NCAA Football

Auburn vs. Ole Miss Trailer: Eventually a Dream Becomes a Nightmare

With the release of the first ever College Football Playoff rankings, this week's matchup between the No. 3 Auburn Tigers and the No. 4 Ole Miss Bulldogs holds even more significance.

The loser will be bounced from the Final Four, making their road back a daunting task. Ole Miss vs. Auburn will be a game to remember.

Who will win this potential CFP eliminator?

Watch the video and let us know!

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College Football Rankings 2014: NCAA Playoff Standings and Key Week 10 Picks

This week, the College Football Playoff selection committee gave coaches, players and fans its first outlook on how the season is shaping up so far. The Week 10 rankings eliminate any questions about how the race sets up heading into the stretch run.

As expected, the SEC dominates the top portion of the first batch of standings with four teams inside the top six. That includes the No. 1 team in the country, Mississippi State. The question is whether the conference will beat each other up enough to open the door for others to join the conversation.

With that in mind, let's check out the complete Top 25 list for the first official playoff rankings. It's followed by a preview and prediction for three of the most important games on tap in Week 10.


College Football Playoff Rankings


Predictions for Biggest Week 10 Games

No. 2 Florida State at No. 25 Louisville

Florida State is the reigning champion and undefeated through seven games, yet it doesn't hold the top spot in the rankings. That's likely because the committee is waiting to see the Seminoles play a dominant brand of football against a big-time opponent.

Every time the level of competition has been raised, whether it be Oklahoma State, Clemson or Notre Dame, they have only squeaked by. Going on the road to Louisville provides them with an opportunity to make a major statement on Thursday night.

It won't be easy, though. The Cardinals rank fourth in the nation in scoring defense. And Sharon Katz and Toby Petitpas of note Jameis Winston has never faced a defense that ranked in the top 25 in defensive efficiency on passing plays:

Louisville, on the other hand, leads the nation in that stat, adding about 13 points per game to its net scoring margin as a result of its defense on passing plays. The Cardinals have allowed the lowest Total QBR in the nation and only NC State's Jacoby Brissett has posted a raw QBR above 25 against them (0-100 scale, 50 is average).

The Cardinals don't have an explosive offense to pair with that rock-solid defense, so Florida State does have some margin for error. But if it comes out of the gate sluggish, the pieces are definitely in place for an upset.

Ultimately, it's a turning-point game. Either the Seminoles will finally showcase their dominance or Louisville will finish the job those aforementioned teams couldn't and shake up the playoff race.

Prediction: Florida State by 10


No. 3 Auburn at No. 4 Ole Miss

No game has generated more hype this week, and rightfully so. The committee judged that these are the best two one-loss teams in the country based on their current resumes. One team will go a long way to bolster it even further on Saturday.

Ole Miss could still be undefeated if not for botching the end sequence last week against LSU. Multiple mistakes allowed the Tigers to secure a game-ending interception rather than see the Rebels send the game into overtime with a field goal.

The rankings gave Bo Wallace and Co. a reprieve, though. They are still firmly in position to make the playoffs. Ryan Black of the Ledger-Enquirer passed along comments from head coach Hugh Freeze, who's tried to convince his team not to put too much stock in the current standings.

"I tell our kids here that we're focused solely, really, on one ranking, and that would be what's issued Dec. 7. I think that's the one that really matters," he said. "I recognize that the committee, they have a difficult job. We have confidence in them and I know that they're going to judge the full schedule of games."

The biggest key to this game is the efficiency of Auburn's offense. In two road games against ranked opponents, the Tigers averaged just over 21 points. In all other games, they averaged better than 46 points. The latter group includes a 41-point outburst against LSU.

This should be a game that goes right down to the wire. In the end, the slight edge goes to the more balanced team overall, which is Auburn.

Prediction: Auburn by three


No. 17 Utah at No. 14 Arizona State

The good news for both of these teams is that they are still alive in the playoff race at this stage of the season. The bad news is they likely have to win out in order to make it. So that makes this a virtual elimination game, which will be common in the weeks ahead.

Utah is riding a three-game winning streak, but it's been playing with fire. The Utes' only game during that streak decided by more than a field goal came in double overtime against Oregon State. They need the fourth-quarter defense to improve this week.

Defense is also the focal point for Arizona State. The Sun Devils gave up 96 points over two weeks against UCLA and USC. They rebounded by giving up just 20 in wins over Stanford and Washington. With three games against ranked foes over the final five, the unit must continue to improve.

If their defense holds up, the passing game will make the difference. Arizona State is averaging more than 300 yards per game through the air. Utah is a shade under 200. It should be enough of an advantage for the home side to score a narrow victory.

Prediction: Arizona State by four


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USC Football: Final Stretch of 2014 Season Sets Tone for Sarkisian's Program

Replicating the strong finishes of past USC teams is an obvious goal of the 2014 Trojans, but the four-game final stretch is as much about setting the tone for head coach Steve Sarkisian's overall vision as it is improving upon this year's record. 

USC enters this last month of Sarkisian's debut campaign out of the Top 25 and clinging to slim hope of winning the Pac-12 South. Since starting 2-0 and reaching No. 9 in the Associated Press poll, the Trojans are .500 with a series of tough losses that have tested the team's collective attitude. 

“They’re learning about themselves and the strengths they possess,” Sarkisian said after practice Tuesday at Howard Jones Field. “It’s natural to try and focus on the weaknesses, which we have to learn from and getting better. But we have to dig deep and find out about ourselves." 

The most recent was a 24-21 heartbreaker last week at Utah, decided on the game’s final possession. In the immediate aftermath, redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Zach Banner said he learned a lot about the program’s makeup.

“I’ve never seen so many people that were disappointed about a loss, [who] care, [who] want to fix things and step up,” he said.  

Although in his first season as a primary contributor for the Trojans, Banner has been in the program for three seasons. He said that in his time at USC, the response to losing was not always this way.

