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Bowl Predictions 2014: College Football Playoff Outlook Heading into Week 7

The College Football Playoff was supposed to take some level of urgency away from the regular season. Four teams getting to the end of the season undefeated was an impossible expectation, but a clear enough hierarchy should be formed that we have a general idea of what to expect.

Week 6 changed everything. Desperation is again a way of life around the nation, as a cascade of upsets threw the backs of supposed championship contenders against the wall. Oregon, Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas A&M all went down in a blaze of whatever antonym you'd like to use for glory. Not for nothing, but those were four of the nation's top six teams.

What's left is a quartet of teams desperately clinging to the hope the teams above them will share a similar fate, while their replacements try to avoid just that. Given that three of the top four teams in the Associated Press poll reside in the daunting SEC West, well, good luck with that one.

Given that two of said teams play each other Saturday, all sorts of heck and hootenanny are sure to transpire. With that in mind, now is as good a time as any to take a look at the Top Four. You know, before the inevitable changes to next week's Top Four.

 

1. Florida State

Ahh, Florida State. The 25 percenter who does not reside within the world's most competitive football division. And the one who has looked by far the worst among the teams currently slated for the inaugural CFB playoff.

The Seminoles, after having not allowed a game to come closer than 14 points during the 2013 regular season, already have two one-touchdown wins under their belt in 2014. Their win against North Carolina State required a 17-point comeback, and they were down double digits until five minutes remaining in the third quarter. Even last week's 43-3 shellacking of Wake Forest featured a miserable first half highlighted by a mistake-prone and stagnant offense.

Jameis Winston told reporters:

I've got to get us going, I've got to get us started fast. At the end of the day, that's what we've got that defense for. Sometimes they've got to have our backs. Sometimes we've got to have their back. At the end of the day when Florida State starts playing Florida State football and defense and offense is all on the same cylinder, we're going to be fun to watch.

Winston, in theory, is correct. On balance, the Seminoles are the most talented team in the country. That's why they were ranked No. 1 coming into the season and partially why they're still atop the standings despite looking less dominant than nearly every other power-five unbeaten.

Florida State has another muscle-flexing game coming up this week against Syracuse, but it's hard to not start looking ahead to its Oct. 18 clash with Notre Dame. The Irish, like their co-unbeaten, have gotten by with a series of solid, non-dominant wins. Their first four games were a cupcake-mashing party—yes, Michigan in its current form is a cupcake—and last week's home win over Stanford required fourth-down heroics from Everett Golson.

In 2012, many pointed to Notre Dame's dominant win over Wisconsin as the tipping point. It was the time when everyone realized that this wasn't just a flukish, nice little run they were having—that they would have a legit shot at a national championship.

The same storyline will carry over into this Florida State-Notre Dame matchup. For both teams. Florida State's toughest game after the Irish, before a potential ACC Championship Game, is against a below-average Louisville team Oct. 30. Notre Dame travels to Arizona State on Nov. 8. 

All else should be smooth sailing for both teams. Two weeks from now, we may have our first playoff "lock."

 

2. Auburn and 3. Mississippi State

It only makes sense to write about these two teams in a pair. One will probably usurp Florida State as the No. 1 team in the country next week. The other will become a pit of SEC boa constrictors waiting to strangle the life from their playoff hopes.

Not that this game is a big deal or anything.

Auburn and Mississippi State each come into Saturday's showdown at Davis Wade Stadium after their most impressive wins of the season. The Tigers systematically picked apart LSU in a 41-7 blowout that was somehow worse than the final score. Nick Marshall accounted for four touchdowns as LSU imploded on both sides of the ball.

Dan Mullen's Bulldogs had exposed Les Miles and Co. two weeks earlier, but their real arrival came last Saturday when they invited Texas A&M into their house just to steal Kenny Hill's lunch money. The Aggies quarterback threw three interceptions and looked out of sorts before cobbling together two garbage-time touchdowns to make his stats look better in the 48-31 loss.

Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, meanwhile, established himself (in my mind) as the clear Heisman favorite. Prescott threw for 268 yards and two touchdowns while adding 77 yards and three scores on the ground. The words "Tim" and "Tebow" were strung together at numerous points on the broadcast, both a nod to Mullen's roots as a Florida offensive coordinator and Prescott's unique brilliance.

Auburn defensive tackle Gabe Wright told reporters:

He puts a tremendous amount of pressure on you. He is a dual-threat quarterback and just saying that, I think that in itself already speaks volumes. Dual-threat means he can both run and pass. And he's mentally capable to run their offense now. I think he's more comfortable now.

