Feed aggregator

Analytics Guru Shows Florida State Would Have Lost 4 Games If It Played in SEC

Is Florida State a fraud?

Yes, the Seminoles are defending champions. Yes, Jimbo Fisher's squad has never been ranked outside the Top Three. And yes, FSU has still not lost a game. That is all well and good, but the interesting question here is, are the 'Noles one of the four best teams in college football? 

My stats say no. 

Simply put, Florida State has not dominated teams like it did last season. It plays in the ACC and has trailed at halftime against North Carolina State, Louisville and Miami. This past weekend,as a 17-point favorite, the Seminoles beat Boston College by three points on a late field goal.

Because of their undefeated record, the 'Noles probably deserve to make the College Football Playoff. However, Florida State's presence in the Top Four shows that the selection committee has strayed from its intention of finding the four best teams.

Any respected computer ranking will tell you the same thing. 

Whether you look for Florida State in the Sagarin rankings (16th), ESPN's Football Power Index (10th) or my numbers at The Power Rank (23rd), it never appears near the top four. 

You can further consult the markets for evidence of Florida State's weakness. For example, the Seminoles were three-point favorites at Miami, a three-loss team. In contrast, Alabama was a 10-point favorite against Mississippi State, the top-ranked team in the nation at the time. 

Florida State's weak schedule has saved it. To prove that, we simulated how the 'Noles would have fared against Auburn's SEC schedule. 

It's not pretty. 

These win probabilities come from my rankings at The Power Rank, the same analytics that drive the weekly college football playoff projections. Among other factors, these calculations consider strength of schedule and home-field advantage.

The numbers tell us Florida State would have won 3.9 of eight games if it had played Auburn's SEC schedule. In contrast, the same analytics project 6.1 wins for Florida State with its actual ACC schedule. By winning close games, the Seminoles have exceeded this expectation.

The main reason my numbers project Florida State as a 4-4 SEC team is the defense. In the past two seasons, this unit was in the top five in my defense rankings, which take yards per play and adjust for strength of schedule.

In the 2014 season, Florida State has dropped to 38th. 

The numbers single out the pass defense, which has allowed 6.48 yards per pass attempt, 87th-worst in the nation. Florida State can’t generate a pass rush, as it has sacked the quarterback on 4.6 percent of pass attempts, compared to the six percent FBS average.

The win probabilities against SEC teams are also interesting, as Florida State might play these teams in the playoff. Let's analyze some potential games using my efficiency rankings, which take yards per play and adjust for strength of schedule.

 

Ole Miss

Neutral-site win probability for Florida State: 44.2 percent

The Rebels have the seventh-ranked defense, a unit strong enough to slow down Jameis Winston and the Florida State offense. On offense, Mississippi relies on quarterback Bo Wallace and a passing attack that ranks 18th in the nation in pass efficiency.

It is important to note that these numbers might overestimate the Ole Miss passing attack if the teams were to play today, as they don't take into account star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell's absence. 

That said, the 'Noles have struggled out of the gate seemingly all season, and the Rebels' relentless defense would have a strong chance of preventing any comeback efforts by Winston and Co. 

 

Mississippi State

Neutral-site win probability for Florida State: 37.8 percent

Florida State and Mississippi State would score a lot of points. QB Dak Prescott leads the 12th-ranked offense with both his arm and his legs, and running back Josh Robinson is a force at breaking tackles.

FSU has missed a great deal of tackles this season, including "30-something" tackles versus North Carolina State earlier in the year, according to safety Tyler Hunter, via Bob Ferrante of Bleacher Report

The Bulldogs are far more talented than the Wolfpack.

Mississippi State's 32nd-ranked defense would most likely struggle against Winston's offense, but it's hard to deny the Bulldogs offense finding quick success against Jimbo Fisher's defense. 

 

Auburn

Neutral-site win probability for Florida State: 36.5 percent

Auburn's offense relies on its ground game, as the Tigers run on 64.5 percent of plays. (This does not include sacks, which traditionally count as rushes in college football.) 

Cameron Artis-Payne, who just so happens to lead the SEC in rushing, and QB Nick Marshall are quite the tandem with the read-option, a play the 'Noles have had a tough time stopping at times this season. 

Auburn's defense is ranked 28th, which is not elite, but it is better than the unit Florida State faced in the national title game last season. And this is not the same 'Noles offense from a year ago. A slow start against the fast-paced Gus Malzahn offense, and FSU would be in trouble.

 

Georgia

Neutral site win probability for Florida State: 33.6 percent

Georgia and Florida State would be another shootout. Georgia features the sixth-ranked offense behind an offensive line that has opened up holes for both Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb, the latter of whom Bleacher Report's Ray Glier said is "an upgrade" over the former. 

Georgia's defense fares better against the pass than the run. The Bulldogs running game matches up well against Florida State, which relies on Winston's arm for most of its points.

That said, though, the Bulldogs did an excellent job of keeping the high-powered Auburn offense in check, allowing the Tigers to score just seven points. That touchdown was on the Tigers' opening drive, and Jeremy Pruitt's defense never let up after that.

Winston would put up points, but Georgia would answer right back, using its talented running back depth to milk the clock and keep Winston off the field as much as possible.

 

Alabama

Neutral site win probability for Florida State: 22.1 percent

Alabama is a nightmare matchup for any team, as its 11th-ranked offense and second-ranked defense make it the most balanced team in the nation.

Even though he gets little credit, QB Blake Sims has led the sixth-most-efficient pass offense in the nation. His top wide receiver, Amari Cooper, is a big reason why, hauling in 11 touchdowns on the year and ranking third in receiving yards nationally. 

The defense is in the top six in both pass and rush defense and is finding its groove at the right time. 

A sluggish first half against Nick Saban would be tough to overcome for Florida State. If the 'Noles had a hard time putting up points to start the game against weaker ACC opponents, just imagine what Alabama would do out of the gate. 

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Tech Football: Kingsbury Going to Have Tough QB Decision Next Season

Texas Tech has had a rough season this year. It currently sits at 4-7 for the year with one game remaining, a showdown against Baylor at Jerry World in Dallas. Kliff Kingsbury did not get the kind of production he expected from Davis Webb coming into the season, and the defense has been atrocious.

After Webb shredded the Arizona State defense in last year’s Holiday Bowl, he looked like the quarterback of the future. And Kingsbury was forced to put all his eggs in one basket when both Michael Brewer and Baker Mayfield chose to transfer to other schools.

The only scholarship quarterbacks on the roster were Webb and Patrick Mahomes, a true freshman from Whitehouse, Texas, with zero college experience. But the hope was that Webb would sustain the success he experienced in the bowl game and lead the Red Raiders to greener pastures.

Unfortunately, that is not exactly how things have played out so far in 2014. Webb was an entirely different quarterback than he had been in his freshman season. He was missing easy throws, making bad decisions and turning into a turnover machine. And since he was ineffective, Mahomes was not able to get any experience because Tech played close games against both Central Arkansas and UTEP.

The quarterback situation culminated in Tech’s loss to Texas. Webb was unable to play due to an ankle injury he suffered in a blowout loss to TCU, and Mahomes—making his first career start—was injured in the second quarter when he was hit hard trying to run. Vincent Testaverde, a walk on and the son of former Miami star Vinny Testaverde, was forced to finish the game.

Even after a bye week in preparation for Oklahoma, Webb was still not ready to go. Mahomes made his second start, and he looked awesome. He was incredibly poised for a guy making only his second career start, finishing 27-of-50 with 393 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. He spread the ball around admirably, completing passes to 11 different receivers, and the Red Raider offense played arguably its best game of the season to that point.

In the days leading up to Tech’s game against Iowa State, Kingsbury said he expected to have his full stable of quarterbacks healthy, but he refused to name a starter.

Surprisingly, Mahomes got the start, and he didn’t disappoint. He put together another productive performance against the Cyclones, completing 23-of-35 attempts for 328 yards and four touchdowns. He did turn the ball over twice, an interception and a fumble, but he adds a dynamic to the offense that is nonexistent with Webb: the quarterback run game.

