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UCLA Football: How the Bruins Can Upset Arizona

A massive Pac-12 South Division clash takes place Saturday night in the Rose Bowl, as the UCLA Bruins play host to the University of Arizona Wildcats...

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Florida State TE Nick O'Leary Slams Louisville Ball-Carrier to Ground After INT

Anyone who picks off a Jameis Winston pass better watch out for Florida State tight end Nick O'Leary.

Louisville linebacker James Burgess was able to intercept a Winston pass in the second quarter of Thursday night's game. After dragging O'Leary with him for a few yards, the Seminoles tight end gained his footing and slammed Burgess to the ground.

The Cardinals were able to capitalize on the interception, however. They scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive to take a 14-0 lead.

[The Big Lead]

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College Football Picks Week 10: B/R's Expert Predictions for Top 5 Games

It’s hard to believe we’ve reached the 10th week of the 2014 college football season, but here we are.

This Saturday features some excellent matchups all across the country, but to no one’s surprise, the biggest game is down south.

Ole Miss will host Auburn and look to prove last week’s loss to LSU was just a fluke. This game has major playoff implications, as the Rebels are ranked No. 4 and the Tigers are ranked No. 3. Which team will come out on top? 

In the Big 12, TCU and West Virginia will battle it out to see who is the best team in the conference. Expect another wild shootout in Big 12 country between two great offenses. 

The race for the Pac-12 crown will become much more clear after this weekend. Is Utah for real, or will Arizona State continue its surge to the top?

Will UCLA play to its potential, or will head coach Rich Rodriguez and the Arizona Wildcats take them down?

Can Oregon finally knock off Stanford, or will the Cardinal once again spoil the Ducks’ dreams of playing for a national title?

We’ll learn a great deal in Week 10, so get your popcorn ready!

Ben Kercheval still holds the top spot among our experts, but it remains a tight race. 

What say you, college football fans? Let us know your picks in the comments below!

 

Reminder: Our experts are picking the top five Saturday games against the spread.

Odds via opening lines at Odds Shark.

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What a Win over South Carolina Would Mean for Butch Jones and Tennessee

Although the Tennessee Volunteers have played eight games in 2014, the season really begins on Saturday when they take on the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia.

The Vols have played a brutally tough schedule so far. After breezing through two games against solid mid-major programs, Tennessee faced an onslaught that included No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 12 Georgia, No. 3 Ole Miss and No. 4 Alabama. 

Add in a disappointing loss to a mediocre Florida Gators squad at home and the Vols are sitting at 3-5 heading into the final month of the season.

Last season, it looked as though Tennessee was a lock to make a bowl game after upsetting the No. 11 Gamecocks. However, Auburn, Missouri and Vanderbilt all turned out to be much tougher than expected, and losses in those games forced the Vols to sit at home in December for the third year in a row.

This year, the entire slate of November is much easier, with only Kentucky improving over last season. Every other team has regressed to the point where the Vols have a great shot at winning out.

But first, the team has to take care of business against a South Carolina team that beat Georgia and nearly beat No. 5 Auburn on the road.

Here are four important takeaways for the Vols if they can pull the upset against the Gamecocks on Saturday. 

 

It Will Help the Players Learn How to Win on the Road 

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones frequently talks about how this young Vols team needs to learn how to win. While that's true in a general sense, it's even more important when it comes to SEC road games.

The Vols haven't won a conference game on the road in a stadium that doesn't belong to Kentucky or Vanderbilt since Oct. 13, 2007, when they beat Mississippi State at Davis Wade Stadium.

Road games in the SEC are notoriously difficult, but good teams find ways to win in front of hostile crowds every week. Tennessee has come exceptionally close as recently as Week 5 when it lost by three points to the Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium. 

Beating the Gamecocks under the lights at Williams-Brice Stadium would represent a turning point for a program that has presented virtually no threat to the big boys in recent years when playing outside Neyland Stadium. 

 

It Will Establish a New SEC Winning Streak for Tennessee

The Vols being down in recent years has been a boon for other SEC teams, as they've been able to pad their overall records and pick up win after win after win at Tennessee's expense.

The Florida Gators have beaten Tennessee 10 times in a row. The Alabama Crimson Tide just scored their eighth consecutive win over the Vols, and Georgia now has five victories in a row going back to 2010. 

Even longtime doormat opponent Vanderbilt and SEC newcomer Missouri hold two-game win streaks over the Vols. 

Right now, Tennessee can only claim superiority over the Kentucky Wildcats with a two-game win streak and the South Carolina Gamecocks with a single win last season. 

The Vols simply can't continue losing to their rivals year in and year out and expect to have any success in the SEC. If Jones and his staff want to make Tennessee relevant again, they have to start winning SEC matchups with regularity every season. 

A win against the Gamecocks would give the Vols a two-game win streak against one of the SEC East's best teams in recent years and would help take the sting out of losing yet again to the usual suspects of Florida, Alabama and Georgia.

 

It Will Prove the Team is on the Right Track 

South Carolina isn't nearly as complete a team as it has been in recent years, and the Vols must take advantage of that on Saturday.

Tennessee blew a prime opportunity to get a fast track toward bowl eligibility after the devastating loss to Florida earlier this month. Yes, the Vols held Florida to just 10 points, but the end result was the same as all the other contests since 2005: an L on the schedule.

While the Gamecocks are by no means a cupcake team, Tennessee is more then capable of winning this game. Josh Dobbs' performance against Alabama showed the Vols offense works with the right player under center.

