NCAA Football

The 5 Most Telling Stats for the Wisconsin Badgers This Season

The Wisconsin Badgers find themselves at 6-2 and tied in the loss-column for first place in the Big Ten West. While, coming into the season, the Badgers may have had aspirations for the College Football Playoff, it became abundantly clear after Week 1 that a trip to the playoff was out of the cards.

A loss to Northwestern to open their Big Ten slate set them back. But with every Big Ten West team featuring at least one loss (and Northwestern featuring three), the Badgers control their own destiny as they move into the final four games of the regular season.

In each of their two losses, their biggest flaws were on display. When it came to the offense, it wasn't the rushing attack that let them down. Rather, it was a lack of a viable passing game with no separation on the outside.

When it came to the defense, it was the loss of Warren Herring that featured in both defeats. It caused the wheels to come off entirely and against LSU. Losing Konrad Zagzebski also exposed the Badgers' lack of depth when it came to their big bodies up front at the beginning of the season.

However, after losing to Northwestern and picking up a less-than-convincing win against Illinois the following week, the Badgers regrouped after their second bye week and turned in their two best performances of the season against Big Ten newcomers Maryland and Rutgers.

Let's take a look at five of the most telling stats when it comes to why the Badgers are 6-2. Some are positive, some are negative and some are just statistics that have a meaning left up to interpretation. Without further ado, let's start with the most hotly debated position on campus: the quarterback.

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The 5 Most Telling Stats for the Florida State Seminoles This Season

No. 2 Florida State University is 8-0 and likely in control of its own destiny when it comes to a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff—just like many predicted the Seminoles would be before the season started.

But how FSU has gotten to this point at the start of the final month of the regular season has been anything but expected.

How did the ‘Noles get here? Let’s take a look at their five most telling statistics of the 2014 season.

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College Football Picks: Week 11 Predictions for Every Game

For years we've clamored for a playoff in college football, something to help spice up the season beyond just figuring out who would be the top two teams in the country. We've got it, with the four-team College Football Playoff, and it's turning the final weeks of the 2014 season into a heck of a finish.

This week might be the best yet of this campaign, with six matchups of teams both ranked in the CFP Top 25. All of them remain in contention for their conference titles while fighting for a spot either in the playoffs or one of the major bowls that the rankings help fill.

The Week 11 slate also includes some notable stinkers, including battles for the bottom of the Big 12 and American Athletic conferences, but we can't have them all be classics.

Check out our predictions for Week 11's games, as well as our experts' picks for the top games on Saturday. Then give us your thoughts on who will win this weekend in the comments section.

Last week: 42-16 (.724)

Season: 453-145 (.758)

 

NOTE: Team rankings are based on the College Football Playoff Top 25.

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Florida Sends Recruits Photoshopped Images of Bleacher Report's Team Stream App

College football programs have recently been stepping up their Photoshop game for recruits.

For instance, we've seen Tennessee commit Shy Tuttle on a Rolling Stone cover with Beyonce.

Well, the Florida Gators want in on the fun.

High school standouts CeCe Jefferson and George Brown Jr. shared these Photoshopped images of Bleacher Report's Team Stream app.

In the image, each player is the focus of every Bleacher Report article in the feed. The image also features the tagline, "The Future is Now."

Pretty cool, Florida.

[Twitter]

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Nebraska Football: Nebraska's Biggest Opponent Left Is Itself

Bye weeks in Nebraska tend to leave fans with a lot to think about. This year is no different.

At this time, the Huskers are ranked No. 13 in the College Football Playoff's Top 25. What has a lot of fans talking is the possibility of Nebraska cracking the Top 10. According to Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald, it's possible even though the Huskers won't play on Saturday.

"That’s because two games — No. 9 Arizona State vs. No. 10 Notre Dame and No. 6 TCU vs. No. 7 Kansas State — are CFP knockout games," McKewon wrote. "Winner stays in the hunt and asks the SEC for permission to breathe its air. Loser drops out of the top 10 at least, and probably below the Huskers."

What does all of this mean for Nebraska? If nothing else, it means the team has to stop beating itself if it wants to stay in playoff contention.

Over Bo Pelini's time as Nebraska's head coach, the Huskers have lost winnable games with penalties, sloppy play and blown coverages. While Nebraska is currently 8-1, that hasn't excused the team from dealing with those same issues again in 2014. Even against Rutgers, who Nebraska beat 42-24, Pelini was not happy with the performance.

"We were sloppy," he said. "Penalties and one thing after another. We were shooting ourselves in the foot. There were a lot of good things, but you can't take yourself out of drives and you can't put yourself behind schedule the way we did numerous times. We were able to get out of it a number of times, but that's just not the way we need to play."

Against Rutgers, snapping the ball was one of the issues that led to the sloppy play. “That’s like tying your shoes, it should be easy,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said, per the Lincoln Journal Star. “That’s the frustrating part for me.”