Facing a pivotal third down late in the fourth quarter of the Iowa State game, Mahomes dashed nine yards for a first down, sealing the Red Raiders’ fourth victory of the season. Webb is more of a pocket passer, and if Mahomes can continue to beat defenses with his arm and legs, he might be the signal-caller of the future.

In his Monday press conference, Kingsbury spoke highly of Mahomes to reporters.

“He’s doing a lot of good things for that age,” he said. “You know there is going to be some spots that he’s got to grow, but for a true freshman, pretty pleased with where he’s at.”

However, there will be an added wrench in the quarterback competition come next spring. Jarrett Stidham, the second-best dual-threat quarterback according to 247Sports, will graduate from Stephenville High School early so he can participate in spring drills.

So as the start of next season comes around, Kingsbury will have a tough decision on his hands. He will have three options to start at quarterback in the 2015 season opener against Sam Houston State: Webb, Mahomes and Stidham.

Webb is probably the best pure passer of the group and has the most experience, but his limited mobility doesn’t allow Kingsbury to open the playbook as much as he would like.

Mahomes is very athletic and a solid runner, and he will continue to grow as he gets more repetitions in practice and in games.

And Stidham is the wild card, he is pretty much unknown. He has amassed gaudy high school stats, but keep in mind that he plays in the 4-A classification, meaning he is not exactly facing dominant defensive units. However, he received exemplary grades at Elite 11, so he is likely the real deal. He will have plenty of time to learn the playbook and if you trust recruiting services, he has more talent than any other quarterback on the roster.

It is obvious that Kingsbury thinks very highly of the Texan prep star. Kingsbury told Stidham that he can “change the program,” so don’t expect Stidham to stay on the bench for long.

The quarterback won’t be able to carry the team by himself, but a consistent athlete behind center is a heck of a place to start. It’s not like the quarterback is not going to have help, either. The offense is going to be loaded with weapons.

DeAndre Washington will be back for another season, and he should be able to build on his stellar 2014 breakout season. Justin Stockton will serve as an excellent change-of-pace back and will also contribute catching passes.

Bradley Marquez will graduate, but the rest of the receiving corps will be back barring any unexpected events. Jakeem Grant, Devin Lauderdale and Reginald Davis should continue to get better during the offseason and serve as big-play threats. Dylan Cantrell will be back as a lethal red-zone target, and Ian Sadler might develop into a possession receiver similar to others who have come through Lubbock—Wes Welker, Danny Amendola, Eric Morris, etc.

But those skill guys can only be as good as the guy throwing them the ball. And if Kingsbury’s track record of grooming quarterbacks is any indication, he will make the correct decision.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football: What the Longhorns Should Be Thankful for in 2014

This Thanksgiving, the Longhorns can be thankful for a chance to upset the No. 5 TCU Horned Frogs. Without Charlie Strong and his staff, that never would have been possible.

Riding a three-game winning streak to bowl eligibility, the Longhorns sport the best defense in the Big 12, led by Malcom Brown. They also have an offense that's averaging almost 32 points per game during that streak, led by a developing quarterback and his breakout top target.

All you can ask for at this stage is an opportunity to achieve some degree of success. These Longhorns have plenty of that in these final two games.

Begin Slideshow

Is Jalin Marshall a Better Option at H-Back Than Dontre Wilson?

When Dontre Wilson arrived at Ohio State in the fall of 2013, it didn't take long for the hype to grow.

He was just an undersized true freshman, but his speed and playmaking ability blew his teammates away and eventually—or rather, inevitably—drew comparisons to former Florida great Percy Harvin.

“Dontre looks to be a special player,” former Buckeyes safety Christian Bryant said in July of 2013, according to Doug Lesmerises of The Plain Dealer. “With the speed, and his agility, just when he catches the ball, you can just see how he moves. He's going to be a special player.”

Fast-forward 16 months, though, and it's redshirt freshman Jalin Marshall who's producing the kind of highlights everyone expected from Wilson. In fact, Marshall has been so explosive filling in full time for Wilson—who broke his foot against Michigan State three weeks ago—that it raises a legitimate question.

Is Marshall a better option for Ohio State's offense than Wilson?

The person playing the H-back position at Ohio State draws so much attention (from both defenses on the field and media off of it) because of its pivotal role in Meyer's offense. The Buckeyes didn't have anyone with the right skill set for the position in 2012, and Ohio State's offenses suffered as a result.

That's why Meyer hit the recruiting trail so hard that year. The Buckeyes desperately needed a Harvin-like player who could stretch the field and put pressure on opposing defenses. That's when Wilson and Marshall, both of whom were rated 4-star prospects by 247 Sports, came into the fold.

Wilson got the early praise and attention last year, but Marshall is currently contributing at a level that's impossible to ignore.

Will Meyer decide to feature one over the other when Wilson fully recovers from his foot injury? 

 

Tale of the Tape 

Wilson came into the season as Ohio State's top H-back after locking down a starting spot during spring camp, and he flashed his versatility in the season opener against Navy. The sophomore touched the ball eight times and produced 89 total yards for an offense that struggled to find its footing in quarterback J.T. Barrett's first start. 

But Wilson failed to produce consistent numbers as the season wore on. In Week 2 against Virginia Tech, he was absent—outside of one brilliant 40-yard catch—in a game that Ohio State needed a consistent playmaker. In fact, he's only produced more than 45 total yards in two games this season (against Navy and Cincinnati), none of which have come against Big Ten competition. 

Of course, his up-and-down numbers could be a reflection of his rotation with Marshall. While both were healthy, Meyer constantly plugged the one or the other into the offense in an effort to maximize Ohio State's playmaking potential while keeping opposing defenses on their heels. 

That shouldn't discount what Marshall has done as the primary H-back over the last two weeks. 

Much was made of Marshall's two fumbles against Minnesota, which cost Ohio State at least seven points and directly led to 14 for the Gophers. Those two costly mistakes cast a shadow over an otherwise excellent performance—the redshirt freshman accounted for 107 total yards and a touchdowns on just six touches.

After the game, Meyer was happy with the win, but he was concerned about Marshall's turnovers.

“Obviously, it’s got to stop, or eventually, he’ll lose his playing time,” Meyer said, according to Tim May, Bill Rabinowitz and Jess Myers of The Columbus Dispatch. He later added that it's not Ohio State's philosophy to pull a player the moment he makes a mistake. Meyer wants his players to be aggressive and make plays. 

With another chance, that's exactly what Marshall did. 

Trailing an upset-minded Indiana team 20-14 midway through the quarter last Saturday, Marshall stepped up and saved Ohio State's season. He returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown to help the Buckeyes retake the lead and then scored on touchdown receptions of six, 15 and 54 yards to blow the game wide open. It was the first four-touchdown performance in a single game for a freshman since Dez Bryant in 2007, an accomplishment that earned him Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors

Marshall has thrived in a featured role, leading the team in receptions (10), receiving yards (190) and touchdown receptions (four) over the last two weeks. No other Ohio State pass-catcher has more than 75 yards and a touchdown during that same span.

Does that mean Marshall should be featured once Wilson returns from injury? The two playmakers, who coincidentally room together, are constantly competing for playing time.

“Me and Dontre are always competing for a spot to make a play, but I always feel like if I’m out there or if he’s out there, we can both make the big play,” Marshall said, according to Blake Williams of BuckeyeSports.com. “It will be fortunate if that’s me.”

If he continues to play at this level, it will be fortunate for Ohio State as well. 

 

All stats via NCAA.com.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: What the Volunteers Should Be Thankful for in 2014

With Thanksgiving coming up this week, it's time to take stock of the things the Tennessee Volunteers and their fans have to be thankful for both in this season and in the years to come.

