NCAA Football

Big Ten Football Predictions for 2nd Half of 2014 Season

The Big Ten Conference hasn't gotten much love this season, and understandably so. With a shoddy record outside of the league, particularly against power opponents, the B1G has moved to the back of the line among the five major college football conferences.

But now that conference play is in full swing throughout the country, all focus turns inward, and the Big Ten's best will try to separate themselves from the pack and remain in the running for a major bowl bid or a spot in the first-ever College Football Playoff.

With as wild as this season has already been, though, it's hard to predict just what will happen over the final eight weeks and into the postseason. We'll try anyway.

Take a look at our predictions for Big Ten happenings for the remainder of 2014 and then let us know your guesses in the comments.

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Clemson Football: 5 Startling Statistics Through 6 Weeks

Through five games this season, things have been up and down for the Clemson Tigers, but overall it hasn’t been far off from what we expected. Some statistics have surprised us, though. In the preseason—especially with new leaders on offense—it was tough to predict how well those new faces would be able to contribute.

I have put together a list of five statistics that have been shocking through the early part of the season. I ranked each statistic by the level in which it should come as a surprise.

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Bowl Projections 2014: Picks for College Football Playoff Ahead of Week 7

College football fans have had a few days to catch their breath after a ridiculous Week 6 of the season, but enthusiasts are already preparing for another solid slate on Saturday for Week 7.

Five matchups include Top 25 teams, with two featuring teams ranked 10th or better. That guarantees even more shakeups in the rankings and even more controversy about who the top four are in the country.

The first ever College Football Playoff is set to take place in January, so the pressure to be at the top of the landscape is of the utmost importance. With several weeks remaining, even teams like Alabama, Oregon and Oklahoma remain in the hunt.

Prior to the start of Week 7, here's a look at the latest projections for the College Football Playoff.

 

Breakdown

Simply put, Baylor and Florida State have schedules that shape up well for a run to the semifinals.

If Baylor can pass tests against TCU and Oklahoma, it will be playing for a chance at a title. As for the Seminoles, even a potential loss to Notre Dame might not keep them out of the playoff. Despite a slow start for the 'Noles, the program is once again at the top of the Amway Poll, per USA Today:

A loss for Alabama on the road against Ole Miss was a significant one, but certainly not a nail in the coffin.

The Crimson Tide were limited offensively by the Rebels' stout defense in a 23-17 loss that saw Blake Sims limited to 228 yards passing, no touchdowns and one interception. Sims did contribute a rushing score, but that was the only offensive touchdown for Alabama.

It was an awful performance, but one the team can still recover from with their upcoming schedule. So maybe Phyllis was right during her rant about Alabama not being dead, per Bleacher Report:

Coming up for the Tide is a daunting schedule, but the toughest games will be played in Tuscaloosa.

Road games against Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU all look winnable, so it will come down to their performance at home. Offenses like Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn will not only test the Tide, but also should propel them back into the playoff picture if they win every game.

Rather than looking ahead, however, Saban is of course focused now on Arkansas, via Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report:

As for Notre Dame, surviving Stanford proves it is a national title contender. But with their remaining schedule, can a one-loss Irish team still make the playoff if they fall to Florida State?

Unlike Alabama, every tough test for Notre Dame will come on the road. Games against Florida State, Arizona State and USC will all be played away from South Bend and could result in the Irish dropping out of the playoff picture with a loss.

That schedule is nothing compared to what Ole Miss and Mississippi State have to face in the SEC West. If either of those teams falters, expect Notre Dame to rise into playoff talks and potentially earn a berth.

At this point, Notre Dame has proven it has a legitimate chance to make the Championship Game for the second time under Brian Kelly. But if they suffer more than one hiccup against a Pac-12 team or even Louisville, the Irish will be playing in a lower bowl yet again after the season.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: Bruins' Season on the Line vs. Oregon

Saturday’s Pac-12 football clash between preseason conference favorites, No. 18 UCLA and No. 12 Oregon, has taken on a single-game elimination feel.

Both the Bruins and Ducks come into the highly anticipated cross-divisional affair with the fresh wounds of home losses. Oregon dropped a 31-24 decision to Arizona, and UCLA fell to Utah, 30-28.

UCLA and Oregon both came into the 2014 campaign with realistic designs on the College Football Playoff. And the dream is still very much alive for both, despite losing in Week 6.

They certainly weren’t alone in being bit by an insect. College football was swarmed by a veritable infestation that saw Oklahoma, Alabama, Texas A&M and playoff long shot Brigham Young all get stung.

Bruins head coach Jim Mora may have described the landscape in the wake of an upset-mad weekend best: “There are not many teams out there that don't have a wound,” he said.

Equally as astute was Mora’s followup.

“It’s how you respond,” he said.

To keep its championship hopes intact, UCLA must respond against an opponent that hasn’t lost back-to-back games in the same season since 2007. That year was also the last in which the Ducks failed to win at least 10 games.

If there’s a bar by which others in the Pac-12 are measured, it’s Oregon. Having to measure up against the conference’s measuring stick coming off a loss excites UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich.

“It’s a perfect game for where we’re at right now, because we’re disappointed with what occurred [against Utah],” Ulbrich said after Wednesday’s practice at Spaulding Field.