And the snapping issues weren't just a one-time deal. It was also a cause for concern against Michigan State. During that game, Pelini believed MSU linebacker Ed Davis was clapping to disrupt the snap count. However, snapping the ball has remained an issue since.

Penalties and turnovers are also a problem for Nebraska. They have been in the past, and they still are today. Comparing 2013 to 2014 shows that it's an area the Huskers still have plenty of room to improve upon.

Regardless, the Huskers are winning. Despite Michigan State, Nebraska has performed well enough to win every other game. After Nebraska's 35-14 victory over Purdue, quarterback Tommy Armstrong didn't feel it was enough, though.

"It was just a lack of communication," he said. "We practiced the right way, it just didn't show. Going into this game, we had a great plan. Like I've said each and every week, the teams don't stop us, we stop ourselves. It all starts off with me.

"Most people will think of this as a win, but I don't see it that way. I know Purdue is good, but if we keep playing like this, we are going to lose our games. The way that we played, we should have lost. I know we won, but I feel like I failed."

The Huskers now have a bye week to prepare before facing Wisconsin at Madison. Armstrong understands what the team is up against. "Wisconsin is a hardworking team, and we have to take care of the ball," he said. "If we turn the ball over like we did, and make mistakes like we did, we are going to lose."

Armstrong may have been a bit hard on himself after Purdue, but it's clear the quarterback understands what his team needs to do to keep winning. If the Huskers are inconsistent and unable to keep turnovers, penalties and mental mistakes at a minimum, winning the Big Ten championship seems less likely.

"The expectation level is very high," junior I-back Imani Cross said after Purdue. "So when we make mistakes, we tend to get down on ourselves. But it's OK. That adversity that we faced out there is going to make us a better football team."

And Nebraska needs to be a better football team if it hopes to win against itself.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.

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5 NFL Draft Prospects in Need of a Strong Finish

Unfortunately for college football fans, there are only a few weeks remaining in the regular season. 

As the season winds down, NFL draft prospects take the field knowing their final performances could leave a lasting impression on scouts and front office executives at the next level. 

The final weeks can make a difference for anyone, especially for those prospects whose seasons got off to a slow start. 

The following slideshow features five players who entered the season as highly regarded prospects, but who are now in need of a strong end to the year in order to maintain their high grades heading into draft season.

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UCLA Football: 5 Most Surprising Bruins in 2014

There have been five surprise players this year for the UCLA football team. 

The surprises come from opposite ends of the spectrum. Three players on this list have underachieved considerably from where they were expected to be heading into the 2014 season. 

On the other side of the coin, two players mentioned have surpassed expectations—with one in particular becoming one of the best players on the team. 

Here's a look at the most surprising Bruins in 2014. 

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UCLA Football: 5 Most Surprising Bruins in 2014

There have been five surprise players this year for the UCLA football team. The surprises come from opposite ends of the spectrum...

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Texas Football: Longhorns' Home-Field Struggles Must Change

The final three-game stretch of the Texas Longhorns' season features two home games. This would seem like a favorable schedule for most football teams, but when it comes to the Longhorns, playing at home has not always equaled home-field advantage.

Playing against talented opponents at home has led to embarrassing losses.

The Longhorns are 2-2 at home this season, with the two wins coming against North Texas and Iowa State. In other words, the two games Texas was supposed to win.

The two losses were atrocious, which is putting it lightly.

BYU and Baylor totaled 818 total yards and 69 points whereas the Longhorns only managed to put up 14 points.

"We haven't played well at home all season long," head coach Charlie Strong said. "The thing we have to start doing is winning in our home stadium. We haven't done a great job on our own turf."

Strong is not pleased with the Longhorns' performances at home this season. It has upset him so much that he took away the privilege of practicing in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Thursdays before games.

"Coach Strong stopped practicing on the home field on Thursdays. He wants us to value that field, that turf," senior linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "We've got to handle our business when people come in here. We got to take it personal. There's not really that personal aspect that they're trying to come in here and kick down the door and beat you. That's not the feeling that we have and that's the feeling we've got to get."

Winning at home against solid opponents has been an issue for Texas for many years, dating back to before Strong arrived in Austin.

The Longhorns are 0-9 against ranked opponents at home, and Texas has not beaten a ranked opponent at home since 2008.

This losing streak could make some wonder why the Longhorns struggle to beat good opponents on their home turf—and how these losses look to Texas recruits.

It's the goal of football coaches to get the top-rated recruits on campus to take in a home game. Even though the coaches do not get a lot of one-on-one time with recruits on official visits, having the athletes see the game-day atmosphere and spend time around the team helps in recruiting.

But what do recruits think when they see the fans leave games early when their team is losing?

There is still a lot on the line for Texas in Strong's inaugural season. The Longhorns must win at least two of the final three games in order to make it to a bowl game. At least one of those wins has to come against a Top 25 opponent.