The implications here are obviously huge. But Mississippi State especially can confirm its title hopes with a win. Visits to Alabama and Ole Miss are the only two remaining games against ranked opponents on its regular-season schedule. Sure, OK, that's hard as hell. It's also par for the course for an SEC team and much easier than the outlook for its opponent.

Auburn still has games with Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama remaining after Saturday. Even South Carolina could give the Tigers trouble if Steve Spurrier can somehow salvage his team's morale.

Good Lord, the SEC is good.

 

4. Ole Miss

The Rebels' prize for breaking their 10-game losing streak against Alabama is a trip to College Station. Not exactly as cool as, say, a piece of a goalpost.

It's the second straight major test for the Ole Miss defense, which came up huge in high-priority situations against the Crimson Tide. Senquez Golson's last-minute interception of Blake Sims on what looked like an Alabama steamroll down the field proved the clincher, but it's far from the only factor. The Rebels held Alabama to a 6-of-16 conversion rate on third down, committed three penalties to the Tide's eight and had Bo Wallace somehow avoid throwing an interception.

Wallace avoiding interceptions has become an increasingly rare occurrence. He's given away at least one pass in all but two games this season and seven of his last 10 dating back to 2013. The senior has long been very good when he's making the right decision; he at times is very bad at doing such a thing.

With Ole Miss' run attack essentially consigned to change-of-pace status, Hugh Freeze's team is essentially an updated version of the classic SEC model. Bigger, stronger, faster than any team defensively. Air-based and high-variance offensively. It's a model that can make the Rebels look like the nation's best team when all is running smoothly—or veer them off a cliff the moment Wallace or the defense shows a sign of weakness.

Hill, a Heisman candidate before last week's debacle, is as equipped as any quarterback to make the latter happen. Texas A&M opening drives are a thing of beauty. No coach in the nation is better at drawing up an opening script than Kevin Sumlin, as evidenced by the Aggies scoring first in 29 of their last 32 games. Sumlin is going to give NFL defensive coordinators nightmares next year if he ever decides to head to Sundays.

Ole Miss has scored first in all five games this season. Its comeback from a 14-3 deficit last week against Alabama gives me faith Wallace has matured enough to handle the pressure, but the 12th man can cause the walls to close in awfully fast. The winner of this game may be determined by which side gets on the board first.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Week 7 Schedule: TV and Live Stream Info for Every Game

It is hard to imagine things getting any crazier than the past week of college football, but Week 7 will certainly try.

Week 6 saw a number of ranked teams go down, including five of the Top Eight teams in the country. This caused a major shift in the polls and in current projections for the College Football Playoff. The SEC West still has three teams near the top of the rankings, but they are not exactly the teams you would expect, as Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are the undefeated squads.

This week is certain to create just as much excitement with a few more big-time conference matchups throughout the weekend.

Here is a look at the complete schedule beginning Thursday to help you catch as many games as possible.

Schedule courtesy of ESPN.comFor games without national or regional coverage on a major network, check local listings. 

 

Live Stream Info

Many of the games are also available online at one of these locations, although some require subscriptions:

ESPN: WatchESPN

SEC: CBSSports.com

Fox: Fox Sports Go

BTN: BTN2Go.com

Pac-12: Pac-12.com

ABC: ABC Live

CBS: CBSSports.com

NBC: NBC Live Extra 

 

Top Games to Watch

No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 3 Mississippi State

Many people have a problem with the preseason polls because they often keep more deserving teams from cracking the top until the teams ahead of them lose.

Heading into Week 7, Florida State remains the No. 1 team in the nation after winning last year's national title. However, Auburn has arguably been even better this season, excelling on both sides of the ball. The team showed off its complete effort with a 41-7 win over LSU.

ESPN's Paul Finebaum believes the Tigers should be the No. 1 team in the nation:

The statistics back this up, as ESPN's Football Power Index has a decent separation between Auburn and the rest of the country:

Auburn is the most efficient team in the nation and one of just five teams with a plus-10 rating on both offense and defense. That means each unit makes a big contribution toward blowing teams away, which makes it no surprise the Tigers have outscored teams by an average of 27.6 points per game this season.

However, another one of those five balanced teams is Mississippi State, which will look to continue its recent track record of knocking off Top 10 teams when it hosts Auburn.

The Bulldogs went on the road to beat then-No. 8 LSU before knocking off then-No. 6 Texas A&M at home. In both games, the squad went up at least three touchdowns before giving up some late scores to make it appear closer than it was.

