NCAA Football News

Notre Dame Football: Position-by-Position Midseason Grades for the Irish

Less than 48 hours removed from Notre Dame’s 31-27 loss to Florida State, it’s time to begin to move on from the wild—and disputed—finish and assess the Irish at the bye week seven games into the season.

Notre Dame is 6-1 and ranked seventh in The AP poll. It's had convincing wins (Michigan), dubious wins (North Carolina) and arguably as impressive a loss as a team can have (Florida State).

Let’s go by position by position and assess the team’s performance so far. We’ll judge the overall performance of each group and consider how the units have performed in relation to preseason expectations. A “C” grade is considered average.

Away we go.

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Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Tennessee Volunteers Complete Game Preview

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If you were eager for the third Saturday in October to pick up a little steam after the last few years, don’t hold your breath for 2014.

Alabama is fresh off a 59-0 trouncing of Texas A&M, while Tennessee is limping away from a 34-3 loss to Ole Miss and still looking for its first SEC win.

Everything seemed to go right for the Crimson Tide in their win over the Aggies. Offense, defense and special teams all played at a championship level.

Tennessee, meanwhile, is working to build an identity in coach Butch Jones’ second year at the helm.

Can the Volunteers pull the upset? Probably not, but stranger things have happened.

Here’s everything you need to know:

Date: Saturday, October 25

Time: 6:30 p.m. CT

Place: Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee

TV: ESPN2

Radio: Crimson Tide Sports Network, Vol Network

Spread: Alabama by 16.5, according to OddsShark.com.

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Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Penn State Nittany Lions Complete Game Preview

A week after proving that it maintained its momentum following its second bye in four weeks, the Ohio State football team will head to Happy Valley for a prime-time matchup with Penn State. On the heels of their fourth consecutive blowout victory, the Buckeyes are hoping to make a statement against the Nittany Lions as they continue their push for a potential playoff spot.

Meanwhile, Penn State is looking to breathe new life into its season after suffering back-to-back losses to Northwestern and Michigan. Coming off a bye of their own, the Nittany Lions will be well-rested but appear to have been hampered by the scholarship limitations handed down by their sanctions.

Will Ohio State keep rolling, or will Penn State pick up a much-needed signature? We'll find out on Saturday. But until then, here's everything you need to know about the Buckeyes' battle with the Nittany Lions.

Date: Saturday, Oct. 25

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Place: Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pa.

TV: ABC

Radio: Ohio State Football Radio NetworkMaryland Sports Radio Network

Spread: Ohio State (-11.5), via Odds Shark 

 

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Miami vs. Virginia Tech: Complete Game Preview

Two rivals square off on Thursday, Oct. 23, as the Miami Hurricanes travel to Lane Stadium and meet the Virginia Tech Hokies.

Both programs need a victory to remain in the Coastal Division hunt, having dropped two conference contests each.

Miami (4-3, 1-2 ACC) did not play this past weekend but toppled Cincinnati 55-34 two weeks ago, while Virginia Tech (4-3, 1-2) fell to Pittsburgh 21-16 last Thursday.

Kickoff is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. ET and can be seen on ESPN. As of this writing, the 'Canes are favored by two points, per OddsShark.

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Florida State Football: Adjustments Seminoles Must Make During Bye Week

Life is good for the Florida State football team—and not because the Seminoles can relax with this being a bye week. FSU players can enjoy being 7-0, but they also know they must make some adjustments on offense and defense going into the final five games of the regular season.

FSU is one of four unbeaten teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (along with Mississippi State, Mississippi and Marshall) and knocked off a former unbeaten when it held off No. 5 Notre Dame 31-27 on Saturday night.

While FSU remains perfect in the win column, the Seminoles are still a team with weaknesses. FSU has come up with some timely defensive stops in the red zone the past two weeks against Syracuse and Notre Dame, but the team ranks seventh in scoring defense (21 points) and 10th in total defense (374 yards)—in the ACC. And FSU's rushing offense (125 yards per game) is 13th in the 14-team ACC. 

"We find excuses to win," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "This team has tremendous, what I call, 'adversity tolerance.' It doesn't flinch. It can deal with pressure moments, pressure situations."

FSU has handled the pressure well in holding off fourth-quarter challenges from Oklahoma State, Clemson and Notre Dame. Let's take a look at where FSU needs to improve during the bye week:

 

Adjustments on Offense

After running for 171 yards against Wake Forest and 165 yards at Syracuse, FSU's ground attack looked like it was improving after a rocky start to the season. But FSU had just 26 carries for 50 yards against Notre Dame.

