NCAA Football News

Florida State Football's Road to Making the College Football Playoff

The Florida State football team is No. 2 and in position to earn one of four spots in the College Football Playoff. All the Seminoles need to do is keep winning to assure the 2013 national champs that they will have a chance to repeat.

Coach Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles were on a plane Tuesday night when the playoff committee announced its rankings and found out that FSU was No. 2 when the team landed in Louisville, Kentucky.

 

FSU has won 23 straight games and looks to make it 24 when the Seminoles face Louisville (6-2, 4-2 ACC) on Thursday night. The Seminoles haven't put together dominating wins in 2014. They've held off late rallies and used a few comebacks of their own. 

"It hasn't been pretty," ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit said on the College Football Playoff television show Tuesday night. "But they've won. It isn't always about style points, it's about winning and moving on to the next week."

Style points matter little at this point. FSU needs to just win its five remaining regular-season games and the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 6 to ensure its spot in the playoff.

Let's take a look at FSU's obstacles in the road ahead:

 

Biggest Obstacles to a Playoff Berth

FSU's toughest remaining game could be Thursday's showdown with Louisville. The Cardinals have the nation's No. 1 defense and No. 1 rush defense. FSU has struggled to run the ball, ranking 101st nationally, so the Seminoles will need to put the game on quarterback Jameis Winston's shoulders.

After the Louisville game, FSU will play four games against unranked teams as the Seminoles face Virginia (4-4), travel to Miami (5-3), host Boston College (5-3) and finish the regular season at home against Florida (3-3). 

While the Miami game is FSU's last road contest, the Seminoles have played well against the Hurricanes in recent years. Fisher is 4-0 vs. Miami as FSU's head coach, and the Seminoles haven't lost at Miami since 2004. The Hurricanes have had an up-and-down season, but tailback Duke Johnson has been tough to stop, rushing for 1,036 yards and seven touchdowns.

Florida has been shaky on offense and is replacing junior Jeff Driskel with true freshman Treon Harris on Saturday when the Gators play Georgia in Jacksonville, Florida. Harris could provide a spark to the team, but it remains to be seen how effective he will be when playing on the road against FSU.

 

Help Needed

FSU has the luxury of being one of two unbeaten teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (Marshall is technically the third but considered a long shot and is not ranked by the playoff committee). While the Seminoles don't need help, they will certainly get it from the head-to-head games in the SEC and other conferences.

The sheer volume of potential one-loss teams that have a chance to reach the playoff is staggering. Of the 25 teams ranked by the committee on Tuesday, 17 have one loss. But there is also a full month of football remaining, not to mention pivotal conference championship games.

And by default there are head-to-head SEC games that will help clarify the playoff teams. In the SEC, Alabama and Auburn will play on Nov. 29, which could be an elimination game (one team will go to sleep that night with two losses). Mississippi State will also play at Ole Miss that same day.

 

Prediction

The road ahead includes five games—and Louisville at No. 25 by the playoff committee is the only ranked team. FSU must win on Thursday at Louisville, but then all of the games are at least in the Sunshine State.

All of FSU's opponents after Louisville may be unranked, but they all appear headed to a bowl game with the exception of the Gators, who are 3-3 and will be fighting for bowl-eligibility. While all the remaining teams are unranked, the road isn't necessarily easy. Rivalry games simply can't be viewed that way.

Louisville is statistically the toughest defense left on the schedule for FSU. If the Seminoles get past the Cardinals, expect them to handle the rest of the schedule and finish the regular season 12-0. The ACC's Atlantic Division champion could be any one of a large group of teams, but FSU's talent and depth are two reasons to think the Seminoles will win. 

A rematch against Miami or Virginia in the ACC Championship Game is certainly less than desirable, but FSU should be able to win on a neutral field.

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, all quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All stats courtesy of seminoles.com.

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Notre Dame Football: The Irish's Road to Making the College Football Playoff

The early ballots are in. Notre Dame's got work to do.

That's hardly surprising, especially with the Irish's most impressive performance coming in defeat to No. 2 Florida State. But that the College Football Playoff's selection committee slotted the Irish in at No. 10 in their first official ballot gives you an idea that not only do the Irish have to win their remaining football games, but they'll need some help along the way.

But that help is on the way. Both with opportunities on the field and challenges coming to the programs ranked ahead of the Irish. So while panic has likely set in for every contender not inside the top four, a quick history lesson should at least help cure the temporary insanity that's set in. 

Just take a look at the shakeup that hit college football last season from Week 9 on. No. 1 Alabama went 4-1 down the stretch and lost its chance to play for the BCS title. No. 2 Oregon went 3-2 and fell outside the Top 10. Undefeated FSU leap-frogged both by winning and ended up in the title game, while No. 4 Ohio State lost late and fell to No. 6.

At this time last year, Miami was No. 6 in the country and undefeated. Al Golden's team went 3-3 to close the season and finished unranked.

Recent history won't make Irish fans feel better about where they sit in these initial rankings. But with five more opportunities to play this season, the focus stays on the field for Brian Kelly, whose young team isn't good enough to win games and scoreboard watch. 

 

Biggest Obstacles to Playoff Berth

Each of the five teams Notre Dame faces this November has the ability to beat the Irish. That's reason enough for this young football team to keep their heads down and let everything sort itself out. 

The first challenge comes this weekend from Navy, who last year played a near-perfect game and almost left South Bend with another shocking upset. From there the Irish travel to the desert, where the Sun Devils and their dynamic passing offense await. 

Ranked 14th in the poll and likely to climb higher if they beat Utah this weekend, a victory over Arizona State is the type of win that impressed the committee early. The Sun Devils could continue to be the Irish's best friends by winning after they play the Irish, as well, with Arizona and two other conference games still on their slate before a potential Pac-12 title game. 

Northwestern isn't likely to be ranked regardless of what happens in its next two games against Iowa and Michigan, but Pat Fitzgerald's team has won some big games. They knocked off a Wisconsin team that had LSU on the ropes and blew out a Penn State team that took Ohio State to overtime. While that likely says more about the Big Ten this year than the Wildcats, in a rivalry for the pride of Chicagoland, expect Notre Dame's neighbors from Evanston to come to South Bend looking to spring an upset. 

While Louisville slotted in at No. 25 in the initial playoff rankings, they'll have a chance to shoot up the boards come Thursday against Florida State. That upset would likely hurt the Irish now but maybe help them later if they're able to take care of the Cardinal when they come to town in a few weeks. 

Lastly, the season ends in Southern California for the annual date with USC. In Steve Sarkisian's first season atop Troy, the Trojans have lost three close games, bumping them from any shot at a playoff berth. But they're poised to be spoilers down the stretch, with rivalry games against UCLA and the Irish remaining. 

While none of Notre Dame's future opponents have the possibility of being a "signature victory" (one of the more ridiculous notions in college football), five more wins would put the Irish at a balanced 11-1 that will match up with the best records in college football.  

