College Football Minute

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
7:05
PM ET


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SMU chases Mack Brown, Marshall starts trying to get some publicity and three things to watch for this weekend. It's all ahead in the College Football Minute.
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National recruiting analyst Gerry Hamilton joins ESPN's Matt Schick to break down where several of the top recruits in the nation might commit, including the nation's No. 1 overall prospect, Terry Beckner Jr.

Wallace’s experience an asset for Ole Miss

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
2:43
PM ET

Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesBo Wallace has thrived as a leader for Ole Miss.

Eight weeks into the season, Ole Miss is one of four unbeaten teams. The Rebels’ defense has been impressive, allowing touchdowns on just 6.5 percent of opponent drives, lowest in the FBS this season and on pace to be the second-lowest touchdown percentage in the past 10 seasons behind Alabama in 2011.

On the other side of the field, senior quarterback Bo Wallace’s experience has paced the Rebels’ offense, especially in late-game situations. Entering the 2014 season, Wallace was the most experienced SEC quarterback, with 26 starts, 11 more than any other current SEC quarterback.

Wallace’s experience has paid dividends in the fourth quarter, during which the Rebels have outscored their opponents by an FBS-high 8.4 points per game. Wallace leads the SEC in fourth-quarter Total QBR (90.7) and has the best touchdown-to-interception differential in the nation during the fourth quarter.

Wallace also leads the nation in fourth-quarter yards per attempt (13.4) and touchdowns per pass attempt (23 percent). The FBS averages for those stats are 7.0 yards per attempt and a touchdown percentage of 5 percent.

Wallace displayed his fourth-quarter flair immediately. In the Rebels’ season-opening win against Boise State, they entered the fourth quarter with a one-point lead.

Wallace then led the Rebels to touchdowns on four straight drives to put the game away. In that quarter, Wallace completed 6-of-7 for 175 yards and three touchdowns.

Against Alabama, Ole Miss trailed by seven points entering the fourth quarter. Wallace then completed 6-of-9 for 105 yards and two touchdowns to defeat Alabama.

In addition to his play in the fourth quarter, Wallace has quieted the popular question about which Bo Wallace will show up: Good Bo or Bad Bo?

He has not turned the ball over in four of seven games this season, including his last three games, which is the longest streak of his career. In the second half, he has been nearly flawless, with one turnover and 10 touchdowns this season.

Ole Miss has exceeded the expectations of many, leading the FBS in strength of record and ranking fourth in game control. Read more about strength of record and game control here: Determining the 'most deserving' teams.

According to the ESPN Football Power Index, Ole Miss’ next two matchups -- at the LSU Tigers and at home against the Auburn Tigers -- are the Rebels’ two toughest matchups remaining before a possible conference championship game.

The Rebels have not beaten LSU when both teams were ranked in the AP poll since 1962, and they lost their only matchup with Auburn in 1972, when both teams were ranked. Nevertheless, they are projected to come away with a victory in both games.

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Only six weeks of the regular season remain. And while the SEC has separated contender from pretender to this point, the jockeying for conference supremacy is far from over. The odds of anyone going undefeated are slim. In fact, according to ESPN Stats & Information, there’s a 36 percent chance all seven teams in the West finish with two or more losses. With that backdrop in mind, let's take a look at which playoff hopefuls have the easiest and toughest roads ahead.

Smoothest sailing

Georgia and Mississippi State have it relatively easy. According to ESPN Stats & Info, their remaining strength of schedule rank 43rd and 47th, respectively.

Georgia survived a tough early season game against Clemson, and despite falling on the road at South Carolina has gotten right back on track. With Florida down, Kentucky coming back down to earth and Georgia Tech fresh off back-to-back losses, the only real test remaining is a Nov. 15 showdown with Auburn -- and that game comes in Athens. Of all the contenders in the SEC, the Dawgs are the only ones with just one game against a ranked opponent remaining.

[+] EnlargeThompson Mississippi
Joe Faraoni/ESPN ImagesThe remainder of Mississippi State's schedule ranks as relatively easy compared to the rest of the SEC.
Mississippi State, meanwhile, is on a good track after beating a slew of ranked teams in LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn. Now comes a bit of a breather with Arkansas followed by UT Martin. There's a road date with Alabama on Nov. 15, but then it's on to lowly Vanderbilt the week before the Egg Bowl versus rival Ole Miss.

Roughest waters

Between Alabama, Auburn and Ole Miss, it’s hard to say who has it worst. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Alabama has the weakest remaining strength of schedule of the three, but the Tide rank 21st nationally in that category. Auburn comes in at No. 16 and Ole Miss No. 14.

