NCAA Football

Building the Ultimate 2015 Running Back Recruit

The 2015 class has a handful of running backs who are bound for greatness at the collegiate level.

Bleacher Report college football analyst Michael Felder builds his ultimate 2015 running back recruit based on various attributes.

Which running back do you think deserves to be mentioned?

Watch the video and let us know!

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UCLA Football: What Bruins Must Do in Bye Week to Prep for Showdown vs. USC

Jim Mora established himself as the king of Los Angeles' college football scene in his first two years as UCLA football head coach.

Mora and his team have an additional week of preparations for defense of that crown, coming off a four-game win streak with a bye ahead of the annual Crosstown Showdown with USC.  

The Bruins welcome—using the term loosely—the Trojans into the Rose Bowl Nov. 22 with both teams still in the hunt for the Pac-12 South's berth into the conference championship game. However, any hope either has for playing in Levi's Stadium on Dec. 5 disappears with a loss. 

With a potential championship backdrop, the heated rivalry takes on added significance. That extra week probably couldn't come at a better time for the Bruins. 

 

Keep on Building

After kicking off November with a 17-7 defeat of then-No. 12 Arizona, linebacker Deon Hollins said the win "is going to be huge for us."

Scoring a decisive victory against a quality opponent after struggling against Cal and Colorado, and losing to Utah and Oregon, was a building block for something more, according to Hollins.

That rang true Saturday at Washington, where the Bruins asserted their dominance early and cruised to a win that was more lopsided than the final, 44-30 score.  

In a season punctuated with sputtering wins, the Bruins are putting the pieces together at the right time. 

 

Let Hundley Run 

Whether the result of outside pressure of expectations, or the on-field pressure put on him by blitzing defenses, quarterback Brett Hundley looked indecisive at times early through the Bruins' slate. 

Hundley put together one of the best completion percentages in the nation, sure. And he continued to rush for big gains. But in recent weeks, he's done both with much greater confidence. 

One reason is the overall improvement of his offensive line. The Bruins' front has made tremendous strides since allowing 10 sacks in a loss to Utah, most recently holding the nation's No. 2 overall sacking defense, Washington, to just one on Saturday. 

That's allowed Hundley to get passes out quicker. In addition, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is calling more designed runs for his quarterback, which has helped to pull back blitzes. 

USC has had its struggles containing mobile quarterbacks in recent years, including against UCLA. Last year, Hundley went off for 80 yards and two rushing touchdowns. 

Continuing to use Hundley's explosiveness as a ball-carrier in designed packages should be one of the primary points of emphasis for the UCLA offense heading into the USC matchup. 

 

Block out the Noise

An extra week without the distraction of another game lets in the potential distraction of hype for the rivalry. 

Talk about UCLA's newfound place as the leader of the Los Angeles football landscape has permeated ever since the Bruins' first of two straight wins in 2012. Said chatter will reach a crescendo in the days to come, particularly if USC beats Cal on Thursday. 

Mora has preached of blocking out potential distractions throughout this season, and there may be none bigger than the buildup to the Nov. 22 rivalry contest. 

 

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

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UCLA Football: What Bruins Must Do in Bye Week to Prep for Showdown vs. USC

Jim Mora established himself as the king of Los Angeles' college football scene in his first two years as UCLA football head coach...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

It's Time for LSU to Give QB Brandon Harris Another Shot as Starter

Brandon Harris' first foray into the world of starting at quarterback in the SEC didn't go so well. The true freshman signal-caller for LSU went 3-of-14 for 58 yards and rushed for 36 in a 41-7 loss on the road to Auburn.

It's time for Harris to get another shot.

The 7-3 Tigers will hit the road this week to Fayetteville as 2.5-point underdogs, according to OddsShark.com, to take on 4-5 Arkansas.

Yes, that's right. The team that just took No. 4 Alabama to overtime is an underdog to a team that hasn't won an SEC game since Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were campaigning for President of the United States.

Why?

A lack of faith in current starting quarterback Anthony Jennings is a good place to start. 

The true sophomore completed just eight of 26 passes for 76 yards, one touchdown and one interception against Alabama last week, in the 20-13 overtime loss. On the season, Jennings has completed just 47.1 percent of his passes (80-of-170) for 1,266 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions.

Since regaining the job after the Auburn game, LSU ripped off three straight wins before the Alabama loss. During that stretch, though, Jennings didn't complete more than 50 percent of his passes in any game. While LSU's running game and defense improved, its passing game remain stagnant.