There are a few good reasons for FSU's rushing struggles against the Fighting Irish. The Seminoles were without Mario Pender (ankle), and true freshman Dalvin Cook earned his first start. Fisher said that Cook started because Karlos Williams, who missed the Syracuse game with an ankle injury, didn't practice much in the week leading up to the Notre Dame game.

FSU also played without offensive line coach Rick Trickett on the sideline. Trickett had a heart problem Friday night and did not coach (Fisher said that Trickett would return to the office this week).

Forced to start a true freshman over a senior at tailback and without its offensive line coach, FSU didn't get much going on the ground early. FSU didn't run on its first drive, a three-and-out. Cook had two carries for minus-one yard on the second drive. Jameis Winston had a 3-yard run on the third drive, but no tailback got a carry. It wasn't until midway through the second quarter that FSU earned a rushing first down, and it was part of a drive where the Seminoles got three first-down carries to set up a Roberto Aguayo field goal.

The good news is that Williams had a pair of second-half touchdowns. But consistency in the ground game is sorely lacking.

Will FSU be able to improve on the ground? A bye week clearly helps from an injury standpoint. Pender and Williams could be at or near 100 percent for the Louisville game. But the Cardinals have the nation's No. 3 rush defense (68 yards per game). Another big challenge for FSU.

 

Adjustments on Defense

FSU continues to escape with wins despite a defense that has gone from No. 1 in the nation in 2013 to 53rd in total defense. The Seminoles lost five starters to the NFL and have dealt with injuries to returning stars (defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. each missed a game). Linebacker Terrance Smith was also suspended for the Wake Forest game.

One of the biggest concerns has been the success of FSU's opponents on third down. Syracuse converted seven of its 14 third-down opportunities, and Notre Dame converted on seven of its 18 third-down chances. FSU is 94th in the FBS in third-down conversion defense (43.4 percent).

It's deflating to a defense when a mobile quarterback like Notre Dame's Everett Golson is able to scramble or just elude tacklers in the pocket only to complete passes. And long drives wear down defenses, especially when opponents use the chance to go to the hurry-up offense and make substituting nearly impossible for the Seminoles.

FSU also gave up too many big plays to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish ran 87 plays on Saturday, but they had eight pass plays of 15 or more yards and six rushing plays of 10 or more yards, 247Sports' Chris Nee writes (subscription required). That's 270 offensive yards on just 14 plays.

Will FSU's defense improve down the stretch? The Seminoles don't have as many injury concerns on defense. And true freshmen who have seen significant playing time, like defensive end Lorenzo Featherston and linebacker Jacob Pugh, will only get better with experience.

One piece of good news for the Seminoles is that they don't play a top-flight offense down the stretch. Of the five remaining opponents, Miami is the best and is ranked 53rd in total offense.

 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All stats unless otherwise noted are courtesy of Seminoles.com.

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Does Texas A&M Need to Bench Kenny Hill to Save Season?

After three straight losses, the Texas A&M Aggies are reeling. Kenny Hill, once thought of as the heir to Johnny Manziel, is not the same guy we saw in Week 1.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder discuss the future of Kenny Hill and the Aggies.

Is it time to make a change at the quarterback position?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Adam Choice Injury: Updates on Clemson Star's Knee and Recovery

Clemson running back Adam Choice will miss the remainder of the 2014 college football season after suffering a torn ACL in Saturday's 17-13 win over Boston College.

"I hate it for Adam," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said Sunday, per Scott Keepfer of GreenvilleOnline.com. "He was just starting to hit his stride."   

Choice, a freshman, was injured on a three-yard loss in the first quarter. Though the injury did not appear season-threatening on the field, Choice did not return to the game and a subsequent MRI revealed the ACL tear.

A highly touted Class of 2014 recruit, Choice's freshman campaign concludes with a team-high 218 yards and a touchdown. He had slowly moved his way up the Tigers' crowded running back rotation and appeared to be their best option on a per-play basis.

Four non-quarterbacks have carried the ball 35-plus times, as Swinney has struggled to find the right mix. The return of talented freshman Tyshon Dye may help mitigate the loss of Choice. Dye is scheduled to return to practice this week in preparation for Saturday's game with Syracuse.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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USC vs. Utah Complete Game Preview

WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 25; 10 p.m. ET

WHERE: Rice-Eccles Stadium; Salt Lake City, Utah

TV: Fox Sports 1

Saturday’s Week 9 Pac-12 South tilt pitting USC vs. Utah is arguably the biggest game the Utes have played since joining the conference in 2011. And the gravity of this matchup is not lost on Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian.

