NCAA Football News

Nebraska Football: Underclassmen Who Need to Step Up Against Iowa

Against Minnesota, the Nebraska football team took a hit. It wasn't just the loss that stung. It was the injuries to upperclassmen like wide receiver Kenny Bell and center Mark Pelini.

When the Huskers walk into Kinnick Stadium to take on Iowa, underclassmen will be expected to step up. With players like Bell still "50/50," as head coach Bo Pelinitold reporters, younger players will have to make the big plays necessary for Nebraska to win.

Who exactly are those underclassmen?

First, center Ryne Reeves is expected to start in Pelini's absence. However, it won't be the first time he's seen the field this season. As Rich Kaipust of the Omaha World-Herald pointed out, Reeves has had his fair share of snaps over the last 10 football games.

Against Minnesota, for instance, he had 57 snaps alone. That has to make the underclassman feel good about his role for Nebraska against Iowa.

Offensive coordinator Tim Beck is confident Reeves will handle the job just fine:

We’ve been fortunate enough to give him a lot of reps through the course of the season — and he played well. Obviously having a senior like Mark — who’s a veteran player, who’s played in a lot of ball games — (get injured) is a big blow to us. But Ryne is capable of definitely handling the workload.

Reeves will still have to step up and be a leader for Nebraska. With the experience, he's on the right track.

As for the wide receiver position, Bell may not get a chance to play against Iowa. Because of this, there are two underclassmen who will need to fill the void he leaves behind. Those two players are freshman De'Mornay Pierson-El and sophomore Jordan Westerkamp.

Pierson-El has gained more and more playing time as the season has progressed. He had an opportunity to make the game-winning catch against Minnesota, but the Gophers stripped the ball from him and the rest is history.

"They know how hard it is on me," Pierson-El told Huskers.com. "I’m upset with myself and everything, but to know that they’re not upset and for them to come to me in that moment and still have a smile on their face and hug me, it just makes everything a lot easier on me.”

That attitude is a big part of why Pierson-El has earned the playing time he has. He summed up the reason why with a simple answer: “They just trust me more."

Westerkamp, on the other hand, had a stellar start to his season. He had a touchdown catch in the first three games of the year but has only had one against Rutgers since. Westerkamp will need to find his groove again.

With Bell potentially out, Westerkamp is in a position to be the leader the receivers need in his absence. That will require both big and smart plays.

However, to make those plays happen, he'll need to have good communication with a key person—none other than quarterback Tommy Armstrong.

Armstrong's sophomore season has been a rocky one. For fans, it hasn't always been what was wanted. However, Armstrong has had shining moments.

For instance, Armstrong had a good day against Minnesota, despite the loss. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 223 yards and one touchdown. He also rushed for another 45 yards. If he can have a similarly good game against Iowa, he could very well lead the Huskers to a much-needed win.

That's the catch, though. Can Armstrong lead this group after back-to-back losses? The trick will be for him to stay relaxed.

"When he’s just relaxed and being himself back there he is an efficient quarterback," I-back Ameer Abdullah told reporters. "I’m sure this weekend will be another testament of how he is trying to take the pressure off himself and just let things go."

Nebraska is reeling from the losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota. Beyond that, there are serious concerns with the losses of upperclassmen who had led this team for a few years now.

That's why the Huskers will need the underclassmen to step up.

They're not just the future of this program. They're the ones who will determine the outcome against Iowa.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Randy Gregory Injury: Updates on Nebraska Star's Ankle and Return

Dealing with an ankle sprain, Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory is questionable for Friday's regular-season finale at Iowa.   

Head coach Bo Pelini, via Rivals.com's Robin Washut, confirmed the news regarding the talented junior:

The Pioneer Press' Marcus R. Fuller added some details about the injury, suggesting that it doesn't sound overly serious:

Gregory, a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, has 50 tackles and seven sacks on the season, per Sports-Reference.com.

"(There are) plenty of good pass rushers in the country, but I think he's the best this year," an NFC North scout said earlier this month regarding Gregory, via NFL.com.

While a minor injury isn't going to affect his draft stock, it's undoubtedly a major loss for the Cornhuskers if he isn't available to suit up.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Most Important College Football Recruiting Visits of Week 14

Thanksgiving weekend annually presents a pivotal stretch of the recruiting cycle. Time away from school and work allows prospects and families to coordinate extended campus visits, and plenty are set to take place in the coming days.

Rivalry matchups renew across the country this Saturday, so game-day atmospheres promise to be electric with high-profile visitors in attendance. As we close in on just two months remaining until national signing day, here's a preview of premier recruits who are expected to spend time at schools.

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Wisconsin Football: What the Badgers Should Be Thankful for in 2014

After a couple of early season slip-ups including blowing a 17-point lead in the opener to LSU, the Wisconsin football team is 9-2 and 6-1 in the Big Ten with a home date against Minnesota to determine the Big Ten West winner. A trip to Indianapolis hangs in the balance.

The Badgers have plenty to be thankful for this season. It looked like it could have been a doomed year after one of the largest and most productive graduating classes departed last season, leaving the Badgers with no starters left from their front seven. Plus, the team had to cope with the graduation of its best receiver in Jared Abbrederis.

Let's take a look at four things the Badgers have to be thankful for as Thanksgiving rolls around, which includes people, places and things on and off the field, starting with one that's entirely out of the control of the team: the schedule-makers in the Big Ten.

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Ranking Best College Football Rivalry Names

How can you tell it's a big game? It's all in the name.

It's Rivalry Week in college football, with many of this weekend's biggest matchups pitting longtime rivals who don't have very nice things to say about each other. Records aside, these games are often the most important ones on the schedule year in and year out, with another year of bragging rights (and maybe some sort of trophy) up for grabs.

Each rivalry considers itself the biggest one in the country, but the most significant ones tend to stand out because of their names. These monikers either describe the series' history or tap into the schools' rich tradition, adding to their lore.

We've ranked the 10 best rivalry names in college football, listing ones that are on tap for Friday and Saturday as well as ones held at other points in this season. Rather than basing them on how big the games are, either regionally or nationally, the rivalries are rated in order of how much their name resonates.

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Bowl Projections 2014: Breaking Down Best Potential Non-Playoff Matchups

The final weekend of November is a busy time. In addition to that holiday Thursday, the final slate of regular-season games in college football represents the final paradigm shift for all 39 bowl games. 

Even though there are conference championship games December 6 that will have a ripple effect on the College Football Playoff, this weekend is the last time all 128 FBS schools will have a chance to secure their spot in a bowl game. 

While the official bowl selections won't be known for over one week, there are already projections that make it easy to see where things stand and where they could be headed depending on how things play out over the next 10 days. 

Here are the best potential games for the 2014-15 bowl season, excluding the College Football Playoff matchups, because it would be easy to solely focus on those games. 

Bowl projections via Christopher Wilson of Yahoo Sports

 

Peach Bowl (TBD vs. TBD): Michigan State vs. Georgia

Depending on what happens in the SEC Championship Game, it's possible to see Alabama or Mississippi State fall into this spot. 

