The latest College Football Playoff rankings bring bad news for Louisville

The Louisville football team has not been ranked in any of the College Football Playoff rankings this season, even after winning three straight games to close the regular season.This past week, results from elsewhere in the country hurt the Cardinals.The ACC first sends teams to the top six bowl games, named the New Year’s Six and including the College Football Playoff. Those teams will be Clemson and Miami this year.Then, the conference sends teams to each of the bowls with ACC tie-ins. In years when Notre Dame is bowl-eligible and not in one of the New Year’s Six games, the Fighting Irish take up one of the ACC’s slots, bumping every other team from the conference down one notch. More: Breaking down Louisville football’s bowl chances after Kentucky win After the latest playoff rankings, that appears probable. The New Year’s Six teams are mostly set, with Notre Dame, Washington and TCU competing for the last spot. Tuesday, the committee ranked TCU 11th, Washington 13th and Notre Dame 15th. Neither Washington nor Notre Dame plays again, making it difficult for Notre Dame to jump into that last slot.That could be crucial this year. In short, Notre Dame being in the fold for the ACC means Louisville will almost certainly not end the season in Orlando, and it could make a trip to the Sun Bowl more likely and a trip to the TaxSlayer Bowl or Pinstripe Bowl less likely.The Cards are guaranteed at least a spot in one of the first-tier bowl games — the Pinstripe in New York City, the Sun in El Paso, Texas, the Belk in Charlotte, North Carolina, and either the Music City in Nashville, Tennessee, or the TaxSlayer in Jacksonville, Florida.Notre Dame’s presence in that tier changes, for example, this hypothetical scenario. If the Irish played in a New Year’s Six game and not through an ACC tie-in, say, Virginia Tech (9-3) could go to an Orlando bowl game, and the four-team pool would consist of Louisville, NC State, Wake Continue Reading

Snap judgments from Week 12 in college football: Jim Harbaugh can’t win the big one

College football fans love to overreact each week, and we’re here to help. Jim Harbaugh can’t win the big one Yes, Harbaugh came in and immediately turned around a program in free fall but at some point, you have to win a game against a top 10 team — and then prove you can do that consistently. That hasn’t been the case at Michigan, as the Wolverines are 1-6 against AP top 10 teams under Harbaugh, their latest defeat coming Saturday at Wisconsin. Sure, Michigan lost quarterback Brandon Peters midway through the second half, but this doesn’t change the fact that Michigan is supposed to have a higher standard than most other college football programs. At some point, Harbaugh needs to meet that standard — and ideally, bypass it.  Wisconsin looks like a Playoff teamEveryone keeps doubting the Badgers, and, meanwhile, they keep piling up wins — 11 in a row to start the season, to be exact. And after a physical win against Michigan, the Badgers are likely to gain some respect from the College Football Playoff committee, which had Wisconsin at No. 5 in its latest rankings. Wisconsin still has to get past Minnesota (which got smoked by Northwestern on Saturday) before meeting Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game. At this point, no one should rule out running back Jonathan Taylor & Co. The Badgers know how to win and could very well play their way into the Playoff.  MORE: College football's Week 12 winners and losers MORE: Bad behavior won't slow Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield's Heisman campaign BIG TEN: Wisconsin knocks off Michigan to stay unbeaten, still on path to Playoff Don’t advance Miami to the Playoff just yetSpeaking of the postseason that matters, think Miami got caught looking ahead a little bit? The Hurricanes will play Clemson in the ACC title game and after two prime-time games — Virginia Tech and Notre Dame — they looked very Continue Reading

