NCAA Football

USC vs. UCLA: Score and Twitter Reaction

The Victory Bell will remain in Westwood. 

In one of college football's most famous rivalries, No. 9 UCLA remained right in the thick of the College Football Playoff picture with a dominant 38-20 win over No. 19 USC. Pac-12 Networks highlighted the victory:

After five consecutive defeats in the all-Los Angeles matchup, the Bruins have now won three in a row. And as ESPN Stats & Info noted, they have done so in emphatic offensive fashion:

Brett Hundley threw for 326 yards and had a total of four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing), Paul Perkins ran for 93 and a score, and UCLA doubled up the Trojans in total yards, 458-226.

The junior QB, who is now 3-0 in his career against USC, put it simply afterward, via Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel:

While the overall performance or final numbers don't suggest so, it was a nightmarish start for Hundley. On the Bruins' second offensive snap of the game, he forced a throw that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by linebacker Anthony Sarao.

Just like that, the Trojans had a 7-0 lead less than five minutes into the game, and Hundley was the target of easy criticism and jokes, via CBS Sports' Pete Prisco and EDraft.com's Vincent Frank:

But a massive mistake from USC gave Hundley an immediate opportunity to turn things around. Nelson Agholor muffed a punt just two minutes later, setting up a 10-yard touchdown strike between Hundley and Devin Lucien.

NFL.com's Bryan Fischer noted the ongoing problem for the talented Agholor:

Things remained close until the Bruins offense began clicking at the end of the first half.

Spanning a stretch between the second and third quarters, Hundley led three consecutive scoring drives that totaled 218 yards on just 24 plays. During that run, he entered the UCLA record books, as The Associated Press' Greg Beacham noted:

With Perkins and the running game creating big lanes after a slow first half, Hundley was able to take advantage of an off-balance defense and methodically march down the field.

On the other side of the ball, the Bruins were creating endless pressure in the backfield, forcing USC's offense to become completely stagnant. Rotoworld's Josh Norris noted a problem for the Trojans:

Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News simply wasn't thrilled with the team's effort:

Javorius Allen added a three-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter to end a streak of 24 consecutive points for UCLA, but the game had already been decided long before that point.

The Bruins will move up at least one spot with No. 8 Ole Miss' loss to Arkansas Saturday, but such a comprehensive victory against a ranked opponent could potentially help them climb a few more rungs on the ladder.

Even if not, a win over Stanford next week sets up a Pac-12 Championship battle against No. 2 Oregon, meaning the Bruins are still in excellent position to make a run at the Top Four.

As for the Trojans, they'll finish the regular season against a reeling Notre Dame squad, looking at their third straight season with at least four defeats.

If it wasn't already clear, it certainly is now: The balance of power in L.A. has shifted.

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Oklahoma State vs. Baylor: Score and Twitter Reaction

No. 7 Baylor took another step in its late-season quest to win the Big 12 Saturday night at home, toppling Oklahoma State 49-28 in McLane Stadium.

Bears quarterback Bryce Petty was on point from the get-go, throwing two touchdowns in the opening three minutes and getting his team to an early lead that it wouldn't relinquish. He finished 18-of-29 with 262 yards and three total scores.

ESPN College Football capped up the result:

The Cowboys were within a score just before halftime, but Baylor (9-1) pushed it to a two-touchdown advantage with 23 seconds left in the opening half and only added to its lead throughout the second half. Mason Rudolph's strong outing (13-of-25, 281 yards, two TDs) in his starting debut wasn't enough to complete a late comeback.

That was largely due to a dominant Baylor run game, as Devin Chafin and Shock Linwood both surpassed the 100-yard mark.

Here's a glance at the final quarter-by-quarter box score:

Saturday's game didn't feel like a revenge game upon watching, with the now-5-6 Cowboys looking to turn around their woeful season. But after they ended Baylor's championship hopes in a 49-17 win last year, the Bears came in with a chip on their shoulder.

"It's hard not to (call it a revenge game),'' Petty told The Associated Press via Fox Sports. ''Last year we had one (regular season) loss and it was to them, so we want to make sure we right our wrongs. ... I'd love to come out and show them who Baylor football really is.''

They certainly did that from the opening possession.

Baylor sprinted down the field in a jiffy, scoring on a 65-yard pass from Petty to Jay Lee for a score to go up 7-0 just 26 seconds in. 

One Oklahoma State three-and-out later, the Bears got the ball back and immediately went back to the air. Petty hit another long pass, this one to Corey Coleman for a 54-yard touchdown.

After just five offensive plays, Baylor led 14-0 as Big 12 Conference noted:

It didn't take long for the Cowboys to respond, and it came shortly after a Petty interception that set them up near midfield. A six-play drive ended with Desmond Roland's one-yard plunge into the end zone that made it 14-7.

Baylor extended its lead to 28-7 off a two big-boy drives that ended in Chafin touchdown scampers. But just before the half, Oklahoma State rattled off a drive at the end of the half to score and go into the locker room down 28-14.

KFOR's Bob Barry Jr. noted the Cowboys again started slow defensively and still trailed by 14 after improving as the half went on:

Meanwhile, Max Olson of ESPN.com capped up Baylor's mindset after sputtering late in the half:

Oklahoma State continued performing on defense in the second half, picking off Petty for the second time. It didn't set up any field position for the Cowboys, however, and they gave the ball right back only to concede a penalty on the punt and set up Baylor in great position.