Texas hosts No. 23 West Virginia Saturday in another must-win game. Saturday just so happens to be one of the bigger recruiting weekends for the Longhorns.

"The first impression is to go win the football game and give them something where they can go see us play well," Strong said of the big recruiting weekend. "Our hosts are really key, which are the players. They're going to have to do a really good job of just selling the program and selling what it's all about. The first thing we need to do is go out and play well and give them something to talk about."

The Longhorns' home losing streak to ranked opponents has to end sometime. The best time for it to happen in 2014 is Saturday against the Mountaineers.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter @Taylor_Gaspar.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The 5 Most Telling Stats for the Clemson Tigers This Season

Statistics can tell us a lot about a team. And for the Clemson University Tigers, it’s been no different. The Tigers have played as well defensively as any team in the country, but the offensive struggles have been well-noted over the last few weeks.

I have put together a list of five statistics that pretty much sum up how the season has gone so far. These numbers will show how well the defense has played, but they also show how much the offense has struggled to find consistency.

 

All stats used in this slideshow came from CFBStats.com.

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UCLA Football: 5 Most Telling Stats for the Bruins

Many factors contribute to the UCLA football team's record of 7-2. 

Self-inflicted wounds have been a serious issue. This development has put UCLA behind the chains on numerous occasions. In addition, the protection of its quarterback—or lack thereof—has been a serious problem. Lastly, the defense hasn't quite lived up to expectations. 

There are some positive statistics as well, namely revolving around the run game and quick-strike offense. The Bruins have been better in these two categories when compared to a year ago. 

This piece will look at five statistical subjects directly relating to UCLA's current position in the conference. 

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UCLA Football: 5 Most Telling Stats for the Bruins

Many factors contribute to the UCLA football team's record of 7-2. Self-inflicted wounds have been a serious issue. This development has put UCLA behind the chains on numerous occasions...

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Meet UCLA's Paul Perkins, the Most Explosive RB You've Likely Never Heard of

All UCLA needed was a little momentum in its 17-7 win over then-No. 12-ranked Arizona, Bruins running back Paul Perkins said. 

His five-yard touchdown run gave UCLA the spark its offense needed to complement a stingy defensive effort and score the Bruins a crucial Pac-12 South win. 

Who better to provide the nation's No. 18 team with some momentum than a player who's ridden his own wave of it to a standout season?  

Perkins opened 2014 behind Jordon James on the depth chart, tabbed to fill the same change-of-pace role he provided as a redshirt freshman in 2013.

But with the Bruins run game sputtering in the first half at Virginia during Week 1, Perkins got the call. He responded with 80 yards and never looked back. 

"The start of the second half against Virginia, he just kind of came alive," head coach Jim Mora said. 

Indeed, Perkins has surpassed that 80-yard mark in every game subsequently, save one, and has efforts of 126, 137, 180 and 190 yards. 

But Perkins first showed he had the ability to take on the every-down role last season against Washington, the Bruins' opponent this Saturday. He went for a then-career-high 86 yards in a 41-31 UCLA win. 

Now the undisputed linchpin of the UCLA running attack, Perkins is second in the Pac-12 with 1,074 yards, just 50 fewer than USC's Javorius "Buck" Allen. Perkins will have the opportunity to become UCLA's first conference rushing champion since Karim Abdul-Jabbar in 1995. 

Perkins already joined Abdul-Jabbar as just the 13th Bruin to surpass 1,000 yards rushing in a season.  

Perkins may be writing his name in the UCLA record books, but he's doing so quietly. Pac-12 running back counterparts Allen and Washington's Shaq Thompson have garnered Heisman Trophy buzz from national outlets, the latter of whom doesn't play the position full time. 

Conversely, Perkins flies under the radar. Even this week ahead of facing Washington, Mora fielded more questions on Tuesday's teleconference call about linebacker Myles Jack's role in the run game than he did about Perkins' play thus far. 

But that seems to suit Perkins just fine. He is as quick to deflect individual praise as he is to run through a hole. 

Take his assessment of reaching the 1,000-yard mark. UCLA's offensive line has endured its share of criticism for allowing 29 sacks this season, but Perkins credited the sometimes-maligned unit's performance for his own success. 

"The [offensive] line is having a tremendous year. I couldn't ask for a better group of guys," he said. "I'm so happy for them. This 1,000 yards is really for them, but it just gets put on me." 

Don't let Perkins' modesty fool you, though. His own explosiveness has certainly contributed to the impressive numbers he is putting up three-fourths of the way through his sophomore campaign. 

He ranks ninth among all Football Bowl Subdivision players with 33 runs of 10-plus yards, including carries of 58, 81 and 92 yards.  

Talk about giving the offense momentum. 

On those highlight-reel plays, Perkins looks like he's back in the Phoenix area playing for Chandler High School.  

He hasn't limited his explosive plays to the ground, either.

