NCAA Football News

The Most Important Florida State Football Players for the Rest of the Year

No. 1 Florida State has proved through 10 games that it needs production out of each and every one of its players if its national title dreams are going to remain intact.

But on a roster jam-packed full of talent expected to make an impact, there are a handful of players who are on another level when it comes to their importance to the Seminoles the rest of the season.

Let's take a look at those players, as their production will very likely determine whether the 'Noles remain in the College Football Playoff picture.

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The Most Important Tennessee Volunteers Players for the Rest of the Year

After dismantling the Kentucky Wildcats 50-16 on Saturday, the Tennessee Volunteers are just one win away from bowl eligibility and three SEC wins—the most the team has seen since 2010. 

With star senior linebacker and team captain A.J. Johnson and redshirt sophomore defensive back Michael Williams currently suspended due to a sexual assault investigation, the Vols need their younger players to step up now more than ever to continue building momentum and establishing Tennessee as an SEC team on the rise.

Saturday's matchup against the Missouri Tigers will be one of Tennessee's most important games of the season, as it gives the team a chance for redemption after it allowed the Florida Gators to escape Neyland Stadium with a win two months ago.

The Tigers control their own destiny to make it to Atlanta for their second SEC Championship appearance in a row, but the Vols can spoil their dreams if the team's outstanding new players continue to progress and improve.

In addition, with depth becoming a critical issue for Tennessee late in the season, the Vols must be careful to not take even a struggling Vanderbilt team for granted to close out the year, as the Commodores would love nothing more than to keep their in-state rival home for Christmas once again. 

For Tennessee to have a chance at winning out and reclaiming the state championship, here are five players who will be asked to play big roles down the stretch. 

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Steve Sarkisian, Jim Mora Reshaping USC-UCLA Rivalry

Jim Mora and Steve Sarkisian were neighbors in the Seattle area just a few years ago. The two head coaches are neighbors of a different kind now, sharing Los Angeles on opposite sides of the USC-UCLA rivalry.

The two were acquainted while living in the same neighborhood when Sarkisian was head coach of the Washington Huskies and Mora worked for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.

In 2011, while he was out of coaching, Mora injured a knee skiing. Washington athletic director Scott Woodward invited Mora to rehabilitate at the university's facilities, where the longtime NFL coach gained exposure to college athletics.

On a November 2013 conference call, Mora said his rehab stint at Washington gave him "a hunger for this level."

Mora's presence at Washington was an opportunity for Sarkisian to bounce ideas off another head coach. "It was a chance for both of us to share ideas, thoughts schematically [and] philosophically," Sarkisian said.

Thus, indirectly, UCLA fans have USC's head coach to thank for the Bruins' successful head coach. If that sentence makes you recoil, you probably are already well-versed in the rivalry.

So, too, are Mora and Sarkisian, even if Saturday marks their first time meeting each other as a Bruin and Trojan.

Mora is leading No. 9-ranked UCLA into the Crosstown Showdown for the third time and looking to remain perfect. For Sarkisian, Saturday is his eighth installment since 2001 and first as the No. 19-ranked Trojans' head coach.

Neither needs a reminder of how much winning this game, and by extension the Victory Bell, means to the fanbase of both teams. After all, as Mora pointed out, it's tough to forget when sharing a city with a rival.

"It's different [from other rivalries] because the schools sit so close in proximity," he said. "You kind of live it every day."

Surely, the intermingling of Bruins and Trojans with the two campuses just 13 miles apart adds fuel to the competitive fire.

But with Mora and Sarkisian at the helm of each program, the USC-UCLA rivalry takes on less of a Hatfield-McCoy vibe and looks a bit friendlier.

"I've got a great deal of respect for Jim," Sarkisisan said. "I think there's a great deal of respect in both directions."

That mutual respect between coaches should be reflected among the players.

"They're another great team that has great athletes," UCLA wide receiver Jordan Payton said. "They recruit the best of them."

With both sides holding esteem for the other, it's unlikely that Saturday will produce a retread of the 2008 fight:

Or another instance of unnecessary timeouts and touchdowns in the closing seconds, similar to those that capped the 2009 matchup:

But that doesn't mean the two sides will be circled around the campfire signing folk tunes, either, because the rivalry game still weighs heavily on the long-term goals of both programs.

"Like anything, we're both really good competitors," Sarkisian said. "We'll want to win on the football field and in recruiting."

For Sarkisian's Trojans, two straight losses in the series represent added motivation to win this time around.

"You never want to lose to your rival, even if it's one game in a row," USC quarterback Cody Kessler said. "It's something we're going to take personal and everyone on this team will tell you that."

Meanwhile, Pac-12 Championship implications are on the line for both teams.

UCLA would book its ticket to the conference title game with wins in its final two contests, while USC needs to beat the Bruins and get help from either Washington State or Arizona against Arizona State.

What the rivalry may lack in pure vitriol emanating from the top is compensated for by the stakes involved.

Mora has UCLA positioned as a perennial Pac-12 contender in pursuit of its second title-game appearance in three seasons, and his staff's work on the recruiting trail should keep the Bruins in the hunt for years to come.

Sarkisian was tasked with restoring USC to its past glory, and while his debut season has had its disappointments, the Trojans have the pieces in place to again compete for championships.

The rivalry of Los Angeles neighbors will be no less intense because of the coaches' preexisting relationship. On the contrary, the championship element promises to take the series to another level.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited.

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4-Star HS Recruit Says Meeting Nick Saban Was 'Almost Like Talking to God'

The Father, the Son and the Holy Saban are recognized divinities in the state of Alabama.

Nick Saban is everywhere at all times, watching over you, and according to one Alabama high school football prospect, his very presence feels like a religious experience.

AL.com’s John Talty brings us the story of P.J. Blue, a 4-star linebacker recruit at Jemison High School (Ala.) who traveled to Tuscaloosa on Saturday to watch the Crimson Tide roll over Mississippi State.