"Me being on a couple of these teams in college the last couple years, when things go downhill, you question some leadership," he said. "People stop encouraging. They start getting extremely selfish, where they only think about themselves."

Losing can become cyclical in that way, but Banner believes USC is prepared to fend off the malaise that can create internal strife.   

“This is a different feeling I’ve never felt before with any team and the reason I say that is the people in this locker room care about each other,” he said. “You can take that however you want.”

Chemistry just might be the most valuable long-term quality USC develops in its first season with Sarkisian at the helm, particularly given the considerable collective youth of the roster.  

First and second-year players who will shape USC’s identity in the coming years are in prominent roles across all three phases.

Among the youngsters taking on key responsibilities are Banner’s mates on the line: Damien Mama, Toa Lobendahn and Viane Talamaivao.

The three true freshmen started against Utah’s prolific sacking defense last week and the unit played arguably its best game of the season—even with redshirt sophomore Chad Wheeler sidelined by a torn ACL. Lobendahn practiced in Wheeler's spot at left tackle this week. 

USC will only get younger, too. Next year’s recruiting class marks the first with a full allotment of 25 scholarships in three years.

But for as much as the upcoming stretch sets the tone for seasons to come, Sarkisian is steadfast that this year’s team can compete for the conference championship.

One of the team’s veterans, redshirt junior running back Javorius "Buck" Allen, discussed how USC can successfully navigate its final stretch.  

 “Trust the coaches with what they prepare us with day in and day out,” he said.  

Allen added USC must commit to playing “Trojan ball.”

What exactly constitutes Trojan ball in the Sarkisian era is a question repeatedly asked of the coach through his first eight games.

As important as the off-field atmosphere USC cultivates in this final stretch is establishing its on-field identity. Banner sees the former laying the foundation for the latter.

“You have to care enough to say, ‘I’m going to get my job done,’” he said. “There’s a lot of things we can fix. There’s a lot of things we can do better. But we’re getting better.”


Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. 

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USC Football: Final Stretch of 2014 Season Sets Tone for Sarkisian's Program

Replicating the strong finishes of past USC teams is an obvious goal of the 2014 Trojans, but the four-game final stretch is as much about setting the tone for head coach Steve Sarkisian 's overall vision as it is improving upon this year's record...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

12 November Games with Biggest Playoff Implications

Contenders remember, dream seasons depend on November.

Now that the top teams in college football have some clarity, compliments of the first College Football Playoff standings, it's possible to start looking ahead to the finish line and gauge each team's chance of getting into the semifinals. But a lot can happen before any postseason berths are awarded, and much of that will go down in the coming month.

The five weekends in November are jam-packed with impactful matches that can make or break a contender's season. Here are the 12 most notable matchups as far as playoff and major bowl implications go, listed chronologically from this Saturday through Nov. 29.

Begin Slideshow

Texas A&M Recruiting: 2015 Recruits Aggies Must Land to Help Change Program

The Texas A&M football team needs an influx of talent from its 2015 recruiting class to help turn its program around. The Aggies have some personnel issues that need to be addressed in order to compete for a championship in 2015. 

The biggest issue with the Aggie football program right now is the perception that they do not care about the defensive side of the ball. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin wants to be elite in all phases of the game, but he does not have the players on the roster to accomplish that on the defensive side of the ball. 

The only way to rectify that problem is to address it through recruiting. The Aggies need to continue to land elite defensive players, particularly at linebacker, in order to turn the program around. 

The Aggies won 20 games during Sumlin's first two seasons in the SEC. They are currently 5-3 on the season. They will have to win three of their last four games and their bowl game in order to match last season's record of 9-4. 

The Aggies have the reputation of a good, but not great program that struggles on defense. They need to bring in impact players on the defensive side of the ball in the 2015 recruiting class in order to change this perception. 

Begin Slideshow

Meet Oregon's Solution to the Stanford Problem

When Oregon unraveled against Stanford last season, its prized commit didn’t watch the familiar demolition unfold. It wasn’t that Royce Freeman didn’t want to fully immerse himself in one of college football’s booming rivalries before he arrived on campus; he was simply too busy causing demolition of his own.

“I had a football game that night,” Freeman said. “So I didn’t get to see it.”

Perhaps this wasn’t the worst thing, given the results. For the second consecutive season, Stanford dismantled the Ducks’ high-powered offense and their season. The 26-20 scoreboard told a misleading tale, as the line of scrimmage was controlled by the Cardinal from the first whistle. Oregon’s neon, high-octane attack stalled.

For the 2013 season in its entirety, the Ducks averaged 223 rushing yards per game. Against Stanford, Oregon could only muster up 62 yards on 24 carries. To find a worse rushing performance in the program’s history, you have to take a trip back in time to September 2009.

Beyond any statistic, the most jarring and significant numbers to come from this game are the only numbers that carry any true meaning: Over the past two seasons, Oregon is 23-1 when playing any non-David Shaw coached team. Against Stanford, the Ducks are 0-2.

The Cardinal have been their Kryptonite, and yet, there are reasons to be optimistic if you’re on the Oregon sideline. Beyond the presence of quarterback Marcus Mariota—arguably the nation’s most talented and explosive player—hope exists in a true freshman running who looks, sounds and plays nothing like his age.

Even the man behind this diabolical run can’t help but notice the sudden and unexpected rise of Freeman, a chess piece fit for a matchup of this nature.

“You see a young freshman running back not looking like a freshman running back,” Shaw said of Freeman. “He’s coming into his own as a really, really good college football player.”


Who Is Royce Freeman?

Before we proceed, I want to show you a short video.

It’s not footage of Freeman tossing hopeful tacklers aside like air-born mannequins. It’s not one of the 13 touchdowns he’s rushed for in only his first eight games. And no, it’s not the passing touchdown he has accounted for, either, although feel free to check that off your bingo card.

The best way to truly appreciate Freeman’s rare physical gifts is to see him motionless, pad-less and far away from the football field. Running backs, especially those speaking after their first collegiate game, are not supposed to look like this.