 

Help Needed

At this point, it's clear that Notre Dame needs some help to jump into the four playoff spots. But that help is coming in November. Of the nine teams ranked ahead of the Irish, six will square off, creating elimination games along the way. TCU and Kansas State will play a Big 12 elimination game. The Egg Bowl and the Iron Bowl will add another loss to the ledgers of either Mississippi State or Ole Miss, as well as Alabama and Auburn. 

At this point, worrying about Oregon or Michigan State looking like the better one-loss team is a fruitless endeavor. The Ducks have made a habit of late-season swoons lately, and even if the Spartans get by Ohio State this weekend, matching resumes between a team with wins over Jacksonville State, Eastern Michigan and Wyoming—in addition to a 19-point loss—will likely come out in Notre Dame's favor, especially if Florida State continues to win. 

While the "survive and advance" mentality that reigned during the BCS era of human polls has many fans worried that there's too much ground to make up or teams to leap frog, committee chairman Jeff Long tried his best to acknowledge that this vote is merely a snapshot that's certain to change. 

"Everyone on the selection committee recognized that our rankings will change over the next six weeks," Long told ESPN's Rece Davis during the telecast. "I think that's important for us to emphasize. We expect our rankings to change over the next six weeks. One week's rankings won't influence the next week's rankings."

 

Prediction

For as much chatter as there is certain to be over the coming weeks, Notre Dame's goals remain clear. Win the remainder of your football games, and let the rest sort itself out. 

In many ways, the committee's placement of the Irish makes sense when you consider that it's far too early to reward teams for impressive losses. So while an 11-1 Notre Dame team likely gets that benefit of the doubt, a 6-1 team with its best victory a 17-14 struggle over a now-three-loss Stanford team doesn't. 

It's up to the Irish to change perceptions. They can do that by winning impressively over their five remaining opponents. They've have a prime-time opportunity to blow by Navy. They have a rare 3:30 p.m. ET start for an away game, where a national audience will see them battle Arizona State. Add in quality-win opportunities against Louisville and USC, and everything is still possible. 

Brian Kelly can use the loss to Florida State as fuel for November. And he'll be able to use Notre Dame's placement in the first playoff poll in the same way. 

An 11-1 Notre Dame team a controversial penalty away from being unbeaten won't be left on the outside looking in. So if the Irish can run the table in November, they'll have a month to prepare for a battle with the No. 1 seed. 

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The Secret Behind the Nation's Best Offense

TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin is leading one of the nation's most prolific offenses in the 2014 season. Boykin has made huge strides to become a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender, but he has had a lot of help.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses the man who has helped Boykin mature so quickly as a quarterback. 

Do you think Boykin will make it to the Heisman ceremony?

Watch the video and let us know!

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College Football Sleeper Teams with the Best Shot of Making the Playoff

The College Football Playoff selection committee released its first rankings of the season Tuesday evening, shining a light on how the people charged with creating the four-team bracket view the teams competing to be included in it.

The release of the rankings, more than anything, remind us that the season is nearing an end. But we're not so close that things can't change momentously. Last year at this time, Auburn was No. 11 in the BCS rankings and Michigan State was No. 22.

Both of those teams finished in the BCS top four.

In putting together this list, "sleeper" wasn't defined by any sort of quantitative metric. It was defined as any team that isn't being talked about as a legitimate threat to make the playoff.

Then, in listing the sleepers with the best chance of making the playoff, factors such as talent, coaching, current form and (most importantly) schedule were taken into consideration. This is not necessarily the best teams no one is talking about as a playoff contender; if it were, LSU might have made the cut.

It's the teams with the best chance of crashing the party.

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Whatever Happened To: Sports Edition

In the enormous, always-changing world of sports, fans are regularly left wondering, "Whatever happened to" this or that?

Rules frequently change, technology constantly redefines, and even stars can vanish before we know it.

Athletes we were ready to idolize—such as Johan Santana and Freddy Adu—disappeared in what seemed like a moment. And ideas we thought were forever—like FoxTrax and Reebok Pumps—were actually nothing more than fads.

So below—in our Whatever Happened To: Sports Edition list—we celebrate some of our favorite sports things and people that quickly disappeared but are definitely worth remembering.

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Auburn Football: Tigers' Road to Making the College Football Playoff

AUBURN, Ala. — On Tuesday night, when the college football world awaited the first College Football Playoff rankings, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn wasn't tuning in to ESPN.

A few hours earlier, in his weekly press conference, Malzahn said he wasn't going to pay attention to the highly anticipated release.

"It does not concern me at all," Malzahn said.

So when his Tigers were unveiled as the No. 3 team in the new system, Malzahn was out on the practice field.

After all, Auburn is just a few days away from a tough road trip to Ole Miss, the new No. 4 team in the CFP Rankings.

And Saturday's important matchup is what has the full attention of Malzahn and the defending SEC champions.

"I’m viewing this Saturday as the biggest game on the schedule," Malzahn said. "We’ve got to go there and we’ve got to play well to win. That’s the only thing on our mind. We aren’t looking ahead to this and that. We are going to Ole Miss and we are trying to win the game."

Auburn is quite familiar with the "one game at a time" approach at this point in the schedule. The Tigers remember last season, when they took a loss to an SEC West opponent in the first half of the season and rallied to become conference champions.

As Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs noted several times on Twitter, this football program has been there before:

 

Biggest Obstacles to Playoff Berth

Auburn has two home games and three road games left on its schedule, and all three trips away from Jordan-Hare Stadium are huge roadblocks.

As Mississippi State, which beat the Tigers earlier this month, continues its run atop the SEC standings, Auburn faces three one-loss teams that are also fighting to cement themselves into the first ever playoff. 

All three teams have their impressive strengths and dangerous weaknesses, and so do the Tigers, who will most likely have to knock off all three teams on the road in order to get a spot in the final four.

Saturday's game against Ole Miss takes place against a team and inside a home-field environment that defeated rival Alabama earlier this season.

The Rebels boast the nation's top scoring defense but have a hard time running the football—and then there is quarterback Bo Wallace, who has shown excellence and, most recently, errors in the passing game.

Two weeks later, after a possible trap game at home against pass-happy Texas A&M, Auburn will face cross-divisional rival Georgia between the hedges in Athens. The Bulldogs are getting back to full strength on both sides of the ball after a slow start to the season, and Auburn has struggled in recent years inside Sanford Stadium.

Finally, following a home finale against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Samford, Auburn will travel to Alabama for the highly anticipated Iron Bowl—a rematch of last season's instant classic that could once again play a huge role in the national title picture.

Like Auburn, Alabama hasn't been consistently at its best throughout the season, but the likes of star wide receiver Amari Cooper and a loaded backfield will be focused on keeping pace with Auburn's explosive offense.

All three of these conference road games are equally important to Auburn's playoff hopes because just one loss would virtually eliminate the Tigers from contention.

 

Help Needed

Tuesday night's poll results confirmed what Auburn already expected, with only one loss to No. 1 Mississippi State and a road win against fellow playoff contender Kansas State: If the Tigers win out, they should be in the playoff, regardless of what happens to Mississippi State.

Auburn is currently the top one-loss team, and don't expect that to change in the month of November if the Tigers get through their brutal road schedule unscathed.

