Some Penn State fans have grown a little paranoid this week, after the latest series of bad calls against them. But can you really blame the group? The missed calls against Ohio State weren’t isolated incidents; they were part of a pattern. It’s systematic! A conspiracy!

Luckily, our equipment -- laptop/TV -- isn’t broken, so let’s replay Saturday’s egregious acts and then break this case wide open. Two minutes into the game, the officials’ replay system just so happened to fail when Christian Hackenberg threw a clearly incomplete pass that was ruled an interception. It didn’t help much that the refs insisted they couldn’t see the play on their own equipment and weren’t allowed to look elsewhere, like, oh, I don’t know, up at the TWO NEW GIANT VIDEO BOARDS. Yeah, tough to get a good look when there are two big screens that feature a combined total of 10,285 square feet of video space and show replays in high definition just behind each end zone.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
MCT via Getty ImagesPenn State's James Franklin wasn't real pleased with the officiating last Saturday.
Or maybe they could just borrow a smart phone from one of the fans in the front row (maybe the fan could put a jacket over an official so he could feel like he was in a booth) if they felt they needed a closer look.

Innocent mistake or malice?

A quarter later came Ohio State’s 49-yard field goal, which was snapped about three seconds after the play clock expired. Referee John O’Neill and his crew messed up so many calls that there has to be something more sinister at play. Ohio State needed the win to keep its – and the Big Ten’s -- playoff hopes alive. The Buckeyes’ game at Michigan State is a playoff elimination game if both enter with just one loss, and can’t have Ohio State stumble before that Nov. 8 primetime matchup, right? Naturally, the B1G officials had to protect the B1G. If it takes out Penn State in the process, that’s acceptable collateral damage. So, of course, the biggest screw-ups just so happened to go against the Nittany Lions.

Coincidence? Even Dana Scully thinks that’s a reach.

O’Neill is the same official who worked the Penn State-Nebraska game in 2012, when the crew ruled tight end Matt Lehman did not cross the goal-line for a score. Here’s visual evidence to the contrary.

But wait, there’s more proof that officials are clearly out to get Penn State. Remember the Penn State-Michigan game earlier this season? How about the Lions’ onside kick recovery, when tight end Jesse James was ruled offside and the ball was mistakenly given to the Wolverines? Does THIS look offside to you?

And just for fun apparently, on Monday, somehow, linebacker Mike Hull – easily the best linebacker in the conference – didn’t make the list of Butkus semifinalists. Penn State’s coaches didn’t hide their feelings there.

So how do you explain all that?

To quote Joseph Heller, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

Overreaction of the week: All this fuss over the College Football Playoff Rankings, and there’s still a lot of season left.

No, the committee is not out to get your team. Sure, three SEC teams are currently ranked within the top four. But that really doesn’t matter. Seriously. Take a look at where we would’ve stood at this time last season with the rankings, and you’ll see why. After Week 10 in 2013, Michigan State was ranked No. 22 and Auburn was No. 11. But both teams entered the bowl season ranked within the Associated Press' top four.

Oregon and Ohio State were also ranked within those four spots at this time last year -- but finished outside of those four spots following losses late in the season.

In other words, let this serve as a reminder: Rankings can change a lot in a couple weeks and, just because a team’s ranked outside the top four, top 10 -- or maybe even the top 20 doesn’t mean it’s out of the playoff hunt. Six of the committee’s top-10 teams will play at least one other top-10 team, after all.

Underreaction of the week: Why isn't anyone talking about Marshall? Maybe Conference USA should ask for its money back from the PR firm it hired to boost Marshall’s profile in the College Football Playoff. Because the undefeated Thundering Herd (8-0) didn’t make any noise in the inaugural CFP Rankings.

They’re not even ranked.

