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The Case for Brian Kelly to Leave Notre Dame

It is time for Brian Kelly to take a long, hard look at Notre Dame, at where it is and where it will be next year. He needs to take a look at himself, too. And then, he should do one thing:    

Run. Now. Claim victory, then RUUUUUNNNN to the NFL.

To this point, even while Notre Dame's season falls off a cliff, Kelly has kept his reputation as the guy who stabilized the Irish after the Charlie Weis disaster, and the guy who took them to the national championship game.

That makes him a viable NFL coaching candidate, and at the end of the year, the there will be a number of those jobs available, potentially Atlanta, Chicago, New York Jets, Oakland and San Francisco. Maybe Miami, too.

Kelly interviewed at Philadelphia in January of 2013, a few days after Notre Dame lost to Alabama in the BCS title game. Later, he told WNDU TV in South Bend, Ind. that he wasn't destined for the NFL:

"We're going to continue to win and I'm going to continue to get inquiries from the NFL. … Going through this process really helped clear my eyes why I'm here and why I want to be at Notre Dame.''

That's easy to say coming off a run to the championship game. But the winning isn't continuing and Kelly should jump while the inquiries still are. Those things run hand-in-hand. The Teflon on him is amazing, but it won't last forever.

The first half of Notre Dame's season was defined by another academic cheating scandal and a prolonged investigation into five players. A fast start wiped away the image of the cheating scandal somehow, but the second half has been defined by an on-field collapse. Notre Dame has lost four of its past five games, and going into the rivalry game at USC this weekend, Irish fans are in too much shock to process what's happening.

Soon—and this is just a gut feeling—they're going to start pointing fingers at Kelly.

Just run.

Honestly, Kelly should be an NFL coach anyway, where he can worry about football, focus on strategy and game film and let someone else deal with the other stuff, like developing young men. That probably sounds like an insult, but it isn't meant to be one.

Kelly is an excellent college coach. But college football is a different animal than the NFL. College coaches have way too many things to do, all while keeping the pretense that football isn't the most important thing in the world.

But Kelly has a bigger problem: Everett Golson.

A coach's reputation is tied to his quarterback. In college, it's about how much that QB has developed. At Notre Dame, it's also about how many championships they won together.

Golson isn't getting any better. He's getting worse. He has committed 21 turnovers in the past eight games. That included six in the loss at Arizona State.

A reporter asked Kelly in his postgame press conference about Golson, suggesting that he wasn't responsible for all of the turnovers.

"Why aren't they all on Golson?" Kelly asked. "We've been working with him. … Sooner or later he's got to take it on himself to take care of the football. I don't know what else to do."

Well, one thing he could do, but never considers, is benching Golson. But no, Kelly is too wrapped up in Golson to do anything about it now.

Golson started the year as a feel-good story, a Heisman candidate. But he has fallen apart, lost his confidence. He fumbled Saturday and then moped on the field while his teammates tried to get the ball back.

On Sunday, in Kelly's weekly press conference, he talked about Golson's development and potential. Someone asked Kelly if he thought Golson could be one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the country

"I think there's got to be more growth there, absolutely," Kelly said. "There is a higher ceiling for him. He's not been tapped out in the sense that it's as good as he can play.

"I think there's a lot of room for development. … So in answering your question, yeah I believe that he could be one of the top quarterbacks in the country, no question."

Kelly came to Notre Dame known for developing players, particularly quarterbacks. It just isn't working out with Golson. That's a continuing hit to Kelly's reputation, if he stays.

When you're coaching in the NFL, you don't have to worry about whether your quarterback is developing, or your players are breaking laws or rules. That stuff is on the general manager.

I said this in 2012, but Kelly should be the coach of the Chicago Bears. Instead, the Bears hired Marc Trestman for his offensive genius. It hasn't worked out, and the Bears are likely to have another coaching opening at the end of the season. Kelly is fiery and has had tough defenses at Notre Dame. It's a fit.

But he would be fine with most NFL teams.

Kelly brought back Notre Dame's aura, and while Irish fans might not realize it yet, that's about gone again. The lawyers and power boys that serve as Notre Dame's power aren't going to put up with this for long.

Kelly can make a run now to protect his own legacy.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report. He also writes for The New York Times and was formerly a scribe for FoxSports.com and the Chicago Sun-Times. Follow him on Twitter @gregcouch.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Top Recruits Who Will Be Impacted by Result of the Ohio State-Michigan Game

It may lack much of the luster that defined rivalry matchups of the past, but when Michigan and Ohio State battle, there are always plenty of storylines to monitor. Most of the attention Saturday will center on the Buckeyes' playoff chances and Brady Hoke's job security.

However, there's always another element worth monitoring when these teams meet. The storied programs routinely clash on the recruiting trail while chasing common prospects, and those skirmishes become more noteworthy as national signing day nears. 

This 2015 cycle is no different, as several top-tier talents will be watching closely to see how the Buckeyes and Wolverines fare when action kicks off in Columbus. Here's a look at recruits who could ultimately be influenced by the outcome.

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Alabama out for Ultimate Revenge vs. Auburn in Iron Bowl

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It wasn’t supposed to happen that way.

Alabama was either going to end the “Mother Of All Iron Bowls” with a field goal or test its luck in overtime. Black and white, one or the other. Right?

Auburn’s Chris Davis had other ideas. You know the rest of the story.

As the Crimson Tide get ready to step on the field with the Tigers again for the first time since that November night in Jordan-Hare Stadium, they will do so behind the backdrop of that play.

Alabama is the No. 1 team in the country and a 9.5-point favorite to topple the Tigers, yet it can’t seem to shake that feeling that hung around after last season’s stunning ending.

“We’re still reliving that moment,” Alabama safety Landon Collins told reporters after the Western Carolina game. “It shows up on the TV every now and again. It just breaks our heart every time. That one second took our whole chance away of winning anything.

