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Bowl Projections: Predicting College Football Playoff Matchups After Week 10

The weird thing about the College Football Playoff committee issuing a poll every week is how weirdly unnecessary it'll all seem in a few weeks. In the BCS system, polling mattered. Only two teams were going to get a chance to play for a national championship, and everyone needed a look to see how this convoluted formula worked.

There is no convoluted formula in the playoff system. There are 12 people in a room coming to a consensus, not unlike the selection committee for March Madness. Those respected folks meet once a year—when they are deciding which 68 teams to put into the NCAA tournament. There are explanations given afterward, but we're never provided with a Top 68 list because there's no need for one.

All of which is to say that while debating the CFB Playoff polls is nice, there is only one of them that matters. And that poll won't be coming out for more than a month.

So instead of parsing the latest outlook, which was released Tuesday night, let's instead look forward. We'll use the current rankings as a framework of the committee's mindset, but they're generally thrown out in favor of projections related to future performances.

Meaning, at this very moment, these are the two matchups I expect to see when the Dirty Dozen mails in its final term paper. So, anyway, let's hop to it.


No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 4 Mississippi State

Despite their half-dozen close calls, Florida State is a near-lock for a playoff spot. The second-ranked Seminoles play three of their final four regular-season games at home, none coming against especially difficult competition. Boston College and Miami are both frisky, to the point betting expert RJ Bell indicated the Seminoles will open as an underdog against the Hurricanes.

That, of course, is lunacy. Florida State, despite its inherent flaws, has won all of its games. Controversial opinion alert: Winning is better than losing. Come hell, high water or 21-point deficits, Florida State has won 24 straight games. To make them an underdog at any point is disingenuous—at least until that high-wire act comes back to haunt them.

Florida State is good enough to navigate this minefield they call the ACC. And by minefield, I mean comfortably furnished Victorian home with stuffed animals for carpeting. 

Mississippi State, meanwhile, is a Call of Duty rookie navigating a field of experienced snipers. The Bulldogs have road trips to Alabama and rival Ole Miss sandwiched between gimmes against UT Martin and Vanderbilt. Given that Ole Miss sits No. 11 in the latest rankings, there is a strong possibility that Mississippi State will be facing its fourth and fifth Top 10 team of 2014 down the stretch.

Factor in a potential SEC Championship Game, and I don't see Dak Prescott and Co. getting through to January unscathed. The SEC is too daunting, and the West is almost masochistic in its difficulty.

That said, Dan Mullen's team is getting in if it finishes the regular season with one loss. The Bulldogs' back-to-back-to-back victories over Top 10 teams is perhaps the most impressive feat of this college football season. Their flaws are minimal. Prescott can get into trouble when he tries to do too much with his arm, and their special teams is weak enough that it could swing a game down the stretch.

Losing one game is totally within reason. Dropping two down the stretch would be ignoring the two-plus months of excellent football Mississippi State has turned in. Look for them to be the last team in with a single loss.


No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Oregon

Yep, I realize putting Alabama in this spot means picking the Tide to defeat two of the nation's three best teams, go on the road to take down LSU and possibly win the conference outright. I realize that is a task more difficult than the one resting at Mississippi State's feet. I realize how impossible that sounds—especially for a team that dropped its only game against an elite opponent.

I also realize it is very dumb to bet against Nick Saban. Alabama has not lost more than one regular-season game since my sophomore year in college. Three of the past five seasons have seen the Tide play for a national championship, and they undoubtedly would have been given to a theoretical playoff in 2013.

Saban is the best, most prepared coach in the country. Lane Kiffin's offense has scored 93 points over its last two games after criticism reached a fever pitch following the Tide's 14-13 win over Arkansas. Saban's defense has not allowed more than 23 points all season; only Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn rank top-10 nationally in Football Outsiders' FEI plus ratings on both sides of the ball. As we saw last season, Alabama having home-field advantage against Auburn might provide just enough boost to send the Tide into the playoffs.

As for Oregon, it all essentially comes down to Saturday. Get past 17th-ranked Utah on the road and it's clear sailing until the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Ducks close their regular season with games against Colorado and Oregon State, which boast a combined 1-10 record against intraconference opponents. That lone win? It was Oregon State defeating Colorado.

Utah doesn't have the offensive talent to take advantage of Oregon's defensive weaknesses. Travis Wilson's 165-pass interception-less streak is perhaps the nation's most misleading statistic. Wilson has not had a pass gain more than 20 yards since Sept. 27. Devontae Booker will give the Ducks' shaky run defense problems, and Utah has enough defensive talent to keep the game semi-close, but Oregon has scored 40-plus points in four straight games. I have a difficult time conjuring 28 for Utah.

Oregon is probably headed for a collision with Arizona State in the Pac-12 title game, which could mean anything in a few weeks. The Sun Devils play their biggest game of the season Saturday against Notre Dame. Hold home field and it's possible that Arizona State and Oregon are headed for a de facto play-in game for the playoffs.

Either way, advantage Oregon.


Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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Oklahoma State Football: What's Wrong with Daxx Garman?

In the three games the Oklahoma State Cowboys played in September, starting quarterback Daxx Garman had 929 yards with a 56.3 completion percentage, eight touchdowns and just two interceptions. Furthermore, Garman was only sacked eight times in those three games, good for 2.67 sacks per game.

In the five games since, Garman has 954 yards with a 54.3 completion percentage, three scores and nine interceptions. In addition, he's been sacked 16 times, which raises his sacks per game to 3.2 per game.

Obviously, the talent level of Oklahoma State's opponents has only gone up as the season has progressed; however, Garman's numbers (and the Cowboys offense) have basically dropped off the map completely in the last five games.

Outside of playing Kansas State's defense instead of Texas Tech's, what's happened to Garman over the past month to turn him into a shell of the gunslinger Oklahoma State had in September?

Well, that's a question that has a complicated answer. That said, the biggest factor is likely the offensive line. Simply put, the line play has been awful and, unfortunately, there's not much anyone can do about it.

This is what happens when two of your key starters go down to injury (Brandon Garrett and Devin Davis) and two more decide to leave the university for various reasons (Travis Cross and Jake Jenkins). You have to turn to walk-ons to play center, and your offense's play goes into the tank.

The increase in sacks given up week to week is alarming on its own, but it isn't the only thing keeping Garman from being effective.

If you look at yards per attempt, you'll notice that Garman's statistics have gone from 10.68 YPA in September to around six in the five weeks since. That suggests that Garman doesn't have time to throw the ball deep (his strength) and is being forced to attempt shorter routes to counteract pass-rushers who are getting in his face early and often.

The tape tells the same story. Go back and watch any Oklahoma State game from the past month and you'll notice that a majority of Garman's misses are high. More often than not, this is because he's trying to throw over someone on defense.

Garman's line simply isn't giving him the time to throw, forcing him to do things he's not proficient at and keeping the Pokes offense from humming along at its usual pace. When Daxx Garman is successful, he sits back and picks apart a defense with his rocket arm.

Unfortunately, that's probably not happening again this year.

Oklahoma State opponents will continue to blitz Garman as long as the offensive line continues to be such a sieve. However, there are a few things Oklahoma State coaches could do to help Garman out.