However, Auburn would like to get some help from fellow divisional foes Ole Miss and Alabama in ending Mississippi State's run to Atlanta for the SEC Championship.

The Bulldogs would need to lose twice for Auburn to win the West, so keep an eye on two dates: Nov. 15 (Mississippi State at Alabama) and Nov. 29 (Mississippi State at Ole Miss). Of course, the Tigers will have their hands full on both of those dates with the "Amen Corner" road trips.

Auburn winning out wouldn't guarantee a playoff spot, but the way the committee voted in its first poll shows how highly it values Malzahn's one-loss team at this point.

 

Prediction

I personally do not see Auburn having trouble with Texas A&M a week from Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium, and the Samford game will be another easy blowout win against an FCS opponent.

I also didn't pick the Tigers to lose at Ole Miss this weekend, although that game looks like it could easily go either way.

In the end, if Nick Marshall and Co. hold on to the football, I trust Auburn's offense to keep up its momentum against an Ole Miss defense that gave up a good chunk of rushing yardage against LSU last weekend.

However, judging by the quality of Auburn so far this season and the state of its last two road opponents, I do not think the Tigers will receive a playoff berth at the end of the schedule.

I see one more loss for Auburn, and I am leaning toward the Georgia game—a pick I made this preseason—as the one that will end those national title dreams.

Getting through three insanely tough road games against three playoff contenders looks to be too tall of a task for an Auburn team that has such a leaky secondary and lack of a pass rush.

The Tigers could improve in both of these areas this weekend against the Rebels and carry huge momentum into Athens and Tuscaloosa, but I don't see three straight road wins for this team right now.

I see Auburn finishing 10-2 this season, with both losses coming on the road against the top two teams in the SEC and earning a "New Year's Six" berth in either the Peach, Fiesta or Cotton Bowl.

But winning out and even earning a spot in the SEC Championship Game is nowhere near impossible for a team that has been nothing short of unpredictable. After all, I have been completely off the mark with my lastthreepredictions.

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

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A Star Reborn: The Ultimate Amari Cooper Hype Tape

Amari Cooper has been opening eyes throughout his tenure at Alabama. From his breakout freshman year to his current junior campaign, the talented wideout has left his mark in Tuscaloosa. 

What are your thoughts on the maturation of this explosive wide receiver?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Do the LSU Tigers Have What It Takes to End Alabama's Playoff Hopes?

The LSU Tigers bounced back with a huge win against Ole Miss, and the Alabama Crimson Tide have been rolling along since their unfortunate loss to that same Rebels team.

The LSU-Alabama rivalry will be renewed next week.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder discuss whether the LSU Tigers can knock off the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Can anyone stop Alabama?

Watch the video and let us know.

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Notre Dame Football: Investigating Brian Kelly's History Against the Option

SOUTH BEND, Ind.—Notre Dame football kicks off a difficult final five games of the regular season with a unique challenge Saturday in Navy’s triple-option offense.

In an annual or biannual event, the Irish must recalibrate their defense completely to face these run-based offenses. When discussing the Midshipmen, Irish head coach Brian Kelly called such offenses “a great equalizer” in college football as it relates to size, speed and strength.

“They create a lot of problems, and I think the most important thing is it's not whether you're athletic or strong or physical, it's whether you can be one-eleventh of that unit and do your job, and get off blocks and make plays and make tackles,” Kelly said.

Kelly has already had seven games going up against option teams through his first four seasons in South Bend. With the Midshipmen waiting for the Irish on Saturday night, we went back and examined—by the numbers—Kelly’s history defending the option since he’s been at Notre Dame.

 

Looking Back

The service academics have trotted out their option offenses against the Irish in recent years, with Kelly and his squad facing Navy and Army in 2010, Air Force and Navy in 2011, Navy in 2012 and Air Force and Navy in 2013.

Things got off to a shaky start against the option in 2010, as the Midshipmen toppled Notre Dame, 35-17, behind a prolific ground attack. Notre Dame struggled with the Falcons in 2011 but still managed a hefty 59-33 victory. Navy again gave the Irish fits last season, but Notre Dame managed to prevail with a 38-34 win at home.

On the other side of things, the Irish have taken care of business against Army in 2010 (a 27-3 win), Navy in 2011 (a 56-14 win) and 2012 (a 50-10 win) and Air Force in 2013 (a 45-10 win).

 

Digging Deeper Defensively

There are a variety of ways to look deeper and analyze just how well (or not) Notre Dame has fared against these option-based opponents. We’ll keep it fairly simple and check how Notre Dame’s defensive performances in those seven games compared to its average work for those specific seasons.

Though the Irish have only lost one of those games to option opponents in the Kelly era, the opposition scored more points on Notre Dame than the Irish allowed on average that season on three different occasions. Essentially, Notre Dame’s defense was less stingy in three of the seven games.

Sliced another way, we can compare the margin of victories in those games to account for blowouts and squeakers. As it turns out, only twice has the opponent won or played the game so closely as to mark a sharp difference from Notre Dame’s average margin of points.

 

Analyzing the Offenses

Looking at the offenses run by Air Force, Navy and Army gives us another trough of data to view. We know these teams put up monster rushing totals—in terms of carries, yards and yards per carry. So it’s not fair to compare their raw rushing numbers against the Irish to Notre Dame’s defensive averages.

But we can see how the option offenses performed against Notre Dame compared to all the other defenses the service academies faced in those seasons.

In two games—Navy 2010 and Air Force 2011—the Midshipmen and Falcons, respectively, eclipsed both their rushing yards per game and yards per carry. In 2013 Air Force rushed for more yards than its season average, and the 2013 Midshipmen rushed for more yards per carry against the Irish.

So, in four of the seven games against Notre Dame, these option offenses have outperformed their season averages.

 

But the telling statistic is yards per carry. It’s difficult to make broad generalizations based on raw numbers from seven games, but yards per carry is pretty straightforward. How did these offenses do with each individual carry against the Irish? Did they gain more or less yards than what they typically notched during the rest of the season?

On average, option-running opponents have rushed for 0.26 fewer yards per carry against the Irish in these seven games compared to those teams’ season averages. So while Notre Dame’s defense has certainly had its hands full at times against triple-option attacks, when we look at the seven games as a whole, the Irish have kept their opponents in check.

 

The Bottom Line

Of course, much of the historical chatter could change with new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder calling the shots.

But despite all the numbers and the talk about Navy, Army, Air Force and the option, Notre Dame is 6-1 in those games. No matter how tight things have gotten, Kelly’s Irish have only lost one game to option teams—and that was in October of the inaugural season of the Kelly era.

The Irish will need to be crisp and focused against the Midshipmen on Saturday night if they want to improve to 7-1 and climb the College Football Playoff rankings, which debuted Tuesday night with Notre Dame slotted 10th.

“We have to be extremely disciplined,” Kelly said. “We have to run and make plays and make tackles and get off blocks. If we do that, we'll be successful. If not, it won't matter if we're more flexible or more athletic than our opponent.”

 

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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Adidas Unveils 1939 Throwback for Texas A&M, Complete with Leather-Like Helmets

The Texas A&M Aggies will have a new—yet familiar—look when they take the field against Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday.

