NCAA Football News

From Unknown to Top Prospect: West Virginia WR Kevin White's Draft Stock Soaring

When Alabama played West Virginia on the first Saturday of the college football season, it was already widely expected that one of the wide receivers in that game—Crimson Tide junior Amari Cooper—would be in contention to be the top pass-catcher selected in the 2015 NFL draft. It wasn’t yet known that a wideout for the other team, Mountaineers senior Kevin White, could end up being Cooper’s top competition.

Look back at the preseason NFL draft big boards of Mel Kiper Jr. (subscription required), Todd McShay (subscription) or Bleacher Report’s own Matt Miller, and Kevin White is nowhere to be found. With only 35 receptions for 507 yards and five touchdowns in his first season at West Virginia, the Lackawanna College transfer simply didn’t do enough as a junior to legitimize himself as an NFL prospect.

This year, he started making a name for himself right away when he caught nine passes for 143 yards and a touchdown in the season-opening loss to Alabama.

It’s since become increasingly clear by the week that White, who has at least 10 receptions and/or 132 receiving yards in each of his first seven games this year, is one of the top draft-eligible talents in college football.

White leads the Football Bowl Subdivision with 1,020 receiving yards and is second in the nation with 69 receptions, seven-game numbers close to exactly double his 11-game numbers from 2013.

Statistical excellence doesn’t make one a great NFL prospect, but the tools that have enabled White to achieve consistently high production do. While the increases in his numbers are partially tied to the development of WVU quarterback Clint Trickett, his current status as the best receiver in college football has more to do with his own improvement into a near-complete wideout.

 

Size, Strength and Ball Skills Make White a Tough Matchup

Listed at 6’3”, 210 pounds by West Virginia’s official athletics website, White has archetypical size for an outside wide receiver. More importantly, White combines his size with strength and knows how to exploit his physical advantages to win at the catch point against defensive backs.

Perhaps the biggest key to White’s ability to rattle off one outstanding performance after another this season has been his ability to make plays even when he is covered. He consistently attacks the ball in the air, even when he has to work through the contact of defensive backs, and he naturally high-points the football.

White’s first touchdown of the year, a 19-yard score in the Alabama game, exemplified White’s ability to make a play against coverage on the outside.

Alabama cornerback Bradley Sylve had tight coverage on White throughout the play, but that didn’t stop the Mountaineers receiver from adjusting back to the ball, making a leaping grab up above Sylve’s head and securing the ball on his way down for six points.

Another impressive display of White’s ability to make an adjustment to the ball and bring in a reception came on the following play against Maryland—deep down the middle against two defensive backs this time—for a 42-yard gain.

Any issues White had with drops in his junior season have seemingly disappeared in 2014, and his ball skills are evident in the way he is able to pluck passes out of the air away from his body.

The most exemplary display of White’s ball skills yet occurred this past Saturday, in WVU’s upset win over Baylor, when White extended his outside arm out away from Bears cornerback Xavien Howard and needed only one hand to pull in a pass for a 12-yard touchdown.

White’s ability to make tough catches against coverages will be his calling card to success in the NFL. He’s not likely to blow anyone away with his 40-yard dash time in predraft testing, and he could have some issues running free and separating from defensive backs in the NFL.

That said, White appears to have more than enough athleticism for a receiver of his size and skill.

When White is able to get a free release off the line of scrimmage, like he did in beating Oklahoma cornerback Zack Sanchez for a 68-yard touchdown earlier this season, he has enough speed to finish the play after a downfield catch.

A natural strider and fluid open-field runner for a receiver of his size, White’s most impressive of display so far this season came against Maryland, when he turned a tunnel screen into a 44-yard touchdown with his acceleration in space and a well-timed lane change to the outside.

White’s not going to win many one-on-one foot-races against NFL cornerbacks, and he doesn’t frequently make defenders miss in the open field, but he consistently gains extra yardage on plays by fighting through low tackles and falling forward at the end of runs.