“Definitely it rewinds in my head. It’s definitely going to be rewinding in our head constantly throughout this week when we prepare for them.”

If the team feels the same way as Collins, it’s doing a good job of hiding it.

“I could really care less about last year. That was a completely different team. It’s a new team," said right tackle Austin Shepherd. "We have a great opportunity. We’ve set ourselves up for success, so we’ve just got to go out there and finish the season off.”

“We haven’t really been thinking about last year. We’ve really just been focused on what we can handle this year—what we can be talking about for the next 365 days and going in and just handling what we can do and let the past be the past and let’s control the future,” said quarterback Blake Sims.

The team is more or less sticking to the party line during this week of practice.

Still, as anyone who has watched TV in the last year knows, it’s not like you can exactly ignore Davis’ 109-yard missed-field-goal return for a touchdown at the end of regulation.

It’s been played constantly on highlight shows. It won the 2013 ESPY for Play of the Year. ESPN is featuring it heavily in promotions for this year’s Iron Bowl.

“We all kind of remember what happened,” head coach Nick Saban said. “It was very, very disappointing to all of us here. Not just the last play but the last five minutes of the game that we never really ever finished the game like we needed to. It was a tough way to lose a game, and I'm sure everybody sort of has that in mind.”

Collins estimates that he’s seen the play “maybe over 200 times.”

“I get asked about it constantly,” he said. “Last year we saw it too many times. I mean it’s just a constant thing that goes around and we can’t think about it now. It’s never going to leave until we do something about it.”

That makes this year about revenge.

Only a handful of redshirt seniors on this year’s team were around for the 2010 comeback in Bryant-Denny Stadium. A lot more, though, were on the sidelines for the Kick Six.

So while Alabama has a lot to lose in this game—the SEC West, a shot at the league title and a berth in the playoff—it’s looking at revenge as a motivating factor.

“I mean, I wouldn’t try to avoid it, but I wouldn’t try to watch it as well,” defensive end Jonathan Allen said. “I just view it was more motivation for me throughout the whole offseason.”

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Betting information courtesy of Odds Shark.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What to Make of No. 1 Recruit Josh Sweat Making Virginia Tech His Final Visit

An official visit to Virginia Tech this weekend is the last major landmark in the recruiting process of 5-star defensive end Josh Sweat—the nation’s top overall prospect in the 2015 class.

According to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports (subscription required), Sweat—who will enroll at his school of choice in January—will shut things down and then have a decision within a week or two following his trip to Blacksburg. 

The Hokies will get the last crack at Sweat, who took previous officials to schools among his final group including Ohio State, Georgia and Florida State. 

But does that mean they are the prohibitive favorite to land the impact pass-rusher?

Sweat has played his recruitment close to the vest, so it’s hard to tell if the Hokies are trending in their quest to keep the state’s top prospect close to home.

As Bartow notes, one interesting detail is that Sweat will have seven members of his family joining him for this weekend’s trip—which can’t hurt the Hokies' chances. 

By contrast, he was alone when he went to Tallahassee last weekend, and only his mother and sister joined him in Athens two weeks ago.

That could be significant, or it could be nothing.

“It’s not like I can bring all of them when I go to school,” Sweat told Bartow. “If it was up to me, I would go on all of the visits by myself.”

Regardless of whether or not family and location will play a role in his final choice, Virginia Tech will be tasked with showing Sweat that the future in Blacksburg is equally as bright as it is at Georgia, FSU and Ohio State.

All three of those programs occupy spots in the Top 10 of the rankings (via ESPN) and possess classes that rank among the top five in the country.

Meanwhile, Beamer’s Hokies limp into the finale against Virginia having lost six of their last nine games—including an ugly 6-3 loss in double overtime to hapless Wake Forest last weekend. Their recruiting efforts are also pedestrian in comparison to Sweat’s other finalists, as their class is rated fifth-best in the ACC and No. 28 nationally.

On the flip side, Sweat was in attendance at Ohio State when the Hokies defeated the Buckeyes in impressive fashion. However, the luster from that big win has worn off and given way to talk of Beamer being on the proverbial hot seat, as noted by Bill Bender of Sporting News.

Despite the issues surrounding the program, the 6’5”, 240-pound pass-rusher is giving the home state school every chance to convince him that it can provide the best opportunity for him to be successful in college.

It will be up to Beamer and his staff to convince Sweat that he isn’t going anywhere and, more importantly, that there is a viable plan in place to help get the Hokies back to the top of the ACC.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Buckeyes on Cusp of Special Season Entering Game Against Michigan

Michigan week has arrived, and it could not come at a better time for Ohio State.

Back-to-back closer-than-expected games against Indiana and Minnesota might have some wondering if the team is distracted by all the talk about playoffs, J.T. Barrett's Heisman chances and whether Braxton Miller will return next season. For one week at least, the sole focus is on beating the team up North.

Despite some grumblings among fans about what is wrong, the problem is not a lack of talent or coaching. This team is littered with elite-level players. It also has some of the best coaches in the business.

I would argue that if the Buckeyes win the Big Ten, this will be considered Urban Meyer’s greatest coaching performance of his tremendous career. That is a testament to all of his assistant coaches, including public enemy No. 1, defensive co-coordinator Luke Fickell.

Regardless, there is no doubt that the defense has looked vulnerable, especially against the run. Turnovers and special teams miscues are also impacting momentum during key parts of the game.

All things considered, the issues are not huge problems. Every team has flaws this season, and since the meltdown against Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes have taken care of business. Expecting perfection is unrealistic, but who says anyone in Buckeye Nation is reasonable?

Most fans want championships, and Meyer is paid to win them.  Ohio State is on the brink of accomplishing something really special. Pressure is mounting to finish the job the team failed to do last year. It is time to earn the paycheck.

Here are three reasons why the Buckeyes will beat Michigan and win the Big Ten title next week.

 

Leadership

The reality is the recent breakdowns are a result of a lack of discipline, which is what you would expect from a young team. It plays well for a stretch of time and then falls apart for a few series.

