NCAA Football News

6 Most Important College Football Recruiting Visits of Week 9

We've suddenly reached the second half of this college football campaign, and postseason bids aren't the only things still hanging in the balance. Recruiting efforts for the 2015 class continue to heat up with each passing week.

Top prospects who are approaching final commitment decisions are on the move yet again in coming days, traveling to campuses across the country. As usual, we examine the visits you need to know about before they happen.

Here's a look at members of the latest VIP recruiting guest list.

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UConn vs. East Carolina: Live Score and Highlights

East Carolina 14, UConn 7 — Halftime

Game action is now underway between UConn (1-5) and East Carolina (5-1). ESPNU is televising the matchup from Greenville, North Carolina.

We are watching the game, providing live analysis as the action unfolds:

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Georgia Football: 3 Key Reasons Why Dawgs Should Be the Favorites to Win the SEC

Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama and Auburn have garnered the majority of the national headlines, but it is the Georgia Bulldogs who find themselves in the most favorable scenario to reach the College Football Playoff. 

At 6-1 (4-1), the Dawgs stand as heavy favorites to win the SEC East and play in the SEC Championship Game.

Despite an early-season loss to South Carolina, UGA has won four straight conference games to catapult itself back into the Top 10 of the AP poll. The Bulldogs are averaging over 43 points a game, while Jeremy Pruitt's revamped defense ranks in the top 20 in scoring defense. 

Aside from these eye-opening statistics, Georgia fans should remain optimistic of an appearance in the College Football Playoff for the three key reasons that follow. 

 

A defense that is finally up to par with its offense

Georgia fans have become accustomed to high-octane, explosive offenses under head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. 

Since his promotion to offensive coordinator in 2007, Bobo's offense has not averaged less than 30 points a game. That includes an SEC-leading 43.4 points thus far in 2014. 

The same cannot be said for past UGA defenses. 

Much-maligned former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham bolted for Louisville before the season, leaving behind a defense ranked 101st in turnover margin and allowing opponents almost 30 points a game. 

After helping Florida State to a National Championship as defensive coordinator in 2013, Jeremy Pruitt was lured away from Tallahassee to replace Grantham and reconstruct the Bulldogs defense. 

He has not disappointed. 

With nine turnovers in its last two games, Georgia now ranks first in turnover margin in all of college football. The defense has already produced two more takeaways than in all of 2013. 

UGA has also accounted for three defensive touchdowns (including Dominick Sanders 54-yard fumble return, seen below).

Georgia ranks 20th in scoring defense (20 points per game) and 16th in yards allowed (320.6 yards per game), which are immense upgrades from the 29 points per game and 375.5 yards per game allowed a season ago. 

Jordan Jenkins, Leonard Floyd, Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera have been dynamite for the Dawgs, but Damian Swann has been the MVP of the much-improved D. 

Radi Nablusi of UGASports.com mentions Swann's turnaround after a difficult 2013:

The senior cornerback has led by example for a young secondary needing to replace the departed Josh Harvey-Clemons, Tray Matthews, Sheldon Dawson and Shaq Wiggins. 

 

The (potential) return of Todd Gurley and the emergence of Nick Chubb

UGA announced (h/t Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com) that it applied for the reinstatement of the suspended Todd Gurley on Wednesday, .

The NCAA must still rule in Gurley's favor, but UGA's move for reinstatement indicates that they are confident that their Heisman hopeful will be back in action against Florida on November 1. 

When the news of Gurley's suspension broke on October 9, many pundits believed Georgia's season to be in great peril.

And who could blame them? After all, just look at some of his jaw-dropping stats, via ESPN Stats and Info

  • Despite missing two games, Gurley remains the SEC's leading rusher with 773 yards.
  • He has posted an incredible 27 rushes of 10 yards or more.
  • He is averaging over eight yards a carry and almost four yards after contact. 
  • Among the all-time SEC running backs with at least 400 carries; only Bo Jackson has averaged more yards per carry than Gurley.

Although the junior running back seemed irreplaceable at the time of his suspension, the UGA running game has shown its depth in the form of freshman Nick Chubb. 

Behind a veteran offensive line, Chubb has produced two standout performances in road wins over Missouri and Arkansas.

At Missouri, Chubb carried the ball a whopping 38 times for 143 yards and a touchdown. Not done yet, the freshman rushed 30 more times for 202 yards and two touchdowns against the Razorbacks (as seen in the highlights below).

Chubb's valuable experience gained in Gurley's absence presents upcoming opponents with two backs that are capable of shouldering the rushing load.

ESPN's College GameDay provided an extended look at Georgia's potential "two-headed monster" in the backfield:

The injured Keith Marshall and Sony Michel will eventually re-enter the fold, but with Gurley and Chubb toting the rock, the offense looks to be one of the best in college football. 

 

A very manageable schedule down the stretch

Georgia's biggest advantage against the other SEC hopefuls is its remaining schedule. 

The Dawgs will play only one ranked team the rest of the season (Auburn) until a potential SEC Championship Game appearance.

Trent Smallwood of UGASports.com compares that number to other teams in the Top 10:

Five teams ahead of UGA in the AP Poll will face more ranked opponents in the season's final weeks, including all four SEC teams in the Top Five. 

According to ESPN's Football Power Index—an indicator of a team's potential performance going forward—Georgia is actually predicted to have the best chance to win the SEC. College GameDay's following tweet shows that the Dawgs are actually a prohibitive favorite:

The Bulldogs will travel to Jacksonville to take on Florida in their annual neutral-site matchup before a trip to Kentucky against the improved Wildcats. They will then close the season with games against Charleston Southern and Georgia Tech.

