Articles By David Fox
Less than a full month into the college basketball season, and we’ve already had a handful of major statements.
Kentucky, Duke and Arizona are as good as advertised. Maybe better. Texas, Louisville and Wisconsin are doing exactly what they should be at this point in the year. Gonzaga is better than many expected. Same with Utah or Butler.
Of course, no one remembers a team for what it did in November or December in college basketball, but these games are important.
If nothing else, they set the tone for the season, establish favorites and put storylines in motion. For a handful of teams, these early games will come in handy for the selection committee. Win a big game in November and perhaps you don’t need to be perfect in February.
Here's what we think are the most important statements as we near the end of the first month of the season.
John Calipari’s blue platoon (the starters) and white platoon (the best group of sixth men in the country) was met with skepticism to start the season, but Kentucky is sticking with it for good reason. Wednesday’s slow start against Columbia notwithstanding, the Wildcats are the best defensive team in the country. The Wildcats won’t keep up their pace in conference play even if the numbers remain staggering: Kentucky has the best adjusted defensive efficiency rating and defensive effective field goal rate going back to 2002 on KenPom.com
This is scary: A group that went into Madison and defeated a veteran Wisconsin team 80-70 is only going to get better. If a freshman-led team can shoot 65 percent at the Kohl Center in only their eighth game, what will these rookies be able to do in March? Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones have all taken their turn as the stars for Duke this season while veterans Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon have settled into their roles.
Gonzaga as a national player
The Bulldogs may have Mark Few’s best team or at least a team that ranks up with the 2013 team that finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in the country or the 2006 team led by Adam Morrison. Gonzaga lost 66-63 in overtime at Arizona in its biggest game of the year, but there’s no shame in losing to another Final Four contender on the road in a game that came down to free throws (or lack thereof at the end). Gonzaga is one of the most balanced offensive teams in the country with five players averaging double figures and a sixth averaging 8.5. points per game.
Since we mentioned Gonzaga’s hot start, we should mention the team that just defeated the Bulldogs. Arizona, which won the Maui Invitational, clamped down on Gonzaga on the defensive end to erase a six-point deficit in the second half. Four Bulldogs players scored in double figures. But none scored more than 15 and the Zags averaged 0.94 points per possession. The most efficient defense from a year ago might be headed that way again.
Big East depth
Even if the pace of the league has cooled since November, this still looks like a respectable multi-bid league. Villanova is undefeated with wins over VCU, Michigan and Illinois. St. John’s defeated Syracuse for its first win in the Carrier Dome in more than 15 years. Despite an uncertain coaching situation, Butler has defeated North Carolina and Georgetown and has only one loss this season (to Oklahoma on a neutral floor). All hope isn’t lost for Creighton without Doug McDermott as the Bluejays have wins over Oklahoma and Nebraska, the latter on the road. Even DePaul is 6-1 with a win over Stanford.
Utah’s breakout moment
Utah lost seven Pac-12 games by seven points or less last season, including three in overtime. Larry Krystkowiak’s team has been poised for a breakout, and it finally happened late into the night on Dec. 3. Against a Wichita State team that has almost always won the close games in recent years, the Utes got the breaks to defeat the Shockers 69-68 in overtime. Utah could be the No. 2 team in the Pac-12.
The Cavaliers haven’t picked up an eye-popping win. And with a style of play that ranks 330th or worse in possession length on both sides of the court, nothing Virginia does will be eye-popping. Instead, consider what the Cavaliers did in back-to-back true road games against solid Maryland and VCU teams. Virginia held the two teams to a combined 1.02 points per possession, 45 percent shooting from 2-point range and 31 percent from 3.
Jerian Grant’s return
Notre Dame is back in postseason contention with Jerian Grant back in the lineup after missing most of last season following an academic issue. Clearly, the Irish are a different team with their star guard. Grant is averaging 19 points per game during the 9-1 start. In Notre Dame’s best performance of the season, Grant was 9-of-17 with 27 points in an overtime win over Michigan State.
Wichita State hasn’t had a challenger in the Missouri Valley since Creighton left. Northern Iowa hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since reaching the Sweet 16 in 2010. Could both change this season? The Panthers have only two top-100 wins (Stephen F. Austin and Richmond) but Ben Jacobson’s team is 9-0. With a junior- and senior-laden team, Jacobson is ready for another run, but the true tests will come in the next two weeks against VCU and Iowa.
(Note: The initial posting of this piece Thursday morning included Iowa State’s Bryce Dejean-Jones in this spot. He was removed after news broke of his arrest Thursday.)
Ten teams remain undefeated, and one of them went winless in conference play last season. Gary Patterson isn’t the only coach engineering a major turnaround in Fort Worth. TCU is 9-0, meaning that the Horned Frogs’ next win will eclipse last year’s total (9-22). Trent Johnson’s team doesn’t have any great wins — Ole Miss and Mississippi State are the only wins over KenPom top 100 teams — but the Frogs have a chance to be 13-0 when they open Big 12 play at home against West Virginia in Jan. 3.
Before a team hoists a national championship trophy, before one outstanding player hoists the Heisman Trophy, a handful of other hardware will be awarded over the coming days.
Part of college football’s rich tradition is the dozens of individual and positional awards to be distributed over the coming days and weeks.
Most of these will be during ESPN’s College Football Awards show on Thursday, Dec. 11., at 7 p.m.
Here are the finalists, the winners and our picks for each of the major awards.
Most Outstanding Player
Amari Cooper, Alabama
Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Player of the Year
Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
Defensive Player of the Year
Vic Beasley, Clemson
Joey Bosa, Ohio State
Scooby Wright, Arizona
Top defensive player
Malcolm Brown, Texas
Landon Collins, Alabama
Senquez Golson, Ole Miss
Gerod Holliman, Louisville
Scooby Wright, Arizona
Eddie Robinson Award
Coach of the year
Art Briles, Baylor
Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
Justin Fuente, Memphis
Bryan Harsin, Boise State
Mark Helfrich, Oregon
Urban Meyer, Alabama
Gary Patterson, TCU
Nick Saban, Alabama
Maxwell Coach of the Year
Mark Helfrich, Oregon
Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
Johnny Unitas Golden Arm
Top senior quarterback
Brett Hundley, UCLA
Cody Kessler, USC
Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Bryce Petty, Baylor
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
Davey O’Brien Award
Trevone Boykin, TCU
Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
Doak Walker Award
Top running back
Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
Tevin Coleman, Indiana
Melvin Gordon, Nebraska
Top wide receiver
Amari Cooper, Alabama
Rashard Higgins, Colorado State
Kevin White, West Virginia
Top tight end
Nick O’Leary, Florida State
Clive Walford, Miami
Maxx Williams, Minnesota
Top interior lineman
Malcolm Brown, Texas
Reese Dismukes, Auburn
Brandon Scherff, Iowa
Jack Allen, Mississippi State
David Andrews, Georgia
Reese Dismukes, Abuburn
B.J. Finney, Kansas State
Andy Gallik, Boston College
Hroniss Grasu, Oregon
Vic Beasley, Clemson
Joey Bosa, Ohio State
Hau’oli Kikaha, Washington
Scooby Wright, Arizona
Erik Kendricks, UCLA
Hau’oli Kikaha, Washington
Denzel Perryman, Miami
Jake Ryan, Michigan
Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
Top defensive back
Landon Collins, Alabama
Gerod Holliman, Louisville
Lou Groza Award
Robert Aguayo, Florida State
Brad Craddock, Maryland
Josh Lambert, West Virginia
Ray Guy Award
Tom Hackett, Utah
Austin Rekhow, Idaho
J.K. Scott, Alabama
Top assistant coach
Scott Frost, Oregon
Tom Herman, Ohio State
Lane Kiffin, Alabama
Doug Meacham, TCU
Dave Steckel, Missouri
By a handful of measures, the Big Ten had a successful season. The league produced a College Football Playoff team, a Heisman finalist, one of the top defensive players in the country and one of the nation’s biggest surprise teams.
The conference just took an interesting path to reach the finished product.
Writing off the league in Week 2 couldn’t have been more foolhardy, but at the time, the hopes for the Big Ten were dim.
By then, the power programs all lost non-conference games — Ohio State to Virginia Tech, Michigan to Notre Dame, Michigan State to Oregon and Wisconsin to LSU. Some teams recovered (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State). Some did not (Michigan). Minnesota lost early to TCU, too, but the Horned Frogs turned out to be better than we anticipated. So did the Gophers.
If seasons are judged by playoff appearances and Heisman contenders, the Big Ten recovered from that week. J.T. Barrett emerged as a star, and Ohio State never lost again. Melvin Gordon was largely absent from the second half against LSU, but he went on to set the national single-game rushing record (for a week) and then broke the Big Ten rushing record held by Ron Dayne.
League newcomers Maryland and Rutgers will finish the season in bowl games. So will Illinois, which saved the job of coach Tim Beckman. So will Penn State, which saw its bowl ban lifted.
But power programs in this league finished where they started the season — looking for answers. Michigan is out of a bowl and still looking for a coach. Nebraska is in a bowl but has one eye on the Mike Riley era.
2014 Season Awards and All-Conference Teams:
2014 Big Ten Season Awards
Coach of the Year: Jerry Kill, Minnesota
Minnesota’s trophy case is more full than it’s been in years as the Gophers won both the Little Brown Jug (Michigan) and Floyd of Rosedale (Iowa) in the same season for the first time since 1967. The Gophers, picked by Athlon to finish fifth in the West, came within one game on the last day of the season of playing in the Big Ten championship game. With an 8-4 finish, Kill has led Minnesota to back-to-back eight-win seasons for the first time in more than a decade.
Offensive Player of the Year: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
This can go to no one else. It’s hard to think what Wisconsin would be without Gordon. The junior put himself into Wisconsin running back lore — not an easy task given the tradition — by rushing for a then-FBS record 408 yards against Nebraska and breaking Ron Dayne’s Big Ten rushing record. Gordon’s 2,336 rushing yards is the fourth-highest total in FBS history.
Defensive Player of the Year: Joey Bosa, Ohio State
Bosa built upon a standout freshman season to become the most disruptive defensive player in the Big Ten. The 6-foot-5, 278-pound defensive end from St. Thomas Aquinas finished in the top five nationally with 13.5 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss. His four forced fumbles this season contributed to 30 Ohio State points.
Newcomer of the Year: Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Minnesota
Boddy-Calhoun is a junior college transfer and a player making a return from injury. The wait was worth it as the Gophers cornerback finished the season with four interceptions and eight pass breakups.
Freshman of the Year: J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
Unless you’re a die-hard Ohio State fan, you probably didn’t know much, if anything, about J.T. Barrett before Aug. 20. That’s when Braxton Miller was lost for the season and Barrett went from unknown to the quarterback of a College Football Playoff contender. The redshirt freshman struggled in his second career start, a home loss to 6-6 Virginia Tech, but led the Buckeyes to an unblemished Big Ten season. His 45 total touchdowns was an Ohio State record and more than Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston during their redshirt freshman seasons.
Coordinator of the Year: Tom Herman, Ohio State
Ohio State entered the season with one sure bet on offense, and that cornerstone, Braxton Miller, never started a game. The 39-year-old coordinator prepped J.T. Barrett to take an unexpected starting role for the season, set the stage for a 1,400-yard season from running back Ezekiel Elliott and then won a Big Ten championship game with another backup quarterback in Cardale Jones. Simply put, Ohio State isn’t in they playoff if the Buckeyes quarterbacks aren’t in position or prepared to flourish on short notice.
Breakout Player of the Year: Tevin Coleman, Indiana
Coleman had a heck of a time overcoming not only Melvin Gordon in publicity or a 1-7 season by Indiana in the Big Ten. Becoming only the third 2,000-yard running back since 2008 was enough to put him on the fringe of the Heisman hunt. At one point, Coleman had rushed for a touchdown in 15 consecutive games dating back to the 2013 opener against Indiana State. Coleman finished with 2,036 yards, more than double his total from a year earlier.
Big Ten 2014 All-Conference Team
|First Team||Second Team|
QB J.T. Barrett
QB Connor Cook
RB Melvin Gordon
RB Ameer Abdullah
RB Tevin Coleman
RB David Cobb
WR Tony Lippett
WR Devin Smith
WR Leonte Carroo
WR Mike Dudek
TE Maxx Williams
TE Josiah Price
OT Brandon Scherff
OT Jack Conklin
OT Rob Havenstein
OT Taylor Decker
OG Kyle Costigan
OG Pat Elflein
OG Zac Epping
OG Travis Jackson
C Jack Allen
C Dan Voltz
DE Joey Bosa
DE Randy Gregory
DE Shilique Calhoun
DE Andre Monroe
DT Anthony Zettel
DT Carl Davis
DT Michael Bennett
DT Maliek Collins
LB Mike Hull
LB Derek Landisch
LB Vince Biegel
LB Taiwan Jones
LB Jake Ryan
LB Damien Wilson
CB William Likely
CB Doran Grant
CB Trae Waynes
CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun
S Kurtis Drummond
S Nate Gerry
S Michael Caputo
S Frankie Williams
K Brad Craddock
K Sam Ficken
P Peter Mortell
P Cameron Johnston
KR Jalen Myrick
KR R.J. Shelton
PR De'Mornay Pierson-El
PR Jalin Marshall
For a playoff system that produced a mere three games and four teams in championship contention, the first College Football Playoff left us plenty to dissect.
In the name of transparency (and publicity and TV ratings), the selection committee released a weekly top 25 starting in Week 10 and sent committee chair Jeff Long out to field questions on camera and off about the process.
Whether all this weekly information was necessary is still up for debate, but the run-up to the final selection show at least pulled back the curtain on the thought process of the committee as a whole, even if we may never know the thoughts of each of the 12 members.
What we learned from the selection committee varied from week to week, even moreso in the final week when the committee was tasked with picking one team out of the pool of three for the final spot of the playoff.
Here’s what we think the most important lessons were this season:
Listen to the College Football Playoff Committee podcast:
Recent results mattered most
We’re not ready to say definitively that the Big 12 is going to be hurt in the playoff because it doesn’t have a championship game. What we can say is that Ohio State’s 59-0 rout of a top-15 Wisconsin team on a neutral field in the last game of the season put the Buckeyes over the top. None of the teams in the playoff lost later than Oct. 4 (Alabama to Ole Miss). The top two teams left out lost on Oct. 11 (TCU to Baylor) and Oct. 18 (Baylor to West Virginia). Ohio State lost early, allowing the Buckeyes to show significant improvement after a Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech.
