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Texas A&M vs. Alabama: Keys to Victory for Both Teams in SEC West Battle

There's no Johnny Manziel or A.J. McCarron and it's not a top-five showdown like we expected a few weeks back, but everything is still on the line for No. 7 Alabama and No. 21 Texas A&M heading into Saturday night's game at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Sure, the Aggies are reeling off losing two straight games to Mississippi State and Ole Miss. The schedule obviously gets no easier this week, but early-season flashes from Kenny Hill and Co. along with the Tide's recent struggles could lead some to believe we're in for more SEC chaos.

On the other hand, isn't it just a matter of time until Alabama becomes Alabama again? With their toughest opponents ahead, the Crimson Tide will be hungry to get back to their winning ways. One more loss would cripple a still very real shot the College Football Playoff, but a resounding win will have most buying back in on Nick Saban's crew.

With so much on the line for both teams, getting the victory will come down to executing on a few keys. Here's a look at what each team should focus on doing to get the win on Saturday.

 

Keys for Alabama

Establish the Run

For a team with the reputation of Alabama's, seeing it struggle like it did on the ground Saturday against Arkansas is akin to seeing pigs fly. 

The Crimson Tide's 14-13 win over Arkansas was ugly in a lot of facets, but none more so than in the run game. A complete inability to establish the run led to the Tide trailing 13-7 after three quarters, and they had single-digit rushing totals in the third before finishing with 66 unimpressive yards.

You may recall this matchup from last year, when Alabama was able to hold on despite a huge day offensively from Manziel and Texas A&M. That was largely due to a dominant run game, rushing for 234 yards as a unit. 

Alabama just hasn't been the force it once was on the ground, ranking 37th in the nation—still good, but not up to its standard—in rush yards per carry. But it should be a return to normalcy against Texas A&M, who has allowed an average of 240 rushing yards on the ground in its last three games. 

Arkansas shut down Alabama on the ground last weekend, forcing Blake Sims to make plays in the passing game. The results weren't pretty, and it resulted in the Razorbacks having multiple chances to win the game late.

A repeat performance of that won't go as smoothly this time around, not with the ball in Kenny Hill's hands instead of Brandon Allen.

 

Shake Kenny Hill's Confidence Early

After being the victim of Manziel's biggest moment in his 2012 Heisman season, don't expect Alabama to think lightly of youngster Kenny Hill coming into Saturday—even if he has fallen off a bit in recent weeks.

The sophomore quarterback started hot with 17 touchdowns to two interceptions in his first five games. Even though his team has suffered back-to-back lopsided losses, it only hurt Hill in the interception category—he threw for 766 yards and six touchdowns along with five picks in those two losses.

An Alabama defense that used to be impenetrable now has holes, the most glaring of which is in the secondary. The Tide rank just 34th in the nation in pass defense, giving up 208 yards per contest. 

With questions in the secondary, the onus will fall on Jonathan Allen, Jarran Reed and Trey DePriest to try and get pressure on Hill to shake his confidence. Alabama doesn't want to get in another shootout, because it may not have enough on the offensive side of the ball to hang with Hill if he gets hot. 

 

Keys for Texas A&M

Eliminate the Crowd Early

Two blowout defeats that weren't as close as the final score suggested has Texas A&M licking its wounds. But after losing so terribly at home to Ole Miss last weekend, perhaps taking an us-against-the-world mentality into one of college football's sanctuaries could be a blessing in disguise.

However, that won't be the case if Kevin Sumlin's squad doesn't start strong.

A 20-0 first-quarter lead helped Texas A&M beyond measure when it pulled off the unthinkable defeat of Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2012, but they needed all of it. Alabama made a surge before falling short, 29-24.

Hill will be hard-pressed to give his team a 20-point lead at any point, but any sort of lead at all will give his team an incredible boost. It will also do plenty to quiet an Alabama crowd of 101,821 that—after recent weeks—won't be getting very loud if it sees its team struggle for a third straight week.

Texas A&M did the opposite of getting the crowd out of it when it faced Mississippi State, and it led to the Bulldogs blowing the game open. Doing so again in Tuscaloosa will make the Aggies SEC West roadkill for the third straight week.

 

Don't Abandon the Ground Game

I know it sounds silly, so let's set one thing straight. By far Texas A&M's biggest strength comes in the passing game, and that above all else is what will lead them to success against Alabama. 

But that passing game will have a much lower chance of flourishing without at least a threat of a running game.

The Aggies executed that game plan to a tee against South Carolina in their season opener, rushing for 169 yards that played a huge part in Hill enjoying the aerial assault that he did. A few weeks later, they rushed for 137 yards against Arkansas and needed all of them in an overtime win.

Texas A&M did run the ball well against Mississippi State, but many of those 160 yards came in garbage time. Against Ole Miss, the run game was abandoned completely—they were outgained on the ground, 160-54.

Alabama is much stiffer against the run than the pass, but the main focus defensively for the Tide will be on the passing game. A few first-down runs, however, will allow for those defensive backs to sag and open up Hill to attack over the top.

 

All stats courtesy of CFBstats.com unless otherwise noted.

 

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Oregon Football: Can Ducks Extend Decade of Dominance vs. Washington?

When Oregon and Washington take the field at Autzen Stadium on Saturday it will have been 4,005 days since the Huskies last defeated the Ducks. It has been a "Decade of Dominance."

The date was Nov. 1, 2003. The Huskies had just completed their second consecutive victory over the Ducks in convincing fashion—a 42-10 knockout. Since then it's been all Oregon. Do you remember who was on the Huskies in 2003? Remember the name Casey Paus? How about Kenny James? Reggie Williams? Me neither.

How about Washington’s head football coach in 2003? Bueller? Bueller?

It was Keith Gilbertson. Gilbertson would be fired one year later after compiling a career record of 7-16 with the Huskies.

Needless to say, it’s been a long time since the Huskies took down the Ducks. Since 2004—the beginning of Oregon’s decade of dominance over Washington—the Ducks have compiled the seventh-best record in college football. Oregon has gone 103-31 since 2004—good for a winning percentage of 76.9. But more important to Duck fans is the team's winning percentage against their hated rivals to the north—100 percent.

Ten games. Ten victories.

Washington fans are about as tired of hearing the Ducks gloat about their decade of success as Dodger fans are of watching the Giants go to the World Series. They also won’t enjoy the fact that Oregon will be wearing throwback uniforms to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of “The Pick”—Kenny Wheaton's game-winning 97-yard interception return against Washington that propelled the Ducks to the Rose Bowl. It's one of the most important plays in the history of the Oregon program and a sore spot for fans of the Huskies.

In order to combat the continued dominance of the Oregon program, the Huskies made a huge splash in the offseason by recruiting former Boise State head coach Chris Petersen to lead the program after coach Steve Sarkisian fled town for USC. If Ducks fans aren’t scared of Petersen, they should be.

Since 2006—the year Petersen took over as head coach of the Broncos—he has compiled the best record in all of college football. Including his first six games with Washington, Petersen is 101-16 as head coach—good for a winning percentage of 86.3. Moreover, Petersen is 2-0 against the Ducks in his career as a head coach. His Broncos defeated the Ducks in Eugene in 2008 by the score of 37-32 and in Boise in 2009 by the score of 19-8.

While the Ducks are still considered the class of the Pac-12, the Huskies are on the rise and they present a very real threat to Oregon’s chances of staying in the hunt for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

With so much on the line and with this being such a heated rivalry, it begs the question: Can the Ducks continue their decade of dominance?

Here are the two things the Ducks must do to win No. 11:

 

Win the Turnover Battle

The Ducks are ranked No. 5 in the country in turnover margin. You would assume that Oregon would have the edge here. You would be wrong. The Huskies are ranked No. 1 the country in turnover margin. In fact, Washington has forced 15 turnovers this season and has only turned the ball over once. The Ducks have forced 12 turnovers and have turned the ball over twice. Both quarterbacks—Cyler Miles and Marcus Mariota—have yet to throw an interception this season.

