For the first time since 1994, Texas A&M will travel to Baton Rouge, La., to face LSU in Death Valley on Saturday.
The showdown will mark the Aggies' first meeting with LSU as a fellow conference member and will continue a rivalry that was established in 1899.
Texas A&M (8-2, 4-2 SEC) enters the matchup ranked No. 12 in the nation. A win would keep the Aggies' BCS bowl hopes alive as they eye their season finale on the road against No. 8 Missouri on Thanksgiving weekend.
The historical and rivalry implications for this weekend's matchup are strong as well, as A&M looks to close the gap on an eight-game lead LSU holds between the two programs at 28-20-3.
For No. 22 LSU (7-3, 3-3 SEC), its ranking would stand to improve dramatically with a victory over the Aggies and would allow for a stronger bowl bid. With losses to Alabama, Georgia and Ole Miss, though, the Tigers sit on the outside looking in and have no maneuvering room left.
Time: 3:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 23
Location: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, La.
Radio: Texas A&M Sports Network
Spread: LSU -4 per vegasinsider.com
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand
The center of the college football world on Saturday will be Stillwater, Okla. The No. 4-ranked Baylor Bears will face what figures to be their stiffest challenge en route to a potential undefeated season.
The No. 12-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys await, and as expected, ESPN College GameDay has chosen Cowboy Country as its site for this week's broadcast.
A win by the Bears should allow them to move ahead of Ohio State in the BCS Standings. If you believe in fantasies, the Bears could move even higher if hell freezes over and Chattanooga beats Bama or another miracle happens and the Idaho Vandals knock off No. 2 Florida State.
Here's how you can watch the College GameDay broadcast.
When: Saturday, Nov. 23 at 9 a.m. ET
Where: Stillwater, Okla.
Live Stream: ESPN3 or Watch ESPN App
Baylor Bears at Oklahoma State Cowboys - 8 p.m. ET on ABC
Can any team even contain the Bears? It's a totally valid question considering Art Briles' team is averaging a video game-like 61.2 points per game this season. The Bears' season-low in points is 35, against the Kansas State Wildcats on Oct. 12. That was also the closest any team has come to defeating them.
The Wildcats actually held a 25-21 lead heading into the final quarter before Bryce Petty found Tevin Reese for a 54-yard touchdown strike to regain the lead. A 21-yard touchdown run by Glasco Martin gave Baylor the 35-25 win.
Can Oklahoma State learn anything from what the Wildcats nearly accomplished?
The Cowboys will need a big game from running back Desmond Roland to defend their home turf. The Wildcats pounded the Bears on the ground for a whopping 327 yards on the ground. In the process, they dominated time of possession 39:24 to 20:36.
Establishing the run kept the Bears' powerful offense on the sidelines and the Wildcats in the game. Unfortunately for them, the team couldn't finish in the fourth quarter.
Roland has only had one really big game this season. He went for 219 yards against Iowa State on Oct. 26. The chances that he's able to have the huge day that Oklahoma State needs from him are unlikely. The Cowboys' 41st-ranked defense figures to be the latest unit victimized by the best offense in college football.
The Bears will remain undefeated.
Prediction: Baylor 48, Oklahoma State 24
The Bears and Cowboys are the undisputed game of the week, but there is at least one other game of major interest within the Top 25.
Missouri Tigers at Ole Miss - 7:45 p.m. ET on ESPN
There is still a possibility that a one-loss team could fight its way into the BCS title game. The No. 8-ranked Tigers are among a group of teams praying for absolute chaos to ensue ahead of them.
On Saturday night, the Tigers will head to Oxford, Miss. to take on the Rebels of Ole Miss. Tigers fans should consider this a measuring stick game. Ole Miss' three losses came to Auburn, Alabama and Texas A&M.
That group of teams would almost unquestionably have to be considered the best in the SEC. The Tigers are 9-1, with their only defeat coming at the hands of South Carolina in double overtime on Oct. 26.
If the Tigers want to consider themselves among the SEC elite, they should be able to beat the Rebels. There is cause for concern for Tigers fans. The team has struggled to stop the pass all season, despite its 9-1 record.
Missouri ranks just 115th in the nation in pass defense. With Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace averaging 344 yards passing and three touchdowns in his last two games, the Tigers defense will need to step up.
Ole Miss nearly beat Texas A&M in Oxford, and it did knock off LSU at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. This team is young, but it is putting things together on both sides of the ball late in the season.
Missouri has had a great year, but the Rebels are going to pull the mild upset.
Prediction: Ole Miss 35, Missouri 30
Here's a look at the full slate of college football games in Week 13.
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In an era of collegiate athletics where tradition has been bypassed by revenue streams and geographic footprints, the life of an athletic director has changed drastically. Just ask Tom Holmoe and Jack Swarbrick, the men in charge of BYU and Notre Dame athletics.
As the murky waters of conference realignment imploded the Big East, pruned the Big 12 to ten, and pushed the Big Ten to 12 (and soon 14), both athletic directors were forced to make big decisions.
For Holmoe, that was taking BYU's football program independent. Long frustrated with the dynamics and economics of the Mountain West conference, Holmoe declared independence for the Cougars football program while moving the schools' other sports into the WCC.
For Swarbrick, the challenge was protecting not just Notre Dame's independence, but also its preferential seat at the table, as changes became imminent to college football's postseason. It also meant looking out for Notre Dame's other sports as the Big East got weaker by the day.
Both athletic directors ultimately got what they wanted while blazing different paths to get there. As Notre Dame and BYU prepare to play this Saturday, let's take a look at the two football independents, and the key factors that allowed them to go at it alone.
Notre Dame's broadcast deal with NBC has been the envy of college football, with the long-running contract extended until 2025 with a new 10-year pact in April. Financial terms of the partnership have been difficult to pin down, but various reports peg the number to be at least $15 million annually.
While the deal BYU struck isn't as lucrative, a long-term contract with ESPN was the key to the Cougars' football independence. BYU is in the middle of an eight-year pact that guarantees them at least three games each season on the ESPN family of networks, with in-house BYUtv broadcasting the balance.
That agreement nets the university about $10 million annually, nearly three times what they'd receive as part of the Mountain West.
One of the largest difficulties for an independent football program is scheduling. And when the time came for BYU to announce their exit from the Mountain West, their first big announcement was a scheduling partnership with Notre Dame.
The Cougars and the Irish agreed to play each other six times between now and 2020, with BYU visiting Notre Dame Stadium both this season and last, before splitting the next four games between 2014 and 2020.
The timing of those games has gotten more difficult as Notre Dame announced their pact with the ACC that'll have the Irish playing five games a season against conference opponents as part of the school's ACC membership in all sports except football.
But Holmoe was confident that the scheduling partnership between BYU and Notre Dame will remain in place.
"We have a good relationship with Notre Dame and we play them two for one," Holmoe told KSL-5 Sports in Utah this summer. "So I think it's a profitable deal for them. They like playing us, the timing is good. But what I've done is talk to Jack Swabrick about how we can work this out, if there anything we can do to make it good for you, before it can even happen."
Notre Dame isn't alone in its commitment to keep a geographically diverse schedule. BYU has made it part of their agenda to balance rivalries against in-state programs like Utah and Utah State with barnstorming efforts that help spread the university's greater message.
"It’s about sharing the unique message that we have,” Mendenhall told the Deseret News. "It's not only in how we play football, but why we're playing the game and for what we believe. That, to me, is very compelling. Now to have built a chance to do that on bigger stages throughout the country in different venues against different teams, that part has really captivated my heart. To see the interest from players around the country wanting to be part of it, that's been really fun."
