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Will Winner of Alabama vs. Miss St. Represent the SEC in the CFP?

Alabama narrowly escaped LSU, but there is no rest for the weary as the Crimson Tide host the Mississippi State Bulldogs in a clash of two top SEC West teams. Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder discuss whether the winner of this game will make it to the College Football Playoff.

Which team has the better chance to win the national championship?

Watch the video, and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings 2014: Week 12 Standings and Top 25 Team Records

We're heading into Week 12 of the college football season, and the nation's hierarchy continues to be very fluid. While some teams continue to establish themselves as true College Football Playoff contenders, others are falling by the wayside after dreadful performances. Polls continue to drastically change as a result.

After an eventful Week 11, we learned that Notre Dame's defense and turnover issues couldn't keep the team near the top of the pecking order. We also learned that teams like Alabama, Oregon and TCU are very much for real after their respective solid showings against ranked opponents. But the question remains: Are they playoff worthy?

Once the dust settled, new polls emerged. Rest assured, they don't much resemble how they looked just one week ago. So, where does your team stand as we head into the final stretch of the season? Here's a look at the nation's Top 25 entering Week 12:

 

Week 12 Marquee Matchup

Mississippi State Bulldogs at Alabama Crimson Tide

The Bulldogs haven't seen a team as complete as Alabama yet this season. Mississippi State has beaten offensive-oriented teams like Auburn and defensive-minded teams like LSU, but it hasn't faced an opponent that can get it done on both sides of the ball like the Crimson Tide.

Blake Sims has emerged as a quality quarterback for Alabama. He's established rapport with wide receiver Amari Cooper, and the duo hooked up eight times for 83 yards and a score against LSU in Week 11. Despite some early struggles from Sims, he stepped up when it counted most, orchestrating decisive late-game drives.

ESPN Stats & Info tweeted his numbers during those defining moments:

Meanwhile, T.J. Yeldon provided nice balance on the ground, averaging 4.5 yards per carry against a stout Tigers defense.

On the other side of the ball, the Crimson Tide stifled Anthony Jennings and the LSU offense. Jennings completed just eight of his 26 pass attempts and the Tigers averaged just 3.3 yards per carry on the ground.

All of this was accomplished against a team that took down Ole Miss just one week prior. It's safe to say Alabama has hit its stride in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, Mississippi State remains unbeaten, but the team hasn't been without hiccups. Quarterback Dak Prescott has been a phenomenal dual-threat player this season, but turnovers have recently become an issue. Prior to his Week 11 contest against UT-Martin, he had tossed five interceptions in his previous three contests.

His strength remains in his ability to move the chains with his legs. College GameDay tweeted a very impressive stat regarding the quarterback's ground attack:

Unfortunately, that aspect of Prescott's game may not be quite as effective in Week 12 against an Alabama run defense ranked first in the nation, allowing an average of just 76.36 yards per game on the ground, according to NCAA.com

The Bulldogs defense hasn't been the most consistent squad this season. It melted down at times this year, allowing 34 points to UAB, 29 to LSU, 31 to Texas A&M and 31 to Kentucky. Giving up anything close to 30 points against Alabama will almost assure Mississippi State of a loss—the Crimson Tide's defense hasn't allowed more than 23 points in a single contest this season.

Nick Saban's squad is rolling right now, and home-field advantage gives all the more reason to expect one less undefeated squad heading into Week 13.

Prediction: Alabama 30, Mississippi State 23

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff 2014: Final Predictions for Week 12 CFB System Rankings

Week 11 saw six games pitting ranked teams against each other, meaning that the current College Football Playoff picture was going to see a significant shake-up.  Sure enough, following Texas A&M's upset of Auburn and statement wins from TCU and Ohio State, pinning down a clear top four is as difficult as it has been the whole season.

With the Associated Press and Bleacher Report polls out, we should have a relative idea of the changes the playoff committee is most likely to make.  Before the committee releases its Week 12 updates on Tuesday, let's project the potential Top 25, while also taking a look at some of the most controversial teams.

 

Baylor Bears

Even though Trevor Knight's injury aided Baylor's win in Norman, a 48-14 road win over Oklahoma is an extremely impressive victory under any circumstances. While the Bears beat fellow Big 12 co-leader TCU earlier this season, virtually every projection currently places the Horned Frogs ahead of the Bears.

