NCAA Football

Ranking the Best SEC Matchups of Week 8

The slate of games is smaller, and the quality is certainly down compared to the past couple of weeks, but it's still not going to be difficult for SEC football fans to find something entertaining to watch this weekend.

There's only one game involving two ranked conference opponents, and that will take place in Oxford, Mississippi, as the sliding Ole Miss Rebels try to end their recent skid against Texas A&M, which lost its first game of the year in lopsided fashion last week against Alabama.

Those same Crimson Tide players will return home to renew one of the most storied rivalries in all of college football when the Tennessee Volunteers come to Bryant-Denny Stadium for the "Third Saturday in October" showdown on the fourth Saturday of the month.

Kentucky will travel south to take on its second consecutive SEC West opponent, and Auburn will try to capitalize off the momentum of winning in Lexington last week on the road in Starkville.

There's also a defensive struggle shaping up in Nashville between Missouri and Vanderbilt, and LSU must face an upstart out-of-conference opponent.

Some potentially intriguing storylines are possible this weekend, so even though it isn't a banner week for SEC showdowns, there could still be twists and turns. Let's take a look at the top games of the week.

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College Football Week 8 Schedule: TV, Live Stream Details for Top 25 NCAA Games

Reigning champions Ohio State overcame another sluggish start to crush Penn State and retain its spot atop the AP and Coaches polls. At least five teams are receiving first-place votes in both polls, however, which showcases the muddled landscape at this stage of the college football season.

Week 8 could create further havoc in the rankings. That's because 12 of the 19 ranked teams in action are on the road, including Utah, Clemson, Florida State and the Buckeyes from the Top 10. So there should at least be some marquee upset alerts around the country.

Let's check out the complete slate of games involving Top 25 squads along with viewing information for each contest. That's followed by a look at some of the most intriguing matchups on tap.

 

Week 8 Top 25 Schedule

 

Top Games to Watch

No. 6 Clemson at Miami (Fla.)

The Tigers have quietly rattled off six straight victories to open the season and moved firmly into the playoff conversation. That said, their only high-profile win so far came over Notre Dame, and that was at home. Facing a talent-laden group from Miami on the road will be a good measuring stick.

While the Hurricanes already have two losses, quarterback Brad Kaaya headlines a roster with plenty of explosive playmakers. They lost by just five on the road against rival Florida State and are 3-0 at home with wins over Nebraska and Virginia Tech.

This matchup has also created some hard-fought battles as of late. Clemson sports information director Tim Bourret provided some interesting notes about the recent series history:

One key question for the Tigers is whether the offense can still produce big numbers if Canes corner Tracy Howard slows down top target Artavis Scott. It should be a terrific battle and, if Howard gets the upper hand, it will put extra pressure on the likes of Deon Cain and Charone Peake.

For Miami, the story remains much the same as the individual talent is in place, but bringing everything together to create a title contender remains elusive. That doesn't make the Hurricanes any less dangerous as they attempt to derail Clemson's push toward the Top Four, though.

 

No. 15 Texas A&M at No. 24 Ole Miss

Games in which both teams are coming off crucial losses always come with an extra bit of uncertainty. That's the case here, as the Aggies lost a clash with Alabama that could have moved them into the playoff hunt and the Rebels fell short against Memphis, likely ending their playoff dreams this season.

In each case, the defense failed to hold up its end of the bargain. Texas A&M gave up 41 points to Alabama. Ole Miss allowed 37 to Memphis, including 31 straight at one point. The onus is on each of those units to bounce back in a major way this week.

On the offensive side, the Rebels should benefit quite a bit from the return of star lineman Laremy Tunsil after serving a seven-game suspension. Gil Brandt of NFL.com noted there will be no shortage of people watching his return:

Now, getting back a lineman isn't the same as a star quarterback. That said, Tunsil should provide an immediate boost as the Rebels are forced to deal with Texas A&M edge-rusher Myles Garrett, who already has 8.5 sacks this season.

Both teams are feeling the heat after losing last week, and their margin for error to reach a marquee bowl, or possibly the playoff in Texas A&M's case, is razor-thin. That type of pressure usually showcases what a team is truly made of, and that should make for an entertaining battle.

 

No. 3 Utah at USC

The outlook is promising for Utah. The Utes already have victories over Oregon, Cal and Michigan on their resume, and the remaining schedule is certainly navigable. They can't afford to overlook an underperforming Trojans squad, though.

USC entered the season as a popular choice to crack the playoff out of the Pac-12. Instead, its lost three of its past four games and dealt with off-field turmoil that led to Steve Sarkisian's exit. But they still have enough ability to rebound and finish the season on a high note.

So Utah, which has survived close calls against Cal and Arizona State in recent weeks, needs to put together a more complete performance Saturday. The silver lining is head coach Kyle Whittingham has been happy with the fight his team has shown in difficult moments, per Kevin Gemmell of ESPN.

"You get an idea going in what type of team you might have and the personality," Whittingham said. "But it really starts to take shape as you hit about midseason, which is now. ... They're a tough group of guys. Very physical. Just warriors."

If the Utes can continue that trend and take down USC, they will have a golden opportunity to run the table. While there are some tests (Washington and Arizona on the road, UCLA at home), it's nothing a championship contender shouldn't overcome.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: Midseason Grades for Each Volunteers Positional Unit

Tennessee's top-heavy first half of the football season is over, and after this week's Alabama game, the rest of the year looks manageable.

That would be good news for a fanbase that has been through the emotional roller coaster so far through a 3-3 start.

The Volunteers have endured coaching gaffes, blown leads and a huge comeback in a big win against Georgia. They've almost won national-stage games against Florida and Oklahoma, only to lose in heartbreaking, finger-pointing fashion.

In the midst of the season, the Vols broke in heaps of young, talented players and endured enough season-ending injuries to last a couple of years. It's been a crazy year when positions expected to be weaknesses have emerged as strengths and areas full of talent have become major concerns.

While the win over the Bulldogs entering the bye week has fostered a little bit of goodwill on Rocky Top, there have been rocky moments. And there are plenty of areas for improvement as coach Butch Jones tries to lead his program into another step forward.

An 8-4 (or perhaps even 9-3) season is still possible if UT can reach its talent-filled potential, but in order to do that, the second-half grades for each positional unit need to be better than these.

Given all the hype entering the year, the first part of the season has been below satisfactory, but there's still time for the Vols to bring up their grades. Let's take a look at the position-by-position breakdown.

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Debunking the Chip Kelly-to-USC Rumors

LOS ANGELES — Over the summer prior to the 2015 season, USC updated its longtime practice facility of Howard Jones Field to include some flashy graphics along the sidelines that tell the story of Trojan football.

It includes everything you would expect, from the number of national titles won to how many Heisman Trophies occupy Heritage Hall. The graphics serve as a talking point when potential recruits stroll around and as a reminder of the standard the current players have to live up to.

