NCAA Football News

USC Football: Will Trojans Finally Stop Nemesis Brett Hundley?

Perhaps no other player is as synonymous with No. 9-ranked UCLA’s rise than quarterback Brett Hundley, which No. 19 USC is quite familiar with.

Hundley has started every game of head coach Jim Mora’s three-season tenure, leading the Bruins to a 27-10 record in that time.

“He’s won a lot of football games for us here,” UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said.

Two of those wins came at USC’s expense and produced signature moments from Hundley.

In 2012, he completed 22 of 30 pass attempts with a touchdown and rushed for another two scores. Last season, Hundley tacked on two more rushing touchdowns against the Trojans.

Unless the Trojans can find a way to contain the dual-threat playmaker Saturday in the Rose Bowl, Hundley will add a third victory over the Bruins’ rival to his impressive resume.

USC linebacker Scott Felix doesn’t need a reminder.

“We always keep UCLA in our mind, and I’m sure they do the same thing with us,” he said. “[UCLA and USC] don’t like each other.”

Obviously, motivation is of no concern, but such is the case for both teams. Execution of strategy will determine Saturday’s winner, and USC may have no strategy more important than its plan to limit Hundley.

 

Pick Your Poison

This season’s matchup with UCLA is USC’s first with head coach Steve Sarkisian on the sideline. Though Sarkisian was not involved in those losses, he’s all too familiar with the damage Hundley can do either as a passer or ball-carrier.

“Brett presents some interesting problems for a defense,” Sarkisian said. “One: He can make every throw. It’s not like you’re going to take something away in hopes he can’t do something else.”

Hundley’s ability to move the ball around the field is reflected both in his completion percentage, which leads the nation at 72.1, and the numbers UCLA wide receivers are putting up.

Six Bruins have at least 21 catches on the year, and the same number of players have caught multiple touchdown passes.

The return of previously suspended cornerback Josh Shaw gives a thin USC secondary much-needed support at an opportune time.

But where USC struggled with containing Hundley in the past was via the second of his skills Sarkisian spotlighted.

“The athleticism kicks in, especially on third down,” Sarkisian said. “You look at their conversion rate on third down (42 percent), you look at how efficient they are in the red zone (97.4 percent, No. 1 in the nation).

“Those are really all a byproduct of his athleticism, his ability when things aren’t there to pull the ball down and run and convert third downs and get touchdowns in the red zone,” Sarkisian added.

Bad news for the Trojans is that Hundley is running with the most confidence he’s exhibited this season during the Bruins’ ongoing four-game win streak.

He has games of 94, 110 and 131 rushing yards over UCLA’s last four and has scored four of his seven rushing touchdowns in that same stretch.

 

Protecting Hundley

Opponents had a clear-cut strategy for containing Hundley in each of the Bruins’ two losses this season, and it’s a blueprint Felix said the Trojans plan to follow.

"We're going to be trying to get Hundley as much as we can," he said.

On Oct. 4, Utah brought Hundley down for 10 sacks. Oregon got to him just twice, but one resulted in a fumble that set up the Ducks in the red zone.

USC has not been a blitzing team this season—prior to facing Cal last week, USCFootball.com's Ryan Abraham examined how the Trojans blitzed the least of any team in the power-five conferences—but defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox cranked up the heat on Golden Bears quarterback Jared Goff.

The result: four sacks and seven tackles for loss.

Continuing to apply pressure would seemingly be a recipe for USC’s success, but UCLA has made considerable strides in the back half of the campaign.

Since a rocky start in which defenses racked up 23 sacks against the Bruins, they've allowed just six through the last four games.

“If you take a snapshot of where we are right now, where you really see it pay dividends is how much better our pass protection is,” Mazzone said.

He credited the Bruins’ corps of running backs for stepping up in that regard, but also praised Hundley for exhibiting better awareness while under pressure.

“That’s another thing Brett’s gotten better at, too,” Mazzone said.

 

X-Factors

Countering athleticism with athleticism may prove vital to USC’s defensive strategy. It’s fortunate for the Trojans, then, that they have two of the Pac-12’s most athletic playmakers on that side of the ball.

One is sophomore Su’a Cravens, the hybrid safety-linebacker who has done a little bit for everything for USC this season.

Cravens is as effective when dropping back into pass coverage as he is when blitzing, but his primary role on Saturday could well be as an additional run-stopper against Hundley on zone-read plays.

The other athletic X-factor for USC is defensive tackle Leonard Williams, whom Mazzone called, “one of the best [defensive] linemen in this conference.”

When Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy gashed USC for 181 yards on the ground, the Eagles left Williams unblocked. Murphy dictated his reads based on Williams’ location.

Since that game, however, Williams put together one of his best individual performances of the year in the Trojans’ win at Arizona. He helped negate Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon’s ability to make plays on the ground with eight tackles and two sacks.

Of course, Williams and Cravens are as much constants of the USC defense as Hundley is in the UCLA offense.

Where Saturday’s outcome could be decided is the from contribution of role players—role players like sophomore linebacker Quinton Powell, a revelation for the Trojans’ pass rush in recent weeks.

Powell recorded his first sack of the season against Cal and made his first tackle for loss the previous game at Washington State.

“We’ve adjusted his role some,” Sarkisian explained. “We put him back into a role of what he’s comfortable doing and what he did in high school. That’s rushing the passer. In some of the obvious passing situations, we’re able to get him on the field and he’s been effective.”

Powell and Felix both stepped up with starter J.R. Tavai injured, but Jordan Moore of USCTrojans.com reports Tavai is set to return to give Wilcox more blitzing options.

And, certainly, the more options USC has on defense, the better. Stopping Hundley is going to require an all-hands-on-deck effort.

 

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

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How 4-Star Javon Patterson's Commitment to Ole Miss Shakes Up SEC Landscape

Ole Miss gained a pivotal pickup for its 2015 recruiting class Thursday morning when in-state standout Javon Patterson pledged to the Rebels. The 4-star offensive lineman selected Ole Miss from a final group of favorites that included Auburn and Mississippi State:

Patterson, a senior at Petal High School, is the 14th commitment for head coach Hugh Freeze. The Rebels have assembled another strong class, one that now rates 19th nationally in 247Sports' composite rankings and still has room to expand.

Considered a blue-chip prospect, Patterson becomes the team's top-rated recruit in a group that features five composite 4-star players. He joins coveted Tennessee offensive tackle Drew Richmond as building blocks for a strong offensive front in Oxford.

Patterson, a U.S. Army All-American Bowl selection, follows the footsteps of top-ranked 2014 guard Roderick Taylor, another in-state standout who signed with the program in February. There are mounting reasons for Rebels fans to be excited about a future rushing attack that's also set to add promising 2015 Georgia running back Eric Swinney.

While Ole Miss moves forward with its new prized pledge, let's take a look at teams left exploring other options. Patterson previously told 247Sports reporter Keith Niebuhr (subscription required) that along with Ole Miss, his top five featured Auburn, Alabama, Mississippi State and Florida.