Prior to arriving at Oregon, Freeman played for Imperial High School in California, where he posted Hulk-ish numbers. In his four seasons, he averaged 11.8 yards per carry, ran for 7,601 yards and found the end zone 118 times.

This freakish production—along with his freakish build—is why he was tabbed as the nation’s No. 6 running back recruit and the No. 37 player overall by 247Sports in the class of 2014. It’s rare to see a back this put together, regardless of age or level. There simply aren’t many 229-pound human beings capable of moving at these speeds.

It’s also uncommon to see a back like this at Oregon, a program that has relied primarily on one-cut speed runners during its offensive renaissance. The match between program and player was unorthodox, although it existed from the get-go thanks in large part to a variety of factors.

“It’s the ideal city, and the tradition they have at running back is very positive,” Freeman said. “But it was also Cam. He’s the main part of the success at running back here. That got me really interested.”

“Cam” is better known as Gary Campbell, the running backs coach at Oregon and one of the fixtures of all of college football. Campbell has been at Oregon since 1983—well before the machine really started to churn—and he’s coached 14 1,000-yard backs in his time at Eugene.

Even in August, long before Freeman carried the ball in an actual game, Campbell recognized that his new toy was special.

"He's fast. He's big and he's tough,” Campbell told Tyson Alger of The Oregonian. “A lot of times you get guys like him that come in and have great success in high school and they haven't really had to work at it and when they get into tough competition at the college level they shy away from it.

"He steps right up."

And he has, although it hasn’t been quite as easy as it looked.

For Freeman, his first moment of clarity came long after he logged his first carry and found his first end zone. In fact, it all started to fall into place only a few weeks ago against the Bruins. It was then that he finally found something to build on.

“It was one of the runs against UCLA where it started to click,” Freeman said. “I broke a good amount of tackles and finished a run hard. Every time I get the ball I need to have that attitude.”

Freeman has already rushed for 748 yards this season, despite splitting carries through much of the first half. His 13 rushing touchdowns put him at No. 6 overall in the country.

In a year ripe with impressive freshman running back debuts, Freeman’s performance jumps off the page.

As injuries have hit Oregon's backfield, particularly with sophomore Thomas Tyner, Freeman’s workload has increased.

Although the plan was to operate with Tyner, Freeman and Byron Marshall carrying the ball in somewhat equal shares, Marshall has become an integral part of the Oregon passing attack and Tyner has been sidelined. Marshall, a unique and valuable weapon in his own right, has also seen Freeman come into his own as roles have evolved.

“He’s been ballin’ these last couple weeks,” Marshall told Justin Wise of the Oregon Daily Emerald. “I can’t put my finger on the right exact word but for a true freshman he doesn’t play like a true freshman, which we really appreciate.”

In the past three games, when Oregon has leaned on its youthful bulldozer, he has responded. Freeman has rushed for 402 yards and eight touchdowns since the Ducks fell at home to Arizona. The offensive line has also gotten healthy in this time, which has helped the entire offense return to form.

Even with this tremendous output over the past month—and the obvious progression in his game—Freeman remains his toughest critic.

“I’m trying to become a more complete back,” Freeman said. “I’m still adjusting to a different kind of offense, reading blocks and different aspects of the position in detail. I can get better at finishing runs and breaking away.

“Not being tackled, that’s what I’m working on.”


Shedding the Label with the Necessary Ingredient

As strange as it may sound, Freeman is more Stanford than Oregon. He is more Tyler Gaffney than De'Anthony Thomas. More Stepfan Taylor than LaMichael James. He is, even in his college football infancy, the most physical and explosive runner the rivalry has seen—on either side—over the past few seasons.

His style is violent and, in many ways, a lost art. It’s why Shaw’s voice brightens when he speaks about the freshman, even as he braces for the challenge ahead. And while Freeman’s game may echo bits and pieces of various backs around the country, he’s sculpted his running style after a different era entirely.

“I really don’t watch many college players and model my game after them,” Freeman said. “I look at the older backs, older school guys and see how they run.”

He is a throwback, which is an element his team has dearly lacked. Especially in weeks such as these.

Although the “soft” label has been unfairly applied to the program based on 120 minutes of football, the Ducks have been unable to match the Cardinal’s physical presence. This is the reality. It is something Freeman has heard through reputation and now seen through film.

Although the pieces on Stanford have changed plenty since Oregon last saw them, the results stay the same. Despite all of the new faces, the Cardinal defense remains one of the nation's most immovable objects. 

“They are a physical defense and a physical team,” Freeman said. “They’re very sound and they always come to play. It’ll be a different kind of game out there.”

For Freeman, every game is different. Every game week, game plan and football situation is original as he seeks stable ground. His experience against Stanford is non-existent as of now; just tales told in the film room, through the media and from teammates.

He was not a part of the last two seasons when Oregon entered the week against Stanford as the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 team only to watch these rankings come undone. In many ways, his youth and inexperience serve as a valuable reboot. He doesn't know any better.

“We have to go out there with a mindset that it’s just another game and another week,” Freeman said. “You can’t treat it any different. Once you start thinking about other things, you start trying to compensate and end up out of your element. That’s how you end up losing.”

Although it is unfair to place the weight of the rivalry on the shoulders of a true freshman—regardless of how gargantuan and cartoon-ish he might appear—Freeman’s presence cannot be overstated.

He won’t help Oregon win the line of scrimmage. He won’t be tasked with slowing down a Stanford offense that has experienced success in this matchup. And it won’t be up to him to direct the offense; that will fall in the very capable hands of his quarterback. But his destructive style and 229-pound frame are a direct answer to a problem.

“I just have to go out there and play my game, full speed, and try to make something happen,” Freeman said. “If we go out there and play how we have been playing the last couple weeks—maybe turn it up a notch—we should do well.”

Paralleling Oregon’s opportunity at redemption was the unofficial launch of the first College Football Playoff.

