David Hale: If we’re slaves to whatever happened most recently, then Virginia Tech certainly looks like a lost cause. But let’s think bigger picture. The Hokies know what’s at stake here: A 22-year bowl streak, state bragging rights in a rivalry they’ve owned for a decade, perhaps the future of their longtime head coach. Is this a game where Virginia Tech is a no-show? No way. The Wake Forest game was brutal, but lessons were certainly learned. Brenden Motley will get a longer look at quarterback, and his mobility can help offset the Virginia pass rush. The ground game has actually looked better with J.C. Coleman the past two weeks. And while the Hokies clearly overlooked Wake Forest, that won’t be the case against rival Virginia. Plus, let’s not forget that, in spite of the record, Virginia Tech still features one of the most potent defenses in the country -- and it’ll give Lambert and the UVA offense fits. Virginia Tech 17, Virginia 14
Andrea Adelson: The Jackets and Bulldogs are running the ball extremely well this season, so both teams should be able to get some yards on the ground. The key in this game is going to be in the turnover category. Both teams have been excellent at taking the ball away this season. While Georgia Tech has converted 24 takeaways into 116 points, Georgia has allowed only six total points off its own turnovers. There is going to be quite the battle there. Given the way Georgia Tech has played during its winning streak, the Jackets will pull out a close one after one defensive score. Georgia Tech 35, Georgia 31
Matt Fortuna: Much like Georgia Tech, Georgia has proven its rushing attack can keep up the pace no matter who is in the backfield, as we've all seen what has happened even without the ridiculously gifted Todd Gurley. The Bulldogs' defense has greatly improved under coordinator Jeremy Pruitt this season, too, ranking 13th nationally. Has it shored up the loose ends that Florida exposed by repeatedly running on it earlier this month, to the tune of 418 yards? The Yellow Jackets' attack is different, sure, but the Dawgs have too much pride to fall to another rival, especially as they play for a chance at the SEC title game next week. Georgia 40, Georgia Tech 34
Shanker: If South Carolina manages to pull off the upset, Dabo Swinney will be hearing about it for as long as Steve Spurrier is hanging around college football. This is an absolute must-win game for Clemson, but dark clouds are already starting to form with star freshman Deshaun Watson still listed as day-to-day with a sprained knee. If Cole Stoudt starts, will he be able to take advantage of a vulnerable South Carolina defense? The Tigers have the No. 1 defense, but South Carolina is No. 18 in scoring against Power 5 competition. That means the Gamecocks could score just enough, and with Stoudt at quarterback "just enough" might be 17 points. South Carolina 17, Clemson 14
Adelson: The Tigers have relied on their defense all season, and will do it again to finally break their long losing streak to South Carolina. Clemson ranks No. 1 in the nation in total defense and will make life difficult for Dylan Thompson, who is not having the type of season anybody expected. While the prospects on offense look shaky if Watson is out, Clemson has won squeakers this season with an inconsistent Stoudt behind center. As long as Clemson takes care of the football, the defense will lead the victory. Clemson 17, South Carolina 14
Hale: Strictly from a matchup standpoint, Pitt doesn’t have a distinct edge, but this game may be a question of motivation. The storyline for Miami is a familiar one right now. Just like last year, the season built to Florida State, and the Hurricanes came up short. Last year, Miami responded by losing four of six to close out the season. This year, the follow-up to the FSU game was perhaps Miami’s worst performance of the season, which certainly bodes well for Pitt. On the flip side, the Panthers are desperately seeking win No. 6 to get bowl eligible, so there’s no question which team has more to play for. Add the fact that Chad Voytik is playing his best football of the season now, and Pitt is in position to move the ball even if James Conner isn’t at 100 percent. Pitt 21, Miami 20
Fortuna: Pitt is the more desperate team here, fighting to extend its season and make a bowl game for the third straight season under third-year coach Paul Chryst. But the Panthers could be without Conner, which will put much more pressure on Voytik and the passing attack. Is Miami's defense ready to take care of business after consecutive letdowns? Its offense should not be a problem in this one. Miami 38, Pitt 24