“We understand it’s going to be a great environment,” Sarkisian said on his weekly conference call Sunday. “We understand it’s a blackout. We understand it’s for first place [in the division]. We understand there’s so much going into it.”

The MUSS—Mighty Utah Student Section—should have Rice-Eccles Stadium rocking for this top-20 showdown, the winner of which moves to the front of the pack in an tightly contested conference.

Both remained tied atop the loss column with Week 8 wins, albeit in much different fashion.

No. 20-ranked USC rode a record-setting performance by quarterback Cody Kessler to a 56-28 dismantling of Colorado, while No. 19 Utah overcame an offensively anemic performance to beat Oregon State in overtime on the road, 29-23.

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Pros and Cons of Firing Will Muschamp Before the End of the Season

After Florida's embarrassing 42-13 loss to Missouri, it's getting to a point where it's not "if," but "when" head coach Will Muschamp will be fired.

Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley told ESPN.com in September that he will evaluate Muschamp's job performance after the season, but after the loss to the Tigers—which dropped the Gators to 3-3 (2-3 SEC) on the season—and with a bye week this week, there's no time like the present to make a move.

What are some of the pros and cons to letting go of Muschamp now as opposed to after the season? We examine both sides in this slideshow.

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Which Pac-12 Team Has the Best Shot to Derail Oregon's Playoff Hopes?

Oregon has been the cream of the crop in the Pac-12 in recent history, and this season is proving to fall right in line. Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss which Pac-12 team has the best chance at beating the Ducks.

Will the Ducks be in the College Football Playoff?

Watch the video and let us know!

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College QB Throws TD to Himself on Deflected-Ball Play

We should all be so lucky as to have a quarterback of Nelson Hughes’ caliber on our fantasy football teams.

The North Greenville University signal-caller managed to throw and catch his own pass for a touchdown against Mars Hill University on Saturday.

BroBible.com’s J. Camm spotted footage of the play. Hughes dropped back, attempted to thread one through traffic and had his pass swatted back to him by a Mars Hill lineman.

Instead of crumpling to the ground, the NGU quarterback initiated Benny Hill theme song mode and scrambled for his life. After evading several tacklers, Hughes picked up some blockers and turned upfield for a 47-yard touchdown.

Going by a literal interpretation of the play, this would be around an 18-point fantasy football play in most leagues. The Crusaders have it written up as a Hughes to Hughes in their official box score:

So if you started Hughes in your Division II college football fantasy league (and who didn’t?), you’re sitting pretty right now.

Unfortunately for the Crusaders, Mars Hill would go on to win the game 30-27. Brush it off, Hughes. You’ll catch two next time.

 

Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture news.

 

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Brian Kelly Comments on Go-Ahead TD Play, Penalty from Notre Dame vs. FSU

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly was livid after a controversial offensive pass interference call wiped out the Irish's potential game-winning touchdown in their 31-27 loss Saturday to Florida State. With a day to ruminate and further clarification provided by the officiating crew, reporters asked if he better understood the call Sunday.

Nope.    

Per Matt Fortuna of ESPN.com, Kelly said:

Actually I have less clarity. I guess it was actually called on Will Fuller, not C.J. (Prosise). So [it] just adds more uncertainty as to the final play. But again, the play itself, in terms of what we ask our kids to do, it was pretty clear what happened on the play: Florida State blew the coverage and they got rewarded for it. It's unfortunate.

Will Fuller was flagged for offensive pass interference on a two-yard pass from Everett Golson to Corey Robinson, which would have given Notre Dame a 33-31 lead with 13 seconds remaining. In real time, the Notre Dame receivers appeared to be running standard pick routes designed to open up Robinson—plays often run and rarely flagged in short-yardage situations.

However, ACC coordinator of football officials Doug Rhoads defended the crew's call Sunday. Rhoads specifically cites the wide receivers blocking downfield on a forward pass as a violation, noting that neither player attempted to run a route.

“Offensive players on passing plays are restricted from going downfield and blocking anytime from the snap,” Rhoads said, per Zach Barnett of College Football Talk. “If the ball is first touched behind the line of scrimmage then that would be legal and it’s okay, but if it’s touched beyond the line then it’s offensive pass interference.”

The resulting 15-yard penalty pushed the Irish to their own 18-yard line, forcing a desperation heave on 4th-and-goal. Golson's pass was subsequently intercepted by linebacker Jacob Pugh, with the Seminoles wrapping up their NCAA-high 23rd straight victory.

Notre Dame's loss dropped the Irish from No. 5 to No. 7 in The Associated Press Poll, putting their playoff hopes in jeopardy.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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South Carolina vs. Auburn: Complete Game Preview

AUBURN, Ala. — Two months ago, most people expected this Saturday's matchup at Jordan-Hare Stadium would be a battle between two of the top teams in the SEC.