Blue returned from his pilgrimage with nothing but praise for Saban, claiming that his chat with Alabama football’s head coach felt like speaking to a higher power.

“It was almost like talking to God,” Blue told Talty.

The 6’2,” 195-pound junior says he grew up an Alabama fan, which made the encounter even more surreal.

He also told Talty that Alabama's facilities are an athletic Eden.

“Alabama has great facilities and it makes you want to go there instantly,” Blue said. “But there’s more to it than just facilities and I’m going to have to look at it more.”

Saban is interested in Blue, but the program wants him to put on more weight before offering a scholarship. His recruitment is just starting to heat up, but Blue already has offers from Clemson and UAB. He "plans to take his time" with a commitment, per Talty.

As for Saban, it must get tiring going to bed each night with Phyllis from Mulga and the collective prayers of the Crimson Tide fanbase flooding into his mind.

 

Unless otherwise noted, recruit information courtesy of 247Sports.

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

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Texas A&M Football: Best Bowl Game Options for the Aggies

The Texas A&M football team is 7-4 on the season and bowl-eligible for the sixth year in a row. With one game left in the regular season, the Aggies are facing a variety of bowl possibilities. 

The 2014 season is the first year for the College Football Playoff. The top four teams in the country will enter the Playoff, and the rest enter the bowl hierarchy due to their conference affiliation. 

If the Aggies beat LSU on Thanksgiving Day, they will move up in the bowl selection. If not, then their 7-5 record will still guarantee a bowl selection. The extra practices a team gets before a bowl game will be especially beneficial to the Aggies' young roster. 

This is a look at the best bowl options for the Texas A&M football team. 

 

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College Football Picks Week 13: B/R's Expert Predictions for Top 5 Games

Week 13 of the 2014 college football season has the feeling of the calm before the storm (aka rivalry weekend).

But as any true college football fan knows, anything can happen on any given Saturday.

Will the top teams be caught looking ahead to next week, resulting in another weekend of upsets?

Next week gets all the praise for rivalry games, but thankfully we’ve got one slated for this Saturday. USC and UCLA will duke it out in the battle of LA. Both teams are still in the race for the Pac-12 South title, which makes this game all the more exciting.

Speaking of the South Division in the Pac-12, Arizona looks to gain ground with a win over Utah this weekend. Both teams are coming off very close wins, so expect this to be another close contest.

Notre Dame looks to rebound after an overtime loss to Northwestern last week when it plays host to Louisville. Will the Irish stumble for the third straight week or can they finally right the ship?

And in the SEC, Tennessee has the chance to spoil Missouri’s dream of repeating as SEC East champs. Knoxville is a tough place to play, but the Tigers are riding high after a road victory against Texas A&M. Can they do it again? 

Arkansas is fresh off its first SEC win under Bret Bielema. Will that momentum carry over to an Ole Miss squad that’s fresh off a bye week?

Barrett Sallee jumped back into a tie for the lead with Ben Kercheval. There won’t be a tie next week as both have taken different sides in the battle of LA.

Who will come out on top?

Let us know your picks in the comments below!

Reminder that our experts are picking the top five Saturday games against the spread.

Odds via opening lines at Odds Shark

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Pac-12 Football: 5 Things USC Must Do to Reclaim Its Place Atop the Conference

All signs point toward USC football slowly working its way back to the top of the Pac-12 football mountain, but it won't simply happen unless the Trojans continue to make steps in the right direction.

Heading into 2015, the team will have a full complement of players at its disposal, which means better depth, better ability to weather injuries and even more talent at key positions.

But even before the NCAA sanctions hit, the Trojans were starting to slip off the ledge. From 2003-2005, this was the premier college football program in the country. From 2006-2008, it was an elite team that couldn't quite get over the hump. Think of those teams as similar to what Oregon has been in recent years.

Since 2009, however, more than a few pieces have been missing in the championship formula, and simply adding more players won't necessarily change that.

Here are five things the USC must do if it hopes to become a regular national championship contender once again and wreak havoc on an improved Pac-12 conference.

 

 

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Ohio State's Surge Should Put Them in the College Football Playoff

With a crucial 31-24 win over Minnesota last Saturday, Ohio State is no longer on the outside hoping to be selected to play in the inaugural College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes are now a legitimate contender, if not favorite, among the one-loss teams.

If the committee remains consistent in looking favorably at road wins against Top 25 opponents, the Buckeyes should rise to No. 5 when the Week 3 college football playoff rankings are released later today.

Over the next few weeks, the committee’s task of selecting the four best teams will be increasingly intense as it tries to sort through the myriad of one-loss teams. Oregon and Alabama are locks if they finish with one loss. It feels like Florida State should have about four losses, but like any great champion the Seminoles are refusing to go down. They are in unless they finally collapse.

Preferably the debate gets settled on the field, but rarely has college football been that simple and clean.

All things being relatively equal, the interesting question is whether or not the committee will place more value on how teams are playing now versus September. Mississippi State and TCU have fallen off a bit and Baylor and Ohio State appear to be peaking.

All four teams can make a case to be included in the playoff. How does Ohio State stack up against the other one-loss teams? Pretty favorably when you compare the results.

 

Team Key Wins Losses Opponents' Record Non-Conference Opponents Remaining Games Baylor TCU, Oklahoma WVU 44-47 SMU, Northwestern State, Buffalo Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Kansas State Mississippi State Auburn, LSU Alabama 59-46 SMU, South Alabama, UAB, UT-Martin Vanderbilt, Mississippi, *SEC Championship Ohio State Michigan State, Minnesota Virginia Tech 54-45 Navy, Virginia Tech, Kent State, Cincinnati Indiana, Michigan, *Big Ten Football Championship TCU Minnesota, WVU Baylor 53-44 Samford, Minnesota, SMU Texas, Iowa State

*Mississippi State will play in the SEC Championship game if it beats Ole Miss and Alabama loses to Auburn.  Ohio State will play in the Big Ten Football Championship if it beats Indiana this Saturday.  