In addition to the numbers, there are naturally photos of a host of recognizable names immortalized in some form or fashion. While most are players who have earned their place in Trojan lore, there are four coaches imprinted along the edges of the field: Howard Jones, John McKay, John Robinson (from his first stint, it should be noted) and Pete Carroll.

The common thread among all four? They each won a national title in Los Angeles and are in or will soon be in the College Football Hall of Fame. 

As athletic director Pat Haden embarks on the second coaching search of his tenure and the third at USC in the past six seasons, those four title-winning coaches illustrate the standard that the next man to take the job will have to live up to. They also serve as a reminder that whoever takes over will have to appease a fanbase that is desperately yearning to actually meet expectations for a season and not fall short in dramatic fashion. 

“I’ve been here for six years. You know Los Angeles and you know this is USC and you know the expectations are to win,” interim head coach Clay Helton said on Tuesday. “I know exactly what the job entails and what it demands.”

Helton does indeed know that as he continues on his second stint as the Trojans’ interim head coach. He will be given an opportunity to interview for the full-time job with Haden after the season but like Ed Orgeron two years ago, he will remain a long shot of following in Clemson's Dabo Swinney’s shoes by turning a temporary job into a permanent one.

At this point, just eight days after Steve Sarkisian’s contract was terminated, far bigger names than Helton are being mentioned.

At the top of the wish list, for many fans and media members alike, seems to be Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly.

On the surface, it makes some sense why some would connect the two dots. USC is one of the premier college jobs in the country and Kelly had near unprecedented success during his time at Oregon. With the Eagles still struggling despite their win against the New York Giants on Monday night, maybe a return to college could be in the cards at a place where success comes fairly easily.  

"The Eagles coach of course had so much success in college, I am told he would have some interest in the USC job,” NFL Media insider Ian Rapoport said on NFL Network.  “Although a source close to him points out Chip Kelly really likes to be liked and wanted, so that might be driving some of his interest."

Rapoport is burying the real information, however. To put it more bluntly, that latter point is driving all of the conversation around Kelly to USC. 

Kelly’s team is currently tied for first place in the division after Monday night, and he is in the middle of a reported five-year, $32.5 million contract. While USC has deep pockets and can afford to make its next coach one of the highest paid in the country, that would still represent a near doubling what the school has paid its past two head coaches.

USC boosters would no doubt pony up in a heart beat to lure Kelly, but the reclusive New Englander does not appear to be chasing a pay check and has everything he wants in Philadelphia, including being one of the rare NFL coaches to control his own roster. Even more important, he works for a fairly hands-off owner in Jeffrey Lurie who has given Kelly nearly everything he has requested and has proved over the years to have no problem with retaining his football coach even if the team is not quite meeting expectations.

There are few, if any, reasons for Kelly to give up his position to deal with a sometimes headache-inducing one like USC.

And more to the point, while it may be fun to connect the former Oregon coach to the job at USC, there are even fewer indications that Haden himself would be comfortable hiring Kelly in the first place. The latter received a show-cause order as part of NCAA sanctions leveled against the Ducks for actions during his tenure, and Haden has been notoriously straight and narrow when it comes to compliance at USC since he took his current job.

For the Kelly-to-USC rumors to actually have some substance, the two parties would have to have some realistic chance of coming together. At this point, neither appears to be lusting after the other in any shape or form. 

Bleacher Report recently spoke to two sources who worked with Kelly in Eugene and each believed that he would remain in the NFL for the foreseeable future. 

“I can’t see it,” one source said of him going to USC, adding that the reputation the coach earned as being stingy with his time when it came to media obligations and booster functions was accurate.

Kelly donning the cardinal and gold would be a sight for sore eyes for many in the college game with the chance to see his fast-paced system mixed in with the type of athletes the Trojans typically recruit and indeed are already on the roster.

The Kelly talk is indicative of where USC is in the search process, however. Haden, who returned from the team’s loss at Notre Dame after experiencing a small health issue, has barely gotten started on the task of finding a new coach. With Kelly, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh and yes, even Pete Carroll’s names already popping up in the media, it’s fairly obvious that USC boosters are doing what they can to float potential candidates in public. 

"I love USC, its a great place. (I’m) flattered,” Carroll told reporters on Monday. “But that's not happening."

Further complicating matters is Haden’s role in the hiring process. He has the support of university president Max Nikias and appears to have the authority to make a hire, but many influential alumni around the university have questioned whether he should be able to make such a crucial decision given the number of mistakes he has made in the past few years while stewarding the department.

Whether Haden ultimately makes the hire or not, one thing is clear: The Trojans have to nail down a quality head coach who can actually stick around more than three years.

“I think it needs to be someone who creates a family-oriented atmosphere and is consistently even-keeled,” backup quarterback and next year’s presumed starter Max Browne told Bleacher Report. “But that’s (Haden’s) job and it’s on his plate.”

That is a plate that does not include Kelly but could include trendy names like Memphis head coach Justin Fuente, Houston’s Tom Herman, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham and maybe even somebody such as Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.

It’s a critical time at Troy and a precarious hire for one of the top football programs in the country. Whoever winds up accepting the job, they will be reminded every practice of what it will take to even rise to the level of a spot along the wall.

 

Bryan Fischer is a national college football columnist at Bleacher Report and can be followed on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Debunking the Chip Kelly-to-USC Rumors

LOS ANGELES — Over the summer prior to the 2015 season, USC updated its longtime practice facility of Howard Jones Field to include some flashy graphics along the sidelines that tell the story of Trojan football...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Florida State vs. Georgia Tech Complete Game Preview

Heading into the 2015 season, this was supposed to be a massive matchup of ACC heavyweights—perhaps even a preview of the conference championship game in November.

But Saturday's rematch of 2014's title showdown in Charlotte between Florida State (6-0, 4-0 ACC) and Georgia Tech (2-5, 0-4 ACC) doesn't have nearly the same amount of buzz thanks to a miserable losing skid from the Yellow Jackets.

Head coach Paul Johnson's team has fallen in five straight games, with three of them coming by a single possession—including last weekend's loss to Pittsburgh on a long, last-minute field goal. If there's anything sputtering Georgia Tech can take away from its recent woes, it's that the five losses have come to teams who have only lost four games so far in 2015.

Now the Jackets' brutal schedule continues with a home game against Florida State, which is back in the Top 10 after a monster second-half surge against Louisville last Saturday. The Seminoles are starting to hit their stride in a balanced and explosive offense, and the defense continues to stifle opponents on the ground.

Before we break down undefeated Florida State's trip to Atlanta to take on struggling Georgia Tech, here is all the basic info you need to know.

