NCAA Football News

Wisconsin Badgers: A Chance for Paul Bunyan's Axe and the West Division Title

There have been three Big Ten Championship Games in the last three years. The Wisconsin Badgers have played in (and won) two of them.

In the 2011 game, the Badgers beat Michigan State 42-39 in a thrilling contest that went back and forth in heart-stopping action. Quarterback Russell Wilson was the MVP of the game, as he threw three touchdown passes

In the 2012 contest, the Badgers destroyed Nebraska 70-31 as Wisconsin ran for a whopping 539 yards. Running back Montee Ball was the MVP, as he ran for 202 yards and had three touchdowns.

Current Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon had 216 yards rushing and one touchdown in that game on just nine carries.

The Badgers have a chance to get to their third championship game in four years if they can defeat the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.

A win for the Badgers would let them keep Paul Bunyan's Axe for the 11th consecutive year—plus it would give Wisconsin the West Division title and a berth in the title game against Ohio State on December 6.

The last time the Badgers had this much on the line versus the Gophers was in 1962, when the two teams also met at Camp Randall. The winner would (of course) win Paul Bunyan's Axe and (more importantly) the Big Ten title and go to the Rose Bowl.

Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinelwrote a great piece about that game earlier this week.

Winning the Axe was not a big deal back in those days, as senior end Pat Richter said when he reflected on the game played 52 years ago.

"None of those things ever came to our attention," Richter said.

The former athletic director of the Badgers said the game was about one thing.

"It came down to us winning the game and going to the Rose Bowl," Richter said.

Wisconsin was the No. 3 team in the country that day as it met No. 5 Minnesota. The Badgers won 14-9 in a very hard-fought battle.

The win gave the Badgers a trip to Pasadena to play USC. The 1963 Rose Bowl is considered one of the very best bowl games of all time, as the Badgers lost 42-37 to the Trojans.

The Badgers scored 23 unanswered points in the the final quarter of the game. When the game ended, the Badgers had the ball and were trying to score yet again.

Winning Paul Bunyan's Axe has become more visible in the past couple of decades when the Badgers and Gophers play—certainly since Barry Alvarez arrived in Madison in 1990.

The series for the Axe started in 1948. The Badgers currently have a 39-24-3 advantage in the series.

In addition, no two teams in the FBS have ever played more. The series between the two teams started in 1890 and—with the exception of 1906—they have played every year since then. In the overall series, the Gophers hold a 59-56-8 edge over the Badgers.

Head coach Gary Andersen of the Badgers knows how important winning the Axe is, as he talked about that last year in a press conference via uwbadgers.com:

The first day I was here, Coach [Barry] Alvarez walked me through and I saw the Axe sitting in the trophy case. It doesn't take too long to realize how important it is.

As we all know, in rivalries like this, it's a one-game championship. It's three hours and whatever minutes it takes to get it done.

The game on Saturday is definitely more about winning the Axe. It's about getting a chance to win the Big Ten title.

The winner of the game between the 9-2 Badgers and the 8-3 Gophers will get that opportunity against Ohio State.

The Badgers have the 18th-ranked offense in the FBS and have the second-best defense in the country.

The offense is led by Gordon, who is having a possible Heisman Trophy-winning season. Gordon has rushed for 2,109 yards (which is top in the country) and 25 touchdowns. No. 25 also has 15 receptions for 147 yards and two more scores.

The Badgers are using a two-quarterback system offensively (although Joel Stave has been getting most of the playing time recently). Stave has thrown for 827 yards with six touchdown passes versus four picks.

Tanner McEvoy is used at quarterback most often in running situations, as he has run for 560 yards and six touchdowns.

Overall, Wisconsin is ranked second in the FBS in running the football.

Defensively, the Badgers are led by a very active group of linebackers. The list includes Vince Biegel, Joe Schobert, Derek Landisch and Marcus Trotter. Landisch leads the team with eight sacks, while Biegel has six.

Kicker Rafael Gaglianone is ranked 15th in the country in field goal percentage, as he has made 15 out of 18 kicks.

Minnesota is only ranked 95th in the FBS in offense and and 33rd in defense. That gives testament to the excellent job done by head coach Jerry Kill and his staff.

The offense is led by running back David Cobb, who has rushed for 1,430 yards and 12 touchdowns. Cobb is questionable for the Wisconsin game due to a hamstring injury.

Quarterback Mitch Leidner is also a fine runner, as he has 408 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. He has also thrown for 1,445 yards with 10 touchdown passes versus eight interceptions.

Defensively, the Gophers are second in the Big Ten with 27 forced turnovers. They also have a turnover margin of plus-11.

Defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun leads the team with four interceptions. He also leads in passes defended (11) and is tied for the team lead in forced fumbles (two).

The Gophers are also very good—for the most part—on special teams. Jalen Myrick leads the Big Ten in kickoff returns with a 27.3-yard average. Punter Peter Mortell (originally from Green Bay) leads the Big Ten in punting with a 44.8-yard average. 

Minnesota also has very good coverage units on kickoffs and punts.

The weak point for the Gophers on special teams is their kicking game. Ryan Santoso has made only 10 of 16 field-goal attempts. He has missed four of his last six attempts.

Bottom line: The game on Saturday will be very big for a couple of reasons.

Yes, the winner will get Paul Bunyan's Axe, but the game means a lot more than that.

The winner gets a chance to win the Big Ten championship.

Wisconsin has won nine Big Ten titles since 1952, including three straight from 2010-2012. A win on Saturday will give Andersen a chance to claim his first (in just his second year on the job as head coach).

Minnesota has only won two Big Ten titles since 1960, with the last one happening way back in 1967. The 1960 Minnesota team also won the National Championship.

Winning the Axe will be nice, but having the opportunity to win the Big Ten championship is even better.

I'm sure Paul Bunyan would even agree.

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Charlie Strong Must Rethink Texas QB Situation After Tyrone Swoopes' Game vs TCU

AUSTIN, Texas—The Texas Longhorns had the opportunity to finish November undefeated, but fell 38 points short to No. 5 TCU on Thanksgiving. The 48-10 loss looks bad on paper, but the bigger issue for Texas was the regression of quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. 

Some may label it as unfair, but the quarterback position will almost always receive too much praise when a team wins and too much criticism in losses.

Swoopes will receive a lot of the criticism for the Longhorns' loss to TCU, but the blame is not unwarranted.

The sophomore quarterback was responsible for five turnovers, which led to half of the Horned Frogs' points and caused for speculation of Swoopes' future.

All season, head coach Charlie Strong and quarterback coach Shawn Watson have been slow to openly discuss the Longhorns' quarterback woes.

But the coaches had a different message Thursday night.

"I just told him he has to play. You can't turn the football over. You can't get down on yourself. It's all about his demeanor," Strong said following the loss. "I said the only way we're going to drive the football, we're going to score, is you have to make it happen, and you have to play well. And didn't—didn't make it happen tonight, just too many turnovers."

Strong went on to say he considered benching Swoopes but couldn't because the Longhorns don't have any other viable options under center.

And that's where the problem begins.

Texas has two scholarship quarterbacks on campus: Swoopes and true freshman Jerrod Heard. Some people may question why the coaches did not give Heard a chance to take the field, but Watson has constantly said Heard is still learning and needs a redshirt season to develop.

Swoopes is the only option Texas has, but that needs to change for the future.

"We've had a hand dealt us that we're playing with," Watson said. "That's what we were hired to come here and fix. When we got here, we haven't been able to impact the position in recruiting yet. We'll be able to do that now. So the big first step is to get competition in here."

The coaches were not dealt the most ideal hand when they took over at Texas. And to be fair, Swoopes is in fact a backup quarterback who has admitted he never expected to be the starting quarterback for Texas.

But it doesn't dismiss what happened on Thanksgiving.

