NCAA Football

Notre Dame Football: How Romeo Okwara's Surging in Senior Season

Notre Dame football’s quest for pass-rushing productivity involves a move from Nigeria, a 17-year old freshman and a surging senior.

Without question, senior captain Sheldon Day and junior end Isaac Rochell have been valuable components along the Irish defensive line. Yet it’s senior defensive end Romeo Okwara pacing Notre Dame with nine sacks—six more than Day and seven more than anyone else on the Irish defense.

Okwara, who notched just 3.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss in his first three seasons in South Bend, has posted eight sacks over his last five games, including two against Pittsburgh and three more against Wake Forest on Saturday.

The 6’4”, 270-pounder moved from Nigeria to the United States as a sixth-grader and, being especially young for his class, arrived on campus at Notre Dame before his freshman season as a freshly minted 17-year old.

“He came onto campus as a 17-year-old that just really was a raw player, raw football player and has grown in a very short period of time this year into the kind of football player that I think has a huge growth potential in front of him as well,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said.

Notre Dame deployed Okwara as both a defensive end and an outside linebacker during his first few seasons, and the Charlotte, North Carolina, product only logged one start and a half-sack in his first two years.

In his first year under defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder in 2014, Okwara made 12 starts at defensive end.

“This is something I’ve been working on each and every year,” Okwara told reporters after the Wake Forest game. “I’ve just been working on things, especially transitioning from the defensive line to outside linebacker and then back to defensive line. I’ve just been working on my game wherever they put me and I try the best that I can wherever they have me.”

Before halftime against the Demon Deacons, Okwara broke free on the left side of the defensive line and hurdled Wake Forest running back Tyler Bell, who helplessly shuffled over in pass protection. In one graceful motion, Okwara flopped onto quarterback John Wolford, who unsuccessfully tried ducking away from the impending sack.

Okwara capped off the highlight-reel play with an epee-inspired fencing celebration.

That play, in particular, stood out to Kelly for the importance of confidence in his players.

“He's playing with some of that reckless abandon that at times he was kind of feeling his way through his role in his play, where now he's really confident in what he's doing and how he's doing it,” Kelly said. “I think that's probably the biggest key for him right now.”

In turn, Okwara has helped key the Irish defense. Notre Dame’s 19 sacks rank tied for 76th in the country, right around where the Irish have finished nationally in each of the previous two seasons.

“We're just seeing that maturation process kind of come together,” Kelly said. “Long, athletic, starting to really understand the game of football and I think that's what we're seeing in front of us.”


All quotes were obtained firsthand and all stats courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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5-Star Ben Davis Details Remaining Official Visit Plans with New Contenders

Just three wins away from ending his high school football career with an Alabama state championship, Ben Davis understands he's also entered crunch time as a college recruit.

The nation's top-ranked inside linebacker, now less than 11 weeks separated from national signing day, plans to utilize three remaining official visits. Davis always anticipated using all five official visits, though he's decided to call an audible regarding destinations.

The coveted 6'3", 240-pound playmaker told Bleacher Report he will no longer visit Ole Miss this weekend for the Rebels' Nov. 21 game against LSU. Furthermore, the 5-star recruit doesn't expect to spend time in Oxford before signing day.

Instead, he'll use the next few days to relax and focus on a Gordo High School squad that remains unbeaten through 12 games. It's a decision that essentially knocks the Rebels out of this equation and opens the door for new contenders.

Davis still envisions official visits at Auburn and Alabama in January. He'll see both programs in action next weekend while attending the Iron Bowl in Auburn. 

These bitter in-state rivals are accustomed to fighting for elite talent, but the battle becomes more personal in this case. Davis is the son of all-time Crimson Tide tackles leader Wayne Davis, linking him to the program as a potential legacy player.

He's already traveled to Georgia and LSU this season, leaving one last official visit when you factor in impending stays at Alabama and Auburn. 

Davis is "not 100 percent sure" about which school will receive his fifth and final visit, but the choice seemingly centers on Notre Dame and Michigan, two schools that haven't been heavily affiliated with his recruitment to this point.

"I really want to get up to South Bend. I've heard it's a great place to be," Davis said. 

The Fighting Irish extended a scholarship offer in early March, just weeks before the Wolverines joined a nationwide chase.

"Coach [Jim] Harbaugh has been in the NFL, and I think he's a great leader. I know [running backs coach] Tyrone Wheatley really well too," Davis said. 

He's maintained contact with running back Kareem Walker and defensive tackle Rashan Gary, both rated No. 1 at their respective positions in 2016 recruiting class rankings, since meeting the New Jersey duo at a camp. Both players are projected to sign with the Wolverines in 247Sports' Crystal Ball, and Davis has monitored their flirtations with Michigan.

"I know they've visited the school a lot, so that makes me eager to go up there and see for myself," he said. 

Devin Bush Jr., who was roommates with Davis this summer at The Opening, has a top two of Michigan and Florida State. He spoke highly of the Wolverines during discussions between the two, providing another positive impression for Davis.

While Davis will undoubtedly face immense expectations on defense at any college, he believes there could be an opportunity beyond linebacker in Ann Arbor.

"[Michigan defensive back] Jabrill Peppers is kind of an all-around guy. They let him play offense. I'd like the chance to play a little offense too, so that might be something they would let me do. Go score some touchdowns," Davis said. 

He's a highly effective wide receiver/tight end hybrid at Gordo, evidenced by impressive game highlights:

While the status of Notre Dame and Michigan remains a bit murky in this recruitment, Davis considers those two of his six "favorites." Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and LSU are more firm members of that list, which remains unordered for now.

LSU likely helped itself in this race during Davis' trip to Baton Rouge last weekend.

"They weren't able to come out on top [against Arkansas], but overall it was a great visit. I talked to [head coach] Les Miles and all the defensive coaches," Davis said. "They told me they have a big need for linebackers, so the opportunity for me to come in and play early is there. If I choose LSU, that will be a place I play early and often."

Davis' relationship with Tigers defensive coordinator Kevin Steele dates back to his tenure as an Alabama assistant. Consider LSU a legitimate contender moving toward signing day.

"They've got a great university, great facilities and great coaches. LSU is still on my list of top schools," Davis said.

Florida State was featured in his top five approximately six weeks ago, but, like Ole Miss, the Seminoles' stock is slipping here. Davis definitely won't use an official visit in Tallahassee, though he didn't close the door on a potential unofficial trip. 

While plenty wonder where the dominant defender will play college football, he's currently focused on the task in front of him. Davis is attempting to lead Gordo into Alabama state championship action Dec. 3, exactly two months shy of national signing day.

"I need to feel in my gut which school is the best fit," he said. "Just be real with myself about which is truly the best opportunity."


Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake. 

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Teams to Watch After 4-Star WR Bryan Edwards' Decommitment from South Carolina

After being committed to in-state power South Carolina for nearly eight months, 4-star receiver Bryan Edwards has decommitted from the Gamecocks, according to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.

The decision comes a little more than a month after the abrupt resignation of Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier.

Edwards maintained his pledge to the Gamecocks in the aftermath of that announcement, but he also made it clear that he intended to take some time to evaluate his options.

With his decision to reopen his process, which programs are the main ones to watch with the 6’3”, 208-pounder moving forward?