The committee paid attention to personnel
This was an early lesson: Oregon opened the rankings at No. 5 and never fell any lower despite a home loss to Arizona. At the time, the Wildcats didn’t look like a team that would win 10 games and win the Pac-12 South. Instead, the lesson was that the committee evaluated Oregon with a healthy offensive line down the stretch was much better than the Ducks team that faced Arizona without tackle Jake Fisher. Perhaps more telling is the performance of Ohio State and their two backup quarterbacks. The Buckeyes were allowed to show improvement from week to week under J.T. Barrett since his disastrous performance in his second career start. When Barrett went down, the committee essentially told backup Cardale Jones it would be watching his performance in the Big Ten title game in particular.
The weekly rankings were not predictive
The weekly top 25 from the selection committee that started on Oct. 28 was probably necessary for transparency’s sake and at least proved that this selection committee took its job seriously and could ably speak on each pertinent team. Yet when it came down to the the first six rankings and the final top 25 on Dec. 7, we couldn’t say it helped us predict the final playoff picture. TCU dropped from No. 3 to No. 6 in a week, and Ohio State moved into the semifinal. That’s all fine. One flaw from the BCS era was the pollsters’ devotion to previous rankings. While it’s nice to know the committee is more flexible, we’re not sure if the weekly rankings were a great use of time.
The committee is making this up as it goes along
Again, this is a new process, so perhaps this is to be expected. But the phrase “game control” entered the college football lexicon because Jeff Long uttered it on a Tuesday night. An explanation noting that teams got a leg up because of beating “previously ranked” teams got some run in the media for a time. An imperfect process gave us imperfect answers.
Undefeated doesn’t trump all
Florida State finished the season as the nation’s only undefeated team and was the only unbeaten in a power conference after Nov. 9. Yet the Seminoles never ranked No. 1 in a weekly playoff ranking. The way the Seminoles played the season with a series of second-half comebacks against ACC foes and Florida contributed to his, but this also signaled that the selection committee wouldn’t elevate a team simply because of a zero in the loss column. The idea of an undefeated major conference team spending five weeks ranked behind at least one one-loss would have been a foreign concept during the BCS era.
The rankings changed the polls
Who knows if this would have happened anyway, but the pollsters seemed to follow the lead of the playoff rankings in elevating a one-loss team ahead of the the Seminoles. Florida State was No. 2 in the AP poll for seven non-consecutive weeks this season. The first portion of that, the Seminoles were behind undefeated Mississippi State and the second behind one-loss Alabama.
The Group of 5 is in trouble
Speaking of undefeated, let’s talk about Marshall, which spent all but the last two weeks of the season undefeated. The Thundering Herd never entered the playoff rankings until Nov. 25 at No. 24. By then, Marshall already spent six weeks in the AP poll. Boise State spent only the final three weeks in the playoff top 25. That’s not a hindrance to getting to a major bowl game — a Group of 5 team only needs to be the highest ranked league champ to get to a major bowl game. But it does illustrate how much trouble a team from outside of the Power 5 is going to have getting to the playoff.
Name recognition matters
Even after Virginia Tech lost 6-3 in overtime to Wake Forest, the committee didn’t seem to view Ohio State’s 14-point home loss to the Hokies as a bad loss. Long refuted as such when asked about that result two weeks before the final ranking.
In the end, head-to-head mattered
One of the criticisms of the committee for weeks was that TCU remained ahead of Baylor despite the Bears’ 61-58 win over the Horned Frogs. Once the season ended — and the bodies of work were complete — Baylor was one spot ahead of TCU. That got neither into the playoff, but at least head-to-head was the defining factor in the final poll.
The committee has to do a better job of explaining schedule strength
All too often, the committee justified its rankings using its own top 25 as a guide — as in Team A beat two teams in the top 25 and lost to a team in the top 10. Using the rankings themselves to explain the rankings may come back to bite the selection committee.
Art Briles is one of the nation’s brightest football coaches. He’s done more with less at Baylor because of smarts and hard work.
He’s changed Baylor from a Big 12 afterthought into a two-time league champ because of astute recruiting and player development and an innovative offensive system.
That’s why Baylor missing out on the College Football Playoff can be so frustrating.
Baylor the overachiever, so adept at maximizing its potential, misused some of its most valuable resources.
In the eyes of the 2014 College Football Playoff selection committee, no resource was more important than games. All four teams in the playoff played 13. The top two teams left out had 12.
And Baylor squandered a quarter of its most valuable resource on Buffalo, SMU and Northwestern State.
In the end, Baylor was able to overtake TCU, a team the Bears defeated head-to-head in October, but not a team that played a 13th game Saturday.
Laugh at the outsized role TCU’s win over Minnesota played in the rankings, but Baylor has to believe that if the Bears defeated Minnesota 30-7 instead of TCU, Baylor would be packing its bags for New Orleans to face Alabama.
Listen to the College Football Playoff Committee podcast:
From the onset, members of the selection committee avoided talk of sending messages to football programs hoping to get into the playoff.
This is all about picking the four best teams, they say, not telling athletic directors how to go about their business.
No matter what, though, the committee would send an implicit message on selection Sunday.
The message Sunday was directed squarely at the Big 12: Teams in this league need to do something about their schedules.
“I can’t answer what’s best for the Big 12 conference,” said selection committee chair Jeff Long, who is also the athletic director at Arkansas. “That’s not for us to decide. That’s for the Big 12 to decide, what they think is in their best interests.”
With four playoff spots and five power conferences, one was bound to be left out of the national championship picture. This year, it was the only league without a conference championship game.
Is the message that conference championship games are a necessity? Should the Big 12 start scouring the American or Mountain West for its next two teams?
Long won’t tell the Big 12 what to do, but his explanation of why Ohio State is playing for a title instead of TCU or Baylor is telling.
“(The 13th game) had an effect,” Long said. “It was an additional game that we could see Ohio State prove their strength. It was significant. I can’t say that it wasn’t.”
Adding a conference championship game, either by expansion or by being granted an NCAA waiver to have a title game with 10 teams, isn’t the only answer.
By selecting Ohio State, the committee in part indicated a team doesn’t necessarily have to schedule a great Power 5 team and it doesn’t necessarily have to win under the right circumstances.
In the second week of the season, Ohio State lost at home to a Virginia Tech team that finished 3-5 in the ACC. In earlier comments, Long indicated the selection committee didn’t see such a loss as being as devastating as it seemed to be.
On selection Sunday, that was made even more clear. Ohio State had the worst loss of any team in playoff contention and still made the field. The Big Ten championship game gave Ohio State yet another opportunity to atone for that loss.
When the Big 12 elected to stand pat at 10 teams, the league had to know it was taking a risk by standing on a island as the only league without a title game.
It’s too early, though, to assume the Big 12 has to crawl to BYU or Boise State or Cincinnati or UCF or Memphis for expansion. The criteria for the basketball selection committee ebbs and flows with each season. The criteria for this specific football committee seemed to change for week to week.
What kept Baylor or TCU out of the playoff in 2014 might not be an eliminator in 2015.
A major upheaval and another round of conference realignment isn’t necessary just yet. Effort should be the first step.
Why not try scheduling BYU or Cincinnati before adding them to the conference? Facing UCF or Boise State might not be a signature non-conference win, but they won’t be the schedule deadweight of an FCS team, either.
And that doesn’t scratch the surface of more prominent programs that might be willing to play a game in Texas, neutral site or otherwise, for recruiting purposes.
Even Kansas State, a program whose trademark is easy non-conference games, found a way to get Auburn to visit Manhattan.
“This is going to be a wake-up call,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told ESPN’s Rece Davis on air Sunday. “You don’t want to get left out of the postseason because of a weakness in your non-conference schedule.”
Big 12 teams have three opportunities each season to not take the easy way out on a non-conference game.
On Sunday, it was clear those opportunities can’t be wasted.
The NFL and Major League Baseball playoffs have their wild cards. The College Football Playoff does, too. If not in name, Ohio State is the wild card in practice.
The Buckeyes were the last team in the four-team field, and the most controversial. Ohio State’s 59-0 win over Wisconsin the Big Ten Championship put the Buckeyes over the top ahead of TCU and Baylor. Personnel-wise, Ohio State is also a wild card. The Buckeyes have played only one game with the quarterback who will start the Sugar Bowl.
Intentionally or not, the selection committee provided plenty of fodder for pre-game storylines in pairing Ohio State with Alabama. The Buckeyes will face a representative from the conference that denied the Buckeyes the 2006 and 2007 BCS championship. Meanwhile, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer will face his biggest on-field nemesis from his days at Florida (Nick Saban) and his biggest off-field pest (Lane Kiffin).
Now that the bracket is set and the storylines are established, it’s time to wonder if Ohio State can win this thing. Here are five reasons why they might.
5 Reasons Why Ohio State Will Win the CFB Playoff
1. Cardale Jones
This is counterintuitive but perhaps crazy enough to work against Alabama. If Cardale Jones really is as good as his performance against Wisconsin indicates, Ohio State will be in good shape at the quarterback position despite all the odds. Jones completed 12-of-17 passes for 257 yards with three touchdowns against a top-five defense in Wisconsin. And that’s essentially all the game film Nick Saban and his staff will have to dissect. We know Jones has a big arm (15.1 yards per attempt against the Badgers) and one of the best deep threats in the field in Devin Smith (26.6 yards per reception). A dropback passer also is a different look for Meyer against Saban, who faced Tim Tebow in their two SEC championship matchups.
2. Joey Bosa
Perhaps one statistical surprise among the four teams in the field: Only one of them ranked in the top 20 in sacks this season. Led by Joey Bosa, Ohio State is that team at more than three sacks per game. Bosa may be the most disruptive defensive player on any of the four playoff teams with 13.5 sacks (fourth nationally) and 20 tackles for a loss (tied for fifth).
Listen to the College Football Playoff Committee podcast:
3. Ezekiel Elliott
Meyer went his entire career without a 1,000-yard running back before Carlos Hyde did it last season. Now, Meyer has had two in two seasons. Elliott will make Jones’ job much easier if he can continue his hot streak into the playoff. Elliott rushed for 220 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries against Wisconsin, nearly tripling Melvin Gordon’s output in that game. Elliott is averaging nearly nine yards per carry in his last three games.
4. A ball-hawking defense
Every offense in the playoff can throw the ball, so making defensive plays in the passing game is going to be a major factor. In that case, Ohio State has a nice track record. Ohio State finished the season ranked fourth nationally with 21 interceptions, including seven in the last four games. Only three teams didn’t throw a pick against Ohio State. Then again, that might be a concern. The top quarterback Ohio State faced all season was Michigan State’s Connor Cook, who completed 25-of-45 passes for 358 yards with two touchdowns and no picks.
5. Urban Meyer
Facing Saban in the semifinal evens the odds a bit, but few coaches have as good a track record as Meyer in championship or elimination-type games (Saban is one of them). Meyer is 5-2 in BCS championship games or conference title games in which a trip to the title game, or in the case, the playoff, are on the line. Again, Saban’s record is pretty unimpeachable itself, but Meyer’s is close. The matchup includes a 1-1 record in SEC championship games between Florida and Alabama, games that were in effect national semifinals.
When the guy who correctly predicts presidential races down to the electoral vote is thrown off the scent, maybe it’s time to acknowledge that following the weekly College Football Playoff horse race is not the best use of time.
As the season wrapped up Saturday night, Nate Silver posted that FiveThirtyEight’s statistical model pegged TCU as 91.1 percent likely to earn a playoff spot, a more solid prediction than even undefeated Florida State.
Nevertheless, Silver wrote he believed Florida State was more safe than the model indicated and TCU less so. Silver’s gut turned out to be more on point than the statistical model.
By Sunday morning, Ohio State was in and TCU was out. A victory for the 8.9 percent chance.
Let’s not be harsh on Silver, though. This the same person whose statistical models predict presidential and congressional races with regular accuracy. He gets a mulligan on trying to predict a process that has no precedent.
The playoff selection committee threw everyone off in the final rankings. Certainly, there was a sense that Ohio State, on the strength of a 59-0 win over Wisconsin and a Big Ten title, could move from No. 5 to No. 4 even though TCU defeated Iowa State 55-3. It also remained plausible Baylor, facing the top opponent of any of the three in No. 9 Kansas State, could move ahead of TCU.
But anyone Saturday night saying they were certain Ohio State would end up in the playoff was simply guessing.
Listen to the College Football Playoff Committee podcast:
For six weeks, the selection committee met, deliberated, ranked a top 25 and explained why each team fit in each spot. Each week, TCU ranked ahead of both Ohio State and Baylor.
Ohio State slowly gained on the top four, and Baylor inched closer and closer to the team it defeated on Oct. 11. All the while, though, TCU maintained the upper hand.
In the only ranking that matters, Ohio State moved to No. 4 followed by Baylor and TCU in a complete about-face to the earlier top 25.
Not that the movement is unjustifiable — Ohio State played in one more game than the two teams from the Big 12, and that game ended in a 59-0 rout on a neutral field over a top 20 team that entered the game as a four-point favorite.
And hours after the committee released the top six, it revealed another significant change in its rankings: Mississippi State finished No. 7 and Michigan State finished No. 8. A week earlier, the Spartans were two spots ahead of the Bulldogs.
This flip-flop occurred despite neither team playing in the final week. Moreover, the two teams that defeated Michigan State (Oregon and Ohio State) went on to win conference titles in the final week of the season compared to the one for Mississippi State (Alabama).
That move may not seen substantial, but it allowed Mississippi State to take a spot in the Orange Bowl, the bowl destination anticipated for Michigan State. The Spartans instead will go to the Cotton Bowl.
Now, unless you’re a Michigan State fan who already booked travel to Miami, this isn’t a big deal. It simply underscores that the weekly reveal of the rankings and the weekly meetings were little more than TV programming.
The weekly top 25 in the end offered little insight into what the selection committee actually would do when it came time to fill out a bracket and send teams to bowls.
The process displayed transparency but only to a point. Committee chair Jeff Long ably spoke to the media each week and justify one ranking or another. At the same time, Long dodged any mention of which of the 12 voices held the most sway, if any, or which committee members dissented.
And in the end, the weekly rankings did little to predict how the final rankings would end up.
The weekly rankings deserve skepticism for this exact reason. The entire process left Long explaining why a team that was ranked third five days ago and won 55-3 in the last week of the season ended up sixth.
