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Bowl Projections 2015: Projecting Teams for Every Selection Committee Matchup

It's never too early for projections, and there are plenty to be made when it comes to college football. It's the second year of the new playoff system, and fans were treated to some exciting games last year, including the Ohio State Buckeyes finishing off an almost-perfect season (14-1) against the Oregon Ducks in surprising blowout fashion in the first College Football Playoff.        

With this new system, the College Football selection committee chooses the two playoff semifinal matchups as well as the Sugar, Rose, Fiesta and Peach Bowls. Seven weeks into the season there are some teams separating themselves from the pack, but one late loss could always do them in.

Here are projections for those games the committee selects and some analysis of what it means for the Power Five conferences. 

 

Orange Bowl (semifinal): No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. No. 4 Clemson Tigers

When it comes to the four playoff teams, Ohio State seems to be the consensus No. 1 selection among experts. The Buckeyes are ranked first in the both the AP Top 25 and Amway Coaches polls released Sunday. They also have one of the easier schedules among the elite teams in the country—ranked 48th, per Team Rankings—and have still not lost since early 2014. 

However, the success has not come without a few struggles. They have seven-point victories against the unranked Northern Illinois Huskies and the Indiana Hoosiers. The quarterback position is filled with talent, but head coach Urban Meyer dealt with a quarterback controversy earlier in the year.

Starting quarterback Cardale Jones, who was briefly benched during the Northern Illinois game, changed his Twitter bio to "third-string QB at The Ohio State Oh Wait, second string" before removing that line once his followers called him out.

The QB controversy hasn't mattered much, though. Despite the fact Jones started this week against Penn State, Barrett was clearly more effective after he took over, and the Buckeyes keep on winning.

The final spot in the playoff picture belongs to the Clemson Tigers. In addition to being undefeated with a nice 24-22 win against Notre Dame under their belt, a week ACC helps their case. The only team that could defeat them, the Florida State Seminoles, has to play at Clemson and will leave with a loss.

It's perceived that Clemson will fall flat on the big stage, and the term "Clemsoning" has circulated to explain a team losing a game it should win. However, the Tigers already have beaten the ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish (currently No. 11 on AP poll), and their head coach, Dabo Swinney, doesn't believe his team fits that label.

Chip Patterson of CBS Sports noted a reporter asked Swinney a question after the Tigers defeated Georgia Tech that included the term "Clemsoning," and he did not like it.

I think it's ridiculous that you're even asking me that question. That you even say the word. I mean I'm serious. I'm sick of it. I don't even know why we bring up the daggum word. How about some of these other teams that lose to unranked opponents all the time. That's our thirty-third win versus an unranked opponent. We haven't lost to an unranked opponent since 2011, but I have to come to a press conference in 2015 and get asked that? And that's all media bullcrap.

Ohio State, on the other hand, doesn't have that problem. The Buckeyes are coming off a national championship season and have won 20 straight games. It could be 26 straight before the semifinal game.

 

Cotton Bowl (semifinal): No. 2 Baylor Bears vs. No. 3 LSU Tigers

When it comes to the next three playoff spots, there are four or five teams who have a great shot, but it will be the Baylor Bears and LSU Tigers. Baylor is averaging nearly 64 points per game and has rarely been challenged this season.

It does have to play on the road against the TCU Horned Frogs, who are ranked third in the Amway Coaches Poll and fourth in the AP poll. But Baylor defeated them 61-58 in Waco, Texas, last year, and its offense should carry them to a win in Fort Worth.

LSU's Leonard Fournette is running over everyone and became just the 10th back in college football history to reach the 1,000-yard mark five games in to the season, according to Jim Kleinpeter of the New Orleans Times Picayune. He will help lead the Tigers to an undefeated regular season and lock down the third spot. 

ESPN's Joe Schad, like most everyone else, is impressed with the sophomore Fournette. He calls him the best running back in the land even when praising someone else.

 It should be a great matchup between teams with two electric but different types of offenses. 

 

Fiesta Bowl: Stanford vs. Iowa

Stanford and Iowa are having great seasons but are facing different problems on their routes to the national championship.

The Cardinal have a schedule that could allow them to win the rest of their games, but they already have dropped one to Northwestern earlier this year. They also will most likely have to play the Utah Utes in the Pac-12 Championship Game, where a loss will completely knock them out of the playoff picture and into the Fiesta Bowl. 

Iowa, on the other hand, hasn't lost and doesn't have another currently ranked team on the schedule—that is until it meets Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. It won't be getting past the Buckeyes there, but it will still be an amazing season for a Hawkeye team that was projected to finish fourth in the Big Ten West Division, according to the Cleveland.com media poll (h/t NCAA.com).

 

Rose Bowl: Michigan State vs. Utah

In this scenario, the Pac-12 is left out of the playoff picture after having Oregon in the championship game a year ago. However, there is talent in the conference, and the Utah Utes are sitting at the top right now.

They are ranked third in the AP poll and seventh in the Coaches Poll, but Utah will still end up on the outside looking in because there could be multiple undefeated teams by the end of the season. The Utes also have a chance to drop a road game at the Arizona Wildcats and still have to play the UCLA Bruins at home.

Not everyone agrees with that analysis, especially Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. There is certainly an argument to be made that Utah is the best team in the country, and it did receive 16 first-place votes in the latest AP poll. Whittingham however, still thinks his 6-0 Utes are not viewed as a viable contender. He told Bleacher Report's Greg Couch they will probably always feel like the underdog.

"Absolutely," he said. "We've played with a chip on our shoulder for a lot of years. We'll continue to do so."

The Michigan State Spartans may be undefeated coming off one of the most improbable victories ever on Saturday against the rival Michigan Wolverines, but they won't get past Ohio State and will be relegated to the Rose Bowl, a pretty nice consolation prize.

