NCAA Football News

LSU Tigers vs. Texas A&M Aggies: Betting Odds, Analysis, College Football Pick

Two SEC teams wrapping up disappointing regular seasons will square off Thursday when the LSU Tigers visit the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field.

The Tigers have lost their last two games but have won the last three meetings with the Aggies both straight up and against the spread since they joined the conference, including a 24-19 road win two years ago as 3.5-point favorites.

 

Point Spread: The Tigers opened as two-point favorites. As of Wednesday afternoon, they're favored by three points.

Odds Shark Computer Pick: Tigers 32.3, Aggies 25.2

 

Why the LSU Tigers Can Cover the Spread

LSU is coming off a bye week after losing two in a row as an underdog, so technically the team was not supposed to beat the Arkansas Razorbacks on the road or the Alabama Crimson Tide at home.

Before that two-game skid, the Tigers won three in a row SU and ATS, and the loss to Alabama was in overtime. Plus, if you look at how the Razorbacks beat Ole Miss last week 30-0, the Tigers' 17-0 loss does not look as bad.

While LSU head coach Les Miles probably would not want to hear any excuses, his Tigers are young and still learning how to play in big games.

Against another young team with similar flaws, bettors should like LSU’s chances.

 

Why the Texas A&M Aggies Can Cover the Spread

Texas A&M is a difficult team to figure out this season. The last two games for the Aggies pretty much sum up the up-and-down roller coaster their backers have experienced in 2014, winning straight up as 23.5-point underdogs at Auburn and then losing at home as 3.5-point favorites against Missouri.

While it is hard to make an argument for a team that is 1-6 ATS in its last seven games, do not forget the 5-0 start, including a 3-1 mark vs. the line in the first four.

Texas A&M is also off a bye and had some extra time to think about the loss to Mizzou.

The Aggies know they are already building up the program for next year and would love to get another home win here. They are 4-1 ATS as home dogs since 2009.

 

Smart Pick

Selecting a side in this game is almost like picking the lesser of two evils considering how they have both played this season.

At its best, Texas A&M is a scoring machine that can beat just about any team in the country—at home or on the road. At their worst, the Aggies are undisciplined and can get blown out no matter where they play.

Meanwhile, the Tigers have had trouble scoring lately, totaling just 23 points in their past three games combined.

LSU is also just 1-4 SU and ATS in its last five road games against SEC opponents, which is the key trend in this conference matchup. Texas A&M will give thanks for its home field here on Thanksgiving and pull off the win.

 

Betting Trends

  • LSU is 10-4 SU in its last 14 games.
  • Texas A&M is 4-1 ATS as a home underdog since 2009.

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates and get the free odds tracker app.

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Virginia Tech's HokieBird Promotes 'Save the Turkeys' in Thanksgiving PSA

Thanksgiving is one of the toughest times of the year for HokieBird, Virginia Tech's mascot.

While everyone is enjoying their turkey dinners, HokieBird feels a little left out. Watching people devour turkey at their feasts has to be traumatizing for the bird mascot.

Virginia Tech has created a public service announcement to try to make this year's Thanksgiving a little easier on its mascot. If everyone helps out, HokieBird will be able to get through the holiday without getting too depressed.

[Virginia Tech Athletics, h/t USA Today's FTW]

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Miami Football: Why Duke Johnson Should Declare for the 2015 NFL Draft

Duke Johnson is one of the premier running backs in college football, competing with the likes of Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon and Tevin Coleman as the top prospect for the 2015 NFL draft.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller recently ranked Duke the No. 40 overall prospect and No. 3 at his position, both of which have risen substantially during the 2014 season.

Soon, the Miami Hurricanes' best player will be faced with the decision of returning for his senior campaign or declaring for the draft.

But purely from a football perspective, Johnson should make the latter his next move.

Dane Brugler of CBS Sports told B/R that though he never says underclassmen should forgo their senior campaign due to personal circumstances of which we are unaware, "it wouldn't be surprising to see [Duke] declare, and I'm not sure anyone could blame him.

"The biggest strength for Duke is his dynamic athleticism as a ball-carrier. He has tremendous balance, explosive feet and impressive acceleration. He's tough and controlled with his movements and has been a reliable receiving option."

According to Matt Porter of The Palm Beach Post, Duke's mother, Cassandra Mitchell, noted a couple of factors that will affect the decision.

Johnson is loyal to UM's recruiting class of 2012 that includes Herb Waters, Tracy Howard, Malcolm Lewis and his Norland High teammate Ereck Flowers. 'They came together, and they said they were going to leave together. I know he looks at that too,' Mitchell said. Johnson said Monday he's also considering UM's potential with rising star quarterback Brad Kaaya running the offense.

While Brad Kaaya's ceiling is remarkably high, Johnson clearly has a close relationship with the others mentioned. Last weekend when Herb Waters sustained a scary neck injury, the camera showed Duke shedding a tear for his teammate.

Johnson exemplified what Ray Lewis and Lamar Miller both said within the past three years, that playing football at Miami is like a brotherhood.

Additionally, Manny Navarro of The Miami Herald wrote Johnson said he and his mother will discuss whether leaving school without a degree is an acceptable decision.

Attaining his college degree is something Johnson has repeatedly stressed as an important priority. However, Johnson has nothing more to prove between the white lines. And per Porter, the talented runner knows it.

"I don't think there's much more I need to prove on the field, if anything. Not saying that there's no room to get better—there's always room to get better in aspects of the game—but as far as stats and things of that sort, there's not much more to prove."

Ultimately, Duke's list of collegiate accomplishments is nothing short of astonishing.

The local product is a mere 34 yards away from setting the career rushing record at Miami, which would pass future Super Bowl MVP Ottis Anderson.

He has an outside shot at setting the single-season mark, trailing Willis McGahee's 2002 campaign by 322 yards with two games remaining. Regardless, Duke has already compiled the second-most prolific season in program history.

A pair of 100-plus yard outputs against Pitt and in a bowl would give Johnson the most such games, passing Clinton Portis' 14. Duke also tied McGahee and Edgerrin James with six straight 100-plus yard performances earlier this year.

For good measure, the 90-yard scamper against North Carolina tied Jack Losch (1955) for the longest run.

But Duke's consistency is incredible, too, considering he's tallied at least 83 yards in 16 straight appearances and scored 12 touchdowns—just on the ground—during that span.

His current pace of 7.2 yards per attempt would be the best season average for any Hurricanes running back who carried the ball more than 100 times. Though the 16.2-yard average he compiled opposite Cincinnati tied Eddie Dunn (1937) for seventh best, it was the best clip for a player who logged at least 10 attempts.

Before Virginia kept him out of the end zone last weekend, Duke had scored a rushing touchdown in nine consecutive contests—the second-longest streak by a Miami back.

One more touchdown will move into sole possession of fifth place with 27 career scores, while two more would be the third-most career points by a non-kicker in school history.

Duke has shattered the record for career all-purpose yards, rocketing past Santana Moss and eclipsing the 5,000-yard barrier—something never before accomplished by a Hurricane. Johnson is 323 yards away from setting the single-season all-purpose clip, though he already holds the second- and third-best years.

With just two more receiving yards this year, Duke would have the best receiving season by a Miami back since Cleveland Gary in 1988.

The most impressive part of this, though, is how Johnson collected these feats while constantly battling through injuries. Exiting the game early hasn't been a rare occurrence during his college career.

The injury history can mostly be attributed to his stature, since Duke only stands 5'9" yet runs with an aggressive nature.

"His top weaknesses relate mostly to his size," Brugler said. "He'll likely weigh in at the Combine around 205 pounds and has a very lean build. Duke isn't the type of back who will pick up consistent yards in the NFL after initial contact and his vision can run hot/cold at times.

