NCAA Football

College Football Rankings 2015: Power Ranking All 128 Teams for Week 8

The college football landscape has become more defined after this past weekend of action, with several high-profile matchups giving us definitive winners (as well as those who came out on top thanks to miraculous plays). And as we move into the second half of the 2015 season, a clear pecking order is taking shape at the top and trickling downward.

You'll see the same in the latest version of the Bleacher Report power rankings.

Bleacher Report's power rankings are comprised of an average of five sources: B/R's weekly Top 25, the Associated Press Top 25, the Amway Coaches Poll, ratings guru Jeff Sagarin's computer rankings and the author's personal rankings for every FBS school. The top 50 teams are broken down individually, while the rest of the 128 FBS teams are summarized in a few easy-to-digest chunks.

Check out where everyone ranks after six weeks, and then give us your thoughts in the comments section. 

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Kansas State vs. Texas Complete Game Preview

Texas and Kansas State meet in Austin on Saturday, trying to get the second half of their seasons off to a good start.

Fresh off meetings with Oklahoma, the Longhorns and Wildcats are trending in opposite directions. The former pulled off one of the season's biggest surprises in the Red River Rivalry, knocking off the then-No. 10 Sooners 24-17.

The win sent Charlie Strong's team into its bye week on a high note and with a reason for optimism. The young Longhorns are finally clicking, and the schedule gets much easier over the year's final six games.

Things didn't go so well for Bill Snyder's team the following week. The Wildcats got the full brunt of the Sooners' frustrations, getting housed 55-0 at home.

At home, Texas should hold at slight edge as the more talented team, but we all know better than to count out Snyder.

 

Date: Saturday, October 24

Time: Noon ET

Location: Royal Memorial Stadium, Austin, Texas

TV: Fox Sports 1

Line: Texas -3.5, according to Odds Shark

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Duke vs. Virginia Tech: Complete Game Preview

The Virginia Tech Hokies head back to Lane Stadium on Saturday in dire need of a win. It's a situation the Hokies faced two weeks ago when N.C. State came to town after back-to-back losses.

Last week, Tech dropped to 3-4 (1-2) on the season with a disappointing, turnover-filled performance at Miami.

Brenden Motley started the game for the Hokies and turned the ball over three times before a returning Michael Brewer replaced him. Brewer made things interesting, but he also turned the ball over late and Tech's defense couldn't stop Miami when it mattered the most.

Next up for the Hokies: the Duke Blue Devils (5-1, 2-0).

Duke is coming to Blacksburg as a winner of three straight. The Blue Devils defeated Army by a score of 44-3 last weekend.

The Hokies lead the all-time series 14-8 and have dominated Duke since entering the ACC back in 2004. VT is 10-1 since becoming ACC rivals with the Blue Devils. Duke's lone win came two years ago in Blacksburg.

  • When: Saturday, October 24, 2015
  • Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Virginia
  • Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
  • TV: ESPNU
  • Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network. Here is a complete list of stations by area.
  • Spread: The Hokies are currently 2.5-point favorites, per Odds Shark.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2015: Examining Playoff Landscape Ahead of Week 8

As the college football season approaches Week 8, some teams are starting to separate themselves from the pack. While there are 14 undefeated teams still in both polls and a few one-loss teams with a chance, there are a few schools that control their own destiny when it comes to the College Football Playoff.

Here is a look at the Associated Press poll that was released Sunday:

While the poll plays a part in the four teams that qualify for the playoff, and matches up as of this week, it isn't the end all, be all. The College Football Playoff Selection Committee will ultimately decide the final four teams to play for the national championship. Here is a look at how the four-team playoff would shake out if the season ended today:

A lot is going to change between now and December, when the final selections are made, and one thing you can count on is the loser of the TCU Horned Frogs vs. Baylor Bears game will find itself on the outside looking in. 

Below is a projection of which teams will be playing for the coveted national title.

 

(1) Ohio State Buckeyes

There is no getting around the fact that Ohio State is one of the best teams in the country. It has won 20 games in a row dating back to early last year, including the first College Football Playoff National Championship last season.

However, it hasn't been all peaches and cream for the Scarlet and Gray this season. The Buckeyes defeated the unranked Northern Illinois Huskies and Indiana Hoosiers by just seven points each and faced an odd "quarterback controversy" between Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett earlier in the season, according to Chase Goodbread of NFL.com. Now it could be resurfacing again, according to Ryan Ginn of Scout.

