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2014 CFT Preseason Preview: Playoff Primer & Predictions

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As you may have heard, we’re on the verge of a new era in college football.

Yes, 2014 will mark the first season since 1997 not played under the old and almost universally despised — and, thankfully, very much dead — Bowl Championship Series that had been used to determine an FBS champion.  Conversely, it will mark the first-ever four-team playoff dubbed, appropriately enough, the College Football Playoff, a system unveiled in June of 2012.

There are many questions and some trepidation as we enter a new frontier for the sport, one which will play for the right to hoist the Dr Pepper College Football Playoff trophy at season’s end..

Below I’ll attempt to answer some of those questions — and alleviate some of the fear and angst to some degree — some may have over the most exciting development in the game since the forward pass was legalized.  Take a deep breath, though; this is a long one.

WHAT
The College Football Playoff, a four-team — for now — mini-tournament that will feature two semifinal games played under the flag of a pair of so-called “contract bowls” and “host bowls,” with a stand-alone contest, having no ties to a current bowl other than potentially the venue, serving as the championship game.  A 13-person committee will determine the four playoff participants and seed them as well, with the No. 1 seed facing the No. 4 seed in one semifinal and the Nos. 2 and 3 squaring off in the other.

And, for those who are wondering: there is no rule that would prevent a team from one conference facing a team from the same conference in a semifinal game.  Nor is there a hard, fast rule that would preclude a rematch from the recently-completed regular season in a semifinal.  Of course, it’s possible the committee could steer the selections away from such scenarios — even by way of seeding — but there is no concrete rule in place that would prevent it.

Case in point on rematches and two playoff teams from one conference in one fell swoop?  Those associated with the CFP have already stated that, if this new system were in place last year, Florida State (#1 seed), Auburn (#2), Alabama (#3) and Oregon (#4) would have been the four playoff teams.  In other words, the SEC would’ve had two teams, including a non-champion, while the champions from the other two Power Five conference — Big Ten (Michigan State) and Big 12 (Baylor) — would’ve been shut out.  At least one Power Five conference will miss the playoff every year, and, as evidenced by last year, possibly two.  After X amount of time and missed playoffs, expect a conference or conferences to begin making noise very publicly about expanding the field to at least eight — and pushing their agenda that the system should consist of each Power Five conference champion to go along with three wildcards.

The initial phase of the CFP is a contract for 12 years in length — through the 2025 season — and for just four teams for those dozen seasons. However, many observers expect that, due to the lure of the almighty dollar and pissed-off leagues, the playoff will be expanded to eight teams at some point before the end of the 12-year contract.  If it doesn’t expand prior to the end of the first contract, just about anyone connected to the sport firmly believes it will be expanded for the beginning of the second contract.

MoneyAll three of the CFP games will be televised annually on ESPN, which paid in excess of $7 billion — that’s billion with a “b” — for the rights to the playoff for the entire length of the contract.  Roughly 75 percent of that money will go to the Power Five conferences and Notre Dame, which will split their cut up amongst their various members.  While the Non-Power Five conferences — the AAC, Conference USA, MAC, MWC and Sun Belt along with independents Army and BYU (Navy’s moving to the AAC in 2015) — will receive just a 25-percent(ish) cut of the billions, they will receive roughly five times as much per league as they did under the BCS.

In the first year of the CFP, the Power Five conferences are expected to make $50 million each, while the Non-Power Five conferences will share $75 million; in the final year of the BCS, those “mid-major” conferences split $15 million.  Over the course of the 12-year contract, the top five conferences are expected to receive an average of $90 million annually from the CFP.  By Year 12 of the first contract, the Power Five conferences are expected to see revenue in excess of $150 million per league.

Such a figure would be the starting point for Year 1 of the second contract, a starting point that would increase dramatically with the addition of four more teams and four additional (quarterfinal) games.

WHO
The “who” is the key, the linchpin, to the whole process.  How successful the CFP can end up being will in large part be determined by how the committee as a whole leaves its collective biases — or at least most of them, and as much as humanly possible — at the meeting room door.

As mentioned above, the committee that will select the four teams will consist of 13 members.  Five of those members will be current athletic directors from each of the Power Five conferences — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC, with Arkansas’ Jeff Long serving as the chairperson.  Below is the entire 13-member committee and their respective affiliations, with tenure expiration listed in parentheses:

*Jeff Long, Arkansas athletic director (February 2018)
*Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin athletic director (February 2017)
– Lieutenant General Mike Gould, former superintendent of the United States Air Force Academy (February 2016)
Pat Haden, USC athletic director (February 2016)
Tom Jernstedt, former NCAA executive vice president (February 2018)
*Oliver Luck, West Virginia athletic director (February 2017)
Archie Manning, former Ole Miss quarterback (February 2017)
Tom Osborne, former head coach and athletic director at Nebraska (February 2016)
*Dan Radakovich, Clemson athletic director (February 2018)
Condoleezza Rice, Stanford professor, former Stanford provost and former United States Secretary of State (February 2017)
Mike Tranghese, former Big East commissioner (February 2016)
Steve Wieberg, former college football reporter, USA Today (February 2018)
Tyrone Willingham, former head coach Notre Dame, Stanford and Washington (February 2018)

Earlier we mentioned committee members leaving their biases at the meeting room door; there are provisions in place that should, in theory, aid in that part of the process.  Specifically, a recusal policy, the terms of which the CFP describes as “a recused member shall not participate in any votes, nor be present during deliberations involving the team’s selection or seeding, but may answer factual questions about the institution from which the member is recused.”

Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice

Of course, all five current athletic directors — denoted by asterisks above — will be recused when the conversation turns to their respective football programs.  Additionally, the following recusals were announced earlier this month:

– Lieutenant General Mike Gould, Air Force: the former superintendent of the Colorado Springs service academy.
Archie Manning, Ole Miss, former Rebels star quarterback who still maintains deep ties to the school and the football program.
Tom Osborne, Nebraska: former head coach and athletic director for the Cornhuskers
Condoleezza Rice, Stanford, current professor and former provost at the university

There is no conference-wide recusal policy, meaning that, for example, Long would be permitted to stay in the room if Alabama is being discussed.