However, with the state of Mississippi taking a hold of the conference's Western division and an early Eastern favorite suffering two early conference losses, the South Carolina-Auburn game will be a matchup of two teams needing some help in order to get to Atlanta.

But don't let the diminished prestige of a game between two preseason Top-10 teams fool you—Saturday night's game is crucial for an Auburn team looking to rebound from a loss to Mississippi State two weeks ago and a South Carolina team needing to stay alive in the East's free-for-all.

Auburn, who has dominated the all-time series against South Carolina with a 9-1-1, is hoping to reap the benefits of an important bye week and put together a complete performance that puts head coach Gus Malzahn's Tigers back into the national spotlight.

Steve Spurrier and South Carolina, on the other hand, are looking for improvements from a lackluster defense as its under-the-radar offense leads the way in an upset bid on the Plains.

Before we get to the full breakdown of this cross-divisional clash, here is all the basic information you need to know:

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Jakeem Grant Injury: Updates on Texas Tech WR's Recovery from Shooting

Texas Tech wide receiver Jakeem Grant suffered a laceration and was one of two people injured in an off-campus shooting in Lubbock early Sunday morning.    

Lt. Bryan Taylor, a spokesperson for the Lubbock County sheriff's office, confirmed Grant was injured when "more than 20 rounds were fired from multiple weapons during an altercation," per Nicholas Talbot and Sarah Rafique of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

“Tech has confirmed that it was one of their football players, but his involvement, I don’t know,” Taylor said. “I don’t know if he was involved in the altercation or if he just caught part of the assault. It’s my understanding that he had a laceration, so it may have been a knife wound...Anytime you have that many shots fired, people are going to scatter. I don’t know what caused his laceration.”

Grant was taken to the hospital Sunday morning to treat his injuries but was released later that day.

Texas Tech spokesperson Blayne Beal told Talbot and Rafique that Grant was "doing well." Texas Tech and police are still investigating the matter. David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest provided a statement from head coach Kliff Kingsbury discussing the incident:

A second person was also injured in the altercation and those injuries are not considered serious.

Grant, a junior, leads the Red Raiders with 50 receptions and 629 yards. The 5'6" slot receiver has made touchdown receptions in four of his last five games, though he was held without a score in Texas Tech's win over Kansas on Saturday.

A full police report is expected to be issued later Monday. Texas Tech is scheduled to play No. 10 TCU on Saturday.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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Former NFL QB's Mentorship Has Oregon QB Commit Seth Green on Path to Success

As he trotted onto the field for his first play as a high school quarterback, a combination of nerves and adrenaline took over Seth Green.

Despite being just 14 years old, Green quickly suppressed his emotions and focused on the task at hand.

East Ridge High School (Saint Paul, Minnesota) head coach Mike Pendino believed that his young freshman could provide a spark for the Raptors, who were trailing 7-3 in the second quarter against rival powerhouse Cretin-Derham Hall.

“I just said to myself, ‘He’s the guy,’” Pendino said of his decision to insert Green into that pressure-packed moment. “He’s going to be the future. Let’s let him do it. We’ve seen him do it in practice. Now let’s see how he’s going to do it in front of five (thousand) or 6,000 people against a very good team in Cretin-Derham Hall.”

Like his son, Bryan Green was anxious. He sat in the crowd amongst a group of friends and family. He figured that Coach Pendino would ease young Seth into the game by calling a handoff.

 

However, Pendino had other ideas.

Seth took the snap and sold the fake handoff to his running back. He then calmly dropped back and launched a deep ball that hit his target in stride for an 81-yard touchdown strike.

“Words can’t describe it,” Bryan said. “I felt like a kid in a candy store. I was jumping, yelling, high-fiving everybody. The whole stadium just erupted with cheers. It was definitely that proud father moment.”

While the Raptors would go on to lose that night, Green’s first play as a prep quarterback would set the stage for him to emerge as one of the nation’s premier signal-callers in the class of 2016. 

The 6’4”, 210-pounder has flourished over the last two seasons, throwing for 2,565 yards and 25 touchdowns. He’s off to a fast start this fall, having thrown for 1,319 yards and 13 touchdowns with another three scores coming via the ground, according to Minnesota Football Hub. He's also been selected to The Opening's 2015 watch list, per StudentSports

On Wednesday morning, Seth became the second commitment in Oregon's 2016 class. He selected the Ducks over offers from Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Louisville among others. 

