NCAA Football

Auburn Takes Care of Business on Senior Night, Turns Focus to Upsetting Alabama

AUBURN, Ala.—Instead of being a memorable game for the senior players and their families, Senior Night was shaping up to be one to forget for Auburn after one quarter.

Auburn's once-potent offense was averaging 1.8 yards per play. Quarterback Nick Marshall fired a bad interception that forced the Tigers' defense to make a fourth-down stop. Flags continued to mount for the SEC's most-penalized team.

Oh, and Auburn was playing an FCS opponent—the 7-3 Samford Bulldogs.

After Samford went up 7-0 midway through the second quarter, Auburn snapped into action thanks to its seniors.

"Mainly it was just us hurting ourselves," senior tight end C.J. Uzomah said. "It took Samford scoring for us to realize that we needed to get our crap together, really."

Marshall found wide receiver Sammie Coates on a 49-yard pass and senior wide receiver Quan Bray found the end zone two plays later on a 23-yard run.

The lightning-fast, three-play drive energized an entire team and a sleepy Jordan-Hare Stadium en route to a 31-7 victory.

"We just came out not ready to play at the beginning of the game," Marshall said. "But as the game got going, we got back to playing Auburn football."

Although the road to the final whistle Saturday night wasn't entirely smooth, "Auburn football" returned for a team that desperately needed a jolt after back-to-back losses and before a trip to Tuscaloosa next Saturday to take on No. 1 Alabama.

"You know, coming off the last two weeks with two losses, it was about getting the bad taste out of our mouth," senior running back Corey Grant said. "It important for us to get this win, especially for next week when we play our big rivalry. It is going to be a big game, and it was good to actually get a win tonight and get that good feeling back."

The focus on the Plains immediately turned to Tuscaloosa, even for a group of seniors just minutes removed from their final game at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

"It's going to be a hostile environment," said Bray, who became the first player in school history to have a rushing, a receiving and a punt return touchdown in the same season. "We know that. We'll come out tomorrow and get the things we need to correct down, and then we'll go to Tuscaloosa and handle business."

For the Tigers' offense, preparing for the Crimson Tide and one of the nation's toughest defenses comes down to avoiding the slow starts that have plagued them in games big and small this season.

Auburn's scoring drought reached more than 75 minutes of game time, stretching back to the second drive of a blowout loss to Georgia, before Bray found the end zone in the second quarter:

"We just came out flat," Bray said. "We went three-and-out, and we weren't getting nothing going. Once we got things going, that's when we were at our best."

Now that the team has gone from being a national title contender to just a potential spoiler with hopes of a mid-tier bowl, Auburn defensive tackle Gabe Wright claimed the disappointments started to wear down on the Tigers.

"I'd say we had a really good week of practice," Wright said. "But I'd be a liar if I said the high expectations and goals we had set being diminished over the past couple of weeks didn’t have an effect on us."

For Wright, Samford's lone touchdown was a wake-up call for a team that was struggling to stay motivated.

"Coming off a loss we know that we’ve got to get [momentum] back, but I feel like we did a good job this week," Wright said. "Of course, the goal this week was to beat Samford, but also to get Auburn back to the playing level we want to be. After they scored, that really rose the bar."

Motivation won't be a problem, though, heading into next weekend's massive rivalry clash in a hostile environment.

"It's probably going to be one of the funnest games I've ever played in," Uzomah said. "Obviously, the Alabama game last year was the height of my football career, but this is going to be up there. Their fans are going to be nasty.

"I don't know what they're going to be saying or doing—I know little kids flick you off sometimes. I'm looking forward to it."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

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USC vs. UCLA: Game Grades, Analysis for Trojans and Bruins

Brett Hundley and No. 9 UCLA reestablished their dominance over No. 19 USC Saturday night, with the Bruins pounding their way on both sides of the ball to a dominant 38-20 victory under the lights in the Rose Bowl.

The Bruins (9-2) manhandled the Trojans (7-4), outgaining them by 186 yards in the 18-point victory. Jim Mora's squad needs one more victory (against Stanford next week) to clinch the Pac-12 South. If it can do that, the team will book a trip to the conference championship game for a rematch against Oregon.

For now, though, UCLA gets to enjoy its third consecutive victory over its crosstown rival.

How did the Trojans and the Bruins grade out from an entertaining game Saturday night?