The disappointment comes from giving up 242 rushing yards to the Utes. Sixty came on their game-winning drive moments after UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley’s touchdown pass to wide receiver Eldridge Massington gave the Bruins their only lead of the night.

“It was a great learning moment for our guys,” Ulbrich said. “To me, being at your best when your best is required is all about understanding the moment.”

The moment’s presenting itself Saturday, as Oregon comes in with the nation’s ninth-most prolific scoring offense—par for the course in a program that has ranked in the top 10 for points scored each of the previous six seasons.

With Lou Spanos as its coordinator, the UCLA defense saw Oregon rack up 42 points in last year’s Ducks win in Autzen Stadium.

But coming off the loss, that’s exactly the kind of challenge Ulbrich said the Bruins want to see.  

“You want a worthy opponent,” he said. “And that’s what [Oregon is] across the board.”

Conference-wide recognition of Oregon as that worthy opponent—if not the preeminent Pac-12 opponent—means the Ducks are getting teams' best shots week after week.

That’s not necessarily anything different from the last few years, but what has changed, according to Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich, is how much better the Pac-12 is as a whole.

“There’s a ton of parity in this conference,” he said on Tuesday’s conference call. “You have to be ready to rock every single snap.”

Such is the “reality” of playing in the Pac-12, as Helfrich described it. And that reality is why a win Saturday is so critical to both teams' playoff outlook.

Another topsy-turvy day like Week 6—or just season-long attrition catching up to championship contenders—could open a backdoor into the College Football Playoff for a two-loss team.

But that’s relying on variables out of each team’s hands.

“I know it’s a lot easier if you [win out],” Helfrich said. “The only way that happens is if you handle your business.”

 

The Maligned Line

If the UCLA offensive line took a step forward in its 62-27 rout of Arizona State on Sept. 25, the unit took two big strides back in the Utah loss.

Utes defenders got to Hundley for 10 sacks on Saturday night. That’s a number haunting offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone’s dreams.

He said Wednesday after practice that preparing him for Oregon could be causing him to lose sleep. But if it’s not the Ducks keeping Mazzone awake?

“I can’t sleep at night because of the 10 sacks,” he said.

Mazzone said Utah exploited “poor technique” and beat the Bruins blockers in one-on-one situations.

Offensive line coach Adrian Klemm attributed the lack of execution to a lack of confidence among the unit’s younger players—of which there are plenty. UCLA started three true freshmen a season ago, all of whom are now true sophomores.

A third second-year player, redshirt freshman Kenny Lacy, is in the current rotation.

Klemm said the line has practiced well this week but did so in preparation for Utah as well. The difference against the Ducks has to be playing as the Bruins have practiced.

 “How you carry over [practice] to game, it’s no different,” Klemm said. “You can’t start second-guessing yourself…That comes with maturity.”

UCLA needs to demonstrate that maturity against an Oregon defense that got to Hundley for three sacks a season ago.

Ducks linebacker Tony Washington was a handful for tackle Caleb Benenoch rushing off the edge in last year’s contest. Washington beat Benenoch for a sack and a crucial strip of Hundley.

 

Stopping Marcus Mariota

When asked what in Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota’s game worries Ulbrich, the UCLA defensive coordinator said: “What doesn’t worry [me] about Mariota?”

Ulbrich cited Mariota’s ever-improving passing: The redshirt junior is completing 71.1 percent of his attempts and has 15 touchdowns with no interceptions on the season.

Of course, containing Mariota means having to be ready for as capable a runner as a passer.

Mariota has 215 rushing yards on the season and averages more than five yards per carry.

However, last week against Arizona, Ducks offensive coordinator Scott Frost opted to use Mariota as a ball-carrier sparingly. The result was just one yard gained on the ground.

I asked Ulbrich how much that impacted his defense’s prep for Mariota as a true dual-threat playmaker.

“Not much,” he said.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: Bruins' Season on the Line vs. Oregon

Saturday’s Pac -12 football clash between preseason conference favorites, No. 18 UCLA and No. 12 Oregon, has taken on a single-game elimination feel...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Georgia Tech Chaplain Derrick Moore Gets Team Fired Up with Pregame Speech

If the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets aren't already pumped up for games when they get to the stadium, team chaplain Derrick Moore will get them fired up.

Moore, a former NFL running back, knows exactly what to say to inspire the players. Not only does he deliver a powerful message, but he also does a great job of getting the team involved.

The speech above is from before Saturday's game against Miami. Georgia Tech won, 28-17.

Here are some of Moore's previous pregame speeches:

[YouTube]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Anatomy of a Field Storming: The Fantastic Saga of the Ole Miss Goalposts

All that’s left are pieces: pieces of football history and a reminder of just how beautiful this game can be. The goalposts that once stood proudly in Vaught–Hemingway Stadium are now artifacts, coffee-table fixtures following a sea of human exhilaration.

These yellow aluminum cylinders do more than simply dictate scoreboard activity. Despite their obvious visual similarities, these static symbols evoke memories. They tell time. They remind us of special days—days like October 4, 2014. 

Their value is only understood by those who worship them, like a contingent of confused, hungover and euphoric Ole Miss students who stumbled upon football treasure.

