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Oregon Football: What Ducks Must Do to Avoid 2nd Straight Loss

The last time the Ducks lost two consecutive games during a single season was in 2007 when the Oregon dropped games to Arizona and, you guessed it, UCLA...

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Childhood Fandom Drawing 5-Star Keisean Lucier-South to USC

If you're a high school senior who grew up in Southern California, your introduction to college football as a child likely came in the form of a scintillating Reggie Bush sprint or a helmet-rattling Clay Matthews quarterback sack. Memories of the Pete Carroll era are ingrained in the minds of young, rising stars throughout the region, including Keisean Lucier-South.

The coveted Orange County prospect looked elsewhere when it came to collegiate options for quite some time, but recent events have caused him to reconsider his stance on the Trojans. Suddenly, head coach Steve Sarkisian and company are sitting pretty with the 5-star pass-rusher.

Lucier-South, a coveted 6'5", 225-pound playmaker who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.70 seconds, announced a top five of Oklahoma, Florida, Michigan, Oregon and UCLA—in no particular order—this summer. He disregarded USC for reasons that resonated on a personal level.

“I thought USC wasn’t really interested in me because they just didn't recruit me much," Lucier-South said. "Honestly, that was pretty disappointing because I grew up watching the team and have a lot of good memories and respect for the program. So that’s why I took them off the list. It just seemed like they didn't want me and I'm not interested in being where I'm not wanted."

He's not sure if his list of favorites sent a message to the folks in Los Angeles, but the Trojans' approach quickly changed.

"Pretty much right after I released my top five, the team started coming after me harder and harder," Lucier-Smith said. "That got me thinking."

His growing sentiment that USC deserved another opportunity culminated earlier this season when Sarkisian attended an Orange Lutheran High School game to watch him play.

That list was going to need another look after all.

“It blew me away when Coach Sark showed up to my game and it showed me how much they actually care about me," he said. "That made me reconsider things and now USC is back in the picture. USC is definitely a team I’m looking at closely. Things have changed in a hurry."

Of course, the Trojans must still contend with several other suitors.

Lucier-South, rated No. 2 nationally among weak-side defensive ends in 247Sports' composite rankings, is set to make an official visit to Michigan this weekend. The Wolverines have suffered three straight defeats, and speculation has grown this may be Brady Hoke's final season as head coach in Ann Arbor.

"It's going to be very interesting when I get there because there are some unknowns," he said. "I don't know if Coach Hoke is going to be there at the end of this season or the start of next year. They're still recruiting me hard as ever, but it's definitely a little weird and a situation I'm not dealing with at other schools."

Those other options include Oregon, where he's headed on Halloween weekend. The Ducks provide another potential Pac-12 destination and aim to upgrade the defensive front with players of his caliber.

“I love a lot of things about Oregon—the facilities, the school, the coaching staff," Lucier-Smith said. "It’s a visit I've been excited about for a long time. There are a lot of things I’ll be looking at while I’m there. It’s another opportunity to consider things before I make a decision.”

He visited Oklahoma earlier this season. Though his initial outlook on the program suggested he would only return to Norman as a member of a visiting team, that perception changed after watching the Sooners defeat Tennessee.

“Oklahoma was really a surprising visit—in a great way," Lucier-South said. "It was an excellent visit in every way. I thought it would be a small, boring town, but that wasn’t what it was like at all. I could definitely see myself living there for the next four or five years. I have a lot of love for coach (Jerry) Montgomery and coach (Bob) Stoops.”

His latest campus tour took place at UCLA, where he watched the Bruins go down in dramatic fashion. Utah pulled off a road visit to derail UCLA's unbeaten season.

Surprisingly, the Bruins' cross-town rival came up in conversations while Lucier-South sat in the Rose Bowl bleachers.

“I spent a lot of time talking with (4-star 2014 prospect) Osa Masina at the UCLA game, and he really seemed interested in USC," he said. "It’s a place he could see himself playing, and I feel the same way. We have a lot in common because we can both play linebacker or defensive end. The two of us could do a lot of damage together if it works out that way.”

Lucier-South spent the first three games of his senior season lined up at outside linebacker, which was previously unfamiliar territory for him. Due to injuries along the defensive front, he has since moved back to end. 

The experience provided an opportunity for Lucier-South to gauge his strengths and weaknesses at each position. Some teams, including Michigan, are recruiting him exclusively at linebacker.

“I really liked standing up and was surprised by how much of a difference it makes," he said. "I think I’m a better pass-rusher when I start off the play like that. Except, I do think I can generate more power when my hand is in the dirt. I wouldn't say I have a preference of where I line up in college but I’m excited about the possibility of playing either position."

Lucier-South has spent the past two seasons tormenting quarterbacks. Since the start of his junior campaign, he's tallied 67 tackles, including 17 for loss, and 12 sacks, per MaxPreps.

Despite the ebbs and flows of a frenzied recruiting cycle, Lucier-South refuses to focus on just one aspect of the journey. His goal is to find the complete package before national signing day.

“This process isn’t all about football and I think that’s important for all recruits to remember," he said. "There’s a lot more that goes into life at college. Football is very important for three months out of the year but education and everything else plays a huge role and I won’t lose focus of that.”

