NCAA Football News

FSU, Tallahassee Police Reportedly Hindered Jameis Winston Investigation

Fox Sports' Kevin Vaughan unearthed documents that reportedly detail the ways in which Florida State University and Tallahassee police impeded and obstructed the investigation into the sexual assault charges levied against quarterback Jameis Winston:

University administrators and Winston’s attorney, Tim Jansen, had a head start on the state attorney in Tallahassee responsible for investigating and prosecuting serious crimes. Florida State administrators, for instance, had all the police reports at least four days before State Attorney Willie Meggs was handed the case.

FSU's police chief reportedly obtained a copy of police reports from the night in question and forwarded them to a member of the school's athletic department. Eventually, the reports wound up in Jansen's hands.

Meggs doesn't take offense to the fact that FSU police had the reports, but "he remains mystified" that campus police would then give the report to university administrators.

According to Vaughan, Jansen had the reports before Meggs interviewed two key witnesses. The witnesses were FSU football players who signed affidavits after speaking with Jansen.

"I became pretty much of the belief that somebody had gotten his reports to his defense attorney, because he had already talked to our witnesses," Meggs said. "If he didn’t know about it, how does he know to interview them and get affidavits?"

Vaughan reported that on Jan. 11, 2013, Scott Angulo, a Tallahassee police detective, made his boss aware of the allegations of the incident from Dec. 7, 2012. Angulo's memo highlighted all of the pertinent info about Winston and also included that "Winston is a FSU football player."

Winston spoke with local authorities on Jan. 22, who were then contacted by somebody claiming to be "the athletic directors assistant." Winston had an interview with the police scheduled for the next day, but Jansen arrived in his place for what was labeled "a fact-finding mission" by a detective on the case.

"There was a whole long litany of things that we would have done," Meggs said to Fox Sports. "You don’t call the defendant to make an appointment to talk about putting him in jail."

Walt Bogdanich of The New York Times wrote in April that local police mishandled the investigation in a few very important ways:

After the accuser identified Mr. Winston as her assailant, the police did not even attempt to interview him for nearly two weeks and never obtained his DNA.

The detective handling the case waited two months to write his first report and then prematurely suspended his inquiry without informing the accuser. By the time the prosecutor got the case, important evidence had disappeared, including the video of the sexual act.

According to Bogdanich's timeline of the investigation, Angulo closed the case on Feb. 11, 2013, without interviewing key witnesses. In November 2013, nearly a year after the incident allegedly occurred, investigators began interviewing key witnesses and obtained Winston's DNA.

The investigators only pursued a case against Winston after being pressed by local reporters, per Grantland's Bryan Curtis.

"It deserves an explanation from the cops," Curtis wrote. "Their explanation, in turn, deserves our scrutiny. There are unimportant mysteries and important ones. This is one of the latter."

Vaughan's report also alleges that FSU campus police told local reporters that an investigation of Winston wasn't underway, which it in fact was.

He explained that "those police officials were involved in updating Florida State administrators on the case and helping formulate the school's public relations response in the first days after the explosive story became public."

Florida State has already released a statement about what it felt was "misinformation in the media," per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com:

Florida State said the only people aware of the incident before January 2013 were Tallahassee police, campus police and the victims advocate program. The decision not to seek charges was made after Winston's lawyer said the Tallahassee Police Department was 'no longer pursuing the case,' and Winston and his roommates said the sex was consensual.

In December 2013, Meggs gave a press conference announcing that the state attorney wouldn't pursue sexual assault charges against Winston. With no legal action taken against Winston, the FSU star finished the 2013 season, winning the Heisman Trophy and leading the Seminoles to the national championship.

Winston has since been caught on video stealing crab legs from a local Publix grocery store and was suspended by the school for his team's game against Clemson after yelling an obscene phrase on the Florida State campus.

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5 Mississippi State Players Auburn Missed on in Recruiting

Mississippi State aims to keep momentum moving forward against another heralded SEC opponent Saturday when reigning conference champion Auburn comes to town.The Bulldogs are enjoying a historically successful season, feature a Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback and can take things to another level by sending the Tigers home with a loss.

Head coach Dan Mullen has a reputation for finding under-the-radar recruits who surprise people with their collegiate success. Several of those athletes are from Alabama and had opportunities to attend Auburn while others simply never received offers from the Tigers.

Here's a look at five such Bulldogs who should have some extra incentive in this highly anticipated matchup.

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Georgia Fans Build Shrine for Todd Gurley Outside of Sanford Stadium

Georgia Bulldogs fans are doing whatever it takes to lift Todd Gurley's suspension.

They've already tried signing a White House petition, but now they're hoping this shrine outside of Sanford Stadium will do the trick.

Although it's probably all for naught, the one-time Heisman favorite will probably appreciate the gesture.

Keep praying, Georgia fans.

[Twitter, h/t USA Today's For The Win]


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Bowl Predictions 2014: Updated Playoff Picks Heading into Week 7

When 11 of the Top 25 teams in the Associated Press Poll lose in a single week, it is bound to turn the College Football Playoff race upside down. 

That is exactly what happened in the aftermath of Week 6, when the Nos. 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 teams all lost. Predicting the four playoff spots is anyone’s guess now, as mainstays like Florida State remain among the leaders alongside Cinderella stories from Mississippi State and Ole Miss. 

We recently projected Georgia as the fourth playoff team after the Week 6 upsets, but that now changes after the latest news regarding star running back Todd Gurley, via national college sports writer Bryan Fischer:

Now that Georgia is out of the field, read on for a refresher on the other three squads and to find out which team takes the Bulldogs' spot.

 

Playoff Projections

Sugar Bowl: Florida State vs. Oklahoma

Rose Bowl: Michigan State vs. Alabama 

Championship Bowl (in Arlington, Texas): TBD (Semifinal winners)

 

Teams

Florida State

As long as Florida State continues to win, regardless of how impressive the final deficit is, it is going to crack the field of four.

