NCAA Football

Oregon vs. California: Live Score and Highlights

Oregon 59, Cal 41—Final Mark Helfrich guided No. 6 Oregon past Cal Friday night, turning in a dominant offensive performance in a 59-41 victory in Levi’s Stadium...

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BYU vs. Boise State: Live Score and Highlights

BYU's hopes of an unbeaten season have turned to despair following three straight defeats, and the Cougars are simply trying to stop the bleeding Friday night with a trip to face Boise State.

Four straight wins to start 2014 had BYU (4-3) ranked in the Top 25, but defeats to Utah State, UCF and Nevada in a 15-day span changed all of that. In recent weeks, the Cougars have looked nothing like the team that throttled Texas 41-7 on the road.

Boise State (5-2, 3-1 Mountain West) is looking to stay undefeated at home on Friday night after holding off Fresno State on the Broncos' iconic blue turf one Friday ago. 

Kickoff is set for 9 p.m. ET on ESPN. 

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Top Recruits Who Will Be Impacted by Result of Ohio State-Penn State Game

Ohio State heads to Happy Valley this weekend for a Saturday night showdown with conference rival Penn State. The Nittany Lions continue to embark on a new era as head coach James Franklin matches up against Urban Meyer for the first time in blue and white.

The matchup has major Big Ten implications, with Penn State attempting to snap a two-game losing streak and Ohio State searching for its fifth straight victory. These programs regularly battle beyond the football field, routinely crossing paths in recruiting endeavors. 

Plenty of prospects will be paying close attention when action kicks off, and several will be in attendance for the matchup. Here's a rundown of key recruits who should be watching with great interest.

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College Football: Top 5 Games to Watch in Week 9

Week 9 of the 2014 college football season will feature just two matchups between ranked opponents, including No. 3 Ole Miss at No. 24 LSU and No. 20 USC at No. 19 Utah. 

Ole Miss has been thriving and is in the hunt for a playoff spot, but LSU will hope to give the Rebels trouble with its rushing attack in an always electric Death Valley atmosphere. USC, which has defeated Utah the last three years, is looking to win a difficult road game and keep itself in the Pac-12 title race. 

Besides the two contests consisting of ranked teams, it’s basically highly ranked teams hoping to avoid upsets. Michigan State has had its way with rival Michigan, as it has only lost one game to the Wolverines since 2008 and has not lost at home in the series since 2007. 

Auburn will look to keep itself in the national title picture against Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks, who will be out of the SEC East Division race with a fourth conference loss.

A surging Ohio State team will play a night game at Penn State, where it hopes to avoid any sort of letdown and stay undefeated in Big Ten play.

With highly ranked teams looking to avoid upsets on Saturday, here are the top five games to watch. 


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NCAA College Football Picks: Week 9 Against the Spread

We’ve reached a point in the year where there is a chill in the air (at least for us Yankees up north). However, the college football season is beginning to heat up.

While there are no games between top-10 teams this weekend, there are some major conference matchups, as well as a couple of traditional powerhouses looking to salvage a season against ranked squads.

Let's check out the biggest games with lines courtesy of


No. 3 Ole Miss vs. No. 24 LSU

Betting Odds: Ole Miss -3

LSU’s only losses this season have come against Mississippi State and Auburn, and it will have to lean on its eighth-ranked defense to win this game.

Ole Miss has the nation’s top-ranked defense and it already has conference wins over Alabama and Texas A&M this season. 

Pick Against the Spread: Ole Miss is rolling and will continue its streak winning and covering against LSU.


South Carolina vs. No. 5 Auburn

Betting Odds: Auburn -17

South Carolina is under .500 in SEC play and both of its losses came against unranked teams. Needless to say, it has been a big disappointment this season.

Auburn suffered its first loss of the season last time on the field, but it is coming off a bye week and back at home.

Pick Against the Spread: Auburn will run all over the Gamecocks, winning and covering at home.


No. 14 Arizona State vs. Washington

Betting Odds: Pick

Arizona State is coming off a huge win over a ranked Stanford team and quarterback Mike Bercovici leads a passing attack that ranks 11th in the nation.

Washington lost badly last week against Oregon, but its only two losses have come against top-20 teams.

Pick Against the Spread: ASU will beat Washington this week even up in its house.


No. 20 USC vs. No. 19 Utah

Betting Odds: USC -1.5

USC has won two straight, but is 1-1 facing ranked teams this season. The Trojans' balanced offense and respectable defense will be facing a Utah team that has a solid rushing attack and good defense as well.

In other words, it should be a very competitive matchup.

Pick Against the Spread: Take USC in this one even on the road, as its offense will carry the team to the win.


Michigan vs. No. 8 Michigan State

Betting Odds: Michigan State -16.5

Michigan is under .500, but at least the Wolverines recently snapped a three-game skid. Still, they have really struggled on offense and need to play good defense to score a huge upset over Michigan State.

MSU has not lost since its second game, which was against Oregon. Five straight wins later, it now boasts the nation’s third-highest scoring offense. 

Pick Against the Spread: With the offense Michigan has, it will get crushed in this game, as MSU will easily win and cover at home.


Texas vs. No. 11 Kansas State

Betting Odds: Kansas State -10

Texas is under .500, but is coming off a shootout win. It's been a tough schedule: Three of its four losses have come facing ranked teams.

Kansas State is the only team in the Big 12 that does not have a conference loss and is coming off an impressive win over Oklahoma.

Pick Against the Spread: The Longhorns may not win, but they should cover the 10-point spread.


No. 1 Mississippi State vs. Kentucky

Betting Odds: MSU -14

The Rebels are the top-ranked team in the nation for a reason: They have now beaten three top-10 teams in a row. UK was playing well and had wins over South Carolina and Vanderbilt before getting crushed in its last game.

Pick Against the Spread: The Bulldogs are for real, and last week showed UK is not, getting drubbed at the hands of LSU. Even on the road, Mississippi State will win and cover.


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Alabama vs. Tennessee: Keys to Vols Upsetting Crimson Tide

Tennessee will be pining for a season-altering victory when Alabama comes to Knoxville on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2).

No, a win wouldn’t propel the Vols into the SEC title discussion. However, the momentum of a victory over the Tide could last all the way up until the beginning of next season.

In other words: Tennessee’s program really needs this win.

Here’s how it can happen.


Worley Must Be Nearly Flawless 

Arguably the best performance by the Vols this season came in the team’s Sept. 27 loss at Georgia, 35-32.

In that game, quarterback Justin Worley had one of the best games of his career, throwing for 264 yards and three touchdowns on 23-of-35 passing against a talented Bulldogs defense. He made great throw after great throw and looked calm and poised in the pocket. 

