Big 12: Big Ten

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No. 8 Michigan State stole a page from Baylor's book on Thursday: a furious 20-point, fourth-quarter comeback for a stunning 42-41 victory in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic in Arlington, Texas. Three things that stood out about the No. 5 Bears and their last-minute loss:

1. That was crazy. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Baylor's odds of winning right before Chris Callahan lined up for his soon-to-be-blocked field goal attempt were 99 percent. This one was in the bag, even after a bunch of fourth-quarter craziness. The events that came next -- Connor Cook driving and scoring in the final 20 seconds, Bryce Petty's sacks and interception to seal the deal -- were a series of intense, high-pressure moments that few could've expected. The Bears were cruising to victory ... until they weren't. There are a bunch of reasons Baylor fell apart, but stop for a moment and appreciate this was truly a fun and wild game with one of the most memorable finishes of this bowl season.

2. Penalties the problem once again. Andrew Billings' block in the back on the Taylor Young pick-six might've been the turning point on Thursday. Corey Coleman's offensive facemask penalty as he closed in on the goal line was costly, too, as was the false start right after it. This Baylor team led the nation in penalties at nearly 10 per game and paid dearly for that flaw. Since the start of the 2012 season no program has been penalized more than BU, and don't forget the 17 flags in the Fiesta Bowl loss to UCF. Baylor has won a ton of games despite the longstanding issue, but it'll be interesting to see how Art Briles elects to address that weakness in the offseason.

3. Kendal Briles impresses in debut. The heartbreaking finish will stick with Baylor fans for a while, but so should the first impression their newly promoted offensive coordinator made. Under his guidance, Petty threw for a career-best 550 yards and three scores in his final game as a Bear. The way Briles mixed in deep shots and trickery -- Jay Lee's double pass for a TD, big man LaQuan McGowan's big score -- with confidence deserves praise. The fact Baylor's backs gained just 22 yards on 14 carries is a testament to how stacked Michigan State's front was, but the head coach's son responded well with his plan and managed to give outgoing Michigan State DC Pat Narduzzi fits at times. The passing of the baton to Briles was a smooth transition with some exciting results.

Since the start of the 2013 season, Baylor ranks No. 1 in the nation in total offense. Michigan State ranks No. 1 in total defense since 2013. AT&T Stadium is in for one heck of a best vs. best battle on New Year's Day when the Bears and Spartans face off in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic on Thursday (12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

ESPN.com's Brian Bennett and Max Olson break down the matchup:

How Michigan State can control the game: Baylor is going to score and put up big plays; that's pretty much a given. Michigan State's defense got gashed by the two other high-octane offenses it played this year, Oregon and Ohio State, so it's unrealistic to think the Spartans will shut down this one. But Michigan State's best defense might be its own high-powered offense, which can give the Bears problems with the power running game behind Jeremy Langford and the arm of quarterback Connor Cook. Michigan State might have to beat Baylor at its own game by lighting up the scoreboard. -- Bennett

How Baylor can control the game: Michigan State should expect gunslinger Bryce Petty and his limitless number of speedy receivers to do some damage, sure. But Sparty coaches who've been prepping for a month know by now the Bears win in lots of ways. Devin Chafin (elbow) is back and gives Baylor a three-headed monster at running back. Those backs will pound and bruise to set up the air show. Three-and-outs are the key on D, and Baylor forced more this season than MSU did. -- Olson

Michigan State's X factor: Defensive end Shilique Calhoun is likely playing his final game in the green and white, as he's widely expected to go to the NFL. He got off to a little bit of a slow start and whiffed on an important would-be sack of Marcus Mariota in the Oregon loss. But he bounced back strong and finished with 6.5 sacks. The Spartans need him to harass Petty and throw off the timing of the Baylor offense. -- Bennett

Baylor's X factor: Motivation. Even when Art Briles was irate about being left out of the College Football Playoff, he was quick to point out he hasn't forgiven or forgotten last year. Baylor laid an egg at the Fiesta Bowl -- a 52-42 loss to UCF -- but gets a redo this week: another chance for the first 12-win season in school history. Can the Bears channel their anger from the CFP snub and let loose against an even better opponent? -- Olson