As Notre Dame has gone through some difficult times trying to balance a schedule that will always include a trip to the West Coast to end the season (alternating between USC and Stanford), will now include five games against ACC opponents and will continue to include Navy as an annual rival, Swarbrick talked about the great fit BYU brings to this matchup institutionally.
"We try very hard as we start our scheduling process to start by looking at schools that have a common approach to collegiate athletics and share our values," Swarbrick said of BYU back in 2010. "And they certainly fit that category."
Going independent isn't possible if you don't fit a certain subset. And as two of the preeminent faith-based universities in the country with strong football traditions, Notre Dame and BYU share a footprint that isn't limited to a state or region.
"Independence is not for everybody, but (BYU) certainly fit the profile of an institution for whom it probably does make great sense—frankly, in the same way it still does for Army and Navy," Swarbrick told the Chicago Tribune. "All the schools currently in that category have some common characteristics—national profile, strong history and traditions that are important to honor. BYU adds to that, as I think Notre Dame has, media access.
"Not everybody can produce on their own. It certainly looks like a smart move, from where I sit."
Building additional revenue streams to help support independence is key. Swarbrick had a front row seat as Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds put together the Longhorn Network, a project that's shown challenges every step of the way. Whether that influenced the decision to dedicate time and resources to digital programming instead of an entire channel remains to be seen.
BYUtv reaches 65 million homes, more households than the CBS Sports Network or the NFL Network. They've also had success broadcasting more than just Cougar sporting events, balancing their air time with unscripted programming and original programming like Granite Flats, a more than ambitious foray into scripted television.
As Notre Dame fans have seen over the past few weeks, one of the biggest problems the Irish have is a dearth of postseason options when they fall short of the BCS. The Irish cashed in their exemption to play in the Champs Sports Bowl (now Russell Athletic Bowl) in 2011, when the Irish played Florida State.
While they'll have to wait and see what game has an opening this year, Notre Dame's affiliation with the ACC gives them access to the healthy slate of games with conference tie-ins if the Irish aren't in the four-game playoff or the remaining BCS games starting next season.
ACC commissioner John Swofford spoke about the rules for the Irish sliding into the ACC's games back in May.
"There will be a provision in which for Notre Dame to be selected over an ACC team at the point of selection, another eligible ACC team, that Notre Dame would have to be ranked higher, equal to, or in the win column, be within one win of any ACC teams that are also eligible to be picked," Swofford told ESPN.
BYU has taken a different approach to bowl games, committing early to playing in a lower-tier game like this year's Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. The Cougars have already pledged to playing in the Poinsettia Bowl next season, reserving an appearance as long as BYU becomes bowl eligible.
It's not a perfect solution, but it does guarantee a postseason slot for an independent team, something Notre Dame has found tricky.
With Navy set to join the American Athletic Conference in 2015, Notre Dame, BYU and Army will be the only independents left in the FBS, with inclusion into the College Football Playoff not guaranteed for anyone. But as Notre Dame has done, BYU is also making sure their schedule is challenging, with series against Stanford, USC, Michigan and maybe even LSU on the horizon.
As the final pieces of realignment take place over the next two seasons and the College Football Playoff replaces the BCS, the landscape seems to be stabilizing after a few rocky years. That doesn't mean that Holmoe or Swarbrick can sit back and relax.
But after seeing Notre Dame survive and thrive standing alone, BYU has followed a similar roadmap and sees a bright future as well.
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Johnny Football can do everything. He is the best improvisational quarterback in the past decade and possibly ever. One of Manziel's best assets is his escapabalility. Defensive lineman struggle to bring him down when given the opportunity.
No defense has stifled Manziel like LSU did last season. This was mainly due to defensive coordinator John Chavis' "Mustang" package, which put more speed on the field than Manziel was accustomed to seeing.
This year the LSU defensive line has severely underachieved, particularly at defensive end. There is no position more important when facing a mobile quarterback than defensive end.
Defenses must keep "contain" against a mobile quarterback, which means that both outside rushers cannot let the quarterback get outside of them. LSU has done a fair job of that this season.
But the Tigers were lucky to get away with losing contain against Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy in the fourth quarter.
LSU lines up in their Mustang set, looking to close out Florida late in the fourth quarter. On 3rd-and-long, the Mustang is difficult to block because Chavis loves to crowd the line of scrimmage with defenders to confuse the offensive line's pass-blocking assignments.
LSU lines up six defenders at the line of scrimmage, three of which are defensive lineman. Florida has six blockers to block six potential rushers, a ratio that should make them feel comfortable. But by the design of the blitzes and defensive alignments, Chavis feels he can get at least one rusher unblocked.
The player that eventually breaks free is right defensive end Jordan Allen (JA). Notice pre-snap where the left tackle and running back (RB) are focusing their attention; neither are attending to Allen. The left tackle is keyed in on Micah Eugene (ME), and the running back is looking at the group of LSU defenders overloading the left side of the formation.
This looks disastrous for Florida.
Off the snap, Florida's offense runs a "slide protection" to the right. This means every offensive lineman blocks whoever comes through their gap to the right. By doing this, the left tackle leaves his defensive end, Allen, unblocked and focuses on the action of Eugene because he is on his left.
The left tackle believes the running back (or personal protector), which is lined up behind him, will block Allen. But because the running back sees an overload to the right, the running back immediately runs to the right to help block.
In other words, Chavis busted the protection.
Allen is unblocked and has a clear path to the quarterback. But that the left side of LSU's defense brought pressure is what is impressive.
Chavis runs a "stunt" with Jermauria Rasco and D.J. Welter, which Florida picks up easily while in slide protection. But cornerback Jalen Mills (JM) executes a low and gorgeous pass rush against the right tackle as he begins to turn the edge towards Murphy. Former LSU defensive backs Ron Brooks and Tyrann Mathieu were excellent rushers out of the Mustang years ago.
Allen gets a free shot at Murphy, which should be an easy sack for LSU. But Allen makes the mistake of not attacking the back shoulder of Murphy, who begins to spin away from the tackle attempt.
When sacking a mobile quarterback, it is important to not go for the kill shot. Allen should have been more cautious and aimed for the 'Y' on Murphy's back instead of the No. 3.
The first reason to attack the back shoulder is to interrupt a quarterback's throwing motion by placing the facemask or arm on the throwing shoulder, which could cause a fumble or bad throw. The second is because if a quarterback breaks free, he must step up into the middle of the rush instead of breaking contain and getting to the outside.
Allen misses the tackle and loses contain as Murphy spins to the outside into acres of space. But luckily enough, Mills' speed put the right tackle flat on his face. He now has a free path to Murphy.
Mills runs down Murphy for a massive sack, which sets up 4th-and-a-mile for a struggling Florida offense.
Florida's pass protection got worse as the crowd got louder. The Gators' miscommunication along the offensive line dissolved on this play. The Mustang formation causes so much confusion, and the crowd noise makes it all the more effective in Tiger Stadium.
Manziel struggled against the Mustang, but it had more to do with the speed and discipline of the entire LSU defense than solely the effectiveness of the rush.
LSU lost key players to that defense that worked well together against the Aggies last year. Texas A&M's pass protection has always been solid under head coach Kevin Sumlin, who will be more prepared this year to take on LSU's defensive formations.