"He has the athletic traits that compensate for most of his shortcomings. Although they have different run styles, he and LeSean McCoy have similar size and durability questions, but like McCoy, Duke has special athleticism that should allow him to be productive."

One skill that will help him with yards after contact is his stiff arm, however. Duke's ability to flatten college defenders is absolutely fantastic, though that prowess must translate to overpowering bigger and stronger opponents.

While Miami fans cannot thank the running back enough, there's nothing left for him to realistically accomplish. Sure, officially bringing a Coastal Division championship to South Florida would be great, but the Hurricanes won't be contending for a national title.

Johnson's loyalty to classmates may keep him at Miami. The desire to win at his hometown school might lure Duke to stay at "The U." Finishing his degree could delay the runner's move toward the pros.

But he should declare for the 2015 NFL draft, because a potential injury simply isn't worth the risk.

"I feel I want him to stay another year," Mitchell told Porter. "But you know what? To be honest, it's hard watching him play football right now. I'm nervous. I'm scared. I'm excited. I have so many emotions."

The potential All-American never knows what might happen on the next outside zone. Johnson may as well be getting paid for the beating he takes and extraordinary effort he gives.

He carried the burden of a school fighting through an NCAA investigation. He shattered school records despite missing a handful of games due to injury.

Selfishly, college football wants Johnson back. But it's time for the Duke of Miami to be monetarily rewarded for his contributions.

 

Stats courtesy of CFBStats.com, hurricanesports.com and B/R research. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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Anu Solomon Injury: Updates on Arizona Star's Ankle and Return

Arizona Wildcats freshman quarterback Anu Solomon suffered an ankle injury in the team's win over Utah last week and is now listed as questionable for a clash with rival Arizona State on Friday.

Brett McMurphy of ESPN passed along the updated word on his status:

Solomon has provided some stability at a position that was a question mark before the campaign. He's tossed 25 touchdowns and just seven interceptions while helping lead Arizona to a 9-2 record and the No. 11 ranking in the latest College Football Playoff poll.    

If he can't go, Jesse Scroggins will likely step into the lineup again as he did last week. His limited experience would be a major cause for concern for the Wildcats. He has just seven career pass attempts under his belt at the college level.

 

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Alabama Football: Tide's 3 Key Matchups to Watch for in 2014 Iron Bowl

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama looks to have a lot going in its favor in the 2014 Iron Bowl.

It’s the No. 1 team in the country, heading toward another SEC Championship Game appearance and a berth in the College Football Playoff. Auburn has lost three games and is on a tailspin to end what was once a promising 2014 campaign.

Still, the Crimson Tide and Tigers’ annual rivalry game this year will be a chess match between two of the best offensive and defensive minds in the country. The two teams’ seasons have been defined by a handful of plays that could have swung games in the other direction.

It’s closer than you’d initially imagine. There are a couple matchups that should decide the outcome of the game.

Let’s take a closer look.

 

Cyrus Jones vs. Sammie Coates and Duke Williams

Alabama’s starter at cornerback from day one won’t be covering two receivers at once. But there’s a pretty good chance that the 5’10” Jones will be on one of Auburn’s Sammie Coates or Duke Williams during the entire game.

Both Coates and Williams stand at 6’2” and have been matchup problems through the air for opposing defenses. That would seem to be a problem going up against the smaller Jones.

That hasn’t stopped him this season, though.

Jones has gone toe-to-toe with some of the SEC’s biggest and most physical receivers—including Mississippi State's De’Runnya Wilson, Florida’s Demarcus Robinson and Texas A&M’s Ricky Seals-Jones—and has largely gotten the better of those receivers.

The key, he says? Being a little extra physical. That won’t change this week.

“You just can't let them manhandle you,” he said. “You've got to be physical right back with them, especially if you're a smaller guy such as myself. It's just important just to be in position at all times to kind of be ready to make a play when the ball's in the air and not letting them get on top of you down the field. It's going to be a good challenge, but I'm excited about it.”

 

Alabama front seven vs. Auburn run game

Alabama has shut down some fearsome rushing attacks this year, like Arkansas' and LSU’s. But no one is doing it better statistically in the SEC this year than Auburn.

And the Tigers do it differently than Alabama’s seen this season.

Arkansas and LSU don’t exactly hide what they’re trying to do, lining up in an I formation, with a tight end coming right at you. It’s simply power vs. power.

Auburn, though, shows a lot of misdirection pre-snap to throw the defense off. Then it uses a variety in formation to run outside, between the tackles, reverses or anything else you can think of.

“The camouflage that (Malzahn) uses with the motions and all that is something that defensive players have to adjust to, but it also doesn't allow you to get set like you'd like to get set,” Nick Saban said. “It takes more adjusting on the defensive players' part. But you have to defend all those things too, because they don't just do it, they have something that they can do with it that you have to defend.”

That means discipline and eye control will be critical for Alabama’s defense.

“They really read the defense a lot, so it’s really important for the defense to be disciplined and be smart and keep contained,” Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen said. “It’s going to be a good challenge for not just the D-ends but the D-line in general and the whole defense. I feel like with a good week of preparation we’ll be prepared Saturday.”

 

Amari Cooper vs. Auburn secondary

The Tigers currently sit at No. 12 in the SEC in pass defense. Auburn is giving up 232.5 yards per game through the air, a major reason for its recent slide.

Alabama has one of the best wide receivers in the country in Amari Cooper, a Biletnikoff finalist who is averaging 122.6 yards per game so far this season, third in the country.

If that doesn’t scream “mismatch,” nothing does.

Cooper has been terrorizing defenses all year. He had big games against Florida and Tennessee and made critical catches in big games late this season. Quarterback Blake Sims, though, hasn’t really been surprised by his year, save for one catch.

“I think the game against Mississippi State when he made that catch, man that was a great catch,” Sims said. “(The) things he’s been doing, I’ve seen a million times and I’m just happy for the success he had this year.”

Cooper had a huge game last season against the Tigers, too, as he got healthy toward the end of the season. He caught six passes for 178 yards, including a 99-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that could have been the game-winner.

He could be in for another massive performance this week.

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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What Has Caused the Downfall of College Football's Blue Bloods?

Teenage me didn’t understand this past Saturday. He watched as giants from another era fell in spectacular fashion. One after the next, they all came tumbling down.

The football gods he grew up marveling—the ones that drew him to the sport in the first place—were left in shambles by challengers who had no business causing such wreckage, at least not in his former life. All he could do is sit there, dumbfounded, wondering just how exactly we reached this point.

The vulnerability of college football’s former powers—the teams that ran this sport for ages—became increasingly apparent in one 15-hour stretch. And perhaps the most shocking part of this collaborated failure was the harsh reality that it really wasn’t all that shocking at all. This particular piece of coordinated carnage had been a long time in the making.

USC, Miami, Michigan, Tennessee, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Nebraska and Penn State all looked mortal. All eight teams lost last Saturday, and only one loss came at the hands of a Top 10 team. The rest came courtesy of teams such as Illinois, Virginia, Maryland and Wake Forest.

Losses such as these were unthinkable not long ago, although this wasn’t some sort of one-week anomaly. Let’s examine how each program reached this point and more importantly, where they are on the road to recovery.

 

USC

From 2002 to 2008, USC went 72-9. The record, of course, may look different depending on how strictly you tally wins—with sanctions washing some of those victories off the books. But we saw them. We know these games took place.

This was one of the most dominant stretches in the history of the sport.

Since Pete Carroll departed off to the NFL, however, the Trojans are just 51-25. The sanctions have unquestionably played a role in USC’s demise, and the injuries of the Kiffin era cannot be ignored.

The scholarship limitations resulting from the NCAA’s destructive hammer have hindered the program’s ability to blossom. This is more than simply an excuse; it's a necessary part of the picture and a way of understanding how we arrived at this point. 