Anecdotally, it's hard to argue against Auburn having the most brutal remaining schedule in the SEC. The Tigers, having already played Kansas State, LSU and Mississippi State, get South Carolina, Ole Miss and Texas A&M in the next three weeks. Then it's on to Georgia, and two weeks later there's a trip to Alabama. Of the five SEC teams still in playoff contention, Auburn is the only one with three ranked teams left to play.

Ole Miss doesn't have it much easier, though. The Rebs go to LSU on Saturday, which is never an easy task. And while Presbyterian and a bye week provide a breather, finishing in consecutive weeks with Arkansas and Mississippi State will be a physically taxing challenge.

Alabama will feel the Rebs' pain, though. The Tide travel to Tennessee this Saturday, followed by a much needed week off. But after that comes a trip to LSU and then a home date with Mississippi State. Two weeks later, it’s Auburn coming to town.

Where we’ll settle things

The final weekend in November could be utter mayhem. In a good way.

With all due respect to Georgia-Georgia Tech, that Saturday will be all about two rivalry games in the West. In the Iron Bowl and Egg Bowl, we could find out a) who will play in the SEC championship game in Atlanta and b) who will present their case to the selection committee as a non-title winning candidate.

It's conceivable Auburn beats Ole Miss and Mississippi State loses to Alabama. If that's the case and everyone is tied at one loss, then it becomes a matter of tiebreakers.

To win the division, Alabama would have to beat Auburn and have Ole Miss lose to State. Auburn would need the opposite. State, on the other hand, would need to beat Ole Miss and have Alabama lose to Auburn. And just because it's only fair, Ole Miss would need the exact opposite scenario to play out.

The only thing that could make that better is if both games were played simultaneously.

Kiffin's Return To Knoxville

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
12:19
PM ET


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Trevor Matich and Adam Rittenberg look back on Lane Kiffin's time at Tennessee and what to expect when returns with Alabama this weekend.

Tale of the tape: Alabama vs. Tennessee 

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
12:00
PM ET
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The Alabama at Tennessee game on Saturday night will feature two teams who appear to be on very different paths. For Alabama, the No. 4-ranked team in the country, it's near the top both on the field and in recruiting. For Tennessee, the Volunteers are 0-3 in the SEC and 3-4 overall. At first glance it looks like this could be a blowout; after all the SEC West has had its way with the SEC East this year -- and it still might be -- but Tennessee’s focus isn’t necessarily about making the college football playoff this year but rather competing and building for the future.

Under second-year head coach Butch Jones, Tennessee is taking its lumps, but with a top-five recruiting class last year and working on another top-five class this year -- the Vols are heading in the right direction. There is a new energy around the Tennessee program and it all starts with recruiting.

With 21 commits, including 17 ranked in the ESPN 300, Alabama is on pace for its fourth consecutive recruiting title. Tennessee, meanwhile, has 26 commitments, including eight ranked in the ESPN 300 and is hoping to bring in players who fill immediate needs and others who can add depth in key areas. The Vols lead the nation in true freshmen who have played with over 20 and several freshmen including Jalen Hurd, Todd Kelly Jr. and Derek Barnett have made significant contributions this year.

Alabama freshmen Cam Robinson and Tony Brown have also made an impact as freshmen, but with the depth Nick Saban has built in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the need for immediate impact players is far less necessary than what it is in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Instant impact recruit

Best and worst losses for 1-loss teams 

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
10:30
AM ET
For all of the debate about who should be ranked No. 1 among the three undefeated, power-conference teams, the far greater challenge right now when filling out a ballot is ranking the teams with one loss.

There are 15 once-beaten teams in this week's AP Top 25, and eight or nine of them could probably make a legitimate claim to being No. 4. That number of one-loss teams is sure to dwindle in the next few weeks, but there's still a good chance that the selection committee will face the difficult decision of which two or three of those teams to put into the playoff.

Obviously, there's much more to any team's résumé than a single loss, but if the BCS era is an indicator, the nature of that loss could become a major topic of discussion when distinguishing among the once-beaten teams. Perhaps that's because in a sport where there is so little common ground on which to compare top teams, having exactly one loss is the trait they all share.

So, recognizing that this could be a factor in determining which teams get into the playoff, here are the best and worst losses by current Top 25 teams that have only one defeat. The losses are ranked by Game Score, which is a metric developed by ESPN Stats & Information that takes into account quality of the opponent, location of the game, flow of the game and final score. It's important to note that opponent quality adjusts as more games are played, so these Game Scores will also change from week-to-week. (All Game Scores can be seen by clicking team links on the FPI page.)