Additionally, the 13 committee members receive no pay for their services, which will consist mainly of watching football and committee meetings.  The first in-person set of meetings will be Oct 27 (Monday) and Oct. 28 (Tuesday), with the first set of what are described as “interim rankings” released Oct. 28.  In-person meetings will be held every Monday and Tuesday thereafter, with the final set of meetings coming after the conclusion of the regular season, conference championship games included but excluding the Dec. 13 Army-Navy game.  The final set of rankings, including the seedings of the four playoff teams, will be released Sunday, Dec. 7.  There’s even a specific time for the release: 12:45 p.m. ET that Sunday afternoon.

The committee will also be responsible for slotting teams into the remaining four contract or host bowls that aren’t part of the semifinals a particular year.  The contract bowls are: Rose (Pac-12 vs. Big Ten), Sugar (SEC vs. Big 12) and Orange (ACC vs. Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame). The three host bowls are: Fiesta, Cotton and Chick-fil-A. If a conference champion from one of the contract bowls does not qualify for the playoff, they will be automatically slotted into their respective postseason game, provided it’s not a semifinal game that year. If conference champions from the contract bowls — more years than not this will involve multiple leagues — qualify for the playoffs, the committee would choose replacement teams.

The team with the highest CFP seeding will be placed in the closest semifinal game to it geographically.  For example, if Florida State is the No. 1 seed this year, they would go to the Sugar Bowl as that bowl is closer to Tallahassee than the Rose Bowl.  Same for a team like Alabama.  Should, say, Oregon earn the top seed, they would play at the Rose Bowl against the No. 4 seed, with the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds going to the Sugar Bowl.

As for the host bowls, the CFP “Frequently Asked Questions” describes it best, including how one Non-Power Five member will play in one of the marquee bowl games every year:

The highest ranked champion of the other five Football Bowl Subdivision conferences (the American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt), as determined by the selection committee, will play in one of the six New Year’s bowls. Other available berths will be awarded to the teams ranked highest by the committee. The committee will assign teams to bowls.

When the Fiesta, Cotton and Atlanta bowls are not hosting semifinal games, their participants will come from three sources: (1) The highest ranked champion among the five conferences listed in the paragraph above, (2) conference champions that are displaced when their contracted bowls host semifinals and (3) the remaining teams ranked highest in the committee’s rankings.

How will the committee fill the slots in the marquee bowls? Again, from the FAQ:

The committee will assign teams to the non-playoff bowls to create the most compelling match-ups, while considering other factors such as geographic proximity, avoiding rematches of regular-season games and avoiding rematches of recent years’ bowl games.

Cowboys StadiumWHERE
The semifinals will rotate through six bowl games: the Rose (Pasadena, Cal.), Orange (Miami, Fla.), Sugar (New Orleans, La.), Fiesta (Glendale, Ariz.), Cotton (Arlington, Tex.) and Peach (Atlanta, Ga.). When those games don’t host a semifinal, they will serve as the so-called “marquee bowls.” The semifinals this season will be the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, with the semifinals moving to the Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl for the 2015 season and the Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl for the 2016 season before rotating back to the first two semifinal bowl games for the 2017 season.

The championship game will be bid out and played all across the country. The first stand-alone title game will be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys and the Cotton Bowl. University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., was awarded the 2015 title game (played in 2016) while Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. submitted the winning bid for 2016 (played in 2017).

An announcement on the host stadiums for the 2017 and 2018 seasons likely won’t be made until sometime after the first CFP championship game is played in early 2015.

WHEN
The semifinal games will both take place either December 31 or January 1 of their respective years and on the same day, with the former serving as game days for the 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022, 2024 and 2025 seasons and the latter for the 2014, 2017, 2020 and 2023 seasons.  For the 2014 season, the Fiesta, Orange and Peach bowls will be played Dec. 31, while the Cotton Bowl will be played Jan. 1, prior to the two semifinal games.

The Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, incidentally, will be played on Jan. 1 every year, which is why most of the semifinal games will be played Dec. 31.

Below are the future dates for the 12 CFP championship games that have already been scheduled.  One thing to note is that every title game through this 12-year cycle will be played on a Monday night:

Jan. 12, 2015
Jan. 11, 2016
Jan. 9, 2017
Jan. 8, 2018
Jan. 7, 2019
Jan. 13, 2020
Jan. 11, 2021
Jan. 10, 2022
Jan. 9, 2023
Jan. 8, 2024
Jan. 13, 2025
Jan. 12, 2026

WHY
Manziel Money GIF
Money

HOW
Hope you brought a lunch, because the “How” could take a while.

First of all, we’ll give you the CFP’s official qualifier/disclaimer as to the selection process in which the four playoff teams will be decided:

Ranking football teams is an art, not a science. Football is popular in some measure because the outcome of a game between reasonably matched teams is so often decided by emotional commitment, momentum, injuries and the “unexpected bounce of the ball.” In any ranking system, perfection or consensus is not possible and the physical impact of the game on student athletes prevents elaborate playoff systems of multiple games. For purposes of any four team playoff, the process will inevitably need to select the four best teams from among several with legitimate claims to participate.

Now, with that out of the way, on to the meat & taters of the process.

As I noted up above somewhere, the committee will hold meetings every Monday and Tuesday and release a Top 25 every week, with the first set of rankings scheduled to be released Oct. 28. “How exactly will the committee arrive at its weekly Top 25?” you may be asking yourself. I’m glad you asked.

1. Each committee member will create a list of the 25 teams he or she believes to be the best in the country, in no particular order. Teams listed by three or more members will remain under consideration.
2. Each member will list the best six teams, in no particular order. The six teams receiving the most votes will comprise the pool for the first seeding ballot.
3. In the first seeding ballot, each member will rank those six teams, one through six, with one being the best. The three teams receiving the fewest points will become the top three seeds. The three teams that were not seeded will be held over for the next seeding ballot.
4. Each member will list the six best remaining teams, in no particular order. The three teams receiving the most votes will be added to the three teams held over to comprise the next seeding ballot.
5. Steps No. 3 and 4 will be repeated until 25 teams have been seeded.

