Articles By Steven Lassan
Arizona State bolstered its playoff hopes with a huge 55-31 win over Notre Dame on Saturday.
The Sun Devils had plenty of help from their defense, but receiver Jaelen Strong made one of the best plays of the day with a touchdown grab in the first half.
Strong finished with five catches for 58 yards, and this first-half touchdown reception was his best grab of the day:
Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams had a huge performance in the Golden Gophers’ game against Iowa.
With Minnesota leading 14-7 midway through the second quarter, Williams made one of the catches of the year in the Big Ten. The tight end kept the foot in bounds and snagged a pass from quarterback Mitch Leidner.
Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight went airborne to gain critical yardage in the first half of Saturday’s game against Baylor.
Knight had the first down without the hurdle, but the jump over cornerback Terrell Burt gave the offense a few more yards.
Check out Knight’s awesome hurdle over a Baylor defender:
The first year of college football’s playoff committee rankings has added new intrigue to the season, and one look at the latest top 25 release shows just how important Saturday’s game is between Arizona State and Notre Dame. The Sun Devils and Fighting Irish are ranked back-to-back (No. 9 and No. 10) following the Week 10 games. Saturday’s winner should keep their playoff hopes alive while dealing a significant (and likely eliminating) loss to the other team.
Arizona State has won four games in a row since a 62-27 loss to UCLA. The Sun Devils defeated three ranked teams in that stretch, including a 19-16 overtime win against Utah and a 38-34 last-second victory over USC on Oct. 4. Notre Dame’s only loss this year came at the hands of Florida State, but the Fighting Irish rank behind Arizona State due to the Sun Devils’ strength of schedule and bigger margin of victory against a common opponent (Stanford).
Arizona State and Notre Dame have only three previous meetings. The Fighting Irish are 3-0 against the Sun Devils, including a 37-34 victory in last season’s matchup in Arlington.
Notre Dame at Arizona State
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Arizona State -2.5
Notre Dame’s Key to Victory: QB Everett Golson
Coming off a tough matchup against Navy, combined with the loss of linebacker Joe Schmidt, Notre Dame needs its offense to carry the team on Saturday. As evidenced by his 22 passing touchdowns to just seven interceptions, Golson is capable of doing so. Arizona State ranks fifth in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense, but this unit has played three average offenses over the last three weeks. Golson could be the best quarterback the Sun Devils have played this season, and his mobility will keep plays alive if the defense is able to get pressure and collapse the pocket. But most importantly for Notre Dame, Golson has to have a mistake-free effort. The junior has seven picks this season and two came in the loss to Florida State. A tight game is expected on Saturday, and a turnover or two by either team could be costly. One other area to watch is the emergence of running back Tarean Folston. The sophomore has 169 yards over the last two games.
Arizona State’s Key to Victory: Balance on Offense
Quarterback Taylor Kelly is still knocking off the rust from a foot injury that forced him to miss three games earlier this year. But Kelly has passed for 385 yards and three scores over the last two contests and has 62 rushing yards in that span. Despite being a little rusty, Kelly guided Arizona State to wins over Washington and Utah. Considering Kelly probably needs another week or two to get fully acclimated to the offense once again, the Sun Devils need to take the pressure off him by establishing balance. Running back D.J. Foster leads the team with 701 yards and freshman Demario Richard has 280 – including 170 over the last two weeks. Receiver Jaelen Strong is one of the best in the Pac-12, catching 57 passes for 821 yards and eight scores. Notre Dame won’t have standout linebacker Joe Schmidt for the rest of the year due to an injury suffered against Navy. Without Schmidt, the Fighting Irish will turn to true freshman Nyles Morgan in the starting lineup. Notre Dame’s defense is giving up 5.2 yards per play in 2014 but has allowed at least 5.6 yards per play in three consecutive weeks. With Schmidt’s injury, combined with the Fighting Irish’s recent performance on defense, Arizona State should be able to push 30 points on Saturday night. Balance for the Sun Devils will be critical, especially as Kelly continues to knock the rust off from a significant foot injury.
It’s probably fair to call this game an elimination matchup in terms of playoff seeding. The loser of this matchup is likely out of the picture for one of the four-team spots, but is still in the mix for one of the New Year’s Bowls. The winner of this game will be on the doorstep of the top eight once again next week and in position to earn a spot in the playoffs. Notre Dame’s defense is a concern. But it’s also fair to wonder whether Arizona State’s recent improvement on that side of the ball was due to offenses that ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12. Expect plenty of points in this back-and-forth affair. Notre Dame keeps its playoff hopes alive for another week by finding a way to win this one in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Notre Dame 34, Arizona State 31
At the beginning of the season, not many circled Kansas State-TCU as the biggest game of the year in the Big 12. But Saturday’s matchup between the Horned Frogs and Wildcats could be the biggest game of the year in the conference, as TCU and Kansas State rank No. 7 and No. 8 in the latest playoff committee rankings.
TCU finished 4-8 last season but has experienced a quick turnaround on the strength of an improved offense. The Horned Frogs averaged only 25.1 points per game in 2013 but have recorded 48 points per contest through eight matchups this year. Quarterback Trevone Boykin has thrived under new co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie.
With a victory over TCU on Saturday, Kansas State will match its win total from 2013. The Wildcats’ biggest win in 2014 took place in Norman, defeating Oklahoma 31-30 in mid-October. Coach Bill Snyder’s team suffered its only loss at the hands of Auburn – a game that was summed up by missed opportunities for Kansas State.
Kansas State owns a 4-3 series edge over TCU. The Wildcats have won the last two meetings over the Horned Frogs. The last meeting between these two teams in Fort Worth was a 23-10 win by Kansas State.
And here’s a small storyline to note about this matchup: TCU coach Gary Patterson played at Kansas State from 1980-81 and is a Kansas native.
Kansas State at TCU
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: TCU -6
Kansas State’s Key to Victory: Win the Turnover Battle
It sounds simple, but Kansas State’s mistake-free ways will be tested against TCU. The Horned Frogs lead the nation with a +15 turnover margin and has forced nine takeaways in their last two games. On the flipside, the Wildcats have lost only seven turnovers and commit only 3.4 penalties per game. Bill Snyder’s team simply won’t beat itself on Saturday night. With little separating Kansas State and TCU, it’s the small things that could swing this game in favor of a particular team. The Wildcats need to continue what they have done all season and limit their mistakes. Quarterback Jake Waters is a big part of that storyline, as the senior has yet to throw a pick in a Big 12 game. If Waters completes over 60 percent of his throws, doesn’t toss a pick, and Kansas State wins the turnover battle, that might be enough for the Wildcats to win in Fort Worth.
TCU’s Key to Victory: Establish the Tempo on Offense
Kansas State averages 35.8 points per game in Big 12 action this year, but the Wildcats prefer to move at a methodical pace (32:50 time of possession). TCU is going with an up-tempo approach this year, and the switch in schemes has made a huge impact on the offense. Quarterback Trevone Boykin is a Heisman contender, and the Horned Frogs have 25 plays of 30 yards or more this year. Kansas State is capable of scoring 40 points, but the Wildcats would prefer to move a little slower and use their ground attack to eat up the clock on lengthy drives. TCU should look to jump out to an early lead and force K-State to play at a quicker pace. If Boykin can rebound from his worst start of the season (166 yards against West Virginia), there will be opportunities to make plays against a secondary that ranks seventh in the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense.
This is the only top-10 matchup for Week 11 and is relatively even across the board. Both defenses allow less than five yards per play, while Kansas State ranks as the Big 12’s best in scoring defense (18.6 ppg). TCU is more explosive on offense, but the Wildcats – using a different style – aren’t far behind on the stat sheet. Expect a tight game well into the fourth quarter, with both teams landing a few big plays in the process. Kansas State is one of the best in the nation at not beating itself. However, with this game in Fort Worth and quarterback Trevone Boykin due for a rebound effort, TCU gets a slight edge – but there’s not much separating these two teams.
Prediction: TCU 31, Kansas State 30
The Big Ten has spent most of 2014 out of the national spotlight, but the Michigan State-Ohio State showdown on Saturday night carries significant playoff implications. This matchup is easily the biggest game of the year in the conference and is a rematch of last year’s Big Ten title game. In last season’s contest, the Spartans won 34-24 and eliminated the Buckeyes from earning a spot in the BCS title game.
Both teams enter Saturday night’s matchup with one loss. However, there’s a different narrative following each team’s defeat. Michigan State’s defeat came at the hands of Oregon – ranked as the No. 4 team in the college football playoff standings after Week 10. Ohio State’s loss was to a Virginia Tech team that is struggling just to get bowl eligible. And the Buckeyes’ loss to the Hokies is clearly hurting coach Urban Meyer’s team in the playoff poll, as Ohio State ranks No. 14 and needs a lot of help to get into the top four.
Ohio State owns a 28-13 series edge over Michigan State. The Buckeyes are just 1-2 in their last three matchups against the Spartans. Two out of the last three meetings were decided by three points or less. From 1987-2008, Ohio State went 12-2 against Michigan State.
Ohio State at Michigan State
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Michigan State -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Ohio State’s Offensive Line
Outside of J.T. Barrett’s development, this unit was the biggest concern for Ohio State in 2014. The Buckeyes gave up seven sacks in the loss to Virginia Tech but has allowed just 10 in the other seven contests. However, the line has rarely been tested over the last few weeks, and Michigan State’s defensive front is likely the best Ohio State will play this year. How far as the Buckeyes’ offensive line developed in recent weeks? Left tackle Taylor Decker will have his hands full with ends Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush, as the duo headlines a Spartans’ defensive front that leads the Big Ten with 28 sacks. While pass protection is a concern, Barrett has the mobility to make plays outside of the pocket (second on the team with 496 rushing yards), and the offense is averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Are the Buckeyes up to the challenge in the trenches? Or will Calhoun and Rush win the battle at the point of attack?
2. Quarterback Play
Through 10 weeks of the 2014 season, it’s clear Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett and Michigan State’s Connor Cook are the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Barrett stepped into a difficult situation with ease, leading the conference with 294 total yards per game. Cook doesn’t have Barrett’s mobility, but the junior is completing 60.6 percent of his throws and has only five picks on 198 attempts this year. In the Big Ten Championship last year, Cook easily outdueled Braxton Miller, completing 24 of 40 passes for 340 yards and one score. Miller completed just 8 of 21 throws and was held to 101 yards and a score. Michigan State doesn’t need Cook to throw for 300 yards on Saturday night, but the junior needs to be efficient and limit his mistakes. Despite completing 61.7 percent of his throws against Oregon, Cook tossed two picks. Ohio State’s defense is holding opponents to 19.8 points per game in Big Ten action and has allowed only seven passing plays of 30 yards or more. That’s an improvement off last season, and Cook will be facing the best pass rush he has played in 2014. Both quarterbacks are going against elite defensive lines and pass defenses that have been stingy. With a tight game expected, the play of Cook and Barrett will be under the microscope. Cook torched Ohio State’s secondary for 304 yards and three scores last year. However, the Buckeyes have showed improvement on defense in 2014. For Barrett, this is his toughest road test of the year. With an offensive line that’s still developing, can Barrett avoid the rush and make plays against a secondary that has allowed 11 passing plays of 40 yards or more – nearly as many (17) as last year?