Dobbs was supposed to redshirt this season before likely taking over the reins in 2015, but with Justin Worley's injury potentially ending his career at Tennessee, his time is now. Because of his scrambling ability, Dobbs makes the entire Tennessee offense look better, but it won't mean much if the Vols can't put points on the board against a questionable South Carolina defense. 

Will Dobbs and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian take full advantage of the favorable matchups they get on Saturday night, or will the team struggle to score touchdowns like it did against Ole Miss and Florida? The answer could be quite telling for Tennessee's future. 

 

It Will Ease the Pressure for Reaching Bowl Eligibility 

In late October 2010, the Vols were 2-6 and appeared to have no hope of making a bowl game. But Tennessee rallied under new freshman quarterback Tyler Bray and won all four remaining games on the schedule, becoming bowl eligible and providing a spark to the program. 

This time around, Tennessee is 3-5 and facing slightly easier odds to making a postseason game. Still, the idea of winning three games in a row is daunting for any young team, no matter who the opponents are.

That's why a win against the Gamecocks on Saturday is vital to give the Vols breathing room heading into the final stretch of games all located within the state of Tennessee. 

While the Vols will likely be favored against Missouri, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, winning all three games with their backs against the wall won't be easy. The team played tight against Florida when the pressure was on, and it's hard to imagine the last three games playing out any differently under that scenario.

Going 3-1 is a much easier task than going 4-0, and a win on Saturday would give the team the confidence necessary to not only reach 6-6 on the season, but potentially 7-5 and a nice and warm bowl game somewhere other than the frigid turf of Legion Field or LP Field in late December.

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Florida State vs. Louisville: Live Score and Highlights

Florida State 0, Louisville 0—Mid 1st Quarter

The second-ranked Florida State Seminoles (7-0, 4-0 ACC) are taking on the No. 25 Louisville Cardinals.

ESPN is carrying the ACC battle. Bleacher Report is providing live scoring updates and in-game analysis. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Joe Mixon Enters Alford Plea on Misdemeanor Assault Charge

Oklahoma freshman running back Joe Mixon entered an Alford plea Thursday afternoon on misdemeanor charges of punching a female student on July 25 at a restaurant in Norman, Oklahoma, per Eric Bailey of the Tulsa World:

In an Alford plea, a defendant can maintain that he is innocent but allow a court to pronounce him guilty, acknowledging that sufficient evidence exists for a jury to find him guilty.

Mixon received a one-year deferred sentence, will be responsible for 100 hours of community service and will have to partake in cognitive behavior counseling. He entered an Alford plea on the charge of acts resulting in gross injury/outraging public decency.

"We think it's a fair agreement," said Tyler Box, Cleveland County assistant district attorney. "The agreement calls for 100 hours of community service, which we think serves the community and also calls for him to participate in behavior counseling, which we feel was also needed."   

Oklahoma suspended Mixon for the entirety of the 2014 college football season a little less than a month after the incident occurred. According to Bailey, Mixon struck another student after the two got into an argument at Pickleman’s Gourmet Cafe.

John Shinn of The Norman Transcriptreported earlier in October that the surveillance tape from the restaurant in question would be released to the public on Nov. 3. However, that no longer appears to be the case:

The Tulsa World's Guerin Emig spoke with a city attorney from Norman who was also unsure as to the tape's possible release:

Oklahoma President David Boren released a statement to the media. In it, he said that Mixon's suspension won't be overturned but that he'll have a chance to get back on the team in the spring, per Bailey:

Mixon entered Norman with a ton of hype as a 5-star recruit. According to 247Sports' composite rankings, he was the best all-purpose back in the Class of 2014 and 21st-best recruit overall.

He served as the crown jewel of the Sooners' recruiting class, which ranked 14th in the nation in 247Sports' composite system.

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College Football Rankings 2014: Week 10 Games That Will Shake Up Playoff Picture

The release of the first College Football Playoff rankings has completely changed the anticipation for this week's slate of games. Now that teams know where they stand in the committee's eyes, they better understand how much work is ahead of them. 

Week 10 feels like the first huge slate of games on the season. There have been patches of games so far that made the season worth watching closely, but the heart of conference season ratchets up the tension and drama. 

In order to properly prepare you for Saturday's action, here are the matchups you should be watching closely. That's coming up right after we remind you of how the selection committee ordered the top 25 teams. 

For the record, Florida State at Louisville wasn't considered for this particular piece since it is just focused on Saturday games.

 

Key College Football Playoff Games

No. 3 Auburn at No. 4 Mississippi

What better place to start than with the biggest game of the weekend? This game seemed to lose some luster after Mississippi lost to LSU last weekend, then the selection committee kept the Rebels in the top four to make it a monumental clash. 

Of course, since the committee seemed to favor schedules and wins over close losses, the loser of this game isn't necessarily dead despite having two losses. Auburn still has games against Georgia and Alabama to build itself back up in the event of defeat, while Mississippi has the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State looming. 

This game is also fascinating because it's a contrast in styles. Mississippi does have talent on offense, but the defense carries this team, allowing an FBS-best 10.5 points per game. Auburn hasn't played defense the last two weeks, allowing 73 points to Mississippi State and South Carolina. 

The Tigers make up for their defensive ineptitude with one of the best rushing attacks and a cool 39.3 points per game. 