Even with that, the Buckeyes have continued to roll and still have not left the field without a "W" this season. With a strength of schedule ranked 48th, according to TeamRankings.com, let's just say their chance of losing before the semifinals is slim. Their biggest possible hiccup is a game against the No. 15 Michigan Wolverines in late November.

 

(2) Baylor Bears

Even though the Bears have been the most dominant offensive team this season, averaging more than 63 points per game, Baylor fans have a right to be cautious about their team qualifying for the CFP. Last season, the Bears finished 11-1 before the playoff, with the only blemish being a road loss to West Virginia. However, they didn't qualify after the Big 12 Conference failed to announce a champion when Baylor tied TCU for the regular season conference crown.

In reality, Baylor fans, you really shouldn't worry. The closest resemblance of a loss was actually a 63-35 victory Oct. 3 against Texas Tech. Sure, they have ranked teams in three of their next five matchups, but none can handle the offense head coach Art Briles has assembled. 

The Bears' game at TCU will be tough, but even the high-flying Horned Frogs offense, ranked second in the country in points per game, scores nearly two touchdowns less per contest than Baylor. To make matters worse for undefeated TCU, its defense allowed 45 points to the Kansas State Wildcats and 52 to Texas Tech. Imagine what Baylor might do.

Baylor fans, book your tickets to the Cotton Bowl now. 

 

(3) LSU Tigers

Leonard Fournette. Ever heard of him?

The sophomore running back for the Tigers may just carry LSU to the CFP himself. Recently, he became just the 10th back to reach the 1,000-yard mark during his team's first five games, according to Jim Kleinpeter of the Times-Picayune

The Tigers defense has been OK and has yet to allow an opponent to score 30 points in a game, but Fournette is the reason the Tigers are still undefeated. His "worst" game of the season was a 158-yard, one-touchdown performance against South Carolina. He's also had games of 228, 233 and 244 yards. His 1,202 yards ranks first in the country, and he is tied for first with 14 rushing touchdowns. 

ESPN College Football on Twitter showed everyone that he takes his role very seriously.

Sure, the Tigers have to travel to Alabama during the regular season, but they have won five of the past seven meetings in Tuscaloosa. Even if the Tigers trip up against the Crimson Tide, they have a shot to win the SEC West, and one loss at Alabama shouldn't be enough to drop them out of the playoff picture once the dusts settles.

 

(4) Clemson Tigers

The term "Clemsoning" may take on a whole different meaning by the time this season ends. The slang term is used when a team loses a game it shouldn't or continues to fail on the big stage, because some perceive that that is what the Tigers do. However, just don't mention it to head coach Dabo Swinney.

Laken Litman of USA Today reported that Swinney was asked a question in a press conference that contained the term, even after Clemson knocked off a ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish team. His response told everyone exactly what he thought about the label:

I’m sick of it. I don’t even know why you bring up the dagum word? How about these other teams who lose to unranked teams all the time? We ain’t lost to anyone unranked since 2011, but I have to come to a press conference in 2015 and get asked that. And that’s all media bull crap.

Clemson has had some close calls, including the two-point win against Notre Dame and a three-point victory at Louisville. However, the fact that the Tigers came out victorious in those games shows what kind of resolve this team has shown.

Its biggest test comes Nov. 7, when undefeated Florida State comes to town. But make no mistake, this is not Jameis Winston's Seminoles team. In the past two seasons, the Seminoles have lost Winston, running back Devonta Freeman, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and others to the NFL. Even in a down ACC, the Seminoles can't crack the top four in pass or rush offense. 

The Tigers should benefit from a lack of overall talent in the ACC. Once they get past Florida State, it will be hard for the selection committee to turn down an undefeated conference champion in Clemson. 

 

Just missed the cut: TCU, Utah, Michigan State

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College Football's Special Teams Problems

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban didn’t waste any time in addressing the issue during the opening remarks of his press conference Monday.

Special teams are going to be a priority this week, as Alabama prepares to host Tennessee on Saturday (2:30 p.m. CT CBS).

“The big thing that I think we need to focus on is not having the kind of mistakes and breakdowns in the game that really create momentum in the game for the other team,” he said in the buildup to listing four major special teams mistakes from the 41-23 victory at Texas A&M—before mentioning anything involving the offense or defense.