3. Style of Play
It’s no secret Michigan State wants to control the pace of the game with a vicious defense and a methodical, yet very successful offense. The Spartans lead the Big Ten by averaging 36:02 in time of possession, while Ohio State is third with a 32:24 mark. The Buckeyes’ rush defense has been solid this year, limiting opponents to just 3.4 yards per carry and 118.6 yards per contest. Expect Michigan State to challenge that total with a heavy dose of Jeremy Langford. The senior has five consecutive 100-yard efforts and gashed Michigan for 177 yards and three scores two weeks ago. If Langford has success on early downs, the Spartans will have a chance to control the tempo and later hit on play-action passes to standout receiver Tony Lippett. When Ohio State has the ball, expect Meyer and coordinator Tom Herman to push the tempo. The Buckeyes want to speed up the tempo, which should allow Barrett to get some easy (and quick passes) against the Michigan State defensive front. If the Buckeyes control the pace of the game and jump to an early lead, they will force the Spartans out of their comfort level on offense.
The roles are reversed in 2014. Last season, Michigan State played spoiler, eliminating Ohio State from the national title conversation with a 34-24 win in the Big Ten Championship. The Buckeyes have a chance to do something similar on Saturday night, as a win by Urban Meyer’s team would eliminate Michigan State from the playoff picture. If Ohio State wins, it should get a bump in next week’s rankings. However, even if the Buckeyes win in East Lansing, they need some help to reach the top four. Regardless of the playoff implications, these two teams are the best in the Big Ten. So what’s the difference in the game? Michigan State’s defense and quarterback Connor Cook. The Spartans aren’t as dominant on defense as they were last season, but this unit is still capable of carrying this team to a playoff spot. Barrett has performed well in relief of Miller. However, a road trip to East Lansing against Michigan State’s defense will be too much to overcome.
Prediction: Michigan State 30, Ohio State 20
The annual matchup between Alabama and LSU is one of the SEC’s must-see games every year, and 2014 is no different, as both teams rank among the top 15 nationally. There’s more at stake on Saturday night for the Crimson Tide after ranking No. 5 in the second release of college football’s playoff committee standings. The Tigers ranked No. 16 and are a longshot to make the final four. However, coach Les Miles’ team still has plenty to play for, including a spot in one of college football’s premier bowl games.
LSU has rebounded from an 0-2 start in SEC play to win its last three conference games. The Tigers had a bye last Saturday but defeated Ole Miss 10-7 on Oct. 25. Alabama suffered its only defeat at the hands of the Rebels but has won three in a row, including a 59-0 destruction of Texas A&M.
Alabama owns a 48-24-5 series edge over LSU. The Crimson Tide has won five out of the last seven meetings against the Tigers. However, Alabama is 1-1 in its last two trips to Baton Rouge. LSU coach Les Miles is 5-5 in 10 career games against the Crimson Tide.
Alabama at LSU
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Alabama -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterback Play
The basic approach by both teams is pretty simple: Run the ball and play defense. That statement might be too simplistic, but both offenses want to establish the run to take the pressure of their quarterback. Both signal-callers in this game are under the microscope, as both have experienced their share of ups and downs this season. Alabama’s Blake Sims won a battle with Jacob Coker for the starting job in the fall, and Sims opened the year by throwing for 250 yards in the opener against West Virginia. Sims has played well at times this year but tossed a costly interception against Ole Miss and completed 52.4 percent of his throws in an ugly 14-13 win against Arkansas. While Sims hasn’t been overly prolific, he’s been more successful than LSU’s Anthony Jennings. The sophomore made his first career start in the Outback Bowl last year and carried that momentum into the fall to claim the job over touted freshman Brandon Harris. Jennings is completing only 50 percent of his passes and went just 8 of 16 for 142 yards and two interceptions in a 10-7 win over Ole Miss two weeks ago. Against Power 5 opponents, Jennings has not completed more than 50 percent of his passes in a single contest. However, Jennings is tied for third in the SEC with seven passing plays of 40 yards or more. On paper, the edge should go to Sims. For LSU to win on Saturday night, Jennings needs to have his best game of 2014.
2. Stopping the Run
In last year’s matchup, Alabama drastically outperformed LSU on the ground (193 to 43). And taking the advantage on the ground a step further, the team that has an edge in rushing yardage has won the last six matchups. See why this area is important on Saturday night? Both backfields are among the best in the nation, but running room could be limited. Alabama is allowing only 2.7 yards per carry and opponents have managed only two rushing scores through eight games. LSU will attempt to test the defense with four talented running backs, headlined by Leonard Fournette. The true freshman has rushed for 657 yards and seven scores this year, but he averages only 14.6 carries per game. Fournette will share time with Terrence Magee (6.1 ypc), Kenny Hilliard (six scores) and Darrel Williams (250 yards). On the other sideline, Alabama counters with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry – arguably the nation’s best backfield duo – and both players average 5.2 yards per carry. After five SEC contests, LSU’s rush defense ranks ninth in the league, giving up 186.2 yards per game. The Tigers have played some of the league’s best running teams – Mississippi State and Auburn – and have not allowed a rushing touchdown in two games. This is LSU’s toughest challenge on defense since a 41-7 loss against Auburn. Has this defense found the right answers? Or was the improvement on defense due to playing offenses at Florida, Kentucky and Ole Miss? Either way, the battle in the trenches is critical to the outcome on Saturday night.
3. Alabama WR Amari Cooper
Cooper has been the best receiver in college football through the first 10 weeks of the season. The junior ranks second nationally in receiving yards (1,132) and averages 15.9 yards per catch. Cooper was injured in the win over Arkansas on Oct. 11 but has rebounded with 17 catches for 364 yards and four touchdowns in his last two games. Cooper faces one of his toughest assignments of the season on Saturday night, as LSU’s secondary is one of the best in the SEC. Opposing teams have had success running the ball against the Tigers, so coordinator John Chavis’ defense has faced only 259 attempts this year. LSU has allowed only six passing scores and has limited opposing quarterbacks to a 49.4 completion percentage. Rashard Robinson and Tre’Davious White are one of the nation’s top duos at cornerback and limited Cooper to just three catches for 46 yards last season. This matchup between Cooper and Robinson/White should draw plenty of interest from NFL scouts. But if Cooper is limited by LSU, who steps up at receiver for Alabama? Is it senior DeAndrew White? Or will tight end O.J. Howard get more involved after a slow start (six catches) to the season?
This game has all of the makings of a physical, 60-minute battle in the trenches. Alabama and LSU have similar styles on offense, and two out of the last three meetings in this series were decided by four points or less. Winning at night in Baton Rouge is never easy, but the advantages in this game are in favor of the Crimson Tide. Blake Sims has performed better at quarterback, and Alabama’s defense has been more dominant this year. LSU needs quarterback Anthony Jennings to have success through the air early to open rushing lanes on the ground. If Jennings struggles, the Tigers are in trouble. LSU always finds a way to keep it close at night in Baton Rouge, and Alabama’s struggles in the turnover department (13 lost in 2014) provide a blueprint on how to win. The Tigers need a few breaks to win this one, and Les Miles’ team falls short against a better Crimson Tide squad on Saturday night.
Prediction: Alabama 27, LSU 17
Florida State’s Thursday night victory over Louisville garnered most of the attention last weekend in the ACC, but the conference had three games decided by a touchdown or less, including Duke’s critical win over Pittsburgh in overtime.
Heading into Week 11, there’s not a marquee national matchup on the slate, but five matchups with conference implications provides some intrigue. Louisville’s trip to Boston College should be the best game of the weekend, while Duke travels to Syracuse, Florida State hosts Virginia and Georgia Tech hits the road for a matchup against NC State.
Duke maintains a lead in the Coastal Division, but the Blue Devils can’t afford a misstep with Miami a game behind in the standings, while Georgia Tech needs to beat NC State with a tough matchup against Clemson ahead in Week 12.
ACC Week 11 Game Power Rankings
1. Louisville (-3) at Boston College
7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2
The first meeting between Louisville and Boston College as ACC members highlights the Week 11 slate in the ACC. The Cardinals nearly upset Florida State last Thursday but fell short after a furious second-half rally by the Seminoles. The Eagles seem to be finding their stride recently by winning three out of their last four games. The only loss in that span was a four-point defeat to Clemson. The battle in the trenches is under the spotlight in Chestnut Hill, as Louisville’s run defense allowed a season-high 173 yards on the ground to Florida State. Boston College features a veteran offensive line and ranks second in the ACC with an average of 274.9 rushing yards per game. Four players have rushed for at least 263 yards this year, with quarterback Tyler Murphy closing in on 1,000 (965) to lead the Eagles. Louisville has the personnel to devote extra attention at the line of scrimmage, as its cornerbacks Terell Floyd and Charles Gaines lead a secondary that ranks first in the ACC in pass defense efficiency. When the Cardinals have the ball, keep an eye on an offensive line that has allowed 28 sacks this year. Boston College has recorded 25 sacks in nine games and has generated 69 tackles for a loss. Of Louisville’s four highest scoring games this year, two have occurred in the last two weeks. That’s largely due to the return of receiver DeVante Parker, along with the emergence of Michael Dyer at running back. Quarterback Will Gardner is also coming off his first 300-yard game of the season (330 against Florida State). Will the run-first style of Boston College win out? Or can Louisville slow down the Eagles’ rushing attack and jump ahead on the scoreboard to force Boston College out of its gameplan on offense? This should be the best game of the week in the ACC.
Listen to the Week 11 predictions podcast:
2. Georgia Tech (-5.5) at NC State
12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network/ESPN3
This is the first meeting between these two teams since 2011, and there’s plenty at stake for the Yellow Jackets and Wolfpack after both programs picked up key wins last Saturday. Georgia Tech needs to win out to have any shot at claiming the Coastal Division title, while NC State is a win away from bowl eligibility. In order for the Wolfpack to get their sixth win, stopping the run has to be a priority. Georgia Tech leads the ACC by averaging 319.7 rushing yards per game, while NC State is allowing 171.1 yards per contest. Quarterback Justin Thomas is the catalyst for the Yellow Jackets’ offense, but running back Synjyn Days has recorded back-to-back 100-yard efforts with Zach Laskey and Charles Perkins sidelined by injury. Establishing the run and controlling the clock is a priority for Georgia Tech with a defense that is allowing 6.4 yards per play in ACC games. NC State’s offense scored at least 41 points in four of its first five games but has not managed more than 24 points in a contest over its last four matchups. Playing better opponents has factored into the drop in production, and the Wolfpack need better play from an offensive line that has allowed 17 sacks in five ACC games.
3. Duke (-3.5) at Syracuse
12:30 p.m. ET, RSN/ESPN3
Duke’s overtime escape last week in Pittsburgh kept the Blue Devils atop the Coastal Division. And with three of Duke’s next four games at home, coach David Cutcliffe’s team has a good chance at repeating as division champs. Syracuse has lost six out of its last seven games, with the only victory coming in that span at Wake Forest (30-7). The Orange is struggling on offense (13th in ACC in yards per play), but the defense ranks fourth in the conference in fewest yards per play allowed (4.8). Syracuse’s defense will be tested against a Duke offense that is one of the most-balanced attacks in the league. The Blue Devils have passed for 755 yards and rushed for 654 yards in ACC play. Protecting quarterback Anthony Boone has been a strength for Duke all season – four sacks allowed in eight games – but Syracuse (61 tackles for a loss) will be aggressive in sending pressure. Another factor in Duke’s success this year has been its lack of turnovers. The Blue Devils have lost just five in eight games. The Orange needs to get pressure on Boone and force a couple of turnovers to have a shot on Saturday. True freshman quarterback A.J. Long has showed promise in four appearances this year, but the Orange has to do a better job of establishing a presence on the ground. Over the last two games, Syracuse has managed just 126 rushing yards. Duke gave up 358 rushing yards in last week’s win over Pittsburgh and has allowed seven scores on the ground over the last three contests.
