NCAA Football News

Andrew Zow: The Highs and Lows of Life as a Black QB at Alabama

At the onset of the season, there was a battle between Blake Sims and Jacob Coker to see just who would succeed AJ McCarron as Alabama’s starting quarterback. In a state where college football is a religion, this was heavily scrutinized tug of war.

While this played out, there was a not-so-subtle element of race bubbling beneath the surface. Sims is black, Coker’s white—there were questions if more than merit was at play. ‘Bama blogs and Facebook comment threads wondered aloud if race would be a factor.

Columnists suggested that SEC Network analyst Andre Ware favored Sims for the job primarily to champion a fellow black QB. In a region of the country with a complex history of race relations and at a school once on the wrong side of civil rights when Gov. George Wallace infamously stood in a doorway to block two black students from enrolling, it was no surprise that the quarterback battle would be framed this way.

Before Blake Sims this year, Andrew Zow was the last African-American quarterback to start at Alabama, playing from 1998 to 2002. Zow had an up-and-down career, playing through the turmoil of coach Mike DuBose’s final year and the uncertainty of Dennis Franchione’s two seasons as coach.

He was still able to guide Alabama to an SEC championship in 1999 and finished his career with 5,983 passing yards and 35 touchdowns. However, he was benched his senior season with some Alabama passing records within reach in favor of Tyler Watts.

Watts was white. People talked.

Today, Zow, 36, is married to his high school sweetheart and is the father of three sons and the head coach at Montevallo High School, about 30 miles outside of Birmingham. On a recent afternoon, Zow sat in his football office and reflected on his roller-coaster career at Alabama and what impact, if any, his race had on that experience.

 

Bleacher Report:Did your race matter at Alabama?

Andrew Zow: A lot of people want to make it racial a lot of time. I’m not going to say it’s not. Sometimes you may get the feeling that, "Hey, look this could be racially motivated." But with some of the things you put up with as quarterback, Bama fans could care less about your race. There’s the side of the fans who want their guy in there, regardless of what [racial] side you’re on. I put up with it.

There were times when I could have blown the top off it and said this is what it is. Sometimes I felt like that. But I had to think about the bigger picture for me and my family.

You run into some people who always had something to say, depending on whether you won or lost. We had a bad loss. I don’t know why, but I went to the mall. A guy stopped me and was trying to tell me how to play. I was pretty upset with him. As a quarterback, it’s hard to go anywhere. And that was when social media wasn’t that big. These guys now are like rock stars. 

 

B/R: Did the African-American community celebrate your accomplishments?

AZ: I was considered one of the most influential African-American athletes at the University of Alabama at the time. Back home in my community [Lake Butler, Fla.], I was more being celebrated as a kid playing quarterback in college than being a black quarterback at Alabama.

I don’t think they ever had anything specific where they held something for me. Within the black community, everyone was proud of me. You could sense the support, and they would say how many prayers they were sending up for me in being there and succeeding.

Sylvester Croom and his brother, Calvin Croom, they both played at Alabama. Calvin had a church in Tuscaloosa, the College Hill Baptist Church. The people at the church made a big deal of me playing quarterback. Calvin was one of those guys who celebrated and supported me. And Coach [Terry] Jones, the strength and conditioning coach at Alabama when I was there, he also went to the same church. He and his wife were very supportive of me. They had me come into the church and speak to the kids all the time.

 

B/R: What was it like being the QB at Alabama?

AZ: I came to Alabama not knowing what I was getting into. I was eight hours from home, and I didn’t know anybody here. I get here, and Bruce Arians, who’s now the coach for the Arizona Cardinals, is the offensive coordinator. I get into camp, receivers and upperclassmen love me because I have a live arm. Bruce Arians says, "You’re a quarterback."

There were rumors going around the locker room that they were going to move me to defensive back. I packed my bags that night to go back home the next day. I called my mom and, of course, she said pray about it and talked with her in the morning. I did, and I changed my mind.

I found out later the rumors were from another quarterback. He did it to get in my head. I was already on edge about it.

When Tyler Watts got there, there was more competition for me. I wasn’t a running quarterback. I wasn’t the stereotypical black quarterback. Supposedly the black kid can’t throw but can run, and the white kid can’t run but can throw. Those roles were reversed. Tyler ran a lot. It’s not that I couldn’t run. But in the SEC, if you can’t run faster than 4.5 [seconds in the 40-yard dash], you better be throwing the ball. And I had a strong arm.

 

B/R: Were you ever secure about your starting position?

AZ: I never liked splitting time at quarterback. They would switch me in and out [with Watts]. I remember going to Coach DuBose and saying, "I don’t want to share time anymore." He said we’re not. This was going into his last year, and he was having his issues off the field [a sexual harassment lawsuit].

We get out to UCLA at the start of the season, and we don’t know who the starter is. I was the starter coming out of the spring, but we don’t know who the starter is. I’m completely nervous because of it.

You know you’re going to get pulled at some time or another. But you don’t know when. As a coach now, I wouldn’t put that kind of pressure on a kid. You can’t play like that.

It’s the same thing with Blake Sims. You can’t play with the pressure of knowing that your coaches aren’t behind you. But in his case, I believe Coach [Nick] Saban and those guys are behind Blake. Regardless of what we think or the media thinks, I believe Coach Saban is behind him.

Going through that year was just hard. If the coaches aren’t on the same page, the kids aren't going to be on the same page. You’d see coaches arguing on the sidelines and coaches always at each other. It was a tough year.

Things didn’t get any better for me when Coach Franchione came in 2001. Our first conversation was him saying I couldn’t play for him if I turned the ball over. He was trying to get the point across on protecting the ball. But how can you play thinking if you make a mistake, you’re coming out? I had a rough third year, which is all on me. I take full blame.

 

B/R: Were there any specific decisions in which you wondered if race played a factor?

AZ: That third year, the only way I could play freely is if I knew I was going to play the whole game. I get into my senior year, and I come out of spring camp [the starter]. In fall camp, Tyler passes me up. How he did it, I don’t know.

Was it political? Part of me says yes, and part of me says he just beat me out. The competitive side of me says I did what I needed to do to get the job. We start that season 3-5. My senior year was starting like my junior year ended when we went 3-8.

We go into the Mississippi State game, and I look up at the sky, and I get this feeling that I’m going to play. Not wishing anything bad to happen to Tyler, but he gets hurt and I get in the game. I drive us down the field, and we win the game. I’m the Player of the Game.

Tyler is hurt pretty bad, and no one knows when he’s coming back. Even though I’m taking most of the reps in practice, practicing like the starter, they still don’t name me the starter. We played Auburn, and we beat them 31-7, and we had an unbelievable game. I’m Player of the Game.

We played Southern Miss the following Thursday night—to make up for the game we missed on 9/11. It was raining like crazy. We win, and I’m the Player of the Game again.

We go from 3-5 to 6-5. We make a bowl game, the Independence Bowl. It’s still up in the air going into the bowl game as to whether I’m going to be the starter. I’m thinking to myself, "So be it. The Lord has blessed me to have these last three games."

 

B/R: Looking back, do you have any clearer view about the reasons behind a few of those decisions?

AZ: There were some strange things that happened during my senior year. The four games I played, I was Player of the Game. I was also close to breaking some [team passing] records. In the UCLA game, Tyler goes down with cramps, I come in, and I’m 3-for-3, 95 yards with a touchdown. I get pulled because they said I had a concussion.

In the Mississippi State game, I drive us down to the goal line, and the third-string quarterback comes in the game, taps me on the shoulder and says, "Drew, I got you." I was like, "What?" I remember running to the sidelines, and I’m hot. Antonio Carter, who played wide receiver for us, said, "Drew, you haven’t said anything all year. Just keep it cool."

I was cool. Jonathan Richey was the third-string quarterback. He runs on the first play. On the second play, he fumbles, and Mississippi State gets the ball. We lose. No one ever explained why the third-string quarterback comes in the game.

 

B/R: What kind of relationship do you have with Blake Sims?

AZ: Going into AJ McCarron’s senior year, I spoke with Blake Sims the spring before last on the sidelines. I just told him to be ready. I’ve sent messages to guys who are down there for him. But he hasn’t reached out to me. You want the kid to succeed. This year is going to be tough.

The stuff on the field is hard enough. But the expectations are unbelievable. There are people out there that expect you to win a national championship and a Heisman.

I probably could have gone further in my career as a defensive guy, but I wanted to play quarterback. I wouldn’t trade it for the world because of what I experienced at quarterback at the University of Alabama—the good and bad. It takes a lot to play quarterback there.

 

B/R: How would you describe your relationship with the Alabama football program today?

AZ: My relationship with Alabama is good. Tuscaloosa is about an hour from here. I go down for A-Day. We have the Alabama connection [with former players]. I try to get involved if I can. My kids [three sons] and I try to go down for a bowl practice.

Coach Saban has been good to me. He’s very good with former players. He wants guys to be there for the other guys. If I was living in Tuscaloosa, I’d be going back there all the time. You talk about what he’s built there, it’s great. He’s very open.