“To me, the focus needs to be on how do you stay locked in and how do you stay focused regardless of the circumstance or the situation that you’re in and be able to execute. That’s really what we’re trying to get accomplished here this week.”

Although Alabama’s miscues didn’t end up being too costly against the Aggies, as it went from a 28-6 lead to 28-20 before regaining control of the game, it was easy to recognize the potential disaster with which the Crimson Tide have once again flirted.

Specifically, Christian Kirk’s 68-yard punt return for a touchdown, Shaun Dion Hamilton’s targeting penalty, the lost fumble by Cyrus Jones on a punt return and a blocked punt led to 14 points (and two missed field-goal attempts) and more than got the Kyle Field crowd of 105,733 back into the game.

But the issues weren’t just unique to Alabama, as special teams ended up being the most talked-about aspect of football after some of the weird mishaps that occurred this past weekend.

Michigan’s botched punt on the final play resulted in Michigan State scoring the game-winning touchdown as time expired.

Utah, which embarrassed Oregon earlier this season with the misdirection on a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown, had a returner start to run out of the end zone, stop and then attempt a lateral, only to be penalized for an illegal forward pass that resulted in a safety.

The Indianapolis Colts ran possibly the worst fake punt in NFL history Sunday night against New England en route to a 34-27 loss.

More often than not, though, special teams are sort of a mixed bag.

LSU, for example, scored the game-wining points against Florida on a fake field goal, when its special teams have struggled even more than Alabama’s this season.

Tre’Davious White’s fumbled punt return in the first quarter gave Florida the ball at the LSU 13-yard line. The Gators subsequently scored.

After Florida’s Antonio Callaway’s 72-yard return for a touchdown, LSU is giving up a whopping 32.8 yards per punt return, which ranks dead last in the nation. Previously, the last time the Tigers gave up both a kick and punt return for a touchdown during the same season was 1999.

Les Miles said during his Monday press conference that punter Jamie Keehn, who is averaging just 39.6 yards per punt, is working through some technical issues, and that he was seeing some improvement in the coverage units.

“The good news is the guys covering the kicks want to get it right,” he said. “The effort and energy is there.”

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the two teams with probably the most roster turnover each year, especially when one factors those who left early for the NFL, are having problems on the units that have the least continuity.

Regardless, a theme has emerged in Alabama’s last five losses: Costly mistakes and special teams errors have clearly played major roles.

In the Sugar Bowl loss at the end of the 2013 season, Oklahoma turned five turnovers by the Crimson Tide into 28 points in the 45-31 victory. Similarly, Alabama had five turnovers during the Ole Miss loss this season, which the Rebels turned into 24 points and a 43-47 win.

Two of those turnovers were on special teams. Overall, Alabama has had six fumbles this season, with five lost. All but two (a botched snap in the rain and a Derrick Henry fumble) were on special teams.

What’ll surprise Alabama fans, though, is that the Crimson Tide is doing statistically better of late on special teams:

Kickoff coverage: Alabama’s net average on kickoffs is 42.0 yards, which ranks fifth in the SEC. The 12 touchbacks trail only South Carolina’s 14.

Kickoff returns: Alabama’s averaging 19.1 yards per return, which is an improvement, as it has gone from 11th in the SEC to seventh.

Punting: J.K. Scott’s average is on the rise, up to 42.6 yards, as he’s seen nine punts travel 50-plus yards, including a 58-yard kick. However, his booming punts also make Alabama more susceptible to big returns. Overall, the Crimson Tide’s net yards per punt are 35.1, down from 42.4 in 2014.

Punt-return average: Alabama’s 9.9 average is up from 7.1, which ranked last in the league a couple of weeks ago. It’s now ninth.

Field goals: After missing his first four field-goal attempts, Adam Griffith has made eight of his last 10, the two misses (25 and 48 yards) coming at home against Arkansas. Also of note, long snapper Cole Mazza returned against Georgia after missing two games.

Alabama also has blocked two punts, resulting in a touchdown and a safety.

Hence the emphasis on attention to detail, which Alabama has been pushing ever since a players-only meeting following the Ole Miss loss.

“We haven't been worrying about the outside [talk], we're just worried about the inside stuff and getting better every week,” linebacker Reggie Ragland said.