 

Seth’s journey to becoming a top-flight quarterback almost never happened. But thanks to a father who realized his son’s gifts at an early age, Seth—who grew up wanting to play receiver—relented on his preferred position and lined up under center at his father’s suggestion.

“He was the only one who could get the snap every time,” Bryan recalled while chuckling. “I told him, like it or not, you are going to be my quarterback because I know we will get the play off and we would get production.”

Seth thrived in the role and was good enough by his middle school years that Bryan decided to invest in his son’s future. He began taking him to quarterback camps and even hiring a local quarterback coach to work with Seth in the summer.

Prior to his eighth grade year, Seth went to a camp at Hill-Murray High School, where former Wisconsin and NFL quarterback Brooks Bollinger had just been named head coach.

It didn’t take long for Bollinger—who spent the last two years serving as the quarterbacks coach at Pitt—to realize he had something special in Seth. 

“He was really young, but the physical attributes alone made you say, ‘Wow, this kid has a chance to be really good,’” Bollinger said. “But I think the two things that stuck out to me about him was how he carried himself and his toughness, mentally and physically.”

The Greens decided to enroll Seth at Hill-Murray for the eighth grade, where he continued to work with the NFL veteran and played on the junior varsity team.

Bollinger noted that the team was at a disadvantage numbers-wise playing against some of the bigger schools in the district. Despite playing squads who started sophomores and juniors, Green proved his mettle amid the chaos going on around him.

“He got hit in the mouth a bunch, but he got up,” Bollinger recalls. “He stood up, brushed it off and didn’t complain or shy away from it. He just showed that mental and physical toughness to keep competing. I think that’s what makes Seth who he is.”

Even with his physical gifts and his toughness, his coaches were struck at how natural Seth was with the intangible qualities that are required to play the most difficult and critical position on the field.

His leadership, poise in the pocket and the ability to command the huddle were immediately evident to Bollinger.

“He’s got exactly what you want from a quarterback from a personality standpoint,” Bollinger said. “He’s really comfortable with who he is, which gives him natural confidence, but he’s not arrogant. To be able to step in a huddle and have command of it as an eighth-grader, that’s rare. That’s a non-negotiable element of being a great quarterback, and he’s had that for awhile now.”

Pendino agrees, citing that one of the main reasons he handed Seth the reins of his offense so early was because he felt his young star had the “it” factor.

“You just know it, and you feel it, and you see it when you are around him,” Pendino said. “The way the other players gravitate toward him. They listen to what he has to say. Even as a freshman, he walked into the huddle, and they all listened.”

Seth soaked up all of the advice he could get from the former Badgers star, and it’s a relationship that Seth admits has helped him mature into an elite prep passer.

“He just showed me a glance of what it’s like on the next level of football,” Seth said. “With that, it helped me out and helped prepare me for what to expect going into high school.”

Pendino said that Green’s work ethic has only increased since he’s been at East Ridge. Admittedly a film-room junkie, Green’s mental understanding of the game has allowed him to master a trait that takes most quarterbacks on the collegiate level time to develop.

“Right now, he’ll check out of plays 10-12 times a game based on film study and what he sees on the field,” Pendino said. “That’s a tough thing to do, even for quarterbacks at the collegiate level. He’s really become very good at seeing defenses, having a pre-snap read and knowing when it’s time to check out of a play and when it’s not.”

As the attention with the recruiting process grew, Bryan and his son approached it in a business-like manner. Bryan raised Seth and his younger 12-year-old twin brothers, Blaine and Bryson, to remain rooted in their faith and to keep their focus on academics first and foremost.

Seth—who mentioned plans to major in sports marketing or a related field in the sports world—refused to place more importance on his recruiting process over his current duties as a student-athlete at East Ridge.

“I didn’t try to let it (recruiting) consume me,” Seth said. “I tried to look at it as a hobby. I enjoyed it during my free time, but I tried not to let it interfere with the things I’m doing at school with my team and with my goals as a student.”

With his commitment to the Ducks out of the way, Seth’s primary goal is to lead his team to a state title. However, he’s also driven to be a mentor to his brothers, who appear to be following in his footsteps as young gridiron stars in the making. Both are two-way standouts who are excelling at safety on defense and receiver on offense. 

For what it’s worth, the twins already have a ringing endorsement from Seth’s mentor.

“His two little brothers are better than he is,” Bollinger said with a laugh. "He might be the best quarterback in the country in his class, but he’s not be the best player in his own house."

 

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

 

 

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Does High Schooler Have Best Punt Return of the Year?

Markell Vaugh, a senior athlete at Omaha North High School, makes one of the best punt returns you will see this year, refusing to go down and taking the ball to the house.