It’s not only because the Seminoles are the defending champions, either. An undefeated regular season would include wins over Notre Dame, Oklahoma State and Clemson, as well as victories in a number of trap games against the likes of Florida, Miami, Virginia and Louisville. What’s more, it is hard to argue with Florida State’s overall talent level if we are discussing best teams.

The Notre Dame game stands out as the one remaining significant challenge. It will help Florida State that it is at home, but it is more important that it is Notre Dame’s first true road game. That’s right, the Fighting Irish only play four true road games this season, and the first one just so happens to come against the defending champs.

The thinking here is that Notre Dame is unprepared to challenge Florida State into the fourth quarter.

 

Oklahoma

The key here for Oklahoma—or anyone with plans on winning the Big 12—is the Pac-12 beating itself up.

We are working under the assumption that the SEC champ and Florida State are already taking two spots, so the Pac-12 champion having multiple losses would be critical for the eventual Big 12 and Big Ten champions.

The Sooners will bounce back from their loss to TCU quickly because contests against Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State are all at home. Oklahoma will take care of business in Norman while squads such as Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State, Utah, Stanford and Arizona are all handing each other multiple losses.

Head coach Bob Stoops also had an answer to anyone who thinks the Sooners have a relatively easy schedule, via Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman:

To me, strength of schedule is the biggest issue. Some conferences play nine conference games; some play eight. That’s a big deal, who you’re playing in those other four or other three games. 

We’re playing nine [conference games] and Tennessee. We just had Notre Dame and Florida State, outside of our nine conference games. Hopefully that should make a difference, if you’re all winning.

 

Michigan State

The Pac-12 decimating itself will have the same impact for Michigan State’s playoff chances as Oklahoma’s.

The Spartans will move up the polls as the SEC and Pac-12 teams accumulate losses, and that loss to Oregon will fade into the memory of early September. Michigan State should handle Purdue, Indiana, Michigan, Maryland, Rutgers and Penn State as well, which means the team will have to beat Ohio State to reach the playoffs.

The Buckeyes and quarterback J.T. Barrett look much better now than they did at the start of the year, but that game is in East Lansing under the lights. The prediction here is that Michigan State prevails with a strong defense against the young Ohio State offense, which will give it an excellent opportunity to reach the playoffs.

Assuming the Spartans will easily win out is perhaps showing a lack of respect for the Big Ten as a whole, but we are clearly not the only ones who think Michigan State will crack the playoff field, as Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press pointed out:

 

Alabama

Georgia was projected here largely because we were working under the assumption that the SEC West teams would beat each other up.

However, now Todd Gurley is suspended, the thought is that Alabama will emerge from the SEC West and beat the SEC East champion. The SEC has built up so much capital the past few years—with seven straight national titles before Florida State won last season—that the champion will reach the playoffs, even if that team has two losses.

Alabama gets Auburn, Mississippi State and Texas A&M at home, while Auburn has to go to Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama. That is an absolutely brutal road schedule for the Tigers.

What’s more, Ole Miss still has to go to Texas A&M and play Auburn and Mississippi State, while Mississippi State has to go to Alabama and Ole Miss on top of a home game with Auburn.

None of these schedules are easy by any stretch (such is life in the SEC West), but Alabama faces all its challenges at home. Not to mention the fact that we are talking about the program that has dominated college football recently and will likely be playing with a chip on its shoulder for the rest of season after a heartbreaking loss to Ole Miss. 

The result will be a playoff spot for Nick Saban’s bunch.

 

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Treon Harris Reinstated After Accuser Withdraws Sexual Battery Allegations

Freshman quarterback Treon Harris was reinstated to the Florida Gators football team Friday after the sexual battery allegation against him was withdrawn by the accuser.

Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report passed along the entire statement from head coach Will Muschamp as his team prepares to take on the LSU Tigers Saturday night:

Harris was originally suspended by both Florida and the University Athletic Association on Monday in light of the university police launching an investigation into an accusation that Harris sexually assaulted a female student early Sunday.

Jeff Barlis of ESPN.com reports the incident apparently took place at an on-campus residence hall.

School spokeswoman Janine Sikes also released a statement Friday, via Barlis: “This means she is not pursuing criminal charges against him at this time but maintains the right to do so in the future.”

As Muschamp mentioned, Harris will not play in Saturday’s home game against the Tigers.

Harris has completed four of six passing attempts this season, with two of the completions going for touchdowns. He helped the Gators overcome a nine-point deficit on the road against archrival Tennessee on Oct. 4 by making plays with his legs and avoiding turnovers.

Jeff Driskel will likely be the starting quarterback for Florida on Saturday, despite the fact that he threw three interceptions against the Volunteers and nearly cost his team the opportunity to win.

Harris certainly had some momentum on the field after digging Florida out of that early hole in his most recent performance, but there are far more important things at matter here than the game of football.

It remains to be seen when Harris will return to the field.

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Alabama vs. Arkansas: Should Tide Fans Be Worried About Facing Razorbacks?

The Alabama Crimson Tide should have their hands full with the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday.

Last season, such a remark would have been met with laughter and amusement from the Tide faithful. This time around, nobody’s laughing.

It’s funny how much a year can change.

 

2-Headed Rushing Attack

If there’s one thing the Razorbacks do exceptionally well, it’s run the ball.

Through five games, the team boasts the No. 7-ranked rushing attack in the nation, racking up an average of 316.6 yards per game. Furthermore, only Georgia Southern has more rushing touchdowns than Arkansas’ 20.

Stellar sophomore Alex Collins leads the way, rushing for 621 yards and six scores on 86 carries. The Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native has topped 130 yards three times this season and rushed for no fewer than 68 yards in a game this year.

After Collins, Jonathan Williams picks up the slack, rushing for 486 yards and eight touchdowns on 66 carries.

Combined, the duo makes for quite the formidable 1-2 punch. Just ask Texas Tech—Collins and Williams paced an attack that combined for 438 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.

AL.com's Andrew Gribble hints at a war between two strengths:

Something's got to give when Alabama’s No. 3-ranked run defense meets the toughest rushing attack it's faced this season.

 

Injuries Racking Up

The loss to Ole Miss didn’t just affect the Tide in the standings, it also resulted in some additions to their injury list.