The 2014 campaign hasn't been pretty at times, but it has also provided a spark of hope for recruits and current players. Butch Jones is slowly righting the ship in Knoxville, and although the wins aren't quite where he or his coaching staff want them to be, it's clear the Vols are no longer content to roll over when the going gets tough.

Tennessee has one very winnable game left against Vanderbilt standing in its way of reaching a bowl game for the first time since 2010, and a postseason berth, although likely in a lower-tier bowl and against a non-marquee opponent, are still indicators that the program is on the upswing.

It's hard to keep a program like Tennessee down for long, and while it took an unusual set of circumstances to cause the team to free fall in the first place, it appears that a round of fortune may be headed towards Knoxville to reverse the trend and restore the Vols to their place among the elite in college football.

Here are four important circumstances and factors playing into Tennessee's favor this Thanksgiving holiday. 

 

Begin Slideshow

Winning College Football's Championship Is Tougher Than Winning the Super Bowl

Winning the Super Bowl may be the ultimate accomplishment in football, but you know what? Winning college football’s national championship is a much tougher proposition.

And in some respects it has become an even more exacting task this season, when the first College Football Playoff was supposed to open the door to more schools.

Start with some basic math.

In the NFL, 12 teams will qualify for the playoffs. That’s 37.5 percent of the league’s teams.

If college football decided to be that generous, 48 of the 128 FBS school would be invited to the playoffs, instead of just four. Heck, Marshall already would have clinched a spot, and getting into the tourney would be no more difficult than qualifying for a lightly regarded bowl game.

But what really makes the college trek so much more intense is that one flawed Saturday can derail the entire season of a team that might be the most talented in the nation.

The folks at Ohio State would certainly agree with that. No matter what their Buckeyes do, they can’t rid themselves of the stink of losing to Virginia Tech back in September.

It’s even worse if that blemish surfaces in the last week or two of the regular season. In the NFL, that’s when the top teams think about resting their starters, but no college team has a playoff spot clinched yet. They’re all like tightrope walkers. They can wobble a little, but one serious stumble and they’re toast. Squashed toast.

Consider:

No. 1 Alabama has to face archrival Auburn and then survive the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, which will feel like a road game if Georgia is the opponent.

No. 2 Oregon has a seeming walkover against Oregon State, but that was also the case last year, when the Ducks had to scramble for a 36-35 victory at home. And their likely opponent in the Pac-12 title game is UCLA, which is on a five-game winning streak.

No. 3 Florida State has to play an emotion-packed game against Florida, which will be determined to send Will Muschamp out on a winning note. Then the Seminoles will vie for the ACC Championship against Georgia Tech, whose triple-option offense is nearly impossible to replicate in practice.

No. 4 Mississippi State must win at Ole Miss, in what ranks as the biggest game in the history of The Magnolia State. But its biggest test will come the next week, when it will be idle unless an Alabama loss puts the Bulldogs in the SEC title game. Without a conference championship, teams from around the nation will be pointing at Mississippi State as the team that needs to be bounced from the playoffs.

Imagine that. Mississippi State’s defense has allowed only six points in its last 95 minutes of play, yet could tumble if it doesn’t throttle its in-state rival as more and more attention gets paid to the “eye test.”

But there are at least three recent Super Bowl champions who never would have vied for the Lombardi Trophy if style points mattered in the "National Forgiving League."

The 2012 Baltimore Ravens were pounded 43-13 by Houston in Week 7 and then went on to lose four of their last five regular-season games, including two at home. They limped into the playoffs with a 10-6 mark but then got hot.

The 2011 New York Giants fell all the way to 6-6 after losing four consecutive games from Nov. 13-Dec. 4, including a 49-24 torching at the hands of New Orleans. They finished 9-7 but squeaked into the postseason because no one else in the NFC East finished better than 8-8.

The 2010 Green Bay Packers lost two of their last four, including a 7-3 dud at Detroit when losing Aaron Rodgers to a concussion made them look like a one-man team. They got in the playoffs as a 10-6 wild card and caught fire when Rodgers returned.

Who’s like that in college football right now, the suddenly dangerous team no one wants to play? How about Arkansas, after back-to-back shutouts against two top-20 teams? But in college football the Razorbacks barely rate as an afterthought while playing in an SEC West Division where every team is bowl-eligible.

And, compared to the regular seasons of those three Super Bowl champions, all of Florida State’s come-from-behind victories against so-so opponents don’t look so shabby, do they?

Yet the Seminoles are perhaps the most maligned 11-0 team in college football history, because they haven’t exercised the “game control” that CFP committee chairman Jeff Long has said is a factor in the playoff rankings.

Side note to Mr. Long: I hereby challenge you to give Bill Belichick a call and chastise him the next time his New England Patriots don’t exhibit the requisite amount of game control in a win. Just remember to hold the phone a safe distance from your ear when the blowback erupts.

The first-half flubs that have left FSU with an image problem are proof that winning somehow is no longer enough as credentials for the college championship get scrutinized like never before.

In other times, Florida State’s victories would have classified as dramatic, and the Seminoles would have been celebrated. But in the age of style points and eye tests, they’re regarded as winning lazily, even though they’re the defending national champions and have the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in James Winston.

We saw a little of that overreacting in the NFL this season, when some people actually thought Tom Brady needed to be benched after the Patriots were blown out 41-14 by Kansas City in September. But that tumult never affected New England’s playoff status.

So how about we compare Florida State to some of the NFL franchises that reside nearby, the ones that belong to the NFC South? Believe it or not, the 2-9 Tampa Bay Bucs still have a chance to make the playoffs, because no one in the division is better than 4-7.

If FSU fans read that and begin to weep, it’s understandable, because there’s no doubt that a loss will immediately exorcise Jimbo Fisher’s team from the playoff picture.

But take heart, Seminoles fans. If your guys come up short there’s still hope for them to go on with their football careers and accomplish easier things. Like winning the Super Bowl.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Post-Week 13 College Football Playoff Projections from Analytics Guru Ed Feng

After ESPN aired the release of the inaugural College Football Playoff poll on Oct. 28, there was just one question on everybody's mind: 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...

 

Mississippi State Is Not Giving Up No. 4 Spot Without a Fight

Way too many people think Mississippi State, which holds the precarious fourth spot in the committee rankings, is in trouble. If Alabama beats Auburn Saturday, the Bulldogs won't play in the SEC championship game, meaning they will miss the opportunity to "impress the committee" the last week of the season. A team like TCU or Ohio State could grab the final playoff spot.

Here's why the Bulldogs won't go down without a fight, however. 

First, they travel to Mississippi for the Egg Bowl this weekend. If they win, they'll notch another notable win over a Top 25 squad. That will give them four wins over teams that were ranked in the Top 25 at the time of each contest, along with one five-point loss to the top-ranked team in the country. The committee should look favorably upon that resume. 

Second, the committee has shown that it needs a pretty strong statement to move the Top Four teams around. Oregon jumped Florida State only after a 24-point road win over a ranked Utah team. Alabama jumped from fifth to first after beating top-ranked Mississippi State. 

Which of the first three out could impress the committee with a big win over a top team in the next two weeks? Not fifth-ranked TCU. The Horned Frogs play unranked Texas this week and Iowa State the last week of the season. Unless the Bulldogs drop a game, TCU will struggle to leap over Mississippi State. 

Sixth-ranked Ohio State has captured the Big Ten East and will play the winner of this weekend's game between Minnesota and Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. This works out well for the Buckeyes, as the victor of that contest will almost surely be in the Top 15 of the committee's rankings.

The Buckeyes are favored to beat either Wisconsin (57.8 percent) or Minnesota (80.0 percent ). However, given the committee's apparent need to see a very dominant performance to warrant movement, Ohio State would need to do it with a great deal of style to jump into the Top Four. 

Seventh-ranked Baylor may have the best chance to make the jump. The Bears play a strong Kansas State team at home the last week of the season, and their head-to-head win over TCU will look extremely impressive.

That said, given the committee's tendencies so far, a three-spot jump for a Top 10 team without losses above it looks very unlikely.

