COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Another week, another high-profile endorsement for J.T. Barrett as his Heisman Trophy campaign appears to be gaining more steam.

This time, though, the Ohio State quarterback actually received the stamp of approval from somebody who will be casting a vote for the game’s top honor.

Former Heisman winner Troy Smith tried to play it coy about who might top his ballot as the regular season winds down, citing his preference to wait for the last possible moment for making his choice official. But he has also been in Barrett’s shoes with the Buckeyes, and is seeing a lot of his own records with the program falling at the hands of the redshirt freshman, and Smith couldn’t hide the fact that he might already be leaning toward one candidate in particular.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for that process and have an understanding of what it takes to win the Heisman Trophy, and I think it shouldn’t be awarded until the last game of whoever is in the standings or whichever candidates are playing, because you never know who is going to have that breakout moment," Smith said. "There is great talent across the nation, but I’m definitely biased toward some of the guys who have worn the scarlet and gray if they are up there.

"But you didn’t hear that from me."

Smith is certainly still free to change his mind or keep his vote a secret, but he made no effort to hide his admiration and appreciation for what Barrett has done for the No. 6 Buckeyes in his first season as a starter. And one week after Ohio State coach Urban Meyer publicly endorsed Barrett as a viable Heisman contender, Smith added his name to the list while the 2006 winner was on campus preparing to have his number enshrined in the Horseshoe during Saturday’s matchup with rival Michigan.

The redshirt freshman is seemingly rewriting a record book that is covered with Smith’s name every week, and the comparisons between the last Ohio State quarterback to claim the famed stiff-arm trophy and the one pushing for it heading into the regular-season finale and next week’s Big Ten championship game aren’t likely to slow down any time soon.

Smith joked about what his individual numbers might look like in Meyer’s spread offense with the chance to throw "shovel passes for touchdowns," but he was otherwise effusive in his praise of Barrett, and pointed to his eye-popping statistics with 42 total touchdowns as a key component in his Heisman platform.

"Oh yeah, I think he should be in [consideration] everybody’s mind," Smith said. "Statistically, the things that he’s doing, obviously numbers don’t lie. [Offensive coordinator] Tom Herman and our offensive staff are putting him and other guys in positions to make plays, and J.T. is doing nothing but capitalizing on every single chance and opportunity. ... As a freshman, he’s doing some things that it took me an ample amount of years to grasp and have an understanding about.

"Obviously we’ve had a chance to see the transformation and the growth behind J.T. Barrett this whole season, and I’m pretty much blown away."

In Smith’s case, that makes him not only a qualified endorser for Barrett, but potentially an impressed voter as well.

Big Ten Monday mailbag

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
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Short week. I’ve got the mail. Here you go:

@mitchsherman: Nebraska is a hot topic again late in the season for its failure to win key games. The Huskers' 28-24 loss to Minnesota on Saturday squashed the final strand of hope to play for a Big Ten title, officially extending the drought to 15 years without a conference crown. I think the Nebraska administration needs to ask a different set of questions this year than last, when Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst offered a vague statement in support of coach Bo Pelini at the close of the regular season. Is Nebraska satisfied with its place in the Big Ten? Are the Huskers content to win nine games a year but rarely, if ever, factor in the national conversation? If so, change is unnecessary. But if the Huskers want more, some kind of fix appears in order. Clearly, the formula in place isn't working to improve Nebraska. As for the streak of 340 consecutive sellouts, Nebraska can't afford to wait until it ends before taking action. Apathy is growing as the Huskers slide further down the Big Ten pecking order. And the streak of sellouts should not be taken for granted.

@mitchsherman: The Badgers, in that scenario, would land in the Cotton, Fiesta or Peach. The College Football Playoff committee would then be tasked to determine if Ohio State or Michigan State belonged in another of the New Year's Six games -- other than the Orange, which will be determined by conference tie-ins. The Orange Bowl gets the Big Ten runner-up only if it ranks ahead of every available SEC team. The Spartans appear in decent shape today for a New Year's Six spot, especially if Ohio State keeps winning. Of course, the Buckeyes, with a close loss to Wisconsin, could remain ahead of Michigan State and steal a New Year's Six spot, knocking MSU to the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. Remember, though, if a Big Ten team lands in the Orange Bowl, another can't go to the Citrus. Got that? In a nutshell, it's complicated.

