NCAA Football News

Tennessee Trip Perfect Solution to Alabama's Road Woes

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s been a tale of two Alabamas during the 2014 season.

There’s home Alabama and road Alabama. Home Alabama looks unbeatable, breaking records and grinding offenses into a fine dust. Road Alabama looks like it would finish toward the bottom of the SEC West.

The Crimson Tide is in the middle of a stretch of four in five games away from Bryant-Denny Stadium. They seemed to let out a lot of their frustration in their one home game during that run on Saturday, obliterating Texas A&M, 59-0.

But this week, Alabama will get back on an airplane and head to Knoxville before a bye week and subsequent trip to Baton Rouge to finish out the 2014 away schedule.

That game at LSU is massive for Alabama’s SEC West chances. It almost certainly can’t lose another game, especially before ending the season with Mississippi State and Auburn at home. And Tiger Stadium is always a difficult place to play.

But Alabama first gets to play a very down Tennessee team. It will be a great opportunity to fix its road woes before that huge trip to LSU.

*Note: Table data only include statistics from true road games, so Alabama's season opener against West Virginia in the Georgia Dome was not included.

It’s difficult to pinpoint one overarching reason Alabama has played subpar on the road.

The main one players point to is emotion, or lack thereof, and how that translates onto the field. Senior fullback Jalston Fowler thought the team was playing “like we were scared to lose.”

There was a spark in emotion, though, at the end of the Arkansas game. After Landon Collins’ late interception, players streamed onto the field in celebration. Nick Saban said that’s the most emotion he’s seen from his team in a long time and that it was good to see players celebrate simply getting a win.

So Saban came up with an analogy (along with some help from back-to-back national champion men’s golf coach Jay Seawell): “Let the horse run.” It comes from the movie, Seabiscuit, referring to a horse whose owners were too scared to lose instead of just letting it, well, run.

And run did they ever. The Alabama-Texas A&M box score reads like a video game. There was no shortage of that coveted emotion.

Now, the challenge becomes carrying that over into another week—and the rest of the season.

“That's everybody's choice. Everybody chooses their energy,” Saban said this week. “That's everybody's choice. Hopefully, our team will choose that kind of positive energy, that kind of positive attitude in terms of what they want to build on, what they want to accomplish. And understand the importance of good energy early in the week to have great preparation so they are confident going into the game and feel you can execute and do the things you need to do.”

The other factor that could be looked at is simply inexperience and the lack of execution that follows.

According to Phil Steele’s combined experience chart (h/t ESPN’s Alex Scarborough), which calculates how young a team his, Alabama checks in at No. 107 out of 128 FBS teams. 

The Crimson Tide is also breaking in a new quarterback and new offensive coordinator. Having all of that working together, especially in a hostile environment, is certainly a challenge. 

“The quarterback is the starting point of all that to manage the game,” Saban said. “His in and out of the right plays and make the right checks. I think that all starts with the preparation. I think it's really, really important to have great preparation this week because it is a challenge we have to overcome, especially offensively.

"I think it's going to be really important we play really, really good on defense as well because they have a really good defensive team. It's going to be a challenge for us offensively, being able to execute the way we need to, to have success.”

All of that will certainly be in play again this week in front of a hostile Tennessee crowd fired up by a major rivalry game and the return of a certain maligned coach in those parts.

But the Volunteers aren't expected to pose much of a threat in terms of competition. Tennessee is still looking for its first SEC West win.

Alabama can put criticisms of its past road performances behind it with a strong showing on Saturday. And in the process prepare for an even bigger test two weeks later.

“After what we did this past week, I'm ready to see what we can do on the road,” quarterback Blake Sims said. “Show everybody we can bring it from home and take it on the road and keep the same intensity.”


Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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UCLA Defense Seeks More Sacks Despite Colorado's 'Dirty' Line Play

Seeking to improve its sputtering sack production, the UCLA defense responded with three sacks of Cal quarterback Jared Goff.

The No. 25-ranked Bruins will try to continue the positive development of its pass rush this week at Colorado, but defensive end Takkarist McKinley explained Wednesday why that's a unique challenge.

"They're dirty," McKinley said after UCLA's practice Wednesday at Spaulding Field.

The second-year junior college transfer, who joined UCLA's roster four games into the season, left no ambiguity about his assessment of the Buffaloes' offensive line.

"They try to chop-block you," McKinley said. "They try to tear your ACL. To me, that's dirty. But to them, they're just trying to do their job."

Whatever the means, the Buffaloes have been effective in their job of keeping quarterback Sefo Liufau upright for much of the season. Colorado has allowed just 12 sacks through seven games.

Offensive line play is one facet in which Colorado has undergone a wholesale transformation under second-year head coach Mike MacIntyre. The Buffs gave up 20 sacks a season ago, 30 fewer than in the 2012 campaign.

"They've given up the least amount of sacks as a unit in the Pac-12, which is saying a lot considering they've had a lot of reps and they throw it a lot," UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said.

While Colorado has cut down the number of sacks it allows, UCLA has seen the number of sacks it generates dwindle.

The absence of All-American linebacker and first-round NFL draft pick Anthony Barr is glaring at times. Barr registered as many sacks individually in 2013 as the Bruins have as a team thus far into 2014.

UCLA's lack of sacks is partially attributable to easily rectified miscues. One of Barr's replacements at outside linebacker, Deon Hollins, has regularly been in opposing backfields and has a team-high three sacks.

Hollins has been fractions of a second away from getting several more sacks, however, and it seems like only a matter of time before the floodgates open for him.

The same is true for defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa, who gained his second sack on the year last week at Cal.

McKinley played a more prominent role, lining up on the outside in the position Odighizuwa previously manned—fitting, considering McKinley referred to himself as "a little Owa."

McKinley's presence allowed Odighizuwa to play on the interior of the defensive line, which Ulbrich said produced results.

"They affected the quarterback," he said. "They were getting in the backfield and in the run game, too. Started playing on [the offense's] side of the line of scrimmage a little bit more, a little bit more knock-back. They were a little bit more aggressive."

Both increasing its sack total and pressuring Liufau are contingent upon UCLA continuing to improve against the run. The Bruins are allowing 4.07 yards per rush—not a bad average by any means, but a slight jump from 2013's output of 3.95 yards per carry.

Stymieing Colorado on first and second down to create 3rd-and-long situations is key, McKinley said.

However, UCLA's best bet for shaking off Colorado's cut-blocking style and getting to Liufau is to avoid a down-and-dirty game in the trenches—no pun intended.

"If we get off [the line of scrimmage] with speed, we can beat them," McKinley said. "Use your hands, use your speed, club, rip and dip, beat them with speed."


Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics via

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Felder's Rant: Notre Dame Didn't Get Screwed; About Time Offensive PI Was Called

Referees have a lot of influence on college football games. With new rules being enforced and defenses playing more aggressively, one infraction has weighed more heavily than the rest.

Bleacher Report college football analyst Michael Felder tells you his problems with pass interference calls in college football.

Do you think this is a big problem in college football?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Lane Kiffin's Mother Worries About Son's Safety in 1st Game Back at Tennessee

Tennessee fans will never forget the way former Volunteers coach Lane Kiffinbolted for USC in January 2010 after just one season in Knoxville. This Saturday marks the first time Kiffin, now the offensive coordinator for the Alabama Crimson Tide, will return to Neyland Stadium since he resigned.

The return to Knoxville has Kiffin's mother, Robin, very concerned for her son's safety. She spoke to CBS Sports' Jon Solomon about her son's relationship with Tennessee fans.

