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Monday, November 7, 2016

Ohio State vs Nebraska the Aftermath - College Football Playoff projections - Ohio State vs Xichigan is Coming

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer’s five seasons at Ohio State have redefined the paradigms through which the program is viewed. He’s 57–5 over that stretch, including an undefeated season in 2012, a national title in 2014 and a 36–2 record in the Big Ten. He’s created a standard at Ohio State where anything but a trip to the College Football Playoff could be considered a disappointment.
For the first time in Meyer’s five years in Columbus, however, an intimidating foil has emerged in the Big Ten. Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines are not just winning, they are doing so with clinical precision, maniacal abandon and consistently lopsided results. They are another class above the Michigan State teams that have been the biggest nemesis through Meyer’s first four seasons.
With 16 new starters this season and three weeks of pedestrian performances—relative to the expectations set—the No. 6 Buckeyes found themselves in an odd position against No. 10 Nebraska Saturday night. While facing the Cornhuskers, they were also chasing the standard set this year by the Wolverines, who entered Saturday first in the nation in scoring defense (11.6 points per game) and third in points scored (46.6). An NFL scout who’d been through both schools noted earlier this week that the talent level of the two programs was similar. But there were clear differences: “Michigan plays with a different sense of urgency than Ohio State, and they have a definitive identity on offense.”
With a 62–3 blowout of the Cornhuskers on Saturday night, Ohio State showed enough urgency and identity to set the stage for an epic showdown in Columbus on Nov. 26. “Relief is probably the correct word,” Meyer said of his emotions after Ohio State’s win. The Game, as it’s known in these parts, will be The Game in all of college football this year. And perhaps most years.
Prepare yourself for the most hyped Big Ten game in a decade, as Ohio State and Michigan are on a collision course for a matchup for the ages. It promises to be the biggest game in the conference since the rivals met as the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country in 2006. Unless something stunning occurs the next two weeks, Michigan and Ohio State will play for a spot in the Big Ten title game and essentially a spot in the College Football Playoff. This will be the collegiate version of Red Sox-Yankees in an ALCS Game 7, Patriots-Cowboys in the Super Bowl or Celtics-Lakers in a Game 7 of the NBA Finals. The confluence of two of the biggest brands in college sports, two top-flight coaches and two of the elite teams in college football give this all the trappings of a game they’ll be making a 30 for 30 about someday.
There’s been an undercurrent of unease around Columbus the past month. It’s rooted in the fact that last year’s Ohio State team, with perhaps the most talented roster in college football, squandered a chance at the playoff when Michigan State beat it on a last-second field goal here. Even with a roster considered the youngest in college football this season, the looming notion of an underperforming sequel nagged at the Buckeyes. In Ohio State’s dominant 45–24 victory at Oklahoma on Sept. 17, the Buckeyes flashed enough talent to overcome their youth. But a loss at Penn State—thanks in large part to two special teams blunders—and two flat offensive performances had Buckeye nation uptight. How could they average just 21 points in regulation the past three games? How come electric jitterbug Curtis Samuel isn’t getting more touches? When will the offense find the rhythm it discovered in its dominating performances at Michigan last year and against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl?
Meyer was privately concerned about the state of his team, despite putting on a good face publicly. “I’ve been going to acting school,” he said. “I was a mess.”
Meyer may have been a mess, but the Buckeyes cleaned up well on Saturday night. The urgency showed on the first possession of the game, as safety Damon Webb opened the scoring with a 36-yard interception return for a touchdown. There was a clear and deliberate attempt to feature Samuel, as Ohio State began its first possession by passing to him for nine yards on the first play and picking up 16 yards on a jet sweep on the second. (Samuel finished with 137 yards receiving, 41 rushing and two touchdowns on Saturday, a much different result than ignoring him for long stretches of the Penn State game.) “Curtis was outstanding,” Meyer said. “He’s a giant piece of the puzzle.” 