Adelson: Everybody expects Florida to play an emotional game for outgoing coach Will Muschamp. That should serve the Gators well in the early going, and they will have opportunities to establish the run against a Florida State defensive front that has had its up and downs this season. Dante Fowler, Vernon Hargreaves and company will throw some different looks at Jameis Winston and force him out of his comfort zone. But ultimately, Winston will do what he always does -- find a way to win a close game. Florida State 28, Florida 27
More unanimous picks
Syracuse at Boston College: The Eagles were the latest team to nearly upend Florida State last week, but that hasn’t always been a recipe for success afterward. It will be interesting to see if the physical and emotional toll of that loss carries over, but Syracuse certainly hasn’t been playing good football either. BC 33, Syracuse 13
Kentucky at Louisville: The ACC’s newest rivalry game may not offer much in the way of fireworks in Year 1. Reggie Bonnafon finally looks comfortable running Bobby Petrino’s offense, and Louisville is still fighting for an Orange Bowl berth. Kentucky is desperate to get win No. 6, but the Wildcats have lost five straight. Louisville 24, Kentucky 20
NC State at North Carolina: Ready for some offensive fireworks? Both of these teams are allowing an average of more than 400 yards per game to FBS foes, and both have potentially explosive offenses. That should make for a fun rivalry matchup to end the regular season, but UNC gets the edge after playing easily its most complete game of the season last week against Duke. North Carolina 45, NC State 33
Wake Forest at Duke: Last week’s win over Virginia Tech was a fitting moment for a Wake Forest team that has continued to fight in spite of adverse circumstances all season, and the Deacons' D is legit. Meanwhile, Duke is reeling from two straight losses. This game may end up close, but it’s still hard to see Wake pulling off the upset in two straight. Duke 24, Wake Forest 10
There is one two-loss team, however, that may have an argument for inclusion when all is said and done.
UCLA faces Stanford Friday (3:30 ET, ABC) with a chance to clinch the Pac-12 South. With a win against the Cardinal, UCLA will face Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game. If UCLA wins out, it will have a résumé worthy of discussion for the playoff.
UCLA has played the hardest schedule in the nation, according to ESPN’s strength of schedule rankings. The Bruins have not only played a nine-game Pac-12 schedule, but their out-of-conference slate also is the hardest of any Power 5 team.
The Bruins opened their season at Virginia in a game that kicked off at 9 AM PT. In Week 2, they faced Memphis, the current first-place team in the American Athletic Conference, and followed that game with a trip to Arlington to face Texas in Week 3.
The Bruins traveled close to 8,000 miles (counting return trips) before their first conference game and escaped with a 3-0 record. Two of those wins were against fellow Power 5 opponents; excluding Notre Dame, Florida State is the only other Power 5 team with multiple out-of-conference wins against Power 5 opponents.
Add in that UCLA’s conference schedule is the 12th-hardest in the nation before a potential Pac-12 Championship Game, and there will be no argument from the committee that the Bruins were not tested.
A difficult schedule affords the Bruins more opportunities for signature wins. UCLA has six wins against teams currently ranked in the top 40 of ESPN's Football Power Index, second-most in the FBS behind Alabama. If the Bruins win out, they will add two current FPI top 20 wins to their résumé.
One of the arguments against UCLA is that it played close games in the beginning of the season against lesser opponents. Since those games, however, the teams that UCLA beat have risen in the rankings. UCLA’s first six opponents all rank 42nd or better in the FPI after two of those teams began the season outside the top 42.
If UCLA were to beat Stanford and Oregon, the average current FPI ranking of UCLA’s 11 wins would be 33, the best in the nation.
Strength of Record
Many will point to UCLA’s two losses, to Utah and Oregon. The Oregon game was not even as close as the 12-point final scoring margin suggests.