And yet, given some of the remarkable talent that has passed through the program—and the deep crop of starters they have right now—it feels as though there should be more positive outcomes. NFL players have cycled through, even as the program has searched for Carroll’s successor.

With the Pac-12 poised for a talent exodus—especially with quarterbacks—the Trojans will enter 2015 with expectations to meet. It feels as though they are capable, even if the loss to UCLA this past Saturday told us otherwise.

 

Miami

Like USC, Miami has felt the wrath of the NCAA’s influence. Although the sanctions handed down for various Nevin Shapiro-related incidents paled in comparison to those handed out elsewhere, the black cloud of the lengthy investigation—along with the investigation of the investigation—certainly hindered the Hurricanes’ efforts to rebound.

All things considered, this fall has perhaps been the most perplexing and dramatic. That was evident as Miami lost in lifeless fashion to Virginia last weekend, which was the fourth time in five years the Cavaliers came away victorious in this particular matchup. The other harsh reality for Miami is that it hasn’t won 10 games since 2003.

For a program with a plethora of football resources and a seemingly endless stream of local talent, this seems difficult to fathom. The reality, however, is that the talent hasn’t flocked to Miami like it once did. The programs in the state of Florida—along with surrounding SEC schools—have created a much more competitive recruiting landscape.

The good news for Al Golden is that he appears to have found his quarterback in Brad Kaaya. There are also moments—like we saw against Florida State—when we see signs of a possible return. It will never be like it once was in the early 2000s, though. Unfortunately, we may never see anything like that ever again.

 

Michigan

One week from now, Michigan’s hopeful rebirth will likely begin once more. The Wolverines will almost certainly be seeking out a new head coach, hoping that their next hire will provide the spark Brady Hoke and Rich Rodriguez simply could not.

Since 2008, Michigan has won more than eight games in a season just once. That season came in 2011, Hoke’s first year on the sideline. It feels like a different era now.

Of all the major programs to struggle in recent years, the Wolverines’ issues might be the most difficult to process. They have met many of the necessary criteria for success.

Operating in a manageable conference with little top-end opponents—and doing so with a solid flood of recruiting, something that Hoke and his staff have excelled at—Michigan simply has not been able to win consistently enough.

It’s been the quarterback play, the offensive line, the defense, and yes, injuries have played a role. As Michigan State has enjoyed a meteoric rise, its rival has simply been unable to develop talent at its former rate.

And yet, it’s more than that. Although Michigan outgained Maryland in total yardage and first downs this past Saturday—averaging more than six-and-a-half carries on the ground—it was still unable to offer up anything more than a 23-16 defeat.

This result does more than simply summarize one season; it encompasses an era.

 

Tennessee

Under Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee was a well-oiled machine. Not the 2008 or 2005 versions—let’s leave those out of this—but Fulmer’s average year is something that would now be embraced with open arms.

Since 2007, the Vols have reached the seven-win threshold only once.  The rise of other programs in the SEC has certainly hindered their rebuilding efforts along with the overall results, although instability in the coaching staff has aided this seesaw movement.

After Lane Kiffin stopped by for a cup of coffee, Derek Dooley followed with an emphatic thud. Butch Jones’ arrival has shifted the perception of the program, even if the long-term results are still a tremendous work in progress.

Although the 29-21 loss to Missouri at home on Saturday could be viewed as an opportunity lost—and it was—the long-term outlook with Tennessee is oozing with optimism.

Even after losing talent across both lines, the Vols look more competent and competitive than they have in quite some time. And with the No. 5-ranked recruiting class, according to 247 Sports, set to join a roster that has been infused with young talent, there are reasons to believe this is starting to turn.

Whether it will be enough for Tennessee to break through amidst the madness of the SEC is another conversation entirely. This is one to keep an eye on moving forward, assuming Jones stays in Knoxville to see his master plan through.

 

Notre Dame

Perhaps my childhood memories were exaggerated some.

Since 1993, Notre Dame has won double-digit games only three times. It seems like it has to be more than that given the perception—especially with some glimpses of greatness over the past few years—although the overall results haven’t budged much.

Our expectation clocks were turned sideways when Notre Dame tiptoed its way past minefield after minefield and into the national championship only a few short seasons ago. The explosion came shortly after thanks to Alabama. This was then followed by a slew of Brian-Kelly-to-the-NFL roars.

Since then, the Irish have been unable to duplicate this success.

It looked as though that was changing in 2014, and then Florida State happened. Since losing to the Seminoles in controversial fashion late, the Irish are 1-4. The lone victory came against Navy, although even this wasn’t easy. It’s the losses at home to Northwestern and then Louisville that have us wondering whether this team is starting to regress.

Injuries and youth have played a role in Notre Dame’s late-season demise, although nothing has been more performance-draining than the turnovers.

In the grand scheme, the Irish have been unable to cope with a schedule that is year in, year out one of the most difficult in the country. But with years of successful recruiting and more help on the horizon, Notre Dame has a chance to capture lightning in a bottle once more.

There is so much talented youth on this current team; its development will be a story to watch moving forward.

 

Virginia Tech

No fall from grace has been less publicized and more pronounced than Virginia Tech, which just lost a game against a team that has run the ball 359 times for 415 yards this season.

The Hokies’ 6-3 defeat to Wake Forest on Saturday was the culmination of its 2014 offensive woes. What’s most concerning about Virginia Tech, however, is that this offensive outage has been in the works for quite some time.

VT #Hokies points per game: 2010 33.9 2011 27.9 2012 25.1 2013 22.5 2014 23.3 (cc: @BillisKing)

— Ben (@GodsSport) November 25, 2014

It was not long ago that Virginia Tech was competing for conference championships and regularly appearing in BCS bowls. After winning 10 games or more for eight consecutive seasons—a remarkable run, one that probably wasn’t given the appropriate appreciation—the Hokies have lost at least five games each of the past three seasons.

A flurry of quality in-state talent has flocked elsewhere. And although the defense has consistently delivered, Virginia Tech has been unable to recruit and develop offensive talent.

As a result, it's currently last place in the Coastal Division. Bigger for the long term, it's still hoping to compete for the top-flight in-state talent that is now heading elsewhere.

Still, a turnaround of some sort seems feasible. The defense will stay dominant under Bud Foster, and this part of the formula doesn’t require tinkering. In terms of the overall product, however, one can’t help but wonder what the future holds if changes aren't made.

 

Nebraska

The climate has shifted. The players who once flocked to Lincoln, Nebraska, are no longer traveling there in bulk. That’s not to say the Cornhuskers are absent of football talent, but times have certainly changed since the days of Tommie Frazier and Eric Crouch.

Things could be better, although they could also be much worse. Nebraska’s slide back toward the middle of the pack—a Top 25 team and rarely anything more—is a position some former powers would envy.

As was evident in the team’s 28-24 home loss to Minnesota in Week 13, however, it’s been a string of close calls blended with a handful of truly horrifying, stat-shattering losses that have limited this team’s growth. The defense, in particular, is a product light-years from its former identity.

It’s unreasonable to expect Nebraska to return to its 1993-2001 form. But it’s not unreasonable to demand that the current head coach deliver more competitive performances when playing Top 25 opponents. There’s a balance to be had. In recent years, it’s been hard to find.

Bo Pelini’s future at the program will ultimately shape its tenure. It will never be in bad hands under his guidance, but you can’t help but wonder just how high the ceiling is set.

 

Penn State

Any reasonable human being with reasonable expectations didn’t expect James Franklin to set the football world on fire in his first year in the Big Ten. With that out in the open—and the uniqueness of the situation taken into account—losing to Illinois, as it did last Saturday, was never in the plans.

That performance served as a notice of sorts.