Lane sent it [a Tosh.0 sketch] to me on a family group text. It was awful. That language is horrible. ... They never leave him alone. I don't see them picking on anybody else like that. That guy at Texas Tech (Mike Leach), he locked a quarterback in a shed and he gets another job. Are they still talking about that? No. The Arkansas guy (Bobby Petrino) gets caught on a motorcycle wreck with another woman and he gets another job. Are they talking about him? No.

The Kiffins know that Neyland Stadium is going to be a hostile environment for Lane. The family isn't taking any chances, which is why the kids will not be in attendance.

However, he doesn't have a choice. He has a job to do. Robin just wishes that her son would coach from the press box this weekend.

"I'm scared to death for his safety," Robin Kiffin said. "Some people were visiting us last weekend from Tennessee, and they said they better not let him on the sideline (where Kiffin coaches at Alabama), they should put him in the press box. I want him to be in the press box."

Although it doesn't happen frequently, fans have been known to run onto the field during games. That has to make Kiffin's family a bit uneasy.

Kiffin led Tennessee to a 7-6 record back in 2009. When the Trojans came calling in 2010, he took the job. He lasted less than four years at USC before getting fired. It didn't take him long to catch on with another program—this time as an offensive coordinator for Nick Saban's team.

The coach's exit didn't sit well with Volunteers fans. On Saturday, Tennessee fans can let Kiffin know they haven't forgotten about him. For the sake of her son, Robin is hoping that booing is the only thing that happens.

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Nebraska Football: Huskers Must Continue Reshuffling Offensive Line

It seems a little wrong to call them backups now. After a strong showing against Northwestern, right tackle Givens Price, right guard Chongo Kondolo and center Ryne Reeves made a case for a starting position on Nebraska's offensive line.

The three were able to make that case thanks to rotation.

It was that lack of rotation against Michigan State that had many confused. Even offensive coordinator Tim Beck broke his silence when speaking with reporters about failing to rotate the offensive line:

You got a guy that you trust and you know has done a good job — when do you pinch hit for him? You feel like he's due. We felt like we were due and our guys were going to go out there and eventually just make a play, get a little momentum and get a little spark. We just didn't do it.

In Evanston, Illinois, that all changed.

In the second quarter, Price, Kondolo and Reeves helped with Nebraska's seven-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, as The Grand Island Independent's Bob Hamar pointed out. The trio was also a part of another Husker touchdown later in the second half.

The argument has now become whether or not the three have earned a starting position on the offensive line. If nothing else, their performances proved that Beck needs to continue rotating the offensive line.

It's not just fans who noticed the benefit of rotating. Fellow offensive linemen saw it, too.

“We had a lot of guys step up and play really good football — Chongo, Givens and Reeves,” left guard Jake Cotton told reporters. “Guys who hadn’t got in against Michigan State came in and played their butts off. I think film is going to be really kind to them tomorrow.”

What the film will show is that Price, Kondolo and Reeves deserve to be a part of the game plan going forward. In the second half against Northwestern, the three showed just how beneficial they are to the team.

"On the second possession of the third quarter, Moudy moved to the left side,"'s Mitch Sherman noted. "Reeves entered. Kondolo and Price took the right side. The next three drives produced 185 yards and three touchdowns."

Price, Kondolo and Reeves are proving that they have more to offer the offensive line than just their talents. They're also becoming leaders, as Price told reporters:

I don’t know what he told the other guys for sure, but what he told me was I need to be more consistent in what I do. He came to us after the game and said he probably should have played some of us. So we kind of took that as, ‘You know what? We need to give him a reason to put us in early.’ And that’s what we did during the bye week.

That attitude is exactly why Beck needs to continue rotating the offensive line going forward. As long as the players are proving they're capable of stepping up in practice, they should be on the field every Saturday.

Now that Price, Kondolo and Reeves have shown what they're capable of, there really is no reason to not let them keep going. As the three get more comfortable, the small mistakes they made on pass protection will be corrected.

However, improvement does take experience. All three proved against Northwestern that they deserve the chance to earn the playing time.

Beck admitted after the Michigan State game that he should have rotated more. If nothing else, that's the primary reason Nebraska should make sure it continues during the final five games of the regular season.

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Wisconsin Football: Position-by-Position Midseason Grades for the Badgers

This season has not started off as planned for the Wisconsin football team.  After a near-miss against then-No. 13 LSU in Houston, the Badgers reeled off a trio of unimpressive victories before their slow starts got the best of them in their first true road game at Northwestern.

The Wisconsin Badgers (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) have mostly underachieved, particularly in the passing game and defending the vertical passing game, but many of their faults have been made up for with well above-average run defense and one of the best rushing attacks in the country.

Looking at all nine position groups, I assigned grades based on performance at the midway point of the season.  While I think the arrow is pointing up at some positions, grades have been assigned based on how that group has performed to date, not accounting for how they played just last week or whether there are signs of improvement.

With a couple of A's thrown in amidst some grades that might require a signature on the test, let's go through position-by-position to see where the Badgers stand through the first six games of the season, starting with the oft-maligned quarterbacks.

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Notre Dame Football's Midseason Report Card

With a week off after a difficult loss to Florida State, Notre Dame gets an opportunity to catch its breath this week. Sitting at 6-1 and ranked inside the Top 10 of both the AP and Coaches Poll, Brian Kelly's young team is a surprise contender for a spot in the College Football Playoff. 

How they got there is an interesting story. Losing key starters on both sides of the ball courtesy of graduation and the NFL draft, the Irish also opened training camp short three critical starters: wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive end Ishaq Williams.

Five total players were lost for the season after an academic investigation ran into October, just another distraction for a team and coaching staff that has had to deal with off-field surprises seemingly annually.  

But the Irish have avoided any pitfalls during their fast start, thriving through an early season schedule that softened a bit thanks to down years by Michigan and Stanford. Notre Dame showed themselves to be for real last Saturday night, battling the defending champs to the last play and losing on a penalty call that still has people talking

With the university on mid-semester break and the football team on bye, let's take a look at the Irish's midseason report card. 

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How LSU Offense Can Find Success vs. Tough Ole Miss Defense

LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings is about to swim into shark-infested waters on Saturday night. 

The Ole Miss "Landshark" defense is a bloodthirsty bunch. The unbeaten Rebels are No. 1 in the country in scoring defense and sit atop the SEC in takeaways.  

Ole Miss currently leads the nation in scoring defense with 10.6 PPG. HC Hugh Freeze has made huge improvements.

— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) October 20, 2014

Jennings has only lost one game as a starter and has yet to throw an interception in SEC play. On the other hand, he has eclipsed 200 yards only once and is completing a measly 50 percent of his passes. 

Jennings is not the only player head coach Les Miles needs to step up. The entire offense must rise to the occasion for the Tigers to upset the No. 3 team in the country.

Here is what the offense needs to do to be successful. 


Establish the Run

It sounds so cliche, but running the football is so crucial to success in the SEC. The Tigers need to develop a ground game to help Jennings throw the ball successfully against the Rebels. 

How LSU should run it is an inexact science, especially against a stout Rebels front. 

Ole Miss is allowing less than 100 rushing yards per game, which is second in the SEC. The Rebels are formidable up the middle, led by defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche. But a closer look at the numbers from Cameron Roberson of Death Valley Voice gives hope to the Tigers:

Against the two top-30 rushing offenses Ole Miss has faced, they've allowed 361 yards, 4.46 ypa. LSU is 30th in rushing offense.

— Cameron Roberson (@LSUbeat) October 22, 2014

LSU left guard Vadal Alexander and right guard Ethan Pocic both played their best games of the season against Kentucky. Alexander and Pocic's biggest improvements have been their ability to get to the second level of the defense to block linebackers. 