 

Alabama

The Crimson Tide already hold commitments from an impressive collection of 2015 offensive linemen. It became clear in recent months that Auburn was the program most likely to lure Patterson to the state of Alabama.

Nick Saban landed No. 1 overall tackle Cam Robinson last signing day, and he quickly developed into an anchor up front for the team. Tremendous reinforcements are on the way next year.

Lester Cotton, Brandon Kennedy, Richie Petitbon and Dallas Warmack are all 4-star linemen who've committed to the Crimson Tide. Still, Saban remains on the hunt, and 6'7" Maryland product Isaiah Prince may be at the forefront of that charge.

 

Auburn

Behind Ole Miss, Auburn was picked most as Patterson's potential landing spot in 247Sports' Crystal Ball projections. He visited campus multiple times throughout the year, including an October trip to watch the Tigers rout LSU.

Auburn doesn't quite have the stockpile of offensive line talent Alabama possesses, but Gus Malzahn has managed to assemble one of the SEC's top groups. He plundered Georgia during earlier stages of this cycle, securing commitments from Peach State prospects Kaleb Kim, Marquel Harrell and Bailey Sharp.

Auburn beat out Alabama in June for 4-star in-state guard Tyler Carr. There's a chance the Tigers would've lost a current lineman commit if Patterson joined the class Thursday.

The team is awaiting a decision from 5-star Florida tackle Martez Ivey, who deserves consideration as the country's top overall recruit. The Gators' dismissal of head coach Will Muschamp should enhance the chances of him landing at Auburn.

 

Florida

Despite a favorable initial outlook, the Gators seemed to fall by the wayside during this pursuit. Muschamp struggled to keep a once-promising class together, as his program sputtered on the field.

Florida, which offered Patterson a scholarship in May, is down to just nine commitments. The group includes four offensive linemen, but none carry a higher distinction than a 3-star rating.

The Gators once appeared to be front-runners for Ivey, but the Florida phenom is now viewed as an Auburn lean. His relationship with Florida is at least in limbo until a new coaching staff is hired.

Another potential target to keep any eye on here is in-state guard Jalen Merrick, who is spending this weekend at Arkansas for an official visit.

 

Mississippi State

This is where missing on Patterson probably hurts most. The Bulldogs identified him as a top priority early in the process and remained diligent throughout his recruitment.

Dan Mullen and company welcomed Patterson to campus for the season opener against Southern Miss and continued to keep tabs on him through the finish line. A class that currently rates 13th nationally in 247Sports' composite rankings would have been bolstered by an addition like him.

Mississippi State has thrived with in-state recruiting, holding commitments from top talents like defensive back Jamal Peters and receiver Malik Dear. Patterson had the potential to put this group over the top and potentially set the stage for a surprising top-10 class.

The Bulldogs are in solid shape along the offensive line, though this group is a bit top-heavy at skill positions. Tommy Champion is a promising 4-star tackle with a formidable frame, while out-of-state pledges Darryl Williams (Alabama), Trey Derouen (Louisiana) and Harrison Moon (Tennessee) provide immediate depth.

Mullen will aim to further fortify the position by continuing to target other possibilities. The team could look to the junior college route, where tackle Martinas Rankin remains a strong option.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Texas A&M Football: Would Will Muschamp Be a Good Fit with Aggies?

The Texas A&M football team will be in the market for a new defensive coordinator after the 2014 season if Mark Snyder is let go as expected, according to Brad Crawford of Saturday Down South. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin should try to get Will Muschamp to accept the position of defensive coordinator in Aggieland. 

Muschamp was recently fired as the head coach of the Florida Gators. Although he was an average head coach at Florida with a 27-20 overall record, Muschamp has always been an excellent defensive coordinator.

He has experience producing elite defenses in college and the NFL. Muschamp is an excellent recruiter who would have no problem adding elite talent to the Texas A&M program.

 

Elite Defensive Coach

Muschamp was a great defensive coordinator at every stop he made in college. He ran defenses at LSU, Auburn and Texas before he took the head job at Florida.

The LSU Tigers won the national title in 2003 with Muschamp. The Tigers' defense led the nation in total defense and scoring defense.

Muschamp followed Nick Saban to the NFL and coached the Miami Dolphins' defense in 2005. He returned back to the college ranks in 2006 when he took the defensive coordinator position at Auburn.

In 2007, his defense ranked No. 7 in the country in total yardage allowed. He was tapped by Texas and moved to Austin in 2008.

The year before Muschamp took over the defense, the Longhorns allowed 371.2 yards and 25.3 points per game. In his first season in Austin he lowered those numbers to 342.9 yards and 18.8 points per game.

In 2009 Muschamp produced an elite defense. The Longhorns allowed 251.9 yards and 16.7 points per game. They only allowed 2.2 yards per rushing attempt. 

That Longhorn team went 12-1 and advanced to the national title game, where they lost to Alabama. Muschamp has produced two defenses that have helped his teams to national title games. 

 

Elite Recruiter

Mushcamp is an excellent recruiter. He took over the Florida program in 2011 and signed top-10 recruiting classes in 2012, 2013 and 2014

Defensive recruits from across the country will recognize Muschamp's name, and those who had not previously considered A&M will take a look at the school.

When you replace a coach you always run the risk of losing some of the recruits who have developed a relationship with him. If the Aggies hire Muschamp, his reputation as a defensive coach should limit the defection of any recruits. It should also entice some of the recruits who are on the fence about the current state of affairs on the defensive side of the ball to take the plunge. 

If the Aggies hire an elite defensive coordinator like Muschamp, it should limit any deleterious effects that firing Snyder would have on the 2015 recruiting class. 

 

Cultural Challenges

There is the question of how well Muschamp would fit into the Texas A&M program and the College Station community. In 2012, Muschamp made a negative comment about College Station that a lot of people have not forgotten about: 

Muschamp is known to be extremely emotional on the sideline during games. It is not clear how well that would go over in Aggieland. Sumlin is as controlled and calm on the sideline as any coach in college football.

It will be interesting to see if Sumlin would be willing to add a coach to his staff who is prone to so many emotional outbursts. The Aggie fans will forgive Muschamp's comments if he puts a championship-caliber defense on the field. 

Staff chemistry is an entirely different issue. Whether or not Muschamp would fit in on Sumlin's staff is a question that only Sumlin can answer.

The Aggies need to have an elite defense if they want to win an SEC championship and compete to be in the College Football Playoff. Muschamp can put an elite defense on the field in College Station and should be at the top of Sumlin's list when he goes looking for a new coordinator.  

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Ohio State Football: JT Barrett's Case for the Heisman Trophy

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Of all of the criteria that a Heisman Trophy winner typically has to meet, J.T. Barrett is missing just one.

And that's quickly changing.

Already a record-setting quarterback at a premier program like Ohio State, Barrett's 9-1 record as the Buckeyes' starter has him on the verge of an invitation to New York as a finalist for college football's most prestigious individual award.