The key to covering White as a defender is to keep oneself in front of the receiver, but his ability to play the ball and battle through contact makes him a tough player to stop in any position.

White’s statistics become even more impressive when you consider how often he has drawn defensive pass interference this year, including five times against Baylor alone. And as he showed on the one-handed touchdown grab above and the following 35-yard play against Maryland, he is still sometimes able to come down with a reception even when a defender resorts to illegal coverage practices.

 

Doing the Little Things Well

White has always had the physical potential to be great. In 2012, Lackawanna College coach Mark Duda classified White as “one of the best athletes we’ve ever coached here,” a statement far from hollow as Duda has developed more than 300 Division I football players, including numerous NFL players, according to Allan Taylor of West Virginia MetroNews.

What has enabled White to elevate his game to a new stratosphere this year, and should posit him to continue to succeed in the NFL, is his development in the finer aspects of the game.

One area in which White has clearly improved this year has been his route running. As good as White has looked making plays on the ball on deep fades, he’s also impressed making catches on comebacks, curls and slants in the short and intermediate passing games.

As the players around him become faster at the next level, route-running prowess will be crucial to White’s ability to get open for high-percentage throws. The rapid progression he has displayed in this area is a promising sign that he can continue to develop as he becomes asked to diversify his routes with more frequency in the NFL.

White’s high level of effort in attempting to make catches has been clear to see this season, and his effort away from the ball has also been impressive.

Although he has incurred multiple holding penalties in the process, his impact as a perimeter run-blocker on the WVU offense has been largely positive. He’s been able to use his size to effectively create separation between runners and defenders, like he did on the following play against Maryland to spring Mountaineers running back Rushel Shell to a 22-yard gain.

Any lingering weaknesses that White has will be quickly exposed by NFL defenses, but he’s been able to consistently mask his flaws so far as a senior.

 

Cooper vs. White: Who’s the Better Prospect?

There’s no clear answer to that question, so the matter of which receiver is drafted first, assuming Cooper declares for the draft after his junior season, could come down to the preference of whichever team decides to be the first to pick a pass-catcher.

Cooper, who was headlined as the draft class’ top receiver prospect while White was still in the process of rising to prominence, has so far done exactly what he needed to do in his third season at Alabama to prove himself worthy of a top-10 pick.

A crisp route-runner who glides in the open field, Cooper has been catching the ball consistently this year and making big plays. He ranks fourth nationally with 62 receptions and 908 receiving yards.

Cooper’s lateral quickness gives him the ability White does not have to create dynamic plays in the open field. While White’s route running has improved significantly, he isn’t able to make the sharp breaks to the ball that Cooper can.

While Cooper is listed at the same weight as White—210 pounds—he does not exhibit the strength that White does on the field, and he is also listed two inches shorter than White at 6’1”, according to Alabama’s official athletics website. Cooper should be able to gain separation from defensive backs with more regularity than White in the NFL, but White can create more mismatches and make more contested catches.

It’s not quite a slam dunk that Cooper and White will be the first two receivers selected in the 2015 draft. Louisville senior DeVante Parker, Arizona State junior Jaelen Strong and Michigan junior Devin Funchess (who is also being projected as a tight end) are among the players who can challenge the top two for draft position.

What does appear nearly certain at this point, barring an injury or off-field setback, is that Cooper and White should both be first-round draft choices, likely both within the top 20.

That’s not a future that many would have imagined for White just a couple months ago.

 

All GIFs and screenshots were made using videos from DraftBreakdown.com (GIFs made at gfycat.com). All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.

Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

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ESPN College GameDay 2014: Week 9 Schedule, Location, Predictions and More

The Ole Miss Rebels will put their SEC West aspirations to the test once again on the road Saturday, heading to Death Valley for a big-time meeting with the LSU Tigers.

Hugh Freeze's third-ranked Rebels have set the SEC on fire this season with an upset over Alabama, and they have since validated that victory with blowouts over Texas A&M and Tennessee. But LSU is feeling confident as well, coming off victories over Florida and Kentucky.

