NCAA Football

5 Bold College Football Predictions for Week 12

With just three weeks left in the 2015 college football season, unpredictability has been a common thread across the nation. Two weeks ago, five unbeaten teams fell by the wayside. Last week, four Top 10 teams went down to defeat.

And as we enter Week 12, only five unbeaten teams (Clemson, Houston, Iowa, Ohio State and Oklahoma State) remain.

Plenty of twists and turns remain on the road to the College Football Playoff, and several are sure to unfold on Saturday.

How will Week 12 shake out? Here are five bold predictions on just what will happen in a week that features six Top 25 matchups and a pair of Top 10 clashes. Just another college football Saturday in November, right?

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Tennessee Football: Why Future Star Darrin Kirkland Needs to Keep Shining Now

Tennessee freshman middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. isn't the Volunteers' most valuable defensive player. That honor would go to the man standing directly to his right, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, or potentially sophomore end Derek Barnett.

But Kirkland is the Vols' MVP of sorts; he's their most vital player. How he goes, the defense goes.

Early in the year, UT's defense suffered drastically when Kirkland wasn't ready and walk-on Colton Jumper was forced into a starting role. When Kirkland finally took over against Western Carolina, he wasn't ready. But as he's grown, so has coordinator John Jancek's defense.

Tennessee is getting ready for two difficult tests to close the regular season against offenses that—on paper—look like the Vols defense should handle. But this weekend's road opponent, Missouri, looked better moving the ball in a win last week against BYU.

The Tigers have a senior running back in Russell Hansbrough who has gashed the Vols before and is finally healthy after an injury-riddled season. 

In the regular-season finale, Vanderbilt will be playing its biggest rival in what may be a bowl atmosphere for the Commodores. If they lose to Texas A&M this week, they won't be going to the postseason. If they win, the game against UT will be for a bowl berth, and VU always plays the Vols tough, anyway.

They, too, have a quality running back in Ralph Webb with whom Tennessee must contend.

So, playing slogging offenses with strong running games means UT needs a big effort from Kirkland. Yes, he looks like a future all-conference player, but Kirkland needs to play like it immediately if the Vols are going to win eight games.

It's a challenge UT coach Butch Jones believes Kirkland is ready to meet head-on like a runner in the A-gap:

Kirkland went from getting one or two tackles a game, being a step late and struggling with the pre-snap nuances of getting players lined up and making the right calls in his first couple of starts, to being all over the field.

Lately, the game is coming naturally to the defender.

In the four games since a forgettable showing against Georgia, Kirkland is averaging more than seven stops per game and has 2.5 tackles for a loss. He's gotten better every single game since then, too.

After getting a career-high nine tackles against South Carolina, he reached a milestone of sorts against North Texas, eclipsing Reeves-Maybin's tackles total to lead the team with eight. Lately, it appears a friendly rivalry is developing between him and his fellow linebacker.

Why not? Now, Kirkland can hold his own on the stat sheet.

The performance against the Gamecocks garnered him SEC Freshman of the Week honors, and it probably won't be the last hardware the Indianapolis native brings home in his career.

He's emerging as a star, and the Vols need him to keep growing and progressing. Fox Sports' blurb about his award proves that even national sites are beginning to take notice of Kirkland's development.

"The middle linebacker has really emerged for Tennessee since being inserted into the starting lineup and looks to have secured his place with the starter for years to come," the article says. "With players like Kirkland shining in conference play, the future of Rocky Top looks very bright indeed."

Kirkland is third on the Vols with 52 tackles, and he also has five tackles for a loss, a couple of sacks and an interception. On the pick, he displayed his immense athleticism, jumping a route and intercepting a Patrick Towles pass before racing 26 yards inside the five-yard line to set up a touchdown.

This weekend against Missouri's motion-based offense and Hansbrough's veteran vision, it's essential that Kirkland plays his best game yet.