It should be noted that, at no point in that five-step process, are committee members permitted to include any team from which they are recused on any of the lists mentioned above.

Of course, there were also notes attached to the five-step voting process (notes A-C dealt with recusals):

D. Between each step, the committee members will conduct a thorough evaluation of the teams before conducting the vote.
E. After the rankings are completed, any group of three or more teams can be reconsidered if more than three members vote to do so. Step No. 3 would be repeated to determine if adjustments should be made.
F. After the first nine teams are seeded, the number of teams for Steps No. 2, 3 and 4 will be increased to eight and four, respectively.
G. At any time in the process, the number of teams to be included in a pool may be increased or decreased with approval of more than eight members of the committee.
H. All votes will be by secret ballot.

There is one more important aspect of the CFP process that I haven’t mentioned yet which supersedes just about everything else mentioned thus far: criteria utilized by the committee members in their rankings. As previously noted, ranking football teams is more art than science, but there is some specific data on which the committee will lean.

The official CFP protocol states that the committee “will be instructed to place an emphasis on winning conference championships, strength of schedule and head-to-head competition when comparing teams with similar records and pedigree (treat final determination like a tie-breaker; apply specific guidelines).” Why pedigree — i.e. history, and whether said history is positive, negative or somewhere in between — should have anything to do with a specific year is a significant unknown.

Bill Hancock

Bill Hancock

Additionally, a company called SportSource Analytics will be providing the committee with an expansive and extensive statistical database on which to rely. Harkening back to the dark and dreary days of the BCS, CFP executive director Bill Hancock has stressed that analytics — i.e. computers — will not be a part of the equation. Rather, the committee will be receiving raw data that they, not a computer or company, will analyze and interpret for themselves.

“There’s no analytics,” Hancock said. “Obviously, the word analytics is in the company name, and they might be doing analytics for other clients, but not for us. There’s some hangover from the BCS days of people wanting the data to be manipulated or compiled. But we wanted just raw data. That’s what we asked for, and that’s what they’re giving us.”

In a similar vein, one piece of data that the committee is not permitted to take into account? Polls that are released before any games have been played, which means, technically, the Associate Press and coaches’ polls cannot be a part of the discussion. For that, we should all be thankful.

One piece of data that will be taken into account? “[R]elevant factors such as key injuries that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance.” In other words, if a star quarterback goes down early and that injury contributes to a loss or two but the team finishes strong down the stretch, that team will remain under consideration for a playoff slot. Conversely, if a star player or players goes/go down with an injury late in the season, that would be a factor that would permit the committee to disregard that team regardless of the record.  That’s a slippery slope, one that could come back and bite the committee specifically and the CFP as a whole.

Also, the CFP explains that “[c]omparative outcomes of common opponents (without incenting margin of victory)” will be a principle that guides the committee.

The SwamiPREDICTIONS
So, with the minutia out of the way, on to the stuff that will cause the most bitching and/or whining and/or moaning: predictions!!!

If you look at most of these types of predictions, there is pretty much a consensus on three teams most feel will be a part of the four-team playoff field: last year’s BCS champion Florida State, Oregon and Alabama.  After that, it runs the gamut from Michigan State to Oklahoma to 2013 BCS runnerup Auburn to UCLA to South Carolina to Baylor as possibilities nationally.  Ohio State would’ve been a part of the discussion as well prior to The Injury, and could very well be a part of it by season’s end if they can get past MSU in East Lansing.

Below are how the four of us here at CFT see the first College Football Playoff playing out, with seeds, explanations and everything!  Enjoy, and unload on all/some/one of us below that:

KEVIN MCGUIRE
Rose Bowl: #2 Alabama vs. #3 Oklahoma
Sugar Bowl: #1 Florida State vs. #4 Oregon
Championship: Florida State vs. Alabama

Florida State enters the season as the team seemingly best equipped for a national title run. Now knowing what it takes to win, the Seminoles bring back a Heisman Trophy quarterback and a roster as deep as almost any in the country thanks to years of solid recruiting under Jimbo Fisher. In the same light, you have Alabama looking to prove it can plug in pieces to Nick Saban‘s program thanks to years of recruiting victories building a massively deep roster. No quarterback? Not yet, but somehow Saban will find a way. Oklahoma surged at the right time last season and enters the 2014 season a favorite in the Big 12, a conference not particularly deep in talent and obstacles this fall aside from a potent Baylor squad. Oklahoma should manage to wiggle out of the Big 12 and sneak in front of any champion from the Big Ten. The same holds true for Oregon, with the Ducks coming off a “down” year in Eugene, which seems silly to say when you look back at the 2013 season. The Ducks took a minor step back in a year of coaching transition, but Year 2 under Mark Helfrich should be better. When it comes down to the match-ups, I think Alabama is better suited for a rematch with the Sooners, if not just better prepared for it, and Florida State’s style will find a way to slow down Oregon’s offensive schemes, setting up what would be an epic Florida State-Alabama match-up for it all.

BRENT SOBLESKI
Rose Bowl: #2 Alabama vs. #3 Oregon
Sugar Bowl: #1 Florida State vs. #4 Wisconsin
Championship: Florida State vs. Oregon

To be the man, you got to beat the man. And Florida State is the team with the target on its back this season. The Seminoles should be ready for the challenge due to the amount of talent returning to this year’s roster. Florida State will likely cruise through the regular season and retain the No. 1 seed. It doesn’t mean the ACC’s best will be the best team in the country this season. Alabama and Oregon will be nipping at their heels. Alabama is always stacked and the SEC’s champion is essentially guaranteed to get a spot in the College Football Playoff. Oregon, meanwhile, will continue to put up points and receive elite play from its quarterback, Marcus Mariota. The fourth spot is completely up for grabs between the the champions of the Big Ten and Big 12 conferences. The Big Ten, in particular, is wide open after the devastating injury to Ohio State’s Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller. The Badgers should make a very good impression at the start of the season when they face the LSU Tigers, and their schedule should allow them to remain undefeated in Big Ten play before participating in the conference’s title game. Florida State would easily overpower the Badgers in the Sugar Bowl, though. And Oregon has the edge on offense and athleticism against the Crimson Tide. When the Ducks and Seminoles meet, the two best quarterbacks in college football will be on the field with the opportunity to will their team to the first national championship decided by the College Football Playoff.