To make the battle even bigger, ESPN's College GameDay will be on hand:

The Tigers have had a rough go of things in an SEC West that they usually dominate, falling to both Mississippi State and Auburn in distasteful defeats. But while their College Football Playoff hopes might be dashed, they'll be hungry to prove themselves and spoil the Rebels' season.

All the talk in the SEC West is about everyone other than LSU, but Death Valley will be at the center of the college football world Saturday to give the Tigers a chance to thrust themselves back into the conversation.

Here's a breakdown of everything you need to know for College GameDay.

 

ESPN College GameDay Info

When: Saturday, October 25, 2014

Time (ET): 9 a.m. - 12 p.m. (preview show)

Where: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Note: Spread courtesy of Odds Shark, last updated Oct. 23 at 11 p.m. ET

 

Ole Miss Bound for Another Statement Win vs. LSU

The signs were there regarding Ole Miss' impending emergence into the college football elite the last time these Rebels played in Baton Rouge.

It was a team flooded with youngsters that hadn't even finished locking down the No. 1 recruiting class it would later land, but the Rebels still took a 28-20 lead into the fourth quarter. Then, Odell Beckham Jr.'s punt-return touchdown paved the way to late LSU dramatics and a Tiger win.

Every stride Freeze's team has needed to make since then, it has. Young playmakers have developed into senior leaders, and the touted recruits are now sophomores dominating the toughest conference in college football.

“I remember the atmosphere,” Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace told ESPN's Greg Ostendorf of the 2012 game. “We were playing really well. We were young and really didn’t realize what we were doing. To us, it was almost like a moral victory that we went into LSU and we played against those guys the way we did with all of the NFL talent they had on their team.” 

That 2012 loss was nearly the statement victory Ole Miss chased, but after a win over LSU last year followed by beating Alabama in 2014, that jump has already been made.

Now, there's no such thing as a moral victory for Wallace and the Rebels. They have gone from the hunter to the hunted, and LSU is hungry to do some hunting after being knocked from its perch somewhat this season.

Folks should expect to see the Tigers try and continue pounding the rock. In the last two games, LSU has rushed for a combined 498 yards. 

But Saturday might be LSU's toughest test yet in terms of running the ball. As a unit, Ole Miss is magnificent on defense, holding opponents to 4.15 yards per play—third-best in the nation. 

The Rebels' ball-hawking secondary will keep LSU chasing rushing success that won't come. Meanwhile, Ole Miss' less-than-stellar running game should receive a boost going up a Tigers defense that gives up more than 160 rushing yards per contest.

From top to bottom, Ole Miss is a much superior team in 2014, and that will show on the gridiron Saturday night—despite playing in a raucous Death Valley. 

 

Note: All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.

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College Football Picks Week 9: Odds and Spread Predictions for Top 25 Teams

A few straight weeks of Top Five showdowns and enticing upsets have college football viewers spoiled entering Week 9, but there's plenty to watch over the weekend despite a lack of the Top 10 affairs we're used to in October.

Nevertheless, some of the nation's best teams will welcome tough matchups, and there is definitely the potential there to see even more unpredictable outcomes. If Week 9 is on par with what we saw early on in the season, that much wouldn't be surprising.

Here's a quick breakdown of odds and predictions for every Top 25 game.

Note: Odds courtesy of Odds Shark, last updated Oct. 23 at 11 p.m. ET

 

Top Matchups to Watch

No. 3 Ole Miss at No. 24 LSU

The Ole Miss Rebels have already validated their win over Alabama with two impressive victories, but their brutal and unforgiving SEC schedule rears its head once again with a trip to face the LSU Tigers.

It's not a typical year for Les Miles' 24th-ranked squad, however. Usually the SEC West's biggest threat to Alabama year in and year out, the Tigers have already fallen twice to Mississippi State and Auburn.