The first thing that could help is more carries for Tyreek Hill. The coaches seem to have doubts about whether or not Hill can carry the ball more than 15 times a game, but at some point, you need to let him loose.

Hill can break long runs at the drop of the hat and could slow pass-rushers if he's used effectively. Draw plays would certainly be helpful; that said, even runs off tackle would allow him to get outside the numbers and use his speed to his advantage.

The Pokes began to do this some last week against Kansas State. However, the team largely went away from Hill in the second half after he was so effective in the first 30 minutes. Hopefully with Des Roland back against the Texas Longhorns, the staff can spread out those carries and let him be effective throughout a full game.

Another thing Oklahoma State may have to consider is more screen plays.

It may not always be the most exciting play, but it does allow Garman to get off quick passes to the many talented Oklahoma State receivers. The logic here is that teams will be forced to slow down their pass-rushers, thus giving Garman more time later when attempting deeper routes.

That's where Garman is dangerous. We've seen him attempt countless short slant patterns that sail over the receivers' heads and know that he struggles on anything that's not 15 yards out. Therefore, finding ways to get him more time in the pocket is imperative.

If Oklahoma State is going to get its sixth win and become bowl-eligible, the offensive line play will have to improve. Whether this is done through scheme or play-calling, it doesn't matter. The team needs to make adjustments to give its young quarterback time to throw the ball.

Oklahoma State's last real chance comes in two weeks at home against the Texas Longhorns. If it doesn't win there, the 2014 season is essentially over. Look for Mike Gundy and his staff to incorporate a few new wrinkles during their bye week and come out with just enough changes to pick up a crucial win.

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College Football's Giants Have Lost Their Intimidation Factor

When Alabama plays at Louisiana State on Saturday the X factor won’t be how loudly Nick Saban growls on the sideline or how many trick plays Les Miles calls. No, the unmanageable intangible will be Tiger Stadium, and the non-stop wall of noise the Crimson Tide will have to battle at the place known as Death Valley.

Ole Miss experienced the building’s lethal aspects two weeks ago, falling 10-7 to LSU in a game that led Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace to say Tiger Stadium was the "craziest place" he had ever played.

Yes, ear plugs are always a good idea for visiting teams in Baton Rouge. But there also are signs the stadiums that traditionally have been revered as the most imposing in college football are losing their intimidation factor.

In a game that’s dominated by the Power 5 conferences, let’s reference those venues as the Power 7 stadiums, the ones with seating capacities of 100,000 or more: Michigan’s Michigan Stadium (109,901), Penn State’s Beaver Stadium (106,572), Ohio State’s Ohio Stadium (104,944), Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium (102,455), LSU’s Tiger Stadium (102,321), Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,921) and Texas’ Memorial Stadium (100,119).

Six of the seven have witnessed outcomes this season that bring into question whether they still deliver the maximum home-field advantage, and the seventh will be severely tested this month. Let’s take them one by one.

Michigan, “The Big House” 

It was built in 1927 on land made quicksand-like by an underground spring. It was so wet that a crane was engulfed during construction, and it still remains under the stadium. And the Michigan offense looked like it was mired in quicksand while generating only 171 yards of total offense in a 30-14 loss to Minnesota on Sept. 27.

It marked the first time in 135 years of Michigan football that the Wolverines had three losses by the end of September, and it was their worst home-field loss since 1962 to Michigan, which had been beaten 58-0 in its previous trip to Ann Arbor.

Also of note was the under-capacity attendance figure of 102,926. There have been complaints at Michigan that changes in the student ticket plan is hurting attendance, and making the Big House a less fearsome place to play.

Penn State, Beaver Stadium

The Nittany Lions were on a nifty 4-0 roll until lightly regarded Northwestern rolled into Beaver Stadium and started them on a four-game losing streak with a surprising 29-6 beatdown.

This was a homecoming game, for crying out loud. Northwestern was a natural choice, and came in having won only twice in its previous 11 games, and one of those was against Division I-AA Western Illinois.

The Nittany Lions have lost twice at home since then, including last Saturday to 4-4 Maryland, 20-19. That was only the second time Maryland beat Penn State in 38 tries, and was the Terrapins’ first-ever victory at Penn State.

Ohio State, “The Horseshoe”

The Buckeyes’ proud football tradition includes never being ranked lower than fourth nationally in average home attendance since 1949. And with recent expansion making room for a record crowd of 107,517 to cram into Ohio Stadium on Sept. 7, a wild celebration of a prime-time blowout was anticipated.

Instead, Ohio State was humbled by Virginia Tech, 35-21.

It was the first time Ohio State lost a home game to an unranked, non-conference opponent since Stanford and Florida State turned that trick on consecutive weekends in 1982. For Virginia Tech, it was the first time the Hokies won a road game against a team that was ranked eighth or higher in the polls.

It also is a defeat that could forever haunt the Buckeyes. If they had won that game they’d be undefeated, and no doubt firmly entrenched in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings.

Tennessee, Neyland Stadium

Given the disparity in talent between Tennessee and Alabama, it was no surprise that UT fans didn’t get to savor a revenge victory when Lane Kiffin returned to Neyland Stadium last month as offensive coordinator of the Crimson Tide.

But the Oct. 4 game at home against Florida was another matter. The Gators seemed beatable, and the Vols were aching for a victory against a bitter SEC rival that had defeated them nine consecutive times.

The defense did its job, limiting Florida to 10 points. But Tennessee scored only nine as the losing streak continued.

Tennessee’s recent mediocrity points out one problem with having a huge stadium: It often doesn't fill up unless the team is winning. So even though Tennessee has the SEC’s biggest stadium, it ranked only 11th in the conference in 2013 for percentage of seating capacity filled.

Texas, Memorial Stadium

From 1968-76 the Longhorns were virtually unstoppable at Memorial Stadium, winning 42 consecutive home games. And as recently as 2009 they were pretty good there too, going 6-0 at home and losing only in the BCS championship game, to Alabama.

But since then home dates haven’t done much for Texas. From 2010 on they have lost 13 at Memorial, and the winning visitors have included UCLA, Iowa State, West Virginia and Ole Miss. And, this year, Brigham Young.

That loss to BYU on Sept. 6 may be the one that stung the worst. The 41-6 score was Texas' worst home defeat since a 66-3 trashing at the hands of UCLA in 1997.

LSU, Tiger Stadium

The most famous of Tiger Stadium's multitude of rocking moments came in 1988, amid the celebration for Tommy Hodson's touchdown pass to Eddie Fuller as time expired during a 7-6 victory against Auburn. The crowd's reaction was literally seismic, registering as an earthquake on the seismograph in the Louisiana Geological Survey office on LSU's campus.

But that's also about the level of shock that LSU fans suffered back on Sept. 20, when the Tigers fell to Mississippi State, 34-39. That loss ended a 14-game winning streak against the Bulldogs, and was the first time Mississippi State won at Baton Rouge since 1991.

The victory over Ole miss helped atone for that setback, and a win against Alabama might totally erase the memory.

Alabama, Bryant-Denny Stadium

Speaking of Alabama, it has the other 100,000-seat football palace. The Crimson Tide has won 12 consecutive games at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Only Auburn and Baylor, have longer active home winning streaks.