With 20 catches on the season, Perkins has proved to be a favorite receiving target of quarterback Brett Hundley. He also gave backup Jerry Neuheisel a reliable presence when Neuheisel was thrust into the lineup in Week 3. 

"That’s the prerequisite to play in these styles of spread offenses," offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. "You’ve got to have a kid who can catch the ball at running back. We're not an I[-formation] team where we just hand it to them, hand it to them, hand it to them, then just throw to our receivers." 

Perkins' pass-catching ability proved critical three weeks ago in a 36-34 win at Cal, where he hauled in touchdown receptions of 16 and 49 yards. 

His efforts might go somewhat unrecognized, but Perkins is playing a starring role in UCLA's pursuit of the Pac-12 championship. The Cal game was the first of two must-win decisions in which he scored a pair of critical touchdowns. 

The touchdown run against Arizona gave Perkins his fifth score during the Bruins' current three-game win streak. And in helping UCLA to beat the Wildcats, Perkins helped move it one step closer to the Pac-12 South title. 

"We can sense we're on the verge of something great," he said. "We've got to keep pushing and hopefully everything will line up for us." 

Continuing the positive momentum UCLA has now is vital to win out, which the Bruins likely must do in order to earn the division's bid into the Pac-12 Championship Game. 

It's fortunate, then, that Perkins has a formula for keeping it going. 

"Come in Sunday and Monday, watch the film and grow from it," he said. 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Meet UCLA's Paul Perkins, the Most Explosive RB You've Likely Never Heard of

All UCLA needed was a little momentum in its 17-7 win over then-No. 12-ranked Arizona, Bruins running back Paul Perkins said...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Top 10 Highlights of Marcus Lattimore's Career

The professional career of one of college football's best running backs this past decade came to a far-too-soon end with Wednesday's announcement that Marcus Lattimore was retiring at the age of 23.

A fourth-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2013, Lattimore's NFL tenure consisted of two seasons spent on his team's non-football injury list without ever playing in a game. Lingering issues related to two devastating knee injuries suffered while in college led to his early retirement.

"Unfortunately, getting my knee fully back to the level the NFL demands has proven to be insurmountable," Lattimore said in a statement released by the 49ers, according to NFL.com's Chris Wesseling.

Lattimore ran for 2,677 yards and 38 touchdowns over three seasons in college at South Carolina, including 1,197 yards with 17 TDs as a true freshman in 2010. Knee injuries cut short his sophomore and junior years, but in August 2012 he ran for 110 yards and two TDs against Vanderbilt just 10 months after surgery.

Lattimore never got a chance to show what he could do during an NFL game, but there are plenty of highlights from his collegiate days. Scroll through for the most notable moments of his short career.

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Oregon Football: Showdown vs. Utah Is the Ultimate Trap Game

Coming off of perhaps their most complete game of the season, the fourth-ranked Oregon Ducks (8-1, 5-1) now find themselves faced with the infamous “trap game” against the feisty No. 17-ranked Utah Utes. 

But what exactly is a trap game?

A trap game is a game preceding or following a big game against a rival or top-ranked opponent. Essentially, it’s when a team underestimates an upcoming opponent that it shouldn’t be looking past.

A conference road game following an enormous 45-16 over rival Stanford would certainly seem to fit the bill. The Utes are known to be a quality team, and Rice-Eccles Stadium, Utah’s home field, is one of the toughest venues in the Pac-12. Shouldn’t the Ducks consider the Utes a threat to their postseason aspirations?

Yes, they should and likely do. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a trap game. It absolutely is.

 

Why Utah Can Beat Oregon 

The Ducks can see the light at the end of the tunnel. If the season ended today, Oregon would face Mississippi State in the College Football Playoff as the No. 4 seed. 

According to Bleacher Report’s own Ed Feng, the Ducks have a 67 percent chance at making the Playoff—the highest percentage in the entire country. Feng predicts that the Ducks will be the No. 1 seed in the Playoff by the time the dust settles in early December.

The Ducks' road to the Playoff is clear. As late-Raiders owner Al Davis would say, “Just win, baby.” But it’s never as easy as it seems in college football. The Ducks still have three conference games remaining on their regular-season schedule and, if they win those games, a Pac-12 title game against one of five Pac-12 South opponents—all of whom are currently ranked except for USC.

However, if the Ducks don't take Utah seriously the light at the end of the tunnel may quickly fade to black. Coming off an emotional win over Stanford, the Ducks may not be mentally prepared or focused on the task at hand, hence the theory that this is a trap game.

The Utes are coming off a devastating overtime loss to Arizona State in Tempe, a game they believe they should have won. There’s two ways the Utes can go from here. They will either be galvanized by the loss to the Sun Devils, or their season will fold as they play the second of a nearly impossible back-to-back.

Based on their performance so far this season, one has to believe they will come together as a group and be ready to take on the Ducks, especially when you consider they’re playing at home.