Toby Petitpas of ESPN Stats & Info provided some numbers that will tell you why Auburn's running game against Mississippi's stout defense is the right way to determine who will win:

-Since Malzahn took over as head coach, Auburn is 15-0 when it runs for at least 250 yards and 3-3 when it does not. Ole Miss is winless (0-7) in three seasons under Hugh Freeze when its opponent rushes for more than 200 yards, including last week’s loss to LSU. 

-Ole Miss has allowed three rushing touchdowns this season, tied for third fewest in the FBS. Auburn scored five rushing touchdowns last week against South Carolina. 

In fairness, Auburn's defense allowed 416 passing yards against South Carolina last week. Bo Wallace has been mostly good this season, though the last two weeks have seen him complete less than 50 percent of his passes and under 60 percent in four of the last five games. 

Given Wallace's inconsistent nature and how LSU just gashed the defense for 264 yards, everything is set up for Auburn to win this game. That's what you should expect to happen at The Grove. 

 

No. 7 TCU at No. 20 West Virginia

No one wants to give the Big 12 any love, but it's the only conference outside the SEC to place two teams in the Top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings (Kansas State is No. 9). TCU has been slowly building an impressive resume, despite that ugly loss against Baylor. 

This week against West Virginia will tell us how far the Horned Frogs have come. The Mountaineers have been rolling since losing to Oklahoma on September 20, defeating Baylor and Oklahoma State in the last two weeks by a combined score of 75-37. 

One factor to keep in mind that isn't getting a lot of attention is the weather. Specifically because TCU hasn't played in anything other than pristine conditions, per Chris Anderson of 247Sports.com:

TCU also has the misfortune of being inconsistent on defense with Kevin White, arguably the nation's best receiver, on the other side. 

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy told David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest that the Cowboys got torched by White because they didn't have enough personnel in the secondary to match up with him and cover the other areas on the field:

"You can single him up and go man and hope he doesn't make plays or you can help some," Gundy said. "Because of the youth we have in our secondary right now, we chose to help some and it hurt us in run support."

White had just three catches for 27 yards against Oklahoma State, but since he commanded so much attention, the Mountaineers ran for 210 yards in the game.

TCU has given up a lot of points to ranked opponents this season. Oklahoma and Baylor, the two best offenses it's faced, scored a combined 98 points. The Horned Frogs have a potent offense of their own, scoring 82 points against Texas Tech and leading all FBS schools with 50.4 per game. 

At some point, it would be nice to think TCU can get a stop when it has to win a game. West Virginia hasn't always done that, but it's also got the weapons to keep pace offensively in this showdown. The Mountaineers are peaking at the right time and have this game on their home turf. Look for the upset. 

 

Stanford at No. 5 Oregon

Even though Stanford's title hopes disappeared long ago, its matchup with Oregon is always a fascinating one because Cardinal head coach David Shaw seems to have the formula for slowing down the Ducks offense. 

The Cardinal have won this Pac-12 clash the last two years, holding Oregon to a total of 34 points. They gave up 717 yards in the two games but forced the Ducks to play catch-up with a limited clock by controlling the ball for 79 minutes and 59 seconds. 

It's a battle of strength versus strength at Autzen Stadium, as David Lombardi of ESPN tweeted out how Stanford's defense stacks up against Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota:

That's how the game is going to be won because neither Oregon's defense nor Stanford's offense offers much hope. The Cardinal have shown some proficiency in the running game with Remound Wright and Barry Sanders combining for 616 yards on 109 carries. 

However, it's easy for opponents to stop Stanford's running game because QB Kevin Hogan can't move the ball in the passing game. We could've thought the same thing last year, then Stanford wound up running for 274 rushing yards to make the quarterback play moot. 

Mariota has carried Oregon all year, despite getting beat up behind a bad and banged-up offensive line. That group is getting healthy at the right time, and this is the junior quarterback's last chance to make noise in the title race and improve his stock in the Heisman picture. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter: @adamwells1985.

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Oregon Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for the Month of November

The Oregon Ducks (7-1, 4-1) are four regular-season games away from a shot at the Pac-12 Championship and, if they can win out, a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

In recent weeks, we’ve used this little corner of the Internet to rank Oregon’s biggest threats for the rest of the season and discuss the Ducks’ road to the Playoff. However, we’ve yet to predict every game remaining on Oregon’s schedule this season.

While the Ducks certainly don’t have the most difficult schedule from here on out—that honor belongs to either Auburn or Ole Miss—Oregon does have its work cut out. Right out of the November gates the Ducks must immediately take on Stanford, who has taken Oregon out of national championship contention for two consecutive years. The Cardinal will be looking to make it a three-game sweep in Eugene on Nov. 1.

Following the game against Stanford, the Ducks have to go play No. 17-ranked Utah in Salt Lake City. While Stanford may have taken Oregon out in the past, it is Utah that could really do damage to the Ducks' season this year.

Oregon then has a bye week that is followed by a Nov. 22 game against Colorado and a Nov. 29 Civil War battle in Corvallis. While both of those games should be winnable, there are no guarantees in the Pac-12 this season.

With only a month left to go and a couple of brutal games still ahead for the Ducks, it’s time to give our game-by-game predictions for the month of November.

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Oregon Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for the Month of November

The Oregon Ducks (7-1, 4-1) are four regular-season games away from a shot at the Pac -12 Championship and, if they can win out, a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff...

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With Auburn Looming, Texas A&M Better Figure out Who Its QB Is vs. ULM

Texas A&M opened the door to its quarterback competition during its bye week, and instead of naming one Thursday—as offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said would happen earlier in the week—the Aggies are going to string all of us along even longer.