On Tuesday night, as the college football masses focused intently on their televisions to see the selection committee’s first-ever Top 25 rankings, Freeman bounced from classes to meetings as the Ducks debuted at No. 5. He missed the hoopla entirely without showing the least bit of interest.

“Strictly Stanford,” he said. “We can’t be thinking about things like that.”

Freeman’s ability to miss these critical college football broadcasts has carried him this far, from blue-chip recruit to potential Stanford antidote. Given where this routine has taken him, there’s no reason to abandon it now.


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of

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Meet Oregon's Solution to the Stanford Problem

When Oregon unraveled against Stanford last season, its prized commit didn ’t watch the familiar demolition unfold...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Is the College Football Playoff Committee More Biased Than the BCS?

The first ever College Football Playoff committee has three of the four top teams from the SEC. With other power conferences like the Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12 being left out of the top four, many are wondering if the committee has a bias toward the SEC.

Bleacher Report College Football Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee debate whether the committee is playing favorites with the SEC.

Who should be in the top four teams?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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The Complicated Story of Bobby Petrino's Quest for Redemption

We believe in second chances, and that's what we're seeing with Bobby Petrino, as Louisville goes into The Big Game on Thursday night against Florida State. Petrino…no, wait. That isn't it at all. That's just the rhetoric on Petrino, not the truth.

His story is about learning from mistakes and making changes in life. And going into this Florida State game, Petrino…no, hang on. That isn't quite it, either.

The truth is, there is no nice, simple bow to tie around Petrino's story. Petrino is Petrino, and the reason he is back at Louisville really doesn't have much to do with redemption or remorse. He's there because Louisville wants to be a major, big-time program and not considered a loiterer anymore whenever it gets close. He's there because he can beat Florida State.

The Seminoles have become the dark force of college football with Jameis Winston's behavior, the school's handling of it and coach Jimbo Fisher's reckless, over-the-top defense of his players over right and wrong. The funny part of it is that at the same time he gets a chance to validate his re-hiring, Petrino also gets to wear the unfamiliar white hat of the good guy.

This is ironic because Petrino, by all accounts, is a hard guy to like.

He cheated on his wife, interviewed for a job at Auburn while his former employer still held it, put his girlfriend on the payroll and left the Atlanta Falcons during his first season without saying goodbye other than to leave a card with a note in the players' lockers. There is also that pesky photo of him with the neck brace and the red marks all over his face after the motorcycle accident he had with his girlfriend, the woman he had put on Arkansas' payroll. And that's just the stuff we know about.

Lucky for Petrino, he's a really, really good football coach.

Despite his well-documented egomania and self-centeredness, he has to change the narrative by winning a football game. If he can deliver a victory over Florida State and can give the nation what it really wants—a chance to push Winston out of the Heisman Trophy picture and to dump the Seminoles from the national championship race—he will leave the field as the "good guy," if just for a night. 

Someone once told me about something he called a pain-in-the-butt factor. Basically, as long as the amount you produce is greater than the amount of a pain that you are, things will work out. As soon as success drops below the pain-in-the-butt line, you're gone.

That shows you just how great of a coach Petrino is. Meanwhile, Florida State's defense is young and makes a lot of mistakes. And Petrino might be the top offensive mind in the game.

"These are the games we want to play in and compete in," Petrino told reporters after Monday's practice. "We'd like to be in the top rankings and have the No. 1 team come in here and play us. That's where we're aspiring to go. So we'll look at our program and get one step closer to where we want to get to."

It is a strange thing about sports that we believe a person can prove his moral fiber by winning a game. See: Kobe Bryant.

If Louisville beats Florida State, the narrative will be about how much Petrino has changed, his redemption, if you will.

Some evidence of this already exists. He did set up the Petrino Family Foundation and donated $1 million to a children's hospital. He has been caddying for his daughter, a top golfer at Louisville who competed in the U.S. Amateur. He has shown up at Cardinals basketball games with his family.

He hugs his grandkids as he leaves the practice field and talks about making family his priority. And as a coach, he has vowed several times that now he'll work on developing not only the player but also the person.

If that's real change, then good for him. If it's just public relations, well, that really doesn't matter. It has nothing to do with why he was hired in the first place. Louisville doesn't care.

In August, Sports Illustrated ran a story about whether Petrino had changed and quoted a person, anonymously, who was in the meeting when the athletic board approved hiring Petrino: "There was discussion, but there was nothing about marital infidelity. It was mostly Bobby's flight risk. Is he going to leave again?"

Petrino was the coach at Louisville before and angered the school when he left six months after signing a long-term contract extension, saying that this is where he wanted to be and "I want everyone to really believe it."

Athletic director Tom Jurich believed and thought Petrino would help build the football team into a national program. Thanks in big part to Jurich, Louisville has survived the conference realignments and power-grabs of the big five conferences, getting into the ACC. Charlie Strong was the football coach until this January, when he left for Texas. It had to be a shocked that Strong didn't have more loyalty. He had been passed over for head coaching jobs for years until Jurich gave him the chance.

So when Strong left in January, Louisville's position as a national football program was still a little tenuous. Jurich was not about to take a chance on a first-time head coach going into the conference to play Florida State. And he wasn't going to steal a big-time, successful head coach from another program.

And there was Petrino, already winning at Western Kentucky. Jurich took a chance. But pushing Petrino's change in personality seems like more of a PR move.

Petrino is such a change from Strong, who preached team as family, and doing the right things as good human beings.

So the personality of the program has already changed, from family to business. Louisville is a midsized city without pro major league sports. It follows Cardinals basketball and football in the way big cities follow their pro teams. So you get basketball coach Rick Pitino, a former NBA coach, and Petrino, a former NFL coach.

"College sports are a business, first and foremost," a trustee was quoted as saying in the Sports Illustrated story. "People in the Louisville community look forward to attending games and seeing a strong product on the field. Bobby will produce that.

"This isn't a governor or a mayor we're talking about. This is a football coach."