That kind of effort will once again be needed.

Earlier this week, the senior’s status for this weekend’s game was up in the air. However, according to Saturday Down South, Worley looks set to go:

Tennessee will hope that remains true, because it may not even be worth attempting to run the ball on Saturday.

After being held to zero total rushing yards on 28 carries against Ole Miss, the road should only get tougher against Alabama’s No. 2-ranked run defense on Saturday. Thus far, the unit has allowed a meager 63.4 yards per game while only conceding two rushing touchdowns.

Furthermore, the one game the Tide did lose—23-17 to Ole Miss on Oct. 4—was won through the air. Quarterback Bo Wallace paced the Rebels, throwing for 251 yards and three touchdowns.

Worley, or whichever backup quarterback gets the call, will need a similar effort.


Make Life Uncomfortable for Sims

It’s no secret that Blake Sims finds life difficult on the road. 

Three times Alabama has played away from home—twice on the road, once on a neutral field. All three times, the team has struggled.

In fact, Sims is pretty much a completely different passer outside of Tuscaloosa: 

If the Vols can get pressure in the backfield, they could help Sims’ struggles continue.

Keep an eye out on defensive end Derek Barnett, who had his breakout game against Ole Miss last weekend. The freshman recorded six tackles (four for loss) and three sacks.

It’s vital for Tennessee to pounce on Sims’ vulnerability.


Win the Turnover Battle 

It may sound cliche, but the Vols’ chances of success rest largely on turnovers.

This is an area the team has really struggled with. Tennessee has turned the ball over 13 times over the last five weeks. 

Most recently, the team coughed it up four times in a 34-3 loss at Ole Miss last Saturday.

“Turnovers were the story of the game,” head coach Butch Jones said following the loss, per the Times Free PressPatrick Brown. “When you turn the football over, that gives you zero opportunity to win.”

Fortunately for the Vols, this is an area Alabama struggles with too. Prior to last weekend's blowout win over Texas A&M, the team turned it over eight times in a three-game stretch.

Conversely, the Tide struggle in creating turnovers (nine on the year) while Tennessee ranks No. 31 in the category with 14. 

If the Vols can get a couple of early turnovers, this is a game that the team might be able to steal.


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

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Twitter and via email at

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Forget Lane Kiffin, Alabama's Defense Is the True Storyline to Watch vs. Vols

To be clear, "forgetting" Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is no easy task. He is, by nature, unforgettable. People seem to either love or hate him—but mostly just hate him.

Tennessee fans certainly haven't forgotten Kiffin's one-and-done departure from the program following the 2009 season.

Therefore, Alabama's trip to Tennessee on Saturday is as much, if not more so, about the buildup of Kiffin returning to Knoxville as anything else.

What will the fan reaction be to Kiffin?'s Michael Casagrande reports he is expected to call plays from the sideline rather than the press box. In an interview with Jon Solomon of, Kiffin's mother says she worries for her son's safety:

It's under this backdrop that Kiffin visits Knoxville for what figures to be a hostile return Saturday night. Kiffin's three kids are staying home out of concern that the environment won't be appropriate for them, according to Kiffin's mother and sister. They remember how uneasy the family felt leaving Knoxville in 2010.

"I'm scared to death for his safety," Robin Kiffin said of Saturday's game. "Some people were visiting us last weekend from Tennessee and they said they better not let him on the sideline (where Kiffin coaches at Alabama), they should put him in the press box. I want him to be in the press box."

Lots of former coaches return to their old stomping grounds with another team. Then again, Kiffin isn't like other coaches. He has an uncanny ability to charge others emotionally, for better or worse—usually worse.

However, barring an instance where Tennessee pulls off the upset and rushes the field, Kiffin's safety probably isn't an issue.

In fact, once the game kicks off, Kiffin's presence ceases to become a distraction. Will there be verbal jabs flung his way from the stands? You can bet on that, but you can also bet that Kiffin and Alabama won't care.

In the end, the only thing Tennessee and its fans should care about is ending the team's conference losing streak, regardless of who is on the opposing sideline.

If Tennessee is going to pull off the upset, it needs score a lot of points. In two of their three conference losses—to Georgia and Ole Miss—the Vols have given up at least 30 points. Only a 10-9 loss against Florida was low-scoring.

Thanks to Kiffin, Alabama can light up a scoreboard. The Tide are putting up 36.9 points and 514.6 yards per game, the latter being about 60 more yards per game than a year ago.

Kiffin's offense has been explosive, too, ranking second in the SEC in plays of longer than 10 yards.

Given the way SEC games have gone for Tennessee, Saturday seems less likely to be a defensive game. Offense is going to be important for the Vols.

That brings up a consistent problem for Tennessee: having the time to allow plays to develop. The Vols are one of the worst teams in the nation at giving up tackles for loss and sacks.

Much, if not all, of that has to do with a rotating door at offensive line. As Aaron Suttles of the Tuscaloosa News points out, 18 of Tennessee's 30 total sacks have come in the last three games.

Meanwhile, Alabama averages just under three sacks a game and had an effective pass rush with six sacks in a 59-0 blowout over Texas A&M in Week 8.

Suttles discussed this performance:

Alabama’s improved pass rush was never more evident than against the Aggies with Dickson and outside linebackers Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams sustaining good pass rushes.

That’s not including Jonathan Allen, A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed, among others, who’ve helped establish the line of scrimmage while also getting a good push.

If Tennessee gets behind on second and third downs, that's an open invitation for Alabama to bring pressure.

Kiffin is going to get the headlines and pregame attention. If Tennessee beats Alabama, the story will be about the Vols beating Kiffin. If the game comes down to the wire, it'll be about Tennessee almost beating Kiffin.

However, if the Tide's defense does its job and handles the Vols up front, things may get out of hand early. In that case, very little will be about Kiffin's return to Knoxville.


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

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Todd Gurley May Have Dressed Up as a Pirate and Yelled 'Free Me'

Todd Gurley will be freed or go down with the ship.

The University of Georgia running back continues to serve an indefinite suspension for allegedly receiving money in exchange for autographing memorabilia.

Gurley’s suspension began October 9 and could ostensibly continue through Halloween—a holiday he appears to be preparing for in earnest.’s Andrew Holleran spotted an image of Gurley in costume. Twitter user @MasterShelbz tweeted that she encountered the SEC’s leading rusher Thursday night wearing a pirate outfit and screaming “Free me!” 

Twitter user @DawgBreed responded in kind with a picture of Gurley decked out like Blackbeard and wielding a bejeweled saber. 

