NCAA Football

Auburn Football: Grading Each Positional Unit at Halfway Point of the Season

AUBURN, Ala. — This week, the defending SEC champions are at a crossroads.

The Auburn Tigers have not completely found the same stride against highly ranked teams that they had toward the end of 2013, but Auburn is still a SEC and College Football Playoff contender at 5-1 through the first half of the season.

Although there has been a stronger emphasis on the passing game and a wealth of returning talent, Auburn's offense is below the pace it set last season in head coach Gus Malzahn's return to the Plains. Meanwhile, the Tiger defense is playing some of its best ball since the days Tommy Tuberville roamed the sidelines at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

With an important off week between the 38-23 loss to new No. 1 Mississippi State and the rest of a brutal schedule—all three of Auburn's remaining road games are against teams currently ranked in the Top 10—it's a good time to review each positional unit at this point in the campaign.

I have handed out midterm grades for each position, and while Auburn has continued its run as one of the country's best teams, there is definitely room for improvement across the field. Take a look at the following grades and post your own report card for the Tigers in the comments section below.

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Can Marcus Mariota Lead Oregon Past Washington and into the Playoff?

The Oregon Ducks' high-powered offense faces a stiff test when it squares up against the Washington Huskies' staunch defense.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Adam Kramer and Michael Felder break down the intriguing matchup.

Will Washington's defense be able to stop the speedy Oregon attack?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Fans Should Like Nick Saban's Rant

Saban Steps Up

Everybody loves a good press conference rant, and Alabama coach Nick Saban provided one on Monday, going off on fans and critics who are disappointed over Alabama's 14-13 win over Arkansas last weekend.

"I was just happy to see our players be happy about playing a game and winning," Saban said. "And it really, sort of, if you want to know the truth about it, pisses me off when I talk to people that have this expectation like they're disappointed that we only won the game 14-13 and the way we played. Really. That's frustrating. You wanna talk about something that's frustrating? That's frustrating. To me. For our players. Who played with a lot of heart in the game."

Good for Saban.

He has every right to defend his players and team from critics with unrealistic expectations. Any road win in the SEC is a good win, and while his team—particularly his special teams unit—was a little sloppy in Fayetteville, it overcame adversity on the field and got a very important win.

What's the problem?

There isn't one.

Star wide receiver Amari Cooper suffered and fought through a shoulder injury in the game, which was played in rainy conditions. Going conservative, in that situation, isn't the worst idea ever.

Has Alabama's success since 2008 created an expectation of excellence? Absolutely. Like every other team in the country, though, Alabama has a roster full of 18-to-22-year-old young men who make mistakes, get rattled and figure out ways to rebound.

When they do rebound, they shouldn't be criticized. They should be complimented.

 

No Other Option

Florida quarterback Treon Harris was in line to start last week at home vs. LSU, but a five-day investigation into a sexual assault allegation—which was later recanted—cost him a week of practice, film room work and the game vs. the Tigers.

Harris is back now, and according to head coach Will Muschamp, he and redshirt junior Jeff Driskel will both see time during the game.

"They both will play this week, and we'll work through the week, and we'll see how things go and we'll see how it goes from there," Muschamp said in quotes emailed by Florida. "Right now, Jeff [Driskel] will probably start, but they're both going to play."

This is how it should be done, given the circumstances.

I wrote on Saturday that it's up to Harris to save Muschamp's job, but in order for that to happen, it needs to be handled responsibly. Starting Driskel and working Harris in is the responsible thing to do.

Starting Driskel and getting Harris in early allows Muschamp to get them both into the flow early and then go with whoever is more productive—which likely will be Harris based on Driskel's struggles throughout his career.

If Muschamp were to start Harris, he struggles and then the team goes back to Driskel, it'd be a panic move. It'd hurt more than help the team and, in turn, hurt Muschamp's job stability.

It'll be Harris' job soon enough, most likely by halftime against Missouri this weekend.

 

High Praise From the Top Bulldog

Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott has gone from Heisman Trophy dark horse to contender to front-runner in a matter of five weeks and is a big reason why his Bulldogs are ranked No. 1 in both the AP Top 25 and USA Today football coaches polls for the first time ever.

Prescott has averaged 246.3 passing yards and 96 rushing yards per game while scoring 23 total touchdowns through six games.

To athletics director Scott Stricklin, Prescott's leadership skills and the relationship he has with his teammates are even more impressive.

"He's a special individual," Stricklin told Bleacher Report. "I've been at this for over 25 years in college athletics, he's one of the most unique individuals who I've ever been around. He's so mature for his age and respectful. On top of that, he has such natural leadership abilities. On top of that, he's a heck of a football player. Take the football piece away, and he's still a great guy to have in the program and a part of the University. I've never been around any student-athlete quite like him."

If Prescott and the Bulldogs keep this up, he'll be in New York City representing his team, his school and his family as a Heisman finalist.

 

Gurley Watch...Continues

Georgia is still working with the NCAA to figure out star running back Todd Gurley's status for this weekend, as the school's investigation on whether or not Gurley accepted money for autographs enters its second week.

With Gurley in limbo, Georgia is again preparing for life without him, as the Bulldogs travel to Little Rock for a game with the Arkansas Razorbacks this weekend.

After the team first said that former running back J.J. Green wouldn't need to move from safety back to the offensive side, Seth Emerson of The Telegraph reports Green has moved back to running back this week in practice.

Is that a sign of Gurley's status? Maybe and maybe not. It is, though, a sign that Georgia needs bodies at running back.

Freshman Nick Chubb had 42 touches last week in the 34-0 win over Missouri, which earned him SEC Freshman of the Week honors. Since the Gurley news broke last Thursday evening, he was really the only option.

With a full week to prepare for life without Gurley—should that be the case—head coach Mark Richt has some time to piece together some depth.

Green finished second on the team last season with 384 yards and three touchdowns, and he will provide an insurance policy along with Brendan Douglas behind Chubb this week if Gurley can't go.

Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo didn't have the time to sort the situation out last week. They do now, and moving Green back to offense is a smart move.

 

Quick Outs

  • When is the proper time to refer to Kentucky as an SEC East contender? If the Wildcats beat LSU in Death Valley—yes, even a down LSU team—that would signify the proper time. The SEC West hasn't lost to a team outside of the SEC West yet this year, and if Kentucky is the team that breaks that streak, that would qualify as a statement win.
  • The Robert Nkemdiche picture fiasco was ridiculous this week. First and foremost, opposing fans holding pictures of players as ransom and posting them during game week in a direct attempt to get them in trouble is a concerning practice. Let's not make that a trend. Secondly, Ole Miss' policy doesn't require suspension on the first offense and all signs point to this being new territory for Nkemdiche. Unless we find out otherwise, the story should end here.
  • Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd is banged up but will play against Ole Miss on Saturday, according to The Tennessean. The Vols need him, because the last thing quarterback Justin Worley needs is that Ole Miss front four pinning its ears back and coming after the quarterback with no threat of the running game.
  • Auburn is changing the way it is evaluating quarterback Nick Marshall, according to Joel A. Erickson of AL.com. That's a good thing. Marshall is a big-play quarterback on the ground and through the air, so why force him to be something he's not by making him throw shorter and intermediate routes? If Marshall is himself, Auburn will be fine.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Do the Ohio State Buckeyes Belong in Playoff Discussion?