Allen's missed sack opportunity was rescued by Mills' amazing rush, which saved LSU from a big play by Murphy. Allen and the rest of the Tigers defensive players cannot miss opportunities like this one against Manziel.
LSU needs to play together and communicate against Manziel no matter what defense Chavis chooses to play. If not, Johnny Football will put up video game numbers.
Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.
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Back before the season began, coach Brady Hoke declared that Michigan would return to power football. Visions of a ball-control offense powered by a dominant running game danced in the minds of Wolverine fans.
But, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, and Michigan’s lackluster offensive line couldn’t deliver the push needed to realize Hoke’s goal.
Offensive coordinator Al Borges reverted back to plays similar to what the team ran in previous seasons. Quarterback Devin Gardner was forced to run for his life, playing behind a porous offensive line that struggled to defend him on passing downs or create seams for the running game.
As the season wore on, Gardner was forced to carry the offense and paid the price for doing so. Not only was he hammered by opposing defenses, but his decision-making also suffered. Instead of throwing the ball away, he would try increasingly dangerous passes with bad results. With every mistake, Gardner would hang his head and return to the sidelines.
He hit bottom against Michigan State and Nebraska, getting sacked 14 times and rushing for minus-78 yards in disappointing losses.
The Michigan coaching staff made a stark realization: No amount of spread-option magic or complicated play-calling can make up for poor offensive line play.
Against Northwestern, the tide turned. With Fitzgerald Toussaint out due to a concussion, freshman running backs Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith gained yardage behind an offensive line that finally began to jell.
Al Borges acknowledged the improved performance of the offensive line in a press conference on mgoblue.com.
“We pushed the line of scrimmage really well in this game," he said. "There were very few times we got the ball and got clobbered.”
Gardner was still under pressure, getting sacked five times and very nearly throwing multiple interceptions. But the offensive line opened up running lanes for Green and Smith, who ran aggressively. The offense gained 139 rushing yards after finishing with negative yards in losses to Michigan State and Nebraska.
Those losses have put Michigan’s goal of winning the Big Ten out of reach, but if the offensive line has turned the corner, Michigan still has a chance to win 10 games this season.
“The young players are starting to get the idea on how to do this stuff,” Borges said. “They’re getting chemistry and backs start getting free all of a sudden…They’re getting a better feel for it.”
The offensive line needs to show that the Northwestern game wasn’t a fluke. Iowa and its No. 9-ranked defense in the country will be a huge challenge.
A strong performance—and a victory—on the road versus Iowa would give a Michigan a glimmer of hope as they return to face Ohio State in their regular-season finale.
“If you get a rhythm [running the ball] you can pound the other team into submission,” Borges said.
Michigan fans heard talk like this at the beginning of the season.
Can the offensive line deliver?
If so, Michigan might have a surprise for Ohio State. But first things first: They need to show it against Iowa.
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Carlos Hyde, Ohio State's 6'0", 230-pound battering ram, is 53 yards away from a 1,000-yard rushing season.
Hyde came close to hitting the 1,000-yard mark last year, but an early-season MCL injury cost him two-and-a-half games. That didn't stop him from having a terrific junior campaign as he rushed for 970 yards and 16 touchdowns.
That outburst set the expectations high for Hyde's senior season, but his final year at the collegiate level couldn't have gotten off to a worse start. An offseason incident at a bar in Columbus, Ohio prompted Meyer to suspend his star running back for three games, putting Hyde on thin ice.
To his credit, Hyde did everything the coaching staff asked of him to earn his way back into the rotation.
Against Florida A&M, Hyde played sparingly, carrying the ball five times for 41 yards to complement a one-yard receiving touchdown. Ohio State kicked off Big Ten play against Wisconsin the following week, which sparked an incredible string of performances from Hyde.
His gutsy performance against Northwestern saved Ohio State's perfect season.
The Buckeyes were facing a 10-point second-half deficit, and Braxton Miller was struggling through a turnover-plagued outing. Meyer put the ball, and the game, in Hyde's hands.
He delivered with 112 second-half rushing yards and three touchdowns to lift Ohio State to a 40-30 victory.
After the game, Hyde told Brandon Castel of The-Ozone that he's playing at a different level.
“When I’m out there I cherish every moment,” Hyde said. “I’m excited and I’m loving every moment of it. I’m hungrier than I’ve ever been in my career and more thankful.”
It certainly looks like he's playing hungrier. Hyde rushed for a career-best 246 yards last Saturday against Illinois, which tied for the third-best rushing performance by a running back in school history.
"I really want to get that 1,000 yards," Hyde said. "Not just for me, but for the offensive line, just to have a 1,000-yard back, and for Coach Meyer."
With 947 yards under his belt, Hyde needs just 53 this Saturday against an Indiana defense that is surrendering an average of 251 rushing yards per game. With the way he has been playing recently, he has to like his chances.
All stats via NCAA.com.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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UCF remains on track for a BCS bowl after its 41-17 win over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (5-5, 2-4 AAC) on Thursday night in Orlando.
Using their 1-2 punch of quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson, the No. 18 Knights (9-1, 6-0 AAC) hammered their opponents offensively. They out-gained Rutgers 452 yards to 221.
Bortles ended up with 335 passing yards, 32 rushing yards and two total touchdowns, while Johnson generated 75 yards and two TDs on the ground.
It was important for UCF to get out to a fast start in order to thwart any possibility of an upset. As the heavy favorite, you don't want your opponent to start believing it can pull off the victory. The earlier you can kill that hope, the better.
The Knights wasted little time in asserting their dominance, taking the opening drive of the game 69 yards for a score. Bortles hit wideout Breshad Perriman for a four-yard touchdown to put UCF up 7-0.
CBS Sports' Chip Patterson noted that it's a pleasant sight to have Perriman back in the end zone after the scary head injury he suffered a few weeks ago.
The big plays kept coming for the Knights, as Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova had his pass intercepted by Knights defensive back Clayton Geathers on the very next drive.
Working with a short field, UCF made the most of the turnover, with Johnson punching the ball in from 12 yards out after a three-minute, 56-yard drive to give the Knights a 14-0 lead.
ESPN College Football posted a highlight of the powerful touchdown run.
And of course, there were puns galore on Johnson's name. Christian Bruey of WFTV in Orlando offered this one up:
On that drive came perhaps the play of the game and a concise summary of what the Knights did to Rutgers. After catching a pass, UCF running back William Stanback put his head down and ran right over a defender.
Following that touchdown, the UCF defense came up big again. Rutgers was only able to go 10 yards in five plays, handing the ball back to the Knights offense.
Whatever fight the Scarlet Knights had left was likely sapped after UCF went 86 yards in over seven minutes, capped off by another Johnson touchdown run.
With three UCF wins decided by three points this season, most recently against Temple last week, the Orlando Sentinel's Matt Murschel thought the Knights were sick of having to scrape out close wins.
The Rutgers offense finally responded. Running back Paul James hammered it in from one yard out to cut the deficit to 21-7. It was an important score—if only to temporarily stop the bleeding and demonstrate that the Scarlet Knights could put a drive together.
Although they built some nice, positive momentum, it would be short-lived.
For their fourth straight drive, the Knights would get a touchdown. This one was courtesy of a seven-yard run by Bortles.
Offensively, the Knights were a monster in that first half. They were attacking Rutgers with Johnson and Bortles on the ground. Over the top, Bortles was finding Perriman and fellow wideout J.J. Worton downfield.
For the Scarlet Knights to get back into the game, they'd have to create their own luck and that's exactly what they did toward the end of the first half.