Date: Saturday, October 24

Time: 7 p.m. ET

Location: Bobby Dodd Stadium (Atlanta, Georgia)

TV: ESPN2

Radio: Seminole IMG Sports Network, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network

Line: Florida State -5.5, according to Odds Shark

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The Best Name in College Football Recruiting: Meet 2018 LB Bumper Pool

Lovejoy High School, located in the heart of Collin County, Texas, has its share of college football recruits. Among those in the 2016 class are 3-star wide receiver Aaron Fuller and 3-star quarterback Bowman Sells, who are committed to Washington and Houston, respectively.

When college coaches visited the school during the spring, they were pleasantly surprised to see a linebacker making play after play in practice. The intrigue only heightened when coaches found out the linebacker was only a freshman preparing for his sophomore season.

It was easy to like this linebacker. Now, imagine shaking the hands of the athlete and then doing a double-take after hearing his name.

"Hi, I'm Bumper Pool," he said.

Wait, what?

2018 inside linebacker Bumper Pool has a name that instantly is considered one of the best football names in college football recruiting. Bumper James Morris Pool, as his father indicated, is his full name. At 6'2" and 215 pounds, Pool is an inside linebacker for Lovejoy who has let his game speak louder than his name this season.

"The name causes you not to forget him," Lovejoy head coach Ryan Cox said. "Once you see him play, you'll never doubt his ability."

 

'It's a football name'

Growing up in Allen, Texas, Pool used to answer a lot of questions about his name. He remembers having teachers assume he was being a class clown when they asked him his first name.

"They always thought I was the kid messing around in class," he said. "I would tell them, 'No, that's my real name,' but they never believed me at first. Whenever I'd go out, and I'm around people I don't know, I'd get it a lot.

"The people I'm around, they don't ask anymore. I know a lot of my friends, when they first met me, will tell their parents, 'I met a kid named Bumper.'"

It's a first name Pool said he never gets tired of explaining. Pool's father, Jeff, said the name was a vision he had while in high school.

Never mind the fact that the first and last name equated to the billiards game with the bumpers in the middle of the table and by the pockets.

"I always said if I had a son, his first name would be Bumper," Jeff Pool said. "It kind of fit as a football name, and when his grandparents were OK with that, I knew we had something."

"I don't get tired of it," Bumper added. "It's a football name. It's a conversation starter, too."

After watching him on the field, it's easy to see why Pool's first name quickly becomes secondary to those interested in him. Pool has been a varsity player since his freshman season. He started 10 of 11 games as a freshman for Cox.

Pool didn't start his first game but was in for Lovejoy's second series. He's been a mainstay ever since.

"We kind of had an idea about him coming out of eighth grade that he could be somebody who will help us out," Cox said. "Going into his freshman year, he didn't have spring football, but he still was able to do what we asked him to by the start of the season and showed us that he could play up." 

 

No age requirement for playmaking

Oct. 9 proved to be the breakout game for Pool. Against McKinney North High School, Pool led Lovejoy's defense to a win, finishing with a career-high 19 tackles, three of which went for a loss. He also was named Defensive Player of the Week by the Dallas Morning News.

Credit some of his success to his work ethic and overall IQ of the game. Since first playing tackle football at 6, Pool has seen time all over the field, whether it was linebacker, quarterback, defensive end, tight end or running back. He's done it all, and no matter the age, he was always studying his positions.

"He's always loved football," Jeff Pool said. "He was a kid who'd be dressed with his helmet on sitting in the car ready for practice. He was ready to do whatever."

In addition to having a solid work ethic, Pool was a child who wasn't accustomed to losing games. Playing as a child, he suited up for the Allen Hurricanes, a team he said won 59 consecutive games.

Pool plays with a level of confidence that makes him an intriguing player all around the Lovejoy locker room. Despite being 16, he's a leader among all the players.

"Here's a kid who, as young as he is, he's able to command respect of the upperclassmen," Cox said. "It's because of what he does on and off the field. He's still a sophomore, and sophomores make mistakes on the field, but playing at his level—you don't always see in any kid in high school."

Through seven games, Pool has 92 tackles, including 47 unassisted and 11 behind the line of scrimmage. He also has three sacks, four pass breakups, four forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

In short, he's everywhere on the football field—and colleges have been taking notice.

 

Recruiting on deck, and expectations high

Recruiting recently became a discussion topic with Pool, but it's nothing that he's taking seriously at the moment.

He has early interest from Arkansas, Baylor, Tulsa and SMU, and he's also received correspondence from Boston College. Pool took an unofficial visit to Baylor last weekend.

"It's super early, so I'm still keeping everything open," he said. "The coaches love my size and say they can't wait to see what I do in the future.

"They also love the name, of course."

Pool is expected to add weight to his frame, which would make him a college-ready inside linebacker from the eye test alone. If Pool remains the same size in the next couple of years, don't be surprised if he's moved to the outside linebacker spot because of his quickness and reaction time. He's already a solid tackler and is expected to get even better as he matures.

Jeff Pool said his son's primary objective is to maintain his focus not only on the field but also in the classroom. The opportunities to be successful will be there as long as he keeps his goals in mind.

"His mom and I talk to him all the time about it: Keep enjoying what you're doing, and keep making good decisions," Jeff Pool said. "A lot of kids his age start looking ahead too early. They want to live in the now instead of looking to their futures. There's no doubt that if he keeps doing what he's doing, he'll have every opportunity he wants."

And if all goes as planned, Bumper Pool will be more than just a unique name on the college football circuit.

"I still remember coaches seeing him do the things he does in practice," Cox said. "They asked who he was, and then their jaws dropped when I told them he was just going to be a sophomore.

"Then, when you tell them his name is Bumper Pool...that's going to stick with them."

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bleacher Report's Week 8 College Football Playoff Predictions

Will your team make the College Football Playoff?

Unlike most media sites, Bleacher Report doesn't give you a yes or no answer. Instead, we use analytics and the AP poll as a substitute for committee rankings to assign your team a probability to make the playoff.

The sortable table shows the results, while you can find more information on the methods here. Now let me highlight some key results.

 

Baylor continues to win big

Baylor won big again, beating Big 12 foe West Virginia 62-38. My numbers give the Bears a 53.8 percent chance to make the playoff, best in the nation.

How can these odds be so high when Baylor hasn't played any elite teams?

Well, Baylor keeps winning by big margins over these inferior opponents. West Virginia actually got within 24 points of beating Baylor, its smallest margin of victory this season.

Margin of victory is a good predictor of future games. Since 2005, the team with the higher average margin of victory before bowl season has won 58.5 percent of bowl games. For comparison, the team favored by the markets have won 61.1 percent. You can make an even better predictor by taking margin of victory and adjusting for strength of schedule. Good computer rankings do this, and it plays a big role in my version.

 

Alabama finds its groove

In its first four games, Alabama threw on 52 percent of plays. It seemed like an odd choice given the Crimson Tide's traditional run-first tendencies and their question mark at quarterback. In the three games since, Alabama has run the ball on 64 percent of plays, giving opponents a heavy dose of Derrick Henry. The Crimson Tide have won each of these conference games by comfortable margins.