All of these factors, coupled with the chance that one of the Top Three teams could lose, contribute to Mississippi State's 51.5 percent chance to make the playoff.

 

How Much Do Current Rankings of TCU and Baylor Matter?

How does the committee distinguish between Big 12 rivals TCU and Baylor? Baylor beat TCU by a field goal in their head-to-head contest. However, TCU has a better out-of-conference win over Minnesota, a team the committee moved up to 18th this week.

How would their playoff chances change if we flipped their rankings?

As the fifth-ranked team, Baylor would have a 49.4 percent chance to make the playoff, almost double its 26.4 percent probability at seventh. If TCU slipped from fifth to seventh, its playoff odds would drop from 46.4 percent to 22.5 percent. These shifts are drastic for such small changes in ranking.

Baylor might still end up ahead of TCU with its matchup agains the Wildcats. An impressive win, along with the head-to-head advantage, could cause the committee to put the Bears ahead of TCU.

 

Things Setting Up Nicely for Ohio State

After a win over Indiana, Ohio State's odds to make the playoff only increased 1 percent. However, the Buckeyes' situation looks much better due to the rise of the Big Ten West.

This past weekend, Minnesota had a big win over Nebraska, which moved it to 18th in the committee rankings. The Gophers play 14th-ranked Wisconsin for the West division this weekend. The winner of that game will give Ohio State a borderline Top 10 opponent in the Big Ten championship game.

Hello, impressive win. 

Ohio State would rather face Minnesota, a team it already beat. Ohio State's third-ranked offense in my yards-per-play-adjusted-for-schedule metric has a significant edge over Minnesota's 45th-ranked defense. The Buckeyes have an 80.0 percent win probability at a neutral site.

Wisconsin and running back Melvin Gordon have the top-ranked rush offense by my yards-per-carry-adjusted-for-schedule metric and thus pose more of a challenge to the Buckeyes and their 54th-ranked rush defense. Despite the Gordon factor, Ohio State still has a 57.8 percent win probability against Wisconsin.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Kramer's College Football Notebook: Committee Setting Very Dangerous Precedent

The transparency between selection committee and fans was supposed to enhance the College Football Playoff experience. At the very least, it was poised to allow access to information that was once sealed and tucked away.

However, as the weeks have progressed and the reasoning behind various moves have been justified in detail, one can’t help but be concerned with the glaring inconsistencies and deficiencies in the public portion of the process. We have been granted access, but no clarity.

If anything, we're more confused than we have ever been.

It's not the latest Top 25 College Football Playoff Rankings that are generating the concern. There is debate to be had in and outside of the first four positions, but nothing glaringly amiss. 

The concern comes in the comments that selection committee chairman Jeff Long made on ESPN while discussing Mississippi State's strange, evolving playoff resume. Long provided the following explanation on the current value of the Bulldogs' wins over teams who are no longer ranked in the Top 25:

Jeff Long said the committee factors in that some of Miss St wins came against teams previously ranked. Seems like a new talking point.

— Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonCBS) November 26, 2014

As the masses proclaimed foul in this logic—connecting the dots of how preseason rankings and other factors could impact their decisions—Long clarified his point once the cameras had been turned off. 

You may now get off your preseason rankings ledge, at least for the time being.

Jeff Long clarified his statement to mean CFP-ranked. Meaning nothing before Oct. 28. ND was No. 10 in that one btw.

— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) November 26, 2014

Although the clarification helped, there are issues with this entire thought process in general. 

Even if preseason rankings aren't included, were the committee's initial rankings influenced by where teams started before the season began?

And if teams are truly being judged on their entire season, why should ranking at any point in the process be factored in this discussion? Patience has been stressed throughout this entire process, so what good does it do to assess a matchup from the past without truly knowing what the matchup means?

The final product is all that matters, so shouldn't this same logic be applied for hopeful teams' playoff resumes along the way? This part seems most obvious of all.

Beyond these potential logic flaws, Tuesday night’s vocal misstep identified an issue with the process of revealing these rankings along the way. Although these weekly releases are a network’s dream—a way to fit roughly 30 seconds of information into a 30-minute opening, laughing to the bank the entire way—it also leaves the committee open to these types of situations.

It generates conversation from the masses, but it also leaves this group vulnerable to criticism, some of which is warranted. There is growing concern—at least out in the open—that the consistency with the selection committee has already been lost. Tuesday night didn’t help alleviate these stances. If anything, it only drove them home further.

Confidence in this group is already starting to dwindle, and the important part of the process hasn't even begun. The weekly releases have generated interest as planned, although they have also revealed significant flaws and confusion in this process along the way.

Here are some other observations regarding the latest playoff rankings.

 

Ohio State Getting Some Help

This all looks to be setting up brilliantly for the Buckeyes.

Although Ohio State struggled for much of its contest against Indiana on Saturday, it didn’t budge from the No. 6 spot. Given the shrinking amount of time to make an impression—either positive or negative—this was a solid development for Urban Meyer’s team. 

Perhaps more importantly, the teams crucial to the Buckeyes’ final playoff push also saw plenty of love from the committee. Minnesota jumped from No. 25 to No. 18 following its win over Nebraska, and Wisconsin jumped up two spots to No. 14 after beating Iowa in Iowa City. 

The Badgers and Gophers will meet up this week with a spot in the Big Ten Championship on the line, which means Ohio State’s overall resume—if it wins out—will only improve. The ideal situation for the Buckeyes is a convincing Wisconsin win and losses from teams hovering around the Top 10. If that’s the case, the Big Ten Championship could end up being an even brighter Buckeye showcase. 

That’s also an extra game neither Big 12 team will have. And if Alabama beats Auburn, Mississippi State's season will end with the Egg Bowl.

Regardless of what transpires, Ohio State has done what it had to do. It has distanced itself as far as it possibly can from its lone loss against Virginia Tech and held onto the label as the nation’s hottest team.

 

Welcome to the Party, Group of 5

It took a while, but the Group of Five was finally allowed access to this exclusive club. It might have bribed a bouncer to get there, although it makes no difference now. Two teams outside of power-five conferences finally cracked the latest Top 25.

It's about time.

Boise State was the first team to hear its named called at No. 23, and undefeated Marshall followed directly at No. 24. The Broncos just dismantled Wyoming on the road, and they’ve been fabulous since losing to Air Force back in September. Marshall, meanwhile, almost suffered its first loss of the season against UAB, although the Thundering Herd snuck past UAB, 23-18.

The arrival of teams outside of the power conferences has been a long time coming. You could make the argument—and a good one for that matter—that 10-1 Colorado State warrants inclusion as well. If the Rams take care of business against Air Force on Saturday, it wouldn’t be shocking to see another Group of Five team added to this mix.

Keep in mind: One of these teams will be granted access to a marquee bowl. Now that multiple Group of Five teams have cracked the rankings, keep an eye on the team on top. That's the place you want to be.

 

UCLA vs. Georgia in the Battle for No. 8

Although the battle between UCLA (currently No. 8) and Georgia (currently No. 9) may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, this could change rather quickly.

If UCLA beats Stanford on Saturday, it will head to the Pac-12 Championship Game. If Missouri loses to Arkansas, Georgia will win the SEC East and play in the SEC Championship Game. While their playoff chances aren’t nearly as defined as the teams directly in front of them, each could state their case for a playoff spot by winning out. 

No, they’re not directly competing with one another just yet, but the possibility of either team entering the playoff picture warrants consideration, especially with huge potential matchups looming.

There is still so much football to be played and more losses to come. The closer you are to the top four positions, the better. UCLA has a slight, critical advantage for the time being.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State's Path to the College Football Playoff Becomes Clearer

COLUMBUS, Ohio — For Ohio State, no news was good news during Tuesday's release of the College Football Playoff rankings.