Utah features one of the best running games in the entire country, led by junior Devontae Booker, and is ranked No. 42 in rushing offense. While the passing attack isn’t particularly potent—ranked No. 111 in the country—quarterback Travis Wilson is the only player in the FBS who has attempted over 150 passes and has yet to throw an interception.

The Utes offense, while not a powerhouse, isn’t going to turnover the ball—it's ranked No. 11 in the country in turnover margin—and will be able to put up points against an Oregon defense that is ranked No. 105 in the country in total defense.

Moreover, the Utes running game, if successful, is going to keep Oregon off the field. As Kyle Whittingham said, according to SB Nation's Block U:

The best way to defend Oregon's offense is to keep it on the sideline as much as you can. In order to do that, you have to move the chains with the offense and take care of the football and be productive. That is without a doubt the best way to try to defend them.

The other two advantages the Utes have over Oregon are their special teams and their home-field advantage. The Utes are No. 2 in kickoff returns, No. 3 in punt returns and No. 3 in punting.

Don’t forget about kicker Andy Phillips either. He may have missed two key field goals in overtime against Arizona State (one was negated by a timeout), but he’s still one of the best kickers in the country and has hit on 85 percent of his field goals this year.

While special teams will be key, it’s the home-field advantage of Utah that may end up doing Oregon in. Despite the fact that the Ducks are likely the best-conditioned team in the country and have gone 28-8 in road games since 2007, they haven’t played in Salt Lake City since 2003—a 17-13 loss.

Rice-Eccles Stadium sits nearly a mile above sea level, and the Utes have gone 41-14 at home since head coach Kyle Whittingham took over for Urban Meyer in 2005.

The Ducks would be doing a serious disservice to themselves and their Playoff chances by overlooking this Utah team. These aren’t the same Utes who struggled through their first couple of Pac-12 seasons. As head coach Mark Helfrich said about Utah following the win against Stanford, "We're going to a very hostile environment against a very good team."

The Utes are a legitimate top-25 opponent. They should not be overlooked.

 

Understand the Threat

Former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly used to use the phrase “Nameless, faceless opponents” when discussing opposing teams. Basically, Kelly wanted the Ducks to focus on competing instead of comparing. He wanted his team to work on its own performance and execution instead of worrying about what the other team was doing.

Helfrich, a disciple of Kelly, continues to use this phrase with his team and understandably so. It has worked well for the Ducks.

However, the current Ducks would be better served by at least understanding the ramifications of this game against Utah. Utah presents a true threat to the Ducks' Playoff aspirations, unlike Oregon’s next opponent: Colorado.

The infamous trap game has caught many teams who have stood in the shoes the Ducks currently stand in, though those shoes may not have been quite as dazzling and flashy.

Just this year we’ve seen a couple of national championship contenders fall to inferior opponents in trap-game scenarios.

Then-fourth-ranked Baylor’s 41-27 loss to West Virginia following a huge victory over TCU comes to mind. How about ninth-ranked USC’s 37-31 loss to Boston College following a win at Stanford? Oklahoma lost a trap game to then-No. 25-ranked TCU after a big win at West Virginia too.

If it could happen to those teams, it could happen to the Ducks.

Back in February of 2014, Sebastian Lena of Bleacher Report said that the Ducks' trap game this season would come versus Utah, a call that looks relatively prophetic now.

Utah made waves in 2013 for taking down Pac-12 giant Stanford at home last season.

Can home-field advantage help the Utes reel in another conference giant this season?

Oregon’s early schedule is pretty tough. It features matchups with Michigan State (Week 2), at UCLA (Week 7) and against Stanford (Week 10).

But while the team’s full attention will be on these contests, the Ducks could wind up overlooking the Utes, a game that just so happens to fall the week right after the highly anticipated showdown with the Cardinal.

The Ducks are on a collision course with the inaugural College Football Playoff. Utah is Oregon’s last true regular-season roadblock between it and a shot at the Pac-12 title.

Oregon doesn't have to look very far in the past to see how a team can lose out on its postseason opportunities. The Ducks have struggled in November each of the past two seasons, including two November losses in 2013.

Mark Helfrich knows the Ducks need to get up for Utah and play one of its best games of the season. "We absolutely need to get up for this game because it's the next one," said Helfrich, according to Andrew Greif of The Oregonian. "I think certainly we've talked about that scenario kind of what you're saying going on the road, we've talked about that a lot in the offseason leading up to the opening of the season."

By almost any measure the Ducks are the better team in this matchup, but this is college football. Sometimes “better” doesn’t matter. Oregon must be prepared to play its best game of the season in order to beat the Utes. That means it must be mentally prepared for a potential trap game and physically prepared for the demands of playing at altitude and against a tough Utes team.

