Division rankings: SEC West way ahead

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
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The top of the conference power rankings remained relatively unchanged with the SEC holding a 12-point lead over the Pac-12, which has an eight-point advantage over the Big 12.

After a dismal start to the season, the Big Ten was the biggest mover of the week, rising four points and leapfrogging the ACC for fourth in the rankings. The Big Ten went 12-1 against non-conference opponents in Week 4, including 4-1 against other Power Five teams. Indiana (at Missouri), Maryland (at Syracuse) and Iowa (at Pittsburgh) all took care of business on the road against solid competition.

Besides the Big Ten’s rise and ACC’s minor fall, there was not a lot of movement in the conference power rankings.

Instead of delving into many of the same storylines as in weeks past, we decided to take another angle: What conference division is the strongest and weakest in the nation?

Using the same methodology for the conference power rankings (equally weighing The Associated Press Poll and FPI), we ran the numbers for our inaugural Power Five divisional power rankings. Since the Big 12 is the only Power Five conference without divisions, we decided to treat it as one large division, as the formula accounts for the number of teams in each.

Not surprisingly, the SEC West dominated the division power rankings. The SEC West recorded a rating of 99.3 on a 0-100 scale, which is 33 points more than any other division.

Consider the stats below on the SEC West:

• The SEC West is 22-0 against teams not in the SEC West and is winning those games by an average margin of 34 points.

• All seven of the SEC West’s teams rank in the top 20 of the Football Power Index, which is more teams than the Big 12, Big Ten and ACC have combined.

• Six of the SEC West’s seven teams are ranked in the top 20 of the AP Poll. Arkansas is the only team that is not ranked, and the Razorbacks have won their past three games by 41.7 points per game.

The two divisions in the Pac-12 are basically neck-and-neck in the divisional rankings. The Pac-12 North has two teams ranked in the AP Top 25 (Oregon and Stanford), while the Pac-12 South has three (UCLA, Arizona State, USC). A team from the Pac-12 North has won the conference in each of the past five seasons, but the Pac-12 South appears to be catching up this season.

The most surprising result might be that the SEC East ranks fifth behind both Pac-12 divisions and the Big 12. The SEC East is the only division from a Power Five conference without an undefeated team. The division is 12-6 against opponents not in the SEC East, including 0-3 against the SEC West.

The ACC Coastal is the weakest of the Power Five conference divisions. The Coastal division is the only Power Five division without a team ranked in the top 25 of the AP Poll, and its top team in FPI is Pittsburgh at No. 31. The stark difference between the ACC Coastal and ACC Atlantic is similar to the divide in the Big Ten.

The Big Ten West is 17.4 points below the Big Ten East, as the bottom five Big Ten teams in FPI all come from the Big Ten West. As a reminder, Wisconsin and Nebraska are the favorites in the West, and Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State are the favorites in the East. By virtue of having the easiest path to the Big Ten Championship game because of its division, Wisconsin has the best chance to win the Big Ten (40 percent), according to FPI.

This week there will be plenty of divisional battles with the chance to shape the conference championship races. Texas A&M takes on Arkansas in the SEC West, UCLA travels to Arizona State in the Pac-12 South, Stanford faces Washington in the Pac-12 North, and Missouri tries to bounce back against South Carolina in the SEC East.


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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It was the first question Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was asked after the game. He greeted it with a face worn and weathered, insight into a stressful week. His joy during a five-minute opening statement was tempered, drained from a volatile week of fluctuating punishments and constant character-questioning columns.

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesWith a strong team effort, Sean Maguire and Florida State showed they're still No. 1 until somebody beats them.
Minutes earlier the fifth-year championship coach, in a rare moment of vulnerability, wept in front of his team, besieged with emotion while expressing the pride he felt watching FSU pull off what seemed unimaginable minutes earlier -- a win against ACC rival and No. 22 Clemson in overtime.

"Do you think Florida State should remain No. 1 after this performance?" the reporter asked.

