NCAA Football News

Tennessee Football: What Vols Must Do to Contain Georgia RB Todd Gurley

Tennessee's rush defense revival is about to meet the nation's best runner—Georgia's Todd Gurley.

If the Volunteers are going to have any chance to upset their division foe in Athens, they've got to find a way to slow the 6'1", 226-pound junior Heisman hopeful.

Nobody has been able to stop Gurley this year, and few teams have during his career between the hedges. He hits holes with authority and arrives with the power that every NFL team will covet come draft time.

So, the task facing UT coach Butch Jones and a revamped Vols defense that has impressed so far is daunting.

They know it, too.

Gurley will be accompanied by freshman phenoms Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, and possibly Keith Marshall, who tore his ACL in Knoxville last year. So, Jones told GoVols247's Wes Rucker (subscription required) he has several concerns:

When you think of the University Georgia, you think of their stable of running backs, and it is a stable—very talented, very physical. Gurley, Michel, Chubb, Marshall, they all bring a different element to their backfield.

Make no mistake, though, the Vols' game plan begins and ends with slowing Gurley.

So, what can UT do?

Beyond throwing at UGA versatile, multiple looks, stunting defenders and trying to confuse the Dawgs, there isn't much that goes into turning and handing it off. The Vols know that, and so they've got to have a method of attack. Here's how they should.

 

Stack the Box

Hutson Mason is a quality quarterback, but he doesn't possess the kind of dynamic arm or foot speed to consistently beat teams on his own.

That's why the Vols have got to make him beat them.

UT cornerbacks Cam Sutton, Michael Williams and Justin Coleman are pivotal because the Vols must sell out to stop Gurley and Co. at the point of attack.

UGA coach Mark Richt told reporter Seth Emerson of The Telegraph that receivers Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Jonathon Rumph likely won't play against the Vols.

So, those are three more reasons why UT should load up versus the run.

When the Vols do, however, they've got to be ready for play action. Having a running back stable like UGA's is the easiest way for an opposing defense to get sucked in and beat deep.

While Georgia still has some receiving weapons, they're nothing like the Bulldogs' runners.

The Dawgs are averaging 304 yards per game, and that includes a game against Clemson's vaunted defensive line and SEC foe South Carolina.

UT has allowed an average of 129 rushing yards, good enough for seventh in the SEC and 49th nationally. Considering those numbers were 13th and 101st in 2013, it's been a vast improvement.

With nimble, athletic defensive linemen like Jordan Williams, Owen Williams, Corey Vereen, Curt Maggitt and Derek Barnett, the Vols have gotten after quarterbacks and disrupted plays in the backfield many times this year.

But against a big, physical line like Georgia's, they'll need the help from the second tier. A.J. Johnson is one of the league's best linebackers against the run, and Jalen Reeves-Maybin has proven adept as well.

They'll need to be at their best against Gurley.

 

Beef Up the Line Rotation

Gurley has the ability to pummel defenses with his big body and demoralize them with his speed, so it's essential that Tennessee keeps a fresh group of defenders on the field.

Against Oklahoma, UT rotated in seven defensive linemen, but five of those played the vast majority of the snaps. The rotations at linebacker were even slimmer.

That has to change.

The Vols want to put Georgia in third-and-long situations as often as possible. UT is second nationally in third-down defense, and Johnson had a very matter-of-fact answer this week to a reporter when asked about putting UGA in those spots.

While the Vols have thrived using the smaller, quicker linemen, they need versatility matching up personnel Saturday. They need to be able to give Georgia some bigger, more versatile looks and throw waves of defenders at Gurley.

A couple of returns to the practice field may enable them to do that.

Rucker (subscription required) noted during the bye week that UT defensive tackle Trevarris Saulsberry and defensive end Dewayne Hendrix are now practicing. Neither played against the Sooners, and Saulsberry has been hobbled for various reasons much of his career.

When he has played, the 6'4", 296-pound redshirt junior defensive tackle from Gainesville, Florida, has been one of UT's most talented, promising linemen.

When asked if Saulsberry would play against UGA, Jones told Rucker in that same article, "Well, it is early. We don't know if he'll be game-ready yet, but just to have him back out there is big, and he's worked exceptionally hard to get himself back on the football field."

If Saulsberry and 6'4", 275-pound freshman defensive end Hendrix can play, UT can go big or small along the defensive front.

Keeping linemen fresh will be a huge factor considering Gurley has plenty of options to give him breathers throughout the game.

 

A.J. and Pray

Let's face it: This is going to be one of the two toughest offensive tests UT faces all season, along with Alabama.

If the Vols can devise a game plan to limit Gurley's yards, they are going to be a force for every other SEC offense to reckon with for the remainder of the season.

Jones acknowledged during Monday's press conference that rush defense has been a team strength so far. In the same breath, he added, "but now we'll really find out heading into the Georgia game obviously" how good the Vols are.

Tennessee must have one of its best tackling games of the season and limit those yards after contact upon which Gurley has built his reputation. They've got to hit him quickly and frustrate him the way South Carolina did in Columbia when Gurley came close to losing his cool a couple of times.

The best thing UT has going for it is the Vols have the best linebacker UGA will face in senior middle linebacker A.J. Johnson.

He probably has been dreaming about this battle with Gurley since deciding to return, especially considering Gurley missed last year's game.

Johnson did come back to Knoxville, and he's probably still got a bit of a chip on his shoulder after the Bulldogs failed to offer him a scholarship out of nearby Gainesville (Ga.) High School.

He's never beaten them since he has been at UT, and Saturday will be his final chance to take a bite out of Gurley. Johnson gave the running back his due to Rucker, but Johnson certainly wasn't heaping too much pregame praise:

I don't put nobody on a pedestal. I mean…nobody. But they've got good backs. That's all I really can say. But personally, I don't really care who we're playing. We play against good backs all the time. We've just got to do our jobs.

