NCAA Football

The 5 Most Telling Stats for the Tennessee Volunteers This Season

With the 2014 regular season now in its final month, it's time to reflect on what the Tennessee Volunteers have done statistically so far to get a good idea of how the team will finish down the stretch.

The Vols have been up and down this season. For the first half of the year, Tennessee's defense appeared to be a strength, while the offense was a liability.

But in recent weeks, the roles seem to have reversed, with opposing offenses torching the Vols and Tennessee's own offense showing flashes of brilliance under the command of sophomore quarterback Joshua Dobbs. 

Of course, the biggest question on the minds of everyone associated with Tennessee football—from fans to players to coaches—is what the Vols need to do to make a bowl.

With so much statistical data available through nine games, it's much easier to get a read on both the Vols and their remaining opponents at this point in the season.

Here are five telling stats that could play a huge role in Tennessee's chances to win out and earn a bowl berth for the first time since 2010.

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LSU RBs Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard Must Come Through vs. Alabama

The 2014 college football season feels like it started just yesterday. On Saturday, though, LSU will have its senior night against Alabama.

Yeah, things go by quickly. 

If LSU is going to shake up the SEC West standings and have so much as an outside shot at the divisional title, it needs to rely on a pair of senior running backs, Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, to step up. 

Combined, the two are 449 pounds of downhill running destruction, just like the Tigers offense likes. LSU doesn't do a lot of complicated things on offense; to the contrary, the more LSU can run it down a defense's throat, the better. 

It's also partially because LSU's offense is, by and large, young, as Chris Low of ESPN.com notes: 

Their starting quarterback, Anthony Jennings, is a true sophomore. His backup, Brandon Harris, is a true freshman. Their leading rusher, Leonard Fournette, is a true freshman. Their leading receiver, Travin Dural, is a redshirt sophomore, and the two guys behind him, Trey Quinn and Malachi Dupre, are true freshmen. In fact, true freshmen have accounted for 23 of LSU's 36 offensive touchdowns. The Tigers have played 17 true freshmen through the first nine weeks, the most of the Miles era. 

Though neither senior leads the team in rushing yards—Fournette has 657 yards and seven touchdowns—Hilliard and Magee average at least five yards per carry. 

Those numbers will be tested against Alabama's stout rushing defense, which gives up fewer than three yards per carry and has allowed just two touchdowns on the ground. 

The Tide are nearly a full touchdown favorite, according to OddsShark.com, even though the game is being played at night in Death Valley, which usually counts for something. As B/R colleague Barrett Sallee correctly wrote earlier this week, LSU isn't going to be able to outlast Alabama and its defensive front seven if quarterback Anthony Jennings doesn't play well.

And Jennings' numbers on the year—50 percent completions percentage, 1,190 passing yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions—don't indicate there's going to be a sudden change overnight. 

However, Jennings doesn't have to be a hero; no one expects him to be one anyway. But the only way Jennings has the chance to be competent is if the Tigers ground game works. It's not going to surprise anyone—well, not unless head coach Les Miles pulls a signature trick play—but it has to work all the same. 

LSU has the depth at running back to keep fresh legs churning all game long. Provided the score isn't out of hand, the Tigers don't have to abandon that game plan, even if they're losing. Fournette can still be the leading rusher, but Magee and Hilliard need to have big roles as well.

If nothing else, these are two veteran players who have seen it all. These are the types of games in which those veterans take control. 

It's a tough matchup, to be sure, but a good ground game is LSU's best chance to control the line of scrimmage, win field position and wear down Alabama's defense. If past games are any indication, it'll be a close game until the end. Regular-season games between Miles and Alabama coach Nick Saban have been close, with the exception of last year's 38-17 win by the Tide. 

"You look back on these games and they have all been that style of game, a last drive or a last half of the game or last quarter the game's decided," Miles said, via Andrew Gribble of AL.com. "You plan on playing four quarters in this game, for sure."

LSU appears to have found its identity on offense, even if it's not by choice necessarily. Miles' team knows, though, that there's no way around Alabama's defense; it just has to go through it. The good thing for LSU is that that's what it does best.

 

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

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SEC Football: Predicting Final 2014 Conference Standings

With just under a month remaining in conference play, the SEC title race is still up for grabs.

In the East, a surprising loss by Georgia last weekend has helped the Florida Gators make the division a three-dog race. In the West, several key divisional matchups can either clear up the title race or fog it up further.

There’s a good chance both divisions won’t be settled until the final weekend of the regular season.

But why wait till then? Join B/R as we take a stab at predicting the final standings for both the SEC East and SEC West.

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Notre Dame Football: Nyles Morgan Key to Stopping Arizona State

Ready or not, here comes Nyles Morgan. Notre Dame's freshman middle linebacker, just months after being one of the crown jewels of the Irish's 2014 recruiting class, holds the key to beating Arizona State this weekend.

After spending most of his freshman season playing special teams, Morgan will now be thrust into the middle of the Irish defense. After senior Joe Schmidt's ankle injury ended his season, the former blue-chip recruit's bright future will get a test earlier than many expected. 

"Look, Nyles has been here 12 weeks. He's had 12 weeks of coaching, and Coach VanGorder is extremely confident in Nyles' ability to go in there and play," head coach Brian Kelly said on Tuesday. "We think we've got a guy that can go in there. His traits are pretty clear. He's extremely athletic. We'll put him in a position where he can help us win a football game on Saturday."

Morgan's week has been a crash course in football. That comes on the heels of some tough coaching that wasn't exactly for the faint of heart. 

"He's been unbelievable. We have been so hard on him," Kelly said. "I think we said to him about three weeks in, you're either going to quit or you're going to be one of the best players that's ever played here, because we're hard on him, really hard on him, and he just keeps coming back asking for more, and that's the kind of kid he is."