According to Bovada, Barrett currently possesses the third-best odds (15-1) to walk away with this season's Heisman Trophy, trailing only Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota (2-5) and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon (9-4).

While this year's Heisman appears to be Mariota's to lose, there's a compelling case that Barrett deserves to have his name spoken in the same vein.

What Mariota has done and meant for the 9-1 Ducks has been more than impressive, but the redshirt freshman Barrett's numbers have been comparable.

Mariota has compiled more passing yards, a higher passer rating and fewer interceptions than Barrett has through 10 games, but the Buckeyes signal-caller has accounted for more rushing yards and as many total touchdowns as Mariota has, with three games likely remaining on each of their respective schedules.

Those numbers would indicate that Mariota is deserving of his status as the current Heisman front-runner, although perhaps not by as wide of a margin as the Las Vegas odds currently favor him by.

But fair or not, Mariota entered the season as a Heisman contender, while Barrett was Braxton Miller's backup until two weeks prior to the start of the season.

According to one prominent Heisman Trophy analyst, that matters. Whereas Mariota's name has been in the mind of Heisman voters since last season came to a close, Barrett is still in the process of proving that his meteoric rise has been more than just a fluke, only recently entering serious contention for the award.

"If J.T. Barrett's name was Braxton Miller and he had the same stats, he'd probably be the front-runner right now," Heisman Pundit founder and Heisman.com writer Chris Huston told Bleacher Report in October.

As Huston explained at the time, outside of preseason hype, Barrett was already on pace to possess all of the qualities that Heisman voters look for in a winner.

A quarterback on a traditional power who's on track to meet the modern Heisman benchmarks (4,000 total yards, 40 total touchdowns), all Barrett was missing from his resume was a signature victory and the Buckeyes being in national championship contention.

That's all changed in the past two weeks, with Ohio State's Nov. 8 win over eighth-ranked Michigan State coinciding with the sixth-ranked Buckeyes' reinsertion into the College Football Playoff picture.

It also didn't hurt that Barrett's best game came in OSU's showdown with the Spartans, as he tallied 386 total yards (300 passing, 86 rushing) and five touchdowns in the 49-37 Buckeyes victory.

“I don’t know if my endorsement matters, but I do,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said when asked this past Monday if he believes Barrett should be considered for the Heisman. “[I’ve] been fortunate to coach some guys that have been in New York, and he’s a Heisman candidate.”

If not for Barrett's early lack of name recognition, he may be more than that.

After all, if statement games matter—and Johnny Manziel's takedown of Alabama in 2012 proves that, to at least some degree, they do—then Barrett's road triumph over Michigan State trumps anything that Mariota has done in a single game in his junior campaign.

An Oct. 11 road win over No. 18 UCLA was probably Mariota's most comparable big game, taking into account both the opponent's ranking and road atmosphere.

However, Mariota didn't fare as well against the lower-ranked Bruins as Barrett did against the favored Spartans, totaling fewer yards and touchdowns in his statement road game.

It is worth noting that Mariota and Barrett do share a common opponent in Michigan State, with Oregon handing the Spartans a 46-27 defeat in the second week of the season. While the Ducks played that game in Eugene, Mariota's numbers were still less impressive than Barrett's, with the Oregon quarterback totaling 358 yards and three touchdowns against the Spartans.

Though one could argue that while neither of Mariota's two "statement" games stack up to Barrett's, he does have two to his credit, whereas Barrett only has one.

But Barrett's 32 rushing yards and two touchdowns on a sprained MCL in the overtime portion of Ohio State's Oct. 25 road win over Penn State have proven to be a turning point in the Buckeyes' season, erasing what was an otherwise pedestrian day for the redshirt freshman.

More than that, for an award that's supposed to go to college football's most outstanding player, you'd be hard-pressed to find one who has been more outstanding than Barrett.

Reviving the national title hopes of a team that was counted out when Miller went down two weeks before the start of the season, Barrett has proven to be one of the sport's unlikely stars—as exciting to watch as he is efficient.

With three games likely left to make his case—including a potential head-to-head matchup with Gordon in the Big Ten title game—Barrett still has time to add another signature victory to his already impressive resume.

As Ohio State builds a Heisman campaign for its star quarterback, Barrett's name recognition should no longer be lacking, although even he admits that the thought of him as a candidate is somewhat surreal.

“It’s kind of crazy to think about, being that that’s really never on my mind,” Barrett said on Wednesday. “I’m just going out there every Saturday and trying to win football games. I’m grateful that I’m on that list, but like I said, the objective every week is to go out there and win games.”

That's what's gotten Barrett this far. And if he continues to do that, his already strong case will only get stronger.

 

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

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Should Will Muschamp Try to Find Another Head Coaching Job?

From the moment news broke on Sunday morning that Florida head coach Will Muschamp would be out after the end of the regular season, fanbases around the SEC began chomping at the bit.

Texas A&M, South Carolina and Auburn—three teams who might benefit from a change at defensive coordinator—all took to Twitter to lobby for "Coach Boom" to come to their programs.

Muschamp isn't ready to commit to coaching next season.

"I'd like to, obviously, be working next year," Muschamp said on Wednesday's teleconference. "Certainly after the FSU game, Carol and I are going to take a little time and see what our next step is. I'm looking forward to that next step. What that will be, I have no idea. I haven't put any thought into that."

We even touched on those three programs as possible landing spots for Muschamp on Sunday morning.

Should he become a coordinator, though?

Sure, he could probably cause a bidding war among high-profile programs in search of defensive help and join the small group of assistant coaches who make more than $1 million per year.

Long-term, though, that wouldn't be the best option.

Four years from now, if he's successful, his name will be bandied about in big-time coaching searches. When that happens, if he spends his post-Gainsville career as an assistant, he'd have to answer the question of whether or not he's capable of running a major program as a head coach again.

He should answer that question now.

I tossed out Troy in the slideshow from Sunday simply because the job is open thanks to Larry Blakeney's impending retirement. Whether it's Troy or another small school, finding a home as a head coach would be a much better option for Muschamp if he wants to become a big-time head coach again down the road.

The pay might be the holdup.

Blakeney, for example, makes $518,788 per year according to the recently released USA Today college coaches salary database. That's less than 17 SEC assistants made in 2013, according to the same database

Does money talk?

It might, but Muschamp also has $6 million coming his way from Florida, according to David Jones of Florida Today. That certainly makes the financial aspect of the decision quite different than it would be if that payout wasn't coming.

Muschamp shouldn't go the coordinator route and should find a home as a head coach next season.

If he goes to a smaller school as a head coach, produces a defense at a similar level as those in his Florida days and combines it with an offense that's much more dynamic and spread out, those same big-time opportunities would likely still be attainable three or four years down the road.

Muschamp would be better served to take that risk now rather than leave it hanging for his potential future employer to ponder several years from now.