Neither sophomore Kenny Hill nor true freshman Kyle Allen was named the starting quarterback in Aggieland for Saturday's game against ULM, according to Gabe Bock of TexAgs.com.

Hill has started every game of the season for head coach Kevin Sumlin's Aggies but has fallen on hard times lately. He has thrown as many touchdowns as interceptions—six—over the current three-game losing streak. He only threw for 138 yards and 5.3 yards per attempt in A&M's most recent game—a 59-0 loss at Alabama in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated.

Allen came to College Station from Scottsdale, Arizona, as a highly decorated gunslinger who's supposed to be more like former Houston quarterback and Sumlin disciple Case Keenum. The former 5-star prospect and top-ranked pro-style passer in the most recent recruiting class, Allen has seen only mop-up duty this year, completing 23-of-38 passes for 264 yards, three touchdowns and two picks.

This can't turn into a prolonged quarterback rotation.

One contender needs to walk into the locker room at halftime as the clear-cut No. 1 so that he can build some much-needed confidence in the second half.

I touched on Texas A&M's real problem earlier this week when it became clear that the quarterback job was open. The recent struggles weren't just a quarterback problem; they were problems stemming from bizarre play-calling that made it appear like the staff was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

The play-calling needs to change this weekend and become more conservative for either Hill or Allen in order to keep the defense fresh and take the pressure off the new—or old—quarterback.

There's no time to mess around, because looming around the corner is a road test vs. No. 3 Auburn in two weeks on The Plains.

Is Auburn's defense suspect? At times, yes. Particularly through the air.

We learned last week vs. South Carolina, though, that the Tigers offense went back to the basics, has become more run-focused than it was earlier in the season and will force opposing offenses to keep up.

That's the last thing A&M needs. It is a possibility, though, which means that the new quarterback absolutely has to gain confidence in the offense—whether there are changes or not—this week vs. ULM.

Sumlin went back to the drawing board during the bye week, opening up not just the quarterback spot but virtually every spot for all comers, according to quotes emailed by Texas A&M:

I think our guys understand that they have had the opportunity to prove to us…and let me say this. We just don’t change for change sake. We give guys the opportunity in practice to demonstrate to coaches and to the other players that they understand what we’re trying to do, what we’re doing, and (whether they) are proficient at what we’re doing. By the same token, you have the same opportunity to demonstrate you can’t do that.All is not lost for the 5-3 Aggies.

In order to live by his word and not "change for change sake," he has to settle on one quarterback now and let that guy be "the man" against the Warhawks.

The Aggies can still play spoiler against the No. 3 Tigers next week. More importantly, though, they need to establish some offensive momentum heading into bowl practices and the 2015 season.

Eight of the 10 wide receivers on Texas A&M's most recent depth chart in its game notes are underclassmen, and seven of its top nine pass-catchers this season are underclassmen.

Those guys need work with their quarterback of the future, and that work needs to begin right now.

What looked like a pushover against a weaker opponent on Saturday has turned into much more for the Aggies program. It's a landmark day. It's the start of next season. It's a chance to hit the reset button and set the tone for bigger games down the stretch, including Auburn, Missouri, LSU and a bowl opponent.

The last thing this program needs is more uncertainty at the quarterback position, and one of the two contenders needs to get right this weekend.

Otherwise, it's going to be a long November in College Station.

 

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

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

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Auburn vs. Ole Miss Trailer: Eventually a Dream Becomes a Nightmare

With the release of the first ever College Football Playoff rankings, this week's matchup between the No. 3 Auburn Tigers and the No. 4 Ole Miss Bulldogs holds even more significance.

The loser will be bounced from the Final Four, making their road back a daunting task. Ole Miss vs. Auburn will be a game to remember.

Who will win this potential CFP eliminator?

Watch the video and let us know!

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College Football Rankings 2014: NCAA Playoff Standings and Key Week 10 Picks

This week, the College Football Playoff selection committee gave coaches, players and fans its first outlook on how the season is shaping up so far. The Week 10 rankings eliminate any questions about how the race sets up heading into the stretch run.

As expected, the SEC dominates the top portion of the first batch of standings with four teams inside the top six. That includes the No. 1 team in the country, Mississippi State. The question is whether the conference will beat each other up enough to open the door for others to join the conversation.

With that in mind, let's check out the complete Top 25 list for the first official playoff rankings. It's followed by a preview and prediction for three of the most important games on tap in Week 10.

 

College Football Playoff Rankings

 

Predictions for Biggest Week 10 Games

No. 2 Florida State at No. 25 Louisville

Florida State is the reigning champion and undefeated through seven games, yet it doesn't hold the top spot in the rankings. That's likely because the committee is waiting to see the Seminoles play a dominant brand of football against a big-time opponent.

Every time the level of competition has been raised, whether it be Oklahoma State, Clemson or Notre Dame, they have only squeaked by. Going on the road to Louisville provides them with an opportunity to make a major statement on Thursday night.

It won't be easy, though. The Cardinals rank fourth in the nation in scoring defense. And Sharon Katz and Toby Petitpas of ESPN.com note Jameis Winston has never faced a defense that ranked in the top 25 in defensive efficiency on passing plays:

Louisville, on the other hand, leads the nation in that stat, adding about 13 points per game to its net scoring margin as a result of its defense on passing plays. The Cardinals have allowed the lowest Total QBR in the nation and only NC State's Jacoby Brissett has posted a raw QBR above 25 against them (0-100 scale, 50 is average).

