NCAA Football News

USC vs. UCLA: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

USC-UCLA week holds the globe hostage each year, but especially this Saturday as the two jockey for Pac-12 positioning and much more.

The 7-3 Trojans enter on a two-game winning streak, but a two-game losing streak in the historic rivalry as the program has suffered from sanctions and the like while the Bruins have ascended the collegiate hierarchy.

Led by Brett Hundley, the Bruins are 8-2 and winners of four straight. Those two losses have been of the respectable variety, too. One came against Oregon, the other at the hands of an upstart Utah program that also took down the Trojans.

Really, this one needs no selling. History calls Saturday night between old rivals.

 

Man of the State 

Hundley is the main star of Saturday night's marquee event, and for good reason as the junior has turned up his play a notch in recent weeks.

Over the course of his past four games, Hundley has thrown six touchdowns to just one interception. A major reason for the improvement in play as the season has worn on falls on the shoulders of those around him, as explained by Michael Lev of the Orange County Register:

Hundley now sits with a gaudy 72.1 completion percentage with 2,547 yards and 17 touchdowns to four interceptions. He keeps defenses honest thanks to his ability on the ground, too, having torched most opponents on the way to 564 yards and seven scores.

Now on the hunt to make it three in a row against the Trojans, a note provided by Max Meyer of Neontommy.com also touches on the wild state of USC over the course of the past few years:

For Hundley, an important part of the legacy-building process pertains to his ability to take down the Trojans one last time, as captured by Jack Wang of the L.A. Daily News:

The Trojans have not exactly been world beaters this season, but Steve Sarkisian's team does rank 38th in the nation with just 23.3 points allowed per game on average.

For Hundley, Saturday presents him with one of the biggest hurdles of his season, not to mention of his career. He will need to be at his best through the air and on the ground in the face of a strong rush for him and his team to prevail.

 

First Out of the Gates

It would be silly to suggest that the first team to score wins Saturday night, but for the Trojans, that might just be the key to success. 

It sure has been this season. The Trojans run away from most opposition early and often, outscoring adversaries 129-22 in the first frames this year.

Now, two of the team's three losses have seen the Trojans lead after the first frame anyway, but here is a critical detail—for all of their explosiveness with Hundley, the Bruins struggle when it comes to playing from behind.

Case in point, both of the Bruins losses this season. The team trailed by eight after one quarter against Oregon and never recovered. The deficit was seven after the opening frame against Utah on the way to the same result.

In other words, quarterback Cody Kessler (2,919 yards, 29 touchdowns to three interceptions) and lead back Javorius Allen (1,184 yards and eight scores) need to come firing out of the gates and never let off the pedal. 

In theory that should not be wildly difficult, either, as the Bruins defense ranks 79th in terms of points allowed this season. If Sarkisian's attack can draw first blood, it may turn out to be a very long night for UCLA.

 

When: Saturday, November 22, 8 p.m. ET

Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

Television: ABC

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 61
  • Spread: UCLA (-3.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

The problem with this contest is that it reflects the overarching narratives of the two programs as of late. 

USC has remained relatively the same all season—erratic. Since mid-October, the Bruins have looked the part of a title contender most figured they would before a rocky start to the season.

A player such as Hundley dictates the outcome of a game such as this. So long as he remains in a clean pocket and turns the rare collapses into gains on the ground, USC may have a hard time keeping the Bruins in check.

This one is going to be grittier than most would expect. Both programs dearly need the win, but right now the Bruins have the offensive firepower to outgun the Trojans with everything on the line.

Prediction: Bruins 34, Trojans 30

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arizona vs. Utah: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

The Arizona Wildcats approach Saturday still alive in the minefield that is the Pac-12 South, as do the Utah Utes. The two familiar foes collide in Salt Lake City in what amounts to an elimination showdown.

Arizona enters with two wins under its belt in as many weeks, barely scraping by last week against Washington 27-26. The Wildcats need to win out and get a bit of help to squeak by and contend for the title.

Utah finally got back on a winning track last week with a double-overtime win against Stanford, but it needs the dominoes to fall perfectly in place while it continues to win.

The stakes are high Saturday in what might just turn into a shootout.

 

Fireworks Out West

Both of these teams tout ridiculously good pass-rushers. Utah's Nate Orchard is tied for first nationally with 16.5 sacks, while Arizona's Scooby Wright III is tied for third with 13 of his own.

Yet this one figures to be a high-scoring affair.

Partially thank Wildcats freshman quarterback Anu Solomon for that. The Las Vegas native has completed 58.1 percent of his passes this year for 3,058 yards and 25 touchdowns to seven interceptions, but he keeps defenses honest with his legs and has 307 yards on the ground.

Solomon is flanked by another freshman, running back Nick Wilson. He has turned 160 carries into 867 yards and nine scores this year.

While the spotlight is shared for the Wildcats, the same cannot be said for the Utes. Travis Wilson has thrown for 13 touchdowns to just two interceptions, but the majority of the attention rightfully goes to Devontae Booker, who has rushed for 1,113 yards and eight scores while drawing the eye of the pro game, as illustrated by NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah:

Considering both defenses rank 44th or worse in terms of points scored per game, the conference's next wave of offensive studs certainly has a major stage to shine on come Saturday.

Whichever side prevails will extend its amount of time in the spotlight too.

 

Home Blues

This elimination game features quite the interesting wrinkle—the Wildcats excel where they should not, and the Utes are miserable where they should excel.

See, Arizona is superb on the road. Rich Rodriguez's team has lost just once away from home this season, a dud of a performance against UCLA. But the team has beaten all other opponents in their places of residence, including then-No. 2 Oregon.

On the flip side, Utah struggles at home. Wins over Idaho State and Fresno State are great, but a loss to Washington State, now 3-7, looks horrific. A win over a ranked USC team is great, but it is counteracted by a rough showing at home against Oregon.

Orchard and the Utah defense folded in a hurry in that loss to the Ducks, surrendering 508 total yards, 27 first downs and 51 points. Coach Kyle Whittingham recently noted that his team has consistent issues down the stretch despite belief in a positive outcome, per Stats LLC, via ESPN.com.

"We haven't won every close game," he said. "We know that, but these guys believe that they are going to win every game that they are in. When it comes right down to the wire, there is a lot of belief on our team that they are going to get it done. And they have most weeks."

In perhaps the biggest game of its season, Utah is going to need to stand tall in a place it struggles.

If the trend continues, the Utes will pay by seeing their title hopes go up in flames.

 

When: Saturday, November 22, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah

Television: ESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 54
  • Spread: Utah (-4)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

The explosive Wildcats are surprisingly game in hostile environments for a team led by freshmen at a pair of critical positions. 

That experience, not to mention an offense that averages better than 35 points per game, will survive at Utah through timely forced mistakes by a strong pass rush and capitalization by Solomon. 

Look for Arizona to get an early lead and stand tall on defense. Utah can struggle at times when it gets behind, which plays right into Solomon's hands. The Wildcats live to see another week.

Prediction: Wildcats 28, Utes 23

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Louisville vs. Notre Dame: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Once College Football Playoff contenders, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are now tasked with picking up the pieces against a game Louisville Cardinals team hungry to put an emphatic end to Brain Kelly's team.

A defensive collapse and the usual untimely turnovers have birthed a two-game losing streak for the Fighting Irish, the most recent being a dumbfounding overtime loss to 4-6 Northwestern.

The Cardinals enter freshly rested after a bye week and were last seen upending Boston College, 38-19. One of the league's best defenses and explosive wide receivers create a talented Louisville attack even teams such as Florida State have struggled with this season.

Saturday is not some decisive CFP resume game most thought it would be, nor is it some critical bout the rest of the ACC will watch very closely. That certainly does not prohibit it from being a great game, though.

 

For Pride

That would be all Notre Dame has left at this point.

About a month ago the Fighting Irish were 6-0 and had the globe whispering about a CFP berth, even if a meeting with the Seminoles went bad—which it did, a 31-27 loss that started the serious downward spiral for the program.

It is quite easy to point the finger at senior quarterback Everett Golson. He has completed 60.7 percent of his passes this year for 3,044 yards but has thrown 27 touchdowns to 12 interceptions with a number of costly sacks and fumbles to boot.

