NCAA Football

Arkansas vs. Missouri: Score and Twitter Reaction from 2014 Battle Line Rivalry

No. 17 Missouri overcame an early 11-point deficit to score a 21-14 Battle Line Rivalry victory over Arkansas and secure the SEC East title.

The Razorbacks and Tigers came into the game as two of the hottest teams in the SEC. Arkansas won two straight games over ranked foes by a combined score of 47-0. Missouri scored five straight victories to give itself a golden opportunity to win the division crown

It created an interesting, tension-filled atmosphere at Faurot Field. Here's how the contest played out quarter by quarter:

One thing Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel was worried about coming into the game was the matchup problems Arkansas could create. It excelled in recent weeks by using a talented offensive line and different looks up front to generate big plays.

Luke Thompson of Fox Sports provided comments from Pinkel, who pointed to those adjustments on offense as why the Razorbacks have stepped up after a sluggish start.

"They present a lot of formational problems," he said. "With personnel they do a lot of unusual type things in how they line up formations, and they do that to get an edge to get an extra blocker at the point of attack, and they're very good at what they do."

Those remarks turned out to be quite prophetic.

After a three-and-out drive to open the game by the Tigers, the visitors found a rhythm and moved the ball with ease. The Razorbacks covered 70 yards in 11 plays while using nearly seven minutes of the clock before getting on the scoreboard first.

The scoring play perfectly summed up the drive. Running back Jonathan Williams took the toss from Brandon Allen and scampered into the end zone untouched to make it 7-0.

Tony Barnhart of the SEC Network praised the effort:

Missouri responded with a long drive of its own.

It moved the ball all the way down to the Arkansas 22 before things stalled out. Maty Mauk took a bad sack on third down that put the Tigers on the fringe of field-goal range. Luckily for him, Andrew Baggett connected from 52 yards to get something out of the drive.

Baggett was only 12-of-18 with a long of 44 coming into the game. The junior had also missed a pair of extra points last week. Joe Walljasper of the Columbia Daily Tribune noted that field goal should help him get back in his coach's good graces:

Missouri couldn't capitalize after getting a stop and then Arkansas flipped the field thanks to a 35-yard punt return by Jared Cornelius to set the Razorbacks up inside Tigers territory.

Six plays later they made it 14-3, as Allen found Keon Hatcher, who fought his way over the goal line for the score. Former Arkansas quarterback Clint Stoerner likes what he's seen from the junior wideout:

Missouri got back within one score before halftime. After getting the ball at the 7 with just over two minutes left, it drove 60 yards to get in field-goal range. Once again Baggett was on target from 50 yards out to make it 14-6.

For the Tigers, being only down eight given the way both teams played at the half was acceptable. Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports wasn't sure how the game stayed so close:

Following a punt to open the third quarter by Arkansas, Missouri embarked on a 16-play drive. It didn't capitalize, however, as the Baggett magic ended. His 35-yard attempt came out low and was blocked at the line by Dan Skipper.

While the Hogs didn't score on the ensuing possession, it did feature a successful fake punt. Sam Irwin-Hill took the fourth-down snap 23 yards for a first down. Ethan Levine of Saturday Down South was impressed with the punter's second such effort this season:

Though it was a pretty active quarter, the score remained 14-6 heading to the final quarter.

The Tigers changed that early in the fourth. A highlight-reel pitch and catch from Mauk to Bud Sasser gave them 1st-and-goal from inside the 5. They scored two plays later as Mauk was on target again, this time to Jimmie Hunt for a touchdown.

Then Missouri went into the bag of tricks for the two-point conversion. Sasser came around the formation on a wideout reverse, took the ball and threw to an open Darius White to level the score at 14.

Mizzou Football summed up the turn of events:

Arkansas failed to respond as several of Allen's passes soared wide. The quarterback was dealing with a hip injury during the week. As the Tigers picked up the pressure, he struggled with his accuracy.

With the tide turning in its favorite, Missouri drove again. The tandem of Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy kept the pressure on the Razorbacks defense with some punishing runs.

Instead of attempting a 46-yard field goal, Gary Pinkel went for it on fourth down, and Hansbrough converted. The risk paid off as the Tigers capped off the six-minute drive with a 12-yard touchdown run by Murphy.

Jon Solomon of CBS Sports highlighted the strong play up front by Missouri:

As the Razorbacks were driving, there was a seemingly nondescript run by Alex Collins that picked up three yards. Arkansas called timeout and then Markus Golden came out of the pile with the ball. The officials ruled the runner down and went to a media break.

The play was then reviewed and overturned, giving the Tigers the fumble recovery. The SEC Network noted the huge play:

Missouri proceeded to run out the clock. SI College Football provided some notes about the win:

With the loss, Arkansas finishes the regular season at 6-6. The wins over LSU and Ole Miss showed the upside fans were hoping to see more of during the campaign. But the second half of Friday's game illustrated the inconsistency that prevented that from happening.

As for Missouri, the victory secures the East division title and a spot in the SEC Championship Game. The Tigers will play either Alabama or Mississippi State depending on Saturday's results. It's their second straight trip to the title game. They lost to Auburn last year.

That game will be held next Saturday, Dec. 6, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

 

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Nebraska Cornhuskers' 2014 Success Based on Effort of Players, Not Coaches

Bo Pelini had one word to describe quarterback Tommy Armstrong's performance against Iowa: gutsy. "That is one of the gutsiest performance I've ever seen," the head coach said.