The key for the Ducks offense is going to be avoiding linebacker Shaq Thompson. Not only is Thompson being considered as a Heisman trophy candidate, but he’s also scored more defensive touchdowns (4) than almost every team in the entire country.

So far on the year the Huskies have forced 10 fumbles and five interceptions. That’s 15 total turnovers. Shaq Thompson has returned four of those for touchdowns. Four!

Simply put, he’s the 2014 version Tyrann Mathieu, aka the “The Honey Badger.” You’ll remember that Mathieu finished fifth in the Heisman vote for LSU in 2011 and was unequivocally a game-changer for the Tigers.

The key for the Ducks offense will be keeping control of the ball and avoiding Shaq Thompson at all costs. The Ducks have only turned the ball over twice this season; however, both turnovers came in their lone loss of the season to Arizona. This much is clear: If the Ducks don’t turn the ball over, they’re going to win the game.

Let’s not forget about what Oregon’s defense needs to do against Cyler Miles and company. Miles and the Washington offense have only turned the ball over once this season—a fumble against Illinois. While the Ducks defense has forced 12 turnovers this season—six interceptions and six fumble recoveries—they’re going to have to force Miles—a sophomore—into making some mistakes.

There may not be a turnover in this game with the way both offenses have been able to protect the ball. However, if Oregon manages to just get the ball one more time to Marcus Mariota it could be the difference between a tight game and a blowout.

 

Let Mariota do Mariota Things

Speaking of the Heisman favorite. After two straight conference games in which the Ducks offensive line failed to allow Mariota to play from the pocket, the O-line finally got Mariota the space and protection he needed against UCLA last weekend.

In contests against Arizona and Washington, Mariota was sacked 12 times. For comparison's sake, Mariota was only sacked 18 times during the entire 2013 season and 17 times during the 2012 season.

While Mariota was still able to score eight touchdowns against Arizona and Washington State, he wasn’t able to consistently move the offense down the field and generate points. However, against UCLA—due to the return of left tackle Jake Fisher—the Ducks scored 42 points in three quarters and Mariota accounted for 285 yards—210 passing, 75 rushing—and four scores before the Ducks let off the gas early in the fourth quarter.

The motto for Oregon’s offense for the rest of the season should be to let Mariota do Mariota things. In order for Mariota to do his thing, Oregon’s O-line is going to have to produce as well as they did against a subpar UCLA defense.

The Washington Huskies defense will provide a much stiffer test for Oregon’s O-line. The Huskies rank No. 2 in the country in team sacks this year with 24—an average of four per game. Moreover, Washington has two players ranked within the top five in terms of individual sacks this season. Hau’Oli Kikaha—a senior linebacker—is ranked No. 2 in the country with 10 sacks this season. Danny Shelton—a senior defensive lineman—is ranked No. 5 in the country with seven sacks.

It’ll be Oregon’s toughest test of the season. Washington is going to bring the heat and force Mariota to make plays from the pocket with pressure coming directly at him. However, Mariota’s ability to escape the pocket will come in handy. The Oregon O-line just needs to give Mariota enough time to make the determination to scramble and offer him a lane to run through. If they can do that, the Ducks will come away with a victory.

This isn’t just another game between conference foes. This is a rivalry game and a bitter one at that.

Washington would love nothing more than to shake the Oregon monkey off their backs and ruin the Ducks' postseason aspirations in the process.

The Ducks, on the other hand, have win No. 11 in their sights and see Kenny Wheaton in their dreams.

 

Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.

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Oregon Football: Can Ducks Extend Decade of Dominance vs. Washington?

When Oregon and Washington take the field at Autzen Stadium on Saturday it will have been 4,005 days since the Huskies last defeated the Ducks. It has been a "Decade of Dominance...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Wisconsin Football: QB Recruits Who Wisconsin Should Pursue Heavily

Seemingly every year, the Wisconsin football team comes in with three definitive statements about the offense: It has a fantastic stable of running backs, a phenomenal offensive line and a massive question mark as to whom the quarterback will be or how well he will do.

Scott Tolzien won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award for the top senior quarterback in 2010 as he completed a whopping 72.9 percent of his passes while Montee Ball came four yards short of reaching 1,000 yards, which would have given the team three 1,000-yard rushers.

After a miracle transfer and storybook season from Russell Wilson in 2011, the Badgers have faced nothing but questions at quarterback.

In 2012, despite reaching the Rose Bowl thanks to one great game and some luck involving the ineligibility of both Penn State and Ohio State, the Badgers were dreadful under center.  Three quarterbacks started multiple games that season including Danny O'Brien, Curt Phillips and Joel Stave.

Last season, Stave was the man under center; however, he struggled mightily with accuracy on downfield throws, and his lack of mobility forced him to remain in the pocket at all costs, with his brief forays outside the pocket ending horribly.

Coming into 2014, with 4-star dual-threat quarterback D.J. Gillins enrolling in January, Tanner McEvoy moved back to quarterback and Bart Houston still in the fold, there was a real, open competition at signal-caller for the team.

Unfortunately for the Badgers, instead of having four good options competing for the position, it seemed as if whoever won the starting job would be a stop-gap option until Gillins fully learned the offense or 3-star incoming freshman Austin Kafentzis got to campus.

McEvoy ended up winning the job, which caused Stave to get the "yips."  Fast forward six games into the season and Stave, clearing his mental hurdles, is back out as the starting quarterback.  Ineffective play-calling doomed McEvoy's tenure, as forcing him to stay inside the pocket is a recipe for disaster while his legs make him a difficult weapon to contain.

Conventional wisdom says to bring in a quarterback per class, even though the Badgers have good depth at the position.  With Kafentzis highlighting the Class of 2015, let's take a look at three potential options for the Badgers to bring in for the Class of 2016.

Begin Slideshow

Texas A&M Football: How Kenny Hill Can Lead Aggies to Upset Alabama

After a rough couple of weeks, Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill has a chance to turn it all around when the Aggies take on Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on CBS).

Losses to Ole Miss and Mississippi State put a damper on the team’s surprising 5-0 start. More importantly, it put a serious damper on Texas A&M’s SEC title and College Football Playoff hopes.

Fortunately, a win against the Crimson Tide would be the perfect remedy to all of that.

Here’s what Hill has to accomplish to help the Aggies pull off the upset on Saturday.

 

Assume More of a Leadership Role

Life as a first-year starting quarterback can be a trying time. However, playing in the SEC West, Hill has no choice but to fast-track his progress if Texas A&M wants to hang around.

More specifically, Hill must become a better leader.

After beginning the season on a tear, the sophomore has had some rough outings of late. But worse than his mistakes in recent weeks was his composure on the sidelines. That includes coming off the field laughing after one of his fumbles was returned for a touchdown against Ole Miss last Saturday.

“I could have stepped up and been a better leader,” Hill said in his postgame presser a week earlier following a loss against Mississippi State. “We’ll get it fixed.”

We're still awaiting that transformation.

College football teams that wish to be successful in late October and November generally boast great leadership from the important positions. A road trip to take on Alabama would be a great time for Hill to take the reins of this team.

 

Attack Alabama Secondary

It’s never easy facing the Tide defense.

According to Tide 99.1's The Game, however, the same can’t be said about the secondary:

Through six games, Alabama ranks No. 34 against the pass (208.3 yards allowed per game). That marks the school’s first time outside of the top 15 in the category since 2008.

Although the unit has only allowed six passing touchdowns, the Tide aren’t forcing many turnovers—just three interceptions—and haven’t been able to stop teams from moving the ball. In fact, opponents have recorded 200 or more passing yards in every game but two this season.

Already a pass-happy team, the Aggies should be perfectly content with sticking with the MO. Entering this weekend, the team ranks No. 3 in passing offense (396.0 YPG).