 

All quotes courtesy of B/R national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Childhood Fandom Drawing 5-Star Keisean Lucier-South to USC

If you're a high school senior who grew up in Southern California, your introduction to college football as a child likely came in the form of a scintillating Reggie Bush sprint or a helmet-rattling Clay Matthews quarterback sack...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Bowl Predictions 2014: Projecting Playoff Spots After Week of Upsets

Let’s all just admit this now—we don’t really know anything about college football this season.

After all, if we did, then 11 of the teams that the voters declared as the 25 best in the nation would not have all lost in the same week. That’s right, the Nos. 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 teams in the AP Poll all lost this past week, many of them in dramatic fashion (Here’s looking at you, Alabama and USC.). 

SportsCenter and CNN’s Rachel Nichols put the carnage in visual display:

Of course, a week like that can turn the playoff picture upside down. With that in mind, let’s take a look at an updated projection for the four College Football Playoff spots.

 

Playoff Projections

Sugar Bowl: Florida State vs. Oklahoma

Rose Bowl: Michigan State vs. Georgia 

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

 

Teams

Florida State 

Criticize Florida State all you want for a close victory against Clemson or allowing 41 points to North Carolina State, but if all the upsets on Saturday told us anything, it was that style points are overrated.

All that really matters in college football is winning, and that is all the Seminoles have done the past two seasons.

Alex Scarborough of ESPN suggested the same thing:

If the defending champs win out, they are going to get a playoff spot, whether each game is a one-point victory or a 40-point victory. Florida State is going to win out because it is incredibly talented, has the defending Heisman Trophy winner directing the offense and has nobody remaining on the schedule with the talent on both sides of the ball to compete outside of Notre Dame.

The Seminoles will walk away from that game victorious under the lights in Tallahassee in front of a raucous crowd. 

What’s more, Florida State’s nonconference win over Oklahoma State is looking better every week. At the end of the year, the Seminoles’ two victories over the Cowboys and Fighting Irish will represent one of the best nonconference schedules in the country and be more than enough to counteract any real or perceived weaknesses of the ACC.

 

Oklahoma

It may seem backwards to include Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff in the immediate aftermath of its loss to TCU, but this is all about the SEC and Pac-12 beating themselves up over the rest of the season.

Teams like Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State, Utah, Stanford and Arizona will gradually knock each other out of playoff consideration out west, and the loaded SEC West will do the same. In the meantime, Oklahoma gets possible challengers Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State all at home and will take care of business in Norman.

Quarterback Trevor Knight understood the situation after his team lost to TCU, according to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com: "This isn't the defining moment of our season. There's a lot of football left. Who knows what's down the road. It's early in the season, a one-loss team can still make it." 

The Sooners will certainly benefit from what happens in the SEC and Pac-12, but don’t sell their efforts short if they win out. Picking up victories over the Cowboys, undefeated Bears and Wildcats will be much easier said than done, meaning Oklahoma will be a deserving participant at year’s end.

 

Michigan State

You can basically take everything we just mentioned in the Oklahoma section and apply it to Michigan State’s situation.

The members of the Pac-12 and SEC West will continue to hand each other losses, and the Spartans will gradually sneak up the polls. Come the end of November, that early-season loss to Oregon will seem like a distant memory, and one that nobody should be ashamed of. Michigan State was breaking in a number of new defensive starters against what is typically a dominant Ducks offense.

Michigan State is not going to lose to Purdue, Indiana, Michigan, Maryland, Rutgers or Penn State. The talent gap is simply too large, and the Spartans will be motivated with a potential playoff spot on the line.

The season basically boils down to a prime-time showdown on Nov. 8 against Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes.

Don’t write off Ohio State, either, even though Braxton Miller is out for the year, and it lost early to Virginia Tech. This is a team that has plenty of freshmen and sophomores in critical roles (including J.T. Barrett at quarterback) and has clearly progressed every week. The Buckeyes will be a stiff test for the Spartans and will likely be ranked in the Top 10 by then (assuming no more losses).

The thought here is that Michigan State prevails under the lights at home in a thriller, much like it did in the Big Ten championship game last season. 

That will give the Spartans an inside track to a playoff spot.

 

Georgia

Is Georgia the best team in the SEC?

Absolutely not.

However, sometimes it’s not just about being the best. The SEC West is going to cannibalize itself with Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Auburn, Alabama and even LSU (although the Tigers appear to be far behind the other top teams in that division) battling with each other every single week.

The Bulldogs, on the other hand, only have to play Auburn from that entire list. What’s more, that game comes at home after Auburn plays a stretch of five consecutive games against LSU, at Mississippi State, against South Carolina, at Ole Miss and against Texas A&M.

If that seems unfair, it kind of is this season. The difference between the SEC West and SEC East is large enough to drive a truck through, and the Bulldogs will catch a worn-down Tigers team at just the right time. 

We will also see the same type of situation in the SEC championship game, which just so happens to be in Georgia’s backyard in Atlanta. The Bulldogs will prevail over a physically worn-down SEC West opponent and punch their ticket as a surprise team in the College Football Playoff.

 

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UCLA Football: 4 Startling Statistics Through 5 Weeks

Sitting at 4-1, the No. 18 UCLA Bruins football team has been plagued by four statistical categories. 

Two of these specific deficiencies deal with the defense as a whole. To be frank, the unit has underperformed considerably. Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich's group needs immense improvement, should the Bruins still have aspirations of competing for a BCS bowl bid.  