"Everybody's just doing their job, and if everybody does their job, we're a tough team to beat."

  

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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Auburn Football: Can Tigers Keep Offensive Momentum Going vs. Arkansas?

At a time when Auburn needed it the most, Gus Malzahn's offense turned back the clock last Thursday night in Lexington, Kentucky.

The Tigers scored on their first two possessions as quarterback Sean White moved the ball with efficiency and explosiveness downfield. The rushing attack came through near the end zone with a pair of touchdowns from the ever-reliable Peyton Barber and another one from the young Kerryon Johnson.

And, perhaps most importantly in a tight road win, Auburn didn't turn the ball over while converting more than 60 percent of its third-down attempts for the first time all season.

For most of its 30-27 victory against Kentucky, Auburn's offense looked more like a true Malzahn attack than the error-prone and completely flat one that took the field in back-to-back SEC losses.

"We wanted to be more aggressive," Malzahn said, per James Crepea of AL.com. "We're starting to settle in. We're starting to get some rhythm in practice."

Now comes the hard part for the Tigers: keeping that rhythm going as they continue their season-salvaging efforts against Arkansas.

Was the more-explosive performance by the Auburn offense a fluke, or was it a true signal of better things to come?

Wide receiver Ricardo Louis says he believes it's the latter.

"[The win] is going to give us a lot of confidence moving forward," Louis said, per Wesley Sinor of AL.com. "I can feel the team really coming to play. We're finding our rhythm on offense and defense...and that's what it takes to win."

Louis definitely found his rhythm in the offense Thursday night against Kentucky. The senior set a new season-high for receiving yards before the first quarter even ended, grabbing five catches for 114 yards.

He later had a 34-yard reception from White, the redshirt freshman who was widely rumored to be replaced in the starting lineup by Jeremy Johnson, to set up a crucial fourth-quarter touchdown.

In Auburn's first game without the talented but troubled Duke Williams, Louis became the go-to target for the offense by making some leaping catches that were reminiscent of what Williams did last season.

"He made some big-time plays with the ball in the air," Malzahn said, per Tom Green of the Opelika-Auburn News. "He high-pointed the ball, and he helped us win tonight."

Louis proved that he could be the new No. 1 for an Auburn wide receiving corps that will get plenty of action from the hard-throwing White for the rest of the season. 

That chemistry between White and Louis will be vital this weekend. While Arkansas is ranked ahead of Kentucky in total yards allowed per game, most of that is due to how much the Razorbacks hold onto the ball on offense.

Arkansas has allowed 5.92 yards per play this season, which ranks 100th in the FBS. The much-maligned Auburn defense, on the other hand, is slightly ahead at 83rd.

Auburn needs more of the chunk plays downfield that it generated against Kentucky because Arkansas will shrink the window of opportunities for the Tigers to score with its clock-melting offense.

And those plays will most likely need to come in the passing game where Arkansas has struggled in its losses this season.

While there will be more pressure on the young White on Saturday in Fayetteville, Auburn can also build off some of the successes it had on the ground against Kentucky.

Kentucky held Auburn to less than four yards per carry for the first time all season, but it added a successful wrinkle to the grind-it-out style of Barber.

Kerryon Johnson, a true freshman running back, took five snaps out of the shotgun in the Wildcat formation and scored his first career touchdown out of the package. 

"It was huge," Johnson said, per Green. "It was kind of surreal just thinking months ago I was in high school and now I’m scoring my first college touchdown. I enjoyed it a lot."

The unbalanced set kept Kentucky's defense off-balance, especially when backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson lined up at wide receiver and ran fake handoffs.

Malzahn's creativity in the formation could turn into several big plays against Arkansas. Auburn used sophomore running back Roc Thomas on a sweep there, and the fakes to Jeremy Johnson seem like they're setting up a potential pass play for the former starter.

The long-term successes of both Auburn's passing and running games are linked to its offensive line, which has been steadily progressing in the last two weeks.

Auburn showed great improvement in pass protection against Kentucky, allowing only one sack on a day when White attempted 27 passes.

The front five must continue to be tough in the running game during the second half of the season. In addition to the large and physical front of Arkansas, Auburn has contests against Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Alabama—three teams with elite defensive linemen.

If the linemen stay strong in front of a developing White and a multi-headed rushing attack, the explosiveness Auburn found in Kentucky will make its way to Arkansas.

