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College Football Bowl Projections 2014-15: Week 7 Playoff Predictions

The college football madness isn't going to stop. Following a week of chaos that set dynamite to the College Football Playoff projections, another sizzling slate of games will reconfigure the standings once again.

Half of the nation's top 10 squads went down last week. ESPN Stats & Info delivered some historical perspective on the carnage before No. 8 UCLA also suffered an upset late Saturday night.

Now is a good time to take a breather and access the damage, but another earthquake is set for Week 7. Four matchups pit ranked opponents against one another, including two bouts between top-10 squads.

Somebody is going down again, but who will take the plunge this time? Here's a look at what lies ahead for the current top-four schools, along with the predicted playoff picture after Week 7.

 

Game of the Week: No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 3 Mississippi State

It's safe to say the loser falls from the playoff snapshot and the victor at least sits at No. 2 while making a case for the top spot. 

They're not No. 1 in the polls, but the Auburn Tigers hold the top slot in ESPN's Power Index.

It's easy to see how the model gives them the edge over Florida State. Through five games, they're undefeated with a 27.6-point average margin of victory. Against an LSU squad brandishing title aspirations, they gained 566 total yards to their SEC rival's 280 in a one-sided contest.

While Nick Marshall has completed just 57.9 percent of his passes, the number has risen in each of his last three games. He's also amended those accuracy issues with 12 total touchdowns to just one interception. He noted the strides he's taken this season to ESPN.com's Greg Ostendorf.

I’m a way better [passer] than I was last year. Coach [Rhett] Lashlee and Coach Malzahn, they took time out with me in the offseason and focused on my footwork, my eyes on the target and then just stepping through the throws. I’m satisfied [with this game], but there’s always room for improvement.

Actually, he's only shown significant improvement in the turnover department while slightly regressing in other key indicators. 

Meanwhile, Dak Prescott is producing a strong Heisman campaign for Mississippi State, who have pulled off two consecutive upsets over LSU and Texas A&M. ESPN The Magazine's Twitter page compared his hot start to past Heisman winners.

Even when this wasn't a groundbreaking matchup in 2013, the two delivered a great game, which Auburn won, 24-20, by scoring with 10 seconds left. Now Mississippi State knocking Auburn down a peg would hardly be considered a stunner.

According to Odds Shark, the Bulldogs are underdogs for the third straight time, but only by a small amount in a coin-flip game. They're now firmly on Auburn's level, a reality offensive lineman Ben Beckwith hopes onlookers are late to realize.

“Recognition is awesome, but you kind of like being under the radar, honestly,” Beckwith told ESPN.com's Edward Aschoff. “I like going [into games] thinking the other teams are looking over us. You would think they wouldn’t be.” 

If Florida State had to deal with an SEC schedule, these two opponents could easily justify finishing the season ranked No. 1 and 2. Given the new playoff system, a loss shouldn't doom the team that draws the short end of the stick, although it'll take a perfect finish afterwards.

A shootout plays in the Bulldogs' favor. Prescott still has a firm upper hand over the rising Marshall, and Auburn gained just 78 rushing yards in last year's head-to-head showdown. 

The Bulldogs have proved they're for real over the past two weeks, and they'll do some again at home by scoring a monumental victory over the Tigers.

Predictions: Mississippi State 38, Auburn 35

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Will the Egg Bowl Mean More Than the Iron Bowl in 2014?

All eyes have been on the 2014 Iron Bowl ever since Auburn cornerback and kick returner Chris Davis took an Alabama field-goal attempt back 109 yards the other way as time expired to give the Tigers a 34-28 win over the Crimson Tide and a berth in the SEC Championship Game.

Were we focused on the wrong intrastate rivalry game with a clever nickname?

Halfway through the season, it looks like the Egg Bowl between co-No. 3 Mississippi State and co-No. 3 Ole Miss in Oxford has more of the makings to serve as the de facto SEC West title game.

