NCAA Football

Kenny Bell Injury: Updates on Nebraska Star's Head and Return

When Nebraska and Iowa lock horns in a Big Ten clash Friday, the Cornhuskers may very well be without top wide receiver Kenny Bell.    

According to Brian Rosenthal of The Lincoln Journal Star, the senior wideout is questionable for the contest after suffering a head injury:

Per Scott Dochterman of The Gazette, Bell suffered the injury after getting hit during Nebraska's 28-24 loss to Minnesota on Saturday:

The Huskers are a run-first team with running back Ameer Abdullah accounting for most of the offense, but Bell allows them to maintain the threat of throwing down the field.

Bell has 37 catches for 664 yards and three touchdowns on the season.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Updated SEC Power Rankings for Rivalry Week

Rivalry week is upon us, and both divisions in the SEC are still up for grabs.

No. 4 Mississippi State has to beat intra-state rival Ole Miss on Saturday afternoon in Oxford and then hope that No. 1 Alabama falls to Auburn in order to win the SEC West; otherwise, the Crimson Tide will represent the division in the SEC Championship Game next weekend in Atlanta.

In the East, it's simple. If Missouri beats Arkansas on Friday afternoon in Columbia, it will win its second straight division title. If the Hogs stay hot, Georgia will win its third division title in four years.

Before we get to the rivalry week main course, let's get your prepared for the final weekend of the regular season by power ranking the SEC.

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Rapid-Fire Predictions for College Football's Biggest Rivalry Games

It's the most exciting week of the college football season: rivalry week. This is when teams are playing for more than just wins; they're playing for pride and bragging rights. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee give you their picks for who will win their rivalries this weekend.

Which one of these matchups are you most excited to watch?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Urban Meyer Warns Ohio State Players They'll Be Dismissed If They Fight vs. UM

Urban Meyer does not want a repeat of last year's Ohio State-Michigan game, when running back Dontre Wilson and offensive guard Marcus Hall were ejected for fighting, and Hall was suspended for his dueling one-finger salutes to the crowd as he left.

In order to prevent such transgressions, Ohio State's third-year head coach has issued a strict zero-tolerance policy: Anyone who fights will be more than just ejected from the game…he will be ejected from the team.

"He wants the game to be very intense, but if anybody throws any punches this year, we're dismissed," Buckeyes linebacker Curtis Grant said Tuesday, per Austin Ward of ESPN.com. "You know he pretty much put it out there [Sunday], so there's no telling what will happen if you get into a fight this year. 

"We've got to be on our best behavior."

Meyer chimed in with his own rationale for the policy:

I had a talk with our team about that, and absolutely no case for that. Intensity? Absolutely. There's a certain mentality we need to take to this field, but that's not acceptable.

That's not the way we play the game, and I think a lot of lessons were learned. We went without one of our key linemen in the championship game the following week, and we played a game without two or three good players. That was a very strong conversation in the team meeting.

Ohio State beat Michigan for the ninth time in 10 meetings last season, but securing the win was a struggle. The Wolverines hung 41 points on the then-undefeated Buckeyes, losing 42-41 when a play-for-the-win two-point conversion attempt was intercepted at the goal line.

With Hall out of the lineup, though, OSU lost its first game of the year—and the Meyer era—in the Big Ten Championship, falling to Michigan State, 34-24. It then lost the Orange Bowl to Clemson, 40-35.

It's hard to say if having Hall against the Spartans would have changed anything, but the fact of the matter—that Ohio State's season crumbled in the wake of the Michigan game—remains the same. On multiple fronts, Meyer does not want a repeat of 2013.

This year's Buckeyes do not control their fate the way last year's did, but at 10-1 they do have a good chance to make the College Football Playoff. They might not even need any help. Bleacher Report's Ray Glier said he has a suspicion "that the Buckeyes and their pedigree are going to get them into the Top Four if they win out."

There is no reason to jeopardize their season against Michigan.

A 5-6 rival is still just a 5-6 team.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Full List of Week 14 College Standings and Polls

Week 13 of the college football season proved once again that there is no such thing as an easy win at this level.

Ole Miss came into the week with an outside shot at the College Football Playoff despite having two losses, but a blowout defeat at the hands of Arkansas ended those chances. Meanwhile, teams like Florida State and Ohio State had tougher challenges than expected despite facing inferior opponents.

With most teams having just one or two games remaining, the pressure is on to avoid losses and finish as high in the rankings as possible.

Here is a look at the latest polls before the College Football Playoff rankings are released for Week 14.

 

One of the most surprising changes to the rankings was Baylor moving ahead of TCU in the AP poll. This has been a major debate among college football fans for the past month, and it will remain so until season’s end.

The argument is whether the Bears’ head-to-head win over the Horned Frogs is important enough to overcome an inferior overall resume. Clay Travis of Fox Sports 1 certainly believes Baylor should be ahead in the polls:

The biggest difference between the two is the nonconference schedule, which features a TCU win over Minnesota while Baylor did not face anyone from a major conference. However, it is hard to say that a win over the Gophers is bigger than a win over TCU itself.

These teams are reversed in the coaches poll, but really the only thing that matters is what the committee believes.

Of course, one other issue with the argument of nonconference schedules is that Mississippi State remains in one of the top spots despite also having a weak slate of opponents outside the SEC. The Bulldogs absolutely destroyed Vanderbilt Saturday, but they still have only a few really good wins this season.

Even a win over rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl will not look as good after the Rebels lost 30-0 against Arkansas. On the other hand, a loss would certainly knock Dak Prescott and company out of the College Football Playoff discussion, so they better come prepared for the in-state battle.

Rivalry games will continue to be a theme in the upcoming week, as other top squads will be forced to survive against teams that hate them.

Alabama will have arguably the hardest game at home against Auburn, but do not count out upsets from teams like Michigan (at Ohio State), Florida (at Florida State) or Oregon State (vs. Oregon).

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer knows his team will be in for a tough test. When asked about whether Michigan's struggles will be an issue, he explained at his press conference, via Ari Wasserman of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

No, because you watch videotape and talent's—they're going to give us everything they got and what they've got is a lot. So no. These players, motivation won't be an issue. Expectation of facing a very talented team or facing a top 10 defense in the country and for the two days now we've been pounding, watching it, they're really good. So there's no issue. Very athletic and talented on special teams too.

All of these squads are hoping to earn a playoff spot, and that certainly will not happen with another loss. This will make teams like the Gators and Wolverines, who aren’t even popular among their own fans right now, the most cheered for teams in the nation.

Anything that can give your own team an extra boost heading toward the end of the season would be greatly appreciated.

If all of the favorites do end up winning, though, it will lead to some major question marks for the playoff committee.

Can an early-season loss by Ohio State with a freshman quarterback under center be ignored? Is a loss to a good team more important than a win over a good team? Does the SEC need to have multiple teams in the playoff?

No matter what you believe, at least there will be teams deciding a champion on the field instead of in the computers, creating an exciting conclusion to the college football season.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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SEC Football Q&A: Does Florida State Deserve to Be Ranked Above Alabama?

It seems like only yesterday when SEC Network carriage deals dominated the headlines, the 10-second rule became an issue and South Carolina was a contender.

Ah, the offseason.

As we enter rivalry weekend, both SEC divisions remain undecided, a one-loss SEC team is ranked No. 1—two spots ahead of undefeated defending national champion Florida State—and one of the best head coaching jobs in college football (Florida) is open.

Florida State's place in a sea of SEC powers, Arkansas' momentum and Florida's next step are discussed in this week's SEC Q&A.

 

Of all of the factors you mentioned, the "no losses" part is the most important. Last season's Heisman Trophy winner shouldn't have any bearing on this season's rankings. NFL talent shouldn't have any bearing on this season's rankings.

Rankings for this season should be based on how each team looks this season based on results.

Nothing more and nothing less.

Unfortunately, they're not anymore.

One thing became abundantly clear as the weekly College Football Playoff rankings have been released on a weekly basis, and it is the worst fear of BCS proponents—like myself.

The regular season has already been devalued.