Their winning play is still worth a look, per ESPN CollegeFootball:

 

Sugar Bowl: TCU vs. Alabama 

TCU's offense is one of the best in the land, but its defense is suspect, yielding nearly 27 points per game. The Horned Frogs have won games against Texas Tech and Kansas State Wildcats despite giving up at least 45 points in both games. That will most likely cost them against Baylor and in the national title picture as well.

An early-season loss by the Alabama Crimson Tide to the Ole Miss Rebels will cost them a chance at the title game, but with a projected two losses, they should still end up against TCU in the Sugar Bowl. Coach Nick Saban's team has bounced back nicely since the early loss with four straight victories.

Three of the wins have been by more than two touchdowns, including a 41-23 victory Saturday against a ranked Texas A&M Aggie squad. 

Fournette and LSU may have to travel to Alabama but will still leave with a victory, and the Crimson Tide will test their stout defense against the uptempo TCU offense.  

 

Peach Bowl: Toledo vs. Florida State

The surprising Toledo Rockets could easily run the table and find themselves as a non-Power Five conference team playing in the Peach Bowl against a talented Florida State Seminoles squad.

The Rockets entered the polls in Week 7 and have already beaten Power Five teams Arkansas and Iowa State. And they don't have anyone on their schedule who poses a true threat. Their undefeated season will be impressive but not enough to break into the playoff picture. In this scenario, however, they would have a chance to prove they are legitimate with a win against Florida State.

The Seminoles have not lost yet, but a road date with Clemson will give them their first defeat. They may have lost quarterback Jameis Winston, but they keep winning. After Clemson, only Florida has a chance to beat them, but they are without starting quarterback Will Grier after a suspension.

This may not be the most intriguing matchup on paper, but it will give fans a chance to root for David to knock off Goliath.

 

Conference Picture

There is a long way to go, but here's a look at the conference breakdown of the CFB selection committee if the projections hold true.

There is always going to be at least one Power Five conference left out of the playoffs, and right now, it's the Pac-12. The Big 12 will be vindicated after the debacle last year that left Baylor and TCU—who both had impressive resumes with just one loss—on the outside looking in.

While the Buckeyes continue to be the consensus No. 1, the biggest storyline of the year is whether or not anyone can knock them off on the road to the national championship.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Volunteers vs. Alabama Crimson Tide: Complete Game Preview

For many of the past few years, the famed "Third Saturday in October" rivalry between Tennessee and Alabama hasn't been played on the third Saturday, much like this season.

But when the Volunteers and Crimson Tide meet on the fourth Saturday of the month this week, it's another recent tradition that the Vols will be trying to break: losing to UA.

A long eight losses have passed since Tennessee celebrated a win over the Tide. Most of those games haven't been close, either. Granted, the streak covers one of the darkest eras of Vols football and some of the best of 'Bama's rich history, but it's still ugly.

Coinciding with Nick Saban coming to Tuscaloosa, Alabama has dominated the series, winning by an average of 23.5 points. In five of those meetings, Alabama was ranked either No. 1 or 2, and in all of them but one, the Tide enjoyed a top-10 ranking.

Last year, they stormed to a 27-point lead before UT turned to Joshua Dobbs and wound up losing 34-20.

Though that still wasn't good enough, it did lead to a Dobbs-led run down the stretch that culminated in a bowl victory. This year isn't expected to be close, either. Tennessee will try to do what very few think it can, especially at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Let's take a look at everything you need to know about this year's rendition of the storied rivalry.

 

Date: Saturday, Oct. 24

Time: 3:30 p.m. ET

Place: Bryant-Denny Stadium; Tuscaloosa, Alabama

TV: CBS

Radio: Vol Network, Alabama Crimson Tide Sports Network, Sirius XM 84

Spread: Crimson Tide by 14.5, according to Oddsshark.

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College Football Rankings 2015: Latest Polls, Predictions for Week 8 Standings

This past weekend will largely be remembered in the annals of history for the "Gift Six"—or whatever title you decide to associate with the final play in the thriller between Michigan and Michigan State—but there were so many other results that will go a long way toward deciding who makes it into the final four at the end of the year.

From statement wins by Alabama and Baylor to the survival of the aforementioned Spartans and LSU in tight contests, college football’s final standings have started to take shape as the season moves into its second half.

A relatively tame Week 8 awaits after a weekend with five games between teams in the AP Top 25 Poll, but that doesn’t mean the top teams can take off and coast to comfortable wins.

So what are the top matchups heading into Week 8, and which teams need to be careful of possible upsets? Let’s take a look at the Top 25 rankings and what next weekend has in store.

 

No. 15 Texas A&M at No. 24 Ole Miss

Both teams coming off of disappointing losses, Ole Miss and Texas A&M might be the lone ranked matchup of the weekend, but both teams are much more desperate to secure a victory and risk falling behind in the SEC.

The Aggies, having succumbed to the powers of the Crimson Tide in embarrassing fashion, have some serious issues on both sides of the ball. Unable to stop Derrick Henry in the running attack was the real problem on the day, even with the four interceptions aiding significantly in the defeat, and that isn’t a new issue.

Ranking No. 98 in the country in run defense, Texas A&M has to solve its problem against the run if it is going to find its way back into the playoff picture.

Ole Miss has looked like a different team since handing Alabama its lone loss of the season—which the Tide nearly won despite five turnovers—and now has two double-digit defeats in the last three weeks to Florida and now Memphis.

Memphis is a much better team than the Rebels critics are willing to admit, but defensive issues have been on display and without much of a running game, Ole Miss doesn’t have the balance offensively it needs to challenge for a title.

But with its SEC fate still in its hands because of the win against Alabama and a game against LSU still on the schedule, Ole Miss should be able to ride out the storm against Texas A&M at home and claim another upset victory in the SEC.