As was mentioned earlier, teams can move up. Plenty of season is left. But that doesn’t quite hold true for a Group of 5 member that doesn’t boast a single ranked team on its schedule. It’s a bit of a shame, but we just don’t know how good Marshall is. Even Marshall’s nonconference slate is sickeningly easy, with three MAC teams and an FCS school.

The PR firm, Brener Zwikel & Associates, still has time to boost Marshall’s profile. But, since it’s not yet ranked, even overtaking No. 23 East Carolina for a contract bowl won’t be an easy accomplishment.

Rankings Winners And Losers

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
12:11
PM ET


video

Now that the first College Football Rankings have been made official, Brad Edwards looks at who were some of the winners and losers.
video

Brad Edwards and Antonietta Collins react to the College Football Playoff rankings that were released on Tuesday night.

Big Ten playoff tracker: Oct. 29

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
9:00
AM ET
The College Football Playoff rankings are out, but they're hardly the last word. Teams have another five weeks to build their cases for inclusion in the four-team playoff. But they know where they stand now.

Three Big Ten teams remain in the playoff mix. Let's take a look at how things stand for them:

Michigan State

Record: 7-1 (4-0)

Rank: 8

Next big obstacle: Nov. 8 vs. Ohio State

Reason for optimism: The Spartans have won 14 straight games against Big Ten opponents, and their toughest remaining game -- against Ohio State on Nov. 8 -- will be in East Lansing. Plus, their lone loss of the season was at Oregon, which was understandable. They remain the favorites to win the Big Ten and could easily move up as others lose.

Cause for concern: This year's defense has been more susceptible to the big play than defense in recent seasons, and Mark Dantonio's team has yet to play its A-game against a good opponent for four full quarters. The margin of the Oregon loss -- 19 points -- is a black mark, and the Spartans could suffer from the Big Ten's weak perception.

Whom they’ll be rooting for this week: Michigan State wants Ohio State to beat Illinois so the matchup against the Buckeyes is a marquee one. The Spartans need Oregon to beat Stanford and continue winning. They would also benefit from a Florida State loss at Louisville, a Notre Dame loss to Navy and more chaos in the SEC West.

Nebraska

Record: 7-1 (3-1)

Rank:
15

Next big obstacle: Nov. 15 at Wisconsin

Reason for optimism: The Huskers are still lurking in the Big Ten race and could avenge their lone loss -- on the road by five points to Michigan State -- in the Big Ten championship game. They have an easier path to Indianapolis through the Big Ten West and have one of the nation's best players in running back Ameer Abdullah.

Cause for concern: Nebraska's best victory of the season came against a 5-3 Miami team, which just might not be good enough. The Huskers have been inconsistent at times and still have road tests at Wisconsin and Iowa. In their lone marquee game, they trailed Michigan State 27-3 in the fourth quarter before a furious comeback. They also don't have any ranked teams left on the schedule, though that could change if they make the Big Ten title game.

Whom they’ll be rooting for this week: Nebraska still needs a lot of help to move up 11 spots (at least). The Cornhuskers should definitely root for Florida State to lose and will want TCU to go down to West Virginia to weaken the case for both the ACC and Big 12 champ. Losses by Notre Dame, Oregon and chaos in the SEC West are needed. Nebraska also wants Wisconsin and Iowa to keep winning to make those games look more important and for Miami to finish strong.

Ohio State

Record: 6-1 (3-0)

Rank: 16

Next big obstacle: Nov. 8 at Michigan State

Reason for optimism: The Buckeyes have steadily improved since a Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech, and quarterback J.T. Barrett has developed into a reliable playmaker. If the Buckeyes win in East Lansing in two weeks, they should have relatively smooth sailing to the Big Ten championship game. The selection committee will respect Urban Meyer's track record and Ohio State's talent.

Cause for concern: That loss to Virginia Tech -- by two touchdowns, at home -- could be hard to overcome, especially because the Hokies are just 4-4. Other than Michigan State, there's no real opportunity for a statement win. And the Buckeyes barely survived the past week at Penn State, which suggests their offensive improvement might have been built on the back of a weak schedule.