What a win would mean for Michigan State: The Spartans are 10-2 but lost the only two marquee matchups on their schedule. So beating Baylor and claiming a New Year's Six bowl would add further validation to this season and make this a highly successful follow-up to last year's Rose Bowl championship season. With Ohio State surging and Michigan feeling the buzz of the Jim Harbaugh hire, Mark Dantonio's team can remind everyone that there's still a Big Ten East Division superpower in East Lansing. -- Bennett

What a win would mean for Baylor: In addition to those aforementioned incentives, the Bears are looking for a proper send-off for Petty, Bryce Hager, Antwan Goodley and the seniors who helped build up this program into a national title contender. Spencer Drango and Shawn Oakman made a major statement this week in electing to pass up the NFL for another run at the playoff. Baylor can make its own statement Thursday that, for a third straight year, this will be the team to beat in the Big 12. -- Olson

Power rankings: Big 12, not SEC, is No. 1

December, 1, 2014
12/01/14
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AP PhotosTrevone Boykin, Bryce Petty and Jake Waters lead the Big 12's top three teams
For the first time in years, the SEC has been knocked off its perch as the top conference in the nation in ESPN Stats and Information’s Conference Power Rankings.

The SEC was 0-4 in its SEC-ACC rivalry games, marking the first time since 2000 that Georgia, Florida and South Carolina each lost to its major in-state rival. The SEC is 5-6 (.455 win pct) in non-conference games against other Power 5 opponents, which ranks third among Power 5 conferences.

The race for No. 1, however, is basically a tie between the Big 12 and SEC. The Big 12’s rating is based largely on its strength at the top of the conference, which is measured by the Associated Press poll. The Big 12 has three teams – TCU, Baylor and Kansas State – in the top 10 of the AP poll, the most of any conference. Two of those teams will face off this weekend in Waco, Texas.

The Big 12 has a lower average Football Power Index ranking than the SEC and Pac-12, meaning that despite its strength at the top of the conference, it is not particularly deep. The Big 12 has four teams below 60th in the Football Power Index, which is as many as the Pac-12 and SEC have combined.

Nonetheless, Baylor, TCU and Kansas State are in the midst of strong seasons, and in a 10-team league, that has vaulted the Big 12 to the top of the rankings. In four of the first five College Football Playoff rankings, the Big 12 has been on the outside looking in, but the conference should have a strong argument for inclusion with Tuesday’s release.

The biggest riser in the Conference Power Rankings this week was the ACC. After sweeping the SEC-ACC rivalry games Saturday, the ACC rose 7.0 points to nearly pull even with the Big Ten. Georgia Tech, Clemson and Louisville each rose at least three spots in the AP poll and continued to climb in the Football Power Index.

It has been an up-and-down year for many conferences. The Big Ten was buried early in the year before bouncing back, particularly against the ACC, in Weeks 4 and 5. The ACC was having a down year before it swept the SEC-ACC rivalry series in Week 14. Conference strength will play a role in the College Football Playoff selection, but just as there is not a dominant team this year, there also may not be a dominant conference.


Alabama-Auburn was voted college football’s all-time fiercest rivalry in ESPN’s weekly coaches poll, #1QFor128.

The Iron Bowl received 26 percent of the vote in the poll, conducted by ESPN’s Brett McMurphy.

Following Alabama-Auburn was the Army-Navy game, with Michigan-Ohio State third. Oklahoma-Texas was voted fourth and Florida State-Miami fifth.

Of the 128 FBS coaches, 92 participated in this week’s poll.

The coaches from the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12) who voted chose Alabama-Auburn first with 24 percent. Michigan-Ohio State was second with 10 percent, ahead of Army-Navy and Oklahoma-Texas (each with 7 percent). Six rivalries tied for fifth with 3 percent: Arizona-Arizona State, Cal-Stanford, Florida State-Miami, Mississippi State-Ole Miss, Texas-Texas A&M and UCLA-USC.

The coaches from the Group of 5 conferences (American, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, Sun Belt) also voted for Alabama-Auburn as college football’s fiercest rivalry with 28 percent. Army-Navy was second (21 percent), followed by Michigan-Ohio State (10 percent). There was a three-way tie for fourth with Florida-Georgia, Florida State-Miami and Oklahoma-Texas (each with 8 percent).

Four rivalries that are currently discontinued also received votes: Kansas-Missouri, Nebraska-Oklahoma, Texas-Texas A&M and Pittsburgh-West Virginia.