Prediction: Ole Miss 31, Texas A&M 24

 

No. 3 Utah at USC

It wasn’t the prettiest result of the year, but thanks in large part to a 20-point fourth quarter, the Utah Utes survived against Arizona State 34-18 and managed to stay undefeated.

Devontae Booker and Travis Wilson continued as one of the nation’s top run-pass duos, with each recording a pair of touchdowns against the Sun Devils amid a myriad of mistakes that nearly cost Utah the game.

But the only thing that matters is that the Utes won for the sixth time this year and have some of the most impressive wins this season: a Week 1 handling of Michigan, a Pac-12 after-dark victory over California and a dismantling of Oregon that was the sign of things to come for the Ducks.

Each of these wins is a part of an impressive resume that has Utah in the Top Three and with a playoff spot on the horizon should the record remain unblemished. Next up, though, is another stiff Pac-12 test—this time a trip to the down-on-their-luck USC Trojans.

With a season’s worth of drama packed into the last week alone, USC is in a tough spot after starting the year with high hopes after coming off back-to-back losses against Washington and Notre Dame.

Against the Irish, USC held its own and nearly pulled off the upset, but it couldn’t do enough to get the job done in a high-scoring affair. A return home should give the Trojans a boost, though, and the chance to knock off a Top Three team and get their season back on track could be enough to pull off the upset.

It will be another hard-fought affair for Utah, who hasn’t looked great since beating Oregon, but the Utes should be able to take advantage of a soft USC defense and secure a close win to move to 7-0 on the season.

Prediction: Utah 31, USC 30

 

Western Kentucky at No. 5 LSU

There has been no shortage of highly ranked SEC teams falling to Group of Five opponents and elevating some of the middle-tier teams to higher positions. Arkansas losing to Toledo and Ole Miss falling to Memphis stand out as resume-defining wins for teams searching for a spot in the New Year’s Six Bowls.

But both could all be topped if Western Michigan can walk into Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and shock the undefeated No. 5 Tigers.

The Tigers have climbed the polls on the back of superstar sophomore Leonard Fournette, who leads the country in total rushing yards, average yards per game and is tied for the top spot with 14 rushing touchdowns.

With an undefeated record, including wins against Mississippi State, Auburn and Florida on its resume, LSU has more than earned its spot in the Top Five and could find itself in the playoff if the wins keep piling up.

For a team with such high hopes and as much skill as the Tigers have, Western Kentucky shouldn’t provide much of a threat. The Hilltoppers only beat Vanderbilt by two points to start the year and lost to Indiana by three in Week 3.

But Western Kentucky is actually quite a good team and has turned its season around since losing to the Hoosiers. In the four games since then, the Hilltoppers are averaging 54.5 points per game and are only allowing 20 to their opponents.

Western Kentucky can put up points quickly, and it isn’t like the Tigers have blown out every opponent they have faced this year. Wins against Eastern Michigan and Syracuse were less than impressive and showed LSU can be stopped.

A bye week buffer should prevent LSU from looking ahead to its matchup with Alabama, but Western Kentucky will still come ready to play. In the end, the Tigers and Fournette are just too talented for the Hilltoppers, but don’t be surprised if it is kept close throughout.

Prediction: LSU 41, Western Kentucky 34

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State vs. Rutgers: Complete Game Preview

No. 1 Ohio State registered a dominant 38-10 victory over Penn State last Saturday, but Urban Meyer's team came out of the game with more questions at quarterback, as Cardale Jones faltered and J.T. Barrett surged in the 28-point victory. 

The Buckeyes (7-0) will look for clarity against the surging Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-3), who rallied from 25 points down with 18 minutes to go to beat Indiana 55-52 last Saturday.

Will the Buckeyes continue to roll toward a second appearance in the College Football Playoff, or can the Scarlet Knights pull the upset?

 

Viewing Information

Date: Saturday, October 24

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Place: High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey

TV: ABC

Radio: Ohio State Football Radio Network, Rutgers Radio Network

Spread: Ohio State (-20.5), via Odds Shark 

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Notre Dame Football: What Irish Must Fix During Bye Week

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame football waltzed off the field Saturday night following its 41-31 win over USC, an imperfect yet impressive victory that typifies the 6-1 start for the Irish heading into their bye week.

Through seven weeks, Notre Dame hasn’t been flawless. The Irish needed a last-ditch heave from DeShone Kizer to come from behind against Virginia on the road. They faltered defensively in the final minutes against Georgia Tech, making a thorough domination appear much closer, in the end. They stumbled out of the gates against Clemson and lost their grip in the second half. They allowed USC to control the second and third quarters Saturday.

But with a two-point exception at Memorial Stadium in South Carolina, the Irish have overcome adversity and responded each time, with the good far outweighing the bad and lifting Notre Dame to its current No. 11 ranking.

With an offense that ranks tied for 18th in the country in scoring offense (38.3 points per game), per CFBStats.com, Notre Dame’s primary fixes must come on the defensive side of the ball between now and its next game, Oct. 31 against Temple in Philadelphia.

“We play at different times really, really good football,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Sunday of his defense’s performance through seven games. “We saw it against Georgia Tech where we were dominating at times. We just haven't put together four quarters of football defensively, and then there are simply issues of fundamentals and tackling and doing your job and not somebody else's job.”

Kelly said the Irish don’t necessarily need to tweak the defensive personnel or schemes during the bye week.

“It's really just being consistent with our coaching, being consistent with the messaging, being consistent with the fundamentals,” Kelly said. “If we keep on those three things, then we are going to see improvement, for not just two quarters. We are going to see this kind of play for three and four quarters, and that's what we have got to get.”

Notre Dame met as a team Sunday and will reconvene Monday to watch Saturday’s film and lift weights. The Irish will gather again Tuesday for a quick look ahead to Temple and a light workout before the players are free to head home (Notre Dame students have the entire week off from classes for a fall break) and the coaches hit the recruiting road.