Beyond winning out, here are other factors that the committee will use to evaluate the Buckeyes against the other teams.

 

Eye Test

The Buckeyes' win over the Golden Gophers was a little too close for comfort, mainly because of two turnovers. No team is perfect, so punishing the Buckeyes for a few mistakes is hardly warranted. But protecting the ball and playing better against the run is critical if they want to pass the committee’s eye test.

The expectation is Ohio State should not be tested by Indiana or Michigan the next two weeks. Anything less than comfortable wins will damage their chances of winning style points.

 

Bowl Eligible Non-Conference Opponents

Few would argue that Ohio State’s non-conference schedule was challenging, but it was certainly better than TCU’s, Mississippi State’s and Baylor’s schedule.

Virginia Tech and Navy can both finish 7-5 and Cincinnati can finish 9-3. If this happens, the Buckeyes will have played three bowl-eligible teams. They also avoided playing any FCS teams and that needs to be factored into the comparison.

The Horned Frogs' non-conference schedule will include one bowl-eligible team, Minnesota. The Buckeyes also beat the Golden Gophers on the road in miserable conditions, so at best this is a split. Advantage Ohio State.

Baylor’s non-conference schedule will include one bowl-eligible team if Buffalo wins its final two games. Advantage goes to Ohio State.

Mississippi State’s non-conference schedule might include two bowl eligible teams if UAB wins another game. South Alabama is already eligible. Advantage, again, Ohio State.

 

Analysis

The one-loss teams all have a black eye. The Buckeyes' loss to the Hokies, while not good, should no longer be an anchor holding back the perception of this team.

If this loss continues to be an issue for the committee, then it should also diminish Mississippi’s State’s artificially enhanced strength of schedule that was produced by racking up early wins against vastly over-rated teams like Texas A&M and LSU.

Regardless, the perception of the SEC West's dominance has been exposed over the last few weeks. That alone should kill the idea that two teams from the SEC deserve to be in the playoff. At this point, it would be shocking and reprehensible if the committee selected Alabama and Mississippi State.

I would also contend that TCU and Baylor allowing 61 and 58 points in a game against each other hardly reflects the qualities of championship-caliber teams. If Florida State gets penalized for starting slow, Baylor should too. TCU should also be penalized for ending this game badly

The lack of a championship game will hurt the Big 12 champion. Mississippi State's chances will be diminished should it fail to play in the SEC Championship. The Big Ten Football Championship will give the committee one last chance to assess the Buckeyes against a highly ranked opponent. If Ohio State redeems itself and wins the championship this season, it has the strongest case for making the playoff.

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Jaelen Strong Injury: Updates on Arizona State Star's Concussion and Return

As the Arizona State Sun Devils make their push for the Pac-12 Championship Game, they may be without leading wide receiver Jaelen Strong.

According to Doug Haller of AZ Central, Strong suffered a concussion in ASU's heartbreaking loss to Oregon State on Saturday. 

Strong, who came down hard while going up for a pass late during ASU's attempted comeback, was removed from the game and did not return. AZ Central provides a photo of him attempting to get back on the field, though the team rightfully kept him out of play due to his head injury.

The Sun Devils may now need to take on Washington State without their best player. Though they will be heavily favored against the Cougars, the loss last week has taught ASU not to take conference opponents lightly.

Strong had a historically strong season in his first year at ASU. His 75 receptions for 1,122 yards are fifth and sixth, respectively, in the school's record book.

Coming off a campaign like that, much was expected of Strong in 2014. ESPN.com listed him on its preseason All-Pac-12 team, calling him "one of the conference’s best and a future pro."

When Taylor Kelly was out injured, Strong stepped up in a big way, recording two of his best performances with backup quarterback Mike Bercovici. Although it came in a losing effort, his 12 receptions for 146 against UCLA helped keep the Sun Devils until the third quarter. Two weeks later, his 10 receptions for 202 yards and three touchdowns were the difference in a 38-34 upset of USC.

With the way that Bercovici filled in for Kelly, one could argue that Strong is the most irreplaceable player in the ASU offense.

Arizona State has exceeded expectations in 2014, but in order for the team to make it to the conference championship, it will need Strong lined up out wide.

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4-Star Ohio State Commit Matthew Burrell Bringing Versatility, Recruiting Chops

Ohio State’s 2015 recruiting class netted a huge addition on Monday when 4-star offensive lineman Matthew Burrell committed to the Buckeyes.

Urban Meyer and his staff were able to beat out the likes of Florida State, Penn State, LSU and Tennessee for the 6’5”, 302-pounder’s commitment.

Burrell is the 21st pledge in a class that surged into the No. 5 spot in the 247Sports Team Rankings.

But what are the Buckeyes getting in Burrell, and what were the deciding factors that led him to commit to Meyer? 

According to his offensive line coach at C.D. Hylton High School in Woodbridge, Virginia—John Harris—Meyer and Buckeyes offensive line coach Ed Warinner played a pivotal role in Burrell’s choice.

“Matt’s big thing is relationships,” Harris said. “He’s a kid [who] is going to work very hard and do whatever he’s asked to do. He wanted to make sure that he trusted his head coach, but also that he trusted his position coach. He always had a good relationship with Coach Meyer. The more that [he] and Coach Warinner got to know each other, the more comfortable he felt with his decision.”

The Buckeyes have recruited him persistently since his sophomore season, and the trust factor with Meyer is what helped the Buckeyes stave off late pushes from schools such as Penn State, LSU and Tennessee. 

“He really just believed in what Coach Meyer was saying to him,” Harris said. “Matt is big on that. For him, if he’s going to dedicate the next four or five years of his life to you, he wants to know exactly who you are.”

As far as what they getting on the field with Burrell, Harris said it’s a package of smarts, physical toughness and versatility that made the U.S. Army All-American such a coveted prospect.