It was a superfluous detail in a game with layers of juicy plotlines that easily filled the four-hour telecast. And frankly, Fisher's answer can be tossed into the circular file with the rest of the minutiae from Saturday's game, which includes every page of team statistics and numbers with the exception of the final score.

Florida State won. It did it without its best player, Jameis Winston, for the entire game, and arguably its second-best player, Mario Edwards Jr., for the final half.

The Seminoles were tested this weekend, but the grades from the coaches and AP pollsters don't matter. We learned more about them Saturday than what any poll with waning belief in the reigning national champions could ever indicate.

"We challenged our guys to find out who we are," an emotional Fisher said. "We're not where we want to be, but we do know who we are."

The Seminoles know they're a group with the fundamental resolve required to earn one of the four College Football Playoff bids. On Saturday, they looked like a pumpkin instead of the horse-drawn carriage driven by a Heisman winner, but this is the fall season, the time when carved, misshapen pumpkins are celebrated.

The team was distracted. After the game, Fisher and his players copped to falling victim to the unavoidable lapses in focus that accompany a suspension (and a second one) to the star player for standing on a table in the busiest intersection of campus and unloading an obscene and profane outburst.

The backup quarterback completed six passes in the first half. Yet in the fourth quarter, he unleashed a 74-yard pass to the tie the score. Hero might be a strong word to frame Sean Maguire's performance, but only in the sense that the word is incessantly used to overstate the contributions of a player in a glorified game. Considering the pressures dropped onto Maguire's shoulders days before potentially the biggest game of FSU's season, he exceeded expectations.

The defense that has been under fire for mediocre early returns and already deemed unfit to succeed 2013's No. 1 national unit allowed 249 first-half yards. Yet in the second half, they lined up inches from national irrelevance only to hold Clemson out of the end zone and scoreless on that drive. When the Tigers tested the defensive line on fourth-and-inches in overtime, the maligned unit disrupted the play in the backfield. The only reason they were in overtime was because defensive tackle Eddie Goldman stripped C.J. Davidson of the ball as the Tigers bled the clock before setting up for a game-winning score.

The running backs had 38 yards in regulation. Yet in overtime, Karlos Williams ran the final 25 yards to ignite the celebration.

The punter, who has received the harshest criticism from fans, had his first kick go 37 yards; that was a half yard longer than his season average entering Saturday. Yet over his final seven punts, Cason Beatty pinned four of them inside Clemson's 20-yard line.

This wasn't a rag-tag group of players -- the Seminoles have possibly the country's most talented roster -- but it was a rag-tag performance driven by star efforts rather than star ratings. Certainly Clemson punctuated its #Clemsoning trademark with a comedy of errors, but they were often forced by Florida State. Two goal-line tackles before the bad snap. Davidson didn't just drop the ball. Adam Choice didn't trip on the 16-yard line and fall inches short of the first-down marker.

Before the game, we wondered if the top-ranked Seminoles, which looked beatable in their first two games, were a suitable No. 1 or a product of the country's best player calling the shots under center and rising to the situation weekly.

But it was the definition of a team win, and a gutty one at that. It was something we did not see at all during the regular season from the Seminoles last year, if only because they rewrote the handbook on dominance. It might be the prettiest Florida State win over the last two seasons considering the pregame Winston malady.

Maybe Florida State didn't look like the No. 1 team Saturday. But they looked like a championship-caliber team, and an undefeated one at that, which means they can still lay claim to the No. 1 ranking.

"We ain't lost in 19 straight games," Fisher said, answering the reporter's question. "We're No. 1 until somebody beats us."
Nick Marshall is tired of hearing the criticism. He’s tired of hearing that he can’t throw the ball or that he’s not cut out to be a quarterback at the next level. Sure, he’s only completing 55 percent of his passes through the first three games, but when Auburn needs to make a big throw, Marshall is the man to do it.