In the four-game span that began with the loss to Florida State, Golson has thrown eight interceptions. The blame was shared last week, though, as missed field goals and assignments, silly flags and more created one of the worst losses in recent memory for the program.

"I'm not getting paid to make stupid decisions like that," Kelly said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "But you fall into that, right? And so I can't let our players fall into that. So that's what we talked about this week. We cannot let that affect the way we play. We've got to go play and we can't let those things affect us."

Mistakes need cleansed in a hurry with Louisville having a bye to digest the wealth of issues that plague the Fighting Irish.

Saturday is a way for Notre Dame to get back on track, but habitual, season-long errors have placed the Irish at a serious disadvantage against a Cardinals defense that ranks 10th in the nation with just 17.8 points allowed per game on average.

 

Overcoming Injuries

Louisville has had plenty of time to prepare for this encounter but will do so without starting quarterback Will Gardner, who was lost for the season a few weeks back.

If the Cardinals are to take down the Fighting Irish to grab a marquee win, they will do so behind the arm of freshman Reggie Bonnafon. Coach Bobby Petrino sounds calm with the shift under center, as captured by Jeff Greer of The Courier-Journal:

Bonnafon turned in some iffy performances earlier in the season in spot duty, but Petrino is right to point out that the backup completed 4-of-5 attempts against Boston College for 69 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

It helps, of course, that he has one of the nation's best wideouts in DeVante Parker. The senior has 25 catches for 490 yards and a score in just three games this season and will have few problems torching the Fighting Irish—his three games have read yardage totals of 132, 214 and 144.

Said Notre Dame defense certainly makes Bonnafon's job much easier. The unit allows an average of 27.1 points and has allowed 31 or more in each of its last five games. Add in potential mistakes by Golson and the offense, which will give the Cardinals even more time with the ball, and there is an obvious path to upset in South Bend.

 

When: Saturday, November 22, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, Indiana

Television: NBC

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 52.5
  • Spread: Notre Dame (-3.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

At some point the Fighting Irish will snap out of it.

Senior Day after an embarrassing month and change of football with nothing else to lose seems like the ideal time. The defense is a mess, but it helps that Louisville is starting a freshman in a hostile environment.

If Golson can take care of the football, there is an outside shot he exploits a defense that has padded its numbers with games against Murray State, FIU, Wake Forest and others.

Look for the Fighting Irish to grow up Saturday and steal a late win.

Prediction: Fighting Irish 34, Cardinals 31

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Boston College vs. FSU: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

It has been far from pretty, but the Florida State Seminoles are right where they want to be with two games to go as the Boston College Eagles pay Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium a visit Saturday.

Jameis Winston and the Seminoles are in the driver's seat with the destination the top of the ACC and the inaugural College Football Playoff. That said, last week was the team's biggest scare yet, with another comeback victory—this time against Miami (Fla.). 

The visitors are already bowl-eligible for the second year in a row and have pulled off a number of upsets and played top programs closely thanks to a stingy defense and great production on the ground.

Saturday's stage is a trap game for a Seminoles team that simply has been unable to pull away from teams it should handily defeat. Boston College qualifies, but it has proven more than capable against the Seminoles and other big programs as of late.

 

Under Pressure

It seems each and every week, the globe awaits a gargantuan misstep by Winston and Co. against various opponents.

Each and every week, the Seminoles hold strong. It took 13 points in the final frame and a touchdown with about three minutes left in regulation, but Jimbo Fisher's team survived the Hurricanes last week to keep the winning streak alive.

That said, it has to come to an end at some point, right?

"Pressure breaks pipes ... or it makes diamonds," wideout Rashad Greene said, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "And right now, we're shining. We're able to play with pressure."

As the AP notes, the Seminoles have spent 252 plays trailing this season as opposed to 93 over the course of the entire 2013 campaign. Last week's game was the third time in four outings Winston and Co. needed some late-game magic to win.

Part of the issue is the defense. The unit ranks 34th in the nation with an average of 22.8 points allowed per game. Oklahoma State scored 31 on the unit, NC State posted 41, Notre Dame had 27, and Louisville dropped 31.

The performance of the unit has not made life easier on Winston, either, who has completed 65.8 percent of his passes this season for 2,844 yards but has 18 touchdowns to 12 interceptions.

While the mark of a great team is finding ways to win, Florida State continues to flirt with disaster. Things may come to a head against an underrated Boston College squad.

 

Rekindling the Magic

Steve Addazio's team actually ranks better than the Seminoles defensively, allowing just 21.9 points on average to come in 23rd. That NC State team that dropped 41 on the Seminoles scored 14 on the Eagles. 

But the focal point when it comes to breaking down the Eagles is the offense. Senior quarterback Tyler Murphy is one of the best dual-threat players in the nation. His numbers through the air—1,293 yards, nine touchdowns to 10 interceptions—are passable, but the important note is that he leads a long line of effective rushers:

The team as a whole is battle tested, too. Against then-No. 9 USC back in September, the Eagles got a 37-31 upset thanks to five total rushing touchdowns. Two trends stick out about the Eagles, too—the team is undefeated on the road this season and has yet to lose two games in a row (the Eagles lost last time out at the hands of Louisville).

Keep in mind that these same Eagles jumped out to an early 17-3 advantage over the Seminoles last year, only to wind up losing.

If Boston College can jump out to an early lead against a Seminoles team that continues to struggle out of the gates, Murphy and Co. must put themselves in a position to kill the clock and control the game.

It all combines to one big "if," but the blueprint is certainly there.

 

When: Saturday, November 22, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Florida

Television: ESPN2, ABC

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 56.5
  • Spread: Florida State (-19)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

At this point, the Seminoles are what they are.

They are a team that is worthy of a title shot despite its love for living on the edge. Fisher's team is going to have serious issues halting the run Saturday, but surrendering enough points to lose is another conversation entirely.

It should be no major shock if the Seminoles are playing from behind at some point, but as always seems to be the case, a timely play or two from Winston will put his team ahead.

Like their meeting last season, halftime adjustments and sheer talent will win out in the end.

Prediction: Seminoles 34, Eagles 24

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ranking 5 Best Games in UCLA-USC Football Rivalry

The football history between the UCLA Bruins and the USC Trojans has been fantastic in its entirety. First playing against each other in 1929, the Trojans hold the head-to-head series lead by a standing of 44-30-7.

The series often is cyclical. UCLA holds the longest win streak between the two, winning eight straight games starting in the early 1990s. However, not to be outdone, the Trojans then proceeded to reel off seven wins of their own.

As of now, ahead of Saturday's showdown, the Bruins have won two consecutive matchups. 

Based on the significance of the contests, brilliance on the field by talented (and famous) athletes, as well as sheer excitement, this piece will look at the best five games in the series between the crosstown rivals in ascending order of rank.

Here's a look at the top five games between the UCLA Bruins and the USC Trojans. 

Begin Slideshow

Next Few Months Crucial for Charlie Strong's 2015 Recruiting Class at Texas

The Texas Longhorns are on a three-game winning streak and have a lot of momentum heading into the final game of the season.

But first-year head coach Charlie Strong needs that same amount of momentum as he prepares to enter the most important recruiting months of the year.

The Longhorns' 2015 recruiting class ranks No. 18, according to Rivals.com, but a number of the nation's top-of-the-line recruits remain uncommitted. And now is the most crucial time for Strong to meet with these recruits face-to-face.

One of the many reasons why college football is so entertaining is teams are constantly cycling through new rosters. With players having only four years of eligibility, college coaches find themselves looking to replace key components of their team with every passing season.

That reality makes the task of being a first-year head coach even more difficult. Strong has to focus not only on the current team, but also on building his team for the future.

It is no secret Strong builds his teams around tough, gritty defense. This has been evident as the Longhorns went from being ranked No. 57 in scoring defense in 2013 to No. 20 in 2014.

The Longhorns defense has upperclassmen starting at eight out of the 11 positions. Strong and staff will need to focus in on some of the state and nation’s top defensive prospects to keep his defense moving in the right direction.