@mitchsherman: It's a safe assumption that the league will get 10 teams in the postseason. Nine are eligible, with Northwestern or Illinois to get a sixth win on Saturday. For an 11th team to make it, Michigan must upset Ohio State. The Big Ten, as usual, will be matched against the SEC as a likely underdog in the Outback and possibly the Citrus or TaxSlayer (formerly Gator). If Ohio State wins the league and misses the playoff, it figures to go in as a favorite to win a New Year's Six bowl, though the same can't be said for other remaining Big Ten contenders Michigan State, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Moving down the line, Pac-12 foes will likely bring stronger resumes than the Big Ten in San Diego and Santa Clara. By my count, the league will be fortunate to go 3-3 with its top six teams. It looks slightly better for the lower-division teams, matched against the ACC in New York and Conference USA in Dallas, though the SEC could loom in Nashville. The Big Ten's at-large matchups might determine its chance to get above .500 in the postseason. I'd say, expect four to five wins and hope for six..

B1G early look: Setting up Week 14

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
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Wisconsin Badgers, Paul Bunyan Axe Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsThe Gophers have their best chance in years to win back the Paul Bunyan Axe from the Badgers.
Just one weekend left in the regular season. For some teams, it will be the last time they play football until next Labor Day weekend. A few will be fighting just to play one more game this season. And, of course, it's rivalry time.

Here are five storylines to watch in Week 14:

1. A Bunyan-sized game: We know Ohio State will represent the East Division in the Big Ten title game. The Buckeyes' opponent will be determined on Saturday in Madison. In an excellent bit of scheduling prowess, Minnesota plays at Wisconsin with the West Division championship on the line. The Gophers are also looking to snap a 10-year losing streak in the Paul Bunyan Axe game, but this may be the best team they've had during that streak. Playing Wisconsin might help Ohio State's chances for the College Football Playoff more since the Buckeyes have already beaten Minnesota. This game is always physical and emotional, and it will have more riding on it than it has in years.

2. Brady Hoke's last stand? Michigan sits at 5-6, needing a win at Ohio State in order to reach a bowl game. Even that might not be enough to save Hoke's job, but it's his best Hail Mary option since beating the Buckeyes always carries weight. Problem is, the Wolverines are a massive underdog in Columbus, and their offense doesn't have enough playmakers to hang with the Buckeyes. It will take a miracle, and Ohio State doesn't figure to be distracted after a subpar performance against Indiana likely snapped the Buckeyes back into focus.

3. The Beckman Bowl? The Land of Lincoln game between Northwestern and Illinois has the potential for some serious fun. Both teams are one win away from bowl eligibility. Illinois might save Beckman's job with a win on the road over the Wildcats, while Northwestern would complete an improbable, bizarre season by reeling off three straight victories to make a bowl. Throw in the recent sniping about who is Chicago's Big Ten team, and this game shapes up as a whole lot more interesting than we had a right to expect.

4. Rivalries old and new: Not many people will pay attention the Old Oaken Bucket game between Purdue and Indiana, as neither will make a bowl, but it still means something in the Hoosier State. Michigan State and Penn State will play for one of the ugliest trophies in sports. More recent rivalries hold more intrigue. The Nebraska-Iowa Heroes Game won't be for a division title, but the Bo Pelini watch could be in full effect. Meanwhile, Rutgers and Maryland play for the first time as Big Ten members and could start a new rivalry on the East Coast.

