NCAA Football News
Louisville sophomore quarterback Will Gardner is expected to miss the remainder of the 2014 campaign due to a knee injury suffered in the team's win over Boston College.
Brett McMurphy of ESPN broke the news:
Gardner later commented on the news via his Twitter account:
Gardner played a key role in helping the Cardinals to a 7-3 record. He had 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions in eight games played. Reggie Bonnafon, a freshman who previously led the team to wins over Wake Forest and Syracuse, will likely assume the reigns once again.
Bonnafon had two touchdowns on five throws in relief of Gardner last week.
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The Texas A&M football team will play Missouri at Kyle Field on Saturday. There is a small group of players who will have a significant impact on the game.
The Aggies are 7-3 on the season with a 3-3 record in the SEC. They are coming off a 41-38 victory at Auburn. Missouri is 7-2 on the season with a 4-1 record in the SEC. They are coming off a bye week.
This game will have a huge impact on the standings in the SEC East and on positioning in the bowl pecking order for the Aggies. Missouri is still fighting to get into the SEC Championship Game, and a loss to the Aggies would likely take them out of the running.
This is a look at some of the impact players who will compete in the game on Saturday.
It's mid-November, and here we are with only two SEC teams with fewer than two losses.
That may change on Saturday, as No. 1 Mississippi State (9-0) will travel across the border to take on No. 4 Alabama (8-1) in a game that will serve as an elimination game for the Crimson Tide and further define the evolving College Football Playoff picture.
Is it also an elimination game for the top-ranked Bulldogs? Would a two-loss SEC champion have a shot at the four-team tournament? Just how good is Texas A&M?
Those questions are answered in this week's SEC Q&A:
It depends on how things shake out around the country. If the chalk holds, yes, it will eliminate Mississippi State from Playoff contention.
Judging from their first two weeks of rankings, the only way that I thought the selection committee would take two teams from the SEC is if Mississippi State and Auburn both won out. That would have put Mississippi State in the No. 1 slot and Auburn, which would have had to run a gauntlet of its own, no worse than No. 3.
Auburn's 41-38 loss to Texas A&M last week allows the committee to hit the reset button—and do so with teams from various conferences from around the country.
If Alabama beats the Bulldogs, the Crimson Tide would be No. 1 or No. 2 next week along with Florida State, Oregon and TCU or Baylor in the four-team bracket assuming no upsets happen this weekend. Those are four teams from four different conferences not including Ohio State, which has a relatively clear path to the Big Ten championship. Conference titles are a point of emphasis for the committee, and we won't know how much until Selection Sunday.
My gut feeling is that the Bulldogs would be behind the Buckeyes in the Playoff pecking order assuming the chalk holds. That shouldn't be the case because winning a conference title only has a loose correlation to being an elite football team—especially since all conferences aren't created equal.
An increased emphasis on conference championships does correlate with expanding Playoff fields. That could lead to a devastating case of Playoff buyer's remorse in Starkville.
Of course, it might not matter. Mississippi State could still win out and, if Auburn beats Alabama in the Iron Bowl, would still go to Atlanta.
It's certainly possible. It may be one of those Lloyd Christmas "one in a million" shots from Dumb & Dumber, but it's possible nonetheless.
If that SEC team is Georgia, Auburn or Ole Miss—all of which still have an outside shot of making it to Atlanta—it'd have a reasonably strong case to be the top two-loss team in the country. That'd place it behind Florida State, Oregon/Arizona State, TCU, Baylor and Ohio State if those teams win out, but it wouldn't take too many dominoes to fall for a two-loss team to get into the mix.
A two-loss Missouri team wouldn't get the same benefit of the doubt, though. The Tigers are currently unranked, and games vs. Texas A&M, Tennessee and Arkansas won't move the meter with the selection committee all that much. Toss in a home loss to Indiana on the resume, and the Tigers are out.
We've seen chaos happen down the stretch several times, including last season when Michigan State's upset of Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game cleared the road for Auburn to head to Pasadena for the BCS National Championship Game.
If one or two dominoes fall, a two-loss SEC champ could follow in its footsteps. Now, a real curveball would be if a two-loss SEC East team wins the SEC title over Alabama, and one-loss Mississippi State is sitting there waiting.
Good luck with that scenario, selection committee.
No, not a chance.
The Auburn win was impressive, no doubt. And as I wrote earlier in the week, the future looks very bright in College Station.
But the 59-0 Alabama loss is still something that won't sit well with the selection committee, the team was wildly uncompetitive during the three-game SEC losing streak, and it isn't like the Aggies earned style points in the Louisiana-Monroe win.
Will Texas A&M be ranked in the Top 25 by the committee at the end of the season? Absolutely. It should take care of Missouri and LSU at home to close the season and slide into the bottom of the rankings.
That'd be a huge step forward for a program that looked lost just one week ago, give the youngsters confidence heading into bowl practice and give the program a ton of momentum heading into a big offseason.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.
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They arrived with fanfare and credentials: Jim Mora from the NFL, Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach intent on repeating their respective program-building from West Virginia and Texas Tech and Sonny Dykes bringing his uptempo offense from Louisiana Tech.
When Todd Graham arrived at Arizona State, it was under a cloud. He was a winner—at Rice, Tulsa and Pitt. But leaving Pitt as a one-and-done head coach created a ton of hard feelings. Thus Graham arrived in Tempe and was seen as a job-hopper.