You can argue if Petrino is a changed person, a better human being. You can wonder if he'll be grateful to Jurich and loyal enough to stay at Louisville. That won't be decided until more established power teams call, and they will. He could very well revert back to old Bobby. But for today, he is the "good guy" in a white hat.

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report. He also writes for The New York Times and was formerly a scribe for and the Chicago Sun-Times. Follow him on Twitter @gregcouch.

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College Football Week 10: Top 25 Upset Alert

One of the many trends this season in college football has been the upset. Last week, the Ole Miss Rebels fell at the hands of the LSU Tigers. In a season of craziness, one thing is for certain: Another favored Top 25 team will fall. 

Bleacher Report college football analyst Adam Kramer blows the whistle and dishes out which Top 25 teams could be on the losing end in Week 10. 

Which top team will crumble?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Oregon Will Overcome Stanford Curse but Not Because of Marcus Mariota

Stanford has had Oregon's number in recent seasons, not only beating the Ducks but thrashing their national championship hopes along the way.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder explains how Stanford has beaten Oregon the past two years and if the Cardinal can do it again this year.

Will Stanford continue its dominance over Oregon in this year's game?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Oregon Will Overcome Stanford Curse but Not Because of Marcus Mariota

Stanford has had Oregon's number in recent seasons, not only beating the Ducks but thrashing their national championship hopes along the way...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Auburn-Ole Miss Showdown Is a Rivalry That Is All in the Coaching Family

The head coach lived in a trailer off Highway 38 in Hughes, Arkansas. In the mornings he taught history at Hughes High, where he made $24,000 a year. On many autumn afternoons he hopped onto a tractor, which he taught himself how to drive, and cut the football field grass. Wearing a visor in honor of the coach he most admired—Steve Spurrier—he guided that machine back and forth across the field, making sure every blade was trimmed just so. He may have been in the middle of the Arkansas countryside, but this football field in this farming community was his personal Eden.  

A whistle draped around his neck, he then would lead the football team through practice. Once home in his trailer, deep into the night, he would bury his head in a circle of lamplight on his desk, scribbling ideas for how to run an offense that featured elements of the Wing-T, an antiquated option attack that could be found in yellowed newspapers clippings from the 1950s. His imagination firing, Gus Malzahn dreamed of one day coaching in the SEC. The year was 1992.    

Thirty-five miles to the northeast, in the fall of that same year, the assistant coach lived in an apartment in Memphis, Tenn. He spent his mornings in the classroom at Briarcrest Christian High, teaching a range of subjects. On many autumn afternoons, wearing a visor in honor of the coach he most admired—Steve Spurrier—he hopped onto a riding lawn mower and cut the football field. Other days he painted lines on the field and picked up bits of garbage that had blown onto his grass. He may have been a world away from the bright lights of big-time college athletics, but this football field was his personal Eden.

After practices the assistant would return to his cramped apartment. Deep into the night, a remote in his hand, he would watch game tapes of Spurrier's Fun 'N' Gun offense at Florida. When he saw something he really liked, he'd hit pause and meticulously diagram the play in a spiral notebook, the Xs and Os flowing furiously from his pen. His imagination firing, Hugh Freeze dreamed of one day coaching in the SEC.

The head coach and the assistant met a few springs later. For years they marveled at all they had in common. For years they wondered aloud together: Will our dreams ever come true? Will we ever make it in the SEC?

Twenty-one autumns have passed since they began coaching high school football 35 miles apart, and now here they come, each strutting into their most important game of the 2014 season—against each other. On Saturday evening in Oxford, Mississippi, Malzahn's No. 5-ranked Auburn Tigers will play Freeze's No. 7-ranked Ole Miss Rebels in what is essentially an early elimination game for the SEC and national championship.

"Yeah, we've known each other a long, long time," said Freeze, 45, who has called his own plays since high school. "It's almost like when I look in the mirror, I see Gus."

"[Hugh] is one of my best friends in this business," said Malzahn, 49, who has called his own plays since high school. "We came from a similar background and a similar path…He is a great communicator. He is a very good football mind."

"Whenever I've needed something or had a question about something, Gus has always been there for me," Freeze said. "We've had hundreds of conversations over the years about football and about life. I wouldn't trade our friendship for anything."

"There are a lot of great high school coaches out there that can be very successful in college; they just haven't been given the opportunity," Malzahn said. "Hugh and I have talked about that numerous times, that we feel blessed we were given opportunities."

Malzahn and Freeze first shook hands at a high school coaching clinic in the mid-1990s. They quickly became close, if for no other reason than they had so much in common.

Malzahn, a religious man who speaks in a soft, honey-dripping drawl, is given to obsession. As a boy in Fort Smith, Arkansas, he could contentedly throw a baseball against a brick wall for hours and he studied Tom Landry and his Dallas Cowboys offense like it was his favorite subject in school. As Malzahn rose through the coaching ranks, he never stopped tinkering, toying, studying, diagramming his offense. On napkins, notebooks, loose pieces of paper, he jotted ideas whenever they flashed into his mind.

Freeze, a religious man who speaks in a soft, honey-dripping drawl, also is given to obsession. As a boy in Independence, Missouri, Freeze, the son of a high school football coach, would walk to the edge of his family's farm and, peering through the fence, watch his dad's team practice in the distance, his youthful eyes mesmerized by the action. On Friday nights little Hugh wore khaki pants and a red shirt—just like the coaches on the sidelines—and closely studied his dad's offense, the "Notre Dame Box," a variation of the single-wing that can be traced back to Knute Rockne in the late 1910s. As Freeze rose through the coaching ranks, he never stopped tinkering, toying, studying, diagramming his hurry-up spread offense that resembles the Notre Dame Box. On napkins, notebooks, loose pieces of paper, he jotted ideas whenever they flashed into his mind.

The years passed and friendship between Malzahn and Freeze blossomed like a spring garden. Over the phone they talked a blue streak about the Xs and Os of their offenses, how best to attack different defenses, and of their shared frustration of not being able to land a job on a college team.

