Oregon not only Pac-12 team eyeing CFP

November, 26, 2014
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The first rule of College Football Playoff is you talk about College Football Playoff.

The second rule is you assume nothing. Well, that's completely wrong. The entire -- and endless! -- discussion involves projecting ahead, making assumptions about teams winning here or winning there.

So that's what we're going to do here.

As is quantified here by the inimitable Sharon Katz of ESPN's Stats & Information, UCLA is squarely in the playoff hunt, even as a two-loss team trying to eclipse one-loss teams, such as TCU, Baylor, Ohio State and Mississippi State.

She notes: "If UCLA were to beat Stanford and Oregon, the average current FPI ranking of UCLA’s 11 wins would be 33, the best in the nation." Then she concludes, with a question: "[If UCLA were to win out,] could the committee really leave a two-loss Pac-12 champion, with the hardest schedule in the nation, out of the playoff?"

The answer is no.

UCLA as the 11-2 Pac-12 champion will be in the playoff, and there's nothing any other bubble teams can do about it. There are two reasons -- the most important reasons, ones we've seen bandied about incessantly in regards to the selection committee: 1) merit, 2) best four teams. The Bruins would have earned a spot based on a demonstrably superior résumé, including a victory over the Ducks which would function as an eraser for one of their two defeats. And the Bruins would pass the sight test as one of the four best teams by posting the most distinguished win of 2014 on the last day of the season (over No. 2 Oregon).

I already hear the whining out there. Hush. There is no counterargument that is valid. You have lost out to the cruel mistresses of facts and logic. So we are not going to waste time with folks who insist on fighting a losing fight only because of the colors they wear on Saturday.

The more spicy issue is the Territorial Cup. Say UCLA loses to Stanford, and the winner of No. 13 Arizona State at No. 11 Arizona on Friday becomes the Pac-12 South Division champions. That's where things get interesting.

That is this week's only matchup of top-13 teams, meaning the winner can post the weekend's most meaningful victory. In the scenario with UCLA losing, that also means the winner could post the final weekend's most meaningful victory -- again, over No. 2 Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. Consecutive weekends of meaningfulness! The selection committee surely will imbibe that like a 22-year-old single malt.

Arizona's strength of record currently rates 11th and Arizona State's is 13th. Those two ratings would skyrocket, while other teams vying for a top-four spot would slide.

But how could the Wildcats/Sun Devils make up so much ground? Well, we've seen teams gain incredible traction in human polls with a run of wins that seemed impressive at the time. Mississippi State went from unranked to No. 1 after beating LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn. Of that troika, Auburn, at No. 15, is the committee's only presently ranked team, and Texas A&M and LSU play on Thanksgiving Day hoping to avoid a fifth defeat.

So clear-thinking folks, which we are sure committee members are, would see the Wildcats/Sun Devils as worthy of a rapid climb based on veritably impressive wins validated by a season's worth of work. Conversely, in the 20/20 vision of retrospect, the Bulldogs' rise would be a fun, if temporary, illusion worthy of nostalgia -- "I remember when our Bulldogs beat No. 2 Auburn!" -- but certainly not justifying a playoff spot.

What about other teams trying to insinuate themselves into the playoff? Unless Auburn upsets Alabama, Mississippi State's only remaining game is against flagging, No. 19 Ole Miss. TCU has Texas and Iowa State, a pair of unranked teams. Ohio State has its rivalry game with Michigan and then a matchup with either No. 18 Minnesota or No. 14 Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. Baylor has Texas Tech and No. 12 Kansas State on Dec. 6, a matchup that could significantly bolster the Bears' case.

Ah, but Baylor has its pastry-soft nonconference schedule holding it back. If it comes down the the Bears and, say, Arizona, then the Pac-12 team is surely ... er... what? The Wildcats played UNLV, UTSA and Nevada in its nonconference schedule? Well, cut off my legs and call me shorty, that's not a very Pac-12 thing to do.

It's fortunate that Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne has a great sense of humor. He'd surely be amused -- just like the folks at Baylor -- if the committee cited that weak slate as the reason the Wildcats got left at the altar.

In any event, this is probably all idle speculation. A few more major plot twists are nearly certain. Based on history, at least a couple of the teams in the top-eight fighting for positioning are going to go rear-end-over-tea-kettle, including a member of the top-three that has been practically written into the playoff with an ink pen.

But if you retain anything from these scribbles, it must be this: The first rule of College Football Playoff is you talk about College Football Playoff.
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Nick Saban likes to tell a story about how when he was an assistant at Ohio State he couldn't buy gas in Michigan or even turn in a receipt from "that state up North" while on the recruiting trail. Pat Gazzola, who owns the legendary Catfish Hole in Fayetteville, Arkansas, is still heart-broken that former five-star receiver Dorial Green-Beckham selected Missouri over Arkansas. And who can ever forget the story about Reuben Foster, who signed with Alabama despite having an Auburn tattoo on his arm.

The rivalry games that dominate this week's schedule are a major part of what makes college football so great. But if you think matchups like the Iron Bowl, the Game, the Civil War and the Egg Bowl are only combated on the field, you're sadly mistaken. The same bitterness and hatred displayed on the field almost always carries over to recruiting when rival schools are fighting over the hearts and minds of 17- and 18-year-old superstars.

"You bet rivalries extend to recruiting," said Matt Dudek, Arizona's director of on-campus recruiting and player personnel. "They definitely do, especially because of your rival's close proximity. You're often recruiting the same high schools as your rival because it's in your backyard. You're often recruiting the same players because in most states there are only so many good players. You don't ever want to lose a recruit to the other school across the state."

Read the full article here.

Updated recruiting class rankings

November, 26, 2014
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Success on the recruiting trail has given some programs much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving and that includes a few teams whose recent triumphs have led to a rise in the class rankings.