Following a week where the Buckeyes escaped a Big Ten matchup with Indiana that was at one point too close for comfort, Ohio State remained sixth in the weekly rankings release. More than that, the Buckeyes still appear to control their own destiny in their quest for a playoff spot, with two weeks to go until the final top four teams are chosen.

At first glance, that may seem unlikely, especially considering that there was no movement in the top seven this past week and Ohio State remains two spots back of a coveted final-four spot.

But the Buckeyes' path to the playoff is only becoming clearer, and Ohio State may have even received some good news from playoff committee chair Jeff Long regarding its future prospects.

"We try not to look into the future, but we've always said that championships won on selection weekend will have an impact," Long said on ESPN's televised revealing of the rankings. "It will certainly add to [Ohio State's] body of work if they have that Big Ten championship."

That's obviously big for the Buckeyes, who locked up an appearance in their conference title game with last weekend's win over the Hoosiers.

Conference championship aside, Ohio State is virtually guaranteed a chance at adding another quality win to its resume, as it will meet the winner of this weekend's matchup between No. 14 Wisconsin and No. 18 Minnesota.

While Long was answering a question in regards to the Big 12's lack of a conference title game, his response perhaps most applied to the Buckeyes' argument against No. 4 Mississippi State.

After all, assuming No. 1 Alabama beats No. 15 Auburn this weekend, the Bulldogs will be left out of the SEC Championship Game, giving Ohio State the edge in the first criterion that the committee will look at when comparing similar resumes.

With everything in the playoff selection process unprecedented, it remains unclear whether the Buckeyes' and Mississippi State's resumes are close enough to go to a tiebreaker. But one glance at both teams' bodies of work would indicate that they are.

Ohio State possesses wins over No. 10 Michigan State and No. 18 Minnesota, with the potential to add a third Top 25 victory in its conference championship game.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs' only current Top 25 win before this weekend's matchup with No. 19 Ole Miss came against No. 15 Auburn.

Conversely, Mississippi State's lone loss of the season—to No. 1 Alabama—certainly trumps Ohio State's Sept. 6 defeat to 5-6 Virginia Tech, and Long also stated that the committee will take into the consideration that the Bulldogs beat LSU and Texas A&M teams that were ranked in the Top 10 at the time that they played.

However, that argument could end up working in the Buckeyes' favor as well, as it takes the sting out of their perceived scarlet letter of a loss to the Hokies.

Regardless of which side of the argument you fall on between the Bulldogs and the Buckeyes, it would be tough to argue that, at the very least, the two teams don't possess similar resumes.

Given the criteria that the committee has laid out—and what Long said on Tuesday—that would appear to favor Ohio State, assuming that the Buckeyes win their conference championship game.

 

But What About The Big 12? 

Although Mississippi State likely won't be afforded the opportunity to play for its conference crown—and an Alabama loss would likely eliminate the top-ranked Crimson Tide from the playoff discussion anyway—both teams still in contention for the Big 12 title remain in the playoff hunt.

No. 5 TCU and No. 7 Baylor currently sandwich Ohio State, with the Bears having the inside track to their league title.

That could prove important for Baylor, which—unlike Mississippi State—will be recognized as a conference champion should it win the remainder of its games.

While the Big 12 doesn't possess a conference championship game, the Bears' regular-season finale against 12th-ranked Kansas State could ultimately enhance their resume.

That's why it was so important for Ohio State to see the Badgers and Gophers ranked where they were this week, enhancing the likelihood that a Buckeyes win in Indianapolis would neutralize a potential Baylor win over the Wildcats.

It's also worth noting that a Big Ten title victory would give Ohio State one more win over Baylor should both win out, only adding to the Buckeyes' argument against a team that it's already ranked ahead of.

As for TCU, the Horned Frogs remain ranked ahead of the Buckeyes, but would not be recognized as the Big 12 champion by the committee should both they and the Bears win their two respective remaining games, as Baylor beat TCU on Oct. 11.

More importantly for Ohio State, the Horned Frogs lack the opportunities to enhance their resume, with only games against 6-5 Texas and 2-8 Iowa State remaining on their schedule.

That should leave the Buckeyes feeling pretty good right now heading into this weekend's rivalry game against 5-6 Michigan.

Of course, as mentioned earlier, this entire process is unprecedented, and it remains possible—perhaps likely—that one or more teams ranked in the top seven will lose a game between now and the final rankings reveal in two weeks.

But with both the inside track to a conference championship and the chance to enhance its resume with another quality win, Ohio State appears to be in as good a shape as any team still fighting to control its playoff fate.

A lot can obviously change between now and Dec. 7, but should the Buckeyes win out, their argument to make the inaugural playoff field will undoubtedly be a strong one—if not the strongest.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State's Noah Spence Declared Permanently Ineligible by Big Ten

The No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes are in the thick of the College Football Playoff race even without the services of star defensive lineman Noah Spence.

The Big Ten officially ruled Spence ineligible for the remainder of 2014, so he won't be able to help Ohio State out down the stretch. Bryan Fischer of NFL.com reported the news after Spence's unsuccessful appeal hearing concluded Tuesday:

Eleven Warriors tweeted a statement from Buckeyes athletic director Gene Smith:

Spence was suspended for the second time in nine months in September after testing positive for the drug ecstasy twice. The Columbus Dispatch's Tim May, Bill Rabinowitz and Mark Znidar outlined the conference rules that are keeping Spence off of the gridiron when initially reporting on the suspension:

The Big Ten classifies ecstasy as a performance-enhancing drug, even though it is better known as a party drug. The conference policy for performance enhancers upon a second offense is that the player "shall be declared permanently ineligible for all further intercollegiate competition in all sports."

Rabinowitz provided a bit more background ahead of Tuesday's hearing, noting Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer didn't play a role in the saga:

The news involving Spence hardly comes as a surprise in light of Big Ten rules. Spence had 50 total tackles (14.0 TFL) with 7.5 sacks and a forced fumble in 2013, per CFBStats.com. Now that the junior is banished for good from the Big Ten, it is likely Spence will take his talents to the NFL draft.

He suggested as much on his Twitter account after today's news:

In a 2015 class that figures to be loaded with pass-rushers, Spence may have a hard time sticking out from the talented crowd given his past. However, if he gets a chance in the NFL and can develop at a gradual rate in a stable organization, he has the makings of rewarding a team's faith despite his off-field mishaps.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Things We Learned from College Football Playoff Committee's Week 14 Rankings

So preseason rankings do matter after all?

While the selection committee's top seven teams stayed exactly the same Tuesday, chairman Jeff Long's explanations for the latest College Football Playoff rankings are beginning to defy both logic and the committee's own procedural guidelines.

Last week he introduced the concept of "game control" to justify Alabama's No. 1 ranking, and this week he came up with "quality loss" and one other whopper during the ESPN broadcast: It matters if a team is ranked when it is beaten.

Therefore, Alabama still gets credit for wins over LSU and Texas A&M though neither is now ranked, as does Mississippi State. This goes directly against the committee's mission to look at the entire body of work and not relying on preseason perception.

Long later scrambled on a conference call with reporters to say that only the committee's own rankings matter, not the preseason and early-season variety as produced by the AP or coaches polls. The problem is, that doesn't wash, either.

By this criteria Mississippi State has beaten exactly zero teams as ranked by the committee at the time of the game, yet it's still at No. 4, ahead of other one-loss teams—TCU, Baylor and Ohio State—that have beaten committee-ranked opponents.

Maybe the problem is having these weekly announcements and the need to come up with tortured logic to explain rankings that are by no means a consensus. But since we're here to pick them apart, let's look at five more issues:

 

1. Is SEC bias creeping in?

Long's most controversial moves so far have been made to favor SEC teams—placing Alabama No. 1 ahead of Oregon and putting Mississippi State in the playoff field (as of now). The fact that he's the Arkansas athletic director does not help.

ESPN, the network that will televise all playoff games (not to mention all but one of the 39 bowl games), co-owns and operates the SEC Network. A conflict of interest will be suspected by all outside parties.