ESPN’s Strength of Record metric accounts for both wins and losses to measure the difficulty of achieving a team’s record, given its schedule. UCLA, with two losses, currently ranks sixth in Strength of Record, ahead of one-loss Baylor and Ohio State. That means that it would be harder for an average top 25 team to achieve UCLA’s 9-2 record than either Baylor’s or Ohio State’s record.
If UCLA beats Stanford and Oregon it will likely jump into the top four in Strength of Record. The Bruins would likely have the same record as Oregon but will have played a tougher schedule in achieving that record. Similarly, assuming TCU and Baylor win out, the Bruins would have as many wins as those teams but significantly more quality wins, including a victory against one of the top teams in the nation (Oregon).
All of these arguments are contingent on UCLA winning out. Beating Stanford at home and Oregon on a neutral field is not an easy feat.
ESPN’s Football Power Index projects that the Bruins have a 24 percent chance to win out, but if they were to do it, could the committee really leave a two-loss Pac-12 champion, with the hardest schedule in the nation, out of the playoff?
Florida State Seminoles
Record: 11-0 (8-0 ACC)
Rank: No. 3
Next big obstacle: vs. Florida on Saturday
Reason for optimism: As seems to be the case each week, Florida State’s biggest reason for optimism remains its record, which remains perfect -- even if FSU’s performances on the field haven’t been. The Seminoles narrowly escaped Boston College on Saturday in yet another close call, but that’s simply a narrative. If the Seminoles can knock off an SEC team in Florida this week, the argument that FSU is a team that rises in the face of adversity gets stronger.
Cause for concern: FSU’s run defense has to be a worry at this point. Boston College carried 51 times for 240 yards in a losing effort last week, mustering a 7:34 time-of-possession advantage in the process. It marked the eighth time in 11 games this season that the Seminoles have surrendered at least 150 yards on the ground -- something that happened just six times from 2011-13. Why is that such an issue? This week’s opponent, Florida, is fourth in the SEC in rushing yards per game versus FBS foes and toppled Georgia earlier this season on the strength of its ground game. Following the Gators, FSU gets Georgia Tech, which ranks fourth nationally in rushing.
Who they’ll be rooting for this week: Start with the teams that can still help Florida State’s strength of schedule, namely the entire ACC. Clemson, Louisville and Georgia Tech can all upend SEC teams, which certainly would make the ACC look better in comparison. A Tech win, in particular, would be big, with UGA ranked in the top 10 and the Yellow Jackets awaiting FSU in the ACC title game. Beyond conference status, however, FSU wouldn’t mind seeing Auburn upend Alabama, Texas knock off TCU, Oregon State upset Oregon or Ole Miss topple Mississippi State. A little chaos at the top of the polls would only make a 12-0 record look all that much more impressive for Florida State.
On the fringes: If Georgia Tech could win out by beating two top-10 teams, Yellow Jackets fans will certainly want to make their case. They’ll have an uphill battle with plenty of teams still ranked ahead of Tech, but it’s at least worth monitoring as long as the Jackets keep winning.
College Football Playoff: Florida State*
Capital One Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech*
Russell Athletic Bowl: Notre Dame*
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Louisville*
Belk Bowl: Clemson*
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Miami*
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Duke*
Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman: North Carolina*
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Virginia
Quick Lane Bowl: Boston College*
BITCOIN Bowl: NC State*
Note: Notre Dame takes one of the ACC's bowl slots if it is not invited to a New Year's Six bowl game.
* Bowl eligible
For the first time this season, the top seven teams in the College Football Playoff Top 25 have remained the same, as determined by 11 members of the 12-member selection committee (Mike Tranghese was sick and unable to travel to Dallas for the meetings).
No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon, No. 3 Florida State and No. 4 Mississippi State each won in Week 13, and in spite of another close win for the Seminoles, FSU did not drop another spot. The only difference at the top was that No. 8 UCLA, No. 9 Georgia and No. 10 Michigan State all slid up one notch to take the spot of Ole Miss, which sank nine spots to No. 19 after being shut out by Arkansas.