That job is going to be extra difficult this weekend. But the mentality of Johnson mirrors that of the entire Vols defense. They aren't afraid; this is just another opportunity for the Vols to show everybody that they're back.

Slowing down Gurley would be a trumpet blast that would make all of college football listen.

Unless otherwise noted all statistics gathered from CFBStats.com. All recruiting information from 247Sports.

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

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Leo Lewis to Ole Miss: Rebels Land 4-Star LB Prospect

Linebacker recruit Leo Lewis is considered one of the top defensive prospects in the nation, and he has finally made his verbal commitment for 2015.

On Tuesday, the 4-star prospect from Brookhaven High School in Brookhaven, Mississippi, committed to play college football at Ole Miss. 

Coach Warren VPreps of Scouting Varsity Preps reported the news of Lewis' decision:

At 6’3” and 225 pounds, Lewis is ranked as the 73rd overall prospect, the third overall player from Mississippi and the top inside linebacker of the class, according to 247Sports' composite ratings.

Lewis also had more than a dozen other offers from other top programs, including Mississippi State, Alabama, Florida State and Arkansas, among others.

John Talty of AL.com weighed in on what Lewis means to the Rebels recruit class:

In a report from Riley Blevins of The Clarion-Ledger, Lewis talked about the steady stream of messages he was receiving during the recruitment process and how he dealt with the pressure:

I don't really know which school sends me the most because it's way too much to read them all. But they ask me everything and anything. From like what I'm doing this weekend to football. It's just nuts.

It's normal to me. I guess it's a blessing in a way. When my phone is silent, it's almost weird. I think like, 'is something wrong?' So many coaches are always hitting me up.

Previously, Lewis had committed to Alabama in April, but according to Talty, he decommitted in July and once again tested all of his options. In the end, the right landing spot was Ole Miss.

During the 2013 season, Lewis racked up 100 tackles and became a force for Brookhaven using his size and hitting power. 247Sports gave him a rating of nine out of 10 in striking ability and the same score for reactive quickness. Those are two of the biggest factors when playing middle linebacker.

The scouting website also graded him as a seven out of 10 for tackling, athleticism, playing in space and lateral movement. Each of those traits can be improved with hard work, and he will have guidance from his new coaching staff.

You can’t teach the size Lewis possesses, though.

With the natural instincts to be a dangerous player at the next level, the ability to read a play and diagnose it and the willingness to stand his ground at the point of attack, Lewis has all the tools to make him a star at the collegiate level.

 

*Stats and information via 247Sports.

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Jameis Winston Still Has Time to Get Heisman Trophy Campaign Back on Track

This might be the first year in college football history that a Heisman Trophy campaign was killed not on a football field but at a lunch table.

By now, every college football fan is aware that Jameis Winstonsat out the entirety of Florida State's 23-17 win over Clemson after yelling a vulgar phrase on campus.

FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher quickly established that Winston would return to the field immediately after he served his suspension.

"At the end of the day we felt like the one game made the most sense, and I chose to keep that process internal," said Fisher, per USA Today's Dan Wolken. "Now he's served that punishment and he's ready to move forward."

Has too much damage already been done to Winston's Heisman campaign?

Missing a game for any reason is bound to have a deleterious effect. According to Cory McCartney, only two Heisman winners—Charles White in 1979 and Charlie Ward in 1993—have missed a game in their respective award-winning seasons:

Voters are going to be even less sympathetic given Winston's reason for missing the game. Why reward a guy who can't seem to get out of his own way?

Not only that, but Winston's numbers aren't otherworldly, either. Throwing for 626 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions is solid but not what you'd consider worthy of one of the most prestigious individual awards in sports.

There's no question that Winston's Heisman stock is in the toilet. He doesn't even warrant mention in ESPN's Heisman Watch. USA Today conducted a survey of Heisman voters, and Winston placed ninth out of nine players:

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston opened last season at No. 2 and ultimately won college football's top individual honor. In this season's first survey, however, he received a lone third-place vote from the 27 reporters and editors working at properties owned by Gannett, USA TODAY Sports' parent company.

Winston, hounded by multiple off-field issues, was suspended for Saturday's 23-17 overtime victory against then-No. 24 Clemson. FSU is ranked No. 1 in the Amway Coaches Poll and won last season's national championship.

Bleacher Report has him outside of the top five in its recent rankings.

With all of that said, it would be premature to rule the incumbent Heisman winner out completely.

All it takes is a huge string of games for Winston to get back into the discussion. If he can average 300-plus yards a game—or at least something close to that—against North Carolina State, Wake Forest and Syracuse, he will have positioned himself perfectly for what looks to be a huge matchup against Notre Dame.

That's the kind of game when a player has a Heisman moment that becomes synonymous with his season as a whole and gets replayed over and over again in the years following.

Not to mention that voters tend to reward the best player on the best team. After passing a major test on Saturday, the Seminoles took a major step toward qualifying for the four-team playoff. The hardest game they have remaining is home to the Fighting Irish.

It's difficult envisioning Florida State going unbeaten and not remaining the No. 1 team in the country. In the event the 'Noles go undefeated in the regular season, Winston would almost certainly be their only serious Heisman candidate.

As much as off-field issues have hampered Winston's chances of entering the same company as Archie Griffin, last year's results show that voters are willing to look past a lot if they feel a player is a deserving candidate.

In the same month Winston was cleared of sexual assault charges, he was present at the Best Buy Theater in New York City accepting the Heisman Trophy.

How can anybody be sure that voters will draw a line in the sand this time around?

Leaving that topic aside now, when you look at the rest of the Heisman field, you see plenty of players with possible holes in their candidacies.

Todd Gurley, Ameer Abdullah and Amari Cooper all play positions rarely given their due by voters. Running backs and wide receivers really have to go above and beyond to prove themselves as the best player in the country. The Heisman has almost exclusively become a quarterback honor.

Winston's stiffest competition is undoubtedly Marcus Mariota, but even there, you can see where the QB's hype train can ground to a halt.