Fortunately, discipline issues are solved by having great leaders. Every championship team has a band of players at its heart and soul. These players are the glue that binds the team in crunch time. They drive the team through adversity and will the team to victory.

This is the foundation of Meyer’s coaching philosophy which he described to reporters in his post-hiring press conference: "Talent will get you about seven or eight wins. Discipline will start pushing that to nine. Then when you get leadership that's when magic starts happening. It's when you start getting rings and some really cool things are happening to your team."

Every player must do his part over the next two games, but there will be moments when special plays are needed to seize control of the games. This is when the leaders will shine.

Which Buckeyes will step up when called? Odds are Vonn Bell, Michael Bennett, Jeff Heuerman, Devin Smith and Joshua Perry will. Whether it is an interception, a sack, a key reception, a touchdown or a combination, one or all of these players will rise to the occasion.

 

Avoiding Turnovers

On the season, Ohio State is plus-3 in turnover margin, which is abysmal. The Buckeyes’ turnovers have been daggers, killing momentum and putting unneeded pressure on the defense. The turnovers have also allowed inferior teams like Indiana and Penn State to compete with the Buckeyes when they should have had a minimal shot at winning.

Just as Jalin Marshall improved his performance last week, expect Barrett and the rest of the offensive weapons to do a much better job at protecting the ball over the next two games.

Helping their cause is that Michigan and Wisconsin are not very good at taking the ball away. The Wolverines are plus-14 in turnover margin, and the Badgers are minus-2. Minnesota is plus-11, so should it make the Big Ten Championship, Ohio State needs to hold on to the ball better than it did in Minneapolis on November 15.

 

Run Defense

The Buckeyes’ run defense was torched by Jeremy Langford, David Cobb and Tevin Coleman, who rushed for a combined 510 yards and nine touchdowns. All three of these backs are good, but giving up that kind of production is inexcusable.

Expect the coaches to have the defense playing at a much higher level against the run over the next two games.  At the very least, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota will make it easier on them since all three teams are taking passing to new lows this season. The chart below highlights how bad these teams are in the air:

Team Passing Yards Per Game FBS ranking Michigan 162.8 113 Wisconsin 141.7 119 Minnesota 134.2 121

The formula for success against the run is not overly complicated. Ohio State should just load up the box and sell out to stop the run. The defensive line needs to clog the line of scrimmage and keep the big offensive linemen off the linebackers so they can make plays.

There also needs to be containment on the edges to force the runners back into the middle of the field. When this happens, Perry, Curtis Grant, Darron Lee and Raekwon McMillan need to shed their blockers and tackle well. If the defense does this effectively, the Buckeyes will comfortably win both games.

 

Analysis

When the College Football Playoff committee releases its rankings later today, Ohio State should remain No. 6.

Not many expected the team to be in this position after the loss to Virginia Tech, but now it is easy to understand why Meyer told reporters in a press conference on August 11: "If you had to say what's the difference between this team and last year's team, we're faster. It does have the feel of a very good team."

The Buckeyes are good, and this is now a two-game season for them. They must beat Michigan on Saturday and win the Big Ten championship next week against Wisconsin or Minnesota.

Nothing else matters.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Football: What the Aggies Should Be Thankful for in 2014

The Texas A&M football team is experiencing a season of transition as its young players gain experience. The Aggies still have a lot to be thankful for during the 2014 season. 

The Aggies are 7-4 during the regular season with a 3-4 record in the SEC. They have one game left in the regular season, which is against LSU on Thanksgiving Day. 

The game against LSU will help determine which bowl game the Aggies play in. With seven wins, they are bowl-eligible for the sixth season in a row. 

This is a look at a few things that the Aggies should be thankful for during this holiday season. 

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Jean Delance Commits to Oklahoma: What 4-Star 2016 Recruit Brings to Sooners

Just three days after receiving an offer from Oklahoma, rising Texas offensive lineman Jean Delance has committed to the Sooners. Head coach Bob Stoops secured a key commitment from the 2016 Lone Star State standout Tuesday, per Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.

The 6'5", 270-pound North Mesquite High School junior also holds offers from Baylor, Mississippi State, Ohio State, TCU, Texas Tech and others. He becomes the first member of Oklahoma's 2016 recruiting class, providing a blue-chip building block at its foundation.

Delance, a 4-star prospect rated 27th nationally among 2016 offensive tackles in 247Sports' composite rankings, picked up a Sooners scholarship offer Saturday while attending the team's 44-7 route of Kansas.

Oklahoma's rushing prowess was on full display throughout the matchup, as freshman running back Samaje Perine established a new NCAA all-time single-game rushing record with 427 yards on the ground.

The performance probably provided some extra incentive for Delance to pull the trigger on an early decision. The versatile lineman is an impressive athlete who clearly loves blocking downfield and should be able to comfortably approach 300 pounds by the time he hits the field in Norman.

Delance displays solid technique against pass-rushers but is largely more evolved as run-blocker. Elite reach and developing footwork offer evidence of top-level promise.

He spearheaded a North Mesquite offense that averaged nearly 240 rushing yards per game this fall, per Gabe Brooks of Scout.com.

In his own words, Delance brings plenty of potential to the table.

"A guy with good athleticism, upside, good attitude, good personality and all my best football is years down the road," he told Bartow.

His pledge provides a solid start for the Sooners' 2016 recruiting efforts. The team is set to welcome fellow Texas offensive tackle Bobby Evans to campus next year and appears to be piecing together the makings of a formidable offensive front for years to come.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Wolverines vs. Ohio State Buckeyes Complete Game Preview

Last week Michigan (5-6, 3-4 Big Ten) entered the fourth quarter leading 16-9 at home versus Maryland. It appeared that Brady Hoke had his team on track to win its third straight game and clinch a bowl berth. But Maryland (7-4, 4-3) rallied to score two touchdowns and prevailed 23-16.