Morgan displayed that same type of resilience this week. With a game plan installed for one of the most difficult offenses on Notre Dame's schedule, Morgan has been up to the task. So much so that Kelly said Morgan was going to continue handling the play-calling duties Schmidt managed from the middle linebacker spot. 

"Nyles handled pretty much all of the communication. He did a great job this week, and he’ll be the guy making the calls out there," Kelly said Thursday evening. 

"He had a really good week, and he’s extremely confident. Look, he’s not gonna be perfect. Certainly there’s gonna be a hiccup here or there, but he’s got a pretty good understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish and I think he had an excellent week."

Transitioning that success from the practice field to Sun Devil Stadium will now be the biggest question. And while Morgan flashed some great moments against Navy's triple option, he'll go from the demands of Ken Niumatalolo's offense to those of 32-year-old rising star Mike Norvell, the brain behind Arizona State's attack. 

Last year, the Irish defense harassed Taylor Kelly, sacking him six times and intercepting him twice (one a pick-six by inside linebacker Dan Fox that sealed the victory) in a 37-34 win. This season, after playing scheme-heavy football under the guidance of Brian VanGorder, don't expect the Irish to dumb things down on Morgan's account. 

"We have not simplified what we’re doing. I don’t think you can go into a game like this against that offense and play vanilla," Kelly said. "If you do, it’s gonna be a long day. They’re just too good. They have a ton of answers. We have to be who we are. We would not have gone down this road unless we thought Nyles was capable of doing the job. We have great confidence."

That confidence comes from knowing the type of athlete the Irish now have on the field at middle linebacker. While Schmidt has been the MVP of this defense and its leading tackler, Morgan has physical abilities that the senior linebacker can't match.

Paired with Jaylon Smith on the inside, the Irish have two linebackers to match up with one of the Pac-12's most dynamic offenses. Throw in converted wide receiver James Onwualu and the Irish defense won't get beat because they're shy on athletes. 

After relying on Schmidt's football IQ to not just put him in the right place but also many of his teammates, expect VanGorder to use the middle linebacker differently. And with Smith capable of utilizing his blazing speed to make up for some of Morgan's mistakes, expect VanGorder to turn his freshman linebacker into a destroyer—leaving the nuance to his teammates, while Morgan does his best to wreak havoc. 

After seeing Schmidt's limitations in the blitz game, Morgan could help a pass rush that's sitting 85th in the country in sacks. 

"There's some things that we know that we can't do with Nyles that Joe could do, but I know Coach VanGorder is pretty excited about some of the things that he couldn't do with Joe that he can do with Nyles this week," Kelly said. 

Saturday afternoon, the future will merge with the present at middle linebacker. And if the Irish want to continue their pursuit of a spot in the College Football Playoff, they'll need Morgan to be up to the challenge. 

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

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Notre Dame Safety Eilar Hardy Reinstated: Latest Details and Reaction

Heading into a critical showdown with Arizona State on Saturday, Notre Dame's defense will get a boost with the return of safety Eilar Hardy.

According to Notre Dame director of football media relations Michael Bertsch, the NCAA has ruled Hardy eligible:

Hardy has yet to play in a game this season. He was one of five Notre Dame football players implicated for academic fraud in August. The senior safety was invited back to the roster in October, and head coach Brian Kelly said there was still work to do before Hardy would be allowed to play, per Sam Cooper of Yahoo Sports:

I met with Eilar, we have some work to do in terms of some of his academic work he’s working on right now in terms of trying to get that organized. But if we're able to get some of those things organized, we’re going to bring him back to practice after we get back from the bye.

The NCAA made its ruling, and Hardy will be back with the team for the rest of the season. The Fighting Irish are currently ranked 10th in the College Football Playoff standings.

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Alabama Has Matchup Advantage in Critical LSU Game

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama-LSU is always a matchup of two very talented teams. Both recruit at a very high level, and it’s evident on the field.

According to Andrew Gribble of al.com, LSU has pulled in a top-six Rivals recruiting class six times since 2007. Alabama has had the No. 1 class since 2009.

So this has also historically been a close game. The regular-season margin of victory has been single digits for every year that Nick Saban has been at Alabama except for last year, when Alabama won convincingly by 21 points.

That could be the case yet again this year.

Despite these two teams being so close talent-wise on paper, the Crimson Tide match up well with what LSU wants to do. Where the Tigers have had success this season, Alabama has been stout defensively. And the Crimson Tide’s offense can present some problems to the Tigers defense.

Let’s take a closer look at three scenarios.

 

When LSU runs the ball

This has been the Tigers’ bread and butter this season. It’s a power run game that harkens back to the SEC of several years ago, before uptempo, spread offenses infiltrated the league.

LSU is running the ball 48.67 times per game, tops in the SEC. It rushed for three touchdowns each against Kentucky and Florida and piled up 264 on the ground against a stout Ole Miss defense en route to a 10-7 upset.

For all the talk about Alabama adapting its defense to stop spread attacks, this is still very much a team built to stop the run.

The Crimson Tide sit at No. 1 in the SEC in run defense, allowing just 78.13 yards per game. The next closest team, Florida, allows an average of 121.

In its other game against a similarly-built offensive team (Arkansas), Alabama had a lot of success. The Razorbacks had just 89 yards on the ground that night, easily their lowest total of the season and well below their season average of 248.22 yards per game.

 

When LSU throws the ball

If there’s a weakness that LSU could exploit against Alabama, it would be the Crimson Tide’s secondary.

Alabama is allowing 199.1 yards per game, good for No. 29 in the country. Not bad numbers by any stretch, but not at the level the Crimson Tide would like to play defense.

They've shown a propensity to give up big plays at inopportune times.

Alabama gave up 8.1 yards per attempt against West Virginia and Ole Miss, two teams that threw the ball very well against it this year, one of which pulled an upset.