However, sandwiched in between on November 15 will be a massive showdown with Auburn.

There is no doubt that the "Deep South's Oldest Rivalry" will prove to be UGA's most difficult hurdle in its quest to reach the playoff.

Yet a win against an Auburn team that will likely reside in the Top 10 should boost Georgia's chances of jumping into the playoff conversation.

Florida and Georgia always seem to play close games in their intense rivalry. Even with Florida's offensive issues, the Bulldogs must anticipate the Gators' best punch.

Yet Florida's struggles mixed with the Auburn game being played at Sanford Stadium provides the perfect recipe for UGA to run the table.

The Dawgs' recent play should be reason enough for their fans to be excited, but a reasonable schedule in the last month of the season should only bolster that confidence.

Pundits around the nation, such as ESPN's Danny Kanell, have begun to notice UGA's momentum:

With plenty of football still to be played in November, more twists and turns will undoubtedly alter the landscape of the first-ever College Football Playoff.

But entering the home stretch of 2014, UGA has positioned itself nicely for the games ahead.

Georgia's defense is creating turnovers, while its offense is likely to reap the benefits of a rested Gurley and a confident Chubb. 

Combining these factors with a favorable November schedule should swing the SEC pendulum of momentum in the Dawgs' favor, making them the favorite to win the conference.

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Syracuse Football Reportedly Subject of NCAA Investigation

Syracuse's football program is reportedly being investigated as part of an investigation into improprieties after the NCAA's look into the basketball program over the last few years raised some questions.

According to Nate Mink of The Syracuse Post-Standard, it's not yet clear if the football team will be subject to penalties or sanctions and if there are other programs involved:

The information shows that the NCAA inquiry that has swirled around the basketball team for two years is more involved, and that the football team is part of the investigation and potentially exposed to penalties. It's unclear if other teams are involved.

The time period being examined is not known.

Per Chris Carlson of The Syracuse Post-Standard, officials from the school "have been invited to an NCAA hearing at the end of the month as part of a multi-year inquiry into the SU athletic department."

...It will serve as one of the final steps before determining whether the school has committed NCAA violations and if it will be punished.

Emily James, a spokesperson for the NCAA, said she can't comment on specific or possible cases, but when investigations necessitate hearings, they involve at least one Level I or Level II violation.

Former Syracuse football head coach Doug Marrone, now in the same position with the Buffalo Bills, told Mink that "there's nothing that I know about that we did that wasn't either punished or put forth." He also says that if there was any kind of mistake made that it was always reported. 

Current head coach Scott Shafer did not return Mink's request for a comment. 

In March 2013, Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports reported that Syracuse's basketball program had "been under NCAA investigation for a period of years.” Jim Boeheim is quoted in the piece from a media session prior to his team's NCAA Tournament game. "Same story they had last year at this time."

The Syracuse Post-Standard reported the investigation was looking into "the handling of Fab Melo’s academic eligibility and a 2007 alleged sexual assault case involving three players," Boeheim said. "I guess that's annual. I guess next year we'll get it again."

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports noted that the NCAA's investigation into Syracuse has been going on for a long time for potentially violating an internal drug policy:

Syracuse did take action to help make sure its student-athletes remain academically eligible, per The Syracuse Post-Standardmost notably by replacing the person in charge of academic oversight.

It's almost surprising how long the NCAA has been looking into Syracuse's athletic department. There appears to be progress on that front with the upcoming hearing, though these potential findings with the football program could mean more eyeballs. 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Buying or Selling Every Top 10 Team as Playoff Championship Contender

Just like how a shrewd investor has its stock broker's phone number on speed dial, college football fans should take frequent looks at how the top teams are faring as we inch closer toward the first-ever College Football Playoff.

The selection committee is set to release its first rankings on Tuesday, finally giving us an idea of how the four-team playoff is going to shake out. In advance of that, we've studied the portfolios of every school currently ranked in the Associated Press' top 10 to see if their stock is worth picking up or unloading.

Take a look at our evaluations, and make sure you're ready to buy or sell.

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Buck Allen, Devontae Booker Square off in Showcase of Best Pac-12 Backs

Put the statistics of USC running back Javorius "Buck" Allen side-by-side against those of Utah's Devontae Booker, and they look an awful lot alike.  

Allen leads the conference with 909 rushing yards on 150 carries, and he's scored eight touchdowns on the ground. Booker has 742 yards with seven touchdowns but has appeared in one fewer game. His 6.18 yards per carry edges Allen's 6.06 average. 

Statistically, they are the Pac-12's top ball-carriers, and one will leave Saturday's showdown between the No. 20 Trojans and No. 19 Utes with claim to the distinction as the conference's best back. 

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham started the conversation in earnest last week following the Utes' 29-23 overtime win at Oregon State. 

"Devontae Booker, that guy is a beast," Whittingham said in his postgame press conference, via UtahUtes.com. "I think he's the best back in the Pac-12."

Booker rushed for 229 yards and three touchdowns, the culmination of a three-game tear that has pushed the junior running back into the spotlight.

But Booker is not the only back riding a stretch of prolific production into Rice-Eccles Stadium this Saturday. Allen's rushed for six of his eight ground scores in the last three weeks and has eclipsed the century mark for four straight weeks. 

The numbers tell a story of two comparable backs, and even their differences play out as similarities. 

"Allen's a little bit bigger kid. Devontae's not all that big," Whittingham said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference, referring to the USC back's 6'1", 220-pound frame. 