Yes, Swoopes is young and yes, he's learning on the job, but turning over the ball five times is unacceptable for any player. And the sophomore understands his performance will not win him the job next season.

"It's unacceptable for a team to have five turnovers, especially coming from one person. It's not good and it doesn't put your team in the position to win," Swoopes said. "It was a tough day. I wasn't able to get out of the funk we got in and it didn't end well."

Swoopes has been up and down during his first season as the Longhorns' leader. There were games where he looked like he had the "it" factor, then other times where he was the polar opposite.

Thursday's performance was his worst of the season and was evidence how turnovers can destroy a team's chances of winning games.

In his six losses this year, Swoopes threw six touchdowns and eight interceptions. In his five wins as the starting quarterback, he threw seven touchdowns and two interceptions. 

He needs to show progress in leaps and bounds if he wants to be the quarterback of the future for Texas.

"When you do go out to recruit, guys have to understand that what is expected of this program, the expectations here, the standards here, the pride, tradition, it's all a part of it," Strong said. "That's what it's always going to be about. Some guys may not like it. They may not want to be here. That's fine. But we gotta get this program back to where it needs to and it's going to happen. We'll get it back there."

Thursday's game could have been the icing on the cake for the Horned Frogs to secure a coveted spot in the College Football Playoff and could very well be the final time Swoopes starts a game at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. 

There is a lot of unknown revolving around the future of the Texas quarterback, but one thing is certain, Swoopes' job will be up for grabs in 2015. 

 

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

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Georgia Tech Fans Hack UGA Website, Update Team Schedule with 'Get Ass Kicked'

Please note that a change has been made to your regularly scheduled game, Georgia fans.

Where you once had a “Yellow Jacket shellacking” for Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech, you will now be subjected to a posterior-trashing. 

This was the spirit of a recent notification on the Bulldogs’ official website, which Georgia Tech fans appeared to have hacked this week.

CollegeSpun.com’s Matt Lombardi captured a screenshot of changes that were made to the Georgia football schedule.

The site read: “Get Ass Kicked By GT.” It has since been revised to its original state. 

Chalk up another small coup for tech-savvy Georgia Tech fans, who continue to wage cyber guerrilla warfare against their instate rivals. Earlier in the week, presumed Yellow Jackets supporters began snapping up URLs and redirecting traffic to other web sites. 

Lombardi spotted a number of tweets on the matter. Fans appear to have bought the rights to “WalmartAcademy.com” and “UGAGrads.com” and funneled visitors to Georgia’s official website and McDonald’s careers section. 

Anything could happen Saturday, with the 16th-ranked Yellow Jackets and ninth-ranked Bulldogs both entering the game at 9-2. 

If Mark Richt’s record is any indication, however, Georgia will ride to victory despite losing Todd Gurley to a torn ACL for the season. The Bulldogs are 12-1 against Georgia Tech under Richt, and they clearly have plenty of motivational fodder for the matchup.

 

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

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College Football: Top 5 Games to Watch in Week 14

It’s rivalry weekend, and there are national-title as well as division-title implications on the line.

Friday will feature a dangerous Arkansas team as of late against a Missouri team that is seeking a second consecutive SEC East Division title. While there is drama likely to ensue in Columbia, things will be heated up down in Tucson with in-state ranked rivals Arizona State and Arizona hoping to spoil each other's seasons and advance to the Pac-12 title game with help from Stanford.

Saturday will consist of the best rivalry games in college football, but there are three games that stand out above the rest. Georgia Tech will travel to Georgia and face off in what will be a matchup consisting of run-heavy offenses. Minnesota and Wisconsin will battle it out for Paul Bunyan’s Axe in what will be the most intense game between these two teams in a while, with the winner clinching the Big Ten West Division.

The most highly anticipated matchup of the day will be when Auburn makes the trip to Alabama to play in one of the greatest rivalries ever, the Iron Bowl. The Crimson Tide are hoping to bounce back from last year’s loss to the Tigers and stay in contention for their fourth national championship in six years.

In what should be an exciting weekend of college football, here are the top five games to watch.

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J.T. Barrett Can Establish Winning Legacy in Ohio State-Michigan Rivalry

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was 10 years ago that Troy Smith started in his first Ohio State-Michigan game, totaling 386 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-21 Buckeyes victory. A decade later, the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner will see his name and number enshrined inside of Ohio Stadium, during a halftime ceremony at this year's edition of The Game.

It's a fitting tribute for Smith, who built so much of his storied Ohio State legacy in three games against "That Team Up North." But as Smith reaps the rewards of his success in one of college football's most historic rivalries, the Buckeyes' current quarterback will be just midway through his first showdown with the Wolverines, a game which will go a long way toward establishing the legacy that he'll one day leave in Columbus.

That's not to say that J.T. Barrett hasn't already made a name for himself in his redshirt freshman season, as he's already managed to rewrite the Ohio State record book just 11 games into his college career. As of last weekend's win over Indiana, Barrett already owns the school's single-season touchdown passes (33) and total offense (3,509) records, and his next touchdown will break Drew Brees' Big Ten mark of touchdowns accounted for in a season (42).

More than that, Barrett has led the Buckeyes to a 10-1 record and has Ohio State on the cusp of a potential spot in the first-ever College Football Playoff. But in Columbus, one game matters a little more than the others, as Smith learned a decade ago.

"Being and growing up in Ohio definitely buys towards having an understanding of which game is the best game of the year," Smith said. "It's a different feel."

While Smith has memories of The Game dating back to his childhood in Cleveland, Barrett didn't spend his formative years in the Buckeye State. Rather, the Wichita Falls, Texas, product grew up watching the Red River Rivalry, rooting on his formerly beloved Longhorns against Oklahoma.

But upon arriving in Columbus, it didn't take long for Barrett to understand what the Ohio State-Michigan game was all about. Redshirting a season ago, Barrett witnessed one of the most memorable confrontations in the history of The Game, a near bench-clearing brawl that left three players ejected.

"It was kind of an on-the-fly type deal," Barrett said of his education in the OSU-Michigan rivalry. "There was a lot to learn. It's a deep hate for those guys, not just the players but more from the fans. It was a lot.

"I knew it was big, but coming from Texas, it was Texas-Oklahoma. I went to that game, and it doesn't have anything on The Team Up North and Ohio State."

Of course Barrett can say the right things now, but watching The Game on the sideline is one deal and actually participating in it is a completely other challenge. How Barrett responds when he takes his inevitable first hit will go a long way toward determining the Buckeyes' success on Saturday, as Ohio State strives for its 10th consecutive win.

Urban Meyer knows this, which is why he's admitted to altering his approach with Barrett for the week. As opposed to players who have already participated in The Game, the third-year Buckeyes head coach has admitted to taking a "cautious" approach with Barrett, in hopes of not putting too much on his plate.

"[Offensive coordinator] Tom Herman and I have talked about that," Meyer said. "How you coach J.T. Barrett is going to be much different than a veteran...the good thing is he's a very focused guy that prepares well."

True to his nature, Barrett has insisted that he'll stay even-keeled on Saturday. Perhaps more importantly, last year's 42-41 Ohio State victory in Ann Arbor taught him that he can't afford to take the Wolverines lightly, even as the Buckeyes enter Saturday's showdown as a three-score favorite, per Odds Shark.

"It's always like that when you play a rivalry game, a high-emotion game like that. That's a part of the rivalry," Barrett said. "You really don't know what you're going to expect, but you try to control your emotions and execute the game plan. At the end of the day, that's the team that wins."

For nine of the last 10 years, that team's been the Buckeyes, Smith's 3-0 record paving the way for Terrelle Pryor's 3-0 mark and Braxton Miller's 2-1 record in the Michigan game. Saturday will mark Barrett's first stab at establishing a legacy of his own in The Game, but per the wisdom of Smith, he appears to already be on the right track.