Oregon's demonstrated an occasionally unhealthy reliance on the junior star. If the Ducks lose to a weaker opponent like Washington, California or Colorado, what would that do to Mariota's Heisman chances? That's to say nothing of what impact a defeat at the hands of UCLA or Stanford might have.

The door is still wide open for a few different contenders, Winston included.

In the immediate aftermath of Winston's suspension, it would be easy to proclaim his Heisman odds dead in the water. In the coming weeks, though, don't be surprised if this all blows over and he slowly climbs back to or least near his perch atop the rankings.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas vs. Kansas Complete Game Preview

The Texas Longhorns will face their first true road test of the season Saturday when they head to Lawrence to face the Kansas Jayhawks.

The season has not begun the way many Texas fans may have hoped, but the Longhorns have the chance to gain momentum in Big 12 play with a win over the Jayhawks.

However, winning in Lawrence is not always an easy task. Just ask the players who were on the Longhorns' 2012 roster.

The last time Texas played at Memorial Stadium was a game to forget for Longhorn faithful.

Texas was down in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. But quarterback Case McCoy saved the day when he threw a touchdown pass to D.J. Grant with 12 seconds left on the game clock, and the Longhorns escaped with a 21-17 win over the Jayhawks.

Is it possible the Longhorns will have another near-death experience in Lawrence?

Let's take a look.

 

When: Saturday, Sept. 27, 4 p.m. ET

Where: Memorial Stadium, Lawrence, Kan.

TV: FS1

Austin radio: KVET 98.1/1300

SiriusXM satellite radio: XM 202; Sirius 117; Internet 969; Spanish 550

Last meeting: Nov. 2, 2013, Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin, Texas

Last meeting outcome: Texas 35, Kansas 13

Opening spread: Texas (-14), per OddsShark.com

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4-Star Recruit Kevin Henry Flips Commitment from LSU to Oklahoma State

Defensive back Kevin Henry supplied a surprise Tuesday when he backed off an eight-month verbal pledge to LSU. The 4-star Baton Rouge standout decided against staying home and flipped his commitment to Oklahoma State, per Sean Ceglinsky of 247Sports.

Henry, a 6'1", 200-pound Central High School senior, admitted he was still open to exploring other collegiate possibilities this summer. However, his allegiance to Les Miles' coaching staff never publicly seemed in doubt.

"I'm opening up my options a little bit, but I'm still committed [to LSU]," he told Jerit Roser of NOLA.com in July. "I really wanna go there, but I'm opening up my options, just because of a backup plan. You never know what's gonna go on in recruiting."

His decision to depart LSU's class serves as further proof of that sentiment. 

Oklahoma State lands a physically imposing prospect who will immediately upgrade the defensive secondary. He becomes the Cowboys' third 4-star commit this cycle, joining running back Ronald Jones II and cornerback Jaylon Lane

His flip continues a recent trend of one-time LSU pledges heading to Stillwater.

Texas cornerback Chris Hardeman committed to Oklahoma State last summer after initially creating a verbal pact with LSU. Fellow 2014 recruit Sione Palelei, a Louisiana running back, took the same path in December.

Henry, rated 19th nationally among safeties in 247Sports' composite rankings, does an excellent job against the run. He patrols the perimeter with confidence and displays enough physicality to be a factor in the offensive backfield.

His greatest strides will come in downfield coverage, particularly when he is tasked with shadowing speedy receivers. Henry has the strength to contend for passes in the intermediate zone and disrupts opponents' timing off the snap.

"I can jam at the line, and I can come up and make the tackle, and I can jump with the best of 'em," he told Roser.

LSU must look elsewhere to fill the void in a class headlined by 5-star defensive back Kevin Toliver. Tigers targets in the secondary include Iman Marshall, Donte Jackson and Tarvarus McFadden.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Tennessee Football: 5 Players Who Have Surprised Us in 2014

The Tennessee Volunteers' 2014 season is off to an expected start with wins over Utah State and Arkansas State and a loss to the Oklahoma Sooners.

While the team's win-loss record to this point has played out like most analysts predicted, a few new and old faces have emerged as unexpected difference-makers on both offense and defense. 

Last season, cornerback Cam Sutton and defensive end Corey Vereen were the surprising standouts from a freshman class that arrived without much fanfare, while veteran kicker Michael Palardy completed one of the most impressive career turnarounds in Tennessee history. 

Likewise, the 2014 season has already produced a handful of surprises, as several of Tennessee's freshmen—as well as a few upperclassmen—have turned into the playmakers the Vols so desperately need. 

Here are five players who have surprised us the most on this young Tennessee team so far in 2014. 

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Cincinnati Professor Jokes He Will Fail Any Student Wearing Ohio State Gear

With a big game against intrastate rival Ohio State this weekend looming, people at the University of Cincinnati are taking football more seriously than ever.

If any student wears Ohio State gear to professor Steve Fuller's classes this week, he or she will be failed. That's the warning that Fuller recently sent out on Twitter.

All right, as much as he might want to, he's not going to do that.

Fuller did, however, say that he would do something "humiliating" if the Buckeyes beat the Bearcats.

The Bearcats are 2-13 all-time against the Buckeyes. They have lost the past 10 meetings and haven't pulled out a victory in the series since 1897. Ohio State hasn't lost to a team from Ohio since 1921, for what it's worth.

If history means anything, this professor better make sure that he has some Ohio State gear in his closet.

[Twitter, h/t Lost Lettermen]

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Mississippi State Lineman Dillon Day Suspended for Stomping on LSU Players

The Southeastern Conference has suspended Mississippi State center Dillon Day for the team's Oct. 4 game against Texas A&M for stomping on two defensive players in the Bulldogs' 34-29 win over LSU last Saturday.

