NCAA Football News

The Most Important Stat for Every College Football Playoff Contender

Football is a game of many things: inches, X's and O's and Jimmys and Joes. It's also a game of numbers. 

As college football has grown in popularity, stats (and advanced stats) have grown as fans tried to get a better, tangible understanding of why teams were good (or bad). For playoff-contending teams, stats can disclose a lot about why things work as well as they do. 

For this year's playoff contenders—teams ranked in and around the Top 15 of major polls who are either undefeated or have a loss to an above-.500 team—which single stat is the most important? Keep in mind this could be for better or worse. It could show a huge mismatch a team has to exploit, or a weakness a team has to keep under control. 

We dive into each playoff contender's most important stat based on these areas in the following slides. 

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College Football Picks for Week 9: B/R Experts' Predictions for the Top 5 Games

We’re quickly approaching that time in college football when every week there are matchups we’ve waited all year for, games that we will not soon forget and upsets that shake up the landscape of the sport.  It’s close, but we’re not there yet.

For the second week in a row, we have only one matchup that features two ranked teams. Not to worry, though. If Week 8 taught us anything, it’s that unbelievable games and storylines can happen anytime. Will this week hold true to that notion? Let’s take a look at the best games for Week 9.

The marquee matchup of the weekend features a team not often associated with a marquee matchup in college football: the Temple Owls. One of only 12 remaining unbeaten FBS teams, Temple faces Notre Dame in arguably the biggest regular-season game in the school’s history.

Led by a tough defense and electric running back Jahad Thomas, can the Owls shock the world and beat the visiting Irish, who look to keep their playoff hopes alive? ESPN’s College GameDay will be in Philly for the showdown, so it should be a must-watch for you, too.

The week’s biggest traditional rivalry takes us to Jacksonville for the annual edition of “The World’s Largest Cocktail Party”—oh, and a football game, too.

Georgia and Florida square off in a game that’s certainly lost a bit of luster since the season-ending injury to Dawgs star running back Nick Chubb and the season-ending suspension of Gators QB Will Grier. Whether it’s because of the loss of Chubb or other factors, Georgia certainly has not looked like the same team with their running back out. Facing a tough Florida D, it will certainly take a massive effort from Grayson Lambert to propel the Bulldogs to victory.

USC heads to Berkeley to face Cal in a matchup of two teams that were ranked just a few weeks ago. USC pulled off its biggest win of the year in toppling previously undefeated Utah last week, looking every bit like the fast, explosive, talented team that everyone thought they were in the preseason. Cal has lost two straight since a 5-0 start.

Pro scouts will certainly be tuned in to this one, as the game will feature a pair of future NFL gunslingers in Cody Kessler and Jared Goff. Watch out, scoreboard operator, you could be in for a busy night.

In the Big 12, while Baylor and TCU (and, to a certain degree, Oklahoma) get all of the headlines, Mike Gundy’s Oklahoma State team keeps plugging right along and sits at 7-0 on the year. And while they’ve yet to play a conference opponent with better than a .500 record, winning every game is still what matters. Can they summon the inner strength to win again, especially in the wake of the homecoming tragedy that struck the team and the community last week?

Heading to Lubbock to face a fiesty Texas Tech team is never easy, but it will be harder this week as Pat Mahomes and the Red Raiders look to bounce back from last week’s embarrassing loss to Oklahoma.

Finally, you should try to stay awake on Saturday, as one of last games to start could end up being one the best.

I know what you're thinking. Washington State? Really? Yes, after losing its opening game to FCS Portland State, people wrote off the Cougars. Big mistake. Mike Leach’s squad reeled off wins in five of its next six games and is sitting on the edge of bowl-eligibility.

Led by QB Luke Falk (third in nation in passing yards; fourth in TDs) and WR Gabe Marks (seventh in the nation in TD catches), the Cougars face their toughest test yet in the visiting Cardinal. Christina McCaffrey has been a revelation for Stanford, as the nation’s leader in all-purpose yards. Can Wazzu pull of a massive upset? Or will Stanford keep its Pac-12 title and playoff hopes alive?

With a 5-0 week, Adam Kramer has opened up a huge lead in the standings. Can he keep up the hot streak? Be sure to comment and tell us your picks and which games you’re most excited for in Week 9.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Where Does Minnesota Go from Here After Jerry Kill's Decision to Retire?

When Minnesota announced the immediate retirement of Jerry Kill Wednesday morning, it left many fans looking back at all the Golden Gophers head coach had accomplished in the past four-plus seasons.

It also left some looking forward to where Minnesota goes from here.

In the immediate future, the Golden Gophers' road looks rocky, with consecutive games against No. 15 Michigan, No. 1 Ohio State and No. 10 Iowa ahead in the next three weeks. With what's left on its schedule—including games against Illinois and Wisconsin to close the season— Minnesota's final five opponents possess a combined 30-7 record.

Sitting at 4-3 on the year, the Golden Gophers' Big Ten West Division championship aspirations have all but disappeared. Bowl eligibility may even be a stretch at this point, as interim head coach Tracy Claeys inherits a team that may only be favored in one of its five remaining games.

But while what's left of the 2015 campaign paints a bleak picture for what's ahead for Minnesota, the future possesses plenty of promise in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Because while Kill's departure may have been abrupt, the Golden Gophers now find themselves with one of the more attractive head coaching vacancies in all of college football thanks in large part to their now-former head coach. In four-plus seasons under Kill, Minnesota compiled a 25-26 record, including consecutive 8-5 records in each of the past two years.

Last year, the Golden Gophers contended for a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game until the end of the regular season before participating in the Citrus Bowl against Missouri on New Year's Day. With a $190 million athletics facility on its way and the nation's No. 30 recruiting class for the 2016 cycle currently intact, Minnesota's next head coach could be walking into a situation already set up for success.

"The ability to advance our program to the national stage, a Jan. 1 bowl game, all of those competitive advantages have put Minnesota football on the map in the way that it wasn't before," university president Eric W. Kaler said during Wednesday's press conference announcing Kill's retirement.

While both Kaler and interim athletic director Beth Goetz declined to speak at length about the process they plan to use in selecting a new head coach, both said they were mindful of the timetable they currently find themselves facing. As the interim head coach, Claeys, who previously served as the Golden Gophers defensive coordinator, will get the first crack at proving he's the man for the job in Minneapolis, but with with the rough road Minnesota has ahead, that could be a tough sell.

Should the Golden Gophers falter in the coming weeks as expected, names will undoubtedly trickle out attached to Minnesota's vacancy.

Those jobs could include but won't be limited to the following candidates.

 

Tony Dungy

The former Golden Gophers quarterback (1973-76) would be one of the bigger names linked the the Minnesota opening, given the current NBC analyst's track record as a head coach in the NFL. In 13 seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts, Dungy compiled a 139-69 record, winning Super Bowl XLI as head coach of the Colts at the end of the 2006 season.

Having just turned 60 years old, Dungy's age wouldn't necessarily be a concern, although it's worth noting that he hasn't been a head coach since retiring from the Colts sideline in 2008. Still, should his alma mater come calling, one would imagine Dungy would listen, especially given the resources the Golden Gophers have been pouring into their football program.

Dungy might be considered a long shot, but would certainly be considered a home run hire should a return to the North Star State ever come to fruition. In a league that already possesses Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh and Mark Dantonio, Dungy would give Minnesota some much-needed star power in addition to a coaching resume that speaks for itself.

 

Matt Campbell

A rising star in the college coaching ranks, Campbell currently has his Toledo team undefeated at 7-0 and ranked 20th in both the AP Top 25 and the coaches poll. At 35 years old, Campbell is the second-youngest head coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision and has already compiled a 33-13 record in his three-plus years in charge of the Rockets program.

At this point, it's not a matter of if, but rather when Campbell will make the jump from the Mid-American Conference to a Power Five job, and he could certainly do a lot worse than staying in the Midwest with Minnesota. The Massillon, Ohio, native has recruited well despite the competitive disadvantages that come with coaching in his conference, and currently lays claim to the nation's No. 65 overall class for 2016.

The Golden Gophers would be wise to make Campbell one of their primary targets in their upcoming search. But with vacancies across the country—and even the Big Ten—already opening up, Minnesota would likely be in for a fight when it comes to acquiring Campbell's services.

 

P.J. Fleck

Another up-and-comer from the MAC, Fleck isn't quite as accomplished as Campbell, but he has received rave reviews for the way he's turned Western Michigan around after going 1-11 in his debut season in 2013. Last season, the Broncos saw their win total increase by eight before receiving a bid to play in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, and this year Western Michigan is off to a 4-3 start, including losses to Big Ten powers Ohio State and Michigan State.