It was a risk for Florida to hire Muschamp—who came in with no head coaching experience—in the first place. Whoever considers him for head coaching vacancies in the future will have the sour taste of his failed four-year stint in Gainesville to deal with unless he changes the perception of "head coach Will Muschamp."

Doing that at a small school now is the better choice if he wants to get back into the big-time head coaching ranks quickly.

 

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

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

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Javon Patterson to Ole Miss: Rebels Land 4-Star OG Prospect

Ole Miss has hit the jackpot as 4-star offensive guard Javon Patterson has announced his commitment to the Rebels, according to Ben Garrett of Scout.com:

It's a major get considering the 6'4" and 290-pound Petal High School (Mississippi) product was one of the nation's most sought-after interior linemen in the class of 2015. He ranks No. 50 overall in the nation, is the No. 2 guard prospect and the No. 2 recruit from the state of Mississippi.

Patterson was hotly pursued by SEC schools and received scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, among others. He told Matt Scalici of AL.com at the Birmingham Nike Football Training Camp that he's weighing offers from two conferences and and plans on making all of his visits before a decision near the end of the year:

"I'm talking to most of the SEC schools and a couple of ACC schools as well," said Patterson, who claims 11 scholarship offers currently. "I'm planning on making my decision sometime in November. I plan on taking all of my officials before I do that."

Before the interviews, Patterson had put his strong skill set on display for observers. Player personnel director Todd Huber captured this bit:

That skill set has Patterson looking like an instant starter at the collegiate level as long as he continues to progress on his current trajectory. He's a bit light for an interior lineman, but his frame allows for plenty of bulk. There's little doubt he should be able to fill out and become a 300-pound player in the coming years.

Simple technique flaws such as pad level and rolling his hips to transfer power can be fixed rather quickly, but the negatives essentially end there. Patterson understands schemes, leverage and angles while showing a good foot speed and power to drive defenders off the line. This will make him an impact run-blocker right way.

While he likely won't develop into an edge player at tackle, Patterson has the skill set required to thrive at the next level and beyond as a guard who can both hold his own in pass protection and bulldoze his way to the second level in the run game.

Expect Patterson to compete for meaningful playing time from Day 1 at Ole Miss with the potential to be an anchor on the interior for several years.

 

Note: All recruiting info courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings unless otherwise stated.

 

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Teams Who Could Benefit from Florida Recruiting Turmoil

The fallout from the end of the Will Muschamp era at Florida is continuing to have an immediate impact for a number of the Gators' chief competitors on the recruiting trail.

Given that Florida has been a traditional recruiting powerhouse, and the fact that several national prospects were heavily considering the Gators before Muschamp’s departure was announced, the door has been opened for others to land players who were thought to be headed to Gainesville. 

While Florida is among the country’s most desirable jobs, the new staff will be at a disadvantage due to the work that other schools are able to put in while the search for a new coach takes place.

Which schools are among the primary beneficiaries of the Gators’ struggles with the 2015 class? 

Begin Slideshow

Will Auburn Spoil Alabama's Championship Hopes Once Again in 2014 Iron Bowl?

The best game of the 2013 season was the Alabama vs. Auburn game, which had one of the craziest endings to a college football matchup in recent memory.

This season's version of the Iron Bowl is sure to be another classic.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss who will be victorious in the 2014 edition.

Who do you think will win?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Arkansas Got That Elusive SEC Win, but Can It Play Spoiler vs. Ole Miss?

It took a long time, but Arkansas got off the schneid in a big way on Saturday, shutting out LSU 17-0 to earn its first SEC win since Oct. 13, 2012. 

What's next for head coach Bret Bielema's Razorbacks? Could it be a—gasp—winning streak?

The 5-5 Hogs are only 3.5-point underdogs at home to No. 8 Ole Miss on Saturday afternoon, per Odds Shark, as they look to put an end to the Rebels' faint SEC West title hopes. If the Rebels win out and Auburn beats Alabama next weekend, the Rebels would advance to the SEC Championship Game for the first time in program history.

It isn't just Arkansas' bruising running game that's standing in the way of Ole Miss' run to Atlanta, it's the Hogs defense.

In his first year as defensive coordinator in Fayetteville, Robb Smith's defense is giving up just 340.6 yards per game and only 291.0 per game in November, as the Hogs have played Mississippi State close and then shut down the Tigers.

Meanwhile, what is Ole Miss' offense now?

It seems like months ago when wide receiver Laquon Treadwell went out with a season-ending ankle injury, but since then, the Rebels have cruised past Presbyterian and had a bye week. It'll be a whole new ball game for the Rebels, and head coach Hugh Freeze will need receivers like Vince Sanders, Cody Core and Quincy Adeboyejo to step up.

More importantly, though, the Rebels need to find a way to run the ball. They currently rank 10th in the SEC in rushing yards per game (174.4) and have struggled to find running room between the tackles. Against a very good front four, Freeze knows his offense has its work cut out for it.

"When you watch their cut-ups, the first thing you see is that nobody is out of position," Freeze said in this week's SEC coaches teleconference. "They do what they do. They're not some sophisticated scheme, they just line up in the right spot, they correct tackles, you don't get them out of position and they have a really talented defensive front. You don't see a lot of runs even get to the second level."

While the defense has been underrated, the unquestioned strength of this Hogs team is the running game. Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins have combined to produce the conference's fourth-best ground attack (232.9 YPG) and, more importantly, can control the clock and shorten the game.

"The games that you watch on tape, when they are able to manage the early going and stay in it, that game gets short in a hurry," Freeze said. "It would be very beneficial for us to get out to a fast start, for sure."

Ole Miss is walking into a trap.

This is a hot Arkansas team that, suddenly, knows what it takes to win in the SEC. It has been building momentum throughout the season would love nothing more than to close strong, get to a bowl game and keep that momentum building through the offseason.

Meanwhile, Ole Miss' annual Egg Bowl showdown with No. 4 Mississippi State is looming around the corner. 

Trap game?

You bet this is a trap game for Ole Miss.

Arkansas has nothing to lose and everything to gain, is carrying momentum and will be facing an Ole Miss team with an offense that's averaging 55.2 fewer yards per game on the road and at neutral sites.

It may seem like Week 13 in the SEC is a snoozefest, but this is going to be a four-quarter battle between two fun football teams. I picked Ole Miss in our B/R expert picks thanks to quarterback Bo Wallace being more "good Bo" than "bad Bo" this year, but it won't be by much. 

This will be a barn-burner.

 

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

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

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College Football Week 13: Top 25 Upset Alert

Heading into Week 13, not all top teams have cupcake games. In fact, some of them should be very worried because they are playing tough opponents.

Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer gives you the Top 25 teams he is putting on upset alert for Week 13.

Which Top 25 team will be upset this weekend?

Watch the video and let us know!

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10 Biggest Questions Facing Top 25 Teams Heading into Week 13

Week 13 is a lull in the action-packed month of November. Between late-season nonconference cupcakes and lopsided matchups, it's a relatively quiet weekend. 