Allen's physique makes him look like he'd be right at home playing strong safety, if not linebacker, on the Trojans defense. He uses his size to overpower would-be tacklers, turning short-yardage plays into big gains. 

Yet despite the size difference—he is listed at 5'11", 203 pounds—Booker runs with a similarly physical style. 

"[Booker] runs much bigger than that," Whittingham said. 

USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said he does not "like to compare players" when asked how Allen and Booker stack up. However, Wilcox offered lofty praise of Booker that sounds reminiscent of a certain Trojans running back's style.

"[Booker] plays very physical," Wilcox said after USC's practice Wednesday at Howard Jones Field. "He's not trying to run away from people. He pulls out of as many tackles as any back we've seen this year. He runs through people, and he will test you out on the edge."   

Head coach Steve Sarkisian and Wilcox both used one phrase in particular to summarize Booker's style: "He runs angry."

"He almost appears to get stronger as the game goes on," Sarkisian added.

Booker's performance against Oregon State corroborates Sarkisian's assessment. All three of Booker's touchdowns against the Beavers came in either the fourth quarter or overtime.  

The USC defense is tasked with playing a full 60 minutes, something Sarkisian made a point of emphasis after the Trojans' Week 6 loss to Arizona State.  

Another gauntlet laid out for the Trojans defense this week: swarming to Booker. 

"He usually never goes down on the first tackle," linebacker Anthony Sarao said. "We've got to get every hat to the ball. Eleven hats. We can't have just one guy trying to make one tackle." 

USC can invest more of its defensive focus on stopping the run game in general—and Booker in particular—because Utah has struggled to pass in recent weeks. 

Quarterbacks Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson have flip-flopped behind center, but neither has reached the 100-yard mark in Utah's last two games. 

"Our throwing game has struggled, to say the least," Whittingham said. "Having Devontae back there to pick up the slack and give us those rushing yards has been big for our football team." 

Conversely, USC is fresh off its best passing effort of the season. Quarterback Cody Kessler threw for a program-record seven touchdowns in the Trojans' 56-28 rout of Colorado. 

With the passing attack clicking, Allen rolled off a season-best 8.53 yards per carry.  

He said following last week's win that the added element of a clicking pass game made his job as primary ball-carrier "very easy." 

Don't expect much to come easy against the Utah defense, however. The Utes are allowing opponents just 2.84 yards per carry and have given up just three rushing touchdowns all season. 

Allen said when it comes to the Trojans offense, "It's not all about Buck Allen." 

Never more has that needed to be the case than this weekend. USC needs a balanced offensive approach with Kessler spreading the pass all over the field and Allen exploiting any gaps he might find in the Utah defense. 

And the Trojans have to do it all against the nation's most prolific sacking defense, which Wilcox said can flourish with either four-man rushes or fire-zone blitz packages.

The challenge Utah's stout defensive front presents was already a topic of conversation in the moments following USC's Colorado win. 

"Coach [Sarkisian]'s mind's on [Utah] already," Allen said. "It's going to be a dogfight. I'm excited." 

 

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

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Texas A&M Football: Coaches Who Would Be a Better DC Than Mark Snyder

The Texas A&M football team is again featuring the worst defense in the SEC. Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder has done a poor job, and there are a number of candidates who the Aggies should consider to replace him. 

The Texas A&M defense allowed 475.8 yards per game in 2013. They were one of the worst defenses in the country. In 2014, they are allowing 422.6 yards per game to rank No. 88 overall. 

This trend of poor defense cannot be allowed to continue. Offenses can be inconsistent, but you can still win games when the offense has an off night if you have a solid defense to keep the score close.

Texas A&M's head coach has to consider making a change at the defensive coordinator position to ensure the viability of the program. The defense cannot consistently tackle, nor can it create turnovers in the third year of Snyder's system. 

This is a look at some of the candidates who the Aggies should consider to replace Snyder.

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Marcus Mariota Can Save the Heisman Trophy

Nobody is perfect. And the more we build up athletes as if they are, the more it comes across as a setup, just waiting for the juicy fall. That doesn't mean athletes aren't willingly participating. It's a two-way street. 

But we can't afford another phony. Not now. So I asked Marcus Mariota, the Oregon quarterback, outright: Have you ever signed autographs for money? 

"No," he said, laughing. "Not at all."     

It's a start.

We tiptoe lightly into Mariota, who seems so mellow and selfless, and who starts conversations with hospital kids even as he walks off the field after a loss. He is on a new University of Oregon video with other students in a campaign against sexual assault. "To be a Duck," he says in the video, "is to treat women with respect."

It's a message football—at the pro and college levels—needs to be sending right now.

Here's the thing: Marcus Mariota can save the Heisman Trophy. He needs to win it. The Heisman, college football and even the NFL need him to win it. 

But one thing first: Have you ever been in trouble? "Growing up, it was always that I had to answer to my parents if I ever got in trouble," he told Bleacher Report. "Messing around in class, stuff like that. For me and my brother, that was the last thing we ever wanted, any teacher or coach (to call home). We knew we would be disciplined."

Mariota is the anti-Jameis Winston, the anti-Johnny Manziel, the anti-Cam Newton. Three of the past four Heisman winners have been great players on the field, but trouble off. And the debate is always whether off-field stuff should be considered at all in a vote for the most outstanding player.

"That's up to Heisman voters," Mariota said. "It's out of my control, quite frankly. If people want to use that as a trait, they can.