According to Barton Simmons of 247Sports, Burrell is a player who has proven to be at his best when competing against elite talents during numerous summer camps and at The Opening.

Harris praised his star pupil for being a punishing blocker with great footwork. But considering that he has a GPA of “a little over 3.5,” what sets Burrell apart is his intelligence and maturity level on and off the field. Those attributes, combined with his ability to play at multiple positions on the line, could help him get on the field early in Columbus.

“I think the thing that will help him the most is that he can play every position on the offensive line. As a young player on the next level, it kind of helps that he won’t be only a tackle or guard or center. That fact that he’s not only physically able to do it, but mentally knows how to play every position, that’s what will help him get on the field faster.

Just because he’s committed doesn’t mean that Burrell is done with the recruiting process. In fact, his next job may be to help the Buckeyes close out the 2015 class with a bang.

According to Harris, that’s a job that he’s more than capable of filling due to his outgoing personality.

“Not only is he a great player, with his personality, he’s going to be a great recruiter for them for years to come,” Harris said. "If I was his coach [at Ohio State], I would tell Matt to get on the bandwagon and start helping them recruit.”

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. 

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The State of the Heisman Trophy: Looking Beyond the Usual Candidates

ATLANTA — It's time to reinvent the Heisman Trophy.   

This is going to read like a putdown of the Heisman. It's not. It is meant as a nudge to restore the credibility that has eroded. A lot of fans watch the ceremony. Many others shrug. They know the winner in advance.

It is a fabulous award, a lifetime achievement for the winner. I know a Heisman winner, personally, and he is a good guy who was rewarded for a great season. If he became governor the first thing someone would say along the inaugural parade route is, "There goes the Heisman Trophy winner"—not, "There goes the guy who is going to fix education in this state."

That said, the voting for the most prestigious individual award in sports is shallow. Shallow as in a shallow pool of candidates and the benchmarks used by voters. Even if the Heisman Trust had its way and could muzzle all voters and polls and stop the vote from being shaped in November, you could pick the winner nine times out of 10 by December 1.

There was a website that predicted the Heisman winner 12 straight years. It doesn't seem to be following the race this year. It must have gotten bored and gone off to predict senate races. That, or the Heisman Trust businessmen got an injunction because the Internet guy killed the suspense.

Here is the winning formula. Don't tell anybody.

A quarterback or running back on a top 5 team with a bundle of yards.

Here is the backup formula.

A quarterback or running back on a team that has two or three losses, and that quarterback or running back has just too many yards to ignore. He's in, too.

There is the stray season, every 50 years or so, when hallowed Notre Dame is undefeated, its offense is merely OK, and somebody has to be in the mix for the Irish. So linebacker Manti Te'o finished second in 2009.

The pool of 11,250 Division I players gets whittled down to six guys pretty quickly with this formula.

You know and I know, Captain Obvious, the best college football player in America is not always a quarterback or running back.

This would be a terrific season to change the picture and find an offensive lineman, defensive lineman or linebacker who should be considered for the award. Front-runners have dropped out and created space. There is room for a wild card.

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is a strong candidate, and right now he is running away with it. Who doesn't like this kid? He might deserve it, but Mariota needs some rightful competition. I would guess that Mariota, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin and Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper will be invited. Tell me I'm wrong.

It's time the voters put more thought behind their ballots. Up until five years ago, it was almost impossible for them to make a case for a linemen or defensive player because you couldn't see them all. You had to go by the stats, or the game on TV, or a really terrific PR campaign, or the local Heisman pundit.

The stats and TV could not have told you that Utah defensive lineman Star Lotulelei, not Te'o, was a much better football players than Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel in 2012. You had to wait for the NFL scouts to tell you with the draft. Utah wasn't on TV much and D-linemen do not rack up big stats.

These days, there is no excuse not to poke around and watch a defensive lineman who rules in the trenches. Every game, it seems, is being taped by a media outlet and available on TV. Every game among the Power 5 is on a screen somewhere. There are rewinds galore available on the Internet.

So I invite the 929 Heisman voters, which include former winners, to go watch some clips of Southern Cal defensive tackle Leonard Williams, or Alabama's A'Shawn Robinson, or Washington outside linebacker/running back Shaq Thompson. See that guy Thompson for yourself. He averaged 7.2 yards per rush in one three-game stretch, yet he is a better linebacker. Who knew?

What about Alabama's Robinson at LSU? It took double teams to move him out of the hole, and the Tigers' fierce rushing game managed less than 4 yards a pop.

Wisconsin's Gordon had a great game against Nebraska. Got all those yards by himself did he? He was not the only guy on the field worth watching.

Why not just look at the Badgers' No. 7 flying around the defense, a marauder. Michael Caputo is a terrific player. He's a strong safety, I think, but hits people like an outside linebacker and goes where he wants to on the field. What about him? Watch him.

What about Wisconsin middle linebacker Marcus Trotter, a former walk-on? Did you see him against Nebraska? He has a made for TV story.

Here is what I know. The guys I go to in a locker room first are usually offensive linemen. The offensive linemen are asked to learn every position along the line in case of injuries. They are regularly tested—sometimes Friday nights before a game—to see if they know the blocking scheme against every defensive front. They have to dissect things. These guys can be pretty smart in front of cameras. Consider them with your Heisman vote.

If I'm building a team, an O-lineman is the first pick, unless Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck are sitting there.

The recent Heisman formula just isn't very complicated. The best quarterback on the best team by December 1 is the winner, or else it's the quarterback with the most sizzle on a team with two losses. Some years, if an undefeated team is dominating, and it has a 1,000-yard rusher, there is your winner. It leaves as a distant fourth the best player in the country in 2009, Nebraska defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, who had 12 tackles and 4.5 sacks in the 2009 Big 12 Championship Game.