When they return, the Irish can grow offensively, too, despite the strong overall numbers and the relative inexperience. It’s worth remembering former slot receiver C.J. Prosise is still a neophyte at running back and can improve on some of the intricacies of the position (pad level and pass protection, for example).

Similarly, Kizer has played well—he ranks 16th in the nation in passer rating, per CFBStats.com—since being rushed into action in the wake of Malik Zaire’s season-ending ankle injury in Week 2, but he’s still just five starts into his career. Kelly said Sunday the Irish can still “mature” at the quarterback spot. Kizer took a sack against USC to move Notre Dame out of field-goal range, for instance.

“The one thing with Kizer that I really like is that you tell him one time, and he gets it,” Kelly said. “And he’s going to come back the next time and he’s not going to make the same mistake twice.”

Elsewhere on the offense, Kelly said Notre Dame can improve at tight end. Chase Hounshell and Alize Jones each committed holding penalties on the perimeter Saturday, as the Irish continue to play all four remaining tight ends since starter Durham Smythe was lost for the season following the Virginia game.

There will always be room for improvement, even after a 10-point win over a talented rival. And with five regular-season games remaining after the bye week and a playoff berth still a possibility, the key is consistency for a Notre Dame team that has flashed its ability in bunches—but not yet for four full, continuous quarters thus far.

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Week 8 Opening Odds: Alabama, Ohio State, Baylor Big Favorites

Now up to No. 8 in the Associated Press Top 25, the Alabama Crimson Tide are among the bigger betting favorites on the Week 8 college football odds board at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark.

The Crimson Tide opened as 14.5-point home favorites against the Tennessee Volunteers for their Saturday matchup, with Alabama coming off a key 41-23 road win over Texas A&M as a five-point favorite over the weekend. That improved the Crimson Tide to 6-1 straight up and 3-4 against the spread on the season heading into their Week 8 date with the Volunteers.

Alabama is riding an eight-game winning streak against Tennessee into their matchup this week, and the Crimson Tide have also paid off on the college football betting lines in 14 of their last 19 games in the month of October, according to the Odds Shark College Football Database. Tennessee is 0-11 in its last 11 games on the road in the month of October.

The Baylor Bears, No. 2 in the AP Top 25, are even bigger home favorites than the Crimson Tide for Week 8. The Bears opened as 37-point favorites on their home turf against the Iowa State Cyclones for Saturday, and they're coming off a 62-38 win over West Virginia in which they covered a sizable 20.5-point spread.

In fact, Baylor has put up at least 56 points in each of its first six games of the season and has covered the posted spread at the sportsbooks in each of its last four outings. Baylor is 18-2 SU and 15-5 ATS in its last 20 home games headed into Saturday's expected mismatch.

And the Bears are looking to knock the Ohio State Buckeyes off their perch atop the AP Top 25, with Ohio State opening as a 20.5-point road favorite against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights for Week 8. Ohio State picked up its first cover since Week 1 of the season last time out, beating Penn State 38-10 as an 18-point betting favorite. The Buckeyes carry a 20-game SU winning streak into the weekend.

Other notable opening lines for Week 8 of the college football season include the Michigan State Spartans sitting as 17-point home favorites against the Indiana Hoosiers, the LSU Tigers sitting as 17-point home favorites against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and the Florida State Seminoles sitting as 6.5-point road favorites against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

Also, the Utah Utes opened as three-point road underdogs against the USC Trojans for Week 8, even though Utah is up to No. 3 in the AP Top 25 and a perfect 6-0 SU (4-2 ATS) on the season. The Utes came away with a win and a cover when they took on the Trojans last season, beating them 24-21 as a one-point home underdog in that contest.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football's All-Week 7 First Team: Top Performers at Every Position

Week 7 was a time for college football fans to keep their eyes on the skies.

A pair of Big 12 offenses continued their back-and-forth battles for the most impressive stat lines of the week with their Heisman-contending quarterbacks leading the way. The all-out air attacks thrived elsewhere in the country, too, with big-name receivers racking up even more yards and touchdowns for their incredible starts to the 2015 campaign.

But plenty of passes didn't always mean success for the offenses. One of the nation's elite defenses got a pair of record-breaking performances from breakout defensive backs, and it seemed like players everywhere were getting in on the pick-six parade.

As the dust settles from an awesome weekend of college football action, here are this week's top performers for each position. These players are chosen for their dominance of the stat sheets, with bonuses going toward those who stepped up their play in high-profile games.

Week 7 featured plenty of tough cuts, so there are sure to be a number of fan favorites who weren't represented on these All-American teams. Tell us your favorite performances of the weekend in the comment section below.

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Fan in Attendance at Michigan State vs. Michigan Suffered Heart Attack

A spectator at the dramatic matchup between Michigan State and Michigan on Saturday afternoon suffered a heart attack in the stands, according to CBS Detroit.

"We did have one heart attack at the end of the game in the stadium," University of Michigan public information officer Diane Brown said. "Emergency medical personnel got to that person right away and were able to take that person to the University of Michigan emergency department for further treatment."

She added, "We were going into the stands right after the game ended," per Jeremy Allen of MLive.com.

The contest between the Wolverines and Spartans ended in spectacular fashion, as Michigan punter Blake O'Neill fumbled a long snap with just 10 seconds remaining and the Wolverines leading 23-21. Michigan State's Jalen Watts-Jackson scooped up the loose ball and ran 38 yards for the game-winning touchdown as time expired. 

When he was tackled into the end zone, though, Watts-Jackson fractured his hip. He had surgery Sunday, per Dan Murphy of ESPN.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings 2015: Hits and Misses from the Week 8 Polls

Finally, clarity. 

Well, some clarity. In a sport like college football, maybe that's the most we could realistically ask for at this point.

With the halfway point of the season officially here, the landscape is starting to come together. Playoff-caliber teams are emerging from the pack, and the list of likely playoff candidates has shrunk to somewhere between 10 and 15 teams. That's progress. 