While it wasn't a perfect performance, Pelini's description was correct. Looking at Armstrong's numbers, he took a poor first-half performance and turned it around to help the Huskers come back in the second.

When it comes down to it, the success of the 2014 season really can be credited to the players. From seniors Kenny Bell and Ameer Abdullah to sophomore Nate Gerry and freshman De'Mornay Pierson-El, it was a team effort that got Nebraska to its 9-3 record.

Before taking any questions after the game, Pelini was clear that it was the players who made all the difference.

"I've been around a long time and coached a lot of years but I don't know if I've ever been more proud than of the guys in that room," he said. "The character they showed, the fight. I mean, a lot of guys down. A lot of things going against us and they kept fighting. It's all you can ask as a coach."

With talk about Pelini's future controlling most of the conversation recently, it would have been easy to get distracted. The injuries to veteran starters and the short week before Iowa also could have been problematic, yet the Nebraska players kept fighting.

Things looked bleak when the Huskers were down 24-7. Yet, the players didn't quit. And if there's anything worth celebrating, it's that.

"I knew our kids would keep fighting," Pelini reiterated during the postgame press conference.

That's a true statement for most of this season. It wasn't always pretty and it didn't always end in the result fans wanted, but it was a team that kept fighting.

Abdullah specifically carried this team from start to finish (both against Iowa and all season). Back in September, Nebraska was struggling to defeat McNeese State. That was until Abdullah had something to say about it.

"He put the team on his back and won the game," Pelini said at that time. "Thank God for Ameer. He showed why he is who he is."

Against the Hawkeyes, Abdullah wasn't alone. He had teammates like Pierson-El out to make the big plays too. After Iowa's punter prevented the freshman from returning a punt, Pierson-El decided that things would be different the next time. "He got me one time, I wasn't going to let it happen again," he said.

And sure enough, Pierson-El returned a punt 80 yards for the touchdown, which secured Nebraska a 28-24 lead at the time.

"He competes, he loves to play," Pelini said about Pierson-El. "He doesn’t act like a freshman. He has a smile on his face. He loves the moment. To be a freshman and go back and return punts the way he does, it’s not easy to do. He’s fearless about it and he played really well."

If nothing else, the performance against Iowa showed resilience. Despite all of the talk surrounding the future of Nebraska's coaches, the players tuned it out and kept playing. That alone is what made 2014 a success.

There will be a lot of talk going forward around Pelini's job, as well as the jobs of his assistants. It was brought up again in the postgame press conference before Pelini brushed it aside, saying it's the last thing he's currently thinking about.

And it likely is the last thing on his mind. During many games this season, Pelini's team stepped up when it needed to. So when it's time to give credit where credit is due, it should fall to the players who made it happen.

Is there anything more a coach could want? Not as far as Pelini's concerned.

 

All quotes and stats obtained via Huskers' postgame press conference, both against McNeese State and Iowa, unless otherwise noted.

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Nebraska vs. Iowa: Game Grades, Analysis for the Huskers and Hawkeyes

It was a very wild game in Iowa City, but the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers were able to defeat the University of Iowa Hawkeyes 37-34 in overtime. The final box score can be found here, thanks to NCAA.com.

Both teams made plays on offense, defense and special teams. But Iowa looked as if it was going to run away with the game in the third quarter, leading 24-7. Tommy Armstrong was not going to have any of that, as he threw four touchdown passes in the win.

It was a good win for the Huskers and a tough loss for the Hawkeyes. But everyone in attendance and everyone who was watching on TV got their money’s worth.

Here are game grades and analysis for the Huskers and Hawkeyes.

 

Passing Offense

Armstrong started off slow in the passing game. In fact, he threw two interceptions in the first half, but they did not lead to any points for Iowa. Armstrong picked things up in the second half, throwing two big touchdown passes and the game-winner in overtime. The passing offense was not at its best, but Armstrong and his receivers made plays in key situations.

 

Running Offense

The Huskers rushed for 161 yards, which is well below their 256 average. They picked things up in the second half when Ameer Abdullah was able to get going. His 106-yard performance was the first time he has rushed for over 100 yards since the beginning of the month. It was not easy to run on the Hawkeyes, but Abullah ran hard all game long, and it paid off in the second half.

 

Passing Defense

Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock had a strong outing with 230 yards and two touchdowns. The problem for the Huskers was they did not put any pressure on him in the early stages of the game. But once they made the adjustments in the second half, they were able to tighten up the coverage. One of the defensive players of the game was defensive back Nate Gerry, who had 15 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and an interception in the first half.

 

Running Defense

The Hawkeyes rushed for 142 yards, but they only averaged 2.8 yards per carry. Ziare Anderson was big for the Huskers, as he tallied 14 tackles and one forced fumble. Middle linebacker Trevor Roach was right behind Anderson with eight tackles. The front seven for the Huskers never let the running backs for Iowa run wild because the Huskers never got beat off the line of scrimmage consistently. They have improved greatly compared to the University of Wisconsin game a few weeks ago.

 

Special Teams

To say it was a mixed bag for the special teams would be an understatement. The Huskers had a missed field goal in the first quarter, but they also recovered a fumble on a punt return in the same quarter. They had a field goal blocked that was returned for a touchdown, but De’Mornay Pierson-El had two big returns in the fourth quarter—and one was returned for a touchdown to give the Huskers the lead. It was a game where the special teams made big mistakes but also helped the Huskers win the game.