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Bowl Predictions 2014: Projections for Playoffs and Selection Committee Games

The 2014 college football season is only 11 weeks old, and, while that is a small sample size, it is enough to let us know that the four-team playoff waiting at the end has not devalued the regular season.

Every week brings more thrilling excitement, nail-biting finishes and debates over schedule strength, postseason worthiness and the subjectivity of the rankings. The more things change in college football, the more they stay the same.

Another thing the playoffs will not completely devalue is bowl season. While every team wants to make the four-team postseason, there are four selection committee bowl games that will pit some of the nation’s best squads against each other on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Think of them like the old BCS games. Sure, Florida State and Auburn were the two playing in last season’s national championship, but Michigan State’s win over Stanford in the Rose Bowl and Clemson’s win over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl were still very important for the respective programs.

With that in mind, here is a look at the updated playoff projections and selection committee games heading into a critical Week 12.

 

Under-the-Radar Week 12 Game to Watch: Arizona State at Oregon State

The showdown between Mississippi State and Alabama is the marquee game on the Week 12 schedule, and Ohio State’s test against Minnesota, Florida State’s trip to Miami and Auburn’s game against Georgia also jump off the page.

However, the late-night Pac-12 date between Arizona State and Oregon State is one college football fans should keep an eye on because it has significant playoff implications.

The No. 6-ranked Sun Devils finally captured the nation’s attention in Week 11 when they easily handled Notre Dame, but now they have to go on the road and avoid a trap game against an Oregon State team that loves to air it out. If Arizona State is still reveling in its win over Notre Dame or looking ahead to a future clash with Arizona and potential conference championship game with Oregon, the Beavers could pull an upset.

At least coach Todd Graham seems focused on the task at hand, according to STATS LLC, via ESPN.com:

It definitely has to be right there at the top (of our wins). But our top priority and goal is to win the Pac-12 championship, the Rose Bowl, and then obviously the national championship and we haven't accomplished those goals yet and we have to move on in the locker room and get ready for Oregon State.

Interestingly, Arizona State has lost four consecutive times at Oregon State and has not won in Corvallis since 2005. However, there is plenty of reason for optimism this time around because of the Sun Devils’ offense against what Oregon State calls a defense.

The Beavers allowed 40.7 points per game the last three times they took the field and saw the opposition run for 673 yards during that stretch.

Arizona State’s balanced attack is 26th in passing yards per game and 44th in rushing yards per game with Taylor Kelly slinging it around and D.J. Foster finding holes behind an impressive offensive line. There is little doubt that the Sun Devils will score early and often against the Beavers, much like they did against Notre Dame.

While we know Arizona State will score, the interesting development to watch will be if Oregon State’s offense can keep up.

Quarterback Sean Mannion boasts the all-time Pac-12 record for career passing yards and has thrown for 739 yards the past two games. What’s more, he has been lethal against the blitz in his career, as Ted Miller of ESPN noted:

However, Mannion has also thrown six interceptions this season, and the Sun Devils feasted off turnovers against Notre Dame, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Arizona State will not have to respect the run (Oregon State is 115th in the nation in rushing yards per game), so it will be up to the secondary if the Sun Devils want to stay in the College Football Playoff hunt. Fortunately for the Sun Devils, they are second in the Pac-12 against the pass at 231.2 yards per game.

Oregon State will find a way to score some points with a dynamic quarterback like Mannion, but it won’t be nearly enough to counter the offensive onslaught we will see from the Sun Devils against the Beavers defense.

This one will be over by the middle of the third quarter. 

Prediction: Arizona State 44, Oregon State 27

 

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ESPN College Gameday 2014: Week 12 Schedule, Location, Predictions and More

The SEC is widely heralded as the strongest conference in college football, and Week 12 of the 2014 season brings us a clash between juggernauts Alabama and Mississippi State. Before these teams take the gridiron in Tuscaloosa, the cast of ESPN's College GameDay will be in attendance and ready to fire up the nation:

Will the No. 1 Bulldogs reign supreme, or will the No. 5 Crimson Tide shake up the College Football Playoff picture in a matchup that features extraordinary postseason implications? Be sure to tune in before Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso and the rest of the crew dish out their predictions for the day.

 

ESPN College GameDay Viewing Information

When: Saturday, November 15

Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Time: 9 a.m. - 12 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN 

 

Preview and Prediction

This matchup features a battle of strengths, as a potent Mississippi State offense runs into a sturdy Alabama defense. We all know the age-old adage about a stalemate that occurs between an irresistible force and an immovable object. That will be the theme of Saturday's game.

Mississippi State is already getting hyped for its intense road contest:

The Crimson Tide aren't slouches on the offensive side of the ball; they simply happen to be more prolific on defense. Quarterback Blake Sims has produced some enormous games, but the team's second-ranked scoring defense was the reason for wins against teams like Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU.

The Bulldogs are just the opposite. The team is only allowing 19.7 points against; however, the offense has simply been more consistent this season, putting up at least 34 points in eight of its nine contests. Dual-threat quarterback Dak Prescott has been the catalyst for Mississippi State's 12th-ranked scoring offense.

Here's a look at the tale of the tape between these two squads, giving us a better idea of which team may have the upper hand:

As you can see, the offensive side of the ball hasn't been extremely contrasting between these teams. After all, the Bulldogs are only averaging just about 35 yards more per game. However, scoring is where the difference lies, as Mississippi State is translating that yardage into 5.1 points more per contest than its impending opponents.

Defensively, Alabama has a large advantage. While the Bulldogs are ranked 16th in the nation in points against, they have been tested by ranked teams, giving up at least 23 points to LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn. On the flip side, the Crimson Tide held LSU to 13 points and Texas A&M to zero.

Last season, Mississippi State's Prescott missed his team's 20-7 loss to Alabama. The Bulldogs were absolutely manhandled in that contest, and the quarterback spoke about his feelings regarding that game during an interview with Drew Champlin of AL.com.

Said Prescott, "I wanted to play so badly (last season). They were ranked No. 1 and that was tough being out for that game. Of course I wanted to get out there. Now being able to go to Tuscaloosa and the starter and healthy, I'm very excited." 

This time around, Mississippi State happens to be ranked No. 1 in the nation. However, Alabama is riding an impressive four-game winning streak and hasn't allowed more than 20 points to an opponent in that span. Needless to say, Prescott will have his work cut out for him if he wants to buck this trend:

Expect to see another low-scoring game between these two teams. Prescott may struggle out of the gate against the best defense he's seen all year. Alabama may have trouble moving the ball early as well if a similar game plan to the team's Week 11 showing against LSU that featured a heavy passing game is utilized.

Yards will be tough to come by, and the battle for field position will be extremely important in this decisive game. In this kind of contest, it's better to have a defense that can force mistakes from its opponent. Alabama gets the win, and the College Football Playoff picture will become very interesting.

Prediction: Alabama 27, Mississippi State 24

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College Football Picks Week 12: Odds and Spread Predictions for Top 25 Teams

The top teams in the land are not out of the woods just yet.

With the meat of conference play still underway, the best of the best continue to mow over one another in an effort to reach the inaugural College Football Playoff. For now, the CFP committee sees a clear trio of teams worthy of the honor, with the No. 4 TCU Horned Frogs the final surprise entrant.

Of course, that will all go up in flames in a matter of days when another chaotic week unfolds. The matchups are numerous, entertaining and ripe for savvy financial investment.

 

Week 12 Top 25 Point Spreads and Predictions

Note: All odds, updated as of 3 p.m. ET on Nov. 13, are courtesy of Odds Shark. College Football Playoff Rankings via ESPN.com.

 

Upset Pick of the Week: Arkansas over No. 17 LSU

Perhaps it is too popular a notion that the LSU Tigers are set to take a dive on the road at the hands of the Arkansas Razorbacks. 

After all, Las Vegas gives Bret Bielema's team the nod. So, apparently, does one Kirk Herbstreit:

Popular or not, the notion makes sense, especially when one sprinkles in a little bit of history provided by SEC Network:

LSU is coming off a tough loss at the hands of Alabama. The vaunted Tigers defense, which still ranks fifth in the nation, allowed a field goal with three seconds left in regulation and then proceeded to allow the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

"This football team is made up of quality people and guys with character," LSU coach Les Miles said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "They will be fighters. We will try to improve as a team like always. We want to play ourselves into a (bowl) game of significance. That very next game of significance will be Arkansas in its stadium."

The situation is certainly not as dire for the Razorbacks. Bielema and Co. enter Saturday's contest off a bye week. Before that, they took No. 1 Mississippi State down to the wire on the road.

Arkansas touts the No. 17 rushing offense in the nation thanks to 248.2 yards per game on the ground. The attack is led by Jonathan Williams (877 yards, 10 touchdowns), Alex Collins (840, 10) and a host of others.

The problem for the Tigers is not only the rushing attack but also the fact that if they fall behind on the road, the offense will need to lean on quarterback Anthony Jennings, who has been anything but reliable while completing just 47.1 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and six interceptions.