Chat: CFB Saturday Live

November, 21, 2014
11/21/14
7:00
PM ET
Chat live with our writers from 9 a.m. to noon ET and then again starting at 8 p.m. ET for the prime-time games. In between, keep this page open as we bring you the latest real-time reaction, analysis, pics and video from our ESPN crew scattered throughout the nation.

Kickoff Show: Week 13 (1 p.m. ET)

November, 20, 2014
11/20/14
10:04
AM ET
Join ESPN.com reporters Heather Dinich, Ted Miller, Adam Rittenberg and host Chantel Jennings as they discuss the current race for the four College Football Playoff spots, the Heisman race and the biggest games of the weekend.

Conference races gaining clarity

November, 18, 2014
11/18/14
9:09
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Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesMelvin Gordon and the Wisconsin Badgers have won five straight games to take the Big Ten West lead.

After another week of games with conference championship implications, the conference races are gaining clarity.

The Wisconsin Badgers took hold of the Big Ten West, and the Alabama Crimson Tide control the SEC West after significant divisional wins Saturday.

Using projections by ESPN’s Football Power Index, let’s break down how each of the Power 5 conferences are projected to finish, starting with the most likely conference winners.

ACC
FPI’s projected winner:
Florida State Seminoles (75 percent), Duke Blue Devils (15 percent), Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (10 percent)

After Miami’s loss to Florida State, there are three remaining potential conference champions in the ACC. Florida State has already clinched the ACC Atlantic, and FPI projects the Seminoles have a 75 percent chance to beat the ACC Coastal winner in the championship game.

Despite its loss Saturday, Duke remains the most likely ACC Coastal champion (69 percent) because of its schedule and the head-to-head win over Georgia Tech on Oct. 11, but FPI projects Georgia Tech, which is ranked 11 spots ahead of Duke in the FPI rankings, would give the Seminoles a tougher test.

Potential clinching scenarios this week: Georgia Tech clinches with a Duke loss.

Big 12
FPI’s projected winner:
Baylor Bears (74 percent), TCU Horned Frogs (22 percent), Kansas State Wildcats (4 percent)

FPI projects Baylor has a 68 percent chance to win out, best among the one-loss Power 5 teams. If the Bears win out (including a win over Kansas State on Dec. 6), they own the head-to-head tiebreaker over TCU and would be the Big 12 champion. Based on these facts, FPI projects Baylor has a 74 percent chance to win the Big 12.

Potential clinching scenarios this week: None.

Pac-12
FPI’s projected winner:
Oregon Ducks (69 percent), UCLA Bruins (15 percent), USC Trojans (9 percent), Arizona State Sun Devils (5 percent)

Oregon clinched the Pac-12 North division before last week’s games, but the South might be the most interesting division in the FBS. There are currently four teams in the Pac-12 South with two conference losses. FPI projects UCLA has the best chance to win the division because of its strength (highest ranking in FPI) and schedule. The Bruins have already beat Arizona State and Arizona, so if they beat USC on Saturday, they would be in great position to win the South. If USC defeats UCLA, however, the Trojans would become the favorite and would clinch the division with a loss by Arizona State earlier in the day. FPI projects UCLA has a 59 percent chance to beat USC at home.

Potential clinching scenarios this week: USC clinches with win AND Arizona State loss.

Big Ten
FPI’s projected winner:
Ohio State Buckeyes (61 percent), Wisconsin (36 percent), Minnesota Golden Gophers (1 percent)

Ohio State and Wisconsin are in control of their respective divisions. Ohio State has to win one of its remaining two games -- versus Indiana and versus Michigan -- to win the Big Ten East without the help of a Michigan State loss. FPI projects Ohio State has a 99 percent chance to win one of those games. The Big Ten West is a little more interesting, with Wisconsin still to face Minnesota. FPI projects Wisconsin has an 87 percent chance to win the division, but Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska are all still alive.

Potential clinching scenarios this week: Wisconsin clinches a berth in the conference championship game with win AND a Minnesota loss. Ohio State clinches a berth in the conference championship game with win OR a Michigan State loss.