The Cardinals don't have an explosive offense to pair with that rock-solid defense, so Florida State does have some margin for error. But if it comes out of the gate sluggish, the pieces are definitely in place for an upset.

Ultimately, it's a turning-point game. Either the Seminoles will finally showcase their dominance or Louisville will finish the job those aforementioned teams couldn't and shake up the playoff race.

Prediction: Florida State by 10

 

No. 3 Auburn at No. 4 Ole Miss

No game has generated more hype this week, and rightfully so. The committee judged that these are the best two one-loss teams in the country based on their current resumes. One team will go a long way to bolster it even further on Saturday.

Ole Miss could still be undefeated if not for botching the end sequence last week against LSU. Multiple mistakes allowed the Tigers to secure a game-ending interception rather than see the Rebels send the game into overtime with a field goal.

The rankings gave Bo Wallace and Co. a reprieve, though. They are still firmly in position to make the playoffs. Ryan Black of the Ledger-Enquirer passed along comments from head coach Hugh Freeze, who's tried to convince his team not to put too much stock in the current standings.

"I tell our kids here that we're focused solely, really, on one ranking, and that would be what's issued Dec. 7. I think that's the one that really matters," he said. "I recognize that the committee, they have a difficult job. We have confidence in them and I know that they're going to judge the full schedule of games."

The biggest key to this game is the efficiency of Auburn's offense. In two road games against ranked opponents, the Tigers averaged just over 21 points. In all other games, they averaged better than 46 points. The latter group includes a 41-point outburst against LSU.

This should be a game that goes right down to the wire. In the end, the slight edge goes to the more balanced team overall, which is Auburn.

Prediction: Auburn by three

 

No. 17 Utah at No. 14 Arizona State

The good news for both of these teams is that they are still alive in the playoff race at this stage of the season. The bad news is they likely have to win out in order to make it. So that makes this a virtual elimination game, which will be common in the weeks ahead.

Utah is riding a three-game winning streak, but it's been playing with fire. The Utes' only game during that streak decided by more than a field goal came in double overtime against Oregon State. They need the fourth-quarter defense to improve this week.

Defense is also the focal point for Arizona State. The Sun Devils gave up 96 points over two weeks against UCLA and USC. They rebounded by giving up just 20 in wins over Stanford and Washington. With three games against ranked foes over the final five, the unit must continue to improve.

If their defense holds up, the passing game will make the difference. Arizona State is averaging more than 300 yards per game through the air. Utah is a shade under 200. It should be enough of an advantage for the home side to score a narrow victory.

Prediction: Arizona State by four

 

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USC Football: Final Stretch of 2014 Season Sets Tone for Sarkisian's Program

Replicating the strong finishes of past USC teams is an obvious goal of the 2014 Trojans, but the four-game final stretch is as much about setting the tone for head coach Steve Sarkisian's overall vision as it is improving upon this year's record. 

USC enters this last month of Sarkisian's debut campaign out of the Top 25 and clinging to slim hope of winning the Pac-12 South. Since starting 2-0 and reaching No. 9 in the Associated Press poll, the Trojans are .500 with a series of tough losses that have tested the team's collective attitude. 

“They’re learning about themselves and the strengths they possess,” Sarkisian said after practice Tuesday at Howard Jones Field. “It’s natural to try and focus on the weaknesses, which we have to learn from and getting better. But we have to dig deep and find out about ourselves." 

The most recent was a 24-21 heartbreaker last week at Utah, decided on the game’s final possession. In the immediate aftermath, redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Zach Banner said he learned a lot about the program’s makeup.

“I’ve never seen so many people that were disappointed about a loss, [who] care, [who] want to fix things and step up,” he said.  

Although in his first season as a primary contributor for the Trojans, Banner has been in the program for three seasons. He said that in his time at USC, the response to losing was not always this way.

"Me being on a couple of these teams in college the last couple years, when things go downhill, you question some leadership," he said. "People stop encouraging. They start getting extremely selfish, where they only think about themselves."

Losing can become cyclical in that way, but Banner believes USC is prepared to fend off the malaise that can create internal strife.   

“This is a different feeling I’ve never felt before with any team and the reason I say that is the people in this locker room care about each other,” he said. “You can take that however you want.”

Chemistry just might be the most valuable long-term quality USC develops in its first season with Sarkisian at the helm, particularly given the considerable collective youth of the roster.  

First and second-year players who will shape USC’s identity in the coming years are in prominent roles across all three phases.

Among the youngsters taking on key responsibilities are Banner’s mates on the line: Damien Mama, Toa Lobendahn and Viane Talamaivao.

The three true freshmen started against Utah’s prolific sacking defense last week and the unit played arguably its best game of the season—even with redshirt sophomore Chad Wheeler sidelined by a torn ACL. Lobendahn practiced in Wheeler's spot at left tackle this week. 

USC will only get younger, too. Next year’s recruiting class marks the first with a full allotment of 25 scholarships in three years.

But for as much as the upcoming stretch sets the tone for seasons to come, Sarkisian is steadfast that this year’s team can compete for the conference championship.

One of the team’s veterans, redshirt junior running back Javorius "Buck" Allen, discussed how USC can successfully navigate its final stretch.  

 “Trust the coaches with what they prepare us with day in and day out,” he said.  

Allen added USC must commit to playing “Trojan ball.”

What exactly constitutes Trojan ball in the Sarkisian era is a question repeatedly asked of the coach through his first eight games.

As important as the off-field atmosphere USC cultivates in this final stretch is establishing its on-field identity. Banner sees the former laying the foundation for the latter.