Hopefully, unless you are a fan of Georgia or Mississippi State, that doesn't happen. The potential for a Michigan State vs. Georgia showdown in any bowl game, let alone one of the non-marquee bowls, is so rich that it has to be fattening. 

Even though the Big Ten has been a whipping boy for years, it's time to start giving the conference its due. Ohio State is a legitimate title contender. Michigan State stuck around Oregon at Autzen Stadium for 40 minutes before the hinges came off. Wisconsin and Minnesota are solid football teams, worthy of their Top 25 rankings. 

The Spartans have a deserved reputation for being a defensive-minded team, but Chris Vannini of CoachingSearch.com noted the team has already set a school record for points in a season with 483 and two more games left (including the bowl):

If there is a concern for Michigan State in this spot, it's surprisingly on defense. In the Spartans' two biggest games of the year—against Oregon and Ohio State—they allowed 95 points. For comparison, against everyone else, they have allowed 134 points in nine games. 

Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into one of the best programs in the country. In order for the Spartans to take that next step into the elite category, a win against one of the best SEC schools is paramount. 

On the other side, Georgia is similar to Michigan State based on its performance this year. The Bulldogs are still looking for a signature win, as the blowout against Auburn looks less impressive today than it did two weeks ago. 

Mark Richt's team also stubbed its toe in a key rivalry game, though Florida isn't in the same category as Ohio State right now. One thing that has been impressive about Georgia's season is the way it's adjusted without Todd Gurley on two different occasions. 

Nick Chubb is already one of the best running backs in the country as a freshman, with 1,152 yards and 11 touchdowns on 161 carries. He's also been racking up individual weekly awards for that effort, per Tanya Sichynsky of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Georgia has the better running game, while Michigan State has developed a very good passing game with Connor Cook at quarterback. Both defenses have been solid, save for a couple of hiccups. Something has to give, so what better way to settle the differences than in Atlanta for the Peach Bowl?

 

Liberty Bowl (Big 12 vs. SEC): West Virginia vs. Arkansas

West Virginia has fallen off a cliff since the calendar flipped to November, losing three straight games. Two of them are justifiable, because TCU is a College Football Playoff contender and Kansas State has been hovering around the Top 10 all year. 

But the Mountaineers' loss to Texas, which was sandwiched in between those other two losses, that sticks out. They got blown out of the water in Austin, trailing 24-3 at halftime and allowing 227 rushing yards. 

However, this is still a West Virginia team that was competitive with Alabama in the season opener and ended Baylor's chances for an undefeated season with a 41-27 win. There's a very good team lurking in the shadows for Dana Holgorsen waiting to explode at some point. 

While West Virginia seems to have peaked early and is getting a rough dose of reality late, Arkansas might be the most dangerous 6-5 team in the country. The Razorbacks' 2-5 SEC record is deceiving because three of those losses came by seven points or less. 

The last two games have shown how dangerous this Arkansas team is, pitching back-to-back shutouts against LSU and Mississippi. The latter victory could have a huge impact on the final playoff rankings, because a potential Mississippi State win over the Rebels won't look as impressive now. 

To further illustrate how impressive and difficult Arkansas' season has been, despite the mediocre record, Matt Hinton of Grantland.com presented this stat in his weekly college wrap-up:

Altogether, Arkansas has faced seven ranked opponents this season — that is, in every conference game, which must be some kind of record — and has played each of them to a virtual standstill: Including A&M’s winning touchdown in overtime, the Razorbacks have been outscored in those games by a grand total of five points.

It's not the sexiest matchup by records, but a West Virginia-Arkansas showdown could end up being the one between two teams outside the Top 25 rankings that has the most impact on the College Football Playoff rankings. 

 

Fiesta Bowl (TBD vs. TBD): UCLA vs. Boise State

If UCLA vs. Boise State were an NFL playoff game, it would be highlighted as the one with two teams that have overcome early struggles and are playing their best football at the right time. 

UCLA came into the season with tremendous hype as the No. 7 team in the Associated Press preseason Top 25. You wouldn't know why based on the first few weeks, which included unimpressive wins over Virginia, Memphis and Texas.

Back-to-back losses against Utah and Oregon seemed to suggest the Bruins were all hype and no substance when they went up against quality teams. Five straight wins, including a dominant effort against USC, have brought UCLA back into the national conversation. 

Not all of the victories have been pretty, like a double-overtime win against Colorado, but as Florida State has proved, all that matters is the final score. Brett Hundley is peaking at the right time, as his stat line against USC indicates, via ESPN College Football:

Speaking of peaking, Boise State is slowly moving back into the national conversation again. The Broncos' schedule isn't the sexiest, losing their only game against a ranked team (Mississippi) by 22, but they are going to get in a big game by virtue of having so many spots available. 

A matchup against a good-not-great UCLA team would be the perfect reintroduction for Boise State. The Broncos won't be completely outmatched, like they would be against a mid-level SEC or top-tier Big Ten team, and we've seen in the past what this school can do on the big stage. 

The Broncos also have a quarterback playing well, as highlighted by the Boise State Football official Twitter account:

Points would be plentiful in this matchup, as the Bruins rank 70th in scoring defense and the Broncos are 79th. It's not a glamorous matchup, like a potential Michigan State-Georgia showdown, but it should be a fun one to watch. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Top Recruits Who Will Be Impacted by Result of the Auburn-Alabama Game

Alabama and Auburn collide yet again Saturday when the Iron Bowl takes center stage in Tuscaloosa. The teams have enjoyed immense success this decade, appearing in every national championship game since 2009.

This time around, the Crimson Tide attempt to move one step closer toward an inaugural College Football Playoff berth, while Auburn aims to spoil those dreams. Few games rival this showdown during a holiday weekend filled with gridiron greatness.

Along with fans across the country, high school recruits will be watching closely when these SEC rivals kick off. Here's a look at coveted prospects who could be impacted by this matchup.

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College Football Playoff Rankings 2014: Latest Odds and Dark-Horse Contenders

There was no movement this week at the top of the college football playoff rankings, but that isn't expected to be a trend.

With only the rivalry and championship weeks remaining before bowl season, every school in the championship picture still faces significant tests. According to ESPN Insider's Brad Edwards (subscription needed), there is barely over a one percent chance that all of the Top Seven teams run the table.

In other words, movement in the Top Four is coming. Let's take a glance at the current odds for each contender, as well as some candidates to soon enter the mix.

 

Week 14 College Football Playoff Rankings

(Note: As the header indicates, the logo shown at the far right of each team's row is for that team's next opponent and not for the ranked team itself.)

 

Latest Odds

 

Dark-Horse Contenders

No. 6 Ohio State

Sitting at No. 6, Ohio State seemingly needs some help in front of it to crack the Top Four. But they may not need assistance at all.

Of the four one-loss teams on the fringe, Mississippi State, TCU, Baylor and Ohio State appear to be nearly indistinguishable. Some are of the opinion the Buckeyes don't belong in that quartet because of their ugly loss to Virginia Tech, but as selection committee chairman Jeff Long suggested, via NFL.com's Bryan Fischer, that's not the case:

Looking forward, the Buckeyes have one very important factor working in their favor: a potential Big Ten title.

"Conference championships will be a tiebreaker factored in at the end of the season," said Long, via ESPN.com's Jake Trotter.