5. The race for records: Melvin Gordon needs one yard to break Ron Dayne's Big Ten single-season rushing record, and he still has Barry Sanders in his sights. David Cobb could set Minnesota's school record for rushing, if he's healthy enough to play. Indiana's Tevin Coleman needs 94 yards to reach 2,000 for the season, which would give the Big Ten two 2,000-yard rushers in the same season for the first time ever. Ohio State's J.T. Barrett is six touchdown passes away from the Big Ten single-season record held by Drew Brees . And if Buckeyes teammate Joey Bosa can get three more sacks, he'll break the school season record. He has promised to do a backflip if he gets the record, so we should all root for that.
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Danny Kanell discusses the four teams he would pick for the College Football Playoff.
Melvin Gordon Zach Bolinger/Icon SportswireWisconsin star Melvin Gordon is one of seven 1,000-yard rushers in the Big Ten this season.
Melvin Gordon can be mesmerizing. He's such a dynamic runner, seemingly always on the verge of another huge play, that it's hard to ever turn away.

The Wisconsin junior is having a Heisman Trophy-caliber season even if he doesn't win the award next month. Although Gordon's FBS single-game rushing record of 408 yards lasted a single week, as Oklahoma's Samaje Perine eclipsed it Saturday, Gordon still became the fastest player in FBS history to reach 2,000 yards in a season (241 carries). He leads the nation with 2,109 yards. According to Wisconsin, his rushing total from the first three quarters alone (1,915 yards) still would lead the nation.

But there are other standout running backs in the Big Ten -- great ones and really good ones. As the season concludes this week for a handful of teams, it's important to acknowledge all of them. Because we might never a group of Big Ten backs like this one in the same season.

"There's a lot of guys in this league that are going to be playing on Sundays from that specific position," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said Sunday.

[+] EnlargeTevin Coleman
AP Photo/Darron CummingsTevin Coleman has been a bright spot for Indiana, setting the school's single-season rushing mark.
Think about what Tevin Coleman felt like the day Gordon went for 408. Playing Rutgers at the same time Gordon gashed Nebraska, Coleman went for 307 yards, the second-highest total in Indiana history (behind Anthony Thompson's 377, the Big Ten record that Gordon smashed). Coleman had déjà vu Saturday against Ohio State, rushing for 228 yards and three touchdowns, breaking the IU single-season rushing record but being overshadowed because he plays on a losing team.

How high would Coleman's stock be if he played for a contender?

At least Coleman's name is known around the Big Ten and, to a degree, around the country. No one is talking about Jeremy Langford. Not even in the Big Ten. OK, maybe in East Lansing. But nowhere else.

Here's what Langford did this past Saturday: rushed for 126 yards and two touchdowns as Michigan State stomped Rutgers. It marked his 15th consecutive 100-yard rushing performance against a Big Ten opponent. Think about that. He has the longest active streak of 100-yard rushing performances against conference opponents since at least 1996.

Langford has 1,242 rush yards and 17 touchdowns, and he's barely a blip on the Big Ten radar. It's a tribute to the league's incredible depth at running back. Langford is quietly having another productive season a year after quietly rushing for 1,422 yards on a team that won the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl. But it's time he gets his due as one of the more consistent runners in the country the past two seasons.

"He's one of the reasons we won 13 games last year and won nine this year," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said Sunday night. "Remember, he had 23 yards rushing coming into his junior year. He's put together a string of 14 100-yard games in [regular-season] conference play.

"He's been a tremendous performer for us."

Minnesota's David Cobb has a slightly higher profile than Langford, but he also gets overlooked in a league loaded with star running backs. Cobb is one of the nation's most physical and prolific backs, yet his steak evidently doesn't match Gordon's or Coleman's sizzle. Despite 1,350 rush yards entering play Saturday, Cobb amazingly didn't make the cut for Doak Walker Award semifinalists.

Cobb left Saturday's win against Nebraska with a hamstring injury. He's questionable for this week's showdown against Wisconsin, although he tweeted that he'll be ready to go. If so, the game at Camp Randall Stadium will feature the longest uninterrupted rivalry in the FBS, the Big Ten West Division title at stake, a giant axe and two of the nation's best running backs. Sign me up.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Langford
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsMichigan State's Jeremy Langford has been the mark of consistency with 15 straight 100-yard rushing games in Big Ten play.
Did you know that two more Big Ten backs joined the 1,000-yard club Saturday? Don't feel bad if you were too busy watching Mesmerizing Melvin rack up 207 rush yards and two touchdowns against Iowa.

Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott and Northwestern's Justin Jackson both eclipsed 1,o00 yards. Elliott recorded his fourth 100-yard rushing performance in Big Ten play and fifth of the season against Indiana. Jackson, a true freshman, boasts five 100-yard rushing performances in the past seven games and consistently produces for a Northwestern offense that has struggled most of the season.

The Big Ten now has seven 1,000-yard rushers with a week to go in the regular season. No other league has more than five. The Big Ten has four players -- Gordon, Coleman, Cobb and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah -- with more than 1,400 rush yards. No other league has more than two.

The surge has taken place without star rushers from Michigan or Penn State, two traditionally elite running programs, and despite the season-ending injury to Rutgers standout Paul James. Dantonio, who has spent much of his career in the Big Ten, recalls the running back depth in the mid-to-late 1990s, when the league had stars like Wisconsin's Ron Dayne, Ohio State's Eddie George, Michigan's Tim Biakabutuka and Penn State's Curtis Enis.

"It seemed like everybody had a guy," Dantonio said. "It's very similar to that [now]. You've got four or five guys who really deserve to be first-team all-conference players. Somebody's going to get left out in the cold a little bit."

That's life in the league of running backs, but this group, not just Gordon, should not soon be forgotten.

Weekend rewind: Big Ten

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
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Time has somehow almost completely run out on the regular season, which can only mean one thing.

The Big Ten has actually been pretty fun this season after all.

The calendar has flown by, particularly since those rough couple weeks at the end of August and start of September, but this last weekend offered yet another reminder of why the conference has been so enjoyable for the most part and almost universally underrated for what it has brought to the table nationally.

[+] EnlargeJalin Marshall
Jason Mowry/Icon SportswireOhio State's Jalin Marshall scored four consecutive second-half touchdowns Saturday to lead the Buckeyes to a come-from-behind win over Indiana.
The West Division round-robin tournament was compelling theater, and it will now include a play-in game to the Big Ten championship between Wisconsin and Minnesota on the last Saturday of the regular season after both teams pulled out gutty wins on the road this weekend.

There continues to be a legitimate threat to not only qualify for the College Football Playoff, but -- with Ohio State continuing its resurgence from the early loss to Virginia Tech -- perhaps Urban Meyer’s team has become one that nobody would want to face in the postseason. And look out if the Buckeyes could cut down on the turnovers, because that’s about the only thing keeping some of the scores close recently.

Meanwhile, a handful of Big Ten Heisman Trophy candidates are making cases to appear in New York City, with Melvin Gordon again shining down the stretch, J.T. Barrett accounting for four more touchdowns and Tevin Coleman submitting one more eye-catching performance for an Indiana team that has no other credible weapon aside from the dynamic running back.

There have been some low points, sure. But take a moment before the end of the regular season sneaks up on Saturday to appreciate what the Big Ten has provided this season -- before football is gone again for the interminable offseason.

Team of the week: After a 28-24 win at Nebraska, Minnesota is halfway through the closing two-week gauntlet on the road with the West Division title on the line, and its dreams of winning the West and setting up a rematch with Ohio State remain intact. The Gophers even stared down a little extra adversity with running back David Cobb getting injured, but that wasn’t enough to slow down a program that has proved several times this season that it has capable backups ready and waiting for a chance to step in and contribute to a victory.

Biggest play: A hard-nosed, opportunistic defense has been the true calling card for the Gophers this season, and the defense solidified its reputation when Briean Boddy-Calhoun ripped the ball away from Nebraska’s De'Mornay Pierson-El at the 2-yard line with just more than a minute left. The turnover was absolutely critical for Minnesota, and it set the stage for one of the biggest Axe games ever against Wisconsin next weekend.