SEC
FPI’s projected winner:
Alabama (46 percent), Georgia Bulldogs (39 percent), Ole Miss Rebels (8 percent), Mississippi State Bulldogs (4 percent), Missouri (2 percent)

The SEC remains the most wide-open Power 5 conference. Alabama’s win against Mississippi State added some clarity; if the Tide defeat Auburn on Nov. 29, they will win the SEC West (they can also clinch via losses by Ole Miss AND Mississippi State). FPI projects the Tide have a 76 percent chance to win the West, followed by Ole Miss (14 percent) and Mississippi State (10 percent). In the SEC East, Georgia would win the head-to-head tiebreaker over Missouri, but the Tigers currently have a one-game lead in the loss column. Georgia has completed its conference schedule, and Missouri has two remaining SEC games, so if Missouri loses at Tennessee or versus Arkansas, Georgia wins the division. FPI projects Missouri has an 85 percent chance to lose either of those games.

Potential clinching scenarios this week: Georgia clinches division with Missouri loss. Alabama clinches division with losses by Mississippi State AND Ole Miss.

Breaking down the conference races

November, 10, 2014
11/10/14
10:04
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After a weekend that featured six matchups between ranked teams, we have emerged with newfound clarity in the conference races.

Ohio State, Baylor, Oregon and Alabama each beat a top-20 opponent on Saturday and now controls its own destiny in conference races.

Using projections by ESPN’s Football Power Index, let’s break down how each of the Power 5 conferences are projected to finish, starting the with most likely conference winners.

ACC
FPI’s Projected Winner: Florida State (75 percent), Duke (19 percent)

Florida State has the best chance of any Power 5 school to win its conference. FPI projects that the Seminoles have a 99 percent chance to win their division and a 77 percent chance to beat the winner of the ACC Coastal division in the ACC Championship Game, should they get there.

Duke is in the driver’s seat in the Coastal division, one game ahead in the loss column over Miami (FL) and Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils hold the head-to-head tiebreaker versus the Yellow Jackets, and although they lost to Miami (FL), the Hurricanes still have Florida State left on their schedule.

Big 12
FPI’s Projected Winner: Baylor (72 percent), TCU (24 percent), Kansas State (4 percent)

After its win against Oklahoma, Baylor’s chance of winning the Big 12 rose from 27 percent to 72 percent. By most measures, TCU has a more impressive résumé than Baylor, but the Bears hold the head-to-head tiebreaker after defeating the Horned Frogs on Oct. 11 in an unlikely 21-point fourth-quarter comeback.

TCU (68 percent) and Baylor (67 percent) have the best chances among Power 5 one-loss teams to win out. If both teams run the table, Baylor will be the Big 12 champion.

FPI projects that Kansas State, which also has one conference loss, has a four percent chance to win the Big 12 because of its schedule. The Wildcats have to play West Virginia and Baylor on the road, but if they beat Baylor in the final week of the season, things could get interesting. FPI projects that there is a 29 percent chance that Baylor, TCU and Kansas State win their other remaining games, resulting in a three-way tie.

Pac-12
FPI’s Projected Winner: Oregon (71 percent), Arizona State (13 percent), UCLA (10 percent)

Oregon has already clinched the Pac-12 North, so its only barrier to a conference championship will come in that Pac-12 Championship Game. Arizona State, which is one of nine remaining one-loss teams, has a 51 percent chance to win the Pac-12 South, according to FPI, followed by UCLA (30 percent).

The Sun Devils have three remaining conference games, including a tough road test against rival Arizona on Nov. 28, while the Bruins have two. If these teams were to finish with the same record, UCLA owns the head-to-head tiebreaker, and would face Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game – a game that FPI projects the Ducks have more than a 70 percent chance to win.

Big Ten
FPI’s Projected Winner: Ohio State (65 percent), Wisconsin (22 percent), Nebraska (11 percent)

Ohio State’s win against Michigan State on Saturday may have been the biggest win of the weekend in terms of conference championships. Not only did Ohio State put itself in a great position to win its division (FPI projects the Buckeyes have a 98 percent chance to win the Big Ten East), but it knocked its greatest competition out of the race.

One of the biggest games of this upcoming weekend in terms of divisional races features the top two teams in the Big Ten West – Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Because the game is in Madison, FPI projects that Wisconsin has a 64 percent chance to win. Whichever team wins will put itself in a prime position to win the division and likely face Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.