It is getting harder and harder to sound a trumpet for another position to win the award because the game has become so quarterback-centric. The QBs just spit the ball out here and there, or they keep it. Their statistics pile up.

Defensive backs have the Lott Award. Linemen have the Outland. They are well-served. Quarterbacks and running backs have their awards, too, so you can't argue the linemen and defensive guys are already taken care of.

The award that counts the most in our college football culture is the Heisman. Make it mean something.

 

Ray Glier covers college football for Bleacher Report. He has covered college football and various other sports for 20 years. His work has appeared in USA TodayThe New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post and Al Jazeera America. He is the author of How the SEC Became Goliath (Howard/Simon & Schuster, 2013).

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Alabama Football: JK Scott Is the Surprising X-Factor for Fearsome Tide Defense

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When Alabama punter JK Scott jogs off the field after booming another one of his high, arcing punts that pins an opponent deep in their own end, safety Nick Perry gives him a thumbs up. Scott returns the gesture with a salute.

“He thinks he has swag,” Perry says, laughing.

Whatever swag Scott does have is much deserved.

The freshman punter from Denver, who was listed by most recruiting services as a kicker, has come in and immediately become one of Alabama’s most dominant players at his position.

He’s second in the country in punting average (46.84 yards) and tied for first in net punting (43.3 yards). As a true freshman, Scott is a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award.

From his first career punt in the Georgia Dome that traveled 62 yards to his 46-yarder the flipped the field in the fourth quarter against Mississippi State, Scott has almost become the Alabama defense’s secret weapon this season.

“He’s great. He’s great,” defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson said. “He’s a great punter. He does his job well and he counts on us to do our job well.”

Alabama coach Nick Saban can only gush when talking about his punter.

Where he preaches the process and constant improvement with most players, he says that with specialists like Scott, that isn’t the case.

“You know one of the biggest challenges I think for specialists, and we’ve gone through this with several of our guys, sometimes good enough is good enough. You don’t have to keep trying to get better. When you’re kicking every one of them 50 and 55 yards with a 5.0 [second] hangtime, that’s good enough. You don’t really have to try to keep going. And he’s one of those guys who always really wants to try to do a little better and keep going. He’s done a great job for us and certainly changed field position in critical times in several games this year.” 

Stop and think about that for a second. Saban, the ultimate perfectionist, telling a freshman they’re good enough.

The Legend of JK Scott continues to grow each week. It took a major step in Alabama’s win over No. 1 Mississippi State.

There’s an argument to be made that Scott was responsible for the biggest play of the game.

Alabama decided to go for it on 4th-and-4 at the MSU 33-yard line in the first quarter. Freshman left tackle Cam Robinson jumped offside, though, and Saban decided to punt.

Scott sent one 34 yards to the Bulldogs’ 4-yard line. After an incomplete pass, the defense tackled running back Josh Robinson in the end zone for a safety, setting the tone for a dominant defensive performance.

“The MVP of the game is probably Alabama’s punter,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said after the game in quotes emailed by Alabama. “When you’re playing quality teams, it’s hard to just think you’re just going to drive the ball at will on an excellent defense like Alabama. That ended up being a major factor.”

Scott’s defensive teammates agreed.

"He really deserves all the credit for that (safety) and we're glad to have him," defensive end Jonathan Allen told Brad Zimanek of the Montgomery Advertiser. "JK is a great punter. We really feed off him. After he punts, we really go out there excited. You cannot give him enough credit for the success of the defense in this game.

"He's really a part of the defense … a 12th man on the defense."

Scott flipping the field for the Alabama defense has been a major part of that unit's success this season, and it's given a lanky kid from Denver a little big of "swag" on a national title-contending team.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from cfbstats and ESPN. All recruiting information from 247Sports.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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SEC Football Q&A: What's More Likely, 2 SEC Playoff Teams or Zero?

The biggest game in Mississippi State history didn't go the way head coach Dan Mullen expected, as the previously No. 1 Bulldogs fell to Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Saturday 25-20 and lost control of their own SEC West destiny.

What about their playoff destiny, though?

Whether they're in or out of the Top Four this week in the College Football Playoff rankings, the 9-1 Bulldogs have a pretty strong case to make for the inaugural event. 

If both Alabama and Mississippi State win out, will both make it? Will chaos continue and zero teams make it? That question, plus a look at a Georgia freshman sensation and an SEC Championship Game prediction are in this week's SEC Q&A.

 

Without question, it's more likely that zero SEC teams are in the College Football Playoff than it is that two get in.

It doesn't really matter where they're ranked midseason. One of the stated points of emphasis of the selection committee is conference championships, and those simply won't exist until championship Saturday. How important will they be?

"All I heard about before this thing got started was the commissioners—the only reason they agreed to this—is if the conference champion...'the only way we agree to this is if the conference champions were going to be recognized and honored by having a chance to get in there,'" ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit told B/R during his tour promoting the Allstate VIP "It's Good" sweepstakes . "I didn't just hear that one or two times, I heard that repeatedly."

That should terrify Mississippi State fans because there will be one-loss teams with conference titles to boast on "Selection Sunday," and if Mississippi State isn't one of them, it runs the risk of getting jumped despite a resume that might be stronger than some conference champions.

Zero SEC teams in the College Football Playoff? That could happen. If Missouri or Georgia beats the SEC West contender in the SEC Championship Game, neither would be a lock for a playoff spot. Missouri has an ugly home loss to Indiana on its resume, and Georgia's losses to South Carolina and Florida won't sit well with the selection committee, either.

If chalk holds around the country and Florida State, Oregon, TCU/Baylor and Ohio State all don't lose, I don't see either of those SEC East teams getting in.

 

Oh, without a doubt.

What Nick Chubb has done this season has been nothing short of remarkable. During incredibly trying and unexpected times, he stepped in for superstar Todd Gurley during his suspension, and the offense didn't miss a beat.