Anthony Cioffi blocked Caleb Houston's punt. The ball would bounce into the end zone and be recovered by Rutgers' Andre Patton for the touchdown, halving the deficit to 28-14.
Still, that blocked punt didn't change the fact that, for the second week in a row, Rutgers did itself no favors with a poor first half. When you look at this week and last, the Scarlet Knights were outscored 62-21 in the first half.
With the way Rutgers went into halftime and the fact that it received the ball to start the second half, there was a chance that it could get back into the game.
The UCF defense forced the Scarlet Knights into a three-and-out, effectively ending any chance of a second-half comeback.
Shawn Moffitt added a couple of field goals in the third and fourth quarters, with Stanback notching a one-yard run to keep Rutgers at a distance.
The Scarlet Knights got a field goal with 33 seconds left to go out on a somewhat high note.
Key Player Grades
Blake Bortles, UCF: A
Drew Stanton was full of praise for Bortles during the game.
The junior signal-caller was great both on the ground and through the air.
Although getting almost 400 yards of offense is nice, perhaps Bortles' most important stat is zero interceptions. So many times, you see big upsets spurred by a pick-six or a quarterback heaving multiple INTs.
Bortles was near perfect on Thursday night.
Storm Johnson, UCF: A-
The junior running back wasn't prolific on the ground. However, his punishing runs helped to break the spirit of the Rutgers defense.
It must have been comforting for George O'Leary to know that he could hand the ball off to Johnson and get five or six yards on just about every play.
Gary Nova, Rutgers: C
Nova wasn't helped by the fact that Rutgers had no rushing game to speak of. UCF knew the Scarlet Knights were going to throw the football on most plays and had a game plan with that in mind.
In addition, Rutgers' receivers were dropping passes and generally ineffective.
However, much of the Scarlet Knights' offensive struggles have to fall on the quarterback. Nova's decision-making was questionable and he just didn't look sharp on his passes. In the end, he finished 11-of-34 for 107 yards.
The Knights will look to keep their perfect conference record when they welcome in the 2-7 South Florida Bulls. UCF finishes up the regular season with a trip away to 4-5 SMU.
Rutgers stays on the road next week when it takes on the 0-9 Connecticut Huskies.
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This Saturday, the Oklahoma State Cowboys host the Baylor Bears in a battle that could very well decide the Big 12 conference.
Both teams come in highly ranked (the Pokes are No. 10, while Baylor is No. 4) and are each looking strong after their last victories.
It will certainly be a test for both teams and should come down to the wire. Rest assured, this has "Game of the Week" potential and is rightfully the site of College GameDay.
Date: Saturday, Nov. 23
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Place: Boone Pickens Stadium (60,218 cap.) Stillwater, Okla.
Radio: Cowboy Radio Network
All-Time Series: Oklahoma State holds an 18-13 advantage all time.
A victory for the Michigan Wolverines this weekend would give them a much-needed shot of adrenaline heading into a clash with undefeated Ohio State. To do so, the Maize and Blue will have to beat Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. It has been eight years since their last win in Iowa City.
For Michigan to end its skid against the Hawkeyes, it will have to do one thing above all else: Stop Mark Weisman and Iowa's rushing attack.
This figures to be a low-scoring affair. Michigan's offense needed every second of regulation to score nine points against Northwestern, which has the No. 75-ranked defense in the country. A pair of touchdown drives in overtime were impressive, but the first 60 minutes were more indicative of how sluggish the Wolverines are offensively.
Scoring on Iowa is going to be even more difficult for their struggling offense. The Hawkeyes rank No. 12 nationally in scoring defense (18.7 points per game) and No. 9 in total defense (319.2 yards per game).
Iowa is not a serious threat to pile up points, though. Only Western Michigan and Purdue, two teams with a combined record of 2-19, gave up more than 28 points against the Hawkeyes.
Basically, whichever team's defense wins the field position battle with consistency will walk away victorious on Saturday.
Michigan's front seven, especially along the defensive line, is the key to victory. Younger players like Willie Henry and Chris Wormley, along with veteran defensive tackle Quinton Washington, have to be disruptive in along the line of scrimmage. Frank Clark simply needs to keep playing at a high level.
Behind them, linebackers James Ross III, Desmond Morgan, Cameron Gordon and Jake Ryan are coming off arguably their best performances of the 2013 campaign. The group racked up 27 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack against Northwestern. Pretty solid numbers against a run-first team.
Stopping Weisman and junior tailback Damon Bullock, an impressive thunder and lightning combination, is much easier said than done.
The former is a load to bring down at 6'1", 236 pounds. Weisman is essentially a fullback playing running back. He is not going to run away from anyone, but one tackler is rarely enough to bring him down. Conversely, Bullock is a much more versatile back. He is speedy and has good hands out of the backfield. The two have racked up 1,232 rushing yards on the year. Bullock has 151 receiving yards as well.
Rounding out the three-headed monster at running back is sophomore Jordan Canzeri, who has ground out 338 yards on just 49 carries.
Sound tackling and disruptiveness up front are the only ways to slow down these grinders.
The good news? Passing is not exactly a strength for the Hawkeyes. Quarterback Jake Rudock has proven to be efficient at times, but he's also prone to turnovers, as evidenced by his 14-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Overall, Iowa ranks 88th in passing offense (204 yards per game).
Making the Hawkeyes one-dimensional and forcing them to win the game through the air is the only way for a desperate Michigan team to come away with a road win.
On the other side of the ball, the Wolverines have no shot to steal a victory if they cannot avoid negative rushing plays and sacks.
Iowa has a trio of veteran linebackers that loves to blitz. Head coach Kirk Ferentz and defensive coordinator Phil Parker have picked their spots very carefully up to this point. However, expect the two to turn up the heat early and often on a Michigan offensive line that has struggled to pick up blitzes.
The Wolverines have surrendered 19 sacks in three weeks. This undoubtedly has Ferentz and Parker salivating.
Expect a heavy dose of Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith in the backfield since those two were able to plow forward for extra yardage against Northwestern.
Unless Michigan finds a way to slow down Weisman and Co., its offense will not be able to keep up with the Hawkeyes. Fans of explosive offenses may want to find another channel this weekend.
Prediction: Michigan by 3
Want to talk more Michigan football? Follow me on Twitter @Zach_Dirlam.
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Nebraska football fans were left frustrated on Saturday watching NU lose to Michigan State, even though NU outgained the Spartans 392-361 and were able to post an average of 3.5 yards/carry on the no. 1 rushing defense in the country. Of course, Nebraska’s minus-five turnover margin in the game was the most obvious culprit and rationale for the defeat.
But Nebraska’s punt return game has been terrible, and been terrible for some time. And against Michigan State, the disparity in that element of the game was enough to cost Nebraska a win—and a chance to play for a conference championship.
Nebraska lost the game by 13 points, and you can look back at two plays in the punting game that directly contributed to 14 Michigan State points. Even if everything else in the game that went wrong for Nebraska happened, the disparity in the punt game was sufficient to cost Nebraska its first loss to the Spartans in school history.
The first play was in the first quarter, with the Spartans on top 3-0. Michigan State was punting from its own 32, and Spartan punter Mike Sadler hung a beautiful 56-yard punt up in the swirling wind. Nebraska asked Jordan Westerkamp, who was carrying an injury, to field that punt without putting on a return or significantly pressuring the punt.