 

USC Trojans Grade Analysis

Pass Offense: Most of USC's success has come through the air offensively this year, but that wasn't the case against UCLA. Cody Kessler, who came into the game as the nation's 12th-ranked passer, managed just 214 yards and one touchdown against the Bruins. Kessler threw a bad interception and failed to get anything going down the field past UCLA's secondary.

Nelson Agholor, coming off a career performance against Cal last week, hauled in just three passes for 24 yards.

Run Offense: Kessler was under constant fire all night, which hurt USC's run offense in a big way, but the Trojans running backs failed to get anything going. Javorius Allen gained just 59 yards on 14 carries—averaging a modest 4.2 yards per carry—and Justin Davis chipped in 37 yards on nine attempts. The Trojans failed to generate any big plays on the ground, as their long carry on the night went for just 12 yards.

Pass Defense: USC's pass defense got off to a great start when Anthony Sarao picked off a Brett Hundley pass and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown on UCLA’s first drive. But things turned quickly for the Trojans when Hundley found a groove. The Bruins had no trouble poking holes in USC's secondary as they finished with 326 passing yards on the night. 

Run Defense: UCLA had a tough time finding holes in USC's defense early, finishing with minus-seven yards in the first quarter. USC was keyed in on Hundley as a runner, which was a big reason why UCLA only had 45 rushing yards at halftime.

That changed a bit after the break when UCLA's star quarterback broke free for a 15-yard touchdown run. But that was the biggest play the Trojans allowed on the ground, as they only gave up an average of 3.1 yards per carry to the Bruins. 

Special Teams: Things got off to a bad start for USC’s special teams when Agholor muffed a punt early in the first quarter, which set UCLA up inside the 10 for an easy touchdown drive. That was the only notable special teams play from the Trojans, which is as bad as it sounds. With UCLA shutting down the offense, USC could have used a big play in the kicking game to provide a spark.

Coaching: Steve Sarkisian made some curious calls in the first half, most notably in short down-and-distance situations. He called for a fullback dive and a zone-read run when USC needed just two yards on separate, critical situations—both of which resulted in lost yards. The Trojans left valuable points on the board when they went for it on fourth down instead of kicking a chip-shot field goal late in the first quarter.

After falling behind by 10 at the break, USC didn't make any adjustments to slow down UCLA's ferocious pass rush. There were no quick screens to punish the attacking defense, and Agholor was horrendously underutilized throughout the night. 

 

UCLA Bruins Grade Analysis

Pass Offense: Hundley’s night got off to a rough start with the pick-six, but he bounced back in a big way. He finished the first half completing 78.9 percent of his passes for 202 yards and three touchdowns. The junior signal-caller spread it around, too, finding nine different receivers in the first two quarters.

With the blowout nature of the game, Hundley wasn't asked to do much in the second half. He still finished with 326 passing yards and three touchdowns. Wideout Thomas Duarte was explosive, leading all receivers with 95 receiving yards (and a touchdown) on just two receptions.

Run Offense: The Bruins boast a potent rushing attack because Hundley is such a dangerous threat on the ground. The quarterback came into the game with 564 rushing yards, but he only managed two yards against the Trojans. 

That was a big reason for UCLA's struggles on the ground. The Bruins gained just 135 rushing yards Saturday night, which was 80 yards shy of their season average. 

Pass Defense: UCLA's secondary had a tough task in stopping Kessler, Agholor and a surging Trojans passing attack, but that’s exactly what it did Saturday night. The secondary got a big boost from an inspired defensive front. UCLA came into the night averaging just 1.6 sacks per game, but it registered six against Kessler and the Trojans. That disrupted everything USC tried to establish offensively, which was a huge key to the victory. 

Run Defense: USC aims to establish balance offensively, but UCLA eliminated that possibility when it raced out to a big lead early in the third quarter. That's a big reason why the Bruins were able to limit the Trojans to just eight rushing yards in the second half. Of course, that low total was as much the result of UCLA's pass rush as it was its run defense, but it was still an incredible performance from a fired-up defense. USC finished with just 61 rushing yards on 33 carries. 

Special Teams: It was a quiet night for UCLA's special teams as they failed to make any big plays, but they also didn't make any huge mistakes. The Bruins did come up with Agholor's muffed punt in the first quarter, but otherwise, it was a forgettable night. Matt Mengel averaged just 33 yards on his six punts. Ka'imi Fairbairn connected on his only field-goal attempt (a 32-yard chip shot) and accounted for just 52 yards on four kick returns.