Day, a senior, was shown on video leaping up and then stomping hard on LSU defensive tackle Davon Godchaux's stomach in one instance and the groin of cornerback Rashard Robinson in another instance, forcing the latter to be removed from the game. SEC commissioner Mike Slive announced the punishment Tuesday, citing Day's history of dangerous behavior.

"This action is the result of multiple flagrant and unsportsmanlike acts during the game, as well as previous disciplinary action for similar behavior," the conference's press release read, per Michael Bonner of The Clarion-Ledger.

Day was previously suspended for the start of a game against Troy last season after stomping on an Auburn player. He later entered the game, so Oct. 4 will be the first time since 2012 that Day is not under center for any portion of a Mississippi State game. For his part, Day maintains that he's been "wrongfully accused," claiming his momentum carried him into both defenders as he was attempting to finish the play.

"You never know when the ball-carrier will break loose and you can make another block or if a fumble may happen," Day wrote in a letter to Mississippi State fans, which he shared on Twitter. "It is essential to follow the ball. In the two clips, you can see I am doing just that."

The suspension is a black mark on one of the biggest wins in recent program history. Led by quarterback Dak Prescott, the then-unranked Bulldogs defeated LSU in Baton Rouge for the first time since 1991. Prescott had 373 total yards (268 passing, 105 rushing) and three touchdowns as Mississippi State got out to a 34-10 lead and held on late.

The upset vaulted the Bulldogs to No. 14 in the Associated Press poll and No. 16 in the Amway Coaches Poll. But almost immediately after the game the narrative switched to Day and whether the SEC would levy any punishment.

"That's already in the works," LSU head coach Les Miles told reporters, indicating the school submitted tapes of the stompings. "I think not only did TV catch that, but that was something that we caught and that we sent in and certainly the conference will do the right thing."

Though Dan Mullen has two weeks to reshuffle his offensive line, Mississippi State will be losing a key leader during the most onerous stretch of its schedule. The Bulldogs host sixth-ranked Texas A&M in two weeks, a game that will assuredly come down to which star quarterback puts his team in a position to win.

The Aggies vaulted into national contention themselves with an opening-week thrashing of South Carolina and boast a legitimate Heisman threat in quarterback Kenny Hill.

If that's not enough, Nick Marshall and fifth-ranked Auburn visit Davis Wade Stadium on Oct. 11—potentially Mississippi State's third straight meeting with a Top 10 opponent. While Day will be back in the lineup against the Tigers, Prescott and Co. need all hands on deck to survive this gauntlet. Without him, an already difficult matchup with Texas A&M just got a lot harder.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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Softest Remaining Unbeatens Heading into Week 5

Not all undefeated teams are created equal.

Some (such as Texas A&M) have won road games against teams ranked in the national top 10, and others (such as Oregon) have proved their worth against the reigning Rose Bowl champion. Their records don't belie how well they've played.

For other post-Week 4 undefeateds, that is not the case.

This list is not a simple aggregation of the undefeated teams with the softest schedules. Who each team has played was one of the biggest factors, but if a team has looked dominant against inferior competition, it would not be fair to brandish it "soft."

Baylor, for example, has played a whole bunch of nobodies this season. It has also won by an aggregate score of 178-27 and outgained its opponents by 778 total yards (1,248-470). It has looked the way it's supposed to look, despite a rash of offensive injuries.

The teams on this list have not. There is time for them to fix their problems—Michigan State, after all, was a soft 3-0 after struggling against Western Michigan and South Florida and beating Youngstown State last season—but they will have to get better quickly.

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Is Notre Dame Ready for Big Boy Football vs. Stanford?

Circle your calendars for Week 6 of the college football season when the Stanford Cardinal will travel to South Bend, Indiana, to square off with Everett Golson and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.    

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer look ahead to the matchup featuring the two storied programs.

Who will come out on top? 

Watch the video and let us know! 

 

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Stat Correction Gives QB Blake Sims the Alabama Record for Most Yards in a Game

Blake Sims made history against Florida in Week 4, throwing for more yards (445) than any quarterback Nick Saban has ever coached.

As it turns out, that is not the only mark he set. An ex post facto stat correction credited Sims with 27 extra rushing yards, giving him 484 total yards on the game. That is the most by one player in the history of Alabama football.

Andrew Gribble of AL.com explains what happened:

On his second-quarter fumble, Sims was inaccurately docked 33 rushing yards—the distance between the line of scrimmage (Florida's 32-yard line) and where Florida ultimately finished with it (Alabama's 35). Sims, though, should only have been docked 6—the distance between the line of scrimmage and where it was recovered (Florida's 38).

Sims gained 53 yards on the ground and ultimately lost 14 on the day to finish with 39 rushing yards. He went from 457 yards of offense, which tied Scott Hunter (1969) for most in a single game, to all alone at the top with some significant breathing room. Hunter still has the single-game record for passing yards (484) but he lost 27 yards rushing in that same game.

Sims was one of the breakout stars of Week 4 even before this correction, and although getting an extra 27 yards tacked onto his rushing total doesn't actually change anything about his performance, it's nice to see him move into the Alabama record books—and to sit there all alone—after playing a near-perfect game.

For the season, the redshirt senior ranks fourth in the country in completion percentage (73.2) and QB rating (190.77), third in yards per attempt (11.2) and fifth in ESPN's Total QBR metric (89.7).

He has not just won but cemented the starting job over Florida State transfer Jake Coker, the man many presumed would be Alabama's quarterback after Sims struggled in the A-Day game. Coker is 6'5" and has the stronger arm, but Sims' mobility, accuracy and leadership have made him a star in Lane Kiffin's offense.

"Blake, from last year to spring, he improved a lot," said star receiver Amari Cooper, who caught 10 of Sims' passes for 201 yards, per Stewart Mandel of FoxSports.com. "From spring to camp, he improved even more. ... He used to just run. Now he runs out of the pocket and keeps his eyes down the field and tries to throw the ball."

And don't think people haven't taken notice.