4. Virginia at Florida State (-19.5)
6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Florida State’s win streak stands at 24, and the Seminoles should make it 25 on Saturday against a Virginia team that has lost its last three games. The Cavaliers were the last ACC team to win in Tallahassee, recording a 14-13 victory in 2011. In order to pull off the upset this year, Virginia needs several things to bounce its way. The offense is averaging only 19.4 points in ACC games, and quarterback Greyson Lambert has tossed four interceptions in his last two games. The strength of the Cavaliers rests with their defense, limiting opponents to five yards per play in ACC games and ranking in a tie for fourth in the league with 62 tackles for a loss. Florida State’s offensive line has struggled at times this year and should be challenged by a Virginia defensive line that features standout end Eli Harold (seven sacks) and a linebacking corps that ranks among the best in the ACC. Quarterback Jameis Winston suffered an ankle injury in last week’s win over Louisville, but the ailment is not expected to prevent him from playing on Saturday. If Winston’s offensive line provides adequate protection, the sophomore will test a secondary that has allowed 12 (second-most in ACC) in conference play this year. As if trying to stop Winston, receiver Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary wasn’t enough, Florida State has three true freshmen – running back Dalvin Cook and receivers Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph – ready to emerge over the final month of the season. With a game against Miami next week, the Seminoles have avoid a letdown against Virginia, especially with this team entrenched at No. 2 in the college football playoff rankings.
5. Clemson (-21.5) at Wake Forest
7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN (Thursday)
Clemson won the last two meetings in this series by a combined score of 98-20, and the Tigers are a heavy favorite once again on Thursday night. Freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson is expected to miss his third consecutive game due to a hand injury, leaving senior Cole Stoudt back under center for Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. Stoudt is completing 63.2 percent of his throws but has just one passing score against Power 5 opponents in 2014. The Tigers won’t need a huge effort from their offense, as the defense is one of the best in the nation, and Wake Forest is averaging just 2.7 yards per play in conference games. Offensive line play is a huge problem for the Demon Deacons and this group will be challenged against a veteran and talented Clemson defensive front. Wake Forest has allowed 31 sacks in eight games and has not rushed for more than 71 yards in an ACC game this year. The Tigers need a lot of help to pass Florida State in the Atlantic Division, but Clemson still has plenty to play for with a potential berth in the Orange Bowl on the table if the Seminoles make the playoffs.
ACC Week 11 Predictions
|UL (-3) at BC||BC 28-21||UL 24-23||UL 27-24||BC 24-20|
|GT (-5.5) at NC State||GT 31-21||NC State 34-33||GT 34-27||GT 37-27|
|Duke (-3.5) at Syracuse||Duke 28-10||Duke 30-24||Duke 31-20||Duke 37-19|
|UVa at FSU (-19.5)||FSU 31-21||FSU 31-14||FSU 34-13||FSU 31-10|
|Clemson (-21.5) at Wake||Clemson 42-7||Clemson 30-7||Clemson 34-7||Clemson 41-10|
College football’s new playoff format has added a layer of intrigue to the regular season. While finishing in the top two – just like the old BCS format – is important, two additional teams have a chance to win the national title in a four-team postseason format.
The first release of the playoff committee's rankings provided some insight into the process, but with five weeks to go until the four teams are officially announced, plenty of changes are ahead in the weekly top 25 rankings.
What are some factors that will shape how the final rankings look? Scheduling is a huge element to consider, but quarterback play, defenses and emergence of freshmen are other factors to watch.
Here are 10 things to watch over the next five weeks:
10 Things That Will Shape CFB Playoff in Final Five Weeks
1. Showdowns in the SEC West
A significant piece of the inaugural College Football Playoff will be shaped by what happens in the SEC West. Will Mississippi State win out? If the Bulldogs win out, a victory over Alabama would seem to eliminate the Crimson Tide from the playoff picture. And what happens to Auburn if a two-loss Crimson Tide squad wins in the Iron Bowl? But that’s not all. What about the SEC Championship Game if the East winner (Georgia or Missouri) beats the West champion? That’s a huge wrench in the final ranking. It’s safe to say the SEC gets at least one team in the playoff this year. However, getting two will largely be determined on what happens in the remaining showdowns in November.
2. Florida State’s Emerging Young Talent
Florida State’s 2014 team isn’t as dominant as its '13 version. But that’s not a huge issue for coach Jimbo Fisher, as this team is pretty good in its own right. The biggest concern for the Seminoles remains in the trenches, but the offensive line showed some promise by clearing the way for 173 yards and three scores against Louisville. The defensive line is probably Florida State’s biggest concern, especially on the interior where Nile Lawrence-Stample was lost for the season. Even if the Seminoles allow 30 points a game, their offense could score 35-40 each week. Quarterback Jameis Winston is the headliner, but the sophomore has emerging stars at his disposal in a trio of true freshmen — running back Dalvin Cook and receivers Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane. Cook is averaging 5.6 yards per rush, while Rudolph has 14 of his 19 catches over the last three games, and Lane caught a touchdown pass against Louisville. Florida State’s offense was already lethal without Cook, Rudolph and Lane. But this unit is even more deadly with the emergence of these talented first-year players on offense.
3. Ohio State-Michigan State Showdown
Barring major upsets and a complete shake up at the top of the playoff committee's rankings, the Big Ten is only getting one team into the four-team playoff. And as of Nov. 4, Michigan State and Ohio State need a lot of help to reach the top four. The Spartans have the better resume so far, with their only loss coming at Oregon in early September. The Buckeyes lost to Virginia Tech in September and do not have a win over a ranked team heading into Week 11. With all of that in mind, Saturday’s showdown in East Lansing is critical to the Big Ten getting one team in the mix. If Michigan State beats the Buckeyes handily, and Ohio State wins out to finish 10-2, coach Mark Dantonio’s team should be in the mix for a playoff spot. But what happens if the Spartans win a close game and the Buckeyes lose to Minnesota? That scenario would hurt the Big Ten’s case for a team in the top four. Regardless of what happens after Nov. 8, the winner of the Ohio State-Michigan State game is the only playoff contender left from the Big Ten.
4. Alabama QB Blake Sims
Quarterback play was the biggest concern in Tuscaloosa this offseason. Sims has been steady through the first eight games, completing 65.5 percent of his throws and tossing 15 touchdowns to just three picks. However, in Alabama’s only loss (Ole Miss), Sims had a costly interception. One week later against Arkansas, Sims threw for just 161 yards in a 14-13 win. With one of the nation’s best rushing attacks and defenses on his side, Sims doesn’t have to post huge numbers for the Crimson Tide to win each week. However, the senior has to be efficient and will be under scrutiny in upcoming games against LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn. It’s not unrealistic to suggest Sims’ play could determine whether or not Alabama wins the SEC or finishes 10-2.
5. Oregon’s Defense
If the Ducks win out, it’s a safe bet coach Mark Helfrich’s team will be in the four-team playoff. But Oregon still has three games and, presumably, the Pac-12 Championship Game remaining, including a road trip to Utah on Nov. 8. Of the remaining three regular-season games, the Utes should be the toughest opponent for the Ducks, but the Pac-12 title game also looms large against (potentially) offensive-minded teams like Arizona State or USC. Scoring points hasn’t been a problem for Oregon, but the defense is allowing 28.2 points per game in Pac-12 contests, 5.7 yards per play and is last in the conference in third-down defense. Will this cost the Ducks a game before the playoff? Maybe not, but it could prevent Oregon from winning the national title. Can the Ducks' defense make strides over the final month of the season?
6. Kansas State’s Road Trips
No team has a tougher road schedule over the final five weeks than Bill Snyder’s Wildcats. Kansas State plays at TCU this Saturday, followed by a road date at West Virginia on Nov. 20 and then a matchup at Baylor on Dec. 6. Navigating that road schedule without a loss is challenging, but certainly not impossible for the Wildcats. The Big 12 has more depth than most anticipated at the start of this year, and an 11-1 K-State team should make the playoff. Let’s also not forget the Wildcats have just one loss (Auburn, 20-14) in a game where they had three turnovers and missed three field goals.
7. Receivers at Ole Miss
Ole Miss is going to miss Laquon Treadwell. The sophomore was one of the SEC’s best receivers and led the team with 48 catches through the first nine games. Without Treadwell, the Rebels are looking to Vince Sanders, Cody Core, Quincy Adeboyejo and tight end Evan Engram to pick up the slack in the passing game. Why this is position critical? Even though Ole Miss has two losses, this team still has a chance to impact the four teams in the playoff with a game against Mississippi State on Nov. 29. Finding a way to replace Treadwell’s production for quarterback Bo Wallace is a huge priority for coach Hugh Freeze over the next two weeks.
8. Notre Dame’s Defense
Three of top four outputs (yards per play) against Notre Dame has taken place over the last three weeks. The Fighting Irish’s schedule has increased in difficultly during that span, so it’s not a surprise the defensive numbers aren’t as promising as they were earlier in the season. Notre Dame allowed 5.7 yards per play against Florida State, 5.9 against Navy and 6.1 against North Carolina. Linebacker Joe Schmidt was a key piece of the defense, and he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the win over Navy. Add in the recent performance, combined with Schmidt’s loss and a challenging remaining slate - at Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC – and it’s easy to see why this unit will be under the microscope over the next four games. Notre Dame’s offense averages 35.4 points per contest, and coach Brian Kelly may need that type of production each week to help his young defense survive the Irish's most critical stretch of their season.
9. Todd Gurley’s Return at Georgia
Gurley’s return to the Georgia lineup on Nov. 15 is an interesting late-season development to consider in the overall playoff picture. The Bulldogs have a capable option in freshman Nick Chubb (501 yards in last three games), but prior to his suspension, Gurley may have been the best player in the nation. In five appearances this year, Gurley rushed for 773 yards and eight scores on 94 attempts. The junior is slated to return against Auburn, which is a game that is critical to the Bulldogs’ SEC East title hopes. And of course, the Tigers have their own playoff implications to deal with each week, as coach Gus Malzahn’s team ranked No. 3 in the first committee rankings. Is Gurley’s return enough for Georgia to knock off Auburn?
10. The Darkhorses and Upsets
College football changes drastically from week-to-week and upsets (see Florida over Georgia) are bound to happen over the final five weeks. Pinpointing the upsets is impossible, but there are a few teams to consider. Could Duke threaten Florida State in the ACC Championship Game? Probably not. Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State? That’s an interesting rematch scenario. If Arizona State reaches the Pac-12 Championship Game, the Sun Devils’ offense would be a tough matchup for Oregon’s defense. And we can’t forget about the SEC East champion (likely to be a heavy underdog) against the West. All of those scenarios don’t include a team like Miami taking down Florida State as an upset possibility or Utah beating Oregon. Count on an upset or two happening and changing the playoff outlook before college football's Final Four is released.
Mississippi State will wear alternate uniforms for its Nov. 29 showdown against rival Ole Miss.
The alternate Egg Bowl uniforms feature gold numbers, and the helmets feature gold trim around the Mississippi State logo.
Considering the success of Mississippi State and Ole Miss this year, the 2014 Egg Bowl should be an intriguing matchup.
Check out Mississippi State's alternate uniforms for the Egg Bowl:
Mississippi State helmet for Egg Bowl pic.twitter.com/veCDJMgVoR— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) November 4, 2014
College football’s playoff committee released its first set of rankings last Tuesday. While the top 25 rankings are expected to change each week and will look drastically different from the release of the first poll to the last one, the playoff committee's poll provided some insight into the process.