So either Gurley habitually dresses for high-sea robbery in his downtime, or this image was taken recently.

For what it’s worth, @MasterShelbz stands behind her Gurley story and claims it was a life-changing moment. 

Gurley may get his wish sooner than some fans imagined.

ESPN’s Mark Schlabach reports that Georgia issued a statement Wednesday claiming the university will apply to the NCAA for Gurley’s reinstatement. The school is convinced the league will respond with a swift ruling in favor of allowing the Heisman candidate back on the field.

“Todd has confirmed his desire to seek reinstatement, and the university fully supports Todd’s request,” the university said in a statement. “The university hopes for and expects a prompt ruling by the NCAA so that Todd, his coaches, and teammates can adequately prepare for our next game.”

The team holds out hope that Gurley will be back and suited up in time to play Florida on November 1. Until then, sail on Lake Chapman at your own risk.


Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture.

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Ole Miss Football: Are Rebels on Upset Alert vs. LSU Tigers?

Ole Miss’ perfect season could be in danger when the team travels into Death Valley for a prime-time showdown with LSU on Saturday (7:15 p.m. ET on ESPN).

The No. 3-ranked team in the country, the Rebels have had a lot to be optimistic about this season on both sides of the ball. However, this weekend, the team will be facing a Tiger squad that is pining to regain some respect.

Given that the game will be played at Tiger Stadium—a venue LSU is 61-8 at under head coach Les Miles—it’s safe to say Ole Miss is on upset alert.


Gaining Form

After struggling to find their identity over the first six games of the season, the Tigers have looked a lot like the team we’ve come to know in the last two weeks.

More specifically, the rushing attack seems to finally be in a grove. After rushing for 195 yards against Florida on Oct. 11, LSU gashed Kentucky for 303 yards on the ground just last weekend.

Even the defense has been playing better, forcing three turnovers in those two games and limiting the Gators and Wildcats to a combined 523 yards. The unit also held the two to just 7-of-29 on third-down conversions.

This is a Tigers squad that seems to finally be regaining some swagger.

And as USA Today’s Glenn Guilbeau notes, this is a team that earns wins like this on an annual basis: 

Backed by a loud, boisterous home crowd on Saturday night, expect the confidence to only swell.


Revenge On the Mind

LSU went into Oxford last October with national title aspirations.

Instead, the team came away battered and bruised, its championship dreams shattered and nursing a defense that had just been embarrassed on the way to conceding 525 yards of total offense. Backed by a last-second field goal, the Rebels won that game 27-24.

It’s a game the Tigers defense hasn’t easily forgotten.

“I still have a bad taste in my mouth,” sophomore safety Rickey Jefferson told The Daily Reveille’sMichael Haarala. “Just because it’s another team in the SEC and it’s Ole Miss, a rivalry for us, so anytime we lose to a team like that in our division it’s a hard loss.”

When LSU has revenge on its mind, the team is usually difficult to stop. Since 2008, the Tigers are 6-0 against opponents not named Alabama that beat them the previous year.


Running Up a Storm

As mentioned above, LSU’s rushing attack is playing as well as it has all season long.

Every week, a different running back steps up to the plate.

Last weekend against Kentucky, senior Terrence Magee registered his first 100-yard game of the season, rushing for 127 yards and two scores on only nine carries. The week before that, it was freshman standout Leonard Fournette who assaulted Florida’s defense for 140 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 27 carries.

In all, the Tigers have four different running backs who have rushed for over 240 yards this season and five who have found the end zone three or more times.

Sure, the Rebels boast a formidable run defense, ranking No. 6 in the nation against the run (97.14 yards allowed per game) while only allowing three touchdowns on the ground. However, the unit has only faced two top-40 rushing attacks.

Those two attacks—Louisiana-Lafayette and Alabama—rushed for 193 and 168 yards, respectively.

That has got to be music to the ears of LSU and its No. 30-ranked rushing attack.


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

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Twitter and via email at

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10 Biggest Questions Facing Top 25 Teams Heading into Week 9

The second full month of the college football season has come and all but officially gone. The home stretch is in sight. Conference games have a little more meaning, and playoff implications get a little stronger. 

However, there are only two games on Saturday between Top 25 teams: Ole Miss at LSU and USC at Utah. That doesn't mean every other Top 25 team is off the hook. Sometimes, the sleepiest slate of games yields the wildest results. 

Keep in mind that three top SEC West teams—Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Alabama—are on the road. 

Which storylines are the most important heading into Week 9? The answers are in the following slides. 

The only criterion here is that one of the teams involved has to rank in either the Associated Press poll or the Amway coaches poll.

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College Football Picks Week 9: B/R's Expert Predictions for Top 5 Games

Week 9 may lack the hype of previous weeks, but as we’ve seen throughout this season, anything can happen on Saturday.

The marquee game will be an under-the-lights showdown in Death Valley between SEC West foes Ole Miss and LSU. Can the young Tigers shock the world and take down the red-hot Rebels?

Sticking in the SEC, Alabama looks to prove it can win soundly on the road when the Tide battle rival Tennessee Saturday night in Knoxville.

Ohio State is quietly climbing back up the ranks, and the Buckeyes have a great opportunity to show the nation they’re a team to fear in their prime-time matchup against Penn State.

West Virginia is coming off a great upset over Baylor, and Oklahoma State hopes to rebound after a struggling performance against TCU to stay afloat in the Big 12 race.

The last big matchup of the night pits a surprise Utah team versus a USC team finding its groove. Which Pac-12 team will gain momentum in the division?

Ben Kercheval still remains our leader after eight weeks, but the others aren’t too far behind. Who will come out on top in Week 9?

Let us know your picks in the comments below!


Reminder that our experts are picking the top five Saturday games against the spread.

Odds via opening lines at Odds Shark.

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Tennessee Football: 5 Volunteers Who Will Surprise vs. Alabama

The Tennessee Volunteers face a tough task on Saturday when No. 4 Alabama comes to Knoxville.

The Vols started out as more than two-touchdown underdogs in this contest, but with starting quarterback Justin Worley possibly sidelined due to a shoulder injury and several members of the team battling a flu virus, according to The Tennessean's Matt Slovin, the matchup could become even more lopsided.

That's why the Vols will need help from every member of the team capable of making big plays. 

Alabama is still the most talented college football team in the country, but games against West Virginia, Ole Miss and Arkansas proved the Crimson Tide isn't as invincible as it used to be.

Tennessee will need career games from key members of its defense, mistake-free football from its offense and special teams and a few breaks to bounce its way to upset Alabama.

That said, here are five players who could emerge as the MVPs of the game when the Tide and Lane Kiffin roll into Neyland Stadium on Saturday. 