He proved that last year against Mississippi State when he threw the game-winning touchdown to tight end C.J. Uzomah. He proved it against Alabama when he had the sense to throw it to a wide-open Sammie Coates just before crossing the line of scrimmage. And he proved it again Thursday night in Auburn’s 20-14 win at Kansas State.

On 3rd-and-9 with two minutes left and the Tigers clinging to a six-point lead, Gus Malzahn didn’t play it safe and hand the ball off. He trusted his quarterback to make a throw, and like he always does, Marshall delivered.

The Auburn quarterback pumped once and then connected with D'haquille Williams over the top for 39 yards and a first down.

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"He has that knack for when the game is on the line," Malzahn said afterwards. "He did it all last year, and he did it tonight. He helped find a way to help our team win the game."

"I just think it’s something you expect," added offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. "He’s our leader. He’s our quarterback. You expect him to come through in those situations. It’s why he ended up winning the job last year. It’s something he’s got a knack for and he’s really good at. That’s why our guys believe him."

In what was a homecoming of sorts, Marshall finished 17 of 31 for 231 yards with two touchdowns and one interception against Kansas State, but he struggled early. After connecting on his first pass, he threw three straight incompletions, and at one point in the second quarter, he was 3 of 9 for 29 yards and an interception.

Marshall didn’t let it bother him, though. He kept slinging it, and on the touchdown drive that turned the game late in the third quarter, he converted three of four third downs with his arm.

"You know Nick is always level-headed, and he keeps his spirits up no matter what," Auburn running back Cameron Artis-Payne said. "Whether he completes three passes in a row or he gets ten drops in a row, he is our leader and we look to him."

The Tigers have now won 12 of the past 14 games with Marshall at quarterback (excluding the season opener when he only played a half), and he will have to continue to make throws like he did Thursday night when the Tigers get into the heart of their SEC schedule.

"We got some (tough road games) in the SEC, too, and we know how to respond from here on out," Marshall said.

After Thursday, nobody’s making the case for Marshall as the SEC’s best passer, but if you need a clutch throw late in the game, it’s hard to argue against the Auburn quarterback.
Everett GolsonMatt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsA young Notre Dame offense now looks to Everett Golson as the team's leader.
Ivan Simmons is the cousin who gives Everett Golson tough love, the guy who hosted Golson in Chicago two summers ago before the quarterback flew to San Diego to work with position guru George Whitfield Jr.

But with a 3-0, turnover-less start from Golson that has generated some early Heisman talk, Simmons is finding it harder and harder to nitpick.

"Sometimes I talk to him about just body language, the way you carry yourself on the field," Simmons told ESPN.com. "He's had some bad throws here and there. Just more telling him how proud I am. He's made some good steps in the right direction, and [he needs] to keep going forward. There's no going backward."

That demeanor, ironically enough, may be the area Golson has improved the most since his last stint as Notre Dame's starting quarterback. The 780 passing yards and 11 total touchdowns speak for themselves. But Golson's assertiveness as the Irish's leader is a big reason why coach Brian Kelly thinks this team has the highest ceiling of any of the five he's coached in South Bend, Indiana.

Take last week in Indianapolis, with the Irish slogging through the first half against an overmatched Purdue team. Golson saw an opportunity to establish his footing as the director of the offense, bringing the unit together on the sideline and telling his teammates to stay on-course when things weren't coming as easily as they did in the previous two weeks.

"Just really try to encourage them, make sure everybody had a sound mind, make sure everybody wasn't dropping off the bandwagon," Golson said of the impromptu gathering. "So just making sure everybody was good."

Said receiver Corey Robinson: "It turned the game around. We were down and he pulled us together and said, 'Look, guys, we need to pull together, not for anyone else, for us as a team.' … It really does help having a central, focused leader telling us to come together and fight for each other."

Golson said he understands that role better now. Notre Dame has accommodated that, making him available for post-practice interviews every week so far this season, a far cry from his last stint as starter, when Kelly had said that he was not ready to put Golson out in front as the face of the program.