Just take a look at the weapons Hill has at his disposal. Josh Reynolds has been a favorite, leading the team in yards (476) and touchdowns (eight). In total, five different wide receivers have recorded 300 or more receiving yards, six have caught 20 or more passes and seven have found the end zone at least twice.

All these secondary concerns should be music to the ears of Hill.

 

Shake Off Turnover Bug

Through the first five games, Hill threw just two interceptions. Over the last two, he has five, including one that went back for a touchdown.

Hill also coughed up a fumble during last Saturday’s 35-20 loss to Mississippi State that went back for a touchdown. That makes two turnovers that resulted in immediate scores in a game that was decided by two touchdowns.

That has to change against an Alabama team that usually feasts on opponents’ turnovers.

“When you lose, there’s a lot more criticism or a lot more questions asked from outside than even inside,” said Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin, per AL.com’s Michael Casagrande. “The way we do things here, we’re always analyzing everything. When you lose a game or you’re inefficient, you have to start looking at things and saying, ‘What’s wrong?’”

On the season, the Aggies rank No. 115 in turnover margin at minus-six. Although the Tide haven’t picked off too many passes—just three—the defense has forced five fumbles thus far.

Beating Alabama at home is a tough enough task as it is. Hill and Texas A&M wouldn’t be doing themselves any favors by handing the Tide free possessions.

 

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

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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Can Notre Dame Score on an Elite Defense?

Brian Kelly came to South Bend hailed as an offensive guru. It wasn't a title he gave himself. It also hasn't been a title he's necessarily earned since taking over the Notre Dame program.

Only one of Kelly's Notre Dame teams has finished a season ranked in the top 50 in scoring offense. Even the 2014 offense, finally running a spread attack with a quarterback custom-fit for the head coach's scheme, is ranked a fairly pedestrian No. 40 in the country. 

While Kelly has taken the Notre Dame football program to heights unseen since Lou Holtz roamed the sidelines, the Irish's undoing has been a dominant defense. Over Kelly's five seasons, points have been few and far between against teams playing great defense.

We saw it against Stanford two weeks ago, when Notre Dame turnovers and the nation's No. 1 defense combined to hold the Irish to just 17 points. We saw it in 2013, when the Irish only reached 21 points once in games against Michigan State, Oklahoma, USC and Stanford. 

The Irish got by in 2012 behind one of the nation's best defenses. They managed to win seven regular-season games while averaging just 19 points per victory.  

If there's a signature win that stands out from the rest during Kelly's tenure in South Bend, it's Notre Dame's 30-13 victory over Oklahoma. It's the only win over a Top 15 team where Notre Dame managed to reach 30 points. 

If the Irish are going to win on Saturday night against No. 2 Florida State, they're going to have to light up the scoreboard. And after four seasons of struggling to do that against elite defenses, it might be a near-impossible task. 

Of course, the Seminoles might not qualify as an elite defense. A season after putting together the nation's No. 1 scoring unit, Florida State has taken a step backwards in just about every major category. 

The Seminoles won shootouts against Oklahoma State and North Carolina State, giving up over 30 points in the first six games of the season when Florida State hasn't given up more than 30 points twice in a regular season since 2010. 

That vulnerability, paired with an offense that Kelly thinks is finally ready for primetime, should determine which team walks out of Doak Campbell Stadium 7-0. 

In the offseason, Kelly took steps to get his offense ready for carrying the load. That meant a return to the spread playbook he utilized at Cincinnati. It also meant a return to calling plays, with veteran assistant Mike Denbrock taking over the day-to-day of the unit. 

It's helped Notre Dame make the jump from average to good thus far, averaging just shy of five touchdowns a game. 

​​"I believed that this was set up for it to occur," Kelly told USA Today. "I also knew that we had to be a lot more aggressive offensively because we were going to have to support a young defense.

​​"It's a lot closer [to what we did at Cincinnati]. We've had four or five screens for touchdowns. We're able to play at a better pace, averaging over 80 plays the last three games. We're a lot more comfortable in this style of offense. For me to call this kind of offense, it's easier for me because it's what I'm used to."​

 

That theory will be put to the test against the Seminoles. With Jameis Winston and the Florida State offense ready for a shootout, it'll be up to Kelly's offense to keep up. 

History has shown that to be difficult to do. But with Everett Golson and a set of young, talented playmakers, Kelly has his offense poised to break through. 

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Tre Madden Injury: Updates on USC Star's Toe and Recovery

USC running back Tre Madden's unfortunate luck will cost him the entire 2014 season. The redshirt junior hasn't played this season due to a toe injury and won't see the field any time soon. 

According to Michael Lev of The Orange County Register, Madden's injury will preclude him from playing at all this year:

Tre Madden, his parents and USC coach Steve Sarkisian met Thursday to discuss the tailback’s next steps, and they all reached the same conclusion: Madden will sit out the remainder of this season and prepare for 2015.

The redshirt junior from Mission Viejo High hasn’t been able to play this year because of a turf-toe injury suffered in training camp. He plans to see a foot specialist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Monday to determine the best course of healing.

Madden's father, Curtis Madden, is quoted in Lev's report as saying that the goal is for his son to be 100 percent when next season starts:

We’re moving forward. It’s disappointing that he’s not going to be able to contribute this season. But there’s next year and the year after that.

...

He wants to show he’s capable of being the type of running back he (was) at the beginning of last year.

Madden was USC's second-leading rusher in 2013 with 703 yards and three touchdowns on 138 carries. Depth at running back has been an issue for the Trojans this season. Javorius Allen remains steady with 781 yards and seven touchdowns through six games, but only two other running backs have more than 10 carries (Justin Davis, James Toland).

One silver lining for USC is that Sarkisian knows he will have Madden back for the 2015 season if Allen, who is a junior, decides to enter the NFL draft. Madden just has to prove he's capable of staying healthy to be the leader USC needs. 

 

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


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Tre Madden Injury: Updates on USC Star's Toe and Recovery

USC running back Tre Madden's unfortunate luck will cost him the entire 2014 season. The redshirt junior hasn 't played this season due to a toe injury and won't see the field any time soon...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Cold Hard Fact for Friday, October 17, 2014

Fact: Saturday's Top Five showdown between Florida State and Notre Dame will feature two starting quarterbacks who have never lost a regular-season game (Jameis Winston, Everett Golson).

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: ESPN Stats & Info

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4-Star Teammates Brad Hawkins and Ron Johnson Preview Ohio State Visit

It's Thursday afternoon at Camden High School's football field and, like most teams in America, the Panthers are working through final preparations for another pivotal Friday night matchup. For junior standouts Brad Hawkins and Ron Johnson, a Saturday afternoon game also looms large. 

The 4-star tandem is heading to Ohio State for the first time this weekend. The Buckeyes host Big Ten newcomer Rutgers, a program that hosted both players on campus earlier this month and made offers to four members of Camden's 2016 class. 

"College teams want these guys to commit so early now," said Camden head coach Dwayne Savage, who will travel to Columbus with his players. "It makes it very important to get them on campuses as soon as possible so they can really look at the school and get to know coaches."

Hawkins and Johnson each hold Ohio State offers, and the Buckeyes coaching staff hasn't been coy about pursuing the pair. Co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner traveled to Camden, a community located across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, last month to spend time with them in person.

"It means a lot when a coach comes by from pretty far away like that," Hawkins said. 

Now they'll return the favor.

Hawkins, a versatile wide receiver and defensive back, anticipates an exciting time in a new environment.

"I'll be looking at everything while we're there," he said. "The facilities, the campus, the game atmosphere, all that stuff. It should be great."

Hawkins, rated 33rd nationally among 2016 receivers in 247Sports' composite rankings, is among the north east's hottest recruits. He added offers from Maryland and Virginia Tech earlier this week, pushing his total collection of collegiate options above a dozen.