Starting a drive at the Oklahoma State 28, Baylor wasted no time getting into the end zone on Linwood's 11-yard touchdown run—his fourth straight carry of the drive—to go up 35-14.

Linwood reached the 100-yard plateau on that carry, per The Dallas Morning News' Chuck Carlton:

Baylor entered the fourth quarter with that three-touchdown advantage, but started the final frame inside the Cowboys' red zone. The Bears took advantage, as Chafin got his third touchdown of the game to put Baylor up 42-14.

As KOKH's Sam Gannon noted, Oklahoma State's defensive formidability doesn't matter much when the Cowboys offense cannot score:

The Cowboys were seemingly motivated by the four-touchdown deficit, as they took the ensuing kickoff into Baylor territory and scored one play later on Mason Rudolph's 28-yard pass to James Washington. Oklahoma State scored again on its next possession to make it 42-28.

Baylor's late woes in the secondary alarmed Houston Chronicle's John McClain:

Also noticeable late in the game was Rudolph's emergence. Playing in his first start, he impressed with some late poise as NewsOK.com's Jenni Carlson noted:

But it wasn't enough to generate any serious momentum for a comeback. A Baylor interception with five minutes left thwarted the Cowboys' efforts to make it a one-possession game, as Petty ran it in from 21 yards out on 4th-and-2 to seal the game.

Baylor Football captured the winning moment:

While many colleges played their final home game Saturday, Baylor still has one left. The Bears travel to Texas Tech next weekend before closing out against Kansas State at home on championship weekend.

Oklahoma State is already done at home for the season, but it still has bowl eligibility on the line on the road at Oklahoma to close out 2014. A loss there would mark the Cowboys' first bowl-less season since 2005—Mike Gundy's first year at the helm.

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Which Future Alabama Studs Showed Out in Win vs. Western Carolina?

Alabama has a wealth of talent that got a chance to shine with its blowout win against Western Carolina. Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee talk about some Alabama players who can make a big impact in the future. 

Which player are you most excited about on the Alabama roster?

Watch the video and let us know!

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College Football Playoff Rankings: Biggest Takeaways from Week 13

Yawn.

Is it Tuesday yet? What tortured logic will the selection committee come up with this week to go with "game control" and "eye test"? Will the new monarchy of college football keep last week's top four intact or shuffle things around after decreeing a new metric?

At this point, it's anybody's guess. Saturday provided no shakeup at the top of the rankings since none of the top seven teams lost. There were scant three games involving teams both ranked by the committee, and the only real upset of the day was Arkansas' rout of No. 8 Ole Miss, which had its flickering playoff hopes extinguished.

So we're left with reading the tea leaves on what the committee might be thinking based on how the teams performed this week: Did they control the games against cupcakes? Did their resumes become more or less impressive because of what a team they played two months ago did? Or did they have an awesome week of practice? 

Here's an outlook for each playoff contender:

 

1. Alabama

The Tide didn't exercise complete control in a 48-14 win over Western Carolina, but that should not jeopardize their top ranking. Alabama's only loss looks a bit worse this week, though, as Ole Miss was blanked by SEC West bottom-feeder Arkansas, 30-0.

 

2. Oregon 

The Ducks looked as good as anybody this week, pasting Colorado 44-10 and keeping Marcus Mariota comfortably in front of the Heisman race. Oregon's only loss also now looks better than Alabama's as Arizona moved to 9-2 with an emphatic win over ranked Utah.

 

3. Florida State

This is what FSU does: rally in the second half and win it in the end. The Seminoles did it this time to Boston College, 20-17, and remain the only undefeated team from a power-five conference. They might slide again, but as long as they win out, they'll be in the playoff.

 

4. Mississippi State

The Bulldogs bounced back nicely after losing to Alabama last week and demolished Vanderbilt, 51-0, to stay in the playoff hunt. They need an Auburn upset win in the Iron Bowl and a victory of their own in the Egg Bowl to take the SEC West. Otherwise, MSU likely will cede the playoff spot to a one-loss conference champion.

 

5. TCU

The Horned Frogs were the only Top 10 team to have the week off, but they got a huge helping hand from Minnesota, which they defeated handily, 30-7, earlier in the season. The Gophers are one win away from winning the Big Ten West, and their performance for now is keeping TCU ahead of Baylor.

 

6. Ohio State

The Buckeyes worked deep into the game before finally putting away Indiana, 42-27. Nothing that happened this week improved Ohio State's resume enough to vault it past TCU, so it'll probably stay put, just barely ahead of Baylor.

 

7. Baylor

Every game Baylor wins impressively, it closes the gap on TCU and potentially brings its head-to-head victory into play in the final analysis. The Bears labored to get past Oklahoma State, 49-28, but Kansas State's win at West Virginia is helping to assure them a shot at playing into the playoff field with a win over the Wildcats in the regular-season finale.

 

9. UCLA

The Bruins might be the only two-loss team with a chance to crash the playoff field. After their emphatic 38-20 victory over USC, they need a win over Stanford for a berth into the Pac-12 title game. UCLA will get a good hard look from the committee if it can upset Oregon in that game to win the conference championship.