Westerkamp chased the swirling punt down, muffed it (as he did against Michigan a week before), and ultimately gave the Spartans possession at the Nebraska 8-yard line. Michigan State scored a touchdown at point-blank range two plays later.
The second play was in the third quarter, when Nebraska had pulled the score back to 20-14 in favor of the Spartans. The Blackshirts forced a Michigan State punt from the Nebraska 36 and once again did not pressure the kick. Sadler, one of the best punters in the nation, pinned Nebraska at its own 1-yard line, putting redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong in a precarious situation against statistically the best rush defense in the country.
On the next play, Armstrong fumbled, giving Michigan State the ball at Nebraska’s 3-yard line. The Spartans punched the ball in one play later for an even-pointer-blank touchdown, ballooning their advantage to 27-14.
Two plays in the punting game—one mistake on Nebraska’s part, one stellar piece of execution on Michigan State’s part—directly resulted in fourteen points for the Spartans. It’s always a little dangerous to play the “what if” game, but it’s hard not to see those two plays as emblematic of Nebraska’s struggles throughout the season and a major factor in Nebraska’s loss on Saturday.
So far this season, Nebraska is averaging 3.6 yards per punt return. As observed by Jon Nyatawa of the Omaha World-Herald, that’s on track to be the worst average in school history. The much-maligned Santino Panico in 2004, whose only job was to fair catch and safely field punts, averaged 3.1 yards per return.
The falloff in punt return effectiveness is mystifying and a huge and under-appreciated explanation for some of Nebraska’s struggles this season. Take a look at Nebraska’s average starting field position, as compiled by FBSDriveStats.com.
Starting Field Position
Sure, punt returns are only one factor in terms of average starting field position. Kick returns, overall defensive effectiveness and generating turnovers on defense will all play a role in a team’s average starting field position.
But the most common way for a team to get the ball back is from an opponent’s punt, so it is fair to look at the punt return game as the primary vehicle to get good field position. And Nebraska has been struggling with that aspect of the game this year.
Some of that may be personnel driven. In 2011 and 2012, Ameer Abdullah was Nebraska’s leading punt returner, averaging 10.2 yards per return. In 2013, with Abdullah being the primary I-back, Jamal Turner was moved into the primary returner role. Turner’s injury (and ball security issues) gave the role to Westerkamp, who has also struggled with ball security and injury issues this season.
Nebraska’s special teams coordinator is Ross Els, who is also Nebraska’s linebacker coach and the team’s recruiting coordinator. That’s a lot on one man’s plate, especially when dealing with an entirely new corps of linebackers and trying to get Nebraska’s recruiting rankings out of the doldrums.
So there may be a number of solutions to Nebraska’s punt-return woes. But fans and supporters should not dismiss the critical nature of Nebraska’s punt return game. Put bluntly, even if the offense and defense are both working at maximum efficiency, it is hard to see how Nebraska could compete for a conference championship without improving its punt return game.
If you'd like to contact Patrick, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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On Tuesday, the Penn State football program announced that defensive tackle Kyle Baublitz and offensive tackle Garry Gilliam will not return in 2014. Both will graduate next month and will forgo their remaining eligibility.
With this unexpected news comes the realization that two major holes have opened up in the trenches for the Nittany Lions. Since both were projected starters, Bill O'Brien will have to find other options to fill those spots next year.
Let's take a look at who could fill these voids and how the news might alter Penn State's recruiting strategy before the dead period.
Replacing Kyle Baublitz
With DaQuan Jones graduating after the season from an already thin defensive tackle corps, Baublitz's decision not to return is a huge blow for Penn State.
With not much to work with from a numbers standpoint, one of the options for defensive line coach Larry Johnson is to have defensive end Anthony Zettel pack on some extra weight and move inside.
Recruited out of high school as a defensive end, Zettel practiced at defensive tackle during his redshirt freshman season in 2011. When O'Brien took over, he was moved back outside.
Even though he's been productive this year at end—he has four tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception—Zettel actually prefers to play tackle. As Dan Norton of Philly.com details, Zettel believes his future is brighter as a defensive tackle:
If Anthony Zettel had a say in his own position, he’d prefer to play defensive tackle, not defensive end. He thinks his best chance at a future is in the middle of the line.
Zettel’s not complaining about lining up at end, but he said his mindset and body type — if he were to gain a few pounds — benefit him at tackle.
“I enjoy moving inside,” Zettel said. “I think the future for me is inside maybe. I can play with lower pads and I don’t have to think as much. I enjoy getting banged around like that, it doesn't affect me as much.”
With both Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan likely back next year, Penn State can afford to switch Zettel's position. The Nittany Lions haven't had much production outside of Jones, Baublitz and Austin Johnson, so they need some experience to fill the vacancy. Tyrone Smith, Brian Gaia and Derek Dowrey have all played at times this year, but haven't made vast contributions on the stat sheet.
Given how he's proved himself over the course of the season, Zettel should be the top candidate on the roster to replace Baublitz.
From a recruiting standpoint, Penn State will have to push even harder to reel in heralded recruit Thomas Holley. The Nittany Lions are in the running for the Brooklyn native, but they face stiff competition from the likes of Ohio State, Notre Dame and Florida. They already have a commitment from Antoine White, but at only 250 pounds, he's not physically ready to handle the brunt of the Big Ten just yet.
With Baublitz no longer in the picture, tight ends coach John Strollo—who is recruiting Holley—could use this to his advantage. Given depth issues, he could try selling Holley on his chance to make an immediate impact once he gets to State College.
Replacing Garry Gilliam
Gilliam's impending departure is a bit shocking. In February, he was granted a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA after suffering a devastating knee injury that kept him out nearly two years. Nevertheless, a void a right tackle will now need to be filled next season.
He has split time with Adam Gress this year at the spot, but Gress will be graduating as well. And so will Eric Shrive, the former 5-star recruit, per Scout.com, who never hit his stride.
This opens up the door for Andrew Nelson, a member of Penn State's 2013 recruiting class, who redshirted this season. Nelson was a 3-star recruit according to Scout.com, and he put on nearly 40 pounds after his senior season at Hershey High School before coming to Penn State
Nelson was listed as the third-string left tackle on the depth chart at the beginning of the season. With Donovan Smith firmly cemented in at the left tackle spot, look for Nelson to make the switch to the right side in 2014.
At 6'5" and 297 pounds, Nelson has the frame for the college game that most recent high school offensive lineman don't have. And he has the talent too. In an excerpt from an article by Greg Pickel of PennLive.com, O'Brien seems to paint a certain picture about Nelson's situation. It seems that the decision to redshirt Nelson was based off of the Nittany Lions' 2013 depth and not that he wasn't ready to play:
That's what Nelson, and a few others, have been doing this fall, despite being ready to enter at a moments notice.
"If you look at the offensive line, do we need Andrew Nelson to play for us this year? No, because we have decent players there that we really believe in and hopefully we can keep him where he can redshirt and have four years to play as opposed to Brandon Bell," O'Brien explained, referring to the linebacker.
Unless Anthony Alosi plays extremely well in camp, the Andrew Nelson era will likely start a year earlier than expected.
So far, Penn State already has an offensive tackle commitment in its 2014 class—from Noah Beh, a 3-star according to Scout.com. He'll certainly add depth at the position, but he probably won't challenge Nelson right away.
A name to keep an eye on is Kareem Are—he's an enormous junior college prospect, drawing interest from top programs like Florida State and South Carolina.
The 6'6", 320-pound Are has the body to be immediately inserted into the Nittany Lions lineup. According to his Scout.com page, he's scheduled to visit Penn State on Nov. 22.