It’s worth noting that the Gamecocks aren’t completely out of the equation with Edwards. However, two other programs appear to have a shot at landing Edwards in the coming months.



As Bartow detailed, fresh off his announcement, Edwards will take an official visit to Clemson this weekend for the Tigers' game against Wake Forest.

It will be his second visit to see the nation’s top-ranked squad this month, as he took an unofficial for the Tigers' big win over Florida State on Nov. 7.

Given the momentum head coach Dabo Swinney and his program are building with the current season, and the fact that Edwards is visiting campus twice within a three-week span, the Tigers have to like their chances with the No. 3 prospect from the Palmetto State.

It also doesn’t hurt that the Tigers feature one of the nation’s most explosive offensive attacks, averaging close to 500 yards of total offense per game—good for No. 19 nationally, according to

The Tigers have a pair of 4-star receivers already committed in the 2016 class, but Edwards would be a perfect complementary piece to the unit and give Clemson one of the nation’s top receiver classes.



Another school hoping to make a push for Edwards is the Georgia Bulldogs.

Head coach Mark Richt and his staff are making the receiver position a priority in the 2016 cycle, as evidenced by the fact that the Bulldogs already have five pass-catchers committed in their class.

Furthermore, the Bulldogs are still actively recruiting receivers such as Edwards, 5-star Kyle Davis and 4-star Tre Nixon among others.

The Bulldogs have a need at the position and an enticing opportunity to pair Edwards up with 5-star quarterback and current Bulldogs pledge Jacob Eason.

Edwards visited Athens earlier in the summer for Georgia’s Dawg Night camp, and a return trip could be a possibility now that he’s opened up his recruitment.

However, as Bartow notes, the Bulldogs have work to do in pulling Edwards away from his home state and the grasp of either Clemson or South Carolina.


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

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Alabama's Recruiting Class of 2013 Finally Coming Through

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Here’s a thought that could cause a few sleepless nights around college football: Imagine if wide receiver Amari Cooper had come back for his senior year.

Now here’s one for University of Alabama fans: What if linebacker Reggie Ragland had not?

Although early departures have become fact a of life for the Crimson Tide, per tradition, the school will honor the 25 seniors on the team prior to their final game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday.

Among them will be many of the players who have helped lead another title run by the Crimson Tide, like center Ryan Kelly and Ragland. But the key to the 2015 season may be the players just behind them who stepped up as well.

Specifically, Alabama’s recruiting class of 2013, which was viewed as the best in college football, has finally made its mark. Had it not, the Crimson Tide probably wouldn’t have had a chance to repeat as Southeastern Conference champions.

Coming into this season, just four players in the class had established themselves as every-down starters, including defensive linemen Jonathan Allen and A’Shawn Robinson. Defensive back Eddie Jackson spent last offseason making the change from cornerback to safety. Junior college transfer Leon Brown had already come and gone, and Cole Mazza quickly established himself at long snapper.

Although collectively the group still had enormous potential, the class was otherwise known for its departures. No longer on the Crimson Tide roster are Alvin Kamara, Dee Liner, Altee Tenpenny, Grant Hill, Tyren Jones, Brandon Hill, Darius Paige, Jonathan Cook and Parker McLeod.

Of them, the only one who really played was Grant Hill on the offensive line. Kamara is now making headlines in Tennessee, while Tenpenny recently died in a car accident.

“I just came here from the Under Armour Game, and those were the best athletes I have ever played with before,” quarterback Cooper Bateman said on national signing day in 2013. “Now I am here at Alabama, and it is a whole other story. Seeing these guys around the locker room, it just doesn’t compare at all. It is going to take time to adjust, and I am excited for what is to come.”

As usual since Saban’s arrival in 2007, 247Sports rated Alabama’s class the best in the nation, primarily thanks to landing six 5-star recruits: Allen, Reuben Foster, Robert Foster, Derrick Henry, O.J. Howard and Robinson. All have become starters, although wide receiver Foster suffered a season-ending shoulder injury against Ole Miss.

The rest of the class:

“Just because you pick the puppy dog with the biggest feet doesn't mean it's going to grow up to be the biggest or best hunting dog,” Saban said at the time.

Two of Alabama’s priorities that year were running backs and athletic defensive linemen, and both were added in bulk.

With Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler both coming off knee surgeries, Alabama was looking at having T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake as possibly being the only healthy ball-carriers on the roster. So it signed four running backs, all of whom were highly touted.

Only one remains, but Henry’s considered the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy.

“I'm going to come here and carry on the legacy,” Henry said during his first interview on campus.

Meanwhile, the defensive linemen started to help form the nucleus of this year’s defensive front seven along with linebackers Ragland, Denzel Devall and Dillon Lee, and class of 2012 holdovers Dalvin Tomlinson and Darren Lake. (D.J. Pettway got kicked off the team, went to a junior college and later returned with Jarran Reed.)

“There’s probably not a guy that I’m prouder of on our whole team than Darren Lake, in terms of where he’s come as a person, how well he’s done in school based on his academic background and how much he’s improved as a football player,” Saban said. “So seeing those kind of guys coming from where he came from and being successful, having a chance to graduate, getting to play and improve here as a player, that’s what college football is all about, and certainly the reason that I love it.”

With players like Foster and Williams stepping up to make big contributions and other players moving up the depth chart, put those two recruiting classes together and you’re really looking at the heart of this year’s Crimson Tide.

That’s really the way it should be. Just a glance at the 2013 recruiting rankings and most of those teams are now challenging for playoff positions.

What’s Alabama known for this season? Henry on offense and the strong play of the defensive front seven, especially the deep veteran line that’s establishing a strong legacy against the run and pass pushing.

“It's about the players,” Saban said. “They've all gotten better. They've got a better understanding of it. A lot of experienced guys playing up front.”

Of course, by the end of their collegiate careers players no longer really think of themselves as belonging to a particular class, especially when a program recruits at such a high level like Alabama does. What they do when they’re at the Capstone often trumps everything else, especially when you’re talking about a player like Henry.

“He’s all about football,” sophomore left tackle Cam Robinson said. “He’s all about the team.” 

So it’s a lot more important how a player finishes, and these guys want to finish on top.

“[It’s] more about having a great group of guys on your team and going out playing week-in and week-out and trying to win championships,” senior Geno Matias-Smith said. “It’s not so much the class. We’ve had a successful class, but there’s more to it.”

“It’s definitely been a tight team. We bond so well, offense, defense, and even scout-team guys. We all get along.”


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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Anu Solomon Injury: Updates on Arizona QB's Concussion and Return

Arizona Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon is dealing with a concussion and may not play in Saturday's Pac-12 showdown against Arizona State.  

Continue for updates.

Solomon 'Questionable' vs. Sun Devils Thursday, Nov. 19's Bruce Feldman provided the update on the Wildcats' sophomore signal-caller, who had lost three straight starts before helping Arizona to a thrilling, double-overtime win over Utah last Saturday.

Solomon was injured in that landmark triumph. He also suffered a concussion against UCLA in late September and missed the subsequent 55-17 loss to Stanford. Considering he's had multiple concussions in a span of mere months, it may be best for Solomon to sit.