Florida State is a power-five team with zero losses and two Top 25 wins. Are either of those wins comparable to Alabama's lone Top 25 win over No. 4 Mississippi State? Of course not, but Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher said it better than anybody possibly could.

"How about the way everybody else hasn't finished?" he told ESPN.com's Heather Dinich on Sunday. "Our team has never not finished. The game is 60 minutes. This team hasn't lost in over two years. Everybody says 'game control.' That's something made up. As a coach, you talk about one thing: Finish. Get it done."

If a team in a power-five conference goes undefeated and has more Top 25 wins than a one-loss team from the nation's best division, that team should be No. 1.

Should Alabama be in the playoff? Absolutely. Top 3, for sure. But Florida State deserves the No. 1 spot. After all, what we're really talking about is seeding, and Florida State has done all that it can do to be seeded No. 1.

To me, though, Florida State being at No. 3 is about programming the sport. If the Seminoles beat a Florida team with a good defense and then a ranked Georgia Tech team in the ACC Championship Game handily, it should jump back to the top spot and play the fourth seed in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's night.

 

Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy would certainly check off several of the boxes that Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley is looking for. He's a proven offensive mind who has had success as a head coach at a major program, producing double-digit-win seasons three times in the last five years.

But would he go to Florida?

According to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports, three sources have told him that Gundy is interested in the job and has made that known through backchannels.

Could that be legitimate? Yep. Could it be Gundy leveraging for a new deal? Yep. It's probably both, which would certainly explain why Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun has already stated that he's not a candidate.

The gap between a Top 5 job and a top-50 job, though, has narrowed tremendously over the last decade as more money has flowed into the sport.

Gundy is the 15th-highest-paid coach in the country ($3.5 million), according to the USA Today database of coaching salaries, and is currently at a program that has comparable resources to those of any top-tier program in the country.

If he wants a new challenge, sure, I could see him going to Florida. But he isn't going to go just because "it's Florida." It's a rebuilding year, but he has a good thing going for him in Stillwater with an easier path to the playoff.

It'd be difficult to leave. If he does, though, he'd be a hit in Gainesville.

 

Regardless of what happens on Friday afternoon in the regular-season finale against Missouri, Arkansas will be ranked to start the 2015 season.

Back-to-back shutouts against ranked SEC opponents is very impressive, even if those rankings disappear by the end of the season. Running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams should return, along with quarterback Brandon Allen, four starters on the offensive line and defensive lineman Darius Philon. 

That's a solid foundation for a program that suddenly has momentum.

Unless some really bizarre roster attrition occurs between now and September in Fayetteville, the late-season momentum combined with the stars returning should land the Hogs in the preseason Top 25 and, perhaps, some first-place votes from the assembled members of the SEC media when we predict the conference standings at SEC media days.

Look out for the Hogs, because even if they don't beat you, they'll beat you up.

 

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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Take It Easy, Folks: College Football Playoff Does Not Need to Expand to 8 Teams

College football is nothing if not constantly dissatisfied with the present. In some ways that's a good thing. However, college big wigs are already jumping the gun on the new postseason format. 

The first year of the College Football Playoff isn't even over. The actual four-team field won't be selected for another couple of weeks. Still, the drumbeat for an eight-team playoff has begun.

Last week, ACC commissioner John Swofford noted that, in terms of the number of participants, doubling the playoff field again would improve the postseason, via Shawn Krest of The Herald-Sun

Speaking at Wednesday’s weekly Durham Sports Club meeting at the Croasdaile Country Club, Swofford said an eight-team playoff, 'in terms of the number of teams, would probably be ideal.'

'I don’t think all the controversy’s going to go away,' Swofford said of the new system. 'You have four teams that get a chance to play for the national championship, which is twice as many as before, but whoever’s fifth or sixth is not going to be happy. There will be some conferences that won’t have a team in the playoff.'

Additionally, an ESPN.com coaches poll conducted by Brett McMurphy showed that 44 percent of coaches favor an eight-team playoff. The march has already started. 

Swofford went on to say that he believes the current format works, but slipping the expansion note in there is no accident. As Bryan Fischer of NFL.com tweets, there's probably no way the four-team playoff makes it through its 12-year television contract without modification. The fact that it's already a talking point suggests its shelf life has a limit:

The only real question is how it comes about and when. Does it happen when an SEC team is left out? When two teams from the same conference get in? That all remains to be seen. 

That said, the playoff doesn't need to expand right now. How can anyone accurately judge otherwise if the status quo is still in its infancy? There will always be upset fanbases who think they got robbed, but we're not to the point where we can determine if the selection committee got it "right"—or whether it can get it right next year, or the year after that or the year after that. 

We are an impatient people, but here's what we, the fans and media, lose in this conversation about the playoff's future: The ability to enjoy the moment. 

Remember when the end of the BCS was supposed to ruin major college football's regular season? It hasn't. Actually, there's a case to be made that this regular season has been the most entertaining one in years. 

The playoff by itself isn't responsible for that, though it has given the talking heads more to discuss. Rather, the lack of a truly great team has made this year as exciting as it is.

Every team, even (especially?) undefeated Florida State, is vulnerable. The last time there was a regular season this captivating was in 2007 when all hell broke loose. That was the year that the BCS shrugged, reached into a hat and pulled out LSU and Ohio State to play in its championship game. 

2014 hasn't quite reached that level of chaos, but it has been fun—so let's have fun with it. Not everything has to mean something more.

Will this playoff ignite more controversy than the BCS? Absolutely, it already has thanks in part to the unveiling of weekly rankings. The more teams that are capable of being included, or being left out, the more controversy there is going to be.

An eight-team playoff isn't going to fix that, even if it goes the route of automatic bids and conference champions. As Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated notes, there's not enough parity in college football for all conferences, and thus conference champions, to be equal:

Would an eight-team field ruin the regular season? Who knows, but imagine an 8-5 Wisconsin, Big Ten champs circa 2012, getting into that playoff. The riots, they would be epic.

There's always going to be a degree of subjectivity in college football's postseason. That doesn't mean fans have to embrace it, but accepting it is probably a good place to start. 

If underdogs take a sack of dynamite to playoff-bound teams in the next two weeks, the subjectivity is only going to increase. So, too, will the campaigning and complaining. Rest assured, the eight-team playoff conversation will gain momentum. 

To be clear, there will be a day when that conversation is more appropriate. In the meantime, let's take the season for what it is—a year of no great football teams—and see if this format works for a few years. Being constantly upset with what you don't have takes too much effort, after all. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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Ted's Takes: The Setup for Pac-12's Final Weekend, Stanford in Unfamiliar Role

The stage is set for the Pac-12’s final weekend, and it's one we could not have predicted.

UCLA plays for a second South title in three years, Stanford shifts to the unfamiliar spoiler role, Arizona and Arizona State fight each other while they share a need for a Stanford win, Oregon pushes toward the national playoff, Marcus Mariota drives toward the Heisman, and, in a shock, USC and Notre Dame meet in what feels like a consolation game. 

Here are snapshots from two key games last Saturday that defined this weekend’s script.

 

Berkeley, Late First Quarter, Stanford 10 Cal 0

Looking to finish a scoring drive, Cal turned to its emerging runner Daniel Lasco. Crossing the Stanford 5-yard line, Cardinal linebacker Blake Martinez drilled Lasco, jarring the ball free into the arms of A.J. Tarpley.

Through seven conference games, Stanford’s defense had only created two takeaways. This Big Game saw the Cardinal force five Cal turnovers. 

 

Berkeley, Second Quarter, Stanford 10 Cal 7

Most notable in the struggles of Stanford’s offense has been the vulnerability of the Cardinal to blitzing. Kevin Hogan entered the weekend with the worst conference passer rating against the blitz (52.9 completion percentage, 127.3 rating), per STATS, Inc.

Two plays in a drive that led to Stanford opening a 17-7 lead demonstrated an adjustment for the Big Game. On a second down from the Stanford 40, Cal blitzed two linebackers inside. Against a six-man rush, Hogan calmly waited for freshman Christian McCaffrey to get free over the middle and delivered a pass an instant before two Bears slammed him to the turf.