The most startling statistic involves the beleaguered offensive line. Should this trend continue, starting quarterback Brett Hundley will eventually be sporting a body cast. 

Lastly, the statistical output of one of UCLA's biggest weapons has been shockingly minimal. 

Here are four startling statistics through the first five weeks of the season for Jim Mora's team. 

 

*Statistical information is courtesy of NCAA.com, unless noted otherwise. 

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UCLA Football: 4 Startling Statistics Through 5 Weeks

Sitting at 4-1, the No. 18 UCLA Bruins football team has been plagued by four statistical categories. Two of these specific deficiencies deal with the defense as a whole. To be frank, the unit has underperformed considerably...

Begin Slideshow

Could Pac-12 Champion Be Shut out of College Football Playoff?

Five weeks ago, the Big Ten took shots from every angle when it was left without a team in the AP poll’s Top 10. Now, it’s the Pac-12’s turn to stand up and be counted out.

Teams from the left coast are perilously close to being left out of the College Football Playoff unless there’s a major shift that’s hard, if not impossible, to foresee.

This season was supposed to see both Oregon and UCLA contend for the national championship. Instead, when those teams meet on Saturday, one will leave the Rose Bowl with a second defeat and face near-certain elimination from the playoff picture, even though Halloween is still three weeks away.

Where does that leave the Pac-12 teams that were supposed to impress the playoff committee’s voters?

Oregon has tumbled from No. 3 in the preseason rankings to No. 12 in this week’s poll following a loss to Arizona at home. UCLA has fallen 11 spots, from seventh to 18th, after falling to Utah, also at home.

“Overrated” also is a chant Southern Cal and Stanford would have to accept.

USC perhaps could have been forgiven for its defeat at Boston College because of cross-country travel. But last weekend’s loss at home to previously unranked Arizona State booted the Trojans, the preseason No. 15, out of the AP Top 25.

Stanford, the preseason No. 11, is barely hanging on, clinging to the 25th spot. But it also joined the ranks of the twice-beaten by falling at Notre Dame. Credit the Cardinal with a moral victory, however. They held the Fighting Irish to a season-low 17 points and lead the nation in allowing only 8.6 points a game, but haven’t been able to find the end zone often enough in their big games.

The Pac-12’s additional problem is that the two teams that have risen amid the carnage need to keep winning before they’ll gain national credibility. But Arizona and Arizona State haven’t captured the imagination with the same flair as their up-and-coming counterparts in the Southeastern Conference, Mississippi and Mississippi State.

No. 10 Arizona has an unblemished 5-0 mark, but it’s tough to get excited about a team that survived against 1-4 Texas-San Antonio by the slim count of 26-23. And that wasn’t a game of funny bounces. The Wildcats didn’t commit a single turnover, but they did trail, 16-13, at one point.

Likewise, No. 20 Arizona State—the Sun Devils are still wearing skid marks from the 62-27 pasting UCLA laid on them.

Find yourself a Pac-12 advocate and you’re likely to hear that the chronicle of unmet expectations is a testament to what a marvelous conference this is. The only one among the Power Five, in fact, that plays a nine-game conference schedule and also has a conference championship game.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott certainly feels that way. At the league’s media days in July, he heralded that distinction, saying, via SB Nation's Berkelium97:

We know that there will be continued controversy and debate, but the clear statement has been made that strength of schedule is going to be a determining factor in figuring out which of the four teams ought to be competing in that playoff. With the most competitive nine-game conference schedule in the nation, our champion will be incredibly well-positioned in this first-ever historic college football playoff.

At the moment, that forecast doesn’t look terribly accurate.

Meantime, a more relevant piece of trivia is the Pac-12’s disappearing act from the national championship conversation. 

The only time a Pac-12 team won the big game during the 1999-2014 history of the BCS championship was when USC claimed the 2004 season title, only to vacate it because of the Reggie Bush saga.

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich addressed the glaring absence of a national champion from the Pac-12 at the conference’s media days, saying, via CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd, "That's the next step for this league. We can all point and whine about how we didn't get in this game and that game. As soon as you lose a game you've lost the right to be the lead speaker."

Which is where the Pac-12 is now.

Yes, five of the Top Eight teams in the AP poll just lost during a history-making week, but only UCLA and Oregon did so at home.

To get back in the hunt, both of those teams need to solve their woeful situations on the offensive line. Oregon has let Marcus Mariota get battered with 12 sacks in its last two games. And UCLA’s O-line gave up a jaw-dropping (and skull-rattling) 10 sacks by Utah on Brett Hundley.

Also of note is that Cal is leading the Pac-12 North standings. Yes, the same Cal that has yielded 164 points in its last three games.

The four-team College Football Playoff leaves room for once-beaten teams to get in, but twice-beaten squads are going to have a very rough time making a case.

If one of those is deemed worthy, it seemingly would have to emerge from the SEC, and more specifically, the SEC West, which has four teams ranked among this week’s top seven. Winning seven of the last eight national championships makes that an easy argument for the SEC.

Maybe Arizona can get through the rest of its schedule unscathed. But a two-loss season seems more likely after a look at its upcoming slate.

The Wildcats will play an angry bunch from USC this week, then have a road date at Washington State against Connor Halliday, who has the hottest arm in the land. After that, it’s another road contest at UCLA.