Many wouldn't think it to be much of a surprise entering the season, but it's the Rebels of these two teams that have impressed the most. After a late comeback win to knock off the Crimson Tide, Ole Miss has throttled both Texas A&M and Tennessee—showing road prowess along with home dominance.

"Coach Freeze is doing a great job building a quality program," Miles told Houston Chronicle's Bryan Lazare. "They are a very talented team on both sides of the ball. Ole Miss has a style of team that deserves being nationally ranked and deserves the best efforts of their opponents."

LSU's run game has been a big part of its resurgence over the last two weeks, holding on at Florida before dominating Kentucky in a game many experts called upset alert on. But it will be easier said than done keeping that up against Ole Miss' vaunted front seven that features Robert Nkemdiche.

The Rebels have shown their teeth on the road already in the brutal SEC West, and they'll do so again to stay unbeaten.

Prediction: Ole Miss 30, LSU 24

 

No. 20 USC at No. 19 Utah

It's a pretty quiet college football weekend as far as ranked matchups go other than the SEC West battle in Death Valley, but a promising matchup between USC and Utah could deliver one of the best Week 9 games.

Two defeats somewhat early in the season had halted the momentum of Steve Sarkisian's team, but the Trojans got it back with an upset of then-No. 10 Arizona and Cody Kessler's seven-touchdown day against Colorado. 

Meanwhile, the Utes are flying high after toppling then-No. 8 UCLA before a two-overtime victory over Oregon State on the road had folks around the Pac-12 turning their heads.

After an incredibly productive offensive day, USC will have its hands full with a Utah defense that leads the country in sacks with more than five per game. Utah defensive end Nate Orchard—10.5 sacks on the year—leads the charge.

“They’re pretty stout up front,” USC freshman guard Viane Talamaivao told ESPN.com's Garry Paskwietz. “They get after the ball and they have good pass rushers. We’re going to have to work really hard to make sure the pocket is clean for Cody.” 

Utah will get after the passer, but it hasn't gone up against an offensive attack that is feeling as confident as USC's currently is. The Trojans won't be throwing seven touchdowns on Saturday, but it won't take seven to pull out a win over a pesky Utah team.

Prediction: USC 29, Utah 24

 

South Carolina at No. 5 Auburn

A few games into the 2014 season, this matchup had the potential of pegging the best of the SEC West against the SEC East's top team. Now, South Carolina just looks like another victim of an Auburn team set on contending for college football's most competitive division.

The Gamecocks looked set on bouncing back from a season-opening drubbing to Texas A&M when they toppled then-No. 6 Georgia, but since then, they have fallen to both Missouri and Kentucky. A South Carolina secondary with questions entering the season has been far from elite, giving up 31.4 points per contest.

Meanwhile, even in Auburn's worst performances, the Tigers have looked like College Football Playoff contenders—including a loss to Mississippi State in which the Tigers gave up chance after chance to get back in it.

South Carolina will have to overcome an Auburn offense that is quite potent at home, as the team's official Twitter recognized:

Nick Marshall has been making opponents pay with his arm more in 2014 than ever before, and that should continue against one of the worst SEC secondaries he'll face this season.

Prediction: Auburn 41, South Carolina 17

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Texas Football: The Longhorns' Blueprint for Pulling the Upset vs. Kansas State

The Longhorns have a tough task ahead of them on Saturday, when they will try to knock off the No. 11 Kansas State Wildcats on the road for the first time since 2002.

The blueprint to pulling off the upset starts with playing smart football and undoubtedly ends with emerging star Tyrone Swoopes.

Just halfway through the season, Bill Snyder's team is the last Big 12 team without an in-conference loss. Were it not for a three-point loss to then-No. 2 Auburn, the Wildcats could easily be sitting as a Top Five program.

For Charlie Strong to pull off a signature win on the road against this team, his Horns will have to play their smartest game of the season and finally figure out how to control a mobile quarterback.

More than anything, he needs his quarterback to continue to play like the star of this team.