JJ STANKEVITZ
Rose Bowl: #2 Alabama vs. #3 Oregon
Sugar Bowl: #1 Florida State vs. #4 Oklahoma
Championship: Florida State vs. Alabama

I really struggled with the No. 4 team here. I like UCLA more than Oklahoma, but UCLA plays a far tougher schedule with more than enough chances for a slip-up beyond Oct. 11′s showdown with Oregon. Braxton Miller‘s injury puts a serious dent in the Big Ten’s chances of getting a team in unless Michigan State can go to Eugene and win in Week 2. The rest of the SEC — Auburn, South Carolina, LSU, Georgia, Ole Miss, etc — might eat itself alive. This isn’t to say I don’t like Oklahoma, but the Sooners get Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State at home and don’t have to worry about a conference championship game. Their path to the final playoff spot is far easier than other teams in the mix, so I’m going with them along with the ACC, SEC and Pac-12 champions.

JOHN TAYLOR
Rose Bowl: #2 Oregon vs. #3 Alabama
Sugar Bowl: #1 Florida State vs. #4 Oklahoma
Championship:  Florida State vs. Oregon

Heading into the season and at least on paper, most observers agree that Florida State, Oregon and Alabama, in some order, are the class of college football.  With Ohio State losing Braxton Miller to a season-ending injury, the fourth spot would now seemingly be up in the air.  I almost pulled the trigger on the biggest beneficiary of Miller’s injury, Michigan State, for the fourth seed before settling for an Oklahoma team that smacked Alabama around in the Sugar Bowl.  Well, that and I don’t see the Spartans getting past the Ducks early this season, which, combined with a Wisconsin loss to LSU, could damage whoever emerges as the champion of the Big Ten in the eyes of the playoff committee.  One additional note on potential semifinalists: if you’re looking for a conference that might have two teams represented in the CFP, look at the Pac-12, not the SEC.  Oregon is seemingly a given, and don’t sleep on UCLA.  They are a very, very underrated squad who could sneak in ahead of some of the other teams being mentioned as viable candidates for CFP spots — especially if the committee practices what it’s preaching in the preseason.  In the end, I see both Florida State and Oregon, the two most-talented squads in the country, trumping whichever team it is they face in the semifinals, setting the stage for an epic first-ever College Football Playoff title game.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

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Which teams need wins to be bowl eligible this weekend?

Pat Fitzgerald, Tim Beckman AP

Unless you’re an AAC or Big 12 fan, Saturday is the last day of college football’s regular season before Conference Championship week — which means it’s the last chance for a handful of teams to reach six wins and become bowl eligible.

For some teams on here (see: Michigan) making a bowl wouldn’t change a whole lot. But for rebuilding programs like California, getting to six wins and playing an extra game is big — not only does it show progress, but it affords coaches a few extra weeks of practice for young rosters.

Meanwhile, if Kentucky and Tennessee win, 13 of 14 SEC teams would be bowl eligible (sorry, Vanderbilt).

So which five-win teams can become bowl eligible over Thanksgiving weekend?

AAC

Temple (vs. Cincinnati, 12 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPNews)
Note: Temple, at 5-5, also could become bowl eligible with a win at Tulane Dec. 6.

Already bowl eligible: Memphis, UCF, Cincinnati, East Carolina, Houston

ACC

Virginia (at Virginia Tech, 8 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN)
Virginia Tech (vs. Virginia, 8 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN)
Pitt (at Miami, 7 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2)

Already bowl eligible: Florida State, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Louisville, Duke, North Carolina, Boston College, North Carolina State, Miami

Big 12

Oklahoma State (OFF this week, @ Oklahoma Dec. 6)

Already bowl eligible: Baylor, TCU, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia

Big Ten

Michigan (at Ohio State, 12 p.m. ET Saturday on ABC)
Illinois (at Northwestern, 12 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPNU)
Northwestern (vs. Illinois, 12 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPNU)

Already bowl eligible: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Maryland, Iowa, Penn State, Rutgers

Conference USA

Old Dominion (at Florida Atlantic, 12 p.m. ET Saturday)
UAB (at Southern Miss, 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday)

Already bowl eligible: Marshall, Louisiana Tech, Rice, UTEP, Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky

Independents

Navy (at South Alabama, 3 p.m. Friday on ESPN3)
Note: Navy, at 5-5, also plays Army Dec. 13.

Already bowl eligible: BYU, Notre Dame

MAC

Akron (at Kent State, 1 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN3)
Ohio (at Miami Ohio, 7 p.m. ET Tuesday on ESPN2)

Already bowl eligible: Northern Illinois, Bowling Green, Toledo, Western Michigan, Central Michigan

Mountain West

Fresno State (vs. Hawaii, 7 p.m. ET Saturday)

Already bowl eligible: Colorado State, Boise State, Air Force, San Diego State

Pac-12

California (BYU, 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday on Pac-12 Network)
Oregon State (vs. Oregon, 8 p.m. ET Saturday on ABC)

Already bowl eligible: Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona, USC, Utah, Stanford, Washington

SEC

Kentucky (at Louisville, 12 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2)
Tennessee (at Vanderbilt, 4 p.m. ET Saturday on SEC Network)

Already bowl eligible: Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn, LSU, Texas A&M, Arkansas (the entire West division!), Mizzou, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina

Sun Belt

No teams playing for bowl eligibility

Already bowl eligible: Georgia Southern (well, maybe not), UL-Lafayette, Appalachian State (same as Georgia Southern), South Alabama, Texas State, Arkansas State.