But the reputation of Bryant-Denny Stadium will be heavily on the line this month if the Crimson Tide's playoff hopes rest on beating Mississippi State and Auburn there.


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


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Kramer's College Football Playoff Notebook: Committee Not Afraid of Huge Moves

We had our doubts—and the final verdict is nowhere close to taking shape—although the College Football Playoff selection committee is doing enough in its infancy to give you hope that this chaos-driven weekly exercise might actually work.

Now, please don’t smother this group of human beings with praise just yet; not that this scenario ever entered your mind after only two weeks. Call it an orientation.

Ultimately, none of this really matters until it actually does.

It’s the final product—the four teams tabbed once all conference champions have been decided—that will determine our confidence in the group moving forward. Nothing else. And yet, with Week 11's College Football Playoff Top 25 unveiled, provided courtesy of USA Today's George Schroeder, the selection committee’s mindset is starting to come into focus: 

Week 2 @CFBPlayoff Top 25: pic.twitter.com/1Sn1thB3np

— George Schroeder (@GeorgeSchroeder) November 5, 2014

We learned that, for the most part, the teams scattered throughout the Top 25 are generally where they’re supposed to be. There are discussions to be had over placement—and a few general omissions to have concern with—but the committee seems to be operating under the guidelines it promised, which is significant.

Perhaps most importantly, however, is that the committee seems completely unafraid to give teams a larger jump or drop than we’ve seen in recent years. It didn’t just stand pat in its second week of work, sliding down the losers and propping up the winners in assembly-line fashion, similar to what we saw from the BCS. It made a handful of head-turning decisions.

The committee gave Arizona State an enormous boost for its win against Utah, lifting the Sun Devils from No. 14 to No. 9. It took the bottom out of the Bulldogs, following their lackluster showing in a 38-20 loss to the Florida Gators, dropping Georgia down to No. 20 from No. 11. It also bounced Ole Miss from No. 4 to outside the Top 10.

These larger, notable moves are the ones that matter, at least at this point in the season. If the committee is willing to take these types of stands off one-game performances—celebrating the power of a remarkably limited sample size—then ultimately it will continue to adjust these rankings without worry of shocking the system.

This is a good thing, especially when you consider how much the system will be shocked. (Perhaps as early as this upcoming weekend.)

Here are other observations regarding the committee’s work and what they mean moving forward.


Here Comes the Pac-12 Love

Arizona State’s surge to the No. 9 spot isn’t the only notable move in the Top 10. In fact, it’s not even the most impactful jump as it stands right now.

Following their 45-16 drubbing of Stanford—along with Auburn’s win over former No. 4 Ole Miss—the 8-1 Ducks entered the playoff if it just so happened to start right now, sliding up from No. 5 to No. 4. Although Oregon never truly received consideration to jump any higher, it makes no difference. 

As committee chairman Jeff Long stated (via Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel):

Long: "There was a clear voting difference between No. 2 FSU and No. 3 Auburn, Auburn solidly into No. 3 position ahead of Oregon."

— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) November 5, 2014

If the Ducks win out, they’re in. It's that simple. And in a strange turn, Arizona State—with a game against Notre Dame coming—might be in the same position. The Sun Devils, if all goes according to plan, could draw Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game. If that’s the case, you could be looking at a true under-the-radar CFB playoff resume taking shape before our eyes.

Elsewhere, Utah—despite losing 19-16 in overtime to Arizona State—didn’t budge from the No. 17 spot, which speaks volumes about what the committee thinks of the conference. And UCLA, still a mystery to us all, jumped four spots from No. 22 to No. 18.

Not bad for one week.


Irish Fans, Be Happy You Just Got Jumped

Notre Dame’s College Football Playoff lifespan has been uneventful but also fascinating due to the lack of movement. In a bit of a surprise, the Irish debuted at No. 10 in the initial rankings. After struggling against Navy on the road—still coming away with a double-digit victory, 49-39—Notre Dame didn’t move at all, even as Ole Miss exited the Top 10. 

Cause for concern? Absolutely not. In fact, given the team cruising past it, this is a positive development for Notre Dame.

Arizona State’s move past the Irish comes at the perfect time. In desperate need of that resume-boosting win—rather than holding up its near win over Florida State for the world to see—Notre Dame has a chance to turn heads this week as it heads to Tempe, Arizona. 

If Brian Kelly’s team takes down Arizona State, a team the committee is clearly high on, then you can expect the anticipated movement upward to occur. If not, well, then you have permission to riot, Irish faithful.

As it stands, however, don’t view the  selection committee's Week 11 conclusion as further disrespect; look at it as an opportunity and a way to make up ground with the bigger picture in sight.


Big Ten Still Waiting, Watching and Hoping

With its most important game on the horizon, the Big Ten is still embracing standing still. This isn’t necessarily a positive or negative, but rather it's a product of the intrigue swarming elsewhere.

Michigan State, No. 8 in the latest rankings, will welcome No. 14 Ohio State this weekend. Ultimately, the team to come away victorious in East Lansing will receive a boost by the committee. If the Spartans win, they will certainly jump past a Big 12 team. TCU and Kansas State—No. 6 and No. 7, respectively—meet up this weekend, which means MSU would have to move up.

A Michigan State victory would also put Mark Dantonio’s team in prime position to slide up further once more chaos comes in front of it, and it will come. An Ohio State victory would make this picture slightly more complicated, although the Buckeyes would undoubtedly begin their late playoff rise.

How high this rise can go depends a great deal on how the committee views OSU’s loss to Virginia Tech, although the perception would certainly start to shift. And with Nebraska very quietly sitting at No. 13 in the latest standings, a meaningful Big Ten Championship could be forming oh so quietly.

If that’s the case, it will serve as a significant boost for the conference when it matters most.


Power-Five Lockout

As you move down Week 11’s College Football Playoff Top 25, you can’t help but notice one glaring trend: The power-five conferences aren’t just in complete control of the postseason as expected; they're also in complete control of all 25 vacancies. There's not a non-power-five team to be found.

East Carolina’s ugly loss at Temple dropped the Pirates out of the Top 25 entirely, which should come as no surprise. It’s moderately surprising, however, that Colorado State (8-1) and Marshall (8-0)—two quality teams with one loss between them—are both still on the outside looking in.

This is significant for a few reasons, and it starts with the obvious: One non-power-five team will play in a marquee bowl when it's all said and done, although the absence of these schools from the latest rankings gives us little idea about which one that would be.

Unless this trend changes, this could stay the case moving forward. Brian Murphy of the Idaho Statesman provided insight, confirmed by the CFB Playoff committee, about what would be released:

Confirmed with @CFBPlayoff that committee will only release Top 25 tonight, whether or not G5 team is included. Will not give G5 update.

— Brian Murphy (@murphsturph) November 4, 2014

More significant to this lack of non-power-five schools, however, are the bigger-picture implications. The College Football Playoff didn’t just make life on the little guy harder. With a continued focus on quality wins and strength of schedule, it changed the situation entirely. 

The uphill climb for these smaller schools will remain a constant, regardless of timing.

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Post-Week 10 College Football Playoff Projections from Analytics Guru, Ed Feng

After ESPN aired the release of the inaugural College Football Playoff poll, the question on everybody's minds was: What will the rankings look like when they matter on Dec. 7?