 

Group-of-Five Teams in the Best Position

Marshall survived its first close game of the season, stuffing UAB on a fourth-down attempt 10 yards from the end zone in the final minute to preserve a 23-18 victory. If the Herd win their next two games to go 13-0, that might be enough to secure the group-of-five spot in the New Year's Six bowl lineup.

Colorado State cruised to another win but its path remains blocked by Boise State, as each team just has a game left in the regular season. If the two-loss Broncos beat Utah State next week, they will win the MWC Mountain Division and get in position to steal the bid if Marshall falters.

 

Projected Conference Championship Matchups

ACC: Florida State* vs. Georgia Tech*

Big Ten: Ohio State* vs. Wisconsin

Pac-12: Oregon* vs. UCLA

SEC: Alabama vs. Georgia

*clinched berth

 

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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Samford vs. Auburn: Game Grades and Analysis for the Tigers

After a two-game losing streak, the Auburn Tigers looked to get back on track against the Samford Bulldogs at Jordan-Hare Stadium. They really didn’t get back on track, but the Tigers did win 31-7. Here’s a look at the final box score thanks to NCAA.com.

Auburn trailed 7-0 early in the second quarter. But the Tigers did go on a 31-0 run to win their eighth game of the year.

As good as the Tigers looked in the second half, they still have a lot of things they need to work on before they face off against Alabama in the season finale because they are not the same team that was blowing out LSU and defeating Kansas State on the road.

Here are game grades and analysis for the Tigers in their win against Samford.

 

PASSING OFFENSE

Nick Marshall picked things up in the second half when it came to the passing game, but he did not look as comfortable in the pocket as he had in previous games.

Marshall is still raw at the position, so he’s not the most accurate passer in the league, and he does not have the best pocket presence either. The one thing he needs to work on is getting the ball out faster because Samford was able to apply pressure on him constantly due to him not making quick decisions.

 

RUNNING OFFENSE

It was a productive day for the ground game as the Tigers rushed for 204 yards and three touchdowns. Cameron Artis-Payne was big for the Tigers with 129 yards and one touchdown, while Quan Bray had 52 yards and a score.

The Tigers have had better rushing days, but they wanted to throw the ball more in this game because of the defense the Bulldogs were running. Had they made more of an effort to get the run game going in the first quarter, the score probably would have been 51-7.

 

PASSING DEFENSE

The Tigers defense did not apply too much pressure on Samford quarterback Michael Eubank, but it did force him to make constant mistakes in the ballgame. Kris Frost and Jonathan Mincy were all over Eubank as each player notched an interception.

Eubank did have some good throws, but due to the coverage of the Tigers secondary, he was not as accurate as he would like to have been.  Also, credit goes out to Auburn defensive tackle Montravius Adams for getting some good pressure on Eubank in the second half.

 

RUNNING DEFENSE

But Adams was also great in run defense as he had four tackles in the win. In fact, the Tigers only allowed 98 rushing yards on 36 carries and zero touchdowns. This was a game the Tigers needed to prove they can stop the run. They did not do it against Georgia, and they will have a hard time doing it against Alabama. But a game like this will help the Tigers learn from what they are able to work on moving forward.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Special teams have been a problem for the Tigers this season, but they were OK against Samford. The one thing that needs to be said, though, is Bray needs to be more careful returning kicks. He is very talented, but he makes too many mistakes and almost made one against Samford. Other than that, the special teams did a good job as Daniel Carlson made his lone field goal, and he also averaged 44 yards per punt.

 

COACHING

This game was a challenging one for Gus Malzahn because the Tigers just came off a tough loss to Georgia, and they have Alabama next week. So his team was going through the motions to start the game. But Malzahn and his coaching staff made the adjustments and got things going in the second quarter.

Still, the coaches should have made sure the players were on top of their game from start to finish, and they did not do it, at least in the first quarter. They will need to be ready next week because Alabama has not forgotten what happened last year.

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College Football Fans Deserve Better Than Cupcake Saturday in November

For the first time in a long time, I left a college football Saturday completely unsatisfied. It’s as if this was only a tease—a warm-up, if you will—and the main act was still to follow, even with the schedule completely out of options. 

There had to be more. Given all the intrigue and excitement that we’ve been treated to over the course of this season, there’s no possible way this FCS-laced, blowout-heavy installment could come with only a few weeks left.

There was no drama. No major upsets. No significant shakeups. Heck, we barely had any ranked teams going toe to toe. This was just another Saturday that came and went without generating much noise, which is precisely how it appeared on paper before being put in motion.

And as a result, Week 13 reminded us that we still have a long way to go when it comes to seizing and sustaining momentum in college football. More importantly, it reminded us that we still have an FCS scheduling problem that stretches beyond the first few weeks of the year. Although you understand the reasoning to put Samford and Western Carolina on the schedule this week, before the final game, it isn't doing the viewer any good.

Selfishly, we deserve better.

For all of college football’s redeeming qualities—and it is a long, winding list—its inability to engage at the beginning and closing parts of each season remains a work in progress. This much was evident on Saturday, as you searched throughout the schedule for games that mattered.