Still, caught in the intersection is the timeless question about polling: Do you rank teams based on what they've done or what they look like? Or both?

It's time to find out and peruse all the latest trends by evaluating the recent USA Today coaches poll and the Associated Press Top 25

Where did pollsters get it right? Where did they swing and miss? We give our two cents in the following slides based not only on Saturday's action but also what has transpired so far this season.

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College Football Rankings 2015: Reviewing AP, Amway Polls and Week 8 Standings

There are several ways to keep a season and national championship dream alive. Football fans are familiar with most of them: onside-kick recoveries, Hail Marys, hook-and-ladder plays, blocked field goals, huge goal-line stops and gutsy two-minute drives.

Any one of those would be a fine, thrilling way to save a season, but you've seen them all before.

There was nothing like Saturday. Michigan State found a novel way to fulfill its destiny in its big win over Michigan. The still-undefeated squad won and blurred the line between improbable and impossible, and now it's ranked No. 4 in the new Amway Coaches poll and No. 7 in the Associated Press Top 25. Here's the play.

The College Football Playoff dream is very much alive for the Spartans, as well as a host of other teams they'll have to hold off in the coming weeks.

Here are the updated Amway Coaches and Associated Press polls for Week 8, along with Bleacher Report's take on the college football landscape. 

Ohio State is still deservedly No. 1 after a 38-10 win over Penn State. The Buckeyes still haven't reached the incredible highs of their first couple of games of the season, but as the defending national champs, it's their spot to hold until they lose (which might never come).

The ride has been far less rocky than the one Florida State took folks on last season as the top-ranked squad, with the major issue—and the surest sign of the Buckeyes' incredible talent and depth—the quarterback battle between Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett. 

The speed and agility Barrett flashed might earn him a greater share of snaps in Week 8 against Rutgers. ESPN's John Buccigross pointed out the Buckeyes were much better with him in the game: 

TCU and Baylor seem destined to create another CFP controversy by continuing to blow out teams and hang in the Top Four. Trevone Boykin puts up eye-popping stats every week, and Baylor's Corey Coleman is the best wideout in college football. Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman relayed a ridiculous statistical nugget:

If both remain undefeated until their November 27 matchup, it's going to create quite a conundrum for the losing squad, especially if the likes of the Spartans, LSU, Clemson and Utah—reps from the other Power Five conferences—are still undefeated and looking to squeeze into the playoffs.

The SEC's aura isn't quite as powerful this season, with just LSU and Alabama in the Top 10. The Tigers could be the best bet to claw their way into the CFP, with Leonard Fournette again proving he's the best player, not just running back, in college football and quarterback Brandon Harris stepping up in the passing game.

Against an excellent Florida defense allowing under 100 rushing yards a game coming into the contest, Fournette carried the ball 31 times for 180 yards and two touchdowns, while Harris put up his second consecutive 200-yard passing performance.

Check out his arm on this incredible running throw to Malachi Dupre for a 50-yard touchdown, via ESPN:

The big chutes-and-ladders move in the rankings came courtesy of Memphis' 37-24 win over Ole Miss. It sent the Rebels tumbling down the rankings and immediately into also-ran status, while the Tigers got some love from the pollsters with spots in the Top 25. Memphis head coach Justin Fuente was proud of his team for responding after starting off the game in a 14-0 hole.

"Invariably when you've got a young, inexperienced team, they get out there and try to do more than they're supposed to," he said, via ESPN.com. "They settled down and made some plays."

Memphis could be the class of the smaller-conference squads, as the win vaulted the team past other upstart, ranked squads like Houston, Temple and Toledo. Considering its relative youth, Memphis might be a spoiler team to watch next season, but it could have a tough time against Houston and Temple in back-to-back games in November.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

AP College Football Poll 2015: Week 8 Rankings Unveiled for Top 25 Teams

Wow. 

What else is there to say after this weekend of college football? How can the rest of the season possibly top the crazy finishes and upsets we saw in Week 7?

Maybe it can, maybe it can't, but for now, we can take a look ahead, as the Associated Press released its latest poll. We'll also take a look at the Bleacher Report rankings and analyze the zany weekend that was.

 

 

 

Analysis

Michigan State players and fans might want to buy a slew of lottery tickets Sunday. After the events of Saturday night, the program seems to have luck on its side.

In a shocking finish, Michigan punter Blake O'Neill fumbled a long snap with the Wolverines leading 23-21 and just 10 seconds on the clock. Michigan State's Jalen Watts-Jackson scooped up the ball and raced 38 yards to the end zone with a convoy of Spartans to score the game-winning touchdown as time expired.

It was a moment no one saw coming.

"That's why football is loved so much in America," Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio told the Associated Press (h/t ESPN). "It's because things like this happen. Every now and then, they happen."

After the game, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh could only note remorsefully that, "A mistake was made. Mistakes were made. It's very unfortunate circumstances."

One of those mistakes may have been Harbaugh's, however, as Albert Breer of NFL.com noted after the game:

The Wolverines' playoff hopes took a major hit, as the team suffered its second loss of the season. Michigan now has an uphill battle to reach the Big Ten title game, as it needs to win its remaining games—including its season finale against Ohio State—and hope that the Spartans and Buckeyes each lose twice down the stretch (the first tiebreaker in a three-way divisional standoff is overall record).

Before Michigan State shocked the college football world, a few other huge matchups had gone down. Stanford kept its Pac-12 title hopes alive Thursday night and ended UCLA's lofty aspirations, while Boise State dropped its second game Friday. 

On Saturday, Ohio State, Baylor, TCU, Utah and Clemson remained perfect, while Leonard Fournette and LSU handed Florida its first blemish of the season and Alabama absolutely smoked Texas A&M.