Mizzou has been awful this year on offense, but Hansbrough's health and the improvement of true freshman quarterback Drew Lock makes the Tigers potentially dangerous. That's not lost on Kirkland and the Vols.

"He was their leading rusher (so having him back) helps them in their scheme," Kirkland told the Daily Times' Austin Bornheim this week. "They can make some plays running inside and outside, really helps them a lot."

Everybody who watches him play has something to say. Jancek, especially, is impressed with the progression of the man in the middle. UT's defensive coordinator told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan:

He takes great pride in his work, and that’s what you need to have. You need to have guys that are grinders. The thing that I’ll say about Darrin is that he shows up to work every day. You know what you’re getting. He’s not up-and-down. He’s very consistent in his approach. And all his hard work is starting to pay off. He’s really starting to elevate his game.

It wasn't an overnight development, either. Kirkland may be coming on quickly now, but after being a mid-term enrollee, many expected he may be the answer to UT's issue in the middle. Instead, he didn't get the opportunity this spring after tearing a pectoral muscle lifting weights.

There were fewer more dismal positions in spring practice than UT's middle linebacker. No Vol could take the job and run with it.

Jumper wasn't much of a factor, junior Kenny Bynum was nowhere near athletic enough to be an every-down stalwart and the redshirt freshman duo of Dillon Bates and Gavin Bryant wasn't ready, either.

Tennessee needed to replace All-SEC star A.J. Johnson's production. 

Enter Kirkland. He's not the same kind of player Johnson is, but once the light began to flicker, Kirkland shone. Now, it looks like his ceiling is much higher for UT's new man in the middle than the former Vols tackle-gobbler.

Johnson didn't have anywhere near the sideline-to-sideline speed of Kirkland, and though Johnson was as good as anybody in the country against the run, he didn't become a good pass defender until his senior season in 2014. Kirkland already is showing signs of being a strong all-around player.

Rather than looking up for a player such as Johnson who wasn't around when Kirkland came to Knoxville, the Midwestern product told WBIR's Nick Carboni he instead tries to emulate a player from closer to home: Notre Dame star Jaylon Smith (whose name is misspelled in the tweet):

Jones has recruited extremely well for the Vols since coming on as head coach, but he lucked into Kirkland a little bit when Michigan fired Brady Hoke. When that happened, Kirkland decommitted from the Wolverines and pledged to UT, which finished second on his list the first go-around.

Once that happened, the Vols severed ties with linebacker Cecil Cherry (who wound up at Texas) because Kirkland was their top pick for the position all along.

As it turns out, the first choice was the right one.

Kirkland is a star in the making. With two run-oriented, grind-it-out teams that try to win on ball control and defense coming up, these are the kinds of games where middle linebackers' names are made. 

The Tennessee freshman linebacker has a prime opportunity to cement his status as one of the league's top first-year defenders between now and the end of the season. If he does, he and the Vols will have a chance to shine on a bigger bowl stage in January.


All stats gathered from unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from the 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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College Football Picks Week 12: Odds, Score Predictions for Top 25 Teams

Time is running out in the 2015 college football regular season. As teams prepare for Week 12, conference championship and bowl season is just around the corner, and for some, moves still have to be made if they have any hope to compete for a national championship. 

Here are the current College Football Playoff rankings:

The Top Five teams in the newest edition of the committee's rankings stayed the same after Week 11's matchups, but there are some big games left to finish off the regular season that could adversely affect the championship landscape. 

Let's take a look at the upcoming schedule and predictions for the Top 25 teams in college football, with odds courtesy of

Game of the Week

No. 10 Baylor at No. 6 Oklahoma State

This is just one of three gargantuan matchups that will play out in the Big 12 over the next two weeks. While Baylor and Oklahoma State battle it out on Saturday, No. 7 Oklahoma battles No. 18 TCU. 

If both Oklahoman teams win, then the Bedlam rivalry will be exactly that on Nov. 28, because the winner of that game should get a spot in the CFP. 