"For myself, I just try to represent where I come from, my family, this university in the right light. There is no extra responsibility with being a Heisman Trophy candidate."

Now is the time to let off-field issues factor in. The Heisman is decided by vote, not stats, meaning it's left up to opinion. Honestly, I usually feel the opposite way about this. But what is wrong with scoring extra points for character? Today, that stands out.

Apparently, I'm not the only who feels that way. Last year, when the Florida state attorney was investigating a rape allegation against Winston, most Heisman voters stood strong that they weren't going to let that affect their vote, particularly if he hadn't been charged.

This year, he still hasn't been charged and is playing well. And Florida State is undefeated. But Winston's bad behavior—stealing crab legs, jumping on a table and performing a vulgar chant against women—has turned off voters. That, and Florida State's actions in blocking the rape investigation

Still no legal charges, but odds are he won't even be a finalist this year.

Voters are looking for something different.

As Sports Illustrated first noticed, this year the Heisman Trust, which usually describes the award as being for the outstanding college player "whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity" left off the "with integrity" part. Heisman officials say that was a mistake.

Yes, it was. Now more than ever we need that part. And the top candidates now are Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott and Mariota. Both are considered high-character guys.

Mariota didn't talk about Winston's troubles. But the things he said stood in contrast to Winston, anyway.

He mentioned wanting to represent where he comes from. Mariota said several times that his understated personality is the function of being from Hawaii.

"In Hawaii, it's definitely a culture of respect," he said. "Certain traits that you kind of (learn) growing up, I guess you're taught as a kid. Some of which are being humble and respecting others, especially elders, being quiet, letting older people speak."

Remember what TV mics picked up from Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher on the field minutes after Saturday's win over Notre Dame? He quietly told an excited Winston to calm down:

"Don't give them that over-exuberant look. Act very passive right here and get people back on your side. You understand what I'm telling you? Humble. Humble pie."

 

Mariota doesn't have to "act" passive to get people on his side. It's genuine. So is the humble pie.

After Oregon's loss to Arizona, his worst game of the year, he stopped to talk with some kids, who he thought were just fans. It turned out they were from a hospital. Just a few days earlier, Mariota had autographed one of his jerseys for another teenager at that same hospital.

Keep in mind, after that loss, it appeared that Oregon's national title chances, and Mariota's Heisman chances, had disappeared.

"I was kind of walking off the field and one of the kids had my jersey on," he said. "I just went up and introduced myself."

He shook the kids' hands and "kind of got the opportunity to meet them and get to find out more about them." 

Mariota would be deserving of the Heisman just based on his play, too. He has significantly upped his game from last year despite Oregon's offensive line problems. He has completed 70.2 percent of his passes with 19 touchdowns, no interceptions and a 191 passer rating. Winston's rating is 160 and he has thrown six interceptions.

If there is an issue with Mariota, it's that he's too quiet, too unassuming. It was an issue for him in high school, where coaches weren't sure he would be a leader, and he said Oregon's coaches have been trying to get him to be more vocal, too.

He told me he still has never yelled at a teammate. And he believes "leadership is not digging into somebody, but talking to them and explaining what you want from them."

Do you believe? Because last year, the talk was that Winston was so selfless in contrast to the previous year's winner, Manziel. Being honest, I fell for it, too. He would name his linemen during press conferences and say how he much loves them. When I went to Florida State to talk to him last year, I had to move some chairs to set up a camera—and he joined in, helped out.

That stood out to me, because it's not what superstars usually do. I thought it to be evidence—positive evidence—of who he was. Turns out, I was wrong.

And now I'm saying that Mariota is going to save the Heisman?

Seriously, when was the last time you were in trouble?

"Uh, um, uh," Mariota said. "I can't really pinpoint a certain time. Maybe I was in elementary school or something and I was messing around and got sent to the principal's office." 

Cross your fingers, but that doesn't seem like an act.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report. He also writes for The New York Times and was formerly a scribe for FoxSports.com and the Chicago Sun-Times.  Follow him on Twitter @gregcouch

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Florida State Coach Jimbo Fisher's Son Wears Winston Jersey for 'Superhero Day'

Florida State's Jameis Winston is just a football—and baseball—player, but to many Seminoles fans, the quarterback is a superhero as well.

For his school's "Superhero Day," Trey Fisher—the son of Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher—chose to go as Winston rather than a more common choice, such as Superman or Batman. It appears as though the Heisman-winning quarterback is so magical on the football field that Seminoles fans view him as a superhero. 

If Winston was actually a superhero, what would his superhero name be?

[Candi Fisher, h/t College Spun]

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How Ohio State Can Overcome Raucous 'White Out' Atmosphere in Happy Valley

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In the seven road games that he's played in his young college career, Joey Bosa has seen much of the same: a lot of empty seats and a lot of scarlet and gray filling the spaces in the stands that were occupied.

This is what makes this weekend so special to the Ohio State sophomore defensive end.

Never one to shy away from the moment, Bosa said that he's excited to head to Happy Valley, where Penn State possesses one of the few atmospheres comparable to the friendly confines of Ohio Stadium.

"We play in front of 108,000 people every weekend," Bosa said on Wednesday. "It kind of sucks when we go away and they don't have an environment like that."

More times than not throughout his college career, that's been the case for Bosa. If you were to go through a list of the away games that he has taken part in over the past season-and-a-half, the most memorable likely came at Northwestern a year ago, where Ohio State picked up a win over the Wildcats in front of an audience of 47,330 in Evanston, Illinois.

More than twice as many fans will witness the prime-time matchup between the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions this weekend, with Beaver Stadium possessing a capacity of 107,282.