That's crucial.

Should all four of those one-loss teams win out, Ohio State and Baylor will be the only conference champions. Mississippi State wouldn't make the SEC title game, assuming Alabama beats Auburn, and TCU's loss to Baylor would keep the Horned Frogs in second place in the Big 12.

If conference championships indeed separate OSU and Baylor from the pack, the advantage goes to the former.

The Buckeyes are already ahead of Baylor, and that's not likely to change. Yes, the Bears have an upcoming contest against No. 12 Kansas State to boost their resume, but Ohio State could potentially match that with a win on a neutral field over No. 14 Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.

ESPN's Travis Haney put it simply:

There are still plenty of variables that could change (three-loss Minnesota beating Wisconsin and going to the Big Ten title game, for example), but the Buckeyes are in seemingly fantastic position to sneak into the Top Four.

 

No. 8 UCLA

Those above situations assume UCLA loses again this season. If the Bruins win out, though, things are going to get real messy for the selection committee.

Yes, Jim Mora's squad has two losses, but it also has the toughest strength of schedule in the country. As ESPN's Alok Pattani explained, their strength of record may help the Bruins leapfrog some one-loss squads:

Moreover, UCLA has the most to add to its resume in the final two weeks of the season. A win over Stanford puts the Bruins into the Pac-12 title game against Oregon, giving them an opportunity to avenge one of their two losses and beat the No. 2 team in the nation.

ESPN's Sharon Katz argued the Bruins' case in that situation:

If UCLA beats Stanford and Oregon it will likely jump into the top four in Strength of Record. The Bruins would likely have the same record as Oregon but will have played a tougher schedule in achieving that record. Similarly, assuming TCUand Baylor win out, the Bruins would have as many wins as those teams but significantly more quality wins, including a victory against one of the top teams in the nation (Oregon).

This seemed impossible in early October when the Bruins followed up losses to Oregon and Utah with narrow, unimpressive wins over California and Colorado.

But they have responded with three thoroughly convincing victories in a row, holding Arizona's explosive offense to seven points, hanging 44 against a Washington defense with several future NFL players and dominating USC in the crosstown showdown.

The Bruins are unequivocally moving in the right direction.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Most Intriguing Storylines in 2014 Edition of Florida-Florida State Rivalry

Jimbo Fisher has been exceptional in five seasons as Florida State's coach, going 56-10.

He's also owned the Sunshine State, going 5-0 vs. Miami, 3-1 against Florida and 1-0 vs. South Florida. Of those nine wins, seven have been by 10 or more points. The Seminoles are looking to continue their success against state rivals when they host Florida on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN).

FSU hasn't lost in more than two calendar years, winning 27 straight games dating back to a Nov. 22, 2012 loss to the Gators.

The No. 3 Seminoles (11-0) will look to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff with only two hurdles left: rival Florida (6-4) to close the regular season and Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 6.

Let's take a look at the five most intriguing storylines in the 2014 FSU-Florida game.

 

Will Muschamp's Final Game Is Saturday

Fisher and Muschamp both spent a few years as coordinators on Nick Saban's LSU staff a decade ago and have gone head-to-head over the past three seasons as coaches of the Seminoles and Gators.

Now Muschamp enters his final game as Florida's coach, dismissed in the middle of his fourth season. The coaches know each other well and are good friends.

But Florida's players are motivated to send Muschamp out with a special performance and an upset over FSU.

Muschamp is trying to do the same thing Ron Zook did in 2004. Zook was also dismissed but allowed to finish up the season, and the unranked Gators came to Tallahassee and knocked off No. 10 FSU 20-13.

"I kind of heard that story," Muschamp told GatorZone.com's Scott Carter. "I appreciate you rehashing it for me."

Florida fans would love nothing more than to rehash a Zook special on Saturday.

 

FSU's Struggling Run Defense vs. Florida's Strong Ground Attack

It's no secret what Florida does well on offense, and that's run the ball.

The Gators average 197 rushing yards per game but have been especially good in their last three games against SEC teams—Florida ran for 183 yards vs. South Carolina, 215 against Vanderbilt and 418 vs. Georgia.

FSU's weakness is stopping the run, as the Seminoles rank 43rd nationally in allowing 148 yards per game. The schedule has helped the Seminoles in that they have finished the regular season with four straight running teams (Virginia, Miami, Boston College and Florida).

While FSU passed the first test in holding Virginia to just 37 yards on 32 carries, Miami's Duke Johnson ran for 130 yards and Boston College ran 51 times for 240 yards. FSU often did a good job stopping the run on first and second down, but the Eagles converted eight of 14 third-down opportunities.

FSU can't struggle against the run again.

"They have good backs," Fisher said. "And always have good linemen. And their quarterbacks are dual-threat. They can run the football."

 

Former FSU Commitment Treon Harris Is Florida's QB

Treon Harris was a FSU verbal commitment but signed with Florida in February. If he had chosen FSU, he no doubt would be taking a redshirt in 2014, as he would be behind Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and Sean Maguire on the depth chart.

But Harris picked Florida, and when Jeff Driskel struggled, he earned the starting job.

Harris is completing 54 percent of his passes (identical to Driskel's total), but the true freshman has six touchdowns and one interception in seven games.

Still, the passing game isn't very dynamic, as Harris averages just 103.9 passing yards per game.

"I don't think we've thrown it as well as we needed to throw it," Muschamp told reporters. "Just more consistent in the throwing game is what we're going to need, and he knows that."

 

DE Dante Fowler Flipped from FSU to UF on National Signing Day

Like Harris, Dante Fowler was an FSU verbal commitment. In February 2012, he chose Florida.

Fowler is a disruptive force, recording 53 tackles and 11 tackles for loss as a junior. He's already declared for the NFL draft, and Muschamp told the Tampa Bay Times' Antonya English that he feels Fowler is ready.

"You've got to have guys that can rush the passer," Muschamp said. "He can win one-on-one. There's no question in my mind."

Fowler has just four tackles in his first two games against FSU. On Saturday, he will be going up against Roderick Johnson, a 6'7", 330-pound true freshman left tackle. Johnson has graded out at 81 percent in his first two career starts (according to FSU's game notes). It will be a big challenge for Johnson.

"Rod is one of those guys that is big and athletic," said FSU defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr., who goes up against Johnson often in practice. "He has quick feet. Once he gets his hands on you, you can pretty much cancel it."

 

FSU Looking for Back-to-Back Perfect Regular Seasons

The Seminoles have had to battle for wins and come back late frequently this season, but they are 11-0. 

FSU is looking for its first back-to-back perfect regular seasons in school history. Fisher said he's not giving it much thought.

"You've got to be good, you've got to be lucky, you've got to make plays at the right time, you've got to have the right dynamic on a team," Fisher said. "But it's funny, when you're doing it, you don't even think about it. The concern is the next game and how you prepare."

While the team remains focused on Florida, the accomplishments haven't been lost on FSU's veteran players.

"When you look back, sometimes we don't even realize the struggles Florida State had before we got here," guard Josue Matias said. "Sometimes we look back and we're like, 'Wow, we really helped build this place up.' "

Bob Ferrante is the lead FSU writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Stats are courtesy of seminoles.com and gatorzone.com. Follow Bob on Twitter. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com.