Ohio State was left for dead after an embarrassing loss to Virginia Tech, but the Buckeyes have kept their heads down and most importantly, kept winning. Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer discuss whether or not Ohio State is worthy of playoff consideration.

Would you put a one-loss Ohio State team in your College Football Playoff?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Twitter Reacts to Seth Green's B/R Exclusive Commitment to Oregon

Seth Green is headed to Oregon. The 4-star quarterback prospect announced his decision to attend Oregon on Wednesday to Bleacher Report, choosing the Ducks over Michigan State and Minnesota. 

KSTP-TV Sports Anchor Chris Long shared an image of Green expressing his excitement:

Considered among the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, the East Ridge (Woodbury, Minnesota) product was considered by most a near-lock to pick Oregon, per 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions. 

Dave Schwartz, KARE11 Weekend Sports Anchor, reiterated this wasn't a shocking announcement, while Tim Leighton of TwinCities.com observed Green was leaning a certain way during the press conference: 

“I would say yes, [Oregon is] leading, but everyone makes it sound like it’s the obvious choice,” Green told David La Vaque of the Star Tribune prior to the announcement. “That isn’t true because Michigan State is a great program. They have three active quarterbacks in the NFL right now. And then Minnesota is the hometown team. Coach [Jerry] Kill is bringing the program up tremendously.”

Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.com quickly noticed Oregon has a streak of signing high-caliber quarterbacks:

Jack Satzinger of MNDaily.com noted Minnesota was heavily recruiting Green heading into the announcement:

However, Marcus R. Fuller of TwinCities.com acknowledged Green handled the process respectfully:

Ryan McCumber of TheMajors.net predicts how Green's commitment will alter Michigan State's recruiting plans:

As a member of the Class of 2016, Green was under no pressure to make a decision now. He is in the middle of his junior season and can only make a verbal commitment at this juncture. He will not be contractually bound to Oregon until national signing day in 2016—nearly a year-and-a-half from now.

But Green sounds like someone who's already pot-committed long term.

“It just feels right for me because I narrowed down my choices,” Green told La Vaque. “I want to get it out of the way and focus on getting better as a quarterback. And also I want to help recruiting for that school.”

Ranked eighth nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks by 247Sports' composite rankings, Green has opened the eyes of scouts with his ability to create with both his arm and feet. He had thrown for 1,091 yards and 13 touchdowns, adding 343 yards and three scores on the ground prior to Friday's game against Mounds View. 

It's difficult to find many players with more physical talent. Green is listed at 6'3" and 210 pounds, with the potential to bulk up his frame over the next year. While no one will confuse him with a prime Michael Vick, he's not lacking for athleticism or top-end speed. If Mark Helfrich can work on getting more mechanical consistency, Green might be able to slot into the starting lineup as an underclassman.

However, Clint Brewster of 247Sports.com offered his critique of Green following the announcement:

Timing here, in many ways, is crucial. Green's commitment allows him to push away the distractions that others in his class will be dealing with for the next year. His improvements can also be more concentrated to Oregon's system, which has consistently highlighted dual-threat quarterbacks.

In all, everyone gets to cross off a major need from their checklist. We'll see if the feeling stays mutual into the winter of 2016, though.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Week 8 Predictions: Picking Top-25 Games Against the Spread

College football’s regular season is halfway complete, which is jarring and, yet, somehow familiar. 

Each campaign moves at extraordinary speed, and we don’t realize how swiftly it goes until the schedules are empty and we’re left gazing into nothing. Thankfully, they are not. There is still so much meaningful football to be played—so much to look forward to—and it kicks into force yet again for Week 8.

While the overall slate of games may not reach Week 6 or Week 7 levels, at least on paper, there are more than enough intriguing games to satisfy your football palate.

To add further intrigue, of course, are point spreads. And our weekly tradition of picking all games featuring the AP Top 25 against the spread has no bye week. We could have used one last week—offering up an overall performance under .500 after a solid run of selections—but that’s no excuse. 

Winning ways return with our Week 8 picks; at least that’s the plan.

 

All spreads are courtesy of Odds Shark unless noted otherwise.

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Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss: Way-Too-Early Preview for 2014 Egg Bowl

The state of Mississippi is the epicenter of college football right now. After surprising starts for the Ole Miss Rebels and the Mississippi State Bulldogs, all eyes are on this year's edition of the Egg Bowl.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer discuss the future Egg Bowl matchup.

If the game were played today, who would win?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Football: Midseason Review for the 2014 Bulldogs

Six games into the Georgia Bulldogs’ season, it’s still hard to get a grip on this team’s identity. 

The highs, such as a season-opening rout of Clemson and last weekend’s shutout of Missouri, have been thrilling.  The lows—in particular a loss to South Carolina—have been devastating.  The offense has played well for the most part but has stalled at times.  The defense has struggled often but has seemingly found its stride.  Special teams have improved but have still been plagued by inconsistency.

Even the most dependable element of the team, star running back Todd Gurley, is now a completely unknown quantity given an indefinite suspension.

In an effort to better understand this team and where it might be going, here is a closer look at what’s worked and what hasn’t worked for the Bulldogs and some insights into the road ahead.

 

What Went Well

To be direct, a 5-1 start is worth noting in and of itself.  Georgia has played four SEC teams, three teams that were ranked at the time of kickoff and six FBS opponents.  Through that schedule, which rating guru Jeff Sagarin currently has tabbed as 23rd most difficult in the country, Georgia has held up well.  The season is still young, but Georgia has only opened one of their past 10 seasons with a better record through six games.

Broadly speaking, a lot has gone right for the Bulldogs to achieve such success.  Much to the chagrin of Mike Bobo-haters, Georgia is averaging 43.2 points per game—a total that would shatter the school’s previous record for scoring offense and currently ranks eighth in the country.  Defensively, Georgia ranks 13th in the nation in points allowed at just 18 points per contest. Only one other school, Marshall, ranks in the top 15 in both scoring offense and scoring defense.

Offensively, Georgia’s ground attack has been something to behold.  Understandably, Gurley stole headlines through the team’s first five games.  That’s bound to happen when an 8.2 yards-per-carry average gives way to 773 total rushing yards and eight touchdowns. 