"The first advice is stick to the game plan," Smith said. "Don't try to be somebody that he's not. Obviously, we've gotten a chance to see the transformation and the growth behind J.T. Barrett this whole season. I'm pretty much blown away."

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Notre Dame Football: Why Everett Golson Is Still the Best Bet at QB

It’s a seemingly annual Notre Dame football tradition celebrated in November, or even earlier, by many Irish fans.

No, not Thanksgiving, or the yearly matchup with USC.

Rather, it seems there is always some clamoring for Notre Dame’s backup quarterback to replace its starting quarterback. Even just last year, the buzz surrounding backup Andrew Hendrix bubbled, until he actually did replace Tommy Rees against USC and struggled to move the football.

This year, it’s been a more constant discussion, with many Irish football followers impressed—rightly so—by redshirt freshman Malik Zaire’s performance in the spring game in April. Those talks quieted to a mere murmur after Everett Golson started the season on a strong, Heisman-like note, only to be resuscitated with Golson’s turnover troubles.

Let’s get this out of the way right now: It’s certainly reasonable to debate whether Zaire should be given a chance at this point in the season, given Golson’s propensity for fumbles and interceptions. Still, Golson is Notre Dame’s best bet at quarterback right now.

Let’s focus on what Golson has done well.

In the first three games of the season, Golson completed 65 percent of his passes for 260 yards per game, seven touchdowns and zero turnovers.

Against Syracuse, Golson completed 25 consecutive passes, one short of tying the FBS record for consecutive completions.

Golson drove Notre Dame down the field against then-No. 14 Stanford and drilled a 23-yard dart to tight end Ben Koyack on 4th-and-11 for a go-ahead touchdown with 1:01 remaining in the fourth quarter.

He went toe-to-toe with Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston in a hostile environment in Tallahassee, Florida, and nearly led the Irish to a last-second victory. He’s responsible for 20.5 points per game this season, the fifth-most in the country.

Of course, that’s only half the story. While the completion streak against Syracuse continued a strong start to the 2014 campaign, it also marked a defined starting point for Golson’s oftentimes mind-blowing turnovers. He fumbled three times and lost two against the Orange to go along with a pair of interceptions. In total over the last eight games, Golson has committed 20 turnovers, more than 75 FBS teams have coughed up this season, per CFBStats.com.

But here’s the thing. Golson’s positives—the touchdowns, the fourth-quarter drives and the beautiful deep balls—are known entities. When he’s on, he’s an impressive quarterback.

“There's got to be more growth there, absolutely,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Sunday when asked how good Golson could be. “There is a higher ceiling for him. He's not been tapped out in the sense that it's as good as he can play. I think there's a lot of room for development and we hope that this experience that he got this year and going into USC and a bowl game that we continue to see that development.

“So in answering your question, yeah. I believe that he could be one of the top quarterbacks in the country, no question.”

Zaire, as solid as he was during the spring game, is an unknown entity. Would he supply as many big plays as Golson has? Would he take better care of the football? Maybe. And maybe not.

But while Golson’s turnover plague has been almost unimaginably ugly and pervasive, it seems it’s easier to correct those miscues than find another quarterback who brings the same positive characteristics to the discussion. Correct the turnovers, and doesn’t Notre Dame have one of the top quarterbacks in the country?

“We're 10 points from [having] three more wins, right?” Kelly said Sunday.

He is right, in a sense. A few fewer turnovers or different calls by the referees, and Notre Dame’s season could have a dramatically different feel. Sure, the same can be said for the breaks that have gone Notre Dame’s way, but the point persists.

Golson has supplied plenty of good and, more recently, plenty of bad. The good seems difficult to duplicate, or at least an unknown in the form of Zaire. The bad, while atrocious at times, seems it could be cleaned up.

With two games remaining this season, isn’t it worth determining if Golson can make progress with his ball security?

If he can, Notre Dame could have a top-of-the-line quarterback to lead a high-upside squad in 2015.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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Tennessee Football: Burning Questions for the Vols Heading into Their Final Game

With only one game remaining on the schedule against a struggling Vanderbilt team, the 5-6 Tennessee Volunteers are looking to break even with a 6-6 record in 2014.

Although Tennessee fans likely would have been delighted at the outset of the season with the prospect of going to a bowl game for the first time since 2010, a 6-6 record now seems somewhat underwhelming given how close the Vols were to winning nine games and even securing an SEC East championship.

Then again, preseason predictions for the Vols by most college football analysts had them winning anywhere from four to seven regular-season games, with the majority predicting that Tennessee would stay at home in December for the fourth straight year.

The 2014 season was full of ups and downs: Tennessee punched above its weight by nearly upsetting a fully healthy and Todd Gurley-led Georgia Bulldogs team in Athens, then allowed a struggling Florida Gators team to steal a win at Neyland Stadium.

A dramatic come-from-behind win in Columbia against the South Carolina Gamecocks was the highlight of the Vols' regular-season slate, and a 50-16 dismantling of an improved Kentucky Wildcats team gave fans a glimpse of the Tennessee teams of old.

As 17-point favorites against Vanderbilt, Tennessee should take care of business and become bowl-eligible. That alone makes the season a success. 

But as the Vols head into their final game, there are many uncertainties surrounding this team both to finish out the season and look ahead to 2015. Can the Vols put together a complete season next year and challenge for the SEC East, or are there too many weaknesses that can only be solved with time and recruiting?

The answers to the following four questions could be the difference between another middling 6-6 or 7-5 season or a triumphant return to national relevancy in 2015. 

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Auburn vs. Alabama: Best Games in Iron Bowl History

AUBURN, Ala. — Whenever Auburn and Alabama meet in the Iron Bowl, history is made.

On Saturday night, the 2014 Iron Bowl will have SEC and national championship implications as the Tigers will hope to be the spoilers of the Crimson Tide's march toward Atlanta and what they hope will be a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

The stage is set for what could be another epic showdown in a long line of great games that have offered more than just the normal bragging rights.

From "Bo Over the Top" to "The Kick," college football's biggest in-state rivalry has featured incredible stakes and incredible finishes over its long history, and 2014's game could be the next one to go down in history.

In anticipation of this weekend's clash, here is my list of the Top 10 Iron Bowls of all time—five wins for each side—and a few that just missed the cut. Debate my rankings and submit your own list in the comments section below, Tide and Tiger fans.

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Auburn vs. Alabama: Stat Predictions for Top Performers in 2014 Iron Bowl

Chris Davis would like a word with those who do not believe an individual on his own can turn the Iron Bowl and the landscape of college football on its head.

Last year's kick return by Davis is one of the most memorable moments in an epic rivalry's history and beyond. It is also the reason Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide enters Tuscaloosa Saturday fuming angry for another shot at the Auburn Tigers.

"I get asked about it constantly," Alabama safety Landon Collins said, per Cliff Kirkpatrick of theMontgomery Advertiser. "Last year we saw it too many times. I mean it's just a constant thing that goes around and we can't think about it now. It's never going to leave until we do something about it."

Auburn is 8-3, losers of two of its last three and severe underdogs. Alabama is 10-1 and in control of its College Football Playoff fate. Implications for an entire sport are rarely bigger than this.

As far as individuals who can alter the outcome on their own go, this game has plenty.

 

Top-Performer Predictions

Blake Sims

Alabama comes equipped with a serious Heisman contender in wideout Amari Cooper.

The status is rightfully earned, too, as Cooper is arguably the top receiver in the nation and has 1,349 yards and 11 scores this year on 90 grabs.

But in this particular contest it is the man who gets him the ball who will have a bigger impact on the game, especially with Cooper nursing a knee injury that may see him act as more of a decoy than anything.