Each week, Athlon Sports hopes to replicate the playoff committee’s work by asking some of college football’s top media members to vote on their top eight teams. This poll will attempt to project how the playoff picture stacks up after each week until the end of the year.
Bobby Bowden (@TheBobbyBowden), Legends Poll
Gene Stallings, (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Don Nehlen (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Athlon Sports
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Athlon Sports
Zac Ellis (@ZacEllis), Sports Illustrated
David Fox (@DavidFox615), Athlon Sports
Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis), CardChronicle.com
Teddy Mitrosilis (@TMitrosilis), Fox Sports
Steven Godfrey (@38Godfrey), SBNation.com
Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB), SportsonEarth.com
Rich Cirminiello (@RichCirminiello), Campus Insiders
Brad Crawford (@BCrawfordSDS), SaturdayDownSouth.com
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), Eersports.com
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45), CFBHuddle.com
Adam Powell (@ACCSports), ACCSports.com
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch) Athlon Sports
Josh Ward (@Josh_Ward), MrSEC.com
Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), CollegeFootballTalk.com
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), Athlon Sports
Post-Week 10 Playoff Projection
Takeaways From Expert Poll Results
* For the third week in a row, Mississippi State and Florida State rank as the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the playoff projection.
* However, the Bulldogs’ grip on the No. 1 spot slipped after a close win over Arkansas. The Bulldogs edged Florida State 163 to 149 after Week 9, and the gap closed to 153 to 149 following Week 10.
* Auburn was a big winner in this week’s playoff projection. The Tigers moved from No. 5 to No. 3 after a victory over Ole Miss and rank just 28 points behind Florida State for the No. 2 spot.
* Oregon and Alabama tied for the No. 4 spot in this week’s vote. The Crimson Tide received a first and second-place vote, while the Ducks did not receive a vote higher than third.
* The committee has identified a clear top five: Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn, Alabama and Oregon. After the top five is where things get interesting. TCU ranks No. 6 with 50 points, while Michigan State is No. 7 at 42 points. Those two teams will have a chance to climb in the rankings with key conference matchups in Week 11.
* Arizona State received a vote in a playoff projection poll for the first time in 2014.
* The SEC has four teams in the top 12. The Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 are tied for second in conference hierarchy with two teams making an appearance in the committee’s rankings.
Group of 5 Rankings
The Thundering Herd was the biggest beneficiary of East Carolina’s loss to Temple. Marshall moves to the No. 1 spot in the Group of 5 rankings and will be a heavy favorite in each of its four remaining regular season games. The Thundering Herd travels to Southern Miss this Saturday and hosts defending C-USA champion Rice on Nov. 15. Marshall’s strength of schedule won’t do it any favors, but it has won all eight games by at least 15 points.
2. Boise State
There’s very little separation among the Group of 5 teams, and Boise State seems to have the best opportunity to pass Marshall for the No. 1 spot over the next few weeks. The Broncos play at New Mexico this Saturday, followed by a home date against San Diego State on Nov. 15. Strength of schedule is on Boise State’s side. However, can the two-loss Broncos pass an unbeaten Marshall?
3. Colorado State
The nation has started to take notice of coach Jim McElwain’s team, but the Rams need help to claim the Group of 5 bowl spot. With a head-to-head loss to Boise State, Colorado State is on the outside – for now. Conference champions are only eligible for the Group of 5 bowl spot, so the Rams need a loss by the Broncos in one of their four remaining conference games to have a shot at the Mountain West title.
4. East Carolina
The Pirates dropped from No. 1 to No. 4 on this list after their Week 10 loss to Temple. East Carolina is now one of five teams tied at 3-1 in American Athletic Conference play and needs a lot of help to get back into the conversation for a spot in a New Year’s Bowl.
Houston, Cincinnati, Memphis, UCF, Temple or Nevada each deserves consideration for the No. 5 ranking on this list. The Bearcats get a slight edge over the other five teams mentioned, largely due to the upcoming schedule. Cincinnati still has to play East Carolina, Temple and Houston. It’s a longshot, but Tommy Tuberville’s team still has a chance – with a lot of help – to claim the Group of 5 bowl spot.
Key Games With Playoff/Bowl Implications in Week 11
Georgia at Kentucky
Noon ET, ESPN
Bulldogs no longer in control of East Division, but coach Mark Richt’s team needs to win in order to keep the pressure on Missouri.
Baylor at Oklahoma
Noon ET, Fox Sports 1
This game was slated to be the must-see matchup in the Big 12 this preseason but has lost a little luster with a combined three losses between these two teams.
Notre Dame at Arizona State
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
An intriguing (and rare) non-conference game in November. Fighting Irish need to an impressive win to move up in the playoff committee rankings, while the Sun Devils have emerged as the favorite in the Pac-12 South.
Virginia at Florida State
6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Seminoles lost their last meeting (2011) against Virginia, but barring a huge letdown by Florida State, this one shouldn’t be close. Coach Jimbo Fisher’s team has one more tune-up before a showdown against in-state rival Miami.
UCLA at Washington
7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
Myles Jack (UCLA) and Shaq Thompson (Washington) are two of the nation’s most-versatile players and will garner plenty of attention on Saturday night. This one is critical to UCLA’s South Division title hopes, as the Bruins need to win to keep the pressure on Arizona State.
Boise State at New Mexico
7 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network
With East Carolina’s loss, the door is open for Marshall, Boise State and Colorado State for the Group of 5 spot in a New Year’s Bowl. The Broncos nearly lost (32-29) in their last trip to Albuquerque.
Hawaii at Colorado State
7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Rams are dealing with injuries to quarterback Garrett Grayson and receiver Rashard Higgins, but even if both players are limited, it probably won’t matter against a struggling Hawaii team.
Louisville at Boston College
7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Cardinals gave Florida State all it could handle last week but fell short after a second-half rally by the Seminoles. Louisville needs a win in Chestnut Hill to keep its Orange Bowl hopes alive.
Kansas State at TCU
7:30 p.m. ET, FOX
This game marks the first of three tough road trips for Kansas State for the remainder of the regular season: at TCU, at West Virginia and at Baylor. And this game should go a long ways to determining the Big 12 champion, especially since the Horned Frogs will be heavy favorites to win each of their final three games: at Kansas, at Texas and Iowa State.
Alabama at LSU
8 p.m. ET, CBS
The annual matchup between the Tigers and Crimson Tide is usually one of the SEC’s marquee games each year. There’s no shortage of talent on either roster, and three out of the last five matchups were decided by four points or less. Alabama is on the playoff bubble in our committee rankings, but Nick Saban’s team has the schedule to make a move in November: at LSU and home games against Auburn and Mississippi State.
Ohio State at Michigan State
8 p.m. ET, ABC
This matchup is easily the biggest game of the year in the Big Ten and has major playoff implications. The last four meetings are split at two victories apiece, while two of the last three games were decided by three points or less.
Oregon at Utah
10 p.m. ET, ESPN
A letdown concern for Oregon? The Ducks put a lot into last week’s game against Stanford and now travel to take on a dangerous Utah team. The Utes’ defense will be a good test for Oregon quarterback (and Heisman favorite) Marcus Mariota.
With 10 weeks in the books, college football’s bowl and national title picture is starting to clear. The playoff committee will release its second set of rankings on Tuesday this week, which should give fans, coaches and players a better idea of what the committee values heading into the last few weeks of the season.
The new playoff format has added a new layer of intrigue, as four teams – instead of two – will have a shot at the national championship once the bowl pairings are announced in early December.
With 10 weeks are in the books, it’s never too early to start looking at what the bowl picture might hold for each conference and team this year. The post-Week 10 bowl projections are a mixture between picks for the next few weeks, how things would look if the season ended today, and the results from the first nine weeks of action. Expect several changes over the next few weeks.
Teams on the projection bubble: Oregon State, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Wyoming, Texas State, Arkansas, Kentucky, Texas, San Jose State and Northwestern. Remember: It’s only Week 10. Several changes are coming, and it’s impossible to project all of the wins and losses the rest of the way considering how much changes week-to-week in college football.
College Football's Post-Week 10 Bowl Projections
|New Orleans||Dec. 20||Sun Belt vs.|
| UL Lafayette vs. |
|New Mexico||Dec. 20||C-USA vs. |
| UTEP vs.|
|Las Vegas||Dec. 20||Mountain West vs.|
| Boise State vs.|
|Famous Idaho Potato||Dec. 20||MAC vs.|
| Bowling Green vs.|
|Camellia||Dec. 20||MAC vs. |
| Akron vs.|
|Miami Beach||Dec. 22||American vs. |
| East Carolina vs.|
|Boca Raton||Dec. 23||C-USA vs.|
| UAB vs.|
|Poinsettia||Dec. 23||Mountain West vs.|
|Colorado State vs.|
|Bahamas||Dec. 24||C-USA vs. |
| MTSU vs.|
|Hawaii||Dec. 24||C-USA vs.|
| Western Kentucky vs.|
San Diego State
|Heart of Dallas||Dec. 26||Big Ten vs.|
| Rutgers vs.|
|Quick Lane||Dec. 26||ACC vs.|
| Virginia Tech vs.|
|St. Petersburg||Dec. 26||ACC vs.|
| California* vs.|
| Pittsburgh vs.|
|Sun||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Louisville vs.|
|Independence||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| NC State vs.|
|Pinstripe||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Boston College vs. |
|Holiday||Dec. 27||Big Ten vs.|
| Wisconsin vs.|
|Liberty||Dec. 29||SEC vs. |
| Tennessee vs.|
|Russell Athletic||Dec. 29||ACC vs.|
| Duke vs.|
|Texas||Dec. 29||Big 12 vs.|
| Oklahoma State vs.|
|Music City||Dec. 30||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Iowa vs.|
|Belk||Dec. 30||ACC vs. |
| Georgia Tech vs.|
|San Francisco||Dec. 30||Big Ten vs.|
| Maryland vs.|
|Outback||Jan. 1||Big Ten vs.|
| Nebraska vs.|
|Citrus||Jan. 1||Big Ten/ACC vs.|
| Ohio State vs.|
|Armed Forces||Jan. 2||American vs.|
| Houston vs.|
|Taxslayer||Jan. 2||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Miami vs.|
|Alamo||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
| Baylor vs.|
|Cactus||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
| Memphis* vs.|
|Birmingham||Jan. 3||American vs.|
|GoDaddy||Jan. 4||MAC vs.|
| Toledo vs.|
|New Year's Bowls|
|Peach||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| Marshall vs.|
|Fiesta||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| Kansas State vs.|
|Orange||Dec. 31||ACC vs. |
| Clemson vs.|
|Cotton||Jan. 1||At-large vs.|
| TCU vs. |
|Related: Projecting the Playoff Teams After Week 10|
| Florida State vs.|
| Mississippi State vs.|
|National Title||Jan. 12||Semifinal Winner vs.|
Mississippi State vs.
* Indicates an at-large selection. Conference not projected to have enough bowl-eligible teams to fulfill the conference alignment.
Ole Miss lost a critical piece of its offense on Saturday night. Receiver Laquon Treadwell suffered a fractured fibula and dislocated ankle on a tackle late in the game by Auburn linebacker Kris Frost.
Just one look at the stat sheet shows how important Treadwell is to the Rebels’ offense.
Through nine games, Treadwell led the team with 48 receptions and 632 yards. He also tied for first with five touchdown catches.
Vince Sanders, Cody Core and tight end Evan Engram are a capable trio for quarterback Bo Wallace, but Treadwell was easily the team’s No. 1 target and likely the best receiver in the SEC outside of Alabama’s Amari Cooper.