But freshman running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb have each accounted for more than 200 rushing yards and three touchdowns over the first half of the season, and each back has a 100-yard game to his name.  Such continued success—even in the absence of Gurley—is a testament to play-calling and stout offensive line play.  Even Georgia’s running game is not a one-man show.

Defensively, improvements under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt are hard to ignore.  After a strong second-half performance in Week 1 against Clemson, Pruitt made it abundantly clear that his work was not finished.  “We’ve still got a long ways to go,” he told Seth Emerson of the Ledger-Enquirer.  “I mean basically all we’ve done is guarantee we can go 1-11.”

Though it hasn’t always been pretty, this defense is making advancements.  Most notably the team’s ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks—particularly on obvious passing downs—has allowed this defense to prevent long third-down conversions and get off the field much more regularly.  And as of late, pass coverage has held its own downfield.

On special teams, there are signs of life as well.  Freshman Isaiah McKenzie is the first legitimate punt returner Georgia’s fielded in several years.  Though he’s occasionally loose with the football, his elusiveness is a real threat.  Further, Georgia’s coverage on kickoffs and punts alike is much improved.

 

What Didn’t Go Well

As great as the 5-1 start is, the loss to South Carolina is a black eye that darkens with every South Carolina loss.  To be sure, the Bulldogs’ rivalry with the Gamecocks is now one that transcends typical analysis.  Either team could win this game any year, regardless of record.  But the national perception is that Georgia lost to a mediocre foe given South Carolina’s 3-3 overall record and 2-3 mark in conference play.

More frustrating still is the fact that Georgia lost a hard-fought 38-35 battle after a 54-yard Todd Gurley touchdown was called back in the first half due to a phantom holding penalty.  According to Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the SEC’s office later indicated that the penalty should not have been called.

But the entirety of that loss can’t be blamed on officials so much as it can be blamed on the secondary’s inability to cover.  South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson set season highs for completion percentage and quarterback rating while throwing for 271 yards and three touchdowns in that contest.  Furthermore, two missed field goals by the normally dependable Marshall Morgan and some questionable play calls on offense sealed Georgia’s fate.

A strong second half of the season will make the loss to South Carolina forgettable, but Georgia could—and possibly should—be undefeated.  Heading into the trip to Columbia, Georgia was ranked sixth by both the AP and the Coaches Poll.  Four of the five teams ranked ahead of the Bulldogs at that time have lost, and the other (Florida State) has hardly looked dominant.  The Dawgs would likely hold a Top Three ranking if they had an undefeated record.

And, of course, one would be remiss not to mention the ongoing autograph saga involving Gurley, a disgruntled memorabilia dealer and the NCAA among the first half’s disappointments.  The length of Gurley’s suspension remains unknown, but the team is undoubtedly better when he is on the field.  Chubb did a fine job filling in for him last week against Missouri, but Georgia can’t run the table without Gurley.

 

What Lies Ahead

Optimism surrounding what has thus far been a great season is truly hedged by Gurley’s unknown future. 

If he was clear to play, it would be a fair assertion that Georgia should win every game remaining on the schedule with the exception of Auburn.  And even the Auburn game could prove a favorable matchup for the Dawgs at home.

With Gurley out, however, the entire slate is daunting.  Arkansas seems due to pick off an SEC heavyweight after back-to-back narrow defeats to Texas A&M and Alabama.  Florida always brings its best effort to Jacksonville.  Auburn could dominate if Georgia is without its star.  Even Georgia Tech, which snuck into the Top 25 for a brief moment earlier this season, could upset a Gurley-less Georgia team.

And that’s where things get difficult to prognosticate.  Things went very well for Georgia without Gurley against Missouri, but it’s easy to read too much into that 34-0 landslide victory.  Truthfully, that game probably said more about the Tigers and their lack of fortitude than it did about the Bulldogs.  The effort by Georgia was complete and therefore cannot be rightfully ignored.  But great teams do not lose by 34 points at home to an opponent that recently lost its best player.  Missouri is not a great team.

Accordingly, it’s hard to know how sustainable this team’s success is without Gurley.  The beautiful combination he brought to the field was not merely size, speed and vision.  His most valuable offerings are his consistency and his ability to break game-changing plays.  To cross over into another sport, Gurley is a high-percentage batter who hits a lot of home runs.  Georgia doesn’t have another player of that caliber.  Very few teams do.

With or without Gurley, however, this defense should continue to improve.  Assuming the front seven stays healthy and the pass rush remains as lethal as it has been, the secondary will benefit tremendously.  That bodes well for a unit that prides itself on opportunistic play and forcing turnovers. 

And offensively, Bobo still has a few wrinkles up his sleeve as coordinator.  Don’t be surprised to see a slightly heavier reliance on the passing game as quarterback Hutson Mason continues to adjust to game speed and benefits from the return of Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley.  And once Sony Michel and Keith Marshall return from injury, the backfield will be much more involved in the passing game as well.

This team is capable of competing in the college football playoff.  If Gurley returns, the team could win out and enter the SEC Championship Game much less battered than the counterpart from the SEC West.  And Georgia would have a noticeable advantage in the experience department should its opponent in Atlanta hail from a Mississippi school.  Playing in the conference championship game would be new terrain for Hugh Freeze’s Ole Miss team and Dan Mullen’s Mississippi State squad.  Georgia has played in two of the last three SEC Championships.

From there, it’s hard to imagine an SEC champ being denied entry into the four-team playoff. 

The floor for this team, however, is completely unknown.  Even without Gurley, every game remaining on this schedule could feasibly be won, but his absence leaves no margin for error.  Accordingly, a 4-2 second half seems more likely.

Hang in there, Georgia fans.  There’s still a lot up in the air, but nothing is yet off the table.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained first hand and all statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference.com. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

B/R Exclusive: Watch 2016 4-Star QB Seth Green Commit

Seth Green, a dual-threat quarterback from Minnesota, has narrowed his search down to three schools. College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee has a Bleacher Report exclusive commitment. 

Which school will Seth choose?

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Week 8 Schedule: TV and Live Stream Info for Every Game

Week 8 of the NCAA football season doesn't feature quite as many marquee matchups as the previous two weekends, but there should be plenty of excitement to go around for pigskin fans across the nation.

Mississippi State jumped to No. 1 in the Associated Press and Amway Coaches polls after its 38-23 win over then-No. 2 Auburn, and it will get at least one week to enjoy the limelight as it prepares for its next game, a Week 9 matchup on the road against the University of Kentucky. 

It's a week for those that wish to wear the rankings crown to establish themselves as contenders worthy of the inaugural College Football Playoff alongside the front-running Bulldogs.

Here is a look at the Week 8 college football slate, complete with television and live stream information.

Note: schedule courtesy of ESPN.com.