Was this the best punt return of the year?

Watch the video and let us know!

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AP College Football Poll 2014: Official Top 25 Rankings and Week 9 Projections

Another week of college football, another shakeup in the Top 10 of The Associated Press Poll. 

That's been the story of the 2014 season thus far, and it didn't change with an interesting slate of results in Week 8. Baylor was sent tumbling out of the top echelon by a stunning upset loss to West Virginia, while the Alabama Crimson Tide reintroduced themselves to the Top Four with an emphatic win over Texas A&M. 

However, those weren't the only changes in the most recent poll. Here's a look at how the AP voters currently see the Top 25 teams followed by projections for the biggest games set to sway the rankings in Week 9. 

 

Week 9 Projections

No. 1 Mississippi State at Kentucky

You can spin this game as a trap for the No. 1-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs pretty easily. Kentucky comes into this game a perfect 5-0 at home. The Wildcats just suffered a miserable 41-3 loss at the hands of LSU, but that game was in Baton Rouge. This one will be in Lexington.

Then there's the fact that Mississippi State isn't exactly a program that is used to sitting atop the polls. The Bulldogs have been impressive to this point, but this is the first time since their ascension up the rankings that they will play an unranked team on the road.

But once you pull back the layers of narrative and spin, a simple truth remains: This game shouldn't be close. The Bulldogs should have no problem covering the 13-point spread, per Odds Shark.

Kentucky's 5-0 record at home may look nice on paper, but those five wins have come against UT-Martin, Ohio, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and UL-Monroe. Not exactly a murderer's row.

To see the true disparity between these two teams, one has to look at a metric that actually takes their play into consideration. For instance, Football Outsiders' F/+ rankings currently have Mississippi State at No. 2 while Kentucky comes in at No. 59. And those have yet to account for the Wildcats' loss to LSU.

Mississippi State has proven its one of the top teams in the country. There's nothing to see here. This will be a routine blowout.

Prediction: Mississippi State 42, Kentucky 10

 

No. 3 Ole Miss at No. 24 LSU

There's a reason that College GameDay will be headed to LSU this week. There's no more intriguing game on the docket than Ole Miss heading down to Tiger Stadium looking to preserve their undefeated record.

The Rebels have done everything in their power to prove they deserve their lofty No. 3 ranking. However, after Texas A&M's recent collapse, it's difficult to make the argument they have a quality win on the road.

This is their opportunity to change that.

The Tigers aren't your typical Les Miles squad. The defense is ranked just 54th in the nation in yards allowed per play, according to TeamRankings.com. But that didn't stop them from giving the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs their most difficult test to date when they visited the Bayou Bengals. 

But much like Ole Miss' in-state rival, a closer look at the numbers reveal another mismatch:

It may be strange to see Ole Miss near the top of the college football world, but it's a spot the team has earned. A strong win in a hostile environment should be just what Bo Wallace and the Rebels need to silence any remaining doubters. 

Prediction: Ole Miss 24, LSU 10

 

No. 20 USC at No. 19 Utah 

A pivotal Pac-12 South battle between the USC Trojans and Utah Utes is just one of two games between ranked foes this week. And if the conference's late-night battles have been any indication, it should be a perfect matchup to end the evening. 

While both teams have one loss in the crowded division, there's a lot at stake in this game. The loser will be at a serious disadvantage in the race to likely play Oregon in the conference championship game. 

The difference-maker in this game is likely to be Utah running back Devontae Booker. As Bruce Feldman points out, the junior has been sensational lately:

With the USC defense ranking a pedestrian 69th in country in rushing yards allowed per attempt at 4.4, via TeamRankings.com, the Trojans will find it difficult to get off the field consistently. 

That will be the difference in a game that won't be decided until the fourth quarter. 

Prediction: Utah 20, USC 17

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Bowl Predictions 2014: Heavy Favorites in Danger of Postseason Upset

Just when it seems the college football landscape appears set, another massive upset takes place. That shocker in Week 8 came when Baylor was knocked off by West Virginia in a convincing 14-point victory.

Outside of Morgantown, several other programs made a statement Saturday. Of those, the biggest wins came from Alabama and Florida State, who both took down teams in the Top 25.

That brings up an interesting dynamic when the postseason rolls around with so many up-and-down teams. It's already difficult enough to figure out who will make the College Football Playoff, so predicting who will lose at this point is a true test.

With the midway point of the season in the rearview mirror for most teams, here's a look at the programs in danger of a bowl upset.

 

Florida State

I'm sure this is going to upset the Seminoles fans who have seen their team go 23-0 in their last 23 games, but they are far from perfect. Sure, every team has flaws, but Florida State has been pushed against the ropes multiple times this season.