It is no surprise ESPN will be on hand for the festivities in Starkville:

Auburn has been great this season, but this will be a tough battle on the road to remain undefeated.

 

No. 9 TCU vs. No. 5 Baylor

Baylor has done a good job running up the score on opponents once again to start this season, but the Bears have not faced anyone of note. 

In fact, none of the opponents on the schedule so far have a winning record on the season.

On the other hand, TCU cared enough to put another power-conference opponent on the schedule, defeating Minnesota 30-7. Interestingly, that is the Gophers' only loss in five games.

TCU continued to impress with an upset win over No. 4 Oklahoma thanks to 318 passing yards and two touchdowns by Trevone Boykin. This was not a fluke for head coach Gary Patterson, who is used to this type of success against top teams, according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

The Horned Frogs have a lot of talent and have a chance to surprise a Baylor team that is not ready for this type of opponent.

There is also some extra motivation for the two teams in a game that has become a bit of a rivalry in the Big 12. Last season, Patterson had some choice words for Baylor coach Art Briles. "If that's what class is, then I don't want to be it," Patterson told reporters after the game. 

Thus, it is no surprise Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty has been looking forward to this game.

"Really even before, every time we play it seems like we don't like each other, I guess that’s the making of a rivalry," the quarterback explained in a press conference earlier in the week. "We circle them on the schedule when it comes out."

As if there wasn't enough intrigue already, this game could be physical from start to finish on Saturday.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Football: Learn to Love the Bulldogs' New-Look Offense

Don’t tell anybody, but the Georgia Bulldogs offense is spectacularly potent. 

You probably didn’t notice over the condemnation of quarterback Hutson Mason, the general dismissal of everyone not named Todd Gurley and the “Fire Bobo!” chants.  But this offense isn’t half bad.  In fact, it’s not bad at all.

This offense is not only more competent than it's given credit for, but also more lovable than anyone seems to recognize.

 

Great Success, Even from Mason

If you measure Georgia’s efforts by something other than fan sentiment, it’s surprisingly easy to be impressed by the offensive unit.  The Bulldogs rank sixth in the country in points scored per game, and all five of their to-date opponents hail from the FBS level. 

In most scenarios, that level of production would be too good to be ignored.  At Georgia, however, many are too consumed by what they think is missing to notice what is happening.  The points scored are nice, but the more popular narrative is that Mason lacks chemistry with receivers, puts up shaky statistics and generally leaves everyone (himself included) disappointed.

And in fairness, Mason is a departure from former quarterback Aaron Murray and his SEC passing records.  Mason is not going to touch any of those records.  But while folks bemoan lack of arm strength, passing deficiencies and other perceived shortcomings of the fifth-year senior, he’s leading Georgia's offense to a 45.0 average scoring output. 

Even Murray couldn’t touch that record; his best offense yielded 37.8 points per game in 2012.

The irony of the anti-Mason campaigns is rich.  He’s not Murray, but he is completing a higher percentage of passes this season (68.3) than Murray ever did.  He doesn’t throw the deep ball like Murray, but isn’t the point of the deep ball to score points or to keep the defense honest and set up the run?  Isn’t Georgia scoring points and running the ball as well as it ever has?

Mason is receiving grief and the much-dreaded “game manager” title, but he’s quietly managinggames very well.  Not only are the Bulldogs scoring tons of points, but they’re also winning. 

If Georgia garners a victory this weekend against Missouri, the team will be 5-1 through the season’s first half.  Murray’s big arm and prolific offenses only managed that good of a start once in his four years under center.  Georgia hasn't opened with a better six-game record since 2005.

Hutson Mason is a winner.  What’s not to love about that?

 

Embracing Todd Gurley

Ask any Georgia fan in the nation, and he or she will tell you the best football player in the country dons the red and black on Saturdays and wears jersey No. 3.  Todd Gurley is not only the best running back in the fans' eyes, but the best player in the country.

They may not be wrong.  They are often, however, misunderstanding.

Georgia relies heavily on Gurley—that much is undeniable.  The junior running back has had a hand (either in running, receiving or passing) in nearly 40 percent of Georgia’s gained yards.  The reason for this dependence is cause for debate, though.

While those accustomed to a prolific passing attack see a lack of one and assume the absence is a reflection of ineffectiveness, there’s danger to assuming that Gurley is Georgia’s only offensive hope.  Working on the presumption that Gurley is depended upon because Georgia cannot pass the football sells the Heisman Trophy candidate far too short.