Miles said on Monday that Jennings should get more opportunities as the season closes, according to Ross Dellenger of the Baton Rouge Advocate:

Decent won't cut it. More opportunities might help, but Jennings has had plenty of them already.

Harris might be able to give the offense a boost and help the Tigers become more two-dimensional.

The former 4-star prospect and third-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2014 was thrown into the fire at Auburn, and doing the same on the road at Arkansas may seem like crazy talk.

It isn't.

The situation for LSU is much different now. With three conference losses, there's no way for LSU to claw its way back into the SEC West or College Football Playoff hunt. Now's the time to start building for the future. Whether you think Harris will be a superstar or is nothing more than an average quarterback, Jennings has done nothing to solidify the job during his starts this season.

Head coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron should make the offseason battle a fair fight, even though Miles said on Monday that he's not ready to think about the future, according to Dellenger:

Starting Harris wouldn't be focusing on the future. It'd be searching for the boost as the season comes to a close with one eye on the future.

With road games vs. Arkansas and Texas A&M left during the regular season, Harris should be given a full, fair shot to get into grooves in games, learn from his mistakes and build off of any success he enjoys. 

At that point, LSU can enter bowl practice with two quarterbacks with game experience, and the battle to win the job will not only be on, it will be as fair as it can get.

It's safe to say, given Jennings' inconsistencies, there's going to be another quarterback battle this offseason in Baton Rouge. LSU would be best-served to start it now so that it can hit the ground running during bowl practices.

 

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

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

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Bowl Projections 2014: Playoff Predictions and Pairings for Top Teams

We're entering the home stretch of the college football season now, folks, and it feels as though we know less than when we started.

The Big 12 could end up offering the selection committee a really interesting choice between Baylor and TCU. The SEC West remains a cloudy, competitive mess. The Pac-12 feels like a two-team race between Oregon and Arizona State but you never know. The Big Ten feels like a two-team race between Ohio State and Nebraska but, again, you never know.

But hey, why not try to predict how this jumbled mess of confusion and possible outcomes will play out? Below, I'll do just that, making predictions for the four playoff seeds and the top bowl matchups after that.

 

Playoff Seeds

1. Florida State

2. Alabama

3. Oregon

4. TCU

 

Playoff Analysis

Florida State has a cupcake schedule the rest of the way, so they're an obvious choice to finish undefeated and atop the rankings. The No. 2 team is where things really get interesting.

The SEC West has been so tight this year that the deciding factor in the division may just be that Alabama faces both Mississippi State and Auburn at home. That advantage against the two toughest teams they'll play this year is why I see them winning out and reaching the playoff. 

Oregon is another fairly easy call. The Ducks are cruising right now and are on a collision course with Arizona State in the Pac-12 championship. That win would be the final feather in their cap, as would be the conference title, something that will certainly factor in heavily with the committee. 

Conference championships are why I think you'll see TCU at No. 4. Their schedule, in general, is more impressive than either Ohio State's or Nebraska's—whichever team wins the Big Ten—and I just can't see the committee snubbing TCU for a Buckeyes team that has a really bad loss to Virginia Tech. 

But what about Mississippi State? Let's say their only loss on the season is a tight road loss to Alabama. Is their incredibly impressive resume enough to get them into the playoff despite not even reaching their conference championship?

I don't think so. Maybe if there wasn't a team out there with as strong a resume as TCU, yes, they'd get in. But TCU will be a conference champion with wins over Oklahoma, West Virginia and Kansas State and a three-point loss on the road to a good Baylor team.

Yes, in this scenario I envision Baylor losing to Kansas State. If they don't lose that game and end up winning the Big 12, well, then things will get really interesting.

 

The Best of the Rest

Cotton Bowl: Kansas State vs. Marshall

Fiesta Bowl: Arizona State vs. Michigan State

Orange Bowl: Duke vs. Ohio State 

Peach Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Baylor

 

Best of the Rest Analysis

Good luck trying to figure this out right now. 

For starters, we all want to see Marshall in one of the other big four bowls if they go undefeated, right? So let's just make that happen here. And should Duke win out until the ACC title game, a very strong possibility, they'll be an automatic selection for the Orange Bowl.

Teams like Mississippi State, Ohio State and Arizona State will undoubtedly be represented in some bowl, likely matched up to a geographical fit. So that leaves three spots open, likely to the top three teams represented in the rankings.