Whom they’ll be rooting for this week: The Buckeyes need all the same carnage Nebraska is hoping for, but at least they could get a significant boost by winning at Michigan State. They'll also want the Huskers to win out and hope to play them in Indianapolis.

National links: Rankings madness 

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
8:30
AM ET
Now that we have had time to digest the first Top 25 from the College Football Playoff Committee, it is pretty obvious the group delivered on the promises it made before the process began.

Strength of schedule matters. Quality wins matter.

The AP and coaches poll do not.

One glance at the College Football Playoff Top 25 and the other rankings clearly illustrates the committee truly started with a clean slate.

There are several discrepancies that illustrate this point:

Big Ten morning links

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
8:00
AM ET
Welcome to a new age of college football. The year is now 1 CFPE. The College Football Playoff Era began last night with the first release of the selection committee’s Top 25 rankings.

1. The Big Ten landed three teams in the initial poll, which is about as good as the league could have expected. The No. 8 Spartans lead the way. Nebraska coming in at No. 15, one spot ahead of Ohio State, was the biggest surprise for Big Ten teams. As entertaining as it was to see the first rankings unveiled, next week’s will be far more interesting. Then we’ll find out if the committee will let its previous rankings affect the new version -- one of the biggest faults of the AP and Coaches’ polls -- or if it will more liberally move teams up and down based on how they look at the moment. Either way it’s safe to assume there will be just as much consternation and complaining about snubs as in the BCFPE.

2. Speaking of snubs, somehow Penn State’s Mike Hull was somehow left off of the list of 15 semifinalists for this year’s Butkus Award for the country’s top linebacker. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who has a vote for the final winner, said he will make Hull a write-in candidate. Fitzgerald said the semifinalist lists, which he was on as a player in the mid-90s, are just a popularity contest. Hull did get noticed by the Bednarik Award folks this week. They added him to the watch list for their top defender award.

3. No snubs this week, however, were more headshaking than the ones Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon dished out to Wolverines fans via e-mail during the past year. A report on mgoblog.com Tuesday revealed a collection of snarky and condescending e-mails that the beleaguered athletic director has sent to fans. It’s baffling that a man described as a master of public relations when he took the job at Michigan in 2010 could be so tone deaf when talking to his customers. Brandon called the blog report "nonsense" when asked about it leaving an award ceremony Tuesday night, but the messages can’t sit well with the university president currently mulling over Brandon’s future at Michigan.

East Division
West Division

Big Ten bowl projections: Week 9

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
8:15
PM ET
Tuesday nights have become rather significant in college football with the release of the playoff selection committee's rankings. As a result, bowl projections also move to Tuesdays and will be released immediately after the committee's rundown.

Last week, we projected Maryland to the Holiday Bowl based on merit, while noting that the Terrapins would have to prove themselves again at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin ended up mauling Maryland, so the Badgers move up the projections. Remember: the Big Ten is taking greater control over bowl pairings this season, so the teams that have earned it on the field, not necessarily those with the largest fan bases, will land in the higher-profile games.

We had a brief discussion about projecting Michigan State or Ohio State to the playoff, but a few more things need to break the Big Ten's way. There's a good chance the winner of the Nov. 8 showdown at Spartan Stadium moves up a rung, but we're not ready to pull the trigger.

We also discussed whether to project Illinois to its first bowl game under coach Tim Beckman after a big home win against Minnesota. The Illini only need two more wins, but we need to see a little more.

Maryland and Rutgers move down after losses. Penn State, meanwhile, actually moves up after taking Ohio State to the brink before falling in two overtimes.