 

Coaching

Bo Pelini did a good job making second-half adjustments so the Huskers were able to get back in the game. He also did a good job managing the clock at the end of the game so his offense had time to go downfield and hit the game-tying field goal. It has not been the best year for Pelini and his coaching staff, but he has a chance to finish the season with 10 wins, which is always a good accomplishment.

 

Passing Offense

It was a solid day for Rudock when it comes to the passing game. He threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw one interception and was only 19-of-38. Rudock showed toughness all game long. But as the game went on, the coverage for the Huskers got better and the shots downfield weren’t there compared to the first half.

 

Running Offense

Iowa is not a team that runs the ball well compared to other teams in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes only rushed for 142 yards on 50 carries. The problem with the Hawkeyes is they don’t have a running back that is a game-changer. Mark Weisman and Jordan Canzeri are guys that can grind it out, but they only average about 3.5 yards per carry. If they were able to run the ball more effectively, the Hawkeyes might have won.

 

Passing Defense

Despite the four touchdown passes given up by the Hawkeyes, they limited Armstrong to 202 yards and picked him off twice in the first half. The coverage was never bad for Iowa; it was Armstrong being able to make good throws to Kenny Bell and Pierson-El. It’s disappointing how Iowa lost the way it did after giving up a touchdown pass from Armstrong to Bell, because the coverage was there. However, Armstong and Bell were able to improvise.

 

Running Defense

The only problem the Hawkeyes had in the run game was Abdullah. Despite the 106 yards he gained, 53 of those yards came on one play. Nebraska easily averages 250 yards per game on the ground, and it only gained 161. Armstrong only rushed for 31 yards, and Imani Cross only carried the ball three times. Quinton Alston tallied eight tackles and one tackle for loss, while Josey Jewell added seven tackles. Both players were very solid in the run game, as they were able fly to the football.

 

Special Teams

Like Nebraska, it was a mixed bag for the special teams. The Hawkeyes got a touchdown off special teams, but they had a very hard time containing return man Pierson-El, as he had two big returns—one of them went for a touchdown. The Hawkeyes also had a return that was fumbled in the first half. As good as the special teams played at times, they were just as bad in key moments in the game, which is one of the reasons why the Hawkeyes came up short.

 

Coaching

Kirk Ferentz always has his players ready to play, and that was the case against Nebraska, as the Hawkeyes were up 24-7 in the third quarter. But the players had issues executing toward the end of the game and let the game slip away in the fourth quarter. That’s not all on Ferentz because the players have to execute better in key situations. When Iowa plays in its bowl game, Ferentz will make sure his players won’t make the same mistakes again.

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Texas A&M Fires Defensive Coordinator Mark Snyder: Latest Details and Analysis

On the heels of Texas A&M's 23-17 loss to LSU in the regular season finale for both teams, Aggies defensive coordinator Mark Snyder has been fired. 

According to ESPN's Brett McMurphy, Texas A&M announced that Snyder was relieved of his duties on Friday evening. 

Snyder has been part of Kevin Sumlin's staff since 2012. His defenses have always struggled to support otherwise strong offensive units in three years at Texas A&M. That was never more evident than this season, when the Aggies were trying to break in a new quarterback with Johnny Manziel going to the NFL. 

Here is how Texas A&M's defense currently ranks in the four major categories, via StatMilk:

As for potential replacements, Bleacher Report's Lead SEC Writer Barrett Sallee does note that the immediate expectation shouldn't be for Texas A&M to land soon-to-be-former Florida head coach Will Muschamp:

Sumlin has a reputation as an offensive-minded head coach, going back to his days at Houston when the team led the nation in total offense and scoring in 2011. The Aggies will need a strong defensive-minded coordinator who can recruit and coach in order to avoid another disappointing season next year. 

Muschamp certainly should be on the short list of candidates given the success he's had building Florida's defense and dating back to his time as defensive coordinator at Texas. He's going to have his choice of jobs, so Texas A&M will have to fight hard if it hopes to entice him. 

 

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Marshall Proves It Doesn't Belong in Playoff Conversation with Embarrassing Loss

The Marshall University Thundering Herd were never truly in the playoff conversation. Everybody knew, whether they openly admitted it or not, that the upper echelon of the Power Five would squash Marshall. 

But Rakeem Cato and Co. always had one thing that nobody else besides Florida State University had in college football—an undefeated record. 

Not anymore. 

It's a tune that is almost tired at this point, but it's something that still stings to those that grasped onto hope until the very end.

There was the University of Houston and Case Keenum's letdown in the Conference USA title game to the University of Southern Mississippi in 2011 after tearing through the regular season undefeated. 

There was Northern Illinois University in 2013, with a regular season-ending loss to Bowling Green State University after going 12-0. 

Those teams have always represented hope for the "Group of Five." After all, undefeated is undefeated, and it's hard to argue against—even if your toughest opponent was Rice University. 

However, Marshall's embarrassing loss to Western Kentucky University—a 67-66 overtime tilt that was won when the Hilltoppers converted a two-point conversion in the first overtime—proved it. Marshall doesn't belong in the playoff conversation. 

What's worse is that Marshall all but lost an opportunity to play in a top-tier bowl game as well. That honor will now likely befall either Boise State University or Colorado State University. 

Marshall's run was certainly respectable. Like I said, undefeated is undefeated and winning 11 games is admirable and worth celebrating no matter the team or the level of football. 

But the notion that Marshall belonged at the playoff table—or even in the discussion—simply because it was undefeated was naive. Marshall hasn't faced any Power Five teams, and it has even had some relatively close calls against bottom-feeder FBS schools (see Middle Tennessee State University, University of Alabama at Birmingham). 