True freshman Markell Pack has seven receptions for 70 yards and is listed as a backup to Core in the slot. However, Pack should see a bigger role in the offense moving forward. Redshirt freshman Trey Bledsoe was listed as Treadwell’s backup on the depth chart prior to Saturday night’s game against Auburn and will join Pack as a bigger contributor moving forward as well.
While Treadwell can be replaced in terms of another receiver stepping in, his impact is going to be felt in the Rebels’ passing game.
And Treadwell’s absence the rest of the year underscores how critical it will be for Ole Miss to develop a rushing game this offseason. The Rebels don’t have a traditional ground attack and average only 3.9 yards per carry. This is one area coach Hugh Freeze will have to work on in spring practice, which should also improve as the team improves its offensive line.
In Saturday’s game against Auburn, Treadwell was one of the best players on the field, catching 10 passes for 103 yards and a score.
And in Ole Miss’ 23-17 win over Alabama in early October, Treadwell caught five passes for 55 yards and one touchdown.
Despite back-to-back losses, the Rebels still have plenty to play for this year. Ole Miss should have no trouble with Presbyterian next Saturday and has a bye before closing out 2014 with a matchup at Arkansas and then the home finale against Mississippi State.
If Ole Miss manages to finish 10-2, it could be enough to claim a spot in one of college football’s top bowl games. And of course, finishing 10-2 assumes a win over Mississippi State – so the opportunity to play spoiler is out there.
Treadwell will be missed, and Ole Miss will have to regroup on offense. Young players will have to step up, and quarterback Bo Wallace may target tight end Evan Engram more often. Despite the huge absence in the receiving corps and the back-to-back losses, there’s plenty still at stake for the Rebels over the last three regular season matchups and postseason game.
With a 6-3 overall record and a 3-2 mark in conference play this year, it’s hard to say Miami has made significant progress in coach Al Golden’s fourth year. The Hurricanes are just 16-13 under Golden’s watch in ACC games, but there’s optimism for the program after the last three games.
Miami stayed within striking distance of Duke in the Coastal Division with a convincing 47-20 win over North Carolina on Saturday. The win over the Tar Heels was the Hurricanes’ third in a row and ensured the program would go bowling in 2014.
While the three-game winning streak is a positive sign, there’s a huge showdown looming for Miami on Nov. 15 against Florida State. Forget about the Nov. 22 game against Virginia and the Nov. 29 matchup against Pittsburgh. The true barometer of Golden’s tenure is the upcoming game against the Seminoles.
Miami is 0-4 in its last four matchups against Florida State and has won just one out of the last six matchups in this series. And it’s not just a loss, as the Hurricanes lost by 27 points last season and was easily handled by the Seminoles 45-17 in 2010.
Considering Miami’s three-game winning streak consisted of two fringe bowl teams and a 5-3 Cincinnati team, it’s easy to poke holes in the resume and think another blowout loss to Florida State is coming.
However, there are reasons to believe the Hurricanes are poised to threaten the Seminoles run to the playoff.
Florida State’s rush defense has allowed at least 156 rushing yards in each of its last three games. That’s not awful, but it also represents an opportunity for Miami running back Duke Johnson to control the pace of the game and keep the Seminoles’ explosive offense on the sidelines. Johnson has rushed for 588 yards over his last three games this year.
Quarterback Brad Kaaya has not tossed an interception in three games and completed at least 64 percent of his passes in two out of the last three contests.
Miami’s defense was the target of criticism after giving up 6.8 yards per play against Nebraska and 318 rushing yards in a loss to Georgia Tech.
But over the last three games, the Hurricanes have been stingy against opposing rushing attacks (2.1 ypc), and the defense has recorded 18 tackles for a loss in that span. In Football Outsiders’ Defensive S&P ratings, Miami ranked No. 18 prior to the victory over North Carolina.
Again, the recent play by an injured offensive line, quarterback Brad Kaaya and running back Duke Johnson is an encouraging sign for Miami. And the defense seems to be playing better, albeit against weak competition.
With two weeks to prepare, Miami should be at full strength against Florida State on Nov. 15.
The Seminoles have dominated this rivalry in recent years, continue to out-recruit Miami and are the better team on paper. With that in mind, this might be the biggest game in Golden’s tenure. There’s some positive momentum with a three-game winning streak for the Hurricanes and this year’s matchup is in Coral Gables (with a healthy Florida State contingent expected). Can Miami capitalize off some of Florida State’s weaknesses and make this a competitive game?
Nov. 15 is shaping up to be a huge barometer game for Miami. There are reasons to believe the Hurricanes will be able to be competitive against one of the top teams in the nation, and Golden needs a big win to answer some of the critics.
Despite the positive momentum, it’s also easy to doubt how wins over Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Cincinnati are enough for Miami to breakthrough against the Seminoles.
Only time will tell.
Either way, Nov. 15 should be an interesting moment for Al Golden’s tenure at Miami.
Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs shined in the Volunteers’ 45-42 overtime win over South Carolina. Dobbs was the catalyst in a furious fourth-quarter rally, guiding Tennessee’s offense 21 points – including the game-tying touchdown with just 11 seconds remaining.
Whether it was on the ground or through the air, South Carolina’s defense simply had no answer for the talented sophomore. Dobbs earned Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors for Week 10 by passing for 301 yards and two scores and leading the team with 166 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
The Volunteers are rebuilding under second-year coach Butch Jones, and the program has found a spark on offense in the last two games with Dobbs under center. Against Alabama, Dobbs rushed for 75 yards and passed for 192 yards. One week later, Dobbs took another step forward in his development, leading Tennessee to an overtime win over South Carolina.
Dobbs played in the final five games of last season but clearly looks more comfortable in Tennessee’s offense after a full offseason to work with the coaching staff. And with an offensive line that’s also rebuilding, Dobbs’ mobility has been a huge asset. The sophomore’s emergence should give Tennessee a chance to win each of its remaining three games and reach a bowl for the first time since 2010.
Defensive Player of the Week: Erick Dargan, S, Oregon
The Ducks snapped a two-game losing streak to Stanford with a 45-16 victory on Saturday night. Both sides of the ball delivered in the win, as the offense posted 45 points and averaged 6.8 yards per play, while the defense held the Cardinal to just three second-half points. Dargan was one of the leaders for Oregon’s defensive effort, pacing the team with 12 tackles (nine solo) and recording one interception. The senior also forced fumble on Stanford’s opening drive for the fourth quarter. Saturday’s game was just another standout performance for the senior, as he leads the team in tackles and has five interceptions through nine games.
Coordinator of the Week: Dave Aranda, Wisconsin
Aranda entered the season with just three returning starters and a host of questions about the defense. But after eight games, Aranda has found plenty of answers to his preseason concerns, and Wisconsin’s defense is performing at a high level over the last two weeks. The Badgers held Maryland to seven points on Oct. 25 and pitched a shutout against Rutgers (37-0) on Saturday. Since allowing 6.5 yards per play against USF on Sept. 27, Wisconsin’s defense has held opponents to a lower per-play mark in four consecutive games. The Terrapins managed only 3.1 yards per play last weekend, while the Badgers held Rutgers to 2.5 mark in Week 10. In just two seasons at Wisconsin, Aranda has emerged as one of the Big Ten’s top coordinators and is a big reason why the Badgers could sweep their final four games (at Purdue, Nebraska, at Iowa and Minnesota) on a path to a West Division title.
Freshman of the Week: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
Cook received only nine carries in Thursday night’s 42-31 win over Louisville, but the true freshman made the most of his opportunities. Cook recorded 110 yards and two scores on nine attempts and caught four passes for 40 yards. The true freshman averaged 12.2 yards per carry, with his big-play ability showcased on touchdown runs of 38 and 40 yards. Cook’s 38-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter gave Florida State the lead for good against the Cardinals. After the five-star true freshman delivered in the clutch on Thursday night, it’s a safe bet he will be a bigger part of the offense in future weeks.
Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday suffered a broken fibula in Saturday’s loss to USC and will miss the remainder of the 2014 season.
The senior was hit after a pass in the first half and was transported from the field on a cart.
Halliday passed for 40 yards and one pick on nine attempts in limited action against USC on Saturday.
For the season, Halliday passed for 3,833 yards and 32 scores.
Backup Luke Falk completed 38 of 57 passes for 370 yards and two scores after Halliday’s injury.
Washington State was eliminated from bowl contention after the loss to USC, as coach Mike Leach’s team is 2-7 and 1-5 in the Pac-12. The Cougars won’t have an easy finish to the season with road trips to Oregon State and Arizona State up next, followed by the Apple Cup finale against Washington.
Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah left Saturday’s game against Purdue due to a knee injury. Abdullah was injured early in the first half against the Boilermakers and was replaced by Imani Cross and Terrell Newby.
Prior to the knee injury, Abdullah rushed for just one yard on six carries.
According to coach Bo Pelini, Abdullah will not return in the second half.
However, Abdullah’s knee injury is not believed to be serious, and the senior will have two weeks to get ready for the Nov. 15 showdown against Wisconsin.
Pelini tells Jeanine Edwards that Abdullah is unlikely to return, but "I think he's going to be fine ... We're going to be really cautious."— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) November 1, 2014
New rivalries are a part of any league as expansion has changed the outlook of all of the Power 5 conferences in recent years.
In their first meeting as Big Ten foes, Maryland and Penn State attempted to jumpstart a new rivalry with some pregame fireworks between the two teams.
Only time will tell if this actually becomes a rivalry, but these two teams wasted no time showing their dislike for each other.
Here are the two teams exchanging some pleasantries in warm-ups:
Maryland trying to start a rumble. pic.twitter.com/9WwKATriei— Ben Jones (@Ben_Jones88) November 1, 2014
And here’s the best part: Maryland refused to shake hands with Penn State’s players prior to the coin toss:
Please do not touch the ref, Stefon Diggs. http://t.co/dBxIs4zhg7— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) November 1, 2014
The annual meeting between Stanford and Oregon has played a key role in shaping the Pac-12 championship in recent seasons. Over the last four years, the winner of the Stanford-Oregon matchup won the conference title.
And barring a significant change of events in November, this game will significantly shape the conference title once again. Stanford is 3-2 in conference play and has to beat Oregon to keep its Pac-12 title hopes alive. On the other sideline, the Ducks need to win to rank among the nation’s best in next week’s playoff poll. A two-loss Oregon team could get left out of the playoff, so every week is essentially an elimination game for coach Mark Helfrich’s team.
Stanford holds a 43-30-1 series edge over Oregon. The Cardinal has won three out of the last five meetings in this series, including two in a row and the most recent meeting in Eugene.
Stanford at Oregon
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Oregon -8
Three Things to Watch
1. Marcus Mariota Versus Stanford’s Defense
Stanford has been Mariota’s biggest nemesis in his three years as Oregon’s starting quarterback. The junior is 0-2 and completed 57.8 percent of his throws – a drop from his normal 66.5 percent career mark – against the Cardinal. Stanford sacked Mariota three times last year and held the Ducks scoreless until the fourth quarter. Will this year be any different? Despite a new coordinator (Lance Anderson) and a few new faces, the Cardinal hasn’t missed a beat on defense. Stanford is limiting opponents to 3.7 yards per play and only one offense managed more than 17 points so far this year. The success of the Cardinal defense starts up front, as senior Henry Anderson (35 tackles) anchors the line and the 3-4 attack. Anderson will have to do more of the heavy lifting on Saturday night with tackle David Parry out due to injury. With Parry sidelined, Oregon may look to attack the middle of Stanford’s defensive front. The linebacking corps is Stanford’s deepest and most-talented collection of players on defense. Junior Blake Martinez is having a breakout year, and redshirt freshman Peter Kalambayi leads the team with 5.5 sacks. If the Cardinal is able to generate pressure on Mariota, this defense will have a chance to control the pace of the game. It’s critical Stanford wins the battle at the line of scrimmage to have a chance to win on Saturday.