Running back Kenyan Drake suffered a broken leg and is expected to miss the rest of the season, per AL.com's Michael Casagrande. Although he was considered Alabama’s third-string back, Drake still managed to find the end zone four times on the ground and twice in the passing game.

Other casualties from Saturday’s game include starting linebacker Denzel Devall and starting center Ryan Kelly. Kelly is expected to miss a couple weeks and Devall is set to miss roughly three to four weeks.

Playing against the Razorbacks at full strength would be hard enough.

 

Road Woes

The Tide have played in two games away from home—Week 1 vs. West Virginia and last week against Ole Miss—and struggled in both.

Quarterback Blake Sims also seems to be affected by the road. Those two games are the only two occasions during which he has failed to throw a touchdown, tossing two interceptions instead.

Given that Arkansas is better at stopping the run than the pass, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Saban turn to Sims to win the game with his arm.

Against the Rebels last weekend, Sims did an okay job managing the game. But when he was tasked with winning the game—on Alabama’s final drive—he showed his inexperience, tossing a game-ending interception.

If the Tide want to avoid a second straight upset, Sims will need to get over his road woes.

 

All stats, recruiting information and rankings used in this article are courtesy of cfbstats.com and 247Sports.

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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Notre Dame CB KeiVarae Russell Will Miss Entire Season Due to Academic Scandal

If Notre Dame is going to make a run to the College Football Playoff, it will have to do so without cornerback KeiVarae Russell. He was one of the players suspended before the season after an investigation into academic scandal and has been told he's out all year. 

According to Keith Arnold of NBC Sports, Notre Dame's Honor Committee informed Russell of his season-long suspension:

The preseason All-American candidate has received news from Notre Dame’s Honor Committee and addressed his teammates with the news on Thursday, two different sources confirmed.

Russell plans on returning to South Bend and the Irish football team. There has been speculation that the third-year cornerback was considering a jump to the NFL after the season, though that move isn’t happening now according to sources.

Douglas Farmer of 247Sports had Russell's full statement:

Per Adam Shear of Fox 28 in South Bend, Russell and the other four players who were suspended are still enrolled at Notre Dame:

Russell did generate some controversy on October 2 when Matt Fortuna of ESPN.com reported the star cornerback was venting his frustration with the school and the process of getting reinstated in an Instagram post that has since been deleted:

I killed my meeting; I was so prepared and ready and was able to refute damn near every suspicion they had. Described details of assignments thoroughly so they couldn't say I didn't do it AND THEY STILL SAID MY DECISION WONT COME UNTIL ALL 5 OF US (and some other minor hearings) ARE DONE. Decision MIGHT come next week, not even 100% it's tough to understand these people.

While Russell's absence does hurt Notre Dame on the field this year, it has to provide head coach Brian Kelly some relief knowing he will likely have arguably his best defensive player back for the 2015 season. Russell tallied 51 tackles and one interception last year. 

The Fighting Irish have been able to withstand the loss of Russell and the other four suspended players thus far, going 5-0 and moving up to No. 6 in The Associated Press rankings. They will play North Carolina this week before a trip to Tallahassee against Florida State on October 18. 

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2-Year-Old Can Name All the Pac-12 Conference Teams

Who wants to memorize a multiplication table when you can memorize college football helmets?

This adorable two-year-old can name all 12 teams in the Pac-12 conference.

It's safe to say he's starting his college football fandom at an early age.

[Pac-12]

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Tennessee Football: Ranking the Volunteers' Team MVP Candidates Through 5 Games

Although the season isn't quite halfway over, there are already a few clear MVP candidates emerging for the University of Tennessee Volunteers.

With the No. 3 third-down defense in the country and the No. 2 overall defense in the SEC East, per NCAA.com statistics, defensive coordinator John Jancek's unit is significantly outperforming the team's offense. 

That's why the majority of the team's MVPs at this point come from the defense. It doesn't take a stat sheet for even the most casual fans to know that the Tennessee defense has improved significantly since its disastrous outing in 2012 and ho-hum performance in 2013.

Every unit is clicking and making tackles, from the front four to the linebackers to the secondary.

While there's still time for the Vols' offensive players to begin making a case for MVP status, the list at the moment belongs almost entirely to the defense.

Here are the team's top MVP candidates through five games of the 2014 season. 

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Notre Dame Football: Game Against Tar Heels More Than an FSU Dress Rehearsal

You can't blame Notre Dame fans for looking past North Carolina.

With a trip to Tallahassee, Florida, just eight days away, the college football world will focus on the showdown between the Irish and Florida State as soon as Saturday night is over in a renewal of a rivalry that literally started the traveling madness known as ESPN's College GameDay.

So while Irish fans might be checking hotel prices and looking at flights—it's ugly, Domers—Brian Kelly's squad welcomes Larry Fedora and his Tar Heels to town.

It's a game that counts just as much as the rest of them, Kelly reminds us. A week after being taken to the limit against Stanford, the Irish could leave Notre Dame Stadium 5-1 if they think they're in for a dress rehearsal before the Seminoles.

During Kelly's Tuesday press conference, the Irish head coach paid North Carolina's team the ultimate compliment, comparing the Tar Heel roster to his.

"In a lot of ways, [they're a] very similar team," Kelly said. "Young, athletic, a lot of very good athletes."

Some may take that as lip service. Since the Tar Heels gave up 70 points to East Carolina and enter Saturday as the worst power-five defense in college football, you couldn't blame them.

But the Tar Heels are the perfect foil for a Notre Dame team that's played down to its level of competition these past few seasons.

While Brian Kelly has won 26 of his last 31 games, the Irish have spent a great deal of that time living on the edge. As BlueandGold's Lou Somogyi points out, Notre Dame has one of the unlikelier seven-game winning streaks you could ever imagine after eking out a three-point victory over Stanford:

The 17-14 victory versus Stanford this past weekend marked the seventh consecutive time Notre Dame won a game that was decided by four or fewer points, with the game on the line right through the final possession. Just how hard is that to do? Well, consider that it tied a Notre Dame record for such victories.