For a true freshman to step in and rush for 1,039 yards on 152 carries and score nine touchdowns is impressive regardless of the situation. But to do it in the middle of a division title race in place of a superstar who is unexpectedly absent makes him one of the—if not the—most valuable players on Georgia's roster.

With that said, though, it's going to be very difficult for Chubb—or any running back—to win the Heisman Trophy. Only two non-quarterbacks have won it since 2000, and one of those was former USC star Reggie Bush, who returned it after the NCAA came calling.

Chubb will be in the mix and a big part of Georgia's offense next year, especially considering it'll be breaking in a new starting quarterback. But he might have to have a Melvin Gordon-like season to have a legitimate chance at winning.

 

After the way Auburn looked against Georgia—with literally nothing going right—it's hard to imagine the Tigers rolling into Tuscaloosa and upsetting the Alabama Crimson Tide in two weeks. So I'll switch my pick and say Alabama now.

In the East, I'll go with Georgia.

The Bulldogs are in the clubhouse with a 6-2 conference record and need Missouri to lose one of its final two games—at Tennessee and vs. Arkansas—to go to Atlanta. Not only will Missouri lose this weekend to the Vols, it'll lose both.

Tennessee has found a spark in quarterback Joshua Dobbs, and its defense should be able to rattle Tigers quarterback Maty Mauk, who has thrown 10 picks and is ninth in the SEC in passer rating (118.56). Arkansas' defense found some life last week in the shutout over LSU and, now that it knows what it takes to win in the SEC, will be difficult for anyone to stop moving forward.

If it's Alabama vs. Georgia in Atlanta, it would be a rematch of the 2012 classic that saw Georgia fall five yards short of winning the SEC and advancing to the BCS National Championship Game. That would make for quite a matchup.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Todd Gurley's Legacy Will Go Down as the Best Big-Play RB in Georgia History

Barring an unlikely decision to return for his senior season, Georgia running back Todd Gurley’s collegiate career has ended.

Gurley’s time as a Bulldog ends without a Heisman Trophy and (as of this moment) without an SEC Championship.  He’ll go down as second in Georgia history in a host of statistical categories—rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, all-purpose yards, total touchdowns, etc.  But his legacy as the greatest big-play running back in Georgia history is what cements him as one of college football’s all-time greats.

On paper, Gurley shouldn’t be in such high-profile conversations.  Coming out of high school, Gurley was not even the most celebrated running back recruit of Georgia’s 2012 class.  According to ESPN, Scout and 247Sports, that distinction belonged to fellow North Carolina native Keith Marshall.  Of the major recruiting services, only Rivals listed Gurley ahead of Marshall.  To be sure, his commitment was celebrated, but Marshall was the running back of the future.

Once he arrived on campus and former SEC Freshman of the Year Isaiah Crowell departed, that story changed.  But even with Gurley’s rapid and unexpected (if not downright shocking) rise to stardom, his overall output still exceeds what seems feasible given his input.  Put more bluntly: Todd Gurley didn’t play all that much football at the University of Georgia.

As a freshman, Gurley played in all 14 of Georgia’s contests, but his playing time diminished in 2013 and 2014. His sophomore year was plagued by leg injuries and as a result he missed large chunks of the Clemson and LSU games and the entirety of three midseason conference games.  This year, Gurley played just one offensive series as Georgia dismantled Troy, and he famously missed four games due to suspension.  Now, he’ll miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury.

Though the Bulldogs currently trail Missouri in SEC East standings, there’s still a hope for Georgia to sneak into the SEC Championship Game.  If that scenario comes to fruition the Dawgs will play 14 games this season, which means Gurley will have appeared in just 30 of 41 possible games over the course of his three-year career.  But despite that low appearance rate, he’s fully worthy of comparison to the greatest running backs in college football history if for no other reason than his ability to make big plays in big games.

Saying that Gurley burst onto the scene in 2012 would be giving bursts too much credit. 

In his first career game against Buffalo, Gurley came off the bench (Ken Malcome, now with Southern Illinois, started) and turned eight carries into 100 yards and two touchdowns while adding a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.  By comparison and in hindsight, Buffalo was hardly a big game for the Bulldogs.  But that type of performance in a significant game for a true freshman set the tone for Gurley’s career.

Later that season he gashed Tennessee for 130 yards and three scores in a 51-44 shootout.  He topped the 100-yard marker against Florida and in doing so helped Georgia win consecutive games against the Gators for the first time since the 1980s. 

In his inaugural appearance in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, he ran for 116 yards on just 11 carries against Auburn.  Later, in the SEC Championship Game he ran for 122 yards, the highest total surrendered by the Alabama Crimson Tide all season.  True to big-game form, Gurley ran for 125 yards in a bowl game victory over Nebraska.

His sophomore campaign, injury-riddled as it may have been, was still defined by big plays against big competition.

Against two powers from the Palmetto State, Clemson and South Carolina, Gurley combined for 295 yards of offense and four touchdowns.  Against highly ranked LSU he racked up 86 yards of offense on just nine touches before going down with injury. 

His huge first-half performance against Florida propelled Georgia to victory and his 156-yard offensive output against Auburn kept the Dawgs in the game.  In a 41-34 victory over Georgia Tech, Gurley accounted for both scores and all 50 yards of offense in the two overtime periods.

Even in his ill-fated junior campaign, Gurley provided enough highlights to hide the darkness of his suspension and injury.

He set a school record for all-purpose yardage and notched four touchdowns in the season opener against Clemson.  He ran resiliently in defeat against South Carolina.  He took over the Tennessee game late with 129 yards, five first downs and a touchdown in the fourth quarter alone as Georgia held on for a 35-32 victory. 

Even in a blowout win over Vanderbilt, Gurley stood out thanks in no small part to a 50-yard completed pass to tight end Jeb Blazevich (to date, the longest pass of the season for Georgia).