In honor of the 75th anniversary of the Aggies' last national championship team, Adidas has unveiled 1939 throwback uniforms. Adidas has helped Texas A&M stay modern with uniforms in recent seasons, but the company went all out to help the team pay homage to its past.

Adidas included a commemorative patch on the jersey, inspired by the ones the team wore during the 1939 season. Of course, science has come a long way since 1939, and Adidas made sure these uniforms were made with Techfit Shockweb technology.

The jersey and pants don't look like anything out of the ordinary.

However, the helmet and cleats certainly jump out.

The helmets are easily the most unique part of this look. Each helmet is "dark maroon with a hydro film leather-like texture featuring wing and cross graphics." 

Even the cleats, "designed in a dark brown throwback style with a premium tumbled leather upper and metal eyelets," got the throwback treatment.

How do these throwback uniforms grade out?

[Adidas]

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Texas A&M Football: Lack of Running Game Plagues Aggies

Less than two weeks ago, Texas A&M traveled to Alabama to try to engender the same magic they did the last time they stepped foot on Bryant-Denny Stadium.  That time was two years ago, when a Johnny Manziel-led Aggies squad upset the then-No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide on their home turf in a 29-24 thriller.

Unfortunately for the Aggies, they came up short this time around.  They suffered what was by far the most lopsided loss of the Kevin Sumlin era, a 59-0 blowout that was also the first time a Sumlin-coached team has been shut out in his career.

This rough patch comes as somewhat of a surprise, considering that after the Aggies crushed South Carolina in the season opener and Kenny Hill’s first career start, it looked like Hill was going to pick up right where Manziel left off.  In that game against the Gamecocks, Hill shattered several of Manziel’s career bests, and the Aggies had the looks of a team that wasn’t going to miss Johnny Football.

Next, the Aggies pummeled Lamar, Rice and SMU in consecutive weeks by a combined score of 169-19.  Kenny Hill was among the nation’s leading passers, and the Aggies were primed and ready for the brunt of the brutal conference slate.

However, they might have underestimated their SEC West competition as well as overstated their offensive prowess. 

After edging out Arkansas in overtime to push their record to 5-0 and jump to as high as sixth in the polls, the Aggies have lost three straight games to Mississippi State, Ole Miss and most recently Alabama.

Why has the offense stopped clicking lately?

There is more than one reason, but the most glaring weakness has been the lack of a consistent running game.  Johnny Manziel accounted for nearly 40 percent of the Aggies’ rushing yards over his two years as quarterback, and throw in Ben Malena, who graduated after last season, and the Aggies lost more than half of their rushing yards from last year’s squad.

Check out the Aggies' rushing leaders in the three losses:

Player Mississippi State Ole Miss Alabama Trey Williams 4 CAR, 53 YDS 7 CAR, 14 YDS 3 CAR, 12 YDS Tra Carson 11 CAR, 59 YDS 11 CAR, 29 YDS 5 CAR, 6 YDS Brandon Williams 4 CAR, 14 YDS 8 CAR, 16, YDS 4 CAR, 21 YDS Kenny Hill 12 CAR, 53 YDS 8 CAR, -4 YDS 10 CAR, -11 YDS

They actually ran the ball decently against Mississippi State, but the Bulldogs defense is ranked near the bottom of the SEC in defensive statistics.  

However, against Ole Miss and Alabama, the Aggies basically threw out the running game from the get-go.  That is a bit understandable because they were trailing early in those games, but lack of a balanced offense nonetheless has been a factor in the team’s offensive struggles.

Strictly looking at the stats, the Aggies are not that different from last year’s team.  But the difference between then and now is simple: Johnny Manziel.  He was A&M’s leading rusher in both of his seasons on campus, but it was more the threat of his legs than his actual rushing production.

Defenses were focused primarily on containing the polarizing and dynamic Aggie quarterback, and the other weapons were able to thrive because of that.  Now Kevin Sumlin has arguably more athletic pieces on the offensive side of the ball, particularly at running back with three former highly touted running backs, but Kenny Hill simply doesn’t pose the same running threat that Manziel did. 

Hill is a fine quarterback with a solid throwing arm, but when asked to drop back to pass nearly every play against supremely talented defensive players who can pin their ears back without any worry about a running play, it is an uphill climb even for the likes of Peyton Manning.

Following a bye week, the Aggies will have another week to regroup as they play Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday.  This would be a good time to attempt to revive the running game that has been stagnant recently, and it might even be with a new signal-caller.

Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital has said recently that the quarterback battle is wide open, giving true freshman Kyle Allen, Rivals.com’s top-ranked pro-style quarterback in 2014, a chance to take over the position that he narrowly missed out on during preseason practice. 

This is the ideal time to make such changes, as the quarterback, whoever it ends up being, will be able to find his groove against a less-talented Louisiana-Monroe squad. 

I don’t think quarterback is necessarily the problem; it is just a different offensive attack in College Station without Johnny Football leading the charge, as well as the fact that the three teams they lost to are ranked in the top six of the inaugural CFB committee rankings.  Some changes need to be made, specifically regarding the running game, and Aggie fans should trust that the duo of Sumlin and Spavital will make the necessary changes to get the offense back to firing on all cylinders.

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Todd Gurley's Heisman Shot Is Gone, but Georgia's Playoff Hopes Alive and Well

"Gurley Watch 2014" seemed like the opening act to the winter weather watches that grip the southeast each February, ever since Todd Gurley—the star running back for the No. 11 Georgia Bulldogs—was suspended indefinitely prior to his team's game against Missouri on Oct. 11. 

The alert has been canceled.

Well, it will be canceled.

The NCAA announced Wednesday that Gurley will have to sit two more games, bringing his total to four, after it learned that he accepted "more than $3,000 in cash from multiple individuals for autographed memorabilia and other items over two years." Georgia will appeal the decision immediately.

Those four games will almost certainly prevent Gurley from not only winning the Heisman Trophy but getting to New York City as a finalist. Some voters will hold the autograph scandal against him, and those who don't will still have to factor in his stats simply not matching up to fellow star running backs like Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah.

The Heisman is more myth than reality for Gurley. Georgia's playoff chances, though, are alive, well and boosted by the running back's return for the Auburn game on Nov. 15.

Georgia went on the road two days after the suspension was announced and stomped Missouri in a game that, as it stands right now, may have served as the de facto SEC East title game. They then shuffled some pieces around—including former running back/current safety J.J. Green—to get through the Arkansas game in Little Rock. With time to prepare for a reeling Florida team and a challenging, yet building Kentucky team, the light is at the end of the tunnel.

Halfway through Gurley's suspension, the Bulldogs are one of only a select few teams that still control their own playoff destiny. If they win out—which would include a win over No. 3 Auburn in Athens and a highly ranked SEC West foe in the SEC Championship Game—they're not only a lock for the College Football Playoff, but could be the No. 1 seed depending on what No. 2 Florida State does.

Georgia should be able to get to the Auburn game with only one loss, which would create a raucous atmosphere between the hedges. Not only will Gurley be back after more than a month off, but the game could serve as a playoff elimination game if both traditional powers hold serve over the next couple of weeks.