Fast-forward three seasons, and the label that must stick to Graham is "winner." Arizona State should take the field in Tucson on November 28 needing a win to clinch a second consecutive Pac-12 South title.
This is the division of Brett Hundley, USC, Utah's rugged defense and Rich Rod's pioneering spread offense. This was supposed to be UCLA's year, with Hundley making a Heisman run. Having lost nine starters on defense, the Sun Devils were expected to struggle against a quarterback-heavy conference.
The “first” new defense took a second-half pummeling from UCLA and Hundley. So Graham rebuilt on the fly, inserting experienced players who had not been starters. ASU’s defense has since shown marked improvement.
Graham’s defensive identity? Aggression. On Notre Dame’s first drive, ASU rushed five or more defenders on nine of 13 plays, even if the Irish ran the ball. By day’s end, that pressure wore down Notre Dame and created five takeaways.
Arizona State has won with an overlooked quarterback. The publicity machine has missed Taylor Kelly. But when he regained his health following a September foot injury, Graham went to him without hesitation, knowing he needed Kelly’s experience for a tough November stretch.
These Sun Devils have found a way to win games.
They have won with their backup QB (Mike Bercovici), they have won when the opponent didn’t defend a Hail Mary (the stunner to Jaelen Strong against USC), they have won when the opposing kicker fails in OT (Utah's standout Andy Phillips) and they have won when the opposing QB throws for over 400 yards (Notre Dame's Everett Golson.)
In their biggest wins, there was a fourth-quarter response. After a furious rally pulled Notre Dame within three points at 34-31, the Sun Devils had a reply: five plays, 75 yards and a touchdown. Kelly’s lone pass was a patient 40-yard throw to freshman running back Demario Richard on a wheel route.
That drive reflected Graham’s impact on Arizona State football.
He inherited a program with a well-earned reputation for underachievement. Dennis Erickson’s teams were loaded with players bound for the NFL, but none of those teams ended with a sum equal to their parts.
Now, Arizona State wins with fewer individual stars but with a collective will that shines. The Sun Devils will be heavy favorites in their next two games at Oregon State and home against Washington State. Win those, and the rivalry game with Arizona will have national implications. Win those, and in a conference filled with fine coaches, Todd Graham will be the best of 2014.
The best Pac-12 player of 2014, Marcus Mariota, has avoided the off-game that costs Heisman contenders. No disasters like Auburn's Nick Marshall's late fumbles against Texas A&M. When Utah made a fourth-quarter push to within three points of Oregon, Mariota needed little time to extinguish upset dreams.
Mariota led the Ducks on a 75-yard drive in stunningly quick fashion. There were successful runs and a dash of speed on a screen to wide receiver Devon Allen, but Mariota’s moment arrived after an injury to starting center Hroniss Grasu stopped the game late in the drive.
Mariota watched his friend be helped off the field and then prepared to receive shotgun snaps from Grasu’s replacement, Doug Brenner. From the Utah 34-yard line, Mariota fielded a snap off his ankles, straightened up and quickly flipped a pass straight up the field to Dwayne Stanford.
The hastily thrown ball was slightly behind Stanford, but the receiver twisted to catch the ball and finish a catch-and-run touchdown—a play that displayed the poise and presence of a premier college player.
The most disappointing individual moment of the weekend was when Utah's Kaelin Clay lost a sure touchdown in a poor attempt at subtle celebration. Clay’s drop of the ball at the Oregon 1-yard line cost the Utes a 14-0 lead in the early second quarter—no guarantee of victory, but a lost window to command the way in which the game would be played.
Credit must go to the Pac-12 officials who never took their eyes off the play. While the Utes celebrated and the ESPN director cut to crowd and sideline camera shots, the game officials never signaled a touchdown. They never blew a whistle.
They threw a beanbag alertly recognized by Ducks players as a sign the ball was live. They never flinched when Oregon fielded the ball. They properly allowed the play to continue after the first Duck, Erick Dargan, fumbled and a second, Joe Walker, picked up the ball and ran the length of the field.
They were right. That should be acknowledged in a season that has seen the resignation of supervisor Tony Corrente, also an NFL referee.
Corrente resigned because he felt the conference was going a bit overboard defending the complaints from coaches. And Corrente probably went a bit too far defending his officials.
The crew in Utah functioned perfectly on a game-altering play.
Mariota is the best player in the conference but must bow to a teammate for the title of Most Important Player. Royce Freeman is neither the best nor most valuable, but for Oregon’s national title hopes, no Duck is more vital.
Listen to an NFL coach who requested anonymity on the Pac-12 running games: "Watch running backs to see how many extra yards they gain. If a play is blocked for four yards, does the back get tackled at four? Or does he gain more?
Stanford's running game this year has gained exactly the yards that are blocked. Freeman is the other extreme, the "best back for Oregon since (Jonathan) Stewart." An NFL executive simply replied to me about Freeman, "He's for real."
On Oregon’s fourth-quarter drive referenced above, the first play was a right-side run by Freeman. Two Utah defenders contacted him three yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Freeman drove through them and gained 12 additional yards. Two plays later, he stiff-armed Utah safety Brian Blechen to tack on five yards at the end of a run.
If Oregon doesn't stumble late (their rivalry game shouldn’t pose the usual challenge given Oregon State’s poor season), Freeman gets at least two games on the national stage, the Pac-12 Championship and a potential playoff spot—the chance to be the special ingredient that lifts the Ducks to a first national title.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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