College football: Memphis Tigers bound for Birmingham Bowl, projections say

With eight victories and two — and possibly three — games remaining on the schedule, there's no question the University of Memphis will be playing some postseason football somewhere.Where? That depends on where you look.According to the most recent bowl projections by a several national outlets, the Birmingham Bowl seems to be the preferred location. Athlon, SB Nation, Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports and the Sporting News currently project the Tigers for a spot in the Dec. 23 game at Legion Field.Both CBS and the Sporting News match Memphis against UAB in what would be a renewal of a Battle of the Bones rivalry from the days when both teams were in Conference USA and the winner got a 100-pound bronze casting of a rack of ribs.SB Nation matches the Tigers and Georgia State, who were originally set to meet on Sept. 30 before the game was canceled in order for Memphis and UCF to play a re-scheduled game. Athlon has a Memphis-Western Kentucky match-up while Sports Illustrated has the Tigers playing Boston College.Both USA Today and College Sports Madness have the Tigers heading to the Hawai'i Bowl in Honolulu on Dec. 24 to face either San Diego State (USA Today) or Colorado State (College Sports Madness). The lone outlier is ESPN; analysts Kyle Bonagura and David M. Hale predict a Memphis-Utah State game in Frisco (Texas) Bowl on Dec. 20.Interestingly, none of the national cites foresee Memphis heading to Atlanta for the Peach Bowl on New Year's Day, which could be a possibility provided they defeat SMU on Saturday, East Carolina on Nov. 25 and then win the AAC championship game on Dec. 3. More: Memphis football is No. 21 in latest College Football Playoff rankings More: Memphis football preparing for biggest games in program history Reach John Varlas at [email protected] or on Twitter @johnvarlas.   Continue Reading

Notre Dame is No. 8 in latest College Football Playoff ranking

SOUTH BEND — If it wasn’t official Saturday night at Hard Rock Stadium, it is now: Notre Dame is out of the College Football Playoff conversation for this season.In the latest rankings released Tuesday night, the selection committee dropped the Fighting Irish (8-2) five spots to No. 8 following a crushing 41-8 defeat in Miami over the weekend. Meanwhile, the still undefeated Hurricanes moved up four spots and replaced the Irish at No. 3.The new top four consists of No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Clemson, No. 3 Miami, and No. 4 Oklahoma. They're followed by No. 5 Wisconsin, No. 6 Auburn, No. 7 Georgia, No. 8 Notre Dame, No. 9 Ohio State, and No. 10 Penn State.All is not lost for Notre Dame, despite the way the team and fans might feel after such a brutal loss. Though the Irish cannot play for a conference championship as an Independent, they face Navy on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC) and visit No. 22 Stanford after Thanksgiving -- the Cardinal are ranked after upsetting then-No. 9 Washington (now No. 18) last Thursday. If Notre Dame wins both games, it will finish the regular season 10-2 and likely have a chance to play in a New Year’s Six bowl game.Brian Kelly was asked about that being the team's new goal at his weekly news conference earlier Tuesday.“Clearly, the most important thing for our guys right now is to get back on the winning ways,” Kelly said. “They can count. They know how important it is to win and win games, and they know, if they win football games, good things will happen down the road.“We were 7-1 and they put us up there and said how great we were and then we haven’t played quite as well. What we’ve done is refocused our guys back on day to day. We’ve been really good when it’s been day to day.”The final playoff rankings will be released Dec. 3. Follow IndyStar Notre Dame Insider Laken Litman on Twitter and Instagram: @lakenlitman. MORE: Brian Kelly believes Continue Reading

Viewer’s guide to best college football weekend of regular season

It's the biggest weekend of this 2017 college football season, with seven Top 25 matchups on the Nov. 11 schedule, including three top-10 showdowns.No doubt, this sport’s capacity to defy predictability is what always keeps us coming back for more.Here's a closer look at five of the games, plus, some key Pac-12 games. COLLEGE FOOTBALL ON TV:  This week's top games Saturday, 6 p.m., Channel 15 Simple arithmetic dictates that at least one champion of a Power Five conference won’t be included in the four-team field. That number increases if a team without affiliation can craft a playoff-worthy resume. The Fighting Irish will have done just that if they can get to the finish line at 11-1, adding this road contest against the unbeaten Hurricanes to their ledger in the process. A second loss, on the other hand, would eliminate Notre Dame from the mix. A Miami win would not quite guarantee the ACC a spot at the table but would move the league a step closer. Saturday, 6 p.m., Channel 10Though a couple of games remain for both teams, the winner of this first-place showdown just about locks up the Big 12 regular-season title. There’s a quantum of solace for the loser, however, which would still have a chance to finish second and earn a rematch. That will depend in part on how some other action on Saturday unfolds, like Oklahoma State’s visit to Iowa State, but neither can afford to take any chances since a two-loss league champion would be a playoff long shot. Saturday, 1:30 p.m., Channel 5Speaking of teams with two losses, Auburn is probably the lone team in that category that can still win its own way into the playoff. It’s a big ask, of course. The Bulldogs don’t necessarily need this game since they already have the SEC East wrapped up. But the Tigers shouldn’t count on any disinterest from Georgia, a long-time league rival who’d rather not have to face a team a second time if it can be Continue Reading