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee, for example, had Sims No. 3 in his updated SEC quarterback rankings, right behind Texas A&M's Kenny Hill and Mississippi State's Dak Prescott and ahead of Auburn's Nick Marshall and Missouri's Maty Mauk.

Before the season, a ranking like that would have been heresy. But now that Sims has played his way into the Crimson Tide record book?

It seems like the logical move.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Takeaways from Urban Meyer's Appearance on HBO Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel

Urban Meyer is a notoriously private person, so when it emerged that the Ohio State head coach was going to be the subject of a segment on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on Sept. 23, many were surprised.

In fact, Meyer himself can't recall exactly why he agreed to willingly appear on the show.

"Oh, I don't know. Good question. I don't know why I did that," Meyer responded Monday when asked why he conceded to the segment. "It came across my desk and I said, 'No, of course not,' and I got a couple of phone calls that said, 'Yeah, it would be good for people to see.' That's why."

Regardless of the reason why he agreed, Meyer will be featured on the monthly sports magazine show at 10 p.m. ET Tuesday in a 12-minute segment reported by Andrea Kremer. With a primary focus on the success and turmoil that he enjoyed and endured at Florida, as well as his career's revival at Ohio State, there is plenty to take away from the in-depth look at one of the most fascinating figures in college football history.

 

The Making of a Meyer

Before Meyer was ever a two-time national champion head coach, he was merely a minor league prospect cutting his teeth in the Atlanta Braves organization. Although Meyer's time on the diamond was short-lived from a professional standpoint, it helped provide plenty of insight into the upbringing that made the Ashtabula, Ohio, native the man that he is today.

Drafted at the age of 17 by the Braves in the 13th round of the 1982 amateur draft, Meyer struggled in his first season with the Gulf Coast League Braves, posting a paltry .170 batting average in 20 games. The lack of success found from the 6'2", 180-pound righty caused him to doubt his future in baseball, leading to a more than memorable conversation with his father, Bud Meyer.

"I'm the third-string shortstop. The manager keeps mispronouncing my name. So I call up my dad and I say, 'I'm out,'" Meyer recalls to Kremer. "And he says, 'OK, you're a grown man now. You make your own decisions. But you will never step foot in this household again. Is that clear? There are no quitters in the Meyer family.' Bang."

Meyer would stick it out with baseball for one more season, hitting .193 while splitting time between the Braves' Gulf Coast League and Rookie Class teams in 1983. And while baseball may not have ultimately been his calling, it certainly played a key role in shaping his future career.

"It was very clear, the message: Don't quit," Meyer said of his conversation with his father. "Fight through it."

 

Success Addict

Although success never came for Meyer on the football field, the same couldn't be said when it came to coaching football, a career that he delved into after serving as a walk-on at the University of Cincinnati. Following stints as an assistant at Ohio State, Colorado State and Notre Dame, Meyer became one of the sport's fastest rising stars, taking over as Bowling Green's head coach at the ripe age of 36.

A 17-6 record in his two-year stint with the Falcons led to two years at Utah, where Meyer led the Utes to a 12-0 season and Fiesta Bowl victory in 2004. But all of that paled in comparison to the success that Meyer found at Florida, where he captured a national title in his second season with a 41-14 thrashing of Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game.

That may have been enough to satisfy most head coaches, but for the 42-year-old Meyer, it only increased his appetite for winning.

It wouldn't take long for Meyer to quench that thirst either, as the Tim Tebow-led Gators again captured college football's crystal ball in 2008. But despite being on top of the college football world, that's when it became apparent that Meyer was developing a problem, as evidenced by his postgame "celebration."

"I was in a panic situation and we just won it," Meyer said. "I closed the door and I started just recruiting. One of my friends came up to me and said, 'What are you doing?' and I said 'Well I gotta get this kid.' And he said, 'What's wrong with you? Enjoy this.' And I tried."

"Was he calling recruits?," Urban's wife, Shelley Meyer responds when asked by Kremer if she knew how her husband spent the moments following his second national title in three years, before admitting that Meyer's behavior had become obsessive.

As they'd soon find out, it was only the beginning.

 

"I thought I was dying."

The peak of the HBO Real Sports segment comes in 2009, when Meyer was polishing off two Ambiens a night with a beer just to get some sleep. Chest pains and weight issues soon followed, all the while Florida was still sustaining its success, carrying a 22-game winning streak into the SEC Championship Game.

"I go from 217 pounds to 180 pounds. I lose 37 pounds," Meyer says of his health in 2009. "And we're undefeated."

That perfection wouldn't last, however, with Nick Saban's Alabama getting the best of Meyer's Gators in the conference title game. That preceded what was the beginning of the end of Meyer's time in Gainesville, as just hours later he was rushed to the hospital as health issues became too much to handle.

"I remember a sharp pain in my chest. I was numb. That's all I remember," Meyer said. "I woke up in the hospital and they said, 'Well we don't believe it was a heart attack.' I said, 'OK, well what was it?' and they said, 'We don't know.' Then you start thinking, 'There's something wrong with me medically. What is going on here?'"

"Were you depressed?," Kremer asks Meyer.

"Absolutely," he responds. "Mentally, I was broke."

 

Florida Fiasco

So much so, in fact, that after leaving the hospital, Meyer opted to shockingly retire from coaching. But his hiatus would last less than a day, as he reneged on his decision to leave Florida fewer than 24 hours later.

"Did you pick work over your family in that sense?" Kremer asks.

"Probably," Meyer answers. "I'm not very proud of that."

The Meyers wouldn't have to wait long for Urban to return home, however, as he again stepped away from the Gators sideline following the 2010 season—this time for good.

Sure, Florida had just endured an 8-5 season, his worst as a head coach, but Meyer claims that the reasoning behind his second retirement in as many years delved deeper that. Watching his youngest daughter, Gigi, accept a scholarship to play volleyball at Florida Gulf Coast University, it finally hit Meyer how much in his life he had already missed.