And this is what we wanted, too, even if no one said it. The polls had a formula and generally stuck to it late in the season: Keep winning and you won’t move down — even if you beat 2-10 Iowa State while the teams behind you picked up comfortable wins over top-20 teams. Wrote Silver:
In other words, the committee appears to engage in a more thorough reassessment of the teams with its final rankings. For better or worse, it’s more concerned about getting the “right” answer in the end than in being consistent from week to week.
The question now is if the committee will go through the same process of producing what now seem to be meaningless weekly rankings.
That is for the bureaucracy to decide.
“I think that the committee will look at this year, look at this season, look at how the entire process went,” Long said. “We will discuss it as a committee and we will discuss it with the management committee and we’ll probably make some recommendations, but it’s up to the management committee how the process will change and if those weekly rankings will change.”
The process could remain the same. Perhaps the committee will release fewer rankings. Maybe it will follow the basketball committee’s lead and simply let the bracket speak for itself.
In any case, we’ll all watch. Just don’t expect us to take it too seriously.
The saying goes that the backup quarterback is the most popular person in football.
At Ohio State, that may be no exaggeration.
Quarterback injuries have been the norm for Urban Meyer in Columbus, but lucky for the Buckeyes, the next man up has been more than prepared.
At one point, Cardale Jones spent time as the third-string quarterback. Braxton Miller was the starter until he went down with a shoulder injury to give way to redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. With a broken ankle, Barrett gave way for Jones, the third backup quarterback to enter a game because of injury for Ohio State the last two seasons.
This, though, was different. On Saturday, Ohio State started the day ranked No. 5 in the playoff rankings and would face a top-five defense in the Big Ten championship game.
A win, and especially strong play from Jones, would strengthen Ohio State's cause for the playoff.
Jones responded with a dominant performance in a 59-0 rout of Wisconsin. In his first career start, Jones completed 12-of-17 passes for 257 yards with three touchdowns and no turnovers against the Badgers to earn Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors.
Wisconsin started the day ranked fifth in fewest yards per play (4.4) and 17th in yards per pass attempt.
Those numbers will take a hit after facing Ohio State.
Under Jones, Ohio State averaged 10 yards per play, and the quarterback averaged 17.1 yards per attempt against the Badgers.
National Defensive Player of the Week: Michael Bennett, Ohio State
If you picked an Ohio State player to have nearly three times as many rushing yards as Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon on Saturday, you could have won a few bets. Certainly, part of that is on the Buckeyes’ Ezekiel Elliott (220 yards), but some is on defensive tackle Michael Bennett and the Ohio State defense. Bennett finished with four tackles for a loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles as Ohio State held Gordon to 76 yards on 26 carries. For the first time all season, Gordon failed to produce a 20-yard carry. He topped out with his longest run going for 13 yards.
National Freshman of the Week: Dalvin Cook, Florida State
Jameis Winston played perhaps his best game of the season in the ACC championship, but he was in danger of being upstaged by a freshman tailback. Cook rushed for 177 yards on 31 carries and a touchdown for the best Florida State rushing day in 39 games. On one possession in the first and second quarters against Georgia Tech, Cook had all seven touches on a 75-yard touchdown drive. Later, he had the key 10-yard run on third-and-7 in the fourth quarter that sealed the 37-35 win for Florida State.
National Coordinator of the Week: Don Pellum, Oregon
In short, Oregon has two weaknesses as it tries to win the school’s first national championship: Arizona and its own defense. The Ducks solved both in the Pac-12 championship on Friday in a 51-13 win over Arizona. Pellum’s defense had arguably its best game of the season. Arizona amassed only 224 yards and 3.7 yards per play against the Ducks. Of Arizona’s 113 passing yards, 69 came on a single touchdown on a broken coverage. Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon was injured during the course of the game, but Wildcats quarterbacks combined to go 9-of-26 with an interception.
With a 55-3 win over Iowa State, TCU didn’t give the College Football Playoff selection committee any reason to drop the Horned Frogs out of the top four.
Now, the Horned Frogs will wait to find out of that’s enough.
TCU entered the week ranked No. 3 in the selection committee rankings. In theory, a rout of Iowa State, a team that finished winless in conference play, should keep TCU in a playoff scenario.
Yet TCU knows it won’t have the last word.
No. 6 Baylor, which defeated TCU 61-58 and outgained the Horned Frogs by nearly 300 yards on Oct. 11, has an opportunity for a statement win against No. 9 Kansas State.
Patterson: "I don’t know what happens tomorrow, but the bottom line is we’ve done everything we can do …. Now we’ll just wait and watch.”— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) December 6, 2014
TCU will have a share of the Big 12 title and a better non-conference win (Minnesota) compared to Baylor. The word “share” is key. The Big 12 will not declare a champion in the event of a tie and will present co-champions to the committee as TCU and either Baylor or Kansas State will finish with one Big 12 loss apiece.
In nearly every other tiebreaker situation, head-to-head would be the first determining factor. One of the criteria used by the selection committee will be conference championships. By naming co-champions, the Big 12 is putting the onus on the selection committee to pick the team with the better body of work.
In a week in which Baylor hired a public relations firm, TCU coach Gary Patterson said he won’t state his case any more than his team already had.
Gary Patterson on if TCU belongs in: "I don't see why they shouldn't consider us. This team has done everything we asked them to do..."— Chuck Carlton (@ChuckCarltonDMN) December 6, 2014
TCU could have crossed the 60-point barrier Saturday against Iowa State but elected to take two knees from the Iowa State 25.
In any event, TCU has engineered a remarkable turnaround. The Horned Frogs are 11-1 overall and 8-1 in the Big 12 only a year removed from going 4-8. The Frogs have won two more Big 12 games this season than they did during the first two seasons in the league (6-12).
Quarterback Trevone Boykin, who spent time at receiver last season, may have put the finishing touches on his bid to be a Heisman finalist by going 30-of-41 for 460 yards with four touchdowns and an interception against the Cyclones.
Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon are the favorites for the award with Alabama’s Amari Cooper making a bid for New York.
By the evening, though, all TCU eyes will be on Baylor.
Here’s how the two teams stacked up entering Saturday
|TCU vs. Baylor|
|Head-to-Head||Lost 61-58||Won 61-58|
|Loss||at No. 6 Baylor 61-58||at West Virginia 41-27|
|Best non-Big 12 win||Minnesota 30-7||at Buffalo 63-21|
|Offensive Yards/Play*||6.7 (First)||6.0 (Fifth)|
|Defensive Yards/Play*||5.7 (Sixth)||5.7 (Fifth)|
|Scoring Differential*||Plus-153 (19.1 per game)||Plus-134 (16.8 per game)|
|Yard Differential*||Plus-766 (95.8 per game)||Plus-1,084 (134.5 per game)|
|*Big 12 games only|
Mike Riley has had many opportunities to move during his second stint as Oregon State’s coach. USC took a look at their former coordinator. So did Alabama, where Riley played for Bear Bryant.
After 11 seasons since his return to Corvallis, Riley made the move to Nebraska to replace Bo Pelini.
So what kind of program is awaiting Riley in Lincoln, and what are the prospects for his early tenure?
Here’s a look:
Offense (4): T Zach Sterup, T Alex Lewis, QB Tommy Armstrong, WR Jordan Westerkamp
Defense (7): E Greg McMullen, T Vincent Valentine, T Maliek Collins, E Randy Gregory, LB David Santos, S Nate Gerry, CB Daniel Davie
Riley will have a challenge ahead of him on offense as the Cornhuskers must replace three cornerstones of their offense in running back Ameer Abdullah, wide receiver Kenny Bell and offensive lineman Jake Cotton. Imani Cross should be poised to become the feature back, but he’s never had more than 85 carries in a season. On defense, junior defensive end Randy Gregory will be a candidate to go early to the NFL Draft.
|247Sports Composite Rankings|
|Year||National Rank||Big Ten Rank|
How does a program win nine or 10 games every season without breaking through as a national player? Those recruiting numbers tell part of the story — a top half recruiting class in the Big Ten but rarely cracking the national top 25. Mike Riley was hired in part because of his ability to locate and develop talent from all over the country. Nebraska is in a precarious recruiting position now that it is detached from its traditional Big 12/Big 8 base, and Lincoln is not the easiest place for prospects to reach. Nebraska’s roster features 12 players from Texas and seven from Ohio. One or both of those numbers may need to be higher for the Huskers to compete on a national level.
Oregon State and Nebraska both run what might be termed a pro-style, but both have elements of the spread. Riley’s best teams have generally been balanced with a productive tailback — think of Steven Jackson, Yvenson Bernard and Jacquizz Rodgers. That system may be ideal for Nebraska, yet Oregon State was in the top three in pass attempts in the Pac-12 in three of the last four seasons. Both teams have run a base 4-3. Oregon State has developed solid defensive linemen over the years, something Nebraska has had in spades. If Riley brings defensive coordinator Mark Banker with him to Lincoln — it’s reasonable to assume he’ll be a contender to succeed Riley — the system may translate nicely to the personnel.
Nebraska’s players were vocal in support of Pelini when he was fired. Even before the change, the Cornhuskers stressed the Pelini they knew was not the same as his gruff public persona. Still, the move from Pelini to the affable Riley is about as dramatic a shift in personality as any.
What does the competition look like?
The Big Ten West should continue to be the weaker of the two divisions. With or without Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin does what it does with the run game and defense year in and year out. Iowa will lose a couple of key players (Brandon Scherff and Carl Davis) but expects to be a veteran team. Minnesota moves on without David Cobb next season. Next season’s schedule features Miami on the road and BYU at home in the non-conference, but its toughest Big Ten games (Wisconsin and Michigan State) are at home. And lucky for Riley, no Oregon or Stanford.
Florida didn’t have a ton of time in the spotlight with its hire of Colorado State coach Jim McElwain as Nebraska announced a hire of Mike Riley just as McElwain was becoming official.
After a few weeks, that won’t matter. Winning the day or winning the press conference isn’t nearly as important as winning over fans in that first season.
Winning early, though, will be tough. After all, Florida wouldn’t have made a coaching change if this program were running at full strength.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the situation McElwain has assumed at Florida for 2015.
Offense (4): T D.J. Humphries, G Trip Thurman, WR Demarcus Robinson, WR Latroy Pittman
Defense (8): T Jon Bullard, E Bryan Cox Jr., LB Neiron Ball, LB Antonio Morrison, S Keanu Neal, S Marcus Maye, CB Vernon Hargreaves III, CB Brian Poole
The tally above counts neither freshman quarterback Treon Harris, who has started the last five games for the Gators, nor five-star freshman cornerback Jalen Tabor, who has started five games total. The eight returning starters — even without end Dante Fowler, who announced he’d enter the NFL Draft — is a clear boon for McElwain in Year One. Florida led the SEC in fewest yards per play last season at 4.45, and only LSU allowed fewer yards per game. The back end of the defense, especially will be a strength. Leading rusher Matt Jones also will leave early for the NFL Draft, according to a report from GatorCountry.com.
This is where McElwain needs to put in some immediate work. A signing class ranked 14th in the SEC and 61st nationally is unheard of for Florida. The Gators are in on a number of highly touted defensive line recruits, but McElwain will need to make quick inroads in the state. For Alabama, McElwain recruited safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Dee Hart (who later transferred to Colorado State) from the Orlando area.
|247 Composite Ranking|
At first glance, trading one Nick Saban guy (Muschamp) for another (McElwain) wouldn’t seem to bring much of a schematic change. On defense, that may be the case, especially if McElwain retains defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, secondary coach Travaris Robinson and/or others from Muschamp’s defensive staff, as reported by FootballScoop.com. McElwain ran a 3-4 at Colorado State, similar to Muschamp, and for what it’s worth, both coaches nicknamed their linebacker/end hybrid a “buck.” The most intriguing scheme shift will be on offense. The mobile Harris entrenched himself in under Kurt Roper while McElwain featured a classic dropback passer.
The SEC loves to tout its full stadiums and raucous game day atmosphere. That hasn’t been the case at Florida. The Gators drew an average of 85,834 fans per game in 2014. It’s tough to sell The Swamp as homefield advantage when it’s filled well below capacity.
What does the competition look like?
The SEC East should continue to lag behind the West in 2015, but that doesn’t mean the division is for the taking. Missouri has won the division two years in a row and will return a talented, if erratic, quarterback. Georgia loses a senior quarterback and a handful of seniors on defense but will return running back Nick Chubb. Tennessee is a young team on the rise that could be a sleeper in the division. Florida’s crossover games will be Ole Miss at home and LSU on the road, and the only challenging non-conference game will be Florida State at home.
Change is a constant in college football, particularly in the coaching profession.
In decades past, a coach could ascend to the top jobs — and some of the mid-level posts — in the sport and stay year after year. Think of Bear Bryant, Vince Dooley, Bo Schembechler or Hayden Fry.
Those days are more or less over. In the last four seasons alone, Texas, USC, Oregon, Auburn and Tennessee have hired new coaches. Penn State has hired two. Florida is on its second coaching search in the last five seasons.
While the names change, some of the best jobs in the sport do not. Florida is as good a job for this new coach as it was for Will Muschamp, Urban Meyer or Ron Zook. Kansas remains a challenge for any coach, an insurmountable one for many.
Which jobs are the best in this year’s version of the coaching carousel? Here’s our take on the potential for each program making a change this season.
Out: Will Muschamp (28-20 in four seasons)
In: Jim McElwain, Colorado State head coach
Pros: With three national championships since 1996 and eight SEC titles since 1991, Florida is one of the nation’s elite-of-the-elite jobs. The Gators are the flagship university and only SEC representative in one of the nation’s big three recruiting states. Moreover, Florida has been able to spot recruit into the Southeast, the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast regularly over the years. Athletic director Jeremy Foley is one of the nation’s top administrators who will give his football coach every opportunity to succeed.
Cons: If we’re going to nitpick at the Florida job, it could be the facilities. The Gators last had a stadium/facility upgrade in 2008 and remain one of the few top programs without an indoor practice facility or standalone football building. Foley shrugs off the perception that Florida lags in facilities. “We’re not into bells and whistles,” he says. Style is also a factor at Florida. The Gators have won three national championships since 1996, but the coaches who have succeeded the most, Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, have run innovative offenses.
How good is the Florida job? A-plus
Out: Brady Hoke (31-20 in four seasons)
In: Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers coach
Pros: No team in the history of college football has won more games than Michigan. Along with Ohio State, Michigan is on the short list of programs in the Big Ten with the potential of being a consistent player on a national stage, even that hasn’t occurred for the Wolverines in nearly a decade. The population drain in the Midwest is a concern for many regional programs, but even Hoke was able to secure two top-10 national signing classes.