One of those teams is UCLA, which, just prior to beating cross-town rival USC Saturday, were able to score a victory on the recruiting trail as well, landing a key in-state commitment. ESPN 300 DE Keisean Lucier-South became the Bruins?? fifth 300 prospect and first on the defensive side of the ball. A rangy and promising prospect, the top-five defensive end has the ability to give UCLA a defender that can create problems coming off the edge as both a run defender and likely more immediately as a pass-rusher.

Ole Miss also landed a key in-state commit in ESPN 300 OG Javon Patterson, a big and athletic prospect at the position, who combined with 2014 signee Rod Taylor, could allow the Rebels to anchor their O-Line with a formidable pair of guards.

Check out the full rankings here.
Mississippi State might still be holding on to the coveted No. 4 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings for the moment.

But the gravest threat to the Frogs of Fort Worth and the Bears of the Brazos for playoff inclusion appears to reside north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

The playoff selection committee released its weekly rankings Tuesday night, and TCU held steady at No. 5 despite having the week off. After dispatching Oklahoma State and its plucky true freshman quarterback, Baylor remained ranked seventh.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteUrban Meyer and Ohio State are behind TCU in this week's College Football Playoff rankings, but if the Buckeyes win the outright Big Ten title, it could be enough to vault past the Horned Frogs.
But while the Big 12 duo hangs tough in the playoff chase, their playoff future could hinge on sixth-ranked Ohio State.

Unlike Baylor, the Buckeyes have no wins over another playoff contender.

Unlike TCU, the Buckeyes have a loss against an unranked opponent.

And unlike Baylor and TCU, Ohio State does not compete in one of the three best conferences in college football.

But going into the final two weeks of the season, the Buckeyes seem to be the apple of the committee’s eye for the lone playoff spot currently up for grabs.

If the season ended today, Mississippi State would be in the playoff over TCU, Ohio State and Baylor. But following Ole Miss’ 30-0 loss at Arkansas last weekend, the Egg Bowl has lost its luster, robbing the Bulldogs of a chance to boost their relatively thin résumé with a victory over a Top 10 team. Mississippi State has only one victory over a Top 25 team (Auburn) to go along with a nonconference slate of Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama and Tennessee-Martin. Assuming that Alabama wins the Iron Bowl, Mississippi State would not represent the West Division in the SEC title game, either.

Committee chairman Jeff Long stressed Tuesday night that “conference championships will be a tiebreaker factored in at the end of the season.” And if Mississippi State, TCU, Ohio State and Baylor are all as close in the minds of the committee as Long has suggested, Mississippi State, based on that tiebreaker disadvantage, would be the odd dog out.

That brings us back to the Buckeyes.

The committee seems to be giving Ohio State a pass for its 35-21 loss in Columbus on Sept. 6 to 5-6 Virginia Tech. Long even quashed the premise that Virginia Tech constituted a bad loss for Ohio State. (He must have missed the Hokies’ 6-3 double-overtime loss to lowly Wake Forest over the weekend.)

With the committee inexplicably overlooking the Virginia Tech loss, the Buckeyes seem to be in prime position for the fourth spot. Ohio State is ranked ahead of Baylor, and if both teams won out, there’s no reason to believe that would change. Sure, the Bears have No. 12 Kansas State next weekend. But the Buckeyes potentially would have No. 14 Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. Beating the Badgers at a neutral site would seemingly offset a Baylor victory over K-State in Waco.

The Buckeyes would still have to jump TCU. But if a victory over Wisconsin alone weren’t enough to catapult Ohio State past the Horned Frogs, the addition of the Big Ten title in a 13th game probably would. Sure, TCU would technically be co-champs of the Big 12. But the committee would likely favor a sole champion of one conference over a co-champ of another that would also have a tiebreaker problem with the other co-champ.

All of this, of course, is just speculation with games still to be staged. Much can still happen in these final two weeks.

Oregon could lose the Civil War and Alabama could lose the Iron Bowl. Florida or Georgia Tech could beat Florida State and Wisconsin could topple the Buckeyes.

Heck, Minnesota could still even win the Big Ten title, which would be quite the early Christmas present for the folks in Fort Worth.

So both Baylor and TCU remain very much alive in the playoff hunt.

But Big 12’s biggest roadblock to the fourth playoff spot lies not in Starkville.

But rather, smack in the heart of Ohio.

Video: Herbstreit's Gameplan Breakdown

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
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Kirk Herbstreit looks at the five big rivalry games of the week that not only give state bragging rights but also have direct implications on the College Football Playoff.

Big 12 Week 14 predictions

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Why TCU will win: This is going to be a back-and-forth, physical fight in which Texas will throw everything it's got at TCU. All the pressure is on the Frogs -- not that they can't handle it. If Charlie Strong's D can slow down Trevone Boykin, it's anyone's ballgame. A difference that might matter: the kicking game. TCU's Jaden Oberkrom can be trusted with a game-winning kick. Can Texas' Nick Rose? TCU 20, Texas 17 Olson

Why Texas will keep it close: Defense. The Longhorns have the Big 12’s best unit, and their disruptive front will make life hard for Trevone Boykin. UT just won’t score enough points to cement its upset bid. TCU 28, Texas 27 — Chatmon

Other unanimous selections

Baylor over Texas Tech: The Bears won't aim for 82, but they know they need to score a bunch of points. In addition to having a brutal run defense, Texas Tech's secondary is also banged up this week. So, you know, moving the ball should not be terribly difficult for Bryce Petty and his many weapons. Tech can keep up early, but for how long? Baylor 52, Texas Tech 24 Olson

Kansas State over Kansas: The Wildcats have focused on resuscitating their running game, and their instate rival might provide the perfect tonic. The Jayhawks are still reeling from giving up an FBS record 427 rushing yards to Samaje Perine last week. K-State won't get that many on the ground. But the Wildcats will have a big day offensively to prime their trip to Waco in the season finale. Kansas State 38, Kansas 13 Trotter

West Virginia over Iowa State: The Mountaineers will get the losing taste out of their mouths because of their superior offensive firepower, no matter whether Clint Trickett or Skyler Howard is behind center. West Virginia 42, Iowa State 28 Chatmon