It was Marshall that dug its own grave on Friday afternoon, though. Cato threw four interceptions—three of them in the first half. That alone gave Western Kentucky the momentum it needed to control the pace of the game, and it should remove Cato from any Heisman Trophy talk as well. 

The Herd gave up 67 points, including the game-winning two-point conversion—to Western Kentucky. 

Perhaps it's a good thing that Boise State or Colorado State will be the Group of Five representative in a top-tier bowl. Boise State has history there—successful history I might add—while Colorado State has beaten two Power Five teams. 

How would Marshall have fared against the likes of an Auburn University, University of Mississippi or Baylor University? If Brandon Doughty hung 67 on the board, imagine what Nick Marshall, Bryce Petty or even Bo Wallace would do. 

Marshall's run was a fun one. And it deserves a decent bowl selection and some prime-time billing for it. Cato is still an elite quarterback whose career outshines most at that university. 

But Marshall was never playoff worthy. It was never even close. 

Friday's loss just affirmed that. 

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College Football Rankings 2014: Predicting Playoff Teams Following Week 14

College football has nearly reached zero hour. The four teams fighting to get into the College Football Playoff will decrease with the kickoff of rivalry weekend, where upsets always happen and chaos reigns supreme. It's why this is such a magical weekend. 

This also becomes a time when we will find out what the selection committee really uses to evaluate teams. There have been glimpses of it throughout the process so far, notably the way quality wins mean more than anything else. 

When it comes to the final standings, though, who knows if the committee's thinking will change? While that's not until December 7, here are some predictions for what will happen over the weekend and how that will impact the standings coming out on Tuesday. 

Before diving into what the Top Four will look like next week, here's how things currently stand in the playoff race. 

(Note: As the table header indicates, the logo shown at the far right of each team's row is for that team's next opponent and not for the ranked team itself.)

 

Predicted Playoff Standings For Week of December 1

The Top Three is boring since that stays the same. Alabama has the Iron Bowl matchup with Auburn on Saturday. Normally, this would be a showdown to watch closely. It's lost some luster thanks to the Tigers losing their last two SEC games against Texas A&M and Georgia. 

Alabama has gotten better as the season has gone on, peaking at the right time. The Crimson Tide aren't blowing opponents out, but since losing to Mississippi on October 4, they have won six straight games and are allowing 13.3 points per game during that stretch. 

That's where the difference lies between these two teams, as the offenses have been nearly identical in terms of points scored. Auburn averages 35.1 points per game; Alabama averages 35. 

On defense, though, it's no contest because Nick Saban's team wipes the floor with Auburn, as this graphic from StatMilk shows:

Assuming Alabama holds serve in this spot, which it should given the recent directions of these two teams, it will retain the top spot in the rankings. 

Immediately following the Crimson Tide will be Oregon, which has its own rivalry game on Saturday against Oregon State. Unlike Alabama, which at least faces a quality opponent, the Ducks should have no problems. 

Even though Oregon is traveling to Reser Stadium, the Ducks are a vastly superior team. They are third in scoring offense, 14th in passing offense and 23rd in rushing offense. Oregon State is 24th in passing offense, but just 84th in scoring and 114th in rushing. 

Plus, Oregon will know to be on its toes after watching Arizona State's season get ruined by the Beavers two weeks ago. Marcus Mariota has yet to lose against Oregon State in his career. That won't change on Saturday. 

Florida State may not look pretty doing what it does, but the end result is all that matters. The Seminoles might be better prepared for a must-win game this year than they were in 2013 because of how all their close games and wins so far. 

Don't underestimate Florida in this spot. While the Gators have had problems this season, they do have a formula that's given Florida State problems. The gap in scoring isn't as significant as you might think, while Florida's rushing offense plays into a weakness for Jimbo Fisher's defense, via StatMilk:

Florida State has earned enough clout over the last two years, so predicting a loss in this spot would be foolish. Just know that it wouldn't be a surprise to see another game where the Seminoles struggle. 

The fourth and final spot has never been cloudier. Mississippi State is likely hanging on by a thread, while TCU and Ohio State have found their groove late in the year. The Bulldogs will get a huge boost if they win and Alabama loses because it guarantees them one more game for the SEC championship. 

Even though an Alabama loss would hurt Mississippi State's opponents' record, having more opportunities to impress the committee seems important. 

However, the Bulldogs haven't looked sharp lately and are going to take on a Mississippi defense that leads the nation with 13.5 points allowed per game. Dak Prescott, while he is being named a finalist for many postseason awards, hasn't been the same quarterback lately.

Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com highlighted Prescott's erratic performance of late as the key for Mississippi to expose to pull off an upset:

Force Prescott to make mistakes. The Achilles heel of the one-time Heisman Trophy frontrunner has been taking care of the football. For as good as Prescott has been at carving up defenses, he's turned the ball over too many times in recent weeks, including throwing three interceptions in the loss to Alabama.

In fact, taking things deeper, Prescott has thrown eight of his 10 interceptions this season in the last four games against SEC teams. 

This opens the door for TCU, which has already taken care of its business with a dominant effort against Texas on Thanksgiving. The Horned Frogs need help to win the Big 12. Baylor still has two games left, including a critical showdown next week against Kansas State. 

While there is time to debate that game and TCU's standing, there's no doubt that if Mississippi State were to lose, then Gary Patterson's team stands to move into the final spot. The committee clearly loves TCU's body of work with wins over Oklahoma, West Virginia and Kansas State. 