For now, I'm going with Kansas State, Michigan State and Baylor, with apologies to Notre Dame. The Mississippi State versus Baylor matchup would be a ton of fun and a great geographical fit, while Kansas State will likely be ranked ahead of Baylor and thus set up with the Cotton Bowl.

The Fiesta Bowl would end up with a de facto Rose Bowl matchup, while we would get the opportunity to see just how legit Marshall and Duke really are. Not a bad appetizer, right? 

 

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Florida State vs. Miami: Complete Game Preview

The Miami Hurricanes and No. 2 Florida State Seminoles are preparing for the 59th meeting between the programs, which will take place on Saturday, Nov. 15 at Sun Life Stadium.

Al Golden's Miami (6-3, 3-2 ACC) team dominated its previous two outings, but FSU provides the biggest test of the season.

Florida State (9-0, 6-0) recently fought through a couple of scares to remain undefeated, hoping for a return trip to the national championship game. The Noles have won the last four matchups.

As of this writing, per OddsShark, Florida State is favored by 2.5 points. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET and will be televised on ABC.

Begin Slideshow

USC vs. Cal Complete Game Preview

WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 13; 9 p.m. ET

WHERE: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

TV: ESPN

The surprise of the 2014 Pac-12 football season comes to the Coliseum for a Thursday night showdown when 5-4 Cal squares off with 6-3 USC. 

The Golden Bears are a win away from gaining bowl eligibility for the first time since 2011 and would certainly love to gain it with their first defeat of the Trojans since 2003.

For USC, Thursday's contest is its last hurdle before facing back-to-back rivalry weeks. UCLA and Notre Dame loom as the final two dates on the Trojans' schedule.

Overlooking the upstart Golden Bears is one potential pitfall with the Bruins and Fighting Irish waiting, but a bye week heading into this Pac-12 matchup gave the Trojans an opportunity to be mentally and physically prepared. 

The physical component is particularly noteworthy. Head coach Steve Sarkisian gave the team the bye week off from practice to heal from injuries. As a result, the USC lineup on the field Thursday could be the closest to full strength it's been since Week 1. 

Any depth or energy gained from the time off will be needed when facing Cal head coach Sonny Dykes' explosive bear-raid offense. 

The Golden Bears come into the Coliseum averaging more than 41 points per game. 

 

Begin Slideshow

USC vs. Cal Complete Game Preview

WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 13; 9 p.m. ET WHERE: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum TV: ESPN The surprise of the 2014 Pac -12 football season comes to the Coliseum for a Thursday night showdown when 5-4 Cal squares off with 6-3 USC...

Begin Slideshow

Welcome Back Todd Gurley, College Football Missed You

“We’re glad he’s back, and we’re looking forward to seeing him play.”

That’s what Georgia head coach Mark Richt had to say yesterday about the return of Todd Gurley (per Seth Emerson of Macon’s Telegraph).

Richt is known as an unusually cool character, but that might have been one of the all-time great understatements in sports.  

And yet, it’s hard to blame Richt for not showing more enthusiasm or adulate him for staying calm as the most heralded Bulldog in 30 years returns to the field, because Gurley’s play itself and all that it embodies is hard to process with curt one-liners.  Gurley is not a media-ready soundbite. 

Merely defining Todd Gurley as an entity requires far more effort than most care to give.  Were he any less spectacular, “junior running back” would be an appropriate qualifier.  But given his accomplishments and what remains unfinished, forgetting terms like “star,” “future NFL first round pick” and “should-be Heisman candidate” fail to do Gurley justice.

His playing style itself presents such myriad seesaws that descriptions convolute the picture of his greatness. 

He’s patient but explosive.  He sees everything but has tunnel vision focused on the end zone.  He’s big and yet agile.  He’s strong but surprisingly buoyant when choosing to bounce off a defender rather than run through them.  He’s quick and fast but he’ll drag multiple defenders when necessary.  

He’s the most talented runner in the country but also one of the most selfless blockers.  He’s undeniably the most explosive offensive threat on the SEC’s highest scoring offense, but he adds value as a motivator in the defensive huddle.

But while Richt’s abbreviated summation of the end of six weeks’ worth of frustration, emotion and longing seems to come up short, his words still have an air of all-encompassing.

Richt is right; we are glad he’s back.  Not just the Georgia Bulldogs football team.