Quarterback issues, a recent crushing loss and a road affair spell doom for the Tigers. 

Prediction: Razorbacks 24, Tigers 20 

 

Lock of the Week: No. 4 TCU over Kansas

Hats off to TCU, as the program was able to get a cupcake Big 12 showdown lined up right after a brutal stretch.

The Horned Frogs took down West Virginia two weekends ago and then thumped Kansas State 41-20 last week. Right now, it appears as if Gary Patterson's team is on its way to a conference title.

All that stands in TCU's way this week is Kansas.

The Jayhawks are 3-6 this season, with their trio of wins coming against Southeast Missouri State (4-6, OVC), Central Michigan (6-4, MAC) and Iowa State (2-7, Big 12). Clint Bowen's team ranks 121st nationally in scoring at 18.2 points per game and 90th defensively with 30.0 points allowed per game on average.

It sounds bad, but understand that this will not necessarily be a walk in the park for TCU. This Jayhawks team gave the Horned Frogs some serious issues last year before eventually losing by 10.

The Jayhawks, led by quarterback Michael Cummings (1,160 yards, five touchdowns, two interceptions), have been able to hang tough against a number of quality opponents this season, as noted by a 27-20 loss to Oklahoma State in mid-October.

Still, one has to think the Horned Frogs will be gunning to make a statement in order to impress those in charge of the CFP. Baylor is hot on their heels and owns the head-to-head result this season. 

As a result, expect Trevone Boykin (2,691 passing yards, 23 touchdowns, four interceptions, 546 rushing yards, seven touchdowns) and the Horned Frogs to come out firing on all cylinders and never let their foot off the pedal.

Prediction: Horned Frogs 45, Jayhawks 17

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

 

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The 3 Biggest X-Factors for Florida State vs. Miami

The 59th meeting between the rival No. 3 Florida State Seminoles and Miami Hurricanes will be decided by more than their respective superstars.

Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene, Duke Johnson, Denzel Perryman and a handful of other athletes have earned the national attention, but a few X-factors will help provide the winning difference for their respective program.

Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET on Saturday, Nov. 15, and will be broadcast on ABC. Be sure to watch for the following three competitors, because they're each primed to be involved in the game-deciding play.

 

Brad Kaaya, Miami, Quarterback

Following a slow start, Brad Kaaya has only thrown two interceptions over his last five outings compared to 10 touchdowns. Additionally, the freshman has completed 61.2 percent of his attempts, throwing fewer passes into tight coverage and limiting poor decisions.

Yet the Hurricanes' success is still predicated on their running game, which they'll certainly look to establish Saturday. Of course, an offensive focus built around Duke Johnson is like saving 15 percent in 15 minutes: Everybody knows that.

Consequently, Florida State should be ready for the ground attack, so Kaaya must be prepared to pick apart the Seminoles secondary. With P.J. Williams, Jalen Ramsey and Ronald Darby roaming the passing lanes, however, it's easier said than done.

Throughout the rivalry, freshman Miami quarterbacks have struggled against FSU, as noted by Matt Porter of The Palm Beach Post.

Nevertheless, whether it's a play-action or dropback pass, Kaaya will hold an important responsibility all night: protect the football. If he can do that, it means Johnson will receive more carries.

As long as the gunslinger efficiently advances the offense downfield, Miami will have additional opportunities for its star running back. Put simply, that is paramount to springing an upset on the 'Noles.

 

Mario Edwards Jr., FSU, Defensive End/Tackle

It's obvious, but it's true: The easiest way to disrupt Kaaya is to pressure him consistently. Mario Edwards Jr. knows that, and he's quite good at accomplishing it, too.

"Bother him, bother him early," Edwards said, per Dustin Tackett of the Orlando Sentinel. "Hit him, hit him often. That's definitely one of the things that we want to do."

Not only has the junior tallied a team-high 10 tackles for loss and three sacks, he's coming off the best performance of his career. Edwards registered nine stops, four for loss, and one sack against Virginia last weekend.

According to Brendan Sonnone of the Sentinel, FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher is excited to watch his versatile lineman progress.

You know, Mario is in shape. With his conditioning, Mario has a lot of ability to do those things. He's a D-tackle, he's a D-end, he can stand up and blitz as a backer. I mean, he can bring a lot of versatility to the game. That's why I'm really anxious for him to grow as a player. He can cause some havoc.

Alongside Eddie Goldman—who has developed into a beast at tackle—Edwards Jr. will be looking to improve on the two tackles for loss and one sack he managed during the 2013 meeting.

Considering that he contributes at three positions, the 6'3", 294-pounder should be presented with varying opportunities to contain the Miami offense. Capitalizing on those moments may ultimately be the difference between a tackle for loss or a 40-yard gain for the 'Canes.

 

Stacy Coley, Miami, Kick Returner

Nine games into the 2014 campaign, Miami can't possibly be holding a realistic hope for an explosion by talented wideout Stacy Coley. If that breakout performance comes, great, but the Hurricanes cannot depend on him to surprise everyone with his best offensive showing of the season.

But wide receiver isn't his only responsibility: Coley is the team's No. 1 returner.

So far, just 54.5 percent of Roberto Aguayo's kickoffs have resulted in a touchback, which means Coley should have at least three or four opportunities for a return.

Prior to the blowout of North Carolina, per Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald, the sophomore said he's trying to make every touch count.

"Whenever I get another opportunity or just get the ball in my hands I have to try and make something happen," Coley said.

Is it frustrating? "No. Not at all," he said. "I'm just happy the team is winning. I'm a team guy. It's not about me. It's about the team. Whatever I can do to help the team I just do it."

Now, Florida State's coverage unit has only surrendered 18.2 yards per return, so Coley—who has tallied 24.7—and his blockers will undertake a formidable task.

However, if the speedster breaks a couple big-gainers, flips field position and silences the Seminoles fanbase that is sure to travel well, he'll have boosted Miami's special teams. Every advantage the Hurricanes earn, no matter how small, will help Al Golden's team stay competitive for 60 minutes.

Then again, if the 'Noles don't allow Coley free space on returns, it's another critical in-game win for the reigning national champions and another step closer to their fifth consecutive victory over Miami.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of CFBstats.com and B/R research.

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

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Nelson Agholor Shows He's Ready for UCLA Game, Cements Place Among Trojan Greats

LOS ANGELES — Wide receiver Nelson Agholor added another chapter to one of the most special individual seasons in USC football history Thursday, leading the Trojans in a 38-30 defeat of Cal.

“He continued to show that he is, in my opinion, one of the best receivers in the country,” quarterback Cody Kessler said. “If not the best.”

Agholor and Kessler hooked up 16 times, a career high for the standout junior, which produced 216 yards and two touchdowns.

“It’s my job to get open,” Agholor said. “[Head] coach [Steve Sarkisian] called great plays and Cody gave me opportunities.”

The duo of Agholor and Kessler would have connected for an additional 78 yards and a third score had it not been for a holding penalty negating a big Agholor run after a screen pass in the third quarter.

Even without that play in the books, Agholor is riding quite of the wave heading into USC’s annual rivalry tilt with crosstown foe UCLA.

On Thursday, he became the first player in Trojans history to record consecutive games of 200-plus yards receiving.

He also caught for 220 yards at Washington State Nov. 1.

Considering the predecessors to come through USC before Agholor, that’s a particularly noteworthy feat. But the achievement was of no concern to the wide receiver—not immediately after the game, anyway.

“I really can’t think about [the record] right now,” Agholor said. “I’m still thinking about the third-down conversion I didn’t catch. That’s what’s on my mind.”

It’s that kind of single-minded pursuit of perfection that allowed Agholor to make USC history and help keep USC in the hunt for the Pac-12 South’s berth into the conference championship game.

The Trojans return to action Nov. 22 for their league finale. While a win over No. 11-ranked UCLA doesn’t guarantee USC’s divisional fate, it does keep hope alive for another week.

The Trojans need South-leading Arizona State to lose to Arizona on Nov. 28, thus forcing a three-way tie at the top. They also require UCLA to finish in fourth place, ahead of Utah.

Whether or not that unfolds is beyond USC’s control. But one thing very much in control heading into the critical rivalry showdown is the Kessler-Agholor connection, fine-tuned over several years.

“Having that connection for three years now, being able to work together…I think it has a lot to do with me and Nelson [having] the same work ethic,” Kessler said.

That work ethic means Agholor won’t be basking in his milestone for the next 24 hours, as Sarkisian explained.

“After the Washington State game, [Agholor] has a great game and the next day…he’s the first guy on the [practice] field,” Sarkisian said.

“When you prepare yourself in practice, and you practice hard, the results show up on game day,” Sarkisian added. “And this guy practices his tail off every time we go out.”

The game-day results are there for Agholor, and the USC record books will now reflect it.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics via the USC athletic department.

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Cal vs. USC: Game Grades, Analysis for Golden Bears, Trojans

Racing out to a 31-2 lead, the Southern Cal Trojans were able to hold on and defeat the California Golden Bears by a score of 38-30.