Unfortunately for the Tigers, the Rebels defensive tackle play is better than Kentucky. Blocking beyond the line of scrimmage becomes more difficult when guards are stalemated after the snap. Ole Miss does a great job of maintaining gap responsibilities against the run. 

Alabama's best runs came when running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry found small creases and cutback lanes. LSU's stable of backs must do the same. The only way that is possible is if the LSU offensive line continues blocking hard even if it is beat initially. Running back Terrence Magee and the offensive line displayed both traits to perfection on his first touchdown run against Kentucky. 

[ESPN Video] 3Q LSU T. Magee run for 9 yds for a TD: Terrence Magee run for 9 yds for a TD

— Kentucky Wildcats (@BR_UKWildcats) October 19, 2014

LSU will also look to run the "stretch" behind left tackle La'el Collins, a play that had success against Florida and Kentucky. The play puts added pressure on defensive ends to hold the point of attack. The problem with the stretch is the time it takes to develop, which is tough against the speed of the Rebels defense. 

That is an NFL block right there RT @Goldkamp247 LSU's La'el Collins blows Jon Bullard 5 yards off LOS

— Derek Tyson (@DerekTysonESPN) October 13, 2014

No matter how it is done, effective runs will be vital for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. The play-action pass would do wonders for Jennings. 


Complete Short and Intermediate Passes

Jennings' worst trait has been the short and intermediate passing game. If that does not change against Ole Miss, it will be costly. 

The Rebels love to play "soft" coverage, meaning their defensive backs play off the line of scrimmage in an effort to prevent big plays. Jennings must take what the defense gives him and move the chains. Below is an example against Alabama of the massive cushions the Crimson Tide receivers were given. 

Jennings' chemistry with Travin Dural is special, but the Rebels will likely have safety help on his top target all game long. If he forces deep passes into double coverage to Dural, it will result in interceptions. 

Alabama quarterback Blake Sims did an adequate job against the Rebels dumping the ball off to his tight ends when his No. 1 target, Amari Cooper, was blanketed. Unfortunately for Jennings, LSU's tight ends have only caught three passes all season. He will need slot specialists John Diarse and Trey Quinn to step up and make these tough plays.

If the coverage is slated to Dural's side, 5-star true freshman Malachi Dupre will have more opportunities to make plays. Dupre has caught 11 balls for 257 yards and four touchdowns, but a majority of that has come with Brandon Harris at quarterback. He must perform as well with Jennings as he did with Harris.

Jennings must also do a better job of delivering Dupre the football. Below is a beautifully designed play by Cameron against Mississippi State in the early stages of the second quarter.

After a successful Leonard Fournette run two plays prior, Cameron calls a play-action pass that forces the Bulldogs linebackers to crash the line of scrimmage. This creates a massive opening in the middle of the field. Pass protection is solid across the way, and Dural—running a deep post—takes the safety with him.

Pocic gets pushed back some into Jennings, but overall, the pocket to deliver the ball is relatively clean. This is a throw he must make to an open Dupre (who is not in the above frame). 

Jennings skips the pass to Dupre, killing the perfectly executed play by the Tigers.  

The Rebels will force Jennings to beat them. He must be willing to read the defense and throw to his second or third read if need be. Locking onto a receiver against the safety duo of Cody Prewitt and Tony Conner will lead to interceptions and/or bone-crushing hits. 


Pass Protection

Ole Miss is not a blitzing a team. The Rebels trust their athletic defensive line to get to the quarterback on passing downs.

There will be times when LSU's rushing attack is stifled, which means the offensive line must be effective protectors when the Rebels know the Tigers will pass. 

Even with an effective running game against Florida, the Tigers allowed four sacks. Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes has seen his group give up 16 on the season, including nine in conference play. 

Marquis Haynes is a pass-rushing specialist who leads the Rebels in sacks with 6.5. Expect Ole Miss to line Haynes up against the much-improved right tackle, Jerald Hawkins. 

Nkemdiche, C.J. Johnson, Byron Bennett and Deterrian Shackelford all have two sacks on the season as well. The entire Rebels front creates great push even if it doesn't reach the quarterback. 

LSU's line must provide Jennings a pocket to throw the football. He must trust his protection and allow his receivers time to get open. The group, though, cannot have this happen:

Watching LSU game again, completely forgot when Bud Dupree blew by La'el Collins, a preseason top-10 NFL Dr...

— Jason Marcum (@marcum89) October 22, 2014

Cameron must also instruct Jennings to get the ball out of his hands quickly. If a pass is open underneath, take it. This could be a game where checkdowns to Magee are the best option.



LSU cannot skate by with simple running plays and a few tosses from Jennings. Former Tigers quarterback Alan Risher agrees, per ESPN 104.5:

Alan Risher on @1045espn's #AFR: "I firmly believe" that #LSU cannot win against #OleMiss running their same offensive strategy.

— James Haralson (@jamesharalson) October 21, 2014 

The Ole Miss defense is packed with intelligent, well-prepared athletes. If the Rebels know what is coming, they will dominate. But despite their dominance, it is not an impossible feat for the Tigers to have a successful game offensively.

Red Cup Rebellion states Ole Miss has forced SEC opponents to score nearly 20 points below their season averages. If that trend continues, the Tigers project to score 17 points and gain 311 total yards. With the way Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace is performing, that will likely not be enough for the Tigers to win. 

LSU must run the ball effectively, complete short passes and protect Jennings in order to win. If not, the carnivorous Landsharks could have a bloody night in Death Valley. 


Stats, rankings and additional information provided by 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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Heisman Trophy 2014 Stock Watch: Who Is Rising and Falling Post-Week 8?

Week 8 was highlighted by a Top Five game between Notre Dame and Florida State that had massive implications on the race for the College Football Playoff and a similarly consequential effect on the race for the Heisman Trophy.

According to the Bovada numbers at Odds Shark, Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston were two of the top seven pre-Week 8 Heisman candidates, and the result of a head-to-head matchup can go a long way when the ballots are due in December.

Elsewhere, an upset in Morgantown, West Virginia, had a sizable effect on two players' Heisman chances—one positive, one negative. The same can be said of a 59-0 blowout in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

We compiled this list using the aforementioned Bovada numbers at Odds Shark, which were updated earlier this week on account of what happened Saturday. It does not reflect players such as Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace, whose odds held firm at 20-1.

Sound off below to let us know who you think should win.

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Front-Runners, Wild Card and Expectations for the Chaotic ACC Coastal Division

The Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division might be the chaotic disaster we've come to expect, but it's just getting started.

As has been said, "It's a dog-eat-dog world." Well, the seven football programs in the league's parity-filled faction has excelled at gobbling each other up.

In fact, Andy Bitter of The Roanoke Times points out the entire division—in just eight weeks—has already defied the transitive property.

And there's no sign of those nonsensical results ending. Put simply, the Coastal is a mess.

Three teams sit at 2-1 in conference action, another at 2-2 and a trio at 1-2. It may not appear that a front-runner exists, but exploring what's left on each team's slate provides a relatively clear answer on the programs to watch.

Relatively, of course, since the division undeniably has the potential to implode.



Duke dropped its conference opener to Miami, but the Blue Devils are still in great position to repeat as Coastal champions.

Led by outstanding safety Jeremy Cash, Duke is preparing to encounter the most favorable remaining schedule, highlighted by comfortable matchups against the bottom two from the Atlantic Division: Syracuse and Wake Forest.

Laura Keeley of the Raleigh News & Observer said though Duke hasn't necessarily separated itself as the team to beat, the Blue Devils possess a couple of advantages.

There is a remarkable amount of parity in the division—a seven-way tie at 4-4 is a possibility—so it's hard to predict who is going to win any Coastal Division game. That said, Duke does have an edge in coaching—David Cutcliffe and his staff know what they're doing, and the Blue Devils won't beat themselves. Duke [leads the] ACC in turnover differential (plus-8), fewest turnovers committed (five) and fewest sacks allowed (four).