Unfortunately for LSU, as the Tigers’ run game has come into focus, they'v thrown the ball less and less.

In their last four games, the Tigers have thrown for fewer than 200 yards. They had only done that once in the previous five games.

So LSU will need to elevate its passing game significantly to move the ball against Alabama.

 

LSU’s weakness

In somewhat of a shocker, Alabama is throwing the ball really well this season. Its team passer rating is tops in the SEC. Blake Sims has the second-highest quarterback rating of anyone in the country behind Heisman favorite Marcus Mariota.

LSU should be able to somewhat neutralize this threat and make this a wash. It is holding opponents to a passer rating of just 96.37, best in the conference.

But where the Tigers defense has been vulnerable is in the run game, specifically against running quarterbacks.

It’s given up at least 100 yards rushing to two quarterbacks this year: Auburn’s Nick Marshall and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott. Prescott’s 56-yard touchdown run against LSU was one of the early defining moments of the season.

Florida’s Jeff Driskel also picked up 71 yards on the ground.

That plays right into Sims’ hands.

Sims is averaging 5.43 yards per carry, which is second in the SEC among quarterbacks—behind Marshall and just ahead of Prescott. He hasn’t run it quite as much as the other two but has had rushing touchdowns of 43 and 28 yards in his last two games.

He could have another big game on the ground in Baton Rouge.

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Notre Dame Football: How the Irish Move on Without Joe Schmidt

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — When Notre Dame football races into the warm sunshine Saturday to face Arizona State, the Irish will take the field without leading tackler Joe Schmidt.

As the “Mike” linebacker in defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s scheme, Schmidt has been indispensable, someone the Irish haven’t been able to take off the field since spring practice. So what does Notre Dame’s defense do now, devoid of its central nervous system?

“Everybody will pick up the slack there for the loss of Joe,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday.

While Schmidt’s 65 tackles pace the Irish, his role as a communicator pulling the strings at the center of the defense is even more valuable.

Irish junior defensive lineman and captain Sheldon Day called Schmidt “the quarterback of the defense.” In describing Schmidt’s duties, Day said Schmidt is delivering the play call, the formation and personnel so everyone is on the same page. If Day were to miss the call, he’d look back to Schmidt for backup.

Schmidt determines if the defensive front needs to be adjusted, and he’ll turn around in communication with the secondary and tinker with the coverage if need be.

“All those things are going on before the play has to be snapped, so he does a lot,” Day said.

“Joe was definitely the greatest communicator I’ve seen in a while,” Day added. “So it’s definitely everybody’s job to step up their role a little bit more to make sure everybody knows what they have to do on each and every play.”

Irish freshman linebacker Nyles Morgan climbs into the starting role vacated by Schmidt. Morgan was the No. 3 inside linebacker and the No. 53 overall player in the class of 2014, per 247Sports’ composite rankings. He tallied four tackles in relief of Schmidt last Saturday against Navy. Kelly said Morgan handled most of the communication this week and will make the calls Saturday against the Sun Devils.

“I’m confident,” Kelly said Thursday of Morgan. “He had a really good week, and he’s extremely confident in himself. He’s not gonna be perfect. Certainly, there’s gonna be a hiccup here or there. But he’s got a pretty good understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Morgan took charge from the first practice this week after Schmidt’s injury, Kelly said.

“There’s no doubt who’s the guy out there,” he added.

Kelly said Notre Dame has not simplified its defense because of Morgan, noting the Irish can’t play “vanilla” against the Arizona State offense.

“We would not have gone down this road unless we thought Nyles was capable of doing the job,” Kelly said. “We have great confidence. He’s extremely confident in his ability, and that’s the game-changer.”

Kelly recounted his memories of Morgan in training camp, where the linebacker meeting room was positioned right next to Kelly in the quarterback room. VanGorder would regularly chew out Morgan for his mistakes on the practice field.

“It would make most young men weep,” Kelly said. “But Nyles would come back the next day with a smile, wanting more, and you just knew that this was one of those special kids that he just wanted to learn more football.”

Morgan won’t be without help Saturday. Irish sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith said Morgan will make the calls, but if anything is out of order, it’s up to Smith and Day to reset the defense.

“It puts a lot more on me,” Smith said of Schmidt’s injury. “But I’m up for the challenge and really just gotta understand it’s gonna be a different voice talking out there with the freshmen.”

Day said everyone on the defense has focused on communication this week, and he, Smith and safeties Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate have had to be more vocal.

“Everybody is making sure we understand what’s going on, the play call and making sure everybody’s on the same page,” Day said.

They’ll need to be Saturday to have a chance to knock off the No. 9 team in the country.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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Outgoing Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett Discusses Joe Paterno's Firing

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, who recently lost his bid for re-election, admitted his role in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky abuse scandal—including the firing of longtime head coach Joe Paterno—probably played a role in his political defeat.

Angela Couloumbis of The Philadelphia Inquirer reports Corbett now believes it was probably a mistake to let the Penn State legend go in the manner the university trustees did. He states that decision shifted the focus from what Sandusky did to what Paterno may not have done.

"They probably shouldn't have fired him. They probably should have suspended him," Corbett said. "He probably should have been given the last three games, not on the sideline."

He served as attorney general during the scandal and has faced years of criticism for his role in the removal of Paterno.

Looking back now, Corbett says it's impossible to know if the head coach, who was fired in November 2011 and passed away two months later, knew the full extent of Sandusky's conduct.

"But I'm not so sure it was clear to him," Corbett said. "And, technically, he complied with the law."

Corbett had previously stated that the lack of action caused him to lose confidence in the school's leadership and Paterno as leader of the football program.

As for why he didn't discuss the issue publicly amid criticism during the campaign, he told The Philadelphia Inquirer that decision was made not to reopen old wounds.