Still on a whirlwind from the past 24 hours, the same group that had paraded the 20-foot piece of goalpost from Vaught–Hemingway Stadium through campus the night before edged the aluminum pillar out of tight kitchen quarters to the backyard.

It was time for the electric saw, a necessary device to ensure that one football trophy became many.

“I was expecting sparks everywhere, but it wasn’t too intense,” Ole Miss student Buckner Corso said. “I’d say we worked on the post for two hours or so. We were able to figure it out.”

To non-college football fans, the process of sawing a goalpost into 30 small pieces might seem barbaric and bizarre. To those who have felt the sweeping emotion that comes with program-altering victories—the kind of games that live on through generations—this unfamiliar scene hits closer to home.

For Corso, a 23-year-old grad student from Jackson, Mississippi, the goalpost voyage stretches further back than the Rebels’ 23-17 victory over Alabama. It goes back to September 4, 2010, the day Ole Miss lost to Jacksonville State 49-48 in double overtime.

“That was my first game as a student,” Buckner recalled of that crushing loss. “I’ve seen the lows and one of the biggest highs we’ve ever had since I’ve been here.”

But Saturday began like any other game day, only the intensity was amplified and the campus was overcapacity. Before entering the stadium, Buckner enjoyed the sights and sounds of one of The Grove, an unduplicatable pre-football venue. Just like always.

About an hour and 45 minutes before the game began, he took his seat in the stadium about halfway up the student section. As anticipation mounted, the Ole Miss fans waited with bated breath.

What happened next you already know. Alabama took a convincing 14-3 lead to halftime. Following the intermission, Ole Miss responded by outscoring the Crimson Tide 20-3 in the second half behind an active defense and the brilliance of quarterback Bo Wallace.

With less than a minute remaining, an interception by cornerback Senquez Golson in the back end zone secured the victory. The catch was originally ruled incomplete, although the call was reversed upon review. Ole Miss took a knee as the stadium bubbled over. Once the clock hit zeroes across, the stands could no longer contain the crowd.

Fans charged. They hugged. They kissed.

Tremendous. RT @ChipBrooker: Rebel fans behind me gave a whole new meaning to "rushing" the field #HottyToddypic.twitter.com/T7AVJGpd1i

— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) October 5, 2014

They climbed and climbed and climbed, and eventually the goalposts could no longer hold. Down they went, and soon after, they were carried outside the stadium.

“I did not jump on the goalposts, and I wasn’t involved in tearing it down or anything,” Corso said. “We were too busy getting pictures with the players.”

Following the celebration in the stadium, Corso did not help escort the goalpost out of the building. Instead he went back to his tent and tried to process the entirety of what just transpired. He sat in his chair and smiled.  

As he did, however, a friend alerted him that a group had obtained a significant piece of one of the posts near where ESPN’s College GameDay set had been located. He jumped at the opportunity to help out, as did roughly 19 other friends.

That’s when the voyage truly began.

Imagine the scene: roughly 20 or so college students navigating traffic, jubilantly carrying a sacred piece of Ole Miss memorabilia on their shoulders as the masses migrated through The Grove. It was frenzy, and the response was overwhelming.

“We started walking down University Avenue; just walking in the middle of traffic,” Corso said. “Everyone was going crazy honking and yelling ‘Hotty Toddy.’ The police didn’t even care about us being in the middle of the road and stopping traffic.”

They kept walking. With the goalpost resting overhead, they headed to The Square, one of Oxford’s most popular destinations. As day became night, the group paraded the goalpost past the bars as more applause, more chants and more cheers broke out. This was a celebration, a reminder of what had just taken place.

Slowly but surely, as the walk progressed, the group started to lose steam. The emotional and physical drain set in. Some wanted to take it around The Square once more for another victory lap. Others, including Corso, were out of gas.

“This thing was starting to get pretty heavy,” Corso said. “I bet all together we walked about a mile and a half.”

As the pace began to slow, the group brought the piece of goalpost to the house Corso is currently renting. They were greeted with a fascinating dilemma.

How do you fit a 20-foot long piece of goalpost into your home? Where do you put it?

The answer, of course, was the kitchen. And it was a tight squeeze. After angling it through the house, the group managed to find just the right amount of space before crowd started to disperse to celebrate further in various locations. Having maximized the day and then some, Corso decided to avoid the run to the bars.

Instead, with the goalpost at their feet, he and a few friends enjoyed a beverage and put on a replay of the game. They looked for the things they missed and soaked in the environment from an entirely different perspective, all with a critical piece of the day by their side.

“That’s when it started to blow up,” Corso said.

With one tweet, their yellow treasure went viral. Corso, in search of some mild social media fame (by his own admission), posted a picture of the goalpost in his home. The result was an unexpected frenzy.

Goal post made it home pic.twitter.com/EbimQguVEU

— Buckner Corso (@BucknerCorso) October 5, 2014

As the tweet circulated and word spread, the Ole Miss masses showed up at his door demanding to see the sacred relic. A low-key night was transformed into madness.

“I got nervous when I eventually went to sleep,” Corso said. “I thought someone might break into my house.”

The social media fame also generated an unexpected response. Ross Bjork, the Ole Miss athletic director, reached out to Corso in hopes that he could claim dibs on a small portion of the item.

These too made their rounds.

@BucknerCorso Save me & @CoachHughFreeze a piece........