To be sure, Richt’s squad stands to benefit the most from Gurley when he dresses out between the hedges in Sanford Stadium, but the Dawgs aren’t alone in their appreciation. 

The university, whose students held midnight vigils following Gurley’s suspension as if he had passed away, will undoubtedly reap the rewards of Gurley’s triumphant run back onto the field.  After all, no student-athlete has been so loved since the days of Herschel Walker, and no student-athlete has been so wronged (from the perspective of Georgia fans) since—well, ever.

Undoubtedly, the student section and everyone in Sanford Stadium will embrace the righteously defiant exuberance that Gurley will possess.  In that light, regardless of the game’s outcome, no Bulldog fan will go away empty-handed.  Everyone there will have witnessed his return, and, in some ways, that may be prize enough for a team safely removed from College Football Playoff contention.

Even the fans at home will marvel at the wrath and grace with which No. 3 plays the game of football.  And if things go according to plan, both those paradoxical elements may be magnified by his long layover—the freshness of his legs (which have ailed him in the past) and the frustration experienced over the preceding month, which surely surpassed that of fans.

And this gratitude won’t merely reflect the sentiments of the Georgia faithful.  To the contrary, Gurley will be the hero of Saturday night—nationwide—even before kickoff.  After all, he is no longer simply a localized star or even the greatest running back in college football. 

Now, he’s perceived by many as the innocent figurehead of what’s wrong with a corrupt institution.

To be fair, everyone recognizes that Gurley broke a rule when he signed a series of autographs for money.  Much less obvious, however, is why that antiquated rule remains in place.

So quite ironically, Gurley has garnered more national notoriety while not playing football this fall.  And that’s quite an accomplishment for a guy who racked up 1,023 total yards (rushing, receiving, passing, returning) in just five games to open the season. 

Now, fans want to see him play.  Not just because he’s played at such high levels before or because they expect him to return to such thresholds immediately, or even because he only has a few collegiate games left, but because he gives them someone to root for and a story to embrace.  

People want to see the unfairly disgraced autograph signer succeed.  And that’s not just a Georgia thing.

Maybe Mark Richt was spot-on all along.  We, as college football fans, are glad Todd Gurley is back.  And we sure are looking forward to seeing him play on Saturday.  

Though Auburn may feel differently.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

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6 College Football Recruits Who Had an Explosive Week

The second weekend of November brought us plenty of drama on high school football fields across the nation, as postseason action commenced in parts of the country and teams in other regions battled for limited playoff spots. As usual, we kept our eyes on the top performances from coveted college prospects. 

Here's a peek at playmakers who stole the show.

 

3-star 2015 QB De'Andre Johnson, First Coast High School (Jacksonville, Florida)

Johnson, one of three Florida State quarterback commits in this class, sealed his place among the all-time Sunshine State gunslingers. The 6'0", 175-pound passer established a new Northeast Florida career record Thursday night by throwing for 213 yards and two touchdowns, per Clayton Freeman of Jacksonville.com. 

He moved past Bishop Kenny High School alum John Wolford, now a freshman at Wake Forest, for first place in the passing yardage record books. Wolford previously held the mark with 10,621 yards through the air.

“I knew the day I first saw De’Andre throw a ball on that field that he was something special,” First Coast coach Marty Lee told Freeman.

Johnson also rushed for a touchdown in the 19-14 win over White High School, improving his career regular-season record to 38-1 as a four-year starter.

 

4-star 2015 WR K.J. Hill, North Little Rock High School (North Little Rock, Arkansas)

A conference title hung in the balance Thursday night when North Little Rock hit the field for a matchup with rival Little Rock Central. Hill left no doubt about his team's championship fortunes.

The 6'0", 190-pound Arkansas pledge caught seven passes for 221 yards and two scores, according to THV 11 News. He added touchdowns as a rusher and kick-returner, compiling 379 all-purpose yards in the 59-22 victory. 

Hill helped North Little Rock clinch the 7A East title and lock up an opening-round bye in state playoff action. He committed to Arkansas this summer after considering offers from Florida, Notre Dame and Alabama.

 

5-star 2015 QB Kyler Murray, Allen High School (Allen, Texas)

Murray improved to 36-0 as a starting quarterback at Dallas-area powerhouse Allen with a 35-13 win over Plano East High School. The two-time defending state champion has the program primed for another championship journey and came away with a blowout victory despite five turnovers, per Ethan Grant of the Plano Star Courier.