More valid is the notion that Georgia relies on Gurley because he gives the Dawgs an optimal chance to pick up yardage, first downs, points and wins.  That’s much more a credit to his skills and determination than it is an indictment of Mason and Georgia’s passing game.  Gurley isn't Georgia's only option, but he is the team's best option.

Gurley is a once-in-a-generation talent.  That should be self-evident at this point.  Calling for a greater emphasis on the aerial assault takes away from what he’s capable of doing on his own.  And resigning him to the role of “Georgia’s only option on offense” negates the efforts he’s put in to earn his workload.

It’s easy to recognize Gurley for the beast that he is, but Georgia fans need to embrace his role within the offense as a fully good thing.

 

Firing Bobo

Of course, none of the lunacy or ironic inconsistencies quite hold their own in comparison to the Bobo firing campaign.  After all, all Bobo has done is coordinate the most successful offenses in program history.

Confused as to why Bobo needs to go?  You’re not alone.  But tune in to Twitter this Saturday for a sampling of disgruntled rumblings.  Keep your eye on your laptop or smartphone and watch the vitriol roll in while Georgia racks up points.

Truthfully, Bobo has given Georgia fans exactly what they want—a prolific offense.  And he’s done so in incredibly entertaining fashion. 

Though Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution turned Todd Gurley’s long pass completion into a negative commentary on Mason this weekend, the fact remains that it was one of the more exciting plays in recent Georgia history, as it was a true deviation from conservative play-calling.

Also a divergent from typical Georgia football is the regularity with which Georgia has kept its offense on the field on fourth down.  Bobo's commitment to moving the chains and scoring points has vested itself in the best fourth down conversion rate in the country.

And along the way, Bobo has trotted out multiple quarterbacks (Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta in addition to Mason), sent Mason out wide as a receiver, gotten the ball into the hands of an electrifying freshman receiver (Isaiah McKenzie) in the backfield, used young talents like Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and otherwise dazzled with still injury-limited personnel.

Georgia is 4-1 because of its offense, and if the Bulldogs want to get back to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game, they're going to have to ride Bobo, Mason, Gurley and the rest of the unit.  Despite a resounding lack of faith from what is (hopefully) a vocal minority, this group is up to the calling. 

Maybe when the Bulldogs are back in the conference title game, this offense will get some love.  They can take another step in that direction this weekend against Missouri.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all statistics courtesy of NCAA.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football: 3 Startling Stats Through 5 Games

The Texas Longhorns are 2-3, have one of the country's worst offenses and are about to face an angry Oklahoma squad that just dropped a heartbreaker to TCU.

That should be startling enough for Texas fans hoping to see a rebound from a 28-7 loss to Baylor.

Unfortunately, the statistics show that the Horns still have a ways to go. The offense, led by Tyrone Swoopes, has been unable to sustain drives or generate big plays, putting the defense in a perilous position come the second half.

To turn things around this season, head coach Charlie Strong has to get these alarming numbers trending in the opposite direction.

Begin Slideshow

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. In order to avoid a similar fate seven years later, the Ducks must take control of the game early, bring the heat defensively and play a much smarter brand of football.

A loss to UCLA would be a devastating blow to Oregon’s postseason dreams—dreams that were rekindled after a week that turned the college football world upside down. A road win against one of the best teams in the Pac-12 should instantly vault the Ducks back to the top of the Pac-12 power rankings and reestablish themselves as postseason contenders.

Here’s what Oregon must do to beat UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Saturday:

 

Ground Game Must Get Going

While Oregon’s running game hasn’t been dreadful this season—ranking No. 34 in the country having rushed for 209 yards per game—it hasn’t been as successful as it has been in past years.

Yes, LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas are gone. However, the combination of Thomas Tyner, Royce Freeman, Marcus Mariota and Byron Marshall should form one of the most successful rushing attacks in the entire nation.

Oregon’s offense is predicated on the success of the zone-read and the ability to establish a strong running game. When the Ducks fail to run the ball, defenses have the ability to key in on Mariota and the passing game. While Mariota can twist around defenses with his legs, he’s most effective when his legs are the Ducks third-best offensive option.

In two conference games so far this season, the Ducks have ran for a grand total of 316 yards on 83 carries—an average of 3.8 yards per carry—and have yet to score a rushing touchdown in conference play. By comparison, in the Ducks three nonconference games this season Oregon rushed for 729 yards on 115 carries—an average of 6.34 yards per carry. While the Ducks faced South Dakota and Wyoming in two of those nonconference games, they did face a Michigan State team that currently ranks No. 4 in the country in rush defense.