Against a Notre Dame team that was ranked inside the Top Five, FSU narrowly escaped with a win thanks to a late penalty. Running back Karlos Williams referenced the way the game went Saturday night for the Noles, per Paul Myerberg of USA Today: "We felt like they gave us their best shot. They left us in the game when they only scored 17 points. They could've put us away very, very early. They made mistakes and didn't execute well, that only allowed them to score 17 points."

Much of that success was thanks to Jameis Winston, who was 15-of-16 for 181 yards and a touchdown in the second half. But with Florida State continuously getting tested, it's bound to run into a team that won't make those miscues like the Irish.

The Seminoles have been resilient this season but are far from the team that won the national championship last year. A little luck helped Florida State get to the point it's at now, but that will eventually run out in the College Football Playoff.

 

UCLA

Despite having two losses already this season, the UCLA Bruins still have a good chance of making it to a notable bowl game. Oregon should get first choice, but UCLA can run the table and secure a berth.

However, UCLA will need some help if it faces an offensive team. For example, ECU has a plethora of weapons in Shane Carden, Justin Hardy and Isaiah Jones that can take the top off any defense.

Prior to this weekend's narrow win for UCLA over California, ESPN College Football noted the woeful numbers for the Bruins:

While UCLA still has a chance to turn things around, it won't be a simple task to win in its bowl game. Overall, the Bruins defense ranks 84th in the country with 425.6 yards allowed and 88th with 29.3 points per game.

In a tough Pac-12, the Bruins might still make it to a huge bowl game by the end of the season. But with a defense that has been ravaged all season, UCLA is a team that can be picked apart by a top offense on the big stage. 

 

Clemson

The Clemson Tigers might be on the low end of what we'd consider a "heavy favorite" to make a notable bowl, but they are still on track. However, in the two big games it's played so far, Clemson has come away 0-2.

In the first game of the year, Clemson was routed by Georgia by 24 points on a national stage. Against a Florida State team that was without Jameis Winston, the Tigers still came up short, 23-17, and they lost any public perception as a College Football Playoff contender.

Meanwhile, the team still remains just behind the Seminoles in the ACC. If Florida State does make the College Football Playoff, it will likely be the Tigers that make it to the Orange Bowl.

Clemson is still a heavy favorite to make it to one of the top postseason bowls, but it simply doesn't have the makeup to knock off the best teams. Even if Deshaun Watson is back from a hand injury, he won't be enough to propel the Tigers to a win.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Samuel Chi's Mock College Football Playoff Standings: Week 9

We're one week from the selection committee's first-ever rankings. The 12 members (after the news of Archie Manning dropping out for health reasons Monday) will not have an easy time of it in this inaugural season of the College Football Playoff. In fact, they might be looking at a scenario as messy as it was in 2007.

Remember that year, when a two-loss LSU team made it to the BCS title game? Well, the chaos this year actually started much earlier, as we'll have no more than two major-conference unbeaten teams at the end of the regular season—and we're not even out of October yet! It's already guaranteed that half of the four-team playoff field will be filled with teams with losses, maybe even two losses. 

That will make the committee's job all the more difficult. Furthermore, with all five power conferences—plus Notre Dame—still very much in play to vie for the four playoff spots, somebody is going to be bitterly left out.

Here's how things stand at the halfway point of the season:

 

The Rankings

(See methodology of standings)

 

The Playoff Teams

1-2. Ole Miss/Mississippi State

These two teams are in a statistical dead heat in our standings, and that's about right. It appears this year's Egg Bowl will be the biggest in history, with the winner in all likelihood getting a berth in the playoff. Of course, both teams still have challenging contests remaining before all that, so neither should be counting its chickens.

Projected bowl: Playoff at Sugar Bowl

 

5. Florida State

Thanks to a late (but legit) offensive pass interference call, the defending national champs lived to fight another day as a loss to Notre Dame would've almost assuredly knocked them out of the playoffs. The Seminoles' remaining schedule will be much more manageable than any of their potential playoff foes, but they must stay vigilant because they have no margin for error.

Projected bowl: Playoff at Rose Bowl

 

6. Oregon

Thanks to the flurry of upsets over the last two weeks, the Ducks are back in the playoff picture. Oregon has righted its own ship since its upset loss to Arizona, and now it is the Pac-12's best hope of landing a playoff spot. But since the Pac-12 is probably the best conference from top to bottom this season, the Ducks can't afford to look past anybody.