However, if both teams win out, that head-to-head victory could be Baylor's trump card.  As ESPN's Jake Trotter relays, the Big 12 committee may recommend the Bears over TCU on the strength of that memorable three-touchdown comeback on Oct. 11:

Two Big 12 officials explained to ESPN.com that should two teams tie atop the standings, the league would push for the playoff committee to take the head-to-head winner. 

College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock reiterated to ESPN.com Sunday that the committee will review a number of factors, including head-to-head, but that "if a conference has co-champions, the committee will take that into consideration." Yet he also added that, "conferences will advise the committee who their champions are." 

Though Baylor continues to break scoreboards, leading the nation with 50.1 points per game, it's the Bears defense that has legitimized them as championship contenders.  Art Briles has rebuilt a long slipshod defense, to the point where the unit ranks 12th in Football Outsiders' Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) ratings.

It's unlikely that both TCU and Baylor could squeeze into the field, unless the SEC continues to knock out its contenders while either prohibitive favorites Florida State or Oregon falters.  Baylor does play a tricky season finale at home against Kansas State, but if the Bears sweep the table, the conference would appear likely to vouch for them over higher-ranked TCU.

 

Ohio State Buckeyes

The Buckeyes were largely written off after their dispiriting Week 2 loss against Virginia Tech, a defeat that looks increasingly embarrassing as the Hokies flounder at 4-5.  However, with a shockingly dominant 49-37 win at East Lansing, Ohio State has established itself as the Big Ten's only realistic playoff contender.

Behind freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, the Buckeyes have improved more than nearly any other team in the nation.  ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. believes that Ohio State's progression should play a role in determining their playoff fate, even with a mediocre resume (subscription required):

So while the model reflects the résumé, I think each week you're going to get an improved version of this team. Case in point was on Saturday. I think the September version of Ohio State gets beaten by 20 in Spartan Stadium. But this is a different team, and I think the Buckeyes are well ahead of anybody left on their schedule -- including any of the teams from the West Division. If OSU wins out, the committee will be able to see that they haven't lost a game since Sept. 6, and like the bracket selection committee for college hoops, I think they'll have to consider what this team is now, not just the overall profile.

Ohio State may represent the committee's first great challenge of how much weight should be placed on the entire season versus a team's recent form.  Football Perspective's Chase Stuart, one of the smartest statheads around, still believes that the overall meager resume weighs down whatever improvements the Buckeyes have made:

Apart from this Saturday's contest at Minnesota, the Buckeyes do not really have an opportunity to score any remotely impressive wins.  If Michigan State, Penn State and Maryland are the most impressive wins, does that stack up against a one-loss Big 12 champ or even a two-loss SEC squad?

 

Arizona State Sun Devils

In pummeling Everett Golson and Notre Dame to the tune of four interceptions and seven sacks, Arizona State established itself as legitimate playoff contenders.  The Sun Devils will likely be in the second tier behind the established top four, but if they win out, it is hard to imagine the committee leaving out the would-be 12-1 Pac-12 champs, as NFL.com's Bryan Fischer opines:

ASU would own wins over seven teams who were ranked at the time they played, at least five of whom will probably finish in the top 20 at the end of the regular season. Blowing out Notre Dame helps tremendously from a star-power standpoint, and a win against 11-1 Oregon in the Pac-12 title game would be the most impressive win on the slate. Mix in the fact that their one loss came on a Thursday night when their backup quarterback was making his first start -- and to a good team in UCLA that might finish in the top 10 -- and Arizona State has a good argument they should be in with a few more wins.

A potential two-game finale at Arizona and Oregon would represent one of the toughest finishes any team will face this season, including the SEC contenders.  However, behind a defense that has steadily improved as the season has progressed, the Sun Devils are achieving the balance crucial for any playoff hopeful:

The extremely difficult closing stretch still makes Arizona State a long shot to reach the top four.  But they are one of the few teams in the nation who could win out and almost surely receive a playoff berth, an enviable position that makes the Sun Devils a team to track closely.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Would You Rather: Week 12 Edition

With Week 12 upon us, there are many questions to be answered about the college football season. Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee, Michael Felder and Adam Kramer answer some of college football's hottest questions. 