Ohio State, while it has slowly moved up the totem pole, still has to overcome the stigma of that early-season loss to Virginia Tech. The Buckeyes are also playing a Michigan team that's been a disaster virtually all year. 

Next week will do Urban Meyer's team some good, especially if it gets to play Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. Until that time, though, don't expect the Buckeyes to jump TCU in next week's rankings. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 


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Marshall's Undefeated Season Ends on Incredible TD Catch and 2-Point Conversion

No. 24 Marshall took an 11-0 record into Friday's matchup against Western Kentucky, but its dreams of an undefeated season came crashing down with a 67-66 overtime loss.

WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty hit Jared Dangerfield with a beautiful pass to the back of the end zone in overtime, as Dangerfield made an incredible catch and somehow kept both feet inbounds. That was Doughty's eighth touchdown pass of the day.

Instead of kicking the extra point to  double overtime, WKU went for the win and converted a two-point try to Willie McNeal.

It was a feast-or-famine play call by WKU, and on the day after Thanksgiving, the Hilltoppers had enough for a win.

[Xfinity Sports]

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Florida State Football: Ranking the 5 Best Moments in the Florida Rivalry

Florida State and Florida meet Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET for the annual revisiting of one of college football’s greatest rivalries, and much like a season ago, UF can play the role of spoiler in FSU’s quest to compete for the national championship.

The Seminoles and the Gators' rivalry is one that has featured not only some of the greatest players in college football but some of the greatest games and moments.

Let’s take a look at arguably the five greatest ‘Noles moments ever in this heated rivalry.

Begin Slideshow

Nebraska Punter Kicks Ball off Teammate's Back, Iowa Returns for TD

Things went from bad to worse quickly for Nebraska punter Sam Foltz vs. Iowa.

After a bobbled snap, Foltz tried to get the punt off but ended up finding teammate Zach Hannon's back, leading to an Iowa touchdown.

[gifdsports]

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Stanford vs. UCLA: Live Score and Highlights

Stanford 14, UCLA 10 — Mid 2nd Quarter

Something has to give Friday afternoon in Pasadena, California, as the eighth-ranked UCLA Bruins take on the Stanford Cardinal.

A late-season resurgence has seen head coach Jim Mora's Bruins climb back into the Pac-12 title picture, but it will take one more win at home on senior night to punch their ticket to face Oregon.

The problem? UCLA has failed to beat Stanford in six consecutive meetings.

But with Stanford (6-5) downtrodden and the Rose Bowl inhabiters peaking, perhaps this season will signal a changing of the guard out west. If the Bruins have any aspirations of representing the Pac-12 in anything other than a bowl game, they'll have to make that happen.

The Black Friday tilt will begin at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC, but stay tuned in below with live updates as they happen. NCAA.com has live stats here.

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Stanford vs. UCLA: Live Score and Highlights

Stanford 14, UCLA 10 — Mid 2nd Quarter Something has to give Friday afternoon in Pasadena, California, as the eighth-ranked UCLA Bruins take on the Stanford Cardinal...

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How Several Key Recruits Changed the Course of the Notre Dame-USC Rivalry

There may be 2,000 miles between the University of Notre Dame and University of Southern California. But as the two programs square off for the 86th time in the series' storied history, the Irish and Trojans look more alike than ever on the field.

Few will confuse the two schools. Notre Dame's tree-lined campus features multiple lakes and acres of greenery. USC's campus sits in the middle of urban Los Angeles, the campus carved into the center of America's second-largest metropolis.

But the differences are just part of what makes this weekend's battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh so special. It's a rivalry that dates back to Knute Rockne's barnstorming Irish squad visiting the West Coast in 1926, with the two teams playing every season since, taking off only 1943-45 due to travel restrictions during World War II.

That's why even amidst four-loss seasons for both the Irish and Trojans, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly acknowledged the special status of this annual tilt. 

"I still think it's the rivalry game," Kelly said Tuesday, according to Emily Evans of ABC 57. "How many times can you match up two teams, one from the West Coast and one from Indiana, at the end of the year? I just think the significance of it historically, tradition‑wise [and] geographically, there's no game like it."

Adding to this rivalry is the fact that these two rosters continue to intersect more and more. As Kelly has made the West Coast—and Southern California, in particular—a recruiting priority, we see a matchup that football players, Irish and Trojans coaches and the fans have been following since high school. 

Notre Dame's roster features 12 players from the state of California, more than any other state in the country. Seven of them come from Southern California. But it's not just geography that makes this rivalry a familiar one: it's the battles on the recruiting trail. 

Since Mike Denbrock returned with Kelly for his second stint as a Notre Dame assistant coach, Denbrock has fronted the recruiting efforts on the West Coast. That's meant spending times in the living rooms of many USC players competing in Saturday's game. 

The Irish have their share of victories. Starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley is a rare recruit pulled out of the Pac-12 after attending Las Vegas' Bishop Gorman Catholic High School. He was also one of the first recruiting targets for the Trojans, receiving a phone call from the Trojans staff as it prioritized its targets. 

"They were the first school to call me, too," Stanley told TrojanSports.com on April 15, 2011, the first day of the recruiting contact period (subscription required). "I appreciated it because I was one of the first linemen the coaches spoke to today."

The Irish also had some key losses in that same recruiting cycle. One is Trojans starting right tackle Zach Banner. The 6'9", 350-pound right tackle took an official visit to South Bend to watch the Irish take on the USC during a recruiting weekend that featured some elite talent, including nine California prospects. 