That man is Blake Sims, who will start in his first Iron Bowl Saturday. The senior has 2,676 yards and 20 touchdowns this year with another 279 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

His efforts are the primary reason the Crimson Tide uncharacteristically rank well in most offensive categories and average better than 30 points per game.

As Tobin Petitpas of ESPN Stats & Information broke down, Sims' abilities with his feet have absolutely devastated opponents this season:

On passes thrown from outside the pocket, he leads the SEC in completions (36) and completions of 20 yards or more (seven) and ranks second in touchdown passes behind Missouri’s Maty Mauk. When the pass has not been there, Sims has shown he can tuck the ball and run. He has been sacked seven times this season, third-fewest for any Power 5 quarterback with at least 200 dropbacks.

Sims does not run a whole lot, but when he does it usually ends up as a major positive for the Crimson Tide.

A decent comparison to evaluate how Auburn's shaky defense will handle Sims can be found in the team's 38-23 loss to Mississippi State earlier this year. There, Dak Prescott threw for 246 yards and a score with another 121 yards and two scores on the ground.

Those numbers are on the high end for Sims, but it is clear his abilities will see him as a top performer by day's end.

Stat Prediction: 200 Pass Yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 75 Rush Yds, 1 TD

 

Nick Marshall

Auburn senior quarterback Nick Marshall is no stranger to making short work of the Crimson Tide defense.

Last year in the eventual win he went 11-of-16 for 97 yards and two scores with 17 carries for 99 yards and another touchdown on the ground.

Even Saban sounds cautious of what Marshall brings to the table and is among the many who concur that he is an improved passer this season.

“The guy is really, really a fantastic athlete, and he's very instinctive as a player, especially doing the things that they ask him to do in their offense,” Saban said, per Kelly Ward ofThe Tuscaloosa News. “He also has improved, in my opinion, quite a bit as a passer, much more efficient, much more confident."

It is hard to argue with the notion. Marshall completes 59.6 percent of his passes this season with 1,859 yards and 15 scores. He remains a serious threat on the ground, as noted by 731 more yards and 11 scores through that avenue.

Marshall is going to get his on the road Saturday. The dual-threat quarterback is something that takes Saban-led defenses out of their comfort zone and makes them adapt on the fly. He is his usual self on the ground and better than last year through the air, which is bad news for the Crimson Tide defense.

Stat Prediction: 175 Pass Yds, 1 TD, 125 Rush Yds, 2 TD

 

T.J. Yeldon

If there is one sure thing about this year's Iron Bowl, it is that Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon is set to run wild.

Those with great memories will recall that Yeldon put on one of his best performances of the season last year against the Tigers with 141 yards and a score on 26 carries.

Recent trends suggest an even bigger line may be in the works.

Yeldon is just as effective this year with 758 yards and six scores on a five yards per-carry average. Add in the fact that Saban has been resting his top back in order to get his absolute best this Saturday, per ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough:

Compounding the situation is the fact that the last team Auburn faced that is anywhere close to Alabama's rushing ability was Georgia—a squad that bulldozed its way for 289 rushing yards and three scores on the ground.

The Tigers allow 142.9 yards per game on the ground this season, which is something a healthy Yeldon can and will take advantage of on the way to gaudy numbers once again.

Whether that leads to a win is a great question, but Yeldon's ability to keep drives alive and reduce the pressure on Sims, while also lowering the time Marshall sees on the field, certainly puts the Crimson Tide in a great position.

Stat Prediction: 165 Rush Yds, 2 TD

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

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UCLA's Brett Hundley Is 2015 NFL Draft's Most Polarizing Quarterback Prospect

Should Brett Hundley be one of the top picks in the 2015 NFL draft, or does the UCLA quarterback have too many flaws to succeed as a professional passer?

That’s a question that NFL talent evaluators, specifically those whose teams might look to select a quarterback with one of their early-round draft picks, will have to make a determination on in the coming months.

Hundley, a fourth-year at UCLA who has one remaining year of collegiate eligibility, all but confirmed Monday on The Jim Rome Show (h/t KFWB-AM) that he plans to enter the 2015 draft.

“I think the chances are really high,” Hundley said when asked about the likelihood he had played his final game against USC, who UCLA beat Saturday. “The conversation just keeps coming up and I got my degree, I’ve done everything I wanted to do here. I’ve left something that’s really, truly great and it felt good.”

It would have come as a surprise if Hundley, expected by some to enter the 2014 draft as a third-year sophomore, decided not to go pro after this season. A three-year starter with pro potential and a university degree, it makes sense for Hundley to move on to the next stage of his career.

That said, some believe Hundley would be better served by returning to school for another season, as he still has not yet developed into an NFL-ready signal-caller.

“Scouts love Hundley's size, athleticism and elusiveness, but they also think he'd benefit from staying in school another year,” Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times wrote last week, prior to his game against USC, after talking to three NFL area scouts.

As it appears the latter won’t be happening, scouts will now have to weigh the elements they love about Hundley with the issues that alarm them. His upside could be enough to warrant first-round grades on some teams’ boards—and all it takes is one team to like him enough to draft him that high—but it’s also possible that Hundley could end up waiting much longer to hear his name called on draft weekend.

 

The Divide

Most media draft analysts—including ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. (subscription required), CBS Sports’ Rob Rang and Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller—agree that Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston are not only the top two quarterbacks, but two of the top overall prospects eligible for the 2015 draft.

Evaluations of Hundley as a draft prospect, on the other hand, have ranged everywhere from him being worth a first-round pick to not even being worthy of a draft selection.

One of the NFL scouts who spoke to Farmer characterized Hundley as “a late-first or second-round kind of guy.”

“He's got everything you want physically,” the scout told Farmer. “You just question his process and vision at times. He doesn't have elite accuracy. With that said, he's a dual-threat guy and that's hard to find. I think he'll stack up well against some of the other quarterbacks in this draft.”

Rang currently ranks Hundley as the No. 41 overall prospect for the 2015 draft, while Miller ranks him 57th and ESPN’s Scouts Inc. ranks him 69th, all rankings which would put him in the range of being a Day 2 draft pick.

Russell Lande of GM Jr. Scouting, on the other hand, said he has talked to more than 10 NFL scouts he trusts and “all gave him a day three grade,” meaning that Hundley might end up going no earlier than the fourth round.

Some, including former NFL personnel executive Greg Gabriel and ESPN producer Ben Fennell, don’t see Hundley having any success at the next level.

No one report or evaluation can be taken as gospel, especially with five months yet until the draft, but it's evident already that there will be no consensus opinion on what caliber of prospect Hundley is.

 

Tantalizing Tools

From a purely physical standpoint, there might not be any other quarterback in the 2015 draft class who is more gifted.

Listed at 6’3” and 226 pounds, Hundley is a thickly built quarterback with very good size for the position.

Hundley combines that size with a strong arm that enables him to launch the ball deep. The following 32-yard completion to wide receiver Devin Fuller, from UCLA’s 2013 win over Nebraska, is an example of Hundley delivering a long pass with velocity for a big play.

A very good all-around athlete, Hundley fits the modern demand for dual-threat quarterbacks who can make plays with their feet. He accelerates well into the open field, shows the cutting ability to make defenders miss in space and uses his size well to finish forward through contact.

The following play on which Hundley weaved his way to a 12-yard gain was an example of his impressive skill as a runner, a capacity in which he can make plays both between the tackles and outside.

Perhaps the most impressive display of Hundley’s athleticism came earlier this year against Arizona State, when he hurdled a defender at the end of a six-yard run.

When Hundley is at his best, he shows the ability to step up in the pocket and connect on intermediate strikes with velocity, like he did on the following 13-yard touchdown pass Saturday against USC.

His throwing mechanics, for the most part, are solid. He has a quick release, utilizes pro-style dropbacks and typically has good footwork when the pocket is clean.