The prospect of the Pac-12 champion having two losses was put into perspective two weeks ago by Stanford coach David Shaw, who during a teleconference with reporters said, via SB Nation's Kevin Zimmerman:

It’s far too early to accurately project how things will shake out -- that’s a fool’s errand -- but based on what’s progressed through six weeks, it’s hard to imagine any Pac-12 team finishing with less than two losses. If that’s the case, it would pose a problem for the conference’s playoff chances regardless of the other to-be-determined variables. 

Shaw added that it will all hinge, of course, on the 13-member selection committee that will vote on the College Football Playoff.

In that regard, the Pac-12 might not be in such bad shape. USC athletic director Pat Haden is a member, as are Stanford professor Condoleezza Rice and Tyrone Willingham, who was formerly a head coach at Stanford and Washington.

But the Pac-12 is going to need to have a lot more than that going for it to avoid getting shut out of the playoffs.

 

Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: 5 Things to Learn from Florida Game

Painful. Crushing. Frustrating. Enraging. All of these words are perfect ways to describe the loss against Florida last Saturday. But deflating is the way I best describe it. The Tennessee Volunteers didn't convert in the red zone and turned the ball over three excruciating times.

But if the team learns something from the game and uses it to improve, it's an acceptable outcome. We all wish the Big Orange could win and learn, but success often limits learning from whatever mistakes were made in the process. With the gut-wrenching loss on October 4, Tennessee has every reason to learn a lot.

Here are five things that stood out to me.

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USC Must Piece Offense Together to Hang with Arizona

A shootout is likely when USC visits No. 10-ranked Arizona Saturday night. The good news for the Trojans: They’ve shown all the elements necessary to hang with Rich Rodriguez’s free-wheeling Wildcats in a high-scoring affair.

The bad news? Rarely has the USC offense put all these elements together at the same time.

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian’s uptempo offense has at times been a Corvette, combining the smooth handling of quarterback Cody Kessler with the high-octane engine of running back Javorius “Buck” Allen.

Certainly there’s evidence of USC’s potential. Since mustering just 13 points in the win at Stanford, the Trojans scored 31 at Boston College, 35 against Oregon State and 34 against Arizona State.

But then there are those times when the Corvette gets stuck in the mud. Despite scoring into the 30s the last three games, the USC offense ran out of gas for long stretches each time.

At Boston College, the Trojans went almost 40 minutes without scoring. Against Oregon State, the offense was held out of the end zone for the entire first and third quarters.

In last week’s loss against Arizona State, the first offensive touchdown didn’t come until the 2:39 mark in the second quarter despite two prior trips into Sun Devils territory.

Overall, USC had five multiple-play drives stall on Arizona State’s side of the 50-yard line.

Sarkisian’s challenge to keep pace with an Arizona offense scoring a shade below 40 points per game is that USC has stalled in different phases every week. But there is one universal fix USC can make to avoid the droughts that is plaguing it.

“One of the keys for us is getting more yards in chunks,” Sarkisian said on the Pac-12 teleconference call Tuesday. “I thought we’ve improved that in the running game, and it’s an area of focus of ours in the passing game this week so that we don’t have so many drives that aren’t nine, 10, 12-play type drives.” 

Recent history between the Trojans and Wildcats suggests USC cannot afford a similar dry spell against Arizona. In the last three seasons, the teams combined for 89, 75 and 69 points. Arizona’s lowest final score in that stretch is 31; USC’s is 36.

Not coincidentally, that 36-point low mark is also the Trojans’ only loss to Arizona in that time. Also of no coincidence: USC went more than 20 minutes without a point in the loss.

Unlocking Big-Yardage Pass Crucial versus Arizona 

The Trojans run game has come alive since amassing just 20 total yards at Boston College, thanks to Allen’s efforts.

After he said he felt capable of springing the big play on any touch, Allen came through with games of 115 and 143 rushing yards.

Justin Davis added 82 and 67 yards the last two weeks to give the USC rushing attack a more varied look, and even Kessler got in on the action with carries of eight and 13 yards. The eight-yarder was good for a touchdown.

Conversely, Kessler is nickel-and-diming defenses with the pass. Nine of his 24 completions against Oregon State went for more than 10 yards; just eight of his 28 completions against Arizona State were good for more than 10.

Three of Kessler’s big-play passes the last two weeks came off wheel routes by Allen and Davis.

While USC needs more explosive plays in its repertoire, the recent success of the wheel route does bode well for Saturday. The Trojans hit Arizona’s defense for a 63-yard score on one last season. 

Another promising trend for the USC offense: Three of Kessler’s long-yardage plays against Arizona State went to wide receiver Nelson Agholor.

 

Unleashing Agholor 

Following Kessler’s performance against Oregon State in which the quarterback connected with nine different targets, Sarkisian said getting the ball to Agholor while still spreading it out was a point of emphasis.

And indeed, Agholor came back with a season-high nine catches last week.

“I loved it,” Sarkisian said on Sunday. “We targeted him a few times, and maybe even not enough, quite honestly.

“We’re going to continue to need that from him as we move forward,” Sarkisian added.

Arizona is a logical starting point for Agholor’s next step forward. He abused the Wildcats for 161 receiving yards a season ago.