"I get to the gym and this beautiful little girl stands up and says, 'Mom, I want to thank you, you were always there. And dad, you were never there, but I love you too," Meyer recalls. "And I remember I said, 'Oh my gosh, it happened.' I was the guy that wasn't there."

 

In a Better Place

In 2011, Meyer was there, parlaying his early retirement and expertise into a cushy analyst gig at ESPN that allowed him to spend plenty of time with his family. But as healthy and happy as Meyer was, coaching remained his passion, which is why Shelley was so heartbroken when she learned that Jim Tressel was resigning from his position as the Buckeyes head coach in May of 2011.

"If ever he would go back, it would be Ohio State," Shelley said. "When that news broke, I was devastated."

Shelley's fears come to fruition that November, when Meyer officially accepted OSU's offer to return to college football. But before signing his contract with the Buckeyes, he had to sign one with his family, pieced together by his oldest daughter, Nicki.

"I just started writing all of the things that he didn't do [at Florida]," Nicki said of her famous pink contract. "I made it very formal."

Meyer complied, beginning an Ohio State career that started with a 24-game win streak that lasted the entirety of the 2012 and 2013 regular seasons. But a span of three losses in four games—including defeats in the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game and Orange Bowl—tested how far Meyer's come, and have proven to both he and his family that he's in a better place now than he was five years ago.

"I don't feel that at all," Meyer said when asked if the Buckeyes' defeats have made him as miserable as the ones at Florida did. "I'll never get to that point again."

 

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

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Alabama Football: What Needs to Happen for Amari Cooper to Win the Heisman?

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Amari Cooper is off to a torrid start in college football, and that’s putting it lightly.

He’s been well over 100 receiving yards in every game he’s played, caught double-digit balls in three of Alabama’s four games and has been the focal point of the Crimson Tide’s game plan week in and week out.

This explosive start to the season has put Cooper squarely in several pundits’ Heisman conversations. Odds Shark gives him 20-to-1 odds after this week.

Cooper is clearly one of the best players in the country, but he will be fighting against a tendency for voters to favor quarterbacks and running backs for the most prestigious individual award in sports.

So does Cooper have a chance?

Absolutely, he does. But he needs a lot to happen, and keep happening, to him and to the players around him.

Let’s look at what Cooper’s road to a Heisman Trophy would look like.

 

Continue at or around his current pace

This is easily the most important part for Cooper. If he can’t sustain this level of greatness all year, then the rest becomes a moot point. According to Andrew Gribble of al.com, if Cooper kept playing at this pace, he’d end the regular season with 129 catches, 1,965 yards and 15 touchdowns.

That’s similar stats to the two other wide receivers to win the Heisman Trophy.

The problem with comparing these stats for Cooper, though, is twofold.

For one, the game has changed. An emphasis on offense, specifically passing, has significantly inflated passing and receiving stats from their late-'80s, early-'90s levels when Tim Brown and Desmond Howard played. Last year, for example, there were 44 players who topped 1,000 yards receiving. In 1991, there were nine, and Howard wasn’t even one of them.

That brings us to our second problem. Cooper only catches passes.

He does not return kicks and punts, whereas Brown and Howard were also game-changing performers on special teams. Christion Jones solidified his position as Alabama’s kick returner, and the Crimson Tide don't really have a need to put Cooper back there, especially in terms of the injury risk it would pose.

So for Cooper to stay in the Heisman race until the very end, he’ll need to continue to put up those eye-popping receiving numbers—if not exceed them.

 

His team stay in the national championship picture

Fair or unfair, the Heisman is seen as an award that usually goes to the best player on the best team in college football instead of only just the best player.

It could, however, be a perception that ends up going in Cooper’s favor.

Alabama will stay in the national conversation largely because it’s Alabama. But the Crimson Tide look like one of the best teams in the country early on and will continue to get the extra attention that comes with that.

He’ll get multiple chances to show his talents on big stages, so Cooper will definitely stay in the spotlight this season, even if he plays at a position with a lesser profile than that of quarterback or running back.

That’s what’s going to hurt players like Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon. They may be great individual players, but it remains to be seen how long their teams can stay in playoff contention.

And that’s why it’s imperative for Alabama to keep winning.

We saw this happen last year with AJ McCarron. He was in the mix for the Heisman as the season went on, and even late in the Iron Bowl he hit several big plays to keep Alabama in the game that had voters all but convinced he was the right choice. We all know what happened next, though, and McCarron ended up a distant second to Florida State’s Jameis Winston.

It’s unfair, but it’s the college football world we live in.

 

Big performances in the biggest games

Cooper is already off to a great start in this department.

Against Florida—and more specifically, Vernon Hargreaves III, one of the country’s best cornerbacks—Cooper turned in his best game of the season. It also took place in a nationally televised game, which really helped stir up all of the Heisman talk surrounding Coop.

Having your biggest games at the right time is part of the equation, and Cooper has several more opportunities to do that.

Next week, Alabama takes on Ole Miss (kickoff @ 2:30 p.m. CT, CBS). The Rebels boast one of the best safety duos in the country in Cody Prewitt and Tony Conner. A trip to LSU and a rematch with Auburn are sure to draw similar, if not more, attention. And there’s always a potential SEC Championship Game as an encore.

Keeping up the pace is important, but making sure not to fall flat in one of those games is critical.

 

Lukewarm contenders around him

This is probably the second-most important factor, when considering whether Cooper has a legitimate shot at winning the Heisman. A few of the preseason favorites—especially at quarterback—have seen their Heisman stock take a hit, for one reason or another.

UCLA’s Brett Hundley is off to a fizzling start, checking at No. 50 in passing yards per game and No. 37 in quarterback rating. Florida State’s Jameis Winston is making headlines off the field, causing headaches for his coach and fatigue among Heisman voters reluctant to put him in a second time.