USC quarterback Cody Kessler ran the show for the Trojans. The signal-caller from Bakersfield went 31-of-42 for 370 and four touchdowns. Much of his production came as a direct result of the time his offensive line gave him to throw the football. 

Receiver Nelson Agholor finished with a career-high 16 catches for 214 yards and two touchdowns. Simply put, he was outstanding.

Credit Cal for fighting back. The Golden Bears outscored the Trojans 21-7 in the second half. Jared Goff finished with 279 yards through the air to go along with three touchdown tosses.

A full box score can be found here, courtesy of NCAA.com.

First-half grades and final grades will be addressed in this piece. Additional analysis for positional units will also be touched upon.

 

Cal Golden Bears Analysis:

Passing Offense

Goff didn't get off to a great start. The pressure up front by USC's defensive line didn't afford him much in the way of time. He was forced to throw many of his attempts underneath.

In total, Cal didn't get many chances at stretching the field vertically.

In the second half, he did get into a much better rhythm. He finished a respectable 29-of-47 for 279 yards and three touchdowns.

 

Pass Defense

To be fair, Cal did what it usually does. The worst-ranked passing defense heading into Thursday night's game had a lot of trouble versus USC's passing game.

The unit allowed 370 yards and four touchdowns through the air.

Tackling was a massive problem on the perimeter, as the cornerbacks didn't get off blocks well on screen passes. Although this was a schematic issue, the corners gave far too big of a cushion to the USC receivers.

 

Rushing Offense

The Bears couldn't sustain anything on the ground in the first half. USC's defensive line did win the line of scrimmage, often driving Cal's offensive linemen into the backfield. Leonard Williams in particular proved to be more than a handful for the group up front.

In the second half, there was more of an emphasis on running the football.

Unsurprisingly, Cal began scoring points when it achieved a semblance of balance. Daniel Lasco broke a few decent runs in the second portion of the contest. He finished with 86 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.

 

Run Defense

The run defense was arguably the best unit all night. It held one of the Pac-12's most talented rushers in Buck Allen to only 60 carries on 21 yards. This amounts to fewer than three yards a carry.

The unit was physical and really did do a nice job of plugging the gaps and stopping the run. As a whole, Southern Cal rushed for only 78 yards on 35 carries.

Cal did struggle when it came to pressuring Kessler. The USC quarterback had all the time in the world to sit in the pocket and make easy throws. In certain instances, he went six seconds without feeling any pressure.

 

Special Teams

The fake punt execution was both horrid and confusing. There's simply nothing else to say. It led to an eventual score for the Trojans.

I don't blame Cole Leininger in the least bit. After all, he is a kicker. However, it appeared as if he had never attempted throwing a football before Thursday night.

 

Coaching

The first half was atrocious for the staff. Defensively, there was nothing in the way of adjustments made to defending the pass. USC shredded Cal constantly—in large part because Cal insisted on playing its corners 10 yards off the line of scrimmage.

The fake punt call in the second quarter was both abysmal and embarrassing. It might've been the strangest attempt I've ever witnessed.

In the second half, both the offense and defense made nice adjustments. Running the ball became more of a priority. As a means to combat SC's pressure up front, Goff got the ball out of his hands quicker with manageable throws.

Unlike in the first half, Cal started to blitz and also press USC's receivers. After producing 31 points in the first half, the Trojans scored only seven after the break.

 

USC Trojans Analysis:

Passing Offense

The Kessler-to-Agholor connection was unstoppable. With Cal unable to pressure the signal-caller, Kessler sat back in the pocket and distributed the ball all over the field with relative ease.

As he's displayed throughout the season, Kessler's pocket presence and moxie separate him from a lot of quarterbacks. He's easily one of the most underrated signal-callers—if not the most underrated—in the country. His numbers, (29 touchdowns, three interceptions) speak for themselves.

There's a whole lot of adjectives I can use to describe Agholor's night. However, I'll put this as simply as I can: The wide receiver finished with 16 catches for 214 yards and two touchdowns.

 

Pass Defense

In the first half, the secondary didn't do a whole lot. Goff was forced to throw short passes in large part due to the pressure applied by USC's front seven. Adoree' Jackson had a very strong game from a coverage standpoint. He broke up numerous passes on the evening.

In the second half, Goff aired it out more. Down a few scores, Cal naturally threw the football. This resulted in the secondary giving up some yardage.

The secondary did do a very nice job of holding Cal from breaking a big play vertically. The longest play of the night went for only 29 yards. It also held Goff below his season average in terms of passing yards per game.

 

Rushing Offense

USC never seemed to get any footing running the football. Cal's defensive line did do a nice job of shooting the gaps and getting consistent penetration.

Also, there really wasn't a need to emphasize the ground game. Kessler was throwing the football exceptionally well. As a result, Allen didn't get into too much of a rhythm. He finished with only 60 yards on 21 carries.

Justin Davis was more effective, getting 44 yards on 11 carries. He also ran for a score.

 

Run Defense

In terms of rushing the quarterback, the Trojans did win the battle up front. Goff was constantly under siege by the talented USC defensive line. It also did a nice job of bottling up Lasco in the first half.

In the second half, the unit began to tire. Goff had more time to throw the football and Lasco did break a few nice runs. On the night, Cal rushed for 105 yards on 31 carries.

 

Special Teams

The special teams unit performed very well. Cal didn't give the Trojans much of a shot at returning punts. The punt team did a nice job of sniffing out the odd fake punt attempt by Cal in the second quarter.

Andre Heidari connected on his only field-goal attempt—a 25-yard conversion.

 

Coaching

Credit Steve Sarkisian for taking what Cal's defense gave the Trojans early. With the huge cushion Cal's secondary gave the SC receivers, Kessler simply executed quick throws to the perimeter. Agholor, George Farmer and JuJu Smith were able to pick up yards in big chunks.

Offensively, the team was functioning at a very high level throughout the first half.

Defensively, Justin Wilcox didn't attempt to reinvent the wheel. He employed a basic strategy, which was effective for the most part.

Although the Golden Bears did score three touchdowns in the second half, the defensive scheme worked overall. It held Cal below its average in points per game.

One qualm on both sides of the ball: When USC got a big lead, both the offense and defense became too vanilla. This enabled Cal to get back into the game.

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Michigan Football: Would Greg Mattison Return if Hoke is Fired?

Brady Hoke probably figured that a bye week preceded by two consecutive wins would give him a break from the constant speculation regarding his job status.

But a public spat with new university president Mark Schlissel has reignited speculation that Hoke’s tenure will be ending sooner rather than later. While various scenarios for the program moving forward are in play, the most interesting conjecture might involve the status of defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.

Mattison has consistently defended Hoke from outside criticism and credits their friendship as the reason he left the NFL to return to Michigan. But the season has taken its toll on both men. During the Utah game cameras captured the two snapping at each other. The team has struggled because of its misfiring offense while the defense has risen to become one of the top-ranked units in the NCAA.

Would Mattison have the option to remain at Michigan under a new coach?

While Rich Rodriguez was fired for his inability to field a competent defense, his offense had won many over. But Rodriguez took his offense with him into exile.

The current situation is different. The defense is getting the job done and is primarily associated with Mattison. It’s conceivable that a new coach could retain Mattison, who has no aspirations to lead the program.

If Hoke is dismissed, Mattison’s decision to stay with the program will depend on who takes over and the rationale used to determine Hoke’s fate.

The week was dominated by a blistering attack on the football program and clumsy apology by Schlissel, followed by Hoke’s measured response. The battle lines are clearly drawn between the two men.

The incident showed that Schlissel has a lot to learn about “sports stuff”—mainly that his every comment on the subject will be parsed and analyzed. It also shows that Hoke is in danger of becoming collateral damage in Schlissel’s campaign to scale back the importance of athletics at Michigan.

If Hoke is dismissed for his performance on the field, Mattison may consider staying with the team to continue working with the players he recruited. The option may even become more likely depending on who replaces Hoke.

He has ties to many of the coaches that are at the top of the wish list for many fans. Mattison’s vast experience at both the collegiate and pro levels makes him a strong candidate to be retained. His presence could help maintain some continuity and encourage players to stay.

But if Hoke is a casualty of the cultural war waged by Schlissel to pare the athletic department down to size, then Mattison is unlikely to stay no matter who takes over. A coaching lifer, he can understand being dismissed for performance, but this week’s incident shows that Schlissel may be working under a different agenda than just judging wins and losses.

His public comments are a puzzling misstep after drawing praise for his handling of David Brandon’s resignation. Schlissel's public admonishment of the football program for academic underachievement (that as Hoke pointed out is statistically unsupported) nonetheless casts a shadow over the search for a permanent athletic director.

Schlissel, who has acknowledged struggling with the scale of Michigan athletics, may have just earned himself 100,000 unhappy fans. The misstep is reminiscent of past president Lee Bollinger, who also struggled to navigate the complex relationship between the university as a whole and the athletic department.