In fact, over the last three meetings, the Arizona game has been fertile ground for Trojans receivers to put up big numbers. Robert Woods caught 14 passes for 255 yards in 2011, and Marqise Lee set a Pac-12 record with 345 yards in 2012.

While Arizona has made strides in its third year under defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, the Wildcats are still prone to giving up the home run ball through the air. 

Per ArizonaWildcats.com, Cal quarterback Jared Goff completed seven passes of 20 yards or more against Arizona in Week 4—three went for touchdowns. 

Agholor is USC's best option for unleashing the deep ball, but only if he's used on deep routes. He did much of his damage against Arizona State through yards after the catch, stutter-stepping and spinning his way out of tackles.

Sarkisian has gradually made tweaks to the USC offense each time out, but against Arizona's frenetic pace, the Trojans' offensive engine must fire on all cylinders.  

  

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics via USCTrojans.com unless otherwise noted.  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Must Piece Offense Together to Hang with Arizona

A shootout is likely when USC visits No. 10-ranked Arizona Saturday night. The good news for the Trojans: They’ ve shown all the elements necessary to hang with Rich Rodriguez ’s free-wheeling Wildcats in a high-scoring affair...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

2015 Recruit Goes Absolute Beast Mode in Marshawn Lynch-Style Play

Angelo Wiggins refuses to go down in this crazy run after catch in a high school game in Michigan. This play is eerily reminiscent of Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch's "beast mode" run.

Have you seen a better run in high school this year?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How 4-Star QB Brandon Wimbush's Flip to Notre Dame Impacts Recruiting Landscape

Notre Dame’s 2015 recruiting class received a huge boost Tuesday afternoon when 4-star quarterback Brandon Wimbush announced his commitment to the Fighting Irish.

The 6’2”, 205-pound New Jersey product had been committed to Penn State since May. However, his flip comes on the heels of an official visit he took to South Bend last weekend for Notre Dame’s thrilling 17-14 win over Stanford.

"It was awesome," Wimbush told Ryan Bartow of 247Sports of his visit. "I really enjoyed it."

So what does his pledge do for Notre Dame’s class, and where does Penn State go from here?

 

Impact for Notre Dame

Getting a quarterback in the 2015 class is huge, but getting a player who seems like a perfect fit for Brian Kelly’s offense makes this a monster pull for Kelly and his staff. 

As ESPN’s Gerry Hamilton points out, Wimbush possesses similar traits to current Irish starter Everett Golson, whose reemergence at quarterback has catapulted the Irish to a 5-0 start and a No. 5 ranking in the USA Today Coaches Poll (via ESPN.com).

His coach at St. Peter’s Prep, Rich Hansen, told Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports that his star player is a great fit for the Irish.

"They're getting a three-way quarterback," Hansen told Wiltfong. "He has a great arm, has terrific feet and a high football IQ."

Notre Dame’s class ranking jumped four spots to No. 11 overall with the addition of Wimbush. Additionally, Wimbush, who is ranked as the No. 70 player overall in the 2015 class, becomes the highest-rated pledge in the Irish’s class.

Adding an elite signal-caller will also help Kelly and his staff pursue other talented skill players. Among the top targets remaining for the Irish in this cycle are 4-star California receivers Equanimeous St. Brown and Ykili Ross, 4-star tight end and UCLA commit Aliz’e Jones and 4-star running back Soso Jamabo—all of whom are prospects who have Notre Dame among their top choices at this time.

With a potential quarterback of the future in the fold, the addition of Wimbush could be akin to the fuse being lit on a stick of dynamite for the Irish’s recruiting efforts moving forward.

 

Where Does Penn State Turn? 

As big as Wimbush’s arrival is for the Irish, his departure is a crushing blow to Penn State’s 2015 class.

James Franklin and his staff have done a terrific job putting together a Top 10 class. However, that group just lost its headliner.

While Franklin will have touted passer Christian Hackenberg around for at least one more season, the picture behind him is far from settled.

Four freshmen are listed behind Hackenberg on the depth chart, according to Ourlads. Two of them—Michael O’Connor and Trace McSorley—were members of the Lions' 2014 class.

Also, Wimbush was one of only five quarterbacks in the 2015 class to earn an offer from Franklin, which means that the Lions are unlikely to land a quarterback who was on their initial list of top targets.

For Franklin, this development likely shifts his attention to the 2016 cycle—especially if the Lions do come up empty at the quarterback spot in 2015.

This puts added pressure on Penn State to land a marquee passer next year, with 4-star standouts such as Dwayne Haskins, Jarrett Guarantano, Jake Zembiec and Brandon McIlwain representing the Lions' top targets among the nation’s crop of junior quarterbacks.

Franklin may also choose to explore the JUCO ranks or even the possibility of adding a transfer in the offseason.  

 

Overall Impact

No position impacts the foundation of a school’s recruiting class more than quarterback.

Notre Dame’s class is likely to receive a boost of momentum, while Penn State will have to go back to the drawing board in search of finding a suitable replacement for Wimbush.

In fact, the top 20 prospects in the 2015 class in each of the pro-style and dual-threat categories have already made a commitment. Torrance Gibson, a 4-star passer with a Penn State offer who is classified as an athlete, is a heavy lean to Big Ten rival Ohio State at this time, per B/R's Kynon Codrington.