If they aren’t, the Ducks’ postseason hopes may go up in smoke.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Football: Showdown vs. Utah Is the Ultimate Trap Game

Coming off of perhaps their most complete game of the season, the fourth-ranked Oregon Ducks (8-1, 5-1) now find themselves faced with the infamous “trap game” against the feisty No...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

How Braxton Miller Could Be College Football's Hottest Recruit of 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio — When one thinks of Russell Wilson's college career, one often thinks about his phenomenal senior season at Wisconsin.  But what some don't remember is that before Wilson was the man in Madison, he was a three-year starter at North Carolina State. And while Wilson is the last high-profile player to take advantage of college football's graduate transfer rule, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller could be the next.

It's a complicated situation with plenty of moving parts. And thus far, everybody's saying the right things. But sooner or later, some uncomfortable conversations are going to have to take place in Columbus.

In fact, some already are.

With how well redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett has played in the place of Miller since the two-time Big Ten MVP went down with a season-ending injury two weeks prior, the future of the Buckeyes' quarterback position is anything but clear. Privately, media members in Columbus have debated who will be Ohio State's signal-caller next season, as have fans, evidenced by the double-digit paged threads on message boards discussing the topic.

The subject has even caught the eye of NFL draft analysts, who have pondered what a potential move by Miller could mean for the 2016 draft.

"You hate to see a kid leave his school," said Bleacher Report NFL draft lead analyst Matt Miller. "But for his career, I think the best thing would be going to somewhere that’s going to run a little bit more of a pro-style offense and where he would get on the field right away."

No matter what angle you're looking from, the Buckeyes' signal-caller situation is very much up in the air. And how it plays out could ultimately affect the rest of the college football landscape. This isn't a story about what will happen—it's one about what could.

 

The Situation

In fact, asked in late September about a potential quarterback controversy, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer stood by Miller, citing the stellar list of accomplishments that he's accumulated in three seasons in Columbus.

“Braxton is our quarterback," Meyer insisted. "To be fair to Braxton, [he’s the] Big Ten Player of the Year. It’s good to know we’ve got both of them.”

But that answer came with Barrett coming off of a 330-yard, four-touchdown passing performance in Ohio State's 50-28 win over Cincinnati on Sept. 27. Since then, the redshirt freshman has only added to his credibility, totaling 2,352 total yards (1,856 passing, 496 rushing) and 29 touchdowns (23 passing, six rushing) through the 7-1 Buckeyes first eight games of the season.

Given both his ability as a passer and efficiency as a runner, some have suggested that Barrett—who on Tuesday was named one of 16 semifinalists for the Davey O'Brien Award, presented annually to the country's top quarterback—is a better fit for Meyer's spread offense than Miller.

“Barrett works better in this offense and I feel like he has a better arm. He is a way better quarterback than Braxton," said Michigan State linebacker Taiwan Jones, who will face Ohio State this Saturday at Spartan Stadium. “As an athlete, I feel like Braxton Miller was better. As for a quarterback that can fit in the offense, [Barrett] fits really well."

It remains unknown whether Meyer's opinion has shifted from his September vote of confidence for Miller or if it will between now and the start of the 2015 season. But with how well Barrett has played in the past two months, it's hard to imagine him not receiving at least a shot to start in what would be his sophomore season.  It would also be nearly impossible to think Meyer would relegate a star like Miller to the bench.  

His choice will not be an easy one. 

While there are plenty of unknowns that need to be factored in when examining his options, here's what we do know about his current situation:

  • In last season's Orange Bowl, Miller suffered a shoulder injury that required outpatient surgery and caused him to miss all of Ohio State's spring practice.
  • While both the injury and surgery were described as minor, Miller cited each as reasons for returning to Ohio State for his senior season, rather than entering the NFL draft.
  • On Aug. 19, after being brought along slowly throughout fall camp from a physical standpoint, Miller was diagnosed with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, effectively ending his 2014 season.
  • Per Meyer, Miller's recovery period is slated for nine to 12 months. That would mean he would miss all of spring practice and potentially most of fall camp. 
  • On Monday, Buckeyes offensive coordinator Tom Herman said Miller is on or ahead of schedule.
  • In a statement released by the school, Miller stated a desire to return to Ohio State as a fifth-year senior in 2015. When asked by B/R on Monday if that was still the plan for Miller, Herman answered, "I believe so."
  • According to the same statement, Miller is on pace to graduate this December.
  • Per NCAA rules, if a student-athlete completes his undergraduate degree program and finds a different school that doesn't possess the graduate program the player wants to enroll in, he can transfer and play immediately.

Those last two points are important.

Making the safe assumption that one of Miller's primary goals for a potential senior season would be to improve his draft stock, it's hard to envision him returning to Ohio State without the guarantee that he would regain his starting spot. And as mentioned earlier, with the way that Barrett has progressed throughout his freshman season, it's tough to imagine Meyer providing Miller with just that.