My algorithm projects just that in the sortable table above. Now, allow me to explain my rankings...

Why Week 10 Favorites Won't Make the Playoff

The top three teams in the committee's rankings did not impress this weekend. Perhaps it's a sign that my projections are correct and none of these teams will make the playoff. 

Top-ranked Mississippi State has a 27.9 percent chance to make the playoff, only good for eighth-best in the nation. Last week Dan Mullen's squad started the fourth quarter tied with Arkansas.

The Bulldogs survived, but they won't be so lucky against Alabama (30.1 percent win chance) or Ole Miss (45.7 percent win chance), according to my projections.   

After a terrible first half on the road against Louisville, second-ranked Florida State looks most vulnerable among these three teams. Both The Power Rank's numbers and likely Vegas, per ESPN Radio host R.J. Bell, peg the Seminoles as an underdog to resurgent Miami on November 15.  A one-loss ACC champ will likely be on the outside looking in. 

Third-ranked Auburn looked like it surrendered a late lead to Ole Miss when Laquon Treadwell plunged into the end zone. However, replay showed Treadwell had fumbled the ball before crossing the plane, and the Tigers' season was saved.

Auburn has a 29.3 percent chance to make the playoff.

How Does Ole Miss Still Have a Shot?

Ole Miss suffered a crushing 35-31 loss to Auburn on Saturday night. The Rebels dropped from fourth to 11th in the committee rankings. However, the precedent this large drop set might benefit the Rebs in the future.

Let me explain.

The simulation that calculates the playoff probability assumes that a team drops seven spots when it loses. This distribution seems about right after seeing how the committee and The Associated Press poll reacts to losses. 

The simulation can also be run with a four-spot average drop. With this smaller drop after a loss, Ole Miss's playoff probability falls from 35.1 percent to 25.8 percent.

It is not out of the question that a two-loss team makes the playoff. As of Week 10, Ole Miss is the highest-ranked two-loss team, and the Rebs are favored in each of their remaining games. According to my stats they should finish the season 10-2 with victories over Alabama and Mississippi State (54.3 percent win chance).

Of the 10 teams ranked ahead of Ole Miss, three are guaranteed to lose head-to-heads to one another. For example, if sixth-ranked TCU loses to Kansas State this weekend, a seven-spot drop would put the Horned Frogs below Ole Miss.

Hugh Freeze could get the Rebs back in the conversation in late November if a few teams above them lose and they take care of business against Presbyterian, Arkansas and Mississippi State.

Arizona State Is Overrated

The Pac-12 contingent must be winning arguments on this committee.

Arizona State struggled at home against Utah this week. Despite the close game, the Sun Devils jumped Baylor and Notre Dame to land at ninth in the committee rankings. To show the conference bias, TCU won a close game against a ranked team (then-No. 20 West Virginia) on the road but didn't jump any teams.

It's unlikely Arizona State makes the College Football Playoff. The Sun Devils have a 52 percent chance to win at Arizona and then would likely be a big underdog in the Pac-12 title game against Oregon.

For these reasons, my numbers only give the Sun Devils a 5.5 percent chance to end in the Top Four.

Michigan State Love Coming Soon

Poor Sparty. Michigan State had a bye in Week 10, and with no game to review, the committee moved Kansas State, which convincingly beat Oklahoma State, ahead of MSU. 

This is most likely an indictment of the Big Ten. Michigan State has the 65th-ranked strength of schedule by The Power Rank, and it lost to its top-ranked opponent (Oregon).

However, my numbers like this Michigan State team. To go with its traditionally strong defense, the Spartan offense has risen to seventh in yards per play adjusted for strength of schedule, one of the factors in The Power Rank's game predictions.

Michigan State has a 70.5 percent chance to beat Ohio State at home this weekend, and that's its toughest game before the Big Ten championship.  My algorithm thinks a one-loss Big Ten champion still looks pretty good.  

The Spartans' 41.0 percent chance to make the playoff is third-best in the nation.

Ed Feng founded The Power Rank and has also written for Grantland and Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter @thepowerrank.

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Is the CFP Committee Disrespecting the Notre Dame Fighting Irish?

The College Football Playoff committee released its rankings on Tuesday, and for the second week in a row, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are sitting at No. 10. 

Bleacher Report college football analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer discuss whether the committee is being fair to Notre Dame. 

Is Notre Dame in the right spot at No. 10?

Check out the video, and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Buying and Selling College Football's Playoff Contenders

The College Football Playoff selection committee came out with its second rankings of the year Tuesday, and just like in seasons past, there is much debate on where teams currently stand.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer are buying and selling some of the hottest subjects after the official rankings were released. 

Did the committee get it right?

Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Comparing College Football Playoff Committee Rankings to BCS

After just one week, it's pretty clear that the College Football Playoff selection committee members are behaving like the voters in The Associated Press and coaches polls.

Yes, the 12 members are doing more homework and their rankings remain superior and more logical than the polls, but they're very much falling into the trap of sliding teams up and down based on wins and losses. With the exception of one team—Ole Miss at No. 11—the teams are ordered according to their number of losses.

The committee may come to regret having to do this made-for-TV event (let's face it, ESPN really wanted it) every week until Dec. 7, when it has to unveil its final rankings—the only one that actually matters. If the members want to fulfill the promise that they're taking a fresh look at each team every week, there had better be significant fluctuations in the upcoming rankings.

While these rankings don't exactly resemble the old BCS standings (and that's a good thing), we have the entire Top 10 pegged in order with the exception of Nos. 5 and 6 Alabama and TCU being flipped. And committee chairman Jeff Long admitted during the selection-show interview that these teams are so close that they had to "go to the tape" to break the tie.

Here's how this week's rankings look:


Explanation of Rankings

BCS rankings are a simulation of the BCS formula used from 2004-2013 with two exceptions: 1) The AP poll is used in place of the Harris Poll; 2) Sagarin and Massey rankings are their native systems instead of the non-MOV version used for the BCS.

CFP mock rankings are published weekly at Bleacher Report, with components including polls, computers, strength of schedule and conference championships. The full rankings are here.


A Few Highlights, Thoughts from Committee's Rankings

Ole Miss' Big Drop Reveals Poll Mentality

The Rebels lost a heartbreaker against No. 3 Auburn on a last-minute fumble that was ruled a touchdown on the field and only overturned by replay as Laquon Treadwell suffered a horrific ankle injury in the process. But they dropped seven spots in the rankings to No. 11. That smells like a poll.


Eight Teams Can Still Play Their Way in

With Alabama having games remaining against Auburn and Mississippi State, it looks like the top seven teams, plus No. 9 Arizona State, all will have a shot to land a spot in the playoff field simply by winning out. The highest-ranked team that does not control its own fate is eighth-ranked Michigan State, which needs at least one of the other conference champions to suffer a second loss.


Notre Dame Faces a Must-Win Game, and Then Some

The Irish, as expected, are still stuck at No. 10. They can move up by beating No. 9 Arizona State this week and then must root like crazy for the Sun Devils the rest of the way. Notre Dame's best chance of getting into the playoff will rest on ASU winning the Pac-12 title (presumably over Oregon).