The scandal and sanctions that rocked Penn State put this program on a different path than any other program in the history of the sport. The roster attrition parlayed with various coaching changes and lingering bowl ban made life incredibly challenging.

With the bowl ban complete and scholarships restored, however, Franklin now has the task of adding depth and top-end talent to the roster. Penn State is currently ranked No. 14, according to 247Sports’ team rankings, which is a sign that help is coming.

There is room to grow in the Big Ten, especially given the way Michigan is fighting a similar—but also drastically different—uphill battle. The switch won’t suddenly be flipped overnight, although Franklin’s track record at Vanderbilt brings hope that the upward climb is inevitable.

 

Let Rebuilding Begin (or Continue)

The answer to all rebuilding problems is to hire Nick Saban. Given recent history, Jimbo Fisher wouldn’t be a bad option either.

When these scenarios aren’t feasible, other avenues must be explored.

In the end, it boils down to finding a coach capable of leading a program, providing this coach with the necessary financial means to assemble a strong staff (while also ensuring that he can keep this staff together) and, of course, recruiting. These checklist items are in many ways intertwined, although recruiting might as well be written in bold, size-128 font.

The premise is simple, although the execution is anything but. It’s why some of the greatest college football powers of our lifetimes have been unable to find their previous, dominant selves. 

There are reasons to believe that this will change, at least with some of the proper pieces in place for some of the programs mentioned above. Turning these pieces into sustainable success is where the blueprint gets complicated.

At one point in time, this part was a given for these powers from a different life. Now, given the weekend that was and everything that came before it, nothing should be assumed. There is still so much work to be done.

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Ohio State RB's '#WomanCrushWednesday' Is Michigan Player's Girlfriend

Anything is fair game during the week of "The Game."

Ohio State and Michigan will square off at the Horseshoe on Saturday, so fans from each school are having some fun with their rival.

As it turns out, the players are also enjoying rivalry week. Buckeyes running back Bri'onte Dunn came up with an interesting "#WomanCrushWednesday."

Who is it? It appears to be Wolverines safety Jarrod Wilson's girlfriend.

If the two get on the field at the same time this weekend, Dunn might want to watch out.

Of course, this could just be a joke. Dunn went to high school in Canton, Ohio, and Wilson is from nearby Akron. Dunn did tag Wilson in the caption, so it's likely that the two are buddies.

[Instagram, h/t College Spun]

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LSU Football: Les Miles Under Immense Pressure Against Texas A&M

LSU head coach Les Miles watched his team at its worst against Arkansas. 

The Tigers were defeated 17-0 by the Razorbacks. LSU was dominated in all three phases of the game and was never competitive during any point of the contest.

LSU was lucky to have last Saturday off to rest up for its Thanksgiving contest against Texas A&M. The Aggies will be an intriguing matchup for Miles. 

The Thanksgiving tradition means everything to Texas A&M fans. The Aggies will be fired up to protect their home turf on national television.  

LSU, on the other hand, has been known to pack it in on Thanksgiving week under Miles when out of national championship contention.

The Tigers have traditionally played Arkansas this week though normally on a Friday. Though LSU won both of its last two matchups after turkey day, the performances were less than stellar. Miles squeaked by below-average Arkansas teams in 2012 and 2013

Miles cannot watch his team play lethargically for the second game in a row. He has no excuses, either, as Texas A&M is a favorable matchup for LSU.

Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin is 0-2 against the Tigers, as his high-powered offense has struggled to crack defensive coordinator John Chavis' unpredictable schemes. LSU's defense is better than last year's group and should have similar success against true freshman quarterback Kyle Allen. 

LSU's offense has been pitiful in recent weeks. Miles relayed bleak news regarding his offensive line this week, per Tiger Rag's Robert Stewart: 

Les: Expect Vadal Alexander to play this weekend. Ethan Pocic will be at center (Elliott Porter will be out). Washington at RG.

— Robert Stewart (@TigerRagRobert) November 24, 2014

Fortunately for Miles, the Aggies have allowed over 200 rushing yards per game this season. LSU should be able to move the ball on the ground even if the passing attack continues to struggle. 

A loss for the Tigers would be understandable, though. LSU is only a slight favorite, per Odds Shark, and the Aggies are a talented group and hard to beat at home. 

What Miles cannot have happen, though, is his team lay an egg. A blowout loss would be a massive hit to his national perception.

Some already think Miles and the Tigers might be taking a step back. When the Tigers started the season 0-2 in conference, Braden Gall of Athlon Sports began to question LSU's positioning after the recent wave of new coaches in the SEC West: 

So LSU was No. 1 in the nation in 2011. Then Malzahn, Freeze, Sumlin, Bielema joined the party and now LSU could be 7th in West?

— Braden Gall (@BradenGall) October 5, 2014

A more recent example came from syndicated radio host Dan Patrick, who asked former LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson how the team ever lost a game. Patrick asked the same question aloud to Pro Football Talk:

As @dpshow just walked in and said, "How did LSU ever lose a football game?"

— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) November 24, 2014

Former All-SEC running back Jeremy Hill posed the exact same question about last year's team:

I'm still trying to figure out how we lost any games last year in college

— Jeremy Hill (@JeremyHill33) November 25, 2014

Though Miles was not directly mentioned by Patrick or Hill, how the team performs does fall on his shoulders. The immediate success of LSU rookies in the NFL this season such as Hill, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Alfred Blue and Zach Mettenberger has put the spotlight on Miles' leadership.

Thursday's matchup not only affects Miles' perception for the future, but recruiting as well. The Tigers and Texas A&M have developed a history over competing for the same prospects. 

Sumlin mentioned the importance of Saturday, via TexAgs.com: 

Sumlin: [LSU] is after a couple of our top [recruits] ... and [vice-versa]. One game matters to some. Atmosphere and [winning] is key.

— TexAgs (@TexAgs) November 20, 2014 

LSU lost out on 5-star receivers Ricky Seals-Jones (2013) and Speedy Noil (2014) to Texas A&M. The Tigers are hot after 2015 Aggies defensive tackle commit Daylon Mack, per Shea Dixon of Geaux247.com. A Miles victory would go a long way in getting Mack to Baton Rouge, which would fill a major position of need for the Tigers. 

There are so many layers to why this game is important for Miles. Though his seat is cooler than a polar bear's toenails right now, a second consecutive poor road performance to a team equal in talent would be a bad look.

An LSU loss could be devastating for Miles. If LSU falls short against the Aggies and Arkansas defeats Missouri on Friday, the Tigers would finish in an unfamiliar place in the SEC West.  

Last. 

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: A Closer Look at the Defense's Free Fall

Let's jump back to early October. In the afterglow of Ben Koyack's miraculous 4th-and-11 touchdown catch, the Irish won a 17-14 slugfest against Stanford in what felt like a freezing monsoon. 

While all Irish fans could talk about was Koyack's tightrope-walking along the chalk in the corner of the end zone, Brian VanGorder's defense was the real story. 

The Irish held Stanford to just 205 yards of total offense. The Cardinal ground game that had Irish fans so worried? It gained just 47 yards. It was the fifth straight game where Notre Dame held its opponents to 17 points or less. 

VanGorder, with his NFL schemes and overperforming personnel, received a tip of the cap from frustrated Stanford head coach David Shaw after the game. 

"I think they’ve got an outstanding defensive coordinator. He mixes it up,” Shaw said after the loss. "Our quarterback got hit a lot today. Give them a lot of credit for their scheme."

All of that seems so far away. 

***

From that point on, things have gone wrong. Very wrong. Notre Dame has only won two games since that victory over Stanford. And the defense has been a large part of the issue. 