He completed 24 of 37 pass attempts for 326 yards and three touchdowns. Murray added another touchdown and 131 yards on the ground.

His senior season continues to stack on remarkable career numbers. Murray began the campaign with 107 total touchdowns and remains in the mix as a national player of the year candidate.

Texas A&M landed him in May after Murray also considered offers from Clemson, Oregon and Ohio State.

 

4-star 2016 RB Antonio Williams, North Stanly High School (New London, North Carolina)

The 5'11", 200-pound rusher ranks among the most productive junior running backs in America. Williams eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark for a second straight season last weekend, rumbling for 143 yards and two scores on 18 carries, per MaxPreps.

His efforts propelled North Stanly to its third straight win, a 42-0 victory over Union Academy. Williams has hit triple-digit totals in rushing yardage during eight of 10 games this season, establishing an average of 9.9 yards per carry during that span.

He needs just 31 rushing yards to surpass his career-best 2013 total (2,170). Williams has rushed for 5,721 yards and 57 scores in high school.

Several teams have extended scholarship offers, including Auburn, Wisconsin and Notre Dame.

 

5-star 2015 WR Christian Kirk, Saguaro High School (Scottsdale, Arizona)

Saguaro continues to roll toward a second straight state title with Kirk leading the way. The 5'10", 191-pound playmaker dominates in multiple roles and showcased that multidimensional talent Friday night in a 55-14 win over Sabino High School.

Kirk caught four passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns, per MaxPreps, adding two rushing scores in the onslaught. He gained 166 rushing yards on 17 carries, pushing his season total to 1,094 yards on the ground.

Through 11 games, Kirk has 51 receptions for 983 yards and 32 total scores. He also completed a seven-yard pass in his team's most recent win.

Kirk is considering a variety of teams three months shy of national signing day. Recent official visits include UCLA, Auburn and Arizona State.

 

4-star 2015 RB Rawleigh Williams, Bishop Lynch (Dallas, Texas)

The Arkansas commit commanded player of the week consideration with a overwhelming effort against Prestonwood Christian. Williams rumbled for 261 yards and three scores on 36 rushing attempts in a 48-42 win, per The Dallas Morning News.

The 5'10.5", 195-pound playmaker added a receiving score, giving him four touchdowns in the contest. He committed to the Razorbacks in June after previously pledging to Ole Miss.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports

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Brian Kelly Showed Leadership with Highly Criticized Everett Golson Comments

After Notre Dame's disappointing 55-31 loss to Arizona State, Irish head coach Brian Kelly criticized his star QB Everett Golson and his penchant for fumbling in key situations.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder explains why he thinks Brian Kelly was in the right when it came to the critical comments.

Was Kelly too harsh with his quarterback?

Check out the video and let us know!  

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Lil Jon Visits Tennessee Volunteers, Gets Students out of Homework

Lil Jon is the gift that continues to give for the University of Tennessee.

The rapper has provided the football team with its "Third Down For What" third-down anthem and starred in a pump-up video for its game against Florida. Lil Jon is Tennessee's muse, and the program has happily adopted him as its own.

Now, in his latest coup for Volunteers students, Jon is saving them from homework and dapping up coaches on the practice field.

For The Win's Nick Schwartz spotted pictures of Lil Jon's weekend trip to campus. The rapper uploaded some images of his visit to Instagram.

He had a lot of fun hanging at Vols practice with Tennessee head coach Butch Jones.

He took a stroll about the team's facilities.

And most importantly, he saved kids from doing some of that pesky homework they paid thousands of dollars to be assigned.

It should be noted that all of Lil Jon's Instagram captions are in all-caps. His summary for this one is "YOURE WELCOME KIDS."

According to the Times Free Press' Patrick Brown, Vols linebacker A.J. Johnson told reporters that Lil Jon called Jones "a cool cat."

Tennessee hosts the 5-5 Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday. I hope Lil Jon is there. I hope he screams "Ken-tuck for what?!" on a microphone before the game. What I'm trying to say is Lil Jon is a national treasure.

 

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

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Melvin Gordon vs. Ameer Abdullah: Which RB Will Come out Ahead in Heisman Race?

The Big Ten has two explosive running backs who continue to make a big impression on Heisman voters. Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin and Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska go head to head this Saturday.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer discuss what kind of day the running backs will have as well as who will make it to NYC as a Heisman finalist. 