The loss dropped Michigan below .500 with only one game left to play. Michigan heads to Columbus and needs to beat Ohio State (10-1, 7-0 Big Ten) to go bowling. Michigan’s season will end if Ohio State wins, and Hoke will most likely be fired shortly thereafter. A Michigan victory would extend its season and allow the team valuable practice time it desperately needs to prepare for next season—no matter who the coach is.

Michigan will face a motivated Ohio State team. Coach Urban Meyer needs a big victory to put the Buckeyes in position to make the inaugural College Football Playoff. Winning isn't enough; Ohio State needs to dominate with style and put lots of points on the scoreboard to impress the playoff committee.

A Michigan victory would reignite a rivalry that has grown dormant in recent years (since 2001, OSU is 10-2).

Brady Hoke will need the absolute best that his Michigan Men can muster to have any chance to prevail.

 

Date: Saturday, November 29, 2014

Time: Noon ET

Place: Ohio Stadium (104,944) Columbus, Ohio

Series vs. Ohio State: Michigan leads series 58-46-6

Television: ABC

Radio: Michigan Sports Network, Sirius (113), XM (195)

Spread: Ohio State by 20 via Odds Shark

Live Stats:Gametracker

 

Last Meeting vs. Ohio State

Last season, after three quarters Michigan trailed Ohio State 35-21 before quarterback Devin Gardner engineered an epic fourth-quarter comeback at Michigan Stadium. Michigan scored 20 fourth-quarter points before failing on a two-point conversion attempt that would have put the Wolverines ahead with 32 seconds to play.

Gardner played with a foot injury that would force him to miss the team's bowl game. The 42-41 loss capped a disappointing 1-4 month of November for Michigan and was the beginning of a collapse that has continued through this season.


*Information according to University of Michigan Wolverine Football game notes.

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Which 2015 Miami Commits Will Make Huge Impact in Backfield with Yearby?

The Miami Hurricanes have always been a powerhouse in college football, and they are looking to get back to their roots. With the emergence of stud freshman running back Joseph Yearby, the Canes are trying to add more weapons to help him next season.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder highlights the incoming class of running backs for the Hurricanes.

What kind of impact can these freshmen have next season?

Watch the video, and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. USC Trojans Complete Game Preview

The greatest intersectional rivalry in college football lost some luster last week, when both Notre Dame and USC dropped critical football games. For Brian Kelly's Irish, a third straight defeat came on senior day in Notre Dame Stadium. For Steve Sarkisian's Trojans, it came at the hands of their crosstown rivals, with UCLA trouncing USC, their third straight loss in the all-important matchup.

But there's no time for either team to dwell on a difficult defeat. Not when they're playing for the Jeweled Shillelagh. For the 86th time, Notre Dame and USC will battle, in a rivalry that's swung like a pendulum over the past 50 years. 

After two consecutive ties to close out the 1960s, the Trojans dominated the next decade and change, winning 11 of 13 games. But the Irish struck back, winning 11 straight between 1983 and 1993, before a 17-17 tie in 1994 rebooted the series. 

From there, the Trojans and Irish traded three-game winning streaks, before the Pete Carroll era took hold. USC won the next eight games, blowing out the Irish in 2002 in a battle of Top 10 teams. Outside of two one-score games (none more memorable than the Irish's 34-31 loss in 2005), this series served as a stark reminder that the Trojans were an elite program and Notre Dame was not. The Trojans blew out Notre Dame in six of eight games by 20 points or more, with five coming by 30 or more. 

But that all changed when Brian Kelly took over the Irish. With Pete Carroll in Seattle before the NCAA came down hard on the USC football program for improper benefits, Notre Dame did its best to flip the rivalry again, winning in the Coliseum for the first time in a decade on a rainy night in 2010. 

Kelly has now won three of his four meetings with USC. Saturday he'll meet Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian for the first time, in a game both teams need to help salvage a season. 

Let's get you ready for rivalry weekend. 

 

Date: Saturday, November 29

Time: 3:30 p.m. ET

Place: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

TV: FOX

Radio: IMG College Sports, SiriusXM Channel 129

Spread: USC by 7, according to Odds Shark.

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.  

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An Iron Bowl Friendship That Will Warm Your Heart

Meet Kayla and Corbyn, two friends on either side of a bitter rivalry between Auburn and Alabama who have been brought together by their struggles. Despite their battles with cancer, both Kayla and Corbyn have been fulfilling their dreams of attending their respective schools. 

Watch to hear their brave story and to see them receive a surprise gift.

Please help support their foundation, Open Hands Overflowing Hearts, which works to raise money toward research to help the fight against pediatric cancer. Open Hands Overflowing Hearts is holding a fundraising event on December 7, entitled "Answer to Cancer." There is also a competition between Auburn and Alabama to determine which university can raise the most money for pediatric cancer research.

For more information, please visit the Open Hands Overflowing Hearts website.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: What the Trojans Should Be Thankful for in 2014

Just one game remains in USC football's first season under head coach Steve Sarkisian, and this inaugural campaign of a new era has not been without its trials. 

But amid the disappointment of some heartbreaking losses and a rivalry-game defeat, the Trojans have plenty for which to be thankful in this past season.

USC is approaching an important crossroads in the program's path back to the Pac-12's pinnacle. A bevy of young talent already in the fold, combined with a new wave of highly touted additions on deck, has USC positioned for a rebound.   

 

The End of NCAA Sanctions

The most severe NCAA sanctions levied against any football program since Auburn in the early 1990s officially ended on June 10—and not a moment too soon.

The full burden of three recruiting cycles with just 15 scholarships fell on the 2014 roster. USC spent much of the season hovering below 50 available scholarship players. 

Sarkisian has been adamant that the limited numbers are no excuse for losses—"Our guys are in plenty good shape and condition to play and play at a high level," he said—but USC's had a tendency to wear down in fourth quarters.