The folks in Mississippi are pumped, as Courtney Cronin of the Clarion-Ledger points out.

Is that a realistic possibility or an overreaction based on the Bulldogs' big win over Texas A&M and the Rebels' nail-biter over Alabama?

Realistic, sure.

After all, both programs currently share the No. 3 spot in the AP Top 25 Poll and Ole Miss will certainly be out for revenge after quarterback Bo Wallace fumbled in overtime to lose last year's edition.

Don't count out the Iron Bowl from getting back in the mix to become the most important game not just of the SEC's season, but the most important game played this year in all of college football.

Ole Miss still has major flaws, like its inability to run between the tackles, Wallace shouldering too much of the load in the running game after two years of shoulder issues and an offensive line that's shaky at best and mediocre at worst.

As mentioned in the bold predictions article from earlier this week, Texas A&M this weekend in College Station is setting up to be a heartbreaker for the Rebs, and there are still plenty of spots where they can trip up between then and the end of the regular season.

With a stifling front seven, a wildly efficient quarterback in Dak Prescott (180.69 passer rating) and an offense that poses a threat to stretch the field and run between the tackles, Mississippi State has much more staying power than—as head coach Dan Mullen refers to it—"the school up north."

The Bulldogs have to get by Auburn first, and that matchup with the No. 2 Tigers is no easy task.

If that happens—they're a 2.5-point underdog as of Monday afternoon, according to Odds Shark—the Bulldogs could certainly do their part to make it a must-win game to play for Atlanta and, thus, bigger than this year's Iron Bowl.

Mullen's crew would still have to spring the upset and then handle life as "the hunted" for the remainder of the season, which isn't the easiest thing to do—even for teams who are accustomed to it.

A far likelier scenario would be for Auburn to beat Mississippi State, enter the Iron Bowl undefeated or with one loss, and square off against a one-loss Crimson Tide team in Tuscaloosa.

Would that make it bigger than last year's Iron Bowl? Based on record, of course not. But the ramifications in this day and age of the College Football Playoff could be very similar.

Either way, it'd likely be bigger than the Egg Bowl.

Despite Alabama's loss to Ole Miss on Saturday, the SEC West still goes through the Iron Bowl until further notice.

 

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

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Karlos Williams Injury: Updates on FSU Star's Ankle and Return

When No. 1 Florida State travels to New York Saturday for an ACC clash with the Syracuse Orange, the Seminoles will likely be without top running back Karlos Williams.    

Coach Jimbo Fisher broke the news Monday, as captured by Corey Clark of NoleSports.com:

The senior tailback rushed 11 times for 50 yards last week in a 43-3 win over Wake Forest. So far this year, Williams has 353 yards and five touchdowns on a 4.8 yards-per-carry average.

With Williams potentially out of a conference showdown against an Orange defense that ranks No. 63 overall with an average of 24.4 points per game allowed, the Seminoles will turn to sophomore Mario Pender and freshman Dalvin Cook for production.

Bender has 154 yards and three scores on just 23 attempts this year, while Cook has tallied 128 and two on 24 totes.

Depending on the severity of Williams' injury, the Seminoles may be without their lead back when No. 6 Notre Dame comes to visit on Oct. 18 in a matchup with wide-ranging College Football Playoff implications.

 

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Ohio State Football: How Buckeyes Can Maintain Momentum

COLUMBUS, Ohio — After bouncing back from its Sept. 6 loss to Virginia Tech with three consecutive wins, the Ohio State football team now finds itself enjoying its second bye in the past four weeks.

Only for Urban Meyer, the enjoyment of the Buckeyes' week off will be kept to a minimum.

Because truth be told, a bye week is the last ingredient that Ohio State needs to add to what's been a winning recipe for the better part of the past month. Especially after one of the craziest weekends in college football history, the Buckeyes suddenly find themselves back in the thick of a hunt for a playoff spot, but that's predicated on Ohio State maintaining its newfound momentum.