Is the punishment too harsh?

Not according to the letter of the NCAA's law. It actually could have been much worse for Gurley, according to UGASports.com's Radi Nabulsi:

That law is in the process of changing through the push for power-five autonomy, but it's still the law right now. For that, Gurley must pay the proper price.

Georgia's playoff hopes, however, aren't diminished by Gurley's extended absence. 

The Bulldogs should be able to dispatch of the Gators and Wildcats with relative ease and set up quite a showdown at Sanford Stadium against Auburn with their own—and perhaps Auburn's—playoff hopes on the line.

Get your popcorn ready.

 

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

2015 Running Back Recruits Who Have Game-Breaking Speed

With the recent trend of spread and tempo-based offenses taking over college football, more teams are coveting versatile running backs who can hurt defenses on the ground and through the air.

The 2015 recruiting class has its share of rushers who are threats to change the scoreboard every time they touch the ball.

Some of these backs are smallish, all-purpose backs, while others are capable of running through or around defenders.

Which backs in the 2015 class possess game-breaking speed?

*Backs listed in alphabetical order.

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Pros and Cons to Michigan Firing Brady Hoke Before End of Season

Brady Hoke is hanging by a thread at Michigan (3-5, 1-3 Big Ten), hoping for his team to somehow win three of its next four games to become bowl eligible. The Hoke era that began with a triumphant 11-2 campaign is ending with a whimper.

This season has been a disastrous maelstrom, one in which the lowlights include a 31-0 thumping at Notre Dame, an embarrassing road loss to Rutgers and a crushing 35-11 loss to instate rival Michigan State. Mixed in has been a controversy over backup quarterback Shane Morris’ concussion and a public apology to Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio over a misguided motivational stunt at Spartan Stadium prior to the game.

Forget Dantonio, Hoke should apologize to Michigan fans for running the Wolverine football program into the ground. Hoke’s Michigan team is fully capable of dropping the rest of its games and matching the Rich Rodriguez mark of futility (3-9) for the second time since Lloyd Carr’s retirement.

Rumors continue to swirl of private jets crisscrossing the nation allegedly carrying emissaries on missions to replace both Brady Hoke and athletic director David Brandon.

Here are the pros and cons of waiting until the end of the season to make a coaching change.

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Todd Gurley Return Date Announced: Latest Details and Reaction

Georgia Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley will play again this season, but the NCAA ruled Wednesday that he will have to sit out two more games after already missing a pair of contests. 

According to Emily James of NCAA.org, Gurley will once again be eligible and free to return for the Dawgs' Nov. 15 game against No. 3 Auburn.

The junior back was initially suspended on Oct. 9 because of an investigation into whether he accepted money for autographs, per ESPN.com. The Heisman Trophy candidate missed subsequent games against Missouri and Arkansas before the University of Georgia decided to apply for reinstatement.

According to the official Twitter account for Georgia athletics, the school did precisely that on Oct. 22:

Per James, Gurley will miss matchups against Florida and Kentucky over the next two weeks as punishment:

Todd Gurley, University of Georgia football student-athlete, must sit a total of four games, or 30 percent of the season, for accepting more than $3,000 in cash from multiple individuals for autographed memorabilia and other items over two years. Gurley, who acknowledged violating NCAA rules, must repay a portion of the money received to a charity of his choice and complete 40 hours of community service as additional conditions for his reinstatement. Gurley will be eligible to play on Nov. 15.

James is also reporting that the University of Georgia plans to appeal the NCAA's decision.

Gurley admitted he made missteps leading to his suspension in a statement released on GeorgiaDogs.com before the university applied for his reinstatement:

I want to thank the University, coaches, teammates, and the Bulldog Nation for their patience and support. I take full responsibility for the mistakes I made, and I can't thank the University, my coaches, and teammates enough for supporting me throughout this process. I'm looking forward to getting back on the field with my teammates.

When it was first announced that Gurley was suspended, Bleacher Report's Michael Felder weighed in on the best- and worst-case scenarios for Georgia, Gurley and his Heisman hopes:

Many believed the running back's suspension wasn't necessarily warranted.

ESPN's Mike Greenberg acknowledged that rules may have been violated but deemed potential violations insignificant:

The same goes for ESPN's Bomani Jones, who brushed off those outraged by Gurley's apparent mistake:

The Bulldogs didn't miss a step in two games without Gurley, racking up a total of 79 points and getting a pair of fine performances from backup Nick Chubb.

With that said, Gurley leads the team with 773 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground, and there is no question Georgia is better when he is in the fold.

The Dawgs figure to be favorites against both Florida and Kentucky over the next couple weeks, and they have a golden opportunity to get back in the College Football Playoff hunt. Although they did lose to South Carolina, the Bulldogs could very well run the table with Gurley's return game against Auburn looking like the only tough test remaining.

Most probably assumed Gurley's Heisman candidacy was shot once he was suspended, and while that may be the case with the superstar back set to miss four games, he remains atop the leaderboard in most statistical categories among SEC backs, according to ESPN College Football:

The NCAA apparently feels four games on the shelf is punishment enough, so it is now up to Gurley to move past the matter by excelling on the field upon his return.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Why the Penn State Win Will Define Ohio State in 2014 and Beyond

Urban Meyer and Ohio State pulled out a closer-than-expected victory over Penn State in double overtime Saturday night, and while it hurt their standing in the polls (and their chances to make the inaugural College Football Playoff), it was a win that will positively impact the Buckeyes in 2014 and beyond.

Winning a prime-time matchup on the road in one of the Big Ten's most hostile environments can have that effect.

Reflecting on the dramatic win in Happy Valley, Meyer talked about how the team rallied in overtime after the Nittany Lions took their first lead of the game.

“It’s a great thing,” Meyer said, according to Todd Porter of The Canton Rep. “You gotta nut up, man. You’re down by several points in that environment, and there’s no looking to anyone for help. There’s 11 guys out there who have to score a touchdown, and they did. There was incredible efforts.”

How will that impact the team moving forward?

''Invested players and invested teams really celebrate wins, and our guys did," Meyer said, via Rusty Miller of the Associated Press (h/t Yahoo Sports). "You started getting your tail kicked and you came back and won. That builds toughness.''

An invested team is a coach's dream, and the Buckeyes are buying in.

Cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs talked about the improbability of it all.

“You’re not supposed to win in that situation," Coombs said, via Porter. "You get caught from behind in an environment like that, and then go behind in overtime, going into their student section. You are not supposed to win that game.”

But the Buckeyes did, thanks to a gutty performance from a hobbled J.T. Barrett and Joey Bosa, who came up with a walk-off sack to end the game. In fact, a number of first- or second-year players (such as Ezekiel Elliott, Vonn Bell and Sean Nuernberger) came up big for the Buckeyes throughout the game Saturday night.

Overcoming that adversity has pulled the team together, which is invaluable as the Buckeyes draw closer to the highly anticipated matchup against Michigan State.

That game, which will kick off under the lights in East Lansing on November 8, has been circled by many as the Big Ten game of the year. Meyer and Ohio State will be looking to avenge last year's loss in the conference title game, which snapped the Buckeyes' 24-game winning streak and their chance to play for a national title. 