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Clemson Football: What the Tigers Should Be Thankful for in 2014

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, we can all think of things in our lives to be thankful for.

The Clemson Tigers have a few reasons to be thankful as we enter the final week of the regular season. Even though the season hasn’t played out exactly as planned, the Tigers have the opportunity to win 10 games for a fourth straight season.

Head coach Dabo Swinney’s squad isn’t in contention for the ACC title, but winning the rivalry matchup with South Carolina and making a good bowl game could cap off another impressive season.

With South Carolina looking to push the winning streak to six games in this rivalry, the Tigers have plenty to worry about, but here are five reasons why they should also be thankful.

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Auburn Tigers vs. Alabama Crimson Tide: Betting Odds, Iron Bowl Pick, Preview

The Alabama Crimson Tide look to continue their drive for a fourth national title in six years when they host the Auburn Tigers in a huge SEC rivalry game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday.

The Crimson Tide and Tigers have combined to win four of the past five national championships. Auburn also appeared in last year’s BCS Championship Game, losing to the Florida State Seminoles 34-31 but covering the spread as 10.5-point underdogs.

But beware of Auburn, as it was an upset winner in five of the past six games where it was an underdog, according to the Odds Shark database.

 

Point spread: The Crimson Tide opened as seven-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 31.9-26.6 Crimson Tide

 

Why the Auburn Tigers can cover the spread

The Tigers appeared to be serious national title contenders this season until they suffered their first setback (38-23) against the Mississippi State Bulldogs as three-point road favorites.

They even still had a shot at the College Football Playoff until they dropped consecutive games to the Texas A&M Aggies and Georgia Bulldogs. However, they bounced back a bit last week with a 31-7 victory against the Samford Bulldogs.

Auburn still has a talented team with players who have experienced big games before, including beating the Crimson Tide 34-28 last year as a 10-point home underdog. That game alone just proves anything can happen in this intrastate rivalry.

 

Why the Alabama Crimson Tide can cover the spread

Alabama obviously must keep winning to stay in national title contention, so losing this game is not an option.

The Crimson Tide are riding a six-game winning streak since suffering their only setback of the season against the Ole Miss Rebels 23-17 as a 4.5-point road favorite. The team has not allowed an opponent to score more than 20 points during that stretch with the under going 5-1.

Alabama has taken care of business at home against SEC opponents recently. It has a 7-1 record against the spread in its last eight games under that scenario. The exception was a 25-20 win over Mississippi State as a nine-point favorite two weeks ago.

But that victory still knocked the Bulldogs from No. 1 and allowed the Tide to roll into the top spot.

 

Smart Pick

Alabama has won 15 straight games as a home favorite, and there’s no reason to believe this team will not be able to continue that streak here. The Crimson Tide have risen to the occasion in almost every game this year and seem to be getting stronger as the season wears on.

The Tigers have won eight of the last 12 meetings with Alabama, but they lost four of the past six. Two of the previous three games between the teams in Tuscaloosa were shutouts by the home team.

That might be a bit of stretch, but it shows how much the level of defensive intensity picks up when Alabama is playing in front of its fans. The Tide will win this one by at least two touchdowns.

 

Betting Trends

  • Auburn is 6-3 ATS in its last nine games on the road.
  • Alabama is 15-0 SU in its last five games as home chalk.

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes were gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arizona State Sun Devils vs. Arizona Wildcats Betting Odds, Analysis, Pick

Since Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez took over at Arizona State and Arizona, respectively, the Sun Devils are 2-0 both straight up and against the spread against the Wildcats, putting up 99 points in the two meetings.

In a game that could decide a division title, 9-2 Arizona State and 9-2 Arizona battle it out for the Territorial Cup, and perhaps more, Friday night in Tuscon.

 

Point spread: This game remained off the board mid-week at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).

 

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 29.7-27.9 Sun Devils

 

Why the Arizona State Sun Devils can cover the spread

The Sun Devils rebounded from their loss at Oregon State two weeks ago to beat Washington State last week 52-31, covering as 15-point favorites.

ASU trailed in the second quarter 21-7 but went on a 45-3 run for the win and the cash. So at 6-2 in conference play, the Devils are tied with UCLA and Arizona for first place in the Pac-12 South. But Arizona State would lose a tiebreaker with the Bruins because of that 62-27 loss back in September, so there's no back door.

The Sun Devils are 5-1 SU and 4-2 ATS in games this season against teams already bowl eligible. And last year, they pounded Arizona 58-21, easily covering as 11-point favorites.

 

Why the Arizona Wildcats can cover the spread

Since a 17-7 loss to UCLA earlier this month, the Wildcats have won three in a row, including a 42-10 romp over Utah in Salt Lake City last week. Arizona jumped out to a 21-0 lead and never looked back, eventually outgaining the Utes 520-384, grinding out 298 yards on the ground, and winning the turnover battle by a 4-1 margin.

So at 6-2 in conference play, the Cats are in exactly the same boat as Arizona State—in need of a victory and a Bruins loss to make what would be their first appearance in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Finally, Arizona might be looking for revenge after last year's debacle in Tempe.

 

Smart pick

This game will be played at 3:30 p.m. ET Friday, the same time that UCLA hosts Stanford. If the Bruins fall to the Cardinal, which is possible, the winner of this game would go to the Pac-12 championship tilt.

Arizona holds a short edge on offense, but it took a hit at a key spot last week when quarterback Anu Solomon suffered an ankle injury; his status for Friday is uncertain. And the Sun Devils hold a short edge on defense.

So the smart money here resides with Arizona State to extend Arizona's ATS home losing skid to six games.

 

Betting trends

  • Arizona State is 6-1 SU in its last seven games.
  • Arizona is 1-4 ATS in its last five games when playing Arizona State.
  • Arizona is 0-5 in its past five home games.

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates and get the free odds-tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: Rivalry Showdown vs. Notre Dame Is Must-Win Game for Sark

First-year USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said he does not believe in weighing certain games more heavily than others and would thus certainly shy away from calling Saturday's rivalry tilt with Notre Dame a must-win.

"I feel the same pressure every week," Sarkisian said on his conference call Sunday. "So whether it's Notre Dame or UCLA, they all mean the same. I know not everyone wants to hear that, but if you're truly and innately a competitor, I don't pick and choose which games I'm going to get up for."

But on the heels of a 38-20 loss to UCLA during which the crosstown rival Bruins scored 24 unanswered points to take command, Sarkisian's first foray in the Notre Dame series as the Trojans' head coach takes on paramount importance.

USC sits at 7-4 on the season with only Saturday's affair and a bowl game remaining.

Seven is a not-so-magic number if you're Sarkisian. In his tenure at Washington, he finished 7-6 on three consecutive occasions from 2010 through 2012, earning the derisive nickname "Seven-Win Sark" in some circles.

Seven has its own dubious symbolism at USC.

The beginning of the end of the Lane Kiffin era started when the Trojans finished a 7-6 campaign with a sluggish, 21-7 loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. That set in the motion the events which eventually led Sarkisian back to USC, a program he helped guide as an assistant to an unprecedented seven consecutive conference championships between 2002 and 2008.