With five games left this season—including a regular-season finale against Campbell's Toledo—Fleck has an opportunity to bolster his resume and jump onto Minnesota's radar in the coming weeks. A former graduate assistant at Ohio State and wide receivers coach at Rutgers, Fleck has loose Big Ten ties, but at 34 years old, could ultimately find himself as one of the Golden Gophers' top targets should they opt to hire a younger head coach.

 

Brady Hoke

While Hoke may not have fared well in his first Big Ten go-round, compiling a 31-20 record in four seasons at Michigan, the former Wolverines head coach is sitting out the 2015 season in hopes of getting another Power Five conference job in 2016.

"I think the general scope would be hopefully be in a Power Five conference. I think that would be ideal," Hoke told SI.com's Campus Rush about his coaching aspirations for next season. "I haven't forgotten how to coach."

Wanting, of course, is just half the battle, as the feeling will have to be mutual with another school in order for Hoke to once again land one of the top openings in college football. While it was under a different administration, it's worth noting that the last time Minnesota had a head coaching vacancy, it targeted Hoke, who ultimately opted to leave San Diego State for Ann Arbor following the 2010 season.

Whether the Golden Gophers' current administration would have similar interest in Hoke remains to be seen. But with his Midwest ties and old-school approach, he could once again make for one of Minnesota's more intriguing candidates.

 

Chris Ash

One of college football's hottest coordinators, Ash helped transform Ohio State's defense from what was the Buckeyes' weakness in 2013 to one of the nation's best in the past two years. After ranking 112th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game two years ago, Meyer hired Ash from Arkansas to be his new defensive coordinator and Ohio State's secondary hasn't been the same since.

Last season, Ohio State's pass defense improved to 29th in the nation en route to the Buckeyes winning the national title, and this season OSU ranks fifth in the country in passing yards allowed per game. Ash has been one of the biggest reasons for the Buckeyes' dramatic turnaround, as his quarters system defense has proved to work wonders in Columbus.

"Words can't even describe how far we've come. It's a completely different unit," Ash said of the OSU defense last offseason. "Each player is better, each unit is better. The overall 'Silver Bullets' defense is better."

Having previously served as Wisconsin's defensive coordinator, Ash's Big Ten ties could be appealing to the Minnesota administration. The Buckeyes assistant will likely find himself with his own program to run sooner rather than later, and all factors considered, the Golden Gophers could prove to be the perfect fit.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Odds provided by Odds Shark. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Updated College Football Coaches on the Hot Seat

With several teams continuing to perform below expectations as we head into the stretch period of the college football season, some coaches' seats are really beginning to heat up.

Which ACC coach will likely be job hunting this offseason? Will Frank Beamer's tenure as Virginia Tech's head coach come to an end after almost 20 seasons of service? Which pair of SEC coaches might not be on the hot seat now but could be in the event of a poor showing next month?

Watch Stephen Nelson and Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee discuss in the video above.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Leonard Fournette's 7 Biggest Challengers for 2015 Heisman Trophy

As college football rolls toward November, there’s no questioning its best player and leading Heisman Trophy candidate. In his second season at LSU, sophomore tailback Leonard Fournette has gone from good to exceptional. In seven games, Fournette has piled up 1,352 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, averaging 7.7 yards per carry with power and speed. CBS Sports' Heisman Watch has Fournette as the clear leading candidate. 

He averages 193.1 yards per game and has rushed for at least 150 yards in every game, with a pair of 200-yard efforts. Fournette has blown past his freshman stats of 1,034 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns and is on pace to rush for 2,124 yards despite LSU’s season opener against McNeese State being washed out by thunderstorms. That’s how good he’s been.

Barring injury, can anyone prevent him from taking home LSU’s second-ever Heisman Trophy? Sure, it’s entirely possible. Plenty can happen over the final month-plus of the 2015 season. Let’s take a look at the players who are best positioned to grab the trophy away from Fournette.

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4-Star WR Drake Davis Models Game After Dez Bryant, Discusses Decision Timeline

BRADENTON, Fla. — There was a time when 4-star receiver Drake Davis envisioned playing futbol instead of football. 

The 6’4”, 215-pounder, who transferred from his native Louisiana to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, in the offseason, grew up playing left back and striker on the soccer field.

“When I was younger, I started playing at a very young age,” Davis explained to Bleacher Report of his affinity for the world’s most popular sport. “When I went to my first game, I kind of fell in love with it. It was a challenging sport, but at the same time, a lot of it came naturally to me. So soccer was something that challenged me, so I wanted to master it. When I became good at it, that love for soccer just grew.”

While he grew up admiring soccer stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, he’s switched gears and is now concentrating on becoming one of the most dominant wideouts in the 2016 class.

Even though he still maintains a love for soccer, he admits that his skills on the pitch have translated to his success on the gridiron in a few ways. 

“It got me a lot better with my footwork, so that was a great thing,” Davis said. “It helped with my footwork and helping me get in and out of my breaks. It gives you stamina, also.” 

His inspiration on the football field is another big, physical wideout who has emerged as one of the top playmakers in the NFL.

“Dez Bryant. He’s an animal. He’s my boy. I hope he reads this. Tag him in this,” Davis joked.

The nation’s No. 29 wide receiver and the No. 155 player overall in the 2016 cycle is in the middle of a strong senior season at IMG. 

With coaches from Ole Miss and LSU—two schools he said are currently standing out to him—on hand, Davis put on a show against Paramus Catholic (New Jersey) last weekend. His biggest highlight was hauling in an 87-yard touchdown strike that helped propel IMG to a 28-20 win. 

His last visit was two weeks ago to LSU for the Tigers' big victory over Florida. On that visit, he was accompanied by prep teammates such as 5-star corner and current LSU pledge Saivion Smith, 5-star defensive tackle Shavar Manuel and 4-star linebacker Rahshaun Smith.

“I was with a few of my teammates, so it was a really fun trip,” Davis said of his LSU visit. “I live there, so it’s nothing new really. But the fact that I was able to share that moment with my teammates, it was a great moment.” 

While Saivion Smith is working on trying to get Davis to join him in Baton Rouge, IMG quarterback and current Ole Miss pledge Shea Patterson is hoping to continue to connect with Davis in Oxford for the next four years.

“Shea and I, we’re great friends. Saivion is pitching me also, and he and Shea go back and forth,” Davis noted. “They don’t push it too hard, because we have a goal here and that’s to get a national championship. We all have one focus on our team.”

Davis said schools such as Clemson, Texas A&M and UCLA are among the programs he hopes to take official visits to. However, only one trip appears to be a definite at this point.

“I know for a fact I will visit Ole Miss when they play LSU,” he said. “I should be going to UCLA, but I’m not 100 percent sure about the others yet.”

Davis, who hopes to major in the business field in college and reports a 3.5 GPA, said the Rebels, Tigers and Aggies are the three programs who he feels like he’s established the strongest relationships with.

Still, he cautions that his official visits will be critical in helping him arrive at a conclusion to his recruiting process, which he said should come close to or on signing day.

“I want to visit all of the schools on my list,” Davis said. “So when I get there, I will know if I fit in there. I want it to feel like home because I’ll be there for the next three or four years.”

 

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

 

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B/R Exclusive: 5-Star OT Greg Little Changes Decision Date, Alabama Visit Plans

The much-anticipated announcement regarding where Allen, Texas, offensive lineman Greg Little will play college football will be delayed a few extra days.

Little, the nation's top-ranked offensive tackle and No. 2 overall player in the 2016 class, told Bleacher Report late Tuesday evening that his Nov. 4 commitment date has been pushed back to Nov. 13 in order to squeeze in time for an upcoming official visit to Alabama. Little is expected to take the visit the weekend of Nov. 7.

"[The visit] originally was set up for the 31st [of October]," Little said, "but they have a bye that week. I wanted to be there for a game."

Alabama hosts LSU on Nov. 7 in a game with huge SEC West implications. LSU is undefeated for the year, and Alabama is in second place in the conference, a game behind the Tigers.

It just so happens that both schools are among the finalists for Little, who has a top five of Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Auburn and Ole Miss. Little took officials to Auburn (weekend of Sept. 26) and Georgia (Oct. 3), and he returned from an LSU visit this past weekend.

Little was in Baton Rouge with several top 2016 targets, including the IMG Academy trio of Shavar Manuel (No. 9 overall player, No. 4 defensive tackle), Rahshaun Smith (No. 69 overall player, No. 2 inside linebacker) and LSU pledge Saivion Smith (No. 15 overall player, No. 2 cornerback).

"LSU was fun. I had a great time there," said Little, who is being recruited to LSU by offensive line coach Jeff Grimes. "The stadium, the fans…it was really cool. Baton Rouge is a great city, but being at the stadium, that definitely was the best part about it."

The upcoming Alabama visit will be Little's fourth of five allowed. He said he is still working on scheduling a weekend to take his fifth visit to Ole Miss. Although his announcement will come before the final visit, Little said he's still interested in taking the trip.