Now? Kelly laughed off a Heisman Trophy question following a Week 2 win with a "why-not" approach. He reiterated later that week that he has no worries about his quarterback possibly becoming suffocated by the extra attention.

"It's been the journey that he's on and that journey started when he was a freshman," Kelly said. "Obviously when he got his opportunity to come back here, he wanted to obviously take control of his destiny on offense and that means be a leader. Since he's been here, he's gradually been more assertive every single day, and as he's become more comfortable with who he is, he's holding others accountable."

Kelly said there is still room for growth in that department, as he hopes to see Golson speak up even more.

Robinson's first experience with Golson had come after the receiver enrolled early in the spring of 2013, right before Golson's suspension. Though Robinson admits he was just trying to get his feet under him at that point, even he can see a noticeable difference in Golson since then.

"I didn't really have time to think about what Everett was doing," Robinson said. "But just looking at him then, looking at the tape, he's more comfortable out there. He's more of a natural leader. Whatever he says, everyone's going to listen because everyone respects Everett and everyone respects the work he does off the field and the work he produces on the field."

Simmons, Golson's 34-year-old cousin, sees it all coming together at once for Golson, who had enrolled at Notre Dame just days after his 18th birthday and admittedly struggled with schoolwork while redshirting during his freshman year in 2011.

Now the 21-year-old redshirt junior has returned from exile and improved his career mark to 13-1, the guy everyone looks to on a young offense.

"You have to step up and be that man at that time, and that's what he's trying to do," Simmons said. "You've got to watch your body language; you want your teammates to see that you're confident and they're going to thrive off of you, so you lead by showing examples."
Treon Harris, Brandon HarrisDerick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsCould it be time for Treon Harris, left, and Brandon Harris to see more time on the field?
Let me preface by saying that I'm not calling for anyone to be permanently benched, but as we dive into the heart of SEC play, it might be time for Florida and LSU to take a look at their quarterback situations and give those youngsters more time. Their offenses are drowning in inconsistency and a lot of that has to do with the quarterback play.

Florida's Jeff Driskel, a redshirt junior, and LSU's Anthony Jennings, a true sophomore, have been too inconsistent to start the year to not try some new things at quarterback. That means true freshmen Treon Harris (Florida) and Brandon Harris (LSU) need more quality reps in practice and games.

Against good defenses, Florida and LSU watched their offenses back-peddle on Saturday because of nonexistent passing games. It might be good for both schools to ease their freshmen quarterbacks onto the field a little bit more going forward because there are obvious issues under center.

This was supposed to be a brand new year for Driskel with new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper installing a spread offense that would fit with his skill set more, but the last two weeks have raised the same questions about Driskel's composure. He had a troubling Jekyll-and-Hyde performance in that triple-overtime win against Kentucky and then looked flat and had zero rhythm in the blowout loss to Alabama. Driskel was off on just about every one of his down-field passes against a shaky Alabama secondary that gave him plenty of good looks in the first half and he couldn't get the ball out fast enough. He finished a paltry 9 of 28 passing for 93 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

Driskel's confidence was shot, as the struggles that have plagued his college career returned in Tuscaloosa. With the bye week here, Florida's coaches have two weeks to prepare for Tennessee and get things right with their offense. And that should include more quality reps from Treon Harris.

Benching Driskel for Treon Harris right now would be a mistake, but keeping the frosh off the field is too. His first two college passes went for 148 yards and two touchdowns against Eastern Michigan. That will never happen again, but there have to be plays in Roper's playbook for him to make. He's at least a change of pace for the Gators at quarterback, and some sort of change has to come.

Coach Will Muschamp hinted at some quarterback re-evaluation in the next two weeks.

“The execution is not where it needs to be,” Muschamp told reporters Saturday. “We missed a deep ball to (Demarcus Robinson) early in the game where he got on top of a guy. We had a dropped third down.