No matter the outcome, this game is going to be an absolute shootout with Baylor averaging 54.8 points per game and Oklahoma State averaging 43.6. 

While Baylor has one of the best offenses in the nation, putting up over 630 yards per game, the Bears are beatable, especially when playing a team that can score while playing some defense (see Week 11 against Oklahoma). 

To make matters worse for Baylor, backup quarterback-turned-starter Jarrett Stidham is uncertain to play on Saturday after injuring his back against Oklahoma. If he is unable to go, Baylor's next option is sophomore Chris Johnson, hardly the starting quarterback the Bears want going into such a big game. 

Both teams are giving up over 24 points per game, but Baylor's unclear quarterback situation is why I'm picking Oklahoma State. 

Prediction: Oklahoma State defeats Baylor 56-49


Stats courtesy of

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ESPN College Gameday 2015: TV Schedule, Predictions and Location for Week 12

The home stretch of the college football season is upon us, which means conference play is set to reign supreme over the next few weeks. 

But before clarity presents itself in the form of conference-championship showdowns and, eventually, a finalized College Football Playoff picture, some crucial contests need to take place. 

One such clash will take place in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday afternoon, when the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes host the No. 9 Michigan State Spartans in a crucial Big Ten battle. 

And since the tilt could have the biggest playoff implications of any Week 12 battle, it's no surprise ESPN's College GameDay is heading to the home of the Horseshoe to thrill the Buckeyes student body and get the rest of the nation amped up for what promises to be some compelling action. 

But before previewing the marquee showdown, here's a look at when and where you can catch College GameDay on Saturday morning:

Time: 9 a.m. ET


Location: Columbus, Ohio 


Preview and Prediction

While the Big Ten East won't be formally decided for a couple of weeks, Saturday's outcome will go a long way toward determining a division winner. 

The undefeated Buckeyes control their own destiny at the top of the East, but if the Spartans can pull off an upset and drop Ohio State to 10-1, things get interesting.

Should Michigan State walk into a hostile environment and withstand the Buckeyes' efforts, Mark Dantonio's program will have the inside track when it comes to clinching a spot in the conference championship game.

And if there's one team that should be confident in its ability to knock off the Buckeyes, it's the Spartans. As the Detroit News' Matt Charboneau and Angelique S. Chengelis noted, Michigan State is the only Big Ten program to emerge with a victory against Ohio State since Urban Meyer took over as head coach. The triumph came in the 2013 Big Ten title game. 

Led by quarterback Connor Cook, the Spartans' 44th-ranked scoring offense will attempt to crack an Ohio State defense that's allowed a Big Ten-best 89 points in conference play. 

"We're facing one of the best quarterbacks in Big Ten history," Meyer said, according to Charboneau. "That's how you evaluate a quarterback, does he win games? That is his job and he wins almost every game he plays."

However, the Buckeyes aren't too familiar with losing games either.

The defending national champions haven't lost a regular-season game in the Big Ten since Meyer took control of the program, and they've imposed their will on opponents at home. Although the Buckeyes have had to sweat out a few games this season, they're still dispatching opponents by an average margin of 22.3 points when they play at the Horseshoe. 

With that said, Ohio State has yet to face another playoff-caliber—or even highly touted—team on its quest to repeat. 

"The reality is that with what's ahead on the Buckeyes schedule—and the lackluster lineup of opponents they've faced to this point—their 2015 campaign might as well just be getting started," Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod wrote. 

A dearth of quality competition to this point could theoretically hurt Ohio State as it attempts to cement itself as a playoff team, but with questions abounding, don't be surprised if Meyer's side answers the call. 


Prediction: Ohio State 30, Michigan State 24

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Georgia Football: The 5 Most Important Recruits for the Bulldogs' 2016 Season

As the 2015 season winds down for the Georgia Bulldogs, it’s time to take a look at the 2016 season. Even though the Bulldogs have three more games left, they are not going to play for the SEC title. So it’s not a bad thing to look ahead to see how can they get to the Georgia Dome in December 2016.