Season records:
  • Trotter: 61-7
  • Chatmon: 60-8
  • Olson: 58-10

ACC Week 14 predictions

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Jared Shanker: In college football, there is no denying emotion plays a pivotal role, and playing for a coach and a bowl can be the tipping point for a team hoping to rally. No doubt Virginia will have no shortage of motivation against its in-state rival, but the Cavaliers are also the better team. Greyson Lambert is improving, and the Virginia defense is every bit as good as the one in Blacksburg. Virginia needs to limit mistakes, as the Cavs turned it over eight times during a four-game skid. The Hokies are struggling to create turnovers, though, which plays into UVa's favor. Mike London returns UVa to a bowl. Virginia 20, Virginia Tech 10

David Hale: If we’re slaves to whatever happened most recently, then Virginia Tech certainly looks like a lost cause. But let’s think bigger picture. The Hokies know what’s at stake here: A 22-year bowl streak, state bragging rights in a rivalry they’ve owned for a decade, perhaps the future of their longtime head coach. Is this a game where Virginia Tech is a no-show? No way. The Wake Forest game was brutal, but lessons were certainly learned. Brenden Motley will get a longer look at quarterback, and his mobility can help offset the Virginia pass rush. The ground game has actually looked better with J.C. Coleman the past two weeks. And while the Hokies clearly overlooked Wake Forest, that won’t be the case against rival Virginia. Plus, let’s not forget that, in spite of the record, Virginia Tech still features one of the most potent defenses in the country -- and it’ll give Lambert and the UVA offense fits. Virginia Tech 17, Virginia 14

Andrea Adelson: The Jackets and Bulldogs are running the ball extremely well this season, so both teams should be able to get some yards on the ground. The key in this game is going to be in the turnover category. Both teams have been excellent at taking the ball away this season. While Georgia Tech has converted 24 takeaways into 116 points, Georgia has allowed only six total points off its own turnovers. There is going to be quite the battle there. Given the way Georgia Tech has played during its winning streak, the Jackets will pull out a close one after one defensive score. Georgia Tech 35, Georgia 31

Matt Fortuna: Much like Georgia Tech, Georgia has proven its rushing attack can keep up the pace no matter who is in the backfield, as we've all seen what has happened even without the ridiculously gifted Todd Gurley. The Bulldogs' defense has greatly improved under coordinator Jeremy Pruitt this season, too, ranking 13th nationally. Has it shored up the loose ends that Florida exposed by repeatedly running on it earlier this month, to the tune of 418 yards? The Yellow Jackets' attack is different, sure, but the Dawgs have too much pride to fall to another rival, especially as they play for a chance at the SEC title game next week. Georgia 40, Georgia Tech 34

Shanker: If South Carolina manages to pull off the upset, Dabo Swinney will be hearing about it for as long as Steve Spurrier is hanging around college football. This is an absolute must-win game for Clemson, but dark clouds are already starting to form with star freshman Deshaun Watson still listed as day-to-day with a sprained knee. If Cole Stoudt starts, will he be able to take advantage of a vulnerable South Carolina defense? The Tigers have the No. 1 defense, but South Carolina is No. 18 in scoring against Power 5 competition. That means the Gamecocks could score just enough, and with Stoudt at quarterback "just enough" might be 17 points. South Carolina 17, Clemson 14

Adelson: The Tigers have relied on their defense all season, and will do it again to finally break their long losing streak to South Carolina. Clemson ranks No. 1 in the nation in total defense and will make life difficult for Dylan Thompson, who is not having the type of season anybody expected. While the prospects on offense look shaky if Watson is out, Clemson has won squeakers this season with an inconsistent Stoudt behind center. As long as Clemson takes care of the football, the defense will lead the victory. Clemson 17, South Carolina 14

Hale: Strictly from a matchup standpoint, Pitt doesn’t have a distinct edge, but this game may be a question of motivation. The storyline for Miami is a familiar one right now. Just like last year, the season built to Florida State, and the Hurricanes came up short. Last year, Miami responded by losing four of six to close out the season. This year, the follow-up to the FSU game was perhaps Miami’s worst performance of the season, which certainly bodes well for Pitt. On the flip side, the Panthers are desperately seeking win No. 6 to get bowl eligible, so there’s no question which team has more to play for. Add the fact that Chad Voytik is playing his best football of the season now, and Pitt is in position to move the ball even if James Conner isn’t at 100 percent. Pitt 21, Miami 20

Fortuna: Pitt is the more desperate team here, fighting to extend its season and make a bowl game for the third straight season under third-year coach Paul Chryst. But the Panthers could be without Conner, which will put much more pressure on Voytik and the passing attack. Is Miami's defense ready to take care of business after consecutive letdowns? Its offense should not be a problem in this one. Miami 38, Pitt 24

Adelson: Everybody expects Florida to play an emotional game for outgoing coach Will Muschamp. That should serve the Gators well in the early going, and they will have opportunities to establish the run against a Florida State defensive front that has had its up and downs this season. Dante Fowler, Vernon Hargreaves and company will throw some different looks at Jameis Winston and force him out of his comfort zone. But ultimately, Winston will do what he always does -- find a way to win a close game. Florida State 28, Florida 27

More unanimous picks

Syracuse at Boston College: The Eagles were the latest team to nearly upend Florida State last week, but that hasn’t always been a recipe for success afterward. It will be interesting to see if the physical and emotional toll of that loss carries over, but Syracuse certainly hasn’t been playing good football either. BC 33, Syracuse 13

Kentucky at Louisville: The ACC’s newest rivalry game may not offer much in the way of fireworks in Year 1. Reggie Bonnafon finally looks comfortable running Bobby Petrino’s offense, and Louisville is still fighting for an Orange Bowl berth. Kentucky is desperate to get win No. 6, but the Wildcats have lost five straight. Louisville 24, Kentucky 20