"I wish we were playing another one next week," Meyer said following the Buckeyes' 52-24 win over Maryland on Saturday. "Our whole team wishes we were playing."

What's led Ohio State from its defeat at the hands of the Hokies to being a team that can't get back on the field soon enough?

It starts on the offensive side of the ball, where the Buckeyes have found their footing behind the play of redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett. An emerging star in college football, Barrett has combined for 909 passing yards, 156 rushing yards, 15 total touchdowns (14 passing, one rushing) and just one interception in Ohio State's past three games.

Those numbers stand in stark contrast from what they were during the Buckeyes' 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech, where Barrett completed just nine of his 29 pass attempts for 219 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. In the mere matter of weeks, the reigning Athlon Freshman of the Week has gone from a liability to the focal point of an OSU offense that ranks seventh nationally with an average of 44.6 points per game.

"I'm just trying to get better during the week and not wait until game day to react to everything," Barrett said of his recent improvement. "I'm just trying to get better at learning the defense that we're going to play on Tuesday and Wednesday, so when it comes to Saturday, I can have that confidence and go out there and play."

It also helps that what seemed like a blueprint for beating the Buckeyes a month ago is suddenly something that Ohio State now looks forward to facing.

While the Hokies hammered the Buckeyes with a 46 Bear defensive front and cover zero scheme, other opponents haven't been as fortunate with copycat approaches. Barrett's improvement, Ezekiel Elliott's emergence and a growing offensive line have all played roles in the midseason adjustments that have led to Ohio State's recent string of success.

"Ever since the Virginia Tech game, we've been getting that Bear, zero coverage," Meyer noted. "And now you're starting to see receivers and quarterbacks get kind of excited when they see that. The same with the coaching staff. You're like, 'Great, do it.'"

Opponents have, and as of late, they've paid, with wide receivers Michael Thomas, Dontre Wilson and Devin Smith all making their presences felt in different ways in the Buckeyes passing game. In its current state, it'd be hard to describe Ohio State's offense as anything but in-sync, something that it will have to sustain through its week off.

 

And as for the Buckeyes defense?

It's still not performing at a "championship level," according to Meyer. But that doesn't mean that it's not improving.

During Ohio State's Sept. 27 contest with Cincinnati—a 50-28 Buckeyes win—familiar frustrations reared their heads for the OSU pass defense, which surrendered 352 yards and four touchdowns to Bearcats quarterback Gunner Kiel. That total included touchdown throws of 83, 78 and 60 yards, leading Meyer to state that the Buckeyes were going "back to the drawing board" when it came to their pass defense.

A week later, Ohio State didn't give up quite as many big plays but did still allow at least one, as a 60-yard pass from Terrapins quarterback Caleb Rowe to Jacquille Veii set up a four-yard score for Stefon Diggs at the start of the fourth quarter. That sequence, in particular, stuck with Meyer, who vowed that such plays will at one point cease to be a weekly occurrence for the Buckeyes.

"Once again, you just take away—someday, we will take away the big hits," Meyer said, cutting himself off. "We're going to be more aggressive on defense."

With plenty left to work on in that facet, there's at least one Ohio State unit that could potentially benefit from the Buckeyes' second bye in the past month. Perhaps that's why Meyer, once again, won't treat it like a normal week off, in an attempt to improve an Ohio State team that's as hot as any heading into the heart of the 2014 season.

"The road's getting tougher and tougher," said Meyer. "I'm going to give us as many game reps as I can just to continue to get that maturity."

 

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 recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Re-Ranking the College Football Top 5 After Upset Saturday

Teams were tested this past Saturday, some of them passed, some of them failed; the only certain thing was that it was a lot of fun to watch. College Football Analyst Michael Felder re-ranks the Top 5 after a crazy weekend.