Considering that Penn State wasn’t heavily involved with any other quarterbacks in the 2015 cycle, it will be interesting to monitor whether or not Franklin offers another 2015 passer or aggressively pursues a committed target. 

However, given the current options, it's likely that Penn State chooses to turn the page and focus on bringing in an elite passer in its 2016 class. 

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: How Fixable Are Tide's Major Weaknesses?

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The potential weaknesses many pointed out for this Alabama team have persisted five games into the 2014 season.

Ole Miss, in particular, exploited many of these big weaknesses en route to a 23-17 win that gave Alabama its first loss of the season. The Rebels hit several big plays in the passing game, forced turnovers the last two times Alabama had the ball and held the Crimson Tide to a season-low 168 yards on the ground.

Alabama has a lot to correct if it wants to make a run at the SEC West, SEC and College Football Playoff. So how fixable are these weaknesses? Let’s take a look at a couple of the major ones.

 

Penalties

The Crimson Tide committed eight penalties on Saturday, lifting their average to seven per game, which is easily their highest average since 2008 (when cfbstats began recording this stat). That puts Alabama in tie for second-worst in the SEC in that category.

It’s very much out of character for a Nick Saban team, which are traditionally known for a disciplined style of play.

Four of those eight penalties were what Saban calls administrative penalties—false starts, delay of games, things that happen before the play that should be avoidable.

Right guard Leon Brown has been a consistent violator in that area. He took a false start penalty in each of the last two games, per UA’s game notes.

“You can’t be negative in those situations,” right tackle Austin Shepherd said. “He’s a good player. He’s just got to be more mentally prepared. I’ve tried talking to him. You just can’t be doing silly things like that. You’ve gotta get it fixed.”

This might be the most fixable of these weaknesses, since the majority of Alabama’s penalties are more focus- and execution-related.

This is something that has been stalling drives and is not a recipe for sustainable success.

 

Right guard

Speaking of Brown, his position on the offensive line has been one of much consternation so far this year. He’s been replaced by Alphonse Taylor at several points during the season, including in the fourth quarter against Ole Miss.

D.C. Reeves of The Tuscaloosa News shared a GIF of him getting blown up by Rebels defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche in pass protection:

Saban said the solution at that position is not a change in personnel.

“Well, we have to make the guys that are playing there better,” he said. “I think Leon actually played better in this game, to his credit. 'Shank' (Taylor) got an opportunity to play, and he actually played better in this game. So that’s the key to the drill is we don’t have another player.”

He then offered up a statement that really could apply to any position.

“I know for fans there’s always hope,” Saban said. “‘Put the other quarterback in. Kick the other kicker.’ Well, if they were better we’d play them to start with, all right? So we have to make the people we have better.”

Alabama will have to roll with Brown or Taylor, for better or for worse. Junior college recruit Dominick Jackson, who was thought to be a candidate at guard in his first season, has mostly worked at tackle. Therefore, Brown or Taylor will need to up their level of play in the coming weeks.

 

Turnovers

Another uncharacteristic statistic for Alabama this season has been turnovers, and a lack thereof.

The Crimson Tide are second-last in the SEC with a turnover margin of minus-four through five games. Alabama has caught two interceptions and recovered three fumbles. However, it’s thrown three interceptions and lost six fumbles.

No fumble was bigger than Christion Jones’ on a kickoff after Ole Miss’ tying touchdown. It set the Rebels up perfectly for the eventual game-winning score.

Against Florida, Alabama lost three fumbles and threw an interception that kept the Gators much closer than they should have been on the scoreboard.

“One of the disappointing things to me about our team is we have made more emphasis on ball security and getting turnovers this year than I can ever remember in all the time I've been a coach,” Saban said. “And we continue to not play the ball correctly and turn the ball over.”

On kickoffs, a change could be made in personnel. Jones ranks No. 31 nationally in kickoff return average and just No. 65 on punts. Cornerback Cyrus Jones got a look back there on Saturday after the fumble and has played there before.

On offense, the turnovers are just a matter of decision-making and proper technique holding the ball.

On the other side of the ball, the Crimson Tide need more big plays to turn the game in their favor instead of in the opposite direction, which has been happening so often.

 

Secondary

This unit continues to be a question mark five games into the season. It has played well overall, but mental lapses by the unit cost the Crimson Tide the game on Saturday.

Cornerback Cyrus Jones said communication needed to improve among the unit. He called the process of getting signals in from defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and actually translating them on the field in such a short window “mind-blowing.”

“Everybody has to be on the same page with Coach Smart giving the signals on the sidelines,” Jones said. “That involves everybody knowing the signals that we have and just getting it across the board, from the linebackers to the DBs being on the same page as well. It's all a collective kind of process.”

That could improve with experience. Jones is in his first year as a starter at cornerback, while Tony Brown made just his second start against Ole Miss opposite him.

“He's a young guy, just building each week, just getting more confidence the more time he gets in practice and the game,” Jones said. “So I think we're all helping him progress and just learn the defense a lot better. And once he learns that, it's easy to play fast.”

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2015 Recruits Who Are Having Subpar Senior Seasons

Great expectations don't always equate to anticipated results on the football field. Unforeseen circumstances and supporting casts can ultimately dictate how an athlete's season develops, for better or worse. 

The 2015 recruiting class is packed with talented prospects capable of taking over games and delivering their respective squads to victory. Some of these players have dealt with downswings in production this season, and although they still possess plenty of potential to turn things around moving forward, things haven't quite turned out as planned in 2014. 