But the close road victory will benefit the Buckeyes beyond 2014. With so many young players in Ohio State's two-deep roster, much of the nucleus from this year's team will return in 2015. That group will know they have a quarterback in Barrett who can deliver in the clutch—whether he's playing alongside (or filling in for) Braxton Miller.

“[Barrett] was a hero,” Elliott said, via Patrick Murphy of The Ozone. “Came out there and had a lot of confidence even though he was a little bit banged up. He played through it.”

With the first rankings released by the College Football Playoff Selection Committee Tuesday night, it's hard to imagine a scenario where 16th-ranked Ohio State ends up playing for it all this January. 

But the Buckeyes have banded together after their trip to Happy Valley, and that makes Urban Meyer's team more dangerous than it has been all season. 

 

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

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Texas Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for the Month of November

It's crunch time for the Texas Longhorns, who must win three of their four November games to become bowl eligible.

They might get close, but we've seen enough of this group to know that Charlie Strong's team will lose at least two against Texas Tech, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU.

Strong knows reaching that ever-important bowl will be tough, as he told the media at his Monday press conference:

It's all about the seniors. I said to them, We got to get them to a bowl game. You look at our schedule, I know you're sitting there with two ranked teams on it. We haven't beaten a ranked team. The main thing is if we come together as a football team, don't hurt ourselves, if we just execute, who knows. If we play the way we're capable of playing, we'll see how we end up with these next four.

The two ranked teams Texas will face are No. 20 West Virginia and No. 7 TCU, per the College Football Playoff committee, which are buttressed by matchups with defensively challenged Texas Tech and the anemic Oklahoma State offense.

There should be two wins there to create some buzz that Texas could overcome the odds, but those dreams will come to an end on Thanksgiving. 

Begin Slideshow

Ohio State Football: Buckeyes' Road to Making the College Football Playoff

COLUMBUS, Ohio — If Ohio State learned anything from the first edition of the College Football Playoff rankings, it's that except for two nights in the remainder of the season, the Buckeyes should be rooting for Michigan State and Nebraska.

That's because if the playoff committee made one sentiment clear on Tuesday, it's that it will be taking signature wins into account perhaps more than any other factor. As a result, Ohio State finds itself placed 16th after the first rankings reveal, a seemingly long way to go from a coveted top-four spot that will allow a team to play for a national title.

Couple that with the scarlet letter that seems to be the Buckeyes' Sept. 6 loss to Virginia Tech, and it's beginning to look like winning out may simply not be enough for Ohio State to make the inaugural playoff. Rather, the Buckeyes will likely need help from their future foes in order to add some much-needed quality wins to their resume.

 

Biggest Obstacles to Playoff Berth 

The good news for Ohio State is that it's still only October, and plenty of time remains for the Buckeyes to improve that resume. Its first—and most challenging—chance to do so will come next week in East Lansing, when Ohio State will square off with eighth-ranked Michigan State.

Long thought to be a de facto Big Ten Championship and potential playoff play-in game, the battle between the Buckeyes and Spartans will still garner plenty of attention, but obviously it's the latter who finds themselves in the more favorable position right now. That's something that stood out to ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who stated that winning the Big Ten may not be enough for the Buckeyes to make the playoff.

"There are a lot of people who believe that if Ohio State were to beat Michigan State and win out, that they would have a decent argument because they're a conference champion," Herbstreit said on the rankings reveal telecast. "Where Ohio State is now, they have a long way to go to even be in the discussion, whereas Michigan State on November 8th, if they were to continue to win, I think they obviously, because they're much higher, have a better chance of being able to be able to get in the discussion and get up into that top-four.

"But I think Ohio State, boy, that is a long way to go sitting at No. 16."

Beating the Spartans is obviously easier said than done, as Michigan State possesses the nation's seventh-ranked defense and will use a well-placed bye as an extra week of preparation for the Buckeyes. After that, Ohio State should seemingly cruise until a potential conference championship game, although a Nov. 15 date at 6-2 Minnesota could make for an interesting road test for Urban Meyer's squad.

 

Help Needed

The Buckeyes may not only need to beat the Spartans next Saturday, but for that potential win to also look as impressive as possible based on Michigan State's record at season's end. The same goes for 15th-ranked Nebraska, who Ohio State would face in the Big Ten Championship Game should both teams win the remainder of their regular-season games.

And while the Buckeyes would certainly benefit from becoming the second—and only additional losses—for both the Spartans and Cornhuskers, they could also use help from the Hokies, who have dropped four of their past six games since beating Ohio State in the second week of the season. Playoff committee chair Jeff Long admitted that the Buckeyes' lone loss on the season played a key role in their No. 16 ranking, which is the third lowest of the ranked one-loss teams from power-five conferences.

"I wouldn't call it an albatross, but it was not a good loss for them," Long said on the telecast of OSU's defeat to Virginia Tech. "We're still early in this process and while I wouldn't get that excited about Ohio State's placement, we do think that based on the other teams that they've played to this point in the schedule, this is where they deserve to be ranked."

Assuming conference championships play a factor in the committee's decision, it would be interesting to see how a hypothetical one-loss Ohio State Big Ten champion would be viewed by the committee at season's end. But nevertheless, the Buckeyes could still stand to benefit from losses by any of the 13 teams ranked ahead of them that they aren't already scheduled to play, including five from the SEC, three from the Pac-12, three from the Big 12, No. 2 Florida State and No. 10 Notre Dame.

Altogether, that may seem like a daunting task for Ohio State. But given the slate ahead of them, Long didn't rule out the Buckeyes making a run.

"Ohio State has opportunities on their schedule to play up, as many of these teams do," Long said.

 

Prediction

As Herbstreit alluded to, I too took notice of the lower-than-expected slotting of the Buckeyes, who were perhaps talked about more than any other team during Tuesday's 30-minute playoff committee show.

Heading into Tuesday night, I was of the belief that Ohio State fell into the "win and you're in" faction, given the showdown with the Spartans ahead and the emphasis that will allegedly be placed on conference championships. I'm doing my best not to overreact to where the Buckeyes stand at the end of October, but at this point, it's hard for me to believe that winning out will simply be enough for OSU.

Rather, I think the Buckeyes will need their two remaining opportunities for big wins to look as impressive as possible, with Michigan State and Nebraska holding up their ends of the bargain as the only other ranked Big Ten teams. But ultimately, it is my belief that all of this conversation will be for naught, as I don't see Ohio State walking away from Spartan Stadium with a win next Saturday.

Between J.T. Barrett's sprained MCL, Michigan State coming off a bye week and the Buckeyes' close call in Happy Valley last weekend, there just appears to be too much momentum in the Spartans' favor that would allow me to justify picking Ohio State. Maybe something in the next week will change my mind, but right now, I don't see it.

I have the Buckeyes losing to the Spartans, winning their three following games, but sitting out the conference title game as Michigan State plays for a second consecutive league crown and potential playoff spot. That would leave Ohio State with a 10-2 record, and in my estimation, a final ranking of No. 21, which is probably about right for a talented, but largely inexperienced team like the Buckeyes.