That’s not to say that intrigue wasn’t completely absent. USC and UCLA's home uniform combination justified the price of admission for the weekend as a whole. At this same time, Missouri and Tennessee went toe to toe in a matchup with significant SEC East ramifications on the line.

Arkansas continued its rapid upward climb, beating Ole Miss with its second consecutive shutout. Florida State continued its cardiac push to the postseason with a game-winning drive and field goal to down Boston College. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma’s true freshman running back, shattered the mark for most rushing yards in a game that Melvin Gordon set a week ago.

There were highlights, but there are always highlights. We can turn any Saturday of college football into an event, because it beats the harsh, incoming reality of having no football at all. Football is better than no football; no one debates this simple truth.

With that necessary disclaimer out of the way, Week 13 was the least interesting weekend of the college football season. It wasn’t even close. We knew it had this potential coming in, and the scenario played out as planned.

It was a harsh right turn from what has been an exhilarating run of Saturdays, although this break in the action was not unfamiliar. It reminded us of how we started this whole thing in the first place. 

College football often starts with a whimper. Although the season opens with a handful of marquee matchups that have us slobbering over schedules for months, these meaningful games are scattered in a sea of FCS-driven paydays and blowouts. As a result, the sport often stumbles out of the gate before hitting its stride.

Once we dive into the meat of the season, the product reaches its pinnacle. The 2014 season, in particular, has been nothing short of brilliant when it comes to conference play.

The matchups have been meaningful, the games riveting and the results have oftentimes been perplexing. This, especially in a year with a new postseason, has made our lives remarkably easy. We’ve sat back and allowed the quality football and unpredictable results to soak into our skin. The only difficult aspect of this stretch was finding enough television screens to house all of the simultaneous action.

That wasn’t an issue in Week 13. One television was more than enough.

FCS teams once again re-entered our football worlds. Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Clemson, South Carolina, Florida and others returned to the win-grabbing portion of the season, something we hadn’t seen (or missed) since the first part of the year.

Although a break in the gauntlet is understandable given the difficult path many of these teams have taken to reach this point, those matchups provided nothing more than an enormous paycheck to the team on the other sideline that signed up for the loss. 

We are numb to this process, although after enjoying a stretch of football unlike any we’ve seen in some time—aided by elimination game after elimination game—the harsh reality hit like a ton of bricks.

It shouldn’t be up to one conference to carry the interest baton, and the SEC is not alone in its FCS scheduling practices. This, as it stands, is something just about every team partakes in at some point in the year; it just so happened that the latest batch of underwhelming games came at one of the season’s most important moments.

The College Football Playoff is consuming our every interest, and the release of the final rankings is now just a few weeks away. So why, with every bit of sample size seemingly more important than the next, are games being played that tell us nothing further about the teams worth discussing?

Better yet, why are games that add nothing to the sport as a whole still being played?

These games still matter for FCS programs and their bottom lines. The financial impact of these games can’t simply be dismissed, although it’s hard to justify their worth after days like this.

We deserve better. You deserve better. The sport, as a whole, deserves better as it inches closer to the finish line. The long offseason abyss is staring back at us in the distance, and instead of sprinting toward the end we hit pause for the sake of politics and athletic budgets. 

Thankfully next weekend we will return to our regularly scheduled madness. Rivalry games will be played, conferences will be decided and playoff spots will be won and lost. It will be fabulous, just like it’s been for almost the entire year—except for Week 13, when the sport decided it needed a little time off.

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Student Reporter Says Talk Around School Is 'Jesus, Girls and Marcus Mariota'

Oregon football coach Mark Helfrich wanted to know what high school students thought about quarterback Marcus Mariota's draft status, but he may not have realized how important the decision was to everyone.

 A student from O'Hara Catholic High School in Eugene, Oregon, broke down what high school conversations revolved around, and it apparently comes down to "Jesus, girls and Marcus Mariota." 

[YouTube]

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FSU's Ability to Finish Games Makes 'Noles the Most Dangerous Playoff Threat

Give Florida State points for creativity. The Seminoles find players—and ways—to win almost every Saturday.

FSU has won by playing poorly in the first half only to make second-half adjustments. The team has alternately leaned on quarterback Jameis Winston, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, the freshmen, the running game and, on Saturday, a Roberto Aguayo field goal with three seconds left to seal a 20-17 win.

While critics have hammered FSU for what it's not, the Seminoles can enjoy who they are: the last unbeaten team in the power-five conferences. They've done it in the most unpredictable of ways. And that makes them a threat to any team (on a neutral field) in a playoff setting.

And 11-0 says plenty, at least from where coach Jimbo Fisher is sitting.

"We finish every game," Fisher said. "Everybody else in the country has not finished at least one game. We've finished every one of them. Isn't that the object?"

Yes, it is. But at a time when FSU's schedule is being scrutinized, when style points are of importance and when "game control" has become the catchphrase of the week, should there be doubts that the Seminoles belong in the top 4 of the College Football Playoff?

"Why would it?" Fisher said. "We're undefeated."

FSU won't earn many points for how it plays in the first half. It's not pretty, even though the Seminoles did have 17 points in the first half against Boston College. This time, it was a sluggish second half in which FSU punted twice and Aguayo missed a field goal before the final game-winning drive.