Projected bowl: Playoff at Rose Bowl

 

8. TCU

One week after a dispiriting loss at Baylor, the Horned Frogs suddenly found themselves back on top of the Big 12 once again. Ironically, TCU isn't one of the teams that controls its own destiny in terms of winning the conference title. It also still faces many more major tests, including Kansas State's visit on Nov. 8.

Projected bowl: Playoff at Sugar Bowl

 

 

The First Four Out

3-4, 7. Auburn/Alabama, Georgia

The SEC is still very much hoping for multiple berths in the inaugural year of the playoff, but the odds are not in its favor simply because these conference teams must still beat each other up for another month. The Iron Bowl is shaping up to be a consolation game to determine not a spot in the playoff, but maybe a New Year's Six bowl slot. Georgia will pin all of its hopes on running through the East unblemished and then pulling off a major upset in the SEC Championship Game.

Projected bowl: Multiple New Year's Six bowls

 

9. Notre Dame

As we noted in the immediate aftermath of their heartbreaking loss to FSU, the Irish are far from dead in terms of landing in the playoff. They'll need some help, but their resume stacks up favorably against most other one-loss teams. The lack of a conference championship game, or even a game on the final weekend of the season, might prove to be a major detriment to Notre Dame, though.

Projected bowl: Cotton Bowl

 

10/13. Michigan State/Ohio State

The winner of the MSU/OSU game in two weeks in East Lansing is looking increasingly like the Big Ten's best hope for landing a playoff spot. But without question, the conference needs help, as it is at the moment the odd man out among the power-five conferences. It's imperative for the winner of that game to finish 12-1, and then it must hope that the Big 12 or Pac-12 champ, and probably Notre Dame, incur at least a second loss.

Projected bowl: Fiesta Bowl

 

11-12. Kansas State/Baylor

While TCU looks to have the inside track for the moment, these two teams actually control their own destiny in terms of winning the Big 12. And they'll meet on the last day of the regular season in Waco to perhaps decide exactly that, assuming they both go through the rest of the schedule unbeaten.

Projected bowl: Peach Bowl

 

Other Fun Facts

* Marshall, by being one of only four FBS unbeaten teams, is moving up with the hopes of seizing the automatic entry to a New Year's Six bowl granted to the top group-of-five champion. While East Carolina still has the best resume, its lone loss to South Carolina is losing its luster fast. Colorado State is another main contender, but it does not control its own fate in winning its division. Other teams now also finding themselves in the mix include two-loss Central Florida (American) and Boise State (Mountain West).

* It's probable that the SEC may land as many as four teams in the 12 New Year's Six bowl slots (including the playoff bowls), while two power-five conferences will be left with just single entries. It's nearly a given that the Big Ten will claim just one spot, but the Pac-12 might also be looking at just a playoff berth and no more. The Pac-12 South is ranked by Jeff Sagarin as the second-toughest division this year, yet it's not getting nearly as much respect in the polls.

* The selection committee will be releasing its first-ever rankings on Oct. 28, but that won't be nearly as interesting as its second ranking the following Tuesday. That's where we actually pick up clues as to whether the 12 members treat each week individually without being swayed by their own confirmation bias or they've been infected by the same disease that's afflicted AP and coaches poll voters for years. 

 

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru 

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Archie Manning Takes Leave from College Football Playoff Committee Due to Health

The College Football Playoff committee lost one of its most visible members for the remainder of the season Monday, as Archie Manning, 65, has been forced to remove himself from the 2014 selection process due to health concerns.  

Manning released a statement discussing his decision, courtesy of CollegeFootballPlayoff.com:

Manning said he would undergo surgery next month to help relieve discomfort he is experiencing while walking and moving around. He will be unable to travel to the meetings. ...

... Manning said, 'It is an honor to serve on this committee, and I enjoy the group and was looking forward to the opportunity ahead. My health had to be my primary concern, and I intend to be up and about as soon as possible.'

Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff, also provided a statement discussing the news:

We will miss Archie. He has such a great knowledge of college football and history with the game, but we all understand his reason for taking a leave. I wish him all the best and look forward to his return in 2015.

The committee will stay with 12 members this season, per the press release. ESPN's Joe Schad reports what that would mean in the event of a standstill:

Chris Mortensen of ESPN first reported Manning was opting to resign from the committee:

Per Mortensen, Manning had knee replacement surgery earlier in the year and will require another surgery next month. Following a back surgery in 2013, Manning simply needs some time to mend.

An Ole Miss legend—he was the starting QB from 1968-70—Manning was selected second overall in the 1971 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints, where he played for 11 seasons. His last season came with the Minnesota Vikings in 1984, when he was 35.

 

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