NC State at North Carolina: Ready for some offensive fireworks? Both of these teams are allowing an average of more than 400 yards per game to FBS foes, and both have potentially explosive offenses. That should make for a fun rivalry matchup to end the regular season, but UNC gets the edge after playing easily its most complete game of the season last week against Duke. North Carolina 45, NC State 33

Wake Forest at Duke: Last week’s win over Virginia Tech was a fitting moment for a Wake Forest team that has continued to fight in spite of adverse circumstances all season, and the Deacons' D is legit. Meanwhile, Duke is reeling from two straight losses. This game may end up close, but it’s still hard to see Wake pulling off the upset in two straight. Duke 24, Wake Forest 10

Current standings
Shanker: 66-20
Adelson: 66-20
Fortuna: 65-21
Hale: 65-21

Pac-12 Week 14 predictions

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Why Arizona will win: This could go one of two ways. Either ASU’s blitz-happy scheme will create havoc in the backfield and the Wildcats offense won’t be able to get things going, or Arizona will be able to account for the pressure and hit some home runs. We’ve seen ASU get exploited when they over-pressure. This Arizona team has the running backs and receivers that could take advantage of that. -- Kevin Gemmell

Why Arizona State will win: The loss to Oregon State reminded the Sun Devils not to overestimate anyone. The start of the Washington State game reminded the Sun Devils that they need to play from the opening kick. When ASU does both of those things, it's very, very dangerous. We saw other receivers step up last week in Jaelen Strong's absence. He's expected to be back this week but the Sun Devils' performance against Wazzu will give OC Mike Norvell more confidence in his receiver corps. -- Chantel Jennings

Why Cal will win: BYU's recent run of success has been a product of significantly inferior opponents, and Cal not only is a big step up in competition for the Cougars, but it has bowl game to play for. -- Kyle Bonagura

Why BYU will win: While Cal is much improved and has bowl eligibility to play for, I suspect the Golden Bears are going to be physically and emotionally worn down after getting blown out at home by rival Stanford. I think BYU, always hungry for a win against the Pac-12, takes advantage. -- Ted Miller

Why Washington State will win: It has been a disappointing season filled with miserable moments for the Cougars -- see Conor Halliday's horrific injury. But this is their Super Bowl, and it’s at home. Washington State has a chance to purge a lot of 2014 pain by beating their rival. The stage sets up perfectly: Washington’s offense is not explosive, and this game will be played in the #Pac12AfterDark Pullman cold. Your move, Luke Falk. -- David Lombardi

Why Washington will win: For all of Washington’s offensive shortcomings, this is still a phenomenal defense that gets after the quarterback. If Falk can handle the pressure, he’s going to prove me wrong. But in this game, I like Washington to go crazy in the backfield. As for points, well, the Huskies will find them somewhere. -- Kevin Gemmell

Unanimous picks

UCLA will beat Stanford: Stanford has not proven that it can effectively move the ball against a solid defense, and last week’s whipping of USC indicated that UCLA is peaking at the right time on that side of the ball. Plus, the Cardinal won't have offensive MVP Ty Montgomery (shoulder), so it’s tough to see them outscoring the Bruins, even if their defense contains Brett Hundley. -- David Lombardi

Utah will beat Colorado: Utah's defense is too good to struggle two weeks in a row, especially against the lone winless team in conference play. -- Kyle Bonagura

USC will beat Notre Dame: Notre Dame has lost four of its past five and expect that streak to continue when the Fighting Irish visit the Coliseum. USC is going to respond after its 18-point loss to UCLA last weekend and Cody Kessler is going to continue his quiet campaign (30 TD, 4 INT). Look for Su'a Cravens and Hayes Pullard to come up big for the Trojans defense. -- Chantel Jennings

Oregon will beat Oregon State: What’s fascinating about this game is that both teams have a lot to play for. Obviously, in the national picture, the Ducks' motivation is more important. I expect a good fight from the Beavers, who are trying to become bowl eligible. But ultimately Oregon has too many weapons and an injury-depleted OSU squad simply can’t keep up. -- Kevin Gemmell

Big Ten Week 14 predictions

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Why Iowa will win: Based on the roller-coaster ride Iowa has been on lately, now is the time to jump back in and hang on tight as the regular season comes to a close. The Hawkeyes actually impressed even in a losing effort last week against Wisconsin, and with Nebraska reeling and having to go on the road, expect Kirk Ferentz to get his team ready to capitalize. The Blackshirts have been a mess down the stretch once again, and Black Friday won’t be any different with Jake Rudock leading an Iowa passing attack that somewhat surprisingly ranks No. 4 in the Big Ten. ... Iowa 31, Nebraska 20. -- Austin Ward

Why Nebraska will win: Are the Huskers trending downward? You bet. But Iowa is not nearly as good as Wisconsin or Minnesota. The Huskers still boast the better total offense here -- they're 34 spots ahead of Iowa in the national rankings at No. 29 -- and the better scoring offense, with 10 points more per game. The defense has been up and down, but Mark Weisman is no Melvin Gordon or David Cobb. And Ameer Abdullah is only getting healthier. Iowa hangs tough but loses in the end. ... Nebraska 28, Iowa 24. -- Josh Moyer



Why Indiana will win: It’s time to cash in the chips on Purdue. I’ve been a believer in the Boilers since they beat Illinois in early October, then hung around with Michigan State and Minnesota. But things have gone downhill. Lately, Purdue can’t run the football, and it can’t stop the run -- a bad combination, especially against Tevin Coleman. The Indiana junior will have a huge day and cruise past 2,000 rushing yards for the season in perhaps his last collegiate game. Defensively, the Hoosiers haven’t stopped a decent offense all year, but they’ve got enough left to avoid a winless Big Ten season. ... Indiana 38, Purdue 24. -- Mitch Sherman

Why Purdue will win: Purdue's production has taken a step backward since scoring 38 against Minnesota and threatening to take down the Gophers. The Boilermakers stumble into the Hoosier State battle, but Indiana is exactly what the doctor ordered in that front. No one on Purdue's roster compares to Tevin Coleman, but speedy senior Raheem Mostert can have a big day against Indiana's run defense. Austin Appleby proves to be the difference to help Darrell Hazell end his second year on a high note. ... Purdue 24, Indiana 20. -- Dan Murphy

Unanimous selections

Ohio State 35, Michigan 14: No, Brady Hoke, there is no Santa Claus. The Wolverines simply do not have enough offensive competence to hang with the Buckeyes on the road, though emotion will help them keep it close into the third quarter.