The second “blitz beater” came later in the drive on another 2nd-and-10. A swing pass to Kelsey Young in the left flat beat another six-man rush and placed Stanford inside Cal’s 20.

Hogan had his best game of the season, completing 15 of 20 passes for 214 yards. For the second consecutive week, Stanford pleased its fans by using McCaffrey as an offensive weapon (three carries and two receptions). Ultimately, Stanford’s decisive win over Cal must give UCLA pause approaching the Bruins’ biggest game of the season.

Pasadena, Second Quarter, UCLA 14 USC 7 

The Trojans had moved the ball to the UCLA 4-yard line. They scrambled to run their goal-line offense at a quick tempo.

Here is the play sequence:

  • 1st-and-goal: Shotgun run by Justin Davis to the 1.
  • 2nd-and-goal: Shotgun keep by Cody Kessler for negative-two yards.
  • 3rd-and-goal: Shotgun pass to Davis in left flat for TD.

Three goal-line plays, three shotgun formations, zero downs for leading conference rusher Buck Allen, zero snaps from center and run formations. On the third play, there was a touchdown, but there have been many moments this year when a fan has been left wondering "Is this USC?"

 

Pasadena, Second Quarter, UCLA 14 USC 14

UCLA's response to the tying touchdown was a drive that underscored the decisive win for the Bruins. Their offensive line kept Brett Hundley clean. He was sacked twice, but USC’s defense succeeded in targeting Hundley’s running, holding him to two net rushing yards.

At midfield in this drive, that was apparent on 3rd-and-4. USC offered a controlled rush that neither pressured Hundley nor allowed him an escape. Hundley’s reaction was to calmly stand in the pocket and use the extra time to scan the field, advancing through progressions until he found Mossi Johnson for a first down.

The measure of Hundley’s play was apparent in his ability and willingness to beat USC as a pocket passer.

Coach of the Week honors should go to UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. The same man whose emotional snap during the Oregon game went viral. The same man, in his first year as a coordinator, whose defense had lingered in the middle of the conference rankings.

But Ulbrich is also the man who lasted 10 years as an NFL linebacker who excelled on special teams. On arrival at UCLA, he helped mold Anthony Barr from an H-back to a linebacker who earned first-round NFL draft status.

Ulbrich and his defense won this night. The defense held USC to 104 rush yards, limited Nelson Agholor to 24 receiving yards as the Trojans threat occasionally saw Myles Jack opposite him as a slot defender and, until a desperation fourth-quarter drive, had kept the Trojans under 200 total yards. Who predicted that?

Consecutive plays by the Bruins defense late in the second quarter triggered the game-deciding shift.

On a 3rd-and-4 from the UCLA 38, Allen ran for a first down despite fierce pressure from UCLA’s Deon Hollins, who appeared to anticipate the snap count.

The next play, first down from the UCLA 33, saw Kessler throw a quick pass in the right flat. Again, Hollins jumped on the exact snap count, his head start allowing him to blow by tackle Zach Bonner. The immediate presence of Hollins forced a quick, high throw from Kessler, the ball tipped by a USC receiver and caught by a diving Eric Kendricks.

Hundley capitalized on the takeaway—a 68-yard drive finished by a scoring pass to Eldridge Massington giving UCLA a 24-14 halftime lead.

 

Pasadena, Third Quarter, UCLA 24 USC 14

The Bruins doubled down on their touchdown that ended the first half. Taking the second-half kickoff, UCLA went 84 yards on nine plays to break open the game. 

Essential to this drive was the pass game. First was 3rd-and-7 from the UCLA 19. USC could have regained some balance had it forced a three-and-out punt to start the half. Hundley fired a left side pass to Devin Lucien, whose route had carried him beyond the line to gain. But to catch the pass, Lucien’s momentum carried him back inside the first-down marker.

USC freshman Adoree' Jackson needed to simply wrap up Lucien, even if the catch was completed, short of the first down. But Jackson took a path inside Lucien’s left hip, trying to deflect or intercept the pass. He missed the ball, Lucien using that mistake to catch the ball and wheel upfield for first-down yardage. 

Two plays later, Hundley lofted a deep pass down the right sideline. Thomas Duarte leapt over USC’s Leon McQuay to complete a 38-yard gain. Two plays where the UCLA receiver defeated the USC defensive back eventually cemented this game.

Four plays later, Paul Perkins ran for a touchdown that gave UCLA a 31-14 lead, and the Bruins never looked back. 

UCLA vs. Stanford

This week, Stanford’s role as spoiler presents unease for UCLA. Do the Cardinal embrace this task given their fate to play in a lower-tier bowl game? Can UCLA reach the same emotional state as last Saturday?

On the field, one matchup should be the most significant in the outcome: UCLA's defensive line vs. Stanford's offensive line.

If the Bruins front can replicate the game-long pressure it applied on Kessler, it will test Hogan’s performance against the blitz.

If Stanford’s offensive line can repeat the push it employed against Cal, the Cardinal dormant run game could relieve Hogan of the burden to make big plays.

Can Stanford find its “identity” for one day? Or does UCLA validate its dominance of USC and keep Jim Mora on track to build in Westwood what Pete Carroll brought to USC?

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ted's Takes: The Setup for Pac-12's Final Weekend, Stanford in Unfamiliar Role

The stage is set for the Pac-12’s final weekend, and it's one we could not have predicted. UCLA plays for a second South title in three years, Stanford shifts to the unfamiliar ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Michigan Football: What the Wolverines Should Be Thankful for in 2014

It’s come down to one final, sure-to-be-agonizing Saturday for Michigan football—and unfortunately for the Wolverines, it can’t come soon enough.

And, in a twisted sort of way, that’s something to be thankful for.

The fall of 2014 didn’t go as planned for Team 135, which was supposed to have a much-improved O-line, feature a bolstered running game and tout a more confident and effective quarterback—none of which happened, leading to a 5-6 (3-4 Big Ten) record and most likely postseason-less year No. 4 for coach Brady Hoke.

The addition of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier was supposed to remedy some of the woes, but it didn’t. Instead, the Wolverines have occupied the Big Ten’s basement of total and scoring offense for most of the season.

However, during Monday’s presser at the Crisler Center, Nussmeier was quick to point out that his team had averaged better than 200 rushing yards during its recent three-game stretch.

And he realizes one important thing: “We have to score more points,” he said.

Better late than never.

That said, it’s probably best to just slam the door on 2014, take a look at the minimal amount of good and move forward into 2015.

 

Change on the Field

With Devin Gardner, a fifth-year senior, running out of eligibility, the Wolverines will have a new quarterback under center—hopefully not on his back—in 2015.

Shane Morris, a junior-to-be, is a likely candidate. But so is Wilton Speight—the 6’6”, rocket-armed will-be-redshirt freshman can certainly take over and deliver results for an offense in desperate need of change.

At this point, fans want anyone but No. 98.

Drake Johnson and De’Veon Smith, as referenced by Nussmeier, have on occasion taken steps in the right direction, suggesting that the opposite of what was produced on the field this year—the Big Ten’s No. 7-ranked rushing offense (166 YPG)—will be present next fall.

For a team that’s built on grinding out yards—a return to that will be a welcome difference in 2015, especially given the perceived talent in the backfield. Derrick Green broke his clavicle Oct. 4 versus Rutgers but has since quickly recovered. But he won’t be available Saturday, Hoke said Monday, so it’s on to next year for the former blue-chip prep.

Smith will also be a junior, and although he's struggled mightily, strong potential remains. He's had difficulty choosing lanes, though, and that's been his biggest problem. Once corrected, Smith should see the light in 2015. 

And since next year is the topic, it only makes sense to take a look at those who return on the O-line: The No. 1 left tackle since arrival, Mason Cole stands to anchor the front as a sophomore in 2015; another year of experience has Graham Glasgow in position to have a strong senior year at guard.

Jack Miller returns for one more go at center. That’s a good thing.