Big Man on Campus (Offense): After coughing up a pair of fumbles the week before and then becoming the target of social-media scorn, Jalin Marshall left no doubt about why Meyer and the Buckeyes were standing so firmly in his corner. Starting with an electrifying punt return, the redshirt freshman almost single-handedly saved Ohio State’s season with four consecutive second-half touchdowns -- and one of his three scoring catches literally only required one hand.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Essentially an afterthought as recently as two weeks ago, Northwestern has charged back into postseason consideration with consecutive wins, the latest spurred by another veteran effort from a freshman linebacker. Anthony Walker helped pin down Purdue with sideline-to-sideline work that included nine tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. The Wildcats face a bowl-or-bust battle with Illinois on Saturday.

Big Man on Campus (Special Teams): Marshall’s game-changing punt return makes him a worthy candidate, but Ohio State punter Cameron Johnston had previously pinned Indiana on its 1-yard line to help set up the situation, and he was invaluable in a game that didn’t include Ohio State’s best offensive or defensive efforts this season. Johnston was called on five times in all Saturday, averaging nearly 50 yards per punt with three of them downed inside the 20-yard line.

Biggest face-plant: There’s no question it would have been asking a lot for Rutgers to go on the road and upset a fired-up Michigan State squad on Senior Day, but the first-year Big Ten member once again was completely steamrolled when it stepped on the field with one of the league’s best in a 45-3 laugher. The Scarlet Knights deserve credit for earning bowl eligibility this season, but lopsided losses to Ohio State (56-17), Nebraska (42-24), Wisconsin (37-0) and now Michigan State show how far they have to go still.

Facts and numbers to know: Barrett added Ohio State’s single-season records for both total offense (3,507 yards) and passing touchdowns (33) to his growing collection. ... In the losing effort, Coleman established a new record for Indiana by pushing his season total to 1,906 rushing yards. His 90-yard touchdown was the longest for the Hoosiers since 1912. ... Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford rushed for 100 yards or more for the 15th consecutive game against a Big Ten opponent, the longest streak by an FBS player in the last 10 seasons.

Helmet stickers: Week 13

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
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COLUMBUS, Ohi0 -- Honoring the best and brightest from No. 6 Ohio State's division-clinching 42-27 win over Indiana on Saturday at the Horseshoe.

H-B Jalin Marshall
  • The virtuoso second-half performance against the Hoosiers will go down as definitive proof why Urban Meyer and the coaching staff never batted an eye about keeping him on the field and prominently in the game plan despite two fumbles at Minnesota. Marshall was almost impossible to defend after the game had started to slip away from the Buckeyes, and his four-touchdown barrage, starting with a punt return for a score that energized a restless Ohio Stadium, also might have helped save the season. Expect him to continue to play a major role against rival Michigan and then in the Big Ten title game the following week.
LB Joshua Perry
  • The junior doesn't often come up in discussions about the best linebackers in the Big Ten, but he is certainly valued by the Buckeyes for the way he goes about his business and quietly, efficiently racks up statistics and disrupts offenses. Perry was everywhere for Ohio State against the Hoosiers, including the backfield where he made three tackles for loss and led the team with two sacks. In all he finished with 14 tackles, and while Tevin Coleman did bust a few big plays on the ground against the Buckeyes, it might have been worse without Perry on the field.
RB Ezekiel Elliott
  • The probability was always high that the sophomore would find rushing room against Indiana's soft defense, and Elliott exploded almost right from the start with a 65-yard touchdown rush that put him over 1,000 for the season. But he was just as valuable as a receiver out of the backfield, which could add another dimension to an Ohio State offense that seems to be developing new wrinkles every week. Elliott led the Buckeyes with seven receptions, and combined with his work on the ground, he piled up 146 yards in the victory that punched a return ticket to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game.

Big Ten morning links

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
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One more weekend to go in the regular season. Some thoughts to begin your Thanksgiving week:

1. Next week, the Big Ten will hand out its individual trophies, as well as reveal the all-conference teams. And the media and coaches are going to have a hard time deciding on the coach of the year award.

On one hand, you have Urban Meyer, who has led a very young Ohio State team to a 10-1 record while developing freshman J.T. Barrett into a Heisman Trophy contender on the fly. Eventually, a Buckeyes coach has to win this thing again, right? It hasn't happened since Earle Bruce took home the hardware in 1979, and that's silly.