All of the positive traits Hundley possesses have enabled him to put up excellent statistics this year. He currently leads all Football Bowl Subdivision passers with a 72.0 completion percentage, while he also ranks sixth in quarterback rating, having thrown for 2,873 yards and 20 touchdowns with only five interceptions through UCLA’s first 11 games.

Numbers and measurables, however, can be deceiving. A closer look at Hundley’s game film exposes numerous reasons for evaluators to be concerned about his ability to continue to have success in the NFL.

 

Problems as a Pocket Passer

Although Hundley has improved in each of his three playing seasons at UCLA, there are a number of issues that remain in his game that he must overcome to reach his full potential and be the NFL franchise quarterback some team might draft him to be.

Charting Hundley’s throws across games shows that although his overall completion percentage has been terrific this season, his accuracy on longer throws has not been nearly as good. He’s effectively taken advantage of open targets, but he does not complete a great deal of passes against tight coverage and makes a vast majority of completions inside 15 yards.

While Hundley’s arm strength is not going to be doubted, he lacks the touch to consistently connect on deep passes.

Hundley has had issues with both overshooting receivers and putting too much on his long balls, as the clip below from this year's game against Virginia is an example of.

In other instances, Hundley has had problems with hanging up deep passes that have forced his receivers to wait for the ball and/or allowed defensive backs to break passes up, like in the GIF below from Saturday’s game against USC.

Against NFL defenses, Hundley is going to have to be more precise with his timing and ball placement to fit passes into tighter windows against better defensive backs.

More than anything else, Hundley has issues when it comes to dealing with pass-rush pressure, which often makes or breaks the success of young NFL quarterbacks.

UCLA has allowed 32 sacks through its first 11 games, and that’s not only because it has a weak offensive line. While the Bruins’ blockers up front have had some issues in pass protection, a significant portion of those sacks are ones that Hundley should have avoided.

As one of the scouts who talked to Sam Farmer in the aforementioned Los Angeles Times piece noted, Hundley “tends to hold on to the ball too long, and he's not as quick going through his progression as he should be at this stage of his career.”

To be a successful pocket passer in the NFL, a quarterback has to be able to keep his eyes downfield against the rush and make quick decisions without compromising his mechanics.

Hundley, on the other hand, is known to drop his eyes to tuck and run at the first sign of pressure. At times, his athleticism bails him out and he is able to make a big play, but on more occasions he ends up not seeing an open target downfield or ends up taking a sack because he tries too hard to keep the play alive.

The following play against Virginia is just one of many examples this year in which Hundley has successfully escaped an initial pressure but then ended up taking a sack anyways by running straight into pressure.

Hundley needs to break his habit of trying to run out of pressure situations every time they occur, for he will have even less success doing so at the next level, and instead be able to find quick checkdown passes or just throw the ball away to avoid taking a loss of yardage.

Interceptions haven’t been a significant issue for Hundley this year—though he did have a pick returned for a touchdown on his first pass of the game against USC—but fumbles, in part because of the high volume of sacks he takes, have been problematic.

Hundley has already fumbled 11 times in 11 games this year, and seven of those loose balls have been recovered by opposing defenses, according to CBSSports.com.

 

Can Brett Hundley Be the Next Blake Bortles?

If you rewound to this time one year ago, you wouldn’t find many draft analysts suggesting that Blake Bortles could be the No. 3 overall pick as he ended up being in May. Instead, most draft analysts expected at that time that Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel, who ended up being late first-round picks, would go well ahead of Bortles.

It’s possible that Hundley, a similar prospect to Bortles in some ways, could have a similar rise in this year’s predraft process.

Hundley’s going to need to finish his year strong, starting with Friday’s game against Stanford and moving ahead to an appearance in the Pac-12 Championship Game (if UCLA beats Stanford) and in a bowl game, to get his momentum as a draft prospect rolling upward.

Because he is a fourth-year graduate, another opportunity for Hundley to raise his draft profile could come at the Senior Bowl, the premier annual predraft all-star game, should he choose to attend.

Most of all, Hundley could benefit from the NFL Scouting Combine and his pro day, where his physical tools and ability to hit open receivers should be on full display, while his inability to manage the pocket effectively against pressure could be hidden.

It’s a cause of chagrin for many draft prognosticators, as a controlled passing exhibition in a T-shirt and shorts seemingly shouldn’t hold nearly as much value as what a player did in actual games. But it’s been evident in recent years that predraft throwing workouts are playing a bigger role in the decision-making process for teams looking for quarterbacks, and that’s more likely to help Hundley—given his physical attributes—than it is to hurt him.

Regardless of how well Hundley gets through each stage of the predraft process, there are going to be scouts who love him and others who hate him.

If he struggles in his last few collegiate games and/or in predraft workouts, he could end up plummeting into the later rounds of the draft. But it shouldn’t yet be ruled out, even with the negatives that remain in his game, that Hundley could also still make a push to be one of the top two quarterbacks drafted, even if Mariota and Winston both declare as expected.

 

All GIFs, with the exception of the hurdle against Arizona State, were made at gfycat.com using videos from Draft Breakdown and Noonkick. The hurdle against Arizona State was embedded from SnappyTV.

Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

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Nebraska vs. Iowa: Live Score and Highlights

The Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Iowa Hawkeyes are set to do battle at Kinnick Stadium. The game will kick off at noon ET, and it will be televised on ABC.

After a disappointing loss to Minnesota last week, the Cornhuskers look to get back on track with a win against the Hawkeyes. A win would give Nebraska nine or more wins for the seventh consecutive season, but they will need Ameer Abdullah to get back on track because he has not rushed for over 100 yards since November 1.

The Hawkeyes also suffered a tough loss last week to Wisconsin. However, quarterback Jake Rudock looks to have another big game, as he threw for 311 yards and two touchdowns against the Badgers. A win against the Cornhuskers would give Iowa its second consecutive eight-win season.

Be sure to come back when the game kicks off for the latest scoring updates, highlights and analysis. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2015 Defensive Line Recruits Who Will Be Sack Masters in College Football

One of the signature positions in the 2015 class is along the defensive line, where a number of top defensive ends and defensive tackles have emerged as coveted recruits.

Eight of the nation’s Top 20 recruits in the 2015 class are defensive linemen—including four of the top six players overall.

Among the depth and talent stocked at both positions, there are a handful of elite defensive linemen who will prove capable of harassing quarterbacks at the next level. 

Which top defensive line recruits will become dominant pass-rushers in college?

*Players listed in alphabetical order.

Begin Slideshow

A Quest for the Playoff and Repairing a Broken Heart: 2014 Egg Bowl Hype Tape

Never has an egg meant so much. The Egg Bowl features No. 4 Mississippi State and No. 19 Ole Miss in a battle for so much more than just College Football Playoff positioning. 

Get hyped for the game this Saturday with the ultimate Egg Bowl hype tape. 

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Bowl Projections 2014: Updated Playoff Predictions, Odds After Thursday Results

The TCU Horned Frogs made their statement to the selection committee Thursday night in a 48-10 win over Texas, and it came with a Thanksgiving side dish of style points. The only question now is whether it will make a difference when the new College Football Playoff rankings come out Tuesday. 

The Horned Frogs’ best chance may be chaos during the litany of rivalry games Saturday because they are still on the outside looking in at the top four.

With that in mind, read on for playoff projections from StatMilk, championship odds from Odds Shark and my own playoff predictions.

(Note: As the table header indicates, the logo shown at the far right of each team's row is for that team's next opponent and not for the ranked team itself.)

 

StatMilk and Odds Shark Playoff Projections and Odds

*Odds to win national championship courtesy of Odds Shark, as of Friday morning at 12:30 a.m. ET.

 

Scott Polacek Playoff Projections

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State

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

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

 

TCU States Its Case

Texas never had a chance against TCU Thursday, which says something about the Longhorns’ ultimate place in the Lone Star State pecking order (especially since Baylor already crushed Texas earlier in the season).