Would you rather have the BCS or the playoff committee?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Most Important Stat for Every College Football Playoff Contender

How in the world did No. 8 Michigan State—a team averaging 45 points per game and limiting opponents to 23—lose 49-37 at home to No. 14 Ohio State?

Consider this: Over the last seven games, the Buckeyes have been almost 10 percent more successful than the Spartans on third-down attempts.

It’s one of the underlying difference-makers in Ohio State’s statement-making win, and it illustrates that there is more to statistics than what’s listed on the top line.

Here’s a look at 10 contenders and 10 dig-deeper stats, all which underscore how each squad has gotten to one loss or better.

If these teams can keep burning it up in these sometimes underappreciated categories, they may wind up playing for the big, cheesy enchilada on Jan. 12, 2015.

 

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Bowl Projections 2014: College Football Playoff Predictions Heading into Week 12

Another flurry of landscape-altering results shook up the College Football Playoff picture in Week 11. But heading into Week 12, it doesn't feel like the field has narrowed at all. 

That's because while hopefuls such as Notre Dame, Auburn and Kansas State fell out of the picture, teams such as TCU, Arizona State and Ohio State made their cases a lot stronger with wins. So as Week 12's intriguing slate gets going, the eyes of the college football world will shift to which teams fall out of the running this week. 

Despite all of the action left to take place, here's a complete projected field for the tournament based upon remaining schedule, current playing level and poll placement:

 

The Projected Field

All four contenders in this projected field have one thing in common: If they win out, they will be conference champions. 

Florida State remains the most obvious choice to earn a berth in the playoff. It has already navigated the most difficult roadblocks on the schedule. With wins over Louisville on the road and Clemson already in hand, it's hard to argue there's a more sure bet to be included in the field of four. 

Alabama sits one game behind the No. 1-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs heading into this weekend. But that will all change if the Tide come through on their favored status. According to Odds Shark, Nick Saban's team is a seven-point favorite to spoil the Bulldogs' undefeated record. 

A win over the No. 1 ranked team in the country might not completely make up for Bama's loss to Ole Miss, but a win in the SEC Championship Game over the East representative certainly would. 

As College GameDay pointed out on Twitter, the Oregon Ducks bear a strong resemblance to the Tide when it comes to their resumes:

Behind Marcus Mariota's leadership, the Ducks have more than atoned for their strange loss to Arizona. Mark Helfrich's offense has helped them win five straight games by 12 points or more. 

Rounding out the field will be an interesting choice for the committee if everything plays out as one would expect. TCU and Baylor teams with 11-1 records would provide an interesting dilemma.

On one hand, TCU's out-of-conference strength of schedule was better than Baylor's. The Frogs' 30-7 win over Minnesota was big for them in that regard. However, as Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports pointed out, that advantage might mean less and less as the committee focuses on head-to-head matchups toward the end of the season:

 

Outside Looking In

Unfortunately, the College Football Playoff is being rolled out in a year that features a lot of parity. That means some good football teams with resumes similar to the those of their playoff-bound counterparts will be left out in the cold. 

In that scenario, the headliners would be Mississippi State and TCU.

The Bulldogs would be especially disappointed to be shut out of the tournament now. Their 9-0 record is an incredible turnaround after being 4-5 at this point last season. However, they may be victims of unfortunate timing. 

Losing this late in the season to Alabama would be detrimental to the team's hopes of staying atop the polls. With no shot at a conference championship game in that scenario, Dak Prescott and the Dogs would have little opportunity to prove they belong outside of convincingly beating Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. 

Coming out on the losing end of the Big 12 debate in that scenario would be TCU. As Gary Patterson told Carlos Mendez of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Frogs took a big step forward in their quest toward the tournament:

However the head-to-head loss could still be their undoing. With a tricky game at Texas representing their only opportunity to wow voters until the field is announced, the Frogs may also be victims of timing. 

Of course, all is not lost for the Frogs quite yet. While both Baylor and TCU were impressive this week, the Bears still have to beat the Wildcats themselves. They close out the season by hosting Kansas State on Dec. 6. A loss for Baylor would all but guarantee a spot for an 11-1 TCU team in the playoff. 