“Against a team like that, you have to make plays when you have the opportunities, and we didn't do that. We need to go back and evaluate the decisions we made going into the game and during the game.”

One Florida great, Emmitt Smith, even tweeted his unhappiness with Driskel.


Ouch.

At LSU, Jennings went from hero in the comeback win over Arkansas last year to a wildly inconsistent gunslinger. To his credit, he made some big throws in that valiant comeback over Wisconsin, but against a Mississippi State defense that is the best he's seen to date, Jennings threw for 157 yards and missed too many passes that were there. Granted, the Bulldogs frustrated him all night with pressure, but Jennings just wasn't efficient enough to win the game for the Tigers. He had no composure.

Jennings has been more of a game manager than anything for the Tigers to start the year, as LSU has spent more time running the ball. When the Tigers had to throw down field against Mississippi State, which held LSU to 89 rushing yards, they couldn't.

Until Brandon Harris came in late and delivered touchdown passes for 30 and 31 yards to almost pull the dramatic comeback win. Harris completed 6 of 9 passes for 140 yards in relief duty.

The thing about this situation is that it looked like Jennings got hurt in the Mississippi State game, so Brandon Harris might have no choice but to see more time. But he's also a better down-field passer and appears to be the more talented option. He really struggled against Wisconsin, but delivered some beauties against Mississippi State. Let him play. Build his confidence.

The seasons aren't over for either of these programs, but they will be soon enough if they don't create a passing threat. It might not be time for a changing of the guard for either school, but there's no point in keeping some talented guys on the bench.

Let the kids play.

Video: ESPN 300 decisions imminent

September, 22, 2014
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Recruiting reporters Erik McKinney, Damon Sayles, Derek Tyson and Tom VanHaaren discuss some upcoming decisions for ESPN 300 recruits and a pair of five-star prospects who recently postponed their commitment date.
Trevor KnightKevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsTrevor Knight and the Sooners have been the class of the Big 12 in the first month of the season.
Coming into the season, people in and out of the footprint wondered if the Big 12 would be able to land a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

But after the nonconference season, Baylor and Oklahoma have emerged as bona fide playoff contenders – thanks to how they’ve performed.

But also, how their conference foes have performed, as well.

Sure, the Big 12 didn’t deliver a signature nonconference victory. Oklahoma State failed to topple Florida State. West Virginia couldn’t upset Alabama. And Kansas State squandered too many opportunities to knock off Auburn.

But in all three spotlight games, the Big 12 acquitted itself well, setting up Oklahoma or Baylor – or whoever wins the conference – as a strong playoff contender when the committee sits down to select its four teams in December. More importantly, in an era when there are five major conferences and only four playoff spots, the Big 12 positioned itself ahead of the Big Ten and the ACC heading into league play.

The Big Ten endured a disastrous start to the playoff era, with the Big 12 contributing to the debacle. West Virginia edged out Maryland. TCU hammered Minnesota. Iowa State handed Iowa its only loss so far. With Ohio State also falling at home to Virginia Tech and Michigan getting wiped out by Utah and Notre Dame, league wins in the Big Ten won’t look nearly as impressive as they will in the Big 12.

The effects of that have already begun to come to fruition.

Oklahoma received eight more first-place votes in the coaches' poll and two more in the AP poll over the weekend after winning at West Virginia, even though the three teams ranked ahead of the Sooners – Florida State, Alabama and Oregon – all won Saturday, too.

The reason?

The Sooners’ victory in Morgantown was viewed nationally as a quality win, because of how tough West Virginia played Alabama and how it played in the road win over Maryland.

Should the Bears prevail in Ames this weekend, the win would be viewed in a more favorable light because the Cyclones bounced back at Iowa City.

Such a domino effect will roll through the entire Big 12 schedule. If Baylor and Oklahoma escape Kansas State, the playoff committee will be compelled to think back to how the Wildcats outplayed Auburn for much of the game in their narrow loss. If the Bears and Sooners defeat Oklahoma State, the committee will have the Cowboys’ performance against defending national champion Florida State in the back of their minds.