And Sarkisian returned with an unambiguous goal of recapturing the success of that era under Pete Carroll.

However, the USC to which Sarkisian returned was not the program he left for the Washington job in 2009. The Trojans saw programs bypass them as a result of NCAA sanctions and Kiffin's disappointing run as head coach.

Among those making strides while USC stagnated were UCLA and Notre Dame.

Last week's loss at the Rose Bowl was the third straight decision USC dropped to UCLA. Similarly, Notre Dame rolls into the Coliseum with wins in each of the last two against the Trojans.

The last time USC had concurrent, three-game losing streaks in both of its rivalry series was 1991-1993, as the late Larry Smith's abortive tenure as head coach transitioned into the second John Robinson era.

USC matches up well with this Notre Dame team, an opponent in its own dire straits. The Fighting Irish are losers of four of their last five and have been manhandled throughout the last month-and-a-half.

Notre Dame has given up over 200 rushing yards in its last three contests and, according to Max Meyer of Neon Tommy, will be without two starting linemen on Saturday:

For a USC offense that failed to reach the 100-yard mark on the ground in the last two weeks, this rivalry game could be the cure to what ails the Trojans.

A win may also give Sarkisian the positive energy his program needs to build up in his second year.

He called a strong finish "a piece of the puzzle to have a really successful next 12 months."

And, really, that's what this next month is about for USC: putting together the pieces for a more successful 2015.

Sarkisian talked previously about the importance of a strong showing in November, alluding to Carroll's success. While Sarkisian's former colleague endured a trying first season, Carroll parlayed a torrid run in the 2001 campaign's last month into the first of those seven conference titles the next year.

Something else Carroll did: He never went 0-2 against rivals UCLA and Notre Dame in the same season.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com

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Mike London Retained by Virginia: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Despite five mostly unsatisfactory seasons, Mike London is returning to Virginia in 2015.

Craig Littlepage, the school's athletic director, announced the news Wednesday, via VirginiaSports.com:

It was important to see improvement in our football program this season. I've seen signs of progress in many areas. Through the staff changes made over the last two years, we are better at teaching the game and in the overall development of the student-athletes. We also continue to notice the commitment by this group of coaches and student-athletes to their academic and community responsibilities.

During his time at Virginia, London has compiled an overall record of 23-37, per Sports-Reference.com. He has put together just one winning season, and he took the Wahoos to one bowl game, a 43-24 loss in the 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl to Auburn.      

London, who worked his way up the coaching ladder with stints as Virginia's defensive line coach and defensive coordinator, created a lot of room for optimism during his first couple of years in Charlottesville. 

Following a 4-8 inaugural season after taking over for Al Groh, London brought in one of the finer recruiting classes the Cavaliers had seen in quite some time. According to 247Sports' composite system, the 2011 class featured five 4-stars and ranked 23rd nationally.

The success spilled onto the field, as Virginia went 8-5 and London won the 2011 ACC Coach of the Year award.

And really, he has continued to show prowess in recruiting circles, bringing in solid classes filled with talent:

But his on-field success hasn't quite matched. Limited by London's questionable play-calling, the Cavaliers won four games in 2012, two in 2013 and now sit at 5-6 in 2014. As such, despite the 54-year-old having an extensive history at Virginia and seeming to be well-liked, many assumed he was on the chopping block.

Alas, the Wahoos recently put a 30-13 smashing on Miami and are still bowl eligible. The school clearly likes the direction London is moving.

"I trust the plan Mike has in place and believe his leadership provides the best opportunity for Virginia football to be successful in the future," Littlepage said.

The Cavaliers, who have one bowl appearance in the last seven years, are desperate to find some program stability.

London has achieved consistency in the recruiting circles. Now it's time for him to do the same on the field.

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LSU Tigers vs. Texas A&M Aggies: Betting Odds, Analysis, College Football Pick

Two SEC teams wrapping up disappointing regular seasons will square off Thursday when the LSU Tigers visit the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field.

The Tigers have lost their last two games but have won the last three meetings with the Aggies both straight up and against the spread since they joined the conference, including a 24-19 road win two years ago as 3.5-point favorites.

 

Point Spread: The Tigers opened as two-point favorites. As of Wednesday afternoon, they're favored by three points.

Odds Shark Computer Pick: Tigers 32.3, Aggies 25.2

 

Why the LSU Tigers Can Cover the Spread

LSU is coming off a bye week after losing two in a row as an underdog, so technically the team was not supposed to beat the Arkansas Razorbacks on the road or the Alabama Crimson Tide at home.

Before that two-game skid, the Tigers won three in a row SU and ATS, and the loss to Alabama was in overtime. Plus, if you look at how the Razorbacks beat Ole Miss last week 30-0, the Tigers' 17-0 loss does not look as bad.

While LSU head coach Les Miles probably would not want to hear any excuses, his Tigers are young and still learning how to play in big games.

Against another young team with similar flaws, bettors should like LSU’s chances.

 

Why the Texas A&M Aggies Can Cover the Spread

Texas A&M is a difficult team to figure out this season. The last two games for the Aggies pretty much sum up the up-and-down roller coaster their backers have experienced in 2014, winning straight up as 23.5-point underdogs at Auburn and then losing at home as 3.5-point favorites against Missouri.

While it is hard to make an argument for a team that is 1-6 ATS in its last seven games, do not forget the 5-0 start, including a 3-1 mark vs. the line in the first four.

Texas A&M is also off a bye and had some extra time to think about the loss to Mizzou.

The Aggies know they are already building up the program for next year and would love to get another home win here. They are 4-1 ATS as home dogs since 2009.

 

Smart Pick

Selecting a side in this game is almost like picking the lesser of two evils considering how they have both played this season.

At its best, Texas A&M is a scoring machine that can beat just about any team in the country—at home or on the road. At their worst, the Aggies are undisciplined and can get blown out no matter where they play.

Meanwhile, the Tigers have had trouble scoring lately, totaling just 23 points in their past three games combined.

LSU is also just 1-4 SU and ATS in its last five road games against SEC opponents, which is the key trend in this conference matchup. Texas A&M will give thanks for its home field here on Thanksgiving and pull off the win.

 

Betting Trends

  • LSU is 10-4 SU in its last 14 games.
  • Texas A&M is 4-1 ATS as a home underdog since 2009.

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates and get the free odds tracker app.

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Virginia Tech's HokieBird Promotes 'Save the Turkeys' in Thanksgiving PSA

Thanksgiving is one of the toughest times of the year for HokieBird, Virginia Tech's mascot.

While everyone is enjoying their turkey dinners, HokieBird feels a little left out. Watching people devour turkey at their feasts has to be traumatizing for the bird mascot.

Virginia Tech has created a public service announcement to try to make this year's Thanksgiving a little easier on its mascot. If everyone helps out, HokieBird will be able to get through the holiday without getting too depressed.

[Virginia Tech Athletics, h/t USA Today's FTW]

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Miami Football: Why Duke Johnson Should Declare for the 2015 NFL Draft

Duke Johnson is one of the premier running backs in college football, competing with the likes of Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon and Tevin Coleman as the top prospect for the 2015 NFL draft.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller recently ranked Duke the No. 40 overall prospect and No. 3 at his position, both of which have risen substantially during the 2014 season.