Committee Has a Bias, but Not an SEC Bias

Of the six SEC teams in the committee's rankings, only Ole Miss is placed higher than in the Playoff Committee Rankings than the AP poll. Of the five Pac-12 teams in the rankings, each is ranked at least as high if not higher in the Playoff Committee Rankings than in the AP poll. You can interpret this as the polls being biased toward the SEC (which they are) and/or that with four of the 12 committee members having Western ties (more than any other region), the teams out on the left coast are getting a closer look.


Little Guys Still Get No Love from Committee

No Group of Five team made it into the Top 25 this week, and this is at least somewhat troubling. If Marshall is deemed unworthy because of its weak schedule, then Colorado State (despite the fact that it needs help to win the Mountain West) should be strongly considered. If strength of schedule is of such paramount concern, then there's no chance any non-Power Five team will ever land in the playoff. As in, ever.


Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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Hits and Misses of the CFP Committee's Top 25 Poll After Week 10

The College Football Playoff selection committee came out with its second Top 25 ranking Tuesday, and much like with the previous system, there's bound to be debate.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Adam Kramer and Michael Felder break down the hits and misses from the committee poll.

Which schools do you think deserved to be in the CFP?

Check out the video and let us know!

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College Football Playoff Rankings 2014: Twitter Reacts to Week 11 Top 25 Reveal

The second edition of the 2014 College Football Playoff rankings were revealed during an ESPN telecast on Tuesday. As was the case in the inaugural hierarchy, the Mississippi State Bulldogs reign as the top-ranked team in the nation.    

Here is a look at the fresh Top 25 order, decided by a 12-person selection committee:

These rankings rather appropriately drop on national Election Day.

A customary part of the freedom to vote is also the freedom to express oneself, in the unique medium of social media at that. Twitter had plenty to say regarding the latest College Football Playoff selection committee's perceptions.

Ole Miss experienced a free fall after its second straight defeat Saturday, this one coming at the hands of Auburn, 35-31, in Oxford. SEC Network's Greg McElroy felt the team caused the biggest initial stir based on its ranking of 11th:

Exacerbating Saturday's loss, though, was the scary situation involving Rebels star receiver Laquon Treadwell, who is expected to be out for four months with a broken leg and dislocated ankle.

Auburn's quality win was enough to hang in the top four, as its only loss is to the perceived best team in the country, Mississippi State.

Ryan Black of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer documented what playoff committee chairman Jeff Long had to say about the Tigers' standing:

The popular Notre Dame Fighting Irish are still on the outside looking in. ESPN College Football helped explain why that is:

One team barely off the pace is the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide, who have pulled it together since losing to Ole Miss away from Tuscaloosa.

Coach Nick Saban's powerhouse program is a perpetual title contender, built to endure the grind of a brutal SEC schedule. A 34-20 victory at Tennessee on Oct. 25, combined with the Tide's track record, led ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit to say the following, per College GameDay:

John Middlekauff of Comcast SportsNet offered a forward-looking overview of how he thinks the remaining games will play out:

ESPN's Joe Schad noted how Alabama's resume is superior in many ways to the current last team in, the Oregon Ducks:

But the importance of quarterback play is paramount at any level of football, and that's where the Ducks have an edge over just about anyone else.

Dual-threat signal-caller Marcus Mariota accounted for four total touchdowns in Oregon's defining 45-16 triumph over Stanford. Schad surveyed the top four and pondered the implications of some epic QB matchups:

Fox Sports Southwest's David Ubben shared his thoughts on the implications these Week 11 rankings have for the Big 12 conference:

ABC 57 News' Brandon Pope offered his take on the standings:

Fox Sports' Joel Klatt feels Michigan State, though ranked eighth as the class of the Big Ten, may never garner enough respect from the committee:

Neither of the top two teams in Mississippi State and Florida State had easy times preserving their perfect records. However, it's a mark of a championship contender to pull out close calls, as the Bulldogs did in a 17-10 win at Arkansas.

The Seminoles always have a target on their backs as the defending national champions. Jameis Winston overcame three interceptions and a 21-0 deficit against Louisville's elite defense on the road to lead FSU to a comeback, 42-31 victory.

That grit is a big reason both teams are first and second respectively for the second week in a row. With so many hot, one-loss teams in pursuit, though, there is bound to be a big shakeup in the College Football Playoff picture in the coming weeks.

Some of the one-loss teams sitting behind Ole Miss may feel slighted, particularly two of the best the Big Ten has to offer in Nebraska and Ohio State. Those teams will be worth monitoring, as will Arizona State, ranked ninth and looming large if anyone above the Sun Devils stumbles.

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College Football Playoff 2014: Official Selection Committee Rankings for Week 11

For the College Football Playoff committee, Week 10 played out as an affirmation of its assumptions. Mississippi State, Florida State and Auburn each earned hard-fought victories, while other potential spoilers began falling by the wayside.

So it should be no surprise that the committee's second meeting was a lot more self-explanatory. As expected, the trio atop last week's landscape remained in a state of inertia, while former No. 5 team Oregon slid into the final opening.

Idle Alabama and an ascending TCU outfit represent the last two teams waiting for their higher-ranked adversaries to falter. Here is a full look at how the rest of the committee's Top 25 played out:

While the major changes were few and far between atop the poll, the nation's elite did their best to give their respective fanbases heart attacks. Florida State started the weekend of near-upsets with a thrilling comeback from 21 points down against Louisville on Thursday.

Jameis Winston, who threw three interceptions in the first 31 minutes of the game, atoned for his mistakes with three second-half touchdowns and 401 passing yards. The reigning Heisman winner turned around what was shaping up to be the worst performance of his career on the third interception, when he forced a fumble on Gerod Holliman's return.

Starting with its next possession, Florida State would outscore Louisville, 35-7, en route to a 42-31 victory. The Seminoles have now been legitimately scared six times in eight games, including their 17-point comeback against NC State that became a similar double-digit win. Those close calls are in stark contrast to 2013, when Winston and Co. didn't allow a regular-season opponent closer than two touchdowns in one of the most dominant campaigns on record.

Coach Jimbo Fisher juxtaposed the two seasons for Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com:

We’re a different team because people look at us differently. Last year, we were the team that was trying to climb, so sometimes they know you’re a good team, but when you’ve won a championship and you’re winning the way we’re winning now, people are going to give you their A-game. They’re going to come prepared, and our kids are learning to do that and learning to persevere in those situations.

Mississippi State, the nation's other Power Five unbeaten, also needed a second-half resurgence against Arkansas. The Bulldogs went down, 10-0, early in the first half before scoring the game's final 17 points—though it was not without help. Alex Collins was stopped on a 4th-and-goal run from the Bulldogs' 3-yard line, and Brandon Allen threw a game-clinching interception to Will Redmond inside the red zone in the fourth quarter.

Those were Arkansas' only possessions after a 69-yard pass from Dak Prescott to Fred Ross gave the Bulldogs their first lead. Prescott threw for a career-high 331 yards but also threw two interceptions. The Heisman favorite has thrown five of his seven picks in Mississippi State's last three games, as his passing ability is proving to be a weakness at times.  

"Different guys stepped up and made plays when we needed plays to be made," Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen told reporters. "Our guys are finding ways to win."