But other quarterbacks have emerged as viable contenders, like Texas A&M’s Kenny Hill and Notre Dame’s Everett Golson. Auburn’s Nick Marshall struggled against Kansas State but should play better in games later in the season as the Heisman voting draws nearer. Those players play for good teams with legitimate playoff hopes—and they could trump Cooper in Trophy conversations given the profile of the position they play.

If Cooper wants a chance at the Heisman, those kinds of players will need to struggle, leaving the door open for voters to choose a different type of player, one who contributes greatly to one of the nation's best teams.

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Texas A&M vs. Arkansas: How the Aggies Can Avoid Being Upset by Razorbacks

The No. 6 Texas A&M football team will play the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The second conference game of the season for both teams should be a competitive affair that the Aggies will win if they play sound, fundamental football.

Texas A&M enters the game with a 4-0 record and a 1-0 mark in the SEC. Arkansas is 0-1 in the SEC with a 3-1 mark overall.

The game will feature a contrast of offensive styles. The Razorbacks want to run the ball, control the clock and grind the opposition into submission with physical play. The Aggie offense features a no-huddle spread attack that tries to push the ball down the field as fast as possible.

Arkansas head coach Brett Bielema is a staunch opponent of the no-huddle offense and has supported rules to slow it down. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin is one of the innovators of the spread offense and has used it to set multiple offensive records at every school he has coached.

The contrast of styles is one extra narrative in a game featuring two teams vying for a leg up in the quest for the West division title in the SEC.

This is a look at what the Aggies must do in order to avoid being upset by Arkansas.  

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SEC Football Q&A: Will Muschamp Hot Seat, Stopping Amari Cooper

Nearly a month into the season, and the SEC is already dripping with storylines.

The West looks not only like the toughest division in college football, but the most competitive division at any level of football. Meanwhile, the SEC East is over there searching for answers, with every team that has played at least one conference game with at least one conference loss.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp's seat has become scorching, a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender has emerged at a non-traditional position, and a team left for dead emerges as a competitor in the wild, wild West.

Let's get you ready for Week 5 with a little SEC Q&A.

No, he won't, and he shouldn't.

Before the Alabama game, I would have said that a loss to the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa wouldn't have much of an impact on Will Muschamp's job status at Florida. After watching Florida play defense—or not play defense—it clearly did. 

Florida has given up 1,095 yards over the last two games—a triple-overtime win over Kentucky and the loss to Alabama. During that time, the offense looks as inept as it has always been. Some speed bumps with the offense were to be expected, but the one strength of Florida's program during Muschamp's tenure has been defense. If he suddenly can't do that right, either, what's the point?

The road trip to Tennessee on Oct. 4 is critical. Even during Florida's downturn, the one constant has been Florida's domination of the Vols. Florida has won nine straight in the series, with its last loss coming in former head coach Ron Zook's final season in Gainesville.

If that ends, too, what else does Muschamp have to hang his hat on?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Does former LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson have any eligibility left? No? Well, then, I don't think there's an answer out there.

Cooper has been the MVP of college football this year, giving new quarterback Blake Sims and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin a reliable target outside so both could ease into their new roles. Against Florida on Saturday, Kiffin opened up the offense, and Cooper was the biggest beneficiary, catching 10 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns.

His 655 receiving yards on the season are more than the passing yardage for 31 FBS teams, including Georgia, Arkansas and Texas. He's dangerous after the catch, physical at the line of scrimmage and has the speed to take the top off a defense.

Kiffin uses him well, too. Against Florida, Cooper lined up all over the field—including in the slot on his 79-yard touchdown reception to tie the game vs. the Gators at 14.

The only person who can stop Cooper is Kiffin, and that doesn't seem like a possibility at the moment.

He's one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the SEC, that's for sure.

No, Brandon Allen isn't going to light up the stat sheet. Considering the strength of Arkansas' offensive line and three-headed rushing attack, if he did, that'd probably indicate a much bigger problem for Arkansas. His job is to play smart and take what the defense gives him when appropriate, and he has done a pretty good job of that. 

He has only thrown for 552 yards but has completed 61.4 percent of his passes (43-of-70), tossed eight touchdowns and only one interception. That's exactly the type of season this Arkansas team needed early on. He has limited his mistakes, done what he's been asked to do and—most importantly—not made unforced errors.

Head coach Bret Bielema wants to win at Arkansas the same way that he did at Wisconsin—with a punishing running game and effective defense. When that happens, all the quarterback needs to do is manage the game.

Allen has proved that he's capable of doing just that through four games, and if he keeps it up, Arkansas will get back to a bowl game for the first time since the 2011 season.

 

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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College Football Rankings 2014: Power Ranking All 128 Teams for Week 5

The wild and wacky nature of college football was present yet again last weekend, with numerous top-rated teams struggling in big games. While most ended up winning, the craziness of those contests contributed to some significant shakeup in our power rankings for Week 5.

Our power rankings are comprised of an average of five ratings: The Associated Press media and Amway coaches polls, Bleacher Report's Top 25, ratings guru Jeff Sagarin's computer ledger and my personal ranking.

Take a look at how the 128 FBS teams are ranked as we move into the fifth week of the 2014 season, then let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

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Heisman Trophy 2014 Stock Watch: Who Is Rising and Falling Post-Week 4

Week 4 of the college football season had a peripheral impact on the national title picture (Mississippi State beating LSU) but a central impact on the Heisman Trophy picture.

The front-runner entering the week, Marcus Mariota, maintained his spot by carrying Oregon to a tough road win at Washington State. But around him, other supposed favorites sunk, while burgeoning favorites took advantage of a national spotlight.

"Falling" on this list does not mean one's Heisman candidacy is over, just like "rising" does not mean it's assured. It is simply the direction each player's stock is trending after what happened in Week 4.

Most of that is individual-based, but some of it also has to do with team performance. If a player did well on a national stage, but his team lost a big game, his Heisman stock is affected. Whether that's fair is debatable, but it's how the voting process works.