In 2012, Notre Dame won all three contests decided by four points or less: Purdue (20-17), BYU (17-14) and Pitt (29-26 in triple overtime).

The Irish also won all three in 2013: Michigan State (17-13), Arizona State (37-34) and USC (14-10). The three-point conquest of Stanford this year continues the trend where Notre Dame has found a knack to win such games. It also should be noted that all but the Arizona State game were at home, and even ASU was at a neutral site for the Shamrock Series.

The first time a seven-game winning streak in these outcomes occurred was from 1937-39 under head coach Elmer Layden. That was snapped with a 7-6 loss at Iowa.

Those wins against Purdue, BYU and Pitt all should serve as notice that any underdog can come into Notre Dame Stadium and challenge the Irish. So if Notre Dame fans want to see the type of big game they're hoping for next Saturday, the football team will need to take care of business this weekend.

That means ignoring the distractions that continue with five suspended teammates still awaiting their fate, according to ESPN.com's Matt Fortuna.

It also means getting an offense back on track after struggling to run the ball and battling turnovers in the past two weeks.

As Notre Dame continues to ascend the polls and earn its place in the water-cooler discussion surrounding the College Football Playoff, it's natural that distractions will continue to occur. However, Kelly feels confident that his team will continue to stay focused, as it's a young group that's found a way to eliminate distractions that started before preseason camp even opened.

"There are too many guys in here that just want to play," Kelly said this week. "Look, they know that they are ranked. But they are more interested in playing the game than anything else. The veterans that we have here have been down this road before.  They have been undefeated, and they know what it takes and what you have to put in, to beat an opponent when you're at Notre Dame."

Surrounded by Saturdays featuring ranked opponents, the North Carolina game has been circled as a potential trap since we started talking about this schedule months ago.

If the Tar Heels matchup is a trap game, it's one we've been staring at for an awful long time.

But with a trip to Tallahassee and a potential Game of the Year candidate on the horizon, Irish fans are already hitting the fast-forward button.

Let's just hope Brian Kelly's team isn't doing the same thing.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

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Miami Football: Beating Cincinnati Necessary Step Toward Salvaging Season

The 3-3 Miami Hurricanes limp into a bout with the Cincinnati Bearcats not necessarily in a must-win situation but more adequately termed a better-not-lose outing.

Fortunately, the 'Canes get a minor break from an important clash, since a meeting with Cincinnati is the final nonconference matchup of the regular season. Knocking off the Bearcats is, however, a necessary step toward salvaging the year.

A devastating 10-point loss to Georgia Tech last weekend has Miami clinging to an ever-so-small chance at the Coastal Division title, one that won't come without serious help from elsewhere.

Here we go again.

It's the middle of October, and the perennially underachieving 'Canes have already dropped two ACC contests with a road trip to Virginia Tech on deck and Florida State looming.

At the absolute best, Miami is looking at nine wins—including a bowl victory—but seven or eight are the most likely finishes. Regardless, the Hurricanes must open the second half of their season with a victory, because falling to Cincy could completely derail the team.

Entering a deafening Lane Stadium as losers of two straight would be mentally challenging enough already but dropping a pair of winnable games prior to battling Virginia Tech might prove disastrous.

Simply put, the Hurricanes must return to the form they displayed in a solid win over Duke, and Cincinnati offers a perfect opportunity to take the recovery a step further.

The Miami offense has yet to play a complete game, stumbling on third down, in the red zone, dropping open passes or committing costly turnovers.

"We as an offense just haven't executed the way we should. There's no way to explain it," Duke Johnson said, per Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. "We're just not doing what we're supposed to do and what we know we're capable of doing."

Positives certainly exist: Brad Kaaya has clearly improved, and Johnson is still turning nothing into something. Phillip Dorsett and Clive Walford have combined for 32 receptions, 30 of which have resulted in first downs or touchdowns. True freshman Braxton Berrios has earned a starting role.

But the negatives have affected the 'Canes more: A terrible conversion rate on third down. Settling for field goals. Few explosive runs for Johnson. Stacy Coley's unforeseen slump. A negative-four turnover margin.

Granted, Miami has struggled in every facet of the game, so there's no single unit shouldering the majority of blame. A portion absolutely falls on the coaches but even the Hurricanes stars have had underwhelming seasons.

Ereck Flowers hasn't been the dominant force he was striding toward becoming, Tracy Howard lost his starting job and Denzel Perryman has put together a few stinkers.

Nevertheless, Miami is a more talented team than Cincinnati, and the Bearcats are likely to be without starting quarterback Gunner Kiel.

"He's been struggling to get his passing arm over his head," head coach Tommy Tuberville said, according to Tom Groeschen of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "Last time I looked, it's hard to throw a deep ball underhanded."

Should Kiel be officially unavailable, the 'Canes would ultimately be gifted an opportunity to dominate on both sides of the football, something they really need before conference play resumes.

Each team remaining on the schedule is more than capable of defeating a squad hampered by issues on offense, defense and special teams, especially when Miami doesn't know which problems will make an appearance during a given week.

Realistically, the Hurricanes might lose to Virginia Tech, Florida State and another team, so being upset by the Bearcats could send 2014 to the trash. They don't have time to be dejected about what's gone wrong, they just have to fix it—starting this weekend.

"There's no heads down in the locker room," Berrios said, per Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post. "There's no pity. There's no feeling sorry for us. We're a team. We're bonded together...let's go get it."

Miami has no choice other than to "go get it," lest it enter the season's final five ACC games teetering on the brink of potentially failing to even qualify for a bowl. It shouldn't happen given all the circumstances, but the 'Canes still cannot afford a loss to Cincinnati.

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Oklahoma vs. Texas: Trevor Knight's Legs, Not Arm, Key to Sooners Victory

When the Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns meet Saturday, expect quarterback Trevor Knight to be released from his harness.

Thus far, the Sooners coaching staff has veered on the safe side when it comes to the sophomore, limiting the amount of running he does. However, following last weekend’s loss to TCU—a game in which Knight struggled heavily in the pocket—Oklahoma will have to undergo drastic changes in its playcalling if it wants to keep its College Football Playoff hopes alive.