Which RB has the best chance to win the Heisman Trophy?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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San Diego Defensive Lineman Lays Helmet-Popping Hit on Morehead State QB

A defense can't play the option any better than this.

Not only did San Diego's defense tackle Morehead State running back Rob Harden in the backfield for a loss, but Toreros defensive lineman Jonathan Petersen put such a big hit on Austin Gahafer that the Eagles quarterback will think twice about running the option again.

San Diego won the game 49-28.

[Vine, h/t USD Football]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Will Todd Gurley Lead Georgia to Win vs. Auburn, Keep SEC East Champ Hopes Alive

Todd Gurley makes his triumphant return to the Georgia Bulldogs this week, just in time for their SEC matchup with the Auburn Tigers. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder discuss the return of Gurley and if the bruising back will be enough to lead the Bulldogs to victory. 

Will Gurley's return mean a victory for the Bulldogs?

Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Watch HS RB Knock Helmet off Defender with Bulldozer Hit

Meet Brian Herrien, a running back out of New Manchester High School in Douglasville, Georgia. During a road tilt against Alexander High School this past Friday, the junior ball-carrier took off on a run and absolutely laid out a defender who had the audacity to get in his way. 

Was this the most powerful run of the high school season?

Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Northwestern Wildcats Complete Game Preview

Notre Dame returns home after a disappointing trip to Tempe, dubbed "The Debacle in the Desert" by Brian Kelly during his Sunday teleconference. While the Irish's hopes at the College Football Playoff are dashed, there is still plenty to play for. 

With three games left in November, the Irish have a chance to finish the regular season with 10 wins for only the third time in the last dozen years. That will put them in line for a nice postseason destination with Notre Dame's new ACC bowl affiliation, and position the young roster to be one of the teams to watch in 2015. 

But before we look too far into the future, Pat Fitzgerald's Northwestern team awaits. A week after losing in the final seconds to Michigan, the Wildcats are hoping to find a way to salvage another disappointing season with a big road victory. 

A week after turnovers ruined Notre Dame's chances of beating one of the Pac-12's most dynamic teams, the Irish can get back on the right track if they figure out how to play a clean game. 

 

Date: Saturday, November 15

Time: 3:30 p.m. ET

Place: Notre Dame Stadium in Notre Dame, Indiana

TV: NBC

Radio: IMG College Sports, SiriusXM Channel 129

Spread: Notre Dame by 16.5, according to Odds Shark.

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Michigan Football: Areas of Focus for Wolverines During Bye Week

Michigan’s season-long roller coaster ride continues. Two weeks ago, Brady Hoke’s squad sat with a scant three wins after being crushed 35-11 by Michigan State. The team’s abysmal record was matched by off-the-field drama which forced the resignation of athletic director David Brandon.

The ax was next poised to claim head coach Brady Hoke, but the team has rallied for two consecutive wins.

Michigan (5-5, 3-3 Big Ten) can become bowl-eligible by winning one of its two final games. Heading into the bye week, the team must prepare for its home finale versus Maryland before a road tilt with archrival Ohio State.

The Buckeyes are on a roll, battling for the Big Ten championship and possible berth in the College Football Playoff. Maryland is already bowl-eligible as it prepares to play Michigan State this weekend.

Michigan will honor its seniors during its final home game, but if the team can’t beat Maryland it may be Hoke’s final game as well.

Hoke must focus on the following areas to prepare his team for its final two regular-season games.


Quarterback Devin Gardner

Gardner’s decline has been painful to watch. Once considered a potential franchise NFL quarterback, his stock has fallen precipitously.

Hopes that offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier could elevate Gardner’s game have proven unfounded. Gardner’s collapse can be best described as a mystery wrapped in an enigma; in football terms, that means he’ll follow a great throw with an incredulous interception and then add a pick-six for good measure.

The good news is that he put together a brilliant performance versus Ohio State in the season finale after a similar decline last season. Hoke needs a similar resurrection now for Michigan to make a bowl game.

Gardner’s play has been further hampered by a leg injury that prevents him from running the ball. The exact nature of the injury is unclear—Hoke doesn’t reveal details unless a player is knocked out for an entire season. If Gardner can heal up during the bye week and regain his mobility, then the Michigan offense will gain an important wrinkle that might make all the difference versus Maryland.

Receiver Devin Funchess

Funchess and Gardner have struggled to get on the same page all season. Both have had lingering injuries that have slowed their play and had a big impact on their timing.