Here are the latest projections:

Chick-fil-A Peach/AT&T Cotton/Fiesta/Capital One Orange: Michigan State
Chick-fil-A Peach/AT&T Cotton/Fiesta/Capital One Orange: Ohio State
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus: Nebraska
Outback: Wisconsin
National University Holiday: Minnesota
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Maryland
San Francisco: Rutgers
New Era Pinstripe: Penn State
Quick Lane: Iowa
Heart of Dallas: Northwestern

SEC West: 3 of top 4 in rankings

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
5:26
PM ET
video

GRAPEVINE, Texas -- The College Football Playoff selection committee has spoken -- and it likes the SEC.

At least for now.

Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn and Mississippi are the top four teams in the first College Football Playoff rankings.

The first of seven Top 25 rankings compiled by a 12-member selection committee was released Tuesday night. The selection committee will ultimately pick the four teams to play in the national semifinals and set the matchups for the other four big New Year's Day bowls that are part of the playoff rotation.

"It was extremely difficult, more difficult than any of us had expected having gone through our mock selections before," Arkansas athletic director and committee chairman Jeff Long said. "There are 18 one-loss teams in FBS at this point in time, and the difference between many of them is very slim."

Oregon was fifth and Alabama was sixth, giving the Southeastern Conference's West Division four of the top six teams. There are still four games remaining matching those SEC West rivals, starting with Saturday's matchup of Auburn and Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi.

"We don't analyze it by conference," Long said. "We look at those teams and evaluate the teams they played and the success they had, or the failures they had."

The final rankings will be released Dec. 7, the day after the most of the conference championships are decided.

"Everyone on the selection committee recognized that our rankings will change over the next six weeks," Long said. "I think that's important for us to emphasize. We expect our rankings to change over the next six weeks. One week's rankings won't influence the next week's rankings."

TCU


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Best of Week 10 Big Ten conference call

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
3:29
PM ET
Questions were asked. Coaches had answers. Here are a few of the highlights from this week's Big Ten conference call.

By the way, if you’re not following us on Twitter, what are you waiting for? Follow along at @ESPNRittenberg, @BennettESPN, @ESPNJoshMoyer, @DanMurphyESPN, @MitchSherman and @AWardESPN.

The College Football Playoff selection committee will issue its first-ever set of rankings Tuesday night.

It's an exciting time for fans and the signal of a bold new beginning for the sport. Many will be glued to their TV sets for the unveiling of the Top 25.

But in terms of appointment viewing for the three Big Ten figures who have the most to gain or lose tonight, this show might as well be a rerun of "New Girl."

On Tuesday's Big Ten coaches' teleconference, I asked Nebraska's Bo Pelini, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and Ohio State's Urban Meyer -- all of whom should see their teams ranked in the top 20 -- how much attention they'd pay to the rankings release. All three said they didn't even plan on watching the show.

"I think you'll notice it, but I think our focus has got to be on our next football game," said Dantonio, whose team has a bye this week before hosting Ohio State. "That will be where the challenge is. I think this is the starting point for everything from a media perspective. I'm really not quite sure how it will even work."

"I'm sure I'll hear about it, but I've got other things on my mind than what that vote is today," Pelini said. "It's not something that affects me."

"I'm sure I'll look at them tomorrow morning," Meyer said. "We're practicing and it's a heavy game plan night. So I know I won't watch it, though I'm aware it's going to happen."

Playoff talk has dominated college football since the end of last season. But even though there are two men with major Big Ten ties on the committee -- Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez and former Nebraska coach/athletic director Tom Osborne -- the coaches all said they were unfamiliar with how the process will work.

Pelini even said he's had no conversations with Osborne about the playoff selection in the past year. I asked him if he'd address the playoff rankings with his team.

"No," he said. "Other than to ignore them."

None of the coaches expected to learn much from the rankings, either, though the committee could tip its hand on which areas -- like strength of schedule, good wins vs. bad losses -- it prioritizes.

"I haven't followed it that much," Meyer said. "I don't know if it's much different than the old BCS system when the BCS rankings came out. The only thing I look at it as, it's four teams instead of two. I really don't understand the whole dynamics."