 

2. Winning is not enough, just ask Florida State

The scoreboard is taking a back seat to Game Control Theory™ and Quality Loss, two elements that the defending national champions have not been able to master. Because of their propensity to pull out last-minute wins (without a loss), the Seminoles continue to be banished to No. 3.

And while they've beaten three teams that were ranked at the time of the game (and two still currently ranked), that doesn't seem to matter, either.

 

3. The committee loves Minnesota, and so does TCU

The Golden Gophers are certainly one of the feel-good stories of the season, and they're one win away from claiming the Big Ten West title. But the committee has taken that admiration to another level, putting Minnesota four spots higher than it is in the polls and about 12 higher than its average computer ranking.

This is all very lovely for TCU, however, as its 30-7 win over the Gophers early in the season is what prevents its head-to-head loss to Baylor from mattering, at least for now.

 

4. Who's afraid of Virginia Tech?

Ohio State's home loss to Virginia Tech looks worse every week, especially after the Hokies were shut out in regulation by 3-8 Wake Forest in last Saturday's desultory 6-3 two-overtime loss. But was it really that bad? Long said the committee doesn't view that 35-21 defeat against the-now 5-6 Hokies as a terrible loss.

Virginia Tech was not ranked then (and of course it isn't now), but Long's response seems to suggest that the Buckeyes will be able to overcome that by winning the Big Ten championship.

 

5. Marshall is unbeaten and looks doomed

The committee finally put a group-of-five (actually two) team back in the rankings after snubbing them the past three weeks. But 11-0 Marshall is one spot behind 9-2 Boise State, and the remaining schedule certainly favors the Broncos to stay ahead.

The committee has made a big deal out of nonconference schedules, and Marshall's is admittedly weak (though that apparently doesn't apply to Mississippi State), but is Boise's strong enough to trump two losses?

 

Follow Samuel on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Projections 2014: Updated Playoff Outlook Heading into Rivalry Week

We're less than a month away from the first bowl game, yet there is still so much uncertainty across the country.

In the ACC, Florida State and Georgia Tech will meet in the championship next week. Among the major conferences, that's all we know for sure.

Baylor and TCU are still duking it out for the Big 12, while Kansas State has an outside shot at crashing the party. Oregon and Ohio State have booked spots in the Pac-12 and Big 10 championships, but UCLA and Wisconsin still have significant hurdles before meeting them there. Finally, Alabama, Mississippi State, Missouri and Georgia all have an opportunity to claim the SEC.

With so much unknown, there is still likely to be plenty of movement in the top four. But let's take a gander at the current outlook of the college playoff.

 

Week 14 College Football Playoff Rankings

 

2014 College Football Playoff Predictions

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State

Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State

 

Team in Danger: Florida State

The Seminoles are undefeated and assuredly control their own fate in getting to the playoff, but they better be careful.

While you can't fault them for continuing to put notches in the "W" column, their last five victories have been by an average of 7.2 points. Three of those required a fourth-quarter comeback.

As Jeff Long explained, via Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel, the selection committee hasn't exactly been impressed with the FSU Goonies (you know, because they never say die):

In other words, as NFL.com's Chase Goodbread suggested, there's no breathing room:

That means the Seminoles likely need to win their final two games.

First up is Florida. The Gators have endured a tumultuous season but have won three of four, including an impressive 18-point victory over No. 9 Georgia.

Second is Georgia Tech, which has won four straight and boasts one of the country's most feared rushing attacks.

The Seminoles should win both of those, but a rivalry game and conference championship both set the stage for a lot of unpredictability. I have the defending national champions making it to the playoff, but it won't be simple in the least.

 

Team on the Rise: Ohio State

The selection committee is headed for a potentially massive headache of a situation. Imagine Ohio State, Baylor, TCU and UCLA all win out.

That would mean that not only does it have to find a way to distinguish among the one-loss Buckeyes, Bears and Horned Frogs, but also in the mix will be two-loss Oregon and UCLA, with the latter sitting as the Pac-12 champs.

Of course, as ESPN's Travis Haney pointed out, that's not quite a realistic situation:

The Bruins have been far better down the stretch, but red-hot Oregon will still have the advantage should they meet in the Pac-12 'ship.

In our same hypothetical situation but with a UCLA loss to Oregon, that leaves the committee to pick among OSU, Baylor and TCU. And as many have argued, the Buckeyes are a good bet to jump to No. 4 in that situation:

According to Mandel, the committee supposedly doesn't view Ohio State's loss to Virginia Tech as "bad," and the Buckeyes can still add a win against what would be a 10-2 Wisconsin squad. That will be just enough to sneak them into the top four.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The College Football Playoff Committee Is a Joke; FSU Deserves to Be No. 1

Despite finding themselves in a string of close, nail-biting games, the Florida State Seminoles have yet to lose this season. But in the eyes of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee, that is not enough to earn Florida State the top spot in the Week 14 rankings.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee explains why he thinks Florida State should be the nation's top-ranked team, ahead of both Alabama and Oregon. 

Do you think the Seminoles should be No. 1 instead of No. 3? Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Hits and Misses of the CFP Committee's Top 25 Poll After Week 13

The College Football Playoff selection committee came out with its Top 25 Tuesday, and much like in previous weeks, there's bound to be debate as we head toward the final ranking Dec. 7.

Bleacher Report college football analysts Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee break down the hits and misses from the committee poll.

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

Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff Rankings 2014: Twitter Reacts to Week 14 Top 25 Reveal

Since many of the best teams took care of business and won last week, the Week 14 release of the College Football Playoff rankings experienced no change toward the top.    

The Alabama Crimson Tide are in the top spot for the second week in a row, riding the strength of their triumph over Mississippi State to another home triumph over Western Carolina on Saturday.

Here is a look at the complete, up-to-date standings as of Tuesday evening's reveal, which showed the same top seven order as the prior edition:

ESPN Stats & Info observes how Alabama has stepped up to the challenge against its best competition:

The selection committee still seems to be docking Florida State for its lack of style points, even though the Seminoles continue to win while getting every opponent's best shot. That happened again this past weekend when FSU ground out a 20-17 victory over Boston College at home.

Florida State ranks first in The Associated Press' poll, but it could stand to notch convincing wins over Florida and Georgia Tech in its next two games. Just one blemish on their record may put the Seminoles behind a two-loss team if they find themselves on the postseason bubble.

ESPN's Mike Greenberg was hoping FSU would be at No. 1 prior to Tuesday's rankings release:

However, it's hard to argue with how well Oregon has played. Quarterback Marcus Mariota has to be the Heisman Trophy favorite after another brilliant effort in the Ducks' win over Colorado, where he accounted for four total touchdowns.

TCU and Baylor are both capable of representing the Big 12 in the Top Four thanks to explosive offenses. A weak non-conference schedule is hurting the Bears, though, and the Horned Frogs still lurk just behind Mississippi State.

ESPN's Jake Trotter came to TCU's defense, and Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman was rather shocked the Bulldogs maintained their spot at No. 4:

Chuck Carlton of The Dallas Morning News feels both Big 12 contenders could be on the outside looking in when all is said and done:

Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel weighed in on Baylor's predicament:

As good of shape as Ohio State appears to be in, the Buckeyes need to manhandle archrival Michigan. OSU head coach Urban Meyer recognizes the importance of dominating:

Colin Cowherd of ESPN feels the Buckeyes will eventually squeeze their way into the Top Four:

The Big Ten championship presents a chance for Ohio State to get the bump in the rankings it needs, according to the opinion of ESPN analyst Danny Kanell:

As for the two-loss teams, headlining that lot is UCLA, thanks largely to the play of star quarterback Brett Hundley, who threw for 326 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-20 win over USC in his last outing.

ESPN's Chris Fallica pointed out how UCLA could make a big, late-season move if any of the teams ahead of the Bruins stumble:

UCLA must beat Stanford in Week 14 to set up a conference title clash with Oregon, where it could add yet another quality win and figure even more into the playoffs.