Thanksgiving weekend should be another story, with the College Football Playoff final four coming closer to fruition. 

Still, there are storylines to cover. From a rivalry in Los Angeles to some key Big Ten conference games, it's time to find out which games are the ones to watch. 

The only criterion here is that teams mentioned have to be in the latest CFP Top 25.

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Georgia Football: Burning Questions for the Bulldogs as Season Winds Down

The Georgia Bulldogs are in a very unique position. If they win out, make it to the SEC Championship and win that game, they have the resume to be one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff. But because of the losses to Florida and South Carolina, that could very well keep them out of the final four also.

The only thing the Bulldogs can do is win, and the rest will take care of itself. Even if they don’t reach the SEC Championship, the Bulldogs still have a lot to play for such as beating Georgia Tech for the sixth straight year and earning 10 wins for the third time in four seasons.

But there some burning questions for the Bulldogs the need to be answered as the season winds down.

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Bowl Projections 2014: Updated College Playoff Predictions Before Week 13

If you think political arguments around elections get heated, just wait until the final College Football Playoff poll is released.

With teams jostling for style points and strength-of-schedule boosts, the final few weeks of the 2014 season are bound to be entertaining and packed with thrilling action. Week 13 is light on marquee matchups, but Week 14 and the conference-championship showdowns are bound to shed some light on which teams are the best four in the nation. 

With that in mind, here is a look at some updated playoff projections before getting into a discussion about the latest College Football Playoff Top 25 poll.

 

Playoff Projections

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Baylor

Rose Bowl: No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 3 Oregon 

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

 

Looking at Latest College Football Playoff Poll

Perhaps the first thing that jumps out about the College Football Playoff poll released on Tuesday is that one-loss Oregon is ahead of undefeated Florida State.

This is not a new development (we saw it in the previous rankings as well), but it is certainly a noteworthy change from years past of favoring undefeated teams over those with blemishes. It is a testament to the lack of respect for the ACC as a whole as the perceived worst power-five conference.

Of course, you could make the point that Oregon’s loss to Arizona was not as great as the Wildcats’ No. 15 mark would indicate since they narrowly escaped games against Washington, California, Nevada and Texas-San Antonio with dramatic wins, but that would be overlooking Oregon’s wins.

The Ducks beat Michigan State, UCLA, Stanford and Utah, which is a far more impressive collection of wins than anything on Florida State’s resume.

Ultimately, fans are arguing over semantics here if both teams get in as the Nos. 2 and 3 teams, but which squad you rank higher depends on how much you value the zero in the loss column for Florida State compared to the quality wins Oregon has racked up.

Of far more immediate interest is the battle for the No. 4 spot. It seems more apparent every week that Alabama, Florida State and Oregon are going to the playoffs, barring an unforeseen upset, so Ohio State, Mississippi State, Baylor and TCU are all campaigning for one position.

The Buckeyes are the red-hot candidate that nobody wants to play, but they still have that ugly loss to Virginia Tech on their resume. Baylor boasts the head-to-head win over TCU, while Mississippi State is getting a lot of credit by association because it is in the SEC, even though wins over Auburn and LSU look much less impressive after this past Saturday’s results.

TCU does have that loss to Baylor, but it beat Oklahoma, Kansas State, West Virginia and Minnesota. Eventually, that head-to-head win Baylor has over TCU will likely come into play for the Bears vs. Horned Frogs debate from the Big 12, but Baylor has to beat Kansas State first.

In these bowl projections, the Bears knock off the Wildcats and claim that final spot.

For what it’s worth, Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott believes his team belongs in the field even after losing to Alabama, via Drew Champlin of Al.com: "I still think we're one of the best four teams in the country. We just played one of the other best four teams in the country. It was a playoff game in my mind."

One thing fans should not overlook is the conference-championship-game factor that will likely work in the Buckeyes’ favor.

Mississippi State will be on the outside of the SEC title game looking in as long as Alabama wins out, so it won’t even be a division winner. TCU and Baylor play in the Big 12, which is the one power-five conference that does not feature a league championship game. From a perception standpoint, that could matter to the selection committee because that is one less quality game on the Big 12 schedule.

It would be unfair if the lack of a Big 12 title game didn’t come into play, since teams like Ohio State, Oregon, Alabama and Florida State all have to play and beat another quality opponent.

The Buckeyes could be looking at the dynamic Melvin Gordon and Wisconsin on the fast turf in Indianapolis in that final matchup. A win there would likely leave quite the final impression on the selection committee.

David M. Hale of ESPN.com made a case for the Buckeyes:

If the goal is to put the best teams into the playoff, Ohio State’s case is sound. In fact, there may not be a team in the country playing better football right now than the Buckeyes. [J.T.] Barrett has gone from a deer in headlights to a Heisman candidate. The offensive line has allowed just 10 sacks in the last eight games. The defense is light-years ahead of Oregon by virtually every metric. 

There are so many factors in play here, from the subjective eye test to strength of schedule (that is also largely preordained by subjective preseason rankings that frame the context of discussion about every game the rest of the season).

One thing is for sure, though—college football fans are bound to argue about it well after the final poll is released.

 

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Oklahoma State vs. Baylor: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

How the Baylor Bears perform Saturday night against the Oklahoma State Cowboys will decide much about the race to the inaugural College Football Playoff.

The Bears have just one loss this season, but a mostly cupcake schedule has done little to separate Art Briles' team from the flock of hopefuls in the same situation. Still, the Bears are fresh off a bye that came after a 48-14 public dissection of Oklahoma, so they might just control their own fate at this point.

Things are a tad gloomier for the .500 Cowboys, a team that enters Saturday riding a four-game losing streak and a 3-4 mark in the Big 12. Bowl eligibility and the chance to play the spoiler can be quite the motivating factors, though.

With the pressure on against a team with nothing to lose, Baylor might just stumble and ruin everything. Or not, which is the beauty of this time of year—every game matters.

 

Something to Prove

Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty understands what is on the line Saturday night.

"Each week, we have to go and prove ourselves," Petty said, per STATS LLC, via ESPN.com. "You can't get into the playoffs if you don't win, so these next three games are huge for us."

In other words, the Bears want to put on an offensive fireworks show against the Cowboys to demand the attention of the committee that decides the four teams that will play in the CFP.

It sounds mean, but that may not prove too difficult. Petty leads the nation's No. 1 scoring offense, which averages 50.1 points per game thanks to his 2,421 yards and 21 touchdowns to three interceptions. He is flanked by a number of talented rushers who post gaudy numbers when given the chance:

Now contrast that with the Cowboys, a team that ranks 91st in total defense with an average of 30.0 points allowed per game. Things have been especially bad in recent weeks thanks to a tough schedule that has seen the defense allow a minimum of 28 points in four consecutive losses.

"You can come up on them and try to stop them in the flats, but then they'll throw it over your head," Cowboys Mike Gundy said, per STATS LLC. "If you stay off of them, they'll throw it in the flat. If you throw too many people back in coverage, they'll try to run the ball on you."