Coaching: Mora knew that he could outman and outgun USC, and he executed his game plan perfectly Saturday night. The Bruins raced out to a comfortable lead early in the third quarter and then went to work grinding out the game against an overmatched defense. He established complete control over USC with a third consecutive victory over his biggest rival.

 

All stats via NCAA.com.

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Heisman Watch 2014: Top 5 Rankings After Week 13

The Heisman hopefuls really showed up in their respective games on Saturday. This week, the list of Heisman favorites changes, as a former winner is left out of our top five.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee gives you his updated top five finalists for the Heisman Trophy.

Who is your favorite to win the 2014 Heisman?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Missouri vs. Tennessee: Game Grades, Analysis for Tigers and Vols

The Missouri Tigers rode their defensive line and a big second half by Maty Mauk to a 29-21 road win over the Tennessee Volunteers.

Mizzou's defense sacked Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs six times on the night, keeping the Vols offense out of the end zone until late in the fourth quarter. Mauk did the rest, throwing for two touchdowns and 152 yards in the final two frames.

With this victory, the Tigers are only a home victory over Arkansas away from the SEC East title.

 

Game Grades for the Tigers

Passing Offense

Mauk just could not connect in the first half, going 6-of-15 and 78 yards as his receivers dropped a lot of catchable balls. Everyone flipped the switch after halftime, allowing Mauk to throw both of his touchdowns to put the game out of reach.

Jimmie Hunt turned in a spectacular effort on his 73-yard touchdown, while Bud Sasser recovered from a case of the drops to catch his touchdown. The big duo combined for seven catches, 182 yards and two scores.

 

Rushing Offense

The ground game was solid throughout, slowing down a very strong Tennessee pass rush. Marcus Murphy led the way with 82 yards and two scores, with Mauk and Russell Hansbrough contributing another 99 yards.

 

Passing Defense

The defensive line absolutely dominated this game, sacking Dobbs six times before it was all said and done. Tennessee's quarterback did lead an impressive fourth-quarter drive to make things interesting, but you'll always live with 5.3 yards per attempt as a defense.

 

Rushing Defense

There was absolutely nothing happening for the Vols on the ground, netting just 53 yards on 29 attempts. Tennessee got better in the second half, but not by much.

 

Special Teams

This unit is the only reason the Vols even stayed in the game. Andrew Baggett missed two extra points and a 51-yarder, while the field-goal unit allowed an easy fake field goal to go for a 31-yard touchdown.

Even at the end of the game, these guys were trying to give it away. The Volunteers recovered two onside kicks, nullifying both with penalties.

 

Coaching

Gary Pinkel stuck with the plan no matter how close Tennessee was able to keep up. You'd like to see fewer mistakes from special teams, but the rest of the team picked up the slack. His defense allowed one touchdown to an offense that was averaging almost 40 points over its last three games.

 

Game Grades for the Volunteers

Passing Offense

Without center Mack Crowder, the offensive line just had no shot at protecting its quarterback. Dobbs was able to scrape together one scoring drive but had no protection for most of the night.

Pig Howard and Von Pearson each turned in nice efforts, turning in 11 catches for 132 yards.

 

Rushing Offense

The ground game was a disaster from the start. The offensive line couldn't get any push, Dobbs made several bad reads and the end result was 53 yards on 29 attempts.

Jalen Hurd had a couple of nice runs in the second half, but that's about it.

 

Passing Defense

Missouri's butterfingers did this group a lot of favors in the first half. Mauk's receivers dropped a couple of big gainers, but then they were able to turn them into points in the second.

The defensive line, led by Curt Maggitt, got some pressure throughout. It just wasn't enough to keep Mauk from slinging it deep.

 

Rushing Defense

The Tigers rode their ground game to two easy touchdowns in the first half, then they backed off a little as Mauk started hitting the deep balls. Simply put, Mizzou was able to get yardage and extend drives when it needed to.

 

Special Teams

Special teams scored 13 of Tennessee's 22 points on the night and almost returned the ball to the offense on a couple of onside kicks. The 31-yard fake field goal for the score was keyed by a 58-yard kick return by Evan Berry.