In September, Josh Moyer of ESPN.com reported Penn State's postseason ban would end this season and the full amount of scholarships would be returned next year. The NCAA previously had levied unprecedented sanctions in the wake of the scandal.

 

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West Virginia and Missouri Agree to Future Home-and-Home Football Series

Over 20 years after their last regular-season meeting, West Virginia and Missouri have agreed to a home-and-home football series to be played in 2016 and 2019.

The Mountaineers broke the announcement on their official Twitter page:

Morgantown will host the first meeting on Sept. 3, 2016, while Columbia will have the honors on Sept. 7, 2019.

Unless the two schools meet in an upcoming bowl game, the 2016 contest will be the first regular-season head-to-head clash between West Virginia and Missouri since 1994 (a 34-10 win by the Mountaineers). The two also met in the Insight Bowl in 1998, with the Tigers winning 34-31.

Missouri holds a 3-2 lead in the series.

“I believe this home-and-home series with Missouri will be great for both schools,” West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck said, per a release on the school’s athletic website. “Each program will benefit from playing a non-conference game against a team from a highly visible conference, and the fans will be entertained from what I think will be two highly competitive games.”

Missouri athletic director Bryan Maggard shared Luck’s excitement.

“We are very pleased to add a team of the caliber of West Virginia to our schedule,” he said, via a release on the school’s athletic website. “We’re excited to have a chance to work together, and [we] appreciate everyone coming together to make this happen on all sides.”

It’s a start for Missouri, who is currently trying to toughen up its nonconference schedule in future years. As of now, West Virginia is the toughest nonconference foe on the Tigers schedule going up to 2021.

Meanwhile, it’s par for the course for the Mountaineers, who just finished a series with Alabama. The team also has Maryland, Virginia Tech, NC State and Penn State on its nonconference schedule going up to 2024.

In general, both conferences have gone out of their way to beef up their nonconference schedules with the new College Football Playoff system in place. Some key fixtures are Notre Dame-Georgia, Oklahoma-LSU and UCLA-Texas, among others.

Both programs have made sweeping turnarounds in recent years.

After finishing in the cellar of the SEC in 2012, Missouri wound up winning the SEC East title last season. The school is currently sitting in the division lead. On the other hand, West Virginia has had somewhat of a breakout year in the Big 12. They currently sit at 6-3 and are just two games out of the Big 12 lead.

With both programs on the rise, these games should do a good job getting fans excited.

 

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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Welcome to College Football's Elimination Saturday

Remember when the College Football Playoff was supposed to ruin the regular season? About that. 

In fact, there's a case to be made that college football's regular season has actually been enhanced by the addition of two more spots in the championship field. No other Saturday illustrates that point better than this one, which features six games between Top 25 teams. All but one of those Week 11 games features at least one Top 10 team jockeying for one of two remaining playoff spots.

Here's what's on the schedule (point spreads courtesy of OddsShark.com): 

Under the BCS, No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 2 Florida State—which play home games against UT-Martin and Virginia, respectively—would have a clear path to the national championship. Meanwhile, a half-dozen or so teams would be waiting in the wings hoping for a loss.

Thanks to the four-team playoff, though, the stars aligned on Nov. 8 to create what could be a de facto elimination weekend for those other teams—unless, of course, all hell breaks loose and every Vegas favorite loses. The conversation could then shift to the possibility of a two-loss team making the playoff field. 

But let's cross that bridge if and when we get to it. For now, every weekend from here on out has a must-win feel to it. Here's how Saturday breaks down.

 

Team with the Most to Prove: Notre Dame

By this point in the season, we should have teams generally figured out. An exception is Notre Dame, which has arguably the "best loss" of any team, falling just short at Florida State, 31-27.

However, good losses don't equal a playoff spot—at least not without a quality win to balance it out. The selection committee has shown it believes the Irish have more work to do because their best win is over a 5-4 Stanford team that just got its doors blown off by Oregon. Additionally, Notre Dame has narrow escapes over a pair of 4-5 teams: North Carolina and Navy. 

Surprise, but Irish head coach Brian Kelly doesn't quite see it that way (via Chris Hine of the Chicago Tribune):

In 2012 I think we started the season with the No. 1 schedule in the country. I think we started that way this year, too. That's all we can do. We go into this putting together the toughest schedule in the country, right?  Nobody else does it that way. They put on teams that are clearly glorified byes.  

We don't operate that way. That to me is strength of schedule in terms of the way we put it together. If it's not evaluated that way, there's nothing I can do about it.

The Irish can start to rectify that for good by beating a team—on the road—ranked one spot ahead: Arizona State. The committee thinks highly of the Sun Devils, who are 7-1. That's good news for Notre Dame. 

In the end, Notre Dame seems like a team that needs to win out and get help. But that only happens if the Irish pull the upset.

 

Team That Can Knock the Earth Off Its Orbit: LSU

Let's be honest about this: LSU isn't getting into the playoff. You know this. I know this. The Tigers have losses to Mississippi State, the score of which (34-29) did not reflect how easy the Bulldogs made it look, and Auburn, a 41-7 blowout.

But because head coach Les Miles has sold his soul for some dark magic that even the occult won't touch, you'd be most unwise to count him out of any game...especially at home...at night. Ask Ole Miss.

That's what Alabama is facing. As ESPN's SEC reporter Chris Low points out, the Tigers could get the ball rolling on a potential five-way tie atop the SEC West:

It would take total carnage for the SEC to be completely shut out of the playoff, but imagine a five-way tie in the West with everybody having two losses and all those losses coming to each other.

Good luck figuring out that tiebreaker.

A lot would have to happen, but the top of the SEC West is deep enough that future games among Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn could resemble cannibalism. If there's any team that would throw a wrench into the established order, it's LSU.

 

Team That Needs to Be on High Alert: Oregon

B/R colleague Jason Gold touched on this, so be sure to read his piece on why Oregon's trip to Utah is the ultimate trap game.