With that in mind, expect Knight to run wild this weekend.

If the Sooners coaching staff needs a push in that direction, it just needs to take a look at the Longhorns defense. Through five games, the unit ranks No. 29 in total defense (333.6 YPG) and No. 5 against the pass (134.6 YPG), allowing just four passing touchdowns and intercepting nine passes.

As for Texas’ weakness? Yep, you guessed it: Stopping the run.

Opponents have taken advantage of the Longhorns’ front seven, rushing for an average of 199.0 yards per game—Texas ranks No. 99 against the run—while finding the end zone six times. In fact, all but one opponent has racked up 170 yards rushing or more against the Longhorns.

It’s not like Knight, a San Antonio native, doesn’t have the talent to pull off a big running day.

Over six appearances during his freshman campaign last season, Knight rushed for 445 yards and two touchdowns on 67 carries. On three occasions he rushed for 80 yards or more, including topping the century mark twice.

In comparison, through five games, Knight has only rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. In all but one of those games, Knight didn’t attempt more than five rushes, including failing to record a single one against West Virginia on Sept. 20.

If it isn’t broke, why fix it?

“We don’t want him hit as much as we can avoid it,” head coach Bob Stoops said earlier this season, per The Oklahoman’sJason Kersey. “You see the quarterbacks that are out in NFL and college. The more he can avoid it, the better.”

The alternative hasn’t worked so well for Oklahoma this season.

Knight has thrown for 1,374 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions on 54.5 percent passing. He has thrown for multiple touchdowns in a game only once this year, and his completion percentage is a career worst and ranks ninth in the 10-team Big 12.

And this poor play is supposed to change against a secondary that held Baylor’s explosive quarterback Bryce Petty to just 111 yards on 7-of-22 passing last Saturday?

During the first half of Saturday’s loss to TCU, Knight actually ran the ball quite frequently. Whether it was by design or not, he made plays after plays, picking up big first downs. His mobility played a large role in the Sooners holding a 31-24 lead early in the third quarter.

However, the team surprisingly turned away from the run after taking the lead. That resulted in a disastrous stat line for Knight over his final eight possessions, as he threw for just 48 yards and two interceptions—one returned for a touchdown—on 6-of-19 passing while being sacked twice.

If Oklahoma wants to get back on the winning track, the coaching staff is going to need to fully trust in Knight.

Whether they like it or not, their season depends on it.

 

All stats, recruiting information and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBStats.com and 247Sports.

For complete coverage and everything Oklahoma football, you can reach Sebastian on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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5 Arkansas Players Alabama Missed on in Recruiting

Alabama and Arkansas renew their SEC rivalry Saturday evening in Fayetteville. Like so many conference foes, these programs perennially clash on the recruiting trail, resulting in interesting subplots taking place within the on-field action.

Whether a player was once spurned by his opponent as a prospect or ultimately elected to go elsewhere despite holding an offer from that team, things become a bit more personal when the two sides meet again between the hash marks. 

Here's a look at five former recruits who could have potentially worn a Crimson Tide uniform but instead represent the Razobacks in battle.

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Johnny Manziel Shows Support for Todd Gurley with #FreeGurley Tweet

After going through his own autograph controversy while playing at Texas A&M last year, Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel took to Twitter on Friday to show support for suspended Georgia running back Todd Gurley.

Manziel followed up with a comment to reporters in Cleveland: 

Gurley was suspended indefinitely by the University of Georgia on Thursday during an "ongoing investigation into an alleged violation of NCAA rules." Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports is reporting that the investigation is for accepting extra benefits for his likeness. 

[Twitter]

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How SEC West Division Could Land 2 Teams in the College Football Playoff

We're still early enough in the college football season that most one-loss teams in power-five conferences shouldn't be eliminated from the playoff conversation. 

Similarly, the idea that a single conference, and perhaps division, could get two teams into the College Football Playoff shouldn't be officially ruled out, either. 

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn certainly thinks so. 

"I think there's going to be good chance there will be two teams from the [SEC] West, or at least two teams from the SEC, to make the Final Four,"Malzahn said Thursday on ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike.

Of course, Malzahn is going to stump for what benefits the division and conference in which he coaches because, ultimately, it means that it could benefit his team. 

The possibility of two SEC West teams making the playoff isn't unfathomable, however. While, in theory, winning a conference matters, it's not a prerequisite. The theme maintained by CFP executive director Bill Hancock is that the field will consist of "the four best teams.

What qualifies as "best" remains to be seen, but what is known is that it doesn't solely mean being a conference champ. In 2011, the two best teams in the BCS' eyes, Alabama and LSU, came from the SEC West. 

Other recent history suggests that, while rare, two teams from the same division could be playoff bound. A mock selection committee re-examining the 2008 season included Texas and Oklahoma, both formerly of the now-defunct Big 12 South, in its "practice" four-team playoff

The general consensus in 2014 is that the SEC West is college football's strongest division. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports wrote as much in late September, and the latest Associated Press and coaches polls have five West teams among the top 25. B/R's playoff guru, Sam Chi, has three SEC West in his latest playoff mock standings

Interestingly, though, four of the five top SEC West teams are ranked in the top 10 even though their toughest football ahead of them. Put another way, many teams at the top of the West division still have to play one another. 

That's not to suggest that the West is overrated, but it's also worth pointing out that, prior to Week 6, the best win by any team in that division (with the benefit of hindsight) was Auburn's road victory over Kansas State on Sept. 18. 

That could mean a couple of things. On one hand, it could mean that the West cannibalizes itself and no one escapes without multiple losses. On the other, two teams could rise to the top with, say, one loss between them. 

Either scenario creates the potential for a fascinating conversation at season's end, though largely dependent on what the rest of the landscape looks like. 

Does the Big Ten champion—say Michigan State or Ohio State—still have one loss? How about the Pac-12? Do Florida State and Georgia Tech get through the season unscathed and meet in the ACC championship game? These are all questions that would play a part in shaping the Final Four. 