Little will finalize his college future after decommitting from Texas A&M in July. He committed to the Aggies as an incoming junior on June 20, 2014, but wanted to reopen his recruitment over the summer to fully embrace the recruiting process and weigh all options with the help of official visits.

Little has 27 reported offers from schools coast to coast. He announced his top five to Bleacher Report in early September, calling all five programs "contenders every year" and declaring he was ready to be an impact player at the next level.

At 6'6" and 320 pounds, Little has never lost a varsity football game. Allen currently is on a 51-game winning streak, and Little has been a starter on the offensive line for three seasons. He is one of the most technically sound offensive linemen of the 2016 class and is projected to get early playing time in college because of his skill set.

Little originally wanted Nov. 4 to be his announcement day, as Nov. 4 will mark his 18th birthday. Nov. 13, however, will be a huge day for him, his family and one lucky school in particular.

It also will be a day like the others, as Little refuses to let any of the pressures of recruiting get to him.

"It's just a process; it's not stressful to me at all," he said. "I don't mind it."

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

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Front-Runners, Expectations for Final Month in Big Ten East

The final month of the 2015 college football season should be a captivating race to the finish for the front-runners and spoilers in the Big Ten East Division.

Ohio State, the defending division, conference and national champions, are the popular choice to take the East—and deservedly so. It seems J.T. Barrett has locked up the starting quarterback job, and the Buckeyes have recently played outstanding football with the sophomore under center.

But then there's Michigan and Michigan State, which have both performed well enough to earn Top 15 rankings and will soon attempt to derail Ohio State's aspirations for a repeat title.

While Rutgers, Indiana and Maryland are all but mathematically eliminated from contention, Penn State could cause a bit of havoc down the stretch.

 

Front-Runners

Of the 12 remaining undefeated teams, No. 6 Michigan State is probably the least impressive when considering performance compared to competition.

But less than 10 percent of the nation can say the same thing as the Spartans, because 8-0 is 8-0. It doesn't matter how they arrived, it matters that they're there. Big Ten Network's Tom Dienhart offered a couple of factors behind Michigan State's success:

The Spartans haven't been overly impressive all season. See the Purdue and Rutgers games, among other tepid results this fall for Mark Dantonio's bunch. But, they always find a way to win. [The] stupefying result at Michigan takes the cake. The football gods are smiling on Sparty.

Quarterback Connor Cook and wideout Aaron Burbridge are a deadly combination, and the Spartans running game should steadily come back as the offensive line gets healthier. Although the secondary is a clear weakness—partly due to injuries—MSU's front seven consistently makes opponents one-dimensional.

At least the Spartans know the pass is coming.

Michigan State should have little trouble dispatching Nebraska and Maryland. Mark Dantonio's crew closes the season against Penn State, but the most important matchup remaining on the slate is top-ranked Ohio State.

Whichever team emerges from the Nov. 21 clash will likely earn the division crown.

It appears 8-0 Ohio State has finally figured it out, as the offense has scored 136 points during their last three games. Barrett has grabbed the No. 1 duties and likely won't relinquish the reins.

Put simply, the Buckeyes look better with Barrett behind center. He has complete command of the unit, adding a running element that lessens the pressure on Ezekiel Elliott while only sacrificing arm strength—not accuracy.

Similar to Michigan State, Ohio State has an above-average defense but isn't invincible. Conversely, the secondary is its strength, and the defensive line is liable to make mistakes. The Buckeyes have the nation's No. 78 rush defense against conference opponents.

Ohio State will take on Minnesota and Illinois before hosting Michigan State and traveling to Michigan to end the regular season. For now, the road to Indianapolis goes through Columbus.

 

Contender

It was safe to project Michigan would be in this position entering November, but the expectation for how the Wolverines arrived here was certainly different.

Following a reasonable season-opening loss to Utah, first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh had the team playing at a remarkably high level. Michigan recorded three consecutive shutouts, including a 38-0 dismantling of then-No. 13 Northwestern.

However, the last-snap loss to Michigan State put the Wolverines in a hole. Earning the edge in a tiebreaker is a possibility, but it's not likely.

For Michigan to have any chance at the East Division crown, it must run the table. That's the obvious condition. But even if the Wolverines knock off Minnesota, Indiana, Penn State and upset Ohio State, they'll need a few perfect outcomes.

The best-case scenario is Ohio State beats Michigan State, which loses to Penn State while Michigan topples the Buckeyes. At that point, both the Wolverines and Buckeyes would have one conference loss to MSU's two, and Michigan would hold the head-to-head advantage over OSU.

Barring craziness in a three-way tie that sees the College Football Playoff committee rank a 10-2 Michigan at least two spots higher than potential 11-1 squads in OSU and MSU, the best-case scenario is the necessary scenario.

 

Potential Spoiler

Penn State was one holding penalty away from putting a legitimate scare into Ohio State, but a limited offense and average run defense eventually doomed the Nittany Lions.

While that combination will likely prove costly against an elite Michigan defense and strong Michigan State offense, Penn State could play the spoiler role.

As mentioned earlier, Michigan needs a Penn State victory over MSU to have a realistic chance at the division. Since the Spartans haven't had a dominant wire-to-wire win, perhaps this would be their trap game.

The Nittany Lions could also unintentionally bring Ohio State back into the fold should the Buckeyes drop their outing with the Spartans—though that would be contingent on Michigan running the table to create a three-way tie.

While Penn State has only one loss in Big Ten action, no one should count on James Franklin's squad to shock both Michigan schools. But the opportunity is there. That would be the ultimate spoiler.

 

Expectations

Christian Hackenberg and Penn State writing a Cinderella story would be an awe-inspiring development. The Nittany Lions won't lie down against Michigan or Michigan State, but they just don't have enough to finish an upset.

Although the Wolverines aren't out of the picture, the tiebreakers are unfavorable at best. Michigan is clearly ahead of schedule, and even though those within the program might say otherwise after falling short of a conference title, a 9-3 season would be a successful campaign.

The Big Ten will be decided at The Horseshoe. Michigan State has regularly survived close games, but Ohio State and its revived offense will be too much for the Spartans.

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from cfbstats.com. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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Antonneous Clayton to Florida: Gators Land 4-Star DE Prospect

Florida picked up a marquee commitment Wednesday in the form of Antonneous Clayton. The defensive end provides a nice boost to the Gators' 2016 class.  

Luke Stampini of 247Sports passed along comments from Clayton about the decision. He chose Florida over fellow top programs Auburn and Florida State.

"Just the overall feeling when I woke up this morning," Clayton said. "I just felt like a priority, and that deep down inside I really can contribute to the team."

Gators head coach Jim McElwain posted a celebratory message on social media after the latest addition to next year's incoming class:

It's easy to see why he's excited.

Clayton is a 4-star prospect who ranks as the No. 99 recruit and the No. 8 weak-side defensive end among the incoming group for 2016, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. The outlet currently lists him at 6'3'', 218 pounds.

While he'll need to add more power to his frame in order to have consistent success at the college level and beyond, he's already an imposing presence. Add in standout athletic ability and you have the recipe for a recruit with a huge amount of upside.

It's probably going to take some time before he makes his presence felt in Gainesville, Florida, though. The Gators have a crowded end group, led by Alex McCalister and Bryan Cox Jr., who are both juniors.

That said, a year of practices and time in the gym should serve Clayton well. By the time Florida is looking for replacements, he should be ready to step right in and play significant snaps.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jerry Kill Retires: Latest Comments, Reaction

The University of Minnesota's football program suffered a significant hit Wednesday morning, as head coach Jerry Kill retired, effective immediately.

According to Minnesota Football on Twitter, the 54-year-old Kill retired due to health concerns and will be replaced by assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys on an interim basis.

"First of all, want to thank the state of Minnesota, the people here are tremendous and have been very good to my wife, my family," Kill told reporters following the announcement.

The exact nature of Kill's health problems are unclear at this point, but he has battled epilepsy and has a well-documented history of seizures. Per Marcus R. Fuller of the Pioneer Press, Kill has suffered five game-day seizures over the course of his career as a coach, including one that caused him to take 10 days off and miss a game in 2013.

He coached from the press box for a large portion of the 2013 campaign, with Claeys acting as the head coach on the sidelines, but Kill returned to field level in 2014 and 2015.

"You all know about my struggles," Kill said. "I did my best to change, but some of those struggles have returned."

Kill added that his doctor told him it was in his "best interest to move on" with his life.

"Last night when I walked off the practice field, I feel like a part of me died," Kill told reporters.

Dave Revsine of the Big Ten Network weighed in on Kill's sudden departure:

The Golden Gophers are 29-29 since Kill made the leap from Northern Illinois in 2011, and they have gone 8-5 in each of the past two seasons. Minnesota is currently 4-3 and has a huge Big Ten clash coming up against Michigan on Saturday, but Kill won't be the man in charge for that game.

Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh was bracing for a tough matchup due to his level of respect for Kill's coaching ability, according to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com:

The Golden Gophers aren't likely to be lost Saturday since Claeys has stepped in for Kill before, but they'll still have to overcome the shock of losing their head coach in the middle of the season.

Although Steve Spurrier recently stepped down as head coach of South Carolina, it is fairly rare for a collegiate head coach to resign or retire in the middle of the season.

"People are going to ask, 'What are you going to do now,'" Kill said. "I don't know. I've never done anything else."

Health is of the utmost importance, though, and Kill deserves a great deal of credit for leaving something he loves in deference to his long-term future.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Bleacher Report's College Football Ultimate Guide to Week 9

Beware the haunted house. 

Consider this the applicable theme for Week 9 of the college football season.

Given the way the developments have unfolded in the first few months, one impulsive result after the next, a trap door here, a secret staircase there, it seems appropriate that actual football games will be decided on Halloween.

There will be costumes, of course. The stadium shots throughout Saturday will be rife with body paint, masks and emotion. It will be strange, over the top and somehow comforting. Halloween and college football are conveniently paired: enigmatic, unpredictable and oddly compelling.

But back to that theme: Beware the haunted house.

Consider this a warning for the road teams headed to hostile environments. Lubbock, Texas and Pullman, Washington—places that are naturally odd, a good kind of odd—will host their own spectacular Halloween parties. Others will attempt to mold black magic into positive results.

And Philadelphia, a city not known for its college football housing, will host the most important game of the weekend.

This is not your typical Saturday lineup, which might be unwelcoming for many. For others, including myself, this atypical lineup is cheered. Let’s get weird again dressed up like imbeciles.

So don your favorite costume and put a large bucket of candy out at your doorstep with that “Honor system! Take one, please” sign. Sure, this bucket will lie empty in your neighbor’s yard after the first adult-less child comes by. But you can’t worry about that. There are games that need tending to.

As for a preview of this week and a Halloween Candy Mock Playoff, let us dive into Week 9.

 

The Buffet: Previewing the Top 5 Games of Week 9

5. Oklahoma State at Texas Tech (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

On paper, this looks like a mismatch of epic proportions. One sideline scored 58 points last week in a victory; the other gave up 63 in loss. But beyond the likely possibility of this game producing an exuberant amount of points, there’s a real possibility that Lubbock produces an epic tussle.

Let’s start with the good. Oklahoma State beat Kansas 58-10 on Saturday to stay unbeaten. The game got so out of hand that nine different Pokes logged carries. Oklahoma State quarterbacks, led by Mason Rudolph, completed 27 of their 36 passes for 381 yards and three touchdowns. It was easy, really.

Now, how about that bad. Having barely gotten by Kansas the week prior, Texas Tech lost by roughly 1,789 points against Oklahoma on Saturday. The score was actually 63-27, thanks in large part to four Pat Mahomes’ interceptions. It was an ugly game all around in a stretch of ugly for the Red Raiders, although Tech is not without talent.

Perhaps this is my finest WWE hype-man attempt. Perhaps Oklahoma State will stroll right in, dominate a team that has been dominated plenty over the past few weeks and be on its undefeated way.

Or maybe not. Tune in to find out.

 

4. North Carolina at Pittsburgh (Thursday, 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

By a show of hands, how many thought that North Carolina and Pittsburgh would be a combined 12-2 entering Week 9? Not many. Certainly not me.

Yes, this game is suddenly hugely important in the ACC. At 6-1 apiece and undefeated in conference play, Thursday night means quite a bit. (It’s also one of the better Thursday night games all season.)

Without running back James Conner, its most important player, Pittsburgh has still thrived in close games. The Panthers have won each of those games by a touchdown or less.

Keep this in mind: The Panthers lone loss came to undefeated Iowa on a 57-yard field goal. Other than that, they have been perfect.

North Carolina knows a bit about streaking. Since losing the opening game to South Carolina—a game they could have certainly won—the Tar Heels have been perfect. While the offense is typically the story with this program in recent years, that is not the case thus far. Gene Chizik, now the defensive coordinator, has orchestrated a magnificent makeover.

This game won’t get the spotlight it deserves, but don’t let that cool your interest. Do yourself a favor and watch this one.

 

3. Florida vs. Georgia (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

They refuse to acknowledge this as the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party these days, although it will always be the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Let that be known right now.

Yes, this lovely Jacksonville rivalry, regardless of record or current reputation, will always have a soft spot in our hearts. This year, despite a distinct lack of buzz over the game, there is a great deal at stake.

The Gators, coming off their first loss of the year back in Week 7 to LSU, are still in control of the SEC East. And although quarterback Will Grier was lost for the year, backup Treon Harris looked mighty capable in his 2015 debut. 

Georgia’s last game was one it would rather not talk about. Unlike the two previous outings, the result was a win. But beating Missouri 9-6 at home does not exactly instill confidence heading into the second half of the season. Still, through all of the injuries and downs, the Bulldogs are only a game behind the Gators in the division.

At some point in the next few weekends, Georgia running back Sony Michel is going to explode on the scene. It’s only a matter of time. For Mark Richt’s sake, now would be as good a time as any.

While it may not be the most important cocktail party in the past decade, there are sneaky ramifications to be mindful of here. Plus, the whole party thing.

 

2. Stanford at Washington State (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Oh, this is going to be a strange game. With Washington State suddenly rolling and Pullman, Washington hosting a game on Halloween night, the ingredients are all in place for regulated mayhem.

"It's probably on the scale of Woodstock as far as being a historic event where people gather,” Washington State head coach Mike Leach told reporters. “Statement for our generation, I think.”

This crowd will welcome one of the nation’s hottest teams. After losing to Northwestern in Week 1, Stanford has responded by demolishing everything in its way. The Cardinal didn’t pulverize Washington last week, but the game was in hand. Running back Christian McCaffrey, quickly becoming a name we should be talking about for the Heisman, finished with 300 more all-purpose yards. He’s become a machine.

"I'm at the point where I don't know what else I can say other than watch him, just watch him," Stanford head coach David Shaw told reporters after the game. "He's so quick, so explosive. The little guy never gets tired. He gets pounded, he gets hit, he gets blown up on a kickoff return and we want to sub him and take him out to see if he's OK and he comes over with a smile on his face."

The home team, however, suddenly has life. Yes, I’m talking about the team that lost to Portland State earlier this season. Washington State is now 5-2 thanks in large part to its quarterback. Sophomore Luke Falk has scored 29 touchdowns this season. He’s scored 17 in the last three weeks alone.

Falk is a force. But Stanford is playing one of the top three teams in the nation.

Let’s get weird on Halloween, shall we?

 

1. Notre Dame at Temple (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET, ABC)

When Notre Dame’s loaded 2015 schedule was released, we looked at all of the wonderful opponents and potential while breezing right past this game. We thought maybe, if all went according to plan, the Irish would be undefeated at this point.

There is indeed an undefeated team playing in this game, although it’s the home team. Temple, one of the great stories of the 2015 season, is still without a blemish.

That was almost not the case. Down for much of the game against East Carolina in Week 8, Temple needed 14 points in the fourth quarter to secure a 24-14 win.

This is not just a nice team and a good story; there is talent. If this is your introduction to Temple running back Jahad Thomas, you are in for a treat.

Of course, Notre Dame has its own lovely story brewing along with its own running back. Having converted from wide receiver because of injuries, C.J. Prosise has developed into one of the nation’s deadliest offensive weapons. And somewhat quietly, quarterback DeShone Kizer—also playing because of an injury—has looked more and more comfortable.

Notre Dame enjoyed a much-needed bye after squeezing passed USC in Week 7. While there’s a talent gap between these two rosters, the atmosphere will be electric, and Temple is capable of pulling the upset.

(Haunted houses, remember.)

 

The No Good, Very Bad Game That Could Be Really, Really Fun: Tulsa at SMU (Saturday, 4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN News) 

There are four wins between these two teams, which is not exactly the sexiest way to sell a game out of the gate. Three of those wins belong to Tulsa, which just pushed Memphis for three quarters before the effort caved in. SMU, despite showing dramatic improvement over last year, still has only one win thanks in large part to an extremely taxing schedule.

But in terms of defense, this particular matchup has, well, almost none. Tulsa is ranked No. 118 in points allowed, while SMU is ranked No. 123. The result of this could be a buffet of touchdowns and points.

It will not be the cleanest game played all weekend. It could likely last nine hours. But if you’re looking for that game where the scoreboard might break, try this one.

 

Matchup of the Weekend: Laquan Treadwell vs. the Auburn Defense

Ole Miss wideout Laquon Treadwell is required weekly viewing. His catch radius is essentially the state of Mississippi. And his athletic ability, now well beyond the nasty lower-leg injury that ended his 2014 season early, is hard to quantify.

So why on Earth would one provide this giant human net with some added motivation? 