Mesquite Poteet linebacker Malik Jefferson and his athlete teammate DeAndre McNeal are only a couple of the talented prospects Strong and his staff are fighting to sign. They are the type of players who can come in and have an immediate impact on a program.

Jefferson is a name many Texas fans have known for many years. He is the No. 1 prospect in the state of Texas and the No. 1 linebacker in the 2015 recruiting class, according to Rivals.com.

Although the 5-star prospect has kept fairly tight-lipped about his favorites, some people suspect Jefferson's decision will come down to Texas and Texas A&M. 247Sports has Jefferson slightly leaning toward Texas in its Crystal Ball predictions, but the linebacker does not plan on announcing his commitment until Dec. 19.

Jefferson's teammate McNeal also plans on announcing his commitment that same day.

McNeal took an official visit for the Longhorns' upset win over West Virginia, and it appears the game made an impression on the athlete.

Jefferson has attended two games this season, but he has yet to schedule an official visit. Strong getting or not getting Jefferson to take an official visit could make or break the Longhorns' chances of landing the talented linebacker.

If Strong is able to land even one of those recruits, it will help soften the blow of losing players like Jordan Hicks and Quandre Diggs.

But time is working against the Longhorns head coach. Strong and staff are entering the race late on many of the elite 2015 recruits, considering most of the top prospects have been recruited by head coaches around the nation for multiple years.

Strong understands the importance of quickly establishing relationships with these players, and his staff has been on the road recruiting during the bye week.

"Our guys are out recruiting right now," Strong said Monday. "We have some coaches out and we've been targeting a lot of guys, but it's all about making a decision if they want to come here. But we'll be fine in recruiting."

While Strong will have to make up for lost time with recruits, one thing he will have working in his favor is momentum, which can make or break recruiting.

When the Longhorns started the season 3-5, it appeared as if they would be watching bowl games from their couches. This was something Strong was not going to tolerate.

"I told our coaching staff, we're sitting here at 3-5, and we should not be pleased with where we are. I said at the University of Texas that should never happen," said Strong. "Our record of going out and getting five losses, we're not comfortable with that at all. That will never happen within this program again."

Many players credited Strong's message to the team following the shutout against Kansas State as something that ignited a fire under the Longhorns. And the result was seen on the field.

Texas finally started playing like a team, won three straight games and became bowl-eligible.

Recruits went from seeing a frustrated Strong in postgame press conferences to seeing viral videos of him crowd-surfing in his players' arms. This sort of momentum can go a long way in convincing some of the nation's elite to be a part of your program. But it will be up to the coaches to relay the message firsthand.

"There's only a few guys left that have not committed that we're still targeting," Strong said. "We'll continue to recruit them hard and see if we can get the right ones in here to add to the program. We need more players to come and jump on board and help us get it back to where we need to get it back to."

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Picks: Week 13 Predictions for Every Game

If you feel like the last few weeks of the 2014 college football season have been a whirlwind of chaos and mayhem, and you could use a break, this weekend might be a good time to relax.

With many of the top-ranked teams facing lesser competition this week, the overall slate of games isn't as exciting as that of previous weeks. But there are still plenty of good matchups to keep an eye on, and there's always a chance a few of the perceived cupcake games get hairy. Just ask TCU, which trailed by 10 at Kansas last Saturday before rallying to keep its playoff hopes alive, though that did cause the Horned Frogs to fall out of the top four in the College Football Playoff rankings.

Check out our predictions for all of Week 13's games, as well as our experts' picks for the weekend's top contests, then give us your guesses in the comments section.

 

Last week: 34-15 (.694)

Season: 525-172 (.753)

Begin Slideshow

USC vs. UCLA: Positional Breakdown and Predictions for Pac-12 Clash

Any time USC and UCLA collide on the gridiron, it's bound to be a great football game. When both are ranked inside the Top 25 and competing for a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game, it's all the more intriguing.

Jim Mora has his team firing on all cylinders once again and ready to stretch his winning streak to three straight over the Trojans. Prior to Mora's arrival, the Bruins had just one victory since 1998 and were coming off a 50-0 shellacking in 2011.

On the other side, Steve Sarkisian has turned the USC program around in his first year as the head coach. With wins over Stanford and Arizona already this season, taking down UCLA would move the team to 8-3 and 3-1 against Top 25 teams.

Ahead of one of the biggest rivalries in California, here's a look at the full positional breakdown and prediction for USC at UCLA.

 

Offensive Backs: UCLA

This entire category really comes down to what you prefer, but Brett Hundley's athleticism makes the Bruins' backfield more explosive.

Hundley hasn't been as great as expected all season, but he's been a Trojan killer throughout his career. The junior signal-caller has four rushing touchdowns against USC and another passing score during the team's two-game winning streak.

The future NFL quarterback spoke about how important the rivalry is to him, per Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News:

Recently, Hundley has gone back to the dual-threat style that earned him national attention. In the last four games, he's averaging 88.3 rushing yards per game and has four touchdowns over that span.

Max Meyer of Neon Tommy provides a stat that will make USC fans cringe about Hundley:

Outside of Hundley, Paul Perkins has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in six of the Bruins' last eight games. Whether it's on the ground (1,169 yards, six TDs) or through the air (198 yards, two TDs), the sophomore has been dynamic all season.

Javorious Allen has been slightly more effective this season and Cody Kessler has better passing statistics than Hundley. But with the experience that Hundley brings and the recent tear for Perkins, UCLA gets the edge in this category.

 

Wide Receivers: USC

If Nelson Agholor didn't exist, this would be a much closer matchup. Then again, JuJu Smith's playmaking ability might be enough to push the Trojans over the Bruins.

Let's start with Agholor, who has come into his own over the last four games. After failing to reach the 100-yard plateau in the first six games, he's been unstoppable leading up to the huge showdown.

His six touchdowns over the last four matchups have accounted for 22.6 percent of USC's scoring—and he didn't score against Utah. Arash Markazi of ESPN.com also notes how Agholor has changed the Trojans' record books:

That's a lengthy list of great receivers, and Agholor has a chance to continue that record-setting pace against UCLA.

Smith adds to the wide receiving corps and has five touchdowns of his own over the last four games. Though he was limited by California as Agholor exploded, look for Smith to be a huge part of the game plan in his first game against the Bruins.

Jordan Payton is no slouch for UCLA, but the sheer wealth of weapons for USC makes this an easy call. In terms of pure ability, Agholor, Smith and even George Farmer give the Trojans a plethora of options in the passing game.

 

Defense: USC

As with most things in Hollywood, this category goes to pure star ability. Leonard Williams is likely the biggest star that will take the field on Saturday night.

Currently projected as the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NFL draft by Bleacher Report and CBS Sports, Williams has been a monster all season. The athletic lineman has six sacks already this season and has disrupted nearly every running game with his physicality.

Matt Miller of Bleacher Report offered his take on Williams in the team's most recent game against Cal:

Along with Williams, the Trojans also get an important piece in Josh Shaw back from suspension, per Kyle Bonagura of ESPN.com. A captain before the season, Shaw has a chance to make a difference when he's on the field.

Southern Cal has surrendered 22.9 points per game against Pac-12 opponents, but it will have a difficult test against UCLA's potent offense. The Trojans will need Williams to contain Hundley in the running game while the secondary limits him through the air—which is easier said than done.

 

Prediction

Despite USC taking the edge in the positional battle, UCLA's strength in the backfield will be too much.

Hundley's ability to change the game at any moment with his legs or arm makes UCLA more dynamic. Having the ability to hand it off or check down to Perkins gives the Bruins a 1-2 punch that can slowly eat away at the Trojans' defense.

In a game that might ultimately decide who wins the South division, Mora will move to 3-0 against Southern Cal and solidify UCLA's Top-10 status for another week.

 

Predicted finish: UCLA 31, USC 27

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Football: Sizing Up Ducks' Potential Opponents for Pac-12 Title Game

In the College Football Playoff standings, the second-ranked Oregon Ducks are two regular-season games away from a Pac-12 title game that will likely determine their postseason fate.