2. Stanford’s Offense
Even if Stanford’s defense finds a way to slow down Oregon’s offense, can the Cardinal generate enough points to pull off the upset? Coach David Shaw promised to tweak the offense after a sluggish showing against Arizona State, and the one-week results against Oregon State were promising. Stanford scored 38 points against the Beavers and averaged 6.7 yards per play – its best mark in Pac-12 games this year. But winning at home against Oregon State and beating Oregon on the road is a different challenge. Sure, the Ducks have struggled on defense this year, allowing 5.7 yards per play and is last in third-down defense in the Pac-12. But what is Stanford’s identity on offense right now? With a rebuilt offensive line and no clear go-to back, the Cardinal need to ask more from quarterback Kevin Hogan. The junior is completing 62.6 percent of his throws but tossed two interceptions in a 17-14 loss to Notre Dame. Hogan also completed only 48.7 percent of his passes in a 26-10 loss to Arizona State. The bottom line for Stanford’s offense is clear: Hogan has to play better and needs to get the ball to the team’s playmakers. Receivers Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste will have opportunities for big plays on Saturday night. And if Hogan has success through the air, it should allow the rushing attack to find lanes against the Ducks – ranked 10th in the Pac-12 against the run. Time of possession is an overrated statistic. But Stanford needs to control the pace of the game and limit Mariota’s opportunities on offense.
3. Oregon RB Royce Freeman and Stanford WR Ty Montgomery
Freeman and Montgomery are this game’s biggest x-factors. Freeman has been a breakout player for Oregon in his true freshman campaign, rushing for 748 yards and 13 touchdowns on 136 attempts. The true freshman has three consecutive 100-yard efforts and gashed Washington for 169 yards and four scores. Stanford is limiting opponents to 2.6 yards per carry and has held three Pac-12 opponents to less than 100 yards on the ground. Without tackle David Parry, will Freeman find room to run against this stingy defense? On the other sideline, Montgomery is one of the nation’s top all-purpose threats. The senior leads the team with 1,163 total yards, averaging 13.1 yards per touch. Considering how dangerous Montgomery is with the ball in his hands, it’s important for coach David Shaw to get the senior 10-15 touches in a variety of ways.
This game was pegged by most in the offseason to be one of the biggest games of the year in the Pac-12. While this is still an intriguing matchup, this game has lost some of its appeal due to Stanford’s 4-3 record. Even though the Cardinal isn’t as highly ranked as most anticipated, there’s still plenty at stake for both teams. Stanford has controlled this rivalry over the last two years, but it’s also worth considering Mariota was not at full strength in last season’s meeting. With Mariota back at full strength and capable of running, Oregon’s offense should be more dynamic on Saturday night. Stanford will move the ball on the Ducks’ defense, but Mariota delivers with the game on the line to snap a two-game losing streak to the Cardinal.
Prediction: Oregon 34, Stanford 24
The SEC West dominated the first release of college football’s playoff rankings, but there’s a chance for a shake up in the top four with Auburn and Ole Miss meeting in Oxford on Saturday night.
It’s too early to call this an elimination game in the SEC West, but both teams need this game. Ole Miss suffered its first loss of the season last Saturday at LSU, while Auburn won a 42-35 shootout against South Carolina. The winner of this game will keep pace with Mississippi State and Alabama as the main contenders in the West and should stay among the top four in next week’s playoff poll.
Auburn owns a 28-10 series edge over Ole Miss. The Tigers won last year’s matchup 30-22 and have defeated the Rebels four out of the last five times in this series. Ole Miss won the last meeting between these two teams in Oxford, edging the Tigers 41-20 in 2012.
Auburn at Ole Miss
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Ole Miss -2
Three Things to Watch
1. Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace
Prior to last week’s game against LSU, Wallace was playing mistake-free ball in the SEC. The senior started conference play by tossing zero interceptions through his first four games but played his worst game of the year in Baton Rouge. Wallace threw for just 176 yards on 14 completions (33 attempts) and tossed a costly last-minute interception to lose 10-7. For Ole Miss to get back into the win column this week, Wallace has to play better. The Rebels don’t have a traditional rushing attack, and the senior will have opportunities to make plays against an Auburn secondary that allowed five touchdowns and 416 passing yards to South Carolina last week. Wallace has a solid group of receivers at his disposal, but the offensive line is a concern with recent injuries to center Ben Still and tackle Laremy Tunsil. Considering the firepower on Auburn’s sideline, it’s tough ask Ole Miss’ defense to hold the Tigers in check all four quarters. Can Wallace bounce back after a rough outing in Baton Rouge? The Tigers defense should provide a good opportunity for the senior to get back on track and keep Ole Miss in contention for a playoff spot.
2. Auburn’s Rushing Attack
Ole Miss’ rush defense took a pounding in Baton Rouge last Saturday. The Rebels allowed 264 yards – a season high – to LSU and gave up 4.8 yards per carry. Additionally, the defense was on the field for 36 minutes. Time of possession isn’t necessarily important in the outcome of a game, but it’s noteworthy Ole Miss just played a 60-minute battle against a run-first team. Can the Rebels regain their pre-LSU form and recharge for another 60-minute battle against a run-first team? Auburn will test Ole Miss’ rush defense, as the Tigers averaged 8.4 yards per carry against South Carolina last week and have recorded at least 232 rushing yards in six out of their first seven games. Cameron Artis-Payne leads the team with 831 yards, but quarterback Nick Marshall is equally as dangerous with the ball in his hands, rushing for 581 yards on 85 attempts this year. Auburn’s offensive line is not as dominant as it was in 2013, but the Tigers are still one of the best in the nation on the ground. In order to stop Marshall and Artis-Payne, Ole Miss needs defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and safety Cody Prewitt at full strength. Both players were banged up in last week’s loss, and this defense will have trouble containing the Auburn offense if either is forced to miss a chunk of Saturday’s game. After taking a pounding in Baton Rouge, the front seven of Ole Miss will be under fire once again. In order to beat the Tigers, the Rebels have to stop the run on first and second downs, forcing Auburn to take to the air to win. Which team wins the battle at the line of scrimmage is critical to the outcome on Saturday night.
3. Timely stops by Auburn?
Auburn’s defense struggled on the stat sheet last year, but the Tigers were known for getting stops at critical times on third downs and in the red zone. This year, Auburn is statistically better, holding opponents to 25.3 points per game (SEC-only games) after allowing 29.6 in 2013. Also, the Tigers have limited opponents to just 5.7 yards per play – an improvement from the 6.4 mark in SEC games last season. While those numbers are good news for coordinator Ellis Johnson, it’s also important to note Auburn leads the SEC (conference-only games) in third-down and red zone defense. Across the board, improvement seems evident for the Tigers. However, this unit just allowed 35 points to South Carolina and has allowed 32 plays of 20 yards or more in 2014. Will that trend continue on Saturday night? Ole Miss isn’t as explosive as the Auburn on offense and needs to get seven points when they get in the red zone. If the Tigers can limit the Rebels’ big plays – especially to receiver Laquon Treadwell – and limit Ole Miss to field goals, Auburn can counter with touchdowns and break out to an early (and potentially commanding lead).
This matchup features an interesting contrast in styles, as the Rebels own one of the SEC’s top defenses, while the Tigers rank near the top of the conference in scoring. Ole Miss would prefer for this game to not turn into a 45-40 type of shootout and needs to rely on its defense once again. However, the Rebels have to find more answers on the ground and need a flawless effort from Wallace. Ole Miss could be more aggressive with its play-calling, allowing Wallace to take advantage of a suspect Auburn secondary. Asking the Rebels to shut down the Tigers’ offense is simply too tall of an order. However, Ole Miss can limit Auburn’s big plays, and force Malzahn’s offense to drive the length of the field. If the Rebels revert back to their pre-LSU form against the run, Ole Miss will knock off Auburn and remain squarely in the top four of college football’s playoff. If the Tigers establish their tempo and get out to a 14-0 or 14-3 start on offense, that might be too much to overcome for the Rebels.
Prediction: Ole Miss 31, Auburn 27
The ACC’s Week 10 slate isn’t filled with top 25 matchups, but there’s plenty of intrigue in games that should help determine which team wins the Coastal Division in 2014. Miami took a step forward in the division with a win over Virginia Tech last Thursday, and Georgia Tech stayed alive by beating a turnover-prone Pittsburgh team on Saturday.
Miami hosts an improving North Carolina team this Saturday, while Duke travels to Pittsburgh. Georgia Tech hosts Virginia, and Virginia Tech plays a crossover game with Boston College. Needless to say, after this weekend, there should be some separation at the top of the Coastal.
And of course, we can’t forget about the huge showdown on Thursday night between Florida State and Louisville. The Seminoles ranked as the No. 2 team in college football’s first playoff committee poll and will be challenged by the Cardinals, who feature one of the nation’s top defenses.
Week 10 Previews and Predictions:
Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC
ACC Week 10 Game Power Rankings
1. Florida State (-4) at Louisville
7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN (Thursday)
Remember the last time Louisville hosted Florida State? The Cardinals upset the Seminoles 26-20 on Thursday night in 2002. Fast forward 12 years later, the stakes are even higher on Thursday night in Louisville, as Florida State hopes to remain among the nation’s best with a win over the Cardinals. This matchup won’t be easy for the No. 2 ranked Seminoles, as Louisville’s defense is holding opponents to 3.9 yards per play and 14.6 points per game. Quarterback Jameis Winston will be throwing against a secondary that ranks second nationally with 15 interceptions. However, this is by far the best offense the Cardinals have played in 2014. Winston’s supporting cast at receiver has improved over the course of the season, but the rushing attack (3.9 ypc) has struggled at times and won’t have running back Mario Pender due to injury. Louisville’s front seven is active around the line of scrimmage, recording 28 sacks and 60 tackles for a loss. If Florida State can establish the run, it will slow down the Cardinals’ pass rush and allow Winston to test the secondary. Louisville needs to get pressure on Winston and force the Seminoles into third-and-long situations. Offensively, the Cardinals aren’t as prolific as most expected in coach Bobby Petrino’s first year. But there are signs of life, as running back Michael Dyer is coming off a 173-yard effort against NC State, and receiver DeVante Parker is back from injury. Florida State is allowing 5.1 yards per play and has given up at least 156 rushing yards in three out of its last four games. Louisville’s offensive line is struggling, but the Seminoles aren’t as dominant in the trenches as they were in 2013.
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2. Duke at Pittsburgh (-4)
Noon ET, ESPNU
Last week’s performance against Georgia Tech was one to forget for coach Paul Chryst. The Panthers never had a chance to get on track thanks to five fumbles in their first five possessions. After all of the bad luck last Saturday, is Pittsburgh due for some good luck this week? Duke has quietly returned to the top of the Coastal Division and plays arguably its toughest remaining games (North Carolina and Virginia Tech) at home. But this week’s road trip to Heinz Field won’t be easy, especially with the Blue Devils struggling to stop the run (193.4 ypg). Pittsburgh running back James Conner averaged 12 yards per carry (10 attempts) against Georgia Tech last Saturday and should eclipse the 100-yard mark for the sixth time this year. Duke has allowed only three passing scores this year, so it’s critical for the Panthers to get Conner on track to open up the passing game for quarterback Chad Voytik and receiver Tyler Boyd. The Blue Devils aren’t flashy on offense, but this might be one of the nation’s most-balanced attacks. Duke has 1,526 yards on the ground and 1,412 yards through the air this year. In a tight game, turnovers could be the deciding factor. Pittsburgh ranks last in the ACC at a -6 margin, while Duke is first at +8.