College Football Countdown | No. 59: Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is the Atlantic Coast Conference's third bowl of porridge – not too good, not too bad, but just right. The Panthers don't threaten the league's top half; the Panthers aren't threatened by the league's bottom half. They're right in the middle, just good enough to remain in focus but not good enough to fulfill the annual promise of next-step existence.This could change, could change quite quickly, but only if the Panthers become what we think they'll be: Pitt could be on the verge of something impressive.But it's all tied up in potential. Nine projected starters are sophomores – five on offense, four on defense. Conversely, only seven projected starters are seniors. Take the offensive line, for example: Pitt will start two sophomores and likely lean on a second tier of one sophomore and four redshirt freshmen.Let's look at this and be positive, as always. For one, this seems to highlight how Paul Chryst and his staff have identified quick-impact prospects on the recruiting trail; contrary to the star ratings and team rankings, the Panthers have done a nice job finding talent and recouping depth on a roster dinged by near-constant coaching turnover.Secondly, today's up-and-down behavior – only a single three-game winning streak since 2010 – nevertheless holds significant promise: Pitt has built the foundation for a projected rise up the ACC ladder, finding and developing players with the ability to contribute today – if in fits and starts – and the potential to gain on-the-job experience in one of the most competitive divisions in college football.And there's this: Pitt could always be ahead of schedule. That might be a stretch, but you can see the blueprint for turning just right into something much, much more.LAST YEAR'S PREDICTION: There are winnable games, however, and then there's this: Pitt's defense is good enough to carry this team. But to say that the Panthers can win six or more games without a strong offense Continue Reading

College Football Countdown | No. 66: Utah

The simple mathematics of conference standings suggest that a 9-0 team must be matched by an 0-9 team, or perhaps a pair of 2-7 teams and a 6-3 team, or thereabouts. The math is hazy.The basic point: Good teams must be matched by bad teams, at least when it comes to the standings, and that's how the whole thing works. In the Pac-12, for example, every Oregon demands a California – and every Stanford needs a California, since the Golden Bears lose enough games to share the wealth.This is doubly true in the Pac-12 South Division, where at least three teams – and perhaps four – enter the latter days of summer conditioning with distinct and realistic hopes of winning 10 or more games and taking a spot in the conference title game.This is good for the Pac-12, the deepest conference in the country, but bad for Utah – yes, Utah, the former Mountain West Conference power with exactly 10 wins since the start of the 2012 season, five in league play.Utah hasn't ceded control of the division to Arizona State, USC and UCLA; the Utes never owned it, nor made even a halfhearted run at the Rose Bowl during the program's three seasons in the Pac-12. The Utes simply came, saw and were conquered, quickly becoming to the South Division's elite what California and Washington State have been to the North.It wasn't supposed to be this way, of course, nor should it be this way. And it may no longer be this way, should Utah's latest offensive coordinator rediscover the Utes' scoring punch. But let's remember the math: someone needs to go 2-7. Why not Utah?LAST YEAR'S PREDICTION: The offense will benefit from teaming Johnson with a coach of Erickson's experience and expertise. Defensively, I think the Utes' new plan up front – quicker on the edge – will pay dividends against explosive Pac-12 defenses. The back seven is a concern, one that will hamper this team's defensive efforts, but it shouldn't prevent Utah from moving back into bowl play.2013 RECAP:In Continue Reading

