ahead of Alabama, losing a stunner to Texas A&M, the Crimson Tide remained at No. 5—just outside the playoff field. They were jumped by TCU, which produced an emphatic 41-20 thumping of Kansas State.

This led to some consternation and hand-wringing among Alabama fans worried about whether or not their team would make it into the field at the end of the season.

There’s no reason to panic, though—none at all. The Crimson Tide are in as good a playoff position as anybody, with games left against the Nos. 1 and 9 teams in the rankings.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban summed up the attitude perfectly on the SEC teleconference Wednesday.

“I didn't even really know what we were in the poll, and it really doesn't matter at all to me or our team or our players, because it's about the game that we play,” Saban said. “If you don't have success in the games that you play, the poll's not going to matter.

“We have to play really, really good teams in our league, and we have a couple of really, really good teams that we have to play to finish the season, starting with the team that we play this week. The emphasis is, if you have success against the teams that you have to play, all those things are going to take care of themselves.”

Alabama does not control its own destiny. That’s because the oft-used phrase is an oxymoron. One cannot control what is already predetermined.

The Crimson Tide do, however, control their playoff fate. They can take a good step toward that field this weekend.

Mississippi State has been the No. 1 team in all three of these midseason rankings the committee has released. The Bulldogs are undefeated and have solidified their current resume with wins on the road and at home over good teams.

Beating Mississippi State would do two things for Alabama.

Firstly, it would knock off the No. 1 team in the field, opening up a spot for another team to jump in. Secondly, it would significantly bolster its playoff resume, making even more of a case for it to be in the field.

Committee chair Jeff Long said on ESPN that the difference between No. 5 Alabama and No. 4 TCU was quite small.

A win over the top team would give Alabama a resume advantage.

Then, should Alabama keep winning, it would find itself in Atlanta with a chance to win the SEC championship—a major criterion in the committee’s selection. It would also have beaten the current No. 9 team, Auburn.

All of this would be a major boost for Alabama’s case, while at least one team ahead of it falls.

So Crimson Tide fans should not be panicking at all right now. In fact, Alabama should be very happy with its current situation. It has a clear path to a playoff spot, even if right now—in rankings that are judging an incomplete season—it is on the outside looking in.

Alabama just needs to keep winning, and that should be the focus for everyone right now.

“The emphasis has to be on how we play, how we execute, preparing the right way for this particular game, this particular team, and give ourselves the best chance to be successful in this game,” Saban said.

“So none of that really matters.”

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Heisman Trophy 2014 Stock Watch: Who Is Rising and Falling Post-Week 11?

The new playoff system in college football has led to almost non-stop debate since the first rankings were released, though ultimately the decision of who will play in the semifinals rests in a selection committee. That means all of the talk of who is most deserving is just that, talk.

Not the case with the Heisman Trophy, which is decided based on votes from 929 media members, former Heisman winners and a single fan-fueled ballot. It's a public award and, therefore, very influenced by public opinion.

That means when a contender has a good game, or a bad one, it's talked about all over the country. Get enough people talking in one direction or another, and a player's stock either shoots through the roof or falls off the cliff.

Where do the top candidates stand right now? Check out our updated stock watch, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

Begin Slideshow

Florida State vs. Miami Is Perfect Chance for Al Golden to Silence Critics

Al Golden isn't getting fired.

But the criticism won't go away...yet.

The Miami Hurricanes will host their in-state rival Saturday, Nov. 15, battling the No. 3 Florida State Seminoles at 8 p.m. ET. Of course, it hasn't been much of a true rivalry lately, with the 'Noles winning the previous four meetings overall and last four in South Florida.

Golden, who holds a 28-18 career record at "The U," is constantly berated for the lack of a signature win, a device typically used to say, "He hasn't beaten FSU."

A victory over the Seminoles would most definitely provide it, however, and the 2014 edition of the matchup is the fourth-year coach's best opportunity to upend the Seminoles.

Following two seasons of mediocre teams, Miami entered last year's meeting at 7-0. The seemingly promising squad had just attained the program's first No. 7 ranking in the AP poll since 2005.