“You have to care enough to say, ‘I’m going to get my job done,’” he said. “There’s a lot of things we can fix. There’s a lot of things we can do better. But we’re getting better.”

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. 

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USC Football: Final Stretch of 2014 Season Sets Tone for Sarkisian's Program

Replicating the strong finishes of past USC teams is an obvious goal of the 2014 Trojans, but the four-game final stretch is as much about setting the tone for head coach Steve Sarkisian 's overall vision as it is improving upon this year's record...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

12 November Games with Biggest Playoff Implications

Contenders remember, dream seasons depend on November.

Now that the top teams in college football have some clarity, compliments of the first College Football Playoff standings, it's possible to start looking ahead to the finish line and gauge each team's chance of getting into the semifinals. But a lot can happen before any postseason berths are awarded, and much of that will go down in the coming month.

The five weekends in November are jam-packed with impactful matches that can make or break a contender's season. Here are the 12 most notable matchups as far as playoff and major bowl implications go, listed chronologically from this Saturday through Nov. 29.

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Texas A&M Recruiting: 2015 Recruits Aggies Must Land to Help Change Program

The Texas A&M football team needs an influx of talent from its 2015 recruiting class to help turn its program around. The Aggies have some personnel issues that need to be addressed in order to compete for a championship in 2015. 

The biggest issue with the Aggie football program right now is the perception that they do not care about the defensive side of the ball. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin wants to be elite in all phases of the game, but he does not have the players on the roster to accomplish that on the defensive side of the ball. 

The only way to rectify that problem is to address it through recruiting. The Aggies need to continue to land elite defensive players, particularly at linebacker, in order to turn the program around. 

The Aggies won 20 games during Sumlin's first two seasons in the SEC. They are currently 5-3 on the season. They will have to win three of their last four games and their bowl game in order to match last season's record of 9-4. 

The Aggies have the reputation of a good, but not great program that struggles on defense. They need to bring in impact players on the defensive side of the ball in the 2015 recruiting class in order to change this perception. 

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Meet Oregon's Solution to the Stanford Problem

When Oregon unraveled against Stanford last season, its prized commit didn’t watch the familiar demolition unfold. It wasn’t that Royce Freeman didn’t want to fully immerse himself in one of college football’s booming rivalries before he arrived on campus; he was simply too busy causing demolition of his own.

“I had a football game that night,” Freeman said. “So I didn’t get to see it.”

Perhaps this wasn’t the worst thing, given the results. For the second consecutive season, Stanford dismantled the Ducks’ high-powered offense and their season. The 26-20 scoreboard told a misleading tale, as the line of scrimmage was controlled by the Cardinal from the first whistle. Oregon’s neon, high-octane attack stalled.

For the 2013 season in its entirety, the Ducks averaged 223 rushing yards per game. Against Stanford, Oregon could only muster up 62 yards on 24 carries. To find a worse rushing performance in the program’s history, you have to take a trip back in time to September 2009.

Beyond any statistic, the most jarring and significant numbers to come from this game are the only numbers that carry any true meaning: Over the past two seasons, Oregon is 23-1 when playing any non-David Shaw coached team. Against Stanford, the Ducks are 0-2.

The Cardinal have been their Kryptonite, and yet, there are reasons to be optimistic if you’re on the Oregon sideline. Beyond the presence of quarterback Marcus Mariota—arguably the nation’s most talented and explosive player—hope exists in a true freshman running who looks, sounds and plays nothing like his age.

Even the man behind this diabolical run can’t help but notice the sudden and unexpected rise of Freeman, a chess piece fit for a matchup of this nature.

“You see a young freshman running back not looking like a freshman running back,” Shaw said of Freeman. “He’s coming into his own as a really, really good college football player.”

 

Who Is Royce Freeman?

Before we proceed, I want to show you a short video.

It’s not footage of Freeman tossing hopeful tacklers aside like air-born mannequins. It’s not one of the 13 touchdowns he’s rushed for in only his first eight games. And no, it’s not the passing touchdown he has accounted for, either, although feel free to check that off your bingo card.

The best way to truly appreciate Freeman’s rare physical gifts is to see him motionless, pad-less and far away from the football field. Running backs, especially those speaking after their first collegiate game, are not supposed to look like this.

Prior to arriving at Oregon, Freeman played for Imperial High School in California, where he posted Hulk-ish numbers. In his four seasons, he averaged 11.8 yards per carry, ran for 7,601 yards and found the end zone 118 times.

This freakish production—along with his freakish build—is why he was tabbed as the nation’s No. 6 running back recruit and the No. 37 player overall by 247Sports in the class of 2014. It’s rare to see a back this put together, regardless of age or level. There simply aren’t many 229-pound human beings capable of moving at these speeds.

It’s also uncommon to see a back like this at Oregon, a program that has relied primarily on one-cut speed runners during its offensive renaissance. The match between program and player was unorthodox, although it existed from the get-go thanks in large part to a variety of factors.

“It’s the ideal city, and the tradition they have at running back is very positive,” Freeman said. “But it was also Cam. He’s the main part of the success at running back here. That got me really interested.”

“Cam” is better known as Gary Campbell, the running backs coach at Oregon and one of the fixtures of all of college football. Campbell has been at Oregon since 1983—well before the machine really started to churn—and he’s coached 14 1,000-yard backs in his time at Eugene.

Even in August, long before Freeman carried the ball in an actual game, Campbell recognized that his new toy was special.