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SEC Week 9 predictions

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
9:00
AM ET
There's not much disagreement among our reporters this week. OK, there's not any disagreement among our reporters. But they don't necessarily agree on how competitive those games will be. And as everyone knows, the weeks that look boring are always anything but. Let's get on with the picks:



Why Mississippi State wins big: Kentucky’s defense has already surrendered 282 rushing yards to South Carolina and 303 to LSU last week. That doesn’t bode well for Saturday’s game, when Mississippi State will bring the SEC’s top offense (and No. 2 rushing offense at 264.3 yards per game) to Lexington. The Wildcats are improving, but they don’t have the firepower to hang around in this one. Mississippi State 42, Kentucky 17 -- David Ching

Why Kentucky keeps it close: Mississippi State should be rested after having last week off, while Kentucky is still smarting from its 41-3 loss at LSU. The Bulldogs should roll, but it won't be easy. The Wildcats have been a different team at home and have the firepower at defensive end to keep Dak Prescott on his toes. Mark Stoops has instilled the right kind of pride in his team, which means the Wildcats will bounce back and make this a second-half game. Mississippi State 31, Kentucky 27 -- Chris Low



Why Ole Miss wins big: Anthony Jennings has struggled enough throwing the football for LSU, and he'll find it even more difficult against Ole Miss' vaunted secondary. If Jennings turns the ball over and makes Cam Cameron's game plan too one-dimensional, the Rebels will feast. Ole Miss 31, LSU 17 -- Alex Scarborough

Why LSU keeps it close: Ever since getting blown out by Auburn, the Tigers have steadily improved. From barely surviving a trip to Florida to handling upstart Kentucky, LSU's offense and defense have gotten better. Ole Miss' defense presents a supreme challenge, but with senior Terrence Magee and true freshman Leonard Fournette, LSU has the backs to establish a running game and battle the Rebels to the end. Ole Miss 23, LSU 20 -- Jeff Barlis



Why Alabama wins big: This game screams blowout. Alabama’s defense is on fire and the offense just exploded, hanging nearly 60 on Texas A&M. Tennessee hasn’t hit 400 yards since the end of September. Hey, Lane Kiffin is back in Knoxville, so I can only imagine what he has cooked up for Tennessee’s defense -- and those Vols fans. I bet there are more anti-Kiffin signs than Tennessee points in Knoxville on Saturday. Alabama 41, Tennessee 10 -- Edward Aschoff

Why Tennessee keeps it close: Lane Kiffin would love nothing more than to put up a big number on his former team, but this Alabama offense has struggled on the road this season. In their two road games, the Tide have failed to break 20 points. They might reach that number Saturday, but it won’t be easy against a Vols defense that looked inspired in the first half last week. Alabama 24, Tennessee 14 -- Greg Ostendorf

More unanimous picks:

Auburn over South Carolina: Auburn is 12-0 at home under Gus Malzahn and won those by an average of more than 23 points per game. Interesting side note: South Carolina hasn't beaten Auburn since 1933 (though the teams didn't play each other again until 1996); Auburn is 7-0 since then. Auburn 42, South Carolina 21 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Arkansas over UAB: UAB can move the ball (had 548 yards against Mississippi State and kept it close at the half), but slowing down the Razorbacks' elite rushing attack is a tall task. Arkansas 45, UAB 20 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Missouri over Vanderbilt: Mizzou has actually been better on the road than at home, but Vanderbilt has yet to win away from home or an SEC game, period. The Tigers' defense and special teams are coming off great performances at Florida. The offense will join in on the fun Saturday. Missouri 41, Vanderbilt 10 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Standings:
Edward Aschoff: 59-10
Greg Ostendorf: 59-10
Jeff Barlis: 58-11
Chris Low: 58-11
David Ching: 57-12
Alex Scarborough: 56-13
Sam Khan Jr.: 52-17

SEC morning links

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
8:00
AM ET
1. How do you stop Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott? "You're going to have to get to the next guy to find that one out," LSU coach Les Miles said on Wednesday's SEC teleconference. Prescott accounted for over 350 yards and three touchdowns against the Tigers earlier this season. On Saturday, Kentucky will try its luck in stopping or maybe slowing down the Heisman Trophy candidate. Good luck. And speaking of the Heisman Trophy, Prescott told Bleacher Report that his late mother Peggy used to introduce him to people as her Heisman Trophy winner. Watch the full video profile. How can you not root for a guy with his back story to win college football's most prestigious award?

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesMississippi State's Dak Prescott, who had little trouble with Les Miles' LSU, will look to enhance his Heisman chances against Kentucky next.
2. Only Les Miles could turn a question on College GameDay's guest picker into a jab at ESPN's own Kirk Herbstreit. It's been seven years since Herbstreit predicted Miles would leave LSU and take the Michigan job, and the LSU coach has not forgotten. He made that clear Wednesday. He also claimed that he could take Shaquille O'Neal one-on-one in the same response. Only Les. Coincidentally, there are rumblings that the Michigan job could come open again after this season, but the SEC coach whose name keeps coming isn't Miles. It's Dan Mullen. But it doesn't sound like the Mississippi State coach is in a hurry to leave. On Wednesday, he was talking about recruiting and the certain type of recruits he looks for to build a program.