But then their reputations as yardage-produce masterminds started to grow beyond the bubble of high school football. They piled up state titles—Malzahn won three in Arkansas; Freeze captured two in Tennessee—and they both got their first big breaks in 2006. Malzahn, after 15 years of coaching preps in Arkansas, was hired by Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt to be the Razorbacks' offensive coordinator; Freeze, after coaching at the high school level for 14 years in Tennessee, was named by Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron to be the Rebels' tight end coach and recruiting coordinator. Shortly after Malzahn signed his contract, one of his first calls was to his buddy Freeze, happily sharing the news. Freeze returned the favor before the ink was dry on his deal at Ole Miss. They had become the equivalent of coaching brothers, sharing not only pigskin DNA, but also biographies.

"There have been some amazing parallels in our careers," Freeze said recently sitting in his office at Ole Miss, shaking his head at the unlikeliness of it all. "It's almost like we've gone through it all together. I mean, all of it."

From his living room couch in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Dean Lee never misses an Auburn or Ole Miss game. Whenever the image of Malzahn or Freeze flashes onto the screen, Lee, 57, beams like a proud father. And for good reason: He is the man who launched both of them into the rarefied air of being a head coach in the SEC.

"I feel great pride every time I see them," says Lee, the former athletic director at Arkansas State. "To know that I gave them the opportunity to show what they could do fills me with great joy. It's not easy to get a job as a head coach in the SEC. To have two of my guys in that league's special."

Turn the clock back to the winter of 2010. Lee, the A.D. at Arkansas State, was looking for a head coach for the following season. Freeze was the offensive coordinator for the Red Wolves, and Lee was strongly considering offering him the job. So Lee called an assistant at Auburn to dig into the background of Freeze. A former college professor, Lee had taught Gus Malzahn in 1989 when he was an undergraduate at Henderson State in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

"What do you think of Hugh Freeze?" Lee asked Malzahn, who was weeks away from helping Auburn win the national championship as the team's offensive coordinator.

"I think the world of Hugh," Lee recalls Malzahn saying. "He's a tremendous offensive mind and an even better person. You know he's always going to do the right thing. He's a student of the game and not afraid to ask someone else how he should go up against a certain defense. He's always trying to learn something new. I guarantee you he will be successful as a head coach." A few days later, Lee hired Freeze.

But Freeze, then a rising coaching star, didn't stay long at Arkansas State. In his one year in Jonesboro, Freeze became just the 14th FBS first-year head coach to win 10 regular season games. The Red Wolves were one of two teams in the NCAA to lead their conference in both total offense and defense.

Freeze left for Ole Miss. One of the first calls he made after he accepted the job in the Oxford was to Malzahn. Freeze told him about the yet-to-be-announced job opening at Arkansas State and how, if he took the position, it could ultimately propel him to a top job in the SEC. Plus, Freeze said, the team was loaded with talent. Days later Malzahn announced he was leaving Auburn to take the reins at Arkansas State, where he would lead the Red Wolves to the 2012 Sun Belt Conference title.

Just as Freeze had prophesied to his friend, Malzahn didn't last long in Jonesboro. He was hired as Auburn's head coach on Dec. 4, 2012.

"Hugh and Gus are so similar in their work ethic and attention to detail with their offenses, but their personalities are very different," says Lee, who is now an associate vice chancellor at Arkansas State. "Hugh is easy going, very comfortable to be around, approachable, doesn't carry an ego, can relate to all classes of people and is very easy to talk to. With Hugh, everything is about family. He's a father figure to every player who passes through his program. And he's great at public speaking and selling a program to the community. He'd do three speaking engagements a day for us at times, whether it was at a civic club or a church. Our ticket sales went up just because of Hugh."

Lee continues. "Gus is not as approachable as Hugh," he says. "He's more introverted. He's not as close to as many people. He's highly focused, and I'll tell you, he doesn't want distractions. He goes daylight to dark every day and he has the expectation that his staff will work hard as well. He's as detailed as anyone you'll ever meet. Nothing is unanticipated. No one is going to outwork him or his staff."

On Saturday night in Oxford, Lee will be in the stands, his eyes locked onto the two head coaches. And when Malzahn and Freeze meet at midfield before kickoff, they won't talk of their past struggles or their common history. As in all sibling rivalries, only one thing will matter to the coaches on Saturday night once the opening whistle sounds:

Beating the daylights out of the one you cherish the most.


Lars Anderson is a 20-year veteran of Sports Illustrated and the author of six books, including The Storm and the Tide, which was published in August. He's currently an instructor of journalism at the University of Alabama. Follow him on Twitter @LarsAnderson71.

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Inside the University of South Carolina Gamecocks' 'Cockaboose'

There are many unique college football tailgating traditions, and the University of South Carolina Gamecocks' Cockabooses are definitely one of them.

Watch as we go behind the scenes and learn about the South Carolina fans who turned old railroad cars into a tailgater's paradise.

A special thanks to the Ideas United group for all their hard work on this piece.

Let us know what you think in the comments below. 

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Georgia Football: Ranking the Best Moments from the Georgia-Florida Rivalry

After having the week off, the Georgia Bulldogs are back in action on Saturday as they travel to Jacksonville to face the Florida Gators.

The Bulldogs are coming into the game with a lot of momentum, while the Gators are on the decline.

Regardless of what these teams have done in the past, this should be a well-contested game that could come down to the last play. If the Bulldogs win, it will be the fourth consecutive year they have beaten the Gators.

That would be a memorable moment, but there have already been some memorable moments for the Bulldogs in this series.

Here’s a look at the five most memorable moments in this rivalry. 

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College Football Picks: Week 10 Predictions for Every Game

As the calendar shifts to November, the 2014 college football season is starting to hit the stretch run. The first College Football Playoff rankings are out, serving as a motivator for the top schools to use as they fight to get into the playoffs, while for most teams the focus shifts toward becoming bowl-eligible and improving their resume to get into a better game.

With that in mind, Week 10's schedule will serve as the opening act of a six-week run to the end of the regular season. Division and conference titles will get clinched, bowl bids will get locked up and coaches fighting for their jobs will have a better idea of their fates.