Notre Dame lost that football game 31-17, failing to close on Banner. It lost another tough recruiting battle later in February, losing out on USC star Nelson Agholor, who was a recruit the Irish hosted later that fall and invested a ton of time and effort in.

Given the opportunity to be the next Michael Floyd, Agholor decided to sign with Lane and Monte Kiffin. Agholor decided to follow in a long line of talented Trojans wide receivers instead of giving his commitment to Kelly and Irish recruiting coordinator Tony Alford, who Agholor and his family grew close to. 

"I'm very privileged that I got to deal with somebody like [Alford]," Agholor told Pete Sampson at Irish Illustrated (subscription required) as his recruitment was winding down. "He's done everything first class with myself, my coaches, my family. We couldn't ask for a better recruiter from over there. I think Notre Dame did a good job sending him."

That's how Saturday will go with nearly a dozen players. Making just the third start of his career, Irish defensive tackle Justin Utupo will play against a school that's just 20 minutes from his hometown. A broken ankle will be all that keeps Joe Schmidt from competing against two other former Mater Dei High School stars.

The Notre Dame staff will have to account for Agholor and freshman receiver JuJu Smith, who very nearly picked the Irish on national signing day last February before deciding to stay home in Southern California. Smith already has 610 yards and five touchdowns as a true freshman. 

Likely trying to stop Smith will be Max Redfield. While the blue-chip safety has gotten off to a slow start to his career, he was a key piece to USC's recruiting efforts, only to back away from his commitment and head to South Bend. Notre Dame cornerback Cole Luke looked destined for Southern Cal as well, only to pick Notre Dame in the end. 

The merry-go-round spins on and on. George Farmer and Adoree Jackson were both early Irish targets. So was freshman guard Damien Mama, who'll see playing time on Saturday. Notre Dame features freshman tight end Tyler Luatua, who was an early in-state target for the Trojans, but he decided to head to South Bend. 

And that's before getting to Amir Carlisle, who actually played a season for the Trojans before transferring to Notre Dame. Then there's KeiVarae Russell, who is suspended this season. For a long time, he considered picking USC before ending up with the Irish. 

After the game on Saturday, the weekend won't likely be over for Notre Dame's staff. Expect Kelly, Denbrock, quarterback coach Matt LaFleur and defensive assistant Bobby Elliott to stay on the West Coast.

They'll try to persuade recruits like Iman Marshall, Frank Buncam and Equanimeous St. Brown to be the final pieces of the 2015 recruiting class. Those are recruiting battles that'll include—you might have guessed it—USC. 

It's a rivalry that never ends.

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Arizona State vs. Arizona: Live Score and Highlights

Arizona State 21, Arizona 21—Early 3rd Quarter

For the first time since 1986, the Arizona State Sun Devils and the Arizona Wildcats enter the battle for the Territorial Cup with both teams being ranked in the Top 25.  What's more, each team still has a shot at the Pac-12 South Division crown should Stanford upset the UCLA Bruins this afternoon.

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Arizona State vs. Arizona: Live Score and Highlights

Arizona State 21, Arizona 21—HALFTIME For the first time since 1986, the Arizona State Sun Devils and the Arizona Wildcats enter the battle for the Territorial Cup with both teams being ranked in the Top 25...

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Arkansas vs. Missouri: Live Score and Highlights

Friday's matchup between the Arkansas Razorbacks and the Missouri Tigers is surprisingly meaningful.  Obviously, both teams want to end their respective regular seasons on a positive note, but the implications of this game are vast.

An Arkansas win gives the Razorbacks a third consecutive SEC win.  That's quite an accomplishment for a team that was riding a 17-game conference losing streak just two weeks ago.

For Missouri, a win today secures an SEC East title for the second year in a row, but a loss gives the division crown to the Georgia Bulldogs.

Will Arkansas' momentum carry the Razorbacks?  Or will Mizzou hold on and earn a trip back to the SEC Championship Game?

Tune in to CBS at 2:30 p.m. ET to watch and follow along here for live analysis and updates.

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Nebraska Punter Sacrifices Body, Forces Fumble with Hit on Iowa Punt Returner

Nebraska punter Sam Foltz opened up a large can of whoopin' Friday afternoon, hitting Iowa punt returner Matt VandeBerg with a jarring shoulder and knocking the ball loose in the process.

DataOmaha.com uploaded video of the hit, which occurred midway through the first quarter in a scoreless game. There's something both incredible and somewhat concerning about the punter being the most aggressive member of your special teams unit. 

The game has turned into an ugly exhibition for the Hawkeyes, who took a 7-0 lead over Nebraska midway through the second quarter despite having already turned the ball over three times.

Punters are people too, guys. 


Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture news. 


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Wisconsin Badgers: A Chance for Paul Bunyan's Axe and the West Division Title

There have been three Big Ten Championship Games in the last three years. The Wisconsin Badgers have played in (and won) two of them.

In the 2011 game, the Badgers beat Michigan State 42-39 in a thrilling contest that went back and forth in heart-stopping action. Quarterback Russell Wilson was the MVP of the game, as he threw three touchdown passes

In the 2012 contest, the Badgers destroyed Nebraska 70-31 as Wisconsin ran for a whopping 539 yards. Running back Montee Ball was the MVP, as he ran for 202 yards and had three touchdowns.

Current Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon had 216 yards rushing and one touchdown in that game on just nine carries.

The Badgers have a chance to get to their third championship game in four years if they can defeat the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.

A win for the Badgers would let them keep Paul Bunyan's Axe for the 11th consecutive year—plus it would give Wisconsin the West Division title and a berth in the title game against Ohio State on December 6.