"I think it's just another poll," Dantonio said. "I'm sure they have their methodology. It will be interesting to watch as it goes through. [But] we need to try and live in the present."

Tonight's show should attract a lot of interested college football fans. But not so many Big Ten coaches, apparently.

"I didn't know the rankings were tonight and will not watch them," Penn State's James Franklin said. "But I am curious about how the whole thing will play out. I will follow it from a distance in my free time."
[+] EnlargeRod Smith
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesRod Smith left Ohio State's football team Tuesday following reports that he failed a drug test and had been dismissed.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Ohio State coaching staff wasn't sure it would have running back Rod Smith back for the start of his final season with the program, and now the senior won't be around for the end of it.

Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer announced Tuesday that Smith had left the program, one day after the Columbus Dispatch, citing a source, reported that the senior failed a drug test and had been dismissed after playing seven games this season.

Smith had missed time during spring practice due to academic issues, and his status had previously been up in the air after missing team meetings without permission.

"Oh, I am [disappointed], but he's had issues really since he's been at Ohio State," Meyer said Tuesday. "We're going to do the best we can, he's going to graduate, I think he's on schedule next summer, and we're going to assist the best we can.

"It's disappointing, but we wish him well."

After bouncing back from his previous issues, Smith had drawn praise from the coaches for his attitude, work ethic and embracing a role on special teams and as a short-yardage tailback. Smith scored five total touchdowns and rushed for 101 yards this season.


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Planning for success: Ohio State

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
9:00
AM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A date with a JUGS machine after Thursday practice has become a weekly habit for Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell.

Considering the results that extra time catching balls is having for the Ohio State safeties, they should probably expect to have a bit more company soon.

Perhaps thanks in part to the additional workload and the time dedicated to improving their hands, both guys nabbed an interception in a double-overtime win for the Buckeyes at Penn State. And since a few of their buddies let picks of their own slip away, they might need to make room for a couple of them during those bonus sessions as the Big Ten season hits the homestretch.

[+] EnlargeOhio State's Vonn Bell
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarVonn Bell had an interception in the Buckeyes' double overtime win at Penn State.
"We need to do some ball drills for some people, that's what we need to do," Powell said. "Obviously not everybody has it all together, so I'm pretty sure we're going to get on that JUGS machine. That's usually what me and Vonn do after Thursday practice, catch a couple balls.

"As you can see for me and him, it came into effect."

Bell's snag came with some controversy and might not have stood up had the all the video angles been available to a replay official, but Powell's was a textbook catch that clearly showed he has been devoting time and attention to that part of his game.

By contrast, cornerback Armani Reeves might have nightmares about a throw from Christian Hackenberg that seemed gift-wrapped for a game-clinching interception that he muffed. The Buckeyes had a couple other chances to put the victory away during regulation that were still on their minds when they went back to the practice field on Monday.

In the meeting room, those are filed under the acronym ‘MOBP.' And a Missed Opportunity to make a Big Play typically comes with a suggestion to do the kind of work Powell and Bell have already made a part of their routine.

"That's extra time on the JUGS, extra time doing functional work," cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said. "Catching balls. Turning around and having to see it suddenly. There are some things that we're going to work on that are going to be beneficial to that for all of our guys.

"The biggest thing is you can't go out there and stand in front of the JUGS machine and catch the ball [in one place] -- it's not functional. You've got to get a scout-team quarterback to throw you the ball, a punter to throw you the ball, you've got to go at the JUGS side to side, catch the ball in different areas. The ones we didn't catch weren't one where a guy said, ‘Hey, here's the ball.' It's turning around, see the ball and grab it. That's the functional part of it."

More often than not, the Buckeyes have proven more than capable of finding the football and grabbing it, and they have a Big Ten-leading 12 interceptions to show for it.

That might be a reflection of another motivational technique the Buckeyes used during training camp, demanding 10 pushups from anybody who dropped an interception on the practice field. That's one tradition that appears to have fallen by the wayside since the season started, but maybe Powell will have to bring that one back if his teammates don't start joining him on Thursday nights.