Also, #MACtion returns to the schedule, with the Mid-American Conference starting its annual slate of Tuesday and Wednesday games on Nov. 4-5. Those games are included in our Week 10 picks, making for a heavy slate of 58 contests between Thursday and next Wednesday.

Take a look at our predictions for Week 10, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

Last week: 40-8 (.833)

Season: 411-129 (.761)

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Can Arkansas Ruin Mississippi State's Undefeated Season?

Mississippi State cleared another hurdle last week in its first ever game with the No. 1 ranking, surviving a shootout with the Kentucky Wildcats in a game in which both teams went over 500 yards.

Looming this weekend is an old-fashioned slugfest with the Arkansas Razorbacks—a team that's more desperate for an SEC win than a 45-year-old divorcee at the club on a Friday night.

Arkansas hasn't won an SEC game since Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were campaigning for President. What better way to break through that glass ceiling than to do it against the No. 1 team in the country in the middle of the inaugural College Football Playoff race?

It's not that far-fetched.

The Bulldogs are around a 10.5-point favorite at home over the Hogs, according to, which has fallen 3.5 points since it opened earlier in the week. The reason, most likely, is that it'll be strength vs. strength on Saturday night in Starkville.

While quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Josh Robinson have earned most of the publicity for head coach Dan Mullen's crew, the deep and experienced front seven has been the biggest reason the Bulldogs have ascended to the top spot in the land.

Defensive end Preston Smith has eight tackles for loss, six sacks and two interceptions this season, linebacker Benardrick McKinney has 45 tackles and six tackles for loss and Mullen and defensive coordinator Geoff Collins rotate up front all game, keeping players fresh for the final frame.

Lining up against them this week is an Arkansas offensive line that averages 328.4 pounds, which, according to Arkansas' game notes, is larger than any offensive line in the NFL. 

Not the SEC—the NFL.

Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins are both among the top six rushers in the conference, as the Hogs have posted 258.88 yards per game on the ground—the 16th-best mark in the nation. 

"The challenges in the SEC and especially the West right now—which is so challenging—you have got to bring your A-game every single week if you want an opportunity to win," Mullen said. "I look at Arkansas right now and the record might not show it, but to me they can play and beat any single team in this conference—and do it pretty easily."

The Razorbacks do it with their smashmouth style, but if you're one-dimensional in the SEC, you get beat. Slowly but surely, the Hogs are becoming more two-dimensional. 

Quarterback Brandon Allen has topped the 200-yard mark in each of his last three games, averaging 249 passing yards per game over that span and tossing six touchdown passes. The coaching staff knows that trend needs to continue this week if Arkansas has a chance.

"It’s hard to be one-dimensional and beat anybody, much less the number one team in the country that’s playing really good defense with good physical, athletic, talented players that are well coached," Hogs tight end coach Barry Lunney said in quotes emailed by Arkansas. "If you don’t go into the game trying to be balanced and striving to achieve balance, it’ll be difficult for us to accomplish what we want to accomplish."

If Arkansas finds some success early, it has the personnel and scheme to lean on Mississippi State, "deflate the football" and keep Prescott and Robinson off the field. Those would be uncharted waters for the Bulldogs.

Mullen's crew has only run 25 plays while trailing this season, and none when trailing by more than a touchdown, according to Championship teams can dig themselves out of holes, and Mississippi State hasn't had to prove it can do that yet.

Against a team like Arkansas that can play "keep away," it'd be very challenging.

Don't sleep on Arkansas giving Mississippi State a game. If its strength prevails, it could back Mississippi State into a corner and test its ability to punch itself out.


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

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

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Ohio State Football: Are Buckeyes Overlooking Illinois for Michigan State?

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Illinois, Illinois, Illinois.

That's the message that Urban Meyer is trying to deliver to his team this week, a reminder that it's the Fighting Illini who are next up on Ohio State's schedule. But while the Buckeyes head coach attempts to keep his team focused on its next opponent, even he knows what's waiting around the corner for Ohio State.

"I know there's a big one coming up," Meyer said of the Buckeyes' highly touted Nov. 8 matchup with Michigan State. "Our players know it. Of course they know that's coming."

And why wouldn't they? Ever since the Spartans beat Ohio State in last season's Big Ten Championship Game, all roads on the Buckeyes' 2014 schedule seemed to lead to the second week of November and an inevitable high-stakes rematch between the two teams.

Sept. 6 seemed to threaten that notion, with Ohio State losing to Virginia Tech and Michigan State failing in its trip to Oregon to take on the Ducks. But since that date, neither the Buckeyes nor Spartans have suffered an additional defeat, putting next Saturday's matchup back on track.

Of course that's easy to say for Michigan State, who currently finds itself enjoying a bye week after reeling off six wins in its past six games. Ohio State, meanwhile, still has those pesky Illini to deal with, although Meyer insists that they present more challenge than distraction.

"If they're a really bad team or on videotape they're awful, you've got to be creative, and I've done that where we didn't even show film. You just kind of chew them out or something like that and coach them a little harder," Meyer said. "This returner put it to us last year. The issue is not talent with Illinois. They have talent and you can see them on videotape."

Technically, Meyer's right. A year ago, Illini kick returner V'Angelo Bentley gained 82 yards on three punt returns, including a 67-yard take-back for a touchdown in what was ultimately a 60-35 Buckeyes victory.

But a kick returner on a team Ohio State beat by 25 points a season ago? That's what Meyer's trying to get the attention of his team with? Maybe the third-year Buckeyes coach is legitimately concerned with Bentley, but it also seems like he may be grasping at the straws a bit in an attempt to prevent his team from looking ahead to the Spartans.

"Illinois is much improved from a year ago," Meyer insisted. "There will be no overlooking anyone."