Get off to a good start there, and the Tigers will make Bret Bielema and the methodical Hogs play catch-up in their own backyard. That's the ideal plan for a second straight SEC road win and a 5-2 record.

 

Unless otherwise noted, other statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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High Schooler Throws the Weirdest TD Pass You'll Ever See

Jayden Webb must really trust his Yorktown (Texas) High School offensive linemen because in order to make this pass, you have to be all in. Watch as Webb makes the wackiest touchdown pass you'll see this year. Let us know what you think.

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College Football Playoff Standings 2015: Week 8 Rankings, Bowl Game Projections

Week 7 of the season was billed as Separation Saturday by some, and that didn’t turn out to be hyperbole when Sunday morning rolled around across the country.

The script in many conference races was flipped, several surprising upsets happened, and a number of closer-than-expected games turned out to be laughers. And let us not forget that one team only needed 10 seconds left in order to capture a victory.

Keep all that in mind as we enter a Week 8 slate that doesn’t have all that many enticing matchups but still presents the opportunity for some teams to get back in the College Football Playoff race or fall out for good.

Buckle up, folks: The season is on the downslope and it’s rolling along quite quickly.

Now on to the bowl projections. A hearty disclaimer that these are projecting out the rest of the season and as such are not completely reflective of the state of college football at the moment.

  • Here are the full Top 25 rankings. The College Football Playoff selection committee will release its first rankings in just over two weeks, on Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.
  • After that "Separation Saturday," we saw a pretty big shake-up among the College Football Playoff and New Year’s Six teams. The biggest change involves a conference being shut out of the final four that would have one part of the country up in arms and likely delight the rest. Yes, the SEC is out of the playoff. It is entirely possible the league’s champion has two losses by the end of the year, and while that may not completely eliminate the SEC from the playoff, it does present an uphill battle. Alabama looks again to be the top dog but it remains in the realm of possibilities that the Tide would have just a single Top 10 win (at Texas A&M) and only one other Top 20 victory (LSU) by the end of the year depending on how things shake out. A loss to Ole Miss isn’t looking too hot either. While the team has flashed at times, there are still quite a few holes on both sides of the ball (and special teams) to not be quite sold on Alabama.
  • Baylor continues to look unstoppable and will remain in the top spot until its two-game season (against Oklahoma and at TCU) concludes. Ohio State is starting to hit its stride and Clemson also remains on track to go undefeated. That’s three spots pretty much locked in unless something crazy happens between now and late November.
  • The fourth spot is where things get interesting. Based on its strong play in recent weeks, a case can be made that Stanford is playing as well as anybody in the country. The Cardinal have just two remaining road games left and have opportunities to capture quality victories down the stretch against Cal, Notre Dame (which may turn into a play-in game) and possibly undefeated Utah. Alabama may still win the SEC, but if Stanford closes things out like they could, it will be hard to keep them out of the final four.
  • Yes, Memphis captured the best win any Group of Five team will likely have when it topped Ole Miss on Saturday afternoon, but conference rival Houston remains the pick to grab the league title and a spot in the Fiesta Bowl. The biggest reason is the schedule: the Tigers will face Navy’s triple-option, then go on the road to Houston and Temple in a three-week stretch in November. The Cougars, on the other hand, miss Temple completely (outside of the AAC title game) and have two home games before hosting Memphis. Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. has proven to be a fringe Heisman candidate and has to like that setup for Houston.
  • In the year of the running back, Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook seem to have created some separation from the rest of the pack. How about seeing them face off in the Peach Bowl? Yes, please.
  • Utah could win the Pac-12 to get in the playoff or it could lose in the conference title game to Stanford. The latter scenario may not be what Utes fans want to hear but they have to like the potential backup option of the Rose Bowl. Michigan State was at the Rose Bowl two seasons ago, so we’re guessing the Rose Bowl committee would opt for Big Ten runner-up Iowa (last trip to Pasadena: 1991) over a one-loss Sparty.
  • Thanks to some upsets, injuries and good play, we’re finally on track to have enough bowl-eligible teams this season. The line is razor thin however, so some teams like Washington State, Indiana, Auburn and UL-Monroe will have to still get the job done late in the year.
  • Rematches in bowl games are not typically something teams, fans or the bowls themselves want, but we might have a few exceptions in 2015. Case in point is the Poinsettia Bowl’s open spot offering Arizona a chance at payback against Boise State and the Hawaii Bowl allowing BYU and Memphis to make up for last year’s fight at the end of the Miami Beach Bowl.
  • The Juiciest Group of Five postseason game remains the GoDaddy Bowl between MAC champion Toledo and Sun Belt titleholder Georgia Southern. The question is, will either head coach be around by game time, or will they have been hired away by a bigger program by then?
  • If you’re looking for a contrast in styles, no need to go anywhere but the Armed Forces Bowl between Air Force’s option attack and Washington State’s Air Raid.