The identity became clearer, too, as Samuel was featured and quarterback J.T. Barrett got better protection while spraying passes around Ohio Stadium like it was 2014 all over again. He finished the night 26 for 38 with 290 yards and four touchdowns. Barrett put on a show for his high school coach, Jim Garfield, who flew up to Columbus from Texas to see Barrett play here for the first time in his career. (The two shared a long hug on the Buckeyes’ pregame walk into the stadium.) “It was good to get my man up here,” Barrett said. “He’s done so much for me. For him to be able to come up for a game, you know he ate that up.”  
Barrett’s big night included an enduring symbol of dominant Meyer teams of yesteryear, a jump pass on the final play of the first half where Barrett hit Samuel from one yard out with three seconds left for a touchdown. Somewhere, Tim Tebow smiled at the trademark Meyer play, which gave the Buckeyes a 31–3 halftime lead. Meyer himself smiled broadly when asked if Ohio State had found its identity. “I hope so,” he said. “At least for the next 12 hours.”
It was a night for exhales in Columbus. The biggest and most important came when Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. jogged back to the sideline in the third quarter, a symbol of his improved health. The game’s scariest moment came after Armstrong hit his head on the turf on a hard, but clean, tackle by Ohio State safety Malik Hooker late in the second quarter. He got carted off the field on a stretcher and taken away in an ambulance, but Nebraska soon released a statement saying he’d briefly been knocked unconscious but was moving his extremities and talking. Armstrong’s jog back onto the field, which signified no serious injury, was greeted with cheers and chants by the Ohio State fans.
The next time the Buckeye faithful return to the Shoe will be in three weeks. Ohio State takes trips to Maryland and Michigan State the next two weeks. Michigan goes to Iowa and hosts Indiana. None of those games should be close.
Steeped in lore, hate and intensity, this edition of The Game will mark the first true chapter of the Meyer-Harbaugh rivalry, as both of their teams are now bona fide national title contenders. Michigan has set the standard for Big Ten play this season. Ohio State showed on Saturday night with a dominating performance over a top 10 team that it’s catching up quickly. “Wow, I didn’t see that coming,” Meyer said. With the Buckeyes’ win Saturday, we can all see the hype ahead for the season-ending showdown that looms in three weeks, as The Game appears set to live up to its name. 

College Football Playoff projections
Peach BowlDec. 31Atlanta, Ga.(1) Alabama vs. (4) Ohio State
Fiesta BowlDec. 31Glendale, Ariz.(2) Clemson vs. (3) Washington
Texas A&M, No. 4 in the first CFP Rankings, took one on the chin, though, falling at Mississippi State and possibly losing quarterback Trevor Knight in the process. The Aggies' problems in Starkville go beyond Knight's injury, and backup Jake Hubenak played reasonably well. The good news for the Aggies is that they are done playing on the road. If they can beat LSU in the season finale, they should still get to the Sugar Bowl.
The SEC East is guaranteed to have a champion with at least two losses after Florida fell at Arkansas. It could be as many as four losses if the Gators lose on the road at LSU and Florida State, and Tennessee, which has faded, loses one more time.
Nebraska fell out of the Cotton Bowl projection after losing to Ohio State 62-3. The Huskers were already down 24-3 in the second quarter when quarterback Tommy Armstrong got knocked out of the game and carted off the field in a scary moment. He did return to the sidelines in the second half in street clothes. His availability going forward is unknown. Penn Statereplaced Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl projection.
New Year's Six bowl projections
Sugar BowlJan. 2New Orleans, La.Oklahoma (Big 12) vs. Texas A&M (SEC)
Rose BowlJan. 2Pasadena, Calif.Michigan (Big Ten) vs. Utah (Pac-12)
Cotton BowlJan. 2Arlington, Tex.San Diego State (At-large) vs. Penn State (At-large)
Orange BowlDec. 30Miami, Fla.Louisville (ACC) vs. Wisconsin
The Big 12 is down to a single one-loss team after Baylor got drilled at home 62-22 by TCU. You might not be able to partially blame this loss on former coach Art Briles, but it was a day of distractions for the Bears as all the talk was about why the team wore black, why a company was selling #CAB shirts across the street from the stadium, and why the assistant coaches sent out a statement of support for their former boss. TCU came ready to play though, and Baylor's league title hopes are all but done.