The Seminoles are the best closer in college football. They are Mariano Rivera in his prime. Maybe they don't have their best stuff each night. But their stuff is still plenty good to get the win.

Just ask Clemson, North Carolina State, Notre Dame, Louisville and Miami. All of them gave FSU everything they had, jumped out to big leads...and fell short in the second half.

On Saturday, Boston College was the latest to give it a try. The Eagles ran often and ran well, rushing 51 times for 240 yards against an FSU defense that was clearly worn down late.

Boston College tied the game at 17 in the third quarter on Tyler Murphy's 21-yard run. But then FSU held tough, forcing the Eagles to punt and then stopped Boston College short of the end zone with 4:37 to go (a missed field goal kept the game tied).

Winston and Co. took over from there. In a clock-sapping 12-play drive, Winston completed two passes to Rashad Greene and another to Dalvin Cook. And Karlos Williams and Cook chewed up the field on seven carries to put the Noles in position for Aguayo's game-winning kick.

A year after dominating opponents, FSU is winning the opposite way. To Winston, no matter how FSU wins there is criticism.

"We were downgraded every time we blew someone out last year, so think of the irony of that," Winston said. "If we win the game close, we're bad. When we blow someone out, we're bad."

Perspective is a funny thing. But, for the record, FSU has won 27 straight times.

Bob Ferrante is the lead FSU 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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Should Jameis Winston Have Been Ejected After Shoving Referee?

Florida State quarterback Jamies Winston was involved in a bizarre play during Saturday's 20-17 win over the Boston College Eagles when he came in contact with an official in the midst of running the hurry-up offense. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses the incident in the video above. 

Should Winston have been ejected?

Check out the video and let us know! 

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Michigan's Loss to Maryland Should Seal Brady Hoke's Fate

The Michigan Wolverines had battled back from the brink of disaster after a disappointing 2-4 start to their season. Brady Hoke had survived the turmoil that claimed athletic director David Brandon and had rallied his team. Michigan needed a victory over Maryland to seal a bowl bid, a goal that a month ago had seemed nearly impossible.

But instead of becoming bowl eligible, Michigan collapsed in a flurry of bad penalties, losing a game that it could have won. The team’s second-half failure was punctuated by two Maryland touchdowns and likely marks the end of Brady Hoke’s coaching career in Ann Arbor.

The loss also may have contributed to Michigan losing a key recruit. Running back Mike Weber announced during the game that he was de-committing.

The circumstances certainly seemed to favor Michigan heading into the game. The Maryland offense was reeling from the loss of key wide receivers, and the Michigan defense was among the best in the nation. The game was also played at Michigan Stadium on senior day where the team honored its departing upperclassmen.

It’s fitting that Hoke participated in the ceremony, because just like the twelve seniors who were honored, he presumably won’t be back next season either.

Michigan came out aggressively in the first quarter, surprising Maryland by snapping the ball directly to running back Joe Kerridge on a fourth-down play. Kerridge rumbled for 52 yards, but the play would be one of the rare highlights for an offense that struggled to reach the end zone.

“We had seen on the film that we could take advantage of the fake,” said Hoke.

In the third quarter Michigan appeared to have broken the game open with a long punt return for a touchdown by Dennis Norfleet, but the play was called back because of a penalty.

“Some of this is all subjective,“ said Hoke on the penalty. ”I’ll have to wait and see...especially on the block in the back.”

After three quarters the Michigan defense had limited Maryland to field goals while clinging to a 16-9 lead. The Michigan defense appeared to have forced another field goal, but a roughing the kicker penalty extended the drive and Maryland later scored a touchdown to tie the game.

“The guy was trying to make a play, he was supposed to coming hard off the edge,” said Hoke. “I guess he hit him hard enough for a 15-yard personal foul.”

Prior to the game, interim athletic Jim Hackett had praised Hoke and his team.

"I watch how people behave in adversity. These guys have shown up every week and played hard," said Hackett. "I'm also proud of the coaches' ability to work extremely hard during that situation.”

But working hard wasn’t enough for Michigan to beat Maryland.

Hackett said that he will evaluate Hoke after the season, and with Michigan unlikely to beat Ohio State next week, the end of the season—and final decision on Hoke—is very near.

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand

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@PSCallihan

All season statistics from mgoblue.com, official University of Michigan athletic department web site.

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Can Brian Kelly Ever Get Notre Dame Back to Elite Status?

Notre Dame's once promising season is officially in free fall.

After having the defending national champions on the ropes and missing their opportunity at a knockout punch, it's the Irish looking punch drunk and woozy as they close out a once-promising season with a train-wreck finish.

For the second straight week, senior kicker Kyle Brindza's watched the Irish's chances at victory sail wide of the goal posts. This week it was from 32 yards out, keeping the Irish from forcing overtime after fighting back from two different 11-point deficits. 

Louisville becomes the latest team to walk into Notre Dame Stadium and come out a winner. And the Cardinals did it in a way that was almost as painful for Irish fans to watch as Northwestern's victory. 

"We've lost back-to-back games because we couldn't out down a ball and kick it 32 yards," Kelly said bluntly. 

It's enough to send a football coach to Florida—in search of some much-needed R&R (not a new job, as some speculated). But if Brian Kelly thinks a few days at a beach can wash this November from his mind, he's only kidding himself.