The conundrum in front of the Cowboys is a perplexing one, clearly. Then again, a team with its back against the wall and nothing to lose can pull off some pretty lofty feats, so if the Cowboys come out fired up, all numbers may very well go out the window.

 

Crisis and Hope

Things continue to go from bad to worse for the Cowboys.

Starting quarterback J.W. Walsh was lost for the season earlier this year. Now the Cowboys are in jeopardy of missing a bowl game for the first time in almost a decade with matchups against Baylor and Oklahoma to close the season—and they might have just lost another starting quarterback.

This time it is Daxx Garman, who apparently suffered an injury last week, per Bill Haisten of the Tulsa World.

In other words, the Cowboys may be forced into starting freshman Mason Rudolph. So it goes for a team in shambles at the moment, although there is reason for the reeling Cowboys to have some faith.

This is a road game and the team is down some key players, but think back to last year when the Cowboys took down the Bears, 49-17. The Bears so far since their return to relevance have seemed due for a letdown each November.

In fact, the team has had three serious tests this year. One was a close 61-58 win over TCU. One was the blowout of Oklahoma. The last was a 41-27 loss to West Virginia. For a Cowboys team with nothing to lose, there is solace in the fact that the Bears are nowhere near perfect—they have recent first-hand proof.

 

When: Saturday, November 22, 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: McLane Stadium, Waco, Texas

Television: Fox

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 68.5
  • Spread: Baylor (-28)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

A sloppy outing from the Bears, such as the one against the Mountaineers in which they went just 3-of-16 on third down, can doom them Saturday, even against these Cowboys.

Luckily for the program, Petty is not the type of leader who will let something like that happen again.

The Bears have a prolific offense and will feast on weak opposition. Oklahoma State is going to bring a ton of pressure and get in Petty's face, but the attack is too dynamic for the Cowboys to fully halt in any significant manner.

A statement will be heard loud and clear Saturday night, with Petty and other starters likely not playing a full four frames.

Prediction: Bears 42, Cowboys 23

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

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Ole Miss vs. Arkansas: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

In a bit of a strange role reversal, it is the Arkansas Razorbacks that ride an SEC winning streak going into Saturday's showdown with the Ole Miss Rebels.

Bret Bielema's team finally broke through last week with a stunning 17-0 upset of LSU after being one of the nation's most underrated teams all season long with near-upsets of Texas A&M, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi State.

The 8-2 Rebels are not entirely out of the running for the inaugural College Football Playoff, but a two-game skid against the SEC by way of losses to LSU and Auburn dramatically ended an undefeated run for Hugh Freeze's side.

What Saturday presents is a game with a traditional SEC outlook as well as long-reaching implications for all involved and beyond.

 

Strength vs. Strength Mismatch

On paper, this one is a dream matchup.

The Razorbacks are that smashmouth team nobody wants to play. Bielema disguises little, instead just opting to rush the ball down the opposition's throat or lose trying. As a result, the team ranks 22nd in the nation with 232.9 rushing yards per game on average.

Viewed as a whole, the production from the bevy of rushers is staggering:

The opposite end of the spectrum is the greatest strength Ole Miss touts—the No. 1 defense in the land, which holds opponents to just 11.9 points on average.

Now for the curveball—that number may turn out to mean little Saturday.

That elite defense from a statistical standpoint has caved in the face of great rushing attacks similar to the one the Razorbacks employ. Against LSU, the Rebels allowed 264 yards on the ground. In the loss to Auburn, it was 248.

Ole Miss is not built to play from behind, so when it does fall behind to a team that is built in a similar fashion, the team has to lean on the sometimes-erratic Bo Wallace under center (2,554 yards, 22 touchdowns, eight interceptions) for a comeback on limited opportunities.

"I guess, just looking at what has occurred, you would have to say that this may not be our best matchup," Freeze said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "But we've got to play it, and we've got to find a plan to get our kids in the right spot. Hopefully we learned something."

Try not to be shocked if Arkansas has its way on the ground. It usually does, especially against teams with limited encounters with similar attacks.

 

Chasing Destiny

Ole Miss is still alive. 

Last week's chaotic results, such as Mississippi State and Auburn taking dives, have kept the Rebels afloat in pursuit of the CFP although the team will have to win out to stand a chance.

Not only does this mean overcoming Arkansas, it means not overlooking the Razorbacks with a showdown against the Mississippi State Bulldogs on the slate to close the season. The Egg Bowl is important, but so is Saturday.

"We've preached to our kids all along—you play until the end and see what happens," said Freeze, per the AP. "There's just so much football left to be played. The results (from last weekend) certainly kept us alive with some very important, lofty things that we could accomplish."

The same applies to the Razorbacks. At 5-5, Bielema and Co. desperately need to grab a win to go bowling. As Chuck Dunlap of SECSports.com notes, the Razorbacks can make some history Saturday:

Getting a win over Missouri to close the season and accomplish the feat is fine, but playing the spoiler to a heated divisional rival Saturday is even better.

The spotlight may fall on bigger games this weekend, but for two teams hanging by a thread in various capacities, few loom larger when it comes to wide-reaching consequences.

 

When: Saturday, November 22, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Television: CBS

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 45.5
  • Spread: Ole Miss (-3.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

Ole Miss is well-rested after a bye week, but this has upset written all over it. 

The Rebels play has been anything but encouraging as of late, and no, a 48-0 drubbing of Presbyterian before the break is not something that inspires confidence. This is especially the case on the road against a red-hot team perfectly equipped to slice through a formidable defense.

Look for Alex Collins and the Razorbacks to grind out the gritty yards in this contest and jump out to an early lead. From there, a few mistakes by Wallace and tempo control from Arkansas will lead to a close win.

Prediction: Razorbacks 24, Rebels 20

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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USC vs. UCLA: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

USC-UCLA week holds the globe hostage each year, but especially this Saturday as the two jockey for Pac-12 positioning and much more.

The 7-3 Trojans enter on a two-game winning streak, but a two-game losing streak in the historic rivalry as the program has suffered from sanctions and the like while the Bruins have ascended the collegiate hierarchy.

Led by Brett Hundley, the Bruins are 8-2 and winners of four straight. Those two losses have been of the respectable variety, too. One came against Oregon, the other at the hands of an upstart Utah program that also took down the Trojans.

Really, this one needs no selling. History calls Saturday night between old rivals.

 

Man of the State 

Hundley is the main star of Saturday night's marquee event, and for good reason as the junior has turned up his play a notch in recent weeks.

Over the course of his past four games, Hundley has thrown six touchdowns to just one interception. A major reason for the improvement in play as the season has worn on falls on the shoulders of those around him, as explained by Michael Lev of the Orange County Register:

Hundley now sits with a gaudy 72.1 completion percentage with 2,547 yards and 17 touchdowns to four interceptions. He keeps defenses honest thanks to his ability on the ground, too, having torched most opponents on the way to 564 yards and seven scores.