 

Coaching

We need a pretty thorough explanation as to why Butch Jones wasted a timeout to challenge an obvious illegal touching penalty. There's a huge difference between having two timeouts left with under two minutes to play and one timeout left with under two minutes to play.

Sure, this staff made a nice call on the fake field goal, but the timeout management was awful, and the offensive line looked totally lost. Jones is better than this.

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Mizzou Win Puts It in Driver's Seat for SEC East Title, Dark-Horse Playoff Shot

There's nothing pretty about Missouri this season, but that's fine with the Tigers.

Here they are for the second straight year going into the final week of the season needing to win to claim the SEC East and, as was the case last season, with faint national-title hopes still flickering.

Wait, hold on. Missouri as a College Football Playoff contender?

It seems crazy to say and certainly is bizarre for me to write. After beating Tennessee 29-21 on Saturday night in Knoxville, though, it's time to start at least considering the possibility of Missouri acting as the ultimate late-season College Football Playoff dark horse.

The defense was all over Joshua Dobbs, sacking the sophomore signal-caller five times and forcing two total turnovers (one fumble, one interception).

Head coach Gary Pinkel was pleased with the performance, according to David Morrison of the Columbia Daily Tribune:

This isn't the prettiest team. In fact, for three quarters on Saturday night, it was sometimes ugly. But quarterback Maty Mauk caught fire in the fourth quarter, tossing two touchdown passes to break open a tight game and bring Missouri to the brink of back-to-back East division titles.

So how does Missouri make it to the playoff?

It's a long and winding road that starts with a win over Arkansas in Columbia on Black Friday. After the way Missouri's defensive line has played all year, it's only fitting that it'll have to show out against the biggest offensive line in football—college or NFL—in order to get to Atlanta.

If the Tigers clear that hurdle and get to the Georgia Dome, a highly ranked SEC West contender—either No. 1 Alabama or No. 4 Mississippi State will be waiting for them. A win over either the Crimson Tide or the Bulldogs would be nice, but it'd be really helpful to make it emphatic and make it over No. 1 Alabama.

Call it "game control" if you wish, but a resounding victory in the Georgia Dome over the Crimson Tide would be a nice final statement to the 12 members of the selection committee.

After that, just a few dominoes need to fall. 

And by "a few," I mean a lot.

First thing's first, a TCU loss needs to happen, and the most likely chance for that is Thanksgiving night when the Horned Frogs visit a suddenly resurgent Texas team that's won three straight. That'd solve one Big 12 problem, and Baylor losing to Kansas State on the final week of the season would be a good second step to clear the Big 12 road.

Now that the Big 12 is out of the way, Ohio State needs to go down. The Big 12 Championship Game against Wisconsin or Minnesota is the best place for that. Since Wisconsin is a two-loss team that'll likely be in the Top 15 this week, it'd be helpful if it's a sloppy game on both sides. But if Missouri wins out, that SEC Championship Game win would likely place the Tigers at the top of the two-loss pecking order.

After that, it's a breeze.

Just a Mississippi State loss to Ole Miss to ensure that Missouri is the unquestioned No. 1 in the SEC playoff pecking order and an Oregon and/or Florida State losses over their final two games for insurance purposes.

Missouri in the College Football Playoff? Yeah, it's crazy.

But Indiana winning on the road over the eventual SEC East champ seems crazy too. 

It's not crazy; it's the "SEC Coastal," better known as the SEC East in 2014.

 

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

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

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Don't Blame Everett Golson for Notre Dame's 3rd Straight Loss

As Notre Dame football’s season continues to crumble, this time the story was less about turnovers or sloppy play from quarterback Everett Golson in Louisville’s 31-28 win over the Irish on Saturday.

Sure, Golson’s second-quarter interception came at his own 14-yard line and prompted a Louisville field goal. And yes, his fumble a few drives later resulted in a 32-yard loss. But the damage, in general, was kept to a minimum.

"I think he did some good things," Irish head coach Brian Kellysaid afterward to reporters. "There are some things that we want to do better, but he made some great plays with his feet. It's so hard right after the game to give you a great analysis of it. There are some things that I thought could have gotten the ball out quicker, but I'm not right behind the center."

Golson was 16-of-24 for 236 yards, two touchdowns and the interception, while also scampering in on a two-point conversion to pull Notre Dame within three, 31-28, at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Golson certainly has room for improvement, but the major issues Saturday were mostly on the defensive side of the ball and in the kicking game. For the sixth consecutive game, the Irish surrendered at least 30 points. The Cardinals racked up 409 yards of total offense—229 of which came on the ground.