— Ross Bjork (@RossBjorkAD) October 5, 2014

@BucknerCorso@CoachHughFreeze Be careful cutting it or we can help you be safe and cut it up for you.....

— Ross Bjork (@RossBjorkAD) October 5, 2014

The next day, Corso and crew woke up to a mess. The house was nothing short of a disaster, while the status of each individual varied greatly. To put it plainly, it was a double-down-on-Vitamin-Waters kind of morning for the moving crew and the entire state of Mississippi. But their journey was not yet complete.

From its hallowed place in the kitchen, the goalpost was relocated to the backyard as a friend returned with a saw. Despite offers from the school’s AD, the team matter-of-factly disassembled the holy object it had so proudly carried around roughly 12 hours earlier.

Piece by piece, the goalpost shrunk. Ultimately, the once 20-foot column was metamorphosed into roughly 30 small pieces. They were then handed out with care.

“I have had a million people ask me for a piece of it,” Corso said. “We gave it to everyone who helped carry it.”

Except for two.

Having coordinated with Bjork that night before, Corso took two pieces of the goalpost to the Ole Miss headquarters. His visit, however, was much more than a simple drop-off. He sat down with Bjork, and the two talked about the day that was, the goalposts and, more importantly, the state of the program.

While Bjork was grateful for the gesture and thrilled by the enthusiasm it revealed, he also relayed a message regarding fan behavior going forward.

“He told me that these are the types of wins we’re going to expect rather than celebrate,” Corso said on the exchange with Bjork. “When they happen, we’ll be happy. But we don’t have to rush the field anymore.”

As a result of fans storming the field, the SEC fined the school $50,000. The fine escalated because of similar instances in 2012 and 2013.

With the bill in the open and pricey goalposts to replace, Bjork posted the following message on his Twitter account.

Everyone in this picture should send donation to http://t.co/iGAqjYmHr4. All donations accepted for the post & fine! pic.twitter.com/Tjk0J7oXUR

— Ross Bjork (@RossBjorkAD) October 5, 2014

The school’s announcement that it was accepting donations, like the celebration itself, soon went viral.

All $5 donors will receive thank-you letters. A $25 donation will get you a desktop background for your computer. A $250 donation is good for a commemorative photo. And for $500 or a $1,000 donation, the school offered 80 small pieces of an 18-foot piece of goalpost that it recovered. Those 80 artifacts were gobbled up almost instantaneously.

Within hours of posting, Ole Miss easily surpassed its $75,000 donation goal. As of Wednesday afternoon, more than $100,000 had been raised.

Corso’s donation was far more meaningful than a dollar amount, something he’s well-aware of himself. Although he could still get a pretty penny from a buyer for his piece of history, it’s not for sale.

“I’m going to get it inscribed and framed,” Corso said. “I’m also going to put together everything in a scrapbook. For me, this is a culmination of being a Rebels fan.”

All tents have since been tucked away; the field has been cleared. Fans have retreated to their homes, awaiting the next chapter of Ole Miss Football. College GameDay has long departed, off to its next Mississippi destination. 

The goalposts that hovered over the Vaught–Hemingway field are no more, but they are not lost. The remains have simply been scattered throughout the state, ready to tell a story when it needs to be told.

 

Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. You can follow Adam Kramer on Twitter @Kegsneggs

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

James Franklin Claims He Lied to Team About Seeing Video in Vanderbilt Rape Case

Former Vanderbilt head football coach James Franklin, who is the current head coach at Penn State, testified in an alleged rape hearing for two of his players at Vanderbilt on Wednesday. During the testimony, he admitted to lying about seeing video of the alleged incident.     

Lori Mitchell of WKRN ABC News in Nashville provided the details of Franklin's testimony on Twitter:

The players at the center of the alleged rape are Brandon Vandenburg, Brandon Banks, JaBorian McKenzie, and Cory Batey. Today's hearing was for Vandenburg and Batey. 

In August 2013, Brian Haas and Jeff Lockridge of The Tennessean reported that the players were "charged with five counts each of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery."

According to a September 2013 report from Bobby Allyn of Buzzfeed, a source with ties to one of the players involved in the alleged incident "said he believes that Franklin encouraged a player to delete a video of the incident after the player showed it to Franklin."    

The source is also quoted in the report as saying, "I’m 99.9 percent sure that Franklin saw the video." Franklin's attorney, Hal Hardin, speaking on behalf of his client said, "Coach Franklin denies that emphatically."

During the testimony on Wednesday, the defense asked whether or not Franklin saw the video, per Tony Gonzalez of The Tennessean:

Hayley Mason of WSMV-TV in Nashville provided Franklin's rationale for lying to the team about seeing the video:

Franklin also provided a timeline of when he learned about the alleged rape, noting that he was on vacation and that the school provided a directive for him to follow, via Gonzalez:

Also, Franklin testified that the players attempted to make their case in his office only for him to let them know he couldn't discuss it and to give them a message, via Mitchell:

At Franklin's introductory press conference to Penn State in January, university president Rodney Erickson told reporters that Franklin went "through the most thorough vetting process that any individual has gone through at the university," via Chip Minemyer of the Centre Daily Times

Franklin, 42, left Vanderbilt after three years, compiling a 24-15 record with the Commodores. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Hurricanes Welcome Make-A-Wish Patient as Part of the Team

The Miami Hurricanes are doing everything they can to make one eight-year-old feel like part of the team.