College Football Countdown | No. 115: New Mexico State

New Mexico State's latest defensive coordinator, Larry Coyer, began his coaching career when Aggies coach Doug Martin was in diapers – and Martin, 51, is the fifth-oldest coach in the Sun Belt Conference, the Aggies' new home after a year spent as an independent, fending off a demotion to the Football Championship Subdivision.For Coyer, a career that began at Marshall, his alma mater, has gone through Bowling Green, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Iowa, East Carolina, the USFL, the NFL, Houston, UCLA, Ohio State and now, a couple of decades later, New Mexico State. If experience counts, his charge will be to lift a historically inept defense into the range of respectability. SPRING FOOTBALL: Sun Belt ConferenceYou'd call Coyer's task Sisyphean, but at least Sisyphus had a rock. In comparison, the Aggies' defense had four players start all 12 games of last season; none return. Of the team's top six tacklers, five must be replaced. Three total sacks return, along with four interceptions, 12 tackles for loss, one forced fumble and six pass breakups.The Aggies' most recent depth chart includes nearly three times as many freshmen and sophomores, 13, as seniors, five. While February's recruiting class yielded 15 prospects headed for the defensive side of the ball, only one came from the JUCO ranks – meaning this group's impact, if it ever comes, will be felt down the road and not in 2014.But the good news is that it can't get any worse than last season's full-on meltdown. Case in point: New Mexico's 66-17 slaughter on Oct. 5, when the Lobos gained 541 rushing yards on 56 carries to send the Aggies head over feet into the Gulf of California, or thereabouts.LAST YEAR'S PREDICTION: Any progress New Mexico State makes under a first-year coach will be tempered by the schedule this team will face in its lone season (hopefully) as an FBS independent. The Aggies commonly played two automatic-qualifying teams during non-conference play as a member of the WAC, but this Continue Reading

College Football Countdown | No. 95: Virginia

It's been three seasons since Virginia's last win – you know, fall, winter, spring and so on.The Cavaliers' most recent version was the sort of team that could gain 505 yards of total offense, force three turnovers, commit zero turnovers, rack up 29 first downs and control the clock for nearly 38 minutes but still lose, as was the case in a 27-26 setback to rival-no-more Maryland on Oct. 12. COUNTDOWN: Complete list (so far)In the wider view, this has become the sort of program that wins as many games in the fall as five-star prospects it signs in February – two. That UVa reeled in difference-making talent speaks to the recruiting pedigree seen on this coaching staff; that UVa hasn't won a game in Atlantic Coast Conference play since 2012 speaks to something else altogether, of course.This is going to sting: Virginia has one winning season since 2008; Virginia Tech hasn't suffered a losing season since 1992. UVa is nine years removed from the program's last bowl win, seven years removed from its last winning streak of more than four games and just shy of two decades removed from the second of the Cavaliers' two shared ACC titles.How many ACC teams have failed to reach the postseason in each of the last two seasons? Two: UVa and Wake Forest. How many major-conference programs? Eleven: Wake Forest, Kansas, Indiana, Illinois, California, Utah, Colorado, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas and Virginia. How many of these same programs have failed to reach at least two bowls during the last six years?Four: Kansas, Indiana, Colorado and Virginia.When it comes to major-conference college football, you do not want to be part of any club that would have Kansas, Indiana and recent-days Colorado as a member. So if better days in Charlottesville do lie ahead, as some have suggested, that may be only by default.LAST YEAR'S PREDICTION: When it comes to today, a team with this much inexperience under center, this questionable an offensive front and a recent history of Continue Reading

College Football Countdown | No. 62: Rice

You'd have to go back 15 years to find the last Rice defense that played with such aplomb, and another 30-plus years before that to find a defense that played with such aplomb during a winning season – because winning Rice seasons are admittedly few and far between, rarer even than the Owls' occasional defensive stinginess.Yet it wasn't the offense that carried the Owls to the third 10-win season in program history, the second under eighth-year coach David Bailiff, in 2013. It was the defense: Rice finished fourth in Conference USA in total defense, trimming its per-game total by roughly 15%, and finished fifth in scoring, allowing one fewer touchdown per game.Last year's defense allowed only two opponents, both from the SEC, to score more than 34 points; five opponents did so in 2012, with the Owls dropping four of five, and a combined 16 did so from 2010-12. In the Conference USA title game, Rice held high-octane Marshall to 371 yards of offense on 4.76 yards per play – the Thundering Herd's second-worst performance in each category during an otherwise explosive season.This might be why the program's latest 10-win season seems more like the start of a trend – a trend toward annual bowl participation – and less of a flash in the pan. The 2008 breakthrough qualifies as the latter: Bailiff's follow-ups included a 10-loss season and back-to-back four-win years before an uptick into the postseason in 2012.Yeah, it feels a little different. The Owls took 10 games in 2008 thanks only to an unstoppably effective offense; the status quo returned once the quarterback and receiver left the building. Last year's 10-win finish and conference title had a different feel – still explosive, still aggressive, still pushing the ball offensively, but tempered by the balance provided by a stouter defense. If that's the formula for the future, the Owls are in good shape.LAST YEAR'S PREDICTION: Getting back to six wins shouldn't be too difficult, though Continue Reading