Since the Blue Devils won't beat themselves, another opponent has to earn it. So, enter Pittsburgh.

Under the direction of third-year coach Paul Chryst, the Panthers are poised to dethrone Duke, especially if they beat Georgia Tech on Oct. 25.

Pitt needs more consistent play from quarterback Chad Voytik, but the duo of running back James Conner and wideout Tyler Boyd is one of the most daunting combinations in the ACC.

Voytik and Conner recently shredded Virginia Tech on the ground, while Boyd hauled in six passes for 86 yards, including a 53-yard score. When the 'Canes defeated Duke, they relied on a similarly balanced attack, so the blueprint is there.

The matchup between Duke and Pitt on Nov. 1 at Heinz Field will be the deciding factor in which program holds the edge in the Coastal.


Wild Card

What is North Carolina? Frustrating, that's what.

The Tar Heels surrendered nearly 800 yards to East Carolina, so staging a last-minute comeback to upset Georgia Tech was the natural result for the Heels.

Larry Fedora's squad is like the neighborhood kid who overstays his welcome. He tags along no matter the activity, even if outclassed. Then, once you think he's disappeared, bam!, the little stinker is standing right in the foreground wondering what's up next.

For the second straight year, North Carolina found itself mired in a four-game losing streak before winning its seventh outing of the season.

Was the victory over Georgia Tech the beginning of another second-half resurgence? There is no definitive answer, it's merely conjecture.

Even if the Tar Heels don't rise up the standings, they can still wreak some serious havoc against Virginia, Miami, Pitt and Duke.


Credit Where It's Due, But Pretender, Too

Heading into the season, Virginia was supposed to be the worst team in the Coastal. Despite solid recruiting efforts, head coach Mike London was probably going to start feeling his seat warm.

But the Cavaliers didn't listen to the noise.

They put a scare into then-No. 7 UCLA, shocked 21st-ranked Louisville, fought a Top-25 BYU squad and knocked off Pitt. A win over Duke would propel Virginia to a 3-0 conference record and challenger status, but it ultimately came up a touchdown short.

Following the loss, per Andrew Ramspacher of The Daily Progress, quarterback Matt Johns said, "We're still in the race. It really is still wide open. That gives us a great opportunity next week to come back and correct our mistakes and hopefully come out with a win."

The sophomore is technically correct, but the Cavaliers face the toughest road of any Coastal program—a path they likely must navigate at 4-1 to stay in contention.

David Teel of the Daily Press said Virginia's limited offense and thin defense will doom the Cavaliers.

"Presuming Jameis Winston's continued presence," Teel said, "it's difficult to imagine Virginia winning at FSU. So to go 4-1 down the stretch, the Cavaliers would have to win four consecutive coin-flip games, including road tests at nemeses Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech."

Virginia surprised the ACC, and the Cavaliers deserve to be recognized for their superb efforts through seven games. But 2014 just isn't their year.


Work to Do and Help Needed

Georgia Tech ripped off five straight wins and started to draw national attention, but it was only a matter of time before its record was blemished. Duke, of course, happily obliged in derailing a confident Yellow Jackets squad—one week after Tech swarmed Miami.

Though a letdown against North Carolina was something Paul Johnson's team needed to avoid, Georgia Tech is still very much alive. Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal Constitution said a 7-5 finish is realistic and can see the Jackets plucking an eighth.

As poorly as the defense played against North Carolina, it's still the same team that beat Virginia Tech and Miami. Tech's defense isn't great, but I tend to think it's better than what it showed. And, as long as the offense plays efficiently, that should give Tech a chance in their final four ACC games.

Pittsburgh has yet to face an offense the caliber of Tech's and the Jackets have played their best defense against pro-style offenses. Virginia is better than expected, but hardly unbeatable, particularly at Bobby Dodd Stadium. You'd have to think the Jackets would have a chance at N.C. State. Clemson, obviously, will be a bear.

As it stands, Georgia Tech is the two-loss team with the best chance to win the Coastal.

Miami, on the other hand, is clinging to a minimal title chance. Plus, although the Hurricanes surely don't want it any other way, they must host longtime rival Florida State.

A third loss would nearly eliminate "The U," but an unlikely hypothetical favors Miami. Should a three-way tiebreaker be relegated to intra-division record, the 'Canes are fortunate two conference losses (likely) came from the Atlantic, because its Coastal winning percentage would be higher.

If—and that's an incredible if—Miami can manage four victories, it would hold a head-to-head advantage over at least four division foes and probably five.

Ultimately, Duke Johnson and Co. aren't finished, but the 'Canes are nearly eliminated and hoping for a multi-team gridlock.

Virginia Tech can't catch a break, fighting through a host of bumps and bruises to its injury-riddled roster. The Hokies have played without Marshawn Williams, Luther Maddy, Shai McKenzie, Trey Edmunds and Brandon Facyson while Josh Stanford took a temporary leave of absence.

Falling short to Georgia Tech and Pitt stung, but losing to either Miami or Duke is basically a death sentence for Virginia Tech. Three shortcomings in the Coastal won't sit nicely in a tiebreaker, so the Hokies might be the first team effectively eliminated in the near future.

Though Virginia Tech's conference hopes are practically dashed, toppling in-state rival Virginia would be a middling Miss Congeniality-esque prize.



Madness. Expect madness. And heartbreak. Then false hope, which only leads to heartbreak once again.

Virginia Tech is the first team to exit the picture, followed by UNC shortly thereafter. With respective losses to Florida State, Virginia's fate is sealed despite an encouraging campaign while Miami's final shreds of hope are almost completely dashed.

Georgia Tech hangs around through mid-November, but a loss to Clemson keeps the Jackets from heading to Charlotte. The winner of Duke vs. Pitt eventually becomes the 2014 champion only to be handled by the Seminoles in the ACC Championship Game.

Nevertheless, don't be surprised at any result, because the Coastal Division is a chaotic, dog-eat-dog world, and anything is possible.


Note: All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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National Football Foundation Releases 2015 College Football Hall of Fame Ballot

The 2015 ballot for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame—the first class that will be inducted since the launch of the new Atlanta, Georgia location—was released Wednesday afternoon by the National Football Foundation.

The ballot includes 75 players and six coaches from the Football Subdivision ranks, which is standard protocol, but the names were released earlier than usual because the 2015 class will be announced for the first time on Jan. 9 in Arlington, Texas, three days before the national championship takes place in AT&T Stadium.

"We would like to thank [College Football Playoff] Executive Director Bill Hancock and his staff for the opportunity to announce our Hall of Fame Class in conjunction with the Championship Game," said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell in the official press release. "We believe the presence of the national media at the title game will significantly raise the profile of the announcement…"

Featured on the ballot are three former Heisman Trophy winners—Colorado running back Rashaan Salaam, Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch and Texas running back Ricky Williams—along with several other high-achieving players and even one active head coach.

Here is a full look at the FBS Ballot:

*Note: highlighted names did not appear on the 2014 ballot.


RB Ricky Williams, Texas

Williams won the Heisman Trophy in 1998 after leading the country in rushing for the second consecutive season. He also broke the record for most career rushing yards by an FBS player (previously held by Tony Dorsett of Pittsburgh), an achievement that was remarkable despite being broken by Ron Dayne of Wisconsin just one year later.

But Williams did not make the CFB Hall of Fame on his first attempt last season, thanks in large part to the NFF's unwritten rule about electing players from the same school in consecutive seasons—a rule alluded to by Ivan Maisel of in 2012.