With its 41-23 win over Texas A&M, Alabama's playoff probability rises to 37.1 percent, third in the nation behind Baylor and Ohio State. The Tide will get tested by LSU and Mississippi State, but they look on track to win the division and play in another SEC title game.

 

Notre Dame continues to roll

Notre Dame's offense racked up 476 yards on 7.9 yards per play in a 41-31 win over USC. This unit continues to impress despite season-ending injuries to a number of starters.

However, the defense is lagging behind the offense as it allowed USC to gain almost 600 yards on 7.7 yards per play. Despite its struggles, Notre Dame has a 19.9 percent chance to make the playoff. The Irish now enter the softer part of their schedule. Over their next four games, their lowest win probability is 67.4 percent at Pittsburgh.

Brian Kelly's team end its regular season at Stanford, and my numbers make the Fighting Irish a small underdog (47.4 percent win probability). If they win that game and end the season 11-1, the committee will have to decide how to treat them. The committee has stressed the importance of a conference championship. Will an 11-1 record with a close loss to Clemson be treated like a conference title? We don't know, and Notre Dame will spend championship weekend hoping a few top teams lose.

 

Stanford still in running from Pac-12

Stanford scored an emphatic 56-35 win over UCLA on Thursday. Despite a disastrous loss at Northwestern to start the season, the Cardinal have a 17.6 percent chance to make the playoff. 

While all-purpose back Christian McCaffrey gets the headlines, an improved Stanford offensive line also deserves credit, which didn't allow a UCLA defender to touch McCaffrey on a 28-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

However, it's not all roses for Stanford. The defense allowed 506 yards to UCLA at 6.9 yards per play, as the unit has dropped off from the past two seasons. Stanford won by a comfortable margin due to an Alijah Holder interception return for a touchdown and a 96-yard McCaffrey kickoff return that set up the offense near the goal line. An insane catch by Francis Owusu around the body of a UCLA defender helped as well.

With the downfall of Oregon, Stanford has a 81 percent chance to win its division (a cross-division game with Colorado helps these odds). However, even if the Cardinal win the Pac-12 North, they still play Notre Dame and most likely Utah in the Pac-12 championship game. Stanford must win both to assure its spot in the playoff.

 

Look for Ohio State or Michigan State to win Big Ten, not Iowa

Ohio State and Michigan State entered the season as the favorites to win the Big Ten. Both have had their struggles, but they still find themselves in the thick of the Big Ten race after seven weeks.

Ohio State has a 56.4 percent chance to win the Big Ten East, a big part of its 43.9 percent chance to make the playoff. Who cares who's playing quarterback when you have Ezekiel Elliott, the constant home run threat who's averaging 6.7 yards per carry?

Michigan State has a 31.8 percent chance to win the Big Ten East and a 26.8 percent chance to make the playoff. These numbers would be much smaller without its miracle fumble return to beat Michigan. But as I discussed previously, the Spartans outplayed Michigan in key facets of the game.

Whoever wins the East most likely plays Iowa, an undefeated team with a 88.6 percent chance to win the Big Ten West. The numbers like the East champion to win this title game, as Iowa only has a 14.7 percent chance to make the playoff.

Ed Feng has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Stanford and runs the sports analytics site The Power Rank. You can find him on Twitter @thepowerrank.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee at Alabama Complete Game Preview

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It may have been the quickest answer running back Derrick Henry has given since he arrived at the University of Alabama three years ago.

He didn’t even wait for the end of the question, because as soon as the reporter got out “Have you thought about the Heisman,” Henry started repeatedly saying “no.”

“We're not focusing on that,” he said. “That's not our goal. Our goal is to get a team win every Saturday and go from there. We're not worried about that.”

While it sounds like rhetoric, to a man Alabama is claiming that’s been the difference in the Crimson Tide since the team held a players-only meeting following the loss to Ole Miss on Sept. 19.

According to Jonathan Allen, among those who spoke out during the 30-minute session included Reggie Ragland, Jarran Reed, A'Shawn Robinson, Derrick Henry, Eddie Jackson and Cyrus Jones, although the defensive end added that it was more of a team thing than any individual players speaking out.

The message was simple: Stop paying attention to what everyone else was saying, set aside individual concerns and put the team first.

"Can’t worry about accolades and us being No. 1 or No. 2, none of that stuff," Ragland said. "So we just worry about ourselves and trucking along now."

Since then Alabama has knocked off two Top 10 teams on the road and has also notched a shutout. With rival Tennessee visiting on Saturday, the defense has especially been clicking and last week outscored the Texas A&M offense thanks to three interception returns for a touchdown.

"Everybody started making plays out of nowhere," Ragland added. "Everybody was doing their job and everyone really focused and zeroed in the Georgia game, on the defensive side and offensive side."

Here’s everything you need to know for Saturday’s game against Tennessee, a long-standing rivalry known as the "Third Saturday in October."

Date: Saturday, October 24

Time: 2:30 p.m. CT (3:30 p.m. ET)

Place: Bryant-Denny Stadium

TV: CBS 

Radio:Crimson Tide Sports Network, Vol Network, ESPN Radio, Sirius 84, XM 84

Spread: Alabama -15, according to OddsShark.com.

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Ohio State QB Battle Is Over: Welcome to the J.T. Barrett Show

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As the cliche goes, hindsight is 20/20. It's easy to look back at events and make sense of them knowing exactly how they played out.

But with the latest development in Ohio State's unprecedented quarterback conundrum-turned-carousel, we finally seem to have reached the conclusion that was always meant to be.

Three days after benching Cardale Jones in favor of J.T. Barrett in the second half of the Buckeyes' 38-10 win over Penn State, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer declared that Barrett will be his team's starting quarterback moving forward. The move was hardly a surprise to anyone who witnessed the No. 1 Buckeyes' beating of the Nittany Lions, which saw Barrett earn co-offensive player of the game honors after tallying 132 total yards (30 passing, 102 rushing) and four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing) in relief of Jones.

After declining to publicly commit to a starter on Monday, Meyer did so on Tuesday's Big Ten coaches teleconference.

"J.T. has earned the right to start Saturday at Rutgers," Meyer said. "It was a difficult decision."

To many, Barrett was the obvious choice—even prior to the season. After all, it was the reigning Big Ten Quarterback and National Freshman of the Year who led the Buckeyes to an 11-1 regular-season record a year ago, before a broken ankle opened the door for Jones to win three postseason games and capture the first-ever College Football Playoff championship.

If you follow the thought process that a player shouldn't lose his starting status because of injury, Barrett never lost his.

Only Meyer was following a different line of logic.