Now on the hunt to make it three in a row against the Trojans, a note provided by Max Meyer of Neontommy.com also touches on the wild state of USC over the course of the past few years:

For Hundley, an important part of the legacy-building process pertains to his ability to take down the Trojans one last time, as captured by Jack Wang of the L.A. Daily News:

The Trojans have not exactly been world beaters this season, but Steve Sarkisian's team does rank 38th in the nation with just 23.3 points allowed per game on average.

For Hundley, Saturday presents him with one of the biggest hurdles of his season, not to mention of his career. He will need to be at his best through the air and on the ground in the face of a strong rush for him and his team to prevail.

 

First Out of the Gates

It would be silly to suggest that the first team to score wins Saturday night, but for the Trojans, that might just be the key to success. 

It sure has been this season. The Trojans run away from most opposition early and often, outscoring adversaries 129-22 in the first frames this year.

Now, two of the team's three losses have seen the Trojans lead after the first frame anyway, but here is a critical detail—for all of their explosiveness with Hundley, the Bruins struggle when it comes to playing from behind.

Case in point, both of the Bruins losses this season. The team trailed by eight after one quarter against Oregon and never recovered. The deficit was seven after the opening frame against Utah on the way to the same result.

In other words, quarterback Cody Kessler (2,919 yards, 29 touchdowns to three interceptions) and lead back Javorius Allen (1,184 yards and eight scores) need to come firing out of the gates and never let off the pedal. 

In theory that should not be wildly difficult, either, as the Bruins defense ranks 79th in terms of points allowed this season. If Sarkisian's attack can draw first blood, it may turn out to be a very long night for UCLA.

 

When: Saturday, November 22, 8 p.m. ET

Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

Television: ABC

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 61
  • Spread: UCLA (-3.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

The problem with this contest is that it reflects the overarching narratives of the two programs as of late. 

USC has remained relatively the same all season—erratic. Since mid-October, the Bruins have looked the part of a title contender most figured they would before a rocky start to the season.

A player such as Hundley dictates the outcome of a game such as this. So long as he remains in a clean pocket and turns the rare collapses into gains on the ground, USC may have a hard time keeping the Bruins in check.

This one is going to be grittier than most would expect. Both programs dearly need the win, but right now the Bruins have the offensive firepower to outgun the Trojans with everything on the line.

Prediction: Bruins 34, Trojans 30

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Arizona vs. Utah: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

The Arizona Wildcats approach Saturday still alive in the minefield that is the Pac-12 South, as do the Utah Utes. The two familiar foes collide in Salt Lake City in what amounts to an elimination showdown.

Arizona enters with two wins under its belt in as many weeks, barely scraping by last week against Washington 27-26. The Wildcats need to win out and get a bit of help to squeak by and contend for the title.

Utah finally got back on a winning track last week with a double-overtime win against Stanford, but it needs the dominoes to fall perfectly in place while it continues to win.

The stakes are high Saturday in what might just turn into a shootout.

 

Fireworks Out West

Both of these teams tout ridiculously good pass-rushers. Utah's Nate Orchard is tied for first nationally with 16.5 sacks, while Arizona's Scooby Wright III is tied for third with 13 of his own.

Yet this one figures to be a high-scoring affair.

Partially thank Wildcats freshman quarterback Anu Solomon for that. The Las Vegas native has completed 58.1 percent of his passes this year for 3,058 yards and 25 touchdowns to seven interceptions, but he keeps defenses honest with his legs and has 307 yards on the ground.

Solomon is flanked by another freshman, running back Nick Wilson. He has turned 160 carries into 867 yards and nine scores this year.

While the spotlight is shared for the Wildcats, the same cannot be said for the Utes. Travis Wilson has thrown for 13 touchdowns to just two interceptions, but the majority of the attention rightfully goes to Devontae Booker, who has rushed for 1,113 yards and eight scores while drawing the eye of the pro game, as illustrated by NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah:

Considering both defenses rank 44th or worse in terms of points scored per game, the conference's next wave of offensive studs certainly has a major stage to shine on come Saturday.

Whichever side prevails will extend its amount of time in the spotlight too.

 

Home Blues

This elimination game features quite the interesting wrinkle—the Wildcats excel where they should not, and the Utes are miserable where they should excel.

See, Arizona is superb on the road. Rich Rodriguez's team has lost just once away from home this season, a dud of a performance against UCLA. But the team has beaten all other opponents in their places of residence, including then-No. 2 Oregon.

On the flip side, Utah struggles at home. Wins over Idaho State and Fresno State are great, but a loss to Washington State, now 3-7, looks horrific. A win over a ranked USC team is great, but it is counteracted by a rough showing at home against Oregon.

Orchard and the Utah defense folded in a hurry in that loss to the Ducks, surrendering 508 total yards, 27 first downs and 51 points. Coach Kyle Whittingham recently noted that his team has consistent issues down the stretch despite belief in a positive outcome, per Stats LLC, via ESPN.com.

"We haven't won every close game," he said. "We know that, but these guys believe that they are going to win every game that they are in. When it comes right down to the wire, there is a lot of belief on our team that they are going to get it done. And they have most weeks."

In perhaps the biggest game of its season, Utah is going to need to stand tall in a place it struggles.

If the trend continues, the Utes will pay by seeing their title hopes go up in flames.

 

When: Saturday, November 22, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah

Television: ESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 54
  • Spread: Utah (-4)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

The explosive Wildcats are surprisingly game in hostile environments for a team led by freshmen at a pair of critical positions. 

That experience, not to mention an offense that averages better than 35 points per game, will survive at Utah through timely forced mistakes by a strong pass rush and capitalization by Solomon. 

Look for Arizona to get an early lead and stand tall on defense. Utah can struggle at times when it gets behind, which plays right into Solomon's hands. The Wildcats live to see another week.

Prediction: Wildcats 28, Utes 23

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Louisville vs. Notre Dame: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Once College Football Playoff contenders, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are now tasked with picking up the pieces against a game Louisville Cardinals team hungry to put an emphatic end to Brain Kelly's team.

A defensive collapse and the usual untimely turnovers have birthed a two-game losing streak for the Fighting Irish, the most recent being a dumbfounding overtime loss to 4-6 Northwestern.

The Cardinals enter freshly rested after a bye week and were last seen upending Boston College, 38-19. One of the league's best defenses and explosive wide receivers create a talented Louisville attack even teams such as Florida State have struggled with this season.

Saturday is not some decisive CFP resume game most thought it would be, nor is it some critical bout the rest of the ACC will watch very closely. That certainly does not prohibit it from being a great game, though.

 

For Pride

That would be all Notre Dame has left at this point.

About a month ago the Fighting Irish were 6-0 and had the globe whispering about a CFP berth, even if a meeting with the Seminoles went bad—which it did, a 31-27 loss that started the serious downward spiral for the program.

It is quite easy to point the finger at senior quarterback Everett Golson. He has completed 60.7 percent of his passes this year for 3,044 yards but has thrown 27 touchdowns to 12 interceptions with a number of costly sacks and fumbles to boot.