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What Would DaVaris Daniels' Potential Return Do to the 2015 Notre Dame Irish?

After taking to Instagram to announce he would be returning to Notre Dame in 2015 after a two-semester suspension, cornerback KeiVarae Russell continued his news-breaking ways on the photo-sharing platform. And if Russell is to believed, Irish fans could get some more good news out of an ugly academic situation.

According to Russell, senior wide receiver DaVaris Daniels is prepping for a comeback to Notre Dame in 2015. That flies in the face of initial reports—and a statement from Daniels—that the talented wide receiver would be moving on. 

Here's a portion of Russell's Instagram message, which has since been taken down:

Im sure my followers and the country will be pleased to hear that [DaVaris] is now likely to return to Notre Dame with me next year despite what media says!! Watch how we take this negative and turn it into somethin special and memorable! Both gonna make people wish we didn't have this much time to work!

The Irish's leading returning receiver entering 2014, Daniels was expected to be the team's No. 1 pass-catcher this season but never took the field after a summer school academic incident led to the suspension of Daniels, Russell and teammates Eilar Hardy, Kendall Moore and Ishaq Williams. Daniels had already sat out the spring semester after his GPA slipped below a 2.0, so many expected this second run-in with the university to spell the end of his up-and-down ride in South Bend.   

But if Russell's comments are to be believed, instead of preparing for a future in the NFL, where Daniels still hoped to be drafted in the later rounds, the Chicagoland native could add another weapon to an already-stocked wide receiver depth chart. 

Without Daniels, the Irish passing game has still taken a large step forward, with Everett Golson's return and the emergence of Will Fuller and Corey Robinson setting the tone. With no receiver on the depth chart graduating, next year's receiving corps already looked like a strength of the team even without Daniels. 

It's far too early to go down this rabbit hole. Last we heard from Brian Kelly, he had yet to even talk with Daniels, not about his suspension, nor any alleged return. Davaris' father, former Redskin Phillip Daniels, seemed to pump the brakes on any return talk as well. And all of this presupposes that Daniels will be accepted for re-admittance by the university, no sure thing when you consider his academic record. 

But if Daniels does return, the Irish would have a depth chart that'd be the envy of college football. With rising stars like Fuller and Robinson, Daniels would join a two-deep at outside receiver that also includes Chris Brown. After a slow start, Brown has 17 catches over the last four games, tapping into the potential that Kelly raved about this spring. 

Add to that group productive slot receivers Amir Carlisle and C.J. Prosise and promising youngster Torii Hunter Jr. Unless Kelly and offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock want to go five wide every snap, finding enough footballs to keep everyone happy could be difficult. 

Freshmen Justin Brent and Corey Holmes have yet to see an opportunity to show what they can do. And a trio of recruits—Miles Boykin, Jalen Guyton and C.J. Sanders—all expect to compete for playing time next year, something that looks harder by the day as Kelly continues to stockpile weapons. (Notre Dame's coaches hope blue-chipper Equanimeous St. Brown joins them in this recruiting class.)

Ultimately, Daniels' return could come down to a decision for Kelly and his coaching staff. They've already opened the door to Ishaq Williams' return, a fifth-year candidate who was expected to start at defensive end this year. As the Irish continue to recruit a handful of remaining elite targets, Notre Dame could push up against an 85-man scholarship limit that has rarely been scared, making the choice Daniels for one season or a recruit for at least four. 

The relationship between head coach and player is a critical one in this process. Kelly had Daniels' back during his spring suspension. But struggling to make grades is different than suspected academic dishonesty, and how Kelly views Daniels' role in the current mishap will likely prove important. 

There's never been a question about Daniels' talent. But he's yet to put it all together on the football field. A highly touted player out of high school, Daniels patiently redshirted his freshman year, watching Michael Floyd dominate on his way to being taken in the first round of the NFL draft. That was supposed to be what 2014 was about for Daniels, before another off-field mistake cost him the season.

We'll find out soon enough whether the ship has sailed or if Daniels becomes the latest—and most unlikely—addition to a 2015 roster that could be stacked. 


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James Franklin Is the Perfect Big Ten Rival for Urban Meyer

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It started with a Wednesday tour of Urban Meyer's office on Sitting next to a few of the Ohio State head coach's favorite books was a paper printout, the contents of which would surely set the corner of the Internet that claims the Buckeyes abuzz.

Black jerseys.

Long rumored and often debated, the potential of black-based uniforms has been a polarizing prospect for Ohio State fans dating back to the mid-1990s. And on Wednesday, Meyer confirmed that they may be closer to becoming a reality than some Buckeye traditionalists would prefer.

"Somewhere down the road, maybe," Meyer said, before confirming that he'd be OK with an all-black Ohio State look.

Less than 24 hours later, a different coach at another tradition-rich Big Ten program made a similar statement.

"One of the things I am looking at possibly doing is a throwback uniform," Penn State head coach James Franklin said, via's Ben Jones. "Although our uniform has pretty much stayed the same, there has been variations over the years. Maybe one game a year you do a throwback of the elements we've had over the years."

The degree of their public advocacy may vary, but the reasoning behind Meyer and Franklin's acceptance—or perhaps preference—of alternate jerseys doesn't differ.

"It's a great way to pay respect to the past, but give the players and recruits a way to see we're doing something a little bit different," Franklin said.

"I love tradition," Meyer said in 2013. "But I love recruiting better."

Meyer and Franklin will officially face off for the first time this Saturday when the Buckeyes head to Happy Valley for a prime-time matchup with the Nittany Lions. But the third-year Ohio State coach has become plenty familiar with the first-year Penn State head man, as the two have already gone head-to-head several times on the recruiting trail.

Recruiting is the lifeblood of any program, as Meyer often says, and since arriving in State College in January, Franklin has offered a transfusion of sorts for the Nittany Lions. With just more than three months to go until national signing day, Penn State's 2015 class ranks 11th in the nation—one spot ahead of Meyer's Buckeyes.

Unsurprisingly, Franklin's success against Meyer has played a key role in his impressive haul thus far. Of the Nittany Lions' 18 current commits, seven were also offered by Ohio State, with PSU beating out the Buckeyes for the likes of 4-star offensive tackle Sterling Jenkins, 4-star offensive guard Steven Gonzalez and 4-star running back Andre Robinson.

Meanwhile, five of Ohio State's 18 current commits possess invitations to play for the Nittany Lions, including the three highest-ranked members of the Buckeyes' 2015 class: 5-star linebacker Justin Hilliard, 4-star athlete Jerome Baker and 4-star defensive end Jashon Cornell.