The Bulldogs will get to take a break this week when FCS outfit UT Martin visits. Mullen's team closes with trips to Tuscaloosa and Oxford, with a home game against lowly Vanderbilt sandwiched in between. They already have three wins against then-Top 10 opponents on their slate but will undoubtedly be facing their toughest tests going forward.

Auburn's season-ending gauntlet began at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday, where an Ole Miss team determined to keep its playoff spot nearly held on on its home field. Laquon Treadwell made a 19-yard reception with under two minutes remaining and appeared to cross the plane of the end zone before video replay showed he fumbled the ball on an ugly tackle.

Officials, who called the play a touchdown on the field, reversed the call and awarded Auburn the football. The Tigers drained most of the remaining time off the clock, leaving Bo Wallace 26 seconds to go 51 yards. Treadwell suffered a dislocated ankle and broken leg on the tackle. He will miss the remainder of the season.

"This was a playoff game,'' Auburn linebacker Kris Frost told reporters. "But from here on in, every game is a playoff game. They just get bigger and bigger.''

The Tigers host a struggling Texas A&M team Saturday before beginning their preparations for trips to Georgia and Alabama. Nick Saban's Crimson Tide program, which lacks a signature win this season, will hope to blaze its path to a playoff berth and atone for 2013's loss in its regular-season finale.

For now, Alabama will have to worry about a trip to Baton Rouge, where a resurgent LSU awaits. The Tigers had a week off after handing Ole Miss its first loss of 2014, and there's nothing Les Miles would want to do more than knock Saban out of playoff contention. Alabama, yet to defeat a Top 20 opponent, finishes with three of them in its final four games.

While strength of schedule is a factor in preventing Alabama from being a playoff team at the moment, it controls its own destiny. Considering those closing weeks, there is a zero percent chance a one-loss Tide team is left out in the cold.

The same most certainly cannot be said for the Big Ten, which continues to lag behind other conferences. No. 8 Michigan State has the best chance of making the field and hosts Ohio State this week, but the committee is clearly not enamored with the conference's depth. The Buckeyes and Nebraska are trailing other Power Five one-loss teams, and even two-loss Ole Miss slotting in ahead of both. 

The Big 12, meanwhile, has to have a more positive outlook. TCU's 31-30 comeback win over West Virginia leaves only one ranked team left on its schedule—No. 7 Kansas State this week. The winner of that game has an inside track at a playoff berth, with the Horned Frogs looking especially promising due to their shrug-worthy finish.

With six games pitting Top 25 opponents against one another, the picture should be even clearer seven days from now. Until then, let the debate begin. Again.


Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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College Football Playoff 2014: Final Four Predictions After 2nd Top 25 Rankings

Every Saturday is essentially an elimination round for college football teams. In Week 10, it was Ole Miss that was all but eliminated from discussions—for now—with a heartbreaking loss to Auburn.   

The second College Football Playoff committee poll reflected that with the Rebels dropping out of the top four. Mississippi State, Florida State and Auburn were in the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 spots for the second straight poll. This week, they were joined by Oregon, who benefited from Ole Miss' drop.

For the first time ever, just two SEC teams were ranked in the top four of the playoff committee's rankings. Granted, it was only the second week, but another team in Alabama is waiting for someone to slip.

It's time to take a look at the most recent rankings and predictions for the final four at the end of the season.


Breakdown of Predictions

Those who have been keeping up with my projections will notice that nothing changed this week. Seeing as how Ole Miss wasn't in my original prediction, the Rebels' loss didn't impact the semifinal games.

Two weeks into the playoff committee polls, the only team originally in my rankings not in is Alabama. Having a week off, the Crimson Tide are just outside of the playoff picture with two other SEC West teams still in the top four.

Much of the recent stretch of dominance for Bama has been thanks in large part to Amari Cooper. He's been so phenomenal thus far that he even received at least one vote for Governor in Alabama, per John Talty of AL.com.

The dynamic receiver is by far the top wideout in his conference, as the SEC Network points out:

Still outside of the playoff for now, the duo of Blake Sims and Cooper will lead the Tide to a semifinal appearance. If it knocks off Mississippi State and Auburn, Alabama will come in as the top SEC team and battle Oregon for a chance at making the championship game.

Speaking of the Ducks, they have their own Heisman contender that has been a consistent force this year. Marcus Mariota has throttled nearly every opponent and did so again in a 29-point victory over Stanford.

The Cardinal aren't as great as they have been in recent years, but it's still an impressive win in the Pac-12. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich spoke about the ease of the offense with Mariota at the helm, per Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com:

You don't even have to draw it up. You can just talk about it and he gets it. That's such a huge deal for that quarterback to be able to think about it over and over again without having to watch it, or even without having to do it. Because that's a thousand reps you can have without wear and tear of playing anybody.

Whether it's his intelligence or overall skill on the field, Mariota has what it takes to lead his team to the playoff. If the Ducks get past Utah this weekend, the remaining schedule looks promising as they make a run at a national championship.

Life wasn't easy for every top team this past week as Florida State struggled mightily against Louisville on Thursday night. Just days later, the only other undefeated team in Mississippi State was tested by unranked Arkansas in a 17-10 victory.

For both teams, however, it was the man under center that kept their record unblemished. The Seminoles saw Jameis Winston go from three interceptions in the first half to finish with 401 passing yards and three touchdowns.

Jesse Palmer offered his take on the quarterback's late-game heroics, per SportsCenter:

Meanwhile, Dak Prescott had to rescue the Bulldogs in the last two quarters to remain the top team in the country. Despite the Razorbacks pushing multiple great programs this season, a loss to the 4-5 program would have been devastating.

The Bulldogs might be struggling in close games to lesser opponents, but they are still a dominant team, as ESPN Stats & Info notes:

Still, Mississippi State will have to survive a daunting schedule ahead against both Alabama and Ole Miss. If they remain undefeated, the bracket will take on a completely different look. However, a loss to the Tide and win over the Rebels would slot them at No. 4 in the playoff.

Several weeks still stand between now and the actual playoff, but the picture is beginning to take shape. Thanks to a wealth of ranked teams facing one another this Saturday, the bracket might have a completely different look next week.

That's the fun of college football—every Saturday is another elimination round.


Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Florida State Football: Ranking the Top 5 Seminoles' Performances in October

No. 2 Florida State capped off an undefeated October with a thrilling come-from-behind victory at Louisville last Thursday. The victory followed on the heels of conference wins over Wake Forest and Syracuse and a highly contested triumph over Notre Dame.

Let’s take a look back at the five best individual performances by FSU players over the past month.

Begin Slideshow

Resurgent LSU Is the Ultimate College Football Playoff Crasher

LSU's players have a better sense of their place in college football this week than the rest of us. You see them as a spoiler, a broken-down powerhouse reduced to wrecking somebody else's dreams instead of acting on their own. It is being written, tweeted, blogged and trolled that the Tigers are trying to snatch a consolation prize with a win over Alabama on Saturday.

LSU insists it is more relevant than being a banana peel.     

"We're not out of it," fullback Connor Neighbors said. "We're not."

Neighbors did not mean "out of it," as in "out of milk," "out of bread" or "out of brain cells." He meant "out of it," as in the national championship picture. You're laughing, smirking, ridiculing and thinking, "He's out of it, alright. Out of his mind."