Soon, the Miami Hurricanes' best player will be faced with the decision of returning for his senior campaign or declaring for the draft.

But purely from a football perspective, Johnson should make the latter his next move.

Dane Brugler of CBS Sports told B/R that though he never says underclassmen should forgo their senior campaign due to personal circumstances of which we are unaware, "it wouldn't be surprising to see [Duke] declare, and I'm not sure anyone could blame him.

"The biggest strength for Duke is his dynamic athleticism as a ball-carrier. He has tremendous balance, explosive feet and impressive acceleration. He's tough and controlled with his movements and has been a reliable receiving option."

According to Matt Porter of The Palm Beach Post, Duke's mother, Cassandra Mitchell, noted a couple of factors that will affect the decision.

Johnson is loyal to UM's recruiting class of 2012 that includes Herb Waters, Tracy Howard, Malcolm Lewis and his Norland High teammate Ereck Flowers. 'They came together, and they said they were going to leave together. I know he looks at that too,' Mitchell said. Johnson said Monday he's also considering UM's potential with rising star quarterback Brad Kaaya running the offense.

While Brad Kaaya's ceiling is remarkably high, Johnson clearly has a close relationship with the others mentioned. Last weekend when Herb Waters sustained a scary neck injury, the camera showed Duke shedding a tear for his teammate.

Johnson exemplified what Ray Lewis and Lamar Miller both said within the past three years, that playing football at Miami is like a brotherhood.

Additionally, Manny Navarro of The Miami Herald wrote Johnson said he and his mother will discuss whether leaving school without a degree is an acceptable decision.

Attaining his college degree is something Johnson has repeatedly stressed as an important priority. However, Johnson has nothing more to prove between the white lines. And per Porter, the talented runner knows it.

"I don't think there's much more I need to prove on the field, if anything. Not saying that there's no room to get better—there's always room to get better in aspects of the game—but as far as stats and things of that sort, there's not much more to prove."

Ultimately, Duke's list of collegiate accomplishments is nothing short of astonishing.

The local product is a mere 34 yards away from setting the career rushing record at Miami, which would pass future Super Bowl MVP Ottis Anderson.

He has an outside shot at setting the single-season mark, trailing Willis McGahee's 2002 campaign by 322 yards with two games remaining. Regardless, Duke has already compiled the second-most prolific season in program history.

A pair of 100-plus yard outputs against Pitt and in a bowl would give Johnson the most such games, passing Clinton Portis' 14. Duke also tied McGahee and Edgerrin James with six straight 100-plus yard performances earlier this year.

For good measure, the 90-yard scamper against North Carolina tied Jack Losch (1955) for the longest run.

But Duke's consistency is incredible, too, considering he's tallied at least 83 yards in 16 straight appearances and scored 12 touchdowns—just on the ground—during that span.

His current pace of 7.2 yards per attempt would be the best season average for any Hurricanes running back who carried the ball more than 100 times. Though the 16.2-yard average he compiled opposite Cincinnati tied Eddie Dunn (1937) for seventh best, it was the best clip for a player who logged at least 10 attempts.

Before Virginia kept him out of the end zone last weekend, Duke had scored a rushing touchdown in nine consecutive contests—the second-longest streak by a Miami back.

One more touchdown will move into sole possession of fifth place with 27 career scores, while two more would be the third-most career points by a non-kicker in school history.

Duke has shattered the record for career all-purpose yards, rocketing past Santana Moss and eclipsing the 5,000-yard barrier—something never before accomplished by a Hurricane. Johnson is 323 yards away from setting the single-season all-purpose clip, though he already holds the second- and third-best years.

With just two more receiving yards this year, Duke would have the best receiving season by a Miami back since Cleveland Gary in 1988.

The most impressive part of this, though, is how Johnson collected these feats while constantly battling through injuries. Exiting the game early hasn't been a rare occurrence during his college career.

The injury history can mostly be attributed to his stature, since Duke only stands 5'9" yet runs with an aggressive nature.

"His top weaknesses relate mostly to his size," Brugler said. "He'll likely weigh in at the Combine around 205 pounds and has a very lean build. Duke isn't the type of back who will pick up consistent yards in the NFL after initial contact and his vision can run hot/cold at times.

"He has the athletic traits that compensate for most of his shortcomings. Although they have different run styles, he and LeSean McCoy have similar size and durability questions, but like McCoy, Duke has special athleticism that should allow him to be productive."

One skill that will help him with yards after contact is his stiff arm, however. Duke's ability to flatten college defenders is absolutely fantastic, though that prowess must translate to overpowering bigger and stronger opponents.

While Miami fans cannot thank the running back enough, there's nothing left for him to realistically accomplish. Sure, officially bringing a Coastal Division championship to South Florida would be great, but the Hurricanes won't be contending for a national title.

Johnson's loyalty to classmates may keep him at Miami. The desire to win at his hometown school might lure Duke to stay at "The U." Finishing his degree could delay the runner's move toward the pros.

But he should declare for the 2015 NFL draft, because a potential injury simply isn't worth the risk.

"I feel I want him to stay another year," Mitchell told Porter. "But you know what? To be honest, it's hard watching him play football right now. I'm nervous. I'm scared. I'm excited. I have so many emotions."

The potential All-American never knows what might happen on the next outside zone. Johnson may as well be getting paid for the beating he takes and extraordinary effort he gives.

He carried the burden of a school fighting through an NCAA investigation. He shattered school records despite missing a handful of games due to injury.

Selfishly, college football wants Johnson back. But it's time for the Duke of Miami to be monetarily rewarded for his contributions.

 

Stats courtesy of CFBStats.com, hurricanesports.com and B/R research. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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Anu Solomon Injury: Updates on Arizona Star's Ankle and Return

Arizona Wildcats freshman quarterback Anu Solomon suffered an ankle injury in the team's win over Utah last week and is now listed as questionable for a clash with rival Arizona State on Friday.

Brett McMurphy of ESPN passed along the updated word on his status:

Solomon has provided some stability at a position that was a question mark before the campaign. He's tossed 25 touchdowns and just seven interceptions while helping lead Arizona to a 9-2 record and the No. 11 ranking in the latest College Football Playoff poll.    

If he can't go, Jesse Scroggins will likely step into the lineup again as he did last week. His limited experience would be a major cause for concern for the Wildcats. He has just seven career pass attempts under his belt at the college level.

 

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Alabama Football: Tide's 3 Key Matchups to Watch for in 2014 Iron Bowl

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama looks to have a lot going in its favor in the 2014 Iron Bowl.

It’s the No. 1 team in the country, heading toward another SEC Championship Game appearance and a berth in the College Football Playoff. Auburn has lost three games and is on a tailspin to end what was once a promising 2014 campaign.

Still, the Crimson Tide and Tigers’ annual rivalry game this year will be a chess match between two of the best offensive and defensive minds in the country. The two teams’ seasons have been defined by a handful of plays that could have swung games in the other direction.