Good luck figuring out the SEC. LSU, Alabama and Texas A&M are still alive in the West—Ole Miss is technically still in the running but looks like more of a pretender than a contender after a shocking loss to Memphis—while Florida remains in the driver's seat in the East. A Nov. 7 matchup between Alabama and LSU looms as the biggest remaining game in the always competitive conference. 

The playoff picture, then, is as muddled as ever. The top programs still have difficult matchups on the horizon, and most of them have major question marks. None of the top conferences has a clear favorite, and rivalry games will help decide things down the stretch. 

Buckle up, folks. You never know when you are one fumbled punt away from witnessing history.

 

 

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Amway College Football Poll 2015: Week 8 Rankings Unveiled for Top 25 Teams

As the old saying goes, football is one-third offense, one-third defense and one-third special teams. Folks tend to underestimate the special teams portion of that pie, however. 

That wasn't the case on Saturday.

A game-winning blocked punt and a fake field goal highlighted a wild weekend of college football, one that completely shook up the Amway Coaches Poll heading into Week 8. Below, we'll take a look at that poll along with the Bleacher Report rankings and an analysis of the Week 7 madness. 

 

Coaches Poll

 

Bleacher Report Poll

 

Analysis

The story on Saturday should have been Leonard Fournette and a fake field goal. After all, the Heisman frontrunner rushed 31 times for 180 yards and two touchdowns and Les Miles drew up another brilliant fake field goal that led to a touchdown and LSU to a 35-28 victory over Florida that established the Tigers as national title contenders.

Michigan State had other ideas, however. 

The Spartans somehow, miraculously, blocked a Michigan punt with 10 seconds remaining and returned the block 38 yards for the game-winning touchdown, literally leading for the first time in the game as the clock hit zero. It was a moment reminiscent of Stanford's insane kick return against Cal ("The band is out on the field!") or Chris Davis' touchdown after an Alabama missed field goal in 2013.

And so on a day that should have belonged to Fournette, it was Jalen Watts-Jackson who was instead the story. Even Watts-Jackson couldn't escape the gravity of the moment, as he dislocated his hip after his teammates piled atop him in the end zone. Pain probably never felt so good.

Fournette dished out plenty of pain to Florida, dominating once again as he's done all season. But ultimately, LSU needed a fake field goal in the fourth quarter to get past Florida, as the Gators rallied from a 28-14 halftime deficit.

Miles insisted after the game that the gamble was a calculated one.

"We studied it and kind of felt like it was there," Miles told ESPN, adding that his field goal unit "did everything they could do to sell us on running it. We are not going to run it if they are not just great at it. They were great at it all week." 

At this point, Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports thinks the unexpected should simply be the expected for a Miles football team:

And Jason Cole of Bleacher Report commented on the unorthodox nature of the Riverboat Gambler:

He may need to have some more tricks up his sleeve in three weeks, when LSU faces Alabama. The Crimson Tide continue to march back toward national prominence with a blowout win over previously unbeaten Texas A&M on Saturday, and the matchup between the teams on Nov. 7 could very well decide the SEC West. 

Ole Miss, once thought to be the team to beat in the West after upsetting Alabama, almost assuredly saw their playoff hopes dashed with a shock loss to Memphis. Florida remained the favorites in the East, meanwhile, even after the loss.

Week 8 won't have the same quality of matchups, unfortunately, and the prime contest—Ole Miss hosting Texas A&M—lost a bit of its luster on Saturday. As intrigue goes, however, Utah travelling to a USC team in turmoil but still talented enough to pull off the upset—they led Notre Dame in the fourth quarter before blowing the lead—should be one of the highlights of the week to come.

 

 

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Texas Football: How Longhorns' Top Commits Performed This Weekend

With only nine commitments in its 2016 recruiting class, Texas has a lot of work to do in closing strong in the months leading up to signing day.

However, what the Longhorns lack in quantity, they appear to have made up for in quality with their current commitments.

One area that the Longhorns are looking to upgrade is at the quarterback position—which has been a sore spot since Colt McCoy left Austin.

However, it appears that Charlie Strong and his staff have worked hard to identify the find the right players to man that position moving forward.

The Longhorns have a pair of commits—2016 4-star Shane Buechele and 2017 3-star Sam Ehlinger—who both provided glimpses of what the future could hold in Austin. 

According to Ryan Osborne of the Fort Worth Star Telegram, Buechele went 13-of-18 passing for 233 yards and added another 118 yards on the ground with five total touchdowns. His performance fueled Arlington Lamar (Texas) High School to a 44-21 win over Arlington.

The 6’2”, 185-pounder showcased why he’s rated as the nation’s No. 2 dual-threat quarterback and the No. 128 player overall in the 2016 cycle.

Not to be outdone, Ehlinger—a local product from Westlake High School in Austin—accounted for seven total scores in leading his club to a 55-3 win over Hays, as noted by Brian Perroni of 247Sports.

Ehlinger completed 21 of 25 passes for 369 yards and six touchdowns. He also rushed 10 times for 55 yards and another score.

Both Buechele and Ehlinger appear to be the type of passers who can become effective dual threats at the next level in an uptempo spread attack.

One player whom both quarterbacks could be passing to, 2016 4-star receiver and current Texas pledge Reggie Hemphill-Mapps, also had a solid outing.

Perroni reports that the 6’1”, 172-pounder hauled in three catches for 55 yards in helping Manvel (Texas) to a 73-7 win over Alvin.

Although Gilmer (Texas) 3-star standout Demarco Boyd will play linebacker at Texas, he was able to show off his athleticism by playing both ways in a 45-19 win over Canton.

According to the East Texas Sports Network, Boyd scored touchdowns in three different ways. Playing running back, he accounted for one score on the ground and also caught a touchdown.

On defense, the 5'11", 228-pounder also returned a fumble 40 yards for a score.

Given the roller coaster that Strong and his staff have endured this season, the performances of these Longhorns pledges are proof of Strong’s ability to identify talent on the recruiting trail.