This week's projection has 75 bowl-eligible teams. That number has been holding reasonably steady in the mid-70s for the past few weeks. Last week, I wrote that I did not think Notre Dame would accept a bowl bid at 5-7. After losing to Navy, I don't think that will be a problem for the Irish anymore. The five teams expected to finish 5-7 in this week's bowl projections are Boston CollegeNC StateNorthern IllinoisUtah State and UTEP.

Why Ohio State is the perfect team to knock out Alabama

By Stewart Mandel

During our Facebook Live wrap-up show Saturday night, Bruce Feldman threw out a curveball question that initially flustered myself and our host Kristen Balboni: Rank the three teams we think would have the best shot of beating Alabama.
My first thought was … three? Can we start with one?
We’d just finished watching the Tide suck the last drops of blood out of valiant challenger LSU, blanking the Tigers 10-0. Yes, ‘Bama went three quarters without scoring, but only the most ardent believers in SEC BIAS came away from that game unimpressed with Nick Saban’s team.
The Tide’s swarming defense held LSU star Leonard Fournette below 40 yards for the second straight year. They held the Tigers scoreless despite two Jalen Hurts turnovers on LSU’s side of the field. And their freshman quarterback weathered those mistakes and three quarters of heavy duress to eventually lead a 90-yard drive culminating in his own 21-yard touchdown run.
Alabama is not unbeatable by any means. Heck, if LSU had even an above-average quarterback to complement Fournette and that defense it might have won Saturday night.
It’s just that there’s not an obvious foil.
Surging Auburn (7-2) likely has the best remaining shot in the regular season. Running back Kamryn Pettway is averaging 192.5 yards over his last four games, while Carl Lawson and the Tigers’ defense ranks fourth in the SEC (5.0 yards per play). Still, Auburn pulling a 2016 Iron Bowl upset would be infinitely more stunning than their 2010 and ’13 wins.
So let’s turn to possible playoff opponents.
Michigan fans presumably believe their thus-far dominant team is the closest thing to Alabama’s equal. The 9-0 Wolverines sit just behind Alabama at No. 2 nationally in total defense and rank higher in total offense (No. 13 versus No. 19). After thumping Maryland 59-3 on Saturday, they are beating their opponents by a national-best margin of 37.3 points per game.
But Jim Harbaugh’s pro-style team, perhaps good enough to beat almost any team in the country, makes for a bad matchup against Saban’s team.
You’re not going to out-Alabama Alabama. Ask LSU. While Wolverines QB Wilton Speight is more formidable than LSU’s Danny Etling and their offense more imaginative in general (Jabrill Peppers as Wildcat QB), Saban’s six losses over the past five years have all come against spread offenses with quarterbacks who can run.
Which brings us to Clemson. We know Deshaun Watson can neutralize Alabama’s defense, because he did it in last year’s national title game. And most of the weapons who helped him do it – RB Wayne Gallman, WRs Hunter Renfrow and Artavis Scott, TE Jordan Leggett – are still there.
But the turnover-prone Tigers (9-0) have not inspired the same degree of confidence in 2016 as they did in 2015. Every notable game on their schedule has required an 11th-hour escape. If anything, Alabama is the elite team that could make Clemson pay for its mistakes in a way its ACC foes have not.
Though it lost to Clemson, 8-1 Louisville boasts potentially the ultimate Kryptonite in electrifying dual-threat QB Lamar Jackson. One could see the potential Heisman winner demystifying the Tide’s defense in much the same way former Heisman QBs Cam Newton (2010) and Johnny Manziel (2012) did.