Wisconsin 24, Minnesota 20: The Gophers have a real chance here, but the potential absence of David Cobb (hamstring) and the road environment will make it tough. Melvin Gordon is held under 200 yards but rips off the game-winning score in the fourth quarter.

Maryland 31, Rutgers 23: The Scarlet Knights' only win since Oct. 4 was at home against Indiana. The Terps have been playing much better than their fellow first-year Big Ten newbie, and they'll protect home field to spoil Ralph Friedgen's homecoming.

Northwestern 28, Illinois 21: It's win or go home for both teams. The Wildcats are surging at the right time, having scored 81 points in back-to-back wins the past two weeks. The loss of quarterback Trevor Siemian (ACL) hurts Northwestern, but picking the Illini to win consecutive Big Ten games strains logic.

Michigan State 19, Penn State 10: Don't underestimate the power of Senior Day in Beaver Stadium, as we've seen the Nittany Lions put up strong performances in their regular-season finales the past two years. Their defense will also cause the Spartans some trouble. But Penn State is going to a bowl regardless, and its offense has few options against Pat Narduzzi's defense.

Our records:
1. Austin Ward: 83-22 (.790)
2. Dan Murphy: 53-15 (.779)
T-3. Brian Bennett: 81-24 (.771)
T-3. Mitch Sherman: 81-24 (.771)
5. Adam Rittenberg: 78-27 (.743)
6. Josh Moyer: 77-28 (.733)

SEC Week 14 predictions

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After a quiet Week 13, the SEC closes out the 2014 regular season with a flourish. It starts with LSU vs. Texas A&M tomorrow and is followed by at least two rivalry games -- the Iron Bowl and Egg Bowl -- with playoff implications. Meanwhile, can Florida send Will Muschamp off with a huge upset of Florida State? Can Missouri win another East division crown? And will Arkansas ever lose again? Let's get on with the picks:

Why LSU wins: The game coming in College Station, Texas, worries me. So does that shutout at Arkansas two weeks ago. But in the end, I believe in John Chavis and the LSU defense. I think he's got Texas A&M's number. Without a strong inside running game, I expect the burden to fall on Kyle Allen's shoulders, and that's good news for an opportunistic LSU secondary. LSU 24, Texas A&M 20 -- Alex Scarborough

Why Texas A&M wins: Did you know Les Miles has never lost three straight games in his nine seasons at LSU? Crazy, right? Knowing that, the safe pick is the Tigers. But I simply don't trust this LSU offense. I haven't all season and I'm not about to now. Meanwhile, I think Texas A&M has too much firepower on offense, especially when you give Kevin Sumlin an extra couple of days to prepare. Texas A&M 27, LSU 24 -- Greg Ostendorf

Why Alabama wins big: Maybe if Auburn receiver Duke Williams plays -- and it sounds like he will -- Auburn can keep this thing competitive. But it's difficult to imagine this struggling team going into Tuscaloosa and finding a way to win. Not with a defense that seems to have regressed over the course of the season. With Auburn's offense slowing down a bit, too, it seems like Alabama will win comfortably. Alabama 38, Auburn 17 -- David Ching

Why Auburn keeps it close: It's the Iron Bowl. Just because Auburn hasn't played so hot recently doesn't mean we should expect the Tigers to roll over and play dead. Expect Auburn to put up a strong fight in hopes of spoiling the Tide's season. Alabama 28, Auburn 24 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Why Mississippi State wins big: One team won 51-0, the other lost 30-0. So it seems fairly obvious which is headed in the right direction. Ole Miss still seems to be reeling from the Auburn loss and the Laquon Treadwell injury, while Mississippi State has bounced back and has the look of a team still playing for a future. Mississippi State 35, Ole Miss 17 -- Alex Scarborough

Why Ole Miss keeps it close: This is the Egg Bowl. For as beaten down as Ole Miss is -- physically and mentally -- the Rebels will be fired up to ruin the Bulldogs' season. Bo Wallace is ready to erase the images of #Wallacing, and Hugh Freeze wants the Egg back in Oxford. Both quarterbacks will turn it over, but Mississippi State's power run game will be the difference. Mississippi State 27, Ole Miss 24 -- Edward Aschoff

Why Florida State wins big: Florida should have the emotional edge entering the game, wanting to send its coach out on the right note. But that's a short-term proposition. On the road in Tallahassee, Florida State might have to weather an early storm, but I expect the Noles to take control of the game late and run away for a double-digit lead before the fourth quarter ever begins. Florida State 40, Florida 14 -- Alex Scarborough

Why Florida keeps it close: Florida has nothing to lose in this one. This is Muschamp's last game with the Gators, and those players want to send him out on their shoulders, a la Ron Zook in 2004. Florida's running game will keep FSU's defense in check, but Jameis Winston will prove to be the difference late, yet again. Florida State 24, Florida 21 -- Edward Aschoff

Why Arkansas wins: While watching Missouri's last couple of games, it became apparent that running east and west against the Tigers is not a recipe for success. But north and south? Ask Georgia how that works. If Missouri can stop Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and Arkansas' downhill running game, it will win -- especially if Razorbacks quarterback Brandon Allen is unable to play. Gary Pinkel deserves a ton of credit for dragging a mediocre team to another SEC East title if the Tigers win. Arkansas 30, Missouri 27 -- David Ching