Here's what the bracket would look like today:
TCU is still the first team on the bubble at No. 5, followed by No. 6 Ohio State and No. 7 Baylor. No. 11 Arizona jumped four spots, and No. 17 Missouri is up three spots. Another big mover was No. 18 Minnesota, which rose seven spots after beating Nebraska.
The biggest surprise this week was that not one but two Group of 5 teams were ranked: No. 23 Boise State and No. 24 Marshall. It was a controversial call, as Boise State is a two-loss team just one win away from clinching the Mountain West's Mountain Division, and Marshall is the only undefeated team remaining in the Group of 5. Marshall has already clinched the Conference USA East title.
Marshall is ranked No. 19 in the latest Associated Press poll, followed by No. 21 Colorado State and No. 25 Boise State. This is the first time since Week 10, when East Carolina was ranked in the selection committee's first Top 25, that the Group of 5 has been represented in the CFP rankings.
That would make Boise State the frontrunner to represent the Group of 5 in a New Year's Six Bowl.
As for the other major bowls, here's a projection based on the current rankings:
The Orange Bowl lost the ACC champion (FSU) so it gets the next highest-ranked ACC team, No. 16 Georgia Tech. The Orange Bowl then selects the next highest-ranked nonconference championship team from the Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame. By contract, displaced conference champs from the SEC and Big Ten don't go to the Orange Bowl. That would pit the Yellow Jackets against No. 10 Michigan State because the committee would look to avoid a rematch with No. 9 Georgia.
Here's what New Year's Eve and New Year's Day could look like, based on today's rankings:
12:30 p.m. ET -- Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl -- No. 9 Georgia vs. No. 7 Baylor
4 p.m. ET -- VIZIO Fiesta Bowl -- No. 23 Boise State vs. No. 8 UCLA
8 p.m. ET -- Capital One Orange Bowl -- No. 16 Georgia Tech vs. No. 10 Michigan State
12:30 p.m. ET -- Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic -- No. 5 TCU vs. No. 6 Ohio State
5 p.m. ET -- Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual -- No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State
8:30 p.m. ET -- Allstate Sugar Bowl -- No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Mississippi State
Things stayed the same at the top of the latest unveiling of the College Football Playoff rankings, but one team took quite the tumble down the list.
Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Mississippi State are again the top four teams in the CFP rankings; in fact, the top seven teams from last week's rankings remain unchanged. TCU, Ohio State and Baylor held steady at the Nos. 5-7 spots.
Mississippi, however, took a spill, going from No. 8 last week all the way down to No. 19 after an embarrassing 30-0 road loss to Arkansas that was the Rebels' third straight SEC defeat.
As a result of Ole Miss' fall, UCLA, fresh off its win over rival USC, moved up to No. 8. Georgia and Michigan State rounded out the top 10. The Spartans benefited from the Rebels' fall, moving back into the top 10 after landing at No. 11 the previous week.
Further down the rankings is the battle to see which school from outside the Power 5 conferences will earn a guaranteed spot in a New Year's bowl. Boise State
Florida carried Ron Zook off the field in his final game, an upset that remains so memorable, people continue to point to that win 10 years later.
Especially this week.
Because everybody wants to know: Can the Gators win one for Champ, the way they won one for the Zooker?
The similarities between Zook’s last triumph over Florida State and the 2014 Gators headed into the Florida State game on Saturday are too similar to ignore.
Both Florida teams 6-4. Both heavy underdogs. Both playing for an outgoing coach.
“We were in the same position those guys are in this year,” said former Florida running back Ciatrick Fason, a captain on the 2004 team. “Our coach got fired. We hadn’t beaten them in Tallahassee in a very long time, so it made us want to go out there and play for Coach Zook but also win at Doak. It happened to be on the same day they were naming the field for coach (Bobby) Bowden, so we wanted to go up there and upset every celebration they had.”
