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

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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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

September, 21, 2014
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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

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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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 made jumps 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 them 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.

 

ACC Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
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SEC Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
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It was a wild week in the SEC. Mississippi State dominated in Death Valley and then had to hold on as Les Miles and LSU tried to cook up another miracle. Alabama shook off some sloppy play early to outclass Florida in Tuscaloosa. And Missouri suffered a shocking home loss to an Indiana team coming off a loss to Bowling Green.

Edward Aschoff, Jeff Barlis, David Ching, Sam Khan Jr., Chris Low, Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough contributed to these rankings.

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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The site of the rematch will also be the site of ESPN's "College GameDay."

When Missouri and South Carolina do battle Saturday for the first time since their epic overtime battle a season ago, all eyes will be on Columbia, South Carolina. It will either be Tigers or Gamecocks for Lee Corso and the crew.

The characters have changed some since last season, but hopefully the drama will remain. Dylan Thompson, South Carolina's fifth-year senior quarterback, won't have Connor Shaw to bail him out again. But judging by his numbers this season -- 285 yards passing per game, 11 touchdowns -- he might not need assistance.

For Missouri, the chief question will be how the Tigers respond after losing inexplicably to Indiana. That's the same Indiana team that lost to Bowling Green.

Still, when you look at the standings in the East, South Carolina and Missouri are right there. Whoever wins on Saturday could be in the driver's seat to win the division.

Playoff picture: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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That was it.

That was the best the ACC has to give against No. 1-ranked Florida State: a Clemson team that was in the red zone seven times and scored on just three of those drives. It was the most meaningful game the Noles will play during the regular season, and they won it with their Heisman-winning quarterback suspended for the entire game and their best defensive player sidelined for the second half with a concussion.

If Florida State somehow found a way to win that one, you better believe the odds are in the Noles' favor to find their way into the inaugural College Football Playoff -- with or without Jameis Winston.

With the win, Florida State took the lead in the ACC's Atlantic Division race and should be in cruise control to win the ACC. Notre Dame is the only ranked opponent remaining on the schedule, and ESPN's Football Power Index still gives the Noles a 73.2 percent chance of winning -- their lowest predicted percentage on the schedule. That Thursday night game at Louisville no longer looks so daunting, and as for Florida?

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire, Jameis Winston
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State beat Clemson with backup quarterback Sean Maguire, while Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston watched from the sideline.
Boston College might put up a better fight.

Even with backup Sean Maguire leading the way, Florida State racked up more yards (318) against Clemson than rival Florida did (200) against Alabama with starter Jeff Driskel running the show. Maguire, making his first career start, had a better QBR than Driskel, and they both threw two picks. In spite of Winston's shocking suspension, Florida State remains right on track to be an undefeated ACC champ heading to the playoff.

The question is whether Winston wants to be part of it.

How the West will be won

There are five undefeated teams remaining in the SEC -- and they're all in the West Division.

Welcome to the club, Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs' win over No. 8 LSU legitimized their hopes not only as a contender in the West Division, but also as a dark-horse candidate for the playoff. Any team that has a chance to win the SEC has a chance to earn a playoff bid. In what should be considered the toughest division in the sport, the winner of the SEC West should wow the committee with its strength of schedule. Five teams entered the week ranked in the top 10.

LSU was the first to be reminded how quickly that can change. This is where a two-loss team might cause some debates.

Nobody has clearly separated from the pack, but it's still early.

Chest bumps for the Big Ten

It took four weeks, but the Big Ten finally had a good day.

Everyone but Michigan, that is.

For the first time this season, the Big Ten came out on top, highlighted by Indiana's shocking upset of No. 18 Missouri and Nebraska's win over Miami -- part of a 3-0 sweep of the ACC. Wisconsin also pummeled Bowling Green, as if each touchdown further distanced the Badgers from the rest of the league's MAC woes.

No. 11 Michigan State, still the Big Ten's best hope of a playoff representative, scored 73 points against Eastern Michigan, even though coach Mark Dantonio downplayed the idea of scoring style points.

The Big Ten was in desperate need of a weekend like this to boost its image. Whoever thought the Hoosiers would trump a Nebraska win over Miami as the league's marquee win? The Big Ten's playoff hopes aren't over yet.

Don't forget BYU

There was no bigger story than Florida State this week, and there is no deeper league than the SEC, but BYU still has the best chance of any team in the country to go undefeated, according to the FPI.

The Cougars' 41-33 win over a much-improved Virginia team is nothing to be scoffed at, but the Cavaliers -- like every other team on BYU's schedule -- aren't ranked. BYU would likely have to win out and look good in the process in order to have a chance at displacing a team from a Power 5 conference in the playoff.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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That's a wrap on Week 4 in the ACC. Who stood out the most? Glad you asked ...

Duke safety Jeremy Cash: There were a handful of players to choose from on a Blue Devils defense that turned in an excellent performance in Saturday's 47-13 win over Tulane, but Cash gets the nod here. The redshirt junior tied for the team-high with 11 tackles, 1.5 for loss, and had the first of four Duke interceptions on the day, and the fifth of his career. Duke is 4-0 for the first time since 1994, when it started 7-0, and it has looked sharp on both sides of the ball as it readies for conference play next week at Miami.

Pitt running back James Conner: At this point we'll call it a ho-hum day for the bruising sophomore back: 29 carries, 155 yards and two touchdowns. (He had one catch for 9 yards as well.) Those early-season Heisman prospects likely go out the door with a 24-20 loss to Iowa, given Pitt's underwhelming schedule, but a fifth straight 150-yard rushing outing is nothing to overlook. Conner is at 699 yards and nine touchdowns on the season, a school-record to start a season, crushing Tony Dorsett's 564 yards through four games during his 1973 freshman season.

Florida State wide receiver Rashad Greene: There may not be a player in the country who is more important to his team than Greene. The senior delivered again Saturday night in FSU's 23-17 overtime win over Clemson. He had nine catches for 135 yards and a touchdown, in addition to a 28-yard punt return. He came up huge on a night the Seminoles needed him to, proving to be a huge help to first-time starter Sean Maguire.

Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy: Stop the presses: Murphy failed to rush for 100 yards. He did net 99, though, along with two rushing touchdowns, including a 71-yarder in the first quarter. And he completed 11 of 18 throws for 130 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Murphy has proven to be an invaluable addition to the Eagles, as he stretches the field and makes them so much less predictable. BC rushed for 413 yards in its 40-10 win over Maine, eclipsing the 400-yard rushing mark for the second straight game and eclipsing the 300-yard mark for the third time in four games. The Eagles' 549 yards of total offense marked the third time they eclipsed that mark this year as well. So much of that comes back to the man under center.

Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas: Thomas' numbers will not jump off the page as a passer: He completed 7 of 18 throws for 125 yards and a touchdown during the Yellow Jackets' 27-24 win over Virginia Tech. His rushing numbers were much better: 22 carries for 165 yards and another touchdown. But Thomas made plays when it mattered most, leading yet another game-winning drive and helping the Yellow Jackets snap a four-game losing streak against Virginia Tech. Thomas bounced back from a rough start throwing (he lost a fumble as well) and completed 4 of his final 7 passes, relying heavily down the stretch on DeAndre Smelter (5 catches, 101 yards, TD), who himself deserves plenty of recognition in this space now. For all of its troubles, Georgia Tech is now 4-0 and in great position in the Coastal race, having fended off the Hokies on the road. (Special recognition in this game also goes to Virginia Tech linebacker Chase Thomas, who had the insane line of 17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries.)

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