In Meyer's mind, since it was Jones who finished last season wearing college football's crown, he would be the one treated like a championship fighter who needed to be beaten decisively to lose his belt. And while he's denied as much publicly, it'd be understandable if he felt he owed Jones the first crack at starting this season after he opted to return to Ohio State rather than enter the NFL draft last spring.

Thus, it was Jones who started the Buckeyes' season-opening win against Virginia Tech and, despite a pair of in-game benchings in the second and third weeks of the season, continued to keep himself in Ohio State's starting lineup for the first seven weeks. But over the course of the past two weeks, the 6'5", 250-pounder has seen his role decrease—at first subtly and then dramatically—as Barrett became a more active part of the Buckeyes' game plan as a situational signal-caller.

And as opposed to earlier in the season, Barrett has made the most of his opportunities in recent weeks, tallying a total of seven touchdowns (five rushing, two passing) in his limited playing time.

"Sheer production," Meyer said when asked to explain why he was making the switch from Jones to Barrett. "Red-zone production and third-down production were the two areas that made the difference."

While many expected Barrett to beat out Jones for the Buckeyes' starting job this offseason—just as he did when Braxton Miller went down with a season-ending injury two weeks before the start of the 2014 campaign—perhaps they underestimated just how long of a leash Meyer would give Jones. Although his season stat line has been steady—1,242 yards, seven touchdowns, five interceptions on a 62.4 completion percentage—the strong-armed Jones has been ineffective in the downfield passing game, completing just three passes of 40 or more yards through seven games.

With Jones struggling with what was supposed to be his greatest strength and Barrett having seemingly returned to his 2014 form in the past two weeks, the redshirt sophomore now seems like the obvious choice for Meyer. A more mobile quarterback, Barrett provides a dynamic in the Buckeyes' ground game that Jones doesn't, something Meyer sees as essential in his spread offense.

And while Meyer said Tuesday that he hopes to keep Jones active in Ohio State's game plan, he remained unsure of how exactly he would go about doing so. One would imagine, however, that Barrett would now receive a leash as long as Jones did, although the hope for Meyer is that conversation will never have to occur.

Then again, after the ups and downs this quarterback saga has seen in the past year, Meyer knows that there's very little he can count on at this point.

"Not necessarily," Meyer answered when asked if he was at ease with his decision. "I don't know if I'm ever at peace during the course of the season, because there's always stuff going on."

But with the way Barrett has played in the past two weeks, Ohio State's quarterback situation seems as settled as it ever has been. This was the solution all along—it just took longer than anticipated for the Buckeyes to arrive at it.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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5 College Football Teams on the Rise in 2016 Recruiting Rankings

With the college football season halfway completed, teams across the nation are hoping to close strong in order to build momentum for the final recruiting push before signing day.

So far, a handful of teams have already made statements on the field that are causing top prospects to take notice.

In other cases, powerhouse programs are hoping to solve their issues by chasing recruits who can step in and provide an immediate boost next fall.

Which schools are poised to make a strong push on the recruiting trail in the coming months?

*Teams listed in alphabetical order.

Begin Slideshow

Who Has the Most Difficult Remaining Path to the College Football Playoff?

Knock on Baylor's strength of schedule all you want. It's fashionable and, honestly, not inaccurate to do so.

Through six games, the Bears' toughest test has been against Texas Tech in Arlington and Baylor won 63-35. They've played two true road games, but they were against SMU and Kansas. According to FootballOutsiders.com, Baylor's strength of schedule ranks 57th in college football. That's certainly not the worst among playoff contenders—which, for this argument, is narrowed to undefeated or one-loss teams—but nowhere near the best, either. 

So, go ahead and get the jokes in now. In fact, you have one more week since Baylor hosts Iowa State in Week 8. Just know that things are about to change for the Bears in a big way once November rolls around. For as easy as things have been for Baylor so far, it has the toughest road ahead to the College Football Playoff of anyone in the hunt. 

How is that possible? It starts with looking where Baylor has been before examining where it's going. 

As David Ubben of Sports on Earth tweets, the conundrum with Baylor is finding the accurate intersection of its strength of schedule and on-field performance: 

In all, Football Bowl Subdivision opponents who have played Baylor are a combined 12-19. That's not including Lamar of the Football Championship Subdivision ranks. How can anyone really know what a team is made of if it hasn't been tested yet? It's a fair question.

At the same time, it's not like the Bears have struggled to put away lesser teams. On average, Baylor is outscoring opponents by 39 points per game and that number doesn't deviate too much depending on whether the game is being played at home or on the road. Though home games have been higher scoring affairs overall, the difference in point differential between home and away games is about a field goal. 

In short, Baylor has taken care of its business. While it's frustrating to watch the Bears bowl over opponents week after week knowing full well they're talented enough to play with anyone, it has gotten them noticed. ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit called Baylor the best team in college football ahead of Week 7's game against West Virginia: 

With Baylor beating the Mountaineers 62-38, it certainly didn't do anything to hurt Herbstreit's statement. 

To be fair, a team's strength of schedule isn't directly indicative of how good it is; it only measures how hard it's been pushed. But, rest assured, Baylor will be more properly pushed in November. 

Below is Baylor's remaining schedule from Nov. 5 to the end of the season. Three of its five opponents—Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and TCU—not only have winning records, but are a combined 18-1. Baylor has to play the Cowboys and Frogs, the other two currently undefeated Big 12 teams, on the road as well. Of the playoff contenders, only TCU, Notre Dame, LSU and Memphis have as many road games against current Associated Press Top 25 teams as Baylor. 

That, of course, isn't even counting the K-State game on the road. Though the Wildcats have taken a step back this year, and were just housed by Oklahoma 55-0 at home, the confines of Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium haven't been friendly to Big 12 foes—unless your name is Bob Stoops, that is. 

If you think that's bad, check out the numbers against Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Baylor hasn't defeated the Cowboys on the road since 1939. The stat is somewhat misleading since 1) Baylor and Oklahoma State didn't begin meeting regularly until the Big 12 era, and 2) the Bears were awful before the arrival of head coach Art Briles. Still, it's one heck of a streak that, for one reason or another, has yet to be broken. 

Assuming Baylor can navigate through all of that unscathed, it has a short week leading into a road trip to TCU. If the Horned Frogs keep winning, this could be a top-five opponent for Baylor and easily the toughest game of the season. 

Things end on an easier note against Texas—a statement that still feels backward writing—but there's also the whole matter of the Big 12 lacking a championship game. Not having a 13th game last year hurt the Big 12 in the playoff battle. It's too soon to know whether history will repeat itself again this year, but it will be on the collective minds of everyone in Waco if a similar situation arises in early December. 

Whether you think Baylor is the best team in the country, the best team in the Big 12, or neither, it's undeniable the Bears have looked impressive. Earlier this month, Max Olson of ESPN.com wrote this was Briles' "best Baylor team yet" and he's entirely correct. 