Just last week, I wrote a November update for Penn State's recruiting thus far. At the time, Scout.com had Are listed as a 2-star recruit. Now—only nine days later—he's ranked as a 3-star. He's certainly heating up as a prospect, so let's see if the Penn State coaching staff can play the depth card to coax Are into becoming a Nittany Lion.
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In all likelihood, Taylor Lewan would have been an early first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
The All-American left tackle out of Michigan could have been taken after Central Michigan's Eric Fisher, a left tackle who was drafted No. 1 overall by Kansas City.
Five interior offensive linemen were snagged within the first 19 picks, and Lewan would have easily been one of them. But he chose to stay with the Wolverines, and their legions of loyal fans publicly supported his quest for a fruitful fall capped by a Big Ten title in December.
That was how the story was supposed to unfold, but it hasn't.
Michigan (7-3, 3-3) was knocked out of the Big Ten title race nearly three weeks ago after losing 29-6 to Michigan State.
Now it's best-scenario-time—a season-ending split with Iowa and Ohio State prior to a bowl win would be that for the Wolverines. Somehow stringing together the best three games of his life would be such an instance for Lewan, whose stock has dropped in the eyes of many observers.
However, while the argument against staying has valid points, ESPN's Mel Kiper insisted in May that returning or declaring early would have little impact on Lewan's pro future.
Kiper stated the following, via former MLive.com Wolverines beat writer Kyle Meinke:
Another tackle prospect who could have factored into the top 10 in the 2013 draft class, Lewan will return for another year of seasoning. Extremely long and with above-average athleticism, he'll continue to add power as a run-blocker and refine his skills as a pass-protector. But the tools are there for him to be a very good NFL left tackle.
Perhaps Lewan's so-so senior year, one which failed to yield an Outland bid, is the reason why Walter Football no longer sees him as a top-10 pick. The mock draft site reclassified Lewan as a top-20 pick.
Prior to the season, Lewan was on several major award watch lists. That's no longer the case, but he's still projected to be the second tackle taken off the board.
The following table highlights Lewan's place among the nation's elite interior linemen.
Statistics Aren't Helping
Let's start off by making this clear: Michigan's struggles aren't entirely Lewan's fault.
The struggles of the interior line aren't all his fault, either. But as a leader, a senior and a "Michigan Man," Lewan has to take the good with the bad; he deserves praise for a job well done, but he also deserves criticism for lack of performance.
Thus far, the running backs haven't made the line look very good. Conversely, the line hasn't made them look very good, either. It's a take-and-take in this case.
And of course, there's the looming three-week sack count, which grew to nearly 20 after this past week's 27-19 OT win over Northwestern. Devin Gardner can't catch a break these days, despite the fact that his own blunders have led to being floored.
Offensive linemen have the luxury of not being solely judged on numbers. Instead, they're judged on technique and potential. However, lax technique and not playing up to potential can contribute to lower numbers for everyone across the board.
The following table highlights some of Michigan's ailing offensive statistics, which may or may not have bearing on Lewan's draft status.
It Was for the Greater Good
Saying that Lewan did Michigan a favor by coming back is accurate and inaccurate. By returning, he gave his team a better shot than it'd have without him. He probably knew that. But he wasn't me-first, nor did it appear that he expected to be thanked.
It's been clear from the start that his intentions were to graduate and set an example. By staying the course, though, he inadvertently did his staff a favor. Underclassmen saw a selfless player, someone they could hope to be like down the road.
Coaches saw a player whose name would be mentioned as a survivor; they saw a young man who stuck it out all in the name of team.
Only Lewan knows his truest and innermost reasons for staying. But suggesting that he did it for anything less than admirable reasons would be simply ridiculous. He passed on millions for one chance to win a Big Ten championship. The sooner that Michigan's underclassmen demonstrate that type of dedication, the sooner it gets that ever-so-elusive conference banner.
The Wolverines have won or shared a record 42 Big Ten championships. That's the most of any team in any conference. But they haven't won or shared one since 2004.
Michigan doesn't appear to be better than it was last year, but Lewan may be.
According to MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner, Hoke, who wasn't happy about the Outland snub, said the following about his senior's progression:
What he did physically to himself, the discipline (with that) he's had throughout, I think with that offensive unit line-wise, his direction and coaching (has been positive). I think that's another step of growth.
Remember how Walter Football downgraded Lewan from a top-10 to a top-20 pick? Well, some of that has to do with the needs of the teams doing the picking. In 2012, tackles were talented and clubs with early selections such as the Chiefs took advantage.
The following is part of Lewan's review on Walter Football:
11/9/13: Overall, Lewan is having a very strong senior year. Lewan generally won his blocks against Michigan State, but also had some plays where he lost discipline and made some cheap shots. Lewan was flagged for one facemask penalty and could have been flagged for other personal foul or unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
Lewan and Michigan barely escaped an embarrassing upset by Connecticut. Against the Huskies, he played well except for one play when he was beaten for a sack. The senior had a strong game against Notre Dame in Week 2 and played much better than he did a year ago against the Fighting Irish. Lewan did well in run blocking and was rock solid as a pass-protector.
Lewan could still be the first tackle taken this year, although it's highly unlikely. Perception of team, fair or not, will likely have some sort of negative influence on Lewan's stock. Throw in a weak Big Ten and the Wolverine's bowl opponent—which probably won't be a blue blood of college football—and Lewan could fall victim to a substantial ratings drop.
His decision to stay or go could be almost quantified come draft day. Let's say he was projected as No. 10 in 2012 but goes No. 24 this year—there'd be a valid argument saying that staying in school wasn't worth a 14-pick plummet.
But if Lewan truly believes that he improved as a person and player, along with getting the education he so desired, then there's no question that completing his senior year was the right choice.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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What would you give to know the firing rate for your job?
What would it do to your attitude and emotional state to know the percentage of people who get dismissed from your precise occupation?
Would it motivate you to do more, less or look for more stable work?
Though an accurate “firing rate” would be complicated to calculate for, say, “accountants” or “restaurant managers,” things become simpler when you have a finite group of employees such as “FBS head football coaches.”
So, what is the turnover rate in major college football, and what does it mean for the guys who call the sidelines their workplace?
Total Turnover Rate
Here’s a look at the yearly percentage of FBS head coaches who have left their jobs in the BCS era, regardless of reason.
The chart makes two clear points: First, the overall turnover rate in FBS coaching is cyclical in nature rather than static. Next, the percentage of coaches leaving their jobs has been on the rise over the past six years.
Overall, the average turnover rate in the BCS era is 17 percent. This means that of the 125 coaches who came into the 2013 season as head coaches, at least 21 will be gone and replaced by the time the 2014 season starts.
Based on the current trend, it’s safe to say that the actual number will be closer to 25 percent, or 31 coaches.
The “Fired Rate”
Though there is lots of chatter about who is on the “hot seat,” coaches leave jobs each year for a wide variety of reasons.
These include retirement, taking another job opportunity, health reasons and yes, being fired or forced to resign.
Here’s a look at turnover rates in the BCS era based solely on forced exits:
Again, it’s clear that the nature of turnovers in FBS coaching is cyclical. Other than gradual increases in firings from 2001-04 and 2009-11, the trend is one year a bunch of guys get the boot while the next, ADs put down the axe for 12 months.
There appears to be a “follow the leader” culture in firings; once a healthy season of terminating gets rolling, everybody jumps on the bandwagon. On the other hand, if firings are down, then schools are more inclined to keep their coaches for another season.