"See that's the problem -- there used to be [a penalty], but we let off of it," Powell said. "Now it has to go back into effect. We stopped. ... The last time we did that was earlier in camp.

"We have to bring it back. As you can see, it has to be brought back."

Even if that punishment does return, one surefire way to cut down on drops and avoid paying that price is already available after practice on Thursday.

National links: Beware the big day 

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
8:30
AM ET
Welcome to terrific Tuesday. Or terrible Tuesday. All depends on your perspective.

The College Football Playoff selection committee began deliberations on Monday in Grapevine, Texas. Tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET, Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long will unveil to a most curious audience the first-ever CFP rankings.

It's a historic time -- and surely chaotic.

Marc Tracy of the New York Times, in assessing the moment, writes that “historians will most likely date the end of the era of good feelings to 7:31.”

With that in mind, some advice for fans from the Big Ten to the SEC:

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Big Ten morning links

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
8:00
AM ET
You know the drill: Coffee first. Notes and observations here second. And links at the bottom third.

1. Iowa transfer?: It appears as if freshman wideout Derrick Willies might have played his last game for the Hawkeyes. He posted a cryptic message on his Instagram Monday night that read, "It's been real Iowa, things are just moving on to a different chapter in the story..." A Hawkeyes spokesman told the Des Moines Register that any roster updates would be addressed by coach Kirk Ferentz on Tuesday. Willies was not listed on the team's Monday depth chart.

2. Hoke domino effect: Brady Hoke says no one's talked to him about his job status, and that kind of uncertainty is not what you want to hear when it comes to recruiting. As a result, ESPN 300 DB Garrett Taylor decommitted from the Wolverines on Monday. And U-M will be lucky if he's the last recruit to decommit. Oft-given advice is for a player to commit to a school, not a coach, but it rarely seems to work out that way. Michigan is down to nine commitments right now.

3. No Nova?: Rutgers senior QB Gary Nova is listed as "questionable" for Saturday's game against Wisconsin, which means redshirt freshman Chris Laviano could be in line for his first career start. Laviano could push Nova for time, regardless, as he outplayed Nova in the Nebraska game and even led his team with 54 rushing yards. But I'm more in line with the thinking of NJ.com's Dan Duggan: If Nova is medically cleared, he should play. A one-game sample size isn't enough to vault Laviano over Nova, who's been pretty good this year. Nova still gives the Scarlet Knights their best chance to win.

East Division
  • The chance for pride in Michigan's season vanished on Saturday, writes the Detroit Free Press' Mark Snyder.
West Division

Rod Smith out after failed drug test

October, 27, 2014
Oct 27
11:25
PM ET
[+] EnlargeRod Smith
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesRunning back Rod Smith failed a drug test and has been dismissed by Ohio State, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Ohio State coaching staff wasn't sure it would have running back Rod Smith back for the start of his final season with the program, and according to The Columbus Dispatch, the senior won't be around for the end of it.

Citing a source, the newspaper reported Smith failed a drug test and has been dismissed after playing seven games for the No. 13 Buckeyes this season. Smith had missed time during spring practice due to academic issues, and his status previously had been up in the air after missing team meetings without permission.

But after bouncing back from those issues, Smith had drawn praise from the coaches for his attitude, work ethic, and embracing a role on special teams and as a short-yardage tailback, scoring five total touchdowns and rushing for 101 yards. An Ohio State spokesman could not confirm the dismissal, which initially was reported by ElevenWarriors.com.

"My turnaround, basically I made up my mind that enough was enough," Smith told ESPN.com on Oct. 14. "This is my last year to go out and help this team and try to get film and try to get myself ready for the next level.


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Drive Through: Rankings Reaction
Brad Edwards and Antonietta Collins react to the College Football Playoff rankings that were released on Tuesday night.
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