A promising season has turned into a 7-4 Irish team with a trip to USC just a week away. And as the 2012 BCS title game becomes a distant memory, Kelly has lost four or more games in four of his five seasons. It's no wonder some people are openly wondering if Kelly's the guy to get Notre Dame back to elite status. 

But don't throw dirt on the Irish just yet. 

While this November swoon comes at the hands of Arizona State, Northwestern and Louisville—not exactly a terror-filled trio—there's still reason to believe that Kelly's team is closer to the top of the mountain than it looks after losing four of its last five games for the first time since Charlie Weis got run out of town. 

At this point, Notre Dame's defense looks like a group out of the Witness Protection Program. After jumping out to a hot start with Sheldon Day, Jarron Jones, Cody Riggs, Joe Schmidt and Jaylon Smith leading the way, only Smith remains. And his 11 tackles against Louisville weren't enough to stop the Cardinals from running for 229 yards. 

The Irish tried everything this week. They burned a redshirt on freshman Jay Hayes to try and add some bulk to the defensive line. They played Jacob Matuska, a redshirt freshman whose name analyst Doug Flutie needed help pronouncing. (Don't feel bad, Doug. Brian Kelly can't say his name right, either.)

Fifth-year safety Austin Collinsworth tried playing through a shoulder injury that should've ended his season. It showed, with Collinsworth swinging and missing as a tackler like Pedro Cerrano at a curveball. 

But all that youth will be better for being thrown into the fire, earning key reps in a home stretch where injuries continue to decimate the depth chart. The Irish will lose Riggs and Collinsworth not just from the starting lineup but also the two-deep depth chart. So while you might have been scratching your head wondering who the young kids were chasing after Louisville quarterback Reggie Bonnafon, they'll likely be part of next year's building blocks. 

"I think at one time I looked out there, and I think it was just Collinsworth," Kelly said, when asked about his young defense. "Everybody else was freshmen and sophomores on defense, so great experience. The ability to carry over will obviously be something that we believe that we can grow from. So, close losses, difficult losses that we hope that our team will grow from."

Offensively, Everett Golson threw another interception but picked up his game after a struggle in the first half. Golson played a capable triggerman, as sophomores William Fuller and Tarean Folston both went over 100 yards. Folston ran through the No. 2 rush defense in the country. Fuller outplayed DeVante Parker, Louisville's big-play receiver.

Add in a big punt return by Greg Bryant and some clutch catches by Chris Brown and Corey Robinson and the Irish's collection of playmakers return, playing behind an offensive line that will bring back four of five starters.

"This is a great group of guys and I know there’s a great deal of success for them in the future," senior captain Collinsworth said after his last home game. "This team never quits. They really genuinely love each other and will do anything for each other. Eventually, these guys will be champions, and I know that."

That won't be this season. But a quick look back at Notre Dame's last big run in 2012, and it's worth noting that it came after a frustrating, mistake-riddled 2011 season, a year with plenty of similarities to this one. Irish fans were wondering then if Kelly was the right man for the job, up until a 12-win, undefeated regular season. 

That hope might not be much. But it's something to cling to after a difficult stretch of football has Kelly looking for a silver lining. 

"They know that they easily could win any of the games they've played in," Kelly said postgame. "A mistake here or there and not executing at the time necessary has been the difference between a win and loss with this team. It's razor thin."

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

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Oregon Football: Are Ducks Ready for Tough Stretch Ahead?

The Colorado Buffaloes proved to be no match for second-ranked Oregon, as the Ducks cruised to a 44-10 victory. Now comes the hard part. 

Oregon (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12) has played its final game at home this season and now must take on Oregon State in Corvallis before playing the Pac-12 South champion in Santa Clara on Dec. 5. Throw in the fact that the Ducks will be playing three games in 20 days and that the Ducks have been bit by the injury bug and you begin to understand how difficult these next two games will be.

There’s no doubt that Oregon is one of the best teams in the country and the class of the Pac-12. It will likely be favored by double-digit points in each of the next two games and will be in the College Football Playoff if it wins out. However, the Ducks will be tested not only by their schedule and their depth but also by the pressure that has been placed on them by fans and media alike.

Are the Ducks ready to take on the challenging road ahead? Or will they wilt in the face of the pressure that has decimated national-championship contenders before? Based on how the Ducks performed against Colorado, they look to be in good shape for the stretch run.

 

Ducks Cruise

If this was indeed Marcus Mariota’s last stand at Autzen Stadium, he went out in style. On the night, Mariota went 24-of-32 for 323 yards and three touchdowns. As always, Mariota also contributed with his legs, running for 73 yards and another score.

With those stats, Mariota now has 9,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards in his Oregon career, placing him among other notable collegiate record holders, per The Oregonian's Andrew Greif:

When asked about the possibility of this being his last home game, Mariota said, "If this was my last game at Autzen, it was truly special," according to Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com.

Mariota’s performance against Colorado exemplifies why he’s the Heisman Trophy front-runner. He was accurate, elusive and didn’t play down to his opponent. In short, he was brilliant.