Former Longhorn Jerry Gray was inducted in the 2013 class, so Williams never stood a real chance of getting in despite appearing on the ballot. This time, though, he should be fair game.


The Big Miami Three

Like Williams, a trio of former Miami Hurricanes knew not to get their hopes in 2014 after Vinny Testaverde was inducted in 2013.

But this time, their hopes are as high as they should be.

The trio in question consists of defensive tackle Jerome Brown, a unanimous first-team All-American in 1986; defensive tackle Warren Sapp, recipient of the 1994 Lombardi and Nagurski Awards; and linebacker Ray Lewis, a first-team All-American in 1995.

Sapp and Lewis are modern icons for having played more recently than Brown, but all three players have strong cases for eventual inclusion. No more than one of them will get in this season (unless the voting process changes), but they shouldn't all be left out again.


Bill Snyder, Kansas State

Snyder is eligible to make the Hall of Fame thanks to a new rule allowing active coaches who are 75 or older to appear on the ballot, per Ralph Russo of The Associated Press.

His 75th birthday was less than three weeks ago (Oct. 7).

Alas, even though Snyder is the most recently eligible of the 81 FBS names on the ballot, he is one of the surest bets for induction. He turned a stillborn Kansas State program into a Big 12 contender during the 1990s and early 2000s before retiring, watching his former program regress for three seasons under Ron Prince, returning and getting it back to its current state (No. 11 in the current AP poll).

Former Oklahoma head coach Barry Switzer once said of Snyder: "He's not the coach of the year, he's not the coach of the decade, he's the coach of the century!", per Mark Janssen (via

And at 75, he's still going stronger than ever.

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SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Treon Harris Starts, Lane Kiffin's Return

No Other Option

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp announced during Wednesday's SEC coaches teleconference that true freshman quarterback Treon Harris will start against the Georgia Bulldogs in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party on Nov. 1.

"He has knack for making plays and making some good things happen for our football team," Muschamp said. "We have struggled with production at the quarterback position, and that's been an issue for us along with some others. He's a guy who has a much better understanding moving forward."

At this point, Harris is the only option. 

He was 8-of-12 last week against Missouri for 98 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and he provides much more of a home run threat than redshirt junior Jeff Driskel, which is a huge factor for an offense that lacks any semblance of a spark.

Driskel—who will have a role as a quarterback moving forward in some capacity—has thrown six touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season while completing just 53 percent of his passes.

With a bye week to prepare for the Bulldogs and Muschamp on thin ice, consider this a Hail Mary—one last shot for Muschamp to attempt to catch lightning in a bottle before packing up his office and moving on to a defensive coordinator role somewhere outside of the Gainesville city limits.


He's Baaaack

The Alabama-Tennessee rivalry doesn't carry the same national appeal as it used to due in part to Alabama's offensive coordinator's impact on the Tennessee program.

Lane Kiffin, current Tide coordinator and former head coach of the Vols in 2009, will make his return to Knoxville on Saturday in a game that's been circled on the calendar ever since Kiffin was hired by Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban in January 2014.

Tennessee's defense has been pretty good this year, giving up just 325.9 yards per game, but the combination of Alabama's offense getting right at home last week and Kiffin looking to make a statement will create a homecoming celebration for Kiffin, who will be coaching from the sideline.

When asked if Kiffin is really concerned about his return to Knoxville, Saban downplayed it.

"Why would you say 'really'? I haven't heard much about it," Saban said on Wednesday. "I think the most important thing for us is that we need to focus on the game. The game's not about that. The game is about the players. Regardless of what fans think and fans do, I think our coaches are focused on what we're going to do in the game and how we're going to help our players play their best."

It's more of a distraction for Tennessee than it is for Kiffin and Alabama.

Alabama has a job to do after opening things up with 672 yards in a home win over Florida, Alabama went on the road and averaged just 311.5 over the next two games against Ole Miss and Arkansas. Last week at home, it lit it up yet again with 602 yards. 

The Tide are not going to make the same mistake again. 

In uncharacteristic fashion, the outspoken Kiffin will speak softly and carry a big stick.

Saban doesn't allow assistants to speak to the media except for one time in the summer and once before bowl games, so Kiffin will speak through quarterback Blake Sims, wide receiver Amari Cooper and running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry.

It's going to get ugly.


Weathering the Storm

Georgia announced on Wednesday that it is seeking reinstatement for star running back Todd Gurley after the junior was suspended for the previous two games during an investigation into improper benefits.

"I want to thank the University, coaches, teammates and the Bulldog Nation for their patience and support," Gurley said in a statement emailed by Georgia. "I take full responsibility for the mistakes I made, and I can't thank the University, my coaches and teammates enough for supporting me throughout this process.  I'm looking forward to getting back on the field with my teammates."

Like a good lawyer in court, Georgia wouldn't ask for reinstatement unless it already knows the answer, so expect Gurley back for the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party on Nov. 1 vs. Florida.

If that's the case, running back Nick Chubb deserves consideration for team MVP honors. All Chubb did in Gurley's absence was rush for 345 yards and three touchdowns in road wins at Missouri and in Little Rock over Arkansas.

Those two wins were statements for Georgia.

The defense forced six interceptions during that span after only picking off seven passes all of last season. The offense didn't miss a beat, Chubb got valuable carries and proved he can help keep Gurley fresh, and quarterback Hutson Mason settled down and didn't throw an interception after throwing three in the previous two games.

Gurley may get the Heisman Trophy hype, but Chubb deserves team MVP consideration. Without him, Georgia wouldn't be in control of its College Football Playoff destiny.


Say What?

Ole Miss is cruising right along as the No. 3 team in the nation, complete with an unblemished record and one of the most ferocious defenses in the nation. 

Next stop: Baton Rouge, where the Rebels are 3.5-point favorites over LSU, according to Odds Shark.


This is the same LSU team that got run out of its own building by No. 1 Mississippi State, got stomped on the road by No. 5 Auburn and is woefully one-dimensional by necessity on offense due to quarterback issues, right?

How is that possible?

Playing in Death Valley at night counts for something, sure. But Mississippi State proved that isn't as much of a factor as it has been in years past when it topped the Tigers 34-29 in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated. 

One way to explain it would be LSU's defense. The Tigers' weakness has been run defense, where they rank 10th in the SEC at 162.5 yards per game. Ole Miss can't really exploit that, though. The Rebels rank 11th in the SEC in rushing offense at 151.29 yards per game and haven't been able to run between the tackles very well at all, which could explain why the line is so low.

Those giant hotels in the southern Nevada desert didn't build themselves, and oddsmakers typically know what they're doing. That Ole Miss defense, though, will make quarterback Anthony Jennings' head spin and will lead the Rebs to another big win.


The Hunted

These are uncharted waters for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, who will play with the No. 1 ranking next to their name for the first time in program history when they kick off with Kentucky on Saturday afternoon.

Head coach Dan Mullen isn't concerned. He talked about the challenges his team now faces in quotes released by Mississippi State:

This is the biggest game we have played of the season. I said the Auburn game was the biggest game ever played in the state of Mississippi. This game is bigger now. Now we are a team that has a target on our back. We have to go on the road in a hostile environment and play one of the hottest and most improved teams in college football.

It may be new for Mississippi State, but it's not for Mullen.

As the offensive coordinator of Florida from 2005-2008, Mullen is well-versed on how to handle success. The Gators spent every week of the 2006 season in The Associated Press Top 10 and all but two in the Top 10 in 2008—both of which resulted in national titles for the Gators.

Mississippi State won't spend too much time patting itself on the back reading its press clippings. Nothing Mississippi State will see from here on out will surprise Mullen, and a good team always takes on the personality of its coach.


