NCAA Football News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

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Miami Football: Beating Cincinnati Necessary Step Toward Salvaging Season

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

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

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

Here we go again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If it isn’t broke, why fix it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

For complete coverage and everything Oklahoma football, you can reach Sebastian on Twitter and via email at

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5 Arkansas Players Alabama Missed on in Recruiting

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

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

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

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Johnny Manziel Shows Support for Todd Gurley with #FreeGurley Tweet

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

Manziel followed up with a comment to reporters in Cleveland: 

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


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

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

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

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn certainly thinks so. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There's also the matter of perception. 

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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Florida State Defends Jameis Winston Investigation in Letter to Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nor should it. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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LSU Football: Tigers Poised for Breakout Game vs. Florida

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

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

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

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

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

Here are four Tigers to look out for on Saturday.


Leonard Fournette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Danielle Hunter 

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

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

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

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


Kwon Alexander

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

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

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

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


Jalen Mills

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

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

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

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


Stats, rankings and additional information provided by 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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Nebraska Football: Huskers D Earning the Right to Be Labeled 'Blackshirts'

It's a tradition that has been a part of Nebraska football since the mid-1960s. "Blackshirts," the earned label for the Huskers defense, has been something defensive players look forward to every year.

Prior to Bo Pelini's tenure, the Blackshirts were hung in players' lockers prior to the first week of the season. That changed when Pelini was hired.

"Blackshirts are earned on the field," Pelini said, per Mike Babcock of He did make an exception in 2013, however. The coveted jerseys were handed out prior to the season for the first and only time. In 2014, Pelini has returned to the philosophy that the players must earn their Blackshirts.

While Nebraska lost to Michigan State on the road, it's time for Pelini to hand out the jerseys. The defense has earned them.

Against the Spartans, the Nebraska defense forced three takeaways in the first half. While the offense failed to convert, the defense was arguably holding up their end of the deal.

Plus, the Huskers managed to keep Michigan State's offense to season lows. MSU quarterback Connor Cook, for instance, was limited to only 11-of-29 passing against Nebraska. That's a far cry from his 69 percent completion rate prior to the game.

It was more than just limiting Cook, though. Here are just a few highlights from the Nebraska defense's performance against Michigan State:

  • Junior defensive end Randy Gregory snagged his first interception of the season in the first quarter.
  • Senior linebacker Trevor Roach recorded an impressive career-high 18 tackles, which blew past his previous record of seven tackles against Tennessee-Chattanooga in 2011.
  • Four of Roach's tackles were for a loss, totaling nine yards.
  • The three takeaways marked the third straight game that Nebraska had as many takeaways.

Not too bad, is it? The defense's success is only creating more confidence, too.

“I feel like we can make big plays,” nickelback Byerson Cockrell said, per Alex Lantz of the Lincoln Journal Star. “As far as interceptions, fumbles and all that, we can make those plays. … That gives me a lot more confidence. Especially when I see Nate [Gerry] catch a ball, it’s like, ‘Man, I want one now.’”

If Cockrell wants an interception, he's in good company. Looking at the defense's overall statistics shows a group that isn't something to take lightly.

So, who should specifically get a Blackshirt? As of now, it looks like Roach, Zaire Anderson, Josh Mitchell and the front four deserve them most. If Pelini is all about them earning the Blackshirts, it's time to hand them out.

Nebraska may have lost to Michigan State, but there was a big victory on the defensive side of the ball. That deserves to be recognized, and there is no time like the present.

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Is Steve Spurrier Right to Publicly Criticize His South Carolina Team?

No one is unhappier about South Carolina's 3-3 record than head coach Steve Spurrier—and he isn't afraid to say so.

The Head Ball Coach is, understandably, still steamed over a 45-38 loss to Kentucky in Week 6. It was a game that, with all due respect to the Wildcats' efforts, was given away.

It's been a tumultuous season already for the Gamecocks, who have an impressive win over Georgia but a pair of tough losses to Texas A&M and Missouri.

Even a 48-34 win over Vanderbilt in Week 4 was classified as "embarrassing":

So it shouldn't have come as a total surprise when Spurrier again spoke frankly about his team on his weekly call-in show (h/t John Whittle of TheBigSpur):

Somebody said, "If the fans bitch, what do you think?" I just say, "They should bitch about the way we perform." As long as we’re playing with effort and smarts, I think the fans are fine.