Saturday's road trip to Tempe marks the Wildcats' regular-season finale. Solomon was instrumental in ensuring their bowl eligibility in the victory over the Utes, so there's little for Arizona to gain aside from bragging rights over its intrastate rival if any doubt lingers about Solomon's status prior to kickoff.

Jerrard Randall would fill in for Solomon if the latter weren't able to play. Randall isn't as precise of a passer as Solomon but did throw the game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Nate Phillips in relief duty against Utah.

The redshirt senior is an excellent ball-carrier who's amassed 680 yards rushing on only 74 carries this season with five TDs on the ground.

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Anu Solomon Injury: Updates on Arizona QB's Concussion and Return

Arizona Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon is dealing with a concussion and may not play in Saturday's Pac-12 showdown against Arizona State. Continue for updates. Solomon 'Questionable' vs...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Devontae Booker Injury: Updates on Utah Star's Knee and Return

Utah Utes running back Devontae Booker will be on the shelf for at least the remainder of the regular season due to a knee injury that will require surgery.

Continue for updates.

Booker  Out for Season Thursday, Nov. 19

According to Sean O'Connell of ESPN 700 in Utah, Booker is scheduled to have surgery to repair a "minor meniscus" injury Thursday, and the star running back is "hopeful" to be back for Utah's bowl game. 

Booker's father, Ronnie Booker, confirmed Devontae will be out for the remainder of the regular season, per ESPN's David Lombardi.

"We were hoping that he may be able to play in the Senior Bowl, which is on Jan. 24," Ronnie Booker said, per Lombardi.

How Booker's Injury Impacts Utah Thursday, Nov. 19

This is about as difficult of an injury as Utah fans can imagine, as the team has games against UCLA and Colorado left in the regular season. The Utes are still fighting for a berth in the Pac-12 title game, but they will need USC to lose at least one of the next two games for that to happen. 

The senior is a veteran presence and leader on the field, running for 1,261 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. He's run for at least 120 yards in each of the last three games since Utah lost to USC on Oct. 24. 

Rob Rang of CBS Sports discussed Booker’s talent when analyzing the Utah running back’s draft prospects:

Booker sports a compact, powerful build and runs even heavier than he looks, frequently breaking tackles due to his low center of gravity, good forward lean and impressive leg drive. He is a decisive runner who makes strong cuts and hits top speed quickly, slipping into the secondary and bulldozing his way through contact rather than wasting time trying to shake defenders. Booker has light feet and excellent balance to pick his way through traffic and he shows good leaping ability to soar over defenders attempting to cut out his legs.

The Utes simply don’t have another running back on their roster who fits that description outside of Booker.

Quarterback Travis Wilson is the second-leading rusher for Utah this year, racking up 367 yards and six touchdowns. Joe Williams is the No. 2 back, but the junior has carried the ball only 19 times because Booker is such a workhorse. 

The Utes at least have some options until Booker returns, but they will not have the same offense without their best player.

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Most Important College Football Recruiting Visits of Week 12

National signing day is nearly 10 weeks away, forcing college football programs to elevate efforts on the recruiting trail. Game days are dwindling on campuses across the country, so it's imperative for coaching staffs to capitalize on these final home matchups. 

Several outstanding prospects are on the move again this weekend, traveling to contests throughout America as they work through top collegiate options. It's a group headlined by 5-star linemen from the 2016 and 2017 classes, as Ohio State, Florida and Ole Miss are among teams attempting to make strides with visitors. 

Here's our weekly rundown of key recruiting trips to keep tabs on in the coming days.

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Ranking Best Non-Football Stadiums to Host College Football Games

Fenway Park has played host to thousands of baseball games over the past century, but the home of the Boston Red Sox hasn't been used for college football since the late 1960s. That changes Saturday when Notre Dame and Boston College meet in the shadow of the Green Monster, adding Fenway to the list of non-football facilities to host games in the past decade.

Several of the more recent bowl games have turned to baseball parks for a temporary football field, a configuration that doesn't always produce the best sight lines but still makes for a unique experience. Other games have been held in soccer stadiums, basically making it so any facility that has the field dimensions for football is in play.

Which non-football stadiums are better than others? We've ranked the most notable places that have been used of late, factoring in how the field laid out compared to the stands as well as how well-received games there have been.

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The Return of Bob Stoops and Oklahoma's Swagger

Bob Stoops ran off the field at a rainy McLane Stadium last Saturday night three times.

He did it once for warm-ups, shooting out of a handshake with Baylor coach Art Briles like a cannonball, his shirt sleeves giving the outward appearance of being quite confident in his team, despite the inclement weather. Again he ran off at halftime, and a third and final time at the end of Oklahoma’s 44-34 victory over the previously undefeated Bears.

Each time, save for temporary pauses for radio and TV interviews, the spry 55-year-old looked to have a little more spring with each step. Despite his relative youth for his profession, Stoops is the third-longest-tenured head coach active in FBS at the moment and could occupy the top spot, depending on what his mentor Bill Snyder decides to do this offseason.

While he has remade himself several times over the past few years in Norman, altering his team’s structure, staff and his own coaching style, no version of Stoops may be as intriguing as the version who turned a small skip into a full sprint off the sideline at Baylor.

“This team gives us flexibility to do a lot of different things,” brother Mike Stoops said last week. “We feel like we’re a great football team right now. That’s not in one particular area; we’re playing well on offense, defense and special teams. To win at the highest level, you have to complement each other. That’s probably our greatest strength: We’re complementing in all areas, and that bodes well down the stretch.”

It certainly does, which is why there is suddenly College Football Playoff talk for the Sooners far beyond the banks of the Red River this year. That early loss to Texas has quickly turned from pockmark to aberration thanks to an impressive five-game win streak in which Oklahoma is outscoring opponents 276-84, topping 44 points each time.

Because of that, it’s no stretch to call the Sooners a top-four team at the moment, because they are certainly playing like one. While that loss to their bitter rivals in Austin earlier this year prompted many to question (again) if “Big Game Bob” had lost his fastball, the veteran straight-shooter may instead be in the midst of his most impressive coaching job.

“We learned [that] we got exposed. We learned we were not where we needed to be,” center Ty Darlington said of the team’s only loss at the Cotton Bowl, citing issues along the offensive line in particular. “That Texas loss really changed who we are. Without that loss, I’m not sure we would have taken our play to the level it’s been in these past couple of games. Losing to Texas is never a good thing…but we learned from it and made the most of it.”

It’s all part of the process that Stoops has been engineering over the past year-and-a-half. After talking big following the team’s victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, Stoops was forced to examine what he wanted OU to be after an 8-5 season last year that was punctuated by a humiliating 40-6 loss to Clemson, one in which former defensive coordinator Brent Venables ran circles around Stoops’ staff.

That prompted nearly wholesale staff changes, including the dismissal of former Sooners star and offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. In doing so, Stoops decided to return to the roots of what was successful early in his tenure with a move to the Air Raid by bringing in Mike Leach disciple Lincoln Riley and reshuffling the offense.

Away from the field, helped by Stoops’ and his upperclassmen’s steadfast leadership, the team also grew close to each other by navigating a particularly thorny situation involving a racial chant uttered by a campus fraternity.

While things may have been slow-starting early in the year, the fruits of all that labor have started to pay off for a team that has both a top-25 offense and defense.