 

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

 

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ESPN College GameDay Goes off the Beaten Path for Week 8 at James Madison

Compared to what was a loaded Week 7 of college football action, it's safe to say the Week 8 lineup is quite underwhelming at the FBS level.

But the weaker slate will provide a unique opportunity for two programs in the FCS as ESPN's College GameDay is set to put its massive spotlight on the in-state rivalry clash between Richmond and James Madison.

GameDay producer Lee Fitting, a James Madison alumnus, tweeted Sunday morning that the popular pregame show will head to Harrisonburg, Virginia, this week for a surprise visit to the Dukes' campus.

The show's official Twitter account gave the Richmond-James Madison matchup the full reveal treatment with a short hype video a few minutes later.

The showdown between the Spiders and the Dukes is quite a big one by FCS standards.

James Madison is 7-0 this season under second-year head coach Everett Withers, averaging 48.7 points per game and sporting the No. 5 ranking in the latest STATS FCS Top 25. The Dukes, led by former Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee, have a solid chance at an undefeated regular-season run and one of the top seeds in the FCS playoffs.

Richmond represents James Madison's greatest threat in the Colonial Athletic Association right now with a 3-0 conference record. The No. 13 Spiders are 5-1 overall with their lone loss on the year coming to FBS foe Maryland in Week 1.

Of course, GameDay is headed to Harrisonburg this upcoming weekend mostly due to several disappointments in the FBS. 

As it currently stands, Week 8 only has two games between teams that entered Week 7 in the AP Top 25. One of them, a Thursday night matchup in the Pac-12, features Cal and a UCLA team that looks destined to drop out of the poll later on Sunday after its big loss to Stanford.

The other game, Texas A&M versus Ole Miss, was the early favorite for GameDay in Week 8. On Friday, Fitting said on the Paul Finebaum Show that the crew would head to the Grove in Oxford if Texas A&M knocked off Alabama on Saturday.

But the Aggies lost to the Tide by a score of 41-23, and Ole Miss didn't do the matchup any favors by falling to Memphis on the road.

Now, GameDay will go to the FCS for its next spotlight destination, which is something the show has done several times in the last few years.

According to Richie Bozek of the Breeze—James Madison's student newspaper—GameDay has gone to North Dakota State each of the last two seasons, and it went to Harvard for "The Game" against Yale in 2014. Florida A&M received a visit from the show several years ago. 

If GameDay's last few visits to lower-level programs are any indication, viewers can expect a pumped-up and completely unique atmosphere next weekend when ESPN goes live from "The 'Burg."

 

Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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Blake O'Neill, Michigan Punter, Receives Death Threats After Loss to MSU

Michigan punter Blake O’Neill received death threats on Twitter, according to Dan Jenkins of CBS Detroit, after his fumbled snap in Saturday's matchup against rival Michigan State led to a game-winning touchdown for the Spartans as time expired.

ESPN on Twitter shared footage of the play:

While Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh would note after the game that O’Neill should have simply fallen on the ball rather than attempting to kick it after he initially bobbled the snap, his teammates were quick to rally behind him.

"(Told him) just keep his head up," defensive lineman Willie Henry said, according to Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press. "I left plays out there myself I could have done better. We've got to execute better offense, defense and special teams wise."

Kenny Allen added, "I just told him we're behind him and we're going to look at film and stuff. We support Blake through everything, that's the kind of team we're going to be."

The loss dropped Michigan to 5-2 for the season and more than likely ended its playoff hopes. While the team could still win a Big Ten title, those odds grew far longer Saturday night, as the team still has to beat unbeaten Ohio State and now needs the unbeaten Spartans to lose down the stretch as well.

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Is Florida Still a Lock to Win SEC East?

It took the Mad Hatter himself to set Florida's dream season back ever so slightly. It took a kicker, whose bio lists him at 170 pounds—and that's probably with his pads—to hand the Gators their first loss of the year. 

In other words, LSU was LSU, Les Miles was Les Miles and a fake field goal was the difference in the Tigers' 35-28 win over Florida. 

That doesn't mean, though, that Florida's magical season has come to a grinding halt. It doesn't mean that Jim McElwain's team will lose the rest of its games or somehow come back down to reality. LSU needed to reach into its bag of tricks to beat the Gators, who were playing their second-string quarterback, Treon Harris.

That's not a criticism, by the way. LSU could very well be on its way to a playoff appearance, and sometimes, you have to pull out some trickery along the way.

Before that, Florida had overcome two double-digit deficits in one of the toughest environments in college football. The defense slowed LSU running back Leonard Fournette as much as any team possibly could. The Heisman front-runner rushed for 180 yards and two touchdowns but averaged 5.81 yards per carry. For context, that was his second-lowest total of the year. 

If anything, Saturday's loss was the most telling game about Florida under McElwain. 

Now, it's time for McElwain to refocus. The Gators' path to winning the SEC East, which would have been nearly unthinkable six weeks ago, is still clear. Is Florida a lock to win the East? If this season has proven anything, nothing is a lock, not even handling a punt, but the hurdles are few.

As McElwain said after the LSU game, the Gators are still in control of their own divisional destiny: 

The East title race could very well come down to the Halloween game against Georgia. Both teams have a bye before meeting in Jacksonville, Florida, for the annual rivalry. Without Nick Chubb, however, Georgia's offense has taken a noticeable step back. In its first game without Chubb, who has a season-ending knee injury, the Bulldogs rushed for 2.7 yards per carry in a 9-6 win over Missouri. 

It might not be realistic to think that Georgia's running game will be stuffed forever, but there are bigger-picture concerns, as B/R colleague Barrett Sallee noted: 

Georgia currently ranks 12th in the SEC in red-zone scoring percentage (80.77 percent), 10th in red-zone touchdown percentage (50 percent) and 12th in third-down conversion percentage (33.33 percent).