Carter Hucks, who is fighting a life-threatening disease, traveled from Charleston, South Carolina, to Miami in order to join the Hurricanes football team as part of the Make-A-Wish program. The third-grader had a big day on campus.

On Wednesday, the Hurricanes gave Hucks his own uniform and locker.

He got to run out of the team's inflatable helmet and the smoke like the players do before games.

He then led the team in stretches and played some catch.

Hucks got to hang out at practice with some of the Hurricanes players.

To cap off the special day, Hucks hauled in a game-winning touchdown pass.

Hucks loved living his dream, and the Hurricanes loved getting him involved on the field.

Fans can also show their support for Hucks.

As good as this day was for the youngster, the fun isn't over. The Palm Beach Post's Matt Porter reported that Huck will spend the next few days with the team and will be with the team on Saturday when it hosts the Cincinnati Bearcats. 

[Twitter, h/t Dr. Saturday]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Breaking Down the Best Possible National Championship Games at Week 6

If it's "never too early to start talking about the College Football Playoff," then six weeks seems like an appropriate amount of time to wait before talking about the second leg of that playoff: the national championship game.

Almost every team from a power-five conference with less than two losses stands a mathematical chance of making the CFP and advancing to play for the national title, but only a handful of those teams stand a realistic chance. A lot can happen between now and then to change things, but for the time being, we have narrowed that handful down to the Top 15 teams in the Associated Press poll

In selecting the best possible matchups from those 210 options, we looked for a couple of things. Especially since the season is still young—i.e., we do not know as much as we would like about which teams are actually the best—a heavy focus was placed on narrative. In other words, which games would make for the best TV spectacle?

But, of course, it was more than just that. We also looked for interesting style or personnel matchups to go with those off-field storylines. We did not simply plug in the teams from the top of the poll to ensure picking the safest matchups. But we also made an effort to keep things realistic by including only title-worthy teams.

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5-Star WR Christian Kirk Announces Two New Official Visits

The nationwide recruitment tour of Christian Kirk will continue into November with official visits to a pair of Pac-12 programs. The 5-star wide receiver revealed this week he intends to spend time at UCLA and Arizona State next month:

Kirk, rated fifth nationally among receivers in 247Sports' composite rankings, has already used two official visits this fall. He spent time at Texas A&M in September and journeyed to Auburn last weekend. 

The 5'10", 191-pound prospect stars at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, Arizona. He announced six finalists in August, featuring Arizona State, Auburn, Ohio State, Texas A&M, USC and UCLA.

Kirk, who helped lead the team to a state title in 2013, is among the most prolific offensive weapons in this recruiting class. He tallied two consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons as a sophomore and junior, catching 29 touchdown passes during that span. 

His junior campaign included an expanded role in the offensive backfield, as Kirk carried the ball 77 times for 832 yards and 13 additional scores. Those efforts have continued this season.

Despite demanding increased attention from defenses, Kirk continues to carve up opponents regardless of where he lines up at the snap. Through six contests, his statistics have piled up in bunches and appear headed for career-best totals.

Kirk has 29 receptions for 590 yards and 10 touchdowns, adding another 480 yards and eight scores on the ground, per MaxPreps. He is averaging 14.5 yards per offensive touch.

"Christian has the ability to break any play at any time as long as the ball touches his hands," top-ranked 2015 quarterback recruit Josh Rosen told Bleacher Report this summer.

The UCLA commit spent the first week of July in Oregon with Kirk and more than 150 premier prospects at The Opening, an invite-only showcase held at Nike's world headquarters. It didn't take long for Rosen and other quarterbacks to recognize the dynamic receiver's array of talents.

"The idea behind the spread offense is to get athletes in space and create matchups that you like with one player against another," Rosen said. "He is definitely a guy who can beat just about anyone. You like his chances in those situations."

The two could team up in Los Angeles for years to come if Kirk's UCLA visit impresses enough to eventually warrant a commitment to the Bruins.

"It would be awesome if UCLA can bring him in," Rosen said. "I think a guy like Christian would complement the group of receivers they already have and become a big weapon in the slot and downfield."

Kirk already had an opportunity to watch the Bruins offensive attack in person this season. He attended the team's September matchup at Arizona State, a game UCLA won 62-27:

The Sun Devils will welcome Kirk again on Nov. 8 when the team hosts Notre Dame. A week earlier, he'll head to the Rose Bowl for UCLA's game against Arizona.

Brady White, a 4-star quarterback committed to Arizona State, also expressed his interest in tossing passes to Kirk in college. He shared those sentiments while attending The Opening.

"He's a receiver who can change the game for you," White said. "Obviously I'm hoping he stays in Arizona."

Arizona State and UCLA have been engaged in a battle for Kirk since the early stages of his recruitment. Now both teams are set to deliver crucial sales pitches in person during the final stretch toward national signing day.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by B/R national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5-Star WR Christian Kirk Announces Two New Official Visits

The nationwide recruitment tour of Christian Kirk will continue into November with official visits to a pair of Pac -12 programs...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Exclusive Interview with 2015 QB Brandon Wimbush on Flip to Notre Dame

Top high school quarterback recruit Brandon Wimbush made headlines when he decommitted from Penn State via Twitter and decided to go with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. 