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The FBS single-season rushing record is within sight for Melvin Gordon, if Wisconsin beats Minnesota

Melvin Gordon

Melvin Gordon became the fastest player to 2,000 yards in Wisconsin’s 26-24 win over Iowa on Saturday, hitting the 2k mark on just his 241st carry of the season. Gordon rushed 31 times for 200 yards on the day, brining his season totals to 2,109 yards on 254 attempts.

And that brings a much bigger record into play.

The fleet-footed junior is currently in 10th place on the FBS all-time single-season rushing list, sitting 519 yards away from tying Barry Sanders‘ record of 2,628 yards.

The last two weeks have brought Gordon’s average up to 191.7 yards per game on the season. Three more games at that average would put Gordon at 2,684 yards on the year – breaking the record by 56 yards. Of course, the catch is that Wisconsin doesn’t have three games guaranteed left to play.

Wisconsin hosts Minnesota Saturday with a spot in the Big Ten title game on the line. A victory extends the Badgers’ season by a game, and puts Sanders’ record within reach.

Gordon would have to have outstanding games against not only Minnesota, but Ohio State in the Big Ten title game and a quality bowl opponent as well. That said, Gordon has been up to the task against top competition this season.

Here’s how Gordon stacks up among the best single-season rushing performances thus far:

1. Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State (1988) – 2,628
2. Kevin Smith, Central Florida (2007) – 2,567
3. Marcus Allen, USC (1981) – 2,342
4. Troy Davis, Iowa State (1996) – 2,185
5. Andre Williams, Boston College (2013) – 2,177
6. LaDanian Tomlinson, TCU (2000) – 2,158
7. Mike Rozier, Nebraska (1983) – 2,148
8. Matt Forte, Tulane (2007) – 2,127
9. Ricky Williams, Texas (1998) – 2,124
10. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin (2014) – 2,109

Barring injury (knock on every piece of wood within a 10-mile radius) or an NCAA waiver allowing 14 defenders on the field, Gordon should be in fourth place by the end of the day Saturday and figures to finish no worse than third regardless of whether or not the Badgers beat the Gophers.

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ACC calls Jameis Winston’s contact with official “insignificant”

Karlos Williams,Matt Milano,Steven Daniels

Mike Peireira won the #HOTSPORTSTAKE of the college football weekend by writing that Jameis Winston should have been flagged and ejected for shoving an official attempting to delay a Florida State snap until Boston College had a fair opportunity to match a Seminoles substitution.

“I’ve looked at this play several times, and in my opinion, Winston should have been penalized for shoving Webster not once, but twice,” he wrote. “In fact, I feel he should have been ejected.” For what it’s worth, ESPN’s own officiating expert agreed with Peireria.

Here’s the play in question:

On Sunday, the ACC issued a statement downplaying the incident.

“The center judge’s positioning, which was due to the experimental year of having an eighth official, combined with the late substitution and by rule the need to allow the defense to matchup, led to contact between himself and the player,” said ACC coordinator of officials Doug Rhoads. “The official believed the contact was incidental and insignificant and did not rise to the level of unsportsmanlike conduct and automatic disqualification.”

We must consider the source and circumstance here, however. Conference offices rarely – if ever – issue a statement to announce they botched it, and the ACC is going to be especially leery of casting a cloud of controversy to join the six or seven already hanging above its lone undefeated team and reigning Heisman Trophy winner.

The ACC needs Florida State’s win over Boston College to be viewed as legitimate, and this statement supports that.

Still, watching the video and reading Florida State’s corresponding quotes makes the situation appear like a highly-publicized misunderstanding. And it’s not like Winston shoved the zebra in question as hard as he could. In fact, it sounds like he wasn’t aware Florida State had substituted.

“He was just holding me because he said we had a substitution,” Winston said. “It was actually a fast-tempo play, so I was trying to get up under there and let it ride.”

Regardless, Florida State has beaten Boston College 20-17, and with this controversy behind them the 11-0 Seminoles will move on to Florida and whatever next week’s controversy brings.

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New Hampshire, North Dakota State earn top two seeds in FCS playoff bracket

We’re still two weeks away from Selection Sunday for the College Football Playoff, but the Football Championship Subdivision held its own Selection Sunday with a late morning announcement of the 2014 FCS playoff bracket.

The 24-team tournament will begin this weekend and conclude with the national championship in Frisco, Texas on Jan. 10, two days before the FBS title will be awarded 40 miles south on the George Bush Turnpike in Arlington. This is the fifth straight year the title game will be held in North Texas after more than a decade in Chattanooga, Tenn., and the fourth consecutive year the championship will take place after New Year’s Day.

New Hampshire earned the No. 1 overall seed after posting a 10-1 regular season and winning the always-tough Colonial Athletic Association. Three-time defending national champion North Dakota State grabbed the No. 2 seed, while Jacksonville State checks in at No. 3 and Eastern Washington earns the No. 4 ranking.

The 24-team bracket allows for the top eight seeds to earn first-round byes, meaning Illinois State (fifth), Villanova (sixth), Coastal Carolina (seventh) and Chattanooga (eighth) will take next weekend off.

First-round games break out as follows:

Sacred Heart at Fordham – winner plays New Hampshire
Indiana State at Eastern Kentucky – winner plays Chattanooga

San Diego at Montana – winner plays Eastern Washington
Stephen F. Austin at Northern Iowa – winner plays Illinois State

And on the opposite side of the bracket:

South Dakota State at Montana State – winner plays North Dakota State
Morgan State at Richmond – winner plays Coastal Carolina

Southeastern Louisiana at Sam Houston State – winner plays Jacksonville State
Liberty at James Madison – winner plays Villanova

First and second-round games will be webcast on ESPN3, and the championship is slated for 1 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

You can click here for the interactive bracket.

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He’s a man! He’s brief! Don’t bother quoting Mike Gundy after loss to Bayor

Mike Gundy

Oklahoma State lost to No. 7 Baylor 49-28 on Saturday night. The loss was the Cowboys’ fifth straight, dropping them to 5-6 and into a do-or-die Bedlam game at Oklahoma next week, but an argument can be made this was actually Oklahoma State’s best overall performance since playing Florida State to a 37-31 final in the opener.