The biggest thing the Bulldogs have to do is develop recruits. According to 247Sports, the Bulldogs have to sixth-best recruiting class in the country. When the season officially ends, the coaching staff will be hard at work to not only keep the players they have committed, but see if they can get more top recruits into the program to make the team stronger.

But who are the five most important recruits for the Bulldogs heading into the 2016 season?


QB Jacob Eason

Out of all recruits for Georgia next year, Jacob Eason might be the most important.

The quarterback position for Georgia this year has been a mess to say the least. Greyson Lambert, Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta all got shots to play this season, and while Lambert has seen the most action, all three have not lived up to expectations.

Eason is considered by 247Sports as the fifth-best prospect in the country. So far in his final high school season, Eason has completed 69 percent of his passes, throwing 37 touchdowns and only five interceptions.

Head coach Mark Richt recognizes Eason's importance. The day after the Bulldogs played Auburn, Richt flew to Lake Stevens, Washington, and had breakfast with Eason. That's something you don’t see or hear about every day.

Having breakfast in Snohomish Washington in Jakes Cafe with Jacob and Tony Eason. Go Dawgs!

— Mark Richt (@MarkRicht) November 15, 2015


DL Julian Rochester

This past signing day, the Bulldogs signed Trent Thompson, and he has logged in significant playing time this year. The Bulldogs look to continue to build the interior defensive line with the addition of Julian Rochester.

The Powder Springs, Georgia, native has been very dominant for McEachern High School this season, recording 75 tackles, 12 sacks and a fumble recovery. 247Sports has Rochester listed as the eighth-best defensive tackle prospect in the country.

With the Bulldogs losing four defensive linemen after this season, Rochester will likely see a lot of playing time if he doesn’t end up starting.

BIG BOY #UGA commit Julian Rochester is a man amongst boys! Who's going to block him on the next level?

— Junior Baker (@SouthernSwagg4) October 3, 2015


OL Ben Cleveland

When you are recruiting a big-time quarterback, you need guys who can protect him.

That’s why recruiting Ben Cleveland is just as important as getting Eason. Considered the ninth-best offensive tackle by 247Sports, Cleveland has a strong connection with Eason, as both committed to Georgia at the same time a year-and-a-half ago.

Cleveland recently told Rusty Mansell of 247 Sports that his commitment to Georgia is strong and he’s not going to change his mind. That’s good, because the Bulldogs will lose at least three offensive linemen due to graduation; Cleveland will have a chance to contribute right away.


WR Charlie Woerner

One of the biggest problems Georgia has had the last few years is it had no size at wide receiver. Charlie Woerner has that, as he stands at 6’5’’ and 230 pounds.

Worse case scenario for #UGA: Charlie Woerner has to play tight end. One of the best jumbo athletes in years.

— Radi Nabulsi (@RadiNabulsi) October 9, 2015

Woerner can line up at receiver or tight end because of his size. But he’s likely going to play receiver next season because there’s enough depth at tight end with Jeb Blazevich and Jackson Harris. The receiver from Rabun County, Georgia, has great ball skills; most importantly, he will be a big target in the red zone, which will be huge for the Bulldogs.


RB Elijah Holyfield

The Bulldogs are set at running back with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. However, the more quality running backs, the better the Bulldogs will be, which is why Elijah Holyfield is a big addition.

Holyfield is listed as the fifth-best running back in the country via 247Sports. Like Chubb, Holyfield has the ability to break tackles and score from anywhere on the field.

Elijah Holifield wow-- via youtube

— Chubb is my DAWG (@deanholli) November 17, 2015

Depending on the Chubb injury, Holyfield could see action next season. However, if the Bulldogs are able to sign target Devwah Whaley, the Bulldogs could have the next great running back duo to replace Chubb and Michel. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few months.