The Horned Frogs led the way with six forced turnovers, including five from Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes alone, and continually set the offense up with short field situations on numerous occasions.

That swarming defense controlled the tempo of a game that was never really in doubt from the opening moments and silenced the Longhorns fans early with a fumble recovery for the game’s first touchdown.

More importantly, TCU sent a message to the selection committee, even if the 6-6 Longhorns aren’t exactly a daunting opponent. Texas had won three in a row, and TCU handled it in dominating fashion. 

Chris Fowler of ESPN, Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports and Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports all pointed out just how TCU’s dominance could shape the opinion of the selection committee:

Feldman’s statistic is particularly important because strength of schedule is such an important metric when discussing playoff worthiness.

TCU needed a statement win like this because of how vulnerable it looked in its last game against lowly Kansas. The Jayhawks are one of the worst Power Five conference teams in the entire country, and they very nearly shocked TCU in a game that required a second-half comeback from the Horned Frogs. 

Max Olson of ESPN.com passed along a quote from wide receiver Josh Doctson that acknowledged how important those style points are this season:

However, there are still some issues with TCU’s ultimate resume that could hold it back in the race for the playoffs. It did lose in a head-to-head showdown with fellow playoff contender Baylor 61-58, which could loom large in the final rankings if the Bears beat Kansas State in their last game.

The two resumes from the Big 12 contenders would be awfully similar in that scenario, which is when head-to-head games come into play as a separation metric.

Another issue for TCU is that it wouldn’t be a lone conference champion if both it and Baylor won out. If Ohio State wins its last two games, it would be the outright Big Ten title holder, which could be the final difference-maker in the last rankings (it was in my playoff projections), especially since Mississippi State would be on the outside looking in at the SEC Championship Game. 

For now, though, TCU can only control its own games. It certainly did just that against the Longhorns Thursday.

 

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ESPN College GameDay 2014: Week 14 Schedule, Location, Predictions and More

The Game, Egg Bowl and any other host of epic season-ending showdowns were candidates for the Week 14 edition of ESPN's College GameDay.

In the end, all pale in comparison to the Iron Bowl.

The broadcast took to Twitter to announce the decision:

This time it is personal between the Alabama Crimson Tide and Auburn Tigers. One year removed from Chris Davis turning the world of college football on its head, Nick Saban's team is back on top and in the driver's seat to the College Football Playoff.

Auburn appears down going into Saturday but is quite dangerous and more than capable of an upset two years in a row.

Get ready, as the game of the year may reside at the Iron Bowl yet again.

 

ESPN College GameDay: Week 14 Info

Date: Saturday, November 29, 7:45 p.m. ET

Location: 
Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Watch: ESPN 

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Preview and Prediction

At face value this one does not have the usual flair that comes along with the Iron Bowl.

Thank the Tigers for that, as Gus Malzahn's team has crumpled as of late, losing two of its last three. The lone win came over Samford. Defense has been a season-long issue for Auburn, as the numbers clearly illustrate:

In fact, the problem is most apparent against SEC opposition.

Over the course of their last five SEC games, the Tigers have allowed a minimum of 31 points, which has predictably produced three losses in that span. Perhaps the most important loss to key in on is a 34-7 shellacking at the hands of Georgia in which the Auburn defense surrendered 289 yards and three scores on the ground.

That is music to the ears of Saban's run-first Crimson Tide. Alabama averages 204.9 rushing yards per game. T.J. Yeldon has 758 yards and six scores on the ground, while complement Derrick Henry has 682 and seven trips into the end zone.

Try not to forget about quarterback Blake Sims, though.

This year marks Sims' first rodeo in the Iron Bowl as the starter, but his 279 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground suggest he will look to exploit the Tigers on the ground as well—never mind the fact he completes 62.1 percent of his passes and has 2,676 yards and 20 touchdowns to four interceptions.

For his part, though, Sims is expecting a major game from his lead back, as captured by Charlie Potter of alabama.247sports.com:

It stands to reason, then, that the Auburn offense will once again be tasked with picking up the slack. Quarterback Nick Marshall certainly has the talent to do just that—and just so happens to tout the exact skill set that gives Alabama defenses problems.

Marshall is a threat through the air and on the ground. His 1,859 passing yards and 15 scores that complement another 731 yards and 11 scores on the ground can attest to that.

It also helps to explain why Auburn has a quality clutch gene:

The problem is, Marshall and lead back Cameron Artis-Payne (1,405 yards, 11 touchdowns) need to keep the game close for those quality late-game numbers to actually matter.

Saban's team is uncannily explosive in comparison to prior years. It averages a healthy 35.0 points per game, although it did muster just 20 in Death Valley and 25 against Mississippi State.

Auburn is set to give Alabama its best shot, so a close final score makes plenty of sense. But Yeldon is a lock to go for more than 100 yards and control the tempo of the game. Alabama's sheer desire to exorcise the demon that is last year's heartbreaking loss will propel the team at home, as safety Landon Collins suggested in the week leading up to the showdown.

"It shows up on the TV every now and again, and it breaks our heart every time," Collins said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "In one second they took our whole chance away of winning anything, and definitely it rewinds in my head. Definitely it will rewind in my head constantly throughout this week."

So long as Sims takes care of the football, the Crimson Tide will be able to hold off the Tigers. Alabama is on a hot streak right now that no team can halt, especially not in Tuscaloosa.

Prediction: Crimson Tide 28, Tigers 24

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Picks Week 14: Odds and Spread Predictions for Top 25 Teams

Familiar names and faces litter the top of the college football polls, but Week 14 promises to ensure that more than a few tumble down the boards.

So it goes for rivalry week to close the season. While a team such as Ohio State is perhaps not in much danger against Michigan in The Game, the Iron Bowl promises to be another classic to watch no matter what as Auburn looks to play the spoiler against the top team in the land.

How Las Vegas feels about each contest is interesting, as this week more than any other can be counted on as one to bet upsets.

With that in mind, below is a full look at the slate and upsets to roll with to close the season.

 

Week 14 Point Spreads and Picks

All odds courtesy of Odds Shark and current as of November 27. Updated College Football Playoff poll can be found here.

 

Teams on Upset Alert

Florida State

The Florida Cup will be Will Muschamp's last game in charge of the Florida Gators, so bettors should keep a keen eye out for an upset special against the shaky Florida State Seminoles. 

Jameis Winston and his offense have been anything but reliable this season outside of ranking 12th in passing. Last year's Heisman winner has 3,125 yards but just 19 touchdowns to 13 interceptions.

Now, Winston has been clutch, but he can only bail out a struggling defense so often:

The fact that the Seminoles are so sloppy on the defensive side of the ball is of great concern against the rush-happy Gators.

Muschamp's team averages just about 200 rushing yards per game on the ground. Both Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor average better than five yards per carry this season and have six touchdowns apiece. Do not forget about the quarterback, either, as new starter Treon Harris has 250 yards and three scores on the ground already.

A triple-headed monster in terms of rushers is the last thing the Seminoles need to face at the moment, especially one week removed from allowing Boston College to gain 240 yards and a touchdown on the ground. 

If Jimbo Fisher's defense cannot get off the field on third down, it matters little how clutch Winston is this year. While it seems unlikely, circle this one in red ink as an upset special just in case.

 

Wisconsin

The battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe is rarely this special.

As NFL.com's Bryan Fischer points out, this is a major occasion for one of college football's most historic rivalries:

The Wisconsin Badgers are one of the nation's best teams this year, but an unfortunate loss to LSU to start the season and a strange upset at the hands of Northwestern back at the start of October put the team in a precarious position in the Big Ten West.