But can this team do what no Baylor-led squad under Briles has done before? It seems assured Baylor must go undefeated to have a legitimate playoff argument. The month of November will provide more than enough tests to see if Baylor is truly worth the title as one of the four best teams in college football. Because, ultimately, that's the only thing that matters. 

Even then, the path isn't so clear. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

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J.T. Barrett Named Ohio State's Starting QB vs. Rutgers over Cardale Jones

Cardale Jones has never lost a game as the starting quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes, but he took a loss Tuesday in the team's ongoing quarterback battle.

Coach Urban Meyer named J.T. Barrett the starting signal-caller for the Scarlet and Gray's game against Rutgers on Saturday, per Ben Axelrod of Bleacher Report.

Meyer said he's "not necessarily" at peace with the decision because he respects both players, per Bill Rabinowitz of the Columbus Dispatch.

"What goes on between the players is between us. There's disappointment [with Jones], but they're grown men," Meyer said when asked about the two players' reactions to the decision, per Rabinowitz.

While the Buckeyes are undefeated after seven games (all of which Jones started), the offense operated at a much more efficient level the past two weeks when Barrett took the snaps.

Matt Miller of Bleacher Report noted he'd already taken Jones out of his top 100 for the 2016 NFL draft prior to Meyer's announcement Tuesday.

Barrett entered the Maryland contest whenever Ohio State reached the red zone and served as the theoretical closer for drives, but he completely took over in the second half of Saturday's victory over Penn State.

Barrett ran for 102 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries and threw for two more scores against the Nittany Lions, clearly doing enough to convince the coaching staff he was worthy of the starting role.

The 38-10 win over Penn State was arguably the best the defending national champions have looked all season, and Barrett was a major reason why. He also directed touchdown efforts on all five of his red-zone trips against the Terrapins.

Here is a look at his total statistical production from the past two games:

ESPN.com's Danny Kanell believes Barrett is the best option for the Buckeyes moving forward as they look to defend their crown, while ESPN Stats & Info and ESPN.com's Joe Schad put Barrett's red-zone performance into perspective:

While Meyer did not name a starter during his Monday press conference, he alluded to the fact Barrett finally did enough to take over the reins, per Tim Shoemaker of Eleven Warriors:

[Barrett] certainly had an opportunity earlier in the year and did not do it; same thing with training camp. Anyone who watched the game the last two weeks, he gets in—and I think we're doing a good job calling things that he's good at.

I see the same thing that you see.

It is not as if Barrett suddenly became a dangerous playmaker over the past two outings. He is the defending Big Ten Player of the Year who completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 2,834 yards and 34 touchdowns last season. He also ran for 938 yards and 11 more scores as a true dual threat in Meyer's offense and remained in the Heisman Trophy race until he broke his ankle in the final regular-season game.

Despite last year's efficient passing numbers, Barrett's pure speed and ability to run the read-option are what separate him from Jones. Kyle Jones of Eleven Warriors broke down how important that skill set was against the Nittany Lions:

Barrett's presence as a runner proved to be the difference entirely, changing the math for the OSU blocking schemes.

Instead of trying to block eight defenders with seven men, Ohio State would only attempt to block seven, leaving Barrett to handle the eighth man with a simple read. On the game's first touchdown, right end Curtis Cothran (#52) was intentionally left unblocked as the option man, and would make a bee-line straight for [Ezekiel] Elliott. Cothran's aggressiveness would leave his gap wide open, allowing the quarterback to waltz into the end zone behind a pair of blocks from his tight ends.

With running back Ezekiel Elliott, the true star of the Buckeyes offense and one of the best players in the country, as Barrett's running mate, the read-option will likely continue to prove lethal in Columbus this season.

Jones will forever live in Buckeye lore for his performances against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon after Barrett's injury that helped Ohio State win the national championship. Still, he has not produced the same numbers this season. In fact, Jones has seven touchdowns and five interceptions on the campaign and failed to throw for 100 yards against the Nittany Lions.

He has also largely been a non-factor in the rushing attack with 2.6 yards per carry.

Jones' biggest strength is his ability to heave the ball downfield and beat defenses over the top, but the Buckeyes simply don't have the deep threats at wide receiver to exploit that talent like they did last year. Ohio State is missing Devin Smith from the championship team in particular, and speedster Corey Smith is out for the season with a leg injury.

What’s more, Noah Brown is out for the year with a leg injury, and Dontre Wilson and Parris Campbell are both banged up as well. The receiving corps is dangerously thin at Ohio State, which hampered Jones' productivity against Penn State.

That leaves the Buckeyes with a run-first offense, which fits Barrett's style of play.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn vs. Arkansas Complete Game Preview

One of the SEC's most underrated rivalries returns this Saturday as Auburn (4-2, 1-2 SEC) travels to face Arkansas (2-4, 1-2 SEC) in Fayetteville.

While these two West Division foes don't share much more than a division and a little bit of history, the rivalry aspect of this matchup stems from the two head coaches—Arkansas' Bret Bielema and Auburn's Gus Malzahn.

Bielema, who has been outspoken in his criticisms of uptempo football—like the one Malzahn's teams play—told a crowd at a booster club meeting it "probably doesn't need to be said in here how much I hate Auburn," per Brandon Marcello of AL.com.

Malzahn, an Arkansas native and former Razorbacks offensive coordinator, is still quite famous in his home state and has beaten Bielema in their previous two meetings, with the 2013 trip to Fayetteville causing quite a stir.

This season, their respective teams are a long way off from their high preseason expectations thanks to some dreadful starts to 2015. Both are no longer in the Associated Press Top 25 and have just one road win apiece against the SEC East heading into this weekend's matchup. It'll be another signature clash of styles Saturday as both teams fight for the win they need to keep their bowl dreams alive.

Before we break down Auburn vs. Arkansas—aka Malzahn vs. Bielema III—here is all the basic info you need to know.

Date: Saturday, October 24

Time: Noon ET (11 a.m. local time)

Location: Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Arkansas

TV: SEC Network

Radio: Auburn IMG Sports Network; Razorback Sports Network

Line: Arkansas -5.5, according to Odds Shark

Begin Slideshow

Florida State Seminoles vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Odds, Football Pick

Florida State owns a 28-game ACC winning streak, going 14-13-1 against the spread in the process. Georgia Tech, on the other hand, is 0-4 both straight up and ATS through its first four conference games of this season. In a rematch of last year's ACC title game, the floundering Yellow Jackets host the undefeated Seminoles Saturday night in Atlanta.

 

Point spread: The Seminoles opened as 6.5-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 26.4-23.7 Seminoles

 

Why the Florida State Seminoles can cover the spread

FSU is off to a 6-0 start to this season after exploding on Louisville last week for a 41-21 victory, covering as a seven-point home favorite. The Seminoles trailed the Cardinals at the half 7-6 and 14-13 in the third quarter, then scored 28 of the game's last 35 points to pull away for the victory and the cash.