"He's fast. He's big and he's tough,” Campbell told Tyson Alger of The Oregonian. “A lot of times you get guys like him that come in and have great success in high school and they haven't really had to work at it and when they get into tough competition at the college level they shy away from it.

"He steps right up."

And he has, although it hasn’t been quite as easy as it looked.

For Freeman, his first moment of clarity came long after he logged his first carry and found his first end zone. In fact, it all started to fall into place only a few weeks ago against the Bruins. It was then that he finally found something to build on.

“It was one of the runs against UCLA where it started to click,” Freeman said. “I broke a good amount of tackles and finished a run hard. Every time I get the ball I need to have that attitude.”

Freeman has already rushed for 748 yards this season, despite splitting carries through much of the first half. His 13 rushing touchdowns put him at No. 6 overall in the country.

In a year ripe with impressive freshman running back debuts, Freeman’s performance jumps off the page.

As injuries have hit Oregon's backfield, particularly with sophomore Thomas Tyner, Freeman’s workload has increased.

Although the plan was to operate with Tyner, Freeman and Byron Marshall carrying the ball in somewhat equal shares, Marshall has become an integral part of the Oregon passing attack and Tyner has been sidelined. Marshall, a unique and valuable weapon in his own right, has also seen Freeman come into his own as roles have evolved.

“He’s been ballin’ these last couple weeks,” Marshall told Justin Wise of the Oregon Daily Emerald. “I can’t put my finger on the right exact word but for a true freshman he doesn’t play like a true freshman, which we really appreciate.”

In the past three games, when Oregon has leaned on its youthful bulldozer, he has responded. Freeman has rushed for 402 yards and eight touchdowns since the Ducks fell at home to Arizona. The offensive line has also gotten healthy in this time, which has helped the entire offense return to form.

Even with this tremendous output over the past month—and the obvious progression in his game—Freeman remains his toughest critic.

“I’m trying to become a more complete back,” Freeman said. “I’m still adjusting to a different kind of offense, reading blocks and different aspects of the position in detail. I can get better at finishing runs and breaking away.

“Not being tackled, that’s what I’m working on.”

 

Shedding the Label with the Necessary Ingredient

As strange as it may sound, Freeman is more Stanford than Oregon. He is more Tyler Gaffney than De'Anthony Thomas. More Stepfan Taylor than LaMichael James. He is, even in his college football infancy, the most physical and explosive runner the rivalry has seen—on either side—over the past few seasons.

His style is violent and, in many ways, a lost art. It’s why Shaw’s voice brightens when he speaks about the freshman, even as he braces for the challenge ahead. And while Freeman’s game may echo bits and pieces of various backs around the country, he’s sculpted his running style after a different era entirely.

“I really don’t watch many college players and model my game after them,” Freeman said. “I look at the older backs, older school guys and see how they run.”

He is a throwback, which is an element his team has dearly lacked. Especially in weeks such as these.

Although the “soft” label has been unfairly applied to the program based on 120 minutes of football, the Ducks have been unable to match the Cardinal’s physical presence. This is the reality. It is something Freeman has heard through reputation and now seen through film.

Although the pieces on Stanford have changed plenty since Oregon last saw them, the results stay the same. Despite all of the new faces, the Cardinal defense remains one of the nation's most immovable objects. 

“They are a physical defense and a physical team,” Freeman said. “They’re very sound and they always come to play. It’ll be a different kind of game out there.”

For Freeman, every game is different. Every game week, game plan and football situation is original as he seeks stable ground. His experience against Stanford is non-existent as of now; just tales told in the film room, through the media and from teammates.

He was not a part of the last two seasons when Oregon entered the week against Stanford as the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 team only to watch these rankings come undone. In many ways, his youth and inexperience serve as a valuable reboot. He doesn't know any better.

“We have to go out there with a mindset that it’s just another game and another week,” Freeman said. “You can’t treat it any different. Once you start thinking about other things, you start trying to compensate and end up out of your element. That’s how you end up losing.”

Although it is unfair to place the weight of the rivalry on the shoulders of a true freshman—regardless of how gargantuan and cartoon-ish he might appear—Freeman’s presence cannot be overstated.

He won’t help Oregon win the line of scrimmage. He won’t be tasked with slowing down a Stanford offense that has experienced success in this matchup. And it won’t be up to him to direct the offense; that will fall in the very capable hands of his quarterback. But his destructive style and 229-pound frame are a direct answer to a problem.

“I just have to go out there and play my game, full speed, and try to make something happen,” Freeman said. “If we go out there and play how we have been playing the last couple weeks—maybe turn it up a notch—we should do well.”

Paralleling Oregon’s opportunity at redemption was the unofficial launch of the first College Football Playoff.

On Tuesday night, as the college football masses focused intently on their televisions to see the selection committee’s first-ever Top 25 rankings, Freeman bounced from classes to meetings as the Ducks debuted at No. 5. He missed the hoopla entirely without showing the least bit of interest.

“Strictly Stanford,” he said. “We can’t be thinking about things like that.”

Freeman’s ability to miss these critical college football broadcasts has carried him this far, from blue-chip recruit to potential Stanford antidote. Given where this routine has taken him, there’s no reason to abandon it now.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of CFBstats.com.

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Meet Oregon's Solution to the Stanford Problem

When Oregon unraveled against Stanford last season, its prized commit didn ’t watch the familiar demolition unfold...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Is the College Football Playoff Committee More Biased Than the BCS?

The first ever College Football Playoff committee has three of the four top teams from the SEC. With other power conferences like the Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12 being left out of the top four, many are wondering if the committee has a bias toward the SEC.