Melvin Gordon is the star of the show, of course. The Heisman candidate now has 2,109 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns this season on an 8.3 per-carry average while leading the nation's third-ranked rushing attack.

The problem is, Gordon's productivity does not always equate to comfortable wins. Just last week he rushed for 200 yards and two scores, but the Badgers only got a 26-24 win over Iowa.

That is bad news against this Minnesota Golden Gophers team. Not only did it take down that same Iowa team 51-14, it almost upended Ohio State and just upset Nebraska, 28-24. 

"This is what we have been working for all year," offensive lineman Zac Epping said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "Whoever wins gets to go to the Big Ten championship game, and everyone is excited for it. We get to battle for the Axe. It's going to be a hell of a game."

The Golden Gophers surrender just 22.5 points per game on average and held Nebraska standout back Ameer Abdullah to 98 yards and a score. 

With so much on the line and the teams seemingly somewhat going in opposite directions, Minnesota pulling out a road victory to advance to greater heights would not be that big of a surprise. 

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

 

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Alabama Football: Lane Kiffin's Dark-Horse Stars Down the Stretch

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — By now you know all of the big names. Blake Sims. T.J. Yeldon. Amari Cooper. Derrick Henry.

They are the pieces that have carried the Alabama offense this far in the season, that have put Alabama in position for a national championship.

But as the year progresses, so too do things change personnel-wise. Players get injured or go through peaks and valleys. The lineup on the first snap of the season is almost always different than the lineup on the last.

For Alabama, if you’re looking for two breakout players down the stretch, look at wide receiver ArDarius Stewart and running back Tyren Jones.

Both have seen an uptick in snaps and playing time through a couple of injuries. And both could be the stars of tomorrow that start that ascent in the final games of 2014.

Kenyan Drake’s injury against Ole Miss left several specific holes on Alabama’s offense that, combined with a few other situations, has given Stewart and Jones their opportunities.

First, Drake is probably the fastest guy on the team, and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin noticed. Kiffin used Drake in creative ways to get him involved. Never was this more evident than his 87-yard touchdown pass to open Alabama’s win over Florida.

To replace that speed, Alabama has turned to Stewart.

“ArDarius Stewart is a fast, explosive guy who got to play a little bit more (against Mississippi State), and we've been trying to play him all year long,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “He is a guy, to me, that can make explosive plays, and hopefully the experience that he gets and that he is getting is going to help him realize the importance of paying attention to detail, doing the little things right that he needs to do to be able to have success as a player, because he certainly can be a guy that could make plays for us and be a great complement to some of the other players that we have who are making plays for us.”

With receiver DeAndrew White dinged up, Stewart got his first career start against the Bulldogs and was a part of the offense from the get-go. On the first play of Alabama’s second series, Sims missed Stewart on a long ball that drew a pass interference. On the last play of the first quarter, Stewart couldn’t come down with a one-on-one deep ball near the end zone.

He ended up catching two passes in that game for a total of 25 yards, but the message was clear: Alabama wants to use him as a deep threat.

Stewart may not be able to jump back in the mix this week, though. He didn’t participate much in practice this week, and Saban called him “very questionable” for this game.

The other place the Drake injury hurt Alabama is running back depth.

Yeldon is the workhorse, and Henry is the power spell back, but behind those two, Alabama didn’t have any proven options, where Drake previously was a change-of-pace back out of the backfield.

So when Yeldon got hurt against LSU, Alabama turned to Jones.

Jones was a 4-star out of Marietta, Georgia, in 2013 but redshirted his first year on campus. He’s gotten into games that were out of hand late this season, but against No. 1 Mississippi State, he found himself the third running back in a rotation that was used to limit the stress on Yeldon and his hobbled ankle.

Jones didn’t register on the stat sheet but was in on pass protection several times, high praise from a coach who demands perfection in blocking from his running backs. He was the No. 2 running back against Western Carolina, with Yeldon resting as a precaution, and went for 75 yards on 11 carries.

Saban wouldn’t quite shower Jones with the praise that he did for Stewart, though. Jones was suspended after the Tennessee game and didn’t play against LSU. He’s still very much learning how to be a complete player on and off the field.

“We’ve always thought that Tyren has really good ability,” Saban said. “Sometimes it just takes guys a little time to mature, you know in terms of learning how to do things how you need to do them so that you can be a successful player on the field.

“I talked about being exact, lots of times we get guys here who have had quite a bit of success, and they’ve never had to pay attention to detail, and it takes a little while for them to get where they need to be, not only on the field but off the field, and have the kind of discipline they need to have a chance to be successful. Tyren’s come a long ways this year and he’s doing things a lot better and playing well for us. He played very well in the last game, and we have a lot of confidence in him.”

Still, it’s clear which running back the staff trusts most right now behind Yeldon and Henry.

As Alabama enters this final stretch of the season—a tense Iron Bowl rematch, a possible SEC Championship Game berth that could lead to the inaugural playoff—it will pull out all of the stops to ensure the 2014 season is a memorable one.

Don’t be surprised if those plans include two new offensive weapons.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from CFBStats.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Why Ohio State Is Better Suited to Stop Devin Gardner, Michigan This Year

When Ohio State and Michigan met last year, Devin Gardner and the Wolverines offense looked unstoppable as they piled up 603 total yards and 41 points. 

On Saturday, the two teams are set to reunite for another chapter in one of college football's greatest rivalries. And this time around, the Buckeyes are primed to shut the Wolverines down.

Michigan, which needs a victory over Ohio State just to become bowl eligible, has struggled immensely this season. In their first year under offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, the Wolverines rank 114th in total offense and 112th in scoring. They've failed to reach 17 points in six of their 11 games and rank dead last in the Big Ten (and 119th nationally) in turnover margin

Gardner has regressed this season as well, which has been a big factor in the meager rankings listed above. The fifth-year senior has thrown for just 1,663 yards with eight touchdowns and 14 interceptions. In his last two starts against Northwestern and Maryland—teams that rank outside of the top 50 in passing yards allowed—Gardner completed just 50 percent of his throws for 215 yards and three interceptions.

But a projection of Ohio State's dominance this Saturday isn't based solely on Michigan's offensive woes. In fact, the Wolverines went into last year's game riding a historically poor stretch of offensive performances—yet against the Buckeyes, they rolled.

Why will this year be different? 

After Ohio State's 2013 season ended with a trio of horrendous defensive performances (against Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson), Urban Meyer made some changes.

The first adjustment came in the coaching staff when the Buckeyes brought in Chris Ash from Arkansas to be the co-defensive coordinator alongside Luke Fickell. Ash installed his aggressive 4-3 scheme, eliminating the zone coverages that offenses picked apart in favor of more man-to-man looks and press packages from the secondary.

That transition has paid off favorably for Ohio State. While the Buckeyes won't be confused for Alabama anytime soon, they've made drastic improvements defensively—especially against the pass. Last year's team ranked 110th in pass defense, allowing opposing teams to throw for 260 yards per game. This year's squad is only surrendering just 182.5 yards through the air, which ranks 15th nationally

Young players such as Eli Apple, Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell, combined with the savvy leadership and playmaking ability of senior cornerback Doran Grant, have the Buckeyes operating at a high level. And with Bednarik Award finalist Joey Bosa coming off the edge, opposing offenses have had a much tougher time moving the ball against Ohio State this year.

That's bad news for Gardner and the Wolverines. The Michigan quarterback dissected the Buckeyes' leaky pass defense last year, throwing for 451 yards and four touchdowns (and no interceptions). But Gardner's top pass-catcher in that game—Jeremy Gallon—has graduated, and top running back Derrick Green is out for the year with a broken clavicle. 

All of that added up suggests Michigan is walking into a bad matchup against Ohio State this Saturday. But to the Buckeyes' credit, their taking this Wolverines offense very seriously. 