Entering Saturday, 51% of Notre Dame’s tackles this season came from freshmen and sophomores. Today, 67% came from freshmen/sophomores.

— Mike Monaco (@MikeMonaco_) November 23, 2014

Yet still, with a chance to tie the game, Notre Dame’s field-goal battery of kicker Kyle Brindza, holder Malik Zaire and snapper Scott Daly couldn’t convert from 32 yards out.

WATCH: Kyle Brindza misses the potential game-tying field goal against Louisville http://t.co/bUQTPRRJNv

— Notre Dame on NBC (@NDonNBC) November 23, 2014

Here’s a look at the setup/hold for Kyle Brindza’s final FG try: pic.twitter.com/ryfI45Sphy

— Mike Monaco (@MikeMonaco_) November 23, 2014

"I don’t think it was executed at the level it needed to be," Kelly said. "I didn’t see it. I’ll have to watch it on film, but in talking to Kyle, it did not appear to be handled cleanly."

While the blame game rages on, the simple fact is that Notre Dame could not drill a much-needed kick—again. Asked about the prospects for 2015, Kelly offered a blunt breakdown.

"Well, we've lost back-to-back games because we couldn't put down a ball and kick it 32 yards," he said.

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

Sure, it’s possible to point to a certain play in a certain situation and engage in the "what if" game. But Notre Dame’s issues have been both widespread and continuous.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco on Twitter.

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Vanderbilt vs. Mississippi State: Game Grades, Analysis for the Bulldogs

The Mississippi State Bulldogs defeated the Vanderbilt Commodores 51-0 on Saturday to remain in the hunt for a spot in the first annual College Football Playoff. 

The Bulldogs, behind Heisman candidate Dak Prescott, rolled up over 500 yards of total offense, forced three turnovers and held the Commodores to just 224 total yards.

Prescott, who exited the game late in the third quarter, completed 16 of 21 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns. Prescott also ran for a touchdown, too. 

Mississippi State ran for 284 yards, and 11 different Bulldogs caught a pass. 

It all comes down to the Egg Bowl for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs head to Oxford next week with a spot in the College Football Playoff on the line. 

How did Mississippi State grade out in its win over Vanderbilt?

 

Mississippi State Bulldogs Game Grades Analysis

Pass Offense: Dak Prescott was terrific. He got everyone involved in the offense and did not turn the ball over. He completed just under 80 percent of his passes and tossed three touchdown passes.

Rush Offense: The Bulldogs ran for 284 yards, as six different players ran for at least 28 yards apiece. Brandon Holloway led the Bulldogs with 65 yards on 10 carries. The team averaged just under 6 yards per carry.

Pass Defense: MSU picked off two passes and put pressure on Vanderbilt's three quarterbacks all night long. Vanderbilt completed less than 50 percent of its passes. 

Rush Defense: Vanderbilt's leading rusher, Ralph Webb, had just 16 yards on 11 carries. Vandy's leading rusher was quarterback Johnny McCrary, who rushed for just 20 yards. 

Special Teams: Darrius Sims is an excellent return man for the Commodores, yet MSU held Sims to an average of just 16 yards per kick return. Evan Sobiesk did miss an extra point for the Bulldogs. 

Coaching: Dan Mullen had his team prepared. This team knows it has a shot at the national championship and played like it on Saturday night. The offense was balanced, and the defense was aggressive. 

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College Football Playoff Projections After Week 13

After some wild Week 13 games, it's time to reevaluate the top teams and their positioning in the College Football Playoff. Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer gives you his projected playoff bracket.

Who do you think will be playing for a national title at the end of the season?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Winners and Losers from Week 13 of College Football

A dreary and rain-soaked Week 13 didn't stop college football from delivering the fireworks. While Saturday's slate looked light on paper, it was heavy with thrilling finishes from the Big Ten to the Ivy League. 

From Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine breaking Melvin Gordon's one-week-old rushing record to another Florida State scare, a lot happened on Saturday. UCLA took full control of the Pac-12 South race, and Missouri came one step closer to clinching the SEC East.

With that, it's time to wrap it all up into a neat little bow. 

Which teams and players came away as winners? Which ones didn't?

Begin Slideshow

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

Follow
@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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