CBSSports.com's Sam Vecenie posed an interesting question in that vein:

With rivalry games looming in the regular-season finales and conference championship showdowns still to be played, anything can happen in the next couple of weeks. So while the playoff picture remains rather stable for the time being, it's feasible that a two-loss team could even sneak into the Top Four.

Among the teams at the top, Florida State has looked the most vulnerable, yet the Seminoles are the only ones not to have caved to defeat yet. Oregon could well wind up facing UCLA in the Pac-12 title game, which would have huge playoff implications to say the least.

Not playing in the SEC Championship Game may wind up benefiting Mississippi State, should the committee continue to favor the SEC and keep the Bulldogs ahead of TCU, Baylor and Ohio State.

Presuming they knock off Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl in Oxford, the Bulldogs can even climb the rankings. Meanwhile, Alabama, should it defeat Auburn, will have to play an additional contest and could face a rematch with a more beat-up team in the College Football Playoff.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff 2014: Final Four Predictions After 5th Top 25 Rankings

Many of the best college football teams took a trip to cupcake city in Week 13 of the season, with three of the previous Top Four teams earning comfortable wins. The outsider, of course, was Florida State, who narrowly pulled out a win over Boston College.   

As a result, there wasn't a huge amount of change at the top of the rankings. Alabama remained at the top with Oregon, Florida State and Mississippi State still rounding out the Top Four.

Those programs might see a shakeup this weekend with the intriguing slate on Saturday. Each team will face a rival, with the Iron Bowl and Egg Bowl offering the biggest opportunities for upsets. Meanwhile, TCU faces Texas with hopes that it can climb up the poll with a victory.

Ahead of the critical weekend, here is a look at the latest College Football Playoff committee rankings and predictions for the playoff bracket.

 

Analysis

Few would have predicted any of the previous Top Four teams would have fallen and many weren't even close. However, Florida State certainly didn't do itself any favors with a close contest at home against Boston College.

The Seminoles have reached the 11-win mark for the third straight season but have been questioned every game along the way. Much of those queries stem from come-from-behind wins against lesser opponents such as Oklahoma State and N.C. State.

ESPN Stats & Info points out a staggering statistic about the Noles' victories:

Jameis Winston will look to change that pattern against a Florida team that comes into Tallahassee at 6-4 on the season. The Gators are looking for a signature win in the midst of an otherwise horrid season. Upending the rival Noles would be a great way to lift the spirits in Gainesville.

Meanwhile in Eugene, Oregon and Oregon State will battle in another rivalry game that appears to be one-sided. The Ducks are currently flying high while the Beavers have lost six of their last eight. Let's just say Oregon seems like the most likely program to remain in the Top Four with a decisive win.

Back on the East Coast, two of the biggest rivalry games are set to take place. Between the Egg Bowl and the Iron Bowl, two National Championship contenders will be competing for their chance at the playoff.

In recent years, the Iron Bowl has been one of the most intense in college football. Not only is a lot on the line for both teams in the SEC West, but College GameDay also notes why it has typically had implications for the Championship Game:

The Crimson Tide come in as the higher-ranked program after the Tigers experienced a few hiccups recently against Texas A&M and Georgia. Then again, anything is possible when these two rivals meet.

Outside of the Iron Bowl, Mississippi State will be looking to do everything it can to clinch a berth with a win over Ole Miss. Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen spoke about the heated rivalry, via Michael Bonner of The Clarion-Ledger:

Every one of these (Egg Bowl games) are important. This is my sixth time playing in this game, I view the other five as equally as important. ...

You work year round for this type of game. It'll be fun. I know we'll be going into a hostile environment. Tough place to go play. I don't think they are big fans of mine up in that part of the state.

If both Alabama and Ole Miss win, only the Tide would roll into the SEC Championship Game. That puts even more pressure on the Bulldogs to win decisively to convince voters they deserve a spot over programs playing for a conference title.

I have both the Bulldogs and Tide playing in the semifinals. After the blowout loss to Arkansas for Ole Miss, expect a lopsided win for Dak Prescott and Mississippi State.

Though the regular season is winding down, there is still a lot left to unfold before the final bracket is set. Given the tremendous amount of change already over the first five polls, there is bound to be even more developments down the stretch.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff Rankings 2014: Selection Committee Top 25 for Week 14

After weeks of strife and hand-wringing about the direction of the College Football Playoff poll, Week 14 entered as one of expected inertia. With three of the nation's four top-ranked teams thumping cupcakes in expert fashion and Florida State unveiling its latest Houdini act—thus changing nothing about the preceding Saturdays—we for once felt as if we had a grip on the outlook.

The only remaining questions were the teams after the Top Four. TCU's absence from the slate was rendered moot by two less-than-impressive performances from Ohio State and Baylor, leaving the Horned Frogs looking stronger than ever in their next-man-up standing.

As for the Buckeyes and Bears, here is how theirs and the rest of the country's outlook turned out following Tuesday's announcement show:

That the playoff teams remain in place should come as a surprise to exactly no one. Alabama, Oregon and Mississippi State defeated Western Carolina, Colorado and Vanderbilt, respectively, by a combined average of 39.7 points.

The Crimson Tide survived a shaky first 20 minutes to score the game's final 31 points against FCS outfit Western Carolina. Most of Alabama's starters sat a majority of the second half to stay fresh for Saturday's Iron Bowl matchup with Auburn.

While the Tigers' three losses keep them well outside the playoff picture, Alabama enters in an eerily similar situation to the one it inhabited a year ago: sitting at the top of the rankings with only its bitter rival and a potential SEC Championship Game clash holding it back for playing for a national title. Head coach Nick Saban, usually the first to downplay everything, said the Tide's heartbreaking loss in last year's Iron Bowl still weighs on his mind. 

“We all kinda remember what happened,” Saban told reporters Monday. “I think that it was very, very disappointing to all of us here. Not just the last play, but the last five minutes of the game that we never really ever finished the game like we needed to. It was a tough way to lose a game and I’m sure that everybody sort of has that in mind.”

Also headed toward a rivalry game but in much less control of its destiny is Mississippi State. The Bulldogs, who still have a chance of winning the SEC West if Alabama goes down, travel to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday for a game against 18th-ranked Ole Miss.

"You work year round for this type of game. It'll be fun," Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen told reporters Monday. "I know we'll be going into a hostile environment. Tough place to go play. I don't think they are big fans of mine up in that part of the state."

Of course, the trip looked a whole lot more daunting a week ago. The Rebels' 30-0 loss to unranked Arkansas gave them three defeats in their last four games. In the event Mississippi State defeats Ole Miss and Alabama takes down Auburn, the Bulldogs' best victories will be against teams with four losses.

That could be a big deal when the committee sits down for its final deliberations. Conference championships are one of the four major pillars the committee touted when the playoff was announced, which puts TCU and Mississippi State in precarious positions.

Despite their up-and-down play in Week 13, Baylor and Ohio State control their own destinies in their respective conferences. The Bears defeated TCU in a head-to-head thriller and have a resume-solidifying game against Kansas State to close their season in two weeks.

The Buckeyes should thrash depleted rival Michigan on Saturday, but their likely Big Ten Championship Game matchup with Wisconsin looks better by the week. Melvin Gordon has rushed his way toward the top of the Heisman race, and the Badgers have reeled off six straight wins since their shaky start.

Add a schedule-strengthening statement win over a ranked opponent and a conference championship to the mix, and suddenly Baylor and Ohio State look a lot stronger in the playoff race.

All of this speculation has led some to wonder whether we're barreling straight ahead toward a late-season controversy—the type of thing this playoff was explicitly created to eliminate. ACC Commissioner John Swofford has already been on record suggesting the NCAA should expand the four-team playoff to eight. 

“I don’t think all the controversy’s going to go away,” Swofford said last Wednesday, per Shawn Krest of The Herald-Sun. “You have four teams that get a chance to play for the national championship, which is twice as many as before, but whoever’s fifth or sixth is not going to be happy. There will be some conferences that won’t have a team in the playoff.”