Sarkisian and his staff are taking full advantage of the 25-scholarship allotment available to them this year. The Trojans' 2015 signing class is ranked No. 1 among Pac-12 programs and No. 9 nationally

USC has verbal commitments from eight 4-star prospects, including defensive tackle Jacob Daniel, defensive back Isaiah Langley and quarterback Ricky Town.  

The Trojans are also in the mix for more top-tier recruits, including a number of 5-star standouts to join current pledge Chuma Edoga. Among USC's remaining targets are cornerback Iman Marshall, defensive lineman Rasheem Green and wide receiver Christian Kirk.

 

The Many Talents of Su'a Cravens

When a roster is as depleted as USC's, it helps to have players capable of fulfilling multiple roles. Sophomore Su'a Cravens has done just about everything for the Trojans defense this season, barring prepping equipment on game day—and I have no proof he hasn't done that. 

"He's unbelievably valuable," Sarkisian said. "We've got a pretty special guy on our hands in Su'a."

Cravens spent 2013 at safety but this year transitioned to a hybrid role that has him playing "Sam" linebacker and nickelback.

USC loses nothing depending on the spot Cravens is playing, and his statistics reflect that. He has 56 tackles, a team-high 15 tackles for loss, five sacks and a pair of interceptions. 

"One week, he can play the run," Sarkisian said. "Second week, he can be a blitzer coming off the edge. The next week, he's in a nickel role covering slot receivers."

Sarkisian added that recruiting players with similar skill sets is "imperative" in the current landscape of the Pac-12. 

"Every week, you get a new challenge, a different scheme, and you want players that can play and do multiple things," he said. "Su'a is a primary example of that."

 

John "JuJu" Smith and Adoree' Jackson 

The two most highly rated prospects in USC's Pac-12-leading 2014 recruiting class did not disappoint in their debut campaigns. 

John "JuJu" Smith emerged as the Trojans' second receiving option behind star Nelson Agholor and appears ready to take over as the No. 1 target when Agholor leaves for the NFL. 

He's been steady throughout the season, catching four or more passes in nine games, and is showing off more of a big-play ability in the latter half of the season, scoring all five of his touchdowns after the midway point. 

Smith has all the makings of the next great USC receiver.

Fellow freshman Adoree' Jackson has made an immediate impact, playing in all three phases at various times this season.

The bulk of Jackson's responsibility has been on defense, where he stood out as the team's lockdown cornerback for much of the season.  He has a keen nose for the ball and plays a physical style exceeding his 185-pound frame. 

Jackson is also one of the nation's most electrifying kick returners. At 27.7 yards per attempt, he leads the Pac-12. 

Indeed, there's plenty that USC can be thankful for heading into the season finale Saturday against Notre Dame. And this is just the first course—the Trojans could be ready to feast in 2015. 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of CFBstats.com. Recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: What the Trojans Should Be Thankful for in 2014

Just one game remains in USC football's first season under head coach Steve Sarkisian , and this inaugural campaign of a new era has not been without its trials...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Kenny Bell Injury: Updates on Nebraska Star's Head and Return

When Nebraska and Iowa lock horns in a Big Ten clash Friday, the Cornhuskers may very well be without top wide receiver Kenny Bell.    

According to Brian Rosenthal of The Lincoln Journal Star, the senior wideout is questionable for the contest after suffering a head injury:

Per Scott Dochterman of The Gazette, Bell suffered the injury after getting hit during Nebraska's 28-24 loss to Minnesota on Saturday:

The Huskers are a run-first team with running back Ameer Abdullah accounting for most of the offense, but Bell allows them to maintain the threat of throwing down the field.

Bell has 37 catches for 664 yards and three touchdowns on the season.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Rapid-Fire Predictions for College Football's Biggest Rivalry Games

It's the most exciting week of the college football season: rivalry week. This is when teams are playing for more than just wins; they're playing for pride and bragging rights. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee give you their picks for who will win their rivalries this weekend.

Which one of these matchups are you most excited to watch?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Urban Meyer Warns Ohio State Players They'll Be Dismissed If They Fight vs. UM

Urban Meyer does not want a repeat of last year's Ohio State-Michigan game, when running back Dontre Wilson and offensive guard Marcus Hall were ejected for fighting, and Hall was suspended for his dueling one-finger salutes to the crowd as he left.

In order to prevent such transgressions, Ohio State's third-year head coach has issued a strict zero-tolerance policy: Anyone who fights will be more than just ejected from the game…he will be ejected from the team.

"He wants the game to be very intense, but if anybody throws any punches this year, we're dismissed," Buckeyes linebacker Curtis Grant said Tuesday, per Austin Ward of ESPN.com. "You know he pretty much put it out there [Sunday], so there's no telling what will happen if you get into a fight this year. 

"We've got to be on our best behavior."

Meyer chimed in with his own rationale for the policy:

I had a talk with our team about that, and absolutely no case for that. Intensity? Absolutely. There's a certain mentality we need to take to this field, but that's not acceptable.

That's not the way we play the game, and I think a lot of lessons were learned. We went without one of our key linemen in the championship game the following week, and we played a game without two or three good players. That was a very strong conversation in the team meeting.

Ohio State beat Michigan for the ninth time in 10 meetings last season, but securing the win was a struggle. The Wolverines hung 41 points on the then-undefeated Buckeyes, losing 42-41 when a play-for-the-win two-point conversion attempt was intercepted at the goal line.

With Hall out of the lineup, though, OSU lost its first game of the year—and the Meyer era—in the Big Ten Championship, falling to Michigan State, 34-24. It then lost the Orange Bowl to Clemson, 40-35.

It's hard to say if having Hall against the Spartans would have changed anything, but the fact of the matter—that Ohio State's season crumbled in the wake of the Michigan game—remains the same. On multiple fronts, Meyer does not want a repeat of 2013.