Bleacher Report College Football Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee debate whether the committee is playing favorites with the SEC.

Who should be in the top four teams?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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The Complicated Story of Bobby Petrino's Quest for Redemption

We believe in second chances, and that's what we're seeing with Bobby Petrino, as Louisville goes into The Big Game on Thursday night against Florida State. Petrino…no, wait. That isn't it at all. That's just the rhetoric on Petrino, not the truth.

His story is about learning from mistakes and making changes in life. And going into this Florida State game, Petrino…no, hang on. That isn't quite it, either.

The truth is, there is no nice, simple bow to tie around Petrino's story. Petrino is Petrino, and the reason he is back at Louisville really doesn't have much to do with redemption or remorse. He's there because Louisville wants to be a major, big-time program and not considered a loiterer anymore whenever it gets close. He's there because he can beat Florida State.

The Seminoles have become the dark force of college football with Jameis Winston's behavior, the school's handling of it and coach Jimbo Fisher's reckless, over-the-top defense of his players over right and wrong. The funny part of it is that at the same time he gets a chance to validate his re-hiring, Petrino also gets to wear the unfamiliar white hat of the good guy.

This is ironic because Petrino, by all accounts, is a hard guy to like.

He cheated on his wife, interviewed for a job at Auburn while his former employer still held it, put his girlfriend on the payroll and left the Atlanta Falcons during his first season without saying goodbye other than to leave a card with a note in the players' lockers. There is also that pesky photo of him with the neck brace and the red marks all over his face after the motorcycle accident he had with his girlfriend, the woman he had put on Arkansas' payroll. And that's just the stuff we know about.

Lucky for Petrino, he's a really, really good football coach.

Despite his well-documented egomania and self-centeredness, he has to change the narrative by winning a football game. If he can deliver a victory over Florida State and can give the nation what it really wants—a chance to push Winston out of the Heisman Trophy picture and to dump the Seminoles from the national championship race—he will leave the field as the "good guy," if just for a night. 

Someone once told me about something he called a pain-in-the-butt factor. Basically, as long as the amount you produce is greater than the amount of a pain that you are, things will work out. As soon as success drops below the pain-in-the-butt line, you're gone.

That shows you just how great of a coach Petrino is. Meanwhile, Florida State's defense is young and makes a lot of mistakes. And Petrino might be the top offensive mind in the game.

"These are the games we want to play in and compete in," Petrino told reporters after Monday's practice. "We'd like to be in the top rankings and have the No. 1 team come in here and play us. That's where we're aspiring to go. So we'll look at our program and get one step closer to where we want to get to."

It is a strange thing about sports that we believe a person can prove his moral fiber by winning a game. See: Kobe Bryant.

If Louisville beats Florida State, the narrative will be about how much Petrino has changed, his redemption, if you will.

Some evidence of this already exists. He did set up the Petrino Family Foundation and donated $1 million to a children's hospital. He has been caddying for his daughter, a top golfer at Louisville who competed in the U.S. Amateur. He has shown up at Cardinals basketball games with his family.

He hugs his grandkids as he leaves the practice field and talks about making family his priority. And as a coach, he has vowed several times that now he'll work on developing not only the player but also the person.

If that's real change, then good for him. If it's just public relations, well, that really doesn't matter. It has nothing to do with why he was hired in the first place. Louisville doesn't care.

In August, Sports Illustrated ran a story about whether Petrino had changed and quoted a person, anonymously, who was in the meeting when the athletic board approved hiring Petrino: "There was discussion, but there was nothing about marital infidelity. It was mostly Bobby's flight risk. Is he going to leave again?"

Petrino was the coach at Louisville before and angered the school when he left six months after signing a long-term contract extension, saying that this is where he wanted to be and "I want everyone to really believe it."

Athletic director Tom Jurich believed and thought Petrino would help build the football team into a national program. Thanks in big part to Jurich, Louisville has survived the conference realignments and power-grabs of the big five conferences, getting into the ACC. Charlie Strong was the football coach until this January, when he left for Texas. It had to be a shocked that Strong didn't have more loyalty. He had been passed over for head coaching jobs for years until Jurich gave him the chance.

So when Strong left in January, Louisville's position as a national football program was still a little tenuous. Jurich was not about to take a chance on a first-time head coach going into the conference to play Florida State. And he wasn't going to steal a big-time, successful head coach from another program.

And there was Petrino, already winning at Western Kentucky. Jurich took a chance. But pushing Petrino's change in personality seems like more of a PR move.

Petrino is such a change from Strong, who preached team as family, and doing the right things as good human beings.

So the personality of the program has already changed, from family to business. Louisville is a midsized city without pro major league sports. It follows Cardinals basketball and football in the way big cities follow their pro teams. So you get basketball coach Rick Pitino, a former NBA coach, and Petrino, a former NFL coach.

"College sports are a business, first and foremost," a trustee was quoted as saying in the Sports Illustrated story. "People in the Louisville community look forward to attending games and seeing a strong product on the field. Bobby will produce that.

"This isn't a governor or a mayor we're talking about. This is a football coach."

You can argue if Petrino is a changed person, a better human being. You can wonder if he'll be grateful to Jurich and loyal enough to stay at Louisville. That won't be decided until more established power teams call, and they will. He could very well revert back to old Bobby. But for today, he is the "good guy" in a white hat.

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report. He also writes for The New York Times and was formerly a scribe for FoxSports.com and the Chicago Sun-Times. Follow him on Twitter @gregcouch.

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