Florida State outgained and outrushed Louisville, won time of possession by almost 10 minutes and did the same in the turnover battle 2-0. Transfer quarterback Everett Golson threw three more touchdown passes, giving him an 11-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio this season, and running back Dalvin Cook ran for 163 yards and two scores.

The Seminoles struggled a bit in winning their first three ACC games—against Boston College, Wake Forest and Miami—but played perhaps their best half of football this season last week after intermission. If they can carry over with that performance, they'll be in great shape Saturday night.

 

Why the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets can cover the spread

The Ramblin' Wreck lost their fifth game in a row last week, falling at home to Pittsburgh 31-28 on a 56-yard field goal with just over a minute to go. This despite outgaining the Panthers by 90 yards and outrushing them by 176 yards.

Two weeks ago, Georgia Tech lost badly to Clemson, but before that, it fell to Duke and North Carolina even though it outgained and outrushed both of them, too.

Last year, in the ACC Championship Game, the Yellow Jackets ran the ball for 331 yards and gave the then-undefeated Seminoles all they could handle, losing 37-35 but covering as four-point dogs. A similar performance Saturday night might result in an outright upset.

 

Smart pick

Florida State is 4-0 in the ACC. Georgia Tech is 0-4. But the oddsmakers seem to know this game will be closer than those records might indicate. The smart money here backs the Yellow Jackets, plus the points.

 

Betting trends

Florida State is 10-2 SU in its last 12 games against Georgia Tech.

Georgia Tech is 6-0 ATS in its last six games against Florida State.

Florida State is 6-14 ATS in its last 20 games.

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates and get the free odds tracker app.

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Ohio State Students Surprise J.T. Barrett with Jump Pass While Walking to Class

Urban Meyer dusted off the old playbook on Saturday to pull out the jump pass he and Tim Tebow had championed at Florida, except this time it was J.T. Barrett who connected with Braxton Miller in Ohio State's 38-10 win over Penn State.

And fans loved it—so much so that a pair of students surprised Barrett with a re-enactment while walking to class.

The Buckeyes quarterback was amused enough to share the incident with Miller, who also tweeted about it:

[Twitter, h/t CBS Sports]

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SEC Football Q&A: If Alabama Wins Out, Is the Playoff a Lock?

Tuesday is SEC Q&A day here at Bleacher Report, and after Alabama's win over Texas A&M in College Station and LSU's nail-biter over Florida in Baton Rouge, there are plenty of questions to answer this week.

An SEC doomsday scenario has developed following Ole Miss' loss to Memphis this weekend. The Rebels' only conference loss is to Florida, and they still control their own destiny in the SEC West with a head-to-head tiebreaker over Alabama in hand.

Yes, absolutely, in one specific scenario.

The only way would be in the doomsday scenario mentioned above where Ole Miss also wins out and finishes the season at 11-2 (7-1 SEC) with an SEC title in hand. In that case, Ole Miss would get the benefit of a conference championship and a win over Alabama to show off to the College Football Playoff selection committee, while Alabama would be stuck without as much as a division title and that September loss to the Rebels hanging over its head.

I'm not sure if Ole Miss would get in given that scenario, because a lot would depend on what else happened around the country. But I'm positive Alabama would not.

Alabama looks like it's playing some of the best football in the country right now and Ole Miss is scuffling. But if the Rebels get right defensively, overcome some serious injury issues and topple Texas A&M, LSU, Mississippi State and the eventual SEC East champ in the Georgia Dome, that would change the perception of the Rebels in a hurry.

That's the only scenario that would prevent one-loss Alabama from making the playoff, though.

If the Crimson Tide win out, make the SEC Championship Game and win it, they most certainly will be in the College Football Playoff. Ohio State has to play Michigan State, with the eventual winner perhaps facing undefeated Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game if the Hawkeyes stay the course, either Clemson or Florida State has to lose at least once, and Baylor and TCU square off in November.

Enough one-loss teams will fall down the stretch to make room if Alabama wins out and claims the SEC title.

 

Definitely buy-in to first-year Florida head coach Jim McElwain.

At this point, why wouldn't you?

He helped develop quarterback Will Grier into a star before his year-long suspension hit, adjusted the offense for backup Treon Harris in a pinch against LSU and nearly pulled off a tough road upset, successfully pieced together the offensive line after hefty offseason attrition, hired the right defensive coordinator in Geoff Collins to keep things cooking at a high level and has his Gators as the unquestioned front-runner in the SEC East.

Are the Gators elite?

That's hard to say with such a small sample size of "Harris 2.0" on their resume this year. But what can't be denied is that a win over Georgia almost certainly solidifies the Gators as SEC East champs, and could even officially give them the title if Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky fall this weekend to Alabama, Missouri and Mississippi State, respectively. 

Whether they make a push for this year's playoff or that has to wait until next year, this year's team has much more staying power than former head coach Will Muschamp's crew in 2012—which stayed in the national title hunt through rivalry weekend and earned a berth in the Sugar Bowl. That team wasn't complete. The offense finished 12th in the SEC in total offense at 334 yards per game, quarterback Jeff Driskel was hardly a weapon and Louisville exposed their flaws in New Orleans.

This one is.

The defense is still solid, McElwain has worked wonders for the offense and his staff is loaded with top-tier recruiters. 

Oh without a doubt, yes.

Derrick Henry has been a monster for Alabama this year, racking up 901 yards and 12 touchdowns in seven games for the Alabama Crimson Tide. You saw against Georgia in that big 38-10 road win and again last weekend against Texas A&M when he rushed for a career-high 236 yards in the 41-23 win at Texas A&M that, when he gets rolling, he's almost impossible to bring down.

Unfortunately for Henry, Fournette is equally as impossible to break down and has put up better numbers—1,202 yards and 14 touchdowns—in one fewer game. 

It's not just Henry who can make this gripe. Florida State running back Dalvin Cook has 955 yards and 10 touchdowns in spite of lingering hamstring issues, and is a huge reason why the Seminoles are undefeated.

Only two non-quarterbacks have won the Heisman Trophy since the turn of the century, and the quarterback-centric nature of the award makes it hard for multiple running backs to legitimately jump into the conversation.

Right now, it's Fournette who's driving the running back bandwagon. If that continues, Henry's chances to win the award are nonexistent. 

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com

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

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Ishmael Adams Charged with Battery: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

UCLA defensive back Ishmael Adams was charged Monday with misdemeanor battery in relation to an August incident involving an Uber driver.  

Kyle Bonagura of ESPN.com notes Los Angeles city attorney spokesman Rob Wilcox confirmed charges had officially been filed. UCLA spokesman Josh Rupprecht stated the junior won't face any further school discipline for the incident after already sitting out the first three games of the season.