Too Good To Sit

Auburn "Star" Justin Garrett had the hybrid linebacker/safety position locked down exiting the spring of 2013, but a foot injury opened the door for Robenson Therezie to take the job and run with it.

Midway through the 2014 season, Garrett is on the move to linebacker, where he will split time with middle linebacker Cassanova McKinzy and outside linebacker Kris Frost.

"You can't have Justin Garrett sitting on the sideline for 55 snaps," said defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson in quotes released by Auburn. "We're trying to find a way to get the best 11 on the field on any one play."

Garrett's increased role will help out a run defense for Auburn that's already shown a tremendous amount of improvement this year. The Tigers rank sixth in the SEC in rushing yards per game at 120.67 and fifth in yards per attempt at 3.34.

Auburn has that strong South Carolina rushing attack, led by Mike Davis, this week, Georgia looming in Athens on Nov. 15 and a trip to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama to wrap up the season.

Getting Garrett in the mix at linebacker is the right move at the right time.


Quick Outs

  • Johnny McCrary will start at quarterback for Vanderbilt against Missouri, according to The Tennessean, making him the fourth starting quarterback for the Commodores this year. Fourth time's the charm? McCrary has tremendous upside but needs the weapons around him to step up to solidify the job full time.
  • South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier and Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn have struck up a friendship since Malzahn was hired by Auburn prior to the 2013 season. The credit for that friendship goes to golf. Spurrier, Malzahn and Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze play a mini-tournament in Destin, Florida, in spring meetings every May, and bragging rights are on the line. "The first year, I lost," Spurrier said. "People think I win all the time. I won last year, though."
  • Florida head coach Will Muschamp discussed the possibility of Georgia running back Todd Gurley being back for the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, saying, "We want to play people at their best. He'll be fresh, I imagine that."


Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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5 Games That Will Determine Final College Football Playoff Rankings

The College Football Playoff selection committee will unveil its very first rankings next Tuesday, and then every Tuesday after that until the final rankings—along with the playoff pairings and New Year's Six bowl matchups—on Dec. 7. 

In reality, none of the first six rankings really matter, since they have no bearing on the only one that counts—at least theoretically speaking. The committee has pledged that its rankings won't function like the polls and that it will consider results and data independently each week.

If that's really the case, then we need to let the season play out, as the playoff picture should clarify each week as more teams take on losses. Even as of now, only about a dozen or so teams are still realistically in the running for a playoff spot, and the rest of the regular season will serve as an elimination tournament.

With that in mind, here are the five games that will have more to do in deciding the committee's final rankings—and playoff pairings—than any others.


Mississippi State at Ole Miss

This will turn out to be the most important Egg Bowl in history if both teams continue to roll toward a showdown for the SEC West title. Granted, both teams still have much work to do—Mississippi State visits Alabama, while Ole Miss hosts Auburn—but there's at least a 50-50 chance that the winner of the Egg Bowl will be in the SEC Championship Game. Even the loser might have a shot at a playoff berth.


Notre Dame at USC

The Irish do not play in a conference championship game, but this regular-season finale might have just as much importance. Two years ago, Notre Dame barely beat a depleted USC team that was playing without quarterback Matt Barkley to secure a spot in the BCS title game. It might have to do more of the same this year at the Los Angeles Coliseum and hope an 11-1 record will be good enough to get in the playoff field.


Ohio State at Michigan State

Make no mistake: This game will decide more than the Big Ten East, with the Big Ten championship and a possible spot in the playoff being up for grabs as well. The winner of this game will have a good chance to finish 11-1, and depending on how things shake out in the other conferences (and with Notre Dame), the B1G just might swipe a playoff spot even in a clearly down year for the conference.


SEC Championship Game

Four of the power-five conferences will have championship games, but the other three likely will have overwhelming favorites. That might not be the case in the SEC if Georgia wins the East and finishes 11-1, with or without Todd Gurley. A Bulldogs victory over the West winner would still be an upset but opens the possibility of the SEC landing two teams in the four-team playoff.


Kansas State at Baylor

The Big 12 is the lone conference without a title game, but this regular-season finale might just serve that purpose. The Wildcats are now the lone unbeaten team in conference play but still must face TCU, currently the highest-ranked Big 12 team in the polls. If both Baylor and K-State win out, then the winner of this game will have an excellent chance of making the playoff field.


Bonus: Central Florida at East Carolina

While Marshall of Conference USA is one of only four unbeatens in FBS, the winner of the American Athletic Conference still stands a fair chance of taking the automatic bid to a New Year's Six bowl granted to the top group-of-five champion. This regular-season finale for the only two teams still unbeaten in conference play very well could serve as the de facto American championship game.


Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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Jerome Baker's Flip to Ohio State the Latest Chapter in Urban Meyer-Florida Saga

COLUMBUS, Ohio — "Always a Gator."

Those are the words that Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has used during the multiple occasions in which he's been asked about his former employer. After all, depending on your feelings toward Steve Spurrier, Meyer is arguably the greatest coach in Florida history, leading the Gators to a 65-15 record and two national championships in his six seasons in Gainesville.

But starting with the way he left—and then returned and left again—only to end up coaching the Buckeyes a year later, Meyer's lifelong attachment to Florida has mostly been one-sided of late. After accepting the Ohio State head coaching position in late 2011, it didn't take long for "Urban Liar" shirts to pop up on the UF campus, the memories of two crystal balls in three seasons quickly forgotten.

In the three years since Meyer came to Columbus, the complications in his relationship with the Gators have only grown, with incidents taking place both in the media and on the recruiting trail. The latest chapter in the Meyer-Florida story was written on Tuesday, when 4-star 2015 Cleveland Benedictine linebacker Jerome Baker flipped his commitment from the Gators to the Buckeyes.

Despite his July commitment to Florida—which came mere hours before LeBron James announced that he'd be returning to Ohio—Baker always seemed destined to wind up at Ohio State. As recently as late September, he appeared to be all but uncommitted as a prospect, attending the Buckeyes' battle with Cincinnati in an Ohio State hat.

But while it may have only seemed like a matter of time until Baker flipped to the Buckeyes, the situation is a little more complicated than that. This wasn't an Ohio kid getting infatuated with a warm-weather school and committing on the spot. The 6'2", 210-pounder's interest in becoming a Gator was real.

Baker's high school coach, Joe Schaefer, played for Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin at Bowling Green. In a recent story by Marc Tracy of The New York Times, Baker spoke of his desire to play in the SEC in order to enhance his potential of becoming an NFL prospect.

"I don’t want any questions of, ‘You went to the Big Ten?’ There’s not that many teams that are good in the Big Ten anymore," Baker said. “I wanted to say that I played against great backs every game. I wanted the challenge. It was a test of myself, my pride. And the SEC is the biggest test.”

That, however, wasn't enough for Florida to overcome the uncertainty surrounding Meyer's replacement, Will Muschamp, who has lost 10 of his last 13 games as the Gators' head coach. And rather than run to another SEC school, Baker opted to look down I-71 to Columbus, where Meyer maintained that he'd always have a home with the Buckeyes.

"He always wished Jerome the best even when he said he was going to Florida," Baker's father, Jerome Baker Sr., told Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports (subscription required). "That relationship was always strong.”

But that won't stop the perception from being that Meyer is kicking the Gators while they're down as Florida stumbles toward its second consecutive season of irrelevance. After all, this isn't the first time that the third-year Ohio State head coach has gone up against his former employer for a highly touted prospect.

The most memorable incident came shortly after Meyer signed on with the Buckeyes and instantly went to work recruiting 5-star wide receiver Stefon Diggs. And although the Olney, Maryland, native ultimately ended up with the hometown Terrapins, he became a central figure in one of the earliest signs of friction between Florida and Meyer.