After falling behind 14-0 early, Oklahoma State played Baylor to a 35-28 score over the final 55 minutes of the night. True freshman Mason Rudolph threw for 281 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in his collegiate debut. It’s not great, but it counts for something in a tough season.

Still, head coach Mike Gundy was in no mood for conversation following the game. In fact, the man of “I’m a man! I’m 40!” had his very own Rasheed Wallace moment in Waco.

Via The Oklahoman:

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 3.49.45 PM

The fastest way to draw the ire of the college football media is to duck the college football media, and Gundy did just that in the eyes of a few high-profile writers.

Gundy is 1-8 in his nine seasons at Oklahoma State against the Sooners, so the odds of Oklahoma State walking into Norman and extending its season appear low. Either way, 2014 will go down as Gundy’s worst season in Stillwater since a 3-8 debut in 2005.

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Auburn “hopeful” to get WR Duke Williams back for the Iron Bowl

D'haquille Williams

Consecutive losses to Texas A&M and Georgia cost AP No. 15 Auburn any shot at competing for an SEC or national championship. Fortunately, the Tigers can still do the next best thing – keep AP No. 2 Alabama from doing the same.

To do so, it will need to be at full strength (or as close to full strength as a college football team can possibly be in late November) and that means having wide receiver D’haquille (Duke) Williams in the lineup.

Williams did not play in the Tigers’ 31-7 win over Samford on Saturday, but AL.com reports sources close to the wide receiver say he should be ready for Alabama.

“We are hoping he will be back this week,” head coach Gus Malzahn said. “I am not ready to make that call yet, but we are hopeful.”

Williams suffered a sprained MCL and a bruised knee in a second-quarter collision with Texas A&M defensive back De’Vante Harris in Auburn’s 41-38 loss to the Aggies on Nov. 8 and has not played since.

Auburn posted its worst offensive output of the Malzahn era in a 34-7 loss to Georgia on Nov. 15, as the Tigers compiled only 292 yards of total offense, averaging just 5.1 yards per pass and 4.3 yards per rush while accumulating a pedestrian 17 first downs (they average more than 24).

Williams leads the team with 38 grabs for 699 yards and five touchdowns. The junior is in his first year on the club after transferring from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.

Auburn will visit Alabama at 7:45 p.m. ET on ESPN on Saturday.

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OU RB Samaje Perine, Mizzou DE Markus Golden win Walter Camp Player of the Week honors

Samaje Perine

Another week, another round of what had to be the easiest vote in Walter Camp Player of the Week history – at least on the offensive side.

Oklahoma freshman running back Samaje Perine, holding his mythical FBS single-game rushing championship belt, has been named the Walter Camp Football Foundation’s Offensive Player of the Week. Perine bested Melvin Gordon‘s week-old FBS single-game rushing record by toting the rock 34 times for 427 yards and five touchdowns in No. 21 Oklahoma’s 44-7 bludgeoning of Kansas at a rainy Memorial Stadium in Norman on Saturday afternoon. Perine is the fifth Sooner to win the honor, and first since Sam Bradford took it home on Sept. 9, 2007.

On the defensive side, Missouri defensive end Markus Golden won Player of the Week honors for his part in No. 20 Missouri’s 29-21 win at Tennessee. Golden collected six tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, a fumble recovery and two quarterback hurries. The win kept Missouri ahead of Georgia for the top spot in the SEC East. A win over Arkansas on Friday gives Mizzou its second consecutive division crown.

Golden is the first Tiger to win Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week accolades since fellow defensive end Aldon Smith took it home on Sept. 5, 2010.

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Florida State edges Alabama for top spot in AP Top 25

Boston College v Florida State

Florida State edged Boston College on Saturday, and did the same to Alabama on Sunday, keeping the Crimson Tide at bay by 13 votes for the top spot in Sunday’s Associated Press Top 25. Oregon and Mississippi State remained third and fourth, but a 49-28 win over Oklahoma State was enough for Baylor to pass TCU for the fifth spot – and the Bears did so by one point.

Georgia remains the highest-ranked two-loss team at No. 8, four votes ahead of No. 9 UCLA. Arizona used a 42-10 whipping of Utah to leapfrog Arizona State for the No. 12 spot.

Ole Miss was this week’s biggest loser – just like the Coaches’ Poll – dropping ten spots from No. 8 to No. 18. And for those wearing scarlet, green and purple among us, this is significant because Mississippi State’s resume now includes a solitary Top 25 victory over No. 15 Auburn, and No. 18 Ole Miss this week.

Minnesota was the AP’s biggest gainer, leaping from 31st all the way to 22nd thanks to its 28-24 win at Nebraska.

The full poll:

1. Florida State – 1,458 total votes (37 first-place votes)
2. Alabama – 1,445 (21)
3. Oregon – 1,393 (2)
4. Mississippi State – 1,301
5. Baylor – 1,234
6. TCU – 1,233
7. Ohio State – 1,163
8. Georgia – 1,002
9. UCLA – 998
10. Michigan State – 971
11. Kansas State – 898
12. Arizona – 807
13. Arizona State – 790
14. Wisconsin – 764
15. Auburn – 597
16. Georgia Tech – 581
17. Missouri – 525
18. Ole Miss – 398
19. Marshall – 384
20. Oklahoma – 363
21. Colorado State – 346
22. Minnesota – 232
23. Clemson – 198
24. Louisville – 191
25. Boise State – 96

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Alabama passes Florida State for top spot in latest Coaches’ Poll

Blake Sims

Yet another nail-biting win cost Florida State the top spot in the latest Amway Coaches’ Poll, which was released early Sunday afternoon.

Florida State’s 20-17 squeaker over Boston College coupled with Alabama’s 48-14 blowout of Western Carolina was enough for the ‘Noles and Tide to swap spots, pushing Alabama back to the top spot for the first time since its Oct. 4 loss at Ole Miss.

Speaking of Ole Miss, the Rebels were this week’s biggest losers, as a 30-0 loss to Arkansas saw them fall eight spots from eighth all the way to 19th. Marshall dropped two spots for a 23-18 win at UAB.