3. North Carolina at Miami (-17)
12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network/ESPN3
The arrow on both teams is pointing up after key victories in Week 9. North Carolina upset Virginia 28-27 in Charlottesville, while Miami won 30-6 in Blacksburg. The victories by both teams keeps them alive in the Coastal Division title picture, with both teams a game behind Duke with a month to go. Considering the Tar Heels nearly defeated Notre Dame in early October and have won two games in a row, it’s a surprise to see coach Larry Fedora’s team a 17-point underdog. But in order to pull off the upset in Miami, North Carolina has a major challenge ahead on defense. Running back Duke Johnson gashed Virginia Tech for 249 yards last week, and the Tar Heels rank at the bottom of the ACC against the run (210.6 ypg). In addition to stopping Johnson, North Carolina has to get pressure on quarterback Brad Kaaya and disrupt a passing game that has hit on 13 plays of 30 yards or more. Of concern for Miami is the offensive line, which is expected to be without starting tackle Ereck Flowers. When the Tar Heels have the ball, quarterback Marquise Williams has to carry this team once again. Williams has recorded 500 yards of total offense in two out of its last three games and will be challenged by a Miami defense allowing just 18.8 points a game in ACC play. Both teams will score, but which defense will step up with a key play at a critical moment late in the second half?
4. Virginia at Georgia Tech (-3.5)
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU
With both teams having two losses in conference play, this week’s meeting could be an elimination game in the Coastal Division. Virginia has lost two ACC games in a row after a 2-0 start in conference play, while Georgia Tech rebounded from back-to-back losses to trounce Pittsburgh 56-28 last Saturday. Turnovers will be critical in this game, as the Cavaliers have lost 17 this year, and the Yellow Jackets are +7 in margin. Georgia Tech could be shorthanded at running back this week, as Zach Laskey is not expected to play due to a shoulder injury, and Charles Perkins is dealing with a knee injury. Injuries have dwindled the options in the backfield, but the Yellow Jackets’ option attack will continue to thrive as long as quarterback Justin Thomas is healthy. But Thomas will have his hands full on Saturday, as Virginia ranks third in the ACC against the run and limits opponents to 3.0 yards per carry. When the Cavaliers have the ball, expect running back Kevin Parks to test a Georgia Tech defense that ranks 12th in the ACC against the run. The Yellow Jackets have won four out of its last five games against Virginia.
5. Boston College at Virginia Tech (-3)
12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network/ESPN3
After last week’s loss to Miami, Virginia Tech sits at the bottom of the Coastal Division and is in jeopardy of missing a bowl for the first time since 1992. While the Hokies are struggling to generate consistent production on offense, the defense ranks last in the ACC (conference-only games) against the run (237.3 ypg). That’s a huge concern for coordinator Bud Foster this week, as Boston College has a veteran offensive line and averages 277 yards per game on the ground. Quarterback Tyler Murphy leads the team with 843 yards, but Jon Hilliman and Myles Willis each average over four yards per carry. The Eagles average only 135.8 passing yards per game, so expect to see Virginia Tech crowd the line of scrimmage to force Murphy to win this one through the air. When the Hokies have the ball, this offense has to find a spark after scoring just 22 points over its last two games. Mark Leal moved the offense late against Miami, but Michael Brewer is expected start at quarterback. While Brewer has struggled recently, he’s not the sole problem for Virginia Tech. The rushing attack is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry in ACC games, and the offensive line has allowed 15 sacks in eight games. Boston College’s defense ranks as one of the best in the conference, limiting opponents to 4.7 yards per game (conference-only matchups) and recording 22 sacks in eight contests.
6. NC State at Syracuse (-3.5)
3 p.m. ET, RSN/ESPN3
This matchup won’t garner much national interest, but the meeting between the Orange and Wolfpack is critical for both team’s bowl hopes. Syracuse is 3-5 and 1-3 in ACC play, while NC State is 4-4 and winless in conference action (0-4). With the upcoming schedules for both teams, a victory on Saturday could be enough to hit six wins. Additionally, the Wolfpack are still searching for their first ACC win under second-year coach Dave Doeren. In last year’s meeting, Syracuse recorded 362 rushing yards (9.1 ypc) and won 24-10. Stopping the run will be a challenge for NC State once again, as the defense ranks 11th in the ACC and has allowed five yards per carry in conference games. The Wolfpack needs to counter with a rebound game for quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Since throwing for 359 yards and three scores against Florida State, Brissett is completing just 45 percent of his throws and has not topped 225 yards in each of his last three games. Syracuse has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 69.8 percent of their throws in ACC games this year.
ACC Week 10 Predictions
|FSU (-4) at UL||FSU 21-17||FSU 28-24||FSU 27-24||FSU 28-17|
|Duke (+4) at Pitt||Duke 35-21||Duke 31-30||Pitt 27-24||Pitt 31-20|
|UNC (+17) at Miami||Miami 42-28||Miami 34-27||Miami 38-30||Miami 33-20|
|UVa (+3.5) at GT||GT 31-21||GT 30-27||GT 27-24||GT 36-31|
|BC (+3) at Va. Tech||BC 24-21||VT 24-23||BC 24-20||BC 17-14|
|NC State (+3.5) at Syracuse||NC State 17-14||Cuse 30-27||NC State 31-27||Cuse 21-20|
Florida State puts its 23-game winning streak on the line on Thursday night, as the Seminoles travel to Louisville for a key ACC showdown. The Cardinals are 6-2 in their debut season in the ACC, but Florida State is easily their toughest opponent so far this year.
The Seminoles are not as dominant – at least right now – as this team was last season. However, coach Jimbo Fisher’s team continues to win and has recorded solid victories over Clemson, Oklahoma State and Notre Dame this year. And Florida State ranked as the No. 2 team in the first release of college football’s playoff committee rankings, so there’s plenty at stake in Louisville on Thursday.
On the other sideline, Louisville is looking to score a breakthrough win in its ACC debut, and Thursday night’s game is the start of a difficult four-game stretch to close out the 2014 season. The return of coach Bobby Petrino was supposed to transform the Cardinals into one of the ACC’s best offenses, but Louisville has been winning with its defense so far this year.
Florida State owns an 11-1 series edge over Louisville. However, the Cardinals’ won 26-20 in the last meeting between these two teams (2002).
Florida State at Louisville
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Thursday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Florida State -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Louisville’s Front Seven
Despite a change in scheme, Louisville’s defense has been one of the best in the nation through the first nine weeks of the season. The Cardinals are limiting opponents to just 14.6 points per game and 3.9 yards per play. Additionally, Louisville’s front seven creates a lot of havoc at the line of scrimmage. Through eight games, the Cardinals have recorded 60 tackles for a loss and 28 sacks. Florida State’s offensive line was expected to be one of the best in the nation this year but has struggled through the first seven games. The Seminoles also lost center Austin Barron due to injury, leaving redshirt freshman Ryan Hoefield to anchor the starting line. The Cardinals are aggressive and have enough experience up front to give Florida State’s offense plenty of headaches. End/linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin leads the team with six sacks, while end Sheldon Rankins has five. Not only is Louisville’s front capable of causing problems in pass rush situations, but this front seven will make life difficult for the Seminoles’ ground game. Florida State has struggled to establish a consistent push on the ground all year, and running back Mario Pender is unavailable to play due to injury. Dalvin Cook and Karlos Williams will handle the workload on the ground on Thursday and will find limited running room against the Cardinals No. 1 ranked run defense in the ACC. Florida State doesn’t need 200 rushing yards, but it needs to have success to take some of the pressure off of Jameis Winston’s shoulders.
2. Jameis Winston Against Louisville’s Secondary
At the beginning of the 2014 season, Florida State’s receiving corps was a question mark. Sure, the Seminoles had Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary, but would a No. 2 or No. 3 receiver emerge early in the season? Those fears have subsided in recent weeks, as Jesus Wilson, Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane have each contributed, and Winston has more weapons available at his disposal. Louisville’s secondary (largely at safety) entered the year with its own share of question marks, and much like Florida State’s receivers, this unit is no longer a concern. The Cardinals have allowed only seven passing touchdowns and have picked off 15 passes. Additionally, opposing quarterbacks are completing just 54 percent of their throws against this defense. Winston has been sharp most of this season, completing at least 62 percent of his throws in five of his six appearances. The sophomore has only four games of more than one interception in his career and was nearly flawless in the second half of the 31-27 win over Notre Dame. With the pressure Louisville gets with its front seven, it should limit Winston’s time to scan downfield and find Greene, Wilson or Rudolph for big plays. However, this is the best offense the Cardinals have played this year. If Florida State’s line gives Winston time to throw, will Louisville’s secondary struggle to stop Greene, O’Leary and the other Seminole receivers? Or can the Cardinals provide the necessary support in pass defense if the pass rush is stymied?
3. Louisville’s Offense
Is Louisville’s offense ready for a breakout performance on Thursday night? In the 30-18 win over NC State, the Cardinals regained the services of receiver DeVante Parker, while running back Michael Dyer recorded 173 yards on just 24 carries. With Parker and Dyer playing at a high level, combined with Will Gardner growing more comfortable at quarterback, Louisville’s offense could be peaking at the right time. Florida State’s defense is not as dominant as it was last season, largely due to injuries in the front seven and lack of depth at defensive tackle. With Timmy Jernigan no longer the anchor at the point of attack, the Seminoles have slipped to sixth in the ACC against the run and have generated only 11 sacks in seven games. Even though Louisville’s offensive line has struggled this year, expect coach Bobby Petrino to give Dyer several opportunities to test the Florida State front seven. And when Gardner looks to pass, having the big-play ability of Parker on the outside should open up opportunities for receivers James Quick and Eli Rogers and tight end Gerald Christian to attack the middle of the field. Despite a lackluster pass rush on the stat sheet, the Seminoles should bring pressure on Gardner, as the Cardinals have allowed 27 sacks through eight games. If Louisville doesn’t get its ground game on track, this game may not be close in the fourth quarter.
Florida State’s last trip to Louisville did not go well. The Seminoles lost 26-20 in overtime to the Cardinals in 2002. This year’s matchup is a dangerous spot for Florida State as well. Injuries on both lines of scrimmage have dwindled the team’s depth, and the offense won’t have running back Mario Pender. However, the Seminoles still have arguably the best quarterback in the nation – Jameis Winston – and keep finding ways to win games this year. This game will be a good barometer test for the Cardinals' defense, especially since it has yet to play an offense with the talent level Florida State will bring to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on Thursday night. Louisville’s offense should benefit from having over a week to prepare, along with the return of receiver DeVante Parker to full strength. Dyer should find room to run, allowing Gardner and Parker to connect on a couple of big passing plays on play-action opportunities. But even if Florida State's defense gives up yards, it should hold its own in the red zone, limiting Louisville's scoring opportunities throughout the game. The Cardinals may ride the home crowd to early momentum, but Florida State edges out another victory and remains near the top of next week’s college football playoff rankings.