Add in that this is Penn State's annual White Out game, and Bosa will undoubtedly get what he asked for—playing in front of one of the most hostile environments in all of college football.

"This is one of those that's really one of those top five places in the country," Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said. "It's hard to get ready for this one."

Meyer's voice didn't contain the same enthusiasm as Bosa's when speaking of State College, perhaps because it's an environment he's already experienced.

In 2012, the Nittany Lions jumped out to a 7-0 lead over the Buckeyes on a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown in front of a raucous crowd witnessing two teams who had been ruled ineligible for postseason play. 

Ohio State would go on to win that game by a score of 35-23 on the legs of 134 rushing yards and two touchdowns from star quarterback Braxton Miller.

That night, however, sticks out in the mind of Meyer for reasons more than his own team's impressive performance.

"That was an incredible atmosphere, which is a credit to Penn State's fans," Meyer said. "I've been in some national championship games, and you can't say they played any less on that day at Penn State two years ago. I have a lot of respect for it."

Like many other battles between the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions in Happy Valley, that too was a White Out—the first of which took place in 2005. On that night, Troy Smith's Ohio State squad fell to a Tamba Hali-led Penn State team, effectively slamming the door on the Buckeyes' national championship aspirations.

Current Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson was on the sideline for the Nittany Lions that night, as he was for every other White Out game that's been played in PSU history.

An 18-year assistant with the Nittany Lions, Johnson admitted that there's something different about Beaver Stadium when the lights turn on at night.

"Our players, they went to another notch when they got to play in front of 108,000, White Out, those kind of things," Johnson said. "It will be loud. We count on it being loud."

This is why artificial noise has filled the practice fields outside of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center in the days leading up to the Buckeyes' trip to Happy Valley. Those same sounds were noticeably absent when Ohio State was preparing for its two previous road games this season, visits to Baltimore and College Park to take on Navy and Maryland, respectively.

As Meyer explained, the simulated crowd noise is aimed to aid Ohio State's offensive line. Whereas the quarterback deals with hand signals and receivers move based on the ball, it's the front five that's most affected by a deafening crowd like the one that Penn State presents.

"It's the communication," Meyer said. "The silly penalties, the five-yard [false start] penalties—a lot of times it goes on the center cadence. We've been decent at it."

As Johnson has learned from his time in State College, there are also other ways to overcome the noise of the Nittany Lions faithful.

"The best way to block the noise out is score points and play great defense," Johnson said. "If you do that, it will be pretty quiet."

That's what the Buckeyes—even Bosa—are counting on.

 

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

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NFL Draft Stock for Underrated Top Performers in College Football

The top college football players are looking to show what they've got in hopes of making it to the next level. Bleacher Report's Michael Felder and Matt Miller discuss which underrated players have seen a rise in their draft stock.

Who do you think has seen a big rise in their draft stock?

Check out the video and let us know!

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Stud LB Tevon Coney Picks Notre Dame, What Commitment Means for Irish

Notre Dame continues to maintain momentum during the final stretch of what has been a fortuitous month for Fighting Irish recruiting efforts. The team landed a commitment from Florida linebacker Tevon Coney on Thursday morning, swiping the Sunshine State star away from a pair of nearby programs:

Coney, rated 10th nationally among inside linebackers in 247Sports' composite rankings, will head to South Bend after considering offers from fellow finalists Florida and Miami. The coveted defender announced his intentions during a ceremony at Palm Beach Gardens High School, providing another pivotal piece in an impressive 2015 Notre Dame class. 

He expressed certainty in the choice during a simulcast on ESPN's Recruiting Nation, though his decision wasn't made until two days ago. 

"One day, I feel like I should go to this school and one day, I feel like I should go to that school," Coney told Ryan S. Clark of the Sun Sentinel last week. "I'm still trying to decide where I want to go and what school I should feel comfortable with and where I want to get my degree. I want to make the right decision."

His deliberation ultimately centered on Notre Dame, a university he's visited twice since June. 

“I think I fit in well with the Irish,” Coney said during the announcement. “I got a chance to see the playbook...and I think I can have a big impact.”

Coney, a 6'1", 222-pound prospect, provides head coach Brian Kelly with his fourth October pledge. Notre Dame landed 4-star Indianapolis linebacker Asmar Bilal last week, just a few days after securing a commitment from promising New Orleans defensive end Bo Wallace

The addition of three intriguing defensive standouts would have made for a fine month, but quarterback Brandon Wimbush took things to another level. The New Jersey native flipped to the Fighting Irish from Penn State two weeks ago, giving Kelly a top-tier passer to develop.

Fellow 4-star Penn State flip Josh Barajas joined the class in May. Notre Dame has now matched him with Bilal and Coney, creating quite a trio of incoming linebackers.

Coney is a highly productive player who tallied 172 tackles in 2013. He added 14 sacks and two interceptions as a junior, exhibiting tremendous blitzing abilities.

Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder acquires a prototypical inside linebacker capable of chasing plays along the perimeter and creating havoc in the box. Coney is a dominant run-stuffer who identified pass coverage as a focal point for improvement during his announcement.

Notre Dame now holds 21 commitments in a 2015 class that has suddenly jumped to 10th nationally in 247Sports' composite rankings. The team is likely done looking for linebackers but still has its sights set on several marquee members of this recruiting cycle, including Texas running back Soso Jamabo and California wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown.

 

Recruit ratings and stats courtesy of 247Sports.

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Beware of Nick Marshall Hijacking the Heisman Trophy Race

Down but not out?