But that assumes TCU will finish the season without slipping up. With several weeks left on the schedule and a round of conference championship games on the horizon, the only safe assumption is that no team has punched its ticket quite yet. 

There's still plenty of time for things to get weird. 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Cal vs. USC: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Two of the nation's most prolific offenses collide Thursday in a Pac-12 showdown between the California Golden Bears and the USC Trojans.

A trying season for the 6-3 Trojans begins an explosive finishing stretch with a home stand against a surprisingly game Golden Bears team thirsty for an upset to highlight a great season.

Sonny Dykes' team rests at 5-4 and a is single victory away from bowl eligibility for the first time since 2011. There is certainly no time like the present to grab their first win over the Trojans since 2003 in a rivalry that has seen the two programs clash 101 times before Thursday night.

Sit back and prepare for an entertaining ride as two explosive offenses aim to outgun one another beneath the national spotlight.

 

Old West Shootout

A quote from USC coach Steve Sarkisian says it all when it comes to Thursday's showdown.

“We are going to play a team that if we don’t score 35, you are not in the game,” Sarkisian said, per Lindsey Thiry of The Los Angeles Times. “So we better be ready to play.”

That is not an exaggeration by any means, either. The Golden Bears score the ninth-most points in the nation on average at 41.9 behind the arm of sophomore quarterback Jared Goff. The second-year starter has completed 62.6 percent of his passes this year and has 3,119 yards and 27 touchdowns to just four interceptions.

Those numbers are video game-esque, and so too are the 458 yards and seven touchdowns he tossed in a single game earlier this season against Colorado.

Complementing Goff is junior back Daniel Lasco, who has 796 yards and 10 touchdowns on a 5.4 per-carry average, which helps to round out one of the nation's most potent attacks.

USC is no slouch offensively, though.

The Trojans average 34.9 points per game and are led by junior quarterback Cody Kessler, who has thrown four or more touchdowns in four games this season. He also has a seven-touchdown performance—which also came against that poor Colorado team.

More impressive, though, has been the talented backfield behind the signal-caller:

Considering the Golden Bears come in at No. 122 in the nation with an average of 39.9 points allowed per game, Kessler and his stable of talented runners should have few issues keeping pace in an offensive-minded showdown.

Whether it is enough to take the win outright is certainly a question worth asking.

 

Killer Instinct

The Trojans seem to beat themselves at times, plain and simple. Like any coach would, Sarkisian blames himself, as captured by Michael Lev of the Orange County Register:

I still in my heart of hearts believe we should have won those games. But we didn’t. I think it’s about developing a mindset. It’s about developing a culture of a killer instinct, of competing for 60 minutes with relentless effort and execution. And I haven’t done a good enough job of developing that yet.

We obviously found a way to not win those two games. That falls solely on me in getting our team prepared for those moments. I have to do a better job.

Sarkisian's frustration makes sense. In a Pac-12 loss to Arizona State earlier this year, the Trojans gave up a lead in the final frame to lose by four to a team starting a backup quarterback. Two games ago, a Utah touchdown with eight seconds left handed the Trojans a three-point loss.

Simply put, the Trojans are not closers this season against quality opposition, a scary factor as the young roster may also overlook the Golden Bears with games against rivals UCLA and Notre Dame to close the season.

California is quite aware of the situation. Should the Golden Bears keep the pedal down for all four quarters, an upset is not that far outside of the realm of possibility.

 

When: Thursday, November 13, 9 p.m. ET

Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, California

Television: ESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: N/A
  • Spread: USC (-12)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

As great as California has been this season in the surprise department, the defense is a serious issue that cannot be simply glossed over when it comes to this matchup.

This is a program that needed two overtime periods to beat Colorado while scoring 59 points, then needed 60 points a week later to upend 3-7 Washington State by just a single point (the same team USC just picked apart, 44-17).

Kessler rarely turns the ball over and pads his stats in dramatic fashion whenever he encounters a miserable pass defense. The Golden Bears certainly qualify, so expect a big game from the quarterback as the Trojans jump out to an early lead and never look back.

Prediction: USC 45, California 34

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Cal vs. USC: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Two of the nation's most prolific offenses collide Thursday in a Pac -12 showdown between the California Golden Bears and the USC Trojans...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

The 3 Biggest X-Factors for Auburn vs. Georgia

This is the game that has been marked on the calendar since last season. The Georgia Bulldogs and the Auburn Tigers will do battle between the hedges on Saturday night and it’s a crucial game for both teams in order to have a chance to win the SEC.