In the Irish's two victories, they gave up 82 points. North Carolina scored 43 with its hyper-speed offense catching the Irish defense completely out of sorts. And Navy's triple-option attack forced VanGorder and head coach Brian Kelly to simply hold on for dear life, with the Irish scoring 21 fourth-quarter points to pull away from the Midshipmen. 

The easy thing to do is simply to blame VanGorder. After going viral for his fist-pumping exploits after shutting out Michigan for the first time in school history, the first-year coordinator now sits in quarantine—held to blame for the slide that's seen the Irish give up 30 or more points in six straight games. 

But it's not all on VanGorder. As we look at the free fall of the Irish defense as it prepares to face USC's star-studded offense, let's take a look at the key factors that have contributed to the collapse. 

 

Injuries

Any analysis that doesn't peg injuries as the primary cause of this free fall isn't being fair to the parties involved.

Notre Dame's defense has been decimated by injuries. They've hit both key personnel and the limited depth that was being counted on to play important reserve minutes. 

The first domino to fall was middle linebacker Joe Schmidt, who was injured against Navy. Schmidt's absence has been felt both on the field and off—both before the snap and during the action. 

Against the run, the Irish have struggled greatly without Schmidt in the middle of the defense. As freshman Nyles Morgan has learned on the fly, the defense has given up big-chunk runs at an alarming rate.

In the 13 quarters without Schmidt, the Irish have given up 31 runs of 10 yards or more. They allowed just 25 in the seven-plus games Schmidt played behind Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones. 

Speaking of Day and Jones? They've been lost for the rest of the season, with Kelly hoping that Day will return for the bowl game.

The coaches never had a true contingency plan for the defensive tackle position in absence of the duo, and it's forced Kelly and VanGorder to try and replace two players they knew going into the season really weren't replaceable.

Freshman Daniel Cage played well behind them but has missed time with his own knee injury. That's forced fifth-year afterthought Justin Utupo into the lineup and pulled the redshirt off of freshman Jay Hayes.

The rest of the injuries have chipped away at the foundation of the unit. Middle linebacker Jarrett Grace has been unable to play after last season's catastrophic leg injury that broke in four places. Tony Springmann retired before the season started after failing to get past a knee injury. 

Safety Drue Tranquill is the latest hard-luck injury at a position that's seen Austin Collinsworth missing for most of the year and Nicky Baratti go down with another season-ending shoulder injury. Throw in Cody Riggs, whose foot injury has robbed the Irish of their most versatile cornerback.

Simply put, every level of the defense has been crushed.

 

Suspensions

It's worth reminding people that the Irish defense was hit hard during fall camp when the suspensions of starters KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams took two of the most experienced players off the field for the season. 

Throw in reserves Kendall Moore and Eilar Hardy (who is now back with the team), and that's four veterans who were likely to contribute in some form. 

Russell's loss was the most difficult to take. Expecting to perform at an All-American level this season, Russell was anticipating a hard decision at the end of the year: head to the NFL or return for his senior season and his degree.

All of that was derailed after an academic issue in summer school put Notre Dame's football program in the headlines for the second straight season for the wrong reasons. Russell will return for his senior season—after spending his two-semester suspension away from South Bend. 

The loss of Wiliams was also a huge blow. While sophomore Isaac Rochell and freshmen Andrew Trumbetti and Grant Blankenship have played well, having a physically mature senior like Williams to set the edge would've given the Irish someone with actual playing experience to line up alongside Day and Jones. 

The Irish made it through the first five weeks of the season looking like they had skated through the suspensions unscathed. But the depth issues that were just beneath the surface caught the Irish, especially once injuries began piling up. 

 

Schedule

Put simply, the offenses that Notre Dame started the season against just weren't very good. Only Rice has ended up as a top-75 offense. Stanford is 81st in total offense, Syracuse is 112th, Purdue is 113th and Michigan is 117th. 

Just as injuries and depth issues began piling up, so did the better offenses. Only Louisville and Northwestern rank outside the top 75 in total offense. They combined to score 74 points against the Irish. Arizona State, Navy, North Carolina, Florida State and USC all average between 452 and 441 yards per game—each in the top 40 of total offense. 

Entering Saturday's finale against USC, nine freshmen are on the final defensive depth chart of the regular season. Seven sophomores join them—a total of 16 out of 22 in a defensive two-deep in their first or second year of eligibility.

That's a lot of kids seeing their first chunk of significant playing time as the Irish desperately search for answers on defense and their long-awaited eighth win of the season. That experience will serve this team well in the future.

But with a rivalry game against USC set for Saturday, nobody is willing to look that far ahead.

So Kelly and VanGorder will be asked to find answers. Even if they're out of places to look. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Week 14: Top 25 Upset Alert

Heading into Week 14, rivalries are on most teams' schedules, and this week will surely be one of the most intense of the season.

Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer gives you the Top 25 teams he is putting on upset alert for Week 14.

Which Top 25 team will be upset this weekend?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Week 14: Picking the CFP Top 25 Games Against the Spread

As rivalry week approaches, the end of college football season beckons. This is the last full slate of games until September 2015. And we'd better find a way to make it count.

Fortunately, I am coming to you on a hot streak, having just gone 12-4 against the spread with my Week 13 picks. The professional thing to do would be to act like I have been here before. No biggie…I always cash at 80 percent. Just toss the ball back to the referee.

Whatever. Professionalism is overrated.

Seriously, though, I saw the board well last week and think I have a similar read on the rivalry games. Typically, that means it might be time to fade me. Statistically, that means it's definitely time to fade me. Heed this advice at your own, readily assumed risk.

But don't come crying to me if you fade these and end up 4-12.

 

All spreads courtesy of Odds Shark unless noted otherwise.

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Wisconsin and Minnesota Mascots Roast Each Other on Twitter During Rivalry Week

No. 18 Minnesota and No. 14 Wisconsin will battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday. With the rivalry game looming, Goldy Gopher and Bucky Badger have been exchanging jabs on Twitter.

Things started slowly on Monday.

However, both mascots—and the University of Wisconsin-Madison—have increased the heat in the days leading up to the matchup.

The Badgers appear to have won the battle.

Minnesota has lost 10 straight meetings, with its last win in the series back in 2003.

Rivalry week has always been great. Thanks to Twitter, it's even better these days.

[Twitter]

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Michal Menet Names Top 5: Which Program Is Best Fit for 2016 4-Star?

Prized Pennsylvania offensive lineman Michal Menet may still be more than a year away from signing with any college program, but he's already developed a list of top contenders. The 4-star recruit tweeted his top five Tuesday, pointed out by Greg Pickel of Scout.com:

Menet, a 6'5", 250-pound junior at Exeter Township High School in Reading, has a trio of Big Ten programs in the picture. Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State are caught up in another conference power struggle, while Duke and Florida State offer ACC opportunities.

The athletic lineman is rated ninth among offensive tackles in 247Sports' composite rankings and possesses a physical frame equipped to pack on pounds as he matures. Menet holds the top overall ranking when it comes to 2016 prospects in Pennsylvania, a state that perennially produces elite difference-makers.

He already holds invitations to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and Under Armour All-America Game, both scheduled for January 2016.

Now that Menet has provided a glimpse into his thought process toward particular programs, let's break down each favorite in search of an ideal fit.

 

Duke

The Blue Devils have quietly emerged as an ACC contender in recent years, and on-field success has carried over into the recruiting spectrum. Head coach David Cutcliffe will lead the team into its third straight bowl game this winter and could enter unchartered territory with a top-30 recruiting class in February.

The university's reputation as a globally respected academic institution enhances the sales pitch and attracts players from across the country who've noted that football is on the rise in Durham. Duke's 2015 class features prospects from eight states, including a pair of California 4-stars.

The Blue Devils' 2016 class is on pace to be its best ever based on a strong start. It already features three 4-star recruits, and Menet would provide further clout.