Auburn CB Jonathan Jones, when asked about Ole Miss WR Laquon Treadwell: "He's just a regular receiver like everybody else."

— Tom Green (@AUBlog) October 27, 2015

Bulletin-board material can be overrated. In the end, the game is going to happen and a player’s newfound anger won’t suddenly make him more explosive. Treadwell really doesn’t need that; he’s plenty terrifying as is.

Still, with this quote out in the open, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t completely fascinated as to what Treadwell has in store for the nation’s No. 74 passing defense.

 

The Halloween Candy Playoff Projection

College football has its own four-team playoff, which is lovely. We talk about if frequently here. But to celebrate Halloween, it’s time to seed Halloween candy instead. The committee is a grown man who has eaten a lot of candy.

Please note: Candy corn went 2-10, saw its coach get fired and finished last in the Halloween conference. This concludes our stance on candy corn.

 

No. 1 Reese's Peanut Butter Cups vs. No. 4 Peanut Butter M&M's

The No. 1 seed was not an easy decision, although Reese's Peanut Butter Cups certainly earned top honors. Peanut Butter M&M's, a severely underrated consumable, crashed the top four despite being severely overlooked all season.

 

No. 2 Twix vs. No. 3 Snickers

Two of the most reliable brands meet up in a game that would produce enormous ratings. While this particular match boils down to preference, both were no-doubt inclusions in the top four. The committee appreciates Kit Kat’s effort and understands its disappointment.

Twix would be my winner in this hypothetical candy playoff. Who would win for you? Leave your answer in the comment section below. 

 

Parting Shot: Let’s Hire Miami’s Next Football Coach, Shall We?

We’re handing out treats, Miami. And today, I’m going to pass along coaching advice that is the equivalent of a King-Size Snickers.

Don’t bother paying a firm $500,000 to find your next head coach. Don’t bother pulling out your Rolodex of contacts and agents. Don’t bother being secretive with your private jets, trying to keep all interviews a hidden from the rest of us.

Instead, do yourself an enormous favor and call Tom Herman, the current head coach of undefeated Houston and a future college football superstar. After you get him on the phone, hire him.

Yes, he lacks head coaching experience. Herman has been a head coach for less than a year, and he’s been navigating a collegiate sideline as a head coach for roughly two months. There’s no question that he’ll grow a great deal in this department in time. (He’s only 40.)

And yet, with his inexperience fully on the table, I can’t say enough about what a hire this would be. Already one of the nation’s elite recruiters, Herman could single-handedly alter the way talented Florida high schoolers view Florida schools. He could turn back the clock on Miami recruiting and push it closer to a place of comfort.

When he helped guide Ohio State to a national championship earlier this year, he was one of Urban Meyer’s main recruiting weapons. On top of that, look what he was able to do with an Ohio State offense playing its third-string quarterback. 

Above all, however, Herman seems to have it. After I spoke with him over the summer regarding Houston, I was floored with his natural honesty and confidence. Those two don’t always mesh together for coaches; a little too much of one can doom the other. But even before Herman coached his first official game, you could sense that he was a natural fit for this kind of leadership. Early returns at Houston have certainly justified that.

Go get your swag back, Miami. Go hire a coach who studied under the best football mind in the country. Go hire the coach poised to change the Florida recruiting landscape. Go hire Tom Herman and don’t think twice about it.  

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South Carolina vs. Texas A&M Complete Game Preview

Texas A&M is riding its worst two-game stretch since Kevin Sumlin took over three years ago.

After starting with five straight wins, the Aggies fell 41-23 against Alabama—an admitted improvement over 59-0 last season—and 23-3 at Ole Miss.

Sumlin's signature offense cost them both games, which has led to across-the-board questions. Who is the starting quarterback? Who should be calling the plays? Is Sumlin as good as advertised?

All of those questions are justified, if not slightly impulsive, and will receive short-term answers against South Carolina.

The Gamecocks have fallen far the past two seasons, starting fittingly with a 52-28 home loss against A&M in Week 1 last season. They entered that week No. 9 in the AP poll but have slowly since faded from relevance.

The nadir came two weeks ago, when head coach Steve Spurrier retired, handing the reins to interim coach Shawn Elliott. But the Gamecocks responded with a close win over Vanderbilt and spent last week's bye feeling good about themselves.

That's the opposite of A&M's current mindset.

 

Date: Saturday, October 31

Time: Noon ET

Location: Kyle Field; College Station, Texas

TV: SEC Network

Line: Texas A&M -16, according to Odds Shark

Begin Slideshow

Texas A&M's QB Battle Is Only One Part of Its Offensive Problem

Texas A&M quarterback Kyle Allen completed just 12 of his 34 passes in last weekend's 23-3 loss at Ole Miss, misfired on 20 of his final 22 attempts before being benched for Jake Hubenak and has been looking over his shoulder while legendary high school dual-threat Kyler Murray has been lurking.

It should come as no surprise that Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin hit the "reset button" on his quarterback position heading into this weekend's matchup with South Carolina.

According to Billy Liucci of TexAgs.com, the trio will battle it out all week in College Station.

"For this game" makes it seem like it's going to be a week-to-week discussion down the stretch, unless somebody steps forward.

Who should be the man in College Station?

It should be Kyle Allen for now with Kyler Murray as the designated changeup/backup, with Murray and Hubenak both ready to go if Allen struggles. After all, that was the plan from the moment toe met leather this year, and Allen deserves the opportunity to win back the trust of his teammates.

Sure, I called for Murray during the Ole Miss loss on Twitter while Allen was throwing incomplete pass after incomplete pass. But that would be a temporary solution to what seems like a permanent problem.

Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital is the problem.

The offense has just one touchdown over the last 10 quarters, managed just 192 yards against an Ole Miss defense that was without several stars, including defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, and hasn't been able to run the football the way Sumlin envisioned prior to the season.

"Obviously it begins with me," Spavital said, according to Kate Hairopoulos of the Dallas Morning News. "There's a lot of things we can get better at. We got to do a better job of finding easier completions for these quarterbacks ... especially at times when they're rattled. Overall, it's been an up-and down ride with this offense, but we know we're going to get this fixed."

His play-calling doesn't seem to fit his quarterback's strengths, is far too focused on the east/west passing game and is about as predictable as the sunrise in short-yardage situations.

What's more, three of his last four quarterbacks—Geno Smith at West Virginia in 2012, Kenny Hill in 2014 and Allen in 2015—all have suffered midseason swoons.

Translation: The book got out on all of them, and Spavital needs to re-write it.

Lately, it's been more down than up, though, which has sent A&M into about as much turmoil as possible for a 5-2 football team. 

The running game is also a major problem. The Aggies are averaging just 147.14 yards per game on the ground—11th in the SEC. In conference games, that number drops to 87.25 yards per game, which is the worst mark in the conference, and they're averaging just 94.67 yards per game and 2.93 yards per carry on the ground in the month of October.

That simply won't cut it with the talented offensive line and new offensive line coach/running game coordinator Dave Christensen—who was supposed to bring a more power-based attack—in College Station.

From rumors of a divide in the locker room from CBS Houston's John P. Lopez, to the offensive ineptitude to play-calling that's been suspect at best, the once-promising Texas A&M season has regressed into a Texas-sized mess that Sumlin needs to fix at this pivotal point of his career.

Priority No. 1 for Sumlin isn't to name a quarterback. It's to fix an offense that has become stagnant and predictable at a critical time of the season for the second straight year under Spavital. 

To fix the offense, Sumlin must fix Spavital.

Otherwise, this viscous cycle of offensive ineptitude is likely to repeat itself, and the Texas A&M program will continue to spin its wheels.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: Ranking the Volunteers' 5 Most Impactful Injuries in 2015

Tennessee's football season still holds plenty of promise despite the Volunteers currently sitting at 3-4, but coach Butch Jones' team has been forced to run an early-season gauntlet shorthanded.

The Vols have dealt with too many injuries to count, as vital players are constantly sitting for anywhere from a single game to the entire season. The Vols have been especially hammered with injuries on both lines as well as in the wide receiving corps.

Just to give you an idea of how devastating the injuries have been this year, take into consideration that the loss of starting senior offensive guard Marcus Jackson and the injury to starting right tackle Brett Kendrick didn't make the list.

WNML radio's Jimmy Hyams reported Monday that Kendrick is out for the year after suffering injuries to his knee and elbow. Howover, Jones said at his weekly media day (per GoVols247's Ryan Callahan) that he is hopeful to get Kendrick back.

Current injuries such as the ones to starting guard Jashon Robertson, senior safety LaDarrell McNeil and the receiving trio of Jason Croom, Johnathon Johnson and Preston Williams aren't present, either.

All of those players have missed or are missing significant playing time.

"I think our football team continues to grow and get better and better and better," Jones told local reporters before the Alabama game, per AL.com's Matt Zenitz. "We've been behind a little bit in terms of injuries, but we've had individuals step up game in and game out."