...

[Quarterback Greyson] Lambert is currently 10th in the SEC in passing yards per game (182.3) and tied for ninth with six passing plays of 30 or more yards with Florida's Treon Harris and South Carolina's Perry Orth—both of whom started the season as backups and have been thrust into action due to starters being out of the lineup.

Georgia's offense hasn't taken off under first-year offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Florida's offense, meanwhile, has improved dramatically under McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Inserting Harris back into the starting lineup—Will Grier will miss the year for a positive PED test—leaves some question marks, but there's no doubt that this team is getting coached up. One of the best examples of this is along the offensive line, a dangerously thin and inexperienced group: 

Keep in mind, too, the strength of this Florida team still resides on defense. So long as Harris can keep the offense moving, the drop-off from Grier shouldn't be that dramatic. 

If the Gators can get past Georgia, their path to Atlanta becomes even clearer. All that would remain are games against Vanderbilt and a road trip to South Carolina. However, the Commodores can be tricky because of their defense, and you never know if or how a coaching change can invigorate a team like the Gamecocks. 

The point being, there are some potential challenges to consider, but Florida should be in a position to get past all of them. Any one of three, or even four, teams could realistically still win the East mathematically speaking, but Florida has shown the most and has the best remaining path. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

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Newsman Says Michigan Beat Michigan State While Reporting Outside the Big House

Anybody who turned off the Michigan State-Michigan game a minute or two early probably thought the Wolverines had wrapped up a win.

But as we saw, the game isn't over until the final whistle blows.

Michigan State pulled out an unbelievable 27-23 victory when Michigan punter Blake O'Neill was unable to handle a long snap and fumbled at his own 38-yard line on the final play of the game. The Spartans' Jalen Watts-Jackson was in position to grab the football and run to the end zone for a walk-off touchdown.

It was as stunning a finish as you will ever see.

That wild ending led to an unfortunate moment for one Michigan reporter. After the game, Jamal Spencer of Grand Rapids' WZZM 13 was reporting from outside the Big House. On live TV, Spencer said the Wolverines had beaten the Spartans—which, of course, they had not.

To his credit, Spencer—a Michigan State alum—owned up to his mistake:

It was an embarrassing error, no doubt. However, mistakes happen. Spencer took responsibility for his, and WZZM 13 even acknowledged the error. Now, everyone involved can chalk it up as a learning experience.

[vidme, Twitter; h/t Deadspin]

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Michigan Football: How Wolverines' Top Commits Performed This Weekend

The third weekend of October 2015 is one Michigan Wolverines fans will never forget or fondly recall. 

A stunning last-second loss to Michigan State in Ann Arbor is bound to sting for a long time, immediately assuming a significant spot in the history of this heated rivalry. For Wolverines fans, a slight silver lining can be found while taking a look at prospects who will someday attempt to help Michigan exact revenge against the Spartans. 

High school action across America further illustrated the level of talent head coach Jim Harbaugh has assembled in a 2016 recruiting class that rates ninth overall nationally in composite rankings. Several members of an impressive haul headlined weekend action, delivering tremendous efforts for their respective squads.

Brandon Peters, a 6'5", 205-pound passer from Avon High School in Indiana, continues to decimate defenses on his way to career-best single-season statistical totals.

The Elite 11 finalist tossed two more touchdowns Friday night in a 46-14 victory over Noblesville, per Brian Stumpf of Student Sports. He's led Avon to six consecutive wins, suffering his last loss Sept. 4.

Peters, rated seventh nationally among pro-style quarterbacks in composite rankings, enjoyed a multi-score game each week throughout this streak. He's thrown for 19 touchdowns during the stretch, pushing his senior season total to 29 scores through the air, per MaxPreps.

It's quite a spike in production for Peters, who committed to Michigan in April while on campus, after tossing 21 touchdowns in each of his past two seasons. This improvement is further indication of the work he put in during Elite 11 action and throughout an eventful offseason.

"My focus is on getting better in every phase of the game," Peters told Bleacher Report this summer. "By the time I get to Michigan, I want to be prepared to compete."

Ahmir Mitchell also represented the Wolverines' 2016 class in quality fashion. The 6'3", 206-pound New Jersey product secured six receptions for 130 yards Friday night in a 40-14 victory over Oakcrest High School, per Mike McGarry of the Atlantic City Press.

The 4-star Cedar Creek High School standout has dealt with constant defensive schemes geared toward slowing him down this season. Mitchell, who could compete at wide receiver or safety in college, took advantage of his latest opportunity to wreak havoc.

"Throughout the week coach focused on getting me the ball a little bit more and putting me in the action," Mitchell told McGarry. "Some of the defenses (in past games) played triple coverage and double coverage. (Oakcrest) didn't play over the top of me so much, so I was able to open up a little bit."

Among the most vocal members of this Wolverines class, Mitchell is an ardent peer-recruiter. He's pushing for other players from the Garden State to join him in Ann Arbor, including top-ranked running back and Ohio State commit Kareem Walker:

He's also focused on fellow New Jersey stars Jordan Fuller, a two-way talent, and Rashan Gary, a defensive tackle who is the nation No. 1 overall prospect:

Mitchell is building off a junior campaign that included 1,419 all-purpose yards, 37 tackles and 20 touchdowns, per MaxPreps.

"Ahmir is a very aggressive player and one of those dogs I'm really glad we've got in our class," 4-star Michigan defensive end commit Ron Johnson told Bleacher Report last week. "He does some really good stuff at receiver, but I also think he can be a special guy on defense."

Johnson's Camden High School (New Jersey) teammate, wide receiver Brad Hawkins, is another Wolverines pledge who excelled during the weekend. He reeled in a touchdown toss and also picked off an opponent's pass for his fourth interception since 2014, per Bill Evans of NJ.com.

Hawkins now has 28 touchdown receptions since his sophomore season.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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