The political intrigue continues to swirl around the Michigan football program as Hoke prepares for the final two games of the season. As the season moves towards a merciful conclusion, the drama off the field appears to be dialing up.


Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand

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Cal vs. USC: Score and Twitter Reaction

What happens when you combine the nation's worst pass defense with an offense getting 280-plus yards through the air? The result is a loss for the California Golden Bears, who fell to the USC Trojans, 38-30, Thursday night in Los Angeles despite a furious second-half comeback.

Cal nearly closed a 29-point second-quarter deficit after outscoring USC 21-7 in the third and fourth quarters. A 29-yard touchdown pass from Jared Goff to Stephen Anderson got the Golden Bears to within a score late in the game. The Golden Bears had to attempt an onside kick to have any chance at a comeback, but USC recovered it to close out the game.

Despite the win, the Trojans' offensive stagnation in the second half will do little to quiet head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff's critics. NFL.com's Bryan Fischer believed that the team's inability to put Cal out for good speaks to a larger issue:

For Cal, it's yet another game in which the offense couldn't do enough to carry the rest of the team. The biggest constant for the Golden Bears this year has been an almost nonexistent defense. Coming into the contest, Cal was surrendering an average of 39.9 points a game (122nd) and 525.9 yards a game (123rd) so far in 2014.

The Trojans don't possess an electric offense, but Cal head coach Sonny Dykes knew that USC presented a matchup nightmare.

"(USC is) an explosive team, a team runs the ball well and can also get the ball down the field in their passing game," he said, per Riley McAtee of The Daily Californian.

Cody Kessler had a brilliant first half but petered out with the rest of the offense in the second half. The junior quarterback threw for 370 yards, four touchdowns and an interception.

The star of the night was junior wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who had 13 receptions for 175 yards and two touchdowns at halftime. He finished the game with 214 yards and the two scores on 16 catches. He was one reception short of setting a school record.

Still, this is the second game in a row Agholor's eclipsed 200-plus receiving yards, making him the first Trojans wideout to do so:

Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman highlighted how much the Golden Bears have struggled to defend talented wideouts:

Javorius Allen didn't have a great night, going for 60 yards on 21 carries, but he eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards for the season, making him and Agholor the first running back-wide receiver teammate combo to go over 1,000 yards rushing and receiving, respectively, in 2014, per Max Meyer:

As a team, USC amassed 448 total yards, compared to 384 for Cal. The Golden Bears offense came in averaging nearly 42 points and 509.1 yards a game offensively, so the Trojans defense deserves credit for slowing down Cal's high-powered attack.

ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel felt that having some extra time off really benefited the Trojans as a whole, given how few scholarship players they have:

Cal's only hope to win this game was Goff somehow keeping pace with the Trojans and turning it into a shootout. The biggest problem for Goff was that the Golden Bears' air attack could hardly get off the ground at times, courtesy of USC defensive end Leonard Williams, as shown by the USC Trojans Twitter account:

Goff wound up with 279 yards and three touchdowns on 29-of-46 passing.

Sarkisian and his staff couldn't have envisioned a better start to the game, with the Trojans holding a 31-2 advantage in the second quarter.

USC jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first after two touchdown passes from Kessler. Cal stopped Justin Davis in the end zone to get the safety and make it a 14-2 game, but Davis immediately responded with a three-yard touchdown run to boost the Trojans' advantage to 19 points, 21-2.

Another Kessler TD pass and a 25-yard field goal put USC ahead 31-2 before Goff threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Chris Harper with nine seconds left in the half.

To understand the gulf between the two teams, one must only look at the first-half drive summaries, courtesy of ESPN.com.

A five-yard touchdown run from Daniel Lasco in the third quarter got the Golden Bears to within two scores, 31-16, which made things a bit interesting. The Trojans offense was largely listless after halftime, which wasn't helped by the volume of flags USC picked up. It was penalized 14 times for 160 yards over the entire night.

A 78-yard touchdown pass to Agholor was wiped off the board after a holding call in the third quarter, per Greg Beacham of The Associated Press:

The flag merely delayed the inevitable, as USC delivered a critical blow to Cal in the fourth quarter courtesy of a 16-yard TD pass to Randall Telfer. That again gave the Trojans a three-score lead, 38-16, with 11:19 to play in the game, which looked insurmountable given Cal's offensive struggles.

Goff picked up his second touchdown throw of the night after finding Bryce Treggs in the end zone from five yards out 6:36 from the final whistle. Then another Goff TD pass made it a one-score game, but it was too little too late for the Golden Bears.

Even with the win, USC still needs some help in order to make the Pac-12 Championship Game. With a 6-2 conference record, the Trojans enjoy a likely brief lead on UCLA, which is 5-2. Arizona State leads the Pac-12 South at 5-1.

Cal was eliminated from the conference championship long ago, but the 5-5 Golden Bears can still go to a postseason bowl game. All they need is one more win, which could be tricky with Stanford and BYU to close out the regular season.

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5 Games That Will Determine Ohio State's Playoff Fate

Urban Meyer and Ohio State surged back into the College Football Playoff race with a convincing 49-37 victory over Michigan State last Saturday, but despite their best efforts, the Buckeyes still need help to make the highly anticipated four-team postseason.

That reality became evident on Tuesday when the latest rankings were released by the selection committee, which slotted Ohio State at No. 8. 

The Buckeyes still have opportunities to impress the pollsters. A road matchup against No. 25 Minnesota will be a tough out this weekend, and if Ohio State can take care of Indiana and Michigan, a trip to the Big Ten title game against a ranked Nebraska or Wisconsin team likely awaits.

But even if the Buckeyes cruise through their remaining schedule and win the conference title game, they'll still need some chaos to make a significant leap in the polls.

With the regular season winding down, which games around the country will impact Ohio State's standing the most? These matchups will be key, because they all involve possible upsets to teams ranked ahead of the Buckeyes. 

 

No. 1 Mississippi State vs. No. 5 Alabama (November 15)

This game should put Ohio State fans in a familiar position—rooting against Alabama and the Crimson Tide.

A second loss for the Tide would almost assuredly push them out of the way, allowing the Buckeyes to move up the rankings. The same, however, can't be said with certainty if Mississippi State were to lose, because the Bulldogs would only have one (very respectable) loss while boasting wins over three teams currently ranked in the Top 25 (Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M).

Ohio State should be cheering hard for Mississippi State to win out. That would ensure at least two losses for every other SEC team, leaving the three remaining playoff spots open for non-SEC teams.

 

No. 3 Florida State vs. Miami (November 15)

Will Florida State finally play a complete game and dominate an overmatched opponent, or will it struggle again this weekend when it travels to play a surging Miami team? 

If the Seminoles come out sluggish as they have numerous times this season, the Hurricanes could be the team that finally makes them pay. Miami has a strong running game led by Duke Johnson—who ranks seventh nationally with 1,213 rushing yards—and the 11th-ranked total defense, which will challenge a Seminoles offense that struggles with consistency. 

 

No. 6 Arizona State vs. No. 14 Arizona (November 28)

Arizona State rocketed up the polls much like Ohio State last weekend thanks to a 55-31 victory over then-10th-ranked Notre Dame.  

The Pac-12 South is absolutely loaded, as four different teams—Arizona State, UCLA, Arizona and Utah—rank inside the Top 25. Ohio State's ideal situation would be for the winner of the Pac-12 South to have two losses and for that team to beat Oregon in the conference title game. That would open the door wide open for the Buckeyes, who currently sit behind two Pac-12 teams in the rankings.

 

No. 9 Auburn vs. No. 5 Alabama or No. 1 Mississippi State vs. No. 10 Ole Miss (November 29)

Ohio State's rooting interests for these huge SEC matchups will be dependent on the outcome of this weekend's showdown between Mississippi State and Alabama. 

The worst-case scenario for the Buckeyes would be for the SEC West to produce two one-loss teams at year's end. If the Bulldogs can beat the Tide this Saturday, it would eliminate that possibility. But if Alabama comes out on top and both it and Mississippi State enter the final week of SEC play with one loss, the Buckeyes should become big fans of Auburn and Ole Miss.

That's because any one-loss SEC team will have a compelling argument to make the playoff over a hypothetical one-loss Buckeyes team. If both Alabama and Mississippi State have a lone blemish at the end of the year, the SEC could send two teams to the playoff.

 

No. 13 Kansas State vs. No. 7 Baylor (December 6)

Perhaps the biggest threat to Ohio State's playoff hopes comes from the pair of one-loss teams in the Big 12. Baylor and TCU have edged Ohio State in the polls, and with no conference title game in the Big 12, the remaining marquee matchups for both teams are very limited. 

That's why the season-ending showdown between Baylor and Kansas State is so important.

The Wildcats have already suffered two losses (Auburn and TCU), so Ohio State will want to see them pull this one out in Waco. It's hard to forecast how the committee will evaluate the Big 12 contenders without a conference title game—whether it will benefit or hurt them—but Ohio State would rather not worry about two one-loss teams from the same conference. 