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10 College Football Players Most Likely to Go Pro Early

As we move into the second half of the 2014 college football season, the games on the field will continue to matter. But the game beyond the game will pick up speed too. As players across America put up standout efforts, fans will begin to wonder, "Will this be the last time I see (insert star here) in our team's stadium?"

And with good reason. Underclassmen are consistently flooding from college football to the NFL ranks, whether they're ready or not. A year ago, 98 underclassmen declared for the NFL draft, and it wouldn't be a surprise if that number is matched (and then some) this spring.

We decided to take a look at 10 players who are most likely to go pro early. This information is based on their likely draft position (as noted by Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller), their overall performance and draft stock and information that is available.

It doesn't include every prominent underclassman likely to declare, nor is it a guarantee that they'll all forgo college football for NFL life. But it does give us a good idea of just which underclassmen to watch for the rest of this season.

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Tough Penn State Environment Will Test J.T. Barrett, Young Ohio State Team

J.T. Barrett and No. 13 Ohio State will hit the road this Saturday to face one of the country's stingiest defenses in a matchup against Penn State.

The Nittany Lions—fueled by outstanding linebacker Mike Hull—have a formidable defensive front. Opposing offenses have withered against the unit, as Penn State ranks first nationally in run defense and sixth overall in scoring and total defense.

But the toughest challenge for Urban Meyer's young team might not be on the field, but surrounding it.

According to James Grega of The Lantern, Meyer has the Buckeyes preparing for the toughest and most hostile road environment they'll see all season.

“This is one of those ones that is one of the top 10, really top five in the country places,” Meyer said, via Grega. “It is hard to get ready for this one but we have had some good practices and the one thing about our setup out here (is) we can get some noise pumped in pretty good.”

That noise has been simulated in practice—piped through big speakers to get the team ready for the deafening and unwavering roar that will ring through their helmets for three-and-a-half hours Saturday night.

Penn State and its famed "White Out" have thwarted Ohio State in the past. Back in 2005, the sixth-ranked Buckeyes made the trip to Happy Valley to face off against the Nittany Lions under the lights. Troy Smith and an explosive offense were overwhelmed by the atmosphere in a 17-10 loss.

After the game, Penn State receiver Deon Butler said the atmosphere "was pure pandemonium." Two years later, former Buckeyes players remembered that night—and the crowd—vividly.

That's what awaits the Buckeyes Saturday night, and it has to be one of Meyer's top concerns. With a two-deep roster stocked with first- and second-year players who have never experienced the Penn State atmosphere, it will be key for the young guns—primarily Barrett—to settle in.

Meyer is hoping a week of music-filled practices will help, but he'll also rely on his upperclassmen to lead the way. According to Tim Shoemaker of Eleven Warriors, junior tight end Nick Vannett is confident the Buckeyes will be ready.

We’ve prepared for it. We see that every time we play at home. It’s gonna be different because they’re gonna be pretty loud like they were when we played them in the ‘12 season. We’ve prepared for that during practice and we’ve had crowd noise out there. We’ve gone on silent count on offense and we’ve done really well with that and we’re gonna go in prepared and be ready for it.

To their credit, the young guns are eager to experience what everyone is talking about. 

"I’ve been talking to everybody all year about how Penn State is supposed to be the craziest environment," sophomore defensive end Joey Bosa said, via Shoemaker. "We play in front of 108,000 people every weekend so it kinda sucks when we go away and they don’t have an environment like that so I’m pretty excited.”

Bosa and the rest of the underclassmen only need to wait a bit longer to experience that atmosphere and hear the roar themselves. And if things go the way Meyer and the Buckeyes plan, they'll get to listen as that roar fades into silence.

 

All stats via NCAA.com.  

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

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Miami vs. Virginia Tech: Game Grades, Analysis for Hurricanes and Hokies

Duke Johnson ran for a career-high of 249 yards in leading the Miami Hurricanes to their first road victory of the season with a 30-6 defeat of the Virginia Tech Hokies. 

Freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya completed just seven of 16 passes for 92 yards and a touchdown, but Miami ran for 364 yards and forced three turnovers in completely dismantling the Hokies. 

Miami returns home next week to face North Carolina. The Hokies host Boston College.

Here are the grades and analysis for both teams after Miami's dominating win. 

 

Miami Hurricanes Grade Analysis

Pass Offense: Brad Kaaya attempted just 16 passes, completing only seven of them, but he didn't make a mistake. He missed some deep balls in the first half that cost the Hurricanes some points. 

Run Offense: Johnson was outstanding. He couldn't be stopped. His backup, Gus Edwards, had a big night, too, rushing for 115 yards and two touchdowns. Give Miami's offensive line a lot of credit for this dominant performance. 

Pass Defense: The Hurricanes held the Hokies to just 142 yards passing, many of which came in the last two minutes with the game already decided. Miami's pass rush gave Michael Brewer problems all night. 

Run Defense: Marshawn Williams ran for 100 yards, 41 of which came on one play. The Hurricanes forced three fumbles. One of the forced fumbles came at Miami's 2-yard line, preventing a Tech comeback. 

Special Teams: The 'Canes had an extra point blocked, but punter Justin Vogel did a nice job of pinning the Hokies back on several of his punts. The 'Canes did nothing in the return game. 

Coaching: The Hurricanes came into this game with an outstanding game plan: feed Duke Johnson and be aggressive on defense. The only coaching move that should be questioned is Al Golden keeping Johnson in the game late in the fourth quarter. 

 

Virginia Tech Hokies Grades Analysis

Pass Offense: Michael Brewer was abysmal. The play-calling was conservative. The Hokies need to entertain a permanent quarterback change or their hopes of going to a bowl will end soon. 

Run Offense: Williams returned and ran for 100 yards. However, his fumble near the goal line in the third quarter stopped the Hokies' momentum. It was a crucial turnover for Virginia Tech. 

Pass Defense: The Hokies did a good job with their pass defense. Miami passed for just 92 yards, but Kaaya missed a couple of open receivers who could have scored. Tech's secondary tackled well. 

Run Defense: One of the worst performances in school history. Bud Foster is likely embarrassed and will spend all week trying to fix this. However, it's tough on Foster's defense when other teams are always playing ahead, wearing down VT's smaller defensive line. 

Special Teams: The Hokies blocked an extra point, but the game was already decided. Freshman Greg Stroman and Deon Newsome each flashed in the return game. 

Coaching: Another big loss for head coach Frank Beamer. It didn't appear the Hokies were unprepared; the Hurricanes were just much better. Youth and injuries played a part in Tech's struggles, but it must find a way to stop the bleeding. That begins with the coaching staff. Play-calling remains an issue. 

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Miami Football: Stellar Coaching Proves Al Golden's 'Canes Aren't Done in ACC

Duke Johnson was already a household name, so a 249-yard performance during a 30-6 victory over the Virginia Tech Hokies will only boost his national popularity.

However, the Miami Hurricanes didn't handle their rival solely because of the junior's career-best night. Instead, "The U" dismantled Frank Beamer's squad because of the coaches.

Yes, those coaches, who Miami fans have pleaded to fire—whether rightfully or not—entered Blacksburg with an excellent game plan.

And the timing couldn't have been any better. Since the 'Canes have dropped two conference games, a third would effectively eliminate the squad from winning the ACC Coastal Division. With Florida State looming on Nov. 15, Al Golden's squad couldn't afford a letdown in Lane Stadium.

For the first time all season, everyone was on the same page, and Miami didn't win on talent alone.

Much-maligned defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio did something completely out of character: He blitzed the quarterback—and it worked. The 'Canes consistently pressured Michael Brewer, tallying two sacks and forcing the gunslinger away from his first read.

Brewer completed 13 of 20 passes for just 80 yards and zero touchdowns before being pulled late in the fourth quarter.