“What you’ve seen over the past few weeks is the overall improvement, maturity and guys coming together,” Stoops said. “Really, the offense is working together. It was a new offense; we hadn’t been in game situations with it. Coach (Lincoln) Riley and some of the other coaches had just gotten here, so it takes a little bit of time.”

That time is now, though—in large part due to the team’s new quarterback, Baker Mayfield.

While Oklahoma may have found its swagger once again, Mayfield has kicked into an extra gear on and off the field. The end result may be a trip to New York City for the Heisman ceremony next month.

“There’s something special about him. He has that tenacity, toughness, competitiveness and talent. A bunch of coaches missed the talent,” Stoops said. “He just finds a way, and that gets back to his competitiveness. Call him a gym rat, a baller or whatever—he’s out there making plays.”

Mayfield is the active leader in FBS in passing efficiency and has completed 75 percent of his passes during the Sooners current win streak. Not bad for a former walk-on who fell into Stoops’ lap mostly because he grew up a fan of the crimson and cream — despite living in the shadows of the Longhorns at Austin’s Lake Travis High.

The slippery signal-caller burst onto the scene two years ago for Texas Tech and wound up earning Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors. But drama in Lubbock prompted a quick exit out of town, a few hard feelings and a quick decision to drive up from Austin to Oklahoma in 2014, even if a scholarship was no sure thing.

That was all part of the plan for Mayfield however, whose parents didn’t mind paying the out-of-state tuition for a semester as the transfer, and it’s scholarship implications, were sorted out last year. In many ways, sitting out that 8-5 season only reinforced the quarterback’s work ethic and made a year like this possible.

“I was having fun on scout team, but at the same time I was going to work. It’s paid off. I went to work last season, and it’s paying off now,” Mayfield said of his time between snaps in Lubbock and starring for Oklahoma. “It’s been two years now. Obviously it’s in the back of my mind, of where I came from and how hard I’ve worked to get here, but it’s in the past.”

Stoops and the Sooners have worked hard at burying last year’s disaster of a season, while at the same time using their one stumble in 2015 to fuel the rest of their season.

The end result may just be a semifinal date with the same Clemson team that prompted major changes in Norman, or maybe a matchup with old SEC foe Alabama.

No matter what, though, it’s hard to doubt that Oklahoma has found its swagger once again, and ol’ Big Game Bob is running like the wind with it.


Bryan Fischer is a national college football columnist for Bleacher Report. You can find him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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Why Oklahoma State Has Found Success with 2-QB System This Season

If he had it his way, Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph would be starting and playing 100 percent of the time. And if he had it his way, Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh would be starting and playing 100 percent of the time. Let's not so much as entertain any other notion.  

But before that statement gets tossed in a bin of negative cliches like "selfish" and "entitled"—before anyone interprets it as a locker room chasm for the 10-0 Cowboys, ranked No. 6 in the College Football Playoff poll and two games away from a potential playoff appearance—understand what Rudolph and Walsh are feeling is what any competitor feels.

It's a football player's instinct to want to be the the guy all the time. 

That's what makes this delicate balance with two quarterbacks operating Oklahoma State's offense so unique. It's a chemistry project requiring exact football and human measurements. Otherwise, the flow of the offense can be disrupted, egos can be bruised, locker rooms can be divided, trust issues can fester deep and boil high. 

Even head coach Mike Gundy, who never comes across as surprised at anything, seemed amazed at the rarity of what he has in front of him. 

"It’s a delicate situation that is working for us that I’m not sure could work in any other year," he told Bleacher Report. "We’re very fortunate." 

Oklahoma State's two-quarterback rotation works because Rudolph and Walsh are selfless and willing to put the team's success over personal desires about starting. There is no other choice here. The term "sacrifice" is one of those sporting buzz words drilled into a football player's brain from the first moments of Pee Wee football, when oversized pads and helmets are comically worn on tiny bodies.

Sacrifice for each other. Sacrifice for the betterment of the team. Accept that you're not always going to get what you want. Accept your role. 

For Rudolph, the sophomore starter, that means taking a majority of the snaps and attempting nearly 90 percent of the team's passes. It also means coming off the field on shorter third-down and red-zone situations. Walsh, the redshirt senior, then presents defenses with an entirely different look on offense, one that's more predicated on the zone read and play action. 

"I think it works because they’re pretty similar," said John Walsh, J.W.'s father and former coach at Guyer High School in Denton, Texas. "They don’t think about themselves for the greater goal of the team. They’re both high-character."

"He’s the ultimate team player," Rudolph's high school coach, Kyle Richardson, said of his former quarterback. "He’s not going to do anything to selfishly blow up the team. He and J.W. are friends. They’ve found a way to make it work and make the team successful."



There wasn't a specific moment when Rudolph and Walsh bonded, per se; the relationship between the two quarterbacks developed naturally over time. Rudolph was a touted true freshman from Rock Hill, South Carolina. Walsh was the program veteran. The best way to describe their interaction was that of a mentor-mentee. 

However, a turning point came last November at Baylor, the very team the Pokes will play on Saturday with hopes of keeping their undefeated streak alive. It was Rudolph's first start of the season, made out of necessity—Oklahoma State's plan was to redshirt and develop him—because of injuries to Walsh and former quarterback Daxx Garman, now at Maryland.

Against the Bears, Rudolph showed why he could be the face of the program for years to come, throwing for 281 yards, two touchdowns and two picks. The following game against Oklahoma, a stunning 38-35 overtime win for the Pokes, Rudolph tossed for 273 yards and two touchdowns to just one interception. 

With Walsh out for the year, Richardson explained it became easier for the two to "collaborate going against Baylor and Oklahoma." 

"[Offensive coordinator Mike] Yurcich took care of the X’s and O’s. By that time J.W. had been through everything. He’d been hurt, won games and lost games," the elder Walsh said. "He told Mason, 'I’ve been through this.' I think it was more about mentoring him through the game-day experiences."

Oklahoma State would go on to defeat Washington 30-22 in the Cactus Bowl. In three starts, Rudolph threw for 853 at 9.9 yards per attempt and six touchdowns. 


Why It Works

Not two weeks after winning the bowl game, Gundy named Rudolph his starting quarterback for 2015. Walsh would get second-team reps in spring practice. Garman eventually transferred out of the program. 

Rudolph, then Walsh. That was the order. "In the spring, there wasn’t this two-platooning of quarterbacks," Richardson said. However, Walsh did have a package of plays that gradually grew over the course of the offseason. By preseason practice, it was evident Walsh would have some role in the offense.

"We kind of fell into it," Gundy said. 

Looking over one's shoulder is poison to a quarterback's confidence. It's the only position on the field that doesn't routinely substitute players. It would have been natural for Rudolph to wonder, if he was the starter, why he would be taken off the field in certain situations for Walsh. Maybe Rudolph did wonder. 

"Down deep he could be the most frustrated person on the team," Richardson said. "But when he shows up to work he doesn’t show that. He does what he’s asked to do. J.W. does the same thing."

All three coaches said the same thing about the two-quarterback balance: The Oklahoma State coaching staff was abundantly clear in what the plan was. No one was left in the dark. "J.W. was never wondering, 'Am I starting this week?' I think when players know that, and there’s not some false expectations, it makes it easier," Walsh said. 