Despite the undefeated start, though, the Hurricanes really weren't above average. They needed a desperate fourth-quarter comeback at North Carolina to overcome Stephen Morris' four-interception showing and barely limped past Wake Forest.

Florida State, on the other hand, was special. The 27-point blowout wasn't a surprise.

Stephen Morris and Allen Hurns connected for two first-half touchdowns, and Miami had life entering halftime, down just seven. But after the break, the 'Noles flexed their collective muscles and started to run Miami out of Doak Campbell Stadium.

The biggest problem for the 'Canes, of course, was Duke Johnson could no longer run. He sustained a broken ankle as the third quarter neared conclusion, and it ended his sophomore campaign.

Miami was trailing by three touchdowns at the time, so a comeback with its star was unlikely, let alone without Johnson. It ultimately dropped the tilt 41-14.

Jimbo Fisher's team eventually earned a national championship, and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston would be returning to repeat the feat.

But the Seminoles aren't the same dominant group. They're good—oh, they're still really good—but they have evident flaws. Florida State hasn't run the ball consistently, its defense has surrendered more yards and slow starts have plagued the 2014 roster.

Against the three of the top defenses they've faced—Clemson, Notre Dame and Virginia—the 'Noles mustered just 1.9 yards per rushing attempts. A pair of 35-plus-yard Dalvin Cook touchdown runs aided Florida State's 5.8 mark versus Louisville, but Miami has only allowed four runs of 20-plus, which is tops in the nation.

The FSU defense has allowed opponents to gain more than 350 yards in six of nine contests, something only Auburn accomplished last season. Currently, the unit sits at No. 50 and concedes 374.0 yards per outing, the school's worst clip since 2009.

Plus, the Seminoles trailed North Carolina State 24-7 and Louisville 21-0, needed fourth-quarter comebacks to outlast Oklahoma State and Notre Dame and then fought off a pesky Virginia troop last week.

Conversely, the Hurricanes are better. Fisher agrees, per Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel:

They're in the system longer. [Offensive coordinator James] Coley's down there in the offensive system another year. The guys are older. Defensively they're in the system a lot more and those guys are more experienced. They seem to be playing very good football. I thought they were last year at this time. I really did.

Miami's run defense has ceded 131.9 yards per contest, good enough for No. 31 at the FBS level and a clear progression over last season's No. 78 standing. Johnson and Co. have amassed 994 yards and nine touchdowns during their last three showings. The 'Canes have scored first in eight of nine games and possess an average 20.0 to 9.9 halftime advantage.

What's more, the team is building off the best two-game stretch of Golden's tenure. Yes, the matchups were Virginia Tech and North Carolina, but it doesn't matter that Miami didn't upset Mississippi State and Alabama.

The Hurricanes flat-out owned the Hokies and Heels, and that point cannot be simply dismissed without acknowledgement of clear improvement.

Now, Florida State has monopolized the second half, boasting a 190-98 advantage out of the locker room, including a 102-45 edge during the third quarter. Should Miami be close at the finish, it means the team capitalized on the previously discussed topics and didn't allow the Seminoles to dictate the tertiary frame.

According to Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, senior defensive end Anthony Chickillo recognizes that challenge:

Teams jump out on them. Everyone's really excited to come out and play against them. I would say this, they're a team that's never rattled. They know how to win, they know how to compete and when teams do jump out on them, it doesn't affect them at all.

They come out swinging in the third quarter and if we can match that, if we can get ahead like other teams have and match them coming out in the third quarter, I think we'll be alright.

A complete, 60-minute effort is what the Hurricanes will need to outlast their rival. That victory would supply Golden the signature win for which critics, doubters and naysayers have clamored.

Golden's current one is probably a 22-10 victory over Duke this season. While it was certainly an outstanding performance, toppling the Blue Devils isn't and never will be flashy at Miami. That isn't a slight on Duke, it's a testament to the arrogance of a program that hasn't been truly relevant in a decade.

But Florida State provides that glamorous accomplishment.