As it stands at the end of October, I project Ohio State to play in the Citrus Bowl against a big name SEC opponent. But there's a lot of football left between now and then.

 

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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Tennessee Football: OL Jacob Gilliam Is College Football's Ultimate Warrior

The story of Tennessee offensive lineman Jacob Gilliam could best be described as one of improbability. But after everything he's endured, that word isn't in his vocabulary.

A collegiate career that began as a 250-pound invited walk-on, featured playing for three offensive line coaches (as well as two head coaches) and culminated with him earning a starting left tackle spot as a fifth-year senior on scholarship leaves little room for incredulity.

But playing on a torn anterior cruciate ligament just 49 days after suffering the injury pushes the boundaries of belief.

Yet, that's just what Gilliam did on Oct. 18 at No. 3 Ole Miss. Then in last week's game against UT's biggest rival, Alabama, Gilliam started, anchoring his 6'4", 297-pound body on that detached knee ligament, play after play.

"He's a warrior," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said, according to Knoxville's WVLT.com.

Strengthened by faith and insistent that he's shielded by a higher power, Gilliam is not just playing pain-free on an injury that routinely keeps players out more than a year.

He's thriving.

"That's one of the things that's really been a blessing to me, I haven't felt any pain," Gilliam said. "Obviously, I got to play the whole game against Alabama, and the only thing I kind of felt was a little weakness here and there, but that went away really quick, and it really didn't last more than a play or two.

"I've been blessed with a lot of strength and stability in my knee."

Remarkable, yes. Unexpected? Not for somebody who has battled seemingly every second since taking his first breath.

"Jacob was born premature, five-and-a-half weeks early," said his father, David, from the family's Farragut home outside Knoxville.

When his mother, Michelle, went in for a routine checkup, the doctor realized there was something wrong. An emergency delivery revealed Jacob's umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. He spent his first two days in this world hooked up to a ventilator. 

"He's been a fighter ever since," David Gilliam said.

 

A Humble Start

Undersized offensive linemen don't get football scholarships to Tennessee.

So a dream that began when seven-year-old Jacob stood among Neyland Stadium's sea of orange and watched the Vols play the Houston Cougars looked as if it would fall by the wayside.

After a senior year at Farragut High School, Gilliam was all set to head to UT Chattanooga or perhaps Middle Tennessee State to play college ball. Then a phone call at an all-star game changed everything.

Then-UT coach Lane Kiffin's offensive line coach James Cregg was on the other end, asking Gilliam if he wanted to be a preferred walk-on for the Vols. A visit and some quick mulling-over later led to an easy choice.

"It was one of those things where I had to make a decision whether I wanted to play in a small pond or a big pond, is how my dad phrased it to me," Gilliam said. "It was a good time for me to go to UT. They were missing some linemen, and it would be a good chance for me to play at the highest level."

Competitive by nature, Gilliam had few doubts and high aspirations. Little did he know he was going to be blindsided by the fallout from a football program in shambles to go along with the thankless task of being a no-name scout-teamer.

A few weeks after Gilliam chose UT, Cregg left with Kiffin for USC. When Derek Dooley took over, new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand honored Gilliam's preferred walk-on status.

Gilliam's reward was day after day of getting battered and bruised by players like NFL defensive tackle Montori Hughes and former 5-star Chris Walker.

"That first summer," David Gilliam recalled of his son, "he'd leave the house at 5:10 every morning, go down there basically to get killed."

After thoughts of quitting and more pancakes than a Sunday morning at IHOP, Gilliam grew. By the season opener against UT-Martin, Gilliam dressed. Then, he did again against Oregon and for most of UT's home games during his freshman year.

Hiestand (now Notre Dame's offensive line coach) liked Gilliam's work ethic, and he was going to eventually get his chance.

"Being 250, 260, you really had to have good technique," he said. "I really credit being undersized as reasons why my feet and hands really improved. If I didn't have that, I'd have been thrown around like a rag doll. I was forced by survival into being technically sound."

But all Gilliam's hard work was about to become a casualty of the cruel world of college football.

Under fire from a rash of losing and poor line play, Dooley let Hiestand go and hired Sam Pittman. Gilliam had to start fresh.

Then Dooley and Pittman were fired the very next year in favor of Jones and Don Mahoney. Again, Gilliam was forced to prove himself all over again. He was forgotten, appearing in just three games in his first three seasons.

As Tennessee's offensive line blossomed into a talent-rich unit that featured three current NFL rookie starters, Gilliam settled into the shadows.

 

A Dark Hour and Ray of Light

Tennessee may have forgotten about Gilliam, but he never went away.

When UT lost its entire line to graduation or the NFL after last season, opportunity abounded. Every spot was up for grabs.

Even though recruitniks and experts alike anointed 4-star junior college lineman Dontavius Blair as UT's savior at left tackle, Gilliam battled. Coaches opened spring practice with Blair as the starter, but it didn't take long for Gilliam to beat him out and secure the spot.

Not long after spring drills were over, he was awarded a scholarship for his final season, an achievement Gilliam did not take lightly.

"It was really satisfying," he said. "When I got that scholarship, it meant a lot to me, but it also meant a lot to a lot of other guys I was representing who I had walked on with and who had been there with me the whole time.

"So, every time I play this year, I've got those guys in the back of my mind thinking what I do is not only for me, for my family and for this university, it's also for all those guys I bled and sweat with all those years who didn't get any recognition."

That humility remained through fall drills when he held off a much-improved Blair to keep the job. And when he started that season opener against Utah State and was playing extremely well, the potential for a storybook senior season loomed.

But football, like life, is rarely fair. 

As Gilliam set to push the Aggies defensive end to the outside of quarterback Justin Worley on a third-quarter play, UT left guard Marcus Jackson threw his man into the back of Gilliam's knee. It caved, and though he was in pain and hobbled off, he thought it was just hyperextended.

An MRI the following Sunday revealed the bad news.

"Obviously, it was heartbreaking," David Gilliam recalled. "He called me crying and said, 'My career is over.' I said, 'No, it's not, son. We're going to come down there and pray and ask God to heal you.'"

So, off they went—David, Michelle and brothers, Nathan and Alex—driving 25 minutes to be by Jacob's side, lay their hands on his knee and pray for a miracle.

After "about an hour" of woe-is-me, according to Jacob, he moved on. There was a slim hope he could play, and he wanted to exercise his options. Once he found that out, he immediately began rehabilitation.

It's not unprecedented to play on torn ACLs, though it's rare. New England Patriots guard Logan Mankins played the entire 2011 season at a high level on a torn ACL that had gone undiagnosed.

The feat is impressive, but Dr. Ron Noy, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at Prestige Sports Medicine, told Deadspin.com's Samer Kalaf: "[Playing with a torn ACL] does put him at a higher risk of further injury." 

Gilliam knows the ramifications, but he said his faith played a key role in his ultimate decision to play.

"The doctors told me, 'Here's what could happen,'" Gilliam said. "I weighed it all and talked to my parents and brothers, but I believe I'm protected. That really made my decision for me. I thought, 'Hey, I'm protected. Nothing's going to happen to me, and that's what I'm relying on."