“We don’t wanna have something like what happened last year happen again, so I think we’re going to prepare really well for this game,” linebacker Joshua Perry said, according to Patrick Maks of Eleven Warriors. “Guys are going to take it really seriously."

 

All stats via NCAA.com.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Young LSU Football Team Shows Future Is Bright vs. Texas A&M

LSU head coach Les Miles can finally smile. 

Miles' young talent came of age in a 23-17 victory over Texas A&M. The Aggies might have been on the wrong end of a controversial no-call late, but they should not have been in the game in the first place. 

LSU bludgeoned Texas A&M in the box score.

The Tigers rushed for 384 yards, which is the most ever for Miles against SEC opposition, per LSU's Todd Politz (h/t The Advocate's Ross Dellenger). They won the time of possession battle by over 22 minutes in the process, as Miles' offensive line took over the pace of the game. 

The high-powered Aggies offense only accumulated 228 total yards. Quarterback Kyle Allen threw for only 144 yards and could never get into rhythm.  

True freshman sensation Leonard Fournette was the biggest beneficiary of LSU's dominance at the line of scrimmage, as he rushed for a career-high 146 yards and a highlight-reel touchdown.

The Tigers' biggest star on defense was true freshman safety Jamal Adams. Adams co-led the team in tackles with eight and made an open field tackle to force an Aggies punt deep in their own territory. Fournette's bulldozing touchdown run would come four plays later.

Fournette and Adams might be teenagers, but they were men among boys against the Aggies. They also had help.  

Quarterback Anthony Jennings atoned for an early interception with 226 yards of total offense. Freshmen receivers Malachi Dupre and John Diarse combined for 70 yards receiving and a touchdown. 

Adams was helped in the LSU secondary by another strong performance from cornerbacks Tre'Davious White and Jalen Collins. Middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith wreaked havoc up the middle.

The Tigers' win on Thursday assures them a non-last place finish in the SEC West, which is a major sigh of relief for Miles. A winless November would not have been a good look. He now gets a nice boost on the recruiting trail and in the bowl selection process.

Yet the win represented something even more in the long term. The Tigers have the talent to make another run at an SEC Championship.  

Expectations were too high for LSU to begin with, a team heavily reliant on first-year starters. After a disastrous 0-2 start in SEC play, a final regular-season record of 8-4 is par for the course. 

Every player mentioned so far in this piece will be back next season, which is scary for the rest of the SEC. Sure, the Tigers will have to make major changes on the offensive line. But every other position should be better next season. 

Miles has been dealt pocket Aces. It is up to him if he can get maximum value out of his hand.

Unfortunately for LSU, Alabama's Nick Saban holds the other two Aces in the deck. Auburn's Gus Malzahn, Arkansas' Bret Bielema and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin have plenty of chips they can shove into the middle next season as well.

It will be tough, but LSU can win the SEC in 2015.

The Tigers' young talent is as good as any. It is now up to Miles to get them ready. 

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.comESPN.com and LSU Sports Information. Recruiting information provided by 247Sports.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.     

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LSU vs. Texas A&M: Game Grades, Analysis for the Tigers and Aggies

The LSU Tigers came away with a 23-17 win over Texas A&M at Kyle Field on Thanksgiving.

The Tigers dominated the Aggies, but they only won by six. Part of the reason is the red-zone offense wasn’t as strong. They also missed two field goals and made too many mental mistakes. But the Tigers defense was able to shut down the Aggies, who were fortunate they only lost by six.

So the Tigers finish the regular season at 8-4 while the Aggies finish at 7-5. This was not a crucial SEC game, but this was a game to see where both programs are headed in 2015. The Tigers are on the upward trend, while the Aggies have some questions that need to be answered.

Here are the game grades and analysis for the Tigers and Aggies.

 

Passing Offense

Once again, Anthony Jennings was not great through the air, but he was good enough to manage the game. He only threw for 107 yards, but he did throw a touchdown pass late in the first half. Jennings is a guy who can make the right decisions. But he’s not going to be the guy who gives the Tigers 250-300 passing yards and three touchdowns per game consistently.

 

Running Offense

However, the reason for the lack of the aerial attack was the run game, which was the best it’s been all season. Jennings rushed for 119 yards, Leonard Fournette rushed for 146 yards, and Terrence McGee added 74 yards. The Tigers just ran at the young Aggies front seven, and they never backed down. Once the run game for the Tigers gets going, they are a hard team to beat.

 

Passing Defense

The Aggies got a taste of why the Tigers are one of the pass defense teams in the country. Kyle Allen only threw for 144 yards because guys like Tre’Davious White and Jalen Collins were all over the receivers. Allen was able to hit on 17 of his 27 passes, but as soon as the receivers caught the ball, the secondary was all over them. It was one of the best efforts by the linebackers and secondary for LSU.

 

Running Defense

The Tigers were just as strong stopping the run, as they only allowed 84 yards on 21 carries. LSU did have a hard time trying to stop Trey Williams, but he only got the ball four times. Kendell Beckwith and Kwon Alexander both had seven tackles, and they were key in containing guys like Tra Carson and Brandon Williams. But the Aggies aren’t known for running the ball effectively anyway.

 

Special Teams

Both kickers for LSU missed key field goals, which would have given them six more points and a double-digit win over the Aggies. That is something that needs to be corrected moving forward because with the games in the SEC mostly closely contested, Colby Delahoussaye and Trent Domingue can’t miss key field goals. Jamie Keehn was solid with his punts, and Fournette was able to average 17 yards per kick return.

 

Coaching

Les Miles had a good game plan going into this matchup. He knew that he could run the ball against the Aggies, and it worked to perfection. The one thing he needs to work on is making sure his team can get more touchdown drives instead of field goals. They were able to score on four consecutive drives, but this team is too talented to settle for more field goals than touchdowns.

  

Passing Offense

It was not a great day in the office for Allen. He was accurate with his throws, but the secondary for LSU got after the receivers as soon as they would catch the ball. However, that was when Allen was throwing it short. When he made some deep throws, it seemed to work a little better. But LSU is good with man-to-man and zone coverage; Allen was lucky to have 144 passing yards.

 

Running Offense

The one thing the Aggies should have done is give the ball to Trey Williams more. He scored on a 41-yard run and got a 20-yard run later in the game. Brandon Williams and Tra Carson don’t have the speed like Trey Williams, which is why they only rushed for a combined 35 yards. But the Aggies like to throw the ball a lot more than running it.

 

Passing Defense

The defense has been suspect for the Aggies all season long. But they did a great job limiting Jennings to only 107 yards in the air. The defensive backs were all over Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre, who are both legit deep threats. The one player that stood out was De’Vante Harris, who had six tackles and one interception. That performance was big for the group because they have been torched all season long.

 

Running Defense

The run defense for the Aggies has seen better days, even though there have not been many good days for them. They gave up over 380 yards on the ground because the running backs and offensive line for LSU punched the Aggies in the mouth and never responded.  Defensive lineman Myles Garrett needs to be more aggressive at the point of attack. He’s a great edge-rusher, but his run defense needs to be better next season.

 

Special Teams

Josh Lambo was able to make his only field goal, Drew Kaser averaged 45 yards per punt, and the return game had an average night. However, Speedy Noil did fumble a kick return late in the second quarter, which led to points. The special teams was OK, but the Noil turnover was costly. They also had an opportunity to block an LSU field goal in the second half, but the defender missed it.

 

Coaching

Kevin Sumlin should have matched speed on speed with the Aggies. Trey Williams should have gotten more snaps, receiver Josh Reynolds was nonexistent, and Noil almost was a non-factor had it not been for his touchdown grab late in the game. But then again, the Aggies had the ball for only 18 minutes, and the defense was out on the field way too much. The team is still young, so Sumlin is doing a good job getting his players to compete, but they have to execute much better if they want to win the SEC West next season.

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