"I'm enjoying the process," Hawkins said. "I'm definitely glad teams are noticing me and want me to be part of their program."

It would be hard to ignore him this season. The 6'2", 190-pound playmaker leads Camden with 32 receptions for 405 yards and seven touchdowns through five games, per MaxPreps.

Hawkins is on pace to surpass the career-best statistics he recorded as a sophomore, when he caught 45 passes for 805 yards and 14 scores during a run to the sectional state semifinals. 

"He can make a big play no matter what the situation is," Johnson said. "I've seen him turn bad plays into touchdowns. That's what he does. He's dangerous and can score from anywhere on the field every time he touches the ball."

That's precisely why his coach believes Hawkins is best-suited on offense.

"He's a special receiver and the focus right now is really on teams that are recruiting him at that position," he said. "Some of the SEC schools that have shown interest in him have said they'd like to bring him in as an 'athlete', which means he'd probably be moved to free safety. South Carolina is still in the picture because they offered him as a receiver."

The Gamecocks are one of several squads competing with Ohio State for a commitment from Hawkins. He mentioned Virginia Tech, Rutgers and Pitt as other possibilities, though he remains open to plenty of other options.

Hawkins has kept a close eye on the Buckeyes this season. He's impressed by the way redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett is orchestrating the offensive attack in place of Braxton Miller, who was viewed as a Heisman Trophy contender.

"He's been really good so far," Hawkins said. "It shows that Urban Meyer has a good plan in place for his offense and I like the way they've handled the quarterback situation. Braxton Miller comes back next year, and then I would have a chance to spend my first two seasons with Barrett at quarterback. That [would] be exciting."

Hawkins, who views himself as an immediate-impact slot receiver, also stressed the skills of his traveling companion. Johnson, a 6'4", 240-pound defensive end, has drawn rave reviews.

"Ron is a great competitor and teammate," Hawkins said. "He's a huge part of our defense because he control things up front and plays very aggressive. Plus, he's a great athlete."

That athleticism has some college teams sizing up Johnson as a possible stand-up rusher off the edge. He's been a beast this season, blowing up offensive backfields on a regular basis.

Johnson tallied 40 tackles—including 20 for loss—and four sacks during the first five games. He takes pride in his development as a well-rounded defender.

"People look at me as a pass-rusher, but I'm a big run-stopper too," Johnson said. "I can sit on the outside and help shut things down."

His father played football at Wisconsin, and Johnson plans to attend the Badgers' Nov. 1 matchup at Rutgers. Though he hasn't been to Madison yet, the possibility of creating a legacy could eventually lure him to campus.

"That would be interesting," Johnson. "But to be honest, I'm completely wide open with my recruitment right now."

The Buckeyes are a team that specifically stands out from the pack. 

"I'm definitely interested in Ohio State and ready to check it out more," he said. "That was a big offer for me."

His options also include Penn State, Miami, Pitt and South Carolina.

Johnson and Hawkins have several offers in common. They've traveled to several schools together and are set to add Ohio State to that list.

So could this become a package deal?

"You know what, I really do want to play with Ron at the next level," Hawkins said. "We'll see what happens, but I hope it works out."

The Buckeyes have an opportunity to sell that possibility this weekend.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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How Georgia Can Beat Arkansas Without Todd Gurley

The plan for Georgia this Saturday against Arkansas is the same as it was a week ago: Win without star running back Todd Gurley. 

For the second straight week, Chip Towers of TheAtlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Gurley is not traveling with the team as the university investigates whether he provided his autograph for money, a violation of NCAA rules.  

On Thursday, the NCAA tweeted that it is still awaiting the school's request for reinstatement. 

How long it takes for the matter to be resolved remains to be seen, but Towers writes that the process rests firmly on Georgia and its findings: 

That the NCAA has not received the results of UGA’s investigation is key because it means its committee on eligibility cannot deliberate the findings and issue a ruling. Persons familiar with the process have told the AJC it takes at least 24 hours to turn around an eligibility case and the committee does not meet on weekends.

Regardless, sources familiar with the investigation indicate that Gurley wouldn’t be cleared to play even if the committee had received the report by now. According to NCAA statutes, a student-athlete who has received more than $400 in improper benefits is subject to a suspension of at least 20 percent of competition dates. Gurley’s alleged compensation exceeds that amount, sources have told the AJC.

As it relates to Saturday's game against Arkansas in Little Rock, Gurley's absence was likely expected. The Bulldogs already handled one opponent without Gurley, shutting out Missouri, 34-0. How can head coach Mark Richt win another game without his workhorse running back?

 

Give it to Nick Chubb (again and again)

Good thing Georgia has running backs for days.

Gurley was the cornerstone of the Bulldogs offense, touching the ball an average of 25 times per game this season against opponents not named Troy. Still, his 22 carries a game didn't hold a candle to the 38 carries freshman running back Nick Chubb had against Missouri in Week 7. In all, Chubb touched the ball 42 times. 

At 5'10" and 230 pounds, Chubb is built to handle that kind of punishment. 

Whether Chubb replicates those numbers against Arkansas remains to be seen, but the theme is that Chubb has to run the (dang) ball. Against Missouri, the Bulldogs handed off to Chubb 18 times on first down plays and later converted most of its third downs in those instances. 

In other words, Georgia established the tone by getting Chubb the ball early with generally favorable results. He's the primary back now that Gurley is out, so expect Chubb to be the tone-setter again. 

The knock on Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo is that he tries to get too cute when he doesn't need to be. Against Missouri, though, Georgia made no secret about what it was going to do. The Tigers were ready, they just couldn't stop it. 

Arkansas has been giving up four yards per rush on the season, a number Georgia will take any day of the week. However, the Razorbacks have done a better job against the run as of late. From giving up 6.3 yards per carry against Auburn in Week 1 to giving up one-third of that against Alabama last week, this looks like a defense that's coming together. 

Georgia could test that hypothesis with a one-two punch of Chubb and Brendan Douglas. Keith Marshall could return as well, according to Richt (via Seth Emerson, The Telegraph)

"If Keith's not ready this week I feel like he'd be ready for Florida," Richt said. "So I feel like we're getting some guys back."

What made Georgia's ground attack so formidable wasn't just Gurley; it was Gurley plus all of the other running backs behind him. The depth of this position will continue to be tested, but it's nevertheless a key group if Georgia's going to win another road game. 

 

Defense: Make Brandon Allen Win

The glaring number on the Georgia-Missouri stat line are the five turnovers committed by the Tigers. Undeniably, it's tough, if not impossible, to win a game when you're minus five in the turnover margin.

However, it's also true that Georgia managed just three points off of two Maty Mauk interceptions in the first quarter. It's not like Missouri had to claw its way back into the game right from the start. 

Rather, an overall inability to move the ball hurt Missouri. In the six possessions Missouri had that didn't end in a turnover, the Tigers went three-and-out four times. Georgia's defense hardly budged. 

Keeping Arkansas in obvious passing situations on third downs, not the turnovers, is what Georgia has to rely on this Saturday. A team isn't going to win the turnover margin 5-0 every week. 

Georgia has one of the best rushing defenses in the country. The Bulldogs front seven vs. the Razorbacks running attack of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams is undoubtedly the matchup to watch. 

Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen has been fairly efficient on the year, throwing for a touch under 1,000 yards, 10 touchdowns and just two picks. Then again, Arkansas doesn't rely on Allen. In six games, the Razorbacks have handed off to Collins or Williams 161 times on first and second downs, with the two basically splitting those carries. 

The results have been great for Bret Bielema's offense; Arkansas gets well over five yards per carry in those situations. 

So it's no surprise that Allen is best passing the ball on first down (63.9 completion percentage, six touchdowns) when play action is most effective. Tight ends AJ Derby and Hunter Henry are popular targets, combining for 23 catches and four touchdowns. 