The last time the Badgers had this much on the line versus the Gophers was in 1962, when the two teams also met at Camp Randall. The winner would (of course) win Paul Bunyan's Axe and (more importantly) the Big Ten title and go to the Rose Bowl.

Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinelwrote a great piece about that game earlier this week.

Winning the Axe was not a big deal back in those days, as senior end Pat Richter said when he reflected on the game played 52 years ago.

"None of those things ever came to our attention," Richter said.

The former athletic director of the Badgers said the game was about one thing.

"It came down to us winning the game and going to the Rose Bowl," Richter said.

Wisconsin was the No. 3 team in the country that day as it met No. 5 Minnesota. The Badgers won 14-9 in a very hard-fought battle.

The win gave the Badgers a trip to Pasadena to play USC. The 1963 Rose Bowl is considered one of the very best bowl games of all time, as the Badgers lost 42-37 to the Trojans.

The Badgers scored 23 unanswered points in the the final quarter of the game. When the game ended, the Badgers had the ball and were trying to score yet again.

Winning Paul Bunyan's Axe has become more visible in the past couple of decades when the Badgers and Gophers play—certainly since Barry Alvarez arrived in Madison in 1990.

The series for the Axe started in 1948. The Badgers currently have a 39-24-3 advantage in the series.

In addition, no two teams in the FBS have ever played more. The series between the two teams started in 1890 and—with the exception of 1906—they have played every year since then. In the overall series, the Gophers hold a 59-56-8 edge over the Badgers.

Head coach Gary Andersen of the Badgers knows how important winning the Axe is, as he talked about that last year in a press conference via uwbadgers.com:

The first day I was here, Coach [Barry] Alvarez walked me through and I saw the Axe sitting in the trophy case. It doesn't take too long to realize how important it is.

As we all know, in rivalries like this, it's a one-game championship. It's three hours and whatever minutes it takes to get it done.

The game on Saturday is definitely more about winning the Axe. It's about getting a chance to win the Big Ten title.

The winner of the game between the 9-2 Badgers and the 8-3 Gophers will get that opportunity against Ohio State.

The Badgers have the 18th-ranked offense in the FBS and have the second-best defense in the country.

The offense is led by Gordon, who is having a possible Heisman Trophy-winning season. Gordon has rushed for 2,109 yards (which is top in the country) and 25 touchdowns. No. 25 also has 15 receptions for 147 yards and two more scores.

The Badgers are using a two-quarterback system offensively (although Joel Stave has been getting most of the playing time recently). Stave has thrown for 827 yards with six touchdown passes versus four picks.

Tanner McEvoy is used at quarterback most often in running situations, as he has run for 560 yards and six touchdowns.

Overall, Wisconsin is ranked second in the FBS in running the football.

Defensively, the Badgers are led by a very active group of linebackers. The list includes Vince Biegel, Joe Schobert, Derek Landisch and Marcus Trotter. Landisch leads the team with eight sacks, while Biegel has six.

Kicker Rafael Gaglianone is ranked 15th in the country in field goal percentage, as he has made 15 out of 18 kicks.

Minnesota is only ranked 95th in the FBS in offense and and 33rd in defense. That gives testament to the excellent job done by head coach Jerry Kill and his staff.

The offense is led by running back David Cobb, who has rushed for 1,430 yards and 12 touchdowns. Cobb is questionable for the Wisconsin game due to a hamstring injury.

Quarterback Mitch Leidner is also a fine runner, as he has 408 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. He has also thrown for 1,445 yards with 10 touchdown passes versus eight interceptions.

Defensively, the Gophers are second in the Big Ten with 27 forced turnovers. They also have a turnover margin of plus-11.

Defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun leads the team with four interceptions. He also leads in passes defended (11) and is tied for the team lead in forced fumbles (two).

The Gophers are also very good—for the most part—on special teams. Jalen Myrick leads the Big Ten in kickoff returns with a 27.3-yard average. Punter Peter Mortell (originally from Green Bay) leads the Big Ten in punting with a 44.8-yard average. 

Minnesota also has very good coverage units on kickoffs and punts.

The weak point for the Gophers on special teams is their kicking game. Ryan Santoso has made only 10 of 16 field-goal attempts. He has missed four of his last six attempts.

Bottom line: The game on Saturday will be very big for a couple of reasons.

Yes, the winner will get Paul Bunyan's Axe, but the game means a lot more than that.

The winner gets a chance to win the Big Ten championship.

Wisconsin has won nine Big Ten titles since 1952, including three straight from 2010-2012. A win on Saturday will give Andersen a chance to claim his first (in just his second year on the job as head coach).

Minnesota has only won two Big Ten titles since 1960, with the last one happening way back in 1967. The 1960 Minnesota team also won the National Championship.

Winning the Axe will be nice, but having the opportunity to win the Big Ten championship is even better.

I'm sure Paul Bunyan would even agree.

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Charlie Strong Must Rethink Texas QB Situation After Tyrone Swoopes' Game vs TCU

AUSTIN, Texas—The Texas Longhorns had the opportunity to finish November undefeated, but fell 38 points short to No. 5 TCU on Thanksgiving. The 48-10 loss looks bad on paper, but the bigger issue for Texas was the regression of quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. 

Some may label it as unfair, but the quarterback position will almost always receive too much praise when a team wins and too much criticism in losses.

Swoopes will receive a lot of the criticism for the Longhorns' loss to TCU, but the blame is not unwarranted.