Mariota also set yet another record Saturday, as he set the single-season Pac-12 record for touchdowns scored with 42, surpassing the mark set by USC’s Matt Barkley (41). On the season, Mariota has thrown for 32 touchdowns and rushed for nine. He also has a receiving touchdown just for good measure. Pac-12 Networks noted Mariota's accomplishment:

Of course, the redshirt junior didn’t do it all on his own. Oregon’s stitched-together offensive line played well, and the running game shined, as true freshman Royce Freeman once again proved to be too much for Pac-12 defenses.

Freeman rushed for his fourth 100-yard game of the season and scored touchdowns No. 15 and No. 16 of the season. Freeman also became the first true freshman to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season in Oregon history. Greif highlighted Freeman's history-making performance:

With 16 touchdowns already under his belt, Freeman is now only seven touchdowns away from breaking the Oregon single-season record. With as many as four games left this season (if the Ducks make it to the national championship), it’s within the realm of possibility that Freeman could own that record as a true freshman.

Against Colorado, the Ducks offense gained 597 yards—332 passing and 265 rushing—and averaged 7.7 yards per play. Oregon could have easily dropped 70 on Colorado if it wanted to.

While Oregon’s offense was as efficient as ever, it was really the Ducks’ defense that was surprising.

Oregon’s defense was ranked No. 103 in the country in total defense and No. 52 in scoring defense coming into the Colorado game. I’m not quite sure where those Ducks were on Saturday, as Oregon’s defense dominated a Colorado offense that had been averaging 29.8 points per game.

The Ducks held the Buffaloes to 10 points and 226 total yards, despite the fact that they did not force a turnover—something the Ducks have done in each of their past nine games. Yes, Colorado was at a disadvantage because their starting quarterback, Sefo Liufau, didn’t start the game due to a head injury.

However, Mark Helfich provided a comment regarding Mariota, interestingly describing his importance to the team...and to the world apparently, via Moseley:

Still, Oregon’s defense shut down all aspects of Colorado’s offense. Moreover, the Ducks corralled wide receiver Nelson Spruce, limiting him to only two catches for 16 yards. Coming into the game, Spruce had caught an average of 9.9 passes per game.

All three phases were firing for the Ducks against Colorado. However, it wasn't all good news, as the injury bug once again struck.

In the third quarter, defensive end DeForest Buckner seemed to have suffered a knee injury after being on the receiving end of a chop block. Losing Buckner for an extended period of time would be a huge blow to a Ducks defense that seems to be getting better as the year goes on. Despite the injury list getting longer, the Ducks keep ripping off victory after victory.

While the Ducks played very well, head coach Mark Helfrich was annoyed by Oregon's eight penalties.

"We played hard. We prepared hard," Helfrich told reporters, according to Moseley. "We didn't play very smart. That's gotta be our edge."

Regardless, the Ducks came away with their sixth straight win in impressive fashion.

Oregon has won its past six games by an average of 23.8 points per game. Needless to say, the Ducks are on the right track and have been for some time.

Can the Ducks continue this hot streak through the next two games and propel themselves in the College Football Playoff? They can, but first they must get through a two-game, 13-day stretch that will test every coach and player in the Oregon program. 

The Road Ahead

Despite the fact that Oregon has won the last six games against Oregon State and hasn’t lost in Corvallis since 2006, the Beavers are not a team that should be overlooked. Just ask Arizona State.

Until two weeks ago, the Beavers were considered to be a walkover for talented Pac-12 teams. Sitting at 4-5, the Beavers hosted then-No. 6 ASU and came away with a 35-27 victory that changed not only the Pac-12 South race but also the College Football Playoff landscape. Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com tweeted a question/statement, depending on the viewpoint, regarding "early overreaction" as it relates to Oregon:

Corvallis, especially at night, is an incredibly tough venue to play in, and the Beavers have won five of their past 10 games against AP Top 25-ranked teams at home.

There’s little chance that the Ducks overlook the Beavers, especially when you consider the rivalry. That being said, Oregon State’s upset of the Sun Devils may be the best thing that has happened to the Ducks this season. If there was a chance the Ducks were going to look past Oregon State, it went out the window with that upset.

Still, the Beavers will come to play and should put up a better fight against the Ducks than Colorado did on Saturday. When asked if Oregon State was dangerous, Helfrich quickly responded "no question," according to Brianna Amaranthus of CSNNW.com.

If the Ducks are able to leave Corvallis victorious, a Pac-12 title game against UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona or USC would be waiting six days later.

The Ducks have an advantage in the championship game based on the fact that they’re familiar with Levi’s Stadium (they played Cal there earlier this season). However, all the pressure will be on the Ducks, as they will be playing for not only a Pac-12 title but also a spot in the playoff.

The Ducks have been in this situation before and have crumbled. Not to rehash bad memories, but the Ducks were assured of a trip to the national championship in 2012 before falling at home to Stanford. In 2013, it was Stanford again who tripped up an undefeated Ducks squad. The Ducks also lost in the national title game to Auburn in 2011.

The Ducks have seen the pinnacle, but thus far they’ve been unable to plant their flag at the top of the mountain. Can they finally handle the pressure and win the big games when they need to? These next two games will show us all we need to know about the 2014 Ducks.

Oregon is firmly in the College Football Playoff with two weeks left in the season. Only two games stand between Oregon and a Jan. 1 playoff game.