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Delanie Walker, Dorial Green-Beckham's Post-Week 11 Fantasy Advice

The Tennessee Titans are still a work in progress. There's promise there.

Marcus Mariota played well, but the Titans came up short on Thursday night, losing 19-13 to the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field.   

The Titans are now 2-8, but surprisingly, they're not out of the AFC South picture. Fantasy options, however, are scarce. Other than Mariota, the options aren't there—except for one guy, whom we'll talk about right now.

Here's some post-fantasy advice for tight end Delanie Walker and rookie receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.


Delanie Walker

I continue to say it week in and week out. The value of the tight end this year in fantasy football is scarce. If you have a capable tight end who can be a worthy starting option each week, you've struck gold.

Delanie Walker is one of those tight ends who seems to find value when you least expect it. Walker has become Marcus Mariota's favorite target because 1) he's a veteran, and 2) he can catch. Walker had his first 100-plus-yard day of the season on Thursday.

He may not be at the level of a Rob Gronkowski, but Walker is still an option you should consider to start at tight end. Only one time this year has Walker not caught a pass. That was in Week 2 against the Cleveland Browns, and he didn't even play.

He's eighth among tight ends in ESPN's fantasy system, but the fact he's Tennessee's leading receiver is what constitutes that value. 

Continue to keep Walker in your lineups. There aren't many tight ends who have been this consistent this year.


Dorial Green-Beckham

Dorial Green-Beckham has talent that's going to make him a star for Mariota in the next couple of years.

Thursday was another example of why he's going to need that extra year or two before he can become a reliable weapon in the passing game.

DGB caught only three passes and was targeted six times. There were passes thrown behind him and a couple of them he dropped that he should've had.

There's no denying he has the frame to be a true No. 1 weapon for Mariota in the future. He's 6'5", 237 pounds, and can impose his will on any defensive back in the NFL. Normally, because he's so tall, he would be a good flex option in fantasy. But having two touchdowns on the year is not good. That's why Green-Beckham should not even be touched in fantasy going forward.

In a year or two from now, though, it'll be a different story.

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Ohio State Football: Can the Buckeyes Contain the Big Ten's Best Passing Duo?

No. 3 Ohio State has one of the nation's stingiest pass defenses, but it hasn't faced a quarterback-wide receiver tandem as dynamic as the one it'll see when No. 9 Michigan State comes to town this Saturday. 

The Spartans' offense has revolved around quarterback Connor Cook, and he's used his connection with wideout Aaron Burbridge to slice up defenses all season. The pair has hooked up for 65 receptions and 1,021 yards—marks that lead the conference—to complement six touchdowns.

Disrupting that explosive connection will be a stiff task for the Buckeyes.

“My confidence is at an all-time high,” Burbridge said, according to Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press. “And the chemistry I have with Connor is at an all-time high.”

That chemistry will be tested by a stout Buckeyes secondary. 

Led by safety Vonn Bell and standout cornerbacks Eli Apple and Gareon Conley, Ohio State boasts one of the best secondaries in the country, allowing just 171.6 yards through the air per game. That ranks eighth in the country, and the unit has emerged as the one of the team's strengths this year.

But the architect of Ohio State's stingy pass defense—co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash—knows the difficult challenge ahead, via Patrick Murphy of The Ozone.

I think that their offense is like most good offenses. If they’re in a funk, they rely on [Burbridge] to make a play and they’re no different than what we are.

It’s no different for Michigan State. They have good players on the offense and if it may not be going the way they scripted it, they’re going to rely on somebody to make a big play and he happens to be a guy they go to a lot.

The Buckeyes have allowed only two pass-catchers to eclipse 100 yards receiving this year—Western Michigan's Daniel Braverman and Penn State's Chris Godwin. But Burbridge has at least 100 receiving yards in seven of Michigan State's 10 games this year, including a nine-catch, 132-yard performance against Michigan's sixth-ranked pass defense in Week 7.

So will the Buckeyes hold, or can Cook and Burbridge burn another elite pass defense this Saturday? 