We reviewed the season so far for several standout recruits, pinpointing those still searching for sustained stretches of top-level performances. Here's a look at potential college stars who still have plenty to prove as seniors.

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Brandon Wimbush Flips to Notre Dame, Has Potential to Be Brian Kelly's Best QB

Brandon Wimbush, the 4-star dual-threat quarterback out of New Jersey, has flipped his commitment from Penn State and will now take his talents to South Bend to play for Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Michael Felder breaks down how he will fit into the Notre Dame system.

Do you think Wimbush made the right decision?

Watch the video and let us know! 

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas vs. Oklahoma Complete Game Preview

One of the most storied rivalries in college football kicks off Saturday in the 109th Red River Showdown between the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners.

Both teams are coming off losses and will be looking to build some momentum with a win in the Cotton Bowl.

The Sooners, who have never dropped back-to-back conference games under head coach Bob Stoops, have the early advantage over the Longhorns, and most people will enter this game expecting a destruction by Oklahoma over first-year head coach Charlie Strong and Texas.

But the same scenario followed the Longhorns last season and ended with a Texas upset.

Can Texas repeat and shock the nation?

 

When: Saturday, Oct. 11, 12 p.m. ET

Where: Cotton Bowl, Dallas

TV: ABC

Austin radio: KVET 98.1/1300

SiriusXM satellite radio: XM 202; Sirius 117; Internet 969; Spanish 550

Last meeting: Oct. 12, 2013; Cotton Bowl, Dallas

Last meeting's outcome: Texas 36, Oklahoma 20

Opening spread: Oklahoma (-14.5), per Odds Shark

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Meet College Football's Most Productive WR, Whom You've Probably Never Heard Of

Colorado receiver Nelson Spruce was remarkably unremarkable against Oregon State last weekend, catching six passes for 35 yards and no touchdowns. Even so, he still ranks second in the country in receptions per game (10.3), fifth in receiving yards per game (122.0) and first in receiving touchdowns (10).

That should tell you everything you need to know about the season Spruce has been having—the type that can withstand a massive outlier without moving him out of the Biletnikoff discussion. After six weeks, he, Amari Cooper of Alabama, Kevin White of West Virginia and a small group of bigger-name players at better-known schools are the best candidates to win that award.

But who the heck is this guy anyway? 

And how the heck did he become so productive?

And what the heck is going on with this team up in Boulder?

Let's dive in and take a closer look.

 

As a Recruit: Were There Really 1,000 Better Players?

Spruce was a scant-recruited prospect from Thousand Oaks, Calif., placing just outside the national Top 1,000 in the class of 2011, per the 247Sports composite rankings. He was a 3-star recruit, the No. 126 receiver in the country and the No. 100 player in the state.

According to Buffzone.com, he caught 73 passes for 1,292 yards and 18 touchdowns during his senior season of high school and also had 31 tackles and three interceptions on defense.

Here is a look at his senior-year highlights:

2011 was a strange year for receivers.

Spruce was not alone in going overlooked, ranking closely behind former Penn State star Allen Robinson (No. 122) and right ahead of current Duke star Jamison Crowder (No. 128).

Recruiting is an obviously imperfect science that lends itself to revisionist criticism. The rankings weren't wrong, necessarily, because recruits get undervalued at every position every year.  

Still, it's a fun coincidence to see three players so productive get bunched so close together so far down the list. A strong case could be made for Spruce, Robinson and Crowder having outperformed the three most-productive receivers in the top 10: Sammy Watkins of Clemson, Jarvis Landry of LSU and Kasen Williams of Washington.

Turns out that chip-on-the-shoulder thing really matters.

 

As an Underclassman: Stepping Into the Void

It's impossible to discuss Spruce's career without discussing Paul Richardson, Spruce's former teammate at Colorado and a second-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in the 2014 NFL draft.

Richardson caught 73 passes for 1,069 yards in his freshman and sophomore seasons, the former when Spruce was a senior in high school and the latter while Spruce was redshirting. After the team's leading receiver, Tony Clemons, graduated in 2011, Richardson was poised to become the undisputed No. 1 option and one of the top receivers in the Pac-12 as a junior in 2012.

That all changed, however, when Richardson tore his ACL in a non-contact special teams drill during spring practice that offseason. He was immediately ruled out for the 2012 season, and Colorado was in immediate need of a new top receiver.

"Obviously, it's a blow to our team, but it's a part of the game," said then-head coach Jon Embree, per the team's official website. "It's an opportunity for others to step up and lessen his loss."

The opportunity Embree referred to was not lost on Spruce, who caught eight passes for 64 yards and a touchdown against Colorado State in his first career game. After catching only five combined passes against Sacramento State and Fresno State, he starred once again in his Pac-12 debut, catching eight passes for 103 yards and a touchdown in a 35-34 win over Washington State.

That win would prove to be the apex of Colorado's season: The Buffaloes finished 1-11, and Embree was promptly fired. But Spruce was a small speck of light on an otherwise dark campaign, starting the final eight games and becoming the third freshman in school history to lead the team in receptions (44). He also led the team in receiving yards (446), and with new head coach Mike MacIntyre and offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren coming over from San Jose State, which had just finished No. 6 in the country in passing yards per game, the future of Colorado's air attack looked promising.