In the days leading up to the game, nobody gave down-and-out Florida much of a chance against the No. 10 Seminoles. Florida State had one of the best defenses in the country and had shut down just about every running back that came its way.
But Florida believed it had nothing to lose. To the Gators, all the pressure belonged to Florida State.
“Nobody expected us to win, and that just mentally makes you feel like, ‘We can go out here and cut it loose. Don’t worry about mistakes. We can go for it on fourth-and-2 or fourth-and-3 because we’ve got nothing to lose and Florida State has everything to lose,’" Fason said. "As a Gator, we know we’re trying to keep them from get a national championship, and it being a rival game with nothing to lose that works to our advantage.”
Fason also believes the way Florida played in 2004 caught Florida State off guard. He ended up with 100 yards rushing in the game and was a big reason why the Gators won, saying the Seminoles were not prepared for their smash-mouth style.
After Florida took a 10-3 lead into halftime, Fason told his teammates he wanted them to carry Zook off the field if they ended up winning. They assembled around him in the final minute, a 20-13 win theirs to celebrate.
“As soon as that final tick went off the clock, everybody picked up Coach Zook,” Fason said. “It was the best moment of my life.”
And it still remains one of the top moments not only in Gators football history, but in Zook's career. Mike Degory, the starting center on the 2004 team, later coached with Zook at Illinois. Even there, Zook talked about the way the Gators won his final game there.
“He always used to say how much it meant to him, and how much he felt the commitment from the players was there,” Degory recalled. “Everybody knows after this week, Coach Muschamp is going to be looking for another job, but the players feel a lot of commitment to that coach. We wanted to send Coach Zook out a winner. What we had 10 years ago was a connection with Coach Zook. Deep down in my heart, that is the guy that I wanted to play for and we wanted to echo that by giving him that victory.”
Muschamp was even asked about it during his press conference earlier this week in Gainesville.
“That isn't going to help us win the game. I can assure you of that,” he said. “So we'll prepare well and we'll go up there and play well. That's what we need to do.”
Florida has a history of doing that under Muschamp. It was two years ago Florida went into Doak Campbell Stadium and forced five turnovers in a 37-26 win. Florida was a much better team then -- ranked higher than Florida State, in fact. But it also happens to be the last time the Seminoles lost.
Since then, Florida has not come close to another 11-win season, while Jimbo Fisher has won two ACC championships, one national championship and 27 straight games. But this season, Florida State has played in so many close games, the expectation is this will be another close one.
Especially if the Gators play as emotionally as they did for Zook in 2004.
“Emotion always counts, but I think at the end of the day, execution wins,” Fisher said. “Hopefully, we'll be emotional. To play Florida, our kids will be high. Our kids will be excited. I think you'll see two teams that are emotionally and physically ready to play, and then who can go out and execute and win the battles in the physical and mental execution will be the team that wins.”
With that in mind, plenty of teams are on Upset Watch in Week 14.
No. 18 Georgia Tech (9-2) at No. 10 Georgia (9-2), noon, SEC Network. Line: Georgia by 13. At first glance, this line appears to be rather large considering how well Georgia Tech is playing heading into the matchup. The Jackets have won four straight, beat No. 22 Clemson and had an entire off week to prepare. They nearly pulled the upset a year ago, and have a far better team this season. Then there is the matter of how Florida gashed Georgia on the ground. Georgia Tech has been so much more effective offensively with its triple option, if it hangs onto the ball and continues to eat chunks of time off the clock, the Jackets will have an excellent shot to win.
South Carolina (6-5) at No. 22 Clemson (8-3), noon, ESPN. Line: Clemson by 4.5. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has some weird voodoo going on over Clemson. Maybe he's just in their heads. How else to explain the turnover margin during the Gamecocks' five-game winning streak? South Carolina has turned it over three times; Clemson 15. That includes a whopping six Clemson turnovers a year ago. All those mistakes have ended in pretty miserable losses. Clemson has lost each game by double digits. Given the way South Carolina has played this season, all signs point to a Clemson breakthrough. But will the Tigers have Deshaun Watson available? If not, will Cole Stoudt do enough to break the losing streak?