As fans, particularly college football fans, we know all too well that all good things come to an end.  But Todd Gurley wasn’t a good thing; he was a great thing.  In some regards, that greatness is magnified by the unaligned way with which his fantastic career came to such a heart-wrenchingly ugly end.

As news of Gurley’s ACL tear spread this week, Georgia head coach Mark Richt told Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Gurley was a pleasure to coach.  “Todd has been fantastic,” he said.  “Without a doubt one of the best running backs I’ve ever seen or ever coached.  Practiced hard, played hard, loved the big games and played his heart out for Georgia.”

Richt poignantly encapsulated this intricately brilliant career in just a few short words.  Gurley practiced hard.  He played hard.  He was one of the best.  But no one so consistently provided big plays in the biggest moments. That’s what Todd Gurley will be remembered for at the collegiate level, and that’s what he’ll do as a professional.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all stats courtesy of sports-reference.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Which Elite 2015 Recruits Have the Attributes to Make the Ultimate CB?

A college cornerback must possess many attributes, including ball skills, physicality, speed and vision. Each cornerback recruit excels in different areas, but we have combined them to make the ultimate cornerback recruit for the 2015 class.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down the attributes to make the ultimate 2015 cornerback recruit. 

What do you think makes a good cornerback?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Sheldon Day Injury: Updates on Notre Dame Star's Knee and Return

Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive lineman Sheldon Day has an MCL sprain and will miss Saturday’s game against the Louisville Cardinals at home, according to Douglas Farmer of 247Sports:

Day, a junior, has seen extensive action for the Irish since his freshman season and is a valuable presence up front.   

He has amassed 38 combined tackles in his 10 games this season. He earned his first sack of the year against Northwestern last week. The Fighting Irish are 7-3 with Day in the lineup.

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Watch High School Onside Kick Go Terribly Wrong

Trickery can be a useful tool in sports, unless you're playing Hugh Cade of Buchtel High School (Akron, Ohio), who will have none of it. Watch as a team tries a surprise onside kick, and then watch what Cade does. 

Have you ever seen a worse onside kick attempt?

Watch the video and let us know!

Highlights courtesy of Hudl.

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Michigan Wolverines vs. Maryland Terrapins Complete Game Preview

Michigan (5-5, 3-3 Big Ten) has bounced back with two consecutive victories after being thrashed by instate rival Michigan State, 35-11, at the end of last month. The victories have kept bowl hopes alive, but Brady Hoke needs another win to extend Michigan’s season.

Michigan returns home to face Maryland (6-4, 3-3 Big Ten) for senior day, where 12 players will have their last game at Michigan Stadium. But defensive end Frank Clark will not be among them after being dismissed from the program following an arrest for domestic violence.

Clark’s dismissal was only part of the drama for Hoke during Michigan’s bye week. University president Mark Schlissel was forced to backtrack after launching a verbal assault on the academic integrity of the Michigan football program. Hoke accepted Schlissel’s apology while citing statistics that every football player who stayed through their senior season (69) had graduated during his tenure.

Turmoil continues to swirl around the football program as Michigan looks to seal a bowl bid with a victory in its home finale. The early onset of wintery weather in Michigan coupled with a 3:30 p.m. start time promises sparse attendance (at least by Michigan’s standards) for what may be Brady Hoke’s swan song as head coach.


Date: Saturday, November 22, 2014

Time: 3:30 p.m. EDT

Place: Michigan Stadium (109,901), Ann Arbor, Mich.

Series vs. Maryland: Michigan leads series 3-0

Television: BTN

Radio: Michigan Sports Network, Sirius (113), XM (195)

Spread: Michigan by 3 via Odds Shark

Live Stats: University of Michigan Statbroadcast

Last Meeting vs. Maryland:

Maryland suffered a 45-17 loss at Michigan Stadium in 1990. Michigan (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten) went on to finish the season No. 7 in the AP poll after defeating Ole Miss 35-3 in the Gator Bowl. Maryland finished 6-5-1 (4-3 ACC) and tied Louisiana Tech 34-34 in the Independence Bowl.


*Information according to University of Michigan Wolverine Football game notes.

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Why Texas Is the Team No College Football Team Wants to Face in a Bowl Game

Charlie Strong's Texas Longhorns are bowl-eligible. That could be bad news for whichever team gets matched up against them in the postseason. 

A convincing 28-7 rout at Oklahoma State in Week 12 marked the third straight win for Texas—and the fourth in the past five games—after it began the season 2-4. David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest calls Texas the most improved team in the Big 12 from the start of conference play to now. 

It started with changing the mentality and honoring Strong's core values: honesty, treating women with respect, and no drugs, stealing or guns. 

By the time Texas took the field against Oklahoma State, Strong was convincing his players that the outside temperature was just a number. 

To be clear, the Longhorns aren't college football's most dangerous team. They're not going to be playing in a College Football Playoff semifinal, and there's only a thin chance they'll actually win the Big 12.

Still, the turnaround in Austin appears to have started. Here's how it happened. 

 

Growing Pains and Buying In

It helps that the Horns have been able to improve against the softer part of their schedule. Even before the season began, the first six games—which included BYU, UCLA, Baylor and Oklahoma—looked daunting. Then came the attrition through injuries, suspensions and dismissals.

Texas lost its two most valuable offensive players, center Dominic Espinosa and quarterback David Ash, to season- and career-ending injuries, respectively, in early September. The O-line was one of the least experienced groups in major college football, and backup quarterback Tyrone Swoopes was thrust into the starting job. 

On top of that, starting cornerback Quandre Diggs, an outspoken leader of the team, told Max Olson of ESPN.com in July that there were players on the roster who weren't going to last: 

I told Coach Strong that I just feel like we had guys on the team that just didn't love football the way they should. That's something that I've always sensed since I've been here: We had guys that just didn't love football. If you don't love football, you don't need to be a part of this university or a part of this team. That's just something I feel greatly and strong about.

Combine the attrition and inexperience, and there were going to be growing pains. 