 

Live Stream Note

More games can be found at the following websites, although they may require an account or a subscription:

CBSSports.com

BTN2Go.com

Pac-12.com

NBC Live Extra

ABC Live

Fox Sports Go

 

Game of The Week

No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Florida State

If you can watch just one game this weekend—skip the farmers market on Saturday for once—make it this one. 

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish take on the Florida State Seminoles in a titanic tango that will leave one squad with its first loss of the season. As ESPN College Football points out, Notre Dame does a fine job of fighting off titleholders while undefeated:

Both teams are led by their star quarterbacks—Everett Golson for the Fighting Irish and Jameis Winston for the Seminoles—who have done a bang-up job of torching opposing secondaries via the pass and wearing down front sevens with their legs.

The Seminoles rank 15th in the nation in offensive efficiency, while the Fighting Irish rank 29th, per ESPN.com. Putting up 39 points per game will earn a team a lofty ranking, but the Noles could very well struggle to hit that number Saturday.

Notre Dame is ranked 41st in team passing efficiency defense, per NCAA.com. 

It's a fine ranking and just behind Wake Forest, which ranks 40th in that category. Yes, the Seminoles dropped 43 points on the Demon Deacons, but Winston tossed just one touchdown against one interception and averaged 7.6 yards per attempt in that contest.

Golson should be able to keep up if his secondary does its job, but he will have to take care of the ball. Florida State took advantage of three turnovers in that game, and Golson has nine turnovers in the past three games, per ESPN.com.  NFL.com's Bryan Fischer felt the senior quarterback hurt his Heisman chances with his mistake-ridden performance against North Carolina:

The Seminoles will be looking to take advantage of Golson's miscues.

"We know they're going to come in and play their best game, but we see that [turnovers] on film," said strong safety Tyler Hunter, via Garry Smits of The Florida Times-Union. "We try to force turnovers anyway. We force them in practice, stripping the ball, picking it off. We try to force it on them [Notre Dame]."

It's interesting that neither team has what one can call a "signature" win on the season—the type of win that sees them grind a top-tier opponent into dust and has fans of rival teams exchanging nervous glances when the score pops at the bottom of their television sets.

Notre Dame did beat then-No. 14 Stanford, but it was a three-point victory in a somewhat turgid, sloppy affair. The Seminoles crushed Wake Forest, but the Demon Deacons are 2-4 and fifth in the ACC. A 23-17 overtime win over Clemson, with quarterback Sean Maguire at the helm in place of a suspended Winston, was encouraging, even if it did reveal how much this team depends on Winston.

This contest is a season-affirming opportunity for both teams, but it might mean a little more for the Fighting Irish.

If Florida State loses this game, it could still very well march to an ACC title—with Clemson and perhaps Virginia the only legitimate challengers—and lock up a College Football Playoff spot as a one-loss conference champion. 

Notre Dame, which forges on as an independent in the FBS, might have a bit more riding on this game. Should the Fighting Irish lose, they don't have a conference ranking as a barometer, only the strength of their schedule. The six teams they've defeated have a combined record of 17-21—Stanford is the only team above .500. This game represents an opportunity to beat the best and affirm their ranking.

We want to be challenged nationally against the very, very best," head coach Brian Kelly said, per The Associated Press, via The Washington Post. "That's probably more significant than anything else, that these are the games that we want to play."

If the Fighting Irish do get past the 'Noles, an undefeated record is well within reach, as No. 17 Arizona State and No. 22 USC are the the two strongest opponents left on their schedule.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: 10 Keys to Beating Ole Miss

In order for the Tennessee Volunteers to pull off the big upset this Saturday evening in Oxford over the No. 3 Ole Miss Rebels, they have to do a lot of things right. Fixing their own issues, limiting mistakes and capitalizing on opportunities are just a few. I've compiled 10 keys to pulling the upset.

Interestingly, a combination of Florida's performance over Tennessee and Ole Miss' performance over Alabama are what it will take. The Gators did a good job keeping the game close and keeping the Volunteers offense at bay. The Rebels maintained momentum and jumped all over the Crimson Tide whenever the latter faltered.

The last time the Vols traveled to Oxford, Dexter McCluster had a career day. If Tennessee is to keep that from happening again with a current Rebel, they need to follow these 10 steps.

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Thinking Defense Doesn't Win Championships Anymore in College Football

There’s a temptation to declare Baylor unfit to win the national championship in football after seeing its defense strafed for 58 points in Saturday’s victory against Texas Christian. After all, that game’s 61-58 final score had only 25 fewer points than the 76-68 tilt between those two schools’ basketball teams in last season’s Big 12 tournament.

But the Bears are just one of six contenders in The Associated Press' latest version of the top 10 who this season have yielded a point total that would have been unthinkable for almost all recent national champions.

That’s where the college game is at the moment, and it’s a trend that’s unlikely to change unless Ole Miss’ stout tacklers and pass defenders waltz to the title.

Here’s a little history to put it in perspective:

For the 16 seasons that the BCS Championship Game existed, scoring 35 points was something of a magic number for defenses that aspired to generate a national title. During that period, only two champions entered the title game having given up 35 or more points in any contest, all season long.

The exceptions were Auburn in 2010 (which won a 65-43 shootout with Arkansas) and Louisiana State, which did it twice in 2007. But the LSU games get asterisks, since both were losses in triple overtime. (43-37 at Kentucky and 50-48 to Arkansas.) 

The respective scores in those two LSU games at the end of regulation were 27-27 and 28-28. So really, the 35-point rule was broken only once in 16 years. And eight of the BCS football champions never allowed an opponent to score 30 points.

Now then, welcome to 2014.

The season is essentially only halfway completed, and the defenses of these highly regarded teams already have had their 35-point bubble popped:

No. 2 Florida State, 41, to North Carolina State

No. 4 Baylor, 58, to TCU

No. 5 Notre Dame, 43, to North Carolina

No. 6 Auburn, 38, to Mississippi State

No. 8 Michigan State, 46, to Oregon

No. 10 Georgia, 38, to South Carolina

Please also note that No. 1 Mississippi State is barely under the wire, having been tapped for 34 points by UAB.

The entire discussion about defense in college football has shifted. Proof of that came when Baylor’s defense somehow received a big share of the credit for the TCU victory, because it finally did its job late, holding the Horned Frogs scoreless on their final three drives.

Players' enthusiasm is part of what makes the collegiate game great, but it still was a bit humorous to see Baylor defensive lineman Beau Blackshear quoted by the AP as saying: "I really think we stepped up tonight especially toward the end of the game after having that real rough first half."

On a night when a team gives up 58 points, no one on the defense stepped up. They were just stepped on.