According to Sporting News, Meyer attempted to dissuade Diggs from signing with the Gators by telling him that he wouldn't let his own son go to Florida due to character issues that existed within the UF program. Meyer, for his part, denied any negative recruiting against the Gators when it came to Diggs.

“I love Florida; I’ll always be a Gator. My motives were pure as gold when I left," Meyer said. "We left Florida because I was dealing with health issues that I’ve since learned how to control.”

It wouldn't be the last time that Meyer and the Gators would bump heads on the recruiting trail.

In 2013, Ohio State turned in Florida to the NCAA for an alleged secondary violation involving a "bump" with now-Buckeyes freshman running back Curtis Samuel. Although Meyer claimed to be unaware that his current program had reported his former one, sources told ESPN's Brett McMurphy otherwise.

The Gators were cleared of any wrongdoing by both the SEC and NCAA.

"We didn't do anything wrong. The University of Florida didn't do anything wrong. And so we appreciated our friends from Ohio making sure we're compliant with NCAA rules," Muschamp sarcastically stated at last year's SEC media days. "They certainly know a little bit about that subject."

Other recent Meyer-Florida incidents have included former Gators star Tim Tebow allegedly recruiting on behalf of Ohio State and Meyer's wife, Shelley, telling (h/t The Gainesville Sun) that her perception of Florida fans is that they feel like they were left at the altar. By comparison, Baker's flip seems benign, as even the most hardcore of the Gators faithful would be hard-pressed to blame the 17-year-old for taking his talents elsewhere right now.

But nevertheless, it serves as a reminder of the long—and still growing—history between Meyer and Florida.

Always a Gator? Maybe in Meyer's mind. But in Gainesville, that's not necessarily up to him to decide.


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

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Treon Harris Replaces Jeff Driskel as Florida's Starting QB vs. Georgia

After a 3-3 start to the 2014 college football season, Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp has named freshman Treon Harris the starting quarterback for the team’s Week 10 matchup against the Georgia Bulldogs.    

Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun shared the news Wednesday:

Muschamp plans on using the Week 9 bye to get Harris plenty of practice with the first-team offense, according to

Harris takes over for struggling junior Jeff Driskel. While Muschamp claims Driskel will play a role in the offense, he has only thrown for 928 yards with six touchdowns against 10 interceptions. He's also rushed for just 155 yards with two touchdowns in six games.   

In limited action during three games this season as Driskel’s backup, Harris is 12-of-18 for 263 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Add in another 51 yards and a touchdown on the ground, and the freshman has shown he can make a difference when on the field.

The Gators are giving Harris the best opportunity to succeed by naming him starter now. With two weeks to prepare for a meeting with Georgia’s 19th-ranked defensive unit (allowing just 20 points per game), Harris has the chance to make an instant impact for Florida.

Remaining matchups against South Carolina and Florida State during the regular season will be a trial by fire should he keep the starting job, but he'll have more experience under his belt by then. 

*Stats via


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Ted's Takes: Pac-12's Most Important Player, the Rise of Cody Kessler

Four plays in the second quarter of an early evening at Autzen Stadium in Eugene showcased the most important player of the second half of the Pac-12 season. 

Oregon led Washington 14-6, controlling the game’s early stages behind the play of Marcus Mariota and a bend-but-don’t-break defense.

If the Huskies could flip any momentum, it was after a punt pinned the Ducks at their 1-yard line. One stop by the defense and Washington would gain field position and a legitimate hope of evening the score.

Enter Royce Freeman.

Oregon calmly had Mariota turn and hand the ball to Freeman on four consecutive plays. No dazzling motion, no attempt to confuse or deceive the defense, no warp-speed pace, simply what some of us with flecks of gray like to refer to as “football.”

I plead guilty to the charge of living in the past. Amid the blizzard of short passes to tiny speedsters trying to outflank defenders, there reside a few anachronistic programs that actually attempt to win the line of scrimmage and, therefore, establish a running game.

Oregon isn’t Stanford. They don’t bury you with multiple tight ends, three extra offensive linemen and a desire to bludgeon. But, from Chip Kelly to Mark Helfrich, the Ducks have always run. 

They succeed at times because their pace denies defenses the time to align properly. Freeman ran untouched for 37 yards to score the Ducks’ first touchdown through a chasm in Washington’s defensive front so deep that center Hroniss Grasu could, after snapping the ball, immediately run the second level and block linebacker John Timu.

Speed afoot has marked the Ducks’ recent running success. Think of LaMichael James and DeAnthony Thomas getting the ball outside the tackle box and simply being too fast to corral. Since Jonathan Stewart left for the NFL in 2008, Blount has been the only big-body back to play for the Ducks.

What Oregon hasn’t had in recent years is a Royce Freeman. A 229-pound back who can run straight into and through defenses. A back who can still run when everyone knows he will get the ball. A back who can employ the Ducks’ version of “ground and pound.” 

Through six games, Freeman has 636 yards on 114 carries with 11 touchdowns. He's off to a great start in a long line of talented Oregon running backs. 

Oregon can run the ball out from their own 1-yard line with Freeman. Because when Mariota runs the option and draws defenders, as on a 4th-and-goal play in Saturday’s first half, Freeman can take a late pitch and damage a defense. Freeman is what rival Stanford did have but currently does not.

After a six-year run of Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney, the 2014 Cardinal have not developed a dominant back. And Stanford’s offense has sputtered without that reliable weapon and the Ducks are heavy favorites to break through in the Pac-12 North for that reason. 

Royce Freeman will run on the field at Autzen on November 1 as the lone back who could control the game. Freeman could do to Stanford that day what Taylor (33 carries for 161 yards in 2012) and Gaffney (45 for 157) have done to beat Oregon the last two years.

Oregon holds the Pac-12’s best hope of landing a team in the first playoff. They have the best quarterback and a capable defense. Freeman could provide the magical missing ingredient to boost the Ducks back into the national-championship picture.


Cody Kessler on the Rise 

Can a quarterback be anonymous in Los Angeles? Playing under the shadow of Brett Hundley, Cody Kessler has remained out of the headlines until his seven-touchdown-pass day against Colorado.

With this year’s coaching change at USC has come a style change. The offense has moved to the increasingly omnipresent fast-pace, quick-pass scheme. It remains a sensory assault to see the Trojans line up in the pistol and, only occasionally, run a toss sweep.

Despite the change, Kessler has managed USC with few mistakes. In seven games, he has thrown just one interception while converting 46.2 percent of third downs. On his watch, USC has turned the ball over only five times. 

Watching USC Saturday reminded me of an assignment last year broadcasting their Boston College game. Trojan Nation was weary of a screen-centric pass game orchestrated by Lane Kiffin. That prompted an unprecedented roar from the Coliseum crowd when, on the game’s first play, an attempted deep post pass from Kessler to Marquise Lee was incomplete.

There were similar sentiments around USC football last week. Can Kessler throw intermediate and deep passes? Is the new Trojans offense going to feature a high number of short throws? Kessler answered with long touchdowns to Nelson Agholor and Juju Smith.

Elite? Not yet for Kessler. But he is rising on the Pac-12 quarterback ladder. Approaching November, here are my top five, based strictly on this season’s play:

1)   Marcus Mariota, Oregon. Efficient? 70.2 percent completion with an impressive 10.41 yards per pass attempt (conference-leading). Clean? Zero interceptions. He still damages with his legs when needed, but he progresses in his ability to make all the needed throws. Question? Ball security/hand strength. Still too many loose footballs.

2)   Cody Kessler, USC. The numbers cited above are hard to debate. It is easy to place him in the “game manager” bin, a convenient landing spot for those quarterbacks without exceptional athletic ability. More fitting for Kessler thus far would be "winner."