This year's Buckeyes do not control their fate the way last year's did, but at 10-1 they do have a good chance to make the College Football Playoff. They might not even need any help. Bleacher Report's Ray Glier said he has a suspicion "that the Buckeyes and their pedigree are going to get them into the Top Four if they win out."

There is no reason to jeopardize their season against Michigan.

A 5-6 rival is still just a 5-6 team.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Full List of Week 14 College Standings and Polls

Week 13 of the college football season proved once again that there is no such thing as an easy win at this level.

Ole Miss came into the week with an outside shot at the College Football Playoff despite having two losses, but a blowout defeat at the hands of Arkansas ended those chances. Meanwhile, teams like Florida State and Ohio State had tougher challenges than expected despite facing inferior opponents.

With most teams having just one or two games remaining, the pressure is on to avoid losses and finish as high in the rankings as possible.

Here is a look at the latest polls before the College Football Playoff rankings are released for Week 14.

 

One of the most surprising changes to the rankings was Baylor moving ahead of TCU in the AP poll. This has been a major debate among college football fans for the past month, and it will remain so until season’s end.

The argument is whether the Bears’ head-to-head win over the Horned Frogs is important enough to overcome an inferior overall resume. Clay Travis of Fox Sports 1 certainly believes Baylor should be ahead in the polls:

The biggest difference between the two is the nonconference schedule, which features a TCU win over Minnesota while Baylor did not face anyone from a major conference. However, it is hard to say that a win over the Gophers is bigger than a win over TCU itself.

These teams are reversed in the coaches poll, but really the only thing that matters is what the committee believes.

Of course, one other issue with the argument of nonconference schedules is that Mississippi State remains in one of the top spots despite also having a weak slate of opponents outside the SEC. The Bulldogs absolutely destroyed Vanderbilt Saturday, but they still have only a few really good wins this season.

Even a win over rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl will not look as good after the Rebels lost 30-0 against Arkansas. On the other hand, a loss would certainly knock Dak Prescott and company out of the College Football Playoff discussion, so they better come prepared for the in-state battle.

Rivalry games will continue to be a theme in the upcoming week, as other top squads will be forced to survive against teams that hate them.

Alabama will have arguably the hardest game at home against Auburn, but do not count out upsets from teams like Michigan (at Ohio State), Florida (at Florida State) or Oregon State (vs. Oregon).

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer knows his team will be in for a tough test. When asked about whether Michigan's struggles will be an issue, he explained at his press conference, via Ari Wasserman of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

No, because you watch videotape and talent's—they're going to give us everything they got and what they've got is a lot. So no. These players, motivation won't be an issue. Expectation of facing a very talented team or facing a top 10 defense in the country and for the two days now we've been pounding, watching it, they're really good. So there's no issue. Very athletic and talented on special teams too.

All of these squads are hoping to earn a playoff spot, and that certainly will not happen with another loss. This will make teams like the Gators and Wolverines, who aren’t even popular among their own fans right now, the most cheered for teams in the nation.

Anything that can give your own team an extra boost heading toward the end of the season would be greatly appreciated.

If all of the favorites do end up winning, though, it will lead to some major question marks for the playoff committee.

Can an early-season loss by Ohio State with a freshman quarterback under center be ignored? Is a loss to a good team more important than a win over a good team? Does the SEC need to have multiple teams in the playoff?

No matter what you believe, at least there will be teams deciding a champion on the field instead of in the computers, creating an exciting conclusion to the college football season.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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SEC Football Q&A: Does Florida State Deserve to Be Ranked Above Alabama?

It seems like only yesterday when SEC Network carriage deals dominated the headlines, the 10-second rule became an issue and South Carolina was a contender.

Ah, the offseason.

As we enter rivalry weekend, both SEC divisions remain undecided, a one-loss SEC team is ranked No. 1—two spots ahead of undefeated defending national champion Florida State—and one of the best head coaching jobs in college football (Florida) is open.

Florida State's place in a sea of SEC powers, Arkansas' momentum and Florida's next step are discussed in this week's SEC Q&A.

 

Of all of the factors you mentioned, the "no losses" part is the most important. Last season's Heisman Trophy winner shouldn't have any bearing on this season's rankings. NFL talent shouldn't have any bearing on this season's rankings.

Rankings for this season should be based on how each team looks this season based on results.

Nothing more and nothing less.

Unfortunately, they're not anymore.

One thing became abundantly clear as the weekly College Football Playoff rankings have been released on a weekly basis, and it is the worst fear of BCS proponents—like myself.

The regular season has already been devalued.

Florida State is a power-five team with zero losses and two Top 25 wins. Are either of those wins comparable to Alabama's lone Top 25 win over No. 4 Mississippi State? Of course not, but Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher said it better than anybody possibly could.

"How about the way everybody else hasn't finished?" he told ESPN.com's Heather Dinich on Sunday. "Our team has never not finished. The game is 60 minutes. This team hasn't lost in over two years. Everybody says 'game control.' That's something made up. As a coach, you talk about one thing: Finish. Get it done."

If a team in a power-five conference goes undefeated and has more Top 25 wins than a one-loss team from the nation's best division, that team should be No. 1.

Should Alabama be in the playoff? Absolutely. Top 3, for sure. But Florida State deserves the No. 1 spot. After all, what we're really talking about is seeding, and Florida State has done all that it can do to be seeded No. 1.

To me, though, Florida State being at No. 3 is about programming the sport. If the Seminoles beat a Florida team with a good defense and then a ranked Georgia Tech team in the ACC Championship Game handily, it should jump back to the top spot and play the fourth seed in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's night.

 

Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy would certainly check off several of the boxes that Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley is looking for. He's a proven offensive mind who has had success as a head coach at a major program, producing double-digit-win seasons three times in the last five years.

But would he go to Florida?

According to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports, three sources have told him that Gundy is interested in the job and has made that known through backchannels.

Could that be legitimate? Yep. Could it be Gundy leveraging for a new deal? Yep. It's probably both, which would certainly explain why Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun has already stated that he's not a candidate.