The only question will be the right side, as sophomores Ben Braden (RT) and Kyle Kalis (RG) made their share of mistakes in 2014 and leave room for doubt heading into 2015. Their showings against the Buckeyes will either amplify or relieve some of that uncertainty.

As a whole, the O-line has performed far below expected levels. The “youth” excuse has run its course. That word can no longer be used when talking about the line—or anything else—because there will be more “Jr.” and “Sr.” tags next go guys’ names on the depth chart.

 

Change off the Field

Students, alumni and fans got what they wanted when Dave Brandon resigned on Halloween. It was a treat after several tricks from the athletic director, who didn’t seem to have a clue about much of anything.

The flyovers, while entertaining, are no more. Fans can no longer buy two Cokes and receive free tickets from the former pizza baron. Future plans for fireworks after touchdowns won’t be made, either. The Brandon era is done—and to say that fans and supporters are thankful would be an understatement.

Furthermore, Brady Hoke probably won’t be the J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Head whatever for too much longer. As a matter of fact, he seemed to be aware that his time has come during Monday’s press conference. With his irritation cloaked with a smile and pounding, rah-rah fist, Hoke deflected questions pertaining to his job status, instead choosing to focus on the Buckeyes and what “The Game” means to players.

But he knows the deal. The clock is on its way to hitting all zeroes. Being the man he is, Hoke’s taking it all in stride and with class. Michigan fans probably couldn’t ask for more from a guy in his position. He’s definitely taken the high road.

 

Breezy, Baby

Commits to Hoke’s 2015 class have been dropping like flies since December of 2013. 

Stumbling backward since going 7-6, the Wolverines have lost George Campbell (5-star WR), Damien Harris (5-star RB), Shaun Crawford (4-star CB), Garrett Taylor (4-star CB) and Darian Roseboro (4-star DE), just to name a few, but the recent change of heart was the real kicker: Local star Mike Weber decommitted as Team 135 dropped senior day to the visiting Maryland Terrapins.

And, of course, he did it on Twitter. 

The loss of the 4-star superstar running back of Detroit Cass Tech is devastating—the Wolverines are in need of depth at the position.

During the same game, Chris Clark, a 4-star tight end commit, tweeted that Michigan had “officially hit rock bottom," per 247Sports. 

One can only assume that he's reconsidering and that more ship-jumpers are on the way.

But hey, at least Jabrill Peppers is sticking around. He’s even gone as far as to publicly deflect. Breezy is Michigan’s for keeps.

Before being redshirted due to a lower-body injury, the former 5-star everything was viewed as a savior-esque recruit. Peppers was going to take the Big Ten by storm and attempt to fulfill his dream of winning the Heisman as a true freshman.

He’ll have to settle for doing it as a redshirt soph like the rest of them. But at least he’s safe and secure in Ann Arbor.

 

Beilein Time

Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton—what’s not to like about John Beilein’s team?!

Plus, the coach develops his guys. Walton is better than he was last year. Irvin is too. And coincidentally, so is LeVert.

What a novel concept: Guys are improving with time—and there are noticeable leaps across the board for Michigan, which has a good shot at competing for a top spot in the Big Ten this season.

Be oh so thankful for that. 

 

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

For what should Michigan be most thankful? Feel free to start a conversation in the comments section.

Unless otherwise noted, quotes and references were obtained firsthand by the writer 

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College Football Playoff 2014: Final Predictions for Week 14 CFB System Rankings

With just one regular-season week and conference championships left to be played, time is certainly running out for teams looking to make a run at the College Football Playoff.

Every team that constituted the Top Four last week won over the weekend, but it can be argued that the gap is starting to close with teams like Baylor, TCU and Ohio State lurking closely behind. In addition to that, there is reason to believe that the selection committee could alter the order of its Top Four even if nobody actually drops out.

That could be a major factor over the next couple of weeks, especially due to the perceived importance of winning conference title games.

With the 14th and final week of college football's regular season looming, here is a rundown of the projected College Football Playoff rankings ahead of Tuesday night's release.

 

Alabama Holding Steady

The selection committee is smitten with Alabama and its impressive resume, and it is difficult to imagine the Crimson Tide residing anywhere other than No. 1 when the new rankings are constructed. Bama didn't exactly test itself with a game against Western Carolina Saturday, but it ultimately took care of business with a 48-14 victory.

Alabama is now 10-1 and it is displaying excellent balance. The defense is great as usual, as it is No. 2 in points allowed, while the offense is really clicking as well at a clip of 35 points per contest. Quarterback Blake Sims has blossomed under offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, and the running game has been a handful for the opposition, too.

One concern coming out of last week's game is the health of Heisman Trophy candidate and superstar wide receiver Amari Cooper. The incredible junior has more than 1,300 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season, but he left the Western Carolina game with a knee injury.

According to Cecil Hurt of The Tuscaloosa News, however, head coach Nick Saban isn't at all concerned about the ailment:

That is great news for Alabama as it prepares for an Iron Bowl clash with Auburn. As long as the Tide can avoid an upset against the Tigers or in the SEC Championship Game, they should have the CFP's No. 1 seed locked down.

The Tide are clearly being rewarded for excelling against an extremely difficult schedule, but they can't afford to let their guard down since one loss could easily knock them out of the running.

 

Mississippi State Remains in Top 4

After holding the No. 1 spot for several weeks, Mississippi State dropped to No. 4 in the CFP by virtue of a five-point loss to Alabama. It would have been easy for the Bulldogs to fold after that, but they did just the opposite by drubbing Vanderbilt 51-0 to improve to 10-1 with Ole Miss looming.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, that marked Mississippi State's most dominant conference performance in nearly 80 years:

In the wake of that convincing victory coupled with quality wins over LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn, the Bulldogs should be safely in the CFP Top Four for this week at the very least. Unfortunately, they may very well be sitting ducks moving forward.

Since Mississippi State is blocked by Alabama in terms of playing for the SEC title, it won't have an opportunity to impress the selection committee. Assuming Bama, Oregon and Florida State all take care of business by winning out and winning their conference titles, the Bulldogs will be in a tough spot.

They are aided by the fact that there is no Big 12 title game, which means BYU and TCU are at the same disadvantage. With that said, Ohio State can win the Big Ten Championship, which may vault the Buckeyes past the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State's win over Vandy was so impressive that it may very well leapfrog Florida State for this week, but Dan Mullen's team will ultimately be at the mercy of the teams around it and the selection committee even if it finishes with only one loss.

 

Florida State Continues to Slip

Florida State is the defending national champion and is a perfect 11-0 this season, yet an argument can be made that it isn't among college football's top four teams. The Seminoles have been dropping in recent weeks and entered the weekend as the No. 3 seed.

They once again escaped with a win as they defeated Boston College 20-17 on a last-second field goal. These types of wins have become the Noles' modus operandi this season, and while they aren't always pretty, the fact that they get results deserves some respect.

In fact, head coach Jimbo Fisher was very matter-of-fact about his team deserving a CFP spot after narrowly escaping with a win over the Eagles, per Brendan Sonnone of The Orlando Sentinel.

"Why wouldn't it? We're undefeated," Fisher said. "We're undefeated. We finish every game. Everybody else in the country has not finished at least one game. We've finished every one of them. Isn't that the object?"

Florida State absolutely has to remain in the Top Four as the only undefeated team in a power conference, but with only two wins over current Top 25 teams, the selection committee is likely to begrudgingly make that determination.

The committee clearly values the quality of victories more than the quantity of them, which is why the Seminoles could easily fall to No. 4. They still control their own destiny since leaving a perfect team out of the CFP would be an extremely bad look for the new system, but it is clear that Florida State will have to take an "us against the world" mentality into the season's closing weeks.

 

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College Football Rankings 2014: Week 14 Standings and Top 25 Team Records

The nation's Top Four remained the same following Week 13 of the college football season. However, Florida State's performance was slightly different than those of Alabama, Oregon and Mississippi State.

While the second-, third- and fourth-ranked teams won in decisive fashion, blowing their opposition out of the water, the Seminoles squeezed past the unranked Boston College Eagles, narrowly escaping with a three-point win. While this caused some controversy, one important fact remains: Florida State is still unbeaten.