The report included prior comments from Bruins head coach Jim Mora, who felt Adams had faced enough punishment, but he left the door open to reverse course if new details emerged:

We feel as a program that he's missed a quarter of his season, and he's shown remorse for the actions that he's taken. He has accepted responsibility. He's accepted the consequences. He's apologized profusely to his team, his teammates, this staff, and he's come back with a great attitude, and so we're going to move forward that way.

If things change, we'll adjust. So we feel like given the circumstances and the fact that he has served quite a significant penalty -- missed a quarter of his season -- we're going to reinstate him.

Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times reports Adams is accused of using force to rob an Uber driver of a cell phone. He also points out a misdemeanor battery conviction can result in six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000.

He'll be arraigned on Nov. 16, according to the ESPN.com report.

Adams has registered eight total tackles, three passes defended and an interception across three games since his return from suspension. He's also averaged 18.3 yards on three kick returns.

UCLA returns to action Thursday night against the University of California.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Awards for First Half of 2015 College Football Season

Cinderella once sang, "Don't know what you got till it's gone." 

College football fans half-way know what that means, seeing as we've officially hit the midway portion of the 2015 season. And what a season's it's been already. 

Michigan State's scoop-and-score on Michigan's mishandled punt might be the craziest thing a college football game has produced in years. Utah might be the best team in the nation. Georgia Tech, Auburn, Texas, Oregon, USC and Tennessee have taken some turns being among the worst. 

Iowa is 7-0. What is happening?

With the first seven weeks behind us, let's take a look back at some of the best and worst moments of the 2015 season so far. Put on your Tuesday best, roll out the red carpet and let's get ready for Bleacher Report's official midseason awards show. 

Begin Slideshow

Florida's Pursuit of a Blue-Chip 2016 QB Recruit

The Florida Gators aren't settling for a single 2016 quarterback commit with less than four months remaining until national signing day.

Head coach Jim McElwain is implementing a cross-country quest to land another passer, further illustrated by his program's bye-week plans. The first-year Florida leader and assistants are attempting to capitalize on extra time by visiting key quarterback recruits.

Gators offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is expected to visit 4-star Maryland commit Dwayne Haskins, while McElwain himself will travel to see in-state standout and LSU pledge Feleipe Franks, per Luke Stampini of 247Sports.

Both prospects earned Elite 11 honors this summer. Neither player has publicly wavered on his commitment, but that hasn't prevented Florida from moving forward with its pursuit. 

Kyle Trask, a 3-star passer from Manvel High School in Texas, pledged to the Gators in July immediately after receiving an offer. Though he possesses prototypical size (6'5 ½", 211 lbs), his rating of 90th overall among pro-style quarterbacks in 2016 composite rankings won't exactly fill the Florida fanbase with confidence.

He caught the staff's attention while competing at Florida’s Friday Night Lights camp in late July, earning his first Power Five conference offer. Houston Baptist, Lamar and McNeese State were Trask's only other collegiate opportunities at the time, according to 247Sports.

The plan all along, it appears, has been to pair two passers in this Gators class. 

Florida was a finalist for Haskins prior to his Maryland commitment in May. The Terrapins' pivotal in-state pickup told Bleacher Report the Gators and Rutgers were two other teams that entered the equation as he approached a decision.

Maryland dismissed head coach Randy Edsall earlier this month, creating room for doubt in the Terps' ability to carry Haskins' commitment to signing day. However, he's repeatedly used social media to reinforce his intentions and actually pinned the post of that May pledge to the top of his Twitter page.

Nonetheless, Nussmeier remains interested. He initially began recruiting Haskins as a member of Michigan's staff, maintaining that relationship after relocating to Gainesville. 

Franks, a 6'5", 220-pound Sunshine State product from Wakulla High School, committed to LSU shortly after his sophomore year. Though he's been steadfast with that loyalty, a recent Florida State visit signals Franks is at least willing to explore alternative options. 

Franks and Haskins are rated fifth and sixth, respectively, among pro-style quarterbacks in composite rankings, so Florida would certainly be willing to find a spot for either prospect should they both decide a commitment flip is in their best interest.

Though this duo may top the list, Franks and Haskins are hardly alone as potential Gators targets at the position.

Louisville pledge Tylin Oden traveled to campus earlier this season. The Cardinals currently carry two quarterback commits in this cycle, so increased interest from Florida could push the Tennessee product to reconsider his situation.

“Coach Nussmeier said that he was excited that I was there and to enjoy myself,” Oden told Andrew Spivey of GatorCountry.com. “[McElwain] told me to watch the offense and I thought the offense was good and it would prepare me well for the NFL. I think I would fit really well into the offense.”

Though Florida hasn't formally extended a scholarship offer, don't be surprised if the Gators turn toward Oden down the road.

“They want to get to know me more and I think once we get that relationship established then I think they will offer me a scholarship," he told Spivey. 

Auburn commit Ervin "Woody" Barrett is another athlete who may warrant an offer if Florida's search for a second quarterback continues deep into this cycle. The Orlando area standout is rated fourth nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks in composite rankings, displaying superior rushing abilities compared to other Gators targets.

Barrett, a Tigers pledge since June, spent time at The Swamp just a few weeks ago. He was in the bleachers when Florida defeated SEC rival Ole Miss, and this seems to be an open-ended situation that may depend on McElwain.

“Auburn is No. 1, and if, if I had a second choice, the Florida Gators I would take into consideration," Barrett told Stampini. "They said they will hit me up, so we will see what happens.”

For now, it looks like Franks and Haskins are No. 1 and 1A on Florida's quarterback board, while prospects like Oden, Barrett and perhaps Clemson pledge Zerrick Cooper could factor into fallback plans as things progress.

Florida failed to sign a player at the position last signing day, falling short in late attempts to flip Deondre Francois (Florida State) and Lamar Jackson (Louisville). McElwain certainly has more tangible proof of offensive proficiency to sell these days, as the Gators attack has jumped from 106th to 49th nationally in passing yards per game this fall.

Redshirt freshman Will Grier (10 touchdowns and three interceptions through six games) was a budding star prior to his suspension. Sophomore Treon Harris has improved his completion percentage by 12 points since last season while tossing four touchdowns and no picks. 

McElwain is assembling a young, dynamic supporting cast that continues to mature and complement its quarterbacks. Commitments from 4-star high school wide receivers Freddie Swain and Joshua Hammond, along with top-ranked junior college running back Mark Thompson, should help contribute toward future offensive strides.

Florida landed Jake Allen, a top-10 pro-style passer in the 2017 class, this summer. He presents significant promise in coming years, but Florida's main focus is on the present. 

Expect that to motivate McElwain and his staff for the remainder of this cycle, leading to another quarterback commit at some point. That player may not have an offer just yet, but the Gators should be willing to cast a wider net if that's what the situation ultimately dictates.

 

Tyler Donohue is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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