Wimbush joined Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder to discuss his decision as well as his future in South Bend.

How do you think Wimbush will help Notre Dame's offense? Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Raekwon McMillan Is the Catalyst to Ohio State's Midseason Resurgence

COLUMBUS, Ohio — On the Sept. 16 edition of the Big Ten coaches teleconference, Urban Meyer was asked how he balances loyalty to his seniors with the emergence of talented younger players.

No specific players were mentioned by the interviewer, but it was obvious who he was making reference to. And judging by Meyer's answer, it was a situation that he had obviously been wrestling with recently.

“That’s a hard one," the Ohio State head coach responded.

"We have an obligation when they say, ‘You’re the head football coach’ to win the game and represent Ohio State, but you also—if the guy does everything right as far as academics, behavior on and off the field, his work ethic—then you give them every opportunity to succeed and you go with that guy.

"But there comes a point where if the younger player’s better, then you have to go with that younger player.”

Apparently, the Buckeyes are now at that point.

No disrespect to Curtis Grant, who has proven to be a solid, albeit unspectacular player at the Buckeyes' middle linebacker position in three-plus seasons at Ohio State.

But ever since the OSU coaching staff has opted to increase the playing time of Raekwon McMillan following the team's Sept. 6 loss to Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes defense has been noticeably improved—thanks in large part to the play of their of 5-star freshman.

That especially rang true last weekend, when McMillan put together the most impressive showing of his young college career in Ohio State's Big Ten-opening win over Maryland.

Subbing in for Grant on the second defensive series of the game—as he has since the Buckeyes' defeat at the hands of the Hokies—the Hinesville, Georgia, native tallied four tackles and returned an interception 24 yards for a touchdown in OSU's 52-24 defeat of the Terrapins.

“It was one of the best feelings in the world," McMillan said of his first career touchdown. "My teammate helped me out by tipping the ball and I just took advantage of the moment.”

The same could be said about the rest of McMillan's freshman campaign thus far, as he's managed to make his presence felt in limited action. On his first defensive series of the season, he recorded a tackle for loss in place of a briefly injured Grant against Virginia Tech. A week later, he totaled a team-high seven tackles and two sacks in the Buckeyes' beatdown of Kent State.

That's the type of production that the Ohio State staff was hoping to get from McMillan when it lured the 2014 recruiting class' top-ranked inside linebacker to Columbus over the likes of Alabama, Georgia and Clemson.

It also helped that McMillan opted to enroll early at OSU in January in an effort to get a head start on his college career.

"That’s what really changed the game for me," McMillan said. "Coming in early, learning the whole process through spring ball and through the summer and going through fall camp, knowing all the stuff, knowing the whole defense—well, not the whole defense—but knowing the concepts of it and certain stuff about it really helped me out a lot.”

McMillan may not know the whole playbook just yet, but he certainly brings enough to the table to make himself a more than viable option on a Buckeyes defense that's still trying to find its footing under new defensive coordinator Chris Ash.

As co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Luke Fickell explained, the freshman McMillan is already more advanced in pass coverage than the senior Grant, which has led to more playing time for the youngster against the likes of Cincinnati and Maryland.

“I communicated and talked with Curtis and said, ‘If this becomes a passing game, Raekwon might play a little bit more,’" Fickell said following Ohio State's Sept. 27 beating of the pass-happy Bearcats. "That was just a situation that maybe he had been a little bit better out in space and on the coverage side."

Even with the insertion of McMillan into the lineup on a regular basis, the Buckeyes' pass defense remains a work in progress, as evidenced by the 352 yards that Ohio State allowed through the air against Cincinnati.

However, the Buckeyes showed growth a week later, surrendering just 244 passing yards to the Terrapins and recording four interceptions in the process.

One of those, of course, belonged to McMillan, who also recovered an interception that was fumbled by fellow OSU linebacker Darron Lee. The man who led the charge in McMillan's recruitment, Fickell wasn't surprised to see the Peach State product twice regain possession for the Buckeyes against the Terps.

“It’s not by accident that somehow No. 5 comes up with the ball,” Fickell said. “He’s always around the football.”

That's not to say that there aren't strides that he can still take. His boyish face aside, McMillan may not look like a true freshman at 6'2" and 240 pounds, but Fickell admitted that he'd still like to see the former prized prospect take more command at a position that serves as the de facto quarterback on the Ohio State defense.

"That middle linebacker—like Curtis Grant does when he’s in there for us—he is the heart and soul, he is the leader and that’s what’s expected of that guy," Fickell said. "For a freshman, [McMillan's] doing an unbelievable job. But the expectation of greatness is we’re not going to just let him sit on being a freshman. We’re going to need him to continue to grow.”

With the Buckeyes currently in the midst of a bye week, McMillan will attempt to do just that as Ohio State gears up for the heart of its 2014 slate and a push for a potential playoff spot.

In fact, Meyer has altered his plan for the Buckeyes' second week off in the past month, thanks in large part to the play of his emerging middle linebacker.

“You see what Raekwon McMillan is doing with his confidence with playing," Meyer said. “I’m going to continue to give them as many game reps just to continue to show that maturity.”