Close road victories by Minnesota and Louisville allowed each to move up eight spots, as a 28-24 win at Nebraska bumped the Gophers from unranked to 22nd, and Louisville moved from 31st to 23rd with a 31-28 win at Notre Dame. Clemson and Boise State are also new to the poll.

Here’s how the full poll shakes out:

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 12.36.35 PM

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Week 13, Statistically Speaking

Joey Iosefa, Tau Lotulelei

A statistical snapshot of the week that was in college football…

.592 – Winning percentage of visiting teams in Pac-12 road games (29-20) this season. The six teams ranked in last week’s Associated Press Top 25 (Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona, Utah and USC) have a combined overall road record of 23-6 (.793)

.815 – Ohio State’s winning percentage (97-22) in Big Ten play since 2000, the highest league winning percentage among all Power Five schools.  Oklahoma 99-24 is next at .805.

.933 – Career field-goal percentage for Florida State’s Robert Aguayo (42-45).  The all-time career mark, for at least 45 attempts per the 2014 FBS record book, was .900 (45-50) by Louisiana-Lafayette’s Brett Baer (2009-12). The career mark, for at least 55 attempts, is .895 (68-76) by Nebraska’s Alex Henery (2007-10).

0 — Touchbacks this season for Wake Forest punter Alex Kinal, the only player in the Top 25 in punting average who can make that claim.

1 — 400-yard passing games for Jake Waters in his career, the lone one coming in Kansas State’s win over West Virginia Thursday night (400 even).  Waters had only one previous 300-yard game, that coming in November of last year against Oklahoma (348).

Ohio State v Maryland

Brad Craddock

1 – Kickers at the FBS level who have yet to miss a field goal attempt (minimum eight attempts) this season: Maryland’s Brad Craddock (17-17).  Craddock has made 23 straight attempts dating back to 2013, the longest current streak at the FBS level and third-longest in Big Ten history.

1.2 — Yards per play Savannah State averaged in its 64-0 loss to BYU.  The Cougars limited the Tigers to 40 yards passing on 28 attempts and 23 yards rushing on the same number of attempts.

4 – FBS teams currently undefeated in conference play:

Florida State (ACC, 8-0)
Georgia Southern (Sun Belt, 7-0)
Marshall (Conference USA, 7-0)
Ohio State (Big Ten, 7-0)

5 — Consecutive games Auburn allowed 30 or more points prior to playing Samford, the first time that’s ever happened in the history of the football program.

5 – Number of undefeated home seasons in the history of Utah State football: 1968 (4-0), 1972 (5-0), 1982 (4-0), 2012 (6-0) and 2014 (6-0).

6 — Total touchdowns (five rushing, one receiving) for Colorado State’s Dee Hart in a win over New Mexico, the second-highest single-game total in Mountain West History.

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The Fifth Quarter: Week 13 Rewind

Samaje Perine AP

As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

HISTORIC REPEAT
As it turns out, while Samaje Perine made history, the timeframe in which he did it wasn’t historically unprecedented.

In Oklahoma’s win over Kansas, Perine set the FBS single-game rushing record with 427 yards.  That performance broke the record of 408 set a week ago by Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon.  Most assumed Perine’s breaking of a rushing record that was a week old had never happened before; Anthony Thompson would point out what the word “assume” makes out of all involved.

Back on Nov. 11, 1989, the Indiana running back’s 377 yards broke the previous mark of 357 yards.  That record was first set by Washington State’s Rueben Mayes in 1984 and tied by Cal State Fullerton’s Mike Pringle on Nov. 4, 1989, exactly one week before Thompson broke it.

Below is how the FBS rushing record has progressed over the past four-plus decades:

347 — Ron Johnson, Michigan, 1968
350 — Eric Allen, Michigan State, 1971
356 — Eddie Lee Ivery, Georgia Tech, 1978
357 — Rueben Mayes, Washington State, 1984
357 — Mike Pringle, Cal State Fullerton, 1989
377 — Anthony Thompson, Indiana, 1989
386 — Marshall Faulk, San Diego State, 1991
396 — Tony Sands, Kansas, 1991
406 — LaDainian Tomlinson, TCU, 1999
408 — Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin, 2014
427 — Samaje Perine, Oklahoma, 2014

Perine was also second to Thompson in something else — percentage increase of the previous record.  Thompson bested the old mark by 5.6 percent;  Perine, meanwhile, topped Gordon’s week-old record by 4.7 percent.

Some would say, though, the most impressive record belongs to Gordon.  The Badger back did his record-setting damage in three quarters of work and on just 25 carries; the only other players on that list with less than 30 carries were Ivery (26) and Allen (29).  Gordon’s 16.2 yards per carry is easily the best mark among the group, with only Ivery (13.7) within three yards.   Perine did average 12.6 ypc, the third-best among that group of 11 players.

At the opposite end of the yards-per-carry spectrum were Thompson and Sands, who averaged 7.25 yards on 52 carries and 6.8 yards on 58 carries, respectively.

Of course, Perine is the only true freshman to break the record… and he did it in three quarters plus two fourth-quarter plays after not starting a game played in the rain… and he is the only player to rush for 200-plus yards in both halves of a game, all of which makes his performance arguably the greatest of all-time regardless of how you attempt to parse out the numbers.

PROJECTING CFP TOP FOUR
Unlike previous weeks, there was no upheaval around the top of the College Football Playoff Top 25 in Week 14.  The highest-ranked team to lose was No. 8 Ole Miss, and, with two losses, it’s unlikely the Rebels were a realistic playoff option to begin with.

Continue reading »

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No. 9 UCLA flattens No. 19 USC, moves one step closer to Pac-12 South title

USC v UCLA Getty Images

Brett Hundley‘s first possession ended in complete disaster, a 17-yard pick six by Anthony Sarao to give USC a 7-0 lead. From then on, though, Saturday night could not have been more perfect. Hundley completed 22-of-31 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns while adding another on the ground to lead No. 9 UCLA to a 38-20 win over No. 19 USC at the Rose Bowl.