The defense collectively had its best tackling game of the year, restricting Virginia Tech to negative-13 rushing yards during the first half. The latter frames showcased three forced fumbles, including Deon Bush literally stealing the ball from Marshawn Williams at the 1-yard line.

Miami was 90 seconds away from shutting out the Hokies, which was practically an unfathomable achievement prior to kickoff.

Offensive coordinator James Coley never strayed from the running game, calling 51 running plays compared to 16 passes.

Additionally, he broke out the "Wild Cane" formation that hadn't been a factor all year. Put simply, it was a perfect opportunity to unleash the wrinkle.

Pittsburgh's Chad Voytik and James Conner tore the Virginia Tech defense apart via the read-option, but Brad Kaaya isn't a running threat. Instead, Coley relied on Johnson and speedy receiver Stacy Coley.

As an added bonus, it was a creative way to potentially get Coley easy touches, because he has struggled mightily throughout his sophomore campaign.

Most importantly, the zone-blocking scheme was executed to perfection. Ereck Flowers and Jon Feliciano shined, while true freshman Nick Linder excelled.

Consequently, Johnson's 249 tied for the third-most single-game yards in program history and shattered his previous career high of 186. Second-string running back Joe Yearby was unavailable, yet Gus Edwards added 115 yards and two scores off the bench.

Heck, the only thing that could stop Johnson was a bench on the sideline after a 29-yard scamper.

Even Golden showed some aggressiveness, relying on his offensive line as the first half was coming to a close. Miami pounded the ball on 4th-and-1 and moved the chains, which set up Johnson's 22-yard receiving touchdown with three seconds remaining in the second quarter.

Up 24 points, the fourth-year coach elected to attempt a 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line. Though the Hurricanes didn't convert, Golden went for the dagger, and it was a commendable decision.

Miami has possessed the talent to compete in the division all along, but beating tough opponents was a matter of the coaches putting their stars in the proper positions.

The battle for a Coastal championship is certainly uphill, but the blowout victory over Virginia Tech showed Miami has the on-field talent—and coaching—to make it interesting.

 

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

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Florida State Football: Early Odds for the Seminoles' Team MVP

No. 2 Florida State is undefeated and facing a well-timed bye before next week’s Thursday night game at Louisville.

The Seminoles have positioned themselves nicely in the quest for a College Football Playoff berth thanks to some strong play by four players in particular this season. Let’s take a look at FSU’s early favorites for team MVP.

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UCLA Football: Early Odds for the Bruins' Team MVP

Heading into the 2014 season for the UCLA football team, three players stood out as potential MVP candidates. 

The team members included Eric Kendricks, Myles Jack and Brett Hundley. Each individual had a case as to why he should be considered for the potential acclaim. 

Kendricks is the heart and soul of the defense. The redshirt senior middle linebacker out of Fresno has led the Bruins in tackles for the past two seasons and is on pace to yet again lead the team for the third straight year. 

He currently leads the conference in tackles with 77 and is second with an average of 11 tackles per contest. Kendricks also acts as a vocal leader for inexperienced players such as Jack, Kenny Young and Isaako Savaiinaea. 

Jack took the sport by storm as a true freshman in 2013. The linebacker was a first-team Freshman All-American by Sporting News, a second-team All Pac-12 selection and was also given the title as both the Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year in the Pac-12. 

Simply put, the hype surrounding Jack was immense. His ability to play on both sides of the ball at an extremely high level made him a dark-horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy in '14.

Thus far as a sophomore, Jack has gotten off to a decent start. 

He's second on the team in tackles with 55, only behind Kendricks. Although he hasn't rushed the passer exceptionally well, much of his production has come in pass coverage. Jack leads the team in pass deflections with six.

With the success he had rushing the ball last season, many teams are now cognizant of his presence in the backfield. As a result, Jack has rushed for only 55 yards on 15 carries through seven games. The 3.7 yards per carry average is paltry—especially compared to the seven yards per rush total he accrued a year ago

The biggest candidate to become the MVP for the Bruins in '14 was undoubtedly Hundley. 