That's just fine with McMillan, who couldn't be more satisfied with where he stands five games into his college career.

“I’m very happy. I feel like I’m blessed," he said. "The average 18-year-old doesn’t come in with the opportunity that I came in with.”

As he's proven lately, McMillan is far from the average 18-year-old.

 

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 recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Brian Kelly, Notre Dame Poised to Go on Huge Recruiting Run

Don't look now, but Notre Dame's got the recruiting train rolling.

With the Irish flipping blue-chip quarterback Brandon Wimbush away from Penn State and head coach James Franklin, Brian Kelly is displaying just a little bit of that inner-honey badger swagger, reminding even big-time programs like the Nittany Lions that Kelly and the Irish staff can do what it wants when it comes to recruiting. 

That Kelly was able to flip Wimbush on the worst game-day weather in South Bend imaginable says something. It also reminds football fans that when Notre Dame is winning, they're the recruiting world's worst nightmare. 

Most years, selling the "40-year decision" that comes with a Notre Dame degree works for some impressive prospects. But selling four decades of success off the field after four years of elite college football on it? That's an offer too tough to turn down.

Wimbush fills a key need in the Irish recruiting class, finally replacing Blake Barnett as the offensive centerpiece to the 2015 class.  The 18th commit in a class that 247Sports ranks 11th in the nation, Wimbush also likely serves as a turning point, with the Irish staff set on closing this cycle with elite prospects, who may or may not be committed to another program. 

That the Irish are 5-0 and in the playoff-hunt conversation only helps spread their message. And if you're looking for clues as to how Kelly and his staff plan on closing out this class, just look back at the run they made in the 2013 cycle, building off the Irish's undefeated regular season. 

Entering October, the Irish sat at 18 commitments, a more-than-impressive group headlined by Jaylon Smith. But from there, the Irish closed with a flourish by adding six key blue-chippers, all surprises to pick Notre Dame. 

That Kelly and his staff would win the services of cornerback Cole Luke had to be considered a shocker. The Arizona product took official visits to Oklahoma and Texas but ended up in South Bend. His two interceptions last week against Stanford gave Irish fans a glimpse of what the young cornerback can do. 

From there, the Irish staff landed one of its biggest fish, getting a commitment from elite running back Greg Bryant. The Army All-American was committed to Oklahoma and had his choice of schools from all around the country, but recruiting coordinator Tony Alford convinced Bryant that South Bend was the place for him. 

Bryant wasn't the only blue-chipper to flip to the Irish. Safety Max Redfield decided at the Under Armour All-American Game that he'd rather go to Notre Dame than USC, stepping away from his commitment to the Trojans. Tight end Durham Smythe walked away from Texas to come play for the Irish. 

Closing the class with late commitments from running back Tarean Folston and elite defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, the Irish went from having a great recruiting class to one that some viewed as the best in the nation.

(Of course, Vanderdoes never stepped foot on campus, an interesting U-turn that left many questions unanswered.)

If that look back tells us anything, it's that this Irish coaching staff will be aggressively recruiting all the way until signing day in February. We saw that last weekend, with top prospects Equanimeous St. Brown and Frank Buncom joining Wimbush on official visits. The Irish also hosted Florida State commit Calvin Brewton and Alabama pledge Mekhi Brown, making their pitch to both.  

The Irish staff has long circled top, uncommitted prospects Soso Jamabo, Tevon Coney and Porter Gustin. They're also after UCLA commitment Aliz'e Jones, a high school teammate of Irish commit Nicco Fertitta. That leads to some speculation that Wimbush could flip one of his teammates, 5-star cornerback and Alabama commit Minkah Fitzpatrick, one of the top cover prospects in the cycle. That the staff is still pushing on this cycle while working hard on 2016 prospects gives you an idea that Kelly and his recruiting staff are a well-oiled machine. 

All is fair in love and recruiting. (Or at least, I think that's how it goes.) And with scholarship numbers tight and a young roster looking even better in 2015, you can't blame Kelly for trying to seize the moment, building a roster that could produce a lot of wins—and headaches for opponents—in the coming years.  

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Clemson Team Manager Dances in Locker Room After Tigers Beat NC State

Clemson routed North Carolina State over the weekend, but the 41-0 victory wasn't the highlight of the day for the Tigers.

The best moment came in the locker room after the game when team manager David Saville got in front of the team and broke out a victory dance. The team went wild when he finished showing off his moves.

To learn more about David, watch the video below.

[YouTube]

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Dak Prescott Can Ball, but Can Mississippi State Stop Auburn's Potent Offense?

There is no denying that Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott is one of the most electrifying players in all of college football. The big question for the Auburn vs. Mississippi State matchup is how the Bulldogs defense will fare against that high-flying Auburn offense.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder takes an in-depth look at this huge SEC matchup.

Is Auburn's Nick Marshall the best quarterback in the SEC?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Miami Football: 6 Startling Statistics Through 6 Weeks

One game brought anomalies and two contests provided trends, but six outings have shown what the 2014 Miami Hurricanes are truly made of.

From offensive troubles to a frustrating defense to an uncharacteristic special teams problem, a handful—plus one—of startling statistics envelop the 3-3 'Canes.