You can see Swofford's point of view. It seems feasible that a one-loss SEC team—an SEC West team, no less—could be on the outside looking in. But it's also patently unfair to hold out conference champions who did everything they possibly could. It's easy to forget now that Ohio State's lone loss came nearly three months ago in J.T. Barrett's second career start.

Might an eight-team playoff, where the champions of the five power conferences get an automatic berth and there are three wild cards, create less controversy? Perhaps. 

But for now, barring a barrage of upsets, it's looking like the College Football Playoff Selection Committee has its work cut out paring this seven-team jumble to four in the next few weeks.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why 5-Star 2015 Recruit Trent Thompson Will Make Biggest Impact as a Freshman

The high school football fields of South Georgia are where Trent Thompson crafted a resume that vaulted him into being rated as the nation's top defensive tackle in the 2015 class.

The 5-star phenom, who committed to Georgia in August, is now primed to wreak havoc as a freshman in the SEC next fall. 

According to MaxPreps, Thompson racked up 88 tackles for loss and recorded 21 sacks during his prep career at Westover High School in Albany, Georgia.

But what makes him a candidate to become a household name as an impact freshman next fall?

For starters, he's the nation's best talent at his position who steps into a situation of need in Athens.

Per Ourlads, the Bulldogs' top two defensive tackles, Mike Thornton and Toby Johnson, are seniors and will leave a void in the middle of the defensive line. 

He was simply a man among boys at the high school level—a point that was illustrated by Cairo (Georgia) High School head coach Tom Fallaw, who faced Thompson the last four seasons. 

"He's a kid that who is big, athletic and uses his size well," Fallaw told Bleacher Report before the season. "He can move. He's just one of those kids where after you look at him, it's a no-brainer that he can play at the next level."

Additionally, he could prove to be the missing link in defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's defense in Athens.

The Bulldogs are ranked No. 54 nationally against the run this year, per CFBstats.com. That number is far below the units Pruitt coached at Florida State last season and as an assistant at Alabama in the previous two seasons.

Those units had dominant defensive tackles plugging the middle such as Timmy Jernigan at FSU and Josh Chapman and Jesse Williams at Alabama.

Considering that Thompson recorded 74 tackles for loss over the last two seasons, he's displayed a tendency to get penetration and control the point of attack despite constant double teams.

His prep sack total also displays his versatility, which suggests that he can prove to be an effective pass-rusher in obvious passing downs on the next level.

After a year of ups and downs, Pruitt's defense figures to improve vastly in his second season. The 'Dawgs are scheduled to return six starters on defense, including young emerging players such as linebacker Lorenzo Carter and safety Dominick Sanders.

Their main priority over the offseason will be retooling the defensive line, and that's where Thompson—who is one of seven defensive linemen committed in the 2015 class—will be counted on.

Competing as a true freshman in the trenches of the SEC may seem like a daunting task.

However, in class loaded with a number of top defensive tackle prospects, expect Thompson to be one of the rare specimens capable of meeting that challenge.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Case for Brian Kelly to Leave Notre Dame

It is time for Brian Kelly to take a long, hard look at Notre Dame, at where it is and where it will be next year. He needs to take a look at himself, too. And then, he should do one thing:    

Run. Now. Claim victory, then RUUUUUNNNN to the NFL.

To this point, even while Notre Dame's season falls off a cliff, Kelly has kept his reputation as the guy who stabilized the Irish after the Charlie Weis disaster, and the guy who took them to the national championship game.

That makes him a viable NFL coaching candidate, and at the end of the year, the there will be a number of those jobs available, potentially Atlanta, Chicago, New York Jets, Oakland and San Francisco. Maybe Miami, too.

Kelly interviewed at Philadelphia in January of 2013, a few days after Notre Dame lost to Alabama in the BCS title game. Later, he told WNDU TV in South Bend, Ind. that he wasn't destined for the NFL:

"We're going to continue to win and I'm going to continue to get inquiries from the NFL. … Going through this process really helped clear my eyes why I'm here and why I want to be at Notre Dame.''

That's easy to say coming off a run to the championship game. But the winning isn't continuing and Kelly should jump while the inquiries still are. Those things run hand-in-hand. The Teflon on him is amazing, but it won't last forever.

The first half of Notre Dame's season was defined by another academic cheating scandal and a prolonged investigation into five players. A fast start wiped away the image of the cheating scandal somehow, but the second half has been defined by an on-field collapse. Notre Dame has lost four of its past five games, and going into the rivalry game at USC this weekend, Irish fans are in too much shock to process what's happening.

Soon—and this is just a gut feeling—they're going to start pointing fingers at Kelly.

Just run.

Honestly, Kelly should be an NFL coach anyway, where he can worry about football, focus on strategy and game film and let someone else deal with the other stuff, like developing young men. That probably sounds like an insult, but it isn't meant to be one.

Kelly is an excellent college coach. But college football is a different animal than the NFL. College coaches have way too many things to do, all while keeping the pretense that football isn't the most important thing in the world.

But Kelly has a bigger problem: Everett Golson.

A coach's reputation is tied to his quarterback. In college, it's about how much that QB has developed. At Notre Dame, it's also about how many championships they won together.

Golson isn't getting any better. He's getting worse. He has committed 21 turnovers in the past eight games. That included six in the loss at Arizona State.

A reporter asked Kelly in his postgame press conference about Golson, suggesting that he wasn't responsible for all of the turnovers.

"Why aren't they all on Golson?" Kelly asked. "We've been working with him. … Sooner or later he's got to take it on himself to take care of the football. I don't know what else to do."

Well, one thing he could do, but never considers, is benching Golson. But no, Kelly is too wrapped up in Golson to do anything about it now.

Golson started the year as a feel-good story, a Heisman candidate. But he has fallen apart, lost his confidence. He fumbled Saturday and then moped on the field while his teammates tried to get the ball back.

On Sunday, in Kelly's weekly press conference, he talked about Golson's development and potential. Someone asked Kelly if he thought Golson could be one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the country

"I think there's got to be more growth there, absolutely," Kelly said. "There is a higher ceiling for him. He's not been tapped out in the sense that it's as good as he can play.

"I think there's a lot of room for development. … So in answering your question, yeah I believe that he could be one of the top quarterbacks in the country, no question."

Kelly came to Notre Dame known for developing players, particularly quarterbacks. It just isn't working out with Golson. That's a continuing hit to Kelly's reputation, if he stays.

When you're coaching in the NFL, you don't have to worry about whether your quarterback is developing, or your players are breaking laws or rules. That stuff is on the general manager.

I said this in 2012, but Kelly should be the coach of the Chicago Bears. Instead, the Bears hired Marc Trestman for his offensive genius. It hasn't worked out, and the Bears are likely to have another coaching opening at the end of the season. Kelly is fiery and has had tough defenses at Notre Dame. It's a fit.

But he would be fine with most NFL teams.

Kelly brought back Notre Dame's aura, and while Irish fans might not realize it yet, that's about gone again. The lawyers and power boys that serve as Notre Dame's power aren't going to put up with this for long.

Kelly can make a run now to protect his own legacy.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report. He also writes for The New York Times and was formerly a scribe for FoxSports.com and the Chicago Sun-Times. Follow him on Twitter @gregcouch.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bold Predictions for Top College Football Rivalry Games in Week 14

From the Territorial Cup to the Egg Bowl to the Iron Bowl, Week 14 of the 2014 college football season is filled with rivalry games.

Each program will unleash gadget plays, new blitzes or unknown weapons, searching for both bragging rights and a victory over its most hated school.

While the teams prepare their audacious moves, these equally bold predictions will maintain a realistic nature. However, some may appear outlandish, because safe isn't fun—nor is it bold.

The predictions are organized by kickoff time, not necessarily the confidence level or adventurousness of the prophecy.

Begin Slideshow

Pages