As a graduate, Miller's options increase exponentially. Not only could he renege on his plan to return to college and enter the 2015 NFL draft—more on that later—but he could also take advantage of college football's graduate transfer rule, theoretically becoming immediately eligible at any other school in the country.

And while it may seem like a stretch—perhaps surreal—for a player who has accomplished as much as Miller has at Ohio State to suddenly switch schools, a potential move wouldn't be unprecedented.

 

The Russell Wilson Precedent

In 2011, Wilson was to North Carolina State what Miller is to Ohio State: A soon-to-be senior on the verge of breaking all of his school's career quarterback records. A three-year starter, Wilson had developed into a fan favorite for the Wolfpack, trailing only Phillip Rivers in the NC State history book for career passing touchdowns.

But as Wilson's senior season approached, the 2010 fourth-round pick of the Colorado Rockies organization began flirting with the possibility of a professional baseball career. And with former 4-star prospect Mike Glennon waiting for his turn and eligible to transfer himself with two years of eligibility remaining, former Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien opted to allow Wilson to walk.

"O’Brien didn’t want to risk Russell Wilson changing his mind and not coming back at the end of the summer [after playing baseball] and losing Mike Glennon," Matt Carter, editor of TheWolfpacker.com, told B/R. "He too could have transferred, left and gone somewhere else and then O'Brien would have been left empty-handed.”

Wilson chose to transfer to Wisconsin, where he played immediately and led the Badgers to an 11-3 Big Ten championship season. As a result, Wilson improved his draft stock and became a third-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks. 

In the span of three calendar years, Wilson went from living legend in Raleigh to announcing another school as his alma mater on football's biggest stage. That sudden swing in Wilson's legacy is something that still doesn't sit well with the Wolfpack faithful.

"To this day on the message board, it still divides fans to be perfectly honest with you," Carter said. "It seems like half the fans thought it was unfortunate but had to be done, and half the fans think that it didn’t have to be done and [Wilson] should have been allowed to come back.”

North Carolina State's situation in 2011 and what the Buckeyes could be dealing with next season aren't identical, but they do share some similarities.

While Wilson's lack of commitment threw a wrench into NC State's quarterback conundrum, so too does Miller's health—and history of injuries. In the event that his recovery takes a full 12 months, that wouldn't put him back on the field until right before the start of the 2015 campaign, leaving little time to jell with a receiving corps that will look vastly different from the one that he last played with.

According to Carter, that too was something that O'Brien took into consideration when he opted for Glennon's two years of eligibility over Wilson's one. And while it's nearly impossible to imagine Meyer not allowing Miller to return to Columbus if that's what he desires, it's almost just as hard to believe that Miller would be willing to return in a role as the country's most decorated backup assuming improving his draft stock is one of Miller's top concerns.

 

Braxton Miller's NFL Future 

For a player who possessed plenty of question marks before suffering two shoulder injuries, a year of sitting behind or spelling Barrett wouldn't do much to move Miller up teams' draft boards—another reason why a potential transfer could make sense for the two-time Big Ten Quarterback of the Year.

"I like Braxton Miller, but I think he’s a work in progress. Especially for being a bigger name player, I think a lot of people expected he would be an early draft pick when that’s probably not really the case. I think I said at the beginning of the year that he would be a late-round pick for me as a guy who you would really have to invest some time into to develop," Matt Miller said. "He needs a to be somewhere where he could step in and play right away."

Of course, finding such place is easier said than done at this point of the year, with other programs' quarterback and coach situations still unsettled for 2015. One intriguing option, however, could be at Duke, where senior quarterback Anthony Boone is currently running David Cutcliffe's proven pro-style system.

That is merely speculation at this point, although Matt Miller mentioned that leaving Meyer's spread offense could ultimately be beneficial for Braxton as pro prospect. While Meyer begs to differ, the NFL analyst said that the short pro career of former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow has left questions about the sustainability of Meyer's quarterbacks in the NFL, which could follow Miller.

"Alex Smith is really the only productive quarterback out of that offense so far," Matt Miller said of the current Kansas City Chiefs quarterback, who Meyer coached at Utah. "It would be better for Braxton Miller to get into a system that’s going to coach him up as more of a passer and less of an athlete. The big problem is that there’s only so much work you can do in one offseason."

That is why it's also not out of the realm of possibility that Miller rethinks his return to the college ranks and enters the 2015 draft. Given his injury status, that scenario obviously raises some questions of its own, but he has proved enough in his college career thus far to catch the eye of NFL talent evaluators.

"He was productive enough, he’s athletic enough that someone would take a chance on him," Matt Miller said. "It would be a surprise if he wasn’t drafted. I think there would have to be something there with the medical. One thing that kind of works for him is that it’s not a super deep quarterback class. Unless [underclassmen] Everett Golson, Connor Cook and Dak Prescott all come out, it’s going to be a pretty weak group of quarterbacks. That might actually help him."