On paper, Oregon should be fine if last weekend is any indication. The Ducks dismantled Stanford 45-16, and the Cardinal have one of the best defenses in the country. Utah, when looking at the major defensive stats side by side with Stanford—yards per rush, yards per passing attemptpoints allowed and the like—isn't as stingy but still solid and comparable.

So long as Oregon can score, the Utes haven't shown they have the offensive capabilities to keep up.

The other factors are what need to be taken into consideration. The Ducks snapped a two-game losing slide against Stanford, and quarterback Marcus Mariota played his best game ever. That weight has been lifted. What Oregon can't afford to do is relax, especially traveling to what will surely be a raucous environment.

The Ducks are one win away from securing at least a share of the Pac-12 North and a spot in the conference championship game. Oregon has been there, done that before, so pressure probably isn't a factor. Still, it's one week after a big win and the schedule gets considerably easier (vs. Colorado, at Oregon State). This game has a "one final hurdle" feel. Can Oregon clear it?

 

Conference Most Likely to Knock Itself Out of the Playoff: Big 12

Remember in the offseason when Baylor at Oklahoma was the Big 12 game of the year? That game still matters, but it has been overshadowed by an even bigger game that no one saw coming: Kansas State at TCU.

It would appear the Wildcats or Horned Frogs are the Big 12's best playoff bets. Baylor holds the head-to-head game over TCU, but the selection committee hasn't valued anything the Bears have done to date. In the latest CFP rankings, No. 12 Baylor is behind eight other one-loss teams and two-loss Ole Miss, and six spots behind the Frogs.

That's subject to change given Baylor's backloaded schedule, but the Bears probably need help over the next few weeks to climb at least eight spots. If Oklahoma beats Baylor, then forget about the Bears altogether.

TCU is going to be rooting for Oklahoma too. If Baylor and TCU win out, it creates a potential conundrum, as explained by David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest. If a playoff spot was on the line, would the committee value the head-to-head result, or the entire body of work? TCU would rather not have to find out.

Of course, the Frogs have to get by Kansas State first, and the Wildcats have the Big 12's best scoring defense.

Speaking of K-State, this team has the chance to close as well as any team in the country. The Wildcats play at TCU, travel to West Virginia on Nov. 20 for a Thursday night game and finish the season at Baylor. If K-State wins out that stretch, it would have to be a serious contender in the playoff conversation, would it not? Its only loss is by six points to Auburn in September.

Similar to the SEC West, the top of the Big 12 is deep with quality teams. However, there isn't a single team that truly stands out above the rest—at least not yet. Whether the top of the conference knocks itself out of the playoff conversation remains to be seen, but it's a possibility.

 

Put Your Rear on the Record Picks

Here are my picks for the above games straight up. (If you're looking for picks against the spread, check out our weekly feature here.) Keep in mind that these picks are subject to change at any time, including once the games are over. Do not, under any circumstances, put money on these games based on said picks, as you will surely lose that money and maybe your house in the process.

Oregon at Utah: Oregon

Alabama at LSU: Alabama

Kansas State at TCU: TCU

Ohio State at Michigan State: Michigan State

Notre Dame at Arizona State: Arizona State

Baylor at Oklahoma: Baylor

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All rankings reflect the latest College Football Playoff standings. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

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Florida State Linebacker Ukeme Eligwe Dismissed: Latest Details and Reaction

Florida State's march toward a second consecutive national title is very much intact, but it will have to move forward without the presence of linebacker Ukeme Eligwe.

According to Brendan Sonnone of The Orlando Sentinel, the sophomore was dismissed from the team Thursday evening.

Head coach Jimbo Fisher revealed the reasoning, although he didn't get into specifics.

"Just a violation of team rules," Fisher said.

Eligwe was a special teams and sometimes-defensive contributor as a freshman last season, and he was expected to take on a bigger role in 2014.

Unfortunately, he was limited to just one game due to a Lisfranc injury.

While the ailment has dogged him throughout the 2014 campaign, he seemed to be working his way back into action, per Corey Clark of The Tallahassee Democrat:

Eligwe likely won't get the opportunity to suit up for the Seminoles again this season, though, and it is entirely possible that his time at Florida State has come to an end altogether.

The dismissal of Eligwe hurts Florida State's linebacker depth, but it has managed to thrive without him for most of the year. With so much talent on both sides of the ball, the expectation is that the Noles will be able to maintain their success.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Sorority Girl Scores Amazing Flag Football Touchdown

Someone get this girl a uniform.

During a recent charity flag football tournament put on by Florida State's chapter of Beta Theta Pi, Michelle Roque showed off some moves that left her defenders in the dirt.

Roque—a Delta Gamma sorority member and former high school athlete, according to Stephen Spiewak of MaxPreps.com—had the cameraman screaming in excitement after this touchdown run.

[MaxPreps]

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What to Expect from J.T. Barrett in Buckeyes Matchup with Michigan State

COLUMBUS, Ohio — If J.T. Barrett was hoping to be overlooked in Ohio State's matchup with Michigan State this Saturday, he found the wrong opponent.

Comparing the Buckeyes freshman quarterback to his two-time Big Ten MVP predecessor Braxton Miller, Spartans linebacker Taiwan Jones wasn't short on praise for Barrett, as he heads into the toughest test of his young college career.

“Barrett works better in this offense, and I feel like he has a better arm. He is a way better quarterback than Braxton," Jones said in a Tuesday press conference. “As an athlete, I feel like Braxton Miller was better. As for a quarterback that can fit in the offense, [Barrett] fits really well."

Jones' comment drew a rebuttal from Miller, but there is some validity to his premise. Because while Miller has been on the sideline nursing a season-ending torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, the Ohio State offense has been humming along under Barrett, ranking fourth in the nation in points per game (45.6) and 15th in yards per game (505).