Even funnier is that Baylor’s soft early schedule meant it went into the TCU game ranked fourth in the nation for total defense, with 267 yards per game. Funnier still was Fox Sports’ opening line in a prediction that Baylor would win 31-28: “Baylor’s defense doesn’t get enough credit.”

Yes, it's easy to have all sorts of laughs on a team that gives up 58 points, especially with hindsight as a comic tool.

But here's the bottom line: Baylor, even with a Swiss cheese defense, is still alive and in the thick of the College Football Playoff race. The nation’s No. 1 scoring defense, Stanford, is 4-2 and out of it.

The Cardinal cede only 10 points a game, but they came up short against Southern California (13-10) and Notre Dame (17-14) because they're not up to date with the college trend of outscoring opponents.

And good luck to the recruiter who tries to convince a blue-chip offensive player that Stanford is a place to thrive.

There of course will be some old-school folks who continue to lament what the spread offense has done to college football. The easy complaints are that it’s transforming college football into a video game and making defensive linemen obsolete.

Personally, I enjoyed seeing Texas A&M and Oklahoma make a defensive genius like Nick Saban squirm while his defense gave up 40-point games to those schools last season. It’s good for ratings, and it’s good for fans who want to believe that the game ain’t over til it’s over.

Compare it to Arena Football if you want but in today’s game the best defense has become an explosive offense.

So has the 35-point rule totally died?

No, it simply has shifted to the other side of the ball, because as Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer points out, 35 teams are averaging 35 points or more per game right now, which is pretty much what it takes to win in today's college game.

 

Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.

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Florida State Football: Stock Report at Halfway Point of 2014 Season

The road has been bumpy, full of potholes and speed bumps. There were injuries and suspensions and plenty of close calls. But the Florida State football team is 6-0 at the season's halfway point, a team whose stock continues to rise with a 22-game winning streak.

FSU's road to repeating as national champions was nearly derailed a few times. In the Seminoles' first three games against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, FSU was on the ropes and needed a late turnover (to beat Oklahoma State), defensive stops and overtime (to edge Clemson) and a comeback from a 17-point, first-half deficit (to put away North Carolina State).

Coach Jimbo Fisher has frequently said that fans and media need to stop comparing the dominant 2013 team to the 2014 squad. They may have similar faces, but the rosters are quite different. FSU lost 10 starters from 2013 to the NFL. While a number of sophomores and juniors who were backups a year ago have stepped into starting roles, the Seminoles have had to play more than a dozen true or redshirt freshmen.

While FSU hasn't looked "championship worthy" at points during the first six games, the bottom line is that the Seminoles are 6-0. That is something only five other FBS programs—Mississippi State, Mississippi, Baylor, Notre Dame and Marshall—can brag about. And all of the FBS unbeaten teams have had close calls.

No. 2 FSU takes on No. 5 Notre Dame on Saturday night in a game that will have a tremendous impact on the national championship picture.

"I'm very happy with where we're at, very proud of our team," Fisher said. "I am looking forward to a great game against Notre Dame. It will be an excellent game this week. We're both undefeated and that's what college football is all about."

Let's take a look back at the first half of FSU's season, and then take a look at what is ahead for the Seminoles:

 

What Went Well

FSU is averaging 39.4 points per game in its five contests against FBS teams. Putting points on the board hasn't been a problem.

Winston missed the Clemson game with a suspension, but he has been accurate, completing 70 percent of his passes for 1,605 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. He's established a rhythm with the young receivers, and Bobo Wilson has benefited from the chemistry established with Winston.

Rashad Greene has been very consistent in the first half. Greene leads the team in catches (44) and receiving yards (683) and has three touchdowns. He has at least three catches in every game and has 215 career receptions, which moved him past Ron Sellers (212) for the most catches in school history.

Defenses focused on tight end Nick O'Leary, and he was held without a catch by N.C. State. But the senior now has the most receptions (90), yards (1,248) and TDs (13) by a tight end in school history.

Defensive tackle Eddie Goldman is enjoying a career season. FSU needed a lineman to make plays after Timmy Jernigan left for the NFL, and Goldman has been consistently good.

Roberto Aguayo quietly hasn't missed a kick in nearly a year. He has made 13 field-goal attempts and all 27 extra-point attempts in 2014 and hasn't missed a field-goal attempt since Nov. 9, 2013, at Wake Forest.

And one of the performances that should not be forgotten in the big scheme of things is what Sean Maguire did against Clemson. The backup quarterback started in place of Winston and (despite a shaky first half) threw for 304 yards to help FSU win.

 

What Didn't Go Well

The offensive line was supposed to be the strength of the team, but how the linemen blocked and how the running game struggled early in the season have been surprising. Left tackle Cameron Erving, the ACC's Jacobs Blocking Trophy winner, was manhandled by Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley. Right tackle Bobby Hart has been inconsistent. The running game was flat against Oklahoma State and Clemson and a half at N.C. State.

FSU missed far too many tackles—"30-something" is what safety Tyler Hunter was told by coaches—in a rocky afternoon at N.C. State. (Missed tackles haven't really been an issue since.)

The defense has been inconsistent. And with Notre Dame ahead on Saturday and Louisville waiting on Oct. 30, that's concerning. If there's a theme to how the defense has played, it's that the Seminoles played well with their backs against the wall.

FSU needed P.J. Williams' forced fumble late against Oklahoma State and Goldman late versus Clemson. It needed all of the adjustments after a brutal first quarter at N.C. State (but allowed just 17 points in the final three quarters). The Wake game wasn't close, but the defense was quite good. And the red-zone stops were crucial against Syracuse.

 

The Road Ahead

FSU's defense should be better in the second half. The Seminoles lost five key starters (and leaders) from the 2013 defense—Jernigan, Telvin Smith, Christian Jones, Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks.

The defense will have to get by without tackle Nile-Lawrence Stample (torn pectoral muscle), and there will be growing pains as true freshmen step in. But FSU will likely get linebacker Matthew Thomas back following a six-game absence, and he brings versatility and speed to the defense. And linebacker Ukeme Eligwe is on his way back from a foot injury. So reinforcements are on the way.

FSU's offensive line needs to improve run and pass blocking. Tailbacks Karlos Williams (ankle) and Mario Pender (concussion, ankle) have been battling injuries, but FSU also has Dalvin Cook, and Fisher seems to always have a tailback step up when needed.

After No. 5 Notre Dame, FSU faces five unranked teams. It would be misleading to say that the schedule is soft. Louisville (5-2), Virginia (4-2), Boston College (4-2) and Miami (4-3) await. And the regular-season finale, albeit against a Florida offense that is struggling, won't be easy.

 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, all quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Stats are courtesy of seminoles.com. Follow Bob on Twitter.

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SEC Releases Full 2015 Football Schedule

The 2015 Southeastern Conference football schedule was announced Tuesday during an SEC Network telecast.