Conversely, asking Allen to thrown on third down, especially anything longer than 3rd-and-3, hasn't worked out well

Stopping Collins and Williams on a consistent basis is difficult and probably not something Georgia will do every single time. The important thing, though, is that the Bulldogs do it enough to put more pressure on Allen. 

The styles of Arkansas and Georgia are somewhat similar in that they're at their best when controlling the line of scrimmage relative to the running game. Georgia's offense has already shown it can do that without Gurley in the lineup. The Razorbacks are a physical team, though.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

 

 

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Bobby Bowden Discusses Jameis Winston's Draft Stock

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is undoubtedly a talented player whose skills would transfer well to the NFL. But his off-field behavior has clouded his draft stock, as many people are left questioning his maturity.

Former Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden is now one of those people.

In an interview with ESPN, via Chase Goodbread of NFL.com, Bowden voiced his concerns that Winston is immature and makes things much harder than they should be given his immense talent:

Jameis has got to grow up. He does things that kids in grammar school would do, or kids in junior high would do, you know it? I think once he draws the line, and says 'I'm not going to step below this another time,' I think he can do that. But if he don't, he's going to make it mighty tough on himself.

As far as Winston's NFL draft stock is concerned, Bowden believes that there has already been a substantial drop because of all the off-field issues the 2013 Heisman winner has faced:

I think his draft status has already dropped way down, you know. But what's amazing to me about him, I don't care what goes on off the field, once he gets under the center, he blocks everything else out. It don't affect the way he plays.

That's the dilemma NFL teams will face if Winston declares for the 2015 draft. He can create a lot of distractions during the week, but on game day there are few players in the country who can shut out the noise and make highlight-reel plays like him.

 

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


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How College Football Recruits Are Reacting to the Florida Gators' Struggles

The status of Will Muschamp's job and the climate of the Florida football program hasn't improved during the 2014 season, and the results are having an impact on the recruiting trail.

With the Gators falling to LSU last weekend, the hot-seat talk surrounding Muschamp is starting to cloud the future of the Gators program. 

The primary evidence of that is UF’s efforts on the recruiting trail. The Gators' 2015 recruiting class is ranked 12th, per 247Sports. Not in the country, but in the SEC. Contrast that with the fact the average class rank for Florida in the last decade is sixth nationally, and it begins to shed light on the Gators' struggles this year.

Florida is ranked behind programs such as Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee and other SEC schools that Florida has made a habit of defeating on and off the field in recent years. The Gators currently have zero 5-star recruits committed. However, three of the nation's top 10 prospects overall are heavily considering Florida.

But why are recruits hesitant in casting their lot with a school that has been a recruiting juggernaut?

Byron Cowart, the nation’s top-ranked defensive end and the No. 4 player overall in the 2015 class, per 247Sports' Composite, has Florida in his lead group along with Florida State, Alabama and Oregon.

He was in attendance for the Gators loss to LSU last weekend, according to GatorBait.net’s Luke Stampini (subscription required). Despite the loss, Cowart is still encouraged by what he sees from the Gators on the field, and he believes they have the tools to finish the season strong. 

“Pretty much, I feel like they have it in the bag,” Cowart told Stampini. “I was talking to coach [Brad] Lawing and he said all their games are winnable. If they win the rest of their games and execute. His thing is don’t let LSU beat you twice, which means don’t go out here and have a bad week of practice. If they move on from this, this will be a lesson.”

Gators 4-star linebacker pledge Adonis Thomas is another player who is critical for Muschamp and his staff to keep. According to Jake Rowe of Dawgs247 (subscription required), Thomas is still considering schools such as Georgia and Alabama, despite his commitment.

“I’m trying to wait right now and see what happens with Florida and the season and the coaching staff,” he said. “That will have a big effect on my decision. I’m going to wait until the end, really.”

Another target who was in attendance at the Swamp for the LSU game was 4-star offensive lineman Jalen Merrick. Per Stampini (subscription required), Merrick stated that he and a few of the Gators' remaining top targets are taking a wait-and-see approach to what will transpire in Gainesville over the next couple of months. 

“I think everybody is taking that into consideration when you talk to Byron Cowart, CeCe [Jefferson] on why they are waiting so long, because they are kind of unsure of their status, if they will be here next year,” Merrick told Stampini.

After seeing Muschamp on the sidelines of his game on Thursday, 4-star linebacker target Jeffrey Holland told GatorBait (subscription required) that he’s been told he has nothing to worry about with regards to the future of the coach and his staff.

“They said everything is going to be alright, they’re going to stay here,” Holland said of Muschamp and his staff. “They are going to stay at Florida. They say everything is going to be alright. I’m waiting to see what happens.”

However, he admits that a potential change in Gainesville would have an impact on his feelings toward Florida.

“It would change a lot, because I don’t know who would come in,” Holland said. “I don’t know who they’re recruiting.”

Even with all of the turmoil surrounding the Gators, most recruits have grown up with memories of the Gators as one of the nation’s premier powerhouses.

Despite their current 3-2 record, the SEC East is still wide open and gives the Gators a chance to make a run toward their first division title since 2009.

A strong finish to the season would likely coincide with a banner finish to the 2015 class on the recruiting trail.

However, if the losses continue to pile up, it’s clear that a coaching change in Gainesville would come with a price of potentially losing out on some of the top players in the 2015 cycle.

 

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

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Grading Every SEC Football Team's Performance from First Half of 2014 Season

We’re only seven weeks through the college football season, and the SEC has already provided a season’s worth of close games, scintillating finishes and surprises.

Entering this weekend, two of the Top Three teams in the polls belong to the SEC, while five are included in the Top 10. Furthermore, the conference also boasts two of the top-five Heisman Trophy contenders—Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and Georgia’s Todd Gurley.

In other words, the SEC is stealing the show once again.

But just how good has each team in the conference been?

In giving each team a grade, we looked at a number of factors. These ranged from strength of schedule, teams beat, teams lost to, performance in games completed and similar issues.

Join B/R as we take a closer look at all 14 SEC teams.

Begin Slideshow

Why Freshman RB Roc Thomas Is the Spark the Auburn Offense Needs Right Now

AUBURN, Ala. — In order for Auburn's running backs to get back to their old selves, they might need to turn to a new face.

The Tigers are still toward the top of the national charts in almost every rushing category at this point in the 2014 season, but they haven't been at the pace set last season in head coach Gus Malzahn's return to The Plains.

With six games of a brutal schedule left—six games that most likely need to be victories in order for Auburn to stay in the race for the SEC and national titles—Auburn's running game could use a spark.

Although the Tigers suffered a tough 38-23 loss last Saturday to new No. 1 team Mississippi State, Malzahn and Co. might not have left Starkville empty-handed thanks to a breakout performance from true freshman Roc Thomas.

The former 5-star running back took six carries for an impressive 42 yards against the tough Bulldogs front seven, including 36 yards on his first three touches.

In his first significant playing time of the season, Thomas showed an impressive burst and a slick spin move that reminded AuburnSports.com's Justin Hokanson of his high school highlight film:

"Roc did an outstanding job," Malzahn said Sunday night on his weekly Tiger Talk radio segment. "We made that determination that we're going to go ahead and turn him loose against Mississippi State. He did some very good things. He's a natural runner, and you see that."

Thomas came into the Mississippi State game with the Tigers down 21-0 and struggling to get any momentum going on offense. When the former Alabama Mr. Football winner stepped onto the field for his first action before the halftime break, Auburn's attack started moving toward the end zone for the first time.

While senior Cameron Artis-Payne continued to go between the tackles for tough yardage, Thomas was able to show his all-around speed and skill on both inside and outside runs for the Tigers.

"He's definitely a different kind of running back than me," Artis-Payne told AL.com's Brandon Marcello after the loss to Mississippi State. "It worked for us. He should get more carries soon."