Yet, the rotation was almost nonexistent at first. Through three games against Central Michigan, Central Arkansas and UT-San Antonio, Rudolph was the clear quarterback. Walsh's packaged plays were limited to a few runs and sometimes passes per game. 

A Sept. 26 game against Texas, though, sparked the first quarterback controversy. In a 30-27 win over the Longhorns, Rudolph threw two interceptions and was replaced, at least temporarily, by Walsh. Jenni Carlson of the Oklahoman summarized the potential issue this brought: 

The quarterback carousel didn't cost OSU a victory at Texas, of course, but it's impossible to know the long-term costs with Rudolph. He played well in his first seven starts, oftentimes improving as games went on and doing his best work late when the pressure was highest. He even played well in the first half and then some Saturday. But after a couple bad possessions, the quarterback yo-yo begins. What happens the next time he starts to struggle? Will he be looking over his shoulder? What about his mentality late in a close game? Will he be given the chance to work through things and show that late-game kick to the finish line?

Gundy downplayed the notion of a controversy, but mentally, Rudolph had to make an adjustment. "I don’t think Mason was in this mindset of having to answer questions about two-platooning it at quarterback even in Week 1 and Week 2 of the season," Richardson said. 

Rudolph speaks to his former coach at least once a week. About a month ago, Richardson said he told Rudolph he couldn't go "into press mode" and "counting snaps." 

"Quarterback is a very difficult position to play and be looking over your shoulder of who’s going to come in. He could be thinking, 'I’m going to drive us 80 yards down the field, but when I get inside the 20-yard-line, there’s a good chance I’m going to come off the field.'

"Now, I'm not saying that's what he was doing," Richardson continued, "but he's grown from that into what he's become."

The two-quarterback rotation has flowed more easily since even though Walsh's role has increased. He scored the game-winning, overtime touchdown against West Virginia. In a 70-53 shootout victory over Texas Tech, Walsh threw for 167 yards, ran for another 80 and combined to score three touchdowns. He had the hot hand in the fourth quarter, so the Pokes let him ride. 

It doesn't matter who's on the field. When Oklahoma State scores, both quarterbacks are ecstatic. 

"There’s not a power struggle by any means," Walsh said. "I’m at the games. I’m watching the sidelines because it’s interesting to me. It’s a blessing for a coaching staff for two quarterbacks garnering that much respect." 

Therein lies an under-appreciated part of what Oklahoma State is doing. It's not just the quarterbacks sacrificing for one another and the team; the entire locker room has bought into this.

In a way, it's easy to see why. Everyone on the team is sacrificing in some form. What this team sees in the quarterback situation is what it sees in itself. For instance: It's common for Oklahoma State to go with four or five receivers on offense. "All receivers want the ball on every play. Well, only one of 'em's going to get the ball," Richardson said. 

But, this is a strong-willed team. On the sidelines, the Pokes follow the direction of both quarterbacks. Walsh is the vocal leader while Rudolph is more of a lead-by-example player. But the pair complement each other and don't infringe on someone else's moment. 

"Both kids have earned the respect of their teammates," Walsh said. "From a coaching standpoint, it only works if there are results."

And there are. That much is undeniable. 


How It Works

Richardson brought up an important distinction between what Oklahoma State is doing and what Ohio State did with J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones this year. In short, both teams have tried playing two quarterbacks. The difference is the Cowboys have essentially drawn up two different offenses while the Buckeyes tried to get two quarterbacks to run the same system. 

"They're skinning the cat two different ways, as they say," Richardson said of Oklahoma State. "They’re not asking J.W. to do things Mason does, and the flip side of that is they’re not asking Mason to do what J.W. does. J.W’s running or play-action passing. The only run Mason will get is on the scramble.

"As a defense, you have to prepare for both of those guys. That’s where the staff’s done a great job. Whether J.W. plays 10 plays or five, that defense has to prepare for two totally different offenses during the week. And obviously J.W. is taking advantage of the snaps. That’s allowed his package of plays to grow more for him."

On the season Rudolph has accounted for 19 touchdowns, all but one coming through the air. Walsh has totaled 20—10 rushing and 10 passing. Walsh makes his mark on short third- and fourth-down situations and in the red zone where the run-pass option can be lethal. As a true pocket passer, Rudolph's thrived in longer third-down plays.

"There are certain schemes and plays we have in each game for J.W. and obviously plays for Mason," Gundy said. "Mason gets the majority of the plays. Sometimes J.W. plays more based on the team we’re playing and if we need that type of attack in the game."

"Situational preparation is done on Sundays and Mondays," Walsh added. "They have stuff well-determined going into Saturday."

Rudolph has attempted just six passes on third downs with one to three yards to go. That number jumps up to 23 attempts from four to six yards and rises to 33 attempts on third downs of 10 yards or longer. On the season, Rudolph is 54-of-88 on third-down passes for 857 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. His 162.60 passer rating in those situations is 13th nationally. Against Iowa State, in which Oklahoma State had to rally from a 24-7 deficit to win 35-31, the Pokes were 11-of-17 on third downs and 1-of-1 on fourth downs. 

"That’s the hidden number behind the success of this offense," Richardson said. "Those third downs against Iowa State were huge keeping drives alive when you’re down." 

And Oklahoma State has been down. A lot. With the exception of a 49-29 win over TCU, the Pokes have a knack for starting slow and picking up late. It's not the best formula for going undefeated, but Oklahoma State has shown a resiliency matched by few other teams. 

With two games left before the playoff selection committee makes its final decision—against Baylor and Oklahoma—that resiliency will be tested harder than ever before. Oklahoma State can lean on not one, but two quarterbacks. 

"It’s remarkable how they’ve done it," Walsh said. "My coach’s side, I’m thinking, 'Okay, Mason’s the starter. How’s this going to work?' You could predict something not being real cohesive, but it’s been the exact opposite."


Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. All stats courtesy of You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval

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Nick Saban: Latest News, Rumors, Speculation Surrounding Alabama Coach

Despite Nick Saban's continued dominance at Alabama, rumors continue to link the Crimson Tide head coach to other jobs.

Continue for updates.

Texas Will Make Push for Saban If Charlie Strong Doesn't Return Thursday, Nov. 19

Brian Jones of CBS Sports said on his radio show, Gio and Jones, that Charlie Strong and Miami continue to be linked despite Strong publicly denying those rumors. And if Strong leaves Texas this season or is fired, the Longhorns are expected to make a push to land Alabama's leading man.

“There will be another run at Mr. Saban,” Jones said. “They will break the bank. Whatever it takes.”

Whether Saban will be interested is another story altogether. The much-accomplished coach has built a powerhouse program with the Crimson Tide, going 100-18 in nine seasons while winning three national titles with the school.

While the allure of a bigger payday and the challenge of rebuilding Texas' program might be enticing, it seems more likely that Saban would try his hand at the NFL again if he desires another challenge. Texas, for all of its resources, would be a lateral move.


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The Confusing Future of Lane Kiffin in College Football

It's hard to tell which is more staggering: the number of big college football programs looking for new coaches, or the number of times the same name has come up in speculation for those positions.

At South Carolina. At Miami. At Illinois. At Maryland. Heck, why not LSU, where coach Les Miles is "coaching for his job" as of Tuesday, according to the Advocate?

Is Lane Kiffin about to become the most desired college football coach in the country? Really? Because he has already had three chances at head coaching jobs, leaving each spot in wreckage.