With all four of these teams in action in Week 14, the possibility of the rankings changing once again is real. After all, if we've learned anything so far this year, it's that no team is safe from defeat in any given week against any opponent.

Before another pivotal week on the amateur gridiron kicks off, here's an updated look at the nation's rankings and standings.

Full CFB standings can be viewed at ESPN.com.

 

Week 14 Marquee Matchup

(4) Mississippi State at (18) Ole Miss

This may be the most important Egg Bowl we've seen in quite some time. The Mississippi State Bulldogs remain entrenched in the College Football Playoff picture, but in-state rival Ole Miss is looking to play spoiler.

Both of these teams are coming off shutout performances in Week 13; however, only one finished on the right side of the scoreboard. While the Bulldogs trounced Vanderbilt 51-0, the Rebels were shocked by Arkansas, losing 30-0.

Talk about a swing in momentum.

Chris Fowler broke down the FPI formula for the game:

Despite the devastating loss, Ole Miss still boasts the nation's top-ranked scoring defense, allowing an average of just 13.5 points per game. While the team gave up 30 to Arkansas, it was mainly due to offensive miscues, as the defense held the Razorbacks to 311 total yards.

Mississippi State isn't a slouch on the defensive side of the ball either. The Bulldogs rank 11th in the nation, allowing an average of just 18.4 points per game. They devastated the Commodores offense in Week 13, giving up a total of just 228 yards.

The winner of this matchup will be the team that can find a way to produce significant offense against the opposing stout defense.

Ole Miss has a tough hill to climb in that regard, as quarterback Bo Wallace is coming off a miserable showing. He completed just 16 of his 31 passing attempts for 235 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions against Arkansas. Adding to the quarterback's woes for the upcoming game is the sprained ankle he suffered in that contest, via Hugh Kellenberger of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger:

Wallace will need to get much more help from the team's backfield against the Bulldogs. Jaylen Walton and Co. produced just 63 yards on 33 carries, a dismal average of 1.9 yards per rush, against the Razorbacks.

On the flip side, Mississippi State boasts a very dangerous rushing attack. In Week 13 against Vanderbilt, the team combined to rush for 283 yards and two touchdowns on 51 carries, averaging 5.5 yards per rush. The balanced attack allowed quarterback Dak Prescott to flourish, completing 16 of his 21 passing attempts for 193 yards and three touchdowns.

That kind of performance is one big reason why Prescott is mentioned in Heisman Trophy discussions, via SEC Network:

It's rather difficult to go against Prescott and the Mississippi State offense in this one. The Ole Miss defense is talented and will give the Bulldogs a run for their money; however, due to Wallace's recent poor play and the fact that the Rebels have lost three of their last four games, Ole Miss won't notch an Egg Bowl win this year.

Prediction: Mississippi State 24, Ole Miss 17

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Heisman Watch 2014: Ranking Favorites in Race Heading into Week 14

The Heisman Trophy is on everyone's mind at the onset of a new college football season and remains there until a winner is crowned during the annual ceremony in New York. Each and every week, analysts and fans scrutinize the performances of front-runners and adjust their rankings in accordance with their findings.

This is one such example.

Of the many, many talented student athletes throughout the nation, several stand out above the rest. To decide which of them are deserving of the prestigious award, voters are asked to identify their top three selections in order. A first-place vote is worth three points, a second-place vote is worth two points and a third-place vote is worth one point.

Here's a look at the three players who should be receiving the lion's share of those votes, ranked from third through first.

 

3. J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State

This was a very difficult decision. Barrett was neck-and-neck with Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, but recent record-breaking performances propelled the freshman signal-caller into third place.

After a rocky start to his season, Barrett began to light up scoreboards, beginning with his six-touchdown performance against Kent State. He rode the momentum established in that game to a nine-game winning streak heading into Week 14.

This young player only appears to be getting better as the season progresses. He put up one of the best all-around performances of the season against a stout Michigan State defense, throwing for 300 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 86 yards and two more scores. He outdid himself one week later, rushing for a school-record 189 yards against Minnesota.

In Week 13, Barrett threw four touchdown passes against Indiana, cementing himself further in the team's record books with two more records, via Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch and ESPN Stats & Info:

The freshman won't go on to win the Heisman this season, but the sky is the limit for the quarterback. Expect to see his name in the mix for the trophy very early next season.

 

2. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

Speaking of players who only seem to get better as the season rolls along, Gordon has been electric recently. The junior running back has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in 10 of the team's 11 contests this season and leads the FBS with 2,109 rushing yards heading into Week 14—he tops the rushing touchdowns category as well with 25.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Gordon is the fastest player in history to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark in a season:

Over Gordon's last three contests, he's gained more than 200 yards on the ground in each. His crowning achievement this season was his 408 rushing yards against Nebraska, setting a new NCAA single-game record. ESPN's Travis Haney expanded on just how impressive the ball-carrier has been recently:

Currently, Barry Sanders owns the all-time single-season rushing total of 2,628 yards. That mark has stood since 1988, but Gordon has a chance to break that mark, especially if the Badgers can defeat Minnesota and earn a trip to the Big Ten title game.

If that winds up being the case, this Heisman race will get very interesting.

 

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

Mariota, the Oregon Ducks' junior signal-caller, may be one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the history of college football. He's an extremely accurate passer and makes very good decisions with the football in his hands. That's led to a total of just two interceptions this season. That's right, two.

Throwing two picks is impressive for any quarterback who accompanies them with roughly 1,000 passing yards and 10 touchdowns. However, Mariota has already passed for 3,103 yards and 32 touchdowns this season. That ratio is simply incredible.

And, according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports, that's nothing new for the NFL's future first-round draft pick:

In Week 13, Mariota led the Ducks to a 44-10 drubbing of Colorado, throwing three touchdowns and running for another in the process. That set a new Pac-12 single-season record, according to SportsCenter:

Accumulating that immense amount of touchdowns is a feat all in its own; doing it with the kind of efficiency Mariota displays every single week is absolutely extraordinary. That's the reason he could go No. 1 overall in the 2015 NFL draft, and that's the reason he'll win the Heisman Trophy.

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They May Be Coaching's Odd Couple, but Saban-Kiffin Duo Thrives at Alabama

TUSCALOOSA, Alabama—The head coach felt like he had to do something. After Alabama was stuffed on two fourth-and-short plays in the fourth quarter of last year's Iron Bowl against Auburn—a game that Alabama would lose 34-28—Nick Saban decided he needed to revamp his offense. Without telling his staff, Saban invited recently-fired Lane Kiffin to Tuscaloosa for eight days last December to "brainstorm" and analyze the Tide's offense, especially its weaknesses.

"It was my vacation," Kiffin joked.

Kiffin, who had been unceremoniously fired on a tarmac by USC a few months before, had a long history with Saban. He nearly left USC in 2007 to join Saban's staff shortly after Saban was hired in Tuscaloosa—agent Jimmy Sexton represents both coaches—but ultimately he decided to stay in Los Angeles before leaving for the NFL a few weeks later. Now Saban wanted his opinion on how he could revitalize his offense, which had been a ground-based, pro-style, conservative attack. It had brought three national titles to The Capstone, but it struggled down the stretch in 2013. The Tide had been the only team in the final month of the 2013 regular season that had failed to score 30 points against Auburn.  

Shortly after arriving in Alabama Kiffin had a long dinner at Saban's house on Lake Tuscaloosa; the two talked Xs and Os deep into the night. Saban and Kiffin may seem different—Saban is a taskmaster and, at age 63, still an obsessive perfectionist; Kiffin is an inveterate jokester and, at age 39, likes to have a good time and is considered a player's coach. Both, however, are coach's sons who relish the philosophical, chess-match aspects of the game. The quickest way to earn Saban's respect is to flash a high football IQ, and by all accounts, Kiffin has an understanding of the nuances of the sport that is blue moon rare.      