Strength of schedule varies, to be sure, but the general rule of thumb for a playoff-caliber team, at least among power-five conferences, is relatively consistent: There will be some stinkers, some decent opponents and some good ones. 

The nuances of side-by-side resumes is where things get tricky. 

In other words, it's going to take a lot of losing outside the SEC for the West to get two teams into the playoff—and that's assuming the West doesn't beat itself up along the way. 

Mathematically, there would have to be two others conferences that take themselves out of the playoff race for this to be a possibility. Which ones would those be? It's tough to tell as of Week 7. 

There's also the matter of perception. 

Just as the SEC's reputation could factor into a pair of teams making the playoff, other conferences don't have that luxury. 

The Big Ten's reputation has tanked, especially after a pretty horrific effort in Week 2. The Big 12 is in an interesting position since it lacks a conference championship game and puts teams at a greater risk to lose because of a nine-game conference schedule. 

The Pac-12 lacks other major brands outside Oregon, UCLA and USC. Once Arizona upset Oregon last Thursday, the narrative shifted to whether the Pac-12 would have a playoff team at all (this is, of course, premature). 

Even the SEC East, which appears to be wide open, has been knocked down a couple of pegs perception-wise thanks to South Carolina's 3-3 record and Missouri's loss to Indiana. 

Conference perception ultimately shouldn't aid or hinder what a certain team does during the regular season. Until the selection committee proves that point, however, it's an interesting storyline. 

Whether the SEC West benefits from it or not remains to be seen. As of the second week in October, however, just about anything is possible. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida State Defends Jameis Winston Investigation in Letter to Students

Florida State University released an open letter to its community on Friday in an attempt to offset what it describes as a "drumbeat of misinformation" concerning its investigation into the 2012 sexual assault allegation against football star Jameis Winston.

The statement posted on its official site, which includes an 18-step timeline highlighting its handling of the situation and the Title IX obligations associated with it, doesn't name Winston. It refers to him as "the athlete," but the details are in line with his situation.

Florida State said the main reason for its silence on the issues was in order to protect students. It also explains why it decided to speak out now:

But as we expect other stories to appear, it is abundantly clear that the continual drumbeat of misinformation about the University's actions causes harm to our students, faculty, alumni, supporters and the FSU community as a whole. Because of this, and within the constraints of state and federal privacy laws, we want to share with you more detail to set the record straight.

The university states it immediately responded after learning of a possible sexual assault and passed the case to the Tallahassee Police Department after learning the alleged incident occurred off-campus.

It went on to explain why the Title IX administration was not notified about the case, which was at the time no longer being pursued by the police:

The Athletics Department also considered accounts by the athlete and two other FSU student athletes who were present at the encounter. All three independently described it as consensual. Based on that and the TPD's decision, the Athletics Department did not file a report with the University's Title IX administrator or the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities.

A decision was then made to send the case to the State Attorney's Office for further review. FSU asserts it attempted to help protect the complainant's personal information from the public and followed up with a Title IX investigation.

Based on the information available, it was announced in February they would not move forward with it unless new details were brought to light. Two months later, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights began to look into Florida State's handling of the situation.

After getting cooperation from the complainant, Florida State reopened the Title XI investigation and notes it's currently approaching a "final resolution of the complaint."

The university states it's also working with the Department of Education on its inquiry into the matter:

The University takes sexual assault very seriously. The University is also cooperating fully with the U.S. Dept. of Education investigation into this matter. Indeed, it was the University that informed the DOE nearly six months ago about the Athletics Department knowledge of the case.

Iliana Limon Romero and Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel provided a response from the accuser's lawyer, John Clune, about the open letter. He claims it's filled with errors and is just an attempt to get in front of another story that will be released:

Florida State knows that there is a big story about to break from the NY Times and their PR team is trying to do a little preventative damage control. The obvious news in this statement is that senior athletic department officials met with Winston and his lawyer one month after the rape occurred then decided to hide it from the Title IX office.

He also accused Florida State of attempting to break laws to protect its football program:

The statement's timeline is full of errors but it shows that we can add both [the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] and the victim-advocate privilege to the list of laws Florida State is willing to break to protect this football program. What else can the school do wrong in this mess? The whole country is moving toward improving the response to campus rape while Florida State still backpedals the other way.

Winston has continued to play throughout the process. He's denied any criminal acts and, last December, the state attorney decided against charging the quarterback. He was suspended for one game earlier this season for a separate incident.

 

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SEC Football: Rating Each Team as a 2014 Contender or Pretender

The SEC conference has lived up to its billing as the most competitive conference in college football.

Entering Week 7, the conference has seven teams ranked in the Top 25, including four in the top seven. The next highest conference (Big 12) has just five.

All eyes will be on the SEC once again this weekend, as several high-profile matchups are on deck. Among them, No. 2 Auburn travels to face No. 3 Mississippi State, and No. 3 Ole Miss takes on No. 14 Texas A&M.

Now is the time when the contenders begin to separate themselves from the pretenders. 

In determining whether a team is a contender or a pretender in the race for the SEC title, we looked a number of factors, ranging from strength of remaining schedule, depth of roster, performance in games completed and similar issues. 

Here’s Bleacher Report’s take on where all 14 teams place.

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Ohio State Football: Why Urban Meyer Should Take Credit for Cam Newton

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It started with what seemed like a fairly innocuous question toward the end of his weekly call-in show. But when Urban Meyer was asked by a caller about Ohio State's plans when it came to recruiting quarterbacks, he couldn't help but share the Buckeyes' sales pitch.

"There's always guys on the horizon. That's never going to change," Meyer said on Thursday's edition of The Urban Meyer Call In Show on the Ohio State Radio Network. "That's the one position that's so unique in all of sport, especially for what we do, and the quarterbacks I've been fortunate to be around, I mean it's a who's who now."

That led to some discussion about what made Tim Tebow special and some banter with co-host Jim Lachey. From there, Meyer continued to sell his history with signal-callers, listing the "who's who" that he's coached.