Cons: Michigan went with the nontraditional hire (for them) in Rich Rodriguez and then the Michigan Man in Hoke. Both were fired in four years or less. The Wolverines are in a crossroads similar to when Notre Dame hired Brian Kelly or when Alabama hired Nick Saban, and the man making the hire holds the interim athletic director tag.
How good is the Michigan job? A-plus
Out: Bo Pelini (66-27 in seven seasons)
In: Mike Riley, Oregon State head coach
Pros: The Cornhuskers are one of the college football’s most legendary programs with 865 wins (fourth all time) and five national championships. Resources, facilities and fan support are all among the best in the country. The new coach also takes over a program that’s in better shape than the typical program that just fired a coach — seven consecutive seasons with at least nine wins indicates a solid foundation.
Cons: We mentioned the seven consecutive seasons of nine or 10 wins. Well, that got the last coach fired. The next coach will be expected to take the next step for Big Ten championships and national title contention. National recruiting is a must. Lincoln isn’t the easiest destination to reach in college football, and Nebraska has been cut off from the state of Texas thanks to conference realignment.
How good is the Nebraska job? A-minus
Out: Gary Andersen (19-7 in two seasons)
In: Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh head coach
Pros: The Badgers have been regular contenders in the Big Ten in the 11-team league, in the Leaders division and now the West division. The Badgers aren’t in the same tier as Ohio State or Michigan in the Big Ten, but they’ve been able to go toe-to-toe with any program in the league. Camp Randall is as raucous atmosphere as any in the conference. Wisconsin has an identity of ground-and-pound football thanks to a local recruiting base that produces plenty of offensive linemen.
Cons: The last two coaches have turned their success at Wisconsin into the Arkansas and Oregon State job. Is that simply a coincident or a red flag? The Big Ten is getting tougher with Urban Meyer and James Franklin becoming entrenched and new coaches at Nebraska and Michigan.
How good is the Wisconsin job? B-plus
Out: Paul Chryst (19-19 in three seasons)
In: Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State defensive coordinator
Pros: Pittsburgh is a program with the potential to be an above-average program in the ACC, but for various reasons, the Panthers have been largely mediocre for more than 30 years. Western Pennsylvania should be good recruiting ground, especially if the coach can dip into Ohio and pick off players in Florida, Texas or New Jersey. Pittsburgh has a Heisman winner and a national championship in its history.
Cons: The glory days of Pittsburgh college football in the 70s and 80s won’t resonate much with recruits in 2014. Although ACC membership is an asset, the recruiting environment for Pitt is as competitive as ever with Urban Meyer at Ohio State and James Franklin at Penn State. This program is also reeling from two head coaches in the last four seasons. That development in part cost athletic director Steve Pederson his job.
How good is the Pittsburgh job? C-plus
6. Oregon State
Out: Mike Riley (93-80 in 14 seasons)
In: Gary Andersen, Wisconsin head coach
Pros: Make no mistake, this is a tough job, but clearly the administration knows this. Riley had his ups and downs with the program, but rarely did the program seem to panic. For a coach looking to take one of the tougher jobs in the Pac-12, that dose of reality will be an asset.
Cons: Why is this a tough job? Just look at the other program in state. Corvallis is an outpost in the college football landscape, which puts Oregon State at a disadvantage compared to most other Pac-12 jobs. While Oregon just moved into a state-of-the-art, eye-catching facility, Oregon State is moving incrementally to complete the first major stadium upgrades since 2005. Riley did an excellent job of unearthing and developing talent that at times could challenge the best in the league. The next coach may find out how tall a task that is.
How good is the Oregon State job? C
Out: Charlie Weis (6-22 in three seasons)
In: David Beatty, Texas A&M wide receivers coach
Pros: Kansas has a clear ceiling in the Big 12, but the Jayhawks have proven they can have a respectable program. Mark Mangino took Kansas to four bowl games during his eight-year tenure with fortunate scheduling helping KU to a 12-1 season and an Orange Bowl victory in 2007. Glen Mason led KU to four winning seasons in his final six seasons in the ‘90s.
Cons: The new coach walks into a rough situation with back-to-back disastrous hires. Weis’ reliance on junior college and four-year transfers will leave the new coach plugging holes right away. The Big 12’s only true basketball school, Kansas is the No. 2 football program in a state without a ton of high school prospects.
How good is the Kansas job? C-minus
Out: Tony Levine (21-17 in three seasons)
In: Tom Herman, Ohio State offensive coordinator
Pros: Based on the recruiting base, Houston should be one of the better jobs in the American, along with UCF, Cincinnati or SMU. With a new football stadium in 2014 and a new basketball facility on the way, the program is signaling that it intends to be a consistent player. Houston also has a long-established identity for wide-open offensive football, going to back to the run-and-shoot under Heisman winner Andre Ware and David Klingler through spread offenses under Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin.
Cons: Houston is one of the better jobs outside of the Power Five, but that brings with it a clear ceiling. Firing a coach after back-to-back winning seasons is also a sign that simply being above average won’t cut it for Houston.
How good is the Houston job? C-minus
Out: June Jones (36-43 in seven seasons)
In: Chad Morris, Clemson offensive coordinator
Pros: There’s little reason SMU can’t be the best team in the American Athletic Conference, but we could have said something similar of SMU’s final seasons in Conference USA. The Mustangs will never have first choice of football prospects in the Lone Star State, but getting the second or third crack at Texas guys who want to play college football in Dallas should be the foundation of a winning program.
Cons: With four consecutive bowl bids from 2009-12, Jones ended SMU’s postseason drought that dated back to the death penalty in 1987. Yet it’s tough to say SMU is in better shape than when he arrived. The winless Mustangs are perhaps the worst team in the FBS in 2014. Digging out of this hole won’t be easy.
How good is the SMU job? C-minus
10. Colorado State
Out: Jim McElwain (22-16 in three seasons)
In: Mike Bobo, Georgia offensive coordinator
Pros: This is a spot where a coach can stay and thrive (Sonny Lubick) or use as a stepping stone (McElwain). In general, Colorado State should be one of the better jobs in the Mountain West with room to improve with a new on-campus stadium potentially on the way.
Cons: Recruiting the state of Colorado isn’t enough to sustain even a Mountain West program, especially as Boulder becomes a more desirable destination. The Mountain division of the MWC likely will be the tougher road with Boise State, Nevada and Utah State.
How good is the Colorado State job? C-minus
Out: Bill Blankenship (24-27 in four seasons)
In: Philip Montgomery, Baylor offensive coordinator
Pros: From 2003-12, Tulsa reached eight bowl games and twice won the Conference USA title under three different coaches. That indicates a program with a solid foundation. In conference musical chairs, Tulsa’s move to the American allows the Golden Hurricane to stay ahead of some of its former Conference USA brethren.
Cons: Tulsa slipped to 5-19 in the final two seasons under Blankenship, which is closer to where Tulsa has been for much of its history before Steve Kragthorpe became the coach in 2003. Tulsa also has one of the smallest enrollments of any school in the FBS.
How good is the Tulsa job? C-minus
Out: Larry Blakeney (178-112-1 in 24 seasons)
In: Neal Brown, Kentucky offensive coordinator
Pros: Troy was once the top program in the Sun Belt, winning at least a share of league titles every year from 2006-10. The league has thinned out a bit with programs like North Texas, FAU, FIU and Western Kentucky moving into Conference USA, but Troy can continue to be one of the league’s top programs.
Cons: Following the top coach in program history is always tough, and Blakeney was that for Troy. Serving as coach since 1991, Blakeney successfully led Troy in its transition from the Division II to the FBS. The Troy job also can’t claim to be the only FBS program in the Southern portion of the state with South Alabama joining the Sun Belt in 2012.
How good is the Troy job? D
13. Central Michigan
Out: Dan Enos (26-33 in five seasons)
Pros: Central Michigan can be one of the top programs in the MAC even if it plays in a division with Northern Illinois, Toledo and Ball State. Brian Kelly and Butch Jones used the position to move to Cincinnati and power programs from there.
Cons: The sitting head coach coming off a bowl game left to be a coordinator in the SEC in late January. Perhaps that says more about Enos, who never had a record better than 7-6 and wasn’t likely to follow in the footsteps of Kelly and Jones to a bigger head coaching position. The new coach will be in a precarious situation, taking over this close to National Signing Day. With NIU and Toledo entrenched near the top of the division and Western Michigan on the rise, Central Michigan could soon slip further.
How good is the Central Michigan job: D
Out: Bobby Hauck (15-49 in five seasons)
In: Tony Sanchez, Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High coach
Pros: UNLV is only two years removed from a winning season and a rare bowl appearance. Las Vegas has a handful of top college prospects each season, but most of that is at Bishop Gordon and none of it goes to UNLV.
Cons: In the last 30 seasons, UNLV has won two or fewer games 11 times and reached three bowl games. The Mountain West can be a selling point, but this is traditionally one of the bottom 10 or 20 teams in the country in a given year. Facilites and finances are also major concerns.
How good is the UNLV job? D
Out: Jeff Quinn (20-36 in five seasons)
In: Lance Leipold, Wisconsin-Whitewater (Division III) head coach
Pros: The Bulls are only two seasons removed from going 8-5 and reaching the MAC title game behind first-round NFL Draft pick Khalil Mack.
Cons: That 8-5 season in 2013 is one of only two winning seasons for Buffalo since the Bulls joined the MAC in 1999.
How good is the Buffalo job? F
When Ohio State clinched the Big Ten East weeks ago, the Buckeyes probably thought they’d spend a week worrying about how to stop Melvin Gordon or whichever running back the Big Ten West sent to Indianapolis.
If only this week were that easy.
Instead, Ohio State is dealing with a range of emotional and personnel obstacles ranging from tragedy to misfortune.
On Nov. 25, the Big Ten declared defensive end Noah Spence, a one-time five-star prospect, permanently ineligible stemming from his second positive drug test for ecstasy back in September. The conference classifies the drug as a “performance enhancer.” Spence hadn’t played all season.
Then, early in the fourth quarter of Ohio State’s 42-28 win over Michigan, quarterback J.T. Barrett was lost for the remainder of the season when he suffered a broken leg on a tackle during a run. Barrett had gone from an untested backup to Braxton Miller in the preseason to a Heisman contender.
And on Sunday, the Buckeyes learned of the most tragic news. Walk-on defensive lineman Kosta Karageorge, who had gone missing for four days, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Teammates remembered Karageorge’s energy and positivity, though he spoke to his family of his concerns from a history of concussions from his football and wrestling careers.
“We knew he had a lot of concussions, but we didn’t know he was depressed or anything like that,” Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. “He was the most positive out of anybody, which goes to show there was no way to notice it until someone speaks up. Kosta was always positive, always thankful, so appreciative of everything football gave him.”
Yet in the face of this, Ohio State remains a College Football Playoff contender. The selection committee ranked the Buckeyes fifth in the most recent top 25, indicating the injury to Barrett was not an automatic eliminator for Ohio State’s national championship aspirations.
While selection committee chair Jeff Long did not say the Big Ten title game was a one-game body for work for this new version of Ohio State, it’s clear the Buckeyes, and specifically new quarterback Cardale Jones, has little room for error if Ohio State has any chance of moving into the top four.
In any other circumstance, room for error would be understandable.
“Every red flag is up, every excuse is out there to not play well, to not win a game, to lose a game,” Meyer said. “You have some really good built-in excuses. To overcome the incredible tragedy that happened last night, this is a real challenge. We're going to watch it very closely. I can tell you this: (this is an) extremely close team that does a lot of things together and cares about each other.”
Championship Week Previews and Predictions:
ACC | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC
Ohio State vs. Wisconsin
Kickoff: 8:17 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Spread: Wisconsin -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Cardale Jones
Does Ohio State’s Big Ten championship hopes rest on Jones? That’s not a stretch. The Buckeyes went undefeated in the Big Ten because J.T. Barrett became a Heisman contender through the course of the season. Even if this isn’t a one-player offense — Ezekiel Elliott topped 100 yards and six yards per carry in three of his last four games — Barrett is as close to irreplaceable as any player on a top team. Teammates have raved about Jones’ arm strength and opponents have noted how difficult it will be to corral the 6-foot-5, 250-pound sophomore. But experience is a factor for a quarterback who hasn’t attempted 20 passes during his career.
2. Wisconsin’s third quarter
How is this for halftime adjustments: Wisconsin averages 9.6 yards per carry in the third quarter. No team in the country averages even eight in any quarter. The Badgers are led in every quarter by the Big Ten single-season rushing leader Melvin Gordon, but especially in the third quarter. Gordon averages 11.3 yards per carry in the third, and 40.5 percent of his rushing yards have come right after halftime. The Badgers have needed these third-quarter bursts thanks to lackluster first quarters. Wisconsin hasn’t scored a first-quarter touchdown in three games. Meanwhile, the third quarter is the worst for the Ohio State rush defense. The Buckeyes are allowing 4.83 yards per carry in the third quarter, their worst for any frame.
Listen to the Championship Week predictions podcast:
3. Joey Bosa vs. Wisconsin’s offensive line
The traditionally great Wisconsin offensive line, with two All-Big Ten performers on the right side, goes up against the Big Ten defensive player of the year from Ohio State. All of Wisconsin’s offensive line weighs more than 310 pounds and all but center Dan Voltz stands 6-5 or taller. The 6-5, 278-pound Bosa will be tough to contain, though. He has 20 tackles for a loss, 13.5 sacks and four forced fumbles this season. If Gordon is going to get to the second level and if Wisconsin’s quarterbacks are to have any prayer, the offensive line must neutralize Bosa.
Through three Big Ten championship games, Wisconsin has won two of them, one of which during Gordon’s breakout game in a 70-31 upset of Nebraska. Ohio State has the most surprising loss in the game’s short history with last year’s 34-24 loss to Michigan State to deny the Buckeyes a trip to the national title game. As far as conference championship games go, the Big Ten has delivered in terms of surprises. What constitutes a surprise in this game, though, remains a question. No. 5 Ohio State is the underdog thanks to the injury to Barrett and a defense that has struggled in the last three games. Wisconsin, though, has a flawed passing game to go with its standout defense and Gordon-led run game.
Big Ten Championship Predictions
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Wisconsin (-4) vs. Ohio State||OSU 35-31||Wisc 27-24||Wisc 27-24||Wisc 28-21|
For a challenge between the strongest major conference from top to bottom a year ago (the Big 12) against the most top heavy (the SEC), this year’s event has surprisingly interesting matchups.