For eight days Kiffin carefully studied everything about the Alabama program. Every evening before he returned to his room at the Capstone Hotel, Kiffin would review his notes from the day with Saban for about 15 minutes. Saban liked what he heard. He never said he lost faith in offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, but an obvious message was conveyed. After Oklahoma beat Alabama 45-31 in last January's Sugar Bowl, Nussmeier left to become the offensive coordinator at Michigan. Kiffin, hoping to rehabilitate his image and rejuvenate his career, accepted the offer from Saban.

It was a gamble for Saban to bring him in—Saban was lampooned nationally for the hire—but it has paid off. Because love him or loathe him, Lane Kiffin is a huge reason why the Crimson Tide is now four wins away from winning its fourth national title in six years.  

 

The Master And The Student

There they were, college football's odd couple of 2014, walking side-by-side along the west sideline at Bryant-Denny Stadium. It was minutes before the kickoff between top-ranked Alabama and Western Carolina last Saturday, and the two coaches strolled in silence through the warm autumn afternoon, arms folded, heads down, looking like a pair of philosophers deep in thought.

The opening whistle blew, the crowd of over 100,000 sent a roar that rolled like thunder into the Southern sky, and the game was on.  The Crimson Tide offense jogged onto the field. The two coaches—Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin—stood a few feet from another.

Kiffin relayed the play calls to senior quarterback Blake Sims. Saban paced nearby, his blazing brown eyes constantly locking onto his first-year offensive coordinator, as if the head coach wanted to intervene. He finally did: When Kiffin called a pass late in the first quarter, Saban exploded, lighting into Kiffin, screaming he wanted to run the ball.

Message received: Alabama kept the ball on the ground on 10 of its next 11 offensive plays. Slowly the storm in Saban's eyes disappeared. The Tide won 48-14 as the offense piled up 612 total yards and the machine in Tuscaloosa continued to hum along, ruthless and relentless.

After the final whistle sounded, the Crimson Tide coaches walked into the north end zone portal that led to the locker room. Saban would emerge minutes later to talk to the microphones and cameras and tape recorders, but Kiffin—the mastermind behind the most prolific offense of the Saban era in Tuscaloosa—simply disappeared from view.

Saban doesn't allow his assistant coaches to speak to the media during the season, which has only deepened the intrigue—locally and nationally—surrounding this unlikely duo. How many seasons will Kiffin stay in Tuscaloosa? What has been the key to Kiffin's success in developing Blake Sims? What is this fast-paced offense?

"We're having more fun this year and coach Kiffin is a big reason why," said Brian Vogler, a senior tight end. "He's opened up the offense. He really understands what players do well and he puts them in positions to succeed. And having him on the field has been key because he listens to us during games and takes our suggestions. It makes all of us feel like we're really part of the offense and part of something special.   

"Coach Kiffin and coach Saban are really clicking. It's like they've discovered, as the season has gone on, how much they have in common," Vogler said. "They communicate and understand each other in a very deep way. They're having fun together. It's a great thing to see, especially with how things ended last year."   

 

Reconciling The Past

Bill Battle, Alabama's athletic director, cringed when he first heard the news. (Kiffin eventually won Battle over when they had their first lengthy conversation.) Kiffin's last foray into the SEC did not end well.

On the field at Tennessee in 2009 Kiffin had been a success. He assembled a top-five recruiting class even though he was on the job for only a few weeks before national signing day. The Vols' offense increased its scoring average by 12 points and the total offense swelled from 268.3 yards a game to 383.5. Perhaps most impressive: Kiffin and Tennessee were a last-second blocked field goal away from beating Alabama, the eventual national champion, in Tuscaloosa. The Vols outgained the Tide by nearly 100 yards.

But then in January 2010 Kiffin was offered his dream job at USC and left Knoxville. Tennessee administrators were furious—Kiffin had spent months talking about building something special, brick by brick, year by year, at UT—and the fan base felt betrayed. When word leaked that Kiffin was about to announce his resignation, an angry mob of students gathered outside the coaches' offices, vowing to block his exit. A mattress was set on fire. Kiffin eventually made it out, but the threat of violence underscored how irate the entire fan base was with Kiffin.

"As you make mistakes, the number one thing you've got to do is learn from them," Kiffin said this past August in his only meeting with reporters this season. "And not just make excuses for them. I've made more than anybody, probably. To go through what I've gone through and still be fortunate to be here, a coordinator with Saban at Alabama, you take some time to reflect on that." At the press conference on the second-floor of the Mal Moore Athletic Facility, Kiffin sounded like a contrite, team-first coach. This was the plan; Saban had met with him that morning to make sure his new coach didn't say anything "that would end up on the ticker."

The time out of the spotlight clearly has been good for Kiffin, because his loose lips have gotten him in plenty of trouble in the past. This is a coach who was once described as a "flat out liar" by former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, who hired Kiffin in 2007 and fired him in midway through the '08 season. A year later at Tennessee, Kiffin called Urban Meyer, then the coach at Florida, a cheater and proclaimed that wide receiver Alshon Jeffery would end up pumping gas if he didn't come to Tennessee. (Jeffery, for the record, went to South Carolina and is currently a Chicago Bear.) For much of his head-coaching career, Kiffin has been a walking PR disaster, his own worst enemy, a coach who seemingly never really grew up.

In other words, he's been the exact opposite of Saban.

"Lane's done a really good job for us all year," Saban told reporters earlier this season. "The players like him, they respond really well to him. He's a really great coach. I think the reason why people in Tennessee are pissed off at him is because they know he's a good coach and they were upset when he left. I get that. I understand that.…I'm sure there are a lot of our fans, and Tennessee fans, that realize that Lane Kiffin is a very good coach."

 

Bringing The Fun To T-Town

On his first day on the job in Tuscaloosa, Kiffin began installing his version of the West Coast offense, which features elements of the hurry-up. He also began working with quarterback Blake Sims, who was recruited as a running back. Kiffin schooled Sims in all of his favorite routes: fades, short crosses and quick screens. He put quarterback rollouts into the offense repertoire. And he preached playing with tempo.

Kiffin has a well-earned reputation for developing quarterbacks. He helped USC's Matt Barkley set Pac-12 records for career passing yards and touchdowns. He helped the Trojans' Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez became first-round NFL draft picks. And at Tennessee he transformed Jonathon Crompton from a player who completed only 51.5 percent of this passes in 2008 into a quarterback who connected on 58.3 percent of his throws in '09 and tossed 27 touchdown passes and only 13 interceptions. His mission with Sims: Improve his throwing mechanics and help him grow comfortable in the West Coast offense.

It worked immediately. Alabama totaled 538 yards of offense in its season-opening 33-23 win over West Virginia. Afterward, Saban confessed that the Tide may have lost the game if Kiffin hadn't been on the sideline to guide and calm Sims, who set a school record for completions (24) and attempts (33) for a first-time starter.  

"Y'all need to fess up," Saban said after the game to reporters, his voice rising. "Most places that don't like [Lane], it's because he left and they were mad because of that. They weren't mad about anything he did while he was there. Just do a little research."

Three weeks later, on Sept. 20, the Alabama offense ran out onto the field for the first play of the Florida game. At the line of scrimmage Sims looked at Kiffin, who quickly assessed the Gators defensive alignment. As the play clock ticked down, Kiffin changed the play and called a slant-and-go route to running back Kenyan Drake. Lined up out wide right, Drake was covered by a linebacker. At the snap of the ball Drake easily blew past the linebacker and then caught a perfectly lobbed strike from Sims. As Drake sprinted into the end zone for an 87-yard touchdown, Kiffin pumped his fist in air and shouted in excitement. The happiness on his face could have lit up a dark film room.

Kiffin had another eruption of emotion on Oct. 25 at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville. On Alabama's first offensive play of the game, he signaled for Sims to throw a quick pass to Amari Cooper. The play worked just like Kiffin had drawn it up on Dry Erase whiteboard, as Cooper juked a defender and sprinted 80 yards for a touchdown. The only person running as fast as Cooper in the stadium may have been Kiffin, who sprinted down the sideline like his shoelaces were on fire. This kind of spontaneous, child-like joy had been glaringly absent at Alabama last year—even when the team was ranked No. 1.