After being fired at USC midseason two years ago, Kiffin has rebuilt his name in an incredible hurry as Nick Saban's offensive coordinator at Alabama. It's too early to know if Kiffin will really be in on all these jobs or if writers are just throwing a controversial, big-name coach into their stories to get reader reaction. But Kiffin will get a job if he wants. And I'd like to put in my vote for where he should go.

University of Alabama, offensive coordinator.

Just stay, Lane. Just do what you've never done before and stay still. Stay in one place. Don't jump too fast.

The College Football Playoff has changed the coaching profession. Everyone is chasing way too much money, and college football has become professional football, with coaches being fired or thrown onto the hot seat in the middle of the season.

Example No. 1: Les Miles.

Scott Rabalais wrote in the Advocate that there are "strong indications" Miles has to prove himself in the team's last two games or he's out. Funny: It seems like just yesterday that LSU was ranked No. 2 with a surefire Heisman Trophy candidate.

Actually, that was 13 days ago. Now, with two losses since then, a coach who has won one national title, played for another and claimed SEC titles has to prove himself.

Miles just can't seem to develop a quarterback.

Hey, you know who's good that?

Bo Pelini was fired at Nebraska for winning just nine games a year. Now Miles might be in trouble for 10 a year. That's the climate in a sport when billions of dollars take over.

Two years ago, Kiffin was known as a guy whose mouth and cocky attitude kept putting people off and getting him fired. Now, here's what Saban told's John Talty in September:

Lane does a great job for what we want him to do. He's a great play-caller, he's a really good teacher, he has great relationships with the players. He does a great job utilizing the personnel.... I think he's a great offensive coordinator. I don't know what his issues were as a head coach, but that wasn't what we hired him for. We have one of those.

Kiffin's name is back, and his recruiting ability is hard to overlook.

But we have to remember the context: He's not only a hot coaching prospect; he's also a three-time loser. Four strikes, and he's going to be out. He has to be patient this time and pick the right fit.

Look, I tend to defend Kiffin for his past. At 31, he became the head coach of the Oakland Raiders and was the youngest head coach in NFL history. He wasn't ready, and his boss was Al Davis.

He went to Tennessee, where he got off to a good start, but then left when USC called. How can you pass up your dream job?

But there was no way to replace the ultimate, cool salesman, Pete Carroll. Kiffin does not have that smooth Hollywood personality. And Carroll left him not only a program that had won the national title, but also one that was going to lose a lot of scholarships because of NCAA probation. Not only that, but Kiffin was still young and still seen as someone getting jobs because of the family name. His dad, Monte, is known as one of the all-time great assistant coaches.

In other words, Kiffin was set up to fail. And he did. Then Saban brought him in to modernize Alabama's offense.

So Kiffin is back. He has earned his spot now. But he can't afford another mess-up.

With every speculation about Kiffin comes the conclusion that he has matured under Saban, that he won't make the same mistakes again. Two things about that:

1) Ha. 2) Ha.

Exactly what is anyone basing that on? Saban doesn't let his assistant coaches talk in public. (Does he let them talk in private?) That's why people see his football results now, because they aren't clouded by his words.

Most likely, Kiffin is still going to be Kiffin whenever he becomes a head coach again. He just has to find the right fit, the place where people are good with his brashness. That might be Miami, but the facilities there are notoriously bad. Maybe Maryland, but it never is quite sure how big-time it really wants to be.

Nobody complains about getting too much, too soon. But there's nothing wrong with hanging out another year or two with Saban and learning how a top program is run. And an Alabama coordinator job is better than most head-coaching jobs.

Kiffin has plenty of time, and there are going to be plenty of jobs opening every year from now on.

Time to show some patience.


Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter at @gregcouch.

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Week 12 College Football Picks: LSU, Ohio State, Clemson Best Betting Choices

Running back Derrick Henry has emerged as the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy for the second-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (9-1) following consecutive 200-yard efforts in the past two games, including 210 against the LSU Tigers (7-2) and fellow candidate Leonard Fournette.

But Fournette and a few others still have a shot to make a statement in the last few games, and Saturday’s games will definitely impact the Heisman race.

Fournette and the Tigers visit the Ole Miss Rebels (7-3) as 4.5-point road underdogs at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark, looking to snap a two-game losing streak. He was the Heisman front-runner before Henry topped him in a 30-16 victory two weeks ago and still leads the country in rushing yards with 1,474.

With LSU head coach Les Miles possibly on his way out of Baton Rouge after a disappointing run, look for his players to come through for him in this desperate spot and pull off the upset.

Henry and Fournette are not the only running backs with a legit shot to win the Heisman, though, as last year’s rising star, Ezekiel Elliott of the defending national champion Ohio State Buckeyes (10-0), will try to state his case for the award with outstanding performances in the team's last two games.

Elliott burst onto the scene late last season for the Buckeyes and has 15 straight 100-yard games, better than either of the two backs with slightly more yardage than him this year. The third-ranked Buckeyes host the ninth-ranked Michigan State Spartans (9-1) as 13.5-point home chalk, so look for Elliott to roll over them as his team wins big and covers the spread in a rout.

The top quarterback still in the running for the Heisman is Deshaun Watson of the top-ranked Clemson Tigers (10-0). Watson is coming off two of his best performances of the season, and he will need another against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (3-7) to remain a serious candidate.

While the Tigers are as high as 30-point home favorites against the Demon Deacons, they should have no problem covering that with another strong effort by Watson to remain the No. 1 team in the country heading into next week.

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Jarrett Stidham Injury: Updates on Baylor QB's Back and Return

The Baylor Bears have already lost starting quarterback Seth Russell for the rest of the season. Now, head coach Art Briles may be down to his third-string QB, with Jarrett Stidham dealing with a bruised back. His status against Oklahoma State has yet to be determined.  

Continue for updates.

Stidham Recovering Slowly from Back Bruise Thursday, Nov. 19

Reporters asked Briles how Stidham was recovering from the back injury he suffered in Week 11's loss to Oklahoma, and his prognosis wasn't overly optimistic.

"Honestly, not as far along as what I'd like for him to be," the coach said, via Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News. "We'll see in the next day or two."

Stidham's Absence Would Set Bears Back Further Offensively

An injury to Russell forced Stidham into starting duty ahead of Baylor's matchup with Kansas State on Nov. 5. The transition from Bryce Petty to Russell this year proved to be seamless, as the junior threw for 2,104 yards, 29 touchdowns and six interceptions through seven games.

Although Stidham was viewed as the future at quarterback for the Bears, his first start wasn't supposed to come this early. Ideally, he'd have at least a year or two to become accustomed to the college game before taking over, similar to the way Russell became the starter.

There's no question Stidham is talented. He was the No. 2 dual-threat QB in the 2015 recruiting class, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

But it's asking a lot of a true freshman to helm an offense in the heart of a team's conference schedule. Ohio State won a national championship last year after injuries to both Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, but the Buckeyes' success isn't the norm.

Briles will hope against hope that Chris Johnson can emulate Cardale Jones if he has to replace Stidham. Entering this year, the sophomore QB had attempted just four passes, gaining 45 yards. He moved to wideout before the season to make way for Stidham, which is ironic in retrospect.