After this weekend, every game is a must-win if Miami wants to contend for the Coastal Division crown. Al Golden's team is fighting for its ACC life, but a nonconference meeting with Cincinnati gives the 'Canes one final opportunity to correct some alarming shortcomings.

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AJ McCarron Off-Base in Criticism of Nick Saban, Alabama Offense

One loss has created plenty of drama at Alabama, and some of it is coming from a highly decorated former Crimson Tide quarterback.

AJ McCarron—he of three national titles and two as a starting quarterback—told Ryan Fowler of Tide 99.1 in Tuscaloosa that this particular Crimson Tide team lacks the leadership that previous teams had, including in McCarron's final season in 2013. (The first and second segments of the interview are available online.):

"I think one of the things that this team is lacking that hurts them the most is not having the true leaders like we had last year and guys that, when things go bad, 'hey, let's calm everybody down and pick it back up and go back to work and get back on the right track," McCarron told Fowler (12:00 mark of Part I).

Not to be outdone, McCarron also commented on Saban—a defensive-minded head coach—having his hands being in the offensive cookie jar and forcing a more conservative game plan.

"I don't know if that's Lane doing that or if coach Saban has kind of put the handcuffs on Lane like I've known Coach to do in the past on his offensive coordinator," McCarron said at the 8:30 mark of Part I.

Head coach Nick Saban had the chance to fire back at his former quarterback during Wednesday's SEC coaches teleconference.

"I don't think we played real well last week for whatever reasons," Saban said. "I don't know that's all leadership. I'm sort of responsible for all of that, as we all are as coaches and players, to make sure we're ready to play our best against good teams in tough environments on the road. I don't know how AJ would really know, but I don't necessarily see that as the case."

Saban is right, in more ways than one.

First of all, Alabama's offense may have been less than stellar in the 23-17 loss to Ole Miss, but it's still the second-best offense in the SEC at 554.6 yards per game, which is 100.5 yards per game more than the most prolific Alabama offense under McCarron (2013). That includes last weekend's game against the Rebels, in which Alabama gained just 323 yards.

Saban and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin brought senior quarterback Blake Sims along first as a game-manager and then as a difference-maker in the fourth game of the year against Florida, but scaled it back against the stifling Ole Miss defense—not the worst decision to make against the SEC's best defense on the road.

Is that number skewed a little bit? Perhaps. Alabama's 7.17 yards per play this year are slightly better than last year's squad that averaged 7.15 yards per play. Either way, though, it's not indicative of a problem.

McCarron also commented specifically on the lack of leadership on the offensive side of the ball on Tide 99.1.

"They gotta find that leader on offense," McCarron said in Part II. "I don't know if that's Austin Shepherd, or with [center] Ryan [Kelly] being out, somebody needs establish that. Quarterback Blake [Sims] needs to step up and do it. It's going to be a tough road."

Does McCarron have relationships with players in the program and have some insight into its internal workings this year, despite spending most of his time focusing on his NFL career?

Absolutely.

To comment on Sims' leadership, though, seems like a childish and unnecessary shot based on one loss that had more to do with fourth-quarter defense than a vanilla offense.

Saban himself even commented on Sims' leadership last week, as Sims was working through a shoulder injury and preparing for Ole Miss.

"I actually think Blake does a pretty good job," Saban said. "[He's] very well-liked by his teammates. He's a very positive, high-energy guy who has shown leadership."

Not only does Sims' coach recognize it, Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema—Alabama's opponent this weekend—also sees it.

"The thing that jumps out to you is that, when you watch him and watch the players around him, you can tell that the players like him," Bielema said. "When you have a quarterback who your players can rally around, that's a tremendous thing."

If McCarron were a true leader, he'd recognize that this type of criticism from somebody so recognizable and familiar with this roster is the last thing this team needs.

Alabama is behind the eight-ball after absorbing its first loss of the season with nearly two months of games still left on the schedule.

There isn't a leadership problem in Tuscaloosa, but even if there was, McCarron isn't going to be the guy who fills his perceived leadership void left on this team. Those guys in the locker room every day are the ones that need to develop that naturally.

Instead of rallying his former team, McCarron stirred the pot in what seems more like sour grapes than constructive criticism.

Luckily for the Tide, Saban and Bielema are here to straighten this mess out.

 

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

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

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NFL Comparisons for Top 10 College Football Players

A handful of the best players in college football are only two years out of high school, which means they will not become eligible for the NFL draft until 2016. But why should we wait that long to start making pro comparisons?

In fact, why should we wait until the run-up to the 2015 draft, either? If a fan of pro football wants a primer on the current batch of college superstars, we should give it to him or her. Hooray for context!

In picking the top 10 players for this list, I went back to my top 50 player rankings from early September and adjusted for the intervening weeks. Players from the old top 10 that dropped due to performance regression were Texas A&M offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.

After that, one player from just outside the top 15 has been playing well enough to skate into the top 10. Feel free to disagree with the included players if you want—the rankings are inherently subjective, and I suspect any two people would have differing opinions on whom to include—but this is the 10 we went with.

As for the comparisons themselves, they were based on physical similarities and where each player excels as a prospect. The latter was more important than the former—that is, attributes such as speed or strength were preferred over height and weight—but in an ideal scenario, a comparison could be made to satisfy both.

Sound off below with your own comparisons.

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