When we can’t cover kickoffs and we can’t do this, that and the other, it’s embarrassing. I’m embarrassed at times the way we play. If we play smart, fundamentally sound and get beat, maybe we can live with that. Let’s give it our best effort. We’ll keep pushing to see if we can get the best effort out of these guys.

When it comes to Spurrier, who is a walking sound clip, Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Timesput it best: "Spurrier doesn't try to be mean, it's just impossible for him to sugar coat the truth."

That's a big reason why Spurrier's a favorite with national media. He has a flair for trolling, and there's likely as much coachspeak in him as there is body fat on a professional bodybuilder.

As that relates to Spurrier's quote above, he isn't saying anything that's not true. Just about every coach would echo the sentiment that if a team is playing smart and with effort, the losses can be easier to live with—though it'd still be hard.

This isn't Spurrier calling his team a "pile of crap," a la Charlie Weis, either. Spurrier may be blunt, but he's not malicious in this instance.

Nor has Spurrier been malicious this season when talking about his team. He's been critical and at times complimentary, but he's always been himself.

That leads to another point: Every coach has a different style when talking about his team publicly, just as every coach has a different style when handling his team behind closed doors.

As the Houston Chronicle's Mike Finger notes, first-year Texas coach Charlie Strong, for example, refuses to criticize the team he has:

The more important factor is if a coach is the same person every day with his team.

If Spurrier's public comments are any indication, he's the same coach every day. That establishes a clear expectation which players are able to follow. Every coach is hard on his team—the important thing is that he's consistent with his approach.

If Spurrier is consistent, and he's been in the game long enough for us to believe that's the case, then chances are his players aren't taken aback by anything he said this week, the week before or the week before that. Furthermore, they're probably not going to be be taken aback by anything he says in the future. 

Regardless of South Carolina's record going forward, those players will continue to play hard for Spurrier and each other.


Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. Unless otherwise cited, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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Micah Abernathy Commits to Tennessee: What 4-Star CB Brings to Vols

Tennessee suffered a heartbreaking 35-32 loss to Georgia two weeks ago, but Butch Jones and the Vols earned a huge win Friday morning over the ‘Dawgs by landing a commitment from 2015 4-star corner Micah Abernathy.

The Atlanta native selected the Vols over offers from Georgia, Oregon and Alabama, among others. The decision comes on the heels of his official visit to Knoxville last weekend. 

“After my three officials, we sat down and talked about it on Monday,” Abernathy told 247Sports' Rusty Mansell (via Ryan Callahan of GoVols247). “We talked about it a little bit Wednesday and a little bit Thursday, and then I decided I’m going to be a Vol.”

He’s the latest big-time pledge for Jones, who has quietly put together a class that is rated No. 3 overall in the country.

Abernathy is a major pull for the Vols for a number of reasons. 

For starters, he's the seventh metro-Atlanta area recruit who has pledged to the Vols in this cycle. That's a huge presence for an out-of-state school in one of the most talent-laden hotbeds in the country.  

Three of those players, Abernathy included, are among the state's top 25 prospects in the 2015 class.

At 6'1", 187 pounds, Abernathy has the size and the athleticism necessary to contribute in a secondary that will have to replace senior starter Justin Coleman next season. 

While he's still raw at the corner position, it's hard to ignore the physical tools he brings to the table, as Barton Simmons, the 247Sports director of scouting, told Callahan (subscription required): “Micah is the type of player whose best football is in front of him. Athletically, he’s got all the tools you want in a big SEC cornerback. He’s got elite size. He can really run. He’s physical. He’s athletically elite. He’s just raw and relatively inexperienced at the cornerback position."

However, the largest impact of his decision coincides with the ability of Jones and his staff to go into the Peach State and beat out a power such as Georgia for a player the Bulldogs coveted.

Considering the struggles that Tennessee's program has endured over the last decade, victories such as this one on the recruiting trail are taken as signals that the days of being an afterthought in the SEC East are coming to an end soon.

“For this to be a kid that Georgia wanted and for Tennessee to come in and go head-to-head, weekend-to-weekend on official visits and beat the Dawgs, I think that really is a testament to where the Tennessee program is," Simmons said.

With Tennessee's class making noise on the national scene, the buzz surrounding the Vols program is clearly a positive factor with a number of the nation's top recruits. 

By landing studs such as Abernathy, Jones and his staff are sending a message to the nation and the rest of the SEC that the Vols program is one that is on the rise.


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

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