The headliner, Texas’ trip to Kentucky, matches two teams with Final Four aspirations and star-studded frontcourts. Arkansas and Iowa State should meet in an entertaining up-and-down affair. The matchup in Morgantown features one overachieving team (West Virginia) with one still struggling to find its way (LSU).
Of course, there are a few clunkers. Missouri-Oklahoma and Baylor-Vanderbilt would be more interesting in other seasons. Perhaps Florida-Kansas could use a Gators team that’s not stumbling into Lawrence.
For the Big 12, the challenge is a chance to establish the kind of depth that allowed the league to send seven of its 10 teams to the NCAA Tournament. For the SEC, the challenge is an opportunity to undo some of those embarrassing losses from the first three weeks of the season.
Auburn at Texas Tech
9 p.m., SEC Network
Bruce Pearl and Tubby Smith won two games apiece when the former was at Tennessee and the latter was at Kentucky. Both are building from the ground up at their new jobs. Texas Tech is projected to finish last in the Big 12 but took LSU to overtime earlier this season. Auburn hopes to get a boost by the return of Antoine Mason from an ankle injury. Mason, a transfer from Niagara, is the nation’s top returning scorer this season.
LSU at West Virginia
7 p.m., ESPN2
West Virginia is off to a surprising start at 7-0 this season, headlined by a 78-68 win over Connecticut on Nov. 23. The Mountaineers, in the NIT a year ago, lead the nation in forcing turnovers on 32.4 percent of possessions, according to KenPom.com. LSU is one of the nation’s most disappointing teams early in the season. Johnny Jones has an NCAA-caliber roster, but the Tigers have lost to Old Dominion and Clemson.
Baylor at Vanderbilt
7 p.m., ESPNU
Baylor’s chances to win at Memorial Gym will improve if point guard Kenny Chery is healthy. He’s missed the last three games, including a 64-54 loss to Illinois in which Baylor had nine assists and 15 turnovers. Vanderbilt will have a size advantage with 6-10 sophomore Damian Jones against an uncharacteristically small Baylor lineup.
Arkansas at Iowa State
9 p.m., ESPN2
This has potential to be the most entertaining game of the SEC-Big 12 Challenge. The two teams are averaging a combined 170 points per game and both are in the top 25 in tempo, according to KenPom.com. After being on the NCAA fringe for a few years under Mike Anderson, Arkansas will look to pick up a key non-conference win while Iowa State will look to come back from a 72-63 loss to Maryland on Nov. 25.
TCU at Ole Miss
9 p.m., ESPNU
TCU won’t win the Big 12, but it could win the state of Mississippi. The Horned Frogs have defeated Mississippi Valley State and Mississippi State already this season. The Rebels, though, will be the toughest of the three. Ole Miss, like most SEC schools, has taken a bad non-conference loss (Charleston Southern), but came back to defeat Creighton and Cincinnati in a Thanksgiving tournament.
Texas at Kentucky
7 p.m., ESPN
We’ve been burned before saying this, so tread lightly when we say the following: Texas is legit. The Longhorns entered the season with the most experience in the Big 12, and they’re playing like it. Texas defeated Iowa and Cal in Madison Square Garden, and most impressively, the Longhorns defeated Connecticut on the road without point guard Isaiah Taylor. Winning in Lexington against this squad without Taylor (broke wrist) will be a tougher task. With its deep cast of bigs, Kentucky will be a tough matchup in an area that’s usually an advantage for Texas with Jonathan Holmes, Myles Turner and Cameron Ridley.
Florida at Kansas
9 p.m., ESPN
Kansas has rebounded since Kentucky dominated the matchup in Indianapolis. The Jayhawks handled Rhode Island, Tennessee and Michigan State in the Orlando Classic during the Thanksgiving weekend. Worth watching will be the use of the Jayhawks’ freshmen. Cliff Alexander has yet to start, and Kelly Oubre isn’t even cracking 10 minutes per game. Florida didn’t have nearly as much success in its holiday tournament, losing to Georgetown and North Carolina in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Injuries and suspensions have shortened Billy Donovan’s bench, but while last year’s Florida team found a way to win shorthanded, this team is struggling.
Missouri at Oklahoma
9:30 p.m., ESPNU
Oklahoma was billed as a sleeper contender in the Big 12, especially after Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas was declared eligible. The Sooners have yet to look the part, especially on the offensive end of the floor by shooting less than 40 percent from the floor in losses to Wisconsin and Creighton. That said, the Sooners should cruise at home against a rebuilding Missouri team that was outclassed by Arizona and Purdue in Maui.
Oklahoma State at South Carolina
Oklahoma State’s Le’Bryan Nash (18.3 points per game) and Phil Forte (17.2) are doing just fine without Marcus Smart and Markel Brown, thank you very much. The Cowboys are 6-0 but have yet to play a true road game. Meanwhile, the rebuilding job at South Carolina is still a slow go. The Gamecocks have already lost to Charlotte and Akron.
Kansas State at Tennessee
3:15 p.m., ESPN2
Kansas State needs a confidence boost in a major way. Bruce Weber’s squad was projected as an NCAA team, but the Wildcats have already lost to Long Beach State on the road and by 33 to Pittsburgh in the Maui Invitational. Those are not the kinds of things top-half Big 12 teams should be doing. An NCAA investigation stemming from Donnie Tyndall’s days at Southern Miss is looming over the Volunteers as they’re simply struggling to put a competitive team on the court.
Athlon Sports Staff Picks
|Game||David Fox||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Nathan Rush|
|Auburn at Texas Tech||Texas Tech||Auburn||Auburn||Auburn|
|LSU at West Virginia||West Virginia||West Virginia||West Virginia||West Virginia|
|Baylor at Vanderbilt||Vanderbilt||Baylor||Vanderbilt||Vanderbilt|
|Arkansas at Iowa State||Iowa State||Arkansas||Iowa State||Iowa State|
|TCU at Ole Miss||Ole Miss||TCU||Ole Miss||Ole Miss|
|Texas at Kentucky||Kentucky||Kentucky||Kentucky||Kentucky|
|Florida at Kansas||Kansas||Kansas||Kansas||Kansas|
|Missouri at Oklahoma||Oklahoma||Oklahoma||Oklahoma||Oklahoma|
|Oklahoma State at South Carolina||Oklahoma State||Oklahoma State||South Carolina||Oklahoma State|
|Kansas State at Tennessee||Kansas State||Kansas State||Kansas State||Kansas State|
|Final Tally||Big 12 7-3||Big 12 7-3||Tie 5-5||Big 12 6-4|
In general, the best advice about the weekly playoff rankings is to take a deep breath and move on.
If there’s a time before the final playoff pairings to wonder just what is going on in that committee room in Dallas and wonder if some teams were better off with the BCS, this is that time.
Again, panic is not advised, but if that's your bag, we grant you permission.
TCU and Baylor have identical records in the same conference. Baylor defeated TCU by three points on the field yet TCU is three spots ahead of Baylor in the rankings. TCU is a playoff team this week. Baylor is not.
Meanwhile, Florida State is the only undefeated team in the country, yet the Seminoles are fourth. Florida State is a playoff team this week, but next week...
The selection committee is less than a week from setting the first College Football Playoff matchups in the history of the sport, and we have more questions than answers.
Let’s start with the Big 12, where the irony of the league’s “One True Champion” slogan is not lost.
In the event that No. 6 Baylor defeats No. 9 Kansas State and No. 3 TCU defeats Iowa State in the final week, Baylor and TCU will be tied for the lead of the only Power Five conference that doesn’t have a title game.
The selection committee will not play the role of tiebreaker. Neither will the Big 12, which will declare teams co-champions in case of a tie.
“We will not determine a champion for the Big 12,” said selection committee chairman Jeff Long, the athletic director at Arkansas. “We have not had the discussions on what if there is a co-champion.”
And despite the head-to-head result in Waco, Long says the committee believes TCU to be the better team. TCU has defeated three teams with winning records (No. 20 Oklahoma, Minnesota and West Virginia) while Baylor has defeated two teams with winning records (No. 20 Oklahoma and TCU).
In essence, that makes TCU’s 30-7 win over to four-loss Minnesota one of the most important results of the season.
“I can tell you it is contributing,” Long said. “But I can’t put a value on how much that MInnesota victory is contributing to the difference between the two teams.”
And then there’s Florida State. During the BCS era, the idea of the lone undefeated power conference team slipping out of the championship picture would be unfathomable.
Yet Florida State, thanks to a series of uneven play and close games against the ACC schedule and unusually weak Florida and Notre Dame teams, has put the Seminoles at No. 4.
Long won’t entertain predicting scenarios in which an undefeated FSU fails to make the playoff, but he said the Seminoles are in a “strong position” at No. 4. Florida State plays No. 11 Georgia Tech in Charlotte in the ACC title game.
FSU may be in a strong position. Perhaps TCU is, too. But the selection committee now is facing a situation where all four teams in Week 14 could win and yet one or more could be out of the top four in Week 15. Either that, or the committee could devalue a head-to-head result in the name of “body of work.”
Or they could all hope for the right loss to keep the huffing and puffing to a minimum.
“We’re waiting for results now,” Long said. “We’re waiting for teams to complete their body of work. We work hard not to project out. With that regard, the top four teams to this point are ranked where the committee believes they should be.”
|College Football Playoff Rankings: Dec. 2|
|1. Alabama||10. Mississippi State||18. Clemson|
|2. Oregon||11. Georgia Tech||19. Auburn|
|3. TCU||12. Ole Miss||20. Oklahoma|
|4. Florida State||13. Wisconsin||21. Louisville|
|5. Ohio State||14. Georgia||22. Boise State|
|6. Baylor||15. UCLA||23. Utah|
|7. Arizona||16. Missouri||24. LSU|
|8. Michigan State||17. Arizona State||25. USC|
|9. Kansas State|
Wait and see on Ohio State
The selection committee wasn’t ready to pass judgement on the injury to quarterback J.T. Barrett just yet. The Buckeyes are ranked fifth despite a season-ending injury to their Heisman contender. Long wouldn’t call it a one-game body of work for a Cardale Jones-led Ohio State team, but it sure feels that way. The committee’s directive is to take injuries into account, and few injuries will have much of an impact as Barrett’s at this stage of the season.
“We're going to be watching how he plays and how he leads that team, and that's certainly part of the evaluation that the committee will weigh,” Long said. “But it's a team game.”
Who Should Worry:
A bit of a mea culpa: We’ve had TCU in this spot for two consecutive weeks only to watch the Horned Frogs move to No. 3. Now, Baylor may be the one in trouble. The selection committee has been consistent in ranking TCU ahead of Baylor despite the head-to-head result. Perhaps defeating Kansas State will change that, but a three-spot gulf feels awfully tough to overcome without help.
Who Should be Pleasantly Surprised:
In the event of chaos at the top of the rankings, perhaps no team is better positioned than Arizona at No. 7. The Wildcats moved up from No. 11 after a win over Arizona State to become the highest-ranked two-loss team. Arizona can help its case in the Pac-12 title game against No. 2 Oregon. The three other conference title game participants facing playoff contenders are ranked outside of the to 10 (No. 11 Georgia Tech, No. 13 Wisconsin and No. 16 Missouri).
If the Season Ended Today:
Sugar: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Florida State
Rose: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 TCU
Other bowls (projected)
Cotton: No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 5 Ohio State
Fiesta: No. 22 Boise State* vs. No. 7 Arizona
Orange: No. 11 Georgia Tech^ vs. No. 8 Michigan State
Peach: No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 10 Mississippi State
*automatic Group of 5 bid
^automatic ACC bid to Orange Bowl
Rivalry week delivered on excitement but only one major alteration in the playoff race.
Mississippi State is out (we assume) after losing the Egg Bowl. Championship week, though, may go a long way to clinching that final spot — or more depending on upsets.
The selection committee has said since Day One that conference championships will factor into their decisions, but to what degree isn’t certain. There’s no rubric that awards points for league champions.
We may find out this week how much a conference championship is worth. Or a share of a conference title. Or none in the event of upsets of Alabama, Oregon or Florida State in a conference title game.
The Week Ahead: Dec. 5-6
All times Eastern
Listen to the Week 14 recap podcast:
Bowling Green vs. Northern Illinois
MAC championship in Detroit
When and where: Friday, 7 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... a rematch of last year’s title game wraps up an otherwise quiet year of MACtion. The MAC has lacked star power and hasn’t has a ranked team all year. Still, we should applaud the two teams playing for the title. Drew Hare isn’t Jordan Lynch, but he’s been an efficient dual threat quarterback for an NIU team on the fringes of consideration for a major bowl game. With back-to-back losses entering this week, Bowling Green hasn’t been the overwhelming favorite Athlon projected, but first-year coach Dino Babers has his team in the league title game despite losing his starting quarterback, Matt Johnson, in the first game of the season.
Vegas says: Northern Illinois by 6 1/2
Arizona vs. Oregon
Pac-12 championship in Santa Clara
When and where: Friday, 9 p.m., FOX
We’re watching because... Oregon has a Pac-12 title, a playoff spot and a potential Heisman on the line against a team that’s had the Ducks’ number. Oregon is 22-3 the last two seasons and two of those losses are to Arizona, including the Ducks’ only loss this season. In the first meeting this season, Oregon’s offensive line was in shambles, so the Ducks are looking to prove that was the problem back on Oct. 2. Arizona, though, is out to prove its win over Oregon and some of its close calls (Cal, Washington) are no fluke. With games against three ranked teams to round out the season, Arizona could also find itself a playoff contender with the right breaks. And lastly, this game could feature the Heisman winner (Marcus Mariota) vs. the national defensive player of the year (Scooby Wright).
Vegas says: Oregon by 13 1/2
Iowa State at TCU
When and where: Saturday, noon, ABC
We’re watching because... stranger things have happened, but not many. This Iowa State team isn’t the same as the one that spoiled Oklahoma State’s bid at a national title game. The Cyclones are winless in the Big 12, but we’re still keeping one eye on TCU in its finale.
Vegas says: TCU by 33
Louisiana Tech at Marshall
Conference USA championship
When and where: Saturday, noon, ESPN2
We’re watching because... these two teams combined to score 142 points last week. Also, we haven’t taken the time to properly acknowledge the wild season Louisiana Tech has had. Second-year coach Skip Holtz has turned Louisiana Tech from 4-8 to 8-4 with a C-USA West division title yet still found time to lose to Northwestern State and Old Dominion.