On the other hand, how do you overlook what Jerry Kill has done at Minnesota? He has the Gophers sitting at 8-3, with a chance to win the West Division by beating Wisconsin this week. It would be nearly impossible to ignore Kill for the award if Minnesota does win that game and forces a rematch with Ohio State in Indianapolis. The Gophers are 16-7 in their last 23 regular-season games and 9-4 in their last 13 Big Ten contests. Remarkable stuff, especially considering a lot of people thought Kill would not return to the sidelines after last year's health issues.

The 28-24 win at Nebraska may have been Kill's best one yet, and it shows the progress this program has made, Chip Scoggins writes.

2. Just think about how much better Minnesota's season would look if its only losses were at TCU and a close one at home vs. Ohio State. But, of course, the Gophers somehow stumbled at Illinois. That was undoubtedly the biggest win in the Tim Beckman era. But Beckman just might have a chance to top that.

Beating Penn State these days is no great achievement, considering the dilapidated state of the Nittany Lions' offense. Still, winning that game in Champaign on Saturday meant that Beckman has doubled his previous Big Ten win total this season and, more importantly, has the Illini in contention for a bowl. If they beat Northwestern this Saturday, the postseason awaits.

Can athletic director Mike Thomas really fire Beckman if he goes 6-6? Attendance remains a major issue, especially considering the embarrassing crowd that showed up to Memorial Stadium on Saturday -- less than 10,000 by most media estimates. But Beckman would have gone from two wins to four wins to six wins in three seasons. It's hard not to call that progress, even if it hasn't been pretty at times.

The ticking clock on Beckman's job has stopped for now, Mark Tupper writes.

3. You couldn't talk about Iowa this season without mentioning that dream schedule: No games against Michigan State, Ohio State Michigan or Penn State (though in hindsight, it would have been better to play those last two than Maryland). West Division rivals Wisconsin and Nebraska coming to Iowa City. A very manageable nonconference slate.

That schedule is a major reason why people were predicting as many as 10 or 11 wins for the Hawkeyes, who were a trendy pick to win the West. But Kirk Ferentz's team has been eliminated from the division race already, and if it doesn't beat a reeling Nebraska team on Black Friday, it will finish 7-5. Even an 8-4 record would feel underwhelming, given all the advantages that Iowa squandered.

The Hawkeyes gave a great effort against Wisconsin on Saturday, especially in the second half. You wonder if things would have been different had they played like that all season. Instead, there's no way to talk about this Iowa season without using the word disappointing.

Let's hit the links ...

West Division
East Division

And, finally ... "Dilly Bar Dan" received more attention and some nice hospitality in Lincoln.
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PREGAME SPEECH

There's a reason why the coaches of the College Football Playoff contenders are wound tighter than a fire hose these days.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher would rather grow arm-hair curtains than face Florida and Georgia Tech in back-to-back weeks.

Alabama's Nick Saban gets Auburn in the Iron Bowl this week and, if the Tide win, gets Missouri or Georgia in the SEC championship game. Fun.

Baylor's Art Briles has to make the short trip to Arlington for a matchup against Texas Tech, and then play Kansas State in the regular-season finale.

TCU's Gary Patterson has to travel to Austin to play the suddenly dangerous Texas Longhorns, followed by a home game against not-so-dangerous Iowa State.

Ohio State's Urban Meyer meets desperate Michigan at the Horseshoe, and then plays either Wisconsin or Minnesota in the Big Ten championship game.

Oregon's Mark Helfrich takes his team to Corvallis for the Civil War (Arizona State can tell Helfrich all about the Beavers), and then faces UCLA, Arizona or ASU in the Pac-12 championship game.

Mississippi State's Dan Mullen has to survive the Egg Bowl in Oxford, and then hope for the best (an Alabama loss to Auburn, which would mean the Bulldogs would face either Mizzou or UGA in the SEC championship game).

And UCLA's Jim Mora, who runs Saban-Meyer-Fisher intense, has to beat Stanford at Pasadena, and then Oregon to have any chance at reaching the four-team playoff.