 

Other Games of Note

  • No. 4 TCU vs. Texas (November 27)
  • Florida vs. No. 3 Florida State (November 29)

It's hard to imagine either TCU or Florida State dropping either of these matchups, but as the saying goes, that's why they play the games.

The Longhorns got off to a slow start this season, losing four of their first six games, but things have started to click for Charlie Strong's squad after back-to-back wins over Texas Tech and No. 23 West Virginia. TCU's remaining schedule includes games against Kansas and Iowa State, so Texas provides the only legitimate chance for the Horned Frogs to fall.

Florida doesn't have the most explosive offense, but it has the kind of defense that could slow down Jameis Winston. And if the Gators' rushing attack continues to surge—they've rushed for an average of 316 yards over the last two games—it could make things interesting in Tallahassee. 

If the Buckeyes don't get the chaos they need from the matchups listed above, they'll have to hope for some major upsets in the conference title games on December 6.

 

All stats via NCAA.com.

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

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Cal Bears Attempt Awful Fake Punt vs. USC Trojans

Trailing the USC Trojans, 28-2, with 7:33 remaining in the second quarter, the California Golden Bears needed a pick-me-up. What better than a fake punt?

It was an especially gutsy call considering Cal was on its own 31-yard line.

The execution was goofy, to say the least, and a total failure. Punter Cole Leininger attempted a pass to junior safety Stefan McClure, but it fell incomplete.

Cal fake punt...fails. https://t.co/O8hV0rjqMv

— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) November 14, 2014

[Twitter]

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Oregon Football: How Ducks Stack Up Against Other Playoff Contenders

Not many college football teams can say they control their own destiny, but the Oregon Ducks can. 

The Ducks (9-1, 6-1) are currently ranked No. 2 in the College Football Playoff poll and have already clinched the Pac-12 North, meaning they’ll be playing in the Pac-12 Title game on Dec. 5.

According to Bleacher Report’s Ed Feng, the Ducks are currently projected to be the No. 1 overall seed in the Playoff and have a 78 percent chance of being chosen as one of the four semifinalists.

With only two regular-season games and the Pac-12 title game remaining, the Ducks have a very realistic shot of making it to the inaugural College Football Playoff. It’s simple for the Ducks. If they win their next three games—against Colorado, Oregon State and the Pac-12 South champion—they’ll be playing at either the Rose Bowl or the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1.

In short, the Ducks control their own fate.

In my mind, there are eight legitimate Playoff contenders, including Oregon. The other seven, in no particular order, are Alabama, Mississippi State, Florida State, TCU, Baylor, Ohio State and Arizona State. Is there a chance a team not on this list can make it into the final four? It’s possible, especially if there’s a two-loss SEC conference champion, but at this point it seems unlikely.

While it may be a bit premature to preview potential semifinal matchups, it’s never too early to take a look at how the Ducks stack up against the seven other Playoff contenders.

 

Offense

There’s no doubt that the Ducks have a significant advantage over every other team in the country on offense due to the play they receive from Heisman Trophy front-runner Marcus Mariota.

There are certainly other talented quarterbacks whose teams are still in Playoff contention. 2013 Heisman winner and national champion Jameis Winston is still one of the premier quarterbacks in the country and is known to step up his play in big games.

Others like TCU’s Trevone Boykin, Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, Baylor’s Bryce Petty and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott are legitimate Heisman contenders and have led their teams to incredible victories all season.

However, Mariota is head and shoulders above the rest of the pack right now. Mariota ranks first in yards per attempt, second in touchdowns, No. 12 in passing yards, No. 10 in interceptions and has the best passer rating in the nation.

Oh yeah, he can also run the ball. The redshirt junior has 524 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns this season. Moreover, Mariota is responsible for the most touchdowns in college football this season with 38—29 passing, eight rushing, one receiving.

While the Ducks only rank fourth in terms of passing yards per game among the top eight teams—behind Baylor, TCU and Florida State—they’ve been by far the most efficient and dynamic. Mariota’s completion percentage of 67.1 and his 29 touchdowns both rank first among quarterbacks on top eight teams.

Oregon’s passing game has been fantastic this year, but its offense is truly predicated on the ability to run the ball. It’s true that the Ducks rushing attack is down a bit this year in terms of overall yards, yet they’re still one of the top-ranked rushing teams in the nation and have the third-best rushing attack among the contenders in terms of yards per game.

The Ducks also have scored the second most touchdowns on the ground among the group of eight.

Mariota may be the star of the show, but the Ducks offense would be in a lot worse shape if it were not for the emergence of true freshman tailback Royce Freeman. Freeman has given Oregon’s offense the ability to run through the tackles and go head-to-head against physical defensive fronts, which is something the program has been unable to do in the past.

On the season, Freeman has rushed for 945 yards—ranked No. 26 in the nation—and has scored 14 touchdowns—an Oregon freshman record and ranked No. 6 in the nation. In terms of running backs among the top eight programs, Freeman ranks second in rushing yards, only trailing Mississippi State junior Josh Robinson.

The Ducks have the fourth-ranked offense in the country in points per game and are fifth in total offense. While TCU and Baylor rank ahead of Oregon in both categories, those two Big 12 teams have yet to face a top-10 defense this year.

Meanwhile, the Ducks have faced Michigan State—ranked No. 10 in total defense—and Stanford—ranked No. 5—and have averaged 508 yards and 45.5 points per game in those two contests.

It’s pretty clear that the Ducks have one of the most dynamic offenses among the eight Playoff contenders and also have the best individual player among those eight teams.

The only questions about Oregon’s offense are the health of its offensive line and the spot left vacant by tight end Pharaoh Brown. Oregon will be without Brown for the rest of the season and the Ducks will ask Johnny Mundt and Evan Baylis to step up in his absence.

Both Mundt and Baylis have played this year. Mundt is more of a pass-catching tight end, while Baylis is Oregon’s best blocking tight end. The Ducks likely won’t be able to replace Brown’s production, but Mundt and Baylis should be able to contribute to Oregon's powerful offense. 

The bigger question revolves around the health of center Hroniss Grasu, who has started 50 consecutive games for Oregon and is the only center Marcus Mariota has really ever worked with. According to Tyson Alger of The Oregonian, offensive line coach Steve Greatwood expects Grasu to miss “a couple of games.”

Yes, the loss of Grasu is huge. However, the Ducks’ schedule from here on out is pretty weak. Oregon’s next two opponents, Colorado and Oregon State, are two of the only three teams in the conference with overall losing records.

If Grasu is able to make it back by the Pac-12 title game, it would be a huge boost to the offense. However, if he’s not able to make it back, at least Mariota and new center Doug Brenner will have had four weeks and two games under their belts together.

No matter how you slice it, the Ducks are well positioned offensively to take on any of the top Playoff contenders. How about defensively? Well, things could get dicey.

 

Defense

While Oregon’s offense is perhaps the best of the Playoff contenders, its defense is one of the worst.

Of the eight contenders, the Ducks rank last in total defense, as they’ve given up an average of 456.7 yards per game. Oregon also ranks last in points per game allowed with 25, though the defense is ranked No. 52 nationally in points per game versus No. 107 in total defense.

The Ducks defense has had some solid performances this year against quality opponents, most notably against UCLA, where they held the Bruins to 10 points before allow 20 points in garbage time, and against Michigan State, where the Ducks held the Spartans to three total points in the first, third and fourth quarters combined (we’ll forget about the Spartans 24-point second quarter).

Despite these minor successes, they’ve often been lackadaisical on third downs, where they rank No. 112 in the nation and have allowed opponents to convert on 45.4 percent of fourth downs this season.

On a more positive note, the Ducks are one of the best teams in the country in terms of turnover margin and have been able to sack opposing quarterbacks 26 times this season—ranked No. 23 in the nation—despite not usually sending more than four men into the backfield. The Ducks rank No. 3 in turnover margin and have forced 22 turnovers this season, including at least two in each of the past nine games.

Of the remaining contenders, only TCU has forced more turnovers and has a better turnover margin.

Dating back to 2008, only one team has won the national championship without being ranked in the top 20 in terms of turnover margin. Unfortunately for the Ducks, it was the Auburn Tigers in 2010 that ranked No. 31.

Of the eight Playoff contenders, only TCU, Oregon, Baylor and Arizona State currently rank within the top 20 in turnover margin.

The Ducks definitely don’t have the strongest defense in the country, but they may just have enough playmakers on that side of the ball to make a difference in a big game.

Not only are the Ducks favored to make it to the College Football Playoff according to the algorithm developed by Bleacher Report’s Ed Feng, but they’re also one of the favorites to win the national championship, according to OddsShark.com. As of right now, the Ducks are 9-2 favorites to win the title, which ranks only behind Alabama at 4-1. 

Moreover, Tony Miller and Aaron Kessler of the Golden Nugget Sportsbook have released potential semifinal or national championship lines, and it appears that Oregon would only be underdogs in a playoff game against Alabama, according to Todd Fuhrman of Fox Sports.