Vegas says: Marshall by 12 1/2
Alabama vs. Missouri
SEC championship in Atlanta
When and where: Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... Missouri won’t be a pushover as Alabama tries to seal the No. 1 seed in the playoff. The Tigers pulled away from Texas A&M and Tennessee in the second half and then located their run game just in time to defeat the hottest team in the SEC in Arkansas last week. Worth noting: Missouri leads the SEC in sacks while Alabama allows the fewest sacks in the league thanks in part to Blake Sims’ ability to move around.
Vegas says: Alabama by 14
Kansas State at Baylor
When and where: Saturday, 7:45 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... Baylor is looking for one last statement to get into the playoff. While most of the playoff contenders are simply looking to hold serve, Baylor has a chance to push its way past TCU and into the top four against a top 15 Kansas State team. The Bears will be watching Bryce Petty closely after their start quarterback sustained a “mild concussion” against Texas Tech. Baylor’s defense may be just as much of a concern after giving up four long touchdown drives in the final 16:38 against the Red Raiders.
Vegas says: Baylor by 8 1/2
Florida State vs. Georgia Tech
ACC championship in Charlotte
When and where: Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... Georgia Tech may be the team best-suited to capitalize on Florida State’s uneven play this season. The Seminoles have been pedestrian against the run this season (seventh in the ACC in yards per play) and now prepare for the Georgia Tech option. Jameis Winston has thrown 17 interceptions this season, and now he’ll face a team that is second only to Louisville in the ACC in picks. And if Florida State needs to make yet another second-half comeback, Georgia Tech may be able to limit possessions. The Yellow Jackets are allowing the fifth-fewest plays per game this season (63.6).
Vegas says: Florida State by 3 1/2
Wisconsin vs. Ohio State
Big Ten championship in Indianapolis
When and where: Saturday, 8:17 p.m., FOX
We’re watching because... the season-ending injury to quarterback J.T. Barrett has made Ohio State the mystery team in the playoff conversation. If Ohio State beats Wisconsin to win the Big Ten, will the selection committee give the Buckeyes a vote of confidence? Suffice to say, much of Ohio State’s outlook depends on new starting quarterback Cardale Jones. Issue No. 1 for Ohio State, though, is containing Melvin Gordon.
Vegas says: Wisconsin by 4
Fresno State at Boise State
Mountain West championship
When and where: Saturday, 10 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... Boise State is likely one win away from playing in a major bowl game. The Broncos are 10-2, but this is hardly the same Boise State team that challenged for BCS games. Consider this: Two top-10 Boise State teams played in the MAACO Bowl and this unranked, two-loss Broncos team may end up in the Fiesta Bowl if it can dispatch a 6-6 Fresno State team.
Vegas says: Boise State by 19 1/2
College basketball coaches often shrug at the way conference realignment has relegated their sport to an afterthought, but it’s had at least one benefit to the game.
The ACC-Big Ten Challenge already was one of the most interesting events of the basketball year. Now it’s even better.
Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame joined on the ACC side a year ago. Louisville is in this season for the ACC. Maryland has moved over to the Big Ten at the same time Nebraska has become surprisingly relevant on the national stage.
The result is a slew of important on-campus non-conference games this week, a welcome sight after watching Thanksgiving tournaments in empty gyms or hotel ballrooms.
Yet the most important game of the bunch though comes from charter members of each league when Duke faces Wisconsin in Madison in a game that could end up a Final Four or national title rematch.
Michigan State at Notre Dame
7:15 p.m., ESPN2
Michigan State needs more from veteran Branden Dawson, who hasn’t scored in double figures since a Nov. 21 win over Loyola (Ill.). He’s shooting 7-of-22 from the field in his last three games. Meanwhile, Notre Dame is getting exactly what it needs in the return of Jerian Grant. The senior guard has picked up where he left off in last year’s shortened season. Grant is averaging 18.7 points and seven rebounds while shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor.
Virginia Tech at Penn State
7:15 p.m., ESPN2
Buzz Williams is learning just how much of a challenge he has in turning around Virginia Tech, which has already dropped games to Appalachian State and Northern Iowa. The Hokies will have a challenge in stopping Penn State guard D.J. Newbill, who has averaged 28 points in his last five games.
Iowa at North Carolina
7:30 p.m., ESPN
The Tar Heels and Hawkeyes have two of the more challenging non-conference schedules in the country. Iowa has already dropped games to Texas and Syracuse at Madison Square Garden (and faces Iowa State on Dec. 12). North Carolina bounced back from a loss to Butler in the Battle 4 Atlantis to beat UCLA and Florida (the Heels will visit Kentucky and face Ohio State on a neutral court before Christmas). North Carolina’s Marcus Paige will try to bounce back from a 8-of-24 performance from 3-point range in the converted ballroom down in Atlantis. This game, though, could be a battle of the bigs between Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson of North Carolin and Adam Woodbury, Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff of Iowa.
Virginia at Maryland
9:15 p.m., ESPN2
Maryland is off to a 6-0 start, including a win over Iowa State, in a critical year for coach Mark Turgeon. Virginia, though, is as stifling on the defensive end as ever. The Cavaliers are allowing 43.6 points per game and haven’t allowed more than 56 in a game all year. And, yes, we are less than nine months removed from Maryland’s last game against Virginia, the Terrapins’ final game as a member of the ACC.
Georgia Tech at Northwestern
9:15 p.m., ESPNU
Both teams figure to be bottom feeders in their respective conferences. This game won’t do much to counter that opinion.
Duke at Wisconsin
9:30 p.m., ESPN
The headline game of the challenge is a top-four matchup between two teams with national championship aspirations. Duke has been great so far this season, but the young Blue Devils will have a major test against a Final Four-tested Badgers team that can match them at each position. One of the key matchups will be between the two All-America centers in Jahlil Okafor and Frank Kaminsky. Both have contrasting styles, Okafor with his post game and Kaminksy with his outside shooting. Also keep an eye on wing Justise Winslow, who has in some ways matched Okafor’s start to the season, against Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker.
Athlon Staff Picks
|Game||David Fox||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Nathan Rush|
|Nebraska at Florida State||Nebraska||Florida State||Nebraska||Florida State|
|Rutgers at Clemson||Clemson||Clemson||Clemson||Rutgers|
|Pittsburgh at Indiana||Pitt||Pitt||Pitt||Pitt|
|Minnesota at Wake Forest||Minnesota||Minnesota||Minnesota||Minnesota|
|Syracuse at Michigan||Michigan||Michigan||Michigan||Michigan|
|Illinois at Miami||Miami||Miami||Miami||Miami|
|NC State at Purdue||NC State||Purdue||Purdue||NC State|
|Ohio State at Louisville||Louisville||Ohio State||Louisville||Louisville|
|Michigan State at Notre Dame||Notre Dame||Michigan State||Michigan State||Michigan State|
|Virginia Tech at Penn State||Penn State||Penn State||Penn State||Penn State|
|Iowa at North Carolina||North Carolina||North Carolina||North Carolina||North Carolina|
|Virginia at Maryland||Virginia||Virginia||Virginia||Virginia|
|Georgia Tech at Northwestern||Northwestern||Georgia Tech||Georgia Tech||Northwestern|
|Duke at Wisconsin||Wisconsin||Wisconsin||Wisconsin||Duke|
|Final tally||ACC 9-5||Tie 7-7||Tie 7-7||ACC 8-6|
One rivalry will determine a piece of the Big Ten championship, and unless you’ve been living under a rock this season, you know it’s not the usual game.
Michigan-Ohio State is the undercard in the Big Ten this week to Minnesota and Wisconsin. The longest-lived rivalry in major college football has been for the Slab of Bacon and Paul Bunyan’s Axe, but for the first time it’s for a trip to the Big Ten title game.
For all of the rivalry’s longevity, the two teams have been both ranked at kickoff only twice since 1962, the last time the rivalry was played with both teams in Big Ten championship contention.
It’s the most important game in the Big Ten this week — and not just for the Big Ten, TCU is pulling for the Gophers, too — but it’s not the only one with major implications.
Ohio State still has a playoff spot it would like to claim. Michigan, Illinois and Northwestern are all looking to be bowl eligible. And Nebraska and Iowa are looking for a win that will keep fans of their coaches’ backs.
Week 14 Previews and Predictions:
ACC | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC
Big Ten Week 14 Game Power Rankings
All times Eastern
1. Minnesota at Wisconsin
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
The contest for Paul Bunyan’s Axe has rarely been this important on the Big Ten stage. The winner will claim the Big Ten West and face Ohio State in the conference title game, making this the most important Minnesota-Wisconsin game since 1962. That season, both teams were ranked in the top five, and Wisconsin claimed the Big Ten title with a 14-9 win in the season finale. In this year’s meeting, what should be a showdown of two great running backs has diminished a bit. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is coming off a 200-yard game against Iowa, tying him with Badgers great Ron Dayne for the Big Ten single-season record last week. Gordon is 519 yards short of Barry Sanders’ national record from 1988. On the other side, though, Minnesota running back David Cobb is “very questionable,” coach Jerry Kill says. Cobb has rushed for 1,430 yards and 12 touchdowns this season in Minnesota’s tricky ground game. Quarterback Mitch Leidner rushed for 110 yards while passing for 135 to fill some of the void left by Cobb late in last week’s win over Nebraska.
2. Michigan at Ohio State
Saturday, noon, ABC
That Virginia Tech loss in Week 2 continues to be an anchor for Ohio State’s playoff hopes even though the Buckeyes were ranked sixth in the most recent release from the selection committee. The Buckeyes haven’t helped their case, either, in the last two games. Ohio State allowed Minnesota to rush for 218 yards and Indiana to run for 281, plus three touchdowns apiece. Both the Gophers and Hoosiers have effective running games, but the production (6.2 yards allowed per carry) is cause for concern. The Buckeyes have also turned the ball over eight times in the last three games, finishing on the wrong side of the turnover margin in each game. Michigan is a wounded team, but the Wolverines have been effective on the ground in the last three games (207.7 yards per game, 5.4 yards per carry). The Wolverines have high stakes in this game, too. A loss means no postseason for Michigan. The same program that reached a bowl game every year from 1975-2007 (and would have made more in the 70s if not for Big Ten rules) is in danger of missing the postseason for the third time in seven seasons.
3. Michigan State at Penn State
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
Michigan State’s Big Ten and playoff hopes evaporated several weeks ago, but the Spartans still have plenty of goals for the final game of the regular season. A spot in a major New Year’s Bowl (the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange or Peach) remains at stake as well as a fourth 10-win season in the last five years. Penn State is still looking to clinch a winning season after missing an opportunity against Illinois in a 16-14 loss last week. The Nittany Lions’ offensive line has been able to patch together a run game during the last three weeks, but quarterback Christian Hackenberg is still running for his life. This week, he’ll face a Michigan State defense that is tied for the Big Ten lead in sacks. Also of note: Spartans senior Tony Lippett is slated to be Michigan State’s first two-way starter since 1968 when he opens the game at receiver and cornerback.
4. Nebraska at Iowa
Friday, noon, ABC
The enthusiasm game for this game probably isn’t very high. Nebraska’s deflating loss to Minnesota last week puts the Cornhuskers a game away from Bo Pelini’s traditional four losses. A season that started 8-1 for Nebraska is in danger of ending on a three-game losing streak before the bowl game. Iowa’s season has been even more of a letdown with three losses in the last five games. What the future holds for either of these coaches — Pelini and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz — isn’t clear, but certainly one fanbase will be howling by Friday afternoon. On the field, though, this game will feature one intriguing matchup in the trenches between Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory and Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff. NFL scouts will be closely attuned to that pairing.
5. Illinois at Northwestern
Saturday, noon, ESPNU
This seemed unthinkable at one point this season, but the winner of this game goes to a bowl game. Illinois stole wins over Penn State and Minnesota to put the Illini into bowl contention. Northwestern defeated Wisconsin on Oct. 4 and defeated Notre Dame in double overtime two weeks ago. The Wildcats, though, might be in dire straits as quarterback Trevor Siemian left last week’s game against Purdue with a torn ACL. Junior Zach Oliver will start against Illinois, but freshman Matt Alviti is expected to play, too.
6. Rutgers at Maryland
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPNU
This isn’t a good game in a weekend of great games, but let’s stop to note that both of the Big Ten newcomers are enjoying successful seasons. Both are bowl eligible. Maryland (7-4) is 5-1 on the road and scored Big Ten wins over Iowa, Penn State and Michigan. Rutgers has been outclassed by the better Big Ten teams it has faced this season, but the Scarlet Knights are at least bowl eligible. Both teams will enjoy at least one beneficial matchup: Maryland and Rutgers are among the worst teams in the league in both sides of the run game.
7. Purdue at Indiana
Saturday, noon, Big Ten Network
The Battle for the Old Oaken Bucket will have to take the place for a bowl game for Purdue and Indiana ... again. Purdue will look to get its offense back on track. The Boilermakers looked like they had their quarterback of the future in Austin Appleby back in early October, but he’s throw six interception in his last four games. On the other sideline, Indiana running back Tevin Coleman is putting the finishing touches of a fantastic season — one that could be his last with the Hoosiers. Coleman is 94 yards of 2,000. If he’s able to hit that threshold, it will mark only the third time a conference has had two 2,000-yard rushers in the same season. UCF’s Kevin Smith and Tulane’s Matt Forte did it Conference USA in 2007. Iowa State’s Troy Davis and Texas Tech’s Byron Harnspard did it in the Big 12 in 1996.
Big Ten Week 14 Athlon Staff Picks
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Nebraska at Iowa (-1)||Iowa 24-21||Neb 30-27||Iowa 27-24||Iowa 24-20|
|Illinois at Northwestern (-8)||Ill. 21-14||NW 30-21||NW 27-20||NW 17-14|
|Purdue at Indiana (-2 1/2)||Purdue 34-31||IU 34-31||IU 34-31||IU 34-30|
|Michigan at Ohio State (-20)||OSU 42-21||OSU 27-14||OSU 38-17||OSU 34-20|
|Michigan St (-13 1/2) at Penn St||MSU 21-14||MSU 34-3||MSU 27-10||MSU 20-10|
|Minnesota at Wisconsin (-13 1/2)||Wisc 31-14||Wisc 40-27||Wisc 30-20||Wisc 30-15|
|Rutgers at Maryland (-8 1/2)||Md 31-13||Md 34-27||Md 34-17||Md 27-13|
The early season basketball tournaments have in some ways become bowl season.
There are the — let’s say — lower profile events with obscure teams and sparse crowds.
The Battle 4 Atlantis, though, has risen to the Orange Bowl or Fiesta Bowl of the non-conference basketball season.