A ton of action remains in the current season to determine which games will be the most exciting next year, but there never tends to be a dull moment in the highly competitive conference.

Below is a look at the schedule, followed by some brief analysis for what's on tap, and an official PDF link can be found here:

Two of the top three ranked teams in the country at the moment are Mississippi State, ranked No. 1 in the AP poll, and the third-ranked Ole Miss Rebels.

They don't meet until the season finale in what's dubbed the Egg Bowl, but that has suddenly become a game to pay even closer attention to over the next few years, based on how well both sides are faring to start 2014.

SEC Network highlighted how the Rebels defense has driven them to a hot 6-0 start that featured a win over the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide:

It will be interesting to see if Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott sticks around beyond his junior year. Prescott is a current Heisman Trophy candidate but could still use another year of eligibility to aid his eventual leap to the NFL.

NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah hints that Prescott could be pro-ready soon, though:

Upsets await at every corner in this NCAA football cluster, because almost all the teams are so good. Even the cream of the crop in the SEC can't afford a letdown once conference play commences.

Alabama has been a perpetual national title contender under coach Nick Saban, so anytime the Tide take the field, it's worth tuning in. They either have a huge target on their back playing an underdog or have to maintain their continual pristine preparation to best a stronger opponent.

Coming off a tough 14-13 win over Arkansas, Saban expressed disappointment that Alabama fans weren't pleased with the bottom-line result of a win, per Aaron Suttles of TideSports.com:

Everybody's got such a high expectation of what our team should be. I was just happy to see our players be happy about playing the game and winning. It really, sort of, if you want to know the truth about it, pisses me off when I talk to people that have this expectation like they are disappointed that we only won the game 14-13 and in the way we played. Really, that's frustrating. You want to talk about something that's frustrating, that’s frustrating, to me, for our players, who play with a lot of heart in the game.

An arduous road slate looms in 2015 for Saban's team, featuring trips to Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi State and Texas A&M.

Speaking of the Aggies, if they improve their defense (48th in points allowed) and keep getting production from talented dual-threat quarterback Kenny Hill, they have a chance to make a run at the SEC title next year.

TexAgs.com recorded what offensive coordinator Jake Spavital had to say regarding the true sophomore signal-caller's development:

Texas A&M's road schedule isn't too nasty, with a neutral game against Arkansas, along with a visit to Vanderbilt. Those are two of the three teams without a conference win thus far this season.

Ole Miss and Mississippi State are the two remaining undefeated teams in the SEC this year through seven weeks. That is hard to believe not only with regard to the surprising, rising programs still without a loss, but also since the 2014 conference slate began not long ago.

Whatever happens in 2015, the SEC will loom large in college football's postseason picture. It will be interesting to see if the Rebels and Bulldogs can maintain their hot starts and be steadfast in their spots as contenders in the longer term.

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Alabama Football: Early Takeaways from Tide's 2015 Schedule

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama’s 2015 SEC schedule was released Thursday, along with the rest of the league’s 2015 slate, on the SEC Network.

We already knew the Crimson Tide would open the season against Wisconsin at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. Alabama also had a game against ULM scheduled. Its final two nonconference games were announced on Tuesday.

Alabama also now knows when it will face whom in conference play. Here is the full schedule.

*Highlighted games represent games that were just announced Tuesday.

A few takeaways follow below.

 

Nonconference slate finalized

Previously unannounced were games against Middle Tennessee State and Charleston Southern that rounded out Alabama's 2015 schedule.

The Crimson Tide waited until the 11th hour to get those games.

“Right now we'd take anybody,” Alabama athletics director Bill Battle joked over the summer in an interview with CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler.

It was expected that one game would be against an FCS school, as Alabama traditionally does before the Iron Bowl. Alabama typically plays two other group-of-five FBS schools in addition to a marquee opener.

Fans hoping for that to change were disappointed. Alabama will have three of its seven home games yet again against group-of-five or FCS opponents. 

 

Back between the hedges

Alabama is going back to Georgia for the first time since a 41-30 win in 2008 that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated.

That was the “Blackout Game,” as it has come to be called. Georgia fans wore all black for the top-10 matchup in which Alabama jumped out to a 31-0 halftime lead. It was one of the first major victories under coach Nick Saban that helped springboard the Crimson Tide into its dynasty.

The 2015 game looks like it will feature several new faces on offense for both teams.

Quarterbacks Hutson Mason and Blake Sims are both fifth-year starters who won’t be playing. Running backs T.J. Yeldon and Todd Gurley are both expected to go pro after this season, regardless of what happens with Gurley the rest of the year.

It will be the first time these two teams have met, period, since a wild 2012 SEC Championship game. Unless they see each other in Atlanta again, the teams won’t face each other again until 2021.

 

Brutal road schedule

In addition to the trip to Athens, Alabama gets Mississippi State, Auburn and Texas A&M on the road. In the past, trips to Starkville, Miss., have been written off, but the Bulldogs’ resurgence makes this a massive game.

When Alabama went to College Station last year, it produced a 49-42 shootout for the ages. And no one needs to be reminded about the Crimson Tide’s last trip to the plains.

This year, Alabama’s toughest road game was probably Ole Miss—its only loss so far—and otherwise caught down LSU and Tennessee teams away from Bryant-Denny Stadium.

In 2015, though, it won’t be such a cakewalk.

 

Toughest slate since 2010?

Alabama has benefited from the SEC’s rotational schedule the last few years in different ways but not 2015.

This season the Crimson Tide got a down Florida team, had Kentucky the year before, went to Missouri in 2012 to face a Tiger team still adjusting to the SEC and Vandy and another bad Florida team in 2011.

In 2010, Alabama had to go to Columbia, S.C., where it was upset by the Gamecocks. That same kind of trap game could be looming in 2015.

The Bulldogs haven’t been an SEC pushover in a while and don’t figure to take too much of a step back next season, either.

That, combined with that tough road schedule, could make this Alabama’s toughest schedule since 2010, when the Crimson Tide finished their SEC schedule 5-3.

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Kynon's Corner: 4-Star Drives 900 Miles for Looking for Offer, ND vs. FSU Visits

Milton (Ga.) linebacker Quart'e Sapp is a talented defender with fifteen offers under his belt. However, one of the schools in Sapp's top group has yet to offer the Peach State standout. Over the weekend Sapp and his mom, Angel, made the 900-mile drive to College Station, Texas for unofficial visit to Texas A&M in hopes of securing an offer. 

Sapp told Bleacher Report, "The drive was long, but it was fun. I saw a lot of cattle. My favorite part was the stadium. On a scale of 1-10 it was a 9. If they could've pulled out the win it would've been a 10."

The rangy 'backer decided to take the visit without an offer because he was personally invited by Coach (Kevin) Sumlin. His mom told me, "Quart'e didn't want to schedule a visit without an offer, but who turns down an invite from Coach Sumlin? Now things are in place and we will return in November."