Thomas finished the day with more yards and carries than senior Corey Grant, who had been the "change-of-pace" back for the Tigers until last Saturday's visit to Davis Wade Stadium.

Auburn's rushing attack is still trying to find the same momentum it had when it lead the nation last season, and Thomas proved he could be the difference-maker heading into the second half of the campaign.

Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee each said the staff had planned to give the true freshman more responsibility in the offense, and it speaks volumes that Thomas got his biggest chance to date at a time when Auburn's offense was having a tough time finding any forward progress.

"We just felt like it was about time," Malzahn said. "We felt confident. We felt Roc was comfortable. He did a very solid job for us. He'll have bigger roles moving forward."

The Tigers showed last season that they can share the ball between a primary running back and not one, but two secondary backs. As Tre Mason racked up the bulk of Auburn's rushing yards in 2013, both Artis-Payne and Grant got their fair share of opportunities.

Lashlee was quick to say Sunday evening that Thomas had not passed Grant on the depth chart—the offensive coordinator said he is still confident in all four of Auburn's running backs at this point—but more carries should be coming in the future for one of Auburn's biggest offensive recruits in recent years.

After all, Thomas was given a huge amount of responsibility during the Auburn offense's roughest hour of the season, and he averaged seven yards a carry.

And, in a game that featured four Tiger turnovers, the freshman who fumbled shortly after his first career touchdown in the San Jose State game held onto the ball.

With defenses keying on Artis-Payne's power runs and Grant's speed sweeps, Thomas adds a major weapon to Auburn's offensive strategy as the Tigers look to return to their explosive ways.

B/R recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue said he expects to see Thomas carry on his high-level performances from high school into the bulk of an SEC schedule:

Even though he is a brand new college football player, Thomas gained big yards on the inside and the outside against one of the nation's toughest defenses.

Most importantly, he's just now getting started.

"Overall, I think I made the right decisions," Thomas said, per Marcello. "After we watch film I'll pretty much evaluate how I can do better."

 

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

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

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Ohio State Football: How the Buckeyes Will Look Different After Their 2nd Bye

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Uncomfortable, awkward and unfortunate. These are the words that Urban Meyer has used to describe Ohio State's second bye in the past four weeks.

While Meyer has expressed concern with his team maintaining its newfound momentum through its week off, he's also found multiple ways for the Buckeyes to benefit from it.

Health aside—every team could use an extra week of rest this time of year—a little self-scouting revealed tendencies and inefficiencies not previously noticed by the Ohio State staff.

Couple that with an additional two weeks of player development, and it could be a new-look Buckeyes that you see taking the field this Saturday in their return against Rutgers.

 

Red-Zone Revival

While the Ohio State offense has been humming so far this season, ranking 12th in the nation in yards per game (524) and fifth in points per game (44.6), Meyer has noticed a disturbing trend that could spell disaster for the Buckeyes in the long run.

Of Ohio State's 28 trips to the red zone this season, just 19 have resulted in touchdowns, a 67.9 percent conversion rate that Meyer clearly isn't satisfied with.

“It’s not very good at all,” Meyer said. “For what we expect, it’s not very good. There’s a couple styles that teams are starting to play us. It’s not the players’ fault, it’s our fault. Coaching errors—whether that be tempo—we have to do a better job.”

While four field goals up the Buckeyes' red-zone success rate to 82.1 percent, Meyer is fond of saying that he gets "paid to score touchdowns."

Plus, that number still falls well short of the 91.7 percent success rate that opponents have found against Ohio State this season, scoring on a combined 11 attempts (10 touchdowns, one field goal) in the red zone this season.

As Meyer mentioned, tempo could be viewed as an issue, as the Buckeyes have struggled to consistently find a sweet spot for offensive coordinator Tom Herman's hurry-up, no-huddle pace. It also hasn't helped that tight end Jeff Heuerman is yet to play at full strength, but Herman isn't trying to make any excuses for Ohio State's drop from last season's 95.2 percent red-zone success rate.

“We don’t care what those weaknesses are,” Herman said. “We just need [to do] a better job of exploiting [opponents'] weaknesses and not trying to beat our head against the wall into their strengths.”

Having a healthier Heuerman should help, as should an extra two weeks of film study heading into Saturday's showdown with the Scarlet Knights. The Buckeyes offense may already be clicking, but look for an even more refined version to take the field for the remainder of the season.

 

"A Million Reps"

If maintaining health is the first goal of a bye week, then player development is the second—and sometimes the two go hand in hand.

Take for example Ohio State's defensive line, where Meyer has admitted to taking it easy on starters Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett during the Buckeyes' second week off. But that doesn't mean that practice stops, as younger players take the places of their more experienced teammates.

“I’m getting [freshman defensive end] Jalyn Holmes a million reps right now," Meyer said last week. "And some of the other young players that we have to get ready to go."

Those players could include the likes of freshmen Damon Webb, Noah Brown, Erick Smith, Jamarco Jones and Dante Booker, each of whom have already burned their respective redshirts but are yet to see significant minutes in the 2014 campaign.

The additional early bye also meant for more time in the development of freshman linebacker Raekwon McMillan, who has seen the majority of Ohio State's middle linebacker snaps in recent weeks.

“You see what Raekwon McMillan is doing with his confidence with playing," Meyer said heading into the bye week. “I’m going to continue to give them as many game reps just to continue to show that maturity.”

With Meyer opting to practice his first-team offense against his first-team defense throughout the Buckeyes' first bye, the second week off led to more of an opportunity for Ohio State's younger players to show what they're capable of.

Whether that translates into anything tangible in the remainder of the season won't be determined until later, but Saturday will certainly be a start.

 

Scouting Services

While the weekly Urban Meyer Call In Show on the Ohio State Radio Network rarely delivers much we didn't already know, the Buckeyes head coach dropped an interesting nugget during Thursday's edition.

Speaking about the self-scouting that his staff often performs during off weeks, Meyer mentioned that he'll also call head coaches of opponents that Ohio State has previously played in order to trade tendency tips.

Such was the case following the Buckeyes' battle with Cincinnati, when Meyer shared a chat with Bearcats head coach Tommy Tuberville. Over the course of the conversation, Tuberville revealed that while stacking its tight ends to a specific side, Ohio State always ran a play-action pass—a tell that the Buckeyes have corrected in the weeks since.

With an additional two weeks to self-scout and seek the advice of others, it will be interesting to see what other tendencies the Buckeyes discovered that they've developed through the first five games of the season.

It could also result in potential big gains for the OSU offense, as opponents could be expecting one play only to find themselves facing another.

 

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

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Notre Dame's Incredible Rise from 2011 Champs Sports Bowl vs. FSU

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — In a short but strong series between Notre Dame football and Florida State, the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl was something out of the ordinary.

The two marquee programs squared off in a decidedly non-marquee bowl game at the end of December in Orlando. Both teams were 8-4. In the six previous matchups between the two programs, there was usually something more at stake.

In 2003—the last meeting—Florida State was ranked fifth in the nation. In 2002, No. 6 Notre Dame downed the No. 11 Seminoles. In 1996, the teams met in the Orange Bowl. And, of course, the so-called Game of the Century in 1993 featured No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 1 Florida State.

Yet here were two historic programs middling in mediocrity in 2011. The Seminoles scored 18 unanswered points to top the Irish, 18-14. The next year, Notre Dame stormed its way to an undefeated regular season and a trip to the BCS National Championship Game. In 2013, Florida State won the national title.

“You could tell that both teams were definitely ascending, and then better things were definitely in front of us,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “It was definitely going to be what's next for these programs moving forward in a positive way.”

And move forward they have. On Saturday, No. 5 Notre Dame and No. 2 Florida State will meet at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida. Since the start of the 2012 season, the Irish are 27-5. Florida State (32-2) is one of just six other teams with more wins than Notre Dame during that span. The difference between a five-loss Irish team and the No. 5 national ranking seems significant, but is it really that robust?