It wasn’t the perfect nonconference showing for the Big 12. Besides West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Kansas State coming up in short in marquee matchups they could have very easily won, Texas has let the league down again, dropping two nonconference games for the second consecutive year. Iowa State’s opening loss to North Dakota State didn’t help. And Texas Tech getting steamrolled on its home field by Arkansas only enhanced the reputation of the SEC West Division at the expense of the Big 12.

But when compared to the Big Ten or even the ACC outside Florida State, the Big 12’s nonconference performance overall was a success. The ACC delivered some stunning wins, notably Boston College’s victory over then-No. 9-ranked USC and Virginia Tech’s win over then-fourth-ranked Ohio State. But as everyone heads into conference play, the No. 1 Seminoles are the only ACC team currently ranked in the AP Top 25. The Big 12 has four ranked teams in the AP poll, with TCU and West Virginia sitting right on the fringe, as well.

Meanwhile, as other top teams around the country have endured shaky moments, Oklahoma and Baylor have been dominant. The Sooners, who have been as impressive as any team in the country through the first month of the season, are 4-0 with an average margin of victory of four touchdowns. The Bears – albeit to much lesser competition – have an average winning margin of more than 50 points.

Their showdown on Nov. 8 in Norman will give either the opportunity to make a huge statement to the playoff committee.

But there will be other opportunities to impress along the way, as well. Thanks to the rest of the Big 12, which as a league exits the nonconference looking even stronger than when the season began.

Early Offer: Tough times ahead for UF? 

September, 21, 2014
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Recruiting in the SEC is already difficult, but the difficulty in Gainesville is about to be ratcheted up even more as rival recruiters are already pressuring Florida recruits to reconsider. Plus, it was clear Saturday night that Oregon needs help on the offensive line, but the good news is that help is on the way.

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
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What did we learn this week, people? The Pac-12’s depth is going to make for a fun season and probably a good dose of insanity when trying to sort out the postseason.

For example, two late games Saturday night that ended in dramatic fashion could have bowl implications. When you look at Cal’s remaining schedule, are there four wins out there? How about Washington State? Had the Cougars won, you could make a case that, at 2-2, they weren’t out of it yet. But what are the odds the Cougars win five of their next eight?

The Bears kick off a stretch of three games against nonranked opponents (Colorado, Washington State, Washington) before closing the season against five of six teams currently ranked in the Top 25. They will need an upset or two along the way. As for Colorado, that Cal game is a huge swing game for the Buffs as well.

Seven Pac-12 teams are still undefeated -- Oregon, Washington, Oregon State, Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Utah. We know that isn’t going to last. Oregon and Arizona are two wins away from bowl eligibility. Washington needs seven because of the Hawaii rule, and Oregon State, Arizona State, UCLA and Utah are halfway there.

Things are sure to get more interesting in the coming weeks as we plow full steam ahead into conference play.

For now, here are the projections. As always, salt heavily.

College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: UCLA
Valero Alamo Bowl: Stanford
National University Holiday Bowl: Utah
San Francisco Bowl: USC
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Arizona State
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Washington
Cactus Bowl: Arizona
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: Oregon State
*-At large

Big Ten bowl projections: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
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Those in Ann Arbor will understandably disagree, but Week 4 was a very good one for the Big Ten. The league went 12-1 and won several games in impressive fashion. When almost every team handles its bid-ness, there's not much shuffling in the bowl projections.

The big development this week is Indiana's return. Seven days after an all-too-typical, potentially bowl-crushing loss at Bowling Green, Indiana recorded its biggest win in years, shocking No. 18 Missouri on the road. The Hoosiers are back in the projections and could rise higher in the coming weeks if they can build on the Missouri win. For now, we have them receiving an at-large bowl invitation.