Louisville’s problem is it appears increasingly unlikely to get the opportunity from the committee since Clemson is about to wrap up the ACC Atlantic.
Washington (9-0) is a potential wild-card. Chris Petersen’s team is dominating the West Coast thanks in large part to ultra-efficient QB Jake Browning (34 TDs, three INTs). I love watching the Huskies, but it’s hard for me to project how they’d fare against mighty Alabama when they have not beaten an opponent remotely of that caliber this year or even anytime in the program’s recent history.
Which brings us to my answer. The team I’d give the best shot of beating this year’s Alabama team is the same one that handed the Tide their last postseason defeat -- Ohio State.
At the same time the Tide were sweating it out with LSU on Saturday night, Urban Meyer’s 8-1 team was handing Nebraska the second-worst defeat, 62-3, of any game in history between Top 10 opponents. Yes, the Huskers (7-2) were pretty obviously overrated … but not by THAT much. Just a week earlier they went to Madison and took a legit top 10 Wisconsin team to overtime.
Ohio State’s secondary flourished yet again Saturday, with safeties Damon Webb and Malik Hooker notching pick-sixes. (The Buckeyes now have a school-record six this season.) More importantly, after a month-long funk, the Buckeyes’ offense exploded Saturday behind QB J.T. Barrett and RB/WR Curtis Samuel.
Are the 2016 Buckeyes on the level of their 2014 predecessors? Not yet. But that team, like many of Meyer’s, was a lot better by the postseason than it was for much of the regular season.
Ohio State will have to knock off Michigan on Nov. 26 to even have a chance to possibly match up with Alabama. If they can get there, though, they have three key ingredients for that matchup – an elite coach, elite recruits and a dynamic dual-threat QB.
It’s a pretty simple formula.
In fact, it’s Alabama’s.
And now, a few more takeaways from Week 10 as we reset the landscape for Week 11.
Baylor football is a dysfunctional mess
On Saturday, 4-4 TCU thumped arch-rival Baylor 62-22 in Waco. Not to take anything away from the Horned Frogs, but it’s no wonder the Bears (6-2, 3-2 Big 12) imploded given the absurd level of toxicity surrounding their program. Among the lowlights:
*  Interim coach Jim Grobe said Saturday he had no prior warning that his entire staff (all former Art Briles assistants) would tweet out a joint statement the night before the game defending their former boss.
*  Amidst a school-designated “Green Out,” some fans came up with the great idea to sell black “#CAB” (Coach Art Briles) T-shirts in support of the long-since ousted coach. A #CAB banner hung from one of the stadium’s suites.
*  Star running back Shock Linwood reportedly shoved an assistant coach on the sideline Saturday. Grobe didn’t know about that either.
This always figured to be a lost season for the Bears in light of the sexual assault scandal that cost their former coach his job. But they were still 6-1 prior to the TCU game. This week they visit Oklahoma -- wait and see what further drama inflicts the team prior to that one.
Penn State’s offense is soaring
James Franklin made an unconventional coordinator hire last offseason in Fordham head coach Joe Moorhead, who pledged to install an exciting, aggressive spread offense. But for the first five weeks or so, Penn State’s revamped attack seemed barely more explosive than in Franklin’s first two years.
Then it clicked.
On Saturday, the Nittany Lions (7-2, 5-1 Big Ten) notched their fifth straight win, 41-14 over Iowa (5-4, 3-3). Star RB Saquon Barkley (211 total yards, two TDs) continued his recent tear, while QB Trace McSorley was a cool 11-of-18 for 240 yards and two TDs.
“We spent a lot of time in the offseason studying different schemes, different offenses," Franklin said afterward. "This is kind of how we envisioned it, and obviously when you've got a guy like Saquon Barkley, he changes things for everybody."