This is when roster depth matters. When avoiding injuries matters. When talent, coaching and luck matter.


(Read full post)


Florida State still No. 1 in AP poll

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
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Florida State is No. 1 in The Associated Press college football poll, followed by Alabama, Oregon and Mississippi State. The top four teams were unchanged for the first time since late September.

The gap between the Seminoles and the Crimson Tide narrowed after another close call by Florida State, which beat Boston College 20-17 on a field goal in the waning seconds.

Florida State received 37 first-place votes and 1,458 points, down six first-place votes and 18 points from last week. Alabama has 21 first-place votes 1,445 points. No. 3 Oregon received two first-place votes, one more than last week.

Mississippi State is fourth, followed by Baylor and TCU. Baylor and TCU swapped places. Ohio State remained No. 7.


(Read full post)


Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 13

November, 23, 2014
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Playoff Forecast: Can Baylor jump?

November, 23, 2014
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With only two weeks remaining until the playoff committee's final rankings, contenders are running out of chances to win their way into the four-team field.

Although it's not a prediction of the committee's top 25, the Playoff Forecast will use the ESPN Football Power Index and human logic (i.e., the eye test) to determine which teams are best positioned when the committee announces the playoff teams on Dec. 7. These rankings take into account perceived team strength (including injuries), remaining schedule difficulty (including prospective conference championship games) and the current selection committee rankings.


1. Oregon Ducks

FPI's chance of winning out: 59.9 percent
FPI's chance of winning the conference: 66.6 percent

Although Oregon has no more home games, I feel slightly better about its chance to win out than the other two teams that seem to control their playoff destinies (Florida State and Alabama). The Ducks are at Oregon State this week, and their likely Pac-12 title game opponent is UCLA, whom they dominated at the Rose Bowl on Oct. 11. But the Bruins have played much better of late and could pose a threat to Oregon if they can first clinch the South with a win over Stanford on Friday. FPI gives the Ducks a 64 percent chance to win if they play UCLA again.

Playoff picture: Week 14

November, 23, 2014
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No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Florida State are the closest things to locks for the inaugural College Football Playoff. Should all three of those teams win out -- which, of course, is no guarantee -- they should finish the season in the top four of the selection committee’s rankings.

It’s that coveted fourth spot that remains the greatest debate.

“It's also fair to say the differences between teams four through seven -- Mississippi State, TCU, Ohio State and Baylor -- are narrow, very narrow,” committee chair Jeff Long said Tuesday. “There are more games to play and these teams are knocking on the door, and they're not the only ones.”

Here’s a closer look at those teams still “knocking on the door” and how Week 13 affected their playoff chances:

Mississippi State

Pros: Although many other top teams struggled against lesser competition, the Bulldogs took care of business in a 51-0 dismantling of Vanderbilt. Mississippi State needed to win with style, and the game was never in doubt. “If you don't think we controlled that game,” quarterback Dak Prescott told The Associated Press, “then I don't know what you're looking for."

Cons: Ole Miss self-destructed in a 30-0 loss to Arkansas, the second straight opponent the Razorbacks have shut out. That doesn't bode well for Mississippi State, which is teetering on the edge of the bracket and has just one win over teams currently ranked in the selection committee’s top 25 (Auburn). The Bulldogs finish the season on the road against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl and their résumé could have used another boost, but the Rebels should drop out of the top 10 after suffering a third loss.

TCU

Pros: The Horned Frogs were off to prepare for Thursday night’s Thanksgiving game at Texas, but they were still helped by K-State’s Thursday night win in Morgantown and Minnesota’s 28-24 win over Nebraska. For the fourth straight week, TCU was ranked ahead of Baylor, and Long said it was because “strength of schedule is an important factor that came into play, and [Baylor's] body of work is not quite comparable in the view of the committee.” That Minnesota win has a lot to do with it, and it keeps looking better. Until Baylor adds a convincing K-State win to its résumé, there’s no reason to think the committee will reward Baylor's head-to-head win over TCU.