Funchess has also had a number of dropped passes this season and was hit with an errant snap of the ball versus Northwestern that resulted in a turnover.

Long plays have been open, but Gardner has either thrown late or Funchess has dropped the ball.

Funchess and Gardner need the bye week to get back in sync. Last season they were a dynamic combination, and a home game at Michigan Stadium is the perfect opportunity to rekindle that magic.

Running Back Duo

The good news is that Michigan has had two consecutive 100-yard rushers over the last two games: Drake Johnson (16 carries for 122 yards, one touchdown) versus Indiana and De’Veon Smith (18 carries for 121 yards, one touchdown) versus Northwestern.

The much-maligned offensive line has also shown improvement over the last month of the season.

During the bye week, Michigan needs to keep feeding both Johnson and Smith the ball to keep them sharp and keep pressing the offensive line for further improvement.

At this point in the season, practically every player is battling bumps and bruises, so the timing of the week is ideal to prepare for these final two games.


One Disaster at a Time

The trip to Ohio State has epic loss written all over it. Michigan needs to forget about that for now.

Michigan and Maryland have both beaten their common opponents (Indiana and Penn State) by similar scores.

Maryland will probably head to Michigan Stadium at 6-4 after a projected loss at Michigan State this week. The question for Michigan is whether it can muster enough offense to win the game.

A win over Maryland won’t make up for a lost season, but it will ensure a bowl trip that would help the program salvage some dignity.


Defense

Michigan’s defense has been good—especially when compared to its misfiring offense. 

But Frank Clark and his teammates will need a top-notch performance during the next two games to prove their mettle.

Containing the Northwestern (ranked 114th nationally) and Indiana (ranked 64th) offense is far different than the challenge posed by Ohio State (ranked 10th) but very similar to what Maryland (ranked 104) will bring. 

Brady Hoke needs to leave the defense alone during the bye week and pay attention to fixing his offense. Whatever slim chance remains for him to keep his job depends on how often Michigan can find the end zone during the next two games.


Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand

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Teams Who Could Play Spoiler in College Football Playoff Race

The end-of-season spoiler is one of the finest tropes in college football, a phenomenon that never gets stale or overplayed.

Last year, for example, we watched unranked USC exact revenge on then-No. 5 Stanford and unranked Arizona upset then-No. 5 Oregon. Without those losses, both teams would have had a case to make the BCS National Championship Game (and almost definitely would have made a hypothetical four-team playoff).

But which teams are in line to play spoiler in 2014?

To answer that, we first have to define what "spoiler" means.

For the sake of this list, a spoiler is any unranked team with a game left on its schedule against a College Football Playoff contender. "Unranked" refers to teams outside the Week 12 Associated Press Top 25*, and "College Football Playoff contender" refers to the 11 teams deemed thusly by Sam Chi of Bleacher Report.

Using those parameters, we narrowed down the teams most capable of springing an upset based on personnel, coaching, context, timing, location—you know, the things that decide a football game.

Let us know about any other teams you would add.

 

*We will update as necessary when the CFP standings are released.

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Auburn vs. Georgia Complete Game Preview

AUBURN, Ala. — Throughout the preseason and for a few weeks into the 2014 campaign, the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry—the first since "The Miracle at Jordan-Hare"—had a great chance at being a preview of the SEC Championship Game or a big-time elimination clash in the College Football Playoff.

But the stakes surrounding Saturday night's matchup between longtime rivals Auburn (7-2, 4-2 SEC) and Georgia (7-2, 5-2 SEC) are much lower now after each side lost a divisional game it was heavily favored to win.

The Tigers come into Sanford Stadium, a venue in which they have lost four of their five road meetings with the Bulldogs, off a disastrous 41-38 home loss to what had been a struggling Texas A&M team. Auburn's offense continued its impressive streak of gaining lots of yardage and points, but a couple of late fumbles ended a furious comeback effort that was caused by another horrific start by the defense.

Georgia, on the other hand, rebounded from its stunning loss to Florida with a 63-31 thumping of Kentucky in Lexington. Quarterback Hutson Mason had a career day against the Wildcats and set the tone for what could be another big offensive performance this Saturday night—a game that will see the return of superstar running back and former Heisman finalist Todd Gurley from his NCAA-mandated suspension.

Before we get to the full breakdown of the 118th edition of this ferocious rivalry series, here is all the basic info you need to know:

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