The Ducks (9-1, 6-1) still have to play Colorado and a surprisingly feisty Oregon State team that just took down then-sixth-ranked Arizona State last weekend. The idea that the Ducks are simply going to waltz into the Pac-12 title game without another loss is shortsighted.

That being said, the Ducks have already locked up the Pac-12 North and have reserved a spot in the title game on Dec. 5. While Oregon shouldn’t be looking ahead to that game, we can!

Oregon has played three games against Pac-12 South opponents this season and has another one this weekend against Colorado. The results so far have been mixed.

The Ducks have two impressive road victories against Pac-12 South opponents—No. 17 Utah and No. 9 UCLA. The Ducks won those two games by a combined 36 points—a total that would have been higher had the Ducks not taken their foot off the pedal in the fourth quarter against UCLA. However, the Ducks suffered their only defeat of the season to a Pac-12 South team: Arizona.

With two weeks left in the regular season, there are five teams still competing for a spot in the Pac-12 title game. How do the Ducks stack up against those five teams, and who is going to ultimately meet Oregon at Levi’s Stadium? Let’s take a look.

 

Potential Opponents

The Pac-12 South race couldn't possibly be any tighter, and the margin for error for the five remaining contenders is paper thin.

Moreover, figuring out which team is going to represent the Pac-12 South in the conference championship is about as difficult as advanced calculus. Since I’m about as competent at calculus as a 4-year old, I’ll leave it up to ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura to explain the potential Pac-12 scenarios.

For Arizona to win: The only way Arizona wins the South is if it wins out, UCLA beats USC and Stanford beats UCLA. 

For Arizona State to win: If ASU wins out and UCLA loses at least once, the Sun Devils will win the division. 

For UCLA to win: Beat USC and Stanford. 

For USC to win: If ASU loses to either WSU or Arizona and USC beats UCLA, the Trojans will win the division. 

For Utah to win: See Hypothetical No. 3, which appears to be the Utes' best chance. 

In Bonagura’s article, he details hypothetical circumstances that will affect the outcome of the Pac-12 South race. Basically, if UCLA wins out, it's in. If UCLA loses to either USC or Stanford and Arizona State wins out, it's in. If both UCLA and Arizona State drop a game, the race becomes much murkier.

At this point five teams are in a position to win the Pac-12 South and meet Oregon in the title game on Dec. 5—UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona, USC and Utah. All five teams are ranked in the top 25 of the latest College Football Playoff poll.

As we mentioned, the Ducks have played three of these five teams this season and have gone 2-0 on the road and 0-1 at home. Oregon does not play Arizona State or USC in the 2014 regular season.

Now that we know the potential competitors and have some semblance of an idea who may come out of the South, let’s take a look at how Oregon stacks up against these five teams.

 

Sizing Up the Competition

The most impressive win by any of the five Pac-12 South contenders this season was Arizona’s 31-24 victory over the Ducks in Eugene. However, based on how the five teams rank statistically on offense and defense, it seems as though Oregon will be in for a tough battle regardless of which team it faces.

While the Ducks possess the most potent offense in the Pac-12 and rank No. 3 in the nation in points per game, four of the five Pac-12 South competitors have offenses that rank within the top 32 in the country.

In terms of yards per game, both Arizona and UCLA rank within the top 20 in the nation. Arizona is averaging 492.2 yards per game (No. 16 in the nation) while UCLA ranks just behind them with 489.2 yards per game (No. 17). Arizona State and USC follow them in at No. 29 and No. 34 in the country in yards per game.

Oregon’s struggles on defense have come mostly against the pass this season, and it's ranked No. 123 in pass defense of 128 eligible schools.

The Ducks would do well to avoid a prominent passing attack in the title game. Therefore, it may be best for them to face Utah’s passing offense that ranks No. 99 in the country. Of course, Utah has the toughest road to the Pac-12 title game and would need a ton of help from the other four teams to win the South division. The other four schools are all ranked within the top 31 nationally in terms of passing yards per game, with Arizona leading the charge at No. 14.

Oregon’s defense has shown signs of life in some games this year, but overall it's been one of the poorest units in the nation. However, Oregon’s offense—led by Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota—has been able to cover up the Ducks’ deficient defense in almost every game this season.

While Mariota is clearly the star of the show for Oregon’s offense, the Ducks are more deadly when they’re able to run the ball at will.

Fortunately for the Ducks, USC has the best rush defense among the five teams as the Trojans are ranked No. 31 in the nation and are giving up an average of 135.1 yards per game. Following USC is Utah at No. 48, Arizona at No. 58, UCLA at No. 64 and Arizona State at No. 80. The Ducks should be able to run the ball against any of the five potential opponents, which should give Oregon a significant advantage.

The Ducks should be able to find even more success through the air, especially if center Hroniss Grasu is able to return to action by Dec. 5. None of the five Pac-12 South teams is ranked above No. 77 in passing defense, which is bad news for them considering the quarterback they’ll be facing in the title game. Arizona State ranks No. 77 in pass defense, followed by Utah (No. 89), UCLA (No. 97), USC (No. 105) and Arizona (No. 120).

Oregon has faced two top-10 defenses in terms of total yards allowed per game this season—Stanford and Michigan State. In those two games, the Ducks offense averaged 45.5 points and 508 yards. Based on their success against those two teams—with a mostly healthy offense—the Ducks should be able to move the ball at will against any of the five Pac-12 South teams.

Currently, Utah has the best defense among the five teams in terms of yards allowed per game. The Utes are ranked No. 63 in the nation and are allowing 388.4 yards per game. In terms of points allowed per game, USC leads the five contenders and is allowing 23.3 points per game.

The Ducks will have a significant advantage offensively against any of these five teams; however, they’ll likely have some trouble on the defensive side of the ball—especially if they have to face Arizona, USC, UCLA or Arizona State.

Of course, it won’t ultimately matter which team has had the most impressive win or is the strongest according to statistics. However, those statistics do give us a clearer view of who the Ducks should want to play in the Pac-12 title game.

 

Whom Should Oregon Be Rooting For?

Oregon and Stanford have dominated the Pac-12 since 2009, and the schools have combined for the past five Pac-12 Championships, including the only three awarded since the conference introduced a title game in 2011.

The Pac-12 South has struggled against Oregon and Stanford in the three previous conference championship games and has lost by an average of 15 points per game. While the two top Pac-12 South contenders—UCLA and Arizona State—each have Pac-12 Championship Game experience, those games likely aren’t particularly fond memories.

However, this year it seems like the momentum has shifted from the North to the South. With five teams ranked in the College Football Playoff poll's top 25, the Pac-12 South looks more like the SEC West than a division has largely forgotten about for the better part of four years. While the best team in the conference still resides in the North, there is no doubt that the South is the more complete division.

The Ducks shouldn’t be concerning themselves with rooting for a specific team to come out of the South. Yes, it’s beneficial for them to face a team they match up well against. However, the Ducks need to win their next two games before even thinking about whom they’ll play on Dec. 5.

That being said, we’re not part of the program, so we’ll look ahead for them.

While statistics and rankings are useful tools to compare teams and conferences, if you don’t know what to do with those numbers it’s ultimately a waste of time. One place where they definitely know how to use those numbers is in Las Vegas.

Something that is overlooked by many pundits and fans are the Power Rankings released by Las Vegas insiders every week. While statistical analysis is often use by journalists and fans alike, Vegas is years ahead of everyone else when it comes to putting advanced analytics to use.

ESPN’s College Football Vegas Ranks (subscription required) is one of the best tools out there. Here’s how Vegas comes up with these rankings:

The CFB Vegas Rankings are the composite power ratings of a panel of professional handicappers and college football statisticians, including fellow Insider Phil Steele, Brian Edwards and Bruce Marshall of The Gold Sheet. The ratings are intended to weigh the relative strength of the teams if they met on a neutral field and to be compared to the point spread on a given game.

According to the Vegas rankings, the College Football Playoff committee and the AP Poll overvalue Pac-12 South teams.

Based on the Vegas rankings, Arizona and Arizona State are the two worst teams remaining among the five Pac-12 South competitors. While the Ducks have lost their past two games to the Wildcats, it would seem as though the Ducks would be heavily favored against them in the Pac-12 title game.