Why Missouri wins: This was easily the toughest game to pick. Arkansas is another team with nothing to lose and no pressure, while EVERYTHING is on the line and there's a mountain of pressure for Mizzou. Arkansas is hot and Mizzou has forgotten how to lose. It doesn't matter who I picked in this one, I'll probably be wrong, but I'm going to assume Mizzou takes advantage of being at home this time. Missouri 20, Arkansas 17 -- Edward Aschoff

Why Georgia wins big: No offense to Georgia Tech, but if nobody in the SEC has been able to slow down Georgia this season, I don't see an ACC team doing it. The Bulldogs lead the conference, averaging 43.3 points per game, and they've done it primarily without star running back Todd Gurley. I expect another big day from his replacement Nick Chubb and this offense against the Yellow Jackets. Georgia 42, Georgia Tech 28 -- Greg Ostendorf

Why Georgia Tech keeps it close: The frustration of having beaten Georgia just once over the past 13 seasons is without question a motivator for Georgia Tech, but the Yellow Jackets are also playing their best football of the season -- and they can run the ball. Did you see Georgia's run defense against Florida? Georgia has too much firepower on offense to drop this one at home and has played better on defense the past few weeks, but Georgia Tech will keep it close with its option attack that gives everybody fits. Georgia 31, Georgia Tech 27 -- Chris Low

Why South Carolina wins: To be clear, I think Clemson has the better team here. I've thought that other times in the past five years, too, and South Carolina still won by double digits every time. Even home-field advantage hasn't helped the Tigers, as Steve Spurrier is 3-1 in Death Valley since taking over as the Gamecocks' coach in 2005. Until Dabo Swinney shakes his Spurrier curse, I'm riding with the HBC. South Carolina 31, Clemson 20 -- David Ching

Why Clemson wins: If the Tigers are going to end their losing streak to South Carolina, this is the team to do it against. South Carolina's defense has been its Achilles' heel all season and though it has had two good performances of late, they came against Florida and South Alabama. The health of Clemson QB Deshaun Watson is key here for the Tigers. Clemson 34, South Carolina 31 -- Sam Khan Jr.

More unanimous picks:

Louisville over Kentucky: This year's Governor's Cup features two teams trending in opposite directions. The Wildcats have lost five straight while their in-state rival has won three of its last four. Louisville 31, Kentucky 14

Tennessee over Vanderbilt: Tennessee's motto the "Power of One" has become the "Power of Six'" as in six wins and bowl eligibility. That's the goal now for the Volunteers. A win and they play in a bowl game. That's motivation enough. Tennessee 31, Vanderbilt 10

Standings
Greg Ostendorf 84-18
Edward Aschoff 81-21
David Ching 80-22
Chris Low 80-22
Sam Khan Jr. 76-26
Alex Scarborough 76-26

Kickoff Show: Week 14 (1 ET)

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
10:25
AM ET
ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel, Ted Miller and Adam Rittenberg join host Chantel Jennings to discuss rivalry week in college football and its impact of the playoff landscape. They will also answer your questions live.

Morgan State makes FCS playoffs for first time

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
10:00
AM ET
Before the college football season began, Morgan State was predicted to finish 10th in the MEAC. Championships and games are not won on paper, though.

The Bears won a share of the conference championship and grabbed the MEAC's automatic bid to the NCAA FCS playoffs.

Morgan State crushed Delaware State 69-7 on Saturday putting it in position for their first MEAC football championship and their first trip to the FCS playoffs. They finished in a five-way tie for the top spot with Bethune-Cookman, North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central and South Carolina State.

Morgan State (7-5 overall, 6-2 MEAC) will face Richmond (8-4 overall, 5-3 CAA) this Saturday at Robins Stadium. The winner of this contest will play No. 7 seeded Coastal Carolina on Dec. 6.

It's been an amazing year for Lee Hull, Morgan State's first-year head coach, who took over the Bears football program after spending six years as the wide receivers coach at the University of Maryland. Hull saw a lot of good things with the Morgan State football team.

"That was one reason why I took the job," Hull said. "I thought there was a lot of potential here. They were a .500 team. They were hovering around .500 for the last few years and just could not get over the top. So, it was a team that I knew just needed something. I saw we had a very good defense. We had some good players. Offense struggled a little bit. We decided to get the offense on the same level as the defense."
They had players here."

Morgan State certainly has some players. Herb Walker Jr., the Bears' outstanding running back, is one of them. He's a candidate for the Walter Payton Award, given to the best player in FCS. The 5-8, 180-pound sophomore, has been a big part of the turn around at Morgan State. He has rushed for 1,288 yards on 212 carries while scoring 13 rushing touchdowns. Walker is also a good receiver out of the backfield. He has 16 receptions for 207 yards and two TDs.

Richmond head coach Danny Rocco has seen Walker hit the holes and break in the open field. Rocco knows the Spiders will have their hands full with trying to slow Walker down.

"I'm really impressed with him," Rocco said. "He's the guy who keeps toting the rock. He's just the energizer bunny. He just keeps going, going and going. They do so many different things with him. You know, I look at my football team right now. My leading rusher has 148 carries on the year. That's Seth Fisher. My second leading rusher Jacobi Green has 106. That's somewhat interchangeable depending on what game you might watch. You might like Jacoby a little more than Seth or Seth a little more than Jacoby. But to see how Herb has carried the ball 200 plus times with the number of receptions on the season, what an impressive résumé and season he has put together. So great balance, great vision, strong, runs hard, physical kind of seeks contact and you got to wrap him up to get him on the ground. That's for sure. We're going to have to be in a gang tackling mode as we began our preparation here for this postseason contest."

Hull and Walker had made huge impacts this season. In addition to Walker being up for a national award, Hull has earned some major recognition. He has been nominated as finalist for the Eddie Robinson FCS Coach of the Year Award. Hull feels all the national attention should give the Morgan State football program a huge boost.

"It's good exposure for our program," Hull said. "It definitely will help in recruiting and for us that's our livelihood. You need players to win. That will help us get on a national scene and give Morgan some exposure and also the MEAC some exposure. So, it benefits everybody."