But seven years ago LSU had two losses and played for the national championship and won it all. That was in the BCS era, when two teams were picked for the title game sweepstakes. This is the College Football Playoff Era. Four teams are in the final pool. Somewhere a man has bitten a dog. Strange things can happen.

LSU has lost to No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 3 Auburn. If you are going to have smears on your resume, those are the ones to have. The Tigers just beat No. 4 Ole Miss. If they beat No. 5 Alabama, that's two wins over top 5 teams.

The Tigers are dangerous because they have some of the best talent in the country and are playing with the spunk and mean of their fullback, who started his career as a walk-on. Neighbors, even with the advanced pedigree of three generations wearing Bama Crimson, got no offers in recruiting. He was not only shut out by Division I, but he was shut out by FCS schools, Division II and Division III.

Neighbors, who is 5'11", 240 pounds, fits none of the height-weight-speed criteria that go with playing football in Division I, much less for a blue chip harvester like LSU. He was recruited by one guy, though, and it counted. LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis got a tip and convinced Neighbors to walk-on as a linebacker. He was switched to fullback and became a Smash Brother.

So the heck with heritage this week. His grandfather, Billy, played for Bear Bryant. His father, Wes, played for Ray Perkins. His brother, Wes, played for Nick Saban. Billy took Connor on a trip to LSU and told his grandson, "This place suits you." Wes told his son, "It's your life, do what you want. Go for it."

Sure, a whole lot has to happen for Neighbors' vision to come true, like Mississippi State losing twice, Auburn losing again and Alabama losing to LSU. But the contenders all swim in a pool of sharks in the SEC West, which means they have to go on the road and can lose.

We could see the conference office marching down a list of tie-breakers involving three or more SEC West teams tied at 6-2. Think about it as you read tie-breaker No. 7 on cross-divisional opponents. If Florida keeps winning, the resurgent Gators could not only save Will Muschamp's job, they could catapult LSU into the SEC West title.

Then, if Oregon loses, if Michigan State loses, if, if, if ...

The "ifs" have lined up for the Tigers before. Undefeated in regulation in 2007, two overtime losses, and they got matched up with Ohio State and won the national title.

Yeah, it is a lot of dominos falling right, but think about it from Alabama's perspective. LSU, once considered mediocre with losses to Mississippi State and Auburn has been juiced again. The Hat, Les Miles, has been selling this same line to his team:

"We're not out of it."

The Tigers were embarrassed by one team from Alabama already. Neighbors said the loss to Auburn and all the mental mistakes made him sick to his stomach. The mental mess has been cleaned up, he said. More important, their freshman quarterback has grown, the defense is better, the freshman running back is bossing defenders.

Neighbors says it again. The Tigers still have a chance to play for the big money.

Alabama is going to get a motivated opponent that could ruin the Tide's own title hopes. That should make Alabama fans nervous because that isn't the typical Mississippi State pushover arriving in Tuscaloosa the following week. Look how bruised Ole Miss was when it left Baton Rouge.

Here is something else to remember about LSU.

While the rest of us overuse the week's cliche "They remember November", the Tigers brood over October. On the Monday after the 41-7 loss to Auburn, they gathered in the middle of the practice field, players only, and got a scalding from the team's leaders. In the days that followed, the prima donna wide receivers were singled out for not blocking downfield when the ball wasn't being thrown to them. Defensive linemen were told to buck up on the run. No more missed assignments on the offensive line. No more dancing and looking for the big hole from running backs. Hit it up in there.

It was a players-only meeting that Monday, but they borrowed a line from the coaching staff.

Starting jobs around here are etched in sand, easily wiped away. Anybody can get screwed to the bench. Anybody.

Here is something else the Tigers are really angry about. You and me said LSU won the game against Ole Miss because that crowd was so loud in Tiger Stadium it scared the Rebels' quarterback stiff. The raucous crowd is why Ole Miss scored a measly seven points, we said. That really ticked off Neighbors.

"Man, it should have been 21-0 us before they got anything on the scoreboard," he said. "It made me mad, like the stadium had more to do with them losing than us players.

"Then they (Ole Miss) don't even fall in the polls. It was like, 'Oh, it was just where they played,' not like they got beat by a good team.

"Hell with that."

Neighbors would settle for Saturday's game to be played in a dusty lot in Baton Rouge, or Tuscaloosa, or maybe back in his hometown of Huntsville, Alabama. LSU is not the same team that got trashed by Auburn and whipped by Mississippi State. The Tigers are feeling ruthless.


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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Watch High Schooler Make Mind-Blowing TD Catch Around Clueless Defender

Sometimes in football you just have to trust your hands. That was the case for Sam Wisneski, a Ashwaubenon (Wisconsin) High School wide receiver, who made a ridiculous no-look touchdown catch as he was wrapped around a defender. Although there was a flag on the play, the touchdown stood, much to the chagrin of the defense. 

Was this the craziest high school play of the football season?

Check out the video and let us know! 

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Indiana College Football Team Pulls Off Immaculate Reception of Its Own

This play by Hanover College (Indiana) may not be as jaw-dropping as the "Immaculate Reception," but it's still pretty crazy.

In a game against Earlham College, Hanover quarterback Chase Lightfoot threw a deep ball to receiver Tanner Parker. Parker was unable to catch the pass, as two defenders were all over him.

The ball did, however, hit off someone's heel and kick back to Panthers wideout Ricky Windell, who took it to the house for the touchdown.

Earlham was flagged for pass interference on the play, but the penalty was obviously declined. Windell's 70-yard touchdown made it a 7-7 game early in the first quarter.

Hanover's 49-34 victory gave the team its first win of the season. 

[D3Football.com, h/t Bob's Blitz]

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Ohio State's Playoff Chances Rest on Help from the SEC, Big 12 and Notre Dame

The selection committee will release its second College Football Playoff Rankings today. As expected, the Buckeyes will be far down the list again.

Ohio State fans can scream all they want about SEC bias in the polls, but the truth is the Buckeyes deserve to be ranked low right now. A pathetic loss to Virginia Tech and a schedule littered with cupcakes is not worthy of inclusion by the committee. They will earn respect when their accomplishments on the field justify it.

The journey to get back into the Top 10 begins on Saturday for the No. 16 Buckeyes as they head to East Lansing for an 8 p.m. prime-time game against No. 8 Michigan State. Beating the Spartans will get Ohio State back into the playoff mix, but they are still a long shot for making it because the one-loss teams from the SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12 have much stronger arguments to be selected over the Buckeyes.

Beyond the one-loss teams, Florida State is hurting Ohio State’s chances too, as the Seminoles are almost guaranteed a spot unless they completely collapse over the next few weeks. That leaves three spots to share among four power conferences and Notre Dame. The Buckeyes need considerable help to get back in the chase, but there is a path.

Here are three things that must happen for Ohio State to make it into the playoff:


An SEC West Team Must Win the SEC Championship and Auburn Must Lose Again

Florida’s surprising win over Georgia created significant implications for the playoff race. For instance, what will happen if Missouri wins the East Division and the SEC Championship? Seems unlikely at this point, but it is within the realm of possibility. Would the committee have the resolve to pick a two-loss Missouri team and deny a one-loss team like Auburn? Not likely.