Let's take a look at the top five injuries that have wreaked the most havoc on UT so far this season.

 

5. Marquez North, Junior, Wide Receiver

Tennessee's go-to target, who is as impressive a physical specimen at the position as there is in the entire SEC, has been reduced to a spectator role for much of the season after dealing with myriad injuries.

The 6'3", 229-pound junior hurt his knee in the spring, leading to Twitter and message board rumors that he was lost for the season. Though that wound up not being true, his production certainly has faltered.

Once he got back on the field, North was victimized by an errant Joshua Dobbs throw that left him vulnerable and exposed over the middle. He was hit in the back, and the Alabama game was his first action since being hurt against the Gators.

UT passing game coordinator Zach Azzanni said this week that he feels for North's plight, according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel's Grant Ramey:

I feel for Marquez. He's a very prideful young man. He took quite a shot at Florida and it kind of messed with him a little bit, injury wise. He went out there (against Alabama) with a wince on his face that whole second half. He gave us whatever he could to give Josh Smith a blow on the sideline, to go in there and give us a couple (plays). That's the things people don't see.

So far, North has just five catches for 46 yards on the season. Last year, he was beginning to show breakout signs with 30 grabs for 320 yards and four touchdowns before tearing his labrum and needing season-ending surgery.

He missed the entire spring, and he's never been the same. 

Along with the injuries to Croom, Johnson, Williams and several other receivers, North's extensive missed time has been a huge obstacle for UT to overcome. The Vols need him to return to go-to status. If he doesn't get healthy and start showing what he can do, his once sure NFL promise will never equal production.

 

4. Justin Martin, Sophomore, Cornerback

For as much excitement as Martin created during recruiting when he chose the Vols over LSU, Auburn, Georgia, Texas A&M and virtually everybody else in the Southeast, it wasn't a surprise when he looked solid in fall drills.

But the Vols didn't realize just how much they missed the lanky sophomore until his first extensive action of the season that came this past weekend at Alabama. 

Martin finished with seven tackles and swatted away a two-point conversion attempt from the Tide, looking very strong in the process. After getting hurt midway through camp, Martin was way behind once the season started.

The Vols figured they were set enough at cornerback to move Martin along slowly, but that was before sophomore Emmanuel Moseley shockingly regressed in his second season. Martin really came on strongly in the bye week and started for UT against the Tide.

He made the most of his chance to play on the big stage, and it appears that's his spot opposite Cameron Sutton for the near future.

Would Martin have been ready to start at the beginning of the season? That's a tall order for a player who's never played on this level. But once Moseley started struggling, it would have been nice to have the option of inserting Martin. His injury woes cost UT that opportunity.

 

3. Shy Tuttle, Freshman, Defensive Tackle

There are several places where injuries don't stick out as much, but in the trenches, in a league like the SEC, they're glaring.

That's especially the case at defensive tackle for the Vols, who've struggled to maintain a solid rotation the past two seasons.

Last year, UT played much of the season with a three-man rotation, with the occasional fourth man getting a few snaps here and there. This year, that number was all the way up to five, and the true freshmen duo of Tuttle and Kahlil McKenzie were really beginning to come into their own.

That's when a questionable block by Georgia center Brandon Kublanow caused Tuttle to land awkwardly on his leg, breaking his fibula and tearing ligaments in his ankle.

Tennessee responded to the injury with its best game all season from the defensive line, but that was coming off a bye week. The real impact of the Tuttle injury may appear throughout the remainder of the year. The Vols are currently rotating only McKenzie, Kendal Vickers, Danny O'Brien and Owen Williams at the position.

The Vols went with a smaller, quicker defensive front at times against Alabama, and it paid dividends. That may be something we see moving forward to alleviate some of the pressure from that slim depth chart. If coordinator John Jancek employs some rabbit packages, it can minimize snap impact.

How UT manages the rotation for the rest of the year will go a long way in determining the defense's success.

 

2. Curt Maggitt, Senior, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker

Most people would say the loss of emotional senior leader and sack machine Maggitt would be the biggest loss Tennessee has endured so far.

A case certainly can be made for it. The 6'4", 252-pound hybrid edge-rusher finally returned to full strength toward the middle of last year after missing more than a season after suffering torn knee ligaments. All he did was finish 2014 with 48 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks.

However, Maggitt suffered a hip injury against Oklahoma, and the setback will sideline him at least six to 10 weeks. It could cost him virtually his entire season.

With Maggitt out, opponents were able to focus most of their attention to fellow defensive end Derek Barnett, and that affected his productivity. However, against the Crimson Tide, Corey Vereen was a force to be reckoned with in Maggitt's old spot, so UT may be adapting to life without him.

Prior to the five-sack breakout against Bama, Maggitt's absence was obvious in the numbers.

Even though UT enjoyed a strong game against the Tide, there's no denying the impact of the senior from West Palm Beach, Florida.

It goes much further than on-field production, too. While Maggitt is still traveling some with the team, he's not out there on the field, where he's an emotional force around which his teammates rally.

Tennessee hopes Maggitt is back for the final few weeks of the year. That would be a major defensive boost for the stretch run. Until then, the Vols have to fill a huge void left by their leader.

 

1. Rashaan Gaulden, Sophomore, Nickelback

Other than perhaps middle linebacker, there may not be a more important position in Jancek's defense than the nickelback spot.

That player has to line up on the exterior of the defense, cover the slot, be physical enough to come up and help in the run game and speedy enough to neutralize opposing receivers. It's a vital position that needs to help push plays to the middle of the field, and it's not easy to play.

Gaulden was solidifying that spot when he fractured a foot in fall camp, costing him the entire season before it even started.

A season after senior and current New England Patriots rookie Justin Coleman grew into the nickelback spot and was a strength on that defense, Gaulden looked like he had an even higher ceiling.

Then it was over. He got tripped up on a punt return drill and broke his foot in a freak injury. A few days prior to that, Jancek talked about how strong Gaulden was looking. He told GoVols247's Wes Rucker:

I trust Rashaan, yeah. When you say 'trust,' I mean, I know that he cares, he works hard, you know? Is he gonna make mistakes? Yeah, he’s gonna make mistakes. That means I don’t trust him. I trust Rashaan because of what he stands for as a young man, and the things that he’s been able to do in a short amount of time. Yeah, I do trust Rashaan.

Tennessee has struggled to replace him. Junior Malik Foreman hasn't been terrible, but he's been burned several times. He also isn't as physical as the 6'1", 184-pound Gaulden was showing in practice, as evidenced by him winning the defensive Most Improved Player award in the spring.

UT's secondary has consistently been the team's biggest weakness throughout the year, and if Gaulden and Martin were healthy all year, it may not be. It's easy to look at hypotheticals in hindsight, but the bottom line is Gaudlen was a surefire starter, and all of a sudden UT had to account for life without him.

That's been a familiar refrain for the Vols all year long.

 

All stats gathered from UTSports.com unless otherwise noted. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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College Football Week 9 Schedule: NCAA Top 25 TV and Live Stream Coverage

Another week where the outlook around the college football world stays much the same. The reigning champions from Ohio State remain atop both the Associated Press and Amway Coaches polls for Week 9, but there are plenty of other teams still alive in the playoff chase.

The wait continues for this year's version of "Upset Saturday," where several marquee teams are handed crushing blows in one fell swoop. If that day never arrives, the College Football Playoff selection committee could end up facing some incredibly difficult decisions.

There's still plenty of football to play before that point, though. So let's check out the viewing information for this week's AP Top 25 games along with a breakdown of some top matchups.

 

Top 25 Schedule

 

Week 9's Best Games

Georgia vs. No. 11 Florida

Florida received a bye week at an ideal time. The Gators suffered a narrow defeat on the road against LSU last time out. Having a chance to regroup emotionally last week before a massive SEC East battle with Georgia should work to their benefit.

The Bulldogs already have two conference losses, to Alabama and Tennessee, but their schedule is more favorable moving forward. However, while this is a golden opportunity, offensive tackle John Theus knows the margin for error is razor-thin, per Greg Ostendorf of ESPN.com.

"At this point, every game is an elimination game for us," Theus said. "We have to win out to be where we want to be."

The key for Georgia is its defense. The unit gave up 38 points in each of the losses to the Crimson Tide and the Volunteers. Now the pressure is even more intense with star running back Nick Chubb out for the season with a knee injury.

On the flip side, the Gators need to get their ground game going. Every player with at least 20 carries this season, including starting running back Kelvin Taylor, is averaging less than four yards per carry. That must improve to survive the rest of the SEC grind and earn a berth in the conference title game.

 

No. 12 Oklahoma State vs. Texas Tech

It's rare for a team from one of the major conferences to fly below the radar as much as Oklahoma State has this season. The Cowboys started the campaign in the shadow of Baylor and TCU in the Big 12 and are still there with all three teams at 7-0.