 

Bryan Fischer is a national college football columnist at Bleacher Report, you can follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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Notre Dame Targets Ex-USC, Alabama Commits to Add to Strong Recruiting Class

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish claimed a victory over longtime nemesis USC on Saturday afternoon in front of a raucous home crowd that included several premier college football recruits.

For visiting linebacker Daelin Hayes, the matchup created a unique dynamic. 

The 4-star Michigan product spent Saturday in South Bend less than a week after announcing his decommitment from USC. He was one of two top-tier linebackers—along with California standout Mique Juarez—to end lengthy Trojans pledges in the wake of highly publicized issues that led to head coach Steve Sarkisian's dismissal. 

Hayes, a 6'4", 235-pound senior at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, announced official visit plans last Wednesday. Notre Dame led off a schedule that includes trips to Oklahoma, Ohio State, Michigan State and LSU.

"If I had to give a No. 1 school right now, Notre Dame would probably be it," he told David Goricki of the Detroit News before heading to campus. 

The Irish seemingly strengthened that sentiment during his stay in South Bend.

“Notre Dame definitely set the bar,” Hayes told Tom Loy of 247Sports. “They shattered any expectations I had for the visit. It was just a great experience. And the game itself, that was amazing. It was unreal."

The Irish prevailed 41-31, improving to 6-1 this season. Lauded Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, a close friend of Hayes, provided further incentive for a future in South Bend during a Sunday morning discussion.

"He said if I do end up coming to Notre Dame, he’s going to give me No. 9. He’s passing it down," Hayes told Loy. "He said Manti Te'o passed the right of being the next big linebacker at Notre Dame to him and he wants to pass that down to me.”

There could be competition to become the Irish's next great linebacker in this recruiting cycle. 

Texas standout Jeff McCulloch was also on campus during the weekend. Rated sixth nationally among outside linebackers, the 6'2 1/2", 230-pound playmaker is considering several universities and caught an up-close look at Notre Dame. 

Ohio offensive tackle Tommy Kraemer, the top-ranked member of a 2016 Irish class rated 15th nationally in composite rankings, also attended the USC game. He aimed to make strides with the prized pair of linebackers.

"I think we have a shot with both of them. I know they have a couple more official visits but hopefully we get them," Kraemer told Andrew Ivins of Rivals.com.

Aside from Hayes, Irish head coach Brian Kelly has his eyes on another top-tier Michigan prospect who was pledged elsewhere until recently.

Defensive end Khalid Kareem, a 6'4", 260-pound prospect from Harrison High School, used an official visit at Notre Dame days after decommitting from Alabama. Coming off an 18-sack junior campaign, the pass-rusher is an important piece of Irish recruiting efforts less than four months shy of national signing day.

Kareem, who initially joined the Crimson Tide class in June, is considered the ninth-best strong-side defensive end in composite rankings. Notre Dame was a legitimate contender prior to that decision and now seems to be right back in the thick of things.

“It gave me a better feel for what Notre Dame is as a whole, the part that you don’t see on Saturdays. They are a good fit right now," he told Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports. “They were saying they need guys like me to be leaders in the classroom and help them on the field."

The Irish currently lead in Kareem's 247Sports Crystal Ball, carrying 52 percent of experts' predictions. Perhaps most telling, the past 11 projections have gone toward Notre Dame.

With a game-day visitors' list featuring talents like Kareem, Hayes, McCulloch, coveted California wide receiver Javon McKinley and gifted Pennsylvania cornerback Damar Hamlin, it's clear the Irish are trending well with many of this cycle's marquee names.

Once decisions are finalized Feb. 3, Notre Dame could claim signatures from scintillating athletes once expected to shine on SEC and Pac-12 platforms. 

 

Tyler Donohue is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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