Neither Oregon State nor any of the four remaining Pac-12 contenders are going to beat the Ducks. Only the Ducks can beat the Ducks. 

Oregon’s motto for the next two weeks is simple: Don’t trip.

 

Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise stated. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.

Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.

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Oregon Football: Are Ducks Ready for Tough Stretch Ahead?

The Colorado Buffaloes proved to be no match for second-ranked Oregon, as the Ducks cruised to a 44-10 victory. Now comes the hard part...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

UCLA Players Get Creative with Face Paint vs. USC

UCLA punter Matt Mengel decided that two lines under his eyes was just too played out, so he decided to take it up a notch with a full series of eye-black lines.

Not to be outdone, defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes made sure to cover the majority of his face.

[Twitter]

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Alabama Football: Tide Can't Afford a Slow Start vs. Auburn

Do slow starts happen, sometimes to even the best of the best? Of course.

Do the great teams find ways to overcome them? You bet.

But the fact that Alabama, which beat Western Carolina 48-14 on Saturday, fell behind 7-0 early in the first quarter and was leading just 17-14 with under seven minutes to play in the first half, is at least to some degree disconcerting one week before the Iron Bowl.

That kind of slow start against the Tigers will see the Tide down two scores, and 38 first-half points probably aren't going to come against Auburn.

So what was behind Alabama's slow start on Saturday?

Well, the Catamounts mounted an impressive opening drive to start the game, going 75 yards in nine plays in just three seconds over three minutes to take a 7-0 lead.

Against Auburn, that's the type of drive that'll set the tone for an entire game.

Late in the first quarter, after taking a 10-7 lead, Blake Sims threw an interception that spoiled a drive that began at the Western Carolina 40-yard line.

Then, while leading 17-7 early in the second quarter, Alabama running back Derrick Henry fumbled away the ball inside its own 20, and Western Carolina found the end zone on the next play, putting the score at 17-14.

For nearly 25 minutes of game clock on Saturday, Western Carolina hung around with the dynastic Crimson Tide.

The mistakes that Alabama made against Western Carolina will be magnified to their very extremes against Auburn, and that kind of start simply won't cut it against your archrival.

What's worse is that the Tigers feast off other teams' mistakes. Against Kansas State, a game Auburn won by just six points on the road, the Wildcats had three turnovers. Auburn scored—you guessed it—six points off those turnovers.

The only time it didn't score off a K-State mistake was an interception in its own end zone that kept six points off the board.

In Auburn's 35-31 win over then-No. 4 Ole Miss, the Tigers recovered a fumble with their backs to the wall at their own 6-yard line. Then on their very next stand, and backed up again inside the red zone, was the now infamous Laquon Treadwell fumble at the goal line that Auburn fell on.

The Tide's offense is super-powered this year, averaging 35 points per game behind Sims, who's thrown for 20 touchdowns and just four picks. That's good enough to mask mistakes against teams like Western Carolina.

But scoring 35 points hasn't come easy against the top dogs of the SEC for the Tide. Against Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU this year, Alabama averages just 22.6 points per game and hasn't scored more than 25.

Expect a similar scoring output from Auburn, a team that's given up just 25 points per game heading into this week.

The Tigers have three losses and are basically out of the playoff hunt, but they're still dangerous. Plus, all the semantics of rankings and history go out the window in the Iron Bowl—that game is about pride, and whoever plays smarter next week will win that game.

For Alabama, that means a slow, mistake-filled start like it had against Western Carolina could prove to be the death of its playoff hopes as well.

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Tennessee Fakes FG for Touchdown, Fan Falls over Wall in Celebration

The Tennessee Volunteers pulled off a fake field goal to perfection in the second quarter against Missouri, resulting in their first touchdown of the day. 

The score from tight end Alex Ellis had fans in Neyland Stadium rocking, especially one fan, who was so excited that he fell over the wall to congratulate him. 

[Vine]

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Why Ole Miss Loss Could Ruin Mississippi State's Playoff Chances

The Ole Miss Rebels got whooped by the unranked Arkansas Razorbacks in Week 13. With the Egg Bowl looming, this loss could have a direct impact on Mississippi State's standing with the College Football Playoff Committee's top four decision.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss the impact this game has on Mississippi State's playoff hopes. 

Will Mississippi State make the CFP?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Maryland Coach Randy Edsall Throws Headset in Celebration After Win vs. Michigan

With the University of Maryland trailing 16-9 to Michigan at the start of the fourth quarter, the Terrapins scored two late touchdowns to cap off a thrilling 23-16 win in The Big House.

Maryland coach Randy Edsall was so thrilled that he chucked his headset into the air in celebration.

Good on you, Randy—you deserved it. 

[USA Today's FTW]

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From CFP Contender to Meltdown: What Happened to Notre Dame?

After their 31-28 loss to the Louisville Cardinals on Saturday, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have now dropped three games in a row as their late-season meltdown continues. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer discuss the demise of the Fighting Irish.

What's behind Notre Dame's sudden decline?

Watch the video and let us know!  


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Virginia's Canaan Severin Reels in Filthy 1-Handed Touchdown Catch vs. Miami

The University of Virginia got on the board against the Miami Hurricanes thanks to this incredible 23-yard touchdown catch from Canaan Severin. 

[Vine]

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