The sophomore quarterback was responsible for five turnovers, which led to half of the Horned Frogs' points and caused for speculation of Swoopes' future.

All season, head coach Charlie Strong and quarterback coach Shawn Watson have been slow to openly discuss the Longhorns' quarterback woes.

But the coaches had a different message Thursday night.

"I just told him he has to play. You can't turn the football over. You can't get down on yourself. It's all about his demeanor," Strong said following the loss. "I said the only way we're going to drive the football, we're going to score, is you have to make it happen, and you have to play well. And didn't—didn't make it happen tonight, just too many turnovers."

Strong went on to say he considered benching Swoopes but couldn't because the Longhorns don't have any other viable options under center.

And that's where the problem begins.

Texas has two scholarship quarterbacks on campus: Swoopes and true freshman Jerrod Heard. Some people may question why the coaches did not give Heard a chance to take the field, but Watson has constantly said Heard is still learning and needs a redshirt season to develop.

Swoopes is the only option Texas has, but that needs to change for the future.

"We've had a hand dealt us that we're playing with," Watson said. "That's what we were hired to come here and fix. When we got here, we haven't been able to impact the position in recruiting yet. We'll be able to do that now. So the big first step is to get competition in here."

The coaches were not dealt the most ideal hand when they took over at Texas. And to be fair, Swoopes is in fact a backup quarterback who has admitted he never expected to be the starting quarterback for Texas.

But it doesn't dismiss what happened on Thanksgiving.

Yes, Swoopes is young and yes, he's learning on the job, but turning over the ball five times is unacceptable for any player. And the sophomore understands his performance will not win him the job next season.

"It's unacceptable for a team to have five turnovers, especially coming from one person. It's not good and it doesn't put your team in the position to win," Swoopes said. "It was a tough day. I wasn't able to get out of the funk we got in and it didn't end well."

Swoopes has been up and down during his first season as the Longhorns' leader. There were games where he looked like he had the "it" factor, then other times where he was the polar opposite.

Thursday's performance was his worst of the season and was evidence how turnovers can destroy a team's chances of winning games.

In his six losses this year, Swoopes threw six touchdowns and eight interceptions. In his five wins as the starting quarterback, he threw seven touchdowns and two interceptions. 

He needs to show progress in leaps and bounds if he wants to be the quarterback of the future for Texas.

"When you do go out to recruit, guys have to understand that what is expected of this program, the expectations here, the standards here, the pride, tradition, it's all a part of it," Strong said. "That's what it's always going to be about. Some guys may not like it. They may not want to be here. That's fine. But we gotta get this program back to where it needs to and it's going to happen. We'll get it back there."

Thursday's game could have been the icing on the cake for the Horned Frogs to secure a coveted spot in the College Football Playoff and could very well be the final time Swoopes starts a game at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. 

There is a lot of unknown revolving around the future of the Texas quarterback, but one thing is certain, Swoopes' job will be up for grabs in 2015. 

 

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

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Georgia Tech Fans Hack UGA Website, Update Team Schedule with 'Get Ass Kicked'

Please note that a change has been made to your regularly scheduled game, Georgia fans.

Where you once had a “Yellow Jacket shellacking” for Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech, you will now be subjected to a posterior-trashing. 

This was the spirit of a recent notification on the Bulldogs’ official website, which Georgia Tech fans appeared to have hacked this week.

CollegeSpun.com’s Matt Lombardi captured a screenshot of changes that were made to the Georgia football schedule.

The site read: “Get Ass Kicked By GT.” It has since been revised to its original state. 

Chalk up another small coup for tech-savvy Georgia Tech fans, who continue to wage cyber guerrilla warfare against their instate rivals. Earlier in the week, presumed Yellow Jackets supporters began snapping up URLs and redirecting traffic to other web sites. 

Lombardi spotted a number of tweets on the matter. Fans appear to have bought the rights to “WalmartAcademy.com” and “UGAGrads.com” and funneled visitors to Georgia’s official website and McDonald’s careers section. 

Anything could happen Saturday, with the 16th-ranked Yellow Jackets and ninth-ranked Bulldogs both entering the game at 9-2. 

If Mark Richt’s record is any indication, however, Georgia will ride to victory despite losing Todd Gurley to a torn ACL for the season. The Bulldogs are 12-1 against Georgia Tech under Richt, and they clearly have plenty of motivational fodder for the matchup.

 

Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture news.

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College Football: Top 5 Games to Watch in Week 14

It’s rivalry weekend, and there are national-title as well as division-title implications on the line.

Friday will feature a dangerous Arkansas team as of late against a Missouri team that is seeking a second consecutive SEC East Division title. While there is drama likely to ensue in Columbia, things will be heated up down in Tucson with in-state ranked rivals Arizona State and Arizona hoping to spoil each other's seasons and advance to the Pac-12 title game with help from Stanford.

Saturday will consist of the best rivalry games in college football, but there are three games that stand out above the rest. Georgia Tech will travel to Georgia and face off in what will be a matchup consisting of run-heavy offenses. Minnesota and Wisconsin will battle it out for Paul Bunyan’s Axe in what will be the most intense game between these two teams in a while, with the winner clinching the Big Ten West Division.

The most highly anticipated matchup of the day will be when Auburn makes the trip to Alabama to play in one of the greatest rivalries ever, the Iron Bowl. The Crimson Tide are hoping to bounce back from last year’s loss to the Tigers and stay in contention for their fourth national championship in six years.

In what should be an exciting weekend of college football, here are the top five games to watch.

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