Ohio State’s chances of making the playoff are better if Alabama wins the SEC Championship because it ensures that Mississippi State suffers at least one loss, while Auburn will have suffered two losses. Another option would be Mississippi State winning the title and Alabama beating Auburn in the Iron Bowl. Either way, the Buckeyes need Auburn to lose again, or it will be just like 2011 when Alabama finished with one loss, failed to win the SEC West and still made it to the BCS Championship Game.

Odds are slim that the committee would select two teams from the SEC if the second place team from the West has two losses. The chances are good if Mississippi State wins title and Auburn beats Alabama and finishes with just one loss.

Of course the committee could select a one-loss Bulldogs team over a one-loss Buckeyes team, but the pressure to avoid picking two teams from one conference is much easier to succumb to when it is Mississippi State rather than Auburn.

It is time for the Buckeyes to jump on the Crimson Tide’s bandwagon. They can create havoc in the SEC West and give Ohio State a real shot at making the playoff.


Chaos in the Big 12

Like the SEC West, there are so many knockout games remaining in the Big 12. Kansas State, TCU and Baylor are all in front of Ohio State in the polls, and OSU probably needs all three to lose again to have a reasonable shot at making the playoff.

There's no question that the Wildcats are in the playoff over the Buckeyes if they run the table. The good news for Ohio State is that Kansas State has the toughest road to winning the Big 12. They are undefeated in conference play, but still have to play at TCU, West Virginia and Baylor. The probability of another loss is high.

TCU’s path to the conference title is much easier. After its game against Kansas State this Saturday, the Horned Frogs wrap up with Kansas, Texas and Iowa State.

Baylor plays at Oklahoma this Saturday in Norman, which will be tough because the Sooners are trying to avoid a third loss. If the Bears win, they have Oklahoma State and Texas Tech on the schedule before the season-ending game at home against Kansas State on December 6. If both teams enter with just one loss, this becomes a playoff-elimination game.

Ohio State’s best chance will come from all three teams ending up with two losses. This probably means The Buckeyes need Kansas State to beat TCU, Oklahoma to beat Baylor and Baylor to beat Kansas State.

The wild-card scenario involves TCU winning the Big 12 and finishing with one loss. The committee might be inclined to pick Ohio State over TCU, even though the Big 12 is a better conference. It might not be fair, but the Buckeyes are more appealing than TCU. Plus, the Horned Frogs have zero opportunities to score points with the committee after this weekend because of the weakness of their remaining schedule. They will fall victim to out of sight, out of mind. If the Buckeyes beat the Spartans, they will have the Big Ten Championship game to make a final impression.

Still, the Buckeyes don’t want to rely on tradition and brand equity to be selected because that might not be enough when the committee is debating quality of wins and losses. The better situation will involve the Big 12 Champion finishing with two losses.


Notre Dame Must Lose Again

The Fighting Irish are ranked ahead of the Buckeyes right now and must lose another game for Ohio State to have any chance at making the playoff.

The good and the bad for Ohio State is that Notre Dame’s schedule is back-loaded with challenging games and opportunities to prove they deserve to be among the top four teams. They play at No. 14 Arizona State this Saturday. Next week they play Northwestern. Their last two games are at home against No. 25 Louisville and at USC on December 6. They could easily lose two or three of these games. 

If the Fighting Irish win out, nine of their wins will be against Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 opponents. The only blemish would be a questionable loss on the road against the defending national champion. There is little doubt that the committee will choose Notre Dame over Ohio State if both teams finish with one loss. Its resume would be better and more deserving of a playoff bid.



With six games pairing highly ranked teams on the schedule this Saturday, the rankings this week will be short-lived and basically meaningless. The committee’s options will become more transparent after the dust settles this weekend.

The Buckeyes can only control how they perform. Their first order of business is beating Michigan State. Nothing happens unless they win this game.

Ohio State has more at stake than getting back into the playoff hunt this week. The Buckeyes desperately need a win against the Spartans to restore the program’s reputation. Considering the talent on the roster and the sorry state of the Big Ten, another season without a Big Ten Championship would be shocking.

Great teams rise in these occasions. Before the Buckeyes can be considered a playoff team, they need to prove they can win critical games again. Doing it on the road, at night, against the defending Big Ten Champion is a good way to get the monkey of their backs.

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Alabama vs. LSU Is the Landon Collins Grudge Match

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Landon Collins didn’t hesitate when talking about Alabama’s game against LSU this week.

The Alabama safety from Geismar, Louisiana, still feels like he has a lot to prove against his home-state team, whose fans he still hears from after his wild recruitment.

“Personally, this game means a lot,” Collins said. “Just want to show them I picked the right team, definitely, that we’re the dominant force, that we’re the best team in the SEC. Show them that basically, I picked the better team.”

Now a junior at Alabama, Collins has turned into one of Alabama’s best players and its biggest leader on defense. He's second on the team in tackles with 53 and has intercepted two passes.

He played sparingly against LSU in 2012, his freshman year and first time on the opposite sideline at Tiger Stadium. Now he returns as a starter who will play a major role in the Crimson Tide’s success.

It’s the culmination of a journey for Collins that has contained several twists and turns. It's led him back to Baton Rouge and Tiger Stadium, where he can remain perfect for his career against LSU.

If you are an LSU or Alabama fan, you remember his commitment.

Collins sat on a couch at the Under-Armour All-America Game, flanked by ESPN’s Dari Nowkhah and his mom, April Justin.

He was one of the most highly sought-after players in the 2012 recruiting class, and LSU desperately wanted to keep the state’s top prospect at home. Alabama and head coach Nick Saban, as they frequently do, were making a big push to land their next defensive star.

So there Collins was, as Nowkhah asked him where he would play his college ball. What happened next is forever cemented in live commitment lore.

He slipped on a pair of Alabama gloves and said “Roll Tide Roll” as he did so. To his left, though, his mom’s disapproval was clear.

She put her left hand over her face and shook her head.

“I feel LSU is a better place for him to be. LSU Tigers, No. 1,” Justin said, putting an index finger in the air.

The commitment drew ire from a lot more Louisianans than just his mom. It’s something that he is reminded of, even now.

“Yes sir, I do,” Collins said on Monday. “Constantly. Everybody. The biggest is about my mom, asking ‘Is your mom still an LSU fan?’ and stuff like that. I’m like ‘Nah, she just cheers me on.’”

So it’s easy to see why this is such a big week for him.

“Definitely, means a lot because I want to go undefeated against those guys,” Collins said. “I don’t want to hear anything about ‘What happened this year? What happened that year?' No, I beat y’all all four, five years.”

It’s highly unlikely Collins makes it four, let alone five, years. He’s considered a top prospect in the 2015 NFL draft, expected to come out after his junior year.

Bleacher Report NFL draft analyst Matt Miller put Collins at No. 10 overall on his midseason big board.

So Collins will likely only get the opportunity to go 3-0 against his old team.

Still, it’s a game that clearly means a lot. Not only in the standings, but to a player from the area looking to prove yet another point against the team he spurned.

“Just going back into LSU country,” he said. “To playing in that stadium to hearing that hooting and hollering with their fans and the team. Definitely, this is the best game.”


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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