Penn State rose into the Top 10 Sunday. If it wins this week at Indiana (5-4, 3-3) it will be well on its way to a New Year’s Six bowl.
Navy knows how to win a football game
Coach Ken Niumatalolo’s program has won 21 of its last 25 games, but few sweeter than Saturday’ s 28-27 victory over Notre Dame. It’s not just that the Midshipmen rarely beat the Irish (13 times in 90 years). QB Will Worth executed the triple-option so well (running for 175 yards) that Navy limited the Irish to six possessions the entire game and salted away the final 7:28 without even scoring.
This week, the Midshipmen (6-2, 4-1 AAC) face Tulsa (7-2, 4-1). The winner takes control of the league’s West Division. Despite losing Top 5 Heisman finisher Keenan Reynolds from last year’s 11-2 squad and after Reynolds’ successor, Tago Smith, tore his ACL in the season opener, Navy is cruising thanks to Worth. A year removed from serving primarily as the team’s holder, the senior has five 100-yard rushing games.
“We are where we are right now because of Will Worth,” said Niumatalolo. “He has given our team belief, helped create an image for our football team. We’re a scrappy team that’s not going to back down from anybody. A lot of that comes from the way Will plays.”
Oklahoma is sneaking back around
Following disappointing September losses to Houston and Ohio State, the 7-2 Sooners have quietly built a 6-0 Big 12 record and slipped back into the Top 10 of the polls Sunday. QB Baker Mayfield is the nation’s second-rated passer, and the offense has survived both RB Samaje Perine’s leg injury and Joe Mixon’s suspension last week against Iowa State.
But for the second straight year, OU’s schedule has worked out such that it faces the conference’s three other ranked teams – AP No. 25 Baylor, No. 11 West Virginia (7-1, 4-1) and No. 17 Oklahoma State (7-2, 5-1) -- in its last three games.
A year ago, the Sooners beat three straight Top 15 foes to wrap up the conference and a playoff berth. If they run this table, they’ll become the first Big 12 team to go 9-0 since the league began round-robin play in 2011. A playoff berth, though, would likely require multiple upsets in conference title games.
Michigan State has officially hit rock bottom
Of all the sport’s prominent flops this year – 3-6 Notre Dame, 3-6 Oregon, 4-5 Ole Miss among them – Michigan State’s is arguably the most baffling and indisputably the most precipitous. A program that went 7-1 or better in Big Ten play five of the past six seasons is now 0-6 after losing 31-27 to Illinois.
Yes, Illinois.
Saturday in East Lansing will be an unimaginably humbling moment for Spartans fans, as the defending Big Ten champs host Big Ten punchline Rutgers, both teams winless in conference play and 2-7 overall. Michigan State joined the Big Ten 63 years ago; this is the first time it has ever started 0-6.
"We can't let things get worse," senior linebacker Riley Bullough told reporters. "They can always get worse."
That’s hard to imagine. But if the Spartans lose to Rutgers ...
Just for fun …
It hasn’t been a fun year for Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville, whose team is 4-5, and following an embarrassing 20-3 home loss to BYU on Saturday, the coach snapped. A TV camera caught him afterward shouting at a heckler in the stands to “go to hell” and “get a job.”
Tuberville makes a reported $2.2 million a year. That’s not a good look. In fact, we’d encourage him to take a cue from an unpaid amateur.
Presumably this has not been a fun season for Misssouri QB Drew Lock, either. His team is 2-7 overall and 0-5 in the SEC, the latest setback a 31-21 defeat at South Carolina. So when someone in the Gamecocks’ student section threw a water bottle at him Saturday, Lock, too, could have snapped.
Instead, he did something much different. He picked it up and took a swig.
“I thought I’d try to have a little fun, show some extra emotion for the guys and, hopefully, get us a little riled up and have some fun,” he said afterward.
Of course, given it came from the student section, it’s highly probable that wasn’t water in there – but given that offense he’s playing in, maybe that’s a good thing.

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