Louisville, Duke and Memphis played here two years ago, Kansas, Villanova and Iowa a year ago.
This season’s even includes four teams ranked in this week’s Associated Press top 25 — No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 5 North Carolina, No. 18 Florida and No. 22 UCLA — plus Big East power Georgetown and Big 12 contender Oklahoma.
Those top five teams can solidify their bona fides while the other teams in the field can start to make moves into the national picture.
Wednesday’s First Round Games
All times Eastern
Butler vs. North Carolina (noon, ESPN2)
UCLA vs. Oklahoma (2:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Wisconsin vs. UAB (7 p.m., AXStv)
Florida vs. Georgetown (9:30 p.m., AXStv)
Championship Game: Friday, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
Best potential game: Wisconsin vs. North Carolina in the final
The Badgers and Tar Heels opened the season in the Athlon top 10 and have done nothing to damage those projections through the first weeks of the season. The game could feature a handful of All-America candidates, including Marcus Paige, Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker.
Player to watch: Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Paige isn’t off to a blistering start (12 points per game), but North Carolina has hardly needed him to be an All-American in the first three games of the season. That changes as North Carolina advances through Atlantis. The second round brings a matchup against Oklahoma or UCLA and then probably Wisconsin, Florida or Georgetown.
Freshman to watch: Kevon Looney, UCLA
Atlantis features a handful of veteran teams or at least team’s that aren’t expecting freshmen to be the primary contributors. One of the exceptions is UCLA with five-star prospect Kevon Looney, who is averaging 14.8 points and 12 rebounds per game.
Breakout player: Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
Wisconsin lost one major contributor to last year’s team in Ben Brust. Filling the spot is sophomore forward Nigel Hayes, an outstanding athlete who is averaging nearly a double-double per game.
Storylines to watch
The Badgers are playing like a team that returns nearly every player from a Final Four squad. In fact, they’re playing better than last year’s squad. Frank Kaminsky is playing better than he did a year ago, raising his shooting percentage by more than 10 points while taking more shots from the outside. Sam Dekker is also a more efficient player than he was last season, and Nigel Hayes is amid a breakout campaign.
North Carolina’s post presence
The Tar Heels may have a breakout frontcourt this season with the performance of sophomore Kennedy Meeks, junior Brice Johnson and freshman Justin Jackson. Together, they’ve averaged 44 points per game through the first three.
Florida, Oklahoma try to bounce back
Florida and Oklahoma both had hopes of challenging Kentucky and Kansas in their respective conferences, but neither team looks anything like a conference contender. Florida lost at home to Miami and needed overtime to beat ULM. Oklahoma led Creighton by 18 in the second half only to lose 65-63 to a team rebuilding with Bluejays. Avoiding the losers’ bracket would be signs of progress.
Where does UCLA stand?
Arizona is the prohibitive favorite in the Pac-12. UCLA would have trouble challenging the Wildcats even in a best-case scenario this season, but the Bruins still have a shot to be No. 2 in the conference. Matchups against Oklahoma and potentially North Carolina, both contenders in their respective conferences, will be a good gauge of UCLA’s ceiling right now.
Butler’s coaching situation
Brandon Miller remains on medical leave due to an undisclosed issue, and the prospects of his return don’t appear optimistic. Under federal law, Miller can take 12 weeks of leave, but that will expire near the end of December. For now, Chris Holtmann is leading the program in place of the coach hired to replace Brad Stevens two years ago.
Battle 4 Atlantis Staff Predictions
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Mitch Light|
|Prediction||Wisconsin over North Carolina||North Carolina over Wisconsin||Wisconsin over UCLA|
|Player to Watch||Buddy Hield, Oklahoma||Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina||Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin|
One of the great Thanksgiving traditions is snickering at who is playing quarterback for the Detroit Lions.
The list of Lions quarterbacks starting on Thanksgiving is a list of draft busts, journeymen, career backups and former stars whose best days had gone by.
Giggling at Lions quarterbacks on Thanksgiving, though, is getting tougher. Thank you, Matthew Stafford.
To fill that void is our (somewhat arbitrary) ranking of the quarterbacks who have started on Thanksgiving for the Lions since the NFL merger (1970).
To be clear, we’re looking at their entire career, not just their starts on Thanksgiving nor their tenures with the Lions. You’re welcome, Daunte Culpepper.
1. Matthew Stafford (2009, 2011-13)
Stafford has made the most starts for the Lions on Thanksgiving since Joey Harrington and delivered the first win in a decade with a 40-10 win over the Packers last season. Give the Lions' all-time leading passer a keg (to carry).
2. Dave Krieg (1994)
The longtime Seahawks quarterback made one Thanksgiving start for Detroit, and it was one of the Lions’ best. Subbing for Scott Mitchell, Krieg went 20-of-25 for 351 yards with three touchdowns in a win over the Bills. By then, Kreig was a 36-year-old QB with three Pro Bowl selections and an NFC Championship Game behind him.
3. Daunte Culpepper (2008)
Remember the Culpepper era in Detroit? We didn’t, either. From 2000-04, Culpepper was a rival to Peyton Manning. After that? Not so much. By 2008, the three-time Pro Bowler made five starts during the Lions’ winless season in 2008. Culpepper was 0-10 as a starter in two seasons for the Lions.
4. Jon Kitna (2006-07)
Kitna entered the league in 1997, and he was still on an NFL roster at age 41 in 2013. The Cowboys signed him away from being a high school math teacher and coach at Lincoln High in Tacoma, Wash. — during winter break, of course. Kitna then donated his $53,000 Cowboys salary to the high school. Oh, and he started on Thanksgiving for both the Lions and Cowboys during his career. You’re a cool teacher, Mr. Kitna.
5. Joe Ferguson (1986)
Ferguson made five career starts for the Lions in his mid-30s, well after he played for the Bills from 1973-84. He led the league in passing in 1977 and touchdowns in '75 and pulled the Bills out of the doldrums. But he also had a knack for throwing interceptions in the playoffs and also during the 1982 regular season when he threw 16 picks.
6. Scott Mitchell (1995-97)
Mitchell enjoyed his best season in 1995 with 4,338 yards and 32 touchdowns, including a win over Minnesota on Thanksgiving. He started three full seasons for Detroit and hung around the NFL for five more years until 2001. He resurfaced as a 366-pound contestant on "The Biggest Loser" in 2014.
7. Greg Landry (1970-72, 1974, 1976-77)
Landry spent 10 seasons with the Lions, only four as their primary quarterback. After spending 1968-84 in the NFL, he was an assistant in the pros and in college until 1986. Bet you didn’t know there’s a National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame, and Landry’s in it. Now you know.
8. Erik Kramer (1991-92)
He started 15 games in three seasons for the Lions, including twice on Thanksgiving and three times in the playoffs. He didn’t become a full-time starter until age 31 for the Bears.
9. Gus Frerotte (1999)
The journeyman Frerotte is one of 14 quarterbacks to throw a 99-yard pass. In that way, he’s just like Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Jim Plunkett and Otto Graham.
10. Rodney Peete (1993)
Peete bounced around the league as a backup for most of his 15 seasons. He finished with a 45-42 career record, which for this list is pretty good.
11. Eric Hipple (1981-83, 1985)
Hipple played his entire career for the Lions, going 3-1 on Thanksgiving and 25-29 otherwise.
12. Gary Danielson (1978, 1980, 1984)
The CBS college football commentator started three non-consecutive Thanksgivings for the Lions and had a couple of nice seasons in 1978-80.
13. Bill Munson (1973)
Munson played for the Lions from 1968-75, started 48 games and yet only one of them came on Thanksgiving. In his first two seasons in the NFL in 1964-65 for the Rams, Munson threw 29 total interceptions. A decade later, he led three game-winning drives for the Lions in 1974 alone.
14. Charlie Batch (1998, 2000-01)
We could have sworn Charlie Batch was still a backup somewhere. He’s not.
15. Joey Harrington (2002-05)
Harrington started four Thanksgiving games for the Lions. He finished two of them. He’s on TV now.
16. Bob Gagliano (1989-90)
For Detroit in two years: 11 starts, 16 touchdown passes. For three other NFL teams in five years: Two starts and one touchdown pass Also played two years in the USFL.
17. Shaun Hill (2010)
Hill started one season while Stafford was hurt, threw 12 interceptions, including two against the Patriots on Thanksgiving.
18. Chuck Long (1987-88)
He started twice on Thanksgiving and went a combined 8-of-20. His 2.8 passer rating in 1988 is the worst for any Lions QB on Thanksgiving since 1970. Led the NFL with 20 interceptions in 1987.
19. Joe Reed (1975)
Enjoyed one extended look as a starter in 1975 and threw nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
20. Jeff Komlo (1979)
A ninth-round pick, Komlo threw 23 interceptions and went 2-12 in his lone season as a starter in the NFL as a rookie. His story didn’t end well.
If the weekly exercise of explaining the College Football Playoff rankings has taught us anything, it’s that coming up with perfect answers is impossible.
A week after “game control” became the talking point of the week, selection committee chair Jeff Long indicated previous rankings remain in the back of the minds of the committee members’ minds even on Nov. 25.
That’s partly why Mississippi State remains at No. 4 and in the playoff with only one win against a team in the current top 25.
The Bulldogs have wins over three teams that were at some point in the playoff rankings that started since Week 10 — Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M. Only No. 15 Auburn remains and that’s a long way from the top three where the Tigers started.
“It’s just something the committee discusses,” Long said. “We know if we team was ranked 14-15-16 and teams play differently at different parts of the year. A team that may have been playing very well early in the season whether through injuries or level of competition, they’re not playing as well (now).
“It’s not a criteria but we certainly discuss or know when a team was previously ranked in the top 25.”
Long clarified he means the playoff’s top 25 and not the polls, but the distinction may be lost on fans who want to know why those games and rankings still count up to five weeks later.
Let’s attempt to translate just a bit: Teams previously ranked in the top 25 are probably in the top 30 or 40 now, even if the committee doesn’t go that deep into the rankings. The committee knows LSU is not Tulane. Texas A&M is not Texas State. And West Virginia is not Washington State.
In trying to explain something that already makes sense to the common fan, the weekly rankings release force the committee to dress up the movements in a way that seems smarter and more ironclad than it actually is.
So before you start sifting through old polls and top 25s, take a deep breath and wait until next week. Surely, we'll have somethign new to discuss then.
Here’s how the most recent top 25 shook out, followed by our observations.
|College Football Playoff Rankings: Nov. 25|
|1. Alabama||10. Michigan State||18. Minnesota|
|2. Oregon||11. Arizona||19. Ole Miss|
|3. Florida State||12. Kansas State||20. Oklahoma|
|4. Mississippi State||13. Arizona State||21. Clemson|
|5. TCU||14. Wisconsin||22. Louisville|
|6. Ohio State||15. Auburn||23. Boise State|
|7. Baylor||16. Georgia Tech||24. Marshall|
|8. UCLA||17. Missouri||25. Utah|
The Group of Five makes an appearance
Boise State and Marshall are your official leaders for a spot in the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange or Peach bowls. Boise State (9-2) checked in at No. 23, and Marshall (11-0) at No. 24. Those rankings carry important distinctions: First, Boise State is head of Mountain West foe Colorado State. Boise defeated Colorado State 37-24 in Week 2, but the Rams have two wins over Power 5 teams (Colorado on a neutral field and Boston College on the road). Marshall is one of two undefeated teams, but the Thundering Herd have the 136th-ranked schedule in the Sagarin ratings.
Rivalry games will be noted
This will be of note this week: Long said the unexpected nature of rivalry games may be a topic among the committee. “We certainly discuss if it’s a rivalry game, and we do know that (there are) a number of unanticipated outcomes in rivalry games,” Long said. That may be good news for teams like Ohio State and Florida State that face rivals that they should defeat comfortably on paper.
Division on Florida State
Is Florida State a good team because it finds a way to win each week or should the Seminoles be downgraded for letting lesser teams hang around? The committee is as divided as anyone. “There are some who believe a team coming from behind and winning is a sign of a strong team,” Long said. “There are others who believe that they are a good enough team and they should have been in front or in control of the game. It’s a debate in the room.”
The committee was down to 11
Archie Manning hasn’t participated all year as he recovered from knee replacement surgery, but the committee was down a second member in Mike Tranghese. The former Big East commissioner was ill but is expected back next week.
Who Should Worry:
The Horned Frogs still have a nice ace in the hole when it comes to its non-conference schedule compared to Mississippi State, Baylor and Ohio State. The Frogs defeated No. 18 Minnesota 30-7 in September when the Bulldogs and Bears were playing lackluster non-conference schedules and the Buckeyes lost to Virginia Tech. TCU has a road game Thursday against an improving Texas, but Baylor (No. 12 Kansas State), Mississippi State (No. 19 Ole Miss) and Ohio State (either No. 14 Wisconsin or No. 18 Minnesota) all finish their seasons with tougher games. TCU is already out of the top four with few ways to make up ground without help.
The Thundering Herd entered the top 25, but Marshall shouldn’t get too excited. Marshall is behind Boise, a team Long said was ahead because its strength of schedule is “far and away” better. If both continue to win, that leaves little room even for an undefeated Marshall to move up. The Herd face Western Kentucky (6-5) and either Louisiana Tech and Rice (7-4) in the league title game. Even if Boise State loses to Utah State (9-3) and falls out of Mountain West contention, one-loss Colorado State would swoop in for the MWC championship game.
Who Should be Pleasantly Surprised:
The Buckeyes’ loss to Virginia Tech may not be as damming as we think. The Hokies are 5-6 after a 6-3 double-overtime loss to Wake Forest on Saturday and haven’t come close to duplicating their high-water mark of defeating Ohio State 35-21 in Columbus in Week 2. In response to a question about losses to teams whose stature as fallen regarding Alabama’s loss to Ole Miss and Ohio State’s loss to Virginia Tech, Long said: “We certainly talk about bad losses, but I’m not sure I would agree with the ones you listed there.”
If the Season Ended Today:
Sugar: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Mississippi State
Rose: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State
Other bowls (projected)
Cotton: No. 5 TCU vs. No. 11 Arizona
Fiesta: No. 23 Boise State* vs. No. 6 Ohio State
Orange: No. 16 Georgia Tech^ vs. No. 10 Michigan State
Peach: No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 8 Georgia
*automatic Group of 5 bid
^automatic ACC bid to Orange Bowl
Thanksgiving is a great time to get gorged on turkey, pie and college football rivalry games.
The traditional fare of the Iron Bowl, Florida-Florida State and Ohio State-Michigan is worth watching, but this week is also time for some surprising traditional and non-traditional matchups.