That's likely how Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall feels after his Tigers fell on the road to Mississippi State and Heisman Trophy contender Dak Prescott two weeks ago in Starkville, Mississippi.

The loss leaves very little margin for error for the Tigers in the race to repeat as SEC West champions and leaves Marshall fighting a steep uphill battle for the Heisman Trophy.

Getting back into the mix for college football's most prestigious honor isn't out of the question, though. 

If Marshall gets hot down the stretch and either leads his team into the SEC Championship Game or makes it a strong option for the College Football Playoff as a one-loss, non-conference champion, it could elevate Marshall into a true Heisman contender.

It starts this week against a South Carolina team that boasts a defense that is softer than warm butter.

The Gamecocks rank 12th in the SEC in total defense (421.3 YPG), last in yards per play (6.21) and 13th in pass defense (239.6 YPG). Auburn has two weeks to prepare for the Gamecocks and fix some of the inconsistencies Marshall has displayed through the air.

"At times this year, he's played extremely well, and at times, he's missed something," Malzahn said on Wednesday's coaches teleconference. "This off week has been really good for us, and I think he's in a position where he can improve."

Not only is Marshall improving, but the game plan may be improving as well.

After the loss to Mississippi State, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said that Auburn is changing the way it evaluates Marshall as a passer, according to Joel A. Erickson of AL.com.

"Things are changing," Lashlee said. "It may not be as much about the percentage of completions as it is the efficiency, and as long as we're throwing touchdowns, not interceptions, maybe getting chunk yardages and making the throws when we need them, then that'll probably be good enough."

To put it more simply, Auburn's going back to the future, to what worked last year when Marshall led the Tigers to the SEC title. That means more focus on the running game, more deep passes and more stress on the back end of defenses.

If it works against the Gamecocks—and there's nothing to suggest that it shouldn't—Auburn can capitalize on that momentum. 

A road trip to Ole Miss looms on Nov. 1, and generating momentum heading into that big-time matchup against Ole Miss' stout defense is imperative.

That's the statement game for Auburn. If Marshall can get things cooking this week and keep it up against the stingy "Landsharks" defense at Ole Miss, he'd be back in the Heisman mix with the porous Texas A&M defense coming to The Plains on Nov. 8.

Hello, Heisman.

This three-game stretch is huge for Auburn's title hopes and Marshall's Heisman hopes, and it could set the stage for what amounts to a national title elimination game on Nov. 15 in Athens against Georgia.

Get your popcorn ready.

 

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: Defensive Line's Resurgence Just What Secondary Needs

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s not hard to figure out which of Alabama’s position groups is most improved from last year to now.

The Crimson Tide’s pass rush is night-and-day from where it was last year and has turned into one of this team’s strengths in 2014.

Alabama has registered 19 sacks so far this season. Last year, it notched just 22. If the Crimson Tide play only 13 games this year and maintain their pace, they would total about 35 sacks, which would tie a Saban-era high set by the 2012 team, which played 14 games.

They’ve registered a sack in every game except against Florida, when Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel completed just nine passes.

The unit is experiencing a resurgence from its lackluster 2013 season. It’s had a trickle-down effect on the secondary, seemingly one of the weaknesses on this 2014 defense. That group has improved as the season has worn on, thanks in some part to the rush.

“They’re big-time,” said safety Nick Perry. “If the quarterback doesn’t have time to throw the ball, then they can’t complete any passes. We know that our D-line’s going to get there and we just have to guard our receivers for two or three seconds and that’ll be it.”

If you’re looking for a reason for the improvement, you don’t have to look any further than a two-deep roster.

Alabama’s defensive line talent from top to bottom is stockpiled with former 4- and 5-star prospects. More importantly is the variety of skill sets that each player brings to the table.

Alabama still has the big, burly players it’s trademarked over the years like Brandon Ivory, A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed. But an influx of speedy edge-rushers has given the group another dimension.

It’s a deep group that combines all of those talents into a terrifying machine.

Xzavier Dickson, an outside linebacker who almost always plays on the line of scrimmage, leads the team with 5.5 sacks. Ryan Anderson, a similar hand-in-the-dirt type, is next with three. Behind them are 10 players who have registered at least half a sack.

“I feel like we’re a very unique pass rush front,” defensive end Jonathan Allen said. “You really just can’t key in on one guy or what one guy does. We all do something a little bit different. We all come together to make a good pass rush unit.”

The group is also much more experienced. Robinson and Jonathan Allen were two who made an impact as freshmen last season.

Alabama also added JUCO transfers Reed and D.J. Pettway, who have a sack each so far and factor in to the regular rotation.

Combine that experience with the diversity of ability, and you have a recipe for a dangerous group.

“I think we have more diversity in types of players that we have this year. We also have more experience than we had a year ago. So, this year we’re more athletic inside plus we have more guys who are good as rushers,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.

“We have more guys who have more diversity as players who can add to the pass rush in those types of games. And they have more experience too.”

The effect felt on the back end is very apparent too.

Alabama had a season-high six sacks against Texas A&M this weekend. The Crimson Tide harassed Kenny Hill all day and eventually chased him from the game. They allowed just 141 passing yards on the day, Alabama’s third-lowest total of the season behind the Florida Atlantic and Florida games.

“It takes a lot of ease off our back,” safety Landon Collins said. “We don't have to cover for so long. And then our keys and concepts and knowing what the offense is trying to do, you can really just pinpoint what they have to do. Because if you get them in 3rd-and-long or 2nd-and-long, they have to pass the ball or make a draw to get the yardage back, so I mean it just settles us down.”