Auburn is coming off a tough home loss to Texas A&M while the Bulldogs are coming off a dominating road win against Kentucky.

According to Oddsshark.com, the Bulldogs come into the game as a 2.5-point favorite. But that really doesn’t mean anything because both teams are very similar to one another, so it might come down to who has the ball last, just like last year.

Here are the three biggest x-factors for this very important SEC contest.

 

Nick Marshall

This will be a very emotional game for Nick Marshall. The senior quarterback played for the Bulldogs in 2011 as a cornerback, but he was kicked off the team before the 2012 season.

Marshall played one year of junior college ball as a quarterback before transferring to Auburn, and the rest is history.

Auburn leads the SEC in rushing because of Marshall’s ability to run. Along with him and running back Cameron Artis-Payne, the Tigers average 286 rushing yards per game and both have scored a combined 20 touchdowns on the ground.

But Marshall can throw from the pocket also. He has thrown for 14 touchdowns and completed 61 percent of his passes.

He is going up against a Bulldogs team that is fifth in the conference in pass defense and leads the conference in turnover margin. So in order for the Tigers to score on offense, Marshall will have to make good decisions in the pocket and be able to make plays with his legs.

 

Hutson Mason

Hutson Mason has waited a long time for a game like this.

As a starter, Mason has an 8-3 record, but he does not have that signature win.

Mason has taken a lot of heat for his play this season, but he has thrown for 15 touchdowns, five interceptions and has a completion percentage of 69. Also, he’s coming off his best performance of the season where he threw four touchdowns and no interceptions against Kentucky.

The Tigers are ranked near the bottom of the SEC in pass defense, giving up 256 yards per game. So Mason has a great opportunity to make some plays through the air and lead the Bulldogs to a much-needed SEC win.

 

Todd Gurley

But as important a player as Mason is to the Bulldogs, the best player on the entire field will make his return after missing the last four games due to a suspension by the NCAA.

Todd Gurley is back and he will be more than ready to pick up where he left off a month ago. Before he was suspended, Gurley was leading the SEC in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, rushing yards per game and yards per carry.

Richt on when Gurley will play: "First offensive play, you'll see Gurley. I can promise you that. ...Todd Gurley is the starting tailback."

— Marc Weiszer (@marcweiszer) November 11, 2014

There is no telling how much he will play because Nick Chubb has exceeded expectations. But there is no question Gurley will be on the field in key situations.

The Bulldogs went 3-1 without Gurley in the lineup, so they proved they can win without him. However, this game is on another level compared to the rest of the games this season. If big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, then Gurley needs to be a part of it. He has played well in games like this so many times during his career.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pac-12 Football: Ranking the Most Dynamic Defensive Players so Far This Year

It should come as no surprise that Pac-12 offenses are soaring once again in 2014 behind dynamic quarterbacks, breakthrough running backs and a host of other points-scoring weapons.

But the league also boasts the strongest collection of defensive talent in recent years, something that may be going relatively unnoticed in today's how-fast-can-you-light-up-the-scoreboard game.

The top three sack leaders in the country hail from the Pac-12. There are at least four or five linebackers who will be starting in the NFL someday. When you consider these offenses having to go up against the Oregon's and Arizona State's of the college football world, the production becomes all the more impressive.

We're taking a look now at the most dynamic defensive players so far this year. Tons of names were considered and only five were chosen. NFL potential and physical attributes have no weight; this is all about how players have performed this season and what kind of impact they've made on the field in 2014.

Click ahead to check out the five most dynamic defensive players in the Pac-12 thus far, and let us know who's missing or who could jump on to the list by the end of the season!

 

All stats via cfbstats.com. Just missed: DE Leonard Williams, LB Su'a Cravens, DT Danny Shelton, S Erick Dargan

 

Begin Slideshow

Pac-12 Football: Ranking the Most Dynamic Defensive Players so Far This Year

It should come as no surprise that Pac -12 offenses are soaring once again in 2014 behind dynamic quarterbacks, breakthrough running backs and a host of other points-scoring weapons...

Begin Slideshow

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