3)   Jared Goff, Cal. My vote for Most Improved Player earns him a slight edge over more heralded players. What Goff has: tremendous footwork, a strong arm and the ability to execute any required pass. What Goff needs: an improved offensive line, more weight/strength.

4)   Brett Hundley, UCLA. The toughest call. While the Bruins have yet to play to their expected level, the numbers suggest Hundley has performed (72.5 percent completion, 13 TD passes, 305 rushing yards). The number that hurts: four interceptions in 204 attempts, the highest interception percentage among this group of quarterbacks.

5)   Connor Halliday, Washington State. Longevity earns him this spot over Arizona State’s Mike Bercovici. I continue to resist citing stats for anyone playing in this quantity-over-quality offense. But Halliday has developed a top-level connection with receiver River Cracraft (most underrated player of the first half) and, to me, clinched this spot with his second-half performance in Utah, handing the Utes their only loss.

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Predicting Every College Football Power-5 Team's Final Record

The 2014 college football season has officially turned the corner. We’ve passed the halfway point of the season, with midseason All-America teams appearing and bowl projections popping up with more urgency. Next week, the fun really starts when the College Football Playoff selection committee releases its first Top 25 rankings, which will further shape conversation for the inaugural four-team bracket.

Per Daniel Uthman of USA Today Sports, everyone is chasing Florida State and Mississippi State.

As we work our way to the homestretch, it seemed like an appropriate time to take a crack at projecting every team’s final regular-season record. We took into consideration the season to date and the difficulty of teams’ remaining opponents, as well as momentum.

Begin Slideshow

Michigan State Fan Spray Paints Michigan's Block 'M' Green

Some may wonder why Michigan State fans would bother messing with Michigan this year, but there's nothing like kicking a rival while it's down.

The Spartans (6-1) will host the Wolverines (3-4) on Saturday, and rivalry week is off to a great start for the team in green. On Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, someone—presumably a Spartans fan—painted the block "M" on the University of Michigan's campus green and added "SU" to the right of it in white.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out which fanbase is (probably) responsible for this prank.

By late Wednesday morning, the block "M" had been cleaned up.

[Twitter, h/t Uproxx]

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Can Georgia RB Todd Gurley Still Win the Heisman?

Before he was suspended for allegedly being paid to sign autographs, Todd Gurley was one of the Heisman Trophy favorites. Through five games, he racked up 773 yards and eight touchdowns on 94 carries, averaging 8.2 yards per rushing attempt.

With Georgia seeking reinstatement for the star running back, Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee debate whether he still has a chance to win the Heisman.

Can Gurley still lift the trophy if the NCAA reinstates him? Watch the video and let us know!

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Offensive Gurus Steve Spurrier and Gus Malzahn Similar in More Ways Than 1

AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn used to wear a boring hat.

Around 2000, however, the Auburn head coach said he decided to make the switch to a visor—a style popularized by South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier.

As Malzahn rose through the high school coaching ranks in his home state of Arkansas, he admired the success and innovation of the visor-wearing "Head Ball Coach" roaming the sidelines at Florida.

"I’ve always looked up to Coach Spurrier," Malzahn said Tuesday. "I’ve had nothing but respect for the way that he operates. He’s got a great offensive mind."

On Saturday, the two great offensive minds will face off as opposing head coaches for the first time.

According to Odds Shark, the younger Malzahn and the defending SEC champions will have the upper hand as 17.5-point favorites over the struggling Gamecocks, but Malzahn said he expects a tough challenge from Spurrier's team.

"He’s a great competitor," Malzahn said. "He’s one of the better coaches to ever come through the SEC. You know he’ll have his team ready. They were ranked in the Top 10 to start the season for a reason. They won 11 games two or three years straight and they have good players. We expect to get their best. That’s how we’re coaching."

The two SEC head coaches have a mutual admiration on the field and a friendship off it.

Malzahn said when the two get together during the SEC's spring meetings, he is looking for much more than just sideline fashion advice.

"It’s really more of a respect deal, and you get to know somebody off of the field," Malzahn said. "He’s a great person and a guy that, from time to time, I’ll bounce things off of him. We visit at the spring meetings...I don’t get into X's and O's. It’s more of the wisdom part. He’s been there and done it and had unbelievable experiences—especially in our league."

Spurrier, who Malzahn admitted was the winner of their offseason golf games, said in his weekly press conference that he admired the Auburn head coach as one of the new wave of SEC coaches calling their own plays in a league historically dominated by defense.

"I think most all of us coaches, offensive coaches, that call plays, we sort of all like each other because we have so much in common," Spurrier said. "Hugh Freeze, Dan Mullen, it seems like we've got more head coaches calling plays now than hardly any time I remember."

The two offensive-minded coaches might get along off the field, but there is no denying there are several major differences between them.

While Spurrier makes headlines and sets Twitter ablaze regularly with his free-wheeling style of answering press conference questions, Malzahn plays it closer to the vest—more specifically, the sweater vest.

The two coaches also had different upbringings in coaching. Spurrier is a former Heisman Trophy winner who was already an SEC legend at Florida, but Malzahn played small-school football and flew under the radar at the high school level.

However, Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, who was Spurrier's assistant head coach at South Carolina from 2008 to 2011, sees one major similarity between the two.

"The one thing they have in common is both of them...invented their offense," Johnson said Sunday. "That offense wasn’t borrowed from this guy and that guy, and this job I had four years ago and another guy that taught me how to do this. Both of them took an offense that they saw as a vision, and they both have such command for it because they know exactly what they want to do when you do something on defense."

Johnson said both coaches have such a handle on their personal offensive styles that the common practice of halftime adjustments doesn't necessarily work—these unpredictable offenses can change on the fly.

"You better get it adjusted the next play, because if you did something or took something away, it wasn’t going to take him another series or halftime adjustment to get you," Johnson said. "He knows his offense. He knows when to pull the trigger, and if you take something away, he knows how you did it and he knows what he’s doing to do to hurt that."

Malzahn said he enjoyed watching how Spurrier could do just that in the SEC by communicating and strategizing in a way the opposition in the SEC wasn't used to seeing.

Although Spurrier did it with the passing game in his "Fun 'n' Gun" offense in Gainesville, Malzahn has done it primarily on the ground with his "hurry-up, no-huddle" brand of football.

"I think what they've done is run the ball extremely well against everybody, just about everybody they've played," Spurrier said. "He has an excellent scheme."

But both coaches have become more balanced in their approaches to the game recently.

Spurrier's South Carolina teams have had star running backs such Marcus Lattimore and now Mike Davis, and Malzahn's Auburn team is inching more toward passing with the development of Nick Marshall, Duke Williams and Sammie Coates.

Those schematic tweaks will play a major factor in Saturday's game.

"(Spurrier) likes to pass the ball, but his offense, he wants to run the ball," said senior defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker, who was part of Auburn teams that beat South Carolina twice in 2010 and once more in 2011. "You've just got to win your battles, because Coach Spurrier is a Hall of Fame coach because a lot of people tried to make him one-dimensional."

If Malzahn can secure a home victory against one of his coaching heroes this weekend, it could go a long way in getting his team back on the right path to Atlanta for another SEC Championship Game berth.

If the Tigers can once again run the table after their off week, Malzahn could join Spurrier as one of the only coaches to repeat as conference champion in the title-game era. From there, Malzahn would be well on his way to his plan for a Spurrier-esque dynasty of lighting up scoreboards and winning championships.

"We have high goals," Malzahn said. "We know we have to play well. We have to get better. Our players are committed to that."

For Malzahn, that would be something taken from Spurrier that matters a lot more than an item of headwear.


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

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

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