Michigan moves down after its loss to Utah. The Michigan brand still carries weight in the bowl pecking order, but this Wolverines team could have a tough time reaching the six-win mark if its offense doesn't dramatically improve. The Wolverines are last nationally in turnover margin at minus-10 through four games. Yuck.

For now, we have Michigan essentially staying home for bowl season in Detroit.

New Big Tenners Maryland and Rutgers, meanwhile, move up after impressive starts.

Expect more shuffling next week as Big Ten play begins in full force. Several matchups could affect the order, namely Minnesota visiting Michigan and Indiana visiting Maryland.

To the projections ...

Chick-fil-A Peach/Cotton/Fiesta/Orange: Michigan State
Chick-fil-A Peach/Cotton/Fiesta/Orange: Ohio State
Capital One: Penn State
Outback: Nebraska
National University Holiday: Wisconsin
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Iowa
San Francisco: Maryland
New Era Pinstripe: Rutgers
Quick Lane: Michigan
Heart of Dallas: Minnesota
At-large: Indiana

ACC bowl projections: Week 4

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Florida State’s win without its Heisman-winning quarterback helped solidify that the Seminoles are playoff-bound. Beyond that, Week 4 only served to further muddy the waters. Clemson may still be the second-best team in the conference, but the Tigers are 1-2. NC State and Duke are undefeated but also untested. Georgia Tech has trailed in all four games but won them all. Nothing is simple, but luckily we’re getting into the meat of the ACC slate now, so the picture should clear up in the next few weeks.

College Football Playoff: Florida State
Orange Bowl: Duke versus Notre Dame*
Russell Athletic Bowl: Clemson
TaxSlayer Bowl: Georgia Tech
Belk Bowl: Virginia Tech
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Louisville
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Pittsburgh
Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman: Virginia
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Miami
Quick Lane Bowl: Boston College
BITCOIN St. Petersburg Bowl: NC State

* Note: Notre Dame is eligible for a bid to any ACC tie-in game unless it is selected for a New Year’s Six game, which can include playing an ACC team in the Orange Bowl.

Big 12 bowl projections: Week 4

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With six Big 12 teams on bye this weekend, there was no need to shake up our weekly conference bowl projection.

Kansas State and West Virginia were impressive enough, despite losing, to hold on to their bowl spots from last week. Oklahoma continues to look like a strong contender for the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma State could move up in the Big 12 bowl hierarchy Thursday with a win over Texas Tech.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma
Cotton Bowl: Baylor
Valero Alamo Bowl: Kansas State
Russell Athletic Bowl: West Virginia
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Oklahoma State
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: TCU
Cactus Bowl: Texas

SEC bowl projections: Week 4

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Alabama reinforced its position as a College Football Playoff contender by obliterating Florida on Saturday, while Mississippi State and Georgia also jumped in this week’s SEC bowl projections.

We’re also adding a 12th team -- Arkansas -- to the list after the Razorbacks crushed Northern Illinois to improve to 3-1. Arkansas has an awfully difficult schedule down the stretch, but we will give Bret Bielema's club the benefit of the doubt for now and project it to reach at least six wins.

Here is our full SEC list entering the fifth week of the season:

College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl): Alabama
Orange Bowl: Texas A&M
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Auburn
Capital One Bowl: Georgia
TaxSlayer Bowl: South Carolina
Outback Bowl: Mississippi State
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Ole Miss
Belk Bowl: Missouri
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: LSU
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Tennessee
Birmingham Bowl: Arkansas
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Florida
Rutgers’ path to a bowl game just got a little harder, as it now has to find a way to win without its best offensive player: running back Paul James.

[+] EnlargeRutgers RB Paul James
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenPaul James recorded seven TDs this season before suffering a season-ending knee injury on Saturday.
James suffered a season-ending torn ACL on Saturday during the Scarlet Knights’ critical 31-24 win over Navy. With the win -- and the fact Rutgers plays Tulane next week -- Rutgers should need just two conference victories to become bowl eligible. But that's no guarantee, as no injury could've proved more costly to the Knights.