With the success that former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson is currently enjoying as a running back with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the analyst Miller also wouldn't rule out a potential position change for the Ohio State quarterback. Miller could convert to running back or wide receiver with either a return to the Buckeyes or jump to the pros, only furthering the future options of the Huber Heights, Ohio, native.

"I think that’s probably a better spot for him just based on his athleticism, not asking him to develop as a senior who’s coming off of two shoulder injuries," Matt Miller said. "When you look at the fact that this is a guy who has been hurt and it’s a throwing shoulder, I think that’s where you start getting into, ‘Would he be better at running back?’"

While Miller's future may be uncertain, his possibilities appear to be almost limitless. What position he'll be playing, where at and when all seem to be up in the air at this point, but it's clear that certain conversations in Columbus are going to have to take place sometime in the future.

And what that means for Miller—and the Buckeyes—is anybody's guess.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. 

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Blake Sims' Alabama Legacy Starts or Ends with LSU Game

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.—Blake Sims’ last trip to Tiger Stadium was a memorable one.

He watched from the sidelines as running back T.J. Yeldon took a screen pass 28 yards for a touchdown in the final minute to take the lead on what ended up being the game-winning play.

Engulfed in the celebration, Sims jumped up on one of the Crimson Tide benches and gestured towards the LSU crowd behind him, caught squarely on a CBS camera.

And then he knew he was in trouble. Sims said Monday about the incident:

I was just pumped...Happy that we won. I remember that year. We were on the right track to win the national championship and that was going to be my first one. I was just so happy. That stadium was like, it gets you that way. I just jumped up and started acting. I looked down and there was a camera right there in my face and I was like, ‘Man, I’m about to get in trouble.

But now it’s Sims’ turn to be on the field, to be the one throwing the passes instead of watching them from the sideline (and possibly drawing Nick Saban’s ire once again).

Sims has largely had a solid year in his first, and what will be his only, season as Alabama’s starting quarterback. He’s done what he’s supposed to do against lesser competition and made plays to help the Crimson Tide beat some of its better opponents. And it wasn’t Sims that lost Alabama’s game against Ole Miss.

Now, with an unforgiving schedule coming up, it’s time to see if Sims can be great.

Three of Alabama’s four November games are against teams ranked in the top 16 of the College Football Playoff rankings, including two of the top three teams. No. 16 is this week, against LSU.

Alabama quarterbacks have made names for themselves against LSU. It’s Sims’ turn now.

His Alabama legacy will either begin or end this week.

AJ McCarron was, fair or not, labeled a game manager for much of the 2011 season. That all changed when Alabama go its second shot at LSU.

Facing each other for the second time in a season, McCarron threw for 234 yards against the country’s No. 2 defense to lead Alabama to what was then its second BCS National Championship under Saban. For the first time that year and for his career, McCarron took control of the game and dictated the game through the air.

The next year, he led the drive that culminated with the screen pass to Yeldon and is now a central part of Crimson Tide lore.

Sims can leave a similar impression this week. And he’s been looking at McCarron for inspiration:

Just from watching from last time AJ played there, the way he kept his composure and stuff. I’ve been watching him...I’ve been watching him when he was there – not the LSU defense, pretty much just seeing how he kept his composure, seeing how other quarterbacks kept their composure. Maybe I can do the same thing. Knowing how loud it is, communication is going to be very big for us. We’ve got to talk. That’s the main thing we’ve got to do.

So far, Sims’ numbers have actually been ahead of Alabama’s quarterbacks in championship seasons under Saban.

But he hasn’t seen a road environment like Death Valley this year. As Les Miles famously said two years ago, it is a place where opponents’ dreams go to die.

Alabama is hoping its championship dreams can withstand the trip. That starts with Sims and trying to emulate what McCarron was able to do there;

He got the players talking a lot. Communication’s very good for him...I noticed certain times in the game that he didn’t have to say nothing because the players can look to the sideline or they can look at each other, know the hand signals very well. He kept his composure very well. That was a tight game that year. I think he did a great job, and hopefully I can go and do the same exact thing.

Sims has been a good quarterback so far this year. Alabama needs him to elevate his play even further and be the quarterback who can lead the Crimson Tide to another title.

Sims hasn’t shown any reason why he can’t be that.

He’ll get to prove that he can starting this week, playing instead of watching.

“We know it’s going to be that one play that’s going to win us the game. We want to be the ones that win that play,” Sims said. “T.J. did it one year. O.J. (Howard) did it another year. There’s no telling who that guy could be. So it could be called at any time.”

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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JC Shurburtt's Updated Top 5 Recruits in the 2015 Class

The high school football season is quickly coming to a close which means we're inching closer to these young high school athletes committing to major Universities.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder is joined by 247 Sports National Recruiting Director JC Shurburtt to go over his updated Top 5 High School recruits.

Who should be No.1?

Watch the video and let us know!  

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