If Morgan State can do well in the postseason, the program could go to another level.

Notes
  • Morgan State quarterback Moses Skillon was named the MEAC Offensive Player of the Week. Skillon set the school record for the most touchdown passes in a game as he threw five TDs in the win over Delaware State. He completed 16 of 24 passes for 261 yards. He had six carries for 64 yards and one TD.
  • Howard cornerback Kenneth Russ was selected as the MEAC Defensive Player of the Week. Russ had five tackles and a career-best two interceptions and two pass breakups in a win over Hampton.
  • Alabama State running back Malcolm Cyrus was named the SWAC Offensive Player of the Week. He had 33 carries for 162 yards and three rushing touchdowns in a win over Stillman College.
  • Alabama State defensive tackle Rodrick Henderson was chosen as the SWAC Defensive Player of the Week. Henderson had five tackles along 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a blocked extra point.
  • Lynden Trail, Norfolk State's senior linebacker, has been invited to play in the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game.
  • Norfolk State head coach Pete Adrian recently announced his retirement after 10 seasons coaching the Spartans. Adrian had a 54-60 record during his decade of service with Norfolk State.

SBN Sports Network Black College Football Poll
1. Bethune-Cookman
2. Southern
3. North Carolina A&T
4. Alcorn State
5. Virginia State
6. Grambling State
7. Winston-Salem State
8. South Carolina State
9. Alabama State
10. North Carolina Central

Boxtorow HBCU Football Media Poll

1. Southern
2. Virginia State
3. Bethune-Cookman
4. North Carolina A&T
5. Alcorn State
6. South Carolina State
7. Morgan State
8. North Carolina Central
9. Grambling State
10. Winston-Salem State
In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and count down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Eric Reid, No. 71 in 2010 class

Reid was one of the nations most highly sought safeties in the 2010 class out of Dutchtown High in Geismar, La. While programs such as Stanford and Tennessee extended offers to Reid, he committed to long time favorite LSU early in the process in March of 2009. Reid’s father was a three-time All-America hurdler at LSU, and is a member of the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame. Reid was a member of LSU’s Top 10 class in 2010 that included Tyrann Mathieu, Ego Ferguson, Tharold Simon, and Brad Wing.

As a freshman in Baton Rouge, Reid appeared in all 13 games, including three starts to end the season. He finished the season with 32 tackles and two interceptions.

Reid followed his impressive debut by starting 13 games as a sophomore earning second-team All-SEC honors after recording 76 tackles and two interceptions. In addition to his solid season on the football field, Reid was also on the SEC Academic Honor Roll.

Reid's last season at LSU would prove to be his best. In addition to being voted team captain by his teammates and again being named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll, Reid was named first-team All-SEC and first-team All-American after a junior season that included 91 tackles and two interceptions.

Reid was selected in the first round, 18th overall, by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2013 NFL draft where he is in his second year as a starter. Reid was selected to the 2014 NFL Pro Bowl as a rookie.

Honorable mention: Dante Fowler Jr, No. 71 in 2012 class. Fowler was a long time Florida State commitment that flipped to Florida on national signing day in 2012 in one of the more talked about and heated Sunshine State recruitment in recent years. Fowler Jr. has garnered All-SEC honors since his arrival in Gainesville, and is projected to be a first-round selection in the 2015 NFL draft, should he forgo his final season of eligibility at Florida as expected. After Fowler Jr. is drafted, he will be the fourth prospect ranked No. 71 to be in the NFL joining Reid, Justin Boren and Ryan Miller. No. 71 in the 2011 class, Wayne Lyons, is also likely to join the group in 2015.
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Trying to get Dan Mullen or anybody at Mississippi State to talk about the what-ifs this week as they relate to the College Football Playoff is about as easy as getting Mullen to utter the words “Ole Miss.”

To Mullen, Ole Miss will forever be the “school up north.”

The Egg Bowl has never carried higher stakes for the Bulldogs, who need to win Saturday in Oxford if they hope to hang onto one of those top four spots in the playoff committee’s final rankings. If Alabama wins later Saturday night against Auburn in the Iron Bowl, Mississippi State would be shut out of the SEC championship game regardless of the Egg Bowl result.

[+] EnlargeDan Mullen
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsDan Mullen is trying to maintain focus on the Egg Bowl, not its ramifications for the Bulldogs.
If the Bulldogs are shut out of the playoff in that scenario, somebody has some serious explaining to do.

I keep thinking back to Bill Hancock’s comments prior to the season. Hancock, the executive director of the College Football Playoff, said the committee would “evaluate a team based on who they played over 12 games.”

If Mississippi State handles its business Saturday, there won’t be four teams in America that can claim a better résumé than the Bulldogs, who would have gone 7-1 in arguably the toughest division in the history of college football with that one loss coming on the road to the No. 1 team (Alabama) by five points.

That’s not to dismiss what Baylor, Ohio State or TCU has done this season. All three teams have done enough to be in the playoff conversation. But a question the committee members need to be asking is a simple one: What would those three teams’ record be this season had they played Mississippi State’s schedule?

For that matter, what would anybody’s record be?

According to ESPN’s strength of record metric, Mississippi State ranks No. 3 behind only Alabama and Florida State. Strength of record measures how difficult it is to achieve a team’s record, given its schedule.

Nobody is defending Mississippi State’s nonconference schedule this season. But going back to Hancock’s comments, the committee weighs the entire schedule, not just a pocket of the schedule.

With Arkansas moving into ESPN’s power rankings this week at No. 25, that means all seven teams in the SEC West have been ranked in that poll at some point this season. All seven are bowl eligible. One of the knocks against Mississippi State is that some of its wins have lost their luster because those teams have since dropped out of the rankings. The reason they’ve dropped out of the rankings is because the West has cannibalized itself.

My guess is that Mississippi State would gladly trade schedules with Baylor, Ohio State or TCU … or even Florida State.