That held doubly true with the return of Richardson, who came back stronger than ever from his knee surgery. Spruce benefitted from his role as the No. 1 receiver in 2012, and the upshot of that was obvious when opponents started rolling coverages toward Richardson in 2013.

Spruce finished the year with improved numbers across the board—55 catches for 650 yards and four touchdowns—and left the 'Buffs feeling good about their future at the position despite Richardson's decision to declare early for the NFL draft.

But even Spruce couldn't have foreseen what happened next.

 

As a Junior: The Best Receiver in College Football?

"One guy doesn’t make (Richardson’s) numbers up," said Spruce at Pac-12 media days this offseason. "But I think we’re a lot deeper at this position than at any time since I’ve been here. I think guys are going to step in and you’ll see the ball spread out more."

So much for that.

Six games into the season, Spruce has debunked his own forecast, becoming the one guy who does make up Ricardson's numbers. In some ways, he has actually exceeded them:

The highlighted areas speak to the differences in Spruce and Richardson's games. Spruce is a possession receiver, whereas Richardson was a deep threat. Throwing to Spruce gives you a better chance at completing a pass and gaining positive yardage. Throwing to Richardson gave you a better chance of hitting a home run.

But Spruce transcends his role as a pure possession receiver by also making plays down the field—one of many things that has made his start to the season so unique. Through six games, he is tied for the national lead with two receptions of 70 yards or longer.

Let's attempt to put some of this in context.

With 85 targets through six games, Spruce is on pace for 170 on the season. According to the numbers at Football Study Hall, only two players had more than that last season: Davante Adams of Fresno State and Willie Snead of Ball State. Adams had a catch rate higher than that of Spruce (74.9), but Snead finished well below (61.6).

In fact, of the 30 players with even 115 targets last season, only four finished with a better catch rate than that of Spruce: Adams, Watkins, Brandin Cooks of Oregon State and Justin Hardy of East Carolina.

Cooks won the Biletnikoff Award and was the No. 20 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Watkins was an AFCA All-American and the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Adams led the country in receptions and touchdowns and was the No. 53 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. And Hardy is still in school but threatening to break the all-time NCAA receptions record this season.

That is not a bad group to be associated with.

Spruce set his own receptions record in an overtime loss at Cal earlier this season, hauling in 19 passes, the most by a single player in the history of Pac-12 football. The performance earned him "Offensive Player of the Week" honors from Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer, despite the fact that Colorado lost the game.

At 6'1", 195 pounds, Spruce doesn't have one trait (e.g., size, speed, length) that sticks out among the best in the country, but the whole of his production is better than the sum of his parts. B/R's resident offensive-pass-interference advocate, Michael Felder, recoiled at the push-offs Spruce got away with in Week 1 against Colorado State…but if pushing off ain't broke, why should he fix it?

"Any company out there, I would tell you, 'Hire Nelson Spruce and he will run your company in five or 10 years,'" said MacIntyre of his star receiver, a finance major and a two-time member of the All-Big 12 Academic Team, per Tom Kensler of The Denver Post.

But if MacIntrye keeps using Spruce the way he has been these first six weeks, those faceless corporations he's addressing might not ever get a chance to heed his advice.

It's hard to run a business when you're playing in the NFL.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Meet College Football's Most Productive WR, Whom You've Probably Never Heard Of

Colorado receiver Nelson Spruce was unremarkable against Oregon State last weekend, catching six passes for 35 yards and no touchdowns. Even so, he still ranks second in the country in receptions per game (10...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Brandon Wimbush to Notre Dame: Irish Land 4-Star QB Prospect

Notre Dame picked up a big commitment for the 2015 class, as Brandon Wimbush decided he would rather play with the Fighting Irish than Penn State.

Den Wetzel of Yahoo Sports provided the latest details on the dual-threat quarterback:

Wimbush is considered the No. 4 player in the nation at his position, according to 247Sports. He has a strong arm and has shown the ability to be a quality passer at the next level, but his true standout ability is his knack for tucking the ball and running.

The New Jersey native has a 4.65 time in the 40-yard dash and has the ability to be a big-time playmaker at the position.

Mike Farrell of Rivals.com notes this is a big get for Notre Dame:

Malik Henry is more of a pro-style passer in the 2016 class, but the Irish would love to bring as much talent as possible to the most important position in the sport.

While Wimbush's commitment might be disappointing for Penn State fans who thought he was ready to play for the Nittany Lions in a few years, it should not be considered too surprising based on recent events. The 4-star quarterback visited Notre Dame's 17-14 win over Stanford on Saturday and seemed to really enjoy his time.

According to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.com, Wimbush said, "It was awesome. I really enjoyed it."

Assuming there are no more changes to his recruitment, the young player will join a squad that already has talent at quarterback between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire. Still, Wimbush has the playmaking ability that should get him onto the field before too long.

While a redshirt season is likely as he learns the playbook and figures out how to play quarterback at the next level, Wimbush has the potential to be a star within the next few years.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Updated National Championship Odds After Week 6

This season's college football games have been wild and unpredictable, challenging everyone's notions about who is the best team.

After four upsets among The Associated Press' top six schools last week, Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer gives you the updated odds of the elite teams to win the national championship.

Which school do you think will take the College Football Playoff?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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