Texas' talented defense, which includes players such as Diggs and defensive tackle Malcolm Brown, has usually played well enough to win. On the season, the Horns have given up just 21 points per game, 19th in the country, and 4.59 yards per play. In short, the defense did what it could, but it didn't get help from the offense until recently. 

Sure enough, close games resulted in losses. In three of Texas' five losses, the Longhorns trailed by only one possession at halftime. Only Kansas State led by two, and the Horns actually led UCLA at the half. 

Texas has been an awful second-half team, specifically in the third quarter, when the offense usually came out flat. In third quarters, Texas averages just under 3.6 yards per carry on the ground—nearly a full yard less than in the first half. On the season, Texas has scored just two touchdowns in the third quarter. 

That's not helping the defense, and the results showed. In the second half of games this season, the Longhorns have given up nearly double the rush yards (2.89 in the first half versus 4.79 in the second), though they remain consistent against the pass (about 5.5 yards per attempt given up per game). 

Once the offense got going, things changed for the better. 

 

An Offensive Revival 

Now that the offense has picked up and scored 31.7 points per game in the month of November, Texas is looking like a team that can cause headaches for opponents. 

Texas is not a high-powered offense. The Horns run about 71 plays per game and aren't very explosive, but the offense is becoming more effective. In the last five games, Swoopes has thrown for at least 200 yards three times and has five touchdowns to just two interceptions. 

Swoopes has been and continues to be a work in progress. He takes three steps forward, two steps back and so on, but he easily had his best game of the season against the Cowboys. With the one-two punch of Johnathan Gray and Brown at running back, it's a pick-your-poison type of backfield. In two of the past three games, Gray or Brown has eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark.

That also says a lot about how the offensive line has come together. 

It's not an offense to be compared to the likes of Baylor or TCU, but it works for a defensive-minded coach like Strong. Over the past three games, Texas has exerted dominance over middle-of-the-road Big 12 teams. 

It's not a narrative-driven Big 12 offense that runs 100 plays and scores 50 points a game, but that was never going to be Strong's modus operandi. Rather, it's a slow, gradual tightening of the noose that's never truly a blowout but never in doubt either. 

Whether that formula works in Texas' season-ending game against TCU (Nov. 27) remains to be seen. The Frogs are on a path to at least a share of the Big 12 title and could be a playoff team. The difference in offensive production from a year ago to now for TCU might be the most dramatic in the country. 

Certainly, it could be Texas' toughest challenge to date. Win or lose, making TCU work for everything, like the Longhorns have made other teams do all year, would be a sign that the Longhorns are still improving. 

One benefit of going to a bowl is the extra practice, which Texas badly needs. Every chance for Swoopes to improve, for the offensive line to play together, for the team to continue to grow is valuable.  

With as many as 15 more practices under Texas' belt, the Longhorns could be the team no opponent wants to play in bowl season. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida Shouldn't Be Scared of Hiring a Coordinator as Its New Head Coach

The coaching silly season got off to a quick start in mid-November, when Florida announced that head coach Will Muschamp will be stepping down at the end of the season after four years in Gainesville.

So where does Florida go from here?

Athletic director Jeremy Foley shed some light into what specifically he's looking for on Monday.

"We would obviously like an individual that's been successful on the offensive side of the ball, I think obviously that's what the Gator Nation wants and we see that and that's what we're certainly going to try to provide for them," he said in quotes emailed by Florida.

So does that eliminate coordinators from consideration?

Muschamp got the role with no previous experience as a head coach, and the idea of going the coordinator route again might not sit well with the fanbase. When asked specifically if the new coach has to have head coaching experience, Foley dodged the question like Peter La Fleur in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.

"I commented I'm not going to get into the specifics of what we're looking for," he said.

If recent trends matter, though, it's likely that Florida's new direction will include a move to a more potent offense with a leader who knows what he's doing.

"Lee Corso taught me this long ago," ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit told Bleacher Report as part of his tour promoting the AllState VIP "It's Good" sweepstakes. "He said 'Watch when it comes to coaching. Whoever they fire, they'll bring in the complete opposite.' So, Will Muschamp—a coordinator and he's never been a head coach. They're going to go out and get an established head coach. Will Muschamp, defensive-oriented coach. They're going to go out and hire an offensive-minded head coach."

Florida shouldn't be scared to go the coordinator route again.

Sure, if candidates like Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain or Marshall's Doc Holliday are interested, they'd certainly be fantastic hires.

Would they be better than Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, a coach who has proven that—with a quarterback who fits his offense—he can produce at an elite level?

That's in the eye of the beholder.

First and foremost, Florida needs an offensive innovator. Whether he's an offensive innovator who has head coaching experience or has gotten the job done as an assistant, it doesn't matter.

Florida ranks 12th in total offense this season (373.3 YPG), has finished 10th or worse in the SEC in total offense in every season under Muschamp and five straight counting back to Urban Meyer's last season in Gainesville.

Finding a coach who can fix that is job No. 1.

Does Holliday's success at Marshall prove that he can run a program that can win in the SEC? How about McElwain?

The risk by going the coordinator route is there, but it isn't much different than if Florida goes with a coach with head coaching experience at smaller programs. They still have to adjust to the talent level, hire a staff that knows the recruiting territory and learn what it takes to win at the highest level of college football.

Besides, as Andrew Spivey of GatorCountry.com points out, sometimes coordinators—like Morris—haven't taken big jobs for a very specific reason:

That's a good thing. That should tell Foley that, while Morris may not have the experience on his resume that Gator Nation wants, he knows that it takes to build a successful staff within the SEC.

If Florida can pony up that money—and there's nothing to suggest that it can't—the mere fact that Morris is currently a coordinator should have no bearing on Foley's decision-making.

Just because a coach is similar in experience to Muschamp doesn't mean he will suffer the same fate.

A hire is a risk, and sometimes the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward in the end.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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