Oregon does not play Arizona State in the 2014 regular season; however, the Ducks have won eight straight games against the Sun Devils dating back to 2005. It would seem that the Arizona schools would be the best opponents for Oregon to face in the title game. However, there is a case to be made for playing a team that the Ducks are familiar with.

The Ducks emphatically beat UCLA in the Rose Bowl and took out a tough Utah team in Salt Lake City. Oregon would go into the Pac-12 Championship Game against both of those teams with confidence due to those previous victories. However, Vegas values Utah and UCLA highly, and the Bruins and Utes would have a better understanding of this Oregon team if given a second crack.

The wild card here is USC. The Trojans have lost three games this season by a combined 13 points. While they’ve struggled to close out games under first-year coach Steve Sarkisian, they very well may have the most collective talent in the conference behind the Ducks. They’re a scary team with playmakers on both sides of the ball.

Regardless of whom the Ducks face in the title game, they will have the weight of the world on their shoulders, especially if they are able to knock off Colorado and Oregon State.

If the Ducks enter Levi’s Stadium with an 11-1 record, they’ll be playing for a spot in the College Football Playoff, and Marcus Mariota will likely be playing for a Heisman Trophy.

There will be a lot on the line come Dec. 5. The Ducks should not overlook any of the five remaining Pac-12 South competitors.

 

Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise stated. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.

Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.

 

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College Football Rankings 2014: Top 25 Teams with Most to Gain in Week 13

Since the first College Football Playoff rankings were released, the Top Four has been constantly revolving.

With Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Mississippi State all up against relatively easy opponents Saturday, though, that pattern should change for at least a week.

Still, although there isn't expected to be another major shakeup at the top, there are a couple of teams lurking further down in the rankings with excellent opportunities to earn a major rise.

Let's take a look.

 

No. 9 UCLA (and No. 15 Arizona)

Not long ago, the Bruins' season looked on the brink of destruction. In what turned out to be a fairly brutal month of October, they lost at home to Utah and Oregon and barely slipped past California and Colorado.

But Jim Mora's team is finally living up to the preseason expectations. It held Arizona's high-powered attack to seven points and then went into Washington and hung 44 on a team with several potential first-round picks on defense.

"If you were going to do a graph with us, it would be pretty jagged," Mora said (via ESPN.com's Ted Miller). "But it was always trending upward, even when it didn't seem like it."

Suddenly, the Bruins are at No. 9, and even with two defeats, they are not fully out of the national championship picture. But they'll need an impressive performance Saturday against No. 19 USC to stay there.

Fortunately for the Bruins, the selection committee has proven to be favorable to the Pac-12. With one loss, Oregon is ahead of undefeated Florida State and also ahead of Mississippi State, whose only loss is to No. 1 Alabama. Moreover, Arizona State climbed as high as No. 6.

A victory for the Bruins here could help surpass a few teams that have cupcakes on the schedule, as the Los Angeles Times' Chris Dufresne noted:

Perhaps more importantly, a win puts them in excellent position to win the South, an absolute must if they are going to have a chance at cracking the Top Four.

For many of the same reasons, No. 15 Arizona (up against No. 17 Utah) is in a similar position. However, the Wildcats are going to need a little more help. They also have two losses, but one of those came against UCLA.

Still, a Top 25 win would be massive for Arizona, which has struggled since its huge road win at Oregon in October.

 

No. 16 Wisconsin

If you missed out on Melvin Gordon's record-breaking day against Nebraska last week, don't worry. I've tracked down the highlights:

There's no way that doesn't impress the committee.

Unfortunately, thanks to a loss against Northwestern earlier in the season, it's difficult to imagine Wisconsin finding a way to crack the College Football Playoff. But the remaining schedule is going to give the Badgers a chance to get close.

They would obviously need to win out, finishing the season 11-2 with a win in the Big Ten Championship Game over (most likely) fringe playoff squad Ohio State. At that point, it would simply come down to how the committee views an ugly loss in early October vs. a red-hot final two months, as The New York Times' Marc Tracy explained:

The Badgers have played only two ranked opponents, and one of them—No. 17 Louisiana State—defeated them. Wisconsin's other loss was to unranked Northwestern. A weaker schedule could also taint Wisconsin's status as the Football Bowl Subdivision's top defense, allowing 244 yards per game.

But if the committee instead notes that Wisconsin has not lost in six weeks—a longer streak than 14 of the 19 teams ahead of it—and just put up 59 points against a top-20 defense, then the Badgers will be in the mix.

It's an interesting debate, but first things first. Wisconsin must beat Iowa convincingly.

The Hawkeyes may not be ranked, but they are 4-2 in the Big Ten, and they'll be at home. A win would certainly stand as one of the Badgers' best of the season and maintain their crucial image as one of the hottest teams in America.

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Nebraska Football: Best Bowl Game Options for the Huskers

Before Nebraska lost to Wisconsin in Madison on Saturday, the sky truly felt like the limit. It was, too. The Huskers still had a shot at the Big Ten conference title and the playoffs weren't significantly out of reach. That has all changed since.

What can the Huskers expect now, especially when it comes to a bowl game? And what are the best options for Nebraska?

Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com is now predicting the Huskers will travel to the Holiday Bowl to face UCLA on Dec. 27. If this prediction pans out, it's definitely not the most ideal one for Nebraska. With San Diego so close to UCLA, turnout could be an issue. Nebraska fans travel well, but proximity can still be problematic.

Plus, this would be head coach Bo Pelini's third trip to the Holiday Bowl in his time with Nebraska. He made the trip in 2009 and 2010, with a win during the first visit and a loss during the second.

Another Holiday Bowl just might not give Nebraska fans the incentive needed to travel.

And then there's the fact that the last two times Nebraska faced UCLA, the Bruins won. In both 2012 and 2013, UCLA defeated the Huskers both at home and on the road. Once again, that likely doesn't give fans any excitement for a possible rematch between the two.

Another potential bowl game could be the Outback Bowl. ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach and Brett McMurphy both projected Nebraska to Tampa Bay, Fla., but both selected different opponents. Schlabach predicted Missouri, while McMurphy predicted Auburn.

Neither Tiger team would be an excellent matchup for Nebraska. However, facing Missouri may draw fans that are nostalgic for the former Big Eight and Big 12.

An added benefit is that Nebraska isn't that far removed from playing Missouri, which could definitely make things interesting.

Schlabach isn't the only one thinking this matchup could happen. Phil Steele thinks the same. Looking at the potential opponents and destinations, it seems to be the best option for Nebraska.

After all, the history between Nebraska and Missouri would be enough to get fans to travel. The two programs could even put the Victory Bell up for grabs once again, which has been with Nebraska since 2010 when the two last met.

Missouri wouldn't be an easy win for the Huskers. With that said, there's reason to believe Nebraska could get the victory because the Tigers have shown they can be a bit inconsistent at times.

"There’s a lot to really admire about what they’ve been able to accomplish," ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about Missouri. "But they’ve been a very inconsistent team and a difficult team to get a handle on."

To be fair, Nebraska hasn't exactly been the most consistent either. However, Missouri also sharing that issue could make for an interesting matchup if it panned out.

There's still plenty of time before the bowl games are announced and a lot can absolutely change between now and then. If Nebraska had a choice, though, the Outback Bowl versus Missouri would be a pretty good outcome.

If nothing else, it would be nostalgia at its finest.

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The Most Important Wisconsin Badgers Players for the Rest of the Year

After five games, the Wisconsin Badgers looked to be in trouble.  Staring down a 3-2 record with an 0-1 record in Big Ten play, the Badgers were at a breaking point.  In the crowded Big Ten West, another loss or two would keep them out of the Big Ten title game, but win out and they would be in.

Five games later, the Badgers sit at 8-2 overall with a 5-1 record in Big Ten play, good for sole possession of first place in the Big Ten West, a game ahead of Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota.  With the tiebreaker over Nebraska and remaining games against Iowa and Minnesota, the ball is in the Badgers' court.

To get to this point, they couldn't have done it without the contributions from these five players, two on the offensive side of the ball and three on the defensive.  Special consideration also goes out to true freshman kicker Rafael Gaglianone, who has provided much-needed stability in the kicking game.