Cons: Ohio State won again. The Buckeyes were pushed by an unheralded Indiana team, but they clinched the Big Ten’s East Division and earned a spot in the conference title game. Ohio State is one team both Baylor and TCU need to be worried about, as the Buckeyes jumped Baylor in the committee’s rankings last week.

Baylor

Pros: The Bears beat Oklahoma State and have now won three straight since their Oct. 18 loss at West Virginia, which is one result the committee has held against Baylor in its comparison to TCU. Baylor also benefited from K-State’s Thursday night win in Morgantown. The Bears need to punctuate their playoff résumé with a season-ending win against a highly ranked K-State team at home Dec. 6. If Baylor and TCU both win out, the Bears should wind up on top.

Cons: Ohio State, which jumped Baylor in the rankings last week, won again and clinched the Big Ten’s East Division in the process. Baylor also didn’t beat Oklahoma State as convincingly as TCU did, but that's splitting hairs: Baylor won 49-28, while TCU beat the Cowboys 42-9. The committee will compare results against common opponents. Baylor's biggest problems are its nonconference schedule and the loss at West Virginia.

Ohio State

Pros: The Buckeyes beat Indiana to clinch the Big Ten’s East Division, and Wisconsin also won at Iowa, putting the Badgers one victory from clinching the West Division. Ohio State should be able to avoid an upset against a middling Michigan team this coming week. There’s certainly no margin for error after the Week 2 home loss to Virginia Tech, but if Ohio State can pull off an impressive win against a ranked Wisconsin team to win the Big Ten title, that loss to the Hokies just might be forgiven.

Cons: It was an underwhelming first three quarters against the Hoosiers for the Buckeyes, who had three turnovers and continue to struggle with ball security. Every other bubble team the Buckeyes are up against found a way to win, too.

UCLA

Pros: After an impressive 38-20 win against USC, the No. 9-ranked Bruins are now in the driver’s seat to win the Pac-12 South Division. UCLA can clinch the division with a win against Stanford on Friday. If the Bruins lose to Stanford, Friday’s Arizona/Arizona State winner would win the division. UCLA remains the Pac-12’s best hope at getting a two-loss conference champ in the playoff. If the Bruins can beat Oregon in the conference title game, they should have at least three wins over teams still ranked in the committee’s top 25.

Cons: Those two losses. The Oct. 4 home loss to Utah took another hit this weekend when Arizona trounced the Utes 42-10, dropping Utah to four losses and out of the division race. Utah will also likely drop out of the committee’s top 25.

Group of 5

Pros: Marshall, Memphis, Northern Illinois, Colorado State and Boise State all continued to win. Undefeated Marshall didn’t win any style points against UAB, but the Thundering Herd remain the only undefeated Group of 5 team.

Cons: The selection committee hasn’t ranked a Group of 5 team for three weeks, citing strength of schedule as the main reason. There’s nothing left on Marshall’s -- or any other Group of 5 front-runner’s -- schedule likely to change that reasoning.

“Again, Marshall's body of work, their strength of schedule, what they've done to this point in time, the committee does not feel that they warrant being ranked in the top 25,” Long said last week. “Again, they're very close. We've talked a lot about Marshall, we've talked about Boise State, Colorado State, Memphis, Northern Illinois -- all Group of 5 teams that are good teams and that we've certainly discussed.”

Drawing conclusions from Week 13

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
9:34
AM ET

Boston College vs. Florida StateChris Morris for ESPN

Each Sunday during the season, ESPN.com will highlight four storylines that had an impact on the College Football Playoff race.

No. 3 Florida State 20, Boston College 17

Jameis Winston moved an official and, eventually, the Eagles out of the way, driving the Seminoles 66 yards to put Roberto Aguayo in position for a 26-yard game-winning field goal with three seconds remaining.


Baylor, Ohio State, UCLA look to impress

Three teams sitting just outside the top four vamped for the selection committee: No. 7 Baylor eased past Oklahoma State 49-28, No. 6 Ohio State clinched the Big Ten's East Division title with a 42-27 win over Indiana and No. 9 UCLA defeated No. 19 USC 38-20.


Three of top four cruise


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