It’s closer than you’d initially imagine. There are a couple matchups that should decide the outcome of the game.

Let’s take a closer look.

 

Cyrus Jones vs. Sammie Coates and Duke Williams

Alabama’s starter at cornerback from day one won’t be covering two receivers at once. But there’s a pretty good chance that the 5’10” Jones will be on one of Auburn’s Sammie Coates or Duke Williams during the entire game.

Both Coates and Williams stand at 6’2” and have been matchup problems through the air for opposing defenses. That would seem to be a problem going up against the smaller Jones.

That hasn’t stopped him this season, though.

Jones has gone toe-to-toe with some of the SEC’s biggest and most physical receivers—including Mississippi State's De’Runnya Wilson, Florida’s Demarcus Robinson and Texas A&M’s Ricky Seals-Jones—and has largely gotten the better of those receivers.

The key, he says? Being a little extra physical. That won’t change this week.

“You just can't let them manhandle you,” he said. “You've got to be physical right back with them, especially if you're a smaller guy such as myself. It's just important just to be in position at all times to kind of be ready to make a play when the ball's in the air and not letting them get on top of you down the field. It's going to be a good challenge, but I'm excited about it.”

 

Alabama front seven vs. Auburn run game

Alabama has shut down some fearsome rushing attacks this year, like Arkansas' and LSU’s. But no one is doing it better statistically in the SEC this year than Auburn.

And the Tigers do it differently than Alabama’s seen this season.

Arkansas and LSU don’t exactly hide what they’re trying to do, lining up in an I formation, with a tight end coming right at you. It’s simply power vs. power.

Auburn, though, shows a lot of misdirection pre-snap to throw the defense off. Then it uses a variety in formation to run outside, between the tackles, reverses or anything else you can think of.

“The camouflage that (Malzahn) uses with the motions and all that is something that defensive players have to adjust to, but it also doesn't allow you to get set like you'd like to get set,” Nick Saban said. “It takes more adjusting on the defensive players' part. But you have to defend all those things too, because they don't just do it, they have something that they can do with it that you have to defend.”

That means discipline and eye control will be critical for Alabama’s defense.

“They really read the defense a lot, so it’s really important for the defense to be disciplined and be smart and keep contained,” Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen said. “It’s going to be a good challenge for not just the D-ends but the D-line in general and the whole defense. I feel like with a good week of preparation we’ll be prepared Saturday.”

 

Amari Cooper vs. Auburn secondary

The Tigers currently sit at No. 12 in the SEC in pass defense. Auburn is giving up 232.5 yards per game through the air, a major reason for its recent slide.

Alabama has one of the best wide receivers in the country in Amari Cooper, a Biletnikoff finalist who is averaging 122.6 yards per game so far this season, third in the country.

If that doesn’t scream “mismatch,” nothing does.

Cooper has been terrorizing defenses all year. He had big games against Florida and Tennessee and made critical catches in big games late this season. Quarterback Blake Sims, though, hasn’t really been surprised by his year, save for one catch.

“I think the game against Mississippi State when he made that catch, man that was a great catch,” Sims said. “(The) things he’s been doing, I’ve seen a million times and I’m just happy for the success he had this year.”

Cooper had a huge game last season against the Tigers, too, as he got healthy toward the end of the season. He caught six passes for 178 yards, including a 99-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that could have been the game-winner.

He could be in for another massive performance this week.

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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What Has Caused the Downfall of College Football's Blue Bloods?

Teenage me didn’t understand this past Saturday. He watched as giants from another era fell in spectacular fashion. One after the next, they all came tumbling down.

The football gods he grew up marveling—the ones that drew him to the sport in the first place—were left in shambles by challengers who had no business causing such wreckage, at least not in his former life. All he could do is sit there, dumbfounded, wondering just how exactly we reached this point.

The vulnerability of college football’s former powers—the teams that ran this sport for ages—became increasingly apparent in one 15-hour stretch. And perhaps the most shocking part of this collaborated failure was the harsh reality that it really wasn’t all that shocking at all. This particular piece of coordinated carnage had been a long time in the making.

USC, Miami, Michigan, Tennessee, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Nebraska and Penn State all looked mortal. All eight teams lost last Saturday, and only one loss came at the hands of a Top 10 team. The rest came courtesy of teams such as Illinois, Virginia, Maryland and Wake Forest.

Losses such as these were unthinkable not long ago, although this wasn’t some sort of one-week anomaly. Let’s examine how each program reached this point and more importantly, where they are on the road to recovery.

 

USC

From 2002 to 2008, USC went 72-9. The record, of course, may look different depending on how strictly you tally wins—with sanctions washing some of those victories off the books. But we saw them. We know these games took place.

This was one of the most dominant stretches in the history of the sport.

Since Pete Carroll departed off to the NFL, however, the Trojans are just 51-25. The sanctions have unquestionably played a role in USC’s demise, and the injuries of the Kiffin era cannot be ignored.

The scholarship limitations resulting from the NCAA’s destructive hammer have hindered the program’s ability to blossom. This is more than simply an excuse; it's a necessary part of the picture and a way of understanding how we arrived at this point. 

And yet, given some of the remarkable talent that has passed through the program—and the deep crop of starters they have right now—it feels as though there should be more positive outcomes. NFL players have cycled through, even as the program has searched for Carroll’s successor.

With the Pac-12 poised for a talent exodus—especially with quarterbacks—the Trojans will enter 2015 with expectations to meet. It feels as though they are capable, even if the loss to UCLA this past Saturday told us otherwise.

 

Miami

Like USC, Miami has felt the wrath of the NCAA’s influence. Although the sanctions handed down for various Nevin Shapiro-related incidents paled in comparison to those handed out elsewhere, the black cloud of the lengthy investigation—along with the investigation of the investigation—certainly hindered the Hurricanes’ efforts to rebound.

All things considered, this fall has perhaps been the most perplexing and dramatic. That was evident as Miami lost in lifeless fashion to Virginia last weekend, which was the fourth time in five years the Cavaliers came away victorious in this particular matchup. The other harsh reality for Miami is that it hasn’t won 10 games since 2003.

For a program with a plethora of football resources and a seemingly endless stream of local talent, this seems difficult to fathom. The reality, however, is that the talent hasn’t flocked to Miami like it once did. The programs in the state of Florida—along with surrounding SEC schools—have created a much more competitive recruiting landscape.

The good news for Al Golden is that he appears to have found his quarterback in Brad Kaaya. There are also moments—like we saw against Florida State—when we see signs of a possible return. It will never be like it once was in the early 2000s, though. Unfortunately, we may never see anything like that ever again.

 

Michigan

One week from now, Michigan’s hopeful rebirth will likely begin once more. The Wolverines will almost certainly be seeking out a new head coach, hoping that their next hire will provide the spark Brady Hoke and Rich Rodriguez simply could not.

Since 2008, Michigan has won more than eight games in a season just once. That season came in 2011, Hoke’s first year on the sideline. It feels like a different era now.

Of all the major programs to struggle in recent years, the Wolverines’ issues might be the most difficult to process. They have met many of the necessary criteria for success.

Operating in a manageable conference with little top-end opponents—and doing so with a solid flood of recruiting, something that Hoke and his staff have excelled at—Michigan simply has not been able to win consistently enough.