If the Golden Nugget lines hold up, Oregon would be three-point underdogs against Alabama but would be favored by three points against Ohio State and Florida State, by four points against Mississippi State and TCU, by five points over Baylor and by 10 points over Arizona State.

In short, both analytics and bookmakers believe the Ducks should waltz over their next three opponents and would match up well against all of the remaining Playoff contenders.

As long as Marcus Mariota is being protected and Oregon’s defense can force multiple turnovers, the Ducks should be able to compete with any team in the entire country. That’s easier said than done, but the Ducks seem poised to make another run at a national title.

 

Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise stated. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.

Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.

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Cal vs. Southern Cal: Live Score and Highlights

An intriguing Pac-12 showdown takes place Thursday night, as the California Golden Bears (5-4) travel south to take on the Southern Cal Trojans (6-3). 

Quarterback Jared Goff and the explosive Cal offense will look to become bowl eligible with a win. The unit will get a boost with the return of receivers Trevor Davis and Kenny Lawler. Both had previously been injured. 

Steve Sarkisian's team still has a chance to finish the year as Pac-12 South Division champions. The Trojans need to be cognizant of this contest. It screams "trap game"—especially considering the fact USC will play UCLA next week. 

The contest will begin at 9:00 p.m. ET. It can be seen on ESPN. 

Odds Shark has USC as a 14-point favorite. A full box score can be found here, courtesy of NCAA.com. 

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6 Most Important College Football Recruiting Visits of Week 12

The inaugural College Football Playoff race currently commands national attention, but ardent fans know never to take their eyes off the recruiting trail at this time of year. Less than three months shy of national signing day, classes are beginning to take shape and coaching staffs are focused on applying the final touches.

Several teams have key opportunities to make strides in that department this weekend when they host coveted targets on campus. Here's our weekly look at key prospect visits to keep tabs on in the coming days, as programs continue their pursuit of top talents.

Begin Slideshow

Delayed Jameis Winston Hearing Serves FSU Football, Not Justice

First came the coverup, and now the delay tactics.

It's starting to look as if the clock might just run out before Jameis Winston has to stand up for any final judgment on the sexual assault allegation against him. The other way of looking at that: This thing could be stalled out so long Winston's alleged victim never gets a fair shake.      

On Wednesday, according to several reports (ESPN, USA Today, Fox, The Tallahassee Democrat, etc.), Winston's student code of conduct hearing was delayed from this coming Monday until Dec. 1. That's two days after Florida State's final regular-season game.

Winston's attorney, David Cornwell, had asked for the postponement, to give him time to look over the evidence.

A look at the rules in the FSU student handbook shows how this could well be the loophole that allows Winston to play out the season, get Florida State its College Football Playoff money and possibly even play in the national championship before ever facing a hearing.

Dropping out before Florida State can present its findings is an idea Sports Illustrated's Michael McCann suggested a month ago. "If Winston withdrew from school, he would move outside of the university's jurisdiction and could not be forced to participate in a university disciplinary hearing," McCann pointed out. With the hearing now delayed, the timeline wouldn't even necessarily require sacrificing any football.

It's hard to say for sure that anything dirty is happening with this delay. Maybe it is. Or maybe it's just the regular way things go in these types of bureaucratic, legal processes.

Either way, it's another example of football winning out, power winning out. Somehow, the people with power always seem to be the ones to win out. Ironically, power is what a sexual assault charge is usually about.

Do you think if this were about a regular student, and not a Heisman Trophy winner, it would be taking this long to play out?

No way.

The FSU student handbook says that when the hearing is finished, the school has up to 10 "class days" to come down with its decision. Consider the timeline:

Let's say the hearing takes three days, Dec. 1-3. The College Football Playoff final four will be announced on Dec. 7, meaning it's likely that the committee will be deciding on Florida State while assuming that Winston will be playing.

On Dec. 12, final exams conclude. That would be only nine class days after the hearing ends. The national semifinal game is Jan. 1, before the spring semester starts. The second semester—the next class day—isn't until Jan. 7.

And while the national title game isn't until Jan. 12, the student handbook says that people are given five class days to appeal any decision. Then another hearing has to be scheduled.

Last week, Cornwell filed for an extension and John Clune, attorney for Winston's alleged victim, told ESPN that Cornwell, "obviously doesn't want his client to ever do the hearing."

One thing that's unclear is who approved this delay. ESPN, citing unnamed sources, said Florida State had done it. But Fox, also citing sources, said it was done by retired Florida Supreme Court justice Major Harding. Both sides in the case approved Harding.

Either way, this case shouldn't have even gone this long. The New York Times showed in detail how Florida State and the Tallahassee police botched and covered up the case. The State Attorney chose not to file charges because he said there wasn't enough evidence.

So the alleged victim was down to this hearing. Now, stall tactics are threatening that.

Look, it's probably true that Winston's attorney didn't have much time to sift through the evidence after the hearing date was set. But the alleged rape happened nearly two years ago. Winston was identified a month later, and lawyers and school officials killed a lot of time covering this up and putting up roadblocks to the investigation.

Everyone has had plenty of time. The Title IX laws are in place, requiring an investigation, as a means to protect alleged victims.

I'm not sure people need any more time to delay that justice, if that's really what we're after here. Twenty-three months is enough time to get your story straight.

 

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

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Dan Mullen: Why He Should Resist Florida Urge, Stay in Starkville

Mississippi State is on top of the football world.  It is the consensus choice among the polls as the best team in the country.  Quarterback Dak Prescott is one of the elite signal-callers in America and a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender.  And overseeing it all is fourth-year coach Dan Mullen, who was hired to take over the struggling MSU program in December 2008.

Go back in time about four years, and Mullen was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Florida.  One of the premier offensive minds at the time, Mullen traveled with Urban Meyer from Notre Dame to Bowling Green, Utah and then Florida.  Over that time, he developed several star quarterbacks, including Alex Smith, Chris Leak and Tim Tebow.

Since Mullen’s departure from Gainesville, he and the Gators have taken drastically different paths.  Mullen has transformed Mississippi State into one of the best teams in the SEC, while Florida has plummeted out of prominence.

As the regular season nears completion and Florida continues to struggle while the Bulldogs thrive, Gator Nation is getting increasingly irritated.  A core group of fans are so annoyed with the direction of the program that a "Fire Muschamp" website was created.

And not surprisingly, a "Hire Dan Mullen" website consequently surfaced.  Even though the creator of the site has since taken it down, the point was made. 

This situation begs a very intriguing question: If Florida does indeed fire Muschamp in the near future and offers the job to Mullen, would he take it?

On the surface, one would think that he probably would.  It would ostensibly be a dream come true, going back to Florida, one of college football’s most storied programs as well as the same place where Mullen made his name as an offensive guru.  A Mullen-coached Gator team would have immediate dominion over the recruiting hotbed that is the state of Florida, and just imagine how good they could be.

However, despite all of that, I think Mullen should, and will, make the prudent decision of staying right where he is.

Mississippi State is not a one-hit wonder.  Don’t expect the Bulldogs to have a few spectacular years and then fall off the map.  Mullen is in the process of building a powerhouse, and he is likely to succeed in doing so thanks to his phenomenal recruiting ability.

The current MSU recruiting class is ranked 10th in the nation by ESPN Recruiting Nation (subscription required), and it is a class loaded with premier talent as well as tremendous depth.  Its 31 pledges rank first in the nation in volume.

When asked about the possibility to returning to Florida, Mullen said all the right things.  In a radio interview two weeks ago on WLAU's Head to Head radio (h/t Gamedayr.com), he gave Mississippi State a ringing endorsement.

Here’s my take on [the Florida rumors]: One, both my kids are born here.  I love Mississippi State.  I’ve loved being here.  I love the community.  I love the state.  I have a great administration.  They’ve given us what we need to build a successful program.  I think we’ve built that program.  We love being here.  That’s number one.

Mullen went on to say that he doesn’t think the fans should be giving Muschamp so much grief.  He has been in his shoes, and he knows what it feels like to be on the hot seat.  

The bottom line is that Florida can’t offer much to Mullen that he doesn’t have access to in Starkville.  Mississippi State gave Mullen a contract extension before the start of this season, and while Florida could probably offer more money, Mullen doesn’t seem like the greedy type.

Florida’s football facilities are among the nicest in the country, headlined by the sparkling Heavener Complex, but Mississippi State recently spent about $100 million to improve its facilities.  The massive renovation adds capacity to Davis Wade Stadium as well as a state-of-the-art 80,000 square-feet practice facility that includes new coaches’ offices, a new weight room and a host of other amenities.

And then there’s the expectation factor.  In Mullen’s current situation, he is revered by Bulldog fans as a savior, one who transformed the downtrodden MSU program into a national contender. 

If he goes to Florida, he will be one several coaches who have had success in Gainesville.  Should he succeed, it will be because he is expected to.  If he fails, he will be hated and ridiculed in a similar fashion to what Muschamp is experiencing.