Briles has the magic touch when it comes to quarterbacks, having gone from Robert Griffin III to Petty to Russell without missing a beat. But he'll have his hands full if he expects Johnson to replicate that kind of form.

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Nick Saban Comments on Alabama Playing FCS School Charleston Southern

Alabama head coach Nick Saban made it clear Wednesday he's not overlooking Charleston Southern this week, even though the Buccaneers carry the FCS label.

When asked about potentially getting some younger players in the game, thus highlighting the expected one-sided affair, he scoffed, per Michael Casagrande of

Well how in the hell do you know they're going to get to play. What makes you think you can just assume that they're going to get to play. Because you're assuming the other team is not very good? They do have a Division I quarterback. He plays like a Division I quarterback ... if we don't play against them ...

Austin Brown, a senior, passed for 301 yards and four touchdowns in Charleston Southern's victory over Liberty last week. The win moved the Buccaneers to 9-1 on the season, and they are ranked inside the Top 10 in both major FCS polls.

Saban pointed toward an example from 2011 when the Tide found themselves in a similar situation. They had one loss on the season with the Iron Bowl against Auburn on the horizon when they faced off with Georgia Southern. They won, but the 45-21 triumph was a contested battle into the second half.

He noted the Bama defense, which was filled with future NFL players, "could not stop them." So he stressed the importance of taking every opponent seriously.

"And everybody said the same thing in that game. Y'all took a week off," Saban said. "This wasn't important, so it's not important to anybody else. It has to be important to the players, and it has to be important to us."

Even though the Crimson Tide are 38.5-point favorites, according to Odds Shark, just showing up isn't acceptable to Saban. Charleston Southern is one of the better FCS teams in the country, and a poor performance could hurt Alabama with voters.

After the Charleston Southern game, Alabama will finish its regular season Nov. 28 at 5-5 Auburn.


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SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Les Miles, Pressure and the State of LSU

Two weeks ago, LSU was ranked No. 2 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings and set to visit Alabama in what was supposed to be the game of the year not only in the SEC, but perhaps all of college football.

My, how things have changed.

According to Scott Rabalais of the Advocate in Baton Rouge, the losses at Alabama and at home to Arkansas have thinned the ice under 11th-year head coach Les Miles to the point where he might have to win out over Ole Miss and Texas A&M in order to keep his job.


Miles isn't feeling it.

"To get back on track is a sincere feeling in this program," Miles said. "When you (lose) two games, it's painful. I don't know if there's any additional pressure than my second game. This is the style of job you get, you are expected to win and that's the kind of job I want. I enjoy going into a stadium where everybody wants you to beat the tar out of the opponent."

That's the problem, though. Miles isn't beating the tar of the most important opponents. He's lost five straight to Alabama, the offense isn't a threat to stretch the field and is trending down in 2015.

"In college football few things are more damning to a head coach than consistently losing to your rivals," said former Tigers offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert, who co-hosts Double Coverage on WWL 870 in New Orleans. "This is how, despite being ranked No. 2 just a couple of weeks ago, Les Miles is now 'coaching for his job' following losses to Alabama and Arkansas. It's the fifth time in a row the Tigers have lost to Bama and the second consecutive embarrassing loss to the Razorbacks and fifth in the last nine games. Combine this with the fact that LSU's SEC record has steadily been on the decline since 2008, and I understand why this conversation is gaining traction."

As Rabalais noted in his column, Miles would be owed $15 million over eight years if he's dismissed without cause. That's not crazy for a high-profile program that's fully capable of passing the hat around big boosters and raising that money. But for LSU, a university that's gone through some serious financial issues over the last few years, that might not be the best public relations move.

"I know these boosters are going to spend their money as they see fit, but I do wonder how the mainstream media will respond when a region's priorities are so blatantly exposed," said Hebert.

Tigers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is on the third year of his three-year deal, and could easily serve as the fall guy if Miles is forced to jettison coordinators in order to buy himself another year. The question is, though, would it be enough?

Miles has been infatuated with dual-threat quarterbacks throughout his entire LSU coaching career, but has never truly embraced how to properly use them. That, coupled with the fact teams have to at least be capable of doing something other than playing old-school, smashmouth football these days, might make that ice crack if LSU continues stumbling down the stretch.

LSU is a mess, and Miles has two weeks to clean it up.


The Heisman Shadow

LSU running back Leonard Fournette was squarely in the Heisman spotlight for the first two months of the season, but that spotlight switched to the other sideline in early November when Alabama's Derrick Henry left the showdown with the Tigers with all of Fournette's Heisman love.

It didn't seem to phase him. 

Against Mississippi State last week, all Henry did was rush for 204 yards and two touchdowns—his 15th straight game with at least one touchdown run.

How's he handling the Heisman buzz?

"He works hard and really cares about the team," head coach Nick Saban said. "He always gives the other players a lot of credit, is a good leader and sets a good example. He's a driven guy, so I don't see any issues."

He'll have two more big stages to impress Heisman voters after this week's tuneup against Charleston Southern. If he goes north of 200 against Auburn and in the SEC Championship Game against a tough Florida defense, it could be one of the most dramatic Heisman Trophy ceremonies in recent years.


Revolving Door

Another week, another open quarterback competition at Texas A&M.

In what's becoming commonplace in College Station, head coach Kevin Sumlin has again opened up the quarterback competition after dual-threat true freshman Kyler Murray threw five picks over the last two games and former starter Kyle Allen completed all eight of his passes last week against Western Carolina.

"We've turned the ball over a lot more than we're comfortable with. We're minus-three in turnover ratio for the year, and our guys have to understand that possession of the ball is key," Sumlin said.  "There have been some football games that we could have won with ball possession, and having possessions end in some sort of kick rather than other teams having the ball."

Don't expect an answer for who the starter will be anytime soon, though.

Texas A&M visits Vanderbilt—which is top 20 nationally in total defense and yards per play—Saturday night, and Sumlin is content letting the mystery play out up until kickoff.

"I will announced it pretty close to game time," he said. "That doesn't mean we won't figure it out by then, because we will figure it out before then."

It's an interesting stretch for Texas A&M football. 

Allen is more of a traditional passer and Murray is the dual-threat, so it's imperative for Sumlin and his staff to decide which direction they want to go over these next two weeks and during bowl practice, because as it stands, they're sort of running two separate offenses. 

Sumlin needs to establish direction for the offense, and doing so against a Vanderbilt defense would be a good start.


Challenge Issued

The topic of out-of-conference scheduling came to the forefront this week thanks to the SEC's traditional Thanksgiving appetizer of cupcakes that includes Charleston Southern, Charlotte, The Citadel and others.

That prompted this hilarious, not safe for work rant from Saban.

I already discussed a few options on how to fix it, but Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema went a step further.

"I tell you a fun one to think about, there's 14 teams in the Big Ten and 14 in the SEC, kind of like the basketball one, let's have a Big Ten-SEC challenge," he said. "Let some people rank them in the offseason and let the best of the best play each other, the lower ones play each other and reserve a weekend every year. People would get into that, now."

Indeed they would.

I'm on board with Bielema's plan, but not 100 percent. The Big Ten-SEC challenge is essentially known as "bowl season" now, thanks to so many postseason games that have tie-ins with both conferences. If bowls can change that up a bit, sign me up.