Instead of ranking these players in terms of importance, we'll just go straight down the depth chart as we look at the five most important players for the team.  To begin, let's start under center with the return of No. 2, Joel Stave.

Begin Slideshow

FSU to Receive $3.5 Million for 2016 Game vs. Ole Miss

Wednesday afternoon, Florida State and Ole Miss announced a mega season-opening clash for the 2016 season. Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel did some digging and found out how much ESPN will pay the Seminoles to broadcast the game.

Turns out, a whole heck of a lot.    

Sonnone uncovered that Florida State will earn $3.5 million for the contest, which will take place Sept. 5, 2016, at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. There was no word on how much Ole Miss will receive, though it's very likely the Rebels will receive a similar amount based on historical precedent. Kevin McGuire of College Football Talk noted Alabama and West Virginia split a $6.4 million pot to open their 2014 campaign against one another.

“We’re excited to bring regular season neutral-site college football games back to the Citrus Bowl and establish Orlando as a major kickoff destination for the future,” Florida Citrus Sports CEO Steve Hogan said in a statement. “Florida State and Ole Miss will undoubtedly be a game worthy of national attention and we can’t wait to welcome fans from Tallahassee and Oxford to Central Florida to start the 2016 season.”

Florida State and Ole Miss have spent most of the 2014 college football season competing on the national championship stage. The Rebels were considered a playoff shoo-in before losing consecutive games to LSU and Auburn. The Seminoles, who boast a 26-game winning streak, are yet to drop a game despite a handful of close calls.

The last couple seasons have been a culmination of a wide-scale rebuild for both programs. Jimbo Fisher took over for Bobby Bowden in 2010, inheriting a proud program that was standing on creaky legs. Four double-digit-win seasons later and the Seminoles are either the nation's best or second-best program, matched in talent by only Alabama.

Hugh Freeze took over an even more dire situation from Houston Nutt in 2012 but rebuilt quickly with a deft recruiting hand. The Rebels, despite going 2-10 the year before Freeze's arrival, have been above .500 in each of his three campaigns. They are currently the nation's top-ranked two-loss team at No. 8.

"Kicking off 2016 with Monday night football is a big thrill for our program, and this is a great game on many levels," Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork said in a statement. "Florida State is one of the traditional powerhouses of college football, and with the evolution of the college football playoff, matchups that provide a boost to our strength of schedule are a priority for us."

Of course, stretching beyond the strength of schedule factor, it's never too bad to line the athletic department's pocket with a major payday. The 2016 meeting will be the second time in history Ole Miss and Florida State have met. Based on the financials, it doesn't seem like anyone will walk away from the Citrus Bowl a loser.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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UCLA Controls Its Destiny but Must Contain Rival USC

WESTWOOD, Calif. — UCLA football is in an enviable position heading into the final two weeks of the 2014 regular season: out front of the five-team race in the Pac-12 South and in control of its conference championship destiny.

"I think right now we're playing our best football," wide receiver Jordan Payton said a week ago. "It feels good to be where we're at."  

And that was before the No. 9 Bruins had a clear path to Levi's Stadium, site of the Pac-12 Championship Game.

UCLA got the help it needed last Saturday when Oregon State rallied to upset Arizona State. By virtue of their head-to-head win over the Sun Devils, as well as fellow two-loss team Arizona, the Bruins hold all the necessary tiebreakers—contingent on them winning the next two, that is.

Easier said than done. Coming into the Rose Bowl Saturday is No. 19 USC, one of those other four teams still running the divisional race and ranked in the College Football Playoff's latest standings.

The Trojans broke into the rankings for the first time after two wins that demonstrated their diversity on both sides of the ball.

And it's that "extremely diverse" style, as UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich described it, that makes USC a difficult team for which to game-plan.

UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone broke from what he deemed "coach-speak day" following Wednesday's practice at Spaulding Field to theorize on USC's multifaceted defensive style.

"Still waiting to figure it out," he said. "I've known [USC's] Justin [Wilcox] for a while, and he's a really good [defensive] coordinator. Always comes up with a good game plan."

Heading into last week's matchup with Cal, much was made of the Trojans' hesitance to blitz. USC came into that game ranked last among power-conference teams in blitz plays but brought heavy pressure on Cal quarterback Jared Goff.

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said on his conference call Friday that continuing to rush UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley would be an emphasis this week, but there's no clear pattern suggesting how the Trojans intend to do so.

Ulbrich faces a similar question mark while strategizing for USC's offense.

“The best of the pro-style stuff we’ve seen and the best of the spread [offense] stuff we’ve seen,” Ulbrich said. “We haven’t seen [an offense like USC’s]. I don’t know if it exists anywhere else. It’s the melding of minds over there…and they’re grabbing the best of both.”

Sarkisian introduced no-huddle play-calling to the Trojans’ traditional pro set offense and has tinkered with a variety of looks.

USC has relied heavily at times on the rush, with Pac-12-leading ball-carrier Javorius “Buck” Allen setting the pace at 118.4 yards per game.

But in its last two outings, USC quarterback Cody Kessler has thrown for 771 yards and nine touchdowns combined.

“He can get to his first, second and third read, which in college football, you don’t see every week,” Ulbrich said of Kessler. “And his third [receiving option], unlike most offenses, is a real [threat].”

In recent weeks, the third option for Kessler has been George Farmer, who has a touchdown catch in each of the last two games. But No. 1 target Nelson Agholor comes into Saturday’s affair with consecutive games of more than 200 yards receiving, a feat no other player in USC history has accomplished.

Indeed, USC is a team that can change its look from week-to-week. But UCLA can make a similar claim—and that’s the reason the Bruins are two wins from winning the hotly contested division.

To get this point that Payton described as feeling good, the Bruins overcame the disappointment of losing two straight in October.

Others may have hit the panic button, but UCLA rallied around head coach Jim Mora and his staff’s message of improving every week.

And while this Saturday’s contest is unique in any number of ways—it’s a quality opponent, a championship is at stake and, oh yeah, it’s a rivalry—the Bruins are not straying off the pace that got them out in front.

"We've had two good days of practice, and we've got a couple more days to clean some things up," Mazzone said. "Try to get a little better this week than we were last week."
 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of CFBstats.com.

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Big 12 Football: How Texas and Oklahoma Lost Control of the Big 12

For years, it seemed as though the Red River Showdown was a de facto Big 12 title game. The winner often gained the inside track to a conference championship and was almost assured a spot in a BCS bowl.

Now, in the new era of the College Football Playoff, one of the sport's biggest matchups is an exercise in futility.

The Texas Longhorns, long thought to be the kingpin of the Big 12 and still the biggest spenders in college athletics at $146 million (per USA Today), are among the bottom-feeders of the Big 12.

Stefan Scrafield of the Dallas Morning News ran a headline proclaiming that the Longhorns didn't give up simply to gain bowl eligibility this year.

As for the Sooners, they've fared a little better but have fallen short of elite-status expectations for the better part of the decade. They have just two Big 12 titles in the last six seasons including this one—2010 and 2012.

The 2010 title sent Oklahoma to the Fiesta Bowl, where it thrashed the UConn Huskies 48-20, but 2012's was split with Kansas State—a team it lost to at home and therefore caused it to miss a bid to a BCS bowl. The Sooners later got demolished by Texas A&M in the Aggies' first season in the SEC in the Cotton Bowl.

In 2014, the Sooners were picked as the preseason conference favorites.

But after three conference losses—two at home—to TCU, Kansas State and an embarrassment to Baylor, Bob Stoops and Co. are now not only all but out of the hunt for a conference title, but they may miss out on a prime-time bowl altogether.

The Longhorns and Sooners have stepped down from the podium of the Big 12 and given way to Baylor, Kansas State and now TCU—all of which will likely lay claim to at least a share of the last three conference titles.

How did it happen?

How did two athletic programs that spend a nearly combined $250 million annually fall behind the Bears, Horned Frogs and Wildcats—the latter of which spends just over $59 million? Baylor and TCU, both private schools, do not release their athletic department budgets.