Ask Northwestern how much it misses Venric Mark. Because to Rutgers, James was just as valuable. Maybe even a little more so, if some of the numbers are any indication.

Last season, James averaged 5.6 yards a carry before suffering an injury. The rest of Rutgers' backs averaged 4.2 yards a carry. In 2012, Mark averaged 6 yards a carry. In 2013, the rest of Northwestern’s backs averaged 4.7 yards a carry. In other words, the drop-off without James was a bit more drastic than for Northwestern minus Mark.

James was Rutgers’ workhorse, the most consistent part about the Knights’ offense, and he belonged just below the elite backs of the Big Ten in terms of talent. In James’ first three games this season, he accounted for more than 60 percent of the team’s rushing yards. And, in those first two games, he accounted for six TDs and 316 rushing/receiving yards.

The former walk-on struggled against a stout Penn State defense, but he was nearly perfect otherwise. Even against Navy, before his second-quarter injury, James carried the ball seven times for 96 yards. Take away his longest run, and he still averaged nearly 10 yards a carry.

James is impossible to replace, but Rutgers will have to turn somewhere. Expect to see plenty of Justin Goodwin and Desmon Peoples, although, coach Kyle Flood added, freshmen Josh Hicks and Robert Martin also will take on larger roles.

Rutgers won’t be the same team without James, so it also needs QB Gary Nova to step up. Rutgers can’t continue to run the ball on 80 percent of its plays, like it did against Navy, so Nova needs to show he’s totally over his five-interception performance against Penn State. This entire offense needs to adapt, and it's not going to be easy.

Rutgers surprised a lot of people with a 3-1 start. But now it’s time to surprise them all again by bouncing back without James on the field.
Jimbo Fisher rubbed the head of his backup quarterback, who was burdened with the responsibility of preserving No. 1 Florida State’s College Football Playoff hopes while the rest of his team was embroiled in controversy. Fisher then moved on to hug Jesus Wilson, a receiver who was suspended for the season opener.

The fifth-year coach then turned to his team and his players as they took a knee around him in the locker room. He stood there, sizing up a room of 105 players that battled to a 23-17 overtime win against No. 22 Clemson without its best player for an entire game and best defensive player for the final half. He rubbed his eyes.

“Let 'em flow, Coach!”

“Let it out, Coach, let it out!”

“Don’t cry, Coach!”

If the pregame video of Jameis Winston prepping his team before last season’s Clemson game was for the cameras, the 2014 post-game version was unadulterated emotion.

 

Florida State great LeRoy Butler, who spoke to fans before the game about the legendary Puntrooskie play against Clemson, filmed the locker room scene in a series of videos he posted to his YouTube page.

“How good it is to come to work and work with people like you,” a vulnerable Fisher told his team in the video. “God, I’m a lucky man. Let me tell you that right now. I’m a lucky man.”

The Seminoles dealt with distractions through much of the week after Winston jumped on a table in the middle of Florida State’s campus and yelled a profane and sexually explicit statement. He was suspended Wednesday for the first half. Fill-in starter Sean Maguire said the team initially viewed it as a distraction before moving on.

Then Winston was suspended for the entire game late Friday night, and the headlines and distractions recycled.

In the first half, the Seminoles played like a team that looked distracted, but the defense kept Florida State in the game until Maguire launched a game-tying 74-yard pass with 6:04 left. In overtime, after a fourth-down stop by the Seminoles’ defense, the rushing game found new life as Karlos Williams rushed for the final 25 yards and game-winning touchdown.

“Each person, we have flaws, but I’ll tell you that’s what a family does -- love and trusts and believes in each other, that plays until the end. I don’t have words for you,” Fisher said.

Assistant coach Sal Sunseri addresses the team in the next video and gives the game ball to Fisher.

 

In the final video, Fisher is mobbed by his team.

 

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