NCAA Football News

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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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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