"The unique thing we can sell is our offense has had more first-rounders. [Along with] Florida State, we've had three first-rounders come popping out out of our offense," Meyer said. "We've had two Heisman Trophy winners—well I count Cam Newton because he was with us for a couple of years."

Meyer's answer continued, but this caught my attention. I tweeted it. Outrage and comments from national media members followed.

Newton, of course, earned his Heisman Trophy at Auburn, en route to leading the Tigers to the 2010 national championship. Prior to that, he spent two seasons with Meyer at Florida, backing up Tebow before leaving Gainesville in the spring of 2009 amidst no shortage of controversy.

Newton's two-season totals with the Gators amounted to a whopping 54 passing yards on 12 attempts to go along with 113 rushing yards and four scores on the ground. Those numbers obviously pale in comparison to what Newton accomplished at Auburn—as well as Blinn College in 2009—but that doesn't matter to Meyer.

Nor should it. 

Because as the head coach at Ohio State, Meyer's responsibility lies with the Buckeyes. Not Newton, not Auburn and not any opponent he finds himself facing for a top-tier quarterback on the recruiting trail.

Meyer's pitch of Newton is of course a stretch—a Bikram Yoga stretch, as Kobe Bryant might say—given that Newton only appeared in a total of six games during his two-season stint in Gainesville and hardly scratched the surface of the talent that led to him becoming the first overall pick of the 2011 NFL draft.

But the fact of the matter remains that Meyer can claim a tie—albeit a flimsy one—to Newton, one of the NFL's most popular players.

That's especially important when one of the questions that Meyer hears most often from high school quarterbacks is, "How are you going to the get me to the NFL?" No, Meyer isn't responsible for nudging Newton to the professional ranks, but his decision to play for Meyer in the first place and eventual success in a similar spread system are enough for the third-year Buckeyes head coach not to ignore that of Newton's four-year college career, more of it was spent with him than anyone else.

Auburn obviously has a stronger pitch when it comes to Newton, and perhaps fittingly, the Tigers are one of the teams that Ohio State finds itself battling with in the race for the services of 5-star quarterback Torrance Gibson. But that's all that this is really about anyways, as high school kids aren't really interested in picking apart a head coach's embellishments.

Which is why as Meyer continued his answer, he had no problem continuing to stretch the truth, referring to Josh Harris as a Heisman Trophy candidate and Chris Leak as an All-American. Harris never received a vote for college football's most prestigious award during his career at Bowling Green, and Leak was only named an honorable mention for All-American in 2004—the season before Meyer arrived in Gainesville.

"I tell the kids in recruiting there's a lot of theory, a lot of staffs will say, 'We hope we really develop a good quarterback,'" Meyer said. "Where we can say that everyone who's ever played for us has been developed."

And while that, too, is an embellishment—Newton's 2007 classmate and fellow 5-star prospect John Brantley never caught on in the NFL after a lackluster college career—Meyer's track record with quarterbacks speaks for itself. Harris—a running back when Meyer arrived at Bowling Green in 2001—was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2004, a year before Utah quarterback Alex Smith was selected first overall by the San Francisco 49ers.

Despite being a polarizing prospect, Tebow—the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner—was taken by the Denver Broncos in the first round of the 2010 draft, and after Meyer's arrival in Columbus in 2012, Braxton Miller reeled off two consecutive Big Ten MVP award-winning seasons. Even the development of unheralded Kenny Guiton and current Buckeyes starter J.T. Barrett speaks favorably for Meyer, and that's before you even mention the two national titles that he totaled with the Gators.

Which begs the question, with all of Meyer's success otherwise, why even bring up Newton's name?

The answer? Because he can. In the world of recruiting, resumes aren't regulated and every edge matters—no matter how dull they may be.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Auburn's Defense Looks to Continue Resurgence and Contain Dak Prescott

AUBURN, Ala. — Ellis Johnson wasn't ready for "The Dak Attack" last season.

In his third game as Auburn's defensive coordinator, the coaching veteran had a game plan for his defense that centered on slowing down Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell, who had been battling an injury.

However, just before kickoff at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Bulldogs sent out Dak Prescott for his first SEC start.

But the dual-threat quarterback had no problem with the pressure placed on him—he compiled 346 total yards and two rushing touchdowns in his team's close 24-20 loss to the Tigers.

"We didn't have a really good plan, and when we tried to adjust it on the fly, [Mississippi State] still did an excellent job," Johnson said. "His runs last year—designed runs—were really the biggest problem we had in that game. So we obviously know what he's capable of doing."

Prescott won't take Auburn by surprise this season, but he will defend his home turf at Davis Wade Stadium this Saturday as a much-improved player—a Heisman front-runner—for a No. 3 squad that has knocked off back-to-back Top 10 opponents.

"He was not as good [last season] at reading coverages and as accurate throwing," Johnson said. "And right now, he's as good a dual-threat quarterback as there is in America. He's throwing the ball on time. He's throwing it accurately."

The unquestioned leader and focal point of Dan Mullen's high-powered offensive scheme, Prescott will be the main target for an Auburn defense that has also made incredible strides since last season's dramatic meeting between Auburn and Mississippi State.

The Auburn defensive line had several question marks heading into the season without the likes of Dee Ford and Carl Lawson. While the pass rush isn't anywhere close to what Johnson wants from the unit, the front four has helped Auburn become one of the top rush defenses in the country.

And, even after a complete shutdown of the LSU offense in last Saturday's eye-opening 41-7 rout of the Bayou Bengals, the Tigers still think there is plenty of room for improvement.

"As the season went on last year, we drastically progressed," senior defensive tackle Gabe Wright said. "Go through another spring and fall, and it really helped us make strides. And even seeing some of these games that are described as dominant, there's still so many mistakes that could be cleaned up."

Wright and the rest of the Auburn defense have already kept one of the nation's most prolific rushing quarterbacks in check this season.

Kansas State's Jake Waters, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in two Big 12 games this season, finished a Thursday night showdown against Auburn with negative-seven rushing yards.

Gus Malzahn said he hopes his defense will be able to carry over the confidence from stopping Waters into this weekend's matchup in Starkville, but the head coach admits Prescott will be a new kind of challenge.