Expect that trend to continue this week against Tennessee.

The Volunteers have given up 30 sacks this season, almost double what the next worst SEC teams have surrendered—Mississippi State, LSU and Kentucky all have given up 16.

Alabama’s rush has without question been the team’s biggest improvement, and it’s made a big impression so far this season.

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Georgia Football: Early Odds for the Bulldogs' Team MVP

The Georgia Bulldogs are in a great spot right now at 6-1 and No. 9 in the AP Poll.

What’s even more important is that they are 4-1 in the SEC East and have sole possession of first place.

There are a lot of reasons the Bulldogs have had a lot of success during the first half of the season, but when it’s all said and done, the players that needed to step up have done so in a big way.

With a few injured players getting healthy as well as a possible suspended player returning for the Florida game, the Bulldogs are looking to do some big things at the end of the season.

If there is one player that has been the key reason for the team's success, who would it be?

Here are the early odds for the Bulldogs’ team MVP. 

Begin Slideshow

​Personal Ties Bringing 4-Star WR TJ Chase​ Closer to ​Florida State

Given the success Florida State has had on offense in recent years, it makes sense that Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles would appeal to the nation’s top skill players on the recruiting trail.

A 4-star in-state junior wide receiver, Tavares “T.J.” Chase, is one of the ‘Noles' top targets in the 2016 class.

The 6’2”, 167-pounder plays at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida—which is also home to FSU 2015 quarterback commit Deondre Francois and fellow ‘Nole target and 5-star 2016 corner Saivion Smith

In fact, after he caught a touchdown pass from Francois in last week’s nationally televised win over Trinity Christian, the 4-star passer celebrated with his talented teammate by throwing up the tomahawk chop.

“He whispers (about) that in my ear all the time,” Chase told Bleacher Report. “I just shake it off because I’m not making a commitment yet. I’ll be thinking about it at times because Florida State, they in the top (group) with me right now. I can picture myself there.”

Chase—who, according to MaxPreps, has 21 receptions for 423 yards and four touchdowns through nine games this season—earned an offer from Fisher after he camped at FSU in the summer, according to Chris Nee of Noles247 (subscription required).

“Jimbo was just like he appreciated me coming up and he loves what he saw during camp,” Chase told Nee. “I don't [have any favorites] but FSU will definitely be in the top when it's all said and done.”

Other powers such as Auburn, Georgia, Florida, Miami, Notre Dame and Ohio State are among the schools who have offered and are actively pursuing the No. 144 overall player in the 2016 class.

While his offer list is lengthy, there are many reasons that Chase is comfortable with the Seminoles in the early stages of his recruitment. 

For starters, he was in attendance for the ‘Noles' big overtime victory over Clemson last month.

While both programs are among his early favorites, his familiarity with Fisher’s offense is a factor that bodes well for the defending national champions.

“I like the way both FSU and Clemson spread the ball around,” Chase told Josh Newberg of Noles247 in August (subscription required). “FSU runs a similar offense to what we do here (at IMG).”

Aside from Francois heading to Tallahassee, there are a few other links between the IMG program and FSU. 

His head coach at IMG—Chris Weinke—is a former FSU legend who won the 2000 Heisman Trophy and led the ‘Noles to a national title in 1999. Also, IMG's wide receivers coach—former NFL pass-catcher E.G. Green—starred at FSU in the late 1990s.

It doesn't hurt that the rapport he’s gaining with Francois this season could benefit him should he elect to sign with the Seminoles and reunite with his good friend in college.

“In practice, it’s a great atmosphere here at IMG,” Chase said. “We (he and Francois) have our mindset to go out and go hard every rep. Before practice and after practice, we just run routes and get comfortable with each other.”

Considering the number of elite schools who have offered Chase, it’s clear that he’s a talented and explosive pass-catcher who could find success in a number of different offenses.

However, Florida State seems to provide Chase with an opportunity to ensure the smoothest possible transition from the prep ranks to big-time college football.

 

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

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Charlie Strong, Texas Taking Page from Bill Snyder's Playbook on Molding Players

Charlie Strong and Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder are similar in more ways than one. So far, winning streaks aren't one of them, but that can change in time thanks to some lessons learned from Snyder.

Snyder has arguably done more with less than any other head coach in college football history. He doesn't get the 5-star recruits and oftentimes relies heavily on walk-ons and junior college transfers to start for his typically underrated teams.

But he finds a way to win, and his team's No. 11 ranking this season proves it.

Strong is looking to build his program at Texas in a similar way. When he took the job at Louisville, he called Snyder to get his advice on being a head coach.

"When I took over the program at Louisville, I called him because I wanted that program to be like the one he has built at Kansas State," Strong said. "It's a balanced attack. There's nothing fancy about what they do. They line up, play with good fundamentals and technique and are a very disciplined team. ... They play within themselves and that's what you really like about them and respect about them so much."

But the conversation wasn't all about X's and O's. The most important advice Snyder gave was for Strong to be himself.

"Coach Snyder said, 'You just have to be yourself. You're the coach, you know who you are, you cannot be anyone else. You can always take ideas and share ideas, but at the end of the day, it's how you run your program,'" Strong said. "That's what it's all about. Running your program the way you think it should be run."

It's obvious Strong is running Texas the way he wants it to be run, and him dismissing nine players for violating his rules proves just that.

However, the Longhorns head coach appears to be taking some pages from the Snyder playbook.