They will have an opportunity to change the perception with games against the Bears and Horned Frogs looming. But first, they have to deal with a tricky road test against Texas Tech. It's a game that can derail their playoff charge before those marquee games, as Nathan Hiatt of the O'Colly noted:

The Red Raiders already have a lot of big-game experience under their belt this season. They only lost by three points to TCU but got blown out by Baylor and Oklahoma. This is a game Oklahoma State should win, but it can't afford to overlook the challenge.

The Cowboys put together one of their strongest all-around performances of the season last week to crush Kansas. They racked up 583 total yards of offense, forced two turnovers and won by 48 points. They must build off that as they prepare for a far more competitive game.

 

No. 9 Notre Dame vs. No. 21 Temple

This game nearly lost its luster as Temple trailed East Carolina with under five minutes to go last week. The Owls survived the upset bid by scoring two late touchdowns to remain unbeaten, however, and it created this week's only meeting of ranked foes.

It's a chance for both teams to make a serious statement. The Fighting Irish need more marquee victories to make their playoff case, and Temple needs one to validate its terrific start. In case the game needed more hype, College GameDay will be there:

If the Irish battle back into the playoff mix, DeShone Kizer deserves a lot of credit. The situation looked bleak when the sophomore quarterback stepped in for the injured Malik Zaire. He's responded with a stretch of solid play to keep the offense afloat, but he will get tested by the nation's eighth-ranked scoring defense.

That said, the real mystery is how Temple will play as the level of competition increases exponentially. So far, its biggest triumphs came over Penn State and Cincinnati. Beating Notre Dame would show the Owls' record isn't just a fluke made possible by a mediocre schedule.

 

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Ranking the Best SEC Matchups of Week 9

After a couple of quality weeks, this Saturday features an SEC slate that's a bit on the lighter side, as bye weeks are in full swing and there are no matchups between ranked opponents.

There are still a few extremely intriguing games.

The most interesting one will occur in Jacksonville, Florida, as the Georgia Bulldogs and 11th-ranked Florida Gators will renew their rivalry in the "World's Largest Cocktail Party."

Ole Miss has to travel to the loveliest village on the Plains of Alabama, and Tennessee heads to Lexington, Kentucky, to try to reverse this season's bad luck against the Wildcats.

Vanderbilt must venture out of conference to take on a ranked opponent, and Texas A&M has to find a way to pick up the pieces against South Carolina.

The SEC East may very well be at stake this weekend, so that will provide plenty of drama. Other games should hold plenty of interest as well, as contenders will try not to get in scary situations on Halloween.

Taking into consideration the quality of opponents, venue and chances of an upset, let's take a look at the top SEC games of the week.

Begin Slideshow

Georgia Bulldogs vs. Florida Gators Complete Game Preview

It’s that time of the year again. At the end of October, Georgia and Florida fans flock to Jacksonville for the annual meeting between the two SEC schools.

This matchup could be called the unofficial SEC East Championship Game because the winner will have the inside track of winning the division title.

Florida is coming off a tough loss to LSU. But because the Gators lost to an undefeated LSU team by a slim margin, they proved they are the team to beat in the SEC East.

The Bulldogs are coming off an ugly win against Missouri where they did not score a touchdown for the first time since the 2010 Liberty Bowl. With the loss of Nick Chubb and the struggles of Greyson Lambert, Georgia comes into the game with a chip on its shoulder.

Florida may be the favorite in the game, but because we have seen it many times before in this series, anything can and will happen on Saturday.

 

Date: Oct. 31, 2015

Time: 3:30 p.m. ET

Place: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.

TV: CBS

Radio: Gator Sports Network, Georgia Bulldogs Sports Network, Sirius/XM 81/81

Odds: Florida is a three-point favorite, according to Odds Shark.

 

When Georgia Has the Ball

When Georgia played Missouri nearly two weeks ago, the first play from scrimmage was a sign of things to come, as Greyson Lambert’s pass was picked off. He would finish the game 23-of-32 passing, but the Missouri defense could have picked off a couple of passes.

Even with the loss of Chubb in the Tennessee game, Georgia’s strength is in the run game. Sony Michel had a workman-like game against the Tigers, rushing for 87 yards on 25 carries. For him to be used at his full ability, he will need to have fewer carries and more receptions in the backfield. That means Keith Marshall and Brendan Douglas will see more carries. Both are reliable veterans, but they are not at the same level as Michel.

Snapshot of @Greyson_Lambert stats thru 7 games. pic.twitter.com/LCIDLn1Fz5

— Bulldogs On 2 (@WSBbulldogs) October 20, 2015

Georgia went up against a Missouri team that only gives up 12.5 points per game. And the Bulldogs will face another tough defense, as Florida ranks No. 4 in scoring and total defense in the SEC. However, the Gators did give up 35 points and 423 yards in the loss to LSU before their bye. The good news for the Gators is they won’t have to face Leonard Fournette when they play the Bulldogs; he was the reason Florida had a hard time stopping the Tigers.

Florida’s defense is led by linebacker Antonio Morrison, who has 54 tackles and seven tackles for loss. But it’s the defensive line that has been doing big things this season. Jonathan Bullard has 10 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, while Alex McCalister and Joey Ivie have four and 3.5 sacks, respectively.

 

When Florida Has the Ball

For the most part this season, Florida has struggled on offense, as the team is eighth in the SEC in scoring offense. And with quarterback Will Grier suspended for the rest of the season, the Gators will have to rely on Treon Harris.

He played well in the LSU game, throwing for 271 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. However, he did get sacked five times, which proved to be the difference in the game.

Harris has experience playing against the Bulldogs, as he led the Gators to a 38-20 rout last season. However, he only completed three passes and only rushed for 31 of the team's 445 rushing yards.

Treon Harris brings big-game experience into UGA matchup #UFhttps://t.co/RMGl9P2y1fpic.twitter.com/kiApOuTryZ

— Gators FB Report (@gators_fb_fanly) October 27, 2015

The Bulldogs will not have to worry about the Florida rushing attack, because the Gators rank 13th in the SEC in rushing offense, and Matt Jones, who rushed for nearly 200 yards last year against Georgia, is now in the NFL. But Georgia has issues dealing with dual-threat quarterbacks.

When the Bulldogs took on Tennessee earlier this month, Joshua Dobbs ran for 118 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns, which led to a Vols win.

It was a poor showing for a Bulldogs team that is ranked third in the SEC in total defense. If the Bulldogs don’t want a repeat performance when they take on the Gators on Saturday, everyone has to stay at home and maintain his assignment.

 

Player to Watch for Georgia: Malcolm Mitchell

After a 2013 season when he was injured and a 2014 season when he was coming back from an injury, Malcolm Mitchell is back and has become the Bulldogs' main deep threat.

Mitchell is ninth in the SEC in receptions (35), eighth in yards (505) and tied for sixth in touchdowns (four). All those numbers aren’t bad considering the Bulldogs rank ninth in the SEC in passing.

The Gators know the Bulldogs are going to establish the run game, so Florida will do whatever it takes to make Lambert throw as much as possible. So it’s important he is able to find Mitchell early and often so the Bulldogs can stretch the field and have balance on offense.

This game means a lot to Mitchell because he wants to beat the Gators as a senior. He was huge in the game in 2012, as he caught a 45-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

#FloridaHateWeek#JeanShorts#GatorsAreLamehttps://t.co/vPoP1XqQfF

— tgentry97 (@tgentry97) October 26, 2015

 

Player to Watch for Florida: Vernon Hargreaves

In order for Mitchell to stretch the field, he will have to go up against one of the best cornerbacks in college football.

Vernon Hargreaves is a big reason the Gators are strong on defense. According to GatorBait.net via Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports, Hargreaves has only allowed 11 catches for 158 yards on 23 targets. He had better numbers in his freshman and sophomore seasons, but he has been dealing with an ankle injury all season long.

Hargreaves also has a team-high three interceptions, 22 tackles and one forced fumble.

Vernon Hargreaves, uno de los mejores playmakers en defensa de la NCAA. Una prueba: forzó un fumble vs Fournette. https://t.co/uzaVB7lIAt

— Pedro Dominguez (@pedrominguez_) October 18, 2015

Nothing is set in stone, but Hargreaves could line up against Mitchell all game long. It will be the best matchup of the game because both have speed and explosion and are disciplined at their respective positions.

 

Prediction: Florida 24, Georgia 21

Based on what has happened the last few years in this series, this will come down to the wire. Both teams will come out with a lot of energy, because they want to have better performances than the last time they were out on the field.

The loss of Chubb hurts Georgia. It forces Michel and Lambert to do more, and it also means guys such as Marshall, Douglas, Terry Godwin and Jay Rome will need to make plays.