It’s been the quarterback play, the offensive line, the defense, and yes, injuries have played a role. As Michigan State has enjoyed a meteoric rise, its rival has simply been unable to develop talent at its former rate.

And yet, it’s more than that. Although Michigan outgained Maryland in total yardage and first downs this past Saturday—averaging more than six-and-a-half carries on the ground—it was still unable to offer up anything more than a 23-16 defeat.

This result does more than simply summarize one season; it encompasses an era.

 

Tennessee

Under Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee was a well-oiled machine. Not the 2008 or 2005 versions—let’s leave those out of this—but Fulmer’s average year is something that would now be embraced with open arms.

Since 2007, the Vols have reached the seven-win threshold only once.  The rise of other programs in the SEC has certainly hindered their rebuilding efforts along with the overall results, although instability in the coaching staff has aided this seesaw movement.

After Lane Kiffin stopped by for a cup of coffee, Derek Dooley followed with an emphatic thud. Butch Jones’ arrival has shifted the perception of the program, even if the long-term results are still a tremendous work in progress.

Although the 29-21 loss to Missouri at home on Saturday could be viewed as an opportunity lost—and it was—the long-term outlook with Tennessee is oozing with optimism.

Even after losing talent across both lines, the Vols look more competent and competitive than they have in quite some time. And with the No. 5-ranked recruiting class, according to 247 Sports, set to join a roster that has been infused with young talent, there are reasons to believe this is starting to turn.

Whether it will be enough for Tennessee to break through amidst the madness of the SEC is another conversation entirely. This is one to keep an eye on moving forward, assuming Jones stays in Knoxville to see his master plan through.

 

Notre Dame

Perhaps my childhood memories were exaggerated some.

Since 1993, Notre Dame has won double-digit games only three times. It seems like it has to be more than that given the perception—especially with some glimpses of greatness over the past few years—although the overall results haven’t budged much.

Our expectation clocks were turned sideways when Notre Dame tiptoed its way past minefield after minefield and into the national championship only a few short seasons ago. The explosion came shortly after thanks to Alabama. This was then followed by a slew of Brian-Kelly-to-the-NFL roars.

Since then, the Irish have been unable to duplicate this success.

It looked as though that was changing in 2014, and then Florida State happened. Since losing to the Seminoles in controversial fashion late, the Irish are 1-4. The lone victory came against Navy, although even this wasn’t easy. It’s the losses at home to Northwestern and then Louisville that have us wondering whether this team is starting to regress.

Injuries and youth have played a role in Notre Dame’s late-season demise, although nothing has been more performance-draining than the turnovers.

In the grand scheme, the Irish have been unable to cope with a schedule that is year in, year out one of the most difficult in the country. But with years of successful recruiting and more help on the horizon, Notre Dame has a chance to capture lightning in a bottle once more.

There is so much talented youth on this current team; its development will be a story to watch moving forward.

 

Virginia Tech

No fall from grace has been less publicized and more pronounced than Virginia Tech, which just lost a game against a team that has run the ball 359 times for 415 yards this season.

The Hokies’ 6-3 defeat to Wake Forest on Saturday was the culmination of its 2014 offensive woes. What’s most concerning about Virginia Tech, however, is that this offensive outage has been in the works for quite some time.

VT #Hokies points per game: 2010 33.9 2011 27.9 2012 25.1 2013 22.5 2014 23.3 (cc: @BillisKing)

— Ben (@GodsSport) November 25, 2014

It was not long ago that Virginia Tech was competing for conference championships and regularly appearing in BCS bowls. After winning 10 games or more for eight consecutive seasons—a remarkable run, one that probably wasn’t given the appropriate appreciation—the Hokies have lost at least five games each of the past three seasons.

A flurry of quality in-state talent has flocked elsewhere. And although the defense has consistently delivered, Virginia Tech has been unable to recruit and develop offensive talent.

As a result, it's currently last place in the Coastal Division. Bigger for the long term, it's still hoping to compete for the top-flight in-state talent that is now heading elsewhere.

Still, a turnaround of some sort seems feasible. The defense will stay dominant under Bud Foster, and this part of the formula doesn’t require tinkering. In terms of the overall product, however, one can’t help but wonder what the future holds if changes aren't made.

 

Nebraska

The climate has shifted. The players who once flocked to Lincoln, Nebraska, are no longer traveling there in bulk. That’s not to say the Cornhuskers are absent of football talent, but times have certainly changed since the days of Tommie Frazier and Eric Crouch.

Things could be better, although they could also be much worse. Nebraska’s slide back toward the middle of the pack—a Top 25 team and rarely anything more—is a position some former powers would envy.

As was evident in the team’s 28-24 home loss to Minnesota in Week 13, however, it’s been a string of close calls blended with a handful of truly horrifying, stat-shattering losses that have limited this team’s growth. The defense, in particular, is a product light-years from its former identity.

It’s unreasonable to expect Nebraska to return to its 1993-2001 form. But it’s not unreasonable to demand that the current head coach deliver more competitive performances when playing Top 25 opponents. There’s a balance to be had. In recent years, it’s been hard to find.

Bo Pelini’s future at the program will ultimately shape its tenure. It will never be in bad hands under his guidance, but you can’t help but wonder just how high the ceiling is set.

 

Penn State

Any reasonable human being with reasonable expectations didn’t expect James Franklin to set the football world on fire in his first year in the Big Ten. With that out in the open—and the uniqueness of the situation taken into account—losing to Illinois, as it did last Saturday, was never in the plans.

That performance served as a notice of sorts.

The scandal and sanctions that rocked Penn State put this program on a different path than any other program in the history of the sport. The roster attrition parlayed with various coaching changes and lingering bowl ban made life incredibly challenging.

With the bowl ban complete and scholarships restored, however, Franklin now has the task of adding depth and top-end talent to the roster. Penn State is currently ranked No. 14, according to 247Sports’ team rankings, which is a sign that help is coming.

There is room to grow in the Big Ten, especially given the way Michigan is fighting a similar—but also drastically different—uphill battle. The switch won’t suddenly be flipped overnight, although Franklin’s track record at Vanderbilt brings hope that the upward climb is inevitable.

 

Let Rebuilding Begin (or Continue)

The answer to all rebuilding problems is to hire Nick Saban. Given recent history, Jimbo Fisher wouldn’t be a bad option either.

When these scenarios aren’t feasible, other avenues must be explored.

In the end, it boils down to finding a coach capable of leading a program, providing this coach with the necessary financial means to assemble a strong staff (while also ensuring that he can keep this staff together) and, of course, recruiting. These checklist items are in many ways intertwined, although recruiting might as well be written in bold, size-128 font.

The premise is simple, although the execution is anything but. It’s why some of the greatest college football powers of our lifetimes have been unable to find their previous, dominant selves. 

There are reasons to believe that this will change, at least with some of the proper pieces in place for some of the programs mentioned above. Turning these pieces into sustainable success is where the blueprint gets complicated.

At one point in time, this part was a given for these powers from a different life. Now, given the weekend that was and everything that came before it, nothing should be assumed. There is still so much work to be done.

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