But while Barrett's success in his first season has been impressive, it hasn't been without an asterisk. It's worth noting that the majority of the Wichita Falls, Texas, native's success has come against lesser opponents, both in the nonconference and Big Ten portion of the Buckeyes schedule.

In fact, of Barrett's 2,352 total yards and 29 touchdowns, 1,914 yards and 24 touchdowns have come against Navy, Kent State, Cincinnati, Maryland, Rutgers and Illinois. To put that in perspective, none of those teams rank any higher than 81st in the country in total defense, hardly a murderer's row of opponents that Barrett has lit up.

Meanwhile, Barrett has struggled against the two best defenses that Ohio State has faced, completing just 9-of-29 passes against Virginia Tech's 31st-ranked unit and throwing for just 74 yards against Penn State's No. 3-ranked defense. Those numbers were enough for Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer to admit that he's not yet satisfied with the state of the Buckeyes passing game, despite its overall gaudy numbers.

"Not yet," Meyer answered when asked if he was comfortable with Ohio State's throw game heading into East Lansing. "We're not 100 percent there. And we're going to work real hard at it at practice."

Whether that practice will pay off in time for Saturday remains to be seen, but the Buckeyes will certainly have their hands full with a Spartans team that ranks fifth in the country in total defense. From a passing perspective, Michigan State ranks 14th in the country on defense, giving up an average of 184 yards per game.

That's well below the average of Barrett, who has averaged 232 passing yards in the first eight games of his college career, sitting out the second half against Illinois last week in a game that was already in hand. Nevertheless, Barrett's teammates remain confident in their freshman signal-caller heading into the biggest game of Ohio State's season.

"He's ready," wide receiver Devin Smith said. "He's confident in himself. He'll be ready to go Saturday."

And whereas Barrett's shortcomings against Penn State—which also involved two interceptions, including a pick-six to start the second half—could certainly be viewed as a negative, the Buckeyes did find a way to walk away from Happy Valley with a win. A big part of that had to do with the play of their quarterback, who scored Ohio State's two touchdowns (both rushing) in overtime.

“I know J.T. is going to do everything he can do to help us win, and that was probably just one of the first games where everybody else got to see it,” wide receiver Evan Spencer said. “I knew he was a great competitor. I knew at the end of the day he was going to try to send [the seniors] out the right way and that he was going to do everything that he could to make sure we won."

Of course, expressing confidence to the media is one thing, and going out and performing against the Michigan State defense on the road and at night is another. Barrett may be confident in himself as well, but he knows that Saturday will likely be the toughest test that he faces this season.

“Physical defense. Aggressive," Barrett said of the Spartans. "Going to see some blitzing definitely from them and just tough, grind-it defense. Tough as far as stopping the run and making you throw the ball, and you’ve got to complete it as well.” 

But in a battle that seems like two opponents each trying to play the role of underdog, Michigan State is determined to not sell Barrett short. He may not have proven himself against a top defense just yet, but Barrett has put enough on film already to show Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio that Michigan State can't put too much stock in the absence of Miller—or Barrett's struggles against top-tier opponents.

“They’re two different type of players. Braxton had more experience, although J.T. has become experienced as he’s moved through the process here. He’s done a tremendous job,” Dantonio said. “In so many different areas you can tell he’s a leader on the field, which I think is critical in any quarterback, and he’s done an outstanding job."

 

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

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Where Ohio State Turns After Missing on 4-Star Rashad Roundtree

After a successful visit last weekend, the Ohio State Buckeyes coaching staff envisioned the possibility of highly touted defensive back prospect Rashad Roundtree making plays in the secondary.

Unfortunately, that dream will not become a reality, as the Evans, Georgia, product decided to stay instate, committing to the Georgia Bulldogs on Friday morning, per Rivals’ Woody Wommack:

Aside from the Buckeyes and Bulldogs, the Lakeside High standout was also coveted by schools such as Alabama, Auburn and Clemson, among others. His size, speed and tackling ability made him one of the more exciting recruits in the class.

A 4-star prospect, according to 247Sports, Roundtree becomes the 10th 4-star recruit for Georgia. He’ll join three other defensive backs in a class that is shaping up to becoming one of the best in the nation, ranking No. 3 in 247Sports’ football recruiting team rankings.

Although Ohio State was high on Roundtree, the school already boasts an impressive crop of defensive backs. 

Among the 20 commits, the Buckeyes boast five cornerbacks and one safety. That list is highlighted by 4-star prospects Eric Glover-Williams and Jamel Dean.

Now, priority No. 1 for the school should be in solidifying these commitments.

If there is any flip-flopping, the Ohio State coaching staff will hope it comes from rival Michigan’s own backyard. More specifically, 4-star cornerback and Wolverines commit Brian Cole.

As luck would have it, the Saginaw, Michigan, product plans to visit Columbus in the near future.

“Yes, he will visit Ohio State in December,” said his father Brian Cole Sr., via 247Sports’ Bill Kurelic (subscription required). “I’m not sure which weekend, but he will visit in December.”

Although Cole committed to Michigan back on July 26, he has kept his recruitment open. He took an official visit to Wisconsin on Oct. 11 and still has visits with Purdue and Nebraska forthcoming.

At 6'2", 190 pounds, Cole has the size and the skill that the Buckeyes covet in the secondary. Not to mention, who doesn’t like stealing from your hated rivals?

Another target for Ohio State is 4-star cornerback Garrett Taylor. Ironically, he was also a Michigan commit up until decommitting on Oct. 27.

Like Cole, Taylor also plans to visit Columbus. The St. Christopher’s School standout has an official visit set for Nov. 22.

Earlier this week, Taylor listed a new top five that consists of LSU, Miami, Penn State and Virginia Tech, along with the Buckeyes, via Scout’s Michael Clark.