Even if the Egg Bowl isn’t the SEC West play-in game that seemed a possibility a month ago, Mississippi State-Ole Miss features a team hoping to play for a national title.
Wisconsin-Minnesota is a long-lived traditional rivalry that has rarely packed so much meaning with the Big Ten West title and perhaps a Heisman Trophy on the line.
And even though Missouri and Texas aren’t playing their traditional rivals this week, their matchups with Arkansas and TCU, respectively, are loaded with significance on the national and conference championship stage.
The Week Ahead: Nov. 25-27
All Times Eastern.
Listen to the Week 13 recap and analysis podcast:
TCU at Texas
When and where: Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1
We’re watching because... we miss Texas-Texas A&M as much as anyone, but this is still a darn good game. This is TCU’s last chance to make a statement to the playoff selection committee, and the Horned Frogs will have to do it on offense. Texas is only 6-5, but the Longhorns have had the best defense in the Big 12 since conference play began.
Vegas says: TCU by 6 1/2
Arkansas at Missouri
When and where: Friday, 2:30 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... this is perhaps the most unlikely game playing a role in the SEC championship. Missouri lost at home to Indiana and to Georgia by 34 but can clinch the East with a win over the Hogs. Missouri can win the SEC East for the second consecutive season but has to go through the hottest team in the league to do it. Arkansas has ended a 17-game SEC win streak by outscoring LSU and Ole Miss 47-0.
Vegas says: Arkansas by 1 1/2
Arizona at Arizona State
When and where: Friday, 3:30 p.m., FOX
We’re watching because... few games have more potential for a bonkers finish. Both teams have won on Hail Marys this season — Arizona over Cal and Arizona State over USC — not to mention the regular late-night craziness that follows Pac-12 teams. Fans will be doing their share of scoreboard watching, too. If UCLA loses to Stanford, the winner of the Territorial Cup wins the Pac-12 South outright. One question will be the status of Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon, who left the win over Utah on Saturday with a right foot injury.
Vegas says: Pick ‘em
Stanford at UCLA
When and where: Friday, 3:30 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... UCLA still has the Pac-12 South, a Pac-12 title and potentially a playoff spot on the line against a team that has the Bruins’ number. This is not the Stanford team we’re used to seeing, but the Bruins have reason to be worried even against a below-average Cardinal team. Stanford has won the last six in the series, four by two touchdowns or more.
Vegas says: UCLA by 4 1/2
Michigan at Ohio State
When and where: Saturday, noon, ABC/ESPN
We’re watching because... Ohio State may be primed for an upset. The Buckeyes let Indiana hang around for three quarters last week and has had a negative turnover margin for three consecutive games. Is that a case of looking ahead to Michigan or a real reason for Urban Meyer to worry? A year ago, another lackluster Michigan team challenged a then-undefeated Ohio State in a 42-41 loss.
Vegas says: Ohio State by 20
Georgia Tech at Georgia
When and where: Saturday, noon, SEC Network
We’re watching because... this game may mean everything to Georgia or nothing. The Bulldogs will know Friday afternoon if they’re going to the SEC Championship Game. An Arkansas win keeps Georgia in playoff contention. A Missouri win, and Georgia can start planning for a bowl. Georgia Tech has its division title wrapped up, but the Yellow Jackets have plenty of motivation after winning just one meeting in the series since 2001.
Vegas says: Georgia by 13
Mississippi State at Ole Miss
When and where: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... this is an Egg Bowl with national significance, who knew? Ole Miss collapsed in last year’s Egg Bowl, a win that shifted the momentum for Dan Mullen’s program in 2014. The Bulldogs still have a chance at the SEC West if Alabama loses the Iron Bowl and may be a playoff contender even if they don’t reach Atlanta. Ole Miss, which has gone from No. 3 in the AP poll to 8-3, can ruin it all for Mississippi State.
Vegas says: Mississippi State by 2
Florida at Florida State
When and where: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... the last time a lame duck coach for Florida went to Tallahassee, the Gators spoiled a special day for Florida State. The Seminoles christened Bobby Bowden Field on Nov. 20, 2004 only to watch Florida players carry fired coach Ron Zook off of it after a 20-13 win over the 10th-ranked Seminoles.
Vegas says: Florida State by 7 1/2
Minnesota at Wisconsin
When and where: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
We’re watching because... the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe doesn’t usually figure into the Big Ten title race, and that’s pretty cool. Minnesota keeps plugging along and filling its trophy case — the Gophers already have the Floyd of Rosedale (Iowa) and Little Brown Jug (Michigan) this season and could add the Axe and a Big Ten West title. The coaches don’t need this advice, but just let us sit back and watch Melvin Gordon and David Cobb do their thing.
Vegas says: Wisconsin by 13 1/2
Auburn at Alabama
When and where: Saturday, 7:45 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... the last Iron Bowl ended like this.
Vegas says: Alabama by 9 1/2
Oregon at Oregon State
When and where: Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... one of the nation’s more underrated rivalries again factors in the national title race, if only for one team. The Civil War was once a balanced rivalry before Oregon began its current six-game win streak (two of those Oregon wins were decided by less than a touchdown, however). Oregon State has a losing record while Oregon is looking to stay in the title race. If that situation in a rivalry game doesn’t sound familiar, ask a West Virginia fan.
Vegas says: Oregon by 20
Winning in the Maui Invitational is generally a sign of good things to come.
The Maui Invitational was a kingmaker three times between 2005-11 as the eventual national champion also won in Maui. Last year’s winner, Syracuse, won Maui on the way to 25 consecutive wins to start the season.
National championship contender Arizona may be poised to make a similar run, using Maui as a springboard. At the very least, a team could emerge from Maui as arguably the top team in the West this season with the Pac-12 favorite (Arizona), Mountain West favorite (San Diego State) and No. 2 team in the West Coast Conference (BYU) all making appearances.
Monday’s First Round Games
All Times Eastern
Purdue vs. Kansas State (2:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Missouri vs. Arizona (5 p.m., ESPN2)
Pittsburgh vs. Chaminade (9 p.m., ESPNU)
BYU vs. San Diego State (11:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Championship Game: Wednesday, 10 p.m., ESPN
Best potential game: Arizona vs. San Diego State in the final
Arguably the top two teams out West could meet in the Maui Invitational championship game. San Diego State continues to rebuild year after year under Steve Fisher with Dwayne Polee, J.J. O’Brien and Winston Shepard growing into lead roles this season. Arizona has plenty of veterans, too, and a team that should contend for the Final Four.
Player to watch: Tyler Haws, BYU
Haws is the second-leading scorer returning in 2014-15 after averaging 23.2 points per game last season. He had his chances on the big stage early last season, scoring 31 points against Stanford, 20 against Iowa State, 25 against Texas and 17 against Wichita State.
Freshman to watch: Stanley Johnson, Arizona
Another season and another star freshman at Arizona. The 6-foot-7 shooting guard Johnson steps into Aaron Gordon’s shoes with the Wildcats, but where Gordon was a defensive presence, Johnson is a diverse scoring threat. Arizona lacked an offensive lynchpin last season. That may change with Johnson.
Breakout player: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona
Here’s an easy way to get noticed on a star-studded team: The sophomore Hollis-Jefferson dunked on UC Irvine’s Mamsdou N’Diaye, who is college basketball’s tallest player this season at 7-foot-6. Hollis-Jefferson is averaging 16 points per game this season after averaging 9.1 a year ago.
Storylines to watch:
We’ve seen what teams like Duke, Kentucky and Wisconsin can do against solid competition so far this season. This field won’t give Arizona a top-10 win — Wisconsin and North Carolina, for example, are playing in the Battle 4 Atlantis — but Arizona can start racking up wins against NCAA contenders Kansas State, San Diego State or Pittsburgh.
San Diego State’s defense vs. BYU’s Tyler Haws
The competition hasn’t been great, but San Diego State has been stifling on the defensive end this season so far. The Aztecs have allowed 44.7 points per game and 17.6 percent shooting from 3-point range. Steve Fisher has had a top-10 defensive team in two of the last three seasons, but BYU and Haws will be San Diego State’s first true test this season.
Signs of life for Pittsburgh and Kansas State
The long trip to Hawaii is not off to a great start for Pittsburgh. The Panthers lost 74-70 to Hawaii on Friday, only a week after announcing forward Durand Johnson would be suspended for the season. Johnson suffered a torn ACL last season but averaged 8.8 points in 19.8 minutes per game through the first 16 games. Kansas State is faring better but not by much. The Wildcats lost 69-60 at Long Beach State on Friday before heading to Maui. These are teams with NCAA Tournament potential that have already picked up bad losses before Thanksgiving.
Athlon Staff Predictions
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Mitch Light|
|Prediction||Arizona over San Diego State||Arizona over San Diego State||Arizona over San Diego State|
|Player to Watch||Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona||Stanley Johnson, Arizona||Stanley Johnson, Arizona|
The selection committee made clear at least one point Tuesday: Winning a game isn’t always enough.
How a team wins or — in the words committee chair Jeff Long — how a team controls the game is just as important.
However the committee wants to explain its weekly rankings, Ohio State should be concerned with one word: Doubt.
Ohio State defeated Indiana 42-27 and led by three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but the game wasn’t nearly as comfortable as the final score indicates.
Only a week after a 31-24 win over Minnesota, Ohio State spent three quarters tussling with a team that hadn’t won a Big Ten game. Perhaps the best news of the day for Ohio State occurred in Lincoln as Minnesota remaind in the Big Ten title hunt with a win over Nebraska. A road victory over Minnesota remains the second-best win of the season for Ohio State.
Back in Columbus, though, Indiana had scored 20 consecutive points for a six-point lead before freshman Jalin Marshall returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown with 2:20 left in the third quarter.
Ohio State regrouped to overwhelm Indiana in the fourth quarter, but not until after giving the selection committee reason to second guess the Buckeyes. And even though Ohio State moved up to No. 6 last week, the Buckeyes surely don’t want to make the selection committee think too much.
In some ways, perhaps these two weeks should be a zero sum game. Ohio State did the same thing TCU did a week ago when the Horned Frogs let Kansas lead before claiming a 34-30 win. Ohio State’s sputtering performance against Indiana, a team that defeated a ranked Missouri team on the road this season, ended in a more lopsided victory.
But TCU, Baylor and any other one-loss team doesn’t have the albatross of a home loss to 5-6 Virginia Tech. The Hokies, by the way, lost 6-3 in double overtime to Wake Forest, a team that started Saturday ranked 149th in the Sagarin ratings.
While Ohio State has won five Big Ten games by at least 12 points, the Buckeyes aren’t making things easy. If the selection committee starts to see Ohio State’s first three quarters against Indiana as part of a trend, the Buckeyes may be in trouble.
And for that, there’s a fair amount of data: Ohio State has been on the negative side of the turnover margin in three consecutive games thanks to three giveaways against Indiana.
The run defense that gave up 178 yards to Michigan State and 218 to Minnesota gave up 281 to the Hoosiers.
Ohio State couldn’t control Tevin Coleman. The Buckeyes didn’t control the game. And, now, they may lose control of their momentum toward the playoff.
A running back setting himself apart from others in Wisconsin history takes a monumental feat.
The Badgers have the all-time leading rusher (Ron Dayne), career rushing touchdown leader (Montee Ball, who is also tied for the single-season record) and now the single-game rushing leader (Melvin Gordon).
Gordon’s 408 rushing yards against Nebraska last week, though, puts him in reach of the biggest prize for any running back, much less a Wisconsin running back — Barry Sanders’ single-season rushing record.
Sanders rushed for 2,628 yards in 11 games in 1988 for Oklahoma State, a mark that’s been seriously challenged only once since then. UCF’s Kevin Smith came 61 yards short of tying Sanders in 2007.
To put Gordon’s season in perspective, only four running backs have come within 500 yards of Sanders’ record: Smith in 2007, Iowa State’s Troy Davis by 443 yards in 1986, Boston College’s Andre Williams by 451 yards last season, and TCU’s LaDainian Tomlinson by 470 yards in 2000.
Before we delve deeper into Gordon’s shot at Sanders’ record, consider this: In 1988, the record for single-season passing in 1988 belonged to BYU’s Jim McMahon (4,571 yards in 1980). That mark has been exceeded 22 times since.
Back to Gordon: The Badgers running back sits at 1,909 rushing yards through 10 games and could play as many as 14 games if the Badgers clinch a trip to the Big Ten title game Saturday.
While Gordon won’t match Sanders’ mark of 238.9 rushing yards per game, he does have a chance to catch Sanders in a couple of other ways. And perhaps what’s most remarkable, Gordon could do it by rushing below his own season average.
Here’s a look at the records in Gordon’s sights in the final three or four games:
• Counting a Big Ten title game and a bowl, Gordon would need to rush for 720 yards in the final four games to pass Sanders. That’s an average of 180 yards per game. Gordon averages 190.9.
• Let’s say Wisconsin loses each of its last two games and misses the Big Ten title game. Gordon would need to average 240 yards in games against Minnesota and Iowa and in the bowl game. He’s exceeded that total three times this season.
• But if we’re going to say it's possible Gordon could average 240 yards in three games, what if those three games include the Big Ten title game? That would mean Gordon has a chance to break Sanders’ record before the bowl game — and before the Heisman voting. Since Ron Dayne in 1999, only two running backs have won the Heisman (Mark Ingram in 2009 and Reggie Bush in 2005).
• While Sanders’ rushing yards per game average is out of reach, Gordon can better Sanders in the per-play department. Sanders holds the record for backs with more than 280 carries with 7.64 yards per attempt. Gordon averages 8.56 yards per carry on 223 attempts. That would surpass Nebraska running back Mike Rozier’s record of 7.81 yards per carry for backs with at least 215 attempts.
• And as ESPN’s Brett Edgerton notes, Gordon could beat Sanders to the 2,000-yard mark.
If @Melvingordon25 can rush for his next 91 yards in fewer than 28 carries, he'll be the quickest ever to reach 2,000 yards.— Brett Edgerton (@EditorEdge) November 20, 2014
• So what about those Big Ten marks? Dayne holds the Big Ten record for single-season rushing with 2,109 yards in 1996. If Gordon’s season averages hold up, he’ll break that record sometime in the first half of the regular-season finale against Minnesota.
• Moreover, Gordon might have the Big Ten’s single-season rushing yards per game record all but wrapped up. Gordon, at 190.9 yards per game, is already well ahead of the record set by Michigan State’s Lorenzo White in 1985 (173.5).