What’s more difficult to explain is the cause of the biggest swings. For example, why did only five percent of the field get fired in 2005 versus 15 percent (or three times as much) in 2011?
Comparing two years of firings is tricky, because there are unique events in every season that may only happen once.
For example, the 18 FBS coaches who got forced out after the 2011 season (the most in the BCS era) included anomalies such as Bobby Petrino’s bizarre exit from Arkansas and Joe Paterno’s scandalous removal at Penn State.
What’s worth noting is the effect that mid-season firings have on the number of total dismissals that ultimately happen. For instance, in 2011 three coaches were fired mid-season (Mike Stoops at Arizona, Mike Locksley at New Mexico and Bob Toledo at Tulane), while three more guys were dismissed before their teams played a scheduled bowl game.
In 2005, on the other hand, only one coach left before the season was officially over—Colorado’s Dan Hawkins, who only missed the Buffs' bowl meeting with Clemson.
A string of mid-season firings opens the flood gates and inspires other programs to follow suit, resulting in a higher rate of terminations for a given year.
If this is true, 2013 will be a banner year with five guys already out through 12 weeks of play.
Overall, the average firing rate in the BCS era is 11 percent annually. This means that of the 125 coaches who came into 2013, at least 14 will be forced out by the time 2014 rolls around.
Factoring in the current trend, this number is more likely to be a BCS-record 19.
The other compelling statistic in the FBS is how long coaches are given to succeed in a new job before being fired.
In other words, what’s the “shelf life” for coaches? The following graph tracks the average number of years on the job for coaches who have been terminated since 1998.
Overall, the average shelf life of coaches in the BCS era is six years.
It’s important to note that this number includes Ohio State’s John Cooper (13 years), Texas A&M’s R.C. Slocum (14 years), Syracuse’s Paul Pasqualoni (14 years), Southern Miss’s Jeff Bower (18 years), Colorado State’s Sonny Lubick (15 years), Tennessee’s Phillip Fulmer (17 years), Fresno State’s Pat Hill (15 years) and Penn State’s Joe Paterno (46 years).
If you throw these long-term guys out, the average shelf-life in FBS coaching is 5 years and trending downward.
The message is clear: If you can’t right the ship in four years, you’re out the door.
Explaining the Trends
So, turnover and firing rates in the FBS are up while the time coaches are given to succeed at a given job is down.
What’s the deal?
The obvious reason is that expectations for major college football coaches have never been higher. Not only are the stakes big for the schools, they’re also huge for the coaches themselves.
In the same way you might be interested in your own firing odds, put yourself in the coaches’ shoes and consider how you would feel if this was the average pay scale for the specific job you do.
So, now you’re a fat cat rolling in the dough…but how much pressure would you feel to succeed and keep that juicy paycheck coming?
And how painful would it be to come home and tell your family that you blew it?
And what if the entire million dollar payday rode on the focus and performance of 100-plus 18- to 22-year-old kids?
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Author's note: A hat tip to @UtesInTheNFL for providing some of the information for this article. Give them a follow for a closer look at former Utah Utes now strutting their stuff in the NFL, which is basically what this article is about.
On the big stage that is Monday Night Football, Carolina Panthers offensive tackle Jordan Gross protected the blindside of Cam Newton just long enough for wide receiver Steve Smith to streak down the sideline for a 42-yard reception.
Minutes later, Panthers rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei blasted into the backfield to take down New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for a nine-yard loss. And it all happened in front of a national television audience of 15,772 million viewers.
Looks like the Utah Utes have quite the impressive recruiting tool at their disposal: a proven track record of developing 1-, 2-, 3- and whatever-star high school football recruits into legit NFL Draft prospects. Not only prospects, too, but valuable contributors.
As of Monday, 21 former Utes are on 13 NFL rosters in seven divisions—the lone division without a representative is the NFC West. You can expect that number to grow in the upcoming years, as the program welcomes the perks of being a member of the Pac-12. Hey, that number is likely to grow as soon as next year.
Though Utah has struggled to a 4-6 record this season, the roster has an abundance of talent. Here are the five most NFL-ready prospects on the team—only draft eligible prospects qualify for consideration, so no freshmen or true sophomores.
But first, let's review a few who barely missed the cut.
WR Dres Anderson
He failed to crack the top five because of his penchant for drops. At the same time, I was tempted to include him because of his blazing speed and penchant for big plays. Anderson currently leads the Pac-12 in yards per reception (19.0).
WR Kenneth Scott
Before a devastating leg injury against Utah State in the season opener, Scott and Anderson formed one of the better wide receiving duos in the conference. With a big frame and outstanding leaping ability, Scott is an ideal red zone weapon, something the offense is desperately missing.
WR Anthony Denham
At 6'4", 225 pounds, his best shot at making an NFL roster may be at tight end. He's already an exceptional blocker with reliable hands.
LB Jacoby Hale
Not enough tape on him to know for sure, but he's made enough plays to warrant consideration. We'll know more after his senior season.
LB/S Brian Blechen (injury)
Either at linebacker or strong safety, he's a ballhawk and physical presence on defense. In three seasons as a starter, Blechen has compiled 203 total tackles, 15 for a loss, 12 passes defended, eight interceptions and six forced fumbles.
G Junior Salt
The line as a whole has been mostly ineffective, but Salt has transitioned well since moving from the other side of the ball. Salt has the size (6'2", 325 pounds), speed and strength to contribute at the next level.
DT Tenny Palepoi
He hasn't quite filled the shoes of first-round draft pick Lotulelei, but he's at least filled his flip flops. Palepoi too has demanded double teams while also registering 41 total tackles, 7.5 for a loss and 3.5 sacks.
Now, drum roll please, on to the top five...
5. CB Keith McGill
While McGill has the versatility to play safety, he is first and foremost a cornerback. A big cornerback, too. And his off-the-chart measurements (6'3", 215 pounds, 4.4 40-yard dash) alone will draw interest from scouts across the country. To back it up, the first-year starter for Utah has returned an interception for a touchdown and is a Pac-12 leader in passes defended with 10.
As NFL teams turn to bigger, more physical cornerbacks, don't be surprised when McGill rises up draft boards come April. After all, scouts always fall head over heels for the p-word: potential.
4. S Eric Rowe
After earning First Team Freshman All-American honors in 2011, Rowe looked like a top free safety prospect in the making. Then last season happened. Don't get me wrong, his sophomore campaign was no sophomore slump, but it was a bit of a sophomore stall.
The lack of noticeable improvement is a concern, but the talent is there. Rowe has the sideline-to-sideline speed required to excel at free safety and is not afraid to step up in the box. He plays hard, quickly dissects offenses and rarely misses a tackle. There is no reason Rowe shouldn't hear his name called in the fourth or fifth rounds, whether he declares early or stays another year.
3. DE Nate Orchard
The sack artist formerly known as Nate Fakahafua.
Orchard is a force rushing the passer, collecting three sacks and eight tackles for a loss, and has really stepped up this season as a run stopper. Though the high school wide receiver has converted into a defensive end at Utah, he projects as an outside linebacker in the NFL. His rare blend of strength, length and sheer athleticism should lead to a hearty career as a pro.
2. TE Jake Murphy
Just watch a few snaps, and you'll understand why I never hesitate to discuss my man crush on Murphy. He understands the game, knows where to be and when, and knows what to do when he gets there. Simply put, he is a football player. A very tough one at that.