However, it might be a couple months before Ohio State hears anything concrete from Taylor.

“I’ll be taking a few officials in December and maybe one in January,” he said, per Clark’s report. “After that, I’ll sit down with my family and talk things over and hopefully have it done by late January.”

Taylor would be a huge get for the Buckeyes, as the 6'1", 195-pounder has tremendous instincts and can stop on the dime to make a play. This is someone that could put an already talented Ohio State secondary over the top.

All in all, it should be a very interesting next couple of months for the Buckeyes.

 

All stats, recruiting information and rankings used in this article are courtesy of cfbstats.com and 247Sports.

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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Nebraska Football: 2015 Recruits Cornhuskers Must Land

Bo Pelini and his staff are hitting the road during the bye week. With only a few shorts month left to recruit, the coaches are seizing the opportunity to visit recruits.

Offensive coordinator Tim Beck and defensive coordinator John Papuchis will stay in Lincoln, according to 247 Sports' Michael Bruntz (subscription required).

"The coordinators and myself are in," Pelini said, per Bruntz. "Some coaches, we’re hitting some specific guys. The rest of the coaching staff will be out, but coaches will be back by Friday night."

Right now, Nebraska sits at No. 39 on 247 Sports' recruiting team rankings. With 12 verbal commits, the Huskers are looking to fill out two primary areas—wide receiver and linebacker. 

"For the amount of scholarships we have to offer, I think we are in good shape," Pelini said, per Bruntz. "The wide receiver position and linebacker, those are the two biggest concerns, we have right now that we need to get shored up."

With national signing day getting closer every week, who does Pelini need to ensure a commit from? Out of a long list of possible recruits, five players stand out for what they could bring to the Nebraska football team.

 

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Underdog Teams That May Steal Away a 5-Star Recruit from a Powerhouse

There are only a handful of players who earn the distinction of being 5-star recruits in a given class, which means the race to land the nation’s top talents is among the fiercest battles on the recruiting trail every year.

The 2015 class is no different—with 15 such players who have yet to make a commitment nearly three months away from national signing day.

While plenty of powerhouse schools are used to landing top recruits, there are often cases when an underdog program can land a player who could potentially change the fortunes of a program that has been struggling. 

Which underdog teams are in prime position to steal away a 5-star recruit from a powerhouse program?

*Players listed in alphabetical order.

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LSU Football: Will Crowd Noise Be Difference-Maker for Tigers vs. Alabama?

Attention LSU fans: You matter. 

The atmosphere for Saturday's game against Alabama will be majestic. Epic tailgating festivities and ESPN's SEC Nation will be taking place on campus. 

But a reminder to fans contemplating that extra jello shot or game of flip cup: The Tigers will need your help. Passing out before the game begins does not help the Tigers' cause. 

A hostile crowd could be the deciding factor of an upset victory against Alabama. 

LSU's 10-7 upset victory against Ole Miss took place in a rabid Tiger Stadium. Just ask Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace, who played his worst game of the season in Baton Rouge two weeks ago. 

"It's a crazy atmosphere. This is the craziest place I've played. Actually, it (the noise) did factor (into third-down plays)," said Wallace, per Trey Iles of The Times-Picayune

Wallace was clearly out of his element, as he finished a paltry 14-of-33 for 176 yards, one touchdown and an interception. It is hard for quarterbacks to concentrate when stadiums are boisterous. But they are not the only ones that struggle with the sound. 

The toughest position to play in a hostile environment is offensive tackle. Rarely do tackles see the ball when it is snapped, particularly on passing downs. They normally listen to the snap count from the quarterback, but that is near impossible when over 90,000 fans are screaming.  

Some offensive tackles use their peripherals to see when the offensive guard moves to know when the ball is snapped. Others choose to react to when the defense moves. Either way, they are at a disadvantage not having direct vision of the ball when it is snapped.

This is important information for LSU fans to know for Saturday's game against Alabama. Crimson Tide true freshman left tackle Cam Robinson, a 5-star recruit in the Class of 2014 out of West Monroe, Louisiana, could have a tough time on Saturday. 

Robinson and right tackle Austin Shepherd have been solid performers this season. Yet Robinson, who is recovering from an ankle sprain, could be limited. Head coach Nick Saban has been pleased with the true freshman's progress, per Cecil Hurt of TideSportsExtra.com: 

Nick Saban on radio show: OT Cam Robinson is "coming along better than expected" and has been cleared by medical staff to play vs. LSU.

— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) November 7, 2014 

Dealing with the crowd noise will be an issue for Robinson and Shepherd. But it becomes much worse if Saban has to reshuffle his line. 

LSU defensive ends Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter played their best game as a duo against Ole Miss, combining for 18 tackles and three tackles for loss. Their lone sack came as a byproduct of the crowd noise.

"That's the whole point of us hyping up the crowd, so the offensive tackles cannot hear the snap count," said Rasco.  

Rebels starting left tackle Laremy Tunsil suffered an injury against the Tigers, which forced a reshuffling of the offensive line. This forced inexperienced freshman Daronte Bouldin into action at right tackle, which turned ugly quickly for Ole Miss. 

Ole Miss is lined up in a five-wide receiver set, which leaves only the five offensive linemen to protect Wallace. Linebacker Kwon Alexander (KA) walks up to the line of scrimmage, which sets up a situation to where five Rebels have to block five Tigers. Hunter (DH) is lined up over the left guard, Davon Godchaux (DG) over the center, Quentin Thomas (QT) over the left guard and Rasco (JR) against Bouldin. 

Hunter said after the game this defensive call was made because of the new Ole Miss personnel. 