Apple, Ohio State's lead cornerback and the one who'll be responsible for Burbridge most of the game, is excited for the big matchup.

“This is definitely one of those games you get excited for as a corner because you know you’re going to get tested,” Apple said, via Murphy. “You know there’s going to be deep balls, there’s going to be some fades, you’re going to get your targets for sure.”

Whoever wins that battle will likely be celebrating with the winning team Saturday night. 


David Regimbal is the Ohio State football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Tom Herman Offered Salary Increase by Houston: Latest Details, Reaction

The University of Houston does not want head coach Tom Herman going anywhere after this season, as it announced Thursday it will offer to raise his annual salary to $3 million, according to Sports Illustrated'sPete Thamel. Houston's Board has approved the decision and is waiting for Herman to accept, per Thamel. 

In his first season as a college head coach, Herman has led the Cougars to a 10-0 record and 19th overall in the College Football Playoff rankings. It's the first time they've won 10 or more games in a season since they were competing in Conference USA in 2011.

Herman previously was the offensive coordinator at Ohio State before signing a five-year, $6.75 million contract in the offseason with Houston.        

That would mean Herman was due to make $1.35 million this season. Raising it to $3 million would more than double it. Now, he would be making close to $15 million over the span of his contract.

The increase also would make him the highest-paid coach not in a Power Five conference and 28th overall in the nation, according to USA Today.

Herman has been receiving interest from Power Five schools such as South Carolina and the University of Miami, respectively, according to 247Sports' JC Shurburtt and David Lake

The Houston man did his best to shut down the rumors toward the end of October, telling Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle: "I’m not even gonna comment on another job. That’s not fair to our program and where we’re headed.”

Houston, though, isn't taking any chances on Herman's past comments. If bigger schools are going to lure him away from the Cougars, they have to be prepared to spend top dollar to do so. 


Stats courtesy of

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Tom Herman, Houston Agree to New Contract: Latest Details, Reaction

The University of Houston does not want head coach Tom Herman going anywhere after this season, as it announced on Thursday it will raise his annual salary to $3 million, according to's Andrew Holleran

In his first season as a college head coach, Herman has led the Cougars to a 10-0 record and 19th overall in the College Football Playoff rankings. It's the first time they've won 10 or more games in a season since they were competing in Conference USA in 2011.

Herman previously was the offensive coordinator at Ohio State before signing a five-year, $6.75 million contract in the offseason with Houston.        

That would mean Herman was due to make $1.35 million this season. Raising it to $3 million more than doubles it. Now Herman would be making close to $15 million over the span of his contract.

Per Holleran, the increase also makes him the highest-paid coach not in a Power Five conference and 28th overall in the nation, according to USA Today Sports.

Herman has been receiving interest from Power Five schools such as South Carolina and the University of Miami, respectively, according to 247Sports' JC Shurburtt and David Lake

The Houston man did his best to shut down those rumors toward the end of October, telling Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle, "I’m not even gonna comment on another job. That’s not fair to our program and where we’re headed.”

Houston, though, isn't taking any chances on Herman's past comments. If bigger schools are going to lure him away from the Cougars, they have to be prepared to spend top dollar to do so. 


Stats courtesy of

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Bill Clinton Stops by Ohio State Practice, Hangs Out with Ezekiel Elliott

Bill Clinton recently took some time off from helping his wife make a run for president to help Ohio State Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott with his Heisman campaign.

OK, that may not totally be true. However, the former U.S. President did stop by the Buckeyes' practice on Thursday. 

According to Bill Landis of, Clinton was on campus to give a speech earlier in the day. Of course, no trip to Ohio State would be complete without checking out the football squad.

Per Landis, Clinton spent roughly 20 minutes at the practice.

With Clinton's visit, the Buckeyes have now met two of the past three presidents this calendar year. They met President Barack Obama in April after winning the 2015 College Football Playoff.


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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.

Begin Slideshow

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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