The opportunity is there; Miami has the talent, a recent hot streak and four consecutive losses to Florida State for motivation. The Seminoles remain a top team and a tall task to overcome, but their shortcomings can be exploited.

If the Hurricanes manage to pull it off, Golden will silence the most negative crowd he's encountered while in Coral Gables: His own fans.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of CFBStats.com and B/R research.

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Todd Gurley Isn't X-Factor for Georgia

Todd Gurley's Return Is Great, but He's Not the X-Factor

Georgia will get star running back Todd Gurley back this week vs. Auburn after the junior sat out the last four games due to his suspension for taking money for autographs.

Great news for Georgia, right?

Of course.

Gurley is one of the top players in college football, and his return will allow head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo to keep Gurley and freshman Nick Chubb fresh, spread around carries and bring Gurley in as "the hammer" in the second half—just like they did vs. Clemson in the opener.

He's not the X-factor this week for Georgia, though. That moniker belongs to Georgia inside linebacker Ramik Wilson.

The senior has 72 tackles on the season—second on the team behind fellow inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera. Those two will have their hands full with Auburn.

The Bulldogs gave up 418 rushing yards two weeks ago in the 38-20 loss to Florida and 214 in the 63-31 win over Kentucky last week. Neither of those two teams come close to having as much eye candy in the backfield as Auburn does.

"The farther back you are from the line of scrimmage, the more you'll see those fakes and motions," Richt said on Wednesday's teleconference. "That's a part of what makes them good—the ability to get people not doing what they're supposed to be doing."

Wilson is a high-energy, fast-twitch linebacker who's capable of taking over games. However, Auburn's scheme has the ability to use the speed of linebackers against them.

Wilson's success, or failure, will determine the outcome of the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry.

 

Final Homecoming?

The 2014 season hasn't gone according to plan for South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier.

Picked as the preseason favorite to win the SEC East, the Gamecocks have sputtered to a 4-5 record and have two tough games against Florida and Clemson remaining on the schedule.

The struggles have made this season quite frustrating for the Head Ball Coach.

"Yes, it has been, because of our record," Spurrier said on Wednesday's teleconference. "We're sort of on pace to gain more yards and score more points than any team in school history, but we're doing the same thing on the other side. We've had some leads in the fourth quarter, and the entire team didn't finish the game."

His Gamecocks will travel to his old stomping ground this week to take on the Gators, and Spurrier was noncommittal on whether this would be the last game he coaches in The Swamp.

"There's a chance in just about anything in life," Spurrier said.

Spurrier told Josh Kendall of The State earlier this month that "the plan" was to stick around for the 2015 season.

Can that plan change? Sure.

A loss to Florida would give him five straight conference losses to close the season, and Kendall indicates it would mark the first time in his coaching career that he has lost five straight in the conference.

My gut feeling? With a defense-heavy recruiting class coming in next season, Spurrier will give it at least one more shot.

 

T.J. Yeldon Is Practicing, but Will He Play?

Alabama entered the season with one of the deepest and most versatile running back corps in the nation, with junior T.J. Yeldon, sophomore Derrick Henry and junior Kenyan Drake.

Drake was lost for the season in the loss to Ole Miss and Yeldon aggravated an ankle injury late in last week's 20-13 win over LSU.

Will Saturday afternoon's game against Mississippi State in Tuscaloosa be "The Henry Show" at Bryant-Denny Stadium? Don't count Yeldon out quite yet.

"He's practicing and, you know, doing well," Saban said on Wednesday's teleconference.

When specifically asked if he will play, Saban reiterated that "he's practicing and doing well."

It's an endorsement, but not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Yeldon at full strength would be huge for the Crimson Tide.

Mississippi State's front seven is loaded with studs like linebacker Benardrick McKinney and defensive linemen Preston Smith and Chris Jones.

They routinely rotate fresh bodies up front during games, and if Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin can rotate his running backs to combat that depth, it will not only help out the offense but keep Dak Prescott and the Bulldog offense on the sideline.

There are other options for Kiffin if Yeldon can't go.

Sophomore Altee Tenpenny and freshman Tyren Jones would be available as backups to Henry, and while both have potential, neither has significant big-game experience to draw from.