SEC
FPI’s Projected Winner: Alabama (36 percent), Georgia (27 percent), Mississippi State (19 percent)

The SEC is the most wide open conference. FPI projects that there are three teams – Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi State – with more than a 15 percent chance to win the conference. No other Power 5 conference has more than two such teams.

In the SEC West, FPI projects that Alabama has a 50 percent chance to win the division, largely because it hosts its two biggest competitors – Mississippi State and Auburn – in the next few weeks.

On Saturday, Mississippi State heads to Tuscaloosa in a game with conference and playoff implications. The winner of this game will control its own destiny in the vaunted SEC West and have a great chance to play the SEC East champion in the conference championship game.

Like the SEC West, the East is also quite unsettled.

Although Georgia is currently behind Missouri in the SEC East standings, FPI projects that the Bulldogs have a 60 percent chance to win the division because Missouri has three difficult remaining conference games, while Georgia has one.

Kickoff Show: Week 6 (1 ET)

October, 2, 2014
10/02/14
12:45
PM ET
Join ESPN.com reporters Edward Aschoff, Heather Dinich, Ted Miller and host Chantel Jennings as they look forward to the packed slate of games this weekend and answer your questions live on screen.

SEC extends lead in Power Rankings

September, 3, 2014
9/03/14
9:47
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AP Photo/Tony GutierrezSEC teams went 8-1 in Week 1 as the race for the national championship trophy began.
A quick refresher: Last week, ESPN Stats & Information released its preseason conference power rankings, a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country. For more information on the rankings and FPI, click here and here.

After an exciting slate of non-conference games in Week 1, the SEC proved why it was considered the top conference in the nation entering the season. The SEC went 8-1 in non-conference games, the best winning percentage of any FBS conference.

Ole Miss, Georgia and LSU all beat opponents ranked in the top 50 in the preseason Football Power Index, while Tennessee and Alabama took care of business against improved FBS teams. What may be surprising is the way that some of these SEC teams won the games, though.

The SEC was not nearly as dominant in its wins as some may have expected. LSU had the lowest average in-game win probability (34%) of any team that won this weekend, and Alabama, Ole Miss and Georgia were all in one-score games in the second half.

Nonetheless, the SEC pulled out these wins and jumped 1.4 points in the conference power rankings. The strength of the top of the conference (six teams in top 15 of the AP Poll) is unmatched by any other conference.

Big Ten falls despite strong Week 1
The Big Ten had the second-best winning percentage in non-conference games of any of FBS conference. Notable wins include: Rutgers beating Washington State in Seattle, Penn State defeating UCF in Ireland, and Ohio State outlasting Navy in Baltimore.

However, the other nine wins for the Big Ten were against six FCS teams and three lower-tier FBS opponents.

The main reason that the Big Ten fell in the ratings, however, is that last week’s numbers were based off of the preseason AP Poll that did not account for Braxton Miller’s injury.

Ohio State struggled in the first half against Navy without Miller, and as a result, the AP voters dropped the Buckeyes from fifth to eighth despite a win. That was the second largest drop in AP ranking for a team that won last weekend (UCLA went from 7 to 11).

ACC falls further behind rest of Power Five
The ACC dropped five more points in the conference power rankings after Wake Forest lost to Louisiana-Monroe, Syracuse almost lost to Villanova, North Carolina struggled against Liberty and Florida State played a closer-than-expected game against Oklahoma State.

Clemson's loss to Georgia also significantly affected the ACC in the ratings because the top of the ACC is considered even weaker than when it began the season.

Florida State is the only team from the ACC ranked in the top 20 of the AP Poll; every other Power Five conference has at least three top-20 teams.

In terms of the bottom of the ACC, Syracuse, Boston College, North Carolina State and Wake Forest all have an FPI below zero (zero is considered an average FBS team by FPI). No other Power Five conference has more than two such teams.

Big Week for Big Ten/Pac-12
Week 2 is a big week to prove conference superiority. Highlighted by Michigan State traveling to Oregon, the Big Ten is a part of three marquee games next weekend.

Michigan will look to build upon a strong Week 1 at Notre Dame and Ohio State will look to prove it can be successful without Braxton Miller as it hosts Virginia Tech.

In the Pac-12, Oregon likely needs to win at home against Michigan State in order for it to stay alive in the playoff.

Also out west, USC and Stanford will meet in one of the top Pac-12 games of the season.

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