As the ball is snapped, Bouldin is still in his stance at right tackle. This allows Rasco to get an early jump against him:

From another angle, it is clear Bouldin has yet to move despite Wallace having almost received the shotgun snap:

Rasco begins to blow Bouldin backwards as he finally reacts. Godchaux and Thomas switch their rush lanes on a "loop" stunt, while Hunter and Alexander continue their rush:

Rasco blows by Bouldin and now has a clear lane to the quarterback. The rest of LSU's defensive line does a great job keeping rush-lane discipline to prevent a Wallace scramble up the middle. Hunter uses his speed and thin frame to begin to get around his block:

Hunter and Rasco meet for a sack of Wallace in the backfield. 

LSU's pass rush, with the aid of Tiger Stadium, can be spectacular. Alabama's offensive line, however they may line up, will have a tough task ahead of them.

Alabama is better equipped than Ole Miss to replace missing parts. If Robinson cannot go, Shepherd could move out left and Grant Hill can replace him. That lineup could get the job done, but using a new group in the midst of a circus is not ideal for Saban. 

The Crimson Tide need to prevent clear passing downs. If they can establish a dominant running game, that will silence the crowd. 

Also to their advantage is quarterback Blake Sims, who is superb at escaping pressure and extending plays. His natural athleticism and ability to find creases to scramble for first downs is phenomenal. The Tigers have struggled stopping elite runners at quarterback, including Mississippi State's Dak Prescott and Auburn's Nick Marshall.

LSU will need some fantastic coverage from the secondary, as well. If receiver Amari Cooper and the rest of Alabama's weapons get open quickly, the pass rush will not matter. 

Nevertheless, offenses struggle to operate in hostile environments. LSU head coach Les Miles understands that, which is why he made a rally cry to fans earlier this week, per Ross Dellenger of The Advocate:

Miles to fans this week: "Stand regularly and make noise repeatedly." #LSU

— Ross Dellenger (@DellengerAdv) November 6, 2014

If the LSU faithful do just that, it could be enough to upset the Crimson Tide. 

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.comESPN.com and LSU Sports Information. Recruiting information provided by 247Sports.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.

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10 College Stars Most Likely to Shine in NFL Next Year

As the calendar turns to November, we’re turning into the final quarter of the 2014 college football season. Players and teams are jockeying for position in the chase for the initial College Football Playoff, conference titles and even bowl eligibility.

All the while, NFL coaches, scouts and front-office types are watching. Up close and from afar, they’re taking notes and making evaluations for next spring’s NFL draft. The real fun will start following the season, when the postseason all-star game/NFL combine circuit begins, but it’s fair to take a look at the potential draft class and wonder how they’ll do at the next level.

Obviously, plenty can (and will) change between now and the moment the team with the first pick in the NFL draft is placed on the clock, but it’s fun to see how players will fit in as professionals next fall.
Here’s a look at the 10 college stars most likely to shine in the NFL next fall (with help from Bleacher Report NFL draft expert Matt Miller's "Top 50" Big Board). 

This isn’t a referendum on players’ long-term careers, but rather those who are most likely to have immediate success. Players like Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston aren't here simply because it can be very difficult for a rookie quarterback to thrive early on (especially if they are high draft picks and placed in tough situations with rebuilding teams).

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Rashad Roundtree to Georgia: Bulldogs Land 4-Star Safety Prospect

One of the biggest names in the 2015 recruiting class made his official decision today as safety Rashad Roundtree committed to Georgia, according to Alex Gleitman of 247 Sports:

Woody Wommack of Rivals provided video of the decision:

Roundtree wore some interesting clothes to announce his choice, according to Wommack:

Roundtree is listed as a 4-star prospect and ranks as the No. 6 safety recruit in the entire country, per 247Sports' composite ratings. He's also considered the 94th-best prospect overall nationally. The 6'1", 195-pound star from Evans, Georgia, and Lakeside High School had no shortage of intriguing offers to take under consideration.

Many of the top programs in college football pursued him and Roundtree appeared to enjoy the process. He even teased his followers on Twitter by suggesting that his mind was made up well before he announced his decision:

At the very least, colleges knew if they were still in the running on Aug. 2 as Roundtree released his list of six possibilities via a tweet:

Roundtree made a life-altering decision today, but all signs suggest that a lot of thought and consideration went into it. When asked about the selection process by Ari Wasserman of Cleveland.com in March, Roundtree made it clear that he would take a calculated approach:

I don't want to make a hasty decision. I am going to wait to take my officials before I narrow them all down. Doing that will be really hard. You just really need to look at the details on visits, really. They are all going to treat you nice, they are all going to have good facilities and stuff. So I take a look at the coaching staffs, the players and how well everyone reacts to me.

Now that the media circus surrounding Roundtree's decision will come to an end, he can focus on finishing his high school football career and improving as much as possible leading up to his freshman season in the collegiate ranks.

Roundtree is immensely talented, but there is plenty of work left to do before he can realistically play regularly and contribute at a high level in major college football. With that said, expectations will be through the roof considering his advanced billing.

There is no doubt that Roundtree has all the abilities that talent evaluators look for in a safety. He is fast and physical while also possessing excellent ball skills, which could make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.

Roundtree has enough raw talent that he could conceivably see some game action in 2015, but allowing him to sit and learn may be the best course of action. He shouldn't be thrown into the fire until he is ready, but it will be impossible to tell how prepared he is until he actually joins the team.

He has been a leader and a dominant force at Lakeside, so his capability of making the switch to college quickly and seamlessly shouldn't be totally dismissed.

Roundtree should find himself in a very favorable situation. As long as he maintains the same attitude and effort level moving forward, he has all the makings of a collegiate superstar in the very near future.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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4-Star Rashad Roundtree Commits to Georgia, Immediate Impact Player for Bulldogs

RashadRoundtree—a 4-star safety, per 247Sports—has officially committed to the Georgia Bulldogs.

Head coach Mark Richt snagged a huge commit by keeping this Georgia native in state, and Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down how this stud will fit in Athens.

How well do you think he will do at Georgia?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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