It won’t be easy to do so consistently because Florida has a lot of moving parts on defense and will make sure the Georgia’s running game never gets going. If that happens, the Gators will win, and Bulldogs fans will be beyond angry on how the 2015 season has unfolded.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Kyle Allen vs. Kyler Murray vs. Jake Hubenak: Updates on Texas A&M QB Battle

The Texas A&M starting quarterback job is officially up for grabs between current No. 1 Kyle Allen, true freshman Kyler Murray and sophomore Jake Hubenak.

Continue for updates.

Aggies Starting QB to be Named Friday Tuesday, Oct. 27

Head coach Kevin Sumlin spoke Tuesday about what the Aggies are seeking at the most important position and why Allen's leash was so long to begin with, per the Associated Press' Kristie Reiken:

Looking for consistency across the board at quarterback. Cutting down on turnovers. This week you'll be evaluated not only based on practice, percentage in drills and everything else, but also evaluated in your leadership skills, communication with teammates and the coaching staff and general overall play and demeanor.

[...]  (It's) hard to play that position looking over your shoulder all the time. A lot of other positions you can yank guys in and out. But without confidence it's hard to play quarterback. You kind of want a guy to play himself out of it, but it wasn't happening and we made the change.    

Allen had a stellar start to the 2015 campaign in guiding the Aggies to a 5-0 record. The gifted sophomore has since lost command of the offense. He threw three pick-sixes in an ugly 41-23 loss to Alabama and was just 12-of-34 passing for 88 yards and an interception in a 23-3 defeat to Ole Miss in his last outing.

Ever since Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel left for the NFL after the 2013 campaign, Texas A&M hasn't been able to find a sustainable successor. Kenny Hill got off to a hot start last season but eventually regressed, was benched in favor of Allen and is now awaiting a chance to play at TCU.

Now Allen may be on the wrong end of a similar development if Murray wrests the starting job away prior to this Saturday's SEC showdown with South Carolina.

Murray was a 5-star recruit and considered the No. 1 dual-threat QB in the class of 2015 by 247Sports. Although he couldn't beat out Allen in their initial competition, this may be the beginning of Murray's tenure running the show.

But Murray also reportedly directed an expletive-laden tirade at offensive coordinator Jake Spavital when he was pulled from the Alabama game for throwing an interception, per John P. Lopez of CBS Houston. The 18-year-old dressed for the Ole Miss contest but didn't play even when Allen was floundering.

Sumlin addressed the Murray incident Tuesday and expressed optimism about what Murray's done of late to redeem himself, per Reiken:

Kyler has done the things necessary that we've asked him to do based on what happened on the sideline. Hopefully that's been a learning experience for him. Since that time...he has come back has practiced and is doing the right things. That's why he was part of discussion (Monday) in this competition.

That unfortunate episode from Murray nevertheless leaves the door open for the dark horse in Hubenak, a junior college transfer, to possibly take over.

Among the trickiest aspects of this QB kerfuffle in College Station is how to fairly divide practice reps between three different players. Sumlin referred to how detrimental it can be at the position for players to be looking behind them, which can disrupt any hopes of establishing a rhythm and asserting oneself as the leader of an offense or team.

Allen and Murray were also highly recruited, so benching them this many times early in their careers may alienate them from the program and create further tension in the locker room.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bleacher Report's Week 9 College Football Playoff Predictions

Will your team make the College Football Playoff?

Unlike most media sites, Bleacher Report doesn't give you a yes or no answer.  Instead, we use analytics and the AP poll as a substitute for committee rankings to assign your team a probability to make the playoff.

The sortable table below shows the results, while you can find more information on the methods here.  Week 8 changed the odds for some teams with the highest probabilities.  Let's look at the top talking points.

 

Clemson makes the jump after crushing Miami

The numbers always like a team that wins 58-0.  Clemson's embarrassment of Miami not only got 'Canes coach Al Golden fired, but bumped the Tigers' playoff probability to 55.4 percent, highest in the nation.

While Clemson looked great this weekend, Florida State did not.  As a six-point favorite, the Seminoles lost to Georgia Tech 22-16 when a field-goal attempt was blocked and returned for a game-winning touchdown.

Before Week 8, my numbers gave Clemson a 62 percent to beat Florida State in a pivotal ACC game.  Now, Clemson has a 73 percent chance to win, which plays a big role in their increased playoff probability.

Not many expected Clemson to make a playoff run this preseason because an elite defense lost most of its starters from last season.  However, coordinator Brent Venables has done a fantastic job as Clemson has allowed 4.14 yards per play this season, sixth-best in the nation.

 

Seth Russell injury drops Baylor from the top spot

Before panic time over Seth Russell, Baylor had panic time with Seth Russell.  Prior to the quarterback getting hurt Saturday, Baylor didn't score on its first four possessions of the second half against Iowa State.

Last week, I discussed how Baylor had the highest playoff probability despite a weak schedule because they kept winning by large margins.  On Saturday, they beat Iowa State by 18, much less than the 35 expected by the markets.  Baylor's playoff chances dropped from over 50 percent to 35 percent.

Panic with Russell turned into panic over Russell as it was announced the quarterback will not play the remainder of the season because of a fractured bone in his neck.  What seemed like a small sample size of four possessions becomes a potentially bigger problem without the Heisman-contending quarterback.

However, if any coach in America can fix a quarterback problem, it's Art Briles.  After a bye week, Baylor will start freshman Jarrett Stidham, a highly touted prospect, against Kansas State.  The Bears' 35 percent playoff probability makes no adjustment for the loss of Russell, but let's wait a few games to determine whether any adjustment is necessary.

 

Ohio State eclipses even odds to make playoff

What is a top playoff contender supposed to do against weak competition?  Beat them, badly.

Ohio State pounded Rutgers 49-7 and reminded everyone why the Buckeyes entered the season as the consensus No. 1 team.  QB J.T. Barrett started the game and completed 14 of 18 passes for 223 yards.  With his sustained success over 12 games last season, this seemed like the right QB choice all along.

With the emphatic win, Ohio State has a 55.23 percent chance to make the playoff, barely trailing Clemson (55.45).  They have a tough road game against a resurgent Michigan team to end the regular season, but my numbers give them a 55 percent win probability in that game.

 

The Temple fairy tale ends this weekend

Temple has had a magical season so far.  It has an unblemished 7-0, and their game with Notre Dame this Saturday has drawn the attention of ESPN's College GameDay crew.

However, Temple is not as good as its record suggests.  The offense has yet to gain more than 5.4 yards per play in any game this season, and they beat a poor Massachusetts team by only two points.

While Temple's defense has been sound, they face a difficult task in Notre Dame's offense.  This season, the Fighting Irish have gained 7.3 yards per play, fifth-best in the nation.  

Notre Dame presents a difficult matchup for Temple on both sides of the ball.  My numbers give Temple only a 25 percent chance to win.

 

The Big 12 likely only gets one playoff team

With TCU and Baylor both in the top five of the playoff odds, it might seem like two Big 12 teams will make the final four.  However, this is not the case.  It's most likey one or the other, as even the sum of their chances is only 72 percent.

Baylor plays TCU on Thanksgiving weekend, and the winner most likely wins the Big 12 and makes the playoff.  It's unlikely the other team makes it with one loss.  For this to happen, a few of the favorites in conference championship games would have to lose.

Also, let's not assume both Baylor and TCU make it to Thanksgiving undefeated, as they both have a game with Oklahoma. The Sooner defense has allowed 4.5 yards per play (15th in the nation), which gives Oklahoma a decent shot to win either game.

 

Ed Feng has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Stanford and runs the sports analytics site The Power Rank. You can find him on Twitter @thepowerrank.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ole Miss vs. Auburn Complete Game Preview

This Halloween matchup between Ole Miss and Auburn was billed as a potential SEC West elimination game in the offseason—one that had the massive revenge narrative from last season's ending and featured two high-powered offenses looking to stay alive in the race to Atlanta.

But as October comes to a close, Ole Miss (6-2, 3-1 SEC) is the only one with championship hopes, although they're slimmer after a pair of tough road losses. Auburn (4-3, 1-3 SEC) is scratching and clawing just to qualify for a bowl game.

No. 19 Ole Miss will look to build on a bounce-back 23-3 victory over Texas A&M this weekend against struggling Auburn, which fell in four overtimes at Arkansas last Saturday. The Rebels lost to Auburn last season in heartbreaking fashion, so expect this game to have a ton of emotion.

A morning kickoff on Halloween has the potential to get weird. It also could get downright scary for the Tigers, who are having a hard time stopping anyone on defense this season.

Before we break down the latest edition of Ole Miss vs. Auburn, here's all the basic info you need to know:

Date: Saturday, October 31

Time: Noon ET (11 a.m. local time)

Location: Auburn, Alabama (Jordan-Hare Stadium)

TV: ESPN

Radio: Ole Miss Radio NetworkAuburn IMG Sports Network

Line: Ole Miss -7, according to Odds Shark

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