It's far too early to say that Franklin has surpassed or even matched Meyer on the recruiting trail—after all, Penn State's 2015 class is considered full while Ohio State believes it still has a few spots left—but nobody else in the Big Ten has challenged the Buckeyes' head coach as frequently as Franklin has in his first 10 months on the job.

Sure, Michigan might pull a Jabrill Peppers here and Michigan State has shown the ability to land a Malik McDowell there, but neither Brady Hoke nor Mark Dantonio have shown the consistent success against Meyer on the recruiting trail that Franklin has. It hasn't hurt that Franklin has benefited from a home-state advantage in talent-rich Pennsylvania, which he vowed to take full advantage of at his introductory Penn State press conference.

“We are going to dominate the state. We are going to dominate the region,” Franklin said. “I've worked a lot of different institutions that tried to compete. Recruiting against Penn State University was always an unbelievable challenge because this school has everything that young men are looking for."

That wasn't the case less than three years ago, when hampered by one of the most horrific scandals in sports history, Penn State appeared to have lost its luster. What was the Nittany Lions' loss on the recruiting trail turned out to be the Buckeyes' gain, as Meyer's first class in Columbus was littered with players who would have likely otherwise landed at Penn State.

Noah Spence, Tommy Schutt, Armani Reeves, Camren Williams and Joey O'Connor all had previously committed to the Nittany Lions or were considered heavy Penn State leans before the Jerry Sandusky scandal caused each to reconsider his options. In the span of two months, Meyer managed to land all five, catapulting the Buckeyes to the nation's fifth-ranked class.

Ohio State's advantage over its secondary rival only figured to grow in the summer of 2012, when unprecedented sanctions including a reduction of 20 scholarships and a four-year bowl ban were handed down by the NCAA. Nittany Lions head coach Bill O'Brien made the most of what he had, landing 2013 5-star quarterback Christian Hackenberg and even beating out Meyer for 2014 4-star tight end Mike Gesicki.

Penn State appeared to be on the rise, accumulating a 15-9 record from 2012-13 despite its sanctions. But the Nittany Lions seemed to suffer another blow on New Year's Eve when O'Brien left to take the Houston Texans' head coaching position.

That, however, only proved to be a precursor to a perfect storm.

Looking to land a home run hire to replace O'Brien, the Nittany Lions lured Franklin from Vanderbilt, where he had accumulated a 24-15 record—including two bowl wins—in three seasons in the rugged Southeastern Conference.

As evidenced by his introductory press conference, it was clear that recruiting was as important to Franklin as it was to Meyer from the start. The new Penn State head coach went right to work, landing 4-star offensive tackle Ryan Bates, 4-star athlete Kamonte Carter, 3-star safety Jarvis Miller, 4-star running back Saquon Barkley, 3-star defensive end Ryan Buchholz, 3-star linebacker Jake Cooper and the aforementioned Robinson all in his first month on the job.

But if the recruiting prowess of Franklin wasn't enough, the Nittany Lions received another boost in early September when their postseason ban was dropped and their scholarships total was fully restored for the 2015 season. Two years earlier than expected, Penn State would be back to full strength, with a head coach who appears to be a perfect fit for a new era of Nittany Lions football.

That may seem like bad news for the Buckeyes, but the reality is that given the current state of the Big Ten, the conference could use all of the help that it can get. With Michigan down and likely facing its third coaching change in eight years, it's been up to Ohio State and Michigan State to carry the Big Ten on a national level, with little help from the likes of Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Penn State's not there—at least not yet.

The Nittany Lions are 4-2 on the year, with losses to Northwestern and Michigan, and find themselves as double-digit underdogs at home this Saturday despite the Buckeyes possessing a freshman quarterback. An inefficient offensive line has been a glaring weakness, as this appears to be the year that its previous sanctions have finally caught up to Penn State.

But to steal another Meyer-ism, in college football, momentum is everything, and the Nittany Lions have plenty of it. While it may not show up in their record or on the field this Saturday, Penn State is trending upward, and Meyer has taken notice.

"I heard that Penn State considers Ohio State their rivals—obviously we have one. But I think it’s a little bit like when we played Wisconsin a couple years ago because that’s really a rivalry because there’s some really good teams," Meyer said. "We consider them an elite program."

We may be a year or two from that rivalry being fully restored, but all indications are that, thanks to Meyer and Franklin, it will be sooner rather than later.

It's just a matter of what the two teams' uniforms will look like when it happens.


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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Are Florida State's Wins in 2014 More Impressive Than the 2013 Dominance?

Which is more impressive: dominating every team on an easier schedule or showing resolve and winning close games against tougher opponents? The Florida State football team has now done both the past two seasons.

Are FSU's 2014 grind-it-out victories more impressive?

FSU was a powerhouse in 2013 en route to a 12-0 regular-season record and an ACC championship. Yet, the Seminoles were criticized for not being "battle-tested," which led to questioning about how FSU would react when it played Auburn in the BCS championship game. The Seminoles fell behind 21-3 in the second quarter but came back to win 34-31.

This year, FSU is unbeaten but hardly a powerhouse. Minus 10 starters from the 2013 team, the Seminoles are 7-0 but have won their games by a slim margin (just 14.5 points per game vs. Football Bowl Subdivision teams, but it's a lot smaller a margin when factoring in a 43-3 rout of Wake Forest).

While they haven't been dominating, they have shown plenty of mettle in holding off Oklahoma State in the fourth quarter, beating Clemson in overtime, rallying to defeat North Carolina State in a shootout and, on Saturday, using a last-moment fourth-down stop to survive against Notre Dame.

"The Navy SEALs have a saying for it—finding an excuse to win," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "We find excuses to win."

FSU has put together a 23-game winning streak dating back to November 2012. Let's take a look at FSU's 2013 and 2014 seasons:


The Dominating 2013 Season

Wins over Top 25 teams: Maryland, Clemson, Miami, Duke and Auburn.

Wins over unranked but quality teams: Pittsburgh, Nevada, Boston College, North Carolina State, Wake Forest, Syracuse and Florida.

Wins over cupcakes: Bethune-Cookman and Idaho.

Analysis: Most of the games were over by halftime. FSU won 12 of 14 games by 30 or more points. Clemson was No. 3 and was steamrolled. And Miami was No. 7, but FSU pulled away in the second half. The Seminoles shut out Maryland 63-0 and trounced Duke, which didn't score until the fourth quarter.

FSU had to rally to overcome a large first-half deficit to beat Boston College. The team was loaded with NFL talent and had seven players drafted (losing 10 starters total to the NFL).


The Fight-to-the-Finish 2014 Season

Wins over Top 25 teams: Clemson and Notre Dame.