Duke offers him an opportunity to become the team's most heralded incoming lineman in recent memory. He could quickly become an anchor up front for a program with 18 regular-season wins since 2013.

 

Florida State

The Seminoles are certainly far more established than conference counterpart Duke. Florida State is unbeaten during the past two seasons, and there's plenty of promise for further success in a post-Jameis Winston world.

Head coach Jimbo Fisher has compiled the makings of a formidable rushing attack that could shred defenses for years to come. Dalvin Cook, a 5-star 2014 signee, is gaining steam during the final stretch of his senior season, and more elite backfield help is on the way.

Jacques Patrick and Johnny Frasier—both rated among the top five running backs in 247Sports' composite rankings—are committed to the Seminoles. Even with three quarterback pledges in this class, the future of Florida State's offensive attack appears to be run-heavy.

Just about every elite offensive lineman will tell you he prefers to block downfield, and, judging by his game film, Menet is no exception. Fisher holds just three total offensive line commits in the 2015 and 2016 classes combined.

He'll look to load up on linemen before next signing day and waited only until April to extend an offer to Menet, who would be counted on to keep top-ranked junior quarterback Malik Henry upright for years to come in a talent-laden offense.

 

Michigan State

The Spartans were among the first teams to offer Menet, pulling the trigger on a scholarship last December. He visited the campus in April, developing a strong rapport with offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Mark Staten along the way.

Michigan State identified Menet as a key target early in the 2016 evaluation process. The team could use a "franchise" tackle who can dominate for multiple seasons and managed to secure just one 4-star recruit at the position during the past three cycles.

The Spartans signed 4-star Pennsylvania defensive back Montae Nicholson in February, and top-rated 2015 pledge Larry Scott is an Ohio product. In order to land Menet, Michigan State would again need to reach into a Big Ten foe's backyard.

 

Ohio State

Head coach Urban Meyer has made it clear he's capable of securing commitments from every corner of the country during tenures at Ohio State and Florida. Now he'll go toe-to-toe with Penn State coach James Franklin for homegrown Pennsylvania talent.

The Buckeyes beat out Penn State for common 4-star lineman targets Jashon Cornell and Matthew Burrell earlier in the 2015 recruiting cycle, and an ongoing battle carries into the next class. Ohio State has loaded up at offensive skill positions but could still use some more beef up front to protect a collection of quality quarterbacks.

Ohio State swung and missed on Tennessee offensive tackle Drew Richmond in September but made up for it by landing Burrell. The team also holds commitments from several 3-star offensive linemen in the 2015 class, including 6'9", 305-pound New Jersey mauler Kevin Feder.

Meyer's 2016 class features four players, each from Ohio. Buckeyes pledge Tyler Gerald may be the top guard prospect in the cycle and could ultimately line up at tackle.

Menet visited Columbus for a game in September. He landed his Ohio State offer during an April campus trip and will assuredly be on campus again before a decision is made.

 

Penn State

The prohibitive favorite in this race due to proximity and program familiarity, Penn State hopes to add to the stockpile of offensive linemen Franklin has acquired since taking the job. The offensive front is in good shape moving forward, which is key considering past scholarship sanctions at the school.

Unlike some teams in his top group, Penn State is preparing for an influx of impact offensive linemen next year. Sterling Jenkins, Steven Gonzalez and Ryan Bates are 4-star recruits capable of contributing early in Happy Valley.

Penn State extended a scholarship at the start of Menet's sophomore season, shortly after Rutgers and Temple became the first options on his list. The coaching regime has changed since, but you better believe he remains a centerpiece on the program's 2016 recruiting board.

The Nittany Lions hosted Menet on campus this summer for camp, and he returned for a game last month. Penn State is still looking for offensive line talent in the 2016 class, but an impressive 2015 haul could potentially create a logjam at tackle.

 

The Verdict

Expect Penn State to remain a mainstay on his list through the conclusion of this recruitment. However, when faced with finding the best fit, our gaze shifts away from Menet's home state.

The opportunity to fill an immediate need at offensive tackle in Tallahassee is tough to pass up. Florida State has as stable a coaching situation as any university in America and will continue to contend for titles with the recruiting classes Fisher has assembled.

Menet would lead the way for a trio of running backs that could become college football's best backfield. He would also serve as part of the foundation for a 2016 class that already includes a blue-chip quarterback commit who was coveted across the country.

As an offensive lineman, there's a lot to like about a potential role with the Seminoles. That allure leads Florida State to the top of this list.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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10 Biggest Questions Facing Top 25 Teams Heading into Week 14

Here we are. For many teams, Week 14 marks the end of the regular season. Next week, the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC will hold their conference championships. 

The latest College Football Playoff rankings showed no movement among the Top Seven spots. Those are considered to be the teams with the most realistic shot of getting in the playoff. But with rivalry week upon us, there are several opportunities for chaos to ensue. 

Which storylines are worth following this Thanksgiving weekend? The answers are in the following slides. 

The only criterion is that teams mentioned have to be in the latest CFP Top 25.

Begin Slideshow

Watch Crushing Blows and Diving TD Catch in Our Craziest Plays of the Week

Watch the craziest plays of the week in high school football.

The season is winding down, but it's not too late to create highlights and remember your big games. Log in to Hudl and highlight any plays from your past games that you want to appear on your athlete profile. Once they're saved, you can share them with family, friends and recruiters.

Which play did you think was the best?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Inside Urban Meyer's Approach to the Ohio State-Michigan Rivalry

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In Urban Meyer's postgame press conference following Ohio State's 42-27 win over Indiana last Saturday, questions predictably focused on the Buckeyes' future opponent more than their most recent one.

"How does the pace for next week change around the Woody [Hayes Athletic Center]?" one reporter asked in reference to Ohio State turning its attention from the Hoosiers and toward archrival Michigan.

"Big time," Meyer answered. "Players will get tired of hearing the song I always play. It's nuts. Insane."

"The fight song?" the reporter inquired.

"No," Meyer said with a smirk. "It's another song."

That song, it turns out, is the 2008 LL Cool J anthem "It's Time For War." Not that Meyer could tell you where to find it on iTunes. He just likes the message that the song sends.

"LL Cool J?" the third-year Ohio State head coach responded when asked about the Buckeyes' soundtrack for the week. "I just know the song's name. He's really good at it. It's a good song."

While Meyer claims that he can't remember exactly how he stumbled upon the repetitive, bass-heavy banger—he claims it may have once been included in an OSU highlight reel—it seems to encapsulate everything that this week means to him. A native of Ashtabula, Ohio, Meyer grew up entrenched in "The Ten Year War," idolizing Woody Hayes and rooting on beloved Buckeyes Archie Griffin and Cornelius Greene against "That Team Up North."

"When I was real young I couldn't understand it, but my mother grabbed me, said we have to go run an errand or something. I looked at her like she was out of her mind," Meyer recalled. "We went to some outdoor area. It was an outdoor-like mall. They were playing the game over the loud speakers. I'll never forget that as long as I live."

Meyer's fascination with The Game would only increase in the late-1980s, when he found himself a part of one its most memorable editions.

A graduate assistant under former Buckeyes coach Earle Bruce, Meyer was a member of the Ohio State staff that was fired six days before the Buckeyes' 1987 clash with the Wolverines. Still permitted to take part in The Game, Meyer found himself standing outside of Ohio State's locker room, where another Michigan memory was soon made.

"I happened to be the guy at the door, I was just a G.A. so I had no impact—I was just a guy that made coffee—and coach Bruce says a few words to the team and it is freezing cold and I opened the tunnel doors, and their locker room’s right across," Meyer said. "There’s standing Bo Schembechler and a bunch of big players right behind him. I just remember I turned around—you know here’s a guy who grew up with the rivalry, 21 years old. I just kind of froze.