It'd be a win-win.

There's only been one SEC-Pac-12 bowl game (Auburn vs. Oregon in the BCS National Championship Game in January 2014) since the 1989 Freedom Bowl between Florida and Washington. Fix that, and bring Bielema's plan on.


Lessons Learned

Get ready for the Tennessee hype train, because it's coming again this offseason.

Well, sort of.

The Vols are going to finish strong and should have a ton of talent returning for 2016, which will raise the expectation level on Rocky Top. While the expectations for head coach Butch Jones' fourth season will be high, the program won't get the offseason buzz in the SEC East thanks to the emergence of Florida as a potential power.

Jones is looking forward to learning from some of the struggles from earlier this year.

"I believe in learning lessons," he said. "Those are all lessons that can make you better if you allow yourself to make yourself better. Our players and coaches have done that, and our program has done that. Now, it's not making the same mistakes twice, it's learning from it."

Tennessee should have quarterback Joshua Dobbs, two stud running backs, a talented wide receiving corps, more depth on both sides of the line of scrimmage in the trenches and get the Gators at home next year.

The buzz won't be there, but the expectations should be.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Heisman Watch 2015: Top Contenders in Race for College Football's Biggest Honor

The race for college football's most prestigious award, the Heisman Trophy, is certainly heating up. Below, we'll break down the top-five contenders for the honor as the season winds down. 

Spoiler alert: Welcome to the year of the running back.


1. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama

When you rush for 200 yards in three of your last four games down the stretch of the SEC schedule—and you post those games against Texas A&M, LSU and Mississippi State—then, yes, you are probably going to shoot to the top of the Heisman watch list.

That's just what Derrick Henry has done. The Alabama back now has 1,458 rushing yards and 19 rushing touchdowns on the season, and he has registered a rushing touchdown in 15 straight games. 

What makes Henry so dangerous is that he can not only wear down a defense with his size and physicality, but he can also burn them with his speed and vision. 

“I think that’s the kind of back that he is," his head coach, Nick Saban, told Alex Scarborough of ESPN. "As long as he is, he does a good job of picking his way through holes. But I think that once he gets rolling, he’s fast—faster than people think and faster than he looks. But what you can always tell is he outruns the angle, and that’s when you know someone is pretty fast.”

Henry probably doesn't need to continue his streak of 200-yard rushing games down the stretch to win the Heisman. Strong performances down the stretch that pad his stats will probably be enough. 


2. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

Ezekiel Elliott is the No. 2 candidate at the moment, but there is a major asterisk next to his name. Why? Because in the next two weeks, Elliott and the Buckeyes will face their biggest challenges of the season in matchups against Michigan State and Michigan. 

If Ohio State wins those games—and Elliott has big performances—it's very possible he could vault past Henry in the Heisman race. His stats are comparable to Henry's, as he's rushed for 1,425 yards and 16 touchdowns, albeit against an easier schedule. 

If he blows up down the stretch like he did last year and puts up huge numbers against Michigan State, Michigan and likely Iowa in the Big Ten title game, he's going to make the job of the Heisman voters very difficult. 


3. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

In the year of the running back, Baker Mayfield has his supporters. ESPN's Danny Kanell is a fan, as he told the Mike and Mike radio show:

Mayfield certainly has the stats. He's thrown for 3,082 yards, 31 touchdowns and five interceptions, completing 70.2 percent of his passes. What he needs now, however, are the major, prime-time wins.

Beating Baylor was a strong start, but how he performs against TCU and Oklahoma State will likely determine not only where he finishes in the Heisman voting, but also whether the Sooners can sneak into the College Football Playoff.  


4. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

One thing should be clear—Leonard Fournette is the best running back in the country. From a pure talent standpoint, few can compare. 

But despite his dominance for much of the year, Fournette rushed for just 31 yards against Alabama in his team's biggest game of the year. A week later, he again failed to reach 100 rushing yards in a shock loss to Arkansas, rushing for 91 yards and a score. 

And that, in a pretty tight Heisman race where no one player has completely separated himself from the pack, was costly. 


5. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

Dalvin Cook is quickly becoming the en vogue sleeper choice to win the Heisman. And why not? In nine games, he's rushed for 1,369 yards and 14 touchdowns while maintaining a ridiculous 8.1 yards per carry. 

NFL Philosophy certainly thinks highly of him:

Florida State's two losses will probably keep him from winning the trophy, but Cook shouldn't be forgotten. He's having a spectacular season. 


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College Football Picks: Week 12 Predictions for Every Game

Another week, another chance for the top teams in college football to make or break their cases to play for a national title.

So far, November has lived up to its promise of playing a key role in deciding who will qualify for the College Football Playoff, but there's still a long way to go. This weekend's slate of games features another batch of matchups that will propel the winners up the rankings and and cause the losers to spiral downward.

But more than just playoff hopes are up for grabs in Week 12. Several division titles can be clinched, while another 16 schools find themselves a win away from being bowl-eligible.

Check out our predictions for every game this weekend, then give us your picks in the comments section.


All rankings are based on the College Football Playoff standings.


Last week: 45-14 (.763)

Season: 524-170 (.755)

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Bowl Projections 2015: CFP Predictions, Postseason Outlook Heading into Week 12

Just two weeks remain in the college football regular season, and the pressure is starting to build. The top-five teams remained in their Week 11 spots, while there was plenty of movement beneath them. 

Here are the current rankings:

No. 4 Notre Dame is bound to be hearing footsteps behind them as Iowa, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma are building momentum and making impressive cases as to why they should be in the Top Four. This is where the strength of schedule comes into effect and benefits the Oklahoman schools and hurts the Irish, who do not have a conference championship game to play. 

Which is what is making my current bowl predictions a difficult task as things will surely change in the next few weeks. But this is what I anticipate each postseason matchup to look like and who will win:

Notre Dame's biggest win of the season at the moment is Navy. That isn't playoff-worthy. With two games left, the Irish have to beat No. 11 Stanford in their finale, which isn't enough compared to what the teams behind them have coming up on their schedule. 

No. 5 Iowa has a pair of easier games with Minnesota and Nebraska to end the regular season, but the Big 10 Championship could pit it against either No. 3 Ohio State, No. 9 Michigan State or No. 12 Michigan. 

Ohio State, though, looks to be too strong this season and should win the conference. It's the Big 12 teams in No. 7 Oklahoma and No. 6 Oklahoma State that will be Notre Dame's downfall. Fox Sports' Joel Klatt already thinks that the two schools should be in the running right now:

The Sooners have No. 18 TCU in Week 12 while the Cowboys take on No. 10 Baylor. If both schools win, then the last game of the regular season makes the Bedlam rivalry more important than ever. 

Whoever wins that game should get the No. 4 spot but will run into a roadblock of Ohio State, who should get the No. 1 ranking if it goes on to sweep Michigan State, Michigan and the Big Ten Championship. 

That would move Clemson down to No. 2 and Alabama to No. 3. When it comes to a semifinal game, though, Alabama has been playing too well as of late, and it should move past the Tigers, setting up a rematch of last year's semifinal in the national championship game. 

The Buckeyes have beaten Alabama before, and they'll do it again if they face off in the national championship. 

Prediction: Ohio States defeats Alabama 31-24 to win national championship

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