In the four-game span that began with the loss to Florida State, Golson has thrown eight interceptions. The blame was shared last week, though, as missed field goals and assignments, silly flags and more created one of the worst losses in recent memory for the program.

"I'm not getting paid to make stupid decisions like that," Kelly said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "But you fall into that, right? And so I can't let our players fall into that. So that's what we talked about this week. We cannot let that affect the way we play. We've got to go play and we can't let those things affect us."

Mistakes need cleansed in a hurry with Louisville having a bye to digest the wealth of issues that plague the Fighting Irish.

Saturday is a way for Notre Dame to get back on track, but habitual, season-long errors have placed the Irish at a serious disadvantage against a Cardinals defense that ranks 10th in the nation with just 17.8 points allowed per game on average.

 

Overcoming Injuries

Louisville has had plenty of time to prepare for this encounter but will do so without starting quarterback Will Gardner, who was lost for the season a few weeks back.

If the Cardinals are to take down the Fighting Irish to grab a marquee win, they will do so behind the arm of freshman Reggie Bonnafon. Coach Bobby Petrino sounds calm with the shift under center, as captured by Jeff Greer of The Courier-Journal:

Bonnafon turned in some iffy performances earlier in the season in spot duty, but Petrino is right to point out that the backup completed 4-of-5 attempts against Boston College for 69 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

It helps, of course, that he has one of the nation's best wideouts in DeVante Parker. The senior has 25 catches for 490 yards and a score in just three games this season and will have few problems torching the Fighting Irish—his three games have read yardage totals of 132, 214 and 144.

Said Notre Dame defense certainly makes Bonnafon's job much easier. The unit allows an average of 27.1 points and has allowed 31 or more in each of its last five games. Add in potential mistakes by Golson and the offense, which will give the Cardinals even more time with the ball, and there is an obvious path to upset in South Bend.

 

When: Saturday, November 22, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, Indiana

Television: NBC

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 52.5
  • Spread: Notre Dame (-3.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

At some point the Fighting Irish will snap out of it.

Senior Day after an embarrassing month and change of football with nothing else to lose seems like the ideal time. The defense is a mess, but it helps that Louisville is starting a freshman in a hostile environment.

If Golson can take care of the football, there is an outside shot he exploits a defense that has padded its numbers with games against Murray State, FIU, Wake Forest and others.

Look for the Fighting Irish to grow up Saturday and steal a late win.

Prediction: Fighting Irish 34, Cardinals 31

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Boston College vs. FSU: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

It has been far from pretty, but the Florida State Seminoles are right where they want to be with two games to go as the Boston College Eagles pay Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium a visit Saturday.

Jameis Winston and the Seminoles are in the driver's seat with the destination the top of the ACC and the inaugural College Football Playoff. That said, last week was the team's biggest scare yet, with another comeback victory—this time against Miami (Fla.). 

The visitors are already bowl-eligible for the second year in a row and have pulled off a number of upsets and played top programs closely thanks to a stingy defense and great production on the ground.

Saturday's stage is a trap game for a Seminoles team that simply has been unable to pull away from teams it should handily defeat. Boston College qualifies, but it has proven more than capable against the Seminoles and other big programs as of late.

 

Under Pressure

It seems each and every week, the globe awaits a gargantuan misstep by Winston and Co. against various opponents.

Each and every week, the Seminoles hold strong. It took 13 points in the final frame and a touchdown with about three minutes left in regulation, but Jimbo Fisher's team survived the Hurricanes last week to keep the winning streak alive.

That said, it has to come to an end at some point, right?

"Pressure breaks pipes ... or it makes diamonds," wideout Rashad Greene said, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "And right now, we're shining. We're able to play with pressure."

As the AP notes, the Seminoles have spent 252 plays trailing this season as opposed to 93 over the course of the entire 2013 campaign. Last week's game was the third time in four outings Winston and Co. needed some late-game magic to win.

Part of the issue is the defense. The unit ranks 34th in the nation with an average of 22.8 points allowed per game. Oklahoma State scored 31 on the unit, NC State posted 41, Notre Dame had 27, and Louisville dropped 31.

The performance of the unit has not made life easier on Winston, either, who has completed 65.8 percent of his passes this season for 2,844 yards but has 18 touchdowns to 12 interceptions.

While the mark of a great team is finding ways to win, Florida State continues to flirt with disaster. Things may come to a head against an underrated Boston College squad.

 

Rekindling the Magic

Steve Addazio's team actually ranks better than the Seminoles defensively, allowing just 21.9 points on average to come in 23rd. That NC State team that dropped 41 on the Seminoles scored 14 on the Eagles. 

But the focal point when it comes to breaking down the Eagles is the offense. Senior quarterback Tyler Murphy is one of the best dual-threat players in the nation. His numbers through the air—1,293 yards, nine touchdowns to 10 interceptions—are passable, but the important note is that he leads a long line of effective rushers:

The team as a whole is battle tested, too. Against then-No. 9 USC back in September, the Eagles got a 37-31 upset thanks to five total rushing touchdowns. Two trends stick out about the Eagles, too—the team is undefeated on the road this season and has yet to lose two games in a row (the Eagles lost last time out at the hands of Louisville).

Keep in mind that these same Eagles jumped out to an early 17-3 advantage over the Seminoles last year, only to wind up losing.

If Boston College can jump out to an early lead against a Seminoles team that continues to struggle out of the gates, Murphy and Co. must put themselves in a position to kill the clock and control the game.

It all combines to one big "if," but the blueprint is certainly there.

 

When: Saturday, November 22, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Florida

Television: ESPN2, ABC

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 56.5
  • Spread: Florida State (-19)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

At this point, the Seminoles are what they are.

They are a team that is worthy of a title shot despite its love for living on the edge. Fisher's team is going to have serious issues halting the run Saturday, but surrendering enough points to lose is another conversation entirely.

It should be no major shock if the Seminoles are playing from behind at some point, but as always seems to be the case, a timely play or two from Winston will put his team ahead.

Like their meeting last season, halftime adjustments and sheer talent will win out in the end.

Prediction: Seminoles 34, Eagles 24

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ranking 5 Best Games in UCLA-USC Football Rivalry

The football history between the UCLA Bruins and the USC Trojans has been fantastic in its entirety. First playing against each other in 1929, the Trojans hold the head-to-head series lead by a standing of 44-30-7.

The series often is cyclical. UCLA holds the longest win streak between the two, winning eight straight games starting in the early 1990s. However, not to be outdone, the Trojans then proceeded to reel off seven wins of their own.

As of now, ahead of Saturday's showdown, the Bruins have won two consecutive matchups. 

Based on the significance of the contests, brilliance on the field by talented (and famous) athletes, as well as sheer excitement, this piece will look at the best five games in the series between the crosstown rivals in ascending order of rank.

Here's a look at the top five games between the UCLA Bruins and the USC Trojans. 

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