Who is your No. 1 team?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Wisconsin Badgers vs. Illinois Fighting Illini Complete Game Preview

After a thoroughly incomplete performance at Ryan Field against Northwestern, the Wisconsin Badgers (3-2, 0-1 Big Ten) take on the Illinois Fighting Illini (3-3, 0-2 Big Ten) in the friendly confines of Camp Randall Stadium, where the Badgers are 3-0.

Last week, the Badgers' two quarterbacks went a combined 12-of-29 for 138 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions.  After an ineffective first half by Tanner McEvoy, who went 4-of-10 for 24 yards and an interception, he was replaced by Joel Stave just before halftime.

Stave, who had not played this season due to a case of the yips after starting 19 games in his first two seasons of eligibility, did a couple good things, but the final stat line was ugly: 8-of-19 for 114 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions, including a backbreaker in a goal-to-go situation.

All of the quarterback problems undermined a phenomenal career day by Heisman Trophy candidate Melvin Gordon, who carried the ball 27 times for a career-high 259 yards and a touchdown.

But the Badgers' four turnovers, drive-killing and extending penalties amounted to an embarrassing road loss to an upstart Northwestern team, which finds itself in the driver's seat of the Big Ten West with a 2-0 record.

As for Illinois, its bad season got a little bit worse last week as it handed Purdue its first Big Ten win under Darrell Hazell, who lost his first nine Big Ten contests as head coach, in a 38-27 defeat in Champaign at Memorial Stadium.

Making matters worse, the lone bright spot on the team, quarterback Wes Lunt, went down with a broken leg, per ESPN.com, which should sideline him for four-to-six weeks.  Lunt is completing 66.5 percent of his passes with 1,569 yards, 13 touchdowns and only three interceptions.

To replace him is Reilly O'Toole, who has seen nowhere near the success Lunt has.  O'Toole is completing 52.6 percent of his passes for 428 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions while seeing parts of two games plus a start against Nebraska.

Let's take a look at both teams' keys to victory, the players to watch and more as each squad looks to get off the schneid in Big Ten play.

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USC vs. Arizona Complete Game Preview

WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 11; 10:30 p.m. ET

WHERE: Arizona Stadium; Tucson, Arizona

TV: ESPN2

Out of the polls for the first time this season, USC visits No. 10-ranked Arizona with what head coach Steve Sarkisian described as "sick feeling in [its] gut."

The Trojans lost to Arizona State in Week 6 on Sun Devils quarterback Mike Bercovici's Hail Mary touchdown to Jaelen Strong.

What a game! Check out the unbelievable highlights from #ASUvsUSC! @drpepper#oneofakindplayshttps://t.co/TLyqmw6XTN

— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 5, 2014

Conversely, one of Arizona's five wins came on a Hail Mary when quarterback Anu Solomon completed one to Austin Hill to beat Cal in Week 4.

#HillMaryhttp://t.co/iSOdUAY2gy#BearDown RT @ESPN_Pac12blog: Poll: Pac-12 play of the week http://t.co/6mrv3ZP03p

— Arizona Football (@ArizonaFBall) September 21, 2014

For one team to win in dramatic fashion, another has to suffer heartbreak. It's the yin and yang of football that has the Trojans and Wildcats on opposite ends of the spectrum coming into this Saturday's nighttime showdown in the desert. 

If Arizona can keep its good fortune rolling, it will have the inside track on the South's berth into the Pac-12 Championship Game. A USC win, however, puts the Trojans right back in the forefront of the race.

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USC vs. Arizona Complete Game Preview

WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 11; 10:30 p.m. ET WHERE: Arizona Stadium; Tucson, Arizona TV: ESPN2 Out of the polls for the first time this season, USC visits No...

Begin Slideshow

Northwestern Unveils New 'Gothic' Uniforms for Game Against Nebraska

The Northwestern Wildcats' latest uniforms are certainly different.

Northwestern put out a teaser Monday morning to announce that it would be unveiling a new look for its game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Oct. 18.

Then, the Wildcats' new "gothic" uniforms were unveiled.

The new uniforms were inspired by Northwestern's campus.

[Twitter]

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