Strong and his staff look at Snyder as one of the great coaches in the game. Not just because he finds a way to utilize the talent he receives better than any other coach in history, but because he knows how to develop football players.

"You talk about a disciplined team, accountable players and dependable players, those are the things we're trying to bring to the University of Texas," defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said. "Coach Snyder has gotten that done at Kansas State. We're trying to get to where he is. I respect everything he has done, and he has done it for years."

Texas and Kansas State are two very different programs. The Longhorns reside in Austin, which is arguably one of the greatest cities in America. The Wildcats are in Manhattan, Kansas, which is not the easiest place to travel to.

There is not a lot of allure for the top athletes to want to go to Manhattan, which makes Snyder's job all the more difficult.

But he somehow finds the diamond-in-the-rough athletes whose goals reside around one major topic: playing football.

"You don't see a lot of 5-star guys on his football teams. A lot of times, you have to break a 5-star down to get him right. He doesn't worry about what the media says or what recruiting services rank his team. He really doesn't care. What he can say is, 'I have football players. They're going to do exactly what I ask them to do or they're not going to play.' So if you go into his program, you either do exactly what he tells you to do, or you're going to be on the sideline," Bedford said.

"That's the type of kids that he has. Guys who are hungry, who have a chip on their shoulder, who want to do the right thing, who go to class. You talk about the details of the game, that's what I see with Coach Snyder. Coach Strong and him are a lot alike."

Some critics questioned if Strong could recruit the state after he was announced as the head coach at the University of Texas.

The Longhorns have dropped some in the recruiting service rankings over the previous few years. Texas went from signing a No. 2-ranked recruiting class in 2012 to 17th in 2013 and 2014.

But it's not all about signing the 5-star prospects anymore.

Strong is looking for good athletes who want to develop into great football players and great men by the time they leave his program.

"Coach Stoops has built his program a lot like Coach Snyder, and that's what Coach Strong wants to do. He wants to get the type of guys in the program that love the game of football. Guys who are disciplined and work hard and buy into the team aspect of the game and not worry about their stats."

The Longhorns have a lot of things to be worried about this weekend against Kansas State, and the individual stats should be last on the team's mind.

Playing at Kansas State was not an easy task for the previous head coach at Texas. The Longhorns have only won one game in Manhattan, and it happened 12 years ago.

Strong and his team will look to end the losing streak in Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium, but the task will be one of the tougher challenges of the season.

"They're tough, smart and dependable. They're a very disciplined football team, they don't get many penalties, don't give up many turnovers and look at how hard they play. Look at the quarterback (Jake Waters)—he may not be the most talented guy, but when he takes the field, he has a presence about him. He directs the offense and makes plays," Strong said.

"That's a solid football team."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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 Week 9: Top 25 Upset Alert

If Week 9 plays out anything like this season has, there will likely be a fair share of upsets.

Where will these upsets be?

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder warns the masses by highlighting which Top 25 teams could be on the losing side of things.

Which big-time program should be on upset alert?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ole Miss Running Game Can Make a Statement vs. LSU

To win championships, you have to run the ball and play defense.

Ole Miss has one part of that equation down. The Rebels currently boast the nation's eighth-best defense (290.6 yards allowed per game), are third-best in yards per play (4.15) and tied with Louisville for the most interceptions in the country (15), despite playing one fewer game.

The second part of that equation, however, has been more of a challenge.

Ole Miss ranks 11th in the conference in rushing yards per game (151.3), 12th in rushing yards per attempt (3.8) and has a noticeable inability to make anything work between the tackles. 

Saturday is the day to get things right on the ground for the Rebels.

While LSU's offense has been the brunt of a bad joke this year, its run defense has been a major problem as well. The Tigers are giving up 162.5 yards per game on the ground, and in two losses to Mississippi State and Auburn, they gave up an average of 300 rushing yards per game.

Ole Miss has been great thus far, and this is the chance to show the world—on the road in Death Valley—that it's a complete football team by pounding the rock.

Head coach Hugh Freeze knows that while LSU's defense has struggled in big games, it has evolved over the last two weeks and could present a challenge.

"Defensively, they’re changing some things around that you haven’t seen them do a lot of before," he said during Monday's press conference. "They’ve become very multiple the last two weeks, particularly last week. They’re doing more odd fronts."

Now's the time for Ole Miss' running game to make a statement.

The Tigers are still very young in the middle of that defense, with sophomore Christian LaCouture and freshman Davon Godchaux at defensive tackle, and sophomore Kendell Beckwith earning more time at middle linebacker.

Jaylen Walton and I'Tavius Mathers are the Rebels' two leading rushers this year but have done most of their damage off the edge on fly sweeps and zone reads.

As has been the case over the last two years, quarterback Bo Wallace has shouldered a lot of the load between the tackles, rushing 67 times for 122 yards and two touchdowns.

Somebody other than Wallace has to step up between the tackles for the Rebels. Whether that's Jordan Wilkins, Mark Dodson or one of the speed guys taking on more responsibility, doing it against an LSU defense that is young and has been soft in the middle is the perfect time for Ole Miss to prove it's a complete team.

It still has Auburn and Mississippi State around the corner, both of which can stop the run and force teams to be one-dimensional.

Momentum for the Rebels on the ground would be huge down the home stretch, and it can be generated this week down on the Bayou.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Rapid-Fire Predictions for College Football's Biggest Matchups in Week 9

Week 9 is right around the corner, meaning it's time for another edition of this week's biggest headlines. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder deliver some bold predictions for all the important upcoming matchups. 

What will be the biggest story come Monday morning?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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