Also bear in mind that this is not a ranking of overall Heisman favorites. Todd Gurley and Kenny Hill, for example, are holding steady after beating up on Troy and SMU, respectively. But blowout wins against two of the worst FBS teams did nothing to affect their stock.

This is about the players who actually moved.

 

Note: For the sake of reference, here are the current Bovada Heisman odds, per OddsShark.com. Scroll down that page for the preseason odds.

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Will Gragg Commits to Arkansas: What 4-Star TE Brings to Razorbacks

Arkansas continues to piece together the foundation for a formidable passing attack during the 2015 recruiting cycle. That effort was bolstered Tuesday morning when coveted tight end prospect Will Gragg  pledged to the Razorbacks:

The 6'4", 245-pound Dumas High School playmaker opted to stay in his home state after weighing offers from several SEC squads. Gragg, rated eighth nationally among tight ends in 247Sports' composite rankings, was heavily pursued by the likes of LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss.

His older brother, Chris, suited up for the Razorbacks in college and is now a member of the Buffalo Bills. A well-established relationship with the program helped set the stage for his announcement.

"Arkansas has been on me since the ninth grade," Gragg told Otis Kirk of 247Sports.com.

Rated second among 2015 Arkansas recruits, he emerged as a must-have for head coach Bret Bielema. The Razorbacks are aiming to fend off conference foes in the fight for in-state talent, and this commitment provides positive momentum in that department.

Gragg led Dumas in receiving as a junior, catching 31 passes for 321 yards and five touchdowns, per Hootens.com. He collected six receptions for 88 yards and two scores last Friday with coaches from LSU, Ole Miss and Texas in attendance, according to 247Sports.com.

His skill set was on full display this summer at The Opening, an invite-only high school football showcase held at Nike's world headquarters in Oregon. Gragg flashed quickness and precision as a route-runner, routinely beating top-tier defenders to the football downfield.

"I want to be a balanced tight end who can make big plays at different parts of the field," Gragg said at The Opening. "I've been working on my game to get ready for what's coming. I think there's been a lot of improvement."

He provides Arkansas with a promising pass target who carries potential for an early impact. Given his physique and fundamental polish, Gragg should contend for significant playing time as a true freshman in Fayetteville.

The Razorbacks gain an athletic specimen who brings balance to the position. When at his best, Gragg is a devastating blocker who can create rushing lanes along the outside edge and take on linebackers at the second level.

He adds to a stockpile of offensive talent set to arrive at Arkansas next season. Top-rated in-state prospect K.J. Hill is a dynamic wide receiver who chose the Razorbacks over Alabama, Florida and Notre Dame.

He and Gragg have formed a friendship and could form a dangerous duo for years to come. 

Their pairing is great news for Ty Storey, a 4-star quarterback who committed to Arkansas last summer. He threw for 4,200 yards and 52 touchdown passes last season.

A June commitment from Texas running back Rawleigh Williams III and multiple reinforcements on the offensive line make this a recruiting class that could rapidly reshape the identity of a Razorbacks offense searching for additional explosiveness. The group now rates 19th nationally in 247Sports' composite team rankings.

Bielema is fortifying his team with homegrown talent, and Gragg gives him one of the best available this year.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Quotes obtained firsthand by B/R national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

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Lane Kiffin Sued by Former USC Player: Latest Details and Reaction

Lane Kiffin's tumultuous tenure as USC's head football coach came to an end last season, but a potential transgression while with the Trojans could come back to haunt him.

According to Michael Lev of the Orange County Register, Kiffin and USC are being sued by former Trojans cornerback Brian Baucham for a 2012 incident.

Baucham alleges that Kiffin forced him to play against California on Sept. 22, 2012, despite being ill. Baucham says he had a 103-degree fever and other flu symptoms. He also claims that he suffered "cardiopulmonary damage" and "brain injury with neurocognitive deficits" as a result of being thrust into action.

Per Baucham's attorney, Bruce M. Brusavich, both Kiffin and the university are to blame for the alleged complications.

"USC and head coach Kiffin were clearly negligent and acted with conscious disregard for Brian's welfare and safety by forcing him to play...despite his verified medical history and seriously ill condition," Brusavich said.

Baucham, who was a fifth-year senior at the time of the incident, left the game in the fourth quarter and was transported to a hospital. Baucham claimed he was having trouble breathing. 

Baucham never played for the Trojans again and his suit alleges 'residual problems' have left him 'unable to compete in the open labor market.'

Kiffin, who is currently serving as Alabama's offensive coordinator, has yet to comment publicly on the matter. USC athletic director Pat Haden also declined to go into specifics, via AP's Greg Beacham:

It wouldn't be appropriate for us to comment on this lawsuit, and due to privacy laws we cannot comment on the specifics of this case. I will say that I am confident that we provide excellent medical treatment to our student athletes and that their health is always our primary concern ahead of any athletic competition.

Kiffin certainly has a history of controversy based on his stints as head coach at USC and the University of Tennessee, as well as his time with the NFL's Oakland Raiders.

Kiffin's tenure at USC was particularly maligned, as the Trojans went a disappointing 28-15 while he was at the helm. There are no documented cases of player mistreatment aside from Baucham's accusations, but sports injury litigator Paul D. Anderson believes Kiffin may have forced injured players to compete on more than one occasion:

Both sides of the story have yet to be told in the Baucham case, so it will be interesting to see how the legal process plays out.

Player safety is a major issue at all levels of football, but it is especially important in the college game since the players don't have salaries to fall back on.

Coaches are going to get paid regardless, so it creates a complex dynamic. It remains to be seen if Kiffin or USC were negligent, but Baucham clearly feels very strongly that he was wronged.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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College Football 2014: Updated National Championship Odds

Heading into Week 5 of the college football season, the top teams continue to separate themselves from the pack. Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer discusses National Championship odds. 

Who is your pick for the National Championship?

 

Watch the video, and let us know! 

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