 

An Imminent Return?

It didn't look good for Auburn wide receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams when he was hit low and left in the second quarter of the 41-38 loss to Texas A&M on Saturday afternoon.

Williams won't be back for this weekend's matchup at Georgia but could be back for the Iron Bowl on Nov. 29 against Alabama.

"He is week-to-week right now, but we will see how he progresses," Malzahn said on Tuesday in quotes released by Auburn.

Williams' absence against Georgia will be felt. He's been a critical piece of the puzzle for the Tigers this year with 38 catches for 609 yards and five touchdowns.

He's been especially important for quarterback Nick Marshall on third downs. Thirteen of William's 15 third-down receptions have gone for first downs, and three of them have been touchdowns.

Auburn has gone old-school and focused more on the running game over the last three weeks, but Williams is Marshall's most reliable third-down outlet. His absence could impact the game on Saturday, especially if Georgia puts Auburn in 3rd-and-long situations.

 

A Weatherproof Offense

Snow games are great for fans watching on television, but for the players on the field, the elements could present major problems to game plans if the coaching staff doesn't properly prepare in advance.

Except if you're Arkansas.

The forecast for Fayetteville, Arkansas on Saturday for the Razorbacks' showdown with LSU isn't exactly promising, according to Ross Dellenger of The Advocate:

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema doesn't care.

"Offensively, one of the reasons we go with this kind of offense is that it can play in all weather," he said on Wednesday's teleconference. "It can play dry in 100-plus degrees and can play wet in freezing temperatures."

What specifically will Arkansas do if the snow hits? The old-school Hogs will go even more old-school.

"If it's really bad, we might put every lineman we can on the field," he said. "We've run formations with eight or nine linemen on the field, and that's something that hopefully will be able to benefit us on Saturday."

Just make sure one of them throws a touchdown pass. That's the precedent Arkansas has set, and it's up to Bielema to follow the rules.

 

Quick Outs

  • Butch Jones calls his offensive line a "work in progress" and said that the addition of quarterback Joshua Dobbs' run game has helped it develop. In the process, though, Dobbs led the Vols to a win at South Carolina and has them sitting at 4-5. With games against Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt left, a bowl trip isn't out of the question. That'd be huge for this young offensive line, Dobbs and the entire Tennessee offense.
  • Just how good is Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett? He has already set the SEC freshman sack record with 11, and Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel compared him to former Tiger and current San Francisco 49er Aldon Smith. "Imagine what he's going to look like in another year or two," he said. 
  • Despite moving from rivalry weekend, LSU head coach Les Miles still considers Arkansas a bigger rival than Texas A&M. "There's never been that thought in my mind," he said. The Tigers will visit College Station to take on the Aggies on Thanksgiving night.
  • Bielema confirmed that his team won't do snow angels on Saturday night, regardless of how much it snows. Bummer.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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UCLA Football Practice Notebook: USC off Bruins' Radar, for Now

WESTWOOD, Calif. — Three letters one should not expect to hear around the UCLA football facilities this week are U-S-C. 

I made the mistake of mentioning those letters as they pertain to the impending rivalry contest following Tuesday's practice at Spaulding Field. Defensive line coach Angus McClure grabbed my shoulders and gave me a playful shake that was accompanied with a reminder: 

"It's not SC week!" 

No,  the No. 11-ranked Bruins are not devoting this week to preparation for USC. UCLA is on a bye and returns to action Nov. 22 against its Los Angeles counterpart. 

Additional lead-up time to the 91st installment of the Crosstown Showdown could mean more opportunity to strategize. But without another opponent for which to prepare, UCLA also faces more time to let the hype build. 

And there will be no shortage of hype. UCLA's two-game win streak over USC is at stake, and both teams could be playing for positioning in the crowded Pac-12 South championship race.

Wide receiver Jordan Payton put it simply: "Our next game's a big one." 

Rather than spend two weeks focused on the magnitude of this year's rivalry matchup, the Bruins are easing into the process. 