Against the Spartans the Ducks rushed for 173 yards on 40 carries—an average of 4.3 yards per carry. By no means are those numbers up to Oregon’s lofty standards from years past. However, they are very strong numbers against the fourth ranked rushing defense in the nation.

So what happened to the Ducks rushing attack that has ranked in the top 10 in yards gained per carry since 2007? Everything goes back to blocking.

Oregon’s success in the running game has less to do with the running backs and has more to do with the offensive line and their ability to consistently create holes for the backs to hit. It’s tough to run the ball when your offensive line has more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese. Moreover, the Ducks depend heavily on their wide receivers to block downfield. While the wide receivers have been more successful in their duties than the offensive line has, they’ve still not been able to spring the backs open enough to hit homerun-type plays.

The Ducks desperately need their offensive lineman and wide receivers to create space for the running backs and the offense in general to be successful. Without a solid running game to depend on, the Oregon offense becomes a pass-happy offense that is forced to convert many more third downs than it should be forced to. Without a running game, Oregon’s “blur” offense turns into a “dud” offense.

In order to beat UCLA—ranked No. 64 against the run this season—the Ducks will have to be successful in the run game and take some pressure off Marcus Mariota and the wide receivers. The Ducks offensive line can help itself in pass protection by being able to establish a running game early against the Bruins.

If the Ducks have a successful day on the ground, they’ll have a great shot at knocking off the Bruins. It would also help if the Ducks defense can turn up the heat and spice things up a bit.

 

Bring The Rush

Despite the fact that the Ducks rank No. 19 in the country in sacks this season—averaging 3.2 sacks per game this season—and third in the Pac-12 conference, Oregon's pass rush has yet to make a significant impact on opposing quarterbacks this season.

The Ducks are ranked No. 119 out of 125 eligible schools against the pass this season—giving up an average of 309.6 yards per game through the air. In terms of total defense, the Ducks are ranked No. 102 in the country and are allowing 453.8 yards per game.

Oregon’s defense has struggled to make an impact on opposing offenses for a couple of reason—poor secondary play, vanilla coverage’s, blown assignments and inexperience to name a few. However, one way to combat UCLA’s offense, which is ranked No. 36 and is averaging 465.4 yard per game, is to attack their weak offensive line.

The Bruins offensive has surrendered 4.6 sacks per game this season, which ranks them No. 123 out of 125 teams in the country. Last week against Utah, a game that UCLA lost 30-28, the Bruins allowed quarterback Brett Hundley to be sacked 10 times.

UCLA’s offense has a clear weakness. The Ducks must relentlessly attack it even if it means giving up the occasional big play and being more vulnerable in the secondary.

Outside linebackers coach Erik Chinander’s eyes lit up when asked this week about bringing pressure against UCLA this weekend, according to Andrew Greif of The Oregonian.

"You always want to put pressure on everybody,” said Chinander. “I love pressure.”

While defensive coordinator Don Pellum hasn’t dialed up the pressure much this season, he will need to against the Bruins. Oregon’s defense has shown that it doesn’t have the ability to sit in zone coverage and defend the pass for extended periods of time. Brett Hundley is an incredibly talented passer and is extremely mobile. If the Ducks give Hundley the opportunity to sit back in the pocket and extend plays with his mobility, Oregon’s defense will be beaten over and over again.

Push has come to shove for the Ducks defense; however, there is a way out of the current rut they’re stuck in. It’s called pressure. If the Ducks want to avoid consecutive conference losses, Pellum would be wise to crank the heat on Oregon’s pressure from simmer to boiling hot.

 

Avoid Penalties

Last week against Arizona, the Ducks committed 10 penalties that resulted in a loss of 79 yards, including two crucial penalties—one on linebacker Tony Washington and one on cornerback Troy Hill—on Arizona’s final drive that led to the game-winning touchdown.

Through five games this season the Ducks have committed 42 penalties—ranked No. 102 in the nation—for 333 yards—an average of 66.6 yards per game. Quite simply, the Ducks have been an undisciplined team in all three phases so far this season.

If the Ducks are going to re-establish themselves as the class of the Pac-12, they’re going to need to not only play better, but also play smarter.

Oregon has a huge opportunity against UCLA this weekend. A road win versus a ranked conference opponent is the best way for the Ducks to reinsert themselves in the College Football Playoff picture.

The Ducks squandered an opportunity last week to keep their perfect season intact. However, due to the wild events of last weekend they were granted another opportunity to establish themselves as real championship contenders this season.

It’s time for the Ducks to show the country what they’re really made of. By nightfall on Saturday, we’ll know exactly who the 2014 Ducks are and where they’re heading this season.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

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

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