"I’m six feet away from coach Schembechler and I remember that very well. I mean, it was one of those moments.” 

The Buckeyes would go on to beat the Wolverines 23-20 that day, with the Ohio State players carrying Bruce off the field to create one of the rivalry's most powerful images. Meyer would go on to continue his career as an assistant at Colorado State and Notre Dame, before landing the head-coaching job at Bowling Green in 2001.

And once he did, it didn't take long for Meyer to prove how much the importance of rivalries had stuck with him.

Embracing the Falcons' in-town rivalry with Toledo, Meyer made the most of the battle for the Peace Pipe Trophy, referring to the Rockets as "That (Other) School Up North." Meyer brought that same attitude to Utah's rivalry with Utah State ("That Team Down South"), and to Gainesville, where Florida lays claim to three primary foes.

"It's interesting at Florida you have three of them," Meyer said. "You have Tennessee early in the year. You have Georgia and you have 'The Team Out West' [Florida State]."

All together, Meyer has amassed a 22-3 record in rivalry games throughout his career as a head coach, including a 2-0 record against Michigan in his first two seasons at Ohio State. Of course, it's helped that the Wolverines have amassed a combined 15-11 record in the past two years, while the Buckeyes' win in last year's matchup marked their program's 24th straight victory.

But even if the two teams have been mismatched since he arrived in Columbus, that hasn't prevented Meyer from milking Ohio State's rivalry with Michigan for all it's worth. All across campus, the letter "M" has been crossed off of building signs and businesses, the color blue banned in a callback to Meyer's time as a G.A. nearly 30 years ago.

"It's always been that way. I remember that 1986, my first year here, driving in to work and sheets hanging outside the dorm. 'Muck Fichigan,'" Meyer recalled with a smile. "I thought that was really neat. Then they flipped the 'M' and the 'F' on Friday. It didn't stay up very long, but I did see it."

That may seem like fun and games, but to Meyer, it's anything but.

With the Buckeyes still in the hunt for a potential playoff spot, 5-6 Michigan again stands in the way of Ohio State having everything on the line that it can in the following week's Big Ten Championship Game. But to Meyer, the immediate implications of winning another rivalry game take a back seat, as he knows that there's only one way to validate this week's enhanced preparation.

"As long as I can remember, this game has been The Game," Meyer said. "When you say have fun, I'm not sure how to have fun. How to have fun is sing the fight song in the locker room after a win against your rival. That's how you have fun."

 

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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On the Field, Auburn Has Moved on from "The Kick-6"

AUBURN, Ala. — It's hard to find a part of Auburn that hasn't been influenced by the ending to the 2013 Iron Bowl.

Former Tigers cornerback Chris Davis' game-winning, literally last-second, 109-yard field goal return to knock off No. 1 Alabama and send Auburn to the SEC Championship Game—more commonly known as "The Kick-Six"—is everywhere.

Just inside the Auburn Athletics Complex, which overlooks the side of Jordan-Hare Stadium where Davis first took the ball out of the end zone, the entire left side of the atrium is covered with an oversized photo of the postgame celebration:

Right before the kickoff of each home game this season, Auburn's hype video has started with an exaggerated clock countdown that stops at "0:01" and then launches into Davis' return:

Even Auburn University's commercial for 2014 is based on the play and the commencement speech from Stan White, the former Tigers quarterback who interjects alongside play-by-play man Rod Bramblett as Auburn's radio color commentator:

The team made news earlier this year when it painted Davis' path on the famous play onto Pat Dye Field for "Big Cat Weekend," its biggest recruiting event: 

"The Kick-Six" has surrounded everything Auburn football for the last year, and that's not counting the countless replays on television and online.

"I've seen it a couple times," senior wide receiver Quan Bray said Sunday night.

After a short pause, he quickly clarified.

"A couple hundred, seems like," Bray said with a laugh. "It shows everywhere, and that was a great play. It's going to be in history forever."

But even with all the hype surrounding the play and the amount of emphasis the university—and even the team—has put on it this season, Auburn's players and coaches want to make one thing clear.

“We’re not going to bring it up or talk about it, because it can’t help us this year," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. "That was last year. This year is completely different, and we’re going to have to play even better this year."

Even though Auburn will enter Saturday night's contest as two-score underdogs to Alabama, just like it was in last year's meeting, the Tigers have no plans to revisit the ever-present play as motivation to pull off another upset.

"It’s a new year," head coach Gus Malzahn said. "This is a new team, just like theirs is a new team. There are players who have overlapped that played in it, but this is a new year and a new game."

In fact, Auburn is looking at last year's game-winner, which was perhaps the most dramatic moment in the program's long history, as a potential distraction.

That's right—the play that helped send Auburn to Atlanta and Pasadena is somewhat of a problem this season.

"It’s one of those things you’ve got to deal with," Lashlee said. "Both sides have to deal with it because it’s kind of what comes with the week, just normal distractions and things that are out there. I don’t think it will bother our guys."

Senior center Reese Dismukes said the constant replays haven't affected him, even though there are constant references to it on social media this week.

"I haven't really noticed much of that," Dismukes said. "I try not to read everything I see on Twitter. I haven't really seen it that much. Obviously on the little highlight reel, the one ESPN is doing, it has it from last year."

The stance of avoidance that Auburn is taking this week comes in the midst of a disappointing second half to the 2014 season, one that started with dreams of another conference title and another shot at the national championship.

Losses to Texas A&M and Georgia mathematically put the Tigers out of contention for both of those trophies, meaning that Saturday's game will be about being the spoiler instead of fighting for a semifinal spot.

"I think it’s the greatest college rivalry in football, and it will be hyped up," defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said. "If we’d played a little bit better in two or three games this year, it’d be an even bigger one. Last year everybody had a stake in it. It was going to be huge. This year, we’re kind of the spoilers."

Although "The Kick-Six" has and will continue to be replayed everywhere during Iron Bowl week, Auburn players say they know this is a completely different team and a completely different situation.

Because of that, there's no reason to look back.

"I think that's way behind us," Dismukes said. "We're way ahead of that now. Our main focus is this year and going in there and doing what we've got to do."

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Alabama and Auburn Ignoring Last Year

"Kick-Six?" What's that?

It's hard to go anywhere this week without seeing former Auburn defensive back Chris Davis running 109 yards at the end of last year's Iron Bowl and into college football history. 

ESPN's promo, stories on what that game meant to the rivalry's history and what it means as motivation to this year's Alabama squad are all dominant storylines during rivalry week.

Just don't tell Alabama head coach Nick Saban or Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn that, because neither is very interested in discussing it. 

For Alabama, the leadup to this week is more about remembering what happened but not dwelling on the past.

Coach speak? Of course it is.

But this while the rest of the world focuses on the revenge factor, Alabama has bigger fish to fry. It has to win to claim the SEC West title and keep its national-championship hopes alive. Yes, revenge is important, but that would only serve as a byproduct of Alabama reaching its ultimate goal anyway.

For Auburn, this game is about playing spoiler to its intra-state rival and not proving that last year was legit, but establishing a legacy of dominance. It's about taking control of the game with more than just one second left and proving that it can do it without the benefit of one of the most remarkable plays in college football history. It's about putting the month of November behind them and building some momentum heading into bowl season.

The "Kick-Six" was great, and as we point out in the video below, it was one of the most remarkable sporting events in American sports history. But once the Tigers and Tide step between the white lines, it will be as far away from the minds of the players and coaches as "Punt, Bama, Punt," "The Kick," "Bo Over The Top" and all of the other great games between the two programs.

It'll be history.

 

A Unique Challenge

The words "discipline" and "defense" used to go together at Georgia like—to steal a phrase from Big Daddy—"lamb and tuna fish." 