It’s a no-win situation at Florida, while Mississippi State is full of potential.  The recruiting has been impressive and will continue to improve as the Bulldogs win more games.  With the recent splurge, MSU has some of the best football facilities in the SEC.  Mullen’s family loves it in Starkville, and he has a chance to achieve something that no other coach has done at Mississippi State: win a national championship.

It might not be this offseason, athletic director Jeremy Foley has said Muschamp’s job is safe at least through this season, but the Florida administration is eventually going to tire of living in mediocrity.  Muschamp is either going to resign or get fired, and one of their first calls is likely to be to Mullen, luring him back.

If Mullen is interested in national fame and accumulating riches, then he should strongly consider the offer.  However, if he wants to maintain an image as a down-to-earth coach living with a happy family in rural Mississippi while making plenty of money, MSU is the place to be.   

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Potential Domino Effect of 5-Star 2016 QB Malik Henry Committing to Florida St.

By landing a commitment from Malik Henry—who is rated as the nation’s top quarterback in the 2016 class—Jimbo Fisher and the Florida State Seminoles are setting themselves up for a potential blockbuster class.

Grabbing one of the top five players overall in the 2016 cycle is a building block that is likely to attract the attention of other top recruits who have interest in the ‘Noles.

As noted by Josh Newberg of Noles247, Henry, who also has plans to play baseball at Florida State, has drawn comparisons to the Seminoles' current quarterback—reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.

Given Henry possesses that type of potential and the fact Fisher was able to pull him out of California, his commitment signals that Florida State is primed to remain among the nation’s elite for years to come.

Henry will now turn his attention to luring other top players, but which recruits will take priority on his wish list?

 

Nate Craig-Myers

There will be no shortage of talented receivers for Henry to throw to in Tallahassee.

However, there are a number of talented pass-catchers in the 2016 cycle located in the Seminoles’ backyard—headlined by the nation’s junior top receiver, 5-star in-state standout Nate Craig-Myers.

The 6’2”, 205-pounder is currently committed to Auburn. However, as Keith Niebuhr of AuburnUndercover reports, Craig-Myers appears to be having some second thoughts about his pledge and could re-open his recruitment.

If that happens, the Seminoles could be one of the teams in play. With a top-flight quarterback such as Henry already in the fold, heading to Tallahassee would make sense for an elite receiver such as Craig-Myers.

 

Shavar Manuel

Henry becomes the centerpiece for the future of the ‘Noles offense, but Fisher will look to find an alpha dog for his defense. 

Defensive end Shavar Manuel, who is the No. 2 player overall, is another Tampa product Fisher and his staff are vigorously pursuing.

Newberg (subscription required) notes that Manuel came away heavily impressed after attending the ‘Noles' thrilling win over Notre Dame last month.

When Winston committed in the 2012 class, the ‘Noles were also able to snag a pledge from top-rated defensive end Mario Edwards Jr.—both of whom have been integral parts of the team’s recent success. 

Fisher is hoping he and his staff can repeat that feat by pairing Henry and Manuel as the cornerstones of the offense and defense, respectively.

 

Isaac Nauta

Another critical piece of the ‘Noles offense in recent years has been the emergence of the tight end position.

Senior Nick O’Leary has given Fisher’s offense a versatile weapon who creates headaches for opposing defenses. 

In 4-star tight end target Isaac Nauta, the ‘Noles are looking to land a player with a skill set that compares favorably to O’Leary when he was a recruit. 

As reported by Chris Nee of Noles247, Nauta will announce his commitment on Dec. 15.

Netting an elite quarterback such as Henry can only strengthen FSU’s bid in its quest to land the nation’s top tight prospect in the 2016 class.

 

Saivion Smith

The secondary is another area where Fisher and his staff have succeeded in landing difference-makers in their recent recruiting classes. 

Perhaps the top defensive back on the ‘Noles' radar in 2016 is 5-star corner Saivion Smith

Smith has spent much of the last year battling against 2015 4-star FSU quarterback pledge Deondre Francois—who is his teammate at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida—in practice on a daily basis.

Henry committed to FSU despite the ‘Noles possessing commitments from three top passers, including Francois, in the 2015 cycle—which displays his desire as a competitor. 

Considering how well Fisher and his staff have recruited over the years, he and his staff have crafted a program built on fostering competition day in and day out.

Pairing elite talents such as Henry and Smith against one another on a daily basis in practice would help continue that tradition.

Henry is the fifth commitment in Florida State’s 2016 class and the first 5-star junior to pull the trigger for the Seminoles. 

However, considering the number of standout recruits with heavy interest in the ‘Noles, his pledge is likely just the beginning of a run toward another top-rated class for Fisher and his staff.

 

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

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Auburn Football: Ties to Georgia Make Showdown vs. Bulldogs Personal

AUBURN, Ala. — It would be hard to find a college football rivalry featuring two schools as intertwined as Auburn and Georgia.

Two of the schools' most legendary coaches, Auburn's Pat Dye and Georgia's Vince Dooley, called the other school their alma mater.

"It's like playing against your brother," Dye said back in 2007. "I don't think anybody who plays in that game can ever forget it. It just doesn't matter much where it's played or what somebody's record is. It's so intense and tough, but at the same time, it's family."

The number of individuals who have ties to both sides, either by playing or coaching, has continued to grow since the days of Dye and Dooley.

Current Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Garner spent 15 years at Georgia before coming back to the school where he excelled as a player. Georgia responded by replacing Garner with legendary Auburn defensive lineman and former assistant coach Tracy Rocker.

That level of familiarity between both schools extends to the players, especially those who suit up for the Tigers.

Due to Auburn's close proximity to the Georgia state line, the two schools often battle it out for the same recruits.

And after a big haul from Georgia earlier this year, Auburn now has 39 players who claim the Peach State as their home—including several key players on both sides of the ball:

Then there is the case of the highlighted one, Nick Marshall, who played defensive back at Georgia before his dismissal in 2011 due to a violation of team rules.

Two years later, Marshall, now a dual-threat quarterback for Auburn, completed a deflected last-gasp touchdown pass to Ricardo Louis to defeat his former team.

One of the players who deflected Marshall's pass was former teammate Tray Matthews, who joined Auburn this offseason after being dismissed from Georgia.

This Saturday, the senior will have to make his first trip back to Sanford Stadium after leading the Tigers to victory inside his new home at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Marshall was not made available for interviews this week, but his coaches gave some insight on his mindset ahead of his return.

"He knows a lot of those guys, and he was there," Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said this week. "It’s his home state he grew up in, but at the end of the day, once that game starts and sounds good, he’s going to play the best game he can no matter what. He’s going to go out there and do the best he can, give his best effort."

But Marshall will not be the only Tiger with emotions tied to Saturday night's game against Georgia.

Senior cornerback Jonathon Mincy grew up a Bulldog fan and always wanted to play his college ball in Athens. However, Georgia didn't offer him a scholarship.

"It's real big, especially going to their house," Mincy said. "Any game we play against Georgia, it's very touching for me, me growing up and being a fan of them and not having an opportunity to go there. It's real big."

For Mincy, the ultimate act of revenge against the Bulldogs, even after being a part of 2013's wild win in the rivalry, would be getting an interception inside Sanford Stadium.

"It'd be a great feeling," Mincy said. "An indescribable feeling. That would be one of the greatest memories I've got, beside the Iron Bowl."

On Wednesday night, after what Gus Malzahn called two "very solid" practices, the Auburn head coach said he could sense an extra level of excitement and energy from the Georgia natives.

"We've got close to 40 guys from the state of Georgia," Malzahn said. "Anytime you play in your home state, I know it's special for those guys."

But several of those players have stressed the importance of not letting their personal emotions from playing back in Georgia get the best of them.

While Auburn is coming off a tough loss to Texas A&M, there is still a slight chance the Tigers can get back into the SEC Championship picture with two more rivalry wins and some help from other teams.

"It's extremely special going back to the home state and to the place where all the guys I went to high school with are rooting for Georgia, but rooting for me," senior tight end C.J. Uzomah said. "It's a special feeling knowing that I'll have a lot of friends and family there, but we know it's business.

"We know we have to go in there ready and prepare accordingly this week. I know we'll do that."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

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Bold Predictions for Top College Football Awards

Award season is almost upon us in college football, with a slew of trophies getting handed out next month to the nation's top players and coaches. This process began back in the summer, when the various award-giving organizations announced their overflowing "watch lists" of potential winners.

Several of these awards have started announcing their semifinalists, paring down those initial lists (while also adding some breakout stars into the mix) to give us a better idea of who will be taking home some hardware in December.

Finalists will be announced for each award later this month, but we've gone ahead and jumped the gun and made our own choices. These might not be the ones who win, but they're certainly worthy of recognition and would make for some great debate.

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Craziest High School Plays of the Week

It's time for this weeks, "Craziest High School Plays of the Week," which features some of the wildest and quirkiest plays from all over the country. 

Which play did you think was the best?

Watch the video and let us know!

 

Highlights courtesy of Hudl

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