The great unknown at this point, and something that should probably be unnerving for Mississippi State, is how much conference championships will be weighted by the committee. All conference championships aren’t created equal. But if Ohio State wins the Big Ten, for instance, would that trump what Mississippi State has done over the course of the season without winning the SEC title?

Already, ESPN insider Brad Edwards has predicted that Ohio State, No. 6 in the latest rankings, is in good position to vault into the top four should the Buckeyes go on to win the Big Ten title. And that's an Ohio State team dragging around a loss to Virginia Tech, the same Virginia Tech team that lost to Wake Forest a week ago.

We've heard so much about good wins and bad losses, but let's cut to the heart of this debate. In other words, what would be more difficult to accomplish this season -- winning the Big Ten title or winning a share of the SEC West Title? Committee chairman Jeff Long has an excellent resource sitting right down the hall from him. His coach at Arkansas, Bret Bielema, would offer a pretty decent perspective. He went to three straight Rose Bowls at Wisconsin and now has the Hogs playing as well as anybody in the SEC.

Maybe this is all a moot point. Maybe there are still two or three upsets in the works that will clear up the playoff picture, and maybe Ole Miss rains on Mississippi State’s playoff parade this weekend.

But if everything holds steady, and the top teams keep winning, this whole “best four teams” mantra that we’ve heard about since the playoff became a reality is going to be put to the test.

If it’s truly the best four conference champions, then come out and say that. The last time I checked, that’s not the way it’s supposed to work, even though my sense from the beginning was that there would be a considerable push to have four different conferences represented in this first playoff.

Up until now, Mississippi State has been in the top four every week the playoff rankings have been unveiled. So it’s clear the committee has treated the Bulldogs with great respect to this point.

Somehow, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Mississippi State would be a top-four team every week until the very last poll -- the only one that counts.

With it being a four-team playoff, it’s only natural that the No. 4 team would be scrutinized heavily. And for the record, according to ESPN’s strength of schedule rankings, Mississippi State (50th) is ahead of TCU (52nd), Ohio State (55th) and Baylor (61st).

It all makes you wonder if we would even be having this conversation if this were one of the bluebloods in the SEC, say Alabama, Florida, Georgia or LSU, and they had the same résumé as Mississippi State. But it’s not one of the bluebloods. It’s Mississippi State, and the Bulldogs are fighting like hell to shake the stigma that they’re somehow not legit.

Ultimately, it’s up to Mississippi State on Saturday in one of the most anticipated Egg Bowls ever to state its case one last time.

And then it will be in the committee’s hands to sort it all out, and refreshingly, history, tradition and a team's brand are not going to matter as much as the team on the field and what that team has accomplished this season.

At least we can hope.

UCLA has legit playoff case if it wins out

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
9:24
AM ET
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsBrett Hundley and the Bruins could be on track for big things.

In the past few weeks, the playoff discussion has centered around the remaining zero- or one-loss teams from Power 5 conferences.

There is one two-loss team, however, that may have an argument for inclusion when all is said and done.

UCLA faces Stanford Friday (3:30 ET, ABC) with a chance to clinch the Pac-12 South. With a win against the Cardinal, UCLA will face Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game. If UCLA wins out, it will have a résumé worthy of discussion for the playoff.

Schedule
UCLA has played the hardest schedule in the nation, according to ESPN’s strength of schedule rankings. The Bruins have not only played a nine-game Pac-12 schedule, but their out-of-conference slate also is the hardest of any Power 5 team.

The Bruins opened their season at Virginia in a game that kicked off at 9 AM PT. In Week 2, they faced Memphis, the current first-place team in the American Athletic Conference, and followed that game with a trip to Arlington to face Texas in Week 3.

The Bruins traveled close to 8,000 miles (counting return trips) before their first conference game and escaped with a 3-0 record. Two of those wins were against fellow Power 5 opponents; excluding Notre Dame, Florida State is the only other Power 5 team with multiple out-of-conference wins against Power 5 opponents.

Add in that UCLA’s conference schedule is the 12th-hardest in the nation before a potential Pac-12 Championship Game, and there will be no argument from the committee that the Bruins were not tested.

Wins
A difficult schedule affords the Bruins more opportunities for signature wins. UCLA has six wins against teams currently ranked in the top 40 of ESPN's Football Power Index, second-most in the FBS behind Alabama. If the Bruins win out, they will add two current FPI top 20 wins to their résumé.

One of the arguments against UCLA is that it played close games in the beginning of the season against lesser opponents. Since those games, however, the teams that UCLA beat have risen in the rankings. UCLA’s first six opponents all rank 42nd or better in the FPI after two of those teams began the season outside the top 42.

If UCLA were to beat Stanford and Oregon, the average current FPI ranking of UCLA’s 11 wins would be 33, the best in the nation.

Strength of Record
Many will point to UCLA’s two losses, to Utah and Oregon. The Oregon game was not even as close as the 12-point final scoring margin suggests.

ESPN’s Strength of Record metric accounts for both wins and losses to measure the difficulty of achieving a team’s record, given its schedule. UCLA, with two losses, currently ranks sixth in Strength of Record, ahead of one-loss Baylor and Ohio State. That means that it would be harder for an average top 25 team to achieve UCLA’s 9-2 record than either Baylor’s or Ohio State’s record.

If UCLA beats Stanford and Oregon it will likely jump into the top four in Strength of Record. The Bruins would likely have the same record as Oregon but will have played a tougher schedule in achieving that record. Similarly, assuming TCU and Baylor win out, the Bruins would have as many wins as those teams but significantly more quality wins, including a victory against one of the top teams in the nation (Oregon).

All of these arguments are contingent on UCLA winning out. Beating Stanford at home and Oregon on a neutral field is not an easy feat.

ESPN’s Football Power Index projects that the Bruins have a 24 percent chance to win out, but if they were to do it, could the committee really leave a two-loss Pac-12 champion, with the hardest schedule in the nation, out of the playoff?

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