"They're a different team than Kansas State, and that was just that specific plan for that week it worked out," Malzahn said. "He's an outstanding quarterback...he's like a running back when he runs it. "

One area Prescott looks especially dangerous against the Tigers will be on the scramble. Auburn's defense has allowed a few big runs from quarterbacks when the coverage wins out but the containment breaks down.

"We can't do anything different scheme-wise, because we've got to play the coverages we've got," Johnson said. "We've just got to do a better job of staying in our rush lanes and keeping him boxed up...any time you rush and you've got all man-under and no zone, you've got nobody hanging around there to help you, and that's got to improve."

While Auburn's Heisman candidate, Nick Marshall, is more of a shifty and agile runner, Prescott likes to beat defenses on the ground with his power.

For senior cornerback Jonathon Mincy, seeing a player of Prescott's caliber means he and his teammates on defense will put special focus on one area of their game.

"Someone who can be a run and pass threat like that, and also being a bigger body that can get into the second level, that's going to be big," Mincy said. "But we feel like we can stop anybody. It's going to come down to tackling...we're going to go out there and do our job."

But Auburn will not be able to just worry about Prescott's running ability.

The junior is averaging 244 yards per game through the air and has 14 passing touchdowns to just two interceptions this season. Although Prescott struggled with his passing accuracy last season, he is coming off a big win against Texas A&M in which he completed 76 percent of his passes.

"I thought he threw the ball decently last year," Malzahn said. "They hurt us on some big throws. They hit four verticals and he made a very good throw. This year, it seems that he’s a lot more confident, knows where everybody is and is in total control."

After several weeks of success on the field and a week of focused preparation, this resurgent Auburn defense will look to slow down a talented Heisman hopeful who has already garnered comparisons to another bigger, dual-threat quarterback who recently won the award.

More specifically, a Heisman winner who was coached by Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee.

"All I know is our defense had their work cut for us, and we do too," Lashlee said. "I hope he’s not Cam Newton on Saturday."

 

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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LSU Football: Tigers Poised for Breakout Game vs. Florida

LSU's matchup against Florida on Saturday will be the first time both teams face each other unranked in the Les Miles era, but that does not mean there will be a shortage of talent.

The Tigers and Gators annually put players in the NFL and have enough talent to beat any team on any given week.

Despite the immense amount of playmakers on hand, both programs have underperformed. Miles is looking to avoid his first 0-3 conference start at LSU, while Florida head coach Will Muschamp has luckily squeaked out a 2-1 record to start SEC play.

The Tigers were defeated 14-6 in their last trip to "The Swamp" in 2012. Miles' team this season has been crushed by Mississippi State and Auburn, both of which are now ranked in the Top Five.

The Gators are a step down from the Bulldogs and Tigers from the Plains, which should give opportunities for some of the LSU players to have a breakout games.

Here are four Tigers to look out for on Saturday.

 

Leonard Fournette

LSU has spread the carries amongst four running backs this season. Leonard Fournette, Kenny Hilliard, Terrence Magee and Darrel Williams have all shown flashes of excellence, but the Tigers' running backs have had a tough time getting in rhythm this season against meaningful opposition due to over-rotation.

Miles needs to find one to take the bulk of the carries, and the best of the group is Fournette.

The 5-star true freshman is LSU's leading rusher and was the most effective against Auburn. Three consecutive powerful "Buga" runs that totaled 22 yards set up LSU's longest gain in the first quarter, a 52-yard play-action bomb from Brandon Harris to Malachi Dupre.

The Tigers would go on to score their only points of the game on the next play.

Miles should ride the true freshman triumvirate of Fournette, Harris and Dupre against Florida. The offense should center around Fournette, though, as his runs should open up Dupre and Travin Dural on the outside.

The LSU offensive line bludgeoned the Gators' front last season, so Miles will hopefully get a similar performance from his big uglies.

Fournette has not performed the miracles everyone expected him to so far this season. Miles, who pumped him up more than any other player he has ever coached, should give him more opportunities to do so on Saturday.

 

Danielle Hunter 

LSU defensive end Danielle Hunter leads the team in tackles with 37 and tackles for loss with five. Hunter has also recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown against Mississippi State.

Hunter has only tallied one sack this season, but Saturday will be his first favorable quarterback matchup in SEC play. The previous signal-callers he has faced, Dak Prescott and Nick Marshall, are mobile playmakers who run offenses that keep defensive ends on their heels.

Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel has some mobility, but he is not nearly athlete that Prescott and Marshall are.

Driskel was sacked three times last week against Tennessee, so Hunter and his fellow defensive ends should be licking their chops against an inconsistent Florida offensive line.

 

Kwon Alexander

Junior Kwon Alexander has raked in 36 tackles, 10 more than any other linebacker. Alexander needs the other players in his position group to play better for LSU's defense to not be last in the conference in run defense.

Alexander moved to weak-side linebacker when Lamin Barrow moved on to the NFL last season. Barrow's best game was against Florida in 2013, when he led the team with 13 tackles.

The Gators offense is limited and predictable with Driskel under center, so expect Alexander to attack the line of scrimmage in an effort to make big plays.

Alexander started against Florida as a true freshman the last time the Tigers visited The Swamp. He suffered a broken ankle in that loss, which pushed him out of the rotation. Expect him to play with extra motivation on Saturday.

 

Jalen Mills

Driskel has thrown more interceptions than touchdown passes this season. If LSU can slow down running back Matt Jones, defensive coordinator John Chavis should be able to dial up some lethal defenses on passing downs that should confuse the Gators offense.

Driskel, who is a below-average passer, will have a tough time reading what Chavis will throw at him.

Jalen Mills' is LSU's best blitzing defensive back and has amazing ball skills. Mills raked in a sack and five tackles against Florida last season.

LSU's defensive backs have had a miserable start in conference play. Mills and the rest of the secondary have a favorable matchup against Florida's receivers, which should open up opportunities for the Tigers to have a dominant performance against Driskel.

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.com and LSU Sports Information. Recruiting information provided by 247Sports.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.

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