Prediction: Florida State 27, Louisville 24
Georgia running back Todd Gurley will be eligible to return to the lineup on Nov. 15, after the NCAA handed down its ruling into his reinstatement case. Gurley was suspended from the team prior to the Oct. 11 contest against Missouri due to autographed memorabilia and has missed the Bulldogs’ last two games. In addition to a four-game suspension, Gurley was ordered to repay a portion of the received money and must complete 40 hours of community service.
The announcement from the NCAA indicated Gurley accepted more than $3,000 from multiple individuals over the last two years in exchange for autographing memorabilia.
Gurley has already missed two games due to suspension, leaving the junior with two more contests to sit out until he is eligible to return. Gurley is slated to return to the Georgia lineup on Nov. 15 against Auburn.
Until Gurley returns, the Bulldogs will rely heavily on freshman running back Nick Chubb. Over the last two games, Chubb has rushed for 345 yards and three scores and will continue to handle the bulk of the workload with Nick Marshall and Sony Michel expected to miss Saturday’s game against Florida.
Georgia ranked No. 11 in the first release of the college football playoff committee standings. If the Bulldogs win the rest of their regular season games, coach Mark Richt's team should have a shot to rank just outside of the top four before the SEC Championship. Gurley's return would be a huge boost for Georgia's SEC title hopes, and the junior would be returning at a critical time against Auburn on Nov. 15.
According to the NCAA release, Georgia plans to appeal the decision.
Texas A&M hopes to rebound from a 59-0 loss to Alabama with an easy win over ULM this Saturday.
And to help the Aggies win in style, the program has unveiled throwback uniforms for Saturday’s game against the Warhawks.
These uniforms are a tribute to the 1939 Texas A&M team and feature an awesome leather-like helmet design.
Check out Texas A&M’s uniforms for this Saturday:
The race to claim one of college football’s four playoff spots is officially in the home stretch. Week 10 is the first Saturday in November, leaving little time for teams to solidify their case as a playoff contender.
The playoff committee releases its first set of rankings on Tuesday, Oct. 28, but there will be plenty of changes over the next month.
Consider this: There are 16 one-loss teams from the Power 5 conferences. Over the next six weeks, 11 games are scheduled where both teams currently have one loss. And that doesn’t count showdowns between Mississippi State and Alabama and Ole Miss versus Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.
Needless to say, much of college football’s rankings and playoff picture is going to be shaped by what happens in November.
With nine weeks in the books, let’s rank the top 15 one-loss teams heading into the first weekend in November. Keep in mind: These rankings reflect what has happened on the field so far and no projection into future weeks.
Ranking College Football’s One-Loss Teams
1. Ole Miss
Pick a team from the SEC as the No. 1 spot in this list. The case for Alabama is strong, as the Crimson Tide may end up as the best team in the SEC by the end of the year. But that’s a month away, and Ole Miss defeated Alabama 23-17 in Oxford on Oct. 4. The strength of coach Hugh Freeze’s team is a defense allowing just 4.4 yards per play. Linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche was lost for the year due to an ankle injury, but the defense should remain one of the best in the SEC. With an elite defense, Ole Miss doesn’t necessarily need an explosive offense. However, the Rebels need better production from their ground attack (3.9 ypc) and turnover-free play from quarterback Bo Wallace.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Auburn (Nov. 1)
Games Remaining Against Undefeated Teams: Mississippi State (Nov. 29)
As mentioned above, a compelling case can be made the Crimson Tide is college football’s best one-loss team. The Rebels get the nod over Alabama – for now - since they won the head-to-head matchup. Since losing 23-17 to Ole Miss, Alabama has rebounded by winning three games in a row, including a 59-0 blowout over Texas A&M. The Crimson Tide average 218.6 rushing yards per game, and receiver Amari Cooper has grabbed 71 catches for 1,132 yards. And here’s an interesting stat in Lane Kiffin’s first season calling the plays in Tuscaloosa: Alabama’s offense leads the SEC by averaging 6.96 yards per play. As usual in Tuscaloosa, the defense is strong. Alabama is holding opponents to 4.5 yards per play and 14 points per game. Pass defense is the Crimson Tide’s biggest concern, but this team will have a chance to climb in the playoff poll with remaining matchups against LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Auburn (Nov. 29)
Games Remaining Against Undefeated Teams: Mississippi State (Nov. 15)
Auburn’s ranking here demonstrates just how crowded the SEC West is in 2014. The Tigers rank No. 4 in the latest Associated Press poll, yet rank as the third-best one-loss team. Similar to last season, Auburn is winning games with its offense. The Tigers average 6.91 yards per play and 39.3 points per game. The defense has improved since last year, but there’s plenty of work to do on this side of the ball. Auburn needs better play from its secondary (eight touchdowns allowed in SEC play) and a better pass rush (12 sacks). A daunting schedule is still ahead for the Tigers over the next few weeks, starting with a road trip to Ole Miss this Saturday, followed by a home date against Texas A&M and then road dates at Georgia and Alabama to finish SEC play.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Ole Miss (Nov. 1), at Georgia (Nov. 15), at Alabama (Nov. 29)
If Oregon is going to reach college football’s playoff, it will have to do so on the strength of its offense. The Ducks lead all Power 5 teams by averaging 7.5 yards per play and average 45.5 points per game. Quarterback Marcus Mariota is one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman, and he’s surrounded by a talented group of weapons, along with an offensive line that has benefitted from the return of tackle Jake Fisher. Defensively, Oregon is allowing 5.7 yards per play and ranks last in the Pac-12 in opponent third-down conversions. The Ducks also rank 10th in the Pac-12 against the run, and opposing quarterbacks are completing 62.8 percent of their passes. The remaining schedule for Oregon features a home date against Stanford this Saturday, followed by a road trip against a dangerous Utah team on Nov. 8.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Utah (Nov. 8)
5. Michigan State
The Spartans are the favorite to win the Big Ten, but their position within the rankings could be determined on where Oregon falls at the end of the year. If the Ducks make the playoff, a one-loss Big Ten champion would have to be in the conversation for a spot among the top four. However, if Oregon stumbles to 9-3 and doesn’t win the North, how would the committee view Michigan State? The Spartans have won six in a row and are on bye before a huge showdown against Ohio State on Nov. 8. Pat Narduzzi’s defense isn’t as dominant as it was in 2013, but Michigan State is averaging 40.8 points per game in Big Ten play.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Ohio State (Nov. 8)
6. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish came up just short in their upset bid against Florida State, but an 11-1 final record would give Brian Kelly’s team a chance to make the four-team playoff. Notre Dame has played six Power 5 opponents this season and still has games remaining against Navy, Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC. Quarterback Everett Golson’s return has been huge for the offense, and the Fighting Irish are holding opponents to just 19.1 points a game.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Arizona State (Nov. 8)
The Bulldogs are quietly flying under the radar at 6-1, and coach Mark Richt’s team has the inside track to win the SEC East. Georgia has won its last two games (Arkansas and Missouri) without running back Todd Gurley, but true freshman Nick Chubb has 345 yards and three touchdowns in his absence. Quarterback Hutson Mason has tossed only three picks in SEC play and has been efficient in his last two games (32 of 45). The defense seems to be improving with each snap under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, limiting opponents to 20 points a game and just 4.7 yards per play. Georgia plays rival Florida in Jacksonville this Saturday, with a Nov. 15 home date against Auburn its toughest remaining game this year.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Auburn (Nov. 15)
8. Kansas State
The only blemish on K-State’s resume so far this year is a 20-14 loss to Auburn. The Wildcats knocked off Oklahoma in Norman on Oct. 18 and will have a chance to play their way into the playoff conversation with remaining games - all on the road - against TCU, West Virginia and Baylor. Coach Bill Snyder’s team is holding opponents to 19.3 points a game, while the offense is tied for seventh nationally in third-down conversions and has lost only six turnovers. Quarterback Jake Waters has not thrown an interception since Sept. 18.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at TCU (Nov. 8), at Baylor (Dec. 6)
The Bears’ playoff hopes took a hit in Morgantown with a 41-27 loss to West Virginia. But with only one defeat so far, Baylor still has time to play its way back into the playoff discussion. The Bears play at Oklahoma on Nov. 8 and host Kansas State on Dec. 6. The offense is averaging 49 points a game, but the primary concern for coach Art Briles is the line, which has recently lost two starters to season-ending injuries. Baylor also ranks last in the Big 12 in red zone defense.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Kansas State (Dec. 6)
Much like the Ole Miss-Alabama debate, we have to give the nod to Baylor over TCU since the Bears won on Oct. 11. However, the Horned Frogs are one of the nation’s most-improved teams and can take a step forward in the Big 12 title hunt with a win over West Virginia this Saturday. Quarterback Trevone Boykin has thrived under first-year coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham, throwing for 21 touchdowns to only three interceptions. As expected under coach Gary Patterson, TCU is strong on defense. The Horned Frogs are allowing only 4.9 yards per play and lead the Big 12 in third-down defense.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Kansas State (Nov. 8)
11. Ohio State
Urban Meyer’s team was dealt a significant setback in August, as quarterback Braxton Miller was lost for the year due to a shoulder injury. Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett has filled in admirably for Miller, throwing for 1,689 yards and 21 scores while rushing for 458 yards and six touchdowns. Considering Barrett’s development over the last few weeks, the outcome of the Ohio State-Virginia Tech game would likely be much different if it was played in Week 10. Through seven games, the Buckeyes have showed slight improvement on defense, holding opponents to 20.7 points a game and 4.6 yards per play. While there is plenty of optimism about Ohio State, strength of schedule isn’t on its side. The Buckeyes have wins over Navy, Kent State, Cincinnati, Maryland, Rutgers and Penn State – a combined 23-23.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Michigan State (Nov. 8)
Arizona probably has the best conference win of any Pac-12 team, defeating Oregon 31-24 in Eugene on Oct. 2. But outside of that win, the Wildcats have played a relatively soft schedule and will be tested by a November schedule with trips to UCLA and Utah, along with home games against Washington and Arizona State. Arizona’s offense averages 40.6 points per game behind redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon, but the defense ranks near the bottom of the Pac-12 (No. 8) in points allowed per game in conference play (33.5).
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Utah (Nov. 22), Arizona State (Nov. 28)
13. Arizona State
Arizona State has won five of its six games by at least 14 points, with its only loss coming to UCLA (62-27) without quarterback Taylor Kelly. The senior is back in the lineup, and led the Sun Devils to a win over Washington last Saturday, but backup Mike Bercovici is a capable option if Kelly is sidelined again this year. A rebuilt defense was coach Todd Graham’s biggest concern this season. So far, Arizona State's defense has been inconsistent, allowing 62 points to UCLA and 34 to USC but holding Stanford and Washington to just 20 combined points.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Utah (Nov. 1), Notre Dame (Nov. 8), at Arizona (Nov. 28)
The Utes are quietly one of the nation’s most-impressive teams through Week 9. Utah’s only loss was a one-point decision to Washington State, and coach Kyle Whittingham’s team is coming off a huge win over USC. The identity of Whittingham’s team is clear this season, as the rushing attack – led by Devontae Booker – ranks third in the Pac-12. The defense ranks second in the Pac-12 by holding opponents to 21.6 points per game and is first in sacks (35).
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Arizona State (Nov. 1), Oregon (Nov. 8), Arizona (Nov. 22)
The November slate will determine whether or not Nebraska wins the Big Ten West or loses four games for the sixth consecutive season. The Cornhuskers travel to Wisconsin and Iowa - arguably their biggest competition in the West Division - and host Minnesota. Running back Ameer Abdullah is one of the nation’s best, but quarterback Tommy Armstrong is still developing in his first full season as the starter. Nebraska is holding opponents to 20.5 points per game in Big Ten play.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: None