Just four weeks after breaking his wrist at UCLA, an injury that was supposed to sideline him for the remainder of the season and beyond, Murphy returned to the field this past weekend to haul in two receptions, including a 34-yard touchdown grab.
Scouts view him as a prototypical tight end, able to stay in as a blocker or run sharp routes as a receiver. He really bursts off the line, creates separation and possesses soft, sure hands. A big senior season could vault Murphy into the top three rounds of the draft.
1. DE/OLB Trevor Reilly
Reilly has earned this spot, fair and square, but he still does not get the widespread credit he deserves. Despite producing on the field at a first-round rate, Reilly is nowhere to be found on most first-round mock drafts.
On the other hand, draft guru Mel Kiper has the outside linebacker going to the Tennessee Titans with the 22nd overall selection.
So maybe his numbers—83 total tackles, 15.5 for a loss, nine sacks and three fumbles recovered through 10 games—are finally too hard to ignore. Coaches have used Reilly like a movable chess piece to terrorize offenses from every angle possible, and he's done just that. He uses pure speed, surprising strength and a nonstop motor to make plays all over the field. Literally.
And for those reasons and more, he has earned the No. 1 spot on this list.
Welcome to the national radar, Reilly.
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On Saturday afternoon, Notre Dame's senior class will play its final game at Notre Dame Stadium.
As a class, it has experienced, perhaps, one of the most tumultuous four-year periods in the history of the program, making it one of the most memorable classes by default.
While Irish fans haven't always been consistent in their praise of these current seniors, Saturday marks the final time to display an affinity and appreciation for Tommy Rees, Zack Martin, Chris Watt and Co.
Elijah Hood is a talented 4-star running back who may become a household name in a few seasons. The North Carolina commit is a violent runner who is 5'11.5" and 222 pounds.
Hood has terrific short-area explosiveness to skate through alleys. He arrives on the second level with force, plus he can break tackles and carry defenders for extra yards.
Hood is a tremendous prospect who routinely displays his talent on his highlight tape. The clip is so impressive that it warrants a closer look.
"Out with the old, and in with the new."
It's a phrase common to college football, applicable in countless scenarios. But from injuries to ineligibility, there may not be a more difficult part of a season than watching a senior play his final game.
BYU felt this impact last December after middle linebackers Uona Kaveinga and Brandon Ogletree hoisted up the Poinsettia Bowl trophy, marking the end of two successful careers. It appeared that the void left by the duo of defenders could not be filled any time soon, much less by the following season.
That's where Uani 'Unga came in. An Oregon State transfer, the Mike linebacker walked into fall camp as the projected starter at his position. But with a bevy of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, it looked like he could end up as the "other guy" on the field.
But the opposite happened, and at this point of the season, 'Unga deserves the MVP award for BYU's 2013 team, on either side of the ball.
How could a little-known player earn such a prestigious award, especially when facing the likes of fellow linebacker Kyle Van Noy, wide receiver Cody Hoffman and quarterback Taysom Hill?
The answer lies in the question; 'Unga isn't the Most Outstanding Player nor the Most Skilled Player, but the Most Valuable Player. He plays a position that doesn't have the depth of Van Noy's, Hoffman's or Hill's, and his health and availability are more crucial than any other for BYU.
No disrespect to the trio of stars just mentioned. All have NFL potential and are unquestionably the biggest stars on the team. In fact, from a statistical angle, 'Unga isn't even the best-rounded player on the defense.
'Unga is head-and-shoulders above the rest in total tackles, but trails in every other category. But it is what is behind the stats that really separate him from others. He has shown his toughness, as evidenced by playing through a chest injury against Virginia. Despite getting hurt in the first quarter, he played deep into the fourth and racked up a team-high 10 tackles.
If 'Unga were to face a season-ending barrier, his position would be in more jeopardy than any other on the field. Of course, KAT safety doesn't have much more leeway, but Michael Wadsworth and Chris Badger could make ends meet if Daniel Sorensen were to become unavailable.
The same can be said at weak-side linebacker or wideout, Van Noy's and Hoffman's positions. Alani Fua and Jherremya-Leuta Douyere, despite primarily playing on the strong side, could fill in at KVN's spot, while Skyler Ridley, Ross Apo and Terenn Houk back up Hoffman.
It's a different situation at quarterback, where we don't know a whole lot about the backups. With the solid running game BYU has, a small drop-off at quarterback wouldn't be life-or-death, but the Cougar QB's behind Hill haven't shown enough to prove very much.
But at Mike linebacker, 'Unga's position, there is almost no depth behind the starter. The only player to have more than one solo tackle on the year is Teu Kaitai, and he has a mere two.
'Unga is not the player that has NFL scouts watching every second of his film. He may not be the most skilled, athletic or dominant linebacker on the field, nor does he have his name in his record books like others. But Uani 'Unga is the most valuable player on Bronco Mendenhall's 2013 team, an award which is very well-deserved.
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Though Alabama’s game against Chattanooga on Saturday might not mean much by itself, the last home game of the season always brings up emotions for the seniors playing for the last time in front of their home crowd.
Obviously, the No. 1 Crimson Tide has at least two more games left to play after this one, so the seniors’ seasons aren’t quite over yet. But, it’s still as good to consider where this group will rank in Alabama history.
For the graduating seniors, they came in after the rise of the Tide was complete, and they had just won their first national title under Nick Saban. For those who redshirted their first year, like quarterback AJ McCarron and wide receivers Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood, they played on the scout team during that dream season.
But first, we must start with last year’s class, which was considered to be the best in school history. It only featured 11 players, but those 11 will go down as some of the best to ever play at Alabama.
For the purposes of this discussion, we will not include players who declared for the draft before their senior season or did not regularly contribute to the team. Only scholarship players and walk-ons who saw significant playing time will be mentioned.
Alabama’s 2012 class won 49 games, tying the 1997 Nebraska Cornhuskers class—which holds the FBS record—and setting the Alabama record. It won three national championships, two SEC championships and countless individual awards.
Most importantly, it was the class that started the dynasty and drove Alabama into conversations about one of the best runs ever in college football.
Alabama's seniors from that year were as follows: Barrett Jones, Robert Lester, Michael Williams, Nico Johnson, Chance Warmack, Quinton Dial, Damion Square, Jesse Williams, Jeremy Shelley, Carson Tinker and Kelly Johnson.
If 2012 was known as the class that started the dynasty, 2013 could be known as the one that sustained it, arguably an even tougher task.
They were freshmen when Alabama lost three games in 2010, setting the tone for two straight seasons of a “never again” mentality. Since that 2010 season, the Crimson Tide have only lost two games and won two championships. They could be headed for a third straight.
This class can only match the number of wins the 2012 class had. It would have to repeat what it did in 2009 to be mentioned with them among the winningest classes at Alabama.
The list of Alabama's seniors who will be recognized this year include: AJ McCarron, C.J. Mosley, Kellen Williams, Kevin Norwood, Tana Patrick, Kenny Bell, Anthony Steen, Cody Mandell, John Fulton, Cade Foster, Ed Stinson and Deion Belue.
It may be too early to tell if the 2013 class will equal what 2012 did. If it does, the players could have a case for best Alabama class of all time.
There is an argument to be made that winning three straight national championships is more difficult than three in four years. But, the 2012 class got the Crimson Tide over the hump, winning the first since 1992.
No matter what happens the rest of the year, though, it’s clear that with the run Alabama is on right now, the groups will be remembered regardless.
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