When asked is his mom comfortable with him going to school in the Lone Star State? He replied, "Yeah my mom loved it and she doesn't mind me going to school out of state." Sapp has family in Texas, so that will help with his next visit and if he decides to play for the Aggies at the next level. 

Sapp liked the defense and what the coaches were telling him about the program. He stated, "At the linebacker position they are missing downhill playing guys and I think I can fill that role. Both Coach (Mark) Hagen and Coach (Terry) Price are recruiting me and I have a good relationship with each of them." 

So after the long haul, did Sapp come home with an offer? "They didn't offer, but I had a long talk with Coach Hagen and Coach Price after the game and I should be hearing back from them real soon. The trip was worth it and I would do it again."

The Aggies already have two outside linebacker commitments and they are in the mix for 5-star prospect Malik Jefferson. Space is limited, but college coaches preach commitment and sacrifice daily when coaching their teams and talking to potential recruits, Sapp's commitment to traveling halfway across the country on his own dime should bode well for him when they fill their final scholarship spots.

High Profile Florida State-Notre Dame Visitors

Plantation (Fla.) American Heritage cornerback Tarvarus McFadden will make his first official visit of the fall to Florida State this Saturday for the Seminoles prime-time match up against Notre Dame. McFadden confirmed to Bleacher Report that he will be in attendance along with ESPN's College GameDay crew. The 6'3, 198-pound cover man recently took the SAT over the weekend and he has been busy with his senior season to take many visits. This visit is huge for the 'Noles staff looking to impress McFadden and his family before he makes his college decision on Oct. 31. Georgia and LSU are the biggest threats to FSU. The 'Dawgs may have a slight lead in my opinion, but I think FSU can swing things because of the distance factor with McFadden's immediate family.

Kendall Sheffield out of Missouri City, Texas is expected to take an official visit to FSU. Sheffield is a bit of a wild card for the Seminoles. FSU's ability to get him on campus is a major plus for the 'Noles and ace recruiter Tim Brewster, who serves as the primary recruiter for Sheffield. In fact both 5-star defensive backs are being recruited by Brewster and his track record of success in South Florida and Texas is worth noting. Brewster was instrumental in the signing of Dalvin Cook for FSU in addition to nabbing Vince Young while at Texas. So if there is anyone that can pluck this pair it's certainly the FSU tight ends coach. 

On Oct. 1, 247Sports insider Josh Newberg reported 5-star quarterback Malik Henry would visit Tallahassee for the FSU-Notre Dame game according to a source (subscription required). I caught up with Henry to confirm his plans for the highly anticipated tilt.

"I'm not sure. My dad is trying to plan everything," Henry told me directly. "I will likely know by Wednesday." As of now things are tentative, but Henry is trying his best to make it to the Sunshine State. He likes what he is seeing from the FSU offense. 

" I really like their offense. I think Coach (Jimbo) Fisher is a great coach," Henry added. "The atmosphere out there is amazing. It's a football town. I really want to go the game to see how everything plays out."

Henry is considering FSU and Notre Dame, so seeing both as a win-win for the signal caller and his family. Notre Dame landed a commitment from 4-star Brandon Wimbush out of Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter's Prep late last week. 

When asked if that will impact his decision on Notre Dame? He replied, "It doesn't affect my decision at all." 

It sounds like Henry won't shy away from competition where ever he chooses to go at the next level. He said he will likely make a decision in the next month.  

5-star DE CeCe Jefferson Staying Busy Despite Injury

On Oct., 8, 2014, strongside defensive end CeCe Jefferson had successful surgery for an upper extremity injury according to his father, Leo. Three days later Jefferson was in Gainesville for Florida's heartbreaking 30-27 loss to to LSU. Despite the outcome Jefferson liked what he saw from the Gators defense: 

Jefferson's father, Leo, accompanied him to the game which was the 5-star's fourth visit to to The Swamp in the last two and a half months. Last week the Jefferson's were in Oxford for the Ole Miss win over Alabama. Next up is another road trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala. to check out the Tide when they take on Texas A&M. 

Leo told Bleacher Report, "Everything is going well with CeCe. He had surgery and he has been in and out of it. We went to the Florida game over the weekend and they lost a close one. This weekend we are headed to Alabama to visit the Crimson Tide."

When asked how he feels about Nick Saban? Leo replied, "He is a great coach. I like Tuscaloosa. We are looking forward to the trip." 

Alabama will look to sell CeCe on playing the "Jack" position or a 3-technique end when the Tide employ a traditional 4-3 alignment. The Tide's defensive schemes have been successful under Saban and his staff, so it will be more of a chance for Jefferson to see it with his own eyes. 

Even with all the Alabama accolades I still see Jefferson staying home in the Sunshine State. Florida and Florida State are likely to be neck-and-neck when Jefferson decides. Alabama and Ole Miss are still very much in the mix with continued hot seat talk of Will Muschamp in Florida. The Gators are trending for Jefferson according to the 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions. Although there is still a long way to go between now and National Signing Day. 

2016 RB Putting Up PlayStation Numbers

It's been a breakout year for New London (N.C.) North Stanly running back Antonio Williams. The 4-star running back has racked up 1,992 yards on 129 carries and 27 touchdowns. Williams isn't taking all the credit though. He is quick to praise the big uglies paving the way. 

"It feels good, but the key to all my success is having a great offensive line," said Williams. "I've had that every year. Anytime a running back has a good offensive line it makes a running back look ten times better. I'm planning on having a big steak dinner for them at the end of the year." 

On Friday, Williams ran for 298 yards and five touchdowns. This season's rushing total has put him at 6,114 yards and 68 touchdowns. Of course putting up ridiculous numbers attracts college coaches by the droves. As a sophomore Williams committed to the in-state Tar Heels of North Carolina. Over the summer the 5'11, 210-pounder decommitted from UNC to give others an equal opportunity to recruit him. 

Last week, Auburn and Notre Dame extended verbal offers and Williams was humbled by the opportunities. 

"Auburn is an offer I've been waiting on all summer. They've been high on my list even without the offer, but with them offering me it pushes them to the No. 1 spot for me," Williams told me. "I'm planning to go there for the Texas A&M game. Coach (Tim) Horton offered me and we have a great relationship. He coached Darren McFadden and Felix Jones at Arkansas. He has a great history of coaching running backs."

The Irish offer caught Williams by surprise, but he definitely had strong interest before they pulled the trigger. 

"Notre Dame is a great school academically and a strong football tradition," said Williams. "That offer meant a lot to me and they jumped in to that top group too. Coach (Mike) Elston came by my school last year and I was committed to North Carolina, so they didn't talk to me. They respected the fact that I was committed. Since I opened things back up we've been talking a lot."