The signal-caller out of Chandler, Arizona, was projected as not only a potential all-conference performer but also a Heisman Trophy contender by various media publicationsSports Illustrated even placed Hundley on its cover

While having a good season statistically, Hundley hasn't quite lived up to the lofty expectations placed upon his shoulders entering the 2014 season. 

Hundley has thrown for 1,856 yards and 13 touchdowns through six games (and a quarter from the Texas game). Should he continue on this pace, it's easy to believe he will be in the mix for all-conference honors. 

While all three aforementioned players are worthy candidates of becoming the potential MVP of the team, none are leading the race. 

The player currently out in front is redshirt sophomore running back Paul Perkins

The Queen Creek, Arizona, native is the straw that stirs the drink for the UCLA offense. In essence, he's the fulcrum—igniting the unit and allowing for the offense to get into a rhythmic flow similar to that of a beautiful Mozart concerto. 

Perkins leads the team with 816 yards rushing on 131 carries. His 116.6 yards per game average ranks him third in the conference—only behind Buck Allen of Southern Cal and Devontae Booker of Utah. 

The running back is also tied for second on the team with two touchdown receptions. He's caught 17 passes for 167 yards and has shown a lethal nature on screens in particular. 

Heading into the year, he was the projected reserve behind senior back Jordon James. At best, Perkins would likely receive in the area of 10-12 carries a contest. 

Through seven games, his lowest rushing total for a single contest has been 80 yards. Perkins has a knack to not only make people miss in space but also to finish runs with power and strength. Although not the fastest back in the world, his impressive vision enables him to pick up extra yardage. His agile and quick feet are also tremendous.

As his role on the team has expanded, it's quite evident how truly valuable he is to the offense. He's been by far the most steady and productive of any member on offense. Perkins' ability to run the football allows for pressure to be taken off of Hundley. 

His effectiveness as a runner also allows UCLA to control the ball—which chews up clock and keeps the defense somewhat fresh. 

Without question, Perkins is the MVP of the team up to this point in the season.  

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Will College Football's Sack Master Translate to the NFL?

The University of Washington has a not-so-secret weapon on defense: Hau'oli Kikaha. Kikaha is on the cusp of breaking the school's all-time sack record in a single season, while also leading the country in sacks at 12.5. 

Can Kikaha keep up these numbers?

Watch Bleacher Report's NFL draft analyst Matt MillerMichael Felder and Stephen Nelson debate whether or not Kikaha's skills can translate to the NFL. 

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Tennessee Volunteers Fans Play 'Pin the Tail on Lane Kiffin' at Tailgate Party

Tennessee Volunteers fans aren't too fond of Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, so they're going to great lengths to make him feel as unwelcome as possible prior to his return to Knoxville on Saturday.

During a Volunteers tailgate party on Thursday, fans were able to play "Pin the Tail on the Kiffin." Expect to see even more shots taken at the former Tennessee head coach prior to Saturday night's showdown with the Crimson Tide.

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

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Oregon's Marcus Mariota Given 'Super Mariota' Treatment

Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota is having a fantastic season and will likely be one of the first QBs taken in the 2015 NFL draft, but this might be cooler than all of that if it was real.

Fox Sports Live created this video of "Super Mariota," a parody of Super Mario Bros. with the Oregon quarterback jumping on opponents while working his way to the end zone.  

Even though the graphics are a little dated, I'm sure plenty of Oregon fans would be willing to buy this game if it was real.

[YouTube, h/t Black Sports Online]

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Miami vs. Virginia Tech: Live Score and Highlights

Miami 10, Virginia Tech 0—Mid—2nd Quarter

We are underway in Blacksburg as Virginia Tech hosts Miami. 

You can watch live on ESPN, but make sure to stay right here for tonight's game as we provide scoring updates, detailed analysis and postgame grades.

You can find the official box score at NCAA.com

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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. 

 

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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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