"Today, we did some generic stuff," Payton said. "All of us have started looking at the film...and getting a head start. That's what this bye week is really for.

"It builds up through the week," he added. "As the week goes on, more and more film will be watched. As you get to Sunday, that's when you really start game-planning." 

By Sunday, USC will have played its Week 12 game against Cal, and game-day prep can begin as it would on a normal week. 

In the meantime, UCLA is focused on building off the positive momentum established in wins over Arizona and Washington. 

Both victories came by double digits, with UCLA showing glimpses of being the title-contending team some projected before the season. Those performances were emphatic responses to an October in which the Bruins lost back-to-back games and sputtered to narrow wins over Cal and Colorado. 

"We kept fighting through each game, stayed resilient, and it's benefited us over the last two weeks through some big wins," Payton said.

The challenge for UCLA now is continuing that progress.

"Right now, we're playing our best football," he said. "Even today in a bye week practice, we looked really good."

The bye week is also an opportunity for the Bruins to heal from their collective bumps and bruises. UCLA last had a week off in mid-September, and plenty of wear and tear can pile up in the course of two months. 

No one knows that better than running back Paul Perkins. 

With 1,172 yards, Perkins is far and away the leader of UCLA's multifaceted rushing attack. But to gain such yardage, Perkins has been a workhorse. 

His 190 carries through 10 games are 30 more than any Bruin took on through all 13 contests a season ago and 56 more than Perkins himself took on in 2013.

"It's good to have a bye," Perkins said with a laugh. "Pretty much all I can say. It's a long season."

That long season is down to its stretch run. After USC visits the Rose Bowl Nov. 22, Stanford comes the following week. Anything beyond that is uncertain. 

And while the Bruins are not yet focusing on the USC game, Perkins said they are looking ahead to a milestone beyond facing the Trojans. 

"We have a clear goal to win out and go to the Pac-12 Championship [Game]," he said.   

 

UCLA Ranking Provides Insight into College Football Playoff Committee 

UCLA made the most significant jump in this week's College Football Playoff rankings, climbing seven spots from No. 18 to No. 11. That's three places better than its ranking in the Associated Press Top 25 and four spots better than the Amway Coaches Poll. 

In the playoff rankings, the Bruins are notably ahead of such teams as Georgia, one-loss Nebraska and the only team to beat the No. 16-ranked Cornhuskers, Michigan State. 

Michigan State fell after suffering its second setback, a 49-37 loss at home against Ohio State. 

UCLA's placement offers some insight into the committee's process early into the College Football Playoff's inaugural year. 

Quality of loss plays an obvious role in that UCLA—with defeats to two ranked opponents—is ahead of Georgia. The Bulldogs' losses to unranked South Carolina and Florida negated an impressive nonconference win over No. 19 Clemson. 

UCLA and Michigan State, however, have more comparable resumes.

The Bruins are 8-2 while the Spartans are 7-2. Both lost to No. 2 Oregon. Both defeated a ranked, one-loss opponent: No. 6 Arizona State for UCLA, Nebraska for Michigan State. 

Michigan State has the more impressive second loss by virtue of its falling to No. 8 Ohio State whereas Utah just barely remained in the rankings at No. 23.  

But UCLA landing a spot ahead of the Spartans suggests that talk of overall body of work isn't empty rhetoric.

The Bruins' nonconference slate lacked a marquee opponent of Oregon's caliber, but facing the Ducks in Pac-12 play compensates for Michigan State boasting that matchup on its schedule.

Meanwhile, UCLA played opponents from the ACC (Virginia), Big 12 (Texas) and the current leader in the American Athletic Conference, Memphis.

The remainder of Michigan State's nonconference schedule featured Football Championship Subdivision opponent Jacksonville State, perennial Mid-American Conference cellar dweller Eastern Michigan and a Wyoming team just one game ahead of New Mexico in the Mountain West Conference's Mountain Division.   

UCLA also benefits from the overall strength of the Pac-12 South, seeing as many ranked opponents within the division itself as Michigan State's played total. 

And aside from Clemson, Georgia has yet to even play, let alone defeat, any other teams currently ranked. 