It also doesn't hurt Meyer's cause that after rattling off four straight blowouts after their defeat at the hands of the Hokies, this Buckeyes are coming off of one of their less impressive outings of the season. Compiling just 74 passing yards and surrendering a 17-point second-half lead, it took two overtimes for Ohio State to get past Penn State, with quarterback J.T. Barrett spraining his MCL in the process.

Barrett insists that it would take "something drastic" to prevent him from taking on the Illini, but that doesn't change the fact that the last time he took the field, neither he nor the Buckeyes were at their best. Meyer is using that as a reminder to his team that it still has work to do, as Ohio State hardly looked like a team ready to take on Michigan State last Saturday.

"We didn't play very good," Meyer said of the Buckeyes' trip to Happy Valley. "There's some positions and some players that didn't play very good that we have to get fixed."

Chief among those positions that struggled against the Nittany Lions is the Ohio State offensive line, which surrendered three sacks and hardly provided consistent protection against a talented Nittany Lions front seven. Illinois isn't quite as impressive up front, but with Shilique Calhoun and the Spartans looming, this weekend will be the Buckeyes' last opportunity to find their footing before heading to East Lansing.

"A lot of guys thought we were going to go in and dominate that [Penn State] game and that was kind of humbling," said Ohio State left tackle Taylor Decker. "We're not world-beaters. We're not as good as we need to be. We're not where we need to be at."

But if Illinois' talent and the Buckeyes' performance against Penn State aren't enough for Meyer to keep his team focused, Ohio State can also take a look at the Illini's most recent outing. Facing a Minnesota team that was on pace to compete for the Big Ten West title, Illinois snapped a three-game losing streak with a 28-24 win over the Golden Gophers in an effort that caught the attention of Decker.

"They're coming in with an awful lot of momentum," Decker said of the Illini.

And if that doesn't work, Meyer still has that Michigan State game up his sleeve. Because without a win over Illinois, that game loses much of its meaning for an Ohio State squad trying to fight its way up from the No. 16 spot in the inaugural rankings for the College Football Playoff.

"This is a big one as well," Meyer insisted of Ohio State's upcoming game. "That one loses a little luster if we don't take care of business Saturday."


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 and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Florida vs. Georgia: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Florida–Georgia week has a different feel to it this time around, as the No. 11 Bulldogs enter the neutral site with a serious advantage over the unranked Gators Saturday.

In a series defined by streaks, Mark Richt's team is beginning to carve out a serious run of its own against the rival Gators, especially since Will Muschamp took over as the lead man before the 2011 season.

Florida rests at just .500 currently and does little right on both sides of the football whereas Georgia has only picked up steam in recent weeks as an SEC contender and sleeper for the inaugural College Football Playoff, despite the absence of Heisman contender Todd Gurley.

Then again, these two bitter rivals put on close contests regularly. Georgia has title hopes, while Florida wants to play spoiler. It should go without saying that this classic annual bout is worth the time investment.


Riding the Momentum

How lopsided does this matchup look on paper?

Florida enters after its worst performance to date, a 42-13 loss to the Missouri Tigers—the same team Georgia had dismantled 34-0 the week prior.

Believe it or not, Georgia has done nothing short of improve in each of the past six weeks after a scare against Tennessee at the end of September. With Gurley out of the picture, the Bulldogs have turned to freshman tailback Nick Chubb, who now has 569 yards and five touchdowns on a 5.7 yards per carry average.

Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports put it best:

Who needs Gurley when Chubb has played at such a high level, and the Bulldogs defense has forced nine turnovers over the course of its last two games? Richt does hint that Gurley's absence may have a hand in the team's noteworthy improvement, per The Associated Press (via

This team was improving whether Todd played or not. We were getting better defensively. We were getting better offensively. A lot of people say Todd not being there gave the team incentive to play harder. There may be some truth to that. They love Todd. They wanted to honor him, especially when he missed some games. They wanted to give him a little sign like, `Hey, we're with you.' But we were getting better regardless.

As hinted, momentum is not really a thing for the Gators. The quarterback issue is quite real for Muschamp's team, as Jeff Driskel went 7-of-19 for 50 yards and two interceptions last week while the team managed 2.8 yards per carry. 

One team needs a jaw-dropping turnaround, while the other needs to ride the wave. Which scenario will actually happen is not so easy to discern.


Complacency and History

To be completely fair to Florida, the blueprint for a win Saturday is quite apparent: Make Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason take to the air.

Mason has yet to have the pressure of a win on his shoulders thanks to the prowess of the Georgia run game. He has completed 69.2 percent of his passes for 1,022 yards and 10 touchdowns to three interceptions, but again, he has yet to be put in that situation.

Look at last year, when complacency seemed to strike the Bulldogs in this same game. After getting to a 20-0 lead, Georgia got sloppy, turned the ball over a few times and allowed the Gators to hang around and almost pull off the upset, were it not for a lengthy drive near the end of the game.

Should that same trait rear its head again, the Gators are ready to capitalize, if comments from offensive tackle D.J. Humphries are any indication, per Thomas Goldkamp of "Get a 'W,' at all costs. We definitely need to get back to our run game on the ground and just be physical, out-physical some guys. It's Florida-Georgia. It's time to hit somebody in the mouth."

For Georgia, a team with CFP aspirations and a date against No. 3 Auburn in two weeks, the letdown potential is alive and well—especially in a rivalry game. 


When: Saturday, November 1, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Florida

Television: CBS

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 50
  • Spread: Georgia (-13)


Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.



Georgia is about to receive Florida's best performance of the season. 

How the Bulldogs handle it will say plenty about their CFP resume.

For every argument about common opponents, there is a counter; Florida also beat Tennessee this year. In fact, the Gators are two weeks removed from playing LSU tough in a three-point loss.

As long as the Bulldogs apply the lessons learned from last year and control the clock with Chubb on the ground, the team will be able to come out on top. A top-15 rushing attack and a top-20 defense has a way of doing that in the SEC, especially when it has not turned the ball over in a full eight quarters of play recently.

Expect Georgia to make it four in a row.

Prediction: Georgia 35, Florida 28


Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.


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