Well, coaching is a big part of it.

Mack Brown, the former Texas head coach, played the role of executioner in Austin as he was unable to convince the Lone Star State's biggest recruits to rock burnt orange.

For the Longhorns, it was most apparent at the quarterback position. While Texas struggled to replace Colt McCoy with David Ash and McCoy's younger brother Case, Baylor snatched up Robert Griffin III. He won a Heisman Trophy.

Texas A&M poached Johnny Manziel. He, too, left New York City as a Heisman winner—the first ever freshman to win the award.

At Oklahoma, Stoops has failed to beat his mentor, Bill Snyder, in Gaylord Memorial Stadium in each of the last two tries. He's also struggling to find a quarterback, as Trevor Knight's inconsistency issues have reared their ugly head in 2014.

Making the most out of talent is what coaching is all about. Nobody is better at that than Snyder, who rarely has recruiting classes that crack the top 50 but always seems to compete amongst the elite.

Art Briles at Baylor has been the architect of a similar turnaround. The Bears are defending champions and have a strong case for being ranked ahead of TCU in the playoff rankings.

In 2011, the Longhorns had the No. 4 recruiting class in the nation. Oklahoma was ranked 13th that year.

This season, those in that class who didn't redshirt are seniors. Here's how they've fared by year:

Obviously, Oklahoma has had far more success. Stoops is a better coach than Brown was—there's no doubt about that.

But the record against Top 25 teams is alarming. The only season in which either of the two squads didn't suffer multiple losses against ranked teams was last year's Oklahoma squad. However, the lone loss to Baylor was enough to sink the Sooners from Big 12 title contention.

Baylor's win against Texas also knocked the Longhorns out of the hunt for the Big 12 title last year in the last week of the season.

The science behind college football rankings all boils down to one formula: win big games.

Oklahoma and Texas aren't doing that. Baylor, K-State and now TCU are.

Now not only must Strong and Stoops rebuild their programs, to do so they must dethrone three teams that are in their primes.

Baylor, TCU and even the SEC's Texas A&M are quickly becoming the prime destinations for Lone Star recruits.

Even Oklahoma State now rivals Oklahoma for recruits—billionaire Boone Pickens knows how to sway youngsters from cream and crimson to orange and black.

Surprisingly, it seems as though Texas is headed in a better direction than the Sooners.

Texas' upset of West Virginia on Nov. 8, followed by a win over the Cowboys, capped off a three-game winning streak that has delivered some much-needed faith in Charlie Strong to the Austin faithful.

The Longhorns' first step will be to find a bona fide gunslinger. Whether that's Tyrone Swoopes, who's had plenty of ups and downs, or not remains to be seen. Texas signed Zach Gentry, a 4-star pro-style gunslinger, in May as part of Strong's first full class in 2015.

As for Oklahoma, its best aerial assault option may be sitting in the hangar. Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield, who outdid Knight by nearly every measure in the spring game, is eligible next year. He may very well challenge Knight for the starting job.

Want proof that a quarterback will get you to Big 12 supremacy?

K-State won the conference with Collin Klein and could share the title with Jake Waters this season. Baylor won it with Bryce Petty. TCU could very well do it with Trevone Boykin.

Every name on that list has been mentioned in Heisman conversations, with Klein being a finalist in 2012.

The Red River Rivalry no longer defines the elite of the Big 12. With that said, money, coaching and talent can get you back on top, and Texas and Oklahoma certainly have plenty of all three.

Now, they'll have to dethrone three teams to get there—something almost unheard of in college football history.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Kynon's Korner: Star Recruits React to Will Muschamp's Departure from Florida

The University of Florida ended the Will Muschamp era in Gainesville, Florida over the weekend following a 23-20 overtime loss to South Carolina. The decision was the talk of the college football world over the last 48-72 hours and several recruits weighed in via social media. 

Glen St. Mary (Fla.) Baker County defensive end CeCe Jefferson tweeted this following the news of Muschamp's departure:

Gator fans have to be happy Jefferson wants to visit the Swamp a week after visiting Alabama. Jefferson informed ESPN recruiting reporter Derek Tyson he was canceling his weekend visit to UCLA to visit Gainesville.

Defensive line coach Brad Lawing is a big reason why Jefferson and follow 5-star Byron Cowart are still strongly considering the Gators. Lawing coached former South Carolina star and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, Jadeveon Clowney. It will be interesting to see if the next coach decides to keep a coach like Lawing with his strong resume and well-established reputation as a top-flight recruiter. 

Cowart had concerns about the hot-seat talk calling for Coach Muschamp's exit earlier this fall. He previously told me in an earlier conversation this fall, "The scary thing about it is I'm really comfortable with Florida. The reason I say scary is the stability in the coaching staff."

I caught up with Cowart to get his take on the situation. When asked if he is still considering the Gators, he replied, "Yes, I'm still looking at UF. I don't think I'm going to take an official visit though."

Did the Gators coaching staff reach out after Muschamp was let go? He responded, "Yes. Lawing still talks to me. However, I'm just waiting until signing day." 

Alabama, Florida, Florida State and Maryland are his serious contenders with Oregon likely on the outside looking in. 

Wide receiver Ryan Davis said the Gators are still in the mix despite uncertainty surrounding the program. "I'm still considering UF," said Davis. "I love the school and tradition. A program like that won't be down for long."

The 4-star pass-catcher said Alabama is one of the schools coming after him hard. Davis and Cowart have discussed attending the same school at the next level. 

Florida's next head coach will need to make this trio a priority when they arrive to campus. If UF can land the defensive line duo it will be a major haul and an excellent building block for the future. 

 

Ohio State commit Checks Out Miami-FSU

The University of Miami hosted a reported 200 recruits for their Sunshine State Showdown with Florida State last Saturday night. It was an impressive list of top names that including committed prospects Tevon ConeyCarlton DavisDominic Sheppard and Jason Strowbridge among others. 

I had a chance to speak to Davis about his experience to SunLife Stadium for the marquee matchup. The Buckeyes pledge told Bleacher Report, "I'm considering Miami. Yes sir, the game gave me something to think about. I grew up a UM fan and there is pressure to stay home."

When asked what does he like and dislike about the program, he answered, "They are selling early playing time. They say I can earn a starting spot my sophomore year. That's good because I don't like how they rotate their DB's."

Do Ohio State fans have anything to worry about with Davis possibly flipping his commitment? "I'm 90 percent to Ohio State. UM and Texas are tied for second place." 

The rangy cover corner is set to take an official visit to Arkansas on January 16. 

 

Baltimore Flanker Visits Alabama

Lawrence Cager out of Towson (Md.) Calvert Hall took an unofficial visit to Tuscaloosa for the Alabama-Mississippi State game. The Crimson Tide offered Cager during their summer camp and since that time the interest has picked up between the two parties. 

"Tuscaloosa was great. The fanbase there is ridiculous on game day and I loved it. Some of the fans knew my name and the way the fans were turned up during the game was awesome" said Cager. "The best part of my trip was talking and hanging out with Blake Simms because he actually watched my highlight tape and said I could be an impact as a freshman at Bama. I rate the visit a 10."

The Tide usually have an easy sell when targeting wideouts because of the success of All-SEC split end, Amari Cooper. Cooper is rated as the top receiver for the 2015 NFL draft by Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller. Cager said he got the chance to meet Cooper during his trip.

"I met with Amari and he is a great guy as well as a great receiver, very humble," stated Cager. He is a beast out there. All the WR's were cool. I could see myself in Coach Kiffin's offense."

Cager said has a good bond with the staff at Alabama and that is important for him. "Me and Coach (Nick) Saban have a good relationship," noted Cager. "I met with him on Friday for a long time and he talked about me being a good fit at Bama. My parents didn't come with me, but I'm planning on setting my official on December 21."

It's no surprise Alabama made the cut for Cager's top schools when he exclusively announced his top six with Bleacher Report's own Tyler Donohue.

The 6'5", 205-pounder is planning to decide his college announcement on January 3 at the US Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas.