Wins over unranked but quality teams: Oklahoma State, N.C. State, Wake Forest and Syracuse.

Wins over cupcakes: The Citadel.

Analysis: FSU opened with an unranked Oklahoma State team that was much better than expected. The Cowboys were ranked 15th before losing to TCU last week and dropping out of the Top 25. FSU slipped past Clemson with its No. 2 quarterback, Sean Maguire, throwing for 300 yards.

Against Notre Dame, FSU trailed throughout the game but answered every Fighting Irish score with one of its own. And then FSU held on late by keeping Notre Dame from scoring even though the Fighting Irish had 13 plays on the Seminoles' half of the field in the final three minutes of the game.


Dominant vs. Impressive Seasons

The 2013 team was dominant. Put that team in a special category. It's clearly one of the best FSU teams in school history.

Here's a distinction, though: Which team was more impressive—not dominant, impressive?

The argument for the 2014 team begins with what it doesn't have. Take the 2013 team, all 24 starters (including the kicker and punter). Now take away 10 starters who are gone to the NFL.

Down to 14 starters, FSU lost one starting defensive tackle (Nile Lawrence-Stample) in the third game. And its starting center (Austin Barron) was lost in the fifth game with a fractured arm. A potential starter at linebacker, Matthew Thomas, missed six games due to an NCAA-mandated suspension before returning for the Notre Dame game.

Care to name a senior on defense that has made a significant contribution this fall? The answer is Desmond Hollin. He has 18 tackles. But he's also the only senior on the two- or three-deep defensive depth chart. FSU starts true freshman end Lorenzo Featherston and sophomore safeties Jalen Ramsey and Nate Andrews. Another true freshman, linebacker Jacob Pugh, had two interceptions in the win over Notre Dame.

On offense, redshirt freshman Ryan Hoefeld has stepped in for Barron at center. Sophomore Bobo Wilson and true freshman Travis Rudolph have emerged as the team's Nos. 2 and 3 receivers (after Rashad Greene).

The 2013 team was filled with seniors (and leaders), especially on defense. There were players like cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, safety Terrence Brooks and linebackers Telvin Smith and Christian Jones. This year's defense has relied on underclassmen for both production and leadership.

FSU's offense is averaging 37.9 points per game, 20th in the nation. The passing game has been prolific, but try picturing how it would look if receiver Kelvin Benjamin had returned for his redshirt junior season instead of going to the NFL early.

Often, it's a glass-half-empty perspective of FSU. It's a glimpse of an unbeaten team with plenty of problems. And that's fair—FSU has concerns.

Try looking at it from a glass-half-full approach. There are only four FBS unbeaten teams left, and FSU is one of them. Not because of domination but because of fight.

Instead of criticizing the 2014 team for what it isn't, take note of what it has accomplished. And what it has done without so many key pieces of the 2013 team.


Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, all quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All stats are courtesy of

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Power Ranking SEC Football's Most Impressive Freshmen so Far

Even the freshmen have gotten in on the action in what’s shaping up to be one of the most exciting seasons in SEC history.

One running back has stepped in to replace a Heisman Trophy finalist and has made the transition appear seamless. Another freshman has come into one of the nation’s toughest defenses and has become its best performer. Heck, even a punter is making headlines.

They don’t call the SEC one of the deepest leagues in the country for nothing.

In power ranking these players, we looked at a number of factors. These include initial recruiting grades, season stats, strength of schedule, recent performances and similar issues.

Join B/R as we count down the 10 best freshmen in the SEC thus far.

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Ohio State Football: 3 Keys for Ohio State to Beat Penn State in Happy Valley

No. 12 Ohio State (5-1) is riding high as it heads to Penn State (4-2) on Saturday for an 8 p.m. ET prime-time game in Beaver Stadium.

The Nittany Lions are limping into the game after back-to-back losses to Northwestern and Michigan, but this is a perfect test for the Buckeyes: a road game, at night, in a hostile environment against a team seeking to avenge last season’s 63-14 thumping. Penn State also has a new coach looking for his first significant Big Ten win. This is exactly the type of game the Buckeyes need to help them prepare for their November 8 showdown with Michigan State in East Lansing.

Can they continue their march back into playoff contention and leave Happy Valley with another decisive win? Here are three keys to the game.


Offensive Line

Quarterback J.T. Barrett has earned the praise that is being bestowed upon him right now. Who can argue with 1,176 yards passing with 17 touchdowns and 263 yards rushing and three touchdowns over the last four games? His production has him in the discussion as a potential Heisman candidate. Not bad for someone who was supposed to keep the seat warm for Braxton Miller until he returns from injury next season.

While Barrett has been the star, the key to Ohio State’s surge has been the offensive line. Line coach Ed Warinner is clearly demonstrating once again why he is the best in the business. The protection has been substantially better since the loss to Virginia Tech, and you can see the confidence level of this unit rising every week.

The line passed a huge test last week against Rutgers, which came into the game ranked No. 2 in the FBS in sacks with 24. It allowed zero in a dominating performance where the offense racked up 585 yards and 56 points. Continued improvement is needed this week against a stout Penn State defense.

The Nittany Lions may be struggling offensively, but their defense is extraordinary. They rank No. 6 in scoring defense, allowing just 15.2 points per game, and are yielding just 283 yards per game. The stats are inflated a little because the competition has been average, but this unit is fundamentally sound. It will be ready to stop Barrett and his army of weapons.

Penn State’s leader is senior linebacker Mike Hull, who leads the team with 64 tackles. He is a prototypical linebacker; he’ll be wherever the ball is making a tackle or disrupting the play. Hull knows the Buckeyes will provide the biggest test of the season, telling Bob Baptist of The Columbus Dispatch, “We’re going to have to have a great effort. But I think we’re going to be up for the challenge and we’re going to do everything in our power to hold them in check.”

Warinner will have the line ready. It will give Barrett time to work his magic. The Nittany Lions have not faced an offense as diverse as the Buckeyes'. The blocking up front and the speed on the edge will keep Penn State defense guessing all night.


Avoiding Turnovers

Protecting the ball is always important, but it is even more critical to success when playing on the road in front of 104,000 rabid fans looking for any reason to yell.

Penn State’s offense does not have the depth or skill players to match the Buckeyes yet. It is ranked No. 108 in scoring offense, averaging just 21.2 points per game. The offense will need help to keep the team in the game, and Penn State coach James Franklin agrees, telling Baptist:

I think our defense has played extremely well, but getting some of those game-changing plays can help. The interception returns for touchdowns, the punt returns for touchdowns, setting up our offense with great field position … you always want more.