Then the Auburn game happened, and the entire perception of the Georgia defense changed. 

The Bulldogs held the potent Auburn offense that is loaded with eye candy and multiple options off of every play to just 292 total yards in only seven points—the first time in Gus Malzahn's Auburn head coaching career that he's been held to single digits.

This week, there's a similar challenge in store for the Bulldogs. The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets will roll into Athens looking to unleash their triple-option offense and force a Georgia team that still has outside hopes of earning a College Football Playoff berth to stay disciplined.

"That's a good way of putting it, 'forcing discipline' on a defensive team," Richt said on Wednesday's teleconference. "If you don't have the discipline to have your eyes where they belong and to handle the gaps and responsibilities that you're assigned to and if you don't play fundamental football, you can't win one-to-one."

The last two games for Georgia are important. While Auburn and Charleston Southern run different schemes and neither mirrors the triple-option attack of the Yellow Jackets, similar principles are in play.

"Those things were crucially important in that game, and even our last game against Charleston Southern," Richt said. "They run a lot of option principles out of the gun. It's the same types of things that you have to get your mind right for. Hopefully it'll help us, it's just really difficult to simulate what Georgia Tech does on offense with our scout team."

A month ago, this Yellow Jackets offense would seem like a major problem to a defense that struggled with offenses as vanilla as Florida. Now? Not so much.

The ninth-ranked Bulldogs know that style points are important now that two-loss UCLA is one spot above them in the new playoff rankings. They have had Tech's number since Paul Johnson's second year in 2009 and have some much-needed defensive momentum.

Can you say blowout?

 

A Key Injury?

Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace injured his ankle in the first half of the 30-0 loss to Arkansas last week, but he came back to try to lead the Rebels back to no avail.

That injury may linger into the Egg Bowl.

Wallace has been practicing this week, but he is not at full strength heading into a critical intra-state rivalry with No. 4 Mississippi State in Oxford.

"He's been limited some, but you'd have to chain him down to keep him from going in this game so I anticipate him being ready to go," Freeze said.

Wallace's injury should concern Ole Miss fans. The Rebels offense clearly doesn't have an identity without star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and has struggled to run the ball all year, and now its quarterback—who is known for being good or bad with nothing in between—is ailing.

Uh-oh.

Mississippi State needs style points in what might be the last chance it has to impress the selection committee, and shutting down a reeling Rebels offense would be just what the doctor ordered.

 

A "Big" Challenge

Everybody has an opinion of Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, and on the field, Florida head coach Will Muschamp has high praise for the redshirt sophomore and defending Heisman Trophy winner. 

Muschamp compared Winston to Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger due to his size and ability to keep plays alive.

"A big guy who is very difficult to get down," Muschamp said on Wednesday's teleconference. "You have to tackle him high. He's got 280- or 300-pounders hanging around him and he still delivers it 30 or 40 yards downfield. The play is never over when he drops back." 

Muschamp's Gators certainly have the personnel to get the job done, though. The Gators have 25 sacks on the year, a front seven that is known for getting after the quarterback and a secondary that pounces on mistakes created by pressure.

Winston has shown that he can be rattled this year, and if the Gators are able to do that and put a dent in the scoreboard early, it could be the team that ends Florida State's two-year winning streak.

 

Quick Outs

  • No jabs from South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier in the direction of Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney. That's disappointing. What's rivalry week without a good Palmetto State war of words?
  • Georgia head coach Mark Richt said his team won't be watching the Arkansas/Missouri game on Friday. A Missouri loss would send the Bulldogs to the SEC Championship Game for the third time in four years. "We are not going to be doing anything but focusing on these gentlemen from Atlanta," Richt said. Yeah...right.
  • Tennessee could get bowl-eligible with a win over Vanderbilt in Nashville, and head coach Butch Jones knows how important it would be for his young team to earn those 15 bowl practices and find success in what has been an up-and-down season. "We've gone through the natural adversity that going through a football season presents," he said. "Our leadership has continued to grow. I think we have great competitive character in our program and understand where the program is going."
  • College Football Playoff chairman Jeff Long said Tuesday that where a team was ranked at the time of the game is being discussed. "We certainly discuss and know when a team was previously ranked in the Top 25," he said in quotes emailed by the CFP. That's not just a slippery slope, it's a vertical drop. Should Florida State be credited for a big win over Notre Dame? Mississippi State given a boost for a win over an average-at-best LSU team? Of course not. I miss you, BCS.

 

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

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

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Predicting College Football's Biggest Headlines for Week 14

With Week 14 upon us, it's time to take a look at what everyone will be talking about during rivalry week. Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer discuss the biggest headlines for the upcoming football week.

Will Florida State remain unbeaten after rivalry week?

Watch the video and let us know!

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College Football Rankings 2014: Top 25 NCAA Playoff Standings for Week 14

Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Mississippi State all won their respective matchups Saturday, and for the first time in weeks, there wasn’t a complete upheaval of the Week 14 College Football Playoff Top 25 rankings.

Despite the Associated Press ranking the Seminoles as the No. 1 team in the nation and the Amway Coaches Poll tabbing them at No. 2, the College Football Playoff voting committee still has FSU listed at No. 3 overall.

Let the debate continue.

Here are the Week 14 College Football Playoff, Associated Press and Bleacher Report Top 25 polls and a preview of this week’s most important matchup.

 

Week 14’s Most Important Matchup

While Alabama is playing Auburn in the Iron Bowl, Oregon is squaring off against a tough Oregon State team and Florida State is taking on in-state rival Florida, the biggest game of the weekend will be the Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. the Ole Miss Rebels.

The Egg Bowl.

The top three ranked teams in the nation should win their matchups with relative ease, but Mississippi State has a tough test against Ole Miss in a crucial matchup. With the Bulldogs' playoff hopes on the line, quarterback Dak Prescott and the entire roster must come prepared for a battle.

The Rebels and the Bulldogs have a long and storied history against each other, but there have been few times in the past that there has been more on the line. Mississippi State enters the game as the No. 4-ranked team in college football, and Ole Miss is currently ranked 19th overall.

Ole Miss is 18th on the Week 14 Associated Press Top 25 poll:

Regardless of where the Rebels are ranked, the team still has an immense amount of talent on both sides of the ball and will give the Bulldogs a serious challenge. Not only is Ole Miss hosting the game, but the Rebels also were victorious the last time the teams played at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Ole Miss has lost three of its last four games, but the competition in the SEC is incredible. After beating Alabama and Texas A&M, the Rebels lost to LSU, Auburn and Arkansas, the latter loss being a 30-0 upset in Week 13.

On the other hand, Ole Miss has the top-ranked defensive unit in the nation in terms of points allowed per game with 13.5. The Bulldogs will have a tough time breaking through the Rebels defense.

Here is Bleacher Report’s Week 14 rankings:

Mississippi State has an elite defense as well. The unit is ranked 11th in the sport and is only allowing an average of 18.4 points per game. After watching the Rebels get shut out by Arkansas last week, the Bulldogs defenders can’t wait to get on the field against Ole Miss.

The real strength of Mississippi State is the offensive unit.

Led by Prescott, the Bulldogs have the 40th-ranked passing attack (264.9 yards per game) and the 19th-ranked ground game, averaging an impressive 246.8 rushing yards per game. After a heartbreaking loss to the Crimson Tide in Week 12, Mississippi State bounced back with a 51-0 beating on Vanderbilt.

With the Bulldogs understanding the magnitude of the situation, the team will bring its best on the road and hand Ole Miss another heartbreaking loss. Mississippi State will be playoff bound with a victory Saturday, and the program deserves it after a great 2014 season.

Predicted Final Score: Mississippi State 30, Ole Miss 20

 

Stats via ESPN.com.

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