The gap between a Top 5 job and a top-50 job, though, has narrowed tremendously over the last decade as more money has flowed into the sport.

Gundy is the 15th-highest-paid coach in the country ($3.5 million), according to the USA Today database of coaching salaries, and is currently at a program that has comparable resources to those of any top-tier program in the country.

If he wants a new challenge, sure, I could see him going to Florida. But he isn't going to go just because "it's Florida." It's a rebuilding year, but he has a good thing going for him in Stillwater with an easier path to the playoff.

It'd be difficult to leave. If he does, though, he'd be a hit in Gainesville.

 

Regardless of what happens on Friday afternoon in the regular-season finale against Missouri, Arkansas will be ranked to start the 2015 season.

Back-to-back shutouts against ranked SEC opponents is very impressive, even if those rankings disappear by the end of the season. Running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams should return, along with quarterback Brandon Allen, four starters on the offensive line and defensive lineman Darius Philon. 

That's a solid foundation for a program that suddenly has momentum.

Unless some really bizarre roster attrition occurs between now and September in Fayetteville, the late-season momentum combined with the stars returning should land the Hogs in the preseason Top 25 and, perhaps, some first-place votes from the assembled members of the SEC media when we predict the conference standings at SEC media days.

Look out for the Hogs, because even if they don't beat you, they'll beat you up.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Take It Easy, Folks: College Football Playoff Does Not Need to Expand to 8 Teams

College football is nothing if not constantly dissatisfied with the present. In some ways that's a good thing. However, college big wigs are already jumping the gun on the new postseason format. 

The first year of the College Football Playoff isn't even over. The actual four-team field won't be selected for another couple of weeks. Still, the drumbeat for an eight-team playoff has begun.

Last week, ACC commissioner John Swofford noted that, in terms of the number of participants, doubling the playoff field again would improve the postseason, via Shawn Krest of The Herald-Sun

Speaking at Wednesday’s weekly Durham Sports Club meeting at the Croasdaile Country Club, Swofford said an eight-team playoff, 'in terms of the number of teams, would probably be ideal.'

'I don’t think all the controversy’s going to go away,' Swofford said of the new system. 'You have four teams that get a chance to play for the national championship, which is twice as many as before, but whoever’s fifth or sixth is not going to be happy. There will be some conferences that won’t have a team in the playoff.'

Additionally, an ESPN.com coaches poll conducted by Brett McMurphy showed that 44 percent of coaches favor an eight-team playoff. The march has already started. 

Swofford went on to say that he believes the current format works, but slipping the expansion note in there is no accident. As Bryan Fischer of NFL.com tweets, there's probably no way the four-team playoff makes it through its 12-year television contract without modification. The fact that it's already a talking point suggests its shelf life has a limit:

The only real question is how it comes about and when. Does it happen when an SEC team is left out? When two teams from the same conference get in? That all remains to be seen. 

That said, the playoff doesn't need to expand right now. How can anyone accurately judge otherwise if the status quo is still in its infancy? There will always be upset fanbases who think they got robbed, but we're not to the point where we can determine if the selection committee got it "right"—or whether it can get it right next year, or the year after that or the year after that. 

We are an impatient people, but here's what we, the fans and media, lose in this conversation about the playoff's future: The ability to enjoy the moment. 

Remember when the end of the BCS was supposed to ruin major college football's regular season? It hasn't. Actually, there's a case to be made that this regular season has been the most entertaining one in years. 

The playoff by itself isn't responsible for that, though it has given the talking heads more to discuss. Rather, the lack of a truly great team has made this year as exciting as it is.

Every team, even (especially?) undefeated Florida State, is vulnerable. The last time there was a regular season this captivating was in 2007 when all hell broke loose. That was the year that the BCS shrugged, reached into a hat and pulled out LSU and Ohio State to play in its championship game. 

2014 hasn't quite reached that level of chaos, but it has been fun—so let's have fun with it. Not everything has to mean something more.

Will this playoff ignite more controversy than the BCS? Absolutely, it already has thanks in part to the unveiling of weekly rankings. The more teams that are capable of being included, or being left out, the more controversy there is going to be.

An eight-team playoff isn't going to fix that, even if it goes the route of automatic bids and conference champions. As Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated notes, there's not enough parity in college football for all conferences, and thus conference champions, to be equal:

Would an eight-team field ruin the regular season? Who knows, but imagine an 8-5 Wisconsin, Big Ten champs circa 2012, getting into that playoff. The riots, they would be epic.

There's always going to be a degree of subjectivity in college football's postseason. That doesn't mean fans have to embrace it, but accepting it is probably a good place to start. 

If underdogs take a sack of dynamite to playoff-bound teams in the next two weeks, the subjectivity is only going to increase. So, too, will the campaigning and complaining. Rest assured, the eight-team playoff conversation will gain momentum. 

To be clear, there will be a day when that conversation is more appropriate. In the meantime, let's take the season for what it is—a year of no great football teams—and see if this format works for a few years. Being constantly upset with what you don't have takes too much effort, after all. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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Ted's Takes: The Setup for Pac-12's Final Weekend, Stanford in Unfamiliar Role

The stage is set for the Pac-12’s final weekend, and it's one we could not have predicted.

UCLA plays for a second South title in three years, Stanford shifts to the unfamiliar spoiler role, Arizona and Arizona State fight each other while they share a need for a Stanford win, Oregon pushes toward the national playoff, Marcus Mariota drives toward the Heisman, and, in a shock, USC and Notre Dame meet in what feels like a consolation game. 

Here are snapshots from two key games last Saturday that defined this weekend’s script.

 

Berkeley, Late First Quarter, Stanford 10 Cal 0

Looking to finish a scoring drive, Cal turned to its emerging runner Daniel Lasco. Crossing the Stanford 5-yard line, Cardinal linebacker Blake Martinez drilled Lasco, jarring the ball free into the arms of A.J. Tarpley.