"That was a huge moment for coach Kiffin going back to Tennessee," Vogler said. "We feed off that energy when coach Kiffin gets pumped up. It gets all of us ready to go. It's so important. "

 

An Unlikely Reunion

When Kiffin was at Tennessee, he had recruited Blake Sims out of Gainesville (Georgia) High. If Kiffin had stayed in Knoxville, Sims would have ended up a Volunteer. "This is a crazy guy," Sims said of Kiffin. "He's funny and he was a good guy. The way his attitude was, you could tell he was a guy who wanted to win. That's why it doesn't surprise me that coach Saban went and got him for this program because he fits it all the way around." After 10 games, Sims has completed 187 of 301 passes (62.1 percent) and thrown 20 touchdowns and only four interceptions. His passer rating of 156.1 ranks 12th best in the nation.

 

The Nick Saban Internship

"I want to be learning and growing. Coach Saban teaches his coaches every day." 

— Lane Kiffin

So far, Alabama has been the perfect place for Kiffin to rebuild his career. No coach on the offensive staff spends more time at Saban's side than Kiffin.

At Alabama under Saban, virtually every minute of every day is scripted. The expectations for the assistants are robustly clear.  

"The thing about Nick is that he clearly spells out for you what he expects and what your duties are," said Jim McElwain, an offensive coordinator for Saban at Alabama from 2008 to '11 who is now the head coach at Colorado State. "He can be tough, but he's all about one thing: winning. That's it. He has a clear plan and a clear organizational calendar.  In all my time with Nick, I think we only had one conversation that wasn't about football. He's the most focused, driven person I've ever met."

Kiffin is constantly taking notes in this no-nonsense environment—from how Saban runs meetings to how he deals with various disciplinary issues to how he interacts with his players. For now Kiffin appears content to stay in Tuscaloosa for at least another season. And then he'll likely get one more shot at being a head coach.

There has never been a doubt in Kiffin's ability to call a hell of a game or develop a quarterback.  Most of his past failures can be traced to his inexperience; now he's earning the football equivalent of a post-doctorate degree in Tuscaloosa.

He's learning Saban's template for running a program and literally reading Saban's book on winning, a nearly 200-page, bound document in which Saban details every aspect of running a program, from proper sleeping habits for players to nutrition and motivation.  

When Kiffin gets his next shot as a head coach, he will have been Sabinized and he will be ready.

 

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

 

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TCU vs. Texas: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

The TCU Horned Frogs fell to No. 6 in the Associated Press Top 25 after they were given a scare by Kansas in Week 13. Things won't be getting any easier for this College Football Playoff contender, as a trip to Austin to take on the surging Texas Longhorns is next on the slate.

Earlier in the season, this contest had the makings of a lopsided affair. TCU's offense was demolishing every foe, and Texas couldn't seem to live up to expectations, dropping five of its first eight games. However, the Longhorns have recently hit their stride, winning their last three games, and they appear to be a formidable Week 14 opponent.

Can quarterback Trevone Boykin lead the Horned Frogs to a vastly important 10th win on the season, or will Texas play spoiler and finish the year strong with a fourth consecutive win? There's plenty at stake here, including Big 12 bragging rights within the state of Texas.

 

Aerial Prowess

While neither defense has been bad this season, we should expect a high-scoring affair at Royal Texas Memorial Stadium on Thursday. Both TCU and Texas have been lighting up scoreboards lately, and each team's quarterback is the primary reason.

We've seen TCU's Boykin go off this year. The junior signal-caller was involved in some early Heisman Trophy discussions, especially following his 433-yard, seven-touchdown performance against Texas Tech in the Horned Frogs' 82-27 victory.

Since that astounding performance, Boykin's production has dropped off, though. Over his last three games, he's notched three touchdowns and two interceptions, eclipsing the 300-yard mark just once. He did have a brilliant rushing performance against Kansas State, carrying 17 times for 123 yards and three touchdowns, but he'll need to do much more through the air against Texas.

Still, according to DFW Sports News, Boykin is extremely happy with the team's offense:

As for the Longhorns, quarterback Tyrone Swoopes has played very well lately. The sophomore signal-caller completed 24 of his 33 passing attempts for 305 yards and two touchdowns in Week 13 against Oklahoma State, giving him plenty of momentum heading into Thursday.

Swoopes commented on the importance of Thursday's game against TCU, via Jori Epstein of The Daily Texan:

If Boykin can regain his previous form, Swoopes may need the game of his brief career to keep the Longhorns in contention.

 

Finish Strong

While many points are expected to be posted by both of these teams, finishing strong on the defensive side of the ball will come into play. The inability to close out games has plagued both Texas and TCU this season, and this game could easily come down to one defensive stand.

The Horned Frogs suffered their only loss this year against Baylor in a high-scoring affair that saw the Bears win 61-58. With just over 10 minutes remaining in the game, TCU held a 58-37 lead. Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty led two quick touchdown drives, knotting up the game at 58, and a field goal as time expired won the game for the Bears in regulation due to 17 unanswered points.

Earlier this season, Texas faced a difficult opponent in UCLA. Quarterback Brett Hundley exited the game, forcing backup Jerry Neuheisel into action. He played well, and the game remained close throughout; however, a Swoopes touchdown pass put the Longhorns up 17-13 with just over five minutes remaining.

Soon after, Neuheisel completed a 30-yard pass to Paul Perkins inside the Longhorns' territory, but a Jordon James fumble was recovered by Texas, ending the threat. Swoopes and Co. were held to a 3-and-out, and following a good punt return, Neuheisel completed a 33-yard touchdown strike to Jordan Payton, winning the game for the Bruins.

Allowing big passing plays late in the game won't fly against Boykin and the Horned Frogs in Week 14.

 

When: Thursday, November 27

Where: Royal Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Channel: Fox Sports 1

Live Stream: Fox Sports Go

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 56.5
  • Spread: TCU -6.5

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

One thing that's kept TCU alive when Boykin has struggled is its running game. This team has a very talented running back in Aaron Green, and he's coming off a great showing against Kansas, ripping off 128 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. He's really come into his own of late, notching three 100-yard performances in his last three games, and he's always a threat to hit a home run.

Texas has a couple of talented backs in Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown, but they've been a little erratic lately. Brown managed only 31 yards on 15 carries against Oklahoma State, and he's averaged fewer than four yards per carry in three of his last five games. It's been a similar story for Gray, who had a great three-touchdown showing against West Virginia but also averaged four yards per carry or fewer in five games this season.

Keeping a balanced offense will be crucial for any kind of offensive success in this game, and entering Week 14, the Horned Frogs appear to be more capable of achieving just that.

Prediction: TCU 37, Texas 30

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Bowl Projections 2014: Playoff Predictions, Odds and More Before Rivalry Week

It may seem like nothing is more important in the world of college football than the race for the College Football Playoff, but good luck suggesting that to the various fanbases across the country before Week 14.

After all, it’s rivalry week, and the only thing on the minds of Ohio State, Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Mississippi State fans is beating Michigan, Auburn, Oregon State, Florida and Ole Miss, respectively. Bragging rights for the next 364 days are on the line, and college football legacies are defined by performances in these showdowns.

The larger picture will be waiting for the players and coaches in the aftermath, but let’s take a peek at it anyway. Here is a look at the latest playoff projections and odds from StatMilk and Odds Shark before mine. 

The national championship odds listed are courtesy of Odds Shark, as of Monday afternoon at 4 p.m. ET.

 

StatMilk and Odds Shark Playoff Projections and Odds

 

Scott Polacek Playoff Projections

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Baylor

Rose Bowl: No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 3 Oregon 

Championship Bowl (in Arlington, Texas): TBD (semifinal winners)

 

Rivalry Week

Playoff contenders Ohio State, Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Mississippi State are all favorites heading into their final regular-season games, but the cliche of “throw the records out” really does apply when a rivalry game is on tap.

After all, the heavily favored Buckeyes and Ducks beat overmatched Michigan and Oregon State squads by a combined two points last season. Motivations change and intensity increases in these annual showdowns, and the team with the better record or more talent doesn’t always have an easy go of things. 