The good news is the Buckeyes have largely avoided costly turnovers since the nightmare against the Hokies, and Penn State is not particularly strong at creating them. The Buckeyes don’t need to provide Penn State with any opportunities to swing momentum, so taking care of the ball is a must.

This is Barrett’s first significant game away from the Horseshoe. His poise will set the tone for the night. Expect head coach Urban Meyer to get him into a comfortable rhythm early in the game. When this happens, the Buckeyes’ offense will roll.


Attack Christian Hackenberg

Hackenberg has passed for just 1,637 yards with five touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s better than the stats suggest, but he’s lacking both confidence and playmakers right now. If Penn State has any chance to hang with the Buckeyes, Hackenberg must play his best game of the season. To do this, he’ll need the line to step up, which is something it has been unable to do lately.

Undoubtedly the Nittany Lions’ offensive line is suffering the consequences from the sanctions and injuries. The offense ranks No. 116 in the FBS allowing 3.33 sacks per game. Coupled with the inability to run the ball consistently, this unit is mostly one-dimensional and predictable. That’s a recipe for disaster against an Ohio State defense that is getting into championship form.

An interesting subplot to this game is it marks Ohio State line coach Larry Johnson’s return to Happy Valley. After a remarkable 18-year coaching stint with Penn State, Johnson left last January when Franklin was hired. It might be strange for Johnson to be heading back to his old stomping grounds as a visitor, but he’s ready for the challenge, telling John Kampf of The News-Herald:

It will be different. First time (back there). You spend 18 years at one place for a long time, then you walk back in there, different sideline, place you’ve been for 18 years. But I’m looking forward to going back.

The playbook on Saturday night for the defense won’t be any different than it was last year when it battered Hackenberg into his worst collegiate performance. Johnson will put full pressure on Hackenberg to keep him uncomfortable and force him into mistakes. The Buckeyes’ defense will reap the benefits of Penn State’s offensive disarray.



Meyer’s young team is playing with tremendous confidence heading into the stretch run in conference play. Franklin is trying to hold the ship steady while he recruits more elite-level athletes into the program. His team is a year or two away from being competitive in the Big Ten East Division.

The “White Out” crowd will be energized on a pleasantly warm and dry night in State College. It will inject energy into the team early, but the Buckeyes have too many weapons for Penn State to contain the whole game.

Ohio State has won four out five against Penn State, mostly in convincing fashion. The Buckeyes have also won their last three trips to Happy Valley; they will make it four this Saturday. Ohio State wins 31-10.

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Nebraska Football: Huskers Are Back in Black, but Plenty of Work Left to Do

The Blackshirts are back at Nebraska. After a dominant performance against Northwestern, the Huskers coaching staff decided it was time to put members of the defense in the coveted black jerseys.

Before the October 21 practice, 16 of the traditional Blackshirts were hung in lockers. Those lockers belonged to Randy Gregory, Vincent Valentine, Maliek Collins, Greg McMullen, Kevin Williams, Trevor Roach, Zaire Anderson, David Santos, Corey Cooper, Nate Gerry, Josh Mitchell, Daniel Davie, Jonathan Rose, Byerson Cockrell, Josh Banderas and Joshua Kalu.

Earning the Blackshirts is a huge accomplishment for the Nebraska defense. However, the work isn't done for the Huskers. Instead, it's just beginning.

While Nebraska's 38-17 win over Northwestern was a great step in the right direction, the group still faces some tough opponents in the second half of the season. However, holding the Wildcats to only 28 yards in the second half speaks volumes of what this group is capable of.

As it turns out, that was pretty much what determined the defensive players earning the jerseys.

"We challenged them at halftime to correct what we needed to have corrected and go play a good half and we'd win the game," defensive coordinator John Papuchis said, per Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal Star. "That's what they did. I thought based off that it was deserving to hand them out."

Going forward, the defense has a lot to prove to keep the black jerseys. Linebacker Banderas understands that. So much so, the sophomore decided against wearing his new jersey to practice as he feels he's not playing at a high enough level for the honor just yet.

"Definitely I respect him because of that," Collins said, per Christopherson. "It shows that he's not complacent with where he is. He's always looking to reach another level."

The rest of the team needs to follow suit. That doesn't mean they have to forfeit wearing their new jerseys to practice. Instead, it's about playing to the same level they have in recent games against upcoming opponents.

Per Jon Nyatawa of the Omaha World-Herald, Papuchis claims the Blackshirts only recently hit a turning point, as things started coming together before the Illinois game.

"Things started to click," he said. "We're starting to really hit (our) stride."

Since then, the Nebraska defense really has shown significant growth. Despite the loss to Michigan State, the group was looking like Blackshirts. That included holding MSU quarterback Connor Cook to only 11-of-29 passing.

Considering the quarterback had a 69 percent completion rate heading into the game, that says a lot about the Huskers.

Then there's players like Roach, who recorded 18 total tackles against Michigan State and another 10 against Northwestern. No one can forget about Gregory, either, who Papuchis believes makes big plays that most people don't see.

"His combination of size, strength, speed, athleticism, quickness, toughness," Papuchis said, per Nyatawa. "And the fact that he's a (hard-working) player, in terms of his effort and his compete-level. Most of his best plays, I think, are ones that nobody notices him do it."

Ultimately, what this all adds up to is that the Blackshirts can't settle now. While the coveted jerseys have been handed out, they have to continue being earned. In order to do so, players like Gregory and Roach will have to keep playing at a high level and making big plays.

Earning a Blackshirt is a huge honor. How the players handle it going forward is now what matters most. 

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LSU Football: 3 Keys to Tigers Upsetting Ole Miss

LSU head coach Les Miles has a chance to make a statement against Hugh Freeze's Ole Miss Rebels. 

Miles' Tigers have not been at their sharpest this season. They dropped their first two SEC games of the season against Mississippi State and Auburn, and the team was dominated both times.

LSU has picked it up recently with wins against Florida and Kentucky.

Miles could win his first game against SEC West opposition at home on Saturday. However, possibly pulling off an upset against Freeze is an even bigger personal opportunity. Last season, the undermanned Rebels defeated the Tigers 27-24 in Oxford. Miles now has the chance to return the favor.

It won't be easy for the Tigers, but they have the talent and home crowd to pull off the upset. Here are three keys for the Tigers to be triumphant on Saturday.


Win Turnover Battle

The Tigers and Rebels are both playing their best football of the season right now. The one thing both teams have in common is turnover efficiency.

LSU has only committed one turnover in the past two games. Ole Miss has only had one in the past three. The team that plays sounder football will likely win.

LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings has yet to throw an interception in SEC play, but neither has Ole Miss signal-caller Bo Wallace. The difference is in the defenses.

The Rebels have forced an SEC-leading 20 takeaways, 10 of which have come in SEC play. The Landshark defense is full of playmakers, led by ball-hawking safety Cody Prewitt. The LSU defense, albeit improved, does not posses the same playmaking ability.

If LSU cannot run the ball and Jennings is forced to make tough throws, it could lead to trouble. The Tigers must have a strong ground game to help their quarterback.


Stop the Run

Ole Miss' running game has not been its strong suit. The Rebels are 11th in the SEC in rushing and have yet to have a player eclipse 100 yards in a game this season.

The Rebels' most dangerous running play has been the zone read with Wallace and running back Jaylen Walton, who leads Ole Miss in rushing. Walton's lone 100-yard game was against the Tigers last season, when he gashed them for 106 yards and two touchdowns.

Wallace and Walton will be a tough challenge, especially considering the Tigers' struggles with defending mobile quarterbacks.

But LSU's defense has shown improvement thanks to a boost in speed from linebacker Kendell Beckwith and safety Jamal Adams. Two weeks ago, the Tigers were last in rushing yards allowed against conference opposition. They have now jumped to 10th.

The weakness of LSU's defense has been the middle, but the Tigers have gotten more out of their defensive tackles in recent weeks.

Also, Ole Miss does not have a power, between-the-tackles bruiser back who can pound the ball up the gut.

Ole Miss will have success throwing the ball. Receivers Laquon Treadwell and Vince Sanders lead a talented cast of characters in the passing game. Wallace has thrown for 656 yards in his past two matchups against LSU. So the Tigers must not get discouraged if the Rebels make some big plays early.

Nevertheless, the Tigers' chances of winning increase if they can stop the run and make the Rebels one-dimensional.


Win Special Teams

Close games are normally decided on special teams.

The Rebels found that out the hard way the last time they made the trip to Baton Rouge in 2012. Former LSU receiver Odell Beckham Jr. returned a punt for a touchdown to tie the game early in the fourth quarter. The Tigers would go on to win the game 41-35.

The Tigers might need the same kind of boost from Tre'Davious White on Saturday. White returned his first punt for a touchdown last week against Kentucky on a beautifully designed return by special teams coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto.

LSU and Ole Miss' special teams have been amongst the best in the SEC. LSU's Jamie Keehn and Ole Miss' Will Gleeson are No. 2 and No. 3 in the conference in punting average.

The Tigers are better in field-goal kicking with Colby Delahoussaye and kickoffs with Trent Domingue. Ole Miss rarely gets touchbacks, which opens the door for returners Leonard Fournette and Terrence Magee to make plays.

The Tigers have a slight edge on special teams in nearly every aspect. They must take advantage of this on Saturday against the favored Rebels.


Stats, rankings and additional information provided by 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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Auburn Football: Early-Drive Improvements Crucial for the Tigers' Future Success

AUBURN, Ala. — For all of the complexities to Gus Malzahn's hurry-up, no-huddle offense, it can sometimes be simple.

So when fans and analysts point to Auburn's drop in offensive production from 2013 to 2014, the architect of the attack points to just one area of flawed execution.

"When we get our tempo going at the rhythm, we really feel good about playing fast," Malzahn said during the Tigers' bye week. "But a lot of our problems have been getting started and not getting the initial first down."

Malzahn's offensive game plan is built around stringing together first downs, forcing the defense to play catch-up and putting points on the scoreboard as quickly as possible.

But the Tigers have to get the chains moving before they can hit full speed—and that hasn't necessarily been an easy task this season.

Through the first six games of the 2014 season, Auburn has been either held to a three-and-out or has committed a quick turnover on 16 of their drives. 

By comparison, the Tigers offense only had those unwanted quick drives 11 times through the final six games of the 2013 season.

Auburn's inconsistent performance to start offensive drives this season has gone hand-in-hand with the team's general drop in first-down production.

The first-down numbers are down all across the board for the Tigers, who excelled in those areas in Malzahn's more successful years as Auburn's play-caller.

This season's lowered rushing production on first down has been surprising, as Auburn was at or near the top of every national statistic in that area last season.

"A lot of it is execution," Malzahn said. "Some of it could be strategy, some of it could be scheme, but that is a big factor and difference between this year and last year. It really comes down to the execution part. We were very efficient especially in the second half of the year last year, and we’re hoping that the same thing will happen this year."

Malzahn believes the Tigers will receive a boost with junior Pat Miller's return from injury and true freshman Braden Smith's added responsibilities on the offense.

The two will add some much-needed depth to an Auburn offensive line that has already gone through some shuffling with 2013 starting left guard Alex Kozan missing the entire season and Devonte Danzey's emergence in place of Miller.

"If we can get our linemen in the same spot and stay healthy in the second half and really start working together and get some cohesion, there’s no doubt in my mind we’ll be more effective and more efficient in the run game," Malzahn said.

Another area of first-down execution that needs improvement is in Nick Marshall's passing game. All three of Marshall's interceptions this season have come on first down, including two on the first plays of drives.

Batted balls at the line of scrimmage have been an issue for the 6'1" Marshall, and the Tigers staff said it would be addressed during the recent bye week.

"Those are things we've got to do the best we can to avoid, whether it's the way we set protections, whether it's him finding an alley to throw through, whether the protection's good enough that he's not getting hit as he's throwing," Rhett Lashlee said. "The positive is he hasn't thrown it to guys through progressions. It's had to be tipped or it's had to be hit."

Whether it's a running play that isn't going for as many yards as it did last season or a misfired pass that sets the offense back, a bad early down can ruin an entire drive and set it on the path toward a frustrating three-and-out.

Both players and coaches have stressed the need for improvement in all areas on the first set of downs—and every unit can shoulder some of the blame. 

"We're not even close [to being great]," senior wide receiver Quan Bray said. "We see the potential that we have. It's the little things. With this offense, it's just the little things that, because it takes all 11 on offense, and if one person doesn't do a job, the play won't work. On defense, somebody can mess up and you don't really see that. But it takes all 11 on offense—all 11 to get on the same page and play for one another."

Auburn's first-team offense went back to work on that execution during the recent bye week and got some extra work against the second-team defense, something that is rare during the middle of a tough SEC slate.

Bray believes those extra practices and days of rest have revitalized the entire offense as it heads into Saturday's matchup against South Carolina.

"In the first half of the season, we didn't do a lot of the little things," Bray said. "That's why we really weren't clicking like we were. But now that we've watched a couple of games and seen what we need to get done, I think we've worked on that in the bye week."


All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

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