 

4-Star Athlete Recaps Georgia Visit

Alabama commit Demetris Robertson was in Athens, Georgia for the Bulldogs' rivalry game with Auburn. Last month Robertson was in Tallahassee for the Florida State-Notre Dame game. The 4-star standout said the 'Dawgs continue to make him a priority for their 2016 class.

"Of course they are trying to keep me home," explained Robertson. "They tell me how I fit well on either side of the ball and how they can get me to the next level."

Robertson is being recruited at receiver and defensive back, so he is learning as much as possible when watching games in person. 

"The defense and ground game was good," stated Robertson. "But I kept my eye on the receivers and DB's. My favorite part was seeing Coach (Tony) Ball again. I thought UGA would win, but I thought it would come down to the last possession. I didn't expect it to go like that!"

Another positive to the trip for Robertson was getting the chance to hang out with other recruits and talk about their respective seasons. 

"Yes sir, that was good," added Robertson. "I got up with Isaac NautaKhalil Ladler, and a few others. We just talked about the playoffs and how our teams doing."

So when will Robertson visit the Crimson Tide? He quickly replied, "I've been waiting to get back to T-Town to see Coach Saban, Coach (Kirby) Smart and the other guys. I'll be there for the Iron Bowl on November 29."

Look for Saban and company to firm up Robertson's verbal pledge. He is one of the top prospects for 2016 and they will have to battle to keep him in the fold. Alabama's recruiting track record speaks for itself, but this is far from a done deal. 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand. Recruiting information and ratings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted. I mad

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Kent State vs. Buffalo Postponed by MAC Due to Extreme Snowfall

The massive snowfall in the Buffalo region has affected sporting events going on in the area. The latest victim of the weather is a MAC showdown between Kent State and Buffalo scheduled for Wednesday night, which has been postponed.     

The MAC's official Twitter account first reported the news:

Earlier in the day, it appeared as if the two schools were going to try playing the game Wednesday as scheduled. Reddit College Football tweeted that the host team would be giving out free hot cocoa to anyone able to make it to the stadium:

However, as noted by Kevin McGuire of College Football Talk, Kent State and Buffalo are expected to find a replacement date for the game for bowl purposes:

On Tuesday, the Buffalo Sabres were able to host the San Jose Sharks in front of a few fans able to make it through the snow, per John Wawrow of The Associated Press:

Unfortunately, things have gotten worse in Buffalo over the last 24 hours. The city has been blanketed with five feet of snow already, according to The National Weather Service:

While the Bulls are fighting for their bowl lives, needing two wins to get to 6-6, this weather and the conditions in the surrounding area make playing a football game low on the list of priorities for the city right now. 

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The Most Important Clemson Players for the Rest of the Year

The Clemson Tigers fell to 7-3 last week with a loss to Georgia Tech, but the College Football Playoff selection committee still likes them as a Top 25 team. The Tigers came out at No. 22 in the recent rankings and have a chance to possibly move up the rankings with two home victories to close out the season.

This week's game against 1-9 Georgia State won’t be the biggest challenge of the season, but next Saturday will be one of the toughest games of the year. The South Carolina Gamecocks have defeated Clemson in five consecutive seasons, so the in-state rivalry should be a great game.

There are five players in particular who will be crucial to the Tigers' success over the last three games and can help close out the season strong with big performances.

I ranked the players in terms of how important their contributions are to winning their next three games. I focused mostly on how their performances would affect the South Carolina game, because the bowl matchup is still an unknown at this point.

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The Most Inexplicable Losses of the 2014 College Football Season

How did that happen?

That's pretty much been the consensus reaction to some of the strangest results from the 2014 college football season—outcomes that stood out greatly when they happened and look even stranger as the year has gone on.

Upsets are a part of the game, but many of them can be explained away quite easily. But not these dozen. Rather than getting chalked up as the standard shocker, these are results that still have us scratching our heads weeks (and even months) afterward. Some of them are even messing with the profiles of some teams that are in contention for the College Football Playoff.

Take a look at the 12 most inexplicable losses so far in 2014.

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Florida State Football: Ranking the Comeback Wins of 2014

Call them the Cardiac Kids. Or the Comeback Kids. 

The Florida State football team has played 10 games and won them all, the last of the teams from the power-five conferences to remain unbeaten. And with just two regular-season games left, the Seminoles have home games with Boston College (6-4) and Florida (5-4).

Both opponents are unranked, and neither game should provide a significant challenge. The Eagles are bowl-eligible; the Gators could be with a win over Eastern Kentucky on Saturday.

The Seminoles could finally get a breather (maybe?) in a season of digging first-half deficits and then clawing their way out in the second half. FSU has trailed in the second half against Clemson, North Carolina State, Notre Dame, Louisville and Miami. And FSU has come back each time.

Of the comeback wins, which one is the best? Let's take a look at all five and rank them:

 

5. Clemson

Deficit: 17-10

Final score: 23-17 (OT)

Analysis: This was viewed as a tricky game. Jameis Winston would be suspended a half. Then, late on Friday night before the game, FSU announced Winston's suspension would be for a full game. So FSU would throw Sean Maguire into the fire for 60 minutes. And Clemson would likely use dropback quarterback Cole Stoudt as well as mobile Deshaun Watson. 

FSU couldn't have started the game worse and managed just a field goal in the first half. But even with two Maguire interceptions, FSU's defense forced a late turnover and had a fourth-down stop in overtime. Karlos Williams ended the game with a 12-yard touchdown.

Comeback king: Eddie Goldman forced a fourth-quarter fumble that led to Rashad Greene's 74-yard catch-and-run for a TD that tied the game. And Goldman had the fourth-down stop in overtime.

 

4. NC State

Deficit: 24-7

Final score: 56-41

Analysis: It looked like FSU would lose while trailing 24-7 after 15 minutes. The defense was being shredded by Wolfpack quarterback Jacoby Brissett. No FSU defense had ever allowed 24 points in the first quarter.

This comeback was a good one, but it doesn't stack up to the others. FSU pulled within 24-21 with 11:58 to the half, and the Seminoles went ahead for good in the third quarter. The Wolfpack simply ran out of gas.

Comeback king: Jameis Winston threw for 365 yards and four touchdowns.

 

3. Notre Dame

Deficit: ND went ahead 14-7, 17-10 and 24-17

Final score: 31-27

Analysis: Every time Notre Dame punched, FSU punched back. Everett Golson passed for 313 yards, and the Fighting Irish running game racked up 157 yards. The Seminoles struggled to move the ball on offense in the first half.

FSU finally went ahead 31-27 on a Williams TD run with 7:39 left in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame drove the field in the final minutes, but a would-be touchdown was erased when a Notre Dame receiver was called for an illegal pick. On fourth down, FSU's Jacob Pugh intercepted Golson.

Comeback king: Winston was 23-of-31 for 273 yards, helping drive FSU down the field for three second-half touchdown drives.

 

2. Louisville

Deficit: 21-0

Final score: 42-31

Analysis: This was a comeback for the ages and under normal circumstances would take the grand prize. FSU was flat on offense in the first half, managing just a touchdown in the moments before halftime when tight end Nick O'Leary fell on a fumble in the end zone. The defense allowed three touchdown drives early, and Louisville had a 21-7 halftime lead.

Winston tossed three interceptions in the game but still helped FSU win with five touchdown drives in the second half, including four of them by true freshmen. He finished with 401 passing yards.

Comeback king: True freshman Dalvin Cook had two touchdown runs (40 and 38) in the second half and caught four passes for 40 yards.

 

1. Miami

Deficit: 16-0

Final score: 30-26

Analysis: FSU's defense wasn't able to keep up as Phillip Dorsett caught a 27-yard TD pass and Clive Walford added a 61-yard TD pass in the first half. The Hurricanes looked primed for the upset by going in front 16-0 and held a 23-10 lead at the half.

But the Seminoles looked like a completely different defense in the second half. FSU allowed just a field goal, and the Seminoles scored 20 points on their final four drives of the game.

Comeback king: FSU corner Jalen Ramsey had a game-clinching interception to seal the win. He also forced a fumble in the first quarter and blocked an extra-point attempt.

 

Bob Ferrante is the lead FSU writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats courtesy of Seminoles.com. Follow Bob on Twitter.

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