3. Have you heard? Lane Kiffin is returning to Tennessee on Saturday. OK, you're probably tired of hearing about it, but if you haven't read it yet, do yourself a favor and go read Jon Solomon's piece on the Alabama offensive coordinator. In it, Kiffin's mother Robin says she's "scared to death" for her son's safety and wishes he would coach from the press box against the Volunteers. Even athletic director Mike Hamilton says he wishes Kiffin's first game against Tennessee would have been in Tuscaloosa, not Knoxville. It's certainly an intriguing storyline and one to keep an eye on this weekend, but don't expect more than the normal heckling from Vols fans. I'm more interested to see how Kiffin's offense fares on the road.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

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Upper Deck's Chris Carlin breaks down why his company decided to create its Conference Greats football product, which focuses on the best players and coaches in SEC history.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama’s offensive linemen heard it all week. From fans, from the media, from within. They’d struggled the past two games against Ole Miss and Arkansas. There were too many penalties, too many instances of miscommunication. Against the Razorbacks, the Crimson Tide managed just 66 yards rushing on 32 carries.

For a program long built on its play in the trenches, there were a few alarming statistics emerging during those two games in the month of October.
  • Yards per rush: 3.08
  • Longest rush: 22 yards
  • Percent of rushes for zero or negative yards: 22.4
  • Rushes for 10 or more yards: 4
  • Average yards per rush before contact: 1.74

Nick Saban may not have known those numbers off the top of his head, but he could see the offensive line’s struggles play out on the game film. It didn’t make any sense. Other than center Ryan Kelly being out, it was the same guys up who had done well earlier in the season. Saban thought to himself, “We can do it again.”

So Saban gathered the offensive line last week for what he called a “little gathering.”

It wasn’t heated, said senior guard Arie Kouandjio, just “straight forward” about “how he felt.”

“Look, guys, you guys are starting to feel pressure and you’re being criticized,” Saban said he told his linemen. “You’re not being the sergeant-at-arms that we need you to be in terms of how you control the line of scrimmage and how you dominate the line of scrimmage. Really, our guys aren’t going to make plays unless you do that. I believe in you and I trust in you.”

A few days later against Texas A&M, they delivered. Those same damning statistics were turned on their ear.
  • Yards per rush: 6.62
  • Longest rush: 43 yards
  • Percent of rushes for zero or negative yards: 6.7
  • Rushes for 10 or more yards: 8
  • Average yards per rush before contact: 3.33

“We used that as motivation,” Kouandjio said of the criticism the line faced, “and I feel like we’re back on track.”

Said Saban: “I’m really proud of the way they did that today.”

So was Blake Sims, Alabama’s starting quarterback.

Like the line in front of him, Sims had struggled the previous two games at Ole Miss and Arkansas. But against A&M, he found his rhythm and threw for 268 yards and three touchdowns. He also scrambled and scored on a spectacular 43-yard run.

Following Saban’s lead, Sims encouraged his linemen heading into the game against A&M, telling them, “Stay hungry and stay wanting to work hard.”

“I think the guys were hungry and wanted to play hard and wanted to let everyone know, ‘Hey, talk about the skill guys but forget about the offensive line because we some dogs down there,’” Sims told reporters after the game.

If the line continues playing with that same kind of intensity, then Alabama’s offense will be fine.

But it remains to be seen whether that will happen. Because there’s a common thread between the line’s struggles against Ole Miss and Arkansas: both games were on the road.

After enjoying some home cooking against Texas A&M, how will the line respond against Tennessee with “Rocky Top” ringing in its ears?

Drawing Conclusions: Week 8

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
12:38
PM ET


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A look at the aftermath in the wake of all of the week 8 college football action.
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The ESPNU Experts debate whether or not the SEC West can place two teams in the College Football Playoff.

ESPN 300 Near-Misses

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
12:32
PM ET


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National recruiting director Tom Luginbill breaks down several recruits who narrowly missed the ESPN 300 in the latest 2015 player rankings update.

ESPN 300: Five things to know in the SEC 

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
10:45
AM ET
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The SEC has an impressive 89 committed prospects in the updated ESPN 300 rankings. While the SEC West has been dominant on the field, 13 of the 14 SEC schools are ranked in the top 40 of the RecruitingNation class rankings. Here’s a closer look at five things to know in the SEC from the new recruiting rankings.


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