Through seven conference games, Stanford’s defense had only created two takeaways. This Big Game saw the Cardinal force five Cal turnovers. 

 

Berkeley, Second Quarter, Stanford 10 Cal 7

Most notable in the struggles of Stanford’s offense has been the vulnerability of the Cardinal to blitzing. Kevin Hogan entered the weekend with the worst conference passer rating against the blitz (52.9 completion percentage, 127.3 rating), per STATS, Inc.

Two plays in a drive that led to Stanford opening a 17-7 lead demonstrated an adjustment for the Big Game. On a second down from the Stanford 40, Cal blitzed two linebackers inside. Against a six-man rush, Hogan calmly waited for freshman Christian McCaffrey to get free over the middle and delivered a pass an instant before two Bears slammed him to the turf.

The second “blitz beater” came later in the drive on another 2nd-and-10. A swing pass to Kelsey Young in the left flat beat another six-man rush and placed Stanford inside Cal’s 20.

Hogan had his best game of the season, completing 15 of 20 passes for 214 yards. For the second consecutive week, Stanford pleased its fans by using McCaffrey as an offensive weapon (three carries and two receptions). Ultimately, Stanford’s decisive win over Cal must give UCLA pause approaching the Bruins’ biggest game of the season.

Pasadena, Second Quarter, UCLA 14 USC 7 

The Trojans had moved the ball to the UCLA 4-yard line. They scrambled to run their goal-line offense at a quick tempo.

Here is the play sequence:

  • 1st-and-goal: Shotgun run by Justin Davis to the 1.
  • 2nd-and-goal: Shotgun keep by Cody Kessler for negative-two yards.
  • 3rd-and-goal: Shotgun pass to Davis in left flat for TD.

Three goal-line plays, three shotgun formations, zero downs for leading conference rusher Buck Allen, zero snaps from center and run formations. On the third play, there was a touchdown, but there have been many moments this year when a fan has been left wondering "Is this USC?"

 

Pasadena, Second Quarter, UCLA 14 USC 14

UCLA's response to the tying touchdown was a drive that underscored the decisive win for the Bruins. Their offensive line kept Brett Hundley clean. He was sacked twice, but USC’s defense succeeded in targeting Hundley’s running, holding him to two net rushing yards.

At midfield in this drive, that was apparent on 3rd-and-4. USC offered a controlled rush that neither pressured Hundley nor allowed him an escape. Hundley’s reaction was to calmly stand in the pocket and use the extra time to scan the field, advancing through progressions until he found Mossi Johnson for a first down.

The measure of Hundley’s play was apparent in his ability and willingness to beat USC as a pocket passer.

Coach of the Week honors should go to UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. The same man whose emotional snap during the Oregon game went viral. The same man, in his first year as a coordinator, whose defense had lingered in the middle of the conference rankings.

But Ulbrich is also the man who lasted 10 years as an NFL linebacker who excelled on special teams. On arrival at UCLA, he helped mold Anthony Barr from an H-back to a linebacker who earned first-round NFL draft status.

Ulbrich and his defense won this night. The defense held USC to 104 rush yards, limited Nelson Agholor to 24 receiving yards as the Trojans threat occasionally saw Myles Jack opposite him as a slot defender and, until a desperation fourth-quarter drive, had kept the Trojans under 200 total yards. Who predicted that?

Consecutive plays by the Bruins defense late in the second quarter triggered the game-deciding shift.

On a 3rd-and-4 from the UCLA 38, Allen ran for a first down despite fierce pressure from UCLA’s Deon Hollins, who appeared to anticipate the snap count.

The next play, first down from the UCLA 33, saw Kessler throw a quick pass in the right flat. Again, Hollins jumped on the exact snap count, his head start allowing him to blow by tackle Zach Bonner. The immediate presence of Hollins forced a quick, high throw from Kessler, the ball tipped by a USC receiver and caught by a diving Eric Kendricks.

Hundley capitalized on the takeaway—a 68-yard drive finished by a scoring pass to Eldridge Massington giving UCLA a 24-14 halftime lead.

 

Pasadena, Third Quarter, UCLA 24 USC 14

The Bruins doubled down on their touchdown that ended the first half. Taking the second-half kickoff, UCLA went 84 yards on nine plays to break open the game. 

Essential to this drive was the pass game. First was 3rd-and-7 from the UCLA 19. USC could have regained some balance had it forced a three-and-out punt to start the half. Hundley fired a left side pass to Devin Lucien, whose route had carried him beyond the line to gain. But to catch the pass, Lucien’s momentum carried him back inside the first-down marker.

USC freshman Adoree' Jackson needed to simply wrap up Lucien, even if the catch was completed, short of the first down. But Jackson took a path inside Lucien’s left hip, trying to deflect or intercept the pass. He missed the ball, Lucien using that mistake to catch the ball and wheel upfield for first-down yardage. 

Two plays later, Hundley lofted a deep pass down the right sideline. Thomas Duarte leapt over USC’s Leon McQuay to complete a 38-yard gain. Two plays where the UCLA receiver defeated the USC defensive back eventually cemented this game.

Four plays later, Paul Perkins ran for a touchdown that gave UCLA a 31-14 lead, and the Bruins never looked back. 

UCLA vs. Stanford

This week, Stanford’s role as spoiler presents unease for UCLA. Do the Cardinal embrace this task given their fate to play in a lower-tier bowl game? Can UCLA reach the same emotional state as last Saturday?

On the field, one matchup should be the most significant in the outcome: UCLA's defensive line vs. Stanford's offensive line.

If the Bruins front can replicate the game-long pressure it applied on Kessler, it will test Hogan’s performance against the blitz.

If Stanford’s offensive line can repeat the push it employed against Cal, the Cardinal dormant run game could relieve Hogan of the burden to make big plays.

Can Stanford find its “identity” for one day? Or does UCLA validate its dominance of USC and keep Jim Mora on track to build in Westwood what Pete Carroll brought to USC?

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