Williams named a top six consisting of Auburn, Duke, Florida, Georgia, Notre Dame, and Wisconsin. He said "Auburn and Wisconsin are right there for that No. 1 spot", but he will take his time before making his commitment. The Blue Devils are firmly in the mix for the local standout.

"I went on a Duke visit earlier this year. I really liked it," stated Williams. "Coach (David) Cutcliffe is a great guy and he has coached some of the all-time great players. For him to be recruiting means a lot." 

The fleet-footed running back will visit Wisconsin in two weeks. He is looking forward to seeing Badgers running back Melvin Gordon in person. Gordon and Todd Gurley are two running backs he tries to pattern his game after when toting the rock. 

Christian Kirk Gives Local School A Look 

Shortly after returning home from a visit to Auburn dynamic wideout Christian Kirk from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro announced via Twitter that he would take an official visit to nearby Arizona State in November:

Kirk has been to campus unofficially on several occasions, but the official visit will give him a chance to spend more time with the current players.

"Obviously it's going to be a big game plus Notre Dame is playing real well this season," stated Kirk. "At first when it came down to taking an official visit there I wasn't going do, but after thinking about it more I decided I wanted to take one. Even though I've been there a lot I want to get around the players more and spend time with them. DJ Foster went to my high school when I was a freshman and I'm close to Tyler Whiley and Manny Wilkins." 

The Arizona State coaches have a clear message to Kirk. 

"The coaches always stress that it's great to be able to play in front of all your family and friends every Saturday," said Kirk. "And to be able to get other big time recruits in the state to stay home and build the program up. They are pushing that as of late, but at the end of the day its about what I'm looking for and where I feel comfortable."

The Sun Devils have some work to do. Kirk was Auburn for the Tigers 41-7 thrashing of LSU and he came away impressed with the trip. 

"It was my second time there. The atmosphere was awesome," remarked Kirk. "The thing I like about Auburn is they are a family there. They treat you like family and like you are at home. Coach (Gus) Malzahn is a great coach, he's a players coach. He cares about his guys. I would rate at a 7 or 8 out of 10. I had a good time."

The Arizona prospect is an early enrollee and will report to college after the Under Armour All-America game concludes on January 2 in St. Petersburg, Fla. 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand. Recruiting information and ratings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted. 

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UCLA Football: 3 Biggest X-Factors for Bruins vs. Cal

The UCLA football team is currently at a crossroads. 

Expected to potentially win the Pac-12 and participate in the College Football Playoff, the Bruins have dropped back-to-back games versus Utah and Oregon. A third straight loss could cause widespread panic across Westwood. 

The recipe for getting back on track? A win this Saturday versus the California Golden Bears in Berkeley.

It won't be an easy proposition in the slightest. Cal is a much improved team from last year's 1-11 finish. Sonny Dykes brings an explosive offense led by quarterback Jared Goff. 

This piece will speak about three X-factors for the Bruins in their quest to get back to their winning ways. UCLA will attempt to win in Berkeley for the first time since 1998. 

Can the Bruins exorcise the Strawberry Canyon demons? 

Take a look at three X-factors for Jim Mora and the Bruins. 

Begin Slideshow

UCLA Football: 3 Biggest X-Factors for Bruins vs. Cal

The UCLA football team is currently at a crossroads. Expected to potentially win the Pac-12 and participate in the College Football Playoff, the Bruins have dropped back-to-back games versus Utah and Oregon...

Begin Slideshow

D-III College Football Team Pulls off Reverse Flea-Flicker Touchdown

Alabama's Huntingdon College, a Division III college football team, pulled off a trick touchdown that looks like it's straight out of Little Giants.

This reverse flea-flicker for a touchdown is basically what happens if you put all of the trick plays into one, and it somehow pays off.

Huntingdon ended up beating Christopher Newport 51-31.

[Uproxx]

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USC Football: Trojans Vying for More Explosive Plays

Long-yardage or explosive plays defined USC football in its heyday of the 2000s, and generating more of them is of particular emphasis for the Trojans before they face Colorado Saturday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

First-year USC head coach Steve Sarkisian—who contributed to some of those prolific USC offenses of the 2000s—said he defines explosive plays as rushes of 10-plus yards and passes of 15-plus yards. An ideal night, Sarkisian said, is one in which 20 percent of the Trojans' plays qualify as explosive.

USC was close in last Saturday's 28-26 win at Arizona. Sarkisian said on his conference call Sunday that a little more than 17 percent of plays went for big yardage.

Two were touchdown runs of 34 and 48 yards by running back Javorius “Buck” Allen, a welcome sight to Sarkisian.

“I love it,” Sarkisian said after USC’s practice Tuesday at Howard Jones Field. “I was a little surprised…early in the year that we weren’t getting the big plays out of him that I had [seen] on film from the second half of last season. But now, the last couple weeks what we’ve gotten out him is kind of what I was anticipating.”

Sarkisian said he projected Allen for 1,500 rushing yards—Allen came 205 closer to that benchmark at Arizona, giving him 781 at the season’s midway point. Sarkisian also said he anticipated Allen would “be in consideration for some really cool accolades at the end of the year.”

It’s not the end of the year, but Allen did add Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week as one accolade.

USC has its explosive playmaker in the run game, but the next step for the Trojans to truly open up the offense is for quarterback Cody Kessler to deliver more long-yardage passes.

“We have to keep pushing the envelope,” Sarkisian said. To that end, a portion of Tuesday’s practice was devoted to deep routes. “That’ll make us a better team. That’ll make us more difficult to defend.”

Kessler has effectively managed the Trojans offense, avoiding catastrophic errors and distributing the ball among a variety of receivers.

And indeed, the quarterback has a handful of explosive plays such as his 21-yard connection with wide receiver Nelson Agholor on a post route at Arizona.

But the next step the Kessler and the USC offense can take against Colorado is with long balls of 30, 40, 50 yards. The Trojans have nine such plays on the season, while the Buffaloes have surrendered 11.

USC has an opportunity to exploit matchups with a diverse and talented corps of wide receivers facing one of the youngest secondaries in the Pac-12.

“We’re trying to take advantage of every aspect of this team,” said George Farmer, one of the USC wide receivers who could see long-ball opportunities Saturday.

Farmer and Kessler have connected primarily on shorter routes this season, evident in the receiver’s 7.9-yard-per-reception average. However, his speed can pose problems for cornerbacks trying to cover him on the perimeter.

"I know I'm capable of doing that. I know where my game stands," Farmer said, adding that any one of the Trojans receiving corps is capable of providing those coveted explosive plays.

“When the opportunity is in the game, whoever is in I’m pretty sure that we can get the job done. I feel confident in all our receivers,” he said.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics via CFBstats.com.

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