So the lesson the committee is sending by rewarding UCLA is pretty simple: Better opponents mean better rankings.  

 

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

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UCLA Football Practice Notebook: USC off Bruins' Radar, for Now

WESTWOOD , Calif. — Three letters one should not expect to hear around the UCLA football facilities this week are U-S-C...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Oregon Fans Loving the New College Football Playoff Committee

There have been few guarantees in college football season. However, if there's one certainty, it's that Oregon will make the playoff as long as it wins out. 

The story of the latest College Football Playoff rankings, released Tuesday, was that the Ducks, with one loss to Arizona, jumped undefeated Florida State to take the No. 2 spot. 

"Based on the committee's view about the strength of Florida State's schedule and their body of work compared to Oregon's strength of schedule and body of work, the committee voted that Oregon was No. 2," committee chair Jeff Long said, via Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports. "It was a very close call, but the committee placed significant value on Oregon's quality of wins against three top‑25 teams, two of which were on the road."

Agree or disagree with the decision, it's definitely a change of pace that adds a level of intrigue to the process. Under the BCS, there would be no doubt over which teams would occupy the top two spots. As long as Mississippi State and Florida State remained undefeated, they would be No. 1 and No. 2, even if interchangeably. Only a loss by one or both of those two teams would open things up. 

That's obviously not how the committee thinks or acts.  

As Mandel points out, swapping Oregon and Florida State only has an impact "on which team wears the home or road jerseys in their semifinal game." It's small potatoes, even if Seminole fans feel disrespected. 

However, Mandel continues, "In the bigger picture, the committee sent its most definitive message to date that this is not the traditional AP and coaches polls."

One concern about the playoff was that it would ruin the regular season, but what this year has shown is that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, there's a case to be made that the playoff, combined with the lack of a truly great team, has made this regular season more interesting and meaningful. 

Keeping with that theme, playoff executive director Bill Hancock has made it clear that the committee is looking beyond the win-loss column as it stands; it's looking at what teams have done. 

Clearly, the committee thinks 1) highly of the Pac-12 and 2) that Oregon's three wins against top-25 teams outweigh a loss to a team that was unranked at the time, but currently comes in at No. 14. 

That's a great sign for Oregon. So long as the Ducks take care of business against Colorado and Oregon State, their playoff hopes likely come down to the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Given that the overall depth and perceived quality of the conference resides in the South Division—Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Utah are all ranked in the playoff poll, whereas Oregon is the only ranked team from the North Division—that would be viewed as another quality win for Oregon regardless of which team it plays.

Of course, an Oregon loss at any time would open up the conversation, but that's for another day. In short: Oregon's path is clear—and favorable, for that matter. The same can't quite be said for teams atop the Big 12 and Big Ten. 

The Big 12's "One True Champion" motto is being challenged by the possibility of Baylor and TCU finishing with identical overall and conference records. Baylor would have the tiebreaker, but as David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest notes, the committee wouldn't be obligated to take the Bears per se. 

The Big Ten's best chance to get a team into the playoff comes down to a conference championship game between Ohio State and Nebraska. The Buckeyes are one of the most, if not the most, improved teams over the past two months. The Huskers are quietly sitting as a playoff dark horse at No. 16 in the latest standings with one loss to Michigan State.

Still, early returns from the playoff rankings indicate the Big Ten might need some help. 

Oregon doesn't, and that's a great place to be during the final stretch of the season. Even though there are no automatic bids for the playoff, the Ducks are as close to controlling their own destiny as any team can be. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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Oregon Fans Loving the New College Football Playoff Committee

There have been few guarantees in college football season. However, if there's one certainty, it's that Oregon will make the playoff as long as it wins out...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

For Better or Worse, Jameis Winston Is the Face of College Football

Good or bad, Jameis Winston has been making headlines during his tenure at Florida State. The star quarterback hasn't lost a game as a starter and has his team on pace for the College Football Playoff. 

Find out more about the polarizing QB in the video above.

You can see the full Winston interview at the Tallahassee DiplomatAdditional footage courtesy of Mark Almond of AL.com.

 

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