“There’s a very fine line between that year and the team this year,” said Irish senior linebacker Joe Schmidt, who didn’t play in 2011 as a freshman walk-on. “We’ve won a lot more hard games.”

Close wins have become more commonplace for the Irish over the last two-plus seasons. In 2012, Notre Dame won five one-score games, including victories over Michigan and Stanford. In 2013, the Irish won one more one-score games, headlined by triumphs against Michigan State and USC. Even the last two weekends of this season—when Notre Dame toppled Stanford and North Carolina by a combined 10 points—are evidence.

“The difference is they believe they're going to win, and that's something that you build into your program,” Kelly said.

Now in his fifth season heading the program in South Bend, Kelly has his pieces, procedures and policies fully in place. Schmidt said it’s tough to put his finger on exactly why one team consistently comes through and why another doesn’t. But the middle linebacker said there’s been a continual growth in the program, from Kelly implementing new practice methods to developing strong leadership and communication.

Schmidt said Notre Dame’s progress is a product of “the little things.”

For Irish senior defensive back Matthias Farley, it’s small-scale factors that differentiate between good and great teams—the slight distinction between playing a few days before or a few days after the advent of a new year.

“It’s a focus,” Farley said. “You have to take things as they come. You can’t look far ahead. You can’t get bogged down with things that happened in the past. You have to continue to hone in on your craft and getting better each and every week and not get up or down.”

Notre Dame dealt with the ups and downs in the 2011 loss to the Seminoles. The Irish grabbed a 14-0 lead in the third quarter, but Florida State stormed back and tallied 15 points in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame quarterbacks Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix combined to throw three interceptions and were sacked four times.

Asked about his recollections of the game, Schmidt is blunt.

“Bad memories,” he said. “I remember losing that game late and I remember their song.”

Irish graduate student offensive lineman Christian Lombard referred to the defeat as a game the Irish “gave away.” The tough loss, though, proved beneficial in the long term.

“It just gave guys confidence,” Lombard said. “Hey, ‘We just played Florida State and almost beat them.’ It just gave us that confidence that we could hang with anyone.”

Since then, the Irish have.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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Florida State Knows Key to Beating Notre Dame Is Containing Everett Golson

Florida State defensive players have seen plenty of Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson on film. They've seen what he can do with his arm and his legs. But to the Seminoles, the key to beating the Fighting Irish is containing Golson, not allowing him to find running lanes and turning him into a pocket quarterback.

FSU frequently sees mobile quarterbacks. The Seminoles faced Auburn's Nick Marshall in the national title game in January and have already seen Oklahoma State's J.W. Walsh, Clemson's Deshaun Watson and North Carolina State's Jacoby Brissett in 2014.

"I think the only guy I can compare him to is Nick Marshall," FSU defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. said. "He can run, he is fast and he can throw. We definitely need to be assignment sound and stay in our gaps. Don’t give him lanes to run out of."

Golson has thrown for 1,683 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions along with 209 rushing yards and four rushing TDs for the No. 5 Fighting Irish (6-0). His completion percentage is 62.5—nearly four points higher than his breakout 2012 season—going into Saturday night's game against No. 2 FSU (6-0).

The challenge with Golson is to try and keep him contained to the pocket. Stanford's defense, one of the nation's best, was able to do that on Oct. 4 as Golson was held to seven carries for 34 yards (but Golson did break free for a 33-yard run). The Cardinal also held Golson to just 20-of-43 passing (46.5 percent) for 241 yards.

But last Saturday, Golson shredded North Carolina, one of the nation's worst defenses, for 300 passing yards, three passing TDs and 71 rushing yards on 12 carries.

"It is always tough when you have a quarterback that can run and pass because you never know, even if everyone is locked down in the backfield, he can still pull the ball down and run," linebacker Terrance Smith said.

One knock on Golson is that he has been turnover-prone. After not throwing an interception in 96 pass attempts against Rice, Michigan and Purdue, Golson has tossed four interceptions the last three games.

Golson had three turnovers in the win over UNC, including two fumbles and an interception that was returned for a touchdown. Those three turnovers led to three touchdowns, but Notre Dame escaped with a 50-43 win.

"I definitely have to do a better job with that," Golson told 247Sports' Lou Somogyi. "… It's a point where you get to—just kind of fed up. I think that's where I am, and I'm definitely not going to turn it over."

It will be key for Florida State to force a turnover or two. The Seminoles have just 11 forced turnovers through their first six games, but that average increased with three interceptions against Syracuse this past weekend.

The interceptions in part can be attributed to Golson's ability to read downfield while running, something FSU cornerback P.J. Williams says is rare with college quarterbacks.

"It takes a real good quarterback to be able to, after you're running the ball, still look downfield," Williams said. "That's really what stands out to me because I've seen that in Jameis [Winston] and I haven't really seen that in many other quarterbacks."

The Seminoles have fared well at times against those quarterbacks, but each was able to use his feet to extend or make plays, too.

Walsh was limited to mostly short runs, but he did have two touchdowns, including a 24-yard run on 3rd-and-8 in the fourth quarter. Watson had 12 carries for 30 yards, including a pair of eight-yard runs and a two-yard touchdown. Brissett had just 38 yards on 13 carries, but he showed his escapability and delivered a first-quarter touchdown pass after breaking a few sack attempts.

"Running quarterbacks are always a problem," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said.

The trouble with mobile quarterbacks is that a defense can bottle them up for a few plays, but they tend to find a hole in the defense and break loose. For FSU's defensive players, they realize they must focus on their individual assignments and trust their teammates to do the same. There's no need to go off the script and freelance—or Golson will make the Seminoles pay.

"If you have him contained, contain," Edwards Jr. said. "No matter what, just do our job is basically what we have been coached [to do] this week. Don't try to do too much. Don't try to jump inside and do this and that. Just do your job and I think we will be successful."

 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report; all quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All stats are courtesy of Seminoles.com and UND.com.

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Bowl Predictions 2014: Updated Playoff Projections Heading into Week 8

We projected Florida State, Oklahoma, Michigan State and Alabama as the four playoff teams heading into Week 7’s slate of games, and we are not going to change that now.

Yes, the Crimson Tide struggled mightily against an Arkansas team that hasn’t won a conference game since 2012, and the Spartans let Purdue hang around far too long, but the bottom line is both teams came away with victories.

Elsewhere, the Seminoles handled Syracuse, and the Sooners narrowly escaped a matchup with their archrival, Texas. The game against the Longhorns may have been too close for comfort from Oklahoma’s perspective, but some rivalry games really do follow the “throw the records out” cliche.

Week 8 does not get much easier for Florida State, Oklahoma or Alabama, but the good news is all three teams are at home. The thought here is that the Seminoles outlast Notre Dame, the Sooners knock off Kansas State and the Crimson Tide handle a Texas A&M team that is likely overrated to begin with given its recent performances against the Mississippi schools and Arkansas.

Michigan State should handle Indiana based on the talent gap alone, even if the Hoosiers did expose Missouri earlier in the season.

That means the playoff projections stay intact for another week. However, they are far from set in stone with potential trap games looming. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few dark-horse teams that won’t actually make the playoffs but could realistically disrupt the path for those with postseason hopes.

 

Playoff Projections

Sugar Bowl: Florida State vs. Oklahoma

Rose Bowl: Michigan State vs. Alabama 

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

 

Dark-horse Teams That Could Derail Playoff Hopes

Louisville

Weird things happen on Thursday nights in the college football world, and Florida State will walk into Louisville on Thursday, Oct. 30 with its playoff hopes on the line.

This also happens to be the next game for the Seminoles after their prime-time showdown with Notre Dame, and they also have rivalry clashes with Miami and Florida down the road. There is the possibility that they could overlook Louisville.