While Hundley was playing his best football of the season, his counterpart was running for his life. Cody Kessler completed 22-0f-34 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown, but was sacked six times and harassed countless more. USC was also credited with 33 rushes for 62 yards.

Paul Perkins led the charge for UCLA with 24 rushes for 93 yards and a touchdown.

The game was actually tied 14-14 early in the second quarter, but UCLA went on a 24-0 run over the next 17 minutes to put the game away. A Ka’imi Fairbairn field goal gave UCLA the lead, and Hundley’s touchdown pass to Eldridge Massington pushed the lead to 24-14 just before the half.

Perkins opened the second half with a 10-yard scoring burst, and a 15-yard Hundley run all but sewed things up with 9:22 remaining in the third quarter.

The win moves UCLA to 9-2 on the season and gives the Bruins their third straight victory over USC, their first three-game winning streak over their cross-town rivals since winning seven straight from 1991-98. The win also moves Jim Mora‘s team to within one victory of a Pac-12 South title and two wins away from a Pac-12 championship. The Bruins will have to beat Stanford next week to win the division and Oregon to win the conference. It was Oregon who beat UCLA for the Pac-12 championship in 2011, and Stanford who did it in 2012.

USC, meanwhile, drops to 7-4 on the season and will close the regular season with a similarly disappointing 7-4 Notre Dame team at the L.A. Coliseum on Saturday night.

 

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Road warriors: Missouri holds on against Tennessee, stays atop SEC East

Gary Pinkel, Markus Golden

It didn’t come easy, but the No. 20 Missouri Tigers edged the Tennessee Volunteers 29-21 in Knoxville.

Gary Pinkel‘s squad has proven to be road warriors over the past two seasons, as they attempt to win a second SEC East title in consecutive years.

When the Tigers joined the SEC two years ago, they were considered an inferior program compared to the Texas A&M Aggies, who joined the league during the same season. Yet the Tigers have proven over the long haul they have what it takes to consistently win in college football’s toughest conference.

Even when Misssouri’s explosive spread offense isn’t firing on all cylinders — and it wasn’t Saturday against Tennessee — the team is now built to still win games.

Strong defense, a solid running game and good coaching always travel well. Missouri has all three.

Quarterback Maty Mauk continues to be erratic. The sophomore signal-caller was 12-of-25 passing, but he finally exploited Tennessee’s secondary in the fourth quarter. At that time, Missouri’s wide receivers began to win one-on-one matchups.

Jimmie Hunt and Bud Sasser were frustrated by Tennessee most of the contest. However, Mauk found both for a touchdown passes in the final frame. Hunt was the game’s leading receiver with 106 yards on three catches.

But what kept Missouri in the game initially was its ability to run the football and apply pressure on Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs. The Tigers gained 184 yards on the ground, while the Volunteers only managed 53 yards.

The strong defensive effort by Missouri is due to owning one of the best defensive lines in college football. Defensive ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden are as good as any duo in the nation. Golden was particularly disruptive Saturday evening.

Those defensive linemen will have to step up next week against the Arkansas Razorbacks’ overwhelming offensive line and rushing attack. The Razorbacks have won two straight games by the score of 47-0 against ranked SEC West opponents. They’re going to bring a different mentality than Tennessee did.

One more win is all Missouri needs to win the SEC East and play in the SEC Championship Game again. Like the Tennessee contest, it won’t come easy.

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No. 4 Mississippi State dumps Vanderbilt, sets up Egg Bowl for the ages

Vanderbilt v Mississippi State Getty Images

No. 4 Mississippi State wasted no time in disposing of Vanderbilt, racing to a 37-0 halftime lead en route to a 51-0 win.

The Bulldogs led 13-0 through one quarter and 37-0 at the half on the strength of three Dak Prescott touchdown passes. For the day he completed 17-of-24 passes for 201 yards with three touchdowns and rushed six times for 29 yards and a score. Six Bulldogs rushed the ball, and all ran for at least 29 yards; Brandon Holloway led the way with 10 carries for 69 yards.

Vanderbilt mounted only 225 yards of total offense and 16 first downs.

The win moves the Bulldogs to 10-1 on the season, the first 10-win regular season in school history.

Beyond that, though, Mississippi State moves one step closer to a College Football Playoff berth, and set up an Egg Bowl for the ages a week from today. Ole Miss’ 30-0 flattening at Arkansas takes the Rebels out of contention for the SEC West title, but Mississippi State’s win means they can go to Atlanta with a defeat of Ole Miss and an Auburn win over Alabama. Even if Alabama wins, though, Mississippi State has a solid chance of earning a berth as an at-large.

All they have to do, of course, is walk into Oxford and beat an angry Ole Miss team looking to play spoiler.

It’s not as monumental an Egg Bowl as it appeared it could be back in October, but it’s still the biggest game since anyone can care to remember.

Vanderbilt, meanwhile, drops to 3-8 on the season and will close Derek Mason‘s first season against Tennessee next week.

 

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No. 9 UCLA pulls away from No. 19 USC for 24-14 halftime lead

Brett Hundley, Juda Parker

A spirited Battle for the Victory Bell opened with Anthony Sarao stepping in front of a Brett Hundley pass and returning it 17 yards for a USC touchdown.

It’s been pretty much all Bruins from there, though, as Hundley tossed touchdown passes to Devin LucienThomas Duarte and Eldridge Massington – the last of which came just before the half - to give No. 9 UCLA a 24-14 halftime lead over No. 19 USC at the Rose Bowl.

The Trojans got a two-yard touchdown toss from Cody Kessler to Justin Davis to tie the game at 14-14 early in the second quarter, but missed a golden opportunity when stuffed on a 4th-and-goal from the two-yard line on an earlier drive.

Hundley has been near perfect outside of the interception, completing 15-of-19 passes for 201 yards and those three touchdowns, and Paul Perkins has carried 11 times for 44 yards.

Kessler has completed 10-of-19 passes for 119 yards, but has been harassed by his Bruin counterparts much more than Hundley. Buck Allen has rushed eight times for 38 yards.

UCLA will receive the ball to open the second half.

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