NC State (6-5) at North Carolina (6-5), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. Line: North Carolina by 6.5. The Tar Heels are riding high off an impressive 45-20 win against Duke, but now they face their second straight rivalry game against a Wolfpack team that had a week off to prepare. Though their run defense played much better, NC State will try to continue to exploit weaknesses in that group behind Matt Dayes and Shad Thornton. The bigger question is whether the NC State defense has enough to slow down the unstoppable Marquise Williams, who has put on quite the offensive show down the stretch. This one could end up being a shootout. If that happens, anyone can win.
Florida (6-4) at No. 3 Florida State (11-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPN. Line: FSU by 7.5. You are going to hear a lot about what Ron Zook and the Gators did to the Seminoles in 2004. A few similarities are hard to ignore -- Florida had nothing to lose in that game in Tallahassee, the final one under Zook. Florida was 6-4 going into the game; Florida State was a top-10 team. They are all points to keep in mind, especially given the way Florida State has squeaked by its opponents this season. Outgoing Florida coach Will Muschamp handed Florida State its last lost. Maybe he has something up his sleeve to give the Noles another on his way out. Plus, strange things happen in this game the last few years it has ended in a "4" -- 1994, Choke at Doak; 2004, Zookered!; 2014 ???
* Note: There is no line for the Pitt-Miami game with James Conner's status up in the air. Considering Miami (6-5, 3-4) is the home team, the Canes need to be on high alert for a Pitt team (5-6, 3-4) that will be desperate to become bowl eligible. Especially given their abysmal performance last week in a loss to Virginia.
** Note II: The line for Virginia-Virginia Tech is even, so tough to put anybody on upset watch in that game. The over/under, however, is set at 40.5. I would take the under on that.
Don't let the record book fool you. The 80,210 seated in Doak Campbell Stadium on Nov. 26, 1994, and the millions more watching from home will tell you the 31-31 tie between No.4 Florida and No. 7 Florida State belies the reality on the field that afternoon.
In one of the greatest installments of the longtime Florida-Florida State rivalry, the stakes were once again high as both teams were situated in the top 10 at kickoff -- just like the 13 other times from 1990-2000. The Gators, ranked No. 4, were also hoping to match FSU's first national title in '93 with their own in '94.
Florida coach Steve Spurrier, never one to shy away from offering a punch line at the expense of a rival school or coach, stoked the fire earlier in the year when he called FSU "Free Shoes University," referring to a report that agents picked up a $6,000 tab that Seminoles players rang up at a Foot Locker near FSU.
"You respect [Spurrier], but he's like a crazy uncle," Andre Wadsworth, a defensive end on that '94 Noles team, said. "I never did like Florida. Growing up in Miami, I only respected the Canes and FSU. The Gators didn't play [Miami]. I don't care about the excuse of being in the SEC and all that nonsense."
Spurrier has always been good at getting opponents' blood boiling, but up until that point, he had not beaten his cross-state rival in Tallahassee and was 1-3 overall against Bobby Bowden.
"We were aware at that point that Steve had not won in Doak Campbell, and, I don't know if that meant anything to the players, but it meant something to the coaches," said Mickey Andrews, FSU' defensive coordinator from 1984-2010. "Steve, part of his deal, was trying to get under the skin of another coach. Everybody thinks some things, but Steve thinks out loud. I'm sure some of the stuff bothered Coach Bowden."
Kirk Herbstreit's Gameplan Breakdown
12:00 PM ET 16 Georgia Tech 9 Georgia 12:00 PM ET Kentucky 22 Louisville 12:00 PM ET South Carolina 21 Clemson 12:30 PM ET Syracuse Boston College 12:30 PM ET North Carolina State North Carolina 3:30 PM ET Florida 3 Florida State 7:00 PM ET Wake Forest Duke 7:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Miami (FL)