Weeks of exercising, building up his hamstrings and quads to help keep the knee in place, followed the injury. He eschewed surgery and wound up playing without pain less than a month and a half later.

Perhaps it's not a coincidence that in Gilliam's return to the starting lineup, a UT offensive line that had allowed 30 sacks through its first seven games held an excellent Alabama defense to two.

The Vols also ran for 181 yards against the nation's second-ranked rush defense.

There were several factors, but Gilliam was certainly one. He has the type of leadership mentality that permeates his play, and it stems from always setting goals, no matter who was watching.

"He's been an underdog since he got over there," father David Gilliam said. "It's definitely provided extra motivation."

 

A Fighter's Chance

When the topic turns to leaving a legacy, Gilliam gets quiet. The prevailing feeling is anything remotely self-serving is alien to him, and he's reluctant to say anything that sounds like pride.

Sure, he's proud of how far he's come, how he endured through frustrating, bowl-less seasons, how he impressed multiple coaches, earned a scholarship, earned a starting role and is playing despite what should be a career-ending injury. 

But beyond giving God the glory and his team praise, he won't budge on anything else.

"There’s an element of pride, but I know where I come from and I know what's really happening," he said. "I try to off-put that as much as possible."

Perpetuating the ultimate warrior propaganda is for his brothers, who look up to him and help him realize that what he has accomplished at UT is incredible and what he's doing now is not normal.

It's special to his little brother, Nathan, a 3-star 6'5", 270-pound class of 2015 offensive tackle who's currently committed to Wake Forest, to be able to witness what Jacob has done and to be bend his ear for tips and advice.

"I've grown really close to him through this past experience that happened to him and how far he's come," Nathan said. "It woke me up some, and I learned not to take this game for granted.

"One word you can use to describe him is a fighter. Since day one he has been on campus, he's always tried to prove he's better than the guy in front of him. When I get that opportunity next year, I'm going to try to do the same thing as Jacob and prove that the Gilliam family is a bunch of fighters."

There's one more fight to finish that Jacob discusses fervently. For a young man who bled orange, battled through impossible odds to reach the field and is making considerable sacrifices to stay on it, having a part in the program's resurrection would be extremely meaningful.

Gilliam has unfinished business, and it's what he's trotting out on a bum knee to attain.

"I'm not too big on personal achievements," he said. "I want everybody to remember this team as the one that changed the culture here at Tennessee and got us back to what we were.

"I think going to a bowl game, that's what’s going to put that mark on it. We're all fighting to go 4-0 here."

Like it has been the case throughout his entire career, nobody is fighting harder than Gilliam.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. All stats and information taken from UTSports.com, and all recruiting information gathered from 247Sports.com.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Football: Bulldogs' Road to Making the College Football Playoff

Georgia may be down—ever so slightly—in the first ever College Football Playoff committee rankings, but the Bulldogs aren't out by a long shot.  

And given what these Dawgs have endured over the preceding weeks, it's hard to think a No. 11 ranking will prove any more than a road bump.  After all, Georgia's last two wins came on the road against SEC opponents without the nation's best running back, Todd Gurley.

This team has survived more dire circumstances and with a generally favorable schedule ahead, the Bulldogs are in prime position to climb the inaugural rankings' ladder.

 

Biggest Obstacles to Playoff Berth

With three teams in the projected playoff hailing from the SEC West, it's fair to say that division stands in everyone's way.  The Bulldogs aren't an exception in that regard.

Getting to the College Football Playoff will require perfection from Georgia henceforth.  And while Florida (who the Dawgs play this week) is always a tough out, Kentucky is much improved and Georgia Tech has shown flashes of relevancy, the Bulldogs' most blatant opposition will come from the SEC West.

Extenuating circumstances not withstanding, a November 15 game with the Auburn Tigers could prove to be an elimination game for either team.  Though the Tigers are the reigning conference champions and have looked dominant at times this season, there are still three reasons to think Georgia could win this game:

  • For the first time since 2011, this annual rivalry game is being played in Athens, Georgia.
  • Georgia played Auburn tremendously close on the road in 2013.  Georgia has likely progressed more as a team over the past 12 months than Auburn.
  • Despite a loss last season, the Bulldogs have won six of the last matchups with the Tigers.

Additionally, if all goes to plan, Georgia will run into another hurdle from the SEC West in the conference championship game.  Though both divisions are up in the air, Georgia seems likely to face Auburn (again), Alabama, Mississippi State or Ole Miss.  

Three of those teams (Mississippi State at No. 1, Auburn at No. 3 and Ole Miss at No. 4) are currently projected to make the playoff, and the fourth team (Alabama) is playing as well as any team in the conference.

Reaching Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game won't be enough to get Georgia into the playoff.  The Bulldogs will need to claim the conference title and run through the SEC West again.

 

Help Needed

The most favorable part of Georgia's road to the playoff has nothing to do with Georgia and everything to do with the teams ranked ahead of the Bulldogs.  Beyond games in Georgia's control (such as Auburn and a potential SEC Championship Game), several teams may soon drop below the Bulldogs as a factor of head-to-head losses.

  • Mississippi State still has Alabama and Ole Miss on its schedule.  All three of those teams are ranked ahead of Georgia, and only Mississippi State is currently undefeated.  In other words, some team(s) will soon decline.
  • In addition to the trip to Georgia, Auburn still must play Alabama and Ole Miss.  Accordingly, at least two of those teams are destined to have two regular-season losses.
  • TCU and Kansas State must play head-to-head as well.

In total, five teams currently ranked ahead of Georgia in the playoff rankings will lose at least one more game by virtue of matchups with other Top 10 teams.  Additionally, Georgia can hand out two more losses (one to Auburn and one to the SEC West champion) to such teams.

In light of that, Georgia doesn't really need all that much help.  The Bulldogs just need these games to happen, and Georgia needs to win.

 

Prediction

The remainder of Georgia's season will be defined by two factors:

  1. A relatively navigable remaining schedule.
  2. The return of Todd Gurley.

If the schedule shakes out the way it should (Remember: Teams can still improve dramatically—even this late in the season) and Todd Gurley does in fact get back on the field in time for the Auburn game, Georgia will finish the regular season with an 11-1 record.

At that point, Georgia will likely be ranked between No. 3 and No. 6 depending on how Auburn (who is presumed to lose to Georgia in this scenario) holds up in its other games against Ole Miss and Alabama.

Therefore, Georgia's national championship aspirations will once again fall squarely on the SEC Championship Game, just like they did in 2012.  The Bulldogs' odds of victory in that game will depend directly on the opposition.  

Unfortunately for Georgia fans, this game is shaping up to be a rematch of that 2012 game.  Like Georgia, Alabama is in a position to control its own destiny.  And like Georgia, Alabama is playing great football right now.  Expect Alabama to survive against Mississippi State and Auburn, and meet the Bulldogs back in the Georgia Dome.

Given where things stand today, that game would go the Crimson Tide's way and thus eliminate Georgia from the playoff picture.  But this Georgia team's calling card has been ongoing improvement.  

There's still plenty of time for that.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

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