What’s more, the pressure of the playoffs is a very real phenomenon, and the contenders will be the ones pressing in the fourth quarter if Saturday’s games come down to the final minutes. How they respond could be the difference between a playoff spot and just another bowl game.

From a historical standpoint, the rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan is typically included in the same category as showdowns between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox and the Duke and North Carolina basketball teams. That intensity will be there in the Horseshoe again Saturday.

Head coach Urban Meyer certainly seemed to understand that during his weekly press conference

"I want our players to take part ownership of the program. This is not another game. This is The Game," he said.

The clash between Alabama and Auburn will represent a chance for revenge for the Crimson Tide after a 110-yard return of a missed field goal on the final play of last year’s game ended Alabama’s national title hopes and propelled Auburn into the game against Florida State.

Those Seminoles will take on Florida on Saturday, and one X-factor to watch will be how the Gators respond for Will Muschamp. It is their coach’s final regular-season game at the helm, and there could be even more motivation to send him out a winner than there already would be in a contest with the hated Seminoles.

Oregon State may be 5-6, but it has Sean Mannion directing the charge on offense. He is the Pac-12’s all-time leader in career passing yards and has a chance to shock an Oregon defense that has appeared vulnerable at times this season. 

Gina Mizell of The Oregonian sang Mannion’s praises recently, and that talent could be an issue for the Ducks:

One game fans of Ohio State, Baylor and TCU will watch very closely is the contest between Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

A once-promising season is all but over for the Rebels after three straight SEC losses, and ruining the title hopes for the Bulldogs is all they have left. If that were to happen, the race for the No. 4 seed in the College Football Playoff would be wide open. 

Embrace the chaos.

 

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Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU vs. Texas A&M: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Thursday marks the 53rd meeting in the LSU-Texas A&M rivalry. This historic series dates back to 1899 and is led 29-20-3 by LSU. This rivalry went on a hiatus following the 1995 season but was rekindled in 2011 when the Aggies were defeated by the Tigers in the Cotton Bowl. LSU has won the two meetings since.

This year, these teams may be the SEC's most enigmatic.

Texas A&M began the season with a 52-point scoring frenzy against South Carolina, but after dropping three straight to ranked conference opponents, the team fell out of the picture. However, a win against Auburn in early November finally earned the Aggies bowl eligibility. They enter Week 14 at 7-4.

LSU has much of the same story. The Tigers got off to a great start, defeating Wisconsin to begin their season. However, dropping games to Mississippi State and Auburn took the team out of College Football Playoff contention. LSU did take down Ole Miss in October but has since lost two consecutive contests to Alabama and Arkansas. The Tigers are 7-4 entering the final game of the regular season.

The history of this series says it all. These teams have been going at it for years, producing a bevy of memorable performances. We're poised to get another this time around.

 

Clash of Styles

There may not be two teams with greater differences in the entire SEC.

LSU is extremely defensive-minded and has been for quite some time. However, this year, the Tigers defense has been more crucial than ever due to the lack of the team's offensive efficiency.

Sophomore quarterback Anthony Jennings needs much more time to develop into a viable option under center. He hasn't thrown for more than 200 yards or more than one touchdown since LSU's first two games of the season.

The team has fared slightly better on the ground, as freshman running back Leonard Fournette leads the charge with 745 yards and seven touchdowns on the season, but he's only eclipsed the 100-yard mark three times this season. Luckily for the Tigers, Texas A&M doesn't feature too strong of a defense and is ranked 104th in the nation against the run.

This tweet from Glenn Guilbeau of USA Today sums up both teams' weaknesses:

On the flip side, the Aggies are all about offense. Although, they've had to put up points with two different quarterbacks at the helm this season. Kenny Hill began the season with a flourish, throwing for 511 yards and three touchdowns against South Carolina. However, he began to struggle later in the season and was benched in favor of Kyle Allen.

Allen's had his moments since he was named starter, the biggest of which came in a victory over Auburn. The quarterback threw for 277 yards, four touchdowns and one pick in that game, as the Aggies ran a very balanced attack.

Speaking of balanced attacks, that may be the only way around a superb LSU defense that's only allowing 16.4 points per game. A trio of ball-carriers featuring Tra Carson, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams will attempt to find a way to reach paydirt against a Tigers defense that's only allowed 12 rushing touchdowns this season.

 

Home Sweet Home

While these teams are very different, one factor could be even more prominent than their diverse styles of play. That would be home-field advantage.

The Aggies are 4-2 at Kyle Field after plenty of mixed results this season. They blew the doors off lesser opponents such as Lamar and Rice, were taken to overtime by Arkansas and were defeated by Ole Miss and Missouri. That last defeat was the most concerning.

Missouri came into College Station without an extremely potent rushing offense but still racked up a total of 335 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 6.8 yards per carry along the way. That's not good news for the Aggies, as the Tigers will be coming into town with a ground-and-pound mindset.

LSU is 1-2 on the road this season, and the results haven't been pretty. The Tigers just edged Florida by a three-point margin, notching their lone road win of the year; however, the other two featured bad losses at the hands of Auburn and Arkansas.

Much of this can be pegged on LSU's inability to establish its running game away from home. In Death Valley, the Tigers have been all over opposing defenses, averaging 235.1 rushing yards per game and scoring a total of 18 rushing touchdowns. It's been completely different on the road, as the team is only averaging 123 yards per game on the ground, scoring just four times.

Making matters worse, 14 of the team's 15 passing touchdowns this year came at home. Needless to say, an already sluggish Tigers offense is completely lethargic when out of its comfort zone.

 

When: Thursday, November 27

Where: Kyle Field in College Station, Texas

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 49.5
  • Spread: LSU -2.5

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

Despite the massive amount of differences between these two teams, they actually match up quite well. We should absolutely expect a low-scoring game, as the Aggies will struggle moving the ball against LSU's defense and the Tigers' road struggles on the offensive side of the ball will continue.

In contests like this, the upper hand generally goes to the team with the better defense. In this case, that would be LSU. Expect the Tigers to cause plenty of issues for Allen and Co., creating turnovers, winning the battle for field position and giving their offense short fields to work with.

The Aggies have some playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, and creating a big play isn't out of the question here. Texas A&M may get on the scoreboard due to its ability to take the top off a defense, but it can't count on that to defeat the Tigers.

Prediction: LSU 23, Texas A&M 17

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pac-12 Football: Predicting the All-Conference 1st Team

With just one week remaining in the Pac-12 regular season, the all-conference teams are not only taking shape, but the majority of the spots are set in stone.

Arguably the second-best conference in college football, the Pac-12 will not only boast one of the strongest all-league teams, but many of the players will be up for and likely win postseason awards.

One such player, whom you might be able to guess, has a decent chance to bring the Heisman Trophy back out to the West Coast.

The offensive stars in this conference have become household names, but several young players on defense will threaten to reshape the league's identity in the years to come. All will be featured in the following slides, which lay out our projections of the Pac-12 All-Conference First Team.

 

All stats via CFBStats.com. The Pac-12 puts out an all-conference team that features two RBs and two WRs on offense, so we'll do the same with the projections. As for the defense, while there are many deserving candidates in the front seven, we're sticking with three DL and four LBs.

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Pac-12 Football: Predicting the All-Conference 1st Team

With just one week remaining in the Pac -12 regular season, the all-conference teams are not only taking shape, but the majority of the spots are set in stone...

Begin Slideshow

UCLA Football: What the Bruins Should Be Thankful for in 2014

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, the prudent thing would be to speak about the things Jim Mora and the UCLA football team are thankful for. 

Sitting at 9-2, there's a real chance for the Bruins to potentially sneak into the final four of the inaugural College Football Playoff. 

There are multiple aspects that have helped get UCLA to this current spot. A gargantuan effort by a reserve quarterback was a potential turning point early in the season. Another big play by an embattled cornerback helped to seal a victory. 

Three players have immensely helped the Bruins in becoming a Top 10 team. Lastly, the head coach deserves a great deal of thanks. 

This piece will speak about what the UCLA Bruins should be thankful for in 2014.  

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