As Patrick Stevens of D1scourse.com noted, that may not be the best idea:

That Louisville defense Stevens mentioned is third in the nation in points allowed per game at 14.1 and held Florida International to three points, Wake Forest to 10, Syracuse to six and Clemson to 23 in its last four games.

On the other hand, Florida State is averaging 39 points a game, so something will have to give. Considering Notre Dame’s recent turnover problems and defensive struggles, and the fact that the game against the Fighting Irish is in Tallahassee, the trip to Louisville could actually be more difficult for the Seminoles in their quest to repeat as national champions.

 

Maryland

Michigan State likely has one game circled on its remaining calendar: a Nov. 8 showdown with Ohio State that could very well decide the Big Ten championship and even a spot in the College Football Playoff.

However, if the Spartans do come away with a victory against the Buckeyes, it is not that difficult to envision something of an emotional letdown in the next game. That contest is at Maryland, and the Terrapins will likely be fired up to make a statement to the rest of the Big Ten that they have arrived, especially after missing a similar chance in a loss to Ohio State.

This one will also be under the lights and in front of what should be a raucous crowd.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer actually provided some words of warning to anyone who overlooked Maryland, via Patrick Maks of Eleven Warriors, "They’re the most athletic defense we’ll face so far this year."

On the other side of the ball for Maryland, wide receiver Stefon Diggs is one of fastest and most electrifying players in all of college football. The vaunted Michigan State defense gave up 46 points to Oregon and an inexplicable 31 to Purdue, which means there could be some holes in the secondary for Diggs to exploit. 

If he gets Maryland on the board early and lets the Terrapins' athletic defense do some work, this one could get interesting for Michigan State’s playoff hopes.

 

LSU

It has come to this for LSU in 2014; it is considered a dark horse that could play spoiler to a contender’s season instead of actually being a contender itself.

Alabama visits LSU on Nov. 8 in a game that will in all likelihood be under the lights. The Tigers were crushed by Auburn, lost 34-29 to Mississippi State and needed a miraculous final couple of minutes to beat Florida 30-27 in the Swamp. Safe to say, they have fallen off the national radar a bit this season.

LSU has no chance at the playoffs or a realistic opportunity to win the SEC West with two head-to-head losses against Mississippi State and Auburn, which means it can redefine the 2014 season with a win against archrival Alabama.

By Nov. 8, the inexperience on the LSU roster won’t be quite as much of an issue, and the combination of Leonard Fournette and the LSU offensive line could pose a problem for the Crimson Tide. If Alabama stacks the box, the Tigers could also hit Travin Dural over the top. 

Ultimately, the talent on the Alabama side may win out, but don’t overlook the Tigers as a serious threat to the Crimson Tide’s playoff hopes.

 

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Texas Tech Football: Be Patient with Kingsbury, the Future Is Bright

2014 has not been kind to Texas Tech and Kliff Kingsbury.  The Red Raiders have not lived up to the hype that followed them after their dominating performance in last year’s Holiday Bowl, when they beat Arizona State, 38-21, despite being 22-point underdogs.

The Red Raiders struggled immediately out of the gate, barely escaping games against Central Arkansas, an FCS team, and UTEP with victories.  But then they got shredded 49-28 against Arkansas and lost their first three Big 12 games against Oklahoma State, Kansas State and West Virginia.

The four consecutive losses are demoralizing, especially for a team with aspirations to be a dark horse in the Big 12 title race, and the 0-3 conference start is the first time that has happened since 1990. 

There are some positives in Lubbock, though.  Texas Tech has played pretty well in two of those conference losses.  They scored 35 points against Oklahoma State, a team that played Florida State very close in their first game of the year.  In that game, the Red Raider offense churned out 512 yards of total offense, and the defense played better than one would expect against such a high-octane offense.

And the Red Raiders played by far their best game of the season last Saturday against West Virginia.  In that game, the Red Raiders recorded more than 300 passing yards and 200 rushing yards, an impeccable display of balance that hasn’t been seen in Lubbock in years.  The defense played very well also, limiting Clint Trickett to only 301 passing yards, his lowest output of the season.

The two things that have plagued the Red Raiders the most in the Kingsbury era have been turnovers and penalties.  They tied the Mountaineers 1-1 in the turnover battle, the first time of the season that the Red Raiders have not had more turnovers than their opponent.

However, the impact of each of those turnovers could have been much different.  The Red Raiders’ lone turnover was a Davis Webb interception that killed a promising drive at the end of the first half, while they could only manage a field goal on West Virginia’s turnover despite recovering a Trickett fumble deep in scoring territory.

Because Kingsbury’s squad has been behind in the turnover margin by so much, it needs to capitalize on the ones it does force.

Unfortunately, the penalties are another story.  Against West Virginia, the Red Raiders did not limit the damage in that regard, piling on a dozen more flags to add to their nation-leading total.  For the season, they are averaging more than 11 penalties and 104 penalty yards per game.  That is an obscenely high total, making it even harder for Tech to win games.

These two particular aspects of the game have to drive Kingsbury crazy.  He told TheDallas Morning News that he has tried everything to stop the penalties, but nothing has worked. 

That’s what the Texas Tech fans and athletic department need to understand.  Kingsbury is only 35 years old and has only been a coach of any kind for six years.  He spent two seasons as an offensive quality control assistant at the University of Houston, then two as the co-offensive coordinator at the same school.  Next, Kingsbury followed Kevin Sumlin to Texas A&M.  And after one year of overseeing one of the most prolific offenses in the country in 2012, Kingsbury reached the pinnacle of coaching.  He got offered his dream job, head coach at his alma mater, and is now the head man at the same place he played quarterback in the early 2000s.

Kingsbury has proven that he is one of the best offensive play-callers in the country, but not head coach.  When he was solely an offensive coach, he had Sumlin there to handle discipline as well as defense, while Kingsbury was able to devote all of his time to offensive schemes.

Now it’s a different story.  Kingsbury has to focus on all the aspects of the game as well as learn how to win games as a head coach.  No longer can he be the nice guy on the staff, the players’ best friend.  He can still be cool, but the players also have to know that they must be disciplined and that there will be consequences for mistakes.

Tech had to know that there were going to be some growing pains with Kingsbury at the helm due to his young age and overall inexperience, and the program showed it is willing to be patient when it signed Kingsbury to an extension that will keep him in Lubbock through the 2020 season.

The current Texas Tech roster is loaded with talent, especially on the offensive side of the ball, which makes it even more mind-boggling that the offense hasn’t been firing on all cylinders.  But it’s easy to forget that the team is very, very young across the board.  Its starting lineup is filled with underclassmen on both sides of the ball.

The Red Raiders have only two seniors on offense and four on defense.  They are also playing with a brand new defensive coordinator, Mike Smith, who took over the position after Matt Wallerstedt resigned unexpectedly.

Tech is rife with youth, and despite the rough start to this season, the future is still bright in Lubbock.  The incoming recruiting class is impressive, headlined by Jarrett Stidham, the third-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the nation, according to ESPN Recruiting Nation

Kingsbury is going to be a terrific coach, but he is not there yet.  His good looks will only get him so far as a head coach, and he has the necessary work ethic to catapult himself toward the top coaches in the Big 12.

He even said so himself in his postgame press conference.  He said to reporters after the game that his team still doesn’t know “how to finish.”  That goes for the players as well as the coaching staff. 

There is no reason for panic in Lubbock.  The Red Raiders may not win many games this year, but things usually have to get worse before they get better.  Their four losses have been to good teams: Kansas State and Oklahoma State are both ranked in the Top 15, while Arkansas and West Virginia each lost to Alabama by a combined 11 points.

If anybody can bring championship-caliber success to the High Plains, it is Kingsbury